Although this site was new-ish last year, I still did a year in review post. Having survived another year, I thought it only appropriate to do it again. Only this time, you’ll forgive me if I don’t bother hunting down all the links. This site has a search function, and everything’s tagged, so if you really want to track something down, please do. I’m being lazy about this because it’s more important that I get these thoughts down right now. Anyway, if the site continues on (I’d like to think it will), I’ll probably make this a tradition. Retrospectives are good. It helps to mark time and see just how much can be crammed into a single year. It reminds us that, whether we like it or not, we’ve participated in the world on some level. It tells us how and why we’ve interacted, and reminds us what we got out of it.
I could have waited a few more days as to post this closer to the end of the year, but I’ve decided the calendar is arbitrary. I’m calling this year done now and allowing a slow and deliberate reset to all points in my life. I will meditate on the ideas I put forth here, and I will hit the ground running in the new year… after a much needed rest, of course.
Besides, I’ve got so much to recap — the good, the bad, and the ugly — that it may take you the rest of the year to read it.
It’s been a crazy year, hasn’t it? Seems like we can say that every year. Trump took office, and while the worlds of politics, entertainment, and journalism have been pulling people down for charges of sexual misconduct, the Predator-in-Chief still somehow manages to retain his post. It’s all about partisan loyalties first, a string of other considerations after that. Anything resembling justice or morality seems to come dead last. Whatever happens, though, we’ve hit a cultural shift on that front, at least at some level.
North Korea’s saber rattling took some more dangerous turns this year, resulting in ICBMs capable of delivering a nuclear payload to anywhere in the United States mainland. I live in the hopes that sooner or later, someone at the top will make the connection that every time Trump talks smack, they test a missile. Is it really that hard to put together? Also, just a thought, Mr. Trump… if you’re going to play the part of the madman to scare people, you don’t start by saying that’s what you’re going to do. It doesn’t work at all. Ever.
In the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it looks (to me, anyway) like the potential spark that could set off the Islamic version of the Reformation. That entire notion of an Islamic Reformation feels like it’s been building for a while now. When I think of how smoothly that sort of thing went in the Christian world (and how well it continues to go)… it gives me pause.
Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, setting off even more issues of instability in the region and accusations of inadequacy when it come to the idea of the United States and peace talks. Of course it did.
Hurricanes and wildfires blasted through the country, and amidst the turmoil in Houston that briefly interrupted fuel supplies, my own hometown of Dallas and its surrounding areas decided to prove that the Metroplex is full of clueless, panicky jackasses. Lines around the block formed in fear of a fuel shortage, and that fear caused fuel shortages to manifest where it would otherwise have been a negligible problem. Generally it was just 25 pounds of stupid in a 2 pound bucket.
The US Air Force, which itself split from the US Army Air Corps back in the day, now has its own evolutionary splinter. The US Space Corps became the newest branch of the Armed Forces this year. Nobody’s entirely certain what threat they’re supposed to be protecting against (the primary reason for the existence of the Armed Forces), but somebody thought it was a good idea. Better to have and not need than need and not have? I wish the government would stop being coy about this. If we have some strangeness out there that requires us to protect ourselves, wouldn’t it be better to know? Maybe bring our country together instead of chipping away at what we have left of what we laughingly call civility? Months later, Trump announced we’re going back to the moon, this time as a foothold exercise that will lead directly to manned Mars expeditions. Pay no attention to the often neglected and/or slashed NASA budgets and the fact that most scientists and engineers agree we’re getting far more bang for our buck on unmanned missions and telescope projects such as SOFIA. But we get it too. Manned missions are just somehow sexier, and they rank higher in the political pissing contests. Thankfully we can say that such missions have some science attached to them these days. You have to be more than just a test pilot to be an astronaut. I have nothing but respect for those brave and intelligent men and women.
And then to top it all off, the Trump-appointed Verizon shill Ajit Pai pushed through the FCC vote to kill Net Neutrality with cockamamie claims of “saving” it by eliminating the laws that do that. Suffice it to say, this move is highly unpopular at nearly every level. The grass roots movements to save it are in progress, there are multi-state lawsuits in the works to challenge it, and the order is still up for Congressional review.
Nothing marks the tragedy of a year quite like celebrity deaths. It’s like the older I get, the more legends we lose. It’s hard when the efforts of these people have impacted you on some personal level. This year, while there are certainly more than these, the ones that have hit me personally are:
Mary Tyler Moore
My thoughts and prayers go out to those they left behind. The world is most definitely better for them having been a part of it.
The first story on the home front this year is also the saddest for me. Last year, Helena came into my life, a rescued tabby cat I adopted from the ASPCA via PetSmart. Earlier this year, she managed to bolt out the back door, over the fence, and off to parts unknown. I managed to track her for a short time, but never catch her. It turns out that microchips are great for identification, but they’re absolutely useless for finding lost friends. Useless in fact, by admission of the chipping services. Then after months, she appeared a few miles from my house, crossing the street in the early morning hours in front of my car. Months after that, she appeared in the alley behind my house. Even sat down and talked with me for a minute. But she wanted her freedom more than she wanted a home, and so she took off again. After all that, I’m almost certain she’s still out there somewhere, probably in or around the woods of the nearby nature preserve.
There were also deaths in the family this year, and while they rocked the family, I had little or no contact with any of them over the years, so the effect on me is minimal. Yes, I know how cold that sounds.
2017 started where 2016 left off, with the massive undertaking of excavating under the house to fix a leaky pipe, putting me back into massive amounts of debt and reminding me that I’m always one financial setback away from being homeless or otherwise screwed without lining up miracles. Fucking yay. Since then, major car repairs have kept me under, and skyrocketing property values thanks to the influx of stupid from California people buying up properties sight unseen at triple and quadruple market value means that I’m really questioning how much longer I can afford to live here. Just looking at what my house is supposedly worth, you’d never know I live in a combat zone. And I certainly can’t afford to move anywhere else. A tiny slum apartment in an even worse neighborhood at this point costs far more than my monthly mortgage (for now). More than my monthly pay, if I’m being honest. Can’t afford to stay, can’t afford to leave. Rock, meet hard place. It’s never easy…
As the cherry on top of all this, my next door neighbors decided that in addition to all the noise they make, they needed to mount a floodlight on their house that points directly through my bedroom windows. Thankfully I already had blackout curtains. A little painters tape to hold down the edges and stop the bleed-through may not look great, but I can’t see it in the dark.
2018… it’ll be an adventure. It’ll be a miracle if I get out of this alive, let alone keeping my head above water.
I miss my cat. *sigh* Seems she was the smart one.
I’ve seen less of some friends this year due to circumstances on all sides. I wish it were otherwise in some cases. Some things simply can’t be helped, though attempts are made wherever possible to keep the lines of communication open. In regards to family, most of them still take the stance of since I’m not on Facebook, I don’t exist because nobody can be bothered to even send an email and say hi. Whatever. Stalking on social media isn’t communication. Those who don’t want to talk to me, well, I’ve never had a problem dropping people from my life, and I’m used to being the black sheep. Being an introvert with sensory issues makes it really easy to accept solitude.
Where family is concerned, I did go to the family
rebellion reunion this year, where it went fairly smoothly, all things considered (mostly because I kept my yap shut instead of confronting all the stupid at every turn), until the very end when one of my uncles decided to pick a fight over Star Wars, a topic he admits to knowing nothing about. Oy.
The social highlight of my year, as is typical for me, was Scarborough Renaissance Festival. I’ve blogged about both of my visits this year in depth, so no need to cover that again. As uncomfortable as I am in crowds, I find that I’m able to lose myself in the music, so that helps considerably. I’ve already got tickets for two more outings this year.
I’ve also found this year that I can’t say that about rock concerts anymore. Don Henley’s birthday bash was a wonderful show, but it was absolutely ruined for me by the asshat next to me and the borderline panic from sitting all the way at the top of the arena. I am officially done with rock concerts, which breaks my heart. I just can’t do it anymore. The audiences are terrible, and DFW audiences for some reason seem to delight in being worse than in other cities, which has been verified for me by a number of traveling concertgoers. Even so, and maybe this has more to do with the featured attractions, I readily enjoyed seeing Art Garfunkel make his return to the stage after hardship, and not even the non-stop assholery of the crowd could diminish my overwhelming delight of seeing the last of the classic crooners, Tony Bennett. Truly, the memory of a lifetime.
On the other side of the audience spectrum, I’ve enjoyed numerous concerts this year from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and I’ve attended my first for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Definitely more my speed. It’s like people are there to actually enjoy the music or something, and etiquette (re: common courtesy) is a thing so as to ensure no one spoils it for anyone else. Even getting out of the parking garage is easier at these events. Says a great deal, doesn’t it?
In the midst of it all, one friendship has grown much stronger, for which I’m grateful. This friend has helped me to directly confront things about myself that I’ve consciously pushed to the darkest recesses wherever possible and have never discussed with another living soul. It’s allowed me to grow as a person, to discover joys I thought were denied to me. It’s beyond words, really. I think this one’s the biggest win of the year.
Music is traditionally my safety net. It picks me up when I’m down. When I’m feeling creative, I’m able to explore in directions that aren’t possible in other media and formats. This year started with an overplay of Tony Bennett’s music, in anticipation of the aforementioned concert. But there were a lot of new and rediscovered works that really highlighted the year for me.
I started the year with two musical quests to track down: Carmina Burana (as much of it as was possible, knowing not all of it had been recorded by modern musicians), and score albums for Disney animated features. I don’t consider either of these quests complete, though for now I think I’ve hit the limit on Carmina Burana, and I’ve done rather well on Disney. On the latter, the Legacy Collection soundtracks are the biggest win. They are so well done, I prize them up there with my Lord of the Rings complete recordings.
I spent a lot of time listening to scores from classic monster movies, and through that I learned that Elsa Lanchester (aka the Bride of Frankenstein) did some stage music, some bawdy, that’s a combination of Vaudeville and smoky lounge. Never would have called that.
The other biggest film score wins this year for me are the Lethal Weapon scores from Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn; Dario Marianelli’s score for Kubo and the Two Strings; John Williams’ The Last Jedi score and extended scores for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial; and some impressive work by Michael Giacchino. His score for Rogue One got dissected and became more impressive the more I listened and discovered what he’s built. His new scores for War for the Planet of the Apes and Spider-Man: Homecoming easily captured my attention and became favorites this year. Given the pursuit of Disney scores, I kept revisiting his PIXAR scores, which are just amazing beyond words. His newest score, Coco… wow.
Since many film scores are becoming, shall we say, more generic, I’ve started branching out and discovering the talent in video game scores. Chad Seitzer’s Recore was a favorite in the early part of the year. Austin Wintory’s another name I’m keeping an eye on now.
On the Medieval / Renaissance / Celtic / Ren Faire music front, I scored big and went more than a little nuts. Thanks to “Medieval night” at the Dallas Museum of Art, I saw all manner of beautiful art and relics of that era and was introduced to some truly amazing music by accident. I previously blogged about this as well as the musical discoveries in the wake of this, but it bears repeating. I went for Saxon Moon, and those guys are always awesome. I discovered Istanpitta. It turns out I’d been introduced to one of their performers via Marc Gunn’s Irish and Celtic Music Podcast: Abby Green. I made contact with her, and purchased everything in her back catalog, and through her I learned of another project she was involved in: the Texas Early Music Project. And I bought everything in their catalog. Expensive, but worth it. We’re talking an embarrassment of riches on all fronts. Meanwhile, my hunt for Carmina Burana led me down SO many rabbit holes on the Medieval and Renaissance front, and I don’t even know where to start. Suffice it to say, I kept running into relatively inexpensive box sets with 20-50 CDs each. I bought what I could, and I’ve been whittling down the wish list ever since. Some of my favorites from Scarborough have released some new albums, and I’ve discovered some other performers I never knew were there. I’m caught up on their works now. Big shout outs to Cantiga, Tartanic, Leza Mesiah, the Stonehenj Players, Rita Callens, Vesperam Noriega, Lady Prudence Piper (who released new music as part of the duo Voices of Virtue), Sarah Marie Mullen, and her husband Cyrus Rua who performed as Cast in Bronze. Yup, I bought music from all of them this year. Sadly, Cast in Bronze’s carillon was put on display as a museum piece, which I consider to be a travesty. What good is an instrument like that if you can’t hear it play? But I know Cyrus’ talent extends beyond that, having heard him play the blues with The Dreaming Street on their self-titled album. Beyond Scarborough, my patronage of Marc Gunn continues because he still proves to be the hardest working man in the biz. Not only does he keep releasing fun music, but through his efforts on his podcast, I keep finding more bands whom I would not find otherwise. I previously found Colleen Raney that way, and I’m looking forward to her new album early in 2018. New bands I’ve discovered include The Duplets, Screaming Orphans, Christine Weir, Susan Toman, and Melanie Gruben. There are others. Lots of others. And more besides when you include returning favorites from previous years.
The most unique acquisition this year arrived courtesy of “Weird Al” Yankovic. The box set to shame all other box sets, I’m still trying to figure out where to put it. It’s a good problem to have.
Towards the end of the year, my love of jazz and blues got reignited, so I’ve been revisiting the greats.
As you can tell, musically, it’s been a fantastic year. But it did set me back quite a bit. Actually, I’m in shock over how much money I actually spend on music. I’m still recovering, physically and financially. Totally worth it so long as I recognize my limitations and stick to them from here on. Far more rewarding than on any other entertainment front this year. I’ll have to rein it in for 2018, but it seems I have plenty to explore… for now.
Films / TV
I say I don’t watch much TV. Compared to most people I know, I really don’t. And yet, I’m always surprised when I list off the stuff I’ve kept up with over the course of the year.
Thanks to Netflix, I revisited Star Trek: The Next Generation this year. I started on Deep Space Nine, but the vocals aren’t synced up to the picture. Four complaints later, I don’t think this is getting fixed. To my surprise, I started and caught up on the Netflix original series The Ranch. It’s a little stupid on the surface, but it’s surprisingly deep too. Having grown up in the country, I resonate with it on some level. Still enjoying House of Cards, though with Kevin Spacey’s scandal as part of the national conversation, it sounds like the series will be moving forward for one final season without him. I also revisited The Tudors and Babylon 5 via my personal collection, the latter of which I shared with my Dad. I think I’m the only one watching Mozart in the Jungle, which I think is a rather cool series. Supernatural is still going strong (stronger than it has been in a couple of seasons). I’m really getting my Medieval fix this year through The Last Kingdom, Medici: Masters of Florence, and Vikings. Game of Thrones disintegrated into a pile of stupid the last couple of episodes in their quest to go race to the finale, ignoring solid storytelling in favor of incredible visuals, but I’m hoping they can pull out of that for an awesome final season. I stopped Knightfall after a single episode due to the gross incompetence of story structure. Meanwhile, Turn: Washington’s Spies went out on an exceptionally high note. Amazing series.
Marvel’s Netflix shows are going strong for me as well. Iron Fist wasn’t great, but I was entertained. Defenders was a little better, more fun than anything else as it should be. The real winner was The Punisher. I was truly impressed with the complexity of that one.
The big ones closest to my heart are the latest incarnations of the stuff I grew up with: Star Wars: Rebels, which returns for its final episodes in a matter of weeks, and Star Trek: Discovery, which will also kick in again shortly. Discovery has been… challenging.
On the movie front, I’ve caught up on some films from the previous year, and I managed to hit most of the ones I wanted to see from this year. The ones that really stood out for me for the right reasons that I saw this year (for the first time) are Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, The LEGO Batman Movie, Kong: Skull Island, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Founder, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusader, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. A wonderful surprise was the Blu-ray release of Superman: The Extended Cut. I haven’t seen that version of it since it first aired on TV over 30 years ago.
Taking the prize of “what the hell was all that back there?” was Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’ve already blogged twice about this one, and I won’t rehash. Suffice it to say, it’s left me with a giant question mark as to the future of the franchise and my place in it. What is seen cannot be unseen, so my beloved original trilogy characters cannot be seen in the same context anymore. It’s changed everything, not for the better. Much of my life has been defined by this series, what it has taught me, and where it’s led me to discover new things, so this film has left me… adrift.
The ones I’m most looking forward to next are Coco and The Shape of Water, both of which I own the soundtracks for already. Sadly, The Last Jedi‘s audience also means that I’m done with the movie theater “experience” without extenuating circumstances. For the really special ones, I’ll probably have to make the journey across the Metroplex to the Alamo Draft House, where they allegedly throw people out on their butts for talking, texting, and otherwise being obnoxious asshats. No small children dropping into my lap and snarling at me like an animal, for example. It’s like the proprietors of this place enjoy movies and like their audiences to enjoy movies. Gee, what a concept. By and large, though, I’m long past the need to be Mr. First Nighter. I’m generally happier at home, watching on my own screen, in my living room, with sound via my superb Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
I’ve dramatically cut back on the number of books I’ve read this year, though I’ve still worked through a considerable stack. Part of that is due to the sheer size of the tomes I’ve read, and some of that is due to simply choosing to slow down and get more out of them. Quality, not quantity, has been the name of the game this year. I think I’m better for it. Books, like music, really bring out the best in me and make life bearable. To that end, I don’t waste my time anymore with generic fluff, beat downs, or anything else that inhibits my education, entertainment, and edification. Instead, I make room and time for the reads that will truly enhance my life. This is a lesson that, having learned it successfully, I will apply to all other areas of my life.
In terms of blog projects, my reading has certainly been rewarding. William Shakespeare continues to slowly unfold his magic. I’ve got two more history plays, then I’ll move into the tragedies. I’ve started up again on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series as a buddy read. And most magnificent of all is the Tolkien quest. We’ve finished out The Lord of the Rings and moved into The Silmarillion. So help me, I’m actually understanding and appreciating The Silmarillion! If nothing else happened this entire year, this alone would have been worth it.
I’ve completed a quest after 10 years of reading a 1560 facsimile of The Geneva Bible. Likewise, I made my way through The Complete Poetical Works of John Donne. I consider these to be worthy milestones that have certainly enriched my understanding of history and literature. I’ve discovered Edith Wharton this year, after far too many years of her being on the to-read list. I look forward to more of her work next year. I’ve read the first four volumes of Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization, working through the 5th one now on The Renaissance, which is inspiring a great deal within me for the right reasons.
Two other books really stood out for me this year. The first is Jan Swafford’s magnificent tome Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, which really opened up the maestro’s music for me in ways I can appreciate only at the most personal levels. What a gift! The second is the Star Wars anthology From a Certain Point of View. It was… different. And save for a few stories that slid sideways into stupidity, it was a worthy exercise in perspective.
Other most noteworthy books this year include How to Fight Presidents by Daniel O’Brien, The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev, Version Control by Dexter Palmer, Phantom by Susan Kay (a re-read), The Last Lancastrian by Samantha Wilcoxson (I love that she keeps sending me these to read – thank you!), No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, and What Unites Us by Dan Rather. This last one I was fortunate enough to attend a book tour engagement. Definitely a highlight of the year.
This site has certainly done some developing in the past year, including:
*Finished transferring old book reviews from Audible to this site
*Stopped using star ratings
*Completed Sean Connery’s official 007 run, still not begun Roger Moore’s
*Completed the original Ian Fleming 007 novels, buddy read with BrokenTune
*Began Sherlock Holmes buddy read with BrokenTune
*Started and stalled on Disney’s Mouse Magic
*Completed The Lord of the Rings, continued into The Silmarillion, buddy read with Libromancer’s Apprentice
*Tried discussion boards for 007 and Tolkien. No interest there, so removed ’em.
*Began Early Music Explorations – Spem in alium took off like a rocket
*Project: Monster kind of fizzled… I blame The Mummy
*Chivalry First project went 2 blogs and stopped due to extreme lack of readership
*Shakespeare going very slowly, but deliberately
*Reinstated Star Wars and Star Trek projects
*Reader Requests (though I’ve not had any in a while)
*Unique Blogger Award by Midu Hadi
*Celebrated 1st Blogiversary
The lesson here is that I do pretty well keeping up with buddy reads. On my own, I’m still scattered, even if I do get there in the end. And I know this needs to change. I keep harping about it, and you keep putting up with me anyway.
Of course, I’m always looking to renew the stalled projects and engage with new things. On the personal level, it helps to fight depression and keep me feeling like I’m actually part of the world instead of being constantly at odds with it. Thanks for helping out, pop culture. Your mediocrity regarding the things I love most has really helped to make this harder than it has to be. Seriously, I shouldn’t have to turn on the news to help me forget how some misbegotten “need” to shake things up have really screwed with the integrity of both Star Wars and Star Trek. It should be the other way around!
In relation to the sheer amount of strife all around me, I’ve also considered putting down my sword. It used to be that swordfighting was an extension of my inner chivalry. Given my depression and resulting anger issues, I’ve decided it’s a bad idea to continue at present in these studies. I find that while it’s good to release such anger, it also promotes an aggressiveness within me that martial arts are supposed to help me control. I find no peace here anymore. For now, until things change, I will simply relegate this study to scholarship. Someday, if the conditions are right, I will come back to it as a full practice.
Likewise, I’ve found very little peace in my spiritual studies this year. Angelology is a frustrating rabbit hole at best, and time and again I’m reminded that as a research discipline, it has very little in common with anything resembling the beings I’m researching. Holy books and esoteric texts really are quite pointless when it comes down to it. That may be the greatest lesson of all for a seeker at the end of the proverbial rope. If such peace cannot be found within, one can never find it without.
Looking Ahead: 2018
2017 has tried my soul. I’ve stared into hopelessness more times this year than in any previous year. With the presence of mindfulness, it has revealed to me not only where my weaknesses are, but also what I can do about them. The nature of any solution is embedded within the scope of the problem if only we can step outside ourselves to see it.
The goal for 2018 is happiness. This means personal responsibility, financial education, and stepping away from the things that drive me bananas. I am grateful to pop culture for providing me with the road signs that got me this far. I acknowledge the masters who got me this far, but where the art and creativity is lost in the quest for the almighty dollar, I must respectfully tip my hat and turn my back. Taking a cue from the current history tome I’m exploring, this Medievalist is turning Renaissance this coming year. I intend to further advance myself in higher ideas that matter most: civics, sciences, mathematics, art, literature, and most especially music. Rather than fight against the things that chip away at my sanity, I will find ways to redirect to my advantage. Where people seek to argue, I will strive to deny them lest their reward land me in the hospital. Peace cannot thrive on a battlefield until all the combatants are dead or otherwise stop fighting. Mentally and emotionally, I have been in a place for a number of years that is simply not healthy. This has crushed my potential to anything but merely dwell, an angry ghost rattling some chains from some dark corner. No more. I choose to actively re-engage with life. I know what’s out there. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, touched it with my own hands. I have a lot of subliminal programming to undo, to rewrite.
I also know I don’t do this alone. This may be the most important aspect of this whole endeavor. Those of you who stand with me — you already know who you are — thank you. That dependability is returned the moment you call. It could never be otherwise.
Here’s to 2018: the year I stop dying and finally get out of my own way. And here’s to you, the reader who has slogged through this post and probably others on this site. May you find your way in the year ahead to whatever it is you’re looking for… or something even better.