Archive for August, 2014

My Life: The Movie

Posted in Daily Prompt with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2014 by cueball

I first really noticed that people think of their lives as movies when the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal exploded.  Every talking head on sports television had to get out and scream about how if they had been Mike McQuery and they had seen Sandusky with the boy in the shower they would have gone all caveman and beaten Sandusky and rescued the boy and got him to the police.  Just like in a Bruce Willis movie. 

Whether they would have or not is irrelevant to this blog post (though it is interesting how a lot of guys on ESPN keep getting other people in fictional fights), what is relevant is that they all thought about it like an action movie.  We all think of our lives in that way at least a little.  We all day dream our lives like they were on the big screen.  We all have the same question, “Who would I cast as me in a movie of my life?”

Now, here is the interesting thing, I don’t have an answer to that question.  I do think of my life as a movie, complete with soundtrack.  Even if I am walking somewhere without my iPod, I hear some cool song playing in the background. However, I never cast the movie of my life that is in my head. 

I think there are two reasons that are slightly combined and another reason that stands on its own.  The first two reasons are 1) that I think of the people in this movie of my life in terms of characters and not as actors and therefore 2) I would need to see someone read for the character to cast it properly.  This probably comes from my attempts to write fiction and develop characters, who are inherently based on people I know, have known, and/or have talked to for 15 seconds.  I’m too close to the characters to see them as anything other than who they are as characters independent of any actor.  That is kind of weird, because often when I am reading a book, I cast the characters in the book as known actors in my mind.  I always have thoughts like, “If this becomes a movie, Sam Elliot would be perfect for that character.”

The other reason I do not think like that about the actors for My Life:  The Movie, is that until recently, I have not seen many true representations of me or the people I know in movies or television by actors.  I don’t just mean African-Americans, I mean Southerners both white, black, and Latino with whom I work and with whom I am friends. 

Rectify and to a lesser extent Justified are the first television shows, certainly in a long time and maybe ever, that have representations of any true Southern characters to me.  Rectify is the first television show I’ve seen in a very long time that doesn’t treat a Southern drawl as a sign of stupidity.  It does not treat small towns as some place that time forgot filled with all these quirky and interesting characters that show our protagonist, usually a white northerner, the true meaning of life.  Rectify treats its small Southern town as the living and possibly dying place that small Southern towns actually are and the people that inhabit that town as complicated actual humans and not caricatures. 

Speaking of caricatures, there is one other show on television filmed in the South and that is Reckless on CBS.  I will give them credit for filming in Charleston, which is the setting of the show.  However, my favorite thing about the main cast is that they only have one cast member from the traditional South, Anna Wood originally from Mt. Airy, North Carolina who plays a character originally from Chicago.   

The actor who I would cast as me in My Life:  The Movie?  I haven’t seen him.  At least not an African-American actor who I would cast, since only the same 10 guys audition for and get all the “black” parts on television.  This is another reason for me to go digging into African-American independent cinema.

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Why So Serious, Part 2

Posted in art, soccer, writing with tags , , , , on August 27, 2014 by cueball

It started with Eric Cantona.  Actually, it really started in third grade when I decided to play soccer instead of football like all my cousins.  My contrary nature and need to find my own path rears its beautiful head again.

It was Cantona who really turned me into a soccer fan though.  At the point that he was at his Manchester United height (and depths) I was in college. I had stayed a soccer fan and occasional player throughout and then this, quite honestly, insane soccer angel entered Manchester United’s line-up and my life. 

King Eric was one of the players who embodies the magnetic draw soccer can have.  On one hand he was a mesmerizing and brilliant player.  On the other hand he did this.  The list of red cards, other sundry offenses don’t obscure why we are drawn to him. 

For me, Cantona represents everything I love about soccer and sports in general.  The magnetic unpredictability of the whole enterprise.  It is players like him and currently Mario Ballotelli and Luis Suarez in soccer or a Johnny Manziel in football that draw us to the games.   

As much as the sports moralists like to rail against these players because they are “bad influences” (“Think of the children!”), these players represent the reason we love sports.  They are all unpredictable.  Unfortunately, they are unpredictable both on and off the field.  We don’t know what is going to happen with them.  As much as people search for sure things when they gamble on sports, they gamble because of the rush of not knowing what will happen next and having some kind of wager riding on the outcome. 

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Why do we become obsessed with sports or novels or movies or craft beer or comic books?  What is it that these things provide us?  In my opinion, and in the opinion of Albert Camus (someone infinitely smarter than me) it is because they are created worlds that provide us with unity and coherence. 

These things all have some type of internal logical framework.  They always follow that framework making it easier to comprehend and grasp the workings of what is happening.  This is different than life.  Our everyday world and everyday life is to a great extent full if illogic.  It rarely makes consistent sense and it rarely pays off the way we want it. 

Homebrewing gives you a sense of control.  From the initiation of the idea of the beer you want to brew, to the ingredients you choose, to the actual brewing, to the finished product, you as a brewer control everything in this universe.  It is the same with writing a novel. You create and control the universe from beginning to end.  These things become almost acts of Zen meditation.

In part Zen is the study of the way to give up the illusion of control of those things outside of you. Completing the tasks of art is a way of replicating that.  You control the universe of your tasks even if you cannot control the outcome.  You may have an idea of what beer you are trying to make and if you do everything right you will probably get very close, but then again you may not.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t because the idea is to keep replicating the actions you can control.  That means more times than not you will get the beer you set out to create. 

Creation and creativity is not about creating the thing you want.  It is about the act of creating.  The joy is in (here is that phrase again) the process.  The joy is in doing the thing, because if you do it right, you will get a harmonious outcome even if it isn’t the one you envisioned to begin with. 

Why So Serious, Part 1

Posted in beer with tags , , on August 26, 2014 by cueball

After a long couple of weeks that combined Ferguson, MO, Albert Camus, and my own internal digressions, I am back to a more contented place.  Not that everything is perfect, but I can see past the shit and find the things in life that make me happy again.

A good place to start is craft beer.  I have been on a real journey with craft beer for about four years now.  I started drinking craft beer drinker when I discovering Pete’s Wicked Ale and Sam Adams in college, but the last few years has seen my interest move to a different level. 

What is it that appeals to me about craft beer?  First, it is my contrary nature.  I don’t like following along with the biggest most popular thing (says the Manchester United fan).  I am always drawn to the thing that is not like the others (that would be my own personal history).  Second, is the craft part of it.  There is a care and a passion that you can taste in each bottle or keg.  That passion is evident whenever you hear or read an interview with a craft brewer.  It is the same care and passion you get from an artist when you talk to them about their work. 

You often hear how this actor or that artist is a pain in the ass to work with because they are such a perfectionist.  Yes, they are.  The reason is they know what they are trying to do even when you don’t and they are not going to compromise that vision just so you are comfortable.  This thing that they are doing isn’t just something they do to make money.  This thing is the most important thing in their life.  As important as their family in some cases.  So they are not going to compromise for anyone or anything. 

“Good enough for government work.”  If you are not old enough to have heard this joke before, it refers how hard it is to get fired from a government job even when your work is slipshod.  As anyone who has ever had a job with a government agency (city, county, state, or federal) knows it is hard to get fired from one of those jobs.  The pay isn’t great, the benefits are pretty good, and as long as you show up and do the bare minimum you should always have a job as long as someone is funding the agency. 

That is what the joke refers to:  you have performed a task to the bare minimum of success and competency to get by.  You cannot get away with that in craft beer.  First, any brewer worth his/her salt doesn’t want their work and their beer to be known as merely competent.  That isn’t the goal.  Second, craft beer drinkers will not keep drinking a beer that is merely competent.  Not in today’s beer world where a truly great beer is easy to find, buy, and enjoy. 

The final reason I love craft beer:  Beer is awesome.  I am continuously amazed that the same four ingredients (water, malt, hops, yeast) can be used to create such disparate beers as Weissbier and Schwarzbiers.   Both are German in origin and both use the same four basic ingredients.  However, one is a pale summer beer that reminds you of lying in a hammock on a hot summer afternoon reading a book or listening to a baseball game.  The other reminds you of those heavy roasted meals you enjoy on a cold winter night sitting by a fire listening to the wind rustle the trees outside.  Those are two different styles.  Even within one of the defined styles you can great variance in taste from brewer to brewer. 

Beer is endlessly fascinating. 

Late Night Musings, Edited For Clarity In The Light Of Day

Posted in life, writing with tags , , , on August 25, 2014 by cueball

This may be the most personal thing I will write for this space (and yet it is still rather obtuse).  I have been thinking about this blog.  I have been thinking about my life and everything else.  Mostly, I’ve been thinking about writing and its role in my life. 

After going a few months without really doing any writing and then coming back to it, I’ve discovered that I am the best version of myself when I write. 

What does that even mean?  The best version of myself.  That is some first world verbalization of a concept that had no meaning until the last 20 years.  For me it means the act of writing stills my mind.  It isn’t something I need to be paid to do.  It is something I need to do to keep me sane and to keep the better angels of my nature front and center.  It allows me to see myself and the world around me clearer. 

It lets me like myself.

The act, this very thing I’m doing right now, forces a discipline on me that compels me to make choices on a daily basis that are good for me.  In doing this thing, I am totally present for at least a couple of hours a day. 

Maybe that is what I mean by the best version of me.  Writing makes me stay present.  If not I have a tendency to lose myself in the past and the future of my imagination. 

Everyone needs that thing that is theirs.  That thing they do that makes the world seem correct, logical, and safe.  That thing that takes them to a place where they feel comfortable.  The place where you do not care what anyone thinks.  It is about you and for you and nothing else.  You don’t do it to make others happy or to make others comfortable.  You do it because it means more to you than anything else and it makes you happy. 

I read a lot of writing advice books and essays.  Sometimes the person writing the piece will say you need to think of your ideal reader or your audience when you are writing.  I agree you need to write in a way that is clear so that you do not confuse your audience.  You should write in a consistent voice that follows the internal logic of the work so that your reader will stay with you.  However, if you are writing for anyone but yourself (once you strip everything away), you will not be happy.  You have to write because you have something to say, something you need to express.  Yes, you want others to like it to read it to tell you it is good, but that comes later.  In the beginning, it is just you and the page.  The first priority is for you to say what you want in the way that you want.

There is a certain amount of selfishness and perhaps self-delusion to be a good writer and to live a good life in general.  Selfish enough to tell people no and to walk your own path without regard to others.  Delusional enough to think that you can do whatever you put your mind to. 

Walking away from the life you have for the life you want is not an easy thing.  It is fraught with minefields from internal and external forces.  When you make the decision you have to be know what you are getting into.   That is one of the things I’ve learned in my life.  In any decision you make, you must know and understand the consequences of your decisions and actions.  If you can accept the good or ill consequences of the decision you make, you have made if not a correct decision at least one you can live with for the rest of your life.  

When Robert Johnson was at the crossroads and he made his deal with the devil, he knew what he was getting into.  I love the idea of the crossroad.  It’s that place where you have a choice.   Neither choice is necessarily wrong, but they both have consequences.  You just have to decide what you can live with, what you can accept. 

Passion

Posted in life with tags , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2014 by cueball

Passion. 

I recently found a podcast, Tasting Notes, which combines two of my favorite things:  beer and music.  Each week, the hosts, Reis Hansen, Adam Mackie, and Tony Porreca, and a guest taste craft beer and try to match it to a song or an album.  It is an interesting and way to taste beer, talk about the beer, and talk about the how the beer is made.  If you like craft beer it is a fun and informative listen.

On the last show, the guest was Ben Howe the head brewer of Idle Hands Craft Ales and the owner of Enlightenment Ales. The thing that stands out is Howe’s passion for craft beer.  He loves every part of making beer, from the original conception of the beer to the name of the beer to the artwork on the label.  He has a true unquenchable passion for what he does. 

As consumers of art, literature, music, beer, food, we can all tell when someone truly has a passion for what they are doing.  We can tell when someone creates something that is more than just a thing they are doing for money.  You can tell when someone puts not only their skill but their soul into a project.  That is probably why I like craft beer and podcasts.  There is very little money in either.  The people who do these things and are successful are the people who care the most about what they are doing.

There is so much stuff out there, how do you distinguish between what is worthwhile and what isn’t. You really can’t.  What you can do is sample as much stuff as you can and hope you experience those worthwhile things more often than not, and the distinguishing characteristic about the things that are worth your time is the passion behind them.

That is why events like the Great American Beer Festival are great.  Even though GABF can be a shit show of people trying to get drunk 3 ounces at a time, if you really care about craft beer you do get the opportunity to interact with the brewers and let them tell you about their beers.  This may be the most fun part of the experience.  Anytime you have passionate, articulate people talk to you about their passion, you will learn a lot. 

That passion is a hard thing to find for many people.  Some are lucky and they find their passion early and work to hone it for years.  Others, wander about looking for it, with it just out of reach.  They know it is out there. They know there is something missing in their lives that they should be doing.  Sometimes those people find it, but more often than not, they don’t and settle for something that at least pays the bills. 

So here is to all those fortunate people who have found a way to make money through their passion.  They have never worked a day in their lives and they are the luckiest of us all.  May they continue to entertain and feed us. 

Staying Even Keeled By Trying To Stay Present

Posted in life with tags , , , , , , on August 20, 2014 by cueball

What keeps me even keeled?  What keeps me from going over the deep end and either killing myself or just leaving one day and never coming back, disappearing into the ether.  That is a question I have asked myself many times over the years.

At one point, I was unconsciously using alcohol to do it.  With proper dosage and almost constant application, alcohol can keep you even keeled.  Terribly numb to anything going on in the world, but even keeled.  It is a false since of contentment.  Alcohol, and I suspect any drug, only mask the things that are wrong.  They don’t solve them, which is why you have to keep going back to them for more and more as it becomes harder for them to cover up your issues until they drown you.  Luckily for me, at some point I figured out what was going on and got out of the situation I was in and walked away unscathed. 

I also have used exercise and diet to keep myself even keeled.  However, much like the alcohol, it slowly took over and replaced conscious thinking and feeling.  I jumped so deep into working out and eating healthy that I was counting every calorie eaten and burned on a daily basis, weighing myself every morning and tracking every ounce lost or gained.  Instead of the numbness of alcohol I was using the hyper-vigilance of obsessive behavior to mask what was going on in my head. 

I have learned alcohol and eating right and exercise can all be a part of a healthy lifestyle.  As long as they are used in moderation. 

I have an obsessive personality.  That manifests in two ways, one I grow obsessed with things in bursts.  This is great when it comes to learning about a subject and writing about it. That is why I’m going to start channeling this aspect of my obsessiveness in researching and writing about one subject a month on this blog or elsewhere (hopefully for money).  The other aspect of this obsessiveness is that I worry about the future a lot.  I start thinking about what will happen if I do this, then what will happen next, then this other thing will happen, then this person will do this, and then I’m in trouble.  The first thing that I need to do hasn’t even happened yet and I’ve already gamed out how this will end with me in pain.

How do I stay even keeled?  I started reading more, writing this blog, and also keeping a journal.  When I say journal I mean an old school Moleskin journal in which I write in by hand every day.  I’ve also started Zen Buddhist philosophy and I’m attempting to start a meditation practice to keep myself present.  One of the things about Zen is how it focuses on the present and keeping yourself from allowing things that you can’t control (like the past and the future) from controlling your life.  The past is over and the future is not guaranteed so you should not let them control your life because you can do nothing about either of them. 

The other thing I love about Zen is its concentration on process because process is something you can control.  You can’t control outcomes.  All you can control is your work towards those outcomes, and if you do the work correctly you will achieve a desirable outcome.  Though it may not be one you thought you would get.

The sand mandalas are the best example of this.  Buddhist monks spend days or weeks using sand to create beautiful mandala paintings on the floor.  The meticulously place each grain to create these intricate designs, and when they are done, they are ceremonially destroyed.  It was never about creating the design, it was about doing the process correctly and concentrating on your task to create this representation of the universe.  They are destroyed to show the transient nature of the material world.  The beauty of the painting is incidental to the process.  It is the only logical by product of the process.  

The idea of a long term process is at odds with so much of how we function in today’s world where instant gratification and short term success are prized over the slow act of building something that will last longer than 15 minutes.  You see this often in sports where the people in charge not only seem incapable of understanding how to build something long lasting, they seem almost hostile to the idea of attempting long term success. 

One of the ways this is manifested in sports is the idea that you need to get a player with a big name to sell tickets.  The idea is you need to get someone fans will want to see no matter how bad the team is.  That will work for a week or maybe a half a season, but if your team is crap no one is going to keep shelling out money for a bad product.  Building a consistent winner is the best way to get fans to pay money to see your team in the long term and for a long period of time.  That is harder than signing some aging free agent with a big name and no game left who won’t actually improve your product on the field, but whom fans know and will want to see.  If you pay attention to a lot of the GMs and coaches who work for your favorite sports network, you understand why they not only got fire, but should never be hired to run a team again.  They have no conception of any type of long term process geared towards a future outcome and only concerned themselves with winning today. They are all so concerned with keeping their job, they don’t actually do their job.

That is the great thing about Zen.  While it asks you not to worry about the past or the future because you cannot control either, it helps you focus in the present on the correct tasks and the correct processes for completing those tasks that helps you find the best possible outcome. 

So, how do I stay even keeled?  I try to always be present and trust in the process. 

The One Where I Ask a Bunch of Questions I Can’t Answer

Posted in life with tags , , , , , on August 18, 2014 by cueball

I’ve been reading The Rebel by Albert Camus this week.  It is an interesting coincidence that Ferguson, MO blew up at the same time.  It has been an interesting juxtaposition to read Camus’ ideas about rebellion as a populace battles its own police department in the streets they share.  Camus’ book was meant to be a critique of fascism and communism particularly communism.  It is also a tour through many of the rebellions and revolutions of humanity starting with Cain and Abel. 

I am thoroughly enjoying it. 

With the book and what is happening in Ferguson, the concepts of power, freedom, and community have been in mind constantly.  How does the power dynamic work?  How should freedom be expressed?  What makes a community/society?

It was Tommy Tomlinson on Twitter last week who said something like, America isn’t revealed in its most famous places, it comes out in the small places no one has ever heard of like Ferguson. 

In a city like Ferguson that is two-thirds black, yet has only 5 black officers on the police force, and all the governing structure is white, except for the aldermen from “the black part of town” who has the power?  Those who govern only have power by the consent of those whom they govern.  In theory the people are ultimate holders of power.  What happens when the people withdraw that consent?  Does the group in charge have the right to use its power, i.e. guns, to keep control? Is an insurrection by the people acceptable? 

Does freedom give the people the right to an insurrection if they feel the government is not responding to their needs and wants?  Is there a way to use freedom to protest a government without one side or the other escalating the situation into violence?  Can one group’s quest for freedom impinge on the right of another group to be safe?  Ultimately, what happens when freedom and power crash into each other?

Most importantly, what makes a community?  What makes a society?  Are societies simply groups of people held together by laws alone? If a society is held together solely by laws, isn’t that like building a brick wall with nothing by the bricks?  What is the mortar that holds a society and a country together?  The Soviet Union and many of its satellite countries were made up of disparate groups that were only held together by the laws governing those countries. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed all these countries flew apart.  There was no there, there.  They had few commonalities outside of the power of the state holding them together and as soon as they went away, so did the country.  What is it that holds our 50 states together? 

I’m full of questions, but not many answers.  I just think what is happening in Ferguson is something that could happen across America.  From the feelings of not being heard or respected by the residents, to the over militarization of a police force, to tone deaf reactions to the situation by the power structure, this could happen in almost any city in America.  I guess I’m asking why it doesn’t.