Moving

I’m moving into a new apartment soon. It’s not so far from where I live now, but in a neighborhood with more amenities, and it’s slightly better connected via public transport, too. It’s up A LOT of stairs, but that should be good for my growing waistline. All in all, I guess it’s not so bad, and for anyone who has moved as much as I have, it’s really no problem at all. Still the act of actually packing all of one’s stuff, transporting it, unpacking it, etc., well, it’s just all so banal! Yet, I do like to keep busy, to have the next thing already lined up, and I’m a big fan of change. Sometimes, even small changes can be the catalysts we need to jump-start a new phase or period of life, and without putting too much emphasis on this move and its ramifications for my life-path, I’m slightly hopeful that this newness will break up the stale and sedentary aspects of everyday life that I sometimes can’t see my way out of. Change is good, at least it always has been for me.

“Things which do not grow and change are dead things.”

– Louise Erdrich

Turns out, besides being a brilliant writer and national treasure, Louise Erdrich is a sage! There’s nothing about that which I can find objectionable. What I like about her books is not only do they largely focus on the Native American experience, but they always feature some kind of drastic metamorphosis. Now, I’m not talking about Gregor Samsa level mutation or anything, but changes that nonetheless alter the worlds of those whom she writes about. Indeed, the interplay between nature, human subjects, non-human animal subjects, and the world of the unseen, is so tangible in her books, that the transition from one of those states to the next is nearly effortless for the reader to accept. Change is Erdrich’s way to not only push the story along, but to push the reader along with it. She knows that life is a constant state of flux and that this unsettledness, the constant state, can alter the outcome of a life and be used as motivation.

Like I said, I’m not expecting that this new apartment will upturn my whole life, offer a radically alternate worldview, or anything of that sort, but I am already experiencing little earthquakes, which foretell the seismic shift to come. Just going through all of my belongings and deciding which to transport and which to chuck away has become an almost meditative practice…albeit a difficult one. It presents multifaceted challenges particularly in the case of books; Which to keep? Which to give away? Will anyone even be interested in reading that anyway? Just keep it… You’re the only one who will appreciate it… No! Just get rid of it! You can’t just get rid of it…it’s a book! I keep reminding myself that to grow and change also entails letting things go, even beloved things like books, that if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I know I likely won’t ever read again. Of course there are diehard favorites that I could never imagine life without, and they will be accompanying me to whichever corner of the world I roam. Some things really never do change…well, almost.

“Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful!”

– Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

Throughout my life, moving has been a pretty constant theme. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and yet we didn’t. Since leaving home, many of my life experiences have been direct results of moving to a new city, meeting new people (many of whom remain great friends to this day), and exploring a new place with people in the same or similar situation. Being an expat, one can’t afford to be afraid of new places. For those who have moved to a new country, learned a new language, and made a new life in another place, there is little time for fear. We all know that if one overthinks these kinds of things, they tend to be paralyzing, so I say it is best to have no fear, to push any anxieties to the side, and to brace oneself for the shifting of plates. I’ve always been apprehensive about visiting Japan, Indonesia, even the West Coast of the USA, due to an unfounded trepidation surrounding earthquakes, never understanding how the people there can manage to get a single night’s sleep. Now, I realize that just like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, they are uniquely created beings, foundried inhabitants of places on the globe that are bound to change, shift, and shake. They are unafraid and therefore powerful. And when their world is turned on its head, they rebuild and get on with life.

That’s just what I’m going to do. In a new apartment. With fewer books. Wish me luck.

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Shut Up and Listen!

Who doesn’t love a good portmanteau? One of my favorites was coined by Ben Hammersley of the BBC in 2004 – podcast. I’m pretty sure that I was quite late to the whole podcast explosion, but for the last two and a half years or so, I’ve been a fairly diehard fan. They’re great to listen to at the supermarket, on the subway, on airplanes, at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. Sure, they constitute one more digital affront to interpersonal communication on a human level, but really, that’s probably why I like them so much. Sometimes, I don’t want to be approached on the street (I’m looking at you Greenpeace!), or any of the other public places where people feel it’s appropriate to talk to strangers (didn’t you people have parents who taught you better?). Sometimes, I just want to get from point A to point B without having to talk to anyone and earbuds are a perfect signal to the world that I’m not available for giving directions, saving the whales, or any other form of verbal interaction. So, this all makes for great spawning ground for the devouring of podcasts, and nowadays, my commute to work feels languid and lacking without someone talking about something I never knew I needed to know about directly into my ears. In this entry, I’m going to share some of my favorite podcasts at the moment, and I hope that you’ll share some of your favorites with me in the comments section.

In the number one spot comes the lecture series offered by the Art Institute of Chicago aptly named, Art Institute of Chicago Lectures. To be perfectly honest, this may be a bit of a niche podcast, but as I’m a full-fledged art geek and I happen to live far from Chicago at the moment, this hits the spot in the most perfect way. I used to live in Chicago and attended lectures at the Art Institute on occasion, I always found them to be both informative and approachable. Sometimes people can be a bit put off by the art world and its seemingly unintelligible langue and impenetrable mystique of pretentious cool, but I have always found the lectures series by the AIC very welcoming and inclusive. This podcast is really nothing special, as it is a literal audio recording of the on-site lecture series, but it does what is intended and for those who are nowhere near the treasure trove that is the AIC, it’s a whole new and non-threatening way to learn about art from one of the world’s premier institutions. Of course there are other cultural institutions that offer the same kind of thing, but there’s something about the midwestern, pared down style of this podcast that really satisfies. If you’re an art geek, you really should be listening to the more than 11 years worth of lectures available here!

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Next, I’m not really a horror junky. I scare pretty easily, and don’t find anything invigorating about being frightened at all. Needless to say, unless something is pretty exceptional, I’m probably not going to like it if the content is scary. Lore, the brainchild of Aaron Mahnke, is terrifying not because of gory and bloody imagery, but more so because all of the stories told on this podcast are true, real life, mysterious, and spooky facts! Mahnke’s voice is smooth and consistent and he never puts on haunted mansion voices to make the content chilling, but knowing that what he’s saying is the truth, and that these things really happened…is beyond petrifying. And, I’m not the only one who thinks so, this crafty storyteller is in talks to bring Lore to the small screen, and there’s a book series out, too! He’s even doing a national tour of the USA telling these too hair-raising to be true tales. A big congratulations to this podcast and to the narrator himself! This one is really a gem and I encourage anyone who has a penchant for the dark, the mysterious, or the horrific, to stop by and have a listen, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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Finally, and this one has been getting lots of press recently due to the unconventional love-life of its host (not to mention his stunningly good looks), Nico Tortorella’s The Love Bomb. Look, if you’re having trouble keeping up with the fast-changing world of sexuality and gender in the 21st century, I suggest you stop by The Love Bomb as they dissect and examine the ins and outs of what love means for all of us living as progressive and evolving humans at the early stages of this millennium. Honestly, I could do without the Def Poetry style intros whereby the host creates what sounds like a free association poem about whomever his guest for that episode is (the guest list, which includes folks from both within and outside of Hollywood, is impressive). I’m not a big fan of spoken word poetry, preferring to just read it for myself and find my own cadence with the poem. Really though, this podcast is enlightening and also fun, at times even irreverent. The host is bravely open and telling concerning his own exploration of love, and it is this unapologetic openness that, I think, encourages his guests to be equally open, to ask the questions we’re all thinking, and to answer with candor and genuine interest. I really like where this podcast is going and look forward to it hanging around and seeing just where it meanders and what it becomes. I’m sure that with the host’s star appeal burning bright at the moment, the format for The Love Bomb will change and probably grow into something bigger and therefore more commercially minded, but for now I’m just enjoying this refreshing exploration of 21st century sexuality. Just as a final note, a tiny critique; the host mentions having done ayahuasca in Peru…a lot. I guess it was a pretty eye-opening experience for him, perhaps even life changing, but I think we all get the point and I, for one, am over it.

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Some honorable mentions: This American Life, I didn’t include this above because I reckoned that everyone already knows and loves it…and why shouldn’t they!? By The Bi, an American couple in Australia who are doing their part to increase bi visibility, The Sewers of Paris, because it’s gay, hilarious, and often oddly informative, Occult of Personality, for lovers of the occult, Freemasonry, Kabbalah, etc., and a newbie, Very Bad Words, which is just what it sounds like – a podcast about bad words. This fresher brings linguists and other language specialist together to examine “bad language” and it’s really fucking great!

Are you even listening!? 😉

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And the Emmy Goes To…

This past week, the Emmy nominations were announced and while I’m not a big awards show fan, there were a couple of things in the nominations that really pleased me, and maybe a few that didn’t. Just for a bit of fun, I’m going to discuss a little about the nominees that I’m really happy for, and one nomination in particular that I wish I had seen on the list, but didn’t. Whoever wins, I’m sure they’re all genuinely deserving as by all accounts we’re experiencing a new Golden Age of television due to the production muscle of platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, etc.,

First, I was absolutely thrilled to see Broadway’s own, Jackie Hoffman, nominated for her role as Mamacita, Joan Crawford’s maid in Feud. I for one feel that Jackie has been overlooked both on Broadway, but also in showbiz in general because she is a powerhouse of comedy and her timing is without match. With a single look, Jackie can manage to convey what others need a monolog to get across, and she can do it with wit and a healthy serving of self deprecation. If Jackie Hoffman doesn’t win, we still do because whatever she’s in, she gives us exactly what we want! Good luck, Jackie!

Jackie Hoffman

Next, a big congrats to Rupaul’s Drag Race for an amazing eight nominations! Although, it seems the Emmy academy is a bit late to the show, but better late than never, right? Not only is the show nominated in various categories but Rupaul Charles is nominated individually as the show’s host. Whether you’re a fan of drag or not, this show is undeniably entertaining. Whether it’s the interpersonal dramas, the out-of-this-world costumes, the bitchy banter, or just because there’s nothing else good on on Monday nights, everybody can find a reason to like this show. There’s got to be at least a couple of awards coming their way at the ceremony and I am personally keeping my fingers crossed that one of these is for the visionary host herself!

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Finally, one note of disappointment that I’d like to express is that unfortunately, there was no mention at all of Netflix’s Penny Dreadful! While I realize the premise of bringing together a group of gothic characters, putting them in the setting of Victorian London, and having them interact with each other may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it was a very well executed show…well, most of the time. There were moments when storylines seemed to get lost, or become so divergent that it became difficult for viewers to follow, but on the whole, this was a bold premise and I commend Netflix for taking a chance on this show. Furthermore, the notion of mixing literary characters from the gothic/horror genre and the history of the city of London is something that I haven’t seen before, and I found it just too bad that Netflix couldn’t continue with the show.

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All in all, I’m going to try and catch the award show this year, if for no other reason than to root for Jackie Hoffman and Rupaul. I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed for those two and I’m not going to let the fact that Penny Dreadful was overlooked bother me too much. I know that in their own way, both Feud and Drag Race are innovative, but in terms of narrative, Penny Dreadful was just something so fresh and new that I think it was either before its time, or maybe, TV isn’t the right format for this kind of narrative storytelling that is so intermingled and sometimes complex. Either way, it’s a pity that not only is the show no longer being produced, but that there won’t even be an awards show to remind us of just how good it was.

See you at the Emmys!

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’m a materialist. I like things, and while I don’t allow my enjoyment of things to supersede the importance of human relationships, for someone who is very sensory driven, such as myself, things are a constant source of entertainment and amusement. I don’t ascribe to the school of “less is more” –more is clearly more, and if given the choice of having more or less of something, unless it’s some chronic disease or money owing, I’ll generally take more. I’m not a hoarder (in fact I get a real sense of accomplishment surrounding the throwing away of things), but I totally understand how that happens. It’s the contemporary version of the Victorian cabinet of curiosities, really. A need to cling, to keep things, to arrange them, taxonomize them, view them and assign a space to them in the inventory of your mind…I get it. The closest I can get to that though, is a robust book collection, and you really never can have too many books, right?

One of my favorite aspects of the digital revolution and the coming age of the robots (if you don’t think we’re only a commercial break away from being the Jetson’s, you’re kidding yourself!), is that I can have tons of books downloaded onto my phone or tablet and can access any of them at any time…providing there’s enough battery life on whatever device I happen to be using. It’s just great! Although all of these electronic devices are really cool, and I for one think they simplify life and have no time for those people who think that such devices are the downfall of the human species, there are still some non-electronic things from which I derive great pleasure and this post is going to be about three of them: Bombay Sapphire Gin, Opium cologne by Yves Saint Laurent, and roller ball pens. Stay with me here.

First, Bombay Sapphire, just looks so iconic! With Victoria, Empress of India, emblazoned on the label and that blue-tinted bottle, there is just something effortlessly exotic and yet familiar about the design of this liquor cabinet staple. In addition to the fact that the gin inside is just right, just dry enough, with just enough lemon and coriander to taste, there’s something wonderfully old-world about this spirit which is surprising considering it was only launched by IDV in 1987. Still, its effortless cool causes my mind to jump back into another place and time, with the weight of the Star of Bombay hanging from my neck. Another drink, anyone?

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Next, and this is another one with loads of cool factor, is YSL’s Opium pour Homme. This scent manages to be spicy and fruity in the most perfect way. Although the spice is slightly more dominant, on the whole, this cologne isn’t just for evenings out. While it’s a bit pricey, it’s worth every cent and never disappoints. Unlike some spicy fragrances which go cold quite easily, Opium matures with body heat into a decidedly masculine, yet genteel fullness that neither overtakes nor recedes. Parfumeurs Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac walk a fine line between sophistication and unbridled masculinity with this one. Opium pour Homme is a masterpiece and is sure to add that little extra something just when you need it.

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Finally, this last one may seem a bit incongruous considering the glamour of the previous picks, but I can’t get enough of rollerball pens. No, I do not mean ballpoint pens! Ballpoint pens are terrible and one needs some sort of codex of prehistoric iconography to even begin to decipher what they’ve written. Rollerball pens, are the cooler, better read, and intellectual big brothers of the ballpoint. They’re cheap, they make for clear and fluid handwriting, and they come in a variety of colors (yet, I still prefer the traditional black and blue)…what’s not to love?! These nifty utensils require none of the push of a ballpoint pen and will improve your handwriting by leaps and bounds once you get the hang of it. Nothing looks better or more refined than a handwritten “thank you” note from one of these! Go out and grab a pack, you won’t regret it!

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All in all, I’d say it’s alright to find pleasure in things. Things are important. Sure, so is all the other stuff, and it’s naturally best to be a well-rounded person who is able to find pleasure in varied pursuits, but who doesn’t like to have their favorite things? Favorite things are valuable to our experience, they bring us comfort and familiarity and those are things that are going to come in mighty handy once our robot overlords start calling the shots! 😉

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In Real Life

People often use the term “in real life” to denote that something happened face to face, or to assure that it wasn’t simply a virtual event. It’s as good a phrase as any of course, but if one were to really think about it, this is a phrase that our ancestors not so many generations ago likely wouldn’t have understood, or at least not as we do today. Besides books, face to face was pretty much the only option they had for life. I wonder how much of our world they’d be able to process at all, or for that matter, how much of their world we’re able to comprehend today. Isn’t the past simply a collection of facts that made it through the chronological mill-wheel as chunks big enough to be easily identified? History is written by the winners they say, but from that we can gather, there are countless tidbits from the annals of humankind which have occurred that we’ll never know about. Countless happenings that because they unfolded in real life, are lost in the chaff.

With the rise of dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, and even non-romantically centered apps such as Facebook and Instagram, we can often present a version of ourselves which isn’t very realistic at all. Filters allow us to soften harsh light, others allow us to accentuate what we perceive to be our physical strengths, and of course to edit out any takes which we deem not good enough. What they do not encourage us to do however, is show ourselves in real life, and that’s where I reckon it all gets a bit shady. Facebook seems harmless enough, but how often do people post pictures of their children looking awful and throwing tantrums? And why do people post pictures of their kids anyway? I assume that pictures of the angelic little ones feed into the identity construction of the parents and have little to do with their photogenic offspring. In real life, we see children throwing themselves onto the supermarket floor and wailing when they don’t get some sugary treat or other. In real life, we see embarrassed, exhausted and frustrated parents at every turn —  no filters, no lighting tricks, no editing. Maybe it’s just all too real?

At job interviews, who are we really presenting? Who is that person who can do everything, needs no time off, never gets sick, and isn’t looking for anything better ever again? Why do we feel like that’s the version of ourselves that can guarantee a company a successful and productive employee?  Because, let’s face it,  it’s not the truth! The truth is, you’re going to screw up big time occasionally, you do not know everything, you can’t do everything, you will get sick, and when things we decide are better for us come along in life, we should take them! Only a fool would pass up the opportunity for positive development. Of course, that’s not what employers want to hear. I can understand both sides of the coin, but honestly, it all seems a bit contrived for my liking.

Once we can embrace ourselves, in real life, it has been my experience that we are more fully able to extend that realistic vision to others. We stop seeing the touched up and glamorous exterior that so many of us exhibit to the world, and we look at people for exactly what they are; nothing more and nothing less. More often than not, I bet that this evaluation of others’ true identity is not that far from what we know we are really like ourselves. We are not super-humans! We are just humans, and that’s enough! This is not a rant against apps, or social media, or our virtual selves. This is not a Luddite’s sermon against the machine. This is one human who couldn’t think of anything better to write about this week than how he’s not always on top of his game…and how he’s okay with that because usually, in real life, he is in control,  he is productive, and he is creative. No filters. No editing.

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