6 Sep 19 – Cinema Stew

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Anna and I became members at the local nonprofit independent cinema. We’ve enjoyed the two films we’ve seen so far: The Farewell and Blinded by the Light.

The latter filled me with happy memories of my late friend Mike Plummer, who was the kind of Springsteen evangelist that the movie totally gets. I walked out of the cinema missing him a lot and wishing he had lived to see the film.

Both The Farewell and Blinded by the Light are part of a very interesting emerging filmography of second-generation stories about the internal conflicts and alienation felt by the children of immigrants. Many of these stories focus on the gains and losses of assimilation. It’s not lost on me that my inability to speak Spanish has severed my most important cultural tie to my heritage. I grimace a bit whenever I check “Hispanic” on those ethnicity questions on applications, as if it’s something claimed but not earned. My children probably won’t think twice when passing it over.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s natural that things change – but it does represent values and culture lost (or scuttled) between generations, and that’s not insignificant.

And I think that’s why there will continue to be so many stories about the push and pull of second-generation life. These questions probably aren’t answerable, but we’ll be damned if we don’t keep discussing them.


I posted the above on Facebook a few days ago but soon after remembered I have a blog of my own and Zuckerberg doesn’t need to own my musings. Maybe I’ll start posting again with more frequency. Maybe I’ll look back on this post months from now and smile wryly at what a silly thing it was to think.

 

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Here’s All the Stuff I Read in 2018

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This is my fourth annual iteration of this post (you can find 2017’s here, 2016’s here, and 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that almost certainly exists for the sole purpose of recommending Michael Chabon novels.

I read 35 titles in 2018. That’s 25 fewer than last year’s tally and 11 fewer than the previous year.

Thoughts on this data:

-I completed one book the entire time Anna and I were living abroad (mid-September through mid-December). The only defense I can muster is that the primary purpose of reading is to broaden one’s knowledge/empathy via literary connections, and while on our trip we were accomplishing that goal through different channels.

-In the middle third of 2018, I pushed myself to read a lot of books that had been taking up room on my shelf, many having settled there after being plucked from a lending library or purchased at a used bookstore. The cross-country move necessitated a purging of titles that weren’t making the trip.

-It wasn’t a banner year as concerns the quality of the books. I began 2018 reading books I was really excited to get into. I spent the rest of the year reading things about which I was less fervent. I anticipate reading a lot more in 2019 and working harder to pick out titles I think I’ll enjoy more. Life’s too short to voluntarily do things that don’t make you happy.

Here are some stats:

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Here’s All the Stuff I Read in 2017

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This is my third annual iteration of this post (you can find 2016’s here and 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that I’m still not convinced isn’t an insidious arm of the international literary illuminati, or something.

I read 60 titles in 2017. That’s 14 more than last year and 15 more than the previous year. I should include a disclaimer that a steady stream of graphic novels deceptively inflates the impressiveness of that big ol’ 60.

Here are some stats:

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The Reckoning of Jesse Lacey and the Emo Zeitgeist

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Photo by: Brennan Schnell / CC 2.0

Jesse Lacey (frontman of Brand New, one of my top two favorite bands) is the latest public figure whose past sexual misconduct has been brought to light. I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past couple days because I admire his songwriting and what I perceived to be a brutally honest brand of authenticity. A deeper exploration of his early work sadly reveals that the writing had always been on the wall. It’s not really a secret that Lacey is a world class asshole, but these revelations about how an entitled rock star took advantage of underage girls shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I’ve thought quite a bit about what it says about me as a fan of his music.

My favorite song when I was in high school was Weezer’s “Across the Sea,” which is about Rivers Cuomo’s longing for a Japanese teenager who has sent him fawning fan mail. The 18-year-old me found this song impressive because Rivers displayed a reckless courage in spilling his guts and laying out his ugly insecurities, impulses, and neuroses for all to see. I saw this as art: the tragedy of our faults and an exploration of the self-loathing that emerges from them.

But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that albums like Weezer’s Pinkerton (and by extension, songs like Brand New’s “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis“) didn’t seek out solutions to the problems laid out. Consequently, the underlying themes of objectification and self-loathing became glorified. The lesson was that it’s okay to harbor unhealthy notions about sex and relationships as long as you acknowledge how miserable all that sexual frustration makes you. It’s never about trying to get better or trying to be better. These messages are toxic nectar for emotionally immature young men struggling to navigate the murky waters of manhood. 

What does it mean to be a man? How does one’s relationship to masculinity impact one’s self-perception? What roles do women play in shaping masculinity? These are questions that rack the minds of hormone-infested young men. When young men lack positive male role models in their lives (and therefore lack guidance for how to navigate adult sexuality), they turn to artists for clarification of how to fit into the greater culture.

This is why critics need to adopt an ethical lens when they analyze work: Artists must be held accountable for what they enter into the cultural record. Josef Stalin liked to think of poets as the engineers of the human soul, which is why he employed so many artists and playwrights in his propaganda machine. Popular culture shapes people. In some ways this is obvious, in others more subtle and insidious; its ubiquity quietly determines the things we value. Artistic fame, for instance, establishes a tacit endorsement of that which begat said fame. When a musicians finds success on the back of a puerile sexual perspective, that perspective becomes further entrenched in our cultural character.

This is not to say art cannot be edgy or provocative. This is merely to say that we need to be cognizant of what sort of art we choose to imbibe. If the goal is to teach young men not to mistreat women, we need to begin with a full audit of all the elements around which young men construct their sexual identity. I wish someone had taken me aside as a young man and taught me lessons I only learned later.

And the first lesson would have been not to listen to people like Jesse Lacey and Rivers Cuomo.

“Kilo Five” Play Reading 9/25 & 9/26 with Theater Alliance in DC

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I wrote another short play that’s going to be featured in a couple readings next week. It’s called Kilo Five and it was written using a Theater Alliance prompt:

A mother, a son, and a radio.

Write one 10-minute play, with no more than 3 characters, exploring the relationship between these people and the radio.

I chose amateur (ham) radio rather than commercial music radio and have set it in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I’m hoping it plays well.

If you’d like to attend either of these readings, I’ve included details below. Each night is free and includes a conversation about the plays and their themes. The other playwrights featured are Avery Collins, Maboud Ebrahimzedah, and Brittany Alyse Willis.

The good folks at Theater Alliance pride themselves on socially conscious, thought-provoking work that fully engages the community in active dialogue. I’m expecting the evenings to be both rich and rewarding.

Monday, Sep 25 at 8pm at the Anacostia Playhouse located at 2020 Shannon Place SE. More info on Facebook.

Tuesday, Sep 26 at 8pm at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital located at 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE. More info on Facebook.


Anna and I made a quick cameo appearance in Southern California this past weekend. The purpose of the trip was to attend a wedding in Temecula, but we were fortunate to fit in a few meet-ups with old friends. The food was, as it always is, fantastic.

“Echo in the Mirror” Play Reading in DC 8/30

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Photo: Chelsea Grosskopf, 2006

I wrote a short play called “Echo in the Mirror” as part of the Act Out: Fake News! event being held Wed, 8/30 at 8pm at The Pinch in Washington DC.  Here’s the Facebook event page, if that’s something you’re interested in.

The play’s about the merits and failings of how we try to promote and evangelize art, in this case focused more on popular music. It’s about the suffocating effect of a critical society bent on being more entertainment than criticism. So overall a jolly good time.

I’ll upload the latest draft to the New Play Exchange later this week.

The new Brand New album dropped suddenly last week. It’s called Science Fiction and it’s really freaking good. Top tracks for me so far: Same Logic/Teeth, 137, Desert.

Here’s All the Stuff I Read in 2016

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This is my second iteration of this annual post (you can find 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that I’m still not convinced isn’t in the business of selling my secrets to mischevious bedouins, or something like that.

I read 46 titles in 2016. That’s one more than I read the year prior, though my consumption habits had shifted quite a bit. That’s because, in 2016, I discovered that the DC Public Library system has a treasure trove of graphic novels available for borrowing. I was thrilled. I had wanted to further explore this format, especially after having read some of the more seminal works (Maus, Watchmen, Batman: Year One) several years back. I took advantage.

That means quite a few titles out of the 46 on this list are graphic novels. Some may consider that cheating, given that you can power through most graphic novels in a few hours. I have no rebuttal, other than to admit that I rather enjoyed my reading in 2016. I don’t think I read anything I consider an all-time favorite, but it was an all-around solid year regardless. Lot of good books rather than a few great books, and what not.

To summarize my year of reading, here’s a list of all the titles I consumed, plus blurbage. I’ve ranked them in order of enjoyability. I’ve also marked whether I read the hard copy or listed to the audiobook.

This was also the first year in which most of what I read was non-fiction, which is what the kids call “adulting” these days. Continue reading

An old journal

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I found an old journal in a box in the closet and have been reading through it the past couple hours. I’m astounded by how the documented experiences (and the person who wrote them) can feel so foreign, like it all occurred several lifetimes ago. I’m also staggered by just how illuminating hindsight can be. So many frustrations, now clarified by distance and time.

I was very troubled once. Things are better now.

In a somewhat related topic, if you were around me from September 2007 to January 2008, holy shit am I sorry.

Thoughts on José Fernández, joy, humanity

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The sudden and tragic death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez on Sunday has impacted me more than I expected for someone I never knew.

I realize there are plenty of reasons for this: He was young and full of joy; he was a Cuban-American who looked like me and my family; he was an elite athlete destined for greatness; he left a loving mother, abuela, girlfriend, and unborn child. And now he’s gone.

This enthusiasm has been extinguished:

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What a gift, to be capable of such unbridled happiness.

There have been plenty of touching tributes to Fernandez these past two days. The one linked at the top of this article is one of the best; Dave Cameron of Fangraphs explains why he hopes his son can grow up to love life as Fernandez did. I recommend it.

Another great one: Grant Brisbee at SB Nation, “Jose Fernandez was pure joy.”

The aforementioned Cameron appeared on the Fangraphs Audio podcast yesterday with host Carson Cistulli to discuss what Fernandez meant to baseball. They expressed their hope that Fernandez’ sense of joyousness represents the future of baseball, replacing the rigid “unwritten rules” culture of the game. I commented on the podcast page, but figured I’d put it up here as well:

Great podcast, guys.

While listening, I thought of Brandon McCarthy’s poignant tweet Sunday:

You get the feeling that there are so many players who wish they could display the enthusiasm Fernandez showed, but for any of a myriad of reasons, can’t. We often forget just how much work and strain goes into becoming a major leaguer. The sacrifices. The training. For a guy like McCarthy, the struggle coming back from injury. Baseball is special to people like McCarthy, but is it fun anymore? It’s their job, after all. The sheen must wane after a while for most.

So I think this is what made Jose special: It’s not so much that he chose to have fun playing Major League Baseball — something so hard that only a thousand people in the world are able to do it — but because we was *capable* of having fun. Something innate, not elected.

A very special case, and a ray of light far too soon extinguished.”


I want to share this tweet below, featuring what is also my favorite photo of Jose Fernandez. I think it demonstrates the incredibly likable person he was.


Anna and I watched the Marlins/Mets game last night. If you missed it, you missed some of the most touching and beautiful human drama I’ve ever seen. Fernandez’ teammates took the field for the first time without him, on the day he was scheduled to pitch, each wearing a jersey with his name and number on the back, and won 7 to 3. Dee Gordon came up to bat in the leadoff spot, took a pitch from the right-handed box while imitating Fernandez’ batting stance, and then hit a monster home run (his first of the year) from the left-handed box. We were speechless. Gordon cried all around the bases and then bawled his way to the dugout. Within, his teammates embraced him one-by-one.

That was just one moment in a very special night. In a show of empathy and brotherhood, the Mets walked out to the middle of the field pre-game to comfort and embrace the Marlins. During the game, several of his teammates imitated Fernandez’ over-the-top dugout celebration. After the victory, the Marlins circled the pitcher’s mound arm-in-arm before leaving their hats on the rubber.

I’m going to get a little sanctimonious here for a second, and I apologize for that, but much of this was happening at the same time as the presidential debate, which I’ve not been shy about decrying as a toxic spectacle.

And it struck me that this baseball game, which was a moving display of human grieving and catharsis, could be happening at the same time that a bloodthirsty nation watched (and hate-watched) a reality show featuring two candidates who more resemble totems of societal rage than anything else. I could put more thought into what this means as a whole (I’ve toyed with an idea that Aristotle would have much preferred the baseball), but I’ll leave it at this: I’m glad I skipped the depravity of #debateculture in favor of a night of humanity.


To an Athlete Dying Young
BY A. E. HOUSMAN

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Here’s My Summer Reading List

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Magic City by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh & Sam Miller

Available: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Hookups, Love and Brunch by Matteson Perry