A lot has happened!
Life, the Korean universe, and everything
Elephant in the room. Am I kicking a dead horse by bringing up the discussion of a match fixer again? Hopefully the horse is long dead, which should make it more okay to kick than if it were alive. I know I was asked at some point what I thought about the whole ordeal, and I stand by that it's easy to separate a player's performances from their actions outside the game. Anyone that adored Life's play like I did from roughly 2012 to 2016 should, in my opinion, refrain from burning pictures (I have a signed photograph I snagged at Blizzcon 2015 that's still in my bookshelf. I'm not about that whole throwing stuff away-thing) and crowing for the expulsion from records. I also, in a more nuanced point of view, feel bad for the system that enables that kind of illegal activity. I don't condone matchfixing or make excuses for the players that fall for the allure of quick and easy money, but I also don't find it very hard to envision all the problems that can come with quick fame and hundreds of thousands of dollars suddenly bursting into your bank account with no real guiding figure to keep you straight. I feel bad for young athletes that get banned over doping as well -- because even if they made the decision, there are other factors that people on the sidelines can never see and usually don't want to understand, and I doubt that all of them fully understand the impact of what they are doing. Caught with the wrong people, the risk is of a vicious cycle that can ruin your life -- and I don't think most people want to cheat. Call me naive?
I buried the horse, you could say, by accepting that maybe playing professional Starcraft wasn't actually a great idea for Lee Seung-hyun. Hopefully he can live a straighter life away from gambling and shady money with it behind him. It's a tough life, but the least anyone can hope for is that the kid learned his lesson.
In H2O and out
The most (alternately positive, alternately nightmare-inducing) fundamental experiences in my life have tended to come from swimming. Perhaps it's not strange that an activity shapes your identity when you spend upwards 30+ hours a week doing it, but the last year-and-a-half have been very strange. Our club switched head coach (again) in late 2015, and (surprisingly!) the man is still kicking. Dude's a once-upon-a-time European medalist, but somehow he's carved his identity from all the stupid shit in the meanwhile. Triple cancer survivor, broke his neck and bounced back in college, suffered a burst appendix after Nationals one year, breaks bones on the regular. Where younger swimmers tend to look to achievements as the measure of competence in a coach, Tommy doesn't need to flaunt his achievements. When a coach limps into the pool hall with a freshly broken leg and complains about his kids being whiners, you garner a certain amount of old-man cred. This isn't to say he isn't a technical expert, but the main takeaway from his practice regimen is that there are countless ways to push yourself further, especially as you get older and smarter. "It's never late" has become somewhat of a mantra. After I got the closest I've been to the podium last summer, results have become more reliable.
Also, in the time-honored tradition of small-town swim teams: the club ran out of money. Hard. I was elected to the club management board ("board" has such a corporate connotation, but it's certainly no Fortune 500 board of directors-kind of thing. It's mostly embarrassing, but more on that later) early this March. I thought -- and so did everyone else -- that I would be there mostly in the function of active swimmer to provide insight into the day-to-day activities. Small-town clubs, even if ours is comparatively big with nearly 1000 members all-in-all, tend to be run by spare-time parents without any great amount of expertise. Since I both swim in the championship squad and coach some of the younger swimmers, that seemed like a sensible and useful position to be in. Come mid-March, one of the employees signaled that if nothing changed economically, we would not be able to pay any salaries come October. The aggregate sum of the year, she estimated, was about -725,000 SEK, or just shy of $100,000. That's a lot of money to not have, and the other board members didn't really have any clue where the deficit had come from, let alone how to fix it.
So in less than a few months' time, I -- among the most affected myself, given my dual positions -- had to inform the rest of the competitive swimmers that the club would not be paying for any competitions until after summer, probably not until next year. Going to Nationals alone would set each swimmer back about 5,000 SEK (not counting per-race costs), and every meet besides that would easily be in the hundreds. I'll leave it unsaid how that was received.
Fortunately, we've been able to work our way upwards from there. In the end, I think analyzing costs and learning what excesses can be cut has been a really valuable experience. Working on sponsorship deals for the team, likewise. But I'll always hold it against the rest of the board members that they referred my own coach to me when he was worried about whether he would lose his job due to cuts and whether he should find a new one. Among all the mixed experiences, having to reassure your own role model, coach and confidant that No, I don't want to fire you and I promise to make sure the others don't,
either might have been the worst. Luckily, we get to keep him and he gets to keep his (somewhat cushy) salary, but it's been a bumpy ride in that department.
Stuff to read, stuff to write
Channeling banjoe and Soularion in equal parts, I found some interest in poetry some time last year. I read a lot of T.S Eliot (thanks Joe) and even wrote some myself, but it's such a different beast from writing novels that I think I'll hold off on sharing that stuff with anyone save my girlfriend for a little more time.
And like a good college student, I've tried to read much and with variation. I was far too snowed-in on SFF, even though Fantasy will always be the love of my life. See below.
What Happened -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. // If you thought the Democratic nominee was as unbecoming as I did for much of the Presidential Campaign, this book is for you. Granted taking words from the woman's own mouth might not paint all things fairly, the insight and passion that she obviously put into this book, and her two campaigns, revealed a couple of sides to her that I didn't think existed.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell -- Susanna Clarke // Neil Gaiman called it "the finest British novel of the fantastic in a hundred years" (or some such), and I'm willing to agree. If ships made of rain don't immediately pull you in, perhaps the setting will. It's great.
Sapiens and Homo Deus -- Yuval Noah Harari // Where did we come from, and where are we going? Harari picks through the bones of our evolutionary ancestors, ponders our beginnings and debates our collective future. I read a review that said "to call this popular science would be to denigrate it and rob it of its essence", and while that seems unusually high-brow even for a literary review, the pair of books really is worth the read. If not else, then to get another perspective on yourself.
The Second Apocalypse -- R. Scott Bakker // I praised these books (starting with The Darkness that Comes Before) to the heavens some time in 2015 or 2016, when I had just stumbled upon them myself. The latest novel, The Unholy Consult, concludes the second storyline and makes way for a third, way down the line. The books are hard to capture in a tagline, but if Tolkien's evil twin became besties with Friedrich Nietzsche and promised to out-grimdark George R.R Martin without frustrating Frank Herbert, you might get something akin to TSA. It's fantasy at its highest and darkest, but it's beautiful in a very twisted way at the same time. I could gush forever about these books (and I will), so I'll stop here. Worth the read.
1Q84 -- Haruki Murakami // I'll admit I haven't read this myself yet, but it sounds intriguing enough that I thought I'd mention it in passing. I have no idea what to expect.
The King Never Smiles -- Paul M. Handley // I tripped through Asia with my family over christmas and New Years, and stumbled across this book in an airport bookshop. Thailand's monarchy is a fascinating thing, and coming from a country where the king is a figurehead and barely even that, Handley's account of the late King Bhumibol's influence on Thailand's politics was a real eye-opener. I don't know that I can really sell this book as something for everyone, but it definitely challenged all my preconceived notions of royal torpor and pointlessness.
Think -- Simon Blackburn // I took a break from psychology to study some philosophy. Why? Unsure, but it tickled my fancy, and it's easy to do in Sweden. I read this book in the summer before the semester began, and although it's nothing particularly advanced, it did give me a firm ground to stand on when discussing philosophy with people that normally aren't interested (read: parents, siblings, and most of everyone I know). I'm convinced that everyone (even the profoundly thick people I've butted heads with on Reddit) could have some use for a philosophical interest, be it theoretical or practical philosophy.
I still write myself, as well. I've found readers on TL in the past that have been immensely helpful, so it felt natural to bring it up again. I'm working with an editor on revising Wings of Stars at the moment, and I hope to have it done by year's end. When will it be published? Who knows. Next year is a pipe dream, but pipe dreams are better than no dreams. Or something. I'm adamant that it will be, though. Whether that happens by myself eventually self-publishing or not, I don't know, but it has become such a project that I would feel defeated for discarding it. In the event anyone actually reads this post and is interested, let me know.
But what about Starcraft? All this talk for what?
To end this on a happy note, I'm still in it. I suspect this whole blog post is my slow rationalization of sinking back into the rabbit hole, and it feels really good to admit that. I've made attempts to get back into the writing side of things several times in the last year, but I've always found a reason to think it is more difficult or draining than it is. But I figured that if Soulkey could bounce back in the GSL finals, it shouldn't be much different getting back into the thick of things. The SSL finals are coming up, and I hope I'll be able to add something of value to our coverage. Old habits die hard