Simple Pleasures Remind to Give Thanks

Writings on the war in Ukraine, Coach K, Lia Thomas, True/False Film Fest, the Oscars, and more.

Simple Pleasures Remind to Give Thanks

I’ve been traveling and therefore derelict in my duties of writing. But I’m back in your inbox on a Wednesday of all days because there’s just a lot of good stuff worth sharing.

My absence was full of highlights for me: a film festival, old friends, new friends, a reunion with my sweet dog, lots of meals with my brother, playing uncle to my niece, visiting my granny, and plenty more. I enjoyed the majesty of a drive across the American West as I headed back to my native Tennessee from Wyoming in the early morning, watching the sun coming up over the horizon. I enjoyed a break from sub-zero temperatures for the warmer environs of Missouri and Tennessee. I got the shock of a March snow back in Tennessee, which admittedly has lost a lot of its appeal after nearly two years in Wyoming.

I got lost in the ritual of making a bracket for March Madness. None of this is particularly earth-shattering, and most would read it with a casual shrug and a “Good for him.” I don’t disagree. The various things I’ve mentioned meant a lot to me, but they are decidedly common and unremarkable.

That very unremarkableness is what stuck with me, for when I took a moment to step back and think about the wider world in which I was enjoying these common joys, I remembered that a war on the European continent unseen since World War II is raging.

It’s noteworthy to me how little I talked about it. Every now and then with my brother, who’s freshly home from the military, or indirectly with friends and family as we felt the pinch at the gas pump from crazy-high prices. But a serious, substantive conversation about the war, about our response, was in short supply.

I wrote about that fact after Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed both houses of Congress last week.

It struck me that so much of what I loved about my time away from Wyoming were so simple: good food, good friends, good film and culture, good weather. They are things I take for granted, even in the best of times, but as more and more images, videos, and reports come out of Ukraine, I realize how fortunate I am, we all are, and though it does no actual good, I spend a moment in silence for Ukraine.


Ten Worth Your Time

  1. None other than former president Bill Clinton suggested a recent article in The New Yorker about Ukraine in the form of a discussion between preeminent Russian history scholar Stephen Kotkin and David Remnick, himself an experienced former Russian correspondent in his time at The Washington Post.

  2. I heard someone make the observation that Fox News can’t capitalize on war coverage the way CNN can, so in the midst of an actual war, it doubles down on culture wars. This piece in Vanity Fair hits hard: Fox News Hosts Entertained Putin-Friendly Talking Points. Then Their Colleagues Were Killed in Ukraine.

  3. Returning to the lighter side of life, there’s another “Wright Thompson Profiles a Giant at Pivotal Moment” piece, and this one is about Duke’s Coach K. There’s no better time to read such a story than during NCAA’s March Madness.

  4. Though it’s getting the lion’s share of attention right now, the men’s NCAA basketball tournament isn’t the only collegiate championship happening around this time.  On a recent episode of the podcast The Gist, host Mike Pesca talked about Lia Thomas winning the NCAA women’s 500-meter swimming championship. In it, he quoted a recent brilliant article by one of my favorite writers, a fellow Mizzou alum Robert Sanchez, which chronicled Thomas’ coming out and transition. Robert’s piece and Pesca’s spiel addressed the complex feelings associated with a trans athlete not only performing at a high level but winning, like Thomas did. Both are thoughtful explorations of those complexities and well worth a read and listen, respectively.

  5. From Thomas’s University of Pennsylvania to another Ivy League school in Columbia, a recent edition of Malcolm Gladwell’s newsletter, Oh, MG, which is distributed by Facebook’s Bulletin newsletter service, focused on how Columbia had skyrocketed in the U.S. News and World Reports college rankings. Gladwell’s post is a synthesis and reprinting of a paper by a brave Columbia faculty member, Michael Thaddeus, who suggests that his university gamed the system and cheated its way to a Number 2 ranking.

  6. It’s been too long since I properly read a full book. There’s no excuse for it, but it’s the truth. Many are in progress, but “Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory” by Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg was the first in a while that I’ve read cover to cover without really stopping. It’s great for all the reasons Bojack Horseman is great. It’s “an offbeat collection of short stories about love — the best and worst thing in the universe.” And I think the book just nails it. Is it the type of book where the prose itself is overwhelmingly great, sentence by sentence? No. But as a book of ideas, as a worldview wrapped in these wacky stories, he just gets the modern world. I have this artistic/aesthetic belief that timeless literature, at least if it’s to be written today, needs to be just that: without a specific time. It needs to happen in this forever present that also feels like it’s 25 years ago, all at the same time, because to start putting in the vagaries of actual modern life is going to ring so hollow when these cultural references disappear. But RBW does it. In one of the collection’s longer stories, entitled “The Average of All Possible Things, “ he perfectly captures the uncomfortable limbo after a romance ends. It’s full of inanities that this generation knows all too well, and they’re specifically of this moment. They wouldn’t make sense to tell to our elders, and one day, they might not make sense to tell to the youths, but by god the people living through it today know what it’s like.

  7. My most recent prolonged absence from my weekly publishing began when I left Wyoming for a week in Columbia, Missouri, for the True/False Film Fest. It’s a bit surreal to hear professional film critics remember True/False 2020 as the last thing that happened before the pandemic arrived because I remember sitting around my favorite haunts in town that year, wondering aloud with friends what would become of this whole COVID-19 thing. I didn’t attend last year’s festival, which was held in May and outdoors, but this year was mostly back to normal. I saw a lot of great films, some that I’d missed during Sundance, and it was great to see Columbia show up to support the festival. I was especially excited that some of my favorite film critics made the trip back this year. Here’s Scott Tobias’s recap for his newsletter The Reveal, and here’s Alissa Wilkinson’s brief summary for her newsletter, Commonplace Book.

  8. My highlight from True/False was the world premiere of a wonderful film called Let The Little Light Shine by Kevin Shaw. Tobias mentions it briefly in his post, and with good reason: It was just incredibly well done. It presented an easy-to-root-for set of characters: Parents, teachers, and administrators from a high-performing, predominantly Black elementary school that’s being targeted for closure to convert it into a high school as a result of gentrification in the neighborhood. The crowd was vocal in that premiere screening, and the reception was raucous when Shaw and some key characters from the film made an appearance.

  9. It’s Oscars Week, and while there are countless interesting races this year, it’s been a widely celebrated year for the Best Picture nominees. Here’s a great podcast episode from The Big Picture diving deep on the presumptive front-runner, The Power of the Dog, as well as Top Five of Best Picture winners.

  10. The Batman premiered while I was at True/False, but I did get to it about a week later. I really enjoyed myself, though I felt like even the well-deserved praise was a bit too breathless, even from the non-DC fanboys. I liked the direction by Matt Reeves. I liked the grounded nature of the character. I liked the performances. But I don’t have a lot of patience for the nonstop celebration of these flicks as some towering achievements. Is this one good for what it is? Very much so. Is what it is somewhat played out and should people be clamoring for original stories created for adults? I think so. That being said, remember this: I liked it. Agreed a great deal with Adam Nayman’s take over at The Ringer.


Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been watching in the past three weeks (because it’s been so long since I’ve checked in).

Remember: The legend for my list was stolen from Mr. Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film, and Italics is a book. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

2/21: THE KING’S MAN (HBO Max)
2/22: Gilmore Girls (2) (Netflix)
2/23: Abbott Elementary  (Hulu)
2/24: Gilmore Girls (7) (Netflix)
2/25: Gilmore Girls (1) (Netflix)
2/26:
2/27: Severance (AppleTV+)
2/28:
3/1:
3/2: A CEREBRAL GAME; GARDEN VARIETY; RAMPED UP (Reid Davenport’s shorts at Based On A True Story at True/False)
3/3: RIOTSVILLE, USA (True/False); BROTHERHOOD (True/False)
3/4: SIRENS (True/False); H6 ((True/False); LET THE LITTLE LIGHT SHINE (True/False); THE TERRITORY (True/False)
3/5: FACTORY TO THE WORKERS (True/False); DOS ESTACIONES (True/False); 2ND CHANCE (True/False)
3/6: NO U-TURN (True/False); AFTER SHERMAN (True/False); I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE (True/False); WE MET IN VIRTUAL REALITY (True/False)
3/7:
3/8:
3/9:
3/10: THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD* (Screener)
3/11:THE BATMAN (Theater); Severance (2) (AppleTV+)
3/12: Our Flag Means Death (6) (HBO Max); The Righteous Gemstones, S1 (9) (HBO Max)
3/13: FREE GUY* (HBO Max) ( The Big Picture Watch-Along)
3/14: The Righteous Gemstones, S2 (6) (HBO Max); C’MON, C’MON (VOD)
3/15: The Righteous Gemstones (3) (HBO Max)
3/16: ASCENSION (Paramount+)
3/17: Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory
3/18:
3/19:
3/20:
3/21: Our Flag Means Death (2) (HBO Max)
3/22:

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