On three good things in my life right now

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Share three good things in your life right now.

It’s the second to last day of NaBloPoMo.  Tomorrow I’ll be doing a short recap post talking about how the challenge went, what I think I did well, etc…  Since today is my last real post, I thought it might be nice to finish on a positive note and talk a little bit about a few things that are going well in my life right now.

1. I have a plan

The last time I was unemployed, I was miserable.  A lot of this was because I didn’t have a plan.  I was essentially letting myself rot in my office, applying for loads of shitty jobs I was never going to get interviews for.  It was disheartening to say the least, to just spin my wheels and never really get anywhere.  This time, I’m trying to do things a little differently.  Yes, I’m still applying for jobs, but I’m also exploring new hobbies like cooking and baking, both to continue learning and give me something to talk about at parties aside from being unemployed.  I’m also working on a certificate in Information and Records Management, as I discussed in an earlier entry.

I am, of course, currently on government employment insurance support.  If I don’t have a job by the time that runs out in late March, I will take out a loan and try to finish this certificate program by the end of 2014.  I will keep looking for jobs, and going to back to school full time is not my ideal, but I need to keep moving forward.  I just can’t get stuck again.  That alone is enough to lift my mood immeasurably.

2.  The weather

It may seem silly, but I couldn’t have come home to Vancouver at a better time.  We have had some of the best weather I’ve ever seen here in the past 5 months.  Our summer was hot and dry, and there’s hardly been any precipitation this fall, save for a week or two of constant rain in September.  I’ve been able to spend a lot of quality time with my dog, walking in various parks around town, and it’s been an absolute pleasure.

3.  My parents

If you know me in person, you know that I have interesting relationships with my parents.  My mother and I are very close and get along very well.  My father and I, well, it’s a different story.  He and I have had a lot of problems over the years and our relationship has been tense at best.  While I don’t think that’s ever going to dramatically change, both of my parents have been terribly supportive of me over the past few years, and in that respect I have a lot to be happy about.  Everyone has to take advantage of their best assets, and two of mine are definitely my parents.

Bonus:

4.  This bloody challenge is almost over, thank whatever.

5.  Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 5

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On toilet selfies and traumatized Albertans

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Have you ever received an amusing email, text, or voicemail message not intended for you?

Actually, I’ve never been on the receiving end of this particular type of text or email failure, but I have been the person that the message was intended for.  It was an innocent person in Alberta who was recently the unfortunate victim of my friend Byron and his toilet selfie.

Byron is an interesting person.  We’ve been long distance friends for many years and we’re a bit of an odd pair.  He lives life to its fullest: he’s always doing something either totally random or terribly creative, always going out somewhere, always meeting people and making new friends, and is generally well-liked wherever he goes.  I am a lot quieter.  I like to stay in, relax and consume fiction, and people don’t ever automatically like me.  Despite our differences, we’ve had a pretty good, and interesting friendship over the years.

He knows that I’m not all that in to texting.  Years of communicating with internet people using only instant messengers has made me learn the value of communicating as personally and intimately as possible.  I still call people and I still leave voice messages even if I know they’ll never be heard.  If given the choice, I will nearly always choose to hear a person’s voice rather than read words on a screen — the exception being skyping with internet people I don’t know particularly well.  For this reason, I’ve apparently been missing out on a lot of random weird texts from Byron because he figured I wouldn’t like them.

“Send me things!”  I told him.

Not being a huge fan of texting doesn’t mean that I don’t want to enjoy whatever weird thing he might take a photograph of one day or whatever else.  And so he agreed, and warned me that I was definitely in for something really stupid.  Unfortunately, the poor boy hadn’t properly updated his contacts, and I’ve changed my phone number a lot over the past year due to moving away and back again.

So, this happened:

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Yes, he sent that toilet selfie to some poor Albertan who was assigned my old phone number.  I don’t think much else needs to be said about it.  My meager wit couldn’t possibly do it justice.

I love you, BJ.  Never change ❤

On my favourite album growing up

Based on a prompt from Plinky: What albums did you listen to most when you were growing up?  Do you ever give those a listen anymore.  Why or why not?

When I was 12-13 years old (in late 1993, early 1994), my favourite album was Last Splash by The Breeders.  As a kid, I had mostly listened to pop music (my second favourite album at that time was Salt-n-Pepa’s Very Necessary).  I knew that bands like Nirvana and many others were out there, but having grown up in a household filled 50s and 60s pop music, I wasn’t really ready for music that had a harsher sound.  The surf-inspired pop rock tracks written mostly by Pixies alum Kim Deal (who of course I’d never heard of before) were the perfect compromise for me at that time, and Last Splash served as my introduction to 90s alternative rock music.

I had been on vacation with my parents, an RV trip to somewhere in the western US — we may have been driving down to L.A. or Palm Springs.  Before I started high school, my parents would pull me out of school and we’d spend about a month in January somewhere in southern California.  Because we were gone so long, and were really just there to hang out and enjoy the sunshine, we outfitted the RV with two televisions, so that the three of us wouldn’t have to fight over what to watch.  MTV was incredible to me: Season 2 of The Real World was airing and Alternative Nation played videos I’d never have seen on Much Music.

This was, of course, when MTV actually played music videos.

It was on Alternative Nation that I first saw this video:

I didn’t really like it at first.  I honestly thought it was pretty weird, but after a few views, I was hooked.  “Cannonball” got its hooks in to me and never let me go.  After I started enjoying the song so much, I begged my parents to buy the album for me (on cassette of course) and I played it constantly for the next few months.

And I’m still listening to it, even now.  I bought the 20th anniversary reissue, and songs from that album regularly make my driving or workout playlists.  Though the album is 20 years old, it still feels fresh and current to me, and is far more consistent with what’s going on right now in music than a lot of the other bands associated with the Grunge movement (though I’d argue the Breeders aren’t really a part of that anyway).  Last Splash started me down a path with music that I’m still on now, with some significant twists and turns.  Without it, I think musically, at least, I’d probably be a pretty different person.  I owe the Deal sisters a lot.

On being a closeted geek

Based on a prompt from Plinky: What geeky or unusual hobby do you have that coworkers do not know about?

Over the years, and yes I know I’m generalizing, I have noticed that nerds often tend to fall in to one of two categories: those who are perfectly able to walk among “normals” and those who are not.  I am one of those who can.

And really, it isn’t by choice.  The friendships I have offline are mostly with people I’ve known since I was a little kid (preschool in some cases), and our relationships are primarily based on shared experiences than they are on shared interests.  Sure, my friends and I do have the odd thing in common — most of us are in to music and books — but that is generally where the similarities end.  I don’t run marathons (though I do work out), I don’t hike, I don’t really like craft beer, I rarely do yoga (though I’m thinking about trying it out a little more), and I’m not really interested in talking about babies or how great kale is for you (don’t we already know?).  These are the things my friends are interested in.  They’re mostly athletic and outdoorsy, and a lot more social than I am.

I like staying home.  I love taking my dog for long walks and exercising inside with a DVD.  I like relaxing on weekends and playing video games or reading comics or writing.  I like Japanese things and fan fiction and chatting with people I’ve never met online who like the same things I do.

Regardless of these differences, I love my friends.  We’ve been through a lot together over the years, but it can be difficult to be the one person in your group who operates outside their social norms.  When my friends talk to me about their interests, I listen to what they have to say because I love them and I know that what they’re saying must be important to them.  I am not often awarded the same courtesy.  There can be a fair amount of teasing, or subtle eye-rolls, and a lot of 1000 yard stares.  So, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.  Not necessarily to censor myself, but to definitely be a little more general about my interests.  Some are more accepting than others, so I’ve learned who I can go in to more detail with and who I might want to just keep out of the loop on certain topics entirely.  I have to admit that I do find this to be frustrating at times, but I also know that you have to learn to pick your battles, and so I try my best to keep most of my discussions about my hobbies online.

J (I won’t user her full name), the team lead I had at the job I worked in Alberta, is a huge, totally unashamed, geek.  To be honest, I’ve never really met anyone like her in person.  Her main interest is Harry Potter and she is the type of geek who literally makes me cringe on a fairly regular basis.  She’s an avid cosplayer, goes to loads of Harry Potter conventions (and a lot of other conventions in general), and plays Quiddich.  Yes, people actually do play some weird, modified version of Quiddich.  She’s even organized a league in Central Alberta.  Not only has she done all of these things, but she will tell anyone about them: her boss at work, all of her coworkers, random people she meets on the street.  Anyone.

I am fairly certain that J has led a totally different kind of social life than the one I have.  She has been lucky enough, or maybe unlucky really, to have had an insulated nerd life.  One where most of her friends have probably had the same, or at least similar, interests to hers and she has never really had to defend her hobbies all that much.  In some ways, I’m a little envious of her.  Just a little.  It can be difficult to go it alone, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, when you tell people you’re interested in comics or video games or whatever, they look at you differently.  It sucks, but people often fear things that they don’t know about or understand.

Coworkers would often question or criticize J’s interests behind her back due to both their impressions of what she was doing and her habit of over-sharing.  Many believed that her talking about conventions and Harry Potter stuff was unprofessional.  It leads me to wonder about whether J’s over-sharing would have been excused if she was talking about something “normal” like cooking or running, or reading books.  I think not.

I also told my coworkers about my interests, but I’m pretty sure that I was never ridiculed.  As I said earlier in this post, I don’t like to censor myself, but I do like to be careful.  Everyone I meet doesn’t need to know everything about me, and there is a lot more to me, my personality, and my life than liking some geeky things.  We all need to make social compromises from time to time and we all need to learn what parts of ourselves to make public and which parts we should keep private.

On shopping and the end of the year in video games

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Describe your most recent shopping splurge.

I am so happy that the end of this challenge is finally in sight.  I have most of my posts for this week started (a couple nearly finished), which is great.  I don’t think I’ve ever been this ready for something to end, aside from uncomfortable visits to the emergency room.  This will probably be my last spontaneous post of NaBloPoMo.  I saw this prompt and thought it would be good for discussing some of my thoughts on the new console launches and the end of the year in video games.

2013 has been a good year for video games.  There have, for me, been enough interesting titles to keep me from kicking much from my backlog, but the backlog hasn’t been growing either, so that’s definitely a plus.  2014 looks equally, if not more, promising with some pretty awesome titles to look forward to:

  • Layton vs. Ace Attorney
  • Dreamfall: Chapters
  • Transistor
  • Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
  • Tales of Xillia 2
  • The Witness
  • Broken Age
  • Child of Light
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Bravely Default
  • Danganronpa
  • Persona Q (if it gets a North American release in 2014)
  • Persona 5 (also if it gets a North American release in 2014)

These are a lot of great things to be excited about.  I’m also hoping to get a PlayStation 4 for my birthday in February, but we’ll see.  Most of the home console games I’m looking forward to are either generation 7 exclusive or coming out for all the systems — I think right now the only exception to that is The Witness.  That said, I can see myself wanting to play those systems on the new gen consoles over PS3 or X360.

So, this fall instead of buying a new console, I decided to buy a newer PlayStation 3 model, which is my most recent shopping splurge.  I had an 80 gig system and it was becoming a huge hassle for a number of reasons.  Finding an entertainment unit that it could fit in to easily when I moved to Alberta was a challenge, and I’ll likely buy another new entertainment unit when I move again — the smaller console is just so much easier to work with.  Also, I’ve been downloading a lot of the PlayStation+ free games and micromanaging the hard drive has been a tremendous pain in the ass.  I was thinking about just upgrading the hard drive, but I figured I may as well get the bonus of a much smaller and quieter system at the same time.  I traded in my old system and the copy of GTA V, so I wound up not paying that much out of pocket for it.  It’s a much nicer design than the original enormous PS3.  If the PS4 had had backwards compatibility out of the box, I would have just upgraded, but I couldn’t justify the price tag right now when there’s nothing on it that I’m interested in playing.  Zeitgeist be damned.

All that’s really left to do for now is finish up the last few games I want to play before compiling my top 5 list.  I generally work with a top 5 because most years there are just slightly too few games for me to make a top 10 without stretching, and coming up with a top 5 is quite a challenge, which I think is best.  A game of the year list wouldn’t be all that significant if you didn’t have to make some tough decisions here and there.  I do have most of my list planned at the moment, but there are a few titles I need to play before I make my final cut.  Here’s what I’m looking to play before the end of the year:

  • Papers Please
  • Thomas was Alone
  • The Legend of Zelda: a Link Between Worlds
  • Turnabout Reclaimed (Dual Destinies DLC case)
  • Tearaway

I’m not sure I’ll play Tearaway because while I think Media Molecule always has interesting ideas, I am not generally that interested in platformers and Thomas Was Alone is also a platformer and far more appealing to me.  Not sure I have it in me to play two platformers by the end of this year.  Also, I’ve read that that game can tend to be a bit short on content, so I’m not sure I want to pay full price for it.  We’ll see how the Christmas budget winds up shaking out — if I can afford to buy it, I’ll probably try to pick it up.

On cooking (and baking)

Based on a prompt from Plinky: Can you cook?

I have never been very interested in cooking.  I come from a family of very good cooks who have always taken their roles quite seriously and, thus, never really had the opportunity or motivation to learn.  Of course, I could make simple things, like bacon and eggs, hamburgers.  I could do most things that didn’t require more than mixing one or two things together and throwing them in to a frying pan.  This served me reasonably well, even when I was living away in Alberta.  Cooking for just one person is never all that much fun, and I wasn’t willing to invest much in developing my skills when I could cook very simple things that I was pretty happy with.

Once I got an audience, however, someone to cook for on a regular basis, cooking started to matter much more than it had previously.  In some ways, my mother is both the best and the worst person to cook for.  Her motto is “if someone else makes it, it’s delicious.”  This is great, because I know that she’ll never give me too hard of a time if I make a mistake or two, but also a little difficult because I’ll only improve if I get constructive feedback.  The best thing about cooking for my mother, though, is the fact that she’s not picky.  She will try pretty well anything and doesn’t have any particular aversion to ethnic foods (though she definitely likes European cooking the best).

And in this environment I’m learning a lot.  I’ve made Italian food, Chinese food, several Indian curries and a lot of interesting dishes that I would never have tried if I was just cooking for myself.  While some dinners have turned out better than others, I haven’t had any major disasters.  Initially, I was expecting to have some dishes turn out very badly, but I think this was mostly popular fiction playing with me a little bit.  Though I have to say that I think my basic knowledge of cooking is probably a little higher than most other beginner cooks just due to my growing up in a house where cooking was important.  I’ve been surprised over the years at how little some of my friends know about food, and I think the knowledge I have has definitely helped me achieve these small successes.  I hope to continue learning and developing my skills.

I have had a few minor baking disasters, but these were mostly due to recipes that we just wound up not liking.  The pumpkin pie cupcakes that I had intended to serve for dessert at Thanksgiving (October in Canada) wound up having a wet and squishy texture that my mother and I just couldn’t stand.  There was a terrible banana bread at one point as well, and last week’s dry chocolate cookies.  Despite these mistakes, I think I actually like baking more cooking.

My friends have enjoyed this as well, since they’ve been eating the results.  I think I might be a little addicted — there’s something really amazing about feeding the people you love and seeing them enjoy it.

On comfort fiction

Based on a prompt from Duolit: What is your favourite rainy day movie?

I actually don’t have a favourite rainy day movie.  For quite some time now, I haven’t been all that interested in movies at all, but I do have a pretty significant catalog of what I like to call comfort fiction: fictional media that I go to when times are tough, for whatever reason.  Here’s my top three (in no particular order).

1.  Alias (TV series, 2001-2006)

Alias is one of those TV series that you either love or hate.  Some of us think it’s awesome, and some think it’s totally awful.  For me, the first three seasons are totally worth watching, the fourth season is not so great, and the fifth season is practically un-watchable.  Those first three seasons are always fun for me to watch, and that has made Alias my favourite palate cleansing series.

I often have problems with ending remorse.  I’ve never delayed finishing a fictional work because I don’t want it to end, but after I finish something I’ve really enjoyed, I usually feel a sense of loss.  This sense of loss is often accompanied by a difficulty to start something new.  My mind is often filled with the thing that I’ve enjoyed so much, and I spent more time wondering what I should do with my time now that that thing is over than I probably should.  If I pick up something new when I’m feeling like this, I will almost inevitably drop it, regardless of how good it might be — I just get stuck and can’t move forward.  Alias is usually my best remedy for this problem.  I can pop in the DVDs and just fly through it: I often fast forward through long stretches and only watch my favourite scenes.  I’ve watched the first season so many times now, that I’ve got it mostly memorized anyway.  Sometimes I’ll wind up watching the whole five seasons (though I usually stop midway through season 4) and sometimes I’ll only watch the first few episodes.

I’m not really sure why this works so well for me, but I think that Alias entertains me just enough to take the edge off of my feelings for whatever I just finished; pushes it far enough to the back of my mind that I can move forward and focus on something new.

2.  Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (video game, Playstation 2, 2007 NA)

It’s no great secret that Persona 3 is my favourite video game, period.  There are a lot of different versions of the game, but the one that I’ve played them most often recently is Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port that came out in North America in 2010.  The female character story in P3P is incredible and the writing in her social links far surpasses anything in Persona 3 or Persona 4.  When this version was first released, I loved it so much that I played it twice in a row, and the game takes roughly 80-90 hours on an initial run and about 40-50 on New Game +.

I was having a bad week when I first got P3P.  I was unemployed and on the same day I received the game, I had had a pretty disastrous job interview.  A few days after starting, a new exterior paint job was started on our house.  The colour of our original house paint (my mother wanted something very close to the original or the exact same colour if she could get it) had changed a bit over the years, and the job had to be restarted at one point.  The painters were around for well over a week, working long hours.  I was home all day, and it was noisy, and I felt like I had no privacy.  P3P wound up being the best distraction I could have hoped for, and it kept me sane for those few days.

And I’ve continued to use P3P as my go-to distraction since 2010.  Whenever I’m having a bad week at work, or if I get some kind of terrible news that I desperately need a good distraction from, I play P3P.  It never fails to keep me busy when I really need it.

3.  Strobe Edge (manga, 2007-2010 JP)

Strobe Edge is not my all-time favourite manga,  but it’s one of those series that incorporates a lot of genre conventions effectively to make something that’s not particularly exciting, but that’s awesome all the same.  Strobe Edge is my favourite contemporary, slice-of-life shoujo manga that doesn’t lean heavily on one particular character trope.  The heroine isn’t a delinquent or shy and misunderstood by all of her classmates, or gorgeous in public and in sweatpants in private.  She’s just a girl, going to school and figuring out how to have fun and enjoy her life.  Yes, there are definitely some conventions at work in Strobe Edge.  The hero is the most popular boy in school, there’s a love triangle, the heroine is bullied for liking the hero, etc…

But all of these tropes are used in interesting ways.  The hero is actually quite socially awkward, the love triangle is actually pretty touching and more of a rectangle (and I hate this trope but it doesn’t bother me here), and the heroine is bullied only for a chapter or two and for different reasons than you’d expect.  In the world of trope-laden, unoriginal shoujo manga, it is difficult to find series that use these conventions well while making them fresh at the same time.  Strobe Edge does that and more.  The art’s not too shabby either.

I love shoujo manga, but I also hate it.  The genre’s reliance on tropes and conventions, and the sometimes insulting Japanese views on romance and gender can be a turnoff at times.  I also find that shoujo manga can typically be a little too long: romance isn’t exactly the best genre for serialized media, and I often get the sense that mangaka are forced to stretch things if their series are succeeding.  It’s difficult to have these conflicting feelings about something, and I am too often disappointed when I try to read something new.

This is when I turn to Strobe Edge.  It never fails to restore my faith in shoujo manga.  I am always amused by it and don’t ever seem to get sick of the story, characters, or art.  I look forward to the day when it will be usurped by something even better, but for now, Strobe Edge is definitely my go-to romance.