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Wednesday
May212014

My Beautiful Birthdays

I turned 32 yesterday and, as always, the weather was perfect. Listen: you may be a wonderful person, but you most likely do not have the joy of experiencing a birthday on May 20, when the world opens up and blooms. Even Seattle yawns and stretches, shaking out its long hair, smiling big and bright. It's not your fault, some of us are just born lucky.

I take birthdays very seriously and definitely do them right. This mostly involves enjoying the predictably incredible weather with drinks, books and company. I have sought out the best patios this town has to offer and made the most of the nonsense fantasy book I am currently reading.

Here is one of the only pictures I have ever taken of food:

I have lived in Seattle a little over a year and so much has changed since I turned 31. Like last year, I spent the evening with a lovely date. However this year, I had two or three people to invite along. Everyone canceled except my date, but I DID have people to invite. The victory stands.

Without living near so many people I dearly love, Facebook has offered an unlikely source of actual sentimentality. Sure, it makes it easy for people, poking them in the ribs and saying, "Hey, remember that jerk who split the midwest, taking his handsome face and creative genius along for the ride? Well, it's his dumb birthday!" Still, the few seconds people take to write a few words strike a chord with this out of tune contraption. And then some beautiful people surprise you with old photographs you never knew existed, pointing out all the ways you formerly experimented with facial hair.

Karaoke exists for birthdays. Nothing is more selfish and isolating than karaoke. The best you can do is at least find a place that offers rooms to rent so you can exhibit your shameless whines and howls away from the sensitive eyes of others. After an incredible meal at Seattle's best Indian restaurant, I dragged my date to such a room. Everything was covered in plastic, the lighting resembled a failing brothel and the song list was extensive.

31 was kind of a low key year as I filled up the mold I had cast at age 30. I have since found cracks and imperfections in that figure, some larger than others. I was often uncomfortable in my 31-year-old skin as I shrugged around and tried to force pieces into place. In this terribly large-numbered 32nd year, I'd like to fiddle around with that bent casting and see how much I can easily mend and where I need to take more drastic risks.

I needed last year's calm and I just may also need the excitement of a new age.

If none of this interested you, I'd still like to give you this picture of my dumb cat.

Have a lovely night.

Sunday
May112014

Running ragged: a marathon's underbelly 

 

Great. Now I need to buy new ones.

I ran the Vancouver marathon last week and you need to understand all the downsides of such a heroic feat.
 
Let's get the bragging out of the way first. I ran a 3:38 marathon, beating my secret goal of 3:45 and crushing my announced goal of an under 4-hour marathon. It was my second 26.2-miler and it utterly decimated my first time.
I trained for 18 weeks, lost some weight and felt great every day.
Unfortunately, my accomplishment comes at a great cost.
 
"How many miles is that, again?"
When I trained for my first marathon, I kept it a secret through most of the weeks, wanting to ensure that I didn't set myself up for failure. I should have realized then what became completely clear as I spent last December through May running around rainy Seattle: No one cares. 
Preparing for something such as this sets up a bit of a dilemma. You spend almost every day training in some way, yet no one really wants to hear about it. And after the thing is done, I find myself wanting to talk about it even more. Yet, people seem even less inclined to hear my riveting tales such as the woman with the wide swinging elbows who hovered around me from mile 11 to 17 or the enthusiast teenager who kept shouting "Hello" to pedestrians on the trail of the race. 
I worry that I sound pretentious and overbearing in my excitement, although that will never stop me. But I imagine a larger disconnect exists. Saying that you ran 26 miles means nothing to most. It's like anything else. You train to ease your body into this position to be able to handle a specific situation and others who don't, can't capably imagine it.
And seriously, why should anyone care? It's an utterly arbitrary, arguably useless achievement. When would this really come in handy? If a maniac is chasing me, I could soundly beat them. So long as they agree to chase me at a brisk 8 minute per mile pace. 
 
 
These are pictures I meant to take.
All I got was this lousy t-shirt
I spent so much money. So much, so much money. With late registration, an airbnb stay and a trip to Canada, the whole excursion cost me around $500. That's not even including the expensive hobby with its $30 hats, $150 shoes and $12 pairs of socks.
I actually really love the free shirt they gave. But all it does it spurn me on to wearing it and running more.
I had a lovely time at the rented out apartment, yet I spent most of the time preparing for and resting from the ordeal. The whole weekend felt like paying to act like an elderly person, with a break where you get to pay to act like a super hero with a very specific and limited super power. 
 
What is Brunch? 
Most training programs call for the big, long runs of the week to happen on Sunday. From 8 miles in the beginning to my accidental 23 miles at the peak, those runs dominated my time and consideration of the day when even the almighty says to take it easy. 
Look. I have to work two jobs in order to try to establish a career and to afford living in this beautiful place. Sundays are the one day off I have most weeks. Unfortunately, I want to make a nuisance of myself to those around me, so every Sunday is spent running and recovering. 
I've lived in Seattle over a year now. While I have run two marathons in that time, I have never been to a single brunch. Through snatching whispers and deciphering secret code, I'm made to understand that many places exist here to those worthy of some alchemist's melding of breakfast and lunch. From the little I know, it heals the lame and restores countenance. 
Sorry guys, I can't. I'm too busy thinking about how I've got to run places, running and then think about where I ran. 
 
These are pictures I did not mean to take, because of insane tiredness
Metabolism, my eternal foe
When I turned 27, my metabolism revolted. Though I forewent desserts, soft drinks and fast food, my metabolism wanted more. I am still unraveling how to balance my diet with the ruthless monster that aims to turn every calorie into a enemy, though running seems to help. 
Towards the last half of training, when I run between 40 to 50 miles a week, I finally am in control. I ride the metabolism like the angel of death or like Falcor. My empty vessel craves what the world has and I demand my Metabolism turn it into more energy to crave even more. My trident spears donuts, my stately beard is full of Doritos crumbs and my crown sits lightly on a brow stained with chocolate fingerprints. 
However, now that I ran the dumb thing, I cannot turn off the faucet. The hunger remains, but I am not expending the energy. The cup, she runneth over. The weight, she comes.
In my dreams, I hear my metabolism howling with victorious laughter.
 
Yeah, there are all the good things, but from my experience, no one wants to hear about them.
So if you were one of the many people annoyed at my constant, chipper talk of running a marathon, now you can rest, knowing my life is far worse than yours. 
I will run my next marathon in September. 

 

Thursday
Jan302014

On expensive socks...

I spent $14 on a single pair of socks yesterday.

While I do not skimp on dates with pretty girls and the like, I resist spending unnecessary money on myself. I taught myself to cook to save on meals, I only buy generic brands and you better believe I put water in an empty shampoo bottle to get a little more life out of it. So, what would justify such expensive socks?

Shamefully, I am slowly becoming a runner.

You know what I mean, one of THOSE runners. I’m becoming one of those runners who wear nothing but reflective gear, weird fabric sleeves on their arms and legs, obnoxious sunglasses and ostentatious shoes.

I have long loved running and have regularly engaged in it for the past decade. As my metabolism begins to wage war against my waistline, I have used running as a primary defense. Like a calorie cavalry…

However, I still would never have spent $14 on two thin slabs of fabric attached to my feet.

Last year, on the whim of a particularly strong run and a whispered New Year’s resolution, I ran my first marathon. Like an idiot, a crazy idiot, I ran 26 miles without stopping. Training for only eight weeks, I finished the sucker and haven’t shut up about it since.

As time passed and my running schedule grew ever sporadic, I felt an urge to do an insane thing and I decided to try my hand at another foolish feat of fleet-footedness. So, I’m currently in week five of training for the May 4 Vancouver Marathon.

It turned out that I didn’t hunger for another free T-shirt and more professional pictures of my accomplishment that I can’t afford. Rather, I grew nostalgic about how I physically felt during the training. With a set schedule for when I would run and how far, it ensured that I would get more than enough exercise and feel way less guilt about eating pizza.

More than anything, everything feels great. From my mind to my body, getting so exhausted can only mean good things to relax my busy self. It helps everything make more sense and will hopefully aid me in aging gracefully.

However, as I feel more compelled to do this, I want to train more responsibly and optimize each run. I was extremely proud of finishing the first marathon. Unfortunately, I am nothing without challenges. I finished one, but how can I do better? This is my personality and most of what makes me insufferable for long periods of time.

I’ve begun worrying about pace speed, shoe-life and how many calories to eat while I venture out on anything over 12 miles. Instead of just doing the thing, which I focused on last year, I want to do the dumb thing well.

And with that decision to optimize this increasingly important exercise comes very stupid corollaries. Like spending $14 on socks.

Of course, you should assume I can only do this through the gift of bachelorhood and the curse of being without a family. After you turn 30, it seems your Facebook page becomes full of either baby pictures or bragging about running marathons. At least I picked the least expensive choice.

 

Originally published in The Issaquah Press

Wednesday
Dec042013

In Defense of Year-End Top 10 Lists

Anyone brave enough to follow me on Twitter knows this time of year finds me constantly linking to Top 10 lists and weeping over my gratitude for them. 
Conversely, this time of year also seems the time when many writers of these lists huff and puff about creating them or detractors cry foul on 'lazy editors'. 
I want to say the following to you lucky few who drown in the best books, movies, television and movies: you are performing a cultural service and you should be damn pleased with yourself. 
Especially since I started moving all over the country, where friends are hard to find and time passes slower than a Hulu commercial, I have needed a strong connection to popular culture. I get lonely. Keeping up with modern books, movies, music and television allows me to be a part of a national/global conversation even if no one asks for my opinion. If it sounds sad, then well, it's probably sad. I choose to think of the onslaught of media as the exciting rush of new information, a tool to learn better story telling and sampling data for a cultural timeline. 
If I want to get personal about it (and YOU KNOW I want to get personal about it) some part of this fixation comes from my dad's utter refusal to accept new anything. I love the man, but he still refuses to listen to any song made after 1979. He will only see a movie if it guarantees breasts. And he mostly spends his time rereading all the books he's read for decades. As a child I always found it pretty sad. So, in some weird vow to never become that or to revolt against his comfort level, I have  turned into this fiend who devours new things and writes his daddy issues in a post about Top 10 lists. Hurray! 
I keep vigilant, but as the old saying goes, "Don't be stupid." All my podcasts, review trolling and Twitter will never show me everything that might make life complete. All the McSweeney's, NYT book review and Netflix can only show me so much. My pirating search filters get clogged. My Spotify gets spotty. My SEO gets SOL.
In come the annual Top 10 lists. 
Sure, they don't catch everything as many good things slip through small cracks. Still, the lists serve as an excellent way to see what I have missed in the previous year, gauge how my opinions stack up with those I respect and plan the next three or four cold winter months. 
Culture writers, you give me a gift in these. Let my words stand as the voice of all struggling journalists with big dreams and bad friend-making skills who moved too far away from home. Let them stand while I say, "Thank you."
I understand the hollow act of listing, writers. It seems unconscionable and almost sleazy to arbitrate some point system that ranks one piece of art over another. I get it. I hate star ratings and number scores and everything, too. I like puppies and think more money should be spend on education as well. We have a happy life together full of agreement. We love kale. We hate this season of Homeland.
However, this is the holiday season and you should treat it as such, writers. Don't get bogged down in the minutia of what goes where and what is left out. Take a page from many of the greats who choose to list only a top five or as many as a top 25, however many they feel the year demands. Take a tip from these who flat out say the numbers mean nothing and one piece does lift above others. Have fun. You enjoy this job, presumably, and you get to list what you enjoyed most while working the job you enjoy. Do it for posterity. Do it to swab the cheek of civilization. Do it for me. 
Tuesday
Dec032013

Movie Review: Nebraska

At this point, I haven't lived in the Midwest for a year and a half. This has led to a wealth of emotions. While peppered with nostalgia, I have mostly felt a sad relief that I find hard to describe. Alexander Payne's newest movie Nebraska comes pretty close to expressing it.
The movie stars longtime character actor Bruce Dern, who most people recognize from his apparently illustrious career and I recognize as the military guy from the Tom Hanks classic The 'Burbs. Dern is an old, confused man who believes a mailed marketing blitz will guarantee him a promised million dollars. Will Forte, who I have long loved from his voice work on Clone High to his years on SNL, plays Dern's son who agrees to drive the old man to Nebraska. He knows the scam is a scam, but hopes for a chance to bond with a distant father and a chance to get away from seemingly stagnant Billings, Montana. 
I didn't last a year in Lakeview, Oregon. It was my first newspaper job in a minuscule town of 2,500, where once five sawmills dominated the landscape and only one survives employing limited-time workers. For the most part, the people were earnest and had a pure vision of their purpose in life. Through circumstance, culture, history or economics, that vision has left them in a limited position with small chance to propagate the lifestyle for many more generations. This circular, depleting corner of civilization could very well evolve, finding  a new way to survive well into the future. However, that process  was only on its first legs when I spent 10 months living there. 
I did not love Nebraska, but I did like it a lot. As Forte carts Dern back to the old homestead in Nebraska, the story makes interesting turns only to unwind in a very conventional way. Still, moments exploring the quiet, aging, middle American lifestyle sing of days past, dreams lost and a left behind culture. 
While I never saw The Descendants for some reason, I rather enjoyed About Schmidt, Sideways and especially Election. While Payne's previous works do slant a bit too cynical for my taste, here's the rub, I found Nebraska overly sentimental. It did not insult with its kindness, but it did stretch believability for the sake of audience appreciation. 
I saw Nebraska in a loud theater of upper middle class 50-something couples full of Thanksgiving leftovers and still drunk from Black Friday shopping. The movie's biggest problem is that it was overly designed to appeal to that crowd. Just below its surface lies an personal, real story of a son's search for his father and his fathers search for meaning. Unfortunately, the screenwriter held that story captive in exchange for a focus on entertainment. This left the movie diluted. Really good. Not great. 
Nebraska the movie succeeds most at portraying Nebraska the state. Shot in a stark black and white, the film crafts the culture not as a setting, but as a character all its own. It is integral to the story and Payne does an amazing job transcribing that to the audience. Dern and Forte make the movie by respecting that surrounding. To understand the story, to understand the many characters, to understand the wish of a million dollars and the need to support a father to see its end, Payne knows you need to understand Nebraska.