*NEW MUSIC* Album Review: Daruma Ringo/達磨林檎 by Gesu no Kiwami Otome/ゲスの極み乙女

Disclaimer: Am I in over my head with this? Definitely. I’m neither steeped deep enough or versed well enough in Japanese language and culture to be really accurate or even respectful in this blog post. However, the music is amazing, so I will quietly use my Get Out of Jail Free pass. Hopefully I will introduce you to something new and exciting!

This is a fascinating, perplexing album, by a fascinating, perplexing band, especially to an American. Gesu no Kiwami Otome, which roughly translates as “The Most Extremely Vulgar Girl”, was formed in 2012 by the front-man of Japanese rock group Indigo La End, Enon Kawatani.

He transformed his band from a catchy, guitar focused indie act into a who-the-hell knows-what. Gesu no Kiwami Otome’s first album, Odorenainara Gesuninatte Shimaeyo, which very roughly translates as, “If you can’t dance then you must be a lowlife piece of shit”, is a frantic, out of control, piano-centric romp of an album. It storms through 29 minutes of music about dancing, interpreted as crazy piano riffs alternated with power guitar-rock, hush-hush rapping, male and female band members shouting back and forth, super catchy choruses, with the ugly, fierce, and relentless drama of life as a curtain to pull down at the conclusion of the frenzied dance.

Well, “The Most Extremely Vulgar Girl” is back with a full-length LP, Daruma Ringo, which translates as “Apple Dharma” (as in the Buddhist concept and historical figure Bodhidharma).

Besides the fact that I can’t even quite wrap my head around the title of the album, Kawatani is back with a vengeance. This time it’s not just about dancing, though, and it features some of the strongest songwriting, musicianship, and creativity that I have thus heard in an album by an artist from any country in 2017. It’s fast and frantic, beautiful and tender, expansive and progressive stampede of music, with all of the energy of Odorenainara Gesuninatte Shimaeyo, but with a lot more color to it, influences ranging from progressive rock to hip-hop, and has a lot more sonic invention to soak in along the way.

The album kicks off with “Happy Apple”, a frantic piano dance with one of the band’s typical stellar jazz piano solos, and one of the catchiest choruses of 2017 (piano chord progression is on point). The album moves through a series of moods, each compelling in its own right: the highway cruising, beat-focused groove of track #2 (Shadow Song); those cases where the groove kicks into overdrive and loses itself to progressive drumming (track #3, Mr. Bodhidharma) and insane background doo-wops (track #4, That Tokyo); chilled out, textured atmospheres (tracks #5 and 11, id2 and id3). My personal favorite section of the album is “Selfish Youth” (track #9) to the end. Selfish Youth is an incredible mixture of catchy-as-fuck guitar licks, and a complex structure that builds carefully to a finish, keeping track of its own momentum.

From there on out, you get a crazy math-rock tirade (track #10, “I want to be your kind of novelist”), an emotional, fast-paced ballad (track #12, “Dancer in the Dancer”), and it all ends on a nutso funk jam (“Story of a Lowlife”).

Each track is unique in its own right, and altogether creates an album that, while not quite cohesive, fits together through its forceful ambition and inventiveness. It’s weird, for sure, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like most of it.

I’m not going to attempt to analyze the lyrics and meanings of the songs, since my Japanese level is simply not there yet. But there is a lot of interesting material to soak up, especially in tracks 3, 4, 8, and 9. The image of the “Most Extremely Vulgar Girl” strikes me as an ironic interpretation of the stereotypical sexy Japanese schoolgirl, an interpretation that can be seen in J-pop artists such as Oomori Seiko. For Seiko and for Kawatani as well (I think), the cutesy desirability implodes and reveals how fucked up its own concept really is. From there, identity moves on to either self-destruction (through dance for Kawatani, as seen in Seiko’s opening track “TOKYO BLACK HOLE”), or to revealing that self-acceptance and a motivated overcoming of cartoon stereotypes might lead to something truly good (through dance for Kawatani, as seen in Seiko’s closing track “Shonen Manga and Shoujou Manga”).

Bottom line: Apple Dharma is a worthwhile listen for anyone who likes music, regardless of your knowledge of or experience with Japanese culture. The catchy choruses and fiery solos are simply too fun to ignore, and the creativity is inescapable. There are plenty of parts where Kawatani overreaches: where things get too weird, or certainly where ideas get overdone or in the way of the listening experience. But that’s to be expected for an album with this level of explosive force behind it, and it still manages to wrap up at a neat 53 minutes. I respect that.

CHECK IT OUT ON SPOTIFY! Search Gesu no Kiwami Otome!

My rating: 8.9/10

In Memory of the Paris Agreement

I was walking Lucy today in the neighborhood, and decided to sit down on a bench beneath some shady trees low to the ground like green turtles. Sunlight slipped through the gaps between leaves and made the pair of us look speckled. My neighbor was passing by and asked if she could join us. I greeted her and said that she could. Lucy went sniffing at my neighbor’s toes. I mentioned that today Trump had announced he plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, and wondered what she thought about it.

This is what she said:

The earth in itself is beautiful.

I was walking down a grassy path today. There was a breeze. I saw two things: a blue jay, and a rose.

Humans too, in themselves, are beautiful. I was walking downtown today and saw two things. I saw a little girl trying to touch the nose of a huge black poodle. And I saw an old man humming a Beatles song to himself—A Day in the Life. Today was the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper, you know. 

I think that humans are at their worst when they are apathetic. When they choose to not care. So I think the tragedy of today is that it shows how capable we are of apathy. We can be so apathetic that we will tie and untie knots to demonstrate that we simply don’t give a damn.

I asked her if she had strong political opinions. She smiled and said not particularly. Lucy was getting restless and chewing on her leash. I said goodbye to my neighbor, and Lucy and I started walking back home. I wondered if my neighbor was being dramatic. I decided that she wasn’t. I wondered if the next winter might be be colder than the last. After all, the El Niño is supposed to be over, so I heard, or had it ended last year?—I couldn’t remember. Either way they say that mild winters follow mild summers, and May has been so cold.

Three poems by Gan Tanigawa

Gan Tanigawa’s poetry is mysterious and haunting. I worked on a few translations of some of my favorite poems by him, doing my best to preserve the stylistic quirks (and meaning/effect over exact words) from Japanese to English. Enjoy!

谷川雁の三つの詩

Three poems by Gan Tanigawa

Translated by Eric Margolis

十四歳

はなびらのにがさを
だれがしってるの
ぴかぴかのとうだい
はだしでのぼったよ
かぜをたべた
からっぽになった
わたしいま十四
うみよりあおい
はなびらのにがさを
だれがしってるの
だれが

Fourteen

who knows the bitterness of flower petals

I ascended the glittering lighthouse barefoot

I ate the wind

I became hollow

and now I am fourteen

and bluer than the sea

who knows the bitterness of flower petals

who knows

 

 

 

薔薇のゆくえ

ばらは さだめ しり
かぜと でかけ た
まちも むらも ない
いしの あれの で
ばらは かたち とけ
うたに なった よ

うたは かおり すい
つばさ ひろげ た
ほしも みずも ない
いわの はざま で
うたは くだけ ちり
ゆきに なった よ

The Whereabouts of the Rose

the rose   knows   its fate

is to vanish   like the wind

at a desolate   wilderness   of stone

its body   becomes   undone

it becomes   a song

 

breathing   the scent   of the song

that spreads   the wings   of the stars

at a starless   desert   gorge

the song   smashes   to dust

it becomes   snow

 

 

傘もなく

傘もなく雨 午後の店 雨
つめたい 首すじ
百合を買うのは いまを売ること
この手の くぼみに しずくをためよう
靴にしむ雨
葉書の 一文字
ながれうかび消えて

傘もなく雨 鳩のむれ 雨
ひとの名 ぬれてゆく
霧を買うのは 影を売ること
めがねの くもりを そのまま あるこう
泥と襤褸 雨
この世は ただよう
うすみどりの波に

Without an Umbrella

Rain without an umbrella, a shop in the afternoon, rain

Chills the back of my neck,

I buy lilies and sell this moment.

The palm of my hand gathers water drops

And the rain fills my shoes.

On the postcard, a single word

Rising to the surface and vanishing

 

Rain without an umbrella, a flock of pigeons, rain

Goes on soaking my name,

I buy fog and sell my shadow.

My glasses are clouded and I walk as is:

Mud and rags and rain.

This world drifts

On pale green waves.

 

The 20 Best Albums of 2016

co-written by Gersham Johnson

In such a dichotomous and divided year, it ends up coming as no surprise that the prototypical albums of 2016 are represented by two distinct camps. On the one hand is the expansive opus, fearlessly drawing on diverse musical styles and assertive politics. The artist refuses to compromise, and indulges in lengthy interludes, bizarre collaborations, and experimental and at times questionable tracks. While it values the artist over the band, it embraces a community-oriented process, drawing on a wealth of producers, collaborators, and influences. While these records lack a unified theme, their power lies in their relentless grasping towards undefined greatness. Albums released by artists such as Rihanna, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, and The 1975 are all clear examples of this approach.

On the other hand is the insular record, relying on unwavering and unified musical and lyrical ideas to depict one central theme throughout the album’s run. Every track is anchored to the same aesthetic, be it a noise rock soundscape, or a strings-enhanced rock power trio, or a shehnai melodic hook. While these records can still be expansive in their reach, each musical and lyrical decision is tailored to the artist’s message, thus allowing continuous narratives of dissolved love, racial pride and soul-searching to coalesce into one record. Albums released by artists such as Car Seat Headrest, Mitski, Swet Shop Boys, Whitney and Solange capture this spirit. Notwithstanding, both of the aforementioned artistic approaches often reflect the artist’s desire to transcend the mundanity and pain of a current situation, as they search for meaning through their music.

Hip-hop and R&B continue to dominate the scene in terms of musical, political, and popular significance. But in 2016 there seemed to be a sense of pressure–perhaps due to the year’s politics, perhaps due to the need to follow up towering accomplishments such as To Pimp A Butterfly— to evolve artistically, correspondingly resulting in experimental projects. The rock and indie scene continues to thrive under the radar, creating stellar albums that maintain the traditional sense of what an album is in a way that the aforementioned styles are beginning to defy, but even here we see the crushing pressure to define oneself as individual, leading artists on both sides of the spectrum to eschew many of the formal features that make 21st century pop popular in the first place. Whether it’s in the form of an 11-minute epic with multiple refrains, or a New Orleans-infused country ballad that embraces its genre as much as it redefines it, 2016 has demonstrated yet again that the rules of music are meant to be twisted and reinterpreted as art and society evolve. Each of our twenty listed albums, along with quite a few more that didn’t make the cut, makes a compelling effort to move music–structurally, thematically, politically, melodically–forward.

All in all, the results are fantastic.

  1. “Light Upon the Lake,” Whitney

“Light Upon the Lake” doesn’t sound like much else in 2016, at first glance for the wrong reasons. The opening track “No Woman” sounds like a Neil Young cover down to the falsetto. On the other hand, the croon of vocalist Julian Ehrlich recalls the late 2000s band Girls, who crafted an atmosphere of pain, listlessness, and reckless nostalgia. And even if in theory it feels wrong, to the ear it feels so right. The methodical arrangements create beautiful, complete songs, and the album itself feels whole, mixing upbeat guitar jams with piano ballads, starting with slow sunrise, picking up to a joyful noon, and duskily fading out. Whitney earns the number one spot not by beating out everyone else at the race to create the biggest, most complex, most personal, and most meaningful record, but rather by making the album that is simply the most fun to listen to. “Golden Days” perfectly encapsulates the meaning of this record, anachronistic and yet instinctively relevant to a chaotic 2016: “It’s a shame we can’t get it together now / Cuz I’m aching for those golden days.”

  1. “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service,” A Tribe Called Quest

“We Got it From Here” feels like a canonical work of hip-hop, representing simultaneously the present and the past: it maintains the sprawling structure and stylistic diversity of 2016, while bringing back a focus on the bare bones of hip-hop and the reasons A Tribe Called Question were so revolutionary when they came on to the scene in 1991. Their rhythms and rhymes aren’t inventive like they were back then. But they’re still fresh, combining elements of funk, jazz, and cleverly applied sonic effects–all with a grooving, spacey, futuristic undertone. They embrace retro vibes as well as nuanced production, and are cleverly self-referential about their status as old folks in the contemporary music scene. Like many great hip-hop and R&B albums of this year, “We Got It” hones in on politics, Black selfhood, and the marginalization incipient and unique to this year, but cuts the bullshit and sidestepping. Due to its length and refusal to develop a single cohesive theme, “We Got It” is in many ways self-indulgent. But Quest’s work is self-indulgent for all the right reasons: after nearly 20 years off, they’ve got a lot to show us.

  1. “Teens of Denial,” Car Seat Headrest

Those ready to declare the death of rock music at the close of “Oldchella” were no doubt unfamiliar with Car Seat Headrest, a band that, through careful mining of lo-fi sensibilities and unorthodox guitar-based structures, have emerged with one of the greatest distillations of ‘80s and ‘90s indie rock seen in years. And all of this is due to lead singer Will Toledo, a prodigious auteur who is simply the best lyricist of his generation. (For all you college-age and slightly-post-college-age kids, that’s us.) Titles like “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)” conjure entire narratives even before the first listen, and a seemingly inexhaustible set of hypnotic melodies are paired with turns of phrase that make the dullness of young adult life cut like a razor. So whether he’s dabbling in self-therapy, existential philosophy, or merely receiving an acid-induced visit from Jesus Christ himself, Toledo speaks truths that resonate as clearly as the droning guitars that underpin this adolescent opus.

  1. “Malibu,” Anderson .Paak

Paak is one of the most important new artists of 2016, putting out not one but two albums, both excellent for their own reasons. While “Yes Lawd!” is a crafted declaration of triumph, “Malibu” is the honest, tender work that got him there. With a uniquely versatile voice, Paak hits the always-relevant themes of hard work, relationships, and big dreams right on, with a warmth that enfolds a listener. It has sweet and slow moments, bumping and grinding ones, proud and loud ones; its joy and pain is tangible. Malibu feels like more than one man’s album, with its rapping contributions from Talib Kweli and Schoolboy Q, production contributions from the likes of Madlib and 9th Wonder, creative and fun-spirited revival of old-school R&B, and a sense of shared experience in the spine of every song.

  1. “A Seat at the Table,” Solange

One of the most stylistically cohesive releases of the year, the marriage of Solange’s gorgeous soprano with the equally gorgeous upper-register piano passages that dominate the record underscores an essential record “for us, by us.” In a year rife with racism, every lyric feels like a sort of shield, encouragements and declarations of black empowerment that are as vulnerable as they are strong. But it’s in this place of beautifully uncertain strength where the record also achieves something universal. The six-song run from “Rise” to “Don’t Touch My Hair” (plus interludes) is the strongest uninterrupted musical sequence you’ll find this year, and each moment takes the fragility we often experience from both internal and external forms of oppression and fashions it into defiant mantras of resistance. But on top of all that there’s “Mad,” featuring one of Lil’ Wayne’s all-time best verses.

  1. “Anti,” Rihanna

Though this doesn’t have any narratives of adultery or empowerment to hold things together, the strongest pure pop release of the year does embrace the spirit of musical experimentation, liberating Rihanna the Artist for perhaps the first time in her career. Simply, the myriad bold production and style choices here make the record stick, even on the less-than-exciting tracks. Songs like “Love on the Brain” prove that Doo-wop changes aren’t dead. Songs like “James Joint” prove that 1-minute bass grooves can be just as hook-filled as 7-minute jams. And songs like “Work” prove that sometimes an annoyingly repetitive dancehall earworm is the best musical treat for the moment.

  1. “Puberty 2,” Mitski

Mitski feels like a genuine individual, a real person who invites us into her personal life and artistic universe, more so than perhaps anyone else in 2016. She achieves this by balancing personal reflection and memory with meaningful storytelling. The former is articulated by the chorus on the standout “Your Best American Girl” that soars like a roaring jet plane: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, But I do, I finally do”; the latter by the concise mantra of the last track that finishes the album’s arc: “Today I will wear my white button-down, I’m tired of wanting more.” The songs are haunting, beautiful, and thematically develop over the album’s course; the most impressive part of her songwriting is how she can paint evocative images with so few words. She relies on the emotional power of the music–a full and textured palette of guitars, somehow both gritty and shimmering, and ‘60s pop-psychedelic hooks–and its growth, development, and climax to give her words so much more meaning even as they repeat. You’re left yearning to hear them one more time.

  1. “Heavn,” Jamila Woods

It’s easy to just look at this as another strong R&B record, but it feels almost ekphrastic in the way it so cleanly combines the sometimes at odds disciplines of poetry and songwriting. Much of the poetry, like on Solange’s similarly spirited record, provides a platform for much-needed emotional solidarity in a difficult time for many people of color. But as with all great art, this single notion multiples itself as it’s refracted through several lenses. Freedom fighting, escapism, and even grieving are given equal weight, hammering home the point that blackness, though unashamedly defining in its own right, is also a part of the greater continuum of the human experience. And where the poetry becomes music is at an intersection rich with samples from The Cure, dense choral harmonies and gentle instrumentation. This is blk girl magic.

  1. “Life of Pablo,” Kanye West

Ye gives us another fractured, bizarre, wonderful, terrible, fascinating record in “Life of Pablo.” There’s something cohesive about its incohesiveness, the ugly use of auto-tune, the scream “Would everybody start fucking?!”, a spiritual spoken word track, and of course “I Love Kanye.” But Kanye can’t make a record without moments of ecstatic brilliance, like the prophetic, celestial shine of “Ultralight Beam” with its simply breathtaking Chance verse, the irreverent and creatively structured “Famous,” and one of Kanye’s personal best verses in “No More Parties in LA,” set to a flawless Madlib-crafted dark funk jam. Kanye continues to challenge our hip-hop sensibilities, creating another flawed, attention-seeking, unfulfilled but pretty awesome album.

  1. “Human Performance,” Parquet Courts

It stands as probably the best in 2016 rock guitarism, if only because Parquet Courts understand how to make their twitching licks and shimmering chords sound as deadpan as the humor of their lyrical insights. Dust mites and dead cops populate a record that’s as lovelorn as it is socially critical, featuring some of the most bittersweet love songs this side of Jonathan Richman. Beautifully chosen minor chords help ask the question of when love is truly deserved, and pained but affectless vocals help search for a true place to feel at home. But more often than not, the music serves to help uncover those simple moments that remind us how pretty a day in the life can be.

  1. “Lemonade,” Beyoncé

There’s only one song on this album that you need to know: “Formation”. It is without a doubt the best song of 2016. From that first bounce, “Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess,” to the drop, and the music video, and “If he fuck me good I’ll take his ass to red lobster,” and the sudden release, the Super Bowl Half-Time show, the background horns, every lyric, every sound, and every dance-move–it’s a modern “Song of Myself.” But it’s not just for anyone. “Formation” makes no compromises, to the point where SNL was inspired to make a skit about the song called “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” depicting white people screaming upon their realization that Beyoncé is, in fact, black. Beyoncé went “political,” but she remained the Queen (and even more awesome than she was before). And the rest of the album is pretty good, too.

  1. “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper

Chance’s evolution is perfectly articulated by the first track, All We Got. Whereas on Acid Rap he started off on the euphoric, drugged up piano gospel “Good Ass Intro”, he starts this album off about ten shades more mellow, tender, and sophisticated, but with all of the same brilliant wordplay and fearlessness to sing, rap, moan, and laugh. Coloring Book is an album of good vibes, loving hums, and honest self-introspection. It’s also the album of a changed man, who has embraced spirituality and family even as he struggled to connect with them on Acid Rap. Coloring Book can feel a bit plodding and one-sided as it goes on, but moments of colorful brilliance abound: from the clink and release of “when the blessings go up” to the triumphant singalong “Finish Line / Drown”, on Coloring Book Chance has really grown in a powerful way. He extols the gracious and flirts with the sublime, creating his fullest and most memorable album yet.

  1. “I Had a Dream that You Were Mine,” Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam have created a true chamber pop record. Their rich arrangements contain acoustic guitar, pounding drums, piano glimmer, and the swell and backing of a full orchestra; what makes “I Had a Dream” unique for a chamber pop record is its sense of groove and rhythm that emerges from time to time. The album sings sunrise progressions and birdflight melodies that meander through myriad worlds: misty dreams of love, post-industrial narrative landscapes, and New Orleans moonglow iced with lemon and sugar. The stunning conclusion “1959” is perfected by the guest vocals, as Angel Deradoorian has a voice beautiful enough to match the music and imagery. Hamilton’s voice is far from perfect, but his cry, at times rough and blistering, helps make this album stand out as an exceptional piece of chamber pop.

  1. “Robert Ellis,” Robert Ellis

No praise is too excessive for a man who can fashion an album’s worth of ideas within the span of a single song. “Perfect Strangers” starts off as an observational piece of songwriting on new romance before dovetailing into a personal tale of failed love, in just three and a half minutes. And in the same timespan, bouncy pianos suddenly become hopeful strings, only to change again to winsome piano. It’s more impressive still that Ellis can link these mini-sagas all together for the duration of a full album. Jazzy electric keys and Spanish-tinged guitar do not compete but complement each other on what is ultimately a really good-sounding breakup record. Truth be told, this is an album that refuses to fully resolve itself, but the questions it raises always seem to become a bit more clear the next listen around.

  1. “Blonde,” Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean – ‘Nikes’ from DoBeDo Productions on Vimeo.

After his long absence, Frank Ocean returned with more of a series of lapping, starlit waves than a tsunami. Ocean is one of the better lyricists in pop music, combining a hip-hop style full of double-entendres with catchy melodies and striking imagery. The lyrics are really what makes this album worth listening to, as the music–though it has its brilliant moments–often feels repetitive and narcotic, with its slow pulse and lack of beat. But Ocean truly sings his heart out on this album, creatively and sometimes cryptically discussing love, isolation, sexuality, adolescence, and the occasional musical or political reference that he feels like slipping in. Blond is a lonesome, beautiful listen.

  1. “Home of the Strange,” Young the Giant

At the heart of this record is an immigrant story of self-discovery that’s invaluable in this day and age. And while that theme isn’t carried out uniformly throughout the tracks, delicate guitars, heavy beats and lush synths unify this collection around a narrative of personal re-definition to produce a strongly cohesive moment for alternative rock. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia has one of the strongest voices in the genre, and each song is centered around his deeply nuanced vocals and melodies. In an era of pop music dominated by heavily disjunct “soundbite” melodies (see “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5), it’s nice to hear a band attempt to thoughtfully craft full and catchy tunes that tell stories of their own.

  1. “Cashmere,” Swet Shop Boys

In several ways a direct descendant of Public Enemy’s landmark “It Takes a Nation of Millions,” rappers Heems and Riz MC (both of whom simultaneously invoke Chuck D and Flavor Flav) team up with the hybrid soundscapes of minimalist hip-hop beats and South Asian instrumental hooks as they wrap their dense wordplay around a litany of political issues–this time pertaining primarily to the Muslim community. The instrumental samples are striking but effective in this context, allowing the songs to build around concise but persistent musical loops. This consistency allows the emcees to focus on their greatest asset: their shared sardonic sense of humor. “Look Zayn Malik’s got more than eighty virgins on him/There’s more than one direction to get to paradise.” In other words, the year’s best cultural, political, and religious insight.

  1. “Shishamo 3,” Shishamo

This Japanese girl-rock group’s third album demonstrates the true musical diversity of 2016. Shishamo rocks, rocks hard, with smashing drums, slashing guitars, and a restless bass, which is more to be said than any modern American band. They’ve also, in “Nakaniwa no Shoujoutachi,” quietly written one of the best melodies of the year, seconded by an equally catchy guitar riff. While maintaining their positive energy, Shishamo aims towards the climactic pop anthem at the album’s end, missing the mark only because of their commitment to instrumental fun over produced mastery. Non-Japanese speakers aren’t missing much, as the real joy in Shishamo is their restless energy, spirited arrangements, smart rhythmic sensibility, and the way you might accidentally find yourself dancing.

  1. “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It,” The 1975

Like One Direction, the 1975 have been referred to as a post-modern boy band several times over, but what makes them one of the standout acts of the past few years is the very same thing that aligns them with many of their contemporaries. Throughout their excessively long-titled second album, frontman Matt Healy embraces the kind of diversified, genre-less eclecticism that defined other 2016 albums as far-ranging as “Lemonade” and “Anti.” But the key to the 1975’s approach is the transparency with which they operate. They shamelessly exploit their varied influences, donning Bowie funk riffs and The Blue Nile’s heavy synthesizer atmospheres, making it sound original by sheer force of will. Here, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Rather, each part forms its own distinct statement on 20th and 21st century pop, making this the great chameleonic act of the year.

  1. “Everything You’ve Come to Expect,” Last Shadow Puppets

Half of the lyrics don’t make any sense, but a lyricist as talented as Alex Turner (and also, I suppose, Miles Kane) knows how to make the nonsense of his poetry as musical as the music itself. Aside from a string-section assist from Owen Pallett, a very busy and at times vitriolic bass-guitar-drums section constructs the backbones of songs that love ceiling-reaching melodies, Minor-IV chords, and late-afternoon atmospheres. “Miracle Aligner,” the epitome of those qualities, towers above the rest of the record as one of the prettiest songs of the year. But just about every song here works. It’s not the Arctic Monkeys, but perhaps that’s why it’s able to put its own distinct stamp on retro, guitar-oriented rock.

just missed the cut: “Hero”- Maren Morris, “Seoulite”- Lee Hi, “Blackstar”- David Bowie

The Thorn

A contemporary translation of “The Thorn”, by William Wordsworth (1798)

There is a thorn, and it looks old,

wrinkled, sagging, fat,

hard and cold as buried bone.

It’s old and gray and shorter than a child.

Lichens cover its knotted limbs,

its gnarled brow, every joint, every

chin, pressing into the bark, dragging the thorn down.

It spikes out of a dry alleyway like a bee’s stinger.

All the lonely dusty streets surrounding—

penetrated and emptied by metal

gales whenever wind blows—

are bare, resplendent, stony as coffins,

besides this one thorn and

a little muddy pond of water, never dry;

and a hill of moss, sparkling with every

color, hint and hue: olives and cardinals,

pearls and fish scales, meadows, it’s the size of an infant’s grave.

Alone besides this one thorn and muddy

pond and hill of moss and a

woman in a red jacket.

 

“How’d she get there?

She’s barely more than a child,” you snarl.

“What the hell is she doing?”

She’s crying, I respond. Tears run down her cheeks,

they drop on to her jacket.

She’s there day and night, known to

“Well, what’s she doing there?” You respond, anger tempered,

somewhat, by her pain.

She comes from Texas, college age,

and she’s the only one that haunts those streets, I say.

I might also mention in this world,

of thorn and alley, moss and water,

the angry old guard had their way.

A dead man didn’t make a difference,

old understandings reversed, a legacy cast aside,

by the supreme authority of the land—

it was all for women’s health.

And how she got there, I’ll tell you what I know.

But it’s not much.

It’s more of a guess, because the

woman in the red jacket—

well, she could be any Texas woman.

Her name is Martha Ray, she had

a fling with Stephen Hill,

Hill’s a star and Ray’s a babe,

adored by college council, club baseball, premed society;

but whether he’s a crook and liar, or a sage

and she a porn star or a nun seduced and raped,

or a Spanish major, or a Physics major,

it wouldn’t make a difference.

Steve moved on, and so did Ray,

but when three months had passed and she stayed dry,

burnt like cinder, blood congealed,

the situation clarified.

She was destabilized, they say, but then again

they say a lot of things; they

called her a Slut—and it’s true she slept around a bit—

but they also called her a Bitch, and a Prude,

and a Lying Bitch, and a Lying

Slut. But yes, she stressed and considered all the options.

Only one friend could abide her madness, sad case

for a brain to hold communion with a basket case.

Knocked up, failing classes, hell, she couldn’t pay tuition,

took out loans at her parents’ bidding.

She worked a part-time job too, but that

was the first to slide, and

still she told herself it would be fine and

still she called her younger sister every day and

still she never skipped a class until

250 miles she went, driven by

this one final friend, this one woman that cared.

Meanwhile up in the mountains

and down in the alley where the thorn grows,

All of the sudden it started to snow.

In fucking Texas it started to snow.

She’d have to drive another 250 miles, they told her,

and wait another three weeks. And at that

she cried again.

Months passed.

Now that’s the last I heard of her

before she showed up in the alley.

And there she sits in her red jacket,

crying. Never sighing, few dare go

there, though she’s no more mad than you or I,

only sadder. Still vultures circle,

coyotes prey, robins pray in the morning light,

and when the snow melts in the forceful shine,

a bludgeoned beating from the man upstairs,

fists at the stomach, hands yanking on your

hair, the pond is overfull.

Water gathers, slick and shrill, trembling over the

concrete, it gathers at the roots of the thorn

and the base of the hill of moss.

 

“So what happened to her?” you ask.

I don’t know. But what difference

does it make? She’s just one in a long list.

She’s no different from the rest, though some

are brainless, most are bright, some will cross

borders and pay the price. Martha Ray did

none of that, I’m sure.

 

They say

a baby’s ghost is buried there, in the

colored heap of moss. When the wind blows through

the dangling fibers of lichens, lovers’ fingers, lullabies

swim out of the dense teal fabric and into the air

where they mingle with birdsong. And ever since she

went there, the thorn’s growth froze forever.

A statue of a wrinkled bonsai, immigrant

from a foreign land, cast in stone,

made a monument, weighed down with life. Yes, a ghost

is buried there, but that’s just our fancy,

a fantastic trick of the imagination…

She’s the one that’s really buried.

She’s the one that’s really dead.

Though some say she hanged the baby on the tree,

and others that she drowned it in the pond,

I say a doctor did it there, in the street,

in a tempest as the skies broke loose.

Some say the scarlet moss is red

with drops of that poor thing’s blood,

but to kill a newborn! I don’t think she could.

but a fetus, maybe.

A fetus,

just maybe.

Though it was too little too late, in any case.

 

Regardless, there she sits,

no matter the stage of moon or color of the sky—

sometimes tropic blue, sometimes iron grey,

sometimes the color of blood oranges or baby showers—

no matter if there’s Texas snow or Texas shine,

no matter if the fire ants on the street’s lush side

make their own mound and bite her ankles,

or the sharpened wind whips at her ears.

I can’t know for sure what’s true,

but some things are clear: the thorn is bound

with heavy green moss, the pond is

shallow, rank, and muddy, the mound

whispers infant’s cries and basks

in its glorious sunset hue.

But still

I know by day, and in the silent night,

when all the stars wink clear and bright,

that I have heard her cry.

The Existential Holiday

What is a Yalie deprived of food, drink, work, and sex?

Hungry and bored, probably. But also, as Yom Kippur proves, well equipped to ask and even answer questions about morality, faith, identity, and existence. The Torah tells us on this one day every year to refrain from eating, drinking, work of any kind, and sexual intimacy, so that we can grapple with the sins we have committed over the past year, and ask for atonement. This is the basic purpose of Yom Kippur.

Interestingly, in the recited prayers, we do not ask for forgiveness for disobeying the laws of the Torah, or forgetting the Ten Commandments, or not observing Shabbat. Instead we admit to sins of the ordinary sort: unkindness, dishonesty, gossip, oppression, mistrustfulness. Yom Kippur is a day about philosophical self-reflection—what have we done in our daily lives over the past year? And what do we seek in the coming one? To aid in this reflection, the Yom Kippur service has several special elements: a repeated confessional, an extended mourning service for the deceased, a service about martyrdom and the Holocaust, and at the end of a 25 hour fast, the epic blowing of the Shofar for as long as a large bearded man can hold his breath.

My two favorite parts of the Yom Kippur service are the confessional and the Holocaust memorial. In the confessional service, all sorts of crazy lines are thrown about—“Who shall die by fire and who by water? Who by sword and who by beast? Who by earthquake and who by flood?” It’s completely over the top. It demands us to imagine our death in archaic, obscene ways. It asks us to be a part of a really, really old vision of the sheer power of god. Fortunately, we live today outside the scope of this arcane apocalyptic universe. So then, what is the purpose of imagining ourselves as a part of it?

I think the answer to this question lies in my other favorite part of the service, the deeply moving and poetic service on martyrdom. The Jewish people do not have a happy history, and this service explores that darker past. Israel under Rome, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian Pogroms, and the Holocaust are just a few instances of the murder of the Jewish people throughout history. The service therefore takes us through space and time, from an ancient Middle Eastern past where the temple still stood, where the vision of the Messiah and the resurrection burned like truth, towards the present day, linked by a trail of martyrdom and death. The memorial service brings the past into the present, and makes us confront the stakes in every case—life, or death. Yom Kippur uncompromisingly confronts us with visions and a history of death.

Yom Kippur is an existential holiday. We recite in the piyyut: “Our origin is dust, and our end is dust. We are like grass that withers in winter, like flower petals that fade away, like passing shadows and vanishing clouds. We are a dream that dissipates.” And yet, in spite of this knowledge, we ask passionately for forgiveness for both the greatest and smallest of misdeeds. We plead for one more moment as the thin band of clouds passing over the sunset. And though we are ephemeral, we clearly have some importance, or at least some importance we can give to ourselves. On Yom Kippur, though our lives are fading dreams, it remains important for us to confront our mistakes, and to confront death.

Forgiveness is powerful. It leads quickly to compassion and charity. And perhaps it becomes easier to forgive in the wake of an encounter with death. Though it demonstrates my weakness as a human being, nothing makes me turn further towards compassion than recalling those who I have wronged, and remembering that my people have been the victim of systematic murder. So how could I look away while others in America are systematically murdered? And around the world? Yom Kippur forces us to approach forgiveness, to approach empathy, to approach truth within ourselves.

I’m by no means religious, but I love Yom Kippur. I don’t think that Yalies should celebrate Yom Kippur, or abstain from Mory’s, Woad’s, or extracurriculars for even a single day. I didn’t manage it myself this Yom Kippur. But I do think that Yom Kippur is an example of a process every one of us should go through. For just a moment—question faith, question doubt, imagine death, create ethics, demand charity, expand empathy, listen to a sustained note that pierces past the physical—and after, stuff your face with bagels, lox, and cream cheese.

the passion of the sea

I am so, so happy to announce:

At last, Cadivel II is here.

The journey continues as Samuel, Owen, and friends discover the deeper truth behind Raymond Perrin’s conquest and the raging war between Borrigan and the Salt Empire. The truth lies in an island republic of magicians, Petrino, and two dark and long-buried secrets. One secret is an individual quest for vengeance; the other is a centuries-long struggle to control the strongest magic in the Middle Lands.

Samuel balances his relationship with Anna with his ability to aid the princess of the Salt Empire, Linde, against her mad father. Owen develops his magical skills and Evander faces a deadly, winged foe. An epic journey to the White Mountains, a lost village, a corrosive poison, unexpected deaths, and family reunions await you in Cadivel II.

The truth behind the narrator, the world’s magic, and the world’s chaos all is to be discovered.

Get it now for Kindle for just $3.99 on Amazon.

(http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DJZ7KMI?ref_=pe_2427780_160035660)

For me, Cadivel was the first project that I seriously wrote, that I seriously worked on. After coming up with the idea by chance on the beach in the summer of 2013–two brothers displaced by war move into a magnificent castle with their evil uncle–I set out to write a short story. Bit by bit, it evolved into an enormous work, at one point more than 180,000 words long. With help from family, friends, and teachers, I revised it several times and cut it by nearly a third into a much trimmer 130,000 word epic fantasy novel. Of course, it has further evolved since then.

I will be honest: I had originally hoped to get an agent, and to have it legitimately published. However, as some of you are aware, the agent-seeking process is a tremendous and a difficult one. Although several agents, including two from the Writer’s House, were interested and read the entire manuscript, they eventually passed up on my work. Tired of seeking agents, but hoping to put Cadivel to rest in order to move on to new writing and fiction, I decided that I would self-publish Cadivel instead.

I worked on it for more than two years in total and grew to love the characters and the world that I had spent so much time in. I can only hope that some of the people who read it will feel the same way–that Owen is a younger brother you can trust, that Linde is someone you can feel and root for, that Ophir is someone who you can marvel and wonder about. I hope you like the sturdy cliffs of Cadivel and the great White Mountains, the golden domes of Altres, and the mighty coniferous forest. I hope you like to read my book, and I hope you share it with your friends.

Thank you so much for your time.

Sincerely,

Eric

p.s. Like Cadivel on Facebook!

A Spoken Word Poem, a Written Song: Song for Sonya

Prelude: The Blue Men

Once a blue man came to me and told me I was worth shit. Reckon he was right. I was born in shit, and didn’t mind it too much either.

Thought comes to mind whenever I pass this big stinking pile of mud. Really, it wafts and tosses and cradles and nurtures shit in there: always moist, never drying, always rotten and bulbous with flies and festering maggots and other nasty-ass gruel for grime; storks of stink arise like undead and caw out putrid curses. Northmen tossed it there. Building a road or some shit.

I pass this shit-pile whenever I head too far. It’s on an up-down road and when I pass I know it’s shit on one side and all that’s boundless and watery and white is behind me.

I’m biased, hell, and ignorant too, but I reckon I know a thing or two about politics–yes, the very intellectual profession itself, the kind of profession that reckons itself the science of cleaning up shit and it forgets it just spews out more. That’s nasty. And even nastier’s the people up there, and course they’re fine because they’re not in the shit and whenever the see the shit-people the shit-people are god-thankfully away from the shit.

But hell with that, soon enough time comes I’m thinking I’m a cynic too and I can’t live that life. Life I live’s one of birds and gray-eyed flying things, life of tide and tambourine, mango and tango, and above all: the jazz breeze.

Verse 1

Came running back home, the way I always come when spring rises twinklin over the golden mists of the fingertips, reeds and salty pelicans brushing beaks cross crabs and craggy rocks tossed from the yellow manes of coarser coasts; days last longer and nights bright up. Down the palm-lined streets and dragging my big ole bass with me, brand new thing it is and proud about it I am.

Air mists up like the fabric of the world is crying but it doesn’t rain.

Can hardly think straight I’m so pumped to play because I been away for a while and home rocks and cradles and nurtures my soul. Creep in, dressed in dark, eyes dark, flyin towards the smooth sound that hops and skips on the water, slim stones off the beach, leaping from wave to wave on the glistening reflections of white-eyed stars. Dark-eyed folk, I am.

Jobi, Jobi, Tom says as I hunker on in, calls me ‘gain and ‘gain but I roll, heavin the bass ‘long with me, feeling like my limbs dance on their own, little marching in place, little motions of the eye, sweeps of the hand, nods of the head, all in the music’s course, but they don’t got no bassist and that my good friends is why here I am.

Hop into place with the band. Just startin up set number two and I don’t need no introduction: I am.

Bam!

Rhythm unfolds like the mint light of spring, yet a cool spring day with rhythmic, murky clouds nearly faded grey and green by the filtered tree-shadowed light; guitar strikes on the emotion and I keep the base for the emotion, jamming, up and down the trembling strings and my fingers tremble along with them. That piano glints and I glow, chattering maracas and all the noise strikes up cacophony and harmony at once; disorder ordered into a natural machine. All night we roll o’er the wild love of music and my fingers never tire. Rumtumratum!

Can you pursue the oblong sky, the rippling reflection in the canals you once chased, and these thoughts aren’t even mine, got some sorta divine inspiration and I at once understand another that loved and it pains that it wasn’t me, wasn’t me at all: that kaleidoscope of memory, patterns of jade and amber unknown though the lands be ashen and the scope bleak the aunt’s in black and the boy’s in white—whose memory is this? I feel at once logical and apart from the wild desire of my blasting fingers when I understand that these feelings are not my own.

Shimmering. That’s how I feel and I imagine that now it’s raining because hot fucking shit I can’t even handle this we’re rising! Rising beyond and above and past and she comes with me and we cannot even help it YES tree of light and ring of stars and blistering white and meadowlarks and scorching bark and past past past we have already seen this road but everytime it’s new the world whooshes back in the gaze of a new flooding dawn creeping fingers up the spine of gods to touch the soft and supple neck and kiss the mouth of the most beautiful one in the world; a feeling like electric sleep, a feeling like soft sheep creating the irradiate clouds and this is where we begin to realize it never lasts.

Can I ever do this again?

My fingers pluck and scavenge and my eyes sweep among the six of us musicians, grinning and brimming with wine and feeling vast and viscid. The set has come to a close.

Verse 2

Tom calls me over, as expected. I greet him and notice a young woman by his side, possibly nineteen but blue-eyed wisdom beyond grasp.

You aced and rolled tonight, Tom said, I’m telling you, I can’t wait to have you back.

I’m bringing my music north, Tom. See if northerners can handle some rhythm, I say. Yes, that was the plan. Bring the breeze where it ne’er before dared cross: the shit-line.

Now that’s a tremendous shame! Tom declares. Northerners, they can’t appreciate none of this great music you’re making, keep it south of Taohus, Jobi, I’m telling you. Well this here is—

I’m Lia—she interrupts but I hold up my hand. I recognize this one. She’s tall and olive-skinned, eyes of calm sea blue, short dark hair, kind expression, wise nose and heart looking like it’s outside her body.

I recognize you, I tell her. I’m a musician but I’m not ignorant. You’re Sonya Tana, in the papers and all, and you’re to be engaged. How’s that feel? Yes, for that’s the news. This beautiful young lordly woman who’s rumored to be as good at books as she is at swords is to be married, likely against her own will, and this is the kinda thing that makes me think: if you’re a young woman like Sonya Tana, the niece of the Duke, and you’re to be married—whatchu going to do?

If I’m being truthful, terrible, Sonya says. Her voice is steady but I know she has a drink or two in her. Tom and I were just talking over how to stop it, she said.

Custom’s marriage, I say.

Well, let’s talk about breaking it, she says with a smile.

Well, I say. I sat down in the seat next to her. Strange woman. At breaking custom, an expert I am, I say. Now, your uncle may be the Duke but you’re nearly a duchess yourself. You got power, and that is something.

Power? She asks. And what can I do with this power?

I’m no good at politics, I say. Go with the rhythm and stay true to what the wind says swaying the palms. I get all my advice from the ocean. Don’t let your uncle rule the dance, I add. It’s one for two and more.

Tom leaps up at this unexpected philosophizing. My dear Jobi, you’re a genius, clever clever clever! he says. Much more than a man with a bass, far more!

Yes, Tom. I’m not a fucking instrument.

I’ll be heading out, I say and stand. Nice meeting you, Sonya Tana. Thanks Tom. I’ll be back.

Come back soon, Jobi, please do!

Grab my bass, slide out that beaded door and into the night.

Verse 3

So we have Sonya Tana. About to be married. Clearly doesn’t want to. Surely she values freedom and even prefers the chasmal sleep to diamond chains. I considered this matter.

Wonderin if those thoughts could’ve been hers. Those vivid, clear as light, clear as water, clear as ribboning blood and clear as memories that flooded through me as the music seized my heart and soul clear off its hook were someone’s. But whose memories were mighty enough to transcend all time and space to come into me through music I made, so invoked by throbbing strings, that I could feel through another. Becoming a fucking magician, I am. That’d be some wild shit.

And the feeling of love. Not sure about it. Ever since that blue man came I know better than to love people. Though love… it’s a web that grows, that doubles with every moment and every memory that the moment creates, so time slows down even as it does speed up. All actions in that company replicate innumerable like stars, folds of ocean pressing over foam and fish: each wave feels itself and the one rushing back below.

I’d like to fasten to love but I know that music is the most beautiful thing in the cursed and sunkissed land. Not people.

So I lose time.

But I don’t mind because I ride that jazz breeze; ebb and flow’s my life—rhythmic, savage pulse. They say I’m not like the rest: a southerner. But I was born here. Or maybe the kind ole sea brought me here—against my will I’d add—but I can lose all that, lose all that and all the other things, and I can go after something real and something fresh and full of flesh and fuck I’m not a pessimist and I will make the best of this.

Capitalism’s New Aesthetic

In other news, this week get Cadivel for free! After Friday it will go back to being $3.99 with 50% proceeds going to charity.

Anyways, I understand I’m taking a bit of a turn with the subject material, but it’s something that I want to talk about. Let’s give this a shot.

***

Immigrants in the smog. Overcrowded slums. Bustling factories. The first skyscrapers. Industrial production churns out steel, coal, and oil. Railroads at their peak, the first automobiles.

Levittowns. Consumerism on the rise. Catalogues, shopping, the middle class, the beginning of the service economy. White collar businesses flourish over the abandoned mines.

The Internet. Instantaneous knowledge, infinite connection, and constant communication on social media. Gentrification of cities. Silicon Valley start-ups, iPhones and Androids, PCs and Macs. A stock market higher than ever; increasing income inequality.

So what is capitalism’s next aesthetic?

It’s already happening, or beginning to happen. Mainly on the west coast–the Bay Area California and the Pacific Northwest. But it’s beginning, burgeoning, and may soon spread.

green-business1

Local. Green, all natural. Social impact, close-knit communities, sustainable enterprise. Engagement, transparency, accountability.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It’s difficult to imagine exactly what the consequences on America will be, and it’s certainly plausible that it won’t catch on–and even if it does it certainly won’t catch on everywhere. All the “aesthetics” that I described above did not affect all of America, and in fact affected only the minority of it. But I believe that soon–meaning in the next fifteen years–the aesthetic of capitalism in America could be compassion.

Compassionate capitalism. It’s not an oxymoron, not anymore.

B Corporations, along with many other companies, are changing that. B Corporations are corporations–organized to make a profit–but they meet high standards of social and environmental impact, sustainability, and transparency. Certified by the non profit B Lab, B Corporations are among those incorporating as a new brand of company: the Benefit Corporation. The Benefit Corporation is required to consider its impact on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This means that the company must take into consideration the best interests of its employees, local community, suppliers, vendors, and the environment in making decisions. This legal move essentially sets companies free from pursuing profit alone, allowing the pursuit of higher causes. Hootsuite, Kickstarter, and Etsy are among the latest in B Corp’s ranks, joining Natura, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and so many others.

To achieve certification, companies take the B Impact Assessment, a constantly evolving tool developed by B Lab and its partners. The B Impact Assessment measures positive impact, rewarding companies for practices such as recycling, paying employees above the living wage, conducting financial audits, engaging with the community, using local suppliers, hiring individuals from low-income backgrounds, and even more importantly, through practices known as Impact Business Models.

A key trait of the B Corporation is that it does not simply “do less harm”. B Corporations actively pursue making a positive impact on society. Having an impact business model means that a core process of the company creates good. For example, a company that makes solar panels has an environmental impact business model. And if that same company also distributes the solar panels to needy communities, they have an additional impact business model. Other IBMs include donating a high percentage of profit to charity (or even better, being owned by a non-profit), having an intense employee training program like Greystone Bakery, which specifically hires and trains formerly incarcerated individuals, and alleviating poverty through the supply chain by creating high-quality employment opportunities in third world countries.

The community of B Corporations is catching on. In the past five years, the number of B Corporations has increased from 400 to 1400. However, B Corporations represent a tiny fraction of American businesses, and also a tiny fraction of the broader social change that is occurring all around us. Consumers are starting to pay attention and become more educated about what they buy. We’re starting to be aware of the impacts of the thoughtless purchase, and companies, beyond just B Corps, are starting to react and even lead. The exciting thing about B Certification to me is that it reframes rather than fundamentally changes the capitalist mindset. Yet this small change can produce so much good in the world: instead of asking, “Can I be the best in the world?”, let’s ask, “Can I be the best for the world?” And let’s be honest–if you’re saving the world, you probably deserve to make a little profit on the side.

I do not mean to say that this transformation is inevitable. All of us still have a role to play. I put out a special request to all of the college students, and in particular my amazing classmates at Yale (though it applies to students at all institutions). At Yale we are empowered, or even expected, to join the leaders of the next generation. Whatever vision of the world we aspire towards may to some extent become a part of the future. So I ask that my classmates educate themselves on social enterprise. Google B Corp (and you’ll be surprised by how many news articles are being written, now more than weekly, about them). Do not join a company because of the prestige, technological innovation, or salary alone; yet the beauty of this new order of capitalism is that you do not need to turn away from these things to pursue good. Consumers will start to buy products that align with their values. Employees will work with companies that do the same. If we can reach a critical mass of participation in the movement, the tide will turn, and social enterprise could be come the norm, not the golden outlier. And we’ll have capitalism’s new aesthetic.

This week’s book: As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

This week’s album: Rumors, Fleetwood Mac

Everything You Need to Know About Cadivel

Cover Book CompleteFinal3

Now available on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Cadivel-Town-Rough-Edges-Sea-ebook/dp/B0153V2QXO

Cover art by Callum Backstrom

Yes, I wrote a book, and it’s out on Kindle. I’m going to skimp out on any and all artfulness and tell you straight what’s up.

What is Cadivel?

Cadivel is a young adult fantasy that tells the story of a beautiful besieged town and its saviors. Told by a mysterious narrator with an affinity for the sea, Cadivel begins with Samuel and Owen, who are displaced from their home because of a war between their home country and the imperial Salt Empire. They flee North, and get taken in by their uncle, who lives in a magnificent medieval castle. Yet their uncle is not exactly who he seems, and when Samuel and Owen investigate, they discover their caretaker may be the biggest threat to their new home.

How do I get it?

On Amazon; the link’s at the top of the page. There are lots of Kindle apps and various ways you can get it–you don’t need to have a Kindle. It’s only $3.99.

Why should I get it?

Ah, I’m so glad you asked. Well, firstly, you might enjoy it. The whole book has been critiqued by an MFA out of Warren Wilson’s famous creative writing program, so the writing is by no means poor. Cadivel features a gorgeous and expansive fantasy world, rich characters, romance, political intrigue, and even magic.

Secondly, I’m going to give 50% of revenue to Room to Read.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 7.06.24 PM

Room to Read is an incredible charity that focuses on literacy and gender equality in education. Their literacy programs focus on teacher training and support, quality reading materials, and hazard-free learning environments. Girls education is the surest way to address global poverty, and Room to Read does it through targeting inequality in primary school, providing mentoring and life skills, and enlisting parental involvement. Room to Read has established over 17,000 libraries and has benefited nearly 10 million children! That is absolutely amazing. The purchase of a copy of Cadivel contributes $1.37 to the cause (1/2 of Amazon’s 70% royalty).

I like the sweet cover, but why are there birds on it?

That’s part of the larger series. You will see some giant, sentient birds in Cadivel, but the cover is as much of a preview of what is to come as much as it is a reflection of the conflict of “A Town by the Rough Edges of the Sea” alone. There is Cadivel II in our (not too distant) futures. In other words, get pumped for crazy bird fight scenes with lightning bolts included.

What’s up with the Cadivel poem?

One line of “The Cadivel poem” accompanies each chapter of Cadivel. The poem reflects on the events of the current and future chapters, while providing clues of what’s to come.

What is the world of Cadivel?

image001

Marinne, or the Middle Lands

I won’t reveal too much now, because I’d love for you to read the book and find out. Plus I’m going to make another blog post at some point going into some more depth about this. But for now, what you need to know is that Marinne, or the Middle Lands, is one of three known continents. Magic is known to flow out of the lands northeast of the Eastern Sea; technology tends to flourish where magic is subdued. Magic is not common in the Middle Lands.

The two major countries are Borrigan and the Salt Empire. Borrigan split from the Salt Empire several hundred years ago due to economic and religious differences, though they have generally been at peace since the split. The Salt Empire is vast, full of natural resources (especially salt in the center, iron ore in the northeast, and gold in the southwest), and has a system of nobility not unlike that of Europe before the 19th century. Borrigan has banned noble titles, and thus has a considerably more modern economic system. The whole of Marinne is on the verge of technological breakthrough, with the first factory cities  Gorna and the Red City beginning to emerge. Another noteworthy country is the easterly island republic of Petrino, where magic still prospers.

Except for major cities like Altres, the capital of the Salt Empire, and other southern cities, most of Marinne is not culturally diverse. Identical ethnic groups take up large amounts of land, dotted with purely indigenous societies. The nobles of the Salt Empire frequently trace their lineage from prehistoric kings often identified as gods, though other say that these kings were conquerers from southern lands. A thousand years later, conquerer kings from the north laid conquest to Marinne, but in a genocide known as the Banes that took place almost 3000 years before the events of Cadivel, all pureblood northlanders were slain. Most of Borrigan is ethnically an intermixture of northlanders and indigenous groups, while the south a mixture of southlanders and indigenous groups.

… That’s enough for now.

I’ve noticed the strange subsection headings… “Fire”, “Thunder”, etc…. What are these?

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 7.18.14 PM

I’ve associated each subsection of Cadivel with an element, sometimes taking liberty in my definition of “element”. It is the force–either literary, actual, or mythical–that drives each section of the story. More on this later as well.

What can I do to help spread Cadivel?

Share this blog post (or the last one) with your social networks! Invite friends and family to read the book. Give it a review on Amazon. It would mean a lot to me, and also to those that benefit from donations to Room to Read–children all around the world.

What can I look forward to next?

-Blog posts revealing more information about the world of Cadivel, and in the future, secret, unreleased chapters

-More Cadivel artwork (?)

-A Cadivel facebook page (this week or next week), where you’ll be able to see information about the donations to charity and also deals/promotions for the Amazon product

So, is that it?

Yes. Thank you.

The Town by the Rough Edges of the Sea

NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND AMAZON!!!!

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0153V2QXO

Who is the one with the gray hair?

The snow keeps calm in the alpine air

That lacks the brimming stars so bright

And why does the green-eyed dream of white?

If freedom is dealt solely by the sky

Power is boundless for those who fly

A secret washes up in the fingertips

And soon the tide sees lips cross lips

But love alone in the winter brings only strife

Wounds left unhealed until granted life

And granted life by five parts of a whole

An orb of glass, a sword of bone.

The Cadivel Poem, part 1. Each line accompanies a chapter from my novel, Cadivel: A Town by the Rough Edges of the Sea, soon to be available on Kindle. The mysterious narrator, known only as “S”, tells a tale of the passion of the sea, the curses and blessings of the winds, the illumination brought by thunder, the blaze of fire, the glint of gold. Above all the tale is one of survival, resistance, resilience.

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Just to show you that it’s real. It’ll look different on Kindle.

The idealistic Samuel and his lazy but curious younger brother Owen escape a war-torn land. They flee north, drawn by a dilapidated carriage bought by their mother’s last coins. North they go, through the scorched and blackened farmlands and into a coniferous forest. All the way to the crown of Borrigan. There rests Cadivel.

Surrounded by heavy exhales of the sea. Lively red-brick and blue-roof shops wash in oil lamp glow in the shimmering dusk, casks of fish and barrows of oats and barrels of beer roll in the morning markets. Cadivel: Samuel and Owen’s chance for a new home. A safe home. Samuel realizes they can find a new life in Cadivel, one that could unite their family for the first time in years. Cadivel, where Samuel falls head over heels for a certain girl. If there is one place that would be safe from the fires of war, it would be Cadivel, protected by the pulsing hills of salty water, the rearing heads of waves. And yet the war grows, and passions blaze for blood and gold…

No, Cadivel is not safe.

And if Cadivel is not safe, how could Samuel and Owen survive? They are not fighters, only wanderers, explorers; yet they have will, and they have heart. Samuel and Owen may possess the qualities that can save Cadivel from greater threats than war alone.

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Cadivel is a young-adult epic fantasy, best for ages 14+, but I hope that anyone between 12 and 97 can enjoy at least parts of it and hopefully most of it. Two plus years in the making, Cadivel started as a simple story that I wanted to pursue. I wanted to write about two boys who move into an idyllic seaside town with their wealthy uncle, and discover he holds a dark secret. I wanted there to be some romance. Some political intrigue. A sprinkle of magic (though as the story evolved that ended up being a lot of magic).

Cadivel is the product of two years of my growth as a writer, and a reader. It draws influences from fantasy books I read as a kid: Harry Potter, Charlie Bone, Bartimaeus. It draws from books I was reading at the time as I wrote it: On the Road, Sirens of Titan, the Lord of the Rings series. It even draws a bit from what I was reading as I revised it: the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Dune, Blood Meridian, so on and so forth. Cadivel focuses on character, on imagery, on emotion, but there’s certainly action: frightened searches, birds (or men?) on the wing, fiery spells, bloody battles… and even more action will come in the sequel.

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Sequel? That’s right. Cadivel is a two-part story. What will be available on Kindle any day now is the first part, and I have big plans, exciting plans, including some unreleased, secret chapters, previews, and much more! For now just await my blog announcement for when it’s available and buy it on Kindle (I promise it will be less than five dollars). Then sit back, relax, and read.

Later, we can chat about the poem, about the world, about the influences, about the sequel… more blog posts will come, undoubtedly. Please share the work with your friends and family, especially if you know any young teens looking for something to read (and I know it’s only my word, but the writing is good! The whole thing has been carefully critiqued by an MFA out of Warren Wilson’s famous creative writing program). But remember, I think people of all ages will enjoy. Unless you really hate fantasy. Then don’t read it.

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Stay tuned for how to get… I’m thinking late next week.

The Two Sides of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)

*Spoilers*

George RR Martin’s series has really turned into the monstrous fan fascination and media magnet that it should have been for decades with the takeoff of the HBO TV show in the past year or two. I certainly don’t bash people who just watch the show: that was me for a while. And I’ve still yet to read Clash of Kings though I’ve read the latter three and most of the first. Still, if you are only watching the show, you’re certainly missing out.

Namely, you’re missing out on:

-Really important plot points

-World-building and depth

-Lots of awesome characters

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Notably, Strong Belwas

-A way better ending to the fifth season/book

And most importantly: -All of Martin’s structural creativity and literary tricks

The most important outcome of his structural brilliance? A two-sided book. And with one glance at the title, you know it’s no mistake.

What are the two sides of ASOIAF?

1. Fire, light, life, day, summer, south, dragons

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2. Ice, darkness, death, night, winter, north, wights

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This fundamental conflict appears in literally every facet of the book. Most importantly it’s personified by one of the religions that is probably legit (unlike the predominant religion of the seven that seems entirely superstitious/made up): The Lord of Light. The one with Melisandre and Stannis and fire and the like. We know that the Lord of Light is real to a pretty significant extent, as the priests of the Lord of Light perform actual magical feats. Melisandre’s vision often come true, Thoros of Myr revives the Lightning Lord Berric Donderrion six times, Moqorro saves Victarion Greyjoy’s rotting hand, on and on.

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Berric from the HBO series

So what’s the deal with the Lord of Light? Basically it’s a dualistic religion, but one deity is good, and the other is evil. #1 as listed above is good, #2 is evil. #2 is the “Other”. It is unnamed, and it must be conquered. #1 is connected with Stannis (who fights under the Lord of Light), along with fire-breathing dragons and thus Valyria and the Targaryens (who look inhumanly beautiful, per Tolkien/fantasy tradition).

#2 is also a source of magic. This one is even more obvious. A 700 foot wall of ice. People dying, coming back to life, and trying to destroy mankind as undead wights. The blue-eyed Others at their command. Furthermore, all this deadly evil ice magic is inseparable from its host, the North, the land. The land of weirwoods (which Bran and other greenseers can potentially use to see anything that is happening on Westeros at any time in history), direwolves, warging (controlling animals with your mind, an ability that seems distinctly Northern). #2 is also connected with the House of the Undying where Arya Stark trains, simply as to the extent that the Faceless Men deliver death, and death is connected wights and Others and therefore ice.

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“The Enemy”

This end of the puzzle is a bit more complicated. Because if we’re viewing the north and the wights on the evil side of the spectrum, where does that put our beloved Starks and their old gods? What about the children of the forest that save Bran from the wights near the end of the 4th season? They seem good!

That’s the wrench in the puzzle. Clearly everything icy/Northern isn’t “bad”, just as everything associated with fire isn’t “good”. The wonderful Lord of Light seems to require human sacrifice at a pretty alarming frequency.

This brings us to the two literary sides of ASOIAF. What are they?

1. Magic, epic fantasy tradition, prophecy, dualism

2. Realism, grit, moral complexity, everyday struggle

Now we’re taking us a step back from the straight content of the book. Now we’re thinking what George RR Martin’s thinking. Thinking about how we’re crafting this tale.

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Martin working on the series finale, A Dream of Spring

Fantasy and realism are always at odds in the Martin’s world, perhaps even more so than fire and ice are. Though most of our heroes are lords, almost none of them are constructed in a classic epic fantasy sort of way, like Tolkien’s Aragorn. Notably disrupting chances for a straightforward good-evil fight are horrific cruelty (Joffrey), childish stupidity (Daenerys), deformities (Tyrion), incest (Cersei-Jaime), and in general love and passion (Robb marrying Jeyne is like Aragorn deciding he’s pretty thirsty and needs the quench, thus fucking and marrying Eowyn when she makes her little advances. Can you imagine how Elrond would have felt about that? Does that make Elrond the same as Walder Frey? Ignore what I just said.).

Let me reel this point back in. Throughout the books, particularly through the stories of Arya and Brienne, we get a good look at how shitty life is for peasants during all the wars. Martin does not shy away from it, and in A Feast for Crows even focuses on it. Yes—he has all this crazy magic destiny prophecy stuff going on, and instead he focuses on Brienne getting hopelessly lost in the riverrlands. WHY? Because he cares about the realism. He’s intentionally making ASOIAF different from any fantasy we’ve ever read before, so you better think twice before you assume that the story’s going to end up with three Dragonriders fighting the Others.

Granted, things might end up this way. But there’s an intentional complication and disruption of the two-sided magical battle of the story. It’s disrupted by political intrigue, cruel realism, helpless love. And it might be that the shiny, magical side will win out. The fire might melt the ice.

Or not.

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Album of the Week: Fantasma, Cornelius

Book of the Week: Game of Thrones, George RR Martin

Why the Emperor’s New Groove is the Greatest Movie of All Time

Okay, maybe behind the Godfather (or Pulp Fiction and a Miyazaki film), but still. Surely Emperor’s New Groove, full of poetic elegance, hammers, and really really tall waterfalls, the inspiring tale of how a man turns into a llama and grows a heart, ranks among the greatest of the greats.

This is comedy gold. 

In case you have no idea what this movie is about, it’s basically about a pre Columbian south american emperor who’s an asshole, but gets turned into a llama.

Hilarity ensues.

This post is definitely not going to be me posting random youtube clips of the movie.

Plus, it has this man in it.

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Yes, this beautiful man. This beautiful, beautiful, hunk of a man. I mean look at that shoulder to hip ratio.

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He is the envy of all male super models. Not only that, but he can speak the languages of all the woodland creatures, and is empathetic to boot.

He’s far from perfect. He’s overenthusiastic, and at times, frankly, a bit dull.

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More than once he puts his strapping partner in crime Yzma in to tough situations. But that’s okay, everyone makes mistakes. And if that someone making mistakes is as beautiful as Kronk, I tend to forgive.

Moving on. This movie has some serious literary and cinematic techniques at play here. The classic transformation of a beautiful royal into a homely animal, used in this case to humble the figure and make him less of a serious dickwad. It’s set up as a frame narrative and other fun things, and it also confronts the viewer with those tough questions about morality.

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Long story short, this is a must-watch. A doubleplusgood must watch. Go on youtube right now and watch it, unless you have better things to do (doubtful), like eating and breathing. And if you still hunger for more grooves, there is a sequel…

I will be learning this dance routine.

Next week? Maybe I’ll analyze George RR Martin’s ASOIAF, maybe I’ll post some of my own writing, maybe not. Until then…

This week’s book: Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut

This week’s album: Bitches Brew, Miles Davis

Mauerbauertraurigkeit

“n. the inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like—as if all your social tastebuds suddenly went numb, leaving you unable to distinguish cheap politeness from the taste of genuine affection, unable to recognize its rich and ambiguous flavors, its long and delicate maturation, or the simple fact that each tasting is double-blind.”

Well, I’m not quite sure why I have a blog, or what exactly I hope to accomplish with it. Still, it’s here. I’m new to this, so feel free to share with me your blog and we can be blog-buddies and read each other’s, etc etc, yay!

Today I had one of those feelings. One of those striking moments where something you have never experienced before takes ahold of you, grips you by the throat. And then you breathe out. It’s the sort of feeling only music can make me feel.

Mauerbauertraurigkeit. It’s a crazy word and a pain to type; it’s a song by the band Closure in Moscow. I was listening to that song, and it was the song that inspired that feeling that I had. The song starts off quiet and worried, ambling. It speaks of the desert, of falling out of yourself. But then it grows and erupts into sadness, bliss, and everything in between.

“Do you know you’re a lovely old soul?
Fruit of my dawn a mist settled within my marrow
Oh but you don’t know, no you don’t know”

Without listening to the lyrics it sounds like rising wind full of fog beating endlessly against something stony, rigid, alone. Then the singer’s voice rises into a surprisingly lovely soprano, and from there, carries you.

“You’re the hymn on the pulpit, the arch up above
The marigold thunder I hear in that distant storm
Oh and I still feel it’s reign in my bones”

This is the sort of love song that resonates with me. Out of a pit of angst and worry emerge images that can only be felt, feelings that can’t be contained. This song was rushing through my head when I went on a run today, and I had that feeling.

I felt full, but also thin like roots, and both confused and clearheaded at once. I’m still not sure what it was. That’s the tricky thing moments like those–you can never really define it, put it into words as much as I would like to. The feeling led to an idea for a story about people who deliver messages by hand, moving around like Buddhist monks, relying on the generosity others for sustenance, delivering messages and lost objects. Not very practical. They would probably starve. Well, at least I had an idea.

I recommend listening to the song, and the whole album “Pink Lemonade”, though fair warning that it’s a crazy prog rock concept album about a man that drinks a magic beverage that sends him balls-out tripping through the space-time continuum. I don’t know whether that ruins the song for me or makes it even better.

My goal is to post something once a week, something brief. What will I blog about? Music, art, writing, funny things, college, advice that I am not qualified to give, hopefully only a little bit of politics. Why? To write for a public audience, to enjoy a simple project, ego.

Feel free to share, comment and send me all your best blogger’s advice. Links to the music are below.

*E

“It’s the sinew of my merit that is swelling with your love
As swift as it is tender, it echoes through my soul
Without it I’m left in this moment
With all I wanted to say and I keep falling out myself
Out of space and time where I’m never going to leave you”

Mauerbauertraurigkeit by Closure in Moscow

Pink Lemonade full album, this has a dope album cover Pinklemonade-closureinmoscow

^^^^That is just whack

This week’s book: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

This week’s album: Pink Lemonade, Closure in Moscow

A Guide to Shakespeare: The 15 Best Plays Ranked

Another year, another ranking! I was going to write a poem SAVAGING Sen. Pat Toomey’s cowardly ass, but that might have to wait until I figure out how exactly I should do that. I’m taking on a somewhat weird project, to try to rank some of Shakespeare’s plays. But I think it will be a useful exercise for those of you wanting to read or see a Shakespeare play, but unsure of where to start. So while I’ll try to keep my descriptions brief, I also hope to give you an idea about the experience of reading each of these plays. Shakespeare can be challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. The language is mind-blowing, the plots are thrilling. If you have the time and patience for close reading and rereading, anyone, regardless of what you typically read, can get a lot out of a Shakespeare play.

1. Hamlet

Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet

The British actor and director Kenneth Branagh holding a skull in his hand in Hamlet. 1996 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

With a gripping plot, brilliant language, haunting imagery, memorable characters, and philosophical investigations that will follow you long after the play’s conclusion, Hamlet has it all. It’s often said that we see ourselves in Hamlet (the character)–that we’re all caught up in this fantastic experiment called life, with no notion of where it’s going or how to make the most of it. So, we try. We try and we try to resolve our relationships, our careers, our talents, our problems–oftentimes we try to the uttermost verge of our hearts and our sanity. The tragedy of Hamlet is that we can try, and still fail.

2. King Lear

Lear is the saddest of the major Shakespearean tragedies (Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Macbeth), occupying a crushingly dark world that allows a constant ray of hope that disappears without conciliation at the conclusion. This persistent chance of a happy ending drags us along, keeping us at the edge of our seats from start to finish. Where Hamlet is closed and interior, within a single family and singular minds, Lear is exterior, dealing with multiple families, where we see the same mistakes repeated and reflected in different circumstances. A challenging play with a complex structure and the breathtaking language of storms and some radical politics on top of it all, Lear is another undeniable paragon of Shakespeare’s brilliance.

3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Featuring arguably the most beautiful poetry of any Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream tells a romantic, clever, funny, and wonderfully timeless tale that has been loved generation after generation. Every moment of the play is enjoyable, from the problems of an overbearing father at the beginning, to a petty fight between fairy King and Queen, to the chaos of love potions and couple-swapping, and of course the unforgettable Nick Bottom. A Midsummer Night’s Dream will always be worth a read.

4. The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale feels in part like a structural exercise, with the first half of the play being a tragedy and the second half a comedy. Sexual jealousy forms the core of the tragic plot, culminating in the shocking demolition of a family, and the infamous stage-direction “Exit pursued by a bear”. But the second half explores redemption with a comic and endearing sensibility, creating an idyllic pastoral setting that, free of the politics and corruption of the city, leads towards a reconciliation that seemed impossible. Yet this fusion of flavors lends The Winter’s Tale a feeling of its own: the feeling of a story that grows and evolves for its own sake. The Winter’s Tale combines Shakespeare’s tragic and comic skills into a single, marvelous work.

5. Twelfth Night

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Grown out of Shakespeare’s five years of writing comedies, Twelfth Night weaves together all of Shakespeare’s best comedic elements. A witty fool, drunken idiots, long-lost twins and divided families, a romantic idiot of a man after a woman that’s way better than him, and hardcore gender-bending. Twelfth Night has it all. And it also feels like it has a powerful emotional spine in the story of Viola and Sebastian. Bound to make you laugh, but without foregoing any art or drama along the way, Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s comedic masterpiece.

6. The Tempest

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About an usurped magician-prince living with his daughter and a cannibal on a deserted island revisiting those who betrayed him, The Tempest is Shakespeare’s final play, and really feels like it.  Its poignant poetry, rehashing and redrawing of plots and themes explored over his career, and its captivating use of sorcery (as a symbol for art and writing) create a powerful sense of conclusion. The Tempest is also a fascinating work of literature, as one of first pieces of English literature about the colonial encounter, and due to its relentless and inventive use of symbolism and allegory. The plot in itself is a romantic vignette and a dive into the mind of a master artist. But seen in the context of the rest of his work, this play is important because it concludes Shakespeare’s line of thinking about revenge. Countless plays, from Titus Andronicus to Hamlet, are about revenge, and in The Tempest, Shakespeare at last shows a path to escape from its violent course.

7. Macbeth

The shortest of the tragedies besides Romeo and JulietMacbeth is a whirlwind tour of ambition, murder, and madness. Strangely, despite his reputation of villainy, Macbeth has a strong moral compass, and yet he is still driven to unimaginable acts, which makes a thrilling arc to watch. Combine his arc with a vivid picture of historical Scotland, and the witches with their tumultuous and awesome speeches, and you have an unforgettable play.

8. The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice is often neglected for its questionable portrayal of the moneylending Jew Shylock. However, this play might be Shakespeare’s most thought-provoking comedy, not for just its look at how society deals with diversity, but also for its strong heroine Portia and a fresh look at relationships and marriage. Shakespeare feels far ahead on issues of gender equality for a late 16th century male poet, and is just as likely to portray idiotic husbands as shrewish wives; The Merchant of Venice is no exception. This is a play exploring the implications of a capitalist, globalist society on our familial and social relationships, flirting with homosexuality and poetry along the way. Its shocking, brutal conclusion also forces us to reconsider how we treat the “Other” in our society.

9. As You Like It

A carefree poetic fantasy, As You Like It is Shakespeare’s ultimate rural play, featuring a merry band of Robin Hood-like woodsmen, a perfect pair of sisters, and the miserable nihilist Jacques. As You Like It does not focus on building to any logical conclusion (the ending is as nonsense as they come), but rather takes a reader on a ride through betrayal, seduction, idyllic pastoralism, philosophy, wrestling, and of course, gender-swapping.

10. Henry IV Part 1

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Henry IV is a complex play that is difficult to understand at times for different reasons. Shakespeare’s presentation of the outbreak of rebellion in England in the wake of Henry IV’s seizure of the throne reveals great insight about political authority, English-Welsh relations, the creation of modern politics, and the mechanics of revenge on a national scale. Meanwhile the presentation of the inimitable Falstaff and his world of drinks and tricks thrills with its endless jokes and reminds a reader of a whole other side to the English state, and a darker side to England’s great ‘hero’, Hal/Henry V. The two-sidedness of this play is what makes it enjoyable, balancing epic warfare with tavern jokes.

11. All’s Well That Ends Well

One of the “problem plays”, All’s Well is a comedy that feels way too dark to be a comedy. It presents a world that is irredeemably flawed, characters that are truly corrupt and morally bankrupt, and yet allows the logic of a comedy to take place with witty and sexual banter, coming of age, bed-swapping marriage tricks, and a redemptive ending. Parolles serves as the fast-talking scoundrel that tempts the doofus/stud Bertram to an ill-advised military career; the whole play sits on the backdrop of an aging state with the younger generation unable to compensate for the fading of the older. Familiar tropes are revisited and dissected, as even the wholly impressive heroine Helena has her moments of baffling stupidity. All’s Well That Ends Well is a fun read, but at the end, you’re left wondering why you laughed.

12. Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado feels like it defines many of the elements that we love about Shakespearean comedies. There’s the unforgettable Dogberry and his malapropisms, the infinitely witty love story of Benedick and Beatrice, a head-over-heels romantic in Claudio, and the wholly unexpected concluding redemption that leaves all involved smiling, celebrating, and married. Much Ado simply doesn’t push beyond these typical elements, but is still a lovable play beginning to end.

13. Romeo and Juliet

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Classic^^

Featuring stunning poetry and an insistent exploration of the mechanics of revenge, Romeo and Juliet is a more intelligent play than many would make it out to be. Nevertheless there’s something about it that feels youthful and stupid… Hm… oh wait, I know, it’s the idiocy of not just the title characters, but all the characters. Verona is in a perpetual, pointless urban turf war, old Capulet and Montague wheezing and waving their canes at one another. The tragic ending is as much of the result of mere chance as it is of the ruthless workings of unchecked violence, and while the play is hardly nuanced, the intelligent ideas beneath this unforgettable romance make it an impressive early accomplishment.

14. Measure For Measure

Measure for Measure is a brilliant examination of the city and political authority. How should authority in a city function? What moral standards should its rulers, its citizens be held to? How should a governor engage with the populace? Duke Vincentio asks these questions about his city-state Vienna, disguised as a Friar in order to get a first-hand look. He sees the corruption and deterioration of the city, and yet at every turn makes wrong assessments and questionable judgments in order to have fun at “playing god” in his own city. Featuring bed tricks and head tricks, Measure For Measure poses the strongest critique to the logic of comedies, instead crafting a world that is hauntingly realistic.

15. Antony and Cleopatra

Featuring the most scenes of any Shakespeare play, Antony and Cleopatra is a wild ride through Rome and Egypt, war and peace, and a bizarre love story. Staged more like a fast-paced thriller, Antony and Cleopatra exaggerates as much as it exhilarates. But what holds it together as an excellent play are the title characters- both compellingly torn between beliefs and motivations, and yet in the end, they do love each other. It’s an adult version of Romeo and Juliet– true love, but divided up by political realities and engaging complexity of emotion.

じゃ、また

[Until next time.]

Exactly eight weeks later after coming, I left.

It seems a little too precise. Too on the dot, mechanical. 8 weeks and done. I wish it wasn’t like that.

For one, Kanazawa is an incredible city. To be a tourist in, and to live in. My first impression upon arriving in Kanazawa is that it was so big and goddamn nice for a city so small. It feels like an extremely modern city. And then you turn down a side-street with low wooden buildings and sliding doors and small red shrines nesting along the way.

But I didn’t come for the city, I came for the program–the chance to learn Japanese. And I’d say I did. I’m basically able to carry out any sort casual conversation in Japanese now. I still have difficulty understanding often, and while I know than twice as many characters as I could before, reading is still near impossible. But the real benefit of my Light Fellowship experience has been the people—my host family, my teachers, my fellow students, Kanazawa University students, the people who live here.

Japan, a world apart from Philadelphia and New Haven, is so incredibly different from America. In particular the way people interact with each other and present themselves. Also the conceptions of the roles and natures of community, family, respect, art, government, sex and sexuality, and the natural environment. And yet… and yet it is still a place that can feel like home (I mean Pokemon Go was just released here and 5/10 people on my bus home yesterday were playing it). People eat three meals a day. They go to school and work and love it or hate it or anything in between. People have hobbies. They like sports, they have friends, they go out together, they go on hikes and to the beach. They want to sell you things, they want to help you. Japanese people are stylish and very well dressed. There are foreigners among them, some living there permanently, with Japanese spouses or with families that immigrated all together. They are frustrated with their political situation (shout out to the bartender last Friday for giving me an angry rundown). Some of them are rich, many are not. Some are homeless but wear suits and ties so people on the street do not know. They will welcome you into their shop with a warm smile, greeting, and bow. Many do not talk to strangers, but some will start a lively conversation, and give you a special ten yen souvenir coin from the Phoenix Hall (thank you random lady). And of course, every one is an entirely different person. And of course of course, this is only about the Japanese people that I met on the course of my travels, not even starting to go into the Korean high schoolers at YMUN Korea, the other PII students who are from all over the world.

Here is a photo slideshow from the final week. We had our graduation ceremony and a special event with our host families today, where there was a lovely lunch buffet and each class put on a group performance. Our class sang and danced. Embarrassing, but fun.

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In order: Yummy pancakes, a local shrine, Shirakawa-go (a traditional village and world heritage site), a local garden in Kanazawa, me and my host parents, the sea, my class dancing.

Thank you so much to the Light Fellowship for making this summer possible for me. It’ll be one I’ll never forget!

Japan, see you next time.

COLOR

It seems a little inappropriate to talk about my experiences as a white Jew in a homogenous country of Japanese, while people are being shot in America because of the color of their skin. I’m going to engage in the exercise anyways, in hope that it can raise some thoughts for me.

I’ve been in Japan for almost two months now, but what happened to me today and last weekend would happen even if I had been living in Japan for twenty years. Today: hearing people say “Look at that 外人(Gaijin/Alien/foreigner)” on the bus; Last weekend: entering a local restaurant and being ogled/stared the heck out of for a solid minute and then being treated rudely by the staff. I’m not here to complain about it, because I have been treated with incredible generosity and kindness here. I just want to simply show that I don’t and can’t fit in in this country, because of color.

If I were to live here, especially without the support of a program like Princeton in Ishikawa, I would quickly adopt a Japanese hair-style, Japanese way of dressing, and avoid having conversations out of my comfort zone with strangers. The point is to fit in and get less stares on the street. I don’t mind now because I know my residence is temporary. But to be honest, the “Gaijin” barrier has prevented me from fitting in here more so than the language barrier. Even though I can converse with Japanese people, and know Kanazawa fairly well, it can be difficult and feel weird/inappropriate to try to be a local–because it’s obvious that I’m not.

Discrimination exists in varied forms in Japan. From 2015’s Miss Japan being criticized for not looking Japanese (being darker), to my friends getting harassed for speaking Chinese, it’s an interesting problem that’s not highly serious, but nevertheless present. For the few immigrants into Japan, such as a large number of Brazilians, life must be difficult.

How can this connect to America? Well, in America there’s certainly language discrimination. If one can’t speak English perfectly, one will likely be thought of as less “American”. The way people treat others also changes based on the type of English one speaks, with some types indicating less-educated backgrounds. The skin color problem is entirely different. In metropolitan areas in the U.S., one’s skin color doesn’t inherently bring about exclusion from being American/local, as a non-Japanese race does in Japan. But it certainly can bring about exclusion from certain types of establishments (i.e. restaurants, clubs), and exclusion or a “foreign” label in rural/suburban/certain areas (a rural farming town in IA, a small town in MS, wealthy suburbs of CT, a town on the TX border). This is not to begin to comment on the elephant in the room of police brutality.

Ok, good job Eric, you stated the obvious. Maybe next time I’ll be able to hone in. How do these labels manifest themselves in every day actions and behaviors? Can we escape labeling others? Etc

PHOTOS FROM THIS PAST WEEK

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In order: View of Kanazawa from near my host family’s house, Me playing Shakuhachi (bamboo flute), Nagashi-somen (picking up noodles from a bamboo chute), Visit to a local elementary school, Two photos from the 21st Century Art Museum, DELICIOUS RAMEN

Also. yes, #blm

 

 

japan, urban space, nature, thoughts

This week’s post is going to be short  because I’m exhausted after an exam. But all of us have had to write a speech, which we’re going to deliver in front of the rest of the program next Monday. Since my speech topic is a general comparison of Japanese and American architecture, I’ve been thinking a little bit about Japan, urbanization, nature, and the organization of space in general. I’m not going to write about the content of the speech, because in English it would be painfully boring, but just think a little bit about how space is laid out in these two vastly different countries. Scroll to the bottom to read what I’ve been up to this past week and see a short picture slideshow.

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A beautiful trail in Kagaonsen, credit to my friend Angel.

アメリカらしい/Typical America

  • Cities are sprawling, large green spaces within cities
    • Public spaces are essential, and any public square or park will be used extensively
    • Extensive systems of public transport tend to be limited to the biggest cities
  • Suburbs are huge–> spread and spread and spread beyond city limits into rural areas (exurbs); suburban and even urban homes have yards, ideally large yards (front and back)–yards imitate nature, one’s own natural world in one’s own territory
  • Driving is essential outside of city centers, shops and restaurants will concentrate in shopping malls, especially outdoor shopping centers with large parking lots

ニッポンらしい/Typical Japan

  • Cities are compact, with very few public or green spaces
    • I.e. very few parks, street benches, trash cans on the street; many Japanese cities will have gardens that may or may not require paid entry, some have parks but nearly every American city will have a substantial green space
    • Extensive public transport in a variety of cities, lots of outdoor vending machines
  • Suburbs are limited–> close to the city, they’ll have interior/concealed gardens rather than yards and suburban houses will be almost as tightly packed together as city houses, they will just be fewer stories
    • Interior garden is reminiscent of nature
  • Outside of the suburbs-beyond an hour away from most cities-protected forested mountains and farmland predominates. Rural living very distinct from suburban living, whereas in America they can overlap
    • Almost everywhere in Japan the forested mountains are visible, whereas in America you will have to go to particular places to see extensive swaths of land with no development

So there are a number of really interesting difference in the cities, suburbs, and rural areas that I think are very revealing about Japanese and American cultural attitudes about space. For example, the intense American desire to have a suburban house with its own yard–its own natural world. Japan is more content to have its nature segregated but accessible. One thing I’ve been struck by is how few public spaces there are in Japanese cities, which are otherwise extremely convenient. I think this says something about the division between the public and private life in Japan–one’s life isn’t very public, typically confined to distinct zones- the workplace, the school-place, the family circle. Another thing to note is the way that American building really takes over the landscape–suburban-style living can appear anywhere and everywhere, while Japan tends to keep its domination of the landscape confined to what is necessary–minimum living space, building up when possible, and agriculture.

Anyways I hope you find some of these observations interesting! Sorry for the lack of pictures above… boring amirite.

 

THIS WEEK’S SLIDESHOW:

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This past week for me:

Weekend at the beach and hot springs bath

Traditional Japanese crafts village- paper, glass, ceramics, lacquer, chimes

Ninjatera- a Buddhist temple with a ton of trap doors, secret rooms, and concealed staircases

Hung out with Kanazawa university students & ate ice cream

Studied for exam… took exam

I also had an idea to write about the violence, tragedies, and issues of race that are occurring around the world and in our own country and how that relates to globalization and Japan and language study and stuff but was not up to the task. Maybe next week…