Sunday, June 29, 2014

That Whole MFA Thing

Barring a clerical error or an egregious misstep on my part, whenever the university gets around to conferring degrees, I will have my MFA in Creative Writing.
I have to write about the experience because it all feels so much like a dream, and it is best to write about dreams as soon as you wake from them (lest you forget). Also, it's a writing degree, so why wouldn't I be writing? Granted, my focus was in fiction, but no one really needs to know that. That'll be our secret.

But hopefully it won't be much of a secret. One of the best things about the residencies is that they always rejuvenated my confidence. This residency was no exception, and claiming ownership of a shiny new degree certainly serves to boost my morale. In addition to the encouragement of my mentors, I always appreciated the kind words and compliments from my colleagues. Workshops were not always roses and rainbows, but I was told what I needed to be told.

As a requirement of my fifth and final residency, I had to read a sample of my thesis, and conduct a seminar based on my critical analysis essay. Despite having destroyed my voice with a deadly combination of World Cup soccer and scotch, I thought both went pretty well.

I'd like to thank my thesis advisor, Kevin Moffett, for not only being a fantastic mentor and advisor, but also for asking me to help him at his reading. He, Eli Horowitz, and Matthew Derby collaborated on a novel called The Silent History, which you should really check out. If you like me in any way, shape, or form, for real, you should check out this novel. I had to read a section written by Matthew Derby, in which I was a disgruntled mime who punched a kid in the face. If that doesn't pique your interest, fine. Whatever. The reading went very well, and you really should have been there.

All of this happened at the University of Tampa, during the June portion of the MFA in Creative Writing low residency program. If you don't know/remember what that is, I imagine you stopped reading a few paragraphs ago, but here's some help if you haven't.

Some more highlights of the past residency include me rocking a reprise of "With Arms Wide Open" by Creed during karaoke night at The Retreat, eating Eddie & Sam's pizza three nights in a row, eating more Taco Bus than I care to remember/admit, drinking all of the scotch, meeting even more new awesome writers, and watching the World Cup with everyone. Seriously, it was so awesome watching soccer with other people who not only knew what they were watching, but cared almost as much as I do.

I don't get enough of any of this.

I'd share with you what I read during my graduate reading, but I'm busy looking for someone to publish it. :P

Monday, June 9, 2014

The United States of Alcohol

I once thought ours was a nation of alcoholics. Not so. Sure, we may have plenty of individuals who are addicted to alcohol. They have a "drinking" problem. Fine. But we, as a nation, do not love alcohol nearly as much as we claim to.

I won't say where, by day, I'm employed. All that is relevant is that I give people free alcohol. Free. Fucking. Alcohol. It sounds like heaven on Earth, right?

 I'm also responsible for cleaning up the glasses from which such generous libations are consumed. You would be both shocked and appalled if you saw how many glasses still had liquor in them.

I know, it's the middle of the day, and c'mon, we're all getting older. BUT IT IS FREE ALCOHOL. On top of that, it's vodka. It's insanely easy to drink. If you can't at least grin and bear it, you simply don't like alcohol. Stop pretending like you do just so you can fit in. No one likes a teetotaler, but it's not a dichotomy between "drinker" and "anti-drinker." Just don't take the sample if you don't like alcohol. It's way less offensive to me.

Here's a fun test:
Do you claim to love beer? Yes? What's your favorite? Does its name end in 'light'? Congratulations, you're a liar!

There is NOTHING wrong with liking light beer. There is everything wrong with claiming to love a certain type of alcohol, but only ever imbibing in the most homeopathic version of it available. Stop it!

To sum it all up, my favorite Australian comedian Jim Jefferies has a great bit about American drinking.

Also, here is a list of BeerAdvocate's top 250 beers. Have you ever tried any on the list?

Chime in on the comments below. What's your preferred poison? Do you know someone who pretends to like drinking, but really only likes being an obnoxious intoxicated dick? Are you an alcoholic? What's your favorite beer? What's your favorite cocktail? I don't do this just for the page views, I want a dialectic, people!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pardon the Imbecile (Pardon the Interruption)

Sam Borden recently published a piece in New York Times Magazine about Jurgen Klinsmann and the overarching narrative of the United State's Men's National Team heading into the 2014 World Cup and beyond. It is a thorough piece that, in all of the drama and anxiety leading up to Brazil, can help seasoned soccer fans regain some perspective. It's also detailed and balanced enough that it may help some of the more casual fans pick up where they left off back in 2010.

But wait- "Thorough? Detailed? Get to the chase, Ben. IS IT REALLY LONG?"

Yes, it's really long. So when Michael Wilbon, of ESPN's PTI (Pardon the Interruption) went on this alarmingly xenophobic rant about Klinsmann, the article's length more than likely contributed to the commentator's egregious disregard for context. Or maybe he was forced to disregard the context because that's exactly what he's paid to do, yell like a jackass.

Let me include here that I am completely and 100% biased against Pardon the Interruption. Many of you are probably only familiar with PTI as that show that is always on mute whenever there isn't an actual game (or anything else entertaining) on at the sports bar. If you ever thought "wow, those guys look like they're probably yammering fucking idiots," then you are right, and if I had any way of verifying your psychic prowess, I'd buy you a beer. PTI is a lot like CNN's Crossfire, in that it's a bunch of people arguing in talking points and contributing nothing to any kind of meaningful dialogue.

It's all about stirring shit up. If you're really into shit, then it's fine.

So to sum up the article in a nutshell (a tall task, so you should pat me on the back when I'm done), Jurgen Klinsmann was brought on as the USMNT manager to bring about a change in culture within the structure of US Soccer. Most managers are hired to do exactly that, wherever they're hired, but when I say "culture" I mean this in more than one sense of the word. If the United States wants to compete on the world's stage with European powerhouses, common sense would seem to dictate that the United States would benefit by emulating the Europeans in some ways. Not all ways, of course, but enough that it's going to take a coach who not only played for Germany, but managed them as well.

One of the most obvious ways in which these changes have manifested themselves is in the roster and lineup of the USMNT. Again, on the surface it sounds obvious; new manager = some new faces on the pitch. But the lineup seems to be more international than ever. Apart from the inclusion of players plying their trade in leagues all around the world (this was usually the case), there are now more players who were either born overseas or born to at least one foreign parent. A lot of these guys have dual-citizenship, and could have played for other countries. This, to me, is (ironically) the most American a team could possibly be. When you look at the names and the faces and the birthplaces of these players, you see a melting pot.

Jurgen chose his 23-man list for Brazil because he thinks that's his best team. The most controversial exclusion from this list was Landon Donovan, one of the most successful and decorated players to ever represent the United States. Jurgen's "European" sensibilities are of no benefit to star-studded players. He does not believe that players should be rewarded purely on the basis of their reputation, as is an all too common practice in American sports.

But because he's German and he's challenging the hallowed tradition of overpaying the egos of our most revered corporate spokespeople, like Kobe Bryant, HE SHOULD GET THE HELL OUT! Or, at least, that's what Michael Wilbon would have us believe. Don't bother getting into the details, Michael, you've got thirty seconds to shit all over someone your audience doesn't care about, to the appeasement of your corporate masters (because, again, how dare you insult our entitled corporate poster children?).

The best part of Wilbon's argument is that it's more applicable to himself than anyone else. What do you know about soccer, Michael? Perhaps you shouldn't fucking be talking about it. I'd also wager a mind like Klinsmann's is more finely attuned to the American sports landscape than Wilbon's, considering Jurgen is actually a part of it. Wilbon used to be a real sports journalist, but that's about it at this point. Never mind Jurgen's athletic accomplishments, which are much greater than Wilbon's, only one of these two individuals rambles like an imbecile.

I guess this is so offensive to me because I love soccer, and I'm sick of seeing it get short-shrift on ESPN. Yeah, they're covering the World Cup, but I'll be shocked if I hear any of their non-soccer-specific commentators say one remotely intelligent thing about anything that happens. Most of the time, when they're not covering the beautiful game (on ESPN 8, the "ocho"), they're saying something dumb about it. And shows like PTI are not just bad for soccer, but bad for sports in America in general. They simplify everything into digestible talking points, thus ignoring the inherent complexities of these competitions that make them entertaining and meaningful for thoughtful, intelligent humans.

So, in short, I'm against shitty television shows. And Michael Wilbon. Get off my screen, you un-American scumbag.