#Blaugust2016: Travel

There’s two kinds of travel as far as I’m concerned: there’s cultural travel with different stops and being on the road almost permanently – and there’s relaxation holidays, being mostly stationary somewhere taking the odd day trip. Having done a lot of both, I’d say I enjoy them equally. When I was younger and still subject to my parents’ whims, we went for typical beach holidays every year, to Italy, to France and sometimes to Germany to visit family.

My first longer trip was in 1994 to Iran where I stayed for a month in Teheran (mostly) with my father. It’s something I’d like to do again soon, in different company, because it’s one of the culturally richest places I’ve ever been to with a lot to see and great, welcoming people. Between 19 and 20, I decided it was time to go see more of the world on my own and so I spent prolonged holidays in the USA two years in a row, first on the East Coast and later, taking a long road trip across the West and staying in California for another month where I also have distant relatives.

NYkickass

Pic from the ferry in NY, summer 2000

Those were both good experiences, for one because I learned that seeing things for myself is rather different than on TV or from the news. Traveling abroad also gives you a great sense of independence and self-confidence. Starting university, I soon met my today partner and together, we began traveling parts of Northern Europe every year – something which was never in the book for me as a kid (“too cold”). We’ve been to Sweden a few times visiting his family and from there it was England, Scotland and Ireland together, a different place every year.

I’ve completely fallen in love with the British Isles but having spent the bout of my twenties doing road trips, I soon longed for the relaxation of staying somewhere more longterm again. And so we’ve spent the last three years at the Italian Adria during summer which is sort of our go-to place to recharge batteries, with short trips to Austria and France during the rest of the year whenever that city itch strikes.

the tor

Glastonbury Tor…to Avalon, summer 2009

Traveling is of course also lovely for taking pictures. Wherever I’ve been, I’ve come home with photographs from beautiful places and people, of which there are in every country. Every now and then I go back looking at older shots and wonder who I’d be without all my experiences from visiting different places. Being able to travel abroad is such an integral part to my understanding of the world today, my interest in cultural differences (that are fun but also not very serious), my love for language, for nature, for food and all the basic things that are the best in life.

I’ve only really gained an understanding of my own home and appreciation for where I live through traveling too, knowing what it is I like and also dislike about growing up and living in Switzerland. You can’t really perceive or judge your own position in the world without going away and looking at it from a distance.

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Strassbourg Old Town, Spring 2016

Italy Impressions

Italy is the country I’ve been to the most, maybe 20 times altogether over the course of my childhood and also in later years. It’s therefore a place I don’t feel like a tourist in anymore – I have friends in Italy, I speak some of the language (although it could be better) and I completely surrender to the Italian groove whenever I am there. Italy is for letting the soul rest, dolce far niente and food goodness. People are warm and friendly (this is the “real” Italy, not a city like Milan up north which is as much typically Italian as London is typically English), life begins late in summer and goes all the way into the night, the sea is warm and nobody cares where you park your car.

UK Impressions

I’ve been to Great Britain three times and while Ireland has its enchantment, it’s been lovely Somerset and Scotland with its rough hills and green lochs which I’ve come to adore. England is brimming with history and its past grandeur is never more obvious than when visiting the numerous and impressive beach castles along the Eastern shore all the way to Scotland. Whether you’re interested in history or a fan of myth and mythology, there’s things to do and see to your heart’s content in Britain. It wasn’t exactly our best food experience but we’ve met nothing but fun and straightforward people with a rocking sense of humor. My plan B for when all goes to hell someday is opening a B&B somewhere on a hill in Scotland, keeping my own goats!

France Impressions

France is famed for cities like Paris and its Côte d’Azur but for me, it’s the southern parts of the country that are the most charming. The Alsace area of Strassbourg and Colmar offers a unique mix of French and German culture and some of the most beautiful old towns I’ve ever seen. Strassbourg is a city I love returning to and it’s perfect for a 2-day trip to visit its mighty cathedral, picturesque old town and taking a boat trip around the city. If you choose a central hotel, everything is doable on foot and many people generally understand French, German and English. The food is French and German fusion, generally hearty and very yum!

USA Impressions

I spent my first three weeks in the US at the East Coast, mainly the area around DC, Maryland and New Jersey, with a trip to New York. While NY is a special place no doubt and it feels weird looking back on pictures taken from the WTC (in 2000), I enjoyed my time in the western USA a great deal more; there was a more distinct American character or culture for lack of a better word, which probably makes some sense historically. I like to think of the USA as a continent more anyway, rather than one nation and country. The nature was simply beautiful, especially Montana, Utah and Arizona with their fabulous canyons and national parks. What struck me about these parts of the US was the sheer size and open space which I find very reassuring. Anywhere, people were very friendly and helpful, as if meeting tourists was the greatest thing in the world.

Sweden Impressions

For a Swiss, Sweden is basically home but bigger, with red houses and coastlines but fewer mountains. The south-western part of Halland is Sweden’s popular summer resort and it’s heaven for anyone who enjoys long walks at the beach, cycling and forest solitude. Swedish summer is short and despite having been there in July a few times, I didn’t feel like swimming in the ocean. It’s a lovely country with friendly people and a strong sense of community, freedom but also privacy and decorum. If I go back sometime, I would like to travel further north to see the landscape change and become more barren and rough. If you don’t enjoy seafood like me, Sweden isn’t exactly a culinary highlight but then, I can live off meatballs and mash for a while if need be.

Visiting Next?

Planning your next trips is a lot of fun and our next holidays are always something I’m looking forward to during the year. Now that flying is becoming an option for myself and my partner (who didn’t use to fly at all), we can extend our radius although I’m glad to have spent so much time around central and northern Europe in the past. It’s easy to think that traveling is “the farther, the better” but that’s simply not true; wherever you are, there’s much to discover at your doorstep and at your closest neighbor’s. That said, without anything set in stone yet, I’d like to visit the following places over the coming years:

  • Eastern Europe, esp. Croatia and Greece
  • Canada and California, incl. Burning Man (possibly in 2018 with friends!)
  • Return to Scotland and Iran
  • Go somewhere tropical….maybe Maldives?

My partner and I have a few rules about where we don’t go which includes generally hostile places for tourism. I honestly also don’t look forward to US customs which make you feel like a criminal these days but it’s something to endure. I just hope our current world remains stable, so we can actually visit parts of the Middle East sometime. My better half would also love meeting with friends in Israel but that doesn’t seem like such a great idea at the moment.

What are your travel plans for the future or places you’d like to go?

#Blaugust2016: Sleep

sleep

I like this new sleep problem!

This week me and the better half got our first “proper” bed ever which is something we’ve talked about for years but never quite afforded ourselves. We’ve changed homes together about five times, we’ve invested in things like new furniture, cars or computers without blinking an eye but when it came to the place we go to sleep on every night after work, we’ve been incredible cheapskates. Investing in a reasonably sized bed with a quality mattress wasn’t something we thought was worth it (or that we were).

I don’t know why that is but anyway, I guess it means we’re officially getting old now. I need comfortable, deep sleep to function during the day which wasn’t even an existing thought in my mind pre-thirty. I’ve always been somewhat at war with sleep anyway, already as a child and that has made an impact on my overall health and energy levels. Around 30 my backpains started becoming real bad and still, I didn’t consider getting a bed that wasn’t cheap fare.

Alas, we have a real bed now. It’s a 2×2 meters box spring the way we always dreamed about but only got to sleep on in nice hotels. Traveling around really made us realize how much a good bed matters – who wants to sleep well during their holidays only? If I could travel back in time and tell my younger self to get a decent bunk asap, I would – this is one thing so worth saving up for and prioritizing before many other items we consider everyday necessities.

Naturally, no matter how big your bed is, the cats are going to own at least three quarters of space, anyway. Gute Nacht!

#Blaugust2016: Trends

In this permanently connected world we live in, new trends are an almost daily occurrence. I don’t regularly read news papers or magazines in digital or other form and I’ve not had a TV in 15 years – but I still experience trends through my different geek channels and selected social media and they can be as obnoxiously suffocating there as ginger tea and Aloe Vera in the hipster wellness world.

I have an uneasy relationship with trends as a social phenomena. I like to follow and trust my friends’ recommendations and “hypes” as much as the next person, particularly when they seem to be a natural fit. Whenever something or rather a product develops into an unavoidable mainstream icon however, my aversion increases and I loose interest fast. I don’t know if that’s just inverted snobbery, my general suspicion of crowd behavior or appreciation for niches (I am an MMORPG player after all) but it ends with me temporarily withdrawing from things and people that are very intrusive.

Naturally not all trends or novelty products are objectively bad. It took years of persuasion before I gave twitter a go and I readily admit it’s been a great addition to my blogging ever since. I was happy to explore it on my own after the initial hype had died down though, without the collective force of the internet shouting “how to do it best” from every corner.

Pokémon Go is ablaze like that right now and while it’s too reductive to be my kind of game for one, I can see why it’s so successful. And then I think of last night when we took a late countryside stroll with our neighbors and the dog, under a breathtaking sky with the sound of crickets all around and how the neighbor’s smartphone display suddenly pierced the night and he started rubbing his phone to catch a GOLBAT that was sat on a 750 years memorial stone….and that’s exactly why I won’t play Pokémon Go.

gaming trends gone wrong

Suddenly even graveyards are fun… (usnews.com)

I keep the majority of my gaming purposefully on PC and I don’t want it to invade every part of my daily life. If I consider that, no hype around this title can sway me. That said, I’m sure Pokémon Go is amazing to a younger generation than me, less spoiled and tired with gaming trends and fads. Whether it truly brings people together or gets them to go out and “see the world” well, that’s for others to answer. I prefer catching real trains for that rather than the proverbial bandwagon although, maybe not to Oxford just now.

How do you deal with the constant stream of new trends in your social and online environment? Do you readily join the fray, apply certain rules for yourself or stay the hell away from anything that becomes overly popular?

#Blaugust2016: Unplugged

It’s been a seriously depressing year concerning all kinds of bad world news: wars still waging at our doorstep and the refugee crisis in Europe, terrorist attacks or attacks presented as such in the media, mass shootings in a closer vicinity than usual, the UK falling for Brexit and the kind of American presidential race that leaves the most wordy of us speechless. New heights of low or so it seems, and our wonderfully untrustworthy, biased media to tell us all about it – or not.

That is from our perspective, for the mostly white, well-off and pampered it’s been an “exhausting year” having to hear so much of that, naturally from the safety of our homes but anyway it’s been scarier than usual and maybe, we even know someone more personally affected. For others not belonging to said demographic it’s been a year like every other, I’m sure – getting by somehow or far worse, either way no time to follow Brexit live tickers on an expensive phone.

Being present on social media and twitter especially, I admit for a moment this shit really started to suck me in, too. I generally keep informed and I have some appreciation for political satire. Unfortunately, even the “funny” Trump videos on youtube stopped being funny long time ago. The internet has become a toxic wasteland of paranoia when it comes to convoluted trigger words like terrorism and many more -isms like it. No doubt there have been great demonstrations of “online solidarity” during events like the Paris attacks too but they’re drowned out by hysteria and frankly ever increasing racist and xenophobic sentiments, to name a few.

This is not where I want to be.

Why I choose to unplug

Over a year ago my partner started pruning and “sanitizing” his twitter and other media consumption from all negativity, including a huge bulk of political news channels, more comedic ones included. To say this took me by surprise coming from someone so political would be an understatement but by now I understand completely. It’s not just that the negativity is crushing, it’s also unhinged in many ways, often factually wrong and fueled by questionable, shady channels and sources.

Still, it took me a moment to get to that point. I followed the Brexit drama on twitter this early summer, I read different articles and viewpoints on the Orlando shooting and an ever darker cloud started to settle over all my social channels. But then I went back to Italy in July and realized I’d been starting to lose sight of reality –

“Fa caldo” says Giuseppe, like every other night when we frequent our favorite Albergo restaurant at the Adria, the one I have been going to for 30 years. During that same time span there have been several “economic recessions”, not to mention wars and we’ve been collectively afraid of WW3 at least five times, if I remember correctly. Anyway, it’s still the same building with the same blue and white fountain in front and the same home-made Italian cooking I remember from when I was a child. Some tourists at the other table read a newspaper with a big headline about Brexit, or Syria or Hillary Clinton. “The same every day”, Giuseppe shakes his head, he is clearly not impressed. “But here?” he says, “we have sun, food and each other, no? It’s all that matters”.

The world is not a scary place full of evil people. It is a huge place, not the selected fraction we hear about in our daily news. There are not terrorists hiding behind every corner trying to get us. The great, great majority of this planet is inhabited by people who want exactly the same as me: a roof over their head, food on the table, their friends and family safe, peace and happiness. Wherever I have traveled thus far there have been friendly, warm and real people with similar values everywhere, going about their daily lives being completely ignored by “world news”. Nobody reports on our shared daily life; it’s boring and it can’t be used to divide us against each other.

unplugging social media negativity

Inform or not – but always beware paranoia

Initial sarcasm aside, it goes without saying that I’m not trying to make light of horrific events that have gone down this year and go on right now in certain places of the world. Being a target of hate or becoming victim of an attack is terrifying; if it happened to me or anyone I knew personally, I’d be devastated and angry. However participating in the fear and negativity that’s being nurtured collectively through social media serves nothing and nobody. It only fills me with unproductive dread. I’ve been following stories that I have zero influence over for so long, it really begs the question how sacrificing my energy on the altar of vicarious woe is helpful when I could be using it on things and people actually around me. Because let’s face it, when it comes to scary world news, we have exactly two options:

  • A) Read/listen to more bad shit until head is filled up with worry and you’re feeling down. Then go on with your life as usual.
  • B) Don’t read/listen to more bad shit until head is filled up with worry and you’re feeling down. Then go on with your life as usual.

If there’s anything more productive created for you personally, then great – you’re the exception! Maybe someone actually drops their day-job over twitter crazy and becomes an activist or politician but more realistically, this is not what happens. What we do is dip in a daily dose of crowd hysteria and I suspect our reasons range anywhere from earnest empathy to sensationalism and privilege guilt. I sure believed for a time that I “had to” keep myself informed, that somehow as an involved world citizen, I needed to subject myself to insanity. In truth, I’ve changed nothing but my state of mind – for the worse.

unplugging social media negativity

So nope. I really don’t have to follow this stuff! I can’t trust this post-factual age of news reporting we live in and I trust fear-mongering even less, no matter how personal. Fear is the magnifying glass that leads to paranoia. Paranoia means losing sight of all proportion and reality. I know for a fact that the world is not this dark place filled with”others”. I know for a fact that 2016 isn’t by far “the worst year we’ve had” – all it takes is opening a history book. And I know that overall things have actually been getting better slowly but surely and for more people, thanks to research done by people like Max Roser (who is worth following on twitter!). If you feel down on the world, whenever possible take a trip to wherever really, as far as you can – smell foreign air, see for yourself.

I’m going to Gamescom next week. I understand some fellow gamers have mixed feelings about the size of the event or fear for their friends. I thank everyone who told me to take care because I appreciate what they’re saying; but first of all, I wouldn’t even know how to do that and secondly, I refuse to be paranoid. Already the bad feels are starting to creep in and I have to violently shake them off and deny them; this exactly is paranoia!

We will go to Gamescom and we will have a royally epic time. We will hug new friends when we finally meet them, we will play and laugh and celebrate this life because that’s the only way to spite the darkness. We’ll look after those we actually can because they’re in our immediate environment. And if we’re still all screwed anyway by next year because nuclear war / global warming / godzilla / take a pick, heck at least we enjoyed the time we had!

#Blaugust2016: Food

I am back to a work place where there’s no company canteen, shops or restaurants nearby which means most of my co-workers bring lunch with them for their 30 minute lunch break every day. I worked at a clinic before with diet cooks provisioning clients and staff alike but now it’s back to tupperware and simple lunch solutions and therefore one item above all has re-appeared on all my co-workers menus:

cheese

Cottage cheese. That easy to pack, cheap and filling white stuff that’s not only low on calories but low on anything really, including good fat to fuel your body. I made a cottage cheese check last Thursday during lunch break and all of my female co-workers were eating exactly the same type of lunch: salad with cottage cheese. And a few crackers (because the other stuff is fucking depressing).

This isn’t the first time I noticed the omnipresence of cottage cheese in the corporate world, either. Some years ago I had a gig at a consultancy in Zurich’s rich industrial center and every damn lunch break both the over-dressed men and women were listlessly nibbling at cottage cheese and rice crackers. They didn’t even add vegetables or fruit or the like, they only had processed items. My fitness heroes.

According to one research referenced in the “Food Matters” movie documentary of 2008, processed salad dressings make up a significant amount of executive women’s necessary daily caloric intake in industrialized countries. Everyone was taught to fear and avoid real food and worship unfulfilling greens, lowfat products and sugary smoothies from their teenage years latest and of course they’re all familiar with the rules: If you mean to make it big in the corporate world and earn your share, you have to look healthy. And looking healthy equals being slim, no further questions asked. If you’re a woman of average height that means you shall not cross the universally accepted UK size 10 limit. Men face similar issues and smaller paychecks for being too short.

Your answers are already there (but they ain’t great for business)

While there’s a conversation to be had over health and obesity, instilling the fear of food in children from an early age is one of the most harmful forces within modern society today. Having grown up a girl, my first encounter with dieting was through my mother as it so often is. Already in third grade she put me on a diet (she was dieting herself at the time) because I was the tallest girl in my class and also turned out to be the heaviest (duh?), after my teacher decided to put everybody on the scale one fine math morning. I look at old pictures of me in elementary school and can only marvel how anyone could put me on a crash diet. I wasn’t overweight according to our physicist either but my mother was afraid for me and fear is rarely rational.

I am far from the only woman with such an early dieting story and I hate that I was made self-conscious about my weight and started fearing certain foods from such a young age. I grew up with contradictory, confusing food messages from school, from home as well as the media and to this day, I am surrounded by food lies about fat and carbs and calories every time I go grocery shopping. Our modern society started gaining a lot of weight when the food industry decided to really get rolling with low-fat and fitness foods in the 80ies and today some big industries only exist because people have become so out of touch with what is supposed to nourish them. Fat money.

complicated

This kind of stuff can drive you to the brink of madness. There have been periods in my life as a student and also later when I completely lost touch with myself and my body. The voice within was drowned out by all the conflicting messages and the constant fear of gaining weight or not being thin enough, even when I was sporting a smooth size 5-6 which is slim for my body type and height. Talking about BDD…

The thing is, I don’t actually need a size chart to know my body’s needs; I don’t need posters and magazines to tell me when somebody is too slim or overweight or how to exercise more. I need neither look at absurdly skinny models nor fat ones in order to identify the right balance for myself and a healthy life. Nobody does.

If I can drown out the noise and go back to listening and being honest with myself, I know fully well what’s good for me: I know when I’m stuffed or when I overdid it, I feel better and more sated after a freshly cooked meal than a convenient one. I have more energy during the work day when I made time for breakfast and when I add a bit of fresh fruit during those morning and late afternoon work hours. I don’t sleep well after late-night snacks. If I can’t pronounce it, it’s likely better in small amounts. I know I should probably do something about my fitness if I sound like a dying rhino running up a flight of stairs. And I know it’s time to lose a few pounds when my favorite jeans won’t fit anymore or my thighs cause painful friction. Who can tell me any of that but me?

Our body is telling us everything we need to know, the rest is Vanity Fair bullshit and ka-ching!

My new relationship with food: no stressing!

I love food, heck I don’t even dislike cottage cheese as long as it isn’t my go-to lunch option. I grew up around some amazing grandma cooking and I cook most of my meals from scratch when possible. I travel a lot and exploring foreign food traditions and delicacies is big part of the enjoyment. Food is awesome – and eating is supposed to be enjoyable, fulfilling not just filling!

There’s also the whole stress component: all this added stress around our food choices and eating habits is doubly harmful. Stress causes our body to process and store food differently, we’re hungrier and we gobble it down rather than taking the appropriate time to eat. It really all dawned on me one day how often I ate fast meals or snacks without noticing, either because I was absent-minded, hated what I ate or felt guilty for not eating what I hate. Stress stress stress everywhere seeping into my system!

stress

But no more: Screw temporary diets, screw media messages about fitness and exercise, screw size charts. Screw the what-the-hell-effect and the shame it brings, screw destructive fat-shaming. Your body holds a natural wisdom, so listen to it and above all: be patient with yourself. If you’re over-weight right now or feel over-weight, either way the solution can never be to hate food or stress yourself out (for whom are you stressing anyway?). Give yourself time to learn anew, find out which foods literally make you feel happy and energized – start there! Don’t deny but allow variety and allow yourself to indulge or fail without that what-the-hell-effect taking over full force. It may well be the only thing standing between you and your success.

Taking time and not giving up after “missteps” is generally how people successfully change eating habits and disorders. Banning perfectionism has become an important exercise for me personally. My relationship with food has changed for the better when I discovered that I can actually “eat anything” if I eat without stress (or guilt), including things I used to deny myself. Rather than gorging down a huge bowl of socially accepted green unsatisfying stuff with lots of sauce, I’ll order whatever I crave; more often than not it’s a wholesome choice too because my body actually wants red, yellow, green and brown on my plate. Unsurprisingly this has led to eating less overall, as in snacking less, because I don’t feel I’m wanting. My natural diet is varied and I’ve stopped over-eating when I stopped denial, as well as mindless eating which is probably the biggest culprit of all.

fearIt’s a good place to be at, if not a safe place. Old habits die hard as do internalized fears but I am more aware of them now; I know perseverance is key to starving them out and I refuse to re-enter that unhappy relationship with food. Food is our body’s fuel and the body is not divorced from the mind. Food is also part of countless social interactions and situations in our daily life. I want to enjoy this part of my life and I want to “be present” when I eat, be it by myself or with others. Life is too short to keep missing and fearing such a big and delicious part of it, surely!

#Blaugust2016: Bullied

Welcome to my Blaugust 2016! As announced, there will be a month of rather personal and non-gaming related writing happening on this blog – if that’s not your thing, see you in September! To everyone else: /wave and happy blaugusting!

This post is dedicated to my Burns – for always seeing with the heart and not turning away from a smelly bundle of white fur.

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Finney Mouse

We adopted our third cat Finn, also called Finney Longshanks for his curiously flexible front legs, in June 2015. Like our other two cats whom we found via online shelters and cat networks, Finney was a rescue cat but his story was a little different: Finney was put up for adoption by his breeder, rather than some agency or cat rescue. He is half Maine Coon and half Norwegian Forest cat and by now, he is our other Norwegian’s (who is all black) best pal which was our plan all along.

Finney’s white coat is the result of a natural mutation as is the case with many white cats. He is not an albino but he was born into a litter of brown, grey and black colored coon mixes, all of them slightly bigger and hunkier than him. In the online ad the breeder lady noted that Finney was “hearing” which was the time I learned that a great majority of white and blue-eyed cats are actually deaf. The same gene that causes their blue eyes is often causing deafness too. Finney however has light green eyes, the color of fresh grass and so he can hear just fine.

He is the perfect cat; friendly and talkative to strangers, a happy over-active rascal at times (he loves dog games like retrieving), goofy and so very very affectionate. He was also bullied by his siblings and the other cats, which is why his breeder decided to put him up for adoption.

finneytired

2015: Finney’s first night at the new home, so tired!

When we got Finney, he didn’t have the long and glamorous coon coat and collar he has today. His fur was shorter and shaggy. There were bald spots all across his back where he was either hurt by others or had scratched himself. He smelled horribly when we got him, so badly in fact our bedroom, which became his first refuge, smelled of unhealthy fur for weeks. We washed him twice, just to take the edge off. Whenever cats stop taking care of their personal hygiene, you know something is very very wrong.

Lordshanks

2016: Lord Whitemane, “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”

Fast forward one year later, after a patient adjustment phase with our other two darling cats and with lots of play, joy and love Finney has become the star of every party. He prances about the house like the king he is and all our guests fall in love with him in a heartbeat. For whatever reason, he decided my side of the bed and my PC chair are the best places to sleep. I love him too.

Finney is purrfect in every way and I am not even sorry about the bad pun.

When we were little

Watching Finney make himself at home and bloom into the character he is today has made me reflect a lot on my own story of bullying and the stories of countless others. He was born a healthy and social animal but his peer group rejected, nagged and chased him off because of the color of his coat and maybe his slightly more delicate physique. He was isolated and depressed which fortunately, led his breeder to adoption.

But there is no mercy in the animal kingdom any more than there is among humans at times. When I grew up and went through six years of elementary school nightmare in the late 80ies, bullying wasn’t a topic that was frequently discussed, not even by teachers. I felt so isolated and alone not knowing how many people out there shared my predicament. Many of my friends today and folk I met online have similar stories of social ostracization to tell. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence; do we gravitate towards one another or is bullying just so pervasive in our society? I wonder too if much has changed at schools since, but I doubt it. In this age of cyber bullying, there’s still silence and stigma around the topic and not enough raising awareness along the lines of To This Day.

The reasons for bullying seem different but at heart are always the same. I don’t think it matters really why you were bullied: your looks, your clothes, the way you talk, your family, your grades – these are all just pretexts and shallow explanations. I was bullied for a variety of such reasons, sometimes total opposites, yet at the heart of it was difference– being somehow different combined with being in a minority, in a weaker position relative to a larger peer group.

You’ll find people who experienced bullying in all walks of life and on every side of the spectrum: too smart – not smart enough, too pretty – not pretty, rich – poor, short – tall, dark – fair, foreign – local, introvert – extrovert. There’s no rule to it other than one person finding themselves in the unfortunate situation of standing apart and without an exit route in sight. Bullies fear and envy as often as they hate and despise, they come in all flavors.

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My mother who has a very different personality from me and who is the rolemodel teacher I always thought I’d become, got bullied all the way up to adulthood. She once told me that it’s not just the bullied who never forget but bullies too; that they remember their acts always and often regret them. I somehow doubt that’s true as a rule but when she attended her highschool reunion only a few months ago after much deliberation, she came back from an evening of late closure. A whole bunch of her old male colleagues, now grey-haired and retired, came up to tell her “I’m sorry I was such a dick”. I was happy for her. None of her female colleagues apologized.

Bullying affects us in life, sometimes for as long as it affected my mother. The old saying of “sticks and stones” was coined by a person who never suffered any bullying or other verbal and mental abuse in their life. Some are lucky to overcome the after-effects of bullying or escape relatively unscathed; for others it remains a deeply unsettling and destructive experience which alters their behavior and expectations in social contexts. I consider myself fortunate that after six years of tummy aches before school in the morning, I escaped my social environment by leaving for the Gymnasium. From that moment in time, my entire social life took a 180° degree turn – just like that. Suddenly I belonged, when I had done absolutely nothing different. I still talked the same, dressed the same, looked the same but everything else had changed. Like Finney, I had been adopted by the right environment, for me.

From there, my self-confidence was allowed to recover and prosper. I’ve had nothing but good to great times at college and university and I am thankful they overwrote much of what I had gone through before and put things into perspective: I didn’t cause the bullying. It wasn’t a fault within me and I did not deserve it. None of us do.

Thank god for growing up and becoming more independent and free to save yourself and find your own people.

No Retrospective Rationalization

These days I carry scars from bullying but no aching wounds. I frankly don’t care to attend school reunions but neither do I feel personally encumbered anymore by the cruelty I experienced as a ground schooler. I could talk about how bullying may have added to my personal independence and self-confidence later in life, or how it’s made me protective of others – but that conclusion would be fatal and is one I chose not to make. All of us who are here are survivors; we’ve been through dark times, some of us more than others, and our pain has forced us to grow. Yet as much as it is in my nature to look at upsides, I would always choose not to be bullied at all. Ever.

And not everyone who was bullied at a point in their life gets a chance to rewrite that history. Bullying is hard to prevent and even harder to stop when in full motion, even for someone in close proximity. However in the age of the internet, that fickle beast, we’re given an amazing chance to connect with others, discover similar stories and hear about people overcoming adversity. You can reach out, you can make yourself known and be there to listen. Or you can tell your own story so somebody out there may know they are not alone, that it’s not their fault and that they won’t be stuck in that wrong place for all time.

Sometimes the difference between hope and despair is touching a single other mind that knows.

Blaugust 2016, Windows 10 and Gamescom!

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Spotted along the coast in Italy this July

I am back from the burning sands along the Mediterranean sea, well-nourished by sun, great food and the warmth of the people. Whenever I am back from a trip abroad, the post-holiday blues strikes and it never strikes more fiercely than when I’m coming back to grey clouds and Swiss rain. Yet there were three happy cats to welcome us back and all the comforts of our lovely home, so I am content. There are books to read, movies to catch up with and things to write –

While my gaming enthusiasm is burning low during summer, I’ve decided to sign up for Blaugust 2016 on an irregular schedule and with a different goal in mind. I beat the daily posting challenge last year and it was good fun but I’ve never been a schedule blogger. Instead, what I’d like to do is dedicate my personal Blaugust to a month of non-gaming related topics with very pragmatic titles.

There is a whole archive of thoughts and halfwritten “off-topic” posts simmering in my backlog and articles I never got to publish because they weren’t topical for MMO Gypsy. These days, I am not sure I care about that so much. I’ve always written for myself here and supposedly there’s a handful of folk who enjoy my off-topic writings too, so you shall be my audience! I won’t be following a logical order and I won’t balance or polish opinions; I am not particularly interested in that kind of writing right now. I don’t think it’s where my strengths lie, either.

That Win 10 Update

I’ve had a borderline irrational fear of the Windows 10 update which has been pestering me and everyone else for some weeks now. I decided to get it done the night before Italy and it was probably the smoothest Win update I have experienced ever. This is how software updates in 2016 should go – quick and smoothly without any re-installing and re-adjusting required! Everything down to my taskbar icons and browser shortcuts have been saved and left where I expect them to be. It appears this windows is much faster too and I like the new organization within the explorer a great deal better. *Phew*

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Gamescom 2016!

I am going to Gamescom this year! Same as for Jae, this is my first time and I look forward to visiting a games expo of this magnitude! Me and my buddy will be staying in Köln on the 18th and 19th of August and hopefully meet up with some fellow geeks and bloggers too, while checking out new games and collecting all the swag! Which reminds me: I have NO idea what to wear yet and I’ll have to get a pixel gypsy avatar printed out for a facemask – I can’t have anyone deliver proof I actually exist in HD!

Anyone else planning on hitting Gamescom this year? Let me know!

BRB: Summer Update

I have been shamefully neglectful of this blog and am afraid to say, this trend is likely to continue for a while longer! To make up for this, here’s a picture of the Oreo cheesecake I made yesterday:

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It was delicious and worth all ten thousand calories. I used this recipe.

I hope you are all well, that is the assumed ‘you’ – everyone out there and still around in some shape or form, blogging or not but frequenting this little place from time to time. Judging from other blogs I’ve visited of late, summer break has generally slowed things down, that is if you’re not among those desperately awaiting Legion.

What I’ve been up to

I have no immediate plans for a new MMO this year. I’m currently going through a bit of a FFXIV blues which led me to cancel my subscription temporarily, until a time when I feel like grinding a hundred dungeons for gear tokens again. I still log into BDO now and again, mostly to explore new content and hang in my house which is both fabulous and entirely without purpose. I had a stab at Stardew Valley and Recettear during the Steam summer sale, neither of which stuck because I really detest the control schemes (and I have no wish to mess around with a controller).

Black Desert Online aside, this year’s best plays so far have been Portal Knights and Overwatch for me and am awaiting new patches eagerly for both. I also really want to get back into The Witcher 3, once time allows or rather my general mood. Oh and before I forget: I’ve had some sexy time with the HTC Vive which is wonderful and amazing and so much better than I ever thought it would be! I am getting myself a Vive as soon as possible (preferably when there’s a lighter 2.0 version).

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Summer isn’t for sitting in front of the desk. I’ve spent a lot of time this year re-building both physical and mental fitness and I feel better than I have in a very long time. I’ve taken up a new work position three weeks ago which so far, has proven to be the perfect mix of professional progress and life balance I’ve been looking for. I’ve learned a lot about mindfulness and self-compassion in the past few months, which is an ongoing process, so above all my current goal is to remain in harmony with myself. That sounds horribly hipster and carrot juice but it’s all about not losing yourself out there in this stressy and messy world and remembering priorities. That includes remembering yourself and I’m glad I took some time off to do that.

Having said this, I’m off to Italy next week to enjoy the Italian sun, cuisine and Mediterranean sea for a while. I’ve packed Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warnings” as well as Kingdom Hearts Unchained and Seabeard on tablet, in case that media withdrawal strikes. There’s not going to be a new episode of Battle Bards next week but on the 19th, in case you’ll be looking for it. We did a really cool show on adventure tunes end of June.

Business shall resume on this blog when it shall. I’ve done this many times before, so worry not – meanwhile I will be lurking in the usual corners and twitter. Hugs to my blogging buddies and friends keeping their pens sharp and minds sharper! You know who you are.

Happy summer break everybody!

Favorite Overwatch Heroes!

I’m playing too much Overwatch which is a bit like eating too much Mexican food, delicious but occasionally frustrating. 38 levels later, my personal hero statistics currently look like this:

Favorite Overwatch Heroes

I love Pharah, she is my desert goddess of the skies. I love Symmetra and Lucio too, both of which are insanely fun to play and have had me roar with laughter and glee so many times. Just how much better can it get?? What Overwatch has done lately is remind me of my PvP soul – it’s always been there and strong, if we care to believe gamer profiling tests anyway, but I feel it’s been slumbering for a time while I was busy exploring MMORPGs with Bilbo’s walking stick.

Overwatch has unleashed the beast. I take more joy from my enemy’s pitiful cries than is probably healthy. Oh well!

The different heroes are really where all of Blizzard’s creative genius has gone into; there’s not a single one that feels generic or sameish and doesn’t come with fun little tricks, voice lines and special interactions. For all its straightforward and simple gameplay, Overwatch piles on the charisma (you can just feel there is so much backstory material) and the seemingly endless combinations (there are in fact 230’230) you can play, counter and adapt to. The quick and brutal matches are some of the most carefree mayhem I’ve enjoyed in a long time but they have the potential of being jarring too, depending on how your team is playing. Still, a close match is a good match and it’s refreshing to play a game again that teaches you how to lose.

My personal Overwatch Hero Roster

So heroes! I’ve started expanding my active heroes in Overwatch to be able to switch according to team setup and map progress. I feel it’s important to know at least one hero per role really well but I’d like to play most of them eventually. Every time I start a new class, it gets really fun after a while, I suspect they all are. For the time being, I’d rank all 21 characters accordingly:

A) Heroes I feel confident playing

1. Lucio
2. Pharah
3. Symmetra
4. Mercy
5. Torbjörn

B) Heroes I’d like to get better at

6. Reinhardt
7. Mei
8. Zenyatta
9. Genji
10. Junkrat
11. Widowmaker

C) Heroes that feel awkward

12. Roadhog
13. Bastion
14. Tracer

D) Heroes I haven’t touched (incl. beta)

15. Reaper
16. Soldier 76
17. Zarya
18. McCree
19. Hanzo
20. Winston
21. D.VA

I doubt that I will ever be a good Reaper, McCree or Tracer. I don’t really seem to enjoy more traditional, up close gun classes much. It’s safe to say I’ll never become much of a sniper either; it feels like they’re missing all the action, loitering in the back all by themselves. I play for the chaos and shared laughs but am sure a great sniper has her moments! The tanks also don’t come naturally to me but I’ve enjoyed Reinhardt so far – Roadhog was just weird and not very pleasant a character. I hate getting hooked by this guy when I’m fighting against one, so I wonder if that’s behind my antagonism. Well, that and he sounds like a pig.

It will be interesting to revisit this post a few months down the line! If you’re on the fence of whether Overwatch is a game for you or not, I’ve shared some pointers over here!

The Free and Easy Forever Status Report for Your Blog (and other Media)!

I think it was Billy Connolly who once joked in an interview that the only weather forecast you’ll ever need was this: “It will rain and after the rain, there will be sunshine until it rains again”. I have to paraphrase a bit because the clip is gone from youtube but anyway, it made me laugh as his dry sense of stating the obvious always has done.

A friend of mine who shall not be named is currently contemplating to shut down his blog; as you might have guessed, I am decidedly against it. I’ve witnessed the rare occasion over the years, and it’s been six years of MMO blogging for me now, that a fellow blogger actually quit his or her blog for good (I miss you – Tam, Chas and Larisa!) and am still grumpy they deleted it. More often than not however, blogging and/or gaming malady is a temporary thing, fickle and multi-causal. More importantly, there is simply no rational reason for chucking your blog, podcast or whatever just because you’re feeling out of steam for a while, heck even a long while. Blogging is not a pact with the almighty that terminates the contract as soon as you’re not a good girl. Even better, your blog is just a bit of code on the internet (ya rly), it takes no space in the apartment and you won’t have to dust it off! So what is this obsession with constant status reports? This is LIFE, yo!

On quitting blogs

Okay, I get it – sometimes we just need an excuse to talk about ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. That’s cool. As far as audiences go however imagined or otherwise (I imagine mine is fairly well-dressed, wearing top hats and monocles), you don’t owe anyone regular or final-ish status updates and there is certainly no requirement for grand quitting gestures. In fact, most people don’t really care much if you take three weeks off or three months and whether you’re on time every Monday morning or not. That said, it’s completely nice to announce a longer AFK but do yourself a favor and stop the quitting business! It will save you from “oh guess what, am back…again!”-followups and potential content losses (because you didn’t backup, did ya?) when that writing, ranting and rambling mood strikes again. And for most writers and oversharers on the internet, it always does!

Don’t do it, okay? I hate broken links to deleted articles!

….

Since it’s Friday and I’m in a good mood, I’ve decided to provide my neurotic friend with a “forever status report” for his blog. I don’t know if he’ll actually use it but it’s a pretty great substitute for whatever he was coming up with instead:

“Dear readers, blogging friends and commenters,
I will be blogging a little less, until I blog more again! This is going to happen forever.
Thanks for taking note, you’re all great and should totally like me on twitter! XOXO”

THE END. You’re welcome, “Bob”! Happy Friday quitters and welcome back forever!