Only a few bits left

There was a time not so long ago I was obsessed with media. Well, to be specific, I was obsessed with owning media. Boxes of books, movies, video games, CD’s (mostly of bad bands) and all other things I had piled everywhere just taking up space in the off chance I wanted to revisit Underworld: Evolution. Okay I did that a few times (I CAN MAKE BAD CHOICES) but still, the vast majority of my possessions were just things that never saw use.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hording things, I was happy to loan things to people I and we always were good about spring cleaning. I knew how to give up things, but I was really good at holding onto things that I thought had value. That’s started to change.

I couldn’t tell you the exact time I wanted to own less, but I think it is related to the desire I had to change myself after I left Mines. I was fundamentally very unhappy, and I didn’t know why. So, I basically hit resent and started making major changes to my life.

Step one was when I shaved my head. Say what you will, I looked good. Then I started to get rid of crap. I sold video games initially and then started to donate them because I don’t really value money. I donated books and movies. Not my usual two or three here and there, I got rid of almost all of them. I don’t own a DVD anymore, certainly no CD’s. No more physical video games. The word physical is where things really pick up here.

Who buys DVD’s? No seriously, the only people I know who buy movies are people who either don’t get the idea of streaming or….. okay they’re actually the only ones. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now, I can cheaply watch more good shows and movies than I could ever possibly hope to watch. Music? Google Play Music is my personal choice. I’ve been on digital music for a while, but streaming is just frankly easier and more unified in a lot of ways. I still have physical copies of the Bible, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but that’s mostly just a bit too much nostalgia to give up. Besides that, Kindle books are cheaper anyway. As for video games, I’ve grown to prefer PC gaming anyway, and what chump buys physical PC games?

Here’s the thing, it feels truly liberating to have less stuff. Obviously I’ve been out of the house for some time now that I’m in college, but I used to just keep a bunch of stuff at home. I wanted nothing to do with that anymore. It’s seriously just stuff I have no intent of using anymore. I literally don’t have a room at my family’s house anymore (it’s not sad like it sounds, there’s just a lot of people in a small space).

Does any of this mean I am consuming any less media? Not at all. I don’t buy as much anymore, but I’m getting as much or more joy from entertainment than I ever have. I just spend less and own less. I really like it. I can get things I like anywhere I happen to be I have what I want. Travel has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and owning less makes that seem a lot easier. I’m hoping to spend a year in Russia soon, and if I were to go today, the computer I’m currently typing on already has everything I would possibly want ready to go. Nothing I’d have to entrust with people while I’m gone or try to stuff together. Just the freedom from being owned by possessions. It’s kind of like Fight Club.

I would not quite call myself a minimalist yet, but I’ve gotten to really enjoy owning less. There’s a great documentary on Netflix that is made by podcasters and bloggers who are hardcore minimalists. They didn’t get me started on getting rid of possessions but they sure have helped me along the way. The main idea that I am trying to embody is only buying things that add value to my life. They have a phrase I’ve been trying to keep in mind. “Love people and use things because the reverse never works.”

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Podpower

Middle school was a rough time for me. I didn’t have many friends, and so I didn’t talk to people a lot. Every morning I took at least a little refuge in listening to the DJs coming through the stereo of my mom’s suburban. I’m sure if I listened to them now, I’d probably be driven insane by them now, but that was the beginning of a great interest instilled in me.

A few years later we listened to NPR all across Wyoming as I drove to Debate meets. While marginally better than middle school, Wyoming was still awful, but between the company and the talk radio I really enjoyed those long rides. Times changes, but I still enjoy a lot of similar things.

I don’t listen to as much radio as I used to, but NPR is a bigger part of my life that it ever was before. How? Lots and lots of podcasts. I couldn’t really tell you what my entry point was, but I listen to almost everything NPR and WNYC produce along with an assortment of other shows (highlights include Stuff You Should Know and The Vergecast). They keep me going.

I’m the kind of person who can’t work without some white noise to enjoy. Podcasts provide a wonderful range of white noise. I can learn some weird bit of history or science, keep up with news and tech, or just laugh. You can expect a lot more about these in the future. Because this obsession only continues to grow in me.

Relationship goals

My girlfriend just left for Canada. My drive back to Vermillion was filled with podcasts about leadership and  policy. If you know me, you know I listen to a lot of podcasts of this nature. While not all fit in that vein, I do subscribe to 48 podcasts. This was a little different though.

I think of my girlfriend as more than just a girlfriend, I really do think of her as a partner. I acknowledge that I might just be young and in love, but I found someone really special to me, and she’s already doing big things. So, while I was listening to podcasts about heavy, if inspirational, subjects, I was thinking about my future and goals. Mostly, I was thinking about how I’ll be bringing my lady on her way to Canada with me.

I think we both intend to make this last, we have already committed to making long distance work for the semester, and for Christmas she gave me some of the most meaningful presents I have ever gotten as a survival kit. I hold her very dear to me, and I think she holds me with the same regard. We’ve talked vaguely about the future, but how far can we go?

She’s already going to Canada, but I don’t think that’s where our ambitions have to end. I don’t ever intend to chase political power. I would only do that if I felt my nation truly needed me. But for now, I can’t see that happening. I like my privacy, so I’d much rather remain a private citizen. My ambition is travel.

I want to see everything in the world with whatever life I want, and I would love, love, love to do that with her by my side. It helps that she also wants to travel, and we’re both going into career fields that allow for travel. I speak Russian, she speaks French, that easily opens up a good portion of the world linguistically. I’m hoping to work in state, she’s a double major in Journalism and International Studies.

As I write this in South Dakota, she is on a shuttle in Montreal. My goal is to stay with her, live well, and travel everywhere. Oh, and get dogs, but that’s another blog.

Silver linings

I won’t beat around the bush, 2016 was a bad year. I refuse to believe that it is just media coverage, this was a bad year. But there were a few things this year I really liked (mostly entertainment stuff for the purposes of this Post) and got me through, so I want to talk about them.

Music

The first thing is actually tied to an early unfortunate event, and that is Blackstar by David Bowie. I remember the moment I read about his death. I had “Lazarus” playing on Spotify when the Rolling Stone headline showed up on my Twitter feed. If you haven’t heard the song, it is Bowie’s song that kind of acknowledges mortality. That’s been read into plenty, but at least I’ve had something to listen to from the get go.

I really can’t mention 2016 without mentioning Kanye’s new album. I adored The Life of Pablo by Kanye West. I’ve written about Kanye already and recent events have shown some interesting turns in his persona, but Pablo gave me a lot to identify with and lean on for strength. Also, just go ahead and lump his concert in there because I’ll remember that little trip with Grace for years to come.

I actually saw quite a few concerts in the second half of my year. After I saw Kanye, I also got to see MC Lars, a longtime favorite of mine. He was every bit as nice as I could have hoped and the show with Mega Ran and mc chris was high octane and unique.

This year I had the habit of getting tickets to concerts as Christmas presents, the final show I went to was a Christmas show from Trans Siberian Orchestra. They make an incredible spectacle, but the highlight for me was when they had a tiger change into a dragon change into an attack helicopter. I still don’t know why they did that, but that has yet to affect the degree to which I care.

Film

The next thing I loved was the new Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar! which really shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s on HBO at the moment, and that’s good because it’s hard to explain all the reasons I like this venture without ruining a lot of things, not by killing plot points, just really cool and odd jokes. If nothing else, the sheer amount of incredible names should speak about why I’d be so thrilled by a period movie like this.

Sandwiched between the album and the tour, I binged some serious TV and I have to say, Netflix had a good years. Bojack Horseman has been going strong for a few years, but that blend of flippant humor with serious and potent commentaries on sensitive issues (i.e. mental illness, abortion, nontraditional relationships) is something that I can’t get enough of. Also, I didn’t expect to like Stranger Things, but there are few things made that so perfectly fit with what I live. I know I’m not from the 80s, but I don’t care. Just as I liked the setting of Hail Caesar! I adore that aesthetic that permeates so many things I love.

The other source of TV that entered my life was HBO. My family never paid for the cable subscription. We still don’t. But I subscribe to HBO Now so I’ve gotten to enjoy what they’ve put out, and it has been some wonderful stuff. I enjoyed Westworld and Veep but my favorite has to be Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I’m impressed with the sheer variety they can produce and there has yet to be a time I could not get out of a funk with those three magic letters.

Games

Before I say anything here, I must acknowledge that I’ve been playing a lot of older games this year. For instance, I’ve only recently gotten into Skyrim. Not the remastered on on consoles. The PC version. No special mods. I just finally found what makes it fun. If you want to know what has had a major emotional impact, look to Spec Ops: The Line. It incredibly subverts expectations to show what war is like. To be fair, I haven’t been to war. I probably never will. But I definitely can understand the stress there. That’s just the beginning of my list of older games I liked this year.

Another thing that was incredibly cheery was Stardew Valley. I love that game. I have never experienced something that so easily made me feel comfortable. When I think about the gameplay itself or the story, there’s nothing all that impressive. But the loop always makes me feel productive and relaxed. When paired with the incomparable soundtrack, it’s basically a digital blanket I can cuddle into.

In terms of time sinks, there has been little that could compare in my life to Sid Meier’s Civilization series, and Civ VI is not an exception. I don’t know if I like it as much as IV yet, and I certainly haven’t spent as much time with it. But its on its way. That could easily get to be my most played game. Full stop, It’s going through the roof as we speak. Twenty hours in a week, thanks to winter break. Life is sad sometimes.

Tech

I need to give a shout out to my phone here. I’m on my own phone plan now, and I adore the phone I have for it. While I don’t have the brand new OnePlus 3T, that wasn’t announced until a few weeks after I got mine, but I don’t care. I love my OnePlus 3. In our society, our phones have gotten to be an expression of who we are. My iPhone was fine, but I think this represents who I am better. It’s a smart buy when considering value. It’s unique because no one else has it. That’s my problem with Apple products. They all blend in. They look nice, but boring. Where my phone is concerned I want to feel unique, and it is.

Person

I can’t mention Stranger Things, Westworld and trashing on Apple without thinking about the person who spurred me to watch it, my wonderful girlfriend Allie. I try to keep an air of professionalism with this silly blog and not directly address her, but she is definitely my favorite thing about 2016. I’m not an easy person to be with, but she seems to be sticking it out. She leaves for Canada soon, but I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her. She makes me happy. I love her, and she’s my favorite thing of the year.

I feel like Pablo

Recently, I blogged about my love for Kanye West, but I am unfortunately presented with a good reason to write about him again, so deal with it and read about my mental health and Yeezy. Because this is important.

So, Kanye has been having a rough few monthes. Right before I saw him in St. Paul, his wife was robbed at gun point in Paris. After I saw him he went on one of his patented mid-show rants to tell everyone that he didn’t vote but would have voted Trump if he had (on a side note, I truly think Trump’s victory makes a West presidency viable, and a Kardashian first lady within reach), followed briefly by a mental break. Through this year, my mental progress has been closely mirrored by watching Mr. West.

For those who don’t pay attention to his lyrics, Kanye has frequently rapped about his mental illness, specifically on The Life of Pablo, Ye raps about Lexipro, a notable anti-depressant in addition to other aspects of his illness. A lot of people have accused him of fabricating it, but I think we all need to step back and remember something very important: he’s just a guy.

Kanye has a larger than life personality, and its a portion of his allure. West calls himself a god, he is one of the most acclaimed musicians of all time, he’s married to one of the most famous women in the world, and it seems like there has never been a week he wasn’t embattled in some media circus. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all part of who he is as an artist. He knows what he’s doing, and he makes a show of it in part to show what the state of being a celebrity is. So, why is everyone so angry at him?

I won’t say he’s a perfect man, he isn’t. And I won’t say it’s not a bummer he canceled some shows, because having seen him, I really do feel bad for the people who had to miss out. That said, I commend him for making moves to become mentally healthy. Everyone’s reactions to it are completely out of  line.

Following the announcement that West was being hospitalized, a lot of people were quick to jump on the “Kanye is crazy” bandwagon, including high profile examples like fellow rap icon, Snoop Dogg. While it is somewhat entertaining to see some old remnants of the East Coast/West Coast feud. none of that is okay.

So, like I said, watching Kanye has really given me a lot ot relate to this year. At some of my lower points all I could bring myself to do was listen to Graduation on repeat one more time, like it was some charm to make me stronger. Almost the same day Yeezy was hospitalized I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of my past sexual abuse. Hearing people accuse Mr. West of faking what is a very possible and understandable disease made me sick.

It’s hard to seek help, even harder to speak out and publicly about it. So, having the definition of an A-List celebrity speak up has the potential to raise a lot of awareness and genuinely help a lot of people. Seeing the lashes against him makes me seriously sick. I feel like Kanye, and Kanye feels like Pablo.

I’m not saying everyone has to like Kanye because of this, and I’m not saying he hasn’t done some unfortunate things. What I want you all to remember is just because Kanye seems larger than life doesn’t mean he’s not a person too. So, remember that he’s just human, and cut him some slack.

I love Kanye

I like to think I’m a fairly smart person. That said, I often make some very stupid decisions. When I bought two tickets to Kanye West’s Saint Pablo tour in St. Paul the day before I had a Russian test an noon, I was assuming I was making a very poor choice. I am glad to say that I was very wrong. In just under two hours, Yeezus did more for my outlook on then I could have expected.

While Yeezy is obviously one of the most acclaimed recording artists of the generation, that isn’t why I wanted to see him. I paid to see a show. Prior to Ye’ the most recent shows I had seen were Flo Rida and Elton John. I wanted to go see someone in between, an incredible artist with a lot of personality. With respect to both, West blew them out of the water.

I know it sounds like hyperbole, but the sheer spectacle of a man with Kanye’s exuberance of performing combined with a stage like none other was awesome (in the literal sense). Watching the stage float over the floor like a magic carpet with a moving light system above set to fall toward the ground at certain times inspired awe in me, and I wasn’t even in a particularly good seat.

The thing that Yeezus catches the most flack for is his self confidence, often referred to as narcissism. Is he self absorbed? Absolutely. But that’s part of his art. Seeing the man who has refereed to himself as a god who is going to run for president in 2020 (real talk, Trump getting this far makes me think it’s possible) flying with power and confidence made a lot of his lyrics really click for me. I found bravery in his bravado.

My fight with depression has been getting steadily easier, but that confidence in a man talking about saying what he wants and still climbing to the top really struck a nerve. In The Life of Pablo, there is a prayer for anyone who thinks they’re not worth enough. That’s me guys. Of course I’ve heard the words and I knew what it meant, but the live experience made it so, so much stronger. Say what you will about Kanye in his personal life, I truly believe he deserves everyone’s respect.

The challenge I face now is an overwhelming desire to see more converts in the hopes of further shows in the hopes of another such revelation. Sure I’m going to see MC Lars, my favorite indie artist of all time, in November, but I don’t know if that will be the same. I’ll almost certainly meet him there, but I doubt he’ll have that imagery because he’s an indie hip hop artist who makes songs about Edgar Allen Poe and Pokemon GO. There is no way he, even with MC Chris and Mega Ran will have a budget like that. Maybe it will be a different kind of experience.

I’m going to meet an artist I’ve been listening to since I was 13 and tweeting at since I got on Twitter. That’ll be great, and who knows, maybe that will change me too. I don’t just love Kanye for his music, or his persona, or even his unparalleled showmanship. I love Kanye for opening my mind to the power of live music’s transformative powers.