Tag Archives: 2017

My Year in Review: 2017

I’m not sure what I expected from 2017, except more of the same. The same half-hearted attempts at being productive; moments of inspiration that disappeared as quickly as they came- little flashes in the great gray amorphous cloud of boredom and lethargy. The same desperate attempts to recapture isolated instances of joy, which similarly flashed briefly out of a default state of depression. I was in the mindset that nothing would ever change, for better or for worse. That I was being railroaded from one year to the next, that life existed only for me to watch- and not to create. Every year I make a resolution, but there’s always an underlying belief that I don’t have the strength, knowledge, or willpower to follow through. Each year seemed like running the same race over and over again, that I was a greyhound bolting after a rabbit that I would never attain. I’d never read all the awesome novels of the world, I’d never finally finish writing my own, I’d never meet that perfect, “wife-material” lady (somewhere between Emilia Clarke and Hannah Witton), I’d never achieve a more balanced, contented mood.

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In fact, the year started on a rather uninspiring note. I went to a New Year’s party and whilst the party itself was fun, I got pretty drunk and whenever that happens my anxiety levels really spike. I tend to peak ahead of everyone else, before suffering some kind of anxiety attack that snowballs into the morning and the rest of the week. I don’t get hangovers or anything like that, but I have a tendency whenever I drink a lot to get depressed and strangely paranoid. For the first two months of the year I didn’t do anything at all- I couldn’t sleep, I was tired all the time, and I hardly moved. But beginning with March, things seemed to get better, and the year presented me with a few surprises and a decent number of highlights to look back upon. So here’s my Year in Review for 2017:

 

  • I finally got around to passing my driving test after stopping and starting my lessons over a two and a half year period. It was a huge relief because I was close to the point where it had been two years since I passed my theory test, and if I were to fail my road test on my fourth attempt back in February, then I would have had to retake the theory exam, and I can’t think of anything more disheartening than sitting through that piece of shit again. I may have given up on the whole idea of driving altogether and waited instead for those fancy self-driving hovercrafts to take the market by storm.
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  • I had the honor of serving as the wedding photographer for my best friend Elizabeth as she married her soul mate in Witney, UK. It was an awesome experience, not just shooting the wedding, but being included in such an intimate way in the craziest week ever as my American family completely overwhelmed this quaint English village in the countryside.
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  • I got my first pair of glasses this year, after noticing that I couldn’t make out the score when watching Chelsea games or the subtitles when watching Downfall. It was really sudden how my long-distance eyesight deteriorated.
  • I started this very website, and so far it’s grown to be longer than The Hobbit. I’m real happy with myself for writing something over 100,000 words and not getting bored of it. The response from my friends and subscribers has been so encouraging, and it’s moments of kindness like those that have been the best part of the blogging experience.
  • As the year started to improve with Elizabeth’s wedding, I noticed that I was on something of a happy-streak. For once my mood seemed solid, as though I could rely on myself to be happy on a day-to-day basis. It was the first time I could actually remember feeling happy in a permanent sense. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I genuinely had never felt that sense of being happy for no reason. My mind was clear. I told Aaron and said “Maybe I don’t need the pills anymore.”
    He replied, “Don’t you think it might be that the pills are working?”
    Aaron was right. I had started out on Prozac in November 2015, before switching to Citalopram in the New Year, and doubling the dosage a few months later. It’s the kind of drug that takes an affect after a long period of use, and 2016 saw little progress except for making me ravenously hungry. So I decided to stay on the pills after my doctor told me there were no drawbacks to doing so, and that it was entirely about how comfortable I was with them in my life. 2017 has been an amazing year for my mental health; I feel happier, more productive, and I have completely stopped dwelling on mistakes, failures and depressing memories. For once I’m looking forward and I actually want myself to succeed.
  • Following up on that point, this year has seen me approach food in an entirely different way. Not just my attitude toward eating, but the very mechanics of doing so. I can now drink without looking down (something I figured was due to my fear of barfing). I don’t spend forever chewing, I eat quicker, and I eat more. Two years ago I weighed 139lbs (9.9 stone) and now I’m about 190lbs (13.5 stone). At the rate I’m going I’m gonna turn into Jabba the Hutt if I don’t swap the cheesecakes for some kale. As soon as I walked through the door to the doctor’s office this year, my doctor exclaimed “Woah, you look different!”
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  • I spent the summer in Texas with my best friends Aaron and Anne-Marie. It was my fifth period of living in the USA and the fourth summer in a row of living with the two lovebirds. It was the only summer in which I was able achieve a near-perfect balance between productivity and fun, between personal growth and social success. Highlights of my stay include tagging along to Aaron and Ann-Marie’s engagement photos, making an ass-ton of food for the NBA Draft, having the best July 4th yet poolside at a swanky apartment complex, gaining experience of sales and solar energy, making pumpkin bars with Anne-Marie, playing with our border collie Adelaide, and going to the beach on Galveston Island.
  • I started drinking coffee this year and now I don’t know how I ever managed without it. My whole schedule is built on caffeine.
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  • I have worked two jobs. Before the summer I worked as a cleaner at a bar in Nailsea. It was a pretty awful job cleaning up puke and sprayed fecal matter, but I’ll definitely carry that experience with me for life. After the summer I started working in the kitchen of a Middle-Earth-style tavern, also in Nailsea. So far I have quite enjoyed it. It’s frenetic and intense, but it’s an interesting environment. Shout out to my friend Daniel for getting me the job and going out of his way on my behalf.
  • Lastly, I have finally committed to writing an extended piece of fiction, instead of the poems and short stories I have been working on since graduation. At the moment I’m writing a novel and it’s going quite well. It’s already the longest thing I’ve written in over a decade, since that 250-page novel I wrote when I was 14 about wizards fighting sentient robots.

Thank you so much for reading and supporting my blog! It means the world to me. Let me know in the comments if you have any targets for 2018 and what you’ve learned from the year just passed.

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My Top 10 Movies of 2017!

Today I’m continuing my series of festive blog posts to close out 2017 with a definitive power ranking of the best movies I have seen this year. A couple of these films technically first came out in 2016, but did so right at the end of the year and were still in theaters in 2017, so I’m allowed to include them under the Federal Statute of It’s-My-Blog-And-I-Can-Do-What-I-Want. So grab yourself a mince pie, a tall glass of milk and enjoy!

 


#10 Logan

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I only discovered X-Men in the last two years or so, but I tend to latch onto things quickly. I was looking forward to a super-hero movie that was based around harrowing character development and horrific, nauseatingly-realistic gore. Logan didn’t disappoint, but at the same time I wasn’t quite as engaged as I thought I’d be. However for superb acting, cinematography, and writing it deserves its place on this list. Put simply, it’s just extremely well-made.

 


#9 Hidden Figures

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This might be my feel-good movie of the year. It might not have the indie tones and raw artistry of Logan, but it just about edges it in my rankings because I found it to be more engaging. It’s a heartwarming, intelligent story that fills in the blanks of our history. If you enjoy 20th century historical dramas- this is for you!

 


#8 1922

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Netflix have been balling recently, producing a slew of dark, close-ended drama series and nuanced arthouse features. I watched 1922 a few weeks ago on the basis that Stephen King is a genius, whose works have been so well translated to the big screen in such classics as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. I loved the minimalist, claustrophobic setting and the dark narrative, and the motif of the rats was both chilling and masterful.

 


#7 War for the Planet of the Apes

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I love this franchise because it proves that not all summer blockbusters are devoid of self-awareness. It has the budget and look of a Hollywood action flick, but to be honest this movie has an emotional depth and complexity far beyond something you would expect about a movie based on talking apes whacking humans over the head with two-by-fours. It’s a depiction of a post-apocalypse that feels fresh and interesting, and Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of the deranged, Kurtz-esque isolated military leader was perhaps my favorite performance of the year!

 


#6 Fences

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This was the only movie I watched on my 10-hour flight from London to Houston in May of this year. I love the stage, and this is a mesmerizing adaptation of the great August Wilson’s drama of the same name. Denzel is unforgettable as the jealous patriarch Troy Maxson, and his performance alone makes this the most intense movie I have seen all year.

 


#5 Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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Before this year I had never seen a Pirates of the Carribean movie, but a bunch my bestie’s fellow therapists asked us if we wanted to go see it with them, so I watched the very first one the night before. Missing the next three installments didn’t ruin my enjoyment of Dead Men Tell No Tales however, and I had no idea just how much I needed a swashbuckling pirate adventure in my life. This movie was a barrel of laughs and just pure, summertime entertainment.

 


#4 Spider-Man: Homecoming

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When I saw that there was a new Spider-Man film coming out, I asked if the world really needed one. It was War for the Planet of the Apes that I was begging my roommates to take me to. However I ended up enjoying the new Spider-Man more than I ever thought possible, and it’s easily my favorite summer flick. The fact that the main villain was the evil mastermind behind the stealing of the McDonald’s brand from its namesake made it all the more sinister (and hilarious).

 


#3 Manchester by the Sea

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The top three on this list are all masterpieces that are all worthy of a Best Picture Oscar trophy in my opinion, and- for what it’s worth- the TumbleweedWrites Film of the Year Award. This character-driven drama was the first feature I saw in the movie theater this year, and it got 2017 off to a fantastic start. I loved every aspect of it, and it kept me engaged from beginning to end. Out of all the movies on this list, it’s probably the most “quintessentially Michael”. I love stories about family, personal tragedy, and working class neighborhoods. This movie didn’t so much tug at my heartstrings as it did bloodily rip them out.

 


#2 Mudbound

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When I said that Netflix was straight saucin’ this year, I wasn’t kidding. Mudbound is the latest entry on this list- I watched it this afternoon in fact. It’s a powerful, exceptionally well-written drama set in the Mississippi Delta. It follows two families, one black and one white, and follows their struggles before, during, and after World War 2. It’s a poignant, heart-wrenching depiction of race relations, poverty, and PTSD. Oh, and any fans of Breaking Bad– get ready to hate Jonathan Banks’ character a lot.

 


#1 Blade Runner 2049

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While it’s true that any of my top 3 are TumbleweedWrites Film of the Year Award caliber movies, there was really only going to be one winner. Choosing Blade Runner 2049 was easy because it displayed such excellence in almost every category measuring the quality of a movie might have. It is probably the most visually-stunning film I have ever seen, and every minute of this 3-hour epic was one of intense enjoyment on my part. It was so good that it didn’t even feel like a long film at all. The performances of Gosling and Hoeks in particular were stellar, the sound effects, musical score and clever use of colors so perfectly captured the essence of a Philip K. Dick post-apocalypse, and the inclusion of the Elvis Presley hologram was the cherry on top of the birthday cake as I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my birth watching this masterpiece.

One Hundred

I was thinking of doing something special for this post, and I’ve decided that the best way to celebrate TumbleweedWrites’ 100th word-baby is to go all Meta on you. Today we are doing a blog post about the blog itself, and I think it’s a great chance for me to speak more directly to you, the readers! This website is still in its infancy and its identity is very much incomplete. So for my 100th post I thought it might be good to share with you my reflections on the blog so far, and the direction it will take in the future.

 

  1. The first and most important order of business is to say THANK YOU. TumbleweedWrites never would have reached 100 posts if it weren’t for all of the readers who take the time out of their busy lives to read its content. It’s honestly the most humbling thing to see someone give their time to read the sentences I write; the idea that someone out there has considered or thought about my ideas and my expressions. So thank you so much to all of my subscribers, and to those who visit my website regularly.
  2. I also want to give special thanks to a few individuals whose support not only made TumbleweedWrites possible, but made a significant difference to my writing. You are the people that actively shaped this website. I am committed to personal privacy, so I’ll just vaguely describe you: thanks to my goofy brother for all your battle strategy, to my dear MMA-loving friend from Congesbury for your continued faith and kindness, and to my current co-worker for the most humbling, confidence-boosting message I have ever received. And of course I would like to give extra thanks to my American roommates, who not only supported the blog in its early days, but created the conditions for its very existence by nurturing me to full mental health during a particularly destructive period of depression.
  3. How did TumbleweedWrites begin? Well I’ve always wanted to do a blog, but until 2017 I wasn’t in the right mental state to make it work. This blog actually has its roots in Instagram. I got my first smart phone in October 2016 and a few months later I started Instagramming all the books I was reading. It was a way to hold myself accountable, and by Instagramming these books I was able to escape my massive reading slump and start reading much more effectively. I started to realize, however, that my captions on the Instagram posts were becoming literal essays, so I decided I might as well create a blog for my books.
  4. What do I want TumbleweedWrites to be? It started as a book blog, but once that got up and running I decided to take the plunge and start blogging about travel, video games and my life. That’s when the blog became less of a tool to motivate me to read and more of an online journal aimed at connecting with others. I’ll blog about anything that interests me, anything I think is worth writing about, but I will always keep a core of book, travel, personal, and writing-related posts!
  5. How do I feel about the journey so far? So far I’m happy with TumbleweedWrites. Some posts are better than others. There are a few posts that I’m really proud of; that I felt went particularly well. My favorite posts are Grandma Jane’s Pumpkin Bars40 Notes From Crete and Making Friends in the USA Part 1. These are the kind of pieces I look back on when the going gets tough, and the ones I try to emulate in my writing.
  6. What’s next for TumbleweedWrites? As 2017 draws to a close I have a few special blog posts planned, full of festivity and reflecting on 2017 as a whole. And I also have a surprise in store for Spring 2018, but you’ll have to wait to find out!
  7. How can I help TumbleweedWrites? If you enjoy my writing and want to see more of it, then you can help by Liking or Sharing my posts, or Subscribing to TumbleweedWrites. If you really really want to help, then please consider disabling Adblock for this site and giving my Ads a cheeky click!

The Top 5 New Shows You Need To Watch!

2017 has been a great year for both new and returning TV shows. I don’t see the value in writing a post about how Stranger Things continues to be good- if you haven’t figured that one out yet then I can’t help ya. Instead I want to highlight five new TV shows that you need to check out to fill in that giant Game of Thrones-shaped hole in your lives.

 

#5 The Sinner

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Premise: A normal, suburban mom kills a stranger for no apparent reason while at the beach with her family. The event shocks the small, Upstate New York town and a local detective becomes obsessed with the case. It’s not so much a Whodunnit as it is a Why’dYaDoIt– and it’s absolutely addictive.

Biggest Strength: Jessica Biel is mesmerizing as troubled lead Cora Tannetti. It’s a super-challenging role because the character of Cora is so nuanced. Her journey is like no other character on TV and the combination of Biel’s intense, raw performance and the dark scriptwriting serve as the foundation for what makes this show so unique and so engrossing.

Where To Watch It: Netflix.

Trivia: This close-ended series is an adaptation of German novelist Petra Hammesfahr’s 1999 book of the same name. Apparently, in addition to moving the setting from Germany to Upstate New York, the show also toned down on the darkness of the source material- which naturally makes me curious to see just how disturbing and messed-up the novel is!

 

#4 The Vietnam War

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Premise: The best documentary-maker in the business brings us the most comprehensive and complete overview of the controversial and endlessly fascinating story of the USA’s involvement in Vietnam.

Biggest Strength: Ken Burns. The sympathetic and intellectually-curious style of the auteur that brought us The American Civil War (my favorite documentary of all time) makes this 17-hour series as engaging as any thriller or fictional drama out there. We hear directly from veterans from all sides of the conflict, all of whom provide such articulate and introspective insights into a bloody saga that changed so many lives from so many facets of society. Check any assumptions about documentaries you have at the door, because you will find this as engaging and addictive as anything else out there.

Where To Watch It: PBS.

Trivia: The 1035-minute documentary features interviews with 79 witnesses from the American military, the Viet Cong and the ARVN. Burns deliberately avoided interviewing “experts” and controversial, big-name figures such as Henry Kissinger, John McCain and Jane Fonda, preferring the perspective that best gave an impression of what things were like on the ground.

 

#3 Godless

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Premise: An outlaw on the run from his former gang finds his fate entwined with that of a mining town populated almost exclusively by women.

Biggest Strength: For me, what makes this close-ended drama stand out is the way in which it plays with the established tropes of a conventional Western. Women- too often relegated to the sidelines of what has been a historically macho genre- are at the forefront, but what really makes this show special is that it’s able to both subvert convention while retaining all of the essential elements of what makes the Wild West so intriguing. It’s a show that somehow feels both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The story and its characters are excellent and it’s a show that will keep you thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Where To Watch It: Netflix.

Trivia: The horse that Jeff Daniels rides is the same one that Jeff Bridges rode in the 2010 film True Grit.

 

#2 The Deuce

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Premise: A sprawling, multi-faceted story of interweaving narratives that explores the rise of the porn industry in 1970s in Times Square, New York.

Biggest Strength: I would argue that the biggest strength of this gritty drama is the writing. It’s created by David Simon, so if you are familiar with The Wire, it’s a lot like that. It’s a show that really illustrates the excellence of HBO, with a slow-burning narrative that manages to touch on every aspect of the time period in such a vivid and authentic way. It’s not fast-paced and it’s not a thriller- and yet it is still so damn engaging. The characters are sympathetic figures with many voices, and we see the world of Times Square through the eyes of hookers, Mafiosi, single mothers, college students, gamblers, pimps, bartenders, drug addicts, porn directors and cops alike.

Where To Watch It: HBO.

Trivia: The series is inspired by stories told to the creators from a man who served as a mob front for the Mafia at various bars and massage parlors in the 1970s.

 

#1 Mindhunter

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Premise: Two FBI agents in the 1970s- a young hotshot and grizzled cynic- team up to conduct a range of interviews with serial killers to learn how they think.

Biggest Strength: What makes this show earn the top spot on my list is how masterfully it presents the conflict of its central character- Holden Ford. His need to get inside the head of these deranged killers (all of them portrayals of real serial killers by the way) becomes an all-consuming obsession that threatens to completely destabilize his life. The idea of “thinking like a serial killer” for academic purposes sounds simple enough, but at what point does Holden stay inside their head for so long that he loses himself on the way?

Where To Watch It: Netflix.

Trivia: The series is based on a book of the same name, which is co-authored by former FBI agent John Douglas, who pioneered the concept of psychological profiling and who is the basis for the character of Holden Ford.

Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Frozen Wilds DLC Is Beautiful

Horizon: Zero Dawn is my game of the year. There’s no other game of 2017 I’ve enjoyed anywhere near as much. I got it on March 1st and within a week I had the platinum trophy. It’s not a perfect game- and there are flaws to be found such as the lack of interesting side-quests and the somewhat empty feeling to its gorgeous cities. It falls short of the standard of The Witcher 3, but comparing any game to such a complete masterpiece feels a little unfair. Horizon: Zero Dawn stands as the best title I’ve played this year because of its excellent storytelling, voice acting and world building. Guerrilla Games’ vision of a post-apocalyptic Earth is resoundingly imaginative and the spectacular artistic design is realized with slick, cutting-edge graphics. And that’s where we reach the subject of today’s post. I recently played through the Frozen Wilds DLC and like the game proper it’s beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I had to keep pausing the game during missions to indulge the Photo Mode. It’s quite fun actually. My idea for today’s post is not so much to review the game as to celebrate it. It’s my favorite game of the year, and I figured what better way to salute it than to share with you all a gallery of my favorite screenshots? All of these are taken by yours truly. Want a review of Frozen Wilds? Well here it is: if you liked HZD, this is basically just more of it.

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My trusty synthetic ram Hemingway, before he got his horns blown off by a rampaging Fire Bellowback (see below).

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I found that the DLC definitely ramped-up the challenge. One of my favorite aspects of the base game was the unique tactics required for each encounter. New enemies such as Scorchers and Frostclaws will throw you around like a rag doll.

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The game is set in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, north of where the base game takes place (Colorado & Utah). And I’m pretty sure what you see below is Devil’s Tower.

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This is an example of DLC done right. It’s reasonably priced and worth every penny. No Season Pass horseshit. Guerrilla Games took their time and crafted something designed wholly for the fans to enjoy.

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In preparation for this post I headed to Yellowstone’s famous geysers to take some photos only to get distracted and start harassing a peaceful herd of Tramplers…

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Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments what games you had the most fun with this year!