What happened? 2018 has come and gone, and while the world reels at startling developments happening every day, we carry on with our own lives, looking for some level of personal happiness amidst the turmoil.
I turned 45.
That places me firmly into middle age. I am no longer able to hang on to some vague illusion of being “just out of my thirties.” I feel more of a kinship with my fellow Generation X citizens than ever before. I still love the tactile sensation of physical media, and have no idea who the boy band is my daughter likes. I lost a little of the weight I gained in 2017. I don’t know it all, but I know who to ask, and when to let it go.
So, what floated my boat this year? Here are a dozen things I loved. As always, I offer an annual disclaimer that as a parent, I will continue enjoying (catching up on) things from 2018 long into 2019. That means I missed “BlacKkKlansman” in the theater, and it’s waiting in my queue at the library*. (Three cheers for the San Antonio Public Library!)
Kacey Musgraves “Golden Hour”: Ever since “Same Trailer Different Park” five years ago, I’ve been a fan of Kacey Musgraves, whose mascaraed country glam doesn’t hide her heartfelt, socially conscious lyrics. I thought her last album, “Pageant Material,” was a little too derivative of her debut, so “Golden Hour” was a pleasant surprise when I popped it in the CD player. The album opens with the Neil Young-esque “Slow Burn” and includes nods to dance music (“High Horse,” “Wonder Woman,”). Musgraves peppered the album with love, inspired lyrically by her engagement to fiancé Ruston Kelly, and while reportedly under the influence of LSD, Musgraves wrote a beautiful ode to her own mom (“Mother”).
Shooting 35mm: I don’t claim to be an expert photographer, but I have enjoyed getting back to analog a little this year by digging out our old 35mm camera and zoom lens. After reading up a little online, I chose to buy a pack of Kodak Portra 400, and shot several rolls throughout the year, utilizing the lens to either zoom in on faraway subjects like climbers on Enchanted Rock or my son on the baseball field, or to emphasize the crowds at Disney World by shooting with a short focal length. It’s been fun experimenting, and funnily enough, a joy to wait for my photos not knowing immediately what kind of shot I got. For processing, I go to Digital Pro Lab on San Pedro, in San Antonio. To see some of the results, flip through the slideshow at the top of this page.
The Impossible Burger: Two years ago, my wife became a vegetarian, and this year, she moved her diet to be entirely plant-based. While I haven’t followed suit, we have been eating primarily plant-based at home, and I’ve been looking for alternatives when eating out. The Impossible Burger isn’t new; it was launched in 2016 after Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown spent years studying the science behind why meat tastes and cooks the way it does. The Impossible Burger “bleeds” like a real burger, and tastes more like it than any other plant-based burger I’ve had. It’s *#&ing delicious, in fact. In San Antonio, you can find it at Hopdoddy, Green Vegetarian Cuisine, and Dave & Buster’s. And in 2019, Impossible Foods will be bringing their products to grocery stores.
William Shatner at the Tobin Center: In June, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts invited me to moderate a conversation with William Shatner on stage following a screening of the classic “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” I have enjoyed Trek ever since my cousin Amy introduced me to the series in the 1980s, specifically through the movies (I went back to the shows later). I must say meeting Shatner was a joy. Before our on-stage conversation, we visited backstage for about 40 minutes, and he asked as many questions of me as I did of him. The guy is sharp as a tack, curious, and full of good humor. Onstage, he told a hilarious story about pranking DeForest Kelley on the set of “Khan.” This was truly the highlight of the year!
Walt Disney World: We returned to Walt Disney World for another visit this summer, experiencing the World of Pandora at the Animal Kingdom theme park, and staying a few days for the first time at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. Roughing it has never been so easy! I cashed in some airline miles so we could stay in a “wilderness cabin,” where we were able to cook on our own and not have to rely on resort food. Verdict: it’s best to stay at this resort if you’re driving to Walt Disney World, because having a car to stock up on groceries is a lot more convenient than relying on the limited produce and sundries available on-site.
“2001: A Space Odyssey” in IMAX: I’ve seen “2001” more times than I can remember, but I don’t think I’ve had such an immersive experience as watching the film in IMAX. The image was crisp, its size was overwhelming, and the sound system was turned up maybe just a little bit too loud, which I actually liked in this case. It was my kids’ first experience seeing the movie—ever. Talk about a mind-blower! When the monolith on the moon emits its ear-piercing signal, shrieking above the already eerie sounds of György Ligeti’s “Requiem,” my son yelled, “OH MY GOD!” in the theater. Later, he told me the movie “scrambled his brains.”
Podcasting: My friend Ryan, a sometime contributor to this site, invited me to be a guest on his pop culture podcast, “The Signal Watch,” and left the topic of choice up to me. For three of the episodes I recorded with him, we decided to examine a fascinating part of the Disney company’s history: the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a period when Disney may have been a little lost, creatively, but that unsteady sense of direction led to some fascinating films, TV shows, and theme park projects. From EPCOT Center, to “Never Cry Wolf,” to “The Black Cauldron,” we go over some forgotten ground. I hope you’ll give these episodes a listen!
"True Stories": I had only ever seen parts of this film before, and was charmed by its gentle nature. “True Stories” is the only film directed by David Byrne, the lead singer and songwriter for the band Talking Heads. It was set and shot in north Texas, and in its own way, both has a little fun with and celebrates the weirdness of its characters, including a man (John Goodman) advertising for a wife, a woman who never gets out of bed, and a married couple who haven’t spoken to each other in years. The late Esteban Jordan makes a musical appearance on screen, and there’s some great Talking Heads music, too. The packaging from The Criterion Collection is first rate—the traditional Blu-ray booklet is printed on newsprint, and looks like an edition of the Weekly World News. The set also comes with the first-ever release of the film’s complete soundtrack, including all the songs, plus instrumental music by Byrne performed by Talking Heads, as well as classical artists Meredith Monk and the Kronos Quartet. This film about a bunch of people in Virgil, Texas, will make you smile.
"Napoleon Dynamite" at the Tobin Center: Apparently the fine folks at the Tobin thought I did okay with Mr. Shatner, because I was invited back in November to moderate the post-show Q&A with Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, and Tina Majorino, stars of the cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite.” The crowd was super-excited to be there, and the actors were all great sports. Jon Heder even did a little bit of his famous dance routine from the film, live on stage! An audience member captured the whole talk on his iPhone, and you can see it in the video link below. Sweet!
The Beatles: Thirty years ago, I gave my mom a double-cassette edition of “The Beatles (The White Album)” as a present. I knew she liked the band when she was younger, but I didn’t know much about their music. Needless to say, I became hooked as a teenager after borrowing those cassettes myself, and have been obsessed with The Beatles ever since. This fall, Apple Corps. released a five-disc, one Blu-ray edition of “The White Album” in a deluxe edition, complete with a hardcover book detailing the making of the album. The set includes all of the demo recordings the Beatles taped at George Harrison’s Esher home, in probably the best sound you’ve heard (many have been available as bootleg recordings). There are also revelations like an extended early take of “Revolution” that connects the dots between John Lennon’s anthem and the sound collage “Revolution 9,” plus a very early rehearsal of “Let It Be” with different lyrics (“Brother Malcom comes to me…”). Two very good friends at work chipped in to give this to me as a present, and I was overjoyed!
Five 5Ks: As part of our family’s commitment to being just a little more fit this year, we participated in five 5K races, including the District 8 race on the UTSA campus, the Heroes 5K at Port San Antonio, and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon 5K in downtown San Antonio. My wife, having never been a runner before this year, took on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, and ran an under 10-minute mile the whole time, finishing 2:06. Wow! We’re so proud of her!
Airplane mode: The handiest tip I learned this year? Your phone charges much, much faster if you place it in airplane mode. Mind. Blown.
BONUS: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" was honestly the biggest surprise of the year. A marvelous film, designed in a clever way that takes advantage of the best qualities of 3D and 2D animation, with a terrific message to boot. "Anyone can wear the mask." Anyone can be a hero.
Update, 12/28/18: Okay, I saw "BlacKkKlansman," and it is fantastic. The movie of the moment--and highly recommended.