Dragon Age 2 Review


I previously wrote what I thought about Dragon Age: Origins. Now I’m going to proceed to tell you what I thought about Dragon Age 2.

Thing 1: Dragon Age 2 was far less sexist than its predecessor. From what I can tell, there were equally terrible romance options for all involved.

It was interesting that most or all of the NPCs had pretty fierce opinions, and they didn’t waver. Those opinions had enormous consequences. Although this was interesting, it didn’t do much for anyone who wanted Hawke to have satisfying relationships with allies, both in the realm of romance or in friendship. I spent most of the game worries about what my allies kept trying to get me to help them do… Anders wanted me to help him start a war, I pissed Carver off pretty early on and he left our party, Fenris kept wanting me to punish mages (even though I was playing as a mage), and Merrill wanted to use blood magic to put a mirror back together. Varric and Aveline were the only two who didn’t make me feel like I was babysitting.

Thing 2: Visually, DA2 was a vast improvement. It was super different stylistically than the first game was. Hawke was a fun character to play, partly because of the look. She was BA, appealing, and unique.

Thing 3: The game is set up as a story within a story. There’s a dwarf, who is being interrogated, and he’s telling the story of what occurred. It felt a little contrived to me. It felt like the writers realized they had set the entire story inside one city, and players were going to crave a wider world. Problem, the videos of Varric being interrogated didn’t show ANY of the wider world. It felt like a cop-out… a device… It didn’t feel like an honest story.

Thing 4: Speaking of the world-building, it sucked. Half of the fun in playing an RPG is exploring the world. However, DA2 was all set within one city, minus a short scene at the beginning and a quick expedition into the Dark Roads. The side quests all occurred in repetitive locations. The maps for all of the side quests were repetitive. All I can think is, “Really? This is all you came up with?”

Thing 5: I liked some of the changes they made to game play, but I went ahead and started playing Inquisition only to discover they completely changed everything again. I understand the need to appeal to a wider audience and having attacks triggered, by, well the trigger… makes sense, but come on, I’ve been faithful to the series and I don’t really want to have to relearn the whole thing.

Thing 6: Most of the side quests were stupid. I felt pretty irritated at the tedium of playing the same maps again and again, but it also was just a long, long game. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief because the story never transcended the formula. Side quest to gain XP. Another side quest to gain XP. Another side quest to gain XP. Main storyline. Another side quest to gain XP… and on, and on, and on….

Overall, not the worst game I’ve ever played, but pretty bad. As far as RPGs go, I’d actually recommend that you skip this series entirely. Maybe my opinion will change as I play Inquisition, but my hopes aren’t high. :-(

The Question that Threw Me


I’ve decided to pursue volunteering with Victim’s Services. From what I can tell, this means that I would go to crime scenes and help victims meet their immediate needs, whatever those may be (a glass of water, a quiet place to sit, phone calls, etc…). Plus, I’d leave behind resources for them in the coming days – pamphlets with phone numbers and information to help them make the next steps.

I like thinking of it as going into the darkest dark of a person’s life, being a soft light next to them for an hour, maybe two, then leaving as quietly as I came, but also putting a flashlight and some batteries in their hands so that they can start finding their way out whenever they’re ready.

There’s a rigor to volunteering with Victim’s Services that’s to be expected, which is why I found myself downtown at 6:30 on a weeknight, in a building with metal detectors and a security guard.

I thought I was going to nail the interview. You see, the volunteer program at Casa de la Luz has a similar rigor to it, and I’ve been interviewing prospective volunteer for the past three weeks.

I answered their questions, but one of them really stuck with me.

Somehow, the question to get to me wasn’t the one about times I’d been victimized in the past. It wasn’t the one about what the most difficult scenario would be for me in volunteering. The question that’s haunting me is: “What did your friends and family say when you told them you wanted to do this?”

I feel a little like Creed in The Office when new HR person Holly asked him what he did at Dunder Mifflin, and he was all, “Who does she think she is, asking questions that are none of her business?”

I know it’s a fair question. And yet… the truth is that Victim’s Services was never much of a conversation with any of my friends or family.

I’m pretty sure I told my mom. I told Danny and Lauren; Danny said he thought I’d be good at it… and that’s about it. I mentioned it to a friend at church, but only because the training was going to prevent me from attending Bible Study for 6 weeks.

I mean, I went to Mongolia without anyone’s permission. I pierced my nose and got tattoos. I bought a house, quit my job, went to Peru, fell in love, adopted two ducks and a dog…Not only did I do those things without anyone’s permission, but I didn’t even really ask for feedback on most of it.

To some extent, I think I may now understand all of the conflicts I’ve had in my entire life.

I know, it’s been quite the week for me.

Steve and Lori, Ashly, the Johnsons… all of the people I’ve been closest with in my life have the unmistakable ability not to take it personally when I tell them they’ve given me great advice, but I’m going to do exactly what they said I shouldn’t do. They also don’t take it personally when I don’t explain why I didn’t take their advice. They also have a pretty wonderful way of never acting like it’s bad for me to take risks or do things differently than most people do them. When I think about it, how they relate to me might boil down to them having the ability to entrust me to God.

All of the people in my life with whom I’ve had major conflict have the unmistakable need for people, items, ideas, and everything in existence to fall in line; they take it as an insult that I don’t communicate my thoughts and reasons for doing the things I do. They have a sense of right and wrong that extends beyond what’s actually in the Bible, and it’s frustrating to them when I discard things on which they place moral significance.

When I think about what those close to me would have said if I’d asked them what they think about me volunteering with Victim’s Services, I think they’d all have probably asked me a lot of questions and said it might end up being really awesome, and if it wasn’t awesome, I’d figure that out, and stop doing it. Also, I think they’d say that I’ll probably learn a lot, and they can see why I want to do it.

Regardless, I may try a little harder to talk with people BEFORE I go running off to foreign countries, changing careers, etc… I may try to make friends and family a part of the decision-making process, rather than just updating them once the decision has been made. That would probably be a good change for me to make in my life.

It All Changes When You Interact with Your Boss Daily


I’m really struggling with my relationship to my boss. In part, this is because I’ve worked mostly autonomously for my entire adult life. Now, I see my boss and interact with her every day.

Note: it’s really hard for me not to write a hilarious post right now, because it would be easy to do. It would be easy to make fun of my boss, but I’m going to try not to do that. In fact, so many moments in my relationship with my boss should’ve been made into episodes of The Office. However, I’m going to try to be real about the way I ache over this relationship right now.

_______________________________________

My boss is an interesting lady. She’s raised a bunch of kids – none of whom were hers. They were her siblings’ children, and she took them in when they had nowhere else to go, because their parents had mental breaks. There is an elderly lady my boss visits once a week. She helps out at her church.

I so wish I could admire her properly for those actions, but she’s so… aware of them. Instead of keeping her right hand from knowing what her left has done, she seems to be holding a sign with her right hand that’s a constant headline of what the left has done.

Taking in and raising another person’s children is HUGE. I don’t want to miss that. She gave up much of her life willingly.

__________________________________________________

My boss is the type who exerts power as a default. I think this comes from becoming a mother abruptly, rather than growing into it as the child grows. When a woman takes on a teenager, I think it’s easy to view her role as one of the enforcer. With teenagers, and especially teenagers who’ve not had strong parenting previously, it’s important to be able to say, “No,” and say it loudly.

I think that’s why my boss interacts with the people around her as if she’s been appointed the enforcer. The volunteers who are almost all older than she is call her “Mom.” They do so teasingly, but she takes pride in the sense of authority that comes with that title. She doesn’t quite get that only half of them call her “mom” with any affection.

Her previous job experience comes from working at Intuit, where she did tech-y things, and moved up through the company into mid-level management. Her career advancement was through hard work, and despite the absence of a college degree. Her time at Intuit created in her a strong respect for process documents and the chain of command. She won’t do anything outside of the normal process without permission from her direct superior, regardless of how insignificant such an action might be, and she sees it as incompetence and rebellion when anyone else does anything outside of what’s written on the process doc.

________________________________________________

My boss is proud of her Christianity, and talks a lot about her good works. Along with that, she’s judgmental, believing she knows what’s right and that all people should conform to her sense of morality. She doesn’t take the Bible seriously as the Word of God, but sees it more as a bunch of parables and metaphors, so the majority of her beliefs about morality are centered in church culture.

________________________________________________

My boss is insecure about her appearance and her weight. She’s made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, and has given up… well… most of her diet for the foreseeable future. She points it out when I eat anything she can’t eat on her diet, and does so in a sort of, “That’s a lot of calories,” kind of way.

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My boss panics and/or gets angry when a day strays off its intended course. If a volunteer doesn’t follow a process laid out in their training, she thinks less of them and expects them to continue “failing” as we go forward. She also continuously admonishes me for my tendency to give such volunteers the benefit of the doubt. She believes I see them with rose-colored glasses. Her greatest mission with regards to me and my performance seems to be to squash any amount of patience, peace, and flexibility I have with people who draw outside of the lines.

______________________________________________

It’s a really difficult relationship, because she seeks to make me into something I don’t want to be, and believe I should, in fact, never be.

My relationship with her reminds me of my relationship with my sister in a lot of ways.

You see, I’m the worst person in the world for someone to try to control. It’s not that I’m rebellious or competitive… I know some people see me that way. I actually think I have something more akin to tunnel vision. I set my view on what I want to be, and drive towards that without regard to anything else.

My boss wants me to be less forgiving, which is in direct opposition to what I want to be. She wants me to see the volunteers’ flaws, but I intentionally choose to see the best parts of them.

_________________________________________________

I’m coming from a place where I was routinely asked the same question 20 times a day, and I repeated my answer (calmly for the most part) every time I was asked… a place where I had to be at peace with those under my authority making mistakes, often intentionally and/or maliciously… a place where I never thought it was within my power to eliminate bumps in the road… I truly saw my job as providing unavoidable opportunities for kids to learn, and continuing to love them when they were least lovable.

So… when volunteers do something that’s in a gray area, it hardly registers to me. It’s just part of the day. It’s to be expected. Of course, there are times when they really cross a line, and we need to sit down and talk, but that’s a rare need in my view. I’d also prefer a casual mention of it the next time we see them to sitting them down and formally telling them they’ve done something wrong and we’ve documented it in their charts.

For the most part, I believe my job is to equip volunteers to see patients. I believe I am to fuel them, advocate for them, and make it easy for them to serve.

I think my boss believes our job is to keep them from breaking rules.

_________________________________________________

It’s just a really painful dynamic with my boss right now. My hope is that we will work smoothly together to complement each other in the future, but, I worry that her heart is in the wrong place and that she’s a rude person who oscillates between feeling sorry for herself and undiluted pride.

I try to pick my moments. I try to show her the grace I wish she would hold for others. I try to be gentle and helpful. I try not to point out her hypocrisies. I try not to lose it when she insults me or others.

And it’s been okay. There have been a few times when I believe I said something that’s helping her grow.

And as much as I didn’t want to write a comical post about all of this, the dynamic just reminds me soooo much of Michael Scott. Of course Michael made a few big sales, and all of the characters developed an involuntary affection for him, but sometimes, he just… well…

….

 

 

 

 

Dear Martha McSally, Re: Your Recent Survey


Dear Martha McSally,

I am a registered independent in Congressional District 2, Legislative District 9, and I received and responded to your recently mailed survey. However, I found the survey more than a little lacking, and, because I hope you truly care what I think, I’ve decided to correspond with you in a way that’s not quite so limited.

First and foremost, I’d like to explain some of my bias against this survey and where that bias began. As a registered independent, I received an overwhelming mass of correspondence on behalf of your campaign a little over a year ago, and I was incredibly offended by the negative slant of the majority of mailings I received. However, there was one particular mailing that really sticks in my mind as reprehensible. It featured incumbent Ron Barber’s picture as a parody for Malibu Barbie.

I feel it should be obvious why such a terrible piece of partisan politics was offensive to me and would have offended me regardless of who your opponent was. However, it was doubly offensive for its target. I lived down the street from Jared Loughner. I was personally impacted by the Gabby Giffords shooting, as most Tucsonans were, and Ron Barber took a special place in my heart as a public servant the moment he took a bullet that January 9th. I understand the money that paid for this particular smear ad came from outside interest groups. However, I’m incredibly disappointed that you did not publicly renounce such bull shit, childish, and petty acts made in an attempt to put you in office. Ron Barber deserved better, and I will expect better of any future opponents you face, because such a smear directed at you would be equally reprehensible.

Second, I’d like to point out that your survey did not address education in any way. I’ve been told that avoiding questions about education is a common practice in such surveys, because its something that you cannot have much of an impact on… it’s basically a lose-lose situation for you. Yet, I wish you would have asked. I wish the survey had been sent out with the intent to truly understand where your constituents stand on all of the issues, regardless of which issues you can truly expect to impact. Also, I hope and pray that you will re-prioritize education and fight on behalf of Arizona students, even if you believe it is a losing battle. I hate believing you’ve given up on an issue that’s so close to my heart.

I am among the many teachers this state (alongside the rest of the nation) is currently bleeding. I taught for 7 years, and gave it up last year when I discovered that assistant managers at Starbucks receive greater compensation than what teachers in Arizona receive. I now work as a program assistant for a local hospice and I make more than I made in the classroom, without even using my degree. Education is too important an issue to be omitted from any venue that’s purpose is to better understand where people stand on the issues.

Finally, I’m disappointed in the manner in which your survey addressed the issues it addressed. An overt selfishness bled through most of the questions. While I don’t recall the exact wording, as I already mailed in my responses, many of the questions were skewed so that only a fool would answer in a way that provided data to oppose your current stances… “Is a strong national defense a priority for you?” Of course – it’s a priority for everyone. It’s a priority for those who would prefer to move money from defense to agriculture, and it’s a priority for those who want to move money from agriculture to defense. If you truly wanted to know what your constituents think, you would write the question rather differently. However, as it stands, the results of that survey can only be used to reinforce your beliefs, rather than providing an opportunity for you to re-evalutate them. I’m sure those results will be published and say something to the effect of: “96% of voters polled responded by saying that a strong national defense is a priority for them.”

I want to believe you are different from other politicians. However, you have claimed to be different while simultaneously playing by the commonly accepted rules of politics. I generally don’t vote for the person with whom I agree most frequently. I vote for the human being who reveals herself to possess the integrity, intelligence, and courage to do what she believes is right, regardless of what would be most advantageous for her career. Thus far, you have not been that person. You have allowed outside interest groups to come in and insult a man who served honorably, and to insult him on your behalf. You have asked for feedback, but eliminated the possibility of dissent against you.

Please, don’t send me another survey or mailing that so lacks the substance and idealism necessary in representing me. In fact, each time you’ve mailed me in the past, you’ve diminished what esteem I held for you, so, honestly, you’d be better off to stop mailing me altogether… unless you can significantly step up your game.

Sincerely,

Katie James

The Teacher Nightmare


As I was signing up for my 401 K last week, the rep. whose job it was to convince us to sign up and then help us do it was asking me about teaching, and he implied that teachers have it great because they get summers off. I very quickly let him know that he’s really really mistaken, although I don’t think he fully understood why…

Well, I got together with some teacher friends for a beer tasting over the weekend. They talked about teacher things and people that were a significant part of my life, but I have to admit, it all seemed pretty distant. It’s been about 8 months since I’ve been in the classroom.

And yet… I had a teacher nightmare that night.

In the nightmare, I was teaching at a middle school in one of those places that only makes sense in dream. There were apple trees all over the school; it was sort of like what I pictured the Amity compound to be like in Insurgent by Veronica Roth. The school didn’t have climate control, and there were at least a few other commonalities to the school where I taught in Mongolia. I had a class of maybe 15 kids, and they were all really cute.

Then, for no reason at all, someone released something like 10 tigers onto campus, and I grabbed one little girl’s hand and dragged her to safety, but I don’t know what happened to any of the other kids. And I felt sooooo guilty, because I’d abandoned them to save myself and this one little girl. She and I were hiding in a cleaning closet when I woke up.

That’s what being a teacher is like – probably not for everyone, but for me. Also, I’m sure the job took its toll on others in other ways. Regardless, I had that sort of nightmare for the last week of every break and the first week back for 7 years. We’re talking last week of Summer and first week back, Fall break and first week back, Winter break and first week back, Spring break and first week back…. I spent something like 8 weeks of my life having nightmares about my job. That’s almost exactly the length of Summer vacation.

Also, that’s not including any of the many catalysts for nightmares during the normal weeks of school. I had one student who would tell her mother she was in my classroom studying at 6:30 pm on Friday nights. I’d come in Monday morning, and her mother would have left me a voicemail asking if her kid was with me. I called her and told her the kid was lying, but for weeks, I’d come in to a red light on my phone signifying that the kid had done it again. I had a ton of anxiety over that one, and it only got sorted out when the kid was picked up by the cops, running away from home. Again, she’d told her mother she was studying in my classroom. Forget the common sense fact that no teacher stays until 6:30 on Friday… we load up our grading and take it home with us… If I was going to work over the weekend, it sure as hell was going to be while lounging on the couch with a glass of wine.

Now, it’d be one thing if I was the type who was prone to nightmares or anxiety. But I’m really not. I haven’t had a single nightmare connected to my new job. Not one.

So, 401 K rep – all I can tell you is that if you like dreaming about kids being eaten by tigers, and being thrust into the middle of someone else’s meltdowns… go for it. Teaching is the job for you!

 

Hocking a Loogie from a Moving Vehicle


This is one of those stories that can only be told on a blog, because it’s a little weird and embarrassing.

When I was a kid, I thought it was pretty cool that my dad could be driving, cough up a loogie, roll down the window (pre-automatic windows), and hock his loogie out of the car. It isn’t something I meditated on or anything. I just thought it was impressive.

So… when I turned 16, I thought I should give it a try. As a teenager, new to driving (I was probably 17 in actuality, because I didn’t really want to drive), I decided to try to follow in my father’s footsteps. I was getting over a cold, so my loogies had some impressive body to them. I coughed it up, rolled down the window, and hocked the thing… and the wind caught ahold of its impressive mass and blew the thing right back into the car. Sorry, Mom – I was driving the Saturn VUE at the time, which wasn’t mine. I promise I cleaned it up as best as possible. Yes, I’m disgusting, and I apologize.

You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson, but every now and then, I’ll cough up a loogie that I’d really like not to swallow, because that’s so gross, and I’ll think, I’m all growed-up now, I’m sure I can do this.

Without fail, I’ve hocked every loogie into the wind, which has blown it back into the car… except for a week ago…

It was possibly the greatest triumph of my life when I saw that thing fly out the window and disappear from my life. I can mark that one off the bucket list! :-)

Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and Frappuccinos


Years ago, when I first started blogging, I found myself pissing off a handful of people I never intended to piss off, and it surprised me.

I was surprised, in part, because I don’t think I’m all that offensive, in part, because I don’t think a 500-2,000 word blog¬† post is worth getting worked up over, and, in part, because I doubt I’d be angry if we pulled a Freaky Friday and you were writing about me. It’s a temptation for me to go more in-depth on each of the reasons I don’t understand and didn’t foresee The Anger, but that’s an awful lot like having an argument with someone who’s left the room so I’ll refrain.

Instead, I’m going to try to persuade The Angry to give me back my blog…

For me, this blog and writing in general exist in a separate and imaginary world. Anything the heart experiences is more than admissible in this world; it’s required and respected. The landscape looks like an animated, pre-Pixar Disney film – probably Fern Gully. In this imaginary writing world, J K Rowling grabs coffee with F Scott Fitzgerald to discuss the carelessness of witches and wizards who break things and leave the mess for others to clean up. They set up their coffee couch in the middle of a Fern Gully field. Fitzgerald spikes his coffee, of course, and, while Rowling doesn’t, she thoroughly approves.

Maybe that’s not a great way to describe it. Maybe it’s a barbaric yawp. There’s a poem by William Carlos Williams about dancing naked in front of a mirror while his wife sleeps that I think touches on the freedom I seek in writing. Maybe it’s impossible to paint a picture that displays the beauty, whimsy, thought, humor, and mystery of sitting down and translating thoughts into words. Maybe I can’t help The Angry see what they robbed me of when they limited my writing to the inoffensive…

To write well, I’ve always felt that a person must see and articulate with honesty and without apology. Good writing, to me, prioritizes truth, and truth, even in its most excruciating forms, should be a bridge between people. It should be what C.S. Lewis described as the birth of friendship, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself.” That birth of friendship is why I read and write… because it’s such a strange and wonderful thing to know that person who is dead or a person who lives across the world or a person who I thought I knew everything about or any person at all is intimately acquainted with a part of life I thought was exclusive to me.

When people are angry with me for my writing, even though I don’t understand how they could be angry… I feel like I have to censor myself or stop writing altogether so that I won’t need to explain and comfort and apologize for my words. I wish in the past I’d taken a harder line with The Angry. I wish I’d protected my imaginary land of Fern Gully, Fitzgerald, and frappuccinos.

This place exists because I wanted to write. It does not exist because a friend or family member said to me, “I want to read,” and I thought, I should write a blog so that _________ can read.¬†Rather, I decided to build myself an imaginary world, where there is no part of myself that is too offensive, too blunt, too honest… and possibly the one place where I could exist as I am without asking for permission.

This has all been churning in my head since I wrote something that didn’t make someone angry.

What I wrote hurled a friend and me into a difficult conversation, but when I offered never to write about that topic again, she said, “I don’t want you to do that. I have no right over your blog. That’s your place.”

I want to write here again. For real. Not for you. For me. It’s cool if you want to read it. It’s also cool if you don’t want to read it. Just please, if you get angry, keep it to yourself and know that whatever I wrote wasn’t about you… I grabbed ahold of something that was troubling in the real world, dragged it to Fern Gully, and sat down to try to sort out our troubles over a cup of spiked coffee.