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What, like there was some other thing or person I was going to pick for the last day of this month of sharing things that make me happy?
Mr. Neilenberg Ulysses Gaiman IV is a name I just made up. Neil Richard Gaiman, on the other hand, is my favorite author. Actually, that’s not big enough. Neil Gaiman is my favorite storyteller, and if you know me even a little, you know I can’t offer any higher praise. [And for the record, since I hear people mispronounce his name more often than I hear it pronounced correctly, it’s Gay not Guy, or as he explains, “It’s Gaym’n.”]
He isn’t just my favorite storyteller because of the stories he tells — although that alone would certainly be enough — but also because of the way he sees story, the way he talks about what story is, and how it works.
His work was the engine at the heart of my master’s thesis: “Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, & Consolation: Finding Increased Capacity for Desire, Life, Mourning, and Wonder in the Liminal Space of Fiction.”
Here’s the weird thing about that, though. I wondered and researched about how story works, all the while feeling that his stories were the best examples of what I was arguing for. Yet, since the thesis wasn’t actually about Neil Gaiman, it wasn’t until after I had finished the project that I found most of Gaiman’s nonfiction essays about story — which are now all conveniently collected in his book, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, which also has all sorts of other essays and articles and forwards and speeches, and you should absolutely read it — and learned that he said everything I was saying in my thesis, he just said it with much more wit and skill.
Not that any of the things he said about story surprised me. After all, so much of his work is comprised of stories about stories, in one way or another. It’s one part of the richness of his work, the symbiotic relationship with so many myths, songs, symbols, folk tales, and legends of the massive human mosaic. They enhance the depth and power of his stories, and in turn his work breathes new life into old mythologies that, though forgotten by most of us, still frame our consciousness.
I love so many things about Gaiman’s work, but most of all, I love that his writing fosters genuine hope in my broken brain. When there is light or hope or warmth in his stories, it’s never achieved without taking seriously how dark and broken and ugly the world can be. And sure, there is always magic in some form or another, but just because magic doesn’t exist doesn’t mean I don’t want magic to exist. As I wrote yesterday, I want to believe.
In late 2015, I flew from Seattle to New York City just to see Gaiman interviewed by Junot Díaz in Brooklyn, where he was doing his only signing of Sandman: Overture. The entire trip took around 40 hours, and I didn’t sleep until the plane ride home.
When I got to the front of the signing line, mostly delirious from the 20-something hours I’d been awake and the 12 or so I’d been wandering the streets of Brooklyn, I nervously thanked Neil Gaiman for writing stories that helped me find hope in the darkness. I don’t think he really heard me, or that it registered with him at all — after all, I was one in a very long line all trying to communicate some deep truth to him in the span of a few seconds, and as far. Also, I was so tired that it’s possible I only thought I said, “Thank you for writing stories that help me find hope in the darkness,” but actually said, “Therm finking messyflormal.” Either way, I’m still glad I got to say it, and honor how important his work is to me.
Popular culture is central to my life. My love of movies, books, music, shows, and the like made me who I am, or at the very least, offered me the language to articulate and navigate my world in powerfully formative ways.
And of all the things that I identified with and was shaped by, the X-Files is second to none.
I’ve forgotten most of my life, a phenomenon that increases in degree as I get older, but many of the memories that have stayed are related to X-Files.
I still have a clear recollection of the time I watched “Squeeze” as an eleven year old. I was terrified and captivated, and the rest of that week I couldn’t be in the dark because I was certain Eugene Victor Tooms was crawling through our heating vents to come and eat my liver. Okay, so maybe I didn’t really think he was coming, but I wasn’t willing to bet my life that he definitely wasn’t coming to eat my liver.
After that, I was hooked. I watched X-Files devotedly from then until the show ended in 2002. My college friends and I rewatched the entire show together, from beginning to end. Which was made easier because that’s when television shows on DVD started to be a thing (actually, the seasons were released on DVD between 2000 and 2004, exactly the years I was in college).
It was our cult, and we delighted in being complete fucking nerds about it. We had Xs taped in our windows, Mitch Pileggi headshots beside our beds, and would often drop whatever other social plans we were involved in when the other three guys came by with an invitation to go ‘X it up.’
Now I’m getting to rewatch the show again with Emily as she watches it for the first time.
Most of the popular tv shows today owe part of their DNA to the X-Files, as do I.
There are traces of Scully in my skepticism and wariness, and traces of Mulder in my sarcasm and passion. As evidenced by Emily’s regular exclamations while we watch along the lines of, “Are you sure you’re not Mulder?!” But I actually used to be far more like Mulder than I am now. These days I’m too much like sad sack season five Mulder, when he stopped believing for a while and the animating force went out of him, because he was so driven by his dogged pursuit of truth. I remember those days, and I miss them. I still share too many of his vices and weaknesses. And when I’m my best self, I still share some of his strengths. I mean, minus the brilliance, obviously.
Anywyay, when the X-Files was bad, it was sooooo bad, but when it was good, it was perfect. There are ‘monster of the week’ episodes of the show that will always be on the short list of my favorite tv episodes of all time.
I wish I had more time to write about this, to refine and expand my thoughts — and do even basic editing — alas, this is what happens when a person self-imposes the requirement to post something every single day regardless of busyness.
Suffice it to say that in a month sharing things that make me happy, nothing fits better than the X-Files.
That’s right, folks, two trailers for the price of one (plus, a bonus video)!
First, Spider-Man: Homecoming has a new trailer, and I’m sharing it, because, obviously.
Lowery has a style and sensibility I really enjoy. His work directing Pete’s Dragon last year — with that film’s lovely visual competency — made me hopeful that Disney is going to expand on their new tendency to allow talented young directors to actually put their stamp on core Disney films. This trend is further evidenced by the fact that Ava DuVernay is currently directing the studio’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. Not only does DuVernay check the young talented director box, but the fact that she backed away from Black Panther because she felt like she wasn’t going to get enough creative freedom says to me that her involvement with A Wrinkle in Time means she got assurances that she would be given the stylistic license she rightfully craves.
Anyway, I’ve been excited about this and I’m glad we finally got a trailer!
As a bonus, for anyone who didn’t watch it the first time I shared last year, here’s Lowery’s short film Pioneer. It’s really great, and was the first thing of his I saw (a list that’s still pretty short).
I feel like this is cheating a little bit, since I already included the Pratt/Lawrence press relationship. But this is just something that made me happy this month. When is the comedy starring Pratt/Lawrence/Reynolds/Gyllenhaal coming out?
The people who do these interviews are often intolerable, and Reynolds and Gyllenhaal were amazing in their tireless ability to subvert the inanity of the press junket life with their own absurdity.
In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are wildly underrated movies, and my love for them means I am obviously excited that we get another Martin McDonagh movie soon!
Also, have I ever told you that Sam Rockwell is a national treasure?
One week from today, the long MLB season will begin. This probably doesn’t make most people happy, but for me, it is intrinsically tied to my mental health. Emily has observed many times that she knows the depression is really bad for me when I’m not even watching baseball. It’s part of the landscape of my life.
Baseball is a game of rhythm and poetry. It’s about the pauses, about what doesn’t happen, just as much as it’s about the beats and what does happen.
It’s often referred to as a sport rooted in the relationship between a father and a son, which is an inaccurate oversimplification, while also managing to be sexist: double whammy!
The truth in what they are saying is that catching the passion for baseball is a learned behavior. It often happens early in life, being around someone who loves the game, then it burrows down into your bones, grabs hold and never lets go.
The feedback loop of baseball is one of increasing returns. The more you watch and learn, the more nuance you see, the better you get at seeing the game, which helps you watch more closely, which makes you fall deeper in love, and on it goes. I know this is true of most things people love, but it’s even truer of baseball. It’s a game of secret languages, of deep minutia and hidden layers of meaning in every facet of the game. There’s a reason why “inside baseball” is the turn of phrase to describe a detail-oriented description requiring specific knowledge to follow the argument.
During the regular season, baseball is ever present. If you have a favorite baseball team, they play nearly every day. 162 regular season games over the course of six months, followed by the playoffs, if you’re so lucky.
Baseball is for people who enjoy a slow burn, it is for people who need to have a constant stream of content to interpret, it is for people who enjoy watching closely, seeing incremental shifts that only mean something if you know what you’re looking for.
Baseball has been my favorite sport my entire adult life. I feel more at home watching a baseball game than I do in most contexts.
To the disgust of many, the Yankees have been my favorite professional sports team since before I have memories. I have a vague recollection of my first sporting event — the Yankees played the Royals at Yankee Stadium. Don Mattingly hit a home run in this memory, but that seems a little too perfect, so that may be the apocryphal inventions of a child’s imagination.
Anyway, every year, Emily and I find a bar or restaurant to watch the first MLB game of the season, which is always on a Sunday. This year, that first game will be played by my Yankees, a team that probably doesn’t have the pitching to compete this year, but who will still be fun to watch thanks to a bevy of youngsters — Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge to start the year, with more on the way soon –getting a chance to try and join the epic list of Yankee legends and fan favorites.
As I write this, there are 6 days, 14 hours, 26 minutes remaining until the first game begins. I’m ready.
Greg Bird is a long home run machine — more on the Yankees to come — and Clint Dempsey had a hat trick. Not a bad weekend for athletes who play for two of my favorite teams.