Comfort those closest, entertain the rest.

You Are What You Eat - 2011

Earlier in the year I posted a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Makes sense. Here’s what shaped and fashioned me this year:

Early in the year I discovered Film Riot - an internet video podcast starring Ryan Connely and his crew of misfit filmmakers. Every week they dissect film making techniques - often by tackling requests sent in by readers to figure out how to reproduce big budget effects on a DIY budget. They never fail to be entertaining or useful.

I also found Vimeo’s Video School to be pretty useful. The information there can be a little elementary at times, but since they seek to address aspiring filmmakers at every experience level, that only make sense.

Moving from the web to television, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations was essential viewing. I’ve always loved the show, but this year, in it’s seventh season, it took on an almost religious significance for me. It started with the Haiti episode. There was just something about the scene where Bourdain tried to buy food for a bunch of hungry kids and inadvertantly caused a minor riot - his willingness to show how a seemingly benign act of philanthropy could spin out of control, that our actions, no matter how pure hearted, do not exist in a contextless vacuum. It felt like journalism. It felt like a man making television with nothing to prove. If you can take that kind of honesty and couple it with food porn that’s good TV.

This year also saw the release of a second show from Bourdain called The Layover. It’s presumably filmed on Bourdain’s actual layovers as he travels the globe filming No Reservations. It features Bourdain telling you the best places to eat, sleep, and drink in various cities. It’s No Reservation’s less heady, less serious little brother. I wasn’t hooked by the first episode (Singapore). No problem, I thought, I still have No Reservations. No sense being greedy. But the second episode featured Bourdain in New York, his home base, and it was awesome. It was a Bourdain we rarely see; smiling, comfortable, almost giddy. The best part was him arguing with some poor schlub in hamburger joint about whether you could get good sushi in New York. Hooked.

The Layover features a very different editing style from No Reservations. One I stole from liberally (though poorly)

Moving from the small screen to the big one - I saw a lot of movies in the theater this year - but not nearly enough for my liking - and not nearly enough that really blew my socks off. Here’s what I saw that I liked, though:

Thor and Captain America were both childhood dreams come true, Hanna kept me glued to the screen and looked nice doing it, X-Men: First Class was a nice way to re-imagine a dull franchise, Horrible Bosses was genuinely funny (instead of genuinely grueling like The Hangover 2), True Grit was the western we’ve all wanted for a few years now, and Driver was unexpectedly stylish, compelling, and sad (it’s larger here by random, not because it was my favorite movie by any means).

Musically, I had a lot of favorite bands release new albums this year but none of them truly stood out for me. Instead the highlights of my year musically were all live. First of all there was seeing The Mountain Goats live for the first time at Mercy Lounge in Nashville. Sara loves John Darnielle but had kind of a bad night so out of respect of her, I won’t go on and on about this one:

Next was discovering local boy made good, Vandaveer. Sara and I had a front row table for his show at Natasha’s back in the summer. It was the perfect way to experience a perfect show:

Later in the summer my friends Dan and Jen and I sat with about 30 other people at The Green Lantern and got to hear These United States rehearse a bunch of new songs before taking them into the studio. As far as good shows go, you can’t get much better than that:

Finally, my buddy Paul had his birthday party at Cosmic Charlies at the end of the summer on the same night that one of his favorite bands, Ha Ha Tonka was playing. The band not only sang Happy Birthday to Paul, they let him get on stage and mumble into a microphone for about the minutes while they played. Nicest band ever? Quite possibly:

Oh yeah! I almost forgot! This was also the year that my favorite local band, Sunday Valley, released their first new material in years. It was a great album and cause for celebration:

I watch a lot of TV, see a lot of movies, and listen to a lot of music in a given year - but more than any of those, I read comics. All kinds of comics. What did I read this year that I loved? Glad you asked. 2011 saw the release of the first new issues of Casanova in years. Issue 2, by creators Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba, in particular was comic book magic:

Fraction is my favorite writer in comics. As such, he created more than one book I really liked this year. For instance, his third issue of Mighty Thor was probably the best comic I read all year. It had it all: Norse Gods in space armor, Galactus, naked sword play, Silver Surfer saying cool stuff, Olivier Coipel. That’s a comic!

Other things I loved: Supernatural western, Sixth Gun from Oni Press

Mini comic Wolves from Becky Cloonan:

Weird fantasy book Orc Stain:

There was tons more, but space is limited.

What about books without pictures?

Anthony Bourdain makes good TV and writes good books. This year I read and loved his memoirs Medium Raw:

I also thoroughly enjoyed Blood, Bones & Butter, by chef Gabriel Hamilton:

Notice how both the books I mentioned were more or less about food? I love food. So it only make sense to mention some of the great meals I had this year. Cooking is as much of an art as writing or creating music or films after all.

This year Sara and I discovered Nick Ryan’s Saloon in downtown Lexington and had the best braised short ribs ever:

Our other great discovery was Nicaraguan Latin Grille, a little whole in the wall that blew out socks off:

We also went to Azure, home of local culinary star, Jermy Ashby, and had an incredible seven course meal. Below is just one of the delicious plates:

Then there was Hawaii. We had a lot of great Hawaiin food. Too much to get into, but suffice to say, I now have a deep abiding appreciation for macaroni salad:

There were tons more from tons of great restaurants like Cheng’s , Pho BC, Sam’s Hot Dogs, Planet Thai, Ramirez’ Taqueria, Local Taco, Doodles, Rossi’s, Ramsey’s, Winchell’s, Marikka’s, and El Rancho Tapitio.

Well, that’s it. That was what I ate in 2011. That’s what I loved, took in, digested, and was shaped by. Except for the dozen or so things I will think of as soon as I hit the “post” button.

On to 2012!

How John Darnielle taught me to Tweet

As a staff Crossroads has been having a lot of discussions about Twitter lately. It’s obviously become a significant part of our culture and, as such, it’s something we want to be aware of and somewhat involved in.

And for some of us, it’s something we enjoy apart from any obligation we feel to engage people where they are.

I’ve been on Twitter for a few years now and posting my thoughts and opinions to the internet for well over a decade in some for or other. At times I’ve done so with very little in the way of a filter or good taste. In the last few years, being on staff at Crossroads I’ve started to realize that not every thought that comes into my head needs to make it’s way onto the internet - sometimes because I have a startling moment of clarity and maturity and sometimes because the boss makes his way down the hall to talk to me about something I’ve posted (never in a controlling way, or demanding way - always in the form of a conversation or concern). The fact is, on any given weekend I can find myself on stage talking to a couple thousand people - so all of a sudden my sphere of influence is a lot bigger than the small handful of people that read my blog back in 2003. That brings a certain amount of responsibility with it.

I’m fine with the responsibility most of the time. I bristle against it, however, when it comes to certain issues. Like politics.

For the past week, I’ve had some thoughts about the world we live in and the people who govern it that are burning a whole into my brain. I have written and erased twenty tweets about these particular thoughts. Every time I tell myself that I need to be mature and not post about politics because it might alienate someone, I hear this little voice in the back of my head saying things like, “Yeah, but this is important!” “This is truth and people should be offended by the truth sometimes!” and “Chicken! This church has neutered you!”

Clearly I’m conflicted.

This morning, though, I was reading an interview with John Darnielle, lead singer of the Mountain Goats, a band I’m very, very fond of. Darnielle would probably describe himself as a leftist, a feminist, and all kinds of other words Rush Limbaugh hates. When asked why he doesn’t write about politics in his songs, though, he had this to say:

“…as important as politics are to me, the life and the spirit of people’s emotions are much more important. People live real lives where they love and grieve and feel pain and joy and that is a whole separate sphere. All that political stuff, I believe in it strongly, but not as strongly as I believe that at some point you or someone is going to need a song to sit with and comfort them in a hard time. That’s important to me, and if during that song I’m telling you how to vote, I’m not doing my personal job as a songwriter.”

Now I would never compare any of my tweets to a Mountain Goats song (though, Darnielle is pretty prolific, so they’re probably pretty equal in terms of numbers), but he does make a good point - ultimately, when you’re expressing yourself, you have to figure out what is most important to you. I didn’t choose to devote my life to politics - I chose to devote it to trying to love, comfort, and communicate with people (none of which I probably do that well, but that’s another blog post). Politics are important, but when I let them overshadow my real purpose, or take away from it, then I’ve made them too important.

Darnielle is simply rephrasing an opinion that a few people have shared with me before - but sometimes you have to hear something from an unexpected source for it to really take hold.

I’m not saying we can’t talk about politics - but it’s probably better if we do it outside of Twitter and it’s limited character count and when you can look at my real face instead of at a tiny picture of me.