Ah, summer. Beaches, camping, hiking, pools, and … T.V. ‘Cause I mean, it’s freaking hot and we all need breaks.
So Sam, what T.V. have you been watching lately? How about the end of Season 2 of Westworld? Pretty crazy huh? I for one did not see the crossover of the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park making it into the park of Westworld Universe whilst Jeff Goldblum rides atop their scaly backs and leads a mass slaughter of the town of Sweetwater, jk.
Thanks to my newborn daughter I’ve been watching quite a lot of television, some good, some not so good, and a LOT of local news. Don’t ask me how or why. I’ve watched some Archer, season 2 of Legion, was quite hooked on Westworld, and also watched some funny shows like the new season of Arrested Development and Wet Hot American Summer. I gotta be honest though, the two shows that have stood out the most to me are not what I would have thought—Law and Order SVU and the new seasons of Queer Eye.
Law and Order SVU
Is Law and Order SVU a good show? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately as I find myself with a lot of free time to watch television thanks to my newborn daughter. And not the type of television like Legion or Westworld which requires me to think a lot. The type of television where you can sort of fade in and out of consciousness while you watch it, give in to mind-numbing distraction and turn your brain off. I used to hate those types of shows, Seinfeld excluded. I first wrote Law and Order SVU off as a tacky crime drama that was formulaic and cliché, and while the show definitely still has elements of a rather straightforward cable television crime drama, the thematic elements of the show combined with the way it rips off news headlines predicates some fascinating episodes in this cluster of a year in 2018. I mean, sure, SVU might not be able to hang with the serial T.V. greats out there like The Americans, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Wire, Mad Men, and such, but over the last couple years I’ve gotten increasingly hooked on the cases of Detectives Benson, Rollins, Fin, Carisi, and DA Barba along with the shows willingness to dive headfirst into the violence and mayhem of our current society. I just finished the eighteenth season and watched episodes that dealt with the sexual abuse of Olympic athletes and a woman army ranger, a transgender beating, sexual harassment in the workplace, immigration, and ICE. So what originally started as a “show my wife watched” has now turned into a show we watch together.
Law and Order SVU is a strange show because despite the shows brutal plotlines of rape, murder, and sexual assault there is an almost comforting rhythm to the episodes. Most of this is due to the fact that the cases need to be wrapped up in an hour time limit, and while in 90% of cases we see these SVU detectives doling out justice and cracking cases in a quick and efficient manner, there are the 10% of episodes which end in a more, say, realistic manner. Justice is not served. The bad guys get away. I imagine we as a culture like Law and Order SVU because it deals with real threats to society but presents them in a way that is manageable and contained. We know rape, murder, and sexual assault happen through the news and our experience (either personal or by proxy) but in the real world the way these actions play out are often out of our control. SVU is a distillation of these terrible crimes into something cathartic and satisfying.
Still the shows gives me pause for a few reasons. Is the vast amount of violence committed against women in this show necessary to watch on screen? Is SVU desensitizing us to the very atrocious acts we encounter in the show? Or is it attempting to deal with real issues through the platform of T.V. and perhaps even help victims of sexual assault in some form of processing? I don’t know. It helps that we have the terrific Mariska Hartgay playing the lead character of Detective Benson. No longer is the show made up of mostly white guys investigating crimes of a sexual nature. Now we have a strong female lead whose very mission in life is to find the to make sure no person who commits crimes of a sexual nature gets away. She believes the victims almost to a fault, except it’s not a fault, because it’s her job and mission to believe, protect, and seek justice for any person who comes through her door. The episode featuring ICE felt particularly prescient as a Syrian man who witnesses a crime is afraid to testify for fear of being deported, same for an El Salvadoran wife of one of the accused. The eighteenth episode ended on quite the downer about how people are now “emboldened” to act in a certain way against immigrants and minorities because of a certain president. I can’t quite binge Law and Order SVU because it quickly makes one think the worst of humanity, filling one’s head with rape and murder before bedtime, but it’s GREAT afternoon daytime T.V.
A show that is quite the opposite, one that I also thought I wouldn’t like, is Queer Eye, now with two new seasons on Netflix. The shows holistic approach to fixing up straight men (and a gay man and woman or two) is pure gold. By the time the Fab 5 have done their work on transforming their subject’s food, dress, lifestyle, design, and culture habits you can’t help but smile. Or cry. Literally every episode has a teary moment.
Queer Eye works because it is in the business of pulling people out of ruts. We all fall into a rut from time to time after all and Queer Eye is about getting people out of them. Whether it’s in one’s dress, eating, and living habits, or overall outlook on life. As the Fab 5 make their way across Georgia they’re provided plenty of opportunities for cross-cultural interactions. Whether it’s the interaction between black men and police officers or gay culture and the church or loners who feel isolated. Often the show helps its subjects find self-confidence enough to also find love and success in their work and personal lives. Some episodes are a bit silly and surface. Others quite profound. Mainly it’s a joy to see five gay men, all living out perfectly healthy expressions of masculinity, turn their eye upon a subject who doesn’t feel worthy of such adoration and interest, and transform that individual through some of the most positive male interactions ever captured in camera. It’s nice that Antoni, Jonathan, Bobby, Karamo, and Tan are in the business of empathy and self-empowerment as much as they are about the French tuck or dishes made with avocados (I swear, it’s like Antoni thinks Georgians have never encountered avocados before) thus providing some of the most emotional resonant T.V. ever made. Growing up in a conservative evangelical home I almost find myself reverting to old tendencies and thinking that these gay men must also employ sorcery of some kind to make us like them so much. But no, it’s just simple listening and caring.
So yes, what I first thought of as a surface reality television show about gay men giving straight men makeovers, has now turned into one of my favorite shows on T.V.
What you got Sam? What’s good on T.V. for you?
My summer TV:
Dude Queer Eye is amazing.
Okay. So long story short.
The original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy made me really uncomfortable. As a young kid in rural New Hampshire exposed to homophobia as a norm, I witnessed the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy through an imperfect lense. Now, much better educated on LGBTQIA+ rights, I think anyone, even the most stauch homophobe would benefit from this television show. It’s dive into unhealthy routines, repetitions and ruts, as you mentioned, is powerful.
I will admit I’m drawn most to Tam, because as the fashion expert, he has the utmost power to tear down the people he works with. Yet, he is incredibly gentle. And coming from a cis man who deals with body image issues I find that impressive.
Also is it just me or doe Antoni look like Christian Bale’s son?
I confess myself disappointed, Levi. I thought the first season, much like the first season of Lost, almost flawless. Character development, especially with the Man in Black, the reveal of non-sequential storytelling, and vision of AI coming to grips with reality was masterful. In season two I have lost interest and given up on the show. Here’s why:
Shows that venture outside the sense of reality but aren’t quiet genera shows like Stargate or Game of Thrones often fail to ground us in a setting. WestWorld had an impeccable setting, and through the whole first season the show felt like a train firmly set on it’s tracks. However, this season it feels as if we might shoot off in any direction at any time. Rather than producing the desired feeling of keeping us on our toes, it gives a listless feel to the narrative.
The aims of our characters seems loose, as compared to the first season. With the reveal that (SPOILERS) Jimmi Simpson’s character is a young man in black, his storyline lacks a sense of urgency. We all knows he survives, so it’s not a heroic or villanis tale, it’s an educational optic on how he goes from young businessman to evil/anti-hero Man in Black. But we also already got the big “oh no he’s turned from good to bad” in the first season, so where does Simpson’s story go? Don’t get me wrong, I love Simpson. He’s incredible in both It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and in House of Cards. Go watch those scenes he’s in. It’s well worth it.
Unfortunately, I find the Japanese storyline rather cookie-cutter japanese storytelling, and perhaps a bit racist. Now, I am not a great judge to say whether or not it’s racist, but let me explain. The Japan World is obviously set up to be a theme park, and is written by writers that, as we’ve seen, are white. So the world isn’t meant to be an authentic experience, rather an experience created for people to visit. This makes sense. For so long Hollywood, the book industry, etc. gets Japanese stories wrong. We’re fascinated by them, but ultimately the “honor code” the samurai stories, the writing of Japanese suicides are done poorly by Americans.
There is a tangible difference between the tales by Haruki Murakami or Yoshihiro Togashi and American made Japanese stories. So while Japan World in WestWorld is supposed to reflect the poor designs of American writers, it unintentionally backs up stereotypes of Japanese people, Japan, and Japanese history. At least it does from my point of view. I’d love to hear the opinion of someone from Japan or with Japanese heritage.
Rick and Morty
I’m going to cheat a bit here. I got into Rick and Morty during the fall, and after struggling through the first five or six episodes, I’m fairly convinced this is the best cartoon made for adults out there.
Levi, I can’t even begin to express how smart the show is. It handles continuitiy issues in the best way possible, paying close attention to the laws of physics and the rules of time and infinite universes. It takes a while for the show to settle, but once the first Evil Morty episode hits, the series is suddenly different, and good, and maybe even powerful.
It’s strange to write that. The show peddles out the normal farts and burps we get in The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park (and thankfully mostly avoid in Archer). There is constant spittle, sex innudenoes, and the usual pandering to teenagers and college students that inflates merchandise sales. Yet, the show is powerful and--I’ll use a word here I despise--deep.
Take the wildly popular episode Pickle Rick. The episode circles around the event that Rick turns himself into a pickle in order to avoid family counseling. Morty’s parent have recently divorced, and his mother, Beth, wants the family to attend counseling. Noticing a syringe filled with serum evidently set up to turn Rick back into a human, Beth takes it as punishment for Rick skipping out on the family venture. While Beth, Morty, and Morty’s sister Summer are monlogued at by the counselor, Rick kills rodents and rats, building himself working limbs in order to save his own life.
Most of the screen time of this episode is spent on watching Rick, in a gruesome and terrifying manner, build his rat/insect body, escape the sewers, kill everyone involved in some secret crime escapade and make it for the final minute of counseling, the episode somehow manages to be entirely about family issues, and makes intelligent commentary on children and parents dealing with divorce in a non-dramatic, non-didactic way.
It’s a great show. If we did our best TV shows of all time all over again. It’d battle with Parks & Rec, Sherlock, and Archer for top spot.
But let’s be honest Levi, the best summer TV show (and by this I mean shows actually released during summer) is...
So You Think You Can Dance
I am, of course, incredibly super biased. For those Game of Narrative fans who don’t know, I am a breakdancer (funk-style, not B-Boy), and a breakdancing instructor. However, this show still merits a vote for best of summer, and best of all competition shows.
In actuality, I hate--no loathe rather--competition shows, with two exceptions, the Merry Berry version of the Great British Bake Off (not it’s current iteration) and SYTYCD.
SYTYCD doesn’t sell itself on negativity or elimination. It sells itself off the artistic promotion of a social form of interaction that has fallen away from western culture: dance. SYTYCD employs some of the best choreographers in the world. Mandy Moore, the choreographer often seen on SYTYCD, choreographed all of La La Land. Travis Wall has one of the best contemporary companies in the states. Twitch has become an icon. And many Step Up dancers were hip hopers on SYTYCD.
While the Academy and constant switches in format from the show irk me, nothing beats the live show, with group numbers, solos, and duet performances which continue to shock me. Last seasons winner, Lex, is the most impressive dancer I’ve ever seen. It pumps my blood. It makes me want to dance more. It inspires my own creativity.
The show is gold.
I must admit, I know I should want to watch Ricky and Morty but I’m put off by the fans and everyone talking about how great it is. I’ve watched a few episodes and they didn’t stick, but I want to give it a shot so I promise I will Sam.
A few other shows I’ve been watching that are about halfway through the summer season are Master Chef, Yellowstone, and the new Stephen King homage Castle Rock.
The new serial drama from Taylor Sheridan, i.e., Sicario screenwriter and the writer/director behind Wind River, Yellowstone is a show that takes place in Montana and deals with issues of water and land rights, urban development, and the conflict between Western ranchers and indigenous peoples. Kevin Costner is in the lead role, and for once, he’s not boring. Partly because he’s playing an abusive father/asshole. I like the show because I like modern, urban, Westerns and also because Yellowstone National Park is my favorite National Park (though this has nothing to do with the show). It’s only seven episodes in and so far it’s a bit slow with random bursts of violence and thoughtful reflections on race, wealth, class, family, and nature and I mostly like it. We’ll see where it ends up. It’s pain to watch because it’s on a new network (Paramount) but I like Sheridan’s work enough that I bought the season for $15.
This new Hulu show is a homage to Stephen King and combines many famous elements of his works to create something new. It’s mostly about a very dark, haunted, and twisted town/prison that makes people go insane. It’s pretty good.
You know, it’s a cooking show with Gordon Ramsay getting all worked up and Joe Bastianich doing dramatic pauses of who won or didn’t win each category before going to commercial break.
Marie Marandola - BAGGU for Irving Farm Coffee Roasters
I bought the bag with the crows on it at the station coffee kiosk, back when I was still learning to ride trains by myself.
“Do you know the difference between a raven and a crow?” the cashier asked.
I shook my head.
“Crows are the ones that travel in groups,” he said. “They menace and caw. Whereas ravens are bigger, with hooked beaks. You only ever see one or two ravens in one place. And the sound they make is more of a low croak, or a growl.”
My coffee was free that day. The bag’s been with me since.
A friend mentioned recently that, although he doesn’t mind the single life, he misses having someone to make breakfast for.
I don’t. These days, I like waking up by myself in undiluted darkness. When all I can hear is the murmur of Law and Order reruns circling my neighbor’s TV while she sleeps—and only if I strain to hear it.
If I strain to hear it, I can remember a time when my skin ached from lack of touch. When I cackled and flapped about with need. When my own breath wasn’t enough to circulate love through me. A lonely girl with a cache to fill, wandering hazy through an echoing commuter hub like a half-remembered dream.
Now, awake, I brew strong tea and test my voice to the sound of no one snoring. I paint my eyelashes into black, long-feathered wings.
Outside, dawn breaks.
I skip breakfast altogether. I want to live on air.
Elegy to Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit)
A man burned his house down
trying to kill a spider. The smudge
on my bathroom ceiling
is a shoeprint, left over from
the cockroach I couldn’t reach.
That was before I saw
the other, perched quietly
on my loofah’s soft pink folds.
It’s hard to be alone, but sometimes
harder not to be.
You light a cigarette,
say you want to quit--
and drinking. You want to cook
for yourself, believe in love,
feel something again. But I’ve watched you
listening to poetry
with your eyes closed.
You take the first drag, and the end of me
goes to ash.
Through mist, behemoths rise,
Skeletons strange and rough.
How could you be Sleepless here?
Moisture adheres to every scrap,
This moss grows, drink it in.
Touch a hand to the bark,
Come away cold, but wanting more.
Water turns to Thunder in this hidden cove.
Silken against skin.
The temptation is too much, I am too close.
Eyes closed, breathe the forest in.
Breathe in your air.
Droplets in my hair.
I open my eyes.
I am standing on a bridge.
Two lines, two lives.
The path divulged, and I, coward,
And go back the way I came.
A self body bag
I wrapped for you, trekked with ropes
From the sea, perfect: wrecked.
J. Sam Williams
Never been drunk. Never been wrecked. Never smoked weed or a cigarette. Emotional trauma wrecks me enough. Gluttony wrecks me enough. Lust wrecks me the most. Sin is my wrecker and death my destructor. Try and purge all from my mind. I don’t have time to focus on the rest.
My body made of pith
I am drunk on my mistakes and my love is a leather helmet. My body is made of pith and at every beginning and end, I supplicate my plant’s interior at the altar of my errors. Loneliness is a clay that has shaped me—fragile and brittle with a hollow inside. I plug my body with the frames of silt silhouettes that I melt into the void of my insides—I can almost see them for who they are. Mesmerized by their outlines, I devour them. Bodies that beg to live within me, I try to hold them to my figure forever.
Ceramics are breakable and every baked part of me is a splinter that once retained the bits of boys that lived in the gulch of my cavities. I am earthenware shards splayed across the kitchen floor. I am vials holding wet, salty, sand made-up of texts that go unanswered. Grind down the remaining parts of my body until it is gritty soil. Till me until I’m loam. And let the loneliness turn into a field where flowers are farmed.
It’s funny how once you are whiplashed, it lives in your neck forever: that unshakeable kink, that muscle memory of scraping glass and crunching metal and torn jeans running along the concrete. I see it when I close my eyes, how close I was to departing, how close still, as the blood dripped down my leg and I picked pebbles from an exposed kneecap, hopped right back to a motorcycle that leaked oil, hopped up on adrenaline and the thrill of still being, and rode off. I should have been smarter, but there is no such thing as retrospect, which is an abstract concept best left for men with elbow patches.
I’ve lived so many alternate realities in which the white truck behind me did not stop, but instead ran over my body—thump thump—like a skunk’s slumping carcass on wine country’s winding one-lane highways. In which I was crushed by my own machinery. In which my arms were torn from their sockets, leaving me a chewed-up sock puppet waiting to be tossed in the trash. In which my ribs shattered into a million pieces like a plastic bag full of glass.
I should have expired, I think, that day. Carton of milk. Missing persons. A slumped slab of flesh in an ambulance. A wailing faraway relative. Instead, I have this mark where my knee used to be. I can feel through my scar tissue the part of my ivory I left in the asphalt. I pass the spot where it happened everyday on the way to work, unmaking myself, building a memorial for a moment that only finished partway.
Actually, probably not.
Well, I thought it would be fun. Turns out my partner-in-crime doesn’t really flow with the whole kids movie thang.
You wanna take it from here Levi?
Here are the only ones who even make it within the realm:
- Monsters Inc.
- Beauty and the Beast
- Toy Story
Also, what about The Emperor’s New Groove? That movie is way better than Hercules. And where do we put Coraline? Now that’s my kinda of animated movie. I know, it’s not Disney or Pixar.
Or what about Wes Anderson’s animated movies? Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs? I can get behind those.
I’m not trying to be pretentious. I just can’t imagine a universe where I would sit down to watch or rent one of the above movies in the bracket in my own free time without my wife and/or nieces or nephews compelling me to do so. Maybe Coco. I still haven’t seen Coco.
YOU DON’T WATCH ANIMATED MOVIES
Be still my beating heart. Animated movies are a wonderful way to connect with the world, especially as a kid.
I totally get the personal preference thing, however let’s be real. The Academy Awards doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing. I mean, Shape of Water, a movie I loved, won over both 3 Billboards and Get Out.
Get Out is the movie of this decade. It’s one that people will talk about 25 years from now. “Oh, you haven’t seen Get Out. It’s classic, and it was so revolutionary for its time.” Course, I’m imagining a future where Trump and his administration don’t start a war with North Korea, or another “enemy” in order to usurp the 2020 elections, then hold power for another twenty years.
I mean, Dark Knight didn’t get nominated in 2008, when it was clearly better than Michael Clayton, and Atonement. Animated movies not hanging with “real” movies is clearly because there is a stigma around voting for animated movies, just like there is with superhero movies.
Also, the Academy can’t even sniff a good animated movie, even when it’s nominated. In 2017 Zootopia, an excellent animated feature detailing police and minority relationships, won over Kubo and the Two Strings, which was by far the best film.
Basically the Academy shouldn’t inform what’s good just because it’s the Academy. Animation movies can hang, they just aren’t given the chance. (Though I may eat my words if Isle of Dogs is allowed to go up for Best Picture this year).
However, I got to admit Levi, you have great taste in what animation you are drawn to. South Park, until recently, has been the smartest adult cartoon out there. Now, it’s Rick and Morty, which if you like South Park and Archer, I highly recommend. And as per our previous best TV show ever article [link here], I love Archer. Smart, funny, violent, high-brow at times, etc., it’s the best animation out there.
Yo, I don’t have kids either, but I see these movies ALL THE TIME. Course, my wife and I want to write a series of children's books (shameless plug for future agent meetings, contact me!), so maybe it’s because I’m drawn to children stories.
ON TO THE BRACKET.
I actually don’t hate your selection of things at the end. Up gave us a touching story about growing up and dealing with grief. Mulan gave us a female warrior who saves herself and her nation for what felt like the first time in pop-culture. Both admirable choices.
Quick hits on your bracket
- Lion King over Tarzan
- Absolutely! If anyone has Tarzan over Lion King, you need to rethink your life. Lion King is home to the best Disney moment ever (slightly pushing out Kronk’s self-singing secret agent theme music) when Timone dresses in drag and does the hula.
- Princess and the Frog over Lilo and Stitch
- Uhm. No. Ohana means family, not losing to an okay storyline with not much romantic chemistry.
- Moana over Frozen
- Yup. Frozen, overdone.
- Aladdin over Hercules
- I had Hercules, but either is fine. I went with Hercules cause I like the carpet and Robin Williams, but I love everything about Hercules and his friends. Also, James Woods is on fire as Hades.
- Little Mermaid over Pocohontos
- We good. I don’t really care. Under the Sea of Colors in the Wind baby.
- Mulan over Zootopia
- Tough one for me, but yeah, I agree. Mulan has Eddie Murphy, so yeah.
- Beauty and the Beast over Nightmare Before Christmas
- GAH. I had to think about this for like 45 minutes. But ultimately the awful third act of NBC sunk it, and Be Our Guest won.
- Up over Brave
- Up’s beginning still makes me cry just by thinking about it.
- Toy Story over Toy Story 2
- The I am your father moment in 2 is what tipped 2 over 1 for me.
- Coco over Ca--I don’t care
- Cars or Cars 2, whatever, nothing should be beating Coco in the first round. That movie was moving.
- The Good Dinosaur over Toy Story 3.
- Never seen Dino, so I went with Toys about to be burned to a crisp.
- Ratatouille over Bugs Life
- Yup! Who could resist rats touching ALL THE FOOD.
- Inside out over Finding Nemo
- No. Over Finding Dorey, sure, but “this is your conscience” moment should have pushed Finding Nemo over the edge
- Monsters Inc over Cars
- This is the only answer.
- Wall-E over the Incredibles
- Not even close. Wall-E beats everthing for me.
- Levi: I agree actually.
All-in-all you know your narrative strengths Levi. Well done. Yet I’m still flabbergasted that “the only ones who even make it within the realm” category doesn’t include Wall-E.
Wall-E is a movie with hardly any dialogue, with almost no exposition, and is a movie that makes you fall in love with a robot and believe that robot has actual emotions. Plus it uses an old movie with a scene with Michael Crawford before he becomes the Phantom. That movie is perfect to me. That’s why.
Animated movies rock. Everyone go and watch one this weekend. Then tweet @meowmeowpowpow about which one is your fav. We’ll have a little fun on the twit of the er.
That’s not how it actually happened. But that is how it feels when I remember back to those formative four years.
I started high school in 2006. At the time I weighed 200 lbs, stood at five foot, wore glasses, played video games, piano, and a bit of tennis. That year, I tried to run for the first time since elementary school and didn’t understand why I was “sore” the next day having never exercised that hard before.
I lived in Bow, New Hampshire, a lovely wooded town. It’s downtown consisted of a garden, a gazebo, a residential ranch-styled gray house, and a fire station where an interior basketball court held local children theater performances, scrimmages, town hall meetings, and presidential talks (it’s New Hampshire so the likes of Bill Clinton and George Bush have spoken there). The fire station parking lot also serves as the local drug zone.
The nearest city is Boston, an hour and a half drive away. The closest grocery store is twenty minutes away. The most exciting thing to do in the town is ski when it’s snowy, which is the norm seven months of the year.
Bow was a safe place to grow up, a beautiful place to grow up, a supportive place to grow up. It was not a particularly interesting place to grow up. (great!)
When I entered Bow High School, I was plummeting toward friendlessness. My longtime next-door neighbor and best friend had moved and silently done whatever the version of a friendship breakup is. My other best friend was dabbling in drugs and we were drifting apart.
As my mother became ill, my family acted accordingly. We picked up the chores, the responsibilities, the activities (as best we could) that she normally did. As it was so early in the process, none of us really thought that this health trouble was anything serious.
Given the mixture of friendlessness, extra academic work and home responsibilities, and a lack of motivation to do anything outside the house, I began to do something I hadn’t done for a couple years—I began to write.
My mother used to tell people that I loved to tell stories. One time I grabbed a mic during a church service and walked up and down the pews talking about my own mountainous religious experience.
I started writing down my stories in pre-school. I wrote my first book in first grade, a story regarding my cat, Mesha and me. As middle school came and I began to experience verbal and physical abuse from bullies, I felt like my drive to write had been beaten out of me.
High school was a time for a fresh start. I was separated from my bullies, but now I faced the punishing effects of social neglect. I turned back to writing, not as a support system or substantial nourishment, but as a form of escape, a place to go where I had total anonymity. My books couldn’t give me that. My video games couldn’t give me that. Only I could give me that. I did so, in the form of novels, short stories, and poems.
As my mother’s condition worsened, I turned to writing even more. And though I had gained some truly great friends, I thrust myself totally into my writing. It was to the point where I would come home, do my homework, and then write for five hours.
For me, my writing had become an addiction, in a way that porn becomes an addiction. It’s not the same as a sugar high, or a nicotine craving. It was a deep mental pressure, constantly pushing to return to the keyboard.
Late in my sophomore year, my mother’s condition entered a scary status. My sister had already left for college and was dealing with all this in her own way. My dad had a job that took him out of the country often, and he needed to provide for us while she couldn’t. Not wanting to add pressure to others, my mom asked me to help her pay her bills, bill her patients, write emails, respond to letters, do the grocery shopping for her. She would drive me to the grocery store and cry as I went in and did the simple activities she longed to do.
I wrote stories about dying mothers so often. The hero always found a way to save her.
Looking back now, I realize the lack of emotion I felt was unhealthy. I felt empty, blank as I watched my mom struggle up the stairs or cry herself to sleep.
But my stories started to eek into my real life.
At first I would relay a story I wrote down as a story that happened to me. The first time it was an accident. I was just sharing a story and the person asked if that happened to me. I said yes, too embarrassed to say, “No I made that up.”
My time was consumed with my writing, trying to give myself a sense of control, a place to escape to, a place where I didn’t have to deal with my mom, with a fraying relationship with those who mattered most to me, with my social issues, my weight problems, and the fact that I was utterly un-cool.
It soon became clear to me that I could craft my own image with fibs. A story here, a tale there, and I was just that much cooler to those around me. It took time to learn what was actually believable, but I found that most people were trusting and I started to prey on that trust.
The turning point came when a friend of mine told me something big in his or her life and I thought, without a doubt, that they were lying. But this lie had created a certain image for this person and I thought I could do same.
I stopped writing. In order to escape realities, I started creating falsities. It was impossible to fact check my stories without a thorough questioning. But as I was geeky, nice, a bit charming, and a stickler for rules, I appeared trustworthy. Small lies turned into big lies until I was the heartbroken friend of a murder victim in Philadelphia or the confidant whose friend died of parental neglect, or the friend of a poor soul who died in an accident.
The stories mutated depending on the person I told them to. For some reason, I had the uncanny ability to keep my stories straight with each person.
At the height of my compulsive lying, my writing had all but dried up and my mother was at her worst.
I was checking in her bedroom daily to see if she was breathing.
It was no surprise that all of my bigger lies dealt with death. I faced it daily. I had source material to pull from, emotions to access that I wouldn’t access in any other way. I cried about my pretend dead comrades, but in actuality I cried about my mom.
I graduated high school with an image cultivated in the way I wanted. Though not popular, I had carved out my slot as a semi-talented singer and dancer. I had my second girlfriend totally sold on my lies, and friends who checked in with me and supported me based on the falsities I’d told them . I was absolutely terrified that I would lose them all if my image ever lessened, that I would go back to the slug of a person I was at the beginning of high school. I felt strained, trying to hold onto everything and everybody.
I left for college, narratives filling my head, a whole new persona ready for prime popularity and an impending sense that my mother’s deathday clock was speeding towards a finish line.
I hugged my mom, she sobbed, and I drove away from my childhood home with my dad towards the mid-west. I wondered if that was the last time I would touch my mom.
Soon, my girlfriend broke up with me and hardly any of my friends would talk to me. Something snapped and I felt a divine providence support my path towards honesty. I confessed everything to everybody who I had majorly affected. It was the most painful thing I’ve done thusfar in my life?. I lost friends. My ex despised me for good reason. I spent months fighting to keep those who I loved.
I couldn’t bare to write, feeling like I was lying every time I hit a key.
My only outlet for my feelings of tumult was through physical reactions. I spent a week in a nursing facility, sick with something they couldn’t identify. I didn’t eat. I lost weight. I vomited daily for weeks and sobbed uncontrollably when no one was around.
Then, my mother died.
It was February of my freshman year of college. After months of sickness, I no longer felt ill. I didn’t feel healthy either. I just felt nothing. The preceding weeks I only really remember in vague visions of walking around my house, my college campus, and dreams involving all made up characters, each of them dying in the same room my mom did.
The only thing that injected actual emotion into my life was a young woman who eventually became my wife. The first thing I wrote of my own accord after my mother’s death was a letter to my then-girlfriend.
I didn’t start writing fiction until maybe six months after my mom died, and even then, it was sparring.
Something changed with that writing though, it was no longer a form of escape. It was my choice, my mental effort, not a feeling of withdrawal, that pushed me towards the keyboard.
The writing normalized, and I found I could write and tell the truth in real life, something I had been afraid would not be possible. I was so scared that if I started making up stories on the page, I’d make them up in life too.
Though I’ve written many pages about myself, my family, my life, and many more pages in novels, I’ve never been able to write about this story, my runaway story, what shaped me. It’s my biggest humiliation, my biggest mistake, and I’m constantly scared that I may revert. So I avoid writing as an escape at all costs.
But I feel, that with this story, I am moving towards a sense of a healthy writing life, whatever that may be.
In 1976, Joe Strummer of The Clash said to NME, “I think people ought to know that we're anti-fascist, we're anti-violence, we're anti-racist, and we're pro-creative.” The Clash, with Mick Jones on guitar, Paul Simonon on bass, and Topper Headon on drums, emerged in the late 70’s punk scene, and from the beginning, created music that questioned authority and attacked those who abused their power. Their politically charged and diverse sound protested fascist politics and far right movements by taking a stand on social and political issues. The Clash emboldened their listeners to take a stand for what’s right too, and in the process, made a difference to peoples’ lives.
The first record released by The Clash was their eponymous debut in 1977. The album opens with “Janie Jones,” a song Martin Scorsese says is the greatest British rock song. “Janie Jones” features raw riffs, sweet chanting, and a groovy beat that can turn any living room into a mosh pit. On “Janie Jones,” Joe Strummer sings, “He's in love with rock'n'roll, woah/ He's in love with gettin' stoned, woah / He's in love with Janie Jones, woah/ He don't like his boring job, no, no, no.” The song empowers listeners to connect with what is important to them and not society. It also shows that all change starts from within, and if listeners want to change the world, they’ve got to start with themselves first. “I’m So Bored With The USA” is a giant middle finger to the powerful Americans abusing their authority. Joe sings, “Yankee dollar talk / To the dictators of the world/ In fact It's giving orders.” The song shows that when Americans allow themselves to be led the greedy and corrupt, they encourage similar abuses worldwide. “Police and Thieves” covers a reggae song by Junior Mavrin and addresses police brutality and gun violence. The lyrics, “Police and thieves in the streets, oh yeah/ Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition,” equate police with the “thieves” by making them interchangeable. This cover came out 40 years ago, and police brutality and gun violence are more pervasive in society than before. Both the cover and original by Junior Mavrin show listeners that they need to care about this issue, take a stand on it, and make others do so as well.
Though The Clash sounded progressively less and less like a punk band as they evolved, their attitude was always punk and it shows on London Calling. London Calling marries elements of punk, reggae, and ska to create a rebellious record that distorts genres with a political message. In the song “London Calling,” Joe Strummer sings, “Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust,” and it’s a “nuclear era but I have no fear.” If nothing else, The Clash were a serious band, and they were sincere in using their music to make listeners become more aware of their surroundings. “Lost in the Supermarket,” sung by Mick Jones, is a hilarious tune that pokes fun at the popularity of disco by sounding super poppy. Jones captures the monotony and personality-destroying motions of consumerism. Jones sing, “I’m all lost in the supermarket/ I can no longer shop happily/ I came in here for the special offer/ A guaranteed personality.” “Guns of Brixton” by Paul Simonon shows the abuse of power by authority in a way that is both meaningful, powerful, and damn catchy. Simonon sings, “You can crush us/ You can bruise us/ Yes, even shoot us/ But oh-the guns of Brixton.” It is also an example of another song that shows the pervasiveness of gun violence in our culture.
Much has already been said and written of how the anti-war message of The Clash was especially pertinent during the Bush administration and the Iraq War. The album Sandinista! references the democratic and socialist group of people in Nicaragua who took back control of their government. It is a long and strange album with psychedelic sounds and audio recordings mixed to create sound on this record that crosses mediums. “The Call Up” is a pledge to not be part of a system that destroys lives, and ends with a recording of people chanting “I love the Marine Corp.”
Combat Rock, the last Clash album featuring Strummer, Jones, Simonon, and Headon, brings militarism to the forefront. Though the album includes more poppy songs like “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” it also features “Straight to Hell,” a sublime tune about The Vietnam War. In terms of songwriting, the lyrics are absurd, playful, and deeply moving. Strummer sings, “Clear as winter ice/ This is your paradise… Can you really cough it up loud and strong?/ The immigrants, they wanna sing all night long... There ain’t no asylum here/ King Soloman he never lived around here.” The fragility and preciousness of life comes through from deeply affecting guitar loops, soulful singing from Joe Strummer, and a beat that is catchy and hypnotizing.
On record, The Clash drew upon a wide range of influences from different musical backgrounds. When it came to performances, The Clash tours also featured artists from across the musical spectrum. Bo Diddley and Lee “Scratch” Perry were openers. When Grandmaster Flash opened to them, a performance which fans misunderstood and booed, Joe Strummer confronted the crowd. Joe Strummer saw The Clash as being on a journey with fans, not superior to them, but he also saw that hip-hop and punk had more in common than his audience realized. Challenging them to change their minds and fix their hearts was the punk thing to do. The Clash used their art to showcase wide range of diverse talent, and in doing that show an eclectic artistic community is the most powerful defense against authority.
Anywho, we’re here to give out the best awards that an actor or actress has never won. We’ve named them “The Olivias,” complete with no trophy at all. Though we’d welcome any concept art as to how they’d look.
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