Conflicted About the Residency

I’ll state right from the beginning, I’ve already checked out airfare and Air BnB prices around New York. I’ll admit too that Madison Square Garden is a bucket list venue for me, especially when it comes to Phish. I’d love to see the Knicks play there as well, but it is right on the Mecca-level when it comes to Phish. So, it isn’t like I hate the idea of 13 shows at the Garden come this summer.

I get why the band is doing it as well. Trey is on record saying the band was going to take it a bit easier this summer and short of not touring at all (eek! bite my tongue!) staying put for the better part of a month, where at least Trey lives no less, seems pretty good to me. I also can’t imagine the money will be bad and if Phish is going to do a residency anywhere, New York is pretty much the most logical choice.

The truth is though, I can’t go, unless I hit the lottery. Even then I’m not sure. It isn’t just the money, though that’s a big part of it, no doubt. The time involved is kind of hard as well. Going to a local show is a lot less of a hassle. Also it isn’t just my life getting rearranged, but my wife and kids too.

Now there are rumors that there will be something of a summer tour in June and July and they almost assuredly will be coming to the Chicago area in that case. If they don’t, it will make for a less enjoyable summer. That’s probably what’s at the heart of all of this. Since 2009 and 3.0, Phish has been a part of the summer. A little nostalgia, a lot of good music and a predictable routine. If Phish prides itself on anything, however, it’s being unpredictable. There’s always couch tour.

(Wow. This really has become a bit of a Phish blog:-) could be worse.)

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Phish Song Rankings: A Bit Of A Confession

Yes, I know, Fall Tour is well underway, but I’ve been experiencing a writing existential crisis of late. It isn’t particularly writer’s block, but more like writer’s paralysis or writer’s indecision. I haven’t expressed this much on my various outlets, other blog, podcast, and another blog, but here goes.

So, I saw a call for a sabermetric focused blog through the SI affiliated group, Fan Sided. Why not? A bigger audience, a bit more national and for the first time really working in a group. Well, the site was (or technically still is) called Statliners and it lasted about a week. In that time, I was blown away at the pace, dedication and sheer ability of those writing. I finally pitched an idea, got it approved and went to work, albeit feeling very intimidated and a bit overwhelmed.

Then it all went to shit. I’m not exactly what all went down, but it went down and the managing editor for the site (not his proper title) resigned. Then there was a mass resignation by at least 80% of the contributors. The site is technically still in limbo. As much as I want to passively resign, I think the better thing to do is resign and not leave the site hanging, but also to give myself a sense of relief and not feeling guilty about not writing more.

Which leads to the other blogs, including this one. The White Sox blog is lurching along, much like the White Sox themselves. I know some of it is that the team, the entire organization is just…boring. Nothing they do is inspiring, entertaining or even remotely surprising. They have been following the same playbook for years from top to bottom and at some point it just isn’t fun to cover.

Then there is this blog, the first blog, the ur-blog. I can’t seem to let it go. I like doing the Phish Song Rankings and other stuff, but it’s a matter of finding time and also considering, is this just a Phish blog (seems to be anymore) or something more? (always was the intention.)

Have I mentioned the podcast? Yeah. Looking at time spent on various blogs, writing projects and other non-work work, the podcast takes up A LOT of time. It has somehow become the top priority and I’m not sure why exactly. I do think it has to do with the, you know, Ph. D. and what not. There is a sense of, “ahh, history, I know this. This is my stuff.” Also, it is just plain labor intensive. Reading, note taking, script writing, recording and editing all need to happen before I hit publish. The rate of one cast every three weeks is bumming me out too. I just feel, with no outside pressure whatsoever, all internal, I need to be better, more consistent.

Where does that leave me? Here. I’m resigning at Statliners. I’m still interested in being a contributor somewhere, part of a team, but this just didn’t work out. I want to keep my Chicago and the White Sox blog, and might try and work that into more of a consortium. We’ll see. I will definitely keep with it, but at my pace.

The podcast still retains its privileged status, because it gives me the most back. It does, however, need to give me some time back. I have a screenplay to edit and send out and I want to get some Phish stuff back on line.  I wouldn’t mind being part of a Phish team either. Also, Phish, always a key player in so much of what I do, does need to give up some space on this blog too. I just banged out this blog in 22 minutes. It may not be the most interesting thing ever, but obviously I needed to get it out.

Oh, let’s not forget in all of this: two jobs, family, attempts at social life and sober life. Yeah, I’m a little busy. Feel free to offer advice 🙂

I Can Do It. Maybe. Sometimes. Well, Not Everything

I’ve been doing some serious de-cluttering around Chez Kaufmak. Over the last couple of weekends I have cleaned my kids bedrooms with a ruthlessness that I didn’t think I possessed. Old toys, old clothes, strange random bits of paper are all history now. It isn’t stopping with the kids either. I’ve ben through my closet, my comic books, my books. The scythe was not to be denied.  All of this new space, this new clean house has also spilled over to my, what is it, exactly, creative life? writing life? Whatever. I realize that some cleaning needs to happen in this arena as well.

dilettante

I’ve always felt like a bit of a dilettante when it comes to writing and other creative endeavors.  I like writing the blogs but I think about writing other things too.  The idea of screenplay has intrigued me for years as has a novel of some sort.  Of course I’m trained as an academic and I do like researching and writing in a strictly non-fiction sort of way.  And that is just the writing side of things.  I sometimes think of doing more stand-up comedy.  I’ve been enjoying the hell out of doing the podcast.  I would like to make improvements/tweaks to that to make it a better product.  The one major drawback to doing the podcast is that it reminds me how much I miss teaching.

Speaking of being an academic and working in higher education, the killer is that I like my job and I want to do more stuff with that too.  I went to a presentation the other day and the focus was on how to recruit and engage more students in doing research as undergraduates.  It was a great discussion, but very science heavy.  Getting students in a lab and directing them dovetails nicely with the natural sciences, but how do we get students outside of the hard sciences equally engaged?  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  I went to a documentary screening about urban gardens in Detroit.  What else can we do to revitalize our cities? We can’t nor should we make all reaches of a city into a pasture.

Which of course leads to politics, especially local politics.  There are so many things, SO MANY THINGS just in Chicago to want to affect real change.  An elected school board, curbing gun violence, homelessness, preserving the lake shore are just a few of the items that make me want to get involved.

And then there is just fun stuff.  I would love to get back to playing guitar in some fashion.  I enjoy playing Magic and would like to get better at that too, or at least win a match or two during Friday Night Magic.

You get the point.  This is just the “me” stuff too, this isn’t even bringing in being a parent and a husband which are pretty awesome.  I wish I could be laser-focused on one particular thing, but that just isn’t me.  I wish I could just let some things go, not be nagged by the feeling of “What If?” or “Why Not?”  I just can’t get it out of my head sometimes, that I need to finish something I started.  That to work and try, to try and fail is not only ok, but rewarding in its own right. (Geez, I didn’t even get to physical fitness goals.) I think I have some priorities set, have put some ideas and such away after trial and error, or lack of desire.  If I could design a perfect day it would involve a good dose of writing(lord knows what though), some teaching and some kind of activism.  What do you think that is filed under?

Write What You Know

I always felt that the title of this post was the worst piece of advice ever given.  What if I want to write science fiction? or fantasy? or noir detective stuff?  I don’t “know” any of those things, but I like those things and might want to try my hand at them at some point.  Even more, writing what I know seems particularly boring.  I’m a middle-aged, over-educated, slightly overweight white dude.  I don’t want to read anything about that, let alone write about it.  And while my dissertation hit pretty close to the mark (it’s about AA, I’m in AA, you get the picture) much of what I wrote, including my master’s thesis, (it was about Negro League Baseball) had very little to do with what I know.

In the last couple of weeks though, I had a few realizations.  I finished up a blog and just thought, “that was fun.” I sometimes forget that, that this is for fun, blogs in particular, writing in general.  More to the point, or writing what I know, it’s probably better to say writing how I know.  I’ve done a ton of academic writing.  I’m not sure how particularly good or bad any of it is, but it is what I know, and it can be fun too, especially when I’m starting on something new.  Which was another realization.  I’m at the very least, proficient at reading information and synthesizing it into a coherent work.  That is how I write.  That is what I know.

Thinking of this, writing how I know how to write, has led me to a new project.  It is slow going so far, but it is going.  I’m making progress on something that has been in my brain for at least seven years.  How am I measuring progress? Through research, by the notes I’m making in margins, by the questions that keep popping up as I continue.  The great part, I mean like super-duper great, is that this isn’t for an academic audience, this new project, far from it.  I don’t need to dig into loads of sources, take research trips, and especially have it reviewed by anyone.  Eventually, if I finish, it will get read and reviewed and probably critiqued pretty harshly.  That’s ok, I’ll be moving on to the next project.

After all of these years, of believing that academic writing and other writing were related only by time at a key board, I’ve finally figured out that isn’t the case at all.  I like to write.  I do it best in a particular way.  When blogging, the source material happens all around me; Phish, running, baseball and the list goes on.  I’ve always wanted to write longer stuff too, and didn’t realize until now (a little late) that I’ve been doing it for a long time already.  Now, going forward, I don’t have a grade to get, a committee to please, or any real academic goals.  I can, oddly enough, move along at a faster rate, but still at my own pace, which is pretty slow.  My goal is simply to enjoy it.  I tend to enjoy things more when I finish my goals.  Whether or not it is a “success” isn’t a huge concern.  It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but research and writing is where I’m happiest.  I knew all this education was good for something.

It's what I know
It’s what I know

Blog Update:  You may have noticed a thing or two is different over here.  I finally figured out how to change my background, instead of that blue background.  I also went through the links I have listed and took out quite a few.  I hadn’t checked in on a lot of those sites, so it wasn’t a surprise to find out some were gone, might as well be gone or require a login now.  As of now I’ve kept the few celebrity blogs I still read, but honestly I think they will be the next to go.  Neil Gaiman and Joe Posnanski don’t need links from me.  I’d rather link to folks that might not be on the radar.  Also, if ChicagoNow is any indication, the best way to build a blog following is to follow and interact with other bloggers.  Finally, I changed my tag line too.  Pretty much all of my sports content has moved over to ChicagoNow at Sox and Stuff.  Feel free to stop on by.

Kaufmak and the Commitments (Or my New Year Goals)

Couple of things I just wanted to dash off here.  The first thing is that if the stars align and I get off my butt and do some quick researc I plan on doing two, count them two, marathons this year.  I’d love to do more destination-type races but that is a bit on the expensive side, especially when one considers the cost of some of the races and/or the destinations.  For example, getting to New York isn’t so bad, but finding a hotel on marathon weekend is a pretty difficult trick and the cost of the marathon is very expensive, especially compared to most races.  Then there is a pretty cheap race like the Newport, Oregon Marathon, topping out at $105 for late registration but getting to Newport is a major expense.  So I’m staying pretty local, Cleveland in the spring and Chicago in the fall.  A small marathon might be fun one day, but anything under 2,000 entries and there is a distinct possibility I could finish last.  I know it isn’t about where I finish, but come on! Last? I really couldn’t take that shot to the ego.

The other exciting idea that I had came to me while cleaning the video game shelf.  I have a lot of video games, many of which I haven’t finished.  In most cases it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying myself, but I either couldn’t find the time to keep at it or another game took my interest or I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.  In some cases the games just got too damn long as well (I’m looking at you Super Mario Galaxy 2!)  Anyway, I just bought Halo Reach to complete my Halo collection and I decided before I buy another game I’m going to finish all of the games that I haven’t finished yet.  A couple of caveats: First, I won’t be finishing Harry Potter Years 5-7 until my son has read all of the books.  Lego does too good a job of staying true to the story and keeping the game play interesting.  Second, I’m not a 100% kind of guy.  When I say finish a game I mean the major storyline; not every side mission, bonus level and expansion pack.  I do find some of that stuff fun (Batman: Arkham City Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood) but it can also be distracting or repetitive (Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.)  I have no order in mind for this, but I would like to complete it this year, 2013.  I should also confess that I’m not what I would consider a gamer, per se.  Yes, I play games and enjoy them but if we were to meet online in some of these games, hmmm, most of these games, you would totally kick my ass.  So like most insights and reviews that I post here and at the other blog, these are the words of, at best, a fan and at worst a dilettante.

One last thing: I’ve sort of resolved this year to blog more.  I would love to do two blogs here and two blogs at Sox and Stuff, but we’ll see.  If I could average two blogs a week between the two that would be amazeablog! Even so, from the White Sox, running, Game of Thrones, the annual Phish musings and now video games, I think I have a great base for material to make a go of it.  Wish me luck.

comicguy

Moving Some Furniture

Well, things have been a bit quiet around here and they are going to get a little quieter, I hate to say. I’ve got a new blog over at Chicago Now focusing on the White Sox called appropriately enough, Sox and Stuff. I don’t think the folks at Chicago Now want to hear about sobriety, Phish and child rearing, so there will still be plenty going on here. However my ramblings on the Sox, baseball (and any other sporty stuff I suppose) and Chicago-ey stuff will be over here.

A Late Review for Sizzle! A Global Warming Comedy

I managed to catch the play Sizzle! on its closing weekend so my thoughts come a little too late to be of any help to those that were thinking of going to see the show.  I did promise the playwright my brutal opinion after the show so my usual dozen or so readers will be joined by at least one more, who unlike myself, actually has written something that a fair amount of people have actually seen.  I don’t say that lightly.  Just thinking of the numbers for a second, more people saw Sizzle! Friday night then will probably ever read my dissertation.  I can’t say read this blog because I’ve had a few blind squirrel days around here, thanks Deadspin and YEMblog , but in all fairness, writing a play, getting it produced, and dealing with actual critics from the likes of Time Out Chicago, The Chicago Tribune and other publications is real big boy stuff, not this little ditty. 
Dear God, I almost quoted Shakespeare, but I will refrain.  About the play; all things considered it was…ok.  There were a few things that were mildly annoying and a few that were very annoying.  And a few things that were pretty good, so let’s start there.  I know New Suit is a bit of a nomadic tribe when it comes to space, but the west theatre at the Raven was quite wonderful.  A number of storefront theaters have distinct seating issues, namely sightlines and sound but the small space at Raven was fantastic; stadium seating and a decent sound system that made the various audio pieces work.  What’s more, I wasn’t quite centered (no matter what the venue, I kind of like being off center) and yet everything came through loud and clear.  A good counter example to this is the theater I went to on Saturday evening, the Oriental.  A huge space, but we were far left of center and we had a difficult time hearing the dialogue from certain locations of the stage.  Anyway the space was superb and hopefully the New Suit can put on more shows there or comparable locales. 

On to the mildly annoying.  I can’t remember which review was pretty harsh about the lead actor, but I was pretty much in agreement with whoever wrote it.  I’m lucky to have the insight of the playwright and a mutual friend to get the answer to some of these issues, but it doesn’t mitigate the fact that the character as either written, directed or performed (or a combination of all three) made me dislike him and not in a comedic sort of way, say like Ricky Gervais was in the Office or Jeffery Tambor in Arrested Development.  It was more like dreading his appearance in general, like Chris Kattan in Corky Romano.  The lead actor basically went from Jerry Lewis to Gene Wilder to Matthew Perry in the matter of minutes during a variety of scenes.  The overall nervous and manic persona he tried to display ventured too far into caricature and stereotype of the neurotic persona that can too easily be overplayed. 

Speaking of stereotypes, the decision to have the Hollywood producer act like a Pricilla Queen of the Desert was a bit much to take.  I understand that the writers were trying to respect the filmmaker of the source material (more on this in a moment) but the character was positively gauche.  However the truly annoying character because it embraced so many stereotypes was the second lead, the African American cameraman.  The characterization of an African-American with baggy clothes, sideways hat, and eubonic affectation of speech was every Republican’s view of African-Americans bar Tiger Woods, Herman Cain and Michael Jordan.  What was further infuriating was how the relationship was established of the white professor being the smart one and the African-American being uneducated.  In the second act when the white characters were explaining to the African-American the nuances of environmental science and policy was almost offensive.  They might as well have been speaking to a child.

Now, I have a bit of insider information about this character and the Hollywood producer.  I’ve been told that the writers wanted to respect the original filmmaker and do an accurate retelling of the documentary.  They went so far as to show the filmmaker working drafts of the script.  I understand and respect the writer’s sensitivity to this issue and I find it admirable that they went to such lengths to insure they were representing his vision and memory of events.  To be an historian for a second; at some point the author must offer their interpretation of an event, not just an accurate retelling, but an avenue to help the audience or reader understand the issue at hand.  This is especially needed in a public performance.  Even if the two characters in real life were directly out of the caricature handbook, being confronted with them on stage makes for a bad experience and presentation.  Characters need depth to be believable and sometimes accuracy isn’t the best way to achieve that.  A person’s perspective and memory are often the worst avenues to get at any truth, especially for an audience.  I feel like the mission of the New Suit was compromised a little by giving the original source such a strong voice.  Perhaps they could only get the rights to make the play by giving him editorial input and if that was the case, in the future they should demur instead of go forward with something that is lacking. 

I should note that the second act, the talking down to the African-American notwithstanding, really embraced the educational and provocative mission of New Suit.  It was quite good how the debate became framed and the importance that one person has in any issue.  The idea that debate is healthy and as the New Suit has done with a number of productions that there are more opinions and sides to an argument than the predominant narrative that is usually latched upon by the mainstream media.  So it is vital that New Suit keeps doing what it is doing.  They just need to exert more control on the message in the future and remember that sometime the medium affects the message.

Post-Script

Looking over this review, I realize I’m being pretty brutal.  Now, the playwright told me to not hold back and I didn’t.  Like I said at the beginning, however, to put one’s work out there, produce it, market it, and suffer the critiques of two-bit academics and theatre critics alike, is truly admirable.  I think it only far, then, to get off my butt and write some of the things that have been on my mind for quite some time.  The playwright of Sizzle! gets the first licks on whatever that turns out to be.