Archive for the blogging Category

What I’m Doing

Posted in beer, blogging, life, writing with tags , , , , , , , on February 1, 2014 by cueball

If you have followed this blog for the last 12-18 months, you will have seen the subject matter shift from bitching about the NCAA, to fiction, to posts about whatever happened to be in my mind at that moment, to increasingly about beer.  It would seem that I’m flitting about from idea to idea and obsession to obsession with no real objective.  That is partially true, but not totally.

It has been a search for what I am good at.  Up until this point the happiest I have been with the blog was when writing fiction.  I like writing fiction.  The thing I like most about it is the creation of the characters, then learning more about them as I put them through the plot.  However, I have always preferred writing nonfiction rather than fiction.  I have always had lots of ideas and beliefs I have wanted to express in my writing.  

Many authors have many ideas and beliefs they want to express through their fiction.  Unfortunately, they sometimes forgetting that they are trying to tell a story and not write a polemic.  I’ve struggled with this too.  I do not want to write stories that forget to tell the stories and forget to be truthful art because it is too busy trying to make a point about racism, poverty, or whatever.  So, I continue to go back to non-fiction.

So, how why has beer become my chosen subject as opposed to sports?  I like beer.  It starts there.  I also like sports, but I have become increasingly disenchanted with the mess that the NCAA and the NFL/NBA have made of college sports.

Let me be more specific about beer, I love craft beer.  The idea that beer all comes from the same basic recipe and with just a slight change to one of the four ingredients and you create a wholly different beer. 

The other thing I love about beer is how it works with food.  The properties of beer make it a wonderful companion to almost any meal and if you find the exact right beer for what you are eating it makes any meal a special event.  This has led to chefs and breweries working together to create beer and food pairings dinners.  However, as much as I would love to go to one of the dinners chefs like Sean Paxton and Schuyler Schultz put on, I like most people will not get many if any chances to taste a pairing of Bear Republic Big Bear Stout with a House-Smoked Niman Ranch Pork Leg with Grilled Peaches served with a Peach Chutney and Grilled Scallions (pairing and recipe from Schultz’s great book Beer, Food, and Flavor). 

What I don’t want to see happen with craft beer is the thing that happened with wine in this country.  Wine has become the province of the rich, the aesthetes, and hipsters.  Let’s not get it twisted, I want beers that are special and that are more expensive than other beers because they are rare and truly interesting and not because their availability has been artificially suppressed.  I also want good beer to be available to as many people as possible.  Again, I don’t want good beer to become the province solely of the rich or just another affectation of hipsters (For more go here). 

So, what I want to do is show how good beer can enhance everyday meals.  As much as chefs who respect beer like Paxton and Schultz have the skills and time to make the meals they make to match specifically to each beer they serve most people are just trying to figure out a beer that will make the baked chicken and au gratin potatoes taste a little bit better. 

The meals I am going to try and match will be the same meals everyone can and does make every day.  Now, I am a vegetarian and I am a Southerner.  So, all my meals will be vegetables and most will have a Southern bent as far as ingredients and taste. 

That’s what I’m doing now and I think it is a big enough field to play in for years.   Its beer and its food meaning there is a lot of stuff to explore.  

Stereotypes that should die: The Magical Negro and The Purely Racist Southerner

Posted in blogging, Fiction, life, television, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2013 by cueball

The thing I’ve really concentrated on trying to do with my writing recently is to get rid of the cleverness.  I don’t mean intelligence but cleverness.  That need to show how smart you are in your writing.  The need to make yourself laugh or to make the three people in the world who know you best laugh.  The more I’ve written, the more I’ve read, and the more I’ve studied writing as a skill, the more I’ve noticed this trait in the writing that I don’t like.

This cleverness comes off as an ironic sneer at characters and people the writer thinks are beneath them or ideas the writer thinks are stupid.  Both of these are examples of the great sin of making the writer part an integral part of the story.

This need for the writer to make himself a part of whatever is going on probably started with Hunter S. Thompson.  Thompson’s journalism and his essays were all about his experiences in situations from The Kentucky Derby, to hanging out with Hell’s Angels, to covering Presidential campaigns.  However, Thompson didn’t condescend to his subjects he was writing about because he in many ways felt he was one of them.

Thompson would have loved blogging (he did do work for ESPN.com Page 2 before his death) and Twitter because it would have been an extension of what he already did.  Many writers in the internet age have taken up what he did to varying degrees of success.  Many didn’t or don’t have his talent so in their attempts to be funny they go the easy route and make fun of the people they see instead of mining the pathos out of the situation that the writer and his subjects are in together.

Let me try again, instead of finding the comedy through the absurdity of the situation they make fun of the people in the situation.  This lack of respect for characters isn’t as egregious a sin in fiction as it is in nonfiction, but it is still the worst type of writing.

Maybe because I am African-American and a Southerner I am more sensitive to these slights.  Too often in fiction, television, or movies those from these groups (and others) are depicted in the worst light.  There was a time (some would say we are still in it) when a black person or Southerner was in a movie they were usually a criminal or uneducated/ignorant innocent.

My least favorite of these stereotypes is the “Magical Negro.”  I first remember hearing the phrase around the time The Green Mile and The Legend of Bagger Vance came out in theaters.  I remember Christopher John Farley’s Time Magazine article “That Old Black Magic.”  Basically, the magical Negro is a stock character of American fiction that appears in narratives to selflessly help white folk see the error of their ways.

While the magical Negro is an infantilizing subornation of blacks in order to help assuage white guilt, almost any white Southerner in a movie is a breathing representation of how the South is thought of in the rest of the country.  White Southern males are usually ignorant and racist (often drunk).  White Southern women come off a little better because they have been the central character in more Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts movies then men have, but those characters are still of a type that is not very flattering because they are not very real.

I understand how a writer can write about people are characters that he doesn’t like or respect by making them into stereotypes.  It is easier to write a stereotype then it is to create a character out of whole cloth especially if you have never had any interest in meeting a character not like you or your friends and family.  How can you write a Southern character if your only experience in the South has been going through Hartsfield-Jackson or Charlotte-Douglas airports?  How can you write about a black character if the last time you were around any black people, was when you were in high school?

I just think, however, if you are a writer, an artist, a musician, or any type of creator you have a responsibility to your craft to try and do better.  To try and show the closest thing to truth you can muster with each sentence and that begins with approximating true three dimensional characters and not some cut and paste fabrication you gleaned off of a television show you saw one time.

Going Camping

Posted in blogging with tags , , , on April 1, 2013 by cueball

Whenever you try something big or try to accomplish something, the actual accomplishment is almost secondary.  The true point of pushing yourself is to find out who you are.  It is to ask yourself the hard fundamental questions that get to your core self.

Today I am starting something that will be hard.  I am participating in the April Camp NANOWRIMO.  This is an online writing camp with a goal of 50,000 words in one month.  I believe I can get to the 50,000 words.  I don’t know how good those words will be, but I think I can get there.

More important than hitting 50,000 words are the things I hope to learn about myself in the process.  Can I write?  Do I have the talent to write a novel?  Do I have the discipline to write a novel?

I plan on updating my progress through the blog as well as try to write other general stuff for this space.

My biggest question right now is, when will I get to sleep.

Enthusiasms, Enthusiasms, Enthusiasms,

Posted in blogging with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2013 by cueball

The above comes from Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) in The Untouchables.  

On a new Grantland podcast by Alex Pappademas and Wesley Morris, the two discussed Pappademas’ article celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Loser” by Beck and Beck’s subsequent career.  The topic of Midnight Vultures came up and in defending it as a way of seeing a real part of Beck, Pappademas made the point that people are often the most real version of themselves when they are reveling in their enthusiasms.  That is a perfect description of why blogging is such a big part of internet culture and why the internet has become so important.

Blogging’s popularity as an activity lies in that it allows people the opportunity to talk about their enthusiasms and celebrate who they are and what they love with very little filter.  Blogging’s popularity for readers is it allows them to find others who are like them.  Blogging and Twitter help build communities of the like-minded from around the world about issues and topics.

This is both good and bad.  It is good in how the internet actually does make the world a little smaller and a little less lonely for people on the fringes in out of the way places.  It creates communities that may not have formed before.

It is bad in how sometimes it allows people to shrink their world to only the people who agree with them.  Often out of comfort people only seek out the likeminded and choose the news and information they want to be exposed to.  This makes them even more hardened in their perspectives by not allowing themselves to experience even a tenth of all that is out there to read and see.  It is also bad in how the anonymity provided gives people the guts to say and do things on the internet they would never say or do to a person’s face.

While these are problems, they have always been problems since the printing press made mass communication easier, and it is has been a problem of the internet going all the way back to the bulletin board days.  Yet, these problems do not diminish the good the internet has done in opening the world up a little bit more.

Like the printing press before it the internet has made the world a little smarter and a little more interesting.  In making us all potential reporters, reviewers and experts, we all can find someone near us who likes the same stuff we do.

You like obscure Blaxploitation movies from the 70s, Google it and you might find a blogger or a Tweeter nearby with the same passion and you can go out for a drink and hang out and talk about Pam Grier for a couple of hours.

You like a Belgian-style tripple you found on vacation in California last year, Google it and you might find a blog that lists all the places close to you that sell it or you might find someone on Twitter willing to sell you a bottle from their personal stash.

That is what the internet provides all of us.  It makes it possible for us to celebrate our enthusiasms and connect with people near and far over those enthusiasms.  It allows us to be more of ourselves and shrinks the world to let us know we are not alone.