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A mild case of Sorkinitis.

So it’s been a bit longer than I would’ve liked for me to post again. There’s many reasons for that: the excess summer heat, crazy storms ripping through the area and taking power lines with it, good friends getting married. There’s also been some terrible reasons (general summer malaise). I feel like I’ve missed out on talking about a lot of things, some of which I’ll wander back to and others I’ll just let slide by. Since last I wrote there’s been a holiday in the middle of the week, San Diego Comic Con happened and I think parts of the internet melted down and Donald J. Sobol author of the Encyclopedia Brown series died. (Speaking of which, I still think that the fake movie of the kids as adult detectives is the coolest thing.)

There is one thing that started in the past few weeks that I wanted to talk about: The Newsroom. I wasn’t going to talk about it, wasn’t going to add fuel to either side of the fire, but after watching the newest episode I decided that I kind of wanted to say something anyways. Continue Reading »

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An Endless Night: A Farewell to Ray Bradbury

It almost feels as if I just wrote one of these. I have reached the age where those whose works I have admired and who have influenced my life are starting to pass on. Death is an uncomfortable thing for most people especially when it comes to those you feel connected to but never actually met. These losses are powerfully felt, but are strange to articulate. How can you mourn someone you didn’t really know, but was touched by anyways? Do you have the right to do that at all?

On my way to work this morning I had this out-of-the-blue thought about Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt”.  There was no clear motivation for why I was thinking of it then (I don’t run into a lot of children or lions on my commute). I was just struck by the thought of the image, the strange predatory calm that fills that story, hanging between the lines and carrying on after. I wondered how it would be if such things had actually come to be. If any of the futures of the past had actually come to pass and what sort of person I would be. I surely would not be making the trek that I was.

Two hours later I found out that Ray Bradbury had passed away. Continue Reading »

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Nerd is Not That Kind of Four-Letter Word.

I was having an interesting (and tangent-riddled) conversation with someone the other day when he said something that struck me: “See, I like nerdy things, but I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t really like most nerds.”  This is likely a terrible recollection of what he actually said (I’m paraphrasing from memory) but the tone rings true. He was voicing something that I often find myself reckoning with: how much is okay to talk about one’s “nerdier” passions when nerd culture (or at least the general perception of it) makes you feel a bit uncomfortable?

I am fairly open and comfortable with admitting that I like certain things that can be considered nerdy. More importantly I get  passionate and riled up about them and tend to memorize inane-seeming details. I love to read comic books and watch action films, read science fiction and fantasy just as I enjoy watching some soap opera-like shows and reading “chick lit” books. I listen to music, go to concerts and pretty much whole-heartedly embrace all of these things.

I also admit that I don’t necessarily like certain things, but I like people who do like those things. I’m not the biggest fan of video games beyond old school Nintendo ones, which could be that I have other passions or that I am genuinely terrible at them. But I know people (guys and girls) who can lose hours to the likes of Bioshock and Diablo III. The more power to them, I say.

But the fact that I can talk about these things (am currently talking about these things) is not the point. No, the true hypothetical is what if I wasn’t?

There was a time in my life where I kept my geekier passions close to the vest. I  had action figures, but I kept them locked away when I wasn’t playing them. I had Star Wars and Lord of the Rings posters, but I sometimes took them down before letting my friends up to my room. Like these things was perfectly fine, but telling those outside my immediate family filled me with unease. I could pass off seeing certain movies multiple times on my brother, my mother (who took me to my first fan convention when I was a kid) or someone who wasn’t me. Sure I had friends with whom we’d dress up as Harry Potter characters or pretend to be pirates (we were largely theater kids after all), but we’d also still party and pull pranks and do other more “conventional” things.

Eventually as I grew up, went to college, had a computer of my own to explore this wild, nerd kingdom that is the Internet. I managed to find myself a group of like-minded multi-genre and media nerds with whom I could waste away the hours. I came to realize that everyone is a little (or a lot) nerdy about different things. Loving sports is its own form of being different. There isn’t a crazy different between a fantasy football league and Dungeons & Dragons, at least not to an outsider. Both involve rules, certain roles for the participants to fill and a lot of discussion and arguing over the finer points. They are passions, seemingly bewildering but bring like-minded people together. It’s a good thing.

So maybe I haven’t found the answer to the question of how much sharing is too much, but I have figured out that not everyone is going to feel as fervently about them I do. It’s fine. I just can’t try to make them see things my way if they’re not willing. There is a time and a place for all forms of nerdery. Picking and choosing is part of growing up.  I’m not saying that every person who can quote Buffy is going to like dressing up as a character from the show and heading to a con. They might never want to do those things, but that shouldn’t make others deem them to be less worthy of enjoying it. The opposite can be true: just because you’ve never felt the need to dress up or go to a con or post on a forum doesn’t make those that do such things overly outlandish for doing so.

It’s about balance. It’s about different strokes for different folks (or any other platitude). And maybe just changing the subject can save you from an awful lot of embarrassment or putting your foot-in-your-mouth. Might I suggest discussing the weather? That always seems to work for a few minutes.

Possibly.

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Subject Interrupted: ‘Community’, expectations versus reality.

This post began its life as an exploration of expectations versus reality when it comes to my viewing of season and series finales of shows. The dashing of unknown expectations is something that happens with every show I watch, even the ones where there aren’t a lot of stakes to be raised.

This is not that post. That post died when I woke up this morning to find out that not only had Dan Harmon (the now-former showrunner and creator of Community) had been ousted, but one of the last remaining season one writers of that show had left as well. The nature of the game has now changed. Now I kind of want to talk about this instead.

After viewing the three final episodes of Community‘s season, I had a lot of thoughts about how they fit into what I wanted to happen, what I expected to happen and what actually occurred. It was going to be an excellent example as I puzzled my way through this question of whether or not expectations are good or bad and how they change the game. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply enjoyed those episodes, but I am not entirely certain how they handled some aspects and how they serve to set up season four. Basically I laughed, I cried, I had a lot of feelings and even more questions.  They were good, a little odd (I’m not entirely certain how “Digital Estate Planning” fares when staked next to “First Chang Dynasty” and “Introduction to Finality” as far as season enders go), but still good.

I can appreciate the vision that Dan Harmon had when he set out to create this show. Community colleges are fascinating little microcosms of reality. If you’ve ever set foot on one, you instantly can get a feel for how they are both similar and different from more ‘traditional’ four-year schools. They can be kind of weird, populated by a variety of students and people with different backgrounds and different agendas. It’s a setting that is perfect for telling a variety of stories and part of the charm of Community is how it has embraced the spirit of these types of schools. Or perhaps this kind of fundamental weirdness is unique to community colleges in the Midwest. I wouldn’t know.

I don’t always think that this initial vision was pulled off, but I get it. I appreciate how the writers of that show have worked to create this group of people who have insane adventures and who still pretend that they are in a study group when they are so much more than that. I’ve been in a study group, in fact I have been in several and I know that I have managed to go an entire semester without learning someone’s last name.  Being friends with your study group is not a pre-requisite; if anything it is a hinderance. Study meetings tend to devolve into sessions of quoting Arrested Development and making weekend plans and less actual studying.  The Greendale Seven are no longer a group of people who study Spanish (or Anthropology or Biology) together, but a group of friends who take the same class to keep up the pretense that they are a study group. (Another thing I recommend against: taking classes with your friends; it usually ends with writing papers while drunk.)

Community has always been an interesting show. Some of its best episodes are also some of its weirdest which tends to drive away new viewers. When suggesting places to start watching the show to new people, I am always careful with what I choose. Pick the wrong episode and it can undercut what is so good about it or just play on something so odd that no one gets it.  For example, I loved this season’s “Remedial Chaos Theory” but I know that to someone who doesn’t understand that character dynamics can spend much of that episode confused and possibly a little irritated.

When my brother started watching this show earlier this year, I told him to go back and watch the pilot after he had started with “Spanish 101″, possibly waiting until he had finished “Comparative Religion”. While my brother ultimately ignored me, the point that I was attempting to make was that the pilot of Community suffers from a common problem that pilots have: it sets up a situation, pulls things together but ultimately is kind of boring and doesn’t represent what the show would ultimately become. Community  is a show that is built around raised stakes and an odd version of reality where we can spend an episode where everyone is an 8-bit video game character or entirely claymation and it still feels perfectly natural. That’s impressive. There aren’t many shows that can pull that off.

When Community comes back in the fall I have this feeling that I am going to have to prepare for the worst. I know that I am not alone in this. Change is hard to deal with when it deals with things that I don’t particularly enjoy or care about let alone times like this. Right now I am feeling the same way that my brother must feel when he finds out his favorite player has been traded or a beloved coach has left a franchise. It’s fear, mainly. A sense of dread and worry that combine to make me wonder if the show will ever be good again.

I’m not ready to give up on this show. I like it too much, I care too much about the characters to want to walk away from their story just yet. But right now I am prepared for possibly doing just that. I won’t, at least not right away. When the show returns I am going to be sitting there, holding a metaphorical knife wondering if I should just cut the cord already. The season four opener will be viewed with the same skepticism that I viewed the pilot with back in 2009. I will wonder about the show, see if the game has really changed or if I am just looking for issues that aren’t actually there. I might find myself falling into familiar patterns of “This wouldn’t have happened if…”, cries that it will never be as good as it once was.

There is no way of truly knowing what the future will hold. For all I know, every character could die in the first episode and then the next twelve will be this post-apocalyptic wasteland set in the halls of City College. Or I could just not notice the change, accepting blithely that it is ultimately the show it has always been at its core. It is hard to really know at this moment. But one thing is absolutely certain: I’m not going to forget how great the show was and hopefully will continue to be.

Remember everyone: six seasons and a movie. Hopefully one with Dan Harmon at the helm.

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Art Stuff: Cool Happenings on Cool Buildings

I like free things. (Or well, things that are free to me since I know that nothing is truly free, basic economics, blah blah blah.) It isn’t that I am a cheap person, per se, it is more that at this point in my life I don’t have access to a lot of liquid assets. So the more cool stuff that I can enjoy for little to no money is definitely a plus in my book.

I am a big fan of the arts. You don’t grow up hanging out with the theatre and art nerds, writing away in a notebook and on the back of your hand, playing music and end up hating on the arts. Or maybe you do, but I’m not one of them. Part of being a fan and a supporter of the arts is showing up and offering support when really cool things happen out in the open air where anyone can see them. Access is key to promoting art, to getting people involved and willing to support things that might not ordinarily touch their lives. I am exceedingly lucky to live in a city where there are some seriously awesome museums that I can get into without an admission fee. It means that I keeping going back to see what’s new without breaking the bank.

I seem to have lost my point somewhere along the way. Oh yeah. There it is.

This weekend I had two prime opportunities to enjoy some pretty cool things that happened on the outside of buildings. I can be something of an architectural nerd and when you throw art onto a building, I’m definitely going to go take a look. For the past few months the Hirshorn Museum has been projecting a 360 film onto its outside walls. A piece by Doug Aitken, it combines film and sound against the backdrop on the open air and the circular Hirshorn. Even if you stand out there for only five minutes, it’s a pretty impressive thing to see. For one thing it is absolutely massive, making you feel very small as you watch it go by. Another thing is that it has a way of making you feel included. It is not a piece that you stand in front of, consider and then walk away. It wraps you up, it surrounds you and has a way of being something that you think about even after you have walked away. (It doesn’t hurt that you can definitely see it from a few blocks away as you approach the museum.)

The piece, Doug Aitken: Song 1, is up and running from about 8pm to midnight at the Hirshorn until May 20th. If you have the opportunity to take a look, I promise you won’t regret it.

In other cool, building-related happenings that I managed to check out this weekend was a performance by the aerial dance troupe Project Bandaloop. Despite not being afraid of heights, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sympathetic vertigo on their behalfs as they took dancing in the air and along the side of the Old Post Office Clocktower here in DC. Combining lights, music and some serious athletic skill it was an impressive feat to take in. Project Bandaloop’s performance was tied in with the Kennedy Center (which is how I found out about it), but anyone who was walking down that part of Pennsylvania Avenue this past week could have taken in a bit of the set up. The wind was gusting pretty hard earlier in the week, but it all came together for one seriously amazing show. Even if my legs did get sympathetic cramps from just thinking about it.

If you ever manage to be in a place where you can see Project Bandaloop perform, I strongly recommend it. The entire show lasted about 50 minutes, but it definitely felt like less time (a surprising fact given that I had my head tilted upward the entire time). Check out their website for more information about them and what they do (and why they do it).

I apologise for the lack of pictures this go around. I tried to snap a few, but all I had to work with was my iPhone and some sharp angles which makes for some seriously blurry pictures when in my hands. Next time I’ll remember to bring a real camera. But for now, I’m signing off on my art beat. 

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Thank You, Mr Sendak.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

One of the first books that I memorized was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I say memorized because I had to be under the age of four and while I was an advanced kid, I definitely was of the age where I memorized something and then passed it off as actually reading. Between Where the Wild Things AreGood-Night Moon and a few books by Robert Munch, I had quite the racket going for a little while.

I know that I am not alone when I say that Maurice Sendak’s work had a profound effect on who I am today. The outpouring on other blogs and Twitter and other social media outlets has been enough to show that I would be selfish to claim that his impact is unique to me. It’s not even something that is unique to my generation and I see nothing wrong with that. His works serve as another part of the connective tissue that brings disparate age groups and people together who might normally not understand that they had something in common at all. It’s not much, but it is something.

One of the earliest memories I have of his works is of my parents (mostly my father, which is a fairly big deal given how scattered my memories of him in my early childhood are) reading them to me at night. I would tucked into bed surrounded by more stuffed animals and pillows than should probably be allowed, wearing some sort of frilly nightgown and watching the words and the pictures as the story came to life. I totally believed that there was a place where Wild Things lived and then if I wished hard enough I could get there. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to be sent to bed without dinner, but if that was the price I would have to pay then I would do it (even at such a young age, I was familiar with the concept of being sent up to my room after throwing a tantrum; it was never quite the punishment it was meant to be).

I remember the art more than anything else. His art is iconic, which is why I so deeply enjoyed the version of The Nutcracker I caught on television a couple of years ago that featured sets designed by him. I know people who have tattoos of Wild Things and Max having a rumpus. It’s so identifiable and strangely comforting to me as an adult that I nearly forget that there was a time in my life where I was a little terrified of it. The Wild Things had huge teeth and fangs! I couldn’t quite get over that the Wild Things never did eat Max, even though they totally could have. It made me feel powerful. I wanted to be like Max, with a crown and that fearlessness. I wanted to look at big scary monsters and say, no, you do not scare me. It was exciting and made me squeal a little bit when my dad did the voices.

It has been roughly twenty years since those nights (which is a mind-blowing thought). I moved onto other stories, learned to actually read and demolished book series and book series. But looking back I am grateful for the time that I had with his books. When the movie adaptation of  Where the Wild Things Are came out, I came home to see it with my dad and right away I was back there. I was that little kid learning to not be afraid of monsters and to not scream and shout when things don’t go my way. Even now I can still quote huge sections of that book from memory (I’m not certain if I can make through the whole thing; I haven’t actually tried).

So thanks, Mr Sendak. I’m glad to have had your stuff in my life and you’ll be missed.

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Another New Beginning

Once upon a time I had tried the solo blog thing. Okay, scratch that, I tried it more than once and each time I was hoisted by my own petard. Things went well for a while and then they ultimately petered out. I had a fuzzy notion of what I wanted to blog about rather than a clear or at least executable idea. I sort of bopped around, but without enough motivation, time or vision I failed. It’s kind of embarrassing to fail. It’s even more embarrassing to fail more than once. Here’s hoping that the third time really is the charm. Even if I’m only ever accountable to myself on this, I tend to feel a lot of semi-irrational guilt so I’d like to not have a repeat performance. It’d probably dry my hair out at the very least.

This has been a big year for me. I turned the semi-infamous twenty-five. I moved across the country to a place I didn’t really know anyone and started a new job. I reached a point where I could actually reflect on where I wanted to be when I was this age as a child and where I actually am. I did not win that Oscar, like I had planned to when I was eleven. I did not become a professional figure skater like my eight year old self had dreamed. I’m not a medical doctor acting out real life scenes from ER (aged fourteen) or a forensic anthropologist like Bones on Bones (aged seventeen).

To be perfectly honest I haven’t done a lot of things that filled my dreams when I was kid. I didn’t have a rock band get famous off a song that they wrote about me. I did not have a passionate, wild affair with Ryan Gosling circa-Young Hercules. What I have done is a lot of cool and even more very lame things. I plan on doing more lame and cool things (and things that are both). I know what I want. I have a vague idea of how to get it. But more on that later.

Basically this is going to be a blog of many things. I like a lot of things. I like to talk about those things, sometimes from a more academic place and most of the time from a “yay! I love this!” place. There will be a few anecdotes from my life as I eek out who I am, who I want to be and who I was. It will kind of be like a road trip. Except not as this a blog on the internet, so most of the traveling will be of the strictly non-literal type. Which is fine with me because my couch is a pain to move.  There will be a lot of nerding out, cause that is kind of my jam.

So. Hi.  Nice to meet you. Please make some coffee and stay a while.

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