This time in TPO: some thoughts about spending time with art during a strange era, a Netflix recommendation (and some gin), and a nerdy segue into a couple o’ pieces of software.
Here’s the problem: when you spend time with something, it becomes a part of you, whether you want it to or not. This, I think, is why we have such violent reactions to films or books we hate: it’s not just they offend our sensibilities of what art or life should be, but rather, they become like toxins, allergens, foreign bodies that must be immediately expelled by the immune system of the soul.
I have been thinking about this recently for two reasons: Aperiogon, a new novel by Colum McCann that I had to review, and the video game The Witcher 3.
Aperiogon is an odd duck. The novel is, as we say in the biz, a piece of historiographic metafiction — that is, an amalgam of real happenings and invention. It tells the the story of Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, a Palestinian and Israeli respectively who each lost a daughter to the seemingly unending conflict in that region. The novel is organized in an aphoristic style of (wait for it) 1001 parts.
There are a bunch of reasons to dislike the book: it’s precious at times, repeating certain cute phrases (“end the preoccupation”, “like the rim of a tightening lung”); then there is the mess of an Irish writer telling this specific story — albeit with the blessing and participation of the subjects.
But as I said: when you spend time with a thing, you soften, acclimatize to it. What feels offensive at the beginning can, like the quirks of family or a partner, begin to seem charming. And over time, I sort of slipped into the rhythm of the text, such that my affective response and my intellectual one weren’t quite the same. Do I think you should read it? I don’t know. But I’m glad that I did.
That effect of time upon us may be particularly acute in video games. Take The Witcher 3. By last count, I had spent over 80 hours playing the game (yikes). And if the stilted voice acting of the protagonist, the dumb misogyny, or the familiar tropes of fantasy put me off at first, the more time I spent with the game the more it felt like, say, a big red wine: opening up over time, revealing unexpected nuance, complexity.
This is especially true for large, open-world games like The Witcher (or Skyrim). Often, much more than, say, the mundanity of “slaying monsters,” it is instead the world itself that charms — yes, in the side characters, the surprising bits of depth in the writing, but to me, most notable is the game’s brilliant lighting. As you can see above, it produces incredible scenes at both dusk and dawn, and moving through the world often made me ache in much the same way real vistas might.
As the always-excellent Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic recently, the virus lockdown we’re living through has done something to time: somehow elongated and flattened it at once, the days taking on an aching sameness. But for all the ennui and anxiety, those acres of time also allow one to delve into things. And hey, if you’re one of those people fortunate enough to have some free time right now — that is, if you’re not suddenly homeschooling your kids or on endless Zoom calls — what better time to just sort of… give yourself over to something?
Netflix and Gin
- Man Like Mobeen, Season 3: Among my most enduring regrets in life is, having left England right at the end of the 80s, I missed out on the ensuing rise of the British Asian movement in the 90s. So I always have a soft spot for bits of British Asian culture — and Guz Khan’s sitcom Man Like Mobeen on Netflix is a great example. It depicts Khan’s Mobeen as an older brother in Birmingham looking after his sister in lieu of absent parents, and generally getting into trouble. It’s sharp, funny, and also features a solid cast that includes Tez Ilyas, an accomplished comic in his own right.
To pair: It’s always a mild annoyance when you discover something you like, but find it no longer available. Alas, that is the case with Beefeater’s 24 gin, which is discontinued here in Ontario. But, since it is still for sale elsewhere where I’m sure some of you may live: the astrigent backbone in this gin you get from the the added teas in it makes it absolutely ideal for a gin and soda. Really my fave gin I’ve tried in ages. Sniff.
TPO Recommends is an ongoing feature in which I recommend stuff that I think is…um, good!
This is super nerdy, but this time ‘round I just wanted to recommend the two tools I use to create this newsletter, because I think they’re great.
The first is Typora, a markdown editor I increasingly use to write everything. If you don’t know, markdown is a simple markup langauge that lets you write and do basic formatting with very little intrusion. Often, the benefit of markdown is simply that you can write without having to lift your fingers off the keys to do things like bold, bullets, quotes etc. But mostly I like Typora because it’s clean, has a bunch of themes and export options, and importantly for my purposes, cross platform on both Mac and Windows (I jump back and forth between my Mac laptop and Windows desktop almost daily). The only thing it’s missing is a mobile app, but it’s no big deal. Typora is free for now while it’s in beta but the maker of the app plans to eventually charge for it.
The second is iPic, which is one of those simple niche bits of software that make desktop operating systems remain so compelling for specific workflows. All iPic does is sit in your Mac Menu Bar: you drag an image to it to upload it, and iPic then produces a markdown link. That’s it! Super specific, and great.