Our Summer Vacation in Pop Culture
We here at The Addison Recorder read stuff. We also watch stuff. And play stuff, even. Sometimes, that stuff is interesting. Sometimes we just need to talk about whatever pop culture ephemera occupies our time. Other times, we take a whole damn summer off. This is one of those times.
I pretty much didn’t go outside this summer. I ventured out a few times with friends, went to a wedding, and saw a few movies. But mostly, I stayed in. I’m not building up to some sad sack story of something awful that happened which turned me into an invalid. It was the opposite, rather. Something wonderful happened that turned me into an invalid. This summer I quit smoking. Like for real quit. Not the only-on-the-weekend-only-when-I-drink-vaping quit. But by sheer willpower alone. This exultation usually gets a smile and a pat on the back by non-smokers but the reality is it’s one of the hardest addictions to kick.
It may not fit into the theme of a random pop culture indulgence this time around, but the reason I thought it made sense to write about was that it gave me a lot of time inside to think. Going out became largely a stressful endeavor as I wanted a cigarette every five minutes so I just stayed in. So, what did I do? I took advantage of all the normal things I wasn’t able to do before as a smoker. I am able to write in longer stretches, I sleep a lot better (being able to breathe is nuts!), I no longer have to ask friends to pause movies three times so we can take breaks, and I feel more motivated overall. This time inside also helped me formulate outlines for a few short stories, decide to do NaNoWriMo, and also cut the cable cord. I surprisingly watch more movies and TV shows now but it’s only dedicated viewing, not just whatever bullshit is on right now. I guess what I’m trying to say is that staying inside all summer can sometimes do a body good. Even if you’re just watching Netflix.
When not working on my own stories and seeing the Dead and Taylor Swift in concert, I’ve devoted myself to reading, especially The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant. Comprising eleven volumes written over four decades (with a Pulitzer Prize going to volume ten), Civilization covered the history of humanity from the earliest people in Africa and India up to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and it is still today a model for any historian or storyteller. The Durants reject “great man” history—many of their books provide distinct arguments against the patriarchy—and a focus on war and politics to try to summarize the eternal rising and falling of private and public cultures. The style is clear and lucid, and they have a gift for magnificent sentences that summarize and cap off entire sections of text. Also, when I needed a break from surveying human existence, I found great enjoyment in Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. Harkness’s style is poor, with the dialogue ranging from superb to terrible and the plotting frequently godawful, as she pulls information out of nowhere to advance the story along. But the story, about two brilliant scholars who fall in love and discover they may hold the secret to human and inhuman existence, kept me turning 550 pages. (The scholars, by the way, are a witch and a vampire. Yes, I’ve entered that territory.)
Three months is a lot of time to consume pop culture and I’ve had more than most since getting laid off about a month ago. Since I have to narrow it down, though, I’ll go with the video game Journey. Originally released in 2012, it was remastered and re-released for the PlayStation 4 in July and I snapped it up immediately. Either playing alone or with an unidentified and randomly connected online companion, you play as an anonymous pilgrim trying to reach the summit of a brilliant mountain in the distance. The game only lasts two or three hours and is comprised of a mere 8 “levels” that can be moved through in as little as a few moments. What makes it special, though, is the feelings of sanctity, discovery and camaraderie that developers That Game Company weave in. Your journeyer walks, climbs, chirps, and soars in an mythical movement towards something like nirvana. It’s hard to describe aptly, but Journey is an aesthetic and emotional achievement like few others and a vibrant refutation of the argument that games cannot be art.
I echo Alex’s sentiment, both in sentiment (three months is a lot of ground to cover) and medium (games!). But I’ll use the tabletop variety to describe my summer, as the season is loaded with the biggest conventions on the continent. (I could go the video game route — the Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC kept me enthralled when Arkham Knight so deeply disappointed me — but where’s the fun in repetition?)
Summer is the season of Gen Con, where I split my time running role-playing games and teaching the beautiful and enjoyable games from Asmadi. The more I taught Mottainai, for example, the more fascinating strategies I saw unfold. Gen Con is also where I got to inflict the Stone Thief upon a bevy of awesome 13th Age players, playtest a new Trickster deck from Daniel Solis, demo Spyfall with PK Sullivan at a bar while Spaceballs played in the background, and co-GM a session of the Firefly RPG with the amazingly talented James D’Amato of the One Shot podcast. At the same time, I got hooked on the Midgard campaign setting and got all fanboy at the new offerings teased by Pelgrane (The Fall of Delta Green) and Evil Hat (Fate of Cthulhu). It was a helluva summer, and I still haven’t caught up on sleep.
I moved and lost my Internet connection because I felt it was more important to pay off my credit card debt. Which I’m doing, so yay me.
One day, I borrowed a book from my boss at work – The Martian by Andy Weir. He recommended it, and said I would complete it in short fashion. I held onto it for a few days, mostly because I was reading other things. One night, I picked it up around 9:30, thinking I would read a few chapters before bedtime and that would be that.
At 4:00 am, I finished the book. So, yeah, it’s pretty good.
There’s a movie version coming out this fall starring Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott. I’m sure that will be awesome too. However, if you haven’t already read the book (it’s been out for a while), go read this book. Just be careful about when you start reading it.