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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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2017

2017 is over. We did it, everyone! Good job!

2017

EVENTS
In January, I did a practice parachute jump in air crew school that didn’t go so well. Something felt wrong, but I wasn’t in pain, so I pressed on until the adrenaline wore off. I was shocked when the x-rays showed two fractures because, though my foot was swollen as hell and I couldn’t put any pressure down, it didn’t hurt at all. This is a sharp contrast to when, at a different school in May, I felt back pain so severe that I thought my kidneys were failing. Despite the pain, the ER said there was nothing wrong: a pinched nerve, maybe? They gave me a shot and I slept it off. It spooked me pretty bad that I could experience sudden, intense pain for no reason.

I bought my first car. It is a 2013 Hyundai Accent and it spirited me across the country from Florida to Washington, seeing some amazing stuff along the way. Maybe I should have been nervous, driving so far all on my own, but I wasn’t, even when situations might have called for trepidation. I’m glad I did it; this solo road trip was the highlight of my year. It showed me that there is so much of America that I haven’t seen yet.

The Patriots won Super Bowl SBLI in one of the most exciting games of all time. I will never shut up about it and I’m not sorry.

I completed some of the most challenging training of my life, forcing me to face a lot of fears. Someone once told me that you either have a good time or a good story. Some of it was good times. Almost all of it makes good stories.

I moved to Hawaii. Thanks, Navy, for letting me spend a few years in paradise. I’m going to make the most of it.

I went on my first aircrew deployment. They call them “dets” but I have a compulsive need to be contrary in the most pointless and petty ways imaginable. Anyway, I’m still out here, and it has confirmed two suspicions: that the aircrew life is offensively easy, and that I still want to get out of the Navy. I was afraid that I was going to fall in love with this stuff and struggle with the temptation to reenlist.

RESOLUTIONS
To write a blog post every month. I did it! I’m going to continue this goal. It has demonstrated to me the value in simply putting something out there, especially if it’s not perfectly polished. Usually, my attitude when submitting a new blog post is: here’s a new piece of trash for the garbage heap! But once in a while, I’ll scroll back through what I’ve written and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was at the time. Some of it is even okay!

To get back to (arbitrary weight). I made this goal before I broke my foot literally in the first week of the year. Then I moved from Florida to Washington to Hawaii. I am, of course, making excuses, but this was not the year for stability. The hardest part about staying committed to any body-related goal is that I’m more or less fine with how I look. My body is okay. It always has been okay. It is really hard to maintain a weight-loss goal when it’s not motivated, to some extent, by self-hatred. Is this what getting older is like? Just accepting your fleshy meat prison the way it is? That said, I haven’t given up completely. I still have to fit in to uniforms for another 34 months and I will not buy more!

Read as many books as last year. 32 last year, 48 this year. My TBR list grows faster than I can chip away at it. I’d like to be better and braver about quitting books that don’t grab my attention, but I have a hard time leaving them unfinished. This is ironic for someone who, at the moment, has 15 unfinished blog posts in the queue. (Soon, 14.)

I wanted to stop swearing. What was once edgy and is now so commonplace that it defeats the point. Cursing has evolved into verbal laziness; sailors substitute swears in place of any word at all, making the things they say ironically, unintentionally bland. Conversely, the recent rise of ironic wholesomeness and the use of creative non-swears packs a much more interesting punch. I like saying things in funny and, hopefully, memorable ways. So if I’m going to swear, it had better be a necessary component of the idea. Otherwise, I’m going to try to find a more accurate word.

I haven’t thought of any new resolutions for 2018. These are all okay, besides the weight loss one, so I guess I’ll just keep on with this sort of thing.

FAVORITES
MUSIC: I WAS BORN by Hanson
I finished a write up about another artist a few weeks ago. I let it simmer. When I came back to this post, though, I realized what I really wanted to talk about was Hanson. Yes, MMMBop Hanson, from our childhoods. Remember them?

I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a Hanson fan specifically, but I am almost certain that you have heard a Hanson song, enjoyed it, and had no idea who you were listening to. They are like that: every few years, Hanson steps back into our cultural consciousness, releases a top 40 banger, and humbly fades away.

Hanson released a two-disk, 26-track greatest hits album a few months ago: “Middle of Everywhere,” which I bought immediately after watching them perform on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert (it’s worth a watch). What amazed me the most was not how much they had grown or changed across more than two decades of making music together, but how much they had stayed the same. Not only do the older songs hold up over time – MMMBop was 20 years old in 2017, and it still has its youthful sing-a-long charm and positive, hopeful message – but Hanson has maintained their essence over their entire lives. How many of us figure out our artist niche as children? These guys did. In the NPR concert, when they play “This Time Around,” I found myself remembering the all the words, despite not having heard it in two decades. Hanson is like that: subtle, memorable, enduring.

There is something about Hanson that is quintessential to American pop, a slice of our music culture at its best: pure, upbeat, hand-clapping tunes with joyful harmonies that only siblings could pull off. Hanson makes good music, then and now. They deserve a lot more attention than they get.

I want to see the sights unseen
I want the extraordinary
Everybody’s waking to the same clock
I could never be another chip off the block

Runners-ups:
“GONE” by ionnalee
“Echo in the Hills” by Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt (2014, but listened to it a lot this year)
“New Rules” by Dua Lipa

MOVIES/TV: TERRACE HOUSE: ALOHA STATE
Terrace House is seriously underappreciated.

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It is a reality TV show in which six young people – three guys, three girls – live together in a house, and everything they do is filmed. Think MTV’s Real World, but not quite so 90s and much more Japanese. The biggest difference is the tremendous, echoing absence of the kind of drama we have come to associate with American reality TV. Much of Terrace House is, as a friend put it, “delightfully mundane.” We watch them go to work and school. We watch them cook and clean together. We get to see their outings to beautiful places. Sometimes they fall in love. The best part about the show, though, is the extremely Japanese tradition of having a crew of commentators routinely interrupt the program to discuss what had happened and what they expect will happen next. They are hilarious; I can’t believe the US hasn’t adopted this practice yet.

When drama does happen –  well, first of all, it is incredibly low-key, since the Japanese are traditionally not super confrontational. But the tensions and arguments that do arise are emotional rollercoasters because they are entirely organic and authentic, not contrived by producers behind the scenes. When things get tough, you realize that these are real people with real lives and real feelings. You become invested in them and their happiness. You share in those quiet frustrations and awkward conversations because they are so deeply relatable. Terrace House captures the entirety of real lives: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What makes it so great, though, is how it shows that life is mostly good.

Aloha State – the first iteration of Terrace House to be filmed outside of Japan – was released on Netflix (worldwide) in late January, when my foot was broken and my own fate regarding living in Hawaii was up in the air. The second part was released shortly before I high-tailed it out of Pensacola, fully healed and confident that I was inching my way closer to the Aloha State. The third part came out when I was in Washington, only one school away from completing that wretched pipeline. Finally, the last part came out when I had arrived in Hawaii; I finished the last episode on the day I signed the lease to my apartment. I made it. So, yeah, this pick is a little sentimental, but it’s a good show and it gave me hope that I would make it to Hawaii someday.

Runners-up:
Get Out
The Last Jedi
My Brother, My Brother and Me
The Great British Bake-Off
Brooklyn Nine-Nine

BOOK: PRIESTDADDY by Patricia Lockwood
Boy, is it hard to pick just one, but it seems right to pick something that was published in 2017.

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Priestdaddy is a memoir about the author moving back in with her parents after her husband’s health troubles render them financially unstable. Her dad, somehow a Catholic priest, is a caricature of a man, especially a conservative man. Lockwood describes her childhood and adult interactions with her family in the most delightful, tender, earnest ways possible, but also with an edge of smarmy, self-aware standoffishness that I imagine must come naturally when writing about one’s family as though they were specimens under a microscope.

Seriously, though, Lockwood writes like a dream. She makes me want to write a book just like this one. It is the only book I read this year that made me laugh out loud like a maniac – multiple times. It is so, so funny – a perfect memoir.

Another reason why I chose Priestdaddy as my book of the year – and, argh, looking at the runners-up below, it was a tough choice – is that I could give this book to almost anyone and I know they will enjoy it. Lockwood’s family, despite being somewhat unusual, is described with such a familiarity that I think anyone can see their families in hers. It shows that you can be different from the people you love, and who love you, and still be important to one another.

If you read only one book this year, it should be this one.

Runners-up:
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (1953)
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2006)

GAME: LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
zelda

I’ll be honest: I struggle to maintain interest in video games lately. I’ll play for an hour, tops, then be ready to do something else. This is a huge departure from years ago, when I would block off entire segments of my day to play MMORPGs and online FPSs. My entire college experience consisted of having nervous breakdowns over my courseload and evading depression in the forgiving arms of World of Warcraft. Probably less destructive than alcoholism, but definitely more embarrassing. Anyway, all of this to say that it was a surprise to find myself sinking many, many hours into a game again.

I have some discussion of the plot here, but I don’t think anything constitutes a spoiler. If you haven’t finished the game yet and don’t want any preconceptions, skip it. Otherwise, you’re probably in the clear.

A criticism that I often hear about BOTW is the lack of story. We have come to expect video games to be so cutscene-heavy that they are primarily movies and secondarily interactive. In BOTW, there is as much plot as one is willing to find. The “lack of story” criticism misses the point: Link wakes up completely devoid of memory. The story is revealed mostly through found objects, locations, and conversations – things that jog Link’s memory. The entire plot of the game is figuring out what went wrong a century ago so he and Zelda can make it right.

(And this game’s version of Zelda is so human, so unforgettable – a young princess with a destiny so important that she’s deeply insecure about her ability to fulfill it. Early memories show her as abrasive and arrogant, distrustful of Link and resentful of his presence, lashing out because she’s so afraid that she’s not good enough. I’ll admit that I got a little emotional watching Zelda’s anguish over her failure to accomplish what had been set out for her, especially as the fate of Hyrule rested on her shoulders.)

Here are some more accurate criticisms of BOTW: controlling the camera is extremely annoying, especially in battle; the world is so vast and full of things to discover that it is basically impossible to fully complete (at the time of this writing, I’ve finished the main story and am working on the DLCs, and I’m barely 25% of the way done!); the Blood Moon cutscenes are frustrating and intrusive and sometimes unskippable; the final boss fight was easy and a little underwhelming (though I didn’t play it on Master Mode).

And here are some more good things about BOTW: the secondary characters, especially the Champions and their descendants, are wonderful; the game is fun to play even if you’re just exploring the open world, and it feels like there is always something to find or do; the game design and music are so, so beautiful; Link’s ability to climb on and over anything (an unbelievably important but underappreciated development for this franchise) makes the world feel completely open to the player; the impermanence of weapons feels authentic and realistic; the physics of the game are extremely good and allow the players to find creative and unusual solutions to puzzles.

BOTW is the best game I’ve played in a long time. It has completely revived the somewhat stale, predictable “The Legend of Zelda” games in a really exciting way. I’ve put more than 100 hours into it, and I still have a long way to go. I’m okay with that.

tldr: Link is my son and I love him very much.

Runners-up:
PUBG
Bury me, my Love
Super Mario Odyssey

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