Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track

By Michael W. Harris

Pen, paper, and coffee…the beginnings of so many posts this past year.

It has been a year. While I did not go into 2018 planning on doing one post a week, that is how it ended up. It just sort of started, kept going, snowballed, and before you knew it I had a pattern established, and I am loathe to break patterns. And looking back, I am really glad I did it. It was part therapy during what was one of the most difficult periods in my life, part exercise in finding a good writing process as I try to integrate my love for the craft of the written word into my life, and part needing an outlet for some of the smaller scale projects that I want to pursue.

However, more than anything else, I just wanted to write more. I have always loved writing, and it is a big reason why I decided to do a PhD and not a DMA all those year ago. When I thought about which I would rather do, practice bassoon for eight hours a day or read and write for 8 hours a day…the decision was easy to make. And now, with (hopefully) my last degree a year behind me, another year of tumult and upheaval over, and job stability ahead, it is time to think about what the future of The Temp Track looks like.

After a year filled with gin reviews, musing on stationery, some rather personal essays that made some people worry about my mental and physical health (and I share those concerns…hence writing as therapy), and other random musing on life, the universe, and everything, what does 2019 look like?

Let’s first look back before we look forward, shall we? Continue reading “Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track”

Finding Happiness in the Dark: The Aesthetics and Beauty of Stationery

By Michael W. Harris

Pen, paper, and coffee…what more do you need?

I was a late user of Instagram, and it was only when I had found myself largely abandoning Facebook that I decided to dive into the photo-only world of the platform. I needed something beautiful and happy in my life. I needed something to bring me joy amidst the dumpster fire of the rest of the world.

I needed a purely joyful aesthetic experience.

I know that I am not the first to discuss the purely visual aspect of Instagram as it compares to the text forward medium/misery-pit of Facebook and/or Twitter. However, I have never considered myself a person to be driven the visual or even the beautiful. Yes, I appreciate beautiful artwork, a well-designed building, and so on, but to be so fully drawn into a purely visual aesthetic experience like Instagram was something I never considered to be “for me.” Continue reading “Finding Happiness in the Dark: The Aesthetics and Beauty of Stationery”

Dreaming of a Future: RADWIMPS’ “Weekly Shonen Jump”

By Michael W. Harris

RADWIMPS is a Japanese band I first became familiar with via their music for Makoto Shinkai’s beautiful anime film Your Name, and whose music I will forever associate with my final months in Virginia—a time of my life that will forever stir up complex and uncertain emotions. And while the exact memories and images of places accumulated in my ten months at the College of William & Mary have already begun to fade as I settle into my new life in Memphis, the music of RADWIMPS will always yank me back to the sidewalks and streets of Williamsburg, VA.

The music of the group is a mélange of styles, ranging from hip-hop to rock, but the majority of their music would fall into what I would squarely call pop. And catchy, sensible pop at that. So it was that shortly after falling into the world of Shinkai and Your Name, I quickly downloaded all the albums and EPs that I could and put them on repeat. Which is to say that I had listened to most of their catalog prior to moving to Memphis, and which is why I find it curious that it was not until after I had moved that I had the experience of being stopped in my tracks by the song “Weekly Shonen Jump.” Continue reading “Dreaming of a Future: RADWIMPS’ “Weekly Shonen Jump””

It’s Got to be the Goin’: The Journey of (Self) Annihilation

By Michael W. Harris

N.B. – This is part three of a series on Alex Garland’s films, if you have not already, you should probably read Part I on Sunshine and Part II on Ex Machina before diving in.

Almost any film (or narrative story) is about “the journey.” It is what gives a character their arc and shows their growth. Sometimes there is a very literal metaphor of this arc with a character climbing a mountain or driving across the country with a friend or their father’s ashes…or Einstein’s brain. Regardless, something they all have in common, though, is that the journey is the means by which the character grows. This is the essence of “The Hero’s Journey” and the well-trodden Joseph Campbell Hero With a Thousand Faces and what not.

But what about a film that is not about the hero’s journey and how it changes them? What about a film in which the journey itself is the point? A journey that, while somehow revelatory of the character and either their motivations for the journey or society as a whole, rather than changing them or causing them to grow as a person, instead ends up either not affecting them or, if anything, leaving them worse off for making the trip.

These kinds of films are about how what is being journeyed through reflects or, in the case of Annihilation, refracts back on the person or society. Continue reading “It’s Got to be the Goin’: The Journey of (Self) Annihilation”

Visions of the Things to Be: Reflections on M*A*S*H

 

By Michael W. Harris

The gang’s all here

I try not to identify a lot with fictional characters—the Fantastic Four aside. It is hard, though. Fiction is designed to engage us on an emotional level, draw us in and create moments of reflection within us. Growing up, as strange as it may sound, one of the characters I identified with most was Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit. Continue reading “Visions of the Things to Be: Reflections on M*A*S*H”

The Real Test: Humanity and [Artificial] Intelligence in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina

By Michael W. Harris

Yes, what will happen?

If there is one question left in my brain at the end of Ex Machina, it is “who was the true villain of the film?” For so much of its runtime we are left in a state of unease at the actions and personality of its erstwhile genius creator Nathan (Oscar Issac)—some sort Steve Jobs crossed with Mark Zuckerberg crossed with Dr. Frankenstein mad scientist—and we wonder when the other shoe will drop. Nathan is erratic, quick to anger and just as quick to soften; unpredictable, clearly an alcoholic, and also paranoid. His security measures prove to be his very undoing, and also cause the death of his unwitting test subject/examiner, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), one of Nathan’s employees who is there to perform a Turing Test on Ava (Alicia Vikander), Nathan’s android creation.

There is not a lot of set-up to the film—we are quickly dumped into the beginnings of the story which is slowly unwound for us via dialogue—which works because Caleb is just as clueless as the audience. Nathan, on the outside, would seem to be the picture of the cool, laid back, Silicon Valley billionaire. A brilliant, youthful genius whose ambition is outpaced only by his reckless and odd behavior. Continue reading “The Real Test: Humanity and [Artificial] Intelligence in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina”

Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)

By Michael W. Harris

Our world is dying…

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007), written by the future Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) writer/director Alex Garland, was, for me, the film from which I learned the phrase “third act problems.” In this way, it was a seminal film in my development as a critical viewer and analyzer of the cinematic arts. And yet, despite these problems, it remains, in my regard, an outstanding example of the science fiction genre and a film that I whole heartedly recommend.

The following essay had its start in my long delayed hauntology project (I promise that will begin posting soon), but in the process of streamlining that series and removing a number of films because the essays I was writing kept getting longer, I decided that both Sunshine and Ex Machina did not really fit with the themes I was developing…though Sunshine was heartbreaking to remove because I do want more people to watch it, flaws and all. Continue reading “Stardust to Stardust: An Adagio to Life and Death (Alex Garland’s Sunshine)”

Artificial Reports of the Worlds: Steven Spielberg’s Early 2000s Sci-Fi Trilogy

By Michael W. Harris

Steven Spielberg is an interesting director. Often derided by “refined” cinephiles as too commercial and mainstream, not to mention his part in the creation of the modern blockbuster with Jaws (1975), Spielberg is, in reality, a very astute and sophisticated director whose films have surprising depth when you peel back the surface layer. His works have undergone a bit of critical reappraisal thanks to many YouTube essayists and such opinions are beginning to filter into the mainstream. And with this new criticism has come some re-evaluation of films that, upon first release, suffered from disappointment critically or financially (at least in the public perception).

In my memory (which could be flawed or skewed in this respect), early 2000s Spielberg is and was undervalued by the public, that some thought he had somehow lost a step. Coming off the successes of Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Amistad (1997), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), he followed those up with the three films under discussion here: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005)—with Catch Me If You Can (2002) and The Terminal (2004) sandwiched in between the latter two for good measure. These are not objectively bad films, they demonstrate a master in full command of his craft. Yet, I never saw any of these three films in theatres, catching them only after the fact on DVD. In my memory, I also do not remember overwhelming praise nor box office (though the internet tells me otherwise). However, they have remained in the back of my head as films that I would like to revisit, especially when taken as an interesting grouping in Spielberg’s career. Three sci-fi films coming in relative proximity, and all adaptations at that. Continue reading “Artificial Reports of the Worlds: Steven Spielberg’s Early 2000s Sci-Fi Trilogy”

My Personal New Year’s: The Birthday Hike and Recommitment/Reflection

By Michael W. Harris

I have never been one for going in on the hype surrounding New Year’s and resolutions. I get how some people can see the ticking over of a calendar year as an important or significant moment and a good time for reflection and making a commitment for the upcoming year. I understand the hype, but I never really bought into it. It was never, for me, a special or memorable moment (New Year’s 1989/1990 notwithstanding for entirely different reasons), and I treated New Year’s Eve like most other nights, just one with an added excuse to stay up late and maybe marathon Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.

Somewhere along the line, though, I started to use my birthday to actually reflect and look ahead. Which is entirely strange in retrospect since for so long I actually shunned openly celebrating my birthday and would even avoid telling people when it was (thanks Facebook for ruining that!). It was a slow process, to be sure, to change this mentality, but change it did. First, I had to accept getting older and to stop judging my “progress” along the path of the “life goals” checklist against my peers. And I guess that that making peace process can be seen as part and parcel with my newest and perhaps most significant birthday traditions: the birthday hike.

Not always undertaken on my birthday, but always birthday adjacent. Continue reading “My Personal New Year’s: The Birthday Hike and Recommitment/Reflection”

On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos

By Michael W. Harris

The deeper I have delved into my hobbies of pens and gins, the more I was struck by their opposed temporal aspects. Part of this came out of my previous post about how pens do have a timeless quality to them. They are created, tools to be used, and maybe passed down to a new generation as treasured family heirlooms. They are markers of our existence. Proof of our lives and a piece that might live on to carry small part of us forward with it.

Gin, on the other hand, is the opposite of all that. It is a product that is, first and foremost, a consumable. Enjoyment of it only comes through using it up, leaving only the bottle, and a possible hangover, behind. Gin, unlike win or whisky, is also “cheap” in the pantheon of wine and spirits. There is little point in “saving” a bottle in the hopes that it becomes rare, like scotch or whisky, or improves with age, like some wines. And there is certainly no reason to acquire some gins to only save and pass on. Gin will always expire with the emptying of the bottle.

But the longer I thought about it, the more complex the reality of this notion became. Within each is part of the other. Life and death. Eros and Thanatos, as Freud might argue. In creating objects for our posterity, there is an inherent meditation on our death. And in the enjoyment of good spirits, there is a celebration of life.

Granted, drinking too much can kill you. And while the pen is mightier than the sword, I doubt it will actually kill you—unless you are James Bond, a ninja, or Marcus Brody fighting Nazis in a tank with Henry Jones, Sr.

Barring that highly unlikely scenario, or accidently drinking poisoned ink (DON’T DRINK THE INK!), pens will not kill you.

And yet… Continue reading “On the Meaning of Pens and Gins: Eros and Thanatos”