Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trip Trigger, Spatial Befuddlement, List of Shame



I know you’re supposed to keep information about out-of-town trips on the down-low on social media, etc. for fear that one your of friends/readers will find out where you live and rob you blind while you’re gone, but I’ve decided it’s safe enough for me to flout that rule. Firstly, Mr. Typist and Buddy will be holding down the fort while I’m gone, and you do not want to tangle with that lethal combo, and secondly, perhaps I am naively trusting, but somehow I can’t imagine that any readers of the Good Typist would come skulking around in a black cap with a giant loot bag, scheming to swipe our silver candle sticks under the cover of darkness. (Good luck finding silver candle sticks in the Typist household anyway.)

So here goes: I’m going on a trip! To Ireland! With my sister, the Good Librarian! I’ve waited my entire life for this, and I’m so excited I just want to cry thinking about it. I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I am a burned-out mess of a human who has had the spirit sucked out of me by the emotional ravages of the last few years, and I need this. I really, really need it. So, it’s a happy thing. Definitely a happy thing. But of course, because I am me, I can’t just breezily throw a few pairs of flip-flops into a carry-on Rick Steves-style and jet off with nary a care. There are none of those free-and-easy doin’s for this Typist. Even with this glad event, my brain insists upon latching onto Things That Could Go Terribly Wrong, and churning those dreadful waters until I whip myself into an actual, for-reals panic attack, which finally happened yesterday. And I mean a crying, heart slamming, shaking, light-headed, have-to-sit-down-and catch-my-breath panic attack. I was fine one minute, just putting away the condiments, then the next minute, boom. It hit. I haven’t had an official attack like that in a long time. I usually go through my days with a steady level of low-grade anxiety coursing through my veins. I’m used to it. In fact, it’s my primary energy source. But I don’t generally get slammed with full-on panic attacks.

When I talked it through with the Mr., I realized that I have been harboring a deep fear of getting lost in the airports. I’ve never been scared of flying, I’m not scared of being in a country I’ve never been to, and I’m not scared of getting mugged or losing my passport. All of that seems completely manageable. The thing that has me in knots is the thought of trying to navigate my way through an unfamiliar airport on a timeline. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct—this is a completely irrational fear for a number of reasons, all of which I already know, because more rational people than I have given me those reasons. However, this is one of those cases where rationality is not making headway with my fear.

All of my life, I have had serious deficiencies in the area of spatial processing. I’m only now beginning to understand how badly it’s handicapped me, and how it’s fed and fueled my natural anxious tendencies. Here is a (very) partial list of things that it has made it difficult to impossible for me:

·         Driving (not the physical act, but the finding-my-way-around/directional part)
·      Passing the kinesiology section of my massage therapy exam (that was a long time ago, but still.)
·         Minecraft
·         Having a career as an interior designer
·         Knowing right from left (I am not kidding.)
·         Comprehending directions that include “the north side of the street” or, “the south side of the street.” How the heck am I supposed to know what “side” North is? We’ve already established that I’m hardly a human compass.
·         Reading blueprints and diagrams
·         Sewing
·         Putting together anything from Ikea
·         Passing math and geometry (I never really did.)
·         Reading a map


In fact, just typing these out is giving me nervous prickles. As Mr. Typist said, it’s a cruel god who drops a human being into 3-D universe and gives them no spatial skill with which to navigate. Mine is a life spent compensating for these deficiencies, and this upcoming trip has triggered a flood of memories of being lost in O’Hare, missing appointments because I can’t find my way, avoiding events because they’re in an unfamiliar location, and a whole plethora of similar mini-traumas that finally manifested in my little bout of PTSD-driven panic. It’s deeply frustrating and I have a lot of shame about it, but there is it. I’ve survived this long, and others have much worse afflictions, so I’m not looking for sympathy or to paint myself as a victim. It’s just a major bugaboo I wish I didn’t have to contend with.

That having been said, Mr. Typist found interactive maps of the airports online, and I feel much better now. Not that I think for a second I could actually read those maps well enough to help myself, but just the intellectual understanding that it’s not all chaos, but that there is indeed, a plan and a layout and documentation of such, calms me. That, and Ms. Librarian is a sharp as a tack and I’m sure I can lean on her if I get disoriented. So it’s all good. We’re going to Ireland, baby!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fireside Chats with Buddy, Cultural FOMO



I recently came across information about a workshop on the topic of “how to communicate with  your pet”. I immediately scoffed, not because I don’t think people should learn to communicate with their pets, but because the need for such a workshop just doesn’t exist when it comes to Buddy. Buddy is an inveterate communicator. There is no mystery as to his emotional state or desires at any given time. He’s hacked the human/cat language barrier, and also, he never shuts up. 

By far, the two erudite topics he is most interested in conversing about are: Lunch and the Illusion of Linear Time, and The Fine Art of Terrifying Squirrels. It goes about like this:

Suddenly, one hour before his strictly scheduled lunchtime, his little dirt-stained body manifests in the computer room doorway, and he peers at us tremulously: “NeeoooooOOW???”

(Sternly) “No, Buddy. It’s not time yet.”

Thirty-two seconds later: “NeeOOOOW?”

“Nope, still not time.”

Two minutes later: “Neeeoooow???”

“No! You have to wait. You are on a schedule.”

Flopping over plaintively on his side to demonstrate how weakened with malnutrition he is: “Ne--neooOOW?”

“Nope.”

A brief silence followed by a succinct: “Neow?”

“Oh for God’ s Sake, Cat, if you promise to shut up, fine!!!” Cue this annoyed typist, stomping off to serve up his kibble as he races me to the kitchen making triumphant squealing sounds that clearly mean, “I won! I won! I won!”

Or:

He skids into the computer room in a tizzy, yowling the feline equivalent of “Ms. Typist! Ms. Typist!! There’s a squirrel on my lawn! It’s an emergency!!! I have to go outside NEEEOOOW! Neeoow!!

“Shhh! You’re not going outside right now. You know the rules.”

“But there’s a squirrel and I must terrify him neeeooow!!”

“Buddy, stop it. Ms. Typist gets very upset when you beg to go after squirrels.”

There is an uncharacteristic silence as he shrewdly files this information away for future emotional manipulation purposes, followed by: “NeeooooooOWuh?”

“NO!”

Then, out comes the familiar otherworldly cat wail that roughly translates to, “I hate you and I hate your stupid face and I didn’t ask to be born and you are ruining my entire life! Usually followed by him diving under a piece of furniture to pout until it’s time to beg for dinner.

See? There’s nothing to it.

Last night, my brother got all braggy on Facebook because he got tickets to Jim Gaffigan at the Key Arena and was going that very night! I, who have no FOMO gene, nonetheless felt an uncharacteristic pang of Missing Out. He urged me to drive on over, as there were plenty of seats, but by that time it was 7:45ish, the show started at 8:30, and I had just showered, climbed into my night pants, and fired up Minecraft, because that’s how this beast rolls on a Saturday night. I supposed I could have rallied and made it over there barely in time, (it’s debatable the way Seattle traffic is nowadays), but inertia had me in its iron grip and wasn’t letting go. I was, however, a bit wounded by the fact that Jim Gaffigan was in town and somehow I didn’t even know. How did my life become so insular and devoid of cultural joys that when one of my favorite comedians breezes into town, I’m totally clueless about it? I can’t even remember the last time I went to a movie, let alone a proper show in a theater and all. Part of it is that I just don’t trust entertainment to actually entertain me anymore. If I’m going to invest time and money and sit there for ninety minutes to two hours, I want to make absolutely sure it’s going to be, if not a transformative experience, at least one that I find emotionally enriching and that I won’t promptly forget a day later. Movies don’t do it for me anymore, I’ve never liked huge live concerts, and I’m apparently too out of it to keep up on the goings-on in my own city. Perhaps I am doomed to wander in a self-imposed cultural desert for all of eternity. That’s okay. At least I have comfortable night pants.

I may have missed Jim live, but there’s always Youtube. Enjoy this clip. I’m off to go gaze worshipfully at the first real rain Seattle has seen in months.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Moral Ambiguity and Improvised Nunchucks: My Review of “Dex”



As promised, (or threatened, depending on how you look at it,) here at last is my review of Dex! Dex is the brainchild of Czech indie publisher Dreadlocks Ltd, which describes it as a “2D, side-scrolling, open-world cyberpunk roleplaying game with a focus on exploration and non-linear gameplay.” This is spot-on: Dex makes very innovative use of the limited side-scroller format by combining questing, combat, role-play, arcade gaming, and open exploration. In fact, it comes dangerously close to succumbing to the pitfalls of trying to be all things to all gamers, but it manages to balance multiple elements effectively for an engaging experience that feels smoothly integrated.

The story centers around Dex, a young woman living in the futuristic city of Harbor Prime, who awakes one morning to find herself being pursued by a gang of militarized assassins. An ethereal figure named Raycast appears on her computer screen and directs her to a safe house in the run-down district of Fixer’s Hope, where she is introduced to Decker, an ex-hacker who takes her under his wing. It is soon revealed that Dex has unique attributes, including the ability to project herself into cyberspace directly “without a jack”, and superhuman combat skills that she can further hone through the use of trans-human “augmentations.” We discover that she poses a major threat to the controlling corporation of Harbor Prime because she is an avatar of Kether, a draconian artificial intelligence program that they lost control of at one time but is that’s currently being held in check by…um…okay to be honest, that whole part of the plot is still a little muddled for me. I don’t really understand what Dex’s role in this is, nor do I fully have a grasp on the somewhat garbled Matrixy logic of the whole “projecting into cyberspace” thing. But no matter; there is plenty more going on.  Throughout her adventures in the districts of Harbor Prime, Dex runs into a number of eccentric characters, all who try to rope her into various, at times morally questionable missions. As you complete quests, you have the opportunity to upgrade Dex’s skills in combat, hacking, lock picking, shooting, and even persuasion.

The hand-to-hand combat is smooth and fun, and so far I’ve found it to be quite entertaining. The various thugs and gangsters are colorfully drawn and have their own tricks, including bike chains wielded as improvised nunchucks, and some pretty heavy knockout punches. You can pack a handgun, too, but I’ve found that guns are far more useful for shooting out security cameras and turrets than taking down thugs, and with ammo being pricy, I’ve started saving mine for that, and the occasional rogue security guard. The questing is technically non-linear, but there is a particular order the quests must be done in to optimize your rewards and skills points and to build on other plot branches. The voice acting is overall quite good, but jarringly uneven with some characters. The world is visually interesting and evocative, the quests and dialogue are well-written, and the storylines are intriguing and unusual. Getting needed cash and supplies such as stimulant pills and ammo can be a challenge, and keeping up on healing gets expensive as you advance through the game, so plan well, steal freely, and sell everything you don’t need. (If you play your cards right, you can score a discount at Hank’s Guns.)

Overall, the game is very absorbing and enjoyable. But it has one fatal flaw that drags this otherwise great experience down: By far, the most frustrating and infuriating aspect of Dex is the hacking. When hacking is required, Dex basically throws you into a mini-arcade game, which is maddeningly difficult, slow, and costly in terms of character health and the pricey boosts needed to beat back the attacking viruses. After iron-willed determination, I did manage to complete one important hacking quest to get a much needed upgrade, but it was hair-pullingly difficult and I rage-quit more than once. After scouring various Dex message boards for hacking tips, it seems that I’m not the only who has an issue with this “feature” of Dex. It either needs to be made skippable, or able to be played on an easier setting for uncoordinated non-twitch gamers like me. Dreadlocks, please fix this, because it’s wrecking an otherwise great experience!

Overall, I would give Dex three out of five bionic limbs. It’s innovative, although not revolutionary, entertaining, clever and has a great story. It’s also a great way to get your feet wet if you’re a non-gamer, so why not give it a shot?

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Steam-Shaming, Packing Fantasies, Toothpaste-gate

I used up my requisite “complain about the heat” post last week, even though this weekend is the most miserable one yet, with the temps in the 90’s and more forest fire smoke. So I will have to come up with something else to complain about. Or, radical idea, I could not complain--but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.

My motivation to do anything at all this long weekend has gone completely out the smog-colored window. I’m a living embodiment of that “My get-up-and-go got up and went!” poster that was all the rage in the 70’s. (Still poignant and hilarious.) Yesterday I did what I am certain is the laziest workout on record at my gym, then proceeded to waste copious amounts of time on Steam, trolling for cheap games. They helpfully give me a “queue” to browse, which they fill up with games they think I am going to be interested in based on what I’ve bought before. The problem is that I have wildly differing tastes and interests when it comes to games, so they are completely at a loss as to what to show me. They will offer me anime, first-person shooters, violent horror games, cute adventure games, a wide array of MMORPG’s, interactive novels, arcade games and racing games in an ever more frantic bid to get me to pick something, anything, what do they need to do to make me happy, for God’s Sake? I enjoy the petty power of clicking through their multiple selections and withholding information from them about what interests me. They’re not going to put me in a gaming box! But they get me back by showing me a tally of the sickening number of games I’ve browsed, thereby indecision-shaming me and simultaneously making it clear that I don’t have a life. Anyway, I finally took the chance on a ten-dollar cyberpunk-themed game called “Dex,” which has proved a serviceable distraction so far. Actually, if you don’t think too deeply about its nonsensical Matrix-ish garble, it’s a quality game with some interesting innovations. If I don’t rage quit, I’ll put a review up next week.

I did manage to wander lackadaisically into my bedroom and do a hopeless “test” pack for an upcoming trip I’m taking with one of my sisters. I have harbored this fantasy that if I am just clever enough, I can force nine day’s worth of clothes and sundries into a nimble little carry-on. That plan was quickly obliterated when I realized my carry-on would barely even hold my socks. Physics is physics, as Neil Degrasse-Tyson is fond of saying. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and check a bag, something I haven’t done in over fifteen years.

Over the last several weeks, I have gone into the bathroom to find Mr. Typist’s toothpaste tube folded over the closed cabinet door. I was slightly puzzled by this, but I figured it was some toothpaste life hack he had picked up on the internet. Today, he asked me in rather wounded tone of voice, “Don’t you check the bathroom cupboard before you go grocery shopping?” Apparently, this was not some clever technique for getting more toothpaste out of the tube, but his clear and obvious “signal” that he needed more toothpaste. These are the times when keeping your mouth shut in a marriage comes in handy. See, what I did not do is explode in exasperation and shout, “For god’s sake, if you need more toothpaste, just say, ‘Bitch, I need more toothpaste!’ instead of skulking around and leaving indecipherable runes in the form of weirdly folded tubes!” What I did do is smile tolerantly and tell him I would pick some up this week. See, boys and girls, that is the secret to a long marriage. And as it turns out, he did get more toothpaste out the tube, since he didn’t have any choice. Ha!

 
--Kristen McHenry







Sunday, August 27, 2017

Summer in Seattle is Ending, and I’m Not Sad



Here is a handy compendium of the reasons I am glad, glad, glad that summer in the city is finally coming to an end:

1.       I am very pale-skinned. As such, I get sunburned walking two blocks to the drugstore to buy Drano. I refuse to glop on greasy, slimy sunscreen to walk two blocks to buy Drano. As a result, the day after my epic two-block walk, some stranger or casual acquaintance feels compelled to come running up, point at my d├ęcolletage and chirp, “Someone got some sun!” As if I routinely spend my days in a bikini on a pool lounger, slathered in Hawaiian Tropic with a foil reflector by my side. I assure you, there is no scenario in which I would ever deliberately leave the house on a mission to “get some sun.” Sun gets on me, and because I have no melanin, I instantly turn rare-beef pink in all exposed areas. It’s just science. And it’s a little bit embarrassing, and I wish people would stop pointing it out. I know, okay? I have access to mirrors.

2.      On a related note, Seattle is afflicted with a summer-induced collective obsession with “Getting Out.” Look, I understand--summers are short-lived here, and the winters are long, monotonous and wet. But it gets tiresome to be constantly asked “Are you going to Get Out this weekend and enjoy the sun????” “Did you Get Out this weekend?” “I Got Out this weekend with some friends!!!” It creates a sort of mania of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that spreads like a contagion. Fortunately, I am totally immune to it.

3.      Since over 70% of Seattle domiciles do not have air conditioning, everyone flings open their windows with abandon all summer, and we’re treated to an intimate chorus of inane phone chatter, couple-fighting, dog-barking, nose-blowing, hawking, showering, pot-banging and food-cooking odors. I long for the dark gray silence of the rainy winter, when everyone goes back to closed windows and SAD-related isolation. Ah, peace and quiet!

4.      I am deprived of my beloved lavender Epsom salt baths for the entire summer because the above-mentioned lack of air conditioning makes it too hot to stew in a steamy tub of healing goodness (or my own filth, depending on your attitude towards baths.)

5.      The endless “festivals” in the park next to my apartment. Oh, the festivals, with their loud, terrible bands, the screeching children, and burnt meat smells invading my sensory space every weekend. Why? And why so many? How many themes can you possibly create a festival around before it starts to feel like a bogus excuse for food trucks to line up and block my path to the dark, air-conditioned library?

6.      The dreaded Clipboard People. You know, the ones who stand on the corner in their bright logo T-shirts, trying to rope you into signing a petition for some asinine legislation or requesting a donation to a Good Cause, which the company that hires the Clipboard People take a huge cut of. The Clipboard People get more bold and aggressive every year, and I have to plan my walking routes around them now. The Clipboard People are formidable, but rain is their kryptonite.

Bah-by, summer! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

--Kristen McHenry