mongrel monitors of malady


True story: My page-a-day dog calendars were full of “dog smells hidden tumor in woman’s breast; claws at her until she goes to doc and they saved her just in time!”-type stories when I was a kid. With my combined family history of a shit ton of cancer and a lot of dogs, every few months I’m grabbing a sleepy four-legger and shoving their noses against my neck, my shoulder, whatever’s lumpy; desperately hoping they’ll warn me if I’m going to die.

Sometimes they sneeze.

On the one hand, I’m still alive, and the doctors are lowkey impressed by the wanderlust of my lymph nodes. On the other hand, I feel like we need to develop a definitive “nope you’re good, hooman!” dog response. Sniffly annoyance at being dragged out of peaceful slumber could mean anything.

drink of the (other) day : varric vodka


We took the Varric tea from Cara McGee and put it in a water infuser we received a few years ago. Unfortunately it may have sat there too long…a week makes for some awfully strong-flavored vodka. Since the whole reason I’m pretty meh on vodka is its lack of flavor, I thought this would be okay. It may have been overkill.

Still, put some simple syrup and ice in there and it’s palatable. Spicy but ultimately sweet. I’d like to try the Sera tea next (it’s one of my favorites of her teas, and I’ve tried all of the ones that have box art), but I might cut its infusion off after a day or two. Also I’m not sure if sprinkles sitting in vodka is okay. Will they still dissolve like in the hot water? We will have to see. For science!

random music fridays : now we are free

As a kindergartner, I knew about gaming the system. The Reflections contest theme that year for elementary school kids was “If I could give the world a gift, I would give it…” and I drew a picture of a bunch of people encircling the globe and wrote “love!” in big bubbly red letters with hearts. When I won first place I announced it proudly, followed immediately by “I knew that would get ’em!” I was a wily, if not exactly endearing, five-year-old.

By the time I was applying for college, though, most of the craftiness had bled out of me, sapped away by adolescence and a waning desire to broadcast myself as anyone other than who I was. Being a teenager sucked, and I wanted out: to be as far from the place and people I knew as possible. So Princeton was one of my reach schools, and their essay topic was to list your favorite song and why it held that spot in your heart. This was the song I picked.

The school I got into instead had a much more conventional prompt, and I was able to write both seriously and humorously in response — so maybe earnestness was the wrong tack here. Or maybe, to write in for a song whose words were rendered essentially just sounds to you, they expected that you’d better then be able to talk shop about the song’s technical prowess. More likely still, a Hollywood blockbuster like Gladiator earned disdainful sniffs all around the admissions table. Who knows? The people of my age group I met later who went to Princeton came away with some pretty terrible prejudices, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t get in.

But Now We Are Free, composed by Hans Zimmer and sung in pseudo-Armenian by Lisa Gerard, was and remains dear to me. I bought it immediately after my parents and I — not my sister, who’d abandoned the family movie outing in what I correctly assessed to the the first of many such abandonments — saw Gladiator in theaters. We always used to go to Tower Records after a movie, to grab the soundtrack. I skipped immediately to its track on my CD player (still technically branded a Walkman, I believe) and listened to it as thunder raged outside our van on the way home. I went all the way to the back, on the bench seat, and lay down listening, to see the rain streak the window from the lower-down angle that I remembered from roadtrips in our old station wagon. But from my position tipped over sideways on the bench, my parents’ headrests rose further than their heads, and it looked to me like they weren’t even there anymore. (When I was four, I kept dreaming they disappeared from the front of the car as we drove to the Smithsonian, and I never saw them again. I’d wake up yelling.) And I found myself crying. I thought of Lucilla’s love and how it didn’t really matter anymore; Maxmius had made a home and it had been taken from him. And I thought — his parents weren’t there — how miserable, to have carved your mom and dad out of what your image of home and love should be, in an afterlife. How lonely I’d be if it was just me wandering through the fields of Elysium, parents gone and relegated to their own versions of paradise, which wouldn’t include me. How, surely — keep in mind I was thirteen, and a late-bloomer to boot; I wanted nothing to do with relationships — no one would ever populate my empty Elysium, if you didn’t even get to keep your parents.

Unless, I thought, as my dad slammed on the breaks and my mom  yelled at him — the storm knocked out the stoplights and someone almost hit us as we tried to go through an intersection — you died young. Maximus’s son got to be with him, after all. He got to “count” as worth seeing, after death.

What a raw deal.

Culture gives us these ways to talk about people who are dead — the afterlife, heaven, hell, fields of Elysium, take your pick — but no one prepares you, as a thirteen year old, to be in a constant state of losing someone. For years. They are still alive in that you can look into their eyes, but those eyes don’t know you anymore. Or themselves.

This, too, is rather a raw deal.

Mom, you are welcome to my little plot of the Elysian Fields anytime, when you get there. It won’t be empty, but you’re still invited.

ward cleaver probably cried when alone (and you should, too)

I haven’t written much of the election because why would I? It’s awful. But I’ve followed it as closely as anyone, in particular articles trying to understand how the people who cling to this narrow idea of what it is to be an American came to cling to it. And this article does it best so far.

The despair of the white middle-class baby boomer interests me because I have a dad that fits that profile. While he knows enough to detest Trump (probably mostly just because he’s non-military), he is very fond of reminding everyone that they’re all doomed — that America was at its best when he and his peers were in charge, and now that they aren’t, we’re all fucked. I love my dad, so I try to dismiss his fearmongering as the kind of anger that you’d expect from a guy whose wife no longer knows him (but whose care, he will rant loudly to you, he still has to pay for). Alzheimer’s sucks. I know this. But when he calls you and tells you how screwed you are, because the same disease runs in your blood, ready to pounce…when he tries to scare your husband into flash-forward previews of his future with you, the disease-carrying spouse…when every single political and non-political moment gets viewed and reflected through a lens of Back In The Good Old Days (“when men were men and women were women,” he used to add, though he has since stopped, having decided that this, at least, is culturally too off-base even for him)…it becomes harder to dismiss.


unless we’re talking candycorn and reese’s cups, this is not the only future, okay?

My mother was my father’s filter. She reined him in when he became too bitter or morbid or intractable. (Is this an ideal relationship?  No, but what relationship is?) She called him on it, and he would in most cases realize how nuts he sounded, and say something humorous instead and defuse the situation. With my mother ill and no longer able to do this, I thought I would try, but it seems I do not have the privilege of rebuking him. He just shoots back with more dire predictions about the fuckedness of our future, as well as the futures of any children we might have. Before you ask, yes, obviously I brought up therapy — but as that NYT article describes well, that generation of men, mired in that culture, do not take well to such suggestions. My father certainly didn’t.

His own family could well have used it. His mother spent most of the first part of his life addicted to sleeping pills, only rousing long enough to give birth to a second son. His father spent many long hours on the road as a door-to-door salesman, making precious little to show for it. I mention this only to point out that that gooey-sweet Leave It To Beaver lifestyle that my dad vociferously pines for did not exist for him. Common sense dictates that it didn’t exist for a great many of these old white guys vocally pining for it these days, either. So what’s with all the rancor, the deafening cries for a return to the good old days? The good old days, before social services would even notice if your dad beat you? Before anyone would believe you when you said you were sexually assaulted? Before there was anywhere to go if you found yourself living a decidedly un-Cleaverly life — which, just to take a wild guess, not many people in fact were living?


please stop

Rose-tinted glasses, I know, I know. But this goes beyond just only remembering the good about your past. This concerns actually rewriting your past to fit a culturally-established narrative dispensed through various media, both of the time and up to and including today. And because, as previously mentioned, Alzheimer’s runs in my family, I am very uneasy about the idea of rearranging one’s past to suit one’s memory. Natural Language Programming, for example, scares the living daylights out of me. Add sensory details to memories to build them up or take them down? No! No. I’m not adding to anything. Not consciously. Because I know all too well where you end up when your unconsciously (inevitably, in my case) because fucking with what you thought you knew. And it’s in a ward where they guard the elevators so you can’t escape, and talk to you like you’re five. Because you might think you’re five.

Depression is a common companion of those with dementia. It starts out as anxiety management and then, as it gets worse — often precipitated by a move to a care facility, as was the case with my grandmother who called me to bring her scissors with which to slit her wrists — full antidepressants are prescribed. Happiness isn’t really the goal anymore because people aren’t really comfortable measuring that. Manageability is the goal. Doctors get together and try to make the great big black hole of suck that you have become, more manageable for everyone else.


this is how image searches choose to display alzheimer’s. how nice for them that they think your mom can’t be taken from you until her 80s.

So when you know this is coming, what do you do? When there are people you love who you know will be in the line of fire of your diseased instability, what do you do? There’s precious little worth doing, I suppose, but one has to do something. One has to feel one is doing something.

Mostly, I observe. What I see eating at people around me, I try to avoid. My mother-in-law, for example, obsesses over her appearance. She despairs at every wrinkle and blemish and panics over the graying of her hair. I see the seeds for the same behaviors sown in her daughters, whose selfies are lovely and endless, and who cannot be eaten with without hearing a long lecture about carbs, calories or cleanses. So. I don’t take selfies. I figure that if that’s a potential snag in your self-worth, later on — regardless of how easily I can sit here and point it out to myself, and say I don’t or won’t care — I want to avoid it, if possible. No pictures, beyond those required by others and quickly forgotten, even now.

I’m also leery of privileging my youth as some shining paragon of perfection that will never be witnessed again. I know the 90s are now just far enough away for people to reflect back on them with nostalgia, but while I too have fond memories of Rugrats, koosh balls and tamagotchis, I’m uneasy about resurrecting them. Because I see what the boomers have done to their childhoods — adopted the media narrative of that time as one of, instead, their own lived experience — and I…don’t want to do that. If I can avoid it. I don’t want to be threatening the children of the future with tales of how much better I had it. It won’t help. It doesn’t. It just makes everyone defensive and miserable. And since, thanks to the disease that is mine to inherit, I know I’m already going to do that anyway…I’m in no rush to beat it to its sad punchline.

And boomer dads everywhere, especially those who have lost someone or are constantly losing a little bit more of them every day, need to realize something. You aren’t beating anyone to the punchline, either, by wallowing in your despair and lashing out at anyone who tells you you need to drag yourself up out of the pit. You won’t bring back the 60s; you won’t bring back June. Ward Cleaver, if he existed, probably would have spent many a night crying alone under the weight of things. Because things are heavy. He lived in a time when getting any sort of help suffered a heavy stigma.

You, however, do not. So please. Get help.

random music fridays : qfg3 pool of peace

I can’t imagine that there wasn’t someone consciously thinking of the Erana’s Peace song for Quest for Glory I when they decide to have a lovely song insert for the oasis in the middle of the savanna in QFG3. I don’t recall a similar musical interlude during a narrative pause in QFG2, but that game was timed, so a.) there might not have been sense in doing it, and b.) I don’t like suffering a timer so I haven’t played it enough to know.

But this is lovely. If I could play piano I’d play this.

metaphysics of MMOs 3/5 : you can (sometimes) come back


Heya Feralas. It’s been a while.

I first played World of Warcraft in November 2005. It was getting cold, suggesting that in my efforts to woo the man who later became my husband, it would be best to take up indoor pursuits versus our long frigid walks in the predawn neighborhoods surrounding our college. My first attempt to induct him into the realms of MMOs had not gone well: FFXI had bored us both on multiple levels, and the free Guild Wars 2 disks slipped under all our doors as part of an advertising blitz hadn’t mesmerized us for long, either. Enter, then, WoW, which both of us had heard of but neither had played. Nor did we know anyone else who played.  We entered with fresh eyes, each other’s only known players, and we bought it right when it looked like I was about to leave for Germany for a year. We wanted to keep in contact.

I didn’t end up making it to Germany, but we didn’t end up dropping WoW just because we still lived down the street from one another. In 2007, we stood out in a blizzard for the midnight release of the Burning Crusade expansion, and logged in 3000 miles away from each other to play Wrath of the Lich King within hours of its release in 2008 (my mother opened the box she’d purchased on my instructions, and read me over Skype the codes I needed to start my download). We played both Alliance and Horde (though retained a private penchant for the latter), as various groups of friends and relatives entered the game on one side or the other, and between us have made alts of just about every class (though I’ve yet to play a mage or, bizarrely given my preference for hybrid classes, a shaman). We joined guilds and then left them as they fell apart or became too dramatic to stomach; we vegged out and chatted while grinding or fishing (which is, let’s be honest, just another form of grinding), in wildly different timezones and resultant levels of energy. We abandoned the game twice, once in 2006 when carpal tunnel syndrome rendered my wrists useless, and again in 2010 when my return from Japan and the cramming of a two-year grad school program into a single year made the time constraints untenable. We moved on to prettier games (like LotRO) with better PVP (like ESO), and steadfastly resisted the lure of more expansions like 2012’s Mists of Pandaria and 2014’s Warlords of Draenor. But recently, faced with cooling temperatures that in our AC-less house again allows for extended periods of time in the otherwise too-hot computer room, combined with glowing recommendations from friends, we picked up WoW again with Legion.

And…it’s good to be back.

It’s good, and it’s strange. Nowhere else are we able to return to things as they were when we were once so familiar with them. Our town has been rebuilt. Our college has been restructured. The various houses we used to live in — sold, repurposed, or (in one case, long after we’d left) burnt down. The cars we drove, rusted out and sold for scrap. The professors retired, the friends far away, the places we ate and drank and read closed, closed, closed: such was the way of things in one of the recession’s worst-hit areas.

Recession or no recession, though, this is normal. I get that. “You can’t go back,” as everyone from Higuchi Ichiyo to Thomas Wolfe tells readers time after time. Towns reinventing themselves after you’ve been away from them is normal. Shops and even schools closing is normal — regrettable, but normal. Everything passing away and on, hopefully to something better but inevitably to something different, is so utterly normal. But being able to return and see the same “people” you joked at or about, over a decade ago, occupying the same deserted outpost on the plains, entertaining the same bone-headed delusions of fantastical grandeur? That’s not normal. That’s the space people dream about, but never achieve.

But that is the strange space we find ourselves in. Maybe it shouldn’t feel so different than replaying a static, non-online game years after one’s first (or second, or third, or tenth) playthrough, but it does. People still populate the world. Gen chat still overflows with individuals winsome and less so, except that the references you see there now are topical. The political jokes, the memes, the slang — those have changed. So, too, have some game mechanics, mostly for the good it’s true. But the NPCs, [or most of them, given Cataclysm] the towns, the quests…the form and shape and even largely the content is the same. Trolls still warn you about the voodoo, orcs still go on and on about their precious war machine, and the undead just want to kill everyone, and none of their living, very-much-not-undead allies seem bothered by this.

Some things are markedly different. Communication is way, way down. No one talks in groups anymore. Usually at least you’d say hi when you showed up via the group finder in whatever dungeon, but no more: we might as well be talking to walls. They don’t even read our text, barrelling blindly on into mobs without listening to our (repeated) warnings about waiting for the freaking tank to make the pull. They don’t read, they don’t talk, they don’t listen. Groupmembers are largely on autopilot, and it makes us feel old. It makes me feel old. Back in the day, such behavior would be reported on the suspicion of the player being a bot, operated by a program to run around either gaining experience (in order for the character to be sold [illegally] online) or gathering resources, again to sell. Nowadays, that’s just how people are.

But still, we keep playing. We’ve made it to Outland by now and are so close to WotLK’s Northrend and its beloved musical accompaniment that I can taste it. The people I know who are all the way to Legion content sing its praises, to be sure, but while I’m looking forward to the newness of it I’m not really in a rush to get there. I’ve never been a great fan of WoW’s endgame, with its forced chores of dailies and raids with people I neither know nor, upon coming to know them, like much. Endgame, in the past, always boiled down to mindless repetition and stats and people yelling over voice chat in raids. Whereas what interested me was the exploration, the long journeys between point A and point B, the rare spawns causing sudden delighted detours on your errands. Hilarious quests, awesome drops, landscapes that remind me of this or that place I may never visit again for years.

Maybe though, given the way levels 1-60 have gone so far, I’ll miss the abrasive voices by the time endgame rolls around. Maybe we’ll sign ourselves up for another drama-ridden cesspool of a guild again and endure late nights and flippant asides on voice chat for a chance at that rare mount drop. Maybe we’ll feel like college kids once more, even though we’re tired and have to work eight hours in the morning. And the morning after that, and the morning after that…

Or maybe, as fans of Legion keep saying, it will be different.

Either way, we’ve been able to step back into a world preserved, for the most part, in the dubiously lasting amber of the pay-to-play MMO. And that ability to return has already been worth it.


collateral beauty 

So this is where we are now.

1.) Ad for this movie pops up on Twitter. I enable its sound because the dominoes remind me of A Beautiful Mind and I want it to be like that.

2.) Holy shit that cast.

3.) Holy shit it’s not even trying to be sassy — it’s trying to be earnest!


What this looks like is a serious feel-good Christmastime movie (without actually being about Christmas per se). I am invested in serious feel-good movies. I am abundantly aware that that is a vulnerable state to be in. Response to your perceived enthusiasm will range along these lines:

1.) haha dumb bitch is sad and needs a story about dumb bitches to feel better

2.) oh my god how could you even watch that it’s so derivative/hackneyed/Oscar bait

3.) maybe it’s okay but it’s not [insert timeless classic here] so I don’t know why you’d waste your money

So I will tell no one. This movie deals with child death, which is in every other book I tend to pick up by accident, and quickly becoming my biggest fear. (It wrecks everything forever, it looks like.) It has, it seems, parable-level characters in it, which would annoy the hell out of me if done poorly (shut up, Old White Men Of Christmas Past, as well as American Gods) but which I appreciate when done well (I’m looking at you, What Dreams May Come). So I am so on board for this movie and so determined not to expose that.

Because honestly it looks the way you feel after the best books. After, say, Let the Great World Spin, or Lions of Al-Rassan, or Black Swan Green. (Or, *cough*, the Trespasser DLC, just saying.) And those feels are worth pursuing. In whatever format.