Here Are Some Things I Ate Recently

In 10 days back on the east coast, I ate lots of things at lots of places. Here is a ranking of the best of it (home-cooked meals and wedding dinners excluded):

  1. Ippudo West – Ramen – New York City
  2. Rubirosa – Pizza! – New York City
  3. Joe’s Pizza – Pizza! – New York City (West Village)
  4. Miller’s Twist – Pretzel and Pretzel Dog – Philadelphia (Reading Terminal Market)
  5. LES Pizza – Pizza! – New York City
  6. Red Emma’s – Falafel Sandwich – Baltimore
  7. Bube’s – Roast Duck – Mt. Joy, PA
  8. Lunch Box – Bagel Sandwich with Lox – New York City
  9. The Point – Crab Cake Sandwich – Arnold, MD
  10. Brewer’s Art – Sausage Plate with Beer Pairing – Baltimore
  11. Nom wah Tea Parlor – Dim Sum – New York City
  12. Encantada – Very Sloppy Portobello Sandwich – Baltimore (American Visionary Art Museum)

Ranking everything is a little unfair, because everything in these 12 meals was very, very good. Basically, I only wanted to rank it because the meals at Ippudo and Rubirosa were that good.

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The Granger-Weasley Wedding: A Muggle Perspective (Fan-Fic)

The car rolled over the moors, lumbering through the humid June morning. It was a respectable car, certainly nothing flashy, moving at a reasonable pace. Seated in the front seat was a couple that were similarly respectable, reasonable, and certainly nothing flashy. The driver was a middle-aged man with thinning red-brown hair and a slightly ruddy complexion; seated beside him, poring over maps printed from the internet, was his wife, whose brown hair was tied loosely back. Both wore spectacles and were the model of middle-class practicality.

Filtering from the Peugeot’s speakers was a CD by the Australian rock band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, which the couple had bought on a year-long holiday down under a couple of years prior. That trip had been one of the few impulsive things either of them had ever done: Looking back, they were hard-pressed to explain what had driven them to suspend their dentistry practice and leave for Australia for an entire year.

“Lovely country, isn’t it?” the husband said to his wife. “Do you think they’re going to stay out here after the wedding?” She looked up from the maps that she was studiously examining and smiled.

“Well, they both work in London so I imagine they might end up at least a little closer to us. Oh, look,” she added, pointing to a signpost, “Ottery St. Catchpole, 1 mile. It should be coming up.” She buried her head back into the maps.

As the narrow road curved around a bulbous little hill, they spotted a narrow drive cutting through a bog marked by what appeared to be a freshly painted sign:

No. 127
THE BURROW

The husband was about to ask his wife if this was the driveway they were looking for, but realized he had no need: This was certainly it.

The evidence was a man standing some ways down from the sign, who began waving excitedly as soon as he saw the car slow down. He was middle-aged, with thinning hair that still retained much of its original bright red, wearing what could only be described as a wizard’s robe.

“The Grangers, at long last!” he exclaimed as the car pulled to a stop and Mr. Granger rolled down the window.

“Hello, Arthur! You didn’t have to meet us at the end of the drive,” said Mr. Granger by way of greeting, as Mrs. Granger leaned across her husband to wave her hello.

“Oh, it was no problem at all! I wasn’t sure if I did the number right — our home is usually unmarked. We don’t get your post, you know. Besides, I’m always fascinated by how unmodified muggle cars work.”

The Granger shared a bemused look, before Mrs. Granger spoke. “Would you like to drive it back to your house, then?” she asked.

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Frozen Grapes and Apple Juice Saved My Actor’s Life

Labor Day weekend 2017 was an extraordinarily hot one in the Bay Area. Headlines shouted that the heat wave “shattered” all-time records in San Francisco, with the thermometer hitting 106 in The City. Santa Cruz was the hottest it’s ever been, since records started being kept in 1874. Beforehand, news reports warned of “potentially deadly” heat, though I can’t find any reports of deaths. In Berkeley, where I was scheduled to shoot a short film in an un-air conditioned apartment (because very few people in San Francisco, Oakland, or Berkeley have AC) it hit 99 on Saturday. This posed problems.

I’d been working on this shoot since May, when I first wrote the script. While my professional commitment is to publishing and the general spread of knowledge, I still love writing and wanted to graduate from writing scripts solely as exercises. So I decided to write something I could actually shoot. On June 2, I met with my first actor, a co-worker of mine with a theater degree, for whom I had written the lead role. On June 19, I had what I considered to be the “Go/No Go” meeting: I called my father-in-law and asked if I could borrow his camera for the production. He said yes. So, with one actor and a camera — and with my wife lined up as producer and production designer — it was time to get going.

With Franny in charge of props, set dressing, and wardrobe, I was freed up to work through July and August on securing the rest of the talent (two more actors), scouting and securing locations, rehearsing, and learning how to shoot video well. In theory, this was plenty of time to prepare.

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I Don’t Blog in June

Last year, I only posted one item between May 1 and the end of June: this post about how I had been neglecting my blog so much that I had let the URL lapse. This year, I was able to remember to renew my domain registration. (I keep doing a one-year registration, because it never feels like I can afford the payment for a multi-year one, even though that saves money long-term.) But still, I haven’t posted anything since May 29.

Part of that is that I’ve been busy. I wrote a short film that I’m shooting in September. Most of my free creative time has been taken up by planning and budgeting and hiring and casting. Even though this short is of modest ambitions, there’s still a ton to do. The bad news is that I haven’t had time to do any writing — I’m behind on my personal journal-keeping as well as my blogging, and haven’t done any creative writing beyond tweaking that short script — though the good news is that I really, really enjoy all the minute production tasks that I’ve been working on.

The other part of my silence over the last month and a half is that I am, quite simply, behind on things I want to write about. The further behind you get, the harder it is to catch up. I have about half a dozen book reports I want to write, about things I’ve read and enjoyed and learned from over the five months since my last one. I want to write more in-depth about producing this short, and learning to direct, to create shot lists and storyboards, to cast, and to do all the other minute tasks that go into a film production. I want to write all this and more.

But for now, there is no time. I have about 30 headshots and actor resumes to look over, and I need to figure out where to do these auditions.

Yesterday’s Animals

This is a post-script to my post from two days ago about the animals I see on my long runs. Right now is an especially active time in the hills behind my apartment — late spring, as the summer heat is really beginning to come in (albeit inconsistently), in a year that saw extraordinary amounts of rain. This winter’s rains, of course, came after several years of historic drought, so many plants that went dormant to survive the drought are coming back with a vengeance. This means, of course, more food for the little animals, meaning more little animals, meaning more food for the big animals.

On yesterday’s run, an 8-mile run in which I climbed almost exactly 1,300 feet — over 100 feet per mile is a lot of uphill — I didn’t see any mammals except for squirrels. But the birds — oh, the birds! At the end of my third mile, I hobbled to some shade atop a ridge looking north out towards the Carquinez Strait. The wind was whipping up through the valley and birds were singing and it was peaceful. I stood long enough and quietly enough that the birds began zooming back and forth. They were gorgeous red-winged blackbirds.

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The Animals I See

Running is my favorite thing, rivaled only by writing. Running is when I feel sane, healthy, whole. It’s what lifts me when I feel down. It’s how I punish myself for my sins, real or perceived. It’s also my gift to myself; the endorphin glow is my reward for intense, personal labor. Like writing, running is a labor that I undertake with serious deliberation, doing it only (or primarily) for myself.

Running is how I commune with nature. Now that the rains are over, I can go back through the narrow path about half a mile from my apartment, the one that leads to the Shell Ridge Open Space. If my run is taking me far enough, I can follow the open space’s trails up and over the ridge, to the base of Mt. Diablo. I haven’t run that far in a long time.

Even if I stay on this side of the ridge, I can run high along the western side of the hill or low in the valley created by Indian Creek. Staying high along the ridge means I’m going to get blasted by the sun and have to put in greater effort over the big climbs. Flying low in the valley, I stay in the shade of the laurels and cottonwoods and buckeyes that grow along the creek bed, feeling like Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans. For a brief time this spring, there was water in the creek, but most of the time it’s dry.

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On Writing and Being a Cliche

Most cliches are cliches for a reason: Carrying the germ of truth, they allow a person who is creeping into cliche to assess the originality and motivations behind whatever they’re doing. We all think we are unique and individual, but as we creep into cliche we can ask, “Is this what people like me do? If so, why?” Or if you’re writing a character and they say or do something utterly trite, identifying this allows the creator to reassess that character and her emotions. How do we make this more original?

All of that, of course, requires a certain amount of critical introspection. Still, finding yourself slipping into cliche allows you to place your individual decisions into a broader social framework.

I have this on the mind because I am — like everyone is, in one way or another — a massive cliche. As a 30 year old white guy, of course I’ve written a screenplay. I don’t expect to ever be a professional screenwriter. In fact, that seems like a pretty disappointing job, hustling to get hired to do a rewrite on Iron Man 8 or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Now With Even More Turtle Power. Yet I do it, writing almost every day.

Why, though? If I’m just doing the same thing that so many people exactly like me do, why keep going? Why not find something that makes me unique?

The short answer is that it makes me happy. That’s why I maintain this blog, even though I only have time to post a couple times a month — and nobody reads anyway.  In my late teens and early twenties, I thought I was going to write the Great American Novel and wrote constantly. (That’s another cliche, of course, though the difference for me is that I actually dropped out of college to pursue it.) Sometimes I still fantasize about one of my screenplays getting optioned and turned into a Major Motion Picture and earning me an Oscar. Even if that never happens — and it won’t — I will continue to write.

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