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One Hundred and Ten

Hey, how’s it going? Today is, by my count, day one hundred and ten of quarantine here in New York. At least since the day that I went into lockdown, stopped going into work, and have been in relative isolation within my apartment.

For those of y’all keeping track at home, that’s almost four months now.

Haven’t left my neighborhood in near on four months, haven’t gone on the subway in the same amount of time. Still going outside, though, but probably not getting near enough sunlight as I ought (but then again, sunlight is awful and hot). COVID-19 shows no real signs of abating — if anything, it’s gotten worse Stateside. Though the hotspots have since moved away from New York towards other parts of the US, I’ve little doubt things are gonna flare up again here in s short time.

There’s a lot of frustration with all this, of course. I’ve done my part, sure would be nice if everyone else did theirs too and life could go back to ‘normal’ at some point, but, here we are.

I suppose thinking too much about that would lead to this post being far more morose than I’d like; it’s not pessimism, just a wary eye on the potential future. Perhaps one tinged with the tiredness that’s resulted from the relative monotony of quarantine.

But hey, it’s better than getting sick. So, there’s that.

Anyway. Been playing a lot of Destiny 2 finally. There’s actual plot in this one, which is remarkable, while still being a lotta fun (seriously, the core gameplay loop of Destiny is so gratifying). I’m savoring the last season of She Ra and The Princesses of Power because it’s wonderful and I wanna make it last. The Last of Us Part Two was terrific; beautiful and heart-wrenching. I’ve on a post on it somewhere in me, but I might need another play-through and certainly need more time for that game to digest.

Here’s to another week. Maybe it’s time to re-watch Pacific Rim.

Maybe it’s always time to watch Pacific Rim.

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Intensive Purposes

This post is not about The Last of Us Part Two, which I have been enjoying immensely. It’s also not about She-Ra and The Princesses Of Power, which I have been joyfully devouring. Nope, this one is about a turn of phrase.

Particularly “for all intents and purposes.”

Apparently, the phrase is one of those that people regularly get confused for “all intensive purposes.” I didn’t know this was a malapropism, perhaps because I’d never heard the phrase “intensive purposes,” but more likely because, an avid reader, I undoubtedly came across “for all intents and purposes” in writing before hearing it said, and so it became one of those things that just clicked (“ah, yes, that’s that thing I’ve heard”).

But when I, a few years ago, learnt about the malapropism, I’ve found myself checking every time I write the phrase, making sure that I didn’t slip and write “intensive.” Even though I never have, and tend to doubt I will unless I find a purpose that’s truly intense. Nonetheless, it’s something I do just in case.

Is this mixup something I’ve personally had to deal with? No, not at all. But is it something I should be aware of? Oh yes, certainly. It’s a thing that exists, and given that I’m aware of it, it’s something I have to watch out for.

Sometimes it’s easy to get really caught up in our own experiences and our own views of the world. Just because I’d never heard of “intensive purposes” prior to finding out about the malapropism doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A lot of things are that way.

Take women in refrigerators. This is a term coined by Gail Simone to describe the trope in comics (and really a lot of media) of having a female character killed or maimed (usually quite brutally) in order to provide a male character with angst and motivation. It’s so-named because of a Green Lantern comic wherein the hero returns to find his girlfriend killed and, uh, stuffed in a fridge. It’s a tired trope because it reduces female characters (and it’s almost always women) to little more than plot devices, one that is predicated on violence against women and withholding of agency. That’s not to say it can’t be done well, just to say that it’s often done poorly.

I first learnt of this trope maybe a decade or so ago, during a deep dive into TV Tropes. I remember my first response being a defensive one; it’s a cool plot device, and it’s cause for plot progression and difficult backstories. What’s the problem? A lot of learning later, and I came to reckon with its problematic nature and how, sure, it’s fine here and there, but we’re well past that point and the onus of storytellers is to find better ways to make their plots happen without ‘fridging a woman.

These days it’s something I’m acutely aware of, and something I also get very annoyed by (my main takeaway from Deadpool 2 is they took an awesome female character from the first one and ‘fridged her in the first act and I’m still mad about it). This doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist prior to my knowing about it, just that it’s something I was unaware of and now have no excuse to not perpetuate it. If I kill off a female character in one of my stories for manpain, I’m a part of the problem.

Not to belabor the point, but the important thing is to be open and learn. There’s stuff that mayn’t concern you personally but are still existent in society. It can be misunderstanding “intents and purposes,” it can be a crappy narrative trope, it can be far more important issues out there that we are fortunate enough to be ignorant of. So shut up, listen, be wrong, and learn to be better. It can be a lot to deal with, but there’s a real reason for it; it’s something that’s gotta be done with intensive purpose.

Remember: Black Lives Matter. Even if you’re fortunate enough to not be affected by systemic racism, it’s something to be aware of and fight against. Please take a minute and help.

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Learn

There’s a lot going on out there. The pandemic is still very much a thing and frustration at systemic racism has finally boiled over. Earlier this week I started thinking out a blog post about it all, about my own experiences with race and learning to be better.

That said, it’s difficult for me to really sit down and write something concrete. Mostly because there’s a lot of things I’m still thinking through, a lot of stuff that I feel like I don’t know enough to pontificate here on my blog.

There are things that I believe are true. Black lives matter. There is systemic racism within the US and abroad that has its tendrils sunk into every institution. For too long the police have been allowed to run roughshod over society’s most vulnerable. But things don’t have to be this way. Things can change. We can change.

Herein is the most important thing: learning. Please, be willing to learn. Be willing to realize when you’ve made a mistake, realize when you were wrong. It’s how you become a better person, isn’t it?

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Watch My Movie!

Hey! Instead of a blogpost this week, go watch my movie!

You can also check out some nifty behind the scenes photos on my website.

 

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What Day Is It?

I kid. I’m mostly sure it’s Saturday.

Mostly.

Kinda wild that another week has already gone by. Couldn’t tell you what I’ve been doing, just because it’s the thing where days tend to blur together, kinda like how summer days used to back when you were a teenager only with less time spent going outside and more existential dread. Fun times.

I’ve been doing stuff, to be sure. Reading, cooking, supposedly writing; stuff like that. Been playing video games too, and not just playing Star Wars Battlefront II while listening to podcasts, either (though certainly a lot of that).

I’m a huge fan of game maker Hideo Kojima. His Metal Gear Solids are truly singular in how wildly bonkers they are and with how committed they are to their bits. They’re games about nanomachine-enhanced soldiers, using ketchup as fake blood, and the ramifications of mutually assured nuclear destruction. The second game is a serious exploration of meme theory and the permeation of culture into a person’s psyche and their need to act it out wrapped up in a story involving clones, a roller-skating bomb man, and giant mechs. Trust me when I say these games are ridiculous and thoughtful at the same time, sometimes spinning between the two ends in a matter of minutes.

Death Standing is his latest game, one I’ve been eagerly waiting for since it was announced. The game’s borderline nonsensical, but it’s so committed to its nonsense that it somehow makes sense. I’ve talked about it before on this blog, about running deliveries in an isolated, disparate, post-apocalyptic America (and how that’s oddly prescient given where we are now).

I’m over seventy hours into the game, which is testament to how much time I’ve on my hands these days, but also pretty impressive since it’s a game I’ve only been playing with my girlfriend so it’s on her, too. Somehow, this plot involving stillborn fetuses being able to bridge the gap between life and death has just gotten weirder as it’s gone on, but it’s a game so sure of itself you can’t help but to get sucked into its melodrama and want to come along for the ride. It helps that the game’s central themes are so clearly on its sleeve; Death Stranding isn’t a game about death and life so much as it is one about the connections between people and a meditation on ways that people stay connected — like the internet. And then there’s Mads Mikkelsen playing, well, it’s almost a spoiler to say who he is, but he just adds to the madness in a fantastic way.

I’m someone who has trouble sitting still. Binging movies and tv is hard for me, since I have this antsy need to be doing something. So video games are a wonderful diversion for me, as they’re a medium where I feel like I’m taking an active part in stuff. And I’m so glad that there are games like Death Stranding to occupy my time, the sort of art (yes, art) that’s so specific and singular and fills me with joy.

See you in seven days, which should be Saturday again.

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Day Thirteen

‘sup?

Today is, more or less, day thirteen of my self-imposed quarantine/isolation. I’m not sick, but as someone who’s in a position to take themself out of the equation of contagiousness, I elected to do so. Social responsibility and all that.

In the time since, New York has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, with the City itself being a hub within it all. It’s a lot to take in; like knowing that a few neighborhoods over there’s a hospital that’s operating in crisis mode. I’m lucky in that me and mine are safe and sound, some of us are working from home, some are on paid leave, but some have had to file for unemployment. But we know it could be worse for all of us, and we know that others aren’t nearly so lucky.

I go on walks now and then, both because I’m told I need sunlight and exercise, but also because I need groceries and wanna get takeout from places that are still offering. Being outside in my neighborhood is surreal. Lots of places are closed, which is sad to see even if they’re places I usually don’t frequent. The diner I go to most weekends stopped offering takeout earlier this week and has a sign on their door saying they’re closed indefinitely. So too went the ramen joint I like and the restaurant I live over.  A coffeeshop I adore and served me many a ginger-tinged coffee during NaNoWriMo is selling its beans in bulk before they close this weekend.

Throughout all this, I can’t help but wonder how this will all look when the pandemic is finally over, whether it’s several weeks or several months from now. Will that diner reopen? Will the staff still be there? It feels a selfish question, but it’s a place where I know a lot of the staff by name and have holed up with a book and endless coffee for hours, and truth be told, I miss that. Plus, I’ve a soft-spot for hole-in-the-wall eats and I’m loath to lose one, especially one like this. Feels like there’s so much in the air right now.

It’s funny. There’s a part of me that’s taken pop-culture’s obsession with New York as being just a trope that works. Yeah, aliens invade the City; yeah, that’s where the Ghostbusters operate; yeah, that’s where all the supervillains are for Spider-Man to fight. Seemed like Washington State was gonna be the big one for the Covid outbreak, but, no, it’s here in New York. Guess there is some truth in television to it all.

But again, I consider myself lucky. The supply chain to New York is robust, so I’m not worried about running out of food and other supplies. So long as the infrastructure holds up, FaceTime and Google Hangouts can afford a sort of companionship. I’m not worried about myself making it through this storm, but I do worry for those who aren’t as privileged. For those who still have to go in to work at grocers and hospitals, for those out of a job and those who might not have a job when this is over.

I don’t know what sort of conclusion to draw here, at the end of this rambling blog post. But be thankful for what you’ve got. And please, if you can, stay home and stay safe. Let’s get through this whole thing.

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Quarantined

To stem the rising tide of a pandemic, the residents of New York are put under lockdown. Life in the city grinds to a halt; no one goes into work and restaurants and bars are limited to take-out only options. News chyrons speak of medication being shipped to cities and team games being banned.

Who would’ve seen March 2020 looking like some B-Movie from the 80s?

It’s a time that I’ve been filling with watching movies, playing video games, and playing board games with friends. And reading too, because it’s a good time to be curled up with a book and a cup of coffee (I’m reading Ken Liu’s The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, if you’re curious).

I’ve really taken a liking to Legacy-style board games. These are the ones that every game impacts the next one and rules develop as you go. You get to name characters and mechanics get added and changed. Pandemic Legacy has been a lot of fun, because Pandemic is a fun board game anyway and it’s a little topical now given the whole, y’know, worldwide pandemic. Given the opportunity to name the diseases, we naturally chose to name one Corona and, keeping with the theme, the other three Budweiser, Miller, and Guinness. Because theming.

A fun bonus of it is that it’s a cooperative board game, so rather than conspiring against each other (which believe me is one of my favorite things), you’re working together against whatever’s going wrong in the game. It makes for a fun tabletop experience because you’re united with a common goal. It also makes for a gaming experience that’s built more around puzzling and problem solving than usurpation, which is a fun part of the brain to exercise.

Tonight we’re gonna take a stab at the Legacy version of Betrayal At The House On The Hill, another game that lets you play together alongside each other until the Haunt begins at which point it becomes competitive. All the same, it makes for a fun time.

Of course, to play with people outside of my apartment is another affair, but we find a way. Like streaming Jackbox’s Quiplash through Twitch and setting up a Google Hangout for everyone to play together. Sure, the eight-or-so of us are all in different places, but there’s still that community of doing something together and laughing at the same jokes. Feels not too unlike everyone sitting on a couch together somewhere.

Another friend of mine is putting together some Dungeons and Dragons campaigns over Discord, which, again, though not the same as everyone sitting around a table with beers and chips, still makes for a cool simulacrum of the actual experience. We’re all still cracking jokes and riffing off each other, just not in person.

Community is such an odd thing; it’s something that you can’t really quantify but you know when it’s not there. I recognize its loss when I walk past shuttered stores and empty restaurants to grab pickup from a place I dearly hope is still open after all this blows over. It’s liable that things will look more than a little different when all the dust settles. Community will probably look a bit different, and I think we’ll really learn that we don’t have to actually be together to be together.

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DID IT

Hey.

Today, being the last day of November, is when NaNoWriMo comes to an end.

And I friggin’ did it.

50,000 words (and change) written in a month. Somehow.

I’ve no real idea where this story’s going and I’m pretty sure about 50% of those words are trash, but I did it. That’s 50,000 words done.

Finishing the novel is for another day, now it’s time for video games and whiskey.

Expect some regular scheduled geekery next Saturday.

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Ah, Crap, It’s 7pm.

Hey!

If you’re wondering, yes, I’m still doing NaNoWriMo while trying to remain a functional adult! (I’ve also, by my count, consumed, twenty beers, nine cups of coffee, seven bottles of kombucha, and seven whiskey sours [amongst other beverages] while writing this month [yes, I am keeping count, and yes, I usually write in the evenings])

And I just realized it’s 7pm and y’all need to hear something from me because, I dunno, blogs are supposed to be ~regular~.

So. Hi. I live.

In my non-writing misadventures I’ve been clicking around the internet, and in so doing came across a LetsPlay of The Last of Us by Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Hana Hayes. Troy and Hana play Joel and Sarah, the main characters in the opening of The Last of Us (which, if you’ll recall, broke me) and Nolan, the voice of Nathan Drake in Uncharted, hasn’t played the game before.

I did not watch the video, because it’s really hard to get me to sit down and watch something and I don’t usually see the appeal of watching other people play video games, which, for the uninitiated, is what a LetsPlay is.

But I did see a screencap from it, courtesy of the Kotaku comment section:

That’s their response upon hitting the title card after the devastating prologue. Nolan’s face on the right is one of pain and shock, which is fitting giving the prologue. It’s also why I’m so hesitant to engage with a piece of media I bought (again) nearly a year ago and have had sitting downloaded on my PS4 since. Waiting. Waiting to break me.

I could wax poetic about how wonderful video games are with how they can give you a visceral feeling of doing stuff, but I’ve words to write. It’s also a horse I feel like I’ve beaten to death on this blog and there are better and more interesting to write about (eg: The wacky nonsense of Star Wars). But there will also be time later for that when I’m not trying to knock out 50,000 words in a month.

Instead, here’s a bullet point list of Pop-Culture Thoughts I Have:

  • The Mandalorian is excellent
    • It captures so much of what made movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly so good.
      • Including the humor!
    • I love the low stakes of Chapter 2.
    • I love how Star Wars-y Chapter 3 feels.
    • I love how it feels like a good RPG plays.
  • I really want to play Star Wars: Fallen Order and The Outer Worlds and Death Stranding but I’m WRITING and have not the time to really dig in to a game.
  • Folks, The Good Place gives me all the warms and fuzzies.
  • The Star Wars books Resistance Reborn  and The Legends of Luke Skywalker are both very good for very different reasons. The former is very much a Star Wars adventure, the latter is essentially a treatise on stories and legends using Luke Skywalker as a focus.
  • Jojo Rabbit is very good and very wonderful and very cute and very warm and a movie you should definitely go see.

 

Cheers, folks; I’m at 37,455 words.

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A Post

Hello. It’s November, a month where some people opt to forgo shaving for no other reason the alteration (and sometimes fundraising). It is also a month where foolish people try and write a 50,000 word novel with in its thirty days.

Reader, I am one of those fools.

In light of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been writing pell-mell to try and reach my goal, and, as such, am going to forgo my usual rant essay this week (the last couple had been prepared in advance! I’m sneaky like that).

So maybe check out an older post. I’ve been in a science fiction mood (owing in no small part to the release of The Mandalorian and what I’ve been writing), and I really think it’s an important genre, as I rambled about on Christmas Eve three years ago. Or look at my new fancy website www.joshuatong.com.

I know this is a cop out, and you oughta expect another one next week and possibly the week after, but trust me, I’ll be back going on and on about Star Wars and whathaveyou soon enough.

But seriously, The Mandalorian is so good and it wears its spaghetti western influence on its sleeve, and not just in the gruff cowboy trope, but its use of comedy and more. That, however, is a post for another day.

Cheers,

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