The Coward

It was just after sunset when your heart gave out
and I should have been strong enough, but I broke down.
So I buried my last hope and hid my eyes.
I know you deserved better, but this is all I could provide.

We met as liars and thieves,
vagrants on the road.
We grew into a family
in a place we called our own.
But I have betrayed that faith
and left you all alone
because I am a coward
and I look after my own skin.

I needed to lift you up, to break you out,
but I broke down.

I am mastered by my fear, controlled by my emotions,
subject to the wind and the movement of the oceans.
I won’t ask for your forgiveness, it’s your mercy that I need.
For I have always been a coward, as I will always be.

At one point these words were going to be the lyrics for a song but I never wrote the music and now they’ll have to live life as a mostly unread poem.

Final Fantasy XV in Review

It may be that the final campfire scene in Final Fantasy XV is the single most emotional moment I’ve ever experienced through a video game. After spending 50-some odd hours with Noctis and his lovable band of dude-bros, having been absorbed into their friendships through a near-endless Road Trip to Save the World and subsequently having seen Noctis sacrifice himself ostensibly to save the world but actually to save his friends, that posthumous flashback to their final night together as they sit around a campfire—just like so many nights before only with the somber knowledge that this fire is the last fire because, in the morning, all their labors will finally reach their cruel conclusion with Noctis marching to his death—is wrenching because, more than the visually impressive game-world or the satisfaction of questing, it’s the relationships between FFXV’s four central characters that make the game worth playing.

Continue reading Final Fantasy XV in Review”

Luke, He Wasn’t Always Your Father

Next week Solo: A Star Wars Story will be released to preposterous revenues and at least some amount of incendiary fan rage. A good chunk of this rage will assuredly complain that this newest installment in the prodigiously growing Star Wars cinematic universe undercuts the pre-existing material, introducing plot holes into a beloved story about space ninjas and retconning the histories of incidental characters who are never explicitly named onscreen.

A case can be made that Darth Vader revealing his position as the most unpleasant pater familias imaginable to recent amputee Luke Skywalker is the single most memorable moment in modern cinematic history. It is also the first notable instance of a Star Wars sequel (or, God help us, prequel) retconning the films that preceded it. Because in A New Hope (née Star Wars), it is extremely clear that Luke’s father and Darth Vader are two distinct and separate people.

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Avengers: Infinity War & Lifetime Viewership

Earlier this week I saw Avengers: Infinity War. Having seen a grand total of four of the prior 18 (!!!) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I knew only a few of Infinity War‘s characters by name (or sight) but as the movie very clearly designates all of its principals as either a “good guy” or “bad guy” it wasn’t much of a challenge to follow the film’s rudimentary plot. Perhaps unfairly, I had been prepared to find myself adrift in a sea of confounding proper nouns and under-explained MacGuffins—after all, this is a comic book movie at heart, with all the silly names and omnipotent objects that such a lineage entails. To my surprise, and to the benefit of similarly under-equipped viewers, Infinity War doesn’t sink too deeply into the minutiae of its lore—in fact, the opposite could be argued to be true: seemingly the only dialogue spoken across the film’s 160-minute run-time is a combination of one-liners and characters re-stating that, in case you missed it, the Big Bad is collecting rocks so that he can kill a lot of people.

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The Author of the Quixote: On Pierre Menard, Miguel de Cervantes and Jorge Luis Borges

In his short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Jorge Luis Borges—that miraculous, mind-fucking Argentinian—proposes an unusual premise. The titular Menard is shown to be obsessed with unusual literary feats and, as such, he decides to take it upon himself to rewrite Cervantes’ classic, Don Quixote. He’s not planning to translate the book or simply copy it. He’s not planning to write a new, modern version of it. No. He’s planning to write it. As in, create circumstances in his life that drive him to write a new book. And that new book is exactly, word for word, Don Quixote. I’ll let the story’s narrator explain:

“Those who have insinuated that Menard devoted his life to writing a contemporary Quixote besmirch his illustrious memory. Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which surely is easy enough—he wanted to compose the Quixote. Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original; he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages which coincided—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.”

That is an insane plan. Obviously. Writing a book that already exists, let alone one that was written hundreds of years prior in a completely different world and culture is, as plans go, not only ludicrous but also seemingly impossible. At the risk of spoiling an 80-year old story that you’re probably not going to read anyway: Menard doesn’t fully succeed. But, incredibly, he does partially succeed. Through his labors, he generates a few chapters that happen to be identical matches to those of Cervantes. That seems impossible and it probably is but—as with most of Borges’ work—the possible here isn’t meant to reflect the tangible world at hand but rather the intangible world of our minds, the world of imagination.

Continue reading “The Author of the Quixote: On Pierre Menard, Miguel de Cervantes and Jorge Luis Borges”

What a World We Have Made

Three years ago The Decemberists released What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, the band’s seventh full-length album which, like most releases from Portland’s premier prog-folk outfit, is clever and catchy and thoughtful. Stylistically, What a Terrible World hews closely to The Decemberists’ well-established folksy style but the album is no worse for being something of a retread (in fact, the haunting ‘Lake Song’ may be the single greatest installment in the band’s extensive archive).

Despite its simple construction, the most interesting song on What a Terrible World is undoubtedly ’12/17/12′ in which lyricist Colin Meloy reflects on, among other things, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.

Through his laconic lyrics, Meloy tries to reconcile the joy that he feels from the impending arrival of his second child with the immense grief that empathy for the Sandy Hook victims and their families demands. In confronting the inherent complexity and duality of simultaneously experiencing both intense joy and utter anguish Meloy poignantly states,

“Oh my God, what a world you have made here. What a terrible world, what a beautiful world.”

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And the Rest Is Silence: In Memory of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, my hero, died on a Monday. On the Wednesday that preceded her passing, only five days before her death, I sent her the only piece of fan mail I’ve ever written. In it, I struggled to contain and express the boundless praise and thanks due to a woman who, despite our never meeting or interacting in any way, was and is one of the chief figures of my life. Though I know that it is almost impossible that Ms. Le Guin received, let alone read, my letter before her passing, I am glad to have sent it. Through her I learned that to write words is to create magic and so even if she never read my thanks, they are out there now, in the world, their spell of gratitude cast in the act of writing. That will have to be enough.

Before I knew that I wanted to write, my passion was music. It is fitting then, that I was introduced to Ms. Le Guin, unquestionably my favorite author, by the music of Gatsbys American Dream, unquestionably my favorite band. I found them both, Gatsbys and Le Guin, at a crucial stage in my life; as an adolescent I may have discovered my personhood through Third Eye Blind and The Lord of the Rings but in my burgeoning adulthood I discovered purpose – that I had meaningful control over who I was and who I could be – through Gatsbys American Dream and Ursula K. Le Guin. In my mind they are bound together, those two, the author and the band, and for many years now I have lived in the tangle of their connection.

Continue reading “And the Rest Is Silence: In Memory of Ursula K. Le Guin”

This Week in NFL Incompetence: Week 17 – The Ravens Really Blew It

A little after 4pm on Sunday the Cleveland Browns lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, plunging them to the NFL’s second-ever 0-16 finish. The loss would have been soul crushing if only there had been any souls left to crush in Cleveland. Bad as the Browns season finale was, though, it wasn’t the worst of the day. There’s a strong case to be made that the Browns reached a new level of misery on Sunday but the drop from 1-15 to 0-16 is a lot less dramatic than the fall from making the playoffs to missing them.

Of all the teams with a chance to claim a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season, the Baltimore Ravens entered Sunday’s matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals with the best odds of making the postseason. Per ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Ravens had a 97% chance of making the playoffs on Sunday morning – almost 30% higher than the team with the next best odds – and with the game against Cincinnati winding down, the Ravens seemed to have it in the bag. After trailing all game, they had stormed back to take their first lead of the day late in the 4th quarter. With Cincinnati facing a 4th and 12 at the Baltimore 49-yard line, with 53 seconds on the clock and the Bengals out of timeouts, the Ravens needed just one stop to punch their ticket to the postseason.

You’ve read the title of this article. You know what happens next.

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The Best Albums of 2017

Okay, so that title is misleading. These aren’t necessarily the best albums of 2017 – who am I to judge? – but they’re certainly the new releases that I enjoyed most this year.

(Presented alphabetically by artist.)

I’m Only Dreaming by Eisley

By the end of the album’s very first song, it’s clear that I’m Only Dreaming is a special record. You want proof? Album opener ‘Always Wrong’ rides deliberate melodies that transform into stratified harmonies while the serenity of springtime seems to bloom right out of the speakers during in ‘When You Fall.’ If those don’t do it for you, try the majestic closure of ‘Brightest Fire’ or the tranquil tenderness of ‘Rabbit Hole.’ Few albums this year offer a single song as brilliant as any of these and yet I’m Only Dreaming has them all and more, including what is perhaps the album’s greatest passage as the second half of ‘Defeatist’ unfolds across a looped melodic line, tracing out a verse that hits maybe a little too close to home:

“As the dust falls down, I usually give up so easily. I let my head hang down before I even see a truth that’s plain as day staring back at me. I’m a defeatist, but I don’t have to be.”

I’m Only Dreaming is that rare album that grabs you from the moment it begins and never lets go; it’s bright and warm and surprisingly existential. The end result is that with this release, Eisley, on the heels of significant lineup changes, has created what is likely their best album. Continue reading “The Best Albums of 2017”

This Week in NFL Incompetence: Week 16 – Jimmy Garoppolo is Incredible

On October 30th the San Francisco 49ers sent a 2nd round draft pick to the New England Patriots for Tom Brady’s understudy, Jimmy Garoppolo. As San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan opted to take things slow with his potential franchise quarterback, Garappolo didn’t start a game until December 3rd but since then, well, let’s just say that the 49ers have to be happy with how that trade worked out.

“Good thing that Brady trade didn’t work out.”

Going into Week 16, Garoppolo had led the 49ers to three straight victories despite the fact that he was taking over a team that was 1-10 and absolutely terrible at nearly every aspect of the game. In beating the Bears, Texans and Titans, Jimmy G. had shown a promising amount of star power but it was fair to wonder if his game had looked better than it actually was due to the quality – or, more specifically, the lack thereof – of his competition.

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