It’s that day again, that day where I do everything I possibly can to distract myself from what today actually is. Not because I’m capital-F Forgetting, but because I can’t NOT forget. I literally work across the goddamned street from it. I had to take some anti-anxiety meds just to leave the house today and go to work. I know very well what today is, and what happened, and the truth is that I’ve had some lingering PTSD from it ever since. Like a lot of us have. I know I’m not the only one.

What I’d really like to do – what I’ve been aching to do ever since I started playing it – is to write about Control, which is thus far my Game of the Year. Two big things are keeping me from it, though; for one, I’ve hit some sort of difficulty wall where every single mission I’m playing is just a bit too difficult. For another, I want to slather my eventual write-up with screenshots, but they haven’t yet added a Photo Mode (although I believe that’s coming shortly).

Instead, let me at least link to this really good video essay about Control and Haunted Houses (with a bonus appearance by House of Leaves):

Control is the main reason why I haven’t given Gears 5 a fair shake; I’ve dabbled here and there but I don’t want to get caught up in it before getting as close to the end of Control as I can. (I peeked at a walkthrough and while I’ve still got a bunch of side missions to do, I appear to be at the end of the penultimate story mission.) Gears certainly looks gorgeous, to be sure; but again, its combat rhythm is wildly different from Control, and playing both at the same time means I will get progressively worse at each.

Oh – yeah – so my 6 year old has a youtube channel, and he would love it if you subscribed.

Domino Voss!

So the other day I wrote here about this song lyric that’s been running around in my head for the last year or so, which is really more of a neurosis than a lyric; in any event, I’ve been doing a lot more thinking about it. Hell, I even spent most of my last therapy session discussing the whole idea – because fundamentally, the idea is borne of social anxiety, though obviously a bit more intimate than that – even if the idea itself isn’t strictly limited to romantic partners. The idea of reciprocal feelings is invested in every friendship, every parent/child relationship, every long-distance internet pen pal. Do I matter to you the way you matter to me? It’s the sort of question where you might not even be able to trust the answer, if you were given one.

In any event, one of my internet pen pals posted a meme of an apologetic fuckboy, and I realized: oh shit, that’s me. She wasn’t referring to me specifically (at least, I don’t think she was), but it’s pretty much what I used to be and how I later tried to make up for it. And so now I feel even worse, because my sincere attempt at righting a wrong (or a series of wrongs, to be honest) is really just a walking cliche.

So, yeah. I don’t think I was this obnoxious, but I certainly didn’t realize that this is what my apology(ies) looked like.

I’m gonna go bang my head against the wall for a little bit, now.

A curious thing has just happened, for the second time. I’m at my desk at my office, doing miscellaneous busywork, and somewhere in the back of my mind I start thinking about this particular lyric concept. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been trying to write an album for the last 4 years and I’m still stuck, because I’m at the point where I need to start writing lyrics, and lyric writing has always been the most difficult part. In any event, this idea pops into my head and it’s so strong and so resonant with what I’ve been thinking about lately that I feel compelled to write it down. And so I go to open the GoogleDoc where I keep of all the random lyric fragments that pop into my head, and I see that the very last thing I wrote – which was months and months ago – are the exact same words that I was about to write down. Which are also identical to the thing I wrote before that, which was almost a year ago to the day.

So, clearly, this is a thing I need to develop. The reason why I haven’t is because even though this idea is something that clearly strikes a chord with me, I have absolutely no idea if it’s good. When it comes to the music part of a song, I can usually immediately tell if something I improvised is worth developing further. But with words… I have no confidence. This idea could very well be brilliant; it could just as easily be the sort of thing a stoned college freshman thinks about at 3 in the morning. Hell, it’s probably something I myself thought about as a stoned college freshman at 3 in the morning; I’m sure I could dig up my old notebooks and find something similar to the thing that’s currently still haunting me.

Anyway, after all this time, I still don’t know if the way you felt about me is the way I felt about you.

Shall I continue with my usual blog template (self-aware apology for not writing, general state-of-the-world angst, and then quick rundowns of consumed media)? Do I still want to do this? Does it matter if you (whoever you are) don’t care anymore? Does anything matter? Am I writing this mostly because I need to look busy? (The answer to that last question is a HELL YES.)

I know I’ve been struggling to keep this blog going, and I know this isn’t the first time I’ve said so. It’s just that I’m now more self-conscious about it than I used to be. Back in the LiveJournal days, I was Captain Oversharing, blathering about everything and nothing and filling in the empty spaces with iPod shuffle wars and personality quizzes. But I haven’t felt comfortable doing that in quite some time. Believe me, I’m just as self-absorbed as ever; it’s just that I think I’m embarrassed about it.

Let’s just say this: my default emotional state is no longer anxious or depressed. I’m starting to get… mad. The news everywhere is making me mad. Every hour that passes without impeachment proceedings is an hour that brings me closer to a Network-level meltdown. And the problem is, you can’t really take a pill for anger. And waiting until November 2020 to vote is a looooooong time to hold on.

So, then, let’s get busy with being distracted!

BOOKS: So I’ve noticed that most of what I’ve read this year has been either collections of short stories, or Weird Horror, or collections of Weird Horror. It seems fitting, in these troubled times, to find distractions from the awfulness of the news in the nameless dread of Cthulhu. That being said, you know what else works? Humor!

The Hunger, Alma Katsu. So this is a quasi-supernatural take on the infamous Donner Party. If you’ve read Dan Simmons’ The Terror, you’ll get the idea. It’s an interesting tale, just not particularly memorable. I’d give it a solid B+.

Inspection, Josh Malerman. I didn’t read or watch Birdbox, nor do I recall why I had this on my Kindle (it might’ve been on sale?). In any event, it’s an interesting premise that’s written in a somewhat by-the-numbers prose style, and with one of the most out-of-nowhere, completely batshit insane hyper-violent endings I’ve ever read. B-.

Calypso, David Sedaris. God, I needed this. It’s been a while since I’ve read any Sedaris and this collection absolutely killed me. The “Sorry!” essay in particular is absolutely hilarious, as is the story about shopping in weird Japanese stores with his sisters. (The mental image of Amy Sedaris gently fondling a giant wooden phallus as if it were a pepper grinder in particular is one for the ages.) A.

French Exit, Patrick deWitt. This is the third deWitt novel I’ve read, and certainly it’s the most different; it’s a strange but compelling story of an elderly rich widow and her emotionally inert son, escaping a legal catastrophe in NYC and hiding out in Paris. B+.

To Rouse Leviathan, Matt Cardin. Because I can’t stay amused forever, I finally finished this mostly very impressive Ligotti-meets-Lovecraft collection and if nothing else I’m gonna keep this author on my watch list. A-.

I had started and then put down Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner; I’ve heard great things about it, and there certainly appears to be a really good book here, but some of it hit a little too close to the bone. And I’m now finally reading Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, which I think won the Pulitzer despite being a comedy? I’m about 30 minutes into it and it’s certainly well-written; we’ll see how that pans out.

GAMES: I’m all over the place, again. My Xbox One X has been having some overheating problems lately, so my replay of Red Dead 2 is going to take some time. In the meantime, though, I’ve started playing Control and GODDAMN that game is so very extremely my shit. Absolutely gorgeous, very very weird, satisfying on multiple levels – combat is a blast, but also the environment is just jaw-dropping. Brutalist architecture taken to the extreme. Hard to explain without screenshots; alas, the game didn’t ship with a photo mode, which feels especially egregious because there are images in this game – even early on – that have been permanently seared into my brain. Hopefully that’ll get patched in shortly.

That’s probably it for now; have a good Labor Day weekend, everybody. Sharpen your guillotines.

[Insert standard intro apologizing for long delay, explain that everything continues to be terrible, make flippant joke about how the news keeps getting more and more depressing, then quickly segue into how because everything sucks, it becomes more and more important (and also more and more difficult) to allow yourself the opportunity to escape), and how time is short, and if you’re reading or watching or listening or playing something that isn’t working for you, you have permission to move on to the next thing.]

BOOKS:

One of the only things I’m looking forward to at year’s end is a full recap of all the books I’ve read this year; I’ve certainly put down my fair share of books that simply weren’t working for me, but I’ve also finished a lot more books than I’d ever anticipated. And quite a few of the ones I’ve finished are excellent.

Wanderers, Chuck Wendig. This was supposed to be the big behemoth of the summer, a 900+ page modern quasi-retelling of The Stand. It works, for the most part, and for a 900+ page book it moves very quickly. It’s also a bit forgettable, and some of the characters, while entertaining, could be completely removed from the story and literally nothing would change.

This is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone. I am a sucker for the epistolary novel, and this is one of the better ones. Two enemy spies in a time-travelling war leave love notes for each other.

In The Valley of the Sun, Andy Davidson. A gorgeously-written monster story, but to what end? I mean, the prose in this book is fantastic; it’s just that the story never quite goes anywhere, and there’s not much pushing the action forward.

Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid. I genuinely loved this, and I think the only thing stopping me from loving it even more than I already do is that I’ve never had a reason to give a shit about Fleetwood Mac. There are a lot of familiar tropes here, but my favorite is probably the one rhythm guitarist who hates everything and everybody and is also the one guy not getting laid while everybody else in the band is neck-deep in ass and grass and coke and paranoia.

Mindhunter, John Douglas. Much like the Netflix series that it spawned, this works best when it’s focused on the work. The various asides about the author’s personal life are distracting and pointless and unnecessary, just like they are in the show. Everything else is lurid and riveting and horrifying.

FILM:

The wife and I don’t get to the movies as often as we used to, and when we do it’s either something family friendly or it’s something Marvel / Star Wars related. So it was a real treat to be able to go to the local fancy dine-in movie theater with reclining seats and see Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. It’s been a few weeks since we watched it, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t know if that means I liked it or not; it’s a bit of a shaggy story, and it’s one that is more than content to meander and soak in all of QT’s indulgences, right up until the wildly insane final 30 minutes or so. Is it my favorite QT film? No, probably not, but it’s not like he’s ever made a clunker.

GAMES:

I’m in that zone where I’m kinda done with everything, or else I’ve hit a wall with everything.

I finished all three side islands in Dragon Quest Builder 2, and now there’s one last building for me to build and I just don’t give a shit anymore. As much as I appreciate the guided experience it gives (unlike, say, Minecraft), it’s also very tedious and clunky and the energy system is a huge pain in the ass.

I also finally dinged level 30 in Division 2 and I continue to tinker around in the final gauntlet before the endgame, and I really just wish the game was slightly better balanced in order to solo it without too many problems. I get that the game is meant to be experienced online, but I don’t know anybody else who plays it, and the game is mostly OK to solo except for the final wave of every mission, where I inevitably wipe out and have to do the whole goddamned thing again, until I quit.

As money continues to be tight I’ve resolved to use my Gamefly account more aggressively, and so while I’ve rented a bunch of notable titles, nothing seems to stick. The new Fire Emblem… is a prettier version of a genre that I’ve never been able to get into in its earlier iterations; Age of Wonders Planetfall is a very pretty Civ-esque type of game that feels clunky with a controller; Wolfenstein Youngblood looked promising but it kept overheating my Xbox One X multiple times; Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 just felt janky and shitty, and I turned it off before it could disappoint me any further.

And that’s basically it, as far as I’m concerned.

Very happy to announce – 6 years too late, perhaps – that “Untrue Songs” is now available on Spotify and other streaming platforms. I know it’s on Youtube and iTunes; it very well may be on Tidal and Amazon, too, if that floats your boat.

I’m a little stressed out. My money situation is, shall we say, not good. I’m terrible with money anyway, but it’s kinda really bad right now, what with debt and the repayment of loans that contribute to further debt, etc. So, for real, if you can, go check out Untrue Songs on your digital platform of choice and maybe I’ll be able to buy a very small coffee at the end of the next fiscal quarter.

BOOKS: I’ve been on a kick recently of short weird horror fiction, which has been quite fun. If you like such things, I heartily recommend Nathan Ballingrud’s “Wounds”, which is utterly fantastic – his other collection, “North American Lake Monsters”, is also quite good. Also, Paul Tremblay’s “Growing Things” is excellent and especially fun for people who’ve read his other novels; there are some neat connections in these stories to those novels. And, well, the story “Notes from the Dog Walkers” might be my favorite bit of meta-fiction that I’ve read in the last 10 years.

GAMES: As per usual, I’m having trouble staying engaged in anything. I had been pretty excited about finally getting into Breath of the Wild, but it still gets a bit obtuse at times and I feel wildly underpowered everywhere I go. But I will give a quick shoutout to Slay The Spire, which is one of the best rogue-like card combat games I’ve ever played (and which makes dragging my Switch around that much more worthwhile). Also, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is just as fun as the first one while also being a hell of a lot more accessible and having a bunch of necessary quality-of-life improvements over the original. Finally, Etherborn is a super-trippy puzzle-platformer thing that feels like moving around in an Escher drawing.

some thoughts on a sunday evening (and revised on a monday morning):

I just put on the song above – Elder is a band I like, but haven’t really thought about in a while, and I saw that they had a new album out, so, why not give it a spin on my good headphones while I’m already a little artificially zoned out anyway – and the thing is, this song just freaked me the fuck out. Here’s why: it sounds A WHOLE FUCKING LOT like the band I was in back in the mid-to-late 90s.

Like, I’ve never really heard anything ever, in my whole life of listening very intensely to music, that sounds like a band that I was in, especially when the difference in years between the two things is literally half my age. Now, of course, I’ve been in bands where it’s obvious who we tried to sound like; I’ve just never heard another band doing what we did, 20+ years later.

More specifically: I play guitar a lot like one of the guitarists in this band, and the other guitarist sounds A LOT like the other guitarist in my old band. and the rhythm section sounds, well, you guessed it. And we used to get super stoned down in the basements of Ludlow Street and jam like this for HOURS and then we’d go back to the drummer’s apartment and then continue to get stoned and listen to what we just did.

I mean, Jesus Christ, the fucking hi-hats are clipping in the mix at around the 8:00 mark, which makes it sound EVEN more like a taped rehearsal in a dingy basement with a shitty Shure microphone.

tl:dr; I thought this was my old band.

Anyway, this sorta got me thinking about a bunch of things. For one, it brought me right back to the time frame that this stupid album that I’ve been not working on for 4 years is supposed to take place in. All sorts of memories came flooding back, most of them… well, most of them are complicated, if I’m being honest. There were good times, bad times, and also quite a lot of weird times. It’s difficult to explain.

RELATED TANGENT: So I’ve started getting the ball rolling on putting the old album (“Untrue Songs”) onto modern streaming platforms. I might even be able to announce it this week? Keep your eyes and ears peeled.

BUT it also got me wondering what it would be like to be in a band again. I mean – I’m 43 years old, I live in the suburbs, and while I’ve played with other people in recent years I haven’t been in a capital-B BAND since 2007. That ship has sailed. It stopped being practical to pin my hopes and dreams of financial stability through being in a band about 10 years ago.

I’ve been starting to think about being in a band again a lot, recently, at least in less abstract terms that I’d been thinking about it ever since Henry was born. There’s been some music I’ve been obsessing over lately that, in addition to being the exact sort of sound I’ve been itching to hear, also sounds a lot like the sound of a band I’d like to play in.

And as much as I like having creative control over the music I write, I’m also reluctantly accepting the fact that it’s much easier for me to meet self-imposed deadlines when I’m collaborating with other people.

And also: playing music with other people is fun. I miss it.

I’m OK. You OK? I mean, everything is nuts, yes, of course, but there’s also some good things, too. I’m holding onto the good things. Here are some of them.

Stranger Things – We binged Season 2 last week to get caught up for Season 3 and my god, this show is still amazing – if for no other reason than it’s one of the few shows (or, really, any media) where PEOPLE SAY THE THING THAT NEEDS TO BE SAID AT THE RIGHT TIME.

Fleabag – speaking of binge-ing, the wife and I watched this until 1 in the morning the other day, which is a thing we hadn’t done since before our kid was born. It’s one of the most extraordinary shows I’ve ever seen; perfectly cast, perfectly written, perfectly performed. I will basically now watch anything that Phoebe Waller-Bridges gets her hands on. And what a fantastic treat to get to see Andrew “Moriarity” Scott again! Hard to pick a favorite episode out of basically 12 perfect episodes but the dinner party that opens Season 2 is absolutely spectacular.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – I’m sure that everyone has at least one game that’s considered an all-time classic that they’ve never been able to get into. For me, the most notorious of these would almost certainly be Resident Evil 4, which for the rest of the world is one of the greatest games ever made. I couldn’t get more than 5 minutes into it without loathing it. (And it’s not for lack of effort – I’ve tried to get into it several times, on several different platforms, and each time I give up because I hate it.) Anyway, I bring this up because until last week, BotW was also in that category; I’m not sure I’d even beaten the first shrine before getting frustrated. (It’s entirely possible that the survival/crafting elements are what turned me off, not to mention the extreme fragility of every weapon; it also probably needs to be repeated (because I’m sure I’ve said this a million times) that while I had an Atari 2600 and my younger brother had a Sega Genesis, there was never a Nintendo console in my house until the Wii, so I don’t have any nostalgia to fall back on.) In any event, something finally clicked for me this week and now I’m hooked. I get it now; I understand the game’s rhythms. (And it’s also made stuff like Skyrim and the upcoming Witcher 3 port totally superfluous; if I need an amazing open-world game to take with me on the train, this is the one right here.)

The Outer Wilds – I’ve had to take some time away from this game recently, but that hasn’t stopped me from being in love with it. Here, read Kotaku’s Jason Schreier on it.

Forza Horizon 4 – I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: this game is pure joy. And the recently released Lego DLC is so much fun. If it’s been a while since you’ve fired it up, give it a spin. And if you’ve never played it, well, get on that shit. I’d call it my favorite driving game of all time, sure.

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