The First of November: A Day for the Dead.

This morning has been one big Disney movie so far. I was taking in these sights and then out of the blue… I hear 20 swans fly over head in formation. My jaw is still somewhere on the forest floor.

 

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I spent a good half an hour transfixed on the view, breathing in the crisp air and listening in on the forest around the lake. The sound of winter is beginning to echo there. It’s bittersweet standing at the edge of winter, the memories of summer begin to fade as frost and snow kiss the landscape ever so gently.

A medley of pictures played as I stood there, some faded, some more colorful than the actual reality behind them. A good time to move on, I thought, when the 20 swans disappeared over the hill.  It truly is a beautiful day to remember the departed on the First of November, the day for the dead. A lot of candles will be lit across the country today, friends and families will visit cemeteries, make them alive again.

As for the rest of the day, I feel the itch to draw, there is this one picture that keeps haunting me, but I might waste it away gaming…

 

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I, gamer.

WP_20140920_15_16_41_ProThis is me.

At age… I don’t even remember anymore, but the gaming system my dad gave me for a Christmas present is forever imprinted in my memories: Nintendo Entertainment System. The developers certainly nailed the name.

My favorite was Super Mario Bros, I mean, hands down. No need to explain that. A close second was DuckTales, where you played as Scrooge and bounced around on your cane while collecting diamonds to make a rich duck even richer. Good to teach the moral values to the kids early on.

WP_20140920_15_18_34_ProTossing ponies and barbies (and a bunch of boy toys like Ninja Turtle action figures… which are freaking dolls btw) in the corner for an interactive experience with a piece of tech was easy peasy lemon squeezy for me. I preferred being alone most of the time anyway because of all the drama between kids. I just hated it, why couldn’t we hang out with each other without awkward social rules like, no… you can’t play with us because then it would be an uneven number. I mean… what? Some sand box rules I will never understand. There were some even more ridiculous than that.

Nintendo changed the dynamics of my childhood (and PlayStation later on). Gaming became my escape ladder and made me an adventurer instead of a weird kid. I had desperately wanted to experience what the likes of Indiana Jones would in their lives and this was my chance. There were tons of games I played on the NES, the cartridges have survived the years, and when I shuffle them in my hands, I get flashbacks of all the adventures I got myself into, as if I was turning the pages of a picture album.

My first PC I received in junior high for school purposes, but soon enough I was playing Duke Nukem on my educational purposes only machinery. Lesson well learned: headshots for the win! And flash cash to the girls and they will flash you. Again, it was good to keep on learning those moral lessons. There was also this space ship flight simulator I forget the name of, but I had good times flying in insane speeds on the face of Earth, and pulling awesome stunts with the help of my joystick, all the while shooting down evil aliens. It was just freaking awesome, no other way to put it.

And then came PlayStation. A personal game changer for the second time in my life. I’m a graphics w***e, let’s get that out of the way right now. I understand that being into shiny stuff and having a gaming PC would be a no brainer, but I liked consoles for the ease of it. Mostly because I wasn’t that tech savvy. Which I regret, I wish had delved into computers a bit more than I did… these days I’m finding it hard to keep up with the leaps and bounds technology takes (I guess I just have to believe I’d be saying that one day).

Another magical Christmas in 1999 gifted me with Final Fantasy VIII. I have never been the same after playing this title. That’s when I took my adventuring to another level. Here was a game that combined an enthralling story rich with lore, complex characters and epic battles. Role-playing was right up my alley I discovered. There was so much to do in the game, I could progress the story or focus on leveling up and making my characters stronger (I like seeing numbers go up), complete side quests or play mini games.

Having a lot of control over my gaming experience is what turned me onto the Final Fantasy series (fanatic about it). The elements of a perfect storm were there with the timing of playing FF VIII. I was around the same age as the protagonists (all mercenary teenagers brought up in an elite battle academy) so the relatability was there. Their dreams and emotions were like that of an ordinary teenager, except I got to live an elevated story with danger woven all through out it. But I, Laura, was an active part of shaping the story and that’s what felt really good. To this day I revisit the game for the sake of nostalgia. Check it out, it has one of the best game cut scene openings:

It’s always been about escapism, then and now. And I still continue on that road with A Realm Reborn, an online role-playing game like World of Warcraft (essentially). Playing with real people online is a different beast entirely because of interpersonal relations between players. I might have hated the sand box in my childhood, but here I am back at it.

Usually I’m the healer in the team, but most times I also want to wreck enemies for a faster fight while keeping my team mates standing. I definitely take the battle aspect of my healing class to an extreme, which can cause raised eyebrows. That edge has caused team wide wipes on occasion (=we all dead).

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The best feeling is when the team gets into some serious s*** by a horrible mistake and everyone excepts it to be a wipe, but we make it through, because I kept their asses alive through what would have been an annihilation. Yup. Yup yup. Virtual ego just outgrew another room.

On a good day I make friends while playing the game, share some good laughs while feeling accomplished after downing a super hard boss …and on other days I land in the middle of a troll fest while wanting to complete a dungeon for a piece of loot I need oh-so-bad, and these maxed out jackasses with their best in slot gear decide to make my life miserable. A******s. Online gaming will thicken your skin. And possibly induce unfiltered rage. Absolutely lovely times. ffxiv_21092014_101929

 

(Screenshot of my character in A Realm Reborn, wearing her healer gear)

 

The best laughs (and rage fits, yeah my diaper can shrink to being two sizes too small) I’ve had while teaming up with my husband. Whether it is (was) Army of Two, Borderlands, Halo, Call of Duty, any shooter really, we can make an effective team. WP_20140920_15_32_15_ProI’m not as pro as him, so his patience has been tested while I charge into an ambush with a kamikaze attitude and have my virtual head blown into bits. I yell “Resurrect!” and hubby looks at me with murderous eyes: “How about you learn how to take cover and stay alive?”. Curse words omitted.

(I did something wrong?)

Repeat that a dozen times. I think it’s a riot, husband wishes he could strangle me the Homer Simpson way (I love you). He has pitched Hal- I mean Destiny to me, the latest online shooter with a role playing flavor developed by the same creators as Halo …but I gotta restrict my intake of the hardest virtual crack the internet can dish out or my real life will be over.

Learning tactics and strategy, figuring out mechanics of fights can take hours and even weeks, when the content is brand spanking new with no guides to lean on, but it’s all part of the process. The record player is indefinitely stuck on rinse and repeat, but the sense of accomplishment is comparable to winning a world class sports competition when a fight/boss finally goes down. It takes smarts, tenacity and most of all patience. Sometimes I got none of those.

World firsts in beating content between elite teams are a serious business, it’s brutal and cut throat. And it’s not just about bragging rights. The best players in the world are sponsored like athletes, and why wouldn’t they be? Games, or eSports, is a huge business. Pro-gamers can collect 6 figure sums from a single tournament. Not bad for a waste of time.

I’ve had the same screen name since 13 years of age alluding to the goddess of strategic warfare (play hard and smart!). It’s my armor and mask, when I log on and turn into a virtual bad ass in the wild west of imaginary worlds, and make no mistake:

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I got game ;) See you out there! Love, Laurathena.

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Recommendation: “Terms and Conditions May Apply”. A Documentary on the Absence of Privacy.

I’m subscribed to a number of social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+… And probably a few more that I can’t even remember the names of. I’m not an avid poster, I may do one update a week, a few if the power of sharing really compels me, but I do use a good bit of time on following what fellow social networkers are up to on the aforementioned platforms; clicking, reading, sharing and liking.

I spend even more time on the powerhouse search engine (that doesn’t need to be named for everyone to know which one I’m talking about) typing in things like… healthy snacks, bodyweight workouts, parson russell terriers, stuff that’s pretty normal, stuff that anyone reading my search history would think this person is trying to get in shape, and possibly has a dog. And they would be correct.

Then there’s this I’ve typed in the search box: Wormholes, black holes, time travel, the Manhattan project, Nazis, aliens, abductions, cattle mutilations, shadow government, black ops… Need I go on? I hope whoever finds that, also sees the searches I’ve made for common sci-fi topics, writing and writing competitions. I write sci-fi. No one has diagnosed me as bat crazy yet, but my search history would undeniably suggest that.

One of those bat crazy searches landed a documentary on my lap titled “Terms and Conditions May Apply”, released in 2013. It highlights the absence of digital privacy and the surveillance conducted on average people, which in turn, results in profiling based on their digital behavior, and one may ask …so what? I got nothing to hide. Well, the documentary also paints the scenario depicted in the movie “Minority Report”, where people are arrested pre-emptively (and prosecuted) for crimes they did not commit yet, a society where a digital eye prevents its members from behaving in an undesired way. Worrisome. And it’s already happening as we learn through three different cases in the UK from recent years.

Here are a few quotes of interest from “Terms and Conditions May Apply”:

“The Patriot Act expanded the ability of the Federal Government to do surveillance in a lot of little ways. You don’t need a judge’s approval for instance to find out what websites someone visited, what search terms they typed into Google–“

 Declan McCullagh,CNET’s news.com Chief Political Correspondent

“There are companies you’ve never heard of, like Axiom, that claim to have about 1,500 points of data on the average American citizen, everything from, you know, whether you’re right or left handed, what kind of dog you have, what your sort of psychological outlook is, and all of that can be used to inform the decisions that businesses make about us as well.”

Eli Pariser, Author (“The Filter Bubble)

“According to the Department of Homeland Security reports Facebook has replaced almost every other CIA information gathering program since it was launched in 2004.”

A News clip in “Terms and Conditions May Apply”

“After years of secretly monitoring the public, we were astounded so many people would willingly publicize where they live, their religious and political views, and advertise lists of all their friends, personal email addresses, phone numbers, hundreds of photos of themselves, and even status updates about what they were doing moment to moment– It is truly a dream come true for the CIA.”

Christopher Sartinsky, Deputy CIA Director

“It turns out that, in this environment, a digital environment, there’s a loophole to the Fourth Amendment, which is, if a third party collects a lot of this information, that government doesn’t have to go through those same hoops, it’s called the third party doctrine.”

John Palfrey, Professor of Law (Harvard Law School) on government acquiring private records through third parties such as Google and Facebook.

“Terms and Conditions May Apply” is a must watch for anyone living in the digital age and partaking actively in it. The illusion of the delete button fools a lot of cyber citizens, and this documentary served as a reminder that whatever happens on the internet, stays on the internet, and it’s guaranteed someone is following your digital footprints.

I also recommend the Apple agreements episode by South Park:

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Drawing of the Week: Eva Green in Penny Dreadful

I decided the next subject of my experimentation should be Eva Green’s character Miss Ives in Penny Dreadful. A show that lives up to its name. And here’s a blurb on it from the official website to anyone unfamiliar with it:

“Some of literature’s most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. PENNY DREADFUL is a frightening psychological thriller that weaves together these classic horror origin stories into a new adult drama.”


Eva

This one I could keep working on, for example I could blend the shadows and lines further to make it less “crude”, balance out the tones, but I already spent a good bit of time on what I have here, my eyes are tired and my supply of patience ran dry to be honest, so here’s where I am stopping this time. I am pretty excited about making progress with each little drawing, and also learning how to control the need to rush the drawing to the finish line. That’s a huge problem of mine.

Not sure if I captured the likeness of Eva Green, I developed graphite madness (everything becomes a blur and you’re just basically blind to every line) towards the end of the drawing session, but it was a good learning experience yet again, regardless of whether I mutilated her features or not ;) I’m thinking of “experimenting” with some other characters from the show as well.

The show itself I binge-watched in two days (no spoilers will follow). The first two episodes were quite interesting, and the cinematography was simply beautiful. Penny Dreadful is not absent of problems though, it has some really good moments, honest and moving encounters, high quality drama, but the bad, boring moments are equally bad. One scene I watched borderline embarrassed, laughing at the melodramatic performance unfolding on screen. At times the show falls into heavy self-indulgence and not even stunning imagery can save the corniness.

The story has potential, the set of characters can be complex, if allowed to be, and the acting (the overkills left out) is superb… But I wish the pace was tighter, after episode two, it took four episodes for the actual story to pick up again. I’m not expecting an action flick, but the pace just dragged to the point I was bored. The source material for the TV show is too rich to allow for so much fluff, filler, fat around the meat. I understand painting a landscape, exploring emotions and setting up scenes, but don’t bore me with the unnecessary details and backstory told in voice-over that could have been revealed in a much more exciting way.

I binge-watched the show because I kept hoping for (the promise was there) what episode seven and eight finally delivered, a frightening psychological thriller acted out by some of the most famous characters in the history of horror, basically what the description of the show suggested. And also, the cinematography kept me glued to the screen. It really is worth a peek just because of the imagery. Of course, I had to go and butcher Miss Ives with my pencils ;)

Did you watch Penny Dreadful? What did you think? What about American Horror Story? Which one would you pick to watch late at night, all alone in the dark?

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Recommendation: “On Writing” by Stephen King

Stephen King terrorized me in my childhood with his stories. Did I use reader discretion before venturing into the horror section of the local library? No, but I was done with the Nancy Drew series that summer (of 1994… 1995ish) and needed something else to read. Stephen King seemed like a good choice. A solid choice. I saw a long row of books with his name written on the spines and thought… I’ll give him a chance.

20 years later and I can honestly say that while reading “On Writing”, I yipped “read it!” after every title he used as an example in the book (well, except for the works he published as a youngster in school). And that is no coincidence. I devoured every story by him I could get my hands on. The stories penned by Stephen King are probably one of the reasons why my 11 year old self (or 10) was convinced that she wouldn’t live to see her 25th birthday, something out there, or someone, was bound to get her!

“On Writing” is a funny, witty and insightful memoir, just like the author himself called it: a memoir of a craft. You won’t find lectures on grammar, but stories of events that had a big impact on his writing, and what he learned through them, and it’s those revelations that became his tools of the trade. I howled with laughter while reading and had my husband laugh with me, when I shared selected passages with him.

Here are a few nuggets of gold gracing the pages of “On Writing” with their presence:

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.” 

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

“I had written three other novels before Carrie — But none of them taught me the things I learned from Carrie White. The most important is that the writer’s original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader’s. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

Read the book. You won’t regret it. I finished it in two sittings (I wish it had been longer, but as the author promised, he kept it short and sweet).

There is one book by Mr. King I had to put down mid reading a long time ago: Pet Sematary. The terrors the dead pets and people brought on were too much, but I’m going to have another crack at it very soon inspired by the brief  peek into the author’s mind. I almost got to the very end of the movie adaptation in my teenage years before going for the remote and turning off the TV. That was the beginning of a very long night with very little sleep, and that is when many  of my own stories begun to take shape with a simple question… what if -

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Snapshots: My Week and Hitting the Big Three-0

Sunday: At the end of the week I had the chance of going to a friend’s cabin in the woods after work. Around 2 PM we drove out of the city with 4 people and one dog in the car and didn’t look back.

We grilled some yummy food, played a hilarious game called “Cards Against Humanity” (their website describes it as a party game for horrible people), we bathed in the sauna and swam in the lake (one of the most serene lakes I’ve been to, no kidding), and let me tell you, that is exactly what I needed to dust the work week off my shoulders.

This guy had a blast swimming in the lake and playing ball, and when we got back home at night, she basically said beddy-bye and see you in the morning. And make sure my breakfast is ready, when I wake up. Over and out.

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My Little Piper

 

 

Monday: Cool morning walks around 6-7 AM are the best right now as we are living in the midst of a record breaking heat wave in Finland.

WP_20140719_09_29_21_Pro (2)Living right next to a bird sanctuary is pretty awesome, the little paths circling this lake can get pretty hard to navigate with tree roots sticking out of the ground, but it’s worth it, when you find yourself in little nooks with amazing views.

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Tuesday: I re-discovered my Kindle wearing fashionable purple and swore I would finally finish reading the books and short stories I downloaded over my summer vacation in May. There are so many of them… And all of them good reads! Look out for a review or two.

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My digital collection of novels I actually enjoyed reading and the “trophy” novels (featuring Dante, Dostoyevsky… You get the idea …explanation on the trophy novel further ahead). Jk. Okay, not really. Well. I mean. They’re classics, so you should read them, right?

 

 

 

Wednesday: This day was your typical “get out of bed, go to work, spend 8 hours at your desk, go back home, rinse and repeat” – kinda day. With the exception that Wednesday was my Friday for the week. While I waited outside our apartment complex for my husband and dog (we always take her out together for a walk after I get home from work), I snapped this picture:

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I remember my first class in Uni for aesthetics, the teacher asked us all to pick one post card from a pile of cards and explain to the group why we picked it. Well, I don’t remember which card I picked, but I will always remember our assignment for the class next week: Look for a glimpse of beauty in an unexpected place.

The point was to train your eye to see your environment in a different light, and eventually art, that you normally would not pause to look at and appreciate. That simple exercise has helped me tremendously later on with my writing for example.

This was my glimpse of beauty for the day. I just really like the rich colors of the rust and the different textures of the concrete wall.

Thursday: Ahh… Day off. All around relaxation. Take the dog out, coffee, browse the internets, converse with the husband, work out… Maybe do some laundry. Stare at this guy on the desk:

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I need to re-print this first draft in a different format. It’s sitting on the desk and screaming it’s about time to go over it. Just that… I forgot to leave space for notes. Sometimes the screams contain offensive language that I have omitted from this post.

 

 

 

Friday: One day before I hit the big three-O! I decided to welcome the thirties with grace and dignity. On the inside… I was whaling and staring at my face in the mirror, looking for those damn wrinkles. And I’m sure those guys exist somewhere in there, just haven’t found them yet.

I spent the day reading “On Writing” By Stephen King, I kind of wish I could add the book on my shelf in physical form (I got a digital edition):

WP_20140808_17_18_39_ProI used to vouch for books (and I still do, but just not on the same die heart level), I’d say I even used to collect those printed goodies like trophies… Like hey, check this out, yeah… I read that book, that’s right, it’s tedious as hell, but it’s a classic and I read it. So, what’s up? Now I collect the digital editions. The box shaped monster on the top shelf is my Kindle again. Me and my Kindle… good times, good times.

 

 

Saturday: I’m an old woman! Whaa! So much for dignity and grace.

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No but for reals, it’s all good… it’s all good. If you really think about it, now the countdown begins again, ten more years to go before the big four-O! In the thirties club, I’m a youngster all over again!

Have a good weekend all! I’m off to eat some cake.

PS. How did you celebrate turning 30? Or your last birthday?

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