Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best New Yorker Fiction

It's been a year since I've had a two year subscription to The New Yorker. I got it for myself as a Christmas gift last year. The sole purpose was for the fiction. I got tired of hunching over my lab top, eyes blurry from reading the stories digitally on their website. And, it made me feel all privileged when pieces on the website could only be accessed if the user had a subscription. I figured it would be good for me, as it's regarded as "the best" short fiction being published in the U.S., a reputation I've hardly found validated, especially this year. Reading every story for a year, on the whole, I found myself disappointed. I don't know if this is a product of declining quality or that I've become disillusioned and not as easily impressed. I remember some stories in past years giving me really "wow" moments at what was pulled off in the writing, but there were none like that this year. Or maybe it's a combination of both. This is not to say I haven't read some good pieces of fiction from them this year, which is why I present this list. It's my top 5 New Yorker stories from this year. I wish I had the time to give a more in depth take on what I think about them here, but I'll only give a quick run down. Maybe that's better anyway, to let them stand on their own.

5. "Agreeable" by Jonathan Franzen. I'm assuming this is an excerpt from his new novel Freedom meant to be its own story. I usually don't have a problem with publications doing this, as long as the excerpt can stand on its own with all the tenets I expect from short fiction, or if it doesn't, that its identified as an excerpt, which I will judge differently. I could tell this was an excerpt, and if its not, Franzen has some issues to deal with. But, if it is, I think it's a good one. Though the third person voice can seem too affected and a bit unnatural at times, the central conflict is compelling to me. A teenage girl-basketball player-black sheep in her family is raped. The boy who does it is the son of a couple her parents are good friends with, so her parents don't want to press charges, or if they do, don't want them to be very harsh.

4. "Costello" by Jim Gavin. I provided the link even though a subscription is required. I was pleased to read that this is Jim Gavin's first New Yorker publication. I love it when they premier new writers instead of paying homage to their standard big names. It's usually an indicator that the story will be good, and this one is no exception. It's about a man named Martin Costello who is a plumber salesman. He lives alone and has two daughters, and he frequently deflects dinner invites from his neighbor to sit at home and watch sports instead. The overwhelming loneliness in his life is handled with such subtly not found in most stories in which a central character is in a state of solitude. It's not stated but shown in every way Gavin draws Costello. I particularly like the two line description of the way he eats his microwaved hot dogs while watching the game. The way such a simple detail is delivered gives me a substantial idea of what his life is like. It's eventually revealed that his wife died of cancer. I don't think this is a spoiler, because it's not meant to be a big shock. I like that it refrains from being a "cancer story" even though it's included as a part of the reality of Costello's life.

3. "The Young Painters" by Nicole Krauss. Again, online use restricted to subscription holders. "Meta" has been thrown around liberally recently, especially when discussing a few popular TV shows, as if it's something new and cerebral, even though fiction has been doing it for centuries. Given the boom of its recent popularity, finding a story involving meta-fiction in the NYer this year is no surprise. This one is about a writer who goes to a dinner party that a dancer friend hosts. She takes interest in a painting in his house, and he tells a startling, heartbreaking, and personal anecdote of where it came from, which I'll leave out. The writer ends up writing and publishing a story about it, letting her imagination fill in the details. She worries how her friend will view the way she used something personal from his past. It's told as if she's on trial talking to a judge, occasionally using "Your Honor," as if the reader is the judge. This form does come off as a bit of a gimmick, but I like this story for the central questions it poses about fiction. To what extent is use of real-life inspiration exploiting the people or person from which it comes? (for a similar take, see "Material" by Alice Munro)

2. "Ask Me If I Care" by Jennifer Egan. Now, I know this is an excerpt from her new novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, or if it's not a direct excerpt, it's a story about the same characters. It stands on its own quite well as a story. It's very punk rock. Probably because it's about a teenage punk band. Rhea is the main character, and the story is her first person account. I love that opening paragraph too. There's a big love 5 sided polygon among the members of the band or her friends associated with it, Bennie, Scotty, Jocelyn, and the outsider of the group, Alice. Rhea doesn't beat us over the head with this cliche, but between the lines are insights into why each embraces the "punk" image. Enter Lou. A much older record executive Jocelyn has a fling with after he picked her up hitch hiking. Egan has created a voice in Rhea that is authentic and genuine as she tries to decipher herself what it even means to be "real."

1. "Boys Town" by Jim Shepard. This is my favorite New Yorker story this year. It's a shame it's only available to subscribers. After a major drought in quality stories lasting months, I was starting to get fed up, until this one came toward the end of the year. Refreshing. The power of the story is in the main character's first person POV: Martin, a veteran, who lives with his mom, and is divorced. There's no reason I should be sympathetic toward him. He's a terrible person. He's abused his wife and maybe even his son, who he's lost custody of. He doesn't pay his child support. He's violent, and even wields a gun at one point. But, for some reason I am. He thinks he has post-traumatic stress, which he might, though it's implied he never really fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. His mom only enables him. He's had a hard life. But, so many people have had hard lives and don't turn out like him, which gets at a central question of the story. How much are we affected by our circumstances and how much is a part of our biological make-up? The reason I become sympathetic toward him I suppose is because I'm getting the intimate first person, a power of the form to which this story is a testament.

Honorable Mentions:

1. "Corrie" by Alice Munro. I love her. She's one of my favorite writers. She didn't make the final list perhaps because I was expecting more from her. Every time I pick up a story by Munro I expect to be floored in the well crafted structure and turns of phrase, but this one didn't live up to my expectations for her specifically. This story is still good though. An affair, blackmail, all good stuff.

2. "The Pilot" by Joshua Ferris He was a part of the June 14th and 25th issues' "20 Under 40" fiction segment premiering the "top" 20 young fiction writers under 40. Most I found lacking. The New Yorker seems to be shifting toward this new style that just leaves me thinking "so what?", stories with no real meat and are just showing off some experimental form. Ferris is an exception. I love the main character's obsessive and neurotic tendencies, though they could be a turn off for some.

3. "I.D." by Joyce Carol Oates. Her stories are usually always hit or miss for me. Her recent fiction has been pretty lackluster, especially with the disaster that was "Pumpkin Head", but this one redeems her for me. It's definitely a "hit."

Again, I wish I could go more in depth but lack the time. I find it interesting that the ones I seem to like best are typically in first person when I usually prefer third. I have some ideas about why this is the case, but that's another post for another time. Thanks for indulging this fiction geek.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


My parents picked out Gracie with a little help from me from a no-kill shelter down the street from their home. She's a good mutt -- part beagle and corgi. We've had her for about 4 years, and she'll be 5 soon. She hit the jackpot by being brought into my parent's household. My mom and dad spoil her like a grand child while my sister, Beth and I are more firm with her, though our attempts at discipline turn out unsuccessfully, since she spends most of her time in their home. Beth always jokes that she should be diagnosed with ADD, since she's strangely enthralled by different shadows and reflections of light. Whip out a cell phone while she's on your lap, and she will immediately pounce on it paws-first, almost feline-like. And when she does sit on a lap she doesn't really sit, so much as stand with all her weight on one leg, and if she's taken off, will try to get back up a few seconds later. She must be pet and paid attention to at all times. I would call her a "stage 5 clinger." She deserves to be spoiled and clung to, despite my annoyance with it at times. Her last household was one filled with domestic abuse. Apparently the father had alcohol problems, and when authorities came to rescue her, she was found in the backyard with the little girl of the home clinging to her. I would also like to think that little girl was rescued and taken out of the home as well. As a result, she's leery of any male company that comes into my parents' house who she hasn't met before. I find myself having parental feelings toward her -- strange since I have no plans on being a father in my lifetime at all -- like worry that she's not grateful enough for what we've given her. I found out this holiday season that she turns her nose up at honey ham and certain lunch meats. She's become picky about her table scraps! Any other dog would take any human food they could get, but not Gracer for whom table scraps are commonplace and expected.

begging for a belly rub
Gifts from her sat under the tree. She got me a wine-themed calendar. In my stocking was a lint roller -- they're called "Gracie rollers" in the Holladay family -- to get her hair off my clothes. I asked my mom, "Why didn't you have Gracie's gift be the lint roller?" She responded, as if she had a conscious choice in the matter, "Because she wanted to get you the calendar." She's a canine member of the family. I'm constantly amazed at how Gracie has the ability to bring all of us together. In my parents' older age, she's been good for them. Whenever we get together, she's front and center, and in her eyes, we live for her, and that's even true to an extent. Her life and energy give us life and energy, speaking to our inner need to provide care and comfort to a life that's meek. In the midst of our stressful moments as a family at times, her innocence refreshes and revitalizes, a testament to what she gives back to us. While opening gifts, I slipped her a piece of sausage, and even though she may be used to getting what she wants from us, the calm and sheepish look on her face under that coffee table let me know that she really is grateful, even if she doesn't know it.

Happy Holidays, from me and Gracie Bell!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2 Egg Omelette

Usually in the cast iron skillet I use with a gas stove, the edges have a hard time getting done, and flipping it can be hit or miss. This morning was a hit with this perfect two egg omelette. It contained spinach, red onions, and mushrooms. At least one of the three is an omelette must for me, but all of them is even better. To spice it up, I added oregano, garlic powder, basil, salt, pepper, and a few red pepper flakes for a kick. Filled also with shredded Parmesan cheese. Perfection.


Apparently Glee had a “very special” and “heart-wrenching” episode this past week. I wasn’t going to write about it, because I don’t care too much about the show, but with the number of blogs I've read opening it up for discussion in a boom of comments and with my interest in gay representation in stories as both a gay man and lover of fiction writing, I feel compelled to weigh in. I didn’t see the episode. I can’t stand Glee after giving it many shots last year. Its status as a sing-a-long for adults aside, it tends to be a pretty heavily male-centric show and leaves its characters in the respective pigeonholes set up for them. I wouldn’t have that much of a problem, since most shows on TV tend to do this, especially teen dramas, but many of its viewers claim the show is breaking new barriers for acceptance and tolerance. The creator himself even has this high opinion of his own show. I’m sorry, but simply depicting minorities on TV isn’t groundbreaking if they merely fit into the molds made for them. It’s just not. These depictions are actually an affront to these minority groups.

To those of you who didn’t see the episode, Kurt, the token gay teen, gets bullied by a football player, who turns out to be gay himself, and at the end brashly kisses Kurt. At least this is what I understand by what I’ve read about it. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Of course I’m glad when TV shows portray gay characters and their struggles. We need it. I don’t have any problem with Glee including such a story line, especially with all the bouts of recent homophobia found in the news. I take issue with how it has been perceived by certain bloggers and the commentators. This isn’t nearly as revolutionary as these “gleeks” are claiming. Gay kissing on TV isn’t anything new, and the barriers have already been broken. I remember seeing it in the shows I watched growing up. The first primetime male to male kiss aired on Dawson’s Creek in its third season finale – the episode entitled “True Love” – with Jack and his love interest of the season. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Willow and Tara’s first kiss in its fifth season in the episode "The Body," and the two shared many others on the show after that. And I loved the way BTVS did it too. The episode is innovative, not because of the kiss, but because of the realistic, severe, and jarring way it was shot along with the subject matter. The episode is so focused on the death of Buffy’s mom, and Joss Whedon throws it in casually. In the season five episode commentary, he said he wanted the first kiss not to be such a big deal in the primary spotlight but something natural and common. The two show affection to each other with a kiss for mutual solace in the wake of grief, similar to many other scenes with straight couples doing the same. It wasn’t forced but expected of how their characters would be reacting in the scene. The WB wanted Whedon to take it out, but he refused and threatened to cease production of the show if it wouldn’t air with the kiss included.

Cut to about ten years later with this past week’s episode of Glee. My main beef with the show is how every character is an exaggerated cast type, and the closeted gay football player is no exception. Sure, on Dawson’s Creek, Jack played football, but he was already out, and I would hardly classify the treatment of his character as steeped in stereotypes. Gay fiction has transcended the “coming out” story, and now the aim must be to depict gays and lesbians like any character would be with their sexuality as a non-issue. The difficulty is perhaps balancing this with the necessity to convey the reality of the internal conflict gays and lesbians do go through in our culture, a balancing act done pretty well with Jack’s character, and impressive that it was on a teenage soap opera. After the first few seasons included story lines about his coming out, the show went on to provide arcs in which he had multiple romantic interests just like his verbose peers which is more than I can say for how Kurt fits into the acceptable and safe “celibate” but “flamboyant” image of the gay male. What real progress has been made here? If Glee is as diverse and progressive as some allege, as Ryan Murphy himself alleges, it would’ve had a male-male kiss already, and should’ve taken a cue from its predecessors to not base it on gross stereotypes.

Willow and Tara in "The Body" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aired 02/27/2001
   Jack and Ethan in "True Love" from Dawson's Creek, aired 05/24/2000

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Gay Lifestyle

Here's how it is (in detail):

I get up. Eat breakfast. Go to work. Come home to my house. Make dinner. Eat dinner. I'll read or write or watch a TV show. Make my lunch for the next day. Get ready for bed. Go to bed. Get up and do it all over again. In the midst of it all, I clean my house when it needs it. I do my grocery shopping for the week on Sunday or Monday. On weekends, I catch up with family and friends. I take my dog, Gracie, for a walk. I sometimes meet friends for a drink or two at a local bar or we might take in a movie or hear a band play. On Monday, it starts over again.

Scandalous. Keep the kids away.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Top Ten New (to me) Songs

After resisting an i-pod for years, I got one for Christmas last year. It was time to assimilate my music, and I'm glad I did, an instance where the convenience of technology outweighs my initial reservations about it. Those reservations have faded since. Anyway, this post isn't about i-pods but about what they contain. In the past year, even before getting the i-pod, I listened to quite a bit of new music per suggestions from friends, favorite bands putting out new albums, and the decision my sister, Beth and I had to share an i-tunes music library, thus my songs were combined with hers, exposing me to bands she listens to I hadn't. Here's my official top ten songs from the new music I've listened to in the past year -- not new music, but music new to me. The time frame is the beginning of last October to this year.

10. "Feel it In My Bones"/ Tiesto ft. Tegan and Sara

I don't know if this is off an actual album or not. The video circulated around the internet. I saw and heard it on Tegan and Sara's blog. I love Tegan and Sara. They're music is so emotionally resonant, and they have some of the most compelling lyrics out of any artist working, at least in my opinion. I respect them the most because each album they come out with incorporates a new sound. They're constantly experimenting and evolving. On their latest album, Sainthood, they brought in different sounds along with their usual indie-alternative folk -- almost industrial pop. Seeing them lay down a track like this, one that's very techno-infused is unexpected and is a testament to the new sound on their latest album.

9. "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk"/ Rufus Wainwright from Poses

I've just started listening to Rufus in the last month. This one makes a great opening song for Poses. I think it shows the range of his voice the best on the album. And oh, the coy third or fourth line, "Everything it seems I like's a little bit stronger/A little bit thicker/A little bit harmful for me." Thanks for the wink and nudge at the metaphor of the song, Rufus.

8. "Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise"/ The Avett Brothers from I And Love And You

7. "There is a Light That Never Goes Out"/ The Smiths from Greatest Hits

This one may be cheating. Of course I've heard this song well before the past year. I put their greatest hits album on my i-pod, and I hadn't listened to them in years. I have my favorite Smiths songs, but I forgot about this one and was pleasantly surprised to re-discover it. The verses are filled with such melancholy and longing, contrasted with a chorus that's so extreme as a result -- an undying declaration of love -- that it's almost funny. It's ironic that this type of chorus is an extension of the genuine feelings before and after it.

6. "5 Years Time"/ Noah and the Whale from Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down

This song makes me smile.

5. "Dance in the Dark"/ Lady Gaga from The Fame Monster

Don't judge me. I've caught Gaga fever after such reluctance. Beth put her double disk (The Fame and The Fame Monster) on our music library, and I started listening. There's so many reasons I like her I could devote an entire blog post to it, so I won't make that post this one. The Fame Monster is the most impressive. With only 8 songs, it packs more force than countless other longer albums.

4. "The Mountain"/ Lucero from Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers

This link is to a video from the live performance of the song. I couldn't find any link to the song on the album, but live is better anyway.

3. "Crazy as Me"/ Allison Krauss and Union Station from Lonely Runs Both Ways

Again, this comment is about the video link. Sorry about the super cheesy flower background and lyrics. As for the song, I can't get enough of her voice. Gorgeous. And I can't believe I've just started listening this year.

2. "Left Me in a Hole"/ Yonder Mountain String Band from Elevation

Again, I couldn't find a link with the album version, but this is to a live version. I've listed a few bands with some bluegrass -- The Avett Brothers -- or southern -- Lucero -- influences, but this band is pure bluegrass, which I've been getting into a lot of. Sure, living in Murray, KY for four years exposed me to a few bluegrass nights dancing with more than a few drinks in me, but this is the first real bluegrass band I've started following regularly after seeing their live show here in Louisville back in February.

1. "The Ocean"/ Tegan and Sara from Sainthood

I'm ending and closing with T&S. I'm pretty biased. I love them. They opened the concert I saw back in April with this song. It's the best off of Sainthood, their latest album released last Fall. Their sound pleasantly surprised me. Like I said, it's borderline industrial. I love how the opening songs from their albums establish the new sound, and "Arrow" does just that. It's drastically different from their last album, The Con, which was much more indie/alternative. This one doesn't incorporate any of the new influences; they still stay true to their roots in many of them too, another aspect I like.

That's all. Thanks for indulging me, if you actually were bored enough to do so.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Coffee Buzzed

I'm a big time coffee enthusiast. Not of the sort that wishes he could hook up an IV to stream the brew into his blood, but the kind that enjoys it as a morning ritual -- the scent greeting me as I try to wake up, the warmth of the mug in my hand, and the full-bodied flavor preparing me for the day -- and as a great companion for work or weekend morning writing sessions. About a month ago, I woke up on one of those Saturday mornings and had forgotten to get more coffee. I shrugged it off, thinking I would be fine skipping it. Big mistake. By about eleven o'clock, I felt the withdraw like I had never felt before -- a headache and a weakness in my body. It was then I came to a realization. I may very well be an actual addict. I've been drinking coffee on and off in my life for about fourteen years -- decaf when I was young. Over the past few months, I've been drinking it every morning, which was probably the cause of the withdraw. Now, I make sure to drink it in moderation, averaging around only two cups a morning and resist it in the afternoon. Coffee has gotten a bad health rap, and recent studies have shown evidence to the contrary. I was pleasantly surprised to read an article in the Courier-Journal (the local newspaper here in Louisville) about the health benefits of coffee a short time after that morning. The link to it on their website was dead, but I found the summary of what it cited here.

I relish in trying new beans. I usually get the varieties at Heine Brothers and have decided the Peruvian kind is my favorite. These beans are lighter than I normally prefer, but the taste is bolder than what the beans would indicate, yet balanced between full-bodied and smooth, a rareity. Lizz has an old time bean grinder her grandmother gave her, and I've taken pleasure in grinding the beans myself, a dedication to fresh coffee I've never taken up before. I go for coffee that's from local shops here in Louisville and are usually organic and fairly traded. Right now I've given a different shop a try, the Costa Rican kind from Sunergos. It's one of the most aromatic coffees I've bought. It has smooth and sweet notes in the taste with a slight boldness, though I wish it was a little bolder, because that's my personal preference. I will definitely be trying more from them though. You can pick up a package of their beans, not only in their store, but also at Rainbow Blossom if you live in Louisville and are looking for good coffee.

Fear not, on that sluggish weekend afternoon, I was able to get my fix with frozen Kroger coffee, which cleared up my headache and perked me up for the rest of the day. In the end, I'll take anything to indulge my coffee comfort. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a java junkie.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Out of the Bubble

For the past year I've been in a book club. In fact, I'm the founder and coordinator of it. Many of my literary friends would find this hilarious; I find it hilarious given the amount of times book clubs were the source of jokes for me and these friends in my college days. The idea invokes a group of people sitting around in a touchy-feely circle talking about surface topics like what characters they liked or didn't, how certain parts made them feel, or whether they like the book or not with no solid justification one way or the other, and very little, if any, discussion about topics of importance like structure of form, character complexity, narrative causality, sources of conflict, subtext, or line-by-line linguistic analysis of style to name a few. You know, topics with real literary significance. Is this snobbery? Yes, very much so. Am I a book snob? Again, yes, very much so. I started this club reluctantly at the proposal of a few friends, and as the only former English major in the mix, I was the logical choice for the role of organizer. Over the past year, my attitude has changed a bit. It's been refreshing to speak in a setting about a book openly with no pressure or grade at stake. Most importantly, I've enjoyed the opportunity to read books I wouldn't have chosen for myself otherwise. Of course, I've liked some more than others.

The last meeting we had was this Monday. We read War Dances by Sherman Alexie, a collection of short stories and poems. As a whole, I admire Alexie's blend of traditional structural form with experimentation, especially in a current literary community where everyone is pegged with being in either one camp or the other. As a lover of fiction, I was most eager for the short stories, and I want to comment on one specifically, "The Senator's Son." This one resonated with me the most. Book clubbers -- at least my stereotypical perception of them referenced in the previous paragraph -- tend to hate a book if they hate the characters. In this story, I hated all three central characters: a conservative senator vying for future presidency, his priveleged son, William, and William's former best friend, Jeremy, a gay republican. While I know if these characters were real I most likely wouldn't be able to stand them, I found this story, and them, powerful, because Alexie provides insight into perhaps why they are the way they are. Spoiler alert. William gay bashes Jeremy years after the latter came out to the former, which had dissolved their friendship. In a surprising reversal, I felt like William, the first person POV character, was more redeemable than Jeremy, who is essentially homophobic himself, maybe even more than William. Jeremy readily forgives William with no questions, claiming gay rights don't matter, because far more pressing issues and problems exist in the world than who he has sex with. In the end, I realize he refuses to support his own rights, the ones that are the most immediate to him, because he is a man who has become so disillusioned and beaten down -- both figuratively and literally in the case with William and also growing up with his father -- by the homophobia in the world that his only defense mechanism is to comply to it by not standing up for himself. William ponders whether Jeremy's act of forgiveness is an act of cowardice. I can't help but agree, and I was taken aback that I felt this way -- that forgiveness isn't necessarily redemptive; it can be spineless.

This story is apt for what I've been rolling around in my head the past week given all the media coverage of the suicides caused by bullying. I'm shocked at how homophobic our society is. Sure, I've known it is. I'm not naive. I've experienced it first hand since quite a young age by enduring harassment similar to what these kids faced. Maybe the extent of our culture's prejudice mind-set is becoming more real for me in these past two years out of college -- a place where my sexuality was a non-issue with the people I surrounded myself with, especially being steeped in a creative writing program. Now that I'm out of the bubble, I notice just how latent our homophobia is. I've had people telling me these suicides in the news aren't issues with being gay but are about bullying. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't almost every instance in the news over the past month a bully who is making derogatory remarks and harassing a kid because he or she was gay, or was perceived as being gay, or didn't fit into any type of gender role deemed "normal"? People who make claims like these aren't looking at the root cause of why their peers are bullying these kids in the first place. And, I wonder why now of all times the media decides to focus on these tradgedies, because they happen much more than the national news stations usually covered before. The suicide rate of gay teens far exceeds the number of straight teens. Maybe now that more people are paying attention to how harmful homophobia is, attitudes will change. In the past week, I've found the media covering more instances of violence, discrimination, and narrow-mindedness:

-The Bronx gay bashing
- A student-teacher fired for answering a student's question about his marital status
- Another suicide, provoked not by harassment at school, but by awful comments made at a community's city council meeting
- More bullying, and physical assault in school
- And, I would be remiss leaving out Carl Paladino

I could list more, but this is sufficient enough to give you an idea. Then again, I wouldn't hold my breath that exposure will make a difference. These attitudes are pretty heavily engrained culturally. Over the past year, since integrating back into Louisville, I've been surprised at certain encounters I've had. Like certain "friends" making comments to me like, "Wow, do you have any masculinity left in you at all?" because I was holding a red drink I suppose this person deemed "girly," or slights like, "It looks like we've got four women here," even though there were three, and then continuing with, "and I'm including Michael." I'm not trying to use this post to play the victim or to even insinuate at all that these encounters are on any level with the suicides, discrimination, or bashing I've cited above. I'm simply pointing to them as examples of how mannerisms and outlooks regarding sexual orientation and gender are so embedded in how people interact with one another that they become second nature, and by extention, these small, subtle attitudes yield the larger more horrific forms of violence and blatant prejudice. Despite the media coverage, I don't see immediate change occurring any time soon. So, I can definitely understand Jeremy in that Sherman Alexie story. It would be easy to forgive people who are the cause of such direct violence and hatred, if that's what would save yourself from it all.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I saw the Band of Horses this Wednesday night (Oct. 6th) at the Brown Theatre. I've been a fan of them, specifically their debut 2006 album Everything All the Time, for about three and a half years now. I listened to some of their follow up, Cease to Begin (2007), and none of their latest Infinite Arms, released this May save for maybe one song on WFPK, the local public radio station here in Louisville. I mainly went to hear my favorites from their first album live, and the whole concert itself ended up exceeding my expectations.

Everything All the Time is an impressive album, particularly in the broad tonal breadth it encompasses. Many of the songs feel almost monumental in their mellifluous energy (i.e. "The Great Salt Lake") contrasted with tunes that are more subdued and meditative (i.e. "Monsters"), along with one that incorporates both elements (i.e. "The Funeral," a fan -- and my personal -- favorite). Their live show translated this range well.

The lighting design was one of the more impressive ones I've seen in my concert-going experience; the bar was set high after seeing Tegan and Sara on their latest tour back in the spring, the last concert I went to, that was free anyway. A mix of warm reds, purples, and oranges flashed to enhance the epic characteristic of the faster paced songs while static blues and whites set the tone for the gentler numbers. A projection screen sat behind them to display landscape images, appropriate for the mountain-esque and woodsy naturalistic ambiance in their music.

Now to the core of the concert: the music itself. The star of the show -- just like their albums -- was front man Benjamin Bridwell's voice. It simply enthralls. It reverberates to create this captivating, ethereal, and haunting quality. This vocal trait is evident in their CDs, but actually hearing him live was a treat. He holds this subtle gregarious air about him that charms. And this feeling may be a product of his stage presence, but he's pretty easy on the eyes too. As for the rest of the horses -- this may be an overall critique of the band in general -- they weren't anything special in view of the rest of indie-southern rock world. I can say this for them though: I don't claim to know much about the technical aspects of playing music, and I'm not going to pretend to, but it seemed to me like they played perfectly, at least as perfectly as I expect. I wish I could say the same for their opener, Brad. The other opener, Blake Mills, wasn't too bad taking into account how amateur he is in a solo role.

They provided a good blend of new material with old despite my worry thirty minutes in. They played seven songs off their first album: "Wicked Gil," "The Funeral," "The Great Salt Lake," "Weed Party," "Part One," "The First Song," and "Monsters." Regardless of some obnoxious woo! girls and yeah! guys chanting for it, they never did play "St. Augustine." I mean, do you like any other songs? If I were to officially rate the concert, I would give it a 3 out of 4 stars.

If you haven't checked them out, I suggest it, and start with Everything All the Time. I may be a little biased though. I never got into their newer stuff, because of the love affair I had with their original. The concert definitely makes me look forward to listening to the other two albums in their entirety, spawned from what I felt closing my eyes, hearing Bridwell echo in the venue, and it was like I was in multiple places at once: in my car by myself during many trips their CD accompanied me in a range of highs and lows in my life, and there in that auditorium surrounded by people, listening to them play their songs for me in person, almost transcending time, which really, is what the magic of music ends up amounting to.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Facebooks

I finally did it. And the moment I wrote that sentence, I realized how melodramatic it sounds, given what I did. I deleted my facebook *insert your shocks and gasps here*. The decision came after months of deliberation, and no doubt, annoyance, on the end of my friends, particularly my roommate, Lizz, at the number of times I would say, in the middle of lull in conversation and I was given to moments of reflecting, "I think I'm going to delete my facebook." The dramatic tone of the first sentence I wrote was natural, I guess, because when I would mention it to friends, I was met with varied reactions, but the majority was that of shock. This astonishment at the idea of someone leaving an internet site is one of the multiple reasons I decided to leave.

Calling facebook a mere "internet site" may have seemed flip of me, because, let's be honest, we all know it's become the internet site. When I joined -- way back in the hey day of 2005 when it was a fun way to see who else was on my college campus -- it was on a smaller scale. Now, it's dominated all other sites in the world of the internet, but to me, it's had more of an impact -- dominating all other means of connection and communication, not just on the internet, but in reality. Ah yes, reality. A concept people have lost sight of in the boom of facebook. It really has become what postmodern philosopher Baudrillard coined as the fourth level of simulation, that is, the ultimate postmodern simulacra. To put this idea in simpler terms -- it should be because postmodern philosophy can be pretty damn full of itself -- facebook has replaced the real world, and by extension, someone's profile avatar on facebook has replaced him or her. I was met with a series of questions when I expressed contemplation over leaving to friends. How am I going to know when someone's birthday is? If I genuinely care about someone in my life, I'll know his or her birthday, and if I happen to forget, I will apologize because that's how life is. How am I going to see new pictures my friends took? At their house in their living room or on their camera or computer if they show me. How will I know about events? By getting invited to them, dare I say it, in person or via phone call or reading about it. What if a friend needs to send me a message? To quote a blunt blogger I read, "if you're too stupid to where you don't know how to use email, then I don't want to be your friend." I'm not that harsh, but I take a similar toned down stance. These questions illustrate my point. People have forgotten the "connections" made on facebook are easily transferable to real life. Let's face it, that type of connection is far more personal and sincere, which I prefer.

Not to be paranoid, but another reason is the state of facebook's privacy policy and how scary it has become given who can now view what information. This chart is pretty informative. The source of it claims that he likes facebook and doesn't want this collected data motivating anyone to delete their account. Well, here I am. I can't see how anyone can view this chart and not, at least, think about it. I don't want the entire internet knowing I've listed Buffy the Vampire Slayer, How I Met Your Mother, Dollhouse, and Dexter as my favorite TV shows or Romy and Michele's High School Reunion as one of my favorite movies. Embarrassment has nothing to do with my reluctance -- heck, I've provided this movie and these shows here -- which has more to do with the way I'm being defined. As someone who has to deal with superficial identity signifiers shaping my image for people on a daily basis, I'm pretty reluctant to have anyone with a computer creating some idea of me based on information I've listed. They don't know me by these litanies. Contact information on the site is, perhaps, even more frightening. Proponents of social networking and the "free information" age may claim I have control of who can access this information, but to what extent is this really true? Or will be true in the future with the trend this chart shows facebook is heading toward? Facebook stores all its users' information, even that which they delete. I've heard the only way to really delete an account is to delete all of the information on the account -- I did this -- and also all of the friends on the account -- I didn't do this, because who has time? -- to where the profile is blank, and then select the option not to "de-activate" the account so it can be re-activated at any time, but to really delete it. And even then, facebook still captures your computer's IP address. All of this gives me the distinct feeling facebook owns my information, and by extension, owns me. Call me a paranoid conspiracy theorist if you wish.

Leaving facebook has a certain connotation as a radical anti-social act, according to a few reactions I've gotten. I'm leaving for the very opposite reason. Facebook has drastically changed the way we interact with one another. Since when does a "like" of a status or "poke" connote real communication? People on facebook are being assessed by the information they list and not their personality in all of its quirks and eccentricities. There's a reason I haven't kept in touch with that guy in the back of my freshman English class in high school who I can barely recognize now, and I want to keep it that way. I want to live in the real world.

It's pure coincidence I came to this decision the same day that movie The Social Network came out. I promise. I don't know much about the movie and don't have that strong of a desire to see it, but it sounds like it's more about how facebook got started, which I don't really take issue with. I take issue with what it's become.

If you don't have my email address, please respond in a comment, and I'll get it to you.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

First Post - Not themed

I've decided to give this blogging business a try. I've come to this decision for multiple reasons. As much as I resist new technology and am an old timer at heart, I want to embrace the internet and tap into some type of online community. It's time I start taking advantage of what the world wide web has to offer.

I should outline what this blog is and what it's not, most importantly what it's not. An unfortunate side effect of the digital age is shameful, narcissistic self-celebration. I know. I know. A blog by its very nature is a tribute to the blogger. But, I think there's a marked difference among the approaches to online communities (i.e. pointless "status" updates on certain social networks conveying mundane, quotidian details with the tacit assumption everyone in cyberspace is on the edge of his or her seat over said detail, or entries talking solely about oneself verses sharing thought-provoking ideas to try and connect to people and find that which is universal). I've resisted blog writing for the longest time, because I don't think I'm going to be very good at it. The best blogs have some sort of theme or focus -- no, I haven't seen that Julia movie -- and this blog won't. It's going to be a mix of my thoughts on certain issues, conveying interesting happenings in my life, or reviews and recommendations regarding culture like books, movies, music, art, restaurants, libations, and events. I don't think I'm a very interesting person, but I hope you enjoy my point of view, and this log of my experiences as I take the mysteries of life in stride. Here's one of my favorite poems -- an impressive villanelle -- about doing just that.

"The Waking"
Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.