Sunday, July 22, 2018

Things I read, watched, saw, and did in Q2 2018

In April, May, and June 2018, I read:

  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • Calypso by David Sedaris
  • The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
I watched:
  • Shameless seasons 5 and 6
  • Call the Midwife seasons 5 and 6
  • Orphan Black season 5
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 4 part 1
  • The Handmaid's Tale season 2
  • The History of Comedy (CNN) all
  • Queer Eye season 1 episodes 1 and 2
  • The West Wing rewatch of season 4 episodes 21-23, season 5 episodes 1-6 along with The West Wing Weekly Podcast
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show rewatch of seasons 2 and 3
  • Rhoda rewatch of season 1 episodes 1-5
  • My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Jim Carrey, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Jessica Parker
  • John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous
  • Tig Notaro: Happy to Be Here
  • Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife
  • Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life
  • Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
  • Set It Up
  • The Martian
I saw:
  • My Fair Lady at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (Lincoln Center)
  • Hello Dolly (with Bernadette Peters) at the Shubert Theater
  • Angels in America parts 1 and 2 at the Neil Simon Theater
  • Boys in the Band at the Booth Theater
  • Othello at the Delacorte Theater (The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park)
  • Follies at Astoria Performing Arts Center
  • In the Heights at the John W Engeman Theater in Northport, NY
  • Peter Hujar: Speed of Life at the Morgan Library & Museum
  • New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park
  • Vanity's Vanities IV: Reverse Cowgirl at the Slipper Room
  • James Adler in recital at the Yamaha Artist Services Piano Salon
  • Choral Chameleon at the Irondale Center
  • Ready Player One
  • RBG
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
Also, I:
  • Went on one (1) date
  • Played 2 concerts with QUO and 1 with the LGBAC Symphonic Band
  • Marched in 4 parades and played 2 other gigs with the LGBAC Marching Band
  • Stepped down as QUO's president and became QUO's manager (which is the job I've been doing anyway)
  • Wrote 2 articles for my freelance job
  • Booked a trip to Paris for August and learned a very small amount of French on Duolingo
  • Went to Woodstock/Saugerties with my family for Fathers Day
  • Traveled to Baltimore, DC, Philly, and New Hope, PA with the band
  • Was visited by friends Shay (and Quoia and their adorable son Justin), Adrienne, and Laura (with special guest Beth) in NYC
  • Turned 38 and managed to get a bunch of gifts despite being 38
  • Achieved the milestones of 13 years in NYC and 2 years at my job (these actually happened at the end of March but I forgot to mention them last quarter)
  • Posted 18 doodles and 6 tiny sinks on Instagram, and sold a lot of stuff on my and Kathryn's redbubble store
  • Won the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child lottery 0 times and lost a trillion times

The Secret History: half a book review

I am half-way through Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which I am reading on a 15-year-old recommendation. Actually, I think the recommendation was of another book of hers, The Little Friend, which had just come out at the time, but a copy of The Secret History was in the right place at the right time and so that is the one I'm reading.

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The book was written in 1992, which doesn't seem like a long time ago but I must acknowledge that it was. The book has aged relatively well. It is set at a college, and although my college experience began six years later and included things like cell phones and the internet, Tartt's depiction seems very familiar.

Social norms are another hallmark of the times, and the book holds up for the most part. There is a character in the book that is misogynistic, homophobic, and either ignorant or intolerant of anything he finds to be different. Although the character is beloved by the narrator and the others in the core group, his bigotry is regarded with appropriate disgust by his peers and by Tartt. There's a lot to say about this character and the relationships surrounding him, as the story really centers on him, but suffice it to say he is seen for what he is.

There is only one stinging aspect of the book that struck me as slightly off, and that is the subtle perpetuation of the idea of gay men as sexual predators. Of course we see the problematic character described above at his homophobic worst, but there is also a hint of homophobia in the narrator, whom I believe we're intended to trust (I mean, he's a compulsive liar, but he's being very frank with the reader). The narrator openly admits (to the reader) that he is uncomfortable around gay men. Admitting it is healthy enough, I suppose, but what is the nature of this discomfort? It is unveiled for us when a friend of his ("a homosexual") makes a pass at him. All turns out well in the end, but the narrator says that he knew this moment was "inevitable." He "knew" there would come a time when his gay friend would come on to him. Why? Because the narrator is narcissistic? By all accounts, the narrator has a low opinion of himself, so I'd say no. Because there's existing sexual tension between them throughout the book? None that has been mentioned. Because the gay character is promiscuous or has a large appetite for sex? Again, not that we've seen.

I can only surmise that the narrator feels that his friend, being a gay man, is predisposed to want sex from any man. Gay men are roaming the streets looking for sex and it's only a matter of time until they get you. This is perhaps a very 1992 attitude (indeed it's a 2018 attitude in many places, and there are even maps that will show you where), when there were very few flattering, honest, or even innocuous depictions of gay men to be found. I would expect a woman to be less likely to think in this way, as they are not in the perceived line of fire and can therefore be more clear-headed about it. Tartt either bought into the stereotype, or, in writing from the perspective of a straight man, chose to shed a layer of sensitivity.

Although I harp on it, the moment was fleeting, and the book has been a great read overall. I'm looking forward to the second half.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Around two years ago I went on a date. It's nothing I make a habit of doing, but the critical elements aligned and I found myself heading to one of Brooklyn's many brunch districts to meet a man. The date was job interview format, and he asked me when I was last in a relationship. The answer was "seven years ago," and he was shocked. He was also shocked that I ordered a Coke (as opposed to a Diet Coke) and admitted to watching "Madam Secretary" (which, fair), so obviously this did not blossom into a relationship. My answer to his question remained seven until it became eight, and now nine.

This past fall I fired up my OK Cupid account and lined myself up a few disappointments, among them a guy with whom I almost had a date a few times, but we just kept missing each other. When it seemed like we were belaboring the point, we just stopped texting each other and I went back to my baseline of not dating.

This past Saturday, I got a text that said, "Hey there! I have your phone number in my phone but I can't remember how we met :-/". I scrolled up to see the text history and it turned out to be OK Cupid guy (not judgmental brunch guy, of course, who will not feature again in this story). I explained to him who I was and how we almost met last year, and he seemed keen to try to meet up again. So far, we haven't gotten any closer to meeting than we did last time, but now I feel like I'm doing more than nothing toward the vague goal of not dying alone.

To be continued.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

First quarter media/art consumption

So far in 2018, I've read:

  • It's All Relative, by A.J. Jacobs
  • The Lady in the Tower, by Alison Weir
  • The Uncollected David Rakoff
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
I've watched:
  • Downton Abbey (full series rewatch)
  • Zach Morris is Trash (all)
  • Will & Grace (season 9 episodes 8-15)
  • Episodes (seasons 4-5)
  • Black Mirror (season 4)
  • The West Wing (season 4, episodes 12-20, rewatch along with The West Wing Weekly podcast)
  • Shameless (season 3, season 4 episodes 1-8)
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 3)
  • The Tudors (seasons 1-2 rewatch)
  • Mary Tyler Moore (season 1 episodes 1-15 rewatch)
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (13 episodes from various seasons)
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (a few random Alex Cabot episodes, rewatch inspired by jury duty)
  • Queen Elizabeth's Secret Agents (episodes 1-3)
  • The Windsors (episodes 1-3)
  • Elizabeth I (episode 1 rewatch)
  • Altered Carbon (episode 1)
  • Mindhunter (episode 1)
  • Wormwood (episode 1)
  • Fred Armisen: Standup for Drummers
  • My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Barack Obama
I've seen:
  • Guster (College Street Music Hall in New Haven)
  • Andrew Bird (Capitol Theater in Park Chester)
  • The Stonewall Chorale (Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan)
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (BAM)
  • Louisiana Philharmonic (Carnegie Hall)
  • 54 Does 54 (54 Below)
  • The Band's Visit (Ethel Barrymore Theater)
  • Sweeney Todd (Barrow Street Theater)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Part 1 (Lyric Theater)
  • Kings (Public Theater)
  • Or Current Resident (Theater for the New City, Squeaky Bicycle Productions)
  • Modigliani Unmasked (Jewish Museum)
  • Fraunces Tavern Museum
  • A Wrinkle in Time
I've done:
  • A trip to Utah & Wyoming to visit Lauren
  • 2 trips to New Haven to visit Sara & Dan
  • Jury Duty
  • 2 QUO concerts
  • 2 articles for my freelance job
  • Duolingo Japanese full curriculum (started in September), started Spanish (49% fluency)
  • Around 20 drawings I saw fit to post to Instagram

Saturday, January 27, 2018

TV consumed in 2017

Series I started watching in 2017:
Steven Universe (seasons 1-4)
Black Mirror (series 1-3)
Stranger Things (seasons 1 and 2)
Shameless (seasons 1 and 2)
Victoria (season 1)
The Handmaid's Tale (season 1)
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (season 1)
Bates Motel (season 1)
Master of None (season 1)
The Good Place (season 1)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 1)
The Eighties
The Seventies
The Sixties
The Keepers
Jane the Virgin (episodes 1-14)
Riverdale (episodes 1-4)
Broad City (episodes 1-4)
A Series of Unfortunate Events (episodes 1-3)
Travelers (episodes 1-3)
This Is Us (episodes 1-3)
Schitt's Creek (episode 1)
Ozark (episode 1)
The Santa Clarita Diet (episode 1)
13 Reasons Why (episode 1)
Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce (episode 1)
Reign (episode 1)

Series I continued watching in 2017:
Will & Grace (season 9, episodes 1-7)
Orange Is the New Black (season 5)
The Americans (season 4)
Orphan Black (season 4)
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (season 3)
Broadchurch (season 3)
The Man in the High Castle (season 2)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 2)
The Crown (season 2)

Series I rewatched in 2017:
The West Wing (seasons 1-3, along with The West Wing Weekly podcast)

Monday, October 30, 2017

I went to Japan

A few weeks ago, my friend Cricket and I took a two-week trip to Japan, covering Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sapporo. At the bottom of this post (under the dashed line) is a detailed account of what we did, for those of you interested in traveling to Japan and want tips. Immediately below are a few observations I hope will be interesting to all. You can see all my photos in my Facebook photo albums (13 albums named "Japan, Day X...") or just the highlights on my Instagram.

Observations/stories
  1. Steamed sesame milk in coffee (at Ueshima coffee, a chain we found in Kyoto and Sapporo) quickly became our favorite morning beverage. They also served thick-cut toast with butter, which we enjoyed.
  2. You hear tales of train employees physically squishing you into the train at rush hour, but our experience was that passengers squish themselves into the train and the employees help when they need to. I saw a train employee come by and hand a woman her bag which was hanging outside the door. The point is, in Japan, people don't stand in the doorway.
  3. The legs on the men who pull the rickshaws are finest looking legs I've ever seen.
  4. Some Japanese establishments play "Auld Lang Syne" at closing time. Cricket and I noticed this peculiarity as we were leaving Nijo Castle in Kyoto. It turns out to be a Japanese song set to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," and the reason for this is colonialism/imperialism blah blah blah.
  5. You hear that Japanese people generally go out of their way to help lost tourists, and this was definitely true in our experience. On three occasions, kind strangers came up to us because we looked lost, and on two of those occasions we were indeed lost. On the third occasion, we'd just stopped to say hello to a dog, but an old women walking with a cane crossed the street to see if she could help us.
  6. Speaking of dogs, nearly every dog in Japan in a shiba inu.
  7. In the mornings, monks walk around the Teramachi Dori area of Kyoto chanting. One morning I listened closely, and it was four monks each holding a different pitch, resulting in a sort of seventh chord (I'd like to go back and determine what type, but in my memory it is something in the neighborhood of half-diminished). Whenever a monk would stop to take a breath, he'd immediately rearticulate the same pitch he'd been chanting, adding interest to the sound.
  8. Most restaurants and cafes in Japan have stuff baskets under the seat/table for you to stash your bag/coat etc while you eat. 
  9. Like the Denver airport, subway and regional trains come with their own arrival and departure music, and it's all charming. Even the cash machines sang a little song for each action it completes (a different sound for returning your card, printing your receipt, and dispensing your cash).
  10. Cricket and I attempted to learn a little Japanese before our trip, if nothing else to show we were trying. We were able to get by with English most places we went, but we managed most of the pleasantries in Japanese. I came to notice that store employees would giggle at me when I'd wish them a good night, saying "oyasuminasai." Cricket and I couldn't figure out why they were so amused, googling and double-checking phrase books, all of which confirmed that "oyasuminasai" means "good night." Finally, we asked our American-born tour guide in Kyoto what gives. He told us that "oyasuminasai" is closer to a "sweet dreams" sentiment than a "good-bye." It's what you say to someone who's about to go to bed. After I learned that, I made sure to keep wishing people "oyasuminasai" because I enjoyed the reaction I got.
Thanks for reading! 

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For those of you interested in details, here is our itinerary:

TOKYO: 5 nights, 4.5 days
  • LODGING: Kimi Ryokan, Ikebukuro, Toshima ward. Kimi Ryokan is a "budget ryokan." Small room just large enough for a futon mattress laid on the floor (times the amount of people you're sharing a room with). Communal bathrooms, lounge area for eating any anything else you might want to do seated at a table. Free private relaxation tub available for reservation. Great value: it amounted to around $30 per night per person.
  • MONDAY: Arrival at Narita Airport and JR train to Ikebukuro (FYI: we bought 2-week unlimited JR passes for around $400 each. I didn't crunch the numbers to see if it ended up being worth it, but it did make travel easier since all we had to do was show the pass to get into the station). Dinner at Ichiran Ramen and then collapsed into bed.
  • TUESDAY: Shinjuku Gyoen (national garden and park), Yoyogi Park with Meiji Shrine and garden, lunch and shopping around Harajuku/Jingumae, including a visit to "HARRY" Hedgehog Cafe. Dinner at Yayoiken in Ikebukuro (Teishuko cuisine)
  • WEDNESDAY: Bus from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal straight to Mt. Fuji 5th Station. Saw a shrine and walked some trails. Dinner at Shin Udon in Shinjuku, and shopping at Tokyu Hands.
  • THURSDAY: Tsutaya Books in Ginza, Walked around the Imperial Palace and through the Imperial Gardens, National Museum of Modern Art (Momat) where there was an exhibit on the history of the Japanese house. Afternoon and evening in Setagaya ward with Cricket's friend Hiroki as our guide: Sangen-jaya, Gotokuji shrine (featuring Maneki-neko, the iconic Japanese good-luck cat), and dinner and shopping in Shimo-kitazawa (dinner at a great okonomiyaki place called Hiroki, no relation to our Hiroki).
  • FRIDAY: Maruzen bookstore in Marunouchi OAZO, Ikeda Manabu exhibit at Takashiyama in Nihonbashi, rode the Yurikamome aboveground train with beautiful views of the city to Odaiba, where we ate at a ramen food court, walked along the water, and went to the Museum of Emerging Science (Maraikan). Met my friend Shohei in Ebisu for dinner (with shopping in Atre before)
KYOTO: 4 nights, 3.5 days
  • LODGING: Seibido Inn, near City Hall, Nakagyo ward. Similar to Kimi Ryokan, but our room was at least 4 times bigger and we had our own bathroom. The lounge was also much larger, and in general we had much more room to breath and spread out. Cost came to around $50 per night per person, and the extra money was worth it. The location was great. We walked to most places, and we were very close to trains and buses.
  • SATURDAY: Shinkansen to Kyoto station and a taxi to Seibido. Once we were settled, we took our first of many walks through Teramachi Dori shopping arcade and Nishiki Market. We found lunch at a fast-food udon place called Hanamaru, and visited Nijo Castle and the garden/spark surrounding Kyoto Imperial Palace. We also took our first of many riverwalks along Kamogawa. Dinner was a collection of findings at a supermarket and 7-Eleven consumed in the lounge at Seibido Inn
  • SUNDAY: Bus to Arashiyama for bamboo grove, shrines, a lunch of shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine), and the Arashiyama Monkey Park. After a quick stop back at the inn, we set our for shopping and dinner in the Teramachi/Nishiki area, a jut southeast for a gin bar, and then a walk along the river back to Seibido.
  • MONDAY: JR to Nara for the Great Buddha statue in Todai-ji, with stops along the way to feed deer and stare at a pagoda in Kofuku-ji, plus lunch at a curry place and snacking at Cafe de Crie (chain). On the way back to Tokyo, we dipped our toe into Fushimi Inari Shrine, and then made it another 7-Eleven dinner night (honestly, tourism is exhausting).
  • TUESDAY: A stop at the post office to mail some gifts home, and then Nishiki Market tour (through Arigato Japan) culminating in a Kaiseki lunch at Omenohana. After lunch, we went back to Nishiki Market to make our delicious purchases, and then ventured across Kamo River to the Gion neighborhood of Kyoto where we walked the scenic Shinbashi-dori, walked through Yasaka Shrine, gazed at a statue of Kannon (Buddhist figure), stalked and eventually caught up with Yasaka Pagoda, and then had dinner at a ramen place we came upon. Craving something western, we had a drink at a drink at Pig & Whistle, and then crossed the river back to familiar territory and had a beer at a local place on our way to the inn.
NOBORIBETSU: 1 night, 1/2 day
  • LODGING: Noboribetsu Grand Hotel. We decided to treat ourselves to something familiar. This was a western-style restort hotel, although they did offer eastern-style rooms and there were public baths. There was a huge dining room, two restaurants, and a bar. Price was around $200 for the night (total).
  • WEDNESDAY: Shinkansen from Kyoto to Noboribetsu (transfers at Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto). After check-in, dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, followed by a drink at the hotel bar.
  • THURSDAY: Breakfast in the dining hall and a visit to the public baths, then we toured Noboribetsu Onsen: Jigokudani ("Hell Valley hot springs"), a nature trail, Oyunuma lake, and Oyunuma Brook Natural Foot Bath. Lunch and shopping on the one street in Noboribetsu that has restaurants and shops. JR train to Sapporo.
SAPPORO: 4 nights (1 in Chitose), 3 days
  • LODGING: An Airbnb near Susukino Station, Chuo ward. Finding the place was a bit of a challenge, but once we got there everything else was a breeze. Cricket paid for this so I'm not sure of the price.
  • THURSDAY: With some help from a kind stranger, we took the "Shiden" Sapporo Streetcar to where we thought our Airbnb was located. We didn't have a kind stranger to help us find the Airbnb itself, but after some texting with the owner, we were inside and happy. We had a beer at a place with no English menu, and then dinner somewhere else ("Organic+"). After a stop at 7-Eleven for dessert, we settled in for the night and watched "Terminal" on Netflix (due to a sudden Stanley Tucci inspiration).
  • FRIDAY: After coffee and thick toast at Doutor (coffee chain), we walked through the crab market down to Toyohira River. We walked along the river to Naebo station where we took the Hakodate JR line to Nopporo Park. There we visited the Historical Village of Hokkaido and walked some trails in Nopporo Natural Forest. We got back on the Hakodate line in the direction we came, going through Sapporo to the other side for an evening in Otaru. We walked the canal, had dinner at the Beer Hall, and dessert at Mister Donut before training back to the Airbnb.
  • SATURDAY: Streetcar to Mt. Moiwa ropeway where we chit-chatted with a friendly stranger who seemed to want to practice her English. Lunch and shopping at Sapporo Stellar Place, then walked to Sapporo Beer Museum and tasting room, where we got to try the much acclaimed Hokkaido cheese. From there we walked and then sat for a spell in the "Sapporo Factory" which is really just a shopping mall. We had dinner at Fugetsu (DIY okonomiyaki place) at "Paseo" in the Sapporo train station.
  • SUNDAY: Checked out of the Airbnb and brought our luggage to the lockers at Sapporo Station, and then spent the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon at Maruyama Zoo. We had a quick dinner at Sapporo Station before training to Chitose for our last night in Japan. After checking in to the Chitose Airport Hotel, we took advantage of the free onsen deal at their partner hotel "Area 1," and then walked down to our last Japanese river (Chitose River) and around town, ending with one last trip to Mister Donut.
  • MONDAY: 7:30am flight out of New Chitose Airport. TIP: Chitose Airport doesn't open until 6:30am.
Notes on weather/time of year:
  • Internet wisdom was that the best times of year to visit Japan are late spring and early fall. We chose the latter (last week of September–first week of October). Temperatures in Tokyo and Kyoto were in the 80s, but more comfortable at night (still short-sleeves weather, though).
  • Mt. Fuji was cooler, in the 60s, and we only went up to the 5th Station (FYI: everything above the 5th Station is closed by early September).
  • We were expecting Sapporo to be colder. Temperatures ranged from the 50s to the 70s while we were there. We did get to see the beginnings of fall color while in Sapporo.
  • It rained three times while we were there (once in each place), but none of them were really fun-ruining rain. We made minor changes to our plans, but didn't have to resort to hiding inside very much.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Passion-not

I am grateful for the advice at 1:06-2:09 of this video. Actually, the whole video is worth watching, and so are nearly all of the videos on CGPGrey's YouTube channel, but this particular segment deals with the concept of "following your passion," which I've always had a little trouble with.

Having an interest in the arts and creative pursuits tricked me into believing I have a passion. The deception began at a young age. I enjoyed playing piano and drawing and composing and listening to music, and most role models in those areas are (or are portrayed as) passionate people. When arts professionals talk (particularly to children) about their work, they speak of their passion. I related and aspired to that passion without realizing that's not the way my mind works.

Even into young adulthood I convinced myself I was passionate about my chosen field of study, which eventually became music composition. The truth is composition is something I did because I enjoyed it, but I wasn't driven to create. I didn't, and don't, have a fire burning inside me.

The search for a "career" that has lasted most of my adult life pointed in the direction of some amorphous "dream job." In the absence of something true taking up the "dream job" space in my brain, I conjured credible dreams of being a successful author, composer, performer, etc. I thought it would be neat to be these things, but I had no fuel to get myself to any of those places, nor even enough to start, nor did I have regret or remorse over not having tried. I realize those are pie-in-the-sky dream jobs. Practical people have attainable dream jobs, like owning their own business, or becoming a successful doctor or lawyer or other professional goal that requires slightly less luck to achieve. None of those types of goals called to me either.

I'm pleased to announce that, after a long journey, I'm satisfied in my work life and the path before me. I'm a copy editor at a marketing agency; I enjoy what I do and I get a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment from a job well done. I'm also happy to have come to the conclusion that passion is not for everyone. The epiphany came before I saw the video linked above, but am gratified to hear it come from a successful, intelligent person, whom I might have assumed to be passionate, but maybe not. Maybe he just found something he likes doing, and is able to devote time and energy to it without the vague motivation of passion to drive him.