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bad guy, cold war, navajo. [song(s) i’m obsessed with.]

That title sounds like a string of code words, right?

I assume I’m not the only one who goes stretches of days or weeks obsessed with the same song or album. I’m otherwise a pretty varied music listener, but every few weeks a song will capture my mind and I’ll return to it again and again and again.

Now that I’m on Roused a bit more often again, I thought it would be fun to share these songs as they arise.

At the moment, it’s not a song, but three songs I can’t stop listening to.




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‘an american marriage’ by tayari jones.

There are times when books have the power to shake me. To jostle and stir things inside me in a way that continues long after I’ve closed the back cover.

Some books because they are poignant and lovely. Their beauty sharp, cutting my heart in a way that heals.

Some because they uncover truth at the heart of life and humanity. They remind me that I need to open my eyes.

Some offer insight into the brokenness of our culture, into the deep and systemic unfairness of life. They reveal to me how much more of myself I should be offering the world around me.

Some simply overwhelm me with the tenderness and grace the author shows for the fictional people she’s created, by proxy showing that tenderness to me, to all of us. They remind me that far too often, I love too little.

This is one of those rare books that does all of those things.

An American Marriage is devastating, powerful, heartbreaking, and beautiful. Jones illustrates the way hope and despair always live side by side, and she doesn’t reveal until the final pages which will get the last word in this story — which of course is only the last word for a time, the dialogue between the two will continue until the world ends.

This is a special book with a depth of human insight that doesn’t come along too often. Especially not paired with such remarkable writing, and believe me, the writing itself is a gift, powerful and delicate at the same time.

Each character Jones writes is vivid and real. Not a single one is a castoff or plot contrivance. They feel whole. Even now as I think back on the book I miss them, wish I could see more of their lives and offer to reveal some of my own. They made me angry and sad, they made me happy and proud. There were moments I felt like I couldn’t breathe, when I didn’t want to keep reading because I didn’t want to see their pain, and other moments I delighted in their joy. There were even times I wished I could enter the pages to offer them tenderness and understanding, but could only read on and hope they would offer those gifts to each other.

I’ve never read anything else by Tayari Jones before, but I can’t wait to find another story she’s offered up to a broken and beautiful world.

You should read this book.

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paper girls. [comics for people who think they don’t like comics.]

Fact 1: Most people think they don’t like comics.
Fact 2: Those people are wrong. Okay, not all of them, but like, 97%.
Fact 3: I need to come up with a snappier name for this series of posts.

Superheroes are running shit in Hollywood these days. I mean, for real, Marvel Studios films are legit cultural touchstones now. They’re in the zeitgeist, baby!

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to get most people to actually pick up a comic book or graphic novel.

Depressing side note: As I wrote that last sentence, I realized it’s probably just as difficult to get someone to pick up any sort of book, but that’s too depressing for me to contemplate right now. We’ll pretend it’s just comics so that I can continue on with my original plan. Right? Right.

As such, I’m going to start writing about (as the overlong series title suggests) comics for people who think they don’t like comics. Then, we can all laugh about how foolish and misled you all were, basking in the glory of my service to humanity. Or, you know, we can drink cocktails and talk about great stories told in a beautiful medium.

First, before I get started, I’m skipping superhero comics (at least for now). Since these posts are — at least ostensibly — aimed at non-comics readers, my sense is that superheroes may be a bridge too far. However, let the record show that there are some brilliant, deep, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally poignant stories in the superhero genre.

Secondively, two titles that would absolutely have ended up in these posts if I hadn’t already written about them before are Saga and Descender.

Also, did I mention Saga?

Saga, Saga, Saga, Saga, Saga!

But for real, go read what I wrote about Saga.

Did you read that post, run out to buy Saga, read the first volume or two and then come back? Good, welcome back! I should have asked you to grab me coffee while you were out. Whatevs, let’s get started.

With this, the inaugural post of a series that will undoubtedly go on and on into the mid single digits, my first recommendation is:

Paper Girls – by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang

Hey, look! Brian K. Vaughn is back in the post!

As you’ll know since you just read a volume or two of Saga, the guy has a pretty incredible imagination. The stuff he dreams up is often beautiful, horrific, downright bonkers, and/or awe-inspiring; in many cases all at the same time.

More importantly, he creates deep, rich, enjoyable characters. In his previous work (two of my favs being Runaways and, you guessed it, Saga) it’s impossible not to fall in love with the people who populate his stories. Fair warning: he’s not afraid to kill his/our darlings, so prepare to have your heart broken once or twice if you start reading all of his stuff.

As for Paper Girls, it’s about four… well, paper girls. Three veterans and one newly minted member of the ranks are going about their business in Cleveland on the morning after Halloween, 1988. They’re out there delivering the morning’s news, being 80s teens, figuring out life, etc. Then, as teens are wont to do, our titular paper girls find themselves thrust into the middle of a war between factions of time-travelers from the future.

Shit gets cray. Drama ensues. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey adventure is had by all; complete with overlapping timelines, future versions of themselves, and plenty of WTF?! moments at the end of issues to keep you reading.

The book is also gorgeous. Thanks, Cliff Chiang!

Whether you think you like comics or not, you should give Paper Girls the old college try. And Saga! Please read Saga. If those aren’t your cup of tea, I’ll be back soon with another offering.

One more thing! As it seems is the case with just about everything I love these days, Paper Girls is about to get the adaptation treatment. In this case, as a series for Amazon. Please don’t suck!!!

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tl;dr [five things, 7.28.19]

Forget the preamble, let’s get started.

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1: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I saw Tarantino’s new film at 11:30pm on Thursday (opening previews). The next day I bought tickets to see it again in 35mm on Sunday (tonight).

My thoughts still need to coalesce into something more thoughtful and organized, but Tarantino has made another great film that also stands as a monument to cinema as a whole.

Once Upon a Time begins as an enjoyably meandering, wonderfully acted character study of three people, a city, and a culture in transition as the 60s prepare to give way to a new decade. That loose narrative eventually narrows into a sharp, bloody point. To switch metaphors [bad writing! lulz] the tension grows tighter and tighter until the knot is finally taut and the mayhem ensues.

For many, probably even the majority, Tarantino’s films are best known for their violence. That’s more than fair, and that violence isn’t in short supply in Once Upon a Time’s final act. Yet, what too many people miss is the undercurrent of tenderness and hope running through much of his work. Once Upon a Time makes that tenderness and hope harder to miss than ever. More importantly, in dialogue with his other films, this movie brings those qualities in his other work into sharper contrast.

***Spoiler***

For one, by reshaping the events on the night of the Sharon Tate murders, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood now joins Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained as revisionist histories where Tarantino reaches back in time like some sort of cinematic avenging angel. Those three stories fantasize about turning violence back onto historic perpetrators — two in terms of actual historical people (Hitler and the Nazis, the Manson Family) and one featuring purely fictional characters, but set firmly in the context of the all too true story of slavery in America and our culture’s ongoing dehumanization of Black men and women.

***End spoiler***

Time for me to watch it again. And again. And of course dive back into the full catalogue.

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2. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Half of my experience of this book: I was chilled to the bone by the gruesome story of the Golden State Killer, a monster who terrorized California for at least 12 years. He is responsible for raping at least 50 women and murdering 13 people that we know of.

His career of terror was horrific, and for all the violence and rage in his crimes, he defied all the odds by never leaving behind enough evidence to be caught. That is until 2018, when 40-year-old DNA evidence combined with the genealogy database craze, finally leading to his arrest at 72 years old.

The other half of my experience: I was in awe of the brilliant mind of Michelle McNamara as she tirelessly worked to track down a monster. Her competence and personality gained her unheard-of acceptance from active and retired detectives still working the case, officially and unofficially.

She wasn’t just a genius layperson investigator, but a talented and compelling writer who turned her obsession into a dark and fascinating work of true crime.

She died in her sleep in 2016, never getting to see the end of the case to which she dedicated so much of her energy. Paul Holes, the investigator who said he saw McNamara as his primary partner during the years they collaborated, was the one who finally tracked the bastard down.

Read this book, and if you’re like me, you’ll follow that up with a dive deeper down the rabbit hole, seeking more information on the GSK’s reign of terror, and then details of the end of this engrossing and disturbing saga.

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3: Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film

Until her tragic passing in 2016, Michelle McNamara was married to Patton Oswalt. While reading her book, I decided to listen to Oswalt reading Silver Screen Fiend, his memoir about a time when he was deeply obsessed with film. As he describes it, he lived too much of his life in the darkness of a cinema and far too little in the light of the real world.

I’m not going to lie, the book did less to caution me away from a deep dive into cinema and more to draw me back into the film-obsessed fold. Don’t get me wrong, I totally get what he’s saying. I want to heed his call to stop being so inert in my life; to do and make things instead of just consuming. And yet, this book also made me want to push my way back into a life of cinephilia. I know, exactly the response an author wants from readers of a memoir about a former unhealthy obsession. In fairness, Oswalt still deeply loves film, so it’s not that surprising that his writing would fan the recently growing flames of my returning passion for movies.

For real, though. Gone are the days when I used to watch 200+ movies in a year, or watch 30 westerns or noir films in 30 days. I want that back again. As strange as it may sound, I was actually significantly more creative and productive when movie-watching was a huge part of my life. I’m not saying I want to dive in to the extent that Patton did in those bygone days, but I definitely want to go deeper than any sane, normal person would. But that stands to reason, because I’m neither sane, nor normal.

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4: Metrograph

Speaking of my desire to take a deep dive back into cinema, I took advantage of an unexpected night off by by enjoying an unofficial double feature at the Metrograph.

Side note about my night off, for the curious: I fucked up my left index finger at work when I broke a pint glass. For another day or two, I can’t bend it, and thus couldn’t work this week. #worthit — This is also how I was able to see Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood opening night. Be honest, you’re digging my nine-fingered blog posting skills? Super impressive, yeah?

It’s been waaaaaaaaaaay too long since I’d last visited the Metrograph. The Chinatown/Lower East Side theater specializes in curating an ever-changing selection of important cinema from around the world and throughout the history of film. Tonight I saw Ugetsu and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down; both for the first time.

If that’s not enough, upstairs you can get food and drinks at the Commissary. Before, in between, and after my movies I enjoyed impressively good cocktails and one of the best bar cheeseburgers I’ve ever had. [Don’t worry, Long Island Bar, I still love you!]

My plan is to start visiting Metrograph closer to once a week, as a way to help renew my film education. My thinking is that week to week, the limited, well curated selection of films will push me into seeing films I wouldn’t normally prioritize. If I’m going to start learning again, I should lean into trusted curation, leaving — or burning down — my comfort zone.

So, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing and what to join, hit me up.

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5. Archer: 1999

Okay, I’m not saying there have been seasons of Archer I flat out hated, but my love for the show has noticeably diminished over the last few years. I liked it and still wanted to love it, but something was missing. I just couldn’t put my finger on it (space phrasing!).

However, that was the past. Now we can all bask in the brilliant future of Archer 1999. If you ask me — and actually, this is my blog, so it doesn’t matter if you ask me — this season is up there with peak Archer, or at least close. The premise is entertaining, these iterations of the characters are fantastic, and most importantly, I’m laughing out loud multiple times an episode again.

All aboard the M/V Seamus!

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fun fact: i love books. [five things 6.16.19]

For those merry few who plan to visit RtM as I try to get writing again, I’m going to explain the gist of my thinking moving forward.

Emily suggested I cut this part, and I understand why. Back when I was writing more on this blog, I did way too much apologizing when I wasn’t posting as frequently as I wanted to. I’m going to ignore her advice and include this, because it’s only my friends who read this blog, and I want to share what’s going on in my head. I’ve been hiding an awful lot the last few years, and I’d like to stop doing that.

What I’m trying to do is relearn how to write. So far, in my brief time back at it, it’s been nothing like riding a bike. In large part, I’ve spent a few years creating terrible habits, and I need to slowly make new ones. I want to get these writing muscles strong again, to the point where they actually crave the work instead of resisting it.

So far, once I sit and write a little — the results of which I am admittedly disappointed with — there are stirrings of that feeling I used to have when I was writing all the time. Before long, I’ll be back in the saddle without fear of being bucked off at any minute. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.

That’s where ‘Five Things’ comes in. As I try to get back into writing on Roused more consistently — albeit infrequently — these posts seem like a good place to start.

Anyway, with the preamble out of the way, let’s talk about books.

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1. Lose Well – Chris Gethard

Related to said preamble above, we have Chris Gethard’s Lose Well. With this book, Gethard has sounded a call to all the weirdos in the world to do what they love, whatever the outcome. It’s definitely for the normals of the world, too, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that the weirdos should take special notice.

This is the magnum opus of challenges to stop making excuses and start making the things you love, knowing in advance you’re definitely going to fail much of the time, and will probably fail altogether in the end.

This isn’t a self help book promising a rosy outlook that we can do whatever you set our minds to. This is a book about leaving behind the fear of failure, and instead learning to embrace that failure as proof we’re trying to do what matters to us. Falling on our face in pursuit of the things we love isn’t shameful, it’s a badge of honor that we actually chased the things care about and put ourselves on the line. Having skin in the game is always something to be proud of.

If we make things people respond to, or start social movements, or make a difference in the world, amazing! And embracing the failure will be a big part of the reason we succeed. Let’s be honest though, it’s very likely that won’t happen. This is the real world, and far more people go undiscovered due to the luck of the draw or lack of talent than become Rowling or Spielberg or Bowie. Them’s the breaks. Gethard reminds us we should make the things we love anyway. We should get our hands dirty and our fingers bloodied in the trenches to keep pursuing what matters. Our lives will be wildly better for it.

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2. King of Scars – Leigh Bardugo

I sat down to start writing about this book, which I really liked. Instead, out poured 350 words about people’s attitudes toward genre in general, and YA fantasy in particular. I had to scrap all of that, because it doesn’t make sense here — but be warned, a post about genre ghettoization is eventually on its way.

For now, let me just make clear that I believe that good stories are good stories, and they are not bound to, nor restricted from, any particular genre or medium.

With that out of the way, you should be reading Leigh Bardugo.

King of Scars is set in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world Bardugo has built and fleshed out to great effect in her first six books: the Shadow and Bone Trilogy (aka The Grisha Trilogy), the Six of Crows Duology, and The Language of Thorns, a book of fairy tales set in the Grishaverse.

[[Side note #1: the Six of Crows books, like Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, are fantasy heist stories!!]]

Most fantasy — even the sort that isn’t beholden to Tolkien — is rooted in Western European myths and cultures. Instead, Bardugo writes stories rooted in Eastern European history and culture. Although, she does take us to kingdoms based on Scandinavia and the Netherlands, specifically Amsterdam, along the way; Asia makes a solid showing as well.

King of Scars kicks off another duology featuring mostly familiar characters. I enjoyed living in the world she’s created for a few hundred pages as much as ever.

In reality, my recommendation of this book is actually a recommendation for the series in general. That being said, you should absolutely go back to the beginning and read Shadow and Bone.

[[Side note #2: another great example of rooting speculative fiction in cultures from other places in the world is Nnedi Okorafor’s, Who Fears Death, — on its way as an upcoming series on HBO. As with so many things, that’s for another post.]]

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3. Dune – Frank Herbert

If you like books and you haven’t read Dune, you need to. If you don’t like books, why the hell are you still reading this post?

Arguably the most important science fiction novel of all time, Dune is an unparalleled epic that has shaped significant strands of Sci-Fi since its release.

Dune isn’t just a part of the science fiction and American cultural canons, it helped shape each in the 70s as the number of devotees to the cult of Dune grew.

This book is smart, original, and delightfully weird. If it came out today, it would still be unique — quite a feat since it’s informed so much of what has been released since. Quick example: early drafts of Star Wars were largely cribbed from Dune, and even the final version still owes quite a bit to Frank Herbert.

The books holds up well in 2019. The metaphors and cultural touchstones still resonate, they just have different analogues now than they did in the 60s.

If you haven’t read it, you have until November 20, 2020 to take care of business. That’s when Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve (yay!) releases a film adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Oscar Isaac (The Force Awakens), Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War), Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Aquaman), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Avengers), and Charlotte Rampling (Never Let Me Go). Look at that cast! (Sploosh.)

Also, if you haven’t yet, you should totally watch this documentary about an amazing adaptation of Dune that never actually happed. In spite of never getting made, it still went on to shape Hollywood science fiction films for the better part of two decades. Obviously it will make more sense if you read the book before watching the documentary.

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4. The Hating Game – Sally Thorne

The rom-com is another genre that could fit into a discussion about genre ghettoization. On the one side, so many people dismiss the genre out of hand as if nothing good could ever come from funny romances. On the other side, you have people who indiscriminately swallow whatever garbage comes along, so long as it has the rom-com trappings. I think both are gross.

Again, further discussion is for another post. For now:

I read The Hating Game because Emily fell in love with it, and it’s easy to see why. This book is funny, endearing, and sexy. It’s got charm for days. Also, as is paramount to any good romantic comedy, the romantic leads are the sort you’ll want to spend more time with after the book is finished. I read this whole book in 24 hrs, 10 hrs of which were a bar shift. With my schedule and brainpower lately, that’s really saying something.

Bonus: the sex scenes are way hotter than they’re allowed to be in most rom-com movies, what with the need to keep majority in the PG13 territory to maximize box office potential. So reading rom-coms has an added perk over always just watching them. Speaking of which, The Hating Game is currently being made into a film, so if you want the version with the sex scenes — and why on earth wouldn’t you?! — check out the book soon.

This isn’t a book that subverts the genre or breaks the mold, it’s a book that achieves the peak of what the rom-com can be when a writer leans all the way in to what we love about these sorts of stories.

And if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, in addition to being a really great rom-com, The Hating Game is also a bit of a reminder that no one is just a character in your story. Always look closer. Always look again.

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5. Semiosis – Sue Burke

Okay, I get it. This book list is weighted heavily toward speculative fiction. Just bear with me for one more, because Semiosis is the real deal.

With her debut, Sue Burke did something really special, and she’s an exciting new voice in science fiction.

It’s tough for anything to be original these days. Yet, every so often, I read a book that is so wonderfully it’s own thing that my mind comes back to it over and over. Semiosis is one of those books.

It reminds me of books like Annihilation, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, China Miéville’s Embassytown and The City and the City and… well, I guess everything by China Miéville, as well as movies like Pontypool and It Follows. Mostly because these stories take a fairly familiar sub-genre and twist the premise or throw in a new perspective, giving the whole thing new life.

In the case of Semiosis, the familiar story is humans attempting to colonize a strange new planet. Burke’s twist on the sub-genre by making the species they need to contend with, and relate to, something unexpected.

Its narrative structure is similar to Asimov’s Foundation, in that it jumps ahead to new characters and generations as it tells a longer story of a civilization.

I wish I could write more to entice you, but I feel like any plots details would be spoilery.

I guess the main thing I can reveal is that Burke is an award winning translator, and that fact isn’t surprising after reading her first novel.

As with most science fiction featuring aliens, it’s actually a story about humans. Semiosis is about engaging difference. It’s about how difficult it is to understand the other in the face of our biological impulse to see the unknown as a threat in our fight for self-preservation. It’s about the maddeningly precarious nature of peace — both in the global and intimate sense.

I can’t wait for Interference, the next book in the duology, to be released in October. Also, I’m really worried about what happens next!

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requiem for a best friend.

“The heart of a dog is a bottomless thing.” – Tilda Swinton

Abby died right before I got married. She was my dog, and a lifeline that got me through the hardest times I’d ever experienced. Just a few weeks out from the biggest event of my life, her health began to rapidly deteriorate. Within days, she died in my arms.

She deserves a post of her own, but her’s is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that Abby was there when important people in my life, those who were supposed to love and protect me, harmed and abandoned me instead. When no one else would choose me, Abby did. It wasn’t a true substitute for what I needed, but it saved me nonetheless.

When she died, I vowed not to instantly replace her. How on earth could I replace her? The context and history of my time with her was unrepeatable. My vow lasted about a week, before Emily and I decided to get a new dog to start our life together. The space Abby left behind, at that point in my life and in the midst of so much change, was simply too large.

We looked into breeds, decided on a Maltese, found a breeder, and picked out Chloe. She’s still with us so far. She is a ninja past her prime, an eater of shit, a cuddle-slut and an all-around lovable asshole. Chloe was too young to leave her mother when we picked her out, so we’d visit her in the mean time to bond and whatnot.

Just after our wedding, but before leaving for the honeymoon, we visited Chloe for the last time before she was ready to come home. The visits were a little chaotic, because the space housed a multitude of dogs. The woman who bred Malteses would get puppies from other breeders to sell, so her place was a wonderland of adorable canines.

As I wandered amongst the pups, I noticed a soft coat wheaten, already tall for her age, terrorizing a small bundle of jet black fur. This tiny little thing, who looked as much like a mythical woodland creature as a dog, was not at all interested in the larger puppy’s desire to play. She was terrified, trying to find somewhere safe to hide.

Feeling sorry for this vulnerable little mogwai, I picked her up and got her out of what she imagined was harm’s way. She immediately snuggled into the crook of my neck. In that moment, a few weeks after losing a dog who had so clearly chosen me, here was a dog who immediately made her affection clear. I knew right away we were leaving there with a dog we hadn’t planned on. I’d saved her from a scary moment, and this was the first step in which she would save me in return.

Her name was Donkey. We didn’t even give her the name. It was already her nickname at the breeder, thanks to a three-year-old boy who would visit the puppies with his mother.

On one visit, the mother pointed at our future dog and asked, “What do you think of this puppy?” To which he proclaimed, “That’s not a puppy, that’s a Donkey!”

It became her name for the rest of her life, and it so clearly fit her. From the fact that she sort of looked like an actual Donkey, to the way her temperament often mimicked Eeyore, she was named well. Anyone who knew her well would agree. On the other hand, when new people would vocalize their dislike or confusion about the name, it took significant restraint to keep myself from saying, “Hey, guess what, you don’t get a fucking vote.”

She also loved pillows, like she thought she was a human. Sometimes, that resulted in her sleeping in the weirdest positions imaginable.

It’s not hyperbolic to say that Donkey was the perfect dog for me. She was as good a friend as anyone could ask for. She was loyal and tender, nurturing and playful, timid and sweet. She was also the best cuddler I have ever met, human, dog, or otherwise.

In my struggle with mental illness, small things can tip the balance between getting through the day and a catastrophic crash and burn. Donkey so often tipped that balance in my favor. She was a totem of wellness. I was able to show her affection and receive her affection in return in entirely uncomplicated and straightforward ways. That often loosened the perpetual knot in my chest just a bit. She made the darkness a little easier to bear.

Like many dogs, she was always there. Her affection never waned, her desire to be near us was constant. Yet, as a lover of many dogs over the years, I can honestly say there was something different about Donkey. I’ve never known a dog like her, and I can’t imagine I ever will again.

I know every dog owner would say this about their dog, but Donkey was genuinely special.

People who didn’t like dogs somehow liked Donkey anyway. People normally indifferent to dogs were fascinated by her and called her their favorite of all the dogs they knew. Our friend Brian — who lived with us for years in Seattle — says she is the first dog he ever loved.

Even at our vet, Donkey was an A-list celebrity. From the doctors to the techs, everyone at our vet is great. They are attentive and thoughtful, and take great care of Chloe, but Donkey elicited a special kind of devotion. When we got to the vet with Donkey it was like Norm walked into Cheers. Waiting in the exam room for the vet, techs would come in to visit just because they heard Donkey was around.

The day we had to put her down, when Donkey was taken upstairs to get her IV catheter put in, the techs made a message on her gauze to say goodbye.

Donkey was loved by so many, even though her attitude toward strangers, and even acquaintances, was reserved at best. Gaining Donkey’s affection was a mark of true approval, but ever afterward she would love you effusively. The few people she came to view as part of her pack received a genuine gift, because it was a position that was never earned lightly.

As a pet owner, you always know this day will come, when the story ends for good. Fuck, as a lover of anyone or anything you know this day will come. Still, there’s that small part of us that doesn’t believe it. It’s hard to imagine life without a person or animal that makes up such a big part of our world. Although we knew this day was coming, even knew it was coming relatively soon, I still find it impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that I’ll never see her again.

She was the best. She was the heart of our family, and the hole she leaves behind is larger even than I imagined. We miss you, Donkey. Love you, forever.

Donkey of House Small; first of her name, carrier of toys, maker of weird noises; she of boundless energy for games and an endless appetite for cuddling.
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roused to mediocrity is back! probably. [five things 5.4.19]

It has been a long time coming, but Roused to Mediocrity has returned.

I’ve miss it too much to let it stay dead. I’m not myself when I’m not nerding out about the things I love. I miss using this medium to tell my friends about the cool shit I’m into right now. I miss diving more deeply into the things that moved me to parse out what impacted me. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been hiding my passion for things the last few years, but I have been, and it’s stupid, and I need to stop.

Part of my life, part of me has been missing, and while RtM might not account for all of it, I need to be writing again, and this is as good a place as any to start.

I’ve shied away from jumping back in for fear I won’t do it consistently enough, but fuck it. Let’s do this.

What better way to get back into the swing of things than a good old fashioned ‘Five Things’ post. So here they are, five random things I’ve loved recently.

On with the show!

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1.  Avengers: Endgame

Epic is overused these days, but it’s the only word that accurately describes last week’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to long-awaited onscreen battles.

Game of Thrones and the MCU have captured a huge portion of the pop culture consciousness for about a decade (eight and eleven years respectively), and last week included two massive battles royale that were meant to offer some semblance of closure for two devoted fanbases — along with the larger public who’ve been pulled onto the bandwagon.

Within the worlds of each story, both battles had the fate of all (or half of all) life hanging in the balance. Each had wildly overpowered villains. And each had a remarkably high degree of difficulty for the creators.

The difference between the two, in my experience, is that one was a mess, and the other stuck the landing.

Endgame had the same magic that the first Avengers film had in terms of the good kind of fan service — seeing it opening weekend at a 1am showing was not without more than its fair share of roaring cheers. And it offered satisfying conclusions for character arcs that have spanned more than a decade.

The notes all landed in terms of humor, action, acting, and poignancy. These characters we’ve grown to love were given their due at the end of a long road, and some of the more significant moments in the film were — on the other side of the coin from the cheers mentioned above — not without more than their fair share of sniffling throughout the audience.

The theater is often my favorite place to be, heightening the magic and power of cinema. Seeing Endgame with a theater full of strangers all invested enough to start a three hour movie at 1 a.m. was a genuinely communal experience. The quality of the film is the reason that experience was a beautiful one.

Bravo to everyone involved for taking a tough pitch and hitting it out of the park.

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2. Russian Doll

I watched all of Russian Doll twice in a week. The first time because I started an episode to try it out and watched all of it in a day. The second time because I was so taken by it the first time that I got Emily to watch an episode, and we promptly watched the whole thing in an evening.

I love it so much. It’s funny and smart, and manages to be sardonic enough that any tenderness and hopefulness doesn’t feel like bullshit.

Everyone in it is great, especially Natasha Lyonne as our hilarious, irreverent, self-destructive, lovable asshole of a protagonist.

Most importantly, the show is my favorite narrative interaction with mental illness — and how much we all need each other — in a long time.

I should write more about this show, and maybe I will, but for now, suffice it to say that I really loved Russian Doll.

P.S. It also includes what will undoubtedly be my favorite line of dialogue from TV all year. I won’t write what it is, because I think it’s spoilery, but feel free to ask via message or IRL.

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3. Love by Toni Morrison

I’m pretty sure there has never been a writer superior to Toni Morrison. She has peers, but no betters.

Her style is full of quiet power, never relying on overly flowery or ornate language, but instead delivering perfect prose in which every word is a gift.

She shines light through the stories of ordinary but marginalized people, Black Americans struggling for joy, belonging, or respect; for love, sex, or security; for revenge or power; for a way out or a way in; for hope or release; and in the process she reveals the beauty and darkness in every human life.

To quote Oprah — something I can assure you I never thought I would do in the life of this blog — “Toni Morrison’s work shows us through pain all the myriad ways we can come to love.”

Love is a difficult book to put down; not because of some narrative tension where we need to see what happens next, but because it’s such a gift to live with Morrison’s words. Her characters are so full of humanity, each feels like a full, living person, slowly revealing their inner world. The conclusion is moving and beautiful for all its tragedy, and it moved me to tears.

In related news, this:

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4. Bob’s Burgers

Nine seasons in, and Bob’s Burgers is better than ever. At a point when too many shows begin teetering into poor quality, getting more desperate to keep an audience as characters grow stale, Bob’s Burgers just keeps improving. I’d say I don’t get the sense that Bob is planning to strap on any water skis for a daring jump over some sharks, but since that would be an amazing episode of Bob’s Burgers, it would be stupid to rule it out. Yet, the metaphor stands, Bob’s Burgers appears to be in no danger of jumping the shark any time soon.

I get that these characters check all my boxes. Droll weirdos who genuinely love and support each other in spite of all the pot shots is definitely my jam, but those elements alone don’t automatically make me enjoy a show or movie or whatever. More often than not it’s poorly executed, as if the characters were written by aliens who have only a vague approximation of human interaction. Aliens who believe that as long as a line is delivered in a certain tone of voice, with certain musical cues, it’s the same thing as writing genuinely funny and believable moments.

Bob’s Burgers gets it all right, and for my money, the Belchers are the best family on television.

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5. Borderlands 3 

Okay, so this is over a month old, but I wasn’t writing a month ago. Borderlands 3 is officially happening. It has a release date and everything (Sep. 3)!

If you know, you know.

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anthony bourdain, depression, and me.

Being impacted by a celebrity death is an odd phenomenon. How strange to find ourselves grieving the loss of someone we never knew — not in the sense that the loss of a life is tragic, but in a more particular way. Our lives are impacted by a creator’s work or persona, and we feel a deep personal loss when their light goes out.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide hit me hard last week, much harder than I would have anticipated. It bored into my mind, sunk down into my chest, and rooted itself with a distracting persistence.

I wasn’t a religious follower of his work. I’d read Kitchen Confidential, watched videos of his various appearances and takes on food culture, and caught one of his shows very occasionally, but his presence in my life wasn’t daily or even weekly. Yet, here I was, feeling legitimate shock from his death. As that first day wore on the impact grew, the shadow lengthening.

The truth is that while I didn’t consciously hold him up as a hero, didn’t light candles at his altar as I do for some other artists, I realize now that his presence was significant in how I understand myself and the world. In the mid aughts, as I came into adulthood and was deciding who I would be, he was a trustworthy guide into the pursuit of life and culture as I began to realize that was a priority for me. It’s a sentiment which echoes many who have shared their thoughts about his life and loss over the last few days.

In him, I see so many of the things that make up my idea of a good life — not just good as in pleasurable, but good as in making the world better by living and being. I’d never suggest that traveling enough, or eating well enough, or experiencing enough of the world could ward off depression. Depression is often at its worst in the wake of my best experiences. However, I did hope that living a good life in the other sense would help.

Bourdain was curious, constantly learning, relentlessly searching for connection, was always creating, and most importantly to me, his hospitality was legendary. As a bonus, he also never took any shit or tolerated nonsense, so his hospitality never seemed false or saccharine. He clearly saw the world as it is, not as he wished it would be, and he found it worth exploring even while he railed against the things he saw as unfair toward the marginalized. The stories pouring out from those who only met him once reinforce that this was his way on and off camera.

He had a life filled with so much light and humanity. Yet, there was always that sharp edge. Cynicism and quiet rage were always part of the package. He had a punk rock core that added to his legend. And in part, this made it easier for me to believe that I could perhaps bring light and joy to people. There’s nothing punk rock about me at all, but Bourdain helped me believe that I might be a source of light and life for others, helping people expand their view of the world, even with all the bitterness and rage I carry around and can never truly suppress or hide.

I want to be someone who helps make the world bigger for others. I want to help people discover new things. I want to show people the beauty of what it is to be open and welcoming to new things and ways of seeing. Yet, my mental illness and the weight of my horrible insomnia mean I never have the internal resources I wish I had. I’m never as hospitable as I want to be, never as curious, patient, or kind as I wish I was. I want to be better, I want to make the world better, but I honestly don’t know where to begin.

Bourdain was a good place to start.

When I think of the reasons I’m so depressed and my life is so unfulfilling, the things that come to mind are that I am too closed off, too isolated, too limited, and that I’m not doing good creative work – or any creative work for that matter. So I was inspired by the way that Bourdain was open to the world. He was connected in profound ways to all the variety and diversity the world has to offer, with old friends or people he’d just met. He was always doing good work, telling stories and sharing different ways of seeing and experiencing the world through flavor and culture. He was living proof that we can find ways of seeing each other better if we’ll just sit down and share a meal or a drink.

And still, he decided he had to leave.

I wouldn’t say this makes me feel hopeless, but it removes one of the primary ideals in which I’d invest hope when I found it. I always feel rudderless, like my sail is ripped, the rudder is shattered and the boat is riddled with small cracks, forcing me to constantly bail water. That is the apt metaphor for my life. The better times are simply when I feel more energetic as I keep removing water from my boat one bucket at a time.

Yet, I also believed that there was land just visible in the distance, and that maybe, just maybe, I could eventually find a way to fix my boat just enough to move towards it. What Bourdain’s death makes me feel is that, all this time, what I’d believed was an island on the horizon is just another mirage. Even though my rudder didn’t work and I wasn’t sure how to get moving, I still had a course heading if I could ever figure some shit out.

Now I see that’s not the case. The things I thought might save me never will.

I still believe I need to open back up. I still believe it will help if I start working creatively again. I know there are things that help me feel better when I practice them consistently. But now I also know, more than ever, that even then it will never make things better. Nothing fixes this.

Depression is such a dangerous predator. It adapts to the changes we make. It waits patiently and pounces on every weakness, often attacking viciously in the wake of our best and happiest moments, turning even our triumphs into a mockery. So often, you hear family members and friends say of a loved one who took their own life, “They were so happy last night, we had no idea they were in such a dark place.” That’s because the quiet, lonely moments after we let ourselves be happy are often the darkest and cruelest, when we pause and notice that fetid scent on the air and know what’s waiting in the shadows for the lights to go out.

Depression is an incessant voice in the mind, force-feeding the most poisonous lies again and again until they seem like truth. It is also like the hackneyed murderer from slasher films, always returning for the next installment in the franchise no matter how final the victory seemed the last time around. Chop it up, burn it, sink the ashes to the bottom of the sea, yet still it will return, and when it does, it’s going to be pissed.

It can take away the best of us, and too often has. Even badass tough guys with high emotional IQs and a ceaseless appetite for good food, good company, and amazing experiences.

Goodbye, Chef. The world will be darker without you.

[[Also, let me make it clear that I’m ok. I’m neither suicidal, nor in danger. I just want to be honest about where I am. I’m usually hiding the extent of my troubles. Only Emily sees what my life is really like, the constant struggle and futility. This is appropriate to a degree, but I think I may hide too much at times, and it is stifling. This was simply an honest, mostly stream of consciousness processing of my feelings concerning Anthony Bourdain’s passing, and the surprising depth of feeling it elicited.]]

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my favorite films released in 2017.

Here they are. Of all the 2017 releases I was able to catch, these are my favorites. Also, this is a perfectly sane date to release a list like this.

As always, I never make a claim to pick the best movies of a given year, just my favorite.

In part, this is because there are far too many films I missed — see below — and the gaps in my film knowledge and technical understanding of cinema are far too vast for me to pretend this list is in any way exhaustive or academic. But more, it is because I think “best” and “worst” are words used far, far, far too often by writers and critics and whatnot.

Honorable mentions (I’ll probably decide some of these should have been included after all): Ingrid Goes West, Free Fire, Spiderman: Homecoming, The Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected), I Am Not Your Negro, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Okja, Colossal, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Red Turtle

The depressingly long list of major omissions from my year’s film-going, in no particular order: The Florida Project, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Post, Phantom Thread, Blade Runner 2049, Personal Shopper, Coco, The Disaster Artist, All the Money in the World, The Killing of the Sacred Deer, The Square, mother!, Good Time, A Ghost Story, Kedi, Brigsby Bear, Lady Macbeth, Detroit, Menashe, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Super Dark Times, It Comes at Night. If I didn’t mention one of your favs, please include them in the comments!

On with the list! Here are the favorites, in no particular order: 


Dunkirk

One major thing Dunkirk illustrates is that plot isn’t necessarily… necessary. Throwing out plot because you’re a hack is obviously bad writing. Throwing away plot because you are using a different sort of storytelling can be remarkable, and Dunkirk is remarkable.

The technical precision of this film never detracts from the tension. At a lean and well-earned two hours, the movie is an experience, but without the bombast and melodrama one normally finds front and center in a movie described as such. In spite of its July 21 release date, this is not an experience in the summer blockbuster sense. Instead, the film is harrowing; it is a simultaneously sobering and life-affirming glimpse at the horror and beauty of humanity that never glorifies war.

Not only was the story itself thrilling, but the perfection of the craft Nolan exhibits is equally electrifying. The three overlapping durations of time that weave together into one seamless, moving denouement is some of the most impressive storytelling I’ve ever seen.

This is a visually beautiful war film that I’m really glad I got to see in 70mm. I actually wish I had this one fresher in my mind so I could point out more of the beautiful technical aspects. I guess it’s time to watch it again!


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

On the shortlist of all-time underrated actors, Frances McDormand is in bold letters, and circled twice. At least up until the current awards season.

It’s not that she doesn’t get praise — for example, her performance in Fargo is appropriately revered — it’s just that she hasn’t been the household name she deserves to be.

As dumb as I think most awards are, I’m glad she won the Golden Globe this week. To quote Sam Rockwell, “She’s a badass, she’s a force of nature.” Her turn in Three Billboards is the sort of performance that deserves to be marked in some lasting way. Future generations should look back and take it in.

It’s an impressive win, as this year’s pool of best actress performances looks more like required viewing for the syllabus in a masterclass exploring the power and possibilities of great acting.

McDormand’s performance is obviously no surprise, she’s that kind of actress. For that matter, none of the great performances in this movie come as a surprise. It’s packed to the brim with underrated performers. For instance, I’ve made no secret of my firm belief that Sam Rockwell is a national treasure — another Golden Globe I was actually excited about.

I love that this film is never straightforward, that it is a story about how messy it is to live together. I love the way it engages the destructive and consuming power of anger, even the most righteous and understandable anger. It’s not the clear-cut ‘citizen against the lazy police to get justice’ story, it’s not the ‘blue lives matter, cops are all heroes’ sort of story. To be honest, it’s a Martin McDonagh sort of story — although, it’s really a McDonagh brothers sort of story, because it felt like a bit of a cross between Martin’s work and the work of his brother, John Michael McDonagh.

If you haven’t seen their work, you should definitely take the time to check it out, after Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri, I’d go with In Bruges, then The Guard and Calvary. And don’t forget Seven Psychopaths at the end there.


Baby Driver

I already went into significant detail about my love for Baby Driver with this post.

To quote myself briefly: “This is peak Edgar Wright. While a definite shift in tone and location for the director, like all of his films it is an invitation into a world shaped by his deep love of cinema — this time, set to music! … The well-deserved time has finally come. Edgar Wright will no longer be an underrated genius, just a genius.”

I need cinema that is thoughtful, that explores the emotional landscape of what it means to be human. I also need well-made movies that are first and foremost a great fucking time, made by film-loving geniuses for the pure love and joy of cinema. Nobody is better at that than Edgar Wright, and I’m so glad his time has come to experience broader appreciation.

The only rain on the parade is that it turns out Kevin Spacey is a monster. Fuck.


The Big Sick

The best romantic comedies — which are very few and far between — are the ones that make it impossible not to fall in love with the romantic leads. The Big Sick somehow gets the audience to fall in love not only with the two leads, but two entire families.

Full of charm and warmth, Nanjiani and Gordon delivered a film that made me smile and helped remind me that people are capable of being good to each other, even in the midst of all the bullshit that gets in the way. That’s no small task at the moment.

There are several movies on this list that seem to have come around at exactly the right cultural moment, and this is one of them.


Thor: Ragnarok

Between Edgar Wright, Kumail Nanjiani, and Taika Waititi, this was a good year for personal favorites making good on a massive scale. It would have been difficult for me to keep this movie off of my list even if the only thing to love was that it thrust Waititi into the international limelight. Fortunately, there was so much more to love.

This clusterfuck of a year called for heaping portions of clever silliness, and I knew Taika was just the man for the job. Ragnarok ended up even more bonkers than I’d dared to hope. The movie combined frenetic improvisational energy, an irreverant approach to the characters, and solid filmmaking. The result is a film that rejected and transcended both superhero tropes and stale line-o-rama comedies.

In short, Thor: Ragnarok was as much fun as I had at the theater this year.

After totally blowing it with Edgar Wright, Marvel Studios seems to have course-corrected and now continues to expand the color palette of their films visually, tonally, and emotionally.

Korg for intergalactic president!


Get Out

At the end of the day, this movie wasn’t made for me — but I sure did love it anyway.

We all knew Jordan Peele was talented, but I’m not sure we knew just how immense that talent was until now. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Get Out is a funny, troubling, tense mindfuck that succeeds on every level. It proves that you can find an audience for original and interesting content. This is smart, thoughtful, inventive storytelling that made loads of cash on a tiny budget.

Hey Hollywood, much more innovative storytelling, please!

Most writers and directors given space and resources to tell stories are straight white dudes. Fairness and representation are good enough reasons for everyone else to have the same space and resources to tell their stories, but it’s also a win-win for film lovers. It’s important because it’s justice, it also happens to result in better storytelling and a more interesting film landscape.


I, Tonya

I never would have anticipated having a movie about figure skating anywhere near my list of favorite films, but here you go. Although, I suppose I, Tonya is about as subversive as a sports movie can get. Whatever the genre, there wasn’t a more engaging film released in 2017.

This film speaks directly to some of the darkest parts of our culture, and perhaps even our humanity. The pressure created by our cultural darkness has the power, from time to time, to make something beautiful, but it will then quickly destroy and consume that beauty more often than not. The same suffering that helped transform Harding’s athletic brilliance into a feat no woman had ever accomplished before also contributed to the destruction of her vocation, which was the only thing she truly loved at that point in her life.

While bartending the other night, some customers described the way the film would get them to laugh, after which they would immediately feel guilty for what they had just laughed at. This is entirely by design. I, Tonya pulls the audience in and makes us complicit in her abuse and downfall. Or, more accurately, the film reveals that we have been complicit all along.

Every performance in this movie is great, but Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are the forces that elevate the film to a different level. The writing and direction are fantastic, but it required the work done by these remarkably talented actresses to stick the landing.


The Shape of Water

After being thoroughly disappointed with Crimson Peak, I was really pulling for this to remind me why I roll with Team GDT, and did it ever!

The Shape of Water is the culmination of everything Guillermo del Toro has done to this point. It’s a story about outsiders and beautiful monsters. The lack of a child as the focal point around which all the violence and magic happens was the only common del Toro trope missing. In reality, what del Toro and cowriter Vanessa Taylor did was create a more complex avatar for that childlike innocence in an adult character, played to perfection by Sally Hawkins. It’s one of the unexpected ways this film actually transcends del Toro’s previous work for me.

It takes everything that del Toro is known for to the next level. Most notably, the reversal in which we find a human being the true monster and a monster full of sympathetic humanity is starker than ever, as in escalating to an outright consummated interspecies romance.

GDT also leans all the way into his love of cinema, while fully embracing the beauty and danger of movies. They can be the light in the darkness, a link to humanity, or they can be the thing we use to distract us and drown out what is really happening in the world to the extent that we never try to make it better. There is meaning and beauty to be found, and there are also cartoonish, whitewashed, oversaturated and oversimplified biblical epics. The one side cannot cancel out the other, and there is goodness hidden everywhere.

Side note: Michael Shannon is one of the fucking best. His use of pacing and vocal nuance to pack power and intensity into even his quietest performances — this was not one of those on the quieter side — gets me every time.

 

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