Nazis (I Hate Those Guys)

It’s raining outside. This was going to be freezing rain, but it’s above freezing now, so it’s just rain. The rain is still falling on ice and packed snow, though, so it’s slicker than snot on the unpaved streets and unshoveled sidewalks in my neighborhood, which is to say all of them.

I’m done, so done, with winter.

Time Square, Nazi-occupied, as seen in Amazon's Man In The High Castle
Time Square, Nazi-occupied, as seen in Amazon’s Man In The High Castle
I spent my three day weekend mostly wandering from room to room in my apartment but at some point I started watching The Man In The High Castle, the Amazon TV series based on the least PKD-like book by PKD. That’s just my opinion, it’s still a brilliant book, it’s just not as balls-to-the-wall PKD as, say, VALIS or Radio Free Albemuth.

The show is a slow build. It bills itself as science fiction but the only real sci-fi on evidence for 90% of the first season is the premise: what if the Axis won World War II and the Japanese and Germans divided up North America between them? We get introduced to a bunch of characters: Juliana Crain and her boyfriend, the hapless artist Frank Frink; Nobusuki Tagomi, the Japanese trade minister with a penchant for throwing the Chinese I Ching; and Joe Blake, a blonde-haired blue-eyed truck driver on a mission.

I don’t think Joe Blake was in the novel. In fact, they’ve changed quite a bit about the novel to expand out the story for long-form television, and they’ve done a decent job of it. The plot wanders a bit in the first season, which is a danger now in the age of binge-watching, something that might not be as noticeable when watching week to week.

The 10% of the series that’s sci-fi is the films: black and white films that show an alternate reality, that is, our reality, where the Allies won the war. The moment in the first episode, where Juliana breaks down while watching the film over and over again, in her shitty little basement apartment in Japanese-occupied San Francisco, is visually mesmerizing and evocative.

Equally compelling is the scene where Joe Blake, driving his truck cross country, has to stop for a flat. Tense because he’s carrying a secret cargo, he gets helped out by a friendly local cop, and the tension fades… right up until the cop, finishing up changing the tire, asks Joe to see his transit papers, and we realize that this is not a free country we’re watching.

Then ashes start to fall, and Joe’s nervous question is answered by the cop very matter-of-factly: it must be Tuesday. On Tuesdays, they cremate “undesirables” at the hospital. Oh, right, the Nazis won.

If you have Amazon Prime, I strongly recommend this show. For some reason lately, Nazis and fighting them are timely, alas.

Do You Believe It’s Day?

I told myself I’d write every day this year, and man, have I missed that goal. I guess 2017 only 14 days old, so it’s only 3.8% over, and there’s a lot of ground to cover before we call it done, but with the mood I’ve been in this winter, it’s hard to see the bright side.

It’s been a long winter already. The long winter followed a long fall, and a stressful summer, and the incredibly anxious spring. Let’s face it, 2016 was more trash than treasure. There were bright spots, to be sure, but it all happened under a cloud for me.

I have plans to get things together this year. All of those plans include a daily component because I’m trying to build habits. I’ve learned that motivation is a fickle muse, but habits keep you moving along towards your goals. Once something becomes a habit, it’s easier to do it than it is not to do it. Like brushing your teeth, or going to the cafeteria on your break and getting some bacon. Maybe that last one is just me, though. But can you blame me? Bacon is amazing.

Of course, the political situation in the most egotistical of the Americas is part of the gloom. Love him or hate him, Trump appears to be taking great delight in breaking every single norm, custom, or law on his way to the inauguration. Picking his daughter for First Lady and keeping an expensive Secret Service detail in New York to protect his wife. Firing every appointed diplomat just because. Keeping a private security force for himself instead of the Secret Service. Firing the head of the security detail for the inauguration during the inauguration. And so much more; I can hardly keep track.

And all the tweeting. Every morning, the man who will be leading arguably the most powerful nation in the world gets up, checks his Twitter feed, and starts hitting back. There’s no stopping him. It’s unnerving. And possibly distracting and confusing. It’s hard to keep track, which might just be the perfect description of America these days. We’re angry, unnerving, confused, and clearly hiding something, as a nation.

On a personal level, I’m also glued to my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and it’s freaking me out. I keep wondering what’s next, while also dreading whatever news I find. It’s not healthy, and I don’t know how to stop. Maybe I should delete those apps and just take a break. A writer I love, Sady Doyle, mentioned (on Twitter, of course) that she made a promise to pitch or blog instead of thread or long-form on Twitter, and that would also be a useful rule. It’s one reason I’m here and writing stream of consciousness style. I’m training myself just to sit and write and not edit.

Training my attention span is part of my plans to get things together this year, too. I remember being able to sit and read for hours at a time but these days my attention wanders whenever I try that. The few things I can sit and do for hours now are watch videogame let’s plays or play videogames myself. Except for last night, when I fired up Skyrim and was barely into it for an hour, and most of that was just getting my character back to their home base, ignoring all the possible quests. Once back at home my Dragonborn laid down and slept for 12 hours, which made me feel a bit sad.

So I saved my game, quit the app, and went straight to bed myself, where I slept for 9 and a half hours. Sigh.

Tomorrow will be better.

Return to a Zone of Comfort

I’m (1) waiting for the bus in the snow (2). Tracker says it’s five minutes away. I wait a bit, check the app again. The bus has disappeared from the app (3); next bus in 35 minutes. Ugh. I start walking home (4). Two blocks later I hear the bus rolling up behind me (5) and start running towards the closest stop along the icy sidewalk (6). Driver honks, waves, and stops for me (7) and I don’t have to walk home (8).

That is a complete story, according to the Harmon Story Circle:

  1. A character in a familiar situation
  2. Needs something
  3. Enter unfamiliar situation
  4. They adapt
  5. They get what they wanted
  6. But pay a price
  7. Return to a zone of comfort
  8. Having changed

My Favorite Posts From 2016

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Over and under bridge.

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I need some personal inspiration. It’s been a long December, a long winter, a long year. I’ve seen other authors out there, posting their 10 favorite things they’ve written in 2016, and my first thought was, “did I even write 10 things this year?”

Yes, I did, but not much more than 10. Here’s my pick for the best of my writting this year.

My brand for 2016: meloncholy, emotional, nostalgia, apparently.

2017 will be better.

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U TURN PERMITTED EXCEPT TRUCKS #screwyoutrucks

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The Future Is Retro Now

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This old bar, on the last Friday before Christmas, was full but not packed. I picked the window table, but the chair facing away from the view, so I could see the folks sitting at the bar, and the other patrons. Though I could turn my head to look at the sidewalk and the street with constant traffic.

Was Multnomah Village ever this busy when I lived here, 22 years ago? It doesn’t seem like it.

And there wasn’t a corporate for-profie medical clinic across the street, that’s for damned sure. That whole idea feels like dystopia to me, alone. It sits next to the frozen yogurt shop, which metaphor escapes me right now.

I sip my strong Irish Quaalude and poke at my pocket smartphone and think about the end-of-the-world politics of the country in which I live. The reality TV star is going to have the power to order nuclear launches soon. We’ll find out about the next war when he taps out 140 characters or less and posts it to Twitter. How many retweets and faves will the Armageddon get?

22 years ago I was renting a basement from a co-worker not far from this bar. It was a money saving idea for both of us. We worked at Powell’s and idly dreamed of unionizing and I did my job, terribly and despondent. I was at Powell’s, off the clock but still hanging around, the night America elected Bill Clinton, the Comeback Kid from Arkansas, and my roommate tried to cheer me up (I was not political but still very cynical) by saying, “Hey! The good guys won one this time!”

In comparison with the presidents who followed him, maybe Bill Clinton was a good guy. I’m still not 100% certain, though. My idea of a good guy would be someone with politics like Bernie Sanders, but maybe a person of color or a woman so they’d actually speak for the most vulnerable in our country with the voice of experience.

22 years ago I would sit in this bar with a sci-fi book and read and eat and drink. I remember it being mostly empty. I remember the fancy dark wood paneling. I remember the upside down clock over the bar. I remember tasting gazpacho for the first time and wondering why a bar that touts its Montana roots would make a cold Spanish soup. It was good soup, though. Tasty. Gazpacho is not on the menu tonight, however.

Tonight, I’m sitting in the bar, tapping out my memories on a pocket supercomputer that’s constantly connected to a global information network, eating and drinking. Fancy wood paneling intact. Upside down clock still there. Montana roots still evident, at least on the menu. Evidence of totalitarian economy on view out the window.

This Christmas season, I’m feeling like I’m finally getting the dystopic cyberpunk future I was promised all those years ago.

White Wine In The Sun

Christmas 1996. The family gathered around a dining table, in Cancun, Mexico. Clockwise from left: Dad, Aunt Carol, Max, Lisa (sister), Bill (brother-in-law), Betsy, Tom, David, me, Mom.
Christmas 1997. The family gathered around a dining table, in Cancun, Mexico. Clockwise from left: Dad, Aunt Carol, Max, Lisa (sister), Bill (brother-in-law), Betsy, Tom, David, me, Mom.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

The picture above is one of my favorite Christmas memories. My family, seated around a table in a dining room in Cancun, Mexico, eating Christmas dinner. No gifts (except for Max, my nephew, who still believed in Santa Claus), just all of us, good food, booze, and warm sunny beaches.

Starting in 1996, my family began a tradition of celebrating Christmas with vacation trips, almost always to warm, tropical places. It began when mom won her first battle against cancer, and has carried on in some form ever since.

The first trip was in ’96, I believe, and the family went to San Diego and Tiajuana. I had just started a new job, though, and could not go with them, so I house-sat for my sister in their new house in the West Hills. We got an ice storm that year, and I ended up trapped by a fallen tree, and missed some work.

Calling in Sick From Mexico

The next year, the year in the picture, I was able to afford to go, except for not having enough vacation time to cover it. I had left that job for a short stint doing phone support for a different company. I’ve never told anyone about this, but I fell into a deep depression, and basically didn’t show up for my new job for 3 or 4 days. Luckily I was able to go back to my previous job, but in doing so I lost my scheduled vacation time, even though the trip was paid for already.

My solution was to go on the trip, not tell my boss, and then call in, making up a story about being stuck at the beach and unable to return. When I got back, my boss, a very patient woman who was probably the most empathetic and understanding manager I’ve ever had, asked me point blank if I went on the planned Mexico trip. When I admitted it, she just shook her head and said, sadly, “we could have worked something out.” I earned some demerits (company policy) and lost a promotion, but remained at that job for almost another year.

The Alphabet Game

It was all worth it, to spend Christmas with my family. Now I have the memories, and the stress of that job is long forgotten.

That trip was the year David (Bill’s brother, my sister’s brother-in-law) and I played a drinking game where we drank one drink for each letter of the alphabet. In one day. It was epic. He and I and my sister and her husband were sitting around in the afternoon and noticed that the names of all the drinks we were drinking started with the letter B, or included the letter B? It’s a little unclear. But we joked about drinking the alphabet.

Lisa and Bill dropped out, but David and I took it as a challenge. We made it to the letter S (I believe that drink was called the Seven Seas and featured that many kinds of rum), or possibly R? I barely remember making it back to my room. In the morning, I woke up to Max pounding on the door, because it was Christmas morning, and it was time to open presents.

This Year, and Next

This year, I’m house-sitting again, in a different house in the West Hills. My dad and Carol are going to Carol’s kids’ house for Christmas dinner. My sister and her family are on a cruise in South East Asia. And I’m sitting here, remembering Christmases past, and vowing, like always, next year I will go away, to a warm sunny place, and celebrate.

Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope whereever you are, and whatever you do, you’re surrounded by people you love, warm, safe, and happy.

Dear Electors

I composed and sent this email to the members of the Electoral College on the evening of 18 December 2016, just prior to their vote to select the winner of the US Presidential election. Posting it here for the future.

I could have said more. I should have said more. I will say and do more, and more, in the days ahead.

But this is what I said two days ago.

Dear Electors,

My name is Brian Moon from Portland, OR.
I don’t even know how to describe the fear and depression I have felt since finding out that a minority of voters have somehow managed to provide enough electoral votes to put the dangerous demogogue Donald Trump into the White House. He is a man who lashes out at the slightest resistance, enabling his angry and armed followers to inflict violence on the most vulnerable people of our country; hate crimes have increased dramatically after November 8th, particularly in my home state of Oregon.

With Donald Trump’s blundering bombastic Twitter account, he has already raised tensions with China, a nuclear nation with whom we compete and attempt to trade, and that’s even before Donald Trump has taken office. Who else will suffer if the leader of the free world tweets without thinking, once in office?

And Donald Trump appears to be planning on using the highest office in the land to rake in more billions. He has used the office to expedite stalled business dealings around the world and I do not believe he would be making decisions based on the interests of the people, but rather his own personal gain. If there are consequences, again, it won’t be him paying them; it will be us, the rest of the country.

Please consider your duty to the nation, and to the Constitution, and put that ahead of party or tradition. America, all of America, needs to be served, but most especially, those who do not have a national voice except in our numbers.

Thank you for your time and consideration, I appreciate and respect the role you serve in our electoral process.
Sincerely,

Brian Moon

The Season of All Natures

You lack the season of all natures, sleep.
Macbeth (3.4.167)

My sleep pattern of late, of the last month or a bit longer, has been disrupted and wildly inconsistent.

Generally, on a work night, I can manage to drag myself to bed around eight and a half to eight hours before the alarm is set to go off. As I crawl into bed, I will congratulate myself for leaving myself enough time for a good night’s rest, plenty of time.

The next hour or two, however, is spent trying to get to sleep. I toss and turn, fretting about money, about the stresses of my commute and the fact of being a contractor, but especially worrying about the politics of our time. This is usually when I realize my sleep has been horrible at least since around Election Day.

When my mind spins off into those bouts of anxiety, I will try again to drag it back to a blank state so I can drift off to sleep. After many tries, usually several hours after getting under the covers, eventually, sleep comes.

Then I dream.

I don’t have recurring dreams; it’s never the same scenario that plays out, but the dreams are haunted, and anxious, and upsetting. They’re dreams of disconnection, dreams of fear, dreams of loss; and they force me back to consiousness, repeatedly.

Once awake, I’ll check the time, or not, and roll over and try to go back to sleep.

At some point, typically with only a couple of hours until the alarm is set to sound, I will usually fall into a deeper, more restful sleep.

And then I dream. But this time, it’s nicer.

They’re not recurring dreams, but these dreams, the dreams I have when I’m at what feels like the deepest level of sleep, the level I only reach after what feels like hours of effort, share a theme. They’re dreams of connection. Dreams of peace. Dreams of warmth.

Then the alarm goes off, and I am dragged away from that gentle place to the real world, the world with a long commute to a job in a giant corporation where I have no guarantee of a future to earn only a little more than I need to pay my bills.

And it’s all I can do to not just roll over and try to go back to that warm, welcoming place I was just dreaming of.

These days, every once in a while, but more and more often, I do just that. Type an email to ask for a sick day, a mental health day, and then pull the covers up and try to go back to the safe, connected, loved place I was dreaming of.

Sometimes I reach it again. Mostly I don’t, though either way, I end up spending 12, 13, or more hours in bed those days.

Which is a problem, of course, of course. I can see that. I will work on that.

I have to work on that, because this isn’t working. 

Skyrim Memories, Part 3: You Look Radiant, Darling

Some of the funniest moments I’ve had in Skyrim were almost assuredly completely unplanned by the people who designed it.

A screenshot from Skyrim shows a character chasing a horse flying off into the sky along a wilderness road.
A quirk in the physics caused a dragonfly to fly off with my horse.

Skyrim, like the previous titles in the series, or the other major gameworld from Bethesda, the Fallout series, uses scripts to tell all the various characters in the game where to be at certain times of the day, and how to react to events around them, and to moderate how each person feels about the player and the player’s actions.

Radiant Quests, Repeating Forever

Many of the basic quests available to the player are also randomly generated. There’s a list of quest-givers, a list of random loot or rewards, and a long list of possible locations for these quests. This is the Radiant system, and it adds a certain amount of unpredictability to every playthrough.

The game is big, with far too many moving parts, with everything governed by an interlocking set of scripts and triggers, all built on top of an engine that has been expanded and patched over the years. Toss all that together with an unpredictable human player who has been given the freedom to go anywhere, talk to (or kill) almost anyone in the game. You end up with a system that mostly works, but can break pretty easily.

Some of those breaks are predictable and repeatable and become exploits that a gamer can use (or not, if they would rather). And some of those breaks are chaotic, unpredictable, and hilarious. These bugs create some of my favorite moments in the game.

The Unbound Dremora

On one of my most recent playthroughs, I’ve been playing a pure mage, eschewing swords and armor for spells and potions. My character had been only using the various schools of magick to attack, defend, or otherwise complete quests. And eventually she had maxed out her skill in conjuration, the ability to summon things and creatures from other planes of existence.

Having reached this level, there was only one thing left to do: approach the instructor for conjuration at the College of Winterhold basically to complete my degree. The instructor gave me a ritual to perform: summon a dremora (a creature of the plane of Oblivion with great power), defeat it in combat three times, and order it to bring back some powerful artifact. All this, I did, and ran off to give the artifact to the instructor, Phinis Gestor.

Some time later, maybe a week or more in real time, my character was returning to the College to sell off a bunch of loot I’d found, and heard a noise behind me as I entered the dorms. I turned around, and came face to face with the red devil face of the unbound dremora I’d summoned earlier.

The dremora was not hostile. In fact, it seemed listless, quiet, almost depressed. Instead of bellowing threats, it said nothing at all. As I watched, it wandered across the atrium and up the stairs to the second floor. I ran after it, curious, but only watched as it went out the door to the roof. I couldn’t stop laughing. Apparently I’d forgotten to dismiss it after I was done.

A screenshot from Skyrim shows an unbound dremora just wandering around.
This unbound dremora seems almost bored as it wanders the halls of the College of Winterhold.

That dremora is still there, on the roof, staring out to the horizon, stuck here, unable to leave or return to its home dimension. I’ve even tried attacking it to see if killing it will dispell it. Nope. It’s glitched out. It’s immune to attack, and it will not fight back. The College has gained another student, or a mascot.

Unpredictability Is Fun

A downside to the Radiant system is that after a while, these Radiant quests become boring and repetitive, despite the randomness, because they all boil down to “go fetch this thing for me”. It’s clearly not special to that NPC because they keep losing some random weapon or piece of armor in some other random tomb, cave, or dungeon, and only the player can go there and find it for them again.

I assumed that the unbound dremora should disappear, or at least become an enemy you can fight (and loot), after completing the quest. Its persistence is a bug, one that should have been fixed by a patch (and is fixed by the Unofficial Skyrim Patch, a crowd-sourced update provided by fans of the game). But it’s much funnier to have it hang around, observe, and act depressed at its fate.