Writing: My Love Affair with the English Language

I pity people who don’t love English. I am not ashamed of my love affair with the language. Part of the beauty is in the acceptance the English language has for the nuance and culture which other languages can provide.  Oh, I will grant you that sometimes it’s gets a little creepy the way the English language has “borrowed” things from so many languages – especially the European languages. Yet, when you approach vocabulary, the English language is quick to adopt a word that allows us [the speakers] to become more precise in our language.

This topic really enticed me to write about it when I was talking about my job recently.  I told the person “Yeah, I’ve been pretty frenetic recently” and their first response was “don’t you mean frantic?”

“No, frantic implies something distraught and out-of-control and bad. Frenetic is the same kind of wild energy without the negative connotations.”

These two words, so alike and yet with such different nuance of meaning allow me to communicate more succinctly with educated people. And this is where I struggle with a form of classism – I can’t understand “non-readers.” People who say they never read for fun; only when forced. No articles. No books. Not even comics. How do they live without consuming new words?  How do they live without absorbing the new inflections and seeing how our favorite words (or hated words) are evolving in new context?

Review: Sims 4

I have been a Sims fan since my brother bought me Sims 1.  This new game idea, taking SimCity and zooming into the individual lives.  Maxis did some cool things in Sims 1, and when Sims 2 came out they had taken some of the best, strongest and fan-favorite themes and grew the series.  They kept stretching the bounds of the game through Sims 2, really straining the engine completely. Sims 3 required a new engine because they made it open world.  Yeah, at first it was a little bare, but I was ok to have them add (most) of what they sold in Expansion Packs.  It really allowed you to customize your game – don’t like magic, ok you can avoid the supernatural stuff (more easily).

I like the idea of customizing games and when EA put out a survey talking about whether to keep using Expansion Packs or some kind of subscription -get-what-you-want-from-a-store… I was intrigued they might actually try something new and different.

The first time I saw an actual play-through on Sims 4 I was horrified. Loading screens.  Sims 3 had some loading, but I could play hours – days – without them if I was careful. I hate loading screens. With a passion.  And they sure better be worth it.

So this weekend Origin offered 48 hours of Sims 4 game time.  I downloaded the game on laptop and sat down to play.  I’m going to try to talk generalities – my problems with the game – and only use specifics as examples.  So, long intro over: here is my review of the game.

Engine: 1/5

Specifically, this is running the game – not game play (I’ll address that a little later).  The Sims 3 was a huge leap in engine technology (open world) but had some issues that plagued the game throughout its life. Sims 4 is not only NOT open world, they didn’t add anything to replace that concept easily. I will grant them a 1 because I played Sims 4 on my laptop (granted, a nice laptop I can game on – I play Guild Wars regularly on it) and it only locked up once. They say they wanted to improve the game, make it more accessible to people without big gaming rigs – but they didn’t improve the good stuff they had. They stripped it down so it’s more like Sims 2!  Load screens. UGH.

Character creation: 3/5

I almost gave this a 4 because I do like the new interface (dragging around instead of sliders). but they took out Create A Style (CAS)!! I’m stuck with the colors EA thinks I should play with instead of the palate.  And this is something I know has been in the game since Sims 2- so now we’re talking go back to a Sims 1 game play style!

Building: 3/5

Again, this almost got a 4 because they really did do some much-requested improvements.  I was able to take a set of shelves and “stack” them along the wall instead of everything being the same height.  Rooms are quick and easy to build and edit. But without CAS, my creativity kept hitting some walls (no pun intended) and I’d go “well, I guess I can settle for X” instead of being able to make it perfect.  The lots are very limited and I don’t feel like I have a good handle on what the whole world looks like – what you see in the “neighborhood” map and what’s actually on/around that lot…. there is a lot of disconnect so finding the perfect view and the perfect setting for my sims – impossible.

Simulation: 4/5

This is the big area of improvement, as any long-time player could guess (you know, it’s all the previews ever showed us….).  I don’t think the emotions are THAT huge a jump… but I can see some slight improvement.  And I will grant the developers that multi-tasking was long overdue.  Being able to watch tv, eat and have a conversation… note-worthy improvement. That being said, the traits are really the same, achievements are the same.

I was hoping for traits to be more like traits in Sims 3 Pets – wherein when a pet chooses to use a trait more, they get “stronger” in that trait and they can be “trained” to change traits.  Since there is no in-game-non-cheating method to change traits in Sims 4 – once you set the personality it’s locked. Which means when my woman sim started falling in love with a man with “hates children” trait… the only recourse was to break up with him. He had no chance of changing his attitude and having kids with my sim (until I cheated, but that didn’t seem to have 100% effectiveness).

Overall, Sims 4 is as big a disappointment when I sat down for a “play through” as I expected from the demos, previews, etc.  I was allowed 48 hours to play.  After 10 (between Fri night and Sat morning) I went and loaded up Guild Wars instead to take advantage of double XP weekend.  This morning I went ahead and uninstalled Sims 4. With the first expansion pack due out in a few months, there is no way I want to spend money on this game.

Manners: My Bubble

I don’t remember the first time I talked about “my bubble.”  It might have been middle school.  I do know I remember in my young-childhood-life the adults who invaded my bubble space and my reactions to them.  Most of them were church-people, well-meaning, and loving people in many ways. But as extroverted adults, some of them felt it their right to impose hugs, cuddles, pats, or clothing-fidgets on me.  “Oh sweetheart, let me re-tie your bow, it’s crooked!” or “Look at you [HUG]!”

There was an older gentleman (older than my parents) who regularly wanted to hug me.  And it made me uncomfortable. I remember being in fourth or fifth grade and telling him no. He looked to my mother with an expression of “are you going to let her do that?”  I don’t remember exactly how my mother replied, but the end-result was that he stopped hugging me. I suspect it was a quite intelligent explanation that as a young lady (you know, 9? 10?) I had the right to exert independence and choice of who is allowed to touch me.

The thought of “my bubble” came to me later, I know that much.  I was probably trying to explain to someone why crowded places made me uncomfortable.  Too many people squishing into the space where I want my bubble to exist.  Oh, if I have warning and planning I can deal with crowds, but I don’t generally like them.  When I saw this comic a few years ago, I realized other people had also adopted the bubble-idea.  The one things this comic doesn’t address is the variability of the bubble.

There are times and places where my bubble is bigger and places where it is smaller. There are people for whom my bubble is bigger and smaller as well. What makes it difficult to navigate (for anyone that isn’t me) is the intersection of all the variables which need to be applied.  So this week, because I am mentally prepared to have my bubble invaded, it is skin-tight.  I carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer and tell myself this refreshes my bubble (seriously, this mental game works for me) when I begin to get overwhelmed.  If however the wrong person crowds into my bubble (since I’m meeting people I don’t know, this is a threat!) my bubble can expand and I’ll need more space.  Step outside, take deep breaths of cool air, and then approach people again.

Writing: The Story I Want to Read

I started writing essentially fanfic.  I took my five or six favorite books and smooshed them into something “novel”. Sorry for the pun, but at the time I thought I was being entirely original. It was only when I went back to it a few years later I could see what a mockery my “novel novel” was.  But I wrote the story I had wanted to read, and the fact I had read most of it before… my only excuse is that I was eleven and naive.

I still write the stories I wish I could read. I write the dragon I don’t find in other novels. I write the magic system I want to see characters explore. Sometimes I just have a snippet of a character and I find myself fleshing out why they are that way and what in their world moved them there and it motivating them forward.  Sometimes I just have a scene and I start exploring it.  Hence I have a lot of unfinished drafts. Started bits and pieces. Worlds that are built with flat characters. Characters that are living in flat worlds. Scenes without much context. Plot ideas unfinished. Villians not evil enough.

The problem is when I sometimes open one of these and start reading it.  It might be entirely vain of me to say, but I sometimes get entirely engrossed in these stories I wrote (sometimes several years ago) and then I hit this wall. It’s where I stopped writing. Maybe the plot fizzled. Maybe I wrote myself into a corner (I’ve got a bad habit of kind of trying to redeem my villians).

And sometimes I was enjoying my story all over again and I sit there in a quiet stew while I think “Why did I stop? Where did I want to go? I want to know what happened!” It’s the worst kind of reader’s regret because the only one I can blame is myself.  The downside to writing the story I want to read…

Manners: Why we need Feminism for Men

Yes, I think this is a topic on manners as much as politics.  There has recently been a kerfuffle about “Nice guys” and feminists and how the two shall never meet!

In case you missed it, this one started with a “Nice Guy” named Scott Aaronson blogging on the difficulty Nice Guys have with feminism. The responses (#1 and #2) I have read both are neither bashing nor justifying but trying to re-frame the questions, and both link to even further responses which are either trying to “teach” Mr. Aaronson how to “get over it” or why he IS still priviledged or…. the rabbit hole is deep my friends.

I could easily talk about Nice Guys, but this guy does a good job of it.  I’ll have to write up my explanation of Schrödinger’s Rapist another day because I don’t like that imagery (although there is something important about reminding men to respect women’s boundaries!). There is also a lot to be discussed around intersectional priviledge, but again there is a great walk-through for that discussion (in my opinion).

There is one thing I think so many of these discussions are forgetting – guys don’t get to have friends any more.

Really, the “friends” guys have are not the kind they can ask “hey, give me an honest assessment of my behavior” and get a true thought-out answer.  There is a “bro-code” which demands men always be seen as tough, as in-control, alphas (or at least not omegas or somesuch).  These “friends” are really hang-out-pals. Not soul-suffering-stand-by-me friends.

I have girl friends who I am emotionally vulnerable and intimate with in ways I am not with my boyfriend.  I am vulnerable and intimate with him in ways I am not with my other friends (and don’t want to be – sorry ladies).  And because I can have such a diversity of trust and love and intimacy – I don’t end up crashing and burning into a single person when life hurts. And if I broke up with him tomorrow, I wouldn’t be alone and devastated. Devastated, but not alone. Never alone. And I am stronger and braver because of it. I get what he’s saying. I was terrified of dating when I was in middle and high school too. But I had some dear and close (hear trusting and intimate) friends who allowed me peeks into their feelings and struggles in relationships that made it easier for me to step out onto that ledge.

Scott Aaronson needed a friend he could turn to in his “between 12 and 20” stage when he was so terrified. So instead of being isolated and scared. He and his friends could just be scared. They could encourage each other. Maybe practice pick-up lines out loud. And when he failed, he would fall into their arms and be told he’s still loved.They could discuss why he failed. They could talk about how to approach it differently. and when he (in his words) “over analyzed” on specific things in feminist literate his friends could bring him back to reality: “dude, you can offer a girl a drink without going to jail. If she says no, just walk away. Come back here and I’ll buy the next round.” And when he writes that he fought against the idea that “there’s no conspiracy to make the world a hell for shy male nerds.” I actually yelled at my computer screen “YES THERE IS! feminists call it Patriarchy! It hurts men too!”

I watched the George Takei documentary recently and they asked him about the erotica surrounding Kirk and Spock.  Takei laughed. Shatner grumbled. Nemoy rolled his eyes and shrugged. I got angry. By making that relationship SEXUAL – that relationship is made CHEAP. There is so much depth that Kirk and Spock are wonderful non-sexual FRIENDS.  By trying to tie that sort of emotional intimacy with sex empowers the belief that men are only allowed to be emotionally intimate with a sexual partner. That is the problem Nice Guys have. They don’t get to talk to other guys and get help, support, practice…. anything from each other. they aren’t supposed to get it from girls either. So instead they are isolated, scared (or terrified), and lost.

I’ve had guy friends who cry on my shoulder (literally) and tell me they feel like they don’t have anyone to talk to (I mentally add “in their own gender” since they found someone to talk to…) They have to be “macho” and they can’t show weakness. I won’t lie, I do love being that person for my friends: the trusted voice (even when I say painful truths) and the confidant. But why can’t guys have that with each other? Why do we have to live in a society where men have to have sex with their best friend?

Children should be allowed to be Kids/Teens/Explorers

By the time you read this it will be “I read this article yesterday” because I am scheduling this to post Thursday.  So today I read an article on the 16-year-old “First Daughter.”  Apparently, she took a selfie of herself wearing a branded shirt.  Said brand got a copy of the picture and proceeded to exploit her fame as a marketing ploy.  And apparently, it’s completely inappropriate for the president’s 16-year-old daughter to like hip hop. It made me angry.

My mother was appointed to her first church when I was about to be a sophmore in high school so I was…. 15? 16?  It took about 3 months and a church member made a snide comment about something I was doing during my mother’s sermon. Taking notes.  Apparently, as the pastor’s kid I was supposed to sit there in the pew and silently gaze at my mother. I don’t learn that way. I can’t pay attention like that. So I took notes. Now, I took notes on my palm pilot (I know, soooo hi-tech!) and so maybe they thought I was playing a game. Still. None of their business. Do you know how many times Sunday morning was the second, third, or fourth time I’d heard parts of my mother’s sermons?

My mom and I talked about it after the service. She reminded me of the pastors’ kids I had known in my previous church – both the associate pastor’s and the youth minister’s kids had been held to a different level of behavior than any other kid in church. We talked about how the youth minister’s 4-year-old had sometimes whined and cried during the service and the snide comments people had made- sometimes calling her a “brat” or “spoiled” because she couldn’t sit still for an hour listening to people drone (and that particular pastor had been a bit of drone-er).

At 15, mom and I could talk about how I could address those comments and how I could deal with the frustration of being put into a cramped box of “expected behaviors” at a time when I was exploring and stretching and growing into an adult.  I still can’t imagine being a 4-year-old of a pastor and being expected to fit into that box of behaviors. I think it is a low, immature blow to attack a kid who is being a kid (and hell, a selfie is hardly the most destructive thing we’ve known politicians’ kids to do at 16).

Politicians, pastors, teachers, business owners… parents only have so much control of this little human they’ve created and nurtured. And just look at siblings – the vast differences that can crop up in lifestyle, habits, preferences. There are so many influences around each of us, you can’t expect every child to be some kind of cookie-cutter-kid who fits your ideals.  Let the kids be kids.

Review: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) Poster

I’ve never written a movie review, so I am not entirely certain of my format. I am going to work on the assumption that anyone reading this review has at least a passing familiarity with the film. I mean, it is almost 50 years old. I am also going to focus less on “what made it a great film” and more on “why I think everyone should watch it TODAY” – in the context of the modern world.  Why it is still relevant for discussions.

TL;DR: Go watch it again and try to imagine what (if anything) would change putting it into a modern context. Not enough has changed in the last 47 years to make the issues addressed in this movie “outdated” and points out a few things I think we (in the modern day) could learn from and improve.

Favorite Scene: Best firing of an employee ever. When Christina Drayton (Kathering Hepburn) fires her assistant Hillary. Seriously, you have to see this scene if nothing else! (And the generosity of what might have been 6 months to a year’s salary when she’s fired)

Stats: Total of 11 awards and 20 nominations. Box office gross ~$70 million worldwide.

Joanna (Joey) Drayton: she drives me crazy! Throughout the film she races forward with these plans and ideas without showing any clear process or thought into potential problems. She blithely ignores how her parents are reacting. She demands they act as happy as she feels without any regard to their concerns. Granted – they don’t warn Joey of the shit-storm that is about to hit that dinner. When she finally is told her response is “what a funny thing to do” – like he had bought her a pearl necklace instead of a diamond ring for engagement… just such a weird reaction in my opinion. She has strange – almost childlike reactions several times throughout the movie even though no one seems to believe she is too young to marry a significantly older man. I find her character to be the only one who feels incomplete.

Housekeeping: Yes, this is something that jumped out at me early in the movie. Mr. & Mrs. Drayton (the incomparable Spencer Tracey and Audrey Hepburn) are a newspaper editor and an art gallery director(?) in California (which even in the 60’s had a pretty high cost of living). They have at least one full-time servant (Tilly). With someone else to help “on weekdays” – so 2 servants essentially and delivery of food during the course of the movie. They are portrayed as upper middle class – but (at least in Georgia) even upper-middle class can’t keep a full-time cook! I couldn’t help but wonder how that world was possible- does Tilly make living wages? (I assume so because I can’t see the Draytons being less-than-honorable and paying her decently).

Somehow in the modern age we expect that level of cleanliness (perfect house, multi-course dinner – hell! Turtle soup!) from a working mother of three who also shuttles her kids to every soccer game, piano lesson, and debate club in the world – no help needed! That being said, the family does iron and answers the door – in other words they are very… respectful of Tilly’s work. I’ve read blogs of people who work as housekeepers (or house cleaners) where in the modern world we have such a poor attitude towards hired help. They make no money because they are “lazy” or “stupid” – not that they might appreciate doing a good job that has clear, obvious results and helps people! I have plenty of friends who enjoy cleaning. Why can’t they make decent wages doing it?

Race: I mean the film hits directly on this throughout. I just find it fascinating how many of these conversations I still see happening today – almost 50 years later!  I do find Joey to be frustratingly ignorant of the issues. She seems to think ignoring them makes them go away. Her parents are clearly allies, but they are acutely aware of the issues. Joey ignores them. It’s just like the “not all men” movement – if am not racist/sexist/classist then it just doesn’t exist in the world!

I think Spencer Tracy deserved best actor for the oh-so-obvious struggle with his own bigotry that he hadn’t even known he had. He is portrayed as being the vocal activist in his paper and then when it comes home he is hit like a ton of bricks. I think everyone in the modern world should watch this and see the racism – which exists in both families and they all struggle with – with an eye to recent events and discussions occurring. Has so much really changed in the past 40+ years? I am ashamed to say how little seems to have changed.

Class: Already having talked about the housekeeping/servant thing there is also Dr. John Prentice as well. His father was a postman. A walking-to-every-mailbox good old-fashioned mailman.  And his son went to become a world-famous, world-class doctor. Even taking out race (which adds another level of complexity to this discussion), class-movement has been tracked by so many sources as being more difficult now than it was. I am no expert, but reading articles that cite expert statisticians and sociologists… they say there is significantly less social mobility than there was 30 years ago. I went looking on fox news for “social mobility” and “class movement” and “socio-economic status” but I couldn’t find a single article on their site… I was uber-curious what the conservative side would say about it.

Growing up, my family was working to be middle class – and today I am considered barely lower middle class (because I’m technically a “homeowner” with my condo). Even if I was in a 2-income household with my boyfriend we would barely be considered middle class. And we both work hard. We are intelligent, motivated… and we don’t live in the same class as our own parents. This isn’t the post for me to in-depth discuss modern social mobility, but I found it striking in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – the difference and my own frustration that I will fight to be in the same class as my parents – much less “moving up” in the world. If you then add discussions on how much we spend on education and issues like race… I think Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner could be used to discuss social mobility. It wasn’t considered totally weird to have the son of a postman become a doctor… and I’m not sure that would be true for someone graduating from college today.