Super Smash Bros Ultimate: Choose Your Character!

(NOTICE: This post assumes that you have played Super Smash Bros Ultimate or are at least up on the gameplay and characters.)

Athena ScalziI used to hate Super Smash Bros Ultimate. In fact, I used to hate all Smash games. This was due to me only playing them one time, losing super badly because no one told me the controls, and then me rage quitting and vowing to never play again.

Fast forward a few years to 2019, when I discovered I loved Smash Ultimate after someone actually took time to teach me how to play instead of just beating the shit out of me while I button mashed and prayed.

Now, I’m totally addicted to Smash. Do I still rage quit? Yes. All the time, actually. But that’s usually only when I try to play online and the lag totally nerfs me. Or maybe I’m just not as good as I think I am.

Today I’m here to talk about my favorite and least favorite characters to play as in Ultimate, and basically just talk about who I main and whatnot. Though I will say my main has changed a lot over the course of the past year or so, and is never really constant, there’s definitely some characters that I can’t seem to stop playing.

First up, my very favorite character, Captain Falcon! He is by far the character I play the most, and also the character I consider myself the most skilled with. I love his character design, and his voice lines are so hilarious. Personally, I’m a big fan of his move set because I’m not really into projectiles, I like to run up and punch people instead, and he’s perfect for that! And what’s more satisfying than landing a Falcon Punch and killing someone? He is also a great character for spiking, which I love to do (though rarely succeed at).

Going along with the in-your-face kind of combat characters, I also like Donkey Kong, Bowser, really any heavy that can just beat the shit out of you. Heavy characters are easiest to learn how to play if you’re just starting out, in my opinion. When I first started playing, I stuck with Bowser as a main for a while. I think they’re especially good to play if, like me, you’re not very good at the game, because they can take a ton of hits before they die.

One more great character that has that same punchy punchy play style is Terry! He’s one of the DLC characters and I’m so happy I bought him because he is so much fun! I play him all the time, especially online.

Moving away from that type of character, let’s look at some characters that are more projectile based. I know I said I’m not the biggest fan of projectiles, but I think that there are some really great characters that have a healthy balance of projectile moves and regular moves.

For example, the Wii Fit Trainer has a move set that is a perfect blend of projectiles, regular attacks, and other special moves (like the healing move). The Wii Fit Trainer was actually the first character I ever played, and I had no idea what I was doing. It was a rough time, and I decided it was a stupid game and that I never wanted to play again. Now, I thoroughly enjoy playing as the Wii Fit Trainer! And I actually feel like I’m pretty good with her.

There is one projectile-based character that comes to mind when I think of characters I DESPISE. And that would be Mega Man. Literally all of his moves except like two are projectiles. He doesn’t even have a normal jab! I hate it. The only thing I hate more than playing as Mega Man is playing against him.

Fighting against characters with projectiles is super annoying. I hate when people just stand all the way across the stage and throw shit at you. There’s no pizzazz in that! Where’s the dramatic Warlock Punch type of flourish?! This is especially true when I play online and all I see is people playing Toon Link/Young Link (I would include regular Link but I have a soft spot for him so I don’t mind playing against him).

Another awful projectile-based character I especially hate fighting against is Snake. I hate playing him, too, but at least that’s better than fighting him. He has the slowest forward smash in the game! Can you believe that?

There are a bunch of characters I don’t particularly like simply because I think they’re boring, like Ice Climbers, Duck Hunt, or Olimar. Ice Climbers are literally children and Olimar is very unfun to play as. At least with Ice Climbers one of them can take the hit without taking damage. Same with Rosalina and Luma (another terrible one), if you hit the Luma, Rosalina doesn’t take damage.

There’s are also a lot of characters I’m indifferent about, like Robin, Inkling, Bayonetta, Ken/Ryu, Simon/Richter, Sheik, Shulk, R.O.B., these are all characters that could just not be in the game and I wouldn’t even notice. They’re fine to play as, I have no qualms with them, they’re just not memorable in any way to me. Especially since half of them are echo characters anyways (which just means they have pretty much the exact same move set as a different character).

I really want to talk about the DLC characters! I know I mentioned earlier that Terry is a great one, but honestly there isn’t a single DLC character I don’t like! Except Steve. But we’ll get to that.

One of my favorites of the DLC characters is Hero, despite my usual hatred of projectile-based characters. Hero is just so unique, and has sooo many different spells you can fuck people up with! I think the whole using mana thing is so cool, even if sometimes I get killed by not having enough mana to recover with. It’s interesting to me that they found a way to put a cap on Hero’s insane powers. Hero is a character that takes a lot of thought to use (or at least, use correctly).

Another of my favorites is Joker! I just love his character design; plus when he gets his persona, Arsène, his attacks are stronger, which I think is a really neat addition to his character. He’s fast, light, and tons of fun to play as. I’ve never played Persona 5, but I’ve seen gameplay of it and it seems interesting.

I know everyone hated the fact that Byleth got announced as a DLC character, but I kind of like Byleth! Definitely not my favorite DLC character, and certainly not my favorite Fire Emblem character in the game, but I like him. Out of all the Fire Emblem characters in the game (there’s a lot), I probably like Marth the best (even though Lucina is basically a better Marth). Byleth is cool, though, because he has the strongest down air in the game (even if it is incredibly fucking slow).

Banjo and Kazooie is another one of those rare characters that has two characters as one, like Ice Climbers or Rosalina and Luma, but unlike those two, Banjo and Kazooie cannot be separated, and you can’t hit one without both taking damage. I don’t play them often enough to have too much of an opinion on them, and same goes for Min Min, but they both seem fine. I think Min Min has a cool design, at least.

Now we get to one of the greatest DLC characters ever, Sephiroth. I am totally in love with Sephiroth, so my opinion of him in Smash is completely biased. I think he is so cool and has an awesome move set and I love his sword and his hair and ugh, I adore him. Bias aside, I really do think his moves are cool, and he is definitely fun to play as, plus his stage, music, and win screen are amazing! If you haven’t seen his announcement trailer before, you should totally check it out:

He’s just… so pretty.

Up next is the real MVP, Piranha Plant. This is the most underrated DLC character of all! You literally play as a potted plant! That’s so fucking cool. Not to mention Piranha Plant has an amazing recovery, and is just a ton of fun all around. You’ve got poison breath and fire breath! What more do you need?

Okay, so, let’s talk about Steve. I cannot figure out for the life of me how to play him, and at this point, I just don’t even want to bother. You have to mine the stage for materials to make better weapons to fight with! That’s so ridiculous to me. don’t like Steve and I think he’s a poor addition to Smash. There, I said it.

You know who we really need in Smash, though? Doom Guy. That’s right, the most ruthless, brutal, demon-slaying bitch out there. He would absolutely rock the Smash world. Yes, I did get the idea put in my head from memes, but the memes were right! He does belong in it. And maybe Dr. Samuel Hayden, too, while we’re at it.

Anyways, yeah. I have a lot of characters I like, and a lot I don’t like. Some I love, and some I hate. But isn’t that how it goes with all video games ever?

If you play Smash Ultimate, tell me who your favorites are! Do you agree with my picks? Is there a Smash game you like more than Ultimate? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The (LGBT) Numbers Are In

John Scalzi

Polling company Gallup reports that the number of Americans identifying as LGBT is up to an all-time high, at 5.6%, and that this identification is especially high amongst the younger generations. Most surprisingly to a lot of people, I think, has been the rise in the number of (declared) bisexuals, which you can see from the numbers above has shot up considerably in recent generations. Likewise the number of (declared) trans folk is way up in younger generations than it is in previous generations. But in every case, the number of folks who are out in each generation is growing.

This will no doubt freak out some extremely conservative “family values” folks — the recruiting is working! — but I think the reason for the rise is pretty obvious: The number of LGBT people across all generations is almost certainly constant, what’s changed is the level of open social acceptance that comes with being LGBT. There’s a huge inflection point in identifying as LGBT that starts with Millennials, who are the demographic group who came of age when same-sex marriage started becoming legal in the US; Gen Z is the first group becoming adults in an era where it is completely legal.

Millennials and Gen Z are also the demographic groups who regularly see positive and varied LGBT representation in common culture, with, I think, trans representation being especially changed in recent years. As a Gen X person, nearly all my pop culture trans people were people with something to hide, played for comedy or disgust. Millennials and Gen Z get to see trans people in a far wider range of roles and situations, and sympathetically. And that matters. When you see yourself, you can be yourself.

Not that we live now live in a perfect world for LGBT folks, of course, particularly for trans folks. Transphobia is the new conservative hotness these days; having lost all the other culture wars, this is where they’ve decided to plant their flag. As someone who knows and cares for trans folk, it’s exasperating (to use the mildest possible term for it) to see the conservative outrage machine revving up on them. But that’s American conservatism for you, isn’t it. The American conservative prayer is Jesus Christ, let me have someone punch down on. Trans people are who they’re punching down on today.

Also, seeing the increase in the number of people identifying as bisexual, the thought I immediately had was I bet that’s driven by women. Anecdotally, the number of women I personally know who identify as bisexual is far higher than the number of men who do so. The Gallup poll seems to bear out that anecdotal observation of mine: “Women are more likely to identify as bisexual — 4.3% do, with 1.3% identifying as lesbian and 1.3% as something else. Among men, 2.5% identify as gay, 1.8% as bisexual and 0.6% as something else.” I personally don’t suspect women are actually more bisexual than men; I think men think they lose “man points” for coming out as bisexual. Patriarchy! It’s a hell of a drug.

(Also, not appearing in this poll: Non-binary, genderfluid and ace folks, who, again anecdotally, I see far more openly represented in Millennials and Gen Z than I do in older generations. I’d be curious to see the numbers there and how they interact with the other components of the queer spectrum, in terms of identity.)

We have more work to do before everyone feels free to be who they are. But it’s still nice to see more people feeling they can be so. If you feel more able to be who you are today, then I’m happy for you. And if you don’t well, I hope I can be part of making the world be a place where you feel you can.

— JS

Adventures In Banoffee Making!

Athena ScalziI was thumbing through the pages of the newest Bon Appetit magazine, when I saw the most intriguing recipe. I stared in awe at the Chocolate-Biscoff Banoffee Pie and knew immediately I had to make it.

So, off to the store I went. I was shocked by how much of the recipe’s ingredients I already had at home. It’s a surprisingly easy ingredient list, though it looks long because it’s split into three sections: the crust, the ganache, and the pudding filling. But really the only thing I had to get from the store was the Biscoff cookies, heavy whipping cream, and a bar of semisweet chocolate. So nothing too unusual!

It was about one in the morning when I made this, so instead of using a food processor to grind up the Biscoff cookies, I just put them in a Ziploc bag and smushed the hell out of them. Then I poured the sugar and butter into the bag and just shook it all up and tossed it around until it was well combined!

Once I poured it out into the pie pan, I realized I maybe could’ve been a little more thorough in my cookie mashing, because I still had a lot of big pieces. Not a huge deal, though! Basically, I’d use a food processor if you can, but if you don’t have one or don’t feel like it, my method works just fine, too.

After I made the ganache and baked the crust, I poured the ganache on top and it came out looking like this:

A little rough around the edges, but tasty-looking enough!

So, that part of the recipe was super easy. Then came the pudding. I had never attempted to make homemade pudding before. I’ve never even made the Jell-O kind that you have to cook, I’ve always opted for the instant kind you just pour milk into and stir!

But, I thought I could do it. I believed in my culinary capability!

Turning the sugar into liquid caramel was easy enough. I took it off the heat and poured in the milk and cream, per the instructions, only for the liquid sugar to immediately harden into a rock. All that liquid just turned into a ball of rock sugar.

I figured that was not what was supposed to happen, and tried to think of how to fix it. I ended up just putting the pan immediately back onto the burner to re-melt the sugar, and that ended up working. After the sugar dissolved into the milk and cream, I just added the rest of the stuff and was happy I fixed my fuck up.

However, another fuck up shortly arose. After the cream mixture cooked and whatnot, I mixed the eggs and cornstarch and then attempted to temper the eggs by very slowly adding in the butterscotch. For a moment there, I thought I had done it correctly, but as you can see from this picture, there were tiny curds in the egg and butterscotch mixture:

I was worried, but continued to persevere! I followed the instructions and put it back on the heat to finish cooking. It said it would thicken up after five minutes, but it didn’t seem to change much at all in my opinion, but I chalked it up to, “eh, that’s probably good enough”, and then strained it. My lordy did that strainer catch a bunch of what was basically sweet scrambled eggs. I tried to smush everything down through the strainer with my rubber spatula but I kind of just ended up making a paste at the bottom of the strainer.

Okay, so maybe the pudding was a little bit… chunky. I was keeping my hopes high as I let it cool and poured it into the ganache layered crust. I told myself it would be all better after the six hour setting period.

Alas, after six hours, it was totally runny. I let it chill a couple more hours. Still completely liquid. Not only was it totally runny and didn’t set at all, but it was full of curds. YUCK.

So, I dumped the homemade pudding out of the crust and wiped everything off my beautiful ganache layer. I proceeded to fill the pie crust with Jell-O butterscotch instant pudding.

Now THAT’S some good pudding.

Honestly, thank the lord for Jell-O instant pudding. It’s so unbelievably easy and requires two ingredients, one of them being the fackin’ pudding packet. If you make this recipe, I encourage you to try the homemade version, but honestly, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with opting for the Jell-O version.

After decorating with bananas and chocolate, per the recipe, it ending up looking a little something like this:

Maybe it doesn’t look quite as neat and pretty as the Bon Appetit version, but honestly, not bad, I think!

My dad and I promptly tried a piece, and both agreed it was super good! Also, extremely decadent and should be eaten in moderation. All in all, not a total fail! Well, maybe it was kind of a fail, but it was salvaged, at least.

When I fail at cooking, it cuts deep. It honestly hurts me on a level it probably shouldn’t. I want to be good at it. I want to make everything perfectly. To fail at something that they make look so easy is just… awful. When I fail at cooking, my immediate reaction is to just throw everything away, get rid of any evidence I even attempted to make something that turned out poorly.

I’m so glad I didn’t do that this time. There was still something good in the mess I created. This was fixable. I knew I couldn’t just throw away a crust made entirely out of Biscoff cookies!

So, yeah, I’m glad I made this, and I’m glad it’s good. It’s okay if my first attempt at pudding didn’t exactly pan out. At least Jell-O will always be there to catch me if I fall.

Before I go, I’m going to mention one quick thing. The recipe says the chocolate you use should be at least 64% cacao. So I got a bar of 70%. That shit was BITTER. If you like darker chocolate, like really dark, that’s fine, sure. But if you’re like me and want your chocolate sweet, do not use that high of a percent. The ganache part was okay, but the chocolate pieces on top were just wayyy too bitter. So maybe you could opt for dark chocolate for the ganache and milk chocolate for the garnish.

Are you a fellow lover of Biscoff cookies? Have you ever made homemade pudding? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Canonical Sequel FAQ

John Scalzi

Pretty much on a daily basis, I get asked on social media whether there will ever be a sequel to [insert one of my books/series here]. To reduce the amount of typing that I have to do each time this is asked, I now present The Canonical Sequel FAQ, which will tell you — at a glance! — whether you can expect a sequel to whatever book it is that you are hoping to have a sequel to. This will be updated from time to time.

THE BOOKS/SERIES I AM CURRENTLY CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGED TO WRITE SEQUELS FOR

I have to write these sequels, they’ve already paid me money for them!

The Old Man’s War Series (Currently includes: Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division, The End of All Things, plus short works The Sagan Diary and Questions For a Soldier): There will be at least one more book in this series. No current timeframe for its release.

The Lock In Series (Currently includes Lock In and Head On, with the novella Unlocked): There will be at least one more book in this series. No current timeframe for its release.

The Dispatcher Series (Currently includes the novellas The Dispatcher and Murder By Other Means): There will be at least one more novella in this series. No current timeframe for its release.

THE BOOKS/SERIES I AM NOT CURRENTLY CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGED TO WRITE SEQUELS FOR

This doesn’t mean I will never write a sequel in these universes, because I am often persuadable by very large sums of money. It means that currently I am not under contract to write sequels in these universes and have no current plans to do so:

Agent to the Stars

The Android’s Dream (there is a short story in this universe called “Judge Sn Goes Golfing”)

The God Engines

Fuzzy Nation

Redshirts

The Interdependency Series (The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, The Last Emperox)

Literally anything else I’ve ever written, including short stories, anthologies, collections, non-fiction work, scripts, blog posts, reviews, essays, songs, tweets, etc.

BUT I REALLY NEED YOU TO WRITE A SEQUEL TO [INSERT BOOK/SERIES HERE]

I understand but I have other projects in development and/or no one has offered me very large sums of money for the title you want, including you and/or you’re not the boss of me, sorry.

I HAVE AN IDEA FOR A SEQUEL TO [INSERT BOOK/SERIES HERE] AND I WISH TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT

No. Never ever tell it to me. For legal reasons, and also because I find that shit annoying. You can go write that idea as fan fiction if you like. Never ever show that fan fiction to me, either.

YOU SHOULD MAKE A MOVIE/TV SERIES/VIDEO GAME/ETC ABOUT [INSERT BOOK/SERIES HERE]

Sadly I do not have the literally millions upon millions of dollars required to make a movie/TV series/video game about my works. Some of my work is currently under option for film/TV/etc, others not. It’s not up to me to have my work optioned, outside of saying “yes” or “no” to the people who ask for those options. Additionally, short of (again) someone giving me very large sums of money, I am not likely at this point to give up my job as a novelist to do any other line of work.

There, we’re all caught up now!

— JS

The Big Idea: Juliette Wade

Sometimes it feels like the choices we make don’t matter, and that in the grand scheme of things, the small things we do don’t make a big difference. Author Juliette Wade assures us in her Big Idea that even small things can ripple when we’re all connected. Read on to see how this plays a role in her newest novel, Transgressions of Power.

JULIETTE WADE:

In the nation of Varin, history is being made. 

The first book of The Broken Trust, Mazes of Power, introduced us to the ancient cavern city of Pelismara, and to the brothers Tagaret and Nekantor, whose opposing views about order and justice cast them into conflict when the noble caste chose a new Heir to the throne. Through their experiences, the book explored the stratified systems that make Varin’s society work the way it does, and looked at how those systems empower or confine the people who live inside them. 

In Transgressions of Power, Tagaret and Nekantor have become so entangled in their careful opposition that they have come to a near-standstill – and that means the people near them must push against Varin’s systems and create change. 

But what kind of change can people outside of power create, when Nekantor makes his move and everything starts to go wrong?  

Thirteen-year-old Adon, Tagaret and Nekantor’s youngest brother, has always felt like an outsider, but if he tries to change things, he’ll be in danger of becoming a pawn. 

Pyaras, Tagaret’s cousin, has spent much of his life being shamed for his friendship with a policeman from the Arissen caste; taking action will put himself and his friend in danger.

Della, Tagaret’s partner, has grand dreams of creating a new society, but she’s deliberately sidelined by the sexism of the noble Society, and her fragile health means she can become unable to act at unexpected moments.

Melín, a soldier, wants to be free to protect Pelismara’s food supplies from the wysps who make the surface uninhabitable, but because of her caste she’s required to take noblemen’s orders, even when they sideline her from her job and put her under Nekantor’s control.

In our own world, when we read about history, our eyes are guided to the roles of major players, great names whose heroism is laid out for us. When we look back on historical events with the advantage of distance, we know who heroes are and how they distinguish themselves. What happens, though, when we find ourselves right in the midst of historically significant events that are much larger than we are? Do we cope? Do we fight? What do we try to change, and how?

The big idea of Transgressions of Power is that a human being, in the moment of action, may not know what the significance of their choices might be; they might not be in a position of power that allows for drastic change; but their choices and actions matter. 

Acts may seem small when set against a huge societal system that was designed to self-regulate. However, because everything in the system is interconnected, small acts can resonate, and create cascades of influence with unexpected, often dangerous, results.

And the people outside the spotlight might become heroes.


Transgressions of Power: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow her on Twitter.

 

Showcasing My Collection: Stickers, Volume One

Athena ScalziWelcome, everyone, to this sticker-tastic post! Today I will be showing y’all a little bit of something I recently started collecting, that being stickers (if you hadn’t already guessed by the title and the previous sentence)!

I started collecting stickers about three months ago. Since then, I have obtained over 170 stickers! I have a specific notebook I have dedicated as my sticker book, and I just put them all in there. Not all willy nilly of course, each page has a specific layout and each sticker is carefully arranged for peak viewing appreciation.

I mentioned not too long ago that I bought a bunch of stickers for my collection in this Small Business Saturday post, so I will not be showing off those ones in particular. But don’t worry there’s still plenty more I’m going to show to you today.

I went into multiple rooms in my house to try to get the best lighting, but how good of a job I did remains to be seen. Which is why I will be including links to where you can purchase these stickers for yourself, so you can see the photos the artists put up that probably look a smidge better than mine.

Without further ado, let’s look at some stickers! (Side note, each page of the notebook has a pink pineapple in the corner, it is not a sticker!)

All the stickers on this page are from a sticker sheet by Jou, an artist I found on Twitter. They’re all things that look like animals but aren’t actually! I think it’s such a funky concept. It really makes me think about how many things I see everyday that look like an animal but isn’t actually. This sticker sheet is currently unavailable but should be coming back soon, and here is where you can buy it!

This starry set is by Nynne, another artist I found on Twitter! Her shop is currently closed, so alas, these stickers are unavailable at this time. This was not the only set I bought from her, though, and I plan on showcasing the other page at a later date.

Which one of them is your favorite? I’m a big fan of the mantaray, but the whale shark is also charming.

(Ignore my thumb in the corner)

Finally, my newest addition to my collection: this set of alchemy vials by Sophiralou! How did I find them? You guessed it, Twitter. Thankfully, this set is actually available to purchase, and you can buy it here!

Which one of them is your favorite? Or least favorite? I’m quite fond of the one in the bottom right, or the skull one close to the top. As for least favorite, I’d have to say the jar of magma on the right side, or the yellow heart at the top. But honestly all of them are magical and unique.

I was hesitant to start collecting stickers because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. I couldn’t possibly place so many on my laptop, and I don’t have a Hydroflask to stick a bunch to like all the cool kids do.

I didn’t want to commit to permanently placing something on another object. What if I had to get rid of the object I placed all the stickers on? What if the stickers got faded or messed up as a result of being on said object?

It was too stressful! So I finally decided to just keep them all in a notebook where I could just open it up and look at them whenever I felt like. It keeps them in good condition, and I don’t have to worry about them getting thrown out with whatever I would’ve placed them on, like a laptop or water bottle.

I really love stickers now, and they bring me joy to collect. Thanks for indulging me by taking a look at some of them, I appreciate it! I hope you have a great day!

-AMS

A Vague But Official Pronouncement About a Thing

I know there is a thing! I know some of you want me to engage with the thing! I know this because you’ve sent me emails about the thing and I see the subject headers! I then delete the emails unread because I do not wish to engage with this thing! Engaging with this thing will not make me happy! I find myself looking at it and being glad it is not actually my problem!

So: Have fun with this thing without me! I’m not going to give it any serious thought or public engagement until I finish my current project at least, and possibly not even then! I know this will annoy/upset/disappoint some of you! That’s fine because I know where my focus should be right now! You are free to disagree!

You have now come to the end of this vague but official pronouncement about a thing! Thank you for your attention! Have a terrific day!

— JS

A Month of Biden

Original Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz.
John Scalzi

It’s been a month and a day since Joe Biden became president, and I think the greatest endorsement I can make of the man in that role is that for most of that time I haven’t thought much about him at all, and when I have, it’s mostly to go, “Oh, yeah, makes sense why he did that, carry on, then.” Much of his work to this point has been backfilling; namely, reversing a bunch of genuinely terrible Trump-era executive orders with executive orders of his own, firing a bunch of Trump flunkies and otherwise putting the brakes on four years of terrible governance. I don’t think it’s a surprise I find much of that action personally congenial.

Likewise, he’s pushed forward quickly on a national strategy for COVID-19 — again, big marks from me — and right now he seems to be doing all the right moves dealing with what’s going on in Texas. His scandals, such as they are, are limited to having to make a dickhead assistant press secretary resign, having his dog criticized for being old on Newsmax, and having Tucker Carlson, the White Supremacist Who Knows Which Fork To Use For Salad, suggest he and Jill are faking being into each other. His approval rating has been perfectly fine, consistently between 53 and 55 percent. People seem to like Biden as president well enough. You can almost forget he’s up there, doing his thing.

Which I think is entirely intentional. There is of course still yelling and screaming and knifework going on in Washington, but in the last month it’s been on the Hill, where they did the impeachment thing again, and Trump was acquitted for obvious crimes by cowardly fellow travelers again. Biden’s general response to that was to let Congress do Congress while he did what he did, which, frankly, worked to his advantage whilst he was clearing the decks of Trump-derived nonsense. Most of the performatively-foamy folks were occupied elsewhere most of the time.

With that said, a lot of the deck-clearing is now done and Biden will have to start moving his own initiatives forward, so the honeymoon phase (or, at least, the “It’s so nice not to have to worry about what damn fool thing the president is doing today” phase) may be coming to an end soon enough. What seems unlikely to change at this point is Biden and his team mostly plugging away at their plans and goals in an unflashy way. Inasmuch as I generally support those goals, but otherwise have tempered expectations for what they can do if the Senate doesn’t actually chuck the filibuster, and don’t have to worry about Biden being an incompetent ego-driven racist grifter, Biden’s crew efficiently doing what they do works well enough for me right now.

As always, I reserve the right to complain anyway. But for the moment, and one month in — Hey! The Biden era is nice enough so far.

— JS

I’m Donating Blood Today So Here’s A Post About Blood and Organ Donation!

(Warning: Picture of me donating blood below, in case that will bother you.)

Athena ScalziOne thing you may not know about me is that I am a big believer in donating blood and being an organ donor. I have attempted to donate blood at least twice as many times as I have actually donated, usually because my iron is too low (one time it was because I’d been outside of the country within a certain time frame). I try to donate blood at least a couple times a year, usually I only get around to doing it (successfully) two or three times, but I figure that’s better than zero. I was going to donate a couple months ago, but I had COVID at the time of the blood drive at my high school (that’s where I always donate (except that one time I donated in Boston because Arisia had a blood mobile outside)).

Now that I no longer have COVID, but probably still have the antibodies, I find it more important now than ever to go and donate! So that’s what I’m doing today!

Due to COVID, blood donation rates have drastically decreased. Hospitals are desperately in need of blood donations more now than ever. If you’ve never donated before, but would maybe like to give it a try, there is no time like the present!

I know a lot of people that can’t donate. In fact, less than 38% of the population is able to give blood (though less than ten percent of that 38 actually donate annually). I’m sure part of this is due to the restrictions placed on LGBTQA+ people that are potential donors, but are turned away because of the FDA’s regulations regarding “men who have sex with men”.

I actually had to look up the restrictions, because my basic understanding of it was “gay people can’t donate.” While that is essentially the case, I learned a lot of interesting information about it from this Red Cross page.

While this is a deeply upsetting/unfair restriction and I do not support it, I still think it’s important for anyone who can donate to do so.

Also according to Red Cross, someone in the US needs blood every 2 seconds. There’s 86,400 seconds in a day! It’s very obvious that blood is in high demand, so I think it’s really important that if you’re able to, you help meet that demand.

Previous Blood Donation.

Basically, I see donating blood as a civic duty. Not in a ridiculous way, of course. Like it shouldn’t be mandatory to donate a certain number of times per year or anything. I mean like, if you have the chance to, you should totally take it. You could save lives!

Same thing with organ donation. I feel that is not only my duty, but a privilege, to be an organ donor. Knowing that so much good could come from me dying is a reassuring thought. Isn’t it incredible to know that you have the potential to save (up to) eight lives? Or give people sight? You can literally be the difference between life and death for so many people.

One of the most common arguments I’ve heard from people who are against donating is that their faith doesn’t allow them to. I have no personal faith, so I’ve never been able to argue this claim, however while doing research for this post I came across this page stating that pretty much every religion has decided it’s okay to be an organ donor! In fact, it’s encouraged!

Other than the religious aspect of it, a lot of people also believe that if they’re an organ donor, doctors won’t try to save them. This has been debunked by many many many doctors time and time again. They will do everything in their power to save your life, regardless if you are a donor or not. Oftentimes they don’t even know if you’re a donor until after you’ve died.

The way I see it, if someone you love was dying and needed an organ transplant, wouldn’t you wish desperately for someone to be generous enough to part with theirs after death so that the person you love may have a second chance to live? Also could apply to you! If you needed a transplant, wouldn’t you be grateful that someone was willing to have their organs donated after death so that you could continue to live?

You can be that person to someone else. You can be someone else’s second shot at life. You could save a child’s parent, somebody’s best friend, a mother’s only child, there’s so many people you could help. I can think of no greater honor than to gift life to someone in need.

Going back to blood donation, which is a much less serious commitment, I know that it can be a scary thing to think about, especially if you’re not a big fan of needles. The first time I donated, I mentioned to the nurse that was nervous about the seemingly giant needle going into my arm. She told me that the finger prick they do to test your iron beforehand is more painful than the actual donation part. She was totally right.

Not only did the finger prick hurt more than the needle in my arm, but it was sore for a couple days after, whereas my arm didn’t hurt at all. (Please do not let a little finger prick deter you from donating.)

There’s so many good parts about donating! You get free merch, like a cool mug or soup bowl, or t-shirts and whatnot, plus you get cookies and juice! Who doesn’t love cookies and juice? And, a few weeks after you donate, you’ll more than likely get a call that tells you that your blood was used to save a life that day. Sometimes they’ll tell you which hospital it ended up at, too.

Besides the cookies and t-shirt, there’s really no immediate benefit to donating. It’s honestly more about if altruism makes you feel good. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being happy that you did something good. Likewise, it’s okay to feel good about yourself after doing something generous. Helping others feels nice. Being generous is its own reward. But, again, cookies!

If you want to learn more about organ donation or register to be an organ donor, you can do so here! As for blood donation, you can find locations to donate and schedule an appointment here! I didn’t really talk about donating bone marrow specifically because I have never done so, however my friend has donated bone marrow and recommended Be The Match. Join me in joining the registry! (I’m honestly shocked I’ve never signed up before now.)

So, yeah, my thinking is basically, do what you can when you can. If you’re someone who is able to donate, just try to every once in a while and I think that’s good enough. If you can’t donate at all, that’s okay, too.

Well, I’m off to enjoy my thin, scratchy t-shirt and free cookie. Have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Rucker Moses & Theo Gangi

They say that parallel universes exist; what about universes that are pockets and echos? Authors Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi take you on a tour of their version of other realities in this Big Idea for their newest novel, Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found.

THEO GANGI:

A few years back, Emmy nominated screenwriters Craig Phillips and Harold Hayes and I decided to collaborate on this great idea they had for a portal-magic book series. The wind-up for Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found had me hooked. Kingston is a twelve-year-old Black boy determined to find his father, Preston—a famous magician who disappeared into a mysterious portal. He returns to his off-the-wall family of magicians and trick-builders in Echo City, a past-its-prime hub of Brooklyn magicians to uncover the mystery of the vanishing dad.

The one tiny detail of this portal-magic books series we hadn’t quite worked out was the portals themselves. Namely, where do the portals go?

There was plenty of story to tell without revealing what’s on the other side of these enchanted doorways. We had a name—The Realm. There were colors and crystals. But a concept? Not quite yet. There has to be some Chekov’s Gun sort of rule about portals introduced in the first act having to lead somewhere by the third, but we were stumped. Chekov’s Magic Portal was going nowhere.

Part of the challenge was squaring our own loves as readers and fantasy fans with what could work for this story, in this world, for this young audience. The three of us dug some really high-concept sci-fi, but were concerned about losing our target reader, who is age twelve and up. We were drawn to big, meta-genre ideas like what we were reading in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and Johnathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four/Avengers run. Ideas that seemed fresh because they met the reader at their expectations and then took them further. Like, okay you know you’re reading a sci-fi series—so instead of one world-ending event, how about several? How about hundreds? How about a universe-destroying event every day? Or, instead of one alternate reality, how about infinite recurring versions of reality? Something about this kind of playfulness felt fresh to us. Why enter a portal just to go somewhere we’ve already been?

The first inkling of our idea came from the name of our invented Brooklyn neighborhood, Echo City. Turns out, the tag came from Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles where my cowriters were living when they came up with the series. But something about the “echo” concept kept repeating—pun intended—and grew.

What if these portals created echoes of reality, every time one was opened? They could be discrete moments, self-contained, and they could exist in perpetuity. So when you enter an echo, it’s a preserved instant in time—but it’s not time travel. You can’t change the past when you mess with an echo, only a copy of the past. So anywhere these magicians made portals, our heroes could visit. Even an echo of the night Kingston lost his dad.

So the idea came into focus, but could we pull it off? A multiverse story, with several realities existing in a single narrative, presents some unique challenges. Could we explain echo copies of characters coming through portals? Or how you could visit an echo of the past, without affecting the past? It was super fun for us, but was it just too confusing, too high concept for a young audience?

Then in 2018, a film called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hit the public consciousness. It was like a revelation for us with the simple and fearless way they unrolled the concept. It had that genre self-awareness we craved and there was never any doubt that a young audience could follow.

Seeing the Spider-Verse on-screen gave us the permission to explore our own Echo-Verse, so to speak. We realized, maybe ages twelve-and-up was exactly the life stage where a multiverse concept might make sense. Who is more willing to go with the mental gymnastics of repeating realities and magic doppelgangers than a young reader? We reconnected to why we wanted to write for young readers to begin with. The impact an adventure book can have on kids is unique and extraordinary, and the imagination of a developing mind can exceed all our expectations.


Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Gangi’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

Another Installment of My Thoughts On “WandaVision”

Athena ScalziSince I posted about the first three episodes of WandaVision, I have decided to post about the next three, and in the future I will post about the last three! And that’s all you get because there’s only nine episodes. So let’s just jump right back in!

Of course, SPOILER WARNING.

In my previous post, I mentioned how frustrated I was with being in the dark for so long about what the heck was happening in the show. Well, episode four fixed that up right quick! We got a look at what was going on behind the scenes of Wanda’s world.

Kat Dennings as Darcy in Wandavision

EPISODE FOUR

I liked episode four because it didn’t show anything new in the show Wanda is putting on. Instead, it explained everything that is happening outside of that world, and gave us tons of much needed information. It was a total info dump episode, and it was about time.

I found the very beginning of episode four — when people were “blipping” back into existence because of the events of Avengers: Endgame — especially interesting. Seing people blip in and out of existence is kind of horrifying, but also kind of… neat? The sheer confusion of not only the people returning, but those that have been around the past five years, is fascinating. For blipee Monica Rambeau to learn of her mother’s death in such an abrupt way, especially after her last memory before blipping is the doctor telling her that everything was fine, is deeply saddening.

(It actually took me a minute to realize who Monica was, just because I didn’t really remember character names all that well. It was only when I saw Maria Rambeau’s picture on the wall at the S.W.O.R.D. facility that I realized she was her daughter, all grown up. I kind of forgot Captain Marvel took place in the nineties.)

Episode four was basically a bunch of side characters you forgot existed, like Thor’s Darcy Lewis and Ant-Man’s Jimmy Woo, coming together to solve the mystery that is WandaVision.

Vision and Wanda in Episode Five.

EPISODE FIVE

Episode five is a blend of the real world and “Wanda” sitcom, and I think it works way better than the episodes that were purely sitcom. In this episode we finally get to see a glimpse of how the real people of Westview feel, when Vision frees minor character “Norm” of Wanda’s brainwashing. They’re all trapped. As S.W.O.R.D. Director Tyler Hayward says, she’s taken an entire town hostage, .

Vision knows something is very wrong, and he knows now that Wanda is the cause of it. Not only does this big development happen, but not much later in the episode, Wanda comes out of her simulation and confronts the agents. It’s clear to us now that she can leave whenever she wants, and she knows what she’s doing. This is an active choice she is making to keep the town the way it is and control everyone.

This kind of puts her in a bad light, doesn’t it? We as the audience love Wanda, and care about her a lot. But this thing she’s doing is terrible, and we know it, even Vision knows it. He mentions that he believed she was doing it subconsciously at first, but now he knows that she is keeping him and everyone trapped here, and he’s mad about it. Rightfully so! He’s trying, like the S.W.O.R.D. agents, to convince her that what she is doing is wrong. These people she’s turning into her cast have lives and families and don’t deserve what is being done to them.

Monica chooses to defend her, though, claiming that she’s just handling her grief in a WILDLY unhealthy way, and that she’s not doing it to be evil. Which is probably true, but does someone doing bad things suddenly become okay because they have a reason such as grief or mental illness behind it? No. It does allow for compassion to play a role, though, when you know the reason someone is doing something bad is because they are hurting.

And at the end of episode five, Wanda’s brother Pietro joins the cast. Another dead person who Wanda loves. I like that they address the recast of Quicksilver. It’s always bothersome to me when shows change a character and act like it didn’t happen.

Of course, this only raises more questions, doesn’t it? We know Wanda stole Vision’s body from S.W.O.R.D., and is keeping him alive manually. Vision is basically a zombie just walking around. In Pietro’s case, though, it doesn’t make sense how she could bring him back from the dead. Not only is he not a machine that can be manually powered, but she doesn’t have his body even if she could literally resurrect the dead.

On the other hand, is it that far out of the question considering she alters reality to the point that she created life, aka her two sons? Did she create an entirely new Pietro instead of resurrecting the old one? If so, what matter within the “Hex” (as Darcy calls Wanda’s area of influence) is she altering to turn into living beings?

Quicksilver and Wanda in Episode Six

EPISODE SIX

Moving on to the sixth episode, this is where shit gets real. Vision seems to be back to acting like things are normal, and everything seems a-okay in this Halloween special. Minus the arguing between Wanda and Vision that one of the twins, Billy, mentions.

Again, the show addresses that Pietro looks different. There isn’t a super clear explanation, but we as the audience know it’s probably just because of certain contracts and rights to characters. It’ll be interesting to hear what the show comes up with as a reason.

Another interesting thing about this episode is that all the side characters in Wanda’s world seem to be more meta than before, mentioning that if Wanda wants something done differently they can change things for her, or if she wants them to act differently. Even Pietro explains his character’s role to Wanda, and says that that must be how she wants him to act. The characters seem to be shoving the fact that Wanda is controlling them in her face.

In this episode, we get a glimpse at perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the whole Hex situation. When Vision wanders to the edge of Wanda’s town perimeter, we get to see what happens to the extras of the show. Brainwashing an entire town must be hard work, so it makes sense that not everyone can be the full-of-life, fun, and quirky neighbors or side characters.

These extras are just shells of people, unspeaking, barely moving, meant to appear in the background and nothing more. One of the extras, repeatedly acting as though she is putting up Halloween decorations, is seen crying. It’s pretty horrifying.

Not long after Vision’s encounters with these seemingly soulless extras, Vision talks to Agnes, who is for some reason at the edge of town as well. He frees her of the mind control, like he did with Norm, and much like Norm she ends up freaking out and Vision puts her back into character.

Vision clearly wants to help the people of Westview, but how can he? He doesn’t even remember who he was before Westview. He doesn’t know about the Avengers. How can he be a hero to these people when he doesn’t remember that he was a hero to begin with?

Wanda then has a scene with Pietro where again he mentions that she is controlling everything, and she doesn’t deny it. He asks how she does this and she says she doesn’t know how it happened, which again makes us feel sympathy for her and wonder, is she really as in control as we previously thought?

Then, as I think we all could’ve predicted, Vision tries to go past the barrier, and can’t survive outside of the town. Because of this, Wanda expands her barrier even further, taking the entire S.W.O.R.D. base and tons of characters into her perfect little town along the way.

So not only has she turned an entire town into her little fantasy playground so Vision could live and they could have their happily ever after, but now she has expanded it even further and taken more victims than before.

This really is a bad look for Wanda! Yes, Vision was on the verge of death, but he was only like one foot outside the barrier, yet she expanded it exponentially more than what was necessary.

One thing that really stuck with me was Vision pleading for S.W.O.R.D.’s help. Though it wasn’t to help him, he was asking them to help the people inside. Vision is truly a good person, synthetic or not. Vision has always been one of my favorite characters, and this is exactly why. He’s selfless and wants to help people. He is genuinely good.

Vision’s intentions and actions are in direct conflict with Wanda’s current self. She is acting selfishly and doing cruel things to these innocent people. They wouldn’t need Vision’s help at all if Wanda hadn’t started this maniacal fantasy.

This whole situation is deeply saddening, not only because Wanda is only doing this to keep Vision alive, but because Vision is realizing the only person in the world he has ever loved is doing something very wrong and more than likely he’s going to have to stop her, which we can guess will probably re-kill him. This whole show seems like set-up for heartbreak.

As we’ve seen from the clothes Monica was wearing when she was thrown out of Westview, things that Wanda changes inside the Hex stay changed when they leave. But this doesn’t apply to Vision, since he clearly cannot exist outside of the barrier. What does this mean for the other things she’s created? What does it mean for the twins and Pietro when her world finally comes crashing down?

I complained about the first three episodes being a little too slow, but these past three episodes more than made up for it. These three episodes were so informative, exciting, and even eerie at times. I can’t wait to see what the next three hold.

Are you enjoying it so far? Do you sympathize with Wanda? Let me know what you think in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Michael Johnston

You know how it can feel like one day is like the next, one month like the next, and each year like every other year… until it isn’t? Well, author Michael Johnston’s about to take that to the next level in his newest novel, Silence of the Soleri.

MICHAEL JOHNSTON:

I wrote a novel inspired by the ancient Egyptian calendar. That was my big idea. I found the calendar fascinating, and I think you will too if you give me a moment to explain. I know that ancient timekeeping isn’t the usual inspiration for an epic fantasy novel. It isn’t usually the inspiration for anything. But this is different. It’s fascinating—I promise.

Let’s start with a little history.

Every year, before the annual inundation of the Nile, the star, Sirius, appeared on the horizon before sunrise. (This is called heliacal rising of Sirius, but you don’t need to remember that.) Over time, the Egyptian farmers took note of this little coincidence, and eventually, they started using the stars appearance to predict the annual event. Now, the flood was really important to the Nile Valley. The water enriched the desert soil and made the land suitable for growing crops. Without the flood to release nutrients into the soil, Egypt would starve, so they kept careful track of its appearance. They noted that Sirius rose, just prior to sunrise, every three hundred and sixty-five days. That cycle became the basis for the calendar. Simple enough, but here’s the interesting part: It didn’t work. They had twelve months with thirty days in each, which was three hundred- and sixty-days total. Are you following the math? They were five days short (six in a leap year).

I love this part.

They could have added a day here and there. We do that and it’s just confusing. They stuck with their perfect calendar of twelve perfectly equal months, and they made the extra five (or six) days a special time that existed outside of the normal calendar.

In the Amber Throne novels (Soleri and Silence of the Soleri), the Soleri calendar contains a festival that is something like the holiday they had in ancient Egypt. There are five special days that exist outside of normal calendar time. No one works or goes about their business. The world stops, and everything is put on hold. These five days exist in a place that is outside of normal time. A pause where nothing of daily importance transpires. How could it? There was no date! Think about that. Imagine having five of those days in your life. Days without names. Nothing to fill in the “date received” in your email. I love that. It’s fascinating, and I think there’s something really magical about it.

In my novel, the annual holiday isn’t timed to the rising of a star, but it is set to coincide with an annual eclipse, which is a bit more dramatic. Each year, the sky turns black as the moon eclipses the sun. The eclipse is their heliacal rising. It’s a sign that a new year has started. Now, in our world, eclipses don’t happen on a yearly schedule. This has to do with the mechanics of the earth, the moon, and the sun. But if a planet had a perfectly spherical orbit and the moon did as well and they both shared the same plane, the moon would eclipse the sun at regular intervals. Something similar happens in my book. 

The years are marked by an annual eclipse, and it’s been that way throughout recorded history. In the novels, we find out what happens when the cycle deviates. In Soleri, I explore that moment when the calendar finally stops working, and the things we thought were unmovable begin to change. That’s the moment when the story takes off. When there is no eclipse, when the very rock on which society is built vanishes, a crisis emerges and the story begins. It starts with a calendar and ends with an empire torn apart, and that was my first big idea for the novel.


Silence of the Soleri: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram.

 

Enter Snowmageddon

Actually it’s not going to be horrible here — we’re supposed to get something on the order of eight to ten inches of additional snow in the next twenty four hours to go along with the three or four inches we’ve gotten today — but a foot of snow is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s enough that things will be coming to a standstill. My sympathy goes out to the folks in Texas who are also getting snow and cold temperatures that they usually don’t get; it’s not great when entire metropolitan areas have no real plan for snowfall and the people who live there aren’t really used to dealing with the challenges cold and snow bring. As for us, we’ll be inside, under blankets. Seems the prudent thing to do.

— JS

Curateur: A Life Well Curated

Athena ScalziIf you’re like me (in this case that means chronically addicted to shopping, a major impulse buyer, and someone who loves surprises and bougie things), you probably get ads for subscription boxes a lot. And you’ve probably gone back and forth on giving them a try. Read reviews, looked at past boxes, and then talked yourself out of it time and time again. I know how that feels.

I unabashedly love subscription boxes. I have so many (probably too many, but who’s to say how many is too many?). Today I’m here to showcase the newest one I’ve subscribed to! I just got my first Curateur box not too long ago, and I wanted to show what came inside.

But that is not the only purpose of this post! I would like to take this opportunity to show you all my first attempt at product photography. Last week, I got a lightbox, specifically so I could take good quality pictures of things I buy, because let’s be real, I buy a lot of cool shit.

So these are all pictures I took myself of the products in my new lightbox. I tried to make them look cool and professional, but we’ll see if that’s what actually ended up happening.

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about Curateur. Curateur is a seasonal subscription box created by American fashion designer Rachel Zoe. Each box contains five fashion and beauty items selected by Rachel Zoe. If you are subscribed to the box, there’s also a members-only “Shoppe” where you can buy Rachel Zoe approved fashion and beauty items at a discounted price from their original retail value.

Moving forward, the first box I got from Curateur was the Winter 2020 Box. This box came with five main items, as well as a surprise freebie.

Each box (as far as I can tell) comes with an option item. This is where they present you with two items or one item that comes in two different styles/colors, and you pick which of the two you want in your box. For the Winter 2020 Box, I got to choose between a white and a black purse. I went with the black:

This purse is the “Understated Leather” Crescent Clutch in Onyx. It has a retail value of $110. I actually think its really cute, not to mention it’s vegan leather, which is ethical AND makes it feel buttery soft!

This bag was created as a Curateur exclusive item, but here’s a link to their other handbags if you’re interested!

Up next is the “Amber Sceats” Emery Cuff, valued at $169.

This 24k gold-plated bracelet is actually really unique in my opinion, due to its “crushed” metal look, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before! I quite like it, and though I don’t wear bracelets often, I think I will make a point to include this one in some of my more fashionable ensembles.

I couldn’t find this exact bracelet on the Amber Sceats website, but here’s their other bracelets if you want to take a look!

I also used the bracelet in this photo of two of the other products that came in the box, those being the “Talianna” Lilypad Catchall Tray (valued at $75) and the “Elaluz” 24k Lip Therapy ($28 value).

I have never been a big fan of catchall trays. I’ve always preferred to store my jewelry in other things rather than have it sit out on a tray, but I actually love this one! I love the 24k gold pattern, and it’s ceramic, which I think makes for an elegant look overall. After looking on their website, where you can preorder this adorable tray, I realized it doesn’t just have to be for holding jewelry or your keys, you can put super cute treats and baked goods on it!

On the flip side, I love lip products. I am a big fan of lip conditioners, lip butters, basically anything that will make your lips feel nice and soft. So I was enthralled to receive what is a basically a fancy lip balm. Not only does it contain 24k gold, but it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and more! Plus it comes in recyclable packaging.

The picture I got of the lip therapy is not all that flattering, but you can see a much better picture of it, as well as purchase it, here! I actually really like this product, I think it works very well and feels super nice on the lips.

I have saved the best for last (not including the freebie which I will mention after this)!

This is the “Cushnie” Grey Horizon Ombre Scarf, valued at $150. This is another Curateur exclusive, and it’s actually what made me buy the box. Though I liked the other items, I couldn’t convince myself to become a member and get the subscription. This scarf pushed me over the edge, though. I adore the design, it’s so minimalistic, just a grey, white, and black scarf. Yet it’s so classy at the same time!

(I couldn’t decide which photo was better so you get both.)

It’s long, soft, lightweight, and elegant. I feel like you could pair it with just about anything. Though this scarf is an exclusive item for Curateur, I went looking for the website for Cushnie, but found this article about the founder having to close her business instead, which is pretty saddening.

So that’s all there is for the main items of the box. There was, however, a “free gift” included in the box, which was a sample pack of Rachel Zoe’s first ever fragrance line. You can see it in the top right of the picture at the top, because I totally forgot to photograph it on its own. I am for sure a perfume lover, but I didn’t really like any of the four in the pack. However if you’d like to try it for yourself, you can get it here!

So, yeah, all in all, I liked this box! It is the most expensive subscription box I get, but I don’t really mind since I like the products quite a lot. It’s definitely a bougie box, and meant to make you feel fancy, which I enjoy.

If you are interested in getting a subscription to Curateur, I’m going to go ahead and plug my referral link. Though feel free to get a subscription without going through the hassle of using my code and whatnot, I won’t be offended! It’s kind of a convoluted process of entering your email first and then entering the code at checkout and whatnot, yada yada, so no worries, but it’s there if you’re feeling generous.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this look into a “life well curated”. It was really fun setting everything up in the lightbox, if not a little difficult, but I’m hoping to improve in time with practice.

Let me know if you are also a fan of subscription boxes, or if you’d like me to do posts about some of my other boxes I get, as well! And have a great day.

-AMS

General Unstructured Thoughts On “Being Cancelled”

John Scalzi

Because it’s been in the news recently, enough that even though I’ve been lost in my own world this last week — a good thing, if you want a book from me — the various stories of people being “cancelled” in the last several days came onto my radar. What follows are thoughts not particularly well-organized or following any real thread of thought, other than “so, here’s what I’m thinking about ‘cancellation’ today.” This is not the entirety of my thoughts, merely what I’m mulling on at the moment. Which could turn out to be terribly wrong! Yay, pre-emptive qualified statements! Let’s get into it, shall we?

1. Being ‘canceled’ basically means learning that you’re replaceable. And apparently this is new to a lot of white people! Especially those who currently claim the “conservative” label for themselves (more on that in a bit). But I think everyone else knew that fact all too well: it turns out if the people with the money decide you’re more trouble than you’re worth — for whatever reason, not all of them virtuous — then you can be gone in a snap and someone else can easily (easily!) take your place. This is particularly the case in creative fields, which have always been and likely will always be a buyer’s market. There is always a new actor, director, writer, musician or whatever — or an established one who needs a gig and who is not going to be a pain in the ass.

And this is especially the case now, in an era where the franchise is the star, not the actor or the director. Disney, of course, has this down to the proverbial science — its Marvel and Star Wars universes are so vast and popular that, for example, a troublesome actor in a secondary role is not worth the hassle. Out they go, their character to be replaced with another previously minor character from the vast store of minor characters in those universes. Actors are the most visible replaceable people, but directors, writers, etc., are equally swappable.

Which is not great for creative people! We like to say, and not inaccurately, that we are not swapple widgets: If you want a John Scalzi story, for example, the best person to give it to you is me, I promise you. But — who is the best person to give you a Star Wars story? Or a Marvel story? Well, see, that’s the thing; almost from the very beginning, and as a consequence of their business model, those universes were made by multiple voices. When you have many voices building a universe, there are rules to the universe everyone must follow (the canon, the story bible and the style guide), but otherwise individual voices can be taken in and out when necessary — “necessary” having a very broad meaning here. Only I can give you a John Scalzi story, but I am a cottage industry, a veritable roadside kiosk next to the belching factory that is Disney or any other studio. Disney needs storytellers, but it doesn’t need any one story teller, or actor, or whatever.

As, again, everyone but certain white folks knew already. These folks are learning that bit now, and apparently it’s really difficult for them. But that does conveniently bring us to the bit about ‘cancelling’ —

2. ‘Canceling’ is certain people discovering that capitalism doesn’t love them as much anymore. I don’t want to say that capitalism is value-neutral, because, whoooooo boy, it is not, buuuuuuut it is pretty much 100% percent accurate that capitalism will always, always, follow the money. And where is the money? Well, in America two decades into the 21st century, the large capitalist structures have decided that the money will be multicultural* and socially inclusive* and politically liberal*, and all those asterisks are there because it should be understood that the capitalist take on each of these concepts is heavily modified and strained through the “to the extent we can make money off this” filter, i.e., don’t expect capitalism to lead us to a multicultural American utopia, just expect it to be happy to rent-seek inclusively on the way there.

But because this is the (current) way the wind is blowing for capitalism, it’s now slightly harder out there for a “conservative.” Which feels wrong! Conservatism is the pet political theory of capitalism! Conservatism is designed to protect capitalism! The venn diagram of a conservative and a capitalist is a perfect circle!

And, well. It was, but then the Republicans had to go and elect Donald Trump, and now American Conservativism is definitively a corrupt fucked-up cult of personality, unmoored from any recognizable economic ethos beyond “pay to play.” Look, America has its problems, but from the strictly capitalist point of view it was the best country on the planet because it was politically stable, and capitalism works best when things are stable. It’s hard to rent seek in chaos!

But then January 6th happened, and American Conservatism, which had been tromping away from stability for quite some time, thank you very much, finally served notice that it’s no longer on capitalism’s side: it would rather mob in chaos than make money in stability. There was a tiny window in the aftermath where American Conservatism could have come back to capitalism’s side, but then it decided, nah, it would rather kiss the ring of the insurrectionist criminal that lost it the House, the Senate and the Presidency all in four years, oh, and, also, to be more anti semitic, racist and completely awash in conspiracy theories than it usually was. So, yeah, that’s a thing.

(Hashtag NotAllConservatives, etc, but come on, at this point people with an actual political/economic conservative worldview should be aware that their movement has come to its final grifter form and they’re currently without a home in American politics. And I am genuinely sorry for them, and also, they need to look at who they walked with all this time. For the people who are the “fascist cult” conservatives, of course, they did this shit to themselves, deal with it, my dudes.)

So now capitalism is doing what capitalism do, which is to shrug, say, “fine,” start working with the people who will let it function more or less to plan, and start punting the people who won’t. Again, this doesn’t mean that suddenly we live in a Delightful/Horrifying Multicultural Dream/Nightmare — hey! Most of the hands on the tiller of capitalism are still attached to white dudes, y’all! Check out the billionaires list! — but if that means a “conservative” loses a gig because they talked shit on social media, well, son, that’s the free market for you. Which is another thing —

3. “Being Cancelled” doesn’t mean you never work, it means you work in the minor leagues. “Cancelled” means you publish with Regenery or Skyhorse rather than with Macmillan or Simon and Schuster. “Cancelled” means you make a movie with (ugh) Ben Shapiro instead of Disney. “Cancelled” means Gab, or — heavens! — your own web site instead of Twitter. “Cancelled” means being a talking head on Newsmax and not CNN.

Is this so awful? Well, yeah, apparently, it kind of is — but again, this is not anything that anyone who isn’t a privileged white person didn’t already know about how capitalism works in America. Entire commercial and political ecosystems exist and have existed for decades, created by and for the people who have otherwise found themselves shut out of or simply ignored by the commercial mainstream — marginalized economies, in effect. The idea that American Conservatism would have its own side economy (or in its case, grift) is not exactly new; it too has existed for decades. What might be new is the idea that it will possibly no longer be a stepping stone into the mainstream — that it is its own terminal destination, and that those participating in it might now be locked out of a wider appeal.

Which from an economic point of view is probably fine! There are lots of people in the American Conservative grift economy who do quite well for themselves financially — the “marginalized” market here is still many many millions of people, after all. You can still make as much money as any one person can make, and be as “famous” as any one person could be, and still never climb out of the right-wing media trough. But ironically for ostensible capitalists, merely making money is not enough. They want to be thought-leaders, too, and they want their views given the cultural currency that only comes through, you now, hanging with Disney or CNN, as much as they sneer at those organizations when it’s convenient to do so. You won’t starve not working for Disney. But you don’t get what working with Disney brings.

Like access to Disney money, you might say, and you’re right — the sort of high-end production values that come with mainstream studios are something they won’t have anymore. Which, well, again, welcome to what everyone else goes through. Almost no one gets $200 million for a movie! Or even $20 million! If you go in with the expectation that you are owed that $200 million movie, where are you coming from, culturally speaking?

But that’s really the thing about “canceling,” isn’t it:

4. When you’re privileged, consequence feels like oppression. I am not the first to make that observation, even among white people. But boy, is it ever true! And also, look, I do actually get it — if you’ve gotten away with shit for literally years with little to no consequence, getting called out on it and being judged for it and being penalized because of it, in what appears to you a sudden fashion, feels unfair, in no small part because, well, you did get away with it for years, and no one told you to stop (or if they did, you were able to overlook it).

That thing where certain people are looking through their lives and actions and social media posts, wondering frantically what’s there to trip them up in this new age where suddenly their actions do have consequences? This is not an unfamiliar thought to me! I’ve said before that when people say “Oh, but Scalzi is one of the good ones” my reaction is well, shit, I sure hope that’s true. I have three decades of being an adult and being in the public eye, one way or another, through my writing. That’s a lot of time and many many opportunities to show my ass, and I’ve taken advantage of those opportunities in the past, I’m sad to say.

The thing is, if did turn out I’m not “one of the good guys,” and I face the consequences for that, I am no different than many other people over the years — and still, weirdly, more privileged than most, because facing consequences for what I did is manifestly different than the people who have faced consequences for calling out terrible things other people did, and did to them. Yes! Being “cancelled” for being a shitty human being is an inherently more privileged position than being deprived of work or status for acknowledging someone did a shitty thing to you! And that has happened! I mean, shit, it is happening, right now, elsewhere.

When I hear or read “I have been cancelled” I mostly translate that to “I am facing consequences for something I got away with before and I don’t like it.” When I hear or read “I will not be cancelled,” I mostly translate that to “I refuse to change my behavior, it’s the rest of the world that’s the problem, not me.” Which, you know, okay. You do you. Enjoy Newsmax.

5. The age of (unmediated) celebrity social media is (probably) coming to an end. At least for some people, and that’s not a horrible thing. If you don’t have social media, you make it more difficult to inadvertently show your ass on it, and on the flip side, if someone wants to drag you into the social media mudfling du jour, it’s more difficult for them to do so when you’re not there. Several is the time where I’ve seen someone say something like “Why isn’t Scalzi talking about this, his silence is telling” about a thing I had absolutely no clue about, was not qualified to speak of in any way, and had no interest in volunteering an opinion on.

Both of these is why more people with any appreciable level of celebrity that is independent of their actual social media are handing their socials to staff, and/or sticking to the most anodyne of pronouncements and participation, and/or pruning their socials of inconvenient past posts and/or leaving social media entirely. Which is fine! Not everyone is good at social media, and social media is not good for everyone. Even the people who are “good” at it see it turn on them for various reasons, some deserved and some not. At some point people who are not endlessly argumentative or heedless have to ask themselves if what they get out of social media is worth the potential downside. For lots and lots of celebrities (and even people who are not), the answer is no.

That’s a valid choice, and I think more people ought to consider it, for their own personal emotional well-being, and additionally, for the well-being of their careers. Especially if they are worried about being “cancelled.”

— JS

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