Watching TV With My Sister 150 Miles Away

I’ve been watching Steven Universe with my younger sister over the last few months. For the most part, it has been a few episodes at a time becasue she’s even busier than I am, but since July, when we went on a group vacation with one of our siblings and a couple of our friends, our watch sessions have grown less frequent but longer in length. After all, the first few months of watching were all of the light-hearted early days of the show. After our trip, we’d moved into the emotionally complex and somewhat difficult portion of the show, where the bad stuff starts to pile up and Steven goes from being a happy-go-lucky young kid to the responsible, serious leader of the Crystal Gems. We have another session coming up (a couple days before this posts) where we’re going to finish Season 5 so that, on her birthday, my sister and I can watch the movie and then Steven Universe Future in one go. I’m even driving out of the state to visit her so we can watch in person with our sibling and maybe some of my sister’s friends.

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Working Out, Body Image, and Aching Muscles, Oh My!

After a couple weeks of trying to take it easy on myself (and potentially against my best interests since I’ve at least got a cold if not mild COVID), I’ve gone back to doing my full workout every morning. It’s not an intense routine, focused as it is on daily rides on my exercise bike, a bunch of bodyweight exercises meant to work out all my muscles just a bit, and a plethora of stretches mean to loosen all the muscles I used and help counteract some of the effects of getting older or spending all day sitting or standing at my desk. It’s more of a “be healthy” workout than a “get ripped” workout. I don’t particularly want to be ripped since none of my work these days calls for a high degree of strength and I don’t particularly like feeling big and bulky. If anything, these workouts are hopefully going to make me feel less bulky as I lose weight. Once my muscle mass has stabilized, anyway.

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Years of Pandemic Precautions Vs. One Coughing Doctor

I have made it through two and a half years of this pandemic without catching COVID-19. It is entirely possible I was asymptomatic at some point, but I’ve tested every time I’ve had a potential exposure to the virus or any of the symptoms and come back negative every time. So far as I can tell, I’ve managed to avoid getting sick through a combination of good masking habits, having the privilege to work from home as needed, and keeping my exposure to the public at large to a bare minimum. Now, as I spend a week working from home that was supposed to be in the office, coughing and sniffling my days away, I find myself struggling to accept that I might have gotten it from a doctor I saw earlier this week.

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Digital Impermanence

I’ve always been a little suspicious of digital ownership and things that exist only online. Even back in the early days of buying CDs on iTunes and being forced to log in to my account if I wanted to listen to them on my computer, I was always a compulsive downloader and hard copy producer. After all, you could get around the limits of iTunes if you burned a CD and then ripped the songs off the CD using a different service than iTunes. Made it a lot easier to transfer music from the family PC (which was the only PC connected to the internet in my family’s house for a very long time) to my personal laptop (which wasn’t allowed to connect to the internet and didn’t even have wi-fi capability since I bought it with my saved-up babysitting money when I was 13). It’s not like I was giving the music to anyone or sharing it with people. I just wanted to get the Scrubs Soundtrack: Volume 2 from the family PC to my laptop so I could listen to while I wrote stuff or played Age of Empires II.

Since then, I’ve felt more and more justified in my mistrust of digital ownership as the primary vehicle for a lot of modern media. The internet is full of stories of people losing access to their digital libraries, either through unrecoverable music service accounts, closed amazon prime accounts, the ever-present specter of death coming to claim an old online game’s final servers, or the more recent sudden deletion of media as a new aspect of the usual corporate grift by a company working its way through consolidation. Not to mention the bevy of single-player games that had an always-online portion to them which now can’t be played because that online component is no longer supported by the developer. Plus the weird sites I can’t find anymore that let you digitally own movies before every single major network or movie studio decided to create their own streaming platform, while they were still resisting digital ownership on iTunes and Amazon. You know, the websites you used to go when you wanted to redeem the digital copy coupons that came in the big DVD/Blu-ray combo pack for major film releases.

A pretty frustrating picture begins to appear once you toss in all the other egregious examples of digital rights abuse like a huge number of NFTs, digital art theft (I’m looking at you, “AI” image production algorithms and those bots that scrape social media sites to create and sell unlicensed t-shirts), and plain old copyright infringement. The legal system just isn’t really for digital rights management and the existing systems are an enormous mess of one-off decisions that have somehow managed to shape the industry. It’s a huge, complex web of rights, legal systems, and capitalistic abuse that I’m certainly not going to be able to solve here. Hell, I can barely even comprehensively complain about it without needing to do some research to ensure my complaints are at least factually correct.

The one corner I feel the most qualified to discuss, given my own experiences, is the video game side of things. For example, I’ve been struggling lately with playing Splatoon 3. The game keeps disconnecting my switch from the internet despite my efforts to remove any barriers that could explain this weak connection on my end, to the degree that I’ve begun to get temporarily banned from online play when it happens. What’s most frustrating is that there’s very little of the game that I can enjoy on my own without using the internet. The primary focus of the game is the online matches and whatever system is in place to connect people might wind up preventing me from connecting at all. This isn’t the first game I’ve had this level of trouble with, or even the most egregious offender (though it does have an immediacy that is frustrating because it is otherwise an amazing game). I’ve had days of being unable to play Destiny 2, lost access to an Assassin’s Creed game, and own a whole pile of unplayable digital titles that I can only get access to if I spend money on moderately old Nintendo systems (my Wii’s network card just doesn’t work anymore).

It’s a frustrating problem, to own something and be unable to enjoy it. A problem that’s becoming more and more common with every passing year, as old consoles die, leaving game discs to gather dust in the corner since any attempt to maintain access to that game other than though official channels (which frequently means paying again) is treated as piracy. I’m not entirely unsympathetic to getting developers paid. Despite production costs skyrocketing (which is it’s own entire week of blog posts), game prices haven’t changed, making them more and more reliant on DLC, in-game purchases, or high sales volumes to make up the cost. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to pay more for a game than we do, and I don’t really mind paying yearly for updates to games like Destiny 2. After all, that’s a whole year’s worth of new content for another sixty or one hundred bucks or whatever. It’s pretty easy to justify paying that much when you consider that people pay ten to twenty dollars for a two to three hour movie. I get way more out of a video game that I’d get out of three or four movies (or two movies if you buy snacks).

Anyway, this went pretty far from my original point of digital ownership being the primary means of owning media these days. What really started this whole thing was the idea that anything we do on the internet, any digital media, would be available indefinitely. All of that is contingent on platforms being maintained and I think we all know that the current environment means that companies will start tossing shit aside the instant it becomes more profitable to do that than to maintain the platforms they’re running. I’ll be genuinely surprised if there’s anything but personal data downloads left of twitter by 2050. I wouldn’t be surprised it if was all gone by the year 2030, too. I know I sound old-fashioned and like a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but try to make sure you’ve got local copies of all your digital media, that you have the tools required to shift it from one form to another, and that you’re prepared to lose access to things you’ve been told would last forever because they’re digital. People said the same thing about books once and look at what happened to the Library of Alexandria. Nothing lasts forever.

The Changing Season Through My Window

After what felt like a lifetime, summer has ended. Fall is here in all its bright, colorful glory. The trees have begun to change from the pale, warm, or emerald greens of summer to the various browns, scarlet reds, muted yellows, and eye-catching oranges of Fall. It is a slow process, where I live, striking seemingly at random rather than in the calm orderly manner the trees displayed when coming to life in the spring. Different trees of the same type begin to change in their own time, content to merely overlap instead of coordinate. Spots of red appear at random and the giant green tree outside my window has four parallel streaks of orange in it, like Fall somehow passed by and rent the summer from its boughs with massive claws. Already the parking lot fills with fallen leaves and the summer heat fades into the haphazard warmth and chill of the changing season. It has been barely four months since the trees finally tore free from winter’s grasp and I find myself wondering if that is part of the reason so many branches stayed bare this year.

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My Ideal Day

I’ve finally returned to thinking about the future again, after my month (or so) of chaos and stress. I’m not at the point of making any plans yet, since I’m still letting myself finish recovering from all that stress, but I have begun to imagine how different scenarios might play out. It’s the same sort of exercise that you do whenever you talk about a dream house, an ideal occupation, or a fantastical life. There is little focus on the specifics or the likelihood of that dream coming to fruition as you instead just spend the time imagining what would be the most fun or pleasant way for things to be. Dream houses have secret tunnels, hidden doors, hedge mazes, and oddities like towers or lighthouses or live-in garden hermits. Dream occupations hopefully focus on things you find fulfilling rather than the odd power fantasies I always hear from people who’ve bought in to capitalism. Fantastical lives are either incredibly vague things when they’re “realistic,” especially these days when an ideal life is stuff like “not sad all the time” or “I don’t have to worry about money while living modestly” and so on, or they’re hyper specific as you imagine yourself living in the fantasy or sci-fi or alternate world of your choosing. Instead of focusing on any of those, though, I’ve been imaging what my ideal day would be.

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My Latest Lunchtime Video Occupation

Recently, during my lunch breaks at work or when I need to put on something in the background while I’m working at my computer, I’ve been watching a lot of Drawfee on YouTube. For those unfamiliar, it’s a funny show of varying length, usually about half an hour, where two or more artist participate in a drawing challenge, sometimes as they record themselves talking through it with the other present hosts (they have a stable of four regular hosts these days, with occasional guests or missing hosts) or as they talk over a sped-up video of them drawing something in the past. The format of the video tends to vary based on the specifics of the challenge, and there are enough different styles of video that I don’t think I’ve watched them all even after about a month or two of lunches spent watching these videos mostly selected at random. Despite the lack of dependable form, it is a pretty safe bet that you’re going to enjoy just about every video that might pop up from their channel.

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Grief and Personal Revisionist History

The Queen died today (the day I wrote this, I mean). As a US citizen and a person with a great deal of disdain for the parasitic ruling class of wealth, nobility, and power, I’ll admit I’ve never had much concern for the UK’s royal family. I’m pretty sure I’m breaking some kind of rule about ways to refer to monarchs who have passed away in the transitional state between one ruler and the next, but I’d be lying if I said I cared enough to actually look it up. All I know is I started to recognize patterns in the ways that people were writing about the event on Twitter before I got tired of how EVERYONE was talking about it and found a new comic to read instead of doing my usual Twitter scrolling (Vattu, by Evan Dahm). Which I found because someone shared an image from said comic of a character saying “it’s a tragedy for an emperor even to exist.” If that doesn’t just about capture my feelings on the matter, then I don’t know if anything ever will.

Originally, I planned to never even mention this event on my blog. I don’t really care about the royal family outside of the abstract annoyance I feel about any news item that takes over the entirety of the internet for longer than an hour (there’s already YouTube videos about it, of course), so why would I waste my time on it? I almost deleted the whole post so I could write about my identity or how much I’m dreading the end of Spiritfarer because it’s everything I’ve thought it would be, but while I was looking up the exact text of the quote above, I found another tweet, this one from an account I follow because of her frank discussions about the difficulty of growing up and trying to heal from an abusive family and the grief involved therein: “You don’t have to pretend someone was kind or good because they died. Everybody dies.”

Since my grandfather passed away, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grief, loss, and the way those things can warp our view of the past. Or perhaps the way we deliberately misrepresent the past in order to justify the grief and loss we feel. I’m still not sure which it is and I strongly suspect that the true answer is that it’s a bit of both for pretty much everyone. When he passed, my mother’s family spent a lot of time waxing poetic about my grandfather, sharing funny stories, and looking at old photos (which is when I had the uncomfortable realization that my older brother is the spitting image of my grandfather when he was younger). It was a difficult event, in part because of the emotion involved and my (to put it INCREDIBLY FLIPPANTLY) difficult relationship with that side of my family, but also because I could see my mother, aunts, and uncles leaving out parts of stories that cast my grandfather in a less than positive light.

Now, the way my mother and her siblings tell it, my grandfather was a jokester and a mischief maker who was well-liked by the people who knew him. He could supposedly talk his way into or out of just about anything. However, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about generational trauma and who has learned to recognize the signs of trauma in other people via the details they leave out of the stories they tell about themselves, the past, and the people who hurt them, I think the truth was more complicated. As it almost always is. I think that my grandfather was not always the kind, accepting, friendly person I knew. I think there’s a reason he used to threaten to slap people upside the head or that my mother and her siblings never tell any stories that involved them getting into actual trouble. He changed, I suspect, as he grew older, but that doesn’t absolve him of what he did in the past. I think that if he had acted to address the generational abuse he perpetuated, my mother might have been able to do so as well, rather than resist the notion that she has anything to apologize for.

As I reflect on how little I know about the life my grandfather lived and the way that people are reacting to the death of the queen–waxing poetic, noting the harm she, her family, and the UK have done to the world, or just avoiding the topic entirely–I find myself wondering if we’re ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with grief. Will we (collectively, I mean) ever be able to mourn a person’s passing and the grief that engenders without trying to paint over all the harm they might have caused? I think there are probably a lot of people who have had a genuine emotional reaction to the passing of the queen, and I don’t mean the people obsessed with celebrities who personally feel the loss of a public figure. I mean people whose lives were touched in a positive way by a public figure through a small interaction or even act of kindness. Not even to mention her family, some of whom may have had a troubled relationship with her but who probably still care about her. I think we could make space for those people to grieve without needing to ignore all the harm the royal family has caused to so many people around the world.

I’ll admit that the idea works a lot better when you’re talking about someone whose impacted was primarily felt within a family or family-adjacent social unit rather than all over the world. I think a lot of people are justified in their anger and resentment at the way that the queen is getting all of this attention despite the literal and direct harm done to the world, their country, or even their lives directly by the queen in her time as the (figure)head of the UK. But then again, this post was never really about her. She was just a convenient focal point for my reflections about loss and grief and this was really me trying to grapple with the flawed person my grandfather was, the flawed people my parents are, and how I’m striving to end the cycle that hurt all of us, so much as I can by myself, anyway.

I mourned my grandfather’s passing even as I recognized that he wasn’t always the person I knew. I will mourn my parents when they pass, if I’m around to see it, even if they are still the people I know they are right now. I will speak honestly of them, just as I do my best to speak honestly of my grandfather and as I hope people will speak of me when I’m gone. The passing of a person is a chance to grapple with the full weight of their life and it would be a foolish disservice to everyone who was impacted by them to do anything less. I just hope the world eventually gets on board with this idea. It would be a lot more healthy for everyone if they did.

Domestic Labor And Taking Care of Yourself

The first time I was tasked with preparing a meal for the rest of my family, I was nine. My parents had made the choice that they were going to homeschool all (at the time) four of their children and we started when I was preparing to make the transition from kindergarten to first grade. When I turned nine right around the start of our school year, my (at the time) youngest sibling was finally of an age that she needed to begin initial education, the sibling between us was just starting first grade, I was in third grade, my elder brother was in fifth grade, and my mother was just beginning to realize that she wasn’t capable of doing all of the housekeeping, schooling, and childrearing while my father was at work. Given that she had a number of children, she did what anyone else would do and continued the process she’d started years prior of offloading responsibility for some of that work to her children. Unlike most families of a similar size, the work wasn’t given to the eldest child or evenly distributed between children according to their abilities, but almost all of it was given to the most responsible child. Me.

Which isn’t to say none of my siblings did anything around the house. We all had a scattering of weekly and daily chores we did, meted out by our mother via a chore chart she put on the fridge every week, ostensibly in exchange for our allowance. Things like setting the table, wiping the table after dinner, loading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, picking up a specific room, and so on. Simple chores, easy enough for any child tall enough to reach the sink or use a broom, that were shared between us via the chore chart for my entire time living with my parents. Still, it was not difficult to notice that I was the only child tasked with preparing lunch for the entire family.

Since my mother had realized I woke up at five every morning (even then I never slept much more than eight hours at a time) when she found me breaking our family’s video game time rules so I could enjoy Donkey Kong 64 without interference from my brother or younger siblings, she’d started waking up at that time as well and giving me my daily school lessons. I’d be done by the time my other siblings woke up for breakfast and then finished with my assignments by eleven, so she also assigned me the task of preparing lunch for everyone. This way, she could get an extra thirty minutes of lesson time in before the day was interrupted by lunch. And to keep me busy, of course. Idle hands are the devil’s plaything, after all, as I’d proven by trying to enjoy some time to myself in the mornings.

After a couple months of successful lunch preparation, including branching out into various warmed and easily cooked foods instead of the usual coldcuts and leftovers we’d enjoyed prior to my assignment as school cook (which is an editorialization on my part, since my parents never framed this or anything else I’m about to mention as anything other than normal “helping around the house” type work), I began a short period of cooking lessons. Which were, of course, framed as helping my mother prepare dinner. And eventually clean up from dinner. When it was clear that I could handle a few basic meals, easy baking tasks, and knew what it meant to properly wash the dishes, suddenly I found the chore chart expanded to include a few new entries. I had the daily chore of making lunch and, one or two times a week, making dinner. There were also a new series of chores sorted by age categories that meant my brother and I were now sharing more after-dinner kitchen clean up tasks with our parents.

What I noticed as a result of this process was that my brother never aged into chores. I did and then he was added in at the same time, despite enjoying two years of not needing to do that chore before we began to share it. The only exception was mowing the lawn, but that’s a bit of a special case because it was a weird masculinity thing in my house since my father, who is the biological source of my grass allergy, always mowed the lawn even though my mother was perfectly capable of doing so herself and not allergic like my father and I. So we both started doing lawn care the week we turned thirteen, which was notable because it was the only time my brother did a chore before I started doing it. At that point in time, it was more surprising to see him tasked with something before I was than to find myself being taught how to do a “good job” according to my parents sensibilities so that I could make up for the poor job my older brother would be doing when it was his turn to do the chore in question.

This was one of the many aspects of my childhood that I took note of but never really felt any which way about. Part of that was just me attempting to survive my childhood, but part of it was me lacking any other context. For instance, despite the firm gender roles and assignments handed down by my parents, we never had any concept of “women’s work” because my mother frequently tasked me with cooking, cleaning, sewing (admittedly mostly limited to my own clothing and stuffed animal repair needs), and cargiving chores. It wasn’t until I was in college (and had stopped thinking of my parents’ house as my “home”) that I realized that the idea of “women’s work” wasn’t just a cartoonish pasitche of regressive villainy. Finally coming into contact with lives that were undeniably different from my own was what it took to cease the unquestioning acceptance of my lived experience as fairly normal for my ethnicity and socio-economic station.

Eventually though, after this awakening and the many examples of other ways of living I found once I knew to look for them (some of which were helped along by the supportive, patient, and wonderful professors in my many cross-listed English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies classes), I tried to figure out how I felt about this. It wasn’t until my senior year when I wrote about Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room that I took my first really step forward in figuring out how I felt about that sort of domestic labor distribution beyond the basic “this is clearly not fair” feelings I’d harbored all along. The first of two major papers I wrote for that class took a close look at the way that the value placed on domestic labor and how it was shared between people living together could be read as a metaphor for the equality and inclusivity of everyone involved. Reading back over that paper now, it is clear to see the feelings I couldn’t quite pin down or even properly put to words in my therapy sessions burbling beneath the surface. About my place in my parents’ household, about the roles assigned to me, and about my own (at the time) supressed identity and sense of self.

As I wrote the above paragraphs, I was standing next to the remnants of my dinner. A container showing the red stains of tomato-based pasta sauce as the only evidence it had been packed to the brim with leftover ravioli and tortellini smothered in a sauce I’ve known how to prepare for more than two-thirds of my thirty-one years. The first of five such containers that still graced my refrigerator this morning because it wasn’t until after I’d prepared and mixed up everything that I realized I could have cooked for just myself. I could have prepared only part of the tortellini and ravioli. Or prepared just a part of one of the two types of pasta rather than part of both. Instead, I cooked for a group of people I haven’t had to take care of in thirteen of the twenty-two years since I first learned to prepare this particular recipe.

Only recently, as I reflect on my childhood while preparing any of the various dishes I’ve grown to love in portions meant to feed a family of seven, do I see these memorized recipes and ingrained cooking habits as signs of the unequal, abusive, and neglectful relationships that formed the core of my childhood home. Only now, as I reflect on my relationship with my parents, my own identity, and my sense of self, do I explicitly think of how the way that I was tasked with domestic and emotional labor shaped me in ways that I’m just beginning to understand.

I feel like I should feel the need to console myself as I wrap up this blog post. Like I should need to prove to myself and whoever is reading this that I am capable of taking care of myself in a way that isn’t accidentally or incidentally included in taking care of other people. After all, it’s not every day that I realize just how bad I am at taking care of myself in a way that radically alters my thinking. The thing is, I’m not uncomfortable with that idea. Like I’ve said, I think I always knew even if I never explicity realized what it meant. I think that finally being able to put all of this into words, to be able to realize what all of this represents as I stare each morning at leftovers I’m going to have to force myself to eat every day if i want to prevent them from going to waste, is a sign of progress. Maybe not a watershed moment, but definitely a step in the right direction. I think the first thing I’m going to do to prove this to myself is make a much smaller batch of sauce. Once I’m not sick of eating it every day, anyway.