Anti-social Media

Here’s a suggestion for 2024: put down your phone, and pick up a book.

Yes, I know I’m the old man yelling at a cloud. You can’t fight the rising tide of the Facegram and the Tic-Tac (or whatever it is the kids are staring at for hours-long stretches these days).

But if it’s vicarious living that you’re looking for, drop your feed and feed your head a tome or three. In other words, trade the Kardashian sisters for The Brothers Karamazov.

“I consider reading the greatest bargain in the world. A shelf of books is a shelf of many lives and ideas and imaginations which the reader can enjoy whenever he wishes and as often as he wishes. Instead of experiencing just one life, the book-lover can experience hundreds or even thousands of lives. He can live any kind of adventure in the world. Books are his time machine into the past and also into the future. Books are his “transporter” by which he can beam instantly to any part of the universe and explore what he finds there. Books are an instrument by which he can become any person for a while—a man, a woman, a child, a general, a farmer, a detective, a king, a doctor, anyone.

Great books are especially valuable because a great book often contains within its covers the wisdom of a man or woman’s whole lifetime. But the true lover of books enjoys all kinds of books, even some nonsense now and then, because enjoying nonsense from others can teach us to also laugh at ourselves. A person who does not learn to laugh at his own problems and weaknesses and foolishness can never be a truly educated or a truly happy person. Also, probably the same thing could be said of a person who does not enjoy learning and growing all his life.”

Gene Roddenberry, in Letters to Star Trek

I plan to practice what I preach this year – unlike other years when my reading eyes were bigger than my book belly.

My goal is 52 books in 52 weeks. It’s gonna happen.

In summary:

Wrestling with Writing. And Vice Versa.

A few days ago, Cincinnati Magazine sent out an email touting their most popular stories of the year, with a three-pronged qualifier:

I’m not sure if they consider “pro wrasslin'” a sport. Doubtful. But I’m going to convince myself that they DO consider it a sport. How else could you explain the fact that the photo essay I wrote back in June didn’t make the list?

OK, I won’t delude myself any longer. Heck, I won’t even dupe myself into thinking that the “essay” part was the main event – Grant Moxley‘s photos were the real stars of the show.

But honestly, I wouldn’t care if the article was the least popular one of 2023. If you had told 10-year-old Dubbatrubba “in the future someone will pay you to attend a low-budget wrestling event, interview some wrestlers, and write a brief story about it” I’d have been so happy that I would’ve given you a celebratory Brainbuster. Or maybe a Camel Clutch. Or a Figure Four Leglock.

As a wee lad, the highlight of my rural Arkansas Saturday mornings was tuning in to professional wrestling on one of the two TV stations that we could get via our crappy rooftop antenna. (If you’re keeping score, they were the NBC and CBS stations out of Little Rock, a good 100 miles away. The ABC affiliate’s signal wasn’t as strong, thus I was denied a chance to see Happy Days in its prime. Talk about deprivation!)

I loved watching old-school pros like Dusty Rhodes, Andre the Giant, Ernie “Cat” Ladd, Sugar Ray Candy, and the Iron Sheik. I knew it was mostly an act, but it was a great escape from the challenges of everyday life. (And growing up poor in rural Arkansas, there were plenty of those!)

So when Cincinnati Magazine editor John Fox — an longtime friend of mine — asked me if I could write a photo essay about a minor-league wrestling organization based in town, I was ecstatic.

I loved the chance to connect my childhood avocation with my current vocation. It was an absolute blast!

I may never be a world champion in writing (or even win the “intercontinental belt” whatever that is), but at least I’m in the ring, taking my best shot.

P.S. having attended a Northern Wrestling Federation event where one wrestler did a backflip off the top rope and landed on another wrestler outside the ring, with only a thin piece of plywood protecting them from the concrete floor, here’s my response to anyone who tries to tell me that pro wrasslin’ is “fake.”

Presence > Presents

The past couple of weeks have been kinda wacky. My social calendar — usually a barren wasteland — has been crammed chock full o’ gatherings:

A Cincinnati Public Library writer-in-residence event – because who wouldn’t want to hear Manuel Iris read beautiful poems like this one?

Then the monthly “Hoppy Hour” with my Xavier besties. We’ve gathered each month for the past three and a half years. Always a good time.

Then meeting up with an old radio buddy at the home of another music head.

Happy hour with my friend Mark, with whom I worked for 17 years until he retired last month.

A holiday party with some pickleball pals.

A Xavier basketball game with neighbors and two of my sons.

A pub crawl organized by one of my best friends from work. Because who wouldn’t want to hang out at a bar with this guy?

(True story: at the end of the evening, the Uber driver who came to take him home wasn’t familiar with Christmas Vacation characters and was a bit hesitant to give “Cousin Eddie” a ride.)

A “planning session” (read: happy hour) for a New Year’s Eve party with friends I met when our kids were in grade school together. (I can’t make the NYE party, but I can “plan” with the best of them!)

Last night was happy hour with a couple of ad agency pals.

Today is lunch with pickleballers, and happy hour with neighbors and friends.

My liver is going to go on strike (actually I didn’t drink at a few of these gatherings). And honestly there were days were I was tempted to skip out on the festivities. But I’d rather err on the side of going. Most of the folks I’m meeting up with are friends I haven’t seen in weeks or months. It’s crazy that everything gets crammed into the two-week window before Christmas, but seeing old friends (and meeting new co-workers on a pub crawl) is good for the soul.

I don’t need stuff. I just want connection. That’s the gift that keeps on giving. Keep your presents… and thanks a million for your presence.

Big Red Sun Blues

First let’s hear from the brilliant singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams:

Everything is goin’ wrong
It’s not right anymore
We can’t seem to get along
The way we did before
Sun is hangin’ in the sky
Sinkin’ low and so am I

Then let’s listen to journalist/author/environmentalist (and Sunday school teacher) Bill McKibben in this article about LNG.

“The good Lord was kind enough to hang a large ball of burning gas 93 million miles up in the sky. We now know how to make absolutely full use of it, so we should give up on energy from hell and substitute energy from heaven.”

Back to you, Lu:

How’m I gonna lose
These big red sun blues?
Big red sun, big red sun
Big red sun blues

Now over to the International Energy Agency:

Let’s lose the blues and go green with that big red sun.

Can I borrow some time?

Anne Lamott sure has a way with words. And in this short piece in The Washington Post, the Bird by Bird author’s words are about the aging process.

“Away from brain and ambition, toward heart and soul…” Nailed it!

And then there’s this:

My dad said after his cancer diagnosis that we are all on borrowed time, and it is good to be reminded of this now and again.

My most recent reminder came at the beginning of this month, when my dear friend Ned passed away suddenly. As we gathered to mourn his loss, we were also coming to grips with the fact that it means while we’re all unsure when we’ll be picked in God’s version of the NFL draft, we’re all “on the clock.”

A lot of us thought when we were younger that we might want to stretch ourselves into other areas, master new realms. Now, I know better. I’m happy with the little nesty areas that are mine. 

So true. The clock is ticking, but so’s my heart. And I just need to make sure it’s in the right place.

Songs and Substance (and Silliness)

If you’re old enough to remember the 1990s, and if you’re even slightly into music, and you appreciate great writing, you really owe it to yourself to check out the 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s podcast.

Rob Harvilla, a senior staff writer for The Ringer, spends each episode breaking down a song from the ’90s. Actually, he spends about half of each episode on a series of digressions, often about his time growing up in northern Ohio in the 90s, before finally getting to the featured song. And the digressions are great – brilliantly written, completely engaging, and typically hilarious… and the humor is usually self-deprecating.

Writing about this podcast doesn’t do it justice… especially when it’s my writing. Just listen to the first three minutes of one of the episodes — pick any one, they’re all great — and you’ll be hooked.

Here’s the opening of the episode that covers Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”:

The series (which is well over 100 episodes/songs now… Rob himself calls it “the world’s most inaccurately named music podcast”) covers all sorts of tunes from the ’90s – from pop to country to R&B to hip-hop to indie rock. Some songs were monster hits… some have been mostly lost to the mists of our memory. It doesn’t really matter, as they all offer Rob a chance to wax eloquently about music and life (not necessarily in that order).

(Apparently this podcast is the #1 music podcast on Spotify, so I’m probably about three years late in touting it… sorry, I was busy.)

Rob Harvilla just released a book to accompany the podcast.

This book description does the podcast justice:

Ringer music critic Rob Harvilla reimagines all the earwormy, iconic hits Gen Xers pine for with vivid historical storytelling, sharp critical analysis, rampant loopiness, and wryly personal ruminations on the most bizarre, joyous, and inescapable songs from a decade we both regret entirely and miss desperately.

From the Hatchette Books description of Rob’s book

Listen to the podcast now and thank me later!