The first full week of summer break that we’ve spent at home has been remarkably busy. We’ve done all the social things, hanging out with people we don’t normally get to see during the school year because schedules don’t line up and (since that whole pesky pandemic thing) we’re relatively high risk people to hang out with given our day jobs. We did a mini-cookout over Independence Day weekend with some close friends that we haven’t really gotten to see since Christmas, and then there was another friend we haven’t seen in literal years who happened to be visiting Portland for a few weeks, and then tonight we’re going to hang out with yet another couple of friends. I am unsure at this point if the “a few friends at a time over the course of the week” social strategy is more or less exhausting than coordinating a giant party where everyone comes over at once.
That was a joke; giant parties are not a good idea these days, and we’d never host one in the first place.
Besides the burgeoning social calendar, Rachael and I have also gotten to work on our annual summer do-or-die chores. I spent far more time this week than I’d like sitting in waiting rooms for car related business, and we’ve begun the kind of sort-out-your-life chores that take a lot of time and just feel too overwhelming to do when you have a regular 8-to-4 job during the year. Throw in the summer reset with establishing a more consistent exercise schedule and the reality of having access to the TV and video games at any time of the day, and it’s been a very full week.
I did no new art this week, which has me pretty bummed, to be honest. I’m noodling around with an idea for a new piece as of last night, but I haven’t even started sketching yet, so we’ll see if it comes together in the next week.
I read Saga #60 last night, and I had to explain to Rachael that I was fine when she noticed me tearing up. The issue’s a good gut punch, which I think is pretty much fifty percent of the reason anyone reads Saga. Also, it’s going on hiatus again for the rest of the year, which I won’t begrudge anyone on the creative team, but a six month gap between story arcs is an awfully long time when you’re reading monthly.
I’ve been working on continuing my reading series on Vita Ayala’s run of New Mutants as well in the last couple days, and I think it’s important to take some time to acknowledge how much work goes into critically reading a single issue of a comic book, even in the casual way that I’m going about it, and that it really enriches the experience of the book. I love it, and I should honestly re-read more comics.
My ELA co-teacher of the last four years gave me a book at the end of the school year called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. We’re not going to be working together next year for reasons, and the unspoken message of the gift was “here is a book that might contain a way to express how sad we are that things will be changing.” The book apparently originated as a blog, which I think has very vaguely penetrated my awareness. The volume itself is a beautiful little hardcover that fits comfortably in one’s hands. Because I’ve spent a lot of time in waiting rooms this week, I’ve read through the whole thing, and it has some lovely bits of creative meditation on human nature and our experience of the universe. The whole premise is obviously a bit twee in execution, but I like the general playfulness of the entries, which are all built around taking a few disparate words and cobbling together some kind of portmanteau or pun or simple sight gag that mashes their meanings together in order to evoke a complex feeling. I will undoubtedly try to mine it for lesson planning material in the future.
Rachael and I watched two pieces of reality television this week, and one of them was very boring, and the other was very good with some necessary qualifiers. The boring series was Pirate Gold of Adak Island, a docuseries on Netflix that follows a team of treasure hunters who are trying to find gold on this remote island in the Alaska archipelago. The elements of this series are all really strong and intriguing: there’s a lot of history with the island because it was used as an American military base during World War II, the guy who hid the gold caches there was part of an illegal seal clubbing ring back in the late nineteenth century, there’s a small town of people still living on the island who would like discovery of the gold to reinvigorate their community, and the treasure hunters use some legitimately interesting techniques to survey areas where they think gold might have been hidden. The problem is that the producers of the show seem to have no talent for crafting narrative. All the scenes where the treasure hunters discuss next steps when they hit a roadblock are obviously staged, and none of them besides the geologist seems to be that interested in spending any time with the weird artifacts they find littering the island that tie back to its history. In one episode they find a human finger bone that must have belonged to a seal clubber who would have had to amputate it because it had gotten infected, and everyone just says, “welp, it’s not gold coins, so whatever!” There’s a really good educational docuseries buried in all this junk, but the producers did not do a good job of bringing it out. The series ends with the treasure hunters finding two whole gold coins and this promise of another season, but I don’t know how likely that is to happen given the quality of the first one.
The other series we watched this week was Season 8 of Alone, which is obviously a much more polished reality TV product. The premise of this show is that a group of people with extensive survival skills are dropped off in a remote location with only a few basic tools and tasked with seeing who can last the longest in the wilderness with no outside resources or social contact. A season of the show is always really fun at the start, because you get to see these folks who know what they’re doing establish systems for finding food, building long term shelters, and just entertaining themselves in the middle of nowhere. The end of the season is always really emotionally grueling because the last few players inevitably end up literally starving as they try to hang on until everyone else either quits or gets pulled because the medical team declares it unsafe for them to continue. It’s a competition show, so there’s always a big cash prize for the winner. I have very mixed feelings about this show in general because I recognize this pattern in the way it plays out, and Rachael and I typically watch an entire season over the course of a couple days because it’s so compelling. A couple summers ago when we first discovered it, we watched one season then went through four earlier seasons in rapid succession, which might not have been the best decision in retrospect. A lot of our reality TV consumption gets driven by the question of which shows are produced ethically, and while we generally agree that Alone‘s premise and presentation makes it one of the more ethical competition shows being produced, it’s still deeply uncomfortable to be confronted with the suffering the players put themselves through for our entertainment on the hope that they might get the big payout at the end. Alone doesn’t romanticize the reality of what it’s asking people to do; they show the effects of long term starvation and constantly remind the audience of how dangerous it is for the players to be on their own like this. Unfortunately it’s still a piece of entertainment, and I always walk away from a season feeling like I just watched something kind of perverse. Most of the folks who audition for this show would see massive benefits from the prize money, and it’s hard not to feel complicit in their exploitation, especially when so many of the players who make it close to the end are desperate to keep going when it’s obvious their health is at risk.
I’m still playing around with Street Fighter V, which is a fun, low commitment pastime. I persuaded a friend of mine to play with me online recently despite the fact he knows nothing about Street Fighter, and he’s been a good sport about it. Casual matched with other people are generally rewarding, although they’re a total crapshoot as to whether I’ll pair up with someone who’s way too good for me to have any fun or someone who’s a fair match that I enjoy playing against. I did encounter my first rage quit from another player the other day which was honestly kind of delightful. Like, I hope they’re okay and they don’t take their stats on a fighting game too seriously, but it was a small moral victory: “Yes, I beat you badly enough that you quit instead of just taking the loss.” The irony, of course, was that my first match with this player was absolutely great! We were pretty well paired on skill level, and it was completely up in the air all the way to the end of the third round which of us was going to win.
I have not been to any coffee shops this week, although I did have brunch at an outdoor cafe the other day, which was lovely. There’s also been the regular patronage of our preferred boba place.