February 12-14, 2015

The cold I had this week turned out to be a pale imitation of the killer cold I had over the holidays – it peaked on Thursday & by Saturday morning it was essentially gone. And it was apparently too weak to even get a foothold with M.

Thursday night we ate at The Boot for the first time. It’s no Gocciolina, nor is it trying to be. The meatballs were excellent, as was the marinara. It was all very comforting & thus perfect cold/cold-weather food. I feel like it could use a little more atmosphere, but maybe that takes time. 

The late-winter rollercoaster of making offers to students & waiting for them to accept/reject has officially begun. Got some quick accepts right out of the gate, which is awesome, since the projects we’re running this summer are particularly kewl, as are the mentors. Glad these students picked up on that & reacted favorably. Still, we’re a long way from fully staffed & there will be valleys ahead.

Friday night we met up with friends, parked our butts in a banquette at Juju, and ate a duck.


We’re all in our 40s and 3 of us had colds & we talked about body stuff all night like elderly people. 

Saturday, fortified by the duckfat, more or less free of sickness, M and I had dinner at Toast, saw Maria Bamford at the Carolina, and then walked through insane wind and blowing snow to the DPAC to see Erykah Badu. 

Bamford was the winner of that particular showdown. Every choice she makes seems calculated for maximum impact accompanied by maximum discomfort. She spent most of the set wrangling with the micstand, leaning at weird angles, fidgeting, and just generally using body language to convey extreme discomfort, while simultaneously talking in her trademark mixture of screwball baby voice and guttural barks. 

Which was all the perfect setup for the [many] times she would impersonate a “normal” person: standing still, face composed, voice perfectly modulated, saying the most inane things. Which always worked, always seemed so WEIRD and WRONG in just the right way.

Erykah Badu got caught in weather-related travel hell, was still in the air when her set was due to start, and finally came onstage around 90 minutes late, and only maybe 40 minutes after her plane landed at RDU. Didn’t seem to faze her at all. 

I bought those tickets having listened to her in the past, but without having a clear sense of which tunes are hers. I just knew that she’s a genius & that I wanted to see her do her thing. That impulse was amply rewarded, although we still left a little after midnight, to walk home through streets filled with flying bits of plastic sheeting from all the construction sites downtown.

February 12-14, 2015

February 8-11, 2015

Been thinking about terrorism, for sadly obvious reasons.

I suppose to begin with it’s necessary to arrive at a working definition of terrorism. I’m going to do this without resorting to a dictionary, because of course. So, terrorism:

  • violence
  • dislocated, spatially or temporally, from an active battlefield
  • performed to further some ideological purpose
  • via the inspiration of fear/anxiety in some larger group

Is that sufficient? Is that too constrained? Are there well-known acts commonly classified as “terrorist” that wouldn’t meet that definition? I think for the moment we can say that’s a reasonable definition.

So there’s this dialogue happening around the murders in Chapel Hill. It goes like this: One side says: If it were a Muslim killing three [white | American | Christian | etc] people, everyone would be screaming terrorism. And then the other side says: Dude was clearly crazy, yakked off about parking spaces, hated all his neighbors, threatened everybody.

The thing that I have missed so far, in this discussion, is much, if any admission by anyone that even if he was a lone angry maladjusted dude upset about parking, even if he had murdered Normal White Christian People, it is still terrorism.

But but but but, sputter the rationalists, what is the ideological purpose?

The preservation of white cis-het male supremacy. To wit: You don’t fuck with the white man. The white man built this country (he says, and maybe even believes), and the white man deserves your fucking respect. The white man has lived through a LOT of SHIT in his life so far, but goddamnit you can only push him so far. And if you push him too far, well, HE JUST MIGHT SNAP.

This ideology, of course, is so pervasive, so thoroughly integrated into the fabric of American society, that it’s invisible to [other white] people. So pervasive that it doesn’t require coordination, doesn’t require any kind of formal statement on the part of the Patriarchal Terrorist that what he’s doing is for the good of the patriarchy.

It is sufficient merely to periodically remind everyone that some unknown percentage of [mostly white] American Males are potentially armed and batshit crazy. 

This is the thread that runs through such a horribly large percentage of the multiple murders that have happened over the past couple of decades. It is not even necessary that the person be deemed sane or responsible, provided that at least one witness can be found who will say “I can’t imagine why he would do something like that.” HE MUST HAVE JUST SNAPPED.

All that is necessary is that the gun industry be allowed to continue to supply an infinite number of firearms to anyone who wants them. This is essential. There was probably a time when the Church, the Government, the General Social Order were united in their resolve to preserve patriarchy & white supremacy, and that unified locus of control made it less necessary for Every Single Man to be individually armed.

Nowadays, the patriarchy’s hold on those institutions is marginally less secure than it once was, thereby necessitating the diffusion of the threat of deadly force outward into the general population of men. 

Am I suggesting that every gun murder committed by a man is an act of terrorism on behalf of the patriarchy? Well, yeah, actually, now that I think about it, I am. It’s almost impossible to avoid that conclusion, in fact.

Footnote to this: The Chapel Hill killer’s favorite movie, per his ex-wife, is the Michael Douglas movie Falling Down, you know, the one about the ordinary middle-aged law-abiding white man who one day JUST SNAPS.

In other news, I have a cold. I didn’t watch the Grammys. I no longer have an opinion about anything that happened there, even if I maybe had one the other day. I’ve mostly spent the past 3-4 days working, reading comic books, and being horrified by the internet & the outside world.

February 8-11, 2015

How do you deal with anxiety?


I don’t have a here’s-how answer on this one because my strategies are situationally-specific and constantly changing, also I strongly believe that no one person can really tell another how to deal with stuff. Because one’s stuff is so very one’s own, you know? Also, “deal with” and “deal with effectively in a way that makes me feel better” are two different things. Like, sometimes I deal with anxiety by obsessing relentlessly over either a) the source of my anxiety or b) some other identified-patient source of anxiety that’s a convenient distraction from the actual source. Sometimes I do this for months at a time! This is a really ineffective way of coping and makes everything worse, but it is what I do sometimes.

More effective approaches include throwing myself into my work (“John, why are you so prolific?” ha, let me tell you a little about myself) – energy can’t be created or destroyed, only transferred, right, so if it’s an agitated anxiety instead of a depressed anxiety I can, if I’m diligent, move all that energy into: playing guitar or piano, writing lines that rhyme and express some basic personal emotional truth, and then trying to get a take of the work that seems good and true to me

Back on the less effective front, sometimes just stare into the screen wasting time on the internet, which almost never works for me, but I think many of us have an idea that it might, and who knows, maybe it does for some people, I don’t think it works for me though, unless I’m really focused on “why are you here? to get focused. so look at pictures of unicorns why don’t you” but the tendency to just hang around for hours is hard to break and I think I’m better served by going outside or by dimming the screen to black and listening to music, music has always been something I can turn to when I need help. Parenting is cool too though because I can get outside of myself; if I’m paying more attention to teaching my son something or keeping him safe from danger, then I’m not so in-my-head, and that’s another anxiety-transfer in the service of something good: helping a guy who I really love. Good parenting involves getting outside of yourself. Getting outside of myself generally reduces anxiety for me. 

self-affirming stuff too, right — like, this is one major advantage to sticking around for a long time, is when the dread hits me, I can say, ok, you know what, this is temporary, like a fever, I’ve been through this enough times to know that it’s just a wave, ride the wave and let it carry me to shore, I’ve done this a million times, whether I admit it or not I’ve gotten good at it over the years and will continue to improve, this is a pretty undeniable truth, if you keep doing something you get better at it so that’s comforting for me

stay connected to my core, believe in that core and keep its warmth as near to my daily walk as I can

“what worked for them might work for you” – Robert Frost, “Provide, Provide!” though that “might” is a real worm in the wood, right? and yet where would be be without the worms? wormless, wormless, alas, wormless

That reminding yourself that you’ve been here before, you’ve survived it, it’ll pass like it always does: so crucial, so hard to do in the moment.

How do you deal with anxiety?

February 5-7, 2015

By now I have eaten upstairs at Dashi a couple of times – everything I have had has been delicious, although it’s like Mateo in that you can drop a LOT of money fairly quickly. Small plates, indeed. Although I think that one could probably make a pretty entertaining meal just on the yakimono skewers – the brussels sprouts are delicious, and a couple of those plus a bunch of chicken livers would only be [still kind of absurdly expensive at] around $20. It’s not a nightly joint by any means. At least not for me.

The lines out front for ramen have persisted, and have persisted in being insane. I suppose there are some people for whom lining up is a fun experience all its own. I was talking to a Dashi staffer who said “when are they going to realize that it’s just noodle soup!?” and, well, yeah.

In any case: If you hit the upstairs by around 5:40 or so, you’ll be good to go. You’ll get to snicker at all the people lined up out in front of the ramen side, and beat them upstairs & get a seat. Once the host downstairs has made it through the line, taken names & handed out approximate seating times, the line-standers all head upstairs, so there won’t be any seats left upstairs by around 6:00.

Get the pork belly tonkatsu. You won’t be sorry (assuming you eat pork).

In other Durham restaurant news, there was some controversy about some remarks made in an interview by a famous local chef about her new venture, her first in Durham. Some of the quotes made it sound like she saw her venture (a hotel restaurant and rooftop bar) as filling one or more niches that are [apparently, according to her] presently entirely unfilled in Durham. 

Some folks, including me, took issue with that suggestion. There was discussion on The Internet. I was, as per usual, probably more hyperbolic than necessary.

It was kind of unfortunate, particularly since she’s hardly the clueless bloviating rich capitalist developer type. Divorced from the context of her life & her other work and what her actual intentions quite possibly actually are, though, it kind of rubbed people the wrong way. Especially those people who have spent years of their lives filling the niches that her quotes implied were presently unfilled.

I suppose it’s an object lesson in how not to give an interview, which is to say that an interview with the press is NEVER a friendly conversation. It’s a battle: with the interviewer, and with your own brain. You have to step far enough outside of yourself to be able to view the whole thing in a broader context. This is one reason why I generally don’t talk on the record with the press. I can’t be trusted, and if I can’t be trusted, I’m pretty sure my interviewers couldn’t be trusted either.

[And yeah, as weird as it may sound, people still occasionally want to interview me for stuff. No, I don’t really understand it either.]

Anyway. I heard from some people about some things that I said. It is weird to be getting yelled at by one group of people, while being quietly congratulated by another group of people. At least the two groups didn’t have any apparent overlap.

Thanks to some generous friends, we got to see John Waters at the Carolina on Friday night. He started out the show so wired up and fast-talking that it took a bit to even lock onto his wavelength enough to be able to understand what he was saying.

Once I did, it was similar to the last time I saw him: one part random standup-style riffing, one part gleeful discussion of obscure sexual fetishes and their terminology, one part narrative of his movie career, one part general autobiography. Plus some talk about hitchhiking, since that’s kind of his current project. It was intermittently hilarious and hugely life-affirming. Plus of course that lovely Baltimore accent that comes out on certain words & phrases.

Saturday we saw A Most Violent Year, the third entry into what is shaping up to be the most remarkable early-career arc of this century. Writer/director J.C. Chandor has made three features thus far: Margin Call, a fascinating, claustrophobic look at the destruction of an investment bank over the course of one night; All Is Lost, the stunning, nearly-wordless shipwreck movie starring Robert Redford; and this new one, about one early-80s month in the life & career of a rising star of the heating oil business in New York.

A Most Violent Year is part character study, part suspense/thriller, part gangster movie. It’s like a movie that’s taking place just outside of the periphery of the Godfather Part II. Abel Morales wants to succeed on the basis of his own talent, or wants to deceive himself into believing that he has. Oscar Isaac & Jessica Chastain are both amazing.

So of course it wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards. How many consistently amazing movies will this guy have to make before his peers acknowledge him?

February 5-7, 2015

February 2-4, 2015

Starting to feel cautiously optimistic about this summer – after a LONG time spent either playing the email/wait/email/wait game, or helping my new coworkers in Austin (whom I love, mind you, but training has been time-consuming), I finally have some students actually matched to projects and interviewing with mentors this week. I would’ve liked my first offers to go out in December (or, hell, November), but February it is.

I’m still wanting to be completely done by April 1st, or at least before the first day of Full Frame. It’s not a vacation if you’re running home between screenings to jump on interview calls or fill out offer paperwork.

I swung by Dashi at around 7pm on Tuesday, their first official night in business. I didn’t even go into the downstairs ramen shop, although it didn’t look like there were more than 4 or 5 people waiting to be seated. I thought there might be a chance of slipping upstairs and trying the izakaya menu – but no, every table, stool & other horizontal surface was occupied upstairs as well. It’s amazing & awesome to see Billy & Kelli (along with the Cookery folks) be so wildly successful on their second venture … but I hope I’ll get to dine there again someday.

So I walked to Virgile & found the place slightly less crowded than it has been lately. Had the knockout fried oysters and the salad with duck (the same thing I’ve had the previous couple of times I have gone there for dinner). I hate to even mention this because they’re already doing good business, but: it’s a great spot for a casual supper, y’all.

I haven’t talked politics/public policy here for a while. I have mixed feelings about that. I kind of feel like we’re in a lull before the next great awful thing happens. Assuming we don’t count a rampant measles epidemic as the next great awful thing. I don’t even know where to begin with this science denialism thing. The death of Truth has been the most unexpected and consistently surprising/disappointing phenomenon of my adulthood. Stupid postmodernism/poststructuralism. Post-everythingism. I have to bear my portion of the blame – I did time in grad school in the early 90s and I wrote papers on postmodernism. We all did. I swear we didn’t think it would turn out this way.

February 2-4, 2015

January 30 – February 1, 2015

Friday night we attended the pre-opening of Dashi Ramen, which, when it opens officially, will be the 2nd-closest restaurant to our house. McDonald’s being the first.

M has been on a sort of semi-committal not-overly-strict Paleo thing for a while, and while I do my own thing, I have tended to eschew carb-heavy meals. Although lately I can’t resist getting fries with my burger at Geer St. I’m going to blame the cold weather for that.

Anyway, point being that the last thing we need 3 blocks from home is a noodle place. So I’m actually really excited about the Izakaya portion of the place, where presumably a variety of meaty skewers await.

Billy & Kelli Cotter have been our friends since the early days of Toast, which was nearly as close to our then apartment in West Village as Dashi is to our current home. I’m pretty sure there were entire months when I ate at Toast at least four times a week.

Judging from what I saw the other night, Dashi is aiming at a slightly higher price-point, which might piss off some of the locals who’ve been dreaming of a giant $8 bowl of ramen, but which should hopefully also minimize the line-out-the-door factor that plagues so many other ramen joints around the country.

The space is gorgeous, the people are friendly (and we saw a lot of familiar faces, including the woman who was the longtime front-of-house manager at Panzanella), and the food was of course outstanding.

Saturday I took M’s dad to the Wal-Mart to shop for jeans. I think the last time I set foot in a Wal-Mart was on a trip to Kentucky to visit M’s mom, so I guess this was kind of appropriate. Wal-Mart sure is weird, though.

Saturday night we saw the Branford Marsalis Quartet at Baldwin Auditorium. Branford’s drummer had been misled into having the eggs & salmon at Elmo’s, and was laid up with some heavy-duty food poisoning at the start of the set, so Branford & his longtime pianist Joey Calderazzo tapped one of their former NCCU students, Tyler Leek, to sit in for the first half of the set. He did a solid job, particularly given that he’d only gotten the setlist two hours before the gig.

The whole evening was loose and goofy and felt more like a Tuesday-night club gig than a Saturday night university performing arts thing. Lots of clowning around and shout-outs to friends in the audience. And the music was outstanding. I’ve seen & heard plenty of avant-garde/modern jazz in my life, but I’m still partial to a quartet that swings (and a rhythm section that doesn’t take many solos).

Sunday was Sunday. There’s a new taco night menu at Dos Perros which has a couple more appetizers and a couple more large entrees in addition to the tacos. The barbacoa taco is gone, which is OK with me since it was always kind of overly damp. The biggest & most important change is hand-made tortillas! Huge step forward & one they should’ve taken the day they opened.

January 30 – February 1, 2015