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 shunning, 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 — but 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.

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NEW, MERRY WEBSITE: “MoSanta.org”

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There’s a surprising dearth of Santa stock photos in the GoDaddy archives.

Short answer to where I’ve been for eight months: I moved across the country and back home via U-Haul, started a new job, lived with my folks in an internet dead zone for a while, had to buy a new laptop, and then slowly but surely got my ol’ desktop PC back up when I finally found an apartment.

Long answer: …Well, that wasn’t too short, was it?

In any case, another hiatus is over! Unfortunately, not much new substantive writing got done in that gap, but I found a new creative outlet: web design. Well, okay, paying GoDaddy 70-odd dollars a year for what I kinda already have on here.

But! As dedicated followers may recall, around this time last year, I posted an experimental story called “Santaologyexploring the goofy logical extreme of a world where Santa Claus actually exists. In the closing lines, I mentioned a link to a fictional website for “the Museum of Santaology.” More than a few folks I shared it with urged me to snap that domain up–and so, with seasonally appropriate timing, I did just that.

So please take a glimpse at what’s going on in Manhattan’s jolliest of public institutions, at:

MoSanta.org

Placeholder Poetry: “Parties Are Fun” (2016)

A good April, one and all! I mean, you wouldn’t know it here in Buffalo, where snow is still a regular occurrence. But a major recent development should remedy that soon: I’m moving back to Washington State!

The last few months were not great for my authorial drive. Being constantly stressed about finding a new job and prepping for the big move seriously cut into my free time and creative morale. But now that I’ve figured out both, I’m back on the horse with consistent writing. I also started trying to do more videos for my YouTube channel, but Adobe Premiere keeps freezing up whenever I try playing media, so that’s on the back-burner for now.

In any case, everybody still needs a day of rest, or at least a creative contingency plan for when things get busy. And if you can’t get productivity, get publicity! (relatively speaking) So I figured that, for tonight, I’d flip through my ol’ poetry folder and post an older piece that I’ve never shared before.

This is a poem I wrote after a night of ostensible partying near the end of graduate school. At the time, I was uncomfortable with how bitter and pathetic it sounded, so I kept it private. Now, however — as with my previous “delayed” poem, “Buffalone — I believe it’s gained new value as a window into my mindset circa 2016… midlife crises and all.

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Parties Are Fun

You can talk to people you know.
You can listen to pop songs.
You can eat scores of Oreos and s’mores-flavored beer,
pizza and Tostitos topped with salsa.
You can relax on the couch

when your shins and soles start to hurt.
Maybe the host who joins you and asks how it’s going
actually cares.
You can go to the bathroom to wash your face
and contemplate borrowing some lotion.
No one would know.
You can look in the shower real quick
and feel better about cleaning your own.

You can see who’s bullshitting about their relationship status.
You can see a lesbian french a gay guy
and still get nervous about hugging people
you don’t know well.
You can eat sliced starfruit for the first time.
You can drink a plastic cup of water.
You can hurl it at a pile of expensive coats past the snacks table.
Someone whose job it is will pick it up.

You can admire the decorations,
bouquets of pastel balloons and tight dresses.
You can complain about something
and the girl next to you will say “Right?”
But with a cadence confirming she didn’t really hear,
as if it’s a stage play and everyone else knows
which script to stick to.

You can say “I would be so good to you” to your crush’s back
as she entertains a loud crowd.
It’s hard to mishear eye-to-eye.

You can stare at the floor
and see nothing but slick and tacky darkness.
You can see a penny and not pick it up.
You can take people’s pictures and be thanked for it.
You can be in a picture
that won’t go up on Facebook.
You can watch people you meet weekly be happy to see you.
They’ve had a few.

You can actually boogie like nobody’s watching, and feel satisfied for a moment.

You can brush aside the spindly glimmer of hanging streamers.
You can talk about sleep paralysis with a guy for five minutes and try not to worry about why he didn’t come back from the kitchen.

You can practice smiling.
See if it sticks.

You can be complimented on your tie.
You can choose not to check your coat.
You can imagine throwing something small off the balcony
and if anyone would catch you,
but decide it’s not worth the risk.

You can stand in the middle of the dance floor snapping photos
and then go upstairs and scrutinize the throngs like a prince
or primatologist.

You can stay sober
and leave early.
You can realize you gained ten pounds since last Christmas
but at least you’re not as fat as some of these people.
You can smirk at the sight of drunks
with a shoulder to lean on.
You can feed your view of moral superiority.

You can close your eyes.
You can whistle better music.
You can talk to people you know.

#tbt Poem: “Buffalone”

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In the Dark Times, before the media shelves went up.

So as of today-ish, I’ve officially been living in Buffalo, New York for one year! It’s been 365 days of amazing ups (passing the bar exam, killer local punk-rock shows, farmers’ markets), distressing downs (studying for the bar exam, brutal snowstorms, the occasional house centipede), and cool, even valleys of well-earned Netflix/gaming binges.

Still, rewind to June 2016, and — as the brain is wont to do when faced with change — I fretted deeply on the daily. What would my first “real” job and most independent living to date mean for my future? Stuck in a private, bittersweet rapture at the sight of my new surroundings, I wrote the following poem and… just kind of left it there. I was self-conscious about how, well, self-conscious it made me sound, and thought I should wait until I could establish some distance between two versions of myself before sharing it.

Now? I can say upon reflection that things have gone pretty solid overall. I have a well-paying job that I’m getting better at every day, plenty of free time in the evenings (so far), and — most critically — one heck of an apartment. Not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on what a privilege all of this is, and I pray to never take it for granted. Am I perpetually happy? And do I know for certain what any of this still means for my future? Of course not. But I feel more centered amidst the world’s noise and haste, and that counts for something.

Still, it’s hard to not occasionally look back on a time when I felt more…

Buffalone

 

So, this is it.

The new apartment.

 

An expanse of wood,

slats creaking ‘round curious nails,

greets me on entry.

Brazilian vents slither beneath

vertigo inverted: a ceiling high and white,

dissected by track lights and slender pipes.

Hints of cracks scatter the plaster,

crow’s feet to corners.

Windows, triplets, stand up and stretch

for a view of City Hall, the corner mall, the convention center

(For summer, my electric bill will be thankful).

One bathroom. Two bedrooms. Laundry on-site.

 

And unfurnished.

So first in line: Interior design.

And it’s then I find

the necessity of choice—

a theme of shades and shapes

to impress is an adulthood to-do.

 

In the lavish labyrinth of Raymour & Flanigan’s, I nod and bob

on aching legs as Dad and I shop.

Too cheap. Too expensive.

Too fancy. Too brown.

Too Stepford Wives-y.

Twin lamps. Table. Desk. Chest of drawers.

The haul, four-thousand-odd bucks in all,

I’ll pay back by year’s end

with the new firm job, fingers crossed.

 

Chrome and monochrome works,

I guess.

Converted factory aesthetic, and all that.

What do I know?

I’ve never run real estate,

and the most I ever decorated was a Halloween party

(and plastic bats and cotton cobwebs don’t dazzle partners).

 

The movers arrive a few days later.

Tearing tape, peeling plastic, and crackling cardboard peal across the room.

Styrofoam dandruff salts the floor, swept in static whorls,

one with the dust. I

set up, set out. Sit down,

and think

 

surely this is all I ever wanted

in a postgrad pad: glass and glimmer,

a kitchen with an echo.

A bowlful of fat apples to spruce up the tabletop.

Golden sheets, a Midas touch of class

for a brick headboard.

An Instagram preview, and the Likes rise,

a bubbling brook of Hearts and Thumbs-Up.

So I must be doing something right.

 

And yet it feels conditioned, controlled by permission.

Ex post fashion, rationalized style

from father to son.

A painting, ribbed strokes imitating Paris by twilight,

leans beneath the thermostat,

as I wait to hear if I can even hang it—

spruce first, ask questions later.

An area rug will come, no idea what kind.

But That’s What You Do when you’ll make a hundred K a year.

 

Maybe it’ll grow on me.

This fixer-upper metropolis,

this iron and stone sieve between glitz and ghetto.

Maybe the construction noise and concert clamor

will fade to white with the rest of the world, come December.

Until then, cigarette butts caulk the blocks

of piss-scented bus stops and paper tumbleweeds

under the Liberty Building’s warm shadow.

Destitute droves roam parallel to the metro line,

homeless or hopeless.

Gleaming domes and Christian spires paint a postcard-ready skyline

but, just blocks out, knee-length weeds occupy sidewalks

and wooden barriers shield alleys from driving eyes.

My hometown’s grass seems greener already.

 

In a moment of brutal dishonesty, I said

I’d take poverty and popularity

over opulent obscurity;

live on beans and black-and-white TV

for a chance at a fan letter.

So, solo, now’s my chance

to call my bluff,

in this bastion of a town past its prime,

grimy, beaten by the northern winds and the Great Recession.

My first impression is depression, but that always happens

when you push too hard.

So until I can ease up, I’ll keep my mind open

as those windows, and let the light in

until the sun sets

or the blinds break.

“Quarter” [25th Birthday/2016 Reflection Poem]

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Money on my mind in more ways than one.

Happy New Year! Can’t be any less unhappy than the last year, some would argue… though I already made my balanced stance on that the other day. In any case, while 2016 was pretty solid for me personally, ups and downs bundling into one are a fact of life. Nowhere did that arise more prominently than with me turning 25 years old: the big quarter-century! (DOB: 11/04/1991. Only 90s kids will remember this.)

With that in mind, I promptly set about slowly reflecting–not on the past itself, but on how I was handling what that past meant for who I am and where I’m going. I’d aimed to finish this by 12/31/16, but I realized it was more about my time than the time. And as the holiday season officially waned and the workweek peeked back around the bend, I had a feeling–for better or worse–I would realize some more to say in the fresh light of 2017.

I did. What didn’t change, though, was the new perspective I’m grateful to have honed over these past couple of years in particular. Life is full of regret and want and uncertainty, sure… but we’re only human. And other humans can be here to help.

It’s making myself remember that last part–and what it means to stay confident in the face of time itself–that I hoped to capture here.

 

Quarter

1/16

One down,

three to grow.

 

A hoarder, I feel—

of lessons, stressors, and misadventures

unfit for mixed company.

Because the past is a dream come false:

Every day, we may as well be born anew,

and each second we live becomes another figment

in our children’s past.

 

So please, go easy.

This is my first time getting old,

and so I can’t help feeling like success

has an expiration date, and my hour to sour

is just around the cardboard bend.

You never know what’s the window

to when you’ll win, though.

I’d peer through, but it’s so hard to see

everything again;

to punch out the 2D screen of my memories incarnate

and beckon forth new avenues of inspiration from under the dust—

turn maybes to musts,

just decide instead of deify

my ambitions.

 

When I went home, my fear wasn’t that I didn’t belong there anymore,

it’s that I did.

And yet the posters stayed up,

pictures lingered in a padded hard drive,

and adding any new detail felt like fruitless betrayal:

The end of the world as we show it,

coming to terms with the fact that life is linear

but living hits every dimension.

I made the world

around me a story, immutable

after an arbitrary absence, as if

the repositioning of a picture, a sticker lifted, was going George Lucas—

a match dropped, to let scorch my origins for revisionist history.

 

Now, is writing the symptom or the cure?

Because I ask only that my fantasies be others’;

I want the worlds in my head not to wither,

whether they’re worth it or not—

a Wikipedia page people update, debate over

and over;

I need what I thought I was to survive

who nobody knows I am yet.

I may not be immortal, but

maybe I can be

part of forever.

 

Though, not all is lost.

I’ve improved, to be sure.

I don’t fetishize photocopies,

imprinting stencils of the hundred-and-one that got away

onto every –elle until I’m unable to feel

anything but myself.

I can’t carry a tune, but I won’t keep dragging ones behind me, either

(the kind of songs you don’t listen to

so much as use).

I see there’s a difference between what we want to hear

and what we want to know.

The perpetual emotion machine slows at last,

and I anticipate The Next:

What scents will I associate with where?

What tastes, textures, relevant where never before?

What beautiful threat will I one day want

to hide from?

Even pain can be promising if it’s a change of pace.

 

Until then, dressed to compress

my passions and predilections into the offtime

I can find, in this Art Deco ghetto—

I bide.

As soon as I wake, I check my phone

to see what’s broken

in the world.

As soon as I clock in, I’m already gone.

It’s not resignation if you never sign on.

 

1/8

In second grade,

when change meant nothing

and cheering was a bodily function,

I built a Lego spaceship:

A jagged prism of wings and plastic.

I thought it was so great, I didn’t want anyone

to take it, or break it.

So I secreted it, beneath a craft-supplies cabinet,

and went about my play.

 

I wonder, sometimes, back to it;

whenever I’m taking stock of what matters, what I’ve made.

Is it still there?

Against all odds, it’s not,

but I need that faith,

that privilege of infinity childhood provided.

That I can look back, kneel on primary tiles

in my designer slacks, and extract imagination.

Please don’t let it be just dust and rubber bands.

I’m made for more

than a pithy obituary in the local paper.

This won’t be how I go, much less how I come

to be remembered.

 

3/16

I sleepwalked, is all,

more than just after heavy dinners and big tests.

I didn’t realize it was on me to know this place

I got plopped into—not just putter through

like a Disney dark ride, every day-glo whoa

and manufactured satisfaction.

I thought it made me stable, but perhaps I can’t be any more

than the next schlub with a dream.

I just pray I’m not too late

 

to not just ask questions

but listen to the answers.

Where are my ancestors from?

What were the Fifties like?

Where did you buy that painting in the piano room,

the one that looks like Venice is burning

upon earth’s edge?

And so on, and on and on.

 

I only hope, in always pressing forward,

I didn’t become the caricature of cowardly indifference

in which I painted my past loves.

A tiny tombstone, an emoji-free text,

an oath to be taken between beats of an atrophying heart:

My world is dying, and I need someone alive

to smile when I wonder out loud.

Why won’t what passes for my soul suffice?

 

1/4

So take my hand—callous, callused,

knuckles busted from brick-wall punches

that were only mostly accidents.

Sell me on this life, on change

in the face of bills and sense.

 

I’m ready to give instead of take.

I’m ready to understand.

And to learn what to do

 

if that’s still not enough.

2016: A Year in Stuff

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Forget 2017, already–let’s party like it’s 1986!

It has been, by all accounts, a year of unmitigated death and depravity. If it weren’t for finally getting out of college and having super-awesome friends and family who’ve been with me for some amazing moments, 2016 would’ve been a total loss. Still, as an unrepentant pop culture geek, I feel a duty to briefly roll up my sleeves and dig deep for a silver lining in the media ephemera of the last 365 days. Onto the TOP STUFF LIST!
 –
–Best TV–
(1) Stranger Things: A fantastic homage to the idealized 80s in all its rad glory, this at once nailbiting and heartwarming supernatural tale can’t hit season two soon enough.
(2) Black Mirror (Season 3): Chillingly plausible story hooks and a diverse cast of characters made the return of this peerless techno-satire essential viewing.
(3) Westworld: Obtuse yet epic, it managed the impossible task of having me enjoy cowboy shootouts one second and ponder the depths of consciousness and free will the next.
(4) Channel Zero: Its reimagining of one of the most famous creepypastas in “Candle Cove” struggled with pacing and direction at times, but was still a cracking good start to anthology horror for a new generation.
(5) The X-Files: An “E” for effort, admittedly (it was never going to be *fantastic* after over a decade), but Mulder & Scully’s chemistry still shines, the paranoia still pops, and the middle ep is a series classic.
–Best Movies–
(1) 10 Cloverfield Lane: Mixing a claustrophobic setting with big-name actors, this slow-burn scifi flick provided more thrills on $15 million than most studios do with five times that budget.
(2) Hardcore Henry: The dictionary definition of an R-rating, this Russian rampage through knifings, shootouts, decapitations, and motorcycle chases is first-person adrenaline in a Blu-Ray.
(3) Arrival: Adapted from a story by the underrated Ted Chiang, Dennis Villeneuve’s taut, moody stylings lent a mindbending yet emotional air to an alien invasion.
(4) Captain America – Civil War: It’s more like Avengers 2.5, but who cares? Seeing all these insane characters duke it out on-screen after almost a decade of buildup is as close to a rollercoaster as theater gets.
(5) The VVitch – A New-England Folktale: Despite a Sundance screening in ’15, this humble horror movie really made waves with a wider release this February–and for good reason. With a painstaking attention to period dress and dialogue, it depicts the ultimate nightmare of 17th-century Puritans with spectacular subtlety and unrelenting dread.
–Best Games–
(1) Uncharted 4 – A Thief’s End: The adventure game, perfected. While it may lack the instantly iconic setpieces of its predecessors, this end to Nathan Drake’s saga packs a gripping plot, heart-pounding action sequences, and some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen into one disc.
(2) DOOM: Third time’s the charm with the latest reboot of the granddaddy of gory FPSes. The place: a demon-infested Mars. The mission: If it moves, kill it. On a busy schedule, that’s a goal I can get behind.
(3) INSIDE: The long-awaited sophomore release from dark Danish devs Playdead, INSIDE follows the eerie mystery of its predecessor LIMBO with a world of mind-control, parasites, and scientists dead-set on discovering… something.
(4) Layers of Fear: Naysayers call it a bunch of cheap jump scares designed for PewDiePie and his ilk–but for me, this was possibly the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. Like Jacob’s Ladder meets The Haunted Mansion, time, space, and object permanence mean nothing as you journey through the home of an insane painter desperate to finish his greatest work… even if it kills him.
(5) Pokemon Go: Need I say more? Sure, the hype only lasted a few weeks, but for that glorious midsummer time, 90s nostalgia and cutting edge AR tech joined forces to turn a good chunk of the urban populace into the pocket-monster hunters we always wanted to be. Just do not trespass while playing.
(Honorable Mentions): Hyper Light Drifter and The Last Guardian: I haven’t finished these yet, but the former is a gorgeous love-letter to SNES-era labyrinthine fantasy action games, and the latter is a legendarily delayed tale of a boy and his enormous killer furry pet (but really, it’s finally out!!).
–Best Albums–
(1) David Bowie, Blackstar: Perhaps it’s the freshness of the wound from his premature passing talking, but the choice was obvious. Prophetically or deliberately, Bowie portrays a stirring vulnerability across these seven jazz-tinged tracks like never before.
(2) Dance with the Dead, The Shape: It takes a lot to stand out among 80s-electronica throwback acts these days–anybody with a synthesizer and neon on their cover can ape John Carpenter. How does DwtD earn its stripes? By bringing dance-floor-ready beats and goosebump-inducing chants and guitar solos into the mix.
(3) Radiohead, A Moon-Shaped Pool: Cool, creeping, and cerebral as ever, Thom Yorke and company reassert their the radio-unfriendly art rock cred with monochrome majesty.
(4) Yeasayer, Amen and Goodbye: From mandolins to child choirs to funky beats, you never know what you’ll get with Yeasayer, but it’s sure to get stuck in your head. Underrated!
(5) Panic! at the Disco, Death of a Bachelor: Frontman Brendon Urie never met an abrupt genre change he didn’t like, but this mashup of glam-rock and swing is still unmistakably P!atD: Raucous, cocky, and Hot-Topical.
–Best Other Songs–
(1) “Light Tunnels,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Mike Slap: Selling genuine awe and being starstruck is hard when you’ve already topped the Billboard charts, but somehow Macklemore manages it on this breathless opening track.
(2) “Famous,” Kanye West feat. Rihanna and Swizz Beatz: I just wanted you to know.
(3) “Tiimmy Turner,” Desiigner: Straight, unintelligible fire.
(4) “Campaign Speech,” Eminem: Shady goes a capella–but anything but apolitical–and doesn’t let off the gas for eight minutes. If this is any indication of what his next album will be like, both Marshall Mathers LPs have some serious competition coming down the pipe
(5) “Exist,” Avenged Sevenfold: What else can you ask for in a prog-metal song but a Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo outro?
(6) “Starboy,” The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk: The inimitable hairdo may be gone, but electro-R&B’s golden boy goes for the triple and then some with this infectious title track.
–Best Books–
Embarrassingly, I can only recall one book published in 2016 that I read for pleasure this year: Atlas Obscura. But for anybody into world travel, pick up a (hefty) copy and start marking your maps for the most bizarre and/or fascinating sights the seven continents have to offer!
 –
And that’s about it! Best wishes for a bright(er) 2017. We can have no illusions of it being sunshine and roses, but neither should we resign ourselves to things just getting progressively worse. Every era has its own phase where folks think “it’s all downhill from here,” but self-fulfilling prophecies are the hardest ones to heed. Make the changes you want to see in the world in your own life, and let that conscience motivate you. Let it drive you pursue your goals, whether you want them taken care later today or in ten years.
And remember: this world can still make sense, if you don’t force it to.

Poem: “First, World”

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So, little over a month to the day since my last post! Couple of factors there: getting a sense of a good work/life balance with the new job, taking a breather from story-writing to just study the craft (finally finished Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces!), and… well, who am I kidding, that Netflix queue isn’t going to empty itself.

With poems in particular, though, I realized that–for better or worse–I’d hit a dry spell of personal ponderings to get off my chest. On one hand, I wanted to keep to the “Poem of the Week” goal I’d set in the Spring, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to sit around wondering and worrying just so I’d have something meaningful to write about on schedule. But when fresh doubts, deliberations, and stirring turns of phrase arise naturally over time? Well, I’d certainly rather serve them than let them stew.

It’s in that initial mindset of wanting to take a break and figure things out (how and what, exactly, is always the question) that I slowly composed this poem. I’m feeling better than when I wrote my last handful, personally and professionally. But, am I feeling content? Well…

 

First, World

I need a breather, a lever

to clearly crank between work and play.

Extra time in space.

The news is tightening, see:

word spreads like wine stains

of longer hours, shorter deadlines, higher expectations.

Dark, aged anxieties redden White naiveté.

 

So I need a scene

that stays in the director’s cut, unbundled.

Scifi conventions by weekend.

Mangled, NSFW memes in my phone’s feeds.

Dark, droning ambient music to massage the ears

over dishwashing and staring down a hollow closet.

Secretly, I’d like having part of me that makes my colleagues uncomfortable,

an edge to sand by day and sharpen by night.

I mean, the moral turpentine of eye contact and shaky small talk

can burn as well as cleanse,

and the scars aren’t far from madness, in a vacuum.

 
And I need a reason to pay attention

on schedule, with minimum interest.

Like a kid to cod liver oil, I to others’ identities.

It’s humorous and horrifying to see

how high I can climb without knowing

or caring who’s right

alongside me.

But my fear of looking stupid is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Just once, I want two-way understanding in a conversation

instead of this tin-can-and-string bonding

between flitted grins and the absence of a face-to-face disgrace

(If something was wrong, they’d tell me).

Responsibility respawns ability

to be concerned, concerted, and make aces out of jokers—

when the fact is I can’t tell poker from solitaire.

 

Because my default is deprecation:

self-, else-, just for the sake of it—

an optimist’s façade, casting over

what luck! the shadow of oh fuck.

If doubt is universal, then mine’s infinitely expanding:

A demanding unhanding of double-edged words

from the same fist that clutches, unbudging,

every off-the-cuff criticism or compliment.

Damn wrist, trembling—figurative caffeine from within,

and I’ve blinked maybe five times today.

I need weaning off the sense of winning

when I intend to succeed and do.

That’s baseline, basically.

 

And so I need the curvature of my life,

a hidden horizon—a point past which no sight goes.

Certain uncertainty.

With every year, another throughline grows:

pallid strands, like taut dental floss, stretch into the yon,

today to tombstone.

I need that chance, that could-still-be and there’s-hope-yet,

to pat my back like an autumn sunbeam, assuaging

ailing ambitions in thinning air.

Because either way—a 401k and vacant trophy case

or canned beans over Hollywood contracts—

the captain goes down with the shit

he keeps onboard, and mine’s not hitting port any time soon.

A hoard of hoary motivations and vague concepts, outlines

sketched in the cobwebbed corners of a mind palace

long since repo’d by the state?

Not inaccurate,

but also not positive.

I’d say I didn’t come this far by being a downer,

but then I never pulled out a history book

for rulers to measure the distance.

 

Maybe it’s privilege

to shelve a dream and still smile at night,

to keep a whole ‘nother life on the back burner.

It can wait, most days. It’ll have to.

 

But first, world, I need the hours

to know what’s ours and what’s just mine—

how to tell when time’s running out

or just getting its second wind to lap back ‘round.

Everything I do, it’s to check off a list

that exists half in my heart and half on a Word doc.

‘Cause otherwise, with pen in breast pocket,

timesheet in tow,

and notepad gathering coffee stains,

we’ll just have to wait and see

which gets deleted first.