Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back on 2018

Mural seen in Antwerp, Belgium June 2018.

Looking back on it, in many respects, 2018 was not a great year for me. Had lots of drama and bullshit in many of my relationships with those close to me. Suffered thru four months in the middle of the year where my across-the-street neighbor descended into a drug-addled psychotic collapse featuring, among other things: angry threats, kidnapping someone's dog, damaging property, going in neighbors' yards, lying down in the middle of a busy street, chasing random cars screaming, and even covering the entire outside of his home with creepy spray-painted screed of lunacy and racist, alt-right garbage. It was daily escalating insanity. This being the heart of heavily-armed Texas, every day it felt like the neighborhood might collapse into a Tarantino scene. Shit was a horror movie for a bit there. Seriously. Mercifully, that bullshit finally ended. He's gone and the whole neighborhood came together, so now we've got cool neighbors as friends.

In 2018 I also worked a lot, at a fairly challenging job, and spent an absurd amount of time commuting in heavy Austin traffic. With all that, it's always refreshing to assemble a piece like this and realize I also made the time to do a lot of the things I love. Writing this reminds me of what an awesome year 2018 was in many ways. I got to deliver lectures on Finnegans Wake at two universities this year, one in Florida, one in Belgium. I got to travel to cool places, read lots of cool books, write some things worth reading, watch good movies, listen to good music, meet cool people. Here's a brief recap of cool stuff experienced in 2018.

Books read in 2018:

1. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon, and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis
2. Habitations of the Word by William H. Gass
3. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
4. The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain
5. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
6. Baseball Prospectus 2018
7. Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution by Brian Kenny
8. Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game by Rob Neyer
9. A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe by Fernando Pessoa
10. Joyce's Almaziful Plurabilities: Polyvocal Explorations of Finnegans Wake by 17 Joyce scholars
11. Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson
12. Reader's Block by David Markson
13. This is Not a Novel by Markson
14. Vanishing Point by Markson
15. The Last Novel by Markson
16. Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

In 2018, I discovered Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa who quickly became one of my favorite writers ever. I'm still going thru his Book of Disquiet, but his poetry collection A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe became a desert island book for me. Same with David Markson, who I wrote plenty about. I also loved The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain, a book that made a seismic impact on my view of history, religion, and culture. Also, The Most Dangerous Man in America was a fantastic read, a rich, historical page-turner providing a close look at the wildest era of Timothy Leary's mythological life journey, while unveiling unbelievable behind-the-scenes material from the Nixon Administration. Lastly---the insights provided in both Brian Kenny's and Rob Neyer's new baseball books were brain candy for this baseball geek.

Pieces Written in 2018:

1. The Secret Life of Mushrooms in Finnegans Wake
2. MLB 2018 Predictions
3. The Pantheon of FINNEGANS WOKE [the piece I'm most proud of, which I delivered at the Joyce Symposium in Antwerp]
4. Finnegans Wake and Child's Play
5. Rōnin Joyce Scholar, Thought to Be Dead, Resurfaces and Other Reports Following Bloomsday 2018 [in which the NY Times almost but doesn't disclose the fact that they mined this blog for material]
6. Healing Ingredients for Hard Times [Books, Music, and Baseball that got me thru a rough stretch]
7. Baseball in Finnegans Wake? [this was fun]
8. Book Review: Pynchon's Against The Day is Lit!!!
9. A Brief Note on "Marksmen": The Intricate Lyrical Design of Citizen Ka
10. Discovering David Markson and "The Notecard Quartet"
11. Thunderword No. 2 (of Finnegans Wake)
12. More Notes on David Markson and "The Notecard Quartet"
13. Album Review: Orpheus vs the Sirens by Hermit and the Recluse (Ka & Animoss)

Didn't get to write enough at my "Finnegans, Wake!" blog this year but I've got 6 or 7 pieces I'm working on for that space. Also still chipping away at 2 different books, there's just never enough time in the day.

Favorite Films from 2018: 

Three Identical Strangers
Triplets separated at birth who eventually re-unite. Incredible true story with a charming New York City trio, truly Pynchonian paranoia, and gut-wrenching tragedy. Admittedly, this movie made me cry like a baby.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse
I've been a fan of Spider-Man comicbooks for many, many years. After I recently bought a house, had all my old boxes full of comics shipped here from my parents' house in Staten Island. Been sifting thru them all and it's always the Spider-Man comics that are the most enticing to me. This movie captured the appeal of Spider-Man comics better than any Spider-Man film ever has. It could very well be the best superhero movie ever, because it so perfectly translated the look, feel, and style of action from comicbook page to film.

Bohemian Rhapsody
An extremely fun movie about an incredibly talented artist. The lackluster reviews surprised me because, while it may have some flaws in its narrative and imperfections in its production (I know some people couldn't get over how big Rami Malek's fake teeth were) this was simply a fantastic theatergoing experience.

Alfonso Cuarón.

Also enjoyed these:

Isle of Dogs
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Avengers: Infinity War
Black Panther

Favorite Albums from 2018:

Orpheus vs. the Sirens by the Hermit and the Recluse (Ka & Animoss)
See my full review here.

Ghost Files: The Bronze Tape (Remixes) by Ghostface Killah & Bronze Nazareth
Review forthcoming, this has been in constant rotation. Bronze has really perfected his sound and here he reinvigorated a mediocre album and turned it into a spectacle of bangers.

[Everything Estee Nack did.]
The whole Tragic Allies crew had a pretty busy year in 2018, but Estee Nack was just on a whole other level. By my count, he dropped a combined 15 LPs and EPs of new material in 2018. The sheer volume of output alone is astounding, but it's also almost all great music. He dropped seven collab projects with Al Divino alone, building a formidable one-two punch with one of the game's most gifted (and grimy) young artists. Nack has been a favorite emcee of mine for a long time, he's got a rugged street style but he also has fun on the mic. His craft is precise, his rhymes are visual and clever, knowledge is always prioritized, but what makes him stand out is his flow. He dances on the beat, never sacrifices enunciation when spitting with rapid-fire pace, and often spices things up with español mixed in. He's a unique dude, an unstoppable force on the mic, and it's time rap journalists and radio DJs put him up front when discussing the best emcees in the game. Check out Nack's website for some of the countless new projects he dropped and here are some favorites of mine:

Other new music I had in my ears during 2018 included albums from: Roc Marciano, Willie the Kid, Black Thought, Al Divino, Hus Kingpin, and Zagnif Nori who dropped a new EP Fer Noble filled with lush production, here's the title track:

Favorite Podcasts from 2018:

I spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting in traffic commuting back and forth to work, so podcasts have become essential for getting me thru life. The range of podcasts available out there is overwhelming, but I've found that the only podcasts I'm truly interested in are either about baseball or in-depth discussion of the current political madness. Here are the podcasts I listened to the most:

Effectively Wild
This pod took a hit when they lost Sam Miller to ESPN, but they've gotten into a nice groove now to where I'm even keeping up with all of the offseason episodes. It remains my favorite baseball podcast and probably my go-to podcast overall.

Infinite Inning
There's really no podcast quite like this. Steven Goldman enjoys the freedom to veer off deep into the weeds of baseball history, politics, pop culture, etc while always coming back to the baseball news of the day. I'd been wanting a Steven Goldman podcast for years and now that we finally have it, it's about as great as one could've hoped for.

Baseball by the Book Podcast
Veteran baseball writer interviews authors about their baseball books. I love the depth they get into on these. Also a great way to discover new baseball books.

Fangraphs podcast
Another nerdy baseball podcast, but it will no longer be the same now that its enigmatic host, Carson Cistulli, was hired to scout for a baseball team. Bummer.

Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt
Been spending lots of time going thru the archives on YouTube. Silverblatt is a treasure.

WTF with Marc Maron
Ah ya know, everyone enjoys this one.

New Yorker Radio Hour
They tend to be short, digestible and informative on today's news.

Rachel Maddow podcasts
I typically listen to the podcast version of her TV show every morning, but also the new "Bag Man" podcast she did which was incredible. "Bag Man" is an absolute must-listen for anyone looking for a glimmer of hope that we will get rid of the POS occupying the presidency. It details in full, for the first time ever, the story of how prosecutors brought down Nixon's Vice Prez Spiro Agnew, whose blatant crimes and public lies echo all too clearly with the crap on the news today. Dude was dead to rights on a bunch of blatantly shady crimes, negotiated a deal with prosecutors that he'd resign the Vice Presidency, then did so and claimed it was because Nixon had gone crazy and put a hit out to kill him. They made the deal for leniency with him because Nixon was about to resign or be impeached and they couldn't have an indicted felon VP take over. This shit happened! Listen to "Bag Man."

Gaslit Nation
Two female scholars on authoritarianism and geopolitics, Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa, dissect our current predicament with clarity and reams of documented evidence. These two are essential voices.

Mueller, She Wrote
Three comediennes break down the latest updates in the Mueller investigation, including interviews with legal experts. Nice to get a blend of the latest investigative journalism and a regular dose of humor from funny ladies.

Some Photos from Travels in 2018:

St. Pete
I traveled to the St. Petersburg area in March. Spent time on the beach, ate lots of fish, saw Spring Training baseball, visited the Dali museum, and got to deliver a guest lecture to my friend's literature class at the University of South Florida. (Thanks again, Layne!) Unfortunately I seem to have lost all my pics from this trip, dang it...

Went to Belgium in June for the James Joyce Symposium in Antwerp. The city of Antwerp was absolutely incredible, I had a wonderful time there. Deserves a more in-depth write-up here if I can ever make the time. Here are some pics from that trip:

View from inside the Antwerp train station, considered the most beautiful train station in the world.

View from the base of the Cathedral of Our Lady in the heart of Antwerp.

Street art throughout Belgium was impressive. Antwerp had a whole long block set up by the city for street art murals.

Had a vivid perspective of Greenland as we flew over it on the way home.

Bay Area
In September I was up in the Bay Area for a work conference. On the trip, I got to hang with some old friends, experience the redwood forests, drive along the coast, and spend lots of time in downtown San Fran and Berkeley. Also attended a Dodgers-Giants game. In fact, an incredible synchronicity happened that day---that morning my brother sent me a video of him attending a Hanwha Eagles KBO baseball game in South Korea. That same night across the Pacific in San Francisco, I watched as Hyun-jin Ryu shut down the Giants, and learned that the South Korean native Ryu spent seven years in the KBO playing for... the Hanwha Eagles.

The seals having a group nap in Santa Cruz.

Looking up at a redwood tree in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

As usual, I had the privilege of spending the holidays up in New York City to hang with family. I've got lots to say about this trip, such that it probably requires its own post. Had two full days to explore Manhattan alone and spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Ate so much pizza that I could probably do without pizza for a year. Saw an astounding art exhibit at the Guggenheim. Walked a lot, took pictures. Bought a bunch of books at stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Great way to finish off the year.

View from the Brooklyn Bridge. The walking path was packed, with representatives from literally the entire atlas.

A shot of my alma mater, Pace Univ, flanked by Frank Gehry's ripple skyscraper, the World Trade Center, and the Woolworth Building. As seen from Bk Bridge.

A bit of the Hilma af Klint exhibit at the Guggenheim, one of the coolest art exhibits I've ever seen. Need to write more about this.
Detail from one of Hilma af Klint's pieces.

View across the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park, looking south.

View from the Brooklyn Promenade.

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