Hey you all hear about Pluto? That’s messed up.
SIRI QUICK CHOOSE A NUMBER BEFORE THEY REALIZE I DON’T HAVE AN OPENER, MAKE HASTE.
#2: What are some key sources of media that
have shaped your worldview?
First, a word regarding words1. A lot of the words we use to describe things that people make and our interactions with them have become laden with connotation, and leavened unlike so much matzoh, and a lot of that connotation has to do with our perceptions of the people doing the actual creative work; when you boil down the bones, there’s very little difference between Beethoven writing a crazy-ass sonata and a SoundCloud rapper dropping a new record, but if you were to describe the Ode To Joy or a self-published pamphlet about why the Irish should eat their own children as “content” or even “media”, much less that you were “consuming” it, you would shortly find yourself shivved, shanked, and living in a shotgun shack. One does not ‘consume’ or ‘engage with’ a symphony! One does not ‘smash Like and Subscribe’ on a Van Gogh! One does not wait for Charles Dickens to ‘drop’ his latest masterpiece2! Harrumph! I say! The very idea has nearly put me off my McBaby with cheese!
This is balderdash3. I consider myself a blogger and podcaster, and if you were to describe me as a “content creator” it would absolutely piss in my soup, but you wouldn’t be wrong; I make a lot of different kinds of things–comic series read-throughs, book club shows, topic essays, real-play tabletop shows, just barely noncriminal threats against the writers of The Rise Of Skywalker4, lists of things I’ve read–and ‘content’ is simply a neater, easier, more elegant way to refer to all of those collectively. It’s just that we associate that descriptor–and more broadly the use of ‘content’ to describe a person’s work–with gross influencers, sellouts, and people who are too young to know better and, being born into the Like And Subscribe Era, never had a chance to.
Furthermore, I think ‘consume’ has a more nuanced meaning than is often discussed, or credited; we say it because it’s easier than saying “the things I listen to and watch and read and play and and and”, and unfortunately it bears a connotation of gluttony and thoughtless chomping, snarfing, and ŋglupping, our eyes rolled back in our heads to protect them from flying detritus, the next morsel on the conveyor belt trying in vain to hide behind a horrible 70’s jello-loaf. But the word means what it says: when we consume these things, we bring them into ourselves, make them part of who we are, and use them as fuel as we make our own art, or just live and make our way through the world, unburdened by the obligation to participate in the eco-nom-ic buffet.
I think there is a conversation to be had about the rate at which we consume media, but even then I think that’s largely a function of the ecosystems being flooded with nutrients and metabolisms calibrating accordingly (or, in the case of Olds like myself, being unable to do so); when I was a kid, I re-read the Great Illustrated Classics, The Trench, and Redwalls, listened to my Singers & Songwriters cassettes, re-played Final Fantasy V, and watched Men In Black until the tape wore out not because I was absorbing or thinking especially deeply about those things, but because they were all I had and there was no way to get more. I don’t think we can blame a generation (or two, now) for being born in an endless 24-hour candy factory and not developing the ability to make a single nasty Necco Wafer last until the monthly new candy shipments come in.
HAVING ROLLED THAT RIGMA5, let’s get down to the question at hand. Believe it or not, I actually respect my readers’ time–just not my own–so I’ll limit myself to a number of items decided by a robot assistant that I’m beginning to realize may be the real creative power behind this enterprise:
1. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Hey Look, it’s My Favorite Book6(Subcategory: Genre Fiction)! I’d say the majority of people familiar with BrandoSando’s work know him from his also-excellent Mistborn series, which are more approachable because they’re about found family and magic heists and aren’t 1,000 actual pages long, but for me it became all about this series (The Stormlight Archive) once my pal Autumn convinced me that it was the rare 1,000-page book that actually needs that many pages.
As with anything deeply personal, it’s hard to explain the exact what and why of this being so special to me, but I think it has something to do with the time and place: I started reading it when She Who Is Now My Wife and I moved to Mesa in 2014 (good God), our first time with no roommates, no classes to go to (though online ones would come later), just us, trying to figure out how to be adults and make a life together, and this book was a large part of that for me, because it’s about a bunch of lovable fuckups trying to grow out of the latter without losing the former. Also war, language(!), religion(!!!), and GIANT CRABS AND SWORDFIGHTS WITH LIVING SWORDS.
More seriously, this is a book about people trying desperately to find a code worth believing in, a god worth following, a cause worth fighting for, and every one of them has an emotional disorder or mental illness that they learn to accept and come to terms with over the course of the series, which was invaluable to me when my own mental health deteriorated in the late twenteens7. A recurring question is “What is the most important step a man can take?”, and (minor, non-plot spoiler) the answer turns out to be not the first one, but the next one, and that was and remains INCREDIBLY important to me; I didn’t tag it by name in my Manifestivus posts, but it probably won’t come as a surprise given the perspectives and philosophies I tried to lay out there, and the question will be my first tattoo, one of these days. If you’re trying to do better, you’re doing better; it may not be enough, and it may not be in time, but sometimes it’s all you can do, and it’s always worth doing.
TWOK is also a book that has aged very well not just in itself (it’s barely a decade old, but that doesn’t stop some books from curdling) but also in my ongoing relationship with it: when I was a younger, feistier man with less back pain, you bet I identified with Kaladin, the fiery, Fuck-The-Man soldier enslaved into a war he didn’t start, but as I’ve gotten older and seen the kinds of fights that are fightable, and also gotten very tired but still try to make my every next step take me toward justice and peace, I’m here more and more for Dalinar Kholin, the man who inherited a throne he never wanted, married a foxy babe who’s entirely too smart for him, and is largely focused on being a better person every day while also holding his kingdom and its people together.
I’m not devoted enough to call it my Bible or anything, but it’s the book I think about most8 and the book that’s given me the most tools to be the kind of man I want to be, and if you ask me that’s better than a book that tells you what to be.
(It’s also filled with gorgeous art, some of which is done by one of the characters in the story itself and MAY have ~secret clues~ in!)
MAN WHAT A COOL GAME. My #1 very favorite game ever, actually!
Okay, so you play as a kittycat named Mae, who leaves college following An Incident and comes home to her dying midwestern town9 of Possum Springs to try and get her head right. You bum around, have tacos with mom and dad, see how things have changed since you left, hang out with Gregg while he’s working at the Snack Falcon10, find a severed arm outside the diner and become embroiled in a cult-kidnapping plot, and go to band practice where you can play a Be Bad At Playing Bass minigame! It rules! The controls and action are simple and minimal, allowing me to recommend it to almost everyone I know regardless of their video-gaming acumen. You also get an in-game journal that Mae updates as stuff transpires, including a helpful pizza-quality scale!
More seriously, NITW is about friendships (and why they’re hard), mental health (and why it’s hard), going home (and why you can’t), and yes, about a cult that MAY OR MAY NOT be trying to Make Contact With Something and is just fine with a couple of unremarkables from town being the price. I promise not every entry on this list is going to be related to my personal mental health struggles, but this game was a huge factor in putting the pieces of my head back together following the breakdown that made me realize I needed Help; Mae is very clearly Not Okay and not receiving the help she needs (at one point describing a textbook dissociative episode) but trying her best, as are her friends, and that’s gonna have to be enough. There’s no snappy phrase that sums up my relationship with it like The Way Of Kings does, but it was exactly what I needed at exactly that time in order to begin healing.
I would be remiss in failing to mention a horrible story that is sadly associated with the game. One of its creators (and unfortunately, composer of the entire incredible score, which lives rent-free in my head) whom I won’t name here was credibly accused of some like, true sex monstrosity and excused himself from the stage before legal proceedings could take place. It was BAD, and led to a whole storm of “can we enjoy good art made by bad people” conversation; where I ultimately landed is that 1.) A lot of people worked on it, not just one monster, 2.) Since he’s out of the picture I don’t have to worry about supporting him by supporting the game, and 3.) What it means to me belongs to me. (See my Manifestivus on the topic of problematic art for more.) If he was alive and possibly still hurting people, I might feel differently, but he isn’t, so I don’t. As it stands I think about this game almost every day, and if it can be one oonch as meaningful to anyone else as it is to me, I’m glad to pass it along to others.
3. Twin Peaks
This one’s probably obvious11 to anyone who’s ever spoken to me, or read anything I’ve written, or seen me from a medium distance. It informed my love of weird fiction, gentle mystery, and cosmic horror, and also of things that require a lot of patience and a willingness to accept that there are some things beyond understanding.
On the extremely slim chance that you haven’t at least heard of Twin Peaks, the upshot is that a girl named Laura Palmer is murdered and it shatters a small town full of incredibly weird but generally wholesome people, like the lady who carries a piece of log the size of a fire extinguisher and dispenses cryptic but useful advice, or Billy Zane. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, in Kyle MacLachlan’s stare-making role, is sent to investigate and is inexorably drawn into both the strange goodness of the town and its seedy underbelly.
It starts as a quirky procedural drama and quickly takes a deep turn into Weird Country, the search for Laura Palmer’s killer eventually involving the spirits lurking in the woods around town, the local Air Force base’s UFO research, and, I shit the gentle reader not, swear to God I am not making this up, a hotel where the room service bill-total includes the gratuity.
It’s not for everybody–its production was famously chaotic, which led to a lot of surprise gold but also a lot of unfixable trouble–but I encourage everyone to at least watch the pilot, because while shit gets MIGHTY strange and often inscrutably opaque12, the flavor that suffuses the entire series is present from the first moments of the first episode, and you’ll know pretty quickly whether this icon of American Weird culture and core text of my personality (and marriage, frankly) is for you or not.
Either way, you’ll know why the owls are not what they seem, and you’ll never look at them the same way again.
I AM SORRY TO DO THIS, but I have inadvertently made this article Much Too Long13 and for both our sakes will make this the VERY FIRST TWO-PART BLAUGUST POST AS FAR AS I AM AWARE14. Tune in tomorrow for Day 16 part 2! Or maybe day sev–I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE NOMENCLATURE SITUATION WILL BE, but I know I’ll be here, and I hope you will be too.
Be good to yourselves and be good to each other or face my wrath, will which probably take the form of me telling you more about the 1,000-page fantasy novels, and you haven’t built up the constitution for that, you don’t have the calluses my wife has grown over the years that slide over her ears when I mention “Alethkar” or “stormlight” or “Spren” or “Numuhukumakiaki’aialunamor” or “fucking Sadeas“.
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.
- Note to self: this is a better website name, see about stealing that from Michael Chabon I assume
- Even though this is literally, exactly what he did, being a serialized author; famously, people would congregate outside the warehouses where the latest chapters of his novels were being stored and demand to know if Little Nell survived and really, if it meant she’d eventually be played by Jodie Foster, mightn’t it be better if she didn’t?
- You take those balders and you dash ’em, you dash ’em so right
- THEY SPENT TWO MOVIES SETTING REY UP AS A STAFF-CLASS WEAPON-USER, THEN GIVE HER A SCARY DREAM WHERE AN EVIL VERSION OF HERSELF HAS A DOUBLE-BLADED LIGHTSABER, THEN GIVE HER TWO TWIN LIGHTSABERS FROM HER TWO MENTORS IN THE FORCE, REPRESENTING THE BEGINNING AND END OF HER JOURNEY WITH THE SKYWALKERS, AND NOBODY, AT ANY POINT, THOUGHT “HEY MAYBE WE SHOULD HAVE HER JUST SCREW THESE TOGETHER TO SYMBOLIZE HOW REY HAS INCORPORATED THE TEACHINGS OF LUKE AND LEIA INTO HERSELF WHILE STILL RETAINING HER OWN IDENTITY AND MOVING ON FROM THEM, AS IS THE TRUE BURDEN OF ALL MASTERS
- Deez Rigma, HA! Did–did I do that right
- Note to self, this would also be a better website name, why are you only good at these after the fact
- I don’t wanna blame it all on President Sex Criminal, the faultline in my head was clearly already there, but he’s the one who fracked it wide open. (I…don’t know how seismology works.)
- Of course, when a book (and all of its sequels) are at least 1,000, there’s a lot more to think about than with most other books, so the thumb is kind of on the scale there
- That’s DEFINITELY NOT supposed to be an exurb of Pittsburgh, what a ridiculous idea, who even let you in here
- It’s true! I swear! They finally got a Snack Falcon!
- STOP COMING UP WITH BETTER WEBSITE NAMES
- In my defense, the prompted did literally say “Hey guy talk about your favorite things for a while
- I did my research, I checked with my source!