You might have noticed this blog basically doesn’t exist anymore. When I started it five years ago, I was posting two or three times a week. Then I started getting published elsewhere, and my original posts here began to dwindle. These days, it is a repository for reviews no one has paid me to write and things that I really just wanted to write.
And now, a new creature has emerged from within me: a newsletter. I’ve begun publishing a biweekly newsletter entitled “Good Eye” in which I share links to my own writing and publish original musings. I’ll also share articles written by others that tickle my brain. Here is my first edition, published last Saturday. If you like it, you can subscribe here.
Thank you for reading. Let’s continue the conversation.
Issue 1: Living Offline
I’ve been on my Facebook vacation for more than two weeks now, and for five of those days, I was on an actual vacation. The occasion was my seventh wedding anniversary, and on this trip to Barbados, I made a point of actually spending time with my lovely wife, instead of burying my nose in a book or work. I highly recommend it – both the concept of marriage and unplugging for a bit.
I did, however, have a little downtime at the beach, which I mostly spent browsing through “Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies” by Alastair Bonnett. Thank you to my friend Oliver Heinemann for recommending it. The book is an unorthodox, deconstructionist travelogue about places untouched or abandoned by humanity, including the vacated planned community next to Chernobyl, now a haven for wild plants and animals that have grown immune to the radiation; the city of Mecca, currently unrecognizable as a holy land buried under chain stores and franchise restaurants; and even a small, uninhabited patch of land in a traffic circle outside the author’s London home.
“Unruly Places” is by turns funny and profound (and often both at once), and it got me thinking about how disconnected we are from place these days. The global village of the internet has many wonderful benefits, but any online community is (by definition) placeless and (perhaps by extension) cultureless. I once heard that any country that does not have a national culture is easier to conquer because the people have less to fight for. I’d argue that the same is true for people who exist untethered to any physical place. We are rootless, weak, defenseless, and maybe, on some basic level, purposeless.
So let’s start a newsletter. Of course, a newsletter can offer no sense of place, but maybe it can be a small community. That’s what I’d like, anyway. A venue for me to share articles that interest me, publish my own writing, and form a constructive dialogue with my friends and colleagues. A space where I can feel both safe and challenged, able to express my views without fear of incurring internet trolls while remaining open-minded enough to consider viewpoints I don’t share. I hope I can cultivate that kind of “place” here, so if you have a response or retort to anything you see here today, please let me know, and I’ll consider publishing them in my next letter.
Now, onto the writing. Here’s what I have been working on over the last couple weeks:
I wrote about Master of None’s conflicted foodie-ism for Slate.
“I’m not here to criticize Dev’s passion (or Ansari’s, who is an emphatic foodie in real life), since Master of None already does so. In Season 2, when Dev ramps up his fixation with food, sidelining his acting career to become a food-show personality, you can feel the show struggling with its obsession. When co-creator Alan Yang was asked on Slate’s Represent podcast if he is as big a foodie as Ansari, he responded, “I’m arguably worse. No, we’re both terrible. You know, it’s … it’s … crippling.” These aren’t the words of a person who is comfortable with his hobby, and the show reflects this struggle.”
“Loach employs a wonderful naturalism that allows these stories to feel real, and remarkably he achieves it without relying on shaky handheld camerawork or other tropes of indie cinema. Instead, his framing is still and steady, begging its characters to burst through the edges of the frame.”
Also for City Paper, I labored through visual artist Julian Rosenfeldt’s academic, experimental film Manifesto, which stars Cate Blanchett as thirteen different characters. I use the word “character” loosely. I also use the word “film” loosely.
“For anyone who has ever said, ‘Cate Blanchett is such a great actress that I would watch her read the phone book,’ Manifesto is here to hold you accountable. “
“With his ears pushed out and hair brushed down, Gere transforms himself into what we in the Jewish community call a nebbish. But he’s a nebbish with chutzpah. He spends his days trying to put together vaguely defined deals that rely on him charming high-powered businessmen and politicians into deals that only work if a variety of other players also buy in. Norman finagles his way into the lives of very important people – like the deputy prime minister of Israel – and makes promises he cannot keep, hoping that he can keep all his balls in the air through sheer confidence alone.”
If you’re anything like, you were shocked and saddened by the tragedy in Portland, Oregon last month. Portland is close to my heart. I lived there for eight months, and I travel back often. My sister and my niece live there now. I became vegan there, inspired by the city’s great plant-based restaurants. When those two good Samaritans were stabbed and killed on the train, I found myself surprised that such a thing had happened in Portland. This article opened my eyes in a million different ways. I doubt I’ll ever be able to look at Portland as I used to.
Portland isn’t Portlandia. It’s a capital of white supremacy. (Washington Post)
“While Portland is indeed progressive on many political issues, it is still the whitest large city in America — and that’s by design. Before becoming a state in 1859, Oregon passed laws that prohibited slavery but also required all African Americans to leave the territory. It simply wanted no black people. It went so far as to make the “crime” of being black punishable by floggings until the “perpetrator” left. Thus, when Oregon joined the union, it joined not as a free state or a slave state, but as a no-blacks state, the only state to do so.”
I’ve read many books on The Beatles, including “Tune In,” the recent 900-page first volume of a planned trilogy by Mark Lewisohn that only takes you up until 1962, but I still found something new in this short NYT piece about producer George Martin’s influence on the band.
I haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, but I have enjoyed reading my female colleagues’ thoughts about its feminist victories and how it could have been improved. Here’s one of my favorite takes, from Dana Stevens at Slate.
RIP Glenn Headley, an actress who quietly went toe-to-toe with some of the most charismatic male stars of her time. She died at her home in New London, Connecticut, on Friday at the age of 63. Here she is, stealing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels right out from under Steve Martin and Michael Caine.
Finally, I’d like to end each newsletter with either a quote, a question, or a list. If it’s a question, please feel free to respond (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know your answer. Maybe I’ll share it in the next newsletter. Either way, I’m curious. If it’s a list, well, you know what to do: respond and let me know how wrong I am. Today, it’s a quote. If you’re not a baseball fan, it might not mean very much to you.
“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.” – Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) in Bull Durham.
In other words, luck has a great deal more to do with what we call “success” than most of us would like to admit. Always something to keep in mind.
See you in a couple weeks, gorps.