Monday, October 31, 2011

The Chuck Season Premiere, Swarming Life and Television

Carol and I just finished watching (via the magic of the Interwebs) the season premiere of our favorite show, Chuck. In fairness, it's probably not both of our favorite shows (I adore Doctor Who, and I haven't gotten Carol to start the reboot yet, while I'm sure there are other shows out there she likes as much or more than Chuck), but it is our favorite show to watch together.

So as we were watching, I was trying to identify why Chuck is our favorite show (don't worry, this is spoiler free).

Television works, I think, because the viewers find a character or characters they identify with, someone with a perspective they can inhabit in their daydreams. This connection has been simplified and codified by reality-contest tv (as distinct from reality-documentary tv); starting with game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, where we call out answers at our television encouraging/ chastising/ competing with the game show competitors, we now can vote along for and about a slew of dancing, singing, performing "stars." We, the audience, have become the prize to be won.

I would also argue that audience identification with a character or characters fall into one of two categories: recognition and desire. Every successful character has a combination of traits that the fan either recognizes and connects with, or traits that the fan envies and desires (my best off-hand example of this is House; we [fans] all recognize our misanthropic tendencies while envying his brilliance. Better still, because he is an addict despite his genius, we are able to claim moral superiority).

So we (Carol and I) love Chuck because it charms us; it turns exciting to witty to whimsical to romantic at a pace that suits our personalities. Our least favorite episodes have consistently been those which give too much air time to one aspect of the aspects listed above: the action oriented episodes lose the romance, the most comic lose the spy mystery-thriller sense of danger, while the romantic episodes are mirthless. This, I think, says as much about us as about the quality of the show.

Chuck also does one of the things I love most in art: develops a self-sustaining world in which the fantasy's initial assumptions reveal to be a crux upon which the story turns. Bilbo's ring is truly the One Ring; the Enterprise crosses space to encounter new life, who then become the allies and villains of future episodes; "Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father." This is the unifying force that is always missing me from reality television and conventional sitcoms (where the characters are usually static, ie. Archie Bunker never really learns anything from episode to episode). This, I think, says a lot about me as an artist and as a consumer of art, and this thought has popped on a light bulb about The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which I read last week and have been unsatisfied-ly ruminating on ever since). More on that later.

Ok, if you're still with me, I'm about to go off the deep end in an effort to get this post back on track. Hang on to something secure.

Does there exist a pleasure in writing? I don’t know.... You write so that the life you have around you, and outside, far from the sheet of paper, this life which is not much fun, but annoying and full of worries, exposed to others, can melt into the little rectangle before you and of which you are the master. But this absorption of swarming life into the immobile swarming of letters never happens.
This idea of the "absorption of swarming life" into a controllable, enjoyable, master-able life resonates. Television offers the same absorption through reduced labor. No self-reflection, no terrifyingly blank pages, no cramps in your neck or hands. Choose the channel and watch life "melt into the little rectangle before you." Especially in the reality-contest and sitcom formats, we know that any drama created in the course of the first 20 minutes must be resolved in the final 10. How's that for immobile?

So Chuck, then, serves in some way as a miniature diary for Carol and I. As one of us said to the other in a commercial break: in between seasons Chuck and Sarah have worked at being married, and so have we. The show has, at certain moments, spoken to each of us on the challenge of a relationship and the spectacle of a well executed somersault. What we love about the show must be things we identify in ourselves, either in recognition or desire.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Visit the Serotonin Factory!

Three great reasons to click this link:
1) Jane's blog (The Serotonin Factory) is hilarious and heartfelt.
2) It's Friday, and you don't want to be doing any work anyways.
3) The Serotonin Factory has published one of the poems I wrote for Carol as part of her wedding present.


(For the record, I only got the idea to write Carol a book when a poem I wrote about Carol got published in the chapbook Friday Love Poems.  To read that one, you'll have to click the little button on the right hand side of Jane's blog and buy a copy of the book!)

Happy Friday!

A little work today, then up to Binghamton for Lamb Fest 2011 and a Chuck themed Halloween party!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thanks, Pinstripe Alley

It's a strange thing, to walk away.

I've been writing for Pinstripe Alley for 5 seasons. That's nearly as far back as the pinball machine of my memory goes. That's before I got my first job working for Keystone College after graduating from Bing. In the time I've been a writer for PA, I've lived in 5 states. I've gotten serious with my girlfriend, gotten engaged and gotten married. I remember writing on rainy days with nothing to do, and writing hurried posts before racing out the door or on lunch hours.

In all, I've written 1750 posts and 16633 comments on Pinstripe Alley. If my average post was 200 words and my average comment was 10 words (I'm kind of long winded, so I'm willing to bet it was more than that), then I've poured in 516,330 words. I just looked it up, and that's basically The Grapes of Wrath plus Huck Finn plus A Tale of Two Cities plus To Kill a Mockingbird. Or, a little less than Atlas Shrugged.

It's been a lot of writing.

I don't think I'll miss it, in the sense that the blog is only a click away when I need to talk baseball. I'm not sure I'd have been able to leave otherwise.

I searched out PA after reading about it in the New York Times just before the 2004 postseason. I was going to college in Maryland, and I had no one I could talk baseball with who could match my obsessive intensity. It was a lonely feeling, having this interest that no one else could relate to. So I found the community and dove in.

My favorite thing about PA was how much I've learned there about baseball. Internet communities are at their best, I think, when they are receptive to the work of teaching new members the things that are important to know. They are at their worst when members are impatient with new members stubbornness/ ignorance.

(Take WHIP: fancy name, odd numbers [1.12, 1.36, 1.5], no apparent connection the game and stats most of us grew up with. Call it baserunners per inning, and a baseball fan can understand it. Explain how a pitcher's baserunners per inning is more consistent year to year than their earned run average, and how WHIP has less luck involved with it, and it starts a great conversation that could turn the ERA proponent into a fan of WHIP- but you've got to want to have that conversation [and, in some cases, have it again and again]. In a lot of ways, running a baseball blog is like teaching: every year, new students who need to learn the same things, but you have to be as excited and engaged as though you were teaching it for the first time, never expect them to know the material already, because they are learning for the first time.)

My other favorite thing about PA was fitting in. My brother and father like baseball around as much as I do, and they are Yankee fans. That's everyone in my life I can talk to about the details of the game. I think I'll still need PA to feed that beast. Carol has learned a little bit about baseball, and she did get the trivia question right about teammates winning Cy Young Awards, but it's not quite the same intensity.

So, thanks Pinstripe Alley. I'll be seeing you soon.

The Yankees, Payroll, and the Free Agent Market

"No decision on Swisher has been made yet,'' the source said.

I can think of only one reason: the Yankees are deciding how to allocate their money, and it's possible they think they'd rather spend that $10.25M on a pitcher rather than Nick Swisher.

The dynasty Yankees had a platoon of fair to good players in left field, but the top rotation in the league. The teams that return to the postseason year after year, while all need an offense (see: Giants, 2011), they need starting pitching more.

I would be sad to see Nick Swisher leave, especially because there's no one in the system who I think can handle right field every day. But I'd be thrilled if Swisher leaving meant Darvish, or Buehrle, or even a trade for one of the high quality starters at the end of their arbitration years.

More pitching can only be good for the Yankees.

Student loan reform

While this blog isn't really intended to be a political blog, it is a receptacle for my stray thoughts.
So when I saw this tidbit on President Obama using an executive order to help new and recent graduates cut down the amount they owe on their student loans, I had two thoughts (actually, by the time I finish writing it's likely to be more than two thoughts).

First, the details:
the president would use his executive authority to expand the existing income-based repayment program with a “Pay as You Earn” option that would allow graduates to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 20 years and have the rest of their federal student loan debt forgiven.
Thought 1:
I wish this had been an option for me.

While my student debt is not crushing (locked in around $120 per month) it does feel interminable: I'll be paying that for the next 28 or so years. I assume I didn't qualify for the "Pay as You Earn" option when I was in college ('02-05, grad '06-07), because no one ever told me about it. But I also don't feel like I'd ever heard of the option.

(This is a fairly major concern for me, because I definitely think that education and information are the two things most lacking in this country at the moment.

For example, people believe that cutting taxes to increase corporate profit can help the economy, and because they believe this to be true, they want it to happen; but the only reason they believe it is because someone(s) with the platform and the incentive to provide false or misleading information has chosen to abuse a bully pulpit. Those with the money [read: corporations and billionaires] have almost unilateral control over the education of the majority of Americans.

If I could do 1 thing to transform the country, it wouldn't be reforming the tax code or shattering the 2 party system: I would break up the major news corporations. I would enforce the [almost always waived] prohibition on a single corporation owning multiple outlets and multiple platforms. I would require news outlets to run prominent corrections when fact-checked by independent reviews and auditors like Media Matters.)

Thought 2:
About damn time.

I'm a little worried by the precedent, and by the question of who will hold those bills, but at this point, who really cares?

The cost of a first class education has far outpaced the growth in earning power that degree confers, and something has to be done. Personally, I'd prefer a world where we accept that not all learners are best served by a 4 year degree, where community colleges and trade schools do the major work of career educations, where the value of a degree is not so watered down that more and more fields expect graduate work for entry-level to mid-level positions.

Since that world is unlikely to develop in the next month or so, this is the next best solution: demand of those who are most likely to default (and, therefore, contribute nothing towards the cost of their education) a reasonable share of their earnings for a very long time (for most of them, longer than they were alive before they made the decision to take on the education debt).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Get fit or die trying

Went to the gym this morning. 6:00 AM power hour.
Love it, need it, know it's good for me.

But man oh man, are my legs sore. Among the tortures exercises we put ourselves through, we did a lateral step wearing resistance bands around our ankles- just push your leg out and in from feet together to shoulder width apart, as fast you can, for about 20 seconds on each side. Repeat.

On the bright side, I've lost 15+ pounds in the last six months. But I've been feeling the down side all day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Search of a Broadside

Tonight, after Tuesday chess, Carol and I are headed to the Lit House to start working with the press there.

I think I'd like to begin working on a broadside, but I don't want to set one of my own poems. What to set? A friend's work? A favorite (Larkin, Yeats and Hughes all spring to mind)?

I think that as a warm up, while I turn this question over in my mind (and take opinions in the comments), I'll start by laying out the quote that serves as this blog's title and epigraph: "Love and fighting, and a little wine. Then you are always young, always happy." It's from Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat.