#9 The one where we go 420 in 2020

Kia ora whānau,

I’m working on a new story and I’m pretty excited about it. Okay, you got me. I’m “planning” to work on a new story. It’s going to cover a lot of my worries about the future and where we’re all headed. My hope is I share it week by week, chapter by chapter. I’m not sure how long it will be. Although I have plotted a rough outline, I want the story to dictate how it will be shaped. I do have a tendency to rush through stories rather than linger in them, hence my preference for writing short stories. I’ll use this story as practise, to try and stay in the scene if you will.

My favourite bit about writing is the brainstorm, throwing every idea at the page and solving the puzzle. The worst? The fear and procrastination leading up to the writing. Let’s see if I can break through that wall.

So while I get that going, here’s Mike’s Soapbox. Funny how my newsletter was originally themed on Mike’s Minute and now I’ve full gone full Mike Hosking. The anti-Mike-Hosking mind you. My ideas on politics and society are what you might say, completely opposite to his.

Mike’s Soapbox

The Reeferendum

Heard about that 2020 reeferendum? I’ve been following Chlöe Swarbrick’s time in parliament with great interest. Not only is she parliament’s youngest mp but is easily one of the most progressive. Early last year she came on one of our tramps as part of Ōtaki Summer Camp. I was too shy to actually approach her about anything political but I did manage to make a fool of myself in front of her and freak out at a spider on my backpack. And that wasn’t even the first time…

The first time, I was at PSA Youth’s hui in Palmerston North and I found myself eating lunch and stuck in a circle, awkwardly trapped and unable to leave. With Chlöe present conversation quickly turned to politics and Patrick Gower. Not wanting to be the silent weird guy nodding I made a comment about Patrick Gower and Gollum. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone for the lazy joke. Yes, he’s done a lot of crap but god knows we should be better than reducing people to their appearance. But enough about my awkwardness. Onto the meaty stuff!

Late last year I was in parliament to see The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill read by a passionate Chlöe Swarbrick, my first time in parliament to listen to a particular bill. There were many supporters up in the gallery also keen for people who use cannabis for chronic pain relief and terminal illness not to be treated as criminals. After Chlöe spoke we erupted into applause and we were next warned by the Speaker that we would get removed from the gallery if we continued to interfere with the debate. Unfortunately, it didn’t pass with its original aims and instead, we got a watered-down bill.

Why do I support legalising and regulating cannabis despite not using it myself? Well, quite simply it’s about decriminalisation. I truly believe cannabis should be legal and regulated like alcohol but instead many people are caught up in the justice system because of cannabis. Cannabis isn’t going away. As we’ve seen, the war on drugs doesn’t work. Legalising will also help address black markets provided we don’t go the route of big corporations swallowing everyone whole. Chlöe’s really read up on this stuff. Seeing her debate is something to be seen.

Review

The Master (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson loves a good poisoning, doesn’t he? Perhaps there’s a metaphor here, for how he likes to drug and sedate his audience. Like I found with his two latest films, Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread, they tend to drag after the mid-point. There’s not enough meat on the bones to justify the extensive running time and these films tend to circle themselves over familiar themes. At least The Master is a something to drool over. The cinematography by Mihai Mălaimare Jr. is gorgeous and captures some stunning performances.

I sat riveted as Joaquin Phoenix stretched the muscles in his face, contorting and twitching as he took part in a psychological test. I can see why they picked him for the upcoming Joker movie. He’s also an excellent drunk and a creative mixologist. Who knew a dash of paint thinner could help make moonshine? Let’s just say I won’t be going to him for a cocktail anytime soon.

I’m surprised I’m still finding films with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is sadly no longer with us. He is unquestionably his phenomenal self. There’s not much disguising it. Hoffman’s character is clearly inspired by Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard, who also writes spiritual texts and starts a religion. ‘The Cause’ is complete with dianetics and auditing (reliving past experiences).
Reading

  • I’m continuing my non-fiction buzz with Console Wars by Blake J. Harris. It’s about the history of videogames and the “war” between Sega and Nintendo. Being part of the Sony PlayStation generation I wasn’t immediately interested in this, despite the hosts of my goto videogame podcast raving about it; DLC. But they recently had the author on as a guest and as he described how the book was written my ears pricked up. It’s not your standard fact-fest, blow by blow, but more of a novelisation, with dialogue constructed from interviews and other sources. Think, more of a biopic; and with a documentary and film in the works I can see why. Harris also noted George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire as inspiration for the book and the metaphorical Iron Throne, in this case, was top of the videogame world. I haven’t enjoyed a videogame history book as much as Masters of Doom by David Kushner and so far this one is hitting all the right notes.
     
  • Also recommended by Harris was The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White. Reading it so far, it’s more than just a general style guide, but rather, how to write in the English language cleanly and economically by stripping away unnecessary words. I have a lot to learn in that regard.
     
  • Prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, wrote about The Christchurch call to action in her op-ed with the New York Times. She met with world leaders and tech representatives at the Christchurch Call summit to talk about taking action on extremist content on social media platforms like Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t show up but Twitter’s Jack Dorsey did. Of course, just showing up isn’t the same as taking action and Facebook at least has made a commitment to remove white nationalist content while Twitter has continued to do nothing.

Listening

  • I’m not a big music guy. I listen to music, of course. But my knowledge of the industry and artists, in general, is severely lacking and my tastes haven’t really changed since college. I tend to swing towards the operatic alternative. I’ve been listening to The Cranberries’ final album, In the End, released in April. You may have heard the lead singer, Dolores O’Riordan, died last year. The band were working on the album when she passed and they had the difficult undertaking of completing it without her. Interestingly, as part of their process, she often recorded her vocals at home. This episode of the podcast, Song Exploder, goes into more detail on the track, All Over Now. Anyhow, as noted I don’t have the best background in music but I can only describe it as a sombre experience especially with songs like In the End. Dolores’ voice is soft but retains the distinct and cutting vocals she is known for.
  • Two of the biggest things in pop culture have wrapped up. We had Avengers Endgame last month and (as of today) the final season of Game of Thrones. I’ve listened to so many podcasts dissecting both of these juggernauts. But recently I’ve found simply returning to the scores can help recapture the goosebumps from certain cinematic moments. Like Ramin Djwaldi’s 9 minute piano score, The Night King, for the big battle episode of Game of Thrones. It actually reminded me of the score for Westworld, another HBO show, known for its piano music, which as luck would have it, is also created by Djwaldi. And Alan Silverstri’s Portals which plays in Avengers Endgame’s climactic battle, concluding the saga of 22 Marvel films.

Watching

  • Noclip has done it again with this doco on Telltale Games. Danny O’Dwyer talks to four employees who were unceremoniously dismissed last year along with everyone else when the studio shut up shop. It’s a poignant reminder about the precariousness of work in the games industry. They’re living what most would consider a dream job (it was my aspiration for a good many years) but “crunch” and toxic management can destroy all passion and creativity.
     
  • This explainer video covers the abortion ban in Georgia. Then there was the move in Alabama.  I’ve come a long way since the days when I naively thought if someone had an unwanted pregnancy they should carry it to full term for adoption, never mind the dangers of pregnancy and the broken adoption system. Oh yeah and it’s not my body, why do I get a say? Why does anyone? Sign the petition to remove abortion from the New Zealand crimes act.

Final Thoughts

Now for some unsolicited advice. Leave a nice review of your favourite thing you repeatedly return to; whether it a cafe, restaurant or podcast. It not only means the world to them but helps get others to check out their stuff. I’m prone to thinking, oh yes I’ll do it later and I’ve been back to these places for years. So do it today, before you put it off again.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, rate it 5 stars on Apple Podcasts.

*flicks lighter*

Michael

@mriceguy
michaeljgray.com

#8 The one where I make F.R.I.E.N.D.S

Kia ora whānau,

I was censored! My freedom of speech taken away! *spews*
My last newsletter set off Mailchimp’s Omnivore tool which detects abuse on their platform. I think one or two keywords may have triggered it last time. Fortunately, they were kind enough to reinstate my sending privileges and I could keep my newsletter intact. So from now on if a newsletter turns up with a date from a few days ago, that’s why. The perfect scapegoat.

This week I write about friendship, or more rather my flailing attempts at it. If you hadn’t picked up on it, my newsletter titles are in the format of the episodes of obscure television series, Friends, so this week’s title is somewhat meta. It gets a little personal and admittedly I was hesitant about sharing it. But that would go against everything I’m saying here.

I’ve also got a brief review of Avengers: Endgame. Don’t worry, it’s spoiler-free. If you’re trying to find a session, good luck. Ours was sold out. Fortunately, we booked as soon as tickets went on sale. Unfortunately, as all the screenings were Endgame, finishing at different times, it can be risky overhearing spoilers on your way in. We dodged them only to have someone barge into our screening halfway through (possibly from a just finished screening) and yell a spoiler into the crowd. Trolls are now in our offline world and I’ve had enough.

I was actually spooked and reminded of the 2012 shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Yes, that was America, but as we saw in Christchurch last month, even New Zealand is not immune to such hatred. As annoying as spoilers are at least no one was hurt. And none of my relatives passed away while I was in there.

Today marks the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s death, a death of which I only learned about as I left the theatre for the last Avengers film. We’re meeting up with family today in his honour.

Bloggy Bit

Bad Friend

I’m a bad friend. I know everyone thinks that at some time or another. But I’m bad, always have been and it’s time to stop pretending it’s out of my control. They say friendship is a two-way street. Well, that only works when one person doesn’t throw up a barricade right through the middle.

Not all friendships are supposed to last a lifetime. Some are purely situation based, like your school or your workplace. You see them every day so it makes sense to “hook up” if you will and make a connection, no matter how surface level. Yes, they can become rewarding lifetime friendships. But look back at your high school year and see who you still catch up with today. We’re only human. There’s only so much time we can devote to friendships, and so we tend to stick to a few people at a time.

Now with all that preamble out of the way, I am the barricade. I remember having friends at primary school. I didn’t have friends for the longest time and it was hard going for a while there. So I treasured these friendships. But then we went to different Intermediates and the friendships fell away. Same thing when I moved from Intermediate to College. I dropped my best friend. I can’t exactly remember how I did it. I guess I just stopped making the effort. I didn’t reach out because it was difficult. I didn’t bump into them every day. And it still happens when I move workplaces. I won’t blame it on my social anxiety because I pushed past that barrier with these people.

Someone has to make the effort, but also, the other person has to respond. And I think I used my anxiety as a crutch, that it was too scary, I could get rejected. And so I don’t try and I let the friendship fade until it’s nothing but a hazy wisp of a memory. Depressing, huh?

But that’s only one aspect of being a bad friend. Simply showing up is the barest of requirements to be a friend. But something else is important there, and it’s bonding. Sharing feelings and emotions.

As a guy, I can say my experience with that is limited. I tended to favour split-screen videogames because then I could socialise and interact with people without having to look them in the eye. It was an intermediary device to friendship if you will. My main memories of sharing emotions are at sleepovers when the lights are out and you’re staring at the ceiling spilling all your crushes, dreams and aspirations. It never clicked, that you could do that without crashing on the floor of your mate’s place, trying not to wake their parents. Something that’s not so fondly looked upon once you hit your late twenties.

Although I’ve hit thirty, I’m still repeating the techniques of my youth. Videogames and board games are still things I turn to and the occasional team project, though having a newborn certainly makes that more challenging. And of course, alcohol, the ultimate social lubricant for a shy guy. But while they can facilitate socialising, they can also get in the way. We’re not talking about our dreams and aspirations, or our doubts and troubles when we’re immersed in some other experience. Banter is all well and good but sometimes you need to go deeper.

Openness is another barrier too, especially when you’ve got a group of people together. You might feel fine sharing in front of one person, but not another. One of my friends utilises the coffee method. Where you meet up with someone over coffee. It kind of feels like a date but you’re just friends. Catching up, how novel! But to me, this was a revelation.

As men, we need to get rid of this stigma that you can’t hang with the guys unless you’re watching the game or having a barbeque. At least I do. Yes, it’s awkward asking people to catch up. Yes, I should be the one to initiate. But think of how you would feel in that situation, to be asked. Wouldn’t you feel wanted? Wouldn’t you feel loved? And that’s just the proposition. Meeting up is where the real magic happens. This is sounding like a sex thing huh? I promise you it’s not.

So there’s one solution to my dilemma. But it’s not one size fits all. I’m not always confident in a public setting and people are different and have varying needs. It’s going to be a journey. But the important thing is “I” make contact, to establish a situation for connection to take place. To be brave and forthcoming, and to encourage the other person to do the same if they are willing.

Review


Linkies

  • I’ve been watching The Bad Seed, the NZ drama series based on the novels, The Night Book and Soon by Charlotte Grimshaw. I hadn’t heard of Grimshaw before. I really should support more kiwi authors *cough* Writers Plot *cough*. 
     
  • The NZ Games Festival finishes this weekend. It’s mostly an event for developers to get together but they do have a showcase of indie games made by NZ and Australian developers open to the public at FLUX, Wellington Museum. I tried a few before the exhibit became overrun. You can also download many of them. My favourite was JUMPGRID which is an addictive little thing as you weave around a grid trying to survive as long as possible.
     
  • One of my favourite film podcasts, the /Filmcast, has started up their annual Summer Movie Wager where they rank their picks for the top 10 blockbuster films of the Summer by Domestic Box Office in the US. It’s kind of like a sports bet but for nerds and you don’t win anything. See my picks below.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, burn it to a CD.

*sup nod*

Michael

@mriceguy
michaeljgray.com

#7 The one where Winter has come

Kia ora whānau,

Happy Easter or long weekend, or however you recognise this time. Easter’s an interesting one. Like Christmas, it’s kind of become this amalgamation of Christian tradition, Jesus’ resurrection, and earlier pagan traditions with festivities celebrating Spring, and Jewish Passover. Though information is scarce some believe Easter has ties to Ēostre (Ostara), the goddess of Spring. I only learned about Ēostre, from watching American Gods, the television series adaptation from Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name. My stepmother is from Romania and celebrates Orthodox Easter, which is actually next Sunday, but they’re overseas at the moment, so no dyed hard-boiled eggs for us this year.

It’s funny, this isn’t the first newsletter I’ve written. I was just reminded of one I started for my youth group back in the day. I even took over the local animal rescue newsletter for a spell. And to think I was doing something different. In with the old, out with the new.

No story this week, but as I’ve done in the past, I’m going to leave things more fluid, and change and adapt depending on the week. So have a baby update! And after the film review are a bunch of things I’ve been consuming. I’ve now separated these into the type of media. Enjoy at your leisure.


Baby Update

We took our wee one to the local swimming pool for his first swim. A bit of a water baby, he’s always enjoyed his baths so this was the logical next step. He’s taken to launching himself off us when sitting on us or when we’re changing his nappy. Even more so in the baby bath, he likes to propel himself off the edge and through the water. We packed a swimsuit and swimming nappy and off we went to our local pool. We dipped ourselves in the warm toddler pool and even had a quick turn in the shallow end of the big kid’s pool. Fortunately, no code browns! Some of the older toddlers were curious about this very young baby. He was happy and content the entire time. That was until we had to leave and get dressed.

Three months old. They weren’t kidding about time flying.


Review


Playing

  • I picked up Moonlighter.

    It’s a role-playing game that merges the best mechanics from other games I like. I’m still early into it but essentially you’re a shopkeeper who explores caves to find items to sell at your store. This isn’t even close to being one of the first games to explore that idea. But this package is just so polished. It has the dungeon crawling of The Binding of Isaac and a village reminiscent of Stardew Valley. It even reminds me a little of Bastion. If you don’t know any of these games I’m probably speaking gibberish to you.

Watching

  • With Avengers: Endgame out next week, Patrick Willems filmed a 3-part video series on the limitations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
     
  • The Twilight Zone is back, presented by Jordan Peele. I never watched the original series but I get the sense it retains the cheese of the original while giving family-friendly levels of scary. I’ve seen the first three episodes, all self-contained stories. They’re of varying quality story-wise but have interesting conceits and actors I enjoy.
     

Listening

  • Game of Thrones is back for the last time. If you like dissecting episode by episode, here are three podcasts all hosted by Joanna Robinson, one of my favourite commentators on pop culture.
     
    • A Cast of Kings is co-hosted with David Chen. The conceit of the podcast was Joanna read all the books of A Song of Ice and Fire and David had not. At this point, with George R.R Martin behind the show, the book knowledge doesn’t matter so much but Joanna still has a ton of insights to share, with more access now to the people behind the show as a writer for Vanity Fair.
       
    • Still Watching is an official Vanity Fair podcast co-hosted with Richard Lawson. They cover currently running prestige TV shows episode by episode but for the lead-up to Game of Thrones they have also been covering “the fifteen most essential episodes to re-watch.”
       
    • Finally, A Storm of Spoilers is co-hosted with Dave Gonzales and Neil Miller. Having only read the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire I initially held off on this one as they talked full book spoilers. But now they have both spoiler and spoiler-free sections, and book spoilers aren’t much a problem now. Who knows, maybe after all this is done I might go back and read all the books. But probably not, those things are huge.
       

Reading


If you enjoyed this newsletter, put it on a postcard.

*intricate secret handshake*

Michael

@mriceguy
michaeljgray.com

#6 The one where I struggle to write something

Kia ora whānau,

Last week I was lucky (again) to attend another preview screening. This one for New Zealand film, Vai. Like 2017’s Waru, it’s an anthology film by a troop of women directors. This one has a focus on cultures across the South Pacific. As a neat kiwi connection, one of the directors, Matasila Freshwater, went to my college. Her older sister was in the same year as me. Review is below.

I’ve been trying to come up with a short story, but in light of recent events, it still feels hard to delve into my usual fare. So this week I return to poetry. It has been some time since I’ve written poetry. I’m by no means a poet laureate but for me, poetry is a fun way to exercise some creativity in a form that isn’t so daunting. Yes, sometimes even short stories can be daunting!


Poem


Review


Linkies

  • Two of my favourite still-running TV shows have started up again. Season 2 of Barry on Neon, is about a hitman who wants to give up the hitman gig to be an actor. Needless to say, it’s not an easy business to quit. Season 3 of Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix, is about a real-estate couple who take to killing people when one of them becomes undead. Both shows strike a similar dark comedy tone contrasting the ordinary against the absurd. It’s my shit.
     
  • I’m currently listening to The Dropout, a podcast by ABC News, that tells the story of mega-fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, whose net worth rose to billions of dollars after creating a medical technology business named Theranos (which sounds like a certain Marvel villain). This was all formed around a product that didn’t work. It’s astounding how Elizabeth Holmes modelled herself after Steve Jobs down to the black turtlenecks and fooled Silicon Valley for so long. It’s one of those things where you can’t quite tell if she told one lie and just kept digging until it was too late to go back, or she deluded herself into thinking she was right. Or were her intents malicious from the get-go? Perhaps by the end of the series, I might come to my own conclusions.
     
  • Last time I shared The New York Times’ episode on Atta Elayyan’s family. Atta was one of the 50 killed in the terrorist mass shooting at two Christchurch mosques. Atta was a well-known Counter-Strike player, app developer and futsal player. Daily Esports shares a touching tribute to the late young father.
     

If you enjoyed this newsletter, stick it on your bumper.

*nods knowingly*

Michael

@mriceguy
michaeljgray.com

#5 The one where I saw a bunch of movies

Kia ora whānau,

No April Fools here. In follow up to my last newsletter where I mentioned deactivating Facebook, Facebook announced it will ban white nationalism from its platform. It’s a commitment and it might not happen overnight but it’s more than Twitter has done. I’m still not reactivating my Facebook account as they have yet to address the issue of live video and their response is just a list of excuses rather than announce any meaningful change. AI is not advanced enough to detect these atrocities. Apparently, it still can’t tell the difference between a mass shooting and a first-person shooter videogame. Live suicides are also worryingly a rising trend. Either way, I don’t see Facebook shutting its service anytime soon.

This week is a double feature with reviews for Captain Marvel and Us after the jump. 


Reviews


Linkies


If you enjoyed this newsletter, pin it to to a community noticeboard.

*fist bumps*

Michael

@mriceguy
michaeljgray.com