Jim Croce, Quentin Tarantino and Django’s best scene

It’s difficult to not have a strong opinion about Quentin Tarantino, but such is the burden I bear.

I’m disengaged from the erudite literary debates on his cinematic stances on slavery, the Holocaust and, yes, sexy feet, but I also don’t really give a shit about the torrents of blood, dismemberment and general chaos on which he’s built his reputation.

Basically, I just feel like he’s made some pretty good movies.

(At this point I’ll confess that once, when I was a freshman in high school, I destroyed the social credibility of a friend who was brave enough to admit that he’d never seen Pulp Fiction. But that was less me honestly loving that movie and more me wanting to play the role of a person who loved that movie. It was high school.)

TX8f_7csXrFlSo today, when I overheard someone talking about Guardians of the Galaxy say that it made them feel like a little kid at the movies again, I tried to think back to the last movie that truly made me laugh — and I mean laugh earnestly, with genuine surprise and admiration for what I was watching, the whole experience of it all. And I was surprised to realize it was a Tarantino.

Two Christmases ago, Django Unchained tore through theaters on its way to winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It predictably produced a fractured critical response that ranged from modern masterpiece to white-guilt slavery fantasy.

Again, I just felt like it was a pretty good movie.

But one scene in particular lit me up with a happiness that lasted the rest of the movie and most of the ride home.

Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Schultz has just freed Jamie Foxx’s Django from a lifetime of captivity, turning him into a badass with all the attendant equipment. And over it plays Jim Croce’s “I Got A Name.”

Now, I understand the poignancy of a contemplative song with that title playing over a former slave’s first moments of freedom. Entire posts have been devoted to that. Cinematically, it symbolizes the moment where the seesaw tips and the momentum falls in Django’s favor. It’s the moment he gets ready to kick ass.

It’s also really, really funny. Croce is unexpected, out of place. He’s the soft ’70s highwayman, the gentle prairie companion. And maybe some of it was the rum Dustin and I nipped during the previews, but hearing that voice start to croon that song as Django mentally prepares to earn his lethal stripes was too much for me. I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. It reminded me of watching movies as a kid — before my brain caught on to movie formulas and ruined surprises for directors — back when I just sat and enjoyed.

In the above video, some of that humor is lost along with the context of the scene. But enough is still there to make me smile and appreciate Tarantino’s ability to make different people feel different emotions when experiencing the same thing. That’s real, true art.

Even if it is just pretty good.

The 15-Year Payoff

All told, I spent a little more than eight months at Digital First Media’s Thunderdome. It was unequivocally the best out-of-college decision I could’ve made because it landed me in New York City, introduced me to the future of digital content strategy and allowed me to cover whatever I wanted, including the Super Bowl.

I look back on it as the most generous, exciting graduate school I could’ve chosen, and because I got paid, it was also the cheapest.

Screenshot 2014-07-24 16.23.02Earlier this month, I agreed in principle to a one-year contract position with ESPN’s digital media associates program. As a DMA, I’ll rotate between the company’s juggernaut departments to learn and lend a hand. I’ll clock in every day on the sprawling Bristol campus, working my ass off while the weather cools, freezes, thaws and warms again, until the thermometer’s back to flirting with triple digits like it is today. And I’m so lucky.

This spring, I gave a pair of lectures to college students on how they could best equip themselves for the industry they felt was their calling. I worked hard on those lectures, and feeling secure with the full-time job I didn’t know was about to evaporate, I felt like I knew what I was talking about.

It’s clearer to me now that few people really know what they’re talking about in this industry. And I don’t just mean in terms of revenue-stream generation or content management systems. My three months between jobs showed me how terrified most hiring managers are to commit to anything, least of all a 23-year-old.

The journalism world I saw as I went to interview after interview — always remembering to straighten my tie and smile before recapping my experience running liveblogs or curating content — is a quivering, second-guessing mass of good intentions, fearful of change and even more afraid to stay the same.

Are you listening, students?

During my job hunt, I turned down two deeply flawed offers from industry steamrollers I would’ve murdered to work for a year before. I also had another far more glittery position pulled off the table at the 11th hour because of budgetary and bureaucratic reasons I still don’t really understand.

And that’s why I’m lucky. ESPN is why I got into this business, and I’m lucky to start working there on Monday. I’m fulfilling a dream I once scribbled on a piece of paper in 9th grade, then hid in my bookcase because I was embarrassed by its ambition. I’m literally living my dream.

Calm waters are better appreciated after surviving the storm.

The weight on my feet

photo 2My dog is smart. He’s a flat-coated retriever. I knew he’d be clever. What I didn’t realize was how clever, how full of canine ingenuity his furry two-year-old body is.

Chief came from a farm family in Oregon that claimed to find him wandering across their land as a lost puppy. So right off the bat, he’s got the same origin story as Wolverine.

The family gave the new-found pup up because their husky felt threatened and physically intimidated him. That’s how he came to live in the chaos of The Shire.

With five dudes coming and going, not to mention the constant parties, Chief never had a chance to get comfortable or grow out of his life-long timidity. When Grant had knee surgery, I adopted Chief and drove him out to Montana with me while I looked for a job.

He rode shotgun in my Camry that whole summer, and the first time I realized he was always listening, always learning, was when he learned that the difference between “go for a ride” and “go for a walk” was him helping me look for his leash.

My living situation in Brooklyn isn’t as generous to him as it was in Montana. He doesn’t have a backyard anymore, and he rarely gets a car ride. (That’s going to change this autumn.)

His intelligence manifests itself when he’s desperate. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that as the first stable thing in his life, I’m never going to get total privacy if we’re in the same building — I’m typing this with his chin on my feet, one of his favorite positions.

When I’m in my room with the door closed, he’ll get on two legs and paw open the door like a damn velociraptor. It’s insane. When I’m out of the house for a couple of hours, and his anxiety kicks in, he’ll paw open the drawer under the sink and drag out the garbage can to keep busy.

His dexterity amazes me, and it’s taught me that even when I don’t think he’s paying attention, he is. He’s finally thriving and learning how to live in the kind of comfort he never should’ve had to live without.

Happy anniversary, big guy. Thanks for being my wingman for the last 12 months.

Music for mauling

Morningside Park separates the Ivy League academia of Columbia University from grimy Harlem. It used to be a scary place when the sun went down. Even cops were famously afraid to venture into the thickly forested strip of green that runs from 125th St. to 110th in north Manhattan.

That legendary danger is mostly history. When Taylor and I visited the park yesterday, the only discernible threat was a flock of pigeons warring over breadcrumbs.

faunbearWe were on a hunt for Bear and Faun, a 100-year-old sculpture with a built in water fountain that looms at the base of one of the park’s wide, stately stairways. It was dedicated to Alfred Seligman, the man who commissioned it. Seligman was the vice-president of the National Highways Protective Society before he was ironically killed in one of the nation’s first documented car crashes.

The statue is meant to be whimsical. Maybe the curious bear is poking his head in after hearing the little faun’s panpipes.

But maybe because of the park’s darker history, it looks a little more sinister.

“Good afternoon, may I devour you?”

New look

It’s been a busy month, and we’re not even halfway through it. In the next couple of days, I should have some pretty exciting news to share, but in the meantime, check out the website.

Andrew hooked it up. I’m actually hosted on his server now, out from under the oppressive regime of WordPress. That means my website is faster, prettier and more customizable.

It also means we now have a cool new home for MyLeaf, the little project we’ve been working on for the last couple of months. You’ll see it up in the right corner, or you can check it out here.

The Captain calls

Even though I didn’t see a pro sports event until I was about 16, I’ve since been lucky enough to see some of the best athletes in the world perform at the highest level.

I’ve seen Roger Federer effortlessly shred Jürgen Melzer on the immaculate grass at Wimbledon. (Then I saw him goof around with Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova at Matthew Knight Arena, but that’s a different story.)

I’ve seen Kobe Bryant drop 47 on the road against the Trail Blazers, a heroic performance that pushed the Lakers into the playoffs and wore him down so much he shredded his Achilles the very next game.image

I’ve seen Peyton Manning surgically dismantle his brother’s team en route to rewriting the history books with the best single-season performance by a quarterback in NFL history. Then I saw him return to the same stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII, easily the highlight of my career, but definitely not Manning’s.

I’ve seen LeBron James, Adrian Peterson, Bryce Harper, Henrik Lundqvist, Richard Sherman, Albert Pujols and, yes, Tony Romo.

Tonight, I’m going to the Bronx with Taylor, and I get to officially add Derek Jeter to that list. In his last season in the majors. At home. Against the Red Sox.

I’m not even really a Yankees guy, but what a damn privilege as a sports fan.

RE2PECT.

6.12.14

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.”

In death, Anne Brontë has been overshadowed by sisters Charlotte and Emily, but those words right there are more devastating to me than anything in Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.

200px-AnneBronteThey originally appeared in “The Narrow Way,” an 1848 poem published under Anne’s pseudonym Acton Bell. (All three sisters had a fake Bell nom de plume.)

The title refers to Matthew 7:14 — “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” — and the poem kind of reads as a flowery, fangless version of Sam Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 speech from Pulp Fiction (which, for the record, isn’t real).

Most of the talk about laboring for God’s love and resisting all-encompassing temptation is just your standard, mid-19th century blah-blah. But the conciseness in those two lines…

I think it’s just about the best, shortest and truest thing I’ve ever read about fearlessness, sacrifice and ambition.

Plus, as a bonus, it also applies wholesale to beautiful women and college football.

Write and write truly: Five pieces of advice Hemingway gave Fitzgerald eighty years ago yesterday

Eighty years ago yesterday, Ernest Hemingway sat down in his boxy home in Key West, Florida, and wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald a letter so characteristically gruff that it still resonates with uncommon clarity, truth and honest advice.

Image

The relationship between the two was famously complex. In Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast, Fitzgerald is depicted as a hypochondriac and a poor drinker, a man who couldn’t handle alcohol or his wife. To Hemingway, those were sins of the highest order, but he was also friends with Fitzgerald and saw glimpses of his vast talent and potential. He thought The Great Gatsby, for instance, was remarkable but bittersweet because its author couldn’t get his life sorted out enough to consistently achieve that same level of greatness.

So in May 1934, when the anxious Fitzgerald wanted his friend his opinion on his new novel, Tender is the NightHemingway let him know class was in session from the first sentence of his reply — “I liked it and I didn’t.”

The full letter can be seen at the brilliant Letters of Note, but here are the five truest pieces of advice in Hemingway’s letter. They apply to writers, yes, but also to those who strive to live better and richer lives.

On the limits of character invention:

If you take real people and write about them you cannot give them other parents than they have (they are made by their parents and what happens to them) you cannot make them do anything they would not do. … You can’t make one be another. Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen. 

On what kills writers: 

… A long time ago you stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions. … That’s what dries a writer up (we all dry up. That’s no insult to you in person): not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening. 

On navel-gazing:

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you. 

On love and alcohol:

… You’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you.

…I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you’re a rummy. But you’re no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is. 

On public opinion and ratios:

For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.

Two years later, at the same desk in Florida, Hemingway wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro. 

Tender is the Night took Fitzgerald nine years to write and was met with mixed reviews. It was the last novel he published before his death.

Here today, where tomorrow?

photo-1

I’ve lived in New York City for eight months and two days, and its grimy beauty has permanently claimed a part of my soul.

I spent so much of my childhood anxious to escape Montana for New York — and there’s no other word for the pervasive urgency I felt than escape — and recently, as I’ve considered leaving the city for other career options, it has occurred to me that maybe the reason I’m so reluctant to leave New York is because I’ve invested so much effort and emotion into getting out here in the first place.

The fallacy, though, is that wanting to be in New York City when I was 13 shouldn’t be the reason I don’t want to leave New York City 10 years later.

I’ve never expended so much of thought on a life-changing decision. After high school, I knew I wanted to go to UO as soon as I visited, and once I chose it, I never had regrets. When the opportunity to work for DFM in Manhattan surfaced, it was another no-brainer. I’m not used to detours or uncertainty or “equally appealing” options.

So, where am I going? At this point, your guess is as good as mine. But as soon as I figure it out, I’ll let you know.