Welcome to the Club(house) [#Blaugust2022]

Blaugust, as envisioned by Belghast of Tales of the Aggronaut, is a festival of blogging, a celebration of content creation of the written word variety, and a community-building activity for people participating in a medium that many consider to be dying or already dead. Although Blaugust awards are granted for established blogs who put out at least five posts during the month of August, I’ve set my sights on the Rainbow Diamond award, and am planning a post per day for the entire month.

Hot Topics – Write at least one blog post based on the Blaugust Prompt List. Some years ago we had this whole “topic web ring” sort of thing that was a giant mess. However it did produce a pretty solid list of topical prompts, and my hope is that someone participating in this event will find them useful.

Tell us about some community that you are part of and why it interests you or how it impacts you?

from the Blaugust Prompt List

This year, I’ve been having a pretty epic personal crisis of community. I suspect it’s a thing that has been a long time coming, but I haven’t had the slightest idea of what to do about it. I wasn’t great at making friends and maintaining connections during the years it was supposed to be easy – I’m completely flummoxed about how I’m supposed to do it as an adult. Add in a chronic illness and global pandemic, and it feels outrageously overwhelming.

Back in March, I put out a rather mopey and maudlin sort of post about it. I had initially just intended to explain why I was stepping away from World of Warcraft, but as I was trying to organize my thoughts, I realized there was no good way to separate the action from my feelings about it. And hooboy, was I deep in my feelings at the time. For some folks, emotions are fuel, and they can channel them so very productively, but that’s not me. I had to take some time, really process what it all meant, and what – if anything – I should be doing about it.

Eventually, I settled on the idea of creating yet another Discord community. I started brainstorming what I wanted that to look like back in May, and sat down and really started putting the pieces together in June. I spent far more time on it than it probably needed, but it wasn’t until the beginning of July that I was ready to actually open it up. For the first week or so, it was just me and a handful of folks who agreed to help me test some things out and give feedback on the organization of it all, and in mid-July, I opened it up to the general public, starting – of course – with people I was already regularly interacting with.

I have been working on a community-style Discord for people to have a place with oodles of voice channels for any kind of social stuff they want to do.  Most of the Discords I'm currently in are single activity focused, and it's left me with a whole bunch of folks I like spread out all over the place with very little intermixing, so that's why I decided to do this.  Everyone here is welcome to join, and invites are open, so you can bring your friends.  There's not much happening there right now, but I'm hoping to get the place more active within the next few weeks.  Much like myself, it's a work in progress.

Building a community has to be a labor of love, or no one would ever do it. In a way, it sort of feels a bit like cheating to start out the way that I have done here – by pulling in folks from other existing communities that I already know somewhat and feel safe around. It’s been a bit of a crisis of conscience deciding where and how to advertise that I’ve cobbled together this space – I simultaneously don’t want to put people on the spot by sending personal invitations, but I also don’t always feel like it’s appropriate to plug a community in a different community, even if the purposes don’t entirely overlap.

We’ve had a few scheduled events, and a few impromptu ones. Some days, the text chats are active, and some other they’ve been fallow. At this point, it’s hard to tell how much of this is because my friends want to support me, and how much of it is that what I’ve cobbled together is actually meeting a need for some people.

So, I’m trying to let it happen as organically as I can now. If it is, in actuality, the kind of place I aspire for it to be, people will tell their friends, and those people will tell their friends, and it will grow in time. While I don’t expect we’re going to see another period where businesses are shut down, and people are being asked to stay home as much as possible, I do expect we’re fast approaching another point where that would be the most prudent course of action, and I admit that that is part of why I have pushed myself to actually do this now.

It seems like everyone is feeling a little lost and lonely in the world right now. There’s nothing I can really do to fix any of the immense problems we’re all facing every day, but I can carve out a little space, and leave the light on for anyone who needs a place to settle their mind for a few hours.

If this all sounds like something you want or need in your life, click the picture above to join in.

The Importance of Having A Room of One’s Own

with all due apologies to Virginia Woolf

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

In August 2020, instead of our normal Blaugust shenanigans, instead we had Promptapalooza. We’d just done an off-schedule Blaugust-style write-a-thon a few months before to help us feel connected during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. So in August, we instead went round robin style with prompts that were assigned to us, making sure we wrote about our own on a specific day, and then we also wrote entries about other prompts as the mood struck us.

I’m bringing this up now, because my prompt was – for me – a doozy.

Tell us about your physical creative space, and how it influences your content creation.

At the time, I felt like it was never going to get better for me, and it made that post really difficult to write. I like to think I can hold my own talking about just about any topic, provided I don’t have to do a whole lot of soul-searching to do it. I spent days on that post – trying to balance being honest with not being too damn depressing. I was fighting a feeling of being unwelcome in my own home – like there was no space for me to exist.

I’d like to tell you that I figured out some magical means of making myself and my needs a priority, but the real answer is far more mundane. We had a significant financial improvement in late 2020, and that enabled us to do a lot of things that were previously out of reach for us. The first priority was dealing with the problems in our house that were going to lead to bigger – and more expensive – problems down the line, and to replace some appliances that were fast becoming non-functional. We struggled through almost 6 months of having contractors in our house, fixing things that were long overdue to be fixed.

Part of that was tackling the entrance to the converted garage at the end of our house. It’s a room that just collected junk, over and over, because it wasn’t really a livable space. The sliding glass door was no longer functional, so we had that taken out, and replaced it with a more standard exterior door and a brand new chunk of wall. After that, every time we needed to rent a dumpster for some other reason, we got some of the trash out. We paid someone to pick up the larger pieces and dispose of them. By the time the rest of the work was done, the room was only half as cluttered as it once was, and most of what remained were things we wanted, but didn’t have space for.

So I decided to reclaim the space for myself.

When you’re used to being the person who makes sure everyone gets what they need, it’s not hard to neglect yourself, and I wanted to make sure everything else was handled before doing something that was just for me. While I would love to say that it just took a few weeks and a new coat of paint, we worked on the room a few hours a week from December of 2021 until … well, I’d also be lying if I said it was 100% done. But, I am finally moved in. I no longer feel like I’ve been tucked into a corner and forgotten about.

I finally have a room of my own. It’s just shy of 11′ x 17′, which is small for a garage, but plenty big enough for a combination bedroom, office & crafting space. We ripped off the old paneling, and then skimmed, sanded and painted the walls. We pulled up the astroturf and got some vinyl flooring and an area rug. My stepfather replaced the fluorescent lighting with LED and made sure there were enough outlets for my purposes. We cleaned absolutely everything, usually multiple times. We took a space that was neglected to the point of uselessness and made it cozy.

Sure, there’s still clutter that needs to be dealt with, and we’ve still got the lingering remnants of construction materials and tools taking up space until the next project – a full basement cleanout – is completed. Some of it I still need to use in here, some just doesn’t yet have a better place to be moved to. I still plan to add more shelving and storage space, and put some art on the walls.

But my books are unpacked for the first time since we moved here in the beginning of 2016, and I’ve gathered craft supplies from all the nooks and crannies of the house and centralized them. My desk chair no longer leans perceptively to the left. I have a (new, larger) desk for my computer set up, and a separate desk for craft projects. Most importantly, I have a door that closes, and I’m far enough away from the parts of the house that tend to be more active that I can bask in the quiet and the uninterrupted time for both work and play.

It’s not done, but it already feels worlds better.

Nerding IRL – Chopped Challenge

Since subscribing to Discovery+, we’ve found quite a few shows that are pretty fantastic to just have as background noise in the house. There are oodles of seasons, and they’re fun to watch, even a few minutes at a time. Recently, our background show of choice has been Chopped. Personally, I’m not much for cooking, but I love tumbling ideas around of what could be made out of the mystery ingredients.

However, we have a friend who loves to cook, feed people, and play with new ingredients and flavor combinations. When he told me he would love to try making a meal Chopped-style, an idea was born, and I’ve spent more time than I care to admit brainstorming some fun “baskets”. This past Saturday, we finally got together and had a three-course Chopped-style meal together.

We worked out all the details and some rule revisions ahead of time. We decided to set “goal” times rather than firm times, and made those goal times a little longer than what the show allows for. We also tacked on a few extra minutes at the beginning for tasting and planning, and allowed for a couple of questions regarding the ingredients to be answered by anyone not cooking. Obviously, none of us are professional chefs, so Google was our friend in a couple instances.

Since a home kitchen isn’t going to have all the ingredients (or gadgets) you see in a cooking show’s pantry, I tried to make sure that a fairly complete dish could be made from each dish with just adding some basic staples & spices.

For me personally, there were two ingredients in the very first basket I’ve never eaten! I’m not a very adventurous eater, and I’m probably a less adventurous cook. But the dish we got was super tasty. The pork rinds got crushed up and dusted over the duck wing, the candy was turned into a sauce with black pepper and garlic that went on both the duck wing and over the lotus root. The lotus root was pan fried in chili oil and was a great vehicle for all those lovely flavors.

I honestly don’t know what I would have done with this collection of ingredients, but I never would have come up with this dish, and it was so damn good. He took the meat out of the patties and tossed the breading, and cooked that up with onions, lion’s mane mushrooms and some of the hominy. The chocolate, cactus pear juice, and more of the hominy went into an absolutely delicious sauce, and he served the whole thing in a big bowl over some white rice.

In the dessert round, there was another stroke of genius I hadn’t anticipated. He crumbled up the toaster pastries, mixed them with some butter, and put the whole thing in the over to bake like a cookie. Over there was a layer of apple butter and the melted cheese, The prosciutto was fried up in a pan, and the mangos were cooked in sugar and a little water, and then put on the top. Everything worked together, and not only did we all clean our plates, but we also kept going back for bits of that toaster pastry cookies until it was all gone.

Overall, we all felt like the night was a huge success. My friend rated the difficulty of the ingredients provided as being “just right” – challenging without feeling overwhelming, and everyone walked away happy and with full bellies. We’re considering doing this as a monthly event going forward.

Bonus Blaugust prompt idea: Do you have any regular bit of nerdery you get together with friends to do? Alternatively, if you were to take any game show or competition show and turn it into a real life event, what would you choose and why?