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I’ve hated Tumblr since the start, “typical” Tumblr pages are not something I ever want to look at. What came over me this week, I’m not sure.
Film critic Roger Ebert died on April 4, 2013. That evening, I decided that I was going to write something here about what he and his work have meant to me over the years. Unfortunately I was distracted by illness and depression, bogged down with schoolwork and other responsibilities, and just couldn’t focus on writing much of anything at all here until my semester ended two weeks ago. Obviously, I haven’t gotten anything worthwhile done since then, either. What’s it going to take to get me to write this entry?
Well, I’ve already written it two or three times (each version on pace for at least 2,000 words in length), but it took a shape that I hated and would never actually post, so here we are. What can I say? I just think Roger Ebert was a great writer who understood the responsibilities of his job better than any of his peers, which was to accurately describe the experience of what it was like to watch a movie. He did so using print, television and the Internet, connecting with a wide audience, never talking down to “average” moviegoers or wasting film buffs’ time with mere entertainment news. He was honest and upfront about his priorities and expectations for movies and kept a positive attitude about even the worst films he reviewed. He was a thoughtful and intellectually curious man who mined the world for all kinds of new experiences and knowledge. And he resisted the urge to sell out, even when his declining health gave him every excuse to finally kick back and do just that.
When I was 12 or 13, I found myself inexplicably drawn towards “At the Movies,” the long-running television program that he hosted with Gene Siskel. The way they analyzed and talked about movies… excited me, and I soon became a regular reader of his reviews and columns. This lead me to become a more avid reader in general, and even if his influence didn’t turn me into a great writer, it left a huge impression on me that gave me a huge appreciation of (and critical eye towards) the written word and mass media in general. In helping me understand the world of film as a century-long, ever-changing continuum, he helped open my eyes to a new ways of appreciating/engaging with art and media. As a result, I became obsessed with movies in high school and decided I wanted to spend my future working in them.
This didn’t really pan out but I’m not here to talk about that right now.
Point is, I watched all the films of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Terrence Malick while in high school* because of his reviews. I got into anime because of a review of Ghost in the Shell that I saw on his TV show. I was inspired by his writings to join the school paper: this lead to a magazine internship and (eventually) the creation of several blogs (including the one you’re reading right now). If I hadn’t discovered the world of film and the myriad ways the movies could be interpreted and appreciated, I’d probably still be addicted to video games and functionally illiterate.
*No, I don’t this that this made me a special, “precocious” child or anything. Far from it. I only mention it because it was hard to actually do while living in a small town before the age of high speed internet, and without a car. This was my “thing” in high school that I found joy in and I’ll bask in it as long as I feel like it.
There’s something sad about encountering an blog who’s most-recent post is more than two years old. What happened? Did the author lose interest in the subjects of their usual entries? Or, just in the act of blogging about them? Is the author physically okay? Is the author still alive? Worse still is when that most recent post is one of those “sorry I’ve been away” entries, complete with apologies for their most recent absences and a promise to “be back soon” with “big plans” for the blog’s future. One is left wondering what those plans were and what it could have been, exactly, that prevented their realization.
Being an everyday reader of blogs, I can say that my favorites are those that cover interesting subjects in a particularly intelligent or entertaining way, and in the process give me some kind of idea of idea of what its creator is like as a person. I do enjoy the slow process of getting into someone’s writings over time, even if they’re only short journal entries, and slowly beginning to understand what’s most important to them, what they believe about the world, even how they feel about other people as well as their very own selves. Sometimes the person behind the entry is more interesting than the entry itself, but not due to the quality of the writing or its conclusions, but because its true meaning can only be interpreted through a very distinct collection of beliefs, attitudes, and values that the author’s posts have revealed to the reader over time. Having this experience as a longtime reader of blogs, I’ve come across a lot of dead blogs that were clearly the works of a passionate and excited people. What made them lose their interest? Their motivation? Why did they abandon their plans to continue blogging? Did they do so by choice, or did outside circumstances end their blogging days? Whatever happened, it’s reasonable to guess that there was a significant change in the blogger’s life. Change is inevitable, but we never want to be reminded of that when we’re browsing online. I certainly don’t, anyway.
So that’s why I don’t want this blog to “die,” despite the fact that I’m well aware of the fact that such death by neglect is the inevitable fate of almost all blogs. I’m uncomfortable with the prospect of losing control of my life or having to sacrifice certain things that I love. I’m also not comfortable with the idea that I ever might lose interest in the things I enjoy. I get melancholy when I think about the pursuits I used to enjoy that no longer bring me pleasure. I hate to think that the positive feelings I get from any of the things that I write about on this blog might one day become less fulfilling or interesting. That’s a common human experience. But I let it creep me out more than it should. Wouldn’t it be terrible to completely lose interest in something that you’d spent so much time with? That may open the doors to new interests and experiences, sure. But it doesn’t always.
I don’t want to believe that my passions are transitory and subject to change. I want them to matter and to provide a source of fulfillment that I can always count on. Actually admitting that they’re so insignificant that they might just up and change one day makes them a little less enjoyable in the present moment. So I try not to think about that, but it’s certainly something that’s on my mind every time I sit down to post something here. How long will I be posting here? Knowing that would certainly effect how I approach blogging, as well as how I present myself online elsewhere. This blog isn’t my only “presence” on the Internet, but I treat this one more carefully than I do with any of the others, and I think I do so because I have a special relationship with the particular sides of myself that I reveal here. Is it my “true” self? If it is, then the dozens of once-active, now-dead blogs I’ve seen over the years, the discarded remains of the “selves” of others, have got me a little worried about its volatility. If it’s not a reflection of my true self, then I’ve certainly wasted my time here over the last four years.
I remain as interested in music as I have ever been, perhaps even more so as I’ve been much more proactive about listening to a wider range of it than ever before, as well as trying to understand just what it is that I love most about my favorite artists/songs/albums. I’d say that I’m legitimately obsessed with music but I know there’s no way to elaborate about the depths of that without sounding obnoxious or pretentious, so I’ll leave it at that. I’d talk about it more here but I already do so elsewhere on a couple of message boards, and I want to keep my persona here separate from how I interact with people on those. I’m a very private person and I like to keep my identity as a geek completely separate from the rest of my life. I worry too much about what other people think, I know, but I’ve also come across a lot of people both online and offline who’re into geeky stuff and, frankly, could stand to think a little more about how others may view their behavior. Anime fans don’t exactly have a shining reputation for social skills or mature behavior — yes, I know that I’m letting extremists define an entire group, but that doesn’t change he fact that this is what most other people do as well — and I’m uncomfortable being lumped in among them in anyone’s mind. I think I just hate being misunderstood, because I don’t like dealing with people’s misconceptions, because I don’t like explaining myself to get over those misconceptions, because I don’t like having to defend aspects of my self that, frankly, I’m actually insecure about. Is it because I feel like I’m getting old? Is it because I am
As far as anime goes, I’m watching a little less than usual these days, mostly due to school-related priorities. But it’s still an interest that I find myself uniquely fixated on, not only because of its inherent aesthetic qualities, the window it provides into another culture, or what its most common themes can teach us, but because it attracts the sort of people — geeks with a certain range of worldviews, or people with unconventional tastes — that I feel particularly drawn to. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to conform to the attitudes and behaviors of other kids, succumbing to peer pressure while dismissing the legitimacy of anything that brought me happiness if it wasn’t “cool” enough for the kids whose opinions mattered most to me. There were plenty of chances for me to become friends with some of the kids who might have been branded as “nerds,” but I passed these opportunities by because I was fixated on the importance of popularity. As a result, I missed out on a lot of positive experiences and instead experienced lengthy periods of loneliness, confusion and boredom.
Truth is, I was always a geek, but I repressed that side of myself for a really long time out of a sense of shame or a desire to just fit in. At least that was the case when I was young. Oh hell, that’s still the case, isn’t it? I still hide the part of myself that loves animated television programs simply because society has come to the agreement that they’re “just for kids,” and whether that opinion is right or wrong, I’ve never wanted to have to deal with it when explaining myself to others. Anyway, I’m looking for ways to get over those feelings, and having encounters with others who share similar interests would go a long way in helping me to settle down and stop worrying about the social “meaning” of my hobby, or whatever kind of bullshit has me twisted these days. Unfortunately, while I’ve been following and interacting with a small anime club in the city here for over a year, I haven’t been able to attend in person due to conflicts between my scheduled work days and the dates of their meetings. Recently, they changed their schedule so that all monthly meetings would be held on Sundays, which works out extremely well for me. Too bad that I’ve waited too long to RSVP and missed the cut for the March meeting and now for April gathering as well. Guess I’ll try again next time. Meanwhile, ACEN is approaching, which I’ll be attending with my girlfriend and await with both anticipation and hesitation. It’s always a… unique experience, I guess. I really want to cosplay but I feel that’s most enjoyable to do when you’re part of a group, not to mention the fact that I’d be cosplaying a very young character, which shouldn’t be an issue but almost nothing that I fret about actually is. I also want to enter a video in the AMV contest but I honestly don’t know if it’s going to be good enough to make the cut and not completely bore the audience. If I could tell that they hated it, it would probably ruin my night. Why risk it?
I started writing this a few days ago and came back to it in spells punctuated by illness and narcotics. I don’t know if any of this makes sense or is the least bit interesting to read, but I’m going to repress my critical doubts and just post it anyway. This organic chemistry isn’t going to study itself.
A few days ago I fired up my old Game Boy Advance and played a few games of Tetris just before bed. This was never a nightly tradition but for the past twelve years or so, it’s something I would do at least once a week. And for a few years during that span, it was something I tried to master with more persistence and focus than I’ve applied to almost any pursuit in my life. More about that later, I guess. Just wanted to set the scene.
My GBA SP, decals worn off on bottom from years of sweaty palms.
The next morning (this past Monday?) I woke up and decided to play a game or two while my coffee was brewing. I turned on the system, pressed start at the title screen, and… noticed that my name was somehow missing from the player profile selection screen. It would only take a few seconds for me to realize that all the data on my Tetris DX cartridge had somehow been erased, as the game would not allow me to select a “one player” game at all, but was forcing me into the name “entry” screen. I should have seen this coming. For the past two years, and especially the last few months, games would regularly freeze up or suddenly end and send me back to the title screen. Simply starting a game would often require two or three attempts as the system regularly restarted itself, and even in mid-game, the playing field would suddenly fill with random colors and shapes. I don’t know if it was a problem with the cartridge or with the system itself; I hadn’t actually removed the cartridge at all to play anything else in at least 5 or 6 years. When I first bought the Game Boy Advance back in 2001 (the terrible original version with its legendarily hard-to-see screen), I got a little mileage out of it with Advance Wars, Chu Chu Rocket and Sonic Advance. But by the time I traded in my original system for the vastly-improved Game Boy Advance SP (featuring the easy-to-view backlit screen), the system was quickly becoming nothing more than my portable Tetris player. This was a real waste of resources, to be sure, but I appreciated the design of the system in comparison to the brick that was the original Game Boy or Game Boy Color.
Trust me, unless you’ve just bought a new cartridge, you never want to see this screen.
Why was I so obsessed with Tetris? I doubt I could come up with a single answer that would please everyone. Some players appreciate its zen-like simplicity, while others regard it as a boring relic of the 8-bit age that’s not worth taking seriously in the 21st century. My first exposure to Tetris probably came from watching this. We never actually owned the original NES version of the game, although my neighbors, babysitters and friends all seemed to have it, so the cartridge itself was always around somewhere nearby whenever I needed it. I won’t be so bold as to call myself some kind of child prodigy or anything — I was just a kid who was hooked on videogames like millions of others — but I quickly found that while my Super Mario Brothers 3 or Contra skills were roughly on the same level as most of my friends, there was something about this game that was either unnecessarily frustrating them or particularly well-suited to myself, because I was always outplaying them to an embarrassing degree. I couldn’t understand why. The game wasn’t really that hard. Practically everyone is familiar with the basic strategy and the best way to score points. It’s right there in the title! But it seemed to be lost on everyone else but myself.
“OhmygodwhatareyoudoingSTOPITyou’regoinnadie!!” — typical response of friends while watching me play.
We did have a version of it on our “IBM-compatible” home PC that my mom got from someone at work. It was probably one of a thousand different bootlegged and re-translated versions of the game that floated out of the USSR before it was ever properly licensed over here. I’d sit and watch my mom play, get frustrated, curse and the screen and then at me because I was “distracting” her with advice. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. Those ancient experiences aside, Tetris was exclusively a console game for me until two years ago when I found tetrisfriends.com. Suddenly, I was playing against people from across the world at my desk at work. Nothing would ever be the same! Or so I thought. A few weeks later tech support took away our Internet privileges for reasons too boring and complicated to go into here. Suffice it to say that my foray into the world of competitive Tetris was over. That’s right, believe it or not I’ve actually got better things to do while at home and know better than to let it eat up my few free hours here away from school and work.
Over the years I played a few different console versions of the game. The original Game Boy version is a beast of a game that demands nothing less than absolute perfection. One small mistake at level 9 and you might as well turn the system off. It’s simply impossible to move the pieces fast enough horizontally across the field to fill in anything on the far sides unless you’re consistently playing with a very, very low stack of blocks. It’s a wonder how this infuriating, unforgiving, pea soup-toned version somehow got millions hooked on the game in the first place. Tetris Plus, for the Sega Saturn, played as elegantly as any modern version of the game should, but its method of pushing the player into higher levels based partly on time passed (and not simply by lines scored) was an unnecessary change that partially broke the basic mode of the game. What I was left wanting after playing both of these versions was a Tetris game that stuck to the basics but also allowed players to save high scores. The original Game Boy Version (and if I’m not mistaken, the original NES version too) did not allow players to save high scores. And what game would benefit from such a basic feature more than Tetris?
As Americans it was bad enough that we were stuck with the heavy, VHS-sized jewel case packaging that every Saturn game came in, but then they went the extra mile to erase the girl from the game, too.
I finally found what I was looking for in Tetris DX, originally released for the Game Boy Color. Not only did it feature color graphics and the much-desired score-saving feature, but it was a marked improvement over the slowly, clunky play of the original Tetris. Smoother graphics and a higher refresh rate (?) made for quicker block movement that was also easier to see. Not only could you now manipulate blocks in tight spaces and make the split second decisions that you could only dream about in the past, but you could also move horizontally at a speed that made once-impossible traps now escapable. I still believe this is the best version of the game that exists, and I played in nonstop for years. My high score on ultra mode (games timed at 3 minutes) was over 221,000. For ultra mode, the world record high score is 243,125. This means that someone (er, this guy) somehow found a way to score not just one extra tetris than myself in the three minutes of play, but two! This means that Bertrand is somehow dropping at least 6.67 pieces more than I am for every minute of gameplay and keeping it up during the entire three-minute duration. And I’m dropping every piece as fast as I possibly can, holding on the down arrow nearly continuously during the entire game. I don’t want to say this is impossible. But I do want to see it with my own eyes. Despite the fact that video evidence is (or at least was) required for score verification, Twin Galaxies does not make such material public. Even in the age of Youtube, we’re lucky when we can see first-hand footage of masters of this game at work at all (and I’m not talking about this, no one knows who or what this is or if it’s even real).
I would absolutely throw down $10 (or more!) to be part of something like this (DX marathon champion Harry Hong on left).
The world record for marathon mode (2,426,967) was much more within my reach, so back in 2007 I set up my video camera and recorded myself playing for a good two hours. It’s really hard to hold still and concentrate when there’s a camera aimed over your shoulder, but somehow I managed to beat the record by a good half-million points or so. I was pretty pleased with myself and thought about how and when I was going to submit the tape as I got ready for work that day. At work I visited Twin Galaxies’ website for more information… only to find that in the span of the few weeks since I’d last checked the scoreboard, someone else had not only beaten the record before me, but absolutely smashed the previous record and maxed out the score. I felt more than a little devastated by this development and my competitive fire would never burn quite as hot again. I’m not sure there’s any kind of reward or punishment that could possibly push me to reach such a score. I mean, it’s hard to explain how difficult it is to keep one’s mind focused on the game at hand as the hours slowly pass and the blocks begin to fall at speeds that would give most players nothing short of minor panic attacks. To stay mentally calm and collected, not to mention physically comfortable — eye strain, hand cramps, back pains, these become real factors when rules don’t allow players to pause or take any breaks — is a real challenge that requires both physical discipline and real strategies to deal with. Laying down or changing chairs would be a simple solution, but how to move the camera at the same time if you’re playing and recording by yourself? I didn’t really want to deal with these problems anymore so I stopped trying to a few years ago, and today it seems that the game itself has gone ahead and taken care of any future possibilities that I’d ever change my mind about it.
For about 2 hours after this I was on top of the world.
My final line total after a decade of play was over 315,000 lines. This may or may not be especially notable, I don’t know. Anyone playing that long would probably end up somewhere in the same neighborhood. Now that’s gone and I have no proof that I’d ever played the game at all. This has been a really weird. All things must pass, I guess. Am I going to try to go back to it? I do have a backup GBA SP that I could try the cartridge in. Maybe the game itself is just fried and there’s no hope. And maybe, in the end, this is actually a fortunate event, one less time-consuming distraction for me to deal with (albeit a tiny one in comparison to my Internet and anime habits) as I stand on the verge of a new period of my life in which I’ll need to muster every ounce of focus and dedication that I can on my studies. This has never been my strong suit so any Acts Of God that’ll tip the scales in my favor can and should be appreciated.
I’m reading a Tetris thread on the Twin Galaxies message board (one of many there following the continued efforts of several players to perfect their play on various versions of the game). It’s encouraging to see that after so many years, players are still pushing themselves to reach higher and higher scores. It’s a testament to the timelessness of the game, which will hopefully be around in one form or another until I finally bite the dust. I wonder if I’m really out of the game for good. Will I ever find the spark to chase the dream again? Maybe this is just a hiatus. After a good two decades of hacking away at this game in one form or another, it’s probably high time I took a much-deserved break.
This is probably going to totally alienate whatever few followers I have, but I’m changing my name here to better consolidate and control my online personas. All posts here (and on Twitter) will be signed by Seasons from now on.
It’s been two weeks since these questions were originally posted over at Acerailgun. And since then somewhere between a dozen or two other bloggers (or more!) have posted their own answers to them. I’m a little late to the party but figured I’d jump in anyway. Couldn’t hurt and I like writing personal posts, despite the fact that I sort of avoid them here.
1. Who is your favorite male anime character?
This is a tough one. Shinji from Evangelion, I suppose. There’s plenty of other characters I admire more but I have a harder time relating to most of them.
2. Who is your favorite female character?
I hate to do this and didn’t plan on it but… Asuka from Evangelion. Which is particularly odd given how repulsive I’d probably find her if she were a real person. My favorite characters list on MAL is filled with plenty of other soft-spoken, polite girls but somehow Asuka still comes out on top. I think it’s a combination of empathy for her, knowing her insecurities and particularly difficult past (a knowledge of her that I don’t have of anyone else who’s ever caused me to bristle in annoyance or fear), and a vicarious masochism of sorts that I get from watching Shinji’s interactions with her.
The preceding sentence is possibly the most incriminating thing I’ve ever revealed on the Internet and explains why I do my best to keep this blog separate from the rest of my life.
3. What is your favorite anime soundtrack?
4. What is your favorite anime opening + animation?
It doesn’t get any better than the opening to Moyashimon.
5. What is your favorite anime ending song + animation?
I remember watching Inuyasha for the first time back in 2005 or so, back when this particular ending credits sequence ran in the earliest episodes, and being struck by a peculiar feeling that’s difficult to describe. Maybe it was the song (J-pop? It’s okay for me to like this, right?), or the visuals (Kagome… on a Ferris wheel?) but it gave me the sense that I was getting a real taste of something new and strange and probably a lot bigger than I could imagine. Most such hunches I’ve ever had didn’t pan out but this one was pretty much on the money. Watching it now — last week, in fact, when I was collecting clips for an AMV — it still makes me feel nostalgic for those days when I was first dipping my toes into anime and the fandom surrounding it. So I don’t know if it’s truly my favorite ending credits song/animation, but it hits home for me in a really poignant way that few others do.
6. What is your favorite anime scene?
I don’t know if I have one. But I really have a thing for films with scenes that take place in movie theaters (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen Inglorious Basterds or Hugo, especially if you saw them first in an actual theater). I saw Paprika during its limited theatrical release so this scene has always been one of my favorites. Excuse the English dub in this clip. (And wow, I’d never seen this one before today.)
7. If you could meet an anime character who would it be?
8. What anime character is most similar to you in terms of personality?
Sasahara from Genshiken. I’m pretty reserved and I know that I hold back my enthusiasm (either out of shyness or sheer embarrassment) when it comes to things that I’m really passionate about. But I really do want to connect with people and leave my mark (however small it might be) on the world too.
9. What is your favorite thing about anime?
I don’t know how to answer this. I was tempted to type something about just loving animation in general, but then I remember that I pretty much hate every animated program on television in America that’s not aimed at children. I guess it just tells the kinds of stories that I don’t find anywhere else, or at least nowhere on American television. And I’m certainly drawn to the aesthetic that most of it shares.
10. What is your least favorite thing about anime?
It’s a medium that could be enjoyed by people of all ages, but is so often content to pander to the base desires of older adolescents, moreso in recent years than ever before. And I find it difficult to identify with most fans of it in this day and age. Admitting that you’re an anime fan, regardless of age, is a kind of social poison. I won’t rant about this now but I know I’m not alone in these feelings.
11. Who are your favorite anime couple?
Yukino Miyazawa and Souichirou Arima from Kare Kano.
12. Who is your favorite anime animal?
13. What anime would make a good game?
Turns out that most of my answers for this — Soul Eater, One Piece, Evangelion — actually were made into games at one point or another, although I don’t think any have been released outside of Japan. I’d like to see a character-focused Digimon game based on any of the series but I don’t think anyone that’s ever been into the franchise (which is 95% kids, right?) would be interested.
14. What game would make a good anime?
I don’t play enough games any more to have much to say about this. I was watching gameplay clips of Radiant Silvergun last night, though. It looks so elegant and epic that it would seem to lend itself to an anime really well. Or at least one that resembled the tone of its gameplay more than its opening movie does. I’d say the same about Ikaruga. Also, I’m terrible at these kind of games.
15. What was the first anime you ever watched?
My mom told me that I watched Speed Racer when I was a toddler but I have no memory of this whatsoever. The first that I can actually remember watching was the original Ghost in the Shell movie.
16. Do you think you’ll ever stop watching anime?
I don’t think so. And I’m sure that most fans think they’re in for the long haul too, but obviously most drop out eventually. We’ll just have to see.
17. What is your favorite genre of anime?
Mostly science fiction, but I’m open to almost anything.
18. What is your least favorite genre of anime?
There’s no genre that I actually dislike. But if you could call moe a genre, then I guess you could say that I don’t have much interest in it, at least not compared to the consideration it receives from most anime fans online.
19. Are you open about watching anime with people you know?
Not at all. None of my friends or coworkers really understand it and I’d rather not try to explain it to them at this point.
20. Have you ever been to Japan?
I haven’t! But I’d really love to go. One of my favorite countries out there, for sure.
21. What anime was the biggest let down for you?
Texhnolyze left me frustrated and perplexed. My expectations might have been a little unfair going into it (just because Yoshitoshi Abe drew the characters didn’t mean it was going to be anything like Serial Experiments Lain or Haibane Renmei) but overall it was a little too dark and gritty for my tastes. Maybe this says more about me than it does about the series.
22. What anime was better then expected?
115 episodes in and I’ve really enjoyed all of One Piece that I’ve seen. I really had no desire to watch it in the first place, but so far it’s surpassed all my expectations.
23. What is the best anime fight scene?
Ryoko Asakura vs Yuki Nagato in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Maybe I have a thing for stoic, ass-kicking meganekko but who doesn’t these days right?
24. Who is your anime waifu?
Are we really doing this? Okay then, Sheska from Fullmetal Alchemist.
25. What was your favorite video game as a child?
Dr. Mario. I’m sure I’ve put in at least 20 times as much time playing Tetris, but as far as puzzle games go, Dr. Mario has always been vastly more enjoyable and less frustrating. I loved it then and it still holds up today as a gaming experience that I haven’t found anywhere else.
Questions about me
26. Most Embarrassing moment?
Dozens of completely humiliating moments come to mind for this, most of which I hope to take with me to the grave.
27a. Can you drive?
27b. Do you own a car?
28. Are you mature?
Compared to most anime fans, yes. Compared to most other people my age, no.
29. What year were you born?
For a number of (probably psychotic) reasons, I’ve decided to keep this a secret. Just know that I’m probably older than you.
30. Do you prefer cats or dogs?
Dogs. I’ve had a few growing up and I can’t wait to get more some day. I’m allergic to cats and avoid them as best as I can.
31. Describe yourself physically.
About 5’11”. I used to be really slim but I’ve gained a lot of weight in the past year or two, probably thanks to medication I’ve been taking. I guess that means that I have a “healthy weight” now (or at least that’s what my doctor/parents/coworkers tell me) but I hope to drop some pounds or be in better shape someday soon.
32. What would you name your first child?
If it was a girl, Lila. If it was a boy, Jake. Not plans for any kids right now, though.
33. What is the worst injury you have ever had?
I burned my thumb on a hot bowl in high school and it blistered really badly. I’ve avoided any serious accidents so far, though.
34. What is your worst habit?
Spending too much time online. For example, I should be studying right now.
35. Do you drink or smoke?
I enjoy craft beers and microbrews, but find myself increasingly uninterested in anything else. I hate to sound like a snob, but if you offered me a Bud Lite I’d probably ask you for a Coke or some water instead. I used to be a social smoker but thankfully I haven’t touched a cigarette for a few years now.
36. Do you have a tattoo?
No. I really don’t think that’s going to happen.
37. Are you a morning person or a night person?
I love being up by myself early in the morning. If only I could get to bed at a decent time, I could really make that work for myself.
38. Have you ever slept past midday?
39. Do you regret anything?
40. Can you count the number of friends you have on one hand?
Yes. And I don’t talk to them much these days. It’s a long story.
41. Do you wear glasses?
No. But I kinda want to.
42. Are you a picky eater?
43. Would you die for someone?
44. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I’ll take just about any of them. I’d like to experience suddenly discovering one and then figuring out how to make it best work for myself (like a real superhero) rather than getting to pick and choose one. That’s not how it works!
45. Do you believe in the supernatural?
I don’t believe in ghosts. Is this question is about the existence of God? If it was then I think we’re gonna be here for a while, you’d better go use the bathroom before we settle in for this conversation.
46. Would you rather be rich or famous?
Rich, for sure. Being famous seems like a lot of stress that I wouldn’t want to deal with.
47. Have you ever committed a crime?
Lots of them, I’m sure. But nothing hateful or violent.
Pirates or ninjas? Time Traveler or ghost?
I’ve been leaning toward ninjas these days. I don’t understand the second question.
49. Does someone have a crush on you?
Well, I think so.
50. Are you in a relationship?
I knew this day would come eventually.
Let’s do this.
My grandmother bought me my first pack of baseball cards when I was seven years old. Thus began an obsession that lasted until middle school, where I amassed a giant collection of cards and collectables from all sports.
I was really into sports as a child. I was never good at playing them, but I enjoyed following them on television and keeping up with the standings. I always knew what teams were the best and which players were having all-star seasons. My awareness of this sort of thing today is next to nil. I still enjoy sports but find myself unmotivated to “keep up” with them.
My fondness for professional sports as a child was certainly motivated by my hobby of collecting cards, which I spent far too much of my meager allowance on and surely drove my parents to chip in on more times than they ever should have. I was obsessed with keeping my collection in mint condition, not simply out a sense of pride for it, but because I honestly believed that it would appreciate in value over time and really be worth something in the future. We all knew how that turned out.
I bought Beckett price guides every month or so, and treated their word as the Bible of collecting. If Beckett said that an Ozzie Smith card was worth $2.80, or that a Gary Peyton card was worth $0.65 then their “worth” was decided and non-negotiable. Beckett brainwashed me and hundreds of thousands of other kids like me into believing that their cards held actual monetary value, and by including of card values going back to the 1950s (with the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card being the “proof” that cards were a winning investment), Beckett shrewdly conditioned us to buy into the idea that we could all be rich someday, so long as we held onto our cards and followed their guides.
The hobby soon exploded with the debut of Upper Deck in the 90s, which introduced new levels of elitism into the hobby and made it impossible for younger collectors without deep pockets to ever keep up. The arrival of “insert cards” destroyed the hobby, rendering 99.9% of all cards worthless as everyone began buying packs, if not entire cases, just to find the rarest insert cards. By the time I turned 13, I realized that I was caught up in an elaborate racket designed to shake me down for all I had, and I essentially got out of collecting for good. But I still kept my collection. Maybe I still hoped that it would be worth something in the future, but I never could have predicted the impact that the Internet would have on collecting. With people selling off their entire collections on eBay for next to nothing, it became hard to even give away cards from the late 80s/early 90s.
No, really. Years after the bubble burst, I found myself without a single card worth more than $5.00, and even if I had one, I don’t know how I’d begin find anyone out there willing to give me even half that amount for it. And who wants a box of 3,000 commons and “All Star” Topps cards of Dale Murphy, Tim Raines and Jorge Bell?
Well, turns out someone did. I actually wrote this entry six months ago and left it sitting unpublished in my drafts folder until today. Between then and now, I sold my collection to someone on Craigslist for $20 (who was nice enough to insist on giving me $40 when he came by to pick it up). I held out on giving him the “good stuff,” though, which includes my 30+ card collection of John Paxson cards (sadly, not including cards from his two years with the Spurs) and two dozen autographed cards that may or may not be authentic (mailing them off to team headquarters with a SASE included, who knows how many of the few that actually came back to me bare real signatures and not scribbles penned by assistants).
The one thing that’s remained the same for me from the beginning of my collecting days until now? I’d gladly trade it all for this card if I could.
I suffer from a really crippling case of, well… feeling old. I know I’m not, but when I constantly compare myself to who I was or who my friends were ten or fifteen years ago, it’s really easy for this debilitating feeling to take hold of me and keep me from enjoying the here and now. Not that there’s anything wrong with nostalgia, which we all indulge in, either alone or communally. But I find myself reminiscing about the past to a seriously damaging degree. I know that the world wasn’t necessarily a better place when I was fifteen years old, but my selective memory of it sure makes it seem that way. I think every one of us is susceptible to falling in to these thought patterns as we get older; the wiser and more mature you are, the more you’re likely to recognize this habit for what it is and avoid the pitfalls of dwelling in it for long. For the rest of us, it’s only a matter of time before we start bitching about how much better everything used to be and how today’s kids just ruin everything.
I catch myself ruminating over this kind of stuff every day and I’m trying as best as I can to break myself of the habit. Culture (pop, youth, Internet, etc.) has always been changing at an exponentially fast rate, and it’s unrealistic (and narcissistic) to expect the world to freeze itself in time for you so you can be seventeen forever. None of this is a great concern for people who’re comfortable in their own skin and at ease with the simple matter of living life and pursing whatever interest sparks their passion. For the rest of us, though, the inevitable march of time and the changes it brings to the world around us can feel like a great injustice that must be resisted or rejected at all costs. It’s a cruel but fitting irony that, for such people so concerned with clinging to the world of their youth and decrying the teens that grew up and eventually took their place (Get Off My Lawn syndrome?), these habits effectively brand them as “old” long before their peers who don’t give a shit grow a single grey hair.
Why am I meditating about this now? Two institutions that I’ll forever associate with my youth have gone belly-up in the past two weeks, which has made this a very nostalgic July. It’s been more than a month since the announcement that Chicago’s WKQX, the home of “Chicago’s Alternative” Q101, would be switching formats from modern rock to news (following a buyout from a group headed up by this pathetic scumbag). Q101’s ratings have been slipping over the years as rock continues to lose ground to pop and R&B as the youth music of choice, so the station’s fortunes hadn’t been positive for quite some time. And anyone who remembers listening to the station back in the early to mid-90s would be hard pressed to find much to enjoy about it in 2011 as it abandoned most of what made it interesting and cool back then, embracing instead some of the most painfully generic, macho, angry and bitter music of the last decade. I remember being young and discovering bands like Elastica, Lush, and The Chemical Brothers, all thanks to Q101. By the early 00’s, this brand of “alternative” was all but completely jettisoned in favor of a new crop of bands like Staind, Breaking Benjamin, Godsmack, Cold, Trapt, Hoobastank, and Disturbed. Kurt Cobain once said that the future of rock belonged to women. It might be for the best that he’d never find out how much of an angry sausage fest it would eventually turn out to be.
Even in its heyday, Q101 was far from perfect, and for every song they’d play from Bjork, Beck or The Breeders (or strange one-off hits that somehow slipped into the playlist a few times a year) there would be three or four tracks of generic modern rock shit. And this was before Limp Bizkit, Creed, or Kid Rock arrived in ’98/’99 and turned the station into a Woodstock ’99 celebration of aggro butt-rock and depressive self-loathing. But over the years, we learned to take the good with the bad, and felt a tiny sense of victory as bands like The White Stripes, Interpol, Modest Mouse, and Franz Ferdinand reclaimed the spirit of “alternative” and scored a few hits that are still rock radio staples today. All this was meaningless, of course, but in the age of Napster, iTunes, and Pandora, I think we all still wanted radio to matter. We grew up listening to it because it was all that we had, and if it stayed relevant, then we still had something in common with the kids of today.
And over the years, Q101 took a few risky stabs at staying relevant. Sunday evenings introduced the “Electronic Trip” back in 1997, where the station would air 2 hours of electronica. This was not to last, as the program was cancelled sometime in 1998 or 1999, but along the way it helped me to discover artists like DJ Shadow, Orbital, Photek, and countless other electronic acts I’d have had no access to in the pre-Napster world of the late 90s. A similar program focused on indie rock would appear in 2002 (2003?), only to fizzle out a year or so later. The most drastic change would come in 2005 when the station went “on shuffle,” breaking up their predictable playlist with more classic alternative hits. It was an immediately noticeable change that felt like a godsend in its first few months. Over time, “shuffle” grew less and less surprising, as nu metal and grunge slowly regained their chokehold on the station, and hits from Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Smiths were phased out in favor of bro-classics from Bob Marley and Sublime. Eventually, Q101 succumbed once again to a predictable, corporate-approved playlist that catered to the dumbest core of every possible demographic, which left the station in a pretty miserable state from at least 2008 until this summer. Plenty of listeners mourned the passing of the station. Just as many seemed to cheer its demise. Both groups could make a good case for their stance.
As much as I complained about the station over the past ten years, it was still a big part of the soundtrack to my youth. My friends and I would listen in the car, in the basement, in the backyard while jumping on their giant trampoline on hot summer days… a lot of these times were boring as hell, but I still idealize these memories to a ridiculous degree. On my own, though, I was busy getting in to lots of music that my friends didn’t know and didn’t care about. Sonic Youth, Pixies, drum and bass, musique concrete, jazz… there was no Internet to discover and sample music from. Instead, I would borrow books from the library — I checked out this one a few times — and interlibrary loan whatever I could. There were two good music stores in town that I spent most of my allowance and early paychecks at. There was also Borders, which I’ve posted about before and spent far too much time at for my own good.
The closing of one-third of the chain’s stores earlier this year attracted a great deal of attention from the media, bloggers, and readers everywhere. Based on everyone’s reactions, you’d have thought that the entire company was going out of business, when in fact most of their stores would remain open. I don’t remember anyone talking about these remaining stores or what the future might hold for them, so I just assumed that they would remain open for years to come. Surely the bleeding had stopped and the company could essentially start from scratch, right? Obviously, I was ignoring the dreadful debts that the company had rung up over the years, which could hardly be remedied by closing a few underperforming stores. Alas, all Borders stores will be closing within the next few weeks, putting another 11,000 Americans out of work.
Most shoppers who first visited Borders during the 90s remember it as a “real” bookstore, one that carried an astounding variety of books and hard-to-find titles. Their music selection was second-to-none, and I’m sure I’ve spent hundreds of dollars or more picking from it over the years. Hard-to-find magazines, manga, great DVDs… you could always find something new and interesting by just browsing. Some time over the past decade (especially the last 5-6 years), this was all RPL’ed to make room for toys, games, t-shirts, gift wrapping, knick knacks and all kinds of floor-filling ticky-tack garbage that management was intent on stocking instead of real books and media. Though the company was extremely late to the eReader game (introducing the Kobo over a year after Barnes & Noble began selling the Nook), the chain had dabbled in selling electronics and video games throughout the 00’s. Perhaps they thought they had to — and actually could — compete with Best Buy. Corporate’s stubborn reliance on pushing the “make” titles, instead of simply providing a wide selection and good customer service, certainly showed that they really thought they could beat Cosco at their own game. Obviously, these were foolish battles they never should have picked.
I bought a lot of books and CDs at Borders that are still very special to me, and I have a lot of good memories of just hanging out and browsing there. Back when the stores were actually open until 11:00 at night, I once drove through a snowstorm on my way home from work just to buy this CD! How crazy is that? Compare that to today, where I can step into a Borders and literally walk out empty-handed a half hour later, unable to find a single thing tempting enough to actually buy. So I’ve been unhappy with the chain for a long time now, but I never wanted them to go out of business. There was always hope that the recession would end, that the company would get its shit together, and that somehow everything would work itself out in a few years’ time to the point where shopping at Borders could once again be an enjoyable and unpredictable experience. But here we are, with stores packed in the early weeks of liquidation sales, foolish and greedy customers scooping up armloads of merchandise that they could have bought weeks earlier for cheaper with a coupon. By the end of the summer, dorky kids will have one less place to hang out, thousands of knowledgeable and helpful staff members will be out of work, and the CEO will surely be enjoying severance pay the likes of which an entire store of booksellers could never earn in a year.
So then, we’re living in a world where radio is a dead medium and brick and mortar bookstores no longer need to exist. I can’t help but feel troubled by this. Maybe a new rock station will appear on the Chicago dial, but will listeners bother to tune in? I think that once you’ve lost them, and lost them young, you’ve lost them for good. The same goes for bookstores. I know that no one under 20 buys CDs or DVDs anymore. Will they stop buying books, too? But… what if that’s okay? Is any of this inherently a bad thing? I can’t help but feel like it is. It’s just got to be! But is that just because I’m over 30 and scared of change? Do I only understand the world I grew up in, and fear the inevitable shift that’s been happening all along?
Sometimes I feel like everything that I do, everything that I am, is sort of fading away. Maybe this is just fine.