As I'm sure you all know, Microsoft revealed the new Xbox One gaming system today.
Below is a detailed essay I've written that encompasses my thoughts, not only about the new Xbox system, but about it's place in the hierarchy of games in general, as well as what this may or may not mean for the future of video games.
In writing this essay, I tried to pull together the entirety of my knowledge about video games in order to approach the subject in a truly holistic way. Here we go:
I don't give a shit about Xbox. I don't really play video games. Thank you. Good night.
I never set out to spend my life writing blog entries about the HGTV show House Hunters. In fact, I never even set out to watch House Hunters, but sometimes life throws you a curve-ball and you've just gotta roll with the punches, make lemonade, keep-on-keeping on, and write a goddam blog where you complain about the peoples on the television.
So here we go. House Hunters. Again.
Today was a good day. I went to work, wrote some stuff, bound a book (yep, I do that), had a meeting with some good people about possibly organizing a community garden in the city where I live, and got to check out the truly epic garden of one of my fellow plant-folks. All in all, I couldn't ask for more.
But then, I sit down, start reading, and I notice that the teevee's been left on. House Hunters is on. I try not to look.
"Focus on the reading," I say to myself. "Don't look at it."
Turning off the television sounds like a really great idea, but jesus christ, the remote is way over on the other side of the room. C'mon now, cut me some slack. You saw all that shit I did today. I get tired.
I watch in horror as a couple shops for a house. He is a car dealer, she is a nurse. They are driving an expensive boat -- which they refer to as a "Party Barge" -- around a lake, searching for a new home. The budget is $460,000.00 and they have the standard list of silly rich-people requirements for any property they buy:
It's gotta be on the water. Having formerly lived in Florida, the couple has long dreamed of the "water lifestyle" that was out of their reach previously.
It can't be full of knotty-pine wood, because Jesus, can you imagine?
It's gotta have four bedrooms -- for two people.
As they explore houses, they immediately launch in to the typical caddy bullshit that you find in the loveless fucks typically featured on the show.
"I need a place to put a wide screen television," he says.
"We're not doing that," she replies. "We're buying a house on the water so we can stare at the water."
"Well, we'll see," he says. (The famous final refuge of a male on the losing end of an argument.)
Turning to the camera, she addresses us directly: "I think we should be having conversations in the living room. I think he should be paying attention to me."
He, in a brilliant moment of high-definition honesty, rolls his eyes, clearly praying for a bullet to end one of their lives and spare him the further misery of living this hellish existence.
It's clear by now that we've obviously got a very loving couple on our hands.
No discussion on big decisions relating to household layout? Check.
Complete dismissal of your life-partner's opinions? Check.
Bald face hatred? Check.
I toyed with the idea of adding "a lack of attention" to the list, but I wasn't sure it fit. After all, these people are both complete dildos; sure, he sucks if he's not paying attention, which is completely possible, but she also sucks equally if she's lying about it. It's one of those rare situations that spares you the effort of shuffling through a lot of moral complexity to make a decision.
About now I'm wishing a giant, cartoonish anvil would fall from the sky and squash them both. She, as though sensing my wish, doubles down by insisting that the absence of a walk-in closet is a deal breaker. My blood pressure ticks up a few points as I think about the fact that this woman is insisting on having a closet -- a place to store shit -- that would work out to be bigger than the bedroom I sleep in. It's not because I'm jealous, which would be way easier -- it's because, for chrissakes lady, how much bullshit do you need?
How many rooms do we need to house our visitors? How many closets do we need to hold our clothes? Am I the only one that finds this completely insane?
It occurs to me that we're like a race of prize animals with the shittiest pedigree ever: we're born and bred to consume. Every niche must be filled, no situation can be ignored or discounted. Is there a possibility that relatives might visit? You'll need a dedicated bedroom for that. You'll need a walk-in closet because you own a pair of shoes for every color of the douchebag rainbow. You wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of penny loafers that didn't perfectly compliment your Haggar slacks; foibles like that are best left to the homeless and the residents of third-world countries.
It's incredible. Marginal talent, megabucks, and a preternatural ability to be a persnickety asswipe that has the time -- the INCREDIBLE AMOUNTS OF TIME -- to devote thought to the fact that you want a "water lifestyle." Picture it. Try to be mad. You can't. It's all too amazing. Like Ron Burgundy reeling at the fact that Baxter at the entire wheel of cheese, we can't be moved to anger because we're too impressed.
My daydreaming is interrupted again, this time because he and she are complaining about the size of the bathroom. The entrance to the shower is a bit low, which prompts her to ask the question: "Look at this! How will you get IN here?"
Surprisingly, he ducks the short door frame, just like a real person. Even so, he validates her concerns by pronouncing the bathroom impossibly small.
Now, I wonder how much these people shit. My bathroom is possibly the most neglected room in my house, if you're looking at things in terms of cold, hard numbers. I sleep in the bedroom for eight hours a night; I'm in the living room writing for most of the evening; the Lady Otter and I have even been known to have a conversation in the kitchen from time to time.
Never once have we done anything together in the bathroom. Maybe we're too traditional?
Did they buy the house? Who knows. I was too far gone to pay attention by that point.
I'm 34 years old now. That means I was born in 1979, was a child during the 80's, and a teenager during the 90's.
The 80's were an interesting time. I was too young to take part in the massive cocaine and cash-burning parties that were taking place, but I did get my first exposure to movies in the mid to late eighties. Blockbusters, which first emerged in the late 70's, were coming in to their own, making the slow transformation into the awful crap-fests that would come to fill the theaters in the mid to late 90's and beyond.
Star Wars was a given, particularly for a chubby only-child that got burned when exposed to sunlight. Indiana Jones came next, followed by a terrifying run in with Poltergeist, and sweet doubloon-laden adventure with the Goonies.
You can argue with me. You might even win. But for me, the eighties were a pretty good time in terms of movie-watching. Maybe it was my youthful naivety.
The 90's were a dark time for movies, so I turned to books. At first, I stuck with Dungeons and Dragons novels. I read several volumes of the Elminster series, every word set to paper about Drizzt Do'Urden (at that time, at least) and more than a couple of Volo's guides to Forgotten Realms. In between, I'd read D&D manuals and write adventures. Don't judge me.
Eventually I grew up, got a job, went to college, fought a bear with a knife, built a house and swam with sharks. Most of those things are lies. All of them aside from the first three, in fact. But it's really only the third one that matters within the context of this entry. Going to college.
College began with a film course. It felt like cheating. Going to class, watching movies, and then talking about them. Had I not been doing this for my entire life, without paying a cent of tuition for the privilege? But that first class was extraordinarily formative for me, in a lot of ways.
First, I met a teacher that would help me realize that I was a writer. You don't always know that, and it's incredibly, incredibly awesome, when someone points a finger at you and tells you. But that's a whole different entry.
The second way the class helped determine the direction of my life was by forcing me to write papers. We were told to pick a film, pick an element of that film (lighting, editing, mis en scene, etc.) and then write a paper about that particular element and why we found it worthy of an essay. For my paper, I chose the HP Lovecraft Historical Society silent film Call of Cthulhu. The film is shot in black and white, by an amateur crew, and is awesome. If you haven't seen it yet, go do so immediately. My topic of choice was the lighting in the film.
This moment was significant for me because it was the first time I realized that academic thinking had practical application with ALL fiction, even genre. The realization made me go slightly apeshit and I spent the next few years writing paper after paper about George Romero and Takashi Miike movies. And more and more, as the time I spent writing grew and expanded and got more serious, I began to ask myself why we weren't doing the same thing with genre books. Why don't we ask these questions and give the same analysis to novels with swords, monsters, or spaceships?
There were notable exceptions. Gene Wolfe, for example, has a body of critical writing devoted to this work. So do other writers, some of whom I've never heard of, and probably some that I have. But it's not as widespread as I'd like.
Do a Google Scholar search (or better yet, a JSTOR search for those of you with database access) and see how many search results you return for, say, Salman Rushdie. Now do the same for Nick Harkaway, or M John Harrison.
And yes, despite being immensely lazy, I have done what I just asked you to do. You won't find results for Harkaway or Harrison. You will find innumerable results for Rushdie. Why is this?
Don't get me wrong: Rushdie is amazing. Incredible. Larger than life and twice as insane, controversial, and talented. But damned if Harkaway and Harrison aren't pretty mind-blowing, too. And quality isn't my point anyway. I'm not here to make the argument that one writer is better or worse than another; doing that is just a mindless invitation to argue about entirely subjective things that can and will never be settled. Which brings me to my point...
Why, oh why, do we, as genre fans, spend all of our time nitpicking bullshit on the internet when we could be engaging our literature in the same way academics engage Salman Rushdie? We don't need to be college professors to ask questions of what we read. Once upon a time, books were an interactive experience, rather than a consumptive act. (And no, before you ask, I'm not referring to Choose Your Own Adventure novels.)
I don't expect us to start publishing critical journals. Nor do I expect us to go out and learn semiotics so we can try to compare Sauron's tower to a penis and speculate about the insufficiency for which he's compensating. I don't expect any kind of formality.
All I'm asking is that we engage what we read. The more we do it, the better. Rather than JUST talking about who Jon Snow's real parents are (because let's face it, we all know who Jon Snow's REAL parents are, amiright?) let's consider, for a moment, the gender relations in Game of Thrones. Not because we want to make a case for or against anything, but simply because doing so helps us understand a little bit more about our world and the media we're consuming.
You want to discuss identity? Read The Gone Away World. What does that say about identity? What does it say about violence? What does it say about resource consumption, or our relationship with the natural world? What does it say about fossil fuels? Anything? What does it say about the way we perceive narratives? I don't know...you tell me.
It's intimidating. I know. No one wants to sound like a dumbass. That's the beauty of what I'm suggesting here. No one should feel like a dumbass. There are no right or wrong answers. I once made a case for Charlie and the Chocolate factory as a Marxist text. Is it one? Who gives a shit? It doesn't matter that we're right. It just matters that we're thinking. We're engaging. We're asking questions.
This isn't a suggestion to replace how we currently talk about our books, but rather a suggestion for something we could add. And I think it's a good one, and I say that with no fear of you thinking I'm a dumbass, because I don't care. If I'm a dumbass, I'm a dumbass. It's fun being a dumbass. Join me. I'm dying to hear what you're thinking.
This will make us better. It will make our books better. Let's do it.
While I was in the process of applying to grad schools, it was fairly common for people to tell me how hard grad school was. Fortunately, I'm so goddam smart that I knew they were just underestimating me.
When I was accepted to a grad program, the acceptance letter mentioned that I might want to ease into things because, again, grad school is hard.
"Fine. If you say so, grad school acceptance people," I replied, haughtily flicking my enormously long cigarette ashes onto a nearby urchin.
During my first advisement appointment, while picking classes, my teacher mentioned it again.
"These classes can be intense," he said. "Take it slow."
Naturally, I threw back my head and laughed like a Zima-buzzed schoolgirl.
"Slow indeed. Maybe for you, ignoramus!"
Welp, here we are, midway through the second semester, and I can tell you with the utmost confidence that grad school is hard. It does things to a person. It will siphon away their leisure time, and writing time, and free-will reading time. Fortunately, for those last two, it replaces them with productive alternatives (if you're in an MFA, at least). The leisure time, however...that's just gone.
So that's my sob story about why I've been gone. Now I'm back.
In my time away, I've done the following things:
Wrote a couple of stories. One of them is about a pair of characters that I've been toying with using in a serial project to be sold on Amazon. Nothing about that yet, of course (haven't even written or outlined the serial yet), but the group reactions to the trial story were fairly positive.
Started becoming a Master Gardener. Still have a few classes and some volunteer hours to fill, but I'm getting there. If you need to know how to plant a tree, trim Lilacs, or identify those weird brown spots on your tomato leaves, I can help.
Began learning how to bind books. What writer isn't obsessed with weird looking blank books? What writer wouldn't want to make their own?
So where are we headed as a blog? Picture this:
Bam! Now that, friends, is a combo platter straight out of hell.
Once you and a friend were at a carnival and you found a booth where a vendor was selling weapons. Your friend bought a buck knife, but you stole money from your grandmother to buy the samurai sword. You’ve never unsheathed it, but you hold it to this day while meditating.
A few months back, some friends invited you on a camping trip. You turned them down, but then suddenly and inexplicably left town for 19 days to go live in the forest. You ate bad moss and got diarrhea, but you didn’t care; that’s all part of the price. The hardcore price.
And now, having exhausted every avenue that being a hardcore person has to offer, you find yourself entering the final frontier of hardcoredom. As you stand there on that windswept precipice of life-changing decision, one question gnaws at the very fibers of your being: should I get an Earth Crisis tattoo beard?
First things first - relax. Put your mind at ease. I’m here to help.
What are my qualifications, you ask? Let me start by saying that I don’t actually like Earth Crisis, so you can expect only honest answers from me; I have no vested interest in promoting the band, nor do I have a vested interest in facial tattoos. I’m just a guy - an honest guy - that’s spent a lot of time pondering how life would change after getting an Earth Crisis tattoo beard.
Without further ado, let’s get down to brass tacks. Here are the pros and cons, as I see them.
Pro #1: Free Earth Crisis Shows For Life…Maybe.
In the spirit of full disclosure I admit that I have no formal evidence with which I can back up this claim, hence I add the word “maybe.” However, I hold strong in my belief that any person in a position to let you into an Earth Crisis concert will do so for free if you have a tattoo of the band’s name on your face. In the event of a failed attempt, I would recommend contacting the band directly - perhaps through their website - to inform them of the problem.
Pro #2: The Love of Women Who Are Also Into Earth Crisis.
An Earth Crisis tattoo beard sends a clear message: “I like Earth Crisis. I am hardcore*.” If you can find a woman who’s love of Earth Crisis matches your own (and let’s face it, why would you want anything else?), you are almost sure to catch her eye. If you somehow fail to catch her eye, simply approach her, tap her on the shoulder, and gesture to your Earth Crisis tattoo beard.
Pro #3: The Ability to Look Down Upon All Other Fans of Earth Crisis That Don’t Have Face Tattoos.
I don’t feel that this warrants a great deal of explanation as the name really says it all. Instead, here are a few dialogic examples which you may feel free to use or change to fit your needs:
◦“Oh, you got the new Earth Crisis album? I haven’t got it yet. I spent all my money on this Earth Crisis tattoo beard.”
◦“Oh, you got the new Earth Crisis album? I haven’t got it yet. I was too busy getting this Earth Crisis tattoo beard.”
◦“Oh, you got the new Earth Crisis album? I haven’t got it yet. I don’t have any money because my Earth Crisis tattoo beard prevents me from having a job.”
◦“There are two periods of Earth Crisis for me, and I call them PTB and ATB; that’s Pre-Tattoo Beard and After Tattoo Beard. Sure, the music sounds the same, but I don’t feel like I really understood Earth Crisis in the PTB period.”
◦“I see you have an Earth Crisis tattoo on your arm. That’s adorable. Let me show you mine - oh, wait, I already have. It’s on my face.”
Pro #4: Never Again Having to Answer the Question “What’s your favorite band?”**
Having a tattoo on your face tells the world “This is my favorite thing. Ever.” Imagine the time you’ll save when you. Don’t have to explain to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that Earth Crisis is your favorite band. By the time these would-be time-wasters get close enough to ask you the question, you will have already answered it - with your face.
I know what you’re thinking: this all sounds too good to be true - surprisingly, you wouldn’t be wrong in that assumption. Earth Crisis tattoo beards are in no way exempt from their fair share of downsides. For the sake of competent decision making, let’s take a moment to ponder the negatives.
Con #1: A complete inability to ever be hired for gainful employment.
You may ask yourself “what is this, some sort of uptight buzz-harshing academy that I’ve stumbled in to?” I don’t disagree with you. One might think that in the year 2011 the world has grown progressive enough to accept grand acts of individual expression, but things are not as progressive as we would like to think. The cold, hard fact of the matter is that employers may not want a candidate with an Earth Crisis tattoo beard, unless of course that employer is Earth Crisis the band, or a non-affiliate business that just happens to be named Earth Crisis; and in the latter situation, you would, in all likelihood, only be hired on as a sort of demeaned walking billboard for the company.
Con #2: The Members of Earth Crisis are still alive, therefore it is unsafe to tattoo their logo on your face.
Arguably, Earth Crisis never was what many would consider a “good” band. Given this uncertain talent-level, it may be best to wait for the members of the band to die of old age prior to getting a tattoo beard of their logo. This not only gives one ample time to prepare, but also grants the ability to examine the band’s entire body of work without the dangerous possibility of solo-endeavors or drastic genre changes. If you doubt the wisdom of this claim, simply go to your local bowling alley and ask any number of disillusioned and tattoo-laden Metallica fans; there is no testimonial more convincing than that of the hapless and burned phantoms from the past.
Con #3: Repeatedly having strangers approach you to say: “Wow, you must really like Earth Crisis!”
Much like King Midas and his magical finger, this beautiful blessing can soon become a curse. I have no solution for this problem, but I have taken the time to brainstorm a few suggestions that may help to ameliorate it somewhat.
Look really scary - so scary that people won’t approach you.
Get a second face tattoo that says “Yes, I REALLY like Earth Crisis.”
Get a second face tattoo that says “Don’t ask me about Earth Crisis.”
Carry an exposed pistol or knife at all times.
Wear a giant, fake beard during time spent outside of pre-established “Comfort Zones”: home, work, etc.
Con #4: The fact that “Earth Crisis” can easily be changed to “Fart Crisis” with only a small amount of concealing make-up.
You may think this is far fetched, but I assure you the temptation will be strong enough to taunt even the least prank-oriented of your friends. Sleeping around other people - even spouses or significant others - will be nigh impossible with an Earth Crisis tattoo beard. Constant paranoia, early-morning trips to the mirror, and the fear - oh, the fear - will create a constant web of nervous misery.
Despite my efforts to pro and con the situation into a manageable decision, the final call really comes down to you. Do you have the courage and will to become one of society’s chosen few? Can you travel the less-traveled path, alternately reaping rich rewards and feeling the cruel lash of fate? Some - many, in fact - cannot, and there is no shame in that. Sometimes homogeneity and anonymity are better; sometimes a clear, smooth baby-face is easier than having a billboard for a mediocre band carved into your flesh. In the end, as I’ve said, it all comes down to you.
I wish you the best of luck in making your decision.
The short, sweet answer is that I just started school again. I'm earning my MFA -- emphasis on the earning part -- and it is coming at great expense to my free time.
Here is the longer, more complicated answer, in which I take you on a tour through the vagaries of my life...(Spoiler: I do talk about writing, so it's not all self indulgence.) If you'll indulge me, I'll phrase these updates in the form of a bulleted list of life tips.
Life Tip One: Stop chewing your nails. This week I had my second trip to the Emergency Room with a ridiculously inflated finger. The infection, commonly known as Paronychia, occurs in nailbiters. It involves shots in the knuckle to "numb" the finger, following by a lengthy session of a doctor driving a scalpel between your nail and fingerflesh. It doesn't sound even a tenth as horrible as it feels. The first time it happened, the Doctor warned me: "This will be incredibly painful." It was. Guess what? Kept chewing those nails, 'cause god dammit, this is America and I ain't a quitter. It hurt even worse the second time. I'm done now.
Life Tip Two: Read poetry. Yeah, yeah, I know. I used to be just like you: "Poetry? Eff that, bro. I'm too busy rolling my smokes in my sleeve and greasing my hair to read that shit." Trust me. I'm taking a compulsory course on poetic forms and it's opening my eyes to some incredible things. If you want to write images, poetry is worth a look. I'm still finding my way and forming my taste in the stuff, but once I do, don't be surprised to find recommendations here.
Life Tip Three: WRITE!
Sorry. Gotta keep it short today. Let's talk again soon, inkay? The next post will be more organized, I promise. Until then, some Soulfly: