Comments may be broken? Please stand by.

ETA: Should be fixed now, by changing to a different theme. I’m not in love with this one, but it will do for the time being.

Just a heads up: some readers are experiencing problems with leaving a comment on this blog.

I believe this is due to my recent upgrade to WordPress 5. It went smoother than I hoped, and I like the Gutenberg editor more than I thought I would, but I guess it was too much to hope for a flawless victory.

My quick estimation of the problem is that this theme probably is tried to connect to the comments engine in a way that’s no longer supported for security reasons. It’s an older theme, and probably has not been updated for WP 5. I’m going to try switching themes and see if that helps — so if you see the look and feel changing significantly over the next couple of days, don’t be alarmed! If that’s the problem, I can probably hack the old theme to use the new comments logic.

In the meantime, I’ve found you’ll have the best luck using Safari to comment; every time I’ve tried with Chrome, I get a “the connection was reset” error. You can also just drop me an email at lisefrac AT gmail DOT com, or find me on one of those dreaded social media platforms ๐Ÿ˜‰

Weekly Update: June 24, 2019

I’ve decided to start doing these again, if only because not writing them makes me sad ๐Ÿ™

More specifically, my social media usage has crept back up in the last year since I declared myself Done with Facebook, and I’m not happy with that. Consider this is an effort to try to use it less, but still keep you informed about the oh-so-important details of my life. And I know there are some of you who use social media even less than I do, so I find this a good way to keep in touch!

(Just a reminder: you can sign up to have these posts emailed to you — see the “subscribe via email” box in the left column of my site. If you read something and enjoy it, I’d love a comment!)

Summer Solstice

In the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrated the summer solstice this past Friday. Mostly I celebrated the longest day of the year by getting up at dawn (5:07am!) and standing on my porch in my housecoat, like a weirdo.

At this halfway point of the year, I am also revisiting my yearly theme, point by point, to see how I’m doing. I’ve been journaling about each point and my progress on it as the year thus far. One thing is clear: minimalism needs more time and attention. So that’s going to be an area of focus for me in the months to come.

This holiday might as well be called the Day of White Flowers, because so many white blossoms are out! At least in central Massachusetts, where I live, this is the season for catalpa (Catalpa spp), mock orange (Philadelphus spp), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and more. Including the most important: mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), which grows in abundance all over the woods here. The overall effect is astounding, and all really, really hard to capture in pictures. I tried — enjoy my results.

A rant about Latin vs. common names

On a semi-related noteโ€ฆ I was taught that the reason to learn the Latin names was for clarity, because there are about a billion things called “creeping Charlie,” or “wintergreen,” to use some common examples. Latin names were supposed to be constant across the world and across time, so that if someone in China said “Chimaphila maculata,” you knew exactly what they were talking about.

The thing I’m discovering is: this is a total lie. Latin names change all the freakin’ time, as we discover more about the species and its relatives.

For just one example: When I was growing up, I learned that the Latin name for a catalpa tree — the tree that stood outside the window of my Physics classroom in high school — was Catalpa catalpa. Heck, it was even a bonus question on a test once. (Thanks, Mr. Dilley). Turns out, Catalpa is a whole genus, and the one I was looking at was probably Catalpa speciosa. And I just learned that when Linnaeus first named the damn thing, it was Bignonia catalpa. None of this, of course, makes any sense unless you understand the phylogeny of the tree itself.

Reading Thoreau’s Walden, he uses Latin names a lot. And even though Walden Pond and Concord are right around the corner from where I live, I sometimes have no damn idea what he is writing about, because almost none of the names he knew in 1864 are in use any longer. (In at least one case, the name was outdated by the time he used it!) I can generally get close — like, hey, that’s some sort of owl he’s talking about, probably a barred owl — which I guess is a benefit over common names?

Anyway, my point is, it’s not a waste of time to learn common names. It’s about as useful as the Latin name, in the long run. Especially since the vast majority of the world is gonna use the common name.

Summer roguery

The last Shadowvale event happened after a ~ year of not exercising regularly, plus a recent bout of bronchitis, so let us just say, I was awfully out of shape. I definitely felt it puffing up that hill to McKnight Hall! To say nothing of how it affects my ability to do my role as a flanker (i.e. sneaky-stab-you-in-the-back-rogue) effectivelyโ€ฆ

Thus I’ve determined that I need to get myself rogue-fit… I’d say “again,” but I was never 100% where I want to be.

I was inspired in part by this article, which suggested specific exercises for getting fitter for larps, focusing on high-intensity intervals. I’ve started doing sprints of various lengths, and — lacking a rope-climbing setup — I’ve been doing weights exercises for my hands and arms to sorta simulate that. I also spent part of my walk in the woods this past weekend jumping over things and generally parkour-ing around, although I realized after the fact that since I was by myself this was probably SUPER DANGEROUS.

(Seriously, though, parkour is very on theme for rogue training, so it’s probably something I should look into! But maybe with a partner).

Also I signed up to run the 14th Annual Benefit 5K / 10K for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in September. (I’m doing the 5K). You might recall I declined the opportunity to run this year’s Metrowest Corporate 5K, which I’d done previously — but that was largely because running with my coworkers made me unpleasantly competitive. I’m hoping running alone will allow that competitive side of myself to rest, while sufficiently motivating me to train.

Plus, the cause here is more interesting to me — I visited Orchard House for the first time in April and adored it, wishing I knew more about Alcott.


  • Converting Photoshop Letter Spacing to CSS. This article is so old the conversion tool doesn’t work any more, but it answered something I’d always wondered about! (And you can always do the math yourself).
  • Smash the Wellness Industry. How this “wellness” industry cons women into spending way more time and attention on diet than anything else.
  • Decluttering Burst: let go of one hundred things in less than an hour. I did this this past weekend, although I think a lot of what I got rid of was just trash. This is me starting to address the “minimalism” bullet point on my theme for the year.
  • Dammerung Larp. Man, I am so intrigued by this, and yet I absolutely do not have time to PC a larp in Pennsylvania. But it sounds like they are doing some really innovative things with this game, and I think Dan Comstock (of Goat LARP fame) is right when he says there’s nothing else quite like this going on in the U.S. right now.

In Conclusion

โ€ฆ there’s so much more I could write. About going to New Haven with EB. About making mead. About the Skyrim dinner I prepared with Alison.

But look, I can’t fit spend my life writing this blog post, so that’s going to have to be it for the week. See you in the future!

The State of the Lise – April 2019

Hey folks! Guess who just turned 29 for the 10th time? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Seriously, though, I’m not too fussed about being nearly forty. My thirties have been pretty great. I’m looking forward to the zero-fucks-given attitude that I’m entitled to as I age. I’ve been living for the moment when I can embrace my inner granny.

How have things been for me since January? What have I been up to? Let’s see!


I went to England again in February — this time to the nebulous “north” (Retford, Nottinghamshire, to be precise). There, I played in Torch of Freedom, a weekend-long larp set in a fiction European country in a fictional 19th-century revolution, very inspired by Les Mis. I did some fabulous costuming ahead of this, including making yet another 1840s dress.

Instead of going to Intercon, I hosted a visit from EB, watched bad movies, and visited some local sights.

I went out to Walkill, NY to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday with family. I also took the opportunity to drive over the Shawangunks to see the world’s largest garden gnome (disputed), and snap pictures of the Mohonk Testimonial Gateway (which appeared to be under renovation!)

I attended a conference for work, NERDSummit, at UMass Amherst, which was mind-expanding but also intellectually exhausting. I learned that I never want to work for a consultancy/agency again, and that I really need to up my vanilla JS skills. I also got to eat at a fabulous Asian BBQ fusion place where I had something called “mapo-tine.”

I visited NYC for my birthday weekend.

And last weekend, I traveled to Concord and Lexington, MA with Alison and EB, visiting some literary sites (Walden Pond, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House) as well as revolutionary ones (Old North Bridge, Lexington Battle Green, etc). More about that trip anon, but today I’ll just say I adore having adventures with these two ladies!


I honestly haven’t done a ton of larp yet this year, since I skipped Intercon and Festival of the Larps. Torch of Freedom and the Madrigal 3 winter revel have been about all. I think my next larp is the next Mad3 event, too, where I’ll be NPCing as usual, and I’ll be PCing Shadowvale after that. I won’t be able to do Summer Larpin’, alas, as it’s the weekend of Readercon. Speaking of which…


A few things I’ve read, or I’ve been reading, that I have things to say about:

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. The story of the making of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, interspersed with the story of the serial killer H.H. Holmes, who was basically running a murder hotel in Chicago at the same time, and selling bodies to medical articulators. (Yes, the inspiration for that season of American Horror Story).

It’s funny that I picked this book up because I wanted to read true crime, but as the book goes on, I became way more intrigued by the fair itself — this liminal thing, painted in ethereal white, that existed for one summer and will never exist again. The stories of Ferris and his manic insistence that his wheel would work, even though he delivered it months late. An elderly and mildly dotty Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of Central Park, pontificating about the importance of landscaping. And Burnham, the principal architect of the fair, carrying on despite the most unbelievable setbacks.

I finally read that 19th-century classic, Jane Eyre. I liked very many things about it — the descriptive passages are beautiful, and Charlotte Bronte can really do a character sketch. But the plot is all hinged on coincidences, and I did not find Mr. Rochester even a little appealing. “Dude Watchin’ with the Brontes” proves true, as ever.

I finished another Millay biography in February, What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, by Daniel Mark Epstein, which rounded out Milford’s biography well. Entertained where it throws shade on the Milford biography, like implying that Milford lost a chest full of love letters between Millay and George Dillon that had been loaned to her. (It doesn’t say Milford, but I don’t know what other biographer would have been writing about Millay in the 1980s).

I raced through The Apprentice Sorceress, by fellow VP17er E.D. Walker, on the flight to England in February. If you want to read a sweet fantasy romance with a trans love interest, this is a real treat.

Last week I finished Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, which is a YA historical fantasy, set in a fictional WWI where the German allies have giant mecha, and the British pilot genetically modified beasts. (The titular Leviathan is a basically a flying sky whale). The two viewpoint characters are Alek, a Hapsburg prince on the run (the son of the morganatic marriage that Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand made with a commoner — a real historical thing!) that the Kaiser wants dead, and a Scottish girl, Deryn, who disguised herself as a boy to become a midshipman on the Leviathan. The Leviathan crash-lands in the Alps, the two meet, and together they fight crime, i.e. Germans. Also the audiobook is read by Alan Cumming, rendering it extra fabulous!

I just began reading The Wicked King, by Holly Black, which is the second book in her YA series The Folk of the Air. It is full of cutthroat faerie politics and flirtations with questionable people; what’s not to love?


So I have been playing some games (ESO as always, a little Crusader Kings II, and a new-to-me sandbox survival game called Force of Nature), but I haven’t been streaming for a month or so.

Why not? Well, I decided to give up streaming to a regular schedule. I had been trying to stream regularly on Tuesdays and Sundays, and it just was not fun. I’m the perverse sort that as soon as I put something on the calendar, I don’t want to do it any more, so the overall attitude I was bringing to my streams was not the best.

Due to that decision, I’ve basically stopped streaming, and… I’m okay with that?

I was struggling to explain the decision, but after some reflection, this is how I would put it. You know that Seth Godin book, The Dip? If you don’t, the basic premise is explained by the tagline, which is “a little book that teach you when to quit (and when to stick).”

I think I reached The Dip — the ugly middle — and realized that streaming wasn’t worth the amount of time I’d need to put into it to be exceptional. I’m not sure I agree with Godin’s assertion that “average is for losers”, but I ultimately figured I could spend that time continuing to be an average streamer, or I could focus on things I believe I can be exceptional at. My job, for example, or…



Specifically, I’ve been working on editing/rewriting Lioness. To briefly sum up where I left off: after I got feedback from my beta readers, I decided to make some huge structural changes, in particular rewriting the beginning. I began work on that, but then I went through a writerly existential crisis, and have been largely just sitting on the manuscript for a year.

But now, I’m doing it because I want to do it. I’m not doing it to a deadline — other than “today is better than tomorrow.” I’m doing it because Yfre’s story continues to nag me to be told. I’m doing it, as I decided with my therapist, knowing that this will be the final draft before I attempt to have it published.

Right now I’m only writing a couple of times a week; I need to figure out how to make it part of my day-to-day schedule again. I’m using the time freed up from streaming for it at the moment: Tuesday nights and one weekend day.

Other Media

I recently started following the “true crime comedy” podcast My Favorite Murder, and went through a bit of a true crime binge due to that. I was obsessed for a while with the documentary series The Staircase, lying awake at night wondering if he really did it ™.

In the interest of getting some of my unwatched media off the shelf, Matt and I have been watching the anime series Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which is… well, it’s Lupin III. I adored this stuff when I was in college, but my critical faculties definitely weren’t entirely developed by then! I wouldn’t say it’s been entirely visited by the suck fairy, but you do kind of have to be patient with gratuitous boobs and plots so absurd they make a James Bond film look staid.

“How ya doing on getting ‘back to basics’, Lise?”

Pretty good, I think!

I’ve continued my meditation practice, with a few bobbles. One is that if I meditate first thing in the morning, I sometimes have a really hard time staying awake! The other is that, if I have to do my driving meditation, I sometimes forget I’m supposed to be meditating, and will get to my usual landmark and realize I’ve just spent fifteen minutes thinking about ESO instead. Possibly I need to find a better time to do this, but I’m not ready to give up on mornings just yet!

I’m happy with how I’m doing in terms of boundaries and self-care. My understanding in both of these areas is definitely evolving. I’m also getting back to exercising in a slow, gentle way.

I really haven’t done much in terms of minimalism, gotta be honest. I want to schedule some set times to go through certain belongings.

Creativity continues to be a part of my life — both writing, as I mentioned, and other projects. I enjoyed making the 1840s gown for ToF (will wonders never cease?), I’ve been putting some time into the Neverending Cross-stitch Project, and I’ve been working on some decorations for the house. (Getting an old quilt into a state where I can hang it on the wall, in particular).

Connection is definitely happening! I still find spending time with people exhausting, but I never regret it.

Oh, and I have been re-reading Thoreau. I find him… way more insufferable than I did as an impressionable 19-year-old? When you understand the circumstances of his life, you realize there’s a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in what he writes — mostly because he’s holding himself to impossibly high standards. But that said, there are some beautiful turns of phrase. I especially enjoyed his meditations on solitude.


As I write this the world is — quite literally — on fire; Notre Dame is burning, and Gene Wolfe has died. I don’t have anything clever to say about either of these things, except that the theme of “beautiful things perishing from the earth” continues to break me.

That is today, though. On the whole, though, I am doing really well — better than I have been in a long time. I was chuffed recently when Alison told me “I’m always in awe of how real a person you are.” Such a genuine, heartfelt compliment, and it really moved me.

“Aww, thanks,” I replied. “It’s taken a lot of therapy to get there.”

Birthday squid, drag brunch, and the crabs of Cleopatra’s Needle: my NYC birthday adventure

Last weekend, for my birthday, Matt and I went to visit our friends Mike and Josh in New York City. I know Mike from Vassar; he was a freshman when I was a senior, and he’s one of the few people I’ve really kept in touch with since college. (Funny, when you consider we didn’t get along at first!) I met Josh not long after they started dating, and was one of the attendants in their wedding.

These days they live in Long Island City, close to the East River. I was jealous at how central they were — just one stop on the 7 subway line from Manhattan. (Not so jealous at the size of their apartment, though).

Friday night we got in pretty late, but we had some Thai food before settling in to watch an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 11 — we were going to a drag brunch on Sunday, and Evie Oddly, one of the contestants from that season, was going to be a guest at the event. I actually had never watched it, but man, do I appreciate the amount of costuming work that goes on there…

Saturday Mike took us on a walk through Gantry Park, which has amazing views of Manhattan. We had brunch at an local French cafe, and then headed into Manhattan to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I gotta say, after going to so many London museums — where basic admission is “pay what you want” — paying $50 for Matt and I to just get in the door of the Met was kind of discouraging. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents do still get in for “pay what you want,” and another friend claims that they can bring in one other person for that, too, but Mike didn’t know about that, there was nothing signed to that effect. Also it seemed like you had to actually interact with a person to “pay what you want,” which I think reduces the likelihood that anyone will pay less than the $25 suggested donation. (In London, it’s just a box you put money in).

(I was even more salty about paying $4.75 for a bottle of water in the cafe of the American wing, lemme just say. Especially when I found a water fountain nearby).

Even more discouraging was the fact that the Costume Institute, which I most wanted to see, wasn’t open until May. So instead we explored the Egyptian wing — where I was especially taken with the reconstructed Temple of Dendur — the sculpture garden outside the American wing, and a display of Native American art.

I also appreciated the places where the museum had sought additional interpretation for some of its more disturbingly colonialist pieces, i.e. the “Dying Mexican Girl” sculpture, with an added statement by a mestizo poet.

We didn’t spend all that long at the museum, because I find museums sooooo overwhelming and intellectually tiring (yet another reason I don’t want to pay $25 admission, when I can’t spend more than a few hours there at a time). We went over to Central Park, which was right nearby, and saw Cleopatra’s Needle. Pedant that I am, I couldn’t help pointing out that it has nothing to do with Cleopatra, pre-dating her by about 1400 years, to the reign of Thutmose III.

Cleopatra’s Needle, from the direction of the Met.

We wondered a lot about the bronze crabs that appear to be holding up the needle; one of the interpretative signs says they were added by the Romans when it was moved in 12 B.C., and are meant to support the eroding base of the pillar. But… why crabs, we still wondered? (Apparently because they are associated with Apollo and the sun!)

(I also learned that the ones there now are modern casts; the originals are in the Sackler wing at the Met).

We walked across Central Park and over to Columbus Ave, somewhere in the 90s, where we met Josh, who was coming from the hospital where he works. We had drinks at the closest cafe, and then decided to take the long, slow way — the bus — down to West 32nd street, in Koreatown, which was where they were taking me for dinner.

The place we went was called Pocha 32 — a “pocha” is basically a Korean bar, similar to a Japanese izakaya. This one was very much a hole in the wall — barely visible from the street, up steep steps to a dining room with metal tables and chairs, and smelling like a wet basement. There was green netting hanging from the walls and ceiling, and the foil wrappers from wine bottles had been hung from the netting to give it additional color. (Mike and Josh informed me that folks used to write well wishes on chopstick wrappers and thread them through the netting, though we’re guessing the fire department shut that down).

Pocha food isn’t fancy, by any means; it’s more “kitchen sink” fare than what you’d get at a traditional Korean restaurant. There was definitely a lot of hot dogs and Velveeta mixed throughout the dishes we ordered (which are usually small and shared, kind of like tapas). Everything we tried was amazing, though I can only remember wha I ordered: kimchi fried rice, which I was surprised to find came wrapped in an omelet. (Still delicious, though).

But really, a pocha is about the soju. None of us were interested in getting shit-faced, but we did order a melon soju punch to share (served in an actual honeydow melon!) which was delicious, and became even more so the longer it sat.

And then there was the birthday squid! Since it was my birthday, Josh convinced the staff to bring us a squid dish with candles on it — something he’d seen done the last time he was there. And let me just say, this shut down the restaurant. An electronic version of “Happy Birthday” blared over the speakers while I struggled to blow out the trick candles they had put on the squid. And the song just… went on. For a good long time, while I was slightly mortified, but tipsy enough from melon punch to not care.

Birthday squid! At Pocha 32 on West 32nd Street in Koreatown.

We were pretty exhausted after all this, so we took the subway back to Long Island City and relaxed for the rest of the night, watching the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express. While I did not much like Albert Finney’s Hercule Poirot, special props goes to a young Michael York, who was delicious as the Hungarian count Andrenyi.

And finally, on Sunday, we went back to Manhattan for drag brunch at a club called Iridium, right between the Stardust Diner and the Winter Garden. The show was pretty good — I definitely liked Evie Oddly’s performance a lot — but the table service was abysmal, and the overall experience was very touristy. Mike says he has other, more niche, drag shows in mind if I come back to NYC.

We finished up the day with a game of Smash Up and a very brief trip to the roof deck, before the weather turned cold. And then Matt and I made the long pilgrimage back to Massachusetts…

Also just a word about Aggie, Mike and Josh’s SUPER AFFECTIONATE American bulldog mix. She would have licked us to death, if allowed. I came home covered in dog hair and slobber, and I don’t even care. I do love dogs, but it did confirm my opinion that I like them best when someone else owns them ๐Ÿ™‚

What I did on my Intercon vacation: Russian icons, and bad movies

I didn’t go to Intercon this past weekend — the first one I missed in nearly fifteen years! — for Reasons, so I ended up having my pal EB over. It was supposed to be a relaxing (kid-free, for her) weekend, and it was. But if there were any themes, they were “the terrible movies of Barry Mahon” and “Atlas Obscura sites in Clinton, Massachusetts.”

Terrible Movies

First, the bad movies. I wanted to show EB the RiffTrax of The Wonderful Land of Oz, a Mahon movie based on one of the lesser of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels. EB had actually read said novel, and wondered just how you could make it worse.

The answer? Barry Mahon, bad puppetry, and singing.


This RiffTrax is probably one of my all-time favorites, making much of the fact that the director’s son, Channy Mahon, plays Tip/Ozma, and the fact that Barry’s Mahon’s oeuvre is largely composed of sexploitation films. (There’s a recurring riff of Mahon bellowing pervy directions like “Tell her in the Jello pit!” to General Jinjur’s mini-skirted majorettes). So, even though the movie itself stinks, it’s at least a pleasure to sit through.

Of course, after that, we had to explore the other works of Barry Mahon. The RiffTrax page for Oz mentions Fanny Hill Means Dr. Erotico (and yes those are words that I just typed) and The Diary of Knockers McCalla, but we decided to limit ourselves to what was available free on Amazon Prime. Even that was a treat!

First, there’s The Beast that Killed Women (1965), which is about a gorilla on the loose, killing the women (but only the women!) of the “most lovely” nudist camp in Miami. (No kidding, those words were on a screen at the beginning of the film). “Well, this sounds promising,” said we.

Just like the movie, this woman has no nipples. (Credit:

Well, not to disappoint, but it had less nudity than your average episode of Versailles. All of the men of this nudist colony wear short-shorts everywhere, and the female nudity is mostly limited to some side boob while the women get changed in the camp’s locker room. There appear to be exactly two women who allowed their boobs to be shown on camera, and they form the weirdest Greek chorus of “a couple of women trying to get to sleep while their companions are getting killed.” And by “trying to get to sleep,” I mean “repeatedly being awakened and sitting up, reminding us that boobs exist.” It should not be a surprise that they end up sleeping in the same bed.

Oh, and did I mention the whole thing is told through this framing device of “guy whose wife was attacked by gorilla, in the hospital for observation, explaining his story to detectives?” He exists to remind us that you could smoke in hospitals in the 1960s, I guess. He also has the funniest, most surreal exchange with his nurse near the end of the movie:

“Can I have my pants back now?”

The end of the movie, btw? Is pretty much just “THE END” stenciled on the back of a director’s chair.

(While viewing the imdB page, just now, I learned that it was apparently Barry Mahon himself in the gorilla suit. I guess I’ll just leave that fact there…)

The other Mahon movie we watched was Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), which is the oddest bit of cinema history. It was written, narrated, and acted in by Errol Flynn — his last movie, in fact, and he didn’t even live to see its release (on Christmas 1959). Mahon was apparently late-life Errol Flynn’s manager which… probably explains some things about some things. Like why this movie exists.


The basic premise is that a Cuban-American girl, Jacqueline, and her friend Beverly (played by Flynn’s SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD “girlfriend” Beverly Aadland) fly down to Cuba to be part of the Cuban revolution! It’ll be fun! After all, Beverly’s boyfriend is there! (Shockingly, said boyfriend isn’t played by Flynn; no, Flynn plays a serious-business war correspondent). Beverly learns how to use a radio and dabs some wounds; there is some peril, but not for any of the white characters, of course; Flynn drunkenly interposes himself into scenes; the lovers are reunited at Castro’s victory parade. The end!

… yes, Fidel Castro. Like with so many revolutions, there was a time when well-meaning people — Flynn among them — thought that Castro was a righteous freedom fighter against the tyranny of then-leader Batista. And, while we know how that turned out here in 2019, in 1959, nobody anticipated that.

In fact, this movie was filmed, WITH CASTRO’S PERMISSION (the “new army of Cuba” is thanked for its “invaluable” assistance at the start of the movie), while he was still fighting Batista. Arguably it has some of the best extant footage of the Cuban revolution!

It also might just have more nudity than The Beast That Killed Women, if you’re keeping track.

We watched other bad movies that had nothing to do with Mahon, too!

The end of our cinematographic weekend was somewhat anticlimactic — we watched some of the PBS Poirot series that I had on DVD. David Suchet is truly a balm for the bad-movie-wounded soul.

Clinton, Massachusetts

… is a small town not far from where I live in central Massachusetts. There are three Atlas Obscura sites there — the Museum of Russian Icons, the Clinton Tunnel, and Fuller Field — and on Saturday afternoon, on a whim, we visited them all.

I don’t have much to say about Fuller Field, as I don’t much appreciate Things Baseball. We parked, we saw, we checked it off on AO.

The Clinton Tunnel — once the largest railway tunnel in Massachusetts — was a bit more of an adventure. For one thing, it’s difficult to see from the road (a fairly busy highway, MA 70 and 62), and there’s no place nearby to park, which means you have to go down to the Wachusett Reservoir parking area, about a quarter mile down the road.

Now, bear in mind it’s currently winter in MA, and there was snow on the ground. Also keep in mind, this train tunnel once crossed the highway, and the Nashua River beside it, so it is raised fairly far above the level of the road, maybe 20′ feet up a steep hill, above a stone trestle. We had to climb up this hilly slope to get to the tunnel, and then we part-climbed, part-slid back down again when we were leaving. EB has a video somewhere of me sliding on my ass down the hill, and I look a mess in it, but I don’t care, because I am having fun.

(This gave me the opportunity to acquaint EB with the rhyme, “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice: pull down your pants, and slide on the ice” — though I could not explain to her where it came from or what it even means, besides, “it’s just something my mother used to say”).

All of the rails have been removed from the tunnel, so today it is really is just a pass through the hills of central Massachusetts. The stone walls are spectacularly covered in graffiti, and in winter, ice freezes in wondrous patterns coming through ventilation shafts. We didn’t go all the way through the tunnel — the ice made the footing treacherous after a short distance, and neither of us had dressed for a hike — but you can see the exit from the entrance, though it goes on for quite the distance. It definitely didn’t seem as long as the Hoosac Tunnel, which I visited a couple of years ago, whose exit I couldn’t see.

And here’s a picture of EB pointing at the tunnel, the latest in a series I call “EB and Lise point at things.”

All in all, I think the Hoosac Tunnel is a bit of a better trip — less graffiti, if that appeals, and it has a tragic history that appeals to me. But it’s also waaaaay more remote than the Clinton Tunnel. (It’s also still an active railway tunnel, so you can’t legally walk through it).

But by far the longest part of our exodus to Clinton was spent at the Museum of Russian Icons. I must admit, I was a little hesitant to visit at first — “what interest do I have in Russian Orthodox iconography?” — but it won out for Saturday’s trip, as it promised to be inside and warm. Also I was pleased to learn that I could get in free with my NARM membership.

I am so, so glad I went. You know those moments when a whole new landscape suddenly opens up to you, and reveals itself to be so much broader than you ever imagined? It was kind of like that.

With this whole new world (and yes, now that song is stuck in my head), I learned a whole new vocabulary, too! I learned about the oklad, the metallic, sometimes bejeweled frames that cover and protect many icons, so that only the important parts of the icon show. The mandorla, the almond shape that surrounds holy figures, representing a sort of protective circle. The minyeia, a calendar of saint’s days, some of them incredibly detailed. (The Stroganoff minyeias are on display there, and I took great pleasure in finding the dog-headed St. Christopher in one of its panels).

I learned about the different Marian icons that exist, usually named after a particular icon they took inspiration from, (i.e. the Mary Smolenskaya, after an icon on display in Smolensk, is a Mary icon with her pointing to the baby Jesus as if to say, “this kid, yo” — also apparently this is what a Greek Orthodox person would refer to a Hodegetria).

I learned about the iconostasis, the wall of icons in Russian Orthodox churches.

I learned that apparently the St. Nicholas that is the patron saint of Russia, St. Nicholas of Myra, is the same saint that gave Santa Claus his name.

I learned that there are apparently a lot of saints venerated in the Russian Orthodox church that I –who was raised Catholic — have never even heard of, like Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans, or the two monks who founded a monastery on an island in the Arctic Circle.

I learned how the Russian Orthodox church preserved some aspects of the Byzantine Empire — in some ways, becoming a third Roman Empire — after the Turkish invasions in the 15th century; and I learned about the schism of the Old Believers, just two centuries later.

Possibly my favorite icon in the collection is one of the Last Judgment that is on the entrance floor; we viewed it near the end of the tour. The level of detail in it is incredible. I also was quite fond of the Saint Paraskeva that opens the tour, which the benefactor of the museum has tagged as his own favorite. The bright reds in it are especially eye-catching!

Not the same Last Judgment I admired, but a similar formulation, circa 1750. (Credit:

Did I mention there’s also a tea room on the lower level of the museum, complete with Russian teas and snacks, completely surrounded by a display of samovars? Did I mention the exhibit of contemporary Russian art? Or the fact that this building used to be a courthouse, and that the jail cells in the basement have been incorporated into it?

Basically, this is an incredible museum, and it’s hard to believe it exists in a tiny town in rural Massachusetts. There was professionalism throughout everything; it was on the level of some of the biggest museums I’ve been to in Boston, London, and New York. I was skeptical at first, but I think I may be getting a membership to this museum as next year’s NARM membership — there’s so much more I want to see there, and there’s a schedule of fascinating museum events, too.

We closed out our Saturday with a delightful dinner at Arisu Korean Restaurant in Leominster — nothing to warm you up after sliding down an icy hill like some kimchi-jjigae!

2019 Prospective

In previous years I’ve called these posts “resolutions”, but as I mentioned in my 2018 retrospective, I am trying to take the focus off what I do, and put it on who I am, instead.

But one thing I started doing a few years ago that still fits with this? Having a theme for the year. And this year, my theme is “Back to Basics.”

Resonance with the term

I dunno about you, but the first thing I think of when I hear that phrase is a certain homesteading book from the 1980s by Reader’s Digest. My parents had a copy of this book — as sort of homesteaders themselves, living in a log cabin my father and uncle built. It gave the basics on things like making bread, dyeing wool, and raising goats. And I ADORED it. It made be want to be a farmer, and it figured prominently into the stories I was making up at the time. (My go-to Mary Sue was always the daughter of farmers, right before she fell into fairy land).

The “About This Book” provides this outlook:

Back to Basics is a book about the simple life. It is about old-fashioned ways of doing things, and old-fashioned craftsmanship, and old-fashioned food, and old-fashioned fun. It is also about independence — the kind of down-home self-reliance that our grandparents took for granted, but that we moderns often think has vanished forever…
Back to Basics, by Reader’s Digest, 1981

So does this mean you want to take up raising goats, Lise?

Hahaha, no. It turns out farming is actually really hard, and I’ve got a job already. I don’t need another.

But, in some sense, last year’s theme of “habitat” and “moving into my own life” was about physical homesteading, and it’s one I’d like to linger on. In fact, when I was writing up my retrospective, I almost wrote that first point as “homesteader” instead of “home owner,” but ultimately rejected it, because I wasn’t using its usual connotation.

This year’s theme, continuing in this vein, is emotional homesteading and mental self-sufficiency.

What the heck does that mean?

A really good question. This is more tenuous of a theme than I’ve tackled in previous years. It’s a feeling I want to embody, not a quantifiable goal I want to work toward. To quote what I wrote in my journal:

It’s about the basics of who I am, what I want, and discovering that. It’s about self-care, about homesteading a quiet place inside myself where I am safe and looked after. If 2018 focused on the externals of my home, this is internals. It’s about reflection, simplicity. Self-sufficiency of the soul.

Note that phrase, “safe and looked after.” That keeps bringing me back to a quote from an in-game book in the Elder Scrolls universe, the The 36 Lessons of Vivec. The full text is this:

‘The fire is mine: let it consume thee,
And make a secret door
At the altar of Padhome
In the House of Boet-hi-Ah
Where we become safe
And looked after.’
The 36 Lessons of Vivec, sermon 3

Now, bear in mind that the Lessons are wildly esoteric. Within the frame of the TES series, they’re a guidebook written by the living god Vivec to the player character of TESIII on how to achieve godhood. In real life, they were written by former Bethesda employee Michael Kirkbride, and are one part Gnosticism, one part Hindu epics, and (possibly) one part acid trip. This particular bit of text is framed as a prayer that the proto-Vivec teaches his mother to comfort her while she’s being tortured by the Dwemer.

A few TES lore bits will help to flesh out the resonance here: first, “Padhome” is Padomay, the primordial chaos that, together with the primordial order Anu, birthed the et’Ada, the gods and demons of the Elder Scrolls world. Padomay is typically associated with the daedra — who are creatures of pure chaos.

Secondly, “Boet-hi-Ah” is the daedric prince Boethiah, who has the domains of “deceit, conspiracy, secret plots of murder, assassination, treason, and unlawful overthrow of authority.” The sermons refer to them as the lord of “False Thinking.”

And yet, Boethiah is one of the Good Daedra of the Dunmer, and is said to have taught them “responsible architecture,” whatever that is. (That’s from Varieties of Faith, which is also by Kirkbride, so expect the same trippiness). One interpretation I’ve read, probably somewhere on /r/teslore, is that, when the Chimer were pilgrims from Summerset, outsiders in the inhospitable volcanic wasteland that is Vvardenfell, Boethiah taught them both how to build literal houses — i.e. shelter from the outside world — as well as figurative ones (i.e. empire building, overthrowing the authority of the ruling Dwemer, creating the Great Houses).

That’s pretty solid, for a being of chaos that can re-create itself at will.

(There’s more that resonates with me in sermon 10 and sermon 16 — and there’s also the whole concept of the Provisional House introduced in sermon 19— but I am in danger of become a desperate lorebeard).

Like most MK-as-Vivec writings, these are nonsense, but divine nonsense. A koan, of sorts.

While fascinating, that so did not answer my question, Lise.

So here’s my personal interpretation of that “prayer”: it’s about finding comfort in the midst of chaos. Peace when there is no safe place to rest. Stillness, when order is antithetical to your very being. Non-doing, when your generation is chronically burnt out from doing

(I’m the same age as that author, Anne Helen Petersen, and her article hit me hard).

I want to build a home, an empire of the soul, within myself, at the heart of the storm. I recognize that my to-do list will never be empty. I will not die with an empty inbox. My generational affliction won’t be cured any time soon. And I am, fundamentally, a Lord of False Thinking.

The only stillness is the stillness I can make within myself.

So how is this actionable??

Past-Lise, you are a cruel taskmaster. We learned our lesson about setting SMART goals, and perhaps we learned it too well.

But okay. Emotional homesteading does look like something in day-to-day life. Fundamentally this means I have several areas of focus for 2019.

1) Meditation and mindfulness practice

For a while my therapist and I had been dancing around the topic of non-doing. We talked a lot about my beliefs about doing, my self-esteem and its ties to accomplishment, and my tendency to burn out. We talked about how I love my hobbies, but they aren’t relaxing to me.

Gradually she started asking me questions like, “what does relaxation look like to you?” and “could you try just being still and not doing anything for a time?” And in early December, she asked me, “Are you up for a little extracurricular reading?”

The book she recommended was Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, from 1994. Funnily enough, I already owned this book, and recalled liking the meditations in it. When I read it now, I see underlines of things I found moving at the time — notes from a Lise who no longer exists.

I’ve practiced meditation erratically throughout the years — I did the Headspace app introduction, and took a few lunchtime meditation sessions at my workplace. But fundamentally, I never felt enough of a benefit from meditation, short-term, to invest the time in it long-term.

The thing is, as Kabat-Zinn points out, meditation is a long con. It isn’t something you can pick up in times of crisis and expect to find solace in. It is about cultivating a space within yourself — a secret garden at the heart of chaos! — and like any garden, it needs time and labor to grow. He describes mindfulness as a cave behind a waterfall, a vantage point where you can observe your own thoughts and yet be separate from them. There’s a lot of unglamorous work in making that space, though.

I’ve also described that space, to my therapist, as being “the gap between action and reaction.” The difference between feeling an emotion and acting upon it.

Anyway, I’ve been working on cultivating a meditation practice since mid-December. Here’s how it usually happens. If I can wake up early, I do this first thing in the morning, while drinking coffee. Eyes open or closed, I try to notice all the sensations in my body, all the sounds and sights and smells in the house around me. If I can’t get up early, I do what I call a “driving meditation” on my way to work, just trying to be fully centered in the experience of moving through the landscape. This rarely goes for more than 10-15 minutes at a stretch.

This is the first and most important step, the foundation of my emotional homestead.

2) Boundaries

The walls of my emotional homestead.

In the past, there have been any number of things I did because someone else wanted me to do them. As a friend once told me, “you look like someone who can’t say no.” Only in the past year have I been able to look at an action I was considering and realize it sprang not from my own desires and motivation, but from something expected of me. I had internalized someone else’s mental topology, and sublimated my own.

The boots-on-ground action here is to ask myself, before any change that I am contemplating, “Who wants this?” If the answer isn’t “me” — especially “present me”, and not “Lise of five years ago” or “Lise of Christmas yet to come” — then I need to seriously reconsider if I need to do it.

3) Self-care

The plumbing and heating system of my homestead.

When I was much, much younger, my mom taught me the HALT acronym, which I believe she learned from ACOA. I learned it as “hungry, angry, lonely, or tired,” though I believe there are different formulations of this, with different affective states.

However, I feel like the knowledge stopped there. What were you supposed to do, or how were you supposed to act, when you felt one of those states? All I can remember is an invocation to be careful when you were in those states.

Hm. Careful.

‘Self-care’ is sometimes used to mean some kind of fun, consumerist treat: massages and facials and getting your nails done. (And wow, now I realize that so much of this so-called ‘self-care’ is coded feminine. Huh). But self-care isn’t necessarily sexy. It’s fundamentally the “adulting” that Petersen talks about in her article. It’s doing the dishes so that you have bowls to eat out of. It’s going to bed on time so that you can be focused and undistracted at work. It’s scheduling time to hang out with friends so that you don’t turn into a recluse. It’s keeping entropy at bay with nutritious food and exercise.* It’s all the stuff that keeps us from saying everything is awful and I’m not okay.

* (But not all the time. All things in moderation, even moderation, etc).

My evolving understanding of self-care, then, is that it’s about managing these HALT states: avoiding them where possible, being present with them while they’re happening, and being cautious about doing while you are experiencing one of them. And sometimes prioritizing this emotional labor above other, more fun things.

For me, this year, I want to take this concrete step for self-care: I want to return to exercise, but in a gentler way. I was running regularly in May of last year, training for a 5k, when I started having tendinitis symptoms. It was really a perfect example of how I over-optimize and get competitive over everything: I ran that race despite pain, and my predominant emotion after completing was self-loathing — that I didn’t do as well as some (seemingly) less fit people, or even as well as I did last year.

So let me step back, and ask myself why I want to exercise. It is, like I say, keeping entropy at bay. It’s a vital part of health. It, like meditation, is a practice, and best cultivated. I like the stamina I have at larps when I am exercising regularly. I like being able to walk miles every day when I’m on vacation, and be none the worse for wear. And I do enjoy tracking the natural world on my walks — even in an urban landscape! — and seeing the turn of the seasons.

Maybe that doesn’t have to translate to running races, though — or anything that brings out that ugly, self-loathing competitive side of myself. Maybe I can walk/run when I want, where I can, enjoying the natural world along the way.

I think that might be enough.

4) Simplicity and minimalism.

The furniture (or lack of furniture) of my internal life.

First of all, there’s a certain amount of external paring-down I want to do — indie perfume collection, prepare to be decimated. I also want to bring fewer new objects into my life, favoring experiences over more stuff.

But more apropos to emotional homesteading: there’s a mental minimalism I want to practice. I want to unitask more, and spend less time distracted. Cutting out Facebook was part of this. But I also don’t always need to listen to podcasts while doing dishes, or audiobooks while driving. I don’t need to watch streams while playing ESO. I don’t need to distract myself from writing with Twitter.

This is oddly specific, but as part of this I also really want to re-read Walden, and remind myself what Thoreau has to say about simplicity and self-reliance. I read it as part of a course about American Nature Writing in college, and enjoyed the experience; reading the Kabat-Zinn book, there are Walden quotes scattered throughout that remind me of how it spoke to me at the time. Even knowing some of the limitations of the work (yes, I know that he walked into Concord regularly to have his sister do his laundry), I still find the meditations interesting.

5) Creativity

The interior decoration of my homestead.

I direct you to this tweet:

You know why I look so happy in this picture? Because I’m creating stuff. I love creating.

It doesn’t have to be writing — though I do want to pick up my writing again, and see how it feels after so long away. Making cards, drawing, painting seashells, cross-stitch, streaming, heck, even decorating houses in ESO … all of these are ways I have been creative in the past year. I will do many of them again. I will remember how they make me feel.

I will also remember that things like submitting stories, queries, etc are not creative. Publishing is brutal, and publishing is not writing. Which is not to say I shouldn’t engage with the industry, but that these activities don’t nourish me.

6) Connection

As I mentioned in my 2018 retrospective, my identity as loving friend and family member felt a bit disingenuous last year. Still I am longing for a way to really connect with my friends; to have those amazing moments where you are so in sync with someone.

I want to reach out more. I want to reach out without apologies. I want to reach out more genuinely, more personally, in a more analog fashion — not just shotgun my well-wishes out into the world via social media.

Six, huh?

Back to my pal Vivec:

Six are the vests and garments worn by the suppositions of men.

Six are the formulas to heaven by violence, one that you have learned by studying these words.

Six are the walking ways, from enigma to enemy to teacher.

Six are the guardians of Veloth, three before and they are born again, and they will test you until you have the proper tendencies of a hero.
The 36 Lessons of Vivec, sermon 6

“Proper tendencies of a hero” sounds neat, let’s be that.

In conclusion

Is this a lot to tackle in one year? If I were still setting concrete goals, this number would certainly fail the “realistic” standard.

I lamented to my therapist that I was trying to “busy up” my first area of focus, which was cultivating a meditation practice. Was I going to be disappointed with myself a year from now if I hadn’t fulfilled this entire prospective?

“But you’ll also be gentler with yourself by then,” she said.

Let’s hope.

2018 Retrospective

This New Year’s post(s) is going to be very different than last year’s. A great deal has changed in my mental and emotional landscape over the last year. Primarily, I am de-emphasizing the role of accomplishment in my life, and emphasizing the inherent dignity of being Lise.

So, let’s turn my usual “what I did in 2018” into…

Who I Was in 2018

I was a home owner. My theme for 2018 was habitat and “moving into my own life”, and I lived that to the best of my ability. I made our bedroom a cozier place to spend time, adding curtains and a rug, and organizing the attic. I hired someone to replace our kitchen faucet and add in a new over-the-range microwave. I began painting the guest bedroom. I got rid of a lot of cruft that was no longer useful or beautiful. We added new end tables and a coffee table to the living room. I hired someone to regularly maintain the yard. I organized our cats’ paperwork. We put a new roof on the house, and new fixed skylights that don’t leak. I rehung the mirror in the upstairs bathroom by myself, and then we began the process of hiring someone to renovate the bathroom entirely.

Finally, we refinanced our mortgage, into a 15 year fixed-rate mortgage with a better rate. What better symbolism for moving into a new house without actually packing a box?

I was a writer, and sometimes not a writer. This year I de-emphasized the role of writing in my life and my identity, and for a time flirted with giving it up entirely. I came to realize over the course of the year that while “writer” still feels like a good label, I felt imprisoned by the identity, lost in a cycle of creation and rejection. I was basically trying to make writing my second job, and I… didn’t actually want that?

I did do a number of writing-adjacent things this year, nonetheless. I did some editing and rewriting on Lioness. I submitted the short stories I wrote in 2017 to bunches of markets. I wrote poems. I wrote 11 substantial blog posts. I beta-read for countless friends.

Ultimately I needed a break from my writing, to remind me of what I love about it. Am I ready to come back to it? That’s for the next post…

I was healthy physically. This is a hard identity to claim, because I did struggle with health issues this year. But I also tried to take care of my physical health as best I could. I maintained a healthy-for-me diet through most of the year, I ran until I suffered some tendinitis (for which I then had physical therapy — but not before doing a 5K!) I took my meds, I used my sunlamp, and hey, the ulnar nerve in my left hand seems to be back to normal, too.

I was emotionally healthy. I found a new therapist this year, and dear reader, I love her. Through my work with her, I’ve tackled a number of old traumas, rethought my various identities, learned to be gentler with myself, managed my seasonal depression better, and just generally been happier. The progress I’ve made, in one year, makes me look sadly back at my previous therapist and wonder “what the heck did we DO for 10+ years?” But I’m moving forward now, which is what matters.

I was a gamer. This term feels a bit cringeworthy to me — given how it’s violently defended by some internet trolls — but the identity is solid: I did spend a lot of time gaming this year. I played WoW up until a couple of months ago, finishing off the Legion raids on normal and heroic with my guild and my friends. I ultimately decided the new expansion wasn’t for me, though, and gave it up in November.

Additionally, I went back to playing ESO in late May, right about when the Summerset chapter was released, and that’s been delightful. It gives me joy to feel I’m back where I belong, in the midst of this lore that means so much to me. I did cool stuff, too, like playing through the Morrowind/Clockwork City/Summerset content, finishing all but the newest dungeons on veteran difficulty, participating in a garden decorating contest, and making a million gold. And while I (of course) have my frustrations with the game, or occasional clashes with guildies, on the whole I find myself able to keep a healthy perspective.

Other video games I played in 2018 included Graveyard Keeper (morbid Stardew Valley) and No Man’s Sky (a beautiful, chill space exploration game). Possibly others? I don’t recall.

Oh, and I also played in a brief D&D 5E campaign and played some new-to-me board games, too.

I was a Twitch streamer. I started streaming my ESO gameplay on Twitch in June or July of 2018, just for the sheer love of the Elder Scrolls series, and wanting to share that love with other people. (In particular I credit my VPeep Leigh for encouraging me to do it!) I’m trying not to let it turn into another thing like writing, where I go all-out and then burn out, but I did make affiliate in October, and I still stream 1-2 times a week when I’m available. And hey, I’ve made $14.97 so far ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was a larper. This is another category I’ve been trying to find balance in. I love larping, but I find the whole “give up 4-5 full weekends a year per game” incredibly draining, and in 2018 I attempted to manage my energy better. I continued to PC Shadowvale, and NPC Madrigal 3. I went to Intercon R and Lucky Consequences. However, I did give up staffing Tales from the Cotting House, and I’ve started attending Mad3 events for Friday and Saturday only. I also won’t be attending Intercon S.

I was a traveler. I traveled a lot this year. My big trips were to the Stratford Festival with my mom, camping with my dad at Ausable Point campground, and two weeks in England with Matt.

I also did a fair amount of travel with my buddy-in-intellectual-curiosity, EB. She took me to two different Newport, RI mansions for free/cheap; we went with Alison to Salem, MA, and did all the touristy things there; and we went went to visit Steepletop (the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, NY) and the Mount (home of Edith Wharton in Lenox, MA).

I was a reader. I read something like 25 books this year, and a smattering of short stories. Probably the ones I enjoyed the most were my friend Melissa Caruso’s book The Defiant Heir, Leigh Bardugo’s duology of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience ™”, and Rachael K. Jones’ “Makeisha in Time.” Oh, and I can’t forget Savage Beauty, the biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, or reading Watership Down while staying at the Watership Down Inn in Whitchurch in Hampshire, England…

I was an attentive friend and family member. This identity I feel the most uncertain about. It might be more aspirational than anything else, given my introvert nature and my hermit tendencies when my depression is at its worst. But I feel like I deepened or maintained friendships with a number of significant people in my life this year.

Family-wise, I have tried to make my mom a bigger priority in my life, and I feel like our relationship has been significantly mended from the state it was in before she got sick — even though distance is still a huge obstacle. And while I had a roaring fight with my dad last winter, I think we’ve mostly recovered from that.

My husband is still married to me, so I must be doing something right on the “loving wife” front ๐Ÿ˜‰

I did a long Facebook break in the spring, and then decided to give up Facebook almost entirely in December, which is… mixed. FB does allow me to easily keep up with people I’m only distantly connected to, which is a blessing and a curse all by itself. But it had become a source of tremendous anxiety for me, and so I needed to stop using it regularly, for my mental health. I will still try to keep up with people as best I can.

Connection is hard, and yet I crave it a lot, despite my introversion — this is another thing I learned about myself this year.

I was a front-end web developer. I continue to do my job, and be good at it. It’s still the best job I’ve ever had. I did experience some burn out this year — as in many aspects of my life, apparently! — because maintaining that balance between “too hard and thus frustrating” and “too easy and thus boring” is really challenging, yo. But I continue to learn.

I was a teacher. This is a new aspect of my identity, one I am trying to develop. It came out of an observation that as a kid, long before I ever wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be a teacher, and would teach school to my dolls.

In some ways Twitch streaming scratches this itch; I love nothing more than talking a new player through how to make their character a better healer, or explaining the deep lore of TES. I also enjoy teaching front-end stuff, whether that be making a presentation to my coworkers about a new technology, or helping a friend with his website. And then there’s always my drunk (sometimes just sleep-drunk) pontificating about the Stuarts, and how interesting they were, or how the Victorians were most definitely not the bland prudes we think of them being.

I was financially solvent. In some places I didn’t make great financial choices this year (England trip, I’m looking at you), and in other places I did (the refinance; general frugality). But hey, we’re still here, reducing the balance on our mortgage and student loans, socking away money for retirement, and paying our bills on time.

I was intellectually curious. An enduring, and endearing, aspect of my personality, if I do say so myself. To that I end, this year I learned how to identify all the countries on a map, continued to teach myself Spanish through Duolingo and podcasts, and learned how to open a pin-and-tumbler lock.

In short… I think the year was best summed up this way:

It has taken me a long time to get here, and I still don’t believe it every day. But I’m the only me I’ve got, so I’d better learn.

(And hey, this got long, so let’s leave the “2019 prospective” part for later).

Why I love the Elder Scrolls games (part two of two)

And we’re back for part two! First part of the essay is here, where I talk about my history with the games, the open-world gameplay, and the alienness of the setting.

Today we’re going to start with discussing TES as…

A game that started with derivative beginnings, and became something unique

It’s almost a meme to look back at the first TES game, Arena, and say it’s “not really an Elder Scrolls game.” The series didn’t know what it was about at the time. And so it’s no surprise that it looks more like D&D than anything else at that level. You have attributes, skill points, dice rolls, percentage chances, and your typical fantasy monsters. Heck, at that point it was mostly Julian LeFay’s idea for a D&D setting.

Basically what I’m saying is: if there is a stereotypical D&D concept, you can probably look back at Arena and Daggerfall and find it there.

Everything changed with Morrowind. From what I understand, they pretty much had the whole game planned out, and then they threw away the design document. (Did you know it was originally supposed to take place on Summerset, and be about the high elves?) Some of the weirdest and wackiest lore of the series was born in this time period. Say what you will about Michael Kirkbride and his deuterocanonical writings post-employment at Bethesda — I think we have him to thank/blame for many of the things that make this series unique.

A good example is found in the elves of the Elder Scrolls world. At first glance, they look like your typical D&D elves — high elves, wood elves, dark elves. The similarities mostly end with the names, though. Many creative somebodies, over the history of this game series’ development, asked some interesting worldbuilding questions and expanded these races beyond the stereotypes.

What if instead of pacifist treehugger wood elves, you have wood elves who eat only meat — even fermenting alcohol out of it! — and will cannibalize the bodies of their defeated foes?

What if instead of subterranean dark elves who are uniformly evil, your dark elves had complex relationships with terrible gods, which led them on pilgrimage to a blasted volcanic wasteland? And then along the way they broke some oaths and now they have equally terrible living gods who are vying for control with the original terrible gods? All of which has made them protective of what little they have, loyal only to themselves, and distrustful of outsiders?

What if your high elves are as passionate about social rank and bloodlines as they are about magic and knowledge? What if they’re so isolationist that they created Artaeum, an island that can Brigadoon out of the world when deemed necessary? What if their high-handed ways bred the necromancer who’s responsible for many of the most terrible things in the TES world (Mannimarco)?

Another example is the daedra — those aforementioned “terrible gods” the Dunmer used to worship. You can sort of summarize them as “demons,” but more specifically they are immortal beings made of bluish goo, able to change and be destroyed and be recreated infinitely. Some of them can and do create worlds, but they are defined by not having taken part in the creation of the Mundus, the mortal world. Their princes are as cosmically indifferent as Lovecraftian elder gods, and have domains like goetic demons. At least one group of them (the dremora) have complex social structures that mere mortals cannot understand. Judeo-Christian creatures of malice they are not.

A world where history has a POV

It’s always interesting to talk about canon in this game. To quote The Elder Memes:

This philosophy is deeply embedded in the series. One could argue there is no “canon”; every bit of history or lore is told from a point of view. “Canon” is only as reliable as the person relating it.

A good example of this (to go back to my favorite murder elves again) is the question of what happened at the Battle of Red Mountain in the First Era, between the Dwemer (dwarves/deep elves), and the Chimer (the precursors of the Dunmer/dark elves). A lot of weird shit happened in roughly the same window of time, including the entire Dwemer race disappearing in a puff of logic, but for our purposes, most interesting was the suspicious death of Indoril Nerevar, the warleader of the Chimer.

According to the Tribunal — Nerevar’s supposed pals who “just happened” to become living gods after his death — he died from his battle wounds. According to another faction, he was murdered by the Tribunal. If you dissect the 36 Lessons of Vivec, you find that Vivec confesses to killing Nerevar there — but you can tell Vivec is lying because his mouth is moving. And that’s not even not even get into the accounts from Dagoth Ur or any outlanders–

Elder Scrolls lore raises more questions than it provides answers. Just like actual history.

From the Battle of Red Mountain UESP Page: In a 2005 interview, Douglas Goodall stated that during the development of Morrowind there was no “official” account of what happened at the Battle of Red Mountain. “When I was at Bethesda, there was officially no answer. No one knew what really happened. They may have made up their minds now, but you’d have to ask a current employee.”

In addition to the complex and nuanced stories this breeds, this philosophy basically eliminates retconning. And I hate retconning. If you’ve played through WoW lately, you know the Warcraft lore has been created and destroyed and recreated a million times over now. Leveling to max level, you had best be patient with the fact that you are jumping between different continuities. Personally, it keeps me from investing in the lore.

This happens much, much less frequently in TES. When some bit of lore needs to change for gameplay reasons, it can usually be passed off as “this was just one guy’s point of view; anyway, here’s a different one.” Occasionally it was “we didn’t know as much at the time; now we know better” (re: whether or not the Tribunal Temple allowed settlement in Vvardenfell in the 2nd Era) or “hey this guy became a god so he did what he wanted” (re: Cyrodiil being jungle) or, at the extreme, “dragon break!” (a timey-wimey event that very rarely happens in TES, usually involving dragons and/or those titular Elder Scrolls).

But they have never razed an entire body of lore and started afresh, and I appreciate that.

Meta-narrative possibilities

TES games are, fundamentally, stories about stories. I’m the sort of gal for whom every book is secretly about the struggles of writing, so of course I adore this.

I’ll start with a simple example: the Spinners, in the lore of the Bosmer (aforementioned metal AF wood elves), are storytellers whose stories literally have the power to change the world. The quests involving them in ESO are some of the best writing in the vanilla game.

In more recent content, the Summerset expansion provides us with more stories about stories, in the form of the Illumination Academy questline.

The Elder Scrolls that give the series its name are a handy bit of metanarrative, too — they are scrolls of prophecy, only readable by special priests who lose their sight with every scroll they read. The most tragic thing about these priests is that they know, with the foresight that the scrolls give them, when they read their last scroll; they know their vision is about to close forever.

But there’s a deeper sense of “meta-narrative” I want to get at — a sort of fourth-wall breaking, where the work comments on the work. And TES has this, too.

To go back to Summerset, it introduced a book called Sotha Sil and the Scribe. I dare you to read that and come up with an interpretation that isn’t metanarrative in some way. One interpretation I’m fond of sees the Scribe as Bethesda/ZOS, and the map of Nirn as representing the players of the game — showing how the developers hope to do well by the players.

Most intriguing is fact that Second Era Sotha Sil KNOWS the awful fate that awaits him at the end of the Third Era (spoiler warning at that link). He is cursed with the foresight of a god. Here, with a god’s benevolence he seems to be forgiving the Scribe what will come.

But let’s go back to that phrase I used, “the foresight of a god.” To become a god in the Elder Scrolls world is to know that you are a character in a video game, and to transcend that state.

Let me write that again:

To become a god in the Elder Scrolls world is to know that you are a character in a video game, and to transcend that state.

I mean, how often do you get to say something like that about your favorite video game series?

This? This is the whole concept of CHIM, and it’s some of the gnarliest, chewiest metanarrative lore that Michael Kirkbride came up with. Not all of it is accepted as “canon” — Kirkbride’s sorta created his own canon, with hookers and blackjack — but the core concept of CHIM is, and the question of who has achieved it and who has not is in debate. But unquestionably the characters in the series that have achieved CHIM have done some incredible things, outside the (meta)physics of the universe.

The consequent of this is that, you, the player, are a god. Whatever form that takes in-game — the Nerevarine, the Champion of Cyrodiil, the Last Dragonborn — you can break the laws of the universe and fix things that mere mortals can’t fix. Given this, heck, even the console commands are diegetic.

Looked at in this light, the main quest of ESO is especially interesting — you are the Vestige, shriven of your soul by the daedric prince Molag Bal. Throughout the quest, you can do all kinds of things that the NPCs can’t do, because you don’t have a soul — using wayshrines, resurrecting, and achieving certain quest objectives.

Your character is literally a soulless puppet piloted by a god.

Excuse me if I choose that over WoW, any day.

LGBTQ representation

Credit: johnnypebs on /r/elderscrollsonline

Okay, this is kind of an odd segue, but it didn’t fit anywhere else, and I didn’t want to end on YOU ARE A GOD.

TES — especially ESO — is amply populated with LGBTQ characters, going about their lives and doing normal stuff. There’s no indication that sexual or gender identity is a source of stigma in the world. They’re not there to be tragic, or to teach moral lessons. They are just there, where they belong.

Overall, it’s a beautiful example of “writers finally figured out that their fantasy world could have anything, so decided WHY NOT HAVE QUEER FOLKS??” And I love it.

Lady N has a whole big list of LGBTQ characters throughout the games, but there are lots in ESO that she missed. Just off the top of my head: Majoll, a Nord sailor pining for playboy Jakarn. Overseer Shiralas and her wife in Vivec City. The aforementioned merchants in Belkarth. And the whole House of Reveries questline in Summerset (in ways that are spoilery, so I won’t say more).


Thanks for coming to my TES talk!

If you got something out of this post, I’d love to hear from you! This took me a long time to write, and I did it to connect with all y’all in my TES fam. Comments are what basically makes it worth it <3 <3 <3

Why I love the Elder Scrolls games (part one of two)

“Lise, haven’t you made this post before?”

I don’t think I have, though you may be forgiven for thinking so! My love of The Elder Scrolls games is well-documented, and I’ve certainly posted a bunch about them, here and elsewhere. And I’ve gushed at length in person about the aspects of this game series that make it unique.

But have I ever tried to lay out, in plain text, why I really, truly love these games? I don’t think I have. I’m going to try to do that here.

(I have been writing this post for a long time. I think I have always been writing this post).

Alex Trebek was once an adventurer like you. Then… well, you know the rest.

A history of me and the Elder Scrolls

Way back in the summer of 2002, between my junior and senior years of college, I was living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Andover, MA, with my then-boyfriend-now-husband Matt. It was a weird time for me, now that I think of it — my first real time living with an S.O. In between doing temp work, I spent a lot of time playing old Gameboy games in emulation, posting on various yaoi discussion boards, and making my first cosplays. Truly, I was living the fangirl dream.

I was also watching Matt play a then-new game, Morrowind (or, as it is more properly styled: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I was unaware of Elder Scrolls I and II, at the time). I remember being immediately fascinated by the alchemy system — I had never seen a game with anything like that. You find ingredients in the world, and then you combine them? And magic happens? And you can combine things even if you don’t know what they do, just to see what happens?

It felt like a complete redefinition of what a game was about, and I was down for it.

Soon I had my own copy of Morrowind installed on my PC, which went back to school with me. And, when things got particularly tough throughout that year — I was writing my thesis in cognitive science at the same time! — I would often retreat to my room, saying, “I’m going to play Morrowind until my eyes bleed.”

My first, and still most well-remembered Nerevarine was an Argonian, the lizard-people race. Matt assured me that their skill in alchemy would make up for the fact that, as a beast race, I couldn’t wear foot armor. For some reason I decided this Argonian wanted to join House Telvanni. Despite them seeing me as farm equipment, and despite not being very good at much besides alchemy, I persisted, and eventually got my sad little stronghold in the Molag Amur.

What was that game about for me? Well, I died to cliff racers, a lot. I explored Dwemer ruins, spiraling down into their extreme darkness, listening for the click-click-click of dwarven spider feet. I stole gems from daedric shrines and had the shit scared out of me by vengeful dremora. I visited reclusive Telvanni wizards and was surprised by their pet daedroths. I found books about fishy sticks. I poked lava with a spear. I sold many glass boots and Dwemer coins to Creeper. I went into battle wielding a lockpick more times than I can count. I created a pair of magic pants with 100pts of lockpicking (the Pants of Opening!) and used them to open every single chest in Divayth Fyr’s labyrinth.

Did I mention cliff racers?

Games before this were fun, but Morrowind had the unique ability to make me feel Ways about Things.

When TESIV: Oblivion came out in… 2006(?) I was deep in WoW obsession, so I didn’t play it nearly as much as I did Morrowind. I still have never quite made up for that: Oblivion remains my least played, and least loved game. That said, I’ve still put hundreds of hours into it; I just haven’t finished anything — not the main quest, nor any of the guilds, nor any of the expansions. (I have it on my list of goals to remedy that!)

When TESV: Skyrim came out in 2011, I was HYPED. I had been playing Oblivion and Morrowind in anticipation, and I rebuilt my PC just to handle it on its Ultra graphics settings. This is the first and only ES game I had in Steam, so I can say definitively that I have put ~400 hours into this game. I did actually finish the main quest and most of the guild storylines, if only because they’re so dang short.

Except the Dark Brotherhood. Because fuck you, Cicero, that’s why.

I’ve also spent more time modding this game than any other; if you counted my time staring at TESVEdit/Nexus Mods/the skyrimmods subreddit, I’m sure I’d top 1000 hours. It was the first game where I felt the potential to mold it into a game that was even more suitable to my weird and unique tastes ๐Ÿ™‚

And of course, when The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) launched in spring 2014, I was ready! I already had a name and history for my first (and still my main) character before I even started — Falanu Dren, Dunmer templar, Hlaalu house-mer, veteran of the last Akaviri invasion, Vivec fangirl, Mephala worshipper, Morag Tong hanger-on.

Oh, and alchemist. Because this game has always been the alchemy simulator of my heart.

And here she is, visiting Ald’ruhn

I made a guild on not-quite-day-one, which remains populated with my real-life friends. I joined the UESP guild and had all kinds of wild adventures with them. I wrote fanfic about my character. I did veteran Dragonstar Arena and proudly sported the “Boethiah’s Scythe” title.

I played from release until 2016, and then quit for two years, mostly just because Matt quit playing. I’m back now, though, and regretting my long absence ๐Ÿ™ Just one day of getting into those deep, emotionally-wrenching quests from the Summerset chapter and I was like WHY DID I EVER LEAVE YOU??

So that’s me! As you can see, I’ve been involved with this game series for a long time. And amazingly there’s still SO MUCH MORE to do and see.

But why does it have such a hold on me? Let me count the ways…

Open-world/”sandbox” gameplay

These days nearly every RPG touts their open-world gameplay, but this was not always a Thing. Keep in mind that at the time TESIII came out, I was mostly playing sim and 4X games like Dungeon Keeper II, Alpha Centauri, CivII, and Black & White. In those days, I associated “video game” and “RPG” with the classic Japanese RPG, along the lines of Dragon Quest series. These usually provided a fairly linear “your princess is in another castle!” storyline, going from one place to another and fighting random wandering monsters. For RPGs at the time, I preferred my pen-and-paper RPGs, like Dungeons & Dragons, where the only limits were the imaginations of the players and the GMs.

So TESIII? Was a big step forward to me! It wasn’t as infinite as a tabletop game, but it was wider and more expansive than any other RPG I had played to date. I started out following the main quest, but was surprised that the first quest NPC basically tells you, “yeah, kid, you’re still wet behind the ears; go out and get some more experience before we send you on a real mission.”

He also refused to put on a shirt.

Which I took to heart! I left no bandit hideout, daedric shrine, Dwemer ruin, or ancestral tomb unexplored. Did I mention I got lost? Because seriously, I got lost, a lot. Vvardenfell was small in terms of landmass, but I never felt its walls, since into that space were packed so many quests and random activities. (It also probably helped that it’s an island).

(And if you got bored with all the content in the game? Well, starting with TESIII, the developer tools have been open to anyone with a copy of that game, in the form of the Creation Kit. There’s a huge, thriving mod community for this series, even for the older titles like Morrowind).

There are many criticisms you could level against the gameplay of the TES series, and in particular against the simplification of the game systems over the years. But I will say this: Bethesda, and now ZOS, have stayed incredibly on-brand with this aspect of the gameplay. Even in vanilla Skyrim, your freedom is immense — to chase butterflies, mill grain, cook apple-cabbage stew, and do just about anything BESIDES be the Last Dragonborn. And ESO arguably hit its stride with One Tamriel — when it transitioned from a traditional MMO “theme park” model to an open world that levels with you.

I’ve certainly heard the joke that “sandbox game = no real content”, but I’ve never found this to be the case with the ES games. On the contrary, it’s always felt like there was more than I could possibly do. Some people may find that stressful, but I’ve always found that sense — of a world stretching beyond the bounds of the story — to be tremendously freeing.

A world that extends beyond the screen

When I was at Viable Paradise — the writing workshop I attended in 2013 — Jim MacDonald gave an enigmatic talk, which involved all of us looking at a dollhouse. “The reader can’t see in the windows,” he said (and I’m sure I am vastly paraphrasing here). “But, you, the writer, need to know what’s on the table in that kitchen. You need to know how many people live there. You need to know what’s in the basement.”

This is what I’m talking about when I say that the Elder Scrolls world extends beyond the screen. At its core, this is a world filled with history — lore — which may or may not ultimately be relevant to what you do in the game. Tamriel will grind on, regardless of if you understand why you need to save the world from Alduin. If you heed the signs around you, though, they will lend depth to your experience.

Mostly this is in the form of diegetic texts. I’ve spoken to people for whom Skyrim was their first TES game, surprised by the number of lore books in the game. Indeed, a quick look at the Imperial Library or UESP’s Library section will reveal hundreds, if not thousands of such tomes — fiction and non-fiction, history, metaphysics, plays, morality tales, bawdy songs. (And we’re not even getting into letters or diaries…)

In streaming, I quickly gave up on reading every bit of text I came across, as I’d spend more time narrating than I would playing the game. And while none of the lore books are full-length books, true — they’re more like the Cliff Notes’ version of a book — they flesh out the background of the world.

And that world? Is…

A truly alien world

One of the things that drew me into Morrowind — and why it remains my favorite game in the series — is the alienness of the setting. Most fantasy games at the time were pretty western European and whitebread. Suddenly I was thrown into this world of giant mushrooms, looming volcanos, ash storms, flea-based transportation, and land jellyfish.

Of living deities sustained by the discarded heart of a dead god.

Of a culture that clearly took inspiration from many real world civilizations, but rested solidly on none of them.

I’d be lying if I said the the subsequent games haven’t been somewhat disappointing in that regard. Oblivion gave us Cyrodiil, home of the Imperials, who can often be glossed over as “fantasy Romans.” Skyrim gave us the home of the Nords, our “fantasy Vikings” of the setting. If the speculation is correct, and TESVI gives us High Rock, home of “fantasy French people,” I’m going to be somewhat disappointed.

(I mean, don’t get me wrong; I sure do like fantasy France. But considering our other cultural options are things like “lizard people who live in a poisonous swamp and have a symbiotic relationship with sentient, godlike trees” or “the most metal cannibalistic hippy elves you’ve ever seen”… “fantasy French people” seems a little boring).

But even in the more recent games, it’s been interesting to explore the nooks and crannies — the places where these cultures deviated from expectations. Under the bland “fantasy Romans” cover of Oblivion lies the story of how the races of men were originally subjugated by the Ayleids — elves who were cruel and beautiful and awful, who left behind gorgeous citadels — and how they won their freedom, with some divine help. How the Divines are worshipped publicly, but the Imperial City is “the city of a thousand cults”, and many people are (not-so) secret daedra worshippers.

Like Falanu Hlaalu, my namesake.

As for Skyrim, it may seem snowy-bland on the surface, but then it has the Dwemer ruins I so missed in Oblivion. And beneath that, there’s Blackreach, a nearly-lightless world of fallen architecture and phosphorescent mushrooms and terrifying creatures that stretches for miiiiles.

One thing I’ve really valued about ESO is how it’s expanded the palette for the ES games, as it covers most of the landmass of Tamriel. You don’t get to see much of Elsweyr or Black Marsh, true, but if you play through the Aldmeri Dominion quests, you see a LOT of Valenwood, and learn way more about the Bosmer — the aforementioned metal AF wood elves — than we ever have before. I also really valued getting to see parts of the Morrowind mainland that I hadn’t before — Stonefalls, for example — and seeing Hammerfell and the Alik’r desert.

And that? Is where I shall leave you for today! Next time we’ll tackle both TES’ derivative origins and the way it has grown beyond them; we’ll also discuss some METANARRATIVE WEIIIIIIIRDNESS (and why I love it).

In the meantime, if you want to let me know your own history with the TES games, I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Weekly Update, Thursday, September 6th, 2018

Health stuff

… is on my mind a lot today.

First, the good. I had my six month followup with the hand surgeon who did my cubital tunnel release surgery. I was happy to report to that my left hand is mostly back to 100%. The strength in my fingers seems normal again, though I do occasionally get a bit of tingling in the fingertips. She seemed really pleased (I wonder if she was surprised it actually worked!) She’s such a lovely doctor; I’m a bit sad I likely won’t see her again! On the other hand, “no followup appointment is needed” is the nicest phrase in the English language.

I also heard that phrase from the orthopedist this week, although I am still doing PT, and slowly — ever so slowly — getting back to running.

The bad: I have been having weird, nebulous intestinal symptoms lately. Mostly a lot of bloating and fullness right below my belly button, with occasional cramps. It comes and goes in severity, which is why I’m doubting my own assessment of this discomfort. Further adding to the confusion, a friend of mine recently had symptoms like this and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, soooo, I’m not sure if this is my usual hypochondriac shuffle.

But seriously, my diet hasn’t changed all that much; not sure what’s going on here. I should probably see a doctor. But… I already feel like my entire life is doctor’s appointments. Physical therapy appointments and therapy-therapy appointments. Until recently, hand surgeon and orthopedist appointments. Followups every three months for the statins I take. Annual physical. Eye appointment this Friday. An annual visit with a cardiologist (to manage my hereditary risk) and a pulmonologist (for my sleep apnea).

I’m so bloody sick of this, and so spending even more time and money going down an avenue that will likely lead nowhere conclusive? Is a choice I am avoiding making.

Okay, on to more fun stuff, mostly connected to…

Games and streaming

I have a webcam now! While you now can benefit from my ridiculous facial expressions, this has raised its own technical challenges. First was figuring out that I needed to turn off its mic so that you didn’t get Lise in Poor Stereo. Oops. Now I’m having issues with the FPS on the webcam; seems to be an issue somewhere between the camera and OBS, so I need to investigate that. (Thanks to Marc for troubleshooting help!)

That’s a plush netch on my head. I’ve named it Captain Netchy. It amuses me, if no one else.

I did an extra-long ESO stream on Monday/Labor Day, which was a lot of fun. I was playing Br’ihnassi, my Khajiit stamina nightblade, and doing various larcenous activities, i.e. heists and sacraments, finishing off the A Cutpurse Above achievement, etc. I do worry that some people shied away because of spoilers (I was trying to finish the Dark Brotherhood questline, among other things), but I had good chats with Marc and Beth T and Pickle nonetheless. Sometimes I get disappointed if only my IRL friends come to the stream, but I also have to remember they are precisely why I started streaming in the first place!

On Saturday, I ran a vet dungeon with my ESO “friends-and-family guild” guildies! We dragged Scott and and Matt M through vet Wayrest Sewers II, and even got them the hard mode completion. This is no longer challenging content for me, but I love helping others through it. I still have fond memories of the UESP folks showing me the ropes on vet City of Ash II, so I like to pay it forward. If this trend keeps up, I may need to start my own dungeon help night for the Order of the Golden Path.

Speaking of which, I am healing my way through the veteran DLC dungeons of ESO, and I’ve now completed everything but the two new Wolfhunter dungeons on vet. I’ve found vet Falkreath Hold to be the hardest — I can’t even tell you how many times we died to Domihaus. The Menagerie in vet Fang Lair also gave us a run for our money, and there was a reason we did the /kissthis emote over the body of Zaan, in vet Scalecaller. Vet Mazzatun and Cradle of Shadows were mostly just long and annoying. Still no hardmodes for anything but the Imperial City dungeons.

We’ve also been experimenting with doing dungeons in first-person mode, for an extra challenge. Sometimes it leads to surprisingly good screenshots!

Oh, and hey, my Thursday night unexpectedly cleared up, so it looks like I’ll be streaming ESO tonight at 9pm Eastern — more time with the majestic wizard lizard, who is totally not Garak from DS9. (He may be a tailor, but he’s definitely lawful good).

In WoW news, I have finally admitted that yes, I am going to — attempt to — balance heroic raiding in WoW with other games.

Thus I got Silbuns, my warlock, to 120 over the long weekend. After reviewing all three specs leveling from 110 to 120, I decided to go with Destruction spec, because I really do not like what they did with Affliction — it just doesn’t feel right to me any more. (I enjoyed Demonology a lot, but it felt very underpowered compared to the other two). And while I may die of boredom casting Immolate on everything, Destro is at least an easy rotation.

Our guild went on our first trip to Uldir, the new raid, last night. It was a huuuuuuge turnout, maybe a full mythic raid size. I was irrationally annoyed that on top of the core group, there are the folks who didn’t raid for most of the last expansion. I know they have every right to be there, but I can’t help but remember who was and was not there for the 100+ wipes on heroic KJ.

Anyway, grumpiness aside, it went okay. We definitely did not have enough healers — three for a group of 20-25 — making me further feel guilty for not leveling my shaman. But nonetheless we cleared Taloc, MOTHER, and Fetid Devourer.

My dps… was shite. Considering I was still wearing some quest greens, a few heroic blues, and a Darkmoon Squalls deck, this is unsurprising. It’s hard to commit to making it better while simultaneously considering quitting the game, too.

It doesn’t help that the first round of dps numbers from heroic Uldir show that… yep, Destro is still underperforming. *sigh* Maybe I will switch back to Afflic, Shadow Bolt and all.

If I do keep playing, I need to do something to standardize my keybinds across the two games. I would like to stop mounting/dismounting when I mean to hit push-to-talk…

Oh, and I’m still working my way through Graveyard Keeper, that indie sandbox game where you not only garden, cook, build stuff, and fish, but also dissect bodies and help the Inquisitor with fliers for his witch-burning. I’ve discovered that the alchemy system is not just two dimensional, but THREE dimensional. This may be the game that gets to me learn pivot tables in Excel.


Larp season is beginning! Thankfully it’s a pretty light one for me. I have Shadowvale this upcoming weekend, and Mad3 at the end of the month. Feel some anticipatory anxiety towards SV, but hoping that works itself out.