Category Archives: navel-gazing

Andy Cirzan sent me his yulemix!

Cirzan-2012-front-coverI’m so honored and excited I’m sweating. Yes, it’s 70 degrees and muggy here in DC this December 4th, but it isn’t the climate that has me — svichting? Swatching? Whatever. It’s the fact that Andy Cirzan, my yulemix-making senpai, sent me his 2012 Christmas mix CD.

When it comes to holiday mixtapes, I am a mere padawan to Cirzan’s wizened Jedi master, dispensing ancient wisdom via oddly structured sentences he splashes around the swamps of Degobah. (He’s from Chicago, actually.) As you may recall if you happened to read my recent Washington Post essay about my yulemix, the seventh installment of which shall drop forthwith, Cirzan has been issuing compilations of obscure and often inexplicable seasonal gems for more than 20 years. Continue reading

A . . . Masterpiece!

One of the things I lament about the steep drop-off in newspaper movie ads — aside from the obvious, which is that it’s hurt newspapers I’d like to see survive — is that we’re not seeing as many ads wherein studio publicists dig deep to find reliably nearsighted pseudo-critics whose endorsements of shit like Old Dogs or the punctuation-offending Law Abiding Citizen they can quote. I always wondered if the people putting these ads together actually believed that anyone inclined to plan their weekend around a screening of Leap Year cares what film critics have to say.

I like it even better when publicists take real critics’ words completely out of context. I’ve been pull-quoted myself once or twice, but wouldn’t you know it, my meaning has always been preserved intact.

Publicists practice context-ignoring pull-quotery all the time, I know. But to me, at least, it never fails to amuse. Continue reading

Unlisted.

I’m not much of a list guy. Because it’s universally agreed we’ve just closed out a year, and somewhat more controversially posited that we have in fact, cut the lights and bolted the door on an an entire decade, critics both pro and semi- have been gunking up the interwebs with their lists of the year and decade’s best movies, albums, songs, whatever.

I get it. People read these. Moreover, unless one takes the list-making enterprise to an absurd extreme, lists are the easiest things in the world to write. The biggest problem of writing — structure — is already solved for you.

I tend to react more strongly, to movies, plays, albums, and concerts than most people I know. (Yes, I read, but I seldom get around to books in the year they’re published). But to the list-making, I am resistant. Maybe if I’d made a few more lists I’d have got myself somewhere in life by now. But that’s all spilled milk under the bridge. Continue reading

Best. Concert. Ever. (Wherein, Upon Seeing Bruce Springsteen Perform for the 14th Time, I Surrender to Hyperbole)

By Thursday morning last week, I had made up my mind to give the show Bruce Springsteen played in Baltimore on Friday night a pass. My attempts to procure a ticket through honorable means had failed. The aftermarket bidding for general admission tickets to the arena floor, where my friends would be, had inflated beyond my rationally justifiable price range. I’d already seen the great man perform with the E Street Band twice in 2009; five times in the last 24 months. That’s enough Boss, surely.

Even before I was a semi-pro critic, I was skeptical of superlatives. To me, they always reduced criticism to mere marketing. I don’t even like the year-end lists nearly every professional critic is compelled to compile. So that’s why, after returning home in the small hours of Saturday morning having experienced a concert that left me elated like no rock show has in years, I hedged. “One of the three or five best gigs I’ve ever seen,” I wrote in a excited Facebook post before going to bed.

But after chewing the matter over in the cold, clear light of a couple of days, I’m prepared to go all in: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show in Baltimore since 1973 was the best concert I have ever attended, by The Boss or anyone else. Continue reading

Before I Lose the Minutiae

NEA Fellows in Los Angeles, April 24, 2009

Aw, Hell, it’s already gone.

It’s been six days since my NEA Fellowship wrapped up in Los Angeles with ace program director Sasha Anawalt dancing to U2’s “Beautiful Day” (twice) while making her closing remarks to me and my 22 new best friends from media outlets around the country. The program was a 11-day motion blur spent talking about the nature and purpose of Art, and criticism, with journalists and theatre artists; of sobering reports of arts journalists (including many of the ones in the room) losing their jobs; of experiencing theatre; of being schooled in writing, but also in dancing and acting; of critiquing each other’s written work; of being isolated in a fancy hotel together; eating together; being bussed everywhere together; and of drinking together every night, accumulated sleep-dep and looming deadlines be damned.

Continue reading

“Under Lincoln’s Unblinking Eyes”: We Are One

2009_0118weareone08

U2 perform “Pride (In the Name of Love” at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday.  Photo by Martin Locraft.

Yeah, words largely fail me these last few days here in Our Nation’s Capitol.  Or more truthfully, my will to sit at home trying to think of the right words has failed me, because there’s been too much to do, see, and experience.

I covered the big We Are One all-star concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday for DCist.    But after watching our new president take the oath of office yesterday  (albeit via  Jumbotron), down on the National Mall with one to two million of my closest fellow citizens, that seems like no big deal now. 

Read all about it anyway!

Everything I Need to Know About Economics I Learned from Oscar-winning Screenwriter William Goldman, or Sober Insight into the Financial Crisis (No.)

So I looked at my checking account balance this morning and saw something new and unwelcome: red numbers. Scary. But also wrong — right?
I’ve managed to keep a positive balance in my checking account since I finished college. (The fact that I’m actually sort of proud of this fact probably tells you everything about my comfort level managing money as well as my own assessment of my long-term employability.) On the 15th and 30th of every month, my wages are deposited automatically into my account with wonderful, convenient, benign digital efficiency. On the first of every month, my mortgage payment is withdrawn automatically from my account with cold, brutal, relentless digital efficiency. Except that for a few hours this morning, it was looking like the mortgage had come out without the paycheck going in. And so: Red numbers! Panic in the markets!

Admittedly, I know roughly as much about economics as Sarah Palin does about foreign policy. But everything I’m reading and hearing about the current financial crisis says that the problem is essentially that lenders have stopped lending. They’ve lost faith in the systems they rely on to tell them who is solvent and who is broke, and so they’re afraid to loan money even to companies that until recently were universally regarded as good credit risks. Companies, even stable, well-run, reputable companies, borrow money every day to cover their operating costs — including payroll. I’ve heard several journalists who specialize in all this crazy voodoo say that the “crisis” that for the moment is still an abstraction to most Americans (as evidenced by their refusal to back the bailout) is going to become smack-in-the-face real when employers can’t borrow the cash they need on payday.

So when I looked at my bank balance this morning and saw that the end-of-the-month deposit that until today could claim a perfect attendance record just wasn’t there, I figured the crisis had just hit home for me.

I called my employer’s Human Resources department, which assured me I’d been paid. Then I called my bank. After about five minutes on hold, I reached a customer service guy and explained my predicament. “I’ll try to find what’s going on,” he told me, and back on hold I went for a few more tense moments, until I heard the phone ring again and found myself connected to another customer service agent, a woman this time. Naturally, she knew none of what I’d just explained to the other guy. As I was repeating my story to her, I saw my paycheck suddenly appear in my account. The red numbers preceded by a minus-sign were gone, replaced by a positive sum. Not a big one, mind you, but one presented in a font of reassuring black.

“Unfotunately, we’ve been experiencing some processing delays,” the agent told me, her voice oozing professional empathy.

This before coffee.

When I bought my first home two years ago, my tenuous-at-best grasp of the fundamental workings of real estate, mortgages, interest rates, and all that drove me nuts. I’m embarassed to admit that I was relieved to settle into the groove of simply paying the mortgage every month, which while burdensome, was still preferable to having to think about it. I just don’t understand money, I lamented, cursing myself as unworthy of the wealth-creating, innovation-rewarding, capitalist utopia in which I was privileged to live.

In recent weeks, as bank failures and other portents of fiscal doom have proliferated, what keeps flashing through my head is William Goldman’s maxim from Adventures in the Screen Trade: Nobody knows anything.

I wish that revelation made me feel better. I really do.