Adventures in Uncluttering

Tonight is exciting! Tonight I get to see Aziz Ansari at the Chicago Theater, a comedian I have never seen live in an iconic venue I’ve never manage to hit up. In celebration of that, and of the brilliant, funny and wonderful Analicia, my hairstylist who knows how to make curly hair all that it can be (pictured above with her stunning yellow locks), I’m offloading some of the links I’ve been hoarding and meaning to share for *mumblemumble.*

This coming Memorial Day weekend will be the first since Band of Brothers paratroopers and all-around excellent South Philly boys Bill Guarnere and Babe Heffron passed away, 14 weeks apart. Robyn Post, who co-wrote their excellent autobiography Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, shared some memories of the two that had me belly-laughing. For a pair of guys I never met, I am awfully fond of them.

I am one of the five remaining people in the world who doesn’t have Netflix, but apparently a glitch in its software is creating amazing program summaries of offerings we really wish existed.

Barry Underwood makes gorgeous sculpture with light; that’s the nearest way I can describe these photographs.

I always notice when I find myself collecting clusters of stories. The first is about disappearing online, and the attendant anxieties of data mining, electronic tracking and surveillance, government or profit-driven:

The second cluster is about the Beatles, whose music I lived and breathed (and would not let my parents, friends or family members escape) from late 1995 well past 1998:

  • Reading the Beatles argues that you only need one book about the Fab Four, music critic Ian MacDonald’s song-by-song guide to their catalogue, Revolution in the Head. Interestingly written review.
  • Salon assembled 30 amazing Beatles covers you need to hear, which I look forward to spending time with.
  • However, I don’t know if any of them can be as unsettling, beautiful, eerie and terrifying as slowing down “Because” to 800% of its normal speed, without distortion. The track is almost 20 minutes long, and I’m sure some of it is in Parseltongue, but it’ll stay with you. Wow, is that song good.

Inside the Corporate Fandom Marketing Machine gets inside the process of successful social media campaigns and leveraging fan passion to make waves (and money) and stay on the air. A good breakdown of differences in behavior from fans of different ages too.

Diversity Cross-Checking Reference for Writers offers a directory of contacts who are happy to answer questions about culture, lived experience and whether that thing you’re writing is on the right track or totally, completely, embarrassingly wrong. Pair with Disability After the Singularity, which questions why sci-fi is so hellbent on a universally able-bodied future, and what we’re missing when we “fix” disability in fiction. (Also, this interview with the woman who coined the term “white privilege” is worth a read. I guess we found my third link cluster.)

Paired stories:

Finally, because perhaps not all of you are watching me utterly lose my mind over Captain America: The Winter Soldier over at Tumblr, I have to share this incredible fanvid here. It’s not what you think; give it a watch. If you have feelings about Bucky Barnes, this one is going to give you more.

So simple, but also completely devastating, especially when you note the edge of the window in the corner and think about what that means for you the viewer. (Pair with this Leyendecker-inspired portrait of Steve Rogers, which has incredible details layered in. Look, I really love this movie, okay?)

Put a camera in my hands

To my shame, yesterday was the first time in exactly two months I’d used my beloved and much-longed-for DSLR. I really love taking pictures, a lot, and luckily I’ve got friends who are willing to help me out. Grad school bud Clancy (previously seen in this iconic photo) and I hung out yesterday, which happened to be beautiful in Chicago. Clancy is an awesome human being who also happens to have a wonderfully expressive face, which led to some awesome shots.

First the nice pictures.
First the nice pictures.
This is why we're friends.
This is why we’re friends.

Continue reading “Put a camera in my hands”

This Land Is Your Land (Some Restrictions Apply)

One thing that struck me about Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the film’s emphasis on recognition scenes. Steve Rogers, the protagonist, has been asleep for 70 years, and the America that he finds on waking is a much different one than the one he grew up knowing. For the past couple weeks I’ve found myself collecting links about the ways in which the United States has become unrecognizable, even in my lifetime, and it’s far past time I shared them. (I’d like to disclaim again that I’m in no way saying that the 1940s and that whole “Greatest Generation” thing are more authentic or superior somehow. See also: Feminism, civil rights and modern medicine, for starters.)

Gentrification

What got me started on this link-hoarding spree was finding a handful of essays about cost of living in San Francisco, London and New York, versus the affordability gap between metro areas and exurban cities in generalSalon called gentrification violence, a particular kind that thrives on erasure. You’re expected to participate in these processes, if you want certain things for your career. You may have no choice, if you’re lucky.

Higher education

I say “if you’re lucky” because education is very much a part of where opportunities happen, and education at all levels in the United States is in serious trouble. Teach for America, which sells itself as a chance for high-achieving college grads to do good in school districts that need the most help, is a destructive scam. Overworking students and teachers isn’t just an epidemic in the UK. The arms race for admission to the most elite colleges has tipped well into obscenity. The “superbrand” universities are coming out fine, assuming you discount the hidden costs of attending and the ongoing job market and salary catastrophe for adjuncts, grad students and non-tenured faculty. (Polls are finding that superbrand college experiences aren’t even necessary for happiness or success, but the allure of prestige is so hard at 17 or 18, especially when you’re terrified that if you “settle” now, you’ll have missed your chance forever.) Again, this is all assuming you get in the door.

Polarization

Meanwhile, government keeps failing us, and we’re too deadlocked to see our way out: knowing more about issues and situations actually entrenches our partisanship further. Redistricting has turned the organizational units of Congress into a place with virtually no idealogical overlap. Racism entrenches those divisions further still. See what happens when only certain people can afford to live where there are jobs?

This is a really cursory, totally surface-level collection of links; I keep following these stories whenever they crop up, and the deep-current trends are distressing and overwhelming. These are not necessarily the best links about these stories, just the most recent. If I dug more, I could put together something much more damning. The conversation is hard to start, particularly when the first piece of financial advice for young people always seems to be “Stop buying $5 lattes every day.” It shows how little that side understands the economic situation of most young people if it assumes we’ve got disposable income like that.

No wonder I’d much prefer to spend the rest of the day fantasizing about how amazing Hayley Atwell’s Agent Peggy Carter is going to be. If this badass can triumph over the sexism and every other -ism of the 1940s, we should have a fighting chance too, right?

Captain America: The Man Who Was More Himself

The problem with Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that there’s no room for a bathroom break. Other Marvel movies have spots that slow down or drag, but Winter Soldier manages to make every moment plot-relevant and engaging. It’s one reason why I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for two and a half weeks, and why I’ll be seeing it for a third time this afternoon.

I was never a big Cap fan: Thor was the one that grabbed me from the moment the lights came up, with its Shakespearean grandeur, self-effacing humor and immensely compelling brothers-at-war plot. I saw Captain America: The First Avenger opening weekend — a group of friends and I dressed up as ’40s ladies — and wanted to love it, since Band of Brothers was and is so important to me. I enjoyed it at the time, but thought it was over-long. The Avengers, released almost a year later, I found emotionally vacant, the cinematic equivalent of banging action figures together. The Thor sequel and the Iron Man films were fine, but they didn’t move me. I was really expecting similar from Winter Soldier.

Oh boy wow, was I wrong.

General praise first: Anthony and Joe Russo, primarily known before this for directing TV like Community and Arrested Development, did something we didn’t expect but should have seen coming — they made an entirely character-driven story. The fight scenes are spectacular (and all very distinct), but they’re also critiques of fight scenes and the military industrial complex that drives their demand. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is deeply uncomfortable with his role within SHIELD and its workings, as well he should be: the movie is really about drone strikes and the NSA. When Rogers needs help, between Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Sam “Falcon” Wilson (the standout Anthony Mackie), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), he’s literally the only white man at the table. There’s no romantic subplot, and that’s thrilling: all the women are competent, fully-fleshed and motivated by more than sharing screen time with Cap.

Oh yes, and the Winter Soldier himself blows me out of the water. Spoilers below, as well as more discussion of character, U.S. history you’ve probably never been taught and why I’m reevaluating the Captain America franchise. Continue reading “Captain America: The Man Who Was More Himself”

The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories

I set out to put fiction out in the world here, but there hasn’t been as much fiction on M&W as I’d like. Even though I still hope to finish it someday, Innogen and the Hungry Half stalled out when my mother received her terminal diagnosis, and I haven’t been accomplishing original short stories like I’ve wanted either. This doesn’t mean I’ve haven’t been writing, but sometimes you start a project and realize that it’s just too painful to pursue, even if you go in with open eyes.

What follows is the beginning of a novel whose working title was Kate and Harry Fight the Devil. Some of it has been cannibalized into Coldspur, which I also promise you all should see someday, but that one is more of an adventure story. This WIP is about grief and cancer and spouses. I started it on a visit home the month my mom died, in August 2012. Ever since she got sick in early 2008, I’ve been writing these reverse Eurydice stories. Take one dead Shakespeare protagonist, give him an indomitable wife and shake vigorously. What wouldn’t we do to bring our loved ones back? It’s a kind of war story too — what will we brave for each other? What do we have when we come through to the other side?

This story probably comes closest to expressing what I was feeling in that last month. I was trying to anticipate what it would be like once we lost her for good. Reading it again puts me in a very vulnerable place, but I also have the distance to know that the work is good. I’d like to put it out there. Someone else might need it too, but I also need for people to see it. Sometimes you just need witnesses. If you get that, I’m sorry we’re both in this club.

The plan here was that there would be no single victory, no crowning triumph and reunion: Kate Percy would get back her cored-out husband, and fight tooth and nail to recover him, piece by painstaking, incomplete piece. It would be ugly, and hard, and slow. But it would be about things gained rather than things stolen away: the hideous battle could, in the end, be won by people and not tumors.

I got down 7,000 words before admitting that I couldn’t do this to myself, that it was too painful, no matter how much I liked the idea of my villain, and of Kate Percy, witches’ champion, and of the weirdness of Macbeth stealing into a history play. No one will want to read that kind of resurrection, I told myself. And I’m not comfortable with that kind of body horror, to write about cancer the way it really looks. That’s still too close and private.

We’ll see. Thank you for reading.

If you don’t know Henry IV Part 1, all you need is that Harry Percy rebelled against the king and lost, far away from home.

*
softerpercys

In a cold bed, she still hears him, drunk on her name, good Kate, gentle Kate, my loving Kate, my wife. His shamefaced father has left them alone with the echoing castle, fled to Scotland, where all his allies are captured or killed. She huddles on her side of the blankets, watching the door, waiting for the shadows to flicker, for her Harry and his raging and his flights of imagination to approach. His voice comes back to her in the dark: Will this content you? She has wept herself still and dry without him.

The king’s guard will come. They will ride hard from the battlefield to seek out the rebels and revenge themselves on them. His mother Northumberland is mobilizing the household, dispatching family treasures, sending friends into the wild. King Henry’s men must find nothing at Warkworth Castle, no trace of her Harry, and Kate knows it cannot be done, when he is in every stone and worn path in the marches.

She does not care that the king is still Bolingbroke, she does not care that the Prince of Wales did the slaying. Her Harry’s pillow has not lost its dent; the sheets still smell of him, the goblets he left on the table are where he set them, and she must leave. Would that someone had saved his jacket, a lock of hair, a letter from the front! She would beat him bloody herself if he only would come home. Continue reading “The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories”

Branson beats the house blend

"This energizing tea is perfect for an early morning foxhunt or preparing for the dramas of the day."
“This energizing tea is perfect for an early morning foxhunt or preparing for the dramas of the day.”

Here is the thing about Republic of Tea’s Downton Abbey Grantham Breakfast Blend: it’s really quite nice for about ten minutes. The label promises a sort of “sticky ginger pudding” experience with a splash of milk. And it’s true, the tea tastes pretty good at first, while it’s still piping hot. Better drink it quickly, though — or maybe let it steep longer than the suggested four to six minutes. It gets as dull and pointless as the Earl himself once it starts to cool.

You don’t need to be the acid-tongued Dowager Countess to see a one-liner there, so I’ll just leave things at this: I have switched back to my other Republic of Tea favorite, their Lucky Irish Breakfast black, which does, in fact, have the kick that makes you want to riot for suffrage and elope to Dublin. (Maybe not die in childbirth, though.)

I’ve been up to more than just having conversations with myself about tea. Last weekend I had the chance to see actual live theater that isn’t improv, which was a lovely outing. The show is running in Chicago now, and if its title, Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, doesn’t intrigue you, the fact that it’s about creating a triad lesbian relationship while also confronting terminal cancer in a way that actually works might. Plus the dioramas are freaking hysterical — absolutely worth the price of admission. And of course, there are mammoths.

You may have noticed that I have missed a week, and that this is a bit late. There’s a good reason for that, and a nice one too. I’m doing some behind-the-scenes work as a copy editor at PolicyMic, which is a super hopping news site by and for Millennials. I’m still not over seeing stories on the front page and having a proud little moment of “Hey, I edited that!” But yeah, journalism work! I’m really pleased to be part of the PM team, who have been great to a person. Three cheers for work in your chosen field! (This is, incidentally, a classic example of burying the lede.)

It’s a good week to feel inspired by other working journalists, and I’ve got some amazing stories to share this time around, so hopefully the wait was worth it.  Continue reading “Branson beats the house blend”

Daylight: Saved, apparently

I promised everyone I’d dance in the streets if Chicago made it to 50 whole degrees, and holy cats, on Monday we hit 56. So, off I went with my camera in just a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, although rain boots probably would have been a better plan, considering that all our snow and ice is now melting into gigantic pools of standing water, much of which is congregating on sidewalks and at street crossings.

Of course, it’s supposed to dump more snow on us again this week, which makes Chicago Magazine‘s musings about whether the City That Works is too cold to compete with the sunny South particularly apropos. But I assume you’re not here for me to endlessly talk about the weather. (In my hometown, you didn’t start conversations with remarks on the weather, you filled dead air with a comment on the height of the Hocking River.) I could ramble about treadmill desks or Amtrak’s actually sort of scummy terms and conditions for their writing residency, but let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?

By which I definitely mean Scottish Plumber, (888) MAC-CLOG, tagline: "The Pipes are Calling"
By which I definitely mean Scottish Plumber, (888) MAC-CLOG, tagline: “The Pipes are Calling”

Continue reading “Daylight: Saved, apparently”