Tag Archives: phil

please don’t feed the dustbunnies.

I’ve been spring cleaning. Ok, it’s significantly more than spring cleaning, but I’m calling it that because Trimming My Life’s Possessions Down in Anticipation of Moving to Another Country is just bulky. For the last six or seven weeks, I’ve had the urge to have a massive clear-out and tidy-up and throw-away, and when I came back from visiting Phil in England, that impulse could no longer be ignored. We may not know exactly when, yet, but we know I’ll be packing up and moving to Yorkshire to be with him in the not-impossibly-distant future. So I came back to Portland all fired up to do the spring cleaning, but also to start getting rid of things I know aren’t going to make the trans-Atlantic cut.

It felt great. Taking bags of seldom-worn clothing and decade-old knick knacks and never-unpacked picture frames to Goodwill. Pulling exactly seven DVDs that I actually want to keep and selling off all the rest. Culling supplies for crafts I am never going to learn and donating them to Scrap PDX. That bit was my favorite: having all those yards of fabric and yarn and obsolete embroidery transfers and bags of buttons gone gave me a breath of creative fresh air. Things I wasn’t ever going to use – wasn’t even interested in using – still managed to make noise in the back of my head and when they were gone the quiet was suddenly so productive. I’ve made more new things in the last two weeks than I have in the preceding six months.

The hard part of this process came when I got down to letters and photographs and picture albums. During the move from Chicago to Portland in 2012, I deliberately didn’t look at any of those things. I just sealed them up and brought them, with a lick and a promise to go through them later. I knew at the time that I wasn’t going to keep a lot of it, but I wasn’t ready to go through 15 or 20 years of my own history and talk to it. So I’ve been doing that these last few weeks, and it’s been joyous and painful and funny and sweet. A lot of things simply got read and discarded. Many more have been uploaded to online storage or allocated to be scanned for later uploading.

The process has made me think about how I interact with the artifacts of myself. I haven’t made everything digital, by any means. I’m not comfortable with the idea of keeping all the papers and pictures of my life in the cloud. There are things I may never look at again now that they’re in internet storage limbo, but I’m still not willing to say goodbye to them completely. I have problems with fuzzy memory and there are things I want to keep as touchstones to situate myself. There are other things that make me cringe and that I’d love to let go, and yet, and yet: some of those things are very important artifacts of ways in which I’ve changed and how hard it was to make those changes. And so I kept them in all their awkward physical reality in order to keep the threads of who I am and how I got here.

But I think the most interesting part of the process for me has been the things I’ve chosen to let go, but have given closure to in some way. Either I’ve found a new home for them – dozens of postcards I bought during a summer college course in England, quilt blocks for a project I’m never going to finish – or I’ve given them a sort of social media Viking funeral via Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. The act of posting a picture or a few lines of memorializing text about the thing I’m letting go has somehow made it more concrete in my memory, more fixed in the story of myself, than keeping it in a box in the closet ever did. Those things, that were not important or intact enough to keep, have somehow achieved a more vivid life than a number of the more vital things that got put back in boxes or uploaded to archives. How often will I visit or remember or need the things I’ve kept? Who knows. But the tiny white jacket with red trim that my mother crocheted when I was born, which I wore and which all my siblings wore after me, and which was far too greyed and shabby to give to the next generation, got a fitting and affectionate goodbye before I put it in the trash. I think that’s better than keeping it forever in a heedless box under the bed.

Fortunately, Terraria.

So, Phil and I managed to catch the exact same revolting and gunky head cold over Christmas. From 6,000 miles apart. Do not even attempt to rise to our level of romantic symbiosis, grasshoppers. So relationship. Much cough. Wow.

Fortunately, it was a holiday and we both had several days to lie around moaning and drinking tea. Even more fortunately, we’d started playing Terraria the weekend before Christmas and were just dug in enough to fall very hard down a video game rabbit hole (between naps).

Terraria is an almost-entirely sandbox game, designed to look like an old 8-bit game, but much newer. It’s cute and compulsive and pleasingly unfussy, and I’ve fallen for it hard. The whole game revolves around the building blocks of the world: navigating them, acquiring them, using them to build structures or aid in survival or craft equipment. There are monsters and bosses and pitfalls of terrain, but that’s essentially it. Blocks comma get and use. According to Steam, I’ve played 37 hours in the last not quite three weeks. That’s an iniquitous amount of game time for me. It’s the holidays, so I’m just enjoying it and I’m having so much fun.

I’ve tried a lot of video games in the last three years, looking for something that will be absorbing enough to take me out of myself, while still being accessible to a newcomer in the world of RPGs, ideally something that Phil and I could play together. Game mechanics and game design are interesting to both of us, and it’s important to have fun things that we can do together from a distance. That’s easier said than done, when you’re looking for a game that allows multiplayer from different continents, is affordable, doesn’t run on too much graphics memory, has interesting and challenging mechanics for players at disparate levels, and doesn’t piss one or the other of us off with appalling stereotypes. I started out with Kingdom of Loathing a couple of years ago, and I loved that, but the restriction on number of turns per day kept me from ever getting as deeply into it as I wanted. It’s brilliant and hilarious and challenging, but you have to play untold hours before those turn limits disappear and I didn’t have the patience. Since then, I’ve tried World of Warcraft (enjoyable, but not obsessive, and frequently offensive in storyline and quest objectives; I abandoned my subscription when Blizzard took to Twitter with inflexible and offensive statements about women in gaming and game design); Lord of the Rings (oh God, so cute, so grinding, so boring, so slow it melted the face of my laptop); Rift (I actually really like this one, and it has a number of clever and friendly MMO mechanics. Still, I haven’t stuck with it, and I have some shouty issues with the gendering of equipment. I’ve kept it on my laptop, though, and I go back to it from time to time); Spiral Knights (again so cute, so grinding, so dull in the final analysis); and EVE. I’ve stuck with EVE, but with a caveat: I’m really only in it for the pretty. I like to fly around and explore space and take screenshots. The game mechanic I particularly enjoy is the scanning, so that’s all I do. I fly around, I scan down wormholes and exploration sites (mini game within the game, which I really like), and I take screenshots of prettypretty simulated space. It’s a perfect relaxing game and can be played while I’m watching TV. But it’s not the “I will chew my own arm off if I don’t get to play this today” game I’ve been looking for.

Enter Terraria, on a Black Friday Sale from Steam for $2.99. Phil had played it a bit a while back and recommended it, so I bought it and then forgot about it for a couple of weeks. Then the weekend before Christmas we remembered and I installed it first thing on a Saturday morning and the next thing I knew it was Sunday night, quite late. I love this one. I love the make-your-own-fun of it, the ability to log in and fight monsters or explore new territory or obsessively pursue a specific goal or continue adding dirt blocks and trees and mushrooms to my ever-expanding house. I love the lack of quests and direction. There are some quests available, should you want that sort of thing, but advancing through the game doesn’t depend on accessing them. You can take it or leave it. I always thought I preferred quests in RPGs – checking things off a list is endlessly satisfying to me – but it turns out I really like the freedom of no quests. I still have a list to check things off, it’s just of my own making and far less guided and restrictive than most of the games I’ve played. There’s no leveling, just general improvement (read: less dying) as you find and craft better equipment, all of which is readily available to you through exploring the general environment. It’s easy to figure out and it’s beautifully uncluttered, while still being an interesting challenge with just the right amount of click-click-keep-on-clicking obsessiveness to take me out of a stressful day. We can toggle back and forth easily between single- and multiplayer modes, and we can share a world that we work on together while each having our own to mess around with. So far, it checks every box for gameplay for me. Simple, without being stupid. Flexible and player-friendly. Visually appealing. Not sexist. You choose a male or female character to play, but beyond the initial outfit they appear in, there’s no gendering of equipment or tasks. I can put on a yellow slicker and rain hat dropped in combat by a zombie and pick up my sword that summons bees to attack monsters and go forth into the forest to chop down trees to build my house. I can plan an elaborate underground library (and I am. I am. It will be entirely cosmetic and quite huge and will hold all my novelty furniture and monster-killing banners and will be lit by chandeliers and bonfires.). Phil built a Hellavator – a mine shaft that goes straight down from the surface of his world all the way to the molten lava level at the very bottom. It’s impressive and hilarious and a thing of beauty. I can’t survive down there yet; I just went down to look and spent the whole time chugging health potions until I died. I can dig endless tunnels underground, searching for specific materials to craft armor, and fighting monsters. I can say fun stuff like, “Did you know a candy cane pickaxe can’t mine demonite ore?” I’ve spent hours on the wiki looking up ways to breathe underwater, or figuring out how to summon a boss, or tracking down a bug that’s keeping me from finding a specific item I need to craft my next armor. I squealed with triumph when I got a piece of equipment that will allow me to swim.

It’s been so fun to finally hit that vein of obsessive enjoyment for a specific game, and it’s been my luck to have two long holiday weekends in a row to indulge it (in between naps and cold medicine, because I’m still not quite right). What happens when I go back to work on my regular schedule is anyone’s guess, but I think I’ll still be building that underground library.

Always it is by bridges that we live.

I’m just back from two weeks in Yorkshire visiting Phil. This was my first visit to Hull. I was looking at the city through lots of different eyes: through Phil’s, as he showed me the city he loves; through mine, as they sought and discovered all the things my eyes love; through ours as we imagined a life we could share together in this city.

It was so much fun to play tourist with Phil in a city he’s lived in all his life, and watch him see things in a new way as I noticed them. He had all the fun of watching me fall in love with the light and the street names and the oh-so-welcoming frequency of pubs. And of introducing me to a number of British foods I hadn’t tried before (pork pie, Yorkshire pudding, sausage roll, pork scratchings, and so many cakes of increasing fanciness), and making sure I didn’t step out into the street after carefully looking the wrong way for traffic. I can’t count the number of times I stopped to stare up at something in dumb happiness, only to feel a gentle hand on my elbow, steering me back to the sidewalk. No, the pavement. Sidewalk is called pavement in England. (I must also accustom myself to the word trousers, to avoid Very British Scenes of Embarrassment.)

We spent a lovely long morning rambling through an enormous old cemetery, deciphering inscriptions. It just kept going back and back and back, into ever more tangled underbrush, and then opening suddenly into little clearings full of crypts and monuments. There were two days spent hunting down 41 fish sculptures on the Historic Fish Trail (you can read about that on Phil’s blog), pleasantly interspersed with 15 pubs on the no less historic Ale Trail. (Phil did a really beautiful job documenting both of these in their entirety on Instagram.) We visited the Gentoo penguins at The Deep, and got all nerdy-giddy over the sharks and rays. I met his family, and we liked each other.

We also spent a solid amount of time sitting on the couch with the cat and watching one dumb movie after another. We’ve gotten very good at being together long distance, but it’s not easy to live 6,000 miles away from your partner. When we’re lucky enough to be in the same room for a while, the simplicity of reaching out to touch one another is a huge happiness. Reading aloud, sitting quietly together immersed in our own projects, doing the interwoven kitchen dance of preparing a meal together – these were my favorite times in these two weeks, and they’re what carry us through until we can be in the same room again.

We found this sign in the charmingly-named Land of Green Ginger. The tiny street in Old Town is also home to England's smallest window.

. . We found this sign in the charmingly-named Land of Green Ginger. The tiny street in Old Town is also home to England’s smallest window.

Side door of St. Mary's Church in Old Town

Side door of St. Mary’s Church in Old Town

Hull is the only region in the UK with its own telecom company, and has cream phone boxes instead of the traditional red.

Hull is the only region in the UK with its own telecom company, and has cream phone boxes instead of the traditional red.

The Ferens Gallery has a wonderful collection of Dutch masters.

The Ferens Gallery has a wonderful collection of Dutch masters.

SHARK! The Deep is a wonderful aquarium with several different vantage points on an impressive shark tank.

SHARK! The Deep is a wonderful aquarium with several different vantage points on an impressive shark tank.

Jellyfish at The Deep.

Jellyfish at The Deep.

We have had beer. At Wm Hawkes in the Old Town.

I fell in love with the light in Hull, especially on the water.

I fell in love with the light in Hull, especially on the water.

Art Nouveau detailing on an arcade in Old Town.

Art Nouveau detailing on an arcade in Old Town.

Waffle doughnuts with cake on top at Hull Fair.

Waffle doughnuts with cake on top at Hull Fair.

Kissable.

Kissable.

One of 25 installations commemorating Philip Larkin, found throughout Hull and surrounding towns. This was my favorite of the ones we saw.

One of 25 installations commemorating Philip Larkin, found throughout Hull and surrounding towns. This was my favorite of the ones we saw.

Yorkshire Rose at the bottom of my pint glass.

Yorkshire Rose at the bottom of my pint glass.

Archie.

Archie.

Phil photographing the sign at the Green Bricks for the ale trail.

Phil photographing the sign at the Green Bricks for the ale trail.

going away hungry.

Seed_DUSTJACKET_FINAL.indd

 

For the last several months, I’ve been reading along with selections for the scifi book group that Phil co-hosts. Seed, by Rob Ziegler, is September’s selection for Different Skies. I finished it several days ago, and it took me two days to mark it read on Goodreads because I couldn’t figure out what star rating to give it. (Compulsion to star-rate, personal criteria for star-rating and my need to serve the algorithm with accurate star-rating should be a whole other blog post.) I’ve never been so much at a loss to gauge my own reaction to a book.

The world of Seed is a drought-ravaged middle America, in which the bulk of the population is starving in cruelly harsh conditions. The primary currency is barcoded seed, genetically engineered and distributed by an entity called Satori, both a corporation and a living biological city with a literal flesh and bone structure.

Three main storylines interweave towards the climax. Brood and Pollo are orphaned brothers, originally from Texas but now part of the vast and piecey mass of migrants constantly traveling in search of shelter, water and fertile earth. Sienna Doss is a military commander who loves her work and lives by the mantra Don’t Fuck Up: do the job and don’t get bogged down in the stupidity and carelessness of long chains of command. Sumedha is an administrator of Satori, a genetically engineered human who can analyze and manipulate DNA.

Each of these storylines revolves around the defection and subsequent disappearance of Pihadassa, Sumedha’s partner and the creator of Satori’s drought-hardy engineered seed. Brood is caught up in a group that calls Pihadassa the Corn Mother, and believes she will save humanity from starvation. Doss is tasked with finding her and turning her over to the US Army, who believed she was defecting to them before she disappeared. Sumedha is struggling to understand why his mate, his perfectly engineered other half, has taken herself out of the circle of connection and creation that was their life in Satori.

These are three complex arcs with distinctly different tones, and Ziegler ties them together skillfully. The story is compelling, and the characters are well-developed. And yet, and yet: I didn’t actually enjoy this very much. I think I would have given it a higher rating if it had been a worse book. There’s a conundrum. There were too many miraculous escapes from certain death; I stopped fearing for the safety of my protagonists fairly early on. There was no attempt at giving a global context to the story, which is a thing that you often encounter in post-apocalypse stories, but which bugs me. Unless you’re writing in the first person, in which case your character probably doesn’t have access to information about anything but what’s physically in front of them, I feel like apocalypse is a thing that happened to the whole world and the existence of the rest of humanity should at least get a mention. Every storyline evoked a profound sense of pity in me, but no actual affection to hang my hope on. I will say that another way: I didn’t know what to hope for. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that made me feel that way before.

Every time I read a post-apocalyptic novel, I wish I had a better background in political philosophy, and Seed was no exception. This time, I had to run to Wikipedia for a quickie education on Thomas Hobbes, who gets a casual mention from a maddeningly serene pundit early in the novel. Hobbes isn’t mentioned again, but the pundit keeps punditing smugly and at very inconvenient moments. He gets one of the last lines in the book, and it’s a very dark breadcrumb pointing in the exact opposite direction from the cautiously verdant ending. I think Ziegler intends the ending to be hopeful, but there are enough hints and unexplored trails in the narrative to make me doubt, and I wish he’d really sunk his teeth into the moral ambiguity and made Seed a harder book. The review in the New York Journal of Books ended by describing the book as “Not light. Not heavy.” I agree, but I’d have liked it better if it was one or the other. It could have been a much lighter B scifi novel and been thoroughly enjoyable, but what I really wanted was something deeper. I’m looking forward to seeing what Ziegler does with a second novel.

 

 

Three More Days

Mike Watts is a poet and spoken word performer from Hull, Yorkshire. This poem is taken from his book Day and Night in the Damaged Goods Factory. Phil mined this gem of a lament, and he’s guest reading today.

Click the title of the poem to listen.


Alone for three weeks
In a bed that has
Crippled me,
Whose sheets have tormented
To the edge of 
Insanity
And tonight,
As bleak northern bursts
Pelt rain at my window,
Wanting nothing more
Than to feel
The warm plump
Of breasts
Soft at my back.

I am here
And she is 250 miles south
Of hands
That would peel
Her like fruit
If she were beside me now.

Heavy as I am,
Sleep touches briefly
And the need 
To piss
Is about to break it
Completely.

There is too much space.

I want
An entanglement of legs,
An arm locked
Around my chest,
I want to close my eyes
Until the point
Of an elbow
Digs a rib
And wakes me.