Life with CQS

Today readers, I’m going to tell you about my experiences with what I call Chronic Quitter Syndrome, or CQS for short. Hopefully it will help (at least in part) to explain my absence these past few months.

For the bulk of my life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and a general tendency to avoid my problems, rather than confront them. Thus, when a thing has become difficult, or seems like it might lead to an uncomfortable situation/confrontation, I stop going, stop talking to a particular individual, stop blogging, etc. And I stress about it for weeks, sometimes months on end. This neglected blog has seriously been hanging over my head, haunting me for a solid two months. I’ve  had some great post ideas that I’ve allowed to fall by the wayside out of some weird, unfounded anxiety that no one cares what I have to say.

I suppose the thing that I ought to reconcile is my knowledge that it’s true, few people read my blog, with my fear that no one will. People aren’t not reading my blog because of the content, they’re not reading it because they don’t know it exists. And the only way to make people more aware of its existence is by publishing content. And I can do that. I have a support network of friends who keep encouraging me and pushing me to do this. And I often have a burning desire to make my opinion known, even if “the multitudes” are really only about a dozen people.

And I do have so very many exciting things to report on since last we met. In no particular order:

  • I tried out for a roller derby team and made it past the first round of cuts. I have five more weeks to prep for my next round. It’s so exciting and I just love it already. I’ve seriously felt my confidence increase by at least 30% in the past month, not to mention my fitness level.
  • I am, with the assistance of a few other lovely ladies, in the process of founding a San Antonio chapter of Geek Girl Brunch. We’ve been texting, messaging, and meeting to get things sorted out and ready for our first brunch. It’s going to be awesome. Hopefully. Nah, it’ll be great. Maybe. (See what I mean about anxiety and self doubt?)
  • ABC picked up Agent Carter for a second season!!! Wooooo!!! I may still blog about this, even if it is old news already.
  • I celebrated my first wedding anniversary. It was wonderful and relaxing and great. Being married is still cool for now. Check back next year.
  • I saw the second Avengers movie, and have some pretty strong feelings, some good, some bad. Since this is currently more relevant, I’m more likely to write a post about it.
  • For fans of Wolf Hall, I’m nearly finished with the first novel, and can’t wait to read the second and watch the miniseries. I’ve heard it’s brilliant.

Okay. I think that’s enough bullet points for now. I also feel like some of the topics mentioned in these bullets explain the other part of my absence, aside from the anxiety and CQS. Welp, it’s getting late, so I ought to let y’all go to bed. Thanks for sticking around, dear readers. Catch you later.

Inaugural Feminist Friday?

I’m going to discuss an issue near and dear to my heart, that I like to call girl on girl misogyny, along with why it needs to die.

For about a decade of my life, I was the type of woman who made statements like, “I’m not really friends with girls. They’re too much drama.” I also bought into the “fake geek girl” mindset that perpetuates images like this one:

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I thought that girls who hadn’t watched Star Wars, or read the Silmarillion, or who couldn’t name five comic artists or writers from memory, but still claimed the title of “Geek” or “Nerd” somehow diminished my own “nerd cred.” I somehow got the idea that those women were giving women like me a bad name, and that they were going to cause men to take me less seriously.

These ideas were all total bullshit.

To address my first statement, regarding girls being drama, I would love to apologize to all the people who have ever heard (or read) those words from me. Several years back, the absurdity of that statement was rather harshly pointed out to me by a female coworker. At the time, I thought she was just completely proving my point. Damn, was I wrong. The big takeaway I’ve learned in the years since, is that creation of drama cannot be assigned to women alone. People start drama. Men are just as capable of raising a fuss where none need be raised, or subtly manipulating situations to make you look like the instigator, or all the other things that we accuse women alone of doing. If you haven’t encountered a man who creates drama yet, just wait; you’ll encounter them eventually.

So, this whole idea of the existence of “fake geek girls.” If we just look at it from a simple stand point of treat others how you want to be treated, isn’t that incentive enough to stop using the term? No? Well then, let me elucidate further.

Once upon a time, you too, were a fledgling geek. Now maybe you were lucky enough to be exposed to those interests earlier in life, and just always had general geekery around you. I know I was fortunate in that regard; I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG with my dad, and my mother made sure to encourage my budding interest in books from a very early age. Even with that sort of early exposure, geeking out didn’t always come easy, and I wasn’t always interested in the broad array of subjects that I am now.

I was also fortunate in that my friends in high school didn’t look down on me when I mentioned that I was a PC gamer, but couldn’t tell them which video card I was using or how much RAM I had. Instead, a few of them sat me down and explained the major components of a PC, and which ones were worth upgrading in my rig, and which were fine the way they are. Instead of deriding me, they embraced the opportunity to teach me something I didn’t know, and which has come in highly useful since. I’m not saying it’s always going to be that easy, but sometimes it’s worth it. And you never know when you’ll make a new friend out of it.

But we don’t all have my kind of luck. Some girls grow up in homes with parents who never liked Star Wars, and who consider the idea of reading for pleasure completely laughable. Just because someone discovered such interests later in life than you did, it doesn’t mean they’re not as genuine and passionate about them as you are. There’s a big difference between unfamiliarity and willful ignorance.

Maybe that girl that you would accuse of being a fake geek girl has only really just started developing an interest in comic books, or Star Wars, or whatever, but your derision would totally turn her off to the idea. Or who knows, maybe she is “just doing it for attention” and she “doesn’t even care about geek stuff.” But you know what? If that was the case, you just gave her what she wanted, and made yourself look petty in the process.

Ultimately, you don’t get to decide what other people’s geek experience is. I’d like to think that even though I don’t play Magic: The Gathering or cosplay, that I’d still be considered a nerd by anyone who knew me. Being a geek isn’t an exclusive club with a checklist of requirements and a knowledge test. Just as you want to be left alone to enjoy your passions without question or without having to prove yourself, other people do too.

As for the ability of “fake geek girls” to make men take you less seriously? Well, a dude who wasn’t going to take you seriously in the first place still isn’t going to even if every woman had your same knowledge and attitude. Some guys are just misogynistic douche waffles. And so are some women. Some people are just going to be sexist no matter what. The best thing you can do is be yourself and lead by example, rather than throw other women under the bus to try and make yourself seem better.

Which brings me to my point about why we (as women) need to stop being so hard on other women, particularly in this regard. I already mentioned the possibility of alienating a potential ally and friend, which is bad enough. But the larger ramification ties in to the big picture. If women in general, geeks or not, want to be taken seriously by men and treated as equals by them, the single best thing we can do for each other is to build each other up, instead of tearing each other down.

When men hear women call each other things like “bitch”, “slut”, or “fake geek girl”, it makes them feel okay about doing the same. When we, as women, begin to eliminate these terms from our vocabulary, men will catch on. It’s kind of a chain effect. First, maybe your boyfriend or your brother will stop using them, then maybe they’ll point it out to a friend of theirs who will pass it on to another friend, and so on. Now obviously this is in the long term, and we won’t see results overnight. But if we never start, we’ll never see results at all.

You can also help by not making my mistake and thinking that all women are full of drama and that there aren’t any you’d want to be friends with. Six years ago you could count my lady friends on less than one hand and still have fingers left over; now you have to bust out your toes, too. Having female friends who share your interests and who you can talk to about absolutely anything is seriously one of the single most liberating things. When you get over the notion that they’re viewing you as competition, or that anything you tell them will eventually be used against you, women are pretty flippin’ awesome. Having a ladies day that includes manicures, book shopping, crocheting, and video game playing is now at the top of my list of favorite ways to spend a day.

I guess what I’m trying to say boils down to two really simple things: 1) As always, treat others how you’d want to be treated and 2) Be more open to the idea of meeting and befriending new people, but especially women. Because we rock.

Review Wednesday, Week Three

Keeping with my apparent theme of posting reviews on Wednesday, I’ve got another review for y’all today. This week I’ll be tackling a game that Blake and I were introduced to at PAX South, and that I’ve been addicted to since. The game is called Coup. The American version looks like this:

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Pros: Few rules, quick game, ultra fun

Cons: Not a great 2 player game, you may discover your significant other is a really good liar

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

So Coup is set in the same world as the game Resistance, if you’ve heard of it. It’s a card game built around a bluffing mechanic. Each player is dealt two coins and two cards, which assign them two special abilities based on the characters they’re dealt. The five different characters look like this:

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Your goal is to keep which characters you have secret, while forcing other players to expose which cards they have. The last player to have a face down card is the winner. Since no one knows which cards everyone else has, you’re perfectly allowed (and in fact encouraged) to bluff your way through the game, potentially claiming to have every card at any given point. Your opponents are, of course, allowed to call you on this and issue a challenge. If a challenge is issued and you don’t, in fact, have the card you were claiming, you lose one of your cards. If you do have the card you claimed though, the challenging opponent loses one of their cards (of their choice) and you shuffle the challenged card back into the deck and deal yourself a new card.

The other mechanic revolves around the currency. Players accumulate money via income, levying taxes, or stealing from their opponents. This currency is in kind used to either stage coups or assassinations against other players. When you stage a coup you choose which player you would like to lose a card, once again of their choice. Coups are completely unblockable, so you really want to stop other players from accumulating the seven coins required to stage one. Assassinations are carried out by players who either have the assassination card, or who at least claim to. They only cost three coins instead of the seven of a coup, but unlike a coup, they can be challenged, so be wary.

The game plays really, really fast. I think the longest game we’ve played so far took about twenty minutes, and that was with six players, most of whom had never played. I think it’s even faster to explain than Ticket to Ride, whose main claim to fame is staked on ease of rules. Since it’s so compact and quick, we carried it around during PAX South and did things like play while we waited in lines for panels. We also squeezed a round in the other night when a friend was finishing making his Pathfinder character and the rest of us were just hanging out. Simply put, there’s always time for Coup.

I also love that they include a handy cheat sheet. Games with cheat sheets are awesome. I feel like it really speeds the process of explaining the rules up, since players can pretty much follow along without needing to see the full rule sheet for themselves. In this case, the cheat sheet is condensed to a handy card listing the actions players can take along with how they can be blocked, as well as the abilities that each character card has and the counter actions they can take. It looks like this:

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So I think I’ve made my point pretty clear about Coup. Play it. You won’t regret it.

I’ve been working on a post that I think should be ready by Friday. I’ve been tinkering with it for a week now, because I want to make sure it doesn’t come off the wrong way, and that it accurately conveys what I’m trying to say. So stay tuned for that, loyal readers.

Review Wednesday, Week Two

In this week’s edition of Review Wednesday, I’m going to tackle one of my favorite books written in the past few years. It’s called Eating the Dinosaur, and it was written by Chuck Klosterman, of Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs fame. The cover looks like this:

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The back cover is rather amusing, so I’m including a picture of it, too.

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Pros: Readability, short length, insightful

(Possible) Cons: Loads of pop culture references, sports essays, lack of cohesion

Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5

I’m sure this choice of book may surprise some of you, since it falls outside of what a lot of people’s preconceptions of “geek literature” are. And that’s where they’d be wrong. Klosterman is a huge nerd, but in a delightfully offbeat way. He’s consumed more music, movies, and sports in his forty-two years than most people could consume in three lifetimes. And he retains what feels like every single detail. Plus…time travel.

The book is a series of fifteen essays that all run about fifteen to twenty pages in length, and cover a massive spectrum of topics. On the lighter spectrum he writes about topics like the rise and fall of ABBA or how Garth Brooks’s fame hinged upon timing, not talent; at the more thought provoking end, he challenges the notion that we live in a post-ironic America, draws mind-bending parallels between Kurt Cobain and David Koresh, discusses time travel from more facets of consideration than I would ever have conceived of, and does all of this while challenging standard notions of reality and perception. There is something for literally everyone. Except the illiterate I suppose. So strike that “literally”.

There’s a particular quote from his time travel essay “Tomorrow Never Knows” that caught my attention, because it made some thoughts I’d previously kicked around really click in a way I hadn’t been able to make them. It reads:

“And I suspect this is because the kind of writer who’s intrigued by the notion of moving forward in time can’t see beyond their own pessimism about being alive. People who want to travel through time are both (a) unhappy and (b) unwilling to compromise anything about who they are. They would rather change every element of society except themselves.”

Now, he uses this statement in reference to people who mean to use the ability to time travel to go to the future and stay there, not just hop around and see the sights. Those guys are okay, barring the possibility of tearing a hole in the fabric of space and time. But – and please tell me if I’m alone in this- I’ve always felt the same way about people who make statements like, “I was born in the wrong era of time,” and honestly mean them. But that discussion can be saved for another day. Maybe I’ll write my own essay based solely around why people want to time travel and how we perceive those motives.

It would be interesting to read this book now, with the lens of hindsight. One thing that some of his essays hinge on is being read within a certain time period of publication. Take for example “T is for True,” which talks a lot about President Obama’s initial run for the presidency and was written maybe a year into his presidency. The essay speculates over what type of presidency he will have, and how successful he will or won’t be as a president, which is obviously a wildly polarizing topic now. In that essay he also discusses whether or not irony is dead, coming to the conclusion that “In both cases, the Death of Irony lasted five weeks. Irony is like Jason Voorhees.” It’s a conclusion that I feel is becoming increasingly less accurate, but that would have rung true in 2010. Zeitgeist is a fickle beast. Maybe I should just write an entire book of my own essays that are counters to his essays.

Okay, so the sports stuff. I grew up in a very football friendly home, but that’s really the only sport my parents partook and thus the only sport I really understood for a long time. That being said, I felt like his sports essays are entirely approachable. Mostly because they don’t really deal in play by plays of famous games or stats of famous players, but rather in the perceptions created and influenced by popular sports. I learned a lot from these essays, and didn’t really feel bored by them. Ultimately though, any essay is skippable. None of them feed into a greater narrative, which is another thing I really love about this book. You can entirely skip certain essays or read them out of order, and you won’t be confused or miss relevant plot points. Because there are none.

As I’ve gotten older, my tastes have veered further away from fiction, and more into nonfiction, with my favorite genres being biographies and essay collections. This book has both. Klosterman tends to get autobiographical in all of his works, and this book is no exception, though it contains significantly fewer personal anecdotes than the previously mentioned Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs. I’ve been really curious about where this urge to read those two particular genres comes from,  and if it’s just a long term passing phase.

I feel like this book has mass appeal for both Millennials and Gen Xer’s. Baby Boomers and Generation Z (I hope they get their name soon. Gen Z is boring.) probably won’t have much to relate to, but then, they probably don’t have much to relate to in this blog either and are statistically unlikely to read this post. Klosterman’s ability to make you laugh while making you think can feel almost uncanny, and it certainly makes for a nice break between heavier books.

Based on my Goodreads profile, are there any other books you’d like to see reviewed?

Tabletop Tuesday…on a delay

In recent tabletop news, last night was game night and our group met up to discuss a new campaign that we’re about to start. I cannot say enough how excited I am for this campaign. We’re using the Mage system put out by White Wolf and our characters are Georgian era Britons in Bengal, India who are about to embark on a mission to find Shangri-La/Shambhala.

I’ve never played Mage before, so this is going to be delightfully new and challenging for me. Last night we discussed game mechanics and character concepts at length, and I’m nearly positive I’ve settled on an idea. Think female John Smith – and yes, I mean the real John Smith. So yeah, mapping over 3000 miles of the Chesapeake Bay region, keeping the Jamestown settlers alive and helping them build a town in spite of their own unwillingness to work…but also beheading Turks and embellishing certain accounts of his adventures. I’m really curious to try a character whose moral compass is a little muddier than my usual, and whose motives are a little more selfish than the typical greater good.

My previous tabletop experiences encompass forays into multiple settings of D&D, second editions through fourth (second was my favorite), Pathfinder, Vampire: The Masquerade, Exalted, Call of Cthulu, and World of Darkness. Role playing has never ceased being awesome for me and I always crave new ways to play and new people to play with. I’ve only ever been a DM once, and the campaign fell apart pretty quickly because I lacked any and all confidence. I was so stressed that no one was enjoying the campaign that I stopped enjoying it. Thankfully, my friends are super understanding, and one of them stepped up to run a new game.

I’d like to keep writing about my experiences with tabletop role playing, including anecdotes about previous campaigns, brainstorms for new campaigns and new characters, but I also don’t want to totally bore everyone. What would you all be interested in reading about in regard to this topic?

Cheers for the new female Avengers!

Earlier today G. Willow Wilson (writer of Ms. Marvel) announced via her Twitter that coming in May we’ll have an all-women Avengers series called A-Force. The group will be comprised of She-Hulk, Dazzler, Medusa, and Nico Minoru. Wilson said in the official Marvel statement that “We’ve purposefully assembled a team composed of different characters from disparate parts of the Marvel U, with very different power sets, identities and ideologies.”

In the new series they’ll also introduce a new hero, called Singularity, who is not actually a human (or Kree or any other flesh and blood species), but instead is the result of a cosmological event gaining self-awareness and consciousness.

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A delightful side effect of this is that she doesn’t have a natal gender. I’m so excited that Marvel is finally going to introduce a character that allows us to have some serious discussions about gender fluidity and other awesomeness! Wilson has already made it clear via Twitter that this character isn’t going to be labeled as a trans character, but that her existence will open up some great new possibilities.

I am just so excited to see this project in the ultra-capable hands of Ms. Wilson and Marguerite K. Bennett with art by Jorge Molina. I feel like with the characters they’ve chosen this is going to be a strong series with great story arcs that will address some serious issues. I also love that it doesn’t feel gimmick-y; it just feels like the next step in their growth.

Here’s to a promising future of increased representation of women in comics! Speaking of, check out this poster with some of Marvel’s bossest lady characters:

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Read the official statement from Marvel here.

Review Wednesday

The game: Monument Valley

The trailer:

Pros: Great visuals, cool soundtrack, ease of play

Cons: Limited content and briefest of storylines

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Last weekend at PAX South, my friend Megan and I were discussing our ideal cosplays, and she mentioned the protagonist of this game, named Ida. When I told her that I’d never heard of Monument Valley, she whipped out her iPad Mini and proceeded to drop some knowledge on me. Another good tell was the fact that the guy next to us in line saw it and immediately said, “Oh Monument Valley! I loved it! I just played the expanded levels and they were so good!” And he then told us about a couple other apps whose names I wish I remembered. Seriously. (See previous post about friendly people at PAX South sharing info about their passions.) I’ve always loved puzzle games so within about ten seconds I was hooked. I came home and immediately downloaded it.

I beat the first set of levels in between meetings with customers the next day at work. It was so hard to put it down when my customers walked in the door. After work I downloaded the next set of levels and beat them before bedtime, around cooking/eating dinner and watching some House of Cards with my husband. See what I mean about limited content? There are only eighteen levels.

But they’re eighteen visually stunning levels that challenge your brain to think in delightfully new ways! The levels are all built around ultra minimalist Escher-esque designs that draw you in even if you aren’t an art fan. And the gameplay mechanics definitely imitate the same minimalist pastiche. This game is built around using a touchscreen in a way that feels completely natural. The only actions you can take are moving the main character, sliding certain bits of the level around (blocks, stairs, etc.), and ocassionally twisting and turning the scene around to get different angles.

The game gives you glimpses of a story, via a mysterious ghost-y figure you encounter every few levels who really loves to talk at you in riddles (and in text – there’s no actual talking in this game). A lot of it needs to be drawn from context – Ida making her way down to a crypt where she places a single flower, your only ally the Totem, etc. As someone who appreciates a good story, this aspect of the game left me wanting a little more. I understand that this isn’t what the game was about, and more story would have probably taken away from the minimalist feel, but I dunno. I still feel like that itch could have been scratched a bit more.

It’s also worth noting for me that this game evoked in me a lot of the same emotional reactions as Journey, which remains one of my very favorite games. Ida’s victories were my own, and I felt a real connection with the character, aided by the lack of dialog and the music. Since she couldn’t tell you how she felt, you relied on a lot of visual clues – a head hung in sadness, quickened pace from fear, etc. There are a few moments when things look particularly harrowing for our protagonist and her Totem ally, and I found myself on the edge of my seat. I suppose ever since I watched Aeris die when I was eleven, I’ve never trusted a game to not betray me.

On the whole: For both sets of levels, I paid $10, which feels pretty steep for an eighteen level mobile app. But then, I’ve also replayed it three times in a week. It’s just so easy to get relost in, which I feel speaks volumes in the modern era of use it and toss it. I’ve also read that the developers plan on continuing to add new content. I would absolutely consider this purchase worth it for anyone who appreciates a good brain-teasing puzzle and who has an eye for sleek graphic design.

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