Distraction in the form of City-Building

I am already exhausted by the news cycle from the previous week. Potential overturning of abortion rights. Legitimate threats to privacy rights and same-sex marriage on the horizon. This week has been a lot for me mentally and emotionally. I was straight-up infuriated for about four days.

I’m still angry, and I’m not letting go of that. I’m just trying to step back and evaluate what exactly I can do with this anger, aside rom throwing money at a political super-pac that might not get anything done.

In any case, I downloaded a new mobile game this week, and that has largely been keeping me sane.

Distracted in Designer City

I don’t play a lot of mobile games, aside from Pokemon Go while I walk my dog, but this past week I needed something to occupy my mind.

I looked at the mobile Sim City, but I didn’t want to download an EA game, under the assumption that I would have to suffer through endless ads or pay for in-game upgrades to really enjoy it, which I don’t do as a general rule.

Then I came upon Designer City, which was incredibly highly rated on Google Play. I downloaded it, played through a brief tutorial in which a small town was already built for me, and have since expanded this small town into a bustling cosmopolis.

Am I going to tell you about it? You bet I am. My city includes:

  • a central downtown that probably needs more love
  • a lakeside resort/campground at the western edge
  • an area of mixed agriculture, industrial, and residential use along the southwest
  • a posh urbanized neighborhood on the south end with tons of parks and a monorail station
  • a quaint suburb in the southeast
  • a nascent but expanding NEW downtown area with high-rise residences, museums, theaters, and other communal affects
  • and a more commercial-industrial northern end
  • a monorail connecting all of these neighborhoods
  • Oh, and I’ve expanded my land ownership halfway across the map to build a commercial port, some industrial buildings, and a railway connecting it to the city

I will definitely be adding a medieval castle district and a creepy haunted house-type district, because this game has those types of structures.

I might be addicted to this game, but it’s easy to play, completely unintrusive in terms of ads or asking you to spend real money, and can be creatively engaging if you allow it.

So what started as a political rant ended up as a positive review for Designer City. I’m going to call it a day.

Steve D

May Write Day: Restart

After two years of avoiding it, I tested positive for COVID this week. And I’m furious with the Supreme Court, liberal Democrats who continue to do as little as possible to improve the lives of Americans, and the Right for… actively bringing suffering to the lives of Americans for the last 20 years.

I also forgot to write this post last night and schedule it for this morning. So I’m going to keep this short.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 9,600 words. Oddly specific and yet not random. (See above)
  2. Read 3 books. My new podcast notifications have settled the last few days, so I’ll obviously need some other form of storytelling to distract me. If only I could look at words on paper and hear them said by the voice in my head… I’ll think of something.
  3. Continue the exercise climb. I think success here will look like me running/working out or yoga-ing 4-5 times per week for the month. Plus remembering to meditate.

Write 9,600 words?

No. I think it was somewhere around 4,000, but I’m not going to check. Too many distractions, and not enough focus time. I have a trip coming up in May that will keep me away from writing for a week, so my word count goal will be much smaller.

Read 3 books?

Also no, but I made some progress on a couple that I’ve been enjoying.

Continue the exercise climb?

Yes, until I got sick this week. I started a core-strengthening yoga program in April that I was really enjoying, and it helped me figure out a daily routine to build onto.

I’ve generally not been a preset routine type of exerciser — I always created my own routines and evolved them as needed, so this is new territory for me. But without a gym membership and with limited equipment at home, I think this is the type of thing that can keep my motivated day to day.

I would just like to stop coughing so I can get back to it.

Goals for May

  1. Write 6,600 words. I promise these numbers are not arbitrary. I’m just calculating 600 words per day that I anticipate being available to write. This still feels like a lot, honestly, so I need to get off to a good start to close out this week.
  2. Read 3 books. I will actually have some downtime to do this during my week off (I hope).
  3. Continue the exercise climb. I’m optimistic that I’ll be feeling much better tomorrow and able to get back to my yoga program. It’s not like I’m doing anything this weekend until I test negative.

Steve D

Spare Parts for Broken Hearts: Songs that Stick to my Brain part 1

I’ve spent the last several days listening ad nauseum to eight songs by Spare Parts for Broken Hearts, an LA-based rock band about whom I’ve been aware for at least a year, but had neglected to spend any significant time with. I’ve been missing out.

Last week I finally bought all eight singles that are available for download from their website. From what I can tell, they have yet to put out an EP or LP, but I’m still pleased with their eight-song playlist on my phone. (Reading the about page on their site, they plan to release an LP this year!)

Today, I’m going to take the first four songs from my playlist and look at them a little more closely. I’ll do the other four songs I have in a follow-up. I’m just doing these in the order they appear on my phone. If you’ve never read one of my album reviews before, I like to review the musical and lyrical tones of the songs and try to interpret them together. So this is not a critique so much as an attempt at understanding this music.

“I don’t want to be the voice of your prophet, your profit”

“Dirty Milk” opens with a fast, distorted bass line, feedback chords, and ringing cymbals. Lead Singer Sarah Green’s voice is melodic with just the right bit of scratchiness: “I am anonymous / Are you just like me / I need a friend”. And the refrain: “I don’t wanna be the voice of your prophet / I just want to be alone”

The song repeats its only verse and refrain twice each, never relenting until an abrupt ending that briefly fades out with squealing distortion feedback. This pace is more what you would expect from a heavy post-grunge band, but it’s not what Spare Parts for Broken Hearts typically do.

“Tell me the story from a different angle”

“Big Win” is more of a slow burn to start that builds into a soaring chorus: “All that I want from you / You can’t take back”

Even as Green’s voice rattles and nearly drowns out the dirty guitar chords, she still finds the space to lower her refrain to a gentle, almost sweet level, only to come back to a final chorus with fury and anguish. Spare Parts, or perhaps Green herself, perfectly blend these opposite emotional levels in most of their songs.

This is easily my favorite song of the bunch.

“I could swim til the bitter end”

“Cold Wave” similarly transitions from floating verse to torrential chorus and back. These transitions are jarring in that the listener feels the sudden weight of Green’s pain. Her first belting cry of “With no air” is powerful on its own, but its true meaning is only revealed when she growls: “I’m holding my breath / With no air”.

These songs run 3-4 minutes each– an average length– but each one is so full of sound and feeling that they feel like frozen moments.

“Where you end I begin / Severed”

Most of SPFBH’s songs are laden with inner turmoil, but perhaps none feels as forceful as “Ever”. Green’s wail on the first word of the chorus is a challenge and a rebuke: “What you can’t give / You can’t take from anyone.”

Plucking strings and distortion-rended chords. Soft hi-hat and crashing cymbals. Airy verses and wailing choruses.

All of these elements mingle throughout most songs for Spare Parts for Broken Hearts, and they never feel out of place or forced.

That the band can embody these dichotomies so completely is a testament to their songwriting skill and their authenticity. Whatever inspired these songs, I believe it, and that’s part of what makes them unforgettable.

I’ll come back with the other four songs in a couple weeks.

How do you like Spare Parts for Broken Hearts so far?

Steve D

Trailer Hype for THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

Welp, I’m stoked. Marvel finally released a teaser for the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. I’ve been waiting for news on this film for what feels like two years, and it’s set to be released in July.

I’m not going to go through the trailer frame by frame and try to theorize about what it might be. I’m just happy that we’ve reached this point. This is the most excited I’ve been for an MCU property since Endgame.

As any MCU fans would probably tell you, Thor’s character made a gigantic leap into the forefront of the collective consciousness in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, in which Thor became the funny but super-powerful God of Thunder we always wanted. Of the original Avengers, Thor had the weakest standalone films through his first two (Thor and Thor: The Dark World). Iron Man had the best introduction, and Captain America had the best trilogy.

I might hedge and say that there’s a valid argument for Captain America having the best intro and the best trilogy…

In any case, Thor’s revitalization in Ragnarok and subsequent claiming of the superhero championship belt in the Infinity War saga has left him atop the original cast. That might be recency bias and the fact that Iron Man and Steve Rogers’s Captain America have parted ways, but Thor is also the only character who has gotten a fourth standalone film to this point.

The return of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster – and her very own level-up to the Mighty Thor, teased briefly at the end of that trailer – is the other big reason I’m excited for this film. I had started reading the Jason Aaron run of Thor: God of Thunder specifically because I wanted to see the comic-book lead-up to Jane Foster taking up Mjollnir.

I read the first three volumes last year, and all of a sudden, I’m behind schedule! Excuse me while I go look for copies of volumes four and five.

Are you excited for Thor: Love and Thunder?

Steve D

THE LAST KINGDOM Finale: Epic TV storytelling

The Last Kingdom TV series recently debuted its fifth and final season, which I caught on Netflix.

The show follows Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a Saxon lordling captured and raised by Danes who rises to become an important warrior and warlord during the reigns of Kings Alfred and Edward of Wessex. This show is the reason I’ve started reading the book series by Bernard Cornwell that it’s based on.

Having now finished season 5 and gotten confirmation that it is, indeed, the last of the series, I find myself reflecting on what, to me, has been a truly great show.

While much of the story of Uhtred himself is fictionalized, the show is realized with impeccable detail in the settings, the sets, and the costumes. Individual fight scenes are well choreographed and the battle scenes are mostly good if not great.

I’ve watched this show from the beginning, and had eagerly anticipated each of the last three seasons in particular as the show really hit its stride. Alexander Dreymon’s portrayal of Uhtred evolved from that of an arrogant, if skilled, young warrior into a admirable, honorable, and relentless lord who manages to fight both for what is right and for what he is owed.

The rest of the cast is stellar to the point that you might as well read through the cast list on IMDB, because I don’t think there is a poor actor in the entire series. This is the type of show where I recognized basically none of the actors when I first saw them, and now I can only think many of them will go on to do incredible things in television and film.

Alright, that’s enough reflecting. The main element of this show I wanted to call out is the storytelling.

Beware spoilers for season 5, including the season and series finale.

The Last Kingdom’s Epic Storytelling

The main arc of the story centers on Uhtred in his quest to reclaim his ancestral seat as the lord of Bebbanburg. Throughout the first four seasons of the show, Uhtred is desperate to retake his homeland, but is always called by duty, by oath, by extortion, or by his heart to fight different battles. These are so often at the behest of King Alfred of Wessex that by season four, it is almost laughable, except the relationship between Alfred and Uhtred has grown into the dearest of friendships, and you can’t really blame Uhtred for being loyal to one of his biggest patrons.

Season 5 presents a key opportunity for Uhtred to attack Bebbanburg – held by his estranged cousin – at the head of the armies of Wessex and Mercia, now joined under King Edward (Alfred’s son and Uhtred’s liege lord).

In the season and series finale, Uhtred fights to take Bebbanburg, Edward’s armies are nearly thrown over a cliff into the sea, and the enemy they fight tries to burn Bebbanburg to the ground.

This is the moment that any long-time watcher of this show has been waiting for, and recognizes what the show is doing. They literally and figuratively bring Uhtred to his knees, so close to achieving his lifelong destiny, within the walls of his home, and it burns to ashes in front of him.

And then the show takes another predictable turn that is just perfect. They show a montage of previous scenes from the show, focusing on Uhtred’s friends, allies, family, all lost in the turmoil of the previous five seasons (and some 20 years) of Uhtred’s life.

Going into this episode, I was not aware that season five was to be the final chapter of this show. But this montage was so perfectly executed and attuned to the emotional weight of the moment that I immediately knew that this was the end of the series.

After the montage, the sky breaks open into rain, drowning out the flames that would engulf Uhtred’s home, and in a last desperate act, Uhtred and King Edward’s forces emerge victorious. Uhtred claims Bebbanburg and becomes Lord of Northumbria.

This moment would have been meaningless – or perhaps cheap – if the show had not had the patience to lead the viewer through five seasons of loss, failure, and shortcomings with Uhtred. Or if they had tried to drag the show out to extra seasons for no reason. They chose their moment to end the story, and they stuck the landing, something that more than a few shows in recent memory have failed to accomplish.

Finale Thoughts

I did not go into season 5 of this show expecting to write a review on it. I think I’ve only mentioned it in passing before on this site. That finale hit home to me, to the point that I’d like to rewatch the entire show at some point.

I’m also even more stoked to continue my read of the book series.

Please watch this show, if for nothing else, to give me someone to talk about it with!

Steve D