going on another trip

I’m Going on Another Trip – Here’s How I’ll Prepare

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture, Travel

In two days, I’ll be going to Nepal and India. In the past, that would have sounded more otherworldly than it actually is. But when you’ve traveled as a lifestyle for quite some time, it starts to become a bit routine. That’s not to say I’m not excited to be going on another trip – I still am. But this time, the excitement comes from a different place. It’s not leaving that excites me. I’ll be in New York plenty going forward, and the length of the trip is only a couple of months. Relative to trips that we’ve taken in the past, it’s honestly nothing.

No – what excites me here is the actual experience. We’re doing the most intense hike of my life, for one. Or at the minimum, the longest that requires the most endurance. And then we’re going to India, a country that I’ve always wanted to see, somewhere that is about as different from the United States as you can possibly be.

going on another trip

But I’m also kind of excited for the minutia. I used to find a 30 hour flight grueling; now it’s just normalized. I can watch a ton of movies and enjoy them, and get regular meals that are actually not that bad. One part I’m not really looking forward to though is the planning. When going on another trip, planning is the worst part. We have trips booked to Israel/Jordan and China after this one, and the former is not planned at all. It’s the only stressful part, and if you’re already tired, there’s nothing worse than trying to find the best deal for a place to stay and a good place to eat.

Still, this trip to Nepal and India is relatively well planned. More than half of it is spent on organized tours, which ups the budget but makes the whole experience a lot less hectic. When going on another trip, you really want to make sure you make it as stress-free as possible. While travel can open up new challenges for you, there’s a point where the experience itself can drive you crazy.

If you can laugh off riding a camel after getting food poisoned in the Sahara desert, then less of that phases you. But mentally preparing for scenarios like these is part of travelling. You can’t just assume everything will go right – it never does. To an extent, you need to be open to the experience of brutality, especially in comparison to a Western sense of comfort. Even countries in Southern Europe are not all that easy to navigate – especially if you’re not prepared to get ripped off and taken advantage of.

Making that mental shift toward a different way of life is the biggest part of going on another trip. It allows you to get a taste of what living there would be like, except that you know you can go home at the end. While there’s no greater meaning to be had while purveying other cultures, you can often get more than superficial glimpse. You just need to be open.

For me, that’s what’s exciting about going on another trip. It’s connecting with a new culture and exploring a new part of the world. When I went to the Great Pyramids of Giza, I remember being sweaty and uncomfortable, and being forced to ride a horse for an additional $75 more than I planned. But when I think back, I don’t tap into those emotions. I don’t think about feeling ripped off or annoyed. I think about what I felt like being there, and how they looked. Now, it feels like the pyramids can be around any corner.

And that’s what’s exciting about going on another trip. It allows you to feel those things about a new part of the world. You create new memories and experiences that just wouldn’t have happened back home, and open yourself up to some of the realities of the world we live in. It’s a little pretentious to say you’re becoming a global citizen; that can never really happen. But while an element of escapism is inherent in travel, your feelings toward it or not.

That’s up to you.

moving back to nyc

Why I’m Ready to Move Back to New York

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Culture, Travel

Growing up on Long Island, I never really considered leaving New York. I went to college here, and aside for my one year abroad living in Oxford, I had never lived anywhere else. New York was my home, after all, and even though it was a bubble, I didn’t recognize it as such until I left. The whole point of New York, I thought, was that it’s not homogeneous. You can have varied experienced, meet varied people, and just live different lives in a shared space. But moving back to NYC is a choice that I’m actively making now after several years of travel. There’s a downside to New York that had never occurred to me until I left.

moving back to nyc

New York is expensive, man! Sure, it’s not San Francisco, but it’s close. The cost of living is pretty high, and my last brief foray in NYC ended in a move back to Long Island shortly after. Part of this was due to depression, but a lot of it was due to money. I just didn’t have it, and I didn’t have any job prospects that would allow me to live there in a sustainable way. Between security guard work at the Met and what little money I was making from freelancing as a recent college graduate, I wasn’t exactly able to live any sort of lifestyle that I could now. But now, moving back to NYC is different. The city won’t swallow me up or leave me adrift. When I move back, I’ll have a fiance, a great remote job, abundant freelance work and creative projects to work on. But more importantly, I’ll have a life I enjoy living.

Last time I had an apartment for more than a month it was in Granada Spain, and it ended up costing me around $300 a month. An apartment obviously costs quite a bit more in NYC. But there’s also a lot of benefits to being there. My entire network of friends and family live around NYC, for one. But I’ll also be able to take advantage of living there.

Last time I lived in NYC, I bunked in a Krash house, a defunct ‘co living’ startup that I thought would help me network and find some interesting work. But it turned out, without much post-college experience, I was just another kid who might as well have been going to his internship every day. I didn’t have much to contribute to the environment, and I didn’t get much out the limited networking opportunities I was capable of exploring. As such, my move to NYC was largely a failure, and I left shortly after back to Long Island for another year. Then, I got more into traveling with my girlfriend, until we were both able to work remotely enough so that we could start doing it full-time.

Moving back to NYC is not exactly a budget-friendly choice, but it’s the best choice I think we can make right now. There’s no better place for two individuals with a lot of free time, a lot of ambition and some excess income. There will be a ton for us to do and explore, and we can travel regularly and keep ourselves from stagnating. There my be cheaper places, but I can’t myself anywhere else right now. That’s not to say that that won’t change — it always does.  But if we’re going to be in one spot for a while, moving back to NYC seems like the way to do it.

getting into hiking

How Getting Into Hiking Has Boosted My Self-Confidence

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture, Travel

There was a time that I actually liked physical fitness. Between six years of football (before numerous injuries stopped me) and seven years as a nationally ranked fencer, I got in quite a bit of exercise in my younger years. Then, I went to liberal arts college, and instead of the freshman fifteen, I went a step further and put on the freshman twenty five. Since then, it’s more or less been a constant struggle to find an activity that I liked and reliably keep off the pounds. The college weight gain caused some serious male body image issues, and although being in a relationship helps, I’ve never quite gotten back to where I want to be. That’s why for me, getting into hiking has been a revelation.

The truth is, up until recently, I never liked the outdoors. My first hike as an adult was approximately two years ago; it was probably the worst hike I’ve ever done. My girlfriend, not realizing how grueling it would be, signed us up to hike a volcano in Guatemala. She thought this would be a great way for me to start getting into hiking. Boy, was she wrong. The hike she had in mind required immense physical fitness. It was an eight hour slog up an active volcano, which we then camped on. Even though seeing an active volcano was exciting, I wasn’t ready for it, so the trip wasn’t really worth it for me.

getting into hiking
On the hike to the volcano trying not to break down

In fact, as you can see above, I wasn’t really all that thrilled with the experience. We were hiking with a small group that was much more experienced than I was. They kept going too fast, and wouldn’t stop when I needed rest. Eventually, our guide left us behind,  more concerned with spending time with his Swedish girlfriend than helping me along. While my girlfriend is an experienced hiker, I was not, and only her and the porter carrying my bag saw me through.

This was, of course, the totally wrong way of getting into hiking. It made me hate the idea, and as a result, I didn’t hike at all for another year. It wasn’t until we went to Seoul for a month that I started to become interested in hiking again. While it wasn’t exactly my idea, my girlfriend encouraged us to climb Bukhansan, a large mountain outside of Seoul. While I was reluctant at first, I decided to give it a shot, and it was a pretty eye-opening experience for me.

The hike itself was about six hours up, but we got a late start because we both like to sleep in late. The hike itself started more relaxed at first, but as it went on, it got more intense, and almost made me regret getting into hiking. There was some scrambling involved, and not enough water was packed. At the end, we had to careen ourselves up the peak using unstable steel cables. It didn’t exactly feel safe, but once we got to the top, I experienced something that I never had hiking before.

getting into hiking
A beautiful view

The mountains looked fake, almost like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Not only had I climbed up here, despite being afraid of heights, but I did it on my terms. I allowed myself to experience the mountains, soak them in without dreading the climb back down. I took it a step further and scaled to the top of the peak, the highest point within Seoul

getting into hiking
At the top of Bukhansan

For me, this is what getting into hiking was all about. It was the moment that I felt a sense of confidence that I hadn’t felt in years. My body wasn’t a total failure, and if I allowed it to be, was capable of doing great things. It might not have been easy, and we may have had to climb down in the dark, but we were able to do it, and even go out to bowl with friends afterwards. I was capable, more than really, and even if it was challenging, it was still doable.

Since the hike to Bukhansan, I’ve done hikes in Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Montana, and Canada. I’d like to think I’m not a beginner anymore. I’m nowhere near an advanced level of hiking, and likely never will be. But I am planning on doing the hike to the Everest Base Camp in the next month, the ultimate culmination of getting into hiking.

These days, doing any serious athletics are over for me. This is due to spinal fusion surgery and chronic sciatica radiating down my right leg. My surgeon recommended I don’t ever lift more than fifty pounds, a good excuse to get out of helping anyone to move. But getting into hiking has taught me that physical fitness can be enjoyable, and even beautiful, without feeling competitive. With hiking, it’s just a race against yourself.  You’re not exactly conquering the mountain, but at the minimum, you’re not letting it conquer you.

Just finishing is enough.

keeping up a blog

Why I’m Struggling to Keep Up This Blog

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Internet, Writing

It turns out, keeping up a blog is a lot of work. While writing is very important to me, keeping up a blog has become something of a chore. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy writing a blog, and in fact, my traffic was very high for a while. However, I was mostly riding off the search engine wave of a single post, but I was very much on track to beat out my previous year of blogging. That being said, the blog is still in a healthy place in terms of traffic, although not as much as I was expecting.

Over time though, I’ve learned to have a different relationship with my blog. I’m less concerned with the highs and lows of my traffic, and more concerned with the quality of the writing that I’ve been producing. I have a book coming out, after all, and having a platform to promote that is more important than how any single post does in terms of traffic. Still, using this blog as a repository for my writing has not been as successful as I would have liked. I personally find it difficult to find the motivation to continue sometimes, and the lack of structure that I used to love is now a bit constraining.

What that means in terms of blogging is that I’ll still be keeping up a blog, but probably a bit less often. Historically, I was writing one or even two posts a week. But for the last few months, it’s been once a month or so. I’ll probably remain at this level, and still write what I want, although brand it a bit more toward the writing (or the lack thereof) that I’ve been doing. After all, even though I’ve moved on to SEO editorial work professionally, I’m still a writer at heart and want to remain that way.

What I’m hoping to do a bit more of is critically analyze media and write more about my travel experiences. For those of you who know me personally, you’ll know that my soon-to-be fiance and I travel the world regularly, and she writes about it more than I do. Obviously we have different experiences, and don’t want to share a platform, but there are things that I have to say that are different than what she thinks. I hope that in keeping up a blog, I can express some of those views in writing, and continue the motivation to write on a regular basis.

In short, I’m trying to re-imagine how I use this blog. I’ve wanted to focus more on creative writing and getting my next big work done after my book is out, but keeping up a blog shouldn’t feel like a hindrance to that. Instead of it feeling like a publication where I’m the only writer and promoter, I’m just going to use it to write what I want, when I want. And hopefully, the readers will stay steady and everything will turn out ok.

nostalgia entertainment

A Marvel and Star Wars Movie Every Year Until You Die: When Will the Nostalgia Train Will Slow Down?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Culture, Movies

It took a month for me to see Incredibles 2. And man, did that turn out to be a disappointment. Depending on if you read Rotten Tomatoes or The New Yorker, you might agree or disagree. But The Incredibles is, incredibly, a sequel slated fourteen years later that nobody was really clamoring for. But with the culture of nostalgia entertainment, it made sense to make it. Given that the film has pulled in nearly a billion dollars worldwide, it’s no surprise that it exists.

The real surprise though is how much the nostalgia train is slowing down, or at least increasing in quality relative to its box office returns. Infinity War may have done better than either of the previous Avengers films, but that’s because it’s a better movie. Infinity War proved that nostalgia is not always bad, as long as it’s created in the service of something greater. In this sense, the something greater is the story, the characters, and a movie that doesn’t feel like it’s made by committee. It stars its own villain, sidelining the heroes you know and love to a chaotic force of a character that you can sympathize with, even as he destroys half of the world

The same holds true with Black Panther. It may not be the first superhero film starring a black man, but it’s the first to explicitly talk about black issues. It’s adding something new and innovative to the genre, creating a narrative about sons reconciling with the sins of their fathers in wholly different ways. The film uses the nostalgia entertainment of the traditional superhero to supervillain showdown to pit integrationist and supremacist ideologies against each other. While the outcome might have been a bit too conservative for some, the fact that the issues are even being talked about at all is a great step in the right direction.

There are, of course, legitimate critiques you can make of these movies. But along with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I think there are really reasons for these movies to exist beyond the box office. They are using their respective genres to comment on issues of our time and reckon with where we are as a society instead of where we want to be. If nostalgia entertainment can do that often, even in smaller ways like in Cobra Kai, I am all for it.

That’s why many have rejected the message of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Instead of killing your heroes, old fans wanted to see Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie hamming it up in a galaxy far, far away. But what they got was a postmodern look at the fallout and consequences of hero worship and how that can turn into the romantic authoritarian ideal . That being said, the movie’s take on the state of the galaxy resonated with many fans and critics alike, and provided something new to the franchise as opposed to being a virtual remake like The Force Awakens.

Before the flop of Solo at the box office, it seemed that the direction of nostalgia entertainment was to entertain for the sake of it. It was just fun for people to get the old gang back together, and see where Han got the Millennium Falcon’s dice from. But that’s exactly why Solo’s box office bomb might not just be good for the future of Star Wars, but the future of nostalgia entertainment as well.

Now, executives at Disney and other major mass media companies are aware that the train will grind to a financial halt if they’re just retreading old ground. So, if they’re listening to the market, and what the people want, they’ll realize that an Increidbles 3 might not seem like such a sure bet next year. Instead, media companies need to focus on turning nostalgia entertainment as a springboard into a springboard to talk about issues larger than the franchise at hand. Otherwise, we’ll eventually stop showing up.

disadvantages of being a digital nomad

I Tried Being a Digital Nomad – Here’s Why It’s Not for Me

Posted 3 CommentsPosted in Culture, Travel

About a year and a half ago, I was living in Granada, Spain when we decided to take a two-week trip to Morocco. While traversing the Sahara Desert and exploring the medina of Fez were unforgettable experiences, my laptop charger shorting out in the riad we were staying in was one experience I could have done without. With a full-time job remote job, I needed to get a new charger as soon as possible in order to check in with work. I scoured the medina, and found a charger that could have worked, but as luck would have it, it did not, and I was unable to return it. Luckily, I was able to borrow my girlfriend’s laptop for the remainder of the trip, but even when we got back to Spain, it took me days of shopping to find the correct charger, and that was only after ordering it on Amazon Spain and having it delivered to our landlord’s apartment because we didn’t have an address that came up on Google maps.

The above scenario is one of main disadvantages of being a digital nomad. Things that would be seamless in your own country, such as getting a new computer charger, become much more difficult when you’re traveling. But this most recent trip for me has been the first time that I’ve really been a digital nomad in its purest form (whatever that means). We’ve been backpacking for the past four months straight. We started in Vietnam and ended up in Australia, traveling to six countries and fifteen cities within that time period.

Before this trip, the longest I had backpacked (without a home base to return to) was a couple of weeks in between terms when I studied abroad in England for a year. When I’ve travelled in the past, it’s either been a short-term trip (ten days to two weeks) or one where I had a permanent space to live or go back to. Having that home base, that sense of routine, is what normalizes life and makes it stable.

But a nomad, by definition, does not have a permanent home. For some, that can work really well. For others, not so much. I’d consider myself in the middle of those two extremes. That being said, one of the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad is constantly reorienting yourself, but it’s also one of the greatest joys. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in a new culture and location one week, just to start over the next, but it’s also difficult if you actually like where you’re staying. If you have a warm bed or a great wifi connection, it’s hard to leave it behind for the potential unknown of a bunk bed and a 500 megabyte per day wifi limit.

That’s a lot of the travel lifestyle; the disadvantages of being a digital nomad can also be its greatest strengths. While you don’t know what your next meal is going to be (it will probably be unhealthy) you’re almost certainly going to walk it off because there’s a lot to do and a lot to explore. It’s not unusual to walk five or even ten miles in day, which would almost never happen during a normal routine. But even newness loses its luster eventually, and soon enough you’ll have visited more temples and churches than most holy men. When you start to compare experiences and collect countries, it may be time to step away for a little while and evaluate what else you have going on.

For me, possibly one of the biggest disadvantages of being a digital nomad is that you’re putting your so-called ‘real life’ on hold. All of your relationships with your friends and family are essentially put into stasis, and if you’re gone long enough, they eventually start to become less meaningful. That’s not to say that it’s not good to see everyone, but when you’re on an extreme time difference, and doing things mostly every day, it’s hard to find the energy to keep up relationships with people who don’t want to put in the effort or judge your life choices.

I remember when I first moved to study abroad to England for a year. Because I was in school, much of my social circle came with me, and I made new connections that came back with me to school the following year. And my closest friends even came to visit. But now, it’s become an expectation that I’m gone most of the time, and that can put strain on even the toughest of bonds. As you get older, it’s harder to maintain your relationships by default, as everyone has less time. If you think about it, you’ve already spent the vast amount of time you’re going to spend in your life with your childhood friends and family. But while exploring the world, sometimes you’re leaving even the possibility of that behind, and that can be depressing.

That’s not to say that you should stick around for your friends and family, but it does mean that you are giving that up by being a digital nomad. As far as the disadvantages of being a digital nomad go, it’s a pretty big one. Still, there’s something both empowering and restricting about the lifestyle; you’re exploring the world but giving some of yourself to it at the same time. That’s why I don’t think digital nomadism is ultimately a lifestyle I want to continue, although it doesn’t mean I’ll stop travelling by any means (in fact, I already have six more trips planned in the next six months).

But to travel at the current pace we’ve been going will just have us burn through the world, and then they’ll really be nothing to look forward to. That’s not to say it isn’t a great thing to do, and I think everyone who has the means and ability should try long-term travel. But there’s a big difference between moving abroad with an intact support system and absconding to run away from reality. That’s not to say that I I’ve done that, but at this continual pace it’s starting to feel that way.

The truth is, I have nothing to run away from. I have a great life, and a great family, relationship and network of friends. But nomadism in an era where it’s not functionally necessarily seems to make people never satisfied with their surroundings. Maybe I’m just satisfied with where I am.

 

 

 

writing and waiting

Writing and Waiting: Why Young Writers Need to be Patient With Their Careers

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Reading, Writing

As the saying goes, it takes years to become an overnight success. Oftentimes, this feels doubly true when it comes to writing. There’s a reason that most people don’t release a book worth a damn until they are 35. As most writers know, the publishing process is a long road, whether you are looking for traditional representation or publishing your own graphic novel like I am. In fact, writing and waiting are practically synonymous these days, especially in a digital world where you’re increasingly fighting for people’s attention.

Writing and waiting go hand in hand because the relationship of the writer to their audience has fundamentally changed. Slinging words on your blog is one way to get that immediate gratification, but professional writers need to think of themselves as a business. No longer can you make a living selling short stories to sci-fi anthologies like an early Isaac Asimov or Harlan Ellison. Instead you need to be content writing lots of content, or working a day job and pursuing your creative endeavors on your off-hours.

But a writer treating themselves as a business is nothing new. Shakespeare did it in a way that is creatively fulfilling to even modern audiences. But as a writer, Shakespeare ultimately had two masters — his royal patrons and the masses, and his work needed to appeal to both in different ways.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other pre-modern authors who didn’t have to learn the relationship between writing and waiting. Charles Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers at 26,and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 20. But these are exceptions, and also a product of their era. There was no such thing as free news, let alone memes and internet culture. Novels (outside of drinking) were one of the biggest forms of entertainment, and book sales reflected that.

But now, writers aren’t as necessary to society. Yes, they do serve an important and vital function. But no singular writer is going to make the next Marvel or Star Wars. Entertainment is now a collaborative process, and any singular vision will ultimately be stifled by that. That’s not to say that all writing is beholden to that, but it’s not as though Phillip K Dick was writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in a world where Blade Runner already existed.

This is why writing and waiting are so closely related. There’s more to learn and more to absorb as a young writer, and while innovation is certainty possible, it can’t happen solely through writing anymore. It takes patience and perseverance in an overstated market where people are used to getting things for free. And that last part can’t be understated; it’s a key reason as to why journalists have jumped on #TheResistance train. Ultimately, you get what you a pay for, and if you don’t pay, well, this is what you get.

The writer’s dilemma — and the waiting that comes with it — was a big part of a novel I recently readA nearly 1000 page tome, Murakami’s IQ84 is a huge novel that is fundamentally about the power of the novel, and how it can change the world. It’s a nice thought, of course. But it’s unrealistic. Your writing is not going to change the world.

The truth is, very few people who are starting their writing career in the modern digital age will have that much power with their writing. You can’t be Stephen King if Stephen King already exists. You’re going to have to find another way out of your creative cell, because every time someone breaks out, they close up that escape route and dig you further in.

This is why writing and waiting needs to be embraced by writers. I wrote the first draft of my graphic novel when I was 21 years old. It won’t be published until I’m 28, and that’s only because I took the production part into my own hands. Otherwise it might have taken until I was 35, or maybe never.

And if you don’t have the capital to invest in your own writing career, you need to accept that. Nobody needs your writing out in the world more than you do. Of course, you want to write the stories that you want to read, the takes on stories that don’t exist, at least not with your personal spin on them. That might mean that’s what to see out on bookshelves, but you’ll need to wait to make that happen. No idea is so timely that it can’t exist in the context of anything else. Otherwise, you’re not writing a story, you’re just writing an idea.

Writing our moment is a laudable goal, but it’s also short-sighted for a new writer, one that has to wait to publish. Good stories should be timeless; they don’t need to be universal, but they need to speak to human nature. Otherwise, you’re just writing the next Lord of the Rings, and not even fans of the movie want to read that.

 

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 10 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.