New, Admittedly Bleak Poem: “This Selfish Ink”

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Requiem for a Bic?

A catch-up follow-up to “Advice to My Past Self on Dating” here! This time, the subject is a little more modern. As I’ve eased out of college ways of thinking and into a “real job” in the “real world,” I’ve discovered the obstacles to creative discipline and inspiration aren’t just social media FOMO and videogames–there’s also wondering whether you’re wasting time that could be better spent benefiting others.

Increasingly, as I try to downsize in life and strip away distractions, I’ve been forced to confront that my biggest writer’s block is a fear that the whole endeavor is a waste of time. Why am I trying to write this story, I’ve found myself fretting–consciously or not–when I could be at the office catching up on that one project I’m behind on, or doing research to get better at my job and help more customers? Eventually, that stress compounds with building frustration about social anxiety and professional shortcomings and… well, let’s just say my brain is not a pleasant place to be most weeknights. One evening in particular, I was so frustrated with that feeling that I decided to sic it on itself, and pounded out 90% of this stream-of-consciousness in an underused notebook with a fitting (if not apocryphal) quote from another “White” author on the cover.

This is not who I am all of the time, but it’s who I am enough of the time that I wrote this. So forgive me, but I just had to spent an hour or two jotting down…

 

This Selfish Ink

This selfish ink, these words I pen,
could help another live again;
could pass a bill or write a check;
could lend a loan—one would expect
that with the prose which I can blend,
that every letter which I spend
should go instead to someone’s cause

far better than to simply pause
before a notebook every day
and while all my youth away
in tales and logs and verses long,
a horror short or sorry song.
So many need this language more
than stories shelved behind my door:
a tenant on the streets for rent;
a fraudster who should now repent;
a client of an errant smith;
I can’t help but compare, and if

this passion and my line of work
could spar, then with a nervous jerk
the former fades into a buzz
and latter stands, and that’s because

if I have hours just to dream,
when nothing’s real or as it seems,
then those are hours that I need
to prove that I can still succeed
in what I do to earn the nights
when I can dim the city lights
and act like someone gives a damn
for what I do and who I am—
but I can’t breathe inside my head
if doubt just bloats it out instead,
and all I have between my ears
are deadlines, doubt, and flushing fears.

This selfish ink, these words I pen,
could be the marks that do me in.
Yet I would rather rot by scars
dug deep in blackened ballpoint mars
than sore of back and burnt of brain
on every nine-to-five the same.
I’d rather write nothing at all
than everything upon a wall
that then compiles, mortared brick
into a stiff yet soft and sick
imprisonment of soul and sense.
But I will never be so dense

as to presume that I’m alone
in begging life to throw a bone,
escort me to a state of grace
where I don’t ever have to face
that, as it is, I’m here on earth
just chasing sparks of quiet mirth,
while fire burns my silent nerves
and slowly chars my spring of verve.

This selfish ink will live in rhyme—
that’s all I seem to have the time
to calculate without a care:
a vowel here, a line break there,
relenting to the nursery’s pull
when otherwise my mind is full
of all the guilt that I accrue
when debt of every promise due
comes calling for its common cents,
and so my gross incompetence
is advertised for all to see.
The weight of it is crushing me—

the most that I can do to lift
is grab a page and slowly sift
through figments, puns, and rules of three.

My undertreated ADD
is running dry as an excuse.
I’m praying that I have some use
except to aim my tired eyes
at crisscross T’s and dotted i’s,
or selfish ink’s just all I’ll be
when you come take what’s left of me.

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New Poem: “Advice to My Past Self on Dating”

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Of two minds… and sides of the couch.

So I fell off the wagon with regular updates again, but there’s a good reason this time, I swear: I moved in March, and, uh… I don’t have a desk at my new place. Typing at the dinner or coffee table is taxing! …Okay, still pretty weak. Well, in any case, I did get a few more poems out in the interim on my phone, on a notepad, or cobbled together from scraps thereupon–and here’s the first.

I’ve heard it said that being embarrassed by your past self is a net positive, because it means you know you’ve improved since then. If that’s the case, then I gotta admit I live a pretty positive life nowadays. Adulting can be stressful as all get-out, but while professional woes are one thing, I was in a pretty bad place personally during undergrad (as even the back archives of this site can attest). After seven-odd years, time has given me a healthier, more measured perspective on a lot of things, but dating in particular. I’ve not done much more these days than then, truth be told, but when I look back on how I approached it before, I shake my head at the desperate yet idealistic attitude which which I regarded romance, whether the subject was actual or imagined.

Hence, I thought it’d be an interesting wish-fulfillment to imagine directly discussing the matter with my past self. I even went so far as to pull lines from the all-purpose “poetry scraps” document I’ve kept on my computer for a decade, and use stray verses I’d previously drafted as topics of criticism instead of wholly earnest sentiments. It’s a trite exercise, perhaps, but a cathartic one as always. Hopefully I’ll be able to imagine an all-new exchange with the self that types these very words in, say, 2025! But, until then, all I’ve got is just some…

Advice to My Past Self on Dating

 

So, how does this work?

Well, first, don’t be a jerk,
but also don’t fall headfirst to please.
Too many white knights think they’re dark knights—
if you try to ‘win’ her, you’re already losing.
Unrequited love, isn’t.
Elliptical eye contact can’t count as conversation
you’re entitled to exchange for her
free time.

Okay, so, kinda contradictory.
But let’s just say I wait,
play it cool.
Who’s even gonna come by by graduation,
or whenever I figure it out?

Plenty.
Heather won’t last forever,
but God, you’ll learn so much.
Maggie’ll make a fool of you—
could take the one-night stand, but I advise against it.
Madi evaporated, so don’t worry about her.
Stevi isn’t even a student, but you’ll still lurk
by her office, clammy fist clenched.
You’ll think you heard her lurid timbre, but it was just
a door closing to your back.
And there’s a girl in black
with a snub nose and gamer tats
that’ll grab your heart like a rollercoaster shoulderbar
until you tell her so.
And that’s just undergrad.

Oh.
I was afraid
of that. At least I get a chance.
But in the meantime, I still just feel so
low.

Well, there you go.
Your first mistake
will be thinking a girlfriend will solve all your problems.
There’s no motherly lovers out there,
no manic pixie painkillers that’ll act
a Madame Advil and
distract you from every ill at their own sole expense.
Lovers are people, too.
Gotta give to get.

Shit. Well, fine. But it’s been a few months, and
I can’t seem to fit in
enough to make anyone notice me.
For a progressive paradise, this town
feels so damn diametric.
Who said you can’t wear a dress shirt
and also support free love and disestablishmentarianism?
Someone must’ve
whispered it into a tape recorder,
placed it as a secret track on one of those pop punk albums
I always miss because some stoner stock-boy
placed it between Jazz and New Wave
where it doesn’t belong.

Just as well. Those songs will be your downfall
if you don’t watch yourself—mere minutes
stretched into years of getting left on Read,
Fueled By Ramen’s finest amplifying your anxiety
like a mic to a speaker,
parting pleasantries ringing in your memories.
You’re better off a contradiction, kid, trust me—
That’ll attract in due time,
more than screeching along to your iPod in shotgun
while she already wonders when dinner’ll end.

What, then, I should hide
how I feel?
Maybe you’re right.
I’ve lost more friends to love than hate,
so sue me if I choose to wait
to lay it all out on the line
like linen sheets—I’ll say I’m fine.

Nice couplets, but it’s
more than just bottling or blowing up.
Don’t go full incel just to say it
makes you feel better about getting turned down,
but then don’t be the starry-eyed puppy praying for table scraps.
You of all people should understand that balance, man.

But I can’t stand this, just sitting in the middle..
It’s not like I’m ever thinking of a wedding—
No mints printed with our initials, a Tumblr’s worth of TWs.
I just want to believe
bad girls can do good
by me. That ladies like a spray-painted mansion,
elegant exiles,
can succeed under the wing of a humble geek.
Rock and roll will never die,
even if I have to perform CPR on it myself
through the mouth of a girl with safety pins for buttons

Uh, whatever you say.
God only knows
where you got that kink,
but you gotta remember the statistics
of what most likely drives
your average lacquered tomboy.
You could chase the dream, but you don’t want that
exhaustion, that whimsically privileged irresponsibility
of a genderless mistress pissed at cishets,
fishnet-swaddled, rattling on about how
heartbreak perpetuates the patriarchy.
Hold out for a more sensible individual
in clean jeans and modest brunette locks.

And you’ve got the gall to call me misogynistic.
Maybe I’ll just believe whatever helps
me get through another day of interminable midterms
and intersections like demilitarized zones
mid-route to overpriced groceries.
That they’re too good for me.
That I’m better off on my own.
That sex is like carpentry: screw too much
and you’re bound to strip.
I don’t have the luxury of courteous confidence
like you apparently do.

Oh,
dude, if only.
I know it must feel
like your heart is haunted,
a cold spot everyone steps around or screams at.
That’ll get better with age and experience,
I promise.
But the burning butterflies when the right blue eyes meet yours?
The dry tongue tasting out how best to linger
by the punch bowl to break ice?
The invisible walls you erect when you expect to encounter her,
mime-like barriers of the brain and bravado?
Those never really go away—
you just have to temper it, internally
pour cogent water on lava-hot infatuation
until it cools and coalesces
into an obsidian binary: hold or fold.
Maybe not the answer you wanted to hear,
but I’m here
to be honest, not awesome.

Ah, that’s… fine.
I don’t mind. How could I,
after everything I admitted?
Because I realize now
I’ve never been in love with anyone.
Any thing? Sure.
There’s nothing
my heart and mind can covet
like a lenticular Blu-Ray box set
or a collector’s edition Nintendo game,
nothing that captivates my wolf’s mind
and warrior’s spirit like plastic capitalism
and the promise of a shiny new tomorrow.
When you put it all like that, perhaps
I don’t deserve true companionship.

No one does. And that’s what makes it
so wonderful: Because you gotta go
out of your way to make it work.
Romance isn’t wondering and wailing, and it’s not waiting.
It’s walking out the door with your chin up, shoes clean, and eyes open,
and looking like who you want to be
when you consider the mirror between brushstrokes.
And even then, there’s no guarantees.
All the pickup artistry in the world won’t paint over
a canvas of bad timing and mismatched goals.
But opportunity arises best
when you don’t thrive on recycled air.

Fair enough.
I hope I can roll with that.
Guess I’ll see you in a few years?

Fewer than either of us
might like.
Reflection is directing a bullet into the past,
letting brutal clarity ricochet, deafening, around a chamber
of stagnant emotions.
But, it’s the least I could do.
I know you won’t remember it all,
and that’s fine.
Time makes scholars of us all, because
the only way to really learn
is to wish you already had.
Just have some fun while you’re back there, will ya?
For one.

I’ll try.

Make that for two.

Boats – Now in Video Form!

Gonna start making some of my poems into videos too from here on out, for that sweet, theoretical YouTube cred! Inaugurating this trend is my latest piece, “Boats,” which I’ve decided to unofficially subtitle “A Weirdly Motivational Poem.” Enjoy!

New Poem: “Boats”

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It’ll make sense in a second, I promise.

It occurred to me at one point that people seem to use old-fashioned boats and ships as life metaphors a lot when trying to be hyper-motivational or melodramatic. Whereas I once might’ve been onboard (heh) with that thinking, both extremes of self-expression have become tiresome as I’ve matured into my own personal sense of measured world perspective.

The first line sprung into my head, and because of how both aggressive and goofy it sounded, I decided to flesh out the rest with a similarly blended tone of earnestness and absurdity. It was a hard line to walk without sounding like the very thing I was trying to riff on, so I hope you can still take my advice when I say…

Boats

Fuck boats.
They’re unsubtle, overdone
as a metaphor.
Always held up for their
nobility, all while Caucasian sails
flap in the salty swirls of some zephyr
masquerading as inspiration,
aimless winds as navigation, feigning at a reliable route past
oblivious contemporaries. Such starry-eyed idealism
drawn from a mode of transportation more likely
to make you (sea)sick and stranded than
marked for greatness.
Barnacle-slick, ships just sit
in port, bobbing on a prayer and desperation,
waiting for the right crew to give its aching hull meaning.
No,

be a spaceship.
cloak yourself in steel and ignite
with the apocalyptic fire of determination and pure logic.
Incineration as motivation, every move calculated
and yet cosmically ambitious, a routine
you could set your solar system to as you glow
through an orrery of accomplishments.
Every planet passed is a milestone reached, every nebula blessed
with your glide, something you can look back on and say
“been there, charted that.”
The continents are well and spoken for,
but your own universe
awaits to be seen anew.

Be a submarine—
Flip the script and dive
beneath those waves you’d so shallowly just skim, otherwise.
Pile on the pressure and laugh, compacted,
glad to stare darkness in the face
instead of be blinded by naïve light.
Reach out with methodical claws and feel
between the cold, the crushed, the mistakes
God sweeps under a rug of blood and dust.
There is ambition in descension, the confidence of being able
to face the worst of the world and arise, however hesitantly,
to a sun all others take for granted.

Be a fleet
of fighter jets, greater than the sum of your parts
as you dart, multimillion-dollar throwing stars, off
the glint of midmorning fog and into the obstacle
which keeps you from freedom. Could be a dictator,
could be a deadline or one more Dorito.
Discipline is too much to prop up alone,
because the mind and soul hold court at every instant
and a coup is always one what-if and maybe-later away.
Have your own back. Be your own wingman.
Attack distraction and ask it to thank you.

Christ, be a unicycle.
Deceptively static, idiosyncratic
in you how appear calm and collected
yet ever eager to impress. Entertainment
by mere existence, in all the right ways
and means. Lean forward, move
by impulse alone, and store your momentum
with ease upon arrival.
Success can be humble yet colorful, and there’s nothing more important
than balance.

Just don’t be a boat.
Slow, laden with cargo long since loaded, sagging
ashen casks stacked for reasons forgotten and customers unknown.
Creaking, weakened with the memories of those who rode before
as you slog through the surf, scurvy tickling your teeth
and compass needle spinning like a blender’s blades.
Whatever vehicle you please—you just need
to be strong, not soluble.
Precise, not placid.
Opportunity comes to those who make it sweat
at the sight of engines, angles, angry gears
hyperventilating into an industrial blur, not leisurely dreams
of a vessel lit by candlelight and complaints.
It’s always a new day’s dawn somewhere,
and you don’t want to be caught
floating in the middle of everywhere.

New Poem: “The Poem for When I Delete Facebook”

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Recycling, been.

​I haven’t regularly used Facebook since about May 2018. I don’t think I need to explain why—you can scarcely throw an online rock without hitting an op-ed or exposé about how that site is, if not directly responsible for, at least financially dependent on our modern society’s need for a steady drip-feed of targeted content that’s at once provocative and advertiser-friendly. At the same time, we’re starting to see that the service has some serious effects on people’s self-esteem and ability to earnestly interact with their “friends” over time. I was coming of age right when Facebook first hit it big, and so I was hoping the rest of my generation would come to that realization in sync with myself. For better or worse, though, most folks I know are still on there.

In ruminating on all of this, I wrote the following poem. It’s cowardly in some parts, perhaps hypocritical in others, and I still haven’t actually deleted Facebook. But, personal as it gets, I hope this’ll inspire myself and others to finally reach out to those we truly care about and quietly say “peace” to the rest.

The Poem For When I Delete Facebook

Hello, somebody.
I expect
you’re expecting some broad proclamation,
derision spit against the institution
of Big Silicon Valley—
“fuck Zuck,” or some such sendoff.

And yeah, it’s a matter of fact that
I gotta be a bit to blame
for the elections snarled, the trolls fed, the data dealt in
like binary bodies on an antebellum auction block.
I don’t take it all back—
the fandoms, the check-ins, the selfies and snack pictures
and relationship announcements.
It was fun while it lasted, yet I’ve fasted
from those blue-white wafers of dis-
content enough to see
that you can’t wear your heart on your sleeves these days
without getting some blood on your hands.

But no, wholly,
I just denounce now this social safety net,
this quantity over quality.
I admit it’s a short time coming,
what with the digital dreaming I’ve been
doing since the end of high school,
“hi,” “cool,” and other flat platitudes
plastered upon those heavenly white Walls, all
for the sake of a lil red notif, my motive
to roll over in bed in the morning,
distract from studying,
occupy my mind when a hike or holiday
strays dangerously close to self-reflection.

Now, this is not the part where I part
from anyone.
Rather, I divide
useful acquaintance from close confidante,
vague associate from meaningful member
of a family that grows more valuable with every passing year—
trade internet for interest, investing and not just saving.
I’ve got a ways to go (still need
to quit Twitter, and keeping on Instagram
is a lateral damn move), but I figure
if I can dig into my feelings,
spade sharpened by time and turmoil,
I’ll know who I need to keep hearing from,
seeing from, reaching out to touch.
And if it’s not much, such is my life.

So to Friends I expect I’ll never see again,
at the risk of kindling a bridge, I offer,
in no particular order,
the thoughts I never shared:


  1. You were the most obnoxious part of every class,
    and that’s why I unfollowed you.
    Being loud isn’t empowering or a personality.


  2. I’m not trans, but man,
    I’d wanna be a woman like you.
    That cleverness, that confidence, that coy, curled grin
    I complimented like a jackass after having blood drawn,
    and what remained rushing to my face.
    The New Yorker earned you.


  3. You remind me of my great aunt (but black),
    and it’s a shame we didn’t get a chance
    to stroll the gorge before final finals,
    just as classmates.


  4. I don’t know who you were trying to impress
    by sleeping in the school and never closing cabinets,
    but you lapped me academically, so more
    power to you.


  5. I don’t swing that way, but it’s okay—
    at least someone flirted with me.


  6. I know you didn’t mean it,
    but you were everything I was afraid to compete with,
    and yet what I was scared I’d become
    when college was said and done.


  7. You were cool, but thank you for motivating me—
    If a stoner bro like you can succeed, so can I.


  8. Your smile was all I could think about
    when we were in the same room,
    but every time I texted you
    just replied so brusque and blankly.
    Amazing how modern etiquette can dampen attraction,
    if only in my head.


  9. I took the hint when you kept shrugging me off
    at that team-building event,
    but goddamn, we got so much in common,
    and I don’t know what you saw in him.


  10. You were right to call me out
    for being distracted and unmotivated,
    and you earned outranking me.


  11. I deserved those stern, avian glares
    after what a shit job I did hitting on you
    at that first university BBQ.


  12. That blind date went okay,
    but the trashy stuff you always posted
    was why I ghosted you.


  13. I wasn’t surprised you were one of the only two
    people to PM me grief after I said that campus outrage
    was getting out of control.
    Bright though you burn, people like you are exhausting
    to the ears and soul.


  14. I guess I
    should’ve always known you were bi, because
    no straight girl could ever be that fun.
    I know I promised we’d never speak again,
    but you still look as good as you did six years ago,
    and I hope you found all the happiness I wanted to give you ever since.


Maybe I’m just projecting, protecting
myself from having to defend my intentions,
conventions, and odd hobbies
anymore without a sterile stage of emojis
to gauge the public disapproval.
So much negativity, this film:
lights-camera-action on a theater
where tragedy’s comedy plus time,
and I fear I developed no differently,
cast in irony and jade from wave after wave
of catastrophizing clickbait and commodified gossip,
sidebars of ads and apps closing on my idealist’s temples
like Indiana Jones’s making a break for the exit.
All that’s missing is the hissing
of a renaissance auditorium
when a joke falls flat or a thought’s deemed problematic.

But whether it was Cambridge Analytica
or a particularly acidic DM delivered to my inbox,
I know now that
I’d rather have three people wish me
a happy birthday because they remembered
than fifteen just ‘cause they saw it pop up on their feed.

And so to true friends, family:
I turned you into drugs, and for that
I apologize.
The bystander phenomenon writ large, charging
headlong into indirect indiscretions, in lieu
of assuming any one person would ever care.
Sincerity’s in scarcity—everyone’s
scared to seem intimate individually
when carrying a town square in your pocket is safer.
And no matter how far you scroll, there’s always more
to beat you down, burn your eyes, let flow the FOMO
before a parched identity.

But camaraderie is a game of catch, not an IV,
meant to be
more lively than copying “Merry Christmas” into multiple reminders
or emotional layaway for when I need the release of a blue
tick flittering up my screen at work.

I’ll catch up more, I mean it—
drop a line, make a date, send a pic
personally, not for a show of hands.
I’m no god or gazillionaire, and I haven’t earned
the audience to award me otherwise.
Just bless me with your patience
and politeness if I tiptoe into Messenger
one last time to say hey, we should meet up sometime,
before I turn out the lights and put a 404
where my headshot and history used to hang a shingle.
I’d rather mingle meaningfully, meaning fully
every admiration and admonition I administer,

with the goal of feeling fulfilled,
not finished.

New Poem: “She Could (The Second Thing)”

I had a bad knack for unrequited love in college. Who didn’t, right? Still, in times of uncertainty or prolonged anxiety, it’s easy for one’s mind to recline into such memories. Hindsight is 20/20, and so yesterday’s stress can feel enticing simply because reflecting on it gets us closer to a time when things seemed simpler and—for all we know—different decisions could’ve been made.

I know that’s not healthy or wise, though, and so as a kind of warning to myself—both six years past and now—I slowly wrote this over the course of several months. I had a particular individual in mind, but this advice has been generally applicable more times than I’d like to admit. Harsh though it may be, I hope people who’ve been in similar ruts can relate and find some motivation from the sentiments herein. Moving on can be as harsh as you want, so long as you keep the worst of it from hurting anyone.

painting flowers

She Could (The Second Thing)

Okay, so you know
the first thing about her.
Her looks. Her likes.
Her tics and timbre and flair
for the poetic.

But you don’t know
the second thing about her.

She could’ve gone gay, struck
upside the petite head with whatever
metaphorical brick or pixie dust bestows a change
of persuasion in this era of commodified queerness.

She could smoke, weed or Winstons.
Maybe she picked it up from the boyfriend
in the last five years,
or maybe she always did and you never smelled it,
too nasally blinded by the scent of desperate
campus coffeeshop lattes and your own futile hubris.
You don’t want the taste of cremains and skunk cabbage
when you go in for a kiss,
that leafpile crackle of a voice
and papyrus skin by middle age.

She might’ve married already,
carried a hyphenated name and kept it
low key on FB.
Or for that matter, moved out of town.
Not everybody updates ASAP,
and it’s not like you’d get invited
to the ceremony or a housewarming.

She could’ve gone far-left, political
compass frozen at Northwest,
all pink-knit pussy hats and misandrist Cosmo quizzes,
checking privileges like a metermaid at lunch hour.
Another Seattleite brought low
by good intentions and bad optics.

Maybe she gained weight—
social inaction, that Reubenesque rebellion
of modern misfits.
Or grew her hair out.
Got a scar or lost a digit.
See how far shared hobbies get you
when the infatuation isn’t
physical anymore.

Break your porcelain dolls
and walls of echoing expectations:
The songs you stopped listening to;
the porn you stopped hoarding;
the lookalike baristas by whom you stopped awkwardly loitering,
psyching up for eye contact like a flip
off the top turnbuckle.
You abandoned those antique feelings
for a reason.

Just keep her where you left her,
or vice-versa: confession crystallized
in a 2010 flipphone while you watch
a Liam Neeson movie and tell yourself that’s why
your heartbeat’s above 120 BPM.

She’s a person, not a pillow—
some sentient, nonconsensual security blanket.
Make new promises, not break old ones.
Get a grip. Take a hint. Read a headline.
Grab a big glass of water and swallow your pride,
bitter taste be damned.

Return the favor and
leave her alone.

TOP STUFF OF 2018!

Nobody reads the intros to end-of-year lists, so let’s get right to it! No books this year because everything I physically read was stuff I bought two or three years ago and only now got around to — and I’m all about keeping things current.

MY TOP 5 MOVIES OF 2018

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5) The Night Comes for Us: With Iko Uwais and a cadre of colorful villains on deck, this spiritual sister to The Raid series — about a Triad heavy who incurs the wrath of his colleagues when he goes clean to save a girl — cements Indonesia as this generation’s epicenter for bloody, brutal, and overall badass martial arts action.

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4) Annihilation: Hot off the success of Ex Machina, director Alex Garland administers another injection of sci-fi shock and awe with this adaptation of the acclaimed novel. The film expands on the source material’s meandering ambiguity in favor of a more explicitly horrific journey through a mysterious place where change itself is a deadly foe, without losing any of the story’s Lovecraftian dread and thought-provoking moments. “The bear scene” is a waking nightmare in all the right ways, and the climatic confrontation channels Kubrick’s 2001 in the transcendent paranoia it invokes.

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3) Mission: Impossible – Fallout: It’s a longstanding joke that these missions can’t be too impossible if they manage to pull it off every time, but that very contradiction is a testament to the series’ ascension to the throne before which all other popcorn cinema kneels. With professional lunatic Tom Cruise at the helm, and a focus on practical stunt-work setpieces instead of the muddy CGI bonanzas which plague most blockbusters, this latest globetrotting adventure — while not the best yet (I’m still a bit sore over a few critical-looking scenes from the trailer not making the final cut) — proves the journey matters more than the destination.

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2) Hereditary: An artist tries to balance work and parenting after her mother’s death, but as disasters and desperation continue to mount around the house, all hell slowly and surely breaks loose. Eschewing traditional jump scares in favor of a bleak, mysterious mood may not suit fly-by-night horror fans, but get in the mood and stick with it, and you’ll behold a series of last-act revelations so twisted and bizarre that you’ll be twitching at tongue-clicks and peeking over your bedsheets (specifically, in the corner of the ceiling) for many nights to come.

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1) A Star is Born: Three remakes in, one would imagine this Old Hollywood tale would be played out, but with unprecedentedly vulnerable and grounded performances, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga breathe new life into the story of a world-weary celeb falling for a rising starlet — with heartrending, unforgettable music every step of the way. Not much more to say; it’s just a simple, timeless, and beautifully tragic love story.

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(Honorable Mentions) Ready Player One and Avengers – Infinity War: This Spring belonged to a pair of movies hinged upon jaw-dropping spectacle and “I understood that reference” elbow-nudging — and that’s a compliment. RPO’s is more of an E for Effort, admittedly, owing to its Death Star-sized plot holes and willfully contradictory message, but the result is nevertheless a fantastic collage of nerd fantasy that makes one proud to both be a gamer and have had an at least 80s-adjacent upbringing. Meanwhile, Thanos did the unthinkable and snapped the last Avengers adventure in two; though we all know they’re coming back, those final moments, where half of all the superheroes we’ve come to know and love over the last decade disintegrate in front of our eyes, are a landmark in the subgenre. I saw Spidey die in Iron Man’s arms, for Pete’s sake! (no pun intended)

 

MY TOP 4 TV SHOWS OF 2018 (didn’t get around to a fifth one)

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4) Westworld: “These violent delights have violent ends,” warned the closing hours of Season One, and yet it turns out a violent new beginning was just around the corner. Without a doubt, some serious glitches popped up in the programming this year — watching the Abramsian mysteries of the park unfold and following the hosts’ ascension from unquestioning robots to bonafide humans in search of freedom was vastly more engaging than the familiar revolution antics which take up the bulk of screen time here, and a few attempts at mimicking that mindblowing twist with the Man in Black fall flat. And there’s not nearly enough Shogun World! (and, uh, Jungle World?) But at the end of the day, the environments are still gorgeous, the effects work still stunning, and the commitment to cerebral, character-driven sci-fi still a cause to be championed. Here’s hoping season three both gets back on track and keeps up the good work.

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3) The X-Files: The X-Files’ revival in 2016 had a lot to prove, and it mostly went about that by having Mulder and Scully shoehorn references to Google and Edward Snowden into a script already straining to explain why two graying former enemies of the state would be welcomed back to the FBI with open arms. But once you get past the mother of all cop-outs in the opening minutes, Season 11 settles back into the classic groove of “monster of the week” assignments interwoven with high-stakes conspiracy capers. Aside from a bafflingly technophobic midway ep (which I’ve been meaning to do a video analysis of), this new batch of cases left me eager for plenty more.

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2) Channel Zero – The Dream Door: Imaginary friends come to life. Eerie doors. Old secrets returning to haunt our protagonists. There’s nothing in this fourth season of CZ that its predecessors (or, indeed, countless horror media) haven’t already shown us before, but the way it presents those tropes with lingering, uncannily grounded cinematography and a propulsive (albeit aesthetically questionable) synth score creates a memorably disturbing chapter of the creepypasta-cooking anthology series.

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1) The Haunting of Hill House: Can grounded family drama and blood-curdling horror coexist? That’s the question both this Netflix miniseries and the protagonists themselves ask, as adult siblings reunited with their estranged father in the wake of a tragedy must grapple with their inner demons — and some outer ones. Director Mike Flanagan channels the dual-timelines conceit of his sleeper hit Oculus into another exploration of the fear inherent in confronting traumatic childhood memories, and even though it’s a square-peg/round-hole presentation at times (it really shouldn’t take this long for someone to just come out and say what actually happened when they were kids), the result is still a binge-worthy horror-mystery where the haunted house is as much a character as the dysfunctional people — alive and dead — wandering its halls. Not only that, but it’s the rare piece of ghost-focused media where whether the spooks exist or are just metaphors isn’t a binary interpretation. These spirits are real, but so is the all-too-human pain they represent and carry on.

 

MY TOP 5 ALBUMS OF 2018

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5) Neon Future III, Steve Aoki: After two concept albums and countless intermittent collaborations (including a well-intentioned but heinous remix of “Welcome to the Black Parade”), Steve Aoki gamely maintains his DJ cred in an era when the genre’s mainstream fame is fading with this hat trick of straight-up bangers steeped in solid features (blink-182!) and science-tastic interludes.

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4) ye, Kanye West: Yeezy garnered some not-unjustified scorn across 2018 for his scattershot, contrarian political ramblings, but from the unhinged confessions of “Yikes” to the hypnotic yet tormented outro to “Ghost Town,” this succinct LP is ironically his most focused in years — even if that focus is, as always, on Kanye.

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3) M A N I A, Fall Out Boy: I was prepared to call this album one of the worst of the year when I first heard it, but chalk that reaction up to bad marketing and outdated expectations. The trap-EDM trash fire of a promo “Young and Menace” is wisely relegated to a penultimate slot on the tracklist, and while my inner emo will always miss the verbose, self-loathing ramblings of vintage FOB, what remains are some of the most badass, head-bopping pop tunes in the scene today. You may not believe Patrick Stump anymore when he declares “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color,” but that won’t keep you from singing along.

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2) The Unheavenly Creatures, Coheed & Cambria: For most of their career, C&C’s musical sci-fi epic “The Amory Wars” has been a chore for me to enjoy, much less understand — “Welcome Home” aside, most of their output is heavy on obtuse worldbuilding and light on memorable riffs. But with this debut to a promised pentalogy, the boys have struck pop-prog gold. While a number of tracks still drag, the highs are higher than ever — the title track soars like its titular dark angels, the pleading chorus of “Toys” is an earworm against all odds, and only a dead man could avoid na-na-na’ing along to “Up in Flames.”

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1) A Star is Born (Soundtrack): Was there any doubt? Combining rock, folk-country, pop, and show-stopping piano ballads with vocal interludes delivers a roundabout audio version of the film which invites repeated listening for any mood. “Shallow” deserves every bit of praise its crescendoing urgency has already received from countless others, and “I’ll Never Love Again” wraps a simple ode in a stunning, shimmering farewell that brought me dangerously close to manly tears.

 

MY TOP 5 SINGLES OF 2018

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5) “KILLSHOT,” Eminem: Em got off to a shaky start this year in the wake of the profoundly mediocre “Revival,” and an abrupt follow-up in “Kamikaze” — while proficiently a return to form — still felt more like a collection of insecure grievances than a confident release (and the contractually obligated turd-on-top “Venom” didn’t help). But when Machine Gun Kelly had the audacity to call him out, Shady responded with a blistering dis track that delivers a public lesson in respecting your elders. Now if only he’d spit that kind of fire on a consistent basis!

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4) “We Appreciate Power,” Grimes feat. HANA: No doubt influenced by the time with Elon Musk on her hip, the pop charts’ resident goth girl delivers a dark, dominant, and undeniably catchy siren song on behalf of our inevitable robot overlords. What will it take to make you capitulate?

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3) “Slow Dancing in the Dark,” Joji: Plenty have scoffed at George Miller’s transition from grotesque YouTube clown to glitched-out R&B crooner, but as an always-aspiring renaissance man myself, I say more power to him. While his debut LP this year was a bit too weak overall to make my list, this plaintive, dreamy early track establishes that the “Joji” name could have serious staying power.

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2) “Never Sure,” Mayday Parade: Melodrama and fragile young love have been the name of the game for this Tallahassee quintet going on twelve years, and while the band bucks convention by dialing back their operatic side, the juxtaposition of clichéd and achingly real sentiments (“I know how much that it makes you cringe / to think about you and I as friends / together forever until the end”) — held together by a humble yet powerful chorus — get their latest record “Sunnyland” off to an unforgettable start.

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1) “Choke,” I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME: “IDK” lifts its name proper from a Back to the Future quote, but a more apt geek reference for this breakout single would be “Aliens” — the merrily acid-tongued delivery of lines like “if I could burn this town, I wouldn’t hesitate to smile while you suffocate and die” puts Xenomorph spit to shame, and recalls vintage Panic at the Disco in all the right ways.

 

MY TOP 5 VIDEOGAMES OF 2018

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5) Tetris Effect: Tetris is, by at least one metric, the most popular videogame of all time — but for better or worse, only so much could be done to modernize it (no, Tetrisphere doesn’t count). That was, until this year, when the revelatory decision was made to draw inspiration from the trippy rhythm-based puzzlers that’d seemingly lapped Tetris in relevance. Combined with virtual reality functionality and side modes that upend the very convention of four-sectioned tetriminoes (heresy!), you’ve got a basic but peerlessly addictive game that more than justifies its invocation of the titular psychological compulsion.

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4) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Since the original Super Smash Bros. almost twenty years ago, each entry has distinguished itself in some way: Melee unwittingly set the standard for the self-fashioned genre of “party fighter,” Brawl doubled down on fanservice with an ambitious story mode, and Smash 4… well, you could play it on two different systems? Iunno, that one was kinda just okay. But Ultimate aims right out of the gates to be the definitive Smash Bros. experience: Everyone really is here — over 70 fighters, with more on the way — and even novice players are bound to notice tweaks both large and small that refine the combat to a unprecedented T. Only the focus on a trading cards-y “Spirit” system in lieu of classic modes like Home Run Contest and Break the Targets hampers the game’s potential GOAT status. Overall, though, it’s a well-oiled machine of cartoonish clobbering effectively two decades in the making — and plenty worth the wait.

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3) A Way Out: In an age of online-only multiplayer, one could rightly wonder whether the split screen is dead. Fortunately, from the makers of indie sleeper hit Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons comes a short but sweet title that not only allows two players to share the same TV but requires it. You and a friend assume the role of freshly imprisoned felons seeking to fly the coop co-op, but what starts as a Shawshank-esque jailbreak turns into a wild adventure full of shocking developments and clever puzzles that require timing and teamwork in equal measure. You’ll either love or hate your compatriot by the end, but you won’t be able to deny the experience is one for the ages.

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2) Marvel’s Spider-Man: With great power comes… well, you know. But Marvel and developer Insomniac were as responsible as could be in crafting this outstanding superhero adventure, and while its combat cribs shamelessly from the Arkham series, the result is an action-packed open-world brawler that makes you feel like the Webbed Wonder as never before. In a virtual Manhattan stuffed with gadgets, side missions, Easter eggs, and more, there’s never a dull moment, and the rejiggering of famous friends’ and foes’ roles ensures even dedicated fans won’t quite know what to expect (even if you’ll be checking your watch for when Dr. Octavius has a certain workplace accident).

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1) God of War: Like Uncharted 4 before it, this soft reboot of the deicidal hack-n-slash series accomplishes the seemingly impossible in transforming its focus from mindless adventure fantasy to an earnest, deeply emotional journey. But this is no touchy-feely walking sim — mountains split and monsters bleed with equal intensity to its predecessors, and with a groundbreaking “single-take” camera style, Kratos’s fights and feats feel more raw than ever. If it weren’t for some samey enemy variety and “expanded universe”-style plot threads left frustratingly strewn across the story, this game would be practically perfect — with how well it deservedly sold, the sequel will hopefully pick up the slack ASAP.

Now y’all go out there and check this stuff out if you haven’t already, but be sure to set aside some time to create your own art, too! And have a Happy 2019.