Sunday, January 11, 2015

Movie Buff: A Spoileriffic Review of Into the Woods

First: it's no Through the Woods, the horror-based graphic novel by Emily Carroll. Though both works use travelling in woods as metaphor, it's to rather different ends, and, frankly, Carroll does it better. Rather, it's the musical turned movie. In case you're unfamiliar with the plot, its essential idea is that it takes four strands of fairy tales and puts them in a blender. There's the baker and his wife, who are trying to break a witch's curse by collecting a cloak red as blood, hair yellow as corn, cow white as milk, and shoe gold uh, gold; a girl going to grandmother's house; a boy Jack trying to sell his best friend, the cow; Rapunzel of corn-yellow hair, and Cinderella, who probably doesn't need further explanation. They all get in each other's way, and, long story short, the survivors work together to fend off a giant woman. As you do.

Two of the music numbers in particular stuck with me, not because of the music really (honestly, all of the songs were kind of forgettable), but because of what they said about fairy tales. The first was sung by Prince Charming and his brother, where they try to one up each other with tales of love-lorn woe: respectively, that one keeps fleeing the ball at night, and one is stuck up in a tower where the only means of access is her hair. And it's hilarious. One rips his shirt open in a fit of passion; the other does too, because, well, you can't be upstaged when you're singing to no one in the middle of the woods. It's a song that perfectly captures the campiness of the project, the gentle mocking of the whole idea of Prince Charming.

Likewise, my other favorite also skewers the idea of fairy tale. Near the end, the aforementioned survivors are quarreling over whose fault the giant woman's assault is, and eventually they turn their accusations to the witch. She takes all of five seconds of that before launching into her own song, then being swallowed up by the earth, the gist of the song being, "Fuck all y'all, everyone has life tough, I'm outs." First: the witch is played by Meryl Streep, so already it's a recipe for being awesome. You'd have to actually work at making Maryl Streep bad in something. Second: I like the point of the song, which is that, yes, if you need fairy tales, if you need good and evil, then you do need someone to blame, but life isn't as simple as that. Also, fuck all you guys, like any of you are any better. Which, really, is something we all feel, isn't it?

It kind of lost me in the second act, which is unfortunate, because it's where things are supposedly getting interesting. The second act is where the happy ending of the fairy tale gets deconstructed; instead of everyone's happily ever after, the giant's wife shows up, and people start dying at an alarming rate. Now, that's a premise that's got potential, especially if you want to point out that rather than living in a fairy tale, it's better to have your "moment in the woods" and go back to the rest of your life. But it felt like the film was going in too many directions--pathos for the multiple deaths and resulting despair, some farce in the baker's wife having a fling with Prince Charming ("I'm in the wrong story!"), and somehow wrangle an actual happy ending. But it didn't really work for me. Take Cinderella and the Prince's parting--their final words post-break-up are "I'll always remember the girl I chased after" and "I'll always remember the prince from afar." It's played as this bittersweet moment, but really, it's terrible--they are basically saying to each other "I really wish you turned out to be the imaginary version of you I had in my head, and getting to know you made things worse." Now, that's a great sentiment in a farcical send-up for fairy tales. And a good character beat for a realistic relationship. But it's played straight, and... eh.

Or take the Prince's fling with baker's wife. Ok, it kind of sets the idea that she gets a bit starstruck by royalty. And that, for whatever reason, the woods really do it for her. But she's one of the more grounded characters in the story, and before this point, her main arc has been getting her husband to realize they need to work together for a child. The seduction happens a little too instantly, in the face of all that. But again, the subsequent part where she realizes that she was glad the moment happened, but prefers her own life--good, mature relationship beat, good farcical bit. But then she's immediately killed by the giant woman after coming to this conclusion, so it comes across that the story is punishing her for sexual violation. Which is kind of a mixed message.

Or take the giant woman. Now, even by the original story standards, she's pretty justified in coming down and being angry; Jack stole from her and murdered her husband after she welcomed her into his home (less justified: the mass destruction towards people who had nothing to do with her plight). So the struggle against her is less good versus evil and more "well, whatever we few remainders need to do to stay alive." The song to commemorate the fight "Not Alone" kind of gets at that, when it discusses how there's no good or bad, just sides, but at the same time, it's pitched as kind of a rallying lullabye--I think I would have preferred something more darker, and Pyrrhic.

I didn't mind what the film was trying to do. Taking shots at fairy tales and exploring the woods as a sort of Bhaktinian carnival (you can't spell carnival without the letters for carnal!) are both good things. But I like my characters a bit more developed, or my farces with a bit more of a knowing wink. So while the actors are great and the concept is fine, it didn't come together for me.

Or to put it differently: singing numbers that aren't as catchy as I'd like them. Emotional beats that lacked the development needed to pull them off. Radical shifts in tone. It's a modern musical, all right.

(Final thought: Even though the metaphor is more apt, the sexual awakening subtext for Little Red Riding Hood does get a little creepy when the part is played by a 13 year old/)
Later Days.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Devil Off My Back: How I Stopped Competing in Marvel Puzzle Quest

There were a few of demands on my time the last semester, mostly ill-advised, self-imposed ones. First and foremost, I sank an ungodly amount of time into my new course, on forms of fantasy. I can't really regret the time I spent on it, though, as it was by far the most I've enjoyed researching or teaching in ages. It's really the first time I've been teaching a course where both my students and I were interested in the material; I really hope I can channel that interest into future projects.

Speaking of future projects, there's the dissertation (which is really an ongoing project. This segue is not the best). It's been progressing, though rather slowly--I found some vital research I needed on a journal  that's only in French, which has meant slow going. And there's the aforementioned course I was teaching--I tallied up all the notes I took for the fantasy course, and it wound up being 200 pages.That length is about 4/5 of a dissertation right there. Again, I'm hoping to do better next term, but since I'll be teaching two courses--Introduction to Rhetoric and Forms of Science-Fiction--that's going to take some focus on my part.

Luckily, I just had some of my distractions removed from me. Remember my glowing reports of Marvel Puzzle Quest, the freemium, superhero version of Candy Crush? Well, I finally have that devil off my back. Or, to be more accurate, the devil climbed off my back, told me it was time to see other people, and walked away, whistling a jaunty tune. But it's the end result that matters, right?

What happened involves another facet of Marvel Puzzle Quest I don't think I've described much until now. A player of MPQ competes against special battles or other players' rosters; either way, she accumulates points, and moves up and down the ranks depending on how many points everyone else in her bracket has as well. And at the end of a set period of time, rewards are handed out based on ranking. There's an individual tally of points, but there's also a group tally--you can join an group, or an "alliance," and then the points a player accumulates go to her individual tally, but also her alliance tally, and one can get additional rewards based on the alliance tally as well.

What players can do for each other is limited; there's a chat function, and there's the option to send your characters out to help someone else. But mostly, the only purpose of the alliance is to work together towards that alliance tally reward. As such, anyone who isn't scoring high on the individual level and seems to be latching on in order to get the alliance reward is seen as deadweight. (You can probably see where this is going already.) And a cycle of top tier and lower tier players develops in the game overall--the best players and alliances win a bracket and get the best rewards, which allows them to perform better in the next competition. The losers don't get worse, but they don't get to improve either. The gap can be met somewhat through a willingness to spend real money on the game for better characters, but mostly that willingness exacerbates the gap rather than closes it, as it's the top tier players who seem most willing to shell out money to stay in their positions. There's two things (probably more, but two that occur to me right now) that can change this dynamic: the developers slowing down on the characters they release or doing something to increase the likelihood of drawing good characters for low level players, and the players' chief resource, time, becoming scarce. Both are unlikely; it's the top tier players who tend to invest the most time (understandably, since they get the most reward and motivation) and it's also the top tier players who, as I learned, pay the most cash.

And this is where I came in, or rather, fell out. I was doing fairly well on the player versus player side of things, but that was largely because I was taking advantage of my open schedule to select brackets with very unfavorable end times. (Play until my bracket ends at 4 am? It... seemed like a good idea at the time? Well, it kind of did.) And thus, I maximized my own time potential. But I did *not* have time to play through the player versus environment matches multiple times a day, especially given that my characters aren't really developed enough for it. As my individual rank dropped below my alliance's rank, the writing was on the wall. The real eye-opener moment was when someone asked in chat how much everyone involved has paid for the game. I have never spent a cent on Marvel Puzzle Quest; while you can pay to advance faster, or at least for the chance to advance faster, I stuck to my slow, plodding way. My teammates, however, were not so restrained. The *minimum* amount they spent was $150. It was fairly clear at that point that we had very different notions on what we wanted to get out of this game.

So this morning, one of the alliance's leaders kicked me out. There was no warning, no "time to shape up or you're dropped"--just a notification that I'm no longer aligned with anyone. I can't blame them for it; I can't even look up who they replaced me with, since I don't remember the name of the alliance to begin with, which suggests my commitment was never really that firm, despite the time I was sinking into playing.

I haven't looked for a new alliance, but I haven't deleted the app either. I think I'll keep playing the game--it's a good filler for when watching junky TV--but at the same time, I think I'm going to fall back from the competitive side of it. It's an investment I'm not willing to make financially, and shouldn't have been making in terms of time. I'll probably miss it, but if you can look at your time in a game and say after that it should have been spent elsewhere, you're probably right.It was an interesting experience; I've always said that my personality precludes any serious investment in MMO-type games, but through the magic of MPQ, I've inadvertently gotten at least a small taste of the competitiveness and serious time commitment involved in multiplayer affairs. I have to say, I prefer games with clear, unambiguous endings much better--I need that "stopping point."

MPQ has also taken down some of the barriers in my mind about the difference between casual and hardcore players. I know intellectually they're terms that have no reality behind them, but MPQ really blows them away. At its core, it's a "casual" game--a match three tile based on Bejeweled. But because of the competitive aspects added to monetize it, it is also a game requiring a very, very high level of commitment in order to excel.

The numbers my former fellow players reported spending on it are interesting too. Popular industry wisdom and consumer reports claim that most freemium titles are supported by "whales"--that is, 0.15% of all freemium players account for over 50% of its revenue. So you have many players, but only a few who pay enough to keep the lights on (it's similar to the porn industry that way). My teammates belie that number, paying enough to be significant, but not enough to land in the whale category. Now, one anecdotal result doesn't contradict a million sample size survey. But it's fun to speculate. Does MPQ attract a different audience through its focus on superheroes and competition? Did I wind up in an atypically large spending group? Is the 0.15% number wrong?

I don't know. Can't know, really. But I appreciate the opportunity to watch things unfold from the sidelines, instead of in prime freemium seats.

Later Days.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Origin Story

Last survivor of a dying people
tragic death of loved ones
sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them
science experiment gone wrong
two brothers, one strong in mind, one strong in body, compete for the affections of a distant father
different from birth, trauma reveals a teenager's latent talents
accused of a crime she didn't commit
a mission to right a tragic wrong
in the wrong hands
hunted by the mob
great power
secret government program creates what it can't control
a family legacy inspires
arcane magic rituals awaken what once slumbered
older mentor figure guides youth to a fate he did not choose
many are called
few are chosen
two college roommates, both geniuses, one beloved and revered, one alienated and alienating, neither used to equals, are drawn to each other, then drawn apart
small time criminal stumbles upon magical artifact
yearns for greatness
in a world gone wrong, one figure rises
built then abandoned by creator
arrogant materialistic man has moment of epiphany and swears to
great responsibility
betrayed by the people they had sworn to protect
separated at birth, she discovers her secret heritage
dying alien bestows last gift
invention leads creator to unusual acts
lost and far from home
a being more than human swears to make the world better
a being more than human swears to make the world in their image

Later Days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Good Folk at DiGRA

So Gamergate is two months old or so now. If that term doesn't mean anything to you, you're probably better off; if you're really curious, The last I checked, Rational Wiki had a version of events that I endorse, and the site I'm a part of, First Person Scholar, has run some pieces on it that I endorse 100%. Personally, I haven't been directly involved with many self-identified Gamergaters like some of my friends and colleagues because--go figure--they aren't really that interested in seeking out male academics, for the most part.

One of the branches of Gamergate that has struck closer to home, however, is one that's decided to take on DiGRA--that's the Digital Games Research Association, whose mission statement is almost ridiculous innocuous: "It encourages high-quality research on games, and promotes collaboration and dissemination of work by its members."  What DiGRA did to get into the crossfires is immensely frustrating--at a roundtable panel during the last annual meeting, its members advocated encouraging developers to devote more attention to gender and diversity. That's it. That's the smoking gun. The transcript for the talk was published, and you can probably find it online, albeit perhaps not in its original form. For that, everyone at the talk was accused of being part of a radical feminist, communist(!) agenda to taint game development, and thus could be subject to any sort of accusation a gamergater could muster.

To the gamergaters who claim this is still about ethics in videogame journalism--well, maybe it is for you. But don't believe that it is that way for everyone else in your group. There are some who believe that the purpose of gamergate is to strike back at a feminism they find frightening, and as long as you permit them in your group, they're going to keep pursuing that goal in your name.

That, though, isn't what I want to talk about. Instead, let's talk about rhetoric. One of the rhetorical strategies of the gamergaters who are attacking DiGRA--calling, alternatively, for all the members of its board associated with the talk to be forced down, or for DiGRA itself to be "razed to the ground"--is to declare that these female academics(and yes, as far I can tell, anyone attacking DiGRA is attacking just women in DiGRA) as outsiders, forcing feminism on videogames they know nothing about. What I want to talk about, frankly, is what a load of shit that is. I don't know most of the people on DiGRA personally. But I do know they are excellent scholars, and I'm proud to work in a discipline that has them in it. So here's some of my favorite scholarship by female academics who are, or have been, a part of DiGRA.

If anyone wants to be taken off this list, let me know. I'm not listing anything that's not available online, but I absolutely understand if, under current conditions, some would prefer not to have a spotlight on them. Most of the links will require either a credit card or a university account to access, which admittedly, isn't ideal, given the price of academic journals. If only someone was advocating for a reconsideration of how academic publishing works...

Mia Consalvo. I don't think I can overstate the influence Consalvo has had on me as a game scholar. Her work in her book Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames introduced me to the concept of paratext, and gaming capital, both of which have been paramount in my own research. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that dissertation chapter on the paratext of the instruction manual wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the inspiration of her example. Now, that book alone is enough to make her a game scholar MVP as far as I'm concerned, But I also want to highlight her work in co-editing the book Sports Videogames (with Mitgutssch and Stein), which is the first collection of essays on a genre of videogames that typically get very short shrift from scholars despite their popularity; her study of game culture via the walkthroughs written for Zelda 64 (a paper from 2003--not many game scholars can claim such a wide set of activity)' and yes, her work on gender in game culture ("Dwarf acts like a lady: The importance of gender roles in understanding gender switching and player behavior" = best paper title ever?).

Now, Consalvo is the one whose work I'm most familiar with. If there's any comparative brevity in the descriptions of the others, it's because of my failings, not theirs.

Shira Chess. Chess, too, has done some work on gender in games--for another candidate for best title, there's "Youthful White Male Industry Seeks ' Fun'-Loving Middle-Aged Women for Video Games," in Steiner, Carter, and McLaughlin's The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender.  Her piece "Playing the bad guy: Grand Theft Auto in the Panopoticon" in Garrelts' Digital Gameplay: essays on the Nexus of Game of Game and Gamer is an older piece (2005), but all the more noteable for that--it's the earliest piece I can think of for academic articles that consider "playing bad" (like breaking bad, but with more reloading) in videogames. And for my personal interests, I'm looking forward to checking out her piece on the subject position of women players in the Ravenhearst trilogy of gothic videogames when I get a chance.

T. L. Taylor. Taylor's best known--and rightfully so--for her work on e-sports. Raising The Stakes is a must-read for any scholar who wants to become familiar with the field. She also co-wrote Ethnography and Virtual Worlds with Boellstorff, Nardi and Pearce (and, hopefully, a review of it will be up on FPS some time soon). I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of sociological approaches to games in general, but I think if there's a right way to do it, it's the ethnographic approach that emphasizes working with an existing community. And this is a great introductory volume on how to do it right. They're both excellent works on player culture.

Florence Chee.  A large subset of Chee's work is on South Korean game culture; my knowledge of this field is absolutely minimal, but given South Korea's significance  in global gaming cultures, it's worth knowing. One example of her work in this area is, with Jin and Kim, "Transformative mobile game culture: Sociocultural analysis of Korean mobile gaming in the era of smartphones." As someone who has spent entirely too much time on Marvel Puzzle Quest--I swear, the alliances in this so-called "casual" game have taken their notes straight from WoW raiding parties--I  can attest how gaming culture can go mobile.

Ashley Brown. I've had the privilege of working with Brown personally. Well, personally via the digital; she wrote a piece for FPS on her research into erotic role play in games. Videogames have a tendency to be, well, a tease--a lot of them exaggerate physical sexuality, but any further desires need to be negotiated by the players. Brown's doing good work to consider how that unfolds. She's also got a chapter in the upcoming Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection by Enevold and MacCallum-Stewart, and you can bet that's on my pre-order list.

Tanya Kryzwinska. Kzyzwinksa is another scholar who's been extremely influential on my own work. Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders: Video Games in the 21st Century, written with Geoff King, was one of the first full-length books of game studies I ever read, and a lot of it--especially the chapter on realism, spectacle, and sensation--has sunk in deep. Likewise, the anthology she edited with Barry Atkins, Videogame/Player/Text, was extremely important to me just by virtue of it being a collection of people studying videogames and players from a background that reminded me, as an English major, of my own--Atkins' essay on Prince of Persia and Bittanti's on SimCity I remember as being particular stand-outs. More recently, and speaking again of sex, her essay "The Strange Case of the Misappearance of Sex in Videogames" is my go-to on the subject. And just two weeks ago, I was editing my own essay on the gothic in videogames that referred to her recent "Digital Games and the American Gothic: Investigating Gothic Game Grammar," in which she looks at Alan Wake and the Secret World MMO.

I could go on for ages, but I'll limit myself to one more:
Esther MacCallum-Stewart. MacCullum-Stewart (in retrospect, I should have limited my last to someone whose name was faster to type) is, as mentioned earlier, the editor for the upcoming essay on play and affection in games. She also (alongside Krywinska and Justin Parsler) co-edited a book of essays on the Lord of the Rings Online called Ringbearers, which, thanks to the existence of a grad course offered at UW I've never actually taken, I've read cover to cover. (I'm particularly fond of Frans Mäyrä's essay on art-evil in the collection). And while I sadly can only find the slides for the talk online, judging purely by title and visual aid, I can only imagine how great it would have been to hear her talk "Sex, Love, Dwarves, Bacon" (best title candidate the third? The Best titles probably have "dwarf" in them, is what we're learning.).

This is work that has made game studies better. And I'm glad to be part of a group that includes these people as members.

Cheating. Gothic Games. E-sports. The Panopticon. South Korea. Virtual Ethnography. Sex. Gender. The research here spans a very wide gamut. This is NOT the output of narrow-minded people blindly pursuing a single agenda without any heed to facts or argument. For that, I think, you'd have to look for a different group entirely.

Later Days.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movie Buff: A Spoileriffic Review of Happy Go Lucky

Happy Go Lucky. Years from now, when I've forgotten everything else about Happy Go Lucky, I'm still going to remember That Scene. The rest of the show--the flamenco lessons, the sister, the boy from the abusive home, even  Poppy herself--might fade, but That Scene's going to stick with me. The plot, such as it is, is that Polly (Sally Hawkins) is thirty year old school teacher who is, basically, impossibly cheerful. She rarely does anything for more than a few seconds without bursting into a mild guffaw. It's initially very irritating and that irritation never quite goes away, but I found myself developing some affection for her as well. (Although my eyes rolled pretty heavily at the scene where she hurts her back jumping on a trampoline, which she did weekly, because she is just that damn whimsical. If she wasn't the lead of the film, she'd be the lead's manic pixie girl.) It's a good thing she's a primary school teacher, because her temperament is ideally suited for sugar-infested six year olds.

The most accurate description of the film is probably a slice of life thing; it's not a plot moving to a conclusion, but a series of vaguely related vignettes that take place at this point in Poppy's life. But while there isn't a conclusion that's built to, there's certainly a climax. And that comes courtesy of Scott (Eddie Marsan), Poppy's driver instructor. Where Poppy is a free spirit almost incapable of paying attention for more than three seconds--she defends her choice to take her eyes off the road to look at a passing squirrel--Scott is rigid, insisting on a rule for every occasion. In a different movie, they'd be the romantic odd couple who slowly come to appreciate each other. Here, she's not interested, and when Scott makes an inquiry to her living arrangement, she laughingly tells him she's a lesbian. Gradually, it becomes evident that Scott's rules are there for a reason--Scott needs them to keep himself under control, because underneath them, he is a very angry man. He's angry that his pupils don't give him the respect he deserves. He's angry that US government is enacting a conspiracy to draw out Satan. He's angry that the immigrants are ruining Britain. Mostly, he's just angry.

That anger bubbles to a froth when he arrives at Poppy's, and sees her saying goodbye to her new boyfriend. His instructions become increasingly angry, and when Poppy insists he's in no state to drive, he explodes at her, swears at her, grabs her, insists that it's her fault, that she's lead him on, that she acts all friendly and nice and all the time, she's laughing at him with her boyfriend and her girlfriend and her other friends and she's just a stupid fucking--Poppy calms him down only by threatening to call the police. Even then, he doesn't seem to understand how far he's gone and asks if they'll meet the same time next week. "No, Scott," says Poppy.

It's a masterful performance from Marsan. The sheer bile that spews from his mouth is one of the most powerful things I've seen in a while. And maybe it's hit me so hard because... and this isn't an easy thing to cop to... I've been in Scott's shoes. Not the hateful, vitriolic attack, but the part that comes before, the moment when you realize that someone you're attracted to doesn't feel the same way, that they've actually turned you down in multiple ways that you've fooled yourself into ignoring. And then there's the other moment--that moment when you're plunged into a deep sense of embarrassment, where that embarrassment threatens to turn into resentment. I feel bad; it's your fault I feel this way. It's lashing out, it's ugly, it's unfair--it's misogynist. And it's a pretty damn small step from look at how you make me feel to look at what you made me do. If you can blame someone for your negative feelings, you can rationalize blaming them for your negative actions too. The trick is to take that embarrassment, learn from it, own up to it, and pull yourself away from bad patterns. Life's disappointing sometimes, and it's unfair sometimes; don't heap your disappointments on someone else.

And of course, it's most unfair for women. This is what misogyny culture is--the entitled lashing out, the expectation that your feelings are the woman's faults. Poppy had to lie about her sexual orientation to get Scott to back off, initially--and yes, she treats it as a joke, because she treats everything as a joke, but she still had to do it."I have a boyfriend." "I'm gay." These are the lies women have to tell to ward off unwanted attention.And I don't think they can be blamed for not just saying "I'm not interested"; Scott's hate-filled speech is what comes out AFTER learning she has a boyfriend--imagine how he  could have responded if he thought she just didn't like him. If a film has a lesson, it's that Poppy, in response to her friends and to Scott, does question her happy go lucky nature, and makes happiness her deliberate choice instead of just her unconscious one--especially if Scott's example is the alternative. It ends the film on a positive note, but it's not that ending that's going to linger with me.

I was pointed to this movie from an online persona who goes by the handle of Movie Hulk; he recommended it after a long post (it's here--although I really wasn't kidding about the length) about the problems with the Gamergate movement. If you've been following, the parallels are obvious enough (and, in retrospect, clarifies his argument a bit for me). "The feminists are making us feel bad." "The journalists are colluding against us." "We'll never stop fighting you." Even if, magically, any trace of misogyny could be removed from the argument, it would be a movement characterized by anger. And for a long time now, any time I see something that involves responding with anger against a villainized Other--especially if that Other is a woman--what's going to come to mind is Scott, spewing hatred at Poppy for just trying to be.

Later Days.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Year of Villain Songs

 I've been engaged in a project, of sorts, for the past year. I was looking at a list of top "villain songs"--broadly defined as songs sung by or about a story's villain--and thought to myself, I could do better than that. And so I did. Every day, for 365 days, I've been posting one villain song, and a link to a video of it on Facebook. (I'm sure any subsequent drops in my friends is purely coincidental.) And, for the last half or so, I tweeted the links as well. For posterity's sake, I thought I'd post the list here. A few provisos:

1) This is a numbered list--to make sure I've got all 365 songs--but not an ordered list, because, frankly, finding 365 villain songs was enough work without creating some master rubric to evaluate them all. I burned through a lot of my favorite at the beginning when I wasn't sure how many I'd be doing. Beyond that, I tried to pick "special" ones for momentous numbers, generally at multiples of 25.  And the last ten or so are the best from my remaining pile.

2) Some of them have links, and some of them do not. This is largely because--see 1), making the list was enough work. They're mostly findable through a google search, if you're curious.

3) This list is not quite the order they were originally presented. I didn't keep great records of the whole list until I was fifty or so songs in, so that order's messed up a bit, and I'd do things like count 124 twice, and not notice till much later, then skip ahead accordingly. But it's close to the original order. Pardon the errors; I've marked the ones I've noticed. 

4) Favorite songs are marked with favorite.

5) There was a rather large number of songs that didn't make the 365 cut. For the most part, it's because I'm less familiar with them. If you've got something that you think should be added to the overall list, by all means, let me know and I'll put it in the extras.

Here we go, then.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Nature Talk

Every day, around mid-afternoon, the gulls in Waterloo nest on top of the mall northeast of my house.

Every day, around dusk, they leave there, and head due south to a small factory, and swoop around it for a few hours before settling down for the night.

Add to that the crows, who travel to a forested area just south of campus at dawn and dusk and caw so loudly and in such numbers that it sounds like you're standing outside a half dozen racquetball courts. (Seriously, the caws sound like the echoes the balls make when they bounce off the walls.)

Add to that the geese, who have lost their fear of people a long time ago, and belligerently walk all over campus, staring down the cars that get in their way.

Add to that the ducks, who are much more timid than their avian counterparts, and try to fit into the hole the geese have made, only to be run off by the geese at every turn.

Add to that the single swan in Victoria Park, the only bird that the geese give wide berth.

Add to that the sparrows, chickadees, and other small birds that try their best to eke out a living where they can.

And all the other animals: the groundhogs on campus, the ubiquitous squirrels, the cats constantly patrolling their territories against trespassing from--well, other cats, mostly.

And the plants too--the trees, the bushes, the ivy creeping along the walls. Even--ick--nature's mooch, the grass.

It struck me today how all these living creatures are around us all the time, whose lives we can endanger pretty easily but can't do a lot to retaliate in return. And rather than reveling in the power that gives us, I think we need to appreciate the responsibility that puts on us. I'm teaching Tolkien's The Hobbit this term--more on that some other time--and one of the theories around Tolkien's work is that he promoted the idea of stewardship with regards to the environment, that people have the moral responsibility to act like we're looking after the land and need to keep it safe to pass on to the next steward, rather than look at it as if we're the absolute monarchs. The idea is still a little too "dominion over the earth" for my tastes. It suggests that we're at the top of the structure rather than a part of it, as if the environment isn't something we need to worry about. I much rather like the idea some sci-fi pundits have suggested, that we're the planet's janitors. We should do our best to keep things running, and doing that well is worth more respect than we usually afford it.

Anyway, the point at hand is less environmental responsibility and more--be humble. There's worlds going on around us that don't see us as the center of existence. They're not hostile to us--rather, they don't care one way or the other about us at all. We're a tangential part of their system, and they're just cawing to the world, or nestling in on a convenient roof or just trying to get by.

Later Days.