Underneath my yellow skin

Author Archives: Minna Hong

How to write like a (im)proper author

write it down!
All acceptable ways to create.

In the weekend threads of Ask A Manager, there are always one or two about writing. The writers always have solid tips…and they always rankle me. On the face of it, it’s ridiculous because it’s good advice, such as, have a set writing time, make sure your sentence structure is varied, and have beta readers. There is nothing objectionable in any of that advice, but I have two issues with it. One, it makes for bland and safe writing. Two, it doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s tended to be presented as The One True Way of Writing.

Addressing the latter first, I used to freak out any time I read these kinds of lists because I inevitably fell short on each one. I don’t plan my writing. At all. This is one of the near universal tips when it comes to writing–have an outline. Me, I laugh at your outline! I don’t, actually, but I’ve never written one. Anytime I try, I give up after one or two bullet points. I write mysteries, and you’d think that would be prime fodder for lists. It is, but not for me. The way I ‘plan’ a novel is by having the idea come to my mind or fixating on something and thinking it’s a good idea. I let it marinate for a day or ten, and the ideas slowly start flowing in. For example, the idea of a protagonist who follows her boyfriend because she thinks he’s cheating on her sprang to mind. The first scene of her seeing him snuggle up with a blond in front of his apartment as the protagonist sat, fuming, in her car immediately came to me, and I wrote it in a fairly short amount of time. As I was writing, the idea that she was from his past seemed logical, and the details started filtering in as I was writing. He went missing, and I knew from the very beginning who did the taking. That’s something that has been a constant for me when I write a mystery–I know who the perpetrator is from the start. I may not know exactly why or the reason may change as I’m writing, but the perp remains the same.

I guess you could say I do an outline, but I do it in my head. That may not be an option as I get older, but it’s easier for me that way. It also keeps things fresher, and whenever I try to force my characters to adhere stringently to my plan, they rebel by becoming flat on the ‘paper’. Yes, I’m an Old. I still think of writing as pen on paper, even though neither of these things is true any longer. I know it sounds woo-woo to say that my characters shimmer when they’re fully realized, but it’s true. There’s an energy that emanates from the paper when I keep true to their spirits. When I don’t, there’s nothing I can say or do to coax them to be real people. That’s why I like to say that I’m merely a conduit for my characters and not the actual writer. I don’t feel as if I have control over them, even though I do shape their worlds.

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I suck at Sekiro

father 'dying' in the background.
Everything is on fire.

I was watching the RKG producer stream (for producers and posh slugs, long story), and the discussion turned to Sekiro, of course. The boys got their start with Dark Souls, and they’ve done every FromSoft game* except Demon’s Souls and Sekiro. They’ll be doing a Sekiro playthrough later in the year, and I’m profoundly grateful they waited to do it because I wouldn’t have been able to watch it if they did it at release. I won’t watch anything about the game I’m playing, and it would have made me sad to have to delay my viewing. I know they took that into account when deciding upon the timing of the playthrough. Plus, they were still doing Scholar of the First Sin (DS II), and they plan on doing the remake of Resi 2 next. In addition, Daniel has to play through the game first because he’s the lore master and the one guiding Rory through the game. The lore side of it won’t be too hard as much of it is explicitly transferred in text or dialogue. There is some subtext, and if you’re going for the best ending, there’s a ton. In general, though, it’s the most accessible of the FromSoft games, lore-wise.

Anyway, in the chat, someone asked about the difficulty of Sekiro compared to the other games. I said for me, it was by far the most difficult. Someone else said for her, it was on par with Bloodborne (she’s only up to Genichiro, but she has beaten him). Someone else said it was the easiest game because you just needed to learn the moveset. That, of course, was a guy. Dudes tend to state their opinions as if they’re facts, regardless of what the opinion or the subject is. In fact, there was a study that showed dudes (especially white dudes) thought the most expert opinion in any subject was…themselves. I’m exaggerating slightly, but not much. It’s from being the center of attention all their lives and having everything catered to them. Look how many of them lose their shit when something isn’t focused on them. A Star Wars movie dares to have a woman or PoC character? It’s an outrage! It’s giving into the dreaded ‘diversity’ ‘identity politics’ as if having all white men isn’t an identity politics thing.

I will tear myself away from that rant with difficulty because I’ve done it many times before and it’s not worth getting into again. It’s also not really relevant to this post except that I wish I had a tenth of that confidence. I know I undervalue myself in many ways, but I really don’t think I’m overstating it when I say I suck at Sekiro. With over a hundred hours put into it, I suck much less than I did when I first started, but the game still goes against everything I find instinctual. In Dark Souls, I’m a turtler. I hide behind a shield, and I rarely let it down. I’m also a caster, so then I just stay out of range and hurl my fireballs/hexes. I’ve learned not to have my finger glued to the LB, but I still tend to keep my shield up more often than not. It’s one reason I had a hard time with Bloodborne. In addition, arcane is not viable until the very end game, so I really put myself at a disadvantage when I started out. I knew I would because I had heard the warnings about not doing an arcane build on your first try, but I’m stubborn. I am a caster through and through, and I’m going to play the games my way.

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Review: The Lonesome Bodybuilder

lots to think about!
A curious meditation.

The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya is a book my BFF, Kat, read and reviewed on Goodreads.com. I noted it as interesting and promised myself I’d read it one day. She gave it to me for my birthday with the joke that I had to read it because I was Asian, and that made me laugh heartily. I was eager to read it because the reviews I read mentioned it was an interesting take on domestic life, but with a surrealistic twist. It’s a collection of short stories, with the flagship story being the titular one. Each story is fairly short (well, most of them are), but they are packed with a lot to think about. I read the whole thing on my flight to Binghamton, but I did not leave the book on the plane as I normally would. If I buy a mystery book at the airport, I normally leave it on the plane or in the airport when I’m done with it*. I like to imagine the flight attendant or airport worker who finds it bringing it home to read in a nice bubble bath. In reality, they probably sigh at the extra work and chuck it in the bin, but let me have my illusions.

The first thing that struck me was how universal some themes are. Many of the stories dealt with the dissatisfaction of being a married woman to what might generously be called a lesser man. In the main story, the husband is a weak and insecure man who is sure his wife is unhappy with him. The story starts with the husband watching a boxing match on TV. When his wife shows interest, he accuses her of wanting to be with the fitter boxer. That piques the wife’s interest in bodybuilding, which she does faithfully over the next…has to be at least weeks if not months. She gets muscular, but her husband doesn’t notice. She wishes her training coach was her life partner, other things happen, and her husband gets suspicious and follows her to the gym. I know that it doesn’t sound thrilling from the way I’ve described it, but it really tugged at my heartstrings. She was engaging in an activity not typically considered feminine, and she was doing it in part to get her husband’s attention. It gave her some self-confident, but her husband’s eternal oblivion of her progress cuts her to the core. A rather shocking thing happens at her job, and she’s talking to her husband about whether or not she’ll be able to keep her job. He’s clearly not listening, and she gets angry.  The one thing he likes about her is her hair, so she decided to test him. She told him she cut it pretty short even though she hadn’t touched it, and he said he liked it. She asked how much he thought she cut off, and he said maybe eight inches. It was a short scene, but it really underscored how checked out the husband was. This was before he followed her to the gym.

Another thing I liked was how she wove surrealism in with mundane life. She didn’t make a big deal of it or try to explain it, which is my weakness. I explain way too much shit. I want to give backstory where it’s not needed, and I know it drags down the story. Motoya simply states something and trusts you’ll take it as fact. For example, The Straw Husband, is about the protagonist being married to a straw man. She writes it as plainly as that, and at first, I thought she meant she was married to what we colloquially call a straw man. Or a man who was basically a yes-man. But, no, she meant a literal man made of straw, and she talked about how her friends thought it weird, but she didn’t go into deep detail. Me, I would have gone into her childhood, her dating history, and what made her choose such a man. It’s a bold choice not to do any of that, and it works.

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Not down with the sickness

I am sick. Still. And very pissy about it. I am the worst when I’m sick because it offends me. I can’t be equanimous about it because, well, I don’t know why exactly. I think it’s because I do so little that exposes me to other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m totally isolated. I also have a shitty immune system which means that it’s much easier for me to catch shit than it is for other people. Let’s be frank. I’m not the best at taking care of myself, either. I’m a slob. I don’t eat well. I do taiji every day, but that’s about it. I sit too much. I smoke two cigarettes a day. By the way, I am thinking about giving up the last, but there’s a part of me that rebels because it’s the only vice I have. I don’t drink or do drugs. I’m not having sex. I don’t eat extravagantly or travel that much. So, it’s the cigarettes that give me that little boost of rebellion every day. In addition, it’s a contemplative time when I sit on my back porch (stand) and get a bit of sun. Yes, I could go outside without the cigarette, but I’m not going to do it. I know myself. I know how I work. That’s not something I’m going to do. Of course, the argument is whether it’s better to go out five or six times a day and smoke (I smoke a quarter of a cigarette at a time, a half in the morning) or not go out at all. Probably the latter, but I can make a good argument for the former. Which I do. So, yeah, the two cigarettes a day aren’t the end of the world, but because I have so many sinus/bronchial issues, it would help to give them up.

Another problem is that I have severe allergies, which I griped about in last week’s post. That makes it difficult for me to know what is allergies and what is an actual sickness. There is a lot of crossover, so it’s hard to tell what is because of what. Anyway, I’ve mostly been extremely exhausted and flushed. Once in a while, freezing cold, but that’s not as often as being insufferably hot. I’ve slept eight to ten hours a night which is how I know I’m sick (average is six), and I’m tired all day long. Today, I woke up with my sinuses going haywire. My left ear is plugged. My nose feels as if there are a million little needles pricking at it constantly.

Side Note: I recently learned that sinus issues can be related to migraines. I hadn’t known that before, and it’s fascinating to me. Just as fascinating as the fact that you can have a migraine without the headache. Which leads me to wonder, why are all these things called migraines? I kinda like migraines being restricted to severe headaches, but that’s just me.


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MHW: playing the OG monster hunter, Geralt

*BONUS POST*

Ed. Note: I can’t post on my fiction blog at the moment, so I thought I’d write a bonus post for this blog instead. Shockers of all shockers, it won’t be about Sekiro, though I probably will mention it. This post will be about my return to Monster Hunter: World because of the Geralt expansion. I have many thoughts and feelings about it. 

hey boo hey!
HELLS TO THE YES!

When it was announced that Geralt of Rivia was coming to Monster Hunter: World, I was stoked. I was still playing MHW on the regular, and Geralt is one of my video game baes. Playing as him in a MHW expansion? Hell to the yes!! A funny thing happened as I was waiting for the PC port, however, I started playing Sekiro. Well, even before that, I had fallen off the MHW track. Once I hit the Tempered Elder Dragons, I was out. It felt as if everything I’d learned up to that point was useless, and I didn’t have the patience nor the desire to relearn how to play the game. In addition, Tempered Elder Dragons should be multied, and while I had a fun time with multi in MHW, it all fell apart once I hit Tempered Elder Dragons. It’s really hard to multi with a random party on monsters of that high level. In addition, I specced my character to negate Elder Dragons’ ults, which doesn’t seem to matter when they’re in Tempered form. I also used my one and only augmentation for health regen, which is fine, but when an ult can one-shot you, it doesn’t really matter. The jump between Tempered Monsters and Tempered Dragons is so high, and maybe it’s because this is the first Monster Hunter I’ve played, but I wasn’t willing to put in that effort. I already had over 300 hours at that point, and I felt I got enough out of the game.

When the Geralt expansion (yes, yes, it’s The Witcher 3 expansion, but it’s Geralt! He’s the witcher! Plus, he’s faaaaaahn) came out, I was curiously reluctant to play it. Or rather, I had no desire to play it. It sat in my Steam library, calling out to me, but I kept playing Sekiro instead. It’s not even that I can’t quit Sekiro, which I can’t, but that I didn’t want to go back to MHW. I was done with the game, and even seeing my bae, Geralt, wasn’t enough to pull me back in. In addition, because I hadn’t played in a few months, I knew that I would be shit at it when I picked it up again. The controls were never comfortable, even when I was playing on a daily basis. Being away from it for a few months and only playing FromSoft games in that time meant that I would be pressing the wrong buttons all the time. I had that issue when I tried to go back and forth between the games, and since Dark Souls was the first game I played on controller, that is the button scheme that is firmly embedded in my mind. Bloodborne fucked with the formula a little by having a dedicated heal button, and Sekiro fucked with it even more by having a jump button and a dedicated heal button that was different than the one in BB. But, the main one was the same. RB for attack. In Souls games, it’s a light attack. In Sekiro, it’s the only attack button. RT is for Prosthetic Tools, and LT is for grappling hook. LB is block and deflect (same), and B is for step dodge, which is the same in BB.

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Turn that frown upside down

One of the persistent issues in my life has been a low self-esteem. It stems from being told implicitly and explicitly that my opinions don’t matter. More than that, I was made to feel like I had to keep everything to myself. The only person allowed to be angry in my family was my father. And, since my mother made me her confidant when I was eleven (or earlier, but that’s when I first remember it happening), I learned that my feelings were secondary to hers. It got better when I was in my thirties, but it’s reverted now that my parents are elderly and my father isn’t in the best of health. And is still the same narcissistic, yet insecure person he’s always been. Some of the things she complains about are things he’s done their entire marriage, which is nearly fifty-one years in length. It’s frustrating as hell because I can remember her complaining about the same things thirty-five years ago, and I don’t have a better answer now than I did then. Or rather, my answer is the same. Divorce him. I know she won’t do that, however, so all I can do is–nothing.

I hate that she only calls me to complain about him. She might ask me about myself (or not), and she might even listen for a few minutes, but then it’s time to talk ad nauseam about him. I wouldn’t want to hear that much about him if he was a good person and they had a great relationship. The fact that he’s not and they don’t just makes it even more painful. I know that on my end, I should just give a couple nondescript answers and end the call as soon as I can. I don’t, however, because I feel guilty that she doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. I shouldn’t, I know, but it’s my programming. I’m only here to manage the feelings of others. I thought I had it under control, but the fact that my parents are in the last stage of their lives has made me soft. It’s ironic that I’m better able to deal with my father because I just accept he is who he is. I know that he’ll never change, so it’s easier to gray rock him into oblivion. I just nod and agree with whatever he says or state my case once and then move on. I can do that because I don’t expect anything better from him. From my mom, it’s another story. I know she’s better than what she’s displaying right now. She’s a badass woman who single-handedly brought sandplay therapy to Taiwan. She has a waiting list for clients that is over a year long. She’s the foremost expert on the subject in Taiwan. She’s highly respected in her field. And, yet, in her personal life, she’s reduced to being the helpmeet of my father.

I’ve said before that one of the reasons I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship is because I can see myself in her. I could easily be that person, and it scares the fuck out of me. She couldn’t call him at work because it would make him lose face (yeah, I don’t get it, either); he would get angry if she asked him to let her know when he wasn’t coming home for dinner (because he was fucking around); and his way of punishing her would be to angrily yell at her until she backed down or give her the icy silent treatment.

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Sekiro: starting anew

*BONUS POST*

Ed. Note: I’m going to Sekiro you until the end of time. Spoilers. I guess? Sure. Why not.

same song, second verse.
So we meet again, Genichiro.

I started a new playthrough of Sekiro because I can’t quit this game no matter how hard I try. I really want to play Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope because I absolutely loved Papers, Please, his first game. It’s a game about being a border agent in a Eastern European country called Arstotzka, which sounds about as thrilling as watching paint dry, I know. Instead, it’s a tense, engaging, and surprisingly touching game that I gobbled up as quickly as I could. I had to decide who got in and who didn’t based on increasingly nitpicky specifications, and I had to decide if I wanted to let people in who shouldn’t be let in and accrue strikes against me. In addition, I had to deal with my home life, which was bleak. It was a fantastic game (and my name was in it! Lucas Pope asked for names for the passports, and mine got in!), and I was looking forward to the sequel. Why haven’t I played it yet? Well, Sekiro, obviously, but also because I’m afraid it won’t live up to the first game even though it’s gotten rave reviews.

Back to Sekiro. I started another playthrough even though I said I wouldn’t. I was so sure I’d be done with the game after my first run, but apparently, I wasn’t. I zipped through the first area (though not literally because I didn’t have my grappling hook yet) and saved my lord without a death. It was easy this time, but I did die my first time, I’m pretty sure. Once I got my sword, I cut them all up including the leader. It’s amusing that he’s a mini-boss because he’s so easy. No one remembers him, but he’s really there to show you the basics. He only gives you Pellets (or maybe even just one) when you kill him, which is nothing. Most of the other mini-bosses give you a Prayer Bead and sometimes even a Gourd Seed. I made it to Genichiro is no-time flat, and I faced him with determination. I knew I was going to die because let’s face it, I’m just not that good without all my shit, but I was curious to see if I could at least get in a few good licks before he took me down. In addition, I had maybe a fifth of my Vitality and no heals. I wasn’t gonna waste Pellets at this point! You know what? I did. I got him down to about a fourth left of his first health bar. Hey, considering that I got maybe one block on him before dying the first time I met him in this part of the game, I consider that  a win.

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Sekiro: the pain has gone

*BONUS POST*

Ed. Note: I’ll be talking about the nitty-gritty details of the game and anything else on my brain. In other words, it’s all spoilers. 

It’s been a little over two weeks since I beat Sekiro, and I’m still obsessed with it. Now that I’m done with the game, I can watch anything about it that I want. I’ve watched a ton of shit about it, including the launch trailer. I refuse to watch FromSoft launch trailers before I play the game because they spoil so much. So many bosses and different areas of the game. Most of it is in the first half, but there was some late-game shit in it as well. Also, they really highlighted the fight with Genichiro atop the Ashina Castle, which is definitely a set piece in the game. I’m including the video below, and it really shows off how epic the game is. Of course it looks better in the trailer than in the actual game, but not by much. I also have to laugh because at the end of the trailer, they show Wolf decapitating the Guardian Ape and leaving it with the Wolf being triumphant. What a massive troll! Well played, FromSoft. Well played.

As I said in my last post, I’m on NG+ just past Genichiro. Yes, I said I was going to put the controller down for good once I finished the game, but I had to see what NG+ was like, didn’t I? Then, I had to see how I’d fare against Madame Butterfly. Then, I was so close to Genichiro, I had to give him a go. That’s the excuse I gave myself, but the truth is, FromSoft games just suck me in no matter how much they piss me off or how shitty they make me feel about myself. It’s weird to look back to the first FromSoft game I played, Dark Souls, and how I had vowed I was done with it once I beat it. I’ve tried to figure out why I came back when I was Done with a capital D. I mean, I know the reason I went back was because the sequel came out, and I wanted to brush up by playing the original again before I attempted the sequel. In addition, since I would be playing it on PC, I decided to wait until Scholar of the First Sin came out rather than buy the original game. Ok, the real reason is because I’m cheap and I don’t like paying full price for a game. I will say that Sekiro is one of the few games I’ve paid full price for–and I pre-ordered it. I pretty much will play any Miyazaki game, even though I think they’re starting to be above my pay grade. I’ll expand more on that in a bit.

One thing about doing NG+ or another playthrough of the same game is that if I missed something on my first playthrough, I’m going to miss it again on subsequent playthroughs. I’m pretty thorough on my first playthrough, and I tend to go down the same beaten path every time after. I remember recently playing SotFS for the seventh or eighth time (or more), and I was in the Brightstone Cove Tseldora watching Pate and Creighton fight. Oh, spoilers for DSII, I guess. I think I chose to help Creighton that time (I alternate between them), and after we were done, I looked around the room and noticed a hallway I had never seen before. I was gobsmacked. I also saw another room in this area I hadn’t seen before while watching a YouTuber play this area. How cool is that? New rooms after I’d played the game so many times. I’m down with that. Or when I’m watching a YouTuber and they tackle a boss in a completely different way than I had. Or an area. I can always learn something new about the games, no matter how many times I play them.

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Sekiro: my final thoughts

Ed. Note: Spoilers. There will be some. 

I have more thoughts on Sekiro, obviously, and I am going to share them with you.  They probably won’t be my final thoughts, but who wants to click on a headline that says, “Read my maundering thoughts about this subject”? Also, my laptop is out of whack right now, so I’m typing this on my desktop. That means I don’t have any of my pictures available, so I’ll probably post videos from other people and be done with it. With that said, let’s get into it.

I’m halfway through NG+. I’m not, really, but that’s my inside joke with myself because for the longest time, I’ve thought of Genichiro as halfway through the game. Hell, I wrote about him as that in the last post, I think. He’s not, really, though. He’s more like a fourth of the way through, depending on the ending. He’s definitely first half, which makes him even more of a hard skill check. I just beat him in NG+, and he still enraged me. This time, however, it was his third form that tripped me up as I made it to the third phase (Genichiro, Way of Tomoe) every time, but that lightning strike fucked me up. I managed to redirect it twice, but more often, I just mistimed my jump or evaded it, and the former did massive Posture and Vitality damage. I got him down to two hits from death in my second try with no heals (did not use the powerful heals), and I got fucking greedy. I cussed him out, and I went again. I got him in six tries, which is less than a tenth of the number of attempts it took me in NG. I found it amusing that it was the third phase that gave me so much trouble when I had no problems with it the first time around. I think I fought him six or seven times in that phase in NG (so, roughly a tenth of the actual attempts), but it was because I was so pissed by that point, I went ham on him. Yes, I know that’s how the game is supposed to be played in general, but it’s not my style. I’m trying; I really am, but I’m still more apt to dodge than attack.

Side Note: I take a perverse amount of pride that I did not master the parry (deflect in this game) and was still able to beat it. It’s the same as the rest of the games. I haven’t mastered the parry in any of them, though I made myself proficient way after the fact in the original Dark Souls against the Silver Knights. Didn’t help me against the Black Knights, though. It was fun to get 90% of my parries, however, after whiffing so many times while I actually played the game. To be honest, I didn’t try to parry after fucking it up a dozen or so times. I know that parrying makes everything easier, but I just couldn’t get the timing down. It’s the same with Bloodborne. All the talk was about the visceral–and the parry needed in order to pull it off. The gun was so important, they said. You’ll want to use it to parry, they said. Ha! Little did they know to whom they were talking. Me, the anti-parry queen! Can’t get through Bloodborne without mastering the gun? Challenge accepted. I did not use the gun hardly at all as I played the game, but to be fair, I was running an arcane build. Which, by the way, do not do on your first playthrough. I knew it was going to be shit, but I’m fucking stubborn. The reason I mentioned an arcane build is because there is a spell, er, Hunter Tool, you can pick up mid-early game, Augur of Ebrietas, that can function as a parry. It’s reaching out tentacles to interrupt a gunshot, and then I could get in my visceral. In fact, few things in that game made me as happy as to yell, “Tentacles to the face!” as I used it.

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Fuck you, spring!

mainlining the tea.
All. The. Tea.

I hate spring. I hate summer more, but spring is almost as bad because everything is coming to life, and I’m allergic to all the green things. In addition, I’m still visiting Ian in upstate New York, so there is a bunch of native flora that doesn’t live in Minnesota. This is my long-winded way of saying that my allergies are on high. At least I hope it’s allergies. I think it is. My eyes are itchy and my throat is tickling. There is a drainage situation that is coagulating in the back of my throat. I’m feeling logy, even more so than usual.

The reason I’m hoping it’s allergies? Because the alternative is that I have a cold. Again. Or sinus issues. Again. Or any of half a dozen things that are worse than allergies. Allergies are a low-level energy drain. Sinus infection? That’s a massive hit in the gut. I also have a medium-grade headache that really intensifies right before I go to bed. I’ve taken two Excedrin Migraine (generic) almost every night I’ve been here which keeps the headache at bay, but it’s not something I want to do too often.

I have zero motivation when I’m sick/allergy-stuffed as well. I know I have shit I need to do, but I just can’t make myself do anything. Writing this post feels unbearable, and I’m just writing nonsense. I know I’m not, but that’s how it feels. I woke up about an hour ago, and I want a nap. That’s what makes me think I’m on the cusp of getting sick and not just suffering allergies. Allergies are annoying, but not soul-sapping the way getting sick is.

I’m flying back tomorrow, and I really would rather not have to do it while being sick. I’m sure the other people on the plane would be happier without me spreading the sickness as well.

Side note: Delta has this thing where if the flight is full, they’ll have you bid on your seat, meaning saying how much it would take for you to change your flight. Ideally, everyone would ask for the highest bid so someone will get that amount. Gamification theory indicates, however, that someone will lowball everyone so they will at least get something.

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