Different World

1. Marcia and I made a brief return to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We wanted to get some hikes and exploring in, but we weren’t quite ready to do a trek as heinously difficult as the one we did last October. So instead of carrying our tents, bedding, and food down into and back out of the Canyon, we elected to stay at the Under Canvas resort some 20 miles south of the Park Boundary, and it was a delightful experience. Yeah, we slept in a tent, but we didn’t have to carry it. And it had a wood stove, which was helpful when the temperatures dropped to 29°F on Friday night. We ate breakfast and dinner in Under Canvas’ main tent, twice each, and the food quality and ease of ordering and service were both outstanding. We also had live music out under the stars each night, while we made S’mores over the propane fire pits, and it was a nice place to just sit around when you didn’t feel like doing anything strenuous. We’ll do that sort of trip again, for sure. (They’ve got several other locations around the country, so we’re already scouting them out). For our Grand Canyon hike, we elected to take the South Kaibab Trail down to Skeleton Point, down some three miles horizontally and 2,100 feet vertically from the South Rim, just far enough to get a first peek at the Colorado River, waaaaayyyy further below us. (It made our minds boggle that we actually went all the way down there last fall, and then hiked back out, with 30-pound packs). This past weekend, we made it down to Skeleton Point in about 90 minutes, and back out in about two hours, the latter trip slower not only because of the vigorous climbing, but also because of the temperatures, which approached 100°F, with the sun’s position offering paltry shade as we hugged the cliff walls on the way up the various switchbacks. The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back toward Flagstaff and hiked up to Red Mountain, a really distinctive and cool collapsed volcanic formation. I snapped some pics, as I do, and you can see them by clicking of the sample photo below, taken at Cedar Ridge, about halfway down to Skeleton Point. . .

2. For our final years in New York and our first couple of years in Des Moines, I used to go out golfing with Marcia fairly regularly. She’s good at it, I’m not. But during our first stint in Iowa, I just got really tired of not only doing something that I couldn’t excel at, but also of the truly obnoxious “golf bro” culture that was so prevalent on courses there, public and private alike. So I quit golfing at that point, for those and a variety of other reasons. Fast forward to this spring, when for a variety of other, other reasons, I’m going to take it up again. I played nine practice holes yesterday and another nine today. I’m still not good, but I was pleasantly surprised how much muscle memory I maintained from having done it all those years ago. We’ll see how it all plays out. I think the fact that we now live in a place where you can play year ’round, and the fact that there’s a course at the end of our road, and the fact that this is mostly a lower-key, bro-free, retiree-laden community, hopefully will mean it’s easier to go out and have a good experience without having to be rushed by or listen to a shouty gaggle of drunken, cigar-smoking, racist/sexist louts trying to channel their inner John Daly. And I’m always happy to have the extra time with Marcia, so that matters too, a lot.

3. Another back to the future note: when the first Roomba robot home vacuums came out, I had to have one. But we found that the size of our house, and the fact that we had three cats, and the buggy early versions of that particularly home technology meant that our first Roomba didn’t get much done before gagging on cat hair and then spending an hour desperately cleaning and re-cleaning one table-leg until its battery ran out. A few months back, though, Katelin and John told us they had gotten a new one, and that the newer technology version seemed to be working well for them. So we gave it another try with a second Roomba, and I have to say that it seems to be working well for us this time. I can send the helpful little robot out from my phone while we’re out of the house, and so far, it just does its thing, and then properly takes itself home to its little docking station once it’s finished being useful. When I set up the account for the new helpful beastie, I had to give the unit a name. It didn’t take me long to settle on Tarkus, and if you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you’ll probably know why that is. I put a sticker of his eponymous armadillo-tank on Tarkus’ shell, so he’d know who is he, and when he does a particularly good job at his assignments, I’ve taken to giving him a little reward for his good work and service . . .

Clear the battlefields, and let me see . . .

4. I was sorry to read that Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner passed away this week. He was a core member of the interestingly odd Beggars Opera in the early 1970s, before a brief, but high-impact stint with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, appearing on the landmark “Berlin Era” albums Low and Lust for Life. His most lasting contribution to the core rock canon was his amazing riff and music for “The Passenger,” a critical, crucial song in the twinned journeys of Iggy and David at their most enigmatic and experimental. Iggy’s touring band in support of Lust for Life featured Bowie, Gardiner, and the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony) rhythm section, and those shows are arguably among the all-time most legendary live rock events, ever. Ricky Gardiner continued to write and record in a variety of genres until his failing health rendered him finally silent. He was a player, for sure, in the true and best sense of that word. Here’s a nice video for “The Passenger,” if you want to hear why that was the case . . .

A Life of Belief in 100 Books

While fleshing out a full-length book manuscript based on the periodic Credidero series I ran here some years ago (sorry, I can’t link you to it, since I removed those articles from my digital domains), I found myself reflecting upon and consulting a variety of fiction and non-fiction tomes as both references and inspirations. The act of digging through old and recent titles alike led to me to further consider the books which have had the most profound impacts on what I believe, how I believe, and how I communicate my beliefs. Which, me being me, meant that I had to make a list. And then, of course, that meant that I had to share the list, which I do below.

The final 100-book list isn’t limited to the “big topic” themes covered in more detail in the Credidero manuscript, because I had, have, and will have strongly-held beliefs about a lot of “small” topics, too, both in the real world and in the created worlds of countless great story-tellers. Many years ago, Marcia affectionately called me a “crank.” I asked why she said that, and she explained “Because you have strong feelings about too many things.” She was, and remains, correct, and as I was working on the list posted below, I smirked regularly in realization that these are the books that most often pointed me forward in zealous pursuit of some new crank-like obsession or interest. That said, note that I am only including one book or one series (when relevant) per author, since there are a small number of writers who I’ve read in extreme depth, and it seemed reductive to dedicate line after line to such obsessions. I’ve opted to feature only the very most moving and influential works by each author included here, figuring that if one book suggestion moves you, you can find the other works as readily as I once did.

The dates cited in each entry in this list represent the current or most recent publication dates for the available works, per WorldCat.org, and not the books’ original dates of publication. I read a lot of these in the ’60s or ’70s, but most of the books that most moved my early years have since been subsequently released, so I’m going with the contemporary versions, to make it easier if anyone wants to find any of them. With that preamble complete, here’s the list of the 100 books that I’d cite as the most influential in my intellectual, spiritual, psychological, and emotional development over the past half-century-plus.

What would your list look like? Do please share, if you’re inspired to develop one!

The Holy Bible: King James Version. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 2000.

Reef Points (1982-1983 Edition). Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1982.

Abbott, Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Vancouver, Royal Classics. 2021.

Adams, Douglas. The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. London: Pan Books, 2020.

Azerrad, Michael. Our Band Could Be Your Life. Boston: Little Brown & Company, 2012.

Bae, Suah. Recitation. Dallas, Texas: Deep Vellum Publishing, 2017.

Baker, Nicholson. The Mezzanine. London: Granta Books, 2020.

Ballard, J. G. The Atrocity Exhibition. London: Flamingo, 1993.

Bazterrica, Agustina María. Tender Is the Flesh. New York: Scribner, 2020.

Brackett, Leigh. The Sword of Rhiannon. Bellevue, WA: Paizo/Palnet Stories, 2009.

Brown, Peter Currell. Smallcreep’s Day. London: Pinter & Martin Ltd, 2008.

Brosh, Allie. Solutions and Other Problems. New York: Gallery Books, 2020.

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.

Burn, Doris. Andrew Henry’s Meadow. New York: Coward-McCann, 1965.

Burroughs, Edgar Rice. The Complete Barsoom Series. [United States]: SFBC, 2006.

Carroll, Lewis, John Tenniel, and Leonard S. Marcus. The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2005.

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2020.

Catling, Brian. The Vorrh Trilogy. London: Coronet, 2016-2018.

Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End. London: Pan Books, 2017.

Crowley, John. Engine Summer. London: Gollancz, 2013.

D’Aulaire, Ingri Parin, and Edgar Dorin D’Aulaire. D’Aulaire’s Norse Gods and Giants. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986.

Davies, Robertson. The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels; What’s Bred in the Bone; The Lyre of Orpheus. London: Penguin Books, 2011.

Delany, Samuel R. Nova. New York: Vintage Books, 2002.

Dewar, Elaine. Smarts: The Boundary-Busting Story of Intelligence. Toronto: Debonaire Productions, 2015.

Dick, Philip K. The Valis Trilogy. New York: Book of the Month Club, 1990.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Eco, Umberto, and William Weaver. Foucault’s Pendulum. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 2007.

Faber, Michel. The Book of Strange New Things. New York: Hogarth, 2015.

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Modern Library, 1957.

Gardner, John. Grendel. London: Gollancz, 2015.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin, 2016.

Gorey, Edward. Amphigorey. New York: Perigee Books, 1981.

Gould, Stephen Jay. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: Norton, 2007.

Grass, Günter. The Flounder. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1978.

Groening, Matt. The Huge Book of Hell. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Harris, Rick. A Book With No Title. Fillmore South, FL: Thoughts on the Dead, 2017.

Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. New York: Harper Collins, 2018.

Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. London: Vintage Books, 2019.

Herbert, Frank. Dune. London: Gollancz, 2021.

Herzog, Hal. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. New York, USA: HarperCollins, 2022.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper & Row, 1995.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. London: Faber and Faber, 1975.

Juster, Norton and Jules Pfeiffer. The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis and Other Stories. London: Penguin Classics, 2020.

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Klosterman, Chuck. Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas. London: Faber & Faber, 2013.

Koja, Kathe. Skin. New York, NY: Dell, 1994.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Clitheroe, England: Joosr Ltd, 2016.

Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019.

Kruse, Kevin Michael, and Julian E. Zelizer. Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2020.

L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. Penguin Books Ltd, 2018.

Lee, Karen An-hwei. The Maze of Transparencies. Jackson Heights, NY: Ellipsis Press LLC, 2019.

Lewis, C. S. The Space Trilogy. New York: New Canadian Library, 2014.

Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press, 2017.

Loeb, Avi. Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. John Murray Press, 2021.

Liu, Cixin. Rememberance of Earth’s Past Trilogy. New York: Tor Books, 2014-2016.

McDonnell, Patrick, Karen O’Connell, Georgia Riley De Havenon, and George Herriman. Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2004.

McNeal, James R., and Scott Tomasheski. The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy’s Greatest Tradition. Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2020.

Montell, Amanda. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism. New York: Harper Wave, 2021.

Morgan, Fred T., and Virginia Ingram. Ghost Tales of the Uwharries. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Bandit Books, 2007.

Morrow, James. The Godhead Trilogy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Moskowitz, Samuel. Science Fiction by Gaslight: A History and Anthology of Science Fiction in the Popular Magazines, 1891-1911. Westport, CT: Hyperion, 1974.

Nash, Ogden. Bed Riddance. Camp Hill, Pa: Book-of-the-Month Club, 1970.

Neal, Charles. Tape Delay: Confessions from the Eighties Underground. London: SAF Pub, 2001.

Nichols, Peter. A Voyage for Madmen. London: Profile Books, 2011.

Niven, Larry, and Jerry Pournelle. The Mote in God’s Eye. [United States]: SFBC, 2005.

O’Gieblyn, Meghan. God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning. New York: Doubleday, 2021.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Penguin Books, 2021.

Oyler, Lauren. Fake Accounts. New York: Catapult, 2021.

Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae. Ann Arbor: Cumberland Yale University Press, 2014.

Peake, Mervyn. The Gormenghast Trilogy. London: Vintage, 1999.

Peary, Danny. Cult Movies: The Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird, and the Wonderful. New York: Gramercy Books, 1998.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. London: Flame Tree Collectible Classics, 2021.

Powers, Richard. The Overstory. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2021.

Priest, Christopher. The Islanders. London: Titan Books, 2017.

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014.

Rawls, Wilson. Where the Red Fern Grows. New York: Delacorte Press, 2018.

Ressner, Philip, and Jerome Snyder. Jerome. New York: Parents’ Magazine Press, 1967.

Robbins, Tom. Another Roadside Attraction. Harpenden, England: No Exit Press, 2007.

Rockwell, Theodore. The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference. Annapolis (Md.): Naval Institute Press, 1992.

Shahn, Ben. The Shape of Content. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Sinclair, Andrew. Gog. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967.

Smith, J. Eric. Eponymous. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2001.

Swarthout, Glendon Fred. Bless the Beasts & Children. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2014.

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Ulysses. Placerville: Blackwood Press, 1979.

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Other American Stories. New York: Modern Library, 1998.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. London: Harper Collins, 2014.

Turco, Lewis. The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2020.

Untermeyer, Louis. The Golden Treasury of Poetry. Racine, WI: Western Pub. Co, 1972.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. London: 4th Estate, 2018.

Vollmann, William T. Fathers and Crows. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Vonnegut, Kurt. The Sirens of Titan. London: Gollancz, 2014.

Walton, Evangeline. The Mabinogion Tetralogy. New York: The Overlook Press, 2002.

Waters, John. Shock Value. New York, N.Y.: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995.

Watters, Ethan. Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the Western Mind. London: Robinson, 2011.

White, T.H. The Once and Future King. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass (1855-1892). New York, N.Y.: Library of America, 1984.

Wigginton, Eliot. The Foxfire Book. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1973.

Zamyatin, Evgenii. We. Garden City, NY: Dover Publications, 2021.

This might just be the most personally influential and beloved book in my lifetime of reading. If you have a child in your life, please give them this! Or just buy it for yourself. It’s magical.

Your Turn to Remember

We’re back home in Northern Arizona this weekend after a visit to Marcia’s home city of Minneapolis. We rented a super nice AirBnB right across the street from the hill where Marcia and her friends would sled when she was a kid each winter. Which (because Minnesota) apparently ran from October to May. We had spent a couple of weeks in Minneapolis two summers ago just a bit north of this neighborhood, and it was an absolutely lovely trip. But that was summer, and this was not, and it was made plainly clear to us that 18 months in balmy Arizona has definitely undone 35 years worth of biological adaptation developed from living in frigid Northerly climes. I was cold the whole time, at bottom line.

But that was all okay, as the trip was worth the effort to spend time with Marcia’s extended family, gathered for a celebration of life for her sister Mary Ellen, who died in Phoenix last winter. The celebration was held at Next Chapter Winery in New Prague, Minnesota, owned and operated by members of Mary Ellen’s first husband’s family. It was a wonderful venue, highly worth a visit should you find yourself thereabouts.

Marcia is the youngest of 11 siblings, three of whom have flown away at this point. Seven of the surviving eight were together this weekend (two having traveled from Washington state, one from Texas, and us from Arizona), along with a lot of nieces and nephews, and it’s always lovely to spend time with them all. Here are photos of the five surviving Brom sisters, and seven of the eight surviving Brom siblings, at a great group dinner arranged by Marcia’s sister Carol at Axel’s in Mendota:

We drove several times by the house where Marcia and her siblings were raised, just a few blocks away from our AirBnB. I snapped this shot of their home one morning while out chorin’, and after having had to scrape ice off of the car’s windshield, brrr!

The Brom Family backyard was dominated and shadowed by the Church of the Incarnation, which is where Marcia and I were married in the summer of 1989. Sadly, the church experienced a devastating fire a few months back, but it was good to see construction crews busily working to restore and fully re-open this historic neighborhood hub. For the music nerds who hover about here: this was the hard-scrabble neighborhood that spawned The Replacements, and Marcia had various childhood relationships with the band’s members and their families; the cool “Raised in the City” map of the Mats’ formative years features “Inky” (as the Church and its school were known locally) as key site #17, along with a lot of other neighborhood landmarks.

Since it was too cold and windy and rainy for us to walk outside much (though the Minneapolitans seemed perfectly happy to ramble around in the brisk weather), we rode over to the Mall of America one afternoon to get an indoor walking session in, and also to catch the new Nicolas Cage film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which was quite the hoot, and highly recommended. I also took advantage of the chill to hunker down under a blanket at the house and get a good deal of reading done, including what I’d consider to be the leading contenders, at this point, for my best novel and best nonfiction books of 2022, thus far. Here are links to those, if you need a couple of good reads:

On our last night in Minneapolis, we had an utterly stellar dinner out at a restaurant just across Lake Harriet from Marcia’s native ‘hood. It was an Argentine-inspired joint called MARTINA, and, again, we highly commend it to you, should you need a fine culinary experience while visiting the Twin Cities. Earlier in the weekend, we’d also had some outstanding carry-out dinners from Boludo (again Argentine-inspired, but this time making pizzas) and Young Man (quirky pan-Asian with a decidedly Upper Midwestern twist), both of them located near the intersection of South 38th and Nicollet, right in the heart of Marcia’s childhood neighborhood.

The day after we arrived home, Marcia went out in the blessedly warm weather for her bi-weekly golf outing, and I went out for my regular sunny-day hike. As often as I’ve scrambled up and around and through the red rocks in our neighborhood, I still spot and explore new “trails” (I use that term lightly, since I’ll follow animal tracks that most folks wouldn’t deign to risk), and that was the case yesterday as well, as I stumbled upon a new-to-me cave, and found a passable route up to the top of a prominent local rock structure with sublime and quiet views of one of the busiest tourist hiking zones in the region.

I end this post with three snaps from that hike. I’m happy that we got to spend time with Marcia’s family in the community that gives them their collective “sense of place,” even though it was a sad event that drew us all together this time. And then, I am just as happy to be back in our new-ish home town, feeling good that we’ve found our own great place at this juncture in our lives, beautiful, culturally-rich, and mostly snow and ice free . . .

Adventure Family Deployed!

In March 2020, I was supposed to visit my mother in Beaufort, South Carolina (where she lives, and where I was born), but COVID obviously had other plans for us all at that point, so the trip was scratched. Likewise in April 2020, when Marcia and Katelin were supposed to make their annual Girl Power Trip (they were both born on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day in most of the non-retogressive world)(e.g. not here) to Costa Rica, but that trip also bit the dust, along with several others in the months ahead.

While I know it’s too soon to declare that COVID is behind us, with the entire family as vaccinated as we can be, and with hospitalization rates down significantly, we decided that we’d finally re-schedule those trips this month. We drove to Las Vegas two weekends ago and spent some time with Katelin and John in their fab new house there, then last week, Katelin and Marcia flew off westward to the Big Island of Hawai’i, and I flew east to the land of my forefathers and foremothers. Marcia and I think this is the greatest distance we’ve ever been away from each other in our 35-ish years as a couple. Felt very weird, especially since we’d not spent a night apart since the dawn of the Anno Virum.

Our outbound trips from Las Vegas were both pretty heinous. Marcia and Katelin were supposed to go from Vegas to Los Angeles to Kona, but after tickets were secured, Delta Airlines decided that they needed a bonus stop in Seattle on the way out, as well, to turn a reasonable trip into a full-day-plus slog. My flights (Vegas to Dallas to Savannah) were both way late, and there was a truly horrific storm over the Mississippi Delta, so we were routed down to the Gulf of Mexico to try to get around it. After the fact, I pulled up the FlightAware trip report just to make sure I experienced what I thought I had experienced. I did:

I’ve flown a lot over the years, and I’d say that the turbulence and amazing high-altitude lightning were among the most intense that I’ve ever experienced. It was a relief to hit the tarmac in Savannah a few hours late, but then I discovered that my pre-paid rental car had long been given to someone else, that the taxis that service the airport were no longer running, and that the Uber/Lyft crowd seemed to mostly be asleep as well. I didn’t actually make it to my hotel room until well after 2am, and I only managed to avoid sleeping in the concourse or walking three-ish miles down a dark and narrow country road by convincing an Uber driver to let me pay him cash to jump in a car that someone else had secured.

But then I headed up to Beaufort the next morning, and all was good. I had a lovely visit with my mother, got to see my aunt and her husband for a superb Shrimp and Grits dinner, and hit most of the personally significant spots that I normally visit when I’m in the area. Highlights included the hospital where I was born (and where my Dad died), the house my parents lived in when I first came home from the hospital, a couple of urban shacks where my Mom has lived over the years, Beaufort National Cemetery (where my Dad is buried), Stoney Creek Cemetery (where most of my other ancestors on that side of the family are buried), the Village of McPhersonville (where said ancestors once all lived), Old Sheldon (a ruined stone church that would have served my family in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries), and Hunting Island, which I consider to be the finest beach on the American east coast. (Even though it sustained incredible damage from Hurricane Matthew a few years back). I also got to eat most all of the things I crave when I’m home, including the aforementioned Shrimp and Grits, a Shrimp Burger and hush puppies from the Shrimp Shack, a heaping helping of boiled peanuts, a good bowl of Brunswick Stew, and various and sundry other white trash specialties from the Low Country. Mmm, mmm, good . . . . even if I’m still feeling the salt and fat bloat from that tasty, tasty fare.

I flew back to Las Vegas on Sunday, and Marcia and Katelin arrived back there early this morning after a red-eye from Kona. This time, all of our flights were smooth and on schedule, so that was a relief. I met Marcia at the airport and we motored on home, arriving just after lunch-time, happy to be back in our nest, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed tonight. Marcia and Katelin took photos of their trip, and I’ll probably set up an album for that once they send them all to me. I was my usual photo-obsessed self, and have posted my usual album over at Flickr of the trip’s highlights. You can click on the image of Stoney Creek Cemetery below if you’d like to see what else is over there; most of the snaps are from the Low Country, with some bookends of our time in Las Vegas.

We’re traveling to Minnesota next weekend (Marcia’s homeland) to attend a memorial service for her sister, so I will probably have another post of this ilk when we get back from that. We’ve got a couple of other treks already on the books in the months ahead (California, North Carolina/Tennessee, Albuquerque, and a return to the Grand Canyon), so those will no doubt show up here too.

Got to make up for lost travel time while we can. It feels good to be be abroad again, as much as we love being here, and coming home.

One Way Or Another

1. I posted a few weeks back about my annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament pool, which I usually lose in embarrassing fashion, in large part because I over-think things, and make insider-knowledge, micro-aggressive picks that have little to no basis in the macro reality of the sport and its players. This year, though, I actually won my little group’s bracket pool (!), solely because I was the only person to pick Kansas to win the national championship. For perspective, in most standard pick ’em pools, the maximum number of points possible is 224 (32 points per round, over seven rounds). I won my group with but 95 points (42% of the possible best), probably demonstrating less my adeptness at picking outcomes than the general weirdness of this year’s tournament. Had North Carolina held on to defeat Kansas in the championship game, my sister would have won our group. I duly chastised her for picking the detested North Carolina Shitheels, since we’re from a long and devoted North Carolina State Wolfpack family (our grandfather, our father, and her husband were/are alumni there). Snarking ensued. It would have looked like this, had we been together to do it in person:

2. I also recently posted my picks for this year’s Academy Awards, as I also do on a (nearly) annual basis. I didn’t expect CODA to win Best Picture, but I was happy that it did. It is a glorious, wonderful film. There might have been tears involved when I watched it. But I am sure it was just allergies, ahem. I was also happy to see Jane Campion finally win an Oscar for directing The Power of the Dog. She’s great. Even before the now-infamous awards show slap, I was actively opposed to seeing Will Smith win the Best Actor award for King Richard, just as I was actively opposed to his nomination for playing one my deepest personal heroes in Ali. I don’t dislike Will Smith, particularly, but I also can’t get myself interested in the biographical roles that he plays. I was also “meh” on Jessica Chastain winning Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, though I expected it. The role seemed more like a triumph of hair styling and make-up design than it did a triumph of acting. That said, I do recognize that I’m probably among a relatively small number of diligent contemporary film buffs who was also regularly exposed to the real Bakkers and PTL Club, having been raised in a deeply devout, television-watching family. Film elite voters are always impressed when film elite actors play mildly-laughable country cracker types, but as a one-time mildly-laughable country cracker myself, I tend to find that urban sophisticate “Oh, these rural folks are so quaint and charming and funny and simple and wise, despite themselves” vibe to be often condescending and offensive. Oh well. At least they didn’t give Lady Gaga an acting Oscar. That really would have rubbed me the wrong way, had they done that.

3. Still on the Oscars, I was utterly appalled by the nominees and the winners of the Best Song and Best Score Awards, given that the masterfully musical Annette by Sparks and Leos Carax was completely ignored on the award-giving front. There’s no question in my mind that the finest song to appear in a film in 2021 was “So May We Start,” from Annette, which actually featured in the film, meaningfully, and also featured cast members singing, unlike most of the utterly dreadful nominated songs, which were mainly just shitty fluff tacked on to soundtrack the credits, opening or closing. (The nominated Van Morrison song from Belfast was an exception to that rule, but I loathe Van Morrison with a passion, so that point was somewhat moot in my own mind). Annette‘s score was also sublime, as opposed to the bloat-by-numbers bullshit that the tiresome Hans Zimmer loaded up upon the already intolerable and soul-lacking Dune, which won the Oscar. Bleh.

4. I generally feel just as foul when it comes to the Grammy Awards, where one would think that the voters would actually know and understand music, since that’s what the awards are for, for God’s sake, unlike the Oscars, where the music is a minor side-light. But their choices, too, are often inexplicably awful, in years where there is inexplicably great, even popular, music being completely ignored. That said, I was mildly surprised and pleased that Silk Sonic won the Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammy awards last week for “Leave the Door Open,” from the group’s debut album, which featured on my Best Albums of 2021 list. It’s a funny and sweet piece of post-Philly Soul, organic and “real” in ways that so many popular recent examples of assembly-line pop-by-numbers can never begin to replicate. If you don’t know it, it’s worth a quick spin, as is the rest of the album that spawned it:

5. The 1950 American Census data was released on April 1 this year for free search and discovery. You can dig into it here. I found both of my parents (then children) in the data, among other family members. Here’s my Dad’s family (the only Smiths on the page), and here’s my Mom (her surname was Waters). Nothing show-stopping in either of those reports, but still interesting to see what their respective neighborhoods looked like at the time, and how my grandparents described their work and educational experiences.

10,000 Words In A Language Which We Understand (Sedona #12)

(Note: Click on any image above for a full-size view, or visit the links below to see what I’ve seen in prior months and years).


O For 10,000 Words To Sing (Sedona #11)

Land of 10,000 Words (Sedona #10)

Fumbling Over 10,000 Words That Rhyme (Sedona #9)

10,000 Words On A Chair (Sedona #8)

The Night Has 10,000 Words (Sedona #7)

10,000 Words From The Exit Wound (Sedona #6)

What Are 10,000 Words For? (Sedona #5)

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

What Should Be Done

1. Marcia and I have been getting our healthcare insurance coverage for the past 18 months via the COBRA program, which allowed us to receive benefits as part of the last healthcare policy group she’d been a member of at the point when she retired from full-time work. But as our eligibility for that program came to its end, we visited the Federal Healthcare Website to see what our options were for the year(s) to come. We found a very good plan at a very reasonable price with a very nice Federal tax subsidy associated with it, and enrolled in said program accordingly this week. Thank you, President Obama, for that. We appreciate you, always. And we miss you!

2. Bauhaus were a tremendously influential and much appreciated band for me through most of the 1980s, and their successor bands (Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail, and solo projects by members Daniel Ash, David J, and Peter Murphy) kept me rolling in good music for years-to-decades after their original collective creative run petered out. I had read that the original quartet were on tour again this year, but was surprised when they issued a new single (the first new music they’ve released in 14 years) a couple of weeks ago, called “Drink The New Wine:”

The music media have been much impressed by the song’s origins, created via the surrealists’ game trope “exquisite corpse,” in which each of the group’s four members recorded their segments of the song independently, without having heard the other three members’ contributions. The results are shockingly coherent, but, then, that’s the point of the game, in that brilliant collaborative newness may (and in this case, does) emerge from the chaotic creative process behind the work.

But I’ve not seen (m)any members of the critical community recognizing that this is not the first time that Bauhaus have hoed this row, with one of the best songs from one of their best albums (The Sky’s Gone Out, 1982) being titled “Exquisite Corpse,” and being created under the same rubric. Here’s how that one sounded; it’s a personal fave:

Note well that the title of the new song makes it something of a sequel to the title of the earlier song, as they evoke the original surrealist quote penned by André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, and Yves Tanguy: “Le cadaver exquisite boar le vin nouveau,” which translates in English to “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” Bauhaus (the group) also deployed this creative technique on a fairly rare b-side, where they titled the track with the band members’ names and the order in which said members created their contributions to the cut in question:

Always happy when artists I admire and respect return from long hiatuses with works that are challenging, yet anchored in their core creative values. Here’s hoping that Messrs Ash, J, Haskins and Murphy continue to make new music under their Bauhaus imprimatur. It’s a good one. I miss it.

3. We finished watching the first season of Our Flag Means Death last night. I’m all in behind the brilliant Taika Waititi, and will pretty much happily watch anything and everything that he does (except for his Marvel Universe Movies, because I boycott superhero and Marvel Universe Movies as a point of principle, as I think them a tired and sore blight on our modern culture) (but I don’t mind Taika making them, if they fund his original work), but even with that expectation for excellence, this series went in ways and places that I’d not imagined it going, and it was all fantastic. Here’s the trailer, as a tease, and I most emphatically recommend it to you:

I’ve read a lot of reviews and analysis of the series over the past few weeks, but few writers seem to have picked up on something that I knew going in, as a fan of the sorts of “tales of human suffering” books that tell stories like this one: lead character Stede Bonnett (played by Rhys Darby) was a real, historical character, who did indeed serve with the legendary Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard) for a period of time. Because my brain is somewhat broken, I found myself playing this musical version of the Blackbeard story on my internal mental jukebox for hours on end, the ear-worm factor in full, florid display:

4. I’ve written at length here over the past 18 months or so about the amazing natural beauty of our home region in Northern Arizona, and its exceptional geological history. I’ve written less often about the human history of the region, but it’s fairly incredible in its own ways. One of the cooler factors about rambling about this part of the country is finding petroglyph sites, where ancient humans left their marks by carving both decorative and utilitarian works of art in the region’s red rocks, often darkened black by microbial growth and aged lichens. I paid a second visit to one of the less known, but visually spectacular, petroglyph sites in our area this week, deeply enjoying these most cool art works, all by my lonesome:

When we’ve read or heard talks about the ancient cultures of our region (most notably the Sinagua People, who left the area en masse around 1400 AD), the writers or park docents do tend to focus heavily on the practical aspects of the places where the Sinagua settlements were developed, but I believe deeply that our ancestors were just as attuned to aesthetic “location, location, location” concerns in their own ways as we are in ours. Yeah, you needed safety and food and shelter and water back then when you decided to pitch camp or develop a settlement, sure, but I’d bet good money that the folks who carved these figures, and others in the area, also sat down at the end of the day, looked out before them, and said “Dang, this sure is a nice spot!” Here’s the view of this site, just before arriving at the rock carvings. Nice spot? Yeah, it is. Definitely.

Time of Revelation

1. After a couple of COVID-related fallow years in terms of live music-going, Marcia and I have slowly returned to attending concerts again in recent months, though living in relatively rural Northern Arizona, that generally implies trips to various other cities. We’ve recently acquired tickets to see The Who (in Las Vegas) and Paul McCartney (in Knoxville) in the months ahead, and I am eye-balling a few other shows that might rock our worlds around those. Should everything go forward as planned, 2022 will mark the year when I first see Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, and Sir Paul Himself in the flesh, after being a devoted fanboy of their work for most of my life. That’s exciting! Something to look forward to, if we’re able, collectively, to continue moving back closer to normalcy in a post-COVID world.

2. Since moving to Arizona, we’ve done trips to Northern California (plus Oregon and Washington), Southern California (L.A. to the Mexican Border), and Eastern California (Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley, etc.), and have enjoyed those trips tremendously. So for our 2022 Summer Vacation (we’re still not feeling confident enough to travel abroad), we recently booked flights, cars, and houses for a trip that will take us from Los Angeles to Marin County, just north of San Francisco. One of the nice things about moving to different parts of the country every so often is the ability to explore other new parts of the country without too much effort or strain. We’re really enjoying our (relative) proximity to the West Coast, and are glad to fill a gap in our experience on that coast with this trip.

3. I was delighted to discover that long-time favorite band Napalm Death released a new mini-album recently, entitled Resentment is Always Seismic (A Final Throw of Throes). It’s tremendous on early listens, a fine appendix to 2020’s Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism. If you dig the heavy stuff, then I commend it to you highly. Here’s the lead single, if you want a taste up front:

4. When we visited Katelin and John in Las Vegas last month, we were most impressed with the “Media Room” in their new house; they have essentially created a movie theater experience in their own home, frankly better than most of the movie-going experiences I had had prior to theaters shutting down for COVID. Amazing big-screen views, incredible sound, comfy chairs, and no assholes sitting in front us talking, or playing with their cell phones. Perfect! We have a large (though not as large as theirs) screen TV in our own home, but we’ve just been using the TV speakers for sound since we installed it. Inspired by Katelin and John’s set-up, I acquired a fairly robust sound-bar and subwoofer system, and installed it all yesterday. We watched the final two episodes of The Tourist (amazing show, highly recommended!) on the new system last night, and it was incredible. We also set up Marcia’s Spotify account to play over the system and, well, it is also incredible. I’ve written at length on my website (here’s the best example, I think) about my strenuous reluctance to embrace streaming music technologies, but I’m sorry to report that this sound system might be the thing that drags me into that world, kicking and screaming, just because the music sounds so, so, so good, compared to the system I’ve been using with my various vintage iPods. Grumble, grumble, grumble. I hate it when I have to learn new tricks.

5. A month ago, exactly, I was driving 60+ miles to Prescott, Arizona daily for jury duty, and I posted a photo taken on the drive of the most cool full moon I was seeing in the morning on my way over; it’s item #3 here. This morning, while driving home after getting my coffee from a shop in our village, I got to enjoy a similar scene, but closer to home. As always, cell phone cameras do a terrible job of snapping the moon (or any other celestial objects), but I did stop to capture this image, just to share a sense of how cool it was to see this, in my own neighborhood . . .