Saturday, November 27, 2021

Content Dump: Reviews and Ponderings on the MCU, MLP, and Squid Game

Content dump time!  In addition to taking a hiatus from my blog, I also took a hiatus from writing (at least publicly).  But I'm back at the 'zine and so here are some of my musings on various fandoms.  Check out the links!

The Squid Game Challenge We Should Have Seen. An idea I had for an alternative ending for Squid Game.  I loved Squid Game but I also really enjoy talking about ways I would have written a series differently.  This article was fun to write and it really got me out of my creative slump.  I'm quite proud of it.

A discussion of Marvel's What If...? and how it ties in to the "Nexus Events" of Marvel's Loki.  Not my best work.

A review of My Little Pony: The Next Generation It's brightly colored but otherwise bland.  Still, I saw it twice and enjoyed it.  But that might just be a consequence of nostalgia; after all, I was born in the '80s.


Ranking the Eternals.  I loved this movie and saw it twice, too, in theaters.  Absolutely recommend.  Andrew also wrote a review for it, here.

Thoughts on the Matrix: Resurrections Trailer.  

Tune in later for news on San Diego Comic Con, Los Angeles Comic Con, and the big move to San Francisco! 

I'm trying to look on the bright side of things!
 
It might be a fine place to have a nervous breakdown!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Houseguests: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

November has been a very challenging month for me.  It's, at least in part, my own fault for over-scheduling myself.  Now that things have calmed down a bit I'm getting back into the swing of writing.  The only major plans ahead for me are Comic Con San Diego (this weekend) and Comic Con Los Angeles (the weekend after that).  But the hardest parts are behind me.  

Me before an event.
 
Me after an event.

So what happened?

Well, first of all, much of November was dedicated to putting together Puppypalooza, a huge human dog show that benefits the ASPCA.  The planning for this was, and I don't say this lightly, bigger than it was even for my wedding.  The event went off without a hitch and we easily raised over $1,000 for charity, but the stress leading up to it was extreme.

On top of that, we had three houseguests in rapid succession.

First, Andrew's mother and sister both visited at the beginning of the month.  It was a nice visit; certainly a little tense because Andrew's family hasn't historically liked me much, but I think things are softening up a little thanks in part to Calvin's wonderfully personable presence.

At the beach with Grandma.

The next visit was my little sister, Kellen.  I met Kellen in 2004 through the Big Brothers, Big Sister program, and I've missed her very much since moving to Los Angeles.  Andrew and I flew her out for a five-day mini vacation to Los Angeles.  It was fun but definitely a lot of work to try to fit in all the things we wanted to do in such a short time.  Doing it with the 2-year-old meant doing it on "hard mode."

Isn't Kellen's hair cool?!  Also, that mask was given to just by Papa Niko.  That's the symbol for clan Ventrue.  Kellen joined in for a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP!
 
Kickin' it downtown at Cole's, home of the speakeasy Varnish.
 
Checking out the touristy stuff: the Hollywood Stars and the Chinese Theater.
 
We ended on a high note at Beetlehouse.
 
We totally split the fishbowl, which I've always wanted to try.  It matched Kellen's hair!  Haha.
 
 Seeing Seamus, 10 years later.

And then there was Andrew's friend.

For the sake of privacy I won't give their name or many details.  You'll find out why in a second:

Recently, we found out that this childhood best friend of his was living in a homeless shelter. We asked them if they would like to come crash on our couch, as our home seemed like a more stable place for them than a shelter. They agreed and came, and within a day, I realized we'd made a grievous error.

Their behavior was absolutely erratic.  They were completely lacking in self-awareness and spent most of their time sitting on the couch staring blankly into space.  They left out pill bottles, cigarette packs, and food all over the place.  (Not great when you have a toddler and a dementia-riddled dog.)  It was pretty much immediately apparent to me that they were either abusing drugs or had some sort of physiological issue.  I contacted their ex to figure out what was happening, and it was then that we discovered that they are a diagnosed schizophrenic going through an episode right now, hence the homelessness.

They have obviously suffered some kind of trauma BUT it's almost impossible to figure out what happened because so many of their stories were part of their delusions. (They went into vivid detail about various assaults but some of those stories were so fantastical that it's unlikely that it happened as they remembered, which isn't to say that it didn't, only that it was clearly put through some kind of manic filter.) (Oh, and they did this at dinner, when I had a guest over.  It was fairly embarrassing, although my guest, Kieran, is one of the kindest and most understanding people in the entire world.  Kieran really managed to roll with the delusions without any hint of discomfort and I was deeply grateful to them for their understanding.)

Andrew's friend was absolutely obsessed with topics of sex and gender (due to a past sexual assault). Combine that with a media diet that revolves madly around these topics, and guess what? They had decided they were trans. Mind you, this person is in their 30s and is, in every way imaginable, acting, presenting, and living as a heterosexual woman, and has never before expressed any trans ideas. 

They got very obsessed with me and pretty much fixated on me, and kept cornering me to talk about how badly they needed HRT, how they wanted to be a "faggot" like me (yes, those were their words), how "validating" being a man was to them. It was (and I say this without exaggeration) a little bit traumatizing.

One of the consequences of all this is that it is hard for them to get into homeless programs because they "identify" as a man and don't want to go to women's shelters, but aren't safe at all in men's spaces, especially because they look and present as female, and act hypersexual.

They were with us for less than 24 hours before I told them they had to leave, and we put them on a bus back to the shelter, because the truth is, their unpredictable behavior made them unsafe and it was clear they needed WAY more intervention than just a couch to crash on.  It was deeply uncomfortable to inform them that they had to leave and I felt like a monster as I drove them, sobbing, to the bus station to see them on their way.

It's worth noting that I believe that if someone wants a body modification for any reason, I think they should be able to get it, and that I don't want gender-affirming surgery or treatment to be prohibitively difficult to get... but only if the person getting it is in a good place when they're getting it and are able to reasonably consider the long-term ramifications. This is why tattoo artists won't tattoo drunk people.

Oh, speaking of which, I finally got my back tattoo fixed!  You don't need to know what it looked like before.  Only that it looked kind of bad and now it doesn't: 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Happy Halloween!

 Today was Halloween and it was Calvin's first time trick-or-treating.  He went as a bee and Andrew went as a beekeeper.






I went as Hawkeye because, like Hawkeye, I was completely unprepared for our mission and also felt like utter shit.  That's because Calvin started daycare three mornings a week and, within only four sessions, became a bioweapon and hit me with the worst cold of my life.


Stuffy nose aside we had a nice walk around the block and Calvin made out like a bandit.  Much like a real bee, he was very adapt at collecting sugar.  (A note on this: granulated white sugar is the most like nectar so, if you're planning to feed bees, this should be your go-to.)

Calvin comes from a long line of beekeepers; my maternal grandfather was a beekeeper, himself.  My mom would have carried on the tradition but unfortunately my brother is allergic to bees.

Anyways, Andrew made the costume himself and wrote up an Instructable, so that now, if you have need to create a tiny bee costume, you can!

Lucan Gillespie Takes Tea With a Honey Bee, by Tim Walker

Friday, October 15, 2021

Cricket Frog Story

 About three weeks ago, my cricket frog disappeared.

Quarter for scale.

No idea where he went. I tore apart the whole terrarium looking for him but he'd vanished. The thing is, cricket frogs are very tiny (hence the name), and since the environment is semi-aquatic and filled with bugs, I figured he had died and been broken down/consumed. It was very sudden and it really bummed me out. It was one of many tiny things lately that has really disproportionately affected my mood.

Every little thing has been getting me down lately because of two very big things.  The first is that Andrew got a lucrative offer from a company in San Franciso, so we'll be moving out of Los Angeles before the end of the year.  Moves are very stressful to me, and I hate moving.  We've lived in our current home for almost a decade and I'll miss the familiarity of my surroundings.  I love Los Angeles; it's my adopted hometown.  And although San Francisco isn't far, it's just far enough to really get me outside of my comfort zone.

The other major thing is that Seamus is dying.  At sixteen and a half, Seamus is old and demented enough to become a United States president.  I can't think of any way to take him with us; the move would be cruel.  He's already a bundle of anxiety, and the move could very well kill him.  He has panic attacks every night, frequent accidents in the house (which has never happened before), and trouble getting into the bed and even on the couch.  It's time to say good-bye but I don't know how to do that.  He's my best friend and moving to a new place without him is terrifying to me.  We're putting off the inevitable for as long as we can and trying to enjoy the very short time we have left with him, but it's coming.

The anxiety is paralyzing.  When the cricket frog disappeared, I didn't even bother cleaning out the terrarium. Just left it on my desk with all the plants still in it. It felt like a metaphor for my mood: a smelly, stagnant, uninhibited swamp.

Yesterday was another rough day. It was supposed to be Cal's first day of daycare, but due to a series of miscommunications, I drove to three separate locations and he was 2 hours late. By the time I finally dropped him off and came home, I had only 45 minutes to myself.

Having the energy to do anything can be so hard sometimes. (Example: cleaning out the terrarium.) But I was determined not to let myself get mired in self-pity, and so, with an immense push of willpower, I spent those 45 minutes cleaning the bathroom.

(If you've experienced depression then you know how hard it can be to start a big task, let alone complete it.)

Afterwards I didn't feel better. But at least the bathroom was clean.

As I was putting away the cleaning supplies, I moved the shower curtain, and... PLOP.

Out fell the missing cricket frog, right into the bath tub.


Apparently he has been slumming it in the bathroom for 3 weeks, undetected. How he escaped in the first place is unknown. How he made it to the bathroom and avoided getting rinsed down a drain or eaten by the cat is also a mystery.

But he's safely back home now.

...sometimes the universe throws you a bone right when you need it.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

LARPing: Brightest and Darkest Days

 Well, blog, you might have noticed a lapse of a couple of months in updates.  I opted to take a hiatus for August and September because of personal issues.  Namely, the crushing weight of grief that comes from losing friends and family.  

In my last update I see that I mentioned my hope that my friend would actually get vaccinated to protect herself.  Now that the vaccine is FDA approved she of course hasn't.  


I've run out of a sympathy, having just lost another family member recently due to Covid, and I don't think I can actually do anything to change her mind.  This saddens me.

I have been trying to focus less on that relationship, though, and more on building new, positive ones.

To that end I have immersed myself into two awesome new areas of interest.

The first is with Christmas performers. I love Christmas and have a natural elf-like quality. Combine that with an deep, instinctual desire to do whatever older men in white beards tell me, and it was inevitable I'd end up at a Christmas Con, or, more specifically, a Christmas Performers' Workshop, put on by Santa True, the same Santa I interviewed last December.


(A plurality of Santas is typically referred to as a "jolly" of Santas.)


There's a lot of emphasis on storytelling. This was an "advanced" workshop so it's assumed that the Santas there know the fundamentals. For advanced workshops, there's a focus on the performing aspect.

"Chair time" usually only involves 4 questions: What's your name, how old are you, have you been good, and what would you like for Christmas.

Home visits and corporate events are another plate of tamales. You're expected to be able to tell stories (memorizing and being able to act out "The Night Before Christmas" is only the tip of the iceberg), answer deep lore questions (Santa is canonically 1,751 years old; he was born in Myra, which is modern-day Turkey; Mrs. Claus was introduced in 1843; every reindeer has a backstory), dance with 35-50 pounds of Santa gear for the entirety of "All I Want For Christmas Is You." (This is the #1 intro song played at corporate events.)

There are facial and physical exercises. A lifted-cheek smile is called a Kringle, for example, and you literally do sets of Kringles to flex your facial muscles. Santa's movements are centered in the belly and there's a deliberate way of walking that Santas are expected to have. Even when stationary Santa is expected to have certain dynamic movements that keep him "interesting" (i.e., combing his beard, checking his pocket watch).

For photos and recorded phone videos (what we call "elfies"), there's a billion tricks to posing (and getting kids to pose).

The workshop involves a lot of storytelling, miming, singing, dancing, cracking dad jokes, and learning to interact with a variety of people: adults, kids, Mrs. Claus, elves, et cetera.

If you want to see an amazing Santa who embodies the Jolly Old Elf, check out this video of Santa being interrogated by ex-CIA folks. It's fun and you get a sense for how deeply the character can be explored.  I had a great time at the two-day workshop and it really got me in the spirit of the season!

The parking lot was overwhelmingly red cars. You can take the Santa out of Christmas but you can't take the Christmas out of Santa!

The second LARP experience I've delved into is a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP. I found this group because, back in 2019, they used to come by the Dragon and Meeple.  Wearing everything from fake fangs and scaley makeup to ballgowns and Adidas track suits, they were a fascinating bunch and I loved to serve them.  I wanted to join their game but of course, I was always working on the nights they were there.

Then the pandemic hit and the D&M closed down.  The LARP moved onto Discord and was played online for nearly two years.  That was sufficient time for me to join the group and create my character:

Name: James "Jimmy" Donahue
Nicknames: Jimmy, Dapper, "Slippin' Jimmy"
Clan: Ventrue
Eyes: One
Hair: Lustrous
Embraced: 1943.  He'll tell anyone who asks that his sire was begat by Vincent Day, making him a direct "descendant" of Mithras, and that he also boasts a connection to Ebles le Croisé.  Quite an impressive lineage, though no one's ever met his direct sire and no one seems to have ever actually known them.

A neonate with a flair of fashion, Jimmy is the friendliest Crusader you'll ever meet.  A WWII vet, he's still adjusting to immortality and the 21st century, but of one thing he's sure: loyalty is a purer currency than either money or blood.


 

The in-person games have been incredibly fun and, more importantly, I've found a group of people with the same interests as me in performance, cosplay, and world-building.  They are so supportive and friendly; my "clan" really does feel like a family and I've made some fast, close friends.  Daniel (aka Papa Niko) in particular has really become a close friend in real life, not just in the underworld of darkness.

Sometimes you find friends in the most unexpected places.  Although the pandemic has altered some friendships and created some distance between me and others (both literally and figuratively), it's also opened some doors to new experiences and given me some surprising opportunities to meet new people.  I guess that's the silver lining.  No great change can occur without there being a little silver of positive opportunity, if you;re willing to go looking for it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Content Dump: Artists and Scammers

 Short and sweet post to dump some links to things I've written lately.

First, a brief profile / press release about watercolor artist Scott Campbell.  Scott made it onto my radar from Umbrella Academy, where he did a quick 8-panel illustration for a flashback scene.  The style of the scene immediately charmed me, and gave me an overwhelming sense of déjà vu for reasons I couldn't quiet put my finger on.


After a bit of research I discovered it was because I had seen the art style, after all.  Scott Campbell was one of the art directors for the video game Psychonauts, which I spent several years completely fixated on, and which was one of my first cosplays.  (I won't say which character but I think anyone who knows me can guess.)  To this day, I have Psychonauts camp patches stuck to my laptop bag, and a few purple arrowhead necklaces floating around the house.

The second article is simply a listicle of seven common Facebook scams.  I wrote it up because of the prevalence of these scams; I see them in the Umbrella Academy group I moderate and I see my less-savvy friends fall for them repeatedly.  (Shame me once...)

Things I'm looking forward to this coming month are happily offline events.  I'm vaxxed, waxed, and ready to get my social mingle on.  I got tickets for Labyrinth of Jareth, which unfortunately falls on the same weekend as DomCon.  I'd much prefer to go to the masquerade, though.  The week prior there's the first in-person LARP for my Vampire: The Masquerade group, so I can get some practice in on my costuming!

Also I'm happy to report that my friend who refused to get the vaccine (and personally insulted me in the process) is slowly coming around.  Our relationship remains rocky but we're speaking, and she told me she'd get the vaccine once it was fully FDA approved.  This gives me hope; I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her safety (and the safety of those around her).  

Anyway, my apologies for a lazy and phoned-in blog post, but it is very hot and I am very tired, and I have a backlog of commissions to work on.  So, blog, I will leave you with these pictures of my plants and of my son enjoying his first slice of pizza, and see you in another week or two, probably with my thoughts on how I hated the season 1 finale of Loki.

My desert rose is finally blooming!
 
 
New lizard!
 
Help me, I have too many not enough terraria!

Monday, July 19, 2021

Black Widow Review

As we move into July, things are getting sorta-kinda back to normal!

Being an extrovert with social anxiety makes the mathematics of social "value" complicated, but I'm pretty pleased with myself for finding the balance on either side of the equal sign. After the mess that was 2020, I've sworn I'll never take social outings for granted again.  (Prediction: this feeling will last less than two years.)

One of the things I've been looking forward to the most over the last few months was going to see a movie in theaters again.  Specifically, a Marvel movie!

Well, I went and saw Black Widow at the Alamo Drafthouse downtown with my friends.  We didn't cosplay this one, but the novelty of being back in a movie theater alone made it a wonderful time.

As far as the movie goes, I would give it a solid A- and say that while it's not in my top 5, it could probably snag #6 or #7 on my list of Marvel movies.

Read my review here.


 
Also, Black Widow had enough archery references to remind me to go try archery.  I got a recurve bow back in 2017 but had never used it, fearing failure.  Ryan took me out to the archery range and it turns out I'm not half bad!  Archery is a sport that is easy to learn but difficult to master, making it an incredibly fun sport!  A piece of advice, though: wear armguards.  
 
Nice tight cluster.

One week later, healing nicely.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

2021 Hobbies: Gains and Losses

2020 took its toll on just about everyone, but the fallout is still being felt in 2021.

One of the only good elements of the pandemic and the political upheaval was that it separated the wheat from the chaff in terms of what's worth expending mental energy on.

Being at home all the time allowed me to hone in on which hobbies and habits were the healthiest for me.  For example, I was able to lean in to my writing, particularly my fiction.  Andrew set up up a Fiverr account for commissioned fanfiction, which you can find here.


Another hobby I rediscovered a passion for was RedditGifts, which I'd been involved in since 2013 or 2014, but stopped participating in because of the new baby.

Sadly,  RedditGifts is going to wrap up (pun intended) this year.  I wrote an article about the significance of RedditGifts both within its community and for me personally, and what the "sunsetting" of RedditGifts will look like.  (See the link below.)

In a time when generosity is needed more than ever, I don't really fully understand why RedditGifts is being shuttered, but I have hopes that something new will rise from the ashes.  To be honest that's been my attitude toward most things over the last six months or so.  "I'm sure it will get better and this will act as a springboard for positive change."  2021 has truly been a year of silver linings and making-the-best-of-bad-situations.  

Well, at least it's not 2020, right?

Saying Goodbye to RedditGifts