Started reading Virginia Tufte's Art Sentences: Syntax as Style. In it, she uses tons of examples from different authors to discusss types of sentences and how... syntax interacts with style. I don't think much about the way I am writing when I write these entries, I'm more concerned about just getting thoughts into words (I don't even edit except to fix typos or missing words before I publish), but I thought maybe I should. Maybe I can write with more economy, with more style, with more care. Maybe it's just another thing I think is an interesting idea and then don't follow through on.
After having it floating around in different book piles in the house, I finally read/looked at my book of Jane Irish paintings, Interiors of Power, Architectures of Resistance. You can see samples of her work at her gallery Locks' website. I was not familiar with her work before, but we were at the gallery to see some Jennifer Bartlett work, and the Irish book jumped out at me. This book is primarily focused on these detailed but loose and expressive interiors she paints of elegantly furnished rooms that are transformed by ceilings and walls painted like murals to depict various historical/political content, often about the Vietnam war and colonialization. It is unforunately hard to make out a lot of the details in the reproductions, but I love her use of varied non-representational color and loose brush work (primarily in egg tempura or gauche). Makes me realize I like paintings of interiors, as I started thinking about Vallotton (another book on the pile) and Hammershoi. And the photography of Uta Barth is also, often interiors. While all three of those artists are fairly sparse and restrained in their imagery, Irish is detail and expression and color and narrative.
We had our regular D&D game yesterday, with Ian running the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist book for 5e. So here's what I remember...
We picked up where we left off, with the part in the Yawning Portal Tavern talking to Volo, a well known author who wants us to find his missing friend Floon Blagmar. Volo lets us know a few more things about Floon: he's not that wealthy and doesn't really live in the fancy area of town he uses as an address; he works as an "escort"; he was blackmailing some lord about some kind of indiscretion. We get him to tell us where Floon actually lives (in the Dock ward, not the nice area of town, but thankfully also right near the bar Floon was last seen at). Still tired and wounded from last session's fight we immediately run off to investigate rather than taking any time to rest (this becomes important later).
On the way to Floon's we are detoured by the city watch who have a section of street cordoned off after what appears to be some kind of gang massacre. Closer inspection indicates it's likely a mix of Zhentarim and Xanatharians. (The Zhentarim are like the lawful legitimate business-men gang and the Xanatharians are like the chaotic do whatever the hell they want gang. My character Ludo has a contact with the Zhentarim. I don't believe any of the characters have any contacts with the Xanatharians.)
As we detour we notice a weird shop with a stuffed (as in toy/plushie) beholder in its window and a sign that so "The Old Xoblob Shop". We know it is said that the head of the Xanatharians is a beholder, which tracks with the way they use eyes as symbols, so we go in the shop (or maybe everyone else is just curious, I thought there might be a connection). Everything in the shop is purple, like tons of purple, like obsessive purple. The owner appears to be some kind of goblinoid who is also... purple-y (I think it's a "xvart" which other than being small, purpleish, and into "X"s I recall nothing about). He is Xoblob, or rather Jim but when we took over the store everyone called him that so he just goes by it now. He has a lot of purple crap all over the store. We roll on a table to see what we find. Nottie the gnome buys a purple hat that folds up into a small square of cloth. Ellai the halfling buys a very large tooth that is partially painted purple. Marfaen the Unlucky buys a sequined purple glove (just one). Ludo the thief find an amethyst in the shape of some animal but decides not to spend his money. No obvious connection to the Xanatharians, but we note its location for later and continue on.
Our next stop is where Floon lives, a not very nice 4 unit apartment bulding. We bang on the door a lot and a woman on the second floor sticks her head out the window and starts talking to us. Floon lives below her on the ground floor, no he hasn't been home recently, no she won't let us in to leave a message. Nottie casts charm person on her and succeeds in making friends. The woman, later identified as Petunia, lets Nottie in and they go upstairs to chat. She learns that Petunia saw two well dressed men get ambushed by a group of thugs in the street the other night. The rest of the party, now in the front door (Nottie leaves it unlocked for them), try to get into Floon's door. Ludo critical fails picking the lock and thus breaks it and, thanks to Marfaen's unluck, also slips on some oil and falls down. Ellai tries a crowbar and also fails. Finally two of our sidekicks, gang up and break it open. We've really really ruined Floon's door.
Not much of excitement in Floon's place. A big bed with red sheets, a lot of perfumes and oils, lots of clothes (Ludo steals a nice outfit for himself). In a pocket, someone (I forget how) find a note indicating that someone named "Henrik" paid Floon money for something. Maybe that's the blackmailee. We continue on...
At the Skewered Dragon Inn (a place that oddly has an anchor stuck into its roof), things are lookig pretty rundown. A bunch of guys are drinking and look askance at us. Ludo buys drinks for the party with a big tip for the bartender, Brian O'Brien, and makes friends with him using his contact Yagra's name (this is a Zhentarim bar). He finds out Floon and Volo were here the other night. Volo left. Then Renare Neveremeber, wealthy son of the former, now disgraced, "open lord" (aka mayor) of Waterdeep showed up. He and Floon hang out and leave together. A bunch of Zhentarim followed them out. Brian is nice to enough to indicate they hang out or somehow are involved with a nearby warehouse.
It's now evening so we head to the warehouse under cover of darkness. We find one door and two windows. Marfaen scouts around and finds a larger door in a fence behind which is another large door and a window. Ellai notices a guard passing by in the street. Ludo decides to break in one of the window, jimmies the lock and opens it up. It looks like a warehouse office. Listening at the door into the main room we hear some shuffling around and opening of crates. We open the door and sneak forward, we are on a balcony opening onto the lower storage area. There appear to be a lot of bodies lying around as well as a few bird folk walking around with torches, apparently either looking for something specific or just looting the place. It's not totally clear what happened here.
In case they might be willing to talk, we send Marfaen (highest Charisma) down the stairs to talk, while the rest of us prepare to ambush the bird folks. She basically surprises them, and one immediately raises weapons to attack. We ambush and combat ensues. Ludo kills one right away with his bow. Fawzi hurts one with a dart. Nottie freaks one out with some kind of psychic attack spell. Ludo who was still injured from last combat is hit by an arrow and goes down. Fawzi, ditto and ditto. Someone takes out the second already injured bird folk. The other two surrender. Ludo's sidekick Pip uses her healing to fix him up a bit. Someone else uses medicine to get Fawzi up and about.
The bird folk seem to only talk by parrotiting things they've already heard. This is helpful as we learn that whoever was here kidnapped someone and that they "followed the yellow signs" in the sewers. The bodies appear to be, again, both Zhentarim and Xanatharians. In a closet Marfaen finds a wealthy young man hiding. It's Renare Neverember. He tells us about getting kidnapped with Floon by the Zhentarim, then the Xanatharians showed up and took Floon away, but he thinks it was mistaken identity and really they were after Renare. Apparently, Renare's father (former mayor) supposedly stole a lot of money ("dragons" the coin of the city) and there's some kind of artifact called the "Stone of Galor" that can be used to find the treasure, but... the stone had gone missing (the Xanatharians had it and lost it?)... So... Floon is in trouble cause he's not the right kidnappee and he's been taken to the sewers by a vicious gang.
We also find a secret door hiding some paintings and silver bars (we try to take them). At this point we also hear someone breaking down the door upstairs. We try to flee but the window is jammed shut and it sounds like there are people outside the other doors. A bunch of city guards show up, none to happy. Captain Bob Staggett of the city guard seems ready to arrest us until Renare uses his upper class credentials to get us off the hook, since we rescued him. Staggett gives us a strong warning and also a list of laws and punishments (yikes!). Somehow in here we here the name "Erstal Floxin" who is a Zhentarim somehow involved with... the warehouse? Or the kidnapping or something.
Outside we ask Renare about the sewers, he points out a nearby entrance, which, on closer inspection, was recently opened and not closed fully. We decide that's our next avenue but first we all go home, rest, and then meetup back at the Yawning Portal. Durnan tries to get Ludo to admit their secret mission. He does not.
Just got out of seeing Celine Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It was really really good, beautifully filmed, the two lead actresses are amazing. The kind of movie you actually feel as you're watching it. To a certain extent you know how it's going to go narratively, but still it kept surprising me with how it handled the story, and it didn't take an easy way out at the end. Basically it's about a woman, a painter, sent to paint the portrait of another young woman, so the portrait can be sent to her perspective husband (it's the 18th century). The women fall in love, and you know she's going to have to leave and get married, and it could have easily ended with a "they never see each other again type narrative" or could have ended with some kind of reunion meeting at some point and it does kind of but in a way that didn't feel cliched or tired, but also was really moving, powerful to feel at the end. Another one that got a lot of good word from critics. I feel like I heard about it months ago at first and it definitely lived up to the hype and actually I liked it even more than I expected. I thought it might be a good movie and it turned out to be a really excellent one, so that's an great way to end my weekend or start my week I guess.
I've been walking home and it's maybe 5 or more minutes later and I still kind of feel like I'm about to cry over the movie.
[Two days later...]
That's a slightly cleaned up version of what I dictated when I walked home after the movie.
I felt a lot of the pathos of the narrative comes from knowing how certain plot elements will go, though still be surprised in the specifics. The one woman is going to go off to get married, she doesn't have a choice in the matter. At one point, the one woman is reading to the other along with the maid of the house. It quickly became apparent, she's reading a version of the Orpheus myth (later we see the book close up and it's a French version of Ovid's Metamorphoses). As soon as I realized that, I felt a kick, knowing that there would come a point in the narrative where the painter would be leaving, would turn to look back at her love and then she would be gone. Sciamma weaves that concept into the subsequent parts of the tale quite effectively.
The movie is also very much about looking and seeing. The painter is, at first, trying to paint the other woman without her sitting for the potrait, so she must observe her in the moment as they walk around the landscape, and then sketch what she's seen later. This looking of course becomes part of the eroticism, the attraction between the women. Then, later, when she agrees to pose for the portrait, the looking becomes more clearly reciprocal and probing. How have they been seeing each other? What do they see?
The painting and drawing sequences were handled skillfully. You never see the painter standing in front of the easel, painting. There is none of that weird trickery where the actress stands in front of a half done painting and then moves a pencil or brush around. All the images of painting and drawing as process (and there are quite a few) are shown as full screen of the paper/canvas with just a hand and tool. In this way they have an actual artist drawing or painting (a woman is fourth in the credits as "avec le participation de"), allowing us to see the painting be built up from charcoal and a basecoat to a full fledged portrait. The paintings and drawings are a prime element of the narrative both as narrative driver and also as symbols of emotion, especially in part of the denouement.
There's a direction one could take to say there is a certain amount of cliche to the doomed 18th century romance plot that is the base of this film, but like most stories it's how that base plot is handled that really makes the difference and creates a unique variation. Sciamma succeeds at that admirable. The Criterion Channel has some of her previous films up, which I will have to watch.
Two days later I keep thinking about it.
I dreamed of a song with words and melody. When I woke I could still hear it. By the time I got out of the shower, I remembered the chorus as "here comes great renown". I don't get any results for that phrase in Google. Maybe my brain changed the lyrics in the time I was up, or maybe I made up a song in my unconscious. That doesn't seem so unusual as I do fairly often make up little songs. Though what that phrase means to me or my unconscious I am not sure. It mostly, like every use of the word renown, makes me think of a joke in a Buffy episode about renown and "do you have to be nouned before you can be renowned" and Willow says "Yes, first there's the painful nounting process." The song, when I first awoke and could still hear the melody, made me think of the Pet Shop Boys. I don't believe it's an actual song by them, but it may vaguely resemble "Opportunities." There's a line "we'll make lots of money" which is vaguely related in a way to "here comes great renown."
Still playing Breath of the Wild in bits and pieces. After spending a lot of time running around the world and doing random side missions, just exploring, I started doing more of the main mission - what they seem to call dungeons but are more like puzzle rooms, large ones with a boss monster fight at the end. While I have had to look up some of the puzzle bits online, I was pleasantly surprised that the boss monsters are not crazy hard, which I guess I've been trained to think they would be by Dark Souls and such. In this case, I've gotten through the first two on the first try. I am still wishing the game had a little more in the way of NPC interactions and storyline choices. I can kind of run around and do whatever I want and whatever I want but in the end it's just my really blank character (he never even speaks) running around by himself occasionally doing things that people ask him to.
I feel like I need to get excited about some project. I can read and watch movies and play video games (and work), but I also want to do something more creative, more than these occasional on-the-fly writings. Maybe more coding projects, maybe writing something more planned and edited. I guess not drawing. I used to think I liked drawing a lot, but early on, it was more about occupying my mind as I sat in school (I was a prodigious drawer in the margins of all my school papers and notebooks) and then later I think I was more excited by the results of my comics work as zines or books, rather than the drawing itself. The drawing always frustrated me, because I would look at it and see no style, no refinement, no expressiveness. Sure, this might be a lot of retroactive critiquing, but I have also felt that in drawing I was competent but never found a way to draw that was mine. That's certainly what made it easy to start appropriating and redrawing and using photographs and collage.
Watched Celine Sciamma's Water Lilies, her first full length film, the other morning. Unlike Portrait of a Lady on Fire it has a contemporary setting with younger characters, but like it, it a story about desire and attraction, in particular between, in this case, 3 women. I quite enjoyed it, though I don't know I have much to say about it that wouldn't just be summarizing the narrative.
Last night I finished up my reread of Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist, the first part of his series about Latro, a soldier in the Ancient Greek world who has been cursed to not remember anything. The whole book is his (with one exception) writings that he keeps of the events that happen to him as a memory aid. I really enjoyed my first read through of the series, and have been meaning to reread.
The rich historical setting makes use of the mythology of the ancient world in a rather realistic way. The dieties exist and are powerful, mysterious, awe-inspiring. They have many names and aspects which aids in the mystery and is increased by the way Latro sees them with fresh eyes each time. The whole narrative is one of mystery and elision. We only read what Latro writes after the fact, so we can only know what he says, not necessarily what is true, especially since each time he writes he mostly only knows what is happening and what others tell him of the past. He cannot easily make connections between events or characters. That can often lead to the reader having to work to remember who someone is based on non-obvious information.
Also, between each chapter there can be an unknowable gap of time. Sometimes it is obviously the next day, or even later the same day. Sometimes he remembers far enough back (from morning to night or one night to the next morning) that he can contextualize the gap, but sometimes time passes in silence and emptiness and we must learn a new situation, not always knowing why the situation of the characters have changed (until at times we get some other character reminding Latro).
The whole book is filled with this sort of elision and gaps. Even the way Latro refers to places is based on his translations from Greek to his language (I'm not remembering exactly, but he is not from the immediate area of the Greek pennisula or islands). So Athens is called "Thought" and the Spartans are called "Rope Makers", based on... some etymology I am not aware of. The first time I read the books that was often very confusing and geographically disorienting (in knowing where the chapters were taking place), but this time around (perhaps helped by all the Assassin's Creed Odyssey I played) I felt more confident in the geography and place names which helped in decipering the story.
I think I'm going to take a break before moving on to the second book.
Watched Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse last night. I enjoyed his previous movie The Witch, which was creepy and evocative. With this one I was left feeling less excited about it. It was still beautifully shot and creepy, but it felt a bit confusing in the end and not exactly aimless but not sure what it was about. Seemed to be primarily creepy and tense and strange just for the purpose of being creepy and tense and strange. I think it was one of those "person is maybe crazy maybe not" stories. The end wasn't clear how much of anything that happened in the movie had happened and in the end I don't know that I cared. But the black and white cinematography and composition of the shots was quite often lovely and some of the creepy supernatural factors were well done. The two leads seemed to be having a lot of fun with what they were doing and the dynamic was really good. Probably not one I would recommend to anybody though.
I had never seen Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love so we watched it last night. The colors in it are brilliant, bright, lots of nice contrast, variations and repetitions. The composition of the shots was also really interesting everything seemed closed in: lots of flat surfaces, walls and doors and dividers went full image vertically dividing up the space, shutting in the characters. Even the exterior scenes mostly feel really shut in, filmed close to walls with only the occasional look down the street, mostly empty. Lots of beautiful fabrics patterns on dresses too especially what the lead woman wears. But the longer the story went on the less clear it became? The more drawn out it felt. The whole thing had a pretty fragmented structure not a lot of clear demarcations of time passing until late at the movie when there is suddenly a lot of intertitles about location and time. It's about two couples who move in next to each other on the same day and really it's about the one husband and the other wife, how they find out that their partners are having an affair. Interestingly, we are never shown the faces of the other partners. We see them very rarely, from behind, occasionally hear their voices low, kind of distant. They both sound like that, which is effective to tie them together and make them seem not present. The elliptical nature of the storytelling makes it seem missing at times, like I don't know it's ever resolved what happens to the other husband and the other wife. They go on a trip. They kind of seem to never come back. It's not clear. Do the couples get divorced? It's hard to say. The ending also had a number of scenes that are not totally clear, sometimes, maybe out of order. The man moves to Singapore for a job to get away from everything, seemingly without his wife. In one scene he's searching around his new room and yelling at the landlord or super about someone being in his room and taking something, and he finds a cigarette with pink lipstick in the ashtray. In a subsequent scene we see the woman in the room calling him, hanging up, and smoking a cigarette. She's wearing lipstick, but we see no indication they actually meet. I'm not totally sure what to make of that. Some of it seems almost dreamlike or imagined or like fantasy made up memory. And the last scene in the movie the guy is in Cambodia for some reason at some old ruins, and it's not clear what that has to do with anything. Why did they bother to go to that whole other location to shoot this one scene.
In some sense the two couples are doubled. The two wives wear similar dresses, at one point we know they have the same purse. The two husbands are always in suits. Since we never see the faces of two of them it increases the sense of doubling. Then in various scenes the two leads play act their partners, imagining how they met, who made the first move, imagining how the wife will confront her husband and have him admit the affair. In a sense, maybe the partners just disappear from the movie because they are doubles, they have been subsumed by the leads' growing closeness and desire, almost repeating what came before.
The news is all about the new coronavirus lately. I'm not sure how much to actually be worried about. I'm not worried about myself, since I'm not in one of the more vulnerable categories, but I'm worried about my parents and friends and just other people, even just all the various ways society could get disrupted. If people start staying home more, what happens to the restaurants and movie theaters and all the people who work there. What about all the people who don't get sick time, who can't afford not to work? I'm lucky; I work from home. I can stay away from most people, most of the time. I can be a worrier, but it's often more the worry of imminent events (like, the closer I get to travelling the more I am anxious about it).
It was in the high sixties yesterday, our warm winter continues, so I took a walk after I stopped working. The park near my house was nice and quiet, a few people with their dogs, and little else, but as I was coming out to the exit, I saw the red tail hawk fly from one tree to the other. I stood watching, blocking the setting sun with my hand, and he took off again and circled around above me, lower than usually. When he wasn't right in the line of the sun I could see his wings and tail feathers all spread out.
We were out for Tuesday night date night last night. There was no one else in the restaurant when we got there and in the whole time we were there only two other people came and sat at the bar. Granted, it was Tuesday night and while the temperature was very nice it was on and off raining late in the afternoon and early evening, but still that was really dead. They had no tables and their one reservation canceled.
A lot of the local colleges and universities are starting to go online-only, or will be after spring break. That's weirdly good for my company, we've had increased interest in some of our products. Makes me wonder what point do I stop going for coffee in the morning or to the co-op for food multiple times a week or to the movies or for Tuesday date night. I don't know. For now, I will continue on mostly as normal, being more diligent about hand washing and face touching and such.
I beat the main storyline in Breath of the Wild yesterday. The final boss fight turned out to be maybe even easier than some of the earlier ones. Graphically, narratively, the designers went for this Dark Souls-y horror monster drama, but it didn't really feel like it jived with the rest of the game or the actual difficulty. Then there was a second boss fight that was so easy and guided it was almost pointless. And finally a brief epilogue where the eponymous Zelda finally makes an appearance (well, one that was not a flashback).
Having little experience with the franchise (I played the first and second ones on the old Nintendo system for very very brief times at a friend's house long ago), it feels like Zelda, the character the series is named after, is almost a non-entity. You don't play her, you don't really interact with here. She appears in some flashbacks you can find as one of your missions, where she is mostly acting the sad princess routine doubting her abilities (and in one weird one getting yelled at her father the king). It's a missed opportunity that you can't play as her, or that she doesn't have any real part to play in the narrative other than appear at the end to make the monster go away after you win the boss fight.
The game doesn't let you continue after the win, rather you can just go back to the save right before the battle. Do I care enough to do that? There are tons more places to explore in the game, but also there probably isn't anymore story to find, just more monsters and puzzles. As a game it succeeds as a lovely open world to explore, but it also suffers a lot from feeling empty and static when it comes to any narrative storylines and in particular any interaction that isn't just running (climbing, swimming, gliding) around, picking up stuff, fighting monsters, and solving the occasional puzzle. Compared to games like Skyrim or Dragon Age or Mass Effect or The Witcher it felt... lacking in narrative and feeling. (Skyrim also often suffers from lack of npc interactions, but in its open world there is tons of narrative going on.) Also, Link, as a protagonist is so boring. If I can't customize my character then at least the character I am forced to play should be interesting (or at least have a personality of some form) like in The Witcher. In the end, I guess I am disappointed.
Thursday night the government started to tell people to close down shops and events and gatherings for at least 2 weeks. All the schools are closed. Many of the places in town closed down. Apparently the grocery stores were insane Thursday night. We went to our co-op yesterday morning. It was surprisingly calm, and while some vegetables were (almost) totally gone (broccoli, carrots, potatoes, spinach), we didn't have trouble finding what we were looking for to stock up on a few days worth of meals. They said they'd had the most sales ever on Thursday. So now we are all staying home and either have no work or are working remotely (no change for me since I already do). I hit up the liquor store yesterday afternoon (also calm and stocked), and probably won't be going anywhere for a few days (maybe just walks).
So far our county has the most virus cases in the state (22 was the last count I saw). Hopefully people will follow the various instructions and the cases won't increase exponentially. "Social distancing" is the phrase of the month. It's all so abstract at this point, and the doom and gloom are at odds with the very nice weather we are having (especially for March).
I continue on with most of my normal routines, excepting morning coffee at the bakery and any other errands I can avoid.
I played another short game on the Switch, Gris. It's a beautiful 2d action game that is both simple (in play) but complex visually and metaphorically. It's clearly built around a metaphor of depression. You play a young woman who starts out in this grey world of mostly ruins. You can move left or right and you can jump. As you explore, you find these little stars, and as you find them as connect them in shapes and constellations you gain some abilities but also add colors back to the world. So at one point red comes back to the world and the landscape changes and red is infused in the setting. The artwork and design is really impressive. It looks almost hand drawn, often with a watercolor texture and gradiation to the coloring. As you gain colors and abilities you can explore different areas. There's no fighting, just exploring and puzzles based around the use of your abilities and certain items and creatures in the setting that respond to your abilities in different ways. The landscape is also at different times dotted with these cracked or crumbling statues of a woman (she does not look like the protagonist, but I also find it possible to read them as a representation of the same individual). My main issue in the game was how much there was of setting that had no interaction and passages where you are basically just moving through areas with nothing to do but move through them. Otherwise, though it was fun and moving game. Not excessively short but also a pretty quick play.
I didn't leave the house all weekend, and only yesterday to take a walk. All "non-essential" businesses are supposed to be closed in the county now, restaurants take-out only. The liquor stores are even closed now. I'm glad I went Friday, though I wonder how long it will be until we're into the old bottles of random things in the liquor cabinet. I guess we'll have to learn some new cocktails (or make up our own). I'm trying to not be stressed or worried, but it's hard not to. Not for me, I still don't feel like I'm going to suffer, but for all the people who now have no work, small businesses that are already suffering, when even closing for the weekend can make a difference. It feels like only the big corporations will be making money of all this: pharmaceuticals, health care industry, Walmart, certainly Amazon. But what about all the places in town I go to, that aren't corporations, and all the people that work in this places. Not that I don't feel like this is the right thing to do. From what I've been reading, slowing the spread of the virus is the only real tactic we have at this point.
I guess we all will adapt as we can to the situation. Saturday night we played Yahtzee via Google Hangouts with
███ ███ █████, us both just sitting on our couches with a phone propped on the coffee table. Sunday night we had happy hour over Zoom with ████ ██████ ████ ███ ██████, all of us in our three houses, just chatting over drinks.
I'm behind on all my reading and watching over the recent past. Maybe much of it was not remarkable enough to write about, though perhaps it's more that I was just out of my routine even more than before.
I read the latest Corto Maltese release from IDW, Ballad of the Salty Sea which is actually the first one Hugo Pratt drew. You can see that in the way Corto's appearance evolves over the course of the story, slowly getting more like the character one recognizes from the other volumes. Like most of these volumes, the draw is more Pratt's visual style than the narrative itself. I keep getting them (though there's only one more volume to go as they held off on this first one and only published it right before the last one), but the stories start to blend together a lot. You could probably analyze them all and come out with a basic structure or at least a series of common tropes that happen in all of them (mysterious treasure, betrayals, wars as a background, natives and colonials, dreams and visions, etc.). But despite the repetition, Pratt's style always draws my attention with its strong contrast both in tone and line weight, its veering into abstraction, the repetition, very flat depth (which would require some examples I guess).
I'm also still reading Yasuo Ohtagaki's Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt now up to volume 13 in translation. I'm starting to lose interest in it, as it's been spending too long on what amounts to one long battle. This volume is most unusual though because it starts with a note about the art changing style in the middle. Ohtagaki is having issues with his drawing hand and thus had to loosen up his style so he could keep drawing. For the rest of the series it's been a very tight, mostly conventional manga style, but then halfway through this volume everything becomes looser, sketcher, more expressive. Some scenes have backgrounds and crowds of character almost abstractly scribbled in. It doesn't stay super loose as it is at first. It starts to tighten up more as it goes on, probably because a lot of readers found the change too drastic. I actually like it more.
Reading a few books right now, still the Tufte book on sentences, which is not easy to read in large quantities, also A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go by Pierre Lusson, Georges Perec, and Jacques Roubaud. I don't (didn't) really know anything about go, but I saw this recent translation by two of the best of the Oulipo authors and thought it would be interesting to read. So now I'm all interesting in trying go, though I have no board to play on. I also started the second volume in Wolfe's Latro series Soldier of Arete after having taken a short break from the first one. I didn't want to wait too long, as you really need to remember the events of the story to follow it well, especially since the protagonist narrator doesn't (so he can't remind you of them).
Also been obsessively playing Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on the Switch. It's a 2d action game, basically a modern version of an old Castlevania game: work your way through the gothic castle with all its monsters and weird npcs. It's fun and weird (one monster is a giant puppy head that bites you), and not so hard (on normal mode) that I get frustrated by the boss fights.
On Sunday we played an impromptu D&D game online with the regular group. I ended up running the start of Gavin Norman's A Hole in the Oak with the Old School Essentials rules. I sent everybody the OSE Rogues Gallery book and they picked characters from them (who are all pretty interesting and weird). The main thing the module lacks is hooks, so I told everyone to come up with something based on their character and then we just jumped right into the dungeon. I'll probably write more about it at another time as I hope we'll get to play another session and finish it out (assuming everyone wants to).
My week continues mostly as before. No walk to the bakery in the morning, no dinner out on Tuesday, but still mostly staying home. I've tried to take some walks, though the weather has been hit or miss all week. I was determined to go for a walk this morning just around the block (it's a larger block) only to discover it was raining. Lianne discovered the local distillery was doing deliveries, so we got a few bottles delivered yesterday for us and our friends. And we got at least a little socializing outside, when
██████ ███ ████ and later █████ ███ ████ walked over to pick up things from us. Standing outside on the porch talking to someone standing on the walkway, is more how I'd talk to a canvasser or something, not friends, but it's what we do now I guess. I'm probably reading too much news for how little I can do about any of it.
I wrote a short story over the past couple days. A little fantasy story about an artist. I've been wanting to do some writing and try my hand at fantasy, but I didn't want to fall into a clichéd archetype for a protagonist: knight, wizard, rogue, really any of the D&D classes (though cleric might be an interesting one), nor any chosen one, youth, type stuff. Thinking about other professions and ones I might know something about, I thought about an artist. In a less medieval, more renaissance type setting there would be artists, religious painters, painters to do portraits of the wealthy, but also, someone to draw wanted posters. And someone has to make the illustrations for books of monsters and demons, or tomes of arcane lore. And so my protagonist is an artist, and I'll see where I get with that. My first attempt (first draft just completed) is ok. It probably needs more specificity, or at least markers of specificity. In fantasy it is easy to name things without explaining them, to hint at depths that are mere surface, until maybe later, at another time, you fill them out. We'll see there it takes me, if I continue to have ideas about the concept.
When I walked over to
███ ███ █████'s yesterday to deliver their gin, I heard then saw a Cooper's Hawk fly into the big tree in their yard. I could hear another one behind me and then it too flew over, chased off the first one, and perched on the branch. It was making quite the racket, at times it almost sounds like a crying cat. ███ ███ █████ saw one in their yard the other day gathering sticks, so maybe these two are a pair building a nest.
Went out into the foggy morning to take a walk and was happy to see
█████ ███ ████ out for a walk across the street. We exchanged some words, walking up opposite sides of the street, before continuing on our separate ways. It is always an extra delight to see someone you know (and like) unexpectedly when out walking. It's still foggy now, though that should clear as the day warms up to quite a lot. Spring is almost here but the weather at least has been ahead of schedule.
Had an online happy hour last night with the D&D group as I was working on dinner. As we all are more isolated it seems important to have at least some brief face-to-face (at least in the visual sense) communications. Everyone else is adjusting to life working from home, or, for
█████ unfortunately, life where workplaces have just shut down totally.
The governor just officially ordered closed all businesses that are not on a list of specific types that are allowed to remain (some with caveats, like restaurants are take-out only). Oddly at the very bottom of the list is "Private Households", which are ordered to be closed... ???
Giving up on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as I've gotten tired of it. I found an ending, wandering accidentally into a final boss fight, followed by a brief and unsatisfying denoument. I was confused, as there were still many places on the map I had not explored, so I looked online and discovered there is a second more complete ending that involves attacking a moon in the background of one fight and other things that seem like they'd be hard to figure out on one's own. I went back and played more to find some of the other areas and bosses, but having still not completed I've gotten bored with it as there are decreasing returns in what is becoming too repetitive. Maybe time to stop playing games for awhile, or maybe just find something else, or replay something old.
I could spend the extra time working on my story, which I am now editing. This morning part of the work was just finding the right terminology for things (if there is terminology for it). I also probably need to do a little research into what tools an artist would be using at a particular period of time.
I noticed this tree in our backyard hidden behind our garage has flowered again into these pink flowers with long petals. I really need to identify it for myself at least. It's so hidden that I can really only just see a couple flowers peeking over the roof of the garage from my upper floor office window, but I took a walk back around to see it yesterday and it's quite pretty, something to remind us that nature continues to go on while we are all doing some kind of weird reverse hibernation staying in our houses as spring shows up.
Had another virtual happy hour for a bit last night just always nice see some people, chat a bit, and we got an amazing takeout meal from Dettera (our local date night restaurant). They don't usually do much in the way of takeout but with times like this they're offering these kind of prix fixe family meals. Chef there was nice enough and knows us well enough that he did a fish for Leanne and a vegetarian entree for me instead of the normal meat entrees. It was a lot of good food, and we'll get a second meal out of it and hopefully we can at least help support one of our regular haunts.
This morning I'm up and about as early as usual but apparently earlier than most people, just taking a walk around the block. A couple cars, no people so far not even any dog walkers, headed over to
███ ███ █████'s yard. They have got a Cooper's hawk nest in the tree behind their house that I want to see. And he offered to make me an egg sandwich and send it outside for me, so that should be nice.
███ █████ ███ ██ ████ ███ █████████ Hopefully we'll get a D&D session in today and/or tomorrow. I'd certainly be up for a few hours both days if I can convince everyone else. And we'll see where we go from there. I'm going to work more on this short story I wrote. It is okay probably not that good but I don't think it's awful. I need more specifics in it I think I've decided on a 18th century kind of vibe as far as technological level and kind of historical relations. That way I can use some of the things I learned when I was researching colonial America for a possible D&D game and maybe look into some stuff about 18th century cities in Europe at the time.
There were purple crocuses all around recently in yards, and now they've almost completely gone away again. They sprung up unexpectedly and now the ones that are left are small and shriveling mostly gone. I guess that means spring is here, because they were followed by the daffodils. We've got a couple white and yellow ones in our yard but they are up everywhere along the street here. It's nice to see, maybe we can all pay a little more attention to the changing of the nature around us at this point. And now I'm looking for a hawk nest.
The first day of spring, and it looks like it will be a beautiful day so far. People will be chomping at the bit to be outside and socializing, at least those people who are actually following guidelines and staying in and practicing social distancing. I probably should have taken a walk while it was still early, but I slept in a bit and then made myself some nice breakfast (mushroom, tomato, and cheese open faced omelet).
Actually had a good day yesterday. Milk Street is offering some of their online classess free through the end of April, so I did one on basic knife skills (I do okay with that stuff, but have never really learned anything). I enjoyed it, kind of like a cooking show but with more detail and explanation and accompanying text and recipes. Also started one on "Kitchen Improv" which seems like it would be useful just for learning some new techniques and thinking about how to combine different foods, flavors, and textures. I'm very much a follow the recipe cook, even for dishes I've made dozens of times, I still always have a recipe up on my phone to refer to.
Spend a lot of the day just reading, first a bunch of things online that have accumulated in my Feedly saved items folder and then finishing up the second of Gene Wolfe's Latro book, Soldier of Arete. That one gets a little crazy at the end, with a few large gaps of narrative, that puts the last section of the book into a weird estrangement. Since Latro forgets everything from day-to-day, when he doesn't write down the events and days pass then he becomes even more disconnected from who people are and what events have happened, causing his resumed narration to be even more obscure. Characters that have been present throughout the book are mentioned but nameless (and sometimes it takes a bit to figure out who is who), motivations and interpretations of motivations become confused, and a certain amount of cause and effect is lost (we see effects without causes). I definitely feel like even on this second read, I didn't totally follow all that was going on, or the significance of it. Feel like I could use a good summarization to help clarify a few things. Still, despite that, a really enjoyable read. There is a third novel, that Wolfe wrote much later than the first two, which creates newfound interpretation problems as it moves the action to Egypt thus mostly unmooring the narrative from all the places, characters, and deities that one has learned to identify in the first two. I won't be jumping right into that for a reread just yet.
Played a game of Scategories last night over Hangouts, not a bad game to play that way, as all you really have to share visually is the card with the list of categories (even easier if people had their own box of the game). I was texting with my brother and suggested we set up some kind of online meetup, which is kind of ironic, because even before all this social distancing he lives in another state and we don't see each other much to begin with. We could have done something like that at any time, but somehow now it seems more... viable? Important?
Played a few hours of D&D yesterday afternoon, with me running more of A Hole in the Oak. We got through a bunch more of the dungeon. As someone noted a lot of it is either symbolic somehow or just plain weird. Having read much of the module, I think it's just weird, at times a little too much so when it is all jumbled together. As a whole there are a lot of positives to the usability of the book. The map is clear, and marks off both locked doors and what monsters are in which rooms. The room descriptions have nice bolding of descriptive elements with non-bolded further details and then separate headings for main elements that can be interacted with (traps, monsters, treasure, etc.) That all works quite well even if you haven't prepped ahead, but there are a few places where some more overview would have been helpful. There are a bunch of black skeletons in the dungeon, and it is only in the description of part of one of the rooms that explains that they are all inert unless a specific action is taken. The other rooms with the black skeletons do reference that room, but the actual part about the inertness is only explained via the "doing this causes them to come to life" part, which I totally missed the first two times looking at that page. Also there a bunch of monster factions, and while the introduction provides a quick summary of them and how they feel (or not) about each other, I feel like the specific encounters with each are often lacking in any good direction on how to handle the factions. Just a little extra on wants and tactics and such would have helped a ton in figuring out how to play them.
I definitely was getting tired by 3 hours into being online (though it was probably about a half hour until we started playing), so I think for the future not going that long would be good. By the end I kind of just wante to hand wave away one of the combats, even though it came at a point where half the party was drugged/asleep, which put the other half in more danger.
We tried Trivial Pursuit via Zoom last night, which works out pretty well. I just read all the clues from our set, though the fact that our game is from 2003 makes some of the questions extra hard where they go into contemporary (to the game) culture.
Started a second story today, while I let the first one sit. Trying to remember the maxim someone said, to always make sure to stop writing when you still have something to say, so that the next day you know where to start and don't waste time sitting in front of a blank page.
As of last night we are under a shelter in place rule. At least here, in this county and a bunch of others in the state, for some reason not the whole state. Basically that's just what everyone I know has been doing already, but with, I guess, legal authority backing the concept for people who are out needlessly. We can still go to the store and get takeout or delivery and take walks and such.
I'm out walking this morning and it's not exactly quiet, but it's human quiet. There are lots of birds I can hear quite well but very few cars, almost no cars so far even on my rather busy street. Passed a couple other walkers and one person getting picked up to probably go to work. Mostly it's just the birds, the squirrels, and me. I can hear a woodpecker and a dove and other birds that I don't really know how to identify, and some crows are flying overhead. I kind of think maybe the birds like this.
It's been over a week since I've gone further than my block (thankfully a big block so walking "around the block" is actually a nice morning walk) and probably multiple weeks since I've left the borough, not that the latter is that unusual, since I work here, shop here, have friends here, and have plenty of dining options. Does it feel different now? Yes, mostly because I'm not going to the co-op multiple days a week, and we're not going to our friends' house for Friday night dinner or Sunday morning breakfast.
I've been good this week about my morning routine. Walk around the block, eat breakfast and have coffee while either watching some tv (watch the new Westworld episode and the new Picard episode this week), sit a bit, write, then start work. My second story (same protagonist) is coming along pretty well, already longer than the first one. I'm actually looking forward each day to sitting down and working on it.
I picked up Walden again last night after letting it linger on the floor next to my bedside for quite awhile. It took me forever to get through the long "Economy" chapter so I had taken a break, but now I'm into the shorter chapters, which makes it easier to read and find places to pause.
On that subject, I also started Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport, which is a 1000 page long novel that decidedly does not have places to pause. I'm not sure there are any chapter breaks, nor have I found any paragraph breaks, nor even, I think, any periods. Stylistically, it's full throttle stream of consciousness. I started to get into the rhythm of it after a bit, but I fear it will be difficult without those places to pause. I find I really rely on that when reading, find spots to rest, places I can set the book down for the night. That's hard when you never even find the end of a sentence. We'll see how far I get.
Reread Matthew Thurber's Art Comic last night. It's a very funny (often laugh out loud) surreal satire of the art world. I've enjoyed it quite a bit, though I wonder how much he is just preaching to the choir. A lot of it seems rather like in jokes about the art world, and the criticism about the commoditization of art is probably not new to anyone who would be reading a comic called "Art Comic" and get enough of the satire to find it amusing.
It's so quiet during my morning walk that even two cars coming down the road simultaneously seems like an excess of noise. Saw a large rabbit in a yard and a cat crouched at a front door staring at a bird feeder and a small sparrow that, accidentally I am sure, landed right in front of me on the sidewalk, quickly realized it's mistake (I was walking and right behind him), and skipped off. On a power line in front of my house, a sparrow sang a lovely song, a succession of three parts, repeated three times before he flew off. I wish I could onomatopoeize the sound.
Today is grocery store (well, co-op) day. We planned out what we hope will cover a week of food/meals (including a night or two of take-out), to minimize trips. Thankfully, Lianne offered to do the shopping. I'm so used to shopping frequently, in amounts that fit in my backpack (so I can walk), that seeing a list that large (and relatively speaking I'm sure it's not that large, since there's only 2 of us, plus some groceries for
███ ███ █████) makes me anxious. I don't know why.
Still working on my second short story, I'm making daily progress, which feels really good. I actually look forward to that part of my morning now. I'm trying not to be too self-conscious about it, especially in a first draft, just letting the words come out, though with more care than I give to my diction and syntax in this journal.
I only saw one moving car on my morning walk today. If there is any silver lining in all this, at least there is less pollution being made. Other than my walks around the block I've not been anywhere for more than 10 days (when I last went to the co-op). In some ways my world shrinks to this small area of land. Yesterday on my walk, I passed some children's chalk writing on the sidewalk "All in this together. Stay healthy." Today already it was washed away by the rain.
I continued my trip through Celine Sciamma's catalog with Tomboy (2011) yesterday. Like Waterlilies this one was primarily about children, though these were younger than the teens in the latter. The protagonist is Laure, a soon-to-be fourth grader who has moved to a new apartment with her parents and younger sister. Laure has short hair and dresses in shorts and a tanktop of a boyish cut. Her new room was painted blue per her request, and when she meets the first of the other children in the complex, a girl her age named Lisa, she says her name is Mikael. And then, to the children she meets, he meets, he is Mikael. We can see Mikael watching the boys, the way some of them take their shirts off when playing soccer, how they spit, how they act. And we see Lisa watching Mikael, you can immediately tell she has a crush.
The whole movie is tense. You know at some point Laure/Mikael's two worlds will collide. It's not like a thriller type of tense, where you are expecting the murder or the crime or capture of the murderer or criminal, more like a psychological tenseness. You know they will be hurt. You can see that already they know who they want to be and you know that especially in the immediate future it will be difficult and painful for them. But you also see Mikael having fun, enjoying being themselves with the other kids, despite the moments of worry. And even the little sister, who learns first about Mikael (before the parents), quickly adjusts and revels in the story of their older brother Mikael who loves them and protects them.
And yes, they are discovered, and for the most part if happens because Mikael acts too much like a boy and gets in a fight with one of the other kids (and wins). And it's painful to watch, and it's hard to not see the mom as a sort of villain in the results, but also one can sympathize. Because no matter what had happened, when school started, the child that all the kids called Mikael would be registered at the school as Laure. And none of the participants seem prepared to deal with the evolving situation. Laure/Mikael clearly knows how they feel, but at their age does not know what their options are, does not perhaps know that this is something they must learn over time and against much of society. And the mom sees her daughter and the pain she will feel, but also clearly is not... experienced with dealing with gender/sexuality as something not inherent to biology (else you'd think she could have picked up pretty easily on all the signs there to be seen).
The movie, thankfully, ends with a small bit of kindness and hope for Laure and Lisa.
I wrote about that more than I expected. I enjoyed the movie, I'm glad I watched it, though probably not one I'd feel the need to watch again.
Later in the day I also watch Mizoguchi's Ugetsu (1953) which I was much less impressed by. I kind of think I watched it before, but I really only remembered one part towards the end (though it is one of the big reveals of the plot). Had it not been just before dinner where I didn't have time to get through another movie I probably would have stopped this one before it was over. I think that's my second or third try at Mizoguchi, so I'm just going to say, not my style and move on.
Played more of the The Hole in the Oak yesterday with some of the D&D group. Not quite finished after three sessions now, but they have explored almost all the rooms in the dungeon, even if they did miss some of the treasure. Whenever I'm Dungeon Mastering I always feel this slight tension between using some of the rules and just ignoring them. How important is it to roll for certain things rather than just say the character succeeds? A lot of the procedures setup for use in dungeons on old school D&D are all set to work together in different ways. Encounter rolls and encumbrance rules and limited supplies and rolling to search or find traps or open doors, and depending on what rules you start dropping to simplify things the other ones start seeming to serve less and less a purpose. I guess it depends a lot on what you look for in play, but I don't know that anyone in our group is that interested in the kind of resource management, encounter tension, of the old school dungeon crawl.
I guess I need to remember the idea that the rolls are only interesting if there are consequences to failure. And for me encounter rolls are less about adding tension and time crunch to the game (and resource depletion) and more about adding something unexpected to the situation. The couple random encounters I did roll in this dungeon did add either extra information about the dungeon (one encounter was with a ghoul that wondered off, giving a clue that there were more elsewhere) or created a new situation (run in a with one of the faction's leaders who lead the party back to his lair where they had not yet been).
Yesterday afternoon I watched Josephine Decker's Madeline's Madeline, which was another on my list of movies from 2018 that were on some best of lists that looked interesting. [And then I never got around to finishing writing about it... so this is days later...] It was a really unusual movie, that I'm not sure completely worked for me. It's about a teen girl (the actress is amazing) participating in some of experimental acting troupe lead by a woman (Deadwood's Molly Parker). The girl has some kind of mental illness, and early on there is some really interesting work with the camera movement and focus and sound that attempts to convey some of that. It's stylistically successful, though it's hard to know how well it conveys whatever the girl's issue is (it's never made explicitly clear that I noticed). The situation becomes complicated as the troupe leader seems to beome very interested in the girl and the girl starts seeing her as a kind of mother figure and they both don't seem to handle it all very well psychologically or in relation to the other actors or their families. The ending seems to... shift out of realism into almost a play or performance except one that is not explicitly marked as such in the reality of the film. It's unusual and a little unsatisfying.
My reading has felt bogged down a bit lately. I'm switching between the book about sentences and style and the annotated Walden. The former is just not something you can read a lot at once. As for the latter, I am more confirmed in my thinking that I much prefer the Thoreau of his journals than the Thoreau of his published writing. He is most interesting when writing of his observations both of nature and society, and you get that plenty in his journals, while in the published writing, which is seemingly mostly taken from his journals, those observations are formalized and lengthened and organized in a way that I just end up finding slow and ponderous. I'm going to try to finish it up, as I am nearing the end, but from here on in, I will read the journals instead (the New York Review of Books edition is excellent).
As a change of pace, last night I started reading A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James. It is primarily about fantasy literature, but occasionally addresses other media. I thought since I started writing some fantasy, I'd try to see what gaps I can fill in on my knowledge of it as a genre. I'm also interested to see if I can find arguments for or against my thought that fantasy as a genre is for the most part very conservative, especially formalistically/stylistically. And if I am wrong what other authors/books I can look to besides the ones I already know (Wolfe, Delany, Le Guin).
The effects of this pandemic and, moreso at this point, the economic effects of the social distancing and shutdowns is starting to reach into my circle of acquaintances. I only know one person so far who is sick (a work colleague), but a few people now are out of work, or on reduced work, with all that that does/will entail. At first, because of my immediate/close social circle, the effects were more about social isolation or adjusting to new work methods and routines, but inevitably that would start changing. I feel fairly powerless to do much at this point other than just keep on social distancing, and be ready to help people who need it.