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I should have been born a cat
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are friends-only.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New LiveJournal friends are welcome: feel free to friend me, but please do leave a note (here or otherwise) and introduce yourself if you would like to be friended in return.
Anime/Game
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

PREVIEWb
Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.


You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
I should have been born a cat
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Website.

bpal_feedback avaliable here.

BPAL I have up for swap (locked).

My BPAL wishlist

I'm always willing to try new BPAL scents or to stock up on my favorites, but there are some scents that I desire more than others. I generally collect imps/decants because I go through oils slowly. You can fund my BPAL obsession through Paypal (swiftskyes AT hotmail DOT com) or ship them to me directly (can't see my contact info? want to? just ask).

I've included information about my favorite scents and notes (to give you an idea of what I like) and my wishlist for both limited edition and general catalog imps. Asterisks denote my highest priorities.

My favorite scents, notes, and tastesCollapse )


Limited Edition/Retired/Unimpable/etc WishlistCollapse )


General Catalog WishlistCollapse )


Non-BPAL & Miscellaneous WishlistCollapse )
Anime/Game
Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi), anime, 2016, A-1 Pictures
Time-traveler solves the disappearance of a fellow student from his childhood is a deceptively big concept with a deceptively small, interpersonal execution, and the truth is somewhere in between: the speculative elements are scaled down, secondary to the relationships that fuel the plot, but that plot grows increasingly convoluted and suspenseful. It's an ambitious effort, and successful in large part because of the way the many elements balance once another. (And I will never be over that fantastic gimmick with the opening credits.)

Voltron: Legendary Defender, season 1, 2016
I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed this, but it's not perfect. The animation is fantastic, which gives the action and characters so much life; I genuinely love everyone except Lance (I wish the default protagonist weren't the male-gaze asshole) and every inter-character dynamic (even those with Lance). But after the overlong establishing sequences, the plot grows episodic and goes nowhere—it feels like watching any other serial SF show, with predictable premises and storylines. Against that stagnation, the sudden uptick in plot and the ridiculous cliffhanger at the end of the season feel like an insult. But while I normally have a hard time with "made for kids, accessible to all audiences" because I can't switch off my criticism (and can never tolerate comic relief), Voltron engaged me. I'll absolutely watch season 2. (That all said, I could never not laugh at Voltron's cat fists and fuzzy cat slippers and cat hat, I know this is the design Voltron has had forever and that they are being faithful to the source material, it still looks ridiculous, I'm sorry.)

Zootopia, film, 2016, Disney
Charming animation and worldbuilding, great dialog, and I'm a sucker both for mystery plots and cop buddy dynamics. But I'm not sure I loved the themes—"the disenfranchised also foster social unrest/aim to benefit from inequality" is a common trope that creates a false equivalency between the targeted hatred of oppressors and the justified anger of the oppressed, and while I think it's the exact opposite of the film's intended message, it's present and it's gross. This was a fun watching experience, but invites critical viewing it can't stand up to, and left me uneasy.

3%, season 1, 2016
I love survival games and in a similar way understand the appeal of dystopian meritocracies—but I hate the YA tropes/poor writing/unbelievable worldbuilding they tend to come packed in. 3% has pieces of all of that, and yet I sincerely enjoyed it. Television is a better format for this series than a book or film series because there's more room to flesh out the characters without constantly trying to reinvent the plot. That the competitors are 20 years old also helps—it's an appropriate age for the personal growth tropes and some of the interpersonal dramas of the genre, but sheds the adolescent-love-triangle tone. But maybe the best divergence is that there are so many people of color. This is less glamorized than most examples of the genre it hails from, despite maintaining a lot of genre concepts and tropes; I don't think it's necessarily revolutionary, but it's absolutely more successful. I'm glad to see Netflix diversifying the work they produce, and will watch season 2.

Yuri!!! on Ice, anime, 2016, MAPPA
As a sports anime, this isn't groundbreaking; as queer sports anime, it's not ideal representation—but I understand the source of its limitations and I think it navigates genre conventions and "appears subtextual, is actually textual" better than not. It does a lot in little space, with surprisingly clever plotting and details, but what really sold me is the sincerity of the character development and the romance. Yuuri's anxiety and its effects on his performance and interpersonal relationships mimic the emotional dramas of other sports anime, but have a more sincere, sympathetic arc; the central romance engages a number of queerbaiting tropes and then sidesteps them to explore sincere passion and how people build relationships and romantic intimacy. It's really just ... heartening to watch, not super angsty but emotionally accessible. I sincerely enjoyed it.

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8th-Jan-2017 04:38 pm - Best of 2016 in media
Writing
This is my list of the best media that I consumed for the first time (but was probably not published) in 2016.

Books

I read 128 books in 2016 and, unusually for me, almost all of them were new. It was also, independently, a great reading year. As such, this list is particularly long.

Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie. This was as good as the hype, but not always for the reasons I was lead to expect; the genre and setting is far-future space opera, but plot and investment are character-driven, and it was the ancillary experience and Lieutenant Tisarwat's violet eyes that really kept me engaged. This series is satisfying on the levels I value most.

Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. This isn't the first fantasy-which-is-actually-sci-fi genre crossover I've encountered, but it's by far the best. The genre-bending is fundamental to the narrative, but also to the protagonist’s PoV, as she uses and creates the scientific method, applying it to a reality which exceeds her comprehension--and which bleeds over into plot twists which exceed the reader’s expectations. I haven’t been this impressed by a book series in a long time.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre. Something like a sibling to the Steerswoman books, with a similar worldbuilding premise but a smaller focus--it's less about redefining knowledge of the world, and more about fostering knowledge in order to improve life on the local, private scale. It’s soothing and valuable.

Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. In particular, Blood of Elves--but this series entire lives on this list because of Ciri. The Witcher franchise is problematic, from its sexism-as-worldbuilding to its flawed balance of politics to plot. But while I rarely become attached to book characters, I am inordinately attached to Ciri, and to her family and those motivated by her. She's central. The books forget, sometimes, that that’s all I care about (and the games sometimes forget it entirely), but when the pieces align to star her I am in love.

The complete works of Octavia Butler. This isn’t the year that I began reading Butler, but is the year that I read most of and finished her work. I rarely find myself in such active conversation with an author, and as much as I’ve critiqued her for her style and occasional limitations, I’m blown away by what she achieved, and by the fact that her work is so compelling and complicated, so ambitious and successful in precisely the ways that matter.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette). This is the most feel-good that a novel has been while still leaving an impression on me--because it’s not frivolous or simplistic, but rather is about the stubborn effort to do good creating real good in the world: a particularly cathartic, empowering variety of wish-fulfillment

Hild by Nicola Griffith. This is half a story, and a laboriously intimate one at that--a gradual coming of age, dealing with issues of gender and faith and identity, the private and political; it took me a little to warm into it, but having done so I loved it--Hild’s PoV is incredibly immersive.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. What an experience! This is yet another SF/F mashup (it was a good year for those), but this is a particularly tropey one brought alive by the vivid and powerful use of dialect. This is a novella that feels bigger than that, that feels more distinct and dynamic than its page count.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. I don't think the plot in this was entirely successful--but I love the premise so unreservedly as to recommend it on that basis alone. This is portal fantasy meta, looking at the afters and in-betweens of those who visit other worlds (and paralleling the reader experience of existing within/without fantasy), conjuring a bittersweet longing unlike anything I've experienced. I've always loved this genre, but didn't have a framework for my feelings about it until reading this book and:

Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente. I am of mixed opinions of this work, too. I love the first book beyond reason, but I don't know what the series as a whole lives up to it--the travelogue aspects grow stylistically repetitive, and on a technical level these come to feel rushed. But all the books have something charming to offer, and there's something sincerely valuable about the relationship between September, Halloween, Maud, Mallow, and the Marquess. Their dynamic is subtextual and complicated, and in ongoing conversation about portal fantasy, identity, and self-determination.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente. My favorite of Valente's novella so far. I'm surprised by how well her mythological and fairy tale imagery builds upon an AI premise, and by how concrete the AI is. There's a lot of depth in this little space, and it's particularly evocative, even for Valente.

Honorable mentions in books

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip. This isn't the best or most important McKillip, but I love its tropes to pieces (especially the way that the interpersonal dramas resolve) and it’s probably my favorite of the McKillip novels I've read so far.

The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet. I was sincerely impressed by this book, by its intimately-integrated magic system and the unforgiving, unsettling complexity of the interpersonal dynamics.

Multiple novels by CJ Cherryh. I'm continuing to read a lot of Cherryh, and I've yet to be disappointed by any of her work; her combination of deceptively terse writing style, intimate relationship dynamics, and worldbuilding concepts consistently hits on tropes that I adore.

Black Iris by Leah Raeder (Elliot Wake). New Adult isn't a genre I thought I would ever care about, but I care a lot about Wake's contributions to it, and Black Iris is the novel which has spoken to me strongest so far because its angry, intimate depiction of mental illness is cathartic and sincere while meshing well with the heightened passions which are a marker of the genre.




Video Games

Neko Atsume. I came late to this bandwagon, but it was worth the wait; what a charming, pure experience, and somehow even cuter than I expected. There's not really a lot to say about Neko Atsume, but I love it.

Deemo. Far and above the best rhythm game I've ever played, in song quality, aesthetic, narrative, and gameplay--the latter in particular is so natural, genuinely like playing a piano. I love this game to pieces and listen to the soundtrack all the time, yet I've never heard anyone talk about it. Please give it a try.

Overwatch. Is this art, no; but I have been playing 90min/day since launch, so that's something. I appreciate the changes Overwatch has brought to the genre and the active role Blizzard has taken in expanding and balancing it. It wouldn't be my pick for game of the year, but it’s important enough to earn that.

Pokémon Moon. This, frankly, would be my pick for game of the year. It benefits from the engine development of Gen VI, while continuing the narrative trends from Gen V--it looks fantastic, the UI and battle mechanics are great, but most importantly I cried three (three!) times while playing SuMo. The narrative has leveled up, the character development is phenomenal, and I treasure it.

Stardew Valley. This is a love letter to the farming and life simulator games that it draws from, and it almost exceeds them--I admire the depth and refinement of this game, and it's such a satisfying, soothing experience, exactly as it's meant to be.

Dark Souls III. The micro-level of this release, the cinder construct, isn't my series favorite, although I love the characters in this game; but on the macro-level, drawing the cycles of each installment together and to a close, Dark Souls III is incredibly fulfilling. I also appreciate the reintroduction of more varied enemy types and refinements to the combat system.

Honorable mentions in video games

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This is as beautiful as I wanted it to be, but not quite as weird as it needed to be--I miss the push-pull of the body horror in Human Revolution. But what a fantastic graphic engine, and the characters and plotting live up to series standard.




Visual Media

Critical Role. This monster of a show has without exaggeration been a life-changer. It's a huge investment of time and such an unassuming medium, but the payoff is intense. The live creative process has an innate energy, and the cast's obvious investment in character and narrative is contagious. It ate me alive this year, and I regret nothing.

Stranger Things. I wanted Stranger Things to be a smidge less neat (plotwise, especially the ending), but in all other ways adore it, from the conversation between genres to the unexpected but indulgent aesthetic to the character acting. I've rarely been so utterly consumed by a show, to the point where coming up for air between episodes made the real world feel surreal.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I expected to like this, but was surprised by how sincerely I enjoyed it; the character archetypes combining to develop complexity and depth translates well to a miniseries, and despite TV-quality effects this is an aesthetic and speculative delight.

Black Mirror "San Junipero". I can give or take Black Mirror on the whole, but I treasure this particular episode, both because I think it's one of the better realized of the series in terms of plot delivery and because victorious WLW was balm to my soul, especially in the face of so many dead queer women in television.

Penny Dreadful. The series takes a definite downturn by the third season, but the overall experience was worth it, in part of the surprisingly robust gothic retelling, delightful aesthetic, and found family tropes, but mostly because of Vanessa Ives and Eva Green, without which this would be half a show. The intimate depiction of her vulnerability, intelligence, competency, and honesty was particularly valuable to me; this is one of the few supernatural metaphors for mental illness which I've found successful.

Star Trek: The Original Series, and movies 1-5. I grew up with every Star Trek except this one, and had a cultural impression that TOS was corny and misogynistic--and it is, a little, but it holds up much better than I was expecting and has fundamental charm and value, both as franchise starter and in its own right.

Red vs Blue. I never believed I could be so consumed by a machinima comedy series, but the humor works and the eventual scale of Red vs Blue--its convoluted plot, surprisingly well-developed characters, strong pacing, and fantastic animation--is incredible.

Honorable mentions in visual media

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I had never watched the original Cosmos; this remake has some redundancy/direction issues in the middle but is on the whole all I wanted, vast and terrifying and beautiful, but also accessible, even personable.

Ravenous. The gayest narrative about cannibals that isn't Hannibal-related, and so delightful--and it only improves on repeat viewing, where the tonal shifts can be anticipated. Great imagery, fun acting, and such explicit cannibalism-as-metaphor violence-as-romance; it's become one of my favorite films.

The Falling. I love quiet little movies about gender, female experience, coming of age, and illness; this was my favorite of those that I watched this year (but see also: The Silenced), perhaps because it's the most convincing: an intimate, vaguely idealized, unsettling portrait of British girls's schools and female adolescence.


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I should have been born a cat
Title: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland (Fairyland Book 4)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 202,450
Text Number: 620
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Back in our world, a young troll named Hawthorn becomes the changeling boy Thomas. After the third book, I felt that this series needed a shake-up to prevent it from growing repetitive—and this is that, and also not. It's a departure from September and from Fairyland, but many elements, including the structure of early chapters and the makeup of Hawthorn's entourage, mimic previous books. Both the departure and recycling are risks, but on the whole they work—thanks to the glorious Blunderbuss, the evocative creation of magic in our mundane world, and the chance to see our girl September from the outside. But this is a distinctly incomplete story, its rushed ending setting up for the last book in the series to put all the pieces together. I am of mixed opinions, but enjoyed it on the whole, and it makes me look forward to the finale.


Title: Gate of Ivrel (The Morgaine Saga Book 1)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: New York: DAW Books, 2000 (1976)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 195
Total Page Count: 202,645
Text Number: 621
Read Because: fan of the author, used paperback purchased from The Book Bin
Review: Exiled by his family, Vayne's precarious social position makes him liege to the otherworldly Morgaine, come to destroy the Gates that link space and time. This is science fiction wrapped in the trappings of fantasy, and reminds me—especially in the rhythm and nature of the worldbuilding—of other books that share that premise. But the interpersonal aspects are uniquely Cherryh, and are the true seductive force within this slow-burning, politics- and nameplace-dense travelogue-cum-quest: the relationship between Vayne and Morgaine is unwilling but loyal, grounded in domestic detail, and develops a sincere intimacy; it's everything I love best of Cherryh, and to find it in her first published book is interesting insight into her longterm themes. This is probably my least favorite of the Cherryh I've read so far, but by no means a disappointment; I will read the sequels.


Title: Well of Shiuan (The Morgaine Saga Book 2)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: New York: DAW Books, 2000 (1978)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 202,905
Text Number: 622
Read Because: fan of the author, used paperback purchased from The Book Bin
Review: Morgaine and Vayne chase Roh into a drowning world and encounter Jhirun, a young woman fleeing from her people. I wish that this installment were bolder—it spends a lot of time developing the local setting, and while the doomed landscape is evocative and the residents are eventually tied directly into the overarching science fictional plot, it's little and late and the book overall doesn't do much to expand the narrative's scale. The interpersonal aspects continue to be my favorite part of this series, and while they threaten to grow repetitive (Morgaine's suspicions of Vayne are particularly forced) they remain uniquely Cherryh, intimate but terse, personal conflict interweaving with plot conflict. Jhirun's desperate circumstances are reminiscent of Vayne, but she's repeatedly forced out of the narrative by Morgaine's cruel utilitarianism and Vayne's complicity, making her a bittersweet foil. This feels like a middle book and it isn't my favorite Cherryh, but I like it more than not and will absolutely finish the series.

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I should have been born a cat
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, miniseries, 2015
I'm surprised by how much I liked this, and I expected to like it. The set and costume and makeup are all beautiful; the special effects are sometimes TV-quality but still so evocative. I'd forgotten how successful this narrative is, and/or I'm a better consumer (I was particularly stricken by the women—not an impression I had when I first read it) or I liked this more than the book or I simply need to reread the book; the way in which these characters gain exponential depth as they interact, escaping the limitations of their respective tropes, is particularly fulfilling. What a pleasure to watch.

Dark Matter, seasons 1-2, 2015-2016
Six strangers forced to work together is how found families are born, and this absolutely lives up to its tropes. The cast is made up of heavy-handed archetypes but I love lots of them—especially all the women of the core cast (the android's character growth is especially good.) But mutual distrust also creates a lot of miscommunication-as-plot, which is a trope I detest. I've now mentioned tropes four times, which is indicative: this is pulpy Syfy-channel material, with appropriate pacing, plotting, budget, and the ideal arena to engage tropes with gusto, which this does, and I love it for that.

They Look Like People, film, dir. Perry Blackshear, 2016
I'm not sure how to discuss this one without spoilers, so be ye warned. I found this unexpectedly effective as a horror film—it has a strong grasp of tension and pacing and the evocative unseen. But these are also things that freak me out, personally (face blindness is not-infrequently the experience of "have people been replaced by not-people that I'm supposed to assume look the same?" and "is this face correct? is this what faces look like?"), which biases my reaction. Some have lauded this for its human, empathetic depiction of mental illness; it is that, but I'm still not on board with eliding mental illness and speculative themes, and constantly linking mental illness and violent actions. I find myself of a mixed but ultimately positive opinion, and this certainly does a lot with tone and horror despite its tiny cast and budget.

The Girl in the Book, film, dir. Marya Cohn, 2015
A thorny, private, messy personal trauma given a cathartic, neat resolution—so it hits all the right notes and I understand the intent, but it still feels limited. I like the narrative structure, though, exploring the sequences of events in one timeline, their longterm impact in the other. But I can't help negatively comparing this to Blue Car, which was thematically similar but much more messy and bittersweet in resolution: equally important representation, but refusing to be so neat.

Twin Peaks, season 1-2, 1990-1991
Fire Walk with Me, film, dir. David Lynch, 1992
(Spoilers be ye warned, again.) I made multiple false starts on this show before seeing it to conclusion, which I feel is in some way indicative of my overall experience. There's so much to talk about! I'm underwhelmed by some of the iconic elements, the soap opera plotting, laborious pacing, and "quirky" townsfolk—but I love the effect of the ominous and surreal set against that mundanity. The plotting goes off the rails after Laura's arc, and the new romances are a horrible choice—but I love the increasingly prominent role of the Black Lodge. (What imagery!) But I take strong issue with the way that Lynch uses disability to indicate strangeness, in the townsfolk and surreal dreams and the Lodge. I loved Fire Walk with Me, because as much as I admire a successful narrative in absentia it's empowering to make Laura subject (rather than object) of the narrative and Sheryl Lee's portrayal is intimate and convincing. Twin Peaks and I had a rocky start, and I couldn't imagine rewatching it for fun, but I came away with strong opinions and a lot of love for the bits I loved (speech in the Lodge & the entrance to the Lodge; the characterization of Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne in the first arc, and the relationship between them) and love, also, for for its ... intent and iconic cultural effect, I suppose, more than the actual product.

On Tumblr: Dale Cooper vs. Professor Layton; David Lynch uncritically presenting the Other was weird.

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Bear
There have been a number of interim posts since my last post that have not been written outside my head, because I am a perpetual bundle of busy and tired, consistently overstretching my limited capabilities to do politics and be scared about the state of the world.

One post: I did skip Thanksgiving, and my parents didn't come up after because inertia is a thing. But Dee went up to Washington for the holiday and Devon did drive up to see me for the day, just for a few hours. We made in-no-ways-traditional vegetarian hot dogs and mac & cheese (with hot dogs in it); it wasn't enough, but it was significantly better than nothing and I'm grateful.

Another post: practicing by doing the easy political phone calls on answering machines does (barely) make it easier to call real alive people. Somehow, that doesn't make it any less terrifying to forget about time zones and call places which are still open and unexpectedly staffed by alive people.

Another post: I have managed to leave the house, once or thrice. Snow helped (as sidenote: cats staring at snowland), because I missed the end of autumn and refuse to miss winter, too. We had snow + freezing rain, but then snow that stuck around, approximately pristine, for a few days. The latter was lovely.

* * *

Today my parents came through Portland and had lunch with me; they're headed northbound to spend the holidays traveling, including a trip to see my sister in Seattle. It was exhausting but in productive ways, almost entirely my fault—because over coffee I nonchalantly asked why I had which aspects of Jewish upbringing and how my extended family/various cultural aspects affected it, as one does.

I have, for obvious reasons, but especially as Hanukkah approaches, been thinking a lot about what it means to be Jewish and particularly to be Jewish in the face of forced assimilation and, you know, facism (how are these are sentences I'm writing and why is this the real world and can it stop), and also of the narrative of "Hanukkah isn't our most important holiday, and its cultural importance is actually a symptom of forced assimilation, but this year it certainly has extra thematic relevance"—because I was raised with Hanukkah and Passover and not much else, although my parents say there was an occasional Rosh Hashanah, which I think I remember; for me, there was no "more important holiday." It seems like some of that was because of how things lined up with Christmas/Easter and thus with school schedules, but it's also because that's what my father grew up with; his experience was inconsistent (Sabbat sometimes, but not always; Hebrew school and a bar mitzvah for him but not his brother; Hanukkah/Passover/Rosh Hashanah was all he celebrated, too) which has passed through the generations (Allie and I never had any formal religious education; our cousin did).

I grew up on the opposite side of the country from my Jewish grandparents, who always wished they could see us more often, who tried to cram a lot of Jewish Things into the whatever contact they had; they sent me Jewish novels and celebrated holidays with us less, I think, because those specific things were important—they weren't religious, their own practice was inconsistent—but because the identity was important.

White-passing half-Jewish cultural Jew is approximately as distant from the thing as one can be, and I understand the factors, the time, the literal distance, the way that assimilation works and why I have the background that I do. But I also have that identity, and its ... cultural expectation, I suppose, of persecution and persistence. My ancestors came from Russia, and immigrated before the Holocaust; that was not their personal story but it was their cultural story, and they taught me that, too.

I suppose I wanted an easy answer, an, "ah yes, your grandparents always wanted to practice these aspects of the faith with you, and you can now cling to them at least for their cultural significance even if you don't believe." But I didn't get that, I didn't get a "more important holiday" that can enable to me a real Jew. And I don't know where that leaves me, except that this diaspora experience is as real for me as it has been for my father and for his parents, and they are real Jews, so, maybe, I am too.

We also talked about how, for me, politics et al. isn't something to be countered by optimism or hope; that I live within communities where everyone will not (and has not) survived difficult times, and that but for the grace of Devon and August and my parent's financial support that could include me; and I think it's the first time I've ever mentioned suicidal ideation to my parents. My sister's cancer changed things for my family; we've learned to proactively accept and value of each other as we are, and the way that's effected how my parents view me—that they take me at my word when I talk about my experiences and health—as been huge. These are not things I would have felt comfortable sharing, years ago. I'm glad I can now, and the conversation wasn't all politics and Judaism and fascism, I also told them about Dare's antics and Dad showed me this video of him falling off his bike on the way to work. It was a worthwhile afternoon. But I am now very tired, and nothing really feels better.

I'm headed down to Corvallis soon, but we put it off a day and Devon is coming to get me, at some crazy early/late hour when we can skip holiday traffic, so that I can still see him and get my gifts without trying to navigate Amtrak/exhaustion/crazy.

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Writing
Title: The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes (Issues #1-8)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1988-1989
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 240
Total Page Count: 201,615
Text Number: 616
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library (I own this, but it's in the other city)
Review: In the attempt to capture Death, occultists instead imprison another of the Endless: Dream, whose absence sets the world out of sorts. I agree with Gaiman in his afterward: this is a scattered volume, in tone, worldbuilding, and narrative style; the comic cameos are particularly out of place (although Constantine fits in). The underlying worldbuilding, characterization of the Endless, and the aesthetic (especially the use of color) are more promising, but they don't get much chance to shine here. I've read this before, and it left as little impression then as now—but this time I'll continue the series.


Title: The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House (Issues #9-16)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1989-1990
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 230
Total Page Count: 201,845
Text Number: 617
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Rose Walker is a mortal woman reuniting with her grandmother; she is also a vortex, with the potential to destroy Dream's domain. The shift away from Dream is an interesting one; giving him a background role preserves his mystique, but other characters can't quite fill his place and, while Rose's identity is engaging, her emotional arc is predictable. But this is a tighter volume than the first; the uninspired questing framework is rescued by the interwoven plotlines, and the reliance on coincidence works in a mythic story like this one. It turns out that I've read this volume before too (I'm not sure when or how) and what I remember of it, the Cereal Convention, is less interesting than the narrative decisions at work. Ultimately, this isn't amazing but it is successful.


Title: The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country (Issues #17-20)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1990
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 160
Total Page Count: 202,005
Text Number: 618
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Four standalone stories on the nature of dreams and dreaming, none of which particularly engaged me: I don't love the PoV and art choices in "Calliope" or the entirety of "A Dream of a Thousand Cats;" "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the most ambitious and successful story, but does so much that it can't do it in much depth, and while I love Death's appearance in "Façade" the DC tie-in continues to feel out of place. These experiments with form and protagonist are admirable, but the short format makes each effort shallow; I'd prefer to return to a longer plotline.


Title: The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists (Issues #21-28)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: New York: Vertigo, 1990–1991
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 190
Total Page Count: 202,195
Text Number: 619
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After Lucifer abdicates, denizens of various realms and pantheons petition Death for the key to Hell. I find these larger arcs more satisfying, but still not as profound as the metaphysical premise promises to be. A lot of time is given to introducing swaths of unremarkable characters, with some exceptions—most particularly the glimpses of the other Endless. This steals space from the plot, rendering it anticlimactic. It's all strangely prosaic, even the musing on the nature of Hell, even the chance to see Dream in his domain. I hold out hope for something unexpected, and will continue the series—but it has yet to capture me.

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I should have been born a cat
Last night, I was finally able to make some calls to senators/representatives, Department of Justice, poll lines, etc.; not as much as I want to do, unfortunately nothing yet touching the Standing Rock situation, but significantly more than nothing. What made this possible for me is fourfold.

One: If you're comfortable with VoIP but not phone calls, and/or don't have or use a phone, and/or only have access to a landline and are worried about charges: it's possible to make all phone calls from a computer (I used Google Hangouts), and within the United States those calls are free. Staying within the comfort zone of my computer screen and headset made it easier to step out of my comfort zone and, you know, make calls; it also meant easy access to my notes.

Two: Talking to a live person is probably the most effective thing you can do, but leaving a voice message is more effective than emails/website comments and significantly more effective than doing nothing at all. Out of business hours and national holidays are good times to make sure you get a machine, not a person. (For example: this week)

Three: There are scripts for most/all calls to action. "We're His Problem Now" Calling Sheet has scripts for everything it advocates; I also found some just by googling "[political issue] script." Using those as a starting point makes the process significantly more accessible.

Four: One of the "how to make phone calls with social anxiety" posts floating around explicitly says it's okay not to be able to make calls, and that validation and forgiveness, in a hilarious turn of events, eased my anxiety enough that I was able to make calls. So I'll restate it here: what is phone anxiety for some people maybe literally disabling for other people. If your disability is making certain things impossible, hopefully there are other things you will be able to do—but, regardless, you are forgiven. Look after yourself.

I'm sincerely grateful for the people on social media who are proliferating calls to action, providing their own scripts, and working at the interpersonal level to help people manage their anxiety, because those things are making this accessible to me. And please, if you can speak out, do speak out, because there are people who cannot safely speak who still need advocates and protection.

- - -

(I'm feeling a little better having actually done something, but not better enough that I've left the house or will be traveling for Thanksgiving; hopefully I can see my family that weekend or the weekend after, since there are tentative plans for them to visit me. The frantic anxiety has mostly passed, to everyone's sadness—the compulsive cleaning was productive!—and left me with the predictable depression. With a particularly weird symptom this time, alongside the usual sleep upfuckery & nothing tastes like food: a weird musty smell that followed me from room to room, regardless of how much bathing and laundry I did, regardless even of if the central air was running, probably because I was creating it with my mind; the actual smell of sadness? if so, sadness is a mundane, vaguely unpleasant, inescapable scent.

I feel, like most people probably, like every time I'm getting better something in the world gets worse. The most haunting for me, personally, is that I've lived until now in a steel fortress of Godwin's Law—I hate reject ignore almost all mentions of and comparisons to and narratives about Nazis, because near all of them do harm, they obfuscate or idealize, essentially benefiting from the Holocaust without productively discussing it; but right now, comparisons are not hyperbole, they are literal and they are being made by my people. That we live in a world where we make video game villains Nazis as an earmark of "bad person, murder without compunction" but call Neo-Nazis the alt-right, give them the benefit of political correctness, normalize and idealize them, and refuse to see them as Nazis and therefore as bad people is ... I don't know what to do with that. It requires a readjustment of how I process information. It creates such an amount of fear and anger.

Living in Oregon is a strange thing: to look up all my reps and see that they've already spoken against Bannon is heart-mending in an essential way, but also means that my contacting them on this issue isn't particularly valuable, which is what living in Oregon always feels like: this is a pocket of relative, bare-minimum safety with no political power to extend that safety or, right now, to preserve it. I did a thing! I'm trying, I'm helping, and doing that does make me feel better & more able to do more to help. But it is also so hard, and requires me exceeding my personal limitations, and for what? My reach is so limited, for so many reasons.

My sister's cancer diagnosis two years ago was a reminder that it is less that I am better, despite my wealth of experience and coping mechanisms, and more that I have removed all possible stresses from my life; and that when stresses are irremovable, I am not better, I am very bad indeed. The day after the election I wrote, "dealing with anything while mentally ill is hard, and this is dealing with something, a big something, and I am at a loss." That compounds, every day.)

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Writing
Red vs. Blue, seasons 1-13, 2003-2015
I came to this just to understand Devon's references, because he quotes the first few seasons a lot; and then it ate me alive. I have a narrow sense of humor, and the jokes here can absolutely be problematic, but it's frequently hilarious, with fantastic delivery and surprisingly effective simple staging. And as the show matures, it snowballs: always harebrained, but increasingly complex and character-driven; the CGI is breathtaking, the pacing superb; and I love the characters, I love so many of them so passionately, and I would never have predicted that. That something this inane and weirdly constructed can be so successful still surprises me, but, man, what an experience.

Black Mirror, season 3, 2016
All of these episodes are on some level mediocre—except "San Junipero" [imagine here a 20min pause, weeks after watching this episode, that I spent looking at fanart and gifs of this episode because I will never be over it], which is phenomenal. It's also the biggest departure from Black Mirror's tone, so perhaps my ongoing issue is just with Black Mirror itself, and with its smartphone dystopias and one-note worldbuilding, its speculative-in-the-mainstream shoddy work; none of this season manages to be harrowing and have an intriguing premise, expect perhaps "Playtest" (deadened by predictable tropes) and "Hated in the Nation" (deadened by runtime). But "San Junipero" is tightly written, with economic plot delivery and a stubborn, sensitive interpersonal focus; the acting is fantastic, the tone equally indulgent/nostalgic and emotional; the love story convincing and validating. I have rarely been so impressed with any single episode of anything, and it can easily stand alone. It made the season worth it for me, and I'd recommend it even if you've never watched Black Mirror.

Sphere, film, 1998, dir. Barry Levinson
What an intriguing premise, what predictable execution. I think "in a confined environment, everyone doubts and turns against one another" is a pretty tired narrative, but I was ready to be sold on the psychological stress of a first encounter and the social fallout among the human crew—it could be a refreshing twist on the premise. But the alien aspect goes almost entirely unexplored; even the concept of the unknown, of the what and why inside the sphere, is barely touched. There's some good monologues and character acting, but this is otherwise dull, doing a disservice to its setup and first third, with a particularly weak ending.

III: The Ritual, film, 2015, dir. Pavel Khvaleev
The framing narrative is incoherent, but the central story is about a young woman journeying into her sister's dreamscape in order to cure her of disease—also incoherent, but to good effect; a lot of the markers it hits are predictable, and some imagery is ungrounded, but I love dreamscapes and this one is evocative. I love the focus on bodies (but wish it interrogated the link it makes between illness/bodies/gendered experience/mental state), the liminal spaces and use of transitions, and the way that arbitrary personal symbols exist alongside overtly literal imagery. This reminds me of Silent Hill, if less successful: confront the monsters that represent your inner demons while some inexplicable cult plot occurs around you.

On Tumblr: screencaps.

Hellboy, film, 2004, dir. Guillermo del Toro
I had vague impressions of remarkable, intricate imagery, but it looks like most of that is in the second film. This one's special effects have aged well, and the special effects makeup is fantastic; it uses that to do interesting things with bodies, and those details—Abe's hands and gills, Kroenen's monster design—are so satisfying. But the set designs aren't particularly memorable, and everything is so predictable: the pacing, the plot structure, the comedic timing; Perlman (whom I love) delivers a distinct but hammy performance. I did love Liz (less so her place in the plotline); that couldn't outweigh how tired I am of speculative sexy Nazis, a trope that I think is harmful and objectively unforgivable. I wish I could watch the second film! (It's not on Netflix.) I think I'd like it better, if only for the visuals. This first one is hit and miss.

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Writing
Title: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Author: Robert Lewis Stevenson
Published: New York: Penguin Classics, 1979 (1886)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 70
Total Page Count: 206,930
Text Number: 613
Read Because: personal enjoyment, paperback from my personal collection
Review: Mr Utterson worries that his friend Mr Jekyll, a doctor of good nature and great skill, is being blackmailed by his apprentice, an uncannily cruel man named Mr Hyde. This holds up surprisingly well, despite that the late reveal of its identities is now no mystery. The gothic atmosphere and short, punchy chapters are engaging, and the relationships between Jekyll and Hyde is more compelling than I expected—largely because it's not what I expected: this is more a story about the necessity and danger of acknowledging the innate evil of all personalities than it is a simple good/evil dichotomy—a subtle, thorny theme nestled within a swift narrative. I was entirely satisfied with this, and recommend it.

Thoughts on source material vs. cultural osmosis/adaptation, originally posted on Tumblr:

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Title: The Family Plot
Author: Cherie Priest
Published: New York: Tor, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 201,290
Text Number: 614
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Music City Salvage buys the rights to a Victorian-era estate, they get more than they bargained for: a family of ghosts resides in the old house. This is a haunted house novel that gets a lot of things right. It refuses to engage skepticism, and the time that could be wasted on establishing genre conventions is instead given to a dreamy, surreal ghost story with a slow build and some sincerely haunting moments. Priest has an eye for detail, and here it makes the house and salvage operation come alive. But while the house is a character and a half, the human cast is overwhelmingly prosaic (it took me half the book to tell the male characters apart) and the mystery becomes less compelling the more it's revealed, until the atmosphere is entirely ruined by an overexplained ending and corny final scene. I like the book this could have been, and wish all haunted houses had such a convincing sense of place, but this is ultimately underwhelming and I can't recommend it.


Title: Unexpected Stories
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: New York: Open Road, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 85
Total Page Count: 201,375
Text Number: 615
Read Because: fan of the author/alerted to its existence by [personal profile] ambyr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: These are two of Butler's early works, written in the 1970s (before her published work) but only published posthumously. As a result, Butler's writing—which is frequently workmanlike—is especially stiff here, most obviously in the action sequences. But these stories are a fascinating insight into the themes Butler would return to throughout her work, and her first efforts to balance speculative worldbuilding, power dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and plot. The effort is occasionally uneven (the end of "A Necessary Being" lags, but its protagonist's complicated situation is reminiscent of Dawn; "Childfinder" is almost so brief as to be abrupt, but its worldbuilding reveals are organic), but is always engaging and thematically successful, and despite their posthumous release these are finished stories. As brief as this collection is, it's a welcome addition to her body of work.

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Bear
In 2010, September, October, the rise in queer suicides among students and the It Gets Better campaign hit me in a personal and unproductive way—my intersection with those groups and experiences compounded preexisting mental illness and left me ill and non-contributive, in general but specifically in my attempts to aid those groups I was part of and sympathetic to. I wrote about it here.

I feel like my response to this election is a larger version of that, because while I fall into some marginalized groups I am not visibly marginalized except in my assigned gender and I'm living in a relatively safe area of the country (the occasional celebratory firework not withstanding) and (for aforementioned "not a real person" reasons) I won't be directly effected by most changes, and there are marginalized groups in present and future danger, some without a safe place to fall to pieces, who need people to self-educate and provide support and not co-opt their experience. But I am doing my good god damnedest to fall apart, I tell you what; I am high anxiety fending off major depression and my agoraphobia is vast, firm, unrelenting.

I've been keeping myself so desperately busy, exploiting the anxious energy to fend off the point where anxiety tips into panic; I vacuumed everything, I baked more apples, I'm reading a lot & catching up on Critical Role & playing Stardew Valley enough that my wrists are acting up, I'm not sleeping much. I feel like I am courting a major depressive episode, and I don't know—I've never known—when "self-care" is or isn't indulgence, and if I can create my own depression by accident or in search for validation. Experience this trauma and grief now, people write, so that you can limit its extent and enable yourself to move on to activism—but what does that mean when mental illness makes it impossible to process and heal? What is activism when you can't leave the house or interact with people, and have no money?

But Devon wrote to me:

I'm sorry. I don't know.. I think you can contribute by voting and we have lots of opportunity to fight the system with that in the next bit. there will be elections for senators and elections for house of reps people and we need to get Democrats in those positions to balance everything out.
and that's about all anyone can do at this point unless they're in a place where they can contribute.
I'm sorry that things are so rough for you right now.
I really am.
and I know that doesn't really say much, but I know that this whole thing is terrible and you have the right to feel hurt by it all, everyone's interactions are different.
I love you lots.


and I think it's all I have right now. There will be things I can do, even if they are the barest possible minimum for a decent human being, but there is right now nothing I can do except hold on, because I am not doing a great job at even that.

(All of this is compounded by the recent suicide of someone in the LJ community, someone I did not know but only knew of, but whose situations and motivations run parallel to my own; it's a discomforting mirror and a reminder of the validity of this experience, while somehow managing to feel like yet another pain I am co-opting. I'm not sure what to do with these thoughts, all of these thoughts.)

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Anime/Game
Title: The Tower of the Swallow (Witcher Book 6)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2016 (1997)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 450
Total Page Count: 206,220
Text Number: 610
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Unusual phenomena usher in an early autumn as Ciri is orphaned from the Rats and sets off on a quest to meet her destiny. The chronology here is all over the place, alternating between the autumn equinox and Saovine as it backtracks to explain the sequence of events. It's also the longest book so far, with a politics-heavy middle section and a huge cast--often confusing as a result, but it's still rewarding to watch the pieces come together. Structure aside, this has a strong atmosphere (a perfect autumn book, haunted and eerie) and gives Ciri generous page time and development. She's as phenomenal as always--here, traumatized, impetuous, but brilliant in her adolescence, foiled by the aged hermit that takes her in. Yennefer's ruthless pursuit of her daughter is equally compelling. (These fantastic female characters doesn't excuse the sexism seeded in the larger worldbuilding.) This isn't the most effective of the Witcher novels, but it's one of the most engaging by virtue its mythic leanings and core cast.


Title: Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
Author: Donnie Eichar
Published: San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 206,510
Text Number: 611
Read Because: reviewed by ViennaWaitsBooks, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An investigation into the Dyatlov Pass incident, in which nine experienced ski hikers died after fleeing their camp--underdressed, in sub-zero temperatures--for unknown reasons. Eichar interweaves three timelines: the original ski hike, the search for the missing hikers, and his own investigations into the case 50 years later; the last of these threatens to overwhelm the book, but the pacing works overall--until Eichar presents his hypothetical solution to the mystery in an unintegrated, abrupt conclusion. But it's a convincing solution, and this researched and humanized without being bogged down by minutiae, and unsensationalized while maintaining an eerie atmosphere. It has the compulsive readability I look for in this variety of nonfiction, despite Eichar's clunky writing, and is satisfying both in question and answer.


Title: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland Book 3)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 206,760
Text Number: 612
Read Because: continuing the series, hardcover from my personal library (originally a holiday gift from my parents, I think)
Review: September journeys to Fairyland's moon, there to rediscover her traveling companions and face a Yeti. The framework of this series has begun to weary me, despite that this book has a stronger structure than the second; Valente's writing is as rich as always, but the one-off locations and speaking characters still bleed together. (And there are weird stumbles like characters popping in and out of scenes--perhaps corrected in later editions?) But while I don't think the rest of this series is as independently successful as the first book, the cumulative emotional elements have stolen my heart. They're perfectly balanced between private complexity and explicit, cathartic address; it almost feels too complicated for the intended audience, but in a way I admire--respecting the capacity of younger readers and being willing to age with them.

September suddenly realized something. "But Ell, Orrery begins with O! How can you know so much about it?"

The Wyverary soared high, his neck stretching into a long red ribbon, full of words and pies and relief and flying.

"I'm growing up!" he cried.


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9th-Nov-2016 11:18 pm - The election, grief, self-care
Anime/Game
Yesterday I woke early (~4 hours of sleep) due to election anxiety, and I played video games all day long in desperate escapism, and it was such a long day, and it only got worse. Nothing sunk in until I woke this morning. The language I keep hearing is "grief" and that is what it feels like—a distant, difficult to access, sincere loss.

Loss of faith, I suppose. I'm politically aware and I voted, but I think I didn't believe Trump was an existing threat; it felt absurd, surreal, a practical joke in particularly bad taste. And I know bigots exist, but I forget the ways in which my privilege and sheltered life and physical location save me from seeing most of them—they too had a distance. And in that space between me and these forces of hate there was a sort of faith, that despite our stellar examples of bad humanity we were not that at our core.

I've been proactively keeping occupied. Last night, after the results, I made baked whole apples (stuffed with oats and brown sugar), escaped into a book, took a sleep aid & passed out. Today I swept downstairs and brushed the dog, and then made superb apple crumble. I winged the recipe, but Dee bought vanilla ice cream and the apples were tender but not mushy and the spices were robust and the topping was rich and toasted—this small and objectively useless but pure good thing. I did everything while listening to podcasts, uninterrupted hours of The Black Tapes and Tanis. And I called home, and talked to my mom—as I told her, not because there was anything she could do, but just for the solidarity and comfort. She spent the day a haircut and manicure, and binge watching a show on Netflix. Tumblr today was a quiet comfort, most people I follow only flooding their feeds with forms of distraction.

It felt like self-care was all that many of us could do today.

Mental illness means that self-care is my entire life; I'm not sure what that will say about what comes next. I'm in a position of limited personal danger, but that's largely because I've absented myself from ... well, everything. (E.g. as an unemployed dependent, I would benefit from national healthcare—but am consistently too sick to seek care. I want the system to benefit other people, but its benefits or lack thereof doesn't effect me—most things don't effect me—I don't pay taxes I don't leave the house I don't, significantly, exist.) It's a weird place of privilege that originates from a disability. I'm terrified for those less privileged and more at risk. I'm not sure I'm in a position to help anyone.

But there was help in what I saw today from the communities I'm invested in. On one hand, this rude awakening, this shame and fear and rage, that the apparently impossible has happened & has always been possible. But on the other, our communal grief and terror, and our communal soothing, matters.

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I should have been born a cat
Missy and Devon and I have spent the last few days reading ballots to one another and being stressed by politics, because alongside the terror that is the presidential race it feels like both Oregon and California are a mess—Oregon in particular is saturated with measures with good intentions and poor execution and candidates that have good credentials but circumspect conservative leanings. But we are all three of us now done voting, after much angst and exhaustion; today Dee and I took Odi walking in the rain, and I dropped my ballot at the library and then had celebratory coffee, and all was good.

There were two candidate votes I ultimately skipped and should't've, but only two; I figure that makes me about 80% Contributing Citizen, which is approximately 79.5% higher than my usual; and voting with a panic disorder is hard, and I am grateful that Oregon's voting process is so accessible, and that I don't live in a state with polling stations; and I am so glad to be done.

I love the height of autumn, as a riot of color and crisp new-season apples and the onset of sweater weather, but this may actually be my favorite time of year, sodden leaf-litter and nearly-bare trees, the rain constant but not yet punishing, Odi's fur clumping into wet feathers along the top of his head.

(And the only talk of Christmas that I've heard on social media so far has actually been reminders that the expectation that everyone celebrates Christmas/that Christmas is a universal two-month event is a form of prejudice—and I am grateful for that, and surprised.)

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Bear
I had a dream last night that I made a deal with a witch so that she would spare my family, the price for which was unrelenting pain in my lower back, like the witch's thumbs digging into the muscles at the base of my spine, a localized, piercing, unremitting pain. (Last night was also the onset of my period; cramping means the first 24 hours of my period is reliably my worst back pain of the month.)

1) This is beautiful imagery; it's not actually how my pain presents but my internal mythology still wants to internalize it as a metaphor for my back pain, to live alongside the black dog as a metaphor for my crazy. 2) But if that's the case, what bargain did I make and why have I not got shit from it? 3) I suppose this is the thing about chronic conditions: to assign them meaning seems to give them purpose or justification, but the valid truth is that they have none—and pointlessness is a big part of the experience. 4) Apparently Hexenschuss (literally: witch shot) is a German word for lower back pain.

I had a quiet Halloween: I took Odi for a walk while listening to Tanis, and on the way home we passed a lovingly-decorated yard, including a cluster of human-tall handmade carnivorous plants; someone was out finishing the decorations and I was able to compliment them on it. We only had four groups of trick or treaters, and Dee answered the door. One day I'd like to be energetic enough for Halloween as an event, I suppose, but I've grown content with Halloween as a season, September through the start of December, and then the long dead spread of winter after that.

My only regret, then, will be watching social media make an immediate left turn to Christmas Town. I think stretching out festivals of light (especially in modern times) deadens their effect, and would much rather embrace the dark seasons so that they have something to contrast. There's still so many haunted stories for this time of year! Sleepy Hollow's bare branches and leaf litter is best in November; there's so many books about the punishing, barren wilderness of winter (the second of Cherryh's Finisterre books is waiting on my shelf for then).

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Bear
Title: Time of Contempt (The Witcher Book 4)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2013 (1995)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 205,160
Text Number: 607
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Picking up where the previous book left off, the Northern Kingdoms plot their war against Nilfgaard while Yennefer attempts to send Ciri off to school. This is a disjointed book, due mostly to the politics. They clog the middle third with the a litany of names and double-crosses, seen moment to moment from characters's PoVs instead of summarized from the narrator's perspective—a worthy device but not a particularly successful one. But the first third is about the family dynamics between Ciri and Yen, between Yen and Geralt, in turns comic and heartfelt; the first hovers claustrophobically over Ciri on her harrowing solo journey. There are takeaway bits I love (Yen and Geralt's reunion, especially), but this isn't nearly as successful a book as Blood of Elves: the tone is inconsistent, the plot lacks structure, and sexism-as-worldbuilding returns in force when the scale of the narrative increases. Still, I'll continue the series.


Title: Baptism of Fire (The Witcher Book 5)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2014 (1996)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 205,510
Text Number: 608
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Geralt sets off across the war-torn countryside in search of Ciri, collecting a group of misfits along the way. This the view of war that Time of Contempt failed to successfully realize, seen through hapless individuals on the ground rather than an omniscient narrator. It makes for a slow plot and rambling journey, without dignity but chock full of the domestic details of survival. Geralt's ability to attract devoted followers—despite his copious personality flaws—is at its most endearing in this book. Baptism of Fire offers everything I love best of the series, and what the games most omit: Geralt's weaknesses; the grim reality of the worldbuilding set against the intimacy and loyalty that both Geralt and Ciri inspire. It's a lovely installment in the series.


Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland Book 2)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2012
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 205,770
Text Number: 609
Read Because: continuing the series, hardback from my personal collection
Review: September returns to Fairyland to find it once again endangered, this time by her own shadow-self, stealing shadows down to Fairyland-Below. This is, fittingly, a darker book. September grows up, grows a heart; her journey is bittersweet and her relationships more complicated—and the trinity of September, Halloween, and Maud is particularly subtle and compelling. But the travelogue-esque Questing is less successful here than in the first book: each chapter is creative, whimsical, and disconnected, especially in the middle third where the plot seems to lag. But it's a small flaw. I've been hesitant to continue this series simply because I love the first book too much, but this is what I wanted: a story equally magical, but of a different tone, gently building its own complexity.

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