#in honor of the post like this for 2020. goddamn these past two years have wrecked my shit. i forgot like half of this even happened-
Welllp These Are Books: the April 2021 Edition
I did not read Romeo and Juliet this month. I read a bunch of other books. Like, a bunch. More than one series. Because Big Bang burnout is real and grown adults missing their deadlines is a real good way to stress me out. So, I read a bunch. Good books, very bad books, books that caused limbs to flail. For positive and not-so-positive reasons. Naturally, all those reasons must be shared. Under the cut with occasionally long and rant-prone reviews, as well as spoilers. Beware of spoilers under the cut. Please keep telling me what to read, internet. My library wish list is almost comically long now.
GIVE ME ALL THE WORLD BUILDING AND SNARK AND FIGHTING! WITH MAGIC! AND SWORDS! IT’S MY FAVORITE THING IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!
Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.
— Picture it, approximately twelve forty-seven am. My husband is asleep. I am reading. The second book in this series ends. And I say, right out loud, at what might now be twelve forty-eight am, HOLY SHIT IT JUST ENDED. Justin thought we were under attack. No man has ever snapped awake quicker. He was not pleased. At least not in the same way that I was about these books. Which I goddamn LOVED. Loved. The world building. The magic. The banter. Rhy and Kell’s relationship. Once more. RHY AND KELL’S RELATIONSHIP. Which I might have cared about more than the romance??? Maybe??? I cannot get over how good this world building was. I know people have quips with it, and that’s fair. I saw the “twist” coming in the first book, and I think trying to preserve that left some plot holes that are understandably frustrating. Because Lilah definitely needed depth perception to fight as well as she did. Also did Schwab really refer to her as a cross dresser in her author’s note? Yikes. She wore a dude’s jacket, like—c’mon V.E. Other than that though. I loved it. Also shout out to @peglegsjones for suggesting this one in my 2020 post and call out to me for taking so long to read it.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone. . . .
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.
— I’ve talked about how little I cared about anything that happened in Shadow and Bone before, but I kept seeing gifs of the Crows in the Netflix show and my brain was like: huh, I could like them. So, after some help from the very helpful internet, I’m happy to report I do in fact like them. At one point, I slunk into the couch. Like that’s how overcome with emotion I was. Kaz ripped a dude’s eye out! For Inej! Matthias loved Nina’s laugh! I would like to hug Jesper. Seriously, this hit all my high points and world building and banter and I lol’ed at “scheming face.” I would like my hold to come through faster on the sequel.
THEY DID NOT CALL INTERMISSION HALFTIME AND MY COLLEGE EXPERIENCE WAS WAY DIFFERENT THAN THESE KIDS
The Off Campus Series by Elle Kennedy
Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice…even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date.
All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.
— The first book in this series was free on Amazon. So, I read it. And really liked it??? It was so chock full of cliches and badly written tropes and Garrett probably should have accepted that Hannah didn’t want to go out at the start, but like—he was cute? And as we all know I am TRASH™ for stories set in the same verse, so, like, I just kept reading these trashy college hockey books. Trashy is a compliment here. God, these kids had so much sex. So much. An incredible amount, really. I once had a guy tell me he was physically attracted to me, but not emotionally attracted to me in college. Like, that was my college experience. The first and second books were the best, I think. I didn’t really like Dean that much.
MAYBE IT WAS BECAUSE HE WAS A RABBI???
The Intimacy Experiement by Rosie Danan
Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won't hire her.
Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag nominated him as one of the city's hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Low on both funds and congregants, the executive board of Ethan's new shul hired him with the hopes that his nontraditional background will attract more millennials to the faith. They've given him three months to turn things around or else they'll close the doors of his synagogue for good.
Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems--until they discover a new one--their growing attraction to each other. They've built the syllabus for love's latest experiment, but neither of them expected they'd be the ones putting it to the test.
— Ok, I know that sounds bad. Again, I’m a creature of predictable habit and this was the sequel to The Roommate, which I absolutely LOVED last year. But where as the relationship in that one was kind of swoony, this one was...I don’t know, really. Everyone was a well-rounded character and the plot was good, but there was this semi-invisible something that made it difficult for me to get fully on board with the whole story. Honestly, it might be because he was a religious figure?? Also, they got together real quick. Like zero to sixty in twenty-six seconds flat.
I KNOW IT’S BAD, IT WAS BAD AND YET—I CANNOT STOP READING IT???
Too Wild to Tame by Tessa Bailey
Sometimes you just can't resist playing with fire . . .
By day, Aaron Clarkson suits up, shakes hands, and acts the perfect gentleman. But at night, behind bedroom doors, the tie comes off and the real Aaron comes out to play. Mixing business with pleasure got him fired, so Aaron knows that if he wants to work for the country's most powerful senator, he'll have to keep his eye on the prize. That's easier said than done when he meets the senator's daughter, who's wild, gorgeous, and 100 percent trouble.
Grace Pendleton is the black sheep of her conservative family. Yet while Aaron's presence reminds her of a past she'd rather forget, something in his eyes keeps drawing her in. Maybe it's the way his voice turns her molten. Or maybe it's because deep down inside, the ultra-smooth, polished Aaron Clarkson might be more than even Grace can handle . . .
— Last month I read the first book in this series and it was absolutely ridiculous. This one even more so. The Clarksons are still on the road trip (sans one sibling because she fell in love in a week in the first book) and Aaron was, like, not a root’able character? Very Edward Cullen I’M A BAD GUY, BELLA vibes and his relationship with Grace was so strange. Super rushed again, obvs. Meeting in the woods is weird enough. Professing love forty-eight hours later is decidedly unbelievable. Also there was a kidnapping involved? I totally put a hold on the next book in the series.
COME UP WITH DIFFERENT TRAUMA, I DARE YOU! OR NO TRAUMA. WHAT A CONCEPT!!
The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel
Liya Thakkar is a successful biochemical engineer, takeout enthusiast, and happily single woman. The moment she realizes her parents' latest dinner party is a setup with the man they want her to marry, she's out the back door in a flash. Imagine her surprise when the same guy shows up at her office a week later -- the new lawyer hired to save her struggling company. What's not surprising: he's not too thrilled to see her either after that humiliating fiasco.
Jay Shah looks good on paper...and off. Especially if you like that whole gorgeous, charming lawyer-in-a-good-suit thing. He's also infuriating. As their witty office banter turns into late-night chats, Liya starts to think he might be the one man who truly accepts her. But falling for each other means exposing their painful pasts. Will Liya keep running, or will she finally give love a real chance?
— I had such high hopes for this one. Which is on me, I guess. Because I didn’t hate this one, but it was...not great. Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety but I am BEGGING romance writers to come up with different trauma for their female protagonists. Not every woman has to have been assaulted to rationalize their current personality. Doesn’t have to happen. Like, ok, yes it does happen. Far more than it should. But that’s an entirely different story, and I am so tired of female characters getting absolutely destroyed by their past only to have that be their defining characteristic for so much of the book. Until a nice man they were initially mean to shows up and he’s UNDERSTANDING and he CARES and it’s just, bleh. It’s bleh. Tired and predictable and I’m over it.
IN WHICH I SHOULD HAVE LOOKED AT THE COVER
Much Ado About You by Samantha Young
At thirty-three-years old Evangeline Starling’s life in Chicago is missing that special something. And when she’s passed over for promotion at work, Evie realizes she needs to make a change. Some time away to regain perspective might be just the thing. In a burst of impulsivity, she plans a holiday in a quaint English village. The holiday package comes with a temporary position at Much Ado About Books, the bookstore located beneath her rental apartment. There’s no better dream vacation for the bookish Evie, a life-long Shakespeare lover.
Not only is Evie swept up in running the delightful store as soon as she arrives, she’s drawn into the lives, loves and drama of the friendly villagers. Including Roane Robson, the charismatic and sexy farmer who tempts Evie every day with his friendly flirtations. Evie is determined to keep him at bay because a holiday romance can only end in heartbreak, right? But Evie can’t deny their connection and longs to trust in her handsome farmer that their whirlwind romance could turn in to the forever kind of love.
— Ok, so I had had this book on hold for so long that I genuinely forgot about it and forgot who it was written by. Samantha Young wrote that one book that I called the worst book I had ever read. Only I did not realize that when I started reading this one. So, you see how this sets us up for disaster. Because this book was a disaster. Everyone was goddamn annoying. And whiny. Shit, everyone whined. About everything. Also, the actual writing was atrocious. I am not usually one to be like “men can’t write,” but at one point I told both @shireness-says and @optomisticgirl that this book must have been secretly written by a man because no woman writing it would be so obsessed with pointing out where her cellulite was. Like, what??? Also the first sex scene? Oh my God, I laughed. Guffawed. The so-called love interest literally asked: “Are we going to have sex now?” And then they just did. It was so bad. Also there was a dog? Who went everywhere with the so-called love interest. And they just never explained that? I thought it was going to be part of some crushing and depressing backstory. Nah, he was just there.
HOLY SHIT THIS WAS SO DUMB I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS WAS A BOOK! A BOOK MEANT FOR YOUNG ADULTS! WHAT IS YOUNG ADULT???
The Queen’s Secret by Melissa de la Cruz
Lilac's birthright makes her the Queen of Renovia, and a forced marriage made her the Queen of Montrice. But being a ruler does not mean making the rules. For Lilac, taking the throne means giving up the opportunity to be with love of her life, the kingdom's assassin, Caledon Holt.
Worse, Cale is forced to leave the castle when a horrific set of magical attacks threatens Lilac's sovereignty. Now Cal eand Lilac will have to battle dark forces separately, even though being together is the only thing that's ever saved them.
— Remember last month when I was like: can’t wait for my hold to come through on this sequel so I know what happens? What an idiot. THIS BOOK WAS SO DUMB I CANNOT BELIEVE IT WAS A BOOK. As always in my rage-induced rants, no apologies for spoilers because seriously do NOT read this, but Lilac (legit, that was her name) married some other dude but just kept fucking Cale??? Like she had a secret door? So he could come in and they could fuck?? I just—oh my God. So, all these things kept happening. Magic and bad stuff and horses were killed. Lilac’s mother was the absolute WORST. Honestly the most worthless character who at one point was like “well, my story is over, guess it’s time to leave,” and then just left?? Forced Lilac into a marriage of alliance and no love and then everything evil was defeated in point two four seconds. It happened so fast I wasn’t even sure it happened. So, then I’m like, ok, how are Lilac and Cale going to end up together? Because this is YA and that’s how it’s supposed to work. Only her being married and that marriage requiring an heir is something of a rather large hurdle. Don’t worry! Remember when Lilac and Cale were fucking? Everyone totally knew. Including the king Lilac is married to. Who is somehow like...ok with this? And tells Cale that Lilac is pregnant. ISN’T THAT WONDERFUL! Sure, because now they can lie and claim its the king’s heir. ONLY IT’S CALE’S KID! AND CALE IS COOL WITH THIS! His entire internal monologue during this is about how he realizes he might not ever be able to tell his kid he’s their father, but he’ll be around and that’s good. Wait, what??? But there’s more! Not only is Lilac having Cale’s kid, but the king she’s married to is in love with one of Cale’s spy associates. So the king and the spy are going to go hang out (and presumably have their own kids) at one castle and Lilac and Cale are going to go to another. Lilac and the king never get divorced or annulled or whatever. Everyone stays as is and married as is and—they all live happily ever after? This was presented as a good ending, I swear. What the shit, guys, seriously.
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Some stuff that made me happy in 2020, in no particular order
God send you no greater loss. It’s something my grandmother said a lot — a bit of highly Irish Catholic wisdom intended to remind you, warmly but sharply, that whatever you’re currently suffering through isn’t all that bad compared to what lots of other people are dealing with. That it probably isn’t too much to complain about, in the grand scheme of things. That you should, instead, be grateful for what you’ve got, big and small and everything in between.
God sent a great many people a great many unfathomable losses this year, and as hard as it felt at times, our family wasn’t among them; we’re lucky, in the big picture. In the past, people have recommended I try writing those reasons down, to give myself a list of stuff to be thankful for, for the times it’s tough to summon up the gratitude. I figured the end of the year was as good a time as any to make that list, to highlight the stuff that helped me get through this year — the reasons big, small, and in between.
So: here goes.
Peanut butter and jelly
I haven’t counted how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’ve eaten since March 11, which is good, because that would be an absurd thing to do, and a sure sign that I have succumbed to a very specific kind of madness. It’s also good, though, because I would undoubtedly be ashamed by the number; the figure would be titanic, like the unsinkable ship of same name, or the iceberg that sunk it.
Or, at least, I would be ashamed under normal circumstances. This fuckin’ year required whatever flotation device you could find, and you know what I found in the fridge and cupboard? A couple of slices of bread, some strawberry jam, and some goddamn Skippy.
Need a weird mid-morning “brunch” after not having breakfast because you went right from waking up to remote school with the 6-year-old? Crank up a PB&J with that third cup of coffee. Need to pack something in the diaper bag to feed everyone while you’re out at the playground for the afternoon? Stack ‘em up, son. Need a late snack after working the overnight shift filing weird bubble playoff columns? Three letters, one ampersand, one love.
I need to eat better in 2021. But I kind of needed to eat sort of like shit to get through 2020, and time and again, when your man needed it most, PB&J was there.
Sunday night Zoom sessions with college friends
I know that most of us started something like this back in March; I’m not sure how many have stuck with it. I hope the answer is “a lot,” because honestly, knowing that I’m going to end the week by seeing a few friends — some here in Brooklyn but mostly beyond our reach for safety’s sake, some who’ve moved away — has felt like a stabilizing agent on more than a few occasions. It’s important, and no small blessing, to have people in your life who really know you, weird messy ugly bits and all, and in front of whom you can let everything go.
That gallery view’s provided a place to vent, to seethe, to laugh, to cry, and to try to find some semblance of center before heading back into another week. I’m grateful for it, and for the people in those little boxes. Except for the time they reminded me that, when I was 18, I was pretty sure I was a Pacey, and they were all extremely confident I was a Dawson. They were right, but still: a bitter pill to swallow, then and now.
Olivia calling herself “Dr. Bloody”
She took out her little toy doctor kit and just turned into a cackling villain.
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Deeply disconcerting, yes, but also adorable.
All Fantasy Everything
What got me in the door was the conceit: three very funny stand-up comedians (Ian Karmel, David Gborie, Sean Jordan), often with a very funny guest but sometimes without, pick some topic or another and engage in a fantasy draft of their favorite aspects or representations of that topic. (It is, crucially, a serpentine draft. Now what is that? That’s a great question.) Some favorite examples: Mikes; Words That You Think Make You Sound Smart, vols. 1 and 2; Things You Yell After You Dunk on Someone; Fictional Athletes; Crimes We’d Like to Commit. Yeah. It’s that kind of podcast.
What kept me around was the friendship. Listen to an episode and it becomes really clear really quickly just how much the three hosts love each other, how much fun they have being around each other and making one another laugh. The warmth radiates, just pours out of the speakers; in a year where I sorely needed some good vibes, I appreciated my regular check-ins with the Good Vibes Gang to just ... unclench for an hour and a half or so.
OK, I’ll admit: This doesn’t sound great for me. It’s true, though. I really like beer. (We brewed one in our kitchen, which I realize is something of a “bearded guy in Brooklyn” cliche, but here we are. It was exciting to complete a project, and it tasted OK-ish.) At some points this year, it didn’t feel like there wasn’t much to look forward to, and sometimes drinking some High Lifes or Narragansett tall boys — with my wife in our living room, with friends on the computer, whatever — helped take the edge off a shitty day/week/month/year. I look forward to being able to do that outside with people again.
The Good Place
I am sure some very smart cultural critics and political thinkers and social revolutionaries have forwarded compelling arguments for why this show is Bad, Actually, because that seems to be more or less true about most things, whether because said thing is Actually Bad or because the economics of the attention economy on the internet functionally necessitate the composition and publication of pretty much every position on pretty much every issue, and especially ones that present a counterargument for why you shouldn’t like the thing you like, and might be kind of a piece of shit for liking it. But I liked this half-hour comedy about the way the universe might be put together, why we should try to take better care of each other, and how doing so might be a pretty great way to take better care of ourselves.
Andrew let me write about it a little bit for a big project we did before the series finale aired, which was really nice of him. I found myself thinking about this part a lot this year:
I also thought a lot about Peeps Chili, but that happens every year.
Taking pictures of my dog
Check out this flumpy goddamn champion:
“Lugar is a good boy” is the main takeaway here. They don’t all have to be complicated.
I know we’re not alone in this, but we inhaled this show this year. A half-hour comedy about people being laid low, learning how to deal with who they actually are, and finding some grace and community and opportunities for growth kind of hit the spot, I guess.
One of the most wholesale enjoyable ensemble comedy casts I can remember; Catherine O’Hara was already in Cooperstown, but what she made with Moira Rose only polishes her plaque. I’ll never be able to describe with any specificity the thing Chris Elliott does, but I know it has made me laugh since I was a child too young to understand the Letterman bits or see Cabin Boy in the theater, and it’s probably going to make me laugh until I am dead.
I love that people who, for years, never got to see themselves or people like them on screen got to see David Rose on screen and maybe recognize themselves a little bit. The idea that seeing the David/Patrick relationship might make them maybe feel a little more at home, a little safer and more whole, makes me happy. Sad, about the before, but happy, about the now and the what comes next.
Past that, I just love how what was ostensibly a family-and-friends production for a Canadian channel just got absolutely everything right—the tone, the look, the sound, the theme song, the cast, the jokes, my goodness, the jokes—and before long, the rest of the world just got it. Like catching a fastball square on the barrel. Something the show clearly knew a little bit about.
Finding new outdoor places it was safe to go
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the need to give the kids a place to be that wasn’t unnecessarily dangerous but also wasn’t inside our two-bedroom apartment led us to do more exploring than we had before. Shirley Chisholm State Park is great. Canarsie Pier was a fun place to spend a Sunday morning; so’s Canarsie Playground. If we got there early enough or made our peace with some rain, the beaches at Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden were pretty rad this summer. I lived in Staten Island from ages 8 through 18, and during breaks throughout college, and don’t think I ever hiked in High Rock Park — that’s dumb, because it was nice!
Even if all those little excursions did was kill a little time and reduce the overall stress level of the four humans stuck in our four walls, that’s not nothing. Some days this year, it was everything.
I know I’m late here; I didn’t rush to seek it out because I don’t consider myself a huge fan of The Karate Kid, or at least not a big enough fan to sign up for YouTube’s premium service. I checked it out when it came to Netflix, though, and I honestly can’t believe how much I enjoyed this show. Give me “dumb, but with heart” every day of the week.
I believe in Miguel Diaz; I believe in Johnny Lawrence; I believe I will be firing up Season 3 next month, and perhaps drinking some Coors Banquets in its honor. (I cannot, however, believe how the “get him a body bag” thing came back around, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Closing unread tabs
I’m a serial hoarder of links, and I am bad at finishing all of them. I’ve tried to get into Pocket and Instapaper, but I’ve never been able to turn that sort of workflow — open link, save to third-party service, go back to third-party service later to read, then delete from there — into something that felt instinctual, natural, or habitual. So: lots of tabs. Like, lots of tabs.
This was a dicier proposition than usual in 2020, because cutting my work week in half to be able to more effectively coparent two kids who didn’t have school or day care for most of the year meant less time to read things.
I tried to do my best to keep up with the important stuff for work, and to read at least some stuff about how other parents were dealing with their anxiety/anger/depression/frustration at having to be on 24/7 and work, and to stay abreast of (at least some of) what was happening in the world. Sometimes, though, I would wake up and realize I’d been holding onto blog posts about Really Interesting Rotation Decisions on the 11th-Seeded Team in the East or whatever for literally nine months, and I would go against my nature and just hit the eject button on a 25-deep window, and something amazing would happen: I wouldn’t get fired for being shitty at my job. I would move on with my day, and I would feel about 10 pounds lighter.
I still keep too much stuff open. (As we speak, I’ve got three different Chrome windows open on two different laptops. I choose not to count the total tabs.) But I do so knowing that, if it gets too heavy, I can experience the momentary joy of surrendering to the inevitability that I can’t catch everything. In that moment, I feel OK with my decay.
Reading writers I wasn’t familiar with before
Two in particular stand out in my mind: Nekias Duncan, now of BasketballNews.com, who does excellent film breakdowns and statistical analysis, and Katie Heindl, who writes basketball stuff of all types all over the place, and strings sentences together in a way that scratches an itch inside my brain. I’m grateful I got more chances to read them this year, I look forward to bigger and better things for both of them, and I’m hopeful that, if things calm down and our schedules go back to something approximating normalcy, I’ll have more bandwidth to hunt out more new voices in the year ahead.
The time I ambushed my wife as she was trying to break down and put away the girls’ space tent
Siobhan learning to ride a bicycle (with training wheels, but still)
The moment passed pretty quickly; Not Exactly A Mechanic over here can’t get the training wheels to reliably work right without either loosening them too much or tightening them so much that she can’t pedal it. In that first moment, though, and for as long as it lasted, it was really great to see her get excited about doing something new, big kid shit, for the first time.
She was proud. I was proud of her. And then we went to a playground for a few hours. Pretty good day.
Tyler Tynes roasting me
Tyler did some incredible work this year — The Cam Chronicles is getting deserved praise as one of 2020′s best podcasts, and his reporting on the Movement for Black Lives was exemplary. It’s hard to top this, though:
You know what the messed up part is? I was excited to tell him what I was doing, just because I knew the reaction would be so violent. Like a body rejecting a transplant. So lucky to have such a dear, dear friend.
I’m late on everything, so I didn’t start listening to PUP until the spring of 2019, but I haven’t really stopped since. This year has been too sedentary too often; this band is too kinetic to allow me to stay there.
“Bloody Mary Kate and Ashley Kate” is never more than about 20 minutes away from returning to the front of my mind. I would fucking love for it to be safe enough to watch these guys live at some point, and I am absolutely going to take Steve up on his offer.
Someone sending me a shirt based on a joke I tweeted
I’m not sure you should be rewarding my behavior, SnoCoPrintShop, but I appreciate it all the same.
Which reminds me:
Family dinner/family movie night
My wife works in Manhattan and commutes back on the train, and we've tried to prioritize getting the girls to bed early since they were little, so that doesn’t leave much of a window between when she gets home and they go in the tub for us all to connect; before everything shut down, we almost never really ate together. We’re still not great about it, but for a while now we’ve carved out Saturday as family dinner night, where we sit down to eat and talk about our “up” from the day — something that happened that made us feel good or happy, or something we’re looking forward to. (We used to talk about our “down,” too, but that kind of seemed like overkill. Why try to focus on more bad shit right now, you know?)
Then we settle in for a movie, with who gets to pick rotating each week. It’s mostly been Pixar, which has been great but also has its drawbacks; after she caught me crying during one of them (maybe the Bing-Bong scene in Inside Out? or Miguel singing to Grandma Coco?), Siobhan straight up told me, “You need to get yourself together, man.” We just watched My Neighbor Totoro, too, which they loved, so we’re probably going to try some more Miyazaki soon. It’s a really simple thing, but it’s one we rarely made time for before, and it’s been really nice to manufacture something positive that we can share and look forward to together.
Sometimes looking like a shiftless drifter
No shade to anyone who felt strongly about getting a lineup or whatever, but I haven’t really felt like going to the barbershop was worth the risk, and I continue to refuse to believe that my wife can actually pull off the fade she’s long wanted to give me. (It is also possible that she just means she’s intending to run my fade, and that I will before long wind up cold-cocked and slumped by my bride of nine years.) So I’ve just kind of been growing out my hair like it was when I was single, and sometimes been letting my beard get kind of out of control too, and, well, I sort of like looking a little bit like a Wildling, it turns out.
I have since trimmed things up a little. It didn’t go over well with my youngest. Oh, well. I’ll try to do better next time.
My wife and daughter singing the Pixies
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We don’t know all the words to too many lullabies, so we sing the ones we do know the words to. This will probably come back to bite us in the years ahead. For now, though: Pretty good.
Doughboys’ Tournament of Chompions: Munch Madness: Mac Attack
I can’t believe how invested I became in Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell’s quest to determine the best menu item at McDonald’s in a 64-seed tournament that spawned hours and hours of delightfully funny audio featuring all-time home-run guests like Jon Gabrus and Nicole Byer, who gleefully feed into the often warm, sometimes antagonistic, always entertaining chemistry between the two hosts. I have also never found myself wanting to go to McDonald’s more in my entire life. I have hit the drive-thru a couple of times since, and the boys are right: The McDonald’s fountain Coke does just hit different.
I’ve lost track of whether or not a 38-year-old is considered a millennial, but I’m quite confident that I’m not exactly plugged into “the millennial lifestyle” as my teammates Justin Charity and Micah Peters discuss it on their podcast, which relaunched this summer. Doesn’t matter, though, because I love hearing Charity and Micah talk to each other even if I don’t know what they’re talking about.
Their conversation about Dave Chappelle was great. After listening to their Travis Scott episode, I felt like I kind of understood who he is and why he occupies the space he does in pop culture now. I had no idea how they were going to get me to give a shit about set photos from The Batman, but this they not only got me there, but wended their way toward blaming 50 Cent for needing to know who Groot is to have a conversation on the internet, which is something for which Abraham Lincoln did not die. The show is good, it's getting better, it’s fun to hear them talk their shit, and Charity’s regular bellowing of “I, TOO, AM AMERICA” has made me smile for four straight months.
Siobhan’s letters and notes
She’s in first grade now, and she’s taken to communicating her feelings through the written word. A lot.
I won’t pretend that I loved all of these in the moment. I can only get so upset, though, when she’s already writing with such a clear voice. (And trying to use proper punctuation. (And drawing little cartoons to drive the point home.)
I’m having a hard time remembering too many specifics about it right now, which probably means it’d be a good thing to rewatch over the holidays. But, as I’m sure many people noted many months before we got around to watching it, a comedy about living the same day over and over again, and about trying to figure out how to make your life mean something when everything seems meaningless, scratched a pretty particular, and particularly important, itch this year. It could’ve been twice as long, and I would’ve eaten up every second of Andy Samberg and Cristin Miloti together.
I’m pretty sure I cried, although this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. Also, put Conner O’Malley in more things.
Joining our union’s bargaining committee
I won’t say too much about this, but I will say that becoming an active participant in the process of a labor union negotiating its first contract with management has been an extremely educational experience. It’s pushed me to have conversations, sometimes difficult ones, about our priorities as a staff and a company. It's helped me get closer with the other past and present members of the BC, and has led me to start developing relationships with members of our staff that I otherwise might not have had much of an opportunity to get to know.
The organizing work takes time, effort, and energy, but trying to do what I can to help take better care of my colleagues has been well worth all of that. Here’s hoping that in 2021 we can reach a deal that helps make our workplace even better, stronger, and more equitable for all of us.
Publishing a story about Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup
I swear this is true: After I accepted my offer to work at The Ringer, but before I started, I told a friend that one thing I was excited about was that you had the chance to work on offbeat stuff here, in both the “kind of weird” and “not about the NBA” senses. That, I thought, might maybe open the door to me getting to write a story about a Saturday Night Live sketch I saw when I was a teenager about Stevie Nicks from Fleetwod Mac running a cheap Tex-Mex restaurant in Sedona, Arizona — a sketch that I wasn’t sure anyone else remembered, but that was stuck in my head forever.
That story ran on May 26.
A lot of people seemed to like it.
Accomplishing this goal was, as dumb as this might sound, a highlight of my year, and, honestly, a highlight of my career. I’d like to do some more stuff like this next year, time permitting; we’ll see. Whether or not I do, I got to do this. I’ll always have that.
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13 Going on 31
The past few days have been filled with many emotions with the release of folklore’s sister album, evermore. I’ve been trying to find a moment of complete stillness to where I’ve leveled myself out enough in order to sit down and write this blog post in the manner that it deserves. With today being TS’s birthday, I couldn’t think of a more perfect time.
I’m going to take it back to Thursday morning for a second but before I do, I just really need to get this out of my system... WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK TAYLOR. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we can go on with our regularly scheduled programming. Where were we? Oh yeah, Thursday morning. I started to get notifications on my phone that TS was posting on her instagram page, so naturally, I dropped everything I was doing and started stalking her page. She was doing one of those things where you upload pictures as puzzle pieces that eventually create one full image when looking at the page. My first thought was, oh shit, she’s about to announce some of the re-recordings or maybe all of them???? In any case, I could feel my heart rate starting to pick up because I knew something big was about to happen.
Never in a million and one years did I ever think she was about to release her NINTH STUDIO ALBUM!! Ya’ll when I tell you that I felt my soul leave my body, do a few jumping jacks, and then come back into my body, I’m not exaggerating. I actually felt like I was in a state of shock, but then all of the normal release day feelings showed themselves: the shaking hands, the lump in my throat, the heart palpitations, etc, etc.
I’ve spent the last few days bonding with evermore, just like I do with any other new TS album. If you’re close to me, you know that I compare this type of bonding with the same way a mother / father would bond with their newborn baby. The idea of you already being SO in love with this precious new thing solely based on the fact of its identity and where it came from, but you still haven’t gotten to know it yet -- and that’s what this time is always about for me.
The biggest takeaway that I’ve personally gotten from evermore and folklore is that TS has finally found her place as an artist and you are either here for the ride or saying sayonara. Ya’ll know I am the fucking captain of this ride but that’s besides the point, I just needed to make that clear. She’s finally at a place where she feels confident in who she is and has zero apologies to give out to anyone, nor should she feel the need to. It made me think that TS really needed to go through the reputation era in order to become this artist that she is today -- this fearless (hah, full circle moment), unapologetic, and bold artist that we’ve witnessed come out so neatly in just these last six months. This notion is so evident in even just the first lyrics off of folklore where TS says “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit // been saying yes instead of no”. She talked a little about this on long ponds and explained how in the past she would always try to fit a certain persona, a certain artist that everyone needed her to be. But these days, that taylor is long gone. She is finally who SHE wants to be and all of her actions from this day forward are because SHE wants to make it happen in that way, not anyone else.
There certainly was no lack of this new bold artist in evermore, which was very refreshing to witness. Part of this new persona that TS has adopted includes her making small references to certain things in her past and having no shame to sort of make fun, or comment on her growth as a human being. This idea was very evident in “long story short” where TS writes “And I fell from the pedestal, right down the rabbit hole, long story short, it was a bad time // Pushed from the precipice, clung to the nearest lips, long story short, it was the wrong guy”. There is something extremely powerful about TS pointing out these huge life-altering events that she had to go through in her past and then talking about it so confidently in these new songs. To hear her speak so nonchalantly about them makes us, as fans, feel good about it as well. It’s like she’s sending out a message to her fans saying, “Hey, it’s okay. i’m good now and we can finally move past this dark era. Let’s grow together now.” I’m not trying to make this about me or any other fan out there but TS has said time and time again that if it weren’t for her fans, she would not continue making music. We are the fuel that allows her to continue doing what she’s doing every day (her words, not mine) and there’s something so powerful about that. The fact that she’s giving us this much credit will always be one of the biggest honors of my life.
To dive into some specifics, the song “tolerate it” is by far one of the more powerful songs for me from this album, and maybe even ever. One of the things that makes TS such a spectacular artist and writer is her ability to paint such a vivid picture when describing a feeling. Yes, a feeling. Let’s take a look at some of these lyrics before I explain any further:
I wait by the door like I’m just a kid // Use my best colors for your portrait // Lay the table with the fancy shit // And watch you tolerate it // If it’s all in my head tell me now // Tell me I’ve got it wrong somehow // I know my love should be celebrated // But you tolerate it
I mean HOLYYYYYYYY FUCKKKKKKKKKK. WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!? That is so insane! TS literally just described a very specific type of loneliness so perfectly and you don’t even know she’s doing it until after the fact! I immediately recognized what TS was doing with this song because she literally painted this feeling that I personally have experienced many times with a past relationship of mine. This desperate feeling of wanting to be seen, wanting to be loved in the way that you know you deserve, and the constant thoughts of you doubting yourself, wondering if you two are actually in love or if it’s just all in your head.
I made you my temple, my mural, my sky // Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life
I mean. come. on. I know this because I’ve experienced it but being trapped in another person’s unwillingness to let someone go due to fear of being alone, uncertainty, and just pure selfishness is the loneliest type of lonely there is and TS was able to describe that so beautifully in this song. I will forever treasure this.
Another song that stood out to me was “no body, no crime” because those country vibes that were so very prominent here made me feel a bit nostalgic to some of TS’ debut songs. Now please don’t take this as me saying I MiSs tHe oLd TaYloR sWiFt but more of a, thank you taylor for being a complete and utter badass to not be afraid to dip yourself into your roots and give your fans a little taste of the medicine that was used to get them addicted to you in the first place. It was refreshing, and fun.
The last song I’m going to point out is “ivy” only because there is just something extremely magical about TS saying “goddamn” over and over.
I’m going to end this blog post the same way I do many others, and that is by thanking TS for this album that is nothing short of a masterpiece. I know I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog post before, but TS will always point her creativity into a direction that her fans need the most. For example, we all know TS is currently living her fairytale life with Joe but she decided to walk through the “folklorian woods” for months to get her mind into a place where she can write these epic, imaginary tales that she knows will resonate with a lot of her fans right now. Also in case you have heard the phrase “Taylor saved 2020″ floating around anywhere on social media, I am here to confirm that that is in fact correct.
Happy 31st birthday Taylor. I will love you forever.
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