Saturday, January 01, 2022

2021 in Review

I do this little review every year, so I have a record of how things were for me. I don't have much to write this year, because it felt like a holding pattern, just waiting around for the shitshow of 2020 to settle down, but with no particular new highs or lows to report.

I'm once again thankful for the position I'm in—despite the pandemic continuing, I remain healthy, have a roof over my head, a job that I can do under said roof, and a personality conducive to long stretches of staying inside and hanging out with my girlfriend and dog. I did do a few things outside of these walls, though: lots of hikes in forests, bike rides, even a few trips within Ontario and visits to restaurants when things briefly opened up and felt safe. None of my friends or family died, though there were close calls. All considered, it was a fine year, and there's room to go up from here.

Here's my summary of the media I consumed this year, which is a potentially problematic but effective way of jogging memories about what 2021 was like, how it felt.


Music

As usual, this is just an uncurated list of the albums I listened to most, courtesy of Last.FM.

First, some honourable mentions for albums that came out late in the year or didn’t make it on the list for whatever reason:

Honourable mentions:

  • Ides - Crawler
  • The Pretty Reckless - Death by Rock and Roll
  • Black Honey - Written and Directed
  • Lil Nas X - MONTERO
  • Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR
  • Steven Wilson - The Future Bites
  • Kacey Musgraves - Star-Crossed
  • Modest Mouse - The Golden Casket
  • Limp Bizkit - Still Sucks
  • The Offspring - Let the Bad Times Roll
  • Thrice - Horizons / East

And here’s my top 10 most listened-to albums:

10. Duran Duran - FUTURE PAST

9. Rob Zombie - The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy

8. Gojira - Fortitude

7. Foo Fighters - Medicine at Midnight

6. Brad Sucks - A New Low in Hi-Fi

5. Lorde - Solar Power

4. Kaleo - Surface Sounds

3. Evanescence - The Bitter Truth

2. Garbage - No Gods No Masters

1. Greta Van Fleet - The Battle at Garden’s Gate


I also got Meg a turntable for Christmas, so that opens up a whole new world of possibilities for defining my personality through music like a hipster piece of crap. It also goes with this year's theme of mostly listening to artists from when I was young and stuff seemed better. Is this that old man tendency to romanticize the past? Am I there already?


Television

I liked these shows:
  • Brand New Cherry Flavor
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Dexter: New Blood
  • Explained
  • Foundation
  • Hawkeye, Loki, Wandavision
  • I Think You Should Leave
  • The Last Drive-In
  • Love on the Spectrum
  • The Mandalorian
  • Mare of Easttown
  • Midnight Mass
  • Mythic Quest
  • Squid Game
  • Succession
  • Superstore
  • Ted Lasso
  • Tiger King
  • The Walking Dead


Movies

These are the best movies I saw in 2021. They may not have come out in 2021, shut up. I'm just listing recent-ish movies I rated 4+ stars on Letterboxd, so go there for full reviews.
  • An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn
  • Another Round
  • Antebellum
  • Army of the Dead
  • Bad Trip
  • Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
  • Becky
  • Bingo Hell
  • Black Widow
  • Daniel Isn't Real
  • Don’t Look Up
  • The Father
  • Fingers
  • Free Guy
  • Fried Barry
  • Greener Grass
  • Love and Monsters
  • Malignant
  • Minari
  • Nomadland
  • Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin
  • Pig
  • Possessor
  • Promising Young Woman
  • The Rental
  • Shang-Chi
  • Silent Night
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Starling
  • The Suicide Squad
  • Synchronic
  • The Trip
  • The Truffle Hunters
  • Willy's Wonderland

Games / Apps

I didn’t have much time for video games this year. I don’t know if it’s the games industry or me, but I just couldn’t get deeply into any one game. I’ll grab something from Games Pass, play it for a few hours, then forget it existed until I need to clear space for another one.

Anyway, here are the games I did play and liked. Add me on Xbox Live or Nintendo or Oculus to play with me.

Xbox:
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey - It’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition to use my time off to play a bit of a very long Assassin’s Creed game. For some reason I’m going through them backwards.
  • Assassin's Creed Syndicate and Unity - Finished these ones up too.
  • Control
  • Dying Light
  • Lawn Mowing Simulator
  • Outriders
  • Twelve Minutes
  • Unpacking

Nintendo Switch:
  • Nintendo sent me one of those annual wrapped summaries, and apparently I spent like 2 hours playing my Switch this year. Oops.

Oculus Quest, Mac, Other:
  • Demeo - Like a board game, but in virtual reality. Pretty cool.
  • Supernatural - A VR workout app that doesn’t feel like a workout. They got bought out by Meta (formerly Facebook) this year, so hopefully it doesn’t go to shit.
  • Strava - A good way of keeping track of how much I get out on my bike.
  • Peloton - Meg got one of these ridiculously expensive indoor bikes, and it really is pretty motivating.

That's two thousand and twenty one! Hopefully next year is more normal, for realsies this time.


Friday, December 17, 2021

Bob Enyart is Dead

Back before Twitter, blogs were where intense debates happened. In the year 2000, if you were an edgy youngster like myself, you post something provocative on your blog, then people would “comment” on it (kind of like an @ reply), then others would yell at you, and sometimes you’d go to their blog and yell at them, and this was known as being “blog friends.”

Around 2005, right here on Phronk dot com, I became blog friends with a woman named Dani. Dani is a pro-God, anti-choice, anti-sex-before-marriage, basically just anti-reason person who showed up on the blog to debate if gay people are really people. All people are people, IMO, even Dani, so sarcasm aside, we did have a fascinating connection as we tried to discuss difficult issues from radically different points of view.

Dani followed a man named Bob Enyart. As a conservative talk radio host and pastor, Bob had a lot of influence, none of it good. He led a series of disgusting stunts, like the harassment of doctors who perform abortions, and called for the deaths of anyone he disagreed with. When religious zealots are Christian, the word “cult” isn’t used as often as it should be, but the definition fit this group. Dani followed Bob without question, isolating her family from society through her radical beliefs. I was once privately contacted by a concerned friend of another woman who fell under the influence of Bob and his crew, and was living with some of them, becoming more radicalized every day.

Bob talked about me on his show once. On Dani’s blog, I’d pointed out that he used cheap tricks that dumb people see as intellectual debate—the “if people evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” level of gotcha that right wing morons like Turning Point USA still pump out today. I guess it revolved around rocks, because he spent a few minutes trying to convince his audience that a rock can’t be murdered, and a rock is considered “dead.” Which somehow proved the Bible is right and abortion is wrong. Or something.

I thought about Bob the other day. Here in late 2021, homosexuality and abortion debates have given way to debating whether we should protect ourselves from a deadly disease spreading across the globe, or just die. I had a guess as to which side of the debate Bob would be on, and I was correct. Bob Enyart boycotted vaccination against COVID-19 and, as a direct result, died of COVID-19.

I don’t know if a rock is dead, but Bob Enyart definitely is. I have to be careful here—is it hypocritical to experience any schadenfreude from this fact? Or would that be on the same level as when Bob played “another one bites the dust” while reading the obituaries of AIDS victims? I always try to see things from both sides, which may make me a dirty centrist, but I think it’s intellectually rigorous nonetheless. On the other hand, this isn’t a matter of values or opinions; objective reality exists, COVID-19 exists, and rejecting reality in favour of delusions has deadly consequences. I’m human, and I see the dark humour when a Herman Cain Award is granted to someone I sparred with over the very fantasies that led to their demise.

As a sad footnote, Dani had parted ways with Bob Enyart at some point. That could have been a good thing, but it seems the damage was already done, or perhaps mental illness had been the driver all along. She recently showed up on this blog a few times, commenting with paragraphs upon paragraphs of conspiracy theories about Bob being a Satanic serial killer who murdered JonBenet Ramsey. She even accused me of being Bob in disguise. Well, I’m still here, and Bob is dead, so that debate should be settled.

RIP, Bob. On the off chance that you’re right about all this Bible stuff, I’ll see you in Hell.



Saturday, September 04, 2021

I Got Injected Where the Pigs Poop and It’s Filling Me With Hope for the Future

I got my second COVID vaccine yesterday, so this post might be a literal fever dream. Sorry.

It’s become almost cliché to say this, but do you ever snap back to reality and realize how weird things have become? Yesterday, I went to the place where London’s annual Western Fair is usually held. I passed the grounds where I’d normally be eating a deep-fried-bacon-wrapped-Snickers bar then letting rickety carnival rides spin me around until I barf it out. I entered the “agriplex,” where I’d normally be watching chicks hatching from eggs, smelling pig shit, and letting scorpions crawl on me at the bug exhibit.

Except now, there hasn’t been a fair in two years because a different sort of critter caused a deadly pandemic, which still makes gathering in large crowds a bad idea. No greasy foods, no rides, and the building that was previously full of chickens, pigs, and creepy-crawlies has been converted into a mass vaccination center.

In the exact place where I came face to face with the biggest horse I’d ever seen, a doctor injected a snippet of genetic material into my arm, where it will hijack my cells to create harmless replicas of the deadly virus, so that my other cells can recognize it and fight it if they ever come across the real thing. This is happening inside of me right now, and giving me a nasty headache, but it’s a good sort of hurt, like feeling pleasantly queasy after surviving a few flips through the air in a carnival ride. Totally worth it.

I hope the whirlwind of 2020 and 2021 will act as a vaccine for humanity. It seems to be happening slowly here in the middle of it, but I think history will show that 2-ish years is a pretty good pace for upending how we interact with each other and developing entirely new technology to inject into our arms and (hopefully) eliminate COVID as a worldwide threat. We learned that we are capable of fighting this one. Bigger threats are coming, as this summer’s extreme weather, floods, and wildfires are giving us a taste of, but with this vaccine swimming in my aching body, I have a bit more hope that humanity’s immune system will be able to face them.




This was originally posted on July 12 at Across the Board.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

It's Hard to Make Art In a Messed-Up World

I originally posted this on Across the Board back in June, but it's Black History Month, and we're just getting over a second lockdown around here, so I thought I'd re-share it here.



I have a confession: I haven’t finished writing anything in months. During those same months, a pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe, and marches to protect the lives of Black people have been met with inaction and/or police violence. It’s a bit of a mess out there.

But wait, wait, isn’t turmoil supposed to breed great art? So we should be in the middle of a perfect storm for creativity, right? There is so much to say, and we can say it with insightful art fuelled by the anxiety and dread that keeps every tortured artist going.

I remember when Bush Jr. became president of the U.S. in 2001, musicians explicitly said stuff like “at least there’s an upside, because great music is born out of rebellion.”

Yet I’ve gotten nothing done in the last few months. WTF.

I’m a brain scientist in my day job, so I usually seek answers in science first. A quick review of the literature shows that, actually, happy people tend to be the most creative. Depression, stress, and anxiety either have no effect, or actively harm creativity.

The tortured artist: fake news

More anecdotally, in hindsight we can see that Bush’s reign led to a lot of war and turmoil, but did musicians create their best work? Some of the top songs during the later part of his term:

  • Thnks fr th Mmrs
  • Buy U a Drank
  • SexyBack
  • This is Why I’m Hot
  • Crank That (Soulja Boy)

All perfectly fine songs, but not exactly a Renaissance for rebellion music that will be remembered for centuries (for centuriiies (sorry, I actually really like Fall Out Boy)).

Even individual artists don’t create their best work when grieving for unique personal reasons, according to this study.

As anyone who has completed a creative pursuit knows, it takes a lot of hard work. Anything that distracts from that work isn't really helping—it's not like complicated, tumultuous emotions can just pop out of your head and take form as a profound work of art. Turmoil may inform art, or inspire art, but you still have to put fingers to keyboard, pick to guitar, brush to canvas, whatever, and it's difficult to do that when you're curled in a ball with tears in your eyes and a pain in your gut from stress-eating another tub of ice cream to briefly distract yourself from the day's latest round of Twitter-fueled fuckery.

Which is to say … we need to keep fighting. Worrying that your mom will die of a horrible respiratory disease won’t create the next Mona Lisa. Continued systemic racism won’t be responsible for the next Prince (after all, George Floyd was a musician). Let’s eradicate this virus and eradicate white supremacy, because there is no artistic upside to this shit.


Friday, January 01, 2021

2020 In Review

Well, that was a year.

As you may have heard, a deadly pandemic sort of ruined the world in 2020. Vaccines are starting to roll out, so it may be less than a year before this all seems like a hazy dream. I guess that makes it important for me to write down how this affected me, because this period is deeply weird right now, but may fade to a trivial “wow 2020 was kind of crazy” blip in my memory if I don't preserve it.

Personally, I was in a best-case scenario for a pandemic to hit. I already worked from home for a company that was well set up to thrive in a world where everyone stays home. Much of the time, I actually like staying home, and having excuses to avoid social situations. We adopted a perfect dog, Pepper, just before the great dog shortage of 2020, who has made my life so much better, and allowed the part of my heart reserved for furry best friends to open up again.

So, 2020 was, for me, strangely fine?

That’s not to say there was no suffering. Even those in a best-case scenario suffered. Meg briefly lost her job (twice) due to effects of the pandemic, which turned out to be more than okay, but the uncertainty sucked. More importantly, people I know lost family members directly to the virus, and I feel terrible for them, as well as angry at the monsters who still (still, after nearly a year of this) think it’s “just the flu,” or a tool of government control, or that wearing a mask for 15 minutes is too much discomfort to literally save someone’s fucking life. My grandma died this year. Her death wasn’t due to COVID-19, but the fact that she couldn’t have a proper funeral with her geographically-dispersed family was.

I don’t need / want constant parties or hugs from acquaintances, but a funeral would have been at least normal. I also miss just going to the coffee shop and getting a coffee and drinking that coffee there in the coffee shop. Maybe running into someone I know and chatting for a maximum of 5 minutes. That stuff is nice and I hope it comes back soon.

That was my life in 2020. Before I go on to my usual yearly review of music, movies, TV, and games, remember, I’ve started writing at the group blog Across the Board, so you can find more of my stuff there. It’s mostly focused on writing, even though I didn’t write much in 2020. I don’t know why, but it’s like a switch flipped as soon as lockdowns started, and I went into “just get through the day” mode. Since writing isn’t my primary source of income, it faded away, and free time got taken up by activities that take as little thought as possible, like movies and video games. Writing is fun for me, but it’s not an escape; in many ways, it’s the opposite—an intense dive into the struggles of what it means to be human. Maybe I couldn’t handle that in 2020. Maybe it wasn’t healthy to avoid it. But I got through each day.


Music

As usual, this is just an uncurated list of the top 20 albums I listened to most, courtesy of Last.FM.

First, some honourable mentions for albums that came out late in the year or didn’t make it on the list for other reasons:
  • Doves - The Universal Want
  • JARV IS... - Beyond the Pale
  • Kiesza - Crave
  • Poppy - I Disagree
  • The Dears - Lovers Rock
  • Metallica - S&M 2
  • Miley Cyrus - Plastic Hearts

And the top 20:

20. BTS - Map of the Soul: 7

19. Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher

18. Pearl Jam - Gigaton

17. Cults - Host

16. Five Seconds of Summer - CALM

15. Taylor Swift - folklore

14. Thundercat - It Is What It Is

13. Glass Animals - Dreamland

12. Selena Gomez - Rare

11. Ellie Goulding - Brightest Blue

10. The Weeknd - After Hours

9. Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

8. Yves Tumor - Heaven to a Tortured Mind

7. Hayley Williams - Petals for Armor

6. Carly Rae Jensen - Dedicated Side B

5. Tame Impala - The Slow Rush (I've started taking baths and listening to music this year, which lends itself to deeper indie music that can be slowly pondered, like Tame Impala's reflections on the passage of time)

4. Lady Gaga - Chromatica (Not her best, but decent)

3. Ozzy Osbourne - Ordinary Man (This album gives off the vibes of a much less subtle Blackstar, and if this is indeed Ozzy’s last album, he went out on a high note)

2. In This Moment - Mother (They are always on this list; just can't get enough of this cheesy heavy shit)

1. Halsey - Manic (This is probably on top of the list because Halsey is on every radio station and playlist non-stop, but it is a good album too)


Television


I liked these shows:
  • The Circle
  • Cobra Kai
  • Connected
  • Doom Patrol
  • The Haunting of Bly Manor
  • How To With John Wilson
  • Locke and Key
  • Long Way Up
  • Love is Blind
  • The Mandalorian
  • Moonbase 8
  • Murder on Middle Beach
  • Ozark
  • Picard
  • The Queen's Gambit
  • Song Exploder
  • Tiger King
  • Too Hot to Handle
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Upload
  • Years and Years (I'm cheating because this didn't come out in 2020, but I loved this show a lot)

Movies

These are the best movies I saw in 2019. They may not have come out in 2019, who cares. I'm just listing recent-ish movies I rated 4+ stars on Letterboxd, so go there for full reviews.
  • 1917
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door
  • Arctic
  • The Art of Self Defence
  • Black Bear
  • Blood Quantum
  • Color Out of Space
  • Come to Daddy
  • Crawl
  • Escape Room
  • Feels Good Man
  • Guns Akimbo
  • Hail Satan?
  • Host
  • Hubie Halloween
  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things
  • In Fabric
  • The Invisible Man
  • Joker
  • Just Another Christmas
  • Knives Out
  • The Lighthouse
  • The Lodge
  • One Cut of the Dead
  • Palm Springs
  • Parasite
  • The Peanut Butter Falcon
  • Tell Me Who I Am
  • Tread
  • Uncut Gems
  • Upgrade
  • Vivarium

Games

This was an active year for video games, after barely playing any in 2019.

I got an Oculus Quest, which is an affordable standalone virtual reality system. That really renewed my interest in games, but also in doing things in 3D electronic form that would have previously been done in person, like going to the gym and socializing. 

I also got an Xbox Series X, which is a nice upgrade to the Xbox One. I don't know if I can go back to 30fps games now.

Here are the games I played and liked. Add me on Xbox Live or Nintendo or Oculus to play with me.

Xbox:
  • Assassin's Creed Valhalla - After ignoring this series for years, I got really into this game. Like, playing it for over 100 hours into it.
  • Watch Dogs: Legion - Everyone's talking about Cyberpunk as the unplayably glitchy sci-fi game of this year, but let's remember there's another buggy mess in Watch Dogs: Legion. I enjoy it, even if it's still hard to play with all the issues due to the rushed pandemic-time next gen..
  • Borderlands 3
  • A Plague Tale: Innocence
  • Dead Cells
  • Carrion
  • Overcooked 2
  • Alan Wake - Which is ancient now, but I've been playing it off and on for 10 years, and finally finished it.
  • Overwatch - Still.

Nintendo Switch:
  • Hades - Just got this yesterday for the Switch, and loving it so far.
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons - As usual with games like this, I played it every day for a few weeks, then suddenly stopped, with no interest in ever playing again.

Oculus Quest and Mac:
  • Supernatural - Not really a "game," but a workout app that's gotten me moving in virtual reality on the Oculus Quest.
  • Population One
  • Pistol Whip
  • The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners 
  • The Jackbox Party Pack - Essential for Zoom hangouts with friends.

Okay, that's the year. I hope the next one is better, for me and for you and for everyone. Later.