I know. I KNOW!
Last week, I did say that I would return with an essay stuffed full of still more book recommendations, and you were counting on that- you, my mighty horde of readers, you teeming host of ten. But no! Here come I, the blog author, with an ego the size of a city, switching right after I bait, offering up an essay all about how you - YOU! - you should start taking YouTube seriously.
It is upsetting. And I apologize. And I will eventually get around to recommending some more books to the two of you who (possibly) care about reading lists of book recommendations. However, we are down to the last two weeks of the school year, and as someone heavily involved in the education of children at this point, my mind these days is an absolute pile of exceptionally squishy mush.
Therefore, I instead seize this open-ended opportunity to write on a subject I care about deeply, despite my mushy minded state.
Yes, really. YouTube.
I have been subscribing to YouTube channels for years now, and my life is significantly the better because of that happy fact. And yet, it has lately come to my attention that many of you are unaware of what a YouTube channel even is. (Those of you who do know, feel free to ignore this next section.)
Basics first! YouTube is a video sharing site. At this point, as it is owned by Google, it is pretty much THE video sharing site. If you are reading this diatribe, you were probably routed here through Facebook, which means you have definitely seen a YouTube video before. People share them on that platform constantly.
YouTube channels are simply the collected uploaded videos of a single “content creator,” which is fancy speak for the person/people who makes/make particular videos.
I am covering these intensely elementary facts first, just so as to not leave a single reader of mine lost and alone in the howling wastes of ignoble ignorance. (Remember I work with children now. End of school year! Brain = bread. Ding! The toast is done.)
Anyway, when you go to YouTube, and you find a video you like, chances are that was uploaded to the website by a channel, and chances are that that channel has other videos they make on a regular basis.
You see, several years ago, YouTube had the nifty idea to partner with the people who were already uploading videos to their site.
“Hey,” said YouTube, “If you agree to partner with us, and agree to our community standards, we will literally share with you the ad revenue that your original videos earn.”
“Sweet!” said the World.
This inspired concept of splitting ad revenue with the People (capital “P”) has spawned a whole world of content that would never be produced by other means. Now, anyone with a camera can start a channel with couple of clicks and can immediately get their personally produced products out before the masses. Today, there are innumerable YouTube channels generating simply staggering amounts of (mostly) original content.
Some of it is rubbish. Much of it is ok. A significant amount of it is truly special.
And you should pay attention to it. Now, let it be said clearly that I am not someone who looks always to the Future, crying out that the Past is dead, that traditional television is to be tossed sobbing into the streets, and that we ought to hoist streaming services such as YouTube on to our shoulders and go parading out into a Brighter Day beneath oh so much bluer skies. I think there is still a place for television. And cable. I just think that services like YouTube are the Future.
Strike that. YouTube is the Present. You should pay attention to your present!
What are you interested in? Odds are, there are already three YouTube channels making stuff about that very interest of yours. One of them might even be your new favorite.
You should subscribe to that channel. That way, new videos from that channel are placed into your subscription feed whenever you are on YouTube.
Feeds! Channels! Uploads! To think there was a time when these words meant other things, or where simply nonsensical! What a magical world this is.
A brief caveat before I start recommending channels that I enjoy.
If you are aware of YouTube, but are not numbered among its actual hordes of in-the-know fans, chances are you have noticed a recent uptick in articles decrying YouTube for various scandals involving advertisers and content creators and various problems with both.
I am not going to go into all the details of those matters here. (If you already know details, and want to know my views on them, please comment below.) All I will say, is that 1.3 billion people now use YouTube. Every minute 300 hours of new video content is uploaded. Each day, people watch 5 billion videos on the site. The good people of Google - I give them the benefit of the doubt - are doing their best against inhumanly impossible odds. Obviously, with those kind of numbers, sometimes things will not go as you would wish. My point is, mostly things do go remarkably well for this company that uploaded its first piece of video just 13 years ago.
Let’s take the long view, people. Proper perspective!
But, let’s not stray from the main thread of this post, frayed though that thread may be.
Time for some recommended channels which will appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of my audience. This week, I am actually going to embed links. These are a few channels I thoroughly enjoy and that I recommend. The links will click you through to the channel homepage, which you may then browse at your leisure.
(If any creator listed here does not wish to have their video linked through my site, simply let me know, and I will remove the offending link. To my mind, this is simply free advertising for you, but I respect other views; what is more, I respect your work. Keep making stuff!)
Bad Lip Reading
I would be surprised if you haven’t already seen one of this channel’s awesome videos already. They float around the internet like Dickensian ghosts of good cheer, brightening our days with weirdly specific humor.
The gist is, they overdub videos with the wrong words, but no one - NO ONE - has ever done this trick better.
Cowboy Kent Rollins
A thoroughly legit chuckwagon cook, Kent is completely Western and all around hilarious. And the recipes I have made of his are delicious. Cook them sparingly, though. They are tabulated for the dietary requirements of hardworking people out on the range. Most of us sit for a living these days - but in a chair, not a saddle.
Ignore the terrible iMovie camera work and the frequently bad sound design. I just love the authenticity of Cowboy Kent Rollins the walking cartoon character.
This bizarre channel features an (Australian?) man who seems to spend half his time in the jungle working out how primitive technologies functioned practically. He films himself, then mercifully edits the footage together, thereby sparing us all hours of backbreaking labor. Curious about mud bricks, grass huts, bows made of tree bark, or axes made of stone?
Wonder no longer. Know.
This channel is made up of quick, clever video essays created by a professor, CGP Grey. Hear him hold court on a large number of topics, which he has helpfully illustrated with the use of stick figures. These sound boring, and they simply aren’t. They cover many topics which you never realized you wanted to know about. Highlights include geography and history.
Just check it out. It is difficult to do it justice.
Binging With Babish
This is a cooking show brought to you by a Brooklyn-based filmmaker who each week cooks foods famously mentioned in movies or tv shows. The more ridiculous the food, the more fun it is.
The production quality on this one is fairly high. And, the man is quietly hilarious to boot. Excellent use of voice over.
Yoga with Adriene
Let’s end with a simple sell. It is late, and I am tired. If you, like me, are on your feet a lot at work, your back is no doubt killing you, just like mine is. Which, of course, means you should be doing more yoga.
But who has the time? Or the extra moolah?
Meet Adriene. She is a certified yoga instructor who has found the time to create dozens and dozens of original yoga sequences of various lengths which you can watch on YouTube for free. New to yoga? There are videos. Been doing yoga for decades? There are videos.
She is also quite funny in a dry, self-deprecating way, which I appreciate. Yoga is a fairly ridiculous thing, but it is still quite helpful.
Do yoga. Feel better. And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Back next week.
(All YouTube statistics listed herein were sourced HERE.)
DISCLAIMER: I have thoroughly reviewed the legal stipulations of using the YouTube logo on the site’s Brand Resources page, but if my use of it in the above blog header violates fair use, simply let me know and I will happily remove it. I am simply a huge fan of the site, and I would love more people to recognize its true potential.
According to my mother, who I view as an authoritative (and trustworthy) source on most subjects, I began reading books very early. At least, I tried to. While still a toddler, I would apparently sit for long stretches of time with a book held open in my lap, turning the pages at regular intervals, all the while staring very seriously at the words as though attempting to work out what all this was about. I am sure many of you did this, too. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. As children, we imitate the behavior of adults. To flatter them. After all, adults are the ones who know where the cookies are. And as children, we are all about earning those treats.
At least, I was. Also, I just liked the way books smelled. I still do. Paper! And ink! And...something else.
Hard to say.
My parents eventually took pity on me and taught me to read. As far as I can remember, this happened before I started school. Some of my earliest clear memories are sitting on my mom’s lap, working our way through a home phonetics book.
Later, in school, I was fortunate enough to have great elementary teachers who fostered my early love of reading. My first grade teacher ran something called the Idita-Read. This was a reading competition based on the famous Iditarod dog sled race. There was a large map of Alaska on the classroom wall, and we were all assigned a little laminated illustration of a dog sled with a number attached. For every night we read a chapter in a book, our illustration would be moved another space. Medals were awarded to those students who got all the way from Anchorage to Nome. We all probably got medals, but in my memory, only three of us did. In my mind, there was a third place, second place, and a third place medal. And I was one of the three.
Because I loved to read!
This week, I thought I might share a list of books I loved when I was younger. If you have a young person in your life, I highly recommend these books. They are great. Many are famous. Several have won awards. I have, incidentally, re-read all of these as an adult.
They hold up.
Most of them have even improved with age, as all truly great things do.
Next week, I will share a list of books I currently recommend to all. Books more targeted to adults. But for now, let us cast our minds back to simpler times.
Assuming anyone kept track of the old file card records at Brookston Prairie Township Library in Brookston, Indiana, my future biographers may (cough, cough - possibly) note that I set a record as having checked out The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien more times than any other elementary schooler ever. I am sure I must have, though memory, as we have already established, is a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing.
I can still picture the cover of the 30th anniversary edition that the library had hidden on a musty shelf up on the second floor. It was oversized hardcover copy, well-worn, and emblazoned with a big, celebratory “30” in shimmery green and yellow printing, as grand and as glinting as the scales of the great dragon Smaug.
Even if you are intimidated by or (what is more likely) put off by the worshipful nerd herd that surrounds the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, I would still recommend The Hobbit. It is a much more accessible book than his masterwork, The Lord of the Rings. It is a straightforward tale of adventure. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Detractors would say it is a slighter work, a proto-story, an ocean-going amoeba later overshadowed by a much-loved leviathan. But I disagree. It captured my attention first, and I love it dearly. The Lord of the Rings, while admittedly masterful, is rambling and frequently strays from the main thread of the plot, however worthy and profound that plot may be.
Let us just say that the book The Hobbit is to the books The Lord of the Rings as the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings are to the movie versions of The Hobbit -- at least to me. I am not saying that is a flawless comparison, but I know which I would rather revisit. (You may fight me in the comments, fellow nerds.)
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Another book that I re-read often in elementary school was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the famous book by Roald Dahl on which the later movie versions were based. I am still a huge fan of the man’s work. Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG were also fast favorites, but I constantly returned to the tale of Willy Wonka and his wondrous chocolate factory.
Perhaps tales of contests and the inevitable triumph of noble young children are irresistable when one is a young and (aspiringly) noble child. Perhaps the mad humor and eccentricity just struck a chord with young Philip, the future theatre/comedy nerd. It is a difficult knot to untangle.
All I know is, I loved the book. And I still do.
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS
This admission is more embarrassing. The Little House on the Prairie series is not typically seen as a series for young boys, but I was lucky enough to have a teacher in third grade who took time each day to read to her class from the first book in this series, Little House in the Big Woods. My young mind was utterly captivated by this charming, straightforward account of everyday life for a family living in pioneer times, which is based on the actual life experiences of the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I really cannot recommend the series highly enough. The whole thing is wonderfully well written, and it is all shot through with an experiential authenticity that can be imitated but not duplicated by other “historical fiction” works for children. I am certain it helped to instill in me an appreciation for and a curiosity about what life was like for other people in different times and places. Farmer Boy, the story of Laura’s husband’s childhood back East, is also one I would recommend.
And yes, the rumors are true. In fifth grade, I used to sneak a copy of The Happy Golden Years, the story of Laura and her husband Almanzo’s courtship, out of the Frontier Elementary School Library. And by that I mean, I checked the book out properly, because I was (an aspiringly) noble child, but I hid the book under other books when I snuck it up to the check out desk, for fear any other student might spy the cover.
It showed a chaste picture of Laura and Almanzo under a tree…holding hands.
Even as a fifth grader, I had to consider my manly reputation.
THE WESTING GAME
This book, by Ellen Raskin, won the Newbery Award in 1978, and if you haven’t read it, I really don’t want to tell you too much about it, because I don’t want to spoil the delicious twists and turns of its tightly coiled plot. It concerns the death of a famous business owner and the strange conditions of his will. It winds together the tales of his inheritors.
It is amazing. I read it again a few years back as an adult, and I still cried at the end.
Granted, I cry at lots of things, but it is a beautiful story. It is a murder mystery. And a game.
And a great book.
THE LONG PATROL
This is a book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and, having read almost all of them, I am not sure if it is the best book to start with if you haven’t ever tried the series.
They are...specific books. They involve forest animals who walk the world as warriors in distinct tribes based on kind. There are mice who are noble monks. Some are warriors. There are tribes of river otters and marauding bands of evil rats and other wicked rodents.
This particular book tells the story of a young hare who runs away from home to join an elite force of hares - the titular Long Patrol - that guard an ancient stronghold under the watchful eye of a Badger Lord. Together they protect the coastline from piratical rats.
If that sounds like nonsense to you, I understand. But it is also magnificent fantasy, and it is a kind-hearted, old school series that values old school virtues like honesty and bravery and is not as silly as it sounds once you sink down into the mice-ridden mire.
The Long Patrol is simply my favorite book in the series, but I recommend the whole thing in its (absurdly) glorious, and weirdly unironic, entirety.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
This whole series is so well-known that I will not waste many words in singing its praises. No doubt you have heard this tune already. But this, the third book, is my personal favorite.
I actually read this book first, skipping over the previous two. My parents, in case you didn’t know, were Protestant missionaries, and they had been told, by friends, that these books were about witches. Therefore, my siblings and I were told we not allowed to read them.
Naturally, this made me want to read them.
Many of the early Harry Potter books begin with Harry sitting up in bed, reading a spellbook at night by the light of a flashlight, so imagine my delight as I lay in bed late one night, reading by the glimmer of a similarly secret light. My parents eventually waived the silly rule, having realized that the stories contained nothing untoward, but the books remain a (minor) guilty pleasure.
Like pretty much everyone, I love this series. I am sure you do, too.
THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH
This book, published in 1961 by Norton Juster, is a complete and utter classic. It tells the tale of a bored young boy named Milo who travels into the mysterious Kingdom of Wisdom, accompanied by a watchdog named Tock. It is ridiculous, witty, and full of warmth and wordplay.
Too many things happen in it that I would never wish to ruin for you. If you have never read it, read it.
No matter how old you are.
THE THIRTEEN CLOCKS
Even as I compile this list, more books spring unbidden into my mind. I am a lover of books, and like many of you, I am more than capable of prattling on and on in the praise of both this and that and that other thing.
So let me dock this metaphorical ship in the safe harbor that is possibly the greatest of all books written with children in mind.
The Thirteen Clocks was published in 1950 by James Thurber. It is the fantastic tale of a quest. A prince rescues a princess from the clutches of an evil duke. I have just told you the plot, but I have told you nothing at all, because the magic of this book lies in its words.
Towards the end of his life, James Thurber started to go blind. A lifelong writer, he nevertheless continued to write, compulsively perfecting his books in his head before dictating them out to a secretary. Because of this, he grew obsessed with the way words sounded together, crafting sentences that danced with a perfection of cadence rarely countenanced by either the eye or the ear.
Do yourself a favor. Read The Thirteen Clocks.
Read it aloud.
See you next week.
5 Funny Actors I Steal Stuff From
As you may (possibly) know, I spent a number of years of my life acting. In a certain sense, this time of my life might be said to have been time wasted. I never managed to make the much vaunted leap from the stage to the screen, and fickle Dame Fortune never saw fit to sprinkle me with even the tiniest portion of either financial fortune or far-reaching fame. And yet, I do not count those years as a loss. Throughout that time of my life, when performing was my singular goal, I crafted a skill set that is proving useful today. I am blessed to work with a company that uses the tricks and trappings of theatre to help young minds learn and grow.
That said, I would be lying if I claimed the thought of acting again - in some capacity - did not now and then flit through my mind. It has now been two years since I last performed in a traditional theatre production, and the itch to act again is starting to irk anew.
I am certain this is so, because last Saturday I actually went to the trouble of printing out a headshot and resume and driving to a community theatre audition for a show that you have certainly never heard of. I was excited about the show simply because, having quickly scanned a list of audition dates, it seemed to be a comedy I could easily fit within my summer break.
Turns out I completely misread the audition date. The audition was on 5/16, and last Saturday, just in case you too are easily confused by numbers, was 5/19. I think you will agree those two dates look similar, but turns out they aren’t actually the same.
I mistook the date of this audition, but I take this misadventure as a tell-tale sign that I am ready to get out the door and do a show. This took some time, because, well, when your day job consists of speaking on a microphone for 5 straight hours each day, motivating students and helping teach them lessons about history in a fun, upbeat, interactive way 5 days each week, the last thing you want to do in your off hours is go audition.
You’re just sick of hearing yourself talk.
But, it would appear that my willingness to “ham it up” has returned. And so, in an effort to stoke the fires of my own enthusiasm, this week I thought it would be fun to make a simple list. What follows are five actors who influenced me greatly, and who I definitely steal stuff from whenever I act.
[It was my original intention to include fun video clips with these, but I have no desire to embed copyright infringing videos on my personal website, even if I am not the person who originally uploaded the content. You will have to seek clips out for yourselves. Better yet, go buy some stuff. Artists need your support.]
When people today look back at old-time silver screen comic teams, they seem most likely to remember the Three Stooges, a fact which I have never understood. The Three Stooges just never made me laugh. The Marx Brothers were precisely my speed, and they, more than anything else, shaped young Philip’s sense of humor. I was still in elementary school when I ran across their films. My siblings and I discovered them by chance while scouring the local library for VHS tapes. There was not much to do in Brookston, Indiana, where we lived at the time. It was (and probably still is) a town of roughly 2,000 souls, nestled between cornfields.
Groucho Marx was my favorite. Half the time, young Philip had no idea why his puns, jabs, and asides were funny, but I absorbed his rhythms and eternal mugging like a sponge. To me, he will always be the master.
The finest Marx Brothers movie is, in my opinion, A Night At The Opera. Check it out. It holds up. Not bad for a film from the 1930s.
You will probably recognize Rowan Atkinson as his most infamous character, Mr. Bean. That is where I first found his work, too. It is difficult to overstate the sheer talents of this man in the realms of physical comedy. He is almost unmatched in the world of funny looks and inherently amusing movements. Mr. Bean is, therefore, an almost silent character. He speaks rarely. (For those interested, but uninitiated, seek out the Mr. Bean tv show. The movies came later, and they aren’t as good. The character works better as a sketch.)
I was surprised to find, later in life, that Rowan Atkinson is almost funnier when he is given lines to say. His stage show, Rowan Atkinson LIVE is well worth tracking down. I highly recommend a dramatic monologue of his where he plays a very genteel devil named Toby. I have pillaged the man’s mannerisms for many a silly character.
I suppose any deep-voiced, dark-haired Caucasian actor with a somewhat dry delivery will draw comparisons to Mr. Warburton. It cannot be helped. But, I confess I steer deliberately into the comparison by shamelessly imitating his vocal inflections. They are striking, memorable, and undeniably enjoyable. Like many in my generation, to me he will always be Kronk. If you don’t know what I mean by that, feel free to question our friendship.
If you haven't seen it, check out the Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events. I am an enormous fan of the A Series of Unfortunate Events book series; I am a casual fan of the film versions. Mr. Warburton, though, objectively crushes as the narrator in the Netflix show.
Obviously, Dustin Hoffman is universally regarded as one of America’s finest actors. He is great in everything. Very often, he is truly remarkable. However, I feel, personally, that his best work was in an overlooked, much maligned film called Hook.
In it, he plays the titular Hook. I have it on good authority that if you were an adult when this film came out, the whole thing plays poorly. The film was not well-received at the time, and there is even a dark rumor circulating the internet that the director, the incomparable Steven Spielberg, now regrets making the film.
To anyone who was a child when the film came out, this is madness. The film is magical in the best way, thoroughly dated, and purely delightful. Dustin Hoffman destroys as Hook, capturing the very essence of what it means to be a comic villain. His portrayal is hilarious, weirdly grounded, scary when it needs to be, and perfectly timed.
I am constitutionally unable to play a British villain role without lifting some of his inflections, inauthentic though they may be, as Hoffman is himself in no way British.
You have probably seen Hook by now, but if you haven't...watch it.
Lastly, this list would be rank nonsense of the very worst kind if it did not include Gene Wilder. The man was, simply put, a comic genius - not a term I use lightly.
He, too, is magnificent in practically everything, but to me he will always be Willy Wonka, as that weird and wonderful film was where I saw him first. The eccentricity, danger, and hilarity he brings to that role is staggering.
To capture the whole thing, you would really have to watch the whole film, So I recommend you do that.
If you want to read a story about me trying to sing a song from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and failing in the extreme, click HERE.
See you next week, my friends.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my living room on a lazy Saturday morning, watching something silly on my laptop when there was a knock on the door. My wife was gone for the weekend on a business trip, and I was not expecting anyone.
Confused, I answered the door.
It was a workman. He was very happy to find me home. I do not remember his exact words, but they expressed his relief. He explained that he had an appointment with the apartment on the opposite side of the building, the one whose kitchen wall is shared with mine. He had been hired to work on pipes in the wall between our two apartments, but, due to a scheduling mishap, here he was at 11 o’something AM, and the people in the other apartment would not be there to let him in until after 3 PM.
He asked if I would mind if he came in and fixed the pipes through my wall. This would save him hours of waiting around, he explained. He offered to let me call his boss to verify that this was all above board.
It is in moments like this that I feel I shall never really grow up. I am nearly thirty years old, but in that moment all I felt like doing was calling my parents to ask what to do in a situation like this. I had not noticed any problems with our sink in the kitchen. I had made no appointment with this man. Nothing in all the world compelled me to show this man a kindness and let him in to my home to do his work. The very fact that he had come to my door uninvited with a sad story and a request for a favor triggered deep suspicions in me. I wasn’t at all sure what this stranger stood to gain from being let into my home, but I still suspected him of something.
Did I tell him sorry, no, go wait, I just don’t trust you?
No. I asked to speak with his boss.
His boss - let’s call him Tony - explained that they had been hired to do work by the complex’s HOA, and that this was all free of charge so far as I was concerned.
So that was...good? However, I was still suspicious. These days, you can call anyone and they can claim to be anyone. What did the claims of this mysterious “Tony” really prove?
So, did I then tell him sorry, no, go wait, I still don’t trust you?
No. I let him in. He said it would take only an hour or two. He pulled out all the bottles and cans and cleaning supplies from under my sink, removed the pipes beneath the sink, cut a hole in the wall, replaced the pipes inside, replaced the pipes outside, put my bottles and cans and cleaning supplies back, and then gave me a number to call to schedule someone else to come in and fix the hole in my wall.
And so, huzzah. Now, out of the blue, it was on me to make another appointment with someone else to get a hole fixed, a hole that I had never asked for, nor needed.
And so, that Monday afternoon, I called the boss. Let’s still call him Tony. He told me his scheduler would contact me. To make an appointment.
Tony’s scheduler - let’s call him Sam - called me when I was at work and left a message.
I called Sam back, explaining my work hours and when I was home. He explained that, because workmen work during the day, when I work, it made it difficult to schedule something like this. Was I ever available during the workday, when I normally work?
As it happens, occasionally my job has half days. This is when I usually run errands and get things done. I had one coming up the next week, and so, with a sigh, I made an appointment on that day. Sure, this meant I couldn’t use that day for other things now, as I would need to be home while the workman worked, but at least I had the sweet consolation of knowing that I had asked for this entire situation in the first place.
That next Wednesday, I came home straight after my half day. I made lunch. I tidied up. I made tea. I got out a book I have been stubbornly trying to finish, and settled down to wait for the workman. I assumed he would be late.
Two hours and change later, I was still waiting. When my wife got home from work, I finally called the scheduler, “Sam” to you and I. He wasn’t in, so I left a message.
A short while later, Sam returned my call. There had been a mix-up. This new workman had, quite naturally, been sent to the apartment that had originally made the appointment to work on the pipes in the first place. This made sense on a certain level. It confirmed both that life is casually hilarious and that Sam’s office was not that well organized.
Sam asked to reschedule. I asked, in measured tones, that since I had made the time for them today, and they hadn’t shown up due to their own administrative failings, would it be possible for them to come at a time more convenient for me? Sam said they would be happy to. I made an appointment for that Friday as soon as I could get home.
The hole under my sink, you see, had been covered with paper and painter’s tape, but paper is flimsy and painter’s tape is temporary. My building is old, and there are roaches about. Occasionally, I see them outside. Thus far, however, there are no roaches in my apartment. I wished to keep it that way. I wanted that hole permanently plugged.
Friday dawned. The day rolled by. After work, I came straight home. Another workman sat on the grass in front of my apartment, leaning against scraps of drywall. This, I thought, is my man.
Did I invite him in?
No. I had learned my lesson. I entered my apartment. A few minutes later, he knocked
on the door. With a sigh, I allowed him in.
This new workman spoke very little English. He was younger than the previous workman. He seemed like precisely the sort of person you would send on after-hours assignments on the Friday before Easter weekend, which was just what this weekend was.
He made himself comfortable in the kitchen and got down to his business. I took up my place in the living room, once more tackling that book I keep meaning to finish. For the first few minutes, good progress was made by both of us. I made it through several pages in my book, and the sounds of meaningful drywall work drifted my way from the kitchen. There were sawing sounds, the sounds of equipment being laid out, the hardworking sound of a screw gun.
Suddenly, right in the middle of this screw gun sound, I became aware of a very different sort of sound from the kitchen. It was a rushing sound. A gushing sound. It sounded a lot like water pouring powerfully from a pipe.
That better not be water pouring into my kitchen, I thought.
Turns out it was.
The workman stood up, yelled, “The main!” and turned and looked at me. I looked at him, barely containing my complete lack of amusement. He rushed out, looking, no doubt, for the main. Thank God he found it. The geiser slowed to a trickle. Then it stopped.
I stood and surveyed the kitchen. Water puddled the floor. I got dirty towels from our hamper and tried to mop things up. The workman returned, mumbling apologies and saying the word “plumber” over and over. He had his phone out. He called someone and spoke rapidly in Spanish. He hung up.
“Plumber!” he said.
“Great.” I said.
“Sorry.” he said.
“Plumber?” I said.
“Plumber!” he said.
In order to keep the peace, I decided to let the conversation end there.
With that, my drywaller left the apartment. I don’t know where he went.
At this point, my wife arrived. In her presence, the great dam of my barely contained rage burst. I did not, let the record show, shout at her, at my delightful and lovely wife. But, when she asked what was going on, my explanation was colorful.
“Is a plumber coming?” she asked.
“Yes?” I replied.
I got on the phone. I called the only number I knew to call in this situation, that of the boss. Let’s keep calling him Tony.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Not great,” I began, and I tersely explained my situation.
“My drywaller drilled into a pipe?” Tony asked, aghast.
“I will fix this. Thank you for calling me.”
Tony hung up.
A few minutes later, our young drywaller returned, accompanied by someone carrying a toolbox. This newcomer smiled politely at my wife and I, and, with nary a word, began doing industrious plumbing type things in the kitchen.
A minute or so later, Tony texted me.
“My plumber is on his way,” read his text.
I glanced into the kitchen, where plumbing was already being actively plumbed.
“Someone who seems like a plumber is already here,” I responded, “But I don’t know if it’s your guy. Your drywaller has a friend here.”
The young drywaller and his mysterious companion continued their work in earnest, none of which involved drywalling. By this point, they had even made the original hole larger - you know, so they could really get at that pipe (that they had broken) in order to fix it. They brought in an industrial vacuum to deal with the remaining water on my floor. They brought in a blow torch. They lit something on fire. I waited, praying for the best, but feeling generally pessimistic.
Eventually, and still with nary a word to me, they arose and left the room, carrying their equipment.
It was at this point that the plumber Tony had sent chose to knock on my door.
“Hello?” I said.
“I am Hernando,” said the plumber, shaking my hand.
Hernando wanted to talk. No one up to now had wanted to talk with me at all, and it caught me by surprise. What he wanted to talk about mostly, though, was what the plumbing problem was exactly, which is not something I was all that clear on. I knew some bullet points. Drill. Sudden geiser. Probable hole in pipe. But I knew no details.
Smiling like a professional, Hernando strode into the kitchen and poked around under the sink, looking at the me intently and asking friendly, reasonable questions.
“Look, I just live here,” I finally said, “You’d have to talk to the guys outside.”
“Oh?” he said.
“Yeah, they were working on stuff. I think they are still out there.”
I peered out the window at the gathering of three trucks outside. The workmen conferred. Hernando got into his truck and left.
Eventually, the young drywaller returned.
“Today, Saturday, or Monday.” he said.
“Today, Saturday, or Monday.”
“Are you asking me when I want you to do the drywall?”
“You can do it today?” We both glanced at the clock. By now it was after 6 pm.
He sighed. “Yes. 3-4 hours.”
“If you can do it now, do it now.” I said. “I’m here.”
He sighed. He nodded.
He did it.
For the record, It only took him two hours and change.
“I will come Monday morning early to paint,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I will come Monday morning, early, to paint this,” He repeated.
“I work then.” I said.
“Call my boss. Make an appointment.”
We’re still trying to find a time that works.
This dust-covered, all-but-forgotten blog of mine is about to be leveled by a storm of agitated thought, because I just saw The Last Jedi on Friday, and I have been unable to think of anything else this entire weekend.
Apologies to the members of my small-but-much-appreciated readership who have no love for or even interest in Sci-Fi films. Now would be the time to disembark this particular starship, because it’s just finished its calculations for the jump to lightspeed. The escape pods are to your left...
Also, this should go without saying, but...
Major spoilers ahead for both The Last Jedi, The Force Awakens, and probably all of the Star Wars films in the end; therefore, help yourself out.
I found Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi to be a profound disappointment. Statistically speaking, most of you probably disagree with me in this. The movie currently has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has premiered amidst a chorus of seemingly universal cheers. Most friends of mine - on social media and in real life - have reacted with shock when they have heard my opinion of the film. I appear to be utterly out of step with the mainstream in this disappointment; and therefore, though I am not a film critic in any way, I feel compelled to defend myself.
Please allow me to state my case.
We begin with an important point. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a massive fan of Star Wars. I wish the series well. I love the originals, I wept (with most of you) over the manifold faults of the prequels, and, as is more pressingly pertinent, I am a huge fan (and apologist for) The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Thus far, I have loved the direction the new movies have taken. My complaints with this new film have nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the new movies in general.
I object to The Last Jedi itself. More specifically, I object to its writing.
I have been thinking about this intensely for two days now, since the credits rolled at my screening of the film on Friday, and at long last I believe that I have distilled my complaints down to two main points. It is my assertion that, as a sequel, The Last Jedi drops almost every ball tossed to it by its superior predecessor, The Force Awakens, entirely failing to answer seemingly every question raised therein, and, furthermore, I assert that the sequel fundamentally confuses having popular characters do cool looking things with giving them meaningful moments and character arcs.
I will explain.
As we are all aware, The Force Awakens raised many questions and teased out a lot of mysteries while providing very few answers. Its director, J.J. Abrams, is famous for this in. He is less famous for providing satisfying answers. Therefore, I was curious to see where our new writer and director, Rian Johnson, would take things. Surely, I imagined, he would attempt to answer at least a few of these questions. Surely, I supposed, he would continue at least a few of the mysterious storylines prompted by the preceding motion picture.
No, as it turns out. Again and again, as I watched, I was amazed at how Mr. Johnson chose the laziest, most obvious choices possible, each time skirting any questions fans of the series might be asking themselves.
Perhaps, like me, you wondered at the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke. Would we find out a bit more about his origins and intentions? How would this new evil leader distinguish himself from the Emperor of movies previous? Not at all, as it turns out. He is given two scenes in a throne room almost identical to the Emperor’s, save for its hip red hue, and his dialogue is absolutely identical to stock dialogue you would write for Palpatine. We learn nothing new about him, and his scenes, his goals, and his nature are carbon copies of things we’ve seen before. Inventive!
Perhaps, like me, you wondered about Maz Kanata, the strange force-sensitive alien who gave Rey Luke’s lightsaber and refused to explain where she got it. Would we learn more? Nope. Instead, Mr. Johnson opts for a brief cameo. Facetiming into the movie, she provides someone’s cryptic contact info to aid our characters in a side quest. Thanks?
Perhaps, like me, you thought it was kind of lame how Captain Phasma had such a miniscule amount of screentime thus far, and were excited about the one-on-one fight she and Finn would have in this picture, featured, as it was, in the film’s trailers. Surely, I assumed, they wouldn’t make her part as lame as last time. They did! Once again, this powerful female villain is just a minor roadblock in Finn’s path, who he easily bests after a one minute hand-to-hand with the aid of an elevator. Oh, and in case you hoped for a rematch, no. The movie then drops her through a collapsing floor into a lake of fire. WOW.
Perhaps, like me, you were curious as to who Rey’s parents were? Turns out, they were nobodies, as Kylo reveals as he tempts her to join him in ruling the universe as...friends? Lovers? Who can say?!? The film definitely doesn’t make things clear. Now, Kylo may be lying about her parents. He is, after all, evil. And, the future as revealed by the Force is, as Yoda as told us previously, uncertain. But, still. Then why did you tease this fact out, present series? Even as a valid writing choice, this is a let down for your fans. You had to know that.
Perhaps, like ALL OF US, you had heard of the unfortunate passing of Carrie Fisher, and were curious to see how they would work that into the story. Now, I completely see the validity of giving Princess Leia one last active role in the series, and I can see the argument for letting her ride off into the sunset in this film, so to speak, without writing in a death for the character. What I object to strenuously is the fake-out death they give her right at the start of the film, from which she saves herself by using the Force in a profoundly powerful way we have not seen before in the series. More on the implications of that last part in a second, because this moment provides us with an excellent introduction into my second problem with the film.
The Last Jedi confuses showing us beloved characters doing cool-looking things with giving us an actual, meaningful story that is based in the wants and needs of the characters. Let’s return to Leia’s Force moment. Is it previously hinted at in the series that Leia has the Force. Great! We are all agreed that this is in the logic of the series. But, The Force Awakens clearly made a choice to make her role one of political leadership. Twenty plus years have passed since The Return of the Jedi, and she has not pursued training in the Force. She is not a Jedi. She is not using these abilities. They have never manifested so powerfully before. She does not use them again in this manner in this film. The moment is never even acknowledged IN THIS FILM. So…and please follow my logic here...other than looking cool, WHY DOES THIS MOMENT HAPPEN? It undermines her character as established in the previous movie. It also makes her bizarrely withholding. The stakes have never been higher. Her people are dying left and right. She has it within herself to be a Jedi and a symbol of hope herself and she ...doesn’t??? Does that make any sense for her character?
And while we are on the subject of choosing to not use the Force for weirdly undefined reasons, let’s talk about Luke. Now, I applaud Rian Johnson for making bold choices with Luke. And, let me state here for the record, that I think Mark Hamill did an awesome job with a terribly written part. But, please, someone, explain to me what Luke’s reasoning is for his actions prior to his return to form at the end of the picture. Just try to sit down and write a defense of his views. Please try, because I have been trying for two days, and I can’t.
It’s an interesting direction, Mr. Johnson, to have Luke soured and embittered by failure in his old age, but it feels...self-conflicted. Luke, if you have gone here to die, why are you still milking aliens and catching fish? Why are you sustaining your terrible life? Why, if you want to destroy the Force Tree, haven’t you already done so? You’ve had…YEARS TO DO SO. Why, in hiding from the world, did you come to the most powerfully Force-sensitive place that there is in order to then...shut yourself off from the Force? Just start to think it through and it falls apart. Now, perhaps Mr. Johnson would here claim that this is just evidence of the internal conflict that is in Luke. And, that is fair so far as it goes, but that just brings me to my main complaint in so far as Luke is concerned.
Consider this. What is Luke’s main obstacle to overcome before he can return to save the day? He is fighting through his guilt at having momentarily thought of killing Kylo and his shame in having failed his nephew. Alright, so, having been told by Rey that this is Kylo’s fault not his, and having been mentored by Yoda and told to move on and accept his failures, what does he do next?
He Force projects himself to the Resistance and Kylo, thereby facing his failure of a pupil, and he tells Kylo that he is wrong, that he, Luke, is not The Last Jedi. Then, he disappears. Then, he fades into the Force as Obi Wan and Yoda have done previously, his noble works on this plane of existence now apparently achieved.
This plays, as the movie presents it, like a grand accomplishment, because it is a revelation to us in the audience that Luke is Force projecting (an ability apparently canonized by Star Wars Rebels). In the screening I saw, the fact that Luke survived the laser barrage got an applause break - so did his disappearance. But, please think about this moment again from Luke’s point of view. He has been hiding for years, crippled by shame and regret, corrupted by bitterness. Having been shown the error of his ways, he then reaches out in the Force to make one last Force-fueled holographic phone call to serve as a distraction while the remaining resistance fighters escape, then he … drops the mic?
Why are so many of you okay with this as the swan song for the hero of the previous trilogy?
Let me contrast this passing with the passing of the classic character we lost in the last movie, (SPOILER ALERT!) Han Solo. Consider the circumstances of Solo’s passing. Han has been similarly broken up by the tragic loss of his son, Ben, to the Dark Side. Eschewing his responsibilities, he has returned to his outlaw smuggler antics of old with his friend Chewie. Like Luke in this new movie, in The Force Awakens Han is a lost soul, refusing to face his failures and his fears. But, then, at Rey’s prompting, he begins to change. He reconnects with Leia. In the end, he goes to save his son, knowing that in all likelihood he will fail. The scene on the bridge in The Force Awakens is touching not just because we see the tragic demise of a beloved character. It is meaningful because we see a fallen character choosing to risk himself for the love of his son. It is a universal, powerful, meaningful moment that is made meaningful by the fact that the actions of the character read true. Han quips. Han hides. Han runs. Here, though, he doesn’t. He grows. He sacrifices. It means something.
Can you see why I prefer The Force Awakens?
And what, ultimately, does this movie accomplish? Think about it. At the start, thousands of Resistance fighters flee the First Order. At the end, perhaps thirty are left, huddled aboard the Millennium Falcon. When Rey asks Leia the perfectly reasonable question, which I will paraphrase, “how do we move on from here? What do we have left?” Leia answers with the vague statement, which I will also paraphrase, “I think we’ve got everything we need.”
We are then treated to a sequence in which small urchins tell each other the Legend of Luke Skywalker, a story already known throughout the galaxy, and we see a Force-sensitive boy move a broom, telling us that there are still Force-sensitive people out there. A fact we knew already.
So, to recap, we have watched thousands die before our eyes, Luke is gone, Leia is still here in the world of the movies, but will not be able to appear in the future movies, but at least we know their story lives on and that others can learn the Force, both of which are facts known before the thousands died amidst a chorus of threadbare platitudes on the importance of hope.
If you enjoyed this film, I am happy for you. Rian Johnson is an...interesting filmmaker. He made a beautiful-looking movie with some funny jokes and some awesome action in it. I laughed at some of the jokes. I liked Benicio del Toro’s character. The lightsaber battle with the Imperial Guards was dope. But, I have absolutely no desire to ever see another Star Wars film produced by him, because I don’t believe he understands what it is that makes this saga of films great, nor do I trust him to craft a great story.
If you'd care to set me straight, you may do so below.
I genuinely appreciated a few of you reaching out last week, both in the comments here on my dusty little website and on my purposefully neglected Facebook page, sharing your own methods on how to use social media for good. It seems that several of you have carefully crafted parameters that allow you to wield the unsettlingly awesome powers of online interaction in order to make the world a better place, and I for one would like to applaud your efforts.
In fact, I’ll do that now.
I’m back. I did it. (You can trust me.)
I did literally do it, because I try to be someone who does what he says he will do. Yes, I felt silly. Yes, I did give you a standing ovation. Why? Because, why not not? If applause is good, standing and applauding is better. We all decided that at some point back in the forgotten mists of Long Ago, and by golly, we’ve all been agreeing to it pretty much every time we go see a play or a musical or a speech that isn’t actively awful. Why should I be the one to buck centuries of storied tradition?
Now, let’s move past the part where I just stood and gave a solo standing ovation alone in my apartment.
The point is, I am sincerely gladdened to learn that many of us, in these tiringly terrible times, are endeavoring to use our smartphones to make others and ourselves more peppy, more present, and more positive, and so, here is a Part Two to last week’s essay. In it, I share with you another way I have found of making certain the time I spend in the eerily incandescent light of my smartphone’s shining screen is time well spent, and not time unprofitably, irresponsibly, and irretrievably frittered away. After all, no one knows how long one’s life will be. Let us use our time well.
[I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, so, fair warning, this will be be an ongoing series.]
We begin by abandoning the topic of social media completely. Let us consider that case closed, though there is, of course, much more we could (and may yet) say. Instead, let’s talk about how to turn our smartphones…into a library.
The world is wide, my friends, and full of wonders. And yet, it is easy to forget this. Realize that your smartphone (yes, your smartphone) is a window, a book, and a speaker system connecting you to almost any sight ever filmed, story ever typed, or sound ever recorded. We all know this, and yet we insist on wandering about like fact-starved fools, blindly accepting only the paltry offerings we find drifting down the electric rivers of our media feeds as though we are content with these soggy scraps. Know that there is a feast out there, my friends, if only we will seek it out.
Let us feast.
Allow me to introduce you to the OverDrive app. This marvelous app, free to download, connects your device to your library account. Libraries, you see, still exist in their traditional, seemingly antiquated state, offering old-fashioned books, films, and recordings; however, most now also offer, free to their members, digital collections of books, audiobooks, and (some) videos. Simply download this app and plug in the numbers on that library card you still have gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, and presto!
You can either download books straight to your phone or tablet, or you can link the system up with a Kindle, if you are the sort of person who owns a Kindle. I happen to be one of those sorts of people. I love old-fashioned books, but I travel a lot. And, books are heavy. So, why choose between the old ways or the new? Do both, I say! Pack a book and a Kindle.
I particularly love that OverDrive allows you to download audiobooks for free for the normal amount of time you would check something out from the library-- say, two weeks. This is especially useful considering the long commutes my job requires. Nothing helps pass time stuck in traffic so profitably and so enjoyably as a well-produced (free!) audiobook. Friends of mine swear by Audible, a paid service that provides audiobooks, but I say, why spend money when you don’t have to spend money?
I trust you will agree.
The only “downside” to OverDrive is that digital library collections are designed to mimic how a library only has a limited number of copies of a given work. Therefore, there are only so many “copies” of each digital book or audiobook. Often, an item will already be “checked out” and you have to go on a waiting list. Also, your local library probably doesn’t have every digital book out there, just like they don’t have a copy of every physical book ever printed. This can be an annoyance occasionally, but the app will send you an email when a book becomes available. I have found that by signing up for a lot of wait lists, books stagger in seemingly of their own happy accord.
It’s kind of like sending free gifts to Future You.
“Hey, You! I mean...Me! Here is a digital copy of that book you really liked at Barnes & Noblem, but now you can keep your 25 dollars. You’re welcome, Future Me!”
And yes, even if you are not the sort of gadget-and-gizmo-loving person who has a Kindle, know that you can download books onto your phone. Then, you can read them whenever you end up stuck waiting in a car for that late friend of yours, or when you are pointlessly standing in line, or when you just really need something good to read. Having back-up books on my phone has made me a genuinely better person, because, whilst I might otherwise waste that time scrolling and trolling, instead I now read.
I recommend it.
Reading is amazing.
And, please, feel dangerously free to join me next week for Part 3, in which I will cover several other ways to “life hack” your smartphone.
In the meantime, stay safe, everybody. My love to you all.
Hello! I’ve missed you. Have you missed me? No?
Yes, you’re right. I did entirely fail to post an entry last week on this, my allegedly weekly blog. You have my sincerest apologies. If it’s any consolation, I don’t even feel bad about it. I have been busy, running about Orange County and the Central Coast, presenting interactive historical presentations, because that’s what I do now. I present things. I am a presenter. That is my job title.
And yet, here we are again. The pair of us. Me at my keyboard. You at your variously sized screens. Here I type, and there you read.
What shall we talk about this week?
What? You find this theatrically contrived, whimsically conversational introduction unnecessary? You think I should’ve just begun this week’s essay without it?
Well, you’re probably right, but try to see things from my point of view. Regardless of your own amusement level, I am thusly amused. I dearly love theatrical contrivances, and I have never been one to use words sparingly. Why should I? Words are, after all, sensationally, even scandalously free to use. They cost me nothing!
This is outrageously off-topic, but I am suddenly reminded of my favorite correctional note that I ever received back on a collegiate essay. The year was 2011. I was taking a senior level history course on the decline of the British Empire that semester, just for kicks and giggles, because the professor, Dr. Smith, was himself British, and when you attend a small school in rural Indiana that just seems cool as hell. I had handed in an essay on something or other, having worked fairly hard on the thing, history being my hobby then, and not my job, as it now is (somewhat ironically), and I received the essay back with a grade far higher than I dare say the silly thing deserved. But there, on the front page, which was almost completely covered in correctional marks done in blood-red ink, was a sentence now burned into my brain. Dr. Smith had sliced into my verbose, overly dramatic opening paragraph as with a scalpel, circling my topic sentence and scrawling next to it, “An excellent point lost in a sea of waffle.”
I memorized that, because I want it to be the title for my eventual, inevitable memoir.
An Excellent Point Lost In a Sea of Waffle:
The Life Story of Philip David Black
Take that, Dr. Smith! Incidentally, I hope you are well. You were an awesome professor.
Where were we?
We were deciding what to talk about this week. Next time, please cut me off before I prattle on about nothing like that.
Let’s talk a bit about technology. If I am to be completely honest, dear readers, I have actually started this essay twice already. It began as a rant about the pointlessness of social media. From there, it morphed dramatically into a strange essay in which I compared the smartphone we all now carry with a sword.
Weird, right? It made sense to me at the time. I think I was trying to make the point that the handheld technology we all now wield with wild abandon can in fact be dangerous if it is untempered by wisdom. I hoped to encourage us all to treat our smartphones with the proper respect.
But, I think I will spare you both that absurdly forced metaphor and its accompanying stench of self-righteous self examination.
Instead, I will simply share with you a few positive changes I have made to the way I use my own smartphone. As we have discussed often before on this blog, I am a pessimist, but I try not to be. It seems to me that our smartphones, our computers, and the internet in general offers us innumerable chances to do truly remarkable things. I have a suggestion. Let us consciously seek to use these super powers for good. The world is bleak enough these days.
Where to begin? I have already rambled long, so let us stick to a single subject for the rest of this entry-- the subject of social media. For starters, I have removed social media apps from my phone. Twitter and Facebook have been completely purged from it. I keep Instagram installed, because pictures are nice, but I took it off my home screen, so I can’t just mindlessly click on it and lose myself to the endless scroll.
Let me clarify. I have not deleted my accounts on these services. I still have them. I check Facebook occasionally (Twitter hardly ever), and I keep all my information on Facebook (and even Twitter) current. But, I no longer live there. I have removed my mental energies from these sites.
I have done this for two reasons. Firstly, I am blessed to have friends from many diverse walks of life and of many various beliefs, fields, and orientations. And, frankly, it made me sick to see these many friends, acquaintances, relatives, and co-workers all screaming at each other in comment fields, following the political typhoon that has engulfed us all. I am not, may it emphatically be said, unplugging from politics. More than ever, I am attempting to stay informed and communicate with people of differing views, but I have stopped imagining that internet commenting and fire-breathing, left-right turf warring on these apps has anything to do with the real business of citizenship. If you want to discuss politics with me, please do so. Just meet with me, or call me when you want to do it. I am earnestly seeking what it means to be a compassionate, principled citizen of this wonderful country in 2017. I just don’t do it on apps.
The second reason I removed these apps was because I was starting to feel like a harried intern at a media conglomerate. I celebrate the magnificent connectivity that these social media apps foster. I think it is marvelous that we can all now, at the press of a few buttons, know instantaneously what seemingly anyone we have ever known is doing this weekend. In many ways this is a delight. But, we are all of us only humans in the end. We only have so much time. And, in a world where we are increasingly aware (immediately) of every single scandal, disaster, tragedy, and happenstance that occurs anywhere in the world, the strange pressure we are all now under to promptly rush to our message boards and trumpet out our own personal stance and viewpoint on the subject of EVERYTHING is mind numbing, soul destroying, and, ultimately, physically impossible. It simply cannot be done. It is foolish to try.
Dear friends, I resolutely reject the modern notion that if you (yes, you!) fail to use social media to decry evil, you are yourself evil; although, yes, I have seen several people I know, love, and respect recently make this very claim. If you choose to use social media for that, then that is your decision. As your friend, I applaud you for seeking to make the world a better place in this way. However, I do not choose that route. What is more, I find it morally questionable to demand that everyone use their personal platforms as soapboxes. I do agree that we each have a moral responsibility to care for our communities in whatever way we are able. I believe we will each one day be judged for the choices we make in this life. But, just because we all now have a smartphone does not magically transform us each into a one-person Public Relations firm. We don’t need to each issue a personal statement after every single public tragedy. That is unrealistic and an impossible burden for a person to put upon themselves. If you see someone struggling in the room where you physically are, help them. If you see evil in your environment, and you can do something about it, do it. Simply screaming about the world and its evils does little. Let’s all get out and do our best to do actual helpful stuff.
Let’s stop there for now. I have rambled long enough. If you have another perspective on a how to use social media for good, feel free to comment below. I am always open for new angles on positivity. These are simply changes that I have made that have worked for me. Next week, we will cover a few other upbeat ways to use your smartphone.
Stay safe, everyone. My love to you all.
This week, I’d like to share with you two methods I’ve been using lately to help balance my diet. These are not original ideas. They have, in fact, been around for a long time. But, they are new to me, and they are proving helpful; and so, I offer them to you, my diminutive readership, in the hopes that they might inspire you to try new things, too.
Believe me when I say the following: it was most definitely time for me to start balancing out my diet. As a freshly married man, I am still very much in the process of emerging from several consecutive months of more or less continual celebration, a fair bit of which has heavily involved food. Traditionally, this celebratory phase would’ve kicked off with a wedding cake, many-layered and beautifully white, but we actually didn’t have a cake at our wedding. Instead, being both proudly nonconformist and generally indecisive, we celebrated with both pies and cookies.
Yes, I ate several cookies. And yes, I ate a pie. Yes, the whole pie. No, not all at once. We took it with us in the getaway car. Chelsea helped eat it. (A bit.) Let’s just say, it was gone within 48 hours. It really doesn’t matter who ate 3/4s of it. (It was me.) After that, we went on a really cool honeymoon to Colonial Williamsburg, which involved eating at all the cool, old-timey restaurants there. All of them. And now, Chelsea and I live together, obviously, cooking and eating and going out and eating, and it’s a whole thing. So, you can just trust me when I say that I really needed to start trying things out and balancing my diet.
As I may have mentioned before, balance is not my strong suit. When unchecked, my propensity is to swing between extremes. You will find me either surreptitiously attempting to eat the entire box of donuts at the office or battling to only eat “paleo” or something else equally stringent and difficult to maintain. So, this time, rather than adopting a new stricter-than-ever diet program and swiftly falling off the wagon, I have instead attacked the matter from a different angle.
Method one! I have begun something that is technically called “intermittent fasting”, although I do not like that term. It sounds frightening and almost monastic, like something a reclusive hermit would do to appease his distant and angry god, but it really isn’t like that. It simply means that I only eat within a certain window of time each day. My eating window starts with my first cup of coffee or bite of breakfast. From then on, I have twelve hours in which to eat. When my twelve hour window is up, I stop eating, and I allow my body twelve hours to rest from digesting food. The only thing I have during my twelve hour fast is water.
Again, this sounds dreadful, but it really isn’t. First off, the “fasting” isn’t that bad. Most of it is spent sleeping, which is always, for all of us (unless you suffer from particularly aggressive sleepwalking), a time of natural fasting. This “twelve hours on/twelve hours off” has brought significant balance to my eating habits. When I wake up bright and early, I am hungry, so I eat. Throughout my day, I make sure to get in snacks and meals to power me through my work. When I get home from work, I have a substantial, but still reasonably healthy dinner (with maybe a pleasantly adult beverage or two), and then I stop eating, because my time is up. During the several hours left before bed, I hydrate with water. This isn’t hard to do, because I already ate enough during the day. And - and this is the really KEY PART - as my body winds down from the day, burning through the last of the fuel I ate, it naturally gets sleepy.
So then I sleep.
It makes complete sense if you think about it. We are always told not to eat “late at night,” but that way of thinking about this idea always struck me as stupid. I naturally want to fly in the face of such pithy, commonly bandied about rules. They annoy me! Thinking about it in terms of cycles of “now I eat, now I rest”, though, has a much stronger appeal for me. For whatever reason, it hacks into a slightly more rational part of my brain, one that I am only now realizing I have.
There are scores of supposed health benefits to this intermittent fasting. I could cite sources, but if you are interested, look them up. The internet has a lot of stuff on it. Supposedly, it helps promote lean muscle growth and lowers diabetes risk and cancer growth. It even helps regulate your hormones. All this can be yours by simply giving your digestive system, that tired old workhorse behind your belly button, dedicated periods of rest. The benefits allegedly increase if you shorten the eating window down to just nine or ten hours, but I think twelve is a more manageable place to begin. We are all busy, and what with work and errands, etc, it is hard to get enough calories in if you make the window too short.
All I know for certain is that I feel a lot better when I eat this way. And, it doesn’t really feel like you are “dieting” per say, because you actually have to be careful to eat enough during the time that you have to eat. So you get to eat! If you want a treat, have a treat. If you are really hungry, eat more. Just eat during your eating window. Like I say, this is a way to bring balance to your diet. It is a natural, healthy limiter, not an absolute “thou shalt not.”
It works for me, but then, in fairness, I am a young, reasonably healthy person who enjoys mixing things up and trying new things. Obviously, talk with your doctor if you are considering any large dietary changes. However, if you want to try this, feel free to message me or leave a comment below. I have only my own experiences from which to extrapolate, but I am always available if you have a comment or question.
I have already rambled substantially, so let us proceed with greater brevity.
My wife and I are trying to eat more meals at home, which means we have been cooking more. This is fun. We enjoy it. You will, too! I recommend poking around YouTube. There are tons of cool cooking channels there with lots of fun and delicious recipes. Two that I enjoy are Jamie Oliver and The Happy Pear.
However, my wife and I have a deal. We cook differently. When I cook, I cook Vegan dishes, and when my wife cooks, she can cook whatever she wants, which typically involves meat or cheese of one kind or another. This helps us maintain a varied and balanced diet. Vegan and vegetarian dishes are a great way to get a lot of vegetables and fruits into your diet all at the same time in tasty ways, instead of relegating them to the status of bland, unappealing, and therefore often uneaten side dishes.
I mention this not to brag that I only have to cook half of the time (that would be unfair), but only to remind you that you don’t have to be all one thing. As humans, we suffer from a tendency to be very “either/or”. Know that you can be multiple things. I like meat, but I don’t eat it all the time. I love vegetables, too. (I think I just love food in general.)
Why not be a vegan or vegetarian one day a week? Or every other day? Or one meal a day? Mix it up! Have fun! Above all, find balance.
Next week, we’ll talk about changes I’ve made in the way I use social media. If that interests you, please join me again next week. If not, go in peace. I mean you no harm!
Months have passed since I last uploaded a blog post. Most of this time was spent in Southern California, where I live now, save for a brief matrimonial excursion to Tennessee, followed by a week’s worth of honeyed moon spent in Virginia, which I am pleased to report, just as the state’s motto would tell you, is indeed “for lovers”.
Let’s all be classy and leave the matter there. Although, if you really would like me to gush about the wedding (the wedding part - calm down), feel free to call me. If you don’t have my number, there may be a reason. Or, I suppose you could message me. Weddings are sacred and lovely things (ours was perfection), but they are only of limited interest to those not directly involved. You can admit it; my feelings are not bruised in any way. You didn’t want to read another long, bloggy, rambly blah-blah-blah about a wonderful wedding.
Instead, I would like to spend the next few weeks discussing a few positive changes I have made to my life in the intervening months, excluding, of course, my marriage, which is, naturally, highly personal and experimentally non-repeatable. It’s not really something you can go out there and replicate with precision, although you are welcome to try. I recommend finding someone who makes you laugh and who challenges you to try and be your best self.
This week, let’s discuss meditation.
Yes, I am now one of those insufferable people who go around saying unbearably Californian things like, “Do you meditate?” It was only a matter of time. I already exercise and try to eat vegetables, etc, so clearly I've sipped the metaphorical Cool-Aid at some point since I moved out here.
But, honestly, I wish I had started meditating years ago. It is exactly as helpful as everyone says it is. Possibly more so. In this day and age of constant information and stress, we all know our brains are overly burdened, exerted, and whelmed. I knew mine was, but for the longest time I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t think there was anything I could do...until I finally tried that thing everyone always recommends (meditation) and then - surprise! - it turned out that the thing monks have been doing for millennia actually is helpful.
Who woulda thought?
Meditation doesn’t take as much time as you’d think. Ten to fifteen minutes. Personally, I use an app called Calm, although friends have also recommended an app called Headspace. For a low fee, these apps give you recordings of “guided meditations” where a person with an irrationally soothing voice walks you through the process. Basically, you sit still, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. You train your mind, just a little each day, to control its constant thinking. You learn how to appreciate the moment. It sounds boring, and it just isn’t. Trust me. It’s what your brain is longing for, and it’s what you haven’t been giving it enough of - rest. Not sleep, but a break.
Now, let me rush in here and say this is not a paid endorsement for Calm or Headspace. The makers of these fine apps do not have to pay me, because I have been doing this for several weeks now, and I am enjoying tangible mental benefits. Each morning, I get up - just ten or fifteen minutes before I normally would. I put on the coffee (because, duh). Then, I pull out a chair, I sit, I put headphones on my head, and I take a few minutes to clear my mind before the day really begins.
I always assumed that if I tried to do something that involved closing my eyes in the morning, this would just put me back to sleep. And, I do yawn once or twice. But, the strange thing is it actually wakes me up. I find I am drinking less coffee. Clearing my mind allows me to appreciate the little things I used to overlook, like breakfasts and sunrises and the sound of a song on my car stereo. I am finding it easier to enjoy my job working with children. I am simply more present.
The real kicker for me, though, is that this discipline of training my mind to let go and relax has been helping with my addiction to constant noise. As my wife could tell you, I have always needed to have a sound on. A podcast. An audiobook. Something! This was to drown out my constant stream of thought. This was always racing, it was often negative and self-destructive, and I had no idea how to turn it off. The only thing I knew to do was to drown it out.
But, it turns out your mind is a muscle. You can train it. This is not always easy, but, remember, it doesn’t take that much time out of your day. And, it gets easier as you go, like anything. Think of it as a really, really, relaxing yoga class for your brain. Only, unlike yoga, you don’t even have to move, and it only takes ten to fifteen minutes, instead of an HOUR AND A HALF. Seriously. I love yoga, but whoever decided an HOUR AND A HALF was a reasonable length of time for a class is…probably a better person than me.
What can I say? I am a work in progress, as are we all.
Now go meditate. Or, take a walk. We can all use a break these days. I'll catch you next week.
For the past few months, I have managed (against all odds) to maintain a reasonably steady release rate of one essay or story per week on this, my digital scribble scroll. This production schedule was instituted by me as a personal challenge, seeing as the primary purpose of this blog is to provide me with a contained space in which to compose and then publish my hopefully harmless, ideally amusing writings to a gently tolerant, if mostly unaffected world.
Personal challenges, as anyone who knows me well will tell you, are my bread and butter, or, in the common parlance of our time, my kale and hummus. I find personal challenges remarkably motivating, and so I engage in the practice of challenging myself regularly.
This practice works well for me, because it harnesses my natural strength as an exceptionally dramatic individual. Think of me as a human pendulum. I exist in a world of extremes, vacillating wildly between side one and the other, rarely ever coming to rest in the noble middle, which is the rightful realm of the nominally sane and stable. I am either totally focused or completely distracted. I am all in or all out. Therefore, and somewhat tangentially, I do not multi-task well, which has made my career in musical theatre, wherein one must act, sing, and dance all at once, a ceaseless exercise in both humility and denial.
In short, dramatically difficult deadlines just do it for me. If I had not assigned one for this blog, I would never have finished more than an entry or two. Knowing that I had to publish an interesting essay or story each week has given the past few months positive focus and intention.
And yet, the time has come to ease up on the self-applied pressure. Summer is here, and with the change of season, memories have returned unbidden of the long, lazy summer breaks of my scholastic yesteryear. I yearn to return to those distant, halcyon days. And, too, there is also the small matter of my rapidly approaching nuptials. Surely you cannot have failed to notice my recent proclivity towards constantly referencing “my fiancée” on this blog, or perhaps you have even been irked by a disgusting display of pictorial bliss on a media feed of mine.
In light of both the summer season and my own imminent matrimony, and after some careful thought, I have decided to initiate "summer mode" for this blog. I will occasionally persist in a post here or there as topics come to my mind and the literary itch returns, but I am temporarily removing the mandate that I publish something weekly.
Fret not, fan of mine (he wrote optimistically, praying that at least one existed), the blog will return to a more regular release schedule when the school year begins anew. Probably, it will return even sooner, but I make no promises.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is doubtless something important I should be doing, or at the very least, procrastination calls.
Here’s wishing you a dangerously pleasant summer.
Philip David Black is an actor, educator, voice over artist, and blog author. Someday he may write books. Until then, he blogs .