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Feeling Good

For every hour of glory, there are five minutes of failure that make you feel just miserable. But that doesn’t mean you stop trying for glory. It just means things are going to be rough sometimes, Ponyboy.


I Wrote Something Today

I wrote something today. Or, maybe more specifically, I wrote something yesterday, and more abstractly, I’ve been writing something for a few weeks. But, I finished today, and the final product is much different than the original. So it really feels like I wrote this thing today, even though it is the product of a lot of labor.

The thing I wrote is a script to accompany a presentation for a meeting I’m hosting tomorrow, with several doctors from around the world, to discuss one of my journals. The presentation has been in motion for weeks, various tinkering to the order. But the script is, well, the script. It is me talking for about 30 minutes. Not much different from a monologue, except there is audience participation built in. Today, I read through the bulk and realized there was no plan. I have a plan in mind but I completely whiffed because the structure is pretty firm. I found places to add the plan, the real driving force behind the discussion, a proposal for increasing our content and reputation among urology journals, a kernal of impetus that was lurking behind all the words I had written, and made most of those words superfluous. So,the main point is, I wrote something today.

The script turned out to be about 11 pages long. If you told me to sit down and write an 11-page story, I’d probably feign incompetence. But I did that. Those 11 pages have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with a driving theme and various subpoints revolving around that theme. It represents the majority of what I know about the publishing industry, or at least my small corner of it, and yet, there will be ample room for questions from the meeting attendees, because no one presentation can really be all-encompassing.

In preparation for the meeting, I probably sent about 50 emails of various length and intent. And I have to do all of this for two more journals. People write novels all over their lives and just don’t realize it.

“Make Haste Sweet McRib! Return to our Loving Embrace: A sloppily written essay about a sloppily made meal”

“In the Garden of Eden, God made Eve out                                                                                             of Adam’s rib. Then he made Grimace out of                                                                                         a McRib” -NPR Food

I have been hearing rumblings around the net that McDonald’s McRib sandwich may return sometime next month.  My love of food and my love for the McRib should not be compatible, but they are, and this is my story.

I consider myself somewhat of a foodie.  I love to cook, watch anything about, discuss and sample any and all kinds of food.  This became an obsession of mine during my final year in the U.S. Navy.  I was living alone in Pennsylvania and had no real friends of mention.  I enjoyed being alone and decided to teach myself to cook.  I made all of the basic first time cook’s mistakes.  I under-baked fish, burned almost anything in a frying pan, and made an array of uneven, dense and tasteless breads.  Over time, I became more aware of my surroundings in the kitchen and made use of my time more wisely when attempting to make soufflés or pan-fried pork chops, apple stuffing or a simple ragout.  I enjoyed not only the cooking process, but the food I was preparing as well.  Practice did not make perfect, but it certainly made me more comfortable in the kitchen.

By the time I had learned how to cook for myself (which took me several years) my time in the Navy had ended and I was living in Missouri.  At that time I felt more and more confident about going to random eating establishments and sampling local fare.  I most frequently sought out local joints that were not going to hurt my pocketbook, but would in time hurt my cholesterol levels and waist line.  I tried to eat less of the national chain restaurants and more of locally owned joints that normally one does not come across every 25 miles on the national interstate system.  Every time I ate somewhere local I felt a sense of civic pride.  Even when the food at an establishment was sub-par I said things to myself like, “well, at least I tried this place out” or “the drink specials were cheap.”  I had to keep luring myself back to smaller chains or on-off places to keep myself from becoming what most of us already are…chain-eaters.

I rarely go to chain restaurants anymore, but one thing always brings me back.  McDonald’s McRib sandwich.  God almighty that is one sweet piece of heaven.  I remember as a child going to the McDonald’s in my tiny hometown (one of only 5 resturants there) when the McRib was on the menu.  It was like Christmas, Fourth of July and my birthday all rolled up into one beautiful 500 calorie package.  I never tracked the status or knew when or where that little brown beauty would appear.  One day we would walk in and there it would be.  A few weeks later–gone.

Those days are over thanks to the internet and food blogs.  There is a website entirely devoted to the McRib.  McRib Locator tracks “sightings” of McRibs.  It has a feature where other trackers can either “confirm” or “deny” its sale at one of McDonald’s 31,000 stores worldwide.  That is great news for people like myself that are obsessed with that rib-shaped, sponge-like meat that is “enhanced” by a set of limp pickles and a handful of raw, somehow completely tasteless onions on a crappy white “steak roll” that is soaked with a barbecue sauce so sweet that a small child’s lips might curl up after a bite and admit, “Jeeze Pops, that is just too much.”  I am not that child.

As I head out today to the “Taste of St. Louis” food festival to enjoy local offerings from some of the finest establishments in the Midwest, I will have the McRib engrained in the back of my mind with the hope that next month…it might return!!!

Half Empty: The Charlie Sheen Roastervention

Instead of watching the Charlie Sheen Roast, I watched the first half of the Two and a Half Men season premiere. If you knew me, this might strike you as odd. First of all, I was an unabashed fan of 2.5 (as no one has ever called it), and resolved not to watch the tiger dung left after it’s star’s absence. Second, I was an unflinching supporter of Charlie’s descent into mania. Not my choice, but wasn’t that the point? Besides, feeding the beast that craves the spotlight with more attention is a classic example of Perry Como Syndrome (ie, if you want to stop monsters, just don’t look). However, if you knew me, you also might think my nonviewing was logical, since I don’t have cable and network TV is crap on Monday night.

At the same time as the 2.5 premiere, Fox was airing the Primetime Emmys. I happened to catch Charlie sheepishly apologize to the cast, crew, and producer of his former show and wish them luck. I knew that soon, Charlie would be dead. Charlie probably knew he was going to die soon. And as the characters lamented the loss of Charlie Harper, to the tune of a train splattering, I knew the hackneyed charm of the jokes wouldn’t survive the death of the lead character.

Part of the allure of a roast is making stars more accessible, down to Earth. There is an exquisite moment in the best roasts when the honoree’s face betrays their shrinking ego: am I really that much of a slut (Pamela Anderson) or a public joke (Donald Trump, Donald Trump’s hair [which deserved its own roast])? But, how low did you want to push Charlie, who had already displayed so much depravity yet claimed such control?

Jeffrey Roast, the roastmaster, declared the roast a success because while at a viewing party, Charlie displayed a moment of clarity. You know unlike any other addict in history, or Charlie himself many times over his career. If Charlie is really clean, then mazel tov to him and good luck to him and his family. He will have to admit that he didn’t do it on his own terms, though, because what happened to Charlie wasn’t a roast; it was an intervention. Being emotionally pummeled from all sides by upstart comedians at the end of a disasterous live tour circuit might have pushed him back on the wagon. But Pam didn’t get a breast reduction, and the Donald announced he was running for president. Clearly, they learned nothing from their roasts.

If Jeff Ross inspired a socially approved turnaround for Charlie Sheen, then kudos to him and his intervention. But if Charlie just goes back to being Charlie, then all he did by roasting him was help glorify the beast. He’s kind of all-in on that turnout, but then again, he’s a comedian, so he’s probably not losing sleep.

Metaphor of the Day, 9/22:

Metaphor of the Day, 9/22: The Fed saying there’s going to be continued weakness in the economy is “[a] little bit like the Fed saying, ‘Actually America, that dress does make you look fat.’

Art and Sports, pt. 2: Alley-oops and feedback loops

(Part one of Art and Sports can be found here)

I think both art and sport are at their most transcendent when order breaks down (by accident or by design) and improvisation takes over.

With a lot of sports, this is a built-in feature: you make a move, your opponent responds with his own move, and, based on this new configuration, you make your next move, ad infinitum, creating a feedback loop. In chess, the period of the loop can stretch out as players (or supercomputers) run through possible permutations and outcomes. In football, it may be only a fraction of a second as a quarterback reacts to a blitz.

The array of choices available for any given iteration of the feedback loop isn’t infinite. In sports, it’s bounded by the rules of the game; in music, by the key and time signature. Staying in bounds keeps things intelligible, but transcending the bounds makes art.

In postmaterialist America, you don’t #OccupyWallStreet, Wall Street occupies you.

While I appreciate the impulse behind  #OccupyWallStreet’s call to action, I think the movement’s limited success so far stems from a lack of identity and, consequently, a lack of purpose.

OccupyWallSt.org describes OWS as a “leaderless resistance movement  with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions” that “plan[s] to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America,” which sounds good in theory, but doesn’t turn out quite as well in practice because the US isn’t Egypt and Wall Street isn’t Tahrir Square. And pretending that they are will not make for productive political action.

In general, Arab cultures have a strong sense of a shared public sphere, while in America there is much more emphasis on the individual and the private–public spaces are increasingly being taken over and replaced by privately owned and operated ones, e.g., charter schools. Wall Street itself is effectively a private space; as the iconic center of the financial world, it’s business is business. A space like Tahrir Square, on the other hand, is public in the sense that it doesn’t have an essential politics associated with it–that’s what people bring when they gather there.

So if protesters are trying to occupy Wall Street in the sense of taking up physical space within a private space, they are impeded by barricades and police. But if protesters are trying to occupy Wall Street in the sense of getting the people who work at financial institutions located there to engage with them (i.e., the protesters), you run into a different problem: that of the “leaderless resistance” (more below). In either case, the impulse to occupy Wall Street is a result of being occupied with Wall Street.

Because this stuff only matters if you believe it matters. Saying the financial industry and corporate America are to blame for the current economic and ecological crises we’re facing is fine, you won’t hear any argument. But, to me, trying to hold financial institutions accountable for the mess in order to enact positive change is like a 5-year-old trying to make a bigger kid kicking sand in his face stop by saying, “The practice of kicking sand in people’s faces is wrong! It has to stop now!” And everyone knows this kid. He’ll stop and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll never kick sand in your face ever again!”–as he throws the first handful. But in real life, that’s not what you do, because making someone else responsible for fixing things that are a problems for you means those problems never get solved. That kid is having the time of his life getting sand all in and around the sense organs arrayed on the front of your head. What you need to do is stop occupying that sandbox, get up, and go to another sandbox. Or better yet: build a new, better sandbox.

Leaderless movements are great, but they have not been successful on a large scale in the US. The American Revolution had the founding fathers, the Civil War had Abraham Lincoln, Civil Rights had MLK. There wasn’t just one person these movements hinged on. Other prominent figures were involved, and every person who gave their support, in whatever form, was integral to their successes. But there has always been a somebody–or somebodies–to serve as a rallying point. Again, I would argue that it’s a cultural thing, not good or bad, but a necessary to consider when trying to mobilize a popular nonviolent movement.

A corollary to the adage “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” could be “If you try to stand for everything, you’ll collapse under the weight and never get off the ground.” And I think this applies to OWS. Everyone wants their own personal interests served first, often at the cost of coming to a consensus. In a leaderless movement, individuals are less willing to make the personal concessions required for consensus  because, to them, that isn’t consensus; it’s just someone else’s personal demands. If someone is posting “Vegan Occupiers Deserve Menu Options” on the OWS forum, it’s not that surprising the protest hasn’t received a lot of serious attention.

No one deserves vegan-friendly food, but everyone deserves a safe place to live, a nutritious diet, a well-rounded education, a living wage, and a public sphere where we can engage with one another.

So let’s go build a sandbox.

Art and Sports, pt. 1: “Tom Brady ain’t no Picasso (nor should he try to be)”

A question was posed to myself and ThisIsWater.org’s editor from this site’s other blogger a couple days ago via email: Should sports be considered art? Or at least, artful?

In response to this I thought about what motivation artists have for creating art as opposed to the motivation athletes have when engaging in competition with other athletes.  Let’s look at football for instance.  A quarterback’s goal is to win.  How that goal is achieved is superfluous.  One might call Tom Brady and Peyton Manning “conductors” behind the line, but what about a Ben Roethlisberger or a Mark Sanchez?  They are wrecks out there, but both win games and are impressively consistent at what they do.   Art is not the opposite of Sport but simply different from it.  Art is about content and not about winning.  What is there to win?  Fame and recognition perhaps, but what is the end goal?  Athletes have clear goals in mind, and at the forefront of those goals is winning.  Is performance meaningless if a win is not produced?  Don’t ask a fan like myself that question–ask an athlete.

Artists have goals in mind, but those goals are more often than not personal and/or varied depending on the individual artist.  The term art is hard to define and is an unarguably subjective field.  It seems today a frequent question asked regarding every aspect of human existence is, “Should we call this art?”  I guess we could switch the subjects of this question and ask, “Is art a sport?”  It has been said that portions of art such as the business side could be considered a “blood sport.”  If one wants to call a sport an art-form or an athlete an artist that is his or her own prerogative.  However, I call sports…sports.

Are there artistic aspects of athletic performance?  Sure–if the athletes themselves are thinking in those terms when performing them.  Another question that we might want to explore is the difference between showmanship and art.  Showmanship adds very little to a team’s chances of winning but is in some cases a crowd pleasing gesture.  I believe both art and sports have so much to offer humanity that is seems demeaning to both forms and those that perform and/or create within them to try to place one into the other and vice versa.  Each of the above-mentioned endeavors are so incredibly unique that they can easily stand on their own without the help of something else trying to define them.

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