Happy Birthday To Me

Sooo~~~ Friday was my birthday! In the past two weeks, I have gone to both the theater (the live kind) and the beach (the windy and hermit crabby kind). That’s my excuse for missing two (!!!) weeks of update videos. I’m really sorry! I have just flat not had time to record anything.

My birthday gift to me, though, was…work? Exciting work things, anyway. I sent out a short story today! It was a bit stressful–it’s been something like 4+ years since I sent out a submission, as opposed to just publishing things myself. I’m still riding out the “oh no, what if I forgot to remove some of my notes to myself???” second-guessing. I’ll keep you updated on it, whether I get in or not. *fingers crossed*

I’ll get back on track with the videos. In the meantime, that’s what I’ve been up to. Now I’m off to enjoy some leftover birthday pie. (Lemon!)

Birding With Technology

One of the interesting bits about moving a significant distance is that all the wildlife changes. For example, while I like rabbits, I’m not exactly mourning the loss of them and their destruction of the vegetable garden. (Don’t worry; the voles and ground squirrels are picking up the slack.) The most dramatic has been the birds. There are a friggin’ lot of them, okay?

A few mainstays of California are familiar from the old place: we have no shortage of turkey vultures and mourning doves, and egrets pass over us daily. Most of them, though, are a big ???. I have a 1983 copy of Golden’s Birds of North America. Usually, that’s enough. With only a couple drawings of each bird, sorted by scientific family, and a description of less than fifty words, though, it has its limitations. It didn’t give me any help in identifying the midsize, brown and yellow bird making a loud, distinctive warble throughout the day.

This is when I fall in love with modern information technology all over again. I looked through a lot of bird guide sites, local and general. I ended up on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They have an app–doesn’t everyone? It’s a free bird identification app. I gave it my zip code, plus estimates of the bird’s size, main colors, and the date and area I saw it. It gave me a short list of half a dozen possibilities.

Western MeadowlarkIt’s a Western Meadowlark. It gave me pictures, a description, and a map of its territory. The app even played clips of its distinctive song. It took longer to download the app than it did to identify my bird. Which I can tell it–“Yes, That’s My Bird”–and it sends the information to its database for improved future results.

While I was at it, I discovered what the weird black birds with sideways tails had been over summer. Great-tailed grackles. Do you know what a grackle is? I damn well didn’t. Noisy goofballs, as it turns out. The book says they aren’t this far west, but there they were, and the app agrees. Grackle.

It’s trivial, being able to identify a bird like this. Neither my safety nor my sustenance depends on a familiarity with local wildlife. It’s satisfying, though, in the way all knowledge is. Where there had been an annoying blank space, there is now a name, a picture, maps, data. I could have taken photos to my local Audubon Society, I suppose. Consulted more books at the library. Visited a natural history museum, perhaps. With the internet, though, it’s the matter of an afternoon at home. Identifying birds is as simple and satisfying as any game app I have on my tablet.

Sort of makes me want to sing too.

Half a Lifetime Later, at the DMV

I played the most boring game of Bingo today with the DMV. Now serving. B-zero-three-point-one-four at. The forbidden window. Two and a half hours for a two and a half minute license renewal. The one interesting bit is this: for the first time since getting my learner’s permit, nearly half my lifetime ago, I had my picture taken again. I decided to really look at that old photo before it goes away.

JS at 15 according to the DMVBaby Joyce Doesn’t Know Curls

I come from a family of people with wavy, frequently short hair. My hair, left to its own devices, curls into tight little ringlets ready to strangle passers-by. With no one to guide me, it took until adulthood for me to learn how to take care of curly hair. So Joyce at fifteen had some problems in the this department.

This was about a year after hacking all my hair off for the second time. (I grew it out when I decided I wasn’t going to crossdress any more. I miss passing as a boy, but I would do the hair very differently now.) Now at that agonizingly awkward length between chin and shoulder, I insisted on pulling the top back, because then it would dry straighter. I hated my curls. They just turned to frizz and got everywhere.

Oh, Joyce, sweetheart, you’ll learn. You don’t have to hold so tight all the time to keep things under control. Also, next time you dye your hair, go for a brighter red. Better yet, go for orange. Subtlety is overrated.

Baby Joyce Doesn’t Know How To Smile

If you tell me to smile, I probably already think I am. I have trouble gauging my facial expressions, and “normal” ones don’t come naturally. I taught myself to make faces other people could recognize, which means they tend to be exaggerated. You get nothing or everything. At fifteen, I seldom felt happy enough to show off my Cheshire grin. So this was what I produced when ordered to smile: an awkward, tight-lipped expression that has more in common with a grimace than anything else. That is not a pleased face.

When I get my new license and see the photo, I hope I won’t look like I’m smiling at all to anyone else. I coached myself in the bathroom and car rearview mirrors before going to the DMV. I wanted to get my real smile, the one no one else looked close enough to see for all those years. The slight tilt at the corners, the opening of the eyes, the way even my ears pull up and back to show it. I hope, in the new photo, I see myself.

Joyce, my darling, you’ll learn. You have your own way of doing things. You don’t have to pretend. There will be people who see all the same.

Baby Joyce Doesn’t Hide Well

Oh, the spiked collar. At fifteen, I wore layers, I wrapped my hands in cords and charms, and I wore a spiked collar for maximum “don’t touch me” vibes. You can’t tell in the picture, but I’ve got two, maybe three (month-to-month memories of that time fail me) of my sets of ear piercings. Two years from this point, I would have my neck draped with about six necklaces daily. I wore enough rings to qualify as permanent brass knuckles.

I warded myself and branded myself with all that metal and twine. I wanted to declare my loves, and my allegiances, and my protections. I wanted to be seen and understood. I wanted, with all the terror of being fifteen and lonely, to show the world my heart and have them covet it. The spikes, in retrospect, were hardly adequate protection for that.

Joyce, you half-feral stray, you’ll learn. You don’t know it yet, but you’re going to find bigger stages and louder microphones as time passes. There will be value in showing your heart to strangers through elaborate codes, and symbols, and outright rooftop screaming. (It’s called storytelling, and also the internet. You’ll like them both.)

That, after half a lifetime, remains true.

The Year of the Move, +1

One year ago, I bought my first house. After a lot of changes for the worse, it was my change for the better. To celebrate my house-iversary, I’ve got a little tour to show off what was once a disaster and is now my very own ideal safe place.

(Apologies in advance for the less than pristine video quality. Tablets as video cameras: handy but imperfect.)

The Year of the Move: 1, 2, 3, 4, and bonus.

Meaning in Stories: Creatures Such as We

A friend mauled me until I played through this. Since I can’t stop thinking about it, I thought I’d pass along the pain/pleasure.

Creatures Such as We, by Lynnea Glasser, is an interactive fiction game from the Choice of Games line–which is frequently brilliant, by the way. You can play it online or via app for free.

The basic story is two-fold: you are a guide at a lunar resort, and in your free time, you play a video game called Creatures Such as We. This game-within-a-game structure is what ends up making this story such a trip. The story will ask questions about meaning, creativity, and consent–among other things–in reference to the interior game. Ultimately, those questions will haunt the frame story’s narrative as well, though. Apart from that, there is also some space adventure to be had, with your own life and the lives of others at stake.

I don’t want to give spoilers, and anyway, that would be difficult. Your choices, made every page or so, shape the story. You have an assortment of characters to interact with, and you can focus attention on whichever ones interest you the most. You can decide exactly what sort of person you will be in the story.

When I play any kind of RP or other flexible game, I’ll admit I can be a little…boring. I’m not the sort who cuts loose in a fictional world; I tend to be scrupulously my best self. I want to save the day and get the girl (or boy or nonbinary person, depending on what is available). This game…does not make that especially easy. Which is not to say it’s an “unwinnable” scenario, or one of those damn “rocks fall, everybody dies” doom stories. I’m not keen on those. What it is, is complicated.

Seriously, this is just me passing on the suffering my friend brought upon me. For the love of robots, play the game and come talk to me about it. I HAVE THOUGHTS.