The Rebirth of Reading

About a year ago I bought a house and moved in with my Other Half. After having a relationship for six years, we had thought that it was high time – regardless of the challenges that we knew would present itself during the adjustment phase. And, we had anticipated quite a few. We were and still are both two very singular people with our own rhythm and routines. We had also had to adjust from living a life between weekends, to finding the kind of balance that people needed to that saw each other every day.

It’s been a journey worthy of a blog post itself, though admittedly one I’d never write because I feel that there are some things you just don’t talk about in public. Simply because one of the most beautiful things about our relationship is the converstaions that can happen in private…

But, conversations weren’t always all we had. In general, like the exhausted, overworked adults of this century, we found ourselves mostly watching television at night. Over the past few years I had accumulated quite a few series that I wanted to get into and my Other Half was more than willing to share in the viewing experience. Of course, this became a habit and pretty soon – it was all we generally did. This was very new to me, certainly a big adjustment. I’ll be lying if I say that I don’t like watching television, but I’ve always tried to limit myself, especially during the week because I’ve been brought up to believe that it is a tremendous waste of time.

They even preached it to us in school through teaching Roald Dahl’s The Reading Killer.

Yet, because of life and the general rhythm of things, the television suddenly became quite a fixture in our daily routine. And secretly, I think both of us started to resent it.

Having grown up as a reader, having gone through school with three or four books in my bag at a time – I hadn’t loved reading in as much as I had needed it. I had been fiercely protective of my time with my books. Like all reading children, I hid books on my lap in class, snuck them away between the covers of my textbooks and carried them with me always, as one would a weapon of self-defense. The only thing that made inroads into my reading time was my own writing. And in hind sight, even that was a minor sacrilege. Because I now feel that you cannot write if you don’t read enough to make you humble.

And, hypocritically, I’ve been preaching it a lot. During November, my main message to my NaNoers are to read. To broaden their minds. To acknowledge the books that made them want to write. I’ve stood up in front of scores of people, cornered many an unsuspecting sitcom fan and unleased the passion of my thoughts of fiction. Yet, I had abandoned it for television.

Something had to give and it all started with a really bad book. I will not say the title of it because this article isn’t a review in as much as it is a musing but – in January I downloaded a free book from Samsung Kindle and it… repulsed me. There wasn’t a scrap of originality in it, not a wink of creativity. It was loosely put together, slightly silly. Pretty much like every television series after Season Four. I had closed the book, deleted it from my phone and promptly started reading a book from Charles Dickens simply because I knew that it at least had proven its worth.

It had substance. It felt alive.

And it reminded me why I loved reading so much.

The natural progression was to want more. I began digging into my own library again, finding the books that lay on my cupboard, half read, half forgotten. My Other Half began to follow suit and soon we found ourselves sitting in front of the television, staring at the images that were shown to us and realizing that we much preferred out own. The Conversation happened, a confession that we didn’t want to watch as much television anymore. The relief that followed was a release.

We decided to make books a priority again, to feed our minds instead of simply using our eyes. I took to Goodreads and pretty soon, we had a reading list several books long. Sanctions were put on the television. We wouldn’t stop watching completely (because I can’t give up Blacklist…) but we decided to limit how much we watch. An episode a night at most. Two over the weekend.

The result has been enlightening. After The Conversation we spend our Sunday lying in bed together, simply reading with our dog and cat wedged in between us.  Silence drifted through the house but it wasn’t uncomfortable. It was the kind of silence that people had when they were content.

When they were being transported into other worlds.

I’ve missed those worlds and my soul has taken to reading like a body to food after a fast. With the act reborn, with the hobby retaken, reclaimed, I look forward to every moment that I can have a moment. Where I can steal a breath to turn a page or two.

And it is enlightening.

And it is a relief.

I will not put my book down easily again.

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Alyssa has
read 4 books toward
her goal of
25 books.
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Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Dulce et decorum est…

When I was in Grade 11, we did this poem by Wilfred Owen, named as the title above. He had mused about the truth behind the words that had mainly been used to recruit soldiers for the First World War in Britain.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

You ask me, how does this relate to the movie that I saw? Well… Read on. I’m going to try and keep this spoiler free but…

We all know what a super hero film looks like right? There are the heroes, mainly male, pretty, buff and quircky. There is the villain, clearly evil, mislead, doomed to fail in the end. There are fights, there are periods of highs, periods of lows, humour, some bitter sweet sadness, bitter sweet pleasure and ultimately, VICTORY!

And of course then there is the hook that’s supposed to drag you back to the cinemas for the next one.

Before the first Avengers (and Thor…) I had pretty much given up on Super Hero movies. They were… nice. But, they weren’t necessarily special. I usally left the cinemas none the wiser, none the happier but strangely satisfied because I had watched another one. The Avengers (the first one) had rekindled my love for these comic books heroes. I think the whole world was pretty much in agreement that it was one of the best movies of the year, possibly the past couple of years because – let’s face it – entertainment had become… someone unentertaining. In the world of slow motion hobbits, trekking across New Zealand with a constant mope on their faces, Avengers had put the oomph back into action/sci-fi movies. It’s momentum had carried on through Iron Man 3 and had even given birth to a somewhat mutated and disfigured child called Agents of Shield (I’ve been told it gets better, but the original five episodes was so bad that I’d have gone to the back and shot it if I could).

Even the X-Men films had gotten better.

Somewhat.

And, through all of this – I had… hope.

The first Avengers had flowed in a way that felt natural. And, as Joss Whedon had carried on writing and direction the second film, I had hoped that he would be able to pull it through.

Alas. I was mistaken.

The movie felt forced, the humor overdone and half-baked at best. What’s more, I left the film with the distinct feeling that I had seen more of Hawk Eye (whom I don’t really like) than Tony Stark (Hello Baby) and Thor (Yeah, you to…) combined. I don’t like them for their bodies of course, it’s the characters that I like. The rest are… Like lettuce in a salad. Green, slightly moist but generally the stuff you least like to see in your salad.

I also, somehow felt slightly out of the loop. I guess the idea would’ve been to have watched Agents of Shield. And, Captain America. For whom I don’t have a lot of time either. But. I didn’t. So I was left feeling as if I had joined a conversation that everybody expect me to follow but nobody really bothered to explain to me. What’s more, the whole movie felt like a setup.

I get the feeling that Marvel can’t really keep up with the Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. Pay Checks. And, it was said after Iron Man 3 that RDJ won’t even star in another Marvel movie. I had been quite surprised to see the whole crew on board again because original rumors had said that both Thor and Tony Stark might not make an appearance in the next film…

But they did, if only to give way to the new Avengers.

Yes. That’s what the movie came down to me. It was a Setup. They used this platform to create history and characters for their new (because come on, they WILL make more) series or movie. They just don’t have to pay the bigger actors to play in it.

I’m not saying that the movie was all bad. I enjoyed most of it. Even though they misrepresented the South African Police force and made them look VERY efficient… But, I also sat in it and thought:

Dulce et decorum est.

It is sweet and fitting.

The underlying message of the Avengers was that it is sweet and fitting to die being a hero. To save the innocent. To die for one’s country. For the world. It felt… like patriotism. It felt like propaganda. And somehow, it is something that I didn’t expect from a Whedon film. There were quite a lot of things in the film that I actually didn’t expect from him.

The movie wasn’t bad.

I’ll say it again.

It wasn’t bad. But it was somewhat disappointing, if you are like me and you like to analyse characters and patterns and flow. I am not satisfied with the ordinary. I am not satisfied with the usual and I had gone there expecting more and I didn’t get it. The only true shining light through the whole movie was James Spader as Ultron. And, he is brilliant. Even as a CGI android, he is truly amazing.

But, he shouldn’t have been the only one.

Banner had shown in the previous movie, but had been reduced to… something else in this one. Romanov’s character had been cut down to a cliche. I’ll speak of these aspects in other posts.

The truth will remain that I had expected more. I had expected a lot more.

A Soul full of Broken Glass

 photo IMG_7840.jpg This is a very hard post to write.

I am out of practice firstly, I haven’t written in a while. I couldn’t write, even though I sat in front of my computer often, staring at the screen and trying to dig inside myself to cement some words to paper. I failed, constantly.

Because I have a soul full of broken glass and it hurts.

The explanation for this is simple. My horse died. It wasn’t expected, it wasn’t calmly and it certainly wasn’t pretty. My life was torn apart in a matter of forty eight hours by a situation that was unavoidable. Death was a mercy certainly, a sentence pronounced by myself.

But it wasn’t what I had wanted for him and it certainly wasn’t what I could deal with right now.

But, that is the nature of life. Of trials and challenges. We are never prepared for anything. We think we are, but we’re not. The morning I went to say good bye to him, my riding companions had joined me. It was early, before work and we had stood there in a group around him. The others had been crying, but tried to comfort me. I hadn’t cried, simply stood there and held them.

“It’s okay,” I had told my friend as we hugged. “It’s okay.” Behind us, my horse had stood twitching, his muscles convulsing at the point of seizure. He was affected by a virus that caused West Nile Disease. And, it’s really not very common in South Africa. A vaccine had only come available a year or two ago and we had not thought that the disease was in our area. Yet, we were wrong. And, it was a costly  mistake.

The disease is a disaster, affecting the horse’s nervous system, destroying it – leading to seizures, disorientation and convulsions. It came upon us suddenly. I was called the Monday evening but a slightly hysterical and freaked out stable yard manager.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she told me as she described how my horse had broken out of his stable, out of the camp in front of it and ended up in her back garden. “I tried to hold him but I couldn’t. He wouldn’t calm down, couldn’t stand still. I tried to hold him but I couldn’t.”

Which was understandable, he weighs 400kgs, nearly half a ton. One can hardly keep control of a 80kg man having a seizure, keeping control of a horse that is constantly falling around, thrashing and throwing himself at walls, is impossible. I went there, looked at him. Called the vet. But I knew that it was a problem.

He settled for most of the day, giving us a sense of false hope. Maybe it had been a fit, maybe it had been a one occurrence. Maybe I wouldn’t have to kill him before he either killed himself or someone else.

It wasn’t to be of course, it wouldn’t be because that is not how these things worked. He had another episode that evening and for all their attempts to keep him safe, he ended up in an area of the yard were they kept scrap metal. He broke into that area, fell down there, and tore himself to shreds. I rushed over when they called me again but even as I was driving I told the owner of the yard to call the vet.

It was over, I knew it was.

Death was a mercy and the last act of love that I could give to him.

And, as I told my friends, it was okay. I could accept it. I could accept that there was no other option. But it doesn’t take the hurt away, it doesn’t take the sense away that I will never be complete again.

You see, I know that it’s just an animal. But Sebastian had been special, from the beginning, he had been mine. I am a very strong T on the Meyers and Briggs scale and live a full INTJ life. But, in my horses, in this horse, my Feeling side had resided. My emotions and my security. Horses had always given me something that humans somehow never could. It’s not something that can be put to words. It’s just something that has always been. Even my partner had remarked a couple of times that I would never be made to choose between my horses and my relationship because it was a battle that no person could win. Does it make me defective? Probably, but I am in a fortunate position to have an Other Half that doesn’t care about it and loves me anyway.

I know there will be other horses. I still have one, a young gelding I put under the saddle myself that I had thought I was raising for a friend of mine. I had never thought that he would be a replacement. And he can’t be. No other horse will be. My friend who lost her golden stallion a couple of years ago sat with me over the weekend and said quietly that it never stops. The hurt and the longing to have that one last ride on that special horse. That one that took one’s soul and broke it upon death. You just learn to make the pain a part of yourself, a part of the pleasure of riding. She’s had had almost four horses since Rico’s death and none of them had matched his place in her heart.

It is a bitter pill to swallow and so ironic that I had waited a whole year for him to recover from his injured leg only to have him ripped away from me in such a manner.

So, I have a soul full of broken glass. I have a soul that is constantly cutting me, a well of emotions that slices through me every time I try to feel anything. I am mourning, I know that. And, I will give myself time to do so. The only good thing about the pain is that it means that Basjan really meant something.

That he was important in a reality I’m constantly trying to escape through gaming and writing.

That he was real.

 photo Sunset.jpg

Gamify your life. Join the world of HabitRPG.

Trekking across the wasteland of Bad Habits, seeing the Mountains of your Daily Tasks looming ahead of you, you find yourself wondering why a simple adventure and professional procrastinator like yourself ever hoped to achieve in the land of HabitRPG. Since coming here you have encountered nothing but the woes of missed daily tasks, the ever increasing pressure of the looming ToDo list and you have a lion cub (which hatched from an egg, for heaven’s sake) that is constantly hungry. The urge to give up, to take the potion of Delete Account is strong but… on the horizon you see a beast approaching you. You recognize it well, it comes for you daily so you quickly put the cub down and run to face it, lest it deals damage to your beloved pet…

It is called Dehydration, and it can only be kept at bay by increasing your strength at the office water cooler. You must drink, not one, not two but three glasses of water during the morning, lest it decides to kill you at night… You scramble up from your desk, charge towards the water cooler and…

Drink three glasses of water. The monster is defeated, you are safe for another day.

It plays like an adventure, a world in which you can create yourself to be a rogue, wizard or warrior by completely daily tasks, but it is much more than that. Habit RPG is a stroke of ingenuity created by web designer Tyler Renelle. It is meant to ‘gamify’ your life, to cast you into a role playing game scenario where the only way to level up your character is to completely the daily tasks that you set for yourself. It started off as a kickstarter project and grew into a community of souls seeking simply to get a grip of their life. I was pointed to the site by a friend of mine, and soon became hooked. It spoke to my slightly OCD tendency to create lists and strike out my daily to dos.

It is certainly more satisfying than simply crossing out an achieved objective.

jqnctnricrjbrpho4rjrI have found it to be quite enlightening. The community is support of each other, and there are guilds and parties to suit every person’s need. You find yourself fighting monsters alongside friends who are also simply trying to remember to drink their pills in the morning, or a party of resistors trying to find some way to remember to drink enough water in a day. For a gamer such as myself, it’s livened up the mediocre and the bland and it’s certainly made me focus on a few of the things I am so prone on forgetting.

If you wish to know more, you can explore it’s wikia site here, or simply join the website here.

Enjoy!

Gaming Interlude: The Long Dark.

I can hardly call it a game review yet, because I haven’t gotten that far. But, after playing it again for a few hours today, it’s dawned on me that this game needs to be mentioned. It needs to be discussed, experienced.

It needs to be shared.

I spoke about my recent infatuation with Indie Games and how I’ve begun to look at them with a new pair of eyes. As it came on sale in Steam’s Black Friday dash, I realised that The Long Dark might be worth looking into. One look at the trailer and hearing Jennifer Hale’s voice immediately told me that this game was going to be different. A Guinness world record holding voice actress wouldn’t bother aiding a development that was subpar. Or that was the justification that I used to myself when I pulled out my credit card.

Made by independent studio Hinterland, The Long Dark is still in development and only available on Steam’s Early Access. The game, that only has its Sandbox mode enabled so far, costs about $20, though if one keeps an eye out, you might able to find it on special. I paid about $13 for it, but a mate of mine got it for as cheap as $10. My discussion of the price is hardly relevant though, because even uncompleted, this game is still worth it and I’d have been satisfied with my purchase regardless of whether the developers evolved it further or not.

What pulled me to the game was the tone. Even in the first trailer one could feel the isolation of the protagonist, the vast land and impossible task of surviving dwindling in the distance with the threat of wolves, dehydration, starvation and hypothermia mere moments away at any given point in time. The Sand Box mode has got no story, simply one goal and that is to survive the cold night.

I thought that it would be easy, but I was mistaken.

Even with the graphics not being AAA style, let-me-see-that-blemish-up-close, detailed it comes to life in a way that threatens to overwhelm all of one’s senses. The difference between footsteps on tar and snow, on ice and gravel. The breath that moves before you as temperatures threaten to fall further than your insufficiently clad body can deal with. The wind, the darkness. The silence. It’s summer in my country at the moment and even I can feel the breath of cold air on my neck and the need the shield my face from the snow as I move the character forward. The Long Dark is a fest of immersion.

Still being in development, it is not without its flaws. I find sometimes that attacking wolves would levitate either to the left or right before they attack me. That makes them particularly hard to avoid or shoot. I’ve encountered one or two objects that I can’t pick up and I really want the developers to consider actually putting something worthwhile in a locked storage unit that I risked life and limb to open. I also think that the wolves are glitchy in general and needs to be tweaked because they are damn hard to kill. The mechanics of the wolf attacks just doesn’t work and sadly, guns and ammo are very hard to come by. I’ve spend hours exploring the Coastal Highway without finding one sniff of a rifle. That part can be frustrating because inevitably, the protagonist will have deal with the dark beasties.

But, these complaints are but a bitter drop in the ocean of satisfaction. I love this game, I love the isolation, the loneliness, the sombre tones and realisation that one is the only person in a frozen wasteland that echoes of lives scattered around like frozen corpses. I look forward to seeing what the developers will be doing in the future but even if it is absolutely nothing I will come back face the darkness again and again and again.