May 042019
 

When I was a young kid saving change to buy comics from the rickety wire rack at the 7-eleven, one of my favorite superheros was Storm. I thought her long white hair and the cloak attached to her wrists were regal and cool, and I thought controlling weather was just about the best power you could have.

Reading comics in those days wasn’t like it is today. What I read was what was on the rack when I had 35 cents in my pocket. So I didn’t follow storylines. I dropped in and watched episode of action, without much sense of how it came together with other episodes across groups of issues. So my history of Storm’s character is fragmented and partial, and there are only three specific moments that my brain has stored for easy, casual retrieval.

Moment One: Storm freezing a Sentinel with cold rain and then telling Banshee to scream at it and Cyclops to hit it with pulsed lasers. Inflexible and vibrating at two frequencies, the robot tears itself to pieces. This is a trivial moment really, only a few frames of the story, but I remember it for Storm’s dramatic posture as she’s flying in the wind.

Moment Two: Storm going out to “commune with the earth” after her months in space fighting the Brood. Unfortunately, Earth feels abandoned and is mad at her. Storm calls up the elements and for the first time in her life feels the cold of the rain. Rejected, she retreats back to the mansion. I remember this moment mostly for how I felt when I read it: the earth wasn’t being fair. Storm had been through a lot and needed its support. It didn’t seem right that after all she’d been through, this was happening now too.

Moment Three: Storm, not long after, showing up in black leather and a mohawk. She looked great and seemed really cool to me. Why do I remember it? This is tougher to figure out than with the other images, but I think that, in part, it was one of the first moments when I realized that people change, and so as crazy as it sounds, it’s a moment where I started to figure out something important about the world. I think too that I must have picked up on the barely-crypto queerness of the transformation ( cf. image and dialogue above). And finally, however silly it sounds, I also think that I remember it because it established what I take to be a nearly inviolable rule of life: sometimes, and especially after major events, and definitely after traumatic experiences, you need to change your hair.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing: this blog. After the stress of the past two weeks, I think I need to fiddle with what things look like around here. It may not be pretty. It may get ugly. But in the same way hair grows back, theme options can be restored. So I’m going to play around, experiment and trust that things will find their way to the good.

So buckle up, hang on, and stay tuned.

Apr 132019
 
My copy of Tarzan, gone.

When I moved to Montreal at the end of the nineties, I left my books (boxes and boxes of them) in a storage space. Because of some bad planning and incompetence on my part, they stayed there too long, and when I finally went back to get them they’d been given away.

Up until that moment I still had every book I’d ever owned: the first Tarzan book I’d ever read (Tarzan and the City of Gold), my second copy of Moby Dick (I’d lost the first in study hall in ninth grade and had to replace it), all the fantasy series I’d plowed through, my university textbooks, everything. Because these copies matched my visual page-memories, I could find things in them in a flash. They also had my notes and drawing. So losing them felt like losing part of myself and was devastating.

Well early last year I was on Abebooks and wound up searching the titles of a few of the books I’d remembered and had been thinking about. (It seems like me wondering about Steven Brust’s later Vlad books was maybe the starting point.) Anyway, as I searched, I realized that if I put some effort into it, I could probably reconstruct segments of that lost library. Anyone who’s seen me and the Beav in used book stores knows that setting either of us loose in the stacks with a project rather than simply to browse is asking for trouble. Browsing happens slowly shelf by shelf and takes time, but a project is going to be pursued monomaniacally and with the kind of detail only people operating outside the ordinary limits of time and hygiene can muster.

Aware of the danger—and of both the realities of my budget and the possible foolishness of the project (I mean, do I really want all these books again after all this time?)—I’ve kept things in check so far, buying in bursts to make sure I’m still interested in going further and starting with a lot of the inexpensive Bantam paperback fantasy series I’d collected and that haven’t maintained a strong following, which makes them easier to find with the exact cover I owned.

The good (or is it bad?) news is that project has been a great success. I cannot really explain why it’s so exciting to see all these books find a place on my shelves again, but it absolutely is. Looking at them sitting there for the first time in twenty years, I feel like I’ve found old friends. I remember where I was when I read them, who was nearby as I did, what was going on in my life, and how I felt. And I also think I remember the books themselves: the plots, the characters, the worlds and the relationships.

Obviously though this raises questions because memory is fallible. So are the books I have in my head—and some of them are fundamental and character-shaping documents of my childhood—are these books the same books printed on the pages I can now pull off my shelves and flip through? Or over time have these stories shifted in memory? Or, going further, have I remade them by using them as part of the process of making myself?

I truly don’t know and I’m curious to find out. So, having run across the phrase “a year of nostalgic reading” recently in a passing comment on a web page and finding it inspiring, I’m thinking about dipping into these books now and again as a break from other things. When I do and when I log them, I’m going to tag them so that I can pull them together in a series. My starting point and first tagged book is Split Infinity by Piers Anthony, which I’ve already started. This first foray into the past makes me think memory’s glass is in fact warped and rose-colored and in very interesting ways.

À suivre…

Feb 242019
 

I’ve gamed since I was a kid. Early on I’d played everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much, and always for consoles. The Atari 2600, a couple Nintendo boxes. The big turning point though was when my dad brought home our first PC. Freed from the console, my choices exploded. My games of choice? Early RPGs like Pools of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds.

When I went to university a few years later, my tastes stayed the same. Only now I was playing Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and a Myst-style puzzle game whose name I wish I could remember.

When Blizzard’s Diablo invented the action RPG, I was fully onboard and played it and its sequel alongside Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights.

What came next was Bethesda’s Oblivion, the first truly open-world RPG I’d ever played and easily the most immersive and absorbing. It had an invisible leveling scheme: you didn’t select skills and traits, you earned them based on what you actually did while you were playing. So no calling yourself a mage while sneaking around and shooting things with a bow. I lost hours working through the detailed character creation screens, generating various characters with different pasts, personalities and backstories. I spent a month wandering collecting herbs. When I discovered and captured a wizard’s tower, I wandered some more collecting materials to build features and to decorate it.

It was only after half a year or more that I remembered that there was a story and that I could (should?) figure out how to help the king’s heir and drive off the demon invasion. Soon I discovered the thieves guild, then the assassin’s guild. I rose up and became the Grey Fox. I allowed myself to become a vampire. It seemed there was nothing I couldn’t do in this world and that no matter how much I wandered or what I did, the map would never be exhausted.

I played Oblivion right up until I switched for the first time from a PC to a Mac. That switch shut down all non-Blizzard gaming but at the time that was fine: I was busy writing and the time I had to game I was eager to spend in World of Warcraft. The first expansion, Burning Crusade, had been a hit and my brother and sister were both playing. Wrath of the Lich King was about to launch, and we used it and the subsequent expansions to hang out for years.

Eventually though, around the end of Warlords of Draenor and after years and years of game play, I was getting tired of Warcraft. It was still great and I loved it, but I was bored. Garrisons and the dailies it took to sustain them were starting to feel like a second job. I wasn’t really having fun anymore. Looking back now, I can see that I’d just gotten tired of playing the same game —and importantly, the same stories—over and over again. But at the time, I thought I was getting too old for video games, that I’d moved on.

I was wrong.

Pushed by frustrations with my Mac hardware, in late 2017, early 2018 I made the rash decision to sell my MacBook Pro and build a gaming PC. The switch didn’t last, and I’m back to Mac for basically everything, but that leap back into and embrace of the word of Windows ranks as one of the happiest decisions I’ve made in years. It pushed open the gates as surely as that first PC sitting in my family’s den had done. I could play what I wanted which meant I could game again (rather than “play Warcraft“). And it has been glorious.

One of the first games I bought was Bethesda’s Fallout 4, this post is an unexpectedly long preamble to my ravings about my experience playing it. That will have to wait for the next post though.

Feb 172019
 

My mother never could watch the Peanuts holiday specials on TV when I was a kid. She said the voices were all wrong and she couldn’t bear to have them clashing with the ones she’d heard in her head when she read the comics.

This morning, writing about the Shades of Magic trilogy, I went looking for V. E. Schwab’s blog. On its front page I found this image, a cartoon cut-out of Alucard Emery.

Alucard Emery (via)

Here’s the thing: this is so completely not my Alucard and the resulting dissonance what my eyes see and what my mind saw is not pleasant. And yet, oddly enough, it isn’t entirely unpleasant either. In weird way, I kind of love knowing this cut-out exists. (The boot bandana!) But wow, this is so very much not my gay wizard pirate.

So maybe I finally understand why Mom couldn’t bear Lucy’s voice.

Jan 132019
 

Blogging was a thing once. Then it wasn’t and then it seemed like it was again. And now…who knows. I’m pretty sure I don’t much care whether it is or it isn’t. After all, sweater vests aren’t a thing (even if they ought to be) and I wear those, which is just like blogging. See?

All of this preamble is warm-up to me trying to show some love to My New Plaid Pants a blog about beautiful men in great movies and TV that I’ve read daily for at least the past eight or nine years. If blogging isn’t a thing, I don’t care as long as this blog continues to exist.

I don’t know the author, Jason Adams, in person, but I think he’s great just the same and wish we lived in the same city and were best friends. His blog is funny yet totally unapologetically sincere. It is also somehow—and seemingly impossibly given the number of posts going up every day—1) not his day job and 2) not all he has going on. It boggles the mind.

So why sing the praises of Jason’s Pants today after all these years? Let me explain.

First, for reasons I’ll leave unspoken, I thought of and went searching for this post containing the picture of Alexander Skarsgard sitting off to the side here. Importantly, what I wanted was not the photo—(sorry Alex)—but instead the exact wording of the suggestion that we might, to our dismay, think of this picture the next time we try on a bathing suit, a comment that to this day makes me laugh out loud.

Second, finding the specific post took some time and effort because there are A LOT OF POSTS ON THIS BLOG. Skarsgard’s tag alone had 242! So as I undertook the “onerous” task of flipping through all of those pictures one by one, I stumbled across this post which screencaps the hell out of a scene from True Blood so wonderful that—to keep my life from seeming a drab worthless wasteland of day after day after day and then tomorrow too—my mind let it slip from my memory. But now I have remembered and am overwhelmed and may have to watch the whole series again. Damn your Pants, Jason Adams!

Third, the next day I went back to the blog only to discover that the final post before the weekend was Adams letting everyone know that he was going to rewatch Shcrader’s film about Yukio Mishima’s life, death and fiction: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The photo that ends the post—I think it’s a still from the film that is mimicking images from a famous late-in-life photo shoot—is a showstopper: the male artist objectified and beautiful.

So today, all my love to My New Plaid Pants. May you strut your stuff for years to come.

Nov 222018
 

A year ago, I made the leap from Mac to PC by buying the pieces and building myself a gaming desktop. It was an impulsive move, motivated by too many years of frustration with the limits Mac hardware created for gaming. And I don’t regret it because no matter how often I play off gaming in conversation with casual acquaintances, it’s a big deal for me.

The stress point though was work: gaming’s fun but I use my computer daily for the grind and could I manage with a PC? Over the past year I discovered that I could, largely because Windows 10, unlike its recent predecessors, is a solid OS. And because my school is full-on PC land and the Mac-based fiction I’d dealt with for years disappeared, the jump to Windows was actually near painless.

The key word here is “near.” 

The main problems? First: junkware. There are a lot of sketchy apps in Windows world and I’m just not interested enough to sort out what’s what. Macs feel secure and I believe Apple is interested in keeping them that way. Windows and Microsoft? Not so much. That may be out-dated prejudice given the changes in security features in Windows 10, but suspicions kept me close to the base system for much of the past year.

Second: buying Windows equivalents for Apple software is expensive. People gripe when a Mac app costs more than 10$, but spend some time in PC world and you’ll realize that the apps offered by Mac developers are a bargain. Even the “expensive” ones.

Third: Eastgate’s Tinderbox. I’d had periods in the past when I was confined to an iPad and have written about how difficult it was to do my work without Tinderbox’s various tools, most of which I’d come to take for granted. Those earlier moments had been temporary disruptions. But now, working on a PC, they became my new normal, and after a year of genuine, wide-ranging and eventually desperate experimentation, I realized I missed the software badly. I’d become something like a mental-cyborg used to lifting cars, who now suddenly, alarmingly, finds himself fully organic and stuck lifting groceries. Or maybe some over-filled garbage sacks. I’d grown used to thinking in a way that assumed that my info could be organized into forms I could think about. It was a constant annoyance (and also a real impediment) not to have the tools at hand to make that happen.

But I just sprang for a new MacBook Air—!!!!—and so I am now happily on macOS once again. My first thought: thank god. Yes, my Tinderbox query and action syntax is rusty (very!) and I’m having to find my way back into the forums and the TbRef, both of which feel for the moment like navigating a train station in a language I don’t quite speak. But I don’t care. As I’ve said elsewhere: TBX is powerful enough to be game-changing even with only it’s simplest tools in play. So it’s worth it already and I know the pay-offs will just get bigger as I fall back into the groove.

So for the record my current set-up, which seems close to my ideal, is a PC desktop for gaming and a MacBook for work. (iOS, as tempted as I am to be tempted, is a distraction and a dead-end for me. It’s just not part of the equation outside of my phone.)

And since it’s Thanksgiving in the States, let me say: I’m lucky to have the means to buy and maintain both systems.

Nov 102018
 

When I think of cyborgs, I think of metal men, bodies run through with hardware and silicon. Sometimes, if I’m feeling expansive, I think of it in terms of “the web + search” or of “the cloud.” These make the hardware metaphorical: the silicon is elsewhere, I access it from a distance, and so my body–my cyborg me–is now the biological-technical information system as a whole.

In both versions of the cyborg, the interface between self and hardware is embodied rather than mental. This is more overt in the image of the metal man but is just as real in the information system cyborg. There the mind remains intact, biological, while memory–envisioned as storage distinct from and accessed by the mind–becomes technological.

After nearly a year away from macOS, I’ve now returned, and in doing so, I realize that I’ve never imagined the cyborg that I’ve become because it is precisely my mind, my manner of thought that has been run through and transformed and by software rather than hardware.

I’m talking about Tinderbox. It is a tool, but after habituating myself to the slog and resistance of other tools these past 10 months, I’m especially sensitive to how my mind works differently when that resistance isn’t there. I now see that I know and understand more–and as a result am able to think better and to greater effect–when I arrange my projects in Tinderbox’s hypertextual world. I struggle and hit roadblocks, yes, and these arise from hitting both the limits of my control of the tool and the limits of my thought’s development, but these roadblocks sit further out then I can easily go without Tinderbox.

This last is what I find most striking after a few days back on macOS: my mind, my thought, my very act of thinking has been run though, enhanced and even transformed by software. This is cyborg-ism that matters and suggests that my early analogy between Tinderbox and a pencil is too timid. Tinderbox is writing.

Sep 272018
 

This is a Quebec Government poster hung on bulletin boards around school since the beginning of term. It seems a good found-reminder that, yes, we expect 17 and 18 year-olds to know that assault isn’t acceptable.

Sep 052018
 

And as a follow-up to my last post, my wild guess is that this op-ed was written by a Pence proxy and announces to the few republicans needed to support impeachment that there is a safety-net in place, that the back-up team is ready, and that they can act to save the party.

Et tu, Mike?

If this were a cheap novel, that’s how I’d write it.

Sep 052018
 

The New York Times has just posted an anonymous editorial by an “senior official” inside the White House claiming to be part of a “resistance” that is working to save the country from Trump.

Some thoughts.

This “insider”—who could be anyone from Mike Pence on down—tells us nothing new really. Yes Trump is incompetent. Yes the White House is toxic and chaotic. But that really isn’t news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Neither is this whistle-blowing. Trump is surrounded by people as unprincipled as he is. Some are making moves to save themselves where the rest of us can see. But this isn’t rats jumping ship. At best, it’s one rat checking to see if they can make some space for themselves and some friends somewhere under the seat of a life-raft. Not for now. For later. And just in case they need it.

To which I say: it takes quite a trick to come off as a cheaper and more cynical than Trump and his still-loyal toadies, but this writer manages it.

Whoever wrote this is a coward in the service of a full-on criminal-become-president and they are attempting to rewrite that service as something principled and heroic. I don’t actually know how to respond to something so base. I mostly feel contempt because if what this writer states is true—and we’ve more or less known that it is for awhile now— and if they do care about the country then the only ethical, moral, reasonable or honorable thing to do would be to go to Congress, to testify on the record under oath and to try to help fix the problem.

That’s not what this person does though. Instead, they continue to work for Trump’s administration, they speak out but only anonymously in order to protect their job, and they do this for the most craven reason imaginable.

As they write:

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

“I Am a Part of the Resistance”

Which means, once unpacked and translated:

Even though this entire piece is written to say that Trump is a danger to the U.S., to the world, and to the very ideals of enlightened democracy and even though we (i.e. “the resistance”…but not the leftist resistance, eww) must thwart Trump’s impulses and instincts at every turn, and  even though we want you to admire us for doing so, we are staying on as tools, and we are hiding behind anonymity because Trump’s ongoing shit-show has given us cover to effectively implement our own extremist partisan agenda. We’ve largely dismantled the EPA and clean energy initiatives. We’ve hobbled health care. We’ve stolen and transformed the Supreme Court. We’ve served up huge tax cuts to our donors and future employers, and we’ve done all of this while acting tough and pretending to be super patriotic as we used the money for grandma’s social security checks to buy more guns. In other words, despite what you’ve heard in all the negative coverage—which 50% of the time we are totally okay with, because “fake news”—this administration is a huge success, HUGE, and we’re standing behind it everywhere except in this op-ed. And yes, we’re continuing to cross things off our backers’ bucket lists as fast as we can. So “Go Team!”

But back to my point, obviously Trump is very mean and very bad, and like you we’re all focused ONLY ON THAT even to the point of stealing a paper from his desk once. You’re welcome. And we want you to know that when we’re not using Trump as cover for doing everything we’ve dreamed of doing for years but couldn’t, we are also definitely resisting him, reigning him in and saving you—and the world—from him. (Because he’s such an idiot, right? I know. Tell me about it! And we have to live with him EVERY DAY! Can you imagine?)

And that is why we’re writing: to let you know the good work we’re doing so that when he’s gone and there’s no more cover and we all have to stand up and be counted either as cronies or as part of the resistance, we can be counted as part of the resistance. And then we want to shuffle off into Crony Valhalla as members of Pence’s campaign team or maybe as consultants for Big Oil or Big Coal or Big Pharma or maybe even as a commentator on a cable news show where we will provide “balance” by offering hack partisan “insight” in order to make the media “fair.” When we do one or all of these things, we hope that you will remember our heroic struggle on your behalf and be grateful.

My takeaway:

Trump is to the current crisis like HIV is to AIDS. He’s the disease, but not what kills you. It’s the cancers and the parasites—like whoever wrote this op-ed, and like the people who will glory in it as proof that the White House is rotten and stop there, and like those who will take comfort that there are “good people” inside the administration fighting the good fight (praise be Jesus for using even the wicked!)—it’s these cancers and parasites that are killing a country made weak and vulnerable by Trump’s presidency.

I’m angry.