The art of acknowledgment

August 18th, 2011  / Author: miakoda

In general, I’m fairly reticent.  More interested in listening than talking. A natural introvert. A wall of calm. People flit in, give me work to do, and flit out (on the best days), and I’m left to my own devices, which works for me. But when I get stressed out, I get a bit grumbly.  Not out loud, usually — I have a bad habit of bottling up until the cranky old bat in me can’t take it anymore and then the snark and vinegar flow like cheap blackberry wine.

Every once in a while, though, I do manage to remember how much more stressful life could be. Sometimes the best peace is actually won by taking a look around and recognizing the efforts of those who support you, inspire you, or just make you laugh. Even better, tell that person what you’re thinking. It can be anything from a simple thank you, to buying them a coffee if they’re having a bad day, to singing their praises to their bosses. It’s easy to forget how much that can mean, and sometimes the effects cascade in unexpected ways.

Today I sent a note to the director of another department to let him know that one of his new developers is actually an outstanding customer service rep for their group. Later, she and few other people in the group actually emailed me to say thank you for making her day — apparently the director really made a big deal about that note. He thanked her for making the department look great, and he copied her other bosses and even his boss. By all accounts, she was thrilled. Which is good! I’m glad she enjoyed the recognition. Meanwhile, I was having twinges of sympathetic embarrassment on her behalf. And then, after I was done with my weird little bout of self-invoked awkwardness, I realized I had a stealth case of warm fuzzies from knowing my quick little email had set off that chain reaction.

We live in a fracturing reality these days, one that seems increasingly isolationist and self-absorbed. We complain much, and do little. It’s too easy to get lost in that, and to dwell on the things that make us bitter and unhappy. Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves to look up every now and then, and to actually make an effort to acknowledge the other lives that intersect with ours. Very often, we would be poorer without them.

Work, work, work

August 10th, 2011  / Author: miakoda

I worked this weekend. I worked Monday night. Took last night off for yoga-ing and coffee and delicious bagels. (Yay!) And then I worked — at the office — until 8pm tonight, came home, ate dinner, watched an episode of MLP on our increasingly crappy internet connection, and have been working again for the last hour. (It took nearly an hour just for the 14 MB work file to download to my computer. Thank you, magic internet fairies.)

Tomorrow I get wake up extra early so I can waste … er, spend the day in Chicago with my coworkers, enduring pep talks and state-of-the-office presentations and team-building exercises. And then I take the train home early like the grumpy old lady I am while the others enjoy a boat tour and have dinner. Why? Because I have deadlines that cannot be missed.  So I will spend the evening working again, unless my twitchy, twitchy hand gives out.

Oh, and also there’s housecleaning to do. We have friends coming over Friday night. And then more work on Saturday, so I can get this thing printed in time for a Monday meeting. Oh, how I love the start of the academic year. You betcha.

On the plus side, I officially have a new boss who is not an academic dean. I am strangely hopeful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. And an early wake-up call. /grumblegrumblegrrrrr

Farewell, Borders

August 2nd, 2011  / Author: miakoda

Jason’s post on how the closure of Borders affects Pagan publishers and the availability of metaphysical titles has me in a reflective mood today.

Back in the ’90s, I worked for a small nonfiction book publisher; we specialized in sports and sports psychology titles, and a typical print run was 1,000-2,5000 books per edition, depending on the title. We sold to distributors, bookstores, and individual customers (through catalog sales, and then later, the website).

Of the distributors, Borders was the perpetual thorn in our side; the orders that made us approach the mail or fax with trepidation, significantly more so than any other customer. Ingram had wrangled a much deeper discount, and Baker and Taylor was more scattershot and inconsistent with the titles and numbers they ordered, but Borders … Borders would order five or six cases of a title, distribute them to the stores, and then return the majority to us before their invoice was due 90 days later. And then they would immediately re-order the same title, sometimes before the return had landed in our warehouse. So we would take those same returned books, box them up, and ship them right back. Repeat until the books became unsellable from shipping wear and had to be remaindered.

Mind you, distributors, the big three, anyway, did not pay shipping, so that was our company footing the cost for shipping these titles back and forth every few months.

It was a recurring problem to get actual money out of Borders; they would attempt to write off almost all of their debts with the perpetual return-and-reorder machine. Sometimes they would double-claim return credits, or claim returns we’d never received. When the boss finally sold the company to a larger sports publisher, Borders owed us — if I remember correctly — something like $9,000 in actual funds. They insisted they had $12,000 of outstanding return credit (they did not). I ran the reports and provided all kinds of documentation to the accounts payable office at various levels — several times, in fact. They never once acknowledged receipt of the documentation, even though we had proof they’d received it. And still they refused to pay. I believe they were eventually written off as a bad debt once the company finally changed hands.

When I ran into my former boss a few years later, she said Borders was still sending her notices about twice a year, insisting that the old publishing house owed them that mysterious $12,000. Every time, she would photocopy the original reports and numbers, deny their claim, and insist that they pay the outstanding $9,000. Six months later, she’d receive another notice. We laughed, but it was an exasperated laugh, one punctuated with much eye-rolling.

So, my own feelings on the demise of Borders are a bit of a mixed bag. I loved the brick-and-mortar store. I hated the distributor side of the business. Which was more reflective of the company’s core business practices, I can’t say.

I’ll miss browsing the shelves of an actual bookstore, though, since I despise the new Barnes and Noble location — now that it’s been surgically attached to the patchwork monkey side of the mall, I can’t stand the place.  Granted, it’s probably doing well because it’s the only major bookstore left in the area, as far as I know. There are a few niche shops — a couple of Christian stores, gaming stores, and the like — but nothing like a good general bookstore. I wonder how long B & N’s fortune will last.

Shinies: Beautiful things

July 22nd, 2011  / Author: miakoda

The summer deadlines are upon us at work. Publication deadlines have been moved up, new projects have been added, and of course, everything is due at the same time. Also there’s the heat wave thing that’s making people melty and crazy, which is just all sorts of helpful when you’re working with students who are in the midst of their own mini-meltdown.

So, today will be a post about beautiful things.

Remember that band I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, The Moulettes? I found a copy of their CD from a British-based second-hand seller off Amazon.  Think piratical back-room chamber musicians, dingy wigs askew, getting paid under the table in gin and cigarettes.  The vocals remind me of the Andrews Sisters, or maybe a mellow incarnation of the Ditty Bops, with Jill Tracy’s wicked sense of humor and lovely harmonies (no Rasputina-style vibrato warbles here).  The main instruments are cello, violin and bassoon, and they shift tempo on a dime.

My only real complaint is that a few of the songs occasionally plummet into the so-soft-as-to-be-impossible-to-hear territory — “Devil of Mine” is particularly prone to this — but that’s a minor irritation compared to the otherwise delicious feast. DoM has an interesting video, too, the sort of imagery that reminds me of someone being lured to a faery party that disappears at dawn and leaves them lying in a muddy grove.

I’ve just discovered the John Barleycorn Must Die blog, chronicling the creative process and tomfoolery of the writer and artist as they bring a graphic novel to life.

WHAT IS ’JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE’ ABOUT?

This graphic novel is about the end of the reign of the sky gods and the birth of humanity.

Since time immemorial, the sky gods, aided by earthly Fraternities, have impregnated mortal women, producing demigods who have influenced humanity in their favour. In the 17th century, Elizabeth Cromwell (Oliver Cromwell’s mother) created a Sorority of mortal women to kill these demigods before they generate ‘sky fall’.
A magician, John Barleycorn, is charged by a mysterious woman to expose the last demigod before he can bring about the enslavement of humanity….

The writer (editor/artist/writer Terri Windling’s husband, Howard Gayton) and the artist (Rex Van Ryn) start with an old folk song and spin it out into a modern story. Which doesn’t end well for poor John Barleycorn, as we all know. They’re posting pages of the novel as they go, so I’ll have to go back and read from the beginning.

Also: I am in delighted awe of Brittney Lee’s papercut art. I really have nothing more to say except that I’m incredibly envious of her talent and creativity. And I’m hoping she does post a tutorial at some point, because I would love to give that a try at some point, if only for my own amusement.

In other news, I admit I laughed out loud the first time I saw the new local Crimestoppers/SBPD commercial that insists graffiti is not art.  It shows local children dutifully painting over tags on a building, and is a painfully obvious,  panties-officially-bunched, political pissing match response to the CAD article the Tribune ran a few weeks back (which is apparently no longer available on the SBT site, so huzzah for Google cache!).

The second time I saw it, it only succeeded in pissing me off.

Yes, it is art. You may not agree with its method of delivery, or its message, and those are valid and arguable points. There is a moral gray area there. But it is art. It’s the only interesting thing about being stuck watching a train go by. It’s a splash of color on forgotten buildings, and utility boxes no one ever notices otherwise, and deadly dull bridges with failed scrubby landscaping. It’s an unexpected glimmer of creativity in a landscape that is unmitigated boredom.  And as far as I’m concerned, it resides firmly in the realm of beautiful things.

A post of scraps

July 13th, 2011  / Author: miakoda

As usual, vacation week did not go as planned. There were no trips to Indy or elsewhere, so hopefully we’ll get those another time. Early on, I passed out while making lunch and smacked my head on the ground, and then wound up with an eye infection on top of the mild concussion. So, lumpy forehead, massive headaches, and the most bizarrely perfect eyeliner-esque infection/bruise along the eyelash edge of my right eye, right down to a little semi-Egyptian flourish at the corner. (What gives? Seriously, I could never get eyeliner to do that when I was actually wearing the stuff…!) Mostly there was a lot of sleeping, although we did manage to get out of the house for a walk a few times. Friday there was a lovely trip up to Cafe Gulistan and a walk along the Union Pier beach. Lots of sunny, window-down driving. It was probably one of the best days we’ve had this summer, in all honesty.

The headache lingers, though it’s bearable this week. The eye seems to be healing well enough. At least it just looks like I cut my lid or something, rather than walking around with half makeup. Haha.

MrFenris lives. I hope to have visual confirmation soon.

Will played through L.A. Noire and continues to battle the frustration-fest that is Alice: The Madness Returns. I’m running through Kingdom Hearts Re:coded on the DS. Mostly it’s good and fun, but wow, do I suck at the platformer bits.  Also, it suffers greatly from magic camera syndrome at the most inopportune times.

I got about 90% through Okamiden before succumbing to frustration at a boss battle redux (the giant kabuki puppet) and walking away from it. It’s a cute, fun little game, although the inaccuracy of the stylus as a brush mechanism drove me batty at times, and I was terrible at mining the demons for organs and whatnot to improve my weapons. Ah, well, maybe I’ll come back to it and suddenly Renjishi won’t be such a cheating bitch. I can dream.  But seriously … how can you not look at Chibiterasu and want to plaaaay? That pup is the incarnation of all things adorable!

Ghost Trick has been enjoyable, although it relies heavily on timing, which is another of my weaknesses.  It has a sarcastic sense of humor that appeals to me, though.  9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is also good, if a bit daunting. There are so many different endings — and most of them are pretty horrible.  The one big gripe I have with it are the long sections of cut-scenes. Multiple endings makes it theoretically replayable, but I’m just not sure I can sit through those again. The Unskippable crew would have a field day with the entire game.

Yesterday would have been my dad’s 74th birthday. I don’t know why that seems vaguely impossible; he was close to retirement when he died, his thick, wavy black hair all shot through with gray when he forgot to color it.  He’d had reading glasses for a good decade by then, and had finally (grudgingly) accepted a hearing aid. He was in the midst of completing a second bachelor’s in computer science, despite having worked as a programmer for most of his life, and was working full time for a local payroll company. Still. He always seemed far too ornery to grow old like normal people do.

Yesterday was also my youngest brother’s 29th.  That’s more believable.  Even so, he’s been in Japan for four years, now, and has weathered employer bankruptcy,  Tokyo train commutes, negotiating rent and utilities red tape in Japanese, several pairs of shoes and many more socks worn clear through, terrible bosses, bizarre seafood pizzas at the Tokyo Shakey’s, a trip to South Korea, the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima meltdown, and, from a distance, Mom’s eternal fretting. I’m glad he’s having the experiences he is. But that doesn’t mean I don’t wanna give him a good shake so he’ll send Mom a freaking postcard. Sheesh.

That’s all for now. Sleep time and all that.

Shinies: Sloth-wins edition

July 2nd, 2011  / Author: miakoda

Next week marks the first full week of actual during-the-summer vacation in ten years. (Almost a full week, I should say — I have to go in one afternoon to teach a class.)  I think I could get used to this “having help during summer deadlines” thing, although the “preparing for a week off ” part thing is murder.

So, a tiring week. And I’ve forgotten any postable ideas that briefly bubbled to the surface.

Instead, here are my two favorite post-Europeans, at least for today. One’s joined the Cult of America and the other’s technically still the Queen’s spy, after all.  Also, is anyone else unsurprised that Craig Ferguson is a Lovecraft fan? Neil Himself does make an amusing point about HPL’s characters.

Elsewhere…

Karma Hunt

June 23rd, 2011  / Author: miakoda

We did CAD’s Karma Hunt on the Mishawaka Riverwalk a couple of weeks ago — it was a lot of fun, and a good excuse to go outside for a few hours and do something different. (Since this SBT article doesn’t attempt to hide the location, I don’t particularly feel the need to keep that mum.) We found 9 of the 12 blocks that first trip, but only made it about 75% of the way around before low blood sugar forced us to abandon the hunt.

 

So that was two weekends ago. This weekend, we went back to finish the last leg of the Riverwalk we didn’t get to, in the hope that we’d find the remaining three tiles, but we had no luck — either we missed them elsewhere along the path, or they’ve already been pulled down, as someone had tried to do with the “Be an explorer” tile.

I had mentioned CAD’s tags in conversation with some of my coworkers and friends, and it was disheartening that the majority of the people I mentioned it to immediately frowned and felt compelled to point out that it’s vandalism (somehow even the word itself became disgusting as they spat it out). There was no room for the possibility that it might be amusing or creative or have any value at all beyond the price of clean-up.

I’m not surprised, just disappointed. I get the same reaction for just about everything I admit to liking — a sort of utter incomprehension, as if I’m simultaneously speaking a foreign tongue and extolling the virtues of getting high on intravenous liquefied garbage. It’s frustrating, and tiring, and it makes me sad that there’s no room in their souls anymore for coloring outside the lines.

Clearly I should just stop talking outside of my head and just invest in some good old-fashioned invisible friends. Except … I can’t, because then the aforementioned humans tend to assume things that aren’t true, and act on those assumptions, and that’s even more frustrating than being looked at like I’m an alien until they conveniently forget the conversation ever happened.

Someday, I imagine I’ll just snap and suddenly no longer give a damn about playing the game. And then I’ll have to figure out a different way to make a living.

/sigh

And on that note, I leave you with the Best Pony Ever. Because everything is better with Fluttershy, obviously.

 

Edit: If you’re curious, the SBT article also posted a photo gallery of CAD in action.

Shinies: CAD and Pellatarrum

June 10th, 2011  / Author: miakoda
CAD art on the former Ryan's Steak House in SB

CAD on the former Ryan's Steak House in SB

South Bend folks: We have our very own Banksy, y’all. CAD is my new hero. I was going to grab a camera this weekend and go hunting for all the easter-egg stencil art tags I’ve been seeing around town, but s/he saved me the trouble. All it took was a quick search for the signature “CAD flower bomb” I’ve seen in a few places.  I just wish the locations were posted along with the pics, so I could watch for the ones I haven’t spotted yet when I’m out and about.

This – this is a thing that makes me happy.

Let’s be clear about this: I’m still no fan of D&D in any of its incarnations. However, a writer I quite like (Erin Palette of Curse/Or fame) has just published the first installment of her fantasy campaign setting in Claw/Claw/Bite magazine. Erin has posted previews of her Pellatarrum setting on Lurking Rhythmically, but I’m glad to see her RPG work paying off, too.

Go grab a copy of CCB if you can — issue 18 is on sale at RPG Now for $2.99 at the moment.

Also, if you haven’t been to her blog, you really should. Y’know, especially if you’re into “hot goth-girl beseeching action!” Or awesome modern mythic fiction. Or gaming. Or guns. Or Discordianism. Or sarcasm ++. Oh, hell, just go visit her already.

Dammit. I want those boots. So unfair.

Want: Besouro and DCD

May 14th, 2011  / Author: miakoda

To remind myself to look these up at a later date:

1. Jason @ Wild Hunt says there’s a new Dead Can Dance album coming out the summer of 2012. Suddenly I feel the urge to dig out Spiritchaser again.

2. I had a moment of pure Squee! when I saw the trailer to Besuro.  A Capoeira movie that also features appearances by Candomblé orixás! Please oh please let it come to South Bend…

 

 

If you’re not familiar with Candomblé, it’s one of the African diaspora religions, most commonly found in Brazil, but also in the Caribbean and South America. It’s similar to Voudou and Santeria; they are based in Western African myth and share many of the same principles and figures, though known by different names. Exu is similar to Eshu and Legba and Eleggua, for example — he’s a gateway figure, the one you invite first, to open the way for other gods; Orixa is a goddess of wind and water.

I’ve been fascinated by the diaspora religions since I was a kid, and I think it’s a crime we haven’t seen more of their stories in media. So yes, I would probably watch this just for the awesome Capoeira fights, but seeing Exu and Orixa in the trailer really made my day.

Happy Beltane

May 1st, 2011  / Author: miakoda

Sadly, no spring bonfires for me this year.  I will content myself with the bounciest May Day song, Emerald Rose’s infectiously happy Merry May Folk:

Come up, come in with streamers
Come in with boughs of May
Come green and white and trip the lawn
Till night becomes the day
We sing of life arise
From the Lord who shed and died
Your God’s alive in greenwood
With the Lady by his side

And there is also JoCo’s amusing and indelicate ode to Beltane, “First of May.” (NSFW)

I’m a little disappointed I can’t find a good audio link for the Mediaeval Baebes’ “Summerisle (The Maypole Song)” from the Undrentide album. The original clips from the Wicker Man are kind of muddy-sounding.

In any case.  Happy Beltane. I hope yours is a lovely, wild, wonderful day! Mine started out promising — Will made breakfast today. Delicious! One of many, many reasons I keep him.

Yesterday, the sky was very confused about whether it wanted to be sunny and warm or cloudy and cool. Regardless, we took one of his parents’ dogs for a walk in the fields yesterday, but the woods were too flooded by all the rain we’ve gotten lately. Maybe next time.