Mentally Preparing for Families During the Holidays

Thanksgiving’s this week, and the rest of the family-centric end-of-year holidays are approaching too. If you’re reading this, chances are you have some family issues. Maybe they put you down. Maybe you never feel good enough for them. Maybe they just piss you off. Whatever the case, holidays can be extremely stressful and take a heavy toll on our mental health.

I want to remind everyone not to let the obnoxious tendencies of our families bring us down. As much as I hate the holidays, even I’ll admit they’re supposed to be good experiences. But I know sometimes there’s no helping it, and they’re not going to go well, no matter how much positive thinking you’re going to bring. So it’s really important to remember to take care of yourself during this time of year.

You should try spending as much time around people that have a positive effect on your life as possible. I know it’s not always easy, especially the older we get, but don’t forget about all the different forms of communication we have today. There’s texting, social media, Skype, and the good old fashioned phone call. Even if you can’t see them, remember to keep in touch with the people that make you happier during this time of year.

Make extra time to do things that make you happy, too. Read more, write more, play more games, watch more movies, take more walks – do more of the stuff that stops you from focusing on the bad. If you’re going to have to deal with hurtful experiences with family, the least you can do is walk into those situations as recharged and happy as you can possibly be.

Like I mentioned in my post about unwanted house guests, there are some things you can do to take the edge off having to deal with family. I recommend checking it out if you want more details, but to add to that list, don’t be afraid to show up a little late or leave a little early. Everyone’s situation is different, but make something up. If you’re having guests over at 3:00, say you were invited to another person’s place to celebrate the holidays and you’ll be back at 4:00. Or not at all, if you can get away with that. Say you have work very early the following morning, so you should go home earlier to sleep. Pretend you’re sick. I don’t want to encourage lying, but when family’s driving you to the point of a mental breakdown, you have to play a little dirty. Do something personally fulfilling both before and after the main event so you won’t have to end the day on such a bummer note.

I wish there was some kind of universal advice I can give to make it through this, but there isn’t. I can only encourage you to take care of your mental health and make it through the holidays with as little damage as possible. Take care of yourselves, guys. And treat yourselves to a soft pretzel or cinnamon bun or something when it’s all over. ❤

New Perler Bead Art!

Whew! It’s been a while since I uploaded any new Perler bead projects. But I’ve got six new ones to show off today, so I guess that makes up for it.

The first three are main characters from Suikoden II, an RPG for the PS1. Personally, I’ve never played it before. One of my favorite YouTubers, Lucahjin, did a let’s play of it last year. I was kind of indifferent to it at first, but after rewatching/listening to it this past summer, I got more into it. This was around the time I first started making Perler bead art, too. After making NES and SNES sprites, I wanted to see how sprites from the PS1 would look, so I tried these guys out.

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Riou

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Jowy

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Nanami

I made these a little over a month ago and decided to send them to Lucahjin as fan mail. Admittedly, part of the reason why I didn’t post these until now was because I wanted to send them out first, and I didn’t ship them out until a couple of days ago. Oops. Hope she likes them!

So after I made these, we sold our kitchen table because we weren’t taking it with us when we moved. I didn’t have a good space to work on any more Perler bead stuff until a couple of weeks ago. I was going to start making the Dragonball Z project I told my friend I’d make him, but since it had been a while since I’d worked on anything, I wanted to warm up with something small first. I decided to make a Pokemon from Red and Blue.

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Draw me like one of your French girls… sorry, couldn’t help it. 🙂

Snorlax was my favorite Pokemon when I was a kid. I honestly don’t know why, maybe because it made a cool plushie and toy, maybe because it was rare and it took me a while to figure out how to catch one, who knows? I used to have this big Snorlax pillow-plushie thing, too, but I gave it away to a friend that moved because at the time she liked it more than I did. It’s still one of my favorites, but I don’t know if it’s the favorite.

This thing wasn’t a small warmup, though. This thing was huge. In retrospect, I don’t know why I was expecting it to be small; I knew it was probably going to be almost as tall as the protagonist, rival, and Prof. Oak pieces I made a little while ago. But I’m still surprised how big these sprites came out for Game Boy sprites.

It also had a lot of trouble sticking together after ironing. Like, a lot of trouble. I don’t know if you can notice from the photo, but some parts are over-ironed while others aren’t ironed enough. I eventually just tried taking the small chunks of half-fused beads and ironing them to the proper places instead of ironing the whole thing over and over. And I keep looking for tips for ironing bigger Perler bead pieces, but I can’t find anything besides variations of the basic instructions for normal sized projects. Does anyone have any ironing advice for bigger pieces? I’m still kind of new and would love to know a better way to tackle this.

While waiting for Snorlax to cool in between ironing sessions, I made Ramza from Final Fantasy Tactics.

Ramza, as he appears in Chapters 2 and 3.

Ramza, as he appears in Chapters 2 and 3.

Final Fantasy Tactics was one of my favorite games in high school. Poor translation aside, I had a blast playing it with one of my friends. During our junior year we played through it at the same times and compared notes to see how each of us was approaching the game and what kind of characters we were using. The music was phenomenal; it was completely orchestrated and in my opinion, outshines every other Final Fantasy game I’ve played in the audio department. That’s not to say the others games have bad music, absolutely not, but this game… well, this game’s soundtrack just does something magical to me. Even though I’ve lost a lot of interest in playing RPGs over the years, I recently played through this one for the first time in at least six years and am proud to say it’s still fun for me.

Last up is another Pokemon. After working on Snorlax, I noticed that bigger pieces without a lot of limbs or other, smaller areas protruding out tend to take more time and heat to fuse properly. I wanted to pick another Pokemon that was roundish in its basic shape, so I chose another favorite, Clefairy.

AH SO CUTE <3

AH SO CUTE ❤

I don’t really know why, but over the years I’ve noticed my favorite Pokemon tend to be normal types. A lot of these tend to be really cutesie, too. Whatever the reason, Clefairy and its evolution Clefable have joined my list of favorites during the past couple of years. This was smaller than Snorlax, about half the size, and I didn’t have nearly as much trouble. There were still some pieces that wouldn’t fuse, but that was normal; nothing to the degree of Snorlax. I didn’t really do anything different, except maybe use a little less force while ironing so the colors wouldn’t bleed. I don’t know why I had an easier time with Clefairy, it may have been half the size but it was still decently large. Is it because of the colors? Do darker beads give more trouble for people? I’ll have to keep an eye out for that during future problems.

Well it’s good to be back doing Perler bead stuff! I’m settling into the new house, but there’s still a lot left to unpack. I have some writing things I want to get done soon (including stuff I’ve been working on for the blog), and I’m expecting my hours at work to pick up with the holiday season breathing down my neck, not to mention I’m scrambling to finish up my reading goal for the year (25 out of 30 books, it’s gonna be close!), so I don’t know how much attention my Perler bead projects will get. I’d like to make at least one thing each week, but we’ll see. I’ll probably post some more once I have a few ready to show off. I can’t stress enough how helpful this has been for dealing with depression, so give it a shot if you need something to take your mind of things!

Hope everyone’s having a healthy week! 🙂

Let’s Talk Games – South Park: The Stick of Truth

Warning: Spoilers

So today I felt like doing something a little different. Instead of talking about a book I recently read, I wanted to talk about a game I recently played. I used to be a pretty big gamer in high school, but halfway through college I began losing interest, and within the past couple of years I’ve been mostly sticking to retro games, so keep that in mind while reading this.

If anyone didn’t know, I’m a huge fan of South Park. I was probably about 8 or 9 years old when it first came out, and although for the first few years I had to watch it in secret whenever I could catch it, by the time I was in high school I was able to watch to my heart’s content. I’ve been following it closely ever since, and I think it’s one of those rare shows that generally keeps getting better with every season.

Last year’s trilogy of episodes, “Black Friday,” “A Song of Ass and Fire,” and “Titties and Dragons,” was my favorite trilogy and one of the few things that helped me through the retail holiday season. (And honestly, which retail employee wouldn’t like seeing the most obnoxious shopping day of the year satirized into an exaggerated war?) Something else this trilogy did, however, was set the stage for South Park‘s new video game, The Stick of Truth. Using the costumes, characters, etc. from the Black Friday trilogy, the kids continue playing in their make-believe world by waging a war over the Stick of Truth, an ordinary stick that lets the wielder do anything. Or make the rules. Or something. I kind of forget. Doesn’t matter. It’s just the thing that makes their game keep going.

I have to admit, I wasn’t impressed when I first saw the game being played. While the story seemed great and funny, like any other South Park episode, the game seemed to focus on a lot of menu navigating and collecting, something that’s turned me off from RPGs for a while now. It wasn’t until one of my favorite YouTubers, Lucahjin, started a Let’s Play of it two months ago that my interest was peaked again. Maybe it was because the people that I watched before made the game look kind of boring, but Lucahjin made it look fun. I told a coworker of mine I started watching someone play it (she’s also a huge South Park fan and has been trying to get me to play the game since it came out), and last month she finally forced me to borrow it. I finished it last weekend, and even though there was a lot of menu navigating and item collecting, it was still a lot of fun.

A lot of that fun comes from the story and world of South Park. The game is like a giant love letter to all its fans, both new and old. There are so many references to characters, episodes, and events that discovering how your favorite parts of the show would function within a video game becomes its own quest.

You’re the new kid in South Park (aren’t you lucky), complete with customizable hair, clothes, etc. (there’s a lot of customization in this game, which is a huge plus for me). Your dad kicks you out of the house and tells you to make some friends. You run into Butters (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love Butters?), who’s being attacked by another kid. You help him out and he invites you to play. He brings you to Kupa Keep, a fantastic kingdom led by the Grand Wizard (aka a cardboard fort in Cartman’s backyard). Cartman teaches you how to play, you do some quests to prove your worth, and you’re eventually an official member of Cartman’s army.

But wait! The Stick of Truth has been stolen by those no good, dirty elves! During a quest to recruit more people to reclaim it, you’re captured by the elves and brought to their kingdom (aka another cardboard fort in Kyle’s backyard). Kyle, the leader of the elves, explains that Cartman lied and still has the Stick of Truth, and that you’re playing for the wrong side. There’s a big battle at the school to reclaim the Stick of Truth, but you’re too late. Clyde, who Cartman previously banished from space and time, now has it and has created a third kingdom consisting of Nazi zombies and vamp kids. Cartman and Kyle form a truce and combine their armies to reclaim the stick before Nazi zombies take over South Park. It’s a ridiculous story that parodies RPGs, but it’s still very true to South Park writing and was great to experience.

In between story quests, you can explore the town and take on other minor quests for experience and items. Most of the game is spent doing these sidequests, and it’s where the majority of references come from. I liked that they did this; I don’t think it would have been possible to reference that many characters or episodes during the main quest alone. Some of my favorite characters were able to come into the game this way, including Mr. Kim, the Crab People, Mr. Slave, and of course, Al Gore. That’s not to say the main story doesn’t have its fair share of references and characters; Randy becomes a mentor of a sort after you rescue him from anal probing by Visitors, you become goth in an attempt to get the Goth Kids to play with you, and you explore the “kingdom to the north,” 8-bit Canada, to win the favor of the council of the girls so they’ll play your game. Like I mentioned, there are a lot of references in this game, and it handles them all fairly well without too many of them being obnoxiously thrown in for the sake of throwing them in.

If there isn’t a side quest, many other references come in the form of collecting. You’ll find so much junk to sell lying around town, and a lot of these items are small references in and of themselves (the Okama Gamesphere, The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs, Chinpokomon, and Wild Wacky Action Bike, just to name a few). You’ll also collect Facebook friends by completing quests or simply talking to people. Almost everyone from the show can be a friend, so if there isn’t a sidequest connected to a character, you can most likely still add them as a friend. Your weapons and equipment are also references; you can collect sets of equipment like the Stupid Spoiled Whore clothes, and the Batdadarang was my favorite ranged weapon. (I AM THE BATDAD! I AM THE ULTIMATE LITTLE LEAGUE TRASH-TALKING FATHER!)

Apart from the story, the battle system is what made the game stick out for me. It seems pretty run-of-the-mill at first; it’s you and one buddy at a time (you can eventually choose from Butters, Kenny, Stan, Jimmy, Cartman, and Kyle), and you and your opponents take turns beating each other up. All attacks are executed through timed button presses, as well as when you defend from enemy attacks, so there’s some degree of timing and skill that makes battles more than just selecting “attack” repeatedly. You and your buddy also have skills to make fights more interesting, and if you complete the necessary sidequests, you’re also able to summon other characters from the show to basically win the battle for you. You can also use magic, but uh… to be honest, I only used it once. More on that later.

But what really made it stick out for me was that there was a decent level of strategy I didn’t expect, especially from a game based off a TV show. Your health and PP are restored after every fight, so you’re free to play around with skills and status effects a little more freely without any long-term consequences. Each fight can be its own strategy, and as a result this is one of the only standard RPGs where it actually pays to use those status enhancing items that usually stay untouched in your inventory. While the game isn’t exactly hard, enemies can deal a lot of damage, especially if you’re not good at blocking. It can really pay off to use Weight Gain 4000 to boost your attack and defense or Tweek Bros. Coffee to speed up and give you an extra turn. Skills aren’t always overpowered either, and in some cases you may want to use them just to place a status effect on your opponent (Jimmy became one of my favorite buddies because of this; as the bard, he specializes in status changes). Each fight, while not hard, still felt like a decent challenge.

The game wasn’t particularly long, either, which will probably turn off most gamers but for me it’s fine. Another reason I lost interest in modern games (and RPGs in general) was I stopped wanting to invest so much time into a single game. I’ve got to be in a certain frame of mind if I’m going to start playing an RPG again, and thankfully I was when my friend lent me the game. I can’t exactly say how much time I spent on it; it took a few weeks to get through, but I was inconsistent with how much I played. Sometimes I played for an hour a night, I didn’t touch it for several days in a row, and there were a couple of occasions where I binged and played for hours without getting out of bed. RPG fans will probably be disappointed that it wasn’t longer, but considering it’s a South Park game, and that the story was entertaining the entire way through, I think the length is fine. It didn’t overstay its welcome, that’s for sure, and I’m sure RPG fans can at least agree there are some games out there that needed to end a little sooner.

Any other negatives? Well, the game lagged a lot for me. I played it on the PS3, so maybe it’s just for that system (I find a lot of PS3 games to lag, honestly), but it was still distracting. Anytime I ran around town and moved to a new area there were lagging issues, so I found myself walking at normal speed so it wouldn’t bother me. The transitions into battles had a bit of a lag, too.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of menu navigating. It wasn’t as nearly big a problem as I originally thought it would be, but it could have been a little smoother. You’ll be looking through and equipping a lot of different equipment, for example, and you’ll have to constantly unequip and reequip weapon strap-ons and equipment patches that give your stuff extra boosts. Something that would have let you transfer your strap-ons and patches without so many menus would have been nice, but I’ve played games that were far worse at this.

The biggest disappointment was that your max level is capped off at 15. I reached this level about two-thirds through the game, so it kind of made battles pointless towards the end. I don’t mind if there’s a level cap, but I think it should have been raised a little higher, maybe to 20.

Could I recommend this game to non-RPG fans? I think there might be something here they can enjoy, but I would recommend watching someone else play the game first to see if it’s something you’d be interested in. There are a lot tutorials you can read in the beginning of the game. But I won’t lie, they’re a little confusing. I think people that are unfamiliar with RPGs might be extremely lost. And I am familiar with them, and I was still lost. If I wasn’t watching Lucahjin play this game beforehand, I’m not sure I would have been able to figure some stuff out on my own. It’s not that it’s terribly difficult to understand how the game works, the game just throws a lot of stuff at you in the beginning and doesn’t offer much in terms of explanations. For example, there are status effects like bleeding and grossed out that are never really explained to you; you need to be in battle and choose the “examine” option to find out what each of these actually does. You’re taught how to do magic, but you’re never taught that your magic meter never fills up on its own like your health and PP, and that you need to use items to fill it anytime you want to use it.

Could I recommend this game to non-South Park fans? Probably not. As far as RPGs go, it’s decently complex but it’s not exactly as deep as, say, Final Fantasy. Gamers looking for an RPG but who don’t like South Park will probably find a lot to not like about the game. Like I said, I’m not much of a gamer anymore, so this game’s depth is just fine for me. But I could see how others may be turned off by it. And again, the game is a giant love letter to South Park fans, so a large part of the fun comes from appreciating all the little details about the series. I don’t mean to say that the game is a cash-grab for South Park fans, I still think it’s a fun game. I’m just saying it will probably be most appreciated by fans of the show and the game genre.

If you’re still not sure if the game’s right for you, but are still interested, go check out Lucahjin’s Let’s Play! She’s a really cool and funny person, and she did a great job at making me want to check out the game after my initial negative impressions.

“I Don’t Have the Time”

Sigh. It’s an obnoxious phrase. It really is.

So ever since I started college, I’ve noticed this phrase start to pop up more and more. It wasn’t really so bad at first, but as I started getting older it began sounding less like a reason for why people didn’t do things and more like an excuse.

And before I go on, yes, I get that “I don’t have the time” can be one of those things people say to blow something off without hurting anyone’s feelings, or a quick way to deter a conversation, or to just have something to say when you don’t want to go into greater detail on why you can’t or don’t do something. I get it’s not something you should always take literally. It’s kind of like when you walk into work and a coworker says, “Hey, how are you?” They’re probably not wanting to hear a detailed explanation of how you’re doing, it’s just part of the greeting.

But man… “I don’t have the time” isn’t something you should rely on saying. It makes you look like an asshole when you say it too much. It’s something you should say as sparingly as possible.

I know a number of people that keep on telling me, “I want to read more,” or “I want to start running again,” or “I really want to start watching [insert TV show].” And I don’t really want to respond, because I know what’s coming next, and I don’t want to deal with it, but I end up saying “So do it.” And then comes the highly defensive, “I don’t have the time to do it.”

And I realize I don’t have a full-time job, and I don’t have kids, and that I have more time than other people probably do. Even I’m guilty of using this phrase when dealing with someone I don’t want to deal with. But I’ve heard this so often that I’ve gotten to a point where I can’t help but think, “Oh really?” Like… you can’t put aside a half hour every night to read something? You can’t put on a pair of sneakers and jog around the block for 15 minutes? And honestly, with all the ways people can watch television and movies, and the frequency of which they do, you honestly don’t have the time to start watching something?

It just… it reeks of the scent excuses often have. And I think most people, including the people that claim they don’t have any time, can smell it. People gossip about it all the time, too. “Oh, he says he doesn’t have the time to do x, but he certainly has the time to do y.” “For someone that’s so busy, she sure has the time to get her nails done every week.” “He always says he doesn’t have the time to do anything with me, but he’s perfectly capable of making the time to hang out with his friends.” Saying you don’t have time is such a ridiculously short-term solution that you may as well not bother with it in the first place. If you need to make an excuse, do yourself a favor and actually make an excuse. Say you’ve been really busy with the kids lately. Say you’re not feeling up to it. Say work’s been tiring you out. Say something. But don’t say you don’t have the time. Because the very second someone sees you relaxing, they’re going to think you have more time than you say you do. They may not call you out on it, but if you’ve been dropping that line a lot, they’ll be thinking it. Oh, they’ll be thinking it.

You know the sad thing? There are some people that genuinely have no time to do the things they want to, and they can’t be taken seriously when they say they don’t have time. Other people that can make more time but won’t, in some sick way to appear busier than they actually are, ruin it for people that truly are too busy for other things. It’s like when depressed people can’t be taken seriously because other people abuse the word “depressed.”

If you’re truly busy, people will know. The reasons you give them should be enough. And you know what else helps? Offer to make some time at a later date. “I can’t see you this week, but how about next week?” “Thanks for offering to lend me this book I want to read, but now’s not a good time. Would you mind lending it to me in a few weeks, when I can focus on it?” You get the idea.

 

Don’t Give Up on Your Craft

When I was on Facebook this morning, one of my friends from college was talking about looking for a new job. Among the comments following her post, it sounded like she had given up on writing. I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I’m not exactly sure what her thoughts on the matter are, but she was so focused on being a travel writer when we were in school together. Now, almost two years after graduating, she doesn’t even want a writing job.

It’s not like I’m particularly surprised; a lot of students from my writing workshops stopped writing after graduating. The thought of being a published writer someday is a pretty comforting thought when you’re in college. You spend so much time focusing on your craft, and maybe some publishing opportunities in small, college-supported contests that you don’t even worry about what kind of job you’re going to look for. Hell, I’m still looking for some kind of job I’m qualified for. It’s not until after you leave that network of supporting writers and go back to your home life that the doubts about how you’re going to use that degree start to noticeably manifest. Snarky remarks by relatives (so what are you actually going to do with poetry?), the lack of interest in your craft by other people, and for many, the need to start making substantial payments on student loans, are enough to start discouraging anybody from following their writing passion.

Stuff happens. Life gets in the way. Your focus and interest in writing starts to fade. It’s pretty easy when you don’t have a professor demanding another draft of something on a regular basis. I’m pretty guilty too. This year’s been shit and has demoralized the fuck out of me. I haven’t completed a short story in half a year, and although I’ve started several since then, I haven’t made nearly as much of an effort as I used to. If it weren’t for these weekly blog posts, I honestly couldn’t even call myself a writer anymore.

People come from and continue on different walks of life, and unfortunately, not all of them are going to support your desire to write. Accepting that you may never have anything published or “succeed” as a writer is something you should do as early as possible. It’s not being negative, it’s being realistic.

But don’t give up on it just because it’s not going to make you money. If you started writing, if you went to school for it, if you really wanted to perfect and continue appreciating the art of your craft, then don’t give up on it. You’ll have less time for it as the years go on, and you’ll probably be less enthusiastic about it too, but if you really love it then keep doing it. A passion for the arts is a true test; you see how much you really love something when it’s not working out for you, and finding that out is a pretty strong life accomplishment in and of itself. Don’t be discouraged by critical family members who don’t “get” it. Don’t feel too isolated if you’re the only one in your area that can appreciate the art of writing. And don’t worry about not making money off of what you write. You can find ways to live and still keep writing for you.

After all, didn’t you start writing because you had something to get out? Didn’t you want to put your unexplainable feelings into a more tangible form other people could connect with? Didn’t you find a joy in reading other writers’ work and finding ways to make intelligent comments to help improve it instead of just saying “it’s good?” Don’t you remember reading something that hit so close to home that you wanted to write something that would have the same effect on someone one day?

Just don’t stop doing it if you really liked it. Stop doing it if you’ve honestly lost interest. But don’t stop because of money or time. If you’re having trouble with that part of life, then you’re probably pretty frustrated. That’s understandable. Too bad there isn’t a way for you to express that kind of frustration, huh?