Heroes and Heartbreaks

leoI have spent the past month pretending to dribble a soccer ball while walking to and from work to the subway. I’ve watched so many videos of Lionel Messi highlights, that I think I might know how to speak Spanish. I read article after article and listened to hours upon hours of sports analysis in the dumb hope that somehow that would give me some oracle-like foresight to figure or influence the outcome of the World Cup. The storybook ending I wanted didn’t happen, my team lost, my hero didn’t get his prize. I am horribly depressed over it. This would have seemed like an impossible reaction a month ago. The look on Messi’s face, when his free kick went wide and he recognized that it was over, it made my heart sink.

That’s the wonderful and ridiculous thing about sport, isn’t it? The British have this expression when they are bitterly disappointed, they talk about being “gutted” which is really the perfect illustration of the feeling of loss you get when your team, your team loses. It’s as if your fiercest enemy in the world has taken a jagged knife, sliced you from navel to nose, all your insides have fallen out in a steaming, beating, bloody mess all across your feet before the rest of your hollowed out body crumples into a limp heap atop it. It’s probably going to take at least a week for me to pull myself back up, piece it all back together and recover.

I’ve played sports for as long as I can remember. My parents kept us involved to keep us out of trouble since we lived in a questionable neighborhood. I know how thrilling competition like that can be, that a team can become your family, how hitting that clutch shot/goal/homerun can make you feel like anything is possible. I also know the flip side of that, how crushing it can be when you choke or there is a missed opportunity to score or your team just couldn’t get it together for some reason, you lose and you feel like this is a pronouncement on your place in the universe. I never thought I could feel those things just by being a spectator. Sport is so overwrought with emotion and drama. The business of sport knows this and takes a lot of our money exploiting it. I definitely get caught up in those Adidas and Gatorade commercials that turn athletes into predatory animals, games into battles, trophies into moments of destiny. At the very heart of it I think following a team/player allows us to recapture a little bit of the youthful hope that we might have lost along the way. Watching athletes do things that not only make the impossible seem possible but make it look easy, makes me want to break out in ebullient shouts or go out and recreate historic feats of athleticism. You forget your cares just for a while and bask in the glow of a thing doing what it was meant to be doing in a perfect moment in time. Consider this once social sports fan a converted soccer fan, you’ll see me in my Barca jersey (obviously Messi’s #10) in front of the tv this La Liga season.

P.S. One of the additional, wonderful discoveries this past month are the Men In Blazers who are two British guys who care passionately about soccer, especially about soccer becoming popular in the U.S. specifically, and offer hilarious commentary on games. They were an absolute delight.

P.S.S. Don’t worry this isn’t going to turn into a soccer blog.

The Beautiful Game

 

Messi

I am a soccer fan now. I played for a little while on an indoor soccer team so understand a little bit about the joy of running around and the exhilaration of the ball hitting the back of the net, but I’ve always played sports that primarily depended on my hands (e.g. volleyball, softball, basketball) and virtually zero exposure to soccer on the professional level so the love of the game didn’t resonate with me until this World Cup.

By pure dumb luck I got Argentina in a World Cup sweepstakes draw with my old co-workers. I’ve tried to do fantasy football and soccer and just got bored and stopped paying attention. I don’t really like watching sports. I don’t feel that affinity with a team because it’s my hometown, or get excited about crunching the numbers. The only times I’ve gotten excited about watching sport is when there is a compelling narrative centered around a person or group of persons, something that adds drama to the proceedings. I’m that person. The person that is in it for the personalities and the relationships, the person that will cheer for the underdog just because it will make a more interesting ending if they win. Anyway, I figured at least with the sweepstakes all I had to really worry about was following the team and not individual players and their numbers, it didn’t take much effort on my part to figure out if my team made it through to the next round.

Enter Lionel Messi, namely the profile piece in the New York Times Magazine, The Burden of Being Messi. It had all of the ingredients to get me to not only to follow a team but to care about it. Messi has a compelling and sweet backstory – kid with unbridled talent who had a hormone deficiency that left him smaller than the rest of the boys, but didn’t stop him from owning the competition whenever he stepped on the pitch. He was so small (and is still pretty small) that they nicknames his “La Pulga” (the flea). The hormone deficiency required treatments, treatments that his family couldn’t afford and none of the Argentinian teams wanted to pay for. He gets scouted by the Barcelona team, who after seeing him at one try out decide to take him not only footing the bill but bringing his whole family over to Barcelona to train at their academy. His contract was drafted on a napkin and signed when he was only 13. He is 27 now and has played professionally since he was 17, he’s considered the best futbol player to have ever lived. He’s broken record after record, but he hasn’t gotten the World Cup.

Not only is this cup big for him in that it’s one of the only real prizes in soccer he hasn’t gotten, but he’s doing it playing for a country that doesn’t seem to like him very much. From the many many articles I’ve read, Argentina seems to resent Messi for leaving so young and not coming up through their system. They see him as a traitor, winning championships for Barcelona while playing poorly and getting knocked out early in his past two World Cup performances. Personality-wise he’s also the complete opposite of Argentina’s soccer hero Maradona whose name always comes up when talking about Messi and his legacy. He shies away from the spotlight seems kind of embarrassed by it actually and is a family man, openly doting on his son even tattooing his name on his left leg and putting his name on all his shoes. The Argentina National Team has made it to the semis, they’ll face the Netherlands on Wednesday, the way things have been going they might as well call it Messi vs the Netherlands. He’s scored 4 out of their 7 goals himself and had a direct hand in 6 out of the 7. He’s carrying that team on his shoulders. I have basically been eating all of this up. I didn’t even mention how amazing it is to watch him by this time I’ve watched a lot of youtube videos with his highlights and it’s just incredible to see him weave in and out of multiple defenders who are throwing bodies in his path and pulling on his shirt, he makes goals at impossible angles, he’s also a play maker and one of the most effective passers in the game. The FiveThirtyEight blog even wrote this awesome article crunching the numbers on his efficiency as a player – Lionel Messi is Impossible .  He’s pretty much everything I want in a player to root for.

Getting lost in the black hole of Messi articles and videos, I’ve actually had a lot of fun reading the analysis and seeing the numbers get broken down. It’s made me really care about what is happening in the World Cup overall, I haven’t missed a game. The thing about the World Cup, Messi and the story aside, is the really interesting microcosm these games are of the world. I’ve learned a lot about the history of Argentina just by reading about Messi and the complicated relationship his country has with him. The really long history of the rivalries between teams and countries. There’s this extra weight about a loss in soccer that seems heavier than even the Olympics. Anyway this is just what’s on my mind right now and friends around me is probably tired of me trying to engage them in conversation about it. There are only 3 games left of the World Cup (Germany vs Brazil – Tuesday, Argentina vs Netherlands – Wednesday, Final on Sunday) but I have a feeling I won’t stop watching futbol once the cup ends. For now I leave you with one of my favorite Messi goals.

 

Pinterest

Have you heard of Pinterest? It was named the best new startup by Tech Crunch and also named the best way to waste time on the internet by me. My brain already organizes itself into neat little boxes so the jump to the “board” concept was an easy one. I gather ideas on decorating my home and myself, recipes, reading lists, articles to read later, inspirational quotes and pretty pictures. I also use it to chronicle the books I’ve read and events I’ve attended. I even use it for geekier means, things like cataloging my lit crushes and sharing pictures of cute animals with my roommate. Recently I’ve set up boards to help my sister with ideas for her wedding. I don’t really think of it as a social network but it’s been funny the things I’ve discovered about people I know (e.g. undercover Doctor Who fans). Pinterest is pretty much the greatest. I’m not really sure why I’m posting other than I’ve spent copious amounts of time on this thing and just want to share it with everyone. Check out my boards and maybe sign up then we can share ideas.

The Address is 221B Baker Street…

and it is ruining my life. I love TV. British telly has an especially grand sitting room in my heart. My current obsession is the BBC’s modern day adaptation of Sherlock (showing stateside via PBS). The show stars high functioning sociopath Sherlock Holmes as played by Benedict Cumberbatch and the ever faithful companion John Watson played by Martin Freeman running around London solving crimes with the science of deduction. There have been many adaptations of the beloved character of Sherlock but this one is by far my favorite.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are two of the co-creators and writers of this show and coincidentally are also involved in another one of my TV obsessions, Doctor Who. I love them and simultaneously hate them. I love them because they have created characters that I care about and have weaved thrilling stories together on their loom of madness.  I hate them because they push me off a cliff of a story and just leave me hanging there and then they mock me by letting on that they know how it works out but that they just haven’t gotten around to filming it yet. They relish in our suffering.

Each season consists of 3, hour and a half long episodes. So far only season 1 has been shown in the states. The UK already has season 2. The 2nd season is scheduled to air on PBS sometime in May (why the delay PBS?). Thanks to my inability to wait for anything and a little app called Tunnelbear I was able to watch it with all the other Brits via BBC’s iPlayer.  The writers refer to them as mini-films which they cite as the reason for the limited number of episodes per season. Combine that with the fact that much of the principle staff of the show is tied up with other projects and you get a huge question mark as to when the next season will be ready to watch. I have been reduced to commiserating with people on Pinterest and trying to get as many of my friends to watch it as I can. If you haven’t seen it yet, GO NOW and rent it or watch it streaming on Netflix then let’s talk about it. I am also looking for a new TV show to watch so suggestions are welcome.

Fan Girl Rant Over.

Books of Note 2010

A short list of the books that made an impression this year.

First is the list of books I was truly excited about reading and was just really disappointed. They are written by some very excellent writers, but I was just not convinced they lived up to all the hype.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart :

I read an excerpt of this story in the New Yorker as part of their 20 under 40 series. I was instantly intrigued by the bumbling love story set in a sarcastic futuristic world. I’ve seen Shteyngart a couple of times and it’s obvious that the man is a clown, this shines through in his writing. The futuristic world is a tongue and cheek commentary on our obsession with technology. The main character Lenny Abramov is an awkward middle aged man trying desperately to stay current but unable to let go of his roots. He falls in love with a Korean American girl called Eunice Park, who is too young for him and who treats him like a charity case. I read the excerpt and loved the writing, it easily transported me into the mind of poor Lenny. When I got the book, I couldn’t wait to see how it all unfolded. Sadly it never took off for me. The story begins very slowly and I got halfway through it before I just gave up. It may be a testament to Shteyngart’s ability as a writer that he crafted such a hopeless failure as a protagonist. I cringed through most of what I read and felt a little skeeved out by Lenny.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen:

This was one of the most hyped books of they year. It keeps getting referred to as the next great American novel. Franzen was featured on the cover of Time magazine as the greatest living writer. This book was even picked for the Oprah book club (insert eye-roll). The New Yorker ran part of the book in one of its issues, which I read and loved, I couldn’t wait to finally get my hands on it and read it. It’s good, really good, very well written, a realistic depiction of a modern-day family. The problem for me was, it just wasn’t special. There was no surprise in this book, the characters were realistic but stiff and self-indulgent. It wasn’t even fun reading it, apart from admiring the craft of the sentences I labored through to the end of this book to be able to form my own opinion of the most talked about book of 2010. Overrated.

A Visit from the Good Square by Jennifer Egan:

As every year draws to a close there is a stream of top 10 lists, I usually zero in on the book ones. This one by Jennifer Egan has been almost universally included on those lists. Now I didn’t get to the end of this book, frankly I didn’t even get halfway through but I am perplexed by all of adulation. I agree that Egan has a keen ability to inhabit and convince you of a characters voice. This story is a collection of short stories all from different characters who are linked to one man in the music business; family members, colleagues, etc. I just couldn’t find myself caring about any of the people she was writing about. The writing just felt so distant for me. I like to feel like I’m in the characters head, that I’m on a journey of introspection.

Now for the books that I lost sleep over, wowed me, and took me by surprise.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower:

This powerful little short story debut has probably been my most talked about book this year. I went back and forth a lot on whether or not to recommend this. Not everyone likes literary fiction, or short stories. The writing is absolutely superb. I inadvertently put my life on hold for a day because I couldn’t  get enough of stuff like this:

The loveliness of the day was enough to knock you down. Swallows rioted above the calm green lid of the lake. Birch trees gleamed like filaments among the dark evergreens. No planes disturbed the sky. I felt dead to it, though I did take a kind of comfort that all of this beauty was out here, persisting like mad, whether you hearkened to it or not.

Hands down my favorite read of the year.

The Hunger Games Trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching Fire & Mockingjay):

I only read YA if it comes highly recommended. So many of it is just really bad. This rec came from a bookish kindred spirit who I can’t stop thanking for introducing me to it. It has all of the elements needed to sweep a reader away into a different world. Violence, love, characters you care about, struggling in a well crafted world. This is the type of series that will have you putting up “shhh, I’m reading” signs. I think I actually shushed one of my roommates while reading this :/

The Collected Stories of Richard Yates by Richard Yates:

This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years now. I used to consider myself the type of person that only read novels so short story collections usually went to the bottom of the reading pile. The world of short stories was opened up to me this year and so many of the writers I fell in love with mentioned their ardent admiration for Richard Yates’ short stories. I’ve been a fan of Yates for a while, The Easter Parade is one of my favorite books so I was more than happy to delve into his short story collection. Richard Yates is a treasure, his writing is heartbreakingly excellent. A little 12 page story can absolutely punish you with a vivid glimpse into a characters life. It’s not for everyone, there are few (if any) happy endings. His stories are of people trying with all their might to get by and just not being able to catch a break, of putting on a brave face, of relishing the small victories even amidst tragic defeat. Even with all its bleakness, I found a lot of hope and a lot to admire in this great collection.

The Man with the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam:

I also discovered some modern day British writers. This one was my favorite of the bunch. I read this short series out of order so if you pick it up, read Old Filth first. It’s a story about a marriage. The pacing of British literature is so different from the frenetic pace of American literature, I found this very enjoyable. It portrays the elements of growing in love with someone; the convincing of oneself, the turning a blind eye, the carefully weighed resignation but also the comfort and steadiness of it. I still haven’t read Old Filth but is definitely on the reading list for 2010.

I know I resolved to read 100 books this year, I only got to 89. So the goal rolls into 2011, and hopefully I’ll figure out a better way to keep track of what I’m reading and review anything worth mentioning in a timely manner. Happy reading in the new year.


Coffee – I just can’t quit you

At the height of my addiction I drank three saucer sized cups a day. I would languish over that morning cup. The smell of it before the first sip was tantamount to God breathing life into Adam, animating the inanimate. A cup before leaving for work then another once I got into the office, by 10am every cell was buzzing with caffeine. I crashed around lunch and hurried for my next fix around 3 internally berating myself for bowing to temptation.

This had been my routine for months. I refrained on weekends and noticed I would get debilitating headaches. Two months ago I decided to quit. I would not be conquered by a cup of crushed bean water. The first weeks were excruciating. I would walk past Starbucks looking in the windows with longing, like an ex-girlfriend driving by to catch a glimpse of an old flame. I was ostensibly a zombie, a slow moving caricature of a person, dead on the inside.

I was done with coffee for a solid month. Then a month of friends coming into town and itineraries run over with late night shenanigans, inevitably led me back to my coffee guzzling ways. Here I am buzzing away, waiting for the afternoon crash. Most days I can quell coffee’s siren song but I really thought I could stop and never look back. Turns out the sweet promise a cup of coffee holds is just too good to quit.

Damn you coffee.

Take a Seat

My author crush, Wells Tower sat next to me today at a reading. I like to get to things early and sit at the front of the class. Front row seating at readings for some of the more obscure writers I enjoy, tend to remain vacant until right before a reading starts, which was the case for this evening.

In comes Mr. Tower strolling in casually looking for somewhere to sit. Two seats to my left are empty and he asks politely motioning toward the empty seats “Is anyone sitting here?” I could’ve been cool in this moment. I could have nodded my head and said “I don’t think so” acted casual like he was any old Joe off the street, but I have never been cool a day in my life. I knew exactly who he was (the future father of my uber-literate children) and motioned to the chair next to me presenting it like some prize and overeagerly saying “Oh, yes, yeah you can sit here, this seat isn’t taken” (because you don’t know it yet but I love you and sometimes I read your stories and I just weep because they are so good so really it’s fate that you’re sitting next to me because you will be mine Wells Tower you will be mine). He sits next to me and I feel like I’ve just won the Nobel Prize. My friend nudges me because she too knows how fortuitous this situation is. I want to nudge back but am afraid I might scare away my author friend on my left. I spent most of the evening holding my breathe and stiffly shifting in my seat.

His reading was of course wonderful. It brought me back to the quiet hours between the pages of his book Everything Ravaged Everything Burned practically drooling over those finely crafted sentences. I felt the same not wanting it to end feeling.

No, I didn’t talk to him. What do you say to someone who has made your heart stop by reading one of his short stories. “I’m such a big fan Mr. Tower” sounds so stupid and doesn’t even begin to describe the overwhelming gratitude I feel. I’m sure the fangirl way I internally fawn all over someone who can command words would just make everyone involved feel awkward and cringe. Don’t worry I didn’t do anything weird like lightly press my shoulder against his.

Here’s a sampling of some of his work:

Love in the Ruins – Outside Magazine

The Landlord – The New Yorker

Sometimes I pinch myself

I am a huge nerd. Some people get excited when Lady Gaga comes through their town. I get excited when my favorite author/public radio personality/scientist comes through town to give a lecture or do a reading. For many years I forced my poor siblings to attend these events, events that were few and far between in the Bay Area.

Now that I’ve made the move out to New York I am constantly pinching myself at all of the amazing events I’ve been able to attend. Tonight for instance, I attended a This American Life themed edition of Selected Shorts hosted by Ira Glass. Two of my favorite podcasts combined to put on a show live. One of my favorite comedians Mike Birbiglia was also there to regale us with one of his hilarious stories. It’s been shocking getting to see in person the voices I’ve heard through my headphones so many times. Tomorrow night I get another dose of Ira at The Talent Show.

I’ve seen Malcolm Gladwell at Barnes & Noble. Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert reading from To Kill a Mockingbird at Symphony Space. Donald Glover (Community) & John Lutz (30 Rock) at the Upright Citizens Brigade. Jonsi from Sigur Ros and Madeleine Peyroux at the Blue Note. I went to a lecture the other day on what was going on with the Large Hadron Collider that was sold out! These are the types of things I get to attend every week. I often turn to my friend (who not only willingly but eagerly joins me at these events) in a shocked breathlessness whisper “I can’t believe we live here!”

Podcasts

You have an ipod right? Or some other sort of mp3 playing device. Well have you discovered podcasts? I love music, I have a large library of music spanning many genres. I could probably go several months straight listening through my library without repeating a song. Even with all of this at my disposal I listen to podcasts 80% of the time. They’re free and easy to subscribe to. There is a podcast for any interest you may possibly have. Here are some of my favorites.

I am obsessed with this show, I recommend it to anyone that will listen. One episode can take you through the gamut of emotions. Some of my current cherished friendships have been sparked through discussions of this show. They usually have only the most recent episode available on the podcast, but the do stream all of their episodes free on their website. www.thislife.org . One of my favorites is called Somewhere Out There

I actually discovered this show through one of the episodes of This American Life. They have a similar structure as TAL, there is a theme and the collect stories related to that theme. Radiolab has more of a scientific bent which is great because it makes me feel smarter after I’ve listened to an episode. All of their episodes are available for download via podcast, or you can listen on their website. www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/ Try the Morality episode

Another podcast I discovered through This American Life. I’ve gone to a couple of their live shows too. They have a handful of podcasts available for download. I’ve heard some really great stories from Neil Gaiman and Malcolm Gladwell on their podcast. The Moth is a great organization and the stories they put up are always entertaining. They’re also short which is nice for those 20 minute car/train rides.

Terry Gross does the best interviews. She asks really insightful questions and really does her research. She interviewed Tracy Morgan and I listened in my car with my jaw hanging open because that interview was so crazy. The interviews all types of people; celebrities, politicians, directors, scientists, authors etc. Her show comes on at least twice a day on weekdays. You can also download podcasts of each show on iTunes.

I want to go to the TED conference someday. They get some of the most cutting edge thinkers of our time and get them to share their ideas. It’s amazing, I’ve seen stuff on the energy crisis, economics, aide in Africa, creativity, time & space. It always challenges the way I think about the world and yes the ideas are indeed worth spreading. They have both video and audio versions of their lectures, and I think they have most of them up on iTunes. This means you can find at least one thing you would be interested in.

Do you have a favorite podcast I haven’t listed? Care to share?

Love Hurts

I am obsessed with stories! I think my purpose in life is to make sure a good story has an opportunity to be heard. I like going to live events that basically amount to an adult story hour (lectures, author readings, story slams etc.). One of the great things about New York is that these events are plentiful any night of the week. I was especially keen to check out one of The Moth events. The Moth is a non-profit storytelling organization founded in 1997. You can check out their podcast, and some of their stories have been featured on This American Life.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day the story theme for the evening was “Love Hurts”. I got there about an hour before the doors opened and by the time the doors opened at 7 the line was wrapped around the block. The event was held in a small bookstore so it wasn’t able to seat all of those people. We managed to score seats, which was awesome since we were there for over three hours. The night was fantastic there was a story about a guy reconnecting with his mother, a husband pressuring his wife into a threesome, a girl figuring out how Jewish she was after a threesome, a boy figuring out he was gay by falling in love with his straight best friend, and a story about a boy who falls in love with his nurse. Those were the more memorable stories of the evening. It was such a nice atmosphere for the storyteller, very supportive and encouraging. It was fun to commiserate with heartache and laugh at the stupid things we do in the name of love.

If you have a chance to check them out on the road you really should. Other great storytelling events usually roll into big cities quite often. Stuff like Mortified, Found, Post Secret & This American Life hold live events that are really fun to attend. Also if you have a favorite author, they usually go on book tours which are a lot of fun and usually free to attend. There are so many great stories waiting to be told, you should go out and find one. Better yet tell your own!