My father-in-law, who is very dear to me, is entering into hospice care. He was diagnosed with brain cancer last fall. A valiant year of treatment did not beget the hoped-for healing. Now it’s clear where Dan’s trail is to end.
After his diagnosis, with the bells of mortality ringing in the distance, Dan pushed himself to curate his many written works into a single memoir. The finished book, published recently by Cirque Press, is called “Someday I’ll Miss This Place Too.” It covers the thirteen-year period he lived in Western Alaska along the Kuskokwim River, providing legal aid and social services. It’s a wonderful read and we feel so lucky to have this tangible piece of him to hold forever.
If you’ve got someone on your Christmas list who has an interest in rural Alaska, I encourage you to buy a copy (I’ll link again below). It’s got all that good Alaskana stuff like dog-sledding adventures over frozen tundra and perilous flights aboard achy, shaky bush planes. It’s also a tender and funny recollection of the people and places that left indelible marks on Dan’s life. My favorite thematic takeaway is that patience, empathy, and understanding are the most valuable equipment one can carry as a stranger in a strange land.
It’s sorta’ funny – I was looking for a photo to use on this post, preferably one where he and I are posing arm over arm, beaming smiles, eyes reflecting the snow or water or dew-soaked trees. But most of the photos I have of Dan are like the one above, slightly ahead and leading the way, teaching by example how to navigate an icy trail or a flooded walk. Or scanning the horizon for a sight of eagles or geese, camera in hand, soaking in all the splendors that this amazing thing called life provides.
Dan graciously welcomed me into his family and has always made me feel like I belong on the trail with him. I think the photo is fitting. Kindly, silently, thoughtfully leading the way.
Anyway, I know it’s important for both Dan and for Anna that people read his book, so here’s the link if it’s something you’d like.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
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.