12.29.2016

My Positive Spin for 2016

This year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, hasn't it? The good, the bad, the ugly. I keep seeing people post about how much they want the year to end, about how everything that's happened this year has been terrible and awful and how 2017 will be automatically better because once the year on the calendar changes, things have to be different, right?

Well, the dates on the calendar are just a number, if we're honest. An arbitrary classification meant to give us a sense of progression and a means of keeping track of when events happened in relationship to what came before and what will come after. 2016 as a concept means nothing except a boundary of dates around a period of time.

Okay, let me step back from the existential ledge for a moment and move back to more concrete things. This past year has brought us some worthy things and a lot of events that were once-in-a-lifetime in their happenstance. I'm going to run down some of the things that I personally enjoyed a lot this year (whether they originated this year or not) in an attempt to lend a positive voice to all of the rampant negativity that has been circulating.

Awesome Once-In-A-Lifetime-Event:

The Cubs won the World Series.

Let me back up a pace or so. For any readers that I have who aren't Major League Baseball fans, the Cubs are one of the two Chicago-based teams, they have a long and storied history full of colorful characters and many heartbreaks, and until this year held the dubious honor of being the professional sports team that has gone the longest from a major championship win; their last victory of that type was in 1907. They were the butts of many, many jokes, to the point where several films were made that mocked their futility and the improbability of their ever winning a World Series title (the most commonly noted being Back to the Future II).

And this year, they finally, finally broke that curse.

I've been a Cubs fan since I was very little. The Cubs were one of the first sports teams that I ever remember watching or following. I could go on at length about the different events I followed, like the Home Run Race of the '90s between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, or the whole deal with Steve Bartman in 2006. The whole idea of them being Lovable Losers was ingrained in our brains as Cubs fans, where the whole idea of them making the playoffs was such an event that parades and parties were the norm.

And now, after over one hundred years, that monkey is finally off of our backs. I swear, you could hear the cheering echo out from downtown all the way to the suburbs. Staying up late to watch the end of a fantastic game did not just have the feel of watching another baseball championship, we were watching history unfolding before our eyes.

A Favorite Video Game:

Overwatch.

Now, I'm not a big person in for online multiplayer games. Most online communities turn rather toxic when they start becoming really competitive, and the folly of most games like that for me is that I don't have a group of friends to really play with me on a regular basis. The last big multiplayer game I played online with friends was Modern Warfare and that was more than a decade ago.

But Overwatch somehow managed to break that wall down for me. I was lured in initially by its superb animated trailers and cutscenes that serve as an introduction to the characters and world built for the game. Each one has a charming animation style and colorful artistic merit that's often been compared (and not unfairly) to Pixar. The cast of the game is diverse, entertaining, funny and even rather heartwarming in a lot of their exploits.

Then I got my hands on the game itself. And it's the video game that's consumed most of my free time this year so far. I don't want to get too technical, but I will say that it manages to be both challenging and rewarding in equal measure while it never quite stops being fun for me. I recognize that this is very much Your Mileage May Vary, especially since different people's experiences with the game will change a lot if they have a bad interaction with some players during a game.

But whenever I get some down time where I'm not doing anything else, I find myself jumping into a quickplay game and throwing down for ten, twenty minutes. It's also a game that I can block out an hour for and play basically nonstop. And each round and match I play is different and fun in their own way. Win, or lose, I enjoy playing the game, and that's the bottom line for me.

Honorable Mention for this category would have to go to Tales from the Borderlands, which, I know, didn't come out in 2016. But 2016 is when I finally got around to playing it, and found it very worth my time. A very funny, witty, sharp and engaging narrative-driven game that still manages to be heartfelt and genuinely emotional.

A Favorite Movie:

Rogue One - A Star Wars Story

This is a much more recent entry on this, and I will say that if this movie hadn't impressed me so much, you'd probably be seeing Zootopia or Captain America: Civil War in this spot. Let's be real, there were some great movies that came out this year. But when there's a great Star Wars film that came out in a year, that movie's going to be around the top of my list pretty much every time I have to list my favorite films in a year.

Rogue One isn't just a good Star Wars movie, though, it's a good movie period. Yes, it does pander a bit more to those more familiar with the franchise such as myself, but it's also exactly the sort of film that I would make if I were to direct or write a Star Wars film. The direction and cinematography are great, the writing is strong, and the action is some of the best in the franchise. But what really sets the movie apart from any other is the story itself.

In a franchise where the word "prequel" is synonymous with divisive, uneven films, Rogue One sets itself apart by being the most direct prequel of them all, yet taking place outside of the main saga. It tells its own distinct, unique story that still supports and even improves one of the other films, one that was made 40 years before it! You can see and enjoy Rogue One as its own distinct story and experience and still get quite a lot just from the action and story it has. It's a self-contained narrative. Yet, it packs so much more punch if you do know what else is going on around it in the galaxy far, far away.

I loved Rogue One. I felt the same sort of adrenaline-pumping enjoyment after it was over that I did when Civil War ended, or after getting out of my theatrical viewing of Max Mad: Fury Road. I've only seen it once, but I plan on seeing it again when I get the chance, it's the sort of movie that is entirely worth seeing in the theater for the beauty of the cinematography alone.

Some Great Music:

Hamilton

Now, this isn't something that technically came out this year, Hamilton has been around for a little while now and the fandom was already well in place when I finally jumped aboard. And if I'm honest, I was hesitant about listening to it at all. I heard it was a mixture of song styles based on rap, and that turned me off immediately, since I dislike most rap music. Then I bought the soundtrack on a whim to accompany me on a car ride, and I was instantly in love.

I love the music, rap, R&B, jazz and all. I love the acting, from the leads to the supporting cast to the chorus. I love the characters, in all of their flawed imperfect glory. I love the history that it tells and reminds us of.

The main reason that I'm putting it on this list is that, over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the chance to go and see a live production of Hamilton here in Chicago. It was as much of a delight as I had hoped, and a good deal more fun than I had bargained for. I'd never seen a live musical production before, and the only stage things I've ever attended were church ones or other such things. So I basically went from 0-60 on that count, from not having any history with the stage to seeing one of the more hard-to-get tickets on the theater circuit right now. Hamilton is terrific, whether you see it live or just listen to the soundtrack. But it adds so much more dimension to be able to see it being sung (and danced) on the sage.

The impact that Hamilton has had on me is wider than just that, though. Through the play's composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, I followed Moana through its production and release and really enjoyed that soundtrack as well. I listened to the Hamilton Mixtape that came out a month or so ago and was introduced to a lot of musicians that I had never listened to before. Lin has also been a relentless ray of sunshine in my time following him on Twitter, often a sole voice of positivism in a sea of despair no matter the circumstances.

Other Miscellaneous Stuff:

There are a lot of other things that I could talk about. I did the NaNoWriMo challenge in November (and won, and got a t-shirt to show for it), took up running and got up to a 5k, was a groomsman at my brother's wedding, and on and on.

But here's something that isn't so much an event or a thing so much as a shift in attitude. I have largely left Facebook and turned off most of my social media notifications as a result of it. And that's this: I'm not using the internet as a place to vent my complaints about the state of the world anymore. There are enough people complaining about things that my voice really doesn't add anything.

Instead, I've vowed to try and be a voice of positive emotion and optimism. Now, that doesn't mean blind "things will get better" hippy love stuff. I'm talking about genuine, hope-driven let's-make-the-world-better optimism.

2016 isn't the end of the world. A lot of bad stuff happened, sure, but bad things every year. And a lot of great things happened, too. You're still here. I'm still here. And we're going to get through 2017 together, just like we got through 2016.

Let's go, team. We've got this.

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