“My Anime Weekend” (originally at Medium.com)

(This was originally published at Medium.com on August 27th, 2016)

Summer is winding down, and with it comes the end of beach weather, vacation, and of course for those of us who threw ourselves into the ocean that is nerd subcultures, the latter third of con season. There’s a few conventions left, and for the most part I never really paid too much attention to them or to what could be considered “con culture.” When I’ve gone to them, it’s for short jaunts, and I’m usually in and out in a few hours, seeing people I know, buying some art or books, and just taking off.

I recently went to Baltimore with my girlfriend and some of her friends to spend the weekend at Otakon 2016, the last time that the well-known anime convention will be in Baltimore. Next year is going to see the convention in Washington DC, which from what I hear is related to the expanding popularity of Otakon, which focuses on Japanese anime- and manga-oriented fandom. I can tell that the move is a good one just by being there, because the numbers of people flooding Baltimore year after year to wear homemade and intricately-crafted terrycloth and sculpted plastic costumes and weapons has apparently been climbing upwards almost exponentially. The name itself comes from “otaku,” a word meaning “a slavish fan,” and used initially somewhat derisively. However, the term has come, at least in North America, to be positively embraced as the terminology for fandom of Japanese comics, cartoons, and thus-influenced art and pop culture. It’d make sense for one of the biggest anime-themed North American conventions to name itself that, though again, we’re faced with the blessing/curse thing right there just in the name.

I remember being in college when cable’s Cartoon Network launched their [adult swim] evening block, a mix of weird adult humor-themed cartoons and licensed Japanese anime, which had always had a cult following in the US since the 80’s. My exposure to the style had actually started as a kid when I stumbled across a broadcast of the now-cult-classic Akira and regular airings of stuff like Robotech on TV when I was living in Europe at the time. Later on when I came back to the US as a teenager, I was exposed to Ghost In The ShellNinja ScrollCowboy Bebop, and the Gundam franchise, all of which appealed to my punk, sci-fi/fantasy, and trashy personal aesthetics. The crossover of punk, metal, video games, skateboarding, and Japanese cartoons peaked during my high school years, especially among the little circle of friends I developed in high school and college, though after that it eventually tapered off. The field was overflowing by the time I hit graduate school, and I was beginning to become more and more critical of the fandom, with its cultural fetishism, sexism, and weird obsessions with surefire crowdpleasers like hypersexualitzation, fanservice imagery, Nazi iconography, and of course, casual racism. I’ve since started to slowly float back to the field, and of course the good stuff that floated to the surface has always stayed on my DVD shelves and in my personal mental lists of great TV and movies. It’s hard to stay so attached to something though, when your primary problem is with the idea of that attachment.

~

I have a complicated relationship with fandom and with fan conventions. I have complicated relationships with the fandoms and subcultures I’ve been involved with my whole life in general, from punk music to anime to comic books to horror to literature, all of which I’ve found solace and fun in, but also clashed against ugly puritanism, hypocrisy, and toxicity in as well. I think it’s important to be aware of those two sides of any fandom and not throw yourself whole-heartedly into them, expecting everything to be roses, unicorn farts, and rainbows.

I tend to view conventions, like the large Wizard World-run NYCC (which I’ll be at for one day this year), or the smaller MoCCA (which I try to go to when I can), as weird idealized microcosms of fan worlds, which can be both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, they’re the original “safe spaces,” places where we could find others who connected to the same things we did in a supposedly-pure state. A lot of this is also the curse aspect, because it creates a false illusion that fandom communities need to be pure and isolated in order to exist in peak “true” form, which ultimately leads to toxic fandom, gatekeeping, and the various other surprisingly-conservative and bullying aspects you wouldn’t necessarily expect from what is seen as, at least by those in it, as outsider culture.

However, the idea of a place to completely indulge in your hobby, see hobby-related stuff like talks and screenings and the like, it’s not bad, especially if you’re new to it all in general, and probably younger. If you’re an old bat like me who constantly yells and gripes, then you’ll be a little bitter about all the unbridled optimism and enthusiasm, free from the taint of the self-reflective critical eye. I mean, that doesn’t mean they’re bad, necessarily. Especially if you’re making an extended weekend of it camped out in a hotel room two blocks from the convention, which I’ve never actually done before. I went into this as an intensely-critical and borderline-grumpy observer who only barely skimmed the surface of the subculture attached to this, and I came out of it not entirely changed, but definitely a little bit unsure of of my lack of a place as a complete outsider in this sort of subculture immersion.

~

THURSDAY

We left relatively early on Thursday, taking the bus from New York to Baltimore in order to get there early. It’s a four-hour trip by bus, and at the start of what ends up being a monumentally-awful heat wave blanketing the East Coast the whole time I’m in Baltimore.

The trip there the day before the con officially opened felt like we’d already arrived, with a few groups on the bus obviously also headed to Baltimore for the same reasons we were. It’s a little obvious with the anime-themed t-shirts and the Japanese parasols popping up while we were in line for the bus outside.

We checked into our hotel, which was already crawling with cosplayers, either checking in, in costume, or heading out into the oppressive heat in costume for badge pickup at the Baltimore Convention Center, where Friday through Sunday would become otaku-central, spikey wigs, giant cardboard gunswords, and all. After checking in at the con and realizing that the BCC is a sprawling decentralized structure I haven’t been in since I was about seven years old, the rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing, reading through our schedules of the upcoming weekend, and dealing with dinner and drinks.

~

FRIDAY

The heat was intensely oppressive. How people in full and very oppressive costumes weren’t passing out left and right in the streets by the harbor, I don’t know.

We perused artist’s alley, and you could see that the need to expand out of Baltimore was necessary. The convention center is not only spread out and a bit unruly, but it’s definitely getting too small.

We ended up in line for a panel on Japanese punk rock and heavy metal at one point, which besides eating french fries covered in Old Bay at Shake Shack later was the highlight of the day for me. It was really interesting to see a panel like this magically appear, especially considering how out-of-place I was feeling at times. I’m older, I’m not as enthusiastically a part of the subculture as I was (was I ever?), and I haven’t watched or paid attention to this subculture in about a decade. So to find this type of panel going on was a really pleasant surprise, and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed, starting a move towards what continued towards the next day.

But first, as my notes tell me, more drinks and a swim.

~

SATURDAY

Had a swim and some caffeine on Saturday morning, which on a 100-degree day after the night I had in our hotel room and then going out in Baltimore, felt good.

Back to the convention center to hit the floor, wander, run into some people my girlfriend knew, and pick some stuff up. Besides the usual copyright-violating fanart prints, booths of more copyright-violating pins and buttons and hats, the sword vendors hawking every variation of katana, and of course the always-disturbing body pillows and nerdy “thing-plus-thing” tshirts, my girlfriend and I grabbed a tabletop RPG and some manga from vendors. In particular I was excited to find Black Magic by Masamune Shirow, who is probably best-known for the franchise Ghost In The Shell. As I seem to constantly do, I wrote about Shirow in my Master’s thesis on cyberpunk, so I always have a soft spot for his work.

It was, while not surprising, also notable to see levels of development and construction going on in Baltimore side-by-side with obviously clear socioeconomic and racial divisions, which was starting to make the whole weekend of plastic gunswords and elaborate homemade fictional Japanese high-school uniforms even more surreal. While this is something we’d been seeing and talking about all weekend, the dichotomy of the convention center and waterfront area working really hard to cater to a temporary influx of tourism and cash flooding the city compared to the significant homeless population camping out in the open-space areas around the harbor and across the street from the Baltimore Convention Center strikes someone as almost parody-level tragic and dystopian, which would fit oddly well with the anime theme of the weekend.

~

SUNDAY

I woke up, rubbed the grit off my face, dressed myself, and found myself sucking down breakfast at a sorta too-expensive and too-fancy coffee/pastry place ended up not being run very well. My bus is in an hour, I think as I badly played a round of chess with someone and I’m processing the past few days so far still.

The sun was, of course, still bearing down in thick and suffocatingly-hot air, making escape from Baltimore like fighting to get out of a microwave.

I danced at one point the night before, the last night we went out and I continued the trend of the weekend of listening to a lot of electronic music, though Saturday night was, as my girlfriend noted, mostly the kind of Euro-trash techno she sneered at versus the gothy-industrial electronic stuff we, and she especially, prefererd, Ironically, we’ll always be music snobs.

The bus pulled out of Baltimore to head back to New York and I put on a podcast to listen to. In this case, it was a true crime story about obsession and stalking in a fandom, and trying to persevere in fandom despite it.

Not a terribly-irrelevant way to end the weekend, at least in my eyes.

~

I still kind of hate fandom. I think it’s something that needs to be carefully dealt with and never taken at face value, because as things like Sad Puppies, GamerGate, comic book gatekeeping, rampages of harassment in subculture publishing, and more have shown us, it’s so often a shockingly-useful screen for intensely toxic behaviors and individuals who are, no matter how many Halo t-shirts and Superman action figures they have, predators.

Still…it’s heartening to see the enthusiasm. I can still remember being younger and wanting to be in these types of immersive places where we all spoke a common language, and while that common language has evolved and grown and moved onto a circle of friends as opposed to a large gathering of strangers, knowing that those strangers are out there can be a powerful thing to someone young, confused, and eager to throw themselves into a larger world.

It’s nice to be reminded of that and know, or at least hope, that those kids are making that leap a little more prepared and knowledgeable than previous generations on how to protect themselves.

A Year of Mostly Women

So 2017 is, becoming a year of mostly women. Well, book-wise, at least.

When I did a recent newsletter entry, I listed the books I wanted to read this upcoming year, and I realized that about half of the authors were women, which gave me an idea to try to read mostly (if not all) women authors this year, especially in the fields I like to read.

It wasn’t a conscious thing, but I’m trying to make it one, if only because, well, it is 50% of the human population. My fiancee and I were discussing the difficulty of finding unique voices in the genres of supernatural, horror, ski-fi and fantasy, and crime fiction that fall out of the range of “written by a white guy.” They’re out there, so I think I’m gonna try to see how long I can push this.

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I recently finished The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker, the first in this weird trip. This book gave me a headache, and honestly that’s a good thing.

While ostensibly a weird alternate perspective on the Lovecraftian mythology, Baker’s book is interesting in that it plays with a few things, primarily time and metafiction. A new assistant/housekeeper shows up for the mysterious New England-based writer known as “Ech-Pei,” aka “H.P.” (you can pretty easily figure out who that’s supposed to be). There’s supernatural stuff, but the fact that so much seems to happen, both introspectively (the protagonist spends a lot of time slowly losing his mind) and literally in such a short period of time can kind of mess with you.

I was just as surprised about 3/4 of the way through the book as the protagonist was to realize that, in the timeline of the story, only a week had passed. It felt, in Baker’s writing, that at least a month or two had passed time-wise. It was a really jarring moment, one that I think was done purposely to create a literal discerning effect, one that’s the beginning of the truly metafictional shift in the story.

Overall, I’m not entirely how I feel about this book in terms of “liking it,” because the sparseness and shift at the end didn’t feel like it worked well, story-wise. But anyway, besides The Broken Hours, and not including more library books, some re-reads or the reading I have to do for work, or a few short story collections with a mix of authors (and yes, I know the last book on this list has a male co-author), there’s going to be;

  • THE WHITE CITY by Elizabeth Bear (also from the library and which I just finished). It’s a horror-esque novella with vague gothic Vampire: The Masquerade and steampunk-y overtones, not quite what I thought it’d be. I wasn’t crazy about it but Bear’s a prolific author and I hear that some of her other work is great, so I might check it out.
  • MR SPLITFOOT by Samantha Hunt (actually one of the books I got my fiancee for Christmas), which has something to do with the supernatural and small-town horrors related to a terror in the nearby woods. I’ll be honest, the title (a nickname for Satan) is what drew me to it. I’m always on the lookout for weird and interesting horror-influenced fiction.
  • ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by Alison Bechdel, the “sequel” to FUN HOME, her first graphic novel memoir, which is one of my favorite books/comics despite how dense it is. Looking forward to cracking into this one. I haven’t been reading as many comics as I used to these days, maybe I’ll try to fix that.
  • THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes, which has been on the bookshelf for a couple of years actually, but I haven’t had a chance to get to yet. I heard a lot of good and messed-up stuff about this book, which has me excited.
  • THE G-STRING MURDERS by Gypsy Rose Lee. I don’t remember where I found this, but it seems really cool and I started it but put it down last year, so I think I’m just gonna start from scratch with reading it. It’s also sort of research for something academic, so I feel a bit of a need to read this.
  • CYBERPUNK: OUTLAWS AND HACKERS OF THE COMPUTER FRONTIER by Katie Hefner and John Markoff, which I got for $2 at The Strand, randomly one night. It’s gonna be a little dated I think (the book came out in the 1990’s) but as a cultural touchstone about subcultures, you can’t go wrong.

Let’s see how this year of mostly women goes.

Check Me Out On “The Alexandria Archives”

If you’re into fictional narrative podcasts and, like me, a big weirdo about horror, you’ll enjoy the podcast The Alexandria Archives. The very strange late-night/early-morning college radio broadcasts of Alexandria University, a strange Southern college with some…very odd proclivities that college student broadcaster Morning Wood deals with. I really like listening to it with

Also…the latest episode in particular is of interest because it features a short story by yours truly, me! You can check out episode 8, “Labyrinth,”here!

You can also check out the whole podcast archive here, or on iTunes here to catch up. It’s a relatively new show, with some cool stuff and good voices (some of the stories that are on previous episodes are really interesting), so definitely give a listen, and not just because I wrote for this latest one.

Olly Olly

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One of the games I really liked playing last year was OXENFREE, from Night School Studio. A group of kids gathering to have an all-night party/hangout on an old semi-abandoned island off the coast of their town, exploring a place that has a lot of weird mysterious history. The story continues to grow from the simple relationship interactions of the start to a much more in-depth mystery/horror/sci-fi thread that I ended up loving a lot for a variety of reasons. It was probably one of my favorite video games of 2016 (of the few I played admittedly) and is one I look forward to going back and playing again, something you can do thanks to the multiple paths and potential endings.

The mystery and story of the game unfolded really well and I ended up loving it because, like any good story, it starts small and builds. That whole idea of not starting with vast big concepts, but building layer upon layer is a difficult one in storytelling, honestly, because I see it screwed up in storytelling a lot. I think part of it has roots in childhood and teenage imaginations, when you think about it. Basic small concepts that build into larger things are the roots of most childhood play. We’re explorers. OK, what are we exploring? Uhh, this old house, because it’s got something in it we want…and so on, and so on.

Anyway, like a lot of first-person/POV games that exploded last year, it’s both travel-driven (walking through the environment to specific locations) and dialogue-driven (depending on how you respond to speech prompts, the story alters), but it looks more like a side-scrolling/traveling/whatever game, so it’s a little more old-fashioned in traveling around the world of the story, videogame-wise. It’s described as having a “2.5D perspective”, which is a good way of describing it.

The game’s major flaws is the weird viewpoints that can make looking at the action on screen, the movement, and the dialogue bubbles/boxes difficult at times. The background art is so beautiful in the usage of pastels and shadows, and the light or lack thereof works really well naturally  (as time progresses from dusk to dawn), that it sorta sucks to feel it’s all wasted pushed far back into a zoomed-out background. The story of trying to unravel the mystery of the odd signals that seem to be saturating the very air around the island, which was a research facility for odd radio wave-related technology in WW2. There’s something that may or may not be an extradimensional alien force that seems supernatural driving the weirdness of the island, tied to a horrific tragedy

What I really thought about when this game was on the TV in front of me, honestly, was the basic idea that it’s a group of kids left alone to explore the remnants of war, paranoia, and Cold War infrastructure, as they wander the island in search of their friends and answers. It struck a weird chord with me, not just in the nostalgia factor (in that a lot of the game relies on the usage of radios) but in the exploration factor.

As a kid, I’d be left alone a lot when shipped off to visit family in Greece, out on the island(s) alone for hours at a time. My Greek was pretty poor, I couldn’t sit inside and read all day unfortunately, I’d get restless and want to go out. The valley villages and beachfront towns I stayed in with relatives were nothing like I’d ever see before, places where abandoned  but seemingly-new houses stood alongside near-wrecks that people still lived in. Construction would sit dormant for years, paths cut across fields and all over the sun beats down, mercilessly.

Mostly, I just walked around.

I walked through people’s yards, never knowing if they were inside napping in the daytime heat or if the house was abandoned. I have a memory of fleeing in terror from someone’s weird front yard I was exploring because the house had some strange 80’s semi-“Golden Girls” look to it and I was fascinated, thinking the levels of dirt everywhere was a sign the inhabitants weren’t there. They were, and when I heard the door unlocking from the inside I ran in a blind stupid panic down to the beach, in full view of whoever came out.

A lot of the houses had been abandoned either before or during WW2, when Greeks fled en masse and became refugees in Asia Minor, in Egypt, in Ethiopia (like my grandparents). When the war was over, some only came back to the islands to gather what they could and contact relatives in Canada, America, and the UK to go live there, the country ravaged by famine and occupation. After that, those empty houses would be reused and repurposed by whoever was left in those villages in the 70s. Houses and taverns now turned into what I assumed was storage for church stuff. The old abandoned school that only went to 10th grade. The building made out of cinder blocks in the early 1990’s that’s become the mini-market, walls and shelves stocked to the ceiling with stuff now, constantly humming from the three freezers in there. I’d walk all over and marvel and old and semi-abandoned places, thinking about adventures that could be happening there, about who lived in these buildings and what was going to happen to these half-built and half-abandoned structures littering these tiny villages.

OXENFREE feels like that, in a way, listening in on weird half-forgotten stations in the airwaves and wandering through the ruins of former lives and former inhabitants, from the spookiness of the old mines and military bases to the empty storefront windows of the waterfront “tourist” part of town. The things that your brain does when places are abandoned is kind of fascinating, the leaps that it can make, be they correct or incorrect, are so cool. I thought that construction sites were abandoned military posts because I knew there were supposedly some old forts and stuff around, someone told me someone had told them. When I was really young and out there left to my own devices (those nostalgia-tinged halcyon days of being left alone all day during summers as a kid regardless of where you were), I’d play alone in these ruins, pretending I was a gunslinger or a pilot of an explorer or whatever, only the goats and the lizards and the half-done cinderblock walls hearing me.

In a similar vein, the radio kind of tied into this as well for me then (just as the radios carried by characters in the game), especially in such a weird isolated place. I had no idea what I was hearing, stuff that’d never come back after the first time I’d find it, odd signals and sounds that came from who knows what (maybe military stuff nearby? The many boats that traveled the waters of the Aegean?), snippets of Western pop music both old and new, voices in languages (Turkish mostly, as well as heavily-accented Greek beyond my ability to translate) that I didn’t understand. I’d turn the dials on AM and FM back and forth every night sometimes, or during quiet afternoons when it was too hot to be out, just trying to see who was out there talking, and what it would be like to intercept some kind of secret message, a crude understanding of numbers stations somehow half-forming in my brain.

It was, in hindsight, kind of dangerous. Not the radio stuff, that just fueled my overactive imagination. The exploring, I mean. I admitted about some of my exploratory ventures from those summers to my mom once and she basically said she’d beat exploration out of me, mostly because the older abandoned houses we’d go into in those desolate corners of those villages were full of rotted walls and floors, with half-hidden wells and septic tanks underneath them, traps waiting to catch and drown us like they actually had quite a lot of people through the years. There’s even a ghost story from those little Greek villages of naiads luring drunk single young men off the roads at night from the tavern, out into the fields to lay in the grass with them. You step off the well-worn road, into the grass, following this ghostly beautiful young woman, and step over a half-covered old well, falling in and breaking your neck.

Oh well.

That sense of exploratory uncertainty is probably the best part of the whole thing, moreso than the story, which is still excellent. I liked the blurring of the lines between the horror and the science fiction elements, something I don’t see a lot of (at least not well), it ties a lot into an idea of embracing the uncertainty of unknown enemies and not worrying too much about “explaining” them. Unknown voices and time glitches/reality manipulations that come from some weird tear in the world around us? Enough explanation for me.

There’s a bunch of criticisms of OXENFREE that I completely understand, from the dialogue (everyone’s sorta relaxed considering the danger they claim to find themselves in) and puzzle-wise it’s sorta light, though as something coming out in the visual/walk-through narrative “era” of video games that seems to be happening nowadays, it fits. I’m kinda excited to see what else Night School do.

I’m curious what other buttons from my weird exploratory childhoods they’ll end up pushing, because when done well, it’s less cashing in on nostalgic experiences or mining them for material, and more expanding on the origins of imaginations that began during periods of time we tend to look at nostalgically.

At The Command Line

So I worked on this initially as something for my technical presentation/communications class, one of three I did last semester.
The primary focus in those classes is building up a rough sense of how to do what gets called “business writing,” such as proposals, business blogs, letters, presentations, formal emails, and other similar work. I’ve been teaching this forever, probably in some variation since I started teaching, so I can generally run through a semester in my sleep (not literally, but in a “I’ve taught this regularly for a while now” sort of way). I’m a big fan of teaching basic mechanics in understanding literature and in understanding writing, because it’s something that I was sort of naturally inclined towards but I know that others aren’t, and reading and writing are skills that actually come up a lot in most “adult” fields. Communication at a semi-professional level is something we really should be focusing some time on teaching, at least at the college level (and the high school level but that’s another story).
That being said, I tried to be a little different with it this last time, using better real-life examples and incorporating them into my lectures as hands-on examples in addition to the templates we’d normally use. Overall my last semester was hectic, probably because I tried a bunch of different and new things, but anyway…
Towards the end of the semester, I had a little chat with Chris Williams about his book and how any sort of technical writing similar to what we had to do in class played into the process of the creation of his book. I don’t know how I know Chris online, probably through other people I follow and who follow me mutually through social media. I can’t remember. Anyway, I reached out to him to talk to him about his book and the process for it, precisely because the behind-the-scenes and in-front aspects of book work and nonfiction overlaps so much with our material through the semester.
I initially just showed/read this short interview in class for my students, but I’ve decided to share it here.
~
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So your project is a new book. What’s it called and what’s it about?
My book is titled The Command Line for Web Developers. Creating websites has shifted from using desktop applications to going into the command terminal and running commands. This book explains not only how to use the command line through simple non-computer science examples and how it applies in real world web development situations.
What inspired the basic idea for the book, first and foremost?
Using the command line is kind of intimidating. I have worked with many colleagues from beginners to experts that aren’t familiar with it. Most keep their terminal application in its default settings. At most they only use it to past in commands they got from the web without understanding what they’re doing. They certainly don’t feel comfortable troubleshooting things when errors come up. So I wanted to give them something that shows just how easy and powerful working from the command line can be.
After that initial idea, how did you proceed with expanding that? Was there an element of “I want this, so it should be available?” in moving forward, or more recognizing both a demand and a need?
Ya, the first thing I did was convince myself what a stupid idea it was. Once I got over that, I talked with a friend who had written a book before and got his advice.  He’d been through the process of working with a publisher, he knew my strengths and could talk to what I should expect.  What really convinced me to write the book was when he told me he wished he had that book to read for himself.
Was there any sort of feasibility research or reading before moving forward?
The publisher I initially worked with did market research both internally and through surveys. I did have a bit of a grilling from the editors in chief over a conference call where we reviewed the survey results. I think the challenge for them was that I wasn’t writing about a specific language or discipline. So they questioned if I was covering enough topics for such a nebulous subject. I maintained that my book wasn’t to be some exhaustive tome that was everything for everyone, but rather it is to be a primer on several subjects to get everyone on the same page.
We also checked out other books that covered similar subjects, what specifics they covered, how that differed from what I was writing, and what would my readers benefit from that they couldn’t get from the other books.
To lay out the whole thing, including visuals and step breakdowns, what did you consider
When I wrote my outline, I planned that each chapter built on knowledge from earlier chapters.  So Chapter 2 covers basic Bash commands, and Chapter 3 gets deeper in extending those commands.  At the same time, the reader wouldn’t have to read from the beginning to the end if they didn’t want to. If they had specific issue with Git for example, they could just to that portion but I needed to make sure they knew they could go back to an earlier chapter if they needed to.
From the outline, I wrote a plan for each chapter.  Why was the chapter important? are there any prerequisites? What are the new concepts? What diagrams and examples will I use.  I write these answers out and keep them as a checklist. It’s not perfect though. Sometimes I went back and revised the plan as I discovered a better way to tackle the chapter.
The diagrams used were mostly annotations for command syntax.  We’re working in the Terminal app, so to show a command, I ended up with a lot of thought bubbles to point out the “new” items we haven’t encountered before.
Inline image 1
I wrote everything in MarkDown. It covered 99.99999% of any formating I needed.  PanDoc is a unix tool that does a great job converting my Markdown to virtually any format, so I could send Word Docs to my editor, and ICML files to InDesign where I ultimately ended up for creating the book file used in printing.  Illustrations were sketched on paper and I just used a pic of it for a placeholder until I could move it to Illustrator.
The overall arc of this class has been to look at different rhetorical models of business/tech communications and how those models work. Throughout this whole project, how important has business communication and having a sense of how to express technical steps and information in written form been?
I needed to demystify an archaic technology with deep institutional knowledge to a group of readers that may have never used it before, which may not have been a part of their education or background. The last thing I wanted was to turn people off by sounding academic or overly technical.  So I tried to keep my tone as conversational as possible even if it sacrifices exact technical precision.
For example, back to Git, someone new to using it would be less concerned about how Git has its own filesystem for capturing snapshots of data than knowing Git tracks changes in code. I’m more concerned in helping the reader get up and running to succeed (although there are footnotes to learn more).
That goes back to answering my chapter plans: why is this important, who care, what  are the new concepts, etc.
Thanks!

The new NIGHTMARE PARTY game “PIONEERS” is here!

Hey, happy 2017! Let’s start off what I’m determined is going to be a year of kicking ass and smacking Nazis with a bit of a nerdy bang…

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The new NIGHTMARE PARTY game, PIONEERS, has finally gone live. The first part is Chapter 1, “Paths Around Town”.

You can check it out here.

This is the longest Twine-based thing I’ve ever done so far, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. There’ll be more from NIGHTMARE PARTY in 2017, including Chapter 2, so stay tuned.

Twenty-Sixteen Demo


So, 2016, huh. It’s…actually been a busy one, in addition to getting engaged, a lot of teaching , and a trip to Greece with the lady. Professionally, despite how awful 2016 has been in the world, it was pretty good for me, and I can’t really apologize for that. You gotta grab the good things while you can. I wrote a lot;

I wrote a lot of essays at my website. Now that I look back on it, I wrote fairly regularly actually, which I don’t really remember doing. This year was also the year of Nightmare Party, where I started using Twine to tell  short stories and make puzzles/games. I self-published my chapbook Buried: Short Stories, a collection of horror short stories I’ve been working on and I’m incredibly proud of. It’s a place where I very much feel my own fiction-writing voice coming through naturally.

I also finished and compiled Save Changes together into handy novella form, my weird little mystery story I didn’t think much of but after I threw it out there as a free download, it turns out over 200 people ended up reading, which is very excellent by my standards if I do say so myself. Speaking of fiction, I also managed to get some short fiction done just for kicks at my website. There’s one here, another here, and here (this one is actually in the chapbook Buried: Short Stories). This summer I went to Baltimore during a four-day stretch of 100-degree days for Otakon 2016 and wrote about my experiences for Medium.com. That was actually pretty fun. An interesting idea I’d been thinking about got turned into a SECRET PROJECT thanks to some buds old and new, which should blossom in the upcoming year.

I started playing and paying more attention to video games (again after a VERY long time away) video games, as well as the old standard of board games. Exploratory 1st-person narratives blew up in 2016 with stuff like Firewatch (which I loved), and played quite a few of (this past year Gone Home came to PS4 and I’ve been loving replaying that a few times too). There was Until Dawn, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, DOOM, and Oxenfree (which I have something to write about brewing) as well, really ushering in games that appeal to someone like me, who doesn’t give a shit about AAA stuff like the tenth CALL OF DUTY game. I really like the horror board game Betrayal At House on the Hill, which we’ve hosted for a few times here. I forgot how fun a board game can actually be if you’re actually interested in it, so 2017 will definitely be more of a board game year and gaming year in general.

I didn’t read a lot of “new” books and comics really, mostly older stuff and re-reading classics. I quite enjoy Warren Ellis doing his Morning.Computer quick writings, semi-nonsense jotted out first thing upon waking with no thought or real structure. Joe Hill’s The Fireman was great, HEAD LOPPER from Andrew MacLean is an excellent comic, and I read a bunch of Mary Roach. I enjoyed Kaleb Horton’s work on politics and culture through the year, and really loved any time Laura Hudson wrote about video games. Someone’s been leaving John D. MacDonald novels at the local take-a-book/leave-a-book shelf by the subway station, which are interesting reads for PI/mystery-minded types like me.

Newsletters really were full-swing this year, which is a trend in writing and internet-ing that I’m glad is “back”, so to speak. I enjoyed getting stuff from Jess NevinsAnne Elizabeth MooreAlex SeguraSarah WeinmanWarren Ellis (again), and Jamelle Bouie, among others. I can’t get too much nonfiction in me because so much of it tends to be depressing honestly, but at the same time there can be some great stuff out there, like the folks above, which can definitely inspire you to move forward with whatever it is you want. Whatever gets you moving, ya know.

Anyway…be good, look out for each other in the upcoming year. Whatever and however you celebrate, enjoy your holiday season. Keep those knives sharp, your eyes sharper, and don’t forget to scoop out the litter box.

My new academic project

What began as an informal collection of emailed and bookmarked links that I’ve been collecting as references for myself has turned into something slightly more organized. It’s called “The Bulletin Board Resource Document“, and it’s my new little academic project. 

The beginnings of this are based in me using the past few years to actively try and improve my teaching, in particular as we use more and more new software in the classroom, as I get more and more involved in department life, and as I work on improving both my classroom approaches and managing my workload.

The document is an open-source, Creative Commons Google Doc (w/a corresponding email address for interaction and recommendations to the document). There are some very rough longer-term plans for this, but for now I want to focus just on putting this out there, seeing the response I get, and updating it when I can and as I gather info.

Anyway, please enjoy, spread around and use if you’re in academia, and use the contact info to contribute!

Enjoy my short story “Skies Dance”

I wrote this to work out some ideas and feel through some approaches I’d been wanting to try, and figured I’d throw it up here, see what people think. Read it below and enjoy, lemme know what you think. Continue reading “Enjoy my short story “Skies Dance””

Pretty Pretty Rotting Things

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On Halloween, we watched I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House on Netflix, starring  Ruth Wilson. It’s written and directed by Oz Perkins, about a hospice care nurse who moves into a famous crime/horror author’s home to care for the ailing bed-bound old woman. The nurse, Lily, and the author, Iris Blum, are alone in the home, though Lily begins to suspect that the house itself is haunted, and that one of Blum’s books about a murdered woman shut up in a wall by her husband might be both true and connected to the house.

The thing that sticks out to me is how much Iris Blum feels like a stand-in for Shirley Jackson, the author of works like the story “The Lottery,” the novels We Have Always Lived In the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, and others. The fact that Ruth Franklin’s biography of Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life, came out this year, is a nice little bonus to connect to Jackson’s impact and influence. To be fair, there are a few key differences here between the real Jackson and the fictional Blum, such as the fact that Blum is depicted as having no family and Jackson having been married and a mother. However, the idea of a woman who wrote prolifically about horrific things (Lily is open about being a complete coward in the film, which creates a slightly hilarious back-and-forth in the minimalistic sense of the film’s aesthetic overall.

I Am the Pretty Thing… follows the (arguably excellent) trend of modern horror drawing on arthouse and minimalist film styles to use mood, silence, and (alternately) intense volume/sound building to create intense anxiety, and using (what I thought was brilliant) background visual tricks to give you serious “WHAT THE FUCK” moments. There’s an upside-down chair hanging in the kitchen in this film that no one discusses or acknowledges and until I figured out that the chair is being hung from a peg on the wall, it seemed like a Poltergeist moment of shifted furniture that genuinely confused and frightened me. The main character pacing the kitchen as the sound and tension swells and then the simple but oh-my-god visual of the phone cord being lifted…and lifted…and lifted…

It was horrifying.

~

I’ve taught Jackson’s story “The Lottery” every chance I’ve gotten throughout the years, having fallen in love with it in high school. It’s a wonderful work for teaching symbolism, for discussing simple horror, and for introducing the concept of modern American literature’s attempts to come to terms with the bloody bones the nation is built on.

Older students tend to catch on quick, though they’re still horrified by the whole thing (a current student introduced the idea of corruption being a part of the life of “The Lottery”, which is fascinating and not something I’d through about before). Younger students are confused until you get the ball rolling about the whole thing and what the various elements CAN really mean (because Jackson was notorious about refusing to elaborate on her work, which I find delightful). Shirley Jackson as a woman who wrote in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and in particular wrote what we’d commonly consider horror fiction, is such a fascinating figure. She’s one of my favorite authors period, and it’s because of her voice in horror that I say that. Her voice gives us something that we see and take for granted in anything horrific or supernatural. We wouldn’t have Twin Peaks without her, something seen as almost the “beginning” of the whole small-town-hiding-horrors trope.

Her voice is the voice that I saw visualized in I Am the Pretty Thing… on the screen, where bucolic Americana is a prison, bright sunlight streaming through windows a painful and hot bar in a window that keeps you penned inside. There are a lot of elements implied here as well in terms of women who are trying to write with what are seen as masculine framing, as well as how women who don’t like that are supposed to respond to it. More than that though was how Lily tries to justify the house to herself before suspecting that there might be more there. The lack of ghosts for the most part, relying instead of the fears that many of us definitely have about empty houses, paranoia, and the dark when we turns our backs. I think it’s in this that the film is most immediately relatable to Jackson, in seizing upon real human fears and hatreds, with a sense of a possible supernatural twist in there.

That ultimately is what makes Jackson’s work so great, and it’s what makes really good horror work. Real fear is in the mutation of what we genuinely can’t wait to get away from fast enough, what we couldn’t shake off no matter how much we try.

I spent one Halloween night going to see a big-screen showing of Kubrick’s The Shining. It was great, and at that size the film’s overall atmosphere really works. It worked to the point that my paranoia about empty rooms made me turn on all the lights and check every room and closet through my house, opting to stay awake and order pizza instead of going to sleep.

It was the stupidest thing to be fearful of or feel scared about, honestly. I was 27, I lived with someone else with a dog and a baseball bat, but the paranoia of dark open doorways and what was there when I turned my back was so great that it affected how I spent my night. This film seizes on that in the same way that Jackson seized on those for her writing, seizing on paranoias and fears we didn’t realize had such deep and dark holds on us, and slowly reeling them up from the depths into the light and exposing us to their true horror.

The awful root of “The Lottery” isn’t the violence, it’s the corruption of community, especially when the other side of the “close-knit community” coin is “isolated from escape and privacy.” There’s no escaping the lottery in Jackson’s story, because it’s a very real and unavoidable horror, one that like empty doorways full of dark in a house when the sun has gone down, you just don’t want to turn your back on no matter how often you tell yourself it’s not going to come for you. In the same fashion, the real horror of I Am The Pretty Thing… isn’t that the house is haunted, it’s that the ghost was killed for being beautiful, that Iris Blum’s mind has gone as she sits alone with a ghost trying to reach out to her to talk, and that Lily is caught between it all, surrounded by empty doorways.

~

Ultimately the film’s not perfect, mostly because the last fifteen minutes tend to meander a bit, though you could also compare that to a more literal vs. filmatic ending, with the cliche of the last scare visual being thrown in there to emphasize the subtle horror aspects of the film (if that makes sense).

It’s very much a horror movie not just WITH women in it, but ABOUT the women in it, in a very visual/abstract sense. And I’m pretty cool with it.