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The Baroness's articles
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The Accidental Podcaster: Dead Pigeons
Mar 2nd
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.
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AP: Half-Truisms
Jan 26th
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:
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The Accidental Podcaster: Nice Guys Finish Last
Jan 19th
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---.
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The Accidental Podcaster: The Best Laid Plans
Jan 11th
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.
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The Accidental Podcaster: Resolutions
Jan 5th
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.
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AP: It's Time (The Year In Review)
Dec 29th 2016
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.
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The Accidental Podcaster: The Ghosts of Christmas Presents
Dec 24th 2016
One of my favorite authors ever is the American short story writer William Sydney Porter, better known by his nom de plume of O. Henry. Even if you haven't read his work, you've almost certainly seen some adaptation of one of his most famous stories, The Gift of the Magi. The story is simple. A young wife, Della, crushed that she has practically nothing with which to buy her beloved husband Jim a Christmas gift, decides to sell her greatest treasure-her long, beautiful hair-in order to buy a chain worthy of his prized pocket watch. She makes this sacrifice gladly in her excitement to present something special to the one person she loves most. When presented with the gift and a newly shorn wife, however, Jim is dumbstruck; he's sold his watch to buy a set of long-coveted hair combs to adorn the now-missing tresses of his beloved wife. Were they foolish? Perhaps. But what resonates about the story isn't about the gifts themselves. Both selflessly sacrificed their greatest treasures in the pursuit of making the other happy, illustrating the point of the season: to give selflessly and do what you can in the pursuit of bringing joy to those you love.
I've been thinking about this story a lot the past few days. As is usual for this time of year, my little subterranean office looks like an elf snuck in and exploded Christmas everywhere. Every surface is covered with candies, cookies, and craft parts; every corner heaped with rolls of paper and piles of packages, some incoming, most outgoing. Sorting bins and multiple dry erase boards of battle plans help soothe my harried brain, as does the fact that the last of the Christmas boxes (both directions) are finally on their way. Two weeks of writer's block, three inboxes of temporarily ignored email, and a stack of unfinished editing drafts, however, do not. Nor do deadlines that loom and pass unfulfilled while the to-do list seems to grow at an exponential rate. As I gaze about the carefully controlled chaos, I wonder again, as I do every year, why I don't take the easy way out. Screw the stress, gift cards for all. Be done with travel plans forever. Buy some holiday cookies from the bakery, and to hell with the tree. There are moments I can very much relate to the Grinch's sentiments at the beginning of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The whole season is a lot of work, on top of the lot of work I normally undertake. It's a lot of stress. It's a lot of noise. I completely understand why so many people get overwhelmed and depressed this time of year. And I hate feeling that way.
But at the same time, I can't picture a life without some form of a Christmas season. Despite the bitching by some about the secularization of the holiday, I like that it's evolved to become a festival of sorts that everyone I know - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, that one guy from college who practices Buddhism - celebrates in some way. There's something to be said for coming together collectively during the darkest days of the year to spread lights, shut down normal production for a week or two, gather together where you can and ship packages of joy to those you can't be with in the flesh - physical reminders of the place they hold in your heart.
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The Accidental Podcaster: A Christmas Mystery
Dec 8th 2016
It is Christmas morning, 1989, and my sister and I are beside ourselves with glee. Santa came last night. We had heard the sleigh bells jingling long after our parents had tucked us into bed, faintly at first, then progressively louder as it seemed to get near. I could remember whispering excitedly as it got ever closer, it had to be just outside the house now, reaching for the curtain to peek, and...
Our eyes popped open at the same time, blue pools staring back at each other in wonder. It was morning now. Seestor's honey-framed face looked as surprised as I felt to find us tucked neatly under the Huggabunch comforter and the Strawberry Shortcake bedspread, warm and snug. Had it been a dream? We race, very quietly, to the landing of the staircase. We've already been warned that we aren't allowed to go downstairs until after the baby is awake, but nothing was mentioned about not creeping down a few steps to have a look. We carefully but expertly hang off the bannister as far down as we dare. The tree lights aren't turned on but sure enough, we spot piles upon piles of presents heaped about in the dim light of the morning dawn. I have to grab Seestor's hand to stop her from barrelling down the rest of the stairs in excitement.
It was real!
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The Accidental Podcaster: Chapters
Nov 30th 2016
I don't remember a time when I didn't write stories. Somewhere tucked away in the attic of my grandmother's house is a plastic bin filled with crumbling sheets of cheap drawing paper, bound with either yarn ties or staples set so perfectly straight that you'd swear there was a ruler involved. Some were stories about talking animals, others about mad scientists or princesses with swords (my princesses saved themselves, thank you very much). Whatever topic occupied my grade-school-aged mind usually ended up in a very limited print run on my grandmother's kitchen table, sometimes autographed so that when I won my Pulitzer in the decades to come, she would be able to say her copies were worth more. I wrote and illustrated, made covers and bindings, carefully drew my own publishing imprints in each one (Rainbow Press, after my teddy bear and one constant companion). And in what would become a theme in my life, I generally chronicled scenes and anecdotes the way I wanted them to be more than how they might actually have been.
As I got older, I became increasingly selective about the people with whom I would share my stories. After a few unfortunate incidents, I took to writing and leaving out decoy notebooks of fake projects; one of my more ambitious projects was a faked diary with fictitious teenager problems and more than a few fake teenagers, "hidden" in a fairly obvious spot to take the attention away from where the real one was stashed. Trust had to be earned before one was permitted to enter my writing universe; even my numerous online blogs would last only a year or so for a specific readership, and when those relationships changed, so did the host where I'd secretly start a new blog with new readers and new intent. I can honestly say I have more ex-blogs than I have ex-boyfriends, which should tell you something about me.
The last of these blogs, The Fourth Castle, started as a place for me to hone my skills for a public audience again after I got pissed off one night by a snarky email from an indy publisher and decided things needed to change.
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The Accidental Podcaster: Blessings
Nov 23rd 2016
As I type this, I'm curled up in the reading chair in my office, surrounded by three walls papered in post-it notes for story bits and RCM to-do's. Baron's joyous tones are booming through the house as he battles through the Darkest Dungeon; in my headset, Killer and Varyar are waging a battle of their own. In the room next to mine, a fourteen-pound turkey is thawing in my utility sink for Thursday's dinner; its 21-pound big brother is already in my kitchen fridge, waiting to be roasted in the morning. Provisions are laid in for the next several days so I don't have to deal with stupid people. I have a little bit of cleaning to do in preparation for hosting the Thanksgiving celebration, but most of my time this week is split between catching up on some RCM odds and ends and catching up on my reading (I've already finished two books and am about to end a third). Oh, and by the time this posts Wednesday morning, we'll be just a few hours off of the autumn Steam sale - an excellent bit of timing, considering earlier this evening the web ninja and I finished the pre-sequel for Borderlands and are ready for something new.1
In short, life is good.
It wasn't always this way. Thanksgivings of my childhood rarely ended with the warm and fuzzy Norman Rockwell images of chubby children curled up lovingly with their equally chubby dogs in front of a fire, Father puffing at a pipe over his newspaper while Mother in her Donna Reed-esque getup finished putting the dishes away. Our Thanksgivings of yore, like most holidays I had between the ages of eight and nineteen, were mainly spent waiting anxiously for our mother to get home from her shift at the nursing home (she almost always worked holidays for the extra pay), trying to make things nice in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, her deadbeat husband would be in a better mood by the time she returned. It wasn't likely, but hey, holidays are the time for goodness and miracles, right? We had to believe that not all holiday spirits came in a cheap brown bottle.