Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Top 10 Favorite Cover Songs by Jasmyn Wong

Joshua Tree National Park by Channone Arif

Hey, hey, hey, let’s have a drum roll for my first guest blogger!

My coworker, Jasmyn, is a Bay Area drummer who has contributed her subtle beat-keeping to an array of bands including The Skygreen Leopards, Paula Frazer & Tarnation, and The Sarees. Nowadays, you can find her laying down beats for Oakland’s Dawn Riding. Born in Santa Monica to artsy parents, Jasmyn grew up in San Francisco listening to a variety of music, from punk and oldies to jazz and R&B hits. (In case you’re interested, her favorite holiday song is Dave Brubeck‘s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.“) She worked in curations at Pandora Radio for nearly seven years, and has also worked at Fandor and the Bay Area Video Coalition. She’s been a part of our office for just a little over two months, but she has already proven that she is indeed quite an exceptional source when it comes to discovering new outstanding musicians and films, which is why I was eager to find out what top 10 list of favorite cover songs she could drum up (oh, I couldn’t resist!)

Without further ado, here’s Jasmyn’s top 10 favorite cover songs. I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I have; I’ll write up my accompanying post for the new year.

10) Buffy Sainte-Marie – Helpless (original composition by Neil Young)
Neil Young is one of my favorite singers of all time. In my most humble opinion, nobody compares to him. However, this particular cover really hits home for me. Buffy gives a soulful gospel approach in contrast to Neil’s folky melancholy version. I think Buffy’s vocal abilities really stand out in this song. 

9)    Nina Simone – I Ain’t Got No/I Got Life (James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDemot-Hair)
I’ve been digging into the Nina Simone’s vaults lately to get me through these difficult times. This song is my ultimate favorite from her and has become a personal mantra for me. I still get tears every time I hear it. It reads as more of a serious political statement than the original to me.

8)    Bratmobile – Where Eagles Dare (The Misfits)
I was a huge fan of Riot Grrrl music and culture as a teenager. Bratmobile enlightened me to take feminism more seriously. This song still remains one of my life anthems. I also love how goofy Slim Moon’s lyrical deliveries are against Allison Wolfe’s scratchy angry vocals.

7)    The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Dark End of the Street (James Carr)
I have a big soft spot for hippie outlaw country folk bands from the late 60s to early 70s. This band is one of my favorites along with Gram Parsons’ solo projects. I always loved how raggedy and loose this version is compared to the soulful James Carr original. It reminds me of a nice smooth aged whiskey after a long hard day of work. For long drives through California and New Mexico’s landscapes, I highly recommend this song. 

6)    Quix*o*tic – Lord of this World (Black Sabbath)
I had been a long time fan of the DC all-girl punk band Slant 6, so when I heard one of the members formed a new band in the early 2000’s, I immediately grabbed a copy of this album. The one track that stuck out on this album was this cover of Black Sabbath. I normally don’t like covers of Black Sabbath, but this one takes the cake for me. I like how heavy they were able to do this song with just drums and guitar with Mira showcasing her tough-as-nails vocals. A job well done in my book!

5)    Siouxsie and the Banshees – The Passenger (Iggy Pop and Ricky Gardinier)
In high school, I caught my first glimpse of the goth world by attending my first darkwave club for our school’s newspaper. I heard Siouxsie and the Banshees’ version of this song on their sound system and was instantly enamored. This rendition has a more fancy yet careless vibe than Iggy’s. I’ll never forget the twirling of long black lace gowns and arms waving in the air to the beat of this tune.

4)    Phyllis Dillon – Woman of the Ghetto (Marlena Shaw)
Phyllis Dillon is one of my favorite female reggae artists. This version is tougher than leather and will inspire you to keep moving through these dark times. I also love how this rocksteady reggae song was still able to maintain strong classic soul R&B roots.

3)    Nico – These Days (Jackson Browne)
It was hard to decide between Ian Matthews and Nico’s version of this song. Of course, I had to pick the darker version of the two. I love how unique and eccentric Nico’s voice is. She contains a strong masculine tone yet soft around the edges. I also love how tasteful the string arrangement is orchestrated against the guitar parts.

2)    This Mortal Coil – Kangaroo (Alex Chilton)
I first heard this song while working at Urban Outfitters in the late 90’s. I literally stopped folding clothes and fell in love. This version almost sounds like a completely different song than the original from Big Star. The structural experimental music pauses after each verse are beautiful. This song also reminds me of a song that could have been on a Twin Peaks soundtrack. I love the way the guitar and violin keep swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Gordon Sharp’s vocals are a perfect blend of anger and sadness.

1)    Sandy Denny – Milk and Honey (Jackson C. Frank)
This is the song I want to be played at my funeral. When I first heard it, it gave me shivers up my spine. Her voice is like a thick soft velvet that you want to be wrapped in on a cold winter’s day. I think her version contains a much more haunting ghostly presence compared to Jackson’s rendition. Perhaps it’s the way the guitar has an emotional breakdown dueling against the rise and fall of Sandy’s vocals. Fun fact: she was also the only guest vocalist to record on a Led Zeppelin album and was also the front woman for Fairport Convention and Fotheringay.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My (First) Trump AmeriKKKa Moment

No wonder Jesus hasn't come back.

A week and a half after the election, I sat on my bike and waited for the light to turn green at the intersection of Broadway and Grand Avenue. Downtown Oakland. Friday morning. One foot was planted on the curb, the other on my left pedal when an old—and I mean old—white man started to trudge across the street in my direction. He was the only person traversing the crosswalk in either direction. Broadway and Grand is a major intersection, so the crosswalk is at least nine feet wide—and he had it all to himself. But what did he do, when he was halfway across Broadway? He hugged the big fat white line demarcating the crosswalk, where vehicles are supposed to line behind to make space for pedestrians. My front bike tire was right over the line. At most, it was maybe two inches over the line, but this man stared at me from across the street and walked straight at me. In the eleven years I have been cycling on a near daily basis to commute to work, this has never happened before. I didn’t know how to react. As he glared at me, I furrowed my eyebrow, stared down at my front tire to confirm that it wasn’t obstructing him from walking up the curb ramp. It didn’t. He had gone out of his way to walk within inches of my bike tire. I didn’t give move. And I didn’t say a thing to him because I was so stunned by his behavior. He just continued to walk down the sidewalk.

Over that weekend, I wondered if he was just some cranky old fuck who has a thing about bicycles hovering anywhere near a pedestrian crosswalk. But on my morning bike ride the following Monday, I looked at the crosswalk’s ample spacing. I studied the curb ramp and saw how wide it was—and how far it was from where I had stood on my bike that Friday morning. That’s when I knew this was one of those quietly racist incidents that white people have become adept at in this country.

Since the election, I’ve read a handful of other similarly peculiar incidents on my Facebook feed between white folks and people of color. Every day there seems to be a new story. A new incident. Like this woman in Chicago (what a surprise) who yelled at black Michaels employees. Or this piece of shit for a human being who threatened Standing Rock tribe members in North Dakota. Although I already have a fairly low opinion of humans, it makes me sad to hear and read about this shit. Basically, some white people are going fucking crazy now that Trump’s the president-elect. Like they can get it up after years of not being able to get hard.

Now that I know the score—even in Oakland, California of all places—I’m prepared for a next time.

And I’m not going to stay quiet.

And I’m not giving a goddamn fucking inch.

(And the next time some dumb cunt pulls shit like this, I’m going to be the one to yell, GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM! (If they even know where they came from.) My blood’s been on this hemisphere longer if they want to play that stupid game of first dibs on something inherently boundary-less like our Mother Earth.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How Its Been To Not Watch Football

“Baseball is a 19th century pastoral game. Football is a 20th century technological struggle…. In football, the object is for the quarterback—otherwise known as the field general—to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy, in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”

-George Carlin on Baseball and Football

Before this NFL season began, I decided to stop watching football.

I had spent the previous twenty seasons being a devoted Oakland Raiders fan.

So how has it been not watching football after all these years of fandom?

Even though the Raiders are 9-2 and currently #2 in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings—which is fucking remarkable!—I do not miss watching football at all. Half a year ago, when I was still talking myself into giving up what had been my favorite sport for decades, I would have been surprised to imagine myself saying that. It’s been weird not watching, though. Although I was unaware when the first week of the regular season began, which was a delightful surprise, once I knew that the season was on, it was strange being at home on Sunday during those first weeks of the regular season between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. PST and not once turning on the television to watch a game or snippets of its coverage. I also felt a bit aimless, and, yet, at the same time, free to plot how else I would like to spend the day. Now that I’ve gotten used to not tuning into the games, I no longer have that I-feel-like-something-is-amiss feeling on Sundays, but I have continued to feel unburdened in not having my day tethered to a Raiders game, or another contest that looked like it would be a great matchup.  

Now that I no longer want to support the National Football League—a reprehensible sports organization that is the only one I can think of that can sit at the same table with FIFA—I’ve become acutely aware of just how prevalent it is in our American society. I see a shit-ton of articles all over the interwebs about football, especially fantasy football. I notice advertisements everywhere: at bars. Stores. My former gym. All the license plate frames in which people stake a claim to their chosen football tribe. If you’re out and about on the town on a Saturday or Sunday during this time of the year, it’s challenging to find a TV that is not showing a college or NFL game. Football is God in AmeriKKKa. And stadiums across this land are like national shrines come Sunday.

For the most part—sans necessary cyclical life errands (like washing my dirty chonies, or gathering & buying groceries)—Sundays feel like free days for me now. My daily rhythms aren’t noosed to the NFL’s schedule. Making time to write on Sundays is no longer the weekly, regimented struggle it had been in years past. My wife has appreciated the change, too, because now her Sunday rhythms aren’t also tied to the NFL’s schedule since I no longer hover about our living room for significant portions of the day watching a barrage of commercials and a sport she never took a liking to, despite my interventions. (Two years ago, I tried my darndest to teach Mari some basics of the sport, such as the difference between a 4-3 and 3-4 defensive alignment, and the names of the various positions—but we found it wasn’t so simple to explain. Not like soccer. Or basketball. Or even hockey.)

Perhaps most significantly, I’m not reading as much about football like I used to when I was a fan. Last season, I once remarked to Mari that what I probably most liked about football was reading and listening about it: the post-game analysis.; the pre-game analysis; and the podcast debates and discussions about football. But what I really fucking loved was devouring all the statistics, all goddamn season long. Even though I haven’t watched one game this entire season, I am still reading about football. Not nearly as much as before, though. Last year, I wrapped up most of my Sundays, for nearly half of the year, reading for an hour or more about all the NFL games—and that would bleed into Mondays with the updated Power Rankings on various sites and the subsequent lengthy articles from my favorite NFL writers (Barnwell! Mike Silver! Tim Kawakami!) Not reading about football has been harder to completely forsake, especially when it comes to the Raiders. On Sundays, while I’m writing (or trying to write), I still periodically click onto ESPN’s website to glimpse at the scores for their games (and other contests). I often click on the box scores to inhale some player stats. It’s hard to shut off the valve that followed one team for twenty years, even through many, many shittastic seasons. It’s not like that allegiance has dissipated; I’m just no longer okay with watching these mighty men—some of whom I had grown to admire (I’m thinking of you, Junior Seau, and Thurman Thomas)—irreparably destroy their minds, their lives, their bodies—and their families—for my entertainment.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Random Shit I Learned in Chicago & New York City

I had a recent trip to Chicago and New York City and learned a few things about both cities:
  • Both Midway and O’Hare Airports are connected to the city’s above-ground train system. A ride from Midway to downtown Chi-town cost $2.25. I say, good for you, Chicago! Fucking BART charges a whole lot more from either SFO or OAK. (AirBART to the Coliseum station alone is six fucking dollars.)
  • You can easily see the Willis Tower or Hancock Center once you board a Brown line train from Midway. That’s how gargantuan those buildings are. From afar, the Willis Tower inevitably makes me think of the Tower of Sauron. And, of course, I’m not the only one who has had this thought:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Blue Towel

Back in 1984, at the beginning of the school year, my kindergarten teacher gave us a note to hand to our parents. It asked them to provide us with a towel to use for our daily afternoon naps. Two years before, my family had moved to a suburb of Orlando from Guadalajara, Mexico. My mother couldn’t speak much English. Her reading skills weren’t so great either. She read the note and thought the towel was for drying our hands. And so, she bought this towel for me. It is just over 2 feet long by 1 1/3 feet wide. She stitched my name on a corner, and I took it to class.

One day, near the end of the school year, my mom came to pick me up early. She came right after lunchtime when my classmates were sprawled out across the air-conditioned classroom, listening to soft lullabies for our naptime. I was curled up on the floor, resting my head on the blue hand towel, while my classmates slept on top of their towels. That’s when my mother realized what it was meant for. She felt awful, seeing my little body resting over the floor. 

When we left the classroom, she asked me in Spanish, “Why didn’t you tell me you needed a bigger towel?” My mom told me I looked up at her, then away, before I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It’s okay.”

Many years later, I still recognize myself in that moment.

I hope I will never lose this towel and the story it contains.

self-portrait with blue towel, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Top 10 Favorite Music Videos from the 1980s (Part II)

Here's my top five music videos from the 80s:

5. Judas Priest “Breaking the Law” (1980)

Why I Love This Video:

Rob Halford has hair! I like the shot of him in the backseat of the car dramatically delivering his lines. This shit could be out straight out of a Spanish soap opera.

When Judas Priest storms the bank totting the guitar cases like guns. It's a fun and cheesy touch. Plus, I love the symbolism. Like Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” as well as one of the songs in my honorable mention, the rock guitar overtly symbolizes a weapon. In “Breaking the Law,” their music is akin to the truth that the strata of conservative, older British citizens didn’t want to accept about the social problems tied to their youth and lack of employment opportunities. The shattering of the man’s glasses at the 0:48 mark alludes to that, methinks. 

I love how the band is basically delivering a sermon about youth angst tied to unemployment. “Breaking the Law” finds the young rock gods railing against authority, against conformity. This is rock ‘n’ roll at its root—or at least what it should be. 

When Halford holds up the gold record and shatters the security cameras between the 1:37 – 1:42 mark.

It’s kind of thrilling when the band piles into the car for the getaway just before the guitar solo. It looks like it was fun to film.  

The shot of Halford and the band playing in the back of a car on the freeway (or whatever they call them in Britain) is pretty fucking cool. That’s no green-screen-studio shot! This is raw. This is rock distilled.

Favorite Part:
When the sleepy guard—the video’s supposed authority figure, infected and perverted by the shattering spirit of rock—picks up a cardboard cutout of a Jackson V guitar and proceeds to execute what might possibly be the cheesiest and awesomest air guitar solo committed to film. For me, the absolute delightful peak of the song is seeing him rock out to the Priest. 

Top 10 Favorite Music Videos from the 1980s (Part I)

Launched in 1981, MTV quickly helped to shape our popular culture with their music video programming. The 1980s churned out a number of outstanding and bizarre videos. Here’s my top-10 favorite videos from that era.

10. Rick James “Super Freak” (1981)

What’s a top-10 list of 80s music videos without one from Rick James? A piss-poor one, I say!

Why I Love This Video:
Rick James’ smile and wink at the beginning of the video; he was a dirty, charismatic motherfucker.

His glittery vest—or is it a blouse?—is fucking amazing. You know Marie Antoinette would have loved that shit.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I think the stark white background was a great choice. It’s a simple backdrop but it allows everyone to stand out in close-up shots no matter what color their skin is. (And it works great with the group shots, too.)

The scene of Rick in the back of the limousine with his ladies starting at the 1:44 mark. It looks like a mobile plain of heaven. (The boy from Buffalo, NY, did well!)

The way Rick James wields his big white bass like it’s an extension of his dick. (And man, that bass looks regally sweet.)

The cutaway to an archival clip of The Temptations is nifty.

Favorite Part:
The lewd tongue lick at the 2:09 mark when he sings “I’d really like to taste her” is pure Rick James; in a way, he was a part of the musical-sexual evolution bands like The Kinks started in the 1960s with songs like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bring on Free Agency (My Thoughts on the Warriors offseason)

Game 7 aftermath

The Finals ended, and we lost. But I’m not ready to let go of basketball just yet, especially with free agency looming!

The celebratory smell of champagne and spilled tequila is probably still wafting in the visitor’s locker room at Oracle, but two delicious rumors have already reverberated around the Warriors. First, of course, is that Kevin Durant’s supposed interest in springing from Oklahoma City to join our team. ESPN’s Chris Broussard’s reporting that Durant’s decision is likely a two-horse race between the Warriors and Thunder is incredibly exciting.

Long before the Warriors lost in the Finals, there already was speculation that Golden State could become Durantula’s free agency destination if he left the only NBA franchise he has ever played for. Back then, I didn’t like the idea. It seemed too risky. I also thought one of the things that made our team so potent was our depth. But after we crumbled in the Finals, my opinion on the matter has changed. Back then, I wasn’t keen on the possibility of losing some significant contributors off our bench to bring his max contract onboard, but I think the Finals showed us—amongst many things—that the ultimate outcome will likely come down to the strength of each team’s best 7-8 players, not the entire roster. Over a seven-game series, Cleveland’s best three players—LeBron, Kyrie and Tristan Thompson (who I like to call “Fetch” because fetching offensive rebounds is his only elite skill)—simply outplayed Curry, Green and Klay Thompson just enough to win it all.

Unless Miami significantly upgrades their talent in the offseason—like adding Kevin Durant—we all know LeBron, Kyrie and their supporting cast will be back in the Finals because they play in the Eastern Conference. We can expect them to have an easier road to the Finals again. This year, the Cavs played three less games than the Warriors before they met in the Finals. It’s not an excuse, but I think that extra wear was one of many factors in our collapse. So if we can upgrade our starting lineup, our top-tier talent by adding a once-in-a-generation player, I think our chances are significantly improved if we met again in the Finals. Plus, signing Durant would seriously deplete one of our strongest opponents.

So I’m all in on the Durant sweepstakes now. I still think it’s unlikely we’ll add KD, especially after last night’s trade in which Oklahoma City fleeced Orlando to upgrade their shooting guard position, but it shouldn’t stop us from doing our best to sign him.

And so, who would I be willing to part with from our pool of eight restricted and unrestricted free agents? Here’s my list:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Interview: Allison Allbee

My homegirl, Allison Allbee, is a coworker of mine at ChangeLab Solutions. Born and raised in San Francisco, Allie graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in community studies and received concurrent master’s degrees in building science and city planning from UC Berkeley. She conducts research, develops tools, and works with communities around the greater San Francisco Bay Area and beyond to improve their health and well-being through city and regional planning policies. Besides planning, Allie is also a fellow shutterbug and has a great talent for making yummy food (which occasionally makes my tummy happy when she bequeaths us with office treats).

A few weeks ago, we grabbed some lunch and headed out to the Kaiser Center Roof Garden for a chat. This is what went down:

JUAN: My first sort of ridiculous question—and hopefully my only ridiculous question—is do urban planners play SimCity?

ALLIE: I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t.

JUAN: You’ve heard of it then?

ALLIE: I’ve heard of it. But I also don’t play video games, and so I don’t think people talk to me about them.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

NBA Finals prediction

Draymond wears #23 because of J-Rich. Not His Airness. Not LeQueen 

(1) Golden State vs. (1) Cleveland

Let’s start this prediction off by revisiting my imitation of a patented LeBron James backhanded compliment from my conference final preview:

Cleveland’s been playing some impressive ball. Undefeated in the playoffs. Heading toward a second straight Finals appearance. It would be LeBron’s sixth straight NBA Finals appearance, which is a mighty impressive accomplishment, but we all know that the Thunder pose the biggest threat to Golden State’s second straight title.

I stand by that statement. And what I watched or heard about both conference final series only strengthens that belief.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Thoughts on the 2015-2016 Western Conference Finals and Oklahoma City Thunder

Sweet baby Jesus, that was one helluva series! Our Game 6 victory is probably the most exhilarating, joyous sports victory I have felt. Last year’s opening round series between the Clippers and Spurs was a hair better, methinks, but this was the best Warriors series I’ve been fortunate to witness. During the past two years, this was the greatest challenge we overcame. I also happen to think it’s the greatest challenge we will face this season. A week ago when the Warriors were down 3-1 after getting shellacked in Oklahoma City, ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard offered an interesting take on what exactly the Dubs were up against. He said, when all is said and done in their careers, that Westbrook and Durant would be a better duo than any that Jordan and Pippen took down. It was a ballsy thing to say, but I’m with him. In my mind, the only one of those duos that could compare to the 2015-2016 version of Westbrook and Durant would be Barkley and Kevin Johnson, who were also in their prime when they lost to the Bulls in the 1992-1993 Finals. As it is right now, ESPN ranks Durant 22nd and Westbrook 49th on their list of greatest players in NBA history. In all likelihood—especially with Westbrook—that ranking will only increase over the years.

But anyway, before I get too scrambled here, I wanted to offer some thoughts on this epic series: 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

2015-2016 NBA Conference Final predictions

We have arrived to the NBA’s final four. It should be no surprise to see Golden State, Cleveland and Oklahoma City here.

Going into the conference finals, the Warriors remain heavy favorites according to FiveThirtyEight’s latest NBA Predictions:

Saturday, April 30, 2016

2015-2016 NBA Conference Semifinal Predictions!

Although I was tempted to write a panoramic prognostication for the NBA Playoffs before it kicked off, the opening round affirmed why I decided to refrain. Thus far, the story of the 2015-2016 NBA playoffs has been dominated by injuries. Key players like reigning MVP, Steph Curry, Avery Bradley, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul suffered significant injuries. Sure, I’m biased, being a Warriors fan, but I hope we’re done with all these major injuries. The opening round was brutal in terms of the talent that got shelved: Curry is going to repeat as MVP; Chris Paul would be #4 on my MVP ballot for this year. (Judging from other sportswriters and analysts picks, he’ll likely finish in the top five.) Bradley is one of the best two-way players in the game and when he’s healthy and properly motivated, I think Blake is a top-10 player in the NBA. 


As the second round begins, the Spurs and Warriors remain heavy favorites to win it all according to FiveThirtyEight’s latest NBA Predictions:

as of 4/30/2016

Here’s my predictions for the Conference Semifinals:

Friday, April 29, 2016

If in Fremont... (or Things to Do in Fremont, CA)

Central Park with Mission Peak in the distance

Having grown up in Fremont, I have an impassioned love/hate relationship with my hometown, my budding ground. It’s an absolutely quintessential California suburb—a car-centric conglomeration of strip malls, slew of corporate chain businesses and a city laid out in an unimaginative straight grid bereft of a downtown area for communal gathering. Sure, it’s the fourth largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, but when Fremont’s main bragging point is being ranked the third safest American city with a population over 200,000 in 2015, it’s not a surprise to know that there’s little reason—if any—to ever visit our ho-hum town.

That said, in a town as geographically expansive as Fremont, there is some beauty to be seen. (Fremont ranks #132 in terms of American cities by land area.) To boot, Fremont is one of the most diverse cities in Alameda County, which is one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the United States. Its yummy variety of restaurants and cuisines is a testament to that.

So let’s start there—with independent restaurants and food joints to check out if you ever find yourself in Fremont.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Memoir Outtake: Wishes, Wishes, Wishes

These were wishes I jotted down in the summer of 2009 when I was midway through chemotherapy:

  • That my hair will fall off like a autumn leaves so it can grow back as the mightiest afro ever. (My lifelong dream of having hair like Jimi Hendrix or Sly Stone would come true!)

  • That my cancer won’t come between the joy I feel alongside Paola. (Like sitting next to each other at a café, months or years down this road, reading or writing together.)
  • That the chemo will rid my body of Mr. Hodgkins so that I can kiss her and hold her hand when we walk around the city and—for once—not be sick.
  • That it won't make me sterile so that someday, if I want, I can have kids with someone I love (and who loves me).
  • That the chemo doesn’t stop me from riding my bicycle around the Mission on a sunshiny day, or from cycling beneath the skyscrapers (our urban redwoods) in downtown at night.
  • That this ordeal will help me become the strongest, kindest, most beautiful person I can be. (Humble like dirt, compassionate like a Buddhist monk yet fierce and indomitable like the scorching guitar riff during the beginning of Kirk Hammett’s solo on Metallica’s “Holier Than Thou.”)
  • That it doesn’t stop me from going to grad school in the fall like my oncologist said it would.
  • That it gets rid of Mr. Hodgkins forever and ever so that I can be with my parents and sisters for as long as I can.

December 2014

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

2015-2016 NBA Playoff Preview: Opening Round

Oh sweet baby Jesus, after an eighty-two game regular season grind, the 2015-2016 NBA Playoffs commence this Saturday! For the second time in NBA history, this year’s playoffs will include two teams with over 65 wins. (During the 2008-2009 season the Cleveland Cavs entered the playoffs with 66 wins while Kobe’s Lakers had 65 regular season wins.) Those two teams—the San Antonio Spurs, and, in particular, the Golden State Warriors—are heavy favorites to win it all according to FiveThirtyEight’s latest NBA Predictions:

Prior to this season, 17 teams—including last year’s Warriors—have won 65 regular-season games. 14 of them have won the title, so it seems extremely likely (with apologies to Cavalier and Thunder fans) that either the Warriors or Spurs will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy amidst a rain of champagne two months from now.

On paper, this year’s First Round doesn’t feature many enticing duels like the epic opening round of the 2013-2014 NBA Playoffs, but the second round could feature some excellent matchups.

Here’s my quick breakdown and predictions for the opening round:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Interview: Ruby Hansen Murray

Last month, during my residency at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, I was fortunate to meet several good-hearted and talented artists including Ruby Hansen Murray, my writing studio neighbor and the other fellow writer-on-the-snow-filled-premises.

Ruby is a writer and photographer living on Puget Island in the lower Columbia River estuary. A member of the Osage Nation, her work appears or is forthcoming in Wild in the Willamette, Yellow Medicine Review, American Ghost: Poets on Life after Industry, Oregon Humanities Magazine and National Public Radio. On the artist residency front, she’s been knocking it out of the park, having been awarded residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Island Institute in Sitka, AK, Jentel, Playa and Hypatia-in-the-Woods. She has studied at Warren Wilson College and the Institute of American Indian Arts along with Jamie Figueroa, who I met at a VONA workshop (Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation), which Ruby has also attended.

On our road back home from Wyoming, in the lobby at the Laramie Regional Airport, the lone television—to our complete chagrin— was tuned to Fox News. 2016 Presidential candidate Donald Trump spewed his bullshit on a campaign stop with his defeated minion, Chris Christie, grinning and standing behind him. And so, Ruby and I retreated to the back of the lobby to sit down for this interview. After quietly sharing a cabin for three weeks, and after hearing her read a short excerpt from her novel-in-progress, The Heart Stays People, I wanted to find out more about her craft and the process she has embarked on to write this novel:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Favorite Books I’ve Read Since 2009

Alas, this list-making endeavor would have been ideal for the tail-end of December but, hey, the first quarter of 2016 is coming to a close so the new calendar year is still more on the new-ish side, no?

Anywho, this post is a response to my homeboy, Justin’s list of the best books he has read since 2008. Like Justin, I, too, joined Goodreads around the same time. 

It was fun to browse through my list of books read since 2009 to try to determine which were my favorite books read during each calendar year. Like many of our other lists, it was challenging to decide upon one favorite book I read that year because, let’s be honest, I have great taste in books. (So you know, I was smirking while I typed that.) I’ve read a lot of good fucking books over the past seven years—and many did not make this cut.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Shit I Miss About My Brush Creek Artist Residency

Seeing our jackrabbit friends at Artist Camp

Being around fellow kindred artists on a daily basis
Waking up at 9 a.m. most days
The view of the snow-filled field and surrounding rock outcrops from my bed every morning
The ritual of taking off my boots and stepping into my slippers whenever I stepped into my writing studio
The view from my writing desk

The comfy couch in my writing studio (great for afternoon naps)
All the quietude and solitude
Becoming acutely aware of the shades and play of light and shadow within my studio as the day passed, as well as out on the various trails
Wearing a scarf and mi chullo on a near daily basis
Walking into the kitchen at 12 and 6 p.m. on a daily basis and magically having plentiful free food to gobble
Our communal meals
Murray’s wit
Beverly’s mischievous grin
Susan’s smile
Elizabeth’s infectious laugh
Federico’s voice
Kathy’s kindness
Sliding over the heated wooden floor in the kitchen in my socks
The sound of our boots as we walked on the wooden platforms around Artist Camp
The hills and beautiful rock outcrops around Artist Camp
with my writing partner, Chepita
All the birds on the ranch: the robins, magpies, the occasional crow, the little small dudes and the rare falcon and golden eagle
The primordial fear of running into a moose or mountain lion on our hikes past Artist Camp
The Swinging Bridge!
with photographer extraordinaire, Susan Hillyard
Taking hikes before or after meals
Hearing and seeing the creek
The blue sky on a clear day
Seeing horses in this snow-filled landscape
Brush Creek Ranch
The orange sunsets over the Snowy Range Mountains
Seeing all the stars at night on clear evenings
Having the writing studio (and Artist Camp, really) all to myself late at night

Going to a small town on a weekly basis
The salty caramel ice cream at Lollipops
Seeing icicles hanging from our roofs
The snow!
The howling winds!
Playing in the snow by making snowmen
Seeing animal tracks in the snow everywhere
Having to always be aware of where you’re stepping when you’re not indoors or on the wooden platforms (spoken like a relatively young man)
Having life siphoned down to eating, shitting and writing