Sunday, December 29, 2019

Looking Back on 2019 (Part 1)

Aztec Sun Stone seen at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.

The year 2019 will probably be one I always look back on as an important year in my life. While it was an extremely busy period where my work life expanded significantly and bled its way into my personal life, complex projects keeping me up nights and perplexing me on weekends trying to solve tech company conundrums, I also managed to make time to surf the waves of my passionate interests to new heights. The peak of the latter was an adventure in Mexico City where I delivered a lecture at an international literary conference (the fourth country and fifth university where I've got to share my work as an independent scholar) and visited the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan. I also got to contribute to some meaningful projects, had my first piece to appear in a book (link below), made a bit of income from literary work, and opened up new avenues for 2020.

In 2019 we also got a puppy---a sweet, playful, and loyal pit-shepherd mix who has transformed my life. I'd never had a pet before, ever. Growing up, my parents hated animals. My dad only refers to dogs as "shit machines." But I've always loved dogs. Our little tank boy ROA (named after my lady's favorite street artist) is a rescue we got this past September when he was 5 months old. He's huge and he has been a handful but he's kept me grounded and brought me an abundance of joy. Dogs are the best. A new thing I've learned is that one of the most peaceful feelings in life comes from simply laying on the couch at night after a busy day and watching tv with a puppy sleeping by you. For anyone paying attention to the news in 2019, the world is sort of in shambles right now, and for people like me who dive headlong into the news for weeks at a time it can get depressing and heavy. A big, energetic, playful and sweet puppy is a perfect antidote to that. Now that I have a dog I feel like dogs are essential, that dogs belong with humans and vice versa. They're not just loving and loyal and protective and playful, they're funny. Our boy ROA, when he's super tired he sticks his head under the couch and passes out. Here I'm gonna share a bunch of pics of our new doggy that we adopted this year (his full name is ROA Haymitch Flynndrino, I also call him Tank Boy and Baby Kangaroo), then I will share some lists and expanded thoughts on the stuff I did in 2019.

In Part 1 here I'll discuss the things I wrote and the places I traveled to in 2019. In Part 2, I'll share the list of books I read this year and Part 3 I'll discuss my favorite new albums from 2019.

Pieces Wrote in 2019:

[ this blog:]

The Wu-Tang Clan as a group and as a brand had a big year in 2019. The powerhouse conglomerate that arrived on the scene in the early 90s seems to constantly revive itself and for their 25th anniversary the WTC brought a big splash with the phenomenal Showtime docuseries Of Mics and Men and the drama miniseries Wu-Tang: An American Saga on Hulu. With these projects we got a big press push, lots of media appearances from the Clan---so in this blog post I assembled some of my favorite recent clips and also wrote up my own history as a Wu-Tang fan who grew up in Staten Island during the golden age of Wu-Tang. The piece was organized around my thoughts on each member of the group.

Speaking of the ongoing Wu-Tang Clan revival, I wrote this piece about Ghost Files: Bronze Tape which was the first full-length album from one of the nine Wu generals that was fully produced by Bronze Nazareth, arguably the most talented musicmaker under the Wu umbrella right now. Diehard Wu heads like myself have been lobbying for this type of project for years so it was a monumental occurrence when it finally happened. The result is outstanding---as I wrote in the review, Bronze turned this Ghostface record into a cohesive, cinematic audio experience. The record dropped in late 2018 but it was one that remained in my ears throughout 2019. 2019 was a pretty good year for (real) hip hop (I'll list my favorite albums in Part 2), but the Bronze Tape could be up there among my favorite releases of the 2010s decade for the production alone.

In June, I spent 10 days in Mexico City and it blew my mind. I'd heard of the place before but didn't know of its grand scale and deep history. In this piece I recount the impact Mexico City had on my senses. All the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of that enormous, richly exotic and fascinating world, a vast metropolis in the heart of the mountains and volcanoes of Central America, it recalibrated my sensorium. The main highlights of the trip were the "Eat Like a Local" food tour we did, which took us all throughout the city, eating street food and taking the subway to the huge markets where we weaved into the depths, where every vendor stand overflowed with a smorgasbord, and family grills made the best food you've ever had in your life---and our journey to the pyramids of Teotihuacan, a place that I still think about everyday. Teotihuacan had to be the coolest thing I've ever witnessed in my life---an ancient, advanced civilization, an entire city of carefully constructed pyramids from more than 2,000 years ago and it had been a lost city for millennia, only dug up in the last 100 years. It was a powerful, mind-expanding time getting to be in that space. Read about my experience there in this piece.

The Hauntology of The Gold Room by Sadhugold
Wrote this short piece about a new album I love that dropped in 2019, The Gold Room by Sadhugold. This is an instrumental album that conjures scenes and elements from Kubrick's movie The Shining entirely through its lo-fi dusty, spectral vibe as well as the track titles. No voices, no clips from the movie, just the producer supplying ghostly hip hop sounds that mutate and sputter and float and crash. And as I wrote in this piece, the album also perfectly embodies Derrida's notion of Hauntology, a form of music using retro-aesthetic distorting techniques to evoke material from the cultural memory---conjuring the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining thru dusty vibes and distorted bangers.

Baseball and Mets stuff
As I do every year, I wrote capsule previews of every team in MLB before the season. Those picks did pretty well overall, but the Mets prediction certainly did not. At the midpoint of the season I wrote an evaluation of where the Mets were at and what they'd need to do to get better since they kinda sucked at that point. (In both pieces I highlighted Edwin Diaz's usage and performance as what the Mets success would hinge on...) With 2019 coming to a close, here now is my view of how the Mets 2019 season went:

The 2019 Mets season had so many bright spots, it was often thrilling to follow this team. They had so many incredible individual performances---Jacob deGrom ended up winning the NL Cy Young Award for the 2nd year in a row, continuing his historically dominant run. Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso not only won the Rookie of the Year Award, he also obliterated Mets franchise home run records for a single season and broke the MLB record for home runs by a rookie. Super utility man Jeff McNeil was thrilling to watch all year he very nearly won the batting title and his overall production by WAR matched Alonso's. A steal from the Astros, J.D. Davis was a clutch god, always in the middle of exciting rallies (he's a fantastic hitter but abysmal fielder). Michael Conforto had probably his best full season ever. Dom Smith broke out, got hurt for a while, then came back and crushed a thrilling walkoff homer in the final at-bat of the season. Amed Rosario turned his season around offensively and defensively at the halfway point in an impressive way. A lot of great, even historically great things happened for the Mets in 2019.

The Mets had depth on offense, they had a fully healthy season from their starting rotation, they had one of the best pitching seasons of all-time from deGrom (despite their puzzling failure to win games he started) and they got one of the franchise's all-time best relief pitching seasons from Seth Lugo. So many great things, so many unforgettable thrilling comeback wins, and yet the Mets finished in 3rd place, 3 games out of a playoff spot. Considering the perfect storm of healthy seasons from their main contributors, elite performances from many of those same players, and a playoff race that they were in the thick of until the final weeks, it was actually an excruciatingly bad season overall. This wasn't a perfect roster, the defense was bad, but by most measures it was actually one of the best teams the Mets have fielded in the 21st century. The main reason they failed, perhaps even the sole reason (only besides their fired manager Mickey Callaway) is, sadly, pinpointed on two guys: Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. These two end-game arms were brought in before the season to provide stability at the back of the bullpen. Instead they engineered one gut-wrenching late-inning collapse after another after another. The extent of their inability to hold a lead late in a game was astounding and confounding, as Clyde Frazier might say.

That the Mets as a team kept coming back the next day resilient and ready to fight again after so many collapses was reassuring. But in the end this was one of the most painful and disappointing Mets seasons I can remember. After a terrible start to the season, at the end of August the Mets seemed on their way to snatching a wild card spot. They'd just had one of their most exciting wins of the year, a comeback in the 9th from being down 3 to win in a walkoff against the Nationals in Queens. They were in the midst of an insane hot streak with many thrilling comeback wins. Then they started to sputter. They went into Washington in early September for a huge series they needed to sweep to stay alive. They'd end up winning 2 out of 3 but the game they lost seemed to mark the end of their playoff hopes. In that game the Mets led by 6 runs with 1 out in the 9th inning and proceeded to give up 7 straight runs to lose the game to Washington. Of course, it was Washington and not the Mets who would win the wild card. And then it was Washington who went on a run to win their first ever World Series. With the convergence of historically great seasons from so many (healthy) players that they had, it could have and should have been the Mets taking the wild card and going on a playoff run. The 2019 baseball season sucked. I blame the rabbit ball.

[Pieces wrote in 2019 at my "Finnegans, Wake!" blog:]

This was one of my favorite pieces I wrote this year, a close reading of pages 18-19 of Finnegans Wake featuring discussion of the story of Belshazzar's Feast, the prophet Daniel and the writing on the wall; words and letters as objects; runes and ancient alphabets; and history contained within the layers of the landscape of the earth.


As far as my writing goes, this was the ultimate highlight of 2019. I worked on writing this piece for months. This was a topic I'd been researching for a couple years. Then I got to deliver this paper as a presentation at the North American James Joyce Symposium in Mexico City. The paper was very well-received which made the whole thing worthwhile. After the conference I stepped away from this piece for a bit so as of now it has not been published anywhere yet. In 2020, I need to get back to it and polish it up to be submitted for publication somewhere. In the meantime, you can read a little about the piece here and also find a link there to a video of this presentation I gave at Casa Universitaria del Libro in Mexico City.

This was something I'd been thinking about ever since Agent Orange jumped into the presidential race. I wrote about it in 2016 and now in this piece I expand on the message Finnegans Wake provides us about Trump.
So snug he was in his hotel premises sumptuous  
But soon we'll bonfire all his trash, tricks and trumpery
As I mention in this piece, you can actually look into Finnegans Wake to read the news. It's uncanny but it's undoubtedly true. Here I describe how Finnegans Wake draws readers' attention to the region of Crimea and a certain Russian general and then I provide an analysis of "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly," a polemical song in the book that feels like James Joyce's version of the "lock him up!" chant that greeted Trump at the World Series this year.

This piece blew up and got more reads than anything I posted this year. This is an in-depth discussion with two of my friends, Derek Pyle and Gavan Kennedy, who were involved in events and projects celebrating the 80th anniversary of the publication of Finnegans Wake. The discussion goes into the details of those events and projects but also we dig into the importance of Finnegans Wake for people in the modern world and it gets really interesting. Here's a snippet of Gavan's response:
My sense of Wake is that JJ realized the tragic trajectory of humanity and the inevitable outcome – The End - if we didn’t wake up. And soon. So, sacrificing himself and family, he built Wake in order to save humanity from itself. The complexity of the work is countered by what I see as the simplicity of his solution: the transrational realization that on a most basic level, on the level Paul Tillich referred to as our “ground of being’, we are not really separate from each other. It is, after all, Joyce’s answer to the final question in The Quiz (I.6): ‘Semus Sumus!’ It is the final answer. He has given us the key. Incidental? Possibly. Volitional? Probably. He didn’t mince words… accidentally.  
Joyce knew that transrational means were required to deliver a transrational epiphany. So he purpose-built a machine capable of delivering the message in the only form he knew how - a book using transrational language. 

McLuhan's Jolting Thunders & more
This year I read Eric McLuhan's incredible book The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake. It's one of the most detailed, in-depth, informed studies of Joyce's book I've read. McLuhan comes at it from a medievalist perspective, familiarizing the reader with the tradition of Mennipean satire before he uses that outlook to explain how each of the ten thunders in Finnegans Wake represents an advancement in technology. In this piece I assembled some thoughts on that plus a bunch of links about Finnegans Wake related news.

Contribution to The Echo is Where by Peter O'Brien page 76-77
I submitted a piece for this fun project, an e-book collecting prints from Peter O'Brien's ongoing artwork illuminating the pages of Finnegans Wake. I wrote a bit about The Echo is Where project here including some images of O'Brien's work.

[This year I also edited the screenplay for Susie Lopez's film project "Wake the Streets" a short film of Finnegans Wake, created for the newly opened MoLI museum in Ireland.]

Travels in 2019:

Noteworthy travels this year included an amazing experience in Mexico City and three separate trips to New York City doing cool stuff.

Mexico City, June 2019
-My Nike Air Huaraches climbed to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in the middle of the desert at Teotihuacan. A direct experience of ancient history that blew my mind.
-Ventured throughout the enormous metropolis with a local guide eating all kinds of new and varied foods.
-Walked down the block from our big Airbnb penthouse to see the house from Alfonso Cuaron's movie Roma, then watched Roma from a living room in Roma that night.
-Hosted a Finnegans Wake group (alongside Rodney Sharkey, a professor from Qatar) that ended up featuring something like 40 or 50 of the world's most knowledgeable Joyce scholars. An assemblage for the ages, it was pretty intimidating and a little unwieldy actually, but I had a great time.
-Delivered what could be the best thing I've ever written, "Binaries & Bibliomancy: Finnegans Wake as the Western I-Ching" at the Casa Universitaria del Libro. Had great discussions about the paper with peeps at the conference.
-Explored the National Anthropology Museum multiple times, a place that's world-renowned for its vast collection of Native American artifacts and impressive architecture.

Chinese Scholar's Garden in Staten Island.

Wu-Tang District in Shaolin/Staten Isle.

Manhattan seen from Brooklyn.

Mets vs Indians game, right in front of the SNY booth with my nephew, my bro and my sis. Epic time.

NYC x3
- Was in New York for the July 4th weekend, attended a fun wedding for one of my best friends. The dinner entertainment was really cool, featured sword-fighting and traditional Central Asian dance performances by a troupe from I think Kazakhstan.
- Had a fun day on Staten Isle where I went to the Chinese Scholar's Garden in Snug Harbor and then checked out the Wu-Tang District in Park Hill. (Pics above)
- In August, stayed a few days at a beach house with family in NJ and had a good time. Also on that trip I went to a Mets game on the 7 train, bringing my nephew Rocco thru four boroughs on a summer afternoon in NYC. He'd recently returned from an extended stay in Guam where my bro and his family lived. It was his first ever baseball game, we had seats right in front of the SNY booth and the Mets slapped the shit out of the Indians in an exciting game. The crowd was lit and my nephew had a great time at his first game. Then we rode the 7 train home, Rocco reading a Spider-Man comic as the train rumbled over elevated rails thru Queens and into Manhattan.
- I just returned from a Christmas visit to NYC to hang with my family and my lady's family. Ate delicious Greek food in Queens, walked to Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria, spent a couple days all over Brooklyn, ate a lot of pizza, and saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for the second time in a dope new theater in Staten Island with my nephew and my brother.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you had a great year. You predicted 95 wins for the Indians, in the event they had 92 wins. I am looking forward to your Indians forecast for 2020, and also look forward to the music recommendations and book reviews in Part II.