The above photograph is from June of 2011, and it’s a picture of me and my sister at our dad’s place back home in Philippi. I was 22 — I know; it’s hard to believe I’m not a 12 year old in that picture — and my sister was a couple months shy of her first semester of college. This blog was only 3 months old. A lot has happened since then, and I’ll get into all of the opportunities this blog has afforded me in due course, but the biggest change to my life since that photograph was taken is that I can call myself — devoid of any hint of irony or self-effacing humor — a professional writer. This blog saved my life, and I owe the world to any readers who have supported my work over these years. You all have kept me going, and that’s not an exaggeration.
I started this blog on February 7th of 2011. That was the spring semester of what should have been my senior and final year of college at West Virginia University. But I’d spent the two semesters prior to that wandering through a depressed haze. And I don’t mean I was simply sad. I was suffering from depression. I had devolved from being one of the top students in the political science department at WVU — I’d won a major departmental scholarship my freshman year that students at every year level could compete for — to a lost young man quickly entering his mid-20s with no anchor tying his world together.
The reason for my crippling sense that my life was worth absolutely nothing may seem silly in retrospect but from 2009 to 2012, it’s not hard to understand where my driftlessness was coming from. My major is political science. Beyond anything else — yes, even movies — politics is my great passion in life. Ever since I can remember, my goal in life was to run for public office. I followed political news, whether that be policy debates or elections or scandals, the way most guys my age follow sports. I had my entire career path set out before me from a very young age. I was going to go to law school, work for the FBI combating public corruption, and then eventually leave to run for the state legislature and then beyond. I’m not joking when I say that I saw myself in the White House someday.
And that desire was validated at many turns in my teens and my young adulthood. I excelled at Boys State in high school — a program where you learn about state and local government through active participation; i.e. running for office and then performing simulated duties of said offices — and was one of the two kids from WV chosen to go to Boys Nation which is the highest honor a politically minded high school student can achieve. I got to meet the President of the United States in the White House. I was my Senior Class Vice President (and President by graduation day). I became highly involved with student government at WVU, and most importantly of all, Barack Obama ran for and was elected President my sophomore year of college.
It’s difficult to explain the 2008 election to people who don’t invest a lot of personal meaning in politics. But, for a young liberal with major political aspirations, the Obama election felt like a watershed moment in American politics. Now that we’re almost seven years removed from the election, I have distance and I can understand that I had unrealistic expectations and that there was a lot of naivety in the hopes that young leftists placed in the President’s ability to transform “Washington as usual” politics. But, back then, President Obama felt different, and he is different to an extent, but the political structures that we’ve built up over the last 200 years of our nation haven’t changed, and it’s not easy watching progress and meaningful change be blocked and crushed at every turn.
I can tell you the exact moment that I realized Washington was incurably broken which is somewhat ironic because it was the night of one of the most important policy victories of the Obama presidency. It was the night the Affordable Care Act passed. After a year of having my soul crushed by the bill continuing to not find its way out of committee after committee despite the Democrats having a filibuster proof majority in the senate. I had been losing hope for a year that America would join the rest of the civilized world in offering (the barest possible in our case) guaranteed health care to citizens who need it the most. But, thanks to a bipartisan amendment written by Democrat Bart Stupak and Republican Joseph R. Pitts, the bill was finally coming to a full vote.
I don’t agree with the content of the Stupak Amendment to the Affordable Care Act — it barred government funds used through the new insurance exchanges to cover abortion procedures and I’m pro-choice — but that was the final compromise necessary to push the bill through Congress. And on the eve of the vote, as Bart Stupak was entering the Capitol Building, hecklers — and there was a period where it looked like it may have been one of his conservative colleagues — shouted “Baby killer!” at him. They shouted “baby killer” at the man who ensured abortions wouldn’t be covered by Obamacare. It was an act of such staggering cognitive dissonance that I could no longer ever see American politics as anything more than “ideology/power” first and sensible policy-making/logic a distant second.
And that hit me really hard because my entire world view is based around rational discussions and philosophical inquisitions and putting assumptions and bullshit asides to get at “truth.” Now, I understand that “truth” in politics is a difficult thing to ever arrive at, but calling Bart Stupak — a pro-life Democrat ensuring pro-life provisions of the bill — a “baby killer” showed total disregard for truth. And that incident forced me to examine all of the other similar moments that I’d been compartmentalizing or ignoring for my entire history as a consumer of political news. And, although my enthusiasm and idealism had been waning since the immediate days following the president’s inauguration, the “baby killer” moment was like a switch flipping off inside me, and I couldn’t bring myself to care anymore because caring started to hurt too much. I’d stay up the entire night thinking about how petty and broken our politics were, and I’d get so sick that I would sit near my toilet waiting to throw up. I’ve never drank alcohol more consistently in my life than I did in that period cause being drunk was way easier than watching CNN or reading the Washington Post. I was a complete mess.
And that pain infiltrated my schoolwork. I’d be in my American Foreign Relations class, and I’d remember that rhetoric and realpolitik and socially constructed cultural antagonisms guided our foreign policy. I’d be my in my criminal law class, and I’d say, “Well, when I run for office some day, I can point out that our prison populations are out of control and that there’s a demonstrable effect on recidivism rates with increased educational opportunities for inmates, etc., etc., and all that would get me is accusations that I’m soft on crime.” I could point out that it’s an objective fact that executing prisoners costs more money than life terms, but, once again, that would simply get me laughed out of an election. I could talk about how the War on Drugs ruins communities more than drugs ever could, and this list goes on and on. I’d learn empirical facts about our governmental system, and all I would think is that someday the machine would swallow me up and spit me out, me having accomplished nothing of import.
And I eventually just stopped going to class. Before I began this blog, I had finished two straight semesters where I didn’t complete a single course. I withdrew from all of them both times, and I didn’t finish any courses in the spring or fall of 2011 either as it would turn out. I was accumulating massive amounts of student debt for no reason because the thought of leaving my apartment and doing anything productive was so miserable. I would go to my job (at an F.Y.E. and later a bar) because I had to pay the rent, but that was the most meaningful thing I had any hope of doing. Mostly, I’d stay in my bedroom and watch movies and play video games and try not to have any meaningful thoughts about the world.
Even at my most heartbroken though, inactivity isn’t a sustainable state of being for me. I’m too much my mother’s son, and I can’t feel like I’m consistently doing nothing of any value. And, so, one day I decided to start this blog. I’d been wasting literal months just watching movies anyways so I thought I should do something constructive with all that time I was spending wallowing in self-pity. And I spent a couple days making my blog’s list (you can read about the methodology I used to create it/update it here on the blog’s about page), and early in the morning on February 7th, my first review went up. It was for In the Shadow of the Stars, an Academy Award-winning documentary about the choristers of the San Francisco Opera House. There was a period where I was also writing about books and music and video games and television regularly, but the one constant of this blog has always been and will always be cinema.
I don’t update the blog with every film I watch like I used to. I work full-time, and I just don’t have time, but this blog isn’t going anywhere. I just write when I have the time to write. But, a spur of the moment decision to sharpen my writing craft — writing was something I loved as a child and then fall out of love with as a teenager — has led me down paths in life that I never thought imaginable. A lot of you probably know the play-by-play here, but for my readers that I’ve never met in real life or don’t communicate with on social media, I want to share a listing of the opportunities you’ve let me have by reading and enjoying my work cause I definitely wouldn’t have kept this up if I didn’t have regular readers who let me know they enjoyed my reviews and helped me get better as a writer.
Within less than a year of writing that first review, I had an internship writing about indie music in NYC. The picture above me is from the very first concert that I covered as a journalist. It was a quick DIY show for this indie slickpop band called Real Estate at a Chinese buffet in Queens, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. I lived it up in NYC for five months going to concerts and interviewing musicians that I loved, but the fun eventually had to end and I came back to WV to finish school although I still wrote for the website in my spare time. Over the course of the last two summers, they afforded me the opportunity to cover Bonnaroo as press, and I got to be five feet away from some of my favorite musicians of all time like David Byrne and Tom Petty and Nas and take their pictures and write about what it’s like to be at such an overwhelming but incredibly fun type of festival. Might I recommend my Sunday piece from last year’s Bonnaroo?
I bring that particular piece up because it was the article that first got me hired by GameSpot where I’m now an Associate Editor working on reviews. It’s not full-time work, but I’m on the staff of one of the big 4 of the internet games journalism sites. And I’d like to think that I’ve done a lot in the four years since I essentially abandoned my political aspirations. I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’m the first person to admit that. I got the gig in NYC because a kid I went to Boys Nation with in high school was in an acapella group at NYU with the guy who was my Managing Editor at Baeble. I got the gig at GameSpot because I got the Baeble work and also because I happened to be up at the random hour that my GameSpot editor was looking for somebody to review WWE 2K15, and I was only able to write about that because my dad introduced me to wrestling when I was four and the advent of the WWE Network convinced me to start watching again.
A string of coincidences and good social networks helped me out, but I’m not going to say I didn’t work hard. I did. But I would have never had the confidence to keep up with this were it not for my regular readers. You all know who you are. You’re the same ones who seem to favorite every actual piece I write on here, and I’m not joking when I say that you all saved my life. I wish I had more time to update this blog more regularly. It’s sort of ironic. This blog started out as being about movies, but they’re the thing that I haven’t written about professionally. I’m hoping that can change some day, but until then, if I watch a movie that I absolutely must share my love for, there’s always going to be a good chance that you can expect to see me say a little bit about it on here. Thanks for sticking around so long folks. You’ll never know how much you mean to me.