goals and whatnot

My wife and I were hanging out the other day, and she asked me what I’d hope to accomplish for myself in 2020. I thought about it for a while, and it occurred to me that the mere act of having to think about what I’d like to accomplish next year meant that I didn’t have a clear goal already in mind. Which felt unusual.

I did come up with an answer, eventually, which was this: I would like to have some sort of reckoning with myself and figure out what exactly I’m doing, creatively speaking. Like I said above, having to think about what I’d like to accomplish is odd, because for the last several years the answer has been the same – I want to finish this album I’ve been working on. Even if it just means taking the 4-5 songs that are almost done and putting out an EP, rather than a full-length album, I still want to get this stuff off of my hard drive and into other people’s ears.

I’m not sure why I stopped, unless it’s just that I can’t trust myself to keep myself motivated. When I was in bands, I had my band mates there to kick me in the ass – indeed, we kicked each other’s asses all the time. Working with other people meant that we could each pick up each other’s slack. We could fix problems that the others couldn’t see/hear. We could support each other when we felt directionless. And if nothing else, we could just plug in and turn up and see what happened.

It’s harder to do music by myself, which I also understand is ironic if only because the downside of working with collaborators is the loss of total creative control. If I know how I want everything to sound, it’s easier and faster to do it myself. It’s just that, these days at least, I don’t know what I want to sound like. I could finish the 4-5 songs that are pretty much ready to go, but I couldn’t tell you if they accurately reflect what I sound like right now. I don’t even know what I sound like right now. I know what artists I listen to that sound like what I’d like to sound like (Tycho immediately comes to mind), but I also know that I listen to tons of different things and all that stuff is quite literally all over the map – my Spotify Discovery algorithm is still pretty good at guessing what’s going to hit my brain the right way, but how it gets from Japanese prog/punk to indie songwriter to Zappa circa 1973 is far beyond me.

I’d thought about doing NaNoWriMo this year, because writing prose is easier than writing lyrics and I’m less inclined to beat myself up during the process and I thought that maybe the simple act of throwing thousands of words out of my head into some sort of coherent order might help me figure out some lyrics; but the thing about NaNo (for me, at least) is that I need to get myself prepared, and I didn’t even really consider the idea of doing NaNo until November had already started. And the last time I tried doing NaNo, I nearly gave myself a nervous breakdown.

So, maybe I’ll try doing the RPM challenge again in February? I can give myself a head start and re-record the songs that are still works in progress in the interim? I can try to settle into some sort of evening routine?

I don’t know. But I need to do something. At the very least, I need to do just enough to be able to go get my taxes done next year and not feel like a fraud by declaring myself to still being a musician.

Distraction as Action

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.

synchronicity, reciprocity

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.

being in a band

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.

the ides

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.

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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:

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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.

How To Reappear after Disappearing Completely

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.

A Break From The Break

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.

shame

I know, I know, I know.

Things have been weird over here, to be honest.  There’s been some medical issues, family-wise, that have taken up a lot of my available brain-space.  There’s been some general all-consuming fatigue; even though I tend to fall asleep the second I hit the lights, I haven’t felt particularly well-rested in months.  The day job hasn’t been that busy, but it’s almost always busy when I decide to start writing here.  (I’ve already been interrupted twice in this paragraph alone.)

And then, of course, there’s the crippling fear that everything I say is profoundly stupid.  Or that my “deep thoughts” that take place during late inebriated evenings are so obvious that nobody else bothers to say them out loud.

Still, I’m paying for this blog, so I might as well get my money’s worth.


I  have a Kindle problem.  My list of unread books on that thing is fucking absurd.  Let me put it this way – if I don’t buy anything until I finish what’s unread, and I maintain my current reading pace, it would probably take me at least three years before I got caught up.  (No joke – I decided to make a spreadsheet of all the unread books on my Kindle and it came to over 140.)  It is stupidly easy to have this problem when it comes to Kindle books.  If I owned physical copies of my books I’d need a new house, and the shame would be all-consuming.  But Kindle books are cheaper, and often go on sale, and the *zing* of endorphins from buying something and then having it appear in your hands literally seconds later has never diminished.

I have more than a few librarian friends who probably want to kick me right now, and they’re absolutely right to!  I am filled with shame, is what I’m saying.  But I’m also determined to actually get through that insane backlog.

Fuck it, here’s that backlog.  I’m currently reading Wrecked, volume 3 in the IQ series.  If you see anything here that you think I should read sooner rather than later, please let me know.

Killing Commendatore Haruki Murakami
Wrecked Joe Ide
French Exit Patrick deWitt
In the Distance Hernan Diaz
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Stuart Turton
Foundryside Robert Jackson Bennett
Magpie Murders Anthony Horowitz
The Merry Spinster Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Six Four Hideo Yokoyama
The Shape of the Ruins Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Transcription Kate Atkinson
Six Scary Stories compilation
Our Kind of Cruelty Araminta Hall
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Laurie R. King
The End of the Day Claire North
The Reason I Jump
Naoki Higashida and David Mitchell
The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Le Guin
Notes from the Fog Ben Marcus
theMystery.doc Matthew McIntosh
Florida Lauren Groff
The Last Samurai Helen DeWitt
The Sudden Appearance of Hope Claire North
The Incorruptibles John Hornor Jacobs
Calypso David Sedaris
Less Andrew Sean Greer
Last Call Tim Powers
The Infatuations Javier Marias
Fade Away Harlan Coben
History of Wolves Emily Fridlund
The Book of Disquiet Fernando Pessoa
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Haruki Murakami
Origin Dan Brown
Reservoir 13 Jon McGregor
The Historian Elizabeth Kostova
The Space Between BDete Meserve
Zeroes Chuck Wendig
Star of the North D.B. John
Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Strout
Slow Horses Mick Herron
The Only Harmless Great Thing Brooke Bolander
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark Michelle McNamara
Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
A Brief History of Seven Killings Marlon James
American Pastoral Philip Roth
Arcadia Lauren Groff
Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain
Only Human Sylvain Neuvel
Tell The Machine Goodnight Katie Williams
Uprooted Naomi Novik
Invasive Chuck Wendig
Blackfish City Sam Miller
Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs Lisa Randall
Church of Marvels Leslie Parry
Leviathan Wakes James S. A. Corey
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daugher Theodora Goss
Twilight of the Gods Steven Hyden
The Woman Who Smashed Codes Jason Fagone
Fates and Furies Lauren Groff
The Tragedy of Arthur Arthur Phillips
The Buried Giant Kazuo Ishiguro
Thief of Time Terry Pratchett
2666 Roberto Bolano
Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
How to Stop Time Matt Haig
The Seventh Function of Language Laurent Binet
Awayland Ramona Ausubel
This Is What Happened Mick Herron
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky John Langan
New York 2140 Kim Stanley Robinson
The Lost City of the Monkey God Dougles Preston
Seed to Harvest Octavia Butler
Golden Son (red rising 2) Pierce Brown
Shadow & Claw Gene Wolfe
Grist Mill Road Christopher Yates
The Afterlives Thomas Pierce
I’m Thinking of Ending Things Iain Reid
Peace Gene Wolfe
The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. Le Guin
Sword & Citadel Gene Wolfe
All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane Anders
Dead Mountain Donnie Eicher
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley Hannah tinti
The Anubis Gates Tim Powers
A Once Crowded Sky Tom King
Norwegian By Night Derek Miller
A Legacy of Spies John le Carre
The Force Don Winslow
The Power Naomi Alderman
The Inheritance Trilogy N.K. Jemisin
The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
The Essex Serpent Sarah Perry
The Tsar of Love and Techno Anthony Marra
The Solitudes John Crowley
A Perfect Spy John le Carre
The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler
The Karla Trilogy John le Carre
Dhalgren Samuel Delany
Love and Sleep John Crowley
Daemonomania John Crowley
Endless Things John Crowley
Mindhunter John Douglas
The Dark Net Benjamin Percy
Medusa’s Web Tim Powers
Hex-Rated Jason Ridler
The Punch Escrow Tal Klein
A Man of Shadows Jeff Noon
The Paladin Caper Patrick Weekes
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
Mongoliad 1-5 compilation
So Much Blue Percival Everett
The Answers Catherine Lacey
Homegoing Yaa Gyasi
The Prophecy Con Patrick Weekes
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
Foundation Isaac Asimov
Sandman Slim Richard Kadrey
Liminal States Zach Parsons
I Sing the Body Electric Ray Bradbury
A Moment on the Edge Elizabeth George
Moonglow Michael Chabon
The Princess Diarist Carrie Fisher
A Great Reckoning Louise Penny
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall Will Chancellor
The Singing Bone Beth Hahn
The King in Yellow Robert Chambers
(R)evolution PJ Manney
Ulysses James Joyce
J Howard Jacobson
Life after Life Kate Atkinson
Book of Numbers Joshua Cohen
Amnesia Moon Jonathan Lethem
The Harder They Come TC Boyle
The Humans Matt Haig
You Austin Grossman
Ubik PKD
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch PKD
The Malice of Fortune Michael Ennis
The House of Rumour Jake Arnott
The Flamethrowers Rachel Kushner

I will talk about AC:Odyssey eventually, but not yet.  I’m enjoying it – quite a lot, actually – but there’s so much of it and I’m kinda racing through the story so that I can get to Red Dead Redemption 2 as soon as possible.  One thing I’ll say about Odyssey, though – and, indeed, with other huge open-world games like this and, say, Witcher 3 – is that if you were to map my traversals, they’d mostly be straight lines between objectives, with some meanderings to nearby question marks.  I wonder if the designers anticipate that sort of pathmaking.

 

 

i should be telling you this in person

I had something of an epiphany this weekend, and I’m still trying to figure out how to process it.  Let me back up a second and explain.

So on Friday night, the wife and I actually left the kid with his grandparents and stayed out and about in Manhattan after work; one of my oldest and bestest friends was part of a gallery opening, and so we went over to check it out.  And a whole bunch of other people showed up, and then we went out for drinks afterwards, and I realized that it was the first time I’d seen some of these people – some of my best and closest friends – in years.

I’m an introverted person by nature, and my move to the suburbs has only made it easier to be a hermit.  But the truth is that I’d also been crippled by some serious anxiety issues for a number of years, which often times made it impossible for me to leave my apartment.

And yet, even though I’m an introvert, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m shy.  I’ve been oversharing on the internet since my first LiveJournal blog back in 2000-2001.  The internet has made it far easier for me to compensate for my introversion and my social anxiety.   After all, there’s no real need for you to call me and see how I’m doing if I’m already telling you.

So my epiphany this weekend was about realizing just how much I tend to overshare, especially on places like Facebook, and how perhaps Facebook isn’t the best place for that kind of stuff.   There is no adequate substitute for a quality in-person conversation with a good friend.

And so maybe it’s time for me to get off my couch a little more.

overabundance

I’ve had to take a break from the news.  Let me rephrase that:  I’ve had to take a break from getting emotionally invested in the news.  This is not to say that I’m fine with what’s happening.  I’m still reading Twitter and my RSS newsfeeds 24/7.  It’s just that somewhere within the last few weeks – between the revelation that we’ve been keeping babies in cages and the fact that the President of the United States of America committed treason in front of the entire world on live television while standing next to Vladimir Putin and nothing has been done about it – I’ve reached maximum outrage.  I can’t get any more angry and upset or else I will literally explode.  So I will basically be maintaining this slow boil of maximum outrage until something actually happens.

I’ve also found that being in this perpetual state of treading water means that I can’t concentrate on anything else.  I know I haven’t written much here lately, and a few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d kinda hit a dark place.  I think what happened is that my brain needed to shut down, and I decided to let it.  If I can’t enjoy books or games, then OK; let me take a break from that stuff, too, because feeling obliged to indulge in hobbies that aren’t giving you any pleasure because you don’t know what else to do you with yourself creates a whole new level of meta-depression and I’m not sure that any of my current prescriptions can handle that.

Anyway, I had a really nice weekend.  Did some chores, ran some errands, had a quality day with the boy up at my mom’s pool yesterday, giving my wife a much-needed chance to decompress, and it was nice to know that I was still capable of enjoying myself.

And so I got in early to the office this morning, saw that there wasn’t all that much to catch up on, work-wise, and decided to see if I had anything to write here today.  On days like today, sometimes the best way for me to shake some ideas loose is to just write down some bullet points and kinda-sorta free-associate from there.  And as it turns out, there’s quite a bunch of stuff that has been percolating.  So here you go.


1.  Ready Player One.

I read the book when it first came out, and I remember only two things about that experience:  (1) it was kinda dumb, and (2) while there’s a lot of fun ’80s trivia, none of it is terribly obscure.  I thought about that for a while, too, because I couldn’t decide if that was a deliberate choice by the author to make the reader feel smart, or if that truly was the depth of the author’s knowledge of 80’s pop culture.  Other, smarter people than me came forward in the run-up to the movie’s release to offer more thoroughly detailed receipts of why that book is a piece of shit (this one in particular is noteworthy); their arguments make sense to me, and I only wish I’d noticed them back when I first read the book, because I certainly wasn’t going to read it twice.  I am the target demographic for that book, after all – a white American middle-class male who grew up in the 1980s – and if it felt paper-thin on first read, it wasn’t gonna get any deeper on a second run.

Having Steven Spielberg direct the film version is a pretty obvious choice – indeed, he was Ernest Cline’s first choice – though I’m surprised Spielberg actually decided to do it, especially since so much of the book relies on heavy Spielberg knowledge, and the film sorta goes out of its way to avoid it.  Maybe he didn’t want to appear self-indulgent?  In any event, it’s just straight-up bizarre to make a film out of a book that so heavily fetishizes the 1980s that very pointedly ignores the single largest influencer of 1980s pop culture, while also being directed by that very same dude.

This is a minor quibble, of course.  The film does the best it can do with the source material, but that doesn’t make it good.  And a lot of that comes from the character of the revered Mr. Halliday, the minor deity who starts this whole easter egg hunt in the first place.  For one thing, the very fine actor playing him is sorta going full Tropic Thunder a bit, which is upsetting.  For another, look – the world surrounding Ready Player One is clearly a dystopian nightmare.  Any self-identified trillionaire (who also apparently doesn’t care about money) could do a hell of a lot to heal the world with that money, instead of making the world even more obsessed with a fictional creation that basically rewards nerds that have a hyper-specific interest in someone else’s hobbies.

I could go on, but I’ve already spent too much time thinking about it, and the more I think about it the more annoyed I get.

2.  Replaying No Man’s Sky.

Yes, I’d already spent somewhere between 50-100 hours playing it the first time on PS4, and I ran out of steam shortly after realizing that I’d fucked up the Atlas Point story progression, meaning I’d never get the “true” “ending” unless I wiped out my save and started from scratch.  The game was a bit of a grind but it wasn’t necessarily unpleasant; I think I just realized that the game wasn’t going to surprise me anymore.

So fast forward two years to this brand-new NEXT update, which I also decided to buy for the X, figuring that if I was going to restart from scratch, I might as well get some Achievements for it, and also play it with better technical performance.

Is it worth it?  That is a tough question to answer.  I’d make the argument that while this new update is probably a better introduction for brand-new players than the original game was, its most receptive audience is probably lapsed players like me, people who will remember the basic rhythms and can better appreciate the new changes.  Because the game is not intuitive, and even though there’s a better tutorial now, there are also a bunch of new systems to learn, and the whole experience is far more complicated than it used to be.

NMS is less of a space exploration game and more of a survival game without zombies.  You are constantly scrounging for materials, dealing with hazardous climates, and juggling inventory space (which there is never enough of) in order to make sure that, at the very least, your ship has enough fuel to launch to a new spot.  I don’t yet know if the overall narrative has changed all that much; I’ve only played for an hour or so, and I’ve already restarted once because the first planet I landed on was severely toxic and made everything way more urgent than I was ready for.

One thing that the game is good at, however, is showing just how goddamned immense the universe is, and the graphical upgrades are very, very pretty.  (Twitter’s been showing off a lot of amazing screenshots lately.)

I’m gonna stick with it for a bit; there’s not that much else that’s occupying my time, and being able to stick Spotify in the background makes it very easy to space out to, pun sorta intended.

3.  Clicker Heroes 2.

Hoo-boy.  I’m not ready to talk about my helpless addiction to idle clickers just yet.  (As I write this very post, I have a separate tab with Clicker Heroes 1 running in the background.)

The big difference in this one, as opposed to every other idle clicker game on the planet, is that you only pay once.  Idle clicker games are tailor-made for micro-transactions, and I’m guilty of being a whale for several of them.  So being able to not have to worry about falling into that pit with CH2 is a huge relief.

Is it good, though?  Man, I don’t know.  I don’t know how to explain my thing about idle clickers.  Indeed, I’ve thought about pitching several different publications about my infatuation with the genre, if only so that I could figure it out for myself, but I’ve never gone beyond the initial brainstorm because I think there’s also a fair amount of weird self-imposed shame that goes along with it.  Idle clicker games scratch a very hyper-specific itch that is, for me, impossible to explain.  Nor can I explain why some of them “click” for me, while some of them very definitely do not.  I suppose the appeal in CH2 (as in CH1) is learning how to best maximize efficiency, which is not something I ever thought I’d be interested in, but here we are.  There are also presumably tons of online discussions and forum threads about strategies and such but I’ve never read them; I think I’d get too depressed if I suddenly found out that there’s a far more efficient way to build your character and that I’d wasted a few years of my life for nothing.

4.  Books.

So I think I mentioned that I finished my Goodreads challenge, which isn’t even all that impressive since I deliberately set the bar low so as to not make it a source of anxiety.  Now I’m kinda flipping back and forth between 5 or 6 books at a time, because I’m having trouble getting sucked into anything.  What I really need right now is a new David Mitchell novel, and while I think he’s working on at least two of them at the moment, none of them are in my possession.  So I’m kinda just going back and forth between a bunch of recent purchases and the enormity of my backlog.  Speaking of which…

5.  Backlog.

Polygon is about to start “backlog week“; I could probably knock out 20,000 words every day if I participated.  I have a backlog in almost every creative medium I can think of, and it’s overwhelming.  My Kindle has 131 books on it right now, all unread.  I’ve maxed out my Spotify library (twice!) with albums I’ve been meaning to check out and never get around to.  My videogame backlog is too insane to bother cataloging.  I am a digital hoarder and I think I have a problem.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Nintendo Switch!  Jesus.  I have way too many games for that thing and I’ve spent proper quality time with maybe 3 of them.

OK, maybe I should stop this post before I get too depressed.