Derik Badman's Journal

February 2021

2021-02-01 08:13

February arrives with a snowstorm. Started yesterday around noon and the snow and rain have been off and on ever since. As I sit here in my office I can hear what I must assume is freezing rain tapping against the roof or windows. Days like this I wish our house had better insulation and that the windows in my office weren't the least weather efficient ones possible (two of them I have literally tried to caulk shut to help with the drafts). I'll be out shovelling soon, as the snow is supposed to continue into tomorrow and I learned last time not to let it pile up too much.

A lot of false starts with books and movies in the past week. I gave up on That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana and Japanese Poetic Diaries. The former was just too... uneventful and rambling for me, and something of its... Italian-ness did not appeal. The latter was not very interesting and, I think, the editor/translator was less poet and more academic, which meant the haiku/poetry in it was not well translated. A previous reader to me (used book) had actually pencilled in edits to a bunch of the early poems (they too seemed to not have finished the book), and frequently added "awk" in the margins. I cede to their judgement.

So last night I ended up starting in on a reread of Gaddis' JR instead. It's easy to see how it would almost immediately turn off almost all readers. The first scene, in almost all unattributed dialogue (as is the whole book), is a meeting between a lawyer trying to deal with the two old sisters of a deceased businessman. They talk at cross-purposes, he just trying to ascertain some basic facts while they misunderstand all his legal jargon and keep going off on tangents. It's all very Gaddis (jargon, misunderstanding, cross-purposes).

Also gave up on Rohmer's The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque which found him taking up a story of politics with a lot of people debating very French specific politics in very broad terms. I just could not bear it. Maybe that's why this one seemingly didn't get a release in the US (or at least disappeared very fast).

Got pretty annoyed with Divinity: Original Sin 2 yesterday. As I get towards what I assume is the ending, even playing on the easiest difficulty level, the game seems to be requiring a greater skill with the innumerable combat skills than I really have or want. It's very much about knowing the right combinations of this and that to more efficiently defeat the enemies and that's not something I had to pay much attention to up until this last section when suddenly it seems like the difficulty level jumped substantially.

2021-02-03 11:05

In the dark of night,
my bedroom lit up by light
--reflections on snow.

Two nights ago I woke up and it was very bright. I wondered if the streetlights had been replaced or a broken one fixed or something. Last night, with a repeat, I realized its just the snow causing a lot more light to be reflected back.

2021-02-05 10:12

Long tiring stressful week, mostly due to ongoing work issues in the realm of performance and scale and me continuing to have to reach new levels of skill/knowledge in areas of work I don't like dealing with. Ongoing fantasies of quitting that never get past a general frustration and... despair... I feel too much responsibility that I never wanted and didn't ask for. I'd be so much more happy just doing front end UI work, but instead I have all these other things to do that are more... risky... obscure... harder to deal with. Took a sick day today as I've not been sleeping well or feeling that great for a few days. Mostly stress I expect.

Went out for a walk yesterday for the first time in... more than a week I think. Was good to get out a bit even if it's cold and snow covered everywhere.

Still reading and enjoying JR despite its denseness. Reading Gaddis, you always have to be looking for clues, subtle actions that are easy to miss, references to other characters or events, threads that tie characters together. I occasionally wish for a dramatis personae so when I see a name I can check back to confirm who they are or if they've shown up already. Feeling shades of The Recognitions in a few of the characters, ways of speaking that tie a character in JR to one in the previous.

Searching for something comforting and episodic to watch yesterday morning I turned to Star Trek: Deep Space 9 for the... fifth? fourth? time. Didn't even finish the first episode, but it's easy to just watch in fragments since I know what will happen.

2021-02-06 11:08

Nice lazy relaxing day yesterday. Read a bunch: mostly catching up with stuff on my computer, but also more of JR. Watched Hong Sang-Soo's In Another Country. This one was pretty light, probably too light. It had a framing narrative about a woman at the seaside with her mother, having fled home because their uncle/brother-in-law... did something that caused them to lose money? The woman then starts writing three stories about a foreign woman (played by Isabelle Huppert in all three) coming to the same seaside lodging. The frame story never returns, and I never saw anyway it interacted with the three narratives. It was kind of pointless, like there could have just been three stories in the same location with the same actress and it would have been as effective. Nothing much happens in any of them, but they repeat actors (most/all of them playing the same character except for Huppert) and settings and plot points, but I didn't really... feel anything about any of them. In the end the Huppert character from the third story picks up an umbrella hidden by the Huppert character in the second story and then walks off and... I don't know. It all felt too clever for the lack of depth or payoff. Not as successful as some of Hong's other more playful formal films like Right Now, Wrong Then or Hill of Freedom.

I finished up Aria: The Masterpiece vol. 7, the end of the series, and as it always does it made me cry a little. It's bittersweet evocation of change, seasons, cycles, is so classically Japanese. The protagonists grow up at the end, or at least, they graduate and get jobs. Thinking about it more, though, the utopic setting is not quite so utopic. We never see or hear any indication of money throughout the series. The characters can always see to get the few things they want (mostly food it seems). We never hear any indication that anyone is paid. All the characters, both the younger students/apprentices, and their adult mentors work excessively. It's a ongoing lament by the older adults (which then becomes one by the younger at the end) that though they are amazing friends they can never find time to see each other. They have to coordinate their days off (and find it hard to do such) and seem to work the whole day long (else they could at least get together in the evening or morning for a meal). They work and work and work. We see this through a lens of them loving their work and being amazing at it, but that refrain about friends seeing each other seems to undercut it. Shouldn't this utopic place at least allow for a decent work week and time off? There is a contradictory sense of what constitutes the ideal, but the endlessly hardworking workers is a very conservative vision.

(Having just sat reading JR some more...) One thing Gaddis does superbly well in JR is transitioning scenes. There are no chapter breaks; there are no headings; there are no triple asterisks (what is that called in a novel?). Everything just flows together, so he transitions scenes kind of like a camera following one person into room and then following another one out of the room. He uses all sorts of narrative events to do this, in one I just read he shifts characters via a telephone conversation. One character is talking with another in a room, the one answers the phone and is talking with a third character, the scene then smoothly shifts to the room the third character is in talking to a fourth character (who is then followed out the door to the next scene). It's often disorienting, as the lack of dialogue attribution means you have to read a but to pick up the right context for the new scene.

2021-02-07 10:39

Fluffy snowflakes
carpet the landscape
like a studio Christmas.

2021-02-09 07:47

The days continue apace. One of my current work projects requires me running some heavy sql so I'm having to do it at off-hours for our US region (which means off-hours for my schedule). I started playing Immortals Fenyx Rising on PS4 while waiting for queries to run. It's by the Assassin's Creed: Odyssey team but instead of the more realistic/historical type it's a lot like Breath of the Wild. It might be a little too much like the last Zelda game. The designs are more rounded and cartoony, and setting is mostly bright and simple. There are very few other characters to interact with and when you do it is all scripted cut scenes. The humor is... attempting to be humor. The mechanics are very much like BotW with the stamina bar that decreases as you climb or swim or glide around (in this case on Icarus' wings), less crafting though (no cooking). It's light, not something to play obsessively, but something to visit every now and then. It will do to kill some time while I run queries and while I wait for some better game to come out (like the Mass Effect remaster coming out next month which I am excited to (re)play).

Still reading JR (almost halfway through) and still really enjoying it. Laughed out loud a few times yesterday at some humorous dialog.

I feel behind on everything else, if there is anything to be behind on. I really need to start or return to a project of some kind. I've been doing a little bit of refactoring on one of my code projects (a random table for rpgs thing), trying to make it all ES6 modules, but also realizing all the places where it needs work to actually work well. But it's more a learning project than a thing I expect to see use.

I also took a few notes for a (sigh) set of simple RPG rules. Been reading more of these "Free Kriegsspiel" articles/rules/examples and thinking about simple rules but ones that still include player dice rolls. Also thinking about what would work for our group, some of whom don't seem to care about rules at all and some of whom really like to think about rules and dice rolling. So I started taking some notes patching together things from various other systems/people. The 2d6 roll for success/complication/failure from the Apocalypse World games, the "you have it or you don't" attributes from the various Better Games rules like Crimson Cutlass, which is a lot closer to the Free Kriegsspiel style than a lot of games. They call it "free-style role-play." Long long ago (I was probably... in junior high?) I somehow stumbled upon an issue of "Space Gamer" when Better Games was publishing it. At some point I wrote to them (for something?) and for free out of nowhere George Rahm the (co)author sent me copies of all the Crimson Cutlass books and even a Tarot deck (which they us in the game for generation of scenarios/encounters/etc). He must have been able to tell I was a kid from my letter (or whatever I sent). I never did get to play the game, but I've always wanted to. Now I'm realizing early exposure to those rules have always colored my evaluation of rpg systems.

Anyway that is also an inspiration for these notes I'm taking. Not that I think they'll go far or even if/when I'd ever use them. It's probably more a theoretical exercise than a practical project.

Maybe it's time to find a comic to review or to return to the fiction I was writing.

2021-02-11 07:54

In the night again I awoke and it was extra bright inside, more snow. Now this morning looking out in front and back I can see a variety of tracks from animals that passed through. I assume fox, rabbit, squirrel, one that might be deer (seems too big to be anything else).

2021-02-12 11:45

Dark-eyed junco, dove,
Brown creeper: snacking
spilled sunflower on the porch.

2021-02-13 11:05

Watched another Hong Sang-Soo the other day: The Day He Arrives (2011), the last of the ones on Mubi. That's a lot of his movies lately. I read an article the other day that said lately he tends to make two films a year, one in the summer and one in the winter, which explains why there seem to be so many of them. This one, like many of the others, had a bit of narrative non-linearity to it. In this case we seem to see the same evening repeated in different configurations. A director (of course) comes into Seoul to meet a friend. In the different repetitions he sees a lot of the same people, ends up at a few of the same places, but the conversations tend to reveal different information about the characters. There is also an actress playing two different characters, though that is not totally clear in the film, other than the reaction the protagonist seems to have on seeing the one character and narrating that she looks like someone. The primary emotion of the movie seems to be loneliness, as all the main characters at some point (in one of the iterations) bring up the topic.

Today I watched Josephine Decker's Thou Wast Mild and Lovely which was not at all what I expected narratively. Visually, it was, like the others of her movies I've seen, dynamic and beautiful: lots of changing focus and short depth of field, lots of cuts and montages, lots of subjective camera movement (at one point we seem to be seeing the point of view of a cow). Narratively it felt mixed and not totally successful to me. It sets up a scenario with a young man coming to work at a farm, where live a man and young woman (ostensible his daughter). The young man is hiding that he is married and has a kid. The older man is creepy and aggressive. The young woman at first seems fairly quiet, nervous around the guy, but curious. Then there is this scene where she is walking the fields with the guy and she catches a frog in some water. She's kind of playing with it a bit and then... she bites its head off. That was just... shocking and weird. There is a slow burning sense of dread and threat, like you know violence will erupt at some point, and you know it will start with the older man. And eventually it does, but it quickly goes from 0 to like 100 and then just as quickly ends. And the ending happens so fast it feels like there's no time to consider it. It left a lot unanswered, but also it felt... unmotivated. I don't know. I think it took the horror aspect too far right at the end.

Puttered around today, cleaned my office, read some documents and such. Looked askance at all the books that have accumulated that I realize I don't really want anymore. It's like... maybe I need some kind of system/constraint for my book buying. I at least have really curtailed my comics buying. I think I'm getting better about all the rpg stuff too, especially the more I realize what is really useful and what is just another book I'll never use. Sometimes it's just like I feel like I need to check the boxes, check items off the list, clear the docket, process the "to read" pile/queue/folder/shelf. I found too many books that sound interesting in summary and then aren't so much in actual full length. Always searching... for what I have no idea. Is it just an acquisition thing, a collection, a hoard...

Sitting here in the living room with a gimlet, while the brown rice cooks for dinner. I don't write about food much, but I do most of the dinner cooking. I find it to be a good transition from work to not work, but also a process that I don't have to think too much about... I have a recipe, instructions, and then I follow them as best I can. I don't have to come up with a strategy or a plan for it. There are not open questions (most of the time, especially after I've cooked the recipe once). It's comfort I guess. Put on some music, mix a drink, cook, dance around the kitchen, sing too loud, text with friends. It's never a blank page. It's never a problem I have to solve that I don't know how to solve. I do get better over time (I think). It's also... worthwhile... in that we need to eat dinner. I don't have to question the purpose of it. And in contrast you can see all the things I think about in re work or art or anything else I do.

2021-02-14 09:51

Just watched Abigail Child's Acts & Intermissions: Emma Goldman in America (2017) which is part of Anthology Film Archives' Anarchism on Film series. It's mix of sound and video, narration from Goldman's words, on screen text (her words too I assume), archival footage, contemporary documentary footage, some shots of actors (mostly just dressed up and posing). As a partial biography of Goldman it is pretty effective, more a teaser to investigate something more in depth (like her autobiogrphy), as an overview of her political thoughts and historical context it is fairly light (though it is less than an hour in length). Child does attempt give the production contemporary relevance: showcasing demonstrations and union fights (like the Fight for 15 movement) as well as showing contemporary factories and workers. These are more successful than the less clear usage of images of server rooms and internet lines (at one point cutting and double exposed with documentary footage of telephone operators), which never seem to gel into a point I could gather. I've read about Goldman in the past but never did pick up her autobiography, which I might do now.

While watching it, it (of course, somehow) started me thinking on D&D and the old school way that player characters advance in level (get stronger) via the acquisition of treasure. It's all very capitalistic, where money is the goal and money is power. It occurs to me that is a result of a rather limited subset of the inspirations for the game, and perhaps as telling as anything else as to the sources of some of the strongeest of them. Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Vance's Cugel the Clever, and The Hobbit are all very much about treasure and money, but so many other fantasies really are not, most popularly The Lord of the Rings. I guess that's partially why later editions started changing the experience system to use monsters defeated, which lends itself more to a heroic type of epic stop the evil theme (but also tends to lead to more violence/combat).

2021-02-15 11:01

I remember hearing about Olivier Assayas' Demonlover back when it came out in 2002 because it had a soundtrack by Sonic Youth. I don't think at that point I had seen any of his movies, though I have watched quite a few in the past year (some I liked more than others, but some of the ones I liked I really liked). It's out in a new remaster, so I watched it online via the Lincoln Center site. It's a pretty dark narrative about corporate espionage, very cyberpunk in a way, despite the now out of date tech in it. A woman is acting as a double agent in some kind of deal where a French company is acquiring (I think) a japanese animation company (that seems to mostly make porn) and also making a deal with a US company that deals in websites (also mostly porn). There is all the expected genre elements: drugging someone secretly, breaking into a hotel room, a fight or two, unclear loyalties, double crosses and double agents, international travel, affairs, even a car chase. By the end it's pretty dark. I'm not on the whole sure... what the point was. It's a lot of people doing shitty things for... money, I guess. Seems like there's a point where I start liking Assayas movies, certainly a few of the most recent ones.

Had a fun D&D session, a little one-off ███ ran interrupting our ongoing campaign because we couldn't all make the session. He threw together a little mystery involving the knight my character is in love with (but has never met). It was almost all role-playing and making weird plans and almost no dice rolling. Only one brief combat that for once ended fairly quickly with our opponents surrendering. Not the way most 5e sessions seem to end up. Also went to show how much playing one can get out of a setup, a few NPCs, and a single map (at least we only saw 1 map).

Last night while we were in the living room watching tv, I looked over and there was a raccoon staring in the porch door at us. I've known they like to walk across porch, as sometimes on wet days I see their hand like paw prints, but that was the first time I saw one so blatantly spying on us.

Just finished reading issue 3 of Frank Santoro's Caniffer zine. The series is all about the "ohio school" of comic artists Frank has been studying: Caniff, Sickles, Graff, etc. Very low-fi old school zine: pasted together copies from the strips, typed text with mistakes just crossed out, annotations hand written in, limited color, cash in the mail only, a labor of love. Really enjoying it, a history lesson in Frank's pretty distinctive voice. He also includes extra copies with the zine, like the latest has a Graff and a Caniff strip copied at full original art size, which really makes you see how much the art gets reduced, in the old newspaper but also even in modern day reprints.

2021-02-16 07:58

Feeling the pull of spring. When I wake up in the morning it is no longer pitch black out. Such a little thing but it makes the morning a bit better, especially after a night of poor sleep. I realized this morning that I tend to repeat some mantras to myself in the shower many mornings: "I just don't know," and "I can do this." They just come out sometimes... me facing the unknown and trying to inspire some confidence I guess. It's not even something I really do consciously.

Did some rare work-like reading yesterday, a chapter in one of my Smashing Magazine books about service workers. I have one setup for my online character sheet up, but it's really only the bare minimum and I'm not sure I totally did it right (since really I'm the only one using that app it doesn't really matter that much). It did make me want to try out something a little more complicated. I'd really like to get my character sheet app working with a remote database as well as offline, but I'm not totally sure how I'd handle syncing up changes if the data changed both online and offline, or even how I'd be sure it had changed. Maybe something else I can do some research on, as I'm sure there are ways to handle it. Would need some kind of conflict resolver in the UI. It might be a good chance to try out some db services that use GraphQL, something I've been wanting to learn.

2021-02-19 08:27

Still reading JR, pretty far along. In a book that is almost all dialogue Gaddis has two sex scenes later in the book that are hardly any dialogue at all but about as abstract as such a scene could be. He uses no terms for body parts at all (not even the word "breast" makes an appearance). They are also, I think, one of the rare moments of two characters (the same characters in both scenes) actually connecting with each other in a way that is not completely confused or misunderstood or about some kind of transaction.

More snow yesterday, more icy rain. Shovelled twice yesterday: the first time the snow was light and powdery, easy to move; the second time it was like shovelling sand, granulated and heavy. At least so far our power has stayed on.