Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Missing: An X-Phile

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Joel, you've been living off the grid for a month now. How have you been spending your time?" To which I answer, "Good question!" Here's a taste of what I've been doing lately.

1) I teach, therefore I am. Since the funeral I've been basically playing catch-up at school. I've been spending a lot of time reading (mostly re-reads of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1984, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but reading nonetheless), a lot of time grading, and a lot of time figuring out why, even when I'm behind, I keep assigning things for students to do. [I'm reading other stuff too, by the way, but slowly...just in case you were wondering why my GoodReads hasn't changed in a month.] Now that my seniors are done with classes and my sophomores and juniors are winding down, I should be able to slow down a little, but work has, not surprisingly taken up the bulk of my time. On the plus side, it s been a good reminder of just how much I enjoy teaching. The job has plenty of downsides--low pay is high on that list, but so is interacting with occasionally snotty teenagers and, like during senior week, dealing with rotten fish left in the ceiling tiles, but that's a story for a whole different post. Nine days out of ten I am happy both for my career and for my current working environment. Where else can i get a bonus because I want to teach a class where we watch a movie every week?

2) The truth is out there. Around New Years, I convinced Amelia that the complete X-Files series was a good buy when Amazon had it on sale for $149. (I'm glad she consented; it's back up to $230 now). Turns out I was right, so since mid-January we've been working our way through the series. We're in the middle of season 5 right now, but recently we've hit a sweet spot--right when the show was in its prime--so we've been watching an episode or two each night. I'm loving it, and if we keep up at this rate we might even finish the series before the second movie comes out. I've been reminded why I loved this show so much in high school. It's smart, it's funny (we watched the season five episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus" last night, and after teaching Frankenstein for 2 years I might start showing this in class), it's suspenseful, it's thought-provoking. Add in the fact that it's an important forerunner for shows like Lost on now, and it's definitely worth some time. One of my coworkers wants to trade this for a loan of the complete West Wing series, which he owns, so I think our tv needs will be satisfied during the long, reality-crapfest-filled summer tv months.

3) Criminal Mastermind/Destroyer of Moral Fabrics. First of all, apologies to my mother, who I'm sure will cringe when reading this, but I have been loving playing Grand Theft Auto IV lately. Now, before I go any further, let me say this: don't let your children play it. There's a reason that video games--like movies--have a rating system. This game is rated M, which (like the film industry's R rating) means it's not for audiences under 17. Stores aren't supposed to sell it to anyone under 17, and after playing it I can assure you it's definitely not intended for people under 17. It's not nearly as bad as a whole lot of movies out there, but all too often parents assume that video games are for kids and so don't monitor what they're playing. But more and more we're becoming a society that has grown up with video games, and video game makers are expanding their product for an aging and maturing audience. This game is no exception, and in fact makes a great argument for why parents need to monitor what their kids are doing.

That said, this game is phenomenal. New York City has been converted into Liberty City, and never in a video game have I seen such a vibrant, fully immersive world. In addition to the usual video game stuff (drive, fight, etc.) you can play pool, go bowling, play darts, develop friendships, watch tv, go "online," try an in-game tetris-like video game, and more. The people react differently, there are realistic conversations, and the entire city is mapped and explorable (though you can't go in most buidlings). It's incredible enough that when you first start playing, you have hesitation about breaking laws--going through red traffic lights, stealing a car, getting in fights, etc.--which actually fits in well with the game. Because this thing has a compelling "Godfather-esque" storyline to it as well. You play Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant who comes to America to escape his past and have a fresh start--in short, to achieve the American dream. But Niko is quickly drawn into the darker aspects of Liberty City life, through a series of events not entirely of his own making. Make no mistake, Niko is a bad dude, but he is also guilt-ridden and clear-eyed about his fall. While his cousin and others see drugs and violence as a way to achieve that American dream (and let's be honest, that's a story that's glorified in pop culture all the time: see rap music, for example), Niko knows that he is trading in his soul to protect his family and others. It's a tragic story, one that I believe is angling toward a rejection of violence rather than an embrace of it (I'll let you know if it turns out I'm wrong. If Niko ends up the kingpin of New York and that's the happy ending, clearly I'll have misread it. As it stands now, however, I wouldn't be surprised if Niko ends up dying in a shoot-out. That violence begets violence seems to be one of the game's themes so far). At any rate, it's compelling and fascinating, as well as lots of fun. There's plenty of the usual Rockstar (that's the game company) juvenile jokes and stupid ideas, but there's also a very smart and interesting satire of American culture going on. I would not recommend this for everyone--my mom wouldn't like it even if it did come out on the Wii--but if the video game industry is moving in the direction of telling better, more compelling stories, then I will gladly go with them.

4) The Averagest Loser. OK, time for some public accountability. I've lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 pounds since January, and though I've hit a plateau recently, it's a big accomplishment. My first goal was to lose 30 pounds, and when I hit that benchmark I'm buying myself a laptop. I'm thinking a Macbook, though I'm sure there'll be a more substantial post when it comes time to make that decision. At any rate, I feel good about myself, and I hope that over the next year or two I can keep dropping it until I get to a healthier--and better-feeling--size. I may try and blog about that a little more, since having to report my progress might motivate me to stay "good" with the eating habits. I haven't done very well since I got back from the funeral, and I haven't yet figured out what I need to do to get back on track. A gym membership for both Amelia and I may be coming shortly, and so might a mass fruit-buying spree. Stay tuned.

So that's my life for the past few silent weeks. Thanks to Dylan, Beth, and Matt, whose own commitment to blogging (Matt posted in between hospital visits, for crying out loud) reminded me that I like hearing from people and maybe a few people like hearing from me. Hopefully my next post won't be as epically long--or as long in coming.

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