In Sum

I was writing something for a particular publication yesterday and noticed WordPress, or at least that particular incarnation of WordPress (I am assuming some people pay for this service, how novel!), features a handy button that, when clicked, takes you to a “no distraction writing” mode. How neat would it be if it were that easy? If, with the click of a button, all distractions, both internal and external, melted away? I’ve been writing for some time — often for fun (for 25 years), sometimes for profit (for 11), and try as I might, I still haven’t found a way to halt the noise. Of hungry cats, of chat windows, of breaking news, of my own internal monologue. That last one is, naturally, the loudest, most distracting noise of all. ANYWAY, I only have a WordPress tab open right now, and I’m in full screen, so let’s see if I can’t focus for just a few minutes while the rest of the world lets me be. (The cats remain hungry, even though Midna has full access to her food and Garrus weighs roughly a billion pounds. The thing they tell you about cats and you ignore is that they’re ungrateful jerks a lot of the time.)

There has been a lot going on within the past year for me creatively. I’ve written quite a bit for a few different outlets, and Nerdist is what I’ve carved out the most time and energy for. I’ve always dreamed of writing about pop culture for an outlet where the editors understood and embraced my style. I’ve been able to do this a few places on the Internet, but none so consistently as Nerdist, and I’m genuinely proud of what I’ve done for them. (It’s also important to note that I wrote about MST3K and Face/Off for VICE — some more destiny fulfillment there.) I also launched a podcast called the California Diarists, a short-run series on the weirdest and best Baby-Sitters Club spinoff. It’s certainly a friends-and-family show right now and I think it’ll remain that way, but it’s been a ton of fun for me to revisit the books I loved so much a couple decades ago with my very enthusiastic friends along for the ride. I co-produced a horror story with my most frequent creative collaborator and, in the least egotistical way possible, loved how it turned out. And I was encouraged to, and finally started, a novel. Then I abandoned that one and began pursuing another idea. The word count of that one is hovering around 3,440 as of this morning. Baby steps. Plus, I have a tight-knit (citation needed) D&D group I’m leading whenever we’re all able to meet, and it brings me such joy to invest time in something that’s purely for fun. I am by no means a joyless person–after all, Joy is my middle name–but carving out time to generate stats for robotic fish and brainstorming what The New Yorker would be called in the Underdark (The New Darker) brings me more joy than I ever imagined it would.

I’m looking over this post and some of it reads as a back pat. That’s not my intent. (Also, who asked you? GOSH.) I wanted to document, for you, Dear Reader, and for myself, the fact that I’ve done stuff lately, stuff I’m happy with and stuff I’m continuing to pursue and stuff I hope sticks around for a while.

(Also, I accidentally woke up at 9:30 on a Saturday so I had to find a way to fill the time somehow, and I already finished Paperbacks from Hell and didn’t bring home my other library book yet because it was too heavy. It’s a whole thing. Actually, while examining my ankle this past Monday, a doctor told me I was incredibly strong. And he was half right. I could power a small village with my legs if said village relied on leg power as an energy source. But my upper body strength is close to nonexistent. Please don’t tell this doctor. I want him to believe in my strength for the rest of his life.)

Oh, and speaking of sticking around for a while, The Toast is going in the Library of Congress, so my list of ways to tell you’re in a Stephen King novel will be preserved for the masses. You’re welcome.

Good morning and goodbye.

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WHY, HELLO THERE!

I’ve been writing a great deal lately, but it hasn’t been here. A while ago — a long while ago, literally years now — a friend of mine encouraged me to pitch an essay to The Toast. A few swings, misses, drafts, and valuable bits of editorial guidance (first from Scott, then from Mallory) later, I was able to call myself a freelancer again. That was spring of 2014. Since then, I’ve been pitching to my favorite blogs when an idea I think is worth pursuing comes to mind. About half the time, the idea comes to fruition, and I get to see my work on a site I love. In sum, it’s really nice to write creatively about pop culture in a more Serious and Professional way. (Actually, let’s emphasize “Professional” over “Serious” in this context, given that my last published piece was titled “28 of the Other 45 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”)

I also — and I 1,000% blame The Adventure Zone for this — started a D&D group, and I wrote a campaign that’s still in progress. TAZ is a podcast on which the McElroy brothers and their father play Dungeons & Dragons, and it’s terrific; aside from Rose Buddies, the Griffin and Rachel McElroy-hosted show about a reality dating franchise I myself do not watch, it’s my current favorite McElroy production. Griffin is, as it turns out, a great storyteller, and I worry sometimes that my narrative borrows from his. But hey, I’m not making a podcast out of it (I can’t even do character voices most of the time!), and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, especially when the imitation doesn’t reach any further than a midsize booth at Peculier Pub on Bleecker.

Alright, better finish this episode of Catfish and eat a slice of cake.

I Get You, Man: Reforming My Opinion on Star Wars

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A few weeks ago, Scott and I sat down and watched Star Wars, which I understand is often referred to as A New Hope, but that’s a much worse title, so we’re sticking with the original. Neither of us are Star Wars People. I love a good space opera or sci-fi yarn — I’ve been particularly enamored with my second playthrough of the Mass Effect series lately — but the Star Wars series wasn’t a part of my upbringing, and I never really got around to truly appreciating it. It didn’t help that the prequels were my main exposure to the franchise. So when everyone started talking about the JJ Abrams-helmed return to a galaxy far, far away, I didn’t feel much more than cautious optimism. If nothing else, I figured, it would make a lot of people very happy to see the legacy trio onscreen again, to revisit a world populated by countless alien races and adorable droids and plucky heroes and fearsome villains. Maybe I’d see it in the theater. Maybe not.

Over time, unsurprisingly, my cautious optimism evolved into genuine excitement. By the time the movie had been out for a week, it felt as though everyone I know had seen it, and they’d uniformly enjoyed it. Any indifference I had toward seeing it faded away, and yesterday, I bit the bullet along with Scott and some of our closest friends.

Relative strangers to the franchise have nothing to worry about when it comes to informed viewing. This isn’t a reboot, but it is a new story, one that’s fairly straightforward and captivating from the start. The seamless combination of old characters and new, the airtight script, and the galaxy-hopping story arc provide an easy entry into the mythology, and there’s something for everyone to latch onto, be it the most adorable droid the world’s ever seen, the soaring John Williams score, or the first time you see the Force in action. What — or who, more accurately — I latched onto was Finn (John Boyega). In a sea of well-crafted characters (and OK, I have a soft spot for Oscar Isaac like every other person on the Internet, and Poe was as good a charming rogue as they come), the reformed stormtrooper who rejects his finely honed, totally impersonal moral compass for the sake of a group of rebels he’s never met, was the one I rooted for, the one who made me smile or cry or both every time he showed up onscreen. (I cried a lot, actually. Usually over lightsabers, which doesn’t even make sense. I contain multitudes.)

Am I a Star Wars Person now? No, not really. I’m not going to defend the prequels or read EU novels. (I would also list “buy memorabilia” there but I already ordered my Finn Funko Pop Vinyl, so there goes that.) But as Scott put it after the movie, I get it now. I get why people love this franchise, why it was an important part of their childhood, why their affection will never fade away. I’m not one of you, but I get you, man, and I will gladly eat popcorn with you again at Rogue One.

That Clown in the Sky

“You know, guys, it always hurts to close it all up, strike the set, wipe off the greasepaint, napkin up the blood and entrails, and move on to another town.” – Joel Robinson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Pod People”)

Well, it’s about that time, folks, time for me to list the things I wrote this year that appeared elsewhere online. But first, I’ll throw this out there: 2015 had its ups and downs, but in general, it was a pretty happy year for me. The hope, of course, is that I can take the bad parts and the good parts from this year and turn them into something great in 2016. And who knows? Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Regardless, I’m feeling pretty satisfied with life at the moment, and you can’t put a price on that.

Anyway, here, have some links!

How To Tell If You Are In A Goosebumps Book – I ran short on ideas this year, freelance-wise. This listicle, published in July, helped me break my streak. It’s very silly and laser-focused on a series for which I have a great deal of affection.

Why Hawkeye Was the Hero I Needed – This piece is nearer and dearer to my heart than anything else I’ve had published. It put me through the wringer emotionally to write about bipolar and my own experiences with neurodiversity through the lens of my longing to find someone like me. Nicole Chung at The Toast is a fantastic editor, and I was beyond content with how it ended up reading.

How To Tell If You Are In A Stephen King Novel – I was genuinely alarmed at how well-received this was. It’s the gentlest trolling possible, but it’s still trolling, so I’m glad people saw the humor in making fun of the Master of Horror.

Stars, Etc. – This one is new! The Post Calvin is a really neat idea from some recent Calvin grads, just a place for Calvin alumni to share ideas and stories from what they’re doing now that they’re out of college. I was allowed to pick any topic, so obviously, I wrote about the unfortunate reality of never seeing stars in the sky in Manhattan.

Happy.

 

 

BGSD, BoJack Horseman, and the Strangeness of Motivation

Look, as much as I feel the need to apologize for not blahgging in an egregious amount of time, I’m not going to. No one suffers as a direct consequence of me not writing a frivolous list of the best Billy Joel songs to listen to on a Tuesday afternoon or some such nonsense. And really, if they do, they can check my archive on The Toast. I wrote a snarky love letter to Stephen King in the form of a list for them this month (read it here!), so were anyone to suffer over lack of lists, they shall suffer no more.

Anyway.

For many months now, I’ve been on a text listserv called bgsd moderated by Kelly Sue De Connick, the brilliant, effusive, and extremely kind author of some great comics, including Bitch PlanetPretty Deadly, and a couple runs on Captain Marvel. It stands for Bitches Get Shit Done, and it’s exceedingly simple but extremely effective: brief, punchy, motivational text messages. They’re all written with the intent of getting the recipient moving on whatever project they’re ignoring. For me, that’s usually a freelance piece, and reading any given missive from the bgsd archive now serves as a reminder that I really should be writing more. Anecdotally, it’s effective; since subscribing to bgsd, I’ve had three pieces published on The Toast, and one was actually a longform personal narrative. That’s big for me.

It strikes me that motivation works in mysterious ways. bgsd is pretty straightforward, but something I’ve found just as encouraging lately sounds weird even to me: a cartoon for adults about a depressed horse who used to star in a nineties sitcom. Most people on the Internet seem to have at least some baseline knowledge about BoJack Horseman at this point, and if you don’t, that “cartoon for adults about a depressed horse” bit is an OK summary. It is, for the most part, not a very cheery show. Sure, it’s a comedy, and there are laughs, but it’s balanced out by a very strong sense of pathos. BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) is not happy, never satisfied with his life, even when he’s in a seemingly healthy relationship with Wanda (Lisa Kudrow) and filming the project he’s always dreamed of, Seabiscuit. (He’s a horse, remember?) There’s a striking scene late in season two in which BoJack realizes that nothing makes him truly happy in the long term. We see him coming to grips with that, to some extent, and by the close of the season finale, he’s striving toward self improvement again.

The most poignant moment of the season for me was the very last scene. BoJack is running and crosses paths with a baboon we see jogging past BoJack’s house every few episodes, and they share this exchange (which I’ll screencap from IMDB because I’m lazy):

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Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and watching BoJack collapse, then get such simple advice from a baboon we’ve never really met before, struck a chord with me. I’ve been letting my health slide lately, skipping out on the gym and ordering three drinks instead of one. I’ve been relatively uninspired as far as new ideas for fic and Legitimate Writing go. I’m content, but I know I’d be happier if I worked harder on both those things.

So I’ve started using the treadmill at the gym again. (It helps that this week, every mile run means another dollar for City Harvest, a local charity. Good call, Blink Fitness.) And I’m slowly but surely cutting back on sweets, and I’m brainstorming whenever I can. It’s thanks in part to bgsd, thanks in part to BoJack, and thanks in part to my ability to look for motivation wherever it may come.