Reading & listening in 2018

Every year I keep a list of the books I’ve read and then add the list to the Books Read List page of this blog. If you look at the Books Read in 2018 list and compare it to the last couple of years, you might think that 2018 was a poor year for reading.

Well, I would counter, it wasn’t as bad as 2013 or 2015. Even so, I would admit that I feel a little bit of disappointment in seeing that 2018’s count is twenty books fewer than 2017’s.

Screenshot_PodcastsBut then I would remember that 2018 could also be described as the Year of the Podcast and the Year of the Non-Traditional Narrative: in 2018 I began listening to and watching actual-play D&D campaigns podcasts and web series, Eberron Renewed and Critical Role.

For the past few years I have chosen a book series to binge-listen to during my long commutes for my summer teaching job. Instead of choosing a book series in 2018, I chose to listen to my friend’s D&D podcast Eberron Renewed. Some 90 episodes later (each weekly episode running between an hour and an hour and a half), I estimate that the amount of time I’ve spent listening to this podcast is the equivalent to about a dozen audiobooks. Eberron Renewed is just a very long narrative being “written” collaboratively and in improv.

And if I had been reading instead of watching Critical Role? Well, that’s another very long narrative being told in real time that also amounts to about 15 books in terms of hours. (Though I could just as well have been watching other TV shows to be honest, which I haven’t had the time for.)

Then there are the BBC and PRI news and linguistic A Way With Words podcasts I listen to at work, when I could be listening to audiobooks.

So it’s not that I’m not getting healthy doses of narrative, fiction, news, ideas: I am. I’m getting them from not only reading and listening to audiobooks, but also from unexpected, non-traditional narrative sources by following along other players’ D&D campaigns. Getting my entertainment from these sources and from playing RPGs myself with my friends has had me thinking about role-playing games as narrative sources, as sources or modes of entertainment: a form of oral narrative, community narrative, an exchange between those who create entertainment and those who are entertained by it and the nexus of when those groups happen to be the same people gathered around a table with character sheets and dice.

I’ll be exploring some of the ideas that have sprung up in my musings about RPGs as non-traditional narrative sources in an upcoming blog series.

Do you keep track of what you read? From what sources do you get your doses of fiction?

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on commercial healthcare

Yesterday I went to the ER (A&E for my British readers). I had been doing some DIY work on the patio/catio and the step-ladder I was standing on inexplicably folded out from underneath me. I immediately retrieved frozen vegetable bags from the freezer to put on my bruised and blindingly painful left foot, peeled off the sock, and saw that it was bleeding. I swallowed some painkillers and hobbled my way to the bathroom to wash my foot. The cut, once I could see it, was far deeper than I knew I could manage alone. Hastily, I bound it with tissues and medical tape, maintained pressure on the wound, and phoned a friend to ask about going to the ER.

surgical shoe 14-03-17

It looks more dramatic than it really is.

I had only been to the ER twice before, and only once in the U.S., more than a decade ago and only because I needed to see a doctor on the weekend. Since then, the number of independent urgent care centers have proliferated, in part encouraged by competition. Was there some trick to know which one to go to? Were some covered by my insurance and others not? My friend assured me that I could go to any of them, so we located one closest to me and I drove myself there. I was the only patient and was seen to immediately.

The commercial quality of healthcare in America was apparent by the sign announcing, ‘Highest rated on Yelp!’ on the entry door, and was highlighted again when I was checking out: not only was I asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey, but I was also given a gift bag, the contents of which were all branded with that urgent care center’s logo. Today the center phoned to check in on how I was doing and to ask again for a customer survey.

The entire commercialization of healthcare part of the experience leaves me baffled and repulsed. That healthcare is to be so commercialized and run for profit is antithetical to my belief that access to basic healthcare is a human right, especially in a country that claims to be so far advanced and civilized as this one, and to my general distaste for excessive accumulation of wealth, particularly at the expense of others. In terms of customer satisfaction, what does it matter beyond competent and correct care and that everyone involved behaves professionally? I don’t need a gift bag or be pampered by the staff. I don’t understand the mindset that equates patient with customer.

(The cut was deep enough to need stitches, but its placement and clean edges meant that they could use a ‘super-glue’ for skin instead. It hardly hurts at all; in fact, my bruises and the tension headache that followed hurt worse once the foot was bound up. I’m lucky that it wasn’t worse, considering that I landed on concrete with various bricks and wooden planters around me with sharp edges.)

Observations

The Lammas Fair has come and gone. For five days every August the town is transformed into a fairground. My housemate hates it, but I’m always amazed at how these massive rides can fold out of the backs of lorries. I love how for a brief while our medieval town is full of incongruities. Rides, games, vendors, fortune tellers, various traveling merchants selling their wares, there really is a bit of everything. I’m sure I would hate it, too, if it stayed any longer — but as it is, I enjoyed walking around it, eating fair food and gawping at the ferris wheel, carousel, and other rides that swing and spin perilously close to buildings.

Otherwise not much has been going on beyond the usual work routine. My evenings have been spent knitting instead of reading as it becomes ever closer to certain little persons’ birth dates, which means I’ve been watching more than usual on BBC iPlayer. More recently, however, Ros and I have been watching the news and checking Twitter about the riots spreading across England. It’s completely baffling. These aren’t protestors, but opportunists, looters. What is even more baffling to me is that the repeated phrase seems to be that the rioters are striking back against the rich and showing them and the police that they can do whatever they want. That, as the lower class, unemployed, or marginalized, they are tired of being put down and ignored. But by destroying and looting local shops and businesses they are only disenfranchising others in their own communities, thus perpetuating an unequal system.

But that is easy for me to observe, being some hundred miles away, in the very privileged position of being able to pursue what I want in life, a PhD in such an esoteric field as the concept of ‘fairy’ in medieval romance, especially since I also am now among the ranks of the employed, having applied, been interviewed, offered and accepted a position at a museum in Town. (More on that later once I actually begin working, which will be in a few weeks.) I am glad that social networks like Twitter are also being used to organise clean-ups in the targeted communities — a huge, standing ovation to #riotcleanup and to the police who, despite the criticisms against them, I’m sure are trying their best. And I’m sure we can all agree that we hope this madness ends soon.

Initial reaction

We have BBC Radio 3 play in the morning, which means I didn’t check the news until I got into the office. In fact, it was seeing a comment on facebook that made me switch over to BBC News.

Mixed feelings for my part. It’s good that Osama bin Laden was found. It’s a pity he couldn’t have been brought to trial. It’s concerning the amount of… jubilation there is at the news of one man’s death. It’s unsettling how the U.S. sent an operation within another country’s borders without informing that country what it was doing. I understand the reason given why, but does that make it right? Does the end justify the means? It’s curious that people are demanding to see the body, even though that was the first thing that crossed my mind, too: skepticism wanting proof. But a body is not a trophy. To have an Islamic burial he would have to be buried as soon as possible. How we treat our dead sets us apart as humans. He may have been an enemy, but vengeance should not be allowed to corrupt justice.

The men and women who carried out this operation demonstrated great courage and strength, and I commend them for that. I am more concerned about our reactions to this news, and what happens next.

Finding out so many hours after the fact, since President Obama made the announcement at 4.30 AM BST, makes me feel all the more detached from the news. Ever more clearly I find that no matter what is on the news, no matter what happens in the world, the world keeps spinning. The question is how we move forward.

As for me, right now that means saying an extra prayer for my friends in the Middle East, and continuing my research on Melusine.

Placeless

The other day I made an exclamation that Ros laughed at, and when I asked why, she said that I had ‘sounded American’. When I pointed out that I always sound American, Ros answered, ‘You sounded particularly American.’

Which has me thinking about accents. I’ve often been told that I am ‘accentless’, usually because people can never believe that I’m from Texas when they hear me speak (even other Americans). But there is no such thing as ‘accentless’ — I do have an accent, it is simply difficult to place. Changes in vocabulary, inflexion; I sound American, but not quite. Neither do I sound ‘English’ or ‘Scottish’. Where am I? Somewhere hovering over the Atlantic, I suppose.

True peace

I recently read someone’s observations about the meaning of ‘peace’. She said that it was more than the absence of conflict; that it was also, or instead, the feeling that ‘all is right in the world’. How very wrong this is. Everything isn’t right in the world and it never will be. Yes, peace is more than simply the absence of conflict, but let us not be naïve. Peace in faith is not a feeling, but like love and joy it is a verb, a lifestyle. We live peace. We live love. We live joy. These are choices made and often failed, but we pick up and continue anyway. And when we do this, we live grace.

Memory and song

The other day, one of my officemates commented on how song was linked with memory: such as, cases where someone who has had a stroke can still sing even if they can’t speak, observing that genealogies and epics might have been chanted/sung to more easily preserve cultural memory, instead of simply reciting them.

I’d heard this before, and it was reinforced when this morning we had a spoken Mass, instead of sung. Talking with some friends afterward, including some choir members, we mentioned how it was harder to remember the words of the Mass when speaking them only. But we can sing them.