Yes, I know. I KNOW. It’s been a minute. Since my last post, I’ve been a little bananas. My wife broke her foot; I caught a ridiculous chest cold that I’m still trying to shake; work has been… well, work; and the news has been, well, the news.

On the bright side, despite all of this insanity, I’ve somehow gone about two weeks without needing to take any Ativan. So that’s something.

But the larger point remains – I’m frazzled and fried, and I’ve not written anything here because I can’t seem to concentrate on anything for more than about 5 minutes. And that includes writing blog posts about not being able to concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes.

So let me get to the business here before I run out of steam:

BOOKS: I’ve completed my 2019 Goodreads challenge, which was to finish 40 books. It’s not yet June. Despite all of the craziness above, I can get books read. Here’s what I’ve finished since my last update, along with the summaries I jotted down in my googledoc:

  • Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry. Beautifully written but very slow. Also, turn-of-the-century New York City sounds like a goddamned hell on earth.
  • Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Brennett. Very much like Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, but a bit more crass. (Also, for whatever reason, I’m having trouble remembering this book now that it’s been a few months.)
  • The Force, by Don Winslow. A hard-boiled masterpiece. If even a fraction of the grift and corruption described in this book is true, we are well and truly fucked.
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid. Short, very creepy, with a very sudden and jarring ending. I’m not sure this worked for me, though it’s very well-written.
  • The Devil Aspect, by Craig Russell. An above-average thriller with a hokey title, and a good twist that I probably should’ve seen coming.
  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman. Absolutely fantastic; consider the patriarchy smashed.
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra. One of the best books I’ve read this year; superb.
  • Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1), by James S.A. Corey. As far as sci-fi space opera goes, this is pretty goddamned entertaining. I’ll want to read a few more books before deciding to watch the show.
  • Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi. This much-hyped novel more or less lives up to it; it certainly takes me back to my teenaged years, for better or worse.
  • Melmoth, by Sarah Perry. I haven’t yet read Essex Serpent, but it’s on my list. This was engaging and creepy, though it didn’t quite go anywhere.
  • Normal People, by Sally Rooney. Intimate and marvelous.
  • Blood Standard, Laird Barron.
  • Black Mountain, Laird Barron. Hard-boiled and fun as hell. I’ve read a few of his more cosmic horror-type books before and they never quite clicked for me, but these absolutely sucked me in.
  • Exhalation, by Ted Chiang. Maybe not as transcendent as his first collection, but this is still among the best philosophically-minded sci-fi ever written.
  • Freshwater, by Awkaeke Emezi. Fascinating and beautifully written portrait of a woman with multiple personalities.
  • Lanny, by Max Porter. A very strange, beautiful, ethereal dream.

MUSIC. It’s a wonder that I’m able to absorb any of the music I’m listening to these days, especially since I don’t get to listen as often as I’d like. But there’s some good stuff out there, even for old farts like me.

GAMES. I’ve been playing, like, a dozen things all at once on pretty much every system I own, though I seem to have hit difficulty spikes in most of them all at the same time. There are two smaller games, though, that deserve mention, if only because they feel quite special:

  • Observation (PS4), which is essentially 2001, but you play as HAL. Reminds me a bit of the camera hacking bits in Watch Dogs, which coincidentally are my favorite parts of those games. I’m only an hour or so into it, but I’m really impressed. A very important word of caution, however – if you are in any way affected by strobing effects or other similar visual glitches, I’d recommend staying away from this until they patch it. I’ve never before been sensitive to that stuff until this game; it’s overly aggressive in that regard.
  • A Plague Tale (X), which is like The Last of Us, but with some basic stealth and lots and lots of rats. Again – I’ve only given it an hour or so, but I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen.

That’s all I’ve got time for today, folks. Hope all is well.

This was the weekend of CONTENT, and because I hate spoilers, I’m going to start this post with a table of contents. Feel free to skip to whatever relevant section you want; I will try to be light on spoilers whenever possible, but sometimes there ain’t nothing you can do.

  1. Endgame
  2. GoT
  3. Lemonade
  4. Games

*****

(1) Endgame. Look, I could nit-pick the movie to death. The moment you introduce time travel / time manipulation, you’re asking for trouble. I knew from the moment Doctor Strange gave up the Time Stone at the end of Infinity War and told Iron Man that “this was the only way”, referring to the one reality out of 14M possibilities in which the good guys win, that there was going to have to be some sort of time travel shenanigans, and that’s essentially what Act 2 of Endgame is. And to the film’s credit, they discuss the paradoxes of time travel pretty thoroughly (though they use films, not books). But look – that’s besides the point. The movie was fun as hell, and for a project this massive to be able to get wrapped up this well, I mean, what else could you possibly hope for? (I, for one, was so happy to see the Captain finally have his dance.)

I have larger issues with the MCU as a whole, and that could probably get its own post at some point, if I ever got around to it. None of the films are bad, even though there are some clunkers (i.e., Thor 2), but none of the films are amazing, either. They’re fun, and they’re enjoyable, but they’re also somewhat forgettable. Does this matter? Probably not – Endgame will destroy every single box-office record by the end of next week, more than likely – but it’s just… I wish the films had more personality. I have no doubt that, as a stand-alone film, Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man would’ve been a thousand times better than what we ended up getting. But I also know that Edgar Wright’s film-making style is so distinctive that it would absolutely stand out like a sore thumb when placed alongside the rest of the MCU. Doctor Strange was visually stunning but the script was basically Iron Man redux. I can only hope that in the years to come, Marvel lets its filmmakers have a bit more leeway when it comes to directorial vision. (And more than anything else, I’m also very curious to see what the Russo Brothers do next.)

If you’d rather read an actual critical take on it, I highly recommend this MZS piece.

*****

(2) Game of Thrones. I don’t want to be “that guy” who shows up in your timeline being all “I don’t watch GoT”, which is why I’m quiet about it. But I don’t watch GoT. I tried reading the first book and got bored, and I watched the first few seasons of the show but it didn’t do anything for me. (The last episode I watched was the episode before Joffrey got what was coming to him.) That being said, I emerged from my basement/man-cave just in time to see Arya strike the death-blow, and that was pretty awesome. My wife was sobbing, and I genuinely had to ask – “are those… good tears?” And she laughed and said “my favorite character just killed the bad guy, of course these are good tears”, and so I’m glad that went well.

*****

(3) The thing about being a Spotify junkie is that you end up missing things that aren’t on the platform. And while I certainly have nothing but respect for Queen Bey, I haven’t listened to any of her music, ever. So it was more out of curiosity than anything else that I turned on Spotify over the weekend and saw that Lemonade was finally available. And so I decided to give it a little spin and see what’s what.

The short version: I need to give the album a few more spins before I can assign it a numerical value between 1-10, but, I mean, godDAMN. This is not the kind of music I generally listen to, but I’ll gladly give her the benefit of the doubt.

I remember being 8 years old (or thereabouts) and putting a cassette of Sgt. Pepper in my boombox and being sort-of gobsmacked that even though I’d never heard the album before, I somehow knew all the words and the melodies. I’m not going to say that listening to Lemonade 3 years after the fact was the same kind of experience, but it is kinda hilarious to recognize certain lyrics as cultural moments – which is to say, I now know where “Boy bye” and “Becky with the good hair” comes from.

There is apparently some argument as to whether Beyonce can be rightly called a visionary genius if she has 50+ people writing her songs for her. On the one hand, I get that argument. But she’s not a singer-songwriter, and never claimed to be, and my impression of modern pop music (as a 43-year-old white guy who hasn’t listened to pop music in at least 20 years) is that authenticity isn’t necessarily what’s important right now. And whether she writes her own lyrics or not isn’t the point – nobody has that voice, and she sings the absolute fuck out of these songs.

(Speaking as a lapsed singer-songwriter: I don’t have any problem with collaboration. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a complete set of lyrics that I was actually proud of, from top to bottom, and if I had the budget to hire the best lyric writers in the business, you’d better believe I’d hire them and pay them double. This is why I still haven’t finished the album I’ve been working on for the last 4 years, by the way.)

*****

(4) I’m in a weird place with games, as per usual. I played a little bit of the new Mortal Kombat – and I don’t know what to say beyond (a) it’s a stunning package, and (b) I am utterly terrible at it and am very glad I rented it. More of my focus has been on my Switch, actually – I’d loaded up the Switch before my vacation a few weeks back and did some of the Captain Toad DLC, as well as some of the new Yoshi game, which is adorable as h*ck. But this weekend I was getting sucked into Hob and Steamworld Gilgamesh. (I’d gotten Hob on PS4 a while back but never gave it a proper look; I’m definitely going to give it a runthru when I finish the Switch version, because the Switch version is graphically janky as hell.)

Hob is an indie-feeling third-person adventure/puzzle/light combat game, with incredibly obtuse signposting. It is very easy to get lost, sometimes to the point of frustration, because the map is arguably the worst map in the history of maps. But it’s also incredibly satisfying when you do finally figure something out, and that’s part of the game’s tension. I like it!

The new Steamworld game is also pretty neat, as far as card-based turn-based RPGs go. I’m barely 10 minutes into it but it’s the sort of game I could see myself playing on the train and then realizing I missed my stop about 20 minutes too late.

Also: the new AC:Odyssey DLC is amazing – seriously, go pick it up if you’ve been away for a while.

It’s so amazing, in fact, that it’s sidetracking me again from replaying RDR2, which is something I’d been wanting to revisit for a while. My first playthrough felt very rushed – I know I missed a lot – and I wanted to stretch my legs with it a bit. I had AC:O in the back of my head while I was playing it the first time, though, and the difference in feel between the two could not have been more pronounced. In any event, if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend Film Crit Hulk’s deep dive – it says basically everything I’d been wanting to say about it, but better.

Finally, I think I’ve been away too long from Division 2. I still really like that game, but I’d had to put it down when I went on vacation and even though I’m somewhat close to the end of the story, I feel like I’m wildly underpowered, and at this point it’s hard to find other players at my level willing to do co-op story missions and such.

*****

I’ve read some AMAZING books of late – too many to condense here. I’ll be doing a major book post soon-ish, though.

And I’m also contemplating doing a 5-10-15-20 thing (see Pitchfork) because it’s a fun writing exercise and I’m curious to see what my albums for those specific years would be.

Anyway! That is all.

current status: that thing where i buy too much stuff all at the same time and thus can’t concentrate on any of them because i’m trying to give them all an equal opportunity and i end up going to bed early because i’m mentally exhausted and also feeling guilty for spending money that i don’t have

Look: the release of the Mueller report is depressing and disheartening and the Barr summary is absurd, and it’s hard to maintain optimism when the President of the United States is gloating like a schoolyard bully who won a punching contest with a 1st grader. In these troubled times, I end up doing what I usually do; I spend way too much money on stupid shit. And so I bought a bunch of games this weekend, and barely had time to play any of them.

I died 4-5 times in the tutorial section of Sekiro. I am intrigued and I want to continue, but I will need patience (which is in short supply) and a long stretch of uninterrupted time (which almost never happens).

I made it to the first real checkpoint in One Piece. I don’t know why I bought this game; I’m not an anime fan, and I’d never even heard of this franchise before a week or two ago. But I saw some rather intriguing preview footage, and lord knows I could use some colorful nonsense these days.

I’m up to chapter 5 in Devil May Cry 5. I’m not that much of a DMC fan; the only game I’ve played and actually liked is Ninja Theory’s DmC from a few years ago, and that was mostly because it was visually stunning. (The setpiece where you jump inside the graphics of Fox News is still one of my favorite things ever.) DmC5 is thoroughly ridiculous, and to that end I suppose it’s entertaining enough because it refuses to allow you to take it seriously. But I’m not particularly good at it, either, and my “style points” aren’t anything to brag about, which kinda defeats the purpose of the game.

I’m level 14 in Division 2. So much more to go, so much more left to do, and yet I appreciate that I can jump in and mess around for an hour and then jump out and feel like I accomplished something. Still trying to figure out a good weapon loadout; assault rifles don’t do enough damage, but rifles fire too slowly and have small ammo capacity. Weapon mods can only mitigate these issues so much. At least I’ve settled on the drone and the hive as my skills; the hive is very necessary for saving armor kits while being engaged in drawn-out firefights, and the drone is far more versatile than the turret in terms of keeping enemies occupied.

If this blog is to ultimately serve as a diary of my media consumption, well, that makes it a bit easier to figure out what to write. Especially on days like today, when I’m feasting on the good stuff.

SO:

Last summer I wrote a thing about falling in love with a song, and it appears to have happened again. In this case, it’s “Plimsoll Punks” by Alvvays, and while I don’t necessarily need to do a moment-by-moment breakdown of it, I would like to point out a few highlights.

#1: That opening is straight out of The Smiths, and I adore it.
#2: The “You’re getting me down, getting me down, getting me down” hook is killer.
#3: Again – the guitar work all over the place is straight out of Johnny Marr’s playbook, and I have no complaints about that.
#4: Listen to the bassline at 1:53 or so, the way it hits the third instead of the root. UGH. That shit melts my brain.
#5: The singer’s voice in the third verse is so gorgeous.

_____________

[I was going to write a much longer First Few Hours-style post about The Division 2, but I don’t have the mental bandwidth today. (I feel like I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in about 3 months.) And in any event, while I have put in a solid dozen or so hours into it already and just dinged level 12 last night, there’s still so much more to do. In any event, what follows is what was in my drafts folder from the other day:]

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – I’m generally not into online games. I am a curmudgeon and a hermit and have no need to trade insults with young, racist whippersnappers. I like the single-player experience because it’s like playing a book. It’s made for me. I get to experience it on my own terms. And I also need to pee a lot, so I need a game that won’t punish me if I need to pause it.

When I have dabbled in online games, it’s generally for a co-op, PvE experience. The two notable exceptions to this were a several month-long phase when I had a somewhat unhealthy addiction/obsession with World of Warcraft, which needs its own post at some point, and when my Gamespot forum buddies and I would play Burnout 3 every night.

But I digress. I’m not good enough to play competitively, which is why I tend to shy away from both traditional deathmatch stuff and also the newer battle royale genre. Never cared for it, and that’s fine.

That hasn’t stopped me from playing stuff like Destiny or Anthem, or, also, the topic of today’s post – The Division 2. While they’re obviously meant to be played with groups, you can solo these games without getting unduly punished, and you can also join in with strangers rather seamlessly to take down the game’s enemies. Sure, the endgame probably won’t be as interesting if you remain a solo player, but to be honest I generally never get that far. I’ve beaten the vanilla campaigns of both Destiny 1 and 2 and The Division 1, and I got my money’s worth.

[That’s as far as I’d gotten.]

So the point that I was eventually going to get to is that The Division 2 is really and quite unexpectedly terrific. I can’t seem to get enough of it. AND THAT’S WEIRD, because, as noted above, I normally don’t get this attached to this particular genre. Playing solo is fine, though a bit more challenging than I’m happy with – but that usually just means that I need to tweak my loadout and realize that I’ve been using a wildly under-powered weapon, or that I should probably use a drone in a particular fight instead of a turret. Playing in a group with random people is, to my great surprise, A LOT MORE FUN. We’re all using different perks and playstyles and we end up complementing each other. I tend to hang back and snipe and heal, and my run-and-gun comrades end up needing my services, and I actually feel useful for a goddamned change.

Now, is the story good? OH, MERCY, no it is not. But narrative is totally unnecessary for this experience. I open the map and see that I have a mission, and in that mission I will acquire loot, and that is my primary motivation. And that’s enough. The more missions I complete, the more I can improve the quality of my safehouses, and then I can acquire better gear there, too.

And DC – as Manhattan was in the first game – is a wonder to explore. So many nooks and crannies! So many hidden caches and crates to discover! If I don’t feel like engaging with the many feral gangs roaming the streets, that’s totally OK. I mean, I’ll have to deal with them eventually, but in the meantime there’s this whole entire building that I can sneak into and pilfer to my heart’s content. It is glorious.

The whole package seems genuinely well-thought-out and put together, in all the ways that Division 1 wasn’t, at least at launch. I’m gonna be playing this for a long while.

If you want to hook up, I’m generally on during weeknights after 8pm on Xbox; my gamertag is JervoNYC. As noted above, I believe I’m at around level 12 or so. I’m always happy to tag along with fellow Agents; shit, I might even be persuaded to put on my headset.

Forgive me, readers, for I have lapsed. It’s been almost a full month since my last blog post. I have no idea why I’ve been away for so long, other than the usual self-consciousness about contributing to the noise of the internet by putting my thoughts out in public. Which, again, is weird, considering that I’ve generally had no problem doing that very thing since 2001. But here we are.

I’ve been feeling… well… weird. The usual stuff:

  • the news;
  • the weather;
  • NJ Transit;
  • the specific, nostalgic melancholy of social media and its accompanying feelings of loneliness;
  • managing the wildly unpredictable emotions of an almost-six-year-old boy;
  • fretting about the health of family and friends;
  • daylight savings time;
  • the constant need to be distracted while also being unable to concentrate on the thing I’m trying to distract myself with.

I’ve been zooming through books without really taking them in – most of the books I’m reading, while enjoyable, are more like candy than a satisfying meal. I’m playing a whole bunch of Xbox games but I’m also looking at my phone. I’m listening to tons and tons of music – old, new, heavy, poppy, acoustic singer-songwriter, 90’s east-coast hip hop. I feel like I’m in 20 different places at once, which also means that I feel like I’m nowhere at all.

In other words, this is life in 2019. But at least I’m getting better at identifying what the specific things are, so there’s that.

________________________

Books: Since my last post I’ve added eight (8) more books to the “finished” pile, which now puts my Goodreads Challenge at 27 out of 40. As noted above, almost everything I’ve been reading this year has been fun, but also more or less disposable; there’s not that much that I’ve been able to retain and really feel like I’ve lived with except for The Overstory, which was way back in January, which feels like 20 years ago. Anyway, the list:

  • The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt. Not to be confused with the Tom Cruise movie. It’s an impressively written book, to be sure, but the final third of it kinda fell apart on me.
  • Liminal States, Zach Parsons. 1/3 western, 1/3 pulp noir, 1/3 cosmic sci-fi horror. Fun, also completely bananas.
  • The Plotters, Un-Su Kim. A paranoid haze about Korean assassins and the agents who hire them.
  • Come Closer, Sara Gran. I’m still on my Sara Gran kick from earlier this year (her Claire DeWitt trilogy is among the best things I’ve read in a while), and this is a short but very effective little nightmare.
  • Case Histories (Jackson Brodie #1), Kate Atkinson. I have, like, 7 or 8 Kate Atkinson books in my Kindle library, and for whatever reason this is the one I went to first. It’s pleasantly enjoyable, which is a very weird thing to say about some rather graphic and disturbing murdering. And I can’t necessarily say that the detective in this book actually did any detecting. And it’s also weird that there’s a genuinely happy ending just a few pages after the genuinely surprising and disturbing final reveal. I got a chapter or two into book 2 but decided to put it off for now.
  • The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker. An intriguing premise, beautifully written, but I’m not quite sure what the book’s intentions were.
  • Invasive, Chuck Wendig.
  • Zeroes, Chuck Wendig. I read these out of order – not that it matters, necessarily, though Zeroes is better than Invasive. I follow Wendig on Twitter but these are the first books of his that I’ve read; he’s like a more down-to-earth Neal Stephenson.

I did end up giving up on Black Leopard, Red Wolf for the time being; I will get back to it. I also picked up and attempted to start at least 10 other books in between a lot of the above, and decided to put them down when I couldn’t find my way into them. I suspect that when I finally hit the 40 mark and can put the Challenge to rest, I’ll be able to enjoy what I’m reading at a more leisurely pace.

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Music: As noted in my last entry, I’m still trying to get rolling on finishing this album. I’m not necessarily that much further along than I was a month ago – inertia is a bitch – but I haven’t given up, either. It’s taken me a little while to remember how all my software works, and it’s also difficult to carve out free time where I can work without interruption and without being completely exhausted and/or mentally drained. And, of course, there’s this – the music that I’ve already got is over 3 years old at this point, and I’m not sure if I want to keep all or any of it. (Well, there’s at least one or two that I definitely want to keep, though I should probably just re-record them from scratch at this point.)

And don’t get me started on lyric writing, because I don’t even know how to begin cracking that particular egg without giving myself a nervous breakdown. It’s fair to say that I’m not in the same emotional place that I was back in late 2014-early 2015, when the concept for this thing was taking shape, and I’m not really sure I want to keep walking that specific road anyway. I’d reached out to a few folks for brainstorming purposes; some never wrote back, and that kinda made me a little gunshy about reaching out again.

In any event, as I mentioned above I’ve been listening to tons of stuff that’s all over the map. My son is obsessed with the Spiderman – Into the Spiderverse movie, which means we’re all obsessed with it – and hey, I’ll take it any day of the week over The Polar Express. But while he loves the newer songs, I love the 90s hip-hop that appears in the first Uncle Aaron / graffiti sequence. Which led me down this road:

And as for everything else that I’ve been listening to, there’s this:

________________________

Games: If you’d told me that I’d find myself juggling between two different online shooters at the same time, I’d tell you that you were insane. But here we are. I am juggling between Anthem, which is enjoyable despite some serious flaws, and The Division 2, which is enjoyable despite me being kinda terrible at it. At some point I’ll have to pick one and ride it out for as much as I can, and I can already tell that it’ll probably end up being The Division, because even though I’m terrible at it I understand what it’s doing and the exploration part of it is quite pleasant and diverting.

(You’ll notice that Apex Legends is not mentioned in that paragraph; well, I like my online shooters when they’re cooperative, not competitive. I have downloaded it, but I haven’t started it, and at this point I’m so far behind the curve that I might as well delete it.)

I’d meant to sing the praises of Ape Out a few weeks back, when I’d first started playing it and it was blowing my goddamned mind. Alas, time continues its relentless march and I forgot most of what I’d wanted to write. What I can say is that you should get it and play it immediately, and make sure you’re using good headphones or otherwise have access to a good sound system, because the way the game uses music is mind-blowing. It’s a very simple premise but it’s executed with an astonishing sense of style and flair, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I got right up to the end of Far Cry New Dawn, but the last boss fight is a bunch of bullshit and I turned it off. I tried to get into the new Metro game but the writing is janky and the atmosphere is stressful, which is something I’m actively trying to avoid. My son and I have been sorta playing Toe Jam and Earl, which is silly and goofy; we’ve also been dabbling with Minecraft Story, which is as good an introduction to interactive storytelling as anything else that’s age-appropriate.

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I will endeavor to return here sooner, rather than later. In the meantime: be well, be safe, be good.

I am, I think, finally on the back half of the 2019 edition of our annual WINTER COLD THAT WOULD NOT DIE, which has laid up my entire family for basically the last month. I caught it first, then my son had it – it turned into the flu for him – then my wife got it – which turned into both the flu and strep throat – and then I’ve just had a weird frog in my throat for the last week, which was probably brought on by talking too loudly at an already loud social gathering.

One thing about being cooped up and helpless for so long – it tends to get my depression out and about. Everyone’s depression comes in different forms; mine takes the shape of me isolating myself, turning inwards, shunning social media, and kinda just swimming through a haze of lethargy and exhaustion. This tends to make being an active parent even more difficult. I want to be present in my son’s life, I want to participate in activities with him and keep him interested in what’s going on, and this is VERY HARD TO DO when all I feel capable of is hiding under a pile of blankets in the fetal position. It’s also not a great look to be hiding out in the basement playing video games, especially since he’ll want to come down and play also, and I’ll want to let him, and then I have to watch him be terrible at them.

Anyway. I’m saying this out loud [he typed, bloggingly] because I’ve found that saying things out loud tends to diminish their power. I had a therapy session over the weekend and I talked myself hoarse without meaning to, and a lot of what was discussed was precisely this – that acknowledging depression and anxiety and the act of just saying it out loud gives me an element of control over those feelings; they don’t magically disappear, but they do start to take some sort of shape that I can recognize and then deal with.

I’ve been ready to start finishing up / re-starting this album for a while now, but of course I have trouble getting started because a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and there’s always the inevitable rust that you have to shake off before you can actually start making good stuff. That being said, last night I started to feel like I could actually sit down at my music station and start tooling around and that it wouldn’t sound like shit, and that’s a feeling that is vitally important that I hold on to, because otherwise nothing will continue to happen. I’ve been in a state of heightened listening lately, which usually means that I’m very close to having ideas again. That is a regrettably unusual feeling for me these days, and I gotta keep holding on to it while I still can.

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The one good thing about writing here so infrequently is that when I do bother to show up, I actually have some shit to talk about. I’ve been reading like a man on fire lately, and since my last post I’ve added another eight (8) books to my “finished” pile.

  • The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins. I can’t recall when or why I picked this up, but I ended up giving it a go, and I’d give it a solid B+. It is a fun and super-fucked up book; the characters aren’t quite as consistent as they could be, which can be distracting, but it’s not a deal breaker. I’m reluctant to say any more, because the less you know about it the better.
  • Circe, by Madeline Miller. This was at the top of quite a few people’s lists last year, and I’m very glad to see what all the fuss was about; it is as magnificent as advertised.
  • Golden State, by Ben H. Winters. This is not quite as brilliant as his Last Policeman trilogy or Underground Airlines; the first 80% of the book is absolutely brilliant and the ending just totally falls apart. But it’s certainly worth checking out for that first 80%.
  • The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida (tr. David Mitchell). Yes, I picked it up because David Mitchell translated it, and I am in desperate need of anything David Mitchell-related. But this is something else entirely – a first person account of life with severe autism. It is gorgeous and illuminating.
  • Last Days, by Brian Evenson. Grisly and unsettling, but with an ambiguous ending that feels more like a cop-out than anything else.
  • The Tombs of Atuan
  • The Farthest Shore, both by Ursula K. Le Guin. I know there are other books in the Earthsea series, but finishing these three feels like a complete cycle. What a magnificent time; her writing is incredible.
  • American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson. A moving, affecting spy novel; it’s a small story, and it has an ambiguous ending, but it’s not a cliffhanger – the ending is deliberate and it works. This is, to my understanding, a fictional retelling of a true story, that of one of the first black women to be a successful spy.

I have not yet finished Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf; the writing is so stylized that it’s somewhat difficult to tell who’s talking and what’s happening. I don’t want to give up on it, but I also don’t want to drive myself crazy, either.

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As this blog is still ostensibly about gaming, I might as well talk about what I’ve been playing of late. Up until Friday, the real answer was “not all that much”; I’d been tooling around replaying stuff I’d already finished last year. But then Friday happened and I went a little nuts and got Crackdown 3, Far Cry New Dawn, and Anthem. I’m saving Anthem for its proper launch date – I gave it a quick spin, saw that it was working better than it was in the beta, and decided to let the big launch-day patch happen before sinking any real time into it.

As for the other two – well, look. I don’t know what to say about Crackdown 3. It is not the debacle that Crackdown 2 was, but it’s also not the must-have console exclusive that I’d been hoping for. It is, instead, for better or worse, basically the exact same experience as Crackdown 1, but with better graphics. It is still janky in the same ways as the original; it might even have some of the same sound effects. But chasing orbs is something that never, ever, ever, ever, EVER gets old, and since I’m a Game Pass member and thus didn’t actually pay for it, I’m certainly getting my money’s worth. In these troubled times, sometimes you just want to turn off your brain and jump really high and throw cars at bad guys, and to that end I can’t really complain.

As for FC:ND – well, I got pretty far into Far Cry 5 but I didn’t actually finish it, so I only know what happened through YouTube. Given that New Dawn very explicitly spoils the ending of FC5, I am not feeling all that inclined to finish it now. But I’m enjoying New Dawn to the extent that it’s a silly Far Cry game, and that it’s absolutely gorgeous, and that the designers have done some cool things to FC5’s existing map; I am traipsing around in places that I recognize, but only vaguely. And I can’t emphasize enough how goddamned beautiful it is.

I’ve been having a weird thing with the internet lately. I’ve written more than a few variations on that sentence here over the last few years, but it’s even more weird now because it’s not even all that antagonistic. Unlike previous episodes, I’m not disgusted by the internet, or depressed or angry or any of that. I’m on a brief hiatus from Facebook – not for the first time – but this time it feels different because I’m actually sticking to it, and that’s because I don’t particularly miss it. I mean: I miss the people that I know on it; that’s what made social networking so attractive in the first place. But Facebook isn’t about my friends anymore. It’s about advertising and branding and algorithms and nonsense, and I don’t miss that shit at all.

This is kinda how I feel about politics right now, too. I reached my anger limit about a year ago – who knows what specifically set it off – and ever since then I’ve been at the exact same level of disgust. I’ve reached maximum disgust, is what I’m saying. And as much as I’m disgusted by almost everything that I read about current events, I also know that we’re in a weird little phase here where nothing is going to happen until the Mueller report comes out. The current government shutdown is arguably one of the stupidest political shitshows of my lifetime, and yet it’s barely in the top 10 of the stupidest things that Donald Trump is responsible for during these first 2 years (or is it 40?) of his presidency*.

What I’m trying to say is that I am, quite literally, exhausted. And I want to conserve my energy for when it’s actually needed. Living in a state of perpetual outrage is unhealthy. I’m not saying that it’s good to stay uninformed – but I am saying that it is good to allow for a psychic vacation (so as to better avoid a psychotic break).

What I’m doing to fill the void, then, is to finally conquer my absurd Kindle backlog. We’re not even one full month into 2019 and I’ve already finished reading eleven (11) books. I traded in my Kindle Voyage for the new Kindle Oasis, the wildly unnecessary Rolls Royce of e-readers, and I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t totally worth it. (My one and only complaint is that it is just too wide to fit into my back pocket, which makes toting it around during the day a bit of a pain in the ass.)

What have I been reading, you ask? I’LL TELL YOU.

  • The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, by Nova Jacobs. A pleasant, low-stakes intellectual thriller; it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s certainly enjoyable.
  • My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Short, wicked, savage.
  • The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Simply put, one of the most beautiful books I’ll ever read.
  • Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. A heartbreaking story of a daughter caught up in the wild madness of her father’s reenactment fantasies. To say more would spoil it; it’s quite short.
  • The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson. I’d been aware of him for years but this was the first book of his that I picked up; had I been more of a fan, I supposed this would’ve packed a heavier punch. I enjoyed this enough to want to read more, for whatever that’s worth; whether it’ll be Train Dreams or Up In Smoke or Jesus’ Son remains to be seen.
  • The Claire DeWitt trilogy (City of the Dead, The Bohemian Highway, The Infinite Blacktop), by Sara Gran. Loved this series – I hope it continues. Her ear for dialogue is unparalleled.
  • The Word is Murder, by Anthony Horowitz. A pretty good detective novel, though not quite as meta / 4th-wall-breaking as I was anticipating.
  • Twilight of the Gods, by Steven Hyden. I’ve been aware of Hyden’s work as a critic for years, and this study of classic rock as it slowly fades away is quite enjoyable – provided you’re prepared to read several hundred pages about white males. (In fairness, he discusses that specific issue in the book as well.)
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin. How did I not read this earlier? How have I been without this for so long? It’s a masterpiece. And since I have no idea when Patrick Rothfuss is going to wind up his Name of the Wind trilogy, I might as well keep reading these books, because it’s clear from just the first few chapters here where Rothfuss’s books are coming from.

I have not done all that much in the way of playing games. My son and I finished the Darker Side of the Moon in Super Mario Odyssey, but that’s not enough for him – he wants to play the whole thing from the beginning again, for the 5th time. I did finally finish the four main questlines in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which means this is as good a time as any to take a break before diving into the DLC. I think the one-two punch of Odyssey and Red Dead 2 kinda broke me, a little bit, in terms of devoting that much time into a game; I just don’t know that I want to do that anymore, especially since the return on my time investment didn’t feel particularly satisfying. Weirdly enough, I’m kinda sorta doing a New Game+ run of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, if only because playing so much Assassin’s Creed reminded me of the Tomb Raider games, and I wanted to see if Shadow was as unmemorable as I thought. (And also because I want to see the new DLC, and in order to do that I need to remember how to play the game in the first place.)

February is when I should be starting work on finishing my album, though who the hell knows what’s going on with that. I just ran across a piece of advice that John Lennon gave to George Harrison, which goes something like: if you’re starting to write a song, don’t stop until you finish it completely. Otherwise it fades away and you’ll never get it back. I kinda feel that way about the tracks I’ve got so far. I still really like what I recorded all the way back in 2015, and I’ll probably go back and re-record the good stuff (rather than just overdub over the original tracks), but I probably want to include newer stuff as well. I don’t have any newer stuff, but as soon as I start working in earnest I’m hopeful it’ll arrive.

That’s what’s happening. Hope you’re well.

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