Monday, 28 February 2011

"They could hardly be left in the hands of the zonked."

So, I'm pretty tired, having done The Grand Duke for three nights and then gone to the after-show party and then stayed up a decent while more even after leaving. Buttercup said I should just go to bed when I got home, but I was all, "No, I'm not going to go to bed for hours," so she said, "OK, go home and blog!"
So, here I am, blogging. And what am I to blog about under such circumstances as these, but tiredness?

OK, so coming home knackered the day after a party is far from a new experience for me. The combination of alcohol and sleepovers seriously reduce the amount of sleep I get, so the following day I am pretty zonked usually. The usual pattern has become that I go home from wherever I slept over, am OK but a bit vague and... well, zonked, for the rest of the day, start getting tired shortly before dinner time, revive a bit with energy from food, then go to bed around 8pm.
Obviously, today has been different for some reason. I'm not sure why, since I had 3 hours sleep at most, probably less.

Now, this is not necessarily great. Zonked days can end up being rather unproductive, because it's hard to get your brain properly in gear. But, there are bright sides. One, presumably whatever it was that caused you to be this tired was pretty fun and therefore worth it. Two, while many things should not be left in the hands of the zonked, some things definitely can be done while knackered, possibly even better than while well-rested. Nothing that requires significant thinking, but simple, repetitive tasks can be great. Because if you do something simple and repetitive while well-rested, you get bored, your mind wanders. If you're knackered, your mind isn't active enough to wander, so you can just keep going.

I feel I should mention at this point that this is purely from my experience and may well not apply to everyone, especially people who actually have problems with sleeping.They obviously have it kinda worse than I do in this regard.

A minor example before I move onto my main one: when I was in 6th form, I was doing AS Further Maths out of hours, because my school didn't offer it normally. So I just had to do it at lunchtimes. One time, I was totally knackered because I'd been up all night doing coursework. So I went along at lunchtime and had no idea what the teacher was talking about. But what I was able to do was just copy down everything he was going through, so I could look at it again when I was properly awake. Which I did, and thn I understood it.

Main example: tagging facebook photos.
Tagging facebook photos doesn't take that much thought, so I can easily do it while knackered. Which is fortunate, because I'm usually knackered the day after a party, so there will be photos of the party, which need to be tagged. In this particular case, there were also photos of the show. And some of those are chorus scenes, so they have loads of people in. Now if I had been properly awake, I would have found it really tedious to go through several hundred photos tagging multiple people in each one. But as I was tired, I just did it. Thus making sensible use of my tired-ness.

Another thing is of course just watching videos and stuff. If there's something I really want to watch, while I'm too tired to do much else is a good time. Unless it's something which requires intelligence, in which case it should wait. I'll watch assorted youtube videos while zonked, but not, say, Shakespeare.
Reading is also an option, but I find it takes a little more brainpower than watching something. One may forget things that happened about half a page previously.

So yeah, there are some things one is still able to do while tired. They're also basically the things I have spent today doing. Tagging photos and watching youtube videos. Plus occasional bouts of conversation, and eating.

I can't think of anything more in particular to talk about unless I want to talk about the party. Which I guess I could, but I dunno. Would require a certain amount of thought to do anything more meaningful than maybe put in some photos. And anyone reading this presumably knows me from either facebook or the Playground, and the photos can be found on both. So, that would be kind of pointless. So this shall be a really short post by my standards.
Maybe tomorrow, or soon at least, I'll think through some of the amusing things that happened and recount them. Or not. I might do a post about parties in general at some point, and I will definitely do one about The Grand Duke, with minimal plot summary and as many amusing thoughts and anecdotes as I can come up with.
Now, back to youtube until I feel tired enough to sleep.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Don't Forget To Be Awesome

So, I've heard on occasion in the past about Nerdfighters and the Vlogbrothers and how cool they are, and I finally decided to investigate them properly by watching the videos about a week and a half ago. Maybe two weeks.
The whole thing started with Brotherhood 2.0, which was when, for the entire year of 2007, brothers Hank and John Green decided they would not communicate textually, but would upload video blogs to youtube every other weekday and talk to each other that way (Video chat, phonecalls and in person communication were also permitted). Also sometimes they would set each other challenges, or decide to do projects (Later on the projects were assisted by the viewers), and if they missed a day, textually communicated with each other, or broke any other rules which may have been instated (Such as a 4 minute maximum length on videos not containing some sort of cool montage), they had to do some sort of punishment, chosen by the other brother. And of course it had to be something which would be amusing to watch on the vlog.

I made a video to start off talking about this, but it must be preceded by three more explanations:

1. Nerdfighters
Nerdfighters was an arcade game the brothers came across (Particularly John). Being rather nerdy people, they decided to play it, and then started wondering about the title - do nerdfighters fight for or against nerds? The answer, they concluded, was for.
And thus the term entered the internet lexicon. A nerdfighter, they explain, is a person who, instead of the normal blood and tissue and so on, is in fact made of pure awesome.
A more easily observed definition is that a nerdfighter is someone who is a nerd and proud of it, and who is potentially willing to fight for nerd-dom, and to decrease World Suck.
It is also explained in this vlogbrothers video.

2. The Evil Baby Orphanage
An idea conceived during May of Brotherhood 2.0, the Evil Baby Orphanage is intended to solve the ethical dilemma of whether one should travel back in time and kill baby Hitler, thus preventing World War II and the holocaust. Understandably, many people have compuctions about killing babies, no matter how evil they may be going to grow up to be. So instead, one merely kidnaps the evil babies and puts them in the Evil Baby Orphanage.

3. Happy dances
Your happy dance is the dance you do when you're really happy. Supposedly everyone has one which is unique to them, though I am not entirely certain if this is the case.

Without further ado, here is the video I made.

(If you missed the link in the video to the tetris song, it is also here)

A point which I was thinking of mentioning in the video but then completely forgot about when I was recording it is that watching through Brotherhood 2.0 also made me think a little about whether there is anything I could do to decrease World Suck. Do something good for the world n' stuff. This generally ties into the "What do I want?" thing again, wanting to do something with my life. Another idea linked to this is brought up in Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, of accumulating worth (By doing good things). I'm going to have to write a blog post about that book at some point. Or at least part of a blog post.

Back to specific thoughts while watching the videos. I noticed at some point in February that there's a typo in the introduction. "365 days of textless communcation." This was eventually acknowledged in a Q&A video quite late on, and corrected for the final video of the year.

On the 25th of June, Hank talked about the difference between books for children and books for adults, and the fact that he often prefers the former, because he felt adult books tended to be more realistic while children's books tended to be more fun.
Now I can see where he's coming from with that. Certainly the kind of pure unadulterated fun escapism sort of stuff, yeah that's largely in the domain of children's books rather than adult ones. But I feel realism is not to be denigrated. Stories can be more relatable if they're more realistic. And while books for adults may be less full of pure unadulterated fun than books for children, there are other things which matter and can be very moving. Intellectual stimulation. Pathos. This sort of thing.
This reminds me a bit of a TV program my dad was watching a little while back, which I caught some of, about crying - the fact that some people hardly ever cry and don't see why one would most of the time, whereas for others it can be a very important element of human experience. One point brought up was whether sometimes people might e.g. watch a sad film because they felt they 'needed a good cry', as a sort of catharsis. Now that I don't understand so much. I think that anything which would make me feel I really needed to cry would in fact make me cry, no additional stimulus required. Though I could understand then watching sad films or whatever to continue sort of wallowing in my sadness.
But what I really get is something which I think makes me very unusual. I once saw an online discussion of a poll on people's favourite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which some episodes widely regarded as being very good didn't make the list. And someone in the discussion made the distinction between episodes one thinks are really good and one's favourite episodes, the point being that sad episodes like The Body, while obviously very good, do not necessarily qualify as favourites because you wouldn't be so inclined to rewatch them over and over as they can be a bit emotionally draining. Thing is, I don't necessarily feel that way. I will rewatch emotionally draining episodes multiple times because I really like them. They just really get to me like that.
For another sort fo example, Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, but in particular, my favourites are the tragedies. There's a Sandman comic set in Shakespeare's time in which Shakespeare's daughter, quoting her mother, says that perhaps Shakespeare would have been more successful if he'd written nothing but comedies. Now that may well be the case - the comedies probably had more mass appeal, certainly at the time he was writing them - but there are other things which are important, which one can get from the tragedies, so that I am very glad Shakespeare did write them.

Speaking of Shakespeare, Shakespearian insults. I mentioned in the video that I do like Shakespearian insults, and I just thought I'd add that there is one point in The Grand Duke when we all yell at the main character, Ludwig. So I've been calling him a whoreson knave. I don't know if that's an actual Shakespearian insult, but it sounds like one. And we're meant to be actors, so it makes sense as well.

Another bit which caught my attention when I watched it was Hank's video on the 13th of August, when he went to a fair. It struck me that our views on fairs were pretty similar. Last time I went to a fair (2nd of May, 2009), I loved it. But I felt that many of the rides were a bit crazy and there was no way I was going on them. I mostly just loved the atmosphere of it.

On October the 25th and the 30th (A very good date), John and Hank (I think it was that way round) investigated their respective boxes containing things from their childhood. This makes me curious about whether or not I and my brother have such boxes, and if so, what is in them.
I can't remember very much of my really early childhood, before we moved up here. Just snippets, and I'd be curious to know what else there was.

On the 17th of December, 2007, the nerdfighters took over youtube. Pretty impressive community they have there. This was the 'Special Project for Awesome', and I am certainly in awe of it.

Final thing: The above linked and in-video linked tetris song was the result of John setting Hank a challenge to write songs and perform one every time he posted a Brotherhood 2.0 video on a wednesday. So, there are many other songs, including one about Harry Potter, written a few days before Deathly Hallows was released, that became one of the most viewed videos on youtube around that time, and various others on topics as diverse as hot weather, love, birthdays and the Special Project for Awesome.
Since Brotherhood 2.0 finished, there have been less songs, but still some, including two which caught my attention so far (I'm still in the process of watching through the videos). One about how humans are really just monkeys with pants (Which makes me think of Science of Discworld, we are pan narrans after all), and one about Star Trek, entitled 'What Would Captain Picard Do?'

And, that's all I can think of to say right now, particularly since I really need to be going shortly to get to the theatre for the next performance of The Grand Duke. Also I have to extricate myself from a visiting cat from two houses down the street, who has been inconveniencing my typing by walking back and forth across my lap, and now is curled up on top of me.

Don't Forget To Be Awesome.

Time, Time, Time...

See what's become of me.

So this one is just kind of general musings on my life at present. Naturally the main thing on my mind at the moment is the production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Grand Duke with NUGSS, the first performance of which is tonight (You should totally come see it). About half an hour ago I started getting performance nerves. Butterflies in the stomach. Actually that might just be hunger.
To be honest how nervous I am is sometimes difficult even for me to determine. Like, last year in HMS Pinafore I was playing Ralph Rackstraw. Not only the central role but also probably my favourite role in all of G&S. However, I didn't feel particularly nervous. But I think I may have been deluding myself on that point. Like, I was calm, but it was a thin layer of calm floating on top of a sea of nerves, and if something happened to shake that calm, like me being startled by someone vigorously knocking my hat off from behind and messing up my hair, suddenly I was really shaken.

So anyway, I may or may not be nervous about The Grand Duke tonight (Eating now, I think that feeling was definitely hunger rather than nerves). But either way, the show should be a lot of fun. The only possible drawback is that it may take me somewhat out of the rest of my life for the next few days. Admittedly there's not much of significance in the rest of my life at present, but there are still things I could and should be doing, among them trying to get more things of significance into the rest of my life.
OK, I'm going to have to finish this post after I get back from the first night performance. I'll tell you how it went!

It went pretty well! I don't think any audience members not in regular communication with a cast member will have had any notion of the kind of histrionics we went through trying to get the show ready in time. Though admittedly, that may not be very many audience members. Our primary audience is our friends and families.
Anyway, after a certain amount of panicking before the show started, rapidly applying make-up, grabbing important props and bits of costume, the thing itself went really very smoothly, from the standing in the wings amusing ourselves during the overture to the curtain calls. Well, the curtain calls had some issues with the fact we couldn't see very much once the curtains were closed, so getting in position was a bit difficult, but on the whole it was alright. Audience not too big, but they seemed appreciative enough.

Returning to what I was saying before. It might well surprise some people who know me, but I do try and be at least a little bit organised with doing things. I even have a generic to do list! As in, I don't decide I should do certain things on a certain day, but I have a list of various things I want to do and try and do some each day. I split the list into 5 categories, and the idea is I should try to do something on one thing from each category every day.
I'm still working up to that.
Categories are: Productive, Creative, Research, Learning and Relaxation.

Relaxation is pretty self-explanatory, and to be honest is fairly unnecessary, because I will always do something each day that counts as relaxation. But it's still a little bit useful for reminding me of certain things I was going to watch/read/play.

Productive is things like looking for jobs, investigating possibilities for postgraduate study, and tidying up my stuff so I can find things, like the plug for my keyboard. Really want to know where that is.

Creative is, well, creative things. Writing (As I do still retain my desire to be an author if I can get my ideas sorted out sufficiently), drawing my avatars, arranging songs for choir or barbershop. That kind of thing.

The other two I have specific definitions for in this context.
Research is researching/investigating/learning more about something in which I already have an interest, like different RPG systems, G&S and related works, etc.

Whereas Learning is learning something entirely new, like trying to learn another language, or a musical instrument or something.

I suppose another way of looking at it is that Research is knowledge, whereas Learning is more skills I guess? The distinction is fairly arbitrary, but it works for me.

So yeah. I tend to end up managing more like two or three categories per day. Maybe four, occasionally, but I don't think I've ever managed to do anything for Learning since I came up with the idea. But, you know, the principle is sound, and in theory this should cause me to do things.

So anyway, other than the show, I do also want to be doing other things on that list. I definitely want to be doing a bit more in the way of arranging songs, so when we get back to having Starfish rehearsals we can have some new stuff. Other productive things. I have a WW game on the Playground starting within the week (Well, it was supposed to be two weeks ago, but stuff happened, it got delayed) (I'll do a post about WW games at some point. Don't worry if you don't know what one is, the details are not important at this juncture). In general try to decide what to do with my life, maybe? OK, that might be over-ambitious of me. But you know, that sort of thing. It all comes back to the "What do you want?" again.
Also, at the moment I have choices about at least a couple of different things in my life, and they're not exactly clear cut decisions. They're not quite in the category of questions which have no real answers (Such as "Why are people born?" "Why do they die?" and "Why do they spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?") but the answers can't be easily figured out. Would this option be better for these reasons, or the other option for different reasons? Or do I only think it would be better because I've been influenced by such and such, or am I right and conversely possibly overestimating the good points of the other because blah blah blah etc...
I think basically the only way I can determine the truth of this is to pick one option and see how it turns out. But then I still have to pick which one I'm going to go for and see how it turns out...

As one of my A-level physics teachers said, "Life is much more complicated."
(Well, actually he preceded it with "Physics is complicated," but I disagreed on that point because I was good at physics, and anyway it's not relevant here)
Life is complicated, and I need to do things. Including write another blog post, record a video for said post, and finish it before going out for the next performance, because the date I post it is relevant.
See you later.

Monday, 21 February 2011

No-one has lost an eye yet.

So today I'm going to talk about games. I like games. Sometimes I don't fit in much time playing games for lengthy periods of time, but I still consider myself a gamer, because apart from anything else, it still influences the way I think.

OK, I'll include all forms of game. I play chess. For a few years I was very enthusiastic about my chess. Kept reading books, trying to learn openings, and generally get better. But, as these things go, at some point my interest waned a bit, and I started devoting my energies to other things. I still like chess, but I don't put as much effort into it as I used to. In fact, at this point I basically turn up to league matches and play in them.
Other board games are also fun (I've had some great times with excessively long games of Risk, albeit at the expense of a sensible night's sleep), but I have little to say about them specifically, except for those which also fall into another category:

Geeky/nerdy games. The kind of things which are played at Playground meetups, and also sometimes on the mornings after house parties among my friends (A practice begun with Talisman and continued with all the games I've ended up getting after discovering at meetups how awesome they were, and Chrononauts). I'll go through some in brief:

Talisman: Fairly generic fantasy ideas. You get a class with particular abilities, then wander around fighting monsters, getting items, and becoming more powerful. If you get a talisman you can go to the really dangerous section in the middle and thence to the central square from which you can basically annihilate all the other players and thus win. Takes a few hours to play.

The Order of the Stick Game: Described by Rich Burlew as like if Talisman had an affair with a card game and this was their love-child. With references to the Order of the Stick webcomic. Should not be taken too seriously (Fortunately many of the cards can help with culling excess seriousness). You assemble the dungeon at random, fight monsters, get items, get more powerful. Eventually you defeat Xykon, the dungeon collapses and you all flee back to the entrance and see who has the most bragging points. Takes a long time to play, but that time reduces as you get more used to it.

It's Alive!: Card game, in which you purchase body parts to build your very own Frankenstein's monster!

Fluxx: Everyone starts with 3 cards. Each turn you draw one card and play one card.
Some of the cards change the rules.
That is all you need to know.
(Also has variants, such as Monty Python, Eco, Family, Martian, Zombie, etc)

Once Upon a Time: First encountered by me at the last winter meetup and shortly thereafter received as a christmas present, this game has yet to have its post-party-morning debut. You get one card with a fairytale ending on it, and some other cards with common elements of fairytales on them. Someone starts telling a story. By getting your story elements into the story you can take over telling it. You win by getting all your story elements in and then using your ending.
This game is brilliant when you have a group of people who are both creative and very strange.
It produces such wonders as the Evil Magical Dog, the Evil Magical Frog, and the Mechanical Tree Dystopia. Big Mechanical Tree Brother is watcthing you.

I trust this serves as a decent explanation of why I think that these sorts of games are amazing.

Of course, also in the Geeky/Nerdy category is another category: tabletop RPGs. Haven't played any in a while, but I do love them, and want to try running some some time. I have a load of ideas which I need to work on some more. Different worlds I've made up, and a few borrowed from existing works of fiction that I think would work in one  system or another.
But, to be honest, I have too much I could say on that subject. That will have to be a separate blog post some time.

I'm going to skip over physical sports, because I can't think of anything particularly interesting to say about them.

So, onto what I was originally thinking of when I conceived this blog post but then decided to include other things: video games!
So, having hit 10 blog posts with this post, you get another video (I may have to think of another way of marking landmark posts, because sometimes I might just want to include a video anyway...)

Rawr again.

As a random point of possibly interest, I almost recorded that video from a different place. Eventually I may end up recording a video in a different location. I was going to do that one from my bed, since my PS2 games are all in my bedroom, but then it occurred to me that I might wake my parents, since their bedroom is adjacent to mine. And I'd rather not.
So my bedroom remains a mystery to you! Haha! Except for my family, who live in this house, and Buttercupliffy, who spent part of my 21st birthday party curled up on the floor.

So, yeah, there are a few different types of game I tend to like. I like video game RPGs as well as tabletop ones. Though I think tabletop ones can be kind of better potentially. Granted, you don't get the amazing graphics and the storyline may not flow so smoothly, because it's at the mercy of the players to a certain extent. But on the other hand you just have so much more scope for taking the story in your own direction, you can make your own character rather than just controlling a pre-created one, etc. Also, video game RPGs can  have the drawback that they don't require much in the way of skill, if anything. OK, you have to pick which of your various attacks or whatever to use each time, so there is some element of skill, but it's fairly minimal. Really the video game RPG has to stand pretty much purely on the basis of its storyline. On the other hand, a lot of other games don't have much in the way of plot. Though some do, of course.
On type of game I do kind of like which is not well represented in the games I actually own is racing games. It's maybe kind of odd that I like racing games, since in real life I'm fairly averse to driving. But that's why I don't actually own many racing games, for all that I quite like them. Because most racing games involve cars.
I can't get particularly enthusiastic about cars. So the only racing games I play are kind of odd ones. Mario Kart. Sonic R. Star Wars Episode 1 Racer (People may complain about how the podrace added nothing to the movie, but it made for a pretty good video game).

Beat 'em up games. I have Tekken. I quite like the Tekken games, and it can be cathartic sometimes (Or annoying, if you're playing against high skill CPU opponents). I've never been one of these people who gets ridiculously good at such games, but I do put in a certain amount of effort, so compared to people I know I can end up as the proverbial 'That guy'.
Oh, and Guitar Hero. Similar thing applies with my skill level, but on the other hand I do know some people better than me. Though one of them tends to use an ordinary PS2 controller, which is cheating. >:( I don't like the idea of including other instruments than guitar in the Guitar Hero system, but I like the games, the first two in particular. It helps that I'm somewhat musical.

Old school platformers are of course fun - sometimes simple pleasures are all you need - and they have nostalgia value as well. Same goes for space invaders.
Strategy games are not something I've ever really gotten into. But, I'm generally willing to try new things, especially if they're cheap. So I'm going to give Civilisation (I refuse point blank to spell it with a z) a go and see if I like it.

Finally, there's one really significant category. First person shooters.
Of course, these are vastly different to the video game RPGs to which I devoted my other decent sized video game category description, in that they tend to be big on skill and short on plot. But, well, it's a different kind of enjoyment. Sometimes you just want to blow up virtual monsters. Also the focus on skill makes it challenging, especially if you have a habit of defaulting to the most difficult skill setting, like I do. And of course I liked them when I was young, which gives them nostalgia value now, which is why there was no way I could resist the temptation to buy the Doom and Quake packs when they came up on whichever Steam sale it was.
Of course, an additional point which really has to be made is that not all FPS games have excuse plots and no more. I refer, of course, to the Half Life series. And also Portal, which may be the best video game ever. I'm not entirely sure about that, but I am fairly confident that when Portal 2 comes out I will consider it to be the best video game ever, since it looks to be basically like the original Portal, but more so. I think that will be when I break my habit of only buying things on Steam which cost less than £4, because it will be so worth it.
I could go on at greater length about the brilliance of the Half Life series and Portal, but that's really another thing which deserves its own separate blog post, so I'll limit myself to saying that if you like FPS games at all and haven't played the Half Life series, you really should. And if you like video games at all and haven't played Portal, you really should.
Seriously, there's a reason Valve have their own section in the examples for the 'Memetic Mutation' trope. And there is a reason one of the given examples is just "Everything GLaDOS says."

Cake and grief counseling will be available at the end of the test blog post.
Which is now.

Friday, 18 February 2011

"Since brevity is the soul of wit..."

I feel a bit too much like Polonius when I write my blog posts sometimes. I go on a lot. And while this blog is kind of primarily for me to get my thoughts out and so it's not such a big deal if I'm occasionally a bit long winded for other people's taste, I feel like I have failed my unknown number of possible readers with my post about Iolanthe yesterday. Not because it was long, but because I didn't really say that much. This is supposed to be me getting my thoughts out, but I wasn't, I ended up just summarising the show. Now, there were some important thoughts in there, which definitely needed to be mentioned; like the innuendos, and the fact that the two lords are clearly gay for each other. But I didn't need to go through every single scene.
I realised that I was having this problem, while writing the post, but for some reason I didn't do anything about it. When I realised, I should have then gone back and edited the post. Cut out the superfluous bits to make more room for me to be weird at people. Which brings me neatly to the subject of editing.

Sticking to staged shows, I've heard the opinion voiced (Or possibly read it, I don't remember) that writers should not be allowed to direct their own shows, because they're bad at cutting things, and sometimes things need to be cut. This is a general thing, it may well take an outside observer to see what needs to be changed. Not necessarily, but often. Certainly self-editing is more difficult than editing something by someone else.
I myself find I'm both good and bad at self-editing. I self-edit quite a lot while I'm writing something, I'll go back and repeatedly rewrite a sentence, rearrange a paragraph, whatever, until I feel happy with it. But once I have a finished work, I find it hard to change anything. I'll look through it in an attempt to edit it, but tend to just leave it as it is.
Although, that said, if I leave it for maybe a month, then look over it, I find it easier, probably because I'm not so close to it. Certainly I've found this when arranging songs for choir - I'll put together an arrangement and be pretty happy with it. Then about a month later I'll look through it and think "Why did I do this? How did I ever think this was a good idea? OK, clearly I just got a bit carried away there..." and so on. Sometimes this happens with an unfinished arrangement as well. If I've gotten stuck with an arrangement, I may leave it for a while, then when I want to continue it I'll listen to what I've already done to get myself back in the right frame of mind, and find that it's not as good as I thought it was.
I'm pretty sure I've done that with every vocal arrangement I've ever done. Oh, except for A Short Song About Shoes.

Some people seem not to have any ability to self-edit at times. Maybe not consistently, all the time, but sometimes. There's a problem which I've observed in a few things I've read, where it seems the writer has had a decent, interesting idea, but then not put any additional effort in. So the idea ends up being irrelevant, and therefore superfluous; or it ends up evoking the wrong reaction for some reason, or a myriad other possible problems. Because just shoving an idea directly into something is fine for a first draft, say, but then before you reach the final version which you're going to publish, however you're going to publish it, you should've then worked more on the idea to ensure it works as you intended.
Of course, this problem is more common in works published on the internet, since there's no editing process to go through, and often they have a fairly rapid schedule. This is not necessarily an excuse, however, because the whole point is that it's all under the control of the writer, and if they have such problems, they should take steps to avoid them. Of course, some internet content may also lack direct feedback, reviews and the like, so they may not necessarily realise the issues, and so the problems get institutionalised.

If anyone's wondering, I do have a particular work in mind. However I'm not going to tell you what it is, because if you don't know it, you should count yourself lucky. The only followers of this comic I know follow it purely to mock its failings and sometimes indulge in collaborative efforts to try and make the canonical events make sense (A daunting task). Also possibly out of a sense of morbid curiosity. Decent ideas, terrible execution most of the time. It has occasionally been theorised that actually the writer is just trolling us all by deliberately making it this bad, but that's probably not the case.

Onto more cheerful subjects! Related to editing is proofreading. They're both part of the whole process that ensures a work will be properly readable. I feel the world suffers at times from having insufficient proofreaders. Now while my self-editting may be variable, my self-proofreading is very good. A handy side effect of the fact I can take a while to get my thoughts in order before writing something is that while I'm thinking I may look at what I've already written, and then I notice the typos. Of which there are annoyingly many, but not actually that many. Especially annoying is that I have actually on occasion caught myself typing the wrong homophone, like their/they're. I have no idea why! I know the difference perfectly well, and it's something which really annoys me when other people do it wrong, and possibly don't even care that they're doing it wrong. But sometimes I do it wrong for no readily apparent reason. Fortunately I'm pretty sure every time that's happened I've caught it before hitting the 'submit post' button.
I can get a bit worked up, even mildly obsessive, about proper SPG. To the point that on the Playground, I tend to correct other people's SPG when I quote their posts. I don't point out the errors usually, I just fix them in the quote. I have also been known to change American spelling to British spelling, which I really shouldn't do, but if I'm already altering the quote I can't help it because it just bothers me. Especially when people leave the s off the end of 'maths'.
Anyway, like I said. World suffers from lack of proofreaders. An obvious example of this is, as observed by Professor Sir Terry Pratchett, is the Ven'erable S'ociety of Gre'engr'ocers, who are bound by oath never to put their punctuation in the right place. But it crops up all over. I'm pretty sure there's a website specifically devoted to documenting these sorts of failures. I know I personally have discarded a few job adverts on the grounds that they had spelling mistakes in them. Also one which apparently offered a salary of £0 - £1/annum. I hope that was a typo.
I've never really been able to understand why people have difficulty with this. I remember having an English lesson, in year 10, explaining how to properly use apostrophes. I learned nothing in that lesson which I hadn't already learned 4 years previously, so why was it necessary?

People should care more about their language.
Well, this post is shorter than my others, but given my issues with the last one, that may well be a good thing.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Good morrow, good blogger!

Good blogger, good morrow!

So, last week, I was in a production of Iolanthe. Have I mentioned that? Yes, yes I have, I remember now. And now that it's been over for a few days, I'm going to blog about it.
Not about that production specifically, at least mostly not, but about the show in general. The thoughts it evokes when I read the script, sing through the music, etc.

Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri was the *counts* seventh show (/opera/operetta/whatever you want to call it) that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote together (Including Thespis, the music for which is almost all lost, if you didn't know). I don't really know much about the background of it, though I think I remember reading something on wikipedia about how this was one of the times Gilbert originally proposed the 'lozenge' plot (Something to do with a magic lozenge which makes people act differently, and/or possibly fall in love?) but Sullivan rejected the idea, as he did every time Gilbert proposed it (I think it did make people fall in love, because I think one of the issues was that it would basically just be The Sorcerer again). But I'm not sure on that. I'm pretty knowledgeable about what happens in the shows, but I don't know the background in much detail except for a few snippets.
Mentioning the lozenge and love has reminded me that for my post about Valentine's Day and love and stuff I was going to count how many songs in G&S are about love in one way or another. So I'm going to do it now instead. Opinions on what counts for this may of course vary, also for what counts as a song. Some bits I'm counting as half songs. I expect it to be a big number. Omitting Thespis, because I don't have a copy of the libretto. Here goes.

Trial by Jury - 6
The Sorcerer - 16.5
HMS Pinafore - 10
Pirates of Penzance - 8
Patience - 12
Iolanthe - 11
Princess Ida - 5.5
The Mikado - 9
Ruddigore - 12
Yeomen of the Guard - 9
The Gondoliers - 8
Utopia Limited - 11
The Grand Duke - 9

Total - 127

Wow, that's a lot. Of course they're not all exactly love songs. Some of them are songs about not being in love, or love having unfortunate consequences, or pretending to be in love, etc. But they're still about love in one way or another.
I'm a bit surprised at a couple of those numbers. I would've thought there were more in Ida and Pirates than there apparently are.
I am not at all surprised at how many there are in The Sorcerer. Seriously, the whole thing is about love. There are maybe 3 songs which aren't.

Back to Iolanthe!

Firstly, if anyone didn't know, the word 'peri', which appears in the alternative title, basically means fairy. To be precise:
–noun, plural -ris.
one of a large group of beautiful, fairylike beings of Persian mythology, represented as descended from fallen angels and excluded from paradise until their penance is accomplished.
The show, to really briefly summarise, is about fairies and lords and making fun of politics. I'll go into more detail later, as I go through the script. I have my copy of The Savoy Operas ready at hand for this very purpose (Indeed, I just used it to count how many songs are about love in each G&S show).
Let's start by taking a look at the dramatis personae. If you're unaware, G&S mostly follows the slightly odd rule of listing characters in the order of their social rank rather than their significance to the show, and separated by gender, men then women. So, Iolanthe's dramatis personae, with notes from me:
The Lord Chancellor - Comic baritone, gets the nightmare song which is amazing and also featured in a video linked to in a previous post on this blog, sung quietly and not particularly well by me. Pompous but befuddled. Sometimes I think the pomposity doesn't come across as much as I'd like it to, in the one production of this I have seen (The one I was in).
George, Earl Mountararat - Baritone, gets 'When Britain really ruled the waves,' one of the most pompous songs ever written, which I absolutely love. (This may say something about me. It may say something about be which should really be obvious to anyone who knows me) Technically less important than Tolloller, but gets more lines, also the two are pretty much a double act.
Thomas, Earl Tolloller - Tenor. One of the smaller G&S tenor parts, but still a good one. Part of a double act with Mountararat, as I said. 'Blue Blood' is a good song. Leads the House of Lords apparently.
Private Willis (of the first Grenadier Guards) - Bass. One of the many G&S characters who only appear in act 2, but get one really good song. I may make a list of those characters at some point.
Strephon (an Arcadian Shepherd) - Baritone. Male lead. Well, actually the Lord Chancellor may be onstage a bit more, but Strephon's the protagonist at least. Like many G&S male leads, is absent for quite a while in Act 2. He's half a fairy, which leads to a fair few jokes, not all of them in the script.
Queen of the Fairies - Alto. Very good part. Sort of an exception to the general rule about G&S principal alto roles, in that while she is (presumably) old, she's not supposed to look it, on account of being a fairy.
Iolanthe (a fairy, Strephon's mother) - Soprano I think? Maybe mezzo. Despite the show being named after her, not that big a part. Her main significance plot-wise is all in the backstory, rather than anything actually onstage.
Celia, Leila, Fleta (fairies) - Sop, mezzo (I think?), non-singing. Not exactly bit parts, but for some reason I always sort of thought of them as such. Well, Fleta is. Celia and Leila are sort of the counterparts to the two Earls, but they don't get as much to do.
Phyllis (an Arcadian Shepherdess and Ward in Chancery) - Soprano. Female lead. Anyone familiar with G&S should need no additional information.
Onto a less brief summary of things which happen, in which I will actually mention certain scenes, lines and songs!
The fairies come on, sing and dance around a bit, then deliver some plot exposition - Iolanthe was banished for marrying a mortal. She should've died, but the Queen liked her too much (As she comes on and explains at this point).
In the production I was in, they inserted a whole thing where the fairies were supporting the suffragette movement. They borrowed the song 'The soldiers of our queen' from Patience for the Queen and most of the fairies to come on to (Lyrics changed of course). It worked surprisingly well. And I say this as a great purist.
The Queen then, at the urging of her subjects, summons Iolanthe from the bottom of the stream where she lives, pardons her (In a song which kept getting stuck in my head), and then asks why Iolanthe chose to live at the bottom of a stream. (Among the frogs! Uggh!) The answer? To be near Strephon, who, she explains, is half a fairy - the upper half. His legs are mortal.
When I was thinking of parodying Iolanthe for the Playground, I was definitely going to make a joke about whether that might be a comment on his sexuality. (Sidenote: Parodying Gilbert & Sullivan is rather difficult. Most of the shows can in some ways already be seen as parodies of themselves)
And he soon comes onstage, singing 'Good morrow, good mother!' Yes, that is where the title of this blog post comes from. He's going to be married to Phyllis. He doesn't have the Lord Chancellor's consent, which is legally required, but he's going to marry her anyway!
Take note of this point, because it will come up again.
The Fairy Queen suggests Strephon go into Parliament. (A fairy member! That would be delightful!" declares his mother. But surely if his legs are mortal, so is his 'member'? (I have to wonder how many of these dirty jokes were intentional on Gilbert's part)) He has the problem that his fairy half is a tory, but his mortal legs are "a pair of confounded radicals!" However the Queen says he will be returned as a Liberal-Unionist (In our production, this was updated to Liberal-Conservative, and got a laugh every night as a result of the current British political situation (I think. I don't actually follow the news much)) and she also offers him assistance, should he ever need it.
Fairies off, Phyllis on, Phyllis and Strephon are in love and going to get married, they sing a duet, they go off. "Ralph, surely there must be more to the scene?" I hear you say. Answer: Not much, though there are a couple of innuendos which unfortunately can be too easily missed. They are as follows:
"Why did five and twenty Liberal Peers come to shoot over your grass plot last Autumn? It couldn't have been the sparrows. Why did five and twenty Conservative Peers come to fish your pond? Don't tell me it was the goldfish!"

Next scene! Chorus and March of Peers. Really long, but very good. Has lots of tan-tan-tara in it (Not to be confused with taran-tara, which is from Pirates). Lord Chancellor comes on and explains (in a song) that while looking after the Wards of Chancery, all of whom are under 21, might sound nice, it's actually rather annoying because the Lords would be outraged if he decided to marry one of his wards.
The first few lines of that song I really like, and I feel could be neatly applied to a different character who's all about law and order and not so much about being a bit of a lech.
"The law is the true embodiment
of everything that's excellent,
It has no kind of fault or flaw,
And I, my Lords, embody the law."
Don't get me wrong, I like the rest of the song as well, it's funny, but it kind of feels like a different character. Not necessarily a bad thing. That means one can get across two different aspects of the Lord Chancellor's character in that one song.
"And now, my Lords, to the business of the day." The business of the day is that the entire male cast (Minus Private Willis, who isn't on until act 2) are in love with Phyllis. All of them.
So Phyllis is summoned to pick one of them to marry, but she refuses. And they sing about why she shouldn't refuse them, and she sings about why she should, and eventually she admits that she's going to marry someone else, just as Strephon arrives. The Lords go off disappointed, Phyllis goes off for no obvious reason, the Lord Chancellor tells Strephon he can't marry Phyllis, regardless of what chorused nature may have said to him (Unless he can  produce evidence of said pronouncements). Chancellor off.
Strephon is really sad, because the Lord Chancellor says he can't marry Phyllis.
But wait, didn't he say he was going to marry her anyway, "and brave the upshot, be it what it may"? Yes, yes he did. He appears to have forgotten that point, which is why I told you to take note of it.
Iolanthe comforts Strephon by saying she'll ask the Queen to intercede on his behalf. The act 1 finale starts with Phyllis, Mountararat and Tolloller getting completely the wrong idea - because Iolanthe, being a fairy, looks about eight years younger than Strephon, and they assume he's having an affair (He never told Phyllis he was half a fairy, lest it frighten her).
So Phyllis rejects Strephon and decides to marry either Tolloller or Mountararat, but she doesn't care which. Strephon calls the fairies to help him, but they can't convince the Peers that the apparently 17 year old lady could have a son who was almost 25. As revenge for the Peers having been rude to her, the Queen declares that Strephon shall go into Parliament, and pass a load of laws which will annoy the Peers. And then they have a big argument. Curtain closes, end of Act 1.

Act 2. Private Willis sings a song about thinking about politics to pass the time while on sentry duty. It's just occurred to me that I could have recorded a video of me singing that song while my brother was in the bath, to link here. But now he's out of the bath and also my mum came home.
I get self-conscious about singing sometimes. While onstage, I'm usually OK, because it's kind of expected. But just in the house? No. I can only really do it if I feel like I'm not disturbing anyone and can't be overheard. That's why I couldn't re-record the video I did for my last post after I discovered the audio was terrible. Because I had missed my opportunity of being the only  person in the house so I wouldn't feel self-conscious about singing at full volume.
Well, at some point I'll probably do a post about singing in general. I suppose I could include multiple videos in that one.
Back to Iolanthe. I felt the sentry's song was a bit slow in our production. Actually I felt all the music was a bit slow in our production, except for the parts which were instead very, excessively, or ridiculously slow; and one song which I'll get to in a minute.
Edit: I just remembered to add that during the refrain of the Sentry's song, or the corresponding music in the introduction, it is absolutely possible to do the macarena.
Anyway, the Fairies are pleased because Strephon's doing really well in parliament and passing assorted laws, and the Peers are annoyed for the same reason. Today is the second reading of Strephon's bill to open the peerage to competitive examination! And he'll carry it, too! Of course he'll carry it. He's a Parliamentary Pickford: he carries everything! Mountararat explains that the House of Peers is not susceptible of any improvement whatsoever, and then sings 'When  Britain really ruled the waves', to back up his point.
This was the one piece of music in our production which was too fast. This is such a pompous song, it really needs to be, to quote and earlier song, "dignified and stately" (Not "stignified and dately," as we had one drunken Peer singing - we have now adopted 'stignified' as a euphemism for drunk, because clearly the English language didn't have enough yet). It wasn't dignified and stately enough. I didn't think it was pompous enough either. I may have to add this to the list of songs I'm going to record myself singing. There is a risk that it could end up being a very long list. 
Edit: No wait, that song has a chorus bit in it, I can't sing that by myself.
So the fairies really like the peers, but also both sides are annoyed with each other, and the peers storm off. The Fairy Queen berates her subjects for wishing to marry mortals, stating that while she does feel the effects of manly beauty, as exemplified by Private Willis, she casts aside her romantic inclinations in obedience to the Fairy Law.

Phyllis is sad, despite being engaged to two noblemen at once. Said noblemen have yet to decide which of them is to marry her. They now discuss the matter in what I would refer to as the 'Mountararat and Tolloller are clearly gay for each other' scene.
Seriously. They really are.
If Mount (Oh look, more innuendo from the abbreviation!) should rob Tolloller of the girl of his heart, by family tradition, they must fight, and one of them must die. But if he were to survive Mount, his existence would be hopelessly embittered. And conversely, he cannot consent to lose the duel and die himself, because that would crush Mount with unavailing remorse. He tries to deny this, but that tell-tale tear betrays him. In the end, they decide fighting over Phyllis really isn't worth it, and the three of them plus Willis sing a quartet about how great friendship is, before, and I quote from the stage directions, "Exeunt Lords Mountararat and Tolloller, lovingly, in one direction, and Phyllis in another."
Then the Lord Chancellor comes on and sings the nightmare song, which I've already mentioned. And I don't have to add it to the list of things to record because I've already recorded it! Modified rapture!
The two lords tell the Chancellor he should give his consent to his marriage with Phyllis - there's been a whole thing of the Lord Chancellor speaking with his two conflicting capacities ("Let us be glad we are persons of no capacity whatever"); if you know The Mikado, it's like Pooh-Bah advising Ko-Ko about his wedding, he says different things in different capacities. Multiple hats. Multiple boxes on his head! I only just realised that connection just now, and got inordinately excited by it.
They sing a trio, which would go on my recording list if I had a means of multitracking myself. It's a really good trio.
Next, there's a cut song for Strephon. It may go on the recording list. Iolanthe has a lot of good music. It was thought to have too dark a tone for the show in general, but I like it.
He reveals to Phyllis that his mother is a fairy, and they reconcile ("Whenever I see you kissing a very young lady, I shall know it's actually an elderly relative." "Then, Phyllis, I think we shall be very happy!") with a duet. But wait! The Lord Chancellor still won't let them! Again! Even though presumably Strephon could justpass a law allowing him to marry Phyllis at this point? (I shouldn't really poke holes. As Gilbertian plots go, this is abnormally sensible)
Strephon asks Iolanthe to plead their case with the Chancellor, but instead she reveals that he is her husband, Strephon's father (WHAT A TWEEST), so she can't talk to him on pain of death. But she tries while disguised. However, the Chancellor has, after a lengthy speech, consented to his own marriage with Phyllis. Iolanthe reveals herself to him. The Queen is about to kill her, when it turns out that the male and female choruses have all just married each other, and the Queen can't slaughter the whole company. Therefore the law is amended: "Every fairy must die who doesn't marry a mortal." The Queen marries Willis, and away we go to Fairyland!

That ended up as mostly just a plot summary, though I did include occasional comments. Hm. Incidentally, while I usually hate spoilers, in the case of G&S, knowing the plot doesn't particularly affect your enjoyment of it in my experience, because it's more about the ridiculous things which happen along the way. Also some very good music.

I've got to say, I would really like to do Iolanthe again. And get a principal part. Oh, look, it's my ego. But yeah, principal part would be nice. Any principal part.
Edit: Apparently my great grandmother once played the Fairy Queen, and my Grandfather was Sterphon. I think. I'm sure my dad also said some other male relative was once Mountararat, but he seems to have forgotten since last monday.
I was rather disappointed in this instance, because leaving aside relative quality of auditioners and my ego, to be Mountararat, given who played Tolloller, would have been just so great.
I mean, you can't tell me we wouldn't be perfect to play a double act who are clearly gay for each other. I mean, look:
(I love that photo)
Also, we were mouthing along to one of the romantic duets backstage, to each other. And something else I thought of while typing that last sentence and then forgot when I finished it. I rest my case.

Since, at the end, the Fairy Queen actually turns everyone into fairies, I've seen it pointed out that strictly speaking, the fairies haven't all married mortals, which under the newly revised law, means they must die. What I don't understand is why people are being this pedantic about Gilbert and Sullivan. Expecting the whole plot to make perfect sense upon careful examination seems to me to be completely missing the point. Strangely enough, it seems to me that a startling number of G&S enthusiasts are completely missing the point regarding a lot of things in the G&S shows.

What else... oh! Random point for those with an interest in G&S: This is the only show in which it  is explicitly stated that the entire cast get married at the end. Sorcerer and Patience it's the entire cast minus one person in each case. Pirates a couple of principals are left unspecified, though pairing them up is probably traditional or at least common. Otherwise, it's fairly standard to pair up your entire cast, but it's not specified by the script or stage directions.

I could start getting into even more details, but this post is already pretty damn long. And the only thing which springs to mind is the confusing directorial question of what the peers are supposed to be doing while Phyllis rejects them in two different songs and Tolloller sings about how being aristocratic isn't helping them at all. Of course, I can't help but feel that would have been helped a bit by some of the music being taken a bit faster...

Anyway, whatever, this post is long and I'm worried it'll be boring. I'm definitely going to try and think of something less long-winded for my next post.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

"I don't believe you know what love is!"

"Yes, I do. There was a happy time when I didn't, but a bitter experience has taught me."

So, today being the day after Valentine's Day (At least, it was when I started writing this blog post), the subject of love/relationships etc rather obviously suggests itself.

First, Valentine's Day itself. The argument has been made that couples shouldn't need to have a specific fixed date to remind them to do romantic things for each other, they should do so all year round. This is true. But there's no reason why there shouldn't be such a day. People in general shouldn't need specific fixed dates to remind them to do nice things for their friends and family, they should do so all year round - but we still celebrate birthdays, and Christmas. I don't see why Valentine's Day should be particularly different, except in that it applies to different people.
Of course, I know one reason it's viewed differently - because some single people may find it depressing to go out on Valentine's Day and see loving couples everywhere while they have no-one with whom to share Valentine's Day; whereas people with no friends or family with whom to share Christmas are much rarer, and people's birthdays don't all happen on the same day, so it's not as pervasive.
But I don't see this as a problem with the idea itself. It may be a problem with the people celebrating it, if they have excessive PDAs. And it may be a problem with commercialisation - with certain things being marketed specifically for Valentine's Day. But the idea itself? No problem with that. The only reasons I'd avoid it are contrariness and practicality. So by the combination of those two, I would of course be naturally disposed to do something romantic on the 15th of February, when I'm much less likely to be confronted by hordes of other couples doing the same thing.
Though even then, the pervasiveness of Valentine's Day does have its effect, in the form of the tendency to think, despite the fact I don't go so much for Valentine's Day, that maybe I should ask that special someone to be my Valentine (Assuming there is such a person) (Random thought, Valentine's Day must be weird for people named Valentine. Oh hey, even weirder, imagine if your name was Valentine and you were born on Valentine's Day! That would just be really weird. I wonder if that's ever happened)

OK, so onto relationships. I have issues with referring to... well, this is the issue. What does one call them? Prospective significant others? Ambiguous, since that could imply they're trying to get with you rather than the other way around (Which might also be true, but you probably don't know that for certain). 'People with whom I would be interested in potentially pursuing a romantic relationship' is a bit long. 'Boyfriend/Girlfriend elect', while amusingly strange, would confuse some people and could be seen as presumptuous of their answer when you get round to asking them out (Incidentally, 'asking someone out' is another potential issue. What do you say if it's to be a long distance relationship, since you won't actually be going out together on a particularly regular basis?)
Finally, possibly the big two. Saying you 'fancy' someone doesn't work for me, for two reasons. Firstly, I always feel it's a bit Middle School, and therefore a bit immature. Secondly and more significantly, I always feel that 'fancy' implies a purely physical attraction. So by that definition, I fancy a lot of people, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go through the list, asking them out one by one.
Which leaves us with 'crush'. Which can possibly work for me. Though there's still the problem that other people may define it differently, in which case should I go along with them for ease of understanding, or stick with my own personal definition at risk of confusion?
Of course, in practice, I don't talk about these things much, at least not to other people, so it doesn't really come up most of the time. But still. Word choice issues! Are there any other possibilities, in or out of common parlance, which I've missed?

OK, next subject: Love as portrayed in various media. To start with, Introbulus shared this on facebook, and I'm going to share it here, because I think it's brilliant:

Portal 2: Valentine's Day Trailer.
Whimsy aside, there are issues with love portrayed in media being unconvincing, which is a problem if it's supposed to be realistic. Thinking about this, one could probably just look through love/romance tropes on TV Tropes, but on the other hand, that would be more time consuming than just reading me rambling about the subject for a little while. Also, of course, TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life.
For an example, love at first sight. Pretty sure this doesn't exist in the real world. Lust at first sight I can believe, but not love. Because love is not down to just physical appearance, but personalities as well. A meeting of two souls or something poetic of that ilk. But it happens sometimes in fiction. I can accept it if it's acknowledged to be ridiculous (e.g. Scaphio in Utopia Limited by Gilbert & Sullivan), but of course you can't really parody something that doesn't already exist. So in that, I can accept that some good has come of unrealistic portrayals of love, but they still bother me. Depending on how you define love, maybe you can get to something if your first sight of the person in question is of them being wonderful and lovely and so on, but as I said, it depends on your definition of love, and for that matter 'first sight' (Not in the Discworld sense).
Another (sort of) example of love at first sight is, of course, Romeo and Juliet. I say sort of, because the point is, it's not love. At the start of the play Romeo's going on about how in love he is with Rosaline, and then he sees Juliet and decides he's in love with her instead. It's not love, it's teenage lust, which tears apart the city of Verona and ruins both those two great families. This is why the play is a tragedy, a point which many people miss in this day and age, thinking instead that it's a great romance etc, when it's not. I may be belabouring this point, but I've had it put to me in stronger terms, and it is, as I said, something people miss. Also, Romeo and Juliet is far from Shakespeare's best work, and yet it's probably the best known of his plays.
Continuing on the subject of love being down to more than just physical appearance, that's something which can be missed in portrayals or descriptions of it. Romantic poetry, or just poetical descriptions, tend to focus on how beautiful the subject of the affections is, hair, eyes, etc. (There would at this point have been a link to a video of me singing 'Take a pair of sparkling eyes' from The Gondoliers, but it turns out the microphone built into my laptop can't handle me singing at full volume. I might redo it on my camera, cope with the excessive upload time and use it in a post about singing and stuff) Now this may be because it's more difficult to get too poetic about aspects of people's personalities, and there definitely are cases when fictional characters will talk about how wonderful their lovers are as people, rather than as objects of beauty, but it's still something which can be missed.

Let's see. Another aspect which can be missed in fictional portrayals of romance is simply that not every relationship is true love. I'm sure this does come across in some things, but on the other hand there are some things where breakups pretty much only ever happen due to extenuating circumstances (Frequently involving death - though that may be down to my tastes in TV) and never because the relationship just isn't working and the people aren't quite right for each other. Of course, the main reason people are likely to say this should have been portrayed in a specific case is to get rid of a fictional relationship they didn't like, and doubtless if it were portrayed some people would be outraged because they love that relationship. But to be honest, I'm pretty sure there's no way you're going to please everyone when it comes to things like that.
I wonder if I should touch more on the subject of shipping at this point, since I have sort of just passed it there, but I can't think of anything to say about it that would be directly relevant, and discussing it properly I could go on for quite a while and this post is going to be long anyway. Well, I suppose there's a point about love in there with the fact that you can look at the way two (fictional) people interact and assume they're in love, or at least lust, with each other, while other people (Most notably the author of the work in question) may be completely unable to see what you mean. It's all subjective - and of course this does also apply in real life, leading to the possibility of people getting entirely the wrong impression.

Finally, moving away from media and back to confusing words: Love. Of course given one is told that being in love is a serious thing, you don't want to declare yourself to be so prematurely, even though you may feel like you are. Certainly, in the course of my life, there have been times when I kind of thought I could be in love, but looking back on them, I definitely wasn't. On the other hand, for one or two, maybe I really was. This is where of course we get to the confusing point - there are, as we know, different kinds of love. People typically love their families, but incest is quite rare. People may well say they love their friends, but that doesn't mean there's anything going on between them (I mean, sometimes it may be, but sometimes it isn't, and of course, sometimes it might seem like it is when actually it isn't). So there are these different types of love, and how exactly are we supposed to clearly define which is which?
It gets particularly complicated in that sometimes they can get pretty close together. As I've brought up, of course love is down to personalities. And then so is friendship. So the kind of person one might fall in love with will quite possibly be the same sort of person one would be friends with, and the two may overlap. Personally I have found that in some cases, the distinction - the line between friend-love and romantic-love, if you will - can get a bit nebulous, while equally in other cases it's very clear. I have noted, on occasion, that  some of my friends appear to fulfil all the obvious criteria for me being attracted to them, except for the most fundamental point that, well, I'm not attracted to them. And conversely some of my friends can quite easily jump back and forth across the friend/crush line (Which is not generally as confusing as it may sound - also it has the potential upside that if I ask one of them out and get rejected, it shouldn't take me too long to recategorise them, as it were, as just friends. Put them firmly on the side of the line which will cause me to get less depressed about the situation. Weird, I know, but that's the inner workings of my head for you. I'm now getting paranoid about possible reactions to this, so I'm going to stop before my ramblings get onto any more personal subjects. Not that I can think of any more that I'd really bring up at this juncture, but if I keep rambling, who knows what could happen?)

Oh, but I just remembered another thing I was going to mention. One more Patience quote for you:
"You can't love two people at the same time!"
"Oh, can't you though?"
"No, you can't! I only wish you could!"
However, I've completely forgotten what I was actually going to say on the subject, and I've decided to stop anyway (I actually recalled that I was going to mention this just as I finished the blog post), so you can muse on it yourselves. Polyamory! Opinions!

tl;dr summary: Love and relationships are really confusing, because of words and media and words. Also, I'm strange. (That last point could really be given as part of a summary for any of my blog posts)

Coming soon: I casually analyse things I've read/watched/performed in. And maybe, just maybe, I might one day make a blog post completely free from random introspection. It's an outlying possibility.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Drawing on the boxes

So, returning to the analogy for which this blog is named, I want to talk about something which can affect how one presents oneself online: avatars.
No, not that sort of avatar. Nor the kind that involves blue aliens, nor even anthropomorphic personifications.

I refer, of course, to avatars on forums. On the unlikely possibility that someone reading this has never been on an internet forum, your avatar is a little picture which appears below your username to the left hand side of all your posts. Obviously this is one means by which you can project an image of yourself to these strange internet people who you've never met in real life. Or, alternatively, it might be an image of who/what you would like to be, rather than who/what you are - like what I said in my first post about letting out aspects of your personality which you're less comfortable with in real life.
It's interesting seeing the different sorts of avatar different people have. Some just have one avatar which they use all the time, maybe with occasional minor alterations. Some have many different avatars which they switch between as tehy feel like it. Some have many different avatars, but all with a common theme, so they're all recognisable as belonging to that person. And some people just don't bother with them at all.
And then there's the matter of what the avatars are of - fictional characters, characters they've invented for RP (Role-playing) of some sort, just a photo of themself, maybe just some sort of logo.
There's probably some sort of psychological analysis you could do based on this, though I've no idea what it'd show.

Now, on the Playground, as those on it will obviously know, we have avatar theme weeks periodically. Everyone taking part gets a new avatar which fits the theme and uses it for the week. Sort of like a themed costume party, on an internet forum (And I have been known, when trying to come up with party themes, to look at theme week ideas and then think which of them would work for a party). And since they're often rather pleased with their new avatars, they often start using them early, and continue using them long after the theme week is over. But that's not relevant to what I was saying.
The interesting thing is, some people use their themed avatars to facilitate RP. It's especially prevalent in the thread for the theme week itself. It's quite impressive how people can come up with whole characters to go with their avatars (OK, I suppose they probably don't come up with whole characters so much as maybe a couple of character traits that they can easily play around with, but still). It's not something I've ever bothered to do. Except for Clone Week, which was a different sort of thing.
For Clone Week, everyone taking part used the same avatar, which was a generic grey stick figure, replaced their signature (For non-forumites: set text and/or pictures which appear below every post you make) with "We are here. We are One. We are the Playground." and acted like we were a hive mind. So, I didn't really change the way acted, I just referred to myself and everyone else as 'we' for a week.
Of course, since there's no record of what avatar you had at the time you made a post, it's rather odd going back and looking at those posts now.

So, musings aside, I'm going to talk about my avatars themselves, and the drawing of them. Yeah, this is kind of just a way for me to go "Look at these things which I did! Aren't I great?"
I should note at this point that while I wanted to be one when I was younger, I am no artist. I can't draw things. I have friends who are good artists who sometimes say they can't draw things, but I really can't. Stick figures at best. I'm not that great even with image editing programs, but they're easier, I'm not doing anything particularly complicated, and what I am is persistent. So I will keep fiddling with something in inkscape until I'm happy with it. And of course with an image editing program I have the advantage that once I've drawn something, I never have to draw it again, just copy, paste and tweak.

So, let's go in chronological order, starting from when I got inkscape. I made myself a couple of avatars in paint before that, but they weren't that great.
It should be noted that all these avatars are done in the style of the Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic (Though with some differences, like I'm not overly fond of stick limbs. I prefer visible sleeves and trousers on my stick figures). I found Trazoi's guide to be very useful.
Now, there is a Playgrounder named Jibar, whose avatars are all catmuffins. What is a catmuffin, you ask? It's a muffin with cat ears and a tail. One time, Jibar declared a Catmuffin Week, so lots of people got their own catmuffins. Over a year later, I'd just got inkscape, and decided to draw some catmuffins for myself. Or, to be more precise, chessmuffins:

Of course, this is an instance of the only having to draw something once. I just drew the white one of these, then inverted the colours to make the black. The same applies for the rest.

Kings obviously get crowns.

 For some reason blogspot won't let me put too many
images on the same line. This is really quite annoying.

Queens get different crowns.

Again with the copy/pasting for all those
spikes with balls on the ends. 

Bishops get hats. Given that I'm not particularly religious in real life, I decided to make them worship a D&D deity, and looked in the PHB (Player's Handbook) for a symbol I could draw. Picked out Boccob, God of magic and stuff. He is probably the most intellectual D&D deity, so it kinda fits.

Now it starts getting a bit more complicated. Knights have to have horses. But I was able to basically just copy a horse from an OotS strip.

The rooks are probably my favourites. Replace muffin cases with castle towers. Which, it should be noted, are rather easy to draw, if time consuming, but it does come out looking rather good.

Care for a game?

So then, after a while I decided I wanted a Babylon 5 themed avatar, for no particular reason. So,

"I am grey. I stand between the candle, and the star.
We are grey. We stand between the darkness, and the light."
I'm still not entirely satisfied with the robe, but it works.

And now we come to around February last year. In which a very significant event happened, for me anyway. Because,
HMS Pinafore. I do so love that show. And I did so love being Ralph.
This is probably the biggest example of how I reuse the stuff I've drawn. When I need to draw a new avatar, I tend to copy most of the elements directly from this one. Shoes, trousers, torso, head, etc. Then just tweak a bit, change some colours, move the arms, maybe add some different clothes, and voila! I have an entirely different avatar. Though not the next one.

Then, I read Terry Pratchett's Nation. Wonderful book, I love it to pieces (But not literally, because books are sacred and should always stay in one piece). So, a little blue hermit crab and the Sunrise Wave.

Now, we move onto theme week avatars. Pokemon Week:
Nationality Week:
Everything stereotypically British I could think of, other than queuing. A teapot, dressed as The Doctor, with a top hat and monocle, performing Shakespeare in the rain, with cricket, a dead parrot, a bottle belonging to Mr. J.W. Wells, and a union flag, over which are superimposed the words "Don't Panic" in large, friendly letters.

Monty Python Week, and Halloween:
A man armed with a banana.

Me dressed up as CurlyKitGirl.
The book, though you can't read it at this size, purports to be by Neil Gaiman.

Another Gilbert & Sullivan one, because I was in another show:
"I am the spectre of the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd..."
Well, actually I drew this one back when I was cast as Sir Roderic, but for the week of the performances (Which were at the start of October, I've gone slightly out of sequence) I edited it to add the beard and started using it again. Of course, technically Roderic shouldn't still be in the portrait if he's come out of it but meh artistic licence or something, contrast between opaque gloomy portrait and semi-transparent cheerful ghost blah blah blah.
I suppose in a week or so I'll have to draw myself as the herald.

Back to theme weeks. Comic Book Week:
First, the version of Daredevil from Marvel 1602. I really like this one, with the shadowy illumination and the window. Though drawing crouching stick figures is quite hard.

And second, Fiddler's Green/Gilbert from Sandman.

Well, I'd hardly pick characters from comics not by Neil Gaiman, now would I?

Death as the Hogfather,

And Tiny Tim from the Muppets' Christmas Carol.

Anime Week:
Midvalley the Hornfreak,
And Chapel the Evergreen,
Both from Trigun, of course.
I'm not entirely satisfied with how Chapel turned out. But I was quite pleased with Midvalley's saxophone.

And finally, I decided to make myself a more generic avatar, that could become a standard. You may recognise it:
Since I'm also using it as the picture for my Blogger profile.
In fact I originally drew this as part of an image in which me and Curly were pointing at each other in mutual ENVY! for the different awesome parties which we attend. But, it also works as just me, a bit dressed up. And conveniently gave me a standard avatar, just in time for the Playground's annual Gender Bender Week!
So there you have it. I feel that's enough self-congratulation. Hope I haven't bored you with it too much. I've skipped over some things I've drawn - one that was just really bad, a couple of things I drew for other people, previous versions of some of the above, etc. But you get the idea.
I sometimes feel bad about the amount of time I must've spent drawing these, when I could have been doing something more productive. But, on the other hand, it's quite fun, and it's certainly nice to be able to customise my forum appearance (I switch my signature as well - quote related to current avatar, forum quotes possibly vaguely connected to current avatar, curse on the Atlantic Ocean somehow tied into the theme of the avatar).

GAHH formatting ruins my life sometimes. I have fiddled with this enough! It should be readable, hopefully.
(Now watch as the actual post turns out to look different to the preview...)

Edit: And 90 minutes after making the post, I remembered the other thing I was going to muse on.
As I said, I don't attach any particular persona to my avatars. I don't intentionally act any differently no matter which avatar I'm using.
But what about unintentionally?
Earlier, I made a post in which one of the things I said was, in response to something which could be interpreted as an innuendo if your mind ran that way, "IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN." I do this sometimes. I blame Tolloller/Ernest for corrupting me.
Anyway, I felt slightly weird about it, because somehow it seemed to me that this was not something the female me would say. I didn't intentionally personify that gender-bent avatar any further than: me, if I were a woman. But somehow I ended up with this idea that she's maybe a bit too proper to make jokes about innuendos. And so I wonder: could this be a general thing? I've never noticed it before, but do I perhaps act slightly differently depending on which avatar I'm using, like a lesser version of the way sometimes you act differently depending on what sort of clothes you're wearing?
Just an odd thought.