Thursday, January 29, 2009

"The List" is Lacking!

I've never been good at following or joining. People often ask me to attend a meeting of this organization or that club, and I just can't. There's nothing wrong with like-minded groupings, and I do belong to a few. Being a joiner is no worse or better than not. But for the most part, "joining" is just not me. I've tried it and found myself losing myself--my patience, my time, my identity. It's just something I'm not very good at, and I'm becoming comfortable with that.

Upon evaluating my "List: 2008" (below), I find most of it lacking in originality or really memorable items. I think it's true that 2008 was shallow in some parts of the arts pool. But I also find that I'm not wading in as deeply as I once did. Most of my lists pretty much match the popular, top-grossing lists from any entertainment rag. In short, when it comes to the arts, I'm beginning to be a bit of a follower.

Now, I'm not much for snobbery--disliking something just because it's popular or liking something just because it's obscure. What I'm getting at is I'm nauseous from a diet of soul-candy, of what the media is telling me to like. We know the nominees for best picture and the top-selling albums aren't really (necessarily) the best things released last year. These are mostly the things that got the most hype--some deservedly, most because of corporate machinery.

It's the corporate machinery that I find myself caught in, ground through gears and belts of artistic tedium. I stand beside the things I've listed as having gotten to me. Kings of Leon and Metallica put out really good albums. I thoroughly enjoyed Tropic Thunder and Fringe. But the best thing I took in last year was Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory, and it was published in 1940! My book list probably shows the most originality, so maybe I just need to read more.

My resolution, though, is to dig deeper. I know music and film, and I know there must be something coming along in 2009 that will really nourish me, though the popular media likely won't serve it. It's hard because fatherhood and pastoring limit the exploration time I enjoyed in younger days. But my artistic senses have only sharpened as I've aged. I will NOT go gentle into that good night, driving along the cultural highway in a state of hypnosis. I will redouble my efforts to discover truly touching and meaningful entertainment that will stick with me beyond 2009, which is more than I can say for most of what I encountered in 2008.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The List: 2008

Stuck at home with January's chill laying a blanket of ice across this intersection of the Texas plains and Hill Country, I've decided to dash off a list of my 2008 favorites. I'm making no attempts at real criticism or even serious evaluation. I'm not even attempting to restrict myself to things new in 2008 (though I try). These are simply things that were "new" to me in 2008 and touched me or made me think enough that I felt the desire to share them here. I admire technique, but I'm also of a subjectivist school of thought when it comes to the arts. So please don't waste space telling me I'm "wrong" about something that touched me, but please feel free to share the things that you encountered on your journey through 2008. Here, in no particular order, are some Fave 5's of 2008.


  • Tropic Thunder
  • Wall*E
  • Iron Man
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Fringe
  • Life on Mars
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Eli Stone
  • Mad Men
  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • All Art is Propaganda by George Orwell
  • Indignation by Philip Roth
  • Only by the Night by Kings of Leon
  • Viva la Vida by Coldplay
  • Death Magnetic by Metallica
  • Tha Carter III by Lil Wayne
  • Consolers of the Lonely by The Raconteurs
Honorable & Dishonorable (aka Guilty Pleasure) Mentions: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Election 2008, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser, The Daily Show, "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz, Step Brothers, Guns n' Roses' Chinese Democracy, Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, the return of Journey with Filipino Steve Perry sound-alike, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, Kath & Kim, Allison Krauss & Robert Plant (and T-Bone Burnett)'s Raising Sand, Tina Fey

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Across the Tracks

I grew up in segregation. The particularly unusual thing is that I was a child and teen in the 1970s and 80s. I didn't know segregation in school and school-sponsored events, because that was illegal. But the segregation I knew was in everything else, in so-called "community."

The Texas Panhandle town in which I spent my childhood was a sweet little hamlet, with a perfect townsquare surrounding the county courthouse, and with streets like red-brick arteries flowing outward to commerce and cotton and churches and pre-War houses filled with post-War promise. It was simply a nice place to grow up.

But what I didn't really notice until later was that, after school, all my black friends went to their homes literally across the tracks, in the run-down community on the other side of the highway, just before the cemetery. We never played together, though I occasionally saw them in summertime at the city swimming pool. I never saw them at the "Private Skate and Swim Club," because we all know what "private" means. Again, this was the 1980s.

Today is a great day for our country. I hope and pray for Barack Obama's administration. I hope and pray for these people called Americans living under Obama's watch. I want this to prove to be an even more positively historic presidency in four or eight years than it is today. But no matter what happens, today is a great day.

After today, Jeff and Paul and Johnny and Wallace and all the other black guys I went to school with and played football with--but never rode bikes with or skated with--those guys and girls can look their children in the eyes and tell them truthfully that there is somewhere else for them, somewhere besides "across the tracks." After today, I can look at my own beloved daughter--the offspring of a black biological father--and I can tell my beautiful child that in America, it is really possible that people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. After today, the obligation of history rests not on the unspoken evils of unjust belief systems, but squarely on the shoulders of the people--all the people.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Was Just Kidding!

It's those little stings that hurt the most. They're like little daggers that hit at just the right spot, right in the stomach where the memories are hot and bloody. Every time a pleasant moment is interrupted by the memory of the barbed words, there's a twist in the gut just enough to remind you that the idiots who don't think before they speak have it better than the rest of us.

Who are these people? How have they come to the point where they just grab at our dignity and humanity like a wolf tearing at a bloody kill? Sometimes they think they're kidding--or they hide behind "the joke," which is unlike anything I've ever understood to be a joke. They nose their way in where they don't belong, offering unwelcome opinions. Their words are runny dung in a baby's diaper.

Leave us alone! Some of us choose our words, attempting (with modest success) to evaluate how what we are about to say might affect the listener. We actually choose not to say some things because we don't want to hurt another. And words hurt, you maggot-mouthed pile of carrion!

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