freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
OMG, 17776! A sort of multimedia webstory thingy - it's demented science fiction, ultimately. The first chapter is a bit different (Tracy, you may particularly enjoy it because of Reasons) and is a clever, playful, wistful thing that caused me actual wonder and delight in experiencing it. Thereafter you hit the actual football bits, which are completely deranged, and therefore deeply satisfying to someone who has (a) acquired their sense of humour via the Goon Show and Monty Python, and (b) apprehended American football almost entirely through Peanuts cartoons. Then it all gets philosophical. It has been a happy weekend's discovery, this thing, I hope it likewise appeals to some of you.

My subject line is, of course, James Thurber, who has a proper sense of the bizarrely unique.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Campus has been formally closed until Sunday, while students march on campus and academics march on Parliament and students and academics disagree, generally politely, on why they should be marching and what's actually a realistic demand. It's like a slow-moving, disruptive and unusually verbose dramatisation of the generation gap, with occasional police presence. I am imitating the action of the Harry Potter, which is to stay in my room keeping very quiet and pretending I don't exist.

Recent interesting discoveries: student mass action is both a fatigue trigger and a source of more subliminal stress than I was aware of. Last night I actually had a sleep-walking dream, for the first time in years. A very tall man in flowing, fragmented, cream-coloured robes, like a cross between a Grecian statue and Rey from Star Wars, came through the wall above my bed, and I woke up with my heart pounding, trying to hold him back by main force. I don't think he was actively trying to hurt me, but he was very definitely present and invasive and insisting on being heard. I resent that in my bedroom at three in the morning. I'm picky about who occupies that space. Sometimes the cats don't even qualify.

I am, however, particularly delighted to note the pleasantly insane existence of what3words, which purports to identify a 3m square anywhere on the planet in three easy to remember words, and stuff all these postcodes or GPS, anyway. As far as I can work out, at least a portion of my house sits firmly in my subject line. I am somewhat delighted.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am loving the slow, whimsical randomness of the XKCD garden, which is still sitting in a tab on my Chrome, gently accreting to no fixed rhythm or timetable. Mine has had a cat on a goat for a while, and a rather pleasing shark-fin in the birdbath, not to mention platform octopi. Today it grew a wol. Every now and then I fiddle with its lighting in a desultory sort of fashion, but it's such slow-motion cause and effect, it hardly feels instrumental. I am still inexpressibly charmed by the whole thing.

My subject line is breaking the David Bowie resolution, because {Weekday} Wol has its own inexorable logic. Not even David Bowie is that surreal. Does it count that I was playing his cover of the Pixies' "Cactus" in the car this morning?
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
oh god I can't believe it, the evil magic of Tumblr has ended up addicting me to an online webcomic about cute American college boys playing hockey. The American version of hockey, i.e. on ice. Ngozi's Check, Please! is weirdly poignant, bizarrely socially aware and basically adorable, mostly because Bitty (small cute gay Southern boy who bakes), and because of the locus of well-intentioned awkward anxiety that is Jack. The comic and fan responses to same have inexorably infected my Tumblr feed over the last couple of months. The fanfic is lovely. Of all the things I ever thought I'd find myself doing, enjoying web comics about cute American college boys playing hockey significantly doesn't make the list in any way at all.

As revenge, because it's my only defence against this sort of thing, I shall proceed to dissect it ruthlessly, and with maximum use of polysyllables. I think the thing appeals not just because it's well written and beautifully drawn, but because it self-consciously appropriates and subverts the classically heteronormative and traditionally ideologically ugly setting of the frat house. The male sports team/frat house is a homosocial space whose construction generally implies sexism, toxic masculinity, profanity and all-out grossness, but Ngozi's version of it is resolutely and redeemingly utopian. There's enough grossness and profanity to be vaguely realistic, but the stereotypes are lovingly deconstructed: homosociability is mutually supportive, socially aware, irreverent without being destructive. This reaches its apotheosis in Shitty, the team's Gender Studies wonk and part-time nudist, because apparently "Every hockey team should have a hipster who wears floral snapbacks and shouts about the ironies of male sexuality in the American collegiate Greek system while waiting in line for the pong table to free up." Characters rip into each other cheerfully, both on and off the ice, but the teasing is free of malice. Bitty's gay identity is open, and unquestioningly supported by the team; his endearing personality, which is approximately what you'd get if Tintin embraced the twink stereotype slightly more flamboyantly while more or less continuously baking pie, exists in beautiful relief against the far more macho vibe of the rest of the team.

Part of what Ngozi is doing here, I think, is to present as primary text something which has the sensibility of fan fiction straight off the bat; like slash fic, it posits male relationships in an idealised mode, one in which homoerotic elements, whether literal or subtextual, are celebrated rather than being denied, by the characters and setting as well as the writer. (The college setting is the fictional Samwell, presented as being the most queer-friendly campus in America.) The comic is thus inherently self-aware, existing in dialogue not only with its own raft of external texts (character Twitter feeds, the writer's blog with additional comics, headcanons and occasional character Q&As) but with the whole fanfic paradigm itself. Quite my favourite bit of the series is Johnson the existential goalie, who's a minor character whose hobbies include "breaking the fourth wall": anything he says is metacommentary on his own and the other characters' existences as comic book characters, and he cheerfully acknowledges his own purpose as a device for furthering various narrative arcs. The really good fanfic has him popping in to comment on the difference between his own characterisation in and out of canon. It makes my narrative-fondling toes curl in girly glee.

So, weird but true: I have to admit to enjoying web comics about cute American college boys playing hockey. Because life's odd like that. In a good way.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the things I did while I was on leave was actually to watch some movies, in an attempt to reduce the reproachful, tottering Pile of Unwatched Doom. (Currently embarked upon Star Wars: Clone Wars, which is so far vaguely cool, although its Anakin may be unduly... chiselled.) Two of the actual movies were the most recent Studio Ghibli offerings, both of which were lovely in rather different ways.

Arrietty is based on Mary Norton's classic children's book The Borrowers, which I ended up re-reading before I watched the film. Lord, I'd forgotten how harsh and claustrophobic and threatening a story it can be - the world of tiny little people living in the corners of normal human existence is precarious and paranoid, and the books are rather despairing about human attitudes to things that are tiny and powerless and vulnerable to being categorised, diminishingly, as either "vermin" or "cute". The Studio Ghibli version is slightly less cruel, but the story still fits naturally with the usual Ghibli preoccupations with environmental destruction, and with the sense of a fragile species watching their specific niche eroded inexorably by unthinking humanity. That being said, the film is beautiful, particularly in its sense of nature, and in its visual fascination with the contrasts and whimsies inherent in very small people interacting with very large things. It manages to retain the spirit of the Norton ending while still providing a sense of uplift, which is quite a feat. I enjoyed it, but it also made me realise that "enjoy" isn't really a word I ever applied to the books, they're too uncomfortable.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is very much more folkloric, and I've added it to my considerable list of fairy-tale things I should probably write papers on. Unlike Arrietty, which has a very standard Ghibli aesthetic and animation style, Princess Kaguya is something of a departure, its visual feel far more impressionistic and watercolour, and astonishingly beautiful. The recognisable folkloric motifs of the peasant man and wife who find a tiny, magical child in the bamboo grove very quickly give way to an exploration of the mannered artificiality of the Japanese medieval nobility - "Princess" as social construct rather than naturalised fairy-tale icon. (Don't worry, the mad fantastic elements snap right back into place). It's a sad story, and one which is as concerned as Arietty was with the importance of unfettered identity, and the idea of agency in, and celebration of, the natural world. It also has sweepingly fantastic sequences which are simply breathtaking, and it packs enough of an emotional punch that it made me cry at a couple of points. I loved this; it's very much its own thing, difficult to find comparisons, but I'll re-watch this over and over.

(My subject line is Bowie's "Glass Spider", which is weird and fairy-tale all in its own right).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
well, then. Happy new year. 2016. A year, as the Goon Show would have it, of months, and one which adds up to 9, a number of which I've always been fond for random aesthetic reasons. (Curvy. And three threes). I hope this is a good omen. I didn't do the annual scorecard retrospective last year, because I was submerged in depression at the start of 2015 and not really blogging, so as has become traditional, I'm going to catch up by doing them both at once.

2014 was about change, in a lot of ways: moving out of a 15-year shared space, a new boss at work who radically redefined both my working conditions and my sense of safety, and the opening of a lot of major cans of heavily suppressed worms in the therapy process. In fact, safety nets were removed in 2014 to rather dramatic extents. It's probably not surprising that 2014 was quite bad for the depression. I'm not good at change. It frightens me, and I tend to sit in a rut in order to avoid it, and I find it more stressful than energising. But if the two-year comparison has done anything, it's been to realise that I can do change if necessary (and if prodded properly, and I still owe Jo beyond belief for lending me the energy and direction to shepherd me through the move); and more importantly, it can be exciting and energising. At the beginning of 2014 I resolved, above all, to try and be happy, and while it's been a two-year process with patchy results, I think I'm starting to achieve that. If 2014 was about change, 2015 was about adapting, moving forward.

So, here's the scorecard, with its usual random set of juxtapositions.

Things achieved by me in 2014: a break-up with my Evil Landlord, in the domicile rather than the friendship sense; an autonomous home filled with the basic furniture and appliances for daily life; an autonomous life in which I control all my own adult-related decisions; a chapter in a major book on fairy-tale film; something resembling a start on a theoretical engagement with the existence of African fairy tale within my personal academic paradigm (this is actually rather major); some crowbars applied to crack open deep-seated problems in therapy.

Things achieved by me in 2015: a new cat. A refinement of my home space beyond the basics, in a way that has made it feel particularly mine. A new set of work responsibilities (I now head a student engagement cluster, for what that's worth) and, after careful manipulation, a working relationship with my new boss. A negotiation of a major political melt-down on campus, during which I think I helped students measurably and was able to give free rein to my organisational bent. An emergence from the chrysalis of therapy and anti-depressants into a more stand-alone existence, although I suspect my wings are still drying.

Losses: Philip&Jo, who fled the country, and who are not an absolute loss because the internet, but whom I miss. My sweet and mentally disabled Aunt Jane, sadly, from cancer, but also mercifully quickly and while she was with my mother in the UK rather than being in Zim. Golux, about whom I am still sad. (Also, I discover, Ounce, who was never technically mine, but with whom I lived for a decade or so, and for whose shadowy, flighty insecurities I had a fondness not untinged with guilt. He had the same thing Fish did, cancer on the roof of his mouth; the EL had to have him put down just before Christmas. It's been a bad year for kitties chez EL, they're down to Todal, who remains in reasonable health, albeit very skinny, despite some sort of fairly major kidney problem.)

Things discovered by me in 2014: Inquisition, Death Cab for Cutie, living alone, really loving living alone, mocha cheesecake, Bed On Bricks, morally ambiguous honey badgers, Agents of Shield, comparative chocolate digestive anthropology, memory-scrambling anaesthetic drugs, 2048 with Sherlock and otters, building bookshelves with Jo, Moxibay side-effects, Parade's End.

Things discovered by me in 2015: Fallout, Sunless Seas, epic container gardening, growing things from bulbs and seed, Dragon Age fanfic, office politicking skills, makeshift racerback bras, the corrosive properties of lemon juice, electric toothbrushes, hipster cats-eye spectacle frames, reading the service agreement properly, Amelia Peabody, the limitations of the therapy process, Mallory Ortberg, Frère's, cauliflower and sweetcorn soup, Daredevil, clipping my cats' claws myself, Wellbutrin side-effects, Flow, Windows 10.

Things rediscovered by me in 2015: my brain not on drugs; long hair; dreaming; being happy.

If I'm making resolutions, which I don't think I am in any formal way, it's to try and continue being happy; to look for positive ways to change. Because apparently it's possible.

(My subject line is quoting ABBA, unashamedly, because new year always earworms me with that song for days).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Apparently you can take the girl out of the SCA, but... If you don't read Mallory Ortberg, on The Toast or on Twitter, you should, she offers an extremely high class of batshit lateral. The latest of hers to do the rounds, Two Medieval Monks Invent Bestiaries, is a particularly fine specimen. The traditional Earl Grey was snorted through the traditional nasal appendage.

I am still at home with bronchitis and a lovely, hacking cough which causes Hobbit to dash terrified from the room at frequent intervals. My nice doctor has torn her hair slightly, prescribed an asthma pump, and booked me off for the whole week. I am playing an awful lot of Inquisition. Random investigation (occasioned by a weird game corruption which Teh Internets seem to think is the result of having too many different saved games) suggests that I am not, in fact, powering my way through a fourth playthrough (Qunari mage, female, romancing Josie), it's actually my seventh1. I appear have spent a certain proportion of the last few months playing Inquisition in a fugue state. Also, I am now good enough at the damned thing that I'm wandering through on an elevated difficulty visiting areas in the wrong order so I fight things a good 6 or 7 levels higher than I am, and I'm still cremating them with some efficiency.

Finally, this blew my mind. Metallica cover, plunging me straight back into my Honours year, aargh nostalgia. All-girl band. Aged 9 to 14. Watch the drummer in particular, she's bloody good and she rocks.

1 Human rogue (dual wield), female, Cullen; Elven mage (rift mage), female, Solas; Human mage (knight enchanter), famale, Cullen; Elven warrior (sword/shield), male, Dorian; Elven rogue (archer), female, Cullen; Human mage (knight enchanter), male, Dorian. I am not, apparently, compelled to monogamy as much as I am in other iterations of Bioware games, although there's a certain Cullen and Dorian theme emerging. This is because Inquisition is beautifully written, far more so than earlier DAs, and I genuinely like and respect a much higher proportion of these people. (Dorian is entirely endearing, and Cullen's character arc over three games is very nicely drawn; both achieve the balance of damaged/conflicted with likeable which earlier DAs have largely flubbed). Next up, Dwarven rogue, female, (dual wield, still my favourite class), probably Sera. Blackwall annoys me and Iron Bull is frankly terrifying.

never make passes

Friday, 27 March 2015 03:30 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Yesterday, as I wandered vaguely around the faculty office, a colleague bumped into me, did a double take, and said, "I like your glasses ... Um, have you always worn glasses?" This was a little disconcerting. I have incredibly bad eyesight (-8.5 in one eye, -3.5 in the other) and gave up on contact lenses about a decade ago, as they actively irritate my eyes (Apparently I have little bumps on the inside of my eyelid. Go figure.) As a result I have worn glasses continuously for as long as she's known me, which is for over two years now, during which time she's occupied the office next to mine. They've simply never registered.

What she's responding to is my new glasses, which I wore for the first time yesterday. I've hitherto gone for fairly minimal sort of frames which more or less disappear on my face - thin metal rims, small lenses. I can't do that any more, because the prescription is strong enough and the resulting lenses thick enough that they can't go into narrow-rimmed frames, and I no longer have the disposable income necessary to pay the R6000-odd additional cost for having the lenses thinned. It's hipster thick frames, or nothing. We managed, by dint of trying on half the frames in the shop and several the nice man dug out from the back room, to make the lenses a bit larger by using a cats-eye shape, which cuts out the really thick outer bit, and which I incidentally like rather a lot.

This was also, however, a philosophical decision for which I probably blame several years of intensive therapy. I've always minimised my glasses before, because they make me feel frumpy and unattractive. But hipster frames are very in at the moment, they're all over the media and it's rubbed my nose in the fact that they actually work. They make a statement - yes, these are glasses, aren't they cool? as opposed to please-pretend-I'm-not-wearing-them. I wandered into the optician determined to go for larger glasses with thicker frames and damn the torpedoes, and so I have. This augurs a certain degree of increased self-confidence from two years ago, when I ordered the last pair, and I am modestly proud of this. So, presumably, is my therapist.

I would post a selfie, but really.

design for life

Wednesday, 28 January 2015 05:21 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Can't talk, orientating. Or, more specifically, completely exhausted and, for some reason, so utterly loathing the orientation experience this year that I can't even talk about it. Dragging myself from day to day. Bleah.

Instead, let me offer you an epiphany, courtesy of my Tumblr feed, which is really educational in all sorts of ways you possibly don't want to contemplate. Someone posted a series of Lifehacker gifs about Cunning Things To Do With Bras. I was scrolling down through it while simultaneously hoiking my bra straps up my shoulders in that way I have to do umpteen times a day because apparently I have substandard shoulders coated in teflon and built with mini ski slopes at the tops of my arms, and there it was. A series of images which suggests you stop slipping straps by connecting them together in the middle of your back with one of those giant metal paperclips, making a makeshift racerback bra. There was, coincidentally, a giant metal paperclip on my desk right in front of me. A couple of minutes of undignified groping later, and voila! No chance of slippage, and for some bizarre reason actually comfortable in a way I never find bras to be at all under any circumstances. (Invariable ritual arriving at home: open door, fall over cat, dump bag on chair, go into bedroom, kick off shoes, do the 14-year-old girl thing of unhooking bra and pulling straps out of shirt sleeveholes to get the fuck rid of the wretched thing because I loathe wearing them and only do so because attempted professional). Honestly, it quite made my month, which has otherwise been more or less uniformly horrible.

In other news, I have discovered Inquisition fanfic, which is surprisingly entertaining and rather overly endowed with BDSM and hot elf-sex. Fanfic, literature of spaces, etc. Also, subliminal Freudian metaphor, apparently.

My subject line because I have just played through the entirety of the Magnetic Fields in the car and have embarked, with inexorable alphabetical logic, into Manic Street Preachers.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Some early impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I have played for about six hours today, with a break in the middle to go and upgrade my computer. (New graphics card, more RAM, now it doesn't give everyone plastic hair and the graphics have stopped with the momentary freezing. The fact that I am in a stage of life where I can randomly and wantonly go and spend a couple of thousand rand on an essentially inessential upgrade just because I feel like it, still fills me with wonder.)

  1. Inquisition pretty. And far more open-world, hooray.
  2. Story interesting, world-building ditto. Thedas politics is always pleasingly chewy.
  3. Combat seriously unpleasant. They've done away with auto-attack and click to move, which means you have to button-mash horribly. In my case, particularly horribly, because I suck at it.
  5. I have played for six hours and just finished the intro section. I'm not sure what this bodes, but it definitely bodes.

In a completely characteristic attack of the Cosmic Wossnames, my weekend is filled with social commitments. Notwithstanding this minor impediment, I should imagine that further dispatches from the inquisitorial front will almost certainly follow.

(My car music has moved on to the Eurythmics, which is appropriate given my fondness for her kick-butt contralto and my inevitable gaming tendency to play kick-butt women. Hence subject line.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I had an outbreak of Summer on Tuesday and madly encouraged the nice hairdresser man to chop my hair short, in the interests of getting it the hell off the back of my neck. It's now a shortish bob, which as per usual I will defiantly refuse to blow-dry at any price, and which will thus never look quite as sleek and grown-up as it does when I leave the salon. I've noticed a bizarre thing, though. Yesterday and today have been filled with colleagues being ridiculously and uncharacteristically chatty at me. They bounce into my office to discuss minor points, they engage me in conversation while I'm swearing gently at the photocopier, they laugh at my involuntary word-play in meetings. (I am incapable of professional meeting language. There will be play, and often metaphor, high-coloured, for the use of. Mostly people just look blank.)

I am driven to the conclusion that this haircut is possibly (shudder) ... cute. At any rate, it seems to make me more approachable. I'm toying with the idea of seeing what black-rimmed hipster spectacles do to the effect.

A quick public service announcement: the PC version of Dragon Age: Inquisition is released tomorrow. I pre-ordered it from Origin, on the grounds that it was half the price of the disc version on Loot for the deluxe edition and comes with Cool Bonus Stuff. They opened it for preload on Monday, and, the cardboard-and-string internets of our beloved country being what they are, I have been gently downloading it in the background (and swearing at the resulting slow loads of Tumblr gifs) ever since. We were at about 82% this morning. The gods willing and the geeks don't rise (or the damned cat doesn't climb on the keyboard in my absence and accidentally halt the download again), it should be finished just in time for official scratch-off tomorrow. I shall thereafter vanish into obsessive Dragon Age companion-flirting with a muffled squeak, probably for the next few weeks. Or months. Posts, and actual human interaction, may be a little thin on the ground, and unduly dragon-flavoured. Don't take it personally. With any luck they won't fumble the dismount as badly as they did in Mass Effect 3...

The car music system is still with the Death Cab. We're now in Transatlanticism, which I think is the last album I have on this player. I must acquire more Death Cab, I only have about three of them, and You Can Play These Songs With Chords is worth it for the title alone. For the record, my subject line is from "Expo '86".
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
That brief radio interview I did about fanfic a while back? The interviewer wanted some examples of good fanfic, because he didn't believe me when I said some fanfic was better than the original text. I never got around to sending him any recs, being as how I was somewhat depressed at the time, but this is one of the recs I should have sent him: dirgewithoutmusic's "We must unite inside her walls or we'll crumble from within" series. Harry Potter; meditations on some of the more marginal female characters and their House characteristics: a remedial, redemptive and deeply political project of enormous insight and sophistication. Beautifully written. The Andromeda one has just made me cry, although to be fair most of the rest of them did, too. If Rowling thought about her characters like this HP would be a great and profound work of literature instead of merely an enjoyable, apposite and popular one.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
parades end landscape

So, Parade's End! In utter defiance of my usual desperate fidelity to nothing but the fluffiest of genre tv, I am suddenly and inexplicably hooked on quality BBC renditions of period Modernist novels, with extra side helpings of war, tragedy and emotional distress. I dunno. Apparently I actually have the mental energy, which is probably not unrelated to my recent post on being (weird, go figure) un-depressed and even happy. Which, I am happy to say, is still the case.

My sudden interest in Parade's End is not just fangirling, although the link is Benedict Cumberbatch and I ended up watching it via the fan process - my Tumblr feed is still all about Sherlock, and if fan activity does anything, it introduces you not just to the investment of articulate fans in the central text, but in all the other texts they love, too. There's apparently only so much exposure to beautiful English countryside and Edwardian costume in lovingly-captured Tumblr gifs I can take before I have to damned well see the series.

And wow, is it beautiful. The production has a sort of glow about it, it's exquisitely conceived and shot, with an almost heightened reality to the period detail. That gives, I think, a slight sense of detachment from all of the mental cruelty and horrors of war with which the story is concerned - they are tragic and horrifying without actually being visceral, which is possibly also why I'm managing to enjoy it. But the visual spectacle is really only a context for the characters, from whom one doesn't detach at all. Wow, I invest in these people. All so interestingly flawed, groping unavailingly towards abstract ideals, so utterly shaped and entrapped by their social contexts, structures, expectations, morals. Their own desires so suppressed. Vivid, real, sad people, caught in a terrible sort of inevitability - not just war, although that flings it all into relief, but the shape of their everyday lives. The series is amazing, but now I really want to read the book.

And, let me tell you, it's deeply weird to find myself suddenly impelled to read the book, because my loathing for the Modernists is a pure and burning thing, and Ford Madox Ford is a maddened Modernist with all the bells and whistles. They've always struck me as arrogant sods with this whole thing of My Consciousness, Let Me Show You It. Generally, as a self-respecting genre theorist I have no damned interest at all in someone's naked consciousness, unfiltered by respectable genre functions or narrative conventions. A lot of this distaste is irrational and probably exists because I was badly savaged, in my impressionable undergrad, by a rampaging James Joyce - I never even tried Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist did for me all on its own in first-year English. At the time my high levels of nascent feminism and innate girly swot caused me independently to make valiant but unavailing attempts to read Virginia Woolf on the grounds that the Girl version of Modernism may be more palatable than the Boy, but oh lord. (Except Orlando. I love Orlando, it's a romp, albeit an angry romp, and it appeals to those bits of me that are into androgyny and shifted gender boundaries, which I am coming to the conclusion are rather a lot more of me than I'd realised).

But a sneaking sympathy has clearly crept up on me, because the Modernist framing of Ford's writing obviously influences the way the series is made, and I utterly adore the way the series is made. Apart from its deeply internal positioning and fascination with psychology, it's all allusion and implication, fragmented narrative, half-told stories, time-jumps, unexplained free associations - it makes you work, it doesn't explain, you have to construct it as you watch. I'm currently re-watching because I feel that I missed so much the first time round, and it's an immeasurably rich pleasure on a second viewing, when you can feel the operation of each instant in the arc of the whole. This is intelligent television based on an intelligent book, and thus, by gum, I'll prove myself intelligent by surviving Ford Madox Ford, or perish in the attempt.

I should also possibly record for posterity that, apart from an uncharacteristic inclination to give Modernism a second chance, watching Parade's End’s upper class Edwardianism, in which people perfectly unironically say things like “Ripping!” and “old boy”, has had the weird and possibly inevitable side-effect of mutating my already slightly indefinably pseudo-British accent inexorably towards ever more cut-glass Full English enunciation. (Like a Full English breakfast, only less hardening to the arteries). Especially, for some reason, when giving curriculum advice. I can't work out if the bell-like clarity is desirable or pretentious as hell, but given that my next Cunning Plan is to break out the BBC Bleak House I haven't got around to watching yet, the linguistic shenanigans are almost certainly going to amplify rather than receding. But it's my favourite Dickens, and Gillian Anderson doing Lady Deadlock is an act of inspired and genius casting such as the world has never seen, and apparently I now have the mental fortitude, so my immediate environment can just deal with the Britishness. So there.

pity the child

Thursday, 18 September 2014 11:17 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out at the end of November, and in the twitchy, anticipatory interim, having played Origins and II obsessively for a few months, I need something to fill the void. This has led to some slightly experimental gaming, most recently: Gone Home, and Papo & Yo.


Gone Home was a tip from Jo: it isn't really a game so much as it's an interactive narrative that requires you to construct the story, bit by bit, from the information you find. You're returning to visit your family, but when you arrive, no-one's there. You wander around the house looking at things, and the pattern of events emerges gradually from the information you're given. It's not hugely sophisticated, but the sense of agency you have in building up the narrative is satisfying, and it plays very nicely with narrative expectation and trope. You continually skirt markers of horror or tragedy or melodrama, and then skitter away again; I kept thinking I knew what was going on, only to realise that it wasn't doing the clichéd thing I'd thought it was. Also, it's a period piece, deliberately pre-cell-phones or internet; it's frankly amazing to realise the nostalgic emotional charge behind a mix tape. This was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours of not-quite-gaming. Recommended.


I picked up Papo & Yo from a mention on Anna Sarkesian's excellent Tropes vs Women series, where she deconstructs the nastier misogynies of computer games; this was a counter-example. Papo & Yo is a puzzle game with minor platformer elements, although fortunately the bits where you have to jump between floating things are minimal and only gave me a few minutes of annoyance. (I'm incredibly bad at jumping between floating things, or pillars, or anything where you have to land neatly on a small area and then take off again. I think my real-life klutz tendencies give me Issues).

The game follows a young Brazilian boy as he negotiates a dreamlike urban setting made up of slum-like shacks but largely devoid of people, and curiously pastel and beautiful; his companion, a giant monster, is alternately oblivious and monstrous, and operates as a deliberate, poignant and extremely effective metaphor for child abuse by an alcoholic father-figure. The monster is both the challenge and part of the problem; you occasionally negotiate the puzzles by manipulating the monster so you can use his weight to trigger pressure plates, or bounce off his stomach, but he becomes a flaming, rampaging, horrible thing under the influence of the alcohol-metaphor. It's a fascinating playing experience because the occasional violence is entirely non-instrumental in game terms - you are thrown around and trampled but damage is not recorded in any formal way - yet is somehow infinitely more awful and disturbing than the more concrete and conventional kind which whittles down your hit-points.

Despite this, the game utterly charmed me. Its puzzles are entertaining and frequently whimsical, with glowing bits of string pulling buildings around and houses randomly growing legs or wings; its mood is gentle and full of a child-like delight and wonder at its own environment; and its conclusion, the exact antithesis of a boss-battle, is thoughtful and genuine enough to have moved me to tears. I loved this. Loved, loved, loved it. Play it if you're into puzzle games and haven't already; the PC version is on Steam. [ profile] wolverine_nun, I'm probably looking at you.

(I am horrified to note, from my subject line, that the musical Chess appears to have imprinted me in early teenagerhood and cannot be eradicated. Stupid ridiculously catchy Abba writers.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Right, so, in a ridiculous whirl of activity, in between hand-holding angsty students, composing nitpicky faculty rules and placating my boss, I have during the course of today confirmed a possession date, signed a lease, paid a deposit on same, booked a removals company, booked a micro-herd of Eco-boxes to pack everything into, paid for both of above, cancelled a small pack of stop orders in order to replace them with a small pack of other, different stop orders, and given formal notice to my Evil Landlord, who is being signally non-evil about it all. I move on the 19th. I'm ... a bit breathless, actually. Apparently this is a real thing that's actually happening almost immediately. Heavens.

All this activity seems to have put the temporary kibosh on book-distribution processes, mostly because of the whiplash, so instead have this. It's a thing of beauty. Ridiculous animated balloon-animal bouncy giggly beauty.

The subject line is even more surreal than usual. Sorry. I wouldn't actually recognise "99 Luftballons" if it slithered up my leg, but it came immediately to mind when I was doing the usual subject-line trawl of the unconscious by virtue of the fact that it's the kind of song one sees quoted all over the show to the extent where actually experiencing it first hand is redundant.

my chemical romance

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 12:24 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
The memory-scrambling drugs are very weird. I was in surgery for the better part of an hour, but I recollect it as a sort of muddled series of highlights lasting no more than a couple of minutes, and including a vague sense that at some point having local anaesthetic injected was painful, but no actual memory of the pain. Which is, in fact, exactly what the nice surgeon promised.

Also, the memory-scrambling drugs are apparently stimulating to the dream centres. Last night I dreamed, in vivid detail, that I was running an interactive, semi-LARP performance of The Sound of Music, with frequent pauses for the audience to suggest alternatives to the plot. For some reason Ben Whishaw was playing the illegitimate son of the father-figure, as a mute who communicated entirely by mime. I woke myself up with the realisation that (a) having Sherlock Holmes deducing characters is an incredibly good narrative short-cut for packing in background information (although with absolutely no idea what the hell he was actually doing in The Sound of Music), and (b) that the whole thing was a much more complicated challenge than I'd expected in terms of possible plot complexities, resulting in the inescapable conclusion that the skills of the actors concerned were absolutely not up to the improvisation needed.

"Minor surgery" is apparently not as minor as all that. The surgeon's nice nurse lady laughed gently at the idea that I might go back to work today, and put me off until Monday. The prime selection of stitches down the back of my thigh isn't actually painful, although they pull a little when I move, and necessitate some odd sitting positions. Mostly, though, I'm realising that she's right - I went out to the chemist briefly this morning, and I'm suddenly dead on my feet. Right, yes, they cut chunks out of me. Small chunks, but I think my body is entitled to object a bit.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
For once I have remembered to note that it's my blog's birthday. I first posted on 31st January 2005. That's nine years of blogging. 1 657 entries, counting this one. That's one every 1.98 days, if the weather hasn't robbed me of my tiny vestiges of mathematical ability. People have posted 10 732 comments. The longest hiatus in posting has been the ten days or so in July 2011 while I was in hospital with my feet exploded. I think it's fair to assume that I quite like writing stuff, for some reason. Or am actually addicted to words. Or uncommonly cussed. Probably all three.

Cape Town is having heatwaves. I think it's almost allowed to, usually they come in February and that's ... in a few hours, now. (Alas January. I'm sure there was something else I was planning to do with you, but oh well). Be that as it may, today was ungodly, stinking, improbable hot. This is something of a continuing theme: this weekend the foot pedal on my sewing machine inconveniently burst into smoke and melted plastic in the middle of a skirt reconstruction, so possibly Hell is closer to the surface than usual. I spent the only tolerable hour or two this afternoon sitting in the living room (in the middle of a power cut, for some reason - Capetonians, turn off your aircon. It isn't fair that you have it when I don't) with my feet in a bucket of water and ice. Turns out this reduces my swollen ankles immediately and dramatically, which is useful, as the combination of heat and running round conducting orientation for four days gives me puffy feet like whoa and dammit. I can't even blame the DVT, they used to do this while I was running roleplaying cons and SCA events, years before my leg inconveniently exploded on the way to Australia. I don't like this weather. Have you noticed?

Fortunately, given the heat, the Revenge of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Army of Reconstruction has finished the remodelling of the front wall and departed for points unknown, which means we don't have to deal with dust as well as heat in that sort of misguided fake Western movie fashion. They have left behind a rather spanky carport and pristine section of new wall in addition to the traditional blasted heath which always attends their efforts. Viz.:


I thumb my nose in the general direction of the hadeda aerial bombardment of my car, now frustrated. Hah!

I know "I'll stop the world" from Nouvelle Vague, for whom I have a somewhat unbecoming passion quite apart from their bossa nova version of this song, which has an insidiously beautiful lyric line. I do vaguely know the Modern English original (quite a fun music video, despite o lord the 80s), but it's not a patch on the cover.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

Pacific Rim fascinated me for months before I'd even seen it - not because it's giant monsters trashing Tokyo (which I love) or Guillermo del Toro (who I also love) or at least a partial departure from Americanised Hollywood gender and race tropes (which I crave), but because of the fan response. My Tumblr feed is full of fandoms, skewing heavily comic book, Tolkien and TV show, and a substantial chunk of them seem to have embraced jaegers and kaiju and pilots in the drift with an instantaneous, full-on investment which is strangely heart-warming. Watching the film last night was an exercise in happy recognition, as though I'd become a fan of the film before I'd even seen it via a sort of dizzy second-hand joy.

This is particularly fascinating because it's not a conventionally great film. I have to admit that my enjoyment of it was severely compromised by Nu-Metro's traditionally ham-fisted and overstated attitude to sound production: films at Canal Walk are habitually both over-loud and shockingly badly balanced, so that you can't hear the dialogue properly because of the way the sound effects and music have stunned your ear canals. This blunted the film's effect, I think, so that it felt more like a big/loud/stupid monster blockbuster than it actually is - I'm strangely looking forward to seeing it again on DVD, preferably Blu-Ray and a nice big HD TV, so that I can escape both the noise assault and the manifest irritations of 3D glasses while still enjoying the spectacle. (I can't wear contact lenses. My long-distance sight is appalling. Glasses over glasses for 3D purposes are distractingly annoying, and I kick myself that I left seeing the film too late for it to be available on circuit in 2D). The noise thing is particularly problematical because the film's subtleties and appeals, of which it has surprisingly many, are entirely in the fact that it's a character-driven narrative. This is the anti-Transformers: while it has giant robots and monsters and lots of bashing, it's not about the special effects, but about a heart and soul which are quintessentially humanist.

The film's genesis is specifically in the traditional Japanese kaiju and mecha narratives, which are explicitly recreated with a nice balance of nostalgia with evangelism: del Toro hopes to introduce these stories he loves to a whole new generation. The plot itself is very simple, and is laid out via rather pedestrian exposition in the first ten minutes of the film: Earth is invaded by giant (as in Godzilla-sized) reptilian monsters who arrive, rather than from outer space, via an inter-dimensional rift on the floor of the Pacific. This means that they crawl out of the ocean to trash cities on the Pacific rim, in the approved kaiju style, to be beaten back by equally giant metal humanoids who are driven by two human pilots through a sort of rig thing which translates their movements to the mechanism's. Because the size and complexity of the mecha are too great for a single human brain, pilots are neurologically linked to manage it in tandem through a process called the drift. Shenanigans ensue.

And really, looking back at that simple summary, that's exactly why it works - exactly why it isn't the flash-bang Michael-Bay emptiness of Transformers. The kaiju threat attacks the Pacific Rim, which means it's international: cities have their own jaegers, so pilots in the film are Russian and Chinese and Australian as well as white and black and Asian and American, but the response is a co-ordinated one, not Amurrica Saves the World. The theme of co-operation continues in the drift, which is about compatibility and connection as well as co-operation, but it's interpreted in interestingly diverse ways - pilots include teams who are father/son or siblings as well as a married couple, so it's not just about Teh Romance. The central team has the expected white male American point-of-view character, but his partner Mako is female and Japanese, she kicks butt in a remarkably non-sexualised fashion (the stick-fighting scenes are simply cool), and their relationship is actually interpretable as sibling as much as romantic. The visual design of the film is spectacular and at times surprisingly subtle (see this very interesting fan analysis), but, unlike Transformers, it's not just about action spectacle. You feel connected to these characters: it's easy to distinguish jaeger from jaeger not only in their names and colours and differentiated abilities, but because their pilot teams are so distinctive, often solely because of visual and action cues rather than dialogue, and because the mecha in the end represents the individuals, it doesn't replace them.

These twin poles of diversity and connection are, I think, why this film speaks so powerfully to a fan audience, whose drive is always towards empathy and identification. The international nature of the team as much as the mechanism of the drift celebrate the idea of community, of diverse individuals joining together in the service of a shared experience and goal. That's what fandom is. And over and over again, the kind of fan who loves this film and saw it multiple times on circuit and is producing fan-art and fanfic and in-depth discussion about it, says upfront that it's because they can find themselves in it. Unlike the traditional Hollywood action blockbuster, it doesn't present for your identification only the heroic white American male and his adoring and skimpily-clad white women. Its motivating force is about internal drive rather than external stereotype; the film itself, and the attitude of its creators (as in the del Toro interview given by the director himself to a Tumblr fan community) recognise, reify and celebrate the importance of communal rather than individual action. This is why, despite its action focus and its sometimes clunky and minimalist dialogue and plot, Pacific Rim is anything but simplistic, and why it's ultimately absolutely worthy of the director who also created Pan's Labyrinth: it rises above its apparent limitations to speak an emotional language of exceptional power and grace. As a film about giant metal machines battling giant reptilian monsters it absolutely delivers, but actually it's about people, and what people can do together rather than apart. We need more of these. Hollywood has become very bad at them. It's nice to know it can be done.

fire and brimstone

Thursday, 11 July 2013 04:06 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Clearly it is fatal to ever name anything, truenames simply happen with cosmic inevitability. Minerva is apparently not Minerva, or is at least only Minerva for extremely formal occasions. Courtesy of her number-plate and Jo&Stv, she is now the Beast, or Beastie for affectionate. I am bowing to the inevitable, and will have to find a small demonic dangly for her rear-view-mirror rather than a wol.

I should also simply accept that classical names for creatures of mine are doomed: Fish was technically Ariadne, but was never anything but Fish. The Hobbit is technically Peregrine Took or Pippin, but it never stuck. The Biscuit Tin was also supposed to be the Boojum, but that didn't stick either. However, at least the Beast now fits neatly into the clear parameters of Names For My Blue Cars Which Have To Be The Definite Article Plus Something Beginning With B.

It is somewhat of a revelation to realise how much of the Beast is clearly a nostalgic attempt to reconstruct the Biscuit Tin, who I loved with the pure and abiding love of a girl for her small blue tin boxy car.

In the Department of Fire And Brimstone, I have this week brought upon myself solely by my own stupid exertions a particularly early start to Hellweek, which is technically next week. We did early change of curriculum for five hours of yesterday and again today. It's the exact opposite of Christmas coming early, and has moreover produced the misguided young man who, at the end of a long day, attempted to invade my tea-drinking moment with an insistence that he was only adding a course so it wasn't a change of curriculum and he could thus clearly ignore the No Change Of Curriculum sign on my door. Honestly. Basic logic, do we even teach it? *channels Professor Kirke*

Hellweek next week, aka the first week of term. Please forgive me if I am unduly short and explosive in chance encounters. On the upside, my Esteemed Mother arrives from the UK on Monday evening. That should help.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am inexpressibly charmed both by the article on useless machines BoingBoing linked today, and by the article's last line. There is absolutely no logical reason to build either a machine that only turns itself off or a remote-controlled duck, and the concept is thus enormously attractive. I disagree with Arthur C. Clarke, who apparently wrote (as per the above article), that "There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing — absolutely nothing — except switch itself off." It's not sinister. It's a beautifully concise expression of absolute and bloody-minded dedication to function in the face of all odds - what the article calls "purposeless purity". It's about identity, or at least about something about identity that I instinctively feel is important.

On a slightly less abstract note, these are very beautiful re-imaginings of contemporary films as artefacts of another time. I'd totally adore to watch Peter Sellars in Groundhog Day, and I need this Fritz Lang 2001 poster on my wall.


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