Archive for December, 2015

Batmen

Posted in Memoir, Uncategorized with tags , on December 23, 2015 by sethdellinger

After walking up the one flight of warped, uneven stairs, I put my key in the heavy, peeling-paint white door and swing it open.  My roommate, Cory, will certainly be asleep—it’s very late at night and he works in the morning, Monday through Friday. As expected,  the apartment is darkened except the small, dim light right inside the door, which we keep on when one of us has written a new message on the dry-erase board hanging in the entryway.  I sit my bag down and turn with interest to read the message Cory has left me.

I don’t know what the creature is under the salad bowl in the center of the living room floor, but it really freaked me out.  I had to go to bed.  We’ll deal with it in the morning.

 This, of course, has me very curious.  I enter the living room, with its sloped, bent floors, its walls with quarter-sized cracks running diagonally down them, and its trodden-flat beige carpet, and I flick on the large overhead light.  Sure enough, there in the center of the floor, is Cory’s frosted Pyrex large salad bowl, upside down—the way you would sit it to capture something underneath.  At first glance it appears to be just that—a salad bowl sitting upside down.  But as I approach it and look closer, it becomes obvious that something is definitely alive under there.  The salad bowl is frosted, so details can not be clearly made out, but a small creature—the size of a large mouse—is loping around the outside of the bowl, following it as if in an orbit, or like a dog on a chain circles the axis of the chain’s spike in the ground.  Except it isn’t moving like a normal animal; it isn’t scurrying like a mouse or prancing along like a robin.  No, it is moving in calculated fits-and-starts, rhythmically chugging from one stop to the next start, as well as seeming to lower its whole body at each stop, and then lift up again when it next moved.  It slouches along like some demon beast.

I am freaked out.

I kneel on the floor and get my head closer to the bowl (after about ten minutes of circling the bowl and considering waking Cory up—I mean really, he couldn’t have left more explanation on the dry-erase board???? Sorry if you’re reading this, Cory, but seriously) and study the thing’s movements.  It is quite bizarre and unlike anything I’d every really seen.  However, finally, after many minutes of studying its movements, I come to a final conclusion that would prove to be the truth:  it is a bat.

I go to my tiny, blue-carpeted, single-windowed bedroom and look for something I could slide underneath the salad bowl.  This proves more difficult than you might imagine, to find something thin enough to slide under but large enough to hold the entire bowl, and also something I don’t mind having a bat on top of (this last requirement takes, for instance, my Pearl Jam vinyls out of the running).  Finally, I take my wall calendar down off the wall, return to the living room, and attempt to slide the calendar under the bowl and the bat.

This is not easy.  The bat is not keen on getting on top of the calendar; it resists this activity greatly.  A few times, I am afraid I am going to break its leg (or its wing—it is impossible to tell exactly what part if its body I am hitting through the frosted glass).  I rip the calendar in half down the middle and use both pieces to come at the bat from two sides—a maneuver that requires much practice, as I also have to hold the bowl down to prevent the bat from escaping.  After what seems half an hour, I finally manage to get the bat and the bowl firmly on top of the calendar.

Now I have the task of walking this entire apparatus out to the roof.  One of the neatest aspects of this apartment is that my bedroom opens directly onto a long, flat roof that extends about 50 yards outside the back of my door, and no one else has access to this roof.  I have my own private, large patio, essentially.  Many, many fun times were are up here.

After carefully finagling my way out there with the bat, I take the whole shebang as far out as I can take it and sat it down.  Now I become concerned.  I don’t want to just take the salad bowl off; the bat is probably angry and confused and could end up flying right at my face.  I go back into the apartment and retrieve one of my golf clubs (an iron) and returne to the bowl on the roof.  Standing as far back as I can, I slide the golf club under the bowl and flip it over, immediately dropping the club and running like hell all the way back into my bedroom.  I don”t return to look at the bowl and calendar for at least an hour.  By then, the bat is gone.  We leave the bowl and calendar sit out there for at least a week.

My Favorite Music of 2015

Posted in Rant/ Rave, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 13, 2015 by sethdellinger

It is again that time of year, for my year-in-review favorite music blog post.  Again, those of you who usually do will get a sampler CD in the mail.  If you’d like to join the ranks of these lucky people, just let me know.  I think it is fair to say this year’s CD will BLOW YOUR MIND.

A quick display of links, if you’re curious to see previous year’s lists.  It’s interesting looking back to see errors I made in retrospect (2010? I love Grinderman but not more than Arcade Fire!!! Man Man beating out Srcade Fire AND The National in 2013!?):

My Favorite Music of 2009

My Favorite Music of 2010

My Favorite Music of 2011

My Favorite Music of 2012

My Favorite Music of 2013

My Favorite Music of 2014

 

Now, my favorite music of this year! I’m keeping all the entries short and sweet, I just don’t have the energy for this like I used to!

15.  EL VY, “Return to the Moon”

Supergroup consisting of members of The National and Menomena EL-VY-Return-to-the-Moonmanage to actually merge the two groups disparate sounds into a new kind of sullen quirk rock.  It works surprisingly well.

14.  Matt Vasquez, “Austin”

Delta Spirit frontman’s debut solo feature sounds actually very little like Delta Spirit and very much like something new; experimental, riff-heavy, ponderous.

13.  Alabama Shakes, “Sound and Color”

The sophomore effort from super-hip soul/Americana group expands their sound into something more jammy and trippy, to pleasing effect.

12.  El Ten Eleven, “Fast Forward”

Post Rock/ Math Rock looping duo deliver the goods with fifth studio album, somehow find a way to keep the formula fresh.

11.  Marilyn Manson, “The Pale Emperor”

Yes, that’s right: Manson is back and, while maybe not sounding exactly current, manages to make relevant, personal, haunting album.

10.  Will Butler, “Policy”

Arcade Fire guitarist Butler lays down a solo album full of guts, gusto, and deliciously surprising moments.  And he’s not a half-bad singer!

9.  Jennylee, “Right On”

Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg drops a solo album (recording as simply Jennylee)–the album is brooding, shadowy, thumping.  This is dirty music.

8.  Sun Kil Moon, “Universal Themes”

Mark Kozelek (recording as Sun Kil Moon) continues his tradition of unexpectedly blunt “blog rock”; although “Universal Themes” fails to live up to his previous album (his masterpiece “Benji”), there are enough disarming, disquieting moments to create a memorable work.

7.  Deerhunter, “Fading Frontier”

The quintessential art rock band’s newest effort surprises at every turn, mostly due to a very unexpected dose of pop and hooky melodies. The styles mesh better than expected with the fuzzy unformed feedback the band is known for.

6.  Willis Earl Beal, “Noctunes”

Beal could not have turned in a more different album from his debut than he did with “Noctunes”: literally songs to fall asleep to, I recommend staying awake–secrets and revelations are tucked away inside the lullabies.

5.  My Morning Jacket, “The Waterfall”

The Jacket return with a concept album that sets its sights as high as possible: an album about lost love and a desire to completely stop time (time is “the waterfall”)–the grandiose vision isn’t quite accomplished but nobody but MMJ could have even got close.

4.  Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”

Mr. Misty–who has also recorded extensively as Josh Tillman and is a former member of Fleet Foxes as well as Saxon Shore–has finally fully father-john-misty-honey-beararrived with “Honeybear”.  Sporting dreary, catchy songs with take-no-prisoner lyrics (“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes/
And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream/
I wonder if she even knows what that word means”).  This album is a game-changer.

3.  Foals, “What Went Down”

From huge, sprawling anthems to ponderous, labyrinthine quietude, “What Went Down” set my head spinning and lead me to devour this band’s entire catalogue in a week.

2.  Sufjan Stevens, “Carrie & Lowell”

A delicate album of intensely personal proportions.  I was not prepared for what the words and melodies here would do to me.  It lived in my car’s CD player for almost a month.

1.  Modest Mouse, “Strangers to Ourselves”

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Picking this #1 was not even a debate for me.  Not only hands-down the best album of the year, probably the best rock album of the decade.  “Strangers to Ourselves” is not a very intimate, personal album–no songs about lost loves or your good old days–this is a “feel bad” album that attempts to uncover the nasty truth of the universe and comes to the conclusion that humans are pricks, the world doesn’t care about us, and everything, everything dies.  But it also rocks like a motherfucker.

 

 

 

Protected: The Will Remains Good

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2015 by sethdellinger

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Something About Something I Just Read

Posted in Rant/ Rave, Uncategorized with tags , on December 10, 2015 by sethdellinger

It’s a sad fact that true sports journalism has just about disappeared in our culture.  And here right away I must draw a distinction–sports news is alive and well and thriving, ie the reporting of facts and scores and controversies, etc.  but sports journalism–the longform literary journalism that digs deep into issues in sports and then uses them to illuminate cultural or human issues that transcend the playing of games–is all-but dead, which is a shame, because it’s one of the best and most unique forms of literature there is.

Newspapers–when they used to have a lot more space for stories because there was more space needed for advertisers who no longer exist–used to publish it, but now, except for the New York Times, all newspapers publish is sports news.  Sports Illustrated runs about one longform piece every two weeks, but it’s usually a book excerpt.  Yahoo Sports and FiveThirtyEight.com push out a nice piece every now and then.   The only real go-to place for it anymore is ESPN the Magazine.  The Mag (as us acolytes call it) is a tricky magazine to read, because it actually consists of just about ONLY longform sports journalism, which is GREAT but also makes it tough to just pick up and peruse.  But it’s existence is comforting.

Last year, The Mag published a piece on Alex Rodriguez that remains my favorite piece of sports writing ever.  Before the article, I had a very neutral opinion of A-Rod–I wasn’t rooting for him, but I didn’t hate him like many do.  After the article, I was not only on his side, I was actively rooting for him–even a fan.  but more than that, the article moved me, to tears even.  But not about Alex Rodriguez.  About me.  Like the very best sports journalism, the piece transcended the world of sports and connected the essentially meaningless lives of millionaire athletes to my individual life and our wider, diverse culture.  It was writing of weighty value.  I saved that issue and have since read the piece (which is extremely long and takes about two hours to read) three times.

This was a lengthy way of me introducing the piece I read today, also from ESPN the Magazine.  The article is “Athletes Control the Media” by Kent Russell.  This article qualifies as actual literature, in any field.  Although it is ostensibly about what the title suggests–athletes controlling the media and no longer vice-versa–Mr. Russell expands upon the subject with such aplomb, veracity, and intensity of feeling that the article becomes a large-scale examination of our current media culture, as well as the “many lives” of each of us as individuals in the new age of social media.  Although this might sound like a topic you’ve read about before, Mr. Russell has infused it with a layman’s philosophy quite unlike anything I’ve ever read.  Following are some passages I found especially mind-boggling.  You can read the whole article here (and if you do, just randomly click on an ad or watch the entire video commercial so ESPN the Magazine can make a few cents to keep this kind of journalism going).

Excerpt 1:

“Far below the press box, pacing the field, was the man himself. Bill Belichick kept his arms folded and his chin tucked, sphinxlike. I watched him nod in agreement, conferring via headset as to his next turn in this game of human Stratego, yet I never saw his mouth move. With the help of binoculars, I began to fixate on the small gap between his lips, scanning for the fine mesh screen behind which the smaller, truer Belichick looked out on the world, as if in a Mickey Mouse suit.

By refusing to play along with these people in the press box, Belichick has allowed himself to be transformed, by way of their writing and broadcasting, into a humorless curmudgeon. This is a persona, to be sure; a mask that Belichick donned long ago. What he understood was that over time, many of the journalists up here would begin to mistake this mask for the man’s actual face. And so, in leading them to believe that he is a reticent grump — and not an unflinching actor in addition to the greatest coach of all time — Belichick has gotten the media to direct their questions to the mask.”

 

Excerpt 2:

“When people cheer on the death of the news conference, what they’re also cheering on, perhaps unwittingly, is a future in which all of us will engage in this kind of careful brand management. In such a future, I’ll have my inner circle, the few people I know and care about from real, corporeal life. Then I’ll have my fans and followers, the fellow travelers who don’t really know me but enjoy or support my curated presence. Then I’ll have my “haters,” the people who misinterpret or misconstrue my presented selves, or who actively work against my narrative. These individuals are not with me, physically or in spirit, so they must be against me. This is a feedback-looped orientation toward the wider world that another, better, writer once summed up as: “He who does not feel me is not real to me.”

During his media day news conference, Marshawn Lynch put that sentiment this way: “I don’t know what image y’all trying to portray of me. But it don’t matter what y’all think, what y’all say about me. Because when I go home at night, the same people that I look in the face, my family that I love, ha, that’s all that really matter to me. So y’all can go and make up whatever y’all want to make up because I don’t say enough for y’all to go and put anything out on me.”

This declaration still makes me want to stand up and cheer, sound as it does like something a pioneer in a cabin on the frontier might say. But — and this is ignoring the fact that his trolling flouted an obligation listed in his $31 million contract — Lynch got at the crux of something capital-T True here. Something that works against the point he was trying to make. Real adult life, the face-to-face relationships that allow one to understand as well as to be understood, is founded upon messiness, dialogue, the abdication of total control. I alone cannot truly know who I am. I alone don’t even get final say. I can have some idea. This idea can be based upon the selves I put forward. Yet it’s the people whose lives are affected by my selves — they get to tell me what all that self-presentation looks like. They get to measure the distance between the kind of guy I say I am and the kind of guy I happen to be. It is unlikely that Lynch, Jeter and Belichick have any interest in hearing what kind of guys they are. This is understandable. Although they are as in the limelight as anyone in our culture can be, “spelunk the darkest caves of your psyche, in public” is listed nowhere in their job descriptions.

“STICK TO SPORTS!!!!!” you might be saying about now. Fair enough. I will not mention the recent TV debate in which moderators were demonized for questioning the backstories and assertions of individuals trying to become the leader of the free world. Nor will I mention how the University of Missouri football team used social media to tell the world that it was going on strike until the university’s president stepped down. When that president did step down and media came to document the campus’ reaction, there was a literal sign of the times staked into the quad — no media / safe space — in addition to an assistant professor of mass media who was filmed saying, “Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” This same assistant professor had previously posted on her Facebook page: “Hey folks, students fighting racism on the MU campus want to get their message into the national media. Who among my friends knows someone who would want a scoop on this incredible topic?”

 

Except 3:

“Belichick slid into the room and stood to the left of the dais, out of frame. There was a small pack of reporters about 5 feet from him, but none approached. He leaned into a corner jutting from the wall’s architecture, putting all of his weight onto its right angle. He kept his hands in his pockets and his face fixed, rocking back and forth, toggling his spine against the edge. He watched Brady just as intensely as he does during a game, radiating neither joy nor love but grim determination.

I thought then of all the Kremlinology that people engage in, trying to divine the real Bill Belichick from whatever scraps he leaves. Commenters, both official and unofficial, have looked to his on-field body language and cryptic sound bites for clues. They’ve dissected pictures of him kissing his girlfriend. They’ve pored over Vines of him eating “like a gremlin.” They’ve read way too much into the fact that he sang “Love Potion No. 9” at a party. I, myself, read way too much into the answer he gave during the last Super Bowl media day, when the daughter of one of his players asked Belichick what his favorite stuffed animal was. “I’d like, uh, like a little puppet,” he said, “that you can kinda put your fingers in … it’s a little monkey … and then he can talk.”

Belichick took to the dais. He started delivering a monologue of platitudes, as if trying to get them all out at once. “It was a tough week mentally,” he croaked in his strangled-sounding voice. “But they really pushed themselves. I thought our preparation was good and they played hard tonight.”

Eventually, a question was asked. Belichick stared into the middle distance. He appeared to be imagining some empty, perspectiveless afterlife in which jaunty supermarket Muzak was overlaid with the tortured screams of this interrogator. Then he snapped to and answered, “It was good team defense, which it always is when you play good.”

There were a few more questions about special teams. But no one asked the question that I wanted answered, the only question to ask, I thought, which was: “Bill, how does it feel to be so controlling? So single-minded? To be heir to — and apotheosis of — Vince Lombardi, George S. Patton and Niccolo Machiavelli? At what cost is this success? How can this possibly be enjoyable, still? Who are you?”

There was a lull in the back-and-forth. Camera shutters clicked together like insect legs. Belichick sucked his lips inward, nodded. A wall-mounted digital clock blinked past midnight. I thought about asking my question. He climbed off the dais and left.”

 

 

Amber, You Died

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , on December 6, 2015 by sethdellinger

An hour or so ago, I stepped out of the house to take an evening stroll.  This, it seems, is an unusual event for just about anybody this time of year.  It gets dark mid-afternoon and the temperature drops and the people disappear; they go somewhere but they’re no longer pedestrians.  I, too, am outside rarely now.  It was brisk but not frigid.  The sidewalks, being vacant, were also silent.  The cold, dark air sent every sound intact to my ears–the crunching of the leaves, the hiss of the light wind.  I studied the street lights’ faint glows as I walked past them, wondering who they shone for on this barren evening.  Television glows, like mini auroras, illuminated most of the ground floor windows.  I felt ensconced by the darkness; enclosed but not stifled.  The streets were like chilly wombs.

Amber, you died.  It wasn’t a shock–probably not even to you–but it’s still hard to believe.  It would be fair to say we didn’t know each other well; we worked together, briefly, seven or so years ago, and after that never saw each other in person again, but we communicated frequently (off and on) via electronic and written means.  But we didn’t know each other well still, because we only ever conversed about one subject.  Amber, you tried.  You tried so hard, I could barely stand to hear about how hard it was for you.  You tried so hard.

Your funeral was four days ago but I wasn’t able to be there.  I wanted to be.  I wanted to see your parents, and you.  I understood you.  The morning of your funeral I had to go to a training class for my new job.  It was an hour and a half away and it was a very wet and foggy morning and I thought of you as I drove there, as the fog kept stretching out before me, obscuring the tiny mountaintops on either side of the highway.  It was a dreary morning and it seemed appropriate.  I’m sorry I wasn’t there.

The older I get, obviously, the more people I know who die. Sometimes it seems like the list is growing rapidly.  Each time, it is disconcerting how easily people seem to take the event; sure, folks are upset that someone died, but if they weren’t extremely close or related to you, it might be an event that gets remarked upon, discussed briefly, and then perhaps dropped from discussion for the most part.  The deceased might be thought of in quiet, solitary moments, or memorialized in sappy throwback-Thursday Facebook pictures, but generally speaking, after some initial sadness, the dead are just the dead, and the living are the living.  It is disconcerting, but I’m not sure if there is another way to work it.

I could spend lots of time recounting the things we talked about, the things you told me, the many different ways I tried to approach the subject, but none of that history matters any more now than it did then.  I could groan about how I feel bad for not helping you more, how I shoulder blame for you dying–but everyone always does, of course I do, and of course I shouldn’t.  The nexus of this moment right now for me, Amber, is that I can’t stop thinking about how you died, and what it must have been like for you in those moments.  The depth of your pain and your desperation, and what you must have known.  What did you think of as you slipped away?  Did you know you’d never be back?  Was there–oh god–was there finally an easing of your burden in your last moments?  It is more than I can bear to think of.

If I were to write your parents a letter–which I might do still–there would be many things I’d like to tell them, many of which I don’t have ready to put into words yet.  But there are a few that I know:

There really was nothing you could have done.  Everybody says that to people in your position all the time, but I want you to know: it is not always the truth, but it is the truth now.  There was nothing you could have done.  There was nothing Amber could have done.  There was nothing I or any counselor or facility or even the penal system could have done.  Your daughter was gripped by something the likes of which I have never borne witness.  The strength of the affliction was beyond hope.  This might not make you feel better, but it’s the truth.  I’m by no means an expert but I know this to be true.  But also: throughout all her pain, and bottomless suffering, Amber shone a light of purity that nothing could extinguish.  She wrote me a little over a week before she died and she was still in love with that dog of her’s–what was that dog’s name?–the dog that is also dead now, she never stopped loving him, like the purest little girl hugging a blanket.  And horses.  And Olsen twin movies.  She held her things close to her and kept her flame alive, somewhere deep inside the onslaught.  I’m not sure what kind of lessons or truths we can get out of all that.  Like I said, I didn’t know her very well.  But I know those things about her.

Amber, you died.  I didn’t want you to think we didn’t notice.

 

For Who?

Posted in Memoir, My Poetry, Uncategorized with tags , , on December 1, 2015 by sethdellinger

I once knew a woman who lied to me about being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Just now I was looking through some of my old writings and came across a poem I wrote about 7 years ago.  At the time of its writing I thought it perhaps one of my best pieces ever and perhaps considered it bordering on great; however, it had been so long since I thought about it, today when I saw it, I wasn’t at first sure what it was.  But after a few re-readings, it’s confirmed: it’s a great poem.

The only problem is, I wrote it for a woman who lied to me about the fact that she was dying of cancer.  I won’t elaborate because, aside from that small fact, it’s not my story to tell.  But I wonder (and I honestly don’t know): how much of this poem’s power is lost because of the fraud for which it was written?

 

For Ruby

There are men with grease-covered fingers
Who in shack-like bars
Drink strong whiskey
Night after night
And speak of earthy things
Like work and sports
Cars and overtime
Night after night.
They wear the tattered clothes of toil
And smell like mud and forgotten coffee;
These men with the grease-covered fingers
Don’t come and go
(don’t change season to season)
And for better or worse
They know the value of a passing hour.

There are wrinkled women with knitting needles
Who in large bay windows sit
As the town becomes cold
And all around them lights go dim
(pull the needle, pull the string).
They watch the cars drive slowly by
While inside their brains
The foggy undercurrent of old age rages
(the broken bones of youth?
the marriages, the foot doctors,
the miserable trips to the beach with the bee stings,
remember?)
And the smells of fried eggs and moth balls
Leak from under their doors;
These sagging women with the knitting needles
Have forgotten what they used to know about time,
And bodies.

There are the lawyers, the savages, the body-building kids;
There are men in tight pants, women at car washes, babies in blankets;
There are balloonists, enthusiasts, part-time party clowns;
There are the frat boys with the tucked-in Polos,
Women on Death Row delivering infants,
The dry-wall hangers with the nagging cough, the cab drivers who smell of leather,
Shoe salesman round every corner,
Folks asking for coins,
Mail ladies with Carpal Tunnel
Soda-guzzling fat kids
Coked-out sweaty toll booth people
The nameless the homeless the shoeless the hairless
There are the football players, the deacons, the late-night whores;

There are the gray judges, trampoline families, laughter running through sprinklers;
There are Lobster-catchers whose hands smell like salt and death;
There are Siamese twins, plow drivers, folks with no faith;
There are musty shut-ins,
Gamers, the high-fashion minded,
All of them silently ticking, ticking, ticking,
The world a massive mutable bomb.

And then there is you, Ruby, with your
Six-to-eight weeks to live
And your twirling dance ’round the dining room;
Oh how I wish I could know you more
(ask you more questions, tell you more things)
And that time could stop for now.
But it won’t
(it doesn’t; it never has)
And when your spark arcs over my roof some night
On it’s way to where you’re going
I hope we can share a brief glance
So you can see me smiling so wide
Thinking
You lived!  You lived!

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