High Fidelity [2000]

As many record store fanboys probably did, I grew up approaching this movie with a Biblical sense of reverence. I never took Rob's process as something to watch out for, a cautionary roadmap of what not to do. And now I hate him as I see bits of myself scattered throughout his sad, misguided existence. Could be worse, I suppose... could still idolize'em.

Dogma [1999]

Would have liked to see more George Carlin, but at least he wasn't relegated to a being a cheap-gag (sex pun!) hitchhiker in this one. Growing up in Canada, Alanis Morissette as a deity makes sense to me... though if I might be nitpicky for a moment: Shania is the real God.

The Fifth Element [1997]

The future, but still the '90s, Bruce Willis repeatedly hitting on an alien dressed in a meat spacesuit, Tricky shows up, Deebo as the President, Chris Tucker plays himself, and Muppets as bad guys.

Stigmata [1999]

Kinda interesting to see how spottily dark raver aesthetic holds up two decades removed. Loved this movie as a teenager (loved Patricia Arquette as a teenager), but its "edgy" religious themes/commentary combined with gaudy stylized editing makes it feel like an extended Enigma music video more than anything.

Fight Club [1999]

Snuck in to the theater to see Fight Club when I was still underage and excused myself half-way through to go have a seizure in the bathroom. No idea if that's what really happened (I did black out for a few moments), but that's what I've been telling myself happened for the last twenty years or so. Also: Still a good movie.

Tropic Thunder [2008]

Tropic Thunder is smart as hell, one of the best parodies ever, and also makes for a solid action movie, but my desire to appreciate it always seems to eclipse how enjoyable it actually is to me.

31 [2016]

More Sheri Moon, more desperate "shock." An upgrade, visually, from Rob Zombie's other movies, and Richard Brake might be the most interesting of all Zombie's characters in playing "Doomhead," but there isn't much here beyond a gory Running Man.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

The absurdity isn't necessarily found in how possible a doomsday scenario might be (now, still, forever?), but in the reaction to and management of such a situation by world "leaders." One of the sharpest movies of all ever.

Finish Lines



"the race for me had become an endless repetition,
as i made my way around my circuit of duties.
hour after hour i went thru the same unchanging tasks. [...] 
after it was all over
i went to the little house to start my update. 
the update i had been putting together in my mind was,
of course,
gone." —Gary "Laz" Cantrell, Big's Backyard Ultra Founder

~~~~~

"We’ve created society that mistakes the notion of hard work to mean not just dedicated work but difficult work. As if difficulty and struggle and torture somehow confer seriousness upon your chosen work. Doing great work simply because you love it, sounds, in our culture, somehow flimsy and that’s a failing of our culture not of the choice of work that artists make." —Maria Popova, The Tim Ferriss Show

"One woman venture capitalist told us, after hearing my very nervous pitch, 'I hate to say this because I hate that it’s true, but men who come in here pitch the company they’re going to build, while women pitch the company they’ve already built.' The men could sound delusional, but they could also sound visionary; women felt the need to show their work, to prove themselves. This wasn’t a note just for my style of pitching (flat, part-Troll doll); she was encouraging us to dream bigger and start anew. What would Rookie look like if we saw everything up until that point as just research?" —Tavi Gevinson, (final) "Editor's Letter," Rookie Mag

"Inactivity, inaction is discredited. Silence is discredited. And fasting is discredited." —Ulay, The Artist is Present


There's a self-seriousness that irritates me about my approach to writing in public. Here I am, trying to pair three thoughts together—and they make sense to me as a whole, which is the crazy part—that revolve around values. The Public Writer in me says, "This is some serious shit, and I should write about it in a serious way." Though opaque in their connection, the concepts of exertion, validation, and force all wind together in a braid...

"The real struggle isn't in force," a serious writer might write. "Force is easy. Real struggle is in Restraint." I mean, that's what I'm talking about. That's what I want to internalize, that particular thought. And what I want to communicate is that the words here are targets I'm aiming for, even though I might only ever be able to take aim at them after telling an imagined audience that I'm doing so. Maybe that's the delusion I'm faced with. Another? Continually starting a path before taking any time to consider the terrain. Before the first step, I'm outwardly committed to whatever may lie ahead, but after just two the entire process seems unsustainable.

"What about the assumed honor of struggle," that serious writer might continue. "Or how about what a Next Step might look like if the previous had never existed? If one actually approached each new day as something New?" A serious writer might try to conclude their thought by writing something like, "The profound resides outside the shadows of yesterday's ghosts." It's all just me trying to prove myself, in one way or another.

But I'm not good at that. In those moments, where I'm too serious, I'm serious because of fear. Fear that I won't get credit for being something I'm not. Fear that I'll be found out as a fraud, a phony, or maybe fear that I'll be rightly judged for my lack of profundity. "Silence is discredited," says the man with words coming out of his mouth.

~~~~~


"We really are some scorekeeping motherfuckers," he said, motioning between the two of them while standing in line at the diner. "Aren't we?" It was all about "the hit," as they called it. They've talked about it before, that feeling of validation that comes with being publicly recognized for taking action in a way that can only be understood by someone who never changes a lightbulb in the dark. "Yeah, we sure are."


~~~~~

"In the dead darkness of Tuesday morning, 67 hours and 279 miles after they’d started, two battered warriors shuffled to the start corral. Dauwalter said a few words to Steene. They shook hands, the starting bell clanged, and Steene tottered off into the blackness alone. In the uncompromising world of Big’s Backyard, Dauwalter quit, and was marked, like 68 others, DNF. [...] 
Typically, Dauwalter’s takeaway from the race had nothing to do with how much she had suffered and endured, nor about winning or losing or strides made for women, but about learning: "I feel pretty good about how it played out now that I’ve had night of sleep and a shower. Yeah, my legs hurt really bad and that’s probably going to get worse over the next couple days, but already I’m thinking about next year’s race, what we can do differently so we’re out there even longer. I want to come back and go into the 300s. Kevin and I have never done anything close to this. We learned so much—all the ways we can work more efficiently, gear and food that would have been helpful. To have this cool experience—I was lucky to be a part of this.” —Sarah Barker, "Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter Takes On The World's Most Sadistic Endurance Race," Deadspin

~~~~~

"Fuck 'wellness.' Wellness is capitalism trying to sell you back the sanity it stole from you."

"In one way or another, all of these new services generally boil down to elaborate, expensive instructions to eat more of one thing and less of another, or to make a dietary addition or replacement that will unlock your body’s true potential. Convincing consumers that this new wave of diets is somehow distinct from the diet industry’s long, pseudoscientific history is a big task, but a potentially profitable one. According to the market-research firm Marketdata, the U.S. diet industry was worth an estimated $66 billion in 2017, but the number of active dieters in the country was down 10 percent. The firm found that that was due to two things: the growing popularity of the size-acceptance movement, and dieter fatigue. For new companies, laundering what are often fairly conventional diet practices through the language of technology provides the imprimatur of newness in the eyes of seasoned dieters, as well as a Trojan horse to reach consumers who, for whatever reason, were never interested in dieting qua dieting." —Amanda Mull, "The Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Language of Dieting," The Atlantic

"That meditation and mindfulness have entered the repertoire of global capitalism isn’t surprising: In the face of stagnant wages and an ever-deteriorating boundary between work and whatever we do outside it, why not shift the responsibility of finding peace to the individual? Put another way: Next time work makes you feel less than human, should you gently speak truth to power, or should you use mindfulness to self-regulate and maintain function in an oppressive system? And should you choose to self-regulate, are you tacitly thanking the oppressive system for giving you the tools of self-regulation to begin with? Furthermore, how much of this experience—this process of spelunking into my mind—should be comfortable and brightly colored? How much should feel good?" —Mike Powell, "Meditation in the Time of Disruption," The Ringer

"Perhaps most wearying are the invasive yet distant commands from media, state institutions, advertisements, friends or employers to self-maximise, persevere, grab your slice of the diminishing pie, 'because you are worth it' – although you must constantly prove it, every day." —Ruth Cain, "How neoliberalism is damaging your mental health," The Conversation

"You know what’s actually therapeutic—more therapeutic than staring at the ceiling desperately inventing a string of 'free' associations, more therapeutic than reading a book with a vested interest in establishing your insufficiency so that you will have to purchase its string of accoutrements and sequels? Screaming where people can hear you. Weeping on the train. Indulging in the intimacy of jointly cultivated resentment. Seeing your suspicions that you aren’t a self-pitying maniac confirmed." —Becca Rothfeld, "The Promise of Misery," The Baffler


I love sharing this phrase with people, "Those who manufacture umbrellas need it to rain." It sounds really smart—and hell, it even makes sense—but it's kind of like cracking a knuckle and thinking "That feels great!" Does it, really? I mean, does it actually feel anything truly positive, or is it just audibly satisfying in a way that only a generally benign release of gas can be? Another article. Pop. More fast-acting "wisdom." Maybe it's not about umbrellas, but how much of my own "self care" is a measure of buying in to someone else's idea of what's supposed to protect me from the elements? The lines between being informed and being distracted aren't always clear.

Inaction is discredited, but sometimes action is discredited, too.


~~~~~

"If there had been a predestined finish line at Big’s Backyard my money would have been on Courtney to win, she would beat me at any such race and distance. But at the Backyard you draw your own lines. As long we are at least two remaining there is a feeling of purpose, that this painful game has a meaning. That illusion disappears in a blink when only one remains. The actual winning needs to be the sole focus if that is what you’re after. That focus was feeding me and let me put all other things aside. At the moment when Courtney congratulated me and remained in the coral as I jogged away alone into the Tennessee night I didn’t feel joy. I felt empty and without purpose. You can not carry the illusion by yourself. It takes at least two to play. Thanks Courtney Dauwalter for taking us this far. We are good at playing this game." —Johan Steene, 2018 Big’s Backyard Ultra "Finisher"

Nymphomaniac [2013]

The Extended Director's Cut is around five and a half hours, and in that time there's so much space for trust to grow between Joe and Seligman. Yet, on several occasions, she alerts him to how she feels he's misunderstanding her, or how he's not following what she's trying to actually communicate through the stories of her past that she reveals to him. Buying in on the projection of him as an intellectual asexual, I thought she was being difficult in doing so. But in the end she was right. After all that was said, he saw her as little more than a whore sent by the gods of coincidence to grant him reprieve from his own sexual burden. "The human qualities can be expressed in one word: hypocrisy."

The Chase [1994]

There's something incredibly comforting about early-'90s Henry Rollins decked out in a police uniform barking dialog at a backseat ride-along camera crew. A nonsensical romance, vigilante Flea, high speed chase, and a Butterfinger hostage situation... The Chase might well be my favorite bad movie.

Arrival [2016]

Feel like kind of a douche writing anything after reading this review. What can I say? I like the feeling Arrival left me with? Maybe throw in the word "ethereal" to try to express something it most surely doesn't mean? I almost need to watch it again to see if it's wholly tainted now.

Out Cold [2001]

There's always been just enough Zach Galifianakis in this movie to keep it near to my heart. (The car crash scene is the best... though it's also a shining reminder of how bad my taste in movies can be.) Also: Dave Koechner is Anchorman-level Koechner here, which is pretty great.

Payback [1999]

Loved this movie as a teenager. Between its dark visuals, gritty themes, Maria Bello & Lucy Liu it was one of my favorites of the late-'90s/early-'00s. Now, the highlight came when Kris Kristofferson showed up on screen and I lit up like a Christmas tree, having forgotten he was even in this thing.

Ronin [1998]

My dad: That such and such a car there looks like it's gotta be so and so year.

Me: Oh, interesting.

 I don't "get" cars the way some people do, but that never seems to prevent me from enjoying this movie's big car chase. It's pretty good.

The Shawshank Redemption [1994]

"Brooks was here," he writes, a thousand times, written in a thousand ways, said to a thousand people in a thousand languages. How many times must we wail before being heard? Does it even matter?

Gattaca [1997]

The way Gattaca feels new and old, its visuals tugging between the two as society strains to reconcile the perfection gap between Vincent and Jerome... it's stylistically beautiful and crafted with care. "You wanna know how I did it? I never saved anything for the swim back."

Dark City [1998]

Visually impactful though the substantive themes don't materialize into a a resolution nearly as inspiring as the set design.

The Ghost and the Darkness [1996]

An African period piece! Val Kilmer! Michael Douglas! Lions! This nearly doubled its money at the box office! Only in the '90s!

Conspiracy Theory [1997]

The lingering memory of this movie has been the first half hour or so of Mel Gibson establishing his character (which, I admit, is still fun despite a residue of sourness over who we learned that abusive anti-semitic asshole to really be). I failed to recall that Conspiracy Theory then devolves into a fairly standard dramatic affair for another hour forty-five thereafter, which draws on and on and on and on and on and on and on... only to reach its conclusion with a happy-go-lucky cop car sing-a-long confirming: Nah, black helicopters and murder plots weren't really mental illness—Jerry was the only sane one this entire time. OK.

The Thing [1982]

I've seen the best of the practical effects countless times as clips, but somehow this one alluded me until now. Even without a trace of nostalgia in me it holds up (which is something considering it's almost four decades old). One thing I noticed: The Thing is far more aggressive compared to Carpenter's other movies from the same era. I'm still trying to figure out if I actually like that or not.

Kids [1995]

All the while I was thinking to myself, "Did this influence me as a kid?" I remember watching Kids on late night Showcase viewings in Canada in my parents' basement, not terribly long after its release. I was a teenager, a kid. I remember the style, the music, the youthful ignorance. How sexy some of it looked. It's taken me a while to begin to understand any of it.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [1969]

While showcasing an entirely different story in a wholly different manner of presentation, the chemistry between Newman and Redford is not nearly as enjoyable here as it in The Sting. Maybe on its own it'd fare better, but purposefully watching them both within a day leaves Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid feeling especially drawn out and tired (even despite its marginally shorter run-time).

Escape from New York [1981]

That government officials thought a guy named "Snake" wouldn't screw them over in the end exposes a naivety which, frankly, is a little endearing... considering the country has become a police state.

The Sandlot [1993]

"I've been coming here every summer of my adult life, and every summer there she is oiling and lotioning, lotioning and oiling... smiling I can't take this no more!" There's no question in my mind that this was the inception point of the male gaze for an entire generation.

The Devil’s Candy [2015]

Think they broke the saturation knob off by crankin' it so hard during some scenes, which is probably the most metal thing about The Devil's Candy: The visuals. Had forgotten how forehead-smacky the Flying V as a weapon scene is, but bonus points for the adorable father daughter headbang session.

Upstream Color [2013]

The love, the confusion, the anger, the swaying hums of plot, linked together by a vanishing horizon of understanding. Rising, sinking, gone, with the lingering instinctual reaction being one of confusion, unsure and fearfully defensive as if needing to argue that this was something different that what it should have been.

Jackass: The Movie [2002]

When it was first released, I drove an hour and a half with a group of college friends to see Jackass at a theater in Okaboji, Iowa. That should tell you a lot about where I was with my life then. Part of me wants to recapture that feeling when watching this. Part of me is totally comfortable no longer taking the slightest interest in seeing a guy eat a pissy snowcone.

Edge of Tomorrow [2014]

Finally, a movie that indulges my dream of watching Tom Cruise die a thousand deaths.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [1989]

When the S.W.A.T. team busts into the Griswold's house at the end of the movie and instructs the family to freeze, Beverly D'Angelo's hand is firmly cupping Chevy Chase's crotch. Pointing that out to a friend tonight was the highlight of the entire viewing.

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present [2012]

I feel the intent. I feel the pain. And in that same space I also feel regret for the many moments of purposelessness to my own self-flagellation. The eyes of those who sit with Marina are amazing. The challenge of it all. What it became is not what it set out to be. There's bonus footage on the DVD featuring an eleven year old child who sat with Marina who says he's glad he was "finally" part of a work of art. Fuck, man. Thirty five here, and still on the outside...

Slap Shot [1977]

In the final game scene, Ned removes his boxers without ever taking his jock strap off. Old time hockey was weird.

Widows [2018]

Taking one star away for each time Robert Duvall's spittle took me out of the movie.

Half Baked [1998]

The first time I saw Half Baked was upon its initial run in theaters, and when I returned home—still delirious with laughter—I recalled the entire movie to my mom. I was in junior high and completely sober. There's no way in hell she could have thought I wasn't high as a kite.

Big Trouble [2002]

Big Trouble totally did the "Andy Richter as goofy twin brothers thing" years before Arrested Development did. Have no interest in talk radio or the Florida Gators, but I love the running talk radio/Florida Gators fan gag. And the cast... Teenage Zooey Deschanel is the best Zooey Deschanel. Pre-plastic surgery Sofía Vergara. Heavy D. David Puddy as the horny police officer turned stripper. "Was that a goat?" Tom Sizemore going all Dr. Strangelove at the end. There's a lot to love here. One quibble: Tim Allen could have literally been any actor and his role would have been better.

The Wrestler [2008]

This thing is so tragic... Can I even say that I "enjoy" it? The scene where Randy is recognized at the deli and he slices his hand on the meat slicer. The extreme wrestling match. Practically everything with his daughter. When Pam chugs her beer and leaves to escape sharing a moment. That prayer before his final match where you can see the streak of a tear having run down Randy's face. "The world don’t give a shit about me." What's there to "enjoy" here? And why does this feel like a bolder shade of a color time is bound to paint us all with? What am I doing with my life? What has this movie done to me?!

Shutter Island [2010]

Reluctant to say that Shutter Island just wasn't that convincing but that's how it feels. It's not that the line from the start through to the end was linear and predictable, but so many beats along the way were exaggerated—a little subtlety would have gone a long way here.

Inception [2010]

Maybe it's a telling sign of Inception's visual strength and thematic creativity that I'd be open to watching it all again, right now, despite having just completed its two and a half hour runtime. "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."

Dunkirk [2017]

Dunkirk is visually incredible. I'm not generally a fan of war movies, which clouds my perspective, but this was built in such a claustrophobic way - it was easy to get lost in how real it all felt. It's the type of film that should win awards. Then again, it's also just not something I'm likely to return to.

The Game [1997]

I want to get more out of The Game than I have. This is the second viewing this year—each time with a separate friend who was unimpressed. But I was impressed... at some point, which keeps me returning to try to find that feeling again. It was when I had this VHS tape in my late teens—it gave me that "whoa" moment. Matt Goldberg's review fills a mental pothole for me. I don't think this one's going to work for me now.

Creed [2015]

Baby Creed. Is it possible to strip Creed of its Rocky nostalgia and see it as its own property? What then of Rocky's cancer thread? Why should we care about that character? Why not build up more of the backstory, the fights in Mexico, the fact that this man wants to prove he can do this for himself, to prove that "he's not a mistake" as he says to Rocky. Instead those fights are framed as illegitimate (but important!) if mentioned at all. Instead we just believe that this out of the blue child of a legend can outbox top ranked contenders, because of course he can. Adonis gets a shot at a major boxing title despite not being the most qualified contender, and outperforms his expectations... But is it enough just to say: Don't quit? Sometimes that's what we need. I need to be reminded of that regularly. But bringing the bigger picture back into frame here, didn't we already get that with Rocky?

12 Angry Men [1957]

"Character" is the word ringing in my ears after watching this movie. "I don't care whether I'm alone or not! It's my right!" But what does blindly flexing that right say about you, sir? What does imposing that right where it does not belong say about your character? This is such a carefully acted movie with such an important story about what it takes to be of a society, and not simply part of it, inflexible in brandishing your "rights" to the detriment of others'. I dread a modern remake in which "alternative facts" are brandished as imprecise daggers, sloppily defending flimsy opinion as fact... But that's the thing though, 12 Angry Men isn't political. It's about empathy. Yet somehow even that seems to be a line to be drawn in the sand of today's society.

The General [1926]

Buster Keaton's deadpan delivery is great and he's daring as hell, but there's no way I believe someone looked at that flaming bridge and thought: "That bridge is not burned enough to stop you." A visual triumph of its time, but also: The Confederate army wins? GFY Buster Keaton.

What About Bob? [1991]

For as much as I want to say that Bill Murray's performance carries this movie, that's not wholly true. Richard Dreyfuss plays an asshole really well here, and without his (equally?) neurotic counterbalance to Murray's Bob, What About Bob?! wouldn't be half the movie it is.

Holy Motors [2012]

Fans of peculiar erections are really going to like this one.

Being John Malkovich [1999]

The camera pans to Andy Dick and Hanson in the audience at the Emmys, cheering on puppeteer John Malkovich, while Craig is also on stage... pulling all the strings.

Batman [1966]

For as criminally creative as the practical props and stylish sets are, the real beauty of Batman is found in its stupendous script (POW!). It's one of the most hilarious movies in my collection. "They may be drinkers, Robin, but they're also human beings." (Sidebar: The Blu-ray transfer is gorgeous.)

Hatchet [2006]

The "monster" here looks a hell of a lot like a grownup Sloth from Goonies, and the backstory is about as much of a stretch as portraying Joel David Moore of Grandma's Boy as a believable lead is, but it's not without its moments. Like when Sloth "dies" and there's an unnecessary (necessary) splatter of blood that sprays in JDM's face. Sometimes it's the little things that matter the most.

Her [2013]

Her: A fantasy film in which a writer makes enough money to afford a luxurious cosmopolitan flat.

Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion [2007]

Seth Galifianakis is still a fun character, but I'm really glad that Zach developed further creatively beyond the self-indulgent hung over self-loathing schitck on display here.

Pontypool [2008]

The concept is unique and the little flares of Canadiana make me sliiiiiightly homesick. I'm not sure what would make this any better, as resolution and causation aren't particularly necessary, and the story of the development of the sickness alone is satisfying. I guess I have a hard time tracking Grant Mazzy (among the few other main characters) through who all he's supposed to be (to the community, his co-workers, himself), and part of that leaves me feeling distance from the plot as a whole.

Hardcore Henry [2015]

This is my third or fourth viewing this year—and is my favorite (new to me) movie of the year. From the sharp, funny contrast of The Stranglers' "Let Me Down Easy" over the slow, stylized scenes of insane violence in the introduction through to the brilliant use of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" in the fight scene near the end, the use of music in this movie is brilliant. That's nothing to say of the ingenious first person visuals and the absurd non-stop action... and Jimmy. Oh my, Jimmy—for being a movie that places so little emphasis on acting, his role is so interesting, bouncing between avatars and playing each with such enthusiasm—he's just great. And the horse scene, the overlapping subtitles—the humor just gets me.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [1998]

Through my twenties, if asked the question of what my favorite movie was, I'd say Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Pulp Fiction. It's been several years since I've seen either, but that framing still exists in my mind, much of it with little evidence backing it up: Those were my favorite movies because they've been my favorite movies, not because I can still pinpoint what it is precisely that I enjoy about them.

There's a lot of good here, but the emptiness on display in matt lynch's review is sticking with me. I felt something similar with watching another of Gilliam's movies, Brazil, recently - where subversiveness is weaponized against working stiffs, much as it is here. But in the end, Fear and Loathing promotes a darkness that cuts through the outer shell of its cultural commentary. The way Dr. Gonzo sours in the second half of the movie... the creepiness of his presence with Lucy, and the way he terrorizes the waitress in the diner - it's vile. At some point Raoul Duke turns a corner from drugged out confusion and into pathetic and complacent. The way he leaves that waitress to fear for herself, without even recusing himself of the insanity of it all only speaks to the scope of his concern. It's on him. Just him. Drugs or no drugs, it's always just been about him.

Out of the Furnace [2013]

Woody Harrelson makes a pretty convincing backwoods meth-head murderer underground businessman.

Prisoners [2013]

The intensity with which Jake Gyllenhaal is able to blink in this movie is an acting triumph unto itself.

The Royal Tenenbaums [2001]

One of my sister's favorite movies, when I still knew who she was.

The Darjeeling Limited [2007]

The frailty of the spiritual conquest, the balance of connection between the brothers... it's interesting, but I still linger on their hubris. They're all takers. They're all unaware. If it's possible to enjoy the film without admiring anything about its subjects, this is that moment for me.

Irreversible [2002]

Despite the gentle and sensitive operating system that Alex seems to believe Marcus operates under, his loutish misogyny at the party, and racist, homophobic, and ultimately misguided rampage at the Rectum are so overwhelmingly sour on this viewing.

Drive [2011]

The contrast between the almost tired pace of some of the scenes and the hotel/elevator scenes of violence is impactful, but there's a level of unintentional silliness to the awkward interactions between Gosling and Mulligan's characters that I hadn't picked up on before. They could barely support the interest of a conversation—I have no idea how they'd hold a relationship together.

A Journey Into Declutterization: Part Two



The other day I was thinking about all the domain names I've owned and the futility of the entire process... Paying money for this thing that can't possibly be maintained ad infinitum. In 2008 I had this idea for a blog called soft focus (rather: sftfcs, because I was being cute with the nomenclature) that was going to be an outlet for whatever was on my mind. Kind of like I'm doing with this space. I'd forgotten about it for a long time, but when I went searching on the Internet Archive I found a few blog posts that I wrote around that time. One was called "A Journey Into Declutterization: Part One."

From the bits and pieces of memory I have from that period of time, this post makes a lot of sense. I was twenty-five. I had recently left rehab. ("Soft focus" was a term one of my counselors used regularly.) I was emotionally molting. It's not surprising that I wanted to shed a lot of what I'd built up around myself to that point, and the idea of "minimalism" seemed as good a credo as any to hang my hat on as any.

Several weeks ago I'd made a note connecting the dots of George Carlin's "A Place for My Stuff" bit and emotional minimalism. I thought this was a new thought. Turns out, I already had it about ten years earlier. I made some fine points worth carrying forward in that article, about being "dissatisfied with the way I’ve been living - continually trying to find my happiness in external stuff," and "[upgrading] my life by downsizing and simplifying," and "as my personal cleansing commenced it became evident that it’s a tough realization to find out that the things I once placed so much emphasis in no longer reflect what I want in life"... But there was one line that made the most sense to me, speaking of "a goal with which I can no longer identify." Looking at those couple words and letting them rest is big.

A goal with which I can no longer identify...

Simplicity and downsizing have been on my mind lately, though the focus has been not what I've surrounded myself by, but what's in my head. I was listening to this podcast that posed a process, "like decluttering my house and getting rid of stuff and simplifying my life," instead "simplifying your heart and your attachments and your judgements." Damn, that's heavy.

Pivoting a little...
"It’s not that it’s bad to seek knowledge, but the idea is that if we’re just only seeking knowledge, if we’re just only looking for method, and if we’re only looking for this encyclopedic collection of technique and tools and what have you… Does the knowledge seeking enhance your knowing and harmony or wisdom...? I know a lot of people who knowledge seek as a way of weaponizing knowledge, separating themselves, [and] creating hierarchy."
Think back to how much I've weaponized information for protection? Identity signaling as a defense mechanism: If you think I'm some type of person... If I think I'm some type of person... Then acceptance? Then safety? I don't know, but it feels like I've armed myself with knowledge "about" a hell of a lot of stuff without really knowing much at all about any of it as a means of bridging gaps between myself and other people.

It's weird, feeling like I'm just starting to ask questions of myself that it (now) seems like other people my age should have asked themselves long ago. Should is a dangerous word. Does staying connected to the endless torrent of information and "content" enhance my life? How much longer can I continue identity shopping before I'll look back with regret that I never slowed down long enough to feel who I was?

This Ron Gallo song has the line, "Talking talking. Never listening. Always elsewhere. Searching searching." From the time I wrote about declutterization when I was twenty-five, so much of my aim has been focused on a wayward target. It's not so much about any possessions I have or haven't amassed/divested myself of, and it's probably not about filtering out the valuable life-affirming information from the information firehose, either. It's not this, putting these words out into the world as if doing so "helps me process" them or relates remotely at all to any long-term resonance they're likely to maintain within me. Simplifying isn't about making all of this much more complicated than it needs to be in order to sort out "the answer." It's about none of this being up to me, whoever that might be today. It's about letting go again.

Harpeth River State Park (Kingston Springs, TN)


Photos taken November 21, 2018 at Harpeth River State Park in Kingston Springs, TN.

Brazil [1985]

When I was in my teens, I saw part of Brazil somehow and it implanted in me this weird fascination. It's a movie I've never been able to dedicate myself to, yet it lingers in my mind as this masterpiece I have to get everything out of... someday. It's challenging—trying to watch Gilliam's two-and-a-half hour cut is a marathon, and it's just too dense to digest in a single sitting. Even now, having finished it again, I feel I'm only scratching the surface. I feel like Sisyphus... and back down the hill Brazil rolls.

Battle Royale [2000]

Time has softened the impact of Battle Royale. The violence and themes don't seem nearly as outlandish as they once did. Still rough, still brutal, but maybe it's just the way movies have progressed. Maybe culture.

Always Elsewhere



Tired. Dissatisfied. Lacking. Needing. Sleep. But what would all this look like if—upon waking up—the problem was fixed? What if that thing that was out of reach was now in hand? What then? What would life look like in the presence of occupied achievement? What happens in that space, feeling what's real... What then? What happens when the flag is captured? Victory? Will there be a celebration? Will you feel like a winner? How will you sustain winning? How will you resist impermanence? The drive, the drive, the drive... to Achieve, to Achieve, to Achieve.

Sin City [2005]

For being so visually attractive, it was surprising how I couldn't remember a thing from the first viewing of Sin City. Maybe that has something to do with the superficial characters and forgettable acting (but what a cast). Hey, at least it's pretty!

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End [2007]

So much more fun than the original, there are a surprising number of unique visuals in this one: The splitting of the actress in the introduction and the running with steady cam/axe to the head still stand out to me.

Wrong Turn [2003]

Wrong Turn is about as good as an early-2000s mainstream backwoods monster-man flick is going to get, but I haven't the slightest clue how it was deemed memorable enough to merit five sequels.

Animal House [1978]

Probably the best college party movie ever, which can be appropriately summed up by the scene where John Belushi—sitting in a drunken stupor—decides to pour a jar of mustard on his chest just to see what happens. That's the college experience in a nutshell.

Caddyshack [1980]

Highlights are still the quotable moments from Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, but the older I get the less the rest of the movie appeals to me. Maybe that's a testament to those three though, that even while the movie's not really "about" them—it's about Danny—theirs are the scenes that have stood up with time.

Who Are You? Point To It!

Walking bundles of habit, I think I read somewhere. That's what we are. I get up, hit my knees, give thanks, meditate, and stretch... all figuratively speaking, of course. Many of my habits are aspirational. Some of them, at least. The others have an anaconda lock on me, constricting me slowly before I'm too light headed to realize I'm in da belly of da beast. LOL. It's a hypnotic tango with my dance partners, with fear and self-doubt mirroring my movement each time I get a craving or feel alone or start running on capital e Empty. I mean, I'm good, but if that one thing happened I'd be doing way better. Oh, man, if that one woman said that one thing or she came over and we hung out and connected like I imagine we would, I'd be great. Then I'd be alright. Alright? Hell, I'd be better than alright! Then I'd be free, y'know? That would make it all worthwhile, all the other stuff that I do that I'm not sure makes me Me. Like, I know I'm not me when I'm slaving the wage, which is what I've had to do to get by, right? I'm just trying to make sure I've got some security, but next year I'm really going to focus on being me again. Then I'll return to the things that "feed" me, but I can't do that right now because that's just not where things are at. It's like that saying I just made up: I've got to get a few more ducks in a row, then the ducks will be in a row. As for who I am though? Well, at least I know who I have the potential to become. To become. To become.



The Blues Brothers [1980]

There's a legacy gap here, where a previous generation has embedded value in The Blues Brothers that I'm not sure is really there. I don't ever remember loving the movie, but have probably seen it a half dozen times now. That's a question for me, personally—why keep watching? Why keep drilling for something that's not there? It has its moments, but it's not very funny (which wouldn't be a problem if this weren't registered as one of cinema's great comedies). The music is good, but it's also kind of weird that a pair of white comedians are projected as the heroes of black music history. I want to understand why this is so good, but I'm not sure I ever will.

Wayne’s World 2 [1993]

It's not really any "better" a movie than Wayne's World, but I appreciate how the sequel leans all the way in on its self-aware schtick. The scene where Wayne demands the production staff swap out gas station attendants for a better actor (Charlton Heston), for example, just clicks.

The Jackal [1997]

Sidney Poitier confronts mobsters in a techno club and arrests them in their native Russian tongue... that's the first scene of The Jackal. Richard Gere's Irish accent is god level bad. Dialog includes phrases like, "Go along and we'll get along." And there's a little over two hours of this schlock. I'm not sure why I remember enjoying this as a teenager other than it introduced me to Jack Black.

The Big Hit [1998]

Loved this as a teenager, and watching it now I couldn't figure out why... until China Chow's first appearance. Then, the way she shuts Lou Diamond Phillips down in the blackmail scene... she's a gem. Every actor in this thing hams it up, and much of The Big Hit is self-aware spoof, but there's just something about the way Mark Wahlberg is portrayed that leaves some of his scenes feeling too self-serious for this kind of movie. Not deciding—or maybe committing to—what it is, holds it back from being great. Then again, in the final fight scene at the video store, the only legible signage is for Troma movies like The Toxic Avenger 3 and Tromeo and Juliet, so maybe I'm not giving The Big Hit quite enough credit where I should.

Something Wrong

The feeling is so strange, the organic and artisanal refuge communicating a message that there's goodness to be had here. I'm good because I'm here. So are you. But why? We're here, doing good for ourselves, at this place that tells us it's the kind of place for people who care about enhancing their well being. People who are mindful. People who deserve it. At that other place people just shop for food. That place doesn't smell the way that good places smell. Actually, it doesn't smell like much at all. This place smells of lavender soaps, bulk organic quinoa, fresh produce, and herbal mustache waxes. Paying more is a byproduct of treating yourself to a better life, with better scents. We're not buying products here, and maybe that's why the feeling is so strange. We're buying everything we're being sold.



Strange Brew [1983]

Part of my Canadianness hates that so many reviews here reference "how Canadian this film is" when I haven't the slightest clue how this is any better example of Canada than something like Wayne's World is of America. Or maybe both of those movies are spot on representations of their country of origin. Either way, once you cast aside the toques and stubbies, Strange Brew is fairly forgettable comedically. Actually the part that made me laugh most was the throwaway scene where the McKenzie brothers' defense attorney inexplicably uses martial arts to beat up (and probably kill... I mean, he threw one guy off a tall ledge) a pack of journalists in a pre-Trumpian stand against the media, only to never be spoken of again.

Irreversible [2002]

Despite bearing similar glances of stylistic flair as Enter the Void, there's a cohesiveness achieved by Irréversible that is far more satisfying. There is a tide going in and out here, rushing in with brutality at the beginning, before shifting to a lull. Then, again, it returns with godlike presence, devouring the entire shoreline with the red tunnel scene before fading out to the movie's end. The gentle final scene transitioning into strobe light outro rinses the palette clean. Clean, but changed.

Orgazmo [1997]

I like Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They're good actors when playing to their own characters: Here, Trey's a sheepish wayward Mormon caught up in Hollywood's underbelly and Matt's a dimly lit porn photographer who can't quite decide how gay he is. I want to like Orgazmo more than I do, based on their ability to be good at delivering their own jokes and playing parts they created. It just doesn't make for much of a movie though.

Gimme Noise


I remember an old blog post I wrote somewhere in 2008 when I first caught some of Jay Smooth's Ill Doctrine videos. I can't find it, but I'm sure there was little to it beyond: 1) Jay's great; and 2) I'm a fan. Sometime this past week I saw a link to this Columbia Journalism Review profile piece, "The Complicated Philosophy of Jay Smooth," linked from kottke.org (the blog, not the Twitter page, but the Twitter page is where they keep an archived list of links shared on the blog), and today I read the article. It's well written, weaving the righteous figure's private and public lives together in a story that portrays Jay as someone attempting his best to live by virtuous means. Good enough.

When I finished the article there was just something empty about it. I couldn't place it, and I'm still not sure I can now. It wasn't the article, just the process. What did I get from it? When Jay's on, he's one of the better social critics I can think of. I like his videos but haven't really followed him much since Ferguson. (That time feels so distant, yet so present.) The point is, I appreciate him, but I'm not sure what the value is in reading the article. I gained some history into the man's background, but I didn't need it, and knowing the things I read doesn't particularly endear me any more or less to him. But I wasn't thinking about him with that feeling that followed, just this sort of thing. These articles, all of this...

In the time where my mind needs something to focus on, while being entirely unable or unwilling to focus on my school work, I've been working on a process of dusting off old blog posts from around the web and republishing them here. Like it's a scrapbook or something. There are a bunch of reasons why I told myself there was value in doing this, but I think I'm going to find something interesting that I don't anticipate learning once it's done. 

The first thing is the volume: I've been blogging now, off and on, for about fourteen years. In that time I've had several blogs that lasted a while—CultureBully.com, ChrisDeLine.com—and a whole bunch that came and went pretty quickly—RecoveryNashville.comVillin.net, FairlyTrill.com, BelievedToBeSeen.com, LegacySwag.com, DiscoFiesta.net, and sftfcs.com, with a several Tumblr and Blogger sites thrown in there, as well. Not a single one of those websites is still online. Some domains were sold, a couple redirect here, and the others abandoned outright. I could have paid for hosting and renewed domains, I suppose, to keep websites online. But where does that end? When do you stop?

Elsewhere, there is a great deal of "content" I've produced for websites that no longer exist on other people/company's sites. Dozens of episodes of a podcast I contributed to are no longer available to listen to and a couple of appearances on Huffington Post's HuffPost Live network are gone without a trace (which are just a few of the several years worth of original content that is no longer available online, as best I can surmise). Beyond that, a few websites I contributed over the years are no longer online (a Nashville music blog BreakOnACloud.com, The Smoking Section, and Brite Revolution, to name a few.

For about a year, I wrote for the Minneapolis Village Voice outlet, City Pages, which included a daily news column called "Gimme News" which was featured on their "Gimme Noise" music-centric blog. Gimme Noise is no more, absorbed back into the larger body of the brand's website (a brand which has been sold... twice... since 2008), and the several hundred articles and blog posts I wrote have been run through several site redesigns, leaving them barely indexed, largely unformatted, and buried deep in their archives (which is inarguably where they belong: buried). 

It was announced this month that flickr will be reconfiguring its platform, rightly setting a cap for its "free" users to 1000 photos. It was the right thing to do, both from a business and community perspective, and the only reason I re-signed up for flickr in January (which, I think, was probably my second or third time around on the platform) was because they essentially offered unlimited uploads for free. I'm not a "user" of the service in any other sense that I used their services. I'll be transitioning those photos from my account (which I've started doing) in the next year, or so, before they vanish, too.

I've followed kottke.org for years, as many of the links, articles, and videos shared on the blog are interesting to me. I like the general aesthetic of it. It's progressive-leaning. It's interesting. And it's safe. Very little I come across there challenges who I am as a person or confronts me with ideas, concepts, or ideologies I disagree with. That's not what the site is, for me. It's the kind of site that shares a link to a profile piece of a social media critic who I respect. If I read it, and like it, I might remember I was introduced to this great article because of kottke.org. If I read it, and don't like it, I might recall that kottke.org was looking out and connected me to that bland article about that guy I like. Even if I don't read it, if I acknowledge the article by reading about it on the blog or bookmarking it to return to, doing so will probably reinforce that kottke.org is a safe place for me to find articles that bend toward my interests.

So much of what I've written isn't very memorable. The majority of the articles and blog posts certainly don't deserve the respect I'm paying them by bringing them back to life here. Respect is the wrong word, probably. I have an idea of what my intention might have been at the time I spent time on them the first time, and in reflecting on that I'm learning about how little value there is in the "thing." It was almost always process. Maybe that's what I'm doing: Tuning into the process. What is all of this that I've dedicated so much time to over the years? The most "valuable" article I ever wrote was a review of one of Eminem's albums which garnered a couple hundred thousand pageviews. But I can't tell you a goddamn thing about that article or the album, in hindsight. I can tell you about how those BreakOnACloud.com posts contributed to creating my own "Nashville music blog" a few years later, which led me to an email exchange with someone I'm still trying to reckon with. I can manufacture "process" with the best of 'em.

There's not a logical thread that winds through all of this, but that's where my thinking is right now, and I want to just get that thought, itself, down here. The value of recording it seems just as important as the value of recognizing that I'm not getting much out of reading profile pieces. I don't really know that I ever fucking did. There's a freedom in accepting how impermanent all of this is—writing, blogging, putting it all out there if only to potentially gain from the process, before Google no longer wishes to host millions of free blogs online and folds the very platform that I'm using at this particular moment to publish these particular words. And if process is where honest value might reside, maybe returning to the same online time-wasters to reinforce my own cultural sensibilities under the guise of expanding my understanding of the world (whose world, and which part of it?) is opening up a window to questions more important than those that can be answered by a professional link-hawker.

Big Fish [2003]

At some point in my early twenties I watched this with my dad, and the feelings that followed had a lot to do with guilt for calling B.S. on his repetitive tall tales (and coming to resent him because of them) for so long. Sure, they weren't Big Fish-styled exaggerations, but even normal stories feel blown out of proportion when you hear them a few too many times.

Tim Burton and company built a lot of heart into this movie, even if you don't have a personal story linking the themes to your own life. If you do though, Big Fish could well make you experience feelings. Several of them. All at the same time. The takeaway for me this time wasn't the limp postscript about the father's life, but the underlying story of how much time and energy the son wasted by his own hand. All he had to do was let go.

Also...

"Didn't kill anything did I?"
"A few rabbits, but I think one of them was already dead."
"That would explain the indigestion."

I'm pretty sure this entire movie is a Frank Reynolds fever dream.

Wayne’s World [1992]

There's a scene where Wayne and Cassandra are in bed and the phone rings. She answers it and he proceeds to act silly. It's cute. But she's holding back laughter like it's the funniest thing she's ever seen. While I watched this movie at least a dozen times in my teens, that's how it feels now. It's cute, acting as though it's hilarious.

Happy Gilmore [1996]

So many (still) quotable lines. The Bob Barker fight. Chubbs. "You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?!" Ben Stiller. The "Endless Love" lip sync. And the source of my decades old crush on the mom from Modern Family. I was ready to leave Happy Gilmore in the past, but it's just too good to completely move on from.

Stepping Stones


The first photos here were taken in March 2017, with the brick patio project running from May 2018 into November 2018. Essentially, I finished the project last week, when I brushed out and set a layer of cement sand across the patio to lock it, but I'll return to the back yard in the Spring to build out some raised plant beds. 

I took the job on as I tend to do with big jobs: Without much of a plan and no idea how to accomplish my goal. And once I got going it quickly became overwhelming. There was an unanticipated volume and density to the roots that needed to be excavated from the surface layer of the ground, for example. I transported the entirety of the gravel base and the bricks into the yard by hand using five gallon buckets, pounding down the remaining tilled dirt and gravel before using a rubber mallet to install each brick, one at a time. It was a lot.

I'm sure there's some fantastic metaphor at work here for how the year has gone, but I'm just glad it's done. Every so often it's nice to reach a finish line.


Contact [1997]

Cosmic exploration, politics, business, and faith. There's a great deal which I really loved about Contact including the slow build, the psychedelic interstellar journey, and the spiritually combative themes, but I will always hate James Woods.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! [1988]

I swear, when I was in my teens watching the scene for the first time where OJ Simpson is busting in on the boat of bad guys, only to begin a domino effect of unbelievable calamity, I lost myself in a bout of hysterical laughter. There are so many great, dry deliveries here. The movie is fun, but part of that is reflecting about how much The Naked Gun influenced my sense of humor growing up. Leslie Nielsen is comedic gold and even though most of his films after this were regurgitated dumpster crud, I still miss him.

Hot Fuzz [2007]

Even without considering all the easter eggs that serious Hot Fuzz fans seem to obsess over, this is such a smart, enjoyable, and sharply witty movie. Having just trudged through Hot Shots, it's also a refreshing reminder of how good parodies can be. Maybe Edgar Wright's best movie?

Nightmare City [1980]

Aggro-zombies with machine guns... Finally. Stelvio Cipriani's theme song is pretty good and doesn't feel utterly ridiculous despite being used on repeat for damn near the entire run-time of the film. Granted, the effects used to enhance the zombies' overall zombie-ness was as about lackluster as they were in Burial Ground, but I enjoyed the the direction and acting well enough, given what we're talking about here. I mean, the story wasn't godawful, which is kind of a rarity for zombie movies of this vintage. I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing that "not terrible" is being graded as a grand-slam here, but that's how I'm looking at it.

Spaceballs [1987]

I can't stand the music in Spaceballs, but an hour and a half of Mel Brooks' meta jokes more than make up for it. And Michael Winslow is a national treasure. Never forget it.

North by Northwest [1959]

I might not be "tragically disappointed," but I am feeling let down. Cary Grant is charm repellant in this role, and while North by Northwest is (rightfully) in the Classics conversation, I don't think I'll feel like I've missed out if I never return to it. There were some beautiful shots (the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray was on point... duh), but why did Hitchcock need 2+ hours to tell this story?

Aftermath [1994]

As far as flavors of shock go, Aftermath is notorious for its hyper-vulgar imagery. It might not be the content here that really separates it, but that it preceded so many other movies that have used similar storytelling tools to create affect. Either way, it hit the mark if the aim was to be disgusting.

Chasing Amy [1997]

"If this is a crush, I don't think I could take it if the real thing ever happened." Then she kisses him. Even after that stupid ass speech, even with that stupid ass goatee. Then he pins her into a corner over the details her sexual history and rejects her. Probably because he's the sorta guy who would say something like "If this is a crush, I don't think I could take it if the real thing ever happened." "Look that this morose mother fucker right here," Jay says. And I don't care but I keep watching. I've kept watching for almost twenty years. "It'll be cathartic," he says, as if he has any idea what that word means. It's fitting that Public Enemy's "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man" plays during the fingercuffs story. It should play through the entire damn movie. I hate it, but I don't, too. I'm so conflicted.

The Great Outdoors [1988]

The idea here is to push John Candy's character to a point where he breaks by having Aykroyd's character grind his gears. And it's a testament to Dan Aykroyd's ability to play the part of an egotistical schmuck so well that by the end of the movie I hate him, personally. I do. But until that point where Candy finds his backbone, he's cast as a sad boring pushover. Then for a brief moment he stands up for himself. Then Aykroyd nearly swindles him out of his savings, and he becomes the compassionate pushover. Then Aykroyd comes clean about being an ass for the sake of his own family, and Candy becomes the soft-hearted pushover. It's supposed to be fun and heartwarming, but it's just so damn frustrating.

Three Years


The other day I was sitting at the library, studying, when I got a call from a manager at work. There was miscommunication about who was covering which responsibilities and something important had fallen through the cracks. Several days prior I’d moved on from the job where I had been reporting to him, the ownership of this task was never mine in the first place, I took his hostile tone as a challenge of my motives, it was my day off, blah blah blah. The point is: I did my best to listen, I didn’t try to throw someone else under the bus, and I didn’t react defensively and lash out at him or pay that bullshit forward onto some other underserving soul. How much of a miracle all of that is is probably a testament to the blessings of sobriety. It’s not perfect, but a lot has changed for the better.

I was studying at the library because I’m in school. I’m going to school because I’m working toward a master’s degree in counseling therapy. I’m working toward a master’s degree with the goal being to become a therapist. I’m becoming a therapist because… woof.

A few weeks ago my therapist asked me that same question, the “why?” After piecing together something resembling the story I’d written on my admissions letter, he said that was nice, but what are the real reasons I want to go in this direction? The perfect answer is that I want to do it for thoroughly virtuous reasons, to become the best helper I can in providing the most help I can to those who need that sort of help. Perfection and truth aren’t really aligned here though…

A few days ago I revisited something I’d written after watching Mike Rugnetta’s 2013 XOXO presentation. I think it’s relevant. Here’s a blurb:
“It's difficult to confidently construct oneself without placing it alongside others. […] You want to be true to yourself but you might not know what options are available for inclusion in that truth unless you go ‘shopping’, I guess, is one way to put it. But are they true if they came from somewhere outside of your own brain? And this is actually a big important question: is there a truly and totally internal self? Or, put another way, would everyone who currently self-identifies as goth, or pro-life, or Democrat, or an Evanescence fan, or who identifies as a furry have come to that conclusion independent of the actions or preferences of others? I don't have an answer… because one doesn't exist.”
I’ve done a lot of window shopping when it comes to aligning identity with a profession. I’ve tried being a retail worker person, an office worker person, a freelance writer person, a marketing person, a personal trainer person, and plenty of other persons in between. The term “tried” takes on a range of meaning in looking back though, and for the most part it aligns with results consistent with someone who is unwilling to commit themselves beyond a point of resistance.

I’ve been remarkably lucky. And with that luck comes the privilege of ease. And with ease comes an expectation of continued ease. When it comes to transitioning from an old identity to who I’d like to try being next, I haven’t dealt with considerable barriers along the way. Generally speaking, I’m a fine-looking, cisgender, white North American guy, and with the way our society’s structured, I don’t have to overcome an infinite torrent of bullshit every time I’ve decided it’s time to “start over” in life. Which is just to say that most of the time, despite acknowledging how ridiculously good I have it, I’ve stopped caring to try once I have to really try. I’ve walked away from plenty, but am embarrassingly inexperienced when it comes to actual sacrifice. The point of this, I think, is to recognize that in the past I’ve approached identities with an eagerness to own them so long as I don’t have to give up anything to buy in. (Again, privilege.) That’s the dream, right? And that’s where I’m at now, again.

The last few weeks I’ve started to see this in real time. My priorities haven’t been particularly aligned with that of the type of person I’ve told people I’m becoming. I got here by verbally committing to a new direction, but am not really sure what being “all-in” actually looks like. Last night I took a midterm exam and achieved results consistent with the minimal effort I’ve put into that class. Something happened before I took the test, though, which feels more important than any grade I’m going to receive from it. I had a spell of energy, renewed by some sense of ownership over how little I’d prepared for it, and an acceptance and desire to work through this without giving up. I screwed this one up, for sure, but I can make it up before the semester’s over.

There are a lot of angles to the real reason for why I want to get into counseling. Genuinely, I like this stuff. In the moments where I read for fun, I usually read pop psychology books. It’s interesting to me. I like talking with people, I like helping people, and by way of about fifteen years of personal experience, I’ve got something of a background in “addiction studies,” which stands to help me when it comes to empathizing with the struggles others are facing. And I’m working my way toward forty without anything resembling focus, purpose, or meaning in my life — so this seemed like as good a horse as any to saddle up with as that milestone approaches.

I’m scared as hell to commit myself to these words, especially here, because it’s not the perfect answer. There’s resistance to put any of this here because it feels like committing to more than tidy identity sculpting, which is shamefully my default when writing online. I sold myself on the idea that I was writing [on RecoveryNashville.com] as a way to stay connected to my own continued pursuit of recovery, but haven’t been particularly thrilled with the sterilized sense of authenticity that’s made it onto these pages. Moving beyond lusting after the perception of identity and toward actually becoming someone is going to take work. There’s a lot of fear in committing to change. And of all the sacrifices I’ve been unwilling to make to this point, letting go of misguided perceptions surrounding what it actually takes to do so is hovering somewhere around the top of my list.

The Great Escape [1963]

This might have been a VHS of my dad's, otherwise I'm not really sure how I'd have been exposed to The Great Escape as a child. There's a certain warmth to it: The good natured Americans share a sense of humor and the Nazi soldiers are civil (though proper villains are no less evil). The pacing is even and the acting enjoyable, but I'm straining to conjure the significance of it that I once felt.

Escape from Alcatraz [1979]

I'm not really sure what element of this movie triggered some lingering feeling of appreciation for me, but something in me cared for it in the past. Maybe it was some vague, general fondness for Clint Eastwood or the sliver of heart behind the inmates who were trying to free themselves of the prison's confines. It's probably been a decade-plus since I've last watched Escape from Alcatraz, but those emotions—whatever they were—are gone now. Now there's nothing that makes me want to see Clint Eastwood "win" in escaping Alcatraz. Even when Home Alone's "Old Man Marley" is deprived of his art and makes his horrific stand against the injustice, the heartstrings fail to quiver. If they escaped, fine. And fine if they merely died trying.

The 400 Blows [1959]

I'm thinking back now to one scene when Antoine is hiding out for the night, sleeping in a factory to avoid his family, and he steals a bottle of milk. He runs into an alley and guzzles it down, before continuing his night-time walkabout. Then, passing a sewer, he slips the glass bottle down the mouth of the drain, destroying the evidence and distancing his act from his conscience. I know that feeling.

Wedding Crashers [2005]

Insane sex fiends deceive wealthy, socially detached lunatics, only to fall in what they consider love. No one seems to get what they deserve, while probably getting exactly what they deserve. Will Ferrell shows up. Everyone gets laid.

Sudden Death [1995]

Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour is in net for the Chicago Blackhawks going into game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, where the team faces Pittsburgh on home ice. A little fun fact here, as my family's first and only pet was named Eddie; the result of drawing names from a hat, with one of those names being submitted by a young hockey fan in his early teens. An appreciation of Eddie Van Halen might have also impacted the decision, but the influence on me was primarily from that of "The Eagle." He was my one and only "favorite" hockey player, winning both the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars and Olympic Gold Medal in 2002. Well, he gets scored on by Luc Robitaille with no time remaining to force sudden death overtime...

But not before JCVD murders a woman by sending her head first through an industrial dishwasher, kills a man by stabbing him in the neck with a turkey bone, and almost burns another to death with a makeshift flamethrower. Five stars.

Ocean’s Twelve [2004]

Ocean's Twelve starts off with a similarly cheeky tone as Ocean's Eleven before diverting from the blueprint that made that movie so much fun. It then goes full-on heist, rather than a casino-games fantasy set to the theme of heist as the original did. It's beautifully shot, with fine performances, but there are a few scenes such as Julia Roberts (who's pretending to be Julia Roberts) and Bruce Willis' together, which feel like a snake eating its own tail.

"A Spiritual Axiom"

“[W]hen a person experiences nearly identical events and reacts two different ways, then it is not the event which is of prime importance, but the person's spiritual condition. Feelings come from inside, not from outward circumstances.” —Daily Reflections, October 9
There’s this guy at work who leaves his cell-phone ringer on whenever he’s visiting the office, upwards of three or four times a week. The phone receives a text message and a surge of vibration rattles his desk. He picks the phone up, replies, puts it back down. Another text message, another earth-rumbling vibration, another reply.

Elsewhere someone has left a notification on. I can’t tell if it’s a computer or a phone, but it’s without consistency, all throughout the day. There’s a chirp. There it is again! Did anyone else hear it? Am I going crazy? Don’t they recognize that if everyone left all their notifications on, we’d all be drowned out by the ensuing cacophony?! When will these inconsiderate monsters make the madness stop?!

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 90) Some days the noise pollution doesn’t bother me at all. Some days it does. (A lot.) These are just a small things, and I know we’re not supposed to sweat the small things, but in the past it’s been the small things that have led me to making some really poor decisions.

What it comes down to is usually the bottom line of where my level of self-care is that day: Have I done the things I know I need to do for myself? If I have, experiences are less likely to conjure the worst of me in response. If I haven’t, someone’s cellphone vibrating can leave me anxious and feeling resentful of their even being born. It’s pretty simple.

Any Which Way You Can [1980]

Lynn finally comes to her senses and falls in love with the bare-knuckle street fighter who stalked her across the country with his orangutan and ne'er-do-well sidekick in Every Which Way but Loose. Clyde gets laid. Philo makes a friend. Then he almost beats him to death.

Don’t Breathe [2016]

Don't Breathe's twists hold their shock value upon a second viewing, and a few other things stood out this time around: The staging shots were beautifully colored, and the lights out sequence in the basement traded in the cliched green night vision for spooky black and white visuals. I liked that. That said, that blind man just won't die... and at the end of it, he's relatively unscathed after how many bone-shattering blows to the head? I can suspend disbelief, but I find it hard to believe that being blind means that his sense for avoiding traumatic brain injuries is heightened.

Every Which Way But Loose [1978]

Makes a guy long for a time when society respected a man's rights to take his orangutan to a peep-show without being hassled by every Tom, Dick & Harry. You know, the good old days when you could just track a woman across the country, only to insult her when she questions the integrity of your one-sided pursuit. Gosh, back when Neo-Nazi biker gangs were just a fun, lovable bunch of losers who never got a fair shake... those were the days.

[REC] [2007]

Having recently watched Quarantine, the power of [Rec] holds up even that much more this time around. I'd forgotten how patiently the story builds, allowing tension to develop while the contagion spreads among the apartment's tenants. The graphics of the final "monster" don't really hold up with time, but all is forgiven as they didn't try to beat the point of the scene over the head of the viewer, as was done in the remake.

The Replacements [2000]

The Replacements opens with Lit’s “Zip-Lock,” and within the first few minutes we’ve seen Gene Hackman & John Madden, the cook from the Ernest movies, Roy from The Office, and Orlando Jones chasing down a Twinkie thief. With lines like, “I’ve seen monkey shit-fights at the zoo that were more organized than this,” this movie isn’t trying to be anything but the bucket of clichéd caricatures it is. It's stupid. Stupid and fun.

Feast [2005]

I enjoyed the cheekiness of Henry Rollins' motivational speech (though I still prefer his real motivational speeches) and Judah Friedlander had some good moments, as well. There's a self-aware silliness to it all which has its moments, but every time there's an action sequence it's like the camera person starts having a seizure. That's the style and I get that. But it doesn't make it any easier on the eyes.

Frailty [2001]

I remember feeling like I bonded with my mom over Frailty when watching it upon its VHS release. I think she appreciated the dark religiosity to it, given the fundamentalist leanings of her father (I'll have to ask her), and I remember enjoying it because: a) I felt vindicated as a teenage punk, using this as blanket evidence for why religion was clearly bullshit; and 2) the twist! Now, that same twist seems a disservice to the rest of the story, being used the way it was, and in collaboration with the soft lighting throughout, leaves Frailty feeling vaguely like a well done Lifetime movie. (Update: My mother has no recollection of this movie. My life is a lie.)

Troll 2 [1990]

I watched Best Worst Movie long ago, and any time spent with Troll 2 seems best served by learning about what the movie is, and what it's become, in advance of checking it out. The documentary does well in adding charm and character to the entire production, but that said, Troll 2 is still awful.

Shut Up and Dance

In a meeting yesterday, noting their history in theater, someone said, “As they say in my world, shut up and dance.” I’m paraphrasing, but it rattled me.

As people were sharing their thoughts, the Daily Reflections book was being passed around, with the October 6 reading titled “Facing Ourselves.”
“How often I avoided a task in my drinking days just because it appeared so large! Is it any wonder, even if I have been sober for some time, that I will act that same way when faced with what appears to be a monumental job, such as a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself? What I discover after I have arrived at the other side—when my inventory is completed—is that the illusion was greater than the reality. The fear of facing myself kept me at a standstill and, until I became willing to put pencil to paper, I was arresting my growth based on an intangible.”
That’s it: The fear of facing myself. This still happens all the time. When I face myself I see the potential for something greater. I should want that, but it’s still not what I’m used to. I’m so comfortable with viewing the world with fear that the prospect of seeing it with optimism and potential carries an absurd weight. Through that lens, I see capability and love and friendship and fullness… and it’s intimidating.

Fear brings illusion, and the illusion bears weight. But once I step out from under that weight and take action, that unknown takes a form, and it’s in seeing things for how they really are where fear disappears. It’s in that space I’m free. It’s all a matter of taking that first step… Shut up and dance.

Insidious: Chapter 2 [2013]

To its credit, the movie does well to pick up where the original left off and blends nicely into the back-story. It contributes little to the ongoing narrative, however, and beyond that, it's almost two hours of shrieking strings and crashing piano used for effect in place of anything particularly interesting or scary.

Troll [1986]

Torok the Troll sort of reminded me of the Gwildor character from the Dolph Lundgren "Masters of the Universe" movie, which I loved as a kid. Maybe that's why I feel surprisingly warm to "Troll." There's some charm to the dialog ("Doctors talking about recessive genes — I thought they were talking about pants") throughout this thing, and I can't help but appreciate parts of it. (And WTF - a half naked Julia Louis-Dreyfus wood nymph?!?!) I mean, it's still terrible, but it's the kind of terrible I can appreciate.

The Purge [2013]

For The Purge to work, there had to be a reason to give a shred of a damn about any of the characters, considering how it wholly depends on the viewer caring about the survival of one set of wealthy murderers more than another. It's a good concept, but one I expected to be stronger in execution considering how many follow-ups it's spawned.

As Above, So Below [2014]

Catholic-creep is one of my favorite sub-genres in horror, and "As Above, So Below" delivers a great story steeped in just enough history to keep things interesting beyond the scares. Save for a few weak shocks (CG stone monsters, etc.) the drama is high and the thrills are satisfying throughout.

Scream 2 [1997]

With a great cast, "Scream 2" works as a solid slasher movie that should never be lumped in with the campy teen horror sub-genre. Also: Luke Wilson can't possibly not be Luke Wilson, can he?

Mama [2013]

Not to discount everything else about it, but revealing the face and form of "Mama" cheapened the movie considerably - plucking the amorphous presence from the abstract and slapping a silly CGI mug on it didn't quite register with the intended effect. The rest of "Mama" holds up fine, save for cramming the entire backstory into the tail-end of the movie. Much like not seeing specifics, not knowing them wouldn't have hurt the movie at all. Then again, if you took all my criticisms into account, the movie would be about 30 minutes long and focus only on the young girls' story. Actually, that does sound better.

Burial Ground [1981]

With such wonderfully strange characters, great wardrobe choices, and curiously designed sets, it's a bit puzzling how absolutely trash the zombies in "Burial Ground" are. The more clumsily crafted masks look hastily shaped out of clay, while others couldn't pass for grade school art-class projects. Sure, zombies move slow. I get it. But their biggest threat shouldn't be that they'll bore you to death.