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2019 In Review

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Stuff That Happened

Stuff I Did

  • Things I tried and liked: line dance, spades, Master Swim Club.
  • Things I tried but did not like: CrossFit, acupuncture, testing for CPO.
  • I turned 30.
  • I KonMari’d my house. It is still just as organized, months later!
  • I visited Maui and Olympic National Park.
  • I saw ionnalee live in Seattle. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for a decade now and I was so lucky to see her while she was in the US.
  • I ran a 10k with a friend. I don’t have any desire to run farther than a 10k ever again, if I can help it; meanwhile, said friend is now training for a marathon!
  • I deployed for hopefully the last time.
  • I began the pre-separation classes from the Navy. I have a little over 200 days left until I become a civilian again.
  • I put in an application for graduate school!
  • I saw Hamilton (Hartford), Phantom of the Opera (Honolulu), and the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra play Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  • I got PRK surgery and it changed my life.
  • I started volunteering at the women’s prison on Oahu.
  • My cousin came to visit me in Hawaii! This is the first time someone has come to see me since I joined the Navy.
  • My dad got married! We now have two teenagers in the house, and it’s actually pretty fun to have them around.
  • I read some books. Not as many as last year, but enough.
  • I started playing a lot of Pokémon Go. Like, a lot. I also met a ton of folks in my neighborhood this way.
  • Emma Donoghue visited a library near my mom. Not only did Mom get a book signed for me, she went completely over the top.

Favorite Book of the Year

Card reads: “Trash-talking, queer AF Necromancers in outer space! So many bones, such magic, major flexing. This genre-bending novel is my favorite thing published this year. I laughed, I cried, I obsessed and joined the cult of the ninth. Join me!”

(Kelsy from Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, Westerly, RI)

The hook of “lesbian necromancers” is obviously a huge draw, and it’s mostly true. Gideon the Ninth combines fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mystery in a big spooky mansion, where nine necromancers and their bodyguards have to outwit one another and overcome physical and mental trials to become the immortal, omniscient right-hand servant of their Emperor God. The titular Gideon, a rowdy, queer orphan, gets tricked into protecting the necromancer from the Ninth House, the ruthlessly ambitious and cruel girl who spent her childhood bullying Gideon. The two have to learn to trust one another if they’re going to succeed – and survive.

The majority of the dialogue consists of Gideon and Harrow mercilessly roasting each other (“I completely fucking hate you, because you are a hideous witch from hell. No offence,” Gideon tells Harrow early on, to which Harrow replies pityingly, “Oh, Griddle! But I don’t even remember about you most of the time”). But beneath the hate emerges fondness and respect; these two care about one another more than the job dictates. As they proceed through the tests, the relationships they develop with each other and the other necromancers and bodyguards are, at turns, intriguing and delightful and suspenseful, especially considering only one pair can win.

Muir sums up the tone of the story in an interview with Forbes: “I wanted a book that was absolutely saturated with horrible things, but leavened with a more flippant narrative style.” I enjoyed this book from start to brutal finish, and I intend to reread it soon – the sequel comes out next summer.

Runners-Up

City of Girls (Elizabeth Gilbert)
The Light Brigade (Kameron Hurley)
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) (read for the first time this year)

Favorite Movie of the Year

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A down-on-their-luck working class family cons their way into a wealthy home by providing services to the family under false pretenses. As the story progresses, the means that the family is willing to take to keep their identities a secret escalates, going from amusing, slapstick obfuscation to a truly shocking display of violence. This is not a spoiler; the arrangement is quickly revealed to be untenable and the breaking point is inevitable, but you don’t know when or what it’s going to look like.

Moments of suspense are so thick you could cut them with a knife. What made this story stick with me, though, was its moral ambiguity, especially regarding its underlying themes of socioeconomic hierarchies and the cycle of poverty. It was all very disturbing, but in a way, I think, that people will come out the other side better and more empathetic.

Runners-Up

Booksmart
Bombshell
Marriage Story

Favorite TV Show of the Year

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Based on the very good memoir by Lindy West, Shrill explores navigating life – family, friends, work, relationships, dieting – as a fat woman. This is a story about moving through a world that demeans you at every turn, and it is incredibly rewarding to watch Annie evolve from humble, self-effacing, and apologetic into funny, brash, and brave. Shrill made a strong and lasting emotional impression on me, and it changed the way I see myself and others – especially their invisible struggles.

Runners-Up

Letterkenny
Good Omens
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Favorite Game of the Year

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There was some quiet indie hype surrounding Outer Wilds. Published by Annapurna Interactive – which also produced Florence, a wonderful app game I reviewed in a previous post – this game is Firewatch meets Firefly meets Groundhog Day. The player, armed only with a translation tool, radio, and camera, is caught in a 22-minute loop, starting with awakening at a campsite beneath the stars, launching into space, and researching a long-dead civilization, before the sun goes supernova and destroys everything in the system. Wake up, explore, die, repeat – until you understand why it’s happening. And maybe do something about it.

Look, I’ll be real: if you are prone to existential dread, Outer Wilds is going to mess you up. The whole Groundhog Day gimmick is in service to a shockingly bold question about the purpose of our existence in a way that I’ve never seen any other medium – game or otherwise – try to do. I still think about it a lot.

Outer Wilds took me on an adventure I was not expecting or, honestly, entirely emotionally prepared for. It gave me moments of fear and triumph that haven’t experienced in anything else in some time. The game is far from perfect: the ship flies like a toilet covered with banana peels and it gives you no guidance whatsoever on how to actually finish the story (though, admittedly, that’s sort of the point). If all of this seems extremely vague, it’s because I desperately want you to play it for yourself and feel all these terrible and wonderful feelings without expectations, because the struggle is absolutely worth the payoff.

Runners-Up

Untitled Goose Game
Pokémon Sword and Shield

Dead by Daylight (not from 2019 – just played a lot of it!)

Favorite Album of the Year

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The trajectory of Lizzo’s career across 2019 is basically a straight vertical line: from the release of the music video for “Juice” in January to performing “Truth Hurts” at the BET Awards in June, Lizzo went from relative obscurity to the longest-running #1 song by a solo female rapper in the unbelievable span of only six months. Cuz I Love You had more plays for me than any other album this year by a long shot, and for good reason: Lizzo’s incredible pipes and relentless confidence, packaged in 11 unskippable tracks, create a nearly transcendent state of positive self-love. The twerking-while-fluting is a great gag, too.

Not sure if Lizzo is for you? Watch her NPR Tiny Desk Concert, where she is at her most effervescent and charming.

Runners-Up

Dedicated (Carly Rae Jepsen)
Wasteland, Baby! (Hozier)
My Name is Michael Holbrook (Mika)

Resolutions for 2020

See as many movies as I read books

I’m always scrambling at the end of the year to get caught up on the pop culture that I was neglecting throughout the year, by which I mean movies and TV shows. I think I’ve figured out my problem: when I’m sitting at home, I rarely want to take a risk on renting a movie I’ve never seen before, potentially losing an hour or two on something I won’t like, and instead defer to a movie I’ve seen a million times but know I will love, namely Mad Max: Fury Road or Pride and Prejudice or Spirited Away. But I end up missing out on a lot this way and I’d like to do better. So, for 2020, my big goal is to see as many movies as I read books, which usually works out to one per week. I’m not the movie-watching type, but I’d like to be!

Get out of the Navy

You’d think this was a done deal by now. I think it is. But I guess you never really know; I could sleepwalk into my own reenlistment (story of some people’s careers). Regardless of whether or not I get accepted to graduate school, my time in the Navy will come to an end in 2020. It’s just a matter of when: July or October.

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Pokémon Go Made Me Go Outside

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 ALL at 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.

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