Pigeon Review and the State of the Arts

Pigeon Review is a new literary and art journal. Their second set of stories was just released online, and I wrote one of them. I’m not writing this to plug my own story (Although it would make me happy if people read and enjoy it. It’s available here.) I want to plug Pigeon Review and talk a bit about the state of the arts.

The internet started going mainstream when I was in my early twenties. AOL and CompuServe were doing everything in their power to sign new customers. The press and advertisements were everywhere. One of the things they talked about a lot was how the internet would democratize everything. As an art lover, I read over and over about how great this was going to be for music, literature, film, and the visual arts. The gatekeepers were going away and nothing would stop the truly talented from shining.

Needless to say, the predictions were nearly completely wrong. A handful of companies now control almost everything. There are oases of sort of freedom like WordPress, BandCamp, Etsy, and YouTube. I say sort of because they are still owned and/or controlled by the big guys (everyone is stuck trying to get a good ranking from Google’s algorithm). But these places (and some others) let anyone who wants to post upload almost anything they want to. That sounds a lot better than it is. It effectively cuts aspiring artists off from funding and makes discovering anything new next to impossible. If consumers relied on these channels, it would be more than a full-time job searching for things they may like.

Virtually everything that isn’t self-produced goes through the major media companies and those companies are incredibly conservative. I don’t mean conservative in the political sense, but rather risk-averse. Nothing gets made without a guarantee of profit. They stick to artists with proven track records and reliable formulas. Publishers are more concerned with an author’s social media following than the quality of the writing. Everything has to fit a marketing category. Hard-to-describe is worse than bad.

This state of affairs has made it hard to be an art-lover. (It’s hard for the artists as well, but many people have written about that.) Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of what is being made now. I’ve read some great books, seen some great movies, and listened to a bunch of great music released in the past few years. The problem is that it’s all pretty much the same. It’s safe, easy, and pleasant. (WandaVision came tantalizingly close to being wonderfully different, but wound up being more of the same.) Sometimes the most beautiful things are controversial, difficult, and abrasive. We’ve lost those things.

Many, if not most, people won’t care about this loss. That’s OK. People should enjoy what they enjoy without shame. There’s no right or wrong (Except the White Stripes. If you enjoy the White Stripes, you’re wrong.) But, for those of us who truly love the arts, who crave the new and exciting, it is a difficult time. The two sides of the arts, Anarchy and Oligarchy, are both incapable of getting us what we want.

Anarchy might be acceptable if we didn’t have to work, take care of our kids, sleep, eat, and things like that. If I could spend all my time combing the internet for songs, stories, drawings, and films that I like, I’m sure I’d find a lot. I don’t have that kind of time. I need curators to help me. Not just any curator will do, though. The oligarchic curators just push the boring sameness. I’ve been on Spotify for over a decade. In that time, it has not recommended even a single song that I liked and hadn’t heard before. That’s where Pigeon Review comes in.

Nathaniel and Darcy have taken it upon themselves to act as independent curators. They are taking the time that I don’t have and at least giving me a starting place. I like what I see so far. They are not the only ones, and, unfortunately, finding good curators is something of an anarchic project, but since I found one I like, I wanted to share with everyone else. Check them out. And if you have any curators you like, I’d love to hear about them.

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What Does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

My own mother didn’t recognize me.

We had agreed to meet in front of the Burger King at the corner of Main and Asylum. I was sitting on a giant planter, my head tilted slightly down as I scrolled through social media. She looked at me, and kept walking. My phone rang a few moments later. When I saw it was her number, I looked up. She was right across the street, so I jogged over.

“I didn’t even know that was you,” she said when I got to her. “Your hair looked so short.” That’s fair. She hadn’t seen me since I’d started getting my hair braided again; this is what I normally look like. “And you’re so skinny!”

It was the last thing she said that struck me. I’d weighed myself earlier in the week, and was shocked to see that I was down to 155 lbs. My weight has always fluctuated, but I’m typically between 165-175. I hadn’t made any conscious decisions to diet, and yet I’d lost ten pounds. Hearing my mother note how different I looked made me finally take a step back and realize that I was stressed the fuck out.

There were so many things going on in my life, but I’d convinced myself that I was juggling all of them somewhat successfully. It became clear that I’m not handling anything well this week though. I broke my glasses on Monday, which is a bill I simply don’t need after getting fired and still waiting for unemployment to approve me. No problem, I thought, as I still had my prescription. I planned to run to Walmart and grab a cheap pair. Turns out that prescriptions can expire, and mine did, three months ago. Now I would need to pay for an eye exam too.

Fine. But fortunately, I found a place that was offering not one, but two frames and a free eye exam for $69 (haha). I even got my appointment with them moved up a week, to Wednesday. Things seemed to be looking up, until the exam itself. My eyesight is so bad that it priced me out of the deal. Instead of $70, I ended up paying $270.

As I sat there in the glasses store, turning over in my head how I could afford this, another question popped into my head: Why am I always in this position? And that led to the rest of them: Why am I such a fuckup? Why can’t I keep a job? Why can’t I find a job I like? Why can’t I save like other people? Why can’t I just see like other people? I’ve already written this essay before, so when are things finally going to change for me?

All of the feelings I thought I had bottled up uncorked themselves and have been going to town. I feel my whole body shaking as soon as I wake up in the morning. There’s a nervous, uncomfortable energy right beneath my skin, pricking me like needles from the inside out. I chew on my tongue randomly. Pain shoots up my leg and into my lower back constantly. I’ve cried the last three days. Is this what an anxiety attack is?

The acuteness of the last few days has thrown into relief the undercurrent of stress that has permeated my life not just for weeks or months, but for years. The last time I remember being happy- genuinely, exuberantly happy- was June 2019, That was the day I watched the 8th graders I was tutoring graduate into high school. I still remember one young man who walked across the stage and refused to shake any adult’s hand except for mine. That remains one of the proudest moments of my life, because I knew that I’d made a different to him, and that was all I cared about.

So I became a teacher. And fucking hated it.

So I went to work at a nonprofit. And fucking hated it.

I sat inside for an entire year during the pandemic, like everyone else. Friends died. Others got sick. Still more lost their jobs. I smoked an ounce of weed a week. A week.

I became unmoored from just about everything I’d put faith in during my life. School. Government. Nonprofits. But I lacked the power as an individual to make a difference on my own. All of my railing about being an anarchist is really me seeking the answer to the most basic question: why do we think our world and the way it functions is so great if so many people are suffering?

All of that, two years of my reality essentially collapsing. And then I got fired by someone I thought I was a friend, for doing what I was hired to do- say what I was I thinking.

But that’s just life, right? Pandemics happen. Jobs don’t work out. I can’t do anything about my cornea being misshapen. Yet it’s all come together in a moment where this stress is compromising my relationships with people I love. That’s the hardest part. I’m all about the people in my life. I want to please and support them with all of myself, but myself isn’t all there. So I can’t be there for them the way I want to be, and the way I think they want me to be.

I told my son school is bullshit, so he took that to heart and almost failed the 8th grade. I still think school is bullshit, but me raging against the machine has collateral consequences. The stress of not fitting into this world is compounded by my guilt and shame at harming the people around me. It becomes a cycle. I focus on the negative, no matter how much my loved ones try to point out the positive. I can’t get out of my own head.

It just all came to a head on Wednesday. I don’t know why $270 glasses were the breaking point, because the whole thing goes so much further beyond money. And intellectually, I know I’ll be fine in the long run. I’ll get unemployment. I’ll find another job. I have the strongest support network I’ve ever had in my life behind me. Even though I know all of these things, I just don’t feel good. But I’m trying.

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The Job Market

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

I have been unsuccessfully job hunting for over four years now. I had a decent job. It paid enough, was mildly interesting, and I was good at it. Then, a little more than five years ago, the organization made some changes which eliminated my department. They found a new position for me, but it was pretty unbearable. The pay was the same and it was easy, but it wasn’t even a little interesting and did nothing of value for anyone that I could see. At the time, I was going through a divorce, so I was afraid to make any drastic changes in my work life. I just kept showing up. What else was I supposed to do?

A year or so went by and my personal life settled. The job was worse, so I started looking for a new one. Since I was working, I was being pretty picky. I wasn’t even looking at jobs that paid less, lacked benefits, or had nonstandard hours. Of the dozens of resumes I sent out, only one employer contacted me. It wasn’t even a real interview. You’d probably call it a pre-interview and then I never heard from them again. I kept at my job until about twenty months ago when they laid me off. They weren’t quite as profitable as they had hoped to be, so they cut 20% of the employees and I got caught in that. (I know that’s a pretty cynical take, but I’m actually giving them the benefit of the doubt.)

At this point, I stopped being picky. I went to a professional for help with my resume and job hunting and networking. I’ve been diligently trying to do everything they told me. I update my resume specifically for each job I apply to. I focus on my relevant experience and key words. I craft a new cover letter each time. I’ve contacted friends, relatives, former colleagues, acquaintances, and friends of friends. I took a class on optimizing LinkedIn. I created profiles on Indeed, Career Builder, Monster, Zip Recruiter, as well as some freelance places. And, most importantly, I’ve taken the advice to heart that I should make my job search my full time job. I usually spend hours over multiple days working on each application.

In the past twenty months, I have managed exactly two interviews. Neither one worked out. The first one hired me. They were in crisis from the pandemic and I think they would have hired anyone with a pulse. But, I wasn’t suited to the job and I didn’t like it. I kept job hunting while I was there. I’m generally good with my money and have some savings, so I quit after about eight months. The second interview went well, but I didn’t get the job. It was a job I knew I could do, but I’ve never done before. I imagine at least one of the other applicants had actual experience. That’s another thing, I never apply for a job unless I honestly believe I’ll be good at it. I know there are people who pad their resumes, exaggerate their skills, and bluff their way through whatever they can’t really do. I’m not one of those people.

Over the past four years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about the job market. It is technically a market. People (employers and job hunters) come together to make exchanges. But it is a wildly inefficient market. Almost nothing in the job market is set up to fit the most qualified candidates into the best jobs for them. Instead, it’s a land full of gatekeepers and artificial barriers.

Part of the reason is the power and information disparity between parties. The power difference is obvious. People need jobs more than businesses need employees, and that’s only getting more true with automation. Plus, even with low unemployment, there are more people than there are jobs, especially good jobs. The information disparity is also pretty obvious. Most businesses refuse to disclose even basic details, like what the job pays. There’s always a vague, “and other duties as assigned by management,” in the job description. The businesses, on the other hand, can do a full background check, perform a credit check, look at a person’s criminal record, talk to their previous employers, demand to know their prior salary, do drug screenings, and on and on. That’s just at the filling out the application part of the process. It’s hugely lopsided.

Part of the reason is specialization and professionalization. Or, I should probably say, “specialization,” and, “professionalization.” When I first got promoted to management and was going to start interviewing perspective employees, my boss told me what to look for in candidates. He said, “Look for smart and a strong work ethic. We can teach them everything else.” That no longer works. Someone out there wants to sell you a credential for everything now, and businesses require those credentials for those positions. It doesn’t matter if you can do the job, it matters if you have a piece of paper from some “educational organization” that says you can do the job.

Finally, you get to the ways jobs are actually given out. There’s a shocking amount of nepotism and networking involved in most jobs. It’s not really about your skills and knowledge, it’s about who you know. And then the jobs that aren’t given out that way go to the best salespeople. Face it, everyone one of us job hunters looks the same on paper. I’m certainly not alone in seeking professional help for my resume, social media, and all of that. We’re all told to do the same things. The ones who stand out are the ones who are good at selling themselves. Sales may not be a job duty, but it is a requirement.

It seems like an efficient job market would be good for everyone. Employers could find better workers more quickly and workers could find jobs that suit them. Consumers would get better products and services. There would be more innovation. Sadly, we are nowhere near there. We have high unemployment and a labor shortage simultaneously. And no one seems to be making any moves to fix it.

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Nobody Does It Better – Legends of Tomorrow and Representation

This is part two of a two-parter. I don’t think they need to be read together, but they will reinforce each other. Part one is here.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (LoT) is the best show currently on television. I wrote about how much I like it a few years ago. I’m not here now to debate the merits of the show. I’m right. It’s great. Trust me and watch it. Instead, I’m here to talk about one particular aspect of LoT that they do better than anyone else.

Most people will have guessed from the title that I’m here to talk about representation. Legends of Tomorrow has one of the biggest and most diverse cast of characters around. That’s in large part due to the nature of the show. They travel all through space and time, so there are lots of opportunities for new and different characters. It’s also because LoT is constantly switching out members of the crew. There are only two original cast members left, Sara and Mick (Well, three if you count Gideon, and I’m fond of Gideon, so we’ll say three). Some have died, some have left for other opportunities, and some have started families. Because the rate of attrition is so high, they are always adding new team members. So, there’s a lot of diversity, a lot of representation, just from sheer numbers. But, that’s not what makes Legends so good at it.

The reason why LoT gets representation better than anyone else is because they are normal about it. I know, I know, no one who’s ever watched the show would use the word normal to describe it, but I’ll explain. I’m aware that this is a show about time travel, has super-powered characters, has magic and aliens. I know they once had to stop a murderous unicorn from slaughtering all of the hippies at Woodstock (and they did it using Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, and Gary’s nipple). I know they once brought all of the totems together which transformed the team into a giant children’s toy (Beebo!) so they could battle a demon. There have even been sentient puppets. All kinds of craziness happens on the show, but it remains normal through it all.

What I mean is that the characters are simply themselves. Most of the time, when shows are diverse, they are doing it in order to be diverse. There’s an old joke from Scrubs (another great show) where Turk complains about being on the cover of his college brochure twice because that was the only way they could make it look like black people attended the school. That’s how most mainstream media handles diversity. “Hey! Hey everyone. Look at us. We’re diverse. Aren’t you impressed?” I love Star Trek, but the first time Culber and Stammets kissed on Discovery, I could practically hear the producers yelling, “Look! They’re both men,” and patting themselves on the back.

In Legends, it’s not like that at all. Sara and Ava are a couple not because the producers decided they needed a same-sex couple on the show. If you know Sara and Ava, of course they’re going to fall in love and spend their lives together. It would be weird if they didn’t. It’s as simple as that. Zari didn’t join the crew because they thought it would be nice to have a Muslim on board. She lost her family and found a new one on the Waverider. It was very organic. The show is so normal about it that someone could watch without realizing how diverse it is. They don’t draw particular attention to it, it’s just who these characters are.

What I’m really getting at is that everyone should be watching Legends of Tomorrow. It’s not just a high quality show: well written, well acted, and well directed. It is actively making the world a better place. Plus, it’s incredibly fun while doing so.

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Normal

Photo by Chela B. on Unsplash

This is part one of a two-parter. I don’t think they need to be read together, but they will reinforce each other. Part two is here.

I’ve always wanted something for other people. I think they would be happier, and I think society would be better off. In my head, I use the word normal. I just want everyone to be normal. However, I’m not using normal in the normal sense. That’s because I don’t think there’s a good word for what I want. The lack of proper vocabulary keeps me from talking about it much. So, in an effort to change that, I’m going to pull an old philosophy trick and explain what I mean by the word normal.

For starters, I absolutely don’t mean that everyone should be the same or conformist or anything like that. A big part of being normal, in my sense, is you being you. Everyone is different. Diversity is normal and diversity is good. That’s fundamental to my beliefs. Another part of being normal is respecting that diversity, whether you “agree” with it or not. (I put agree in quotes because I don’t think you can agree or disagree about who or what someone is. They are who they are regardless of your acceptance of the facts.) Bigots are not, and can never be, normal.

The next step to being normal is realizing and accepting that no one cares. That needs some unpacking. Hopefully, there are some people who do care about you. Hopefully, those people are loving and supportive. Be they friends or family or whomever, it’s almost impossible to not be normal when you’re with them. Being normal is only an issue when you’re with everyone else. They’re the ones who don’t care. Whether you’re at work or the grocery store or the beach, you’re surrounded by people who just don’t care about you. That’s fine. Remember, you don’t care about them either and everything will be good.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. Being normal, in my sense, is basically finding an Aristotelian Golden Mean, a happy medium, when it comes to the self. When people fail to be normal, they are either too aggressively themselves or too timidly themselves. There is an aspect of themselves that they are excessively proud of or embarrassed about. Both extremes are wrong, but for different reasons. The aggressive selves impose on others. They force people who would otherwise be minding their own business to notice and have an opinion about them. The problem with the timid selves is they lack honesty and authenticity.

A couple of examples may make it clearer. Gaston in Beauty and the Beast is the aggressive type. It’s not enough that he believes himself to be the manliest man in town. He insists that everyone else know it too. Belle’s indifference to his manliness (she just doesn’t care) is more than he can handle. His aggressiveness probably comes from insecurities, but if Gaston had just been normal, Belle and the rest of the town’s folk would have been much better off. The timid type is exemplified by Aaron Burr in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. Burr is so worried about what people think of him, he refuses to let anyone see his true self. He appears to be whatever he thinks the people around him want him to be. It keeps him from forming any genuine relationships. Hamilton has more respect for his sworn enemy, Jefferson, than he does for Burr. It’s because Burr won’t be himself, he won’t be normal.

That’s what I’m really saying when I say I want people to be normal. I want them to be themselves while letting everyone else be themselves, too. It’s weird to impose on people who have no reason to care. And it’s weird to worry what people who don’t care think. None of us are perfect. I’m sure I’ve erred on both sides. But, I’m always trying to be normal.

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Naomi Osaka, Sports, Entertainment, and the Press

Last week, Naomi Osaka, the current #2 tennis player on the WTA tour, announced that she would not be engaging with the press at all during this year’s French Open. When she followed through after her first round win, the tournament fined her $15,000 and said that the penalty will escalate with each match, possibly resulting in expulsion from the Open. The other Grand Slams came together with the French and agreed that they won’t tolerate one of their competitors not talking to the press. Osaka responded by withdrawing from the tournament.

I don’t know what to think about this. I seem to be holding like six contradictory opinions simultaneously. I’m hoping that I can explore a little and come to some clarity. My initial reaction was, “Who cares?” I still feel this way even though the contradiction is painfully obvious. I’m thinking and writing about it, so I guess I care at least a little bit. But I don’t know Naomi Osaka. She’s a great tennis player, I enjoy watching her matches, but that’s as far as our relationship goes. Whether she talks to the press or not doesn’t affect me at all.

It gets even more muddled from there. Every time I hear a take, I seem to think they make a great point and they’re wrong. That started with Osaka’s original statement. She cited her mental health and the adversarial nature of the press. As someone who has suffered from mental health issues and as someone who has been a caregiver for someone suffering from mental health issues, she’s right. A daily post-mortem highlighting all your mistakes and anxieties is about the worst thing you can do. You need to conserve what energy you have and open up to a trained therapist. It can be incredibly hard talking to friends and family. I can’t even imagine what it’s like trying to handle the press.

At the same time, I can’t help but be a little resentful. I and the people I care about are simply not in any kind of position to tell our employers, “In order to protect our mental health, we will decline participating in project meetings, performance reviews, and daily check-ins for the time being.” And if we did something like that, we certainly can’t afford to quit our jobs when our bosses push back. Osaka enjoys a level of autonomy and agency that’s beyond me.

There’s the same confusion when I look at the statement from the Grand Slams. At first, I think they are completely right. Press events are part of the job. They are contractual obligations. It’s actually kind of nice to see the WTA treat one of their biggest stars just like they’d treat any player. Especially after watching the NBA ignore LeBron’s breach of COVID protocols when the playoffs started.

At the same time, show a little compassion. She’s telling them she’s sick. She wants to do her job, but there is one aspect that is especially difficult for her. I’m sure she could provide a doctor’s note, if it’ll help. Special circumstances should be accommodated if possible. COVID showed us that better than anything. Unless the Grand Slams have reason to believe Osaka is lying, they should give her the benefit of the doubt.

The press, naturally, seems to have fallen into two legitimate camps, pro-Osaka and anti-Osaka. There are also those who have sexist and racist takes, but I’m going to ignore those as illegitimate. The legitimate camps basically disagree about what Osaka’s job is. Some say that her job is to play tennis and that’s it. The others say that talking to the press is part of the job. I see both sides. Personally, I don’t pay much attention to the post game interviews. That’s not why I watch. If I see the competitors play good tennis, I’m happy. But, there are those who enjoy getting to know the players and the off-the-court storylines. Professional sports are a form of entertainment. I find the sport itself entertaining, but not everyone is like me, and I’m not going to say they’re wrong.

This hasn’t helped me figure it out. I still see all sides. I feel like there must be a compromise giving the fans access without endangering the players, but I don’t know what that is. I am curious what the other players think and feel, although if Osaka has been censured this badly, it will take a lot of courage for other players to be honest. I’d also like to know if the press can be better. Tennis is just a sport after all.

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Black Lightning

Black Lightning recently ended its four season run on The CW. I watched faithfully from the very first episode (which makes it pleasantly shocking that it lasted four seasons). This has gotten me a bit reflective, about the show itself, but also about storytelling and things like that. Please excuse a little self-indulgence, but I felt like sharing some of these reflections. I’ll try to keep it spoiler free in case anyone is interested in watching for themselves, but a couple may creep in, especially in the second half.

I’ll start with the show itself. There was a lot to like. It started great. The beginnings of TV shows are often shaky. There’s just a lot of work to be done, establishing the characters and setting, setting up relationships, introducing plot elements. All of this set up usually means that the story is less than gripping at the beginning. Most shows need at least a few episodes to settle in. Some need more than a full season. Black Lightning hit the ground running. I was instantly invested. It didn’t always maintain that high a level, but it was never less than good.

There were some other things I liked. The cast was great. It helps that I didn’t recognize most of them from other roles, but I saw them as their characters rather than people playing characters. It was a very good looking show. And I don’t just mean the cast (although they’re pretty easy on the eyes). It had a dramatic stylization. There was a lot of color contrast and they frequently played with light and dark. The show didn’t shy away from politics. There were plots taken from the crack epidemic/war on drugs to Trayvon Martin to government experiments on black communities. And, relatedly, the show was unapologetically black. I’m probably not the best judge of this, but I never felt like they were trying to make blackness palatable for a white audience. I felt like Black Lightning was just telling its own stories. I also enjoyed the way they used music throughout the series.

Before getting to the more general observations, I want to say that I don’t pay any attention to behind the scenes stuff in Hollywood. So, some of what I’m going to say is speculative. I don’t know the real causes for what I talk about. I think my points will still hold, though.

There are two lessons we can all learn from Black Lightning. The first is that it is a mistake to always raise the stakes. [Minor spoilers] Black Lightning started with very high stakes, Jefferson and Lynn’s daughters getting kidnapped, and it just amped up from there. Eventually foreign nations were invading Freeland and Tobias was heading up an international cabal. [It’s safe again] The problem with constantly raising the stakes is that the show got less personal as it went on. Black Lightning isn’t unique, by any means. To jump into a different comics world, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. suffered from the same problem. I think if season two had pulled back and done a bunch of “villains of the week” episodes, the show would have had more room to breathe and grow naturally. Look at Deep Space Nine as a series that got this balance perfectly.

The second lesson is probably a lot harder to fix. It seems like a lot of outside factors kept changing the story instead of story logic dictating the story. I say this is hard to fix because I’m sure COVID was one of those factors. It halted production of most things and probably forced the stories to get told in fewer episodes than they otherwise would have been. [Minor spoilers] It seemed like an actor’s decision to leave the show completely changed Jennifer’s story arc. The whole JJ thing was a clever way to recast, but it never really made sense. And introducing the bodiless creatures that live in the ionosphere in the series finale was just bizarre. I’d love to know what the original plans were. [It’s safe again] Even the end of the series felt like it was a network decision rather than a story decision. Everything felt rushed in the last season. The last couple of episodes almost felt like checklists. “What threads are still loose? Ok, let’s tie them off,” check, check, check, check. Like I said, these things feel like they were out of the producers’ and writers’ control. Black Lightning isn’t the first show to suffer these kinds of problems (cough, Enterprise, cough). I just wish the business side of things would cede control to the creatives.

The bottom line is I’m glad to have had Black Lightning in my life for four seasons. If you didn’t watch it, try streaming it. If you did watch it, I’m curious what you think about the ending and the show in general. I’ve been comparing it to Watchmen, and I think Black Lightning pulled it off better. Am I crazy?

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I Am a Boston Celtics Fan

Image courtesy of: https://theathletic.com/2368691/2021/02/05/jayson-tatum-celtics-jaylen-brown/

It’s all UConn’s fault.

I would pop in to watch a Celtics game now and then to see how my boy Kemba, the Greatest Hero of the Big East, was doing. But there were these other guys on the team. One of them looked a little like Kemba, but even as I watched Kemba, I could see that this other guy was on another level. I eventually learned that his name is Jaylen Brown.

The other guy was taller, and somehow even better than Brown. I watched him play in the bubble playoffs last year, and this 22 year old averaged 24 points. Jayson Tatum. Okay, I see you.

It was a repeat of my secret love for the 2008 championship Celtics team. Again, I only watched to support Jesus Shuttlesworth. But fellow acclaimed actor Kevin Garnett was also on the team, and I finally got to see him play after being banished out in Minnesota for most of his career. He was great, of course, and over the season I even developed a grudging respect for Paul Pierce (which has been burnished by his epic firing from ESPN).

I suppose liking the Celtics was my destiny. My grandfather played basketball, and was pretty good until he hurt his knee. Still, he kept in contact with all of his basketball friends, including Sam Jones. Yes, that Sam Jones. I remember answering the phone a few times at my grandfather’s house, and hearing the husky voice of an older Black man on the other end.

“Hey, is Jimmy there? Tell him it’s Sam Jones.”

I was an idiot kid, so I didn’t understand that I was talking to one of the fifty greatest basketball players ever in the NBA. My room was right next to my grandfather’s, so I could hear the raucous laughter booming from his 6’4″ body as they recalled the good old days, games and girls that were long gone.

My grandfather died enough years ago that now I can’t remember exactly when it happened. I just remember hearing that he’d had a heart attack. He’d already had one of those, I said to myself. He’ll bounce back like he always does. Weeks in the hospital became months, and the thought snuck into my mind that he might not be coming out this time. I invented all sorts of reasons to not go see him- I was too busy, it was too far, I was too angry over some minor disagreement from childhood.

But I was scared. I’d never seen my grandfather sick. This dude was literally larger than life to me. I was the shortest boy in my class in the 8th grade, so my basketball-playing grandfather was a giant. I ran to his house every weekend for pizza and Cartoon Network. No bedtime. Football all day the next day with the other kids in the complex. Toys R Us on Sunday to get some obscure Star Trek model. This guy can’t die. I’ll see him when he comes home.

But he didn’t. I’m sorry I didn’t go to see you Grandpa Jim. I was a coward and I have to live with that until I die.

I don’t even know if Sam knows that Jimmy passed on. I’m sure it made it to him somehow. He must be pretty proud of how his team is playing, and I know James Ragland would be too.

So now there’s a new Big Three in Beantown that I can get behind, especially after watching Tatum go off last night for 50 to keep the Celtics alive in the series. My grandfather isn’t here to root them on, so I’ll have to carry on in his place. Let’s go Celtics!

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On Seafood and Existence

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

I used to say that I didn’t like seafood. Sure, I’d eat fish sticks and shrimp, but anything seafood related that I would eat had to be pulverized and breaded to the point where it was barely recognizable.

A friend introduced me to the wonders of real seafood recently- crab legs dipped in butter sauce, perfectly seasoned scallops and seafood bags that seem endless in their delicious variety. It made me ask myself, why did I dislike seafood in the first place?

At first, I thought the answer was that seafood can be alot of work. You have to crack open crab legs, peel and devein shrimp, clean fish, and so on. But in reality, that doesn’t take much longer than any of the other food prep I’ve done. It was the work itself. Removing veins, eyes and heads was not something I had to do with my other food.

Basically, I disliked it because it reminded me that it used to be alive at one point.

This revelation dovetails with another that I had during the depths of isolation during the pandemic. I was weighing the pros and cons of going vegetarian again. I realized that while it was possible to stop eating animals, it was impossible to stop killing things to live. Plants are alive, as are the fruits and vegetables we harvest from them (here’s another interesting discussion of this topic). My life can only be sustained with other life, and there’s no way around it. Of course, plants look and function differently enough from us that it’s hard to feel a sense of shared empathy with an apple.

The same is true for the ways that our food is prepared. When I go to the store, a pound of ground beef or chicken breasts are so abstracted from the animals they actually come from that they might as well be as different from me as the apple is. I’m not buying the remains of a living animal, I’m buying “meat.” Even the cooked versions of those meats bear no resemblance to their former lives.

Seafood fundamentally challenges that disassociation. You are cracking open the leg of a crab. There’s no abstraction for that. You go into the store and see whole fish. The lobsters are swimming around until you kill it yourself. The reality of consuming life stares you in the face in a way that other food doesn’t.

That’s why I found it gross for so long. It wasn’t the food itself, but my immaturity in navigating the moral ground of literally living. The pandemic finally drove home that the moral clarity I strove for does not exist. I stayed home and safe during the pandemic while others had to work and die to feed me. That makes me a bad person, but a bad person who’s still alive. I have to live with that.

And so I learned that life requires life. There’s no moral clarity around vegetarianism for me either, not if the point is to preserve life. I’ve accepted that, so I don’t mind when the lobster stares back anymore. It’s him or me, the virus or me, the apple or me. Someday I’ll lose, and the plants and animals will eat me. There’s nothing gross about being reminded that a living thing sustains me.

Instead, I feel grateful. I feel a connection to seafood now that I don’t feel slinging ground turkey around. This era of seafood is helping me to understand where I belong in this universe. And it’s fucking delicious.

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Let’s Make A Change Tomorrow!

Photo by Katt Yukawa on Unsplash

Dear Mark,

These are trying times for so many people. The scourge of [insert social ill which inspired most recent mass shooting] continues to leave deep scars on the soul of our nation. As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King once said, [insert quote relevant to most recent mass shooting]. Here at Every Nonprofit Ever™, we are deeply committed to addressing this issue. So committed, that we’ve dedicated our lives to this cause and want to ensure the cause endures as long as we live.

That’s why I’m writing to you today. I’m asking for your help. With your support, we can continue doing absolutely nothing to solve this problem.

Our organization has existed for almost 30 years in your hometown, and you’ve never heard of us except when we’re asking you for money. The fact that you can’t point to any accomplishments from us or our partners shows how desperately we need you. The issue isn’t that we’re ineffectual and unfocused. We just need your support, so our lack of production is actually kind of your fault!

Besides, change is a slow, incremental, painstaking process. It’s not like the entire world can change in 30 years. Unless you’re talking about the internet. Or cell phones. Or streaming television. Or a global war on terror. Or any of the other clearly measurable ways life has dramatically changed since 1992.

Real change requires long term thinking- the kind of thinking that makes it so that me and my senior staff never have to consider finding a different job. We need commitment to mitigating these important issues over decades, and slow-rolling even the most obvious solutions that might make our work, and our bloated salaries, less necessary.

You can get involved too! By sitting in two-hour long meetings with no clear agenda or objective, you can share insights and experiences that will receive applause and praise from others in attendance, but will never impact policy. When you volunteer to attend our events, you’ll help bolster our numbers to present to funders who will dump money on us in perpetuity. As long as you attend, that’s the same thing as actually trying to solve the problem!

If you’re looking for a title to formalize your time-wasting status, you can become an Every Nonprofit Ever™ Evangelist. By telling people how important and crucial our work is, you’ll be leading them to an organization that can’t mobilize, train or utilize them effectively in any way. But it will look great in the Volunteer section on the fourth page of your resume.

Most importantly though, we care. Like, ALOT. We care so much that we think about how awful we are all the time, and hold discussions about our failures without developing plans to address them. But we’ll let you know all about our navel gazing in the newsletters you don’t open. Speaking of which- why don’t you open our newsletters? Don’t you CARE? Don’t you want to solve [insert mass shooting event]? Then prove it with a tax-deductible donation to us. You can rest assured knowing that you demonstrated your level of care with an organization that will not make any meaningful improvements in society.

So what are you waiting for? Break out your checkbook and help us perpetuate a system of foundations, nonprofits and the professionally aggrieved which launders money to each other nonstop. You ease your conscience, and we get paid. Change starts tomorrow, and since tomorrow is always a day away, it works out!

Sincerely,

Joe Nevereevenbeentothecitywherethenonprofitislocatedexceptforwork

Executive Director, Every Nonprofit Ever™

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