December 2, 2013 10:28 PM
I hate running. I hate the cold. But running the first mile of the freezing-ish SOME Thanksgiving morning run against hunger felt so damn good. I only ran the first mile of the three, yeah. But I hadn't trained, was wearing jeans and had my usual crap-asthma cold-weather lung capacity. This was the first time I'd ever run a race mile. Starting to get this running thing.
But the real story of the race was Lori. She and friend Anna kicked butt at couch-to-5k prep, and she ran the whole freezing thing and even turned in 10-minute miles. It's awesome to work so hard for something and get it.
Afterward, we went inside, thawed and ate chocolate croissants.
My goal for next time: My time was about 42 minutes this time, and some past variations of running and walking have gone a minute or two faster. Need to run further, get faster… and maybe not lose a lung in the process?
December 1, 2013 8:50 PM
WAMU did a story recently about a tiny-house community in Washington, so we went to check it out today. The houses were tiny, but the ideas were big. Part an exploration of sustainable and affordable development, part a pursuit of architectural puzzles, part art, and part experimentation around necessities, Boneyard Studios comprises an alley block of four cabin-like houses. They're like cabins, but they're not. They instead aim more urban, more at making residents part of something bigger and metropolitan. So, the owners offer tours once a month or so, exposing their prototyping.
In any prototype process, there are both successes and failures. The tiny-house development seemed to have a persistent flow of both. The owners could build their homes but not live in them. (Dialogue was ongoing with the D.C. housing authority.) The space was garden-filled and bright, but a sign outside asked for help after a break-in. Among the neighbors, some were happy to help, loaning a hose when water ran low. Others, Googling showed, didn't like the construction or repurposing of land along their alley.
Inside the homes, there were countless good ideas about use and reuse of space. But getting the right setups of space, water and power always took a few tries, owners said. The iteration and transparency were fascinating.
The "Boneyard" name of the project came from the neighbor across the alley — a cemetery that, as Lori pointed out, had its own tiny houses. If you'd spent the night, I imagined the view out your tiny front door would have been spooky: a back-alley graveyard. But it was surprising how the coziness of the houses, both within their walls and in village-like proximity to each other, made the surroundings more warm. The tiny houses were made of tiny works in progress, iterative machinations of matters visual, technical, legal, and ethical. Who knew if they would succeed in crafting a movement or evolution. But they made the tiny pieces of your brain spin.
November 26, 2013 10:36 PM
If I could travel back in time and if time-traveling rules were fine with my interfering in history, the job I'd want most in the '70s would be writing for Jim Henson. In the '60s, I'd want to work for Jay Ward, writing Rocky and Bullwinkle. But given the subsequent societal progress (not to mention the movies and the chance to catch early Springsteen), I'd probably prefer the '70s and Henson and the Muppets. Lacking a time-travel device, though…
The new Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones is terrific. I've been reading it in nearly every (rare) free moment this fall and finally made it to the end in the past few days. The end, Henson's relatively young death, is of course sad. But as captured in the book, the celebration of his life at his funeral is thrilling. To the reader, the scene is the ultimate summation of the themes running throughout Henson's life, a roll-up that must have felt similarly to his closest. Jones identifies threads early and carries them well.
A testament to the reporting and thought behind the writing, throughout the book the different pieces of Henson's personality birth, grow, struggle, succeed, and mix over time. My favorite paragraph in the biography brings together about a dozen of them. The passage comes from the mid-'70s era in the book as Henson prepares to launch The Muppet Show. It is glorious.
Jim's work extended beyond the office and workshop; in preparation for his performance as the Swedish Chef, Jim was even working in his car, practicing his mock Swedish during his daily drives from Bedford into New York City. Jim had installed a cassette deck in his Jaguar on which he could both play and record tapes, and each day he would listen to a cassette prepared for him by writer Marshall Brickman — who could bring Jim and Oz to tears with his ability to mock foreign languages — instructing him on how to speak mock Swedish. After listening to Brickman's tape, Jim would then record himself — speaking into a full-sized microphone he had clipped to his dashboard — and play back his performance, trying to get it right. "I used to ride with him a lot," said Brian Henson. "And he would drive to work trying to make a chicken sandwich in mock Swedish or make a turkey casserole in mock Swedish. It was the most ridiculous thing you had ever seen, and people at traffic lights used to stop and sort of look at him a little crazy."
November 26, 2013 9:42 PM
The New Yorker on a JACK Quartet performance:
The lights are turned off briefly, and anyone who feels too uncomfortable with the plunge into pitch-blackness can leave before the music begins. Occasional adverse reactions are understandable: it’s like being buried alive. But the sounds that Haas elicits from the quartet—a minutely varied array of musical cries, whispers, songs, and sighs—gradually allow the ears to map a space that the eyes cannot see.
And the Times on how the performance played out:
The JACK musicians sat in the four corners of the studio. The opening and closing sections of the quartet are fully notated. But the work is structured as a series of 18 “situations,” the composer’s preferred term for sections. Given the darkness, the players must perform from memory. But the sequence of the situations, and how many times each one is played, is determined by the performers in the moment. Any musician can invite the others to begin a section by playing a gesture from it; the others may accept or decline the invitation, until they come to agreement and proceed.
Or just play music in the dark sometime. So simple, yes? Anyone can turn out the lights, turn on music and sit in the dark. But here we have music designed for such a setting. And how often do we turn off all the devices? All the flashing lights around the computer desk or the TV? A challenge.
November 26, 2013 8:58 PM
But if voters elect Mike Mussina to the hall of fame this year, I'll be going.
The Baltimore Sun had the report this afternoon: Moose is on the ballot. "The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which was released Tuesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, includes former Orioles pitchers Mike Mussina, Armando Benitez and Mike Timlin among the 19 first-time candidates." MLB.com has the best initial story, "Up for Hall, Mussina hopes to avoid 'Mr. Almost' tag." The piece mentions the near-perfect game, the near-Series crown and the near Cy Young. On the other hand, "Only five pitchers in the game's history have had as many wins as Mussina while matching his .638 career winning percentage: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove and Randy Johnson." And — something MLB.com fails to mention but it's both obvious and necessary to mention — this career happened in the ugly heart of the steroid era.
Meanwhile, Mussina is now coaching varsity basketball at Montoursville (Pa.) High School, where he graduated in 1987. "Mussina will be paid a stipend of $4,170," the local Williamsport Sun-Gazette reports. "Mussina pitched with the Orioles and Yankees from 1991-2008, compiling a record of 270-153 with a 3.68 ERA. He has coached Little League Baseball and junior varsity basketball since retiring." HOF vote tallies arrive in January.
November 23, 2013 11:17 AM
For The Best of McSweeney's Internet Tendency:
Back in 1998, the internet was young and wild and free. Along with listservs, pornography, and listservs dedicated to pornography, there was a website that ran all its articles in the same font and within abnormally narrow margins. This site was called McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many dozens of people read it. Now, fifteen years later, most of those readers have died, but the Tendency still exists, publishing, every day, quasi-humor writing in the same font within the same abnormally narrow margins. The site has no ads, and no revenue prospects, and thus, every year or so, we collect some of the site’s better material and attempt to trick readers into paying for a curated, glued-together version of what is available online for free. This collection is the best and most brazen of such attempts. Please enjoy it, after you have paid for it.
November 17, 2013 9:45 PM
"What Is The Zoo For What" by Patricia Lockwood. There are vaginas and Neil Young, and neither are the point. "The rose is a zoo for the smell of the rose, / the smell of the rose rattles in its cage, / the zookeeper throws something bleeding / to it, the something bleeding is not enough…."
"A Moment" by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. Of the "related context" section on the Poetry Foundation puts it: "Poet's region: England; School/period: Victorian; Subjects: Love, Romantic Love, First Love." Despite its origins, the poem is nearly aflame. I know nothing about Coleridge but — oh my.
"To Be Elsewhere" by Hsia Yu. "We met in a coastal village / spent a lovely night without leaving an address / going separate ways…." The poem picks up three years later, and every song we know plays at once in our ears.
November 17, 2013 6:23 PM
Beyond the movie itself (hope it's good), among the things I'm looking forward to most with the December arrival of Ben Stiller's Secret Life of Walter Mitty are the accompanying stories about why we're all a bit like Walter. The psychology and neuroscience of the imagination are always fascinating to me. What sparks it? What kills it? What sends it down one path instead of another? Where does creativity end and disorder begin? And for fear of disorder or simple rejection, what don't we share of our imaginations with others? How much resulting joy are we all missing?
So, this part of the new Rumpus Letter in the Mail makes my hour. While discussing nothing of the Mitty movie, writer Ray Shea puts a perfect word around a Mitty trait, one I've only recently realized other people have too. "It's only a dream" works for your daydreams as well as your nightmares.
Katas. In martial arts, a kata is a highly choreographed imaginary fight against an imaginary opponent.
I do katas in my head. Same thing as in martial arts only without the crescent kicks. Against my father, my mother, my brother, my ex wife, my old boss, the high school kid at the taco shop who smarted off at me, the entitled asshole in the Lexus who honked at me, anybody on the internet who says anything stupid about middle-aged men or fats guys or Hurricane Katrina.
Imaginary fights against imaginary opponents. I make up a beef, an argument. I play it out in my head, and then I'm good and worked up and angry, over something I invented, something entirely fictional. And sometimes the katas, they come spilling out of my head. Sometimes I vent at other people. Sometimes I vent at people who aren't even there.
My girlfriend said to me once, "You were doing katas in the shower again."
I was? What did I say?
"You kept saying, 'Don't fucking yell at me! Don't fucking yell at me!' "
It's weird. I knew exactly who she was talking about, what he yelled at me that made me yell that back at him. In the fictional highly choreographed fight that happened completely with my skull.
November 17, 2013 5:24 PM
I thought John Legend would be the first Tiny Desk I saw of a musician whose songs went into the dozens in my collection. Wilco had visited, but I'd been out of town. Turned out, John Legend would not be that Tiny Desk for me. His Tiny Desk would be the first I'd attended of a musician whose songs went into the dozens in my collection. Seeing wasn't meant to be:
But the concert sounded sweet from behind the crown, and when it went online this weekend, the performance indeed lived up to my hopes.
Off to play some albums now. Getting my bearings on his new one.
November 17, 2013 5:05 PM
There is only one character in the movie, and there must be about half-a-dozen words of dialogue total from that character. But when the actor of the character is Robert Redford, you pay vast attention. You worry for his character, stuck on a broken boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and you grow more and more anxious. There are no moments at which you can jump and, though scared, find release. You get the very last moments of the movie to take some of the emotions that have built up. Then you get to take the rest with you. Lori and I saw All Is Lost Friday night with Andrew and Hillary, and we talked about the movie all the way home.
My favorite story about the movie is The New York Times' October preview, which also serves as a lengthy interview with Redford about getting older.
“I’m interested in that thing that happens where there’s a breaking point for some people and not for others,” he said over morning coffee recently in the deserted Owl Bar at his resort here. “You go through such hardship, things that are almost impossibly difficult, and there’s no sign that it’s going to get any better, and that’s the point when people quit. But some don’t.”
The article reveals the script was only 31 pages and that Redford did all his own stunts. In other news, Robert Redford is 77 and still awesome.