Back again for another monthly update. April has been a bit of a weird one where I spent about 2 and a half weeks housesitting and writing, so it was full of reading/watching/listening to new things to break up the intensity of the writing sessions. I’m back on the road now though, so it’ll be interesting to see how things change over the next month while I’m back in nomad-mode!
What I’m Reading
Much of this month has been about reviewing all my preparations for Mars One, and the clearest outcome has been that I need to temper much of my goal-setting with more self-reflection. It’s all well and good getting yourself fit and studying everything there is to study, but understanding my own motivations for applying and more generally understanding myself is the bigger focus right now.
Interestingly I was in a similar space in late 2015 when I was writing Cosmic Nomad and preparing for our original selection date of September 2016, so I’m reviewing a lot of the same material I was back then too!
The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman – This is a book I’ve read multiple times since I was introduced to it in my first year of university, have bought dozens of copies of for other people, and have had it on my “Mars One Preparation” Reading list for quite some time. I hadn’t made reading it a priority though, until a friend unexpectedly mentioned they were reading a “story about a jerk gymnast and an old ninja gas station man” a few weeks back, and I instantly realised they were reading it.
I won’t spoil it by discussing it, but it’s definitely worth trying to read. If you don’t feel compelled to keep reading after a few chapters then let it go – it’s probably not for you. For those that do get into it though, it can be a genuinely life-changing book, and one that you may find yourself re-reading every year or so like I do!
Zen Pencils & Zen Pencils Volume 2: Dream the Impossible Dream by Gavin Aung Than – I was first introduced to Zen Pencils back in 2014 when Gav did a comic based on Commander Chris Hadfield’s Reddit AMA and Commander Hadfield shared it through Twitter. I keep three of Gav’s comics framed on my wall: the Hadfield’s comic, as well as Gav’s versions of Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man In The Arena” speech and Neil Armstong’s “I felt very, very small” quote. I love he Gav’s comics, support him here on Patreon , and particularly treasured the two copies of his books I asked him sign when we met about a year ago.
Like The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, I’ve bought copies of Gav’s books for folks who I thought needed them most – notably two (now ex) girlfriends who probably weren’t ready for some of the wisdom in the books when I gave it to them, but hopefully they’ll revisit them in the future with a fresh perspective.
As part of my larger push to reduce my physical footprint those two signed copies were left with the ex who probably needed them most, and I’ve bought electronic versions of both of Gav’s books again so I can revisit their wisdom wherever I go!
What I’m watching
Housesitting is the perfect environment for me to get on with a heap of writing (as the sheer number of articles I’ve written this month will attest), however I really like to break the intensity up with things that make me laugh and potentially injects that same humour into my writing too
Archer (Season 5) & Bob’s Burgers (Season 6) – Last time I was housesitting and writing in late 2014 I maintained a fairly steady diet of Archer and Bob’s Burgers to break up writing sessions, and since I really haven’t watched either since it made sense to simply pick up from where I’d left off. While they’re both still very funny shows, I realised I’ve moved on considerably since then and they aren’t as laugh-out-loud for me as they used to be.
It was nice to have something entertaining to have on while cooking breakfast or to break up my writing, but by the end of both seasons there wasn’t any compulsion to push on to watch more. I’d still recommend them both because they’re certainly still funny, but by the end of the housesitting it felt like I was just watching them as a distraction rather than as a writing inspiration.
Rick and Morty Season 2 – After developing doubts from Archer & Bob’s Burgers, as well as introducing someone to Rick & Morty a few months back who thought it was stupid, I decided to go back and re-watch season 2 to see if my love for Rick and Morty was misplaced too…
Thankfully I had nothing to be concerned about, as every episode (except maybe the pilot) is an absolute masterpiece with all sorts of hidden gems to discover when they’re re-watched. While the approach is very different from The Way of The Peaceful Warrior, there are also clear parallels between it’s philosophy and Rick’s attitude towards the universe. Interestingly the folks who don’t appreciate The Way of the peaceful Warrior also usually write-off Rick & Morty as just another dumb cartoon series, and often don’t appreciate much of the wisdom shared by Zen Pencils either. All three require a bit of spiritual/philosophical heavy-lifting to truly appreciate, and one of my clearest realisations over the last 12 months has been that not everyone is ready or ever wants to have a book or cartoon series force them to confront deeper questions about philosophy.
I’ve owned Season 1 of Rick and Morty on Google Play for quite a while, but while Season 2 has been available on DVD/Blu-ray for more than a year it’s frustratingly not available on Google Play yet – throwing a spanner in my “no physical possessions” approach. Luckily you can watch different episodes periodically through the Adult Swim website!
Sausage Party – With the housesitting place to myself and a big TV screen with no TV antenna, a regular evening would be closing down all my writing for the day, cooking dinner and then connecting my laptop to the TV to watch a movie on Google Play while eating. While I watched a whole bundle of movies over the two and a half week, Sausage Party was easily the stand-out – enough so that I watched it again a few days later!
It is absolutely not for everyone, but if you like the sound of a Pixar-like adult film involving sentient supermarket goods telling a religious allegory then it is well worth seeing. It’s got plenty of sex and drug references, and a “food orgy” scene towards the end that will probably make you blush like I did, but it’s arguably one of the smartest and funniest films I’ve ever seen.
Rogue One – Seeing Rogue One in the cinemas was an incredible if slightly surreal experience – it was a midnight screening, hadn’t been able to nap during the day before hand and was shattered before it even started… but even though I was struggling to keep my eyes open towards the end I was still absolutely blown away by it… and snapped awake during the final scene involving Vader.
Going back to watch it again was interesting because I knew I’d had a great time watching it, but someone I used to be close to that worships Star Wars (and I’d also tried to introduce to Rick and Morty but failed) had ranted about how it was a pointless film based on a throw-away line in A New Hope and that no one in the film was relateable. So I went back and checked… and like Rick and Morty, was pleased to realise I loved it regardless of other’s bad-mouthing. It’s a shame that it went through all the re-writes and re-shooting that it did because there is and un-evenness to it, and the digital Peter Cushing was always going to be controvertial, however I loved it even more than I did the first time. Is it better than “The Force Awakens”? Who cares – they’re telling different parts of the Star Wars story, and Rogue One can easily stand on it’s own as a great film… something that can’t be said about the prequels.
The A-Team – I initially wrote this off as a cheap cash-in on a well-loved TV series… but after reading a few reviews that suggested otherwise I was really pleased to be wrong. Yes, it’s utterly ridiculous – so was the original TV series. It’s also hysterically funny, and is definitely something I’d put on again at a movie night or even just on a Friday night after a particularly big week when I just want to laugh without turning my brain off completely.
Hacksaw Ridge – I really had to talk myself into watching this, and while I’m glad I did I’ll also never watch it again. It starts with 10 minutes of unmitigated violence equivalent to the opening of Saving Private Ryan but instead of Normandy it’s set during the horrors of Okinwana, jumps back in time for 10 minutes of two kids being raised in an environment of alcoholism and domestic abuse, 30 minutes of Full Metal Jacket-style bootcamp emotional and physical abuse, and then the remaining 90 minutes of the film returns to Okinawa for the most gut-wrenching depiction of war I’ve ever sat through.
My Mum (who didn’t see it) I later argued over whether you need to see that level of violence – she doesn’t think it’s necessary to be so violent, while I strongly believe anyone who ever thinks military force is needed should have to see a tiny fraction of what they’re really arguing for. Everyone of one the 75 men Desmond Doss carried off Hacksaw Ridge had people who cared about them… and there were people who cared about every single one of the 14,009 Allied soldiers killed, every single one of the 77,417 Japanese soldiers killed, and every single one of the 149,425 local Okinawans killed.
What I’m listening to
After revisiting quite a few old albums last month, I’ve made a solid attempt to explore new territory this month. Using recommendations from Spotify’s “Discover Weekly”, I’ve noted the stand-out songs and then dug up the albums they’re from to see if there’s more gold to be found
No Burden by Lucy Dacus – I’ve been listening to the single “I don’t wanna be funny anymore” for months, but it was only a few weeks ago that I looked up the album to listen to more of Lucy Dacus’s work. Turn out the entire album is really solid with a couple of stand-out tracks like “Strange Torpedo” and “Map On A Wall”, however it really needs to be listened to as a complete album as each of the tracks have plenty of depth while still blending really well together… enough so that this is one of the few albums with vocals that I can listen to while writing!
The Best Little Secrets Are Kept by Louis XIV – Like Lucy Dacus’s No Burden, I discovered this from a recommended track (“Finding Out True Love Is Blind”) and it also needs to be listened to as a mostly complete album (I skip the self-titled track at the start – it just doesn’t sit right with me). Unlike No Burden though, there’s no way I could write listening to it. It’s been a long time since a song made me blush, but it’s safe to say tracks like “Paper Doll” and “Pledge of Allegiance” are the musical equivalent of Sausage Party’s “food orgy” finale. Really great garage rock, but probably avoid playing it on a stereo around kids, your Mum, or anyone with a heart condition 😉
Good Morning, Magpie by Murder By Death – I’ve had “Lost River” by Murder By Death in a playlist of quieter songs for months, and I’ve tried listening to the album it’s on (Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon) several times but couldn’t get into the rest of it. I’ve delved through most of Murder By Death‘s other albums though, and Good Morning, Magpie felt like a winner right from the first notes. There’s something very distinctive about Adam Turla’s voice, and it feels like his songwriting is best married to his voice in this across all of their albums before and since.
So it’s obviously been a big month for absorbing books, TV, movies and music – interested to see what influences become obvious in my writing over the next few weeks!