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Another avian interlude August 1, 2017

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Owl pictures taken at a Harry Potter event at my local library, everything else taken in Niagara Falls, Ontario on 30 July 2017.

Some summer July 18, 2017

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A few pictures I’ve taken in the last month or so (I’m trying to get better about posting).

On ‘borrowing’ June 29, 2017

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I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural appropriation lately. It is a serious problem, I recognize that. But I also think that, unlike a number of so-called SJW crusades, arguments over it do go too far sometimes. Like a ‘get your picture taken in a period-style kimono’ exhibit at a Boston museum that was removed over too many complaints – despite members of the local Japanese-American community counter-protesting to keep it up.

I read a blog post a while back that resonated with me for a single line in it: straight people aren’t allowed to say what’s homophobic, men aren’t allowed to say what’s sexist, and white people aren’t allowed to say what’s racist. That made absolute sense to me. But would it also apply the other way? What does it say when white Americans rail against whitewashing more than the people supposedly being marginalized?

If I was married today, would I get complaints of cultural appropriation for my cheongsam-style wedding dress? (It was white. I obviously wasn’t trying to rip off a Chinese wedding.)

But again, it’s not up to me. Maybe I would’ve been in the wrong to wear that dress; maybe I was in the wrong. I wasn’t trying to disrespect or even emulate Chinese culture by wearing it. I just liked the style better than typical western wedding dresses and thought it more flattering on me.

I love learning about different cultures. I find it fascinating to see how people very different from me live their lives – their fashion, their food, their beliefs, their values, and on and on. And something I have come to learn is that it is immensely fun to both read and write about people very different from me.

That fact may come as a mild surprise to those who have read my novels, which (so far) don’t branch out very far from Tolkienesque 12th-century Britain-based fantasy or modern-day North America. But I want to. I wrote a novella last year starring a character from a nomadic society very loosely inspired by Romani, and I absolutely loved it. The part I’m currently writing for my next book features a number of different peoples all of which are very different from me. It’s been immense fun building these cultures and figuring out the characters’ roles in these societies.

However, I’m constantly wondering – will this be seen as disrespectful? Yes, these are completely fictional societies, and a lot of their development comes from natural progression based on location/climate/access to resources, but the fact is they’re not coming out of a vacuum. I find inspiration here and there from various cultures on our Earth, both because I find it interesting and because it suits these cultures and lends authenticity to them.

I’m not trying to make a medieval Mongolian or Mayan or Russian society in my novel; I start with pieces of one or several source cultures and work it into the world I’ve already developed. But all the same, I am borrowing from existing cultures, and is that problematic?

Today I was writing a scene in which a character reads the (magic) energy of the world. After some research I decided I liked the term prana for what she is sensing. But then I wondered – would people object to me using an Indian/Sanskrit term for a character whose society is more Pacific Islander influenced?

Am I splitting hairs, or is this a genuine concern I should be having? On the one hand, I absolutely agree that colonialism has resulted in appropriation that has undermined and demeaned other cultures through callous use of elements with deep sociological meaning to marginalized societies, and I should think carefully any time I “borrow” anything from another culture. On the other hand, where does it stop? Is it considered appropriation for me to cook a teriyaki stir fry dinner, or get henna on my wrist at a festival, or braid my daughter’s hair?

Earlier this year, the now-former editor of the Writers Union of Canada caused a lot of controversy when he recommended white authors incorporate more cultural appropriation into their writing, even as far as to suggest an “appropriation prize”. That comment was in extremely poor taste and emblematic of the issue… but I agree with the point he was trying to make. It’s boring and stifling to have white writers only write about white people. More to the point, writing is a way for us as humans to expand our minds and make sense of the human condition. In that regard, and especially considering white authors have such a stronger voice in current society, I would almost say it’s a duty of the white writer to step outside the box she lives in, as long as it’s done respectfully. We live in a multicultural society; is it not problematic to only write about your own race and culture? Good writing, writing that understands the world we live in, should either include or address multiculturalism.

But again, it’s not up to me. This is a highly complex issue, and one that’s unfortunately saturated with centuries of erasure and abuse.

Ultimately, I think the solution is to listen more to marginalized cultures on topics of cultural appropriation – both when it’s wrong, and when it’s not.

An avian interlude May 25, 2017

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Some pictures from Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, the southernmost part of mainland Canada. As is probably obvious, the place is known as a hot spot for migrating birds, and this Monday, 23rd May 2017, was at the tail end of the annual Festival of Birds.

For these pictures, I tried acting like a real photographer and shot in RAW format for the first time, including post-processing. Alas, my telephoto lens simply doesn’t take pictures as sharp as my other lenses, so despite the extra work, they don’t look quite as good as other unprocessed pictures I’ve taken (which would be nearly everything I post here). It was an interesting experiment and I did learn a few things as a result, however.

And to round it all off, here’s a couple panorama pictures I took with my phone. Naturally, these, particularly the first one, are shockingly sharp and high-res, especially considering the full-size images are 30% of the original size.

 

An entomological interlude May 1, 2017

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Pictures taken 23 April 2017 at the butterfly conservatory in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Music Monday: Hero of Time March 27, 2017

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hero-of-time-legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-album-coverI am very excited this week to feature an album that just launched last night, Hero of Time, a The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time arrangement album produced by Materia Collective.

When I first discovered the Kickstarter for Hero of Time last fall, I was thrilled at the idea of a fan-produced arrangement album of Ocarina of Time performed by a full orchestra, not to mention arranged with the help of some VGM musicians I recognized and liked. I was then immediately saddened to find that with maybe five days left, they still needed to raise something like $30,000 to reach their goal. I contributed my share because I wanted to show my support, but I never expected it to actually succeed.

Lo and behold, in the last few hours of the campaign, they reached their goal and my excitement mounted again, and I spent the next six months watching the updates on its progress and eagerly awaiting its release. Now, here we are, and while I am still waiting for my download code, I have listened to the full album on Bandcamp.

(it’s also available on iTunes and Spotify)

Hero of Time tells the story of Ocarina of Time in epic orchestral form. There are some original sections added, mainly for transitions or track openings, but for the most part, the original tracks from the game are arranged fairly true to form, but generally on a much grander scale, with varying tempos and the addition or encouragement of sweeping strings, booming brass, and huge orchestral hits. The story was condensed for the sake of the album, and some notable tracks from the game are absent, such as Zora’s Domain and Death Mountain, and Kakariko Village appears only as a minor key cello adagio as part of the homage to the Shadow Temple (though the rendition is haunting and beautiful).

What remains, though, paints a beautiful picture of the game’s story, transforming it into a musical journey that seriously sounds like a modern movie score. The original soundtrack for the game was melodic, delightful, and memorable, but not necessarily very emotional. In this rendition, however, Materia Collective did an amazing job bringing the mood of the tracks to life, highlighting the grandeur of Hyrule field and castle, the awe of uncovering the Master Sword, the horror and failure as Ganondorf uses that opening to take over the kingdom and plunge it into darkness, the mystery of Sheik, and more. And in the end, it’s a near straight rendition of the ending credits as performed by a full orchestra, immensely satisfying to someone who has happily listened to the original track in its 20-year-old synthesized splendour over and over again.

I can’t say enough good about how this album came out. In one listen, it has immediately jumped to my top 5 VGM albums of all time. If you played Ocarina of Time and/or enjoyed the soundtrack at all, buy this album. You will not be disappointed.

Music Monday: January indie releases February 6, 2017

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This January seemed to be a good month for indie VGM album releases, even with my limited exposure to news on that front. So for this week’s post, I thought I’d highlight a few of the new releases I came across.

Chaos Theatre by The Runaway Four

This Vancouver group touts itself as a medley band, which is more accurate than to say they’re arrangers. After the first track on this first studio recorded album of theirs, there isn’t a lot of original interpretation or expansion of the source tracks, and focuses on straight performances weaving together many songs into five mega-mixes. However, the combination of great instrumentation, solid performance, and smooth transitions between the source material makes for great, engrossing ear candy that both grabs and holds your attention and pays a very satisfying homage to the original tracks.

 

The Travelers (self-titled album)

When you have a collaboration of musicians from VGM cover bands such as Materia Collective, the Triforce Quartet, and Tetrimino, you can expect high quality results. The Travelers’ namesake album delivers on that promise with lush European folk arrangements of songs from various (mainly older) games, in many cases really showing the potential of these classic soundtracks. There are very occasional moments when songs become a little dull or repetitive, but overall, this album is very lovely. It’s also the only album in this list that isn’t free to download, but with professional-grade production quality and I don’t think a single synthesized instrument, the $7 price tag is a bargain.

 

Super Mario RPG: Window to the Stars

This latest album from VGM community and repository extraordinaire OverClocked ReMix will probably be a treat to fans of EDM and drum’n’bass (as well as Super Mario RPG), as those styles make up the bulk of the three-disc album. There’s a bit more distortion and chippy sounds, even from familiar names in the VGM community, than I tend to prefer, but some of it works for me, and there’s still a bit of variety. Joseph “XPRTNovice” Zieja, as always, does not fail to surprise with his contributions, including an arrangement that turns the bizarre, Quentin Tarantino-esque “And My Name’s Bukki (Booster)” into a haunting orchestral expansion worthy of any mindwarp movie trailer.

Let’s Talk January 25, 2017

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I suffer from anxiety.

That’s one of the first times I’ve said that out loud.

Why is that? I don’t think I will be ostracized or maligned for admitting it. I don’t think I’ll be treated like I’m diseased or insane. I won’t be locked up or force-fed medication that will erase my personality.

The people I know won’t tell me to suck it up, or that I’m faking it, or that I’m just trying to get attention. They won’t tell me to just get over it, or try to convince me that other people have it worse and I have no reason to complain. They won’t belittle me or try to cut me out of their lives.

I won’t be made to feel that I somehow failed as a person. I won’t be made to feel like getting over it is as easy as just thinking positive thoughts. I won’t be made to feel like this struggle is trivial or invalid. I won’t be made to feel like I’m not allowed to show it, or that showing it means I’m weak.

So why has just admitting it been so hard if I don’t have any of these struggles?

Because these things have happened, and that’s where the stigma of mental illness comes from. Even though I’ve never experienced such reactions, years—decades—of such responses have created an unconscious reflex to keep it to myself. People who cannot and will not understand what it’s like to live with mental illness have dictated how people who do will look at it, even to themselves.

So let’s put the dialogue in the command of people who actually suffer from it.

My name is Catherine Fitzsimmons and I suffer from anxiety. I can’t control it, it impacts my daily life, and I am not ashamed of it.

Music Monday: Happy Adventure, Delightful Adventure January 23, 2017

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A couple months ago, I made a post sharing some music on my ‘feel better’ playlist, closing out with the soundtrack of Secret of Mana. While Secret of Mana is a very effective stress reliever for me, that wasn’t the point of the post, and it wasn’t the soundtrack I meant to mention as part of it. The soundtrack I actually meant to include with that post was for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

 

The original Super Mario RPG was an adorable, hilarious, and incredibly fun game, and it had a soundtrack to match. The tunes are catchy and cute while still having good depth and suiting the game perfectly, and something about them always makes me smile when I come across a track, especially when listening to music on shuffle.

Even the track titles make me smile when I see them, with names such as “The Road is Full of Dangers”, “The Road is Still Full of Dangers”, “Hard Working Moles Are Good Moles”, and “Fight Against Smithie, Who Likes Transforming”.

It was not easy to find the soundtrack back in the early 2000s, and in fact I sold my Nintendo 64 to get the money for it when I did. I have never regretted that decision.

It’s an odd choice to be one of my favourite soundtracks, to be sure, but I couldn’t love this soundtrack more, and it never does fail to make me smile.

Mistakes January 21, 2017

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I have a problem with perfectionism. Not with other people’s work, just my own. It causes a lot of stress and impedes my work, and it impacts everything I do. Chopping vegetables. Parking the car. Doing my daughter’s hair. And, of course, it greatly impacts my creative endeavours.

So, in an effort to fight my perfectionism, I challenged myself this week to do some art entirely in pen – no underlying pencil sketch, thumbnailing, studies, or other preparatory work allowed. And in an additional effort to embrace those mistakes, I’m sharing what I drew this week just as it is, no image manipulation involved.

mew-2017

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