Category: off topic

bloggin’

So this New Yorker article popped up in my Twitter feed and got me thinking about “the end of blogs”, although my perspective is much different than the essay’s author.  Her piece is about the failure of the blog (specifically The Hairpin and The Awl) to generate self-sustaining revenue, and as such, it is becoming more and more difficult for the most interesting writing on the internet to find a place to live.

Whereas I’ve never blogged for money, or exposure, or really for any other reason than I enjoyed keeping a diary, and was amused by the idea of making it public.  And LiveJournal was just getting underway right when I started feeling this way, and so since 2001 I’ve been blogging in one form or another.   I left LJ in 2009, moved to blogger for a little bit, and I’ve had 2 or 3 blogs here at WordPress, each with a different focus.  This one has become my default, though, and so it’s here where I’ve decided to post this.

I’ve never been under any illusions that my writing was worth anything.  I’ve said this before in other places but it bears repeating here:  I have something of a Salieri complex – I imagine myself a better writer than I know myself to be.  This used to bother me a great deal, but now I just accept it as fact, and in the meantime I try to get better when I can.  The beauty of blogging, though, was that it was never about how good you were as a writer; I was naturally drawn to good writers but I was more inclined to read about people with similar interests, similar senses of humor, similar points of reference, and who could write honestly about what they thought about.  I made friends through LJ, real friends, and it wasn’t bullshit; I still love those people, and even if our LJ community is gone, we’re still in each other’s social media bubbles, such as they are.

I guess the point is that the word “blog” means something much different to me than it does to other professional writers, and our purposes were never aligned, and yet the feel of a blog is still something necessary and vital.  For me, I find that the writing on the internet that I most enjoy has a personal feel to it, where it might be rough around the edges but it feels authentic because it’s not bullshit.  Its driving force is honesty, not cleverness.  I’ve always been envious of people who can be clever while also being honest, and lord knows I’ve tried to do that, too, though I’ve never been particularly successful at it.

In any event, this is going to be a more traditional blog entry for me, rather than what I usually post here.  Feel free to skip; or, alternately, feel free to keep reading.


I also felt compelled to write about blogging because the tweet directly following the New Yorker link was one of these personal list-type things – in fact, these were the sorts of things that I used to call “memes”, rather than whatever they are today.  I ‘m gonna do this one, here, because why not.  It’s been a while since I took any personal inventory out here in public, and the afternoon is a bit slow.

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1.  I have two Twitter handles, as it happens, but the primary one is @couchshouts, which I’d started in an attempt to boost this blog’s visibility (and also to keep my personal twitter feed and my videogame feed separate).  I’m sure the name explains itself.

2. Who inspires me?  Hmm.  This is a tricky one.  I guess the context matters; I have musical inspirations, writing inspirations, general “being a better person” inspirations.  I don’t honestly know if I can answer this one at this particular moment in time.  I could’ve answered it in college in about 10 seconds, but my life and my perspective have changed so radically since then that I can barely recognize my college-age self.  If I’m honest with myself, though, and ask myself who inspires me to be a better person?  Well, that’s my wife and my son.

3.  Do I care what others think about me?  Not nearly as much as I used to, because I’m not trying to impress anybody.

4.  What am I most looking forward to?  This one’s actually pretty easy – I can’t wait to see who my son turns into as he gets older.  He’s a super-sweet almost-5-year-old boy, but who he’s going to be at 8, 11, 14, 18… I can’t wait.  Even though I never want him to grow up.

5.  One life rule that I follow:  I alluded to this in the intro, and it’s something I’ve said a lot here and elsewhere, and it’s something that my high school English teacher said somewhat off-handedly, perhaps not realizing that he was about to drop a seismic charge on me:  it is better to be honest than clever.

6.  My dream job:  I would’ve loved to have been able to pay my bills through music.  And if I were me, now, but 25 years younger, I would’ve wanted to at least try to break into game journalism (especially since I could live on a shit salary back then).  I don’t have a dream job now; I just need something stable and secure and something I don’t need to take home with me when I leave.

7.  Which fictional character do I wish I could meet?  Hmm.  When I was younger I had developed a fierce crush on Becky Thatcher from the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer books, but it’s not like I would’ve known what to say or do with her.  Nowadays I suppose I’d be very interested in having an elegant luncheon with the titular character of “A Gentleman in Moscow.”

8. As a child, I wanted to be an actor.  I got lucky in that regard; I knew I wanted to act, and I was good enough at the time to get good enough parts to make me think that I could actually do it as a real job, and I got into college to study it, and then, of course, I gave up on it.

9.  If I were a cartoon character… I never watched enough cartoons to have a good answer.

10.  What skill would I like to master?  I wish I could draw.  Like, at all.  The best late-night stoned doodling I ever did was still just stick figures.

11.  In what situation would I feel most out of place?  Well, you’re talking to someone who still struggles mightily with social anxiety – who still takes half an Ativan just to leave the house in the morning – so you might say that I feel out of place every time I leave my house.

12.  An artist that I really like but rarely admit to liking?  Well, if you look at my answer to #3, I don’t really care what other people think.  My first answer would be Genesis, but I think I’ve talked about them a lot.  Can I say that there are a few songs on Pete Yorn’s first album that I still, to this day, adore tremendously?

13.  What gets me fired up?  There are several ways to interpret the context of this question.  Politically, my #1 hot-button issue is gun control.  But if I need to get super-excited about something in a hurry – like if I’m about to perform on stage – I’ll take a shot of ice-cold Jagermeister (don’t judge me).

14.  I am not a part of any fandoms that I’m aware of.  I am a 42 year old man.  I like what I like and I don’t need to commune with other people over that stuff the way that I used to.  If I really need to talk about something, chances are pretty good I’ll talk about it here.

15.  What do I do to get rid of stress?  Well… I play video games and listen to music and read books and also I smoke pot, often.

16.  The idea of this question is what caused me to have a very, very bad mushroom experience in college, and it’s why I have a hard time watching “Groundhog Day”.  But if I were to get stuck in a loop and relive one day over and over again, and I was able to not be freaked out, I’d pick a day early in my relationship with my wife, back when we were carefree and could sleep in and would spend whole days at a movie theater sneaking into other screenings and then having a lovely dinner.  Or, alternately, I’d pick a day from one of my childhood summers at a music camp in Maine, which were some of the best days I ever had.

17.  How quickly do I jump to conclusions about people?  Almost immediately.

18.  If I were a doll, what accessories would I be sold with?  A Kindle, a game controller, and a guitar.

19.  What have I done in my life that’s given me the most satisfaction?  The easy answer would be that I’ve married my best friend and we’ve had a wonderful kid together, but the more truthful answer is that I’ve done a ton of work to make myself a better person to better appreciate my relationships with my wife and kid, because for the longest time I was trapped by anxiety and bad stomachs and insecurity and everything else, and I’m not like that (that much) anymore.

20.  The worst thing to put in a pinata would have to be soiled diapers.

21.  The biggest waste of money I’ve ever seen is literally everything that Donald Trump has ever been a part of.

22.  A common misconception that I hate hearing repeated as fact is that Donald Trump cares about anything beyond himself.

23.  The best place to go to meet awesome people?  You’re asking the wrong person, dude.

24.  What food do I crave the most?  Well, let me tell you – I had to go on a gluten-free diet a few years ago and so even though the GF industry has taken great strides in recent years, I am sad that I will never get to experience a real NYC bagel ever again.

25.  I don’t care enough about TV to re-watch anything with any interest, although my wife and I do occasionally call up certain episodes of “Arrested Development” just because they’re so goddamned funny.

26.  Among my friends, what am I best known for?  I have literally no idea what my friends think of me, if they think of me at all.  I don’t mean that in a self-pitying way; I just mean that I have absolutely no idea what they think of me.

27.  Who of my friends is most like me?  Hmm.  Well, my wife is nothing like me but I’m positive that we can communicate telepathically; we finish each other’s sentences all the goddamned time – hell, we start each other’s sentences because we think the same way.

28.  The most traumatizing moment of my life?  Toss-up between my parents getting divorced, my aforementioned bad trip experience, and the breakup I had in early 2000 before I started dating my wife.

29.  The best lesson I’ve learned from a work of fiction?  Don’t eat mold.

30.  Something I’ll never do again?  Any drug harder than pot, that’s for sure.


I don’t watch Twitch streams and I don’t really listen to podcasts, but I had an idea for a Twitch stream wherein I’d play some sort of game that didn’t require sound, and then I’d put on my favorite songs from that week’s Spotify Discovery playlist and talk about why each song feels necessary.  But apparently this is an awful idea, already done to death by a billion obnoxious bros, and so I’m not gonna.


At some point I’ve gotta talk about the Aziz Ansari stuff, because of all the horror stories that have emerged since Harvey Weinstein, the Aziz story is the one that I recognize.  I don’t know that I was ever that forward with girls that I used to be with, but I know I was more forward than I should’ve been, most certainly ignoring signals that couldn’t have been more obvious, and I still feel disgusted with myself all these years later for not acknowledging them and backing off.  I owe a lot of people apologies for that.  (I have apologized to some of them over the years, and some of them have forgiven me, and some of them have used my apology as the basis for a stand-up routine literally a year after I originally emailed it, and it is what it is.)  My son and I will talk about this stuff as he gets older, and I will do my absolute best to make sure he doesn’t act the same way.  I’d like to think that he sees my relationship with his mom as a good place to start from; that’s all I can hope for, at any rate.

Turning Anxiety into Anger

1. What a difference a year makes, or, rather, the arbitrary decision that, beginning January 1, things will be different than they were on December 31.  In the grand scheme of things, the Earth still continues to revolve around the Sun, and the solar system continues to revolve around the Milky Way, and we are all just tiny creatures on a tiny ball hurtling through space.  BUT!  I find that I am no longer anxious about the world the way I was last year.  I am, instead, angry.  Pissed off.  Done.  No tolerance for bullshit anymore.  And it would appear that the rest of the country is with me.  I just watched Don Lemon (!) say the word “shithole” on CNN, and imply (without actually saying it) that Trump supporters and apologists should go fuck themselves.

I can’t remember if I offered up my final review of “Fire and Fury” – it wouldn’t differ that much with my earlier impression, that it’s a scathing and trashy read and while it may be impossible to prove that everything quoted in the book actually happened, nothing about it is surprising.  But I do agree with Drew Magary’s analysis:

I am utterly sick to death of hearing anonymous reports about people inside the White House “concerned” about the madman currently in charge of everything. These people don’t deserve the courtesy of discretion. They don’t deserve to dictate the terms of coverage to people. They deserve to be torched.

Trump ascended into power in part because he relied on other people being too nice. It’s fun to rampage through the china shop when the china shop owner is standing over there being like, “SIR, that is not how we do things here!” If Trump refuses to abide by the standard (and now useless) “norms” of the presidency—shit, if he doesn’t even KNOW them—why should ANYONE in the press adhere to needless norms of their own? They shouldn’t, and it appears that Michael Wolff was one of the few people to instinctively grasp that, and I hope more White House insiders follow his lead. Sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to bring this asshole down – whether it’s Mueller, or whether it’s Trump himself just blurting out the “n-word” during a State of the Union address, or whatever – but I can feel that something is gonna happen, and soon.  This nonsense has gone on long enough.  I’m sick and tired of being anxious; nonstop anxiety attacks are exhausting and draining and I’m done with it.

2. Well, now that that’s out of the way:  is there a word for the feeling when one of your favorite authors comes out with a new book, and it’s even better than you’d hoped it would be?  All I’ll say is that I’m a little over halfway through Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon” and it is kicking all sorts of ass.  It is scratching the same itch that David Mitchell novels do, especially as it has several layers of narratives all nestled within each other, creating a puzzle to be solved within a plot that is forever unfurling.

Hmm.  I thought I’d have more to say – and I probably do – but today’s actually kinda busy and I’ve lost my train of thought.  Happy weekend, everyone.

sighs and goodbyes

Here we are, the biggest day of the nerd year.  Stranger Things 2Super Mario OdysseyWolfenstein 2Assassin’s Creed Origins.

But my head and my heart are elsewhere.

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I think we’re going to be saying goodbye tomorrow to our sweet Lily, Lilybug, Lilymonster, Lily von Pooten, Lil’ Flooferbutt.   It’s the right decision, even though it’s agonizing and heartbreaking.  It sucks.  She’s 13 years old, and she’s been in pain for a while, and dragging this out seems heartless rather than letting her go, peacefully, quietly.

I will be happy to discuss all of the goodies described in the first paragraph at some point.  (I should also mention that in my sadness/hysteria I may have ordered a Nintendo Switch and Zelda and Mario, so I will actually be able to speak to all of those aforementioned goodies.)  But I can’t right now.  Right now I just want to give her more gentle pets and bellyrubs and snuggles.  And instead I’m stuck at work.

Lilybug, you’re my super sweet little dog, and I’ll love you forever and ever and ever.

on Arrival

My wife and I are home, sick, again, as we’ve been all week.  It’s been a shitty week.

We just finished watching Arrival.  A few quick thoughts:

1. One of the problems of being parents who are afraid of hiring babysitters is that we don’t get to go to the movies as often as we’d like.  Which is why, of the 9 nominees for Best Picture, we’ve only seen Hell or High Water, and now Arrival.  I can’t properly assess how it will fare at the Oscars, but I can say this:  it’s one of the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen.  Even having read the source material beforehand, I was moved and astonished and amazed.  I will watch anything that Denis Villenueve directs from here on out, but I should also mention the cinematography, the sound design, the performances – I have nothing but praise for every aspect of the work that went into making this film.

2. It is impossible to overstate how being a parent can profoundly affect the way one absorbs popular culture.  And if you’ve seen Arrival, you can probably guess where I’m coming from; I’ll leave it at that.

3. It is also similarly impossible to see this movie being made in the same way, now that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  Indeed, it is impossible to see a lot of alien encounter movies being made in the same way with Trump running the show.  One can only hope that we, as a planet, remain untouched for the duration of his term.

Weekend recap: alternative facts

And so here we are, finally, the first Monday in Trump’s America.  We are expecting Nor’easter-ish conditions here in the NYC region, which seems fitting.

I don’t necessarily want to turn this blog into a political soapbox, but these are strange times, and like it or not, Trump’s current employment is going to affect us all one way or the other.  (I cannot and will not call him President.)  While I understand the impulse to say “Hey, man, leave politics out of it, you’re talking about games and music and books,” the truth of the matter is that Trump’s decisions are absolutely going to affect games and music and books.  Not just in terms of their subject matter, but – in more practical terms – they may very well affect our ability to purchase games and music and books.  Because unless you are a (white, male) billionaire, life is about to get more difficult, whether you like it or not.

And the thing is, Trump and his cronies are legitimately frightening, while also being incredibly ridiculous.  It is hard to take ridiculous things seriously, and yet we as a nation have to take them seriously, because otherwise the truly frightening fascistic shit will get lost in the shuffle.  So while we’re all enjoying a laugh at the insanity of Kellyanne Conway presenting “alternative facts” as a sublime bon mot, let’s not forget that it’s only been 72 hours and the Trump administration is already preparing to leave the United Nations, renegotiate NAFTA, and go into full-bore isolationist mode.  Oh, and that whole healthcare thing… that’s gonna fuck everybody up, too, including people who already have healthcare through their jobs.

In any event:  I despaired on Friday, but after seeing the enormity of the protests on Saturday, I am inspired and rejuvenated.


To that end, I spent last night replaying Wolfenstein: The New Order, because suddenly killing Nazis is cathartic again.  I wrote about this the last time I played it, and it’s still true.  Given that one of the highlights of this weekend was seeing alt-right neo-Nazi Richard Spencer get punched in the face, and then having that punch become a viral meme, I felt that it was my patriotic duty as an American to get my Nazi-killin’ skills in good shape.  I’m still a pacifist, I still hate guns, I still feel a little weird about the shooter genre, but I will alwaysalwaysalways have room in my heart to mow down some Nazis.

If I’m honest with myself, I should probably concede that I have not yet spent enough time with my PSVR to fully justify the expense of owning it.  And yet, my brother and his fiancee hung out with us over the weekend (they were escaping DC, as it were), and I got to blow their minds with that shark tank demo, and that in and of itself is justification enough.

I also dabbled in some other VR experiences; I gave Bound another look, and the difference between Bound in regular mode vs. VR is night and day.  It’s still a bit weird, but the visual experience is nothing short of breathtaking.  Similarly, I finally unlocked the fabled “Area X” mode in Rez Infinite, and all I can really say about that is wow.  Good lord.

I continue to screw around with my backlog, and I continue to find myself drawn towards replaying old favorites in lieu of playing new stuff.  I am having a very difficult time getting into Final Fantasy XV, and Dishonored 2 is also a bit of a struggle (although in that case it’s more that I’m just not very good at it, and while I want to be able to sneak around I end up having to kill everyone, and it becomes a bit of a drag).  I’m also having the same problem with Watch Dogs 2, actually, except I really don’t care about getting into gunfights, even though I feel like I should.

And yet I am more than happy to revisit The Witcher 3, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and such.  Those games are still great, and given that time remains something of a limited resource, I’d rather spend my time enjoying what I’m doing than not.  It’s an indulgent attitude, I suppose, but these are strange and difficult times, and one has to find happiness where one can.

everyone has to start somewhere

As the oldest child and the son of two classical musicians, I didn’t get a lot of exposure to rock music.  My first exposure to Bob Dylan was, in all likelihood, Edie Brickell’s cover of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, from the Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack – a movie I don’t think I’ve ever seen, actually.  (My second exposure to Dylan was most likely PJ Harvey’s overlooked cover of “Highway 61 Revisited“, and then there was whatever bullshit U2 did on Rattle and Hum, and then Hendrix, and then finally Dylan himself.)

I happened to hear Edie’s cover on the radio, back in those endless teen-aged days when I would carve out weekend afternoons specifically to tape songs onto my boombox, and it floored me.  That waltzing rhythm, that suspended chord with the bass staying on the root, the slow build in the devastating final verse; it all killed me.  Plus, I must admit that I had a bit of a crush on Edie back in the day, and this might’ve been the last “big” song she had before she and the Bohemians parted ways and she shacked up with Paul Simon.

And so anyway, when it emerged that Patti Smith sang the same song at Dylan’s Nobel ceremony, and fucking killed it – even in spite of a hiccup here or there, which, let’s be honest, would happen to anyone in that situation – it made my heart happy in a very specific and meaningful way.

I won’t pretend to know Dylan’s discography as well as I should – I have my favorite albums, and I have my favorite songs from those albums, as well as alternative versions not formally recorded, but there are large gaps that I suspect I’ll never get to – but in any event, this particular song has a special place in my heart if only because it was the first Dylan song that personally affected me, that made me say, holy shit, I get it, I should probably buy some of his albums.

And let me say, again, that Patti’s version is just straight-up astounding.  And the song is arguably even more resonant right now than ever before.

 

writing on the wall, and all that

I’m starting to get to that point where keeping an informal game-focused pop-culture blog seems ridiculous.  I don’t really know what I’m doing here anymore.  I’m feeling disconnected from the games I play; I’m feeling distanced from the books I read; I feel like I can’t enjoy music the way I used to, where I’d just totally shut out the world and allow myself to be consumed by the sounds coming through my headphones.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing a bit of self-care right now.  Staying angry is necessary but it’s exhausting, and while I’m not on social media all that much anymore, I can’t help but feel that when I do pop my head in, most of what I see are essentially pissing matches about who the most “woke” is instead of finding practical, tangible ways of dealing with the nightmare we’ve all been thrust into.  And it’s more than just calling up your elected officials and making your voice heard – because once you get off the phone with your representative, that representative needs to follow through, and there is some frustrating (albeit anecdotal) evidence that the necessary follow-through isn’t happening.  (As an example, see this Twitter thread.)

Look – while this blog has the perfect title for it, this is not going to turn into a political site; I’m not smart enough to have the kinds of insights that are useful, and I can’t write well enough to fake my way through it, and the one thing I think we can all agree on right now is that there’s a WHOLE LOT OF NOISE.  I am reading, I am listening, I am learning.  I would rather speak my piece when I know what my piece is.

But I must admit that the alternative – to pretend that the nightmare isn’t happening and that you’re actually curious as to what I think about, say, Titanfall 2‘s campaign – isn’t all that appealing.  Or realistic.  I know what kind of traffic I get over here, and it ain’t much.

I write this now because this is usually the time of the year where I start going through my various spreadsheets and start compiling my Best Of 2016 posts, and I’m just not feeling it.  2016 sucked on nearly every conceivable level, and while there were some bright spots that are worth celebrating, I’m finding it unusually difficult to muster up the requisite joy with which to celebrate them.  Despite my medications and weekly therapy sessions, there’s a deep melancholy that’s setting in, and when I reflect on all this year has given us, it’s all I can do to stop myself from curling into the fetal position and setting this blog on fire.

I don’t want to set this blog on fire.  That’s about as definitive as I can get right now.

I do want to focus on finishing my album.  That’s the thing I should be working on over everything else.  Writing lyrics fucking sucks, but I’ve gotta figure out a way to work through it anyway.  I’ve got at least an album’s worth of really good music, but none of it’s finished yet, and if I continue to not finish it, what’s the point?

Anyway.  I’m rambling more than usual because this is the first substantial lull I’ve had all day and it’s probably the last opportunity I’ll have to write here before December.

So.  Take care of yourselves; take care of each other; I’ll be back here when I figure out how to do it right.