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!
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–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!
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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.
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Poem of the Week: “The Teenage Waste Land”

I first conceived of this poem years ago, when Honors English introduced me to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and I got an urge to produce a modern version that’d aggressively borrow from my own favorite stirring songs and stories. It sat there until now with only a few lines (that I swiftly deleted), but the tone remains what I had in mind–albeit more worldly now for the self-awareness I’ve gained.

In the interest of treating this like an airlock for my own melancholy, I didn’t listen to any music while writing it or reflect on songs I used to listen to for “inspiration.” If “ISYMFS” was cleaning out my closet, consider this taking the bags to the curb.

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The Teenage Waste Land

This love was out of control.

Tell me, where did it go?

Cold, open—I crawl from the rubble

of bubbly optimism come crashing down

like C4 to a ceiling.

Heels to headboard, bed is a hospital ward,

recuperation indefinite. Now all I can do

is lay in my room, fall asleep, dream of you,

then wake up and do nothing about it.

Songs of ready-made restlessness

spoon-feed solidarity to a tired heart.

 

And yet…

take a number, I guess.

We all have a story to tell, so it might as well

go through a few drafts.

I still remember how I made you feel, once upon a time,

but the market for fairy tales ain’t what it used to be.

I will soon forgot the color of your eyes, but I don’t mind.

Everyone will die and lose,

so what will you do with the moments before it catches you?

Never asked, always implied,

and I am thinking it’s a sign

in the rearview, those lines I cast

before I cut loose and floated away:

Just say how to make things right, and I swear I’ll do

whatever makes you happy,

if it means a lot to you.

Put like that, I get why

guy drama is relationship strychnine.

 

So, know what?

Cast your stones, cast your judgment—

you don’t make me who I am.

I’m a patient man, as you’ve discovered,

and my passion was pen and paper all along.

Are we only damaging what little we have left,

to ever reconnect?

Hell yes.

Nature abhors empty shelves;

the stories of my generation won’t tell themselves.

Let these hazards of love nevermore trouble us.

Growing old’s a fact, but growing up is optional.

 

Yet every line I write’s a cost-benefit analysis.

Is the world better for hearing how morning light looks through my blinds,

or a childhood anecdote recounted in rhythmic alliteration?

And who would know once I do?

Quickly but surely,

circular illogic draws me back to routine:

wait and debate, try and flail,

rush and submit… shit.

One rejection:

a mental injection of barbiturates,

carte blanche to bitch about luck

and how there’s not enough time.

I guess I’ll go home now.

 

But it is plain as anyone can see, we’re simply meant to be

the person we picture when our head touches down—

that gap between dim aspiration and REM respiration.

By morning, I always find the words

when it’s too late to let them slip

and fall, for fear of my stand looking awkward.

Dreams are the only thing smothered above a pillow.

 

So a few weeks, and I’m back

on the horse—a kick, and it’ll stick!

I swear, this time I mean it.

Yet self-set deadlines feel like a vice

of virtue.

So I vow if I don’t follow through…

well, shoot.

Eh, some hell will break loose.

To penciled-in punishment, what a shock when there’s mere pages

for all the ages I’ve celebrated.

 

Maybe we were made for each other,

and maybe the world will look like this forever.

The kind of lie that stretches out hope

like a prisoner on the rack.

Still, palm to palm or ink to page,

it was believable, from a window looking on an alley.

I know I sound crazy—don’t you see what it does to me?

The chance I simply swapped rash ambitions,

the artist’s star in lieu of a lover?

Feathers to gold, the value unbudging?

The pleas for an ingénue cross to an audience:

You’d be good to me, and I’d be so good to you.

Why can’t you just be lonely?

 

This suit, this smile,

this gel-shellacked hair, this friendly Facebook exchange

is just a part I portray.

And I know exactly how it got this way:

Everybody needs some time all alone,

but if you left it up to me,

every day would be a holiday from reality:

a freestyle frenzy of riffs, rides, cliffside hikes,

artificial flavors for the screen and stomach.

It could be seventy-two degrees, zero chance of rain

—a perfect day—

and I’d still take ten thousand gigs of digital infinity.

Too much of anything is too much,

except when the alternative is failing

at the only work I ever chose.

 

I always get in my own way,

but dammit, that means I’ll hit myself on the way to the ground

and keep fighting on.

I can’t change the way I see the world,

and I can’t justify my reasons, but

 

if life is a sea,

then a living is a boat,

and hope is the shoals to which I sail:

some distant, shining semblance of fulfillment.

But it’s so far away,

and the rowing is so tiresome.

It’d be so simple to just go overboard, sink into an ocean

of promotions and prefixed expectations—

boxes to check, T’s to cross, watches to gild—

and let crash the waves of rationalization and procrastination:

action movies, YouTube, Steam, doodles and daydreams.

I need your discipline.

 Just tell me the way I ought to feel, what’s right and wrong.

 

A writer’s work is never done,

but I’m addicted to being finished,

and I need comfort like water in my lungs.

So if I ever asked anything

of the ones who’ve seen me this far,

it’s this:

 

be there, my first mates,

lifejacket at the ready

made of bright red faith.

 

Dive in when I’m down.

Save me from myself.

 

Don’t

let

me

drown.