Weekly Update: July 18, 2019

In which I make mead, attend Readercon, discover a new podcast, and nearly lose a stuffed dino.

Mead Again

I put on my first batch of real, two-stage, “long” mead on Monday based on the recipe in Ken Schramm’s The Compleat Meadmaker.

I only made one gallon, rather than the five gallons he gives the recipe for, mostly because it’s hard to sanitize a five-gallon carboy when you don’t have a working bathtub. This is intended to be a basic semi-sweet mead — 3lbs of honey and a little less than a gallon of water, and no flavorings. This one uses a wine yeast, Lalvin 71b-1122, which Schramm recommends for leaving some residual sweetness. This is also my first time using Fermaid K as a yeast nutrient.

And yet here we are, some… 56? hours after I started, and I still haven’t seen bubbles in the airlock. Hm.

Of course, it will take longer to start fermenting than my quick meads. The ratio of yeast to must is smaller, and there’s a greater ratio of air in the pail to displace (1 gallon in a 2 gallon pail, vs. a half gallon in a half gallon glass jug). Plus the plastic walls can expand a bit.

But still. I worry. Pointlessly, because the worst thing I could do is open up the pail and look at the must.

I’m just not sure at what point I’m like, okay, this thing is not fermenting, what do I try now?

(I’m also worried because some of the tools I ordered for this batch turned out to be utter crap — a racking cane that doesn’t hold enough pressure to siphon, a thermometer that seems way off. Maybe the yeast is old, or the pail has air leaks?)

(Alsoalso the starting specific gravity measurement was very slightly lower than where it should have been — 1.109 vs. 1.112. Worry worry worry…)

Readercon 20 and Writing Feels

I was at Readercon last weekend! I saw lots of writing friends! I attended panels about translation, curating a personal library, and the existentialist philosophies of Lloyd Alexander! I went to the Viable Paradise dinner! I ran into some newfound acquaintances!

I also spent a good chunk of time in my hotel room, playing Prison Architect, because SFF/writing cons give me Hard Feels sometimes. For more about that, see this Twitter thread:

However, I’m happy to say that I’m getting back to the editing of Lioness (again), regardless of these feelings. This last edit has really been more like a rewrite, moving a bunch of stuff that should have been upfront in the novel, but wasn’t, into the beginning chapters. Of course that has a butterfly effect on eeeeeeevery scene that comes after it…

But after this is done: that’s it. Both my therapist and I have agreed that, for my mental health, this needs to be the last edit. I may run it by one or two people for “pointing out glaring-but-easy-to-fix errors” duty, but the last thing I want is someone else to tell me I need to rewrite it.

Reading and Listening

I finished listening to Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth, which I greatly enjoyed. Will probably read the final book at some point.

For now, I’ve moved on to listening to Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets, an Audible Original. I’d describe it more as an audio-drama-slash-documentary than an audiobook; Fry narrates parts of it, but he also talks to historians and other experts, and there are mini dramatizations of certain historical events, i.e. the trial of a Forty Elephants kingpin.

All in all, it’s amazingly entertaining, but one disappointment is that in the chapter on Victorian pornography, it’s not Fry who narrates the example of gay smut 😉

I also started listening to the new-to-me podcast Ephemeral, after hearing it advertised on other Stuff podcasts. It’s about “those things that were just barely saved, and in some cases not saved at all,” which is so sublimely On Brand for me — someone who has talked before about being a memorial, of remembering things that other people have forgotten. It should be no surprised that I binged the first six episodes while driving back and forth to Quincy for Readercon.

So far the most moving episode has been episode 2, “Diaspora,” which talks about music from the Ottoman diaspora in America in the 1910s and 1920s. The songs they play are hauntingly beautiful, and you know the only reason they are not more better known is… well, racism. It also tied in well with the alternate history of 1910s Istanbul that I’d been exploring in the Leviathan series.

I also liked episode 3, “EphemaWHAT?!?, where he talks with a material culture studies professor, Sarah Wasserman, about ephemera as “items that contain with them their own eventual destruction.” There’s something so incredibly Zen about that — and, I feel, relatable to writing practice.

The producer of the show, Alex Williams, is the sound editor for other Stuff podcasts, so unsurprisingly his focus is very audio- and music-driven. That’s fine, but if I have one complaint, it’s that I’d like to see more episodes that speak to the original meaning of “ephemera,” i.e. paper, or print.


In Parting

I nearly lost my beloved stuffed dinosaur, Instegra Helsing, this week! My husband cleverly snuck her into my suitcase for Readercon, but I not so cleverly left her in the bed at the Quincy Marriott. Luckily thehotel overnighted her back to me, and she arrived home yesterday. My husband snapped this pic to send to me while I was at work.

Instegra Helsing, back in her natural habitat. Also: Can you spot all the geeky things in this picture?

Look at her face. Doesn’t it just say, “I had the best adventure!”? That, or “local stegosaurus in great mood today!”

Larp rant: we don’t hate surprises, your surprises are just boring

Photo credit: 张 学欢 on Unsplash

Much has been said, at larp theorycons past, about setting expectations in larps. The common consensus is that surprises often fall flat because they don’t meet the expectations the game runner has set for the players about the game. This includes things like changing the game setting or genre, i.e. adding time-traveling Hitler to an otherwise historical game set in the Renaissance, or having Cthulhu appear in the midst of your game about teenagers at party.

I don’t disagree with this cause of “surprise failure.” You’re taking a risk whenever you mess with player expectations. But today I want to forward an opinion that’s a bit different:

Players don’t hate surprises. They’re just tired of the predictability of certain “surprises.”

Certain surprises have come up so often in the history of larp* that they’re just not novel any more. When I end up in a game like this, I’m filled with boredom and ennui. Oh, of course this game set at a Victorian fun fair has Dr. Who showing up. Oh, I guess we’re all secretly dead. Oh, *yawn* Cthulhu has risen from the deeps and interrupted my romance once more.

*(Here I mostly mean “Intercon-style” theater larps, but some of my examples are from New England boffer larp, as well).

I’m not saying that you can’t still do something interesting with one of these well-worn twists. Some of the examples I use below still succeed magnificently! But it’s a tough row to hoe.

So, I bet you’re wondering:

What are some of these tired surprises?

These are the ones I personally find tiring, or have heard other people express as tiring.

1) Time travel

Time travel is on the short list of “things you shouldn’t put in a (theater-style) larp,” though that’s often for mechanics reasons (i.e. it’s hard to manage characters that can manipulate causality).

But that sure hasn’t stopped people from writing games that have time travel as a secret twist.

As many of you know, my first boffer larp NPC gig was for Shadows of Amun, which ran from 2013-2016 in New England. The big twist in Shadows of Amun was that, after nearly a year of being in 1918 Egypt, the players were thrown back to 1168, during the Crusades. Another year, and they were in 30 B.C., negotiating with Cleopatra and Tony No-pants (as we called Marc Antony). Finally they returned to 1920s Egypt, and a world that had greatly changed.

Now, I think Shadows was a wildly successful game. It was run by a group of SCAdians, and you can bet their historical settings were top-notch. Seeing how the players’ actions changed the world was also REALLY COOL. Additionally, it was super well-organized.

But there were a large number of people who got to the end of game 3, where the first time jump happened, and noped the fuck out. I watched people stalk off the field in anger. Some people switched to playing different characters entirely; some highly-invested players left the game; some even demanded their money back! To say this design decision was polarizing is an understatement!

A subset of the time travel twist is the “secretly a Dr. Who game.” I’ve played in at least three games where this has happened, and every time it’s like LOOK I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR NEVERENDING BBC SERIES WITH CHEESY SPECIAL EFFECTS, CAN YOU PLEASE STOP PUTTING IT IN EVERYTHING??

But maybe this is just me.

2) You’re all actually dead.

Hey, we’ve all played in this game once. Or twice, or ten times. It might have worked the first time, when you weren’t expecting it; now, on some level, I’m always alert for signs of this trope. And when you’re expecting it, it’s not only not interesting, it’s infuriating.

Remember how disappointing the end of the TV series Lost was? That’s because “actually all the characters are dead” is not in fact a very satisfying ending. It resolves very little. In larps, it renders pointless everything else you spent your game doing. With a TV series, you might find yourself thinking “well, that’s a hundred hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

This applies, to a lesser extent, to similar tropes like “it was all a dream” or “you’re in a simulation.” I’ve seen those succeed for some people, at some times, too. But it would be foolish to consider these novel plot devices.

3) Cthulhu (or other Lovecraftian horrors)

My appetite for Lovecraftian horror is far greater than most peoples’, and even I’m getting tired of this trope. Especially when it’s done as a twist, the stars are right… for player dissatisfaction.

Why? I’ve written about it before, somewhere on LJ, but basically Cthulhu is a “bomb bigger than your game.” If you throw that in, every player has to put aside whatever else they are working on and fix this problem. Like with the “you’re all secretly dead” trope, it has a tendency to render player agency meaningless.

Plus, if you are going to put Lovecraftian stuff in your larp, please label it appropriately, because 1920s style pulp + cosmic horror, with bonus racism, is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea. Especially when it interrupts otherwise interesting gameplay.

A good example of a game where the Lovecraftian elements work well is The Borden Legacy. But that’s because it doesn’t surprise the player. You all start the game knowing that you live in a society where the cultists have won and where the nations are ruled by Deep Ones.

Basically, you, larp author, are not Neil Gaiman, and you are not writing “A Study in Emerald.”

(Though if you are Neil Gaiman: hi, I love your work; why are you reading my blog?)

So what’s an example of a good surprise, Lise?

Besides “one I didn’t see coming a mile away?”

Whenever I think of surprises that worked for me, they were ones that didn’t change the fundamental nature of the game. But they did intensify one particular aspect of the game.

Without spoilers, one example is a larp I went into expecting intense personal relationship drama at a glamorous party, and ended up with intense personal relationship drama in the face of impending death. While that is a pretty big surprise, it worked for me — and most people I’ve talked to about the game — because it’s within the tolerance of what you would expect from a game like that.

Also Cthulhu absolutely did not show up.

Weekly Update: July 2, 2019

This was a busy week(end) for me! I hosted a visit from my dad, made some home improvements, put on two new batches of mead, and explored a bunch of local places.

Building a bridge

My house sits above a small brook, maybe fifteen feet across; on the opposite bank is conservation land, with walking trails. When I first moved here in 2006, there was a bridge across the stream. But that bridge washed out in a storm or was dismantled. It was unclear to me if it was built by the conservation group, or by the previous owners, but for whatever reason, it was not replaced. For years now, if I wanted to go walking on those trails, I had to go the long way around, to a public access point.

So finally, with help from my dad, we rebuilt the bridge this weekend.

Well, to be fair… I didn’t help much with the bridge part. I don’t trust myself with power tools. But while my dad and Matt were sawing wood and drilling holes and chainsawing logs out of the way, I blazed a trail though a dense growth of mountain laurel with just a pair of loppers.

And now I can cross “build a bridge for the stream” off my 101 Goals in 1,000 days list!

What a lovely spot for a bridge! If it weren’t for the mosquitos, I’d hang a hammock down here…

Nashua River Brewer’s Festival

I attended this event, hosted by Beers for Good, on Saturday afternoon. After spending much of the morning working on the bridge and trail, nothing sounded as tempting as some nice cold beer.

The event, as suggested by the “Beers for Good” title, benefits a group of local charities. It’s held in Riverfront Park in Fitchburg, MA, right downtown, and on the banks of the Nashua River — again, as the name implies! Admission was $20 at door, which included a commemorative sampler glass. Each sample was $1.

There were soooo many breweries there, and I sampled soooo many amazing beers — and one kombucha! A few that stood out:

  • Both candy-inspired offerings from River Styx Brewing of Fitchburg: Morpheus, a tart watermelon ale conditioned on Sour Patch Kids, and Thanatos, an Imperial stout conditioned on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Reese’s Pieces.
  • PULP DADDY from Greater Good Imperial Brewing Company of Worcester, MA. I asked them what they had that wasn’t an IPA, and they said, “Well, nothing, but try this.” It did not disappoint! It was kind of like a hoppy orange juice.
  • Lawn Games, a tart wheat (we tried the blueberry lemon variety), and Unplugged, a cream ale, from As Built Brewing of Franklin, MA. Also they were giving out branded sunglasses, which was perfect schwag for a hot summer day!
  • The New City Mule from New City Brewing of Easthampton, MA, a hard ginger beer with a kick of lime.
  • An apricot-mango kombucha from KrafTea Kombucha of Worcester, MA. This was my first time sampling the fermented tea beverage, and I didn’t realize that it can be mildly alcoholic (about 2% ABV).

There were also food trucks at the festival, and I sampled esquites (a Mexican corn salad) from Zapata Mexican Cocina. More about that place later!

We left happy and comfortably full of alcohol! The sample glass didn’t hold all that much, but after ten or twelve of them, I was a little tipsy…

“Should you drink Element beer?” flowchart, from one of the breweries at the festival.

Livin’ La Vida Local

This weekend also gave me the opportunity to try out a bunch of local establishments in Lunenburg and Fitchburg, both individually and at the farmer’s market. Even though I’ve lived in this town for thirteen years (!), I just now am beginning to feel like part of the community.

Lunenburg Farmer’s Market

This was, for example, my first time visiting the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market. It was also opening weekend for the year, but it still had about twenty vendors, live music, and, most importantly, ALPACAS.

Some of the vendors I visited:

  • Shagbark Farm, whose owner, Tom, was kind enough to talk with me for a while about the hickory syrup he sells. Apparently it’s a sort of sweetened “tea” made from hickory bark. Our town is rich with shagbark hickory trees, hence the product and the name of the farm. We ended up buying some Pineapple-Habanero syrup.
  • Cherry Hill Farm, which has just recently gotten USDA clearance to sell their meats. We bought a few pounds of short ribs, which we’ll be enjoying tonight after marinating them in the syrup I mentioned above…
  • Wild Brook Apiaries, with hives all over the area! We bought some dark honey from them (primarily goldenrod), which I plan to use for my next batch of mead.
  • In the Meadow Farm, owners of the previously-mentioned alpacas. They raise alpacas primarily for their fleece, which is spun into yarn. (Adorably, each of their natural yarn colorways is named after the alpaca it came from, like “Phantom” and “Benjamin Buttons”). They’re also big into education, and host a monthly “yoga with the alpacas”, which I hope to get to one of these weekends!

While I did not take home any yarn — like any knitter, I already have too much — I did buy an “alpaca to go.” This was a tiny Chinese food box containing a tiny plush alpaca, an alpaca coloring page, an alpaca information sheet, and a little metal bucket.

A tiny alpaca and its al-packaging. I have already decided his name is Muchacho.

Restaurants and Cafés

Since my dad was visiting, and he needs to eat, I took it as an opportunity to visit local establishments I hadn’t been to before.

We had dinner on Friday night at Bad Larry’s, a new-ish bar and grill in the center of Lunenburg. I asked what the source of the name was, and told it came from the expression “a bad larry”, which I’d never actually heard. I found the food to be decent and reasonably priced, but nothing particularly special.

Saturday night we dined at the aforementioned Zapata Mexican Cocina, on Lunenburg Street in Fitchburg. While I am still very loyal to my favorite local Mexican restaurant, Mezcal, I liked how light and fresh the dishes here were — lots more vegetables and less cheese.

While we were at the farmers’ market we stopped at the Dragonfly Garden Cafe, a cafe in the center of Lunenburg that’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays. (They do events and catering during the week). The prices are very reasonable, and it’s a nice, cozy place to hang out, so I can see replacing weekend trips to Panera with visiting this place.

Also they do tea parties, too! Next time my birthday rolls around, I think I may celebrate it with tea and alpacas…


I also had the opportunity this weekend to watch two new Amazon original series — the adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book Good Omens, and another series called Hanna.

Good Omens was fabulous, as I expected it to be. To be fair, I read the book so long ago that most of what I remember is the jokes, like the M25 being a giant summoning circle, or the description of Aziraphale as “gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.” Given that, I really had no remembrances of the book to judge from. But if nothing else, David Tennant is delightful to look at as Crowley, and I loved how they used the music of Queen to complement the story.

I didn’t much care for Hanna; it was kind of generic action-y with characters who I didn’t much care about. (Mostly I was watching it because my dad was interested). Plus they did that thing I hate where they made (one of the) villain(s) a baby-crazy woman, because we all know that not having children makes women coo-coo bananas, amirite.


I finished reading Walden for a second time. As I wrote on Twitter:

So, uh, that should hold me for another fifteen years or so.

I also read Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, which I liked. He expands on the theories about social media that he first noted in Deep Work, and offers some solid strategies for mediating our relationship with new technology. I think I may devote August to doing a “digital declutter”, since I’ll be traveling anyway.

I’m currently reading the second book of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, Behemoth. Istanbul at the dawn of WWI is a super fascinating setting, and I’m really enjoying that aspect of it. I’m not sure I enjoy the fact that so much of Alek’s plot is driven by him making poor life choices.

(And omg, they named the loris “Bovril.” I’m glad I had the same reaction to that name as Deryn did: “isn’t that some kind of beef tea?”)

Alan Cumming is really amazing as a narrator for this, because he does every accent, and each one is unique and perfect. Like, he has to switch between Austrian, German, British, Scottish, Turkish, Armenian, and a bunch of other accents, plus he has to represent “genetically modified creatures that can imitate human voices.” Plus there’s that whole “one of the viewpoint characters is a girl pretending to be a boy, who occasionally loses control of the pitch of her voice” thing, which I imagine is an extra challenge. But he is just flawless throughout.


As some of you know, I’ve been experimenting with making mead recently, using the recipes for quick meads from The Elder Scrolls Cookbook.

The first two batches of mead I made were Honningbrew Mead and Black-Briar Mead, and they were both successes! I liked the Honningbrew, with its notes of ginger and lavender, the best, but I left the Black-Briar with Alison after our “Skyrim dinner.” (It was good, but a little too cinnamon-y for my tastes).

Early last week I put on two new batches, from the two remaining mead recipes in the cookbook — Nord Mead, flavored with cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and orange zest, and Juniper Berry Mead, with yarrow, hibiscus, and (of course) juniper berries.

I’m excited to see how these turn out; I’ll be decanting them for the two July 4th parties I have this weekend!

Nord Mead on the left; Juniper Berry Mead on the right.

After that… who knows? I might have to go deeper down the mead rabbit hole.

Speaking of which…

Here’s a random bunny I saw this week.

Have a great 4th of July holiday, if you celebrate! I intend to eat lots of strawberries, hot dogs, and potato salad.

Treat your sleep apnea, yo, for your health and my sanity

I made a joking post on Facebook a while back about sleep apnea:

Ah yes, larps. Where you learn how many people you know probably have untreated sleep apnea.

The context was that I was larping in the woods, awake at 3am, listening to someone in the next cabin gasping for breath in between thunderous snoring. This is not a new phenomenon at larps; indeed, in the bathroom the next morning, I heard several people complaining about the snoring of their cabin mates. (We even came up for an in-character term for it: “nose thunder”).

I may have been joking there, but ultimately sleep apnea is no joke. And I wanted to elaborate a little more on this, since I realized many of you don’t know me well enough to know that I too, have sleep apnea. It has made me a bit of an evangelist about the condition. I hate to see people suffering when there is a solution out there.

My history with sleep apnea

In 2009 I got diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea. I had spent the three previous years — maybe more — never feeling rested. I had serious problems staying awake at the wheel; on my commute to work, I would continually punch myself in the leg just to stay conscious. I could sleep anywhere — unfortunately, that included boring client meetings at my job. (I eventually lost that job, and that was partially why). On my rare free days, it was hard to motivate myself to do anything, and I would inevitably need a three-hour nap in the middle of the day.

I got a CPAP machine fairly quickly after my diagnosis. A CPAP applies “continuous positive airway pressure,” i.e. it fits over your nose and delivers constant air flow to keep your airway from collapsing when you sleep. It’s basically the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment; there are also surgeries, but none of them are very effective. If this sounds really annoying, well, at first, yes, it can be. But I adapted to it very quickly, perhaps because at that point I could sleep through anything 😉

After two or three nights, I wasn’t exactly convinced it was doing anything. My daytime sleepiness lingered for a while. It wasn’t until I was at a larp event a month later — and I wasn’t falling asleep on any horizontal surface — that I realized it was working.

If you snore — especially if people tell you you stop breathing — please, please, please get a sleep study. If you have unexplained daytime sleepiness, even if no one tells you you snore, please get checked.

Some of the objections and questions I hear about sleep apnea and CPAP therapy, and my answers (keeping in mind that I am not a doctor):

“But I don’t fit the profile for sleep apnea.”

Neither did I, according to the PCP who wrote my referral for a sleep study. While I was overweight at the time, I wasn’t significantly so, and heck, I didn’t even think I snored. I got checked anyway, and so should you. Even if you don’t have obstructive sleep apnea, there’s also central apnea — where your brain just stops telling your body to breathe in your sleep — which can also be treated.

“I’ve just started using a CPAP/I use it intermittently, and I don’t notice any difference.”

The thing about sleep apnea is it’s insidious. You won’t notice 1, 2, or even 3 nights of low-level sleep deprivation. But you sure as hell notice months and years of it.

And your health will, too. Spending a third of your life gasping for breath takes its toll on the body: it raises blood pressure, increases risk of stroke, and probably other stuff we haven’t even discovered yet.

“How the heck am I supposed to get used to having air shoved down my throat all night?”

It’s amazing what the human body can get used to, really. If it helps, most CPAP machines have a “ramp” function, where they start at low pressure and gradually ramp up to their full pressure over a time you set.

Additionally, durable medical equipment companies (DMEs) have really been working on the problem of making these things comfortable. There are masks that touch as little skin as possible, humidifiers, preheat functionality, leak testing, and all kinds of conveniences.

It’s all small and portable too, so you can take it with you while larping, assuming the site has power. Heck, you can even by cozies for your CPAP hose so that they look less medical. (Or, in my case, so that my cats would stop chewing on the delectable plastic).

All I have to say about this is: if my mother — in her 60s, with chronic health problems, and sensitive to anything touching her skin while she sleeps — can get used to a CPAP machine, then you can too.

“Isn’t the sound of the machine just as annoying to my bedmate as snoring?”

Not even a little. Modern CPAPs are almost silent when the mask is fitted to the face. (If the mask slips loose, you will hear a “whooshing” noise, though). It’s white noise at worst.

“But what do you do when you have no power?”

That is a problem. Depends for how long, I suppose. I can go without for a couple of nights, but my sleep apnea, as I said, is only moderate, and mostly harmful in the long term. Luckily most larp sites these days DO have power, and CPAP machines are actually a very low draw, which is a concern at some sites I’m at.

There are also DC power solutions for CPAP, to allow you to hook up to some kind of battery, though I admit I haven’t experimented with them. (They look super pricey!)

“It’s expensive!”

Without insurance, oh, definitely. Most insurances, however, will cover this stuff pretty extensively, because it’s cheaper to treat sleep apnea than it is to treat the respiratory and circulatory issues this will eventually cause.

Again, I use the example of my mother — as a self-employed person with chronic conditions, she is still able to get her paltry insurance to cover her CPAP equipment and supplies.

That said, I realize that CPAP therapy is still not accessible to all. If you can’t manage the expense of the diagnosis or treatment, one of the best self-treatments is sleeping on your side. There’s even the “tennis ball technique” to prevent back-sleeping.

“All these people getting diagnosed with sleep apnea is just a scam by doctors/medical equipment companies/insurance to sell people equipment they don’t need!”

Yes, I have really heard this. What I will say is that given the expense of doing a sleep study — which is basically an EEG plus a bunch of other monitoring while you sleep — I guarantee you no one is making a fortune on selling you CPAP units afterward.

If anyone is making any real money off this, it’s the insurance companies, and they aren’t keen on sharing it with the doctors and the DME.

But hey, that’s the fucked up American healthcare system! Either way, your suffering isn’t going to stick it to The Man.

“Speaking of sleep studies… I can’t sleep in hospitals. Especially when there’s a bunch of stuff glued to my head.”

Sleep studies aren’t exactly super fun times, but they’re still way better than most medical procedures. I found the worst part to be trying to sleep on the schedule it enforces, which has you going to bed at 9pm, and then being kicked out of the hospital (not literally) at like 5am.

But the staff will do everything to make you comfortable — I remember mine bringing me ginger ale and asking me if there was a TV show I wanted to put on. And yeah, it took me a long time to fall asleep, but once I did they got the data they needed, which is what mattered.

(Generally they’ll do half the night just observing, and then if they see apneas they will hook you up to a CPAP to get your titration numbers, i.e. how much pressure you need. This is so you don’t have to come back for a second sleep study).

My mother told me horror stories about a sleep study where it took an hour to hook her up to the equipment. It… did not take me that long. They had it all hooked up in about fifteen minutes.

You do have to wash conductive goo out of your hair afterwards. No big deal.

Oh hey, and I’m told that in some places, you can do a sleep study at home. Like the hospital gives you a kit to hook yourself up, and then you send the data back to them the next day. That’s pretty neat, if that’s an option for you!

“I don’t want another medical condition to manage.”

If this applies to you, you probably already have a medical condition. You’re just not managing it.

Management, incidentally, is super low intensity. I have an appointment with a pulmonologist once a year (every six months for the first year), and every few months my DME calls me and says “hey do you want new supplies?” The biggest challenge I ever had was when I tried to get an auto-titrating machine two years after getting my first machine, and that was quickly resolved when they saw my compliance data. (Which lives on an SD card that you stick in the back of your machine. Some machines can send it directly to the DME/doctors, too).

In conclusion

Take care of your health, and the sanity of your fellow larpers. Please get checked ASAP if you think any of this applies to you.

If you have any questions about my experience with sleep apnea — especially as a larper with sleep apnea! — please feel free to drop a comment!

Photo credit: Jordan Whitt on Unsplash.

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 😉

Weekly Update: June 24, 2019

I’ve decided to start doing these again, if only because not writing them makes me sad 🙁

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 note… 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) effectively…

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

… 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? 😉

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 🙂

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.

Credit: Rifftrax.com

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: imdb.com)

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.

Credit: imdb.com

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: museumofrussianicons.org).

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.