It’s post number 150, so there’s no better time to take stock of what’s been happening on the site during the first half of this year called two-thousand and eighteen. I’d say that so far this year has been one of experimentation, but I called this site “Scrapbook” specifically because I wanted to be able to write about anything I felt like so…every year since I started this endeavour has been a year of experimentation. Regardless, I’ve had a few new pursuits for the last little while, giving me the opportunity to write about a myriad of subjects I’ve never tackled before (like music) or haven’t done in some time (like in-depth book analyses.) Rather than putting all my attention into a single writing project, I’ve found time to veer off periodically, which has actually been a whole lot of fun, so I hope to continue doing that into the future.
Here’s another new type of writing I’d like to try: writing about my own writing. I guess you could call this an addendum to the first six months worth of posts, some additional thoughts on things I’ve already spilled too many words about:
The best possible way to start any year, surely, is to have to mourn the passing of one of your favourite writers. We’ve been in a world without Ursula K. Le Guin for months now, but at the very least she still feels very present in the literary realm: I was in a book store a few weeks ago, and sure enough there were many a Dispossessed and Wizard of Earthsea lined up on the racks, ready to be found by someone who hadn’t yet experienced them. I bought a copy of Changing Planes, a somewhat experimental short story collection of hers I hadn’t read yet, and while I’ve only read a small portion of it, it is already a reminder of why she was a such a master (Example: “In this, probably its true aspect, the airport is not a prelude to travel, not a place of transition: it is a stop. A blockage. A constipation.”) The book seems in a lot of ways a continuation of the themes and style of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” (which I actually reread not long ago as part of a larger SF anthology), a condensed and rich examination of imaginary cultures. As I said in the original piece, I’m just happy to know that I’ll probably always have more Le Guin to read.
The first big writing project so far this year has been Cheaptoons, my twenty-part examination of video game cartoons that were, on the whole, of a generally low quality. I decided to pursue this because I had been reading or listening to people making fun of bad children’s cartoons but found that I had run out of such things, so it was up to me to fill the void in both my own life and the lives of others, using video game adaptations to provide an overarching theme and to narrow my pool of subjects to a reasonable size (and to also continue the trend of me doing reviews of media that don’t cost me a cent.) I tried to include as much actual examination and critique as I could but let’s face it, the main reason you watch things of such a dubious nature is to have fodder for cracking wise, which I admit to doing on occasion. This is the sort of thing that used to be the Thing To Do back in the old days of blogging and early-to-mid 2000s websites (the kind I was reading, anyway), and as much fun as it was to write, part of me still felt it was something of guilty pleasure project, that making obviously poor television shows aimed at a younger audience the subject of fun was beneath this obviously enlightened venture, and so I had the desire to alternate the Cheaptoons posts with ones about other, more positive subjects. I’ve only just recently wrapped the whole thing up, and my main takeaway has been that the Street Fighter episode I watched may be the Miami Connection of video game-based cartoons.
(Get the whole soundtrack here)
The first of my one-off posts was about the game Night in the Woods, which I kept thinking about long after writing about it. I finished my second playthrough a few weeks ago, and what struck me on that go-around was how much detail was easy to miss before you knew what you were doing, some striking lines and scenes that I had either missed entirely or didn’t really absorb the meaning of the first time—there are plenty of great jokes and emotional gut punches hidden in plain sight. And you are constantly rewarded for your dutiful chattiness, too—especially near or during the climax the game, where characters that were only sort of there before (like Jeremy/Germ) show you that they have a lot more to them, and a later scene involving a gathering of side characters became much more populated and meaningful when I thoroughly explored the world. Lori became my favourite character to talk to this time, because seeing her more often painted a much more complete portrait of a lonely, weird, but good-natured kid, and the “true” final conversation with her is almost unbearably sweet. What seemed especially interesting this time around (even more than just how many allusions to later events are present throughout the story) is how the game layers characters using specific conversations and scenes, especially the main cast: I spent much less time hanging out with Bea compared to my first time through, and without a few key moments she remains sort of aloof, the distance between her and Mae never really fully reconciled—even though they are still friends, there’s a barrier that remains. Meanwhile, Gregg and Angus are much more present in Mae’s life no matter what you do, but a fuller picture of their relationship with her and each other is only explored when you take part in certain scenes. I also appreciate that Gregg and Angus are portrayed as a real couple, which means they annoy each other and get into arguments sometimes.
Part of me was actually wary about getting to the end of it again, not just because that final section is quite harrowing, but because I knew that once it was done, there’d be no more Night in the Woods left to explore—I’d seen everything these characters and this world I’d really come to love had to offer, and I’d miss it. You just sort of wish for one more conversation with anyone in Possum Springs, about anything, something to make it go on just a little bit longer; that’s how endearing this thing has been to me. When you take part in the final stargazing activity, Mae says something along the lines of “I feel like I could cry”—I’m with you there, Mae.
(It even carried over when I moved on to other games—I was playing Steamworld Dig 2, which I enjoyed quite a bit as well, but I was even the slightest bit disappointed at how little dialogue the NPCs had.)
That felt like the most straightforward post on a video game I wanted to do at the time, so when I decided to write something about Kirby: Star Allies—a game that is very, very different—I’d use it as a starting point for a more general topic. In this case, the post was based on my observation, as a long-time fan of the series, that it was strange that a game as kid-friendly and accessible as Kirby would also include so much content aimed squarely at people my age or older, nostalgia bait that seeks to bring most of us back time and time again. I then used that as an opportunity to talk about another thing I have a longstanding personal connection to that also utilizes callbacks to previous works: the music of the band Grandaddy, and specifically their big comeback album from 2017, because I am the kind of person who is nostalgic about both Nintendo games and late 90s/early 2000s indy rock. See, in their own unique ways, they represent an entry in an oeuvre, both making knowledge of that oeuvre a vital part of the experience, that’s what I was saying there. I can only hope my attempts to relate those two things was coherent enough to anyone reading it, but it was something that I was satisfied with when I wrote it, and it inspired me to try my hand at more broad essay-style posts. That included a reflection on the use of continuity in the Judge Dredd comics of the seventies and eighties (this was right after I had finished reading almost ten straight volumes of it) and a post about how seeing the trailer for a stupid Jason Statham giant shark movie was the anticlimactic coda of almost fifteen years of cruising around movie fanboy websites (and also an unexpected return to some themes from my Starlog Log posts.) I hope to continue writing in this manner in the future.
Writing about Grandaddy also made me confident enough in my ability to write about music that I soon after started a smaller-scale series of posts about the music of Boards of Canada, who I had not really been familiar with before last year, but almost instantly grabbed my complete attention and hasn’t really let go since. I had actually thought about writing a series about ambient music in general some time ago, but just could not get it to work to my satisfaction—focusing on BoC, I think, made it a lot easier for me to find things of substance to say (it helps that many of their albums are legitimate classics AND have weirdo obsessive fanbases that write extensively on the minutiae of the music, which is an invaluable resource.) I still have no real knowledge of the technical or theoretical aspects of music, but you know what they say, if you synth a few bars, I can fake it. Expect the final part of that series…at some point.
The next few weeks will probably be a bit content light, but a new project is currently being prepped, so stay tuned. If you want an idea of what it could entail, I’ll leave you with this: I said in an earlier post that a lot of my writing this year has had some tangential tie to nostalgia—if all goes according to plan, this one will also have tangential tie to nostalgia, specifically nostalgia for the early days of this website.