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Not a Newsletter 004: Empathy and rigorous preparation

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Happy Thanksgiving (weekend)! Maybe this wasn’t the case for everyone, but the holiday seemed to arrive sooner than expected this year. Is it because we’re so rarely in a holiday state of mind these days, even when we probably need a break and diversion more than ever?

To stop and consider what we’re thankful for right now feels like kind of a trite exercise when nearly every day seems to be a fight with something. But maybe it’s more important than ever to think about such things.

For most of this year, I’ve been trying to prioritize what I truly feel is important and accept that I let some things in my life become more oppressive than I should have. I am most certainly thankful for the opportunity to take time to look inward and outward, and try to become a better person for it.

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Yet the impulse to jump back into bad habits — taking a job that would’ve been bad for me, not showing enough empathy and patience, expecting too much from others, not accepting what I can’t control, to name a few — and forget what I’ve tried to accomplish over the past five months is a recurring struggle.

I hope I don’t write so much about trying to find a balance that it comes off as whining,  me being some kind of headcase, or any sort of self-help speak. I might not be writing as much professionally as I’d like, but I do feel like I’m in a better place — both for myself and the people around me. And I have to believe that I’ll yield some benefit from that eventually.

In the meantime, you stopping by to read this helps tremendously. And I am definitely thankful for that.

Reading to Go With Your Pie

** How many people had salad on their Thanksgiving tables? According to this diagram, virtually the entire Western part of the United States goes that way. (Although I wonder if “salad” means greens, etc., rather than some gross Jello-based “salad.”) We did not have mac and cheese, despite living in the South. [FiveThirtyEight]

** Why wombats have cube-shaped poop probably wouldn’t have been appropriate Thanksgiving dinner conversation. (But if anyone tried, please let us know!) I enjoy imagining the engineer studying this having to explain what she does to family and friends while making small talk. [Popular Science]

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Not a Newsletter 003: Upward and onward to greater glory

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Plenty of important (and concerning) things happened in the world this week, as has become typical in the current political and social climate we live in. But for many comic book and pop culture fans, the big news of the week was the passing of legendary Marvel Comics storyteller Stan Lee.

At 95 years old, we all knew the end was coming sooner rather than later. But it’s still hard to believe that we won’t have Stan Lee alongside us to celebrate the elevation of his creations to supreme pop culture. Yet Lee’s death also prompted more celebration than mourning as we remembered what characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Fantastic Four and so many, many others meant to us through childhood and into adulthood.

Though it didn’t seem like nearly enough, I wrote my own tribute to Stan Lee , praised my favorite creations and movie cameos of his, and we talked about his legacy on the Amusement Park Podcast.

It’s too bad that Lee’s death brought us the nostalgic escape and joy that we needed, but celebrating his legacy certainly provided a welcome diversion — even if it was borne from unfortunate news.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you reading this. Based on my conversations, the holiday jumped on us sooner than expected. But it’ll be nice to have a break, regardless of whether or not you spend that time with family and friends. I have ambitious plans to… watch a lot of TV and movies when I’m not eating. I might have another Not a Newsletter before we dig into our respective meals. Not sure about that yet.

Regardless, I’m certainly thankful that you care enough to stop by. And I’m grateful for both the opportunity to write and express myself. Here’s a Stan Lee quote to take you into this week’s reading:

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Not a Newsletter 002: Overzealous recycling

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“Overzealous recycling” could be a good name for a newsletter if we ever take thing that way. That could pop in people’s inboxes, yes? Still aiming to get this out on Thursdays, or at least early Sunday mornings.

Since seeing Bohemian Rhapsody last week (my review here), I’ve been obsessively consuming all things Queen. I listen to their songs while working or driving. I’ve spent hours on YouTube, watching almost all of their music videos — some of which are legitimately terrible (surely a product of the time) — and lots of documentary footage.

One of their good videos was for “Radio Ga Ga,” made when Queen apparently steered into their sci-fi fandom after doing the Flash Gordon soundtrack. Finding some behind-the-scenes footage from the video’s production was a happy discovery.

To feed that hunger, I put together a list of my favorite Queen songs. It was supposed to be a top 10 list, and I thought I’d have trouble getting to 10. But my nostalgia trip reminded me of how big a Queen fan I’ve been since childhood and the list boiled over to 16. It probably could’ve been 20.

Reading For You

** Bohemian Rhapsody was released in theaters last weekend, but it took eight years for the Queen biopic to be made. That includes, as many likely know, Sacha Baron Cohen wanting to play Freddie Mercury but clashing with Brian May and Roger Taylor over the story. [Vulture]

** In my review of Bohemian Rhapsody, I said the mouthpiece Rami Malek had to wear for playing Freddie Mercury was distracting, especially early in the film. But maybe that was an accurate portrayal of Mercury trying to hide his teeth when younger. Here’s a fun interview with the man who made those teeth, Chris Lyons. [New York Times]

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Not a Newsletter 001: Don’t become some background noise

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Here we go again with a “I haven’t written anything for a while” post. But with the calendar turning to November, it seems like a good time to turn up the output here and provide some proof of (writing) life.

(I said the same thing to myself going into October, of course. Probably at the beginning of September too.)

I don’t get to write as much as I used to (though I almost took care of that with a job I was offered — but had to turn down — this past week), so I’d really like to take care of that with the blog and website that I put the effort in to set up. That includes the Amusement Park Podcast, where I intend to put most stuff on genre and geek subjects. I feel like writing holds me accountable somehow.

(Recently, I’ve written movie reviews for A Star is Born, Halloween and The Old Man and the Gun. Bohemian Rhapsody is soon to follow. I want to do a lot more of them now that we’re in movie awards season.)

And I want to do these Not a Newsletter posts regularly. Newsletters are kind of the new blogs these days (actually, podcasts probably are) and if I thought I could assemble a decent subscriber base, I might do one. (Did I sound really old right there?)

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Not a Newsletter: Workin’ hard to get my fill

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Hello from the end of the 4th of July holiday weekend! Did a Wednesday July 4 help create a five-day weekend?

The calendar turning to July reminded me that I haven’t accomplished nearly the amount of reading I’ve intended to this summer (yet I still keep buying books; it’s a problem). It doesn’t help when getting sidetracked by a book I didn’t expect to read, like Don’t Stop Believin’, a memoir by Jonathan Cain, the keyboardist for Journey.

Journey was my favorite band as a kid, something I remember taking a lot of shit for, but is apparently cool in a nostalgic way now. (As with comic books, it took 30 years for culture to be accommodating.) So reading Cain’s accounts of how songs like “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Open Arms” were written was really fun, providing a dose of nostalgia right in the vein.

Particularly amusing was the revelation that “Don’t Stop Believin'” refers to “South Detroit” (something that plenty of Detroiters will tell you doesn’t exist) because Cain thought that line needed an extra syllable.

Songwriting has always fascinated me. Composing melodies and writing lyrics to fit in (or vice versa) just seems ethereal. Even bad songs are the result of that. Getting a glimpse into that process — why isn’t the chorus of “Don’t Stop Believin'” until the end? — just pulled me right in. It was the pleasant surprise of my week.

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Not a Newsletter: What, are you flying to Japan?

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Hello from the airport! For the first time in far too long (nearly three years?), I’m taking a vacation. Although I can’t even get that right, as I’ll be helping a friend move out east. So a “working vacation” of sorts.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’ll be nice to unplug — although I’m sure I’ll still be more attached to my phone and iPad than I should be. I’ll probably post more to Instagram than I should. Hopefully, a few of those photos will be worth a look.

Having not traveled — especially cross-country — for a long time, I overreacted with the amount of stuff I downloaded to watch during my flight. Plus, I’ll probably listen to a podcast or two and try to read a book or magazine (airport magazine stands are crack to me) so I’m not looking at a screen.

Maybe some of these can be watched during the drive back east.

– Three episodes of Ugly Delicious
Black Panther
Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives
Batman: Ninja
– Eight episodes of All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines
The Florida Project
– Six episodes of Somebody Feed Phil
John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid
Chef’s Table, Christina Tosi episode

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Not a Newsletter: 04/15/18

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Last Sunday was WrestleMania, which served to remind me that my revived interest in pro wrestling has fizzled out. It’s probably part of a general malaise during which I haven’t been watching much on TV other than news (and punditry), but yeah, this foray back to a childhood love lasted about nine months.

However, HBO’s Andre the Giant documentary brought back plenty of memories of my wrestling fandom, and how fascinating it was not just to follow WWF, but the other wrestling companies and territories throughout the country like the NWA, AWA, Mid-South and so forth. I remember spending Saturday mornings at the old Community Newscenter in Ann Arbor poring through wrestling magazines and spending my paperboy paycheck on too many of them.

The film also reminded me how special it was to be in the Pontiac Silverdome for WrestleMania III, which I wrote about last year on the event’s 30th anniversary. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant was definitely the event of the day (though not the match I was most excited about), and as the documentary explains, gave WWF a huge cultural push. To hear how much pain Andre was in during that match and how the ending hadn’t been determined until the two performers were in the ring was surprising and sobering.

All right, here’s what we have to show for the past week. Not a lot of writing out of me, unfortunately. Just that kind of week.

The week’s reading

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** Brian Michael Bendis’s DC Comics debut hits comic book shops this coming week with Action Comics #1000. I’m not sure if it was in an article or on his old Jinxworld message board, but I recall Bendis once saying Superman was a character he couldn’t get his head around. Or a character that didn’t work in modern times. Something like that. But he’ll be writing the Man of Steel’s adventures after helping to define the Marvel Universe for nearly the past 20 years. And I’ll be buying. [New York Times]

** The “new” Comiskey Park — now Guaranteed Rate Field — was the first of the new ballparks throughout Major League Baseball. But it could have been so much better, as Dayn Perry explains in this outstanding feature. (And you’ll learn something about ballpark architecture too.) [CBS Sports]

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