2018 Reading List

One of my goals for 2018 was to read more, but I also had a numeric element as well – I wanted to read twice as many books as I did in 2017. Considering that 2017 worked out to be an even dozen, I thought 24 books wasn’t an unreasonable goal. As it turns out, I came up three shy of my goal by turning into a reading slouch for a few months towards the end of the year. My goal for 2019 is to read 25 books, but here’s a look back at what 2018 held. I’ve done a quick list and then a list with some comments after the read more if you’re interested.

  1. Starship Troopers by Richard A. Heinlein
  2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  3. The Adventures & The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson
  5. Mornings On Horseback by David McCullough
  6. Wool by Hugh Howey
  7. Brothas Be Yo, Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton
  8. How To Be Good by Nick Hornby
  9. Yeager by General Chuck Yeager & Leo Janos
  10. World War Z by Max Brooks
  11. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson
  12. Two Years Eight Months And Twenty Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
  13. Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie
  14. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
  15. Kill ‘Em And Leave: Searching For James Brown And The American Soul by James McBride
  16. Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
  17. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  18. The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams
  19. Life, The Universe, & Everything by Douglas Adams
  20. So Long And Thanks For All The Fish by Douglas Adams
  21. Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Continue reading →

Bite The Toe

Bill Duke is a serious dude who doesn’t mince many words. His interviews for the Film Courage channel on YouTube have been must-watch material for me since day one. This one in particular has a lot of good stuff in it, but in particular, this attitude stands out…

When the Boogieman has his foot on your throat, you have two choices – give up or bit his toe.

Now, that’s a terrible paraphrasing, but it works for me. The point is, when something seems like it has you down for the count there’s always a choice – give up or fight back. Notice that there’s no guarantee that it will do any good or that there’s even a vague chance it’ll lead to saving yourself or victory. It’s more about how you choose to live than about that. Are you ready to cave or willing to fight even when it’s absolutely hopeless?

Back when I used to play pick-up basketball, my only valuable skills were: 1) a natural tendency to be in the way – which meant I was pretty good at defense, and 2) I was too dumb to stop running. You might score a bunch of point on me, but I was going to run with you all day until I dropped. There’s times when I see that in my life now – that really the only reason I’m still walking around is because I was too stubborn or dumb to lay down. I don’t pretend that makes me brave or brilliant – it just happens to be my tendency and it’s served me well.

Wildly Functional & Handcrafted

Over the last couple of years, I’ve derived a lot of inspiration from the work of Casey Neistat. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock or trapped underneath a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Siera since the Dubya administration, Casey Neistat is a YouTuber of serious renown who lives in New York City. He has a serious gift for storytelling, a unique style, and a serious “don’t give an eff” attitude that has served him well.

As much as I’ve been inspired and influenced by his videos, it’s been his studio that has given me a serious case of envy since day one. It’s handmade, funky, and as described in the video below, “wildly functional”.

This video is just over five years old, so there’s been some serious changes made in that time – however, the overall aesthetic remains the same. As soon as I saw where this guy worked, it made me start thinking about my living and workspace. Neistat personalizes almost everything he has: engraving his name on devices, customizing his sunglasses with spray paint, etc. But he also builds most of the parts of his studio himself, including his camera bench and rig, work stations, boxing speed bag, and his camera storage room (not in this video).

I used to watch all the Jesse James chopper specials and Monster Garage shows that I could. There was something about watching someone make individual frames and tanks from scratch rather than grab parts off a shelf, weld some stuff onto it, and call it custom. Having never been terribly good with things like carpentry or metalworking, it’s something that I’m intensely curious about. Watching Neistat’s vlogs appealed to that part of me.

Which all leads into how I’ve been working to make my work space a little more customized. Back when I set up my standing desk, I wanted a paper lantern on either side of my desk for overhead lights, grabbing that shamelessly from Casey Neistat’s camera bench. The one thing that I didn’t like was that each lantern had its own on/off switch – I wanted one switch in a convenient place to turn on both lights. One catch… I also wanted it to be a hidden switch.

The switch itself was easy – I found a large button switch that’s intended for Christmas tree lights that sits on the floor and turns the lights on and off by stepping on the switch. Perfect. I plugged both lights into it and we’re in business… except I didn’t like it sitting on the desk. Two years later, and I was still looking at that ugly thing on my desk this morning when I got fed up enough to do something about it. A little glue, some cable hooks, and there we go… a hidden light switch under my desk.

Next up…?

Goals, Not Resolutions

One of the beautiful things I’ve realized recently is that 2018 has been a rebirth of sorts for me writing poetry. Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time writing song lyrics. Perhaps for some people, poetry and lyrics are the same thing or at least close to it, but that’s never been the case for me. There’s a been a touch of crossover – every so often a couple lines from a poem (or a fragment that never grew into a poem) will find themselves into a song, but that’s hardly the rule.

When I’m writing a song, it’s usually aimed in a certain direction, working around a particular idea, or trying to fit the mood and/or phrasing of some music. When I write poetry, there’s a decent chance I have no idea what I’m writing about until I’m either well into the poem or finished with it.

I keep my poems stored on my hard drive in folders by year. So far, I’m on pace to write more than I have in the last three years respectively, which is a big deal for me. So yeah, I have that going for me.

Part of this I attribute to one of my goals for this year – to double the number of books that I read last year. I’ve given up on resolutions because they’ve never worked for me. Too much change that isn’t attached to anything at all really. Goals? I can work on those.

I’m Sick Of Stuff

Dear reader, be forewarned that this won’t be a clearly thought out or particularly coherent post. Then again, who am I kidding? I have no readers and those who do check in are mystified that I’m still alive and apparently only write about new Star Wars movies. For those humble few, allow me to say… no, I haven’t seen Solo yet and that’s not what we’re talking about tonight. Terribly sorry to ruin your image of me and my current streak of geekdom.

No, I’m getting my typing fingers out of the garage to simply say that I’m sick of stuff. Of the maintenance, the acquisition, the sorting, and the… well… stuffiness of it. I have no idea if that’s grammatically correct or even makes sense, but what the hell – no one’s reading this anyways.

Stuff is part of the human condition. Whether we’re chasing after it, suffering from lack of it, or engaging in the eternal pursuit of a place for it – there’s no way to escape it. Well, what if you were to join some kind of order (religious or non-religious, your pick) where surrendering all of your earthly possessions was a requirement of membership and framed as being vitally important to your spiritual and/or mental well being. So there it goes, all your stuff taken away and leaving you, effectively, stuff-less.

But are you really?

You’d have to eat, right? So there’s bound to be a bowl or plate or utensil to be had somewhere around the temple/monastery/convent/dojo/compound that you’ve taken up residence in. Even if you’re eating straight out of your hand, there’s a cooking pot somewhere or at least a basket where the food was carried from one place to another – surely some kind of receptacle is in residence at your new home? But it’s not my stuff. Maybe not, but chances are you’ll wind up cleaning, caring for, moving, or putting it away – and for the briefest of moments, that’d be your stuff, wouldn’t it? I mean, if we get right down to it, the domicile in which you sleep – whether it be ancient, new, ramshackle, modern, or a tent – could be counted as… stuff.

We’ve had some repairs done to our front stairs over the last few weeks and have spent the better part of that time using the side door to our garage for entry and egress. This is the same garage where my band rehearses, I hang up laundry to dry from time to time, and keep musical gear. I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking around out there and this much is certain – it’s chock full of stuff. We have stuff in boxes, stuff in plastic totes, stuff too big for a container, sentimental stuff, stuff laying about on the floor because it fell off other stuff, practical stuff, duplicate stuff, stuff under stuff that I didn’t even realize we owned anymore, stuff that no one remembers where the hell it came from in the first place, and stuff that comprises a myriad of other categories.

One of the beautiful things about moving several times over the span of a year and a half in my late 20’s was that it forced me to whittle my pile of stuff down to essentials. It was freeing and glorious, which I suppose is an overly-romantic way of saying I barely had a pot to piss in. However, I do remember feeling a certain lightness. Sure, I was lonely and depressed and poor, but I was mobile! Now, I dread the idea of buying a new home because it would require a Herculean effort to sort through the piles of crap that fill this current abode so we could fit it into a flotilla of moving trucks. Some people think it’s romantic how their grandparents lived in the same house for 77 years, I think they just didn’t want to face packing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s stuff that I like and enjoy. My car, for instance, is a pleasure to drive and I enjoy it greatly. My collection of vinyl records brings me a lot of joy. I have a plastic tote with all of my journals and notebooks that weighs about 60 lbs which I treasure. But do I seriously need all of this other junk around here? Will any of it ever be useful again? Was it in the first place?

Quite possibly, it wasn’t and it won’t be. Which means that some kind of stuff-related reckoning is on the way. Perhaps there’s some kind of book on tidying or minimalism that would help me along. Only trouble is, I don’t want to buy it because… well… you know…

Aw Luke… won’t see him no more

It’s been a hot minute or three since keys have been punched in anger around here, and it only seems fitting that after 26 months away from my last entry that I’m back to talking about Star Wars again. I don’t know why these things happen, it just seems right to roll with it when they come along.

Once again, I’ll have to disagree with the marauding hordes of true believer geeks who think that The Last Jedi is the worst Star Wars movie since… well… the last time they saw The Force Awakens. Funny how quickly their opinion changed, isn’t it? All of a sudden, that one isn’t looking so bad now that they have a new punching bag to work on. Of course, this will probably hold true for when the next episode sees light of day (or dark of theatre depending on how literal you’d like to be) since JJ Abrams will be at the helm of that one. It’ll be interesting to see how many folks crawl back to what was the most absurd thing I’d heard in a long time when they said that they thought The Phantom Menace was better than TFA. Right… and Greedo shot first…

Truth be told, some folks will never be satisfied with any Star Wars movie outside the original trilogy – it’s their childhood and those memories only get more golden as their hair gets more silver. As someone who curses under his breath every time Michael Bay runs out another Transformers abomination, I can sympathize. (On a sidenote, it’s my contention that centering a movie around sentient transforming robots wasn’t the main hurdle and that there was and is a good movie or three to made out of that material – it’s just that Michael Bay is a lazy, immature director with the attention span of a 6 year old after a dozen pixie sticks and a bottle of Mountain Dew… but I digress…)

Personally, I love the new Star Wars movies because of their combination of reverence and irreverence for the original material. It acknowledges how beloved the characters and story is to its fans while at the same time realizing that the only way forward is to blaze its own trail. As I mentioned in my previous post, yes there are some repeats and callbacks, but there’s also twists and extra depth to them. Sure, Maz’s place was a callback to the cantina in Mos Eisley… but did anyone think there’s only one space bar in the whole galaxy? Hell, that probably wasn’t the only bar at Mos Eisley…

The most interesting part of The Last Jedi for me was in the bonus features where you can actually see and hear Mark Hamill’s reluctance and outright disapproval of how his character was being used. So speakth Skywalker…

After reading the script for the film, Mark Hamill told director Rian Johnson, “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.”

Hamill says that the character of Luke Skywalker doesn’t belong to him anymore, it belongs to the fans and the world at large – they just let him borrow it. For my money, that’s one of the best descriptions of what happens to art once the artist has released it into the world – it’s not theirs anymore. George Lucas kinda-sorta recognized this when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney… and then bitched and moaned that they didn’t follow the ideas he left behind. Sorry bub, guess you shouldn’t have sold the store then, huh? Star Wars fans would do well to realize that it doesn’t necessarily belong to them either.

Star Wars & Cyclical Storytelling

Watching people turn on The Force Awakens has been pretty interesting over the last few weeks. It was all breathless anticipation for a bit, giddiness when it was released, and then the backlash immediately started to make itself known within a few days.

In the interest of full disclosure, I loved it and will probably see it again before it leaves theaters. My faith in any project involving JJ Abrams has been reinforced with Adamatium – whether it’s the new Cloverfield movie (that somehow managed to stay under wraps this entire time) or something he dreamed up with a 6 year old kid over lunch. Doesn’t matter, I’m in. So feel free to begin sharpening up the knives if you wish.

The main complaint I’ve heard is that The Force Awakens is basically a reboot or re-telling of A New Hope (Episode 4). I feel this is misguided for two reasons…

#1 – It’s not like A New Hope was some incredible original idea that no one had ever had before, it’s the hero’s journey and coming of age. George Lucas was studying Joseph Campbell while writing Star Wars and was interested in the myths that are present in all cultures. Lucas was also basing the story and structure off the old serials he’d grown up with as a kid. Saying that TFA isn’t original is a gigantic “Duh!” moment because neither was ANH – it was a tried-and-true story structure and path that hundreds, if not thousands of authors have used throughout time.

#2 – It’s supposed to similar.

Okay, so the second point might seem a little simple, but stay with me for a moment… Star Wars is nothing if not cyclical. Luke learns the ways of the Force from a master Jedi and is then tempted by the Dark Side – the same way that his father was. Luke breaks the cycle and brings balance to the Force where his father succumbed to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. In TFA, we’re catching another person learning the ways of Force, but the villain is at a slightly different place in his path. Rey is obviously strong in the Force and is able to use her powers by the end of the movie – Kylo Ren is still fighting with his final turn to the Dark Side. Instead of getting yet another bad guy who’s driven from the get-go, we have someone who is still somewhat on the fence and we get to see his final turn – a bit like the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Then there’s the little matter of Finn and who exactly he is and whether he’s on the path to becoming a Jedi as well. This adds in something new that hasn’t been present in either of the other trilogies – another Jedi beyond the master/student or hero/villain form that’s worked in the previous 6 movies. That’s a huge difference going forward.

As for the other criticisms, I don’t know what to tell you other than there’s some fans for whom nothing will ever be as good as the original trilogy. I can understand that since there’s a special place in my heart reserved for that summer when my parents got HBO and they were running Star Wars pretty much around the clock. But at some point, you have to admit that a lot of the criticisms are fairly petty and fall flat. At best, TFA is a solid to really good movie – at worst, it’s damn sight better than The Phantom Menace, which gives a some hope for this upcoming trilogy.