As of Late: 02-01-2023

What I’ve been reading…

Math letters for the curious

“The concept of infinity, the existence of the prime numbers, and the haunting beauty of chaotic systems can inspire artists, philosophers, and poets alike.”

Math Letters

My Math Letters subscription recently wrapped up. I bought the mail subscription (one-time fee, 20 letters) a while back so I would receive a letter every couple weeks. In a world where content consumption is rapid and voluminous the slow trickle of receiving a physical letter in the mail every so often was a real joy.

I’m a curious person but I’m not really a math person and the letters were still very approachable. I never thought I’d get to experience the “wonder” of math concepts frustration-free with my morning tea.

The letters themselves are beautifully typeset on high quality paper, so I’ve been collecting them. They sit on a bookshelf in sequence along with my books.

Doors of McMurdo

“Each building has its own unique style, based on when it was built, the standards at the time, the parties involved in its construction and operation, and what role it plays in town.

Nothing more clearly illustrates this than the doors to the buildings. “

—  Doors of McMurdo is a blog written by someone working at McMurdo station in the 2022-2023 season. I have a particular interest because a friend of mine also happens to be down there as we speak, so it’s fun to catch odd glimpses of life on the station, particularly the mundane details. Doors of McMurdo is all about, well, their favorite doors.

The Artist at Work

“I have no urge to revisit the conservatory anytime soon.”

—  “The Artist at Work”

Jen Myer’s short-story “The Artist at Work” has been on my Kobo for a while and I finally had a chance to read it. It was very good and very creepy, and I’ll always have a soft spot for any story set in Chicago.

My taste isn’t as good as Jen’s, but her newsletter is also what inspired me to try a little blogging of my own :)

What I’ve been playing…

Returnal left a mark on me

I’ve never been a fan of rogue-like video games but something about Returnal drew me in.

The first half of the game lets you know it will be uncompromisingly hard. The gameplay has a precision and finesse that will ruin every other video game for you, but Returnal expects a lot from you in return.

Combat feels like chaos until you let go and give in to the tidal wave of sensory inputs. “Getting better” in the game really means “turning conscious reactions into subconscious reactions”. Once I got out of my own way the combat became balletic. There was order to that chaos after all, as long as I allowed myself to surrender.

At first I thought this was all Returnal was, a highly polished sci-fi third-person shooter. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ll be vague to avoid spoilers, but the half-way point in the game represents a major turn in the story. I thought I was playing checkers, but the game made it clear we were playing chess.

After finishing1, my perception of the game is wildly different. Returnal is an unguarded exploration of trauma, shame, grief and psychosis. It explores these subjects with very little analysis or interpretation, leaving much of it to you. Returnal is unprocessed and unadulterated in a way that I find rare in our story telling, games, movies, television or otherwise.

I think humans are driven to make sense of trauma, our art often attempts to interpret it in the hopes of healing us. As important as meaning-making is, I think art has other roles to play too. Sometimes we don’t need help understanding, sometimes we need help feeling, especially in a way that feels safe.

An aside: Trauma can mean a lot of things to a lot of people and I don’t want to scare you off this game. I won’t share much for fear of ruining the story, but I can say there was no excessive violence and no sexual violence in this game. Don’t be deterred.

What I’ve been doing…

Moving slowly and eccentrically in the gym

Health issues2 over the last two and a half months have resulted in a lot of weight loss and it’s been hard to take in enough calories day-to-day. Big workouts and 700-calorie hikes aren’t doable or particularly safe at the moment, so I’ve had to adapt.

I’ve left the weekly hikes behind in favor of weekly walks through the Portland Japanese Garden. I bought a membership which means I can visit during members-only hours when it’s quiet and there’s hardly anyone around. It reminds me of how the gardens were when I was a kid, long before Portland’s population explosion. Usually I read at the teahouse afterwards.

I’ve also changed my gym routine. I lift much lighter weights and focus on moving slowly, particularly during eccentric contraction (for example, lowering a weight).

The new approach feels easier on my body but I’m also amazed at how different weight lifting feels when I approach it this way. Lifting/pushing is usually the fun part, now that I’ve reversed the emphasis I’m noticing a growing sense of muscular stability that I’m really appreciating right now.

Around the same time as I was switching things up I stumbled across this study which found eccentric muscle contractions are arguably the more “productive” of the eccentric/concentric pairing. Normally I have little interest in focusing on what’s “optimal,” I do enough of that in my day job, but it was nice to see that there’s some science out there saying my new approach is valid in its own way.

What I’ve been listening to…

I’m coming off an extended period of listening to country/folk/americana and done a hard pivot.

The playlist I made containing the songs below is currently labeled “wall of noise” so take that for what it’s worth. It’s not noise, but the songs are all heavy on layering which I’m finding cathartic right now. The songs are all roughly in the metal/industrial/electronic vein.

My eyes brain went black

I’ve been listening to MY EYES WENT BLACK at very high volume (it needs it) every chance I get. It takes a while to build up but by ~2:40 mark something magical is happening.

The strangest choir

I came across Frontier by accident, it’s one of the most unique songs I’ve heard in a while and worth sharing. There’s a choral Ghost in The Shell vibe in there I appreciate.

I still don’t know what witchhouse is

ΔXIUS LIИK pops up in “witch house” playlists a fair amount. I’m still not sure what witchhouse is but I know sometimes it’s exactly what I want to listen to. This is my favorite track on the ERA album. The whole album (and maybe witchhouse in general?) goes hard but at a slow pace, pretty ideal for moving at a snail’s pace through the gym.

  1. To other fans, yes, the “real” ending.

  2. All signs point to Celiac disease. After months of uncertainty it’s a relief to have a probable cause identified as well as some other scary things ruled out. We’ll see how I feel after a couple months gluten free.