It's 3 am once again. I am in a cabin on the side of a mountain, deep in the woods surrounding my hometown. It's one of those places so quiet that one is fully aware of every sound: the clicks and pings of the heaters, the loud hum of the fluorescent light in the kitchenette, the faint but ever present hum of trucks on the interstate a mile over the ridge. From down the hall comes the much louder but more sporadic snoring of my mother. An occasional jingle of dog tags warns me that I'm about to be dive-bombed by an alleged beagle-corgi mix who we're all fairly certain was the really the result of an illicit affair between the breeder's bitch and a neighborhood mutt. It's a very noisy quiet.
I murdered a pigeon the other morning. I didn't mean to. I was just driving along, minding my own business, listening to a Lou Bega song that had just come on the radio. Then all of a sudden I see this large, kinda bluish chunk of (I thought) debris getting kicked across two lanes of freeway. It landed on its feet, its clearly broken wing flapping awkwardly beside it as it madly hopped into my lane. For a split second, I caught the expression in its bird-eyes: the pain, the terror, the confusion as it tried to grasp what what happening. Then it was over. A horrific series of thunks starting on the inside of my front passenger wheel, bouncing the undercarriage, and finally kicking up and off the back wheel sent the ill-fated avian on a quick trip to whatever lies beyond this realm. The cloud of exploded feathers in my rearview mirror assured me that death was instantaneous, so at least it didn't suffer. And there was no way it could have been avoided - the poor thing was bounced from the opposing lanes first, already battered and injured, into an area it had no hope of rescue from and would have died slowly even if it had somehow managed to pull itself off the road. Probability said that the bird was slated to die of its grievous injuries; chance just decided that the vehicle would be mine.
"Mare Köiva reports many stories of human bloodsuckers. An old lady told Köiva, 'After the war there had been blood takers, blood-suckers in Tartu. They had been dark men, but they had also some Estonians in their company. A blonde girl danced with a young man at a party and started to try how her ring would fit on his finger. And finally she left it there. But later she phoned and asked him to bring her ring back. The boy went but did not come back. His family started to search for him and found him when half of his blood had been removed from his body and he had fainted. But he still survived'. Köiva also reported that when she was a schoolgirl, she and her friends were terrified by rumors that people were driving black cars (supposedly Russian Pobedas) round the country, kidnapping people and sucking their blood. The drained bodies were later thrown out and left by the roadside." -Mare Köiva, Estonia, 1950's (Bennett 189-190)3. We all know the image: a sharp toothed, pale monster, bending down to suck the blood from a helpless victim's neck. Less known, however, is the folk legends of black vans patrolling the countryside, looking for victims to steal blood from to sell on the black market. These legends, called "blood theft legends," are most popularly circulated in Eastern Europe, where they reflect the real circumstances of organ theft that are common there. Blood theft has a long and varied history throughout the urban legends of Eastern Europe, from religious monsters to vampires to blood-stealing legends that are popular today. But what is this history? And what can it tell us about society today? The earliest tales of blood-snatching come from anti-semitic sentiments; gory and persistent rumors of Jews murdering young Christian children for ritualistic purposes date all the way back to the Middle Ages1. Referred to as "Blood Libel legends", they paint Jews as cannibals that terrorize and consume their Christian neighbors. The idea that a sacrilegious figure on the fringe of society would drink the blood of an innocent child or established member of society manifested later in the development of the vampiric myth. According to folklorist Kathryn Morris2, "In late seventeenth century, strange stories began to emerge out of eastern Europe. They typically described some person who, having died under unusual circumstances, returned to terrorize his family and neighbors. These revenants would often suck the blood of their victims before returning to their graves. When exhumed, their bodies would be uncorrupted and their veins full."
As someone who seems to always be a part of too many fandoms, has too many interests, and not enough time to tend to them all, I find it interesting when some of these aspects find a way to connect to each other. Watching anime is one of my favorite pastimes and I am currently watching an anime series called Saki. The show follows a high school mahjong club as they prepare and compete to attend the national mahjong tournament1. After reaching a little over the halfway point of the first season, I concluded that it might be a good idea to get a sense of what is going on during the game. So, I began my research. The first important bit of information that I came across was that mahjong is not a super popular game outside of Asia; most people don't recognize that there is a difference between the solitaire games (like the one I played as a kid) and the real game of mahjong that is presented in the anime. Solitaire mahjong is a matching game, while mahjong is played with four people and is similar to gin rummy. Each player has thirteen tiles and the goal is to come up with as many pairs, runs, three of a kind, or four of a kind with the thirteen tiles that they have in conjunction with the fourteenth tile that they draw2. There are also three types of mahjong: Chinese, Japanese, and American. In all three varieties of mahjong, there are four players and the game begins by rolling dice to determine which wind each player will play. The player with the highest number sits as the East wind and will be the dealer, followed by the South, North, and West winds, and the game moves counter-clockwise. After this simple start to the game, the rules vary depending on the type of mahjong being played. In the Chinese3 and Japanese versions of the game, each player picks up and discards a tile each hand with the goal of obtaining a winning hand with all 14 tiles, however, Japanese4 mahjong also uses riichi sticks that are used for bets and scoring. The American version uses a card of standard hand, has more tiles, and includes joker tiles. The game also begins with the "charleston," which is the passing of three unwanted tiles from one player to another5. Each version of mahjong also has different point systems, which makes the game even more complicated.
VelvetDove has been a community member of RivalCastMedia almost right from the beginning, engaging with RCM chats and podcasts since the summer of 2015. The author of "Sims Saturday," creator of the new RCM video series Reality House, as well as a frequent guest on several streamed podcasts, VelvetDove is no stranger to publishing content and working with RCM. Recently, Velvet Dove responded to interview questions by one of RCM's interns, sharing more about her gaming and writing history. Let's get to know more about this longtime RCM member and beloved personality. Can you tell me a bit about your work with RivalCastMedia? With RCM, I have a weekly blog based on a long running Sims 3 game. I stream games on the weekend, with a costream with another RCM personality called "Chaos will Ensure," a solo stream of fighting games called "Girl Fight," and a co-stream on Sundays called "Sunday Morning Heroes." I have also started a youtube video series reality show, played in Sims 4 and modeled after "Big Brother."
So I am insanely excited about the fact I am two payments away from completely paying off my student loans. For a 30-something, this is an event tantamount to one's wedding day or the birth of one's child, except weddings and children are damned expensive and the eradication of loan debt means HOLY SHIT I WILL HAVE EXTRA CASH FOR A CHANGE. I imagine this joy is similar to what it must feel like to win the lottery. So what to do with this new fluidity of funds? Like most people who are moderately insane, I'm starting to give consideration to celebrating my newfound financial freedom by incurring even MORE educational debt by going back to grad school again. Partly because I want to thwart Killer's ritual call of "doctor" with "what?" ("That's DOCTOR She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed to YOU"), but mainly because I'm very interested in propaganda. As a subtle influence that seeps into every facet of life, it's interesting to see how propaganda both has and hasn't changed over time, exploring the science behind how it works and the artistry behind how to work it well, and looking historically at how propaganda influenced popular opinion to shift world events. I've often stated that more damage can be done with a well-placed paragraph than the contents of an entire military arsenal, and I hold that to be accurate - the study of propaganda techniques and application through the centuries shows how far reaching those tactics remain even generations later. Throughout the past few weeks, a quote from an old Doctor Who episode kept coming to mind:
Today is a day that should have been spent holed up in a blanket fort. So Dee made a Robot Me for his playthrough of Fallout the other day. It's pretty sweet. It has claw hands that look kind of like Lego people claws, but they also have a taser-like shock thing to them so RoboMe can zap people. This pleases me. He also gave it svelte robo-legs so that it can do robot dances, at one point I had a turtle helmet (I love turtles), and colored its metallic exoskeleton and armor green. Because BaronBot had nukes and could not be trusted1, I of course had to be given three times the nukes. Because it's a robot based on me, it immediately became an overachiever, refusing to leave Dee's side, pestering his character for assignments when Dee the player would get up for a few minutes to use the restroom, and announcing frequently to anything in earshot how it "requires no sleep" and "is ready to serve." There are times when I wish I were more like a robot, switching off emotions and operating solely on logic and programmed order. Not being depressed when something doesn't go according to plan. Not worrying about all the minutiae that goes along with navigating complex social constructs. If the GPS has a route plotted out and the driver makes an adjustment, the GPS doesn't freak out (usually), it just pauses a sec to recalculate and, if the driver is me, tells me to turn off the high point of a bridge (have I mentioned I hate my GPS?). If you load a schedule table into a program designed to give you the most efficient options based on which things a client needs, it's going to spit out what that most efficient option is without giving a crap about whether the client prefers a Monday or a Tuesday. It doesn't care that someone prefers manually sticking coins into a vending machine versus running a credit card. It's not going to be annoyed that some jacknugget pushed in front of it in line at Panera and took the last spinach feta souffle that the robot specifically went in for, or that said jacknugget then bitched incessantly at the Panera workers about said souffle the entire time the robot had to stand there waiting for their breakfast sandwich substitute. The robot would simply wait until the jacknugget made a threatening gesture toward the Panera worker, or until his voice reached a certain decibel level, then it would roll saunter over on its svelte robot dancing legs and raise its little Lego Claw of Death and it would incapacitate the jacknugget per its programming. Because like the honeybadger, RoboMe would not care. RoboMe would not give a f---.
So the decision was made a few weeks back to attempt to capture and domesticate a feral cat we've taken to calling Little Friend. Little Friend was one of a litter of kittens born under our back deck shortly after we moved into the house. While the others wandered off after they got big enough, Little Friend decided to stay, taking refuge first in a corner of the dilapidated shed at the back of our property. When the remainder of the roof finally caved in, she moved to a spot under our front hedge and, rapidly, a spot in our hearts. Warm summer evenings found her snoozing under the bushes while I lounged a few feet away, pounding at NecroLappy's keyboard (specifically, scenes about a grey and white faced tabby with a chunk taken out of her ear living in a certain web ninja's hedge). If she wasn't already waiting for us when we got home, she'd come running from between houses when she heard her name being called. When the weather got colder, a little house was built on the porch and reinforced. In other words, it was only a matter of time before attempts were made to move her from the cardboard and cloth house into the brick and siding one. A trap was set, and a sanctuary cordoned off. She steadfastly refused to play game, so before he headed out to meet his dad at the movies Scott thought some catnip might help move things along. In retrospect, we probably should have known something was up when not a half hour had gone by before a terrified grey and white face was stuck in the tiny metal cage. Even before we let the poor creature out in the sanctuary room, Scott was concerned it wasn't the right cat. Of course it was, I argued, it looks just like Little Friend. You're just panicky because you weren't expecting this so quickly. Go see your movie, I got this.
I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. That isn't the same as saying I don't believe in reflection and taking steps to better oneself; far from it. I'm just the type that does that sort of reflection throughout the year and then sets immediate timelines for working towards those goals, for until action is taken, those resolutions are nothing more than wishful thinking. More than that, New Year's resolutions in particular have a reputation for failure. Maybe it's the over-optimism of a clean calendar that makes us opt for vague or lofty goals - the "I wanna lose weight and get healthy" folks vs the "I'm gonna get up every day at 5 AM in the dead of winter when everyone else is hibernating and go do an hour of cardio at the gym around the corner three days a week" people. The ones who, a few days in, adapt that goal to "well, two days a week works" and then "Ah, I'll get there Friday for sure" and finally "But...but it's the WEEKEND!" Waah. There's a reason people in the sporting goods industry refer to March as the Parade of New Year's Failure. Every so often you hear of a rare success story, but this is usually someone who has a specific and attainable goal in mind. "I will set aside one hour every Sunday to chat with a friend I haven't seen in a while." "By the end of January, I will clear out the hall closet that has been jammed shut since 1997." "To start eating healthier, I am going to start packing my lunch the night before work so I'm not grabbing junk on the go." Things that are specific and attainable. Small steps that actually lead to change being made and progress toward a larger goal, rather than setting yourself up with a daunting task that seems easy after that third glass of champagne New Year's Eve but come a month later just turns into one more disappointment.
I think it's safe to say that 2016 didn't exactly turn out the way we expected. A year that started with such high hopes, 2016 held the promise of shaking things up, giving the blank slate to try for something better than the shit we were sick of living through. In the playlist's opening track, the last line before the final chorus strikes a particular chord: "So if you're pissed like me, bitches here's what you gotta do: put your middle fingers up in the air, go on and say fuck you." And a LOT of people did. In June, UK voters decided in a close referendum to leave the EU; in November, an American people fed up with the political establishment decided by an even closer margin to elect a real estate mogul with no public service or military experience under his belt as our 45th president. Time will tell if these decisions were made in haste, but one thing is for sure: the bubble of resentment that has been building for a very long time is finally hitting its boiling point, and now is the time we figure out what ideals can survive. But it wasn't just the political landscape that changed; 2016 seemed hellbent on simultaneously removing many of the icons who meant so much to so many. Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Elie Wiesel, Gene Wilder, Miss Cleo, Nancy Reagan, Leonard Cohen, Ron Glass, John Glenn, and what felt like an unusually high number of others all went on to whatever comes after this life. As this piece was being edited for press time, the most recent of these was the beloved Carrie Fisher. Her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars not only provided a smart, courageous, independent female role model for me growing up, but also modeled a strength and balance between duty and compassion that set a benchmark for conducting our lives. Leia was the kind of princess worth fighting for, and the lady who played her showed every bit as much fire as the character she portrayed, using her fame as an actress and a writer to advocate against mental health stigmas and get people the help they needed. She was very much our princess, and she will be missed.