Category Archives: Various and Sundry

Toilings of Comfort and Joy

I began this year advocating creating art as a hobby and I tried to practice what I preached shortly thereafter.

Most people who know me generally observe I’m pretty darn busy which is one of the reasons that I feel the need to carve out time that is entirely not productive.

Woodcarving Santa
Beyond my skillset, for now…
(via Woodcarving Illustrated, where you might beat me to learning how to carve this thing).

It’s hard in today’s “make every job a gig and make every gig a hustle” economy — and heaven help you if you want to do something creative for money yet want to do something else creative as a hobby — but I’ve become convinced carving out time for non-productive hobbies is a must.

So I enjoyed reading this piece by Hope Reese in Vox about tips for picking a hobby. I especially liked how to avoid some philosophical traps in the choice of hobby. And, yes, I’m writing this while staring at a screen and you’re almost certainly reading it on a screen, but I really like the idea of taking these hobbies and pastimes analog and offline wherever possible.

One great example of going analog is Inktober, a month-long exercise in drawing every day based on prompts. I’ve done this with my kids for a couple of years and we really got into this year (one of my kids was very into drawing and then coloring, which added a whole new delightful aspect to the activity). In fact, I went so far as to post my drawings to friends on Facebook (analog back to digital).

I was inspired to share in part because a college friend was sharing their Inktober drawings (and they draw hands far better than I). This included all the days, including the drawings which were really bad. But that was, I hope, encouragement to others to try their own hand at Inktober or something similar. Per Reese’s article above, doing something where you’re not going to excel or have an expectation to monetize it is ideal.

As I mentioned in my “Get Creative… Off the Clock” post, Molly Conway has a great article about how turning hobbies into hustles is a trap. Heed the warnings. Don’t do it. At the beginning of 2018, I was also in this reflective frame of mind, especially with the notion of “Ikigai.” That might be worth a second look as well. There’s a lot there about “dayjobs” and purpose and percentages (plus one sweet, sweet Venn diagram — and who doesn’t like Venn diagrams?).

“Every winner begins as a loser”

This past weekend, I was talking about the National Theater Institute of which I am quite a happy alumnus. They practice a maxim of “Risk. Fail. Risk again” which is kind of like the positive spin of the War Boys’ outlook in Mad Max: Fury Road. Same flamethrower guitars (metaphorically), less desolation.

I’m pretty sure this was a movement class we took. My memory is hazy.

But that’s all artsy stuff, what about science? This is where David Noonan writing in Scientific American comes in. Apparently, some folks did some “big data” crunching and have a theory that an integral part of success is failure.

And if that isn’t something to motivate you on a Monday, um, I guess focus on being shiny and chrome?

Spock, Chabon, and This Mortal Coil

From “Q&A”

If you’ve checked out any of the anthology series “Short Treks,” you’ll know the arguable standout thus far is the first season’s “Calypso” co-written by Michael Chabon.

Chabon, probably better known to many as an award-winning novelist, also wrote this season’s “Q&A” and is the showrunner for the forthcoming Star Trek: Picard.

When I saw a behind-the-scenes photo of Chabon and the Vasquez Rocks (a popular Hollywood “exotic” filming location and one very storied for Star Trek), you could just tell his connection to Trek.

It was very evident for “Q&A” and now from this piece in the New Yorker, one now knows just how personal Star Trek is for him. And if this pain, love, and loss can be found in Picard (and I suspect it will), then I am loking forward to it more than ever.

I could have put this in my final Crisis of Infinite Star Treks post, but this article deserves to be read now.

Video

Flight of the (Original) Concordes

For whatever reason, Big Data decided to show me a Vox video piece from 2016 about the Concorde the other day. It’s part of an article by Phil Edwards.

For you young whippersnappers, the Concorde was a quite cool-looking supersonic passenger plane that heralded the future of air travel… until that future disappeared.

Later in 2016 (and also in Vox), Brad Plumer noted that several startups and NASA were revisiting supersonic transport. He noted one young company, Boom, in particular.

Fast forward (though not supersonically so) to 2019 and Boom has been busy. They’ve been rolling out the PR and getting reactions from the press. James Wynbrandt in a piece for AIN Online this past June adds some numbers to get a better idea of Boom’s business model and timeline.

More recently, Rohit Jaggi over at the Robb Report gives a summary of where Boom and other companies (including Lockheed Martin) are in working to get supersonic transport revived again.

Movie-watching Habits in an On-demand World

On the blogs I always make time for is Mark Evanier’s “News from ME.” Today, he wrote something that felt in line with Wednesday’s post about Scorsese and the film industry and, well, it fits me more than it doesn’t.

People are always writing to ask me my opinion of the latest blockbuster movie release. I’ll save you the trouble: I probably haven’t seen it and might not for some time. Sometimes, that’s because nothing I know about the film attracts me to it. Sometimes, I’m just busy and going to see a movie is one of the few things I can postpone for a long time and then experience.

Mark Evanier

A big reason for this is an aspect of modern movie-watching he expands on. If I want to watch a movie, there is rarely a need to see it right now except for the worry of spoilers. For example, we planned to see Avengers: Endgame shortly after it opened. However, Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express? It was a couple years before we checked that out.

With so many events and activities having little-to-no flexibility, this relatively newfound flexibility in film-watching has been welcome… even though I adore seeing a film in a theater (it is, after all, how I grew up and how I came to love movies so much). It also cuts down on how many new films get folded into my Favorite Film rankings.

And, perhaps most disturbingly, the movies I want to see aren’t always available because the content owners are getting more into curating their vaults of content. “On demand” is being more defined by companies rather than consumers. (I’m sure in some board room, an executive has railed against the existence of DVDs and the ability of people to own them).

In the meantime however, I am seeing a lot of films (and a whole lot more TV) on streaming services. And I’ve got a big backlog. I mean, I haven’t even finished Breaking Bad yet! So when I say “I haven’t seen [film],” know that there’s a queue.

Scorsese Follows up Regarding Marvel

Last month, I wrote about how accomplished filmmaker Martin Scorsese termed the many, many Marvel films as “not cinema.” His colleague Francis Ford Coppola joined in, going further in calling the films “despicable.”

Superhero fandom has not been kind. (Thankfully, some superhero actors keep on being superheroic, so there’s that).

Martin Scorsese

On Monday, Martin Scorsese wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the interview that kicked this all off — and where he was coming from in his comments.

I appreciate him taking the time to explain his viewpoint. He’s eloquent, passionate, and has an absolute love of film. If you’ve seen him in interviews and especially from some of his segments on Turner Classic Movies, this man loves cinema — all types of cinema — and I don’t think it’s at all controversial to opine that he’s contributed greatly to cinema through his films.

But while I agree with many of his observations, I don’t agree with the breadth of his conclusions.

Films are made more by committee these days. They are tested and –more likely than not– drained of anything that might be “controversial” as the studios continue to be risk averse in a way that really doesn’t avoid risk (see the box office disappointment of the latest Terminator film). Filmmakers who want to find a voice, tell a singular story, or otherwise be unexpected do find an uphill battle in the face of the studios near monolithic insistence on their vision. And I don’t doubt that the majority of filmmakers would love to make films for the sizable silver screen versus streaming.

But I feel Scorsese is conflating this studio stubbornness and corporate zeal to eliminate “art as risk” with its current method of promoting this blandness: superhero movies.

And there’s a lot of nuance in here, because he clearly understands and loves all sorts of movies. He identifies Hitchcock films as the thrill rides of his day, but I think he discounts the character, craft, and sheer enjoyment one finds in superhero movies. He’s entirely fine to say, as he does, that superhero movies are not to his taste — I just don’t think it’s fair to say superhero movies are in poor taste.

To give an example using the rough equivalent of the “superhero” film of his time growing up: imagine if Studios not only favored Westerns, but they insisted on franchises of Westerns and any new idea was met with, “But can it be a Western?” I can’t imagine Scorsese would enjoy this state of affairs any more than the state of affairs with superhero films — and he’d probably say some of the same things.

And you know what? He’d be right that the studios are too dismissive of anything done for art’s sake. He’d be right that many a Western is weighed down with hoary tropes and is more of a thrill ride that a film that engages you on all levels, but he would not be right that westerns are second-class films as a genre or type by virtue of being Westerns. Amid the slickly produced, forgettable ones, there’s early classics like “Stagecoach” and more meditative affairs like “High Noon,” character-driven action like “Winchester ’73,” and operatic takes like “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

Likewise, he’s missing all the character and nuance that you find in films like “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Black Panther.” Action sequences don’t take away from the tale of a man who dedicated his life to serve finding the institution he served has been betrayed from within. CGI armored rhinos don’t negate the nuance of a son coming to terms with things his father never told him as he tries to find a way to lead his people. I get that superhero films are thrill rides –the comics they’re based on have fight scenes and action sequences more often than not– but just like the Hitchcock films and Westerns of old, they’re not uniformly disposable trifles.

I suspect it’s hard not to conflate studio attitudes with superhero films because Scorsese is such a phenomenal, singular filmmaker. The studios are playing their superhero-franchise-over-everything-else card and that’s an impediment to precisely what Scorsese longs to do, (and what he’s done very well doing). He wants to make art. He understands that it’s show business, but he’s knows there’s art in the show and he’s presented with a bunch of drudges who feel showing art is bad.

And I bet if he was able to make all the films he pleased, he’d still be sad on behalf of the next generation of filmmakers.

For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.

~Martin Scorsese

Like I said above, this guy loves art. Think of his appearance as Van Gogh in Dreams: he’s a painter who wants you to paint. He implores you to paint for the sheer joy of painting. I think he’s just forgetting there’s other paintings that are artful, even when they’re paintings the studios are trying to mass produce.

“ars gratia artis” indeed.

I’m so looking forward to The Irishman, but I’m also looking forward to several superhero films. There will be art in both I’m sure (and I still find myself coming back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s piece in response to Scorsese).

Everyone take it down a notch and enjoy some movies already.

Ranked Choice Voting comes to a Vote

Back in 2016, the state of Maine became the first state to use ranked choice voting in all their elections, including the Federal ones. There was something of a silly kerfuffle, as the paradigm shift hit established political power right in the comfort zone.

But wait, what is ranked choice voting anyway? Well, here’s a fun video by CGP Grey to illustrate it with animals.

As you might have gleaned above, I’m in favor of the expanded use of ranked choice voting aka “the alternative vote.” I believe it will lead to more voter engagement which, again, I’m quite biased here, I think is crucial to a well-functioning democracy (or republic or democratic republic, etc.).

Tomorrow, New York will vote on whether to vote ranked choice style in the future. Although ranked choice voting has made in-roads here and there, the sheer number of voters affected by this should it happen may well put momentum behind the movement.

Ghost Cities

There’s something I’ll always find fascinating about abandoned and empty cities — and no, it’s not just horror-related, despite the season.

So when I learned about California City and the plans for a great metropolis that never was, I had to check out the pictures… and maybe one day, visit it in person.

Finding Other Sci-Fi and Fantasy Gems

Perhaps it’s because NaNoWriMo is nigh, but I found this piece in Wired about exploring and expanding the notions of “must read” works interesting. (I’m currently trying to fold in a bit more reading each day).

Superheroics Outside the MCU

What with Marvel movies on the mind of late, just in case you didn’t see this make the rounds this past week, Chris Evans, aka the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America, does some amazing stuff off-camera.

What kind of stuff? How about giving back to his childhood theater?

And then there’s the whole personal anecdote about dealing with anxiety and depression.

Good casting, Marvel. Good casting.