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Weekly Round-Up

This week, my nephew came into the world! Also, I wrote stuff that’s not due to be published for a little while. That means no links to other sites featuring my work today, but there’s still a few things to share.

Things that I read: 

Thing that I made: 

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This week’s Whiteboard Weirdness celebrates my aforementioned nephew! He’s been here four days now, and came into the world both screaming and a Leo – which makes the mighty lion a fitting welcome beast indeed. The cuddly lion reference came from a Google Image search.

Things that I’m excited about: 

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Click the pics if you fancy purchasing any of the above! I get a modest kick-back from Amazon, if you do.

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10 Things to Love About Stranger Things

Just like virtually everyone else I know, Andy and I fell into the Stranger Things hole a few weeks ago. It was sorta like visiting the Upside Down, but with much better food and not having to worry about what the hell I was breathing. So nothing like the Upside Down then, but we did live day-to-day in a creeping mist of questions and concern and admiration for Eleven and her bevy of adventurers, not to mention the hapless adults stumbling into national security black ops. And by day-to-day, I mean like the three days it took us to watch.

Ever since, I’ve been lurking for a good time to watch it again (my brother hasn’t seen it yet, LET ME CHANGE THAT), making my own Christmas lights message, and getting way too excited about Funko’s prototype rendering of an Eleven Pop!. (MAKE IT SO, FUNKO; TAKE MY MONEY.) And now I’ve decided to lob a 10 Things list at YOU, dear reader, so here we go!

(This is not a Top Ten list, and not in any particular order.)

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1) 80’s Nostalgic, But Not Derivative!

It seems like Hollywood is constantly trying to package 80’s nostalgia and sell it to us these days – except they’re doing it by shitty remakes of everything from Transformers to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (No, I will not apologize for both of those examples being Baystrosities.) Of course, they tend to get everything wrong – these franchises were products of their time (and our youth), and they’re being remade by people who arguably never cared about them – so they end up being neither genuine nor revolutionary.

Stranger Things doesn’t do that. Stranger Things is set in a very specific place – smalltown, heartland America in 1983. It is a science fiction story and a coming-of-age story and a mystery and a thriller. It loves Stephen King and Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter and so much more – but it does not want to be them. It wants to remind you of that intense wonder with an edge of fear in which you met E.T. or quailed from Carrie or cheered for the Goonies.

Stranger Things wraps you in atmosphere, and you breathe nostalgia in. And it is something special.

2) Hard Science Fiction of Unintended Consequences!

One of the best aspects of the mad science storyline in Stranger Things is that it’s so rooted in history – the USSR was actually investigating telepathy and more during the Cold War. As were we: the US did indeed have their own answering research team. So we have the set-up of a secret facility fostering ESP in an attempt to undermine the State’s enemies. But then everything goes wrong – instead of tapping only into info we wanted, we stumble sideways into an adjoining plane of existence… and the things there are hungry. It’s a simple skeleton to hang a story on, but supports oh such juicy meat being layered atop it. Er. I am not actually an untold horror from the Upside Down typing this, promise. I am human. So human. Now…come closer.

3) Eleven.

Eleven grew up in a lab as a science experiment, with a cold scientist who wore fatherhood like a labcoat – thin and easily discarded if it gets too messy. She can kill things with her brain. She still managed to retain a core of humanity and vulnerability that left her open to friendship and soft things. She knew that killing was wrong, and protection something she could offer her best and only friends. Eleven was a goddamn delight, and deserves ALL the Eggo Waffles. ALL OF THEM, BOB, YOU LEGGO ELEVEN’S EGGO RIGHT THIS INSTANT.

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(See Ms Manatee’s post on Binge Whale for more boss Eleven moments.)

4) Joyce Byers.

I read Joyce has gotten some shit because she just acted crazy and screamed about her missing boy all season. That she is NOT FEMINIST. To which I ask: do you have a heart? Is it an empty hole? Is your last name Grinch?

Yeah, Joyce spends most of the season focused on her son Will Byers. He is TWELVE and GOES MISSING, so most people would understand why Joyce found herself so absorbed with her son. But far from turning into a helpless wreck of a person, she turns into a PROACTIVE wreck of a person. (There is nothing bad or weak about being a wreck of a person when a child you love and who depends on you goes missing over night. Just FYI.)  She seeks allies. She follows every lead. She does it alone when required. Joyce Byers is a woman who understands the truth is out there, and she’s going to find it come hell or high water, Upside Downs or a POS shaped like an ex-husband. Joyce Byers should be celebrated, and I say that as a feminist. The end.

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5) Nancy Wheeler.

Nancy is our third female protagonist in Stranger Things, if you’ve been keeping count. THIRD. And she’s a teenage girl, which is prime territory for her just being THE WORST because 80’s nostalgia and sexism. Except she’s not THE WORST. She’s a complicated, real person who gets to make her own decisions and also make mistakes. She reconnects with her little brother, sees to the heart of many things, and doesn’t shrink from fighting in the dark for her lost best friend. She’s tough, dedicated, and smart – and she has one of the best lines in the entire series.

“What you kids doin’ with all this?” asks the hardware fella.

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“Monster hunting.” Nancy tells it like it is.

(Check Jen Juneau’s post over on Yahoo! on “Why Nancy Wheeler from ‘Stranger Things’ isn’t getting the credit she deserves.” I don’t agree with parts of her argument, but she makes some good points.)

6) It Eats Teenage Stereotypes for Breakfast.

So there’s Cool Guy Steve, and he’s just a Grade A Jerk with no redeeming qualities and not worth dating, right? Except he stands up to his crappy friends, apologizes and atones for his mistakes, and, yeah, runs away from the Terrifying Horror from Beyond  – but then comes back to fight next to the girl he cares about.

And then there’s Tortured Soul Jonathan, who’s just misunderstood at school because he’s poor and likes to listen to The Clash or whatever, right? Well, no – he is awkward around people, but he also can be a creeper and sometimes takes pictures of topless women without their consent. That’s not okay – the show doesn’t say it is, nor does it use Nancy as a Reward for either boy in a sexist value system.

Stranger Things also doesn’t portray teenage sexuality as a bad thing in itself. Barb is taken by the Demogorgon while sadly sitting outside after Nancy decides to stay the night with her boyfriend – but sex is not the bad thing. That sex is not what threatens Nancy’s relationship with Steve, nor does it horribly impact her life afterward. She’s not pregnant, socially outcast, or spurned. Teenage sex is treated as a natural progression in a human’s life, and that’s notable in 80’s nostalgia fiction.

7) The Acting.

Okay, the acting is really top notch in this series. Wynona Ryder is amazing – at first, I kept pushing back against it, exclaiming all aghast that “Wynona is someone’s mom!” Which I know makes no sense, except she’s always first Lydia Deetz in my mind. But I soon forgot to see Wynona and just saw Joyce. The other adult actors are all really great as well, but I have to focus on the children now: I don’t even understand how Millie Bobby Brown was able to portray Eleven as she did. What dark intensity is this child mining to be so terrifying and deep? Then there’s the delightful Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), fierce Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), earnest Finn Wolfhard (Mike), and fragile Noah Schnapp (Will)… what talent Stranger Things‘ casting director found! This calls for a group hug.

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8) Complete Story with Room to Grow!

Stranger Things had the good grace and the good sense to tell a complete story in their first season. They didn’t bank on getting more time, and end with some absurd cliffhanger. They also didn’t act without confidence and sew up every little thread. They told a well-balanced story – with a beginning, middle, and end – and told it in just enough episodes to keep it taut while still allowing it room to build. They satisfied the viewer, and did it while still scattering a few disturbing seeds that can blossom into strange and terrifying new tales in the next season.

Luckily, there’s going to be another season. And I can’t wait. No, seriously, guys, I can’t wait. START FILMING NOW, I WILL PAY YOU IN EGGOS AND ADMIRATION.

9) Dustin Henderson.

Y’all know I love Eleven. Lucas is the fierce warrior who won’t sacrifice common sense, and he’s amazing too. Mike’s the voice of the group, and Will is their Dude in Distress. But, y’all, Dustin – Dustin is the real MVP of their party. Any dude who shows up for the quest with the food – sugar AND protein – is the guy you don’t want to lose. He knows an army marches on its stomach, and he’s ready. He’s also their heart: he brokers peace, calls everyone on their shit, stands up for himself, but also knows when it’s time to cut and run.

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Every party needs a Dustin Henderson. Don’t RP (or real life adventure) without one.

10) The Demogorgon.

Stranger Things dipped into their Lovecraftian Gigeresque nightmares for the Demogorgon and came up aces. Terrifying, spine-shuddering aces with slimy bits and a penchant for fresh blood. Not giving it a face was an inspired choice, and letting it be both the monster in the walls and the monster from beyond was another. The Demogorgon was so effective, in fact, that it terrified the youngest members of the cast (the two actresses who jointly played little Holly Wheeler) and the crew had to liken it to Sully from Monsters, Inc. to help calm them. (Thanks for the trivia, Movie Pilot!) A+ monster, y’all! Now I’m going back to NOT thinking about it for a while. All the shudders.

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(For more GIFs of the show’s creepiest moments, check out Ms Manatee’s round-up on Binge Whale.)

And I’m gonna stop with 10, even though there is so much more to talk about.

Honorable mentions go to:
Barb, and there are plenty of great posts out there about her already.
The Christmas Lights Wall, and the great fanart it’s inspired (like Paul Tinker’s GIF).
The titles, which are so excellent they’ve inspired multiple articles (check out the A.V. Club’s breakdown).
And the perfectly atmospheric music, which I’ll be talking about on Nerdspan soon.

You also should all check out this round-up of brilliant Stranger Things fanart on Vox. Then drop into the comments and tell me what YOU love about Stranger Things!

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Weekly Round-Up

I did things this week! I also enjoyed things. Here are things I did and also enjoyed:

Things that I wrote:

Things that I read: 

Thing that I made:

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I’m not a good visual artist, but I practice anyway – mainly on the family whiteboard, using dry erase markers (and liquid chalk markers, more recently). Above, we have Elliot from Pete’s Dragon – created with the help of this DragoArt tutorial.

And finally, things that I’m excited about: 

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Tiger Jack, RPGCat

Being a family of gamers who recently relocated, one of our priorities was in setting up a Game Room in our new space. Luckily, we were able to do just that – a disused dining room makes the perfect venue. Large table? CHECK. Space for at least 6 people around it? CHECK. Shelves to display minis and action figures; bookcases for RPG manuals? DOUBLE CHECK.

So now we have the dedicated space for weekly Dune and Star Wars roleplaying games.

Guess what our giant orange mackerel tabby Tiger Jack thinks of all this?

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He thinks it’s ALL FOR HIM. “What?” He seems to say. “I’m a gamer. I play games.”

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Tiger Jack is a cat who particularly enjoys attention. Why else would all these people, who clearly want to pet him, be gathered in one place? And why would they be throwing little balls, if not for him to bat at?

Above, he conspires with another player. Below, he is become Tiger Jackhulud, great Sandcat of Dune:

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And so now? Now, we have #RPGCat:

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The party’s doomed.

(You can see more of #RPGCat over on my Instagram feed; I tend to post there first.)

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Pokémon Go? Not with Disabilities.

Pokemon Go symbol with a red X sign over the O in Go.

Just like everyone else, I jumped on the cute monster-catching bandwagon the minute it became available. I crowed with delight at the Charmander appearing in my bedroom when I started Pokémon GO, and had an early fondness for Rattatas and Pidgeys infesting my house… at least until I caught enough of them to stage two full teams in a home football league.

Car rides with my husband became full of good-natured complaints as I asked to pull over for PokéStops, or started excitedly babbling about turning toward some Pokémon I’d never seen before. I made sure to take my phone with me and use some in-game incense on short backyard walks, and even moped on rainy days like one of the kids in The Cat in the Hat.

I even, like the kids in The Cat in the Hat, ended up having a bit of an adventure:

Real life Pokémon are hard, y’all.

And yet… I have not opened the game app in over two weeks now.

You see, I am a gamer with disabilities. I have a serious hip injury that prevents walking any significant distance, and I also suffer from fibromyalgia and traumatic arthritis. The days I am able to leave the house are a vanishing pleasure, inconsistently available and therefore reserved for important errands.

Niantic and Pokémon GO apparently don’t care about gamers like me.

I can’t walk miles to hatch eggs, which is something that gets you some rare Pokémon and helps you level. I can’t hare off on adventure when I spot a Pokémon nearby on the map. I can’t nip up to a gym to battle or defend it at a moment’s notice like my brother can. I can’t even spend time down at the hottest Pokémon spots in my city, where I might actually get to meet new people and socialize as well as keep my Poké Balls topped off and catch new Pokémon. I also can’t spend tons of money on gas, so riding around at 20 MPH to hatch eggs or catch Pokémon near roadways are not viable hacks for me. (Nor are those environmentally-friendly choices.)

I’m not the only gamer so badly disappointed, though you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream.

The Daily Dot wrote about Pokemon GO‘s barriers to players with disabilities a month ago, particularly citing the experience of Alyx, posting on the Tumblr Disability Health. Kotaku covered it, as did Emily Coday at The Mighty (from personal experience) and Julia Alexander at Polygon. Many of these articles feature comments from Steve Spohn of AbleGamers (an excellent charity and advocacy organization for gamers with disabilities).

Brian Conklin over at Unstoppable Gamer made the best of a bad lot, writing about ways gamers with disabilities could improve their Pokémon GO experience with the tools at hand. Then there was a series of unfortunately-titled articles like this one: “People Have Already Figured Out How To Cheat at Pokémon GO.” Well, Mr. Hale, you say “cheat,” I say “a creative way for gamers with disabilities to maybe play more effectively.” We can’t all be able-bodied.

Niantic has not responded to any of the points raised regarding Pokémon GO‘s accessibility trouble – not on their blog, nor in other responses outlined at Touch Arcade. Gamers with disabilities are not a priority, and our voices are not loud enough to garner even a harried “we’re working on it” throwaway comment.

What Niantic has done is go after tracking services that made it easier for gamers with disabilities to zero in on Pokémon, and introduce lifetime bans for those caught “cheating.” (Thanks for the coverage, TechCrunch.)

To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. Those early days of Pokémon GO brought a flash of joy and whimsy to days so often spent in pain and relative isolation. I’ve considered uninstalling Pokémon GO from my phone, but I’m hanging on to hope still – despite its accessibility flaws, despite its game flaws (more on that another time), I still had fun with it. Maybe giving up on a game that never had time for you is the best choice, but I’m going to give Niantic a little more time to not be gigantic jerks.

If you are a gamer with disabilities, or a person who cares about an accessible world – and, really, that should be all of you – please take a moment and contact Niantic about making Pokémon GO a more accessible game for everyone. Do this even if you don’t play Pokémon GO. You can contact Niantic publicly the following ways:

On Facebook at PokemonGo or NianticLabs.
On Twitter @PokemonGoApp or @NianticLabs.

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Confessions of a Cat Geek

You may have noticed that I am… a bit of a cat geek. If you haven’t, you probably haven’t seen my Twitter or Instagram feeds, and I invite you to correct that little oversight. ALL SHALL FOLLOW ME AND DESPAIR ENJOY CAT PICS.

Daenerys demands tribute before video games.

Daenerys: “Tribute before video games.”

Am I the Queen of Cat Geeks? Probably not. I mean, there’s Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter – she may be a reprehensible moldwarp, but she also decorated in cats. Also, there are those people who hoard cats, but I’d call that super unhealthy, no crowns allowed. Then there’s Jackson Galaxy, who could probably pull off a crown pretty well.

Tiger Jack to GM: "Do your worst."

Tiger Jack to GM: “Do your worst.”

But! I’m at least a Duchess of Cat Geeks, for sure, and I’ve been sharing my enthusiasm and knowledge over at Front Page Meews for a few months now. This means a bunch of links for you, which you may choose to follow for fun and edification:

Outdoor Cats Put the Hurt on Local Wildlife
Harness Training: So You Want to Walk Your Cat
The Houses of Game of Thrones as Cat Breeds
Understanding Cat Body Language: An Introduction
How to Get Your Cats Party Ready
Catnip and Your Cats: Everything You Need to Know
Busting Three Big Myths About Cats

There’ll be more to come! And while we’re on the topic of cats, hit the comments with your favorite cat GIFs!

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Captain America: Civil War

Civil War. You might have heard of it. No, not the baseline divisive and horribly costly war that fractured the United States of America in the late 19th century. The Marvel one where a bunch of superpowered people came to blows on account of the Superhero Registration Act – I mean, the Sokovia Accords – that sought to restrain their actions. The Russo brothers took an epic and sprawling comic book storyline and tried to turn it into a two and a half-hour film.

Like this:

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It went about as well as could be expected. The problem with Captain America: Civil War is that…

[Click through to BuzzyMag to read my review!]

Note: The image from marvelfactpage above is used with permission.

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The Force Awakens, No Snooze Required

I just received a copy of The Force Awakens in the mail today! Yeah, fine, so it was a week behind everyone else. The point is, The Force Awakens is here! It’s in my house! I would have snapped an excited selfie, but I hadn’t showered yet, so. Yes, yes, the glamorous life of the chronically ill freelancer.

While there are no pics for you – that’s right, that entire damn crew over there of pics-or-it-didn’t-happen folks can stow their signs and go the hell home – I DO have a review! A review of the film, anyway, and not the Blu-ray. It went up over at Buzzy Mag last week. Read on for an excerpt:

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterThe Force has awakened, and it rolled right out of bed and impressed us with flashy good fun. Unlike Yoda, this story didn’t need to hit the snooze button even once. Maybe that’s too many waking-up-with-the-Force-in-your-cup metaphors, but I’m too excited to turn back now. The Force is up! An object in motion continues in motion! Besides, coffee’s on.

One of the best things about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it made good on all those promises in the new canon material. The galaxy is a diverse and marvelous place, with as many women in leadership positions as men. And POC (people of color–not just white folks) exist!

There are Black Stormtroopers and senators, Latinx and Asian pilots with the Resistance, and more. This should not feel like such a miracle, but it does and I’m grateful Star Wars found its way to a more realistic and engaging vision of the galaxy.

[Click here to read the rest of my review over at Buzzy Mag!]

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