On a Different Note, The Microsoft Surface 3

SurfaceI finally gave in and got a new laptop. Tablet. Laptop-tablet thingy. The Surface Pro 3. So far, I’m liking it a lot.

Microsoft seems to be positioning the Surface against the MacBook Air. I’m not an Air user, so I can’t say how it compares. I’m shifting from my 2007 MacBook and my god-only-knows-company-throw-away-partially-broken HP Laptop (it was a freebie from my former roommate’s work, and as such, totally awesome). The Surface is more than sufficient to replace both of those.

I love the touch screen. It just feels natural. I also love the stylus. If you’re like me, and writing things out by hand makes it easier for you to brainstorm, it’s great. I’ve done a ton of that since I got it two weeks ago (confession, it was an Ambien purchase–but one I’d been debating for three months already).

The keyboard works just fine and is a great size for my hands. It’s a little unsteady on my lap (in part because my lap is just a tad too small for it when I sit cross-legged on the floor; it’s fine when I’m sitting normally in a chair). I found my old lap desk and that solved the problem nicely. It’s great on a table or desk. It also fits really easily into my bag, which I’d sized for carrying my Nexus 7 and a paper journal. I’m no longer carrying either of those (it was time, the Nexus 7 was flickering).

All of my regular software runs on it, which was actually a big consideration. Jim and I checked out the Surface RT several months ago, and it couldn’t run Chat Mapper. Which meant it was a no go, even though it was cheaper. With the Surface Pro, I can run Office, Adobe, Chat Mapper, Scrivener, etc. It also has some fun drawing programs. As a tablet… it doesn’t have anywhere near the apps Android or iOS have. It has some, and more are probably coming. However, there’s a way to run Android apps on it. There’s BlueStack, which I’m using, and it’s possible to dual boot. The latter isn’t worth it to me. I did find Bluestack has a tendency to crash the whole thing when part of the Start menu, but I don’t use that many Android apps. So not a big deal.

It’s a good laptop. An acceptable tablet. And lots of fun to draw on.

 

15 Percent Chance of Cancer

Which isn’t actually all that high. Although that number is probably not accurate for me.

So. Here’s the latest. The nodule on the left lobe of my thyroid was benign. The nodule on the right side was… we don’t know. The cells they found are present in both benign and malignant nodules. There’s apparently no way to know until they’ve cut that puppy out of me and dissected it in pathology.

My doctor recommends getting it out. Removing the right lobe of my thyroid. She would also be in support of removing the whole thyroid, so that they won’t have to go back in later to remove the left if the right proves cancerous.

If I keep the left, that means I have some thyroid function left. It might even be enough that I wouldn’t need supplementation, or could go with a lower dose. I… rather like the idea of keeping as many of my body parts as I can. I don’t like the idea of needing to completely depend on thyroid supplementation. Not because I mind taking medicine; that’s never been a problem. But because when I imagine surviving the apocalypse and being without recourse to medicine or advanced technology… it seems having some thyroid function left would be a good idea. This is why I’m also very interested in laser eye surgery. Contacts may not be easily come by after Armageddon. And no, I’m not saying I actually *believe* there’s an apocalypse coming. I do, however, worry about these things.

But back to that 15% statistic. That number applies to the population at large. It does not apply to celiac patients in specific. In the general population, we get averaged out by other people. However, celiac patients are apparently 10 times more likely to get thyroid nodules than non-celiac patients. We’re more susceptible to certain cancers (thyroid being one, non-Hodgkins lymphoma being another). I don’t actually know my odds on that one. I’ve done some study and not found much. I’ll probably find more if I dig deeper. But. Current data.

My father was asking me if keeping the lobe was an option. Not because he’s recommending it, because he doesn’t know and was wondering what my options were. So far, the literature I’ve read is saying to get the lobe removed. If I have thyroid cancer, I will not know it from thyroid function. The thyroid can keep chugging along and producing normal amounts of hormone even while home to cancer.

My doctor says it’s not a rush. I do have some time to think about it and do more research. I’m leaning towards removal of the right lobe. If I did get the whole thing taken out and then learned it wasn’t cancerous, I’d be really upset. Reminds me of my grandma cutting mold off a slice of bread, “Why throw that away? It’s a perfectly good slice of bread!”

The doctor’s concern is the risk of anesthesia, plus the risk of nicking either the parathyroid or the vocal chords. I don’t judge any of these risks sufficient reason to remove the whole thyroid. If I need to go in for surgery twice, I’ll do it. Of course… I am the woman who lanced her own peritonsillar abscess (what? it looked funny, so I poked it).

Puppies Make Everything Better

photo (2)This is Gracie, our latest foster. She’s about 3 months old, fearless, wriggly, happy, and absolutely determined to pounce Ragnar at every opportunity. She hides under the coffee table and waits for him to walk by so she can nip at his feet. At which point he, of course, flops down on his stomach and lets her chew on his ears and try to fit her mouth around his skull. She fails at that one, but they both seem delighted by it.

I… am feeling overwhelmed. Not by the puppy. A few weeks ago my primary care doc noticed something funny when I swallowed a sip of water. So she sent me to get an ultrasound of my neck. Which took a rather long time. The impression I got was that it was longer than it should have been, but I don’t know how long these things normally go. I knew better than to ask the technician what she saw; she wouldn’t be allowed to say, anyway. And the results came back. And I saw them before my doctor’s office called. Because I’m the kind of patient who *always* logs in to PAMF’s MyHealth Online service. And I saw that there were a lot of nodules. Which worried me.

But it wasn’t until the nurse called to tell me I needed to set up an appointment with endocrinology to get the nodules biopsied that I really started worrying. I think it was her tone of voice. She sounded very uncomfortable. Very solemn.

It could just be that she’s used to patients freaking out at all sorts of things. I don’t know. I’m not prone to freak outs when discussing medical things. I think my father would have disowned me if that were the case. Well, not really. But I’m his kid. I’m not afraid of needles, I want to see everything (like my tonsils once they were removed–they were each the size of a golf ball–or my intestine pictures after they did the celiac biopsy), and I don’t freak out at test results. Also…. I have a spreadsheet where I’ve kept all of my test results going back to 1984. Which, let me tell you, sure helps with getting a diagnosis. I’m the gal who, when the ER doc asked me, “I don’t suppose you happen to know what size your ovaries normally are?” said, “Oh, yeah. This is how big they were when I was 19, and this is how big they were when I was 25, and this is how big they were two months ago.” And I showed her my spreadsheet.

So I have a bunch of nodules in my thyroid. Both sides. Both have a large main nodule. One side also has a lot of smaller ones spread throughout. People can get nodules in all sorts of places. Most thyroid nodules are benign. Even most cancerous ones aren’t a huge concern when it comes to the thyroid. When I talked to my dad his mode of reassuring me was to say, “If you have to get cancer, thyroid is the one you want.”

And maybe, at a different time in my life, it wouldn’t stress me so much. But in a year when Jay died of cancer, when my mother is still recovering from the chemo she got for her breast cancer… And I feel guilty for not doing enough for either of them… Some lizard brained part of me feels like that would be appropriate punishment.

I get that I shouldn’t be thinking that way. I get that it’s superstitious and counter-productive and my guilt has little basis in reality. But. Yeah.

I am stressed. A little scared. A lot overwhelmed. I go into shutdown mode when that happens. Kinda numb. Flat affect. I see the endocrinologist next Tuesday. It’s an hour long appointment and they’ll probably do the biopsy right then.

And I keep thinking about that Edna St. Vincent Millay line. “It’s not one damn thing after another, it’s one damn thing over and over.” And I’m very glad I have a puppy around.

I Remember

One of the things that infuriated me when Carolyn died when I was a kid was the feeling that everyone else had forgotten about her. Within weeks, days.

We don’t actually forget that quickly. Not those who were close. Not those who cared deeply during life. The ones who forget are the ones who didn’t know the person. Who didn’t know Carolyn, who didn’t know Jay. When they express grief, it’s real enough. But it’s at a remove. The grief they’re feeling is for us, not themselves. They didn’t have a hole ripped in their life. They didn’t have a part of their soul torn away. Their world didn’t change. But they know ours did.

So they offer sympathy. It’s what humans do. We see another person in pain and our mirror neurons flare and we offer what comfort we can. And if those people move on and don’t remember the loss next week, that’s fine. That’s normal.

But those who grieve… we often do ourselves a disservice. We become silent after the first few days. The first few weeks. We become silent and grapple with it alone. Perhaps because we feel there’s nothing else to be said. Perhaps because we don’t want to intrude on others and keep repeating ourselves. Perhaps because we measure our grief and think it must be so much less than that of others… wife, husband, child, sister. But it doesn’t matter.

We leave each other alone when we’re least capable of handling it.

I haven’t forgotten. I think of Jay every day. I think of the Child and Lisa and Jay’s parents (all three) and Mother of the Child, and Jay’s sister, and Ken and Jen and everyone else hurting. I don’t want to force my grief on them. I don’t want to drag them back into pain if they’ve managed, even for a moment, to forget the hurt. I just want to say I remember.

I remember Jay. I remember what you’ve lost. I remember you.

Lay Offs and the Game Industry

There’s this marvelous article on Kotaku at the moment explaining the cyclical nature of the game industry, and why we all get laid-0ff so frequently. Go check it out.

finish game–>launch game–>lay off devs–>develop game–>hire devs–>finish game…

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I don’t need to explain this for folks in the game industry, but my non-industry friends always seem a little shocked when I casually say, “Yeah, got laid-off again.” It’s kinda insane as a business model. And short sighted. Which the article points out.

It would make sense, once you’ve built a team that works together well, to keep that team intact. It isn’t easy to find that many people who can work together and get shit done. And every time you build a team, there’s a ramp up phase while people figure out how to work together. But instead companies lay off large portions of their dev teams once a game launches because they’re trying to save money and, after all, they don’t *need* those people anymore. Nevermind six months later when they start in on serious development of the next game and they have to hire new devs. Because, of course, the devs they let go have gone on to find other jobs.

The thing that boggles my tech industry friends, and I totally get this, is how many man hours that wastes. You have to spend time finding candidates, grading candidate tests, interviewing, interviewing again… And many of your new hires will be unknown quantities. You don’t know how well they do their jobs, not really. Or how well they work with others.

I worked at one studio that had been a small, independent studio until they got purchased by a large corporate entity. And, just as the author of the Kotaku article says, corporate handed down strict budgets for each project. This was a bit more extreme than what he’s talking about, with trying to have a second project starting up already while you’re working on the first. They had to start up *multiple* new projects to justify keeping the devs. It was kind of ridiculous. If the main game under development didn’t need environment art at the moment, those artists would be shifted to another project. But then the main game would be finished with user interface art (for the moment) and need environment again, and those teams would get moved around. Again. It was a desperate juggle on the part of studio management, trying to do right by its employees while keeping corporate happy.

So morale suffers, big time. There’s no incentive to put your heart into a project when you know you’ll just be losing your job once it’s over.

The game industry gets away with treating its workforce like this because of the coolness factor, I think. Lots of people want to work in games. Lots of people will take crap pay in order to do that. Of course, the more experienced and senior you get, the less you’re willing to take crap pay. Which means you get fewer jobs. And there are always kids straight out of college who will gladly take those jobs. They won’t know what they’re doing. It’ll take a long time for them to build the skills.

There’s a reason the game industry skews young. The young don’t know what they’re worth, they won’t stand up for themselves as much, and they don’t have families to support. Moving to a new city for a job is still exciting, not a burden. Working until 9, 10, 11 at night is fun instead of exhausting.

As for me, and many other narrative designers, we’re even less valued than most other devs. Because everyone thinks they can write. So you end up with people whose specializations lie elsewhere writing your game. And then you have the company-wide playtests, or you bring in the mock reviewer, or you even go into Friends and Family Alpha, and you suddenly realize your story sucks. Often, it isn’t actually the story itself, but the execution that’s the problem. You have great ideas, but don’t know how to write dialog, so every character sounds the same and there’s lots of “As you know Bob, phase crystals work like this…” instead of fun story. And that’s when narrative designers get hired. Frequently on temporary contract, and primarily as firefighters. We get to fix the story, but we’re left with legacy stuff that no longer makes sense and we have to make it work.

The Price of Writing, My Broken Myths, and Jay

jay at the beachI’ve had writers block for seven years. What I consider writers block. I realize others have different definitions. But. Largely, the joy had gone out of it. Writing was like pulling teeth. I was still good enough at it to make a living, but… My relationship with my writing had become adversarial. And I figured out why a few months ago.

Writing = Death

Oh, it doesn’t, really. It’s not a logical belief. And, when I go back and examine the events that lead me to this belief, I can even see that it doesn’t make sense. But. My internal mythology is that Carolyn’s death is what gave me my writing.

The first play I wrote was about Carolyn. It got produced. It won me awards. And all the plays that followed after–they got me the scholarship that let me go to Scripps. Hell, my career as a video game writer came out of my playwriting.

But the myth was that the price of my writing was Carolyn’s life. That I never would have written otherwise. Which isn’t true. And I can go back and look at my writing from before then. It mostly sucks, but what do you expect from an 11 year old? The play I wrote about Carolyn, yes, that may well have been my first *good* writing. Because I cared. Because I bled on the page. For the first time I was writing about something gut wrenching and emotional.

But you know what question I used to ask myself? If I would give up my writing to have her back. Because kids ask themselves stupid questions like that. Because they assume it’s their fault.

At first the answer was yes, but as time went on it began to change. And I was ashamed that I didn’t know. The more my writing became central to my life, the more ashamed I felt. And two decades after her death… there was a day when I finally realized that no, I wouldn’t give it up. I was no longer capable of giving it up…. and I stopped writing.

I never gave up on writing. I just stopped being able to do it. Self defense. If me writing means people I love dying, well. It isn’t logical. No one person has that kind of effect on the world around them. But logic has little to do with fear.

I went on a writing retreat years ago with Jay and his then girlfriend, Shannon. I remember an evening talking with them about my block. And Jay telling me it was a matter of getting out of my own way. I was holding onto something, and he didn’t know what, but it was keeping me from writing. I just had to figure out what it was and let it go. And I remember, also, that night crying while they lay on either side of me, holding me.

10383767_10100267848221944_2772895858771528119_oThe last few weeks, I asked myself that stupid, awful question again as Jay was dying. Would I give up my writing if it meant keeping him alive? Yes.

But he died anyway.

I think he would take a certain satisfaction in knowing he’d been right all along, that I was holding onto something and getting in my own way. And I think he’d  be delighted he’d helped demolish that myth of mine. But, oh, I wish he hadn’t.

 

Rape Culture Doesn’t Have to Be

I would like to share a story from my college days. Relevant to the recent discussions of rape culture. (This shouldn’t be particularly triggery).

I’m hanging out with a group of friends at West Dorm, across the street from mine. It’s an engineering school, and the ratio is something like 4/1 male to female. So, the group is primarily male. I’m the only female in the room at this point. I think I’m also the youngest person present (I’m a sophomore, they’re all seniors). There has been drinking. Not me, because I haven’t been feeling great and I don’t really drink much anyway.

A few dorms away, there’s a party. Loud music. Lots of cheap booze. Some of the folks leaving the party will have to pass by West on their way home for the night. A guy and girl start arguing outside. It gets loud. It sounds like neither one is fully sober. It starts to get alarming. And you know what the guys I’m hanging out with do? These 22 year old guys who have been drinking and are not sober themselves, who live in a dorm that is known for partying hard and being crass? They go outside and SHUT THE GUY DOWN.

No violence. They tell him his behavior isn’t cool. They ask the girl if she’s okay and if she’d like an escort back to her dorm. She says yes and two of them walk her home. That’s all it takes. Just telling the guy it’s not cool. Walking a girl six blocks to make sure she gets home safe.

Those guys, the ones I was hanging out with? They got it. They spoke up when other guys behaved inappropriately toward women. They ostracized guys they knew to be sexual predators and backed up their female friends. They made sure to escort female friends they considered at risk. Hell, they did it for a total stranger. Even when drunk themselves.

I never felt at risk or unsafe with those guys. It sucks that their intervention, their protection, was necessary. But it was awesome that they did it and it was so intrinsic to who they were. Which is why, even though I haven’t seen or talked to most of them in ages, I still love them.

We don’t have to be trapped by rape culture. Those calls to action, asking men to speak up when they see other men harassing women? Those are completely on the money. It works.

 


 

Here are some excellent commentaries:

A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture

Why Men Don’t See the Harassment Women Experience

http://www.marshall.edu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/

 

Thoughts on Depression

I tend not to post when I’m depressed. Not because I’m trying to isolate myself–I’m not.

Perhaps it is a symptom of the depression, or perhaps it’s just pragmatism. I figure it’s not interesting unless you’re directly effected by it. My boyfriend? Sure, he wants to know what I’m thinking because it matters to our life together. My mom? Of course. ‘Cause she’s my mom. The handful of friends I talk to on a near daily basis? Yes. My therapist? Well, duh. Aside from that, I don’t normally feel the need to tell people.

There was an interaction that happened over and over again when I was at Fogcon. Some friend I hadn’t seen in a while would start pressing me to come hang out. Meet their kids, meet their new SO, see their new place…  Really pressing. Not in an unkind way. But very emphatic. And I was trying to politely decline, and it just wasn’t working so finally I simply said, “I’ve been depressed lately. I don’t have the bandwidth.”

At which point, the other person would immediately back off. Most were incredibly solicitous and tried to talk with me about my depression and where it was coming from. And I appreciated that, though I didn’t really want to talk about it. And this pattern happened over and over again. Which made me wonder why we think it’s okay to attempt to press people into social interaction. Why is that the default? Why do we suddenly respect a boundary *only* when someone reveals an illness?

I felt like I was doing something wrong in telling people I was depressed. I did it anyway, because I also am in a phase of forcing myself to be blunt, to counteract my usual people-pleasing, conflict-avoiding ways (I’ve been in this phase for two years, and man, it’s hard but worth it). I’m thinking most depressed folks wouldn’t be able to say it. So they’d continue getting socially pressured. And continue feeling trapped. And have no escape. And then be even less willing to go out and interact with groups of people. Thus reinforcing isolation.

I’m lucky. My community is one where people make an effort to understand depression, or social anxiety, or introversion. Also one that doesn’t tend to stigmatize these things. Many communities aren’t. At least people backed off with me once I told them I was depressed. I can’t imagine the nightmare of dealing with people who don’t get it and won’t back off.

 

Name Our Indie Game Studio

So, Cormac and I are doing a start-up (which I will tell you all about at some future date) and we are trying to come up with a studio name. Please vote in the poll.

Here are some of our favoritest options:

 

 

For context, we’re working on a very character interaction focused RPG (interacting with crew member, building relationships/reputation). If you come up with a new name–and we use it–we will totally Tuckerize you.