As long as I’m doing the “remember that I have a blog” thing this year

I’m writing here about something that happened last fall, at the time my feelings about it were varied and fraught. In the early days of this web site, when no one read it, I would write about events in my romantic life in a very granular way. As this web site approaches middle age, when no one reads it, I have learned by example to be reluctant about sharing the specific and intimate with a world where search engines are used to destroy human beings. But this feels worth recording.

I am in love with my partner Kat, and we’ve been together for over three years. We live in different cities and we date other people sometimes. Kat has a girlfriend named Sophie, a wonderful writer who wrote a wonderful book about dating people other than the (wonderful) person she married. As part of promoting the book, Sophie submitted a column about falling for Kat to Modern Love, and that is how I ended up with a cameo in the New York Times.

Kat and I were actually in New Orleans for Sophie and Luke’s wedding when the American paper of record published details about my relationship that would be readily identifiable to anyone who knows either of us. The wedding was beautiful, and reading the column the morning after was surreal. I was simultaneously very elated and very worried that unforeseen consequences of the publication would come back to hurt me or the people I love.

Such consequences have not yet come to pass. No one has shunned or shamed or exposed me, and my fear has receded, leaving the elation behind. I’m the happiest I have been in any relationship and, despite my worries about the world’s future, I’m excited about our future. And if I was going to pop up in the Sunday NYT somehow, this is pretty much the best way I can imagine that turning out.

January Movie Roundup

January Film Roundup is the intellectual property of Leonard Richardson and Nowhere Standard Inc. Any resemblance to actual film roundups living or dead is purely incidental.

A thing I did in 2017 that I’ve never actually recorded here was buy a house in Southeast Portland. More about that some other time. An important thing about this house, to me, is that it’s within walking distance of Movie Madness, the best place to rent movies in the world. Later in 2019 I’m going to leave Portland after eleven years and move to Chicago. More about that also some other time. Until then, I want to take great advantage of my proximity to the little cinder block building that just has… every… movie… in it. These are the ones I watched last month.

  • My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997): Kat’s favorite. I used to watch and basically believe in romantic comedies, a fact which may shed light on some of my permanent emotional scarring. I stopped watching in the early oughts, when the movies stopped being good, but I think I did see almost all of the nineties classics except this one. I liked it but I’m glad I didn’t see it at the time; I would not have appreciated it.

    Having read nothing about its production, here’s my imaginary series of events: Ron Bass sees Mr. Wrong and The Truth About Cats And Dogs in 1996, then writes a combination of the two as a vehicle for Janeane Garofalo or someone Janeane Garofalesque. A studio buyer says “Ron, I love it, but why don’t we see if we can shoot for someone more… Julia Robertsesque.” Then the actual Julia Roberts, tired of being pitched on romantic comedies because it’s 1997, reads it and says “I would enjoy taking my own subversive turn at playing a sociopath,” and what you end up with is this strange world where Dermot Mulroney plays a human tree stump who’s marrying 20-year-old Cameron Diaz yet who has never in his life considered any attraction to Julia Roberts (who is in turn willing to ruin his life to have him).

    I grant you that this is the same disbelief you are asked to suspend when The Truth About Cats And Dogs sets up its false dichotomy, but at least that is predictable Hollywood logic at work. Roberts gets her teeth into this anyway and has a great time, which is fun to watch, and so does Rupert Everett, who you already know is the best part of the movie even if you’ve never seen it.

  • Night of the Living Dead (1968): I think I saw this nineteen or twenty years ago and my recall of it was more accurate than I expected. I like it, but I would not have felt a specific need to rent it except for one thing: I seem to be among few Every Frame a Painting superfans to have discovered that last year’s Criterion reissue has a hidden Every Frame a Painting on the bonus disc.

    To say that Every Frame a Painting meant a great deal to me is to understate. It turns out I am still grieving it, and—as is obvious to the point of pain—grieving the world I thought I was living in when its last video was posted to Youtube in September of 2016. Grief leads me to magical thinking, and so, of late, my brain has tried to conjure the past via whatever ancillary frames I can find. There are at least a couple more essays they produced for Filmstruck, a service which decided to shut down just as this bout of grief made itself known, that I haven’t found yet. But I have found three others (on The Breaking Point, His Girl Friday and Tampopo) in physical format at Movie Madness.

  • A Taxing Woman (1987): I enjoyed Tampopo so goddamn much that my friend Theron recommended I try to track this one down, the movie Juzo Itami made after it with the same leads. Even Theron had only ever seen this on VHS, but Movie Madness had it on DVD, because they have… every… movie. Tampopo is somehow a Western about cooking noodles, so of course this one is a gumshoe tax fraud noir in a world where everyone is constantly trying to cheat on their taxes. The genre twist I liked is that this time the detective character is on the offense: she’s the one who barges into other people’s offices, smelling like trouble. It’s fun just to see Nobuko Miyamoto and Tsutomu Yamazaki stretch their rapport into something wary and oppositional instead of bittersweetly pedagogical.

  • The Bad Sleep Well (1960): Three out of four of this month’s movies are directly derived from Every Frame a Painting, a trend which I expect will continue. This one got its own mini-episode about one scene—actually, about one shot—and I successfully used that to walk myself backwards into watching my first Kurosawa movie in decades. I enjoyed it.

    I used to get bored very quickly by any movie I perceived as “old.” The only way I knew how to interpret film was through plots, which I tended to find either obvious or incomprehensible in the classics, their dialogue, which I found unrelatable, and their set pieces or action scenes, which I mostly found cheesy. Yes, this is callow, but I don’t think it’s uncommon! I could write at length about how standard liberal arts curricula can fail people, but fundamentally, putting complex art in front of someone and declaring that it’s valuable by fiat doesn’t work. I have seen so many movies without knowing how to see them. Modernist artistic complexity is a locked door with treasure behind it, but if the keys you have for the door don’t open it, the fault is not with you.

    Every Frame a Painting showed me doors I didn’t know about, and nudged them open for me. I notice when my eyes are active in the frame now! I can identify different kinds of cuts between shots, and I notice when the camera directs my attention amid complex blocking. I can appreciate it when action and reaction are both in the same shot, or when one shot just set me up for its successor. I haven’t quite managed to catch compositional sectioning in action yet, but at least I know it’s out there to be recognized.

    Each of the previous Kurosawa movies I’d seen (Ran, Throne of Blood, Rashomon, The Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai) were things I found nebulously cool and even striking, but like Michael Bay, I couldn’t have articulated why. With The Bad Sleep Well, I can tell you this much: I like it because it doesn’t matter whether I speak Japanese or whether I speak cinematic shorthand (or whether I know Hamlet). I like it because it told me a harmonic story with its acting, its writing, its music, its composition, its costuming—in monochrome!—and its editing all at the same time. It uses its bandwidth well in concert, and a broader band means richer media.

    I also liked it because Toshiro Mifune is very cool.

It took me a while to hash that last point out with myself, so now it’s February 5th and I’ve already seen three more movies and rented a fourth. I guess we’ll see how long this keeps going, and also how many choices of movie I can tie back to Every Frame a Painting somehow. Maybe Leonard will forgive this format infringement if I tell him that I am about to finally get around to watching The Man Who Wasn’t There.

What joy indeed

“I’m exploring — as a mechanized cyborg, and in fabric and on paper — how my eyes and my skin want to dance with the world.”

General Clap

Hey, I finally discovered that back in May I placed in the 2018 Lyttle Lytton contest! Specifically I placed with an entry in the Found division—just scroll down to where my name is spelled wrong. I am proud even though it’s not like I wrote anything for it. But the reason the biggest category on this old blog is called “connections” is that I still delight in plugging one thing (a bad sentence I read) into another thing (a web site I love).

And there are a lot of connections that really worked for me in this year’s list! It’s good company to be in. Not only did another Found winner pull an egregious bit from my most hated episode of one of my all-time favorite shows, but there’s an entry under the Perennials that recalls my first entry. There are bullet journal and Engagement Chicken jokes too (hi Kat). But the thing that really rang my bell was seeing a semi-vanished webcomic writer—someone I still admire—pop in with a brilliant entry, and Adam Cadre give her a wink and a nod. I don’t chase the Internet as hard as I used to, but I’m glad the cool-kid serendipity of a decade ago isn’t all gone.

I often consider locking all the older entries on this blog

But that would prevent me from making deep cuts like this: Mitch McConnell spoke at my college graduation. I was very young and very tired when I wrote that entry, and McConnell, though well into his career, was not quite the architect of enormity he has since become. Elaine Chao spoke too, and it’s amusing to me now that I called her a “fervent liberal.” I wonder what I’ll have to laugh at fifteen years from now.

This came to mind because earlier this week, McConnell got harangued at a restaurant in Louisville, and because when I read the story I realized it was a restaurant I know. I feel compelled to explain why I find this amusing as well: the Bristol is maybe the worst place you could pick to eat on all of Bardstown Road.

It’s an iceberg-salad, sirloin-well-done kind of place, where everything costs about twice and tastes about half what it ought to. It’s also right in the middle of some of the best food in the city, and for that matter in the state. McConnell is among the most powerful living humans and a multimillionaire; he could afford to eat every night at Jack Fry’s, 80-odd years old and still killing it, or get the farm-to-table prix-fixe menu at Lilly’s, both within a few blocks of the Bristol. Those were once-a-year treats when I was digging myself a debt hole there back in grad school. McConnell could have thrown a stone and hit someone’s baked brie or lamb burger at Ramsi’s Cafe on the World, or turned the other way for a thick, crispy Louisville-style pizza at Impellizzeri’s, which still has an hour wait every night. He could have had the most delicate fish I’ve ever tasted at Seviche. He could have gotten his teeth stuck on the candied short ribs at North End Cafe. For fuck’s sake, he could have gotten better food at Burritos As Big As Your Head.

But he went to the Bristol, possibly because none of those other places would lower themselves to seat him. And he got overcharged for probably a tasteless beer and a milquetoast burger that would recoil from the notion of spice. Forgive me if I hope someone spat in it.

This post is mostly an excuse to make myself hungry thinking about how good it smells just to walk past open doors on that street, and how fond my heart is of that place and time. Lynn’s Paradise Cafe isn’t there anymore, or Nio’s 917, or Twice Told, and neither are most of the friends I used to sit down to dinner with. But Louisville is still home to much of my family and to a lot of restaurants that punch way above their weight. You have to really love something to make it that good, in a small city. If food is a way of feeling, then I think taste is a way of caring, and in at least those little ways, our little lives are better than his.

I’m definitely not redirecting any anxiety about my grandmother having blacked out and fallen twice in the last two weeks, by the way

My whole life I have been surprised when art is more transparent than I think it is. If I admire a person’s work then I tend to project onto the creator a sort of aloof mastery, as if technical skill implies utter detachment from the fiction: every first-person narrator a character, and every character held at an amused distance. Which is a myth I think many artists would like to exude about themselves. But then I keep finding out that part of the autobiography is fiction, and the fiction is the autobiography.

There’s so much self-loathing in Frightened Rabbit lyrics. The darker the tone of the loathing, the more I have identified with those lyrics, and held them close. But I didn’t really believe that Scott Hutchison was referring to himself when he sang “I’ve got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm.” I didn’t think he was actually rejecting his own work when he titled an entire album Pedestrian Verse. He had a beautiful voice and his verse was soaring even when it plunged. He could not have believed the converse about himself, I assumed, not in the face of the evidence.

Now I feel like Minnie Driver in Grosse Point Blank, saying, People joke about the horrible things that they don’t do. They don’t do them. It’s absurd. It is absurd. When I saw that he was a missing person, I thought, oh no, please don’t find him in water. Don’t let my favorite Frightened Rabbit song be a foreshadow. And then I thought, well, the things I guess are never right, so by imagining that course of events I have protected him. This person I don’t know and never met.

The tenth time I typed in his name today to see if they’d found him yet, the news had nothing, but Google suggested that I might try searching for “scott hutchison forth road bridge.”

Part of the reason I keep thinking art is buried in layers of swirling mystery is that I came to popular culture a little late, and music even more so. I take it for granted that everyone else got a head start on understanding it in middle school and I, at 37, have somehow never caught up. I have never felt the same attachment to most of the famously dead musicians that my peers have. But Frightened Rabbit came to me out of spiritus mundi, in a tiny anonymous twitter game I made with my friends, so their music was Mine in a rare way. I can’t count the number of times I have pounded up a Portland hill with my feet matching the drums in “Swim Until You Can’t See Land.” Actually I can count, it’s in iTunes. 68 times. That’s how often my headphones have set my pulse to its beats per minute. That’s how often I have flogged myself onward with its chorus under my breath, demanding, are you a man? Are you a bag of sand?

I’m sorry for not believing you meant what you said, Scott. The pain in Frightened Rabbit songs has been a grounding wire for mine, at times when it built up to the point of danger. I’m sorry none of us could protect you in return.

Certain aspects of Seattle are borderline acceptable

I have attended Go Play NW every summer that I’ve lived in Portland, and it’s always one of the best parts of my year. The final game I played there, back in July, was a hastily assembled impromptu session of Blades in the Dark—a fantasy-urban-pseudo-19th-century heist game. I had left the afternoon slot empty for myself, hoping for a chance to play a game with one of my favorite Matthews, and when he finally rolled up an hour later he had a whole crew of Californians and one new guy they had swept up with them, named Randall.

Blades was a new system to all the players, but most of them were acquainted with games in its general mode; Randall, meanwhile, had only played D&D in the past, and was affably along for the ride. I liked him very much, and we had a lot of fun. Afterwards, waiting for my friends to gather so we could head home, I talked to him about his experience over the weekend. It turned out he hadn’t exactly planned to attend the con; he was in town for a family wedding, and had just searched for interesting things to do while he was in the area.

“So you’re not from Seattle?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “I’m from Guam.”

I really hope that, in a year or so, I have to struggle to remember why I’d be thinking about him today.

Hello, it’s me, the last person on the planet still making “mixes” by uploading a bunch of mp3 files to a server

Twenty songs, twenty years apart. This year’s edition of the 1997/2017 summer jam catastrophe playlist is 97.1 WJMZ.

(I almost called it “Summer Thoughts on the Common Toad.”)

The past is a foreign country: I miss my friends who live there

In April my friend Russ Gilman-Hunt died. He was one of the first four people who worked at my job with me. He was funny, kind and clever. He was not very much older than me, but he had a deadpan world-weary affect and a quiet warmth that made him seem like everyone’s dad. I wish I had known him better, but most of his life was outside work, with his wife and two children and his community in the SCA. I wish they still had him.

In May I lost the job where I had worked with Russ, as did a number of my colleagues. I have a lot of support from people who care for me, and I am lucky in my socioeconomic class; that has allowed me to inform myself that this is an opportunity, more than a setback. (I have done so often and stridently.) I will probably have a new job soon. I like working, if not always working terribly hard. I hope I can make that work amount to something good.

It sometimes feels like the only things I write here are podcast show notes and epitaphs. I haven’t allowed myself much time to work on podcasts in the last month; hunting for what I perceive as a replacement means of survival has meant little available concentration for creative work. So this goes in the epitaph category. Sure wish there were fewer of those.

I didn’t always love my old job but I always liked it, and I took comfort in the idea that I was cultivating a good place to bring in new people and help them excel. I wanted to contribute patches to the leaky pipeline. I think Russ did too. I don’t know how much of that we managed. Some of the people I patched in got laid off with me. I’d say we did what good we could while seeing to our own survival, but. Well.

A job that you treat like just a job is, eventually, just a job. I want the work of my life to be more than that. Maybe in seven more years—if, God forbid, this WordPress install is still operating—I’ll tell you how that’s going.

In February I got an email from my old laptop, and then another, both suggesting that it was in Germany. I had not seen that laptop since it left the back of my car through a shattered window in 2010. The home page of its default browser, at the time, happened to be one I controlled and that was not linked anywhere else, so I told that page to blare alarms and notify me when and whence it was requested. It took seven years for that to (probably?) happen. I wonder if someone actually has that laptop, in more or less the same crumbling shape it was when it vanished. I wonder how well they read English, and what they can find out about me if they dig around on it. Surely nothing worse than the things I’ve written here myself.

I guess what I am doing here is reflecting, which is to say, looking for myself in a flawed surface. I started writing online in part because I wanted attention and in part because I already knew that my built-in memory could not be trusted to retain my life. My pipe is too leaky. All pipes are too leaky. Among my driving fears is the idea that anything I lose is lost forever, and that history unminded is a black hole, a /dev/null, a point of no return.

But to really believe that is to assert that I know the future, which is presumptive: the future and I have never met. Sometimes a setback is an opportunity. Sometimes the past writes you an email. Sometimes a kid whose dad dies grows up a whole person anyway. Even black holes leak back.

Sometimes I make fanfic.

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