I remember being in 4th grade and learning about Gary Indiana. It was part of a video series we watched about the regions of the United States, and it was a bold introduction to the rust belt. It looked awful, and ever since I've been fascinated with the city.
In The Music Man, Gary is the punchline of an entire song. The smoke, the smog, the urban decay are all burned into the public imagination whenever they think of the area. I would love to visit the city someday...granted, as someone who likes going to the annual Mothman Festival and the world's largest ball of twine in Cawker City Kansas. My tastes may be a little strange.
Gary was at the forefront of my mind while playing Factorio, a game in development since 2012. I've been ill with the kind of lovecraftian viral infection that only happens to people who work with middle schoolers, and was desperate for something to take my mind off of my seventeenth bowl of chicken noodle soup.
The game's premise is that you want to build a spaceship to get off of a barren planet with all the trappings of an early Fallout 2 model map. The graphics are pretty bad.
To build the spaceship, you need various types of science. To make "science packs", you need another set of prerequisites for each variety. Red science wasn't so bad...I just needed some gently refined materials that I could do by hand with my character. Green science looked impossible at first: you need to make mechanical tracks and automated arms that carry resources. It was at this point I knew for sure I would have to build a factory to automate everything. I was tired to digging stuff up by hand.
I was not very good at it at first, and needed a sherpa of sorts to help me with the basics. My friend, who got me into the game, admits that the game is a chore at its core. I would agree...but the process of building an ever more efficient machine is satisfying in a way that creeps me out. I sat down, decided I wanted to efficiently create green science, and suddenly it was two hours later. This game is scary in how it sucks you in.
Don't start this game during finals week. The perfectionist in you is going to force you to play for hours on end and be dimly satisfied every time you make a more effective factory complex. When you come up for air, either to hang out with friends or grade some papers, you will be mildly proud of what you created. Mostly, though, you will be horrified that you made Gary, Indiana on a random moon.
Thumbs up for this one. :)
When you're a teacher, you have two options when summer hits. You can get a summer job for the extra cash, or you can try to read Harry Wong's First Days of School. I took the second option and was mostly successful...but you can only read professional development books for so many hours a day. Eventually, you need a break. If you're in a thoughtful mood, which many new teachers are after a long first few years of teaching, you might like FAR: Lone Sails.
It's quiet. Maybe it's too quiet. You are going to be tempted to boot up Spotify or listen to a podcast while playing, but you have to resist the urge. The quiet is all part of the experience. The game takes place after the end of the world, where you appear to be the only person left alive. Your goal is to take a massive hulk of a vehicle across the wastes to the ocean...at which point something you hope something is going to happen. The melancholy you feel through the game is of the sweet variety...as you use your old mailbox for fuel and gradually gather materials for your ever growing landshark.
My reasoning for not cranking your favorite playlist while playing is it takes you out of the moment. I finished the entire game in a night in a kind of meditative trance. When there is music, as long as you have let the game take you in, you are immersed in it to a shocking degree. When you explore the ruins of the earth, it is often done in quiet...perhaps with your radio trying to serenade you from a distance.
I found the game on Steam and would highly recommend it. Brew some tea, get some noise-cancelling headphones in, and let the winds take you.
Have fun, and happy trails :)
I'm not good at compiling lists. I know that I've seen It, and Coco, and Get Out. I remember enjoying all of them. What's difficult about lists is that they are specific in ways outside my wheelhouse. I operate best with superlatives like what was my favorite movie and which movie haunted me the most.
This is why I don't think I can follow in Joe's immediate footsteps with a "top 10" list. Instead, I want to delve into a flawed movie that still occupies my mind: A Ghost Story.
Directed by David Lowery and starring a Casey Affleck wearing a bedsheet, I was certain A Ghost Story was going to be the stupidest movie I had seen in years. I'm vocal on the podcast that boredom is the cardinal sin of a bad movie and the trailer made this movie out to be a movie that means things...but nothing in particular. I thought it was going to be a pretentious snooze that wouldn't justify Joe buying my ticket. You read correctly: I was so reluctant to go that I made Joe buy my ticket.
I have been scarred by art-house movies largely because of Of Gods and Men, the most boring movie of all time. I swore to never watch a movie that tried too hard again. I was certain Joe was making me break my solemn vow, even as we walked across the street from our community-owned grocery store. I told the lady at grocery register I did not want to buy an ownership share to support local farmers just before we left. I was in a pretty grumpy mood.
I was right about a couple things with A Ghost Story. It is largely silent, just like Of Gods and Men. It has a lot to say. There are eyeroll inducing moments. I even felt myself check my watch a couple of times. Even so, this movie is good.
To begin spoiler territory, Casey Affleck starts out this movie alive. He and his girlfriend share real love through a protracted cuddling scene. They speak softly--so softly that you can barely hear and think you are intruding on an intimate conversation. You are doing just that, of course, as you hear inane discussion of the couple's future and their love for one another. There isn't much explicit foreshadowing in the talk, which a lazier movie would do.
There are scenes that you think go on too long yet serve a greater purpose. You watch a wife carry garbage out to the curb for what feels like five minutes. Later, you watch her eat pie for what must be a literal five minutes before she stress-vomits in a nearby toilet. The camera hardly moves for either of these scenes. It lingers.
And that is exactly what this film does: it lingers. Casey Affleck's character dies in a car accident off screen. You briefly see the aftermath, but spend much longer seeing the temporarily motionless body sit on a morgue table. From then on, talking is at a premium.
The ghost will walk all the way home with minimal sound. He will stare at his love, who puts a small note away into a hole in the wall...painting over it when she is done. She will eat pie, grieve, and then ultimately move on. What's brilliant to me is her moving out is allowed to play as it would in real life: without any innate emotion to it. The music isn't FORCING you to feel anything, and you feel the melancholy seep into you just as it does at an after-funeral party. We need more movies that do that, because I believe the silent weight we carry in our hearts do so much to mold our lives.
You sit with that feeling of dread for the rest of the movie, with the only respite being the most problematic scene of any movie I saw in 2017: the party philosopher. There is this guy having a completely unnatural conversation during a party, where he explains what the movie is trying to tell us all. In short, he says we try to leave behind a legacy in any way we can, including making film and writing creatively. He notes on the bleakness of eternity and how the vast expanse of time reduces us all to dust. These are heady topics, and well worth exploring. I just wish the movie would have allowed me to feel the despair these conversations elicit without putting it into words; isn't that for the after-credits talks with your friends?
I still think about this movie about every two weeks. After six months, this is a feat few movies can do. Even if there are movies you love, time is at a premium between work and family...and you don't think about them unless there is due cause. I listen to the song used in the trailer, I Get Overwhelmed and cry. If you have a moment alone and need a good emotional release, I would encourage you to give it a listen; ideally, do it while thinking about the gentle passage of time and the friends you have made and lost along the way.