the greatest weekend / the best child. all goodness, all joy, all connected.

on the other hand, this is the weekend i put it together that Michael McDonald was in the Doobie Brothers. it explains so much…

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my favorite bouquet ever, from the greatest bouquet picker.


I wrote this a week ago and should have pitched it somewhere, but the news cycle has moved (not unlike the eye of Sauron?), so no one is talking PokemonGO.


The International Dota2 is on. Almost no one I know in my daily life has any idea what that is, but about 60 million people worldwide are watching along with me. 
Egames and esports are huge, larger than most people in our country over age 30 can fathom. The prize pool for The International this year is currently at $19,731,737, with the first place team (of 5 men) taking almost $9 million. These are young men, many still in their teens.* The whole thing is mind-boggling for people who have had no idea esports were even a thing that’s been going on for years now.
Here I am two years ago, swollen with child, at The International in 2014 in Seattle. Being a severely pregnant woman a few months from 40 at The International was sort of amazing. Some women there were in cosplay, as heroes from the game–Windrunner, Luna, Templar Assassin and the like. And there were also some hardcore women gamers, and then me: A fan, a would be player, and above all a student of games and gaming since early childhood. 
If you want to feel invisible, REALLY invisible, go to an esports tournament really pregnant. It was fascinating. I guess the range created by full-out young cosplay women and then me, on the entire other end of the spectrum–nearly middle-aged and pregnant, waddling about, was too much to compute… a fly in the ointment.
For me, gaming started so young. Some earliest memories are of being on a family member’s lap during penny Poker, Pinochle, and Euchre. I’d toss in the ante or throw out a bower. One of the things I understand best is the language of the game table–trash talk, shooting the shit, or slowly progressing conversations about important topics, frequently paused by the play of the hand, a mild expletive, the shuffle or the cut. I understand these cycles primarily, and the language and the pace. It’s a natural way to think and spend time and to be with family. 
It’s no surprise then that as kids my siblings and I were pretty taken with most games, outdoor and indoor. From TV Tag to Freeze Tag to Red Light / Green Light and Rotten Eggs, and the highlight of every single Summer night, Ghost in the Graveyard. If it was called a game, we three would play it. We had a 6ft. Christmas tree box packed full with board games. On more than one occasion we tried to play every game in a single sitting. I don’t think we ever accomplished it. And now when we are all together, a generous portion of our time is spent at a table, music going, playing cards or games, ideally all in pajamas, and having appropriate snacks and drinks. 
And it’s no surprise that at the age of 8, I started falling in with my older brother’s Dungeons and Dragons games with his friends. The alternative was hanging out with our older sister and her friends, talking about boys and social life; supremely dull to me. I was far more interested in virtual adventuring, slaying creatures, casting spells and finding loot. So when we got an Atari around the same time, we were three very happy kids. I have supremely fond memories of weekend nights spent playing Atari with my siblings, feeling safe and in fantastic worlds for what had to have been many hours.

As I grew up, Atari turned into Nintendo turned into computers and Xbox and tabletop gaming remained. There are video game worlds and series that are very special to me; I should always have a t-shirt on that says: “I’d rather be in Tamriel,” because it’s always, always true. Though I no longer have the time to keep up with any video games as a player, I’m always paying attention to what is happening because so much vital social critique and mirroring, as well as progressive art, is happening in gaming. All the hub bub about Grand Theft Auto? Those games are pretty brilliant satirical send ups of our culture–a harsh but true mirror by masterful game developers that outrage people who never play or understand them, which is great marketing.

So when I hear and see people, mostly much younger than me, disparaging Pokémon GO and its players, I always go to bat. It’s a conversation I will gladly have. It’s important to note that these people always seem to be white and privileged–the class I belong to, and the class that by default thinks that everything should be for them, and that their opinion about a subject should always *matter* and be welcomed. 
The conversation usually starts with someone listing negative news items about the game–peak fear headlines crafted to foster a shocked, frothing readership. Perhaps it’s because I write as well as game that I forget most people still don’t think of “journalism” and “industry” in the same breath. It’s not that good news doesn’t sell, although it doesn’t, it’s about magnifying narratives that do sell. Simply, writers are often paid to concentrate of the negative slants of any story. It creates audience and drives up advertiser revenues. Isolated, negative incidents magnified by writers who get paid by the word (read: create more news to make more money and try to make a living) for news that’s sure to go viral–requiring more follow-up stories–is how a lot of people pay their bills, including many of my friends. The negative stories resonate with people who don’t game., don’t get it, and have no context or knowledge about the topic. They are walking in on the middle of a conversation and sharing opinions they have been prompted to have by a news outlet trying to generate audience.
The average age of the Pokémon GO player base is mid to late 20s, with 40% of players being over 30. So while news stories about pedophiles or muggers targeting Pokestops are troubling, they are extremely rare. There are 9.5 million active daily players; that many people doing *anything* is going to result in issues. What is conveniently ignored are the wider trends–people with anxiety or depression getting out of the house, walking, discovering local areas, meeting people, enjoying fresh air, comparing Pokédex. It’s like a giant scavenger hunt and everyone is welcome. 

As an introvert and person with severe social anxiety, I can attest that Pokémon GO is a pretty warming experience. Though I’ve uninstalled the game, I played long enough to understand it and have the game play experience and be informed. Indeed, there are far more stories about people with ASD or mental illness interacting in ways that they have not been able to for sometimes years, than there are about pedophiles and muggings. Last week when I was feeling ‘meh’ and stressed, I found myself with 30 minutes to kill and parked and walked a few miles around a heavily Pokestop-populated downtown area, where I saw a lot of people seemingly like me who enjoy being among people for a spell, but not necessarily interacting, having a sense of community and happy, shared experience. I saw a 65-year-old woman comparing Pokédex with a 20-year-old man, and an older man in a wheelchair being pushed by a young woman–he was navigating, telling her where they needed to go next.

In just two weeks of playing, I had a number of similar experiences and saw many people having them as well. To decry something that isn’t for you, that you don’t do, isn’t your community, and a medium one has no knowledge of or conext for beside a few headlines crafted to cause pearl-clutching, is awfully naive. Perhaps groups of people gathered in one place staring at their phones trying to catch a creature are having exactly the right experience for them… one that suits them, allows them to be themselves and function in the way that gives them a feeling of belonging. If Pokémon GO is the end of our society as we know it, as many want to believe, then our end times look awfully fun. 
* Obviously The International and DOTA2 are playing a myopic short game, unwilling to look a few years into the future and the full dismantling of the concept of gender binary which is steadily, thankfully falling apart. Their leagues separated by birth-assigned gender are already antiquated as well as overtly prejudiced and sexist. There is seemingly no explanation as to why Valve believes women are less neurologically capable than men, and no logical plan to integrate trans and gender queer players into leagues. And no explanation why, despite having playable male and female heroes, teams would not be integrated.

Stranger Things


Netflix, Stranger Things.

UPDATE: Oh man, it’s all just “Frankenstein,” isn’t it?? Which means it’s 4th season Buffy. Nooooooooo… I don’t have time to write this. And thanks for all of the thoughtful comments to this over on FB, but dudes… if I’m ever to gain traction for this poor blog and embed it in a website, comments here will help a bunch! ♥

Early, primary notes on Stranger Things, post first pass. By no means do I think these are concretely “right” thoughts, just early ones utilizing a few schools of theory focusing on a little bit of race, a little bit of psychoanalytics, and a whole lot of gender.

And, you can’t talk about female characters with super powers without talking about Buffy. Of course.

Spoilers. So many spoilers.

  • If the creature–which is clearly meant to imply “organic,” plant-like, something “grown”–is patriarchy manifested (a viewing the narrative and subtext strongly lend themselves to), how does that frame all of the men in the show and boys who have not yet fully matured? The fact that the creature seems to be a government (society / culture) experiment that escaped also offers that Eleven is another product of the same system–a brutalized shell of a girl with a few exaggerated strengths and not much else remaining of her own self.
  • And, if it is patriarchy manifested, what does it mean that it is drawn to fresh blood and bleeding? Like a narcissist, do the show writers offer that patriarchy sees someone or something that is wounded as an invitation to cut deeper / be preyed upon?
  • How does this situate the women and girls on the show? The children?
  • If Brenner is the WORST man (less than only the creature and that’s actually arguable), Hopper is grey. Hopper gaslights Joyce until she hurls a comparison at him he can directly relate to (asking if he would know his child’s breathing if he heard it). Then he mostly stops treating her as “hysterical”* and begins to try to find her missing child. But, but, but… he gives up Eleven to save the missing boy, prioritizing a boy’s life over a traumatized, abused, and kidnapped preteen girl’s. (Could be further illuminated however, as the narrative develops.) But he gives her cookies at the end so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • The further issue with this is that it exhibits Hopper as unable to relate to or feel empathy for  Winona Ryder’s Joyce, unless she can make a direct comparison to his life that he has experienced. Does he even have the ability to really empathize?
  • In contrast, we have what I find to be one of the emotional hearts of the show, the brief relationship between El and the diner owner. Here is a large, imposing man (Chris Sullivan) caring for and concerned for El in a supremely parental way, entirely occupied with her well-being and best interest. So it’s interesting then that he should be so quickly killed as a direct result of caring, and by a woman–the only woman we see involved with the government branch that produced the creature and El. His care becomes his liability.
  • What are the pills that Hopper is taking?
  • What does the mention about aliens (if I remember correctly… aliens having visited) which is never revisited, imply? And what does it imply about this world? If aliens are a fact the charcters accept, are people not super surprised by the creature? Or the Upside Down? What else is liminal in the show’s reality?
  • What does it imply that the creature makes its home in the Upside Down, but can hunt and exist in the show’s reality world? Is the Upside Down a world of the creature’s creation? Or is it just an inhabitant?
  • What does the narrative between Lucas and El exhibit? Rightfully, he struggles with her–doubting her intentions and presence. How could he not, as a young black boy in America? He has no reason to trust anyone until they prove themselves and even then, he would probably keep one foot near the door. Lucas and El seem to find a trust over time, but the fact that they do, and that they struggle against the same thing (the creature and Brenner), possibly posits that Lucas can see *why* El is the way she is–she was tortured and traumatized by white men for her entire life. The way she is, is entirely because of who, and how, they made her. Something Lucas can possibly relate to.
  • Who is “good” and who is “bad”? Is anyone really good, aside from the intentions of the children? Joyce is rightly panicked, but when she meets Eleven, why is her first move not to get her to her mom, (presumably) Terry Ives,  the mute woman who had her child stolen from her, whom Hopper and Joyce visited for information? The same for Hopper–a man who lost his child to cancer doesn’t think to return this long-missing girl to her mom? Immediately? Rather, Joyce uses Eleven to try and locate her son, offering herself as a sort of stand-in “mom,” who will help El through the event/sacrifice/spell. This is barely different than Dr. Brenner, commanding El to be tortuously experimented upon and carry her back to her room at the end of the day, likely as an act of “love” in his book.
  • There are few African American or POC in Stranger Things. Similar to the Smurfette trope outlined below, it seems like a deliberate move on the part of writers to have not only a token girl, but a token black friend, as 80s TV / film regularly did. Aside from Lucas and his parents, police officer Powell (Rob Morgan) who often seems like he is a little fed up with the white folks’ shenanigans, and one lab assistant, POC are rare in Stranger Things, seemingly to make a point: What has really changed, 30 years later? If Stranger Things is trying to hold a mirror up to our culture, is it doing so successfully? In some ways, I think yes, very much. In some ways, if feels phoned in–short hand for things that need and deserve deeper development in commentary and character. Perhaps later seasons can kick it off the fence it seems to be perched upon.

This article* states critically: “Eleven is often treated like a liability—a major character relegated to the corners of the story unless it’s time to save the day…”. Yes. But because that’s how women and girls are generally treated in our culture (see above where Hopper prioritizes Will over Eleven).

The same article goes on to say: “Eleven is clearly the token girl of the group—recalling the “Smurfette Principle” trope that pervaded children’s TV during that decade—but the show doesn’t display much self-awareness on this point.” Absolutely. Spot fucking on, BUT, Stranger Things also displays the Buffy Principal (I just made that up) which is a female character that fantastically depicts the depth and ability women have and contain (hello… Potentials!?), but generally learn to minimize or atrophy, outright deny, or temper because our society cannot integrate or tolerate it. Buffy, and in Stranger Things El during a few scenes, try/tries repeatedly to be “normal” only to realize that they have to be who they are, and utilize all that they are to save the situation. They can try to be what society wishes and wants, but they can’t do it for very long and certainly not well, an experience many, many young women have. In Stranger Things, we have El, curious about what she looks like in a dress and wig, and clearly admiring of Will’s older sister, who has a perpetual application of fresh Bonne Bell or Kissing Potion on. But we see El rip off the wig after a few scenes in it, knowing she can never be that. And in Buffy, we have Buffy out patrolling in a cemetery with a crossbow in her beloved prom dress, or showing up to the Bronze for one of her first dates with Angel, makeup smeared and grass in her hair.

And finally the article finishes with: “Stranger Things is unwittingly guilty of this mistake, overwhelmingly privileging the happiness, desires, words, and lives of El’s friends over hers.” I see why this is said, but can’t agree. Too much in the show points to the fact that the show’s writers and producers know exactly what they are doing, and to what end. Whether they are successful is for viewers to decide.