Yesterday I looked back at how Story has driven me. Today, the first day of the new year, I look forward: This is not an outline of goals or resolutions, but a declaration of intent.
There are, I fear, still too many unanswered questions in my life, within my soul, and there has never been (in my lifetime, at least) a more apparent time of open conflict in our country than there is now: As the alchemists said, as above, so below, and I extend this idea to “as around, as within.” Perhaps I cannot quell the conflict around me, but if I can calm the questioning inside, perhaps that feeling will spread outward to others.
And if not, I’ll at least be better prepared to live my best life regardless of the world around me. Let it all fall into chaos: then I shall still stand tall and true.
Over the past few days, I’ve asked friends on Facebook to tell me the most impactful books they’ve ever read. It started as a conversation with a good friend of mine while I visited her recently, and as we spoke about books, it dawned on me that if I’m going to make a goal for 2019, it should be meaningful and memorable: For as many years as I’ve said I’m going to work out more, eat better, connect more with friends and family, or do X, Y, and Z, those things will always be areas of my life needing improvement. The fact that they’re constant struggles is part of what it is to be a human in the year 2019.
So this year’s goal will mention none of that–instead, my goal is to imbibe upon Story in some of its most impactful forms–not merely for entertainment, but for personal betterment. Story helps us learn about people who are different than us, different in real or imagined ways, and through these connections, Story helps us become more empathic and understanding, helps us to grow in our interactions with others and our dealings with ourselves. A year rich in Story will be a year rich in growth and discovery.
Without any further ado, here are the stories I plan to experience in 2019.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings is from my own list, for it is this series that has had the greatest influence upon my desire to write and love for writing, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. I began re-reading the series in November, and while I’m only one book in at the moment, the first thing I’d like to do this year is finish the trilogy once more.
1984 by George Orwell
This book, the classic dystopian novel / government commentary, has been on my “must read” list for a long while. Considering the current state of affairs, it’s time I finally read it.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
What I said of 1984 can be repeated almost verbatim here. I need not say more.
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
In the age of #MeToo and the Trump administration’s endless battle to write transgender people out of existence, it’s more important than ever before to reflect on the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity and what it means to be a man and to learn more about the experiences of transgender people today. This book, I’ve been told, does it all.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I can’t say much about this one: a friend recommended it and said it’s hard to articulate why she’d put it on the list without spoiling the impact, so there’s that and here it is.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Another classic. Why must all the classics twist their way through war or some other iteration of humanity at its worst? Perhaps that’s why we cling to them so tightly and read them again and again: because they speak to the basest parts of our humanity, and through that lens of darkness, we can catch a glimpse of the light within.
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
Gender seems to be a common thread in this year’s reading list: a friend recommended me this book in large part because of how the author conceptualizes a key character’s gender in the story, but also because the book tackles genuine issues facing the world today, such as colonialism and its lasting impacts, within the frame of a unique world unlike probably any I’ve read before–and that excites me.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Brene is my spiritual role model: her words have guided me through some of the hardest moments of my life and have inspired me to become a better person many times over in many ways I had never known before–but perhaps “better” here isn’t the right word. She’s inspired me to be a more wholehearted person, mindful and compassionate, able to work and play with a little more balance than I’d managed before. I’ve been wanting to read more of her work for years, and I think it’s about time that I do.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Of all the myths and fantasies I’ve read in my life, it’s somewhat ironic that I’ve never actually read any Arthurian legends before. Sure, I know the general ideas, but beyond that, there is nothing. So it’s only fitting the the last work of fiction on this list brings me back to fantasy and into a new realm of fantasy: King Arthur’s court. Recommended not only for its masterful retelling of classic legends, but also for its cunning gaze into the heart of lasting questions of morality, it’s only natural I should find it fitting to add to my list.
The Bhagavad Gita
In 2016, I asked me yoga teacher, “Where do I go from here?” She recommended two things: keep up my practice and read the Bhagavad Gita. Then I joined Teach for America, started my second full-time grad school program, and began teaching full-time. So if it isn’t obvious, I did neither. While I do hope to pick up my yoga practice again, I owe it to myself (for many reasons) to finally read the Bhagavad Gita–and I’ve got two copies of it, so the hardest part might be picking which version to read.
Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation translated by Aryeh Kaplan
I began reading the Sefer Yetzirah in 2017, and while I made considerable progress, when grad school classes picked up after the summer, and teaching began again, I set it aside. The Kabbalah has heavily influenced both my religious outlook and my spirituality, not to mention my own stories in many ways, so returning to the Sefer Yetzirah makes perfect sense. Kaplan’s translation is written in small verses with commentary, so it’s not difficult to read a few minutes at a time, so it’s time I finally through it, slowly, with intention.
Honorable mentions (stretch goals, if you will): I’m a fan of Kickstarter, and one of the projects I backed was a subscription box called The Alignist, which pairs socially conscious books with cool trinkets from the areas around the world that each book highlights. So far I’ve managed to read two of the five books I’ve received (I blame grad school), and I’d like to read the remainder–and hopefully continue doing so if I pick up the subscription for a second year. Here’s what I’ve still got to read: Oil on Water by Helon Habila (from the Nigeria box), The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (India), and Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters by Maria Jose Silveira (Brazil). This year plans to add five more books, the first focusing on Vietnam.
There’s also three books I’d like to read to improve my teaching prowess. The first is finishing Small Teaching by James M. Lang, which I started reading while in grad school. The second is Dude, You’re a Fag by C. J. Pascoe, which is a look at masculinity and sexuality in high school. And the last is Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, a book all about how games make us better people, and I’d love to take her her lessons to heart by gamifying my classes to improve student motivation and learning retention.
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has also been on my list for a long time, recommended by a childhood friend, so if time allows, I’d like to read that, too. I should also finally pick up a copy of Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, but that’s a long and technical read, so although it’s apparently the perfect book for me, it’s an intimidating story.
TV AND MOVIES
This is an arguably smaller list, for (I hope) obvious reasons: I feel we’re already too saturated by mind-numbing visual media, and I try to wean myself off it in favor of books whenever I can. That said, I do wish to finish House of Cards (I’ve heard the final season is an ode to empowering women) and Netflix’s adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events (which I will likely binge watch immediately). I also wish to watch Dear White People. I saw the 2014 film while in college, and it was incredibly insightful and provocative, and I’m hoping to obtain the same eye-opening outcome from watching the series.
In my last post I mentioned how video games are, after all, another manifestation of Story, so obviously I’m going to include a few here. These are certainly not going to be all the games I play this year (honestly, who am I kidding?), but these in particular are the heavy hitters, recommended for both their gameplay and their stories.
In no particular order…
- Sundered (which I also backed on Kickstarter)
- Hollow Knight (which I’ve already played for 20 or so hours…so I must finish it)
- Child of Light (in progress for two or three hours)
- Bastion (just how many people told me this is their favorite game?)
- Abzu (from the creators of Journey: a beautiful undersea adventure)
- Gris (an artistic adventure through one woman’s sorrow and grief)
- Celeste (a precision platformer lauded as 2018’s “Best Game for Impact”)
- Dead Cells (nominated for 2018’s “Best Indie Game”; it lost to Celeste)
- The Messenger (2018’s “Best Debut Indie Game”)
- Untitled Pokemon Switch Game (because, seriously, who am I kidding?)
The last category of Story on this list are the stories I plan to write myself: This is, first and foremost, finishing Moonrise, the tale I wrote (in part) for NaNoWriMo 2018. I have only not finished a story twice before in my NaNoWriMo history: once when writing Starfall, the prequel to Moonrise, which I finished during NaNoWriMo the following year, and once in 2017 when I reached 50,000 words, but set the story aside and never returned to it. This time, however, I want to continue writing until it’s finished. I’ve written about five or eight thousand words since November ended, so I think it’s definitely doable.
Next, I’m creating another “Make 100” Kickstarter project. I attempted last year, but the project was overly ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful. This year, I’m making a few key changes to simplify the project and I’m going at it again. Stay tuned for details soon.
Finally, in November, I’m writing whatever story comes next. Maybe it’ll be Cloudburst, the third Starfall story (and presumably the final book, unless it expands into a quartet; I’ve already decided, if it does, the title will be Sun— / Earth—, but that’s for another day, as neither option may be necessary if it wraps up in Cloudburst–but who knows? Maybe the Sun— and Earth— stories will be smaller side tales I’ll write someday anyways).
Heh. As you can see, when I dive into my own world of Story, I easily get carried away. If I do finish this arc of my mythology this year, the next natural story to write would be one that’s already entirely written–the story I first wrote when I was thirteen. But that, my friend, is most definitely a tangent for another blog post.
So there we have it: My declaration of intent for 2019. It’s a list of stories I wish to experience, and perhaps you’ll pick up some of these and we can experience them together. I’m also eager to hear what books you’d recommend for my list; while it’s unlikely I’ll be able to read them this year, it’s never too early to start making my list for 2020.