Always Sometimes Monsters

Always Sometimes Monsters Review

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Video Games

“What kind of monster would allow this to happen to me?”

My former love, a spiky haired bespectacled tie-wearing white male, asked this of me as I ruined his chance of happiness. My character, a portly bearded black male, has faced many choices in the past month, his appearance being one of them. His race, gender and sexual orientation have all factored into his journey, and unlike in most games, all of these things actually have a tangible effect on the story in Always Sometimes Monsters.

Always Sometimes Monsters follows a narrative that in a different context could be the subject of a romantic comedy, but in this instance is extremely tragic. The character that you play, who is created from a set of pre-made avatars covering the gamut of race, gender, and sexual orientations (once the partner’s avatar is selected) is an up-and-coming writer, newly graduated and in a stable, loving relationship, on the verge of signing a huge book deal in the seemingly thriving book publishing industry (haha).

Always Sometimes MonstersCut to six months later. You’re broke, alone and on the verge of homelessness. Like any person in a malaise, you wake up after noon. You’ve missed your book contract by at least six months, because of course you have. It’s just that time again, for you to meander through life for another day.

Except, this day is a little different. It’s defining.  Your ex is getting married, you find out, by way of a wedding invitation sent from across the State. You’re getting evicted, you find out, by way of your Disney-villain-esque Landlord, an old curmudgeon who’s just about had enough of you.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life – whatever that means.

Always Sometimes Monsters takes the ideas of hopelessness: of being homeless, of scrounging for your last lease on life, and brings it to the foreground in a way that I’ve never seen in a game before.

It tells the same core story – and what moral decisions you make may not change the final outcome – but they change how you perceive your character, of what kind of man or woman they they are or have come to be.

Mechanically, Always Sometimes Monsters is made in RPG maker, but it eschews almost all RPG elements except for basic movement and a talk/action button. Normally, this would make a game boring – mind-numbingly so – but Always Sometimes Monsters pull it off through the strength of its characterization and world-building.

As you travel between several cities, it seems that all the problems are similar, and ultimately more dire than yours; socio-political battles, civil strife and low-level catastrophe plague the cities that you travel through, but you’re so caught up in your own battle for survival that you barely notice them. They may be more important in the grand scheme of things – but what seems to matter, at least to you, is your struggle to win back your lost love.

The one that got away.

Like the world around you, your actions aren’t black and white, but are colored in shades of gray. You can’t make choices that are pure evil, but in hindsight, these choices have unforeseen consequences that you could only begin to be aware of while making the choice. These range from egregious breaches of trust to the outright death of NPC’s who frankly doesn’t deserve it – just another casualty in your quest for lost love.

Wining – or more accurately, surviving – is what you’re trying to do, with many a night spent on outdoor mattresses, various people’s couches or among the homeless. As bleak as this might sound, Always Always Sometimes MonstersSometimes Monsters isn’t all doom and gloom, and is about the only game I’ve ever seen where world-weariness and throwing poop on a man’s car can be mixed to great effect.

Outside of walking and talking, the gameplay in Always Sometimes Monsters is rooted further in social commentary then it is in the typical risk/reward paradigm of most videogames. Slaughtering pigs on an assembly line or moving boxes across a warehouse for what seems like minimum wage may not be what you’re used to in terms of riveting gameplay, but the monotony and dreariness is all part of the wider point – the only person who can change your life is you, and that’s about the most depressing fact there is.

The message is both apt, depressing and oddly striking. It’s easy to throw everything away on a dream, but it’s even harder to pick up the pieces and acknowledge, well, maybe this isn’t the best thing for you right now.

It’s easy to go to college, graduate, and have some early success and feel entitled by that head-start you feel that you’ve earned – but it’s hard to acknowledge that in some ways, you’re only ever a step away from becoming a lovelorn hopeless romantic, trapped by your dreams but paralyzed by your insecurities. It’s easy to think that the world owes you anything – when really, it’s you making the decisions.

Always Sometimes Monsters acknowledges all of this and creates a world that more real than any videogame I’ve experienced. The drudge and bustle mirror our own and the consequences feel real. Even the rampant homophobia and racism feel real and believable, rather than the overwrought portrayals so often seen in gaming. Whether these are outright statements from police officers who feel you are suspicious due to your race, or expectations that you know about hairstyles and fashion due to your sexual orientation.

The game isn’t perfect by any means – there are notable typos in the game’s sprawling text-based narrative – but Always Sometimes Monsters takes advantage of the unique strengths of the medium by making a bold decision to put complex gameplay on the back burner. Instead, an enrapturing 16-bit score, an 8-10 hour narrative (depending on how much you like to explore) and the weight of your own decisions creates an experience that not only seems wholly believable, but takes you out of the world of videogames and focuses primarily on its emotional core – which is one of the strongest that the medium has to offer.

For that reason, Always Sometimes Monsters lives up to its admirable ambitions and is the type of game that anyone who has ever seriously struggled in life will appreciate. Touching, honest, and unafraid to depict the often-harsh realities of modern existence despite its simple gameplay and 16-bit visuals, Always Sometimes Monsters manages to feel more real than anything else in recent memory.

blogging is not writing

Why Blogging is Not Writing (But I Still Love Doing It)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Internet, Writing

It’s crazy to think that I’ve been blogging for over a year now. After having written for a whole slew of games journalism publications (even having founded one), as well as some mainstream ones (USA Today, Digital Trends, Complex, Heavy), I was ready to hang up the towel on writing online. The truth is, writing online doesn’t pay that well, and there’s a reason I switched to marketing as a full-time career. Not only does it pay the bills, but it’s allowed me to create the travel lifestyle I’ve always wanted to live. Still, I did miss writing online, which was the impetus for starting this blog. But as I’ve written close to seventy (!!!) posts in the last year and two months, I’ve come to realize that blogging is not writing, at least not in the traditional sense.

To me, blogging is more like graffiti with punctuation. It’s a self-created sketch that conveys meaning, but it’s not writing. It doesn’t need to be refined in the way a piece for an online publication does; it doesn’t need to fit any particular voice or style except your own.  And unlike creative writing, it doesn’t necessarily exist to entertain, represent, or even inform. It just exists. Writing on a blog (like all writing online these days) can be thought of more as content, content to sit around and wait for a pittance of page views, competing with millions of other points and thoughts not only on blogs, but on social media and forums.

In essence, there’s nothing that really separates a blog post from a passionate rant on Facebook except for the skill of the person writing and promoting it. People aren’t more likely to see a blog as an authoritative source these days (if they even understand what a source is at all), except in the case of niche queries like a food guide to a specific city.

That being said, there is an inherent value in creating and writing your own blog, as long as you are aware that blogging is not writing. It’s more like vomiting on the page and then cleaning up the mess to form something resembling an article. Because it’s your own platform, you set your own rules, and for most bloggers, that means that most blog posts are somewhere between a draft and a half-baked idea that tackles an issue from a place of nuance and personal experience. As a blogger, you’re never the only person to write about a topic, but you are the only person that can put your personal spin on it.

The good thing about blogging, and why I think that blogging is not writing, is that you are free to put in as much or little effort as you want. The only person you are beholden to is yourself and your hypothetical audience. Unless you’re in the top echelon of bloggers (maybe the top 10%, if even) you’re not making anything close to a living off it. This means that what you write and what points you are trying to make are totally up to you. There’s actually a certain liberating factor to that; whatever you wrote came from your thoughts and beliefs on a topic you care about, and not something you’re writing for special interests or to make a buck (although there’s nothing wrong with that).

While there’s a lot of crap out there, and there’s no real meritocracy to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak, blogging is inherently rewarding. It’s more or less the self-publishing of writing online, which has become more and more acceptable these days. Hell, as of this writing, I’m planning on self-publishing my graphic novel. In the industry, that’s not seen as any less legitimate, and although a publisher certainly has its benefits from a marketing and cost-savings perspective, anyone now has the power to get their work out there.

And that’s the thing about blogging; it’s creation and communication in its purest form. Any readers that come through to your blog came to read what you had to say about a particular topic, not because of the publication you are associated with or the coattails you are writing on.

While blogging is not writing from a creative standpoint, you are still banging away at the keyboard and slinging (semi) coherent sentences. It’s more like the trainings days before the marathon of creative writing or pitching articles to publications. And for that, blogging will always have a strong place in my writing toolkit, even if it’s not all that I do.

 

cobra kai review

Cobra Kai Review — A Promising Start and A Disappointing Ending

Posted 9 CommentsPosted in Internet, Television

Although I’m not one for nostalgia in my entertainment, something drew me to Cobra Kai and to subsequently write a Cobra Kai review. It’s no surprise for me to hear that I’m not the only one; Cobra Kai seems to be doing better than every show on Netflix and Hulu. Not only does Cobra Kai have an intriguing premise that goes against type — the old rival and schoolyard bully has a comeback — but it’s also consistently hilarious and has great characterization of Johnny Lawrence.

After losing to Daniel LaRusso in the original Karate Kid, Johnny goes on a downward spiral for the next 35 years. He’s a hard-drinking anti-PC loser who’s attitude and demeanor makes him the most realistic Trump supporter in television (sorry Rosanne). The series starts out following Johnny’s 90 degree turn to a slightly more likable person, as he trains an immigrant protege and seethes over the success of his former rival. But as the series progresses, the cast inevitably becomes more ensemble, and increased focus is given to Daniel LaRusso as he trains his own protege.

For me though, the most interesting part of the show was the focus on Johnny Lawrence. While Ralph Macchio has had a bit more of a post-Karate Kid career, William Zabka hasn’t done anything nearly as high profile. Back in 2003, he wrote and produced an Academy Award nominated Czech short film called Most after training to be a filmmaker. He also had a recurring role in season 9 of How I Met Your Mother and a bit part in Hot Tube Time Machine. He also notably directed and starred in a music video about him never getting over the role of Johnny Lawrence about 10 years before the making of Cobra Kai.

cobra kai review

As far as second acts go, that’s not bad for the bully of a beloved 80’s franchise. It also makes the focus on Johnny Lawrence that much more interesting given that his real-life counterpart has also been overshadowed. But where this series started to fall apart for me was its over-reliance on the Karate Kid narrative.

Of course, Johnny Lawrence needed to start up his old rivalry with Daniel LaRusso and have their respective proteges fight each other. That much made sense within the context of the plot, as well as the context of the overall Karate Kid narrative. After all, Cobra Kai is a continuation in that it’s about two aging men who can’t get over their glory days, and think that they can only define themselves by their pasts.

But where the series started to lose me is when the Cobra Kai kids became the villains of their own story. Led by Miguel — who was a better character than he had any right to be — the Cobra Kai dojo didn’t just fight dirty in the tournament, but we were also meant to actively root against them. Given that the focus has been on Johnny Lawrence becoming a father figure to Miguel at the expense of his own son, it was an odd tonal choice to cast Miguel in this way in the final act.

cobra kai review

What made this choice disappointing to me was how invested I felt in the relationship between Johnny Lawrence and Miguel, and how the season’s final act didn’t seem to follow through on this. While it was a great choice to have Johnny Lawrence’s son fight Johnny Lawrence’s biological son, we never get a sense of how Johnny really feels about this during the tournament. In other words, the fight isn’t about Johnny Lawrence at all, but about Johnny’s son and Daniel LaRusso forging their own bond.

While I appreciate setting up Daniel LaRusso and his protege as a foil to Johnny, it didn’t seem to follow the theme of the season as well as I would have liked. Still, it’s great that this exists at all, and although I’m not a huge fan of the original Karate Kid, I think that Cobra Kai was much better than most of us anticipated and is a worthy entry in the reboot/legacy pop culture landscape we have created.

At the least, I enjoyed the ending better than that of the recent Samurai Jack legacy season, especially because we’ll be getting another one here. Still, it would have fit the season more to keep the final fight focused on Johnny more, if only to help us reconsider the Karate Kid narrative and Johnny’s role in it. He may not be an Ivan Drago, but Johnny is far more sympathetic and I find myself rooting for him — even when  I wasn’t supposed to.

reasons to not brand your blog

Why I Don’t Want to Brand my Blog (But Probably Will Anyway)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Marketing, Writing

It’s been over a year now and I still don’t know what the hell this blog is about. I elaborated on that point in my last post a bit, but the truth is I’ve resisted branding this blog for a long time. In fact, my blog is so non-branded that my primary driver of traffic is Google searches on my ‘hell’s itch’ post.  For the record, this is a post about me getting hell’s itch, which an excruciatingly painful sunburn. In case you couldn’t guess, that’s pretty not related to my writing, or even writing in general. For a long time though, I’ve actually enjoyed not branding my blog, and I think there’s a lot of reasons to not brand your blog. However, now that I have a book out soon, I’ll need to think about branding my blog and targeting keywords that are at least somewhat related to what my book is about.

But the truth is, that’s kind of boring. It’s fun to just write about whatever pops in your head. But ask any marketing expert on how to make money blogging (or even sell a product through your blog), and then tell you that this squarely does not fall into the reasons to not brand your blog category. In other words, nobody’s gonna buy a book about Exodus and Moses from a guy who’s claim to search engine fame is his really bad sunburn.

That’s sounds kind of silly, but it’s actually kind of hard to swallow. It kind of sucks to have to focus this blog more on the things (or book) I’m trying to sell. But while not every post needs to be about #personalbranding, and there are reasons to not brand your blog when you’re starting out, this blog is over a year old and now has a purpose.

Ideally, I’d like to be using this platform for more than just a way to keep writing and self-expression (or rather, to communicate my ideas). I’d also like to have my book for sale up here. And while it’s exhausting to come up with an editorial calendar to promote this book, and to use social media to amplify posts about this book, it’s starting to become increasingly necessary. The launch is planned for early next year, so I need to start getting on subscribing people to actual emails that I send them that are relevant to the product I’m trying to sell.

I know; tough stuff. Marketing is tough. That being said, I’m committed to trying to write more posts that are more relevant to my writing and my book. That’s not to say I’m giving up on the wackiness that is this blog. They’ll be plenty of posts about the realities of being a digital nomad, video games, pop culture, and a whole bunch of other random shit that seems relevant when I’m writing it.

So stay tuned. Because while this new ride might be one that is a little more commerce driven, it’s still going to be weird. And I hope that’s why you’re all still reading.

writing about ancient history

Why I Love Writing about Ancient History and How it Inspired Me to Write ‘Lord of the Twin Lands’

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture, Writing

For a blog that is ostensibly about writing, I almost never write about writing. In fact, I think I’ve only done it once. I’ve written more about my travels, and the ups and downs of my blog, but my writing has been mostly focused on this blog (barely lately) and getting my graphic novel out. Speaking of which, I wanted to write another post where I actually write about writing, specifically writing about ancient history.

For those of you who are unaware, my debut graphic novel, ‘Lord of the Twin Lands’ is an alternate take on the Exodus narrative. Serving as the founding myth of Israel, the Exodus narrative has resonated with many throughout history, from early Protestant settlers fleeing religious persecution in Europe to African-Americans fighting for freedom and civil rights.

However, my take on it is a little different, as it always should be when writing about ancient history. Instead of casting Moses as the downtrodden savior of the Hebrews, Moses is an arrogant Egyptian general in the court of Akhenaten, the Pharaoh who initially founded monotheism. Swept up in Akhenaten’s revolution, Moses becomes beholden to a political situation that is bigger than any one man, and ultimately becomes the unwitting leader of the Hebrews after meeting and falling in love with Miriam.

If that sounds like a big departure from the traditional Exodus narrative, that’s because it is. And it’s my love of ancient history that fueled the story. Only because I took many ancient history courses in college was I aware of all the going-ons of the era. And those courses lead me to ‘Moses and Monotheism‘ by Freud, which gave me the basic idea for this graphic novel. What if Moses, was in fact, not a Hebrew, but an Egyptian?

Of course, when writing about ancient history, you need to focus on the action and make it more accessible than philosophical. That’s why you see plenty of stories about Julius Caesar and not so many about Plato or Socrates. In the ancient world, war is what fuels conflict. Everybody suffered, even the Emperor Augustus had many ailments. Unlike the modern world, where might is determined by GDP and the strength of a country’s corporations, what territory you ravaged and how much blood you spilled is what made you the strongest.

But even then, when writing about ancient history, you need to find the humanity in it all. The ancient world was a cruel one, and the pathos among that cruelty is what makes ancient history intriguing. For all the stories about warlords conquering, what readers really want to see is the moments in between. Not just the parts where warrior faces off against warrior, but the parts that show the ancient world as it really was.

When writing about ancient history, you need to keep all this in mind and present the world as succinctly as possible, with a healthy dose of action of course. This is just what I did when writing ‘Lord of the Twin Lands’ and I hope that it portrays a the ancient world as it was; not just at war with itself, but with the very culture within.

deleting facebook in political protest

Deleting Facebook in Political Protest is Counterproductive and Won’t Recover Your Data

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture, Internet, Politics

Those of you who have read my blog at all will know that I’ve written about internet privacy a few times in the past. My conclusions are that a non-tech savvy person can do to protect their data online. That’s why the story of Facebook allowing their data to be foolishly scraped by a third-party has gained so much traction. Nobody really thought sharing memes and political posts would do so much damage to our society. But here we are. We’re now at the point where we’re discussing deleting Facebook. and even then not realizing that deleting Facebook in political protest will do more harm than good.

Facebook, like most tech giants that exist to leverage your personal data, makes you the product. This isn’t a new concept, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Think about it — it’s not as though deleting Facebook in political protest is going to solve anything anymore than deleting your Equifax account is going to recover your financial information. Removing your access to the data you provided isn’t going to make Facebook magically delete your personal data. That’s not even in the cards. You already gave them the keys to the castle, so you might as well hold on to your access.

Instead, realize that blindly following a movement to delete Facebook in political protest is no better than following any crowd-control trend. We were all manipulated into this, that much is true. Nobody truly realized that their data would be used to sow political divisions. That obviously wasn’t the intention of the platform, but any consumerist doctrine exists to divide. Whether you evangelize for Samsung or Apple, or Xbox or Nintendo, you need to like one and hate the other. Otherwise there’s no competition, and no competition is bad for business. This just wasn’t applied to politics before, but it doesn’t mean your data hasn’t been used to sell you things for years and years. This time it was just Donald Trump.

But it’s not as though that division didn’t exist already. Nobody can run a psychological warfare machine if the conditions weren’t already present. That’s why deleting Facebook in political protest isn’t just not solving the issue, it’s counterproductive. Instead, you may want to take a look within your culture. Realize why things are happening the way they are. It’s not a matter of ‘wokeness’ as much as just engaging with the world beyond the immediate political moment. Don’t trust the data and models, but look at the theories and see what makes sense to you.

And most of all, don’t think that deleting Facebook in political protest will even help you on a personal level. According to Juan Carlos Lara, a lawyer specializing new technology, there really is no way to effectively delete your Facebook data:

 

 

“The information stays inside Facebook’s servers even if it disappears from the public user interface. Additionally, everything that was published on somebody’s wall or sent over private message will remain there, it’ll just show a deleted user image.”

“The Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrated that once information is out of Facebook’s control (or in general once it’s on the Internet) it is very difficult to follow its trace or know how many times it was duplicated,”

In other words, once it’s out there it’s out there. There’s nothing you can do. You can gum up the machine by sharing bullshit that says nothing about you, changing your data profile from within. But you can’t really access it, not a backend version anyway. Instead of deleting Facebook in political protest, I’d encourage you to stay inside the machine and learn about how it works. This way, you know when you’re being played.

hell's itch

Hell’s Itch: The Worst Form of Travel Sunburn

Posted 6 CommentsPosted in Travel

If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you probably know that it’s pretty bad and usually preventable. You can wear sunscreen, sit in the shade, or just not go outside when it’s too hot. I chose to do none of those things, so I got a sunburn. It was a pretty moderate sunburn on my back, but it felt worth it to go snorkeling in the Thai islands. I thought it would heal within a few days, and that would be that.  I’ve had sunburns before, and that’s how it went. But that’s not how it went when I got hell’s itch.

Hell’s itch is something that happens 48 hours after a sunburn, and it’s possibly the most painful experience I’ve ever had, and that includes spinal fusion surgery. Hell’s itch lives up to its name in that regard, and is an intense pins and needles sensation at the area of the sunburn. It feels like fire ants are crawling inside your skin, and comes in short, intense waves. It’s honestly not describable. The urge to itch is practically uncontrollable; I now understand how people with madness feel. Hell’s itch is not a choice, it’s a brutality that comes with traveling.

There are entire communities dedicated to hell’s itch. They talk the unbearable pain and the feeling of powerlessness that comes with it. Writing on the floor and alternating between hot showers, cooling powder and large doses of Ibuprofen is just par for the course with hell’s itch. During a particularly intense bout of it, I felt like ripping off my flesh and exposing my raw, unadorned skin to the elements. Yes, it’s actually that bad.

Fortunately, only 5% to 10% of people have reported experiencing hell’s itch along with a sunburn, but there’s no real medical science behind it. Nobody knows what causes it and why only certain people get it. It might be genetic, but if it is, it seems like something that you’d think evolution would have gotten rid of long ago. It’s not like our ancestors had mass produced gels and creams. And even if they did, they spent way more time in the sun than we ever will.

So of course, I got it, although it hasn’t lasted as long as last time I got sick while traveling. Still, there’s something to be said for experiencing one of the worst pains imaginable. It might just be the heat in Thailand, but there are community reports of people getting hell’s itch from just minor sunburns. And frankly, I don’t think my case sounds as bad as some others. I had some intense muscle spasms, but nothing that required hospitalization. It’s lasted about a day now, but the worst of it was when I wasn’t prepared.

Mental fortitude is the best way to deal with hell’s itch. If you know it’s coming, and you know what the pain feels like, then you can steel yourself for it. But if you don’t know whats happening, then it really can knock you for a loop. Just a few days ago, I had no idea something like hell’s itch existed. But now that I know of it, I’ll always think of it as a possibility when I get a sunburn. So next time, I’ll be more prepared and wear better sunscreen; otherwise hell’s itch might return with a vengeance.

advantages of taking organized travel tours

The Advantages of Taking Organized Travel Tours While Traveling Long-Term

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Budgeting, Career, Travel

When I first started travelling, I was deadset against the idea of any sort of organized excursion. I figured it would be easier to do it yourself, and in doing so I’d save money and have a more authentic experience. However, the more I’ve traveled, the less I’ve found that to be true. There are actually many advantages of taking organized travel tours, and they’re actually more fun than you think.

I was talking to Alex earlier today about how I felt we’ve been pretty touristy in our choices lately. For me, that felt a little antithetical to the digital nomad lifestyle (whatever that means), as we were relying on other people to make choices for us. Since we left Spain, I’d say that our travels have become a bit more organized. For one, we did a 3 month stint in Asia with We Roam (now called WY_CO) that was essentially an organized tour.

Although you don’t actually have a day-to-day itinerary, WY_CO organizes flights and an apartment in every city that you travel to. Additionally, they also organize community events, language classes and community service activities for you. There’s also a built-in social life, which has both its advantages and disadvantages.

Still, there is an inherent value in spending a month in each location, which is one of the big advantages of taking organized travel tours. For one, you can focus on cultural immersion (like I did in Seoul) and start to learn about the culture you’re in without having to plan every little detail. Finding a hotel or hostel is not really a huge deal, nor is booking a flight and transportation to your hotel or hostel. However, researching all of the activities, places to eat and sights to see is a bit more work. One of the other advantages of taking organized travel tours is that you often you get access to unforgettable experiences that you normally wouldn’t get access to without those connections.

For example, Alex and I, as well as some others, volunteered at a school in rural Vietnam by donating books and teaching English. While our teaching skills may not have been amazing, it was really was a unique and eye-opening experience for us. Never before have I felt like a celebrity (and I probably never will again). It was also the kind of thing you probably couldn’t arrange yourself outside of an organized tour. That’s not to say volunteer opportunities like this can’ be found on your own, but they are much harder to come by in this way without the benefit of an organized travel tour.

advantages of organized travel tours

Since Alex and I have went back abroad for some solo travel, we’ve done a total of four tours in two countries in two weeks. In our first week in Ho Chi Mihn City, we did three. None of them costed more than $30, and each gave us a unique experience that wouldn’t have been possible to arrange by ourselves. And also, we ate chicken feet and swan with whale sharks, so that was pretty awesome.

The truth is, tours actually come in all types of varieties. When people think of organized travel, they typically think of the large stereotypical group where every move you make and every breath you take is prearranged for you. We often don’t think of the side trips or day tours we take as organized travel. But they really are. Regardless of what you consider a tour, it’s important to recognize that tours like these play a big part in travelling, and much of the experiences of travel wouldn’t be possible without them.

For me, those are the biggest  advantages of taking organized travel tours. They’re also not a terrible way to meet people for a one-off social experience, and sometimes you can even see those people down the road if you connect. That’s not to say tours are totally necessary to travel, but they can often deepen your knowledge of a certain place, especially if the activity is exclusive or the history is poorly presented to tourists.

Regardless of how you feel about organized travel, I definitely recommend you try some, especially if you are a long-term traveler. After all, you’re not just on vacation — it’s your life. And sometimes, living the best life possible as a traveler is recognizing that being a tourist is ok, and that often you need a balance. After all, tourism done right can be a vital conduit into another culture, and can give you the type of perspective you never would have had otherwise.

 

“I’ve Never Given up Hope” — Scott Gingold on His Activism, Family, and ALS

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

My friend Greg Gingold, who I went to Israel with on Birthright years ago, recently contacted me to tell me his brother’s story. Greg’s brother, Scott Gingold, was diagnosed with ALS in 2014, losing the ability to walk a year later. Since then, Scott has thrown himself into activism work, writing to his US senators, state senator, and state representatives about bills he is passionate about, and why they should or should not vote for them.

A key piece of legislation that Scott was involved in was The Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act. This bill fights for the voices of people living with degenerative diseases, providing funding for speech assistant devices to patients with ALS and other debilitating conditions. The bill was recently passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Trump. Speaking with Scott, he told me that he wrote “…these particular letters on behalf of the ALS association with their support,” working tirelessly with the organization to pass this legislation.

Additionally, Scott has been involved in legislation involving gun control, calling for US senators to back the the Assault Weapons Ban of 2018, which would make it illegal to buy, sell, transfer and manufacture semiautomatic Assault Weapons and large capacity accessories like bump stocks. He also also supported legislation to require all gun owners to purchase liability insurance, which would make them financially responsible for any damages caused with their weapons. When I asked Scott about his support of this legislation, he told me that he believes it will “…hopefully reduce the amount of senseless mass violence…” caused by guns.

While this legislation is currently in political limbo, Scott has been devoting much of his time to his family. Scott is a devoted husband and father, seeing his wife and daughter once a week despite living in a nursing home. Using a tobii dynavox eye gaze computer to communicate, Scott is able to speak with his daughter, Darby, and his wife, Marissa, by texting throughout the day

Scott Gingold

Scott says that the tobii dynavox eye gaze computer he uses “…has a sensor that follows my eye movements and I type out what I want to say. I can also access the Internet and use programs on this machine.” This significantly improves his quality of life, and allows him to be a part of Darby’s and Marissa’s lives in a more intimate way. “I have been making sure that I am a part of Marissa’s and my daughter Darby’s life. I write bedtime stories for Darby; I’ve never given up hope and Darby is the reason,” said Scott.

Scott Gingold

Before being diagnosed with ALS, Scott was an avid traveler, having honeymooned with his wife to Barcelona. He has also traveled to Rome, Pisa, Florence, Venice, Paris and Montreal. As a long-term traveler, I found Scott’s experiences traveling, as well as his activism and close relationship to his family, to be moving. This prompted me to donate to a GoFundMe campaign set up by his brother, Greg, on behalf of Marissa. With the money from this campaign, Scott hopes to ensure his six year old daughter’s future and help her and his wife Marissa and move to an apartment much closer to Scott so that they can spend more time with him.

ALS affects as many as 30,000 in the United States, with 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries. Scott’s efforts have been working finding relief for those with ALS as well as their families.

 

 

 

travel is a brutaliy

Traveling is a Brutality and a Contradiction ― And That’s Why I Love It

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“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.
You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”― Cesare Pavese

I recently spoke to a friend about why I’m continuing to travel. A few days ago, I landed into Ho Chi Minh City, and on this new trip something occurred to me. It’s not just that the more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve pushed away from home, and the less meaning I’ve found in it. This I already knew, and actually don’t have a problem with at all. The truth is that most of that is growing up, and most of that would’ve happened regardless. But what I’ve recently realized is that traveling has allowed me to become simultaneously invested in society while also actively not choosing to live in it.

Let me explain. I’ve saved a lot of money while traveling and working my full-time job. This amount of savings I’ve created probably wouldn’t have happened if I stayed stateside. So for me, traveling is not only a cheaper way to live,but also a way to grind out professional experience without actually feeling beholden to it. With my remote job, I work when I need to, and not just for the sake of it. In other words, I work to live, I don’t live to work. I’m not working a 40 hour week, but I’m getting all of the benefits of working one.

That’s why for me, travel is a brutality and a contradiction. I’ve cast off all familiarity (aside for Alex) and instead opted for a simple life of escapism. But the reality is that it’s not that way at all. I’m getting to discover the craft brewery scene in Ho Chi Minh City while contributing to my 401k. I’m a functional member of society without even living in it.

For me, that’s the ultimate irony. I haven’t had to change my life or my habits to integrate or feel valued personally or professionally. There’s really not much else I’d be doing if I were back in the United States. I’m not off-balance so much as I’ve learned how to balance on a different beam. My life isn’t unbearable so much as it’s just lightness; it’s the kind of life where I can grow a travel beard and then trim it down because I can.

There may not be meaning to it all, but if there’s no meaning to life anyway, you might as well pare it down to the basic essentials. The sites, the smells and, of course, the food is really all you need. It’s not so much minimalism as much as the lack of the unnecessary. Travel is a brutality because you know what waits on the other side. It’s different for everyone but essentially the same; trapping yourself by the constrains of somebody else’s rules.

And while those rules and standards become more attractive with age, I’m just not there yet. I’m giving up nothing and gaining something ― but what that something is I’ll never know. It’s elusive and intangible, but also I’m not at the point where travel is a sacrifice. If everything is unfamiliar, than familiarly holds no sway over your actions in the short-term.

Maybe I just don’t want to make a decision ― or maybe the decision was made for me long ago. But either way, I’ve become a part of society without doing it at all; I’ve both beat them and joined them. This contradiction is inherent to me, and inherent to my continuation of travel. And until that contradiction no longer serves me, I’ll just live it.