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On self-image November 22, 2016

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A few weeks ago, I was walking through a shopping mall when I passed by a kiosk selling face cream or some such thing. A salesman tried to stop me as I walked past, but I waved him off. Then, the other salesman decided to try his luck on me with a different approach.

“Miss, there is a small problem with your pores.”

He was obviously leading into how their product could help, but I didn’t break stride. I tried to inject some lightness into the situation when he told me not to be shy and I called back, “It’s not shyness, it’s laziness.” It’s not a lie; I find a lot of personal care stuff to be a hassle and don’t bother with it.

But a number of years ago, a comment like that would have devastated me.

As a teenager, I hated getting my picture taken, even avoided looking in mirrors. I had a laundry list of aspects of my appearance that I felt looked ugly, though the worst of it was my many (cosmetic) skin problems. Coupled with teenage hormonal depression, it was all I could see when forced to look at myself and I was very self-conscious about it.

Largely, due to the aforementioned laziness, my method of dealing with it was to avoid mirrors and cameras and not think about it, but occasionally, I tried to do something about it. None of it worked. A certain multi-step acne treatment did nothing, despite my dilligently following the system for a month. I even tried putting egg yolk on my face when I read that that would help.

Eventually, I gave up. Although I wasn’t any happier with the decision, I accepted that nothing I could do would help.

I don’t care anymore. I can’t care. I was more miserable trying something that promised results and failed to make a difference than if I just accepted that I couldn’t do anything about it.

Eventually, this led to acceptance of myself, though I don’t kid myself that it was all a matter of attitude. I was very lucky. My depression gradually faded in my early 20s, letting me build my own self-confidence, some of my skin problems cleared up naturally, and I married someone who tells me I’m beautiful every day – and while I didn’t believe it at first, I ultimately realized it doesn’t matter because I knew he does.

I’m no longer afraid of mirrors and cameras. But I look back at the person I was and the person I could have been if any number of things had been different, as well as the many, many girls and women who struggle with the same self-image issues, and a tactless comment like the one from that man only trying to sell a product rankles me. That’s the kind of careless remark that can keep someone up at night in tears, thinking they’ll never be pretty.

The worst part for me is that given all those lucky factors that contributed to the self-confidence I have today, I’m not the right person to be giving advice on the topic. So to anyone who might face that type of casual belittling, I will just say that you are not alone.

And to anyone who might use such a tactic to sell something, I would like you to know that no matter how you intend it or how politely you phrase it, a comment like that can be very hurtful. Dangerously so, in the case of someone with depression or another mental illness. Wouldn’t it be better to make a sale based on a positive experience rather than a negative one?

Music Monday: Smile! November 7, 2016

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Because everybody could use an extra smile on a Monday, right?

My “feel better” playlist has a few different types of songs on it to help combat a bad day. There are some with uplifting lyrics, some sweet or bouncy tunes that always bring a smile, and some that are just silly for various reasons that make me laugh. After a very lengthy hiatus from my so-called weekly feature, I thought I’d share some of these favourites in case it makes anyone else feel a little better about their day.

 

Owl City – When Can I See You Again?

It’s no secret, and probably no surprise, that Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph is one of my favourite movies. While my enjoyment of this song, the ending theme, is probably increased by my love of the movie, it has great energy and inspiring lyrics and tends to make things feel a little better.

The Big Band of Rogues – Super Mario 64 Opening Theme

While we’re on the topic of energy, check out this delightful jazz ensemble arrangement from Super Mario 64 (going all the way back to the Nintendo 64, 20 years old now). This rendition of the track couldn’t be better in my opinion, and it never fails to cheer me up.

Mirai – Open Up Your Mind

For a more traditional feel better song, here’s a track from the soundtrack to the anime Saiyuki. It’s a sweet and hopeful song with a lovely sound.

Helen Trevillion – Ode to My Cake OH CAKE

A lot of Helen Trevillion‘s music belongs in my feel better list – such as “Waiting For the Snow”, which has sad lyrics but a lovely melody, or “Stepping Stones” which has hopeful lyrics but a sad tune – but one of my absolute favourites of hers is this track, which also helps bridge the gap between the happy and silly music. It’s adorable, it’s catchy, it’s got a sweet bouncy melody, and it’s about cake. What more could you want?

Sir Jordanius – Interstellar Sasuke 5ever Space Funkadet (warning: includes NSFW lyrics)

Who wants some funk? Truth be told, when I first heard this song, I wasn’t sure if I hated it or loved it. It is so unlike most video game arrangements I’ve heard that only the weirdness struck me at first. But it grew on me fast. The production quality is great, the fact that it arranges the old 3D Pinball Space Cadet game from Windows XP never fails to amuse me, and I love the weirdness.

anterrior, Chimpazilla, timaeus222 – They See Me Rollin’ (includes NSFW lyrics)

Disclaimer: This song probably won’t be as enjoyable if you haven’t played The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. But if you have, it’s pretty darn funny.

I think that’s enough for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into part of my music collection. Maybe if there’s interest, I’ll share some more tracks on this list at another time.

As a bonus, I’ll close with some more music that never fails to calm me down: the Secret of Mana original soundtrack. Yes, the 16-bit instruments are a bit dated at this point, but I love the sound of them in a way no real instruments can quite capture and the tracks themselves are beautiful.

An autumnal interlude October 16, 2016

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Pictures taken 10 October 2016 in Huntsville, Ontario. The third image is the only one with any post-processing done to it (and I’m still not that happy with it, but I am only using my tablet’s built-in image editing).

An arboreal interlude August 10, 2016

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Pictures taken 23 May 2016 at Hilton Falls Conservation Area.

Breaking silence July 21, 2016

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I don’t usually post about social or political issues (as anyone who has followed this blog, or indeed, any of my online presence has probably realized). I call it cynicism, because I honestly don’t feel like anyone who fundamentally disagrees with my opinion will be swayed to think differently by anything I could say, and otherwise I’m just preaching to the choir. I do what I can to work through my feelings the only way I can, through my art, but it doesn’t seem like talking about it will accomplish much. I also don’t want to deal with the backlash anything I say might provoke, because arguing such topics is exhausting, particularly because I don’t feel like anyone’s opinions will change.

But now, as I sit here seething over yet another black man shot by police, I can’t contain myself any longer.

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It doesn’t matter what the colour of one’s skin is, or what is in their record. What matters is that yet another innocent, unthreatening civilian was shot by police when complying with police instructions. It makes me physically sick that this has happened so often so recently. It tears me apart inside that anyone would blame the victim for these unwarranted assaults – even murders – against unarmed people who were doing as they were told.

And frankly, it makes me scared for my upcoming trips to the U.S. As a white woman, I am far less likely to meet with such hostilities, but this atmosphere of unprovoked violence that seems to be permeating the U.S. is terrifying me. I don’t care that the colour of my skin protects me – that makes me more disgusted, not less. And it doesn’t protect me if some situation escalates beyond the next innocent person targeted.

It is wrong. It is horrible. And it is sickening that this keeps happening.

I don’t mean to blame all policemen and -women, either. I know that not all – or most – police officers would act that way in those situations. But the frequency with which these attacks are occurring is soul-crushing.

I believe Black Lives Matter, because all lives matter – and these lives are being targeted. Something has to change. I don’t know what; all I can do is talk about it.

New art: Breezin’ July 13, 2016

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afro

Ad Astra schedule April 27, 2016

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I’ll be at Ad Astra this weekend, Toronto’s original scifi/fantasy/horror literary convention. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Brain Lag table in the dealers room, and I’ll also be involved with the following events:

Saturday

11:00
Creating Art on Commission
So someone has asked you to create a piece of art for them. And they’ve even said they’ll pay. How much do you charge them? How do you sell yourself as a commission artist, and what are the pros and cons of offering to create work on commission?
Thornhill room

1:00
Selling Your Art at Conventions and Festivals
So you’ve finally finished a beautiful set of paintings. Or maybe you’ve been selling your fan art on commission and want to think bigger with prints. Maybe you want to do commissions for money, or you fancraft and have an Etsy store and want to sell in person. You’ve got wares, and you’re ready to sell them and think that a convention or festival is your best bet. How do you do this? What’s the etiquette? How do you market yourself? Should you participate in an art show or just book a table? And is what you’re selling even allowed? In this panel, learn the dos and don’ts of being an artist on the convention or festival circuit.
Thornhill room

5:00
Tabletop Games You May Never Have Heard Of
Are you bored of playing Monopoly and Risk over and over? A fan of RPGs but unsure what the best party games are? Curious about which games are best for specific numbers or types of people? This panel is a great opportunity to learn about and share recommendations for tabletop games from those in the know!
Oakridge room

6:00
Brain Lag launch party
Brain Lag invites all Ad Astra attendees to join us at our spring book launch party celebrating the release of Why I Hunt Flying Saucers And Other Fantasticals by Hugh A. D. Spencer and Tinker’s Plague by Stephen B. Pearl! The authors will be on hand to give readings and sign autographs, there will be free snacks and drinks, and we’ll be featuring an exclusive sneak peek at the cover art for the upcoming sequel to Tinker’s Plague, Tinker’s Sea!
Room 1080 (penthouse suite)

Sunday

12:00
Setting Up Shop as an Indie Publisher
So you want to be an indie publisher. How do you bring other authors on board? How do you build your reputation within the literary community? In this panel, learn from those who have done it how to be a publishing entrepreneur, and get tips on start-up costs, marketing, and what it takes to get started.
Newmarket room

3:00
Sunday Afternoon Fantasy Reading
Join authors Catherine Fitzsimmons, Rob Howell, Cameron Currie and Brandon Draga as they read a fantastical selection from their work.
Oakridge room

I hope to see you there!

Music Monday: Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album April 4, 2016

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Xenogears was an RPG for the original Playstation, with soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, famous for his Chrono Trigger soundtrack, arguably one of the best video game soundtracks of all time (at least in my decidedly limited opinion).

I never played Xenogears. It wasn’t for lack of interest, rather money. However, I’m all about video game music, so when a friend ordered a copy of the soundtrack and received two, I was happy to take the extra. It was different from Chrono Trigger, with a more focused style and distinct Celtic influences in a more orchestral soundtrack, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I don’t know anything about the story that happens when this music takes place, but there are a lot of great and some amazing tracks, and I enjoyed it enough to pick up Creid, a Xenogears arrangement album produced by the original composer that I also love.

51sfd32uc2blYet somehow, a second arrangement album also produced by Yasunori Mitsuda managed to slip under my radar. Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album was released in 2011 and contains fourteen tracks, mostly performed by the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra with a couple of piano solos and one vocal track performed by Joanne Hogg (who sounds like the original vocalist for the game’s theme song).

It definitely lives up to its name: the arrangements are very orchestral, using a sizeable symphony along with a choir in some tracks. The arrangements all have quite a bit of depth and are generally fairly dynamic/bombastic. Some tracks I actually wish had some heavier elements truer to the original tracks, but that’s because most of the renditions are pretty close to the source material. There is a little variation in styles at times, but there’s not much alteration of the melodies themselves and many of the songs are straight orchestrations of the original tracks.

Not that that is in any way disappointing; the depth and life of these orchestrations are fantastic, really highlighting the quality of the original compositions. One unfortunate exception is “The Beginning and the End”, a choral track that sounds lovely done with real voices but lacks all of the vocal modulations of the original.

Aside from that, I have no complaints about this album. There’s a lot of emotion, great big sound, and the quality of the arrangements and their performances are both excellent. And the piano solos are just as wonderful. I am also extremely happy with the performance of “Flight”, my favourite song from the original soundtrack.

I highly recommend this album to fans of the Xenogears soundtrack. It is available on iTunes, and really, that’s the only way I would purchase it (unless you really want to pay 4x the price for an imported CD).

Playtime March 29, 2016

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Up until last weekend, I hadn’t been picking up my camera much this year. Which is incredibly unfortunate, as late last year I was given an external flash and my indoor photography quality has skyrocketed as a result, though I am still learning how to use it.

However, yesterday I did an impromptu photo session and took a few (dozen) shots while my cat was feeling playful, so here are the best ones. I hope you enjoy them.

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Music Monday: The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses March 21, 2016

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What was that about a weekly feature? My excuse is that I’ve been spending the past weeks sorting through new music. Let’s just say I’ve been putting the task off for a while.

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I have a problem.

But enough about what I’ve not been doing. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Toronto performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.

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It’s a touring symphony concert playing music from the Legend of Zelda video games. I went in perhaps a bit more experienced than much of the audience – most of the other attendees I spoke with had never been to an event of the sort, whereas I’ve been to Video Games Live four or five times and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy twice, and I had seen at least one preview of Symphony of the Goddesses on YouTube, when they appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last fall.

The setup is much the same as the other concerts. The focus is on the music, with game footage showing the source material shown on a screen above the orchestra. The screen also occasionally showed closeups of the soloists or prominent sections of the orchestra at times, which I felt was a nice touch. It was a quieter affair than the other video game concerts I have been to, with a very brief introduction to the show by the producer, Jason Michael Paul, and a few prerecorded introductions by series producer Shigeru Miyamoto, series composer Koji Kondo, and one other prominent person (who I regret to say I can’t remember offhand). We didn’t hear a word from the conductor or any of the orchestra and mainly they just played the music.

The Legend of Zelda series aren’t necessarily my favourite soundtracks. There are some that I absolutely adore, primarily A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, but overall, I don’t find the music as gripping and certainly not as emotional as Final Fantasy or some other franchises. So, I will admit that while I was very much looking forward to it, I wasn’t necessarily expecting jaw-dropping orchestrations.

Several of the songs performed came straight off the Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary album that came bundled with Skyward Sword when it released – which was full of excellent and very dynamic/bombastic medleys and arrangements of various games in the series and whose main flaw was that the songs were recorded too quiet. However, only half of the songs in the show, at best, were the same renditions, so there was plenty of material new to me. Even the Twilight Princess medley was a little different from the 25th Anniversary album.

The show focused on the main console games, playing little or nothing from most of the portable games – Link’s Awakening, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, etc. – and nothing from Hyrule Warriors (which I don’t particularly lament, seeing as I haven’t played it nor even own a Wii U). There was a very nice mix of source material from the games the show focused on, playing numerous tunes from Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Majora’s Mask, and a couple others. Having a smaller library of music to draw from meant I got to hear more of the situational music that often gets overlooked in place of the main themes.

But ultimately, what that really meant was that a lot of what I heard was straight orchestra performances of music from the games, which was so very satisfying. I hear the music in the game and it has a character of its own and I can tell what the instruments are – and maybe they even sound pretty close – but I am always imagining it performed with real instruments. The battle theme medley, which opened with the regular battle music from Ocarina of Time, illustrated this best for me – it was so accurate to the game and so natural that it took me almost an entire iteration of the song before I appreciated that this is what it was supposed to sound like, not what it did in the game. There was both a great mix of source material and expert arrangements, and the Kitchener Symphony did an excellent job performing them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. Fans of the Legend of Zelda games should certainly check it out and I really, really hope that they release more recordings of the orchestrations, especially the battle theme medley and the Link to the Past medley.