Fiasco: Nextwave comes crashing down!

Nextwave_issue_11Tonight we played the second act of a Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games) episode using the Heroes of Pinnacle City playset written by Ryan Consell, Josh Hoey, Anna Kreider, and Kit Kreider, to simulate Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

We had as much fun as we had in the first act; let’s just say that the portal which the Bloodstone family had been supposed to guard re-opened in Daeseong-dong, bringing hordes of doppelgangers of The Captain, and Pulgasari himself! Despite Nextwave nearly starting World War III, and Monica very publicly insulting the Avengers, Aaron Stacks managed to end up on top as the Avengers’ new leader…


“Far Beyond the Stars” yet so close

'Far_Beyond_the_Stars'_sketchLast night we watched the classic Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars” (Season 6, Episode 13, originally aired February 11, 1998.) I had never seen it before; I had entirely missed the last two seasons of DS9 and was spotty on seasons 2-5 until our current re-watch.

The episode has aged very well; nearly two decades later, it is very, very current. The premise (not a spoiler) is that Captain Benjamin Sisko has a full sensory vision of himself as an under-appreciated science fiction magazine writer in 1950s America. The cast regulars play alternate characters in this vision, all without alien prosthetic make-up.

The episode is a success that can be appreciated on multiple levels: the illustration of hope and despair, of prejudice overt and insidious, of how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go; the geeky enjoyment of the portrayals of characters based on real science fiction writers; the actors playing alternate parts with interesting symbolism in harmony or contrast with their regular parts; the musings about the relationship between ideas and change.

The story ties in painfully well with such current topics as the need to even state that Black Lives Matter, and various Sad/Rabid Puppies droppings. For my money, actor Avery Brooks, who also directs the episode, chewed the scenery too much in the climax scene; however, it remains a very strong piece.

You don’t need to be familiar with the metaplot of the show to appreciate this episode on its own; see it on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon. Read more about the episode here and here (spoiler alert.)

Day 15, Cycle 2: Not Too Bad!

cancer_crab_arabic_drawingMy second cycle of chemotherapy has been unfolding more gently than the first one. Things that really helped included getting white blood cell booster shots on Days 2 to 4 instead of later in the cycle, and improved food and protein intake. As a result, I didn’t become as weak as the first time and I didn’t dehydrate.

That has left me with the time and energy to take inventory and appreciate the good things:

The people in my life. My husband, family, and loved ones are so amazing. Oh, my friends near and far! You are so amazing. You may not know what a difference you make, so I’m telling you. All your wishes, kind words, visits, books, prepared meals, scarves, help, advice, it all buoys me through this.

2016-04-15 13.31.31
Nun of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Scarves and hats. I have received so many lovely scarves and hats from friends that I can accessorize with any colour combination, and wear something different every time. Some are stately and luscious fabrics, some are silky wraps, some are whimsical. I’ve received funny ones (like the Flying Spaghetti Monster cap) and geeky ones (like the D20 scarf), jewel tones and pastels, cotton and satin. Which is coming in really handy now that my hair is getting disgustingly patchy.Â đŸ˜¦

Coffee. This time I felt better so I was able to keep on drinking my morning coffee throughout the low part of the cycle! You wouldn’t think that makes such a difference, but it does. Not wanting coffee is a sure sign of doom for me.

Dr. Valentine
Dr. Valentine

Felinotherapy. My cats are great providers. I’m attended by Dr. Valentine, Head Oncology Felinotherapist, supported by Dr. Ubaid and Dr. Phantom.

Kaiser Permanente. While I detest the American mockery of a health care system, and HMOs in particular are highly suspect, I have found the local Kaiser Permanente team to be great. It’s well integrated so that I don’t get bounced around between specialties, response is very quick, and the vast majority of people I have encountered seemed very competent and were courteous and helpful. And speaking of KP, their class on nutrition for cancer patients was very helpful in getting me to stay hydrated and eat more protein this time around.

Smartphones. It’s so amazingly useful to have an iPhone, every sick or disabled person should be given one for free. It’s an amazing assistive technology, at hand for everything from keeping in constant contact with one’s support network, to booking medical appointments, to looking up vital information, to storing details of your prescriptions.

Bitching. Yeah, you wouldn’t think that’s a good thing, right? But it is! This time around I was just well enough at the lowest point to bitch about all my little booboos, aches, sores, hair loss, etc. The first time around I was too weak even for that, all I could do was feel miserable. So bitching was progress!

And speaking of bitching…

Troll controls. Spam filters, the “Block” and “Hide post” features, comment screening, and all these wonderful tools on WordPress, Facebook, Google+, and Gmail. Oh yeah, trolls, you’re really so very interesting. Pfftt.

Core Memory

Inside-Out-Core-MemoriesA few nights ago I finally had a chance to watch Pixar’s movie Inside Out. (Pico-review: I loved it.) One concept it uses (not a spoiler) is that some of our memories are “core memories” that anchor our personality, things that become central to the person we are; they are not immutable but they are very strong.

I assume we can all think of a few moments that stay with us through life, to which we turn back repeatedly either to recapture them or with the burning wish to redeem them. I can think of several, but there is one in particular that for four decades has been central to me. It’s the one that I think reflects the best that is in me, that represents the person I want to be, I try daily to choose to be. (So yeah, it’s a core memory that makes me look good, but rest assured that I have some that are not as proud. Another day’s tale.)

My mom had always tried to have my little sister and I participate in after-school activities: swimming and tennis lessons, kids’ day camps, etc.. We had been taking ballet classes in a program sponsored by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and I loved it, even though I was painfully shy. It was very difficult for me, like for a lot of bookish nerdy kids, to make conversation with strangers, let alone make friends, so various classes were generally a blur of me trying to follow along what others did without asking questions of other kids or otherwise attracting their attention.

Ballet Dancers Sketch Edgar DegasWhen I was ten, we moved from my small beloved little home town to a slightly larger but more closed-in, more economically-depressed, more demographically uniform town. Hey, moving, just like the protagonist in Inside Out! The new town had a ballet class but one taught independently outside the sponsorship program. Instead of being divided by experience and age group, a large crowd of little girls (no boys in this one that I can recall, one or two in the previous one) milled around with little direction. Instead of getting directed warm-up exercises, we were left to our own devices until the instructor would decide to start the lesson. I was moving in a haze of disorientation.

This instructor was a bitter, stringy woman who clearly hated us all. Instead of the encouragements and gentle corrections by example I had been used to, she publicly mocked mistakes and humiliated the unlucky. Naturally, I tried very hard to stay unnoticed in the background.

It was only a handful of classes before I got myself in trouble.

One of the very youngest and tiniest girls, about four years old, didn’t know her left from her right. When she mimicked other girls, she therefore used the mirror-image. The instructor would mock her but never say what was going on, just deriding the girl. It had happened already at the previous class, but other girls had been more of a focus for mockery; however, that particular day, the little one was the choice target. To “correct” her, the instructor started wordlessly using a pen and writing Xs on the girl’s pretty pink ballet slipper. The little girl was in tears.

And something in me snapped.

I just couldn’t take this shit anymore. I knew exactly how mean the instructor would be if I spoke up. But I had to. I felt myself reaching across a vast gulf of time and holding hands with the adult I would be one day, drawing strength. No, this is not a metaphor, I really felt this way.

Then I spoke in a voice that didn’t even seem my own but my adult voice: “She doesn’t know her left from her right, she’s too small. It serves no purpose to mock her, she doesn’t understand.”

The instructor whirled on me, eyes narrowed. She gave me a tongue-lashing for being so haughty and fancy, what with my “Grands Ballets Canadiens” training (whoops, shouldn’t have even mentioned it when I signed up!) I pretty much ignored it because it really didn’t reach me where it hurts. When she had her back to me, I would signal to the littlest girl what foot to use. Eventually got caught. Got called ugly and stupid, “looking like a witch.”

Intent on revenge, the instructor then started us on long, excessive stretches, eyeing me and me alone. I stayed in for a good while but it became clear that she was punishing everyone to punish me so I finally stopped, gave a little bow and said “I give up, you can let them go now.” Mean Instructor cackled and said venomously, “Maybe you should have done warm-up exercises when it was time.” I calmly answered, “In the Grands Ballets Canadiens, we had directed warm-ups.” Zing!

She made me move back, and back, and back in the ranks, saying it was so she wouldn’t have to look at me because I was “so ugly.” (Yeah, I knew it was a self-image attack; I wasn’t unusually pretty but I certainly knew I was not a particularly ugly child.)

By then, I was a nervous wreck inside, but I made it through the class without crying in front of anyone. At the end I barely reach mom’s car and then lost it, of course. I told her the tale and then never managed to go back. Mom sighed a bit, the classes were paid through the rest of the month, but didn’t try to force me back.

It was a harrowing experience, but one of my proudest moments. I had decided to stand up for someone else, and I had behaved with strength of character. This was the person I wanted to be.

If this was Inside Out, I think the memory would have had the colours of all five inner voices, probably dominated by Anger’s red — and eventually Joy’s gold.

Mini-review: Ex Machina (2015)

Up-front warnings: (1) This review contains spoilers. (2) I didn’t like the movie.

ex_machina_posterNot spoilers: The premise of this movie is that Main White Guy Character Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Antagonist White Guy Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test, charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence — Sexy Fembot Ava (Alicia Vikander).

[Edit: A couple of friends have told me that Oscar Isaac, who is Hispanic, doesn’t read as white to them. That really surprised me, I read both the actor and the specific character of Nathan Bateman as white, but you may have a different impression. I have to add that if Bateman is supposed to read as a person of colour, it doesn’t help the movie for me, on the contrary.]

The movie tries to be a thriller but all the plot twists are predictable for science fiction aficionados. Nothing you haven’t read elsewhere. It also tries to be visually stylish and to feel intellectual; your mileage may vary. Mostly, Edmund and I spent our time asking the characters on screen: “Really? You didn’t see this coming?”

But I’d like to focus on the things that creeped me out, and not in a good thriller way. Spoilers begin here. Continue reading “Mini-review: Ex Machina (2015)”

A Full Chemo Cycle

cancer_the_crabI’m now on Day 3 of chemotherapy Cycle 2. (Day 1 is the infusion day, there is no Day 0.) I have been keeping a daily log of symptoms, medication, and food intake so I have a better idea of what to expect this time around, and things seem to unfold as expected.

  • On Days 2 to 4, I am relatively well (with anti-nausea medication), though my energy and appetite start decreasing. I have to take injections to boost my white blood cell count during those days. I may experience constipation thanks to the anti-nausea medication, but then it will swing to the opposite extreme.
  • On Day 3 to 7, I get joint pains in my hands and sometimes feet, particularly in the last two digits of my right hand. Same place I get pains sometimes in bad weather.
  • On Days 5 to 8, I will be very tired and have no appetite, to the point where drinking enough to down my meds is difficult. This time around I have to do better and stay hydrated, get more protein in, etc.. Last cycle I lost ten pounds and had to receive intravenous fluids. While I have plenty of excess weight, the medical team stresses repeatedly that maintaining weight during chemotherapy is very important.
  • Around Day 9 I should start recovering, and the progress should be quite satisfactory by Day 14. But I will not rebound to 100%, nor even to where I was at the start of this cycle; every cycle will bring me down more.
  • Days 14 to 21 are pretty good days if I remember that I’m not at full strength: limit walking, exposure to crowds, etc.

Throughout the cycle I also get itchy skin, hair loss, small sores; last time my tonsils got really bad during Days 5 to 8, I hope it won’t happen every time.

This is what the white blood cell count does.



Fiasco: Nextwave!

Tonight we played a Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games) episode using the Heroes of Pinnacle City playset written by Ryan Consell, Josh Hoey, Anna Kreider, and Kit Kreider, to simulate Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

We had a blast. Several, actually. The characters were Aaron Stack, Elsa Bloodstone, The Captain, and Monica Rambeau. Here is a shot of the Roll20 board as we reached the tilt phase; we’ll have the second half of the game in a couple of weeks. Roll20 works really well, you can set the colour of your dice and then drag them on the board.

That was game no. 21 of #61in16 for me, and 22 players out of #36in16.

Fiasco: Nextwave!

Deaf as a stone

dice and pawns

An open letter to a commenter on this blog, and to the like-minded.

Dear Pierre,

FrankieYou are vocally against inclusiveness in games, as you have made clear both in your comments on my earlier post and in the discussion thread that had partly inspired it. When you started posting on my blog on Sunday, I allowed the comments through because I try to let the conversation flow as long as it remains civil, because I harbour silly hopes of good-faith discussion of serious issues, and because I don’t mind allowing people to be damned by their own words and deeds. I may also have been lulled into false hope because like me, you are French Canadian so I expected more meeting of the minds. But you’re skirting dangerous close to outright name-calling so I must attempt to bring this delightful exchange to a productive conclusion.

I’m not sure why you’re posting here. Unfortunately for my resilient idealism, you don’t seem to be here to engage in a fair-minded discussion. It doesn’t look from your words like you read the posts you were commenting on, nor the points that had been presented by various commenters on the original thread. When one of your arguments is demolished, you continue just repeating it until people have so thoroughly beaten it into the ground that it’s embarrassing, then you move to another flawed argument but you don’t bother acknowledging that your points have been rebutted.

This shows that your conclusions are not based on your arguments, since the arguments can be rebutted and your conclusions are untouched. Instead, you use whatever you have at hand to try to prop up your conclusions, namely that making efforts to address gamers who are not able-bodied straight white cis men is an affront to the latter, the only “true” gamers. Is there anything anyone could say or do that would lead you to say “Oh, I had not thought of that, or I didn’t know that, you make a good point?” I doubt it.

So the very essence of good-faith discussion is missing. You’re not here to exchange, but to restate your grievances. Do you harbour hope of changing my mind, or any of my readers’? If you did, you would try to convince rather than ignore and evade, wouldn’t you? And that requires listening as well as talking.

GemmaBut not only have you failed to make any valid points; you have failed to convince me or anyone else of the importance of your cause (able-bodied straight white cis men) compared to mine (inclusiveness). You see, there is no shortage of games, books, movies, comics, television shows and other fiction and non-fiction showing your constituency in starring roles; in fact, it’s hard to find anything else. Why do you object to a few depictions and mentions of anyone else?

The form of your comments suggests that you don’t know anyone who doesn’t look like you and you have convinced yourself that they do not exist. But I know real gamers, real people who are hurt by this forced invisibility. You have spent your efforts trying to keep difference at bay; I’ve spent mine — years of gaming and organizing conventions in many cities — trying to open the gaming community to newcomers. I started on this path because I wanted to spread a hobby I dearly love; now it has brought me in contact with a vast circle of fantastic gamers and even more wonderful friends. I sit at the table with people who are disabled, trans, non-white, people of different orientations and genders and origins, and we have memorable adventures in our shared imagined worlds. Saying no to inclusive language and illustrations is saying no to real people.

Is this really who you want to be, the guy who holds the gate against women, minorities, and marginalized people? This is your cause? “At least I defended futuristic super-submarines from wheelchair users and trans people”?

Cancer constellation in a circleI don’t think you bothered to read anything on my blog, but if you did you may have noticed that in the weeks since you started this kerfuffle, I’ve had to face my own mortality. My treatment is proceeding but the carcinoma is described as “aggressive”, so I have to seriously address the fact that I may not be here for very long. I asked myself whether it was worth bothering with stupid little game-related flame wars with the rest of my time.

And the answer is “Fuck yeah.”

Every day of our lives, we must act as the people we want to be if we want to be remembered that way. If I’m going into the ground soon, I want to leave the memory of one who tried to hold the door open for others to get in, not the one who closed the gates.

It saddens me that you prefer to be “sourd comme les pierres.”

Day 12, Cycle 1: Food is complicated

Crowd-sourcing time! I need help tracking my nutrient intake and I’m looking for recommendations for a decent phone app or spreadsheet.

I’m slow at recovering appetite. Most days’ food consumption last week has looked like this:

Not a lot there...
Not a lot there…

Today I was brash and asked for salmon so Edmund made this lovely plate for me, but I think I’ll take in about half:


I’m looking for nutrient intake tracking, not just calories or weight. I don’t want miracle diets, foods that ward against cancer, or anything like that — just good simple data management that would allow reasonable guesstimates based on portion size for typical food without too much fiddling on my phone.

Day 10, Cycle 1: Slowly, slowly…

2016-04-09 19.28.46Feeling a little stronger, able to sit up for an hour or two at a time between naps, trying to drink at least two litres of liquids a day, still struggling with appetite. But I boldly requested an omelette for dinner and Edmund made this for me.