Citizen Pain is in da house

A production 24 years in the making… Citizen Pain! Yes, that’s how long I lived in the U.S. under work visas, then under spouse visas as a resident immigrant. Becoming American has never been something that appealed to me on an emotional level (I’m Canadian, I don’t have to fake it!)

But in recent years I have come to realize just how many rights which I thought applied to residents do in fact apply only to citizens: the right to legal representation, for example. And immigrants can get in trouble for a lot of legal activities, such as supporting civil rights groups, marching and protesting, or using certain privacy software like Tor or Signal. As my attorney and friend said, you can be right about the issue but you’ll still get in a mountain of trouble.

So this year I decided to bite the bullet, particularly since I was hoping to vote after over two decades of paying taxes. Unfortunately, a lot of immigrants had the same idea and my application, though sent in April, was not processed in time. But in the weeks since the horrible November 8 election, the Obama administration worked hard to child-proof the country, including processing as much of the immigration backlog as possible. It was my privilege to be sworn in today as a citizen, on the last tenure day of the president I admired so much.

The oath ceremony took place at the historic Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, and 1,240 new citizens from 91 countries were sworn in. (I understand that throughout the country, this week was a marathon of such events, thematically linked to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.) We were also able to apply for a U.S. passport and voter registration, so I took care of these items.

To be honest, the ceremony was a little odd, because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel are trying to be nice, joyful, congratulatory — and until this moment, none of us applicants have seen them be anything but suspicious, stern, and disengaged. As my friend Sean Nittner put it, it’s like having the Department of Motor Vehicles throw you a party! Also, when they were listing the 91 countries of origin, they forgot Canada. Dudes!

After the ceremony and various paperwork, we moved next door to Tiera Mia Coffee for our first caffeine of the day. We took a table in a corner and were having a nice conversation between my husband Edmund, my friends Sean and Dorene, and me, waiting for another friend, Marc, to join us. But then a weird incident happened.

First, this tall guy approached our table and just loomed over us, staring at Sean who asked if everything was okay. The guy said yes, still glaring; Sean gave a few polite words (something like “Good, I’m glad. You have a good day, now.”) It was said in his typical courteous way, didn’t sound snarky in the least. The guy went back to his table and we forgot about the incident.

Then maybe 30 minutes later, he got up, marched to our table and shoved his sandwich (and knuckles) in Sean’s face, then flipped our table in Sean’s lap! Cups and plates went flying, we were splashed and so were our table neighbours, and we all jumped to our feet yelling “What the hell! Why did you do that?” Without answering, the guy spat in Sean’s face, twice! Then he grabbed his skateboard and stomped off, never explaining himself.

The cafe manager called the police and a couple of officers showed up a few minutes later, took down the stories, and viewed the cafe’s surveillance camera footage. The best we can guess is that it was a case of mistaken identity; the guy did not give the vibe of someone looking to pick a fight with anyone, just with Sean.

After some cleaning up and new drinks, and telling the whole story to our friend Marc, we moved a couple of blocks up the street to Agave Uptown, an Oaxacan restaurant where I had made a lunch reservation. Happily, we encountered no further weirdness, and all felt like we had had enough for a while.

As a newly minted registered voter, I plan to keep the phone red-hot with calls to political representatives. Until now my opinion has never mattered; if you’re not a registered voter, your signatures and calls don’t count. But I do plan on being counted now. And I know calls are much more effective than form letters and Internet petitions. So I will use my new citizenship, oh yes I will.

Come at me, 2017

2017As you might have guessed, the last several weeks have been harder on my morale than my body. The last stretch of the American presidential election was hugely stress-inducing, and the results were soul-crushing. I know my friends know what I’m talking about, I heard it in their words and read it in their posts. Except for the most upbeat of topics — my gaming group, Thanksgiving, and the good progress in my treatment — I have been unable to write anything in over eight weeks. I keep thinking of words in my head, it’s all there, but I’ve been unable to put them down in writing.

Two months ago, I was cautiously optimistic. I thought we would probably get a weak Clinton victory, then some incremental building on the cautious progress made under the Obama administration; against this backdrop, I was expecting to focus a lot of energy on my geek communities, and particularly the gaming community, as I returned to health.

Then the world changed. I’m still not ready to unpack this event, but the result is that people previously known as “Gamergators,” “MRAs,” “pissing booth warriors” and “some racist trolls in the bottom drawer of the Internet” now feel emboldened to take their assholiness for a stroll in real space. Suddenly, it’s not just in a few compartments of our lives that we can meet with acts of hatred from people we don’t even know. After what most of us considered a shitty year, 2017 looks like it will be even worse. I met January 1st more downcast and apprehensive than I ever have in my life.

My backlog of writing is not helped by the fact that I feel I will be discussing many unpleasant topics this year. Indeed, in late October and early November before I sank into depression, I was planning to start writing a series tackling some of the successes, failures, and possible paths forward for diversity in tabletop gaming and related geeky pursuits. I feel this is more needed now than ever, but I don’t know how much justice I will be able to do to the topics.

Nevertheless, I can’t just roll over and play dead. It’s not the first time I have dealt with depression, and I will deal with it this time again. In fact, I was hit by a wave at about the same time the year before, when my kind and benevolent employer unilaterally cut my hours and stripped me of my benefits. You know what got me out of the ditch? Cancer. That’s right, sometimes it’s not an improvement in circumstances that serves as the ladder to climb out of a hole, but a disaster you have to respond to. And 2017 looks to be quite the disaster, so I might as well hold on to that to climb.

Happy New Year, folks. Me, I take pride in the fact that I managed to write this post without too much profanity.

Our friend Phantom

Phantom_shelterTwo years ago today, Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue posted on Facebook about Phantom, a black cat who had been left at a San Francisco animal shelter, reportedly after spending fifteen years with the same people. An older black cat with a blemish (a supposedly benign tumour above his right eye), terrified of the brouhaha at the shelter and therefore not responsive to humans: he didn’t stand a chance. He was was going to be euthanized unless someone stepped up immediately to adopt him. Fortunately, a friend (thanks, Brian!) re-posted and I responded that Edmund and I would take Phantom. It was a Saturday; the volunteer from Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue later said that if we hadn’t piped up right then, Phantom probably would not have made it to Monday.

Phantom was terrified of his change of surroundings at first, and not too keen on sharing the house with two other cats, but he has the most amazing growl and established his little space. (No actual cat fights occurred, just occasional Sturm und Drang.)

Later visits to the veterinarian revealed that the first vet we saw, who had dismissed the tumour as benign, was an idiot. It was a mast cell tumour, and although our (current, really good) veterinarian removed everything she could, the tumour was too deep to completely excise. It’s slow-growing but some day Phantom may have full-fledged cancer.

But in the meantime, oh! What an awesome cat! He is such a lovely friend. He loves to follow us around, curl up in physical contact with us, especially between Edmund and I. Edmund is his favourite but I do get quite a lot of cuddles too. We’re so glad he came to live with us! Thank you, Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue volunteers.

Phantom-wrecks-board-game

Preparing for chemotherapy

Cancer constellation in a circleIf you have been diagnosed with cancer as I was in March, you may face the prospect of saying yes to chemotherapy — and going from whatever aches and pains you’re currently dealing with to several months of misery in the hope of killing cancer before it kills you. Here are some things you can do to prepare so this awful time can be weathered as well as possible.

Get help

You will need help, and for many of us, it’s very hard to ask for help. So think back on the times friends or family needed help, and how you wanted to be able to do something, anything. Tell the people around you what you need. Some will be able to give one small boost, and it may be just what you needed at the right time. Others will be incredibly generous, and you will feel awkward about it. That’s okay.

And yes, a few may be clumsy, overly directive, or factually wrong about the way they try to help you. Don’t take a friend’s miracle cure over your oncologist’s directions, and don’t let a well-meaning relative kindly bully you into anything. But accept the love that inspires this wrong kind of help.

Things you can get help with: Continue reading “Preparing for chemotherapy”

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Spider crab
Stupid cancer, stealing my hair!

I met with the oncologist yesterday. I’m going to the chemotherapy orientation today. I start chemo treatments day after tomorrow. I want to get a haircut before then so I don’t have to pick up long hair everywhere.

I will be under a TCHP regimen: three-week cycles with four drugs — Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta — for a total of six cycles, expected to be followed by surgery. The oncologist recommended starting with chemo because my cancer is aggressive and it’s possible that cancerous cells have started migrating through the body, in which case going to surgery first only gives them more time to multiply. Moreover, the exact same course of chemotherapy would be needed afterwards if had surgery first. Starting with chemo gives a chance to shrink the tumour and stop progress before surgery.

From my perspective, I’m hoping that maybe facing chemotherapy before I have started feeling sick from the cancer and before recovering from surgery will give me more strength through this part of the treatment. I also prioritize the oncologist’s recommendation for treatment over the surgeon because she’s the one who will oversee my case for months and she is the most knowledgeable about the expected progress of cancer.

Fun fact: I learned that the reason to keep my head covered once I lose my hair is not only vanity nor even protection from the sun but also because it’s easy to get an infection through the damaged follicles if I’m exposed to germs.

Don’t send flowers, send pretty scarves…

 

 

Priorities

I just learned that I have breast cancer. On the anniversary of my grandfather death from cancer, that’s a fun coincidence. I’m skeptical about the concept of “beating” cancer; we all die anyway. In the end, I have likely passed the mid-point of my life, no matter what happens next. I’m an atheist so I feel no worry about an afterlife, whether toasty or cloudy, and I’ve always known that I couldn’t possibly live long enough to get tired of the things I love (like friends, family, cats…)

But I’m already dealing with depression, so the thought of the chore that is being sick, being miserably poor, experiencing pain and side effects, is daunting. So I’m not going to live forever, I’m not going to be rewarded or punished in an afterlife, and the world will keep on moving along just fine whether I keep a positive attitude, rage against the dying of the light, or ignore the whole matter.

But I’ve thought about the whole thing and decided that there is one thing that matters to me: whether I die this year or survive another few decades, I’d like to have been a decent human being. So my plan right now is to do all the reasonable things I can to buy myself as many good years as I can, but to spend as much time as I can on the things I care about — from friends and family to social justice to geeky pursuits — and to place people first.

Well, cats and people.

Cancer constellation

Christmas Eve Exchange

As a tradition inherited from Edmund’s family, we open our Christmas presents after Christmas dinner, to make the holiday last as long as possible. However, as an offering to impatience and my traditions, we usually exchange and open one present each on Christmas Eve. So Edmund gave me The Badass Feminist Coloring Book, and I gave him a long-overdue portrait I drew of Kuri, the character from my book War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus. It was all very art-y.

Kuri was just an aspect on sample character Iva the Stubborn’s character sheet until I needed one more character for a playtest event and Edmund decided to play Kuri, who ended the episode with a pirate’s hat as a trophy. Kuri is a Jaarl fawn who also appears in the micro-fiction penned by Edmund in the book. He had asked me a long time ago for a drawing of the character; I had several false starts but I finally completed it.  Hee!

kuri

Thanksgiving, Agaptus-style

WoA_minis-KuldYes, it’s time for my annual effort to embrace the American tradition of Thanksgiving, not with food, although that will come later, but with taking stock of things in my life worth being grateful for.  As usual, first come family (foremost, Edmund and my mom), friends (in person and online, nearby and far away), and felines (Valentine, Ubaid and Phantom).  Work was not a happy affair this year with the company in constant reorganization, but at least I have work.  And I got more fun work, hobby-work but rewarding, writing for game publishers and managing some project from Evil Hat Productions.

But the single most exciting thing in my life this year has been the publication of the role-playing game War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus.  Evil Hat pulled out all the stops on making this a beautiful, well-edited, well-organized book and I like to think I held my own with the writing.  I am so very thankful that they were willing to take a chance on a whole book with my writing, and that they assembled such a great team to work with and to rely on.

And I’m thankful for the army of War of Ashes miniatures Edmund painted for me.  Nothing says “Thanksgiving feast” like a Kuld horde.

The Thing Pretty pictures Besieged

Our first encounter with Iron Legacy

“We regret to inform you that Iron Legacy will not be speaking at tonight’s League of Evil dinner. Legacy, Tempest, Chrono-Ranger and Nightmist will bring him flowers.”

We got two of the expansions for Sentinels of the Multiverse during the holidays, “Shattered Timelines” and “Wrath of the Cosmos.” We’ve faced, and eventually beaten, every villain until the only one left was Iron Legacy, so that’s who we faced for our dinnertime game.

He hits hard, but Nightmist got rid of all four of his ongoing cards at the end of the first round. After that, it was just a question of hitting as hard and as fast as we could; with (heroic) Legacy boosting our damage by two, Chrono-Ranger shot Iron Legacy to tiny ribbons.

We’re horribly pleased with ourselves, and we’ve decided that we can’t play again for a while. We’ll switch back to Mice & Mystics at dinnertime!

RIP Iron Legacy

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Progression

Sentinel of the MultiverseMy husband and I encountered Sentinels of the Multiverse (published by Greater Than Games) for the first time in 2014—i.e., after everyone else—and we immediately loved it. It is a superhero-themed cooperative game, easy to learn and with fantastic replay value.

Also in 2014, we started replacing movie- or television-watching during dinner time with board games instead: some that got a lot of mileage included Mice & Mystics (Plaid Hat Games), Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert (GameWright), Zeppelin Attack! (Evil Hat Productions), Galactic Strike Force (Greater Than Games), Smash Up (Alderac Entertainment Group), and a smattering of others.

But our most-played was hands-down Sentinels of the Multiverse, which prompted us to get the Infernal Relics/Rook City expansion and the decks for heroes Unity and The Scholar, villains Miss Information and Ambuscade, and the Silver Gulch 1883 and Final Wasteland environments. (I’m sure we’ll get other expansions in 2015…)

We usually played with two heroes each, one of us also handling the villain deck and the other the environment deck. We worked our way through all the villains we had available a few times, then encountered them again in Advanced mode until we had managed to beat them all. (I think Citizen Dawn was the toughest in Advanced mode.)

We tried playing with three heroes a few times, but it broke the convenient back-and-forth of alternating turns between Edmund and I, so for our next challenge we decided to start tackling villains using only two heroes. We started during the holidays; so far, Expatriette and Nightmist have beaten Baron Blade in the Realm of Discordia; then Ra and Tempest beat Omnitron in Wagner Mars Base, and Ambuscade in Insula Primalis.

Now we’re done with the wimpy villains—things are about to get tough! Our own ratings for the villains’ increasing difficulty, different from the official ones:

  1. Baron Blade, Omnitron, Ambuscade
  2. The Ennead, Plague Rat, Spite, Apostate, Gloomweaver,
  3. Akash’bhuta, Grand Warlord Voss, Miss Information
  4. Citizen Dawn, The Matriarch, The Chairman

Expatriette Ra_0 Tempest

Update: On 1/11 Ra and Tempest beat Gloomweaver to a pulp in Silver Gulch 1883, and on 1/12, they squeaked to a victory over Apostate in the Ruins of Atlantis, with Ra incapacitated two turns from the end and Tempest ending with 1 HP!

Update #2: Last night Ra and Tempest beat Spite on Wagner Mars Base. Ra was not ideal, Haka would have been a better choice here, but we still managed it on the second try.

Update #3: Epic victory against Plague Rat tonight for Haka and Tempest, in the Realm of Disco(rd). At one point both heroes were at 2-3 HP left, afflicted with “Infection” and Plague Rat was back at full health with half a dozen Ongoings. Then the moment we’d been waiting for arrived: the Distortion “Imbued Vitality” came into play, so all ongoings suddenly had 6 HP and were the lowest villain targets. Haka used “Punish the Weak” and destroyed them all. Shortly before that, Tempest had just managed to put two copies of “Cleansing Downpour” in play. From then on we slowly crept up on Plague Rat, but then we started worrying that we would have to shuffle the villain trash—and bring back all the Infection cards. We finished him on his last card!