Sunday, March 27, 2016

Archival activity II

Since I last updated my personal website (craigcliff.com) in May 2013, not a lot has changed in terms of my writing career. No new books have been published (funny that, since I've completed none in that time). Only two short stories have been published, and two translations (a Spanish version of 'Copies' and a Romanian version of my novel) which, in truth, represents not effort on my part (at least not in the last three years). I went to Iowa for a writer's residency and didn't write enough. I quit writing my Dom Post column and wrote an essay about how blah I felt about four years of output. I read a lot about watching video games and wrote an essay about it.

And that's it.

(I think. I haven't been a fastidious blogger over this period either, so my records are sketchy.)

But my online bio and bonus blather is more out of date than all that. I got promoted twice at work (and turned down a third promotion). I co-created another human being. That first human being that was but a pooping, suckling lump in May 2013 is now a singing, twirling Frozen reenactment. I sold a house and bought a new one. I am so fucking middle class it hurts.

(Or maybe I'm just really committed to researching the bourgeoisie?? Seed of doubt: planted.)

Ahem.

Like I did last time, I'm posting the old version of the Q&A section here (well, after the jump) because I am bad at filing things / have trouble knowing what to be embarrassed about / get public and private mixed up.

You can read the new version (small tweaks for now; some bigger changes will appear if I can think of bigger questions) on my website.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best albums of 2015


This year I’ve got a clear top eight and at least another ten that make up a second tier of honourable mentions.

Both tiers are stacked with female-fronted bands or singer-songwriters. And while the #1 spot was claimed by a dude’s one-time bedroom project, 2015 deserves to be remembered as a year the ladies killed it. Frances Quinlan’s Hop Along produced the year’s best rawk album. Alicia Bognanno’s Bully revived grunge as a viable aesthetic. And Courtney Barnett... Hold on, I'm getting ahead of myself. 


#8 Father John Misty – I love you, Honeybear


Josh Tillman’s Father John Misty persona is the male version of Lana Del Rey. FJM is even more overt about the facade (there’s even a song called ‘The night Josh Tillman came to our apt.’), but through this mask he’s unlocked something his eponymous work lacked. Just like Lana Del Rey, the crooning can get a bit much, though he hasn’t overdosed yet (in contract, I couldn’t make it though LDR’s 2015 album Honeymoon; while I’d rated Ultraviolence as one of my favourites last year).

I love you, honeybear has enough up-tempo numbers, like ‘Ideal Husband’, to keep things varied — and funnily enough it’s these faster tracks that let Tillman growl and prowl the stage like FJM does best. May his path continue to diverge from his Lana, I say!


#7 Will Butler – Policy


When I’m not listening to it, I begin to suspect this is just a minor album by the third most talented member of Arcade Fire, and that I’m only fond of it because of its title (for most of my working life I’ve had the word “policy” in my job title).

But then I listen to it again (I always seem to find my wake back to it) and ‘Take My Side’ starts up, dirty and jangly, a brisk Dylan-with-a-briefcase ditty, and I couldn’t give a toss where this album fits in any other list or hagiodiscography. I love it. It should be higher! (I'm listening to it now.)

#6 Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit


I saw CB and her band at Bodega in November and it was a good gig. The best of the year to that point (a title she’d hold for about three weeks). Best of all it opened up new dimensions on her album, which had been feted since before it even dropped and I’d listened to four or five times.

Till the live show, it felt like the words overshadowed the music (and, deep down, I suspected the buzz was more to do with the paucity of straight-shooting, story-telling, guitar-driven songwriters than the fact Ms Barnett was fit to stand alongside Lou Reed or Warren Zevon...) but in concert she was more like this generation’s Jack White – a guitarist-cum-historian. While White (who, it’s easy to forget, was once tolerable) called back to Led Zep, Barnett is more interested in aping Nirvana and Mudhoney. She played at ear-bleed volume, with songs drawn-out with solos and feedback. It was terribly enjoyable.

And it’s there on the album, too, if you know what to listen for.

#5 Bully – Feels like


Bully’s songs aren’t as articulate as Courtney Barnett’s. The opener, ‘I remember’, begins, “I remember / I remember my bad habits /  I remember getting too fucked up / I remember throwing up in your car.” It’s over in 1:47, and is pure 90’s grunge (even if it inverts the classic soft-loud-soft progression).

In many ways, Feels Like, sounds like a Hole record – somewhere between the too-raw to be pleasant Pretty on the inside and the too-smooth to be genuine Celebrity Skin (but rockier than Live Through This). So, pretty much as if Hole ever made an album you’d still care to hear today.

The standout tracks. still feels grungy, but also very 2015.  From my favourite, ‘Trying’:

Been praying for my period all week
And relief that I just can't see
I question everything
My focus, my figure, my sexuality

#4 Hop Along – Painted shut


‘The Knock’ is probably my favourite song of 2015. But I’ve learnt it’s not the best song for a party playlist, or a family barbeque. Quinlan’s voice is too abrasive, the pitch too unconventional, for casual listeners. This is angry-but-thoughtful music to be consumed with headphones.

So begins Painted Shut, and so it continues. Song after song of sonic-challenge. The lead guitarist who can’t help weaving notes in and out and around the groove. The over-reached “Juuuuuust” in ‘Waitress’; “People of the wooorrrlld” in ‘Happy to see me’.  But herein lies the charm. It’s the sort of album where, if you hear a track over the sound system at a cafe or a restaurant, you get this stupid grin, while those who can blank it out, and those who can’t furrow their brows.

#3 Torres – Sprinter


I first heard ‘Sprinter’, the song off the album of the same name, on a Spotify ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist. Actually, ‘Discover Weekly’ turned me onto Hop Along, Bully and artist #2 too, so that algorithm is doing something right. For some reason, though, I associate Torres with chance discovery more than the others. Perhaps because she was the first of this quartet? Perhaps, by spinning Sprinter so much in May and June, it skewed the algorithm in favour of these other female-fronted outfits?

MacKenzie Scott is 24, but sounds ageless. For her sophomore album, she’s surrounded herself with smart cookies and strong musicians, and gone for a gutsier sound, but it’s still very much a personal, confessional work.

Absorbing and addictive.

#2 Du Blonde – Welcome back to milk


Du Blonde is another Father John Misty / Lana Del Rey mask. After releasing her debut under her own name, Beth Jeans Houghton had a breakdown, scrapped an album and reinvented herself as a brasher, Stones-ier self and very nearly won 2015. She certainly won best refrain of the year with the chorus of ‘Young Entertainment’: “What is like, what is it like, what is it like to fuck your mistress with her hands tied?”

One of the album’s strengths is its cussing. Every swear is well deployed – it’s power doubled by the contrast to the nu-folk fantasy of Houghton’s first album. It does mean Welcome Back to Milk isn’t family friendly – but the album cover tells you that! – but, unlike Hop Along, this is music for company. From the chugging opener, ‘Black Flag’, to the more languorous but no-less muscular ‘Hunter’ and the full-on ballad ‘Four in the morning’, this is an album full of great songs, great contrasts, great bile and great bravado. Brave Beth!

#1 Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love


Some people find God. Ruban Neilson found Prince. For Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s third album, Neilson’s project actually approaches orchestral levels — one highlight of the live show is when his dad chips in with the brass instruments — without losing the lo-fi, glitchy feel of previous outings.

Lyrically, the album can be obtuse in its details, but is centred on a simple enough narrative (set running on ‘Multi-love’). It feels fresh and brave and unlikely.

The title track and ‘Can’t keep checking my phone’ are two of the best singles of the year, ‘The World is Crowded’ is probably the best slow-jam, and the whole thing is perfect plug and play music for a range of settings.

I saw UMO perform at Bodega in mid-December and it was easily the best concert I’ve been to since I was in the States in 2013. If there was any doubt about which album would top my list, those ninety minutes sealed the deal.

Honourable mentions

·         American Wrestlers – American Wrestlers
·         Speedy Ortiz – Foil deer
·         Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife
·         Tame Impala – Currents
·         Laura Marling – Short movie
·         Viet Cong - Viet Cong
·         Silicon – Personal computer
·         Waxahatchee – Ivy tripp
·         Holy Holy – When the storms would come
·         Art of Sleeping – Win your heart


And, for a more fulsome steer on what I was listening to in the second half of 2015 (when I disappeared from the face of the earth / this blog), here are links to my monthly playlists:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Comme ci comme ça: Updates

So we had a son in late April. We named him Caio -  a nod to those of his roots that are Italian (and a dozen other subsidiary factors that seem trivial when explained). Then we discovered some phones autocorrect this to "Ciao". Even when autocorrect doesn't intervene, some still misread it as "Ciao". Oh well.

We fuck them up, the mums and dads.
          We may not mean to, but we do.

*

So the essay I wrote after reading about e-sports and video game spectatorship (see my last post) that went up on the Horoeka site last week.

*

So I'm not sleeping much. When I'm able to get up at 5am, I'm doing work-work. As in "Craig Cliff, Senior Policy Manager, Education Infrastructure Service" work. Not "writing a short novel about a location scout in Italy retracing the life of St Joseph of Copertino" work. Yet.

*

So my story about a Kiwi at an ANZAC day barbeque in Perth, 'Recessional', was published in the Griffith REVIEW in April.

*

So I went to the inaugural conference for the Historical Novel Society of Australasia in Sydney in March. It was equal parts interesting (so many panels about hist-fic - couldn't help but read new ground) and excruciating (being the 'host writer' at a table for the conference dinner was not a good idea).

*

So I bought a little city (it was Galveston, Texas).

*

So I went to a conference in Canberra about designing school facilities in May. At a dinner at the National Arboretum I met a young architect called Caio.

*

So here's three playlists:

March 2015
April 2015
May 2015

*

So I saw Ned Kelly's death mask at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.



*

So my story 'Copies', written way back in the Summer of 2006/07, was translated into Spanish and published online in March ('Copias').

*

So these days I have a two and a half year old and a baby whose age is counted in weeks. My daughter's a sponge. The other day she saw leaves over the ground and said, 'It's a deciduous day, today.'


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Spectacles: A tourist in e-gaming



So I'm reading a lot about video games at the moment.


I read SUPER MARIO BROS. 2 by Jon Irwin, and learnt about speedruns (and lost hours watching people churn through old console games, exploiting every glitch and mastering every jump, on YouTube).


I read A MIND FOREVER VOYAGING: A HISTORY OF STORYTELLING IN VIDEO GAMES by Dylan Holmes and got all sentimental about Return to Monkey Island and Metal Gear Solid, then wham, suddenly I didn't know these games anymore, but it was still interesting. Most interesting (perhaps) were the experimental game designers, like Dan Pinchbeck's mod of a first-person shooter that removed all the shooting.


I read CLIPPING THROUGH: ONE MAD WEEK IN VIDEO GAMES by Leigh Alexander and again was most taken by the mention of Rachel Weil, founder of the Femicon Museum, who makes "nostalgic NES games from an imagined alternate history, one where Girly Stuff was also part of the narrative" (p31).

I read a bunch of academic papers on the rise of e-sports (video games as a spectator sport / pro sport), and each lead me to watching more YouTube clips: of League of Legends clashes, Tekken tournaments, Starcraft carnage.

I read a ton on articles and watch some mainstream TV clips about e-sports. Most present it as a confounding phenomenon (can you believe these kids are willing to sit and watch other people play video games?). Some are so bad they seem bent on provoking generational rebellion. The best so far has probably been this longer article by Ben McGrath in The New Yorker.


And I read WOLF IN WHITE VAN by John Darnielle, because I thought it was about video games (turns out the protagonist actually runs a text adventure via snail mail - how quaint). But it actually has some interesting things to say about gaming and narrative and escapism and delusion and depression and, and, and.

It's a stunning novel. It'd probably top my Best Books of 2014 list if I'd read it a few months earlier. It feels both focussed and sparse.

It's plot is driven by three lacunae that are slowly painted in:
1) What happened to Sean's face?
2) What's the legal trouble he's in/been in?
3) What's the text game 'Trace Italian' all about & how does it work?

To this, I guess you could add a broader question ("Who is Sean?) and a more specific one ("What does 'Wolf in White Van' refer to?).

The novel slowly works through these questions. At times the suspense and the narrator's circumlocution feel mechanical (standard literary fiction grasping for page-turner attributes), but every time I receive more information (or outright answers when it came to the title being explained) I'm satisfied.

Like I said, 'Trace Italian' is played via the post, but could easily be one of those earlier text adventure games. Which makes Sean the equivalent of a 248-bit processor. I suspect this comparison isn't lost on Darnielle. Yes, Sean created this game in his late teens (in the wake of his 'accident'), but now he's stuck performing mechanical tasks to enable others to play the game. His legal trouble stems from a player taking the game too seriously -- or: taking it too imaginatively, perhaps. This is a novel about the ways in which we can become trapped. Most of these traps are of our own making, and most of these are entirely in our heads.

Monday, February 2, 2015

(Belated) Best Reading of 2014

I've struggled with this post for over a month now (obviously). In 2014 I read about half as many books as I would in a normal year and compiling a top ten seemed too generous. But then, why not be generous? What does it matter if I make it sound like I enjoyed number eight on my list more than I really did? Well, what if you took my advice and read the book and were similarly un-wowed... Because there are 'wow' books out there.

So here's my list of the five wow books I read in 2014, and here's to more quantity and more quality in 2015!


#1 THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness (novel, audiobook)
The Knife of Never Letting Go
What I said about it in October
"KNIFE is packed with more ideas than almost any novel I've read this year. It has better characterisation, is funnier and braver and is the sort of book I'd give a Milton Bradley 'Ages 12 and up' label to (coz everyone should read it) rather than 'YA'."


#2 WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead (novel, audiobook)

When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery)What I said about it in February:
"My wife and I listened to this on two separate car trips up to the Kapiti Coast over the summer. Haven’t done much in-car listening before., but found it an enjoyable experience. Probably helps that this YA novel about time travel is simply told…"

What I'll add now: "That YA dig was a bit iniquitous. With time away from the book I can say that it held together well, which is rare for time travel stories."


Blood Meridian: Or, the Evening Redness in the West (Picador Books)#3 BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy (novel, audiobook)

What I said about it in May:
"Vivid, violent, unhinged, mythic, vile, meandering, arch... Blood Meridian is an Elmore Leonard western written by the bastard love child of William S Burroughs and Henry Miller.

Now I get why people rave about CMcC and Blood Meridian in particular."


#4 I'M WORKING ON A BUILDING by Pip Adam (novel/short stories, NZ)

I'm Working on a BuildingWhat I said about it in July
"The boldness... is most evident structurally, with chapters ordered in reverse chronology. The main (human) character, Catherine, isn’t present in every chapter, and when she is, we’re never that close to her. We slowly unpick her past, from earthquakes to failed relationships, but the book, like Catherine, seems more focussed on buildings. Structure trumps character, quite deliberately.

At one point a minor character admires the Rankin Brown building at Victoria University, a boxy, concrete, characterless thing, but an amazing structure if you know what to look for. Same goes for I’m working on a building, I think."


#5 ARMS RACE by Nic Low (short stories, NZ/Aus)

I read this in December and the first week of January, so I haven't written about it yet. And maybe I'm breaking my own dumb rules by including it in this list. But this is my kinda story collection.

I first read Low when I was judging the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. His story, 'Rush', was the funniest of the several hundred I read. It was also risky, sharp, political. You can read 'Rush' for yourselves now in ARMS RACE and see what bowled me over.

Sometimes there's a sense of trepidation when reading a full collection from a new writer you've loved in a small dose. But there was none of that when I cracked open ARMS RACE. Low can write, but he can also think. I was ready to be challenged. And entertained. I was not disappointed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

December Promises

So before I do my annual 'best books I read last year' post, I'd better put down a few thoughts about those books I read in the last part of 2014...

Here's some reading writing about my reading music:



To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (novel)

Ferris is hot or miss for me. His debut novel, Then We Came to the End made my top ten in 2008. His next novel, The Unnamed, did not impress in 2010. I really liked his short story, 'The Dinner Party' when it appeared in the New Yorker... then went off it when I heard it again as part of the New Yorker Fiction Podcast.

From the first few pages, it was clear that To Rise Again at a Decent Hour - despite its titular similarities to Ferris' debut - was more like The Unnamed, ie: focussed on a middle-aged white dude going through a kind of breakdown / meh.

What's new here? Well, depends what you mean by new. There's a definite Phillip Roth ("ranty" as my wife would put it) quality to TRAAADH's first person narration that's new for Ferris, and there are moments when the rants sublimate and I started to enjoy myself.

I know exactly where - page 70 - because I folded the corner of the page over and said to myself: "Oh, this is getting good." Paul O'Rourke starts ranting about Google and me-machines...

She'd also forget who starred in what, who sang this or that, and if so-and-so was still dating so-and-so, and for those things, too, she'd abandon our conversation to secure the answer. She no longer lived in a world of speculation or recall and would take nothing on faith when the facts were but a few clicks away. It drove me nuts. I was sick to death if having as my dinner companions Wikipedia, About.com, IMDb, the Zagat guide, Time Out New York, a hundred Tumblrs, the New York Times and People magazine. Was there not some strange forgotten pleasure in reveling in our ignorance? Couldn't we just be wrong?
This region of ranting is enjoyable as it's still tied up with character (Paul, the narrator, is explaining why he ended his relationship with Connie, but also giving us more evidence why Connie wouldn't want to get back with Paul), as well as being an angry reflection on contemporary life.

Unfortunately, before and after this period in the book, the rants are less connected to plot or character (except for the "Look at how grumpy/fucked up Paul is!" effect).

The result of all of this is I'm afraid how Then We Came to the End would hold up to a second reading. Especially since I'm not the same office-hating 25-year-old I was when I first read it...


Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (novel, audiobook)


Honesty box: I'd read Dirt Music and Breath and one of Winton's story collections, before tackling Cloudstreet... and I'd always thought Cloudstreet was Tim Winton's first novel. Guess this goes to show how little New Zealanders are schooled in Australian Fiction.

'Wow!', I thought after a couple of chapters, still labouring under my misapprehension, 'he could write like this from the get-go??'

Maybe he could. But Cloudstreet isn't evidence of a savant. It's the work of a talented writer with years of practice, a life of observation, and a good dollop of gumption.

It still feels like a younger man's book, with too much crammed in, those elements of surreality (the pig that talks in tongues; the times we slip inside Fish's head), and the sheer weight of misfortune that befalls its characters (near-drowning, losing a hand, miscarriage, death, death, death). And it did seem to go on forever (a fact not helped in audiobook form, I suspect).

I can see why teachers make 16 and 17 year old Australian kids read Cloudstreet. And I can see why most of these kids would be left cold, or bemused (the book a quarter-read),

I mean, I liked this book. But I prefer Dirt Music and Breath - which are more focussed. Less ambitious, perhaps, but more accomplished.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best albums of 2014

1) Future Islands - Singles

I'm glad I didn't see their semi-infamous Letterman performance until today, as it may have dampened (doused?) my enthusiasm for this band/album. The record is so tight, so careful in its balance of light and dark, tinny and profound, and that performance is, um, not.

I mean, I'm all for geeky dancing. Gord Downie anyone?

And a crumbling stage persona + failing voice? I'm Dave Wyndorf's eighth biggest fan.

But I don't need that stuff when you're pumping out dancy, croony, soulful, electro-pop. I'll be sticking to the studio versions for my summer playlists, that's for sure.

2) Wild Beasts - Present Tense 

The English Future Islands? I guess there are some similarities between my #1 and #2 this year. Wild Beasts dwell in a higher register and have a better back catalogue (though I only traversed it this year). Smother from 2011 is just as strong as Present Tense ('Loop The Loop' being its standout track). Present Tense is probably the most consistent (consistently good) album of 2014.


3) Cold War Kids - Hold My Home

What is it about some bands that makes expect them to disappear? You know those bands you like, but you're always surprised to hear with a new song on the radio?

I loved 'Hang Me Out To Dry' (from Robbers & Cobbers, 2006), but something about the song / the band felt one-hit-wondery. I was wrong.

If I'd listened to Robbers & Cobbers more closely (heck, I'd know by 45 seconds into its first track, 'We Used To Vacation') I'd have been disabused of this notion. But anyway.

I was surprised last year when Dear Miss Lonelyhearts came out and was great. And was surprised again when Hold My Home came out this year and raised the bar again. This is partly a career achievement award and an endorsement from me to go and listen to Cold War Kids if, heaven forbid, you too have been sleeping on them.

4) War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

Okay, so I know this is on a lot of Year End lists. And part of me wants to drop them down further just to be contrary. But this is a great album for certain moods: Sunday afternoons, summer barbeques, early morning writing sessions. And that's pretty much all my listening slots, so they got me!

And War on Drugs were helped along by Mark Kozelek's vendetta against them. Sun Kil Moon's Benji was a pretty good album, but when I learnt what a douche Kozelek was (however catchy 'War on Drugs Suck My Cock' might be), Benji slipped from my top ten and kept slipping, while Lost in the Dream rose in my estimation.

Note to self: never feed the trolls, even when they're famous trolls.

 5) Lana Del Ray - Ultraviolence
Slow, dirgy pop with swearing, self-awarenees, self-effacement, parody. That's pretty cool. From the "poetry" of "Get a little bit of bourbon in ya / Go a little bit suburban and go craaazy" ('Cruel World') to the rocky-enough-to-play-on-Radio-Hauraki 'West Coast', this is a surprisingly fine album.

6) Fucked Up - Glass Boys

I'm not normally that into scream-singing. But Fucked Up have made me wonder if it's the screaming I don't like, or the music the screaming tends to get paired with. Because Glass Boys is a friggin ride, muscially. An avalanche of guitars and high-tempo drums (although the album is almost as good with the drums half-speed).

And it turns out this is the perfect music to write to in the early morning. I wouldn't have picked that.


7) Total Control - Typical System

There's a definite punky-throwback quality to Total Control. And the angular guitars and tempo breaks are reminiscent of mid-oughts Franz Ferdinand. But Typical System also sounds like it couldn't have been made any earlier than 2014. And that's pretty much what a 31 year old is looking for in music (contemporary feel; familiar grooves).

8) The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

I don't love this album as much as some of TNP's others (yet?). I think because it's so full-on, up-beat, up-tempo. I mean, I love the way Dan Bezar's songs sound like Sigue Sigue Sputnik. And a dig the way A.C. Newman has channelled ELO's 'Livin' Thing' for an entire album. But I miss the slower tempo gut punches like 'Adventures in Solitude' and the builders like 'My Rights vs Yours'.

That said, Spotify tells me this is the album I've listened to the most in 2014. And I'm going to listen to it some more in 2015. So...

9) Real Estate - Atlas

How to describe Real Estate? A sleepier, less Springsteeny version of War on Drugs (it's about now that I start to wonder if  Mark Kozelek would describe my list of top albums as the whitest he ever saw...)? I dunno. But this album is like a good (jangly) friend. Time flies in its company.

10) Avi Buffalo - At Best Cuckold

Another album that softly flirts with sonic beauty. Maybe I was after 'pleasant' a lot this year. But the lyrics are real enough, and dark enough, and smart enough (well smart), to undercut any sense of mushiness.

Other notables

Set for a bump

By the end of March next year, I'll probably regret not putting one or more of these albums in my top ten, as all are coming to Wellington and I tend to become a homer for bands I've seen live.

11a) Perfume Genius - Too Bright

11b) Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal (and maybe, but less likely, their 2nd album of 2015: Content Nausea)

11c) Royal Blood - Royal Blood (the anti-Future Islands, in that they were just another band on the radio that I didn't get into until I saw a clip on YouTube and appreciated all that sound they were making with just a drum and a bass guitar)

Best single

'Class Historian' by BRONCHO

Da-da-do-do-do-do-d-d-d-da-da-da-da-d-d-d...



Best comeback album

Sloan - Commonwealth

A double album, with each member taking song writing duties for a side (including a single 18-minute track to close out the record), this is both ambitious and welcoming. So many poppy gems. But a tad too slick and too, um, uncool (?!) to make the top ten.

Blameless unstickability

Last year, I loved Cloud Control's Dream Cave. This year, Cloud Nothings and Total Control made great albums. For some reasons, I just couldn't keep them all straight in my head and Cloud Nothings seemed to be the one I forgot (misplaced) the most. A shame, as Here and Nowhere Else is a good'n.

Anyway, don't take my words for it. Listen to choice tracks from all these albums below:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My best non-book, non-music things from 2014

Tomorrow I'm going to post my top ten albums of 2014.

Then, in a few days or weeks, I'll post the top ten books I read in 2014 (I'm holding off because I'll probably read another three books in the next 11 days and one or two might merit inclusion on the list).

Until then, here are the best things I did this year:


1) Put a solid state hard drive in my PC

Honestly.

There's a lot more "worthwhile" and "big picture" things on this list, but they all have drawbacks (a promotion means work is more tiring; fatherhood means less time to yourself, etc). But putting a solid state drive into my four year old PC is the best $120 I've ever spent. Booting up used to take two minutes. Now it takes less than 10 seconds. Those 10 second boot-ups still fill me with glee. It's all gain, no pain.


2) Spent solo days with my daughter at least one a fortnight

Kereru-spotting at Zealandia
I started out the year working from home and caring for my daughter every Thursday. It was just possible to do a full working day when she had two naps a day (2 hours work before she woke, 3 hours during her naps, 1 hour of phone calls and emailing sprinkled during her waking hours, and a couple more hours once she was in bed for the night).

Draining, but possible.

When she went down to one nap, and I started managing a team at work, I had to go down to one day a fortnight.

Thursdays with Lia are one of the reasons this year has felt full to brimming. So much to do, so little time. But on reflection, our days together have been more important than a day in the office or a chance to recharge my batteries (even if I'm the only one who'll recall specifics): watching the baboons at the poor dad's zoo (Melrose Park); fun times with the paddling pool on the deck; eating pizza in the car; birdwatching at Zealandia and Otari-Wilton; all those smoothies and trips to the supermarket...

She turned two yesterday. She'll have a brother come April. Next year will be different, for sure.


3) Said 'yes' at work.

When I came back from Iowa in December last year I was asked to act up in a more senior role at work. It meant more pay, and a more impressive CV, but it also meant more stress and less head space to devote to creative writing. But I said yes and it kicked off the most fulfilling year of my professional life.

The role I was acting in later got re-profiled into a manager's role and I said 'yes' when asked to apply for it. And reader: I got it.

Best unidentified tree:
this one on McKinley Cres, Brooklyn
Managing people isn't rocket science, but it has been an adjustment. A bit like being a parent. You still have to do everything you used to do, but you also have to make sure the needs of others are being met.

It (higher pay) also helps when your wife wants a bigger house.


4) Acquiesced when my wife said we needed to sell our house

Even before Baby #2 was a reality, Marisa was back in the routine of getting the Property Press every week. Our section isn't that baby friendly and carrying a toddler, a baby and groceries up the steps from the garage would be a bit of nightmare. And we'd be short of space (goodbye daddy's dedicated office).

But it wasn't yet three years since we'd bought this house. Our first house. I was attached to it. I liked how it was a 20 minute bike ride to work (downhill) and a 30 minute ride home (uphill). I liked how private it was. I liked our view. I liked the vege garden we'd eked out. I liked the damage we'd done to our mortgage.

But I let myself be overruled and we bought a new house, and sold this one, and we didn't take a massive bath (we actually sold our house for more than we paid for it), and we'll be moving in early February.

The new house will be bigger, and warmer, and more sheltered, and the kids can run around without us worrying about them falling down the hill. And the section will take less time to maintain.

And I'll still have a dedicated office. And I'm going to put bluetooth speakers in the ceiling throughout the house and we won't move for at least ten years...


5) Volunteered with IHC

I spent this year as a mentor in IHC's one-to-one goal achievement programme. Like parenthood and managing workers, this was rewarding but time-consuming. I'm not sure how I'm going to squeeze it in next year, but we shall see.


6) Baked

These crucifixion shrewsbury biscuits went down a treat on Twitter
(and in real life).

This boysenberry NY cheesecake with a brownie base looks a bit iffy,
but it was great. Guess you had to be there.

7) Quit writing my column in the Dom Post

Which I wrote about here. And yes, I can see the irony in this post being a listicle.


8) Not stressed too much about my output of other writing

I got one short story published this year (which I wrote in 2013), and finished one other which might be published next year. I made a bunch of starts on stories that I intend to get back to. And I progressed three novelly ideas to the point where they felt solid and I could probably start writing any one of them. The only problem was I couldn't be sure I'd pick the wrong one and want to switch tracks in six months.

But I think one of those three (actually, half of one of the ideas) has ascended to the top this month and I might really make some headway in 2015.

The thing is, what does one year of low productivity really mean if I'm in it for the long haul? It took me about three years to write The Mannequin Makers only for it to disappear from the face of the earth after a couple of months.

But many who read it dug it. Reviewers included. It will always be there on my Wikipedia page (at least until I get culled from Wikipedia).

One thing I learnt from the last decade as a worker bee: it rarely happens overnight. But as long as your CV keeps getting better, as long as you don't drop off the face of the earth completely, or get an offensive forehead tattoo, your hard work will pay off in time.


9) Kept making playlists

Even if I haven't blogged enough to post one a month.

Here's October's. And here's November's.

These things are useful when it comes to writing my best ablums of the year post. But I've also found it interesting to listen to playlists from 2012 and 2013 and relive whatever I was going through at the time,

If I ever need to transport myself back to 2014, I've got my soundtrack sorted.