“Will Twitter fuck this up and immolate itself by cash?” I asked, not quite ten years ago.
“Will Twitter fuck this up and immolate itself by cash?” I asked, not quite ten years ago.
I realized with mild startlement, this morning, that I’ve been using a Google Reader replacement called The Old Reader for over eight years—longer than I actually ever used Google Reader. One of the widely loved features of GR was its quiet, useful social function, allowing you to follow your friends and see what they wanted to surface and recommend. The idea of a social network that just unobtrusively shows you the things you want to see, in order, seems like a quaint and nostalgic dream these days.
I never actually made much use of the social feature—I just wanted a reader that persisted between computers—but today (after eight years!) I’ve realized that The Old Reader lets you follow people too, and I’m curious about trying it. Do you use it, dear Four People Who Read This Blog And Possibly A Lost Search Crawler Robot? I’m xorphus there and I’d be happy to connect.
In 2022 I want to work on that, and I want to finally kick off a project I’ve been threatening to undertake for years. Ready for my new blog’s inaugural 3300-word multimedia essay about Steven Soderbergh?
Last week I did something I’ve been putting off for six years: I went back through this entire blog, one page at at time, and locked away a few hundred of its two thousand entries. Most of those, but not all, were from the very early days of this millennium, when I still regularly listened to dialup noise before I could put a text file through a transfer protocol to publish things here. Some friends and I would eventually guess a few things right about the future of the internet. But I did not anticipate the future of Brendan. That’s in part because I didn’t know who Brendan was.
Reading through my public diary in full, for the first time in a long time, the feeling that emerged for me was… well, a bit less chagrin and resentment than has been there in the past. (Therapy!) In the past that feeling has obscured the text, preventing me from looking clearly at my own writing. What I saw this time was that through years of trying on different voices, whether projecting unearned assurance or closely imitating people whose assurance I envied, I was aching for an identity I had not found.
A lot of the things I would end up wincing at were attempts to write out ideas I didn’t even really support, just to practice thinking through them—things I then left to stand in the record while I moved on inside my own head. Many more were attempts to summon a Brendan who could achieve validation and love from the internet, the validation and love he didn’t know how to show himself, if he just put the right words in the right order. The blunt term for both cases, I think, is “sophistry.” But I’ve done enough excoriation over that. What I saw this time was that I had a lot of years of stumbling to do before I stubbed my toe on something that looked like self-knowledge. Starting to unearth it took years beyond that.
I think at least once a week, if not once a day, about the Web we lost. Right now I’m having complex and tangled feelings about the Web in which I started this thing. It was gentler, in some ways, than the milieu in which I’m writing this now—one where the idea of sudden attention makes me feel more fear than excitement. It was also exclusionary. The only reason I was able to start writing here, half my life ago, was my place at the pinnacle of privilege. That privilege has also extended me tremendous benefit of the doubt from all the people who have read this stuff and still decided to be my friends. I don’t plan to take either for granted anymore.
Deprecating a moment of pique I typed out about someone I dated for two weeks, which I then left on the whole internet for anyone in the world to read for twenty years, is not going to hide the search, the work, or the ache to figure out who I was. I’m not trying to polish my image here, or make it appear that I never held opinions I now reject. (I did! Lots of them! They might still be on the Wayback Machine!) What I’m trying to do instead is forgive the old Brendan for all the things he left for future Brendan to regret. And forgiveness means letting some of those things go to rest.
It’s possible there are people reading this blog from time to time who don’t really know me in person, so perhaps it will be nice to clarify something. The Kat person who comes up often in my writing these days, or sometimes without writing at all, the reason I moved back across the country, the light of my days, is the very same Kate who first popped up here a month shy of eight years ago. Did I have any idea back then that one day we’d be getting married and spending the rest of our lives together, you may ask rhetorically? And to that I can only say: yes, I did have that idea, in 2012. It was only an idea, but I had it, and then bit by bit and turn by turn the two of us made it steadily more real until it all came true.
Hi, we’re alive and fine. My privilege is as evident as ever, as my daily routine of isolation with Kat resembles what Maria called “an extended snow day,” mostly but not entirely without snow. I hurt for the sick and grieving; I worry for the essential and vulnerable; I watch Bon Appetit and experiment with vegan baking; I do my internet job and I watch out my window and wait. Here are some things that have held my interest in the last little while.
Despite my limited dabbling in microelectronics, I can’t follow many of the technical specifics in this review of process and call for aid on a final, perfect Super Nintendo emulator. But the SNES was a system that still informs my design and aesthetic sensibilities, twenty-seven years later, and I respect the author’s work very much. The most striking quote to me:
“I can tell you why this is important to me: it’s my life’s work, and I don’t want to have to say I came this close to finishing without getting the last piece of it right. I’m getting older, and I won’t be around forever. I want this final piece solved.”
What an extraordinary thing it seems, to me, to know what your life’s work is. I hope one day I do.
Being There (1979): Man, this movie. It’s beautifully photographed and well acted and it’s not for me. I posted on Peach (yes, Peach) after I watched it that it seemed like the most old-school Republican movie I had ever seen, and got immediately questioned on that by my movie-watching friends. I will concede that director Hal Ashby and star Peter Sellers were by no means conservative voters. I didn’t miss the satire of the political and media classes woven through it, which I am certain would later influence Armando Iannucci: the shallow characters’ hunger for a novel face and twistable platitudes, and their projection of political guile or sexual prowess onto the blank canvas of a simple man.
But the shape of the actual narrative is at odds with that intent. The protagonist—well, the focus character, this movie has no protagonist—is simultaneously a naif and a cypher who spends exactly one day outside the lap of megawealth in his life. But he’s not an antihero, and the camera loves him. A lot of the plot is taken up with mourning the passing of Melvyn Douglas’s titan of industry, and the mourning is impossible for me not to read as genuine! I think that in 1979, before Reagan, this movie would have carried a lot of nostalgia for an era of bipartisan harmony between rich white men. I placed it next to the preceding movie because I think “don’t expect to like ’em” applies again for me here. The suits Sellers wears here have aged beautifully, but that central takeaway has not.
Burning (2018): This is an adaptation of a Murakami short story, and I’m not particularly a Murakami fan; it is also a thriller that takes a solid eighty minutes—the length of some entire feature films—before the plot gets going. The full movie is 148 minutes long! But I was interested enough in the costuming and set dressing, which are meticulous and subtle, to stick with it and enjoy it. The core cast is fantastic, particularly Steven Yeun, and I was very glad that the frequently absent score kept from hammering home any of its ambiguous points.
For another take on Murakami that I really enjoyed, which does use music but lets you interpret the visuals, I recommend LeVar Burton reading “The Second Bakery Attack.”
Speaking of a long journey that involves both Mount Rushmore and Chicago, this is the last roundup I will begin drafting in Portland! I am on track to get pretty few movies on the list in October, but I am hoping to follow this with at least one entry like those from my original road trip out west eleven and a half absurd years ago.
Kat sent me an article that bothered me, so I wrote a post for my employer’s blog about some of my favorite hobbyhorses. (I like my job; let me know if you want to work here.)
As I start to draft this post, I am basking in the confirmation bias that informs me that I am in fact good and smart for having watched almost none of the movies that were nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, because obviously what do they know. (Green Book was not one of the movies I saw.) I did see Black Panther and Into the Spider-Verse, like all right-thinking humans, and I already knew they were wonderful! Who needs the Academy! Get outta here!
The Sweet Smell of Success (1957): In January I watched The Bad Sleep Well because of a brief Every Frame a Painting essay about one shot in it, and then shortly thereafter I went and got this from Movie Madness because that essay has a quick bit about it in the intro, and now I want to see everything Alexander Mackendrick ever made.
This is not a movie about good people, and is honest about the way selfish men treat women; I say that as context for this clip from early in the first act, as the protagonist is starting to reveal the nature of his character. It’s one of those little scenes—almost all in a single unassuming shot—where you can turn the dialogue off and still read all the emotional beats, but it’s also visually interesting in a way that I am learning to parse out. The whole thing is an exposition dump, but my eyes never get bored! The camera’s point of focus, the actors’ blocking and business, the swing back and forth in composition between crowd scene and private scene as Sidney’s attention wavers and resolves, and the parallax and bokeh happening along the longest axis of the room—all of that works together to make it fluid, interesting and alive, even if you never notice any given element.
The story is great too, contained within a very specific situation and time that are well-explained even fifty years later, and the love I have borne for Tony Curtis ever since Some Like It Hot is rekindled. There’s a whole chapter in Mackendrick’s book On Film-Making where he just breaks down how the script for one particular scene changed between two writers, and it’s illuminating.
The Parallax View (1974): I rented this movie because I vaguely thought it was a Cold War spy-chess-game thing. I don’t know what I was thinking of, because this is actually a meandering, paranoiac conspiracy thriller with a Sprockets video in the middle. I didn’t like it.
The most interesting part is how it attempts to evoke generational fears that are different from my own. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that, by my count, every living political candidate in the United States gets murdered by lone gunmen in this movie. (Don’t worry, there aren’t any well-drawn villains with comprehensible motivations behind that.) Meanwhile, in a scene that stunned me, Warren Beatty walks directly onto a tarmac from his parked car, gets on a plane, and then buys his ticket from a flight attendant while already airborne. And it’s not like the threat of hijacking didn’t exist already! The plane gets grounded by a bomb threat! But the configuration of our panic buttons has changed.
And with that, I will temporarily leave you, because I need to post this already and I watched FIFTEEN MOVIES in February. That trend will not continue, but now I do want to see if I can get through a hundred this year. I will write about the other seven later on, but for now… “get outta here!!” ;D
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.