Nonfiction

The Great Tragedy

Soldats Inconnus. | Promotional image courtesy of Ubisoft.

Life’s been a roller coaster, first off.

Like a lot of my friends, coworkers, and relations, I am – well, it’d be an understatement to say “disappointed with” but melodramatic to say “horrified by” our latest presidential election here in the U.S.A. Yet, on that very same night I became official with the most wonderful girlfriend I’ve ever been with.

My job, here in state government in Illinois, is a daily horror show of political gridlock. Yet, I am more comfortable, more confident, and more easygoing in my job and with my personal finances than I have ever been in a decade of living independently.

Incidentally, I’m also getting published more frequently in Paste Magazine, which has been gracious enough to let me write about movies for the past year, including a major trip to Colombia to talk about the nation’s beleaguered image and, just recently, another about the absurd output (and absurdly low quality) of Steven Seagal’s latter-day… art.

Point is, I’m stressed, jubilant, and/or wistful on a daily basis now. And I find that my time is a bit more divided in ways that are equal parts ponderous and joyous. It’s serendipitous that as I try to get a foot into the door with my own game design, I played Valiant Hearts: The Great War.

I lost it, folks. I haven’t cried at anything – film, play, book, or game – in close to ten years. I shed a few manly tears for this one. It is a celebration of fellowship and devotion in the midst of great chaos. War, the game is saying, is callous and absurd. It treats individual life as disposable. The rest of us would just prefer to live without it, but it comes for us and try as we might, we can’t escape.

I have also been playing Darkest Dungeon, whose similarities basically begin and end at the cartoon styling of the characters and the fact that death is so pervasive and inescapable in it that it becomes almost a dark joke. Valiant Hearts and Darkest Dungeon both know how nutty are their central premises. Valiant Hearts’ premise just so happens to also have actually happened.

I hope to write a bit more about my game design ambitions. I’ve made some programming headway and done some illuminating research on the time period I hope to portray. In the meantime, I’ll leave it to the professionals at Extra Credits to talk a bit about why I found Valiant Hearts so bittersweet.

Apparently people like reading about Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers, pinball machine illustration by Morgan Weistling, 1997 | by Tom Simpson. Labeled for noncommercial reuse by Google Image Search.


20 Years Ago, Starship Troopers Showed Us What Happens When Fascism Wins
Paste Magazine – March 2, 2017
Article link | http://bit.ly/2mO4Wsw

This little fellow tore up Reddit the other day. According to Paste’s site traffic, it got something like 232K unique views. So, good for me, I guess. It might actually be the most widely-read piece of writing I’ve ever written, ever. I doubt I ever got that many views writing for the Herald & Review of Decatur, Illinois (2010 census population: 76,000). I’ve certainly had way more fun writing other pieces – this one was a rougher go of it, mostly because I wanted to keep things focused on the film adaptation and not wander into the weeds on the book.

I’m careful not to shove in too much apocrypha when I write these articles for Paste, and my editors have been really gracious about letting me write in a way that might seem a little quotidian or overly academic when I dive into some of this stuff. I do it, though, because standards at a lot of entertainment websites are just Not Very Stringent, and you can make a lot of ridiculous-ass claims without backing anything up. Approaching this one, though, was almost too easy: It seems like every damn reviewer has circled back at some point and put on a whole big production about how this silly movie was swinging for the satirical fences and just didn’t quite get a hit.

I mean, look at what the A.V. Club wrote like, years ago now. Check out Rotten Tomatoes, where you can see that its score is buoyed, as I mention in this article, by reviews from the middle of the last decade. I felt a sort of intimidation at knowing I was tackling pretty well-trod territory already, and I had to resist just linking to about half a dozen other (let’s face it, better) articles.

And also, god fuck it, I just don’t want to write about the current political climate at all. I know it’s whining, but I spent a good half a decade writing about what I now regard to be a pretty much inexorable decline in society. It is exhausting to have to drag all of that into my fun writing, but what other choice did I have? How can you watch this movie these days and not marvel at how creepily plausible it is?

Published: 2,000 years of this Sicilian thing

The Godfather. Labeled for reuse on Google Image Search.

2,000 Years Of This Sicilian Thing: Watching The Godfather Epic
Paste Magazine – 7 Feb. 2016
Article link | http://bit.ly/1QQGtKl

I’ve been terrible about updating stuff here, but it’s been a couple months since I got published again. I’ll link more soon.

Who doesn’t love The Godfather? The 424-minute (!) edit of it did nothing to diminish my admiration for this gorgeously-shot, deep meditation on family and immigration and totally killing the shit out of people who disagree with you or even just look at you the wrong way one time. It was a grueling affair finishing it in one sitting, of course, but now it’s behind me and I have this awesome article as a souvenir.

Published: “In The Shadow of Narcos”

Fiesta en la Comuna

A festival of colors and culture in Medellín, Colombia’s Comuna 13. | Kenneth Lowe, Oct. 2015


In The Shadow of Narcos
Paste Magazine – 18 Dec. 2015
Article link | http://bit.ly/1S8L4fF

I’m particularly proud to unveil my latest byline, which I proudly share with my friend Alvaro Márquez Arango of BlacSuan fame. This was a long and a hard one, but we made it to the end, got what we needed, and told our story.

Colombia is a beautiful country coping with a lot of anger and sadness, but the new generation is ready to lay that aside and embrace a peaceful future. I hope to be back there soon to write more about the next page of in the story of its history.

Ken Plays Outlaws, Part Two

I’m still yakking about Outlaws, which still stands the test of time as #2 in the Top Two Western Video Games That Have Ever Been Made. Seriously, game industry, I’m pretty sure people would buy more of these. This video does a quick tour of Levels 1 and 2 and sums up Level 3 with the words “Ah, fuck, a train level.”

Up and down

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

It has been a trying past couple of weeks. I plan to write a bit more about it very soon, but my grandmother passed away last week. It set me on a long period of rushing back and forth, which was compounded by the wedding I then had to go to the day after her funeral and a looming medical procedure. Through it all, writing has fallen to the wayside, but I’m hoping to find the endurance to get back into it this weekend. More updates to come.

On finding the objectivity in subjectivity

I began my personal essays because, as I’ve said, I worried a little bit about actually being able to remember some of the insane shit that has befallen me over the past year or two. What ended up happening as I did so, though, was that I needed to draw in more of the crap that’s happened to me before, and that’s where we get to the true difficulty of any autobiographer: Where do you start this whole thing?

Today I had a friend over who had a look at one of my essays about leaving the newspaper business. It’s something I had written while lounging about in Colombia before the bitterness had worn off. In the superb All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, the narrator describes “The Big Sleep,” some lethargy that came over him when he left the newspaper business. I was still deep into that very phenomenon when I wrote it. Of course, after my friend had a look at it, it was clear that it needed a lot of work.

A long to-do list. | Patrick Andrews

A long to-do list. | Patrick Andrews


The other essay I’ve been tackling – and probably the one into which I’ve put the most work – is one on bullfights, though it is really about Colombia. Similarly, I wrote the earliest draft of that in the grip of emotion. I pounded it out almost obsessively. I was a guest in the apartment of my gay Colombian uncle Pacho plus my father and his husband at the time, and I worked so singlemindedly on it over the course of about a week that they remarked upon it.

And, like this essay about leaving the noble profession of journalism, I found that while that first head of steam got the general idea out, hunkering down and really editing, organizing, and elaborating on that original draft is how you actually make the god damn thing readable.

My eventual plan is to see if I can get a book of essays published, and I may even do it as a self-published work. As I figure out just where the hell this will all begin and end, it’s useful to remember that even inherently subjective stuff like personal essays have a craft to them.

Personal essay (and personal plumbing issue)

Well…

Bathroom

Funny how a caved in bathroom ceiling will make a man think about his current situation.

So inspired, I dedicated part of the afternoon and this evening, after my landlord came to begin remedying the problem, to continuing a personal essay on the whole phenomenon. Normally, I don’t at all believe in journaling or writing personal essays, because my life is boring, but life has changed for me so much in such a relatively short time that I’m afraid if I don’t start cataloging some of it, I myself may not remember.

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