What I watched in 2015

The Year of Our Lord 2015 was a busy media year for me. On top of writing a graduate thesis project on 1980s counterculture and cult film, I spent roughly six months freelancing from my living room couch. Which meant a lot of hours sitting in my underwear, inoculating myself against emotional vacillations with hours of A-, B-, and C-grade entertainment. While my brain cells suffered, Netflix and Amazon profited.

In my youth I was opposed to most forms of mainstream entertainment. I’ve always seen entertainment as a form of consumption, and getting excited about mainstream products (like those produced by Marvel or Pixar) I saw as the entertainment equivalent of getting excited about dinner at McDonalds. But as I grew out of my 20s, I realized the value of sharing in a larger cultural conversation. So most of what I watched this year was to get up to date on what people have been talking about the past few years while I had my head buried in work, school, and whatever else.

There are 204 film and TV titles included in this list. For the sake of simplicity, I count a season of a TV series as one entry (e.g. two seasons of House of Cards count as two entries). Because I don’t like how it feels to hate myself I haven’t done the math to approximate how many hours I spent prone in front of this god. But surely for this servitude my reward will be great in heaven.

Highlights:

  • Favorite 2015 Movie: A Most Violent Year
  • Favorite Movie: Nightcrawler
  • Favorite 2015 TV Show: True Detective (S02) or Fargo (S02) or Better Call Saul (S01)
  • Favorite TV Show: Northern Exposure (Seasons 1-6)
  • Least Favorite 2015 Movie: Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Least Favorite Movie: Tank Girl
  • Least Favorite TV Show: Californication

My favorite titles are in bold and every 20 entries I’ll post a video because who the hell is going to read this stupid list anyway?

1. Surf II (1984)
2. House of Cards: Season 1 (2013)
3. House of Cards: Season 2 (2014)
4. Modern Problems (1981)
5. Electric Dreams (1984)
6. The Eric Andre Show: Season 1 (2012)
7. The Eric Andre Show: Season 2 (2013)
8. Inherent Vice (2014)
9. Casablanca (1942)
10. Archer: Season 5 (2013)

 

11. Boyhood (2014)
12. Californication: Season 1 (2007)
13. Anchorman II (2014)
14. Class of 1984 (1984)
15. Repo Man (1984)
16. Nightmares (1983)
17. Times Square (1980)
18. Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1987)
19. Better Off Dead (1985)
20. Venture Brothers: Season 1 (2003)

 

 

21. The Fall: Season 2 (2014)
22. Walker (1988)
23. Only the Lonely (1991)
24. Californication: Season 2 (2008)
25. Citizen Kane (1941)
26. Mission Impossible II (2000)
27. Venture Brothers: Season 2 (2005)
28. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
29. The One I Love (2014)
30. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

 

31. Parks & Rec: Season 7 (2015)
32. House of Cards: Season 3 (2015)
32. Robocop (2014)
33. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 (2015)
34. Teen Witch (1989)
35. Ghostbusters (1984)
37. All This Mayhem (2014)
38. Peep Show: Series 3 (2005)
39. Peep Show: Series 4 (2006)
40. Peep Show: Series 5 (2007)

 

 

41. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (2015)
42. Peep Show: Series 6 (2008)
43. Peep Show: Series 7 (2010)
44. Peep Show: Series 8 (2012)
45. Gambit (2012)
46. Californication: Season 3 (2010)
47. Fury (2014)
48. Californication: Season 4 (2011)
49. Community: Season 1 (2009)
50. Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

 

51. Community: Season 2 (2010)
52. Californication: Season 5 (2012)
53. Californication: Season 6 (2013)
54. Bloodline: Season 1 (2015)
55. Uncle Buck (1989)
56. The November Man (2014)
57. Californication: Season 7 (2014)
58. Trailer Park Boys: Season 8 (2014)
59. Life Itself (2014)
60. Community: Season 3 (2011)

 

 

61. Better Call Saul: Season 1 (2015)
62. Trailer Park Boys: Season 9 (2015)
63. Wild Style (1983)
64. The Lego Movie (2014)
65. Longmire: Season 1 (2012)
66. Daredevil: Season 1 (2015)
67. Suicide Kings (1997)
68. Longmire: Season 2 (2013)
69. Tank Girl (1995)
70. My Name is Earl: Season 1 (2005)

 

71. X-Men: First Class (2011)
72. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
74. Community: Season 4 (2012)
75. Thor (2011)
76. The Amazing Spiderman (2012)
77. The Last Man on Earth: Season 1 (2015)
78. Green Lantern (2011)
79. Iron Man (2008)
80. The Avengers (2012)

 

 

81. Avatar (2009)
82. Three Days of Condor (1977)
83. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
84. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
85. James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge (2014)
86. Marathon Man (1977)
87. Community: Season 5 (2014)
86. Iron Man 3 (2013)
87. The Wolverine (2013)
88. My Name is Earl: Season 2 (2006)
89. Sherlock: Season 3 (2014)
90. Longmire: Season 3 (2014)

 

91. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
92. Ghost Rider (2007)
93. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
94. Man of Steel (2013)
95. Fantastic Four (1994)
96. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
97. Veep: Season 1 (2012)
98. Star Wars (1977)
99. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
100. Return of the Jedi (1983)

 

 

101. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
102. Veep: Season 2 (2013)
103. My Name is Earl: Season 3 (2007)
104. Veep: Season 3 (2014)
105. Burke & Hare (2010)
106. Northern Exposure: Season 1 (1990)
107. Northern Exposure: Season 2 (1991)
108. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (2013)
109. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
110. My Name is Earl: Season 4 (2008)

 

111. Burn Notice: Season 1 (2007)
112. Nightcrawler (2014)
113. Antarctica: A Year on the Ice (2013)
114. Game of Thrones: Season 5 (2015)
115. Veep: Season 4 (2015)
116. Agents of SHIELD: Season 2 (2015)
117. Bob’s Burgers: Season 5 (2015)
118. Silicon Valley: Season 1 (2014)
119. Silicon Valley: Season 2 (2015)
120. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

 

 

121. High Fidelity (2000)
122. Grace and Frankie: Season 1 (2015)
123. Jurassic World (2015)
124. Terminator: Genisys (2015)
125. Insurgent (2015)
126. Gone Girl (2014)
127. Lone Survivor (2013)
128. The Imitation Game (2014)
129. The Expendables 3 (2014)
130. Ant-Man (2015)

 

131. Jerry McGuire (1996)
132. Northern Exposure: Season 3 (1992)
133. Now You See Me (2013)
134. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
135. Zoom (2006)
136. Get Hard (2015)
137. Boss: Season 1 (2011)
138. Entourage: Season 1 (2004)
139. True Detective: Season 2 (2015)
140. Northern Exposure: Season 4 (1992)

 

 

141. Chappie (2015)
142. Fantastic Four (2015)
144. Entourage: Season 2 (2005)
145. Entourage: Season 3 (2006)
146. American Ultra (2015)
147. 40 Year-Old Virgin (2006)
148. Twilight (2008)
149. Twilight: New Moon (2009)
150. Entourage: Season 4 (2007)

 

151. American Movie (1999)
152. Risky Business (1983)
153. Twilight: Eclipse (2010)
154. Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (2011)
155. Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (2013)
156. Chinatown (1974)
157. Northern Exposure: Season 5 (1993)
158. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
159. Catwoman (2004)
160. The Brothers Grimm (2005)

 

 

161. Entourage: Season 5 (2008)
162. Entourage: Season 6 (2009)
163. Entourage: Season 7 (2010)
164. Entourage: Season 8 (2011)
165. Virtuosity (1995)
166. Theodore Rex (1995)
167. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
168. Entourage (2015)
169. 40 Days and Nights (2012)
170. The Walking Dead: Season 1 (2010)

 

171. The Walking Dead: Season 2 (2011)
172. The Martian (2015)
173. Northern Exposure: Season 6 (1994)
174. Portlandia: Season 5 (2015)
175. The Walking Dead: Season 3 (2012)
176. Spy (2015)
177. Blades of Glory (2007)
178. Maiden Trip (2014)
179. A Most Violent Year (2015)
180. Crimson Peak (2015)

 

 

181. The Walking Dead: Season 4 (2013)
182. Citizenfour (2014)
183. Trainwreck (2015)
184. The End of the Tour (2015)
185. Burn Notice: Season 2 (2008)
186. Specter (2015)
187. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
188. Trumbo (2015)
189. Jessica Jones: Season 1 (2015)
190. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

 

191. The Walking Dead: Season 5 (2014)
192. Fargo: Season 2 (2015)
193. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (2001)
194. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
195. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
196. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
197. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
198. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
199. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
200. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

 

 

201. Bridge of Spies (2015)
202. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
203. Soaked in Bleach (2015)
204. The Hateful Eight (70mm) (2015)

New piece at PopMatters

I have a new piece up at PopMatters: “Pro-Apocalyptic, or, Why We’re Bored With the Post-Apocalyptic.” It’s about FOX’s Last Man on Earth and our cultural obsession with the end. Here’s an excerpt:

The second season of FOX’s post-apocalyptic comedy, Last Man on Earth, is now underway, and though its 27 September premiere was met with mixed reviews, its three million-plus US viewers suggest that pop culture’s adulation of the post-apocalyptic is alive and well—even if those stark landscapes are dead and dry. As a genre, the post-apocalyptic was originally the stuff of cynical dime-store sci-fi, and later, Cold War nuclear anxieties, but the modern popularity of the post-apocalypse in publishing, movies, and TV—and that the post-apocalyptic also now serves as a comedic backdrop for profitable products like Last Man on Earth—primarily belies an over familiarity with the genre. But more importantly, the continued appeal of the post-apocalyptic reflects our culture’s exhaustion with the genre’s historically prophetic (and moralistic) warnings about exploitation, materialism, and consumerism.

Read the rest at PopMatters >

New piece at The Guardian

I have a new op-ed featured at The Guardian today, “How did I stay normal when I was home-schooled? I watched a lot of TV.”

Like the title says, the piece is about my upbringing as a homeschooler, and the importance TV played in making me ‘normal’—whatever normal means. The editors chopped the last two paragraphs, which had the actual payoff for the piece, so for the curious few, here they are:

This is why, when people express surprise that I “seem so normal for someone who was homeschooled,” I feel the ambivalent pleasure of someone who has ‘passed’; in my case, passed as a normal, upright citizen. Without a TV growing up, I’m sure my situation would be different. But on the other hand, what’s so cool about normal? As a non-institutional practice, homeschooling seems anachronistic in a society where institutionalism is both economically and psychically de rigueur. Yet, the fringe still has appeal: according to the NCES, there were 1.77 million homeschooled students in 2012, accounting for 3.4% of the total student population—up from 1.1 million at 2.2% in 2003. And it shows no sign of stopping.

As entertainment becomes increasingly individualized—compared to the mass one-way pedagogies of the late cable era—the mainstream becomes dissipated in kind. On one hand, this has the potential to be good for education, as more families are better equipped to understand the shortcomings of educational standardization (and accompanying overcrowded classrooms, school violence, bureaucratic corruption, and so forth). But on the other hand, can a modern consumer culture without a standard entertainment subscription support a common narrative?

Read the rest at The Guardian.

Books, Brian Dettmer, Jorge Borges, and “Antisocial Media”

The universe is a library, existing ab aeterno—from time immemorial—in Borges’ allegory of “The Library of Babel.” The library is an infinite architecture of hexagonal galleries whose shelves creak under the weight of books dusty and bound with gloom of incomplete knowledge. Leagues of searchers patrol these galleries, seeking the Total Book; the perfect medium that answers all, unites all. But these are a superstitious many, driven by the popular hope that finality follows form. Brian Dettmer’s Antisocial Media at Chicago’s Packer Schopf Gallery reverses this dogma with a redefinition of form itself. In this gallery, books—the linear media of specious certainty—become bent and bowed, such that finality here becomes, in Borges’ words, one “of insensate cacophony, of verbal farragoes and incoherencies.”

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Is your last name Dover?

My life was Star Wars and Sour Patch Kids until I got my first job at 15. I made $6.65 an hour bagging groceries, pushing carts, and mopping shit off the bathroom walls at the Pick ‘n Save on Silvernail Road in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Because I was home schooled, this job, my church youth group, and the skatepark were my only points of social connection. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. At the skatepark, I was too polite. At church, I was too eccentric. And at my job, I was too passive. Really, I was just a teenager. But I didn’t know that.

Church was a strong force in my life, partly because that’s how I was brought up, partly because I was terrified of Hell, but mostly because, outside of TV and movies, it was my only connection to the larger world. It was my steadfast and I took it more seriously than most others my age. I fasted, prayed, read my Bible, avoided thoughts on sex, and shuddered at swearing. I didn’t have to deal with any cliques keeping my idiosyncrasies in check, so I marched to my own beat. This was a boon for my creativity but a bane for my sociability—at least in the grocery store break room.

I made conversation by asking people if I could pray for them, if they believed in Jesus, if they went to church. If they didn’t know what to say they would laugh, ignore me, and go back to eating their Lean Cuisines. I can’t blame them. I was asking for embarrassment, but I chocked up the various harassments I endured to some kind of minor martyrdom; the greatest of Evangelical virtues. When I pushed rows of carts through the parking lot I entertained fantasies of being tortured and crucified for my religion. This is the path towards sainthood, even though Protestants don’t believe in saints. I could think of no higher honor. Church rhetoric told me to step outside my comfort zone, to lay down my pride for the greater good, and to not care what others think. So whenever the stockers or shift managers called me a dumb-fuck or a faggot, or shoved me into the walls, or turned out the lights on me in the bathroom, I took it as a sign that I was doing something right.

It wasn’t only my religion that invited the abuse, but my naiveté, too. Almost everyone who works at a grocery store is unhappy. When you’re in that situation, having something to collectively deride—the asshole boss, the parking lot crackhead, the bagger with Fragile X—distracts from the misery of minimum wage. Soon I became the oddity, the thing to mock. I was moralistic and my opinions on normal topics of back room conversation—drugs, alcohol, sex, sports—was anachronistic. My self-righteousness put me above them. I was better than because I abstained. One night, a few of the stockers stood outside on a smoke break. I was pushing carts into the corral. One stocker, ’90s cool with his bleached spiked hair and pierced ears, said, “Hey, you, faggot dumb-fuck, hold my cigarette while I go to take a piss.” I said no, but not because I was combatting his condescension. Rather, I thought smoking was wrong, and holding a burning cigarette would morally implicate me. He spit at my feet. “Get that broom handle outta your ass, faggot.” The others laughed.

The bullying became regular and from all sides. The store manager, Bob, was Wisconsin-portly, in his mid-40s, never graduated high school, and had a mustache that reached maybe a 9 on the pedophile scale. One day he called me into his office to tell me to do this-or-that. Some other managers were with him. He asked me, “Hey, Ben, is your last name Dover?” I shook my head. “No, it’s van Loon.” They all laughed. I felt exposed, so I left. Later I realized, oh, Bendover. That became his nickname for me. Even this I counted in support of my martyrdom, which helped keep my chin up. But secretly I began to resent how my religion scorned retaliation, or even defensiveness. Christianity’s moral maxim in the face of abuse is to “turn the other cheek.” It’s doormat morality. It’s what Marx means when he says religion is an opiate. It makes people docile, harmless, and easy to control. If my young Christianity taught me anything, it was how to roll over.

As the bullying continued, and as people got used to my passivity, I became the go-to guy for the worst clean-up jobs. I cleaned diarrhea from the urinals, period blood off the bathroom stalls, greasy animal carcasses from active garbage compactors. I always said yes and never complained, because complaining is wrong. Though, inside, my resentment stewed. I resented them for how they treated me, and—though I was too scared to say it—I resented my religion, for how it seemed to invite abuse. But even still, Evangelicalism’s valorization of martyrdom and promises of afterlife rewards were enough to keep me committed. So my retaliatory urge compromised with a willing accomplice: Passive Aggression.

The assistant store manager, John, was also a portly high-school dropout in his mid-40’s. He had squinty eyes that his facial fat further flattened. His lips hardly moved when he talked. He often stood at the front of the store to watch me wrangle the carts. Because I was a teenager he assumed I was lazy and stoned, so he liked to yell at me for no good reason. I learned that his buttons were easy to push. “Benny-boy,” he’d say. “When you’re done brining in the carts, mop the bathrooms.” I would say, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you. Can you repeat that?” He’d say it again, louder. I’d say, “Mop the bathrooms? I’m not sure I understand.” He’d get red in the face and then give up. This passive aggressive tactic worked on him, so I started using it on other people, too.

One of the lead stockers, Ed, was a 30-something bachelor from West Allis, a Milwaukee exurb. If Pewaukee is the suburban version of TGI Fridays, West Allis is White Castle. I was 99% sure he had raped at least one person in his life. Man or woman, hard to say. “How’s your b-hole, Ben?” He’d say. Because he was tight with the managers, he sometimes told me what to do. “Hey, you, fucker, help me make this shelf level.” He would raise one side of the shelf, and I would lower the other side. He would lower his side, and then I would raise mine. When he got angry, I’d play stupid, like I didn’t understand the instructions. He’d curse me out, but inside I felt smug as hell.

The passive aggressive tactic felt good, because it was an invisible strategy. People already thought I was strange and maybe a little ‘off,’ so I used it to what I considered my advantage. Because they treated me and talked to me like I was dumb, I played dumb. I made people repeat themselves. I messed up simple instructions on purpose. I covertly destroyed displays and made messes. I cleaned the break room microwave by spraying industrial cleaner inside it and turning it on for 20 seconds. The abuse and harassment continued, but at least I got the satisfaction of inconveniencing my aggressors. The church rhetoric told me this was wrong, because it was a shortcut to avoid turning the other cheek, but I felt like I had my dignity in tact—even if my notion of dignity at the time was awash in self-loathing.

My relationships at Pick ‘N Save weren’t all bad. I was the only person who talked to the mentally challenged bagger. He was annoying and a pervert. The managers told him flat-out that he was hired so they could hit their diversity quota. I took lunch breaks with him and listened to him talk about boobs. Hanging out with him didn’t help my social status, but he and I occupied the same strata, so it was more camaraderie than altruism. I made friends with a Filipino immigrant in the produce department. He spoke poor English and gave me a record player. I also made friends with another cart-pusher. He was a few years older than me, had a quick wit, and was legally blind. He was one of the few who took interest in the conversations I struck. He even came to church with me a few times, which I considered a massive victory. All the abuse will be worth it, I thought, if I can make a convert of him. That was the church rhetoric at work; Christianity is an economy and people are capital. Foster enough investments and that mansion in heaven will be yours.

I stayed in that job for three more years. When I quit I was making $6.85 an hour. I used the few thousand dollars I’d saved during that time to pay tuition to enter a Christian “discipleship school” in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago (another story for another time), because I was still committed to the cause. In fact, the bullying only made me more convinced of Christianity’s truth. It would be a few more years before I awoke from that dream.

I had a chance to revisit that Pick ‘n Save a few years ago. The frozen foods section still had the lingering smell of rotten milk. The tiles in the chip aisle were still warped. The bakery case still had donuts covered in moisture. But the best part was, many of the people I worked with a decade earlier were still there; some even standing behind the same counters and checkout lanes.

I didn’t recognize any of the management, but the men’s bathroom still had the same graffiti carved into the toilet paper dispenser: “John Blows Goats Hard.” It was written before my time by a employee disgruntled by squinty-eyed John. I remember the vicarious pleasure I took in the anonymous vandal’s rage. As a Christian teenager, it was as close as I could get to obscenity. But when I saw the graffiti again, still there after all those years, it all seemed futile; the bullying and harassment, my naïveté and self-righteousness, the slavish consciousness of my childish religion, the self-destructive method of my passive aggression, and the emotional vacillations of teenage-ness.

On my way out of the store, I bought a pack of Sour Patch Kids, for old time’s sake. I recognized the woman at the register, but she didn’t recognize me.

 

Exploring the Fourth Dimension

For a total amount of time that adds to maybe three weeks a year, Chicago’s weather is fit for human life. When I’m not working on a job, or combating another endemic bout of seasonal depression, I use these brief hours to walk. Usually without a destination in mind. Mostly just to explore, and hopefully, to discover. This is how I’ve found the city’s best foods (Depression-style dogs with fries from Jimmy’s Red Hots, pan pizza from Pequod’s), architectural landmarks (the Pullman District, Mies van der Rohe’s gravestone), and the wellsprings of various urban legends (cow carcasses at Bubbly Creek, Al Capone at the Green Mill). Other walks lead nowhere, but those walks still have value, because they help me map borderlands of my particular somewhere.

I wish it were the case that for the other 49 weeks out of the year, I wouldn’t have the urge to explore. But it’s there, and the longer it sits dormant, the more it gnaws. Like many, I try to mask it with the narcotics of work, friends, Internet, and Netflix, but in my dreams I still glimpse myself as it should be: moving along a path set by Movement itself.

On one hand, this impulse towards movement is framed by a Nietzschean ethic, that one should “give no credence to any thought that was not born outdoors while one moved about freely—in which the muscles are not celebrating a feast, too.” But on the other, this urge to move, to walk, is primordial; a vestigial instinct of our hunter-gatherer days since diminished by millennia of acculturation, civilization, and the armchair comforts of Google Street View. Today, in terms of obligation or interest, the perambulatory urge is placed somewhere between swim lessons and renewing your driver’s license. Plus the fact that exploration in any ‘formal’ sense—you know, air travel, car rentals, North Face jacket liners, and so forth—is really fucking expensive.

But the walk itself, stripped of all such manufactured desires and commercialized augmentations, is the purest expression of human autonomy. This idea, I think, is captured most famously in Of Walking in Ice (2015) by rogue film director Werner Herzog. It’s a diary written by Herzog between November 23 and December 14, 1974, detailing his three-week, 600-mile walk from Munich to Paris in the depths of winter as a spiritual pilgrimage dedicated to German film critic and personal friend Lotte Eisner, who was dying in a Paris hospital. A grand, romantic gesture. I’d like to do something similar someday. But the banal obligations of everyday life—rent payments and student loans and paid time off and tendonitis—relegate this gesture to the pipedream realm, where desire rots.

Elsewhere, Herzog offers something of a solution. In Werner Herzog: Interviews, a recent collection of interviews (many translated into English for the first time) edited by Eric Ames, there is a conversation included with Geoffrey O’Brien from Parnassus, where discussion turns to walking. O’Brien and Herzog talk of the poets John Clare and Francois Villon, both who traveled heavily by foot. Herzog mentions, “Some of the very best poets have been people on foot,” and continues: “We aren’t made to sit at a computer or travel by airplane. Destiny intended something different for us. We’ve been estranged from the essential, which is traveling on foot. While it would be ridiculous to advocate traveling on foot in our time, I would rather do the existentially essential things in my life that way.”

While some “existentially essential” things should require a physical toll, as humans we live multiple essences, in multiple existences with multiple dimensions. A walk in one is a run in another, is swimming in another, and stagnancy in another. In this way it’s just as important to walk and explore in the physical realm as it is to journey through the dimensions of language and letters.

A foray into the writings of and on Herzog, for example, led me to English travel writer Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia (1977)—a recounting of his own foot travels through Patagonia in the 1970s. Along this path I picked up this excellent little fragment: “I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God.” Later, Chatwin offers some choice anecdotes on the Spanish Brujeria, or witch-healers, and rumors of thorny crowns and blood sacrifices. Directing me, in Movement’s own way, to Cesar Calvo’s Three Halves of Ino Moxo: Teachings of the Wizard of the Upper Amazon (1995). And then whatever else is next. All things I wouldn’t have seen (and won’t see) riding coach in the 737 of my mind. This is walking in body and mind, where the body and psyche can feast on the fruits of free movement.

On one hand, this is another way to state the value of literary curiosity. For those who see themselves as participants in the greater conversations of creation, composition, and production, there’s immense value in taking paths less traveled—or discovering new ones altogether. Because I was dissatisfied with the rote and generally conservative world of independent publishing, for example, I co-founded my own publishing outfit in 2011 with the expressed interest of exploring new horizons. One of our most successful collections, Noospheria, was built entirely on a theme discovered through this exploratory process.

The ‘noosphere’ is an early 20th-century analog for understanding the sphere of human thought. It’s an outmoded idea first concocted by scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the 1920s, and then popularized by scientist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky in the 1930s. I found Vernadsky (a rarely traveled path) via writings related to philosopher Vladimir Solovyov (a somewhat traveled path), who I discovered via Fyodor Dostoyevsky (a superhighway). And now, in addition to discovering a ‘forgotten’ term, it has been reclaimed (in its own particular somewhere) in the name of creativity, or more simply, in the name of Movement.

Herzog is right, that in the modern world, it’s ridiculous to advocate for travel by foot—even for some of those “existentially essential” things. I think it’d be cool to walk from, say, Chicago to the town of Cairo at Illinois’ southernmost tip. But the amount of trespassing, jaywalking, and loitering risks and fines I’d be running, plus the loan payments that would inevitably fall into deferral, makes the risk not worth the reward. So for now (because I also don’t own a car), Chicago it is. And the silver lining to this 49-week long cloud leaves me that much time to map the particular somewhere of these literary and extradimensional borderlands. At its best, this method introduces you to new worlds, universes. At its worst, it makes you a good Jeopardy contestant. And it’s way more affordable than a North Face jacket liner. Plus, what else is there to do in Chicago in the winter?

“I’m tryin’ to backroads it to Walmart!”

After spending two weeks in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, for the first half of July, I’m officially back in Chicago. At least, my body is. My psyche is still in the desert somewhere. On one hand, it feels like I was gone for a long time. On the other, it feels like I never left Chicago; this small Edgewater apartment, this noisy block where the cars bottom out on the speed bumps, this stupid cat who recently started snoring for some stupid reason.

I wrote a few extended meditations in the desert, but haven’t logged my various stray observations and favorite pictures and so forth. So, here we are—stray observations and some pictures. Enjoy.

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Put Your Head Down and Work

One of my first jobs out of college was at a busy, local bike shop. It was 2009, so my humanities degrees were useless in the already bankrupt Chicago labor market. But the bike shop was a happy medium. It paid well, the customers were (mostly) cool, and the discounts were steep. Outside of the university, sandwich shop, and non-profit jobs I held during college, my years with the bike shop were my first real introduction to “work” in Chicago. That particular psychology of labor—a byproduct of capitalist economics—constituting the careerist spirit of ‘The City That Works.’ I didn’t realize it at the time, but we had a running joke in the shop that I think served as dictum for this psychology: “Put your head down and work.” Which is what we would say—jokingly-but-not-jokingly—when things got hectic. Us shop hands would complain under our breath at the weekend busyness, or the stupidity of that new money yuppie couple in the corner. Then someone would say, “put your head down and work.” We’d laugh, but then we’d actually put our heads down, and we’d work. And stop complaining, and stop joking around.

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STOP! Dahmertime.

Last night I did my third reading with the good folks at Pungent Parlour, and to celebrate my newfound breaks from the stifling worlds of business and academia, I read my freshly penned letter to late Wisconsin folk hero Jeffrey Dahmer. And now I’m sharing it here because it’s a little too blue for Shouts and Murmurs.

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