Friday 5: Hold On to the Knight

In honor of the defeat of Gary Kasparov by IBM’s Deep Blue in a game of chess on February 10, 1996.

  1. When and how did you learn to play chess?
    I received a board when I was in second grade, and my dad taught me the basic rules.  In addition to the regular game pieces, this set came with cardboard squares on which the pieces were drawn, captions reminding you of the pieces’ names, and little arrows to tell you how the pieces were allowed to move.  They were training pieces, and you put them on the board instead of the real pieces until you didn’t need them anymore.  I was fascinated, but that was before I learned how much I suck at chess.
  2. How is your chess game?
    Yeah, I pretty much suck.  I kind of do respectably against people who can play but have never studied, and I can throw around words like “fork” and “skewer” and even employ the tactics sometimes, or at least accidentally make it look like I’m employing them.  But I don’t think far enough in advance, so anyone who looks three moves ahead can put lickings on me.
  3. When did you last find yourself in a stalemate?
    Grace’s birthday is a couple of weeks after mine.  When the village idiots texted me to ask when I wanted to get together for mine, I said I wanted to celebrate mine after we celebrated Grace’s.  See, I didn’t want to find myself in a conversation about politics or the media, and I know Reid can’t help himself.  I thought I might be okay by some time in February, and Grace’s birthday is near the end of January.  I thought we could do my birthday in February, after Grace’s birthday at the end of the month, without my having to admit the real reason for my request.  But the idiots interpreted my request to mean I’d prefer to have Grace’s birthday THAT WEEKEND and mine after that, which wasn’t nearly enough of a delay.  So I got what I asked for but not what I wanted.  But then Penny had to call it off because she was ill.  So we’re doing Grace’s birthday this weekend and mine sometime after.  Stalemate at first, but then kind of a win for me.
  4. A gambit is a chess opening in which a player sacrifices a piece in hopes of gaining an advantageous position.  What was one of your recent, real-world gambits?
    My life is pretty non-competitive, so it’s tough to think of something, but without getting into details I’m probably not at liberty to share, my landlord had a plumbing issue in the upstairs part of the house (I rent the bottom, a separate living space).  There was some dripping through my ceiling, so it looked like it might be pretty bad.  When I got him to come over and take a look at the situation, I admited a certain uncomfortable truth to him, making myself about as vulnerable as I’ve ever been in our relationship of 18 years or so.  I didn’t do this for any kind of upper hand, but I did think that making myself vulnerable this way would make it more likely that there would be some kind of merciful resolution to a super awkward situation.  He surprised me by admitting a similar uncomfortable truth, and I think we’re communicating better now, and on better terms, than we ever have.
  5. Which piece on the chessboard is most like you, and why?
    I think my mind is a knight, able to take weird turns and to leap over over players, but the rest of me is a pawn, slow and steady, sometimes saving the game near the end, but more often being taken out of the game so others can have their fun.

 

Review: I See You by The xx

I See You by The xx
2017 (Young Turks)

I was watching football with my dad when a promo came on for the episode of SNL with Kristin Wiig as the host and The xx as the musical guest.  My dad has always liked Wiig, so he made a comment about being sure to see that one, and followed with a comment about how half the time he has no idea who the hosts are anymore.

“You probably don’t know who the musical guest is either, but stay awake for this one.  That’s a great band,” I said.

When the show aired six nights later and I watched it alone in my house, I left the TV on mute for everything except the Kristin Wiig sketches and the musical performance, for reasons I don’t want to get into right now.  Honestly, I didn’t want to watch SNL but I was eager for the first new music from The xx in four years.

Midway through the first song, I thought, “My dad’s not going to trust my recommendations anymore.”  It was a fine performance, but who was this band and what were they playing?  This wasn’t The xx I knew, and I didn’t know how to hear it.

But that was two months ago.  The new album, I See You, has been out two weeks, and I’ve given it six spins so far, and it’s as good as the critics say.  Somehow, it’s completely an xx album while being almost completely unlike the band’s first two albums.

“More expansive” and “less insular” were the early pre-release buzzes, and all I could think was, why would I want a less insular xx?  If anything, I want more insular.  Where the first two albums were perfect driving-at-night music for remembering everything you’ve ever regretted and every stupid thing you’ve ever said to the women you’ve loved, this new collection of songs feels more like it’s meant for tearing yourself open and letting everybody take a look at what those stupid things are.

And it feels pretty dang good.  Most of the defining elements of the xx sound are still there: the one-note-at-a-time, droning guitar riffs; the super-clean production; the breathy vocals by Romy Madley Croft that remind you of those Everything but the Girl albums you haven’t listened to in far too long.

The “more expansive” part of the new sound is in some of those wide-open spaces in the band’s composition.  The playing on the first two albums is blessedly sparse, leaving room for memories of long talks over coffee where you wondered how someone so easy to communicate with for so many years could now be a total mystery to you.  It doesn’t leave that kind of time, driving you forward so that while you don’t go quite as deep, you cover a lot more ground.

The vocals are less whispered, less eavesdropped-on, and more insistent.  The drums sound less like the slow-motion ticking of a clock in the other room and more like proper drum-playing on a good dance record.  There are strange sounds (synthesized horns, distorted tin whistles, muted humpback whale shrieks, excited walruses) all over the place, coloring in those spaces that used to make you stare into the void.  The songs are songier, with easily discernable verses and choruses.  The melodies are more varied from one song to the next, as with the almost Japanese-inflected notes in “Tell Me,” and with “A Violent Noise,” which sounds like it could have been an Of Monsters and Men song.

If I See You were the first album by The xx, and if xx and Coexist came out later, I (and you) would probably like this album best, which feels like a weird thing to say.  But it’s not, and they didn’t, and I don’t.  I like it very much.  It just doesn’t take me where I long for an xx album to take me.  8/10

—–

  • Most unlike what you’ve heard from this band: “Dangerous,” the opening track.
  • Most xx-like: “Performance.”
  • Best song: Probably “Replica,” which is one of those you kinda don’t really hear until you hear it, and then it’s all you want to hear.
  • Second-best song: “I Dare You.”
  • Song that reminds you of Tracey Thorn: “Brave for You.”
  • Most unexpected moment: Sampled and looped vocals from Darryl Hall and John Oates’s “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” on “On Hold.”
  • Best lyric (from “On Hold”):
    Now you’ve found a new star to orbit
    It could be love
    I think you’re too soon to call us old
    When and where did we go cold?
    I thought I had you on hold 

    And every time I let you leave
    I always saw you coming back to me
    When and where did we go cold?
    I thought I had you on hold

 

Friday 5: Shiver Me Timbers

From here.

  1. When did you last make what could be described as a wriggling motion?
    I put a t-shirt on backward last week.  Then I pulled my arms in from the sleeves and did a weird succession of shoulder movements to turn the shirt around without taking it off.  It worked, but it would have been faster just to whip it off and put it back on.
  2. What never fails to give you the willies?
    Roaches.  I’m not even kidding.  They are the biggest part of the reason I sleep with the lights on even though I hate sleeping with the lights on.  It hasn’t always been this way, but I had a few bad experiences a few years ago.
  3. What’s something you’ve seen on TV or in a movie that made you squirm?
    The toilet scene in Trainspotting first made me squirmy, then it made me run to the toilet and throw up.  It is one of three films (with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Loverand The Blair Witch Project) that made me physically ill, as in actually vomit.
  4. What’s something in your life that could be described as serpentine?
    Well.  I just watched the final two chapters of The Good Place.  That.  Times ten.
  5. Where can you get a really great shake?
    I suspect most Hawaii people will say Teddy’s, and a Teddy’s shake is heavenly, but a shake at Big Kahuna’s is a step above, especially the apple pie shake.  It’s a shake with a slice of apple pie blended in.  Killer.

New Gigs and New Digs

The new gig is as a staff writer for the University of Hawaii Foundation.

The foundation is a private non-profit contracted by the university to raise funds.  It handles scholarships, research grants, donations to the athletic program, alumni relations, endowed professorships, and even some property acquisition.

I’m still figuring out my job, but it’s a lot of profiles so far, of donors and other benefactors, that will go on our website and in our many print publications.  There are probably going to be other kinds of writing too, but that’s what I’ve been working on so far in these early days.  I have six profiles in various stages of doneness, mostly in the 300 to 500 word range, and this load is almost surely to increase, as I’ve discovered that a ton of my job is just waiting, waiting, waiting for people to get back to me.

I work on the Manoa campus with far more people than you’d probably imagine, and our people have offices in several locations on this campus and the other campuses.  My desk is in a portable, in the annual giving office.  My department, communications, doesn’t have its own space as several other departments do, but the person whose desk is closest to me is in my department, and in fact had my position before she moved into her new role.

I’m right by the copier, and the largest section of our office is the call center, where current students call alumni and other donors (I think) and solicit gifts.

Everyone — and I mean everyone — has been super welcoming, friendly, and helpful.

So far, the best I’ve felt doing my new job is when I was finished interviewing people I had to speak with, finished talking to my boss about the audience and intent.  I grabbed my laptop, found a study carrel in the air-conditioned part of Sinclair Library, put in my earbuds, hit play on one of my Spotify playlists, and just wrote.  I’d spent so much time thinking about the piece that it mostly came together right away, although I had to sorta wade through my interview notes and stitch together the last good quote I needed.

It felt good to finally produce something.  It needed some tweaking once I submitted it, but now  I’m waiting (again with the waiting) for one key person’s approval before I’m done.  It was the one time (so far) where I felt fully present and competent.  I guess that could have been predicted.

I’m still doing my side work, but it’s been a struggle to keep up with it all.  More on that later.  I’m finding a way to get it all done; I just don’t have time right now for anything else, and that’s unhealthy.

This feels right for now.  I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, because of all the things I pursued, it was this organization that responded positively, wanted me, and saw something valuable in me.  I’m not turning away from that anytime soon.

A Boring Rundown of My Schedule

It’s been a rough adjustment.

The work is fine.  The people are great.  Super welcoming.

But the commute has been brutal, not because it’s especially long, but because I do have motion sickness issues, and for the distance I have to go, it just takes too long.  It’s not an efficient use of my time, so I may have to take that friend up on her offer and accept her old car.

There’s no “may have to” about it, actually.  Especially not if I want to do the other things I want to do.  Bus riding kind of sucks, but I don’t mind it sometimes — especially since I see it as kind of a penance for smashing my last car, in an accident that could have killed someone if circumstances had been slightly different — yet when you have more than one thing going on in your life, the time situation just doesn’t work.  Not with my situation, anyway.

I know I haven’t really talked about the job itself yet when I did promise details.  Tomorrow.

They give me a choice of three schedules: 7:30 to 4:30, 8:00 to 5:00, and 8:30 to 5:30.  I asked for the first week to try different routes to the office to see what works best, but I kind of knew I would ask for the last schedule, since if I need leeway anywhere, it’s really at the start of the day, not having anywhere to be at any specific time in the evenings and all.

But this is a mistake, and I’m going to ask next week to switch to the earlier schedule.  Because the best use of my time is to get up at 5, leave the house at 5:40, and get to campus between 6:30 and 7:00 depending on the buses.  The express I take comes from rather far away, on the freeway, so if traffic is gnarly on the freeway, I get to campus closer to 7.  If things are smooth, I get there just past 6:30, which is a ridiculous swing.

So right now, I’m packing breakfast and lunch every day, having breakfast at my desk and settling in before I’m officially on the clock.  Then I leave the office in time to catch the express bus back into town at five minutes to six.  This gets me back in Kalihi at 6:30 where I walk around for a bit before I take the other bus home, getting back to the crib just after 7.

Then before I get all lazy and stuff, I make dinner and the next day’s lunch, pick out my clothes, and make sure my bag is ready to go.  I say this as if it’s been a routine when tonight is really the first night I’ve successfully done all that stuff with a little bit of time to hang out before turning in at around 10.

The truth is I’ve been horribly, depressingly sleep-deprived.  Because I’m still figuring out these darn clocks.

But now it is 9:30, and I’ve done everything I need to do except wash the dishes and brush my teeth, which I will do right now.

I’m Coming Home; I’ve Done My Time

And now, a little story I shared in G Chat this evening.
i was on my way home from work.  walked from the office in manoa all the way to chinatown (about 3.6 miles), then took a bus into kalihi and waited for my transfer bus home.

i was listening to a podcast, and this guy came up from behind and asked if i knew where this address was, holding up a slip of paper.

i took out my earbuds and recognized the place immediately.  it’s the ywca downtown, kind of where i just picked up that bus.

i said yeah, i know exactly where that is.  are you walking?

he said yeah.  i said it’s about a 45 minute walk.  he said that was fine.  i said, it’s past chinatown and on the edge of downtown.  he looked at me cluelessly.  do you know chinatown?

he said no, i’m not from here.  i don’t know where anything is.  i said, okay, if you’re walking, just stay on this street, king street, and keep walking.  you’ll know chinatown because all the lights are out on both sides of the street.  next is downtown, the business district.  keep an eye out for bishop street; it’s the main cross street downtown.  the next street is alakea street–

he interrupted.  alakea street?  is that where the courthouse is?

i said yeah.  the ywca is on the block between alakea street and richards street.  if you see iolani palace, you’ve gone half a block too far.

i said if you have $2.50 you can ride a bus right to it in ten minutes.

he said, i just got out of prison.  all i have on me is my clothes and this bible.

he had a shaved head and was wearing a thin tank top.  i could see chest tattoos.  he looked pretty young.

i said you just got out of prison today?

he said i just got out of prison now.  twenty years.

i held out my hand, and he shook it.  congratulations.  i looked him in the eyes and said with complete sincerity, i hope you have a good rest of your life.

he said, i will.  i will.  thank you.

he showed me a slip of paper with two phone numbers on it.  can you call one of these guys for me?

i handed him my phone and said hey, you can call them yourself if you’d like.

he just stared at my phone like he didn’t know what to do with it.  duh.

i called the number.  hey, is this joe?  i have a guy here who wants to talk to you.  hang on.

the guy had a short conversation with the other guy, asking him to call “mom” and ask her to meet him at that place where she goes.  

i said tell her you’re about 45 minutes away and that you’re in front of farrington high school right now.

he repeated the info, gave me back the phone.  i apologized and said i would totally give him bus fare but i was completely broke.  it’s true; i’m down to my change jar until next monday evening, and i HAD three bucks in my pocket, but i’d just spent it on two cans of tomato paste and a bottle of water.  i couldn’t even call him a lyft because i’m down to two bucks in my checking.  ugh.

but i shook his hand again, repeated the directions, and wished him well.  he thanked me and headed off.

i walked the rest of the way home because my transfer bus had come and i’d waved it off — the driver knows me and waved as he pulled away.

it’s faster to walk than to wait for the next bus.  

as i walked home i took a moment to text joe, just saying i didn’t catch that guy’s name, but if he sees him, tell him i’ve said a little prayer for him.

i’m grateful that i was able to give him a little bit of a connection and a little bit of kindness.  i wish i could have done more.  

Friday 5: Questions to Make Your Hands Clammy

From here.

  1. Who’s been a ray of sunshine lately?
    The writing partner most recently.  She’s in the middle of some big stuff that’s taking away from her goals as a novelist, but she’s adjusting, and we’re going to approach the partnership differently for the coming year.  We had an encouraging talk yesterday and I think we left feeling as committed to our partnership, even with these different needs, as ever.
  2. When do you next expect to be stuffed to the gills?
    I haven’t had a regular paycheck in over a year and a quarter, so as soon as I get paid from the new gig, I’m going to take myself somewhere naughty for dinner and eat one of everything.  No idea where yet, so stay tuned.  I’m sure I’ll document the gluttonous adventure when it goes down in about ten days.
  3. Among people you know, who can really tell a whale of a tale?
    I’ve got this friend, the pastor of a local church and a director (or something) of the campus ministry we were in together when we were in school.  He’s maybe the most charismatic person I know, and he tells a great story.  I confess that more than once when I was in college, I found myself on the verge of doing something dangerous, mischievous, or dangerously mischievous (such as stealing my pastor’s wife’s BMW when the friend who was house-sitting for her wasn’t around and I was left alone in her house with the keys to her car), and as I hestitated, I thought about how it would be a story to put me in this friend’s storytelling league.  I was never courageous or rambunctious; I was just envious of another person’s stories.
  4. What’s something you’ve been herring good things about?
    I’ve been herring good and bad things about Manchester By the Sea.  Since a lot of the good has come from Ann Hornaday, and since I (generally) roll with Ann, I’m going to give it a try, hopefully soon.
  5. Which of the S.S. Minnow‘s passengers or crew do you think you’d get along best with?
    How is anyone going to answer this with anyone other than Mary Ann?  We’d get along so well we might populate the island.

I’ve been a bit quiet in this space lately.  The new gig is throwing my routines off, but I’ll get it down soon.

Friday 5: We Can Work It Out

Holy moly what a week.  I’ll recap sometime this weekend.  I need to pound this out and get myself to bed.

  1. What’s a real-world lesson you learned from your first job?
    My first job was putting books on shelves at Aiea Public Library when I was in ninth grade.  I made $3.85 per hour ($4.10 after six in the evening — it was a state of Hawaii thing).  A good lesson I learned is that small children make a lot of work for people in service positions.  The worst part of my job was easily straightening shelves in the easies.  There was nothing easy about it.  It took me forever to get the easies in order, but there was this girl (actually, she might have been in college, so girl may not be the right word) who seemed to do it really quickly, really well, and without complaint.  She just got down to business and got it done, and maybe that’s another real-life lesson I learned there.
  2. What was pleasantly unexpected about your current (or most recent) job?
    Speaking of libraries, I discovered this week in my new job (about which, more later) at the state’s largest university that I have borrowing privileges in the library.  I have yet to exercise this privilege, as it’s taken me every ounce of waking energy just to do what I have to do, but I have taken a few moments to look up a few things in the online catalogue, and I have to say it’s all very exciting.
  3. What are some identifying tools of your trade?
    I have two trades: writing and teaching.  For writing, I’ll go with my idea board, which is basically a bunch of stickies stuck to a wall.  For teaching, the easiest answer is a gradebook, but I haven’t had a physical gradebook in a million years, so I think I’ll go with dry-erase markers.  I’m particular about my markers, and I still carry some around in case I’m ever called upon to write on a dry-erase board.  This hasn’t happened in half an eon, so this behavior may fade away, but among the first things I put into the top drawer of my new desk at my new job were several Expo bullet-tip dry-erase markers of many colors.  These are, by the way, my second favorite.  They don’t make my favorite anymore, the Avery Marks-a-Lot markers with the liquid ink in the reservoir.  They were so juicy!  You could do neat stuff with them, like make ink splatters by whipping them in the direction of the board.  I haven’t had occasion to look for some alternative, and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone has filled the niche (there are still liquid ink highlighters out there, so I don’t see why not).  I still have one somewhere, the last of a dead breed.
  4. What’s something a job required that you thought was far outside your skillset?
    Counseling frustrated parents of teens.  I didn’t get into teaching because I have decent interpersonal grown-up skills.  I don’t.  But when confronted by unreasonable parents, I’ve learned how to listen to them and somehow talk them down, and get to what was really bothering them (it was seldom about me, no matter how the conversation began).  Just listening to someone goes about as far as you need it to.
  5. Robert Frost wrote, “My object in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation / as my two eyes make one in sight.”  To what degree have you united your vocation (your job) and your avocation (your hobby)?
    For most of my professional career, I was all about this.  I ache every day with longing to be back in the classroom.  But somewhere in the ridiculous demands of that glorious, wonderful, humbling work, I forgot that I memorized, in eighth grade, the last stanza of this poem because I wanted to write.  I’m not quite there yet — the type of writing my new work requires isn’t quite it, but I feel I’m getting closer, and it’s why I’ve pursued an opportunity like this (about which, more later).

Almost.  The.  Week.  End.

Friday 5: Animate

From here.

  1. In what ways are you like an ox?
    I always imagine that oxen are quiet and thoughtful.  I don’t know how quiet I am, but I am something of a loner and I consider myself thoughtful.  So I guess that.
  2. In what ways are you like a rabbit?
    I don’t know a lot about rabbits except what I read in Watership Down, a novel in which rabbits are pretty much impossible to stereotype.  Still, they go on kind of a long, focused journey, and I’ve done a bunch of long, focused walking this past year.
  3. In what ways are you like a snake?
    My favorite football player of all time was nicknamed Snake.  I guess that doesn’t help much for this question.  The serpent in the Fall of (hu)Man story went after Eve first.  That’s pretty much my move as well.
  4. In what ways are you like a goat?
    Are goats kind of solitary and mind-their-own-businessy?  Or am I putting characteristics of sheep (which I have recently been calling my spirit animal whenever someone asks) (although I’m changing that to an okapi now) on goats just because they make similar sounds?  I also eat a lot of junk.
  5. In what ways are you like a rooster?
    I do like my hens!

 

Review: Election

Election (1999)
Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein. Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Directed by Alexander Payne.

I first saw Election before I was aware of Alexander Payne as a director, enjoying it for what I considered Reese Witherspoon’s breakout performance and Matthew Broderick’s almost Willie Lomanesque portrayal of a well-meaning teacher who lets things get away from him. I was also only a few years into a teaching career and too green to relate as strongly to Broderick’s Jim McAllister as I do now.

What strikes me most now is how despicable each of the main characters is, with only Chris Klein’s Paul Metzler truly acting with best intentions. A football star injured in a skiing accident, his prospects for a great senior year seem wrecked until history teacher (and Student Council advisor) McAllister encourages him to run for student body president. McAllister’s reasons could pass for sympathetic and encouraging if not tainted by a dislike for the only declared candidate at the time, Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick. Tracy is the classic overachiever, driven by some desperate need to be excellent and successful according to all the usual academic metrics. She pretty much owns the student council, and Paul is reluctant to set foot in her territory, but at McAllister’s urging, he cluelessly gives it a go. Paul’s sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is furious with Paul because he’s dating the girl she loves, so she launches her own campaign for the presidency, delivering a speech in which she promises to abolish the student council as her first act.

Why is McAllister so resentful of Tracy? The reasons he offers—that she’s the sort who does anything to get what she wants, and that she should learn before she graduates that this is no way to behave—are weak, and seasoned educators like him should know that what he proposes never works. He’s also obviously bitter about the career-ending affair his best friend and colleague had with Tracy, even going so far as to suggest she was complicit in his friend’s downfall. She is, but she’s a child, and no reasonable teacher blames the student in a situation like this. The dismantling of McAllister’s career and marriage are not the results necessarily of bad thoughts by a bad man: I can certainly sympathize with his impulses in both areas. He is despicable because he cannot rise above these impulses and act as his better self. I imagine that in marriage, as in secondary education, one must be able to do so every day.

Payne does excellent work with this film. A lot of the playfulness is gimmicky, such as the voice-overs by multiple characters, but it works really well, especially with the freeze-frame effect he uses as his narrators break into the action to explain things. His fondness for casting non-actors in supporting roles lends super believability to the world in which the film is set. Teachers, students, and support staff move, talk, sit, and dress the way they do in a real school, and Payne’s decision to film in a real school during the school year is another plus. McAllister drives a blue Ford Festiva, a tiny car for a small man, but shoot. He’s a teacher, and that’s a reasonable car for anyone living a teacher’s life. I know, because I drove a red one.

As he does with Hawaii in The Descendants several years later, Payne offers views of Nebraska that we don’t see in most films, the everyday boringness of a strip mall or roadside motel, for example. When McAllister drives from home to work, the scenery behind him is dull, flat, and concrete, like the stuff most of us see every day on our own commutes. Black comedies tend to be somewhat outrageous, and Election qualifies, but because it’s rooted in so much realness, it feels a lot less fantastic and a lot more believable.

While it has a lot going for it, the film falls just shy of greatness because of one thing it doesn’t do well at all: sympathize with Tracy Flick. There is a short moment near the end, where during a voice-over, Tracy gives us a hint of what her relationship with her former math teacher means to her. It’s not enough, though, and through most of the film, it’s too easy to see her just as a hyper-ambitious, self-serving annoying young woman. We sympathize with everyone else throughout the film, but Tracy only gets that brief instance when she reminds us of how a grown man who was supposed to keep her safe instead took advantage of her, and how her vulnerabilities might have something to do with her behavior. Nobody seems to weep for Tracy Flick, which is how she would want it, but she is the real victim in this story full of victims.

8/10
81/100