A Few Good Things from my 2020

Choosing a few bright spots from a miserable year

As I’ve already said hundreds of times privately and a few times on this blog, this has been the worst year of my life, and I won’t be sad to leave 2020 behind and hope for a better 2021.

But built into that whole idea of the years changing is the idea that stuff just keeps happening, whether you want it to or not. Throughout this shitty year, occasional joyful moments popped up. In the past, I would’ve thought it’s petty, simple-minded, or tone-deaf to try and acknowledge mundane happy things in a time that was otherwise profoundly sad. But now, I think it’s even more important to acknowledge the things that bring you joy.

These are some of the things that made my 2020 suck slightly less. I’ve mentioned several of them already, but I think they deserve another round.

Dirty Projectors

I was trying to get to sleep one night, and YouTube recommended the silly, weird, happy video for “Break-Thru,” from a band I’d never heard of. For me, this was a bigger deal than just discovering a band I liked. It helped knock me out of a funk and get re-inspired about the whole artistic process, in a way that reminded me of seeing St Vincent on Austin City Limits for the first time, or seeing Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense for the first time, or seeing the B-52’s video for “Legal Tender.”

I think it helps that I don’t understand music at all, so I don’t have to turn off the part of my brain that tries to over-analyze and pick apart everything. I know that there’s something deeper and more interesting going on with this music, even if I couldn’t hope to explain what it was.

It also set me off on a quest to seek out more music I hadn’t heard before. That hasn’t really resulted in any other New Favorite Band Evers, but it has pushed me to hear some interesting stuff I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.


Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is such a wonderful book, and any description of it is going to be criminally reductionistic. For me, it was especially valuable this year because of its sad but hopeful tone — it was a celebration of wonder, faith, and naïveté that was neither cynical, nor blind to the genuine sadness and cruelty of the world.

The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse

I’ve already been a fan of the Mickey Mouse shorts for the past few years — it’s odd to realize that they’re no longer “new” — and so I would’ve thought The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse on Disney+ was a confusing and unnecessary re-branding. But there does seem to be a subtle shift in this new series. They seem more “dense” than the earlier shorts, packed with more gags and references than most viewers will catch in one viewing. One short will use Robin Hood and The Black Cauldron character designs when referencing The Brave Little Tailor; another one will be an extended cross between Xanadu and Mousercise crossed with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

They’re also hilarious. There have been some fantastic moments in the shorts up until now, but the new series seems to have a dozen laugh-out-loud bits in every short.

Rise of the Resistance

It seems like a lifetime ago, but we did actually get to go to Disneyland in February and rise the Rise of the Resistance twice. It’s a really impressive attraction, and I think the only reason I wasn’t more blown away is because I’d gone in expecting a 15 and it “only” delivered an 11 on a scale of 1-10.

We also got to tour Galaxy’s Edge with our friends Polly and Dan, back when seeing friends in person was a thing. I hope that makes a comeback this year. I usually get too much anxiety over having to schedule and make sure everyone in the group is getting to do what they want to do, that in the past I’ve just opted to skip meeting up with anyone during trips. If nothing else, I’ve learned to stop taking that for granted and make more of an effort to see friends.

The Mandalorian Season 2

I’ve already commented more than enough on my love for The Mandalorian, but it’s done such an amazing job of doing two completely separate and opposite things. On the one hand, it’s taken me back more effectively than anything else to the feeling of being a Star Wars-obsessed kid in the 80s, and being rewarded with these huge shared cultural moments with the release of the new movies. At the same time, though, it’s gotten me interested in Star Wars as an ongoing thing, instead of simply regurgitating, recombining, and re-celebrating the things I used to love.

Ditching Facebook, Mostly

I’m not bringing it up just to be petty; deactivating my Facebook account has genuinely felt like a weight’s been lifted. I’d be happier if I could delete my account entirely, but Oculus and Messenger are still too useful. I’m still on Instagram more than I should be, but “the magic is gone,” and I don’t feel as compelled to broadcast every single thing that happens to me. (Which, granted, is easier in a year when nothing is happening to me, but I hope I can keep it up going forward).

It also means I’m not at all compelled to dye my beard as a dumb New Year’s Eve stunt, so it’s already paying dividends.

Seeing Georgians Vote Democrat

I think the whole “red state/blue state” idea is not only simple-minded, but horrible for our entire democratic process. That said, until we can get rid of the electoral college altogether, it’s been encouraging to see a majority of people in my home state reject the wave of hateful, bigoted, obstructionist, selfish bullshit that has taken over the past couple of decades.

The entire country voted overwhelmingly for Biden — whether it was a vote for the Biden/Harris campaign, or a vote against the past four years, it has the same end result — and it’s important to remember that the Fair Fight and similar campaigns didn’t just create new Democrats, but instead energized the people who’ve always been there. We need to stop letting people convince us that the country is more homogenous and less diverse than it actually is.

I never thought I’d see my home state vote for a Democratic president again in my lifetime, so even though it’s entirely symbolic, and even though I know the Democratic party isn’t going to magically fix everything, just seeing the state “turn blue” has given me hope for the future.

The Thing to Say (and Drink)

Merry Christmas from as close as I can get to the tropics sitting here on my couch

This video from Tom Scott from 7 years ago remains a favorite, both as somebody who’s been a fan of the song “Mele Kalikimaka” for a long time, but never thought much about it; and as somebody who tends to get inordinately interested in weird quirks of linguistics.

Continuing the theme of somewhat-tropical Christmas: my unwitting life coach How Bowers released a new video on his Liquid Luau channel with a chocolate-mint-ginger-ice cream drink that sounds almost good enough to make me want to brave going to a liquor store. Mele Kalikimaka!

Dolly’s Said It Before

Dolly Parton is eternally awesome, and lately I’ve been trying to learn from her about real authenticity

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dolly Parton lately. A big part of that is no doubt because she’s been doing a promotional blitz for her album A Holly Dolly Christmas, which has run the gamut of 21st-century PR like videos for WIRED magazine and Vanity Fair, and in every interview she just kills it, seeming as effortlessly charming and genuine today as she has been for as long as I’ve been alive.

Dolly1Her being so charming and self-effacing is why she’s one of the only multi-millionaire celebrities I don’t feel weird or condescending calling by her first name has been a star for as long as I can remember, but I never appreciated how she’s a next-level human being until back in 2013, when I saw Seth Weitberg on Drunk History telling the story of Dolly (played by Casey Wilson) dedicating the song “I Will Always Love You” to Porter Waggoner (Rich Fulcher).

That’s not my favorite episode of Drunk History, but it might be the most perfect story for the show’s format, because:

  1. It’s a story that a lot of people probably hadn’t ever heard before, and
  2. It’s a story that sounds too good to be true, and
  3. It requires an open display of genuine sentimentality that’s difficult to do unless you’re drunk.
Continue reading “Dolly’s Said It Before”
  • 1
    Her being so charming and self-effacing is why she’s one of the only multi-millionaire celebrities I don’t feel weird or condescending calling by her first name


Random psychic detritus left over from a weird adolescence

I already said that watching the season opener of The Mandalorian was like astrally projecting back to my early-80s self. Most of it was just due to seeing exactly the kind of stories in a Star Wars expanded universe that I’d hoped to see as a pre-teen. But I also got a weird feeling of deja vu when I was distracted watching a scene, with a close-up of Timothy Olyphant’s character, because I noticed he had a hole for an earring.

I thought I’d stopped doing that years ago, but I guess it’s just a thing I’m going to keep doing forever.

Continue reading “Earholes”

Draft Tweets

When you want to contribute to the normalization of bitterness and pointless nastiness for corporate profit, at least do it on your own terms

Twitter is, as I’ve often said before, garbage. Their gross hypocrisy saying that wishing death on someone was a violation of policy, after years ignoring harassment and abuse, is inexcusable. More personally inexcusable is the way they’ve still done nothing about closing the account of a deceased relative, after multiple requests.1I did reply to their automated email with an expletive-filled message asking why they couldn’t be bothered to do their fucking jobs, which surprisingly hasn’t expedited the process.

But I haven’t been able to keep from reading it. I’m still committed to keeping it read-only, so at the very least I’m not actively contributing to the garbage. But it’s been difficult, as an opinionated person who likes to hear himself talk. I did start using Micro.blog again, thinking it could be a good outlet for this, but I like the idea of keeping that unsullied by negativity.

I do have a blog, though! So here’s a compilation of some of the things I would have been saying on Twitter over the past couple of days:

  • Oh, you say you’re a fan of the fundamental freedoms protected by the Constitution, Judge Barrett? Name five.
  • I’ve seen nine movies about Jedi Knights, but before playing Jedi: Fallen Order, I never realized how much of the Jedi lifestyle revolved around wildly uncontrollable surfing.
  • The trend of people saying “folks” instead of just “people” is annoying AF and bothers me even more than “utilize” instead of “use.” To somebody who grew up in the south, saying “folks” sounds affected and condescending.
  • And as someone who read Tolkein, saying “queer folk” or “black folk” sounds not just affected, but it makes already marginalized people sound even more fey, alien, and homogenized.
  • I read one of the “Tales from the Haunted Mansion” books, knowing full well that it was “young adult,” but without realizing it was aimed at middle schoolers. But I can’t imagine a kid old enough to read this who wouldn’t find it insultingly pandering.
  • Just doing a Windows 10 system update hits me with an ad to install the Office 365 suite. Even worse, the button only lets me say “No, Thanks” instead of “Fuck off, you sleazy marketing chucklefucks”
  • Trying to use Chrome instead of Edge in Windows 10 is like trying to marbleize Janet in The Good Place. No less than 5 times it begged me not to do it. Does nobody at Microsoft when they got slammed for doing exactly this?
  • The new HomePod mini looks like a melon lol

Whew. Glad I could get all that out of my system. I’m sure looking back on this 5-10 years from now, it’ll totally seem good and worth posting.

  • 1
    I did reply to their automated email with an expletive-filled message asking why they couldn’t be bothered to do their fucking jobs, which surprisingly hasn’t expedited the process.

Quit ’em if you smoke ’em!

Relapse all you want, brain. I’ll just quit again. I could do this all day.

2020 has been the worst year of my life. As it has been for millions of people. That’s one of the relentlessly awful things about the year: it won’t even let me be uniquely miserable. Oh, you think you’re sad? Get in line, buddy.

So after three or four years without smoking,1Without Instagram as a daily diary, I don’t know exactly how long ago anything was anymore. I’ve had a few relapses. A long one at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, when things were the worst. A one-pack bump in the road back when this year’s California wildfires first blew smoke into the East Bay. And now I’m in the middle of another relapse, again triggered by the wildfires that turned the skies in the Bay Area post-apocalyptic.

I don’t mention the wildfires because we were directly affected by them; we’re fortunate in that we’re completely safe. And obviously, I’d never equate a few days of reduced air quality to what people are going through after losing their homes or worse. But perversely, breathing in the smoke seeping through the windows always makes me want a cigarette. That raspy feeling in my throat that never goes away, the weird gurgling in my chest when I wake up with a coughing fit, the thin layer of ash that seems to cover everything and stick to my fingers: ah, I remember this, and I think I… miss it?

For about a week, I’ve been dreaming about smoking. Or more accurately: sometimes dreaming about smoking, and sometimes dreaming about whatever it is I tend to dream about but in which I’m playing the role of a person who smokes. The most alarming was having a standard-issue dream, suddenly noticing that I’d been smoking a cigarette, and thinking what the hell did you do?

I can’t blame everything on the smoke. Election anxiety, and general despair over the state of the country, have been particularly fierce over the past few weeks, and I hit a low point. At least a solid week with insomnia, no energy, no enthusiasm for anything, completely unable to concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes at a time. Also, we watched an awful anime with a character who smoked a cigar throughout, and the next thing I knew, a switch in my brain had flipped and I was a smoker again.

As somebody who’s over-thought everything his entire life,2Although now that I think of it, is that really fair to say? the thing that never stops being weird is how anti-intellectual it is. I know that it’s gross, I know that I don’t need it. I know that my life is better in every conceivable way without it. I know that it doesn’t actually calm me. I know that it’s worse than a waste of money. I know that I can’t have just one or two; for me, it’s either nothing, or one every hour without fail. I know that it stains my mustache a repulsive shit-yellow-brown color. I know that I feel worse in the morning. I know that I hate the recurring cough. I know that in the middle of a pandemic for a respiratory virus, it’s the stupidest possible time to be doing it.

But even while I’m thinking that, my motor center has driven me to the 7-11 and has me paying for a new pack. It’s like the decision-making part of my brain communicates with the part of my brain that actually does things via automated customer support line. Thank you for your message. We appreciate you and value your input. While we fully intend to go buy cigarettes and start smoking them anyway, we’ll take your concerns under consideration. Please do not reply to the message.

The one positive is that I finally found something that helps me quit. I smoked for over 20 years, and I made several attempts over that time using nicotine patches, Wellbutrin, and my insufficient willpower, with nothing lasting more than three months. But finally, Chantix worked so well for me that I don’t even mind linking to a drug company’s website. No discernible side effects, and no need to quit cold turkey as with the patch. The first time I tried it, I’d heard it described as blocking the receptors that are activated by nicotine, so that you get no pleasure from it. That made me imagine some kind of A Clockwork Orange scenario, in which I’d find them nauseatingly repulsive, but that never really happened. Instead, it simply seems to just shut up the part of my brain that has me out buying cigarettes despite protests from every other part of my brain.

I’m also encouraged because I did manage to quit earlier in the year, after one pack, and with no assistance, and no setbacks. I think that simply knowing that I can quit and that I’ve done it before, for at least three years, helps a lot. 2020 may be a horrible year, but maybe it’s the year I can shed all of the toxic BS dragging me down.

  • 1
    Without Instagram as a daily diary, I don’t know exactly how long ago anything was anymore.
  • 2
    Although now that I think of it, is that really fair to say?

Crêpes of Wrath

Food Network chefs hate me for sharing this one weird trick

This video of Chef Jacques Pépin explaining how to make crêpes is a game changer. It’s simple, easy, only takes a few minutes, and the results are delicious. Turns out that if you want to learn how to make something, going to the person who is famous for making them is a good idea.

Even if you don’t feel like making them, it’s just fun to hear him say “crêpe” over and over again.

I’ve tried making them before, with recipes from Epicurious, Bon Apetit, Alton Brown via the Food Network, and various random let-me-tell-you-my-life-story-before-I-get-to-the-recipe blogs, and the results have ranged from “inedible” to “unremarkable and definitely not worth the effort.” The consensus online seems to be that making crepes requires a blender and at least a couple of hours, at which point you have to wonder who’s got that kind of time. Pépin’s method is so simple and straightforward that I can finally see the appeal.

The other cool thing about Pépin’s video is that it shows crepes can easy to make and easy to serve. For years there’s been such a proliferation of crepe restaurants around the Bay Area, that I just kind assumed you had to go crazy with bananas and strawberries and whipped cream and ham and cheese and greens, and if you’re not stuffing them with tons of food, are you even making crepes at all? But as it turns out, nothing but a spoonful of jelly and a sprinkle of sugar afterwards is beyond perfect.

I feel like Food Network and the proliferation of cooking shows created an arms race where home cooking had to make for interesting programming instead of good food. I like the idea of getting back to keeping it simple. Frankly, I think I got steered down a bad path by Alton Brown, who I finally realized is a lot better at being a TV personality than any kind of authority on food. The “multi-taskers” cult are free to come at me.

An important and dire warning: I can only endorse the recipe in the above video. The first time I tried it, it was super-easy and the results were fantastic. There’s at least one variant of an “official” Jacques Pépin recipe for crêpes going around that I’ve tried three times so far with no success. If it includes any vegetable or canola oil, the results come out less like crepes and more like those “movie magic” shows where a makeup artist is preparing a prosthetic. They’re rubbery and oily; you can see them in the pan just sweating oil.

I spend most of my time these days watching Disney & Universal YouTubers going through the parks, and everybody’s been raving about a new crepe stand that opened at Universal Studios. I get a craving every time I see them, so now I can sit back and pretend I’m in Orlando. All I’d need is a bunch of heat lamps and someone telling me over and over that I can’t ride anything because I’m too fat.1From eating crêpes.

  • 1
    From eating crêpes.

Sewing for Hapless Man-children

Another side effect of a social media detox: realizing how far I am from being a functioning adult.

Something I hadn’t considered before I started cutting myself off of social media: I don’t have anywhere to ask questions to higher-functioning adults. What can I use basil for? Where’s a good place to go camping? Any advice on renting an RV? How are you supposed to wash grease out of a pan when a soapy sponge just spreads it all over the place? Do I need a financial advisor? How do you keep vegetables from going bad?

For a while I’ve been wanting to learn how to sew, because at some point in the past couple of years, all the world’s clothing manufacturers got together and decided that making shirts that fit fat people was for chumps. I’m eager to become one of those white-bearded middle-aged men who makes his own Aloha shirts, and wears them with shorts and sandals all year round, everywhere except funerals.

I was lucky to have a friend I could DM for tips on what I needed from a sewing machine and what I should be looking for. After months of looking around online, I finally found a sewing machine that wasn’t sold out or being sold for $100 over MSRP because of COVID.

But my plans on sliding into 50 like an eccentric uncle have been stymied by the fact I can’t thread the damn thing. No matter how many times I’ve tried. I’ve watched multiple YouTube videos showing how to do it, 1Which raises the question: how the hell did I ever survive before YouTube?! and I still can’t figure it out. I need to be able to go to someone and just say “explain this to me like I’m an idiot.” Because that’s apparently the case.

In high school I took the closest thing my school offered to home economics, but it was all personal finance-type stuff, like “here’s how to sign a check” (useful at the time), or “never ever buy a new car” (absolutely not useful, since after my first POS left me stranded the fifteenth time I swore I’d never again buy a used car). Knowing my school in the 80s, I’m skeptical they would’ve ever let a boy take a sewing or cooking class, anyway.

Maybe that’s the kind of disruptive idea that will drive the next wave of internet start-ups: now that there are start-ups to keep you from having to drive yourself, cook your own food, buy your clothes, or leave the house to talk to someone, maybe we can have services that teach us how to be functional adults again.

  • 1
    Which raises the question: how the hell did I ever survive before YouTube?!

Portrait of the artist as a bald man

More than just narcissism, selfies keep me from repeating past mistakes.

Earlier this year, I shaved my head bald for the first time. It looked like this:

Not a big deal for most people, but it was a huge novelty for me. I kept it for a month and a half or so, and I have to say I really dug it. It was surprisingly nice to be able to wake up and not even do the barest minimum of hair maintenance that I put up with now.

I don’t think I could live as a baldman permanently, though — unless nature intervenes, which seems unlikely at this point. I’m just too lazy for the amount of work it’d take to keep it shiny, so I’ve got newfound respect for all the guys who put up with it. Also I know I’d never remember to put on sunscreen, which would be a problem if we ever reach a point where I can leave the house again.

I also briefly had a mohawk, which looked like this:

Fun for goofing off, but I could tell I wouldn’t be able to maintain the mohawk lifestyle.

One of the advantages of having an Instagram account was that I was slowly building a library of pictures of myself with almost every possible hair and beard configuration I could think of. Then, whenever I got in the mood to change things up, I could just look back through the records and be reminded that it didn’t actually look as good as it does in my memory.

Now, I feel like the guy in Memento, forced to re-learn over and over again that muttonchops just make me look super old, and as much as I’d like to, I just can’t pull off the biker mustache.


Mundane Observations from a Recovering Social Media Addict

Remember when people used to write blogs?

Before Twitter and Facebook arrived to make billions of dollars by making people sad, fearful, and poorly informed, my internet oversharing platform of choice was the Straight Dope Message Boards. The Straight Dope was a newspaper column that gave genuine, researched (if not entirely respectful) answers to reader-submitted questions about any conceivable topic. The message boards started as a forum for more detailed conversation about the columns, but by the time I’d arrived, had already developed into a solid and surprisingly supportive community of pedantic nerds like myself.

My favorite section of the boards was called “Mundane Pointless Stuff I Must Share.” It was for pretty much any topic you wanted, with the explicit acknowledgement that it didn’t have to be worthy of conversation with hundreds or thousands of other people. It didn’t even need to be all that interesting. In 2020, that concept is known as “the entire internet,” but back in the early 2000s it was a novel concept for me. 1I never got into livejournal because I thought it was silly over-indulgence for arrested development adults behaving as if they were still emotional teens, which is hilarious to think of now because that’s me 10,000%.

Since I’m currently in the process of weening myself off of Facebook and Instagram, I’m trying to see if I can turn back the clock to the turn-of-the-century blogosphere. That means lowering my standards for what counts as “blog worthy,” and not feeling like I have to come up with a well-thought-out essay for every single topic. 2Believe it or not, I have at least been trying to come up with well-thought-out essays.

It’s weird, though. I wish I knew why; the only thing that Facebook and Twitter did to change the formula was add a social graph, lots of ads, and take ownership of the whole thing. I think something feels fundamentally different when you’re essentially putting pages from your personal journal online for other people to read, without being surrounded by a bunch of other people all doing the same thing. That tacit approval. The acknowledgement, “No, you don’t actually need to be sharing every random thought that enters your head, but it’s okay because everybody else is doing it, too.”

Maybe micro.blog is worth looking into again. I tried it a while back, and I quickly realized that the real strength of Twitter isn’t its format or its spontaneity, but its social graph. As much as I tell myself that it’s all about getting thoughts out of my head, and I don’t really care about followers, it does feel odd shouting out into a well-intentioned but sparsely-populated, echoing room.

If you use micro.blog and like it, let me know! It’s entirely possible I just need to follow more people.

Until then, I’ll start a category for nonessential thoughts and see if I can get back into the swing of embracing pointless communication.

  • 1
    I never got into livejournal because I thought it was silly over-indulgence for arrested development adults behaving as if they were still emotional teens, which is hilarious to think of now because that’s me 10,000%.
  • 2
    Believe it or not, I have at least been trying to come up with well-thought-out essays.