Painting bone

For several years, I’ve had a store-bought package of sand dollars among my art supplies with the intention of painting them. Last Sunday, I finally did so. Since they came from the sea, for my first painting, I thought it only fitting to portray an underwater scene. With a dragon, of course.

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For my second painting, I thought that I’ve watched so many videos of Bob Ross that I should finally try actually painting using his methods. More or less, anyway; I was using cheap acrylics rather than oils, and of course I had to throw a dragon in this one, too.

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May check-in: Falling off the wagon

The story of my writing in April can be pretty well summarized by the graphs of my progress:april-prog-1april-prog-2

Truth be told, I struggled a bit emotionally in April. As a result, I focused on self-care, which meant allowing myself to not write if I wasn’t feeling it or couldn’t get into the scene. I just didn’t have the mental spoons to beat myself up over my own goals.

So, I ended up with a large lull mid-month. And while I started off well enough increasing my daily goal to try to recover from it, I lost motivation at the end of the month and only ended up with 15,385 words of my goal of 20,000.

But I’m not worrying about it. I’ve adjusted my daily goals for May to try to make up for those last few thousand words I didn’t hit in April. It’s not a huge difference, so hopefully I’ll be able to manage it.

I didn’t do much else creative last month, either, particularly in the second half of it. Mainly, I’ll admit, because I’ve been playing video games. I received my preorders of Final Fantasy VII Remake and Trials of Mana, and the latter has been a great stress reliever in the past week.

I have also been continuing to play guitar. Not as consistently as I’d like, but I’ve played enough to now surpass where I got before I gave up last time, in both rhythm and lead guitar. In fact, I’m into it enough that I’m lamenting the brief instruction time on Yousician free and starting to consider a subscription to the app. (Of course, part of that may be that my tablet’s battery is too weak anymore to use for playing tabs I download.)

I’ve also maintained another good habit.

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(Six weeks ago I missed one day due to bringing home the kitten.)

I’ve been doing very little activity aside from 20-25 minutes on the elliptical every weekday, and unfortunately my body seems to be growing used to that. However, I’m glad to be keeping up this routine, and to anyone else struggling right now, I can’t stress this enough: get some exercise if physically able.

For May, I’m playing it by ear. The month is starting with gorgeous weather in southern Ontario and I’m actually trying to grow some vegetables. (This is a big deal; I finally gave up on trying to fight my lifelong brown thumb a few years ago.) But I may need to resort to more Trials of Mana and not just because I like the game. I’ve adjusted my writing goals, but I’m going in with no expectations. Lockdown is hitting me hard, despite that my life has received less disruption than many and I’m enjoying staying at home and having my family around me. Above all, I intend to continue being kind to myself. I hope those of you having a hard time out there feel the same way.

Flash fiction: On the Edge

Standing on the edge of the sea, I don’t know who I am anymore.

Everything blows away on the salty gusts, crashing into nothingness like the spray of waves. My job. My painting. My worries.

My name.

The water laps at my bare feet as the tide pushes inward. The sand beneath my heels sucks away as it retreats, as though to pull me back in.

I look down as the next wave washes over my skin. Beneath the water, I can see my toes narrowing into claws, the skin webbed between them.

Yearning rises like hunger. To feel the water wrap around me in its cool embrace. To dive past the sun streaming down from above. To kick my flippers and glide through the currents.

“Jossie!”

I start, realizing I had moved forward on the beach, calf-deep in the waves. Turning, I find Evan jogging over the dried grass at the top of the bank.

He smiles, tries to shrug it off as nothing, but I see the worry in his eyes as he plunges into the surf to embrace me, heedless of the water soaking his trousers and trainers. “Hey, babe. Dinner’s almost on.”

I smile as he guides me out of the water and back across the beach, and it’s not forced. It’s not like the stories. Evan didn’t need to steal my skin to keep me on land. He took my heart.

“Mummy!” cry Nathan and Kinley excitedly as Evan draws me back toward the beach house. The part of me that is Jocelyn aches with guilt as I embrace them. The nothingness of the sea was hypnotic, seductive. But to leave these two, and Evan? I weep at the thought.

They are not an anchor. Love is freedom.

But so is unfeeling.

Why I’m so excited for Trials of Mana

Hype for Final Fantasy VII Remake has reached maximum capacity, but I’m even more excited for another remake releasing this month: Trials of Mana.

Buckle up, kids, because I’ve got a lot to say about this.

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Seiken Densetsu 3 for the Super Famicom

First, a little background: the original Seiken Densetsu was released in North America as Final Fantasy Adventure for the original Game Boy. Seiken Densetsu 2 was released as the classic Secret of Mana for Super Nintendo. However, Seiken Densetsu 3, despite being an even bigger endeavour, never made it to North America, largely because it was released in Japan in 1995, the same year that the original Playstation came out. With the time it would have taken to translate the game, it wouldn’t have released in North America until after the next generation of systems were on the market, an effort Squaresoft and Nintendo of America understandably didn’t want to undertake. It simply didn’t come here, and the next Mana game North America received was Legend of Mana.

I had heard about Seiken Densetsu 3 for a few years after its release, but being not Japanese, I didn’t have any opportunity to play it. It wasn’t until around 2005 that I found a fan-translated ROM of the game.

I immediately fell in love. The characters were fascinating, the story was great, the soundtrack was beautiful, and the game play was incredibly fascinating. When you start a game, you are given a selection of six playable characters. You choose one to be your main character and two others as support characters. They are your party for the entire game. That means that the game plays out in six different ways depending on who you choose as your main character.

There are three major villains, so that three pairs of characters share the same final boss, though the main character’s own storyline still differs. The story overall plays out the same, but there are a lot of minor differences. Some characters forge relationships with each other that develop differently depending on whether you have one of them as lead and the other as support, if both are supporting, or if one isn’t on your team.

Furthermore, each character goes through two class changes during the game, which alter character abilities and fighting style. Both class changes offer a light and a dark option, meaning each character has four different variations of their final form.

I ended up playing the game to completion five times in the span of a few years, and I ordered in a CD soundtrack from Japan. Now, Seiken Densetsu 3 is being released in North America officially for the first time, completely remade in 3D using Unreal Engine, as Trials of Mana.

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New and improved art while keeping the charm and promise of the original. Good sign.

I was thrilled when I learned this, and doubly so when I discovered that—despite the recent release of Collection of Mana containing an official release of the original Super Famicom version of Seiken Densetsu 3 being exclusive to Nintendo Switch—it would be available for Playstation 4. I immediately placed a preorder for the game, and about a week and a half ago, I downloaded a pre-release demo and started playing it.

I’ve pretty much been squeeing constantly every time I play it. The upgrade is phenomenal. The graphics may not be quite up to the level of the FF7 remake, but they’re sharper than all the other games I’ve gotten for PS4 so far. The characters and world are brought beautifully to life. Especially after the disappointing remake of Secret of Mana of a couple years ago—which remained a top-down action RPG despite completely rendering it in 3D—Trials of Mana is fantastic. Even after having played the game so many times, the mere fact of seeing it and interacting with it in full 3D makes the world completely new to me. I don’t even recognize the scenery.

I chose Riesz as my main character, and so far, her voice acting is okay. Sufficient, if not perfectly natural. Other characters seem to come across a little more natural. Game play and battle have so far been fun and rewarding. The music; oh, the music is stunning. Every single track is an absolute delight to hear in such improved quality. The story so far seems to be a direct translation of the original game, without any rewriting or expanding on anything. (Assuming accuracy in that fan-translated ROM, anyway.)

My only real criticism so far is the camera. It remains fixed in the Z-position, so that I’m constantly moving it around to explore the world properly and see where I’m going when I turn. I haven’t yet found a way to make the camera follow me, but I hope it’s there.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, some minor concepts may come across a little dated. Nothing objectionable, just things like some character choices or the dancing shopkeeps that probably wouldn’t fly if the game was rewritten today. I will also admit that the preorder bonuses are… weak, to say the least. The only preorder bonus offered with the standard release is a small button you can adorn your character with in the game. The limited edition prerelease offered only through PSN includes the Rabite adornment as well as a set of PSN character avatars. I was sorely tempted by those, but I honestly don’t feel that’s worth an extra $10. While I don’t buy a game for preorder bonuses, I do enjoy them, and seeing the sorts of things offered with games like Final Fantasy VII Remake make me a little disappointed that there isn’t more with Trials of Mana.

Regardless, if you played and enjoyed Seiken Desetsu 3, you need to preorder and buy this game. If you never have, you’ll find an engaging story told by memorable characters at PS4 quality with a lot of replay value.

And as someone who’s been waiting for this game for fifteen years, I implore you: please go buy this game.

March dragons

We’ve all been coping with quarantine in different ways. Mine has been to draw brightly coloured dragons.

I’ve also been scanning them after inking to share as colouring pages. Feel free to print and colour them yourself, and be sure to show me your work if you do.

Here’s what my daughter did with the first page:

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April check-in

people-1492052_1920There, it’s happened: March 2020 is finally over.

Not that April shows much more promise yet, but it’s a welcome reminder that all things are temporary. Hang in there, everyone. We will get through this.

So, was March better or worse for my writing? Neither, really. As the owner of a home-based business, the biggest changes to my day-to-day life have been having the family at home all the time and the cancellation of extracurricular activities. The latter has had a bigger impact than I was prepared for (though shouldn’t have been), as spending an hour or two alone waiting for lessons to complete four nights a week provided an excellent opportunity to get writing done, and indeed became my routine for half the week. I’ve had to fit in more time for writing at home, obviously, which comes with its own challenges.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to combat heightened stress or anxiety, so struggles with writing usually pertained to the normal issues: blank page syndrome, figuring out where a scene is going, just not feeling it some nights. Overall, I’ve kept up progress pretty much in line with my goals, and ended up just falling short on the last day of the month, due largely to a general devil-may-care attitude this week, and yesterday in particular.

I’m not disappointed with my progress though.

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Note that these figures only begin from the day I started the spreadsheet to track my writing progress, on the 8th.

The story itself is progressing well. I don’t feel like it’s moving too quickly or too slowly, though how the remaining 2/3 of the story unfolds remains to be seen. I should note at this point that 120,000 words is an easy goal for the length of the manuscript, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls short of that.

Aside from writing this book, I’ve dipped into some other creative pursuits in the past few weeks, which I’ll share in coming posts. I continue to work on playing Tales of Vesperia, the first game for PS4 that I started playing in earnest, which I’ve almost finished now, some fifty hours in.

I even picked up the guitar again after at least a year of letting it collect dust. I need to build up the calluses on my fingers before I can start properly playing chords again, but I’ve done enough work on lead guitar over the past week or so to be back to the point I was at when I stopped playing before. I’m not going to make any promises about continuing–it’s easy to say I’ll keep doing it when I don’t have to make those four trips out per work week, making sure dinner is ready precisely on time every night–but I’d certainly like to keep it up. And, given that the app I’m using to learn it only allows me about ten minutes per day of instruction, I could do that in the afternoons instead of, say, that stupid mobile game I keep playing, if at a limited rate.

Also, I got a kitten.

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So, here we go, April.

Surviving the apocalypse

People on Facebook seemed to enjoy my live updates as we attempted our regular grocery run during the Doomsday Shopping this morning, so I thought I would share the whole thread here.

10:41 a.m.: Thought getting groceries on a weekday morning would be okay. The checkout line is wrapped all the way around the store.

10:50: Abandoned carts are everywhere. Shelves are empty. It’s like the apocalypse happened while people were still preparing for it.

10:52: I sent my husband to the next aisle for applesauce five minutes ago. I fear he may be lost.

10:59: Legends tell that once, there was toilet paper. Now, only empty shelves and fallen price tags remain.

11:00: But you know what they still have? FRICKING KLEENEX. What do these people think they’re stocking up for?!
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11:12: Checking the strawberries and the hubs says if they’re not ripe now, they will be by the time we reach the registers.

11:16: I’m trapped on the wrong side of the lineup. Everything’s going dark.

11:21: We’ve joined the line. It was nice knowing you all. I hope future generations will learn from our fossils, clutching bags of expired milk and dry beans.

11:27: Being Canadian of course, there’s a lot of sorrys, patiently waiting in orderly queues and friends greeting each other. It’s the friendliest apocalypse I’ve ever seen.

11:28: Though I can’t help but wonder who all these people have been in contact with…

11:34: We just saw a man walk by in a dust mask with four boxes of Mini-Wheats in his arms. We’re up to crisis level 4 now.

11:45: The end is in sight! Repent, o sinners, and you may yet earn the Cashier’s mercy!

11:50: At the end of the line is chaos. Where’s a traffic cop when you need one?

11:54: Order is breaking down. Anarchy is imminent as people make desperate last moment runs at the register.

12:03 p.m.: We have survived! Freedom! Sweet, blessed freedom! I have never earned groceries so dearly.

12:13: The groceries are put away. The ordeal is over. I’m going to sit in my house the rest of the weekend under a blanket with my Oreos and my Tito’s. You guys are on your own.

12:27: That moment when you realize you were so caught up in the madness that you forgot to pick up your prescription. Well, back we go!