life is too short not to go all the way

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Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post about cheesecake, love and death. When I wrote it, my beloved uncle, Paul, had recently lost his wife (a cheesecake lover); they had only been together/married a short time when his wife died, although they had reunited after initially falling in love as teenagers who were separated and not in contact for most of their entire adult lives. I think maybe they managed to be together for all of five years. The loss was huge, but they fit a lot of living into those few years they had. And Paul was there caring for her until the very end and had gained adult stepdaughters, grandkids and family through this relationship.

Never have I met a more generous and giving man than Paul with his inimitable and irrepressible sense of humor, his boundless capacity for love and acceptance (the man collected everyone who came into his life, from “stray” people, to new friends, to ex-wives and ex-wives’ future families to new loves and their families and friends). No one who met Paul was untouched by his humor or sense of giving. This is certainly truest of his son, for whom Paul has fought fiercely since the beginning, and his grandson, whom I hope will remember how much Paul loved him, did for him and taught him.

For me, Paul has been influential since my very earliest days. My dear Teddy, the teddy bear who has accompanied me through life since I was just six months old, was given to me by Paul.

In my shy, early childhood, Paul taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons: Be yourself and don’t worry about what other people think. Don’t let other people dictate how you feel (i.e., I sometimes felt embarrassed when he drew attention to himself, which he very often did – he was an outgoing, gregarious, magnetic and funny guy). But I learned very early on: there is nothing to be embarrassed about and nothing so serious that it can’t be laughed about. Just be. And laugh.

He has always been there – my first Mariners game, all the Thanksgivings at my mom’s house (Paul being her brother), Christmases at his when he invited anyone and everyone he knew who did not have another place to go, whenever you needed help moving or had a Sunday dinner. A period when my brother had to live with Paul, when Paul took him in; a period when Paul had to move in with my family while waiting for his house purchase to close. Always compassionate when others might not be, which often led to convoluted relationships, the simplicity of his good and giving nature erased the convolutions and made every connection seem natural and inclusive (you know – remaining friends with exes and their entire families and including them in the extended family he continued to build throughout life).

But eventually, even the most ubiquitous people are no longer with us. Sadly, Paul died on November 16. After his aforementioned wife passed, he met a wonderful woman with whom he spent the remainder of his life. They too did not have the chance to spend a long time together, but Paul’s entire life is a testament to the fact that it is not about the amount of time as much as how you spend it, how much you pack into it. His girlfriend inspired him to live his travel dreams and adventures and to explore the world, even when he faced his own battles with cancer. He never let it stop him for a moment. His humor and lighthearted, social nature belied the tough interior and resilience he displayed time and again in life, particularly in the last few years.

In so many ways I can never begin to recount, Paul was an extraordinary man and human. He led with his heart and lived with compassion, patience and perseverance. Many memories and words to describe them – and him – cycle through my mind, but nothing can really capture the essence of who he was. I know when people die, we tend to exaggerate, saying they were “larger than life”, but not being prone to hyperbole myself, I think Paul is one of the only people I’ve ever known to whom this expression could truly apply: larger than life.

I struggled earlier in the week to tell him what he meant to me – and what I suspected he meant to everyone – but could never quite find the perfect words. But I think he must have known because, in living a loving, open, generous, if imperfect, life, he lived the perfect life. Perhaps it was too short, as those of us left behind will all agree, but it was certainly beautiful, painful and well-lived all the way.

Halloween 2016 – Good Goo of Random Gum – Life’s soundtrack

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Halloween 2016 – The Good Goo of Random Gum

It’s that time again – Halloween mix time. As I wrote in the letter that accompanied the physical Halloween mailer, so many things have shifted in life of late and decisions all feel like they hinge on so many contingencies that I feel this mix reflects the uncertainty (“feel the sense of the ground constantly shifting if you listen to this CD. All of these mixes are quite random, but somehow I manage to string them together in a way that has some meaning or flow for me – this one feels as disjointed as everything in life feels. Not necessarily even in a bad way – just that things are uneasy”.)

As usual there are things here that I really love, some things that just remind me, nostalgically, of something else (even if the song sucks) and everything in between. The whole playlist can be found on Spotify here (my Spotify ID is comraderadmila; the list of my entire compendium of soundtracks can be found here. This has been going on since 2008 after all…).

1. U2 – “Salomé”
From those last days before U2 lost the plot.

2. Vorderhaus – “My Situation”
3. Guided by Voices – “Motor Away” …When you motor away beyond the once-red lips/When you free yourself from the chance of a lifetime…
Speed on, Naomi, Bethany; why don’t you just drive away, JKL?

4. Brasstronaut – “Bounce”
“An iceberg slowly melting in the gulf-stream/sends a letter to its lover/I’ll soon return a hurricane/and blow away your doubtful reservations”

5. Magazine – “A Song from Under the Floorboards”
“I am angry I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin/My irritability keeps me alive and kicking/I know the meaning of life, it doesn’t help me a bit”

6. Kristin Hersh – “Fly”
“I’ve fallen so far for the people you are/I just need your star for a day”
7. Yo La Tengo – “You Can Have It All” …Take it baby, you can have it all…
For R.

8. Tei Shi – “Bassically” …Baby, I’ll behave/If you let me stay/Please don’t think/That I’m begging you for love…
For R.

9. Agnes Obel – “Riverside” …I walk to the borders on my own/To fall in the water just like a stone/Chilled to the marrow in them bones/Why do I go here all alone…
That brief Danish interlude in life. “Oh my God I see how everything is torn in the river deep”

10. The Julie Ruin – “I Decide”

11. Gruff Rhys – “American Interior” …Your dreams will carry me/To a new world…

12. The Stone Roses – “Sugar Spun Sister”
The fulfillment of massive adolescent dreams; seeing the Roses live in Manchester so many years after falling in love with them. Powerful floods of memory and emotion, particularly around my best then-friend, wondering where she is, how she is, what she is doing, and wishing I could have shared this with her, even if I know it would not have lived up to the nostalgic scenes my mind created. I’ve been blasting this ever since.

13. The Shamen – “Ebeneezer Goode”
A memory of a different kind. When I used to hang out with my brother and his friend Matt, Matt used to try to play The Shamen, which annoyed me (I hated The Shamen). It wasn’t until recently that I realized they were Scottish. Listened for a bit during the summer (reviving the old memories in general).

14. Public Enemy – “Between Hard in a Rock Place”
Another bit of the Stone Roses’ experience: Public Enemy as openers.
15. The Tallest Man on Earth – “Time of the Blue”
With love for, work-related commiseration with and thanks to Andreas

16. Waldeck – “Memories”

17. Mirah – “Jerusalem”
And on to Israel

18. Rupa & the April Fishes – “Maintenant”

19. Soko, Cornershop – “Something Makes You Feel Like” …something makes you feel like/life was better once upon a time…

20. The Horrors – “So Now You Know”
Now you know… better. S. ☺

21. The Coral – “Dreaming of You”
Another Stone Roses opener; crowd went wild for this song – I didn’t know it before, but apparently it was even used in an episode of Scrubs… go figure

22. Jim Diamond – “Should Have Known Better”
Even the plumber’s in on it. For S, who knows better: 3 songs here serve as reminder of knowing better

23. The Sugarcubes – “Cold Sweat”
First intro to The Sugarcubes – seeing this video on 120 Minutes and immediately wanting to move to Iceland, although that was not my first inclination toward moving there (nor was it, obviously, the last)

24. Stone Roses – “Shoot You Down” …I never wanted the love that you showed me/it started to choke me…
Loud Stone Roses everywhere, at all hours, taking me right back to the experience of being surrounded by people who could faithfully sing along to every song, to the strange Manchester experience with my brother, the weird Indian/Thai restaurant, meeting up with Hayley and Gareth and turning the grand old age of 41

25. Angel Olsen – “Intern” …doesn’t matter who you are or what you do/something in the world will make a fool of you…

26. Lanakila’s Polynesia – “Tupa`ipa`I Tau Ma Fatu”
The Tahitian portion of my childhood Polynesian dance lessons

27. The Magnetic Fields – “A Chicken with its Head Cut Off”
For R.

28. The La’s – “Timeless Melody”
Another of those adolescent connections – mix tapes from Peter in Durham, England, feeling insulated and isolated from everyone in American suburbia

29. The Radio Dept. – “Heaven’s on Fire”

30. Julia Holter – “Have You in My Wilderness” …You would fit beautifully in my wilderness/Oh, in your waters I’ve dropped anchor…
For and thanks to a disappearing Stavros and the small blue world we inhabit

31. Sufjan Stevens – “Should Have Known Better”

32. Billy Bragg, Wilco – “California Stars” …I like to dream all my troubles away…

33. Margo Guryan – “Love Songs” …I knew/All the love songs/Once upon a time he sang them/To me…

34. Detox Twins – “Paradox” …my life is a paradox/fuck your box – fuck your box…
35. Night Beats – “Sunday Mourning”

36. Alison Krauss – “Oh Atlanta”
Oddly this, of all things, came to mind when watching the show Atlanta. Could anything be less related?

37. Elvis Costello – “Beyond Belief” …Charged with insults and flattery/Her body moves with malice/Do you have to be so cruel to be callous…

38. Annette Peacock – “Love Me Tender”
Thanks to Mark B for the introduction; sitting in Nürnberg airport, waiting, waiting…

39. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”

40. Al Green – “For the Good Times”
“Don’t look so sad, I know it’s over/But life goes on and this old world will keep on turning/Let’s be glad we had some time to spend together/There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning”

41. Angel Olsen – “Not Gonna Kill You” …A love that never seems to curse or to confine/Will be forever never lost or too defined/To lose the feeling of an endless searching through/How to have made what is never about me or you/That is the kind of love I’d always dreamed to be/However painful, let it break down all of me/’Til I am nothing else but the feeling…
Riding trains around western Sweden on a quest for a new car, coming up empty-handed, feeling the melancholy chill of autumn and being torn between decisions I can’t make – too many unresolved contingencies. “Oh, let the light shine in…”

Weather: Wait five minutes

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Not since living in Iceland have I experienced the wild weather I experienced today. I drove to Gothenburg through the kind of blinding rain that obscures the entire road. The risk of hydroplaning high. Impatient cars fly by, spraying literal sheets of water onto the windshield. Slowing the entire pace of travel. Insane wind. And the sky igniting every few minutes with a show of lightning. By daylight, after hanging around in a parking lot listening to The Stone Roses and chatting with my brother via Facebook, the sun appeared. Later, as I joined a friend for lunch, I parked my car and enjoyed the mild sun, but literally as soon as I turned a corner, really wicked wind whipped up out of nowhere accompanied by torrential rain. I was just steps from the tram stop but was soaked before I reached the little waiting shelter. But less than a kilometer away when I got off the tram, there was bright sun again! What?

Seems that there is sun now but undoubtedly only for the moment.

 

Lunchtable TV Talk: Fleabag

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That quiet lull between the summer TV season and the standard, full-throttle autumn season gave me an opportunity to watch some stuff I might not have, such as the ITV production Victoria (don’t bother – it’s kind of crap except for Rufus Sewell, who is always good even when he is given crap material to work with; still, the series was renewed for a second season) and the dark comedy self-humiliation fest that is Fleabag. Let’s not get into the fact that I also dipped my toe (oh, who am I kidding? I jumped in the deep end) into the six seasons of Sex & the City, which I had so carefully avoided during its first incarnation. Despite there being no shortage of original summer programming that began and ended in almost staggered shifts, I still found myself, at times, with an empty queue (have watched most of what interests me so far on HBO Nordic and Amazon; can only access Swedish Netflix now so there are a lot of lovely films I cannot see in my old American queue. Kind of frustrating because I was not even trying to cheat the system: I pay for both an American and a Swedish subscription).

Maybe it’s this “empty queue” idea that also drives the nameless anti-heroine of Fleabag. She’s very funny, very awkward and a total mess – and she knows it. She breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the viewer quite often, and it works. I keep seeing lazy comparisons to Bridget Jones and Girls’s Hannah Horvath – but as I write, these are just that – lazy. Our nameless mess of a woman is so much more than both and completely confident in her lack of self-confidence. (Must be – even The Economist got in on the action of writing about Fleabag.)

It’s funny, it’s ironic, it’s sarcastic, it’s pretty realistic, and in that way, it’s also heartbreaking. It somehow manages to be both the wound and the salt you pour into it yourself because you think you deserve to suffer, or like Canadian poet PK Page posits, because you believe that “suffering confers identity”. For the show’s lead, her “empty queue” is not a tv-watching list: it’s the emptiness of her life without her best friend, who has accidentally committed suicide; it’s the more distant but still fresh loss of her mother to cancer and the subsequent, if metaphorical, loss of her father to an uptight and horrible stepmother; it’s the tense but close relationship she shares with her sister. It’s mindlessly filling the emptiness with a queue of men and a, shall we say active, graphic and even rugged sex life? Sex queue as coping mechanism, and only through the six episodes do we see exactly how winding, dark and byzantine are the problems she is trying to fuck into oblivion or at least avoid.

Flea photo (c) 2014 Matt Brown.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Sex & the City

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It will sound strange that I am ridiculously embarrassed to admit that I have been binge-watching Sex & the City this week. I readily admit my shamefully frequent hate-watching of shit like Zoo or the relentless and neverending decades-worth of cop and legal procedurals without the kind of shame and self-disappointment I feel at admitting that I’ve succumbed to watching this. I’m watching, and I cannot even call it total drivel – it’s not that bad. But it was so overhyped when it was new that it should/could not have been seriously watched during its heyday. Sure, watching it the way I’ve been watching puts too fine a point on the annoying parts – and they are many. But there are moments, when I set aside the fact that this is a show built around the pathetic idea that successful, independent, sexual, attractive women pretty much let their lives revolve around meeting someone, that elicit some kind of provocation or pique an emotional response. I think SaTC spoke to so many people at the height of its popularity because there are a lot of women in the same situation. Most of us can relate to some part of SaTC, whether it’s the elusive hunt for “the one”, thinking we’ve found “the one” only to be jerked around, or even the sad but seemingly ridiculous storylines like falling in love with the micropenis man, the out-of-control alcoholic, and god knows whatever else. Or a few pearls of Samantha Jones wisdom, i.e. in the new millennium (which was just dawning as this aired), sexual orientation will end up being more fluid and about experience and individuals over gender. We’ll see – but we’ve certainly moved in a more fluid direction in the 16 years since it aired.

As I wrote to a friend: “I am horrified at myself because I ran out of crap tv to have on in the background while I work so I have done something I swore I would never, ever do: I am watching Sex & the City. It is funny though what impressions you get of things while they are happening but you are not really watching. I had very misguided ideas on what happened in the Carrie/Big relationship, for example, based on water-cooler office talk and shit. I had during its original run seen an episode here or there … like one ep from season 1 and one ep from season 4 so it was not like I had any great continuity of plot – even though it is not hard to piece together or guess.” And being who I am (tv addict) I knew a LOT about it without ever watching it, but then actually watching it there are a lot of things I did not know.

The most fun part of the show actually has been realizing how old it is. It started almost 20 goddamn years ago. It featured loads and loads of actors who were nobodies who went on to do other things – people I barely recognized because the first season was from 19-fucking 98! What? The first two seasons included Justin Theroux in two different roles, Timothy Olyphant looking a little creepy (has he maybe had his teeth done since?), fucking Donald Trump, and even Gabriel Macht long, long before his success in Suits. There was even a 30-second scene of a silent Mireille Enos in the episode Valerie Harper was in.

Maybe when the show debuted it felt fresh – it did, after all, help to usher in an era of prestige TV that has led to this flood of vast and quality TV choices. But looking at it today is it provocative, as it clearly was meant to be? No, not so much. In fact, at certain points it feels hateful, full of all kinds of discriminatory BS, privilege and stereotypes. Can I overlook that?

Yeah, because, oh well now that I am watching it it is nowhere near as obnoxious and overblown as it was to me when it was new and everyone was obsessed with watching it. Now that we are awash in a sea of varying quality shows that are still better than network tv, it no longer feels like there is much novelty around something like SaTC.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Better Things

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I stumbled on Better Things rather by accident. I had not read anything in the lead up to its being shown, and then was happily surprised to see that Pamela Adlon stars and is a co-creator with Louis C.K. It’s only two episodes in, so, like most things I feel compelled to talk about prematurely, it’s early days. I don’t know where it will go. But I like the confident-but-vulnerable feel the show projects even from its first moments.

Adlon is Sam, a working actress and single mother of three daughters. It’s clear she struggles (as you would trying to balance all that), but it’s also clear – in almost effortless but not particularly linear – storytelling that she has a complete identity: her professional identity, her parental identity, her daughter identity, her sexual identity. And some of the best moments so far are when some of these collide. In episode two, driving in her car with her troublesome (and unlikeable) teenage daughter, she gets so angry that she pulls the car over hastily and delivers the most frustrated, honest “lecture” I’ve seen on tv. Her irritation is clear (at having to escalate things just to get her daughter’s attention, being wounded by the unfairness of her daughter’s comments while at the same time being furious about the fact that she knows the daughter is smarter than that and is just being manipulative). And she calls her daughter out on it in a real way.

But every mother has also been a daughter, and we see the strange relationship her character has with her own mother. Somehow it reminded me of a scene in the long-lost HBO show, Enlightened, starring Laura Dern. I found it to be frustrating and did not really like Dern’s character, but in her own mother-daughter relationship, Dern’s character comes to the realization that “The mother is just a child, too”. In viewing Better Things, we have a weekly window into that sentiment (along with many others). No parent, or daughter, or whatever else we define ourselves as, is going to be perfect – and as Adlon explains to an audience at the end of episode 2, we’re all just making it up as we go along.

And that – an easy answer that is not really an easy answer at all – is why I think I am going to like this show.

Living on soup: Black bean soup

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So a few weeks ago I decided to make spicy black bean soup, and I went way overboard on the spice because I made something that was inedible. I made it edible, eventually, watering it down with water, broth and coconut milk, but it was still so incredibly spicy that I was eating less of it at a time than I normally would as a serving, meaning that it lasted far longer than it should have.

Now, wanting a more palate-friendly version of the soup, I tried again, shying away from the several teaspoons of chili powder the original recipe called for, and I am happy to say this was perfect and has kept me in delicious soup for days.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 diced red onion (any kind of onion you like will do, though)
1 or 2 diced carrots, depending on how much you like carrot
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups vegetable stock
2-3 containers of black beans (drained)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 container (about 15 ounces/425g or so) stewed tomatoes

Heat oil, cook onion and carrot on medium heat for five to ten minutes, add garlic, cook for another minute. Keep stirring. Add spices (except black pepper). Stir and cook for about a minute. Add vegetable stock and 2 containers of black beans and the pepper. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, blend the tomatoes and other container of beans together in a blender and add to the pot. You could experiment here and add more beans to the blend (for a thicker soup). Stir while cooking for about another ten minutes.

You can also experiment with what you throw into the soup. If you like red or green bell peppers, chop some up and throw them in at the beginning with the onions and carrots. If you like spice, you could always chop up and throw in some jalapeno. Maybe you like corn – “liberate” some corn from the cob or throw in a drained can of corn. It’s up to you. Similarly, at the end, if you like a creamier soup, you could also add some coconut milk or cream/milk as well.

It was great when newly made but the leftovers the next days were REALLY good because the flavors had a chance to develop and the base of the soup got a bit thicker.