Media Round-up for 29/04/2018

Heavy Rain

heavy rainI have an odd relationship with David Cage/Quantic Dream games.  In many ways, they’re terrible.  The stories are odd mash-ups of bad American action film tropes, the actors are all Europeans who generally fail at speaking with American accents, and everyone hates quicktime events.  Despite all those flaws, I generally credit Indigo Prophecy with rekindling my interest in video games back in 2005 — it had a huge impact on me at the time.

When Heavy Rain was announced, I was so excited about it that I purchased a Playstation 3; however, I chickened out and never played it.  Given the story’s subject matter of trying to catch a serial killer I thought it might be a little too scary (I am a baby about scary things, despite loving true crime).  Since my boyfriend and I got together four years ago, he’s been trying to convince me to play Heavy Rain, which he loves despite and because of all its ridiculous flaws.  Over our last two visits, we were finally able to finish it.  I played the first half of the game while he watched and, due to my hands being awful, he played the second half of the game while I watched and made the narrative choices.

Overall, I enjoyed Heavy Rain, but I don’t think I would have had nearly as much fun with it if Sean and I hadn’t played it together.  Many elements of the game are unintentionally funny, such as the awful voice acting and the bad controls.  Being able to laugh about those elements together made the experience enjoyable in a way that I don’t think would have been the same if I’d been playing alone.  I also think that, while the story has its share of trite moments and some of the side characters are more than a little offensive, the way the it unfolds and the sheer number of endings and branching paths is quite impressive.  Character death is meaningful and can completely change the outlook of the story.  Many games attempt to provide players with narrative choices and they mostly don’t mean very much in the long run.  While the story mechanics aren’t perfect in Heavy Rain, I think think that Quantic Dream has pulled these elements off quite well.

The Girl on the Train

girl on the trainThe April theme for my ONTD reading challenge was to read a book with an unreliable narrator.  After poking around some lists on Goodreads, I noticed that I already owned The Girl on the Train and figured I should read it and avoid purchasing something new.  I’m trying my best to use the ONTD challenge to read books that I own and haven’t yet read — it’s been working out quite nicely and I’ve enjoyed both the books themselves and the feeling of using up things I already own.

The Girl on the Train isn’t the best thriller I’ve ever read, but I did enjoy it.  I love authors who risk writing female characters that are not likeable (I loved The Bell Jar for this as well) and I think that Paula Hawkins has created three remarkable female characters who are strong, smart, messed up, and interesting: not likeable, but somehow also sympathetic.  I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the likeability of female characters in fiction, but Roxane Gay has said all of them a lot better than I ever could in this essay, so I won’t go into them here.

The story is mainly about a woman named Rachel, who lives just outside London.  She is struggling with alcoholism after her divorce and she commutes to work by train.  Over time, she becomes a bit obsessed with watching this one married couple whose house she rides past every day.  When the wife of the couple she’s obsessed with, Megan, disappears, Rachel has information about the disappearance, but she struggles to remember due to an alcohol-induced blackout: mystery and deception ensue.

The book’s narration is first person and, while Rachel is the main character, some chapters are written from the perspective of Megan and another woman named Anna (who is currently married to Rachel’s ex-husband).  The best aspect of the book, for me, was this three narrator format.  It’s obvious that Rachel’s memory is not particularly reliable, but having the two other narrators always made me wonder which of them might also be lying or deceiving the reader.  This kept me guessing about what was going on throughout most of the story, though I did have some accurate guesses about the true nature of some of the characters early on.

Overall, The Girl on the Train was an enjoyable read.  Nicely written, an interesting main character, a decent mystery and good suspense.  While I sometimes veer away from books that are wildly popular, I sometimes like to check them out to see if they live up to the hype.  I would say this book falls a little short, but it’s still a fun read.

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Vacation time!

Hello!  I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know that I will be taking a little hiatus this week to enjoy a much-needed visit with my boyfriend.  I will be resuming my posting schedule next Tuesday (March 27, 2018).  I hope you all have a wonderful week and thank you for taking the time to read my blog when you can.  If you have a chance, please let me know what you think!  Your feedback means a lot to me!

Take care and see you next week!

Time for a spending freeze!

3712392Despite the fact that my parents and I intended to not buy tons of presents for Christmas this year, I wound up overspending on gifts, both for my parents and for myself.  Right now, due to my current financial circumstances, I feel like the best way to get back on track is to go on a spending freeze, which I will be starting this week.  I have attempted this challenge twice previously and I have found it to a great tool for boosting savings or debt repayment.

As I said in Part 1 of my Goals for 2018 series, I learned a lot about personal finance in 2017 — something that I had avoided dealing with for the majority of my adult life.  I’ve always been terrible about money and I felt like I was so stuck in my irresponsible ways that I was beyond help.  I began to realize, however, that in order to move forward with my life and give myself options for the future, I needed to make a significant change.  There’s nothing that can make you feel more stuck than having a large amount of personal debt and no savings.

I did a lot of research —  mostly through YouTube.  I wanted to know how normal folks were managing to make smart financial decisions to pay down debt and save money and I needed to start with the basics.  It turns out that there’s a substantial frugal living community on YouTube from which I was able to glean a lot of simple tips and basic best practices.  It was in a YouTube video that I first heard about the concept of a spending freeze.  The more I learned about this technique, the more I felt that it might be useful for my situation.

At the time, I had also been watching a lot of videos about minimalism and de-cluttering.  These videos stressed using what you have instead of buying more things that you don’t need and might never use.  The minimalists got me thinking about the things that I owned that I hadn’t yet used and I started to take a rough inventory.  It turns out that I own loads of manga I haven’t read (though in most cases I have read the scans and just not the hard copy English releases), games I haven’t played, books I haven’t read, and I have a stash of arts and crafts materials that I haven’t yet used, such as yarn, needle felting kits, and colouring books.  What, then, other than food, basic bills, toiletries, and a few aesthetic treatments I have regularly, did I need to spend any money on?

Absolutely nothing.

And so I decided, toward the end of February, that I would have two spending freezes in 2017: one in March and one in September.  I chose those months in particular because they were my extra paycheque months for 2017, thus I could maximize the amount of money that I would pay toward my debt.  I set the following rules for myself:

  1. I will purchase no video games, books, manga, crafting supplies, home decor, clothing, stationery or any other consumer goods.
  2. If I run out of any toiletries, such as facial cleanser or hand soap, I can re-purchase the same item or replace it with something in a similar price range.
  3. I have a small allowance set aside for eating out and I cannot exceed that amount (if my mother wants to buy dinner once in awhile, this does not count against my allowance).
  4. I may have one or two pre-planned video game purchases.  I can purchase these when they are released; however, it may be better to wait until a price drop if I am not going to start playing them immediately.

My attempt in March was a disaster.  I fell off the wagon almost immediately and consistently over-spent my takeout allowance.  I was poorly prepared (both financially and mentally), but I did manage to reduce my spending significantly and pay a solid amount toward my debt.  My September attempt was a huge success and I came very close to paying off my credit card balance ($8000 at the beginning of 2017) entirely, a feat I would proudly achieve in October.

Right now, my net income has been substantially reduced.  I am earning about 35% less than usual; however, I have been spending like I am earning my full income (or even a little more than that).  This is mostly emotional spending.  Some of my purchases have been necessary as they are mechanisms that I believe will assist me in achieving my goals for the 2018, but many of my purchases have been “Hi, I have Cancer, so I will now treat myself” in nature.  I don’t feel any guilt about making those purchases, because I am happy with them and I feel like we all need to be a little frivolous at times, but now it’s time to reign myself in.

Throughout the rest of January and all of February I will be following the rules that I have set for myself above.  This will allow me, hopefully, to pay off my holiday spending quickly and set me on track for another financially responsible year in 2018!  I’ll be posting some periodic updates on my progress, so please check them out!

 

Me and Feminism

rosieAs a young woman in my late teens and early 20s, my feminism had three main tenets: I was rabidly pro-choice; I was interested in LGBTQ rights; I didn’t want to be a housewife like my mother.  The third idea culminated in a sort of “bad bitch” attitude of privileged, second-wave feminism that, in my opinion, was  damaging to me and my progress as a person.  I completely rejected the nurturing side of myself:  I refused to do housework, I refused to learn how to cook.  I could get a partner who could do those things for me — I was a career woman and would never be trapped into servitude like my mother.  I was way too smart for that shit.

Quick side bar: my mother actually worked from home for most of my youth and only stopped when her parents needed care.  When my father left my mother in 2002, she had seen the writing on the wall, gone back to school, and was able to get a decent job as an admin in a mental health centre.  I’m not sure why I was so attached to the idea of my mother as a full-time housewife, but I think I probably just wanted to be a career-focused person and I didn’t want to get stuck in a shitty relationship for as long as my mother was.

I was also not ready to make any effort to understand true inequality (I’m not even sure I would have been capable of it at the time).  I wanted everyone to have equal rights, but I also felt as though many of the more difficult battles had already been fought and won.  I was naive enough to believe that we were living in a post-racist and post-sexist society where the only rights that really needed defending were LGBTQ and abortion rights.  In some ways, this is not particularly surprising.  I’m white, I grew up in an affluent household, I was a spoiled only child and I was never told that I couldn’t do things because I was a woman.  The only real adversity I had ever had to face was some family drama and my emotionally abusive father.

My “bad bitch” attitude softened a bit over the next few years.  My parents split up and my life got a bit crazy.  I was working two part-time jobs, going to university part time and helping to look after my father’s father.  I had a boyfriend and I tried to have a social life.  This didn’t leave me with any space for politics: lot of aspects of my life were serious and important and I wanted to have fun in my spare time.  This was when I started to become more closely involved in fandom.

When I say fandom, I’m nearly always referring to the female-dominated sector of fandom, where most fanfiction comes from.  What many male members of the video game community probably don’t realize is that discussions about diversity, equality and representation in fictional media started popping up in female-dominated fandom communities years prior to the emergence of figures like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, who would push these issues to the forefront of video games.

My response to those discussions was always politely dismissive: I wasn’t interested in political discussion getting in the way of my fun.  Fandom was my escape from the heaviness of my everyday life and, at that time, I needed to keep things light.  My reaction to those discussions and politics was quite similar to the video game community’s reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter campaign: I wanted them to stay far away from me.  The big difference being that I just avoided those discussions rather than going to online forums and uttering death and rape threats.

I’m not a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian, but I credit her with being the lightning rod that inspired the development of my true feminism.  When the controversy over her Kickstarter campaign began, I was horrified by the kinds of behaviour and comments I witnessed in communities where I had previously felt welcome.  For example, I had been an active member of the Giant Bomb community since the site had started and the forums had always been a place where I felt comfortable hanging out.  The reaction to the Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter campaign, however, made me feel completely unsafe.

Thousands upon thousands of men in the video game community flocked to Anita Sarkeesian’s website and social media accounts and threatened her with death and rape.  They subsequently flocked to popular video game forums to talk about what a bitch she was, how ugly she was, how stupid she was, and how she had no right to voice her opinion about video games.  Some even attempted to dox her and prove that her family was affluent so that they could approach Kickstarter and report her campaign as a scam (there was a huge thread on Giant Bomb that was devoted to this that was, thankfully, deleted).

If all this was done in response to a series of YouTube videos that probably wouldn’t even be widely viewed, what would these men say to me if I disagreed with them?  What would happen to me if I agreed with her arguments?  What if I questioned the representation of women in video games from my own perspective?  Would they speak to me this way?  Would they threaten and bully me? Of course they would.  They had given me no evidence to the contrary.

It was this horrible reaction to Anita Sarkeesian that made me realize that we were not living in a post-sexist society.   From there I started actively trying to gain a better understanding of inequality.   I read books by marginalized authors and I read feminist literature and contemporary memoirs.  My mother needed my help and I became her full-time caregiver for a year.  I taught myself how to cook and how to bake (turns out I’m pretty damned good at both).  I volunteered at a women’s shelter.  I finally started to embrace the nurturing part of myself and I allowed myself to see that there were people in the world that I needed to fight for.

In many ways my accepting myself as a nurturer was akin to accepting my femininity, something that I had never been able to do.  While this was a stepping stone in my feminist development, I have actually arrived at a place beyond that.  While activities like cooking can be caring and nurturing, it is incorrect to assume that caring and nurturing are inherently feminine.  Radical feminist author bell hooks (yes, her name is all lowercase) has written extensively about the fact that loving and nurturing should be natural to both men and women and it is our gendered view of society that limits those traits to women.  If we think about cooking from this perspective, cooking isn’t a feminine activity that comes naturally to women because they are caregivers.  Cooking is a life skill that we should all learn in order to care for ourselves and the people we love, regardless of gender.

Men and women are different, but I believe that removing gendered preconceptions from my life makes it a lot simpler and prevents me from limiting my options.  Within myself, I have the capacity to accomplish a great deal, especially if I can move past society’s, and my own, preconceptions of what I should be.  As I write this, I am 36 years old — soon to be 37.  I discovered my true feminism a little later than some and it has been a long and arduous process.  I know that I will still make mistakes from time to time and that my views will continue to evolve, but I am proud of how far I’ve come.

 

 

 

 

What to expect from Stand Commonly in 2018

If you read my posts on my goals for 2018, then you know that one of my most important goals for this year is to write as much as possible.  As such, I will be creating a great deal of content for this blog.  I have exciting plans for the year ahead, including:

1. I will post entries on general topics at least twice per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays.

I have loads of ideas for potential series, such as:

  • Living with cancer and surviving during chemotherapy
  • Mental health and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
  • Techniques and tools for self-improvement
  • Career development and learning new skills (mostly depends on how I’m feeling)
  • “Me and …” where I discuss significant developments in my life and how I currently feel about them
  • My de-cluttering journey
  • Progress updates on my goals for 2018

2. I will post reviews of video games I play, books and manga I read, and TV series and movies I watch.

At the moment, I have the Media Round-up format, where I plan to write 2-4 short reviews and post them in one long entry per week.  This format makes sense for now as I like to keep album reviews short and a lot of the other media I have been consuming has been on the shorter side.  I may change this format in the future, however, depending on  whether I feel like I’m able to say what I want to say without writing posts that are 2000 words long.  It’s possible that I may write a few more substantial reviews as regular Tuesday/Friday posts if I feel like whatever I am reviewing deserves a little more attention.

3. I will be updating the visual style.

I’m quite new to WordPress and I’m terrible at web design, but I would like to experiment with customizing Stand and see if I can make it a bit more representative of my personality.  I think the experience will be valuable for me and make the blog look a lot nicer.  It’s not bad right now, just very simple, and I think it could look much better.

4. Include more images.

I have never been a photo taking person, but I would like to start learning a bit more about photography and including more photographs and images into Stand’s content.  I also plan to start actually using my Instagram account, which I hope to integrate into the site.

I am so excited to get started on making Stand something that I can really be proud of.  I hope that all of you reading this will be able to learn something new or find something to entertain you here.  Let’s have a creative and peaceful 2018!

Media Round-up for 07/01/2018

I finally invested in a decent lap desk, which has made playing PC games on my laptop much more comfortable.  As such, I’ve been on a bit of a tear playing shorter indie games on Steam.  Many of my media round-up posts in the coming weeks/months will include reviews of games similar to the ones below.

One Night Stand

onenightOne Night Stand is an excellent experimental indie visual novel that is a refreshing and intimate take on the genre.  Instead of engaging in various courtship rituals and trying to impress or please a potential mate, One Night Stand is about navigating your way through an awkward situation.  You’ve woken up in an unknown woman’s bed with a raging hangover and no idea how you got there.  Once the woman wakes up, you are able to interact with items in her room (the number of things you can look at is limited) and converse with her.  Different combinations of items and dialogue options will determine how the game unfolds.  There are 12 endings in total, many of them offering substantially different dialogue other than a few set conversations (which are easy to fast forward through).

I heartily enjoyed One Night Stand.  I have a soft spot for atypical visual novels (Digital: a Love Story is one of my favourite games of all time) and, while I did experience some hitching and performance issues, the game’s art is gorgeous and unique.  The game’s subject matter and its art style combine to create an experience that feels intimate and personal in a way that I think demonstrates what a great medium video games is to present this type of story.  I recommend One Night Stand to anyone who likes experimental visual novels or short, story-focused experiences.

Reigns

reignsReigns is a game with a great concept that doesn’t quite hit the mark.  The game is essentially a Tinder visual novel. You play as a king who is trying to rule a kingdom and survive as long as possible.  Various characters from your court will approach you with conundrums, most of which you can respond to with a simple yes or no (swiping right or left).  Typically, your decisions will impact one or more of your four resources (the church, the people, the army and the treasury).  You must balance out your resources, because if any one is completely depleted you will die and have to start over as the next king.

This sounds great to me as a concept, but in practice I just didn’t find the game to be particularly fun.  I found that sometimes my character would die quite arbitrarily or the decisions presented to me would make it nearly impossible to balance my resources sufficiently to keep moving forward.  Some characters and scenarios can send you on interesting little side paths, but I felt like I wasn’t finding those paths very often — even though I was still early in the game I found that I was getting a lot of repetition.  I also wasn’t particularly impressed by the game’s writing, which made the repetition particularly irksome.  All and all, for me this game was a bit of a disappointment, but I am glad that I tried it out because the idea itself is so interesting.

 

Cancer Update: Prognosis Improved!

Yesterday I finally received some good news!

I received the results of my bone marrow biopsy and it looks like the cancer has not spread to my bone marrow.  This is incredibly good news as it reduces me down to Stage III from Stage IV.  At first, the doctor (a locum, because my regular oncologist is away on vacation) told me that I am still Stage IV, but we read through the staging criteria for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma together and, so long as the cancer hasn’t spread to another system of my body, I am actually at Stage III.

This means so much for my prognosis.  Base 5-year survival rates for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are 65% at Stage IV and 80% at Stage III which, in my opinion, is a huge difference.  If you add in the fact that I wasn’t having any symptoms of Lymphoma (drenching night sweats, unexplained fever or weight loss) prior to my diagnosis, this means that my chances of making it through this ordeal are quite good.

When I heard the doctor mention that the cancer may have spread to my bone marrow, I instantly lost a great deal of hope and morale.  She also discussed the fact that, if the chemotherapy wasn’t effective in eradicating the cancer, there were other options.  I have been dreading those other options.  I have been dreading the fact that I might need further treatment after chemotherapy.  While I know that it is still highly possible that I will need further treatment after chemotherapy is completed, I feel like I can at least be a little more optimistic about the fact that the chemo alone might be enough.  I can’t express in words how much that means to me and the positive effect that it has had on my morale. I spent a few hours this afternoon crying.  I was completely overcome with emotion.

Today I’m going for my second chemotherapy infusion (I should actually be on my way home by the time this post goes up).  Of course I’m dreading it, but I’m happy that I will, at least, be going in with a little more hope than I did last time.

I will probably be pretty quiet for a few days, but I’ve written and scheduled my next three posts, so please watch out for them.