School’s Back for Fall

This time of year is one that creates a mixture of emotions within me. My summer is over, and I’m back at work, getting my classes ready for the upcoming semester, and generally recalibrating my mind and other parts of me to what I’d grown accustomed to over the past few months.

Teaching at a college, I got out of school in mid-May, leaving me a week or two on my own until little L got done with her school and E’s year also came to a close within the next few weeks. Hence why it’s only August 11 and I’m already days into the end of summer and staring the beginning of classes in the eye.

But like I said, this brings with it a veritable cocktail of emotions. It’s great to see my colleagues and work friends, most of whom I haven’t seen since school let out, and even those I have, it’s only been in passing. I’m fortunate to work with people that I really like, and many of whom I’d count as friends, making my working environment that much better during the school year. But there’s also the fact that the rest of my family are still at home, enjoying the reminder of their respective summers, both of which are close to ending, but not over like mine.

On top of that, my daily decisions are no longer solely mine, at least not to the extent they have been over the summer, leaving less time for much of anything else, forcing me to be much smarter with my time than the summer forces me to be.

And while I’m happy to be back in my classes and look forward to meeting new students and teaching again, that comes with the requisite work.

So yes, I know: teacher problems, right? But I’m not here to debate about the merits of summers off or to hear about how everyone else has to work all year long, the fact of the matter is that this is part of my career, and so this transition is one I face all the time.

All this to say: if I seem distant or off over the next few weeks, I do entreat you to know it isn’t you. It’s just the changes.

A few more things of note to close things out here.

First, I’ll be playing an event on September 14 called SteveFest. It’s put on by a former teacher colleague of mine, and ticket proceeds are going to help Classroom Central, an organization in Charlotte that helps out low income families and their teachers with school supplies. You can buy tickets through the link on their Facebook page, which is linked above.

Second, I’m really taking it upon myself to get into a better place health-wise. While things like CrossFit have helped a great deal over the years, I’ve been up and down with it in the past, so I finally caved and bought a Planet Fitness membership. It’s not as intense as CrossFit, but I think it’s something I can make myself do on the way home from work or later in the day. So I’m slowly hoping to see signs of change, as I’m also looking more at my food consumption and other things I take into my body. I just want to get to a place I can maintain and feel comfortable.

Third, I might soon be getting myself into a dual podcasting gig. Myself and another Niner Noise writer are going through the early stages of working on a Niner Noise podcast, so I’ll be sure to pass that on once it actually exists. In the mean time, I’ll still be doing Things That Matter (To Me), although the frequency is to be determined at the time.

I’m looking forward to another school year and all that entails. Yes, it’s going to take more focus on my part, but honestly, I could do with a little more of that these days.

Vacation (Or Why I’m So Bad at this Lately)

I’m just not even going to acknowledge the elephant in the (virtual) room. I’m sorry I’m bad at this lately. Time is a suck.

^*^

It has come to my attention over the last few years that there are essentially two ways to vacation. The first type of person points to a map–maybe randomly, maybe with slightly more intentionality–and selects a place, maybe somewhere he’s never been before, and then he books the trip, telling himself that the details of the days spent in this new place will be worked out later. In this case, the act of getting away is the point.

The second type of person has ideas in his head–like “I want to see the Eiffel Tower” or “I’d like to experience authentic Italian food” or maybe “I wonder just how hot it can get in Israel in the summer?”–and then sets out to get himself to that place. There’s an itinerary, there’s lots of preplanning, even if working in “down time” is part of that. In this person’s mind, the destination is the point.

I believe I’ve always known this about myself, but it’s become clear to me lately that I am cemented into the latter category. Furthermore, it’s also obvious that I married into the former category, and I mean that of almost the entirety of my wife’s family.

This isn’t a judgement thing. My preference is for the latter, and so of course, I also find it to be the best choice (“Why wouldn’t you have a plan to do specific things when you go somewhere?” I’d ask); this doesn’t mean that people don’t get plenty of good out of the dart board method.

The problem is that when these two methods of vacationing clash, it’s a very oil-and-water like scenario. I can say this with certainty because in the past few years, I’ve experienced it enough to feel as if I can refer to myself as a bit of an expert on the subject.

Most recently, my wife, daughter and I joined 12 members of my wife’s family (and a few longtime family friends) in Curacao for six days of vacation. If you’re thinking to yourself right now “Where is that,” don’t worry, you aren’t alone (it’s probably the most frequent question we got leading up to trip, so much so that I just started anticipating it when telling people where we were going). It’s basically here:

curacao-location-map-min

Yes, it requires two zooms to see it, seeing as the first level zoom only places it, but there’s no indication if its actual location or size. It’s small (roughly 171 square miles, less than the metro area of Charlotte), and decidedly melting pot in its cultural background. Part Caribbean island, part South American influences, partially still Dutch, it’s certainly one of the more interesting places I’ve ever seen in that regard. However, it also uses its main features–namely the beaches and other water-based attractions–as tourist draws, and justifiably so.

The problem being, at least for me, that I’ve never been a big fan of the water in any form, least of all the ocean water. So that put me in a bit of a troubling place as far as that was concerned. The second part of it was the fact that it was during the planning of the trip that I realized how much my in-laws and I differ on vacation philosophies.

Again, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just preferences colliding. We were offered to join on the trip, we said we would, and it was only later that I realized the trip wasn’t for any reason other than just to go and be around the family. That’s all fair, it just isn’t my preference.

So while everyone else spent much of the week going off on excursions and seeing as much of the island as they could, I did a lot of reading in the house we were renting. While everyone else went to the beach, I tried to see if I could finish all the books I’d brought with me from the library. Save for one trip, where my father-in-law, two brothers-in-law and myself went golfing, and non-water related trips to Willemstad, I stayed at the house, and was mostly okay with it.

The golf was cool, though. Check this out (and please, correct my footwork here if you can be helpful):

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This wasn’t my chosen method of vacationing, so I made the best of it by doing what I wanted to do while I was there, which was basically to enjoy the opportunity to do nothing for a few days. I didn’t concern myself with what was happening at home too much, mostly because I couldn’t. And that was fine.

In an ideal world, I’m starting to realize more and more, I’d be able to check off my list of places to see: Goodison Park during an Everton match; the rest of Liverpool; San Francisco as an adult, including Levi’s Stadium for a 49ers game; Rome because I didn’t make it there before and to see all the sites there; Seattle because I’ve been told that the city fits my personality; more Cubs games at Wrigley Field, but also in a few other stadiums throughout the country; Scotland to explore the place where my family came from all those years ago. And those are just the ones that immediately popped into my head. I’m sure I can think of more.

Needless to say, if I never return to the Caribbean again, I’ll survive. Nothing against the Caribbean or its islands, they just aren’t my ideal. And I think that’s got to be okay in the same way that other people might think, “A vacation full of doing stuff! Why would you want to do that?” and that’s good for them.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just looking to maximize the experiences for myself (I think our one-year anniversary trip to Chicago supports that fact). And maybe that’s selfish. But I suppose that’s how vacations work, isn’t it? Everyone is trying to get the most out of it for his/herself, and that works out nicely if everyone is pretty much on the same page.

I suppose, then, it’s up to me to figure out how to maximize the experiences, even if the situation isn’t necessarily the one I’d have chosen.

^*^

As for why I’m bad at this, it’s the same old list: summer classes, vacation, writing for Niner Noise, my podcast, and general lack of ideas. I just have to get over that. 

Updates…again

For better or worse, this site has started to become a life update blog rather than being as  kept up to date as I originally planned. I think I can do better, so that will be an aim for the rest of 2019 and beyond. Here’s to that.

Summer started for me a few weeks ago, and I turned 35 that weekend, which was a great time with family and friends. As I’ve often noted, however, these transitions are always interesting, as I spent a week mostly on my own while little L finished up her last week of preschool, and then the last few weeks have been mostly she and I looking for ways to pass the time.

She just turned 5 and starts kindergarten in the fall, which is crazy to me, and at times she appears to be a fully-formed, if still pretty physically small, human being. She has a lot of opinions, interests and curiosities, and it’s often fascinating to watch her work through things. She’s also taken to watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lately, so I bought her a DVD of the original cartoon that I used to watch as a kid, and we’ve been sharing that together. I guess time just keeps circling around.

Wrigley has been part of our family for nearly half a year now, and while having a dog again brings its own complications (making sure we’re not gone all day too often, having to consider what to do with him if we want to leave town, keeping his ever-busy jaws from eating everything in sight), he’s mostly a sweet little guy who still possesses a lot of puppy attributes. He’s curious and loves being part of what’s going on in the house, and in spite her insistence otherwise, loves his mom the best, but I am always glad he’s part of our family.

E is wrapping up her second year of teaching, and I am certain she grew massively over the course of the first year, which didn’t always mean that everything was easier in year 2, but I saw her handle the whole year with grace and a sense of confidence that she justifiably lacked during her first year. I’m looking forward to seeing her continue to grow at work.

At home, we’re also closing in on our second anniversary and just over six months of home ownership (has it only been that long!), even though we’ve only been in the house less than half a year. It’s often been frustrating, as little problems like leaky pipes coming from our water heater or faulty electrical wires are now our responsibility, and the adjustment from just having to call the landlord hasn’t always been fun, but in many ways, having a house of our own, where we know we’ll be for the foreseeable future, is really fantastic. We’ve already upgraded in several areas, and while I’m sure we will continue to (E starts to get antsy when things are the same for too long), I think we’re settling in pretty well.

This summer will be pretty busy, with E and L heading off on a camping trip with her parents next week (no thanks on sleeping outside, even if there is a nice camper involved), and then we’re all off to Curacao the first part of July, just after our anniversary on July 1 (don’t worry, I have a plan for that, too). Mostly, I think we’re all just looking forward to doing a lot of nothing. I’m teaching a few classes, but those don’t take up a lot of time, and I’m keeping busy with the new podcast, doing some writing, and watching a lot of baseball (Go, Cubs, go!).

In the mean time, enjoy some nostalgia with me. Unless, of course, you aren’t old enough to have seen it the first time. Then just enjoy it now.

https://dai.ly/x2glv75

Oh, where have I gone?

You may have noticed that I’ve disappeared over the last several weeks. I don’t want to make excuses, but it’s been a wild like few months. Between Spring Break–where we visited family in Tennessee, spent a few busy days at home, then were in Columbia for a family zoo trip–and finishing up the semester, there’s been a lot going on.

On top of that, I’ve taken on a new role as a contributor to Niner Noise, a website that’s part of the Fansided network, writing about the San Francisco 49ers. It’s a volunteer position, but has been cool to do something I always thought I wanted to do, which was write about sports. I’ve already written several pieces, one of which was read over 30,000 times in just two days. For someone who teaches at a small community college, leads worship at a small church and writes a respected but little read blog, this kind of readership is, well, it’s insane.

The bulk of this particular post, then, is just to remind people that I’m still alive, although my reasons for the disappearance make me think: am I doing this again? Am I spreading myself too thin?

It’s something I have a tendency to do. I’m always looking for something else to get myself into. I started this blog. I started writing for Niner Noise. I started a podcast. I still want to finish that confounded book. And write more songs, record another album. I still have work, church and my family to prioritize.

Seriously, how I get anything done at all is fairly incredible.

The trick, I’m starting to realize, is not make myself feel guilty when I can’t keep up with everything. Priorities are a real thing, and those elements of life that matter most must be given precedence, even in those times where they feel like the biggest struggle. It’s also probably true that the pieces that matter the most take energy away from the other things, for better or worse.

But again, I can’t let myself feel weighed down by what I’m not doing or what I don’t have time to do: instead, it’s better to focus the energy in a positive way to make the most of what I can do.

So maybe the blog suffers for a few weeks.

Maybe the podcast isn’t as consistent as I want it to be.

Maybe that book remains 3/4 finished.

Maybe songs come slowly, but eventually.

But I know that I’ll eventually get around to them as I find myself invigorated by each project again. That’s what gets things done and done well.

Early Favorites for AOTY (Plus a mini announcement)

I’ve come to a realization during this first part of 2019 regarding music: for the last several years I’ve been trying to take in as much quantity as possible, and maybe I’ve been missing out on digging in as deeply as I could into the highest quality of music available to me. Some of this, admittedly, is self-inflicted by the existence of Apple Music and the fact that paying for the account allows me to listen to pretty much anything I want without consequence. So Friday mornings throughout the last few years have included swiping through the New Music lists, picking out potential new listens based on genre, record labels or simply based on the album cover. Not exactly scientific, and the result of which left me with a mixed bag of discoveries. Sometimes I would listen to an album once, sigh a little “well, that was an album,” and move on; other times I wouldn’t even make it all the way through, but it always ended up in an adventure. And, from time to time, I’d listen to something that I didn’t know about before hand, hadn’t been anticipating or pining over for months, but ended up enjoying and returning to throughout the year.

But here’s the thing: the new stuff didn’t get the benefit of the doubt that a known artist would. So if, say, the new album from a band I’ve been following for years didn’t quite hit the first time, I was more likely to give it several more listens before bowing out and deciding it wasn’t working for me. Bands or artists I didn’t know previously didn’t get that same opportunity, at least not most of the time, and so were left either getting deleted from my library or sitting there, lost amongst more listened to albums. Sure, it didn’t cost me anything, other than time, to try to see if the records would prove to connect with me, but it also feels like a crapshoot I don’t really want to invest that time in.

All this lead up is to say that I’m trying to do this less for 2019, and likely moving forward. This isn’t to say that I won’t sift through the new music lists each week, it just means I’m a little more reluctant to give up the time to listen to something I’m not familiar with at this point than just to give that time to listen to an album I’m really loving for the 10th, 15th, 20th time. I think I’ve just grown disappointed with the depth of knowing I’ve had with my favorite records over the last few years. I can still sing all the lyrics to my favorite albums from my college years, and I don’t feel connected to some of my recent favorites at the same level. This, to me, is an unfortunate shame; so I’m willing to sacrifice the possibility of fewer new musical discoveries to really dig into and connect with more music this year and beyond.

With that in mind, 2019 thus far has been focused on three albums more than most: Pedro the Lion’s Phoenix, Copeland’s Blushing and American Football’s American Football (LP3). Yes, there have been other albums that have come out this year that I’ve enjoyed and will likely revisit throughout the year (Switchfoot’s Native Tongue, Swervedriver’s Future Ruins and Alameda’s Time Hasn’t Changed You are all quality in their own way), but these three records, those top three, have just plastered themselves in my brain. Whenever I find myself needing something to listen to, one of the songs from one of these albums pops into my head on cue. To me, that’s the mark of a great record, but it’s also what I’m looking for. I want those songs burning in my ears, I want the lyrics bounding around in my head, to feel like they’ve become a little part of me. It’s true that all of these albums came from bands I’ve followed for a long time, and it’s actually interesting that each shares the similar story of being a band that disappeared for a while (or in the case of PtL and American Football, a long while), only to come back and restart the band in earnest years later (although, in fairness, that last statement isn’t necessarily true of Pedro yet, while both Copeland and American Football are on the second post-return records). Maybe there’s something to that, or maybe it’s a coincidence, but here’s what I know for sure: they all made excellent albums that came out in the first few months of 2019.

I’m not saying that my new method is going to be a foolproof way to avoid listening to bad music (have you heard Weezer’s Black Album?) or that my longtime connection to a band will make certain a connection will be generated with more of the music I consume each year, but I do know that focusing on the quality over quantity will grant me fewer (or more, depending which side you mean) opportunities on either side. And since this is the point, that will count as a win for me. I’m looking forward to seeing how well these albums hold up, not just throughout the year, but in years to come as well.

**^**

A side note that is mostly unrelated to the above information. I’ve decided to get back into podcasting. It’s been a few years since my buddy Ryan and I stopped doing episodes of our Brew With A View Podcast, mostly because it took a lot of time and required a great deal of effort to make it happen, but recently I’ve been searching for more ways to express my creativity. The blog is good, and I’ve got more writing projects in the pipeline and continue to consider ways to write and record more music, but this podcast idea just sort of flowed out of me once I really dug into it, so I figured I owe it to myself to try it out. The plan is release episodes twice a week, with varied topics of interest each month, since I couldn’t decide on one idea that piqued my interest more than any other. So look for the appropriately named (according to my wife) Things That Matter (To Me) podcast in the coming weeks. Who knows, I may enlist the help of you, person who is reading this blog right now. Be ever ready.

Oscar Predictions 2019

Well, it is that time again, ladies and gentlemen. Time for me to pretend that I either a) can see into the future or b) am smart enough to know what a gargantuan voting body will think about the year in movies. In reality, this is, as always, going to trend more in the direction of not only what I think the Academy will do, but what I would do if I were voting (I’m not). There are 24 categories and some of which are filled with movies I didn’t see, but I’ll do my best to cover each category, sometimes with very little explanation other than wild guesses. And away we go!

Best Picture:

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Should/Will Win: We’ll start with a category that, to my mind, is relatively easy. Yes, it’s the “biggest” award of the night, which would seemingly make it more difficult, but this year I just don’t think that’s the case. I’ll do this the way the Academy actually does the category, with preferential voting, in reverse order.

8. Bohemian Rhapsody – It’s a messy, unexciting and often incorrect biopic about a guy who’s life should have been a lot more interesting and tumultuous. For the life of me I can’t understand why this is even nominated when movies like First Man existed this year.

7. Green Book – Speaking of overhyped things. My initial response upon completing the movie was that it was a male platonic romantic comedy that made sure to include some racial issues stuff so people would pay attention. The acting is good, but the story is told with little effort, and that is not a compliment.

6. The Favourite – This is an absurd movie, and it’s lower here because I liked some of the other movies more (and also because I couldn’t quite figure out what this movie was about). Three great performances, especially from Emma Stone, but the movie itself didn’t do it for me.

5. Black Panther – This seems to be the movie people are getting behind as the one the Academy should be paying more attention to this year (see: Get Out from last year), and while I admired it in a lot of ways, for me it felt muddled and trying to accomplish too much.

4. Vice – More fun than I was expecting it to be and featuring a great lead performance from Christian Bale, I really didn’t think I would like this at all. It wears its politics on its sleeves and doesn’t always stick the landing, but there was something powerful about the movie itself feeling a little unsure what to do with the subject matter.

3. BlacKkKlansman – I’m not a Spike Lee fan (my favorite of his films is probably 25th Hour, which is pretty much nobody’s favorite Spike film), and I almost avoided this one altogether because of that. I’m glad I didn’t. There’s still some elements of this I didn’t love, and while powerful, the ending almost does too much to spell out the whole “hey, this is still going on” point of it all, but overall the film is well executed and really well acted.

2. A Star Is Born – I had no expectations for this one, and almost missed it altogether because of the massive hype train that was pulling into the station months before anyone even saw the film. Thing is, the film delivers in almost every way you would want it to. The performances, both acting and musically, are spectacular, the songs are mostly strong and, even though this is the fourth rendition of the movie, the story seems freshly updated (note: I’ve never seen any of the other versions). Honestly I’m confused as to why this has gotten drowned out by all the BoRhap and Green Book love, because this is a much better and more effectively executed film.

1.Roma – I was engrossed from beginning to end, at times I was even terrified and uncomfortable, and somehow I left feeling that Alfonso Cuaron had made me care about this family and devastated by the tragedies of its life. Part of that, yes, was because the movie was in Spanish and forced me to focus on it fully, but I also believe it would have done so anyway. The scene in the hospital close to the end was one of the most heart wrenching sequences I’ve seen this year, and it was a credit to the work of the film that I was both desperate for it to end and captivated by how he managed to make me want to keep watching. This is both my pick and the film I think will win on Sunday night.

Lead Actor:

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Should win: Christian Bale, which seems very Academy of me, since they usually love transformations (see Gary Oldman just last year). But in all honesty, while the make up and weight gain enhances the performance, there is something specific about each of Bale’s choices, and that he makes you question your own motives regarding a Cheney that is clearly being represented in a certain way by Adam McKay and company, is a testament to how well his performance works. Honorable mention to Bradley Cooper here, who embodies the character of Jackson Maine with grace and eloquence.

Will win: Rami Malek, who I like a lot in Mr. Robot, but felt he was going through the motions here. That’s weird to say in a movie where he’s required to do a lot of capital-A Acting, but his performance never excited me or made me pay attention to the way either Bale or Cooper’s did. He’s kind of just doing an impersonation rather than making choices.

Lead Actress:

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Should win: Lady Gaga, which is saying a lot coming from me because I’m not what you’d call a Gaga fan. But my goodness is she great in this movie. I’m just lost as to how she’s gotten forgotten throughout this award process, because there was nothing in her past career that would have suggested she was capable of the kind of emoting and realism she showcases here. In some ways, yes, the role was made for her, but it doesn’t matter so much because she owns it. It’s showy without being obvious, emotional without succumbing to melodrama. Honorable mention to Aparicio, who makes her debut in Roma and holds the movie together with her steady performance.

Will win: I mean, I guess Glenn Close, although by all accounts The Wife is just an okay movie. This stinks of a career achievement award because they’ve never awarded her before. I haven’t seen the movie, because apparently it’s impossible to find and, frankly, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

Should win: Sam Elliott, who is the emotional fulcrum of A Star Is Born. Elliott takes his usual gruff cowboy act and makes him feel lived in and real. The movie doesn’t work without him, which, by definition is what a supporting actor should be doing (unlike most cases where this award goes to a second lead, more on that in a second). Driver is great in his role, but it feels lighter in comparison, which is weird to say given the film’s content, but he isn’t asked to deal with as much weight.

Will win: Mahershala Ali, who is the aforementioned co-lead of Green Book, and honestly plays mostly one note (pun intended) through most of the film’s run. He’s everywhere these days on the heels of his win in this category two years ago, and he definitely grants a sense of elegance and even humor to the role, but the film itself feels so slight to me, I just don’t see how he should actually win for this movie. This isn’t an award for overall acting ability (he’d probably win that, with Driver close behind), but for this film, which doesn’t deserve this type of recognition.

Supporting Actress:

Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

Should win: Emma Stone, because she makes all the shenanigans of The Favourite work in a way that it wouldn’t in lesser hands. Weisz has less to do, and Adams is fun in Vice, but not as supporting (yes, I’m taking this category literally). She’s due eventually, though (she’s already up to six nominations, five in this category, with no wins). Marina de Tavira really propels some of the action of Roma, though, too, in a way I wasn’t expecting as the movie began. I could go any way, but Stone is my favorite.

Will win: I haven’t seen Beale Street, but King seems to be the frontrunner here. I won’t be surprised any way this goes.

Director:

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”

Should/will win: It’s Cuaron and there’s very little competition here, other than maybe a sentimental vote for Lee. All the hats that the Roma director wears will probably help his case (and allow him to win more than one award on the night himself). Cooper not being here is confusing and probably wrong, but at least it’s McKay, who directs an interesting movie (even if you hate it) and not Farrelly for Green Book.

Animated Feature:

“Incredibles 2,” Brad Bird
“Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson
“Mirai,” Mamoru Hosoda
“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Should/Will win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a better movie than a few of the Best Picture nominees, and should walk away from this one with an easy victory, in spite of strong competition from Incredibles 2 and Isle of Dogs, both of which are also excellent. The wow factor, especially in the animation department itself, is too high for Spidey not to win.

Animated Short:

“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

Will win: “Bao,” because it was the only one I saw and I ate some bao in Chicago this summer and it was delightful.

Adapted Screenplay:

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Should win: A Star is Born mostly because it was the best of these nominated films, so far as I’m concerned. Cooper needs something to reflect the magnitude of what he accomplished, and this might be the best shot outside of a category yet to come. Sadly, I don’t feel super confident in that.

Will win: BlacKkKlansman, and I don’t really have a major problem with that. And while I haven’t seen Buster Scruggs, never count out the loved-more-expected Coen Brothers film, especially in writing categories.

Original Screenplay:

“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay

Should win: I’m going with either First Reformed (which I haven’t seen but heard great things about) or Roma here. The issue with Roma is how little dialogue there is, but if the screenplay also takes into account the narrative arc (which is should), that gives Roma a slight edge (along with my having seen it).

Will win: It makes me gag, but for some reason the D-grade racial conversation centered around Green Book has kept it around much longer than it should have, and for some reason I think this is one of the places where the film gets recognized, even if the script is  basically a mediocre Joseph Campbell/Robert McKee hybridization that never excites.

Cinematography:

“Cold War,” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique

Should/Will win: Cuaron again (although this will probably actually be his first award of the night), because of the boldness of most of his choices in terms of where the camera goes and what it chooses to show you. The hospital scene is enough for me. The plethora of foreign-made films here is really interesting, though, and might impact the category, but I think it is Cuaron’s to lose, although it should be noted that the American Society of Cinematographers gave their feature film award to Zal a few days ago (also, another First Man snub).

Best Documentary Feature:

“Free Solo,” Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” RaMell Ross
“Minding the Gap,” Bing Liu
“Of Fathers and Sons,” Talal Derki
“RBG,” Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Will win: Having seen none of these, I will guess Minding the Gap, which I’ve heard is fantastic. That or Free Solo. No idea.

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins
“End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald
“A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi

Will win: See above for explanation. “End Game” feels like a nice selection.

Best Live Action Short Film:
“Detainment,” Vincent Lambe
“Fauve,” Jeremy Comte
“Marguerite,” Marianne Farley
“Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
“Skin,” Guy Nattiv

Will win: Yet again. Let’s go “Skin,” for randomness.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)
“Cold War” (Poland)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“Roma” (Mexico)
“Shoplifters” (Japan)

Should win: So this is an interesting one. There’s a real chance that Roma walks away with not one, but two “Best Picture” awards, both the overall BP and this category. But I’m also thinking there’s a chance that those voters who give the BP nod to Cuaron’s film will also look to award someone else here and grant this category to someone else, namely…

Could win: Cold War, which is nominated in several other categories this year (there nominations in all), suggesting it has support in different sections of the Academy. If voters decide that Cuaron’s film winning in both places is too much, don’t be shocked if Pawlikowski’s film prevails here. Still think there’s a good chance Roma sweeps, though.

Film Editing:

“BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
“Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito
“The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Vice,” Hank Corwin

Should/Will win: Before we start, this is a ridiculous category. The aforementioned BoRhap and Green Book are so dull and unoriginal in their editing, it kills me that movies like Roma (because of how little it cuts, forcing you to stay with moments longer than you want) or First Man (for almost the opposite reason, creating the uncomfortable sense of claustrophobia) aren’t here. Given that, the rhythm of Vice is what propels it forward and part of what makes the film so off-kilter and interesting. So I’m going that direction here.

Sound Editing:

“Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst
“First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
“Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay

Should win: Ironically, I’d like to give a little love to the under-nominated A Quiet Place, which won Emily Blunt a Screen Actor’s Guild prize a few weeks back. Yes, much of the movie is quiet, eerily and uncomfortably so; but when the sound does kick in, it really does, and is part of what makes the movie tick. Close second to First Man, which, if you can’t tell, I’m fully prepared to beat the drum for as long as it takes for people to realize it’s spectacular filmmaking by one of our better young directors.

Will win: This feels like a Black Panther category, especially since it’s unlikely to win anywhere else and the voters will want to recognize it somewhere. I’m okay with almost anything winning here, except, well, you know by now.

Sound Mixing:

“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

Should win: I’m also perplexed when there are differences in these two categories, and while yes I realize they are different skills, it feels like they should go hand in hand. If the sound design/editing works, then so, too should the mixing. So I’m back on the First Man train for this one, because of the just insane quality of the sounds throughout.

Will win: Again, probably a Black Panther category, although I could see A Star Is Born jumping in here because of all the music to call attention to the mixing.

Production Design:

“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
“First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
“The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
“Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim
“Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez

Should/Will win: The re-creation of 1970’s Mexico in Roma is astounding, so I’m fully on board for that win, although the same could be said for First Man and The Favourite, also period pieces, which often look good in this category. Black Panther is visually interesting, but depends so much on CGI to create the look of the film, so I’m going with Roma again on this one.

Original Score:

“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

Should win: Justin Hurwitz, who for some reason isn’t here for First Man. Barring that, the Academy really seems to love Alexandre Desplat, who has won in this category twice (for last year’s The Shape of Water and 2015’s The Grand Budpest Hotel) and been nominated seven other times, not including this year, since 2007. I enjoy his style, and as far as fits, it feels the strongest of the two films I’ve seen in this category.

Will win: Again, having not seen Beale Street, I have no idea, but I’ve heard great things. Won’t be surprised to see it go any way here.

Original Song:

“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Should/Will win: I mean, I don’t think there’s much question here. This is likely the best chance for a win for A Star Is Born, and “Shallow” is a pretty great song, even if I don’t believe how it came together in the timeline of the film.

Makeup and Hair:

“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

Should/Will win: Vice doesn’t work if the make up doesn’t work. No debate there.

Costume Design:

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
“The Favourite,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne

Should/Will win: A win for Black Panther would be pretty off brand for this one, as period pieces are quite often awarded in this category. I’m going with The Favourite, since it’s likely one of the few real chances the film has to win despite double-digit nominations (inflated a little by three acting noms). It’s costumes are excellent and specific to the characters, which matters a great deal.

Visual Effects:

“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Should/Will win: Strangely, with as much love as Black Panther got (it was nominated for seven total Oscars), it doesn’t end up here. First Man would be a nice surprise here because it doesn’t really fit what the Academy most often awards here, which is massive Visual Effect spectacles, something that describes 3/5’s of the nominees here. Christopher Robin being here is interesting, too, because honestly in the trailers the talking animals didn’t look all that good. For me, although I liked Solo: A Star Wars story more than many, I thin it comes down to Infinity War and Ready Player One, and I think the Marvel train keeps a-rollin’ here, even if the degree of difficulty for RPO is much higher, since most of the movie depends on the quality of the VFX.

And so there you have it. It’s going to be an interesting show on Sunday night, what with there being no host and the Academy deciding first to slash four awards from the telecast and then last-minute change directions on that choice, but in the end the important thing is who wins and where. When the night’s over, I fully expect Cuaron’s Roma to be the biggest winner, both in terms of number of awards and having won the biggest award of the night. We’ll see soon enough.

Weekend of Music

Every so often–not nearly as often as I used to, and in some cases not as often as I’d like–I still get the chance to see live music. When I was younger and only responsible for myself, I’d go probably once a month, more during the busier periods of the summer, but for various reasons, I’ve not seen as much in recent years as I did. In some ways this is okay. It’s an expensive night out, and to be honest there are times when it just doesn’t seem worth it anymore. So there has to be some combination of the right bands, a good night, great location or something along those lines to really pique my interest. This past weekend, however, I found myself attending not one, but two shows, and it was one of the better weekends I’ve had in a while.

On Saturday night, my wife, my dad and I drove to Atlanta to see Switchfoot, Colony House and Tyson Motsenbocker at the Tabernacle. Since I moved to the Charlotte area, I’ve driven to Atlanta maybe a half a dozen or so times to see shows, the most recent being when my wife and I went to see The Classic Crime on a rare trip to the East Coast a few years back. This latest trip was a Christmas present, and along with concert tickets, my wife secured the three of us access to The Room, a VIP lounge located on one of the Tabernacle’s five levels, complete with catered hors d’oeuvre, our own bar and a private restroom, a cool perk to what was a great show at an excellent venue.

Mostenbocker opened the show with a few solo acoustic numbers. I’ve now seen him three times in the last six months, and while he’s never played for very long, he’s always earnest and entertaining. More importantly, his sets always seem to have a sense of purpose and theme to them, something I appreciate a great deal. I will say that I am bummed that he ignores his fantastic debut LP, Letters to Lost Loves, but I also understand that he might be ready to move on from those songs by now.

He was followed by Colony House, who are probably one of my favorite working bands at the moment. I’ve seen them several times over the last few years, and their debut record, 2014’s When I Was Younger, is one of my favorite albums of all time. They also kill it live, and they’ve continued to build their skills as cohesive rock band over the last several years. There’s a feeling that exudes from a band that has it that together on stage, and Colony House, led by frontman Caleb Chapman and his drummer/brother Will (along with guitarist Scott Mills and bassist Parke Cottrell) have it in spades. Their music has energy and dynamics that is unlike many other bands around these days.

Switchfoot closed things out with a fairly expansive set. Like the others, I’ve seen them several times over the years, and even in those moments where I haven’t been following the band that closely or really been enthusiastic about their most recent album, I have to say I’ve never been disappointed in the quality of their live show. Sure, there are always songs I wished they’d played or entire albums they might have ignored, but when you’re eleven albums in, that’s bound to happen; but the band always gives it their all, and I respect that. While there was some emphasis on their latest record, Native Tongue, for the most part they managed to cover most of their more recent albums going back to their breakthrough, The Beautiful Letdown, which features hits “Meant to Live” and “Dare You To Me.” But as was the case with the artists before them, the most exciting thing about the show was that you could feel that the band felt there was a bigger purpose to their being there; and that while playing a great show as important, creating a sense of unity amongst the people there, doing good for the world and spreading a message of the power of love matter most. So for all the bombast of the night, I walked away feeling that good was done in that place.

Tyson Motsenbocker
Almira
Something in the Way
Kickball (I’m guessing, I couldn’t find this song anywhere, so maybe it’s unreleased)
Dreamers
Colony House
You & I
Silhouettes
Was It Me?
Learning How to Love
2:20
Lonely
Caught Me By Surprise
Moving Forward
Waiting for My Time to Come
Wipe Out
You Know It
Switchfoot 
Let It Happen
Meant To Live
Voices
Hello Hurricane
Love Alone is Worth the Fight
Live It Well
Won’t Let You Go
Take My Fire
If the House Burns Down Tonight
Learning to Breathe
Shadow Proves the Sunshine
All I Need
Float
Native Tongue
Where I Belong
Encore:
Needle & Haystack Life
Prodigal Soul into
Dare You to Move

On Sunday night I went with a friend of mine to see Copeland headline at the Visulite Theater in Charlotte. The show was originally supposed to take place at the newly revamped Amos’ Southend, but it seems like Amos’ wasn’t quite ready, so they had to move the show a few weeks before the date. I like the Visulite, it’s a smaller, intimate venue with plenty of different places for people who want to stand (as we did, right up next to the stage) or sit at tables or the bar. I waited outside for a little bit before the doors opened, a misty rain falling down, and waited for my friend to arrive with another friend of his whom I had yet to meet. Upon their arrival, she promptly made friends with the guy standing behind me in line (who was alone and had driven up from Greenville), setting up the rest of the night.

Many Rooms began the show with a female-fronted, serene, atmospheric alternative rock sound that leaned heavily into the melancholy and quiet. The singer told us she was used to playing shows alone, and while I liked their sound, it was pretty clear the band wasn’t something she was used to, as there were several pockets in the set where the drummer had nothing to do and, to be honest, seemed a little bored. She didn’t play a lot of songs, but she was honest and thoughtful, and I appreciated the songs. I would have probably bought a record if they’d had one, but sadly they were all out.

From Indian Lakes came on next, a band who I’ve listened to sporadically for a while now, and actually own several albums from, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself a big fan of theirs. They played a great set of energetic indie rock–the lead singer joked about how fun it was being the heaviest band on a tour for once–and I recognized several of the songs from listening to the records over the years. I tried to snap a shot of their set list from my vantage point, but just as I was about to, someone reached out and grabbed it, so I don’t have a full set list for them, but I’ve included what of theirs I can ascertain from what I can see.

Copeland finished the show, playing a nice mix of songs throughout their discography, touching each of their six albums at least once. The focus was split between their most recent albums, 2014’s Ixora and Blushing, which came out just a few days before the show. As they were playing newer songs, I was watching the bass player, who was situation right in front of us, who seemed to be reacting to many people knowing the words, and I wondered about how cool it would be to be on a tour just as a new album was coming out and watching in real-time how the fans were reacting to it. Based on his face, he seemed pleased.

All in all, the weekend of music was excellent, and while they were two very different types of shows, I appreciated the intense work that went into the making of each one, be it in creating the music in the first place or figuring out how to piece the whole thing together in a live setting. I usually walk away from good live shows with two thoughts in my head: 1) I miss playing for people and 2) I should go see more live music. But then I remember it has to be the right collection of great things, and I’m thankful for times like this weekend where it all comes together.

Many Rooms (in no particular order and missing a few)
Hollow Body
99 Proof
Danielle
From Indian Lakes
Happy Machines (?)
?
Dissonance (?)
Blank Tapes
Sleeping Limbs
Am I Alive?
Awful Things
Sunlight
Bed (?, missing a word)
?
Copeland
As Above, So Alone
I Can Make You Feel Young Again
Chin Up
Have I Always Loved You
Disjointed
Lay Here
Choose the One Who Loves You More
Safer On An Airplane
Not Allowed
Should You Return
Erase
Pope
Skywriter
Coffee
You Have My Attention

10 Years at TheGathering Fort Mill

By my approximation, I’ve led worship at my church somewhere around 500 times in the last 10 years. It’s not complicated math. There are at least 52 Sundays per year (although in some instances there can be 53), and barring a few cancellations for weather or the random “spend Sunday with your family” thing, we’ve been on Centre Circle for each of those. And for a vast majority of those years, I was the sole worship leader, which meant that barring major sickness–and even through such things in many cases–I was there on Sunday. During my time as a student at Ashland University, there were two Sundays a summer where I was gone, and there were other events, like the morning after my wedding and during my honeymoon, that kept me away, along with some visits from friends who offered me reprieves from time to time, but mostly, I was there. To me, it has been an honor and a privilege to be there each of those weeks, and while I appreciated the weeks away, there was always a tinge of something missing when I was gone. In all honesty, the number probably comes to something less than 500, but it’s close, and I’m proud to have been a part of each of those, through all the highs and lows that have come throughout the last 10 years.

This is beginning to sound like I’m working up to an announcement, so let me stop the train before it hits the station: I’m not going anywhere, and barring any unexpected occurrences, I fully expect to be part of TheGathering for as long as the church continues to exist. But this Sunday we are celebrating our 10th Anniversary (although Facebook tells me that tomorrow is the actual day we launched 10 years ago), and I thought it was a good opportunity to take time to reflect on those years.

In some ways I have no idea how to really do that. I don’t remember much about that first Sunday, and photos of the day and our first years look foreign to me. The space itself looks different, all the people have gotten older or moved on to something else, and it’s crazy to me to think how little of our launch team remains 10+ years later. We’ve gone through lots of musicians over that time–although my good friend and multitalented instrumentalist David has been with me for about 9 out of the 10–and this has impacted our abilities to be flexible or multifaceted in our musical choices at various points in our history, often making it difficult to provide our ever-faithful group of players chances to just attend the gathering without having something to do. I can’t really express how vital their faithfulness has been to making my life a little bit easier, even though I often feel guilty for using them up as much as I can. I’ll miss someone if I start naming names, outside of our current crew of Lisa, Tony, Dale and Aaron, but I am thankful for all of you, no matter how long you were part of our little band.

TheGathering has never been a large church, and I’ll admit that sometimes that’s been hard to look around and see all these churches around us growing at astronomical rates, being financially stable and beyond and really appealing to large swaths of people. Sometimes I wonder why God chose them and not us; sometimes I’ve blamed myself, as if there is something inefficient in me that has somehow reflected negatively on the church as a whole. Then I look back and I see how far we’ve come. Most church plants flame out within the first couple of years, but for some reason God has seen fit to keep providing for us and enabling us to stay around. It’s not because we’re reaching masses or because we have eight locations meeting twenty-five times on Sunday morning, but I choose to believe it’s because we’re still doing good and faithful work for those who we have reached and impacted. People go to large churches, in part, because it’s easier to disappear there, but also because they tend to have resources to do more outside ministries or because those types of churches appeal to them for myriad other reasons–I’m not here to cast any judgement on anyone for that choice. But I can say that God must be enabling us to do something right, otherwise He would have removed us from the landscape long ago.

I have no idea what’s next for TheGathering Fort Mill. The church we planted out of has been gone for several years now, and while we maintain a small but faithful core group, we’ve not seen major growth in many years. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but it is to realize that I don’t know. My prayer is that we’ve done what we’re meant to do, and that if we’re looking back 10 years from now on 20 years as a church we can see what God has done to guide us there; or if we’re looking back on a church that ran its course, we’ll know that we’ve run it well. In the end, I think that’s all we can judge our church on.

Join us for our 10th Anniversary service on Sunday February 3 at 3545 Centre Circle, Suite B in Fort Mill. We’d be happy to have you.

Recapping 2018

Goodness me, 2019 is here, and it feels like it came swiftly, hence the delay in getting some final thoughts together for the end of last year. The holidays went off mostly without a hitch, although my threshold for human interaction did hit me right in between Christmas and New Year’s, and there was a mild attempt on my part to disappear for a little while. I also learned why I shouldn’t consume too many Trenta, quad shot iced coffees in my life, as they can lead to my brain literally going haywire in the middle of a shopping trip to IKEA and causing a little bit of a nervous breakdown in the middle of the furniture bins. All in all, however, I’d say that I more than survived the holiday season of 2018 and smoothly transitioned into 2019, planting myself more or less unscathed back at work and ready to take on a new semester.

As I’ve mentioned here several times before, that move back into “normalcy” is a strange one in my house. Everyone just about starts to get used to not have to go anywhere everyday and that’s about the time the break is over and it’s time to go back to work. Add to that the fact that there are no breaks on the horizon for neither E nor myself (we both pretty much have school from here until Spring Break, which falls in between Palm Sunday and Easter this year, a cool 13 or so weeks away), and you’ve got a potential recipe for disaster. But I’m proud to say we’ve gotten back into the swing of things rather well, a bit of a first for us, and I’d like to think that feeling settled into the new house and it really beginning to feel familiar and like home is helping, or at least it is for me. There’s still work to be done, and I get this constant feeling that we always have something we could be doing, but overall, things are feeling content for the first time in a while.

I will say, however, that all the happenings of this year–and really of our life–don’t allow as much time for media consumption as I’d like, especially in terms of time to take in as many movies as I have in recent years. We watch the Golden Globes on Sunday, and I really didn’t have much to say about much of the field due to my not having seen as many of the nominees as I usually do. There just isn’t enough time in the day. I should figure out a way to get the studios to send me Academy screeners. That would help a bunch.

All that said, I’ve done a fair amount of listening to things (169 albums this year with at least one listen all the way through, and countless podcast episodes), as a good amount of time in the car coupled with lots of hours in my office has granted me the opportunity to take in a lot of good stuff. One thing I’ve not done nearly as much of this year is reading books, however–partially because I spend a lot of my work time reading student papers and other writing–so I think I want to make that a bigger priority this year, even if it means doing more of that over the summer. Anyway, as a means of recapping 2018, I’ll leave you with my top albums, movies, podcasts and some good things I read, and wrap it up with some things I hope to accomplish in 2019. Happy new year!

TOP 5 ALBUMS of 2018

  1. mewithoutYou – [Untitled]
  2. Dearest – Sonder
  3. Household – Everything A River Should Be
  4. Emery – Eve
  5. Foxing – Nearer My God

The rest, in no particular order:

Mae – Multisensory Aesthetic Experience

Thrice – Palms

Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today

Wild Pink – Yolk in the Fur

Crowder – I Know A Ghost

Justin Hurwitz – First Man OST

Basement – Beside Myself

Author – lifoiic

Underoath – Erase Me

Cory Asbury – Reckless Love

Pianos Become the Teeth – Wait for Love

Weathered – Stranger Here

It Looks Sad. – Sky Lake

Biggest disappointments in music: Dashboard Confessional – Crooked Shadows; Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino; Saves the Day – 9

TOP 10 FILMS of 2018

Like I said, seeing new movies was harder this year than it has been. My total this year was less than 25, so narrowing this down wasn’t as difficult as it has been in recent years. I’ve also included my “need to see” list so you can see just how much this list could have changed.

  1. First Man
  2. A Quiet Place
  3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  4. Avengers: Infinity War
  5. A Star is Born
  6. Annihilation
  7. Incredibles 2
  8. Isle of Dogs
  9. Vice
  10. Black Panther

Definitely not the best picture of 2018 (drama, musical, comedy or otherwise): Bohemian Rhapsody

Other things I liked: Ocean’s 8, Ready Player One, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Venom

Disappointing or just plain no good: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Deadpool 2, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (Middle movie goes nowhere syndrome), and the aforementioned Bohemian Rhapsody

Everything else (or movies I saw because I live with a 4-year old): Peter Rabbit, The Grinch and Solo: A Star Wars Story (which I’m still unsure about, but think I like more than most)

Finally, a long list of movies I didn’t see but wanted to (and may still yet): Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Death of Stalin, You Were Never Really Here, Tully, Leave No Trace, Eighth Grade, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Christopher Robin, BlacKkKlansman, First Reformed, Wildlife, Widows, Roma, The Favourite, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Mule, If Beale Street Could Talk, Mary Poppins Returns, Welcome to Marwen

TOP 5 PODCASTS of 2018

  1. Happy Rant Podcast
  2. Labeled: The Stories, Rumors and Legends of Tooth & Nail Records
  3. Niners Nation Better Rivals Podcast
  4. The Ringer NFL Show
  5. School of Science Radio

TOP THINGS I READ IN 2018

(Note: Obviously little of this was new in 2018, but it’s simply what I read this year)

  1. Feverland – Alex Lemon
  2. The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse – Tom Verducci
  3. Basketball (And Other Things) – Shea Serrano
  4. Authority – Jeff Vandermeer
  5. Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix
  6. Acceptance – Jeff Vandermeer
  7. The Dark Tower series, books 1-4 – Stephen King

TOP THINGS I WANT TO ACCOMPLISH/DO MORE OF IN 2019

(Just don’t call them resolutions)

  1. Finish this pesky manuscript I’ve been working on for well over a year and a half now.
  2. Stick to my read the Bible in 365 days plan (I’m already 7 days behind because I thought of it too late!).
  3. Commit to a 3-day-a-week exercise plan and make better overall health choices.
  4. Having said that, ironically I want to brew at least one beer per quarter/season.
  5. Golf with some frequency (quarterly, at least, I’d say).
  6. Record some music, possible an entire new album.
  7. Write more on the blog, but also produce more material like more poems and maybe even some stories and essays.
  8. Remember it’s okay to make time to do things I love to do, and that doing those things doesn’t always mean I’m selfish or not giving my family what they need. So I can see more movies, go to shows and take time to accomplish these goals; in the end, this time can mean I’m taking care of myself, which can be better for everyone.

Closing Time

This is the time of year where I feel a cool rush of air across my face, and it isn’t just the blustery winds of late fall in the Carolinas, but that recognition that the fall semester at South Piedmont Community College is nearing its close. Sure, the days leading up to the last day can be as stressful as any days at work can be, what with all the papers (digitally) piling up, all the boxes to check and hoops to jump through before I’m officially free. But the reality is that once I get where I am right at this moment–where all the papers are graded–the calm sets in and I realize just how close to vacation I really am.

I’m a big fan of this time, even as the holidays threaten to complicate those feelings (something I’ve written about extensively before this), mostly because of the extended opportunity to reconsider my life, a statement which sounds grander than it actually is. As an educator, reassessment is a vital element of what I do on an almost daily basis. I give a lecture, I immediately have to consider how it went (or sometimes how it’s going) and what I can do next time to make it better. Same for every assignment I give, as I am expected to be sure that the expectations match what the students actually get out of what they’re doing in my classes. Evaluation, then, is part and parcel of what I do for a living. It’s only natural that it would seep its way into other elements of my life.

And so the week or so between the end of the fall semester and when Christmas truly begins in earnest tend to be bizarre reassessment rituals, usually dressed up as doing very little. I know. That’s super strange, but step one is honestly just to allow myself not to think about it. That’s step one, but it’s also vital; it’s decompression.

To be sure, life continues during those weeks, and in some ways it’s unfortunate that the best opportunity to relax and refresh comes during one of the wildest, categorically least calm periods of the calendar, but each year, especially over the last three, I’d like to think I’m getting a little better at handling the whirlwind. That’s the point, really, to keep reconsidering and reassessing until I’ve got it down, even if it’s one of those skills I’m likely never to quite get right.