Letter From Home: December '22
Favorite things from 2022
SEVEN THINGS I LOVED IN 2022 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
The sourdough bread from Blue Scorcher Bakery in Astoria, OR.
I’ve been an avowed fan of sourdough bread, it must be known, since childhood. And as other sourdough-heads must know, there are a lot of pretenders out there, a lot of ersatz sourdough loaves that are nothing more than white bread with a fancy label. And so I was pleased to discover the sourdough loaf from Blue Scorcher, a bakery in Astoria — it’s the real fucking deal. It’s oh-so spongy and it’s got just the right bit of tang to it. It’s the first thing on my list when I’m in Astoria; it’s my most-requested bring-back whenever someone else is going — though (*cough* Carson *cough*) that request often goes forgotten.
I may have seen the first Fletch movie, the one with Chevy Chase in it, back when I was a kid, but I don’t remember a thing about it. Greg Mottola has made a new one, with Jon Hamm in the lead role, and I watched it on a flight to New York recently. I know it’s anathema to watch a movie on a plane and really take it in (apologies to Top Gun Maverick, which I also watched on a plane) — but I so rarely get to the movie theater these days if I’m not going to some god-awful superhero movie with my kids. Grumble grumble. I’m a fan of Mottola’s work going back to Superbad, and a fan of Jon Hamm, so I was piqued. I really dug it — it had a classic feel to it, a kind of general je-ne-sais-quoi that you just don’t see that much these days. It felt funny and breezy and unconcerned about what kind of cultural cache it might have (or lack thereof) — it was clever and self-deprecating and the whole cast seemed to be having a lot of fun in their performances. Plus, Eugene Mirman shows up as a hapless security guard and surely no movie can fail with such a thing in place.
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The great Kate Bush rediscovery/celebration
I was deliberately avoiding the last couple Stranger Things seasons, not wanting its fire-sale use of 80s horror tropes to influence or convolute The Stars Did Wander Darkling, which I’d been writing since 2019. And so I was way behind when Carson and Hank started watching the 4th season last May — and a bit confused when Carson reported there’d been a big scene using Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” At that point, my draft was in the hands of my editor and I was assiduously trying to catch up (starting at season two); I was leery of spoilers. But I couldn’t avoid the incredible groundswell of love for Ms. Bush. And it gave us Kate fans an excuse to bust out the old records and listen again. It’s not the first resurgence of the Queen Witch, nor will it be the last, and it was fun while it lasted.
I’m always a bit leery of office humor — never having worked in one, an office, that is, a lot of times the humor seems to sail over my head. So I was late coming around to the TV series Severance. More offbeat corporate-office jokes about who’s been raiding Genevieve’s yogurt from the breakroom fridge? A couple episodes in, though, I was in its clutches. It feels rare these days to be genuinely surprised by something in movies or TV or music — but with Severance I felt like I never quite knew what would happen next. Those last two episodes were brilliant — and make me worry for the creators: how will they top that season? What surprises could they possibly have left in store?
Into The Woods
I was in New York at the beginning of December and had a night to myself; I decided to take in some theater. I had an embarrassment of options; would I wade into three hours of Stoppardia? Or maybe reacquaint myself with an American classic, Death Of A Salesman? Something weird and bold and very off-Broadway? Nah, I went with Into The Woods, that Sondheim classic. I have a dark secret: in my teens, while I was wearing the uniform of an alt-rock snob and busily eschewing my contemporary’s tastes in music for the sort of pleasures that came only from the Pegasus Music import CD rack, I was also a musical theater lover. Godspell, Evita, Les Miserables, and Sunday In The Park With George were never too far from the boombox. Into The Woods was a particular love of mine; all that metaphorical stuff about going into the woods, casting off tokens of security, discovering one’s identity and independence in an often heartless world — I ate it up as I prepared to leave home, to leave Montana, to venture out on my own as an adult. So it was interesting to return to the show as an adult and reap afresh the lessons it has for those of us who have long been wandering the woods. So much stuff about the terrible choices one is forced to make as adults, as parents — I was a mess by the end of the second act. It’s closing in a few weeks; if you can make it, you should go.
Denial, by Jon Raymond
As Reading Room readers will attest, it’s been a year full of tangents for me — so much speculative dystopian fiction and Arthurian legend. I went back through my reading list just now and was a bit shocked to discover that I think I might’ve only read three or four books that were published in 2022 (that maybe-fourth is Lydia Yuknavitch’s wild Thrust, which I’m reading now). But not only was Jon’s book my favorite of the books published this year (sorry, Lapvona) but it might’ve been my favorite I read this year full stop. Once I started reading it, I could not put the thing down. It was so propulsive. And it’s a book that I think may have permanently altered my view on climate politics — along with The Ministry of the Future.
Brahms, Complete Songs Vol. 1
You guys, I didn’t listen to much new music this year. As more of my time is given over to activities (writing music, writing prose, writing anything) that are confounded by listening to music with discernible lyrics, I find that I’m falling behind on the hot new records. I’ve caught things here and there that I’ve loved — Beach House’s Once Twice Melody, Shara Nova’s The Blue Hour, Naima Bock’s Giant Palm — but for the most part, I’ve found a nice, comfortable spot under this rock and would like to remain here for the time being thank you very much. One of my most memorable music-listening experiences of the year, however, was wandering the Metropolitan Museum of Art listening to this Brahms collection on my headphones. Gone were the murmured conversations between fellow museum-goers, the noise of gradeschool kids being ushered around by their teachers, the shuffling of boots and cell phone rings — I was immersed in the experience and it was lovely. Particularly the exhibit of Tudor artifacts (that’s leaving soon, too — get thee hither!). Anyway, next time you find yourself somewhere crowded and noisy, I recommend a tidy dose of Brahms direct into your ear canals. Solves everything.