“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”
— Rebecca Solnit
Stanley Crouch died a few days ago. He was a good man.
When I remember my barista years, Stanley is the first person who comes to mind. How could he not? He was the most regular of regulars. His home was a few doors down from the café, and he'd stroll in nearly every day. Some days twice or more. He'd enter slowly, taking note of which neighbors were inside (he knew everyone). When he reached the counter, he'd quietly lean on it, eying me down. I'd eye him down too, knowing there was something on his mind. There always was.
I'm terrible at remembering exact conversations, but he'd ask my opinion on political news of the day, or about some movie he'd just watched, or about the books he was reading. Philosophical questions as often as trivial ones. I was a backboard for him to bounce ideas off of; one of many, I'm sure. He really did seem to value my opinion, though never hesitated to let me know when he thought I was wrong. The back and forth was the important thing to him. What I learned from Stanley was how to get more from a conversation by giving more.
We laughed a lot, too. Like me, his resting mood was a calm attentiveness, yet always quick to laugh if there was something funny in the moment. One day, he came in saying, "Ornette loved that joke you told yesterday," meaning Ornette Coleman. They were close friends. I wish I remember what it was I had joked about, but it doesn't matter. What mattered to me at the time was that I felt like a participant in a bigger community. Stanley made me understand I was a real person in the real world. I'm not sure it was his intention, but he gave me a source of confidence I had been lacking.
It had been so long since I'd run into him, nearly a decade, that I assumed he had moved. Maybe to Los Angelos, where his daughter had been living. I'm sad I won't see him again.
Before I left my gig at the café, he gifted me a copy of his novel with a kind — and funny — inscription. It will always be a nice momento. Rest in peace, Stanley.
As I've walked deeper into my fandom of Marvel comics, I've stayed cognizant of why: pure escapism. The comics aren't just a trip into science fiction and fantasy, but also into the minds of people living in the 1960s and dreaming of future possibilities. They invent dystopias as often as utopias. Aliens invade Earth nearly every month. Strange villains appear from the weirdest corners of the planet. Threats jump from other dimensions or even different time streams. For the last four years, the real world has been hellish, making these comic baddies truly comical.
What I find reassuring in the comics is the insistence that science and invention will always save us. Society-saving devices or machinery are often devised and constructed within minutes of someone running into a lab. Absurd, but inspiring nonetheless. Scientists and inventors are heroes just as much as brawny super-powered people. Most of the original super-heroes were in fact also inventors, doctors, or scientists themselves: Hulk/Banner, Iron Man/Stark, Spider-Man/Parker, Mr. Fantastic/Richards, Ant-Man/Pym, or Thor/Blake. Sixty years ago, the most educated Americans held positions of esteem and honor in our country. It made sense to pair intelligence with science with heroism.
I don't believe in utopias, but I do want to live in a world where doctors and climate scientists and NASA engineers are considered among our leading voices. It is intolerable living among Americans who sneer at and reject them. The QAnon nonsense is related to this rejection of truth and standard virtue. How do we get back to a time when our best and brightest are again revered? I'm not about to say that decades-old comics have the answer. Nor do I believe that the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are going to sway opinion in this way. But I do think we should work our way out of the era of the anti-hero. If we can start reforming our cultural role modals after those who unreservedly deserve it, we might have a better chance at a brighter future. Maybe Hank Pym's Ant-Man is actually exactly what we need right now.
Damon Albarn talks about his new working process for Gorillaz tunes:
Did you realise you were creating a potential new business model?
“It was an opportunity to be more fluid, be able to change track, sidestep, do anything that you want to do and not get bogged down with one trope. React, evolve, react, evolve. And I suppose that now seems to be a good model! I’ve really enjoyed listening to the Song Machine album, it’s like listening to an entirely different entity. I’d just been concentrating on each episode so to hear it like that was a joy. But it also exists in these episodes, so it’s not tied to that, and every song will have been listened to a lot by the time the album comes out, so it doesn’t matter. That’s for people who like that and the other way is for people who like that.”
So will there be a Song Machine Season Two?
“Yeah. The first season is going well so there’ll probably be demand for a season two. And the lovely thing about it is, you don’t have to wait until it’s all finished to start rolling it out.”
So it could go on forever, like a TV show?
“Basically, yeah, that’s the idea. And the thing is, we can work with anyone. Maybe we’ll do a season where it’s just completely unknown people because I’d love that. In multiple languages, all over the world. It would be nice to distill all that into a Gorillaz project; disparate, obscure folk artists, somebody in Paraguay or Iceland, someone in South Korea… North Korea even. I don’t know how that would go down but hey, anything is possible now.”
This sounds amazing to me. We get about one new Albarn track a month as Gorillaz, and he will still likely put out one or two album-sized projects a year, as well. It's always been a great time to be an Albarn fan. It's even better these days.
These lights are to remind us of those who died that day. They’re also to remind us that we are one country, and that NYC is our beating heart.
This website has no Likes, Faves, Reposts, or Comments. It's a refreshing way to post stuff online. When I open up the site, I don't want to see who liked what or how many kudos a post received. To me, "engagement" is distracting. It's also less honest than you might think. Once I realized how compelled I was to heart every Instagram post I saw from friends, I became less interested in doing so. I resented feeling shame for not "liking" posts from friends. So I left Instagram entirely. I had stopped using Facebook years before that.
I still feel bad for not clicking that heart icon when I do occasionally scroll through Instagram (via Safari). I still hate Instagram for making me feel that way.
I'm now treating this site as my own personal Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Anything I'd want to post there, I post here instead. And you don't have to like it! But I'm happy you're here. :)
Been back in the city a week and I’m missing the grill. Always a great way to end the day, cooking outdoors.
Just last week, I had been wondering what Adam Serwer had been up to. We hadn't seen anything from him in awhile. Now he's back with an excellent long read in this week's Atlantic: The Next Reconstruction. With characteristic talent, he frames our current elevated focus on racial justice inside a larger historical context.
Here is where we were in the early 20th century, says Serwer:
As the freedmen sought to secure their rights through state intervention—nondiscrimination laws in business and education, government jobs, and federal protection of voting rights—many Republicans recoiled. As the historian Heather Cox Richardson has written, these white Republicans began to see freedmen not as ideal free-laborers but as a corrupt labor interest, committed to securing through government largesse what they could not earn through hard work. “When the majority of the Southern African-Americans could not overcome the overwhelming obstacles in their path to economic security,” she wrote in The Death of Reconstruction, “Northerners saw their failure as a rejection of free-labor ideals, accused them of being deficient workers, and willingly read them out of American society.”
This is where we are now:
A majority of Americans have accepted the diagnosis of Black Lives Matter activists, even if they have yet to embrace their more radical remedies, such as defunding the police. For the moment, the surge in public support for Black Lives Matter appears to be an expression of approval for the movement’s most basic demand: that the police stop killing Black people. This request is so reasonable that only those committed to white supremacy regard it as outrageous. Large majorities of Americans support reforms such as requiring the use of body cameras, banning choke holds, mandating a national police-misconduct database, and curtailing qualified immunity, which shields officers from liability for violating people’s constitutional rights.
The progress is promising, but the failures glare brighter. Not nearly enough has changed. It can be argued that almost nothing has changed. Serwer then presents Biden as a flawed but suitable politician to lead us through to a more equitable America.
As for the Democrats’ presidential standard-bearer, Joe Biden has struck an ambitious note, invoking the legacy of Reconstructions past. “The history of this nation teaches us that in some of our darkest moments of despair, we’ve made some of our greatest progress,” Biden declared amid the Floyd protests in June. “The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth Amendments followed the Civil War. The greatest economic growth in world history grew out of the Great Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of ’65 came on the tracks of Bull Connor’s vicious dogs … But it’s going to take more than talk. We had talk before; we had protest before. We’ve got to now vow to make this at least an era of action and reverse the systemic racism with long-overdue concrete changes.”
Hope. Be anti-racist. Support and dignity for every American.
Lisa and I have both been working from home since the pandemic shutdown began. We're lucky to have jobs, and we don't take that for granted. Despite that, both of us spending all day everyday in our 500 square foot apartment has its own challenges, as many of us city dwellers have discovered. The WSJ office is in midtown Manhattan, and while it's now open and we're allowed to work from there if we choose, almost no one feels comfortable riding the subway to and from each day.
So I'm excited to be back at the Friends co-working studio. I'm testing it out for a month to see if I can make it work with my meetings-heavy calendar. There are only two "phone booth" meeting rooms, here, which might be an issue. Or it might not! After joining the WSJ, I really missed this place and the people. It's so nice to be back, despite the unfortunate circumstances for making it possible/necessary.
I ran my first half-marathon on October 14, 2017. The Brooklyn Rock’n’Roll half marathon. Time: 2:17:46, a 10’24”/mi pace. I did well! Even so, that will probably be my last. Turns out I like running, but I don't like running that much. I'm really glad I did it, though. And I'm not for sure counting out running another one some day. Maybe in another city, somewhere.
The half-marathon training did kickstart a lasting running habit. Since then, I've been running a 5K (3.11mi) almost every week. Lately, with no commute taking up a couple hours a day, I've made time to run twice most weeks. It feels great.
My normal course is around Brooklyn Bridge Park, looping around the piers. It's a really great place for a morning run. Not too crowded in the early hours. Always a great view of the city. A short walk away from my apartment. My current average pace is around 9'15"/mi, finishing the 5Ks between 27min and 30min. I can often get the pace down below 9'00"/mi, but not always. My goal is get below that pace every time.