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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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.

Experience – The Unexpected Part 2

The last weekend in February 2014 was a nightmare for me. I had come back from the hospital’s emergency rooms with a diagnosis most dire. According to the radiologist, I had torn all of the ligaments in my shoulder and was scheduled for rotator cuff surgery that following Tuesday. I had been booked off from work for a week, something that would’ve been a blessing under less tense circumstances. As it was, I was devastated, not because of my shoulder, my mind had a strange way of just accepting it, but – I was almost certain that I was going to lose my job. I had been warned by the emergency room doctor that I was most probably not going to be allowed to drive for three months. Driving played an integral part of my work and my company had a habit of getting rid of people who couldn’t do what they needed to. From firing my manager for tearing all of his knee ligaments, to firing a colleague on his death bed of brain cancer, tolerance towards injuries wasn’t going to be on the table. I had had to call our HR officer to explain to her why I had to leave the office early. She had listened to me in shocked silence then tensely told me that she wasn’t going to tell my CEO until a week later because that would give me another month’s pay check at least.

I struggled to get my affairs in order that weekend, organising with people to take care of my pets, trying to figure out what I would need for at least a week in hospital (worst case scenario) and putting my contingency plans in order for when I lost my job. It was a harrowing two days, made even more so because I couldn’t sleep from the pain.

Monday dawned and I was whisked off to the orthopaedic surgeon by a friend of mine. The pain wasn’t any better, but the night before I had realised that I could move my arm again. Just a little, and it hurt like hell, but I was starting to doubt the diagnosis of the first radiologist.

I was very fortunate to end up with an orthopaedic surgeon who looked first and cut later. He was gruff, appearing almost irritated that I dare intrude on his practice… But he was thorough. He doubted the scans immediately, moving my arm, getting me to move it and finally deciding that he would rather have them taken again. I was send for the full treatment, an MRI scan, an x-ray and a sonar, all pointing to one thing.

My ligaments were intact. Damaged yes and I did have a muscle tear but it wasn’t big enough to require surgery. The main problem wasn’t my tendons or ligaments, it was my shoulder joint. I had bursitis, something I didn’t even know existed until it was pointed out to me. Essentially, in layman’s terms, its an inflammation of the soft pad on which my shoulder rotates. Anything can trigger it, though I was told that it rarely occurs in women my age. It is treated, not with surgery but with cortisone injections right in the joint. Surgery was a last option for treatment. All I needed to do was rest, see a physio, and come for injections once every few weeks until it cleared up. There was an underlying problem, with all the scans pointing to the possibility that my shoulder joints were degenerating due to a misshaped acromioclavicular joint. That would have to be corrected with surgery, but it was something I could post-pone until I’m ready for it. The first order of business was simply to get the bursitis to clear up.

It was as long a recovery as the surgery would’ve been – but it wasn’t invasive.

In fact, it was a message.

Something had to change. My body couldn’t handle the pace and stress anymore that I was under. I had to take it slow, take care of myself, be aware of my limitations.

I had to sort out my life because it wasn’t working. Some people are brought to realisations such as this by a miracle, an epiphany. I am such a stubborn person that the only way I was made to see on what a destructive path I was, was by dragging me to a halt through near crippling pain.

The bursitis took months to clear up, the pain lingered for weeks and still bother me sometimes. I had to go to physio simply to get the joint moving again. My medical aid didn’t cover half of the medication and procedures that had been done so I was at the mercy of a kind friend who did pro-bono work on me. And work? Work was unrelenting, unsympathetic. I don’t expect to be babied but in the course of those weeks in which I struggled to get permission to leave the office early to go to doctor’s appointments and physio appointments I realised that I had to leave.

It wasn’t going to be easy. For those who knew me before 2010 would remember how hard I struggled just to get this job in the first place. And, a part of me is a strong creature of habit. I wasn’t earning a bad salary, I just had to work my ass off to get it. I was conflicted, feeling as if changing my companies would be like a betrayal. There are very few things that are as stressful as a new job and with my shoulder, I didn’t know whether I would be able to cope.

But, I knew that I had to figure out a way because it also dawned on me that I wasn’t coping anyway. This injury was proof of it, even the situation under which it occurred wasn’t right. I didn’t want to find myself on dodgy roads anymore needing to change my tyre for fear of being robbed and murdered before rescue came.

And I didn’t want to work for a boss that had absolutely no humanity in him.

Game Review: Banished

Image courtesy of pooterman @deviantart.com

It should be noted that most of the games I’ve played recently I didn’t go out to discover myself. Mostly I discovered them due to the persistent badgering of my friend Ris. I have a very love hate relationship towards gaming because it is very counterproductive. If you’re sitting down and playing games, then you can’t write, think about your plot or do any sensible kind of work. I’ll confess it was one of the reasons I liked having a Tamagotchi as a child because although you were constantly aware that you were ‘playing a game’ you could also put it into your pocket and forget about it while you busied yourself with school work.

I didn’t think that this sort of experience existed anymore until I was introduced to Banished.

Developed by Shining Rock Software, Banished is an indie game which makes you responsible for a group of villagers who had had to leave their birth place, most probably under suspect circumstances. You have to make sure they have lodgings, food and sufficient resources not only to get through the winter but to expand their population as well. You don’t have any direct control over the villagers, rather functioning as an omnipresent power that works as the inspiration as to where (or whether) they should put up that Brewery… You can decide how difficult you want your starting positions to be and you can decide whether your villagers can be affected by natural disasters or not so the game provides a fairly decent learning curve (though the training wheels fall off eventually, so be warned).

And, you can simply leave the game to run by itself.

It’s one of the reason’s I’ve clocked so many hours in it, because I set up my village and then leave to see how my new developments affect my people (or whether they bother completing it at all). I’ve had the game running in boardroom meetings, during NaNoWriMo, over weekends. Apart from trying to figure out how village expansion rate vs food resources, the game requires very little mental processing (if you’re not me that is, I went obsessive, set up an excel spreadsheet and tried to beat the game with pure mathematical statistics). You can simply set it up and let it run.

Apart from World of Goo that I played with its release, Banished was the first real exposure that I had to indie gaming. Originally, I had resisted playing the game simply because, like a badly advertised self published novel, I didn’t think that it would be worth my time. But, the persistence of a friend won out and I was proven delightfully wrong. The mechanics were solid, the graphics delightful and the attention to detail (such as needing to maintain a reasonable hunting rate, lest one depopulated the deer) was a marvel. And, it’s not as easy as it first appears, especially when you realise for instance that your population can become too old to reproduce.

It’s not action packed, it’s not emotional (thought you can get pretty emotional when you see a hurricane happily make its way through your village) and it doesn’t have a story. (Or, your village might not but I make a point of taking note who is born and what they achieve in their lifetime. Especially the child named Demon…)  But, it is fun and that is the basic building block, no, the foundation of games. And, it was developed by a single person, so you have to give him kudos for that.

It’s a game that feels as if it has been specially designed for myself. My obsession with numbers and predicting the statistical outcome of resource procurement, combined with my tendency to zone out in front of the computer without the need to think, made this the perfect game.

Ultimately, it’s the kind of game I’d comfortably recommend to anybody who needs a distraction without being completely sucked into another world. It’s reasonably priced and if you consider how many hours of gaming you can get out of it (as well as replay value – there’s something very exciting about starting up a new village, because you don’t know whether they’ll make it…) it’s certainly an economical buy.

Banished is easily available on Steam and GOG.com.