The Struggle Is Real: Meditations Upon Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender”

By Michael W. Harris

Jackson Brown is one of those artists who has the tendency to drift in and out of my playlists without much thought. His songs will simmer in the background for weeks or months before exploding to dominate my listening for a solid month. His easy acoustic melodies and plaintive voice paired with an equally longing piano is the perfect companion to certain moods.

In many ways, it is a perfect fit for feeling of mono no aware that I wrote about almost two years ago. There is a wistful sadness to many of his songs, especially the ones I gravitate towards, that captures the peaceful resignation to the inevitable passing of all things. Not a rage against the dying of the light, but an acceptance, nigh an embrace of it, that is at the heart of mono no aware and much of Japanese thought.

For me, nothing captures this feeling in the work of Browne more so than a pair of couplets in his 1976 song “The Pretender,” off the album of the same name:

“Out into the cool of the evening strolls the Pretender,
He knows all his hopes and dreams begin an end there.”

And:

“Are you there? Say a prayer for the Pretender.
Who started out so young and strong only to surrender.”

The resignation found in these lines, the walking into the night, knowing that it holds all of his ends and beginnings in equal measure, the giving into the forces that would beat him down into submission and compliance…it is a deep, cynical view of the world, jaded even, that is the darker tinge of mono no aware. It is not the peaceful acceptance of the Japanese mold, but a more Western resignation. Not full of rage, but contains a simmering resentment none-the-less. But it also does not detract from the other wistful qualities of the song.

So, if these lines are about a submission to something, it begs the question: a submission to what? Continue reading “The Struggle Is Real: Meditations Upon Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender””

Ginology 2: Tanqueray No. 10

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: London Dry
ABV: 47.3%
Base: 100% grain neutral spirit
Botanicals: juniper, juniper, coriander, angelica, licorice, white grapefruit, lime, orange, chamomile flowers
Unique Processes: Uses the smaller “No. 10” still that was used for experiments, and is thus made in smaller batches. Also, it uses the whole citrus fruits rather than dried peels.

Choosing Tanqueray No. 10 for one of my initial reviews might have been a bit of an odd choice since it is the more “exclusive” or “step-up” of Tanqueray’s gins. Most people consider the basic, traditional Tanqueray to be among the world’s perfect gins, especially with how it seems to keep its botanicals to just the basics, whereas No. 10 throws in entire citrus fruits.

But while standard Tanqueray was my go to gin once I discovered the wonder that is the g’nt, I have since ventured outside its safe and comfortable flavor profile—though I am enjoying just such a throwback Tanqueray and Tonic as I write this. Though if I am honest, my favorite bottle of Tanqueray was probably their limited edition Bloomsbury variant. Sadly, it was exactly that, a limited edition that is no longer produced. But on to the gin at hand… Continue reading “Ginology 2: Tanqueray No. 10”

How I Lost It, And the Ongoing Battles Therein

By Michael W. Harris

I hit two major milestones recently that have finally forced me to change my mentality with my weight loss. 1) I have logged into the phone app I have used to track my food and exercise for 700 consecutive days. Which is just kind of unreal when I step back and think about it. And 2) I finally hit the mid-180s, which, while still not my quote ideal weight unquote, seems like it should be where I stop and seriously work on maintaining instead of losing. And while losing over 200 pounds was a challenge, I firmly believe that maintaining where I am and looking ahead to the next 700 days will be even harder. But let’s back up a bit first and talk about how I got here because that seems to be the question I get. And for that, we will have to go back further than 700 days. Let’s go back to 2013-2014 and when I made the first major change to finally get my health under control.

Warning: this post gets a bit “real” at times. Continue reading “How I Lost It, And the Ongoing Battles Therein”

A Night at the Star Wars

By Michael W. Harris

There were times watching Maestro Damon Gupton conduct the Virginia Symphony Orchestra through John Williams’ iconic music for Star Wars that you could tell that he had been conducting this music in his head for his entire life. Gupton, the dual threat actor/conductor, is unapologetic about the love for film music that he has nurtured since childhood (full disclosure, I have known Damon for over ten years, since I was a lowly box office worker at the Kansas City Symphony and he was its assistant conductor), and openly professes his love of Williams’ equally famous music for Richard Donner’s Superman. Continue reading “A Night at the Star Wars”

Ginology 1: Beefeater

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: London Dry
ABV: 47% (though outside the US the ABV is 40%)
Base: 100% grain neutral spirit
Botanicals: juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, seville oranges, lemon peel
Unique Processes: The botanicals are steeped for a full 24 hours prior to distillation to allow for the extraction of more natural oils.

I had never bought a bottle of Beefeater Gin prior to beginning my gin reviews, though it is probably among the gins that I have drank the most. The reason for this is that my go-to bar back in Boulder, CO—the No Name Bar—had Beefeater as their well gin. Their WELL gin. While Beefeater is certainly not in the same class as most higher end gins, it is certainly better than your run of the mill well spirits—i.e. Gordon’s or Seagram’s. It is simply one more reason why I miss that bar dearly…

Anyway, so it was that when I began tasting Beefeater’s standard gin (they have three other gins that I do not have ready access to), I almost immediately recognized it. Like an old friend I had not seen in a very long time. Continue reading “Ginology 1: Beefeater”

Ginology: A Beginning

By Michael W. Harris

In my ever-expanding quest to become more “sophisticated”—or maybe to give me an easier blogging topic that lends itself to shorter posts—I decided to start getting systematic about how I taste and appreciate gin. There are many ginand really any kind of alcohol you can think ofreviewers out there, and their palates are way more refined than mine, but you have to start somewhere, right? Continue reading “Ginology: A Beginning”

Where Do We Go From Here?

By Michael W. Harris

So I have been on a bit of a streak with the whole blogging thing. Starting in early January, I have been successfully posting once a week thanks to a back log of ideas in addition to writing two posts a week for two months—essentially writing and editing multiple posts simultaneously, though usually only posting one. Some of that was thanks to the emotional wall I had built and deciding to spend all my free time on the weekend writing, but it was also thanks to really having no other projects in front of me since I was out of library school. Continue reading “Where Do We Go From Here?”

…six months later

By Michael W. Harris

I have become quite adept at putting on a happy face. Like so many, when things get bad you rarely want to talk about it openly, especially to family and co-workers. Friends are a different matter, but being thousands of miles away from those nearest and dearest to me, and having only fleeting contact with them, I started lying to them as well about how rough things were during my first six months in Virginia. A difficulty that I barely hint at in my previous essay.

But, I think I turned a corner in early March and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that a few things have became clear to me. 1) I completely withdrew into myself soon after moving to Virginia. 2) In doing so I had created an emotional barrier around myself as a protection measure. And 3) both of these things combined were preventing me from both embracing my new job and area, and also from properly healing. Continue reading “…six months later”

William of Gin

By Michael W. Harris

In September of 2017 I accepted a job at the College of William & Mary and had just two weeks to uproot my entire life and move across the country. I had spent the past decade living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and was now moving to the lower Chesapeake Bay and Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Virginia. I had been to Virginia only once before, during my elementary school field trip to Washington, D.C., and my only memory of the state is almost being left behind at Jamestown when I spent too long in the gift shop looking at books.

I was a nerd from a young age.

My life seems to be a pattern of sudden change. While some live in a state of constant flux, mine seems to have long periods of stability punctuated with moments of rupture. Though, in retrospect, this change was possibly telegraphed. I had become restless in Colorado, and the physical changes my body was undergoing—I had recently decided to get healthy and dropped a considerably amount of weight—mirrored a larger change in my personality as I was struggling to figure out the direction I wanted my life to go. I had made the leap from professor to librarian, and by the fall of 2017 I was in the final semester of my library degree. However, there was still no sign that the permanent temporary status of my job at the University of Colorado would ever change.

So it was, when I returned to Colorado after spending a month in Wyoming doing the requisite internship for my library degree, that I decided to hit the job market hard and truly begin my new career in earnest. Not long after that I was packing up my apartment, including an inordinate number of bottles of gin leftover from my 37th birthday party, and began the three-day drive to Virginia and the College of William & Mary. Continue reading “William of Gin”

Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media

By Michael W. Harris

Sad Matt Smith is Sad

It was around the time when Matt Smith was leaving the TARDIS in the epic three-part “The [blank] of the Doctor” episodes that I began to realize that it was sort of pointless to endlessly theorize. In those episodes, there were so many aspects and moving parts that Steven Moffat had to pay off, not to mention the longstanding issue of how many regenerations Time Lords had, plus the epic reveal of the “War Doctor,” that the creeping sensation of inevitable let down began to sink in. In the months in between “The Name…” and “The Day…” my friends and I had numerous conversations about what we thought was going on and where it was going to lead. For my own part, I injested classic episodes of Doctor Who in order to track down the sources of Whovian lore that Moffat was pulling on. And for all of the hints that he laid out in “The Name,” and for all of the awesome fan service found in “The Day,” the final installment, “The Time of the Doctor,” just sort of limped along and barely paid any of it off. A problem that was compounded by the Peter Capaldi era and its hints of some awesome meta story of how Capaldi had appeared in early parts of the Who franchise. And as I sat in the theatre watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it hit me: I need to relearn how to just enjoy my favorite media properties. This isn’t to say I will stop writing about and analyzing what has already come, not by a long shot. It means that I will try to stop speculating about what might come next. Continue reading “Just Enjoy: Why I Have Tried to Stop Theorizing About My Favorite Media”