When I lived in Japan, I didn’t own a car. I had a bike, but it got stolen on base (naturally), and with less than a year left before returning to the US, I started walking instead.
A walking commute is really easy in a place like Japan, where public transportation is robust and accessible. I had my walk to work down to a science:
1. Leave the house for a twelve-minute walk to the train station; 2. Five minutes on the train; 3. A ten-minute walk from the train station to the base gate; 4. Ten minutes from the gate to the gym’s locker room, where I stashed my uniforms; 5. A quick costume change, then, depending on where it was parked, a five- or ten-minute walk to the ship.
After a few weeks, I could predict to the minute what time I would cross the brow in the morning, and I was always on time.
The combination of walking to work and running around the ship often resulted in jubilant vibration on my wrist sometime before lunch: “Congrats!” my fitness watch would say. “You met your step goal of 10,000 steps!”
I took for granted how easy it was to be active when it was organically built in to the day. Coming back to the US was a rude awakening.
Driving a car to sit in an office all day made me very sedentary. I had to make time for physical activity like I never did in Japan, but lifting weights and swimming and running never seemed to get me back to where I was before. I became less mentally resilient, less fit, more susceptible to binge eating and drinking, and had difficulty sleeping. Not all of this is reducible to inactivity alone, but it definitely didn’t help.
A difference, it seemed, was a huge lack of walking – light but sustained activity throughout the day. I thought I would try to recreate the commute that I had in Japan, at least in duration: 45-60 minutes of walking in the morning and evening. I tried reincorporating walking into my daily schedule around this time last year, but fell out of the habit when work got busier and I went on deployment. What could I do this time around to maintain motivation?
Then I saw a Polygon video about how Pokémon Go got good again. It piqued my interest, especially with Sword and Shield coming out soon. I thought I’d give it another try, hoping it would keep me motivated to be more active.
Playing Pokémon Go gives me a sense of purpose while moving around town. It’s easy to forget about a step goal when you’re bouncing between gyms and raids, propelled forward by that part of your brain that heard GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALLat age 7 and was never the same again.
It’s been two months now since I picked up the game again. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone by. Without it, I might have lost motivation by now; waking up extra early to walk the loop around my neighborhood quickly loses its appeal based solely on its own merits (ie, the benefit of exercise). Now, when I’m tempted to roll over and go back to sleep, all I have to do is open up Pokémon Go and see that one of my precious Poké-children was defeated in a gym overnight, and it’s enough to get me out of bed and outside, excited, ready to kick some ass in return – even if I have to walk all the way to the town mural sign. Especially if I have to walk all the way to the town mural sign.
There is no such thing as a magic bullet, a cure-all for whatever bodily concern ails you. I don’t expect to step-step-step my way to an elite level of fitness. But adding more walking into my schedule helps. Even if I change nothing else, walking at least 10,000 steps each day helps me fall asleep and stay asleep, regulate my appetite, and improve my mood. And, unlike most other exercise, it doesn’t make me miserable to perform.
Playing Pokémon Go adds a layer of fun and discovery to something that might otherwise become a chore when life happens and other things try to claim my time. It pushes me out of the house even when I’m at my laziest, it gives me small goals that add up over time, and it encourages me to go even farther than I would on my own. I’m going to try to walk 30 miles this week! I never would have made (or stuck to) that goal without Pokémon Go.
So I’m 30 years old and a children’s game is giving me more motivation to stay active than any of my grown-adult rationalizations or complex fitness apps. There are a lot of things about 2019 that I wasn’t expecting. Pokémon Go is a surprising but welcome addition.
If you’ve ever played an online multiplayer game, you know the world of gaming can be incredibly off-putting and toxic. It’s hard to go a single day without another player challenging your sexuality, calling you a slur, or just being so obnoxious that the game becomes unplayable. This might be why I’ve gravitated towards games of the offline, single-player variety, mostly roguelikes and platformers and strategy games.
At this point, though, the only thing holding me back from being a truly insufferable video game hipster is that I don’t want to keep them for myself. I want to take you along for the ride.
There are games that are pure art; games that put a smile on my face every time I play them; games that make me grind my teeth and make my hands slick with sweat. A lot of them cost less than a third of what the big-name companies are churning out year after year with very little variation or improvement – yeah, I’m talking to you, Bethesda and Bungie. Unfortunately, the lack of a big name often means lack of big advertising. Indie games rely on positive reviews and word of mouth to generate hype.
So here’s some hype for inexpensive games that are absolutely worth your time and attention.
Here is my criteria for a game to make this list: 1. It must cost $20 or less. 2. It must not be made by a major developer. 3. It must be critically acclaimed. 4. I can reasonably suspect you might not have heard of or played it. (Imagine me typing this out as I push my thick-rimmed glasses up higher on my nose and sip on my vanilla soy latte, because I am hipster trash.) 5. It must be memorable for its story, music, or some other aspect of its design – that is, art apart from gameplay.
These rules eliminate some of my most favorite games right off the bat. Rules #1 and 2 prohibit Katamari Damacy, which is ostensibly still in the underappreciated vein; rule #2 also cuts out Portal and Team Fortress 2, the latter of which is, incredibly, still going strong and completely free to play. And, of course, no Fallout. No Final Fantasy. No Legend of Zelda. No Tetris, even! These games don’t need me. I’d like to shine a light on some of the lesser-known ones.
I know, y’all are sick of hearing me talk about this game.
Will I ever stop? No. Celeste is that good.
In case you haven’t been within earshot of me in the past 18 months, Celeste is a 2D platformer about climbing a mountain to prove something to yourself. During her climb, Madeline is forced to confront the aspects of herself that she hates; without spoiling anything, it is only when Madeline learns to accept herself as she is that she is able to move forward. For a game that appears so simple, Celeste totally surprised me with its deeply moving story of anxiety and doubt and the healing power of forgiveness.
This game is the complete package: the pixel art is beautiful, the music is perfectly composed to evoke certain feelings, the plot tells an important story – and even when you want to crack your Nintendo Switch over your knee out of frustration, the rush of euphoria that you feel when you finally, finally beat a screen that killed you hundreds, thousands of times is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before while playing a game. The tougher the challenge, the more rewarding the payoff. Did I mention that the music is extremely good? It is extremely good.
FTL: Faster Than Light is a real-time strategy, space opera Oregon Trail. What, that alone isn’t enough to reel you in? It is somehow seven years old today and I’m still playing it like it’s brand new. That’s probably because no two play-throughs are the same; the game feels different every time.
The name is a pun on “for the loss,” which tracks with the general roguelike gameplay: you’re going to lose way more often than you win. Choosing from a variety of ships and crews, the player has to navigate across randomly-generated space, making choices and experiencing consequences and, of course, beefing up the ship with cool weapons and subsystems. So much of FTL‘s gameplay is subject to chance that it’s difficult to truly master; aiming to complete achievements gives a sense of direction and accomplishment.
I include FTL over Into the Breach, a time-based strategy game released last year by the same developers, for two reasons: for FTL, the ratio of success to failure (that is, feelings of triumph to frustration) is much more tolerable, and the music is very good, evolving as the player enters new territories and the intensity of the confrontations ramps up.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY THIS GAME IS WORTH YOUR MONEY FTL never stops being new and fun, even if you’ve played through it hundreds of times. Between the variety of ships and the random level generation, each experience of the game is guaranteed to be different. Plus, the music just plain slaps.
$10 on Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS.
If I could give one game as a gift to everyone in the world, it would bethis one. Monument Valley is an absolute treasure.
Monument Valley combines puzzles with Escher-like optical illusions in a gorgeously colorful world. The puzzles are never especially challenging and interacting with the environment is always gratifying. Underlying the visual aesthetics is a delightfully subtle soundscape to accompany the music and an equally subtle story about the protagonist and her place in the world.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY THIS GAME IS WORTH YOUR MONEY Once you’ve played this game, you’ll never forget it. Monument Valley is evidence that games can be art.
$2 on iOS and Google Play.
My skin is clear and my crops are flourishing.
Of any game on this list, I suspect this is the one that most TRUE GAMERS have heard of. It was created by a single developer (Eric Barone, how you do this?) who thought the Harvest Moon series was going to shit (true) and wanted to get back to its roots.
There is something strangely soothing about developing a routine that involves repetitively completing tasks: watering crops, caring for animals, exploring and mining and fishing, getting to know the villagers in town. Farming simulators are wonderfully therapeutic balms for us Type As who love the satisfaction of striking items off a list and maintaining good time management.
What’s cool about Stardew Valley is that it is a true indie success story, made by one person whose interactions with and feedback from fans made this game incredibly popular very quickly, eventually generating more than $1 million in revenue. When’s the last time your spiteful project made $1 million? Not any of mine, but maybe someday.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY THIS GAME IS WORTH YOUR MONEY If you enjoy farming simulators like Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley is worth your time. Behind the revolving door of mundane tasks and simple pixel art is a charming story of a community coming together in support of each other, their little town, and their quiet way of life.
$15 on all platforms.
Florence is a combination of puzzles and interactive art, designed by Ken Wong, the same creator behind Monument Valley. The player follows the titular Florence as she navigates through a dead-end job and a tense relationship with her mother, to an exciting new relationship, to settling in to a predictable routine, to a devastating breakup, to her growth and flourishing as an artist. It is the story of how people come and go in our lives and how we grow through those connections.
You can finish this game in one sitting, easily – but that hour is going to be an emotional roller coaster. Florence’s life is so deeply relatable to young people, and the player’s interactions with her experiences of love and loss feel very personal. The storytelling – all visual, very little dialogue – is brilliantly intuitive, and the orchestral music follows the emotional tenor of the plot in a very moving way.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY THIS GAME IS WORTH YOUR MONEY Florence is completely unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It is like an interactive graphic novel. One of the game mechanics – using actual puzzle pieces to show how conversations get easier as we get more comfortable with someone – was so clever and insightful. The music is beautifully composed and rises and falls along with the story, making it an intensely emotional experience. Honestly, if you get through this game without getting even a little misty-eyed, I don’t think we can hang.
$3 on iOS and Google Play
If you’ve got nostalgia for choose-your-own adventure stories or text-based games, you’re in luck: A Dark Room will scratch that itch, but it will probably leave you with more questions than answers.
A Dark Room, as the name suggests, is bare: no graphics, no sounds, just text – and even the descriptions are sparse. You wake up in a dark room and make a fire. You don’t know who you are or where you are. You meet a stranger, who helps you build shelter, which attracts more people just like you. It seems like everyone is working together for a common goal – safety – but are you? As you become more powerful, you start to explore the world outside your enclave, and your relationship with your community changes.
This game will make you feel completely in the dark for almost the entire duration. It gives you so little information that it feels impossible to make meaningful decisions, and those choices have consequences. I’ve heard that there are multiple endings for this game, but I’ve played through it a few times and have only gotten bad ones. After a certain point, the bad stuff feels inevitable. It feels like you’ve become something you barely recognize, like you’ve completely lost control. The ease with which I fall into this outcome is something I still think about a lot. This might have been the point.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY THIS GAME IS WORTH YOUR MONEY If you like using your imagination and sparse, dystonian storytelling, you’re in for a treat. A Dark Room is a great throwback to text-based adventure games, and since the gameplay demands some waiting on the part of the player, this is a perfect game for a long flight or car ride.
(Not to be confused with The Dark Room, which looks like a less elegant execution of the same concept.)
$2 on iOS and Google Play – free browser version here!
You ever put off doing something for a long time because you know you’re going to love it and you’re not ready for the commitment? That was what Crypt of the NecroDancer was to me. The overwhelmingly positive reviews didn’t do it; it took hearing one of the tracks at random on Spotify for me to be like, hold up, I need more of this.
Yeah, I am late to this party, but better late than never!
Crypt of the NecroDancer synthesizes a roguelike dungeon crawler with a rhythm game. Everything you do has to be on tempo with the background track – moving, attacking, blowing stuff up, finding and purchasing items. The levels are, to a certain extent, randomized, and they only last for the duration of the songs. You can get through a whole dungeon in less than ten minutes, which makes this game excellent to kill time here and there.
This game has a surprisingly sharp difficulty curve for beginners. The tutorial is sparse; it throws you to the wolves (well, skeletons and bats) more or less immediately. You’re going to die a lot in your first 30 minutes or so. I got really frustrated. But once I remembered that this is a strategy game, not a hack-and-slash, and became a little more thoughtful about my movements – paying attention to the enemies’ movement patterns especially – the game got easier and a whole lot more fun.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY THIS GAME IS WORTH YOUR MONEY Crypt of the NecroDancer doesn’t take itself seriously, and the music is just so dang good. It takes a while to get the hang of it, but once you do, it feels like you enter the drift when the music starts playing. I forgot how immersive rhythm games can be, and how time seems to fly by so quickly, even as it’s being divided up neatly into individual songs and levels.
$15 on all platforms.
At the start of the game, as the main character loses her voice, her world crumbles and drains of color. Gris uses simple linear platforming to take the player through the five stages of grief, painting a deeply emotional portrait of loss – without using any words at all.
You can finish this game in one afternoon, if you’re smarter than me. I found some of the puzzles to be unbelievably unintuitive; sometimes the beauty of the art obscured the way forward even in the most straightforward of puzzles. Despite that, though, I think this game is worth playing. The art is stunning; as the protagonist progresses on her journey, more color is added to the environment, creating an impossibly layered watercolor dreamscape. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY THIS GAME IS WORTH YOUR MONEY Gris has, without exaggeration, the most beautiful art I’ve ever seen in a game. Combined with the music, which ebbs and flows gorgeously, Gris is a subtle but intensely moving experience – even if, like me, you have to look up the solutions to a few of the puzzles. Fortunately, the occasionally frustrating gameplay didn’t dampen my appreciation for the gorgeous art and score.
I made a post on Facebook saying that I was going to be replying to messages in handwriting. I guess I had a secret motive: it had been a weird week in the Navy – we lost some education benefits and advancement results were pretty low – and I thought it might encourage folks to start a conversation. I was surprised by the sorts of people who reached out. I was happy to hear from all of them. Also, I had gotten a really nice fountain pen from my dad for Christmas and I wanted to get more use of it. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I don’t use it more often; I write letters pretty regularly, but for some reason I never reach for the “nice” pen.
It was a long weekend – 96 hours. Here is how it went and what I learned.
People rolled with it!
Even in their confusion, I didn’t get nearly as much teasing as I was expecting. It was challenging to not use gifs or memes or emojis (the combination of the three being my primary mode of communication at this point), but it forced me to think of different ways to get tone and personality across.
People were also very kind in their compliments of my handwriting, something I’m a little self-conscious about. I know some folks who have truly beautiful script and mine, by comparison, feels like a haphazard scrawl. I also watch too many YouTube videos about pens, journals, and stationery, so my perspective is definitely skewed. It’s relaxing, okay? We all have our weird internet niches.
I had to sit down at an actual table in order to send a message
It is unbelievably easy and fast to respond to a text. So easy, in fact, that a lot of folks do it while they should be focusing on other things: driving, for example, or walking, or talking to someone directly in front of them. It is simultaneously completely engaging of one’s attention while also giving the illusion of being present elsewhere, physically and mentally.
Having to sit down at a table, take out a notebook, uncap my pen, and carefully write in cursive (I’m slow) felt positively medieval. It was so strange to have to go to a designated spot in my apartment to communicate with people; we’re used to being so completely connected at all times. But receiving a text or message while out and about or on the couch was like viewing it from a one-way mirror, like being receive-only.
I couldn’t comment on social media posts without exposing my stupid, self-imposed scheme
Sometimes, in my innocent scrolling, social media puts before my eyes some truly heinous comments. It feels like a moral imperative to speak up and challenge them.
Someone is wrong? On my internet?
Having to write out a response to some troll was absurd. Not feeling that obligation to reply, to succumb to some asshole digging for a response, was the most incredible relief.
Unlike the author of The Atlantic article, this experiment didn’t alleviate any sense of urgency when it came to replying to messages, because it turns out I don’t have much to begin with
Maybe I’m fortunate to have friends who don’t take it personally to be left on read for a while – or they haven’t yet expressed their frustration to me (sorry). There are friends who do the same for me, leaving me on read for days and weeks, and though it makes it a challenge to maintain communication, it’s not something I hold against them, either. I don’t feel entitled to a reply, never mind an instantaneous one, just because I initiate a conversation – maybe precisely because I’m used to friends getting back to me in their own time.
(I wish I was able to translate this patience to waiting for answers from romantic partners. Look, if you’re reading this, I know. I’m a hypocrite. It’s a problem.)
It made birthday wishes special
It takes only a few seconds to type out a Happy Birthday! to post on someone’s wall after Facebook’s generous reminder: a fire-and-forget. Taking just a few extra seconds to write something out by hand, take a photo of it, and post it to that person’s wall instead was so different, so much more thoughtful, and it barely took any extra time at all. I was so struck by how sweet this simple gesture was that I would like to continue to do it.
All in all…
This is not an experiment I’ll repeat, mostly because it reinforced things I already know: it takes a lot more time to write things out by hand, but those messages seemed more heartfelt. Sometimes, though, it’s just not practical to have to uncap the pen and take a seat only for the sake of replying okay/yes/no/etc. But it did give provide an easy explanation when people didn’t hear back from me in an instant.
According to the Screen Time function on my iPhone, I average about 4.5 hours each day staring into one (1) glowing rectangle.
If you are over age 40, you’re probably thinking: “That’s because your generation is addicted to screens.”
4+ hours does seem like a lot, especially considering I don’t have my phone with me during the workday. For that much daily screen time, I must have my phone in front of my face from the moment I get home until I put my head down to sleep. Do I?
The answer is a little complicated, both yes and no.
If the purpose of Screen Time is to raise consciousness about how much we use our phones, it’s doing a decent job. Getting notifications every week with those statistics invariably generates the same response from me: “Huh, am I really?” With that in mind, whenever I’m tempted to scroll endlessly on a social media app, I reflexively recall that Screen Time will confront me at the end of the week with an exact figure for my idleness, which does inspire me to use these apps with a little more purpose. In fact, Screen Time awareness brought Facebook down from the #1 to #4 most-used app on the list. Not bad.
Here is how my current average usage breaks out from a pretty typical week at the time of this writing (the last week of May): Safari 7.5 hours Libby 5.5 hours YouTube 5 hours Facebook 2 hours Nike Running Club 1.5 hours Instagram 1.5 hours Tumblr 1.5 hours Facebook Messenger 1 hour Google Maps 1 hour Music 1 hour Messages 45 minutes Podcasts 45 minutes Notes 40 minutes
What stuck out to me right away is the number for the Podcast app. If you know me, you know this: I listen to a truly untenable, possibly immoral, number of podcasts. Turns out that the definition of “screen time” is pretty rigid: the time that the phone screen is literallyon, no matter what else is running in the background.
How we use our phones expands so far beyond just sitting and staring, scrolling on pictures, crushing candy. We use our phones even when they’re not in our hands; for me, it turns out, this is when I use my phone the most.
I went back through all the podcasts I listened to in the past seven days. If my screen had been active for all the time I was listening, that number would have ballooned from 45 minutes to 1,002 minutes, or almost 17 hours. (In just one week! Great, that’s a number I’ll never unsee!) But because my phone screen is turned off while I’m listening, Screen Time tracking doesn’t kick in, and my sins remained hidden – until now. This is true for Music, too. I listen to music while I drive and work out and shower, all of which probably adds up to an hour or more per day. But because my phone screen is not on during that time, it doesn’t count toward Screen Time.
YouTube presents the opposite example. The hours spent on YouTube seems really high, and I know it’s accurate because my phone screen has to be on for YouTube to continue playing. I use YouTube for a ton of different things, though, and very few of them involve me actually looking at my screen, which seems completely contrary to the nature of the app. I like to put on clips of late-night comedy shows as something to listen to while I’m cooking and cleaning and doing things around the house – something I can glance at without having to commit my full attention. The number of hours spent on YouTube is actually a good indicator of how much time I spend on chores every week. Less than an hour per day seems about right.
All combined, I spent about an hour or two per a day on social media apps. To some, this will seem like a lot. To others, not much at all. For most, it’s probably average.
It shocked me, though, that none of my app games amounted to enough time to show up in these numbers at all. I feel like I’m always checking my cats on Neko Atsume. But these check-ins, while quite frequent, only last a few seconds at a time, which even in weekly aggregate don’t amount to much.
So, a more truthful rendering of the Screen Time weekly tally would look something like this: Podcasts 17 hours Reading 13 hours (Safari and Libby) Social media 6 hours (Facebook and Messenger, Tumblr, Instagram) TV, distractions 12 hours (YouTube and Music) Fitness 2 hours (Nike and Notes, which I use to track my workouts)
All of this is not to exculpate myself, to make it seem like I’m above being glued to my glowing rectangle. Evidently, this is not the case, and clearly I need to be distracted from thinking my own thoughts at all times. But giving some consideration to the numbers that Screen Time puts in front of my face every week made me appreciate the variety of ways in which devices have made themselves relevant to the minutiae of our lives, keeping us connected and entertained even when they aren’t the recipients of our undivided attention. In fact, it made me realize that my phone usage has changed drastically from my eyes to my ears, from active to passive – not unlike how devices are now, too, always listening, always ready for the command to solicit their input.
What will a post about device usage look like in a decade? A century? Will we outgrow the physical aspect entirety and these device functions will merge seamlessly with existing infrastructure (smart homes, etc)? I hope I find this post again when I am very old, if the internet is not obsolete (cool) or abolished (very cool). I hope I can look back fondly at how quaint and naive I am now and how far technology has come. Or maybe we will soon reach another innovative plateau, one that I personally won’t see the other side of. Either way, a pre-loaded app in my phone made me think for quite a while about the integration of devices into our lives, and that was something I absolutely was not expecting.
I’ve been struggling to come up with the least patronizing term to describe Marie Kondo’s process. The sanctimony of “minimalism” makes my skin crawl and, more importantly, misses the point, highlighting the result over the endeavor. Even “tidying up,” a phrase that has become more or less synonymous with the KonMari brand, doesn’t instinctively call to mind the necessity of discarding first. The closest I can think of is “downsizing,” but even that conjures a problematic context: of being unable to afford things, of having to get let go to survive.
I want to talk about applying Marie Kondo’s principles to my life in a way that doesn’t invoke a moral imperative on the part of the reader. The argument for letting go of clutter can be made, sometimes even convincingly, but it’s not my job to make it. The thing about Kondo’s method is that it is so completely relative. It’s not about discarding things based on the criteria of strict, stark utility. An excess of possessions can certainly weigh one down, but deciding what is the “right amount” of things is a deeply personal, individual experience. What works for me might not – probably won’t – work for you.
The core of KonMari could be summarized like this: “Wouldn’t you enjoy your home so much more if you only surrounded yourself with things that make you happy?” It seems so obviously true that it feels insulting. A lot of people, misunderstanding her, have taken a very bizarre sort of offense to her principles, when “[s]he literally just wants to help people declutter so their physical belongings no longer take a mental toll on their well-being.”
I guess I started off as part of the problem, too. Before I read her book, I feared that Marie Kondo and her Shinto-inspired ideas were going to come into my home and throw away anything that didn’t contribute to a sterile, characterless space, only teak and white linens and a single plant for color. But Kondo never specifies what the end product looks like, only offering the occasional suggestion. The process is about finding what makes her clients happy. She is always willing to disregard even her own rules if they bump against someone’s an immovable anxiety. As with most things, it’s about the journey, about the self-understanding that comes from addressing the totality of your belongs and discovering the “right amount,” than it is about the aesthetics (or even functionality) of the result.
So with all that said, for the past few months (yes, months), I’ve been KonMari-ing my home. It was way more work than I was expecting, but all in all it was a positive experience. One, Marie promises, I’ll never have to do again.
Shockingly, this is proving to be true. I took photos for this post when I finished in late March. I am writing this post now at the end of May. I expected my tidiness to have slipped between now and then – things out of place, folding a little less tight, new unnecessary acquisitions. So far, to my surprise, this has not been the case. The lessons that I learned from Marie Kondo seem to have stuck.
I followed Kondo’s plan as prescribed: starting with clothing, piling every article of clothing you own, from every part of the house, into one heap in one place, going through each item, piece by piece, and deciding if it makes you happy or if it’s time to discard it. Do the same with books, papers, miscellaneous items (komono), and sentimental items, in that order. Kondo says this structure allows us to attune ourselves gradually with what truly “sparks joy,” so that by the time we get to our sentimental items, we can make those “keep/discard” choices with confidence.
Was it “life-changing,” as the title of her book suggests? In some ways, yes. It forced me to confront some things about myself that I was not proud of, but going through it made me feel more confident about my decision-making in general. It also brought to light a lot of the positive aspects of who I am that I often take for granted. It has made my daily routine easier and I am much more considerate now of the quantity of things that I acquire.
The biggest change, though, is being able to sit in my apartment and feel so completely at ease, so filled with joy. Sometimes I’ll look up from reading and gaze around adoringly around my space, my little sanctuary. Everything was chosen and placed with love and deliberation; nothing is here “just because.” It is the first place of my own that truly feels like home.
With all that said, here are some general lessons that I learned from the KonMari process, some truths that stuck with me even since the tidying up came to an end.
Confront exactly what you own.
My personal issue, at the start, was that my small apartment always looks very clean, but as soon as you open a closet or cabinet door, things get a little wild. I had a pretty good idea of how I want my place to look in terms of what’s on display and what’s hidden away. I had a problem with things getting stashed away “just for now” or “just because,” without much thought, which often resulted in things getting misplaced.
This, I think, is the advantage of organizing by category, not by space. It is important to see, all in one place, exactly how much of one (type of) thing you own. Having some hygiene items in one cabinet might not seem like an issue, for example, but how many of those same, possibly identical, hygiene items are scattered throughout the house in different cabinets? I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it helps contribute to forgetting the true extent of our ownership.
Even if you don’t buy into Kondo’s process, it is really helpful to begin any tidying journey with putting everything into one place. It was, at times, deeply jarring to me and to my idea of who I am – why, why, why did I need so many different kinds of shampoo? – but it was ultimately for the best.
Your belongings are part of your future.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel joy. Maybe you view clothing, for example, strictly for its utility, so it doesn’t inspire much sentiment. Or maybe you’re in a head-space where it’s hard to feel anything at all.
Marie Kondo offers several different ways of contextualizing “sparking joy” when happiness and gratitude might be a little out of reach:
What does this item say about me as I am, or who I want to become?
Does this item make my life simpler or easier? Does it support me in a way that I take for granted?
Is this worth carrying with me into the future?
And, to get a little bleak, is this something I want someone to find when I pass away? This is hard to think about, but Kondo is not afraid to challenge you. (She presented this idea regarding whether or not to keep old journals that might contain embarrassing material.)
The delightful flipside of this was not being so precious about things which I thought were “too nice” to use regularly. These were mostly gifts from other people that I wanted to treat with extra respect, but what that meant in practice was never using them at all, out of fear of “ruining” them. Making the decision to keep those things encouraged me to incorporate them into my day to day life and, what a surprise, it makes me happy to do so. It doesn’t cheapen the value of the gift at all. When I wear my watch, or pull out my wallet, or light a candle, I’m reminded of the people who gifted me those things, and I feel like that person is there with me in that moment.
Sometimes things get worse before they get better.
I see a lot of “before” and “after” photos on social media of people doing the KonMari method. I don’t see quite as many “during” photos, and I think I know why: it’s pretty rough.
Depending on how much you own, it might feel overwhelming. But, if you do it little by little, in the order Kondo prescribes, eventually you will come out the other side. I think Kondo’s Netflix show does a great job of demonstrating the frustration of this “in-between” time, when all the hard work is being done. It shows how Kondo’s clients deal with confronting the quantity of their belongings, which in turn forces them to confront themselves.
My spare room became a staging area, a veritable altar of excess, for whatever category I was working on that week. Sentimental items, or things that I couldn’t quite make a decision on right away, migrated to the corner of the room, to be dealt with later. When I emptied the bathroom closet and cabinet, the contents took up the entirety of my living room, which is also basically the entirety of my apartment. It was awful to look at, to know that this is my problem to deal with, and that it wasn’t going to go away on its own. For a while, it was tough to live, day to day, in a horribly cluttered space – that time in between “everything out of place” and “everything exactly where it should be.”
Put stuff away right away.
We are all guilty of this, and me most of all. We come home after a long day and we are tired. We dump our things on the kitchen counter or the dining room table. We want to veg out as soon as possible.
Discarding things is only the first part of the KonMari process. What do you do with the stuff you keep? The next step is finding storage. When you hear “storage,” though, what do you think of? Is it see-through stackable plastic containers? Is it cardboard boxes? Is it extra furniture with drawers?
Marie Kondo says to discard first, then once you’ve reduced to the point where you’re comfortable, find a place in your home where each item belongs. A home within your home. For me, this took some trial and error. I moved some things back and forth as I progressed from one category to another. At the end, though, I found a place for everything that I owned, and it was placed there as a thoughtful, conscious choice, not just because. This, I’ve learned, has two huge advantages:
Knowing that I want to exert minimal effort after coming home, having a designated place for all of my stuff means that I can tidy up by pure momentum and habit. Wallet and journal come out of the handbag and onto the tray in the entryway. Handbag goes on the counter, next to lunch bag. Lunch containers go into the sink to be washed. Book is returned to nightstand or coffee table. Uniform is hung up neatly. If I do this stuff immediately, as soon as I come in the door, I don’t have to think about it at all, my home remains neat and clean, and everything is found and collected easily the next day.
I know exactly where everything in my house is! Well, I say “house,” but it’s really a 700 sq/ft apartment. How could I lose stuff in such a small space? When things are scattered all over, or placed somewhere without much consideration, they escape our notice and blend in with our surroundings, eventually becoming forgotten. I have always had this problem with uniform items. I would have little caches of collar devices, ribbons, boot straps, and patches scattered throughout the house. I can’t tell you how many items I’ve re-purchased accidentally because I couldn’t find the one I already owned. The number of excess uniform items I donated was a horribly rude awakening. But by putting all of my uniform-related things into one box, and putting that box in a designated place, I know now exactly where to go when I’m scrambling last-minute for a crow to put on my collar, which happens about two or three times a year and feels like a crisis each time. No longer!
Your possessions exist to support you. They deserve respect.
One of the most heartwarming and charming aspects of Kondo’s book was how she personified our belongings, asking the reader to consider what life was life from their perspective. What is it like to be a sock that get stomped on all day and then gets rolled up into a ball afterwards? What is it like to be a backpack that gets stuffed full of things and then thrown around all day? How about the seasonal items that get brought out once a year and then are hidden from view the rest of the time? The idea of our things having little spirits of their own is very, very Japanese, but it encourages me to treat them a little better.
Kondo reminds us that the things we buy and own exist only to make our lives easier or better in some way. This seems incredibly simple and obvious, but when I was on the fence about whether to keep or discard something, it helped me to remember that keeping something in my home should be a conscious act, like adding a member to the family, and once that decision is made, that item deserves my love and respect.
She goes even further than that, encouraging readers to imagine our possessions as silently cheering us on all day, rooting for our happiness and success in their own unique ways. Your toothbrush wants you to have clean teeth so that you can smile at the people around you. Your handbag says, “I’m ready to help you carry all the essentials!” Your sunscreen stands firm in its solemn duty to protect your skin from damage from the sun. All of these things are designed with purpose, and imaging our possessions with motivations of their own reminds us to treat them well. As we put our things back where they belong, Kondo encourages us to thank them for helping us that day. This is incredibly sweet and it has made me grateful to a bunch of things which I took for granted.
Joy is a relative experience.
On a recent episode of the Judge John Hodgman podcast, he admonished one of the litigants for hanging a flag on the wall, telling them to grow up and find some real decor. For what it’s worth, I think he’s correct. Flags are supposed to be flown outside, not stapled to a wall indoors. It looks pretty unsophisticated.
With that said, I have a Rhode Island flag hanging on the wall behind my living room couch. I’ve thought often about whether or not it’s time to “grow up” and take it down. After all, part of my tidying-up process has been putting wall art into frames to display them properly. I could easily replace the flag with something else.
But I have strong feelings of attachment to my home state. It is where I grew up and where all of my loved ones still live. Rather than making me feel sad and homesick, seeing the flag reminds me that there’s always a place where I can return to. It reminds me of all of my fond memories of family and friends. Most of all, it displays our state motto – simply, “Hope,” displayed on a ribbon under a golden anchor – which inspires me not just in its content, but also in its boldness, its pithiness. Seeing it might not fill others with joy, but it makes me happy.
There will come a day where this flag outlives its use. Someday I’d like to own a home, an actual house, where I can hang up flags properly. Until then, Marie Kondo encourages people to be confident in their decisions about what makes them happy. No one else can decide for you. How we arrange our homes is an expression of our internal selves because our possessions show what sort of people we are. Any self-revelation involves some vulnerability. Marie Kondo, at the very least, helped me be a little braver about showcasing my personality through my ownership of things.
Well, that’s all good, but where do I start?
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a pretty quick read – only 200 pages or so. It details completely how Kondo arrived at her method. I thought it was very comprehensive and, at times, incredibly cute and fun.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo debuted on Netflix at the start of this year. Real clever, Netflix, capitalizing on new year’s motivation. It is a very sweet and relaxing show to watch, but it might not be enough to make clear the logic of the KonMari method to those who are unfamiliar.
There are plenty of resources online, too! Search for KonMari on any social media platform and enjoy an abundance of images of idyllic, perfectly tidy homes.
Finally, for what it’s worth, I didn’t follow every piece of advice from Marie Kondo. Not everything made sense for my lifestyle, or it felt awkward when I tried to implement it. Some examples: I keep more than one pair of shoes in my entryway; I don’t store my drying rack, sponge, and soap under the sink when I’m not using them; I don’t remove my hygiene items from the shower when I’m done bathing. But I’ve found that these details don’t matter quite so much as long as I maintain the spirit of the method, which is to be mindful of what I bring into the house and where I put them.
This whole experience was a good reminder of just how much we are creatures of habit, how we want to exert minimal effort for maximum results. Using a system like the KonMari method requires a lot of work at first, but it produces ease and simplicity once it becomes a habit.
So should you KonMari your home?
If it would make you happy to live in a neat, functional space surrounded by things that bring you joy, then yes, for sure! It will feel like a slog when you’re going through it, but you’ll be glad that you did. I am.
If housekeeping and organization aren’t your thing, then you probably didn’t even make it this far in my post. That’s okay, too. It’s not for me to say what your home should and should not look like. Marie Kondo wouldn’t, either. Only you can decide what works for you and what makes you happy!
I mentioned in my year-end post that the dad of one of my childhood friends once told us that your body gets older on the outside but you stay more or less the same on the inside. Eventually you reach a plateau for emotional maturity, the crest of an upward trend that hopefully continues throughout the rest of your life, while your body begins to do the opposite, dropping down the other side of this metaphorical hill.
Years are going by faster and faster. My foot is pressing down harder on the accelerator and I am unable, will never be able, to slow down, not until at last I stop for good. Someday this will worry me. Right now, I watch these years pass with detached, almost clinical, interest.
I’ve struggled with collecting my thoughts, on finding significance, on reaching the big 3-0. It doesn’t feel more meaningful than any other birthday, which for me is actually a huge deal because I love an excuse to celebrate something. So actually I take all of that back. This is a great event, as usual! Tomorrow, on April 1st, it’s all about me, bay-bee!
In lieu of depth and meaning, here are some lists.
Things that keep me young
Always being a lil bit overweight
General zest for life
Having a tumblr account (see image below for reference)
Hobbies that I’m genuinely very passionate about
Extremely niche hobbies that I’m wildly, ironically passionate about
A “yes, and” attitude
7.5 hours of sleep
Minding my own business
Not smoking (probably)
Things that I wish I had learned sooner
Always have electrolytes somewhere in the house. It might save you a trip to the ER.
There’s a big difference between being nice and being kind.
Recovery isn’t linear.
thank u, next
Everyone loves differently.
Virtues get easier with practice.
You’re not eating enough protein.
God doesn’t say no. He says, instead: yes; or, not yet; or, I have something better in mind.
The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more permission others feel to be comfortable with themselves.
Sometimes it really do just be like that.
I realized today that I’ve been writing in this blog almost continuously for five years. It is mostly a pain, but it forces me to put something out there into the world/void about a dozen times a year. I just wanted to take a second to say thank you to anyone and everyone who is reading this. Whether you know me personally or you just stumbled here by accident (most likely, you are a soft combination of the two), thank you for giving me a few minutes of your day. Thank you for reading.
I struggle with giving recommendations of any kind – movies, music, games, TV shows, and books especially. I worry that my taste is so niche that no one else will like what I like – or worse, that my recommendation will reflect some bizarre personality trait that will forever change that person’s perception of what I’m all about. So when you find me giving an emphatic recommendation, when I’m begging you to experience something, it’s because I believe so strongly that it isn’t just for weirdos like me.
It definitely helps to know the other person’s tastes. I thought that the movie Your Name was so beautiful and moving that I want everyone else to see it, too, and have a nice therapeutic cry, but I also understand that a lot of people are not about that weeaboo life. That’s totally fine; in fact, it’s probably for the best. Personally, I’m offended when someone recommends any young adult-genre books to me or any movie where violence and gore are featured prominently. Y’all gotta know by now that those are not part of my brand.
So when I say I would recommend these books to anyone, I mean that I would include no less than the following people: my family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, Bible study group, strangers, significant others, and people whose opinions of me I genuinely care about. It should come as little surprise that the majority of these picks were also recommended to me by friends and family – the people who know me best.
In no particular order:
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)
An extremely useful book with a very lousy title. It would be more accurate to call it Common Sense for Dealing With People. It contains gentle reminders that other people are just like you and want to be treated with dignity and respect. Wild, right? But sometimes we do need those reminders, especially when we hit social roadblocks. Recommended to me by my mentor.
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell (2008)
An entertaining romp through New England history. This is worth listening to on audiobook – Sarah Vowell has a very distinct voice. I am partial to this particular book of hers because I’m from the region, but I think it is enjoyable for anyone interested in learning about our country’s earliest days. I also really liked her book Unfamiliar Fishes about Hawaii’s history and its “acquisition” (very dramatic air quotes) by the United States. Recommended to me by a close friend.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017) We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2011)
Usually I’d feel a little uncomfortable recommending books exceeding 500 pages, but these two stories made huge impressions on me. Both are translated works by non-American authors and both are multi-generational family sagas – the first about the Korean experience in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan, and the second about sailors from the Danish town of Marstal. I read Pachinko when it started receiving a lot of critical acclaim, and I picked up We, the Drowned completely on a whim (actually because of the very good cover art).
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (1953) Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson (1957)
Shirley Jackson is best known for her spooky stuff. People read “The Lottery” in high school to scare them out of being judgmental little terrors, and now that The Haunting of Hill House has a Netflix remake, Shirley Jackson is probably more popular than ever (at least, since she first published “The Lottery” and got flamed for it). A lot of folks don’t know that she has written humor, too, centering around her family life with her husband and children. Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons are those rare books that made me laugh out loud. Shirley Jackson is masterful at calling attention to small, seemingly mundane details – only this time, it’s for the sake of humor rather than horror. I’m on a quest to read everything Shirley has written, and if you don’t have a taste for horror, this is a book anyone can and will enjoy.
Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel (2013)
I picked this up at the small, dusty library at one of our deployment sites. Where better? As I worked my way through this book, I had a hard time containing my emotions – especially when reading in public. This investigative account of Iraq war veterans readjusting to civilian life will be challenging to read if you, too, have served, but it is so important that stories like these – true, tough, sobering stories – become part of our American collective social consciousness. So many people live their lives completely unaffected by our many wars churning overseas; they have to know what it’s like for the people who come home from them.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (2016)
An English nurse is sent to a small Irish town to observe a child, hailed as a miracle from heaven, who claims she can subsist entirely without food or water. Is the child telling the truth? If not, to what lengths will she go to maintain the lie? This story, based loosely on true events, demonstrates the careful balance between scientific skepticism and human empathy. It poses a tremendous moral question about the limits of personal autonomy. Recommended by a book podcast, and read it almost entirely in one sitting.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018)
This is a little closer to the “weirder” end of the spectrum given the subject matter one of the principle characters is obsessed with, but this is a short and important story about identity and belonging amidst intense social pressure to be different. The main character finds herself falling behind other people her age, socially – she only works part-time and has no interest in dating or starting a family. She is completely fine with it until the people around her make feel like something is wrong with her for being happy with what she has. There is something wrong with her, but not in the way that everyone thinks. Recommended by a ton of book reviewers toward the end of 2018.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2011)
Oh yes, you know I’m on this bullshit right now!
Despite being very interested in cleanliness and organization, I put off reading this book for ages. I was afraid of being browbeaten into minimalism, shamed for wanting to surround myself with all of my worldly possessions. But, at the start of this year, Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix was released, and she got wildly popular – and also widely condemned. I read her book not with the intention of implementing her method into my life, but to get educated on her ideas so I, too, could participate in The Discourse™. Unfortunately for me, Kondo is such a sweet and charming person, and her ideas about keeping only the belongings which bring you the most joy seem so fundamentally true and useful, that I couldn’t find much wrong with her system. In fact, I discovered that her critics were deliberately or mistakenly misconstruing Kondo’s principles. I am in the process of tidying my house right now.
Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling
Obviously. Yes. Of course.
I am astonished that I am meeting grown adults who never experienced the Harry Potter stories. But what if the appeal wears off with age? Are the books still enjoyable as an adult? I started re-reading them a few months ago and, yes, these books are absolutely still a delight. So if you’re late to the Hogwarts Express and worried that it won’t appeal to you anymore, fear not: these stories are just as magical now as they were decades ago. JK Rowling is an incredible storyteller. Her ongoing murder-mystery novels (the Cormoran Strike series) are also very, very good, but I know that genre is pretty niche and not for everyone.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)
If I were to write a book, I would want to write one just like Jon Krakauer.
This is an account of Chris McCandless, a young man who hitchhiked his way up to Alaska to live alone in the wilderness – and how he died. This is, I think, the only book recommended to me by my brother, who has way more interesting hobbies than reading. It appealed immediately not only to my love of investigative journalism, but also my heart’s deepest desire, which is to live in complete solitude in nature. This story shows clearly the dangerous line between idealism and cold, hard reality, and it is something I will never forget. Jon Krakauer is a truly gifted writer.
The most fascinating thing about this list is that none of my most favorite authors or books are on it. These books are so important to me that recommending them to someone else makes me feel intolerably vulnerable. Having someone reject them would feel like they are also rejecting me. It’s hard not to take it personally when it is your most favorite thing. These books reflect who I am.
But I am going to be brave. Here are some of those books, just in case: Cryptonomicon or Anathem by Neal Stephenson Mélusine by Sarah Monette Saga (comic series) by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Fingersmith by Sarah Waters The Likeness by Tana French Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
I hope some of these books will strike you as interesting. Please feel free to recommend your favorite books to me! I am always happy to read the things that you think are important or left an impression on you.
A few days ago, I put up a Snap about working on the new year’s bullet journal. It was exciting to see how many people sent Snaps back of their own new bullet journal spreads. I love how people adapt the format to their own interests and needs.
Here is quick flip-through of my spread for this year. In case you’re wondering, where did you think of these ideas? The answer is that I didn’t, probably not a single one of them. I’m always scouring Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram for inspiration. Folks are unbelievably artistic and creative when it comes to their bujos. Now that I’ve found the format the works for me, though, I’m sticking to it.
This year, I am using a Dingbats A6 pocket notebook. It is the same size (see above) and price ($15) as the Moleskines I was using previously, but the paper quality is much, much better. Notice there is no ghosting or bleed-through despite heavy gel pen usage on previous pages.
We’ll see how it holds up in terms of durability after a year of throwing it around. It’s also taking a bit of spine-stretching to get it to lay flat. Finally, I’m not crazy about the pen loop, but it can be torn out if it becomes too obtrusive.
Here is the index page. The “front matter” before the logs are just a bunch of lists with useful information (addresses, books read, flying notes, etc). I haven’t finished these pages yet. They take the most work.
Speaking of a lot of work, I forgot how long it takes to write out these future logs. I think they are a good balance of being minimal and visually appealing. Here is where I put stuff that I know is happening a long time from now. Whenever I start a new month, I make sure that I reference these pages first to make sure I don’t forget anything… mostly birthdays and holidays.
I am using Pilot FriXon Erasable Gel pens. They cost one (1) dollar more than the notebook itself, but they are worth it. Having an erasable pen takes away a lot of that initial, new-notebook fear of “messing it all up” or “making it ugly.” It’s all gonna get messed up anyway. Let go of bujo aesthetic purity. (Advice to myself disguised as advice to you.)
Each month gets an overview page. This year, I decided to make the calendar smaller so that I can put scheduled events (holidays, birthdays, appointments) and tasks on separate pages. Historically, I haven’t made as much use of the “to do” page as I ought to; I have a habit of putting chores without deadlines on random days of the week. This ends up causing a lot of unnecessary clutter. I’d like to start using the monthly to-do list for those things instead. Everything else is boiled down to the weekly log, the day-by-day look at tasks and appointments.
What I like so much about the bullet journal format, besides the creativity and flexibility, is that things that are written down are very unlikely to be neglected or forgotten; as you progress throughout the journal, you have to accomplish tasks, or move them forward, or delete them, but no matter what they have to be addressed. Very rarely does anything fall through the cracks using this method. I think it is very effective in staying on top of everything. Maybe it will be helpful to you too!
Need ideas or inspiration? YouTube has so many guides and flip-throughs. It’s its own rabbit hole. It’s probably my favorite YouTube niche; something about watching people create their bullet journals is very relaxing to watch.
Let’s hope that 2019 is our most organized year of all!
I spent five months deployed: January, February, March, May, and June. It seems like a lot of time when spelled out like that, but for the most part it was easy and went by quickly. I got fully qualified and my aircrew wings. Best of all, though, I got to be in Hawaii for my birthday and I got to go home for a friend’s wedding and for Christmas too! I feel lucky. For all my worrying, things turned out okay.
I went on a trip to Alaska. I saw Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai Fjords. Now I have a truer understanding of what constitutes a wilderness. Alaska is sprawling and untamed and beautiful. I admire it and fear it. I would love to go back someday.
I got to spend some time with a friend in Washington as well. I’m proud of these videos.
I ran my first half-marathon! It was fun and challenging, but I don’t think I’ll do it again.
I started going to therapy again. It would be dishonest to say I’ve made a lot of progress – sometimes you don’t know how junked up you are on the inside until a professional calls you out on your own bullshit – but I’m at least becoming aware of what the path ahead of me looks like. The biggest difference between the start and the end of this year is that I now see the journey as worthwhile.
I started volunteering regularly. On Wednesdays I help out at the library on base. I really like the librarians and the work, too: re-shelving, helping out with programs, cleaning, cataloging. The place is always super busy and the time goes by fast.
I read my most books ever – 75 in a year! Thanks, deployment! Even if you take out the comics and graphic novels and novellas, I went way beyond what I was aiming for. A book per week has become a reliably attainable goal. I will stick to it for next year. You can find all the books I read this year here.
My recurring resolution to write a blog post every month frustrates the hell out of me. I wish I would stop doing this to myself. But I’m in the habit of doing it by now, and I know if I drop it, I will probably never find the motivation to write anything at all. I need something that will force me to, even only once a month.
BOOK OF THE YEAR
I think we all harbor some sort of secret fantasy about the life we wish we could live. If I wasn’t such a coward, my dream is to move to some remote wilderness and stake out a solitary, sustainable life for myself. Whiskey When We’re Dry takes that daydream and shakes it up with my favorite fantasy life: a nineteenth-century, wild-wild-west story of a trick-shooting, cross-dressing young woman on a quest to redeem her family name. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Jessilyn has the authentically Western voice that I’ve been craving since reading True Grit and her integrity and tenacity left me feeling breathless, inspired, a little bit in love. I devoured every word of this story. I can’t wait to reread it.
2018 Runners-Up Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples (volume #9 ruined my will to live) The Witch Elm by Tana French Circe by Madeline Miller
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Jonna Lee’s music has been making a huge impact on my life for almost a decade. Her entire iamamiwhoami project deserves a long write-up of its own. But her music and videos are so dear to me that anything I write feels so incomplete, so inadequate. I have been trying and failing for years to express how much I love what she does.
Think about the art that you appreciate the most. Try to describe it in such a way that conveys its significance in your life and encourages others to make room in their own hearts for it. I see this all the time when people recommend TV shows. You just have to watch it, they say.
For her three iamamiwhoami albums (bounty, 2011; kin, 2012; blue, 2014), Lee released the music and videos simultaneously. It was almost impossible to separate the visuals from the audio. The secrecy behind the project also made the release of each new video feel like a dispatch from the beyond, a clue that might reveal more of the machinations behind the creators.
Jonna Lee is a performer, though – she wants to interact with the audience behind the screens, take the audiovisual show to the real world. There was only so long that she could continue as iamamiwhoami. Though Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten is her first venture beyond iamamiwhoami, it retains enough of the project’s visual motifs and audio samples that it feels like an authentic transition between the two.
Much to my relief, it stands spectacularly on its own two feet.
In Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten, every song, separately, is memorable. The more upbeat synth tracks that Lee has become known for – SAMARITAN (with excellent costuming by COMME des GARÇONS) and NOT HUMAN, for example – contrasts in sound but not in tone with her slower, echoing dirges (LIKE HELL, HERE IS A WARNING). The haunting live recording of DUNES OF SAND in Jonna Lee’s hometown church provides some of the dopest acoustics your ears will ever be blessed with.
But where Jonna Lee really excels is audiovisual thematic unity. Linking the music with the videos is what makes Lee’s audiovisual storytelling so compelling and unforgettable. So the first time I watched the album’s movie accompaniment, I was actually a little underwhelmed. It felt like there was something missing.
There is just something about the way she produces a short video, contained to one song, that is perfect. No one else is doing what she does. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
2018 Runners-Up By the Way, I Forgive You (Brandi Carlile) Be the Cowboy (Mitski) Dirty Computer (Janelle Monáe)
MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Look, this one isn’t deep. I like these women and I love a good heist. Ocean’s 8 is light-hearted, fast-paced, and fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously. I liked it when I watched it the first time and I was surprised when I really enjoyed watching it a second time.
2018 Runners-Up Black Panther Crazy Rich Asians Bird Box
TV SHOW OF THE YEAR
During my first deployment this year, I was on a lot of overnight watches. It wasn’t a real watch, though, because I got to watch a lot of TV. And I watched the entirety of Brooklyn Nine-Nine in an embarrassingly short amount of time.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. This show is pretty close to perfect. It is hilarious at no one’s expense, my favorite type of humor. Many of the episodes convey substantial moral messages. All of the characters have substance and depth – most of all, in this year’s season, Rosa. Her coming out was portrayed so perfectly that it stayed with me all year long. It was honest, it was authentic, and it gave me hope. It made me feel less alone during a time when I was very lonely. I’ll always be grateful for that.
2018 Runners-Up Terrace House: Opening New Doors The Great British Baking Show
GAME OF THE YEAR
2018 was the year of beautiful indie games that made me cry. It started with Monument Valley – both, though neither are 2018 games – and then there was Florence and later Gris. What all of these games had in common was they felt like playable works of art.
Just on the surface, there is a lot to like about Celeste (by Matt Makes Games, also creator of TowerFall). The music is some of the best I’ve ever heard; seriously, ask anyone I work with: I have been listening to the soundtrack nonstop for months. If you’ve taken the time to read all of these words (thank you) and you get nothing else from this post, put on some good headphones and listen to the music* from Celeste. The pixel art is also gorgeous. The game controls are so simple and tight that there is zero room for error. As a 2D platformer, Celeste belongs to a genre that is notoriously brutal and unforgiving. From the very start of the game, though, Celeste sets an encouraging tone for the player: “You can do this,” the protagonist tells herself. “Just breathe.”
“Celeste gives me the tools and guidance to succeed so that every death is my own fault,” writes Emily Heller for Polygon. “I find this oddly comforting, since I know every stage can be bested; I just have to keep trying.”
There are going to be many times during this game where you want to give up. I can’t count how many times I rage-quit (though I can say exactly how many times I died, since the game keeps track). But after some time away, I would resume the game and beat that seemingly impossible puzzle almost effortlessly. Why was it so hard before?
Celeste Mountain makes manifest the climbers’ deepest fears. For Madeline, a physical embodiment of her anxiety discourages her from continuing her journey. Madeline first tries to outrun this part of herself, then musters up her courage to confront her head-on. I don’t need you, Madeline tells the negative part of herself. You’re holding me back. This pushing-away has terrible consequences, though, and Madeline hits rock bottom – literally the deepest depths of the mountain. There, she realizes that she can’t conquer Celeste without accepting herself in her totality, fears and all. Madeline’s contrition and reconciliation with the negative part of herself moved me to tears. Together, supporting one another, they summit the mountain.
Through some challenging gameplay (just want to emphasize that again: this game is very hard), Celeste teaches the player that progress isn’t always linear. Through Madeline’s experience, the game reveals that the only way to conquer your fears is through self-love. It is the starting place for true change.
If you play Celeste (and I really, really hope you do), remember that the effort is what makes it rewarding. It is supposed to be hard. But you’ll get better, and you’ll return to earlier levels and wonder how in the world you found them difficult at all. Facing your fears and accepting yourself sometimes demands an intense inner struggle, too, but you’re going to come out on the other side – or on the top of the mountain – better for it.
* Lena Raine, the composer for Celeste‘s music, wrote a really interesting blog post about her creative process using as an example one of the game’s most popular tracks. As someone who knows nothing about music, this sort of thing is super interesting to me, and maybe it will be for you too.
FOR NEXT YEAR
I am still trying to stop swearing. I was doing pretty well at this for a while, but inevitably we are influenced by the people around us. I’m going to keep trying.
I have to stop using my phone while driving. This is a terrible habit. Even with my phone mounted to my dashboard, I don’t need to keep changing my music while I’m driving, and definitely I don’t need to read a text or check my Neko Atsume cats “real quick” at a stop light. If you’re in the car with me, please keep me accountable.
I want to – need to – write more. It’s a shame that the only writing I do anymore is for work and for this blog. I have to find some way to stay inspired. Someone please start a creative project with me to maintain my motivation.
Some undefined fitness goal? I focused a lot on running and swimming this year with an appalling collection of tan lines to show for it. Maybe 2019 is the year I come back to the church of iron? Maybe it will be the year I find the balance between the two? Maybe I will give up and be fat in peace at last?
Finally, I am turning 30 soon. I thought this would scare me. With the exception of things that are the result of trauma, as I get older, I feel less afraid, less frantic, less rushed. A family friend once told me that, in his head, he doesn’t feel any older than he was in his twenties; it’s his body that betrays him. I think I’m starting to understand what he meant.