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Review: “Harvey Birdman: Attorney General’

16 Oct

Adult Swim / Cartoon Network

 

For Book and Film Globe, I wrote about Adult Swim‘s triumphant and only sorta-political return of “Harvey Birdman” (for one episode at least).

I have a couple of other reviews on the site, please check it out.

Another goodbye: ‘I Love You So Much’

28 Sep

Photo by our pal Megan Renart

My life partner in podcast, Tolly Moseley, put up a beautiful post on Facebook about the end of our hosting gigs on the podcast we co-created with Addie Broyles and Alyssa Vidales, “I Love You So Much” (which, in a previous life, was the successor to “Statesman Shots.”

Without her, there would never have been a “Statesman Shots” and I wouldn’t have wanted to take on either show without her laughter, her talent and her can-do spirit. Which is why it feels right that we’re saying goodbye to the show together. It has been the best kind of creative partnership and I hope we brought the best out of each other. We’ll be on a couple more episodes through ACL Fest with Addie but you can hear our goodbye bonus episode below or on your favorite podcast app.

Thanks to all our guests, our newsroom heroes who said yes again and again when they could have easily said no and to all of you who listened, who shared and who helped make our little dream of a fun Austin podcast a reality.

Goodbye, Statesman

30 Aug

 

A bunch of many years ago, I got an internship at the Austin newspaper. That internship turned into a job and then the job into a career and I find myself 21 years later looking at the exit sign and beginning a long, long set of goodbyes.

I’m accepting a buyout offer from the Austin American-Statesman and GateHouse Media that concludes almost half of my life working as a reporter, editor, podcaster, video shooter, social-media troll wrangler and co-creator of ahora si, the long-defunct Technopolis tech section, the I Love You So Much: The Austin360 Podcast and “Statesman Shots,” and 512tech.com from the Austin American-Statesman for the Statesman and Austin360.

My last day is Sept. 7. I’m still not 100% sure what my involvement is going forward, but I’m hoping to still contribute to the podcast and the paper. And I’m going to be super pissed if the wonderful staffers I work with don’t stay in touch. Not getting to see them is the biggest bummer, the part I’m least looking forward to in this move. (And insurance! Anybody know where I can get some decent freelancer insurance? I like my teeth!)

I have so many memories of this place and so many thanks to give. Editors including Kathy Warbelow and Sarah Lindner Beckham and Sharon Chapman and Barry Harrell and Becky Bisbee and Debbie Hiott and Kristin Finan and Emily Quigley and Kathy Blackwell and Richard A. Oppel and Fred Zipp, staffers and creative partners from Andy Alford to Tolly Moseley to Addie Broyles and Alyssa Vidales and Gregory Kallenberg and Gretchen Heber and Melissa Segrest and Angela Shah and Josefina Casati and Gissela SantaCruz and Sharon Roberts and Rob Quigley and Joe Gross and literally hundreds of other names. Thank you to every reader, even the ones who just wanted me to come fix their broken printer or the ones who thought I was part of a vast left-wing conspiracy bent on turning Austin into a condo-spewing Mecca for tech dudes. (We did it, guys!)

People talk about not getting too wrapped up in a job, about not feeling like you should owe them anything but what you do for the paycheck. But this is a place that has kept me and my family fed and happy for so long, that put my damn face up on a billboard by the highway for the whole city to see, that let me take ridiculous flights of fancy with articles I never thought would actually get printed because they were so dumb, that let me jump from job to job and keep doing outside projects all the while, that allowed me to CREATE NEW THINGS that didn’t exist before. That’s where I got the most joy here, making new things and launching them with a team of passionate coworkers and seeing if they could thrive. I hope to be doing a lot more than that in this new life I’m starting.

I have loved my Statesman family and I’m going to miss it so much. But in the end, it just felt like, for me, it’s time to go. I will keep reading and watching. I’ll keep championing the great work that is done here.

2017: Track

2 Jan

tracks by The_JDM, on Flickr

tracks” (CC BY 2.0) by The_JDM

One of the few things that has continued on with this site, as the blogging/journaling has almost completely dried up and my writing work now mostly lives in other places, is this annual tradition of choosing a word for the year.

It what I instead of a full resolution, less a goal and more a tone I want to set for the year and a vibe I want to achieve.

I don’t always remember the word itself as the year goes on, but it’s usually tied to a larger set of ideas I I want to pursue. I’m bad at five-year plans. But I can pick a word that I want to represent where I want to be.

Guess what the word was for 2016. Just take a guess. I’ll hang out for a second.

Would you believe it was “Joyful?”

Funny, right?

I have some friends who started businesses and wrote books and got married or had a kid for the first time, and they would tell you that their year was pretty great overall. But for most of the rest of us, 2016 was kind of shit on toast, and not the nice 12-grain toast that absorbs butter like a black hole, I’m talking about some hardened, stale, crusty Melba toast shit.

No one close in my family or circle of friends died, though there were a few close calls. But I suffered the same hurt feelings over pop culture heroes falling left and right. And politically, of course, it was just an ugly, brutal year for truth, for decency, for us to wonder how the fuck we got to this point. As the year wore on, it was clear that for a lot of us, we were going to remember it as anything but joyful.

BUT!

But, I remember that post and the feeling of going into 2016 wanting to be less in my own head and more out there experiencing things joyfully and in the moment. And in that regard, it was kind of a great year. I made a conscious effort to go to music concerts and not watch them from behind my cell phone screen shooting photos or video. I took a trip to Las Vegas where I did a bunch of stuff I’ve never done before like indoor skydiving, betting on a professional sports game (I won!) and seeing two professional stage performers twist their penises and balls into interesting shapes. If that’s not living joyfully, I don’t know what is.

I saw a really good life coach toward the middle of the year who opened my eyes to some things going on in my life that needed to stop and that I’ve been in the process of cutting out. I stopped selling myself short on certain things that were wedged in my brain and I stopped caring about things that I know won’t matter in a few years.

There were some setbacks I had, just like everyone else, and I definitely ended the year feeling drained and a little lost and uncertain. But there was lots of surprising joy in the year and instead of allowing myself to wallow or hide out, I spent a ton of time with my kids during the winter break and reminded myself why I’ve made a lot of decisions that have kept me close to them (instead of, say, traveling all the time or taking a job that would keep me from seeing them so much).

So “Joyful,” in a weird way, did work itself out.

Along those lines, I’ve been mulling over my word for 2017 and here it is (this won’t be a surprise if you’ve already glanced at the title of this post):

Track.

This is a little bit of a cheat because it’s a word I’m using in a few different ways (why not just choose three words of the year? THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS!).

“Track.” Mostly what I mean by it is that I need to do better about keeping track of things in my life, something I used to be great at sometime in my major GTD phase, where I was making tons of to-do lists, labelmaking the shit out of everything in my house and work desk, and being militant about not letting things fall through the crack.

I won’t blame it on age, but I’ve mellowed on a lot of that stuff and some of it just doesn’t make any sense anymore. Meticulously filing thousands of emails? Unnecessary. Keeping all my old paper story files? Even our electronic archive at work is incomplete and that stuff matters more. I find myself wanting to hold on to that stuff less and less.

But the stuff I should be keeping track of, such as following through on personal goals, on not letting myself off the hook on benchmarks (writing this post, for instance). That’s stuff I need to track much more strictly after a few years of just letting my off-hours writing and project work fall by the wayside. I mean have you seen how much good shit there is on TV? Have you played Overwatch? Gotten into a fight on Facebook? There’s always other fun and engaging stuff to do and I’ve taken it way too easy on myself to just opt out and not finish things.

Track is also being used here as in “Get to the track” and exercise more. I started running this last year, something I’ve never, ever done, even when I was seeing a trainer two years ago, and even though my body is totally not built for it (chunky legs, bad breathing habits), I’ve somehow learned how to jog without stopping every two or three minutes. So I’m keeping on with that. And following some kind of regular path. Or track, if you will.

Tracks, incidentally, are what I’ve been thinking of as I file a bunch of my CDs (still have them!) into a giant folder and get rid of shelves and shelves worth of jewel boxes. I’m going through all of this music, a lot of which I never bothered to transfer to my computer or phone and thinking, “Where has that song been all this time?” Yes, almost all of it is on Spotify, but I forgot how much music I used to own and just completely lost track of. There are some great songs I haven’t heard in a very long time.

And one more use of the word: I’d like to keep track of my friends a little better. One of the things I do when I’m stressed or having a hard time is just to disengage with everyone, to hide at home or behind a keyboard and to just withdraw from everything. Starting the podcast (still going after three years!) was one was of forcing myself out of Hermittown, but as fun as it is, it’s not enough. I need to do that in my personal life too and devote more time to reconnecting with friends and family I haven’t been paying enough attention to.

I have some work/creative/project goals for the year too, but those are super boring if you’ve not me, so I’ll only mention for now that I’m excited to be performing again with Latino Comedy Project after a nine-year hiatus and that returning to the San Francisco Sketch Festival later in January is already looking like a huge highlight of the coming year.

I’m not going to promise more blog posts here because that never seems to happen, but I do plan to write a lot more this year one way or another and I hope some of that stuff ends up here.

What’s your word for 2017? What are your plans? Let me know. I really miss hearing from you.

40, 20, stuck in the middle

20 Apr

1995

1995

I got a call a few days ago from a student reporter at OU’s Oklahoma Daily newspaper. I don’t ever turn down those interviews; I worked there for four years in college and I’ll always credit the paper with giving me my career start. The interviews never take very long (student reporters, for whatever reason, have three-to-four questions and that’s always it; never more, never a longer conversation than that), and they’re always cordial and flattering.

I’ve become accustomed to getting that call before landmark anniversaries of April 19, 1995, the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. At five years, 10 years, 15, I’m pretty sure I did an identical interview about what it was like to be a student reporter in the middle of such a giant story. But the questions are less urgent now, especially the ones about not having had Internet at the time. It seems like ancient history now, a world without a live feed for everyone, and maybe it is.

The second or third question in the interview started with, “Most of our students either weren’t born yet in 1995 or were only a year or two old” and that stopped me cold. Yes. Of course. That makes total sense. This was 20 years ago. These students are 18, 19, 20, 21. They weren’t here or they weren’t aware of it as it was happening. Total sense, but it blindsided me anyway. We’ve hit that point, have we?

April 19, 1995 was only two weeks after my 20th birthday. The 20th anniversary, on Sunday, was two weeks after my 40th and the bombing itself is now right at the midpoint of my life. It’s a marker in so many ways, of change and sudden, unwanted maturation and of how little I knew that I had to learn very quickly.

And I’ve mostly been avoiding that marker for a lot of years, mostly out of guilt. Not survivor’s guilt; I was not close enough to the tragedy to claim it as anything close to my own. But something like reporter’s guilt. The sense that once the stories were published, this was no longer my story to tell or share anymore. The story belonged to the families and to the reporters who stayed in Oklahoma and continued covering the trials and memorials and anniversaries.

It belonged to people like my friend Carla Wade, who is both a television reporter and someone who lost her father in the bombing and has written poignantly about the ways it destroyed parts of her life. She is a survivor. I was a distant bystander.

Even writing about it now feels weird and selfish. After it happened and I wrote about it, I got a series of internships that I’m positive were landed because of that reporting. Part of me has always felt strange about that, on the way 168 deaths opened career paths for me. Sometimes I feel gross for it and wonder if I would have earned those opportunities without the bombing coverage. It’s the same twinge I get when I wonder if affirmative action allowed my unusual name and brown skin color to get me into doors that I wouldn’t have been good enough to pass through otherwise. It’s not a good feeling to carry around, so I mostly don’t think about it. Or look back.

Maybe I should. I’ve never been to the memorial in Oklahoma City, though I’ve been back there a few times over the years. The closest I’ve come was visiting the 9/11 Museum in New York last year, where I got a weird feeling of déjà vu. First responders, fire, death, loss, reflection. The scale and the reasons were different, but the despair and horror identical. It’s possible to live with memories and feelings and to recognize how much of yourself was shaped by an event without actually processing it and to feel like you have no right to owning any of your role in it at all.

2015: Cohesion

2 Jan

Overconnected

This will be short because it kind of has to be.

My word for 2015 is “Cohesion.”

Last year it was “Outside,” part of a goal of getting outside of my own head and being a greater part of the external world around me. That happened, to a large degree. I helped get a podcast launched that now puts me across a table from a great friend and a different guest every week and the conversations we have are wonderful and perspective-changing for me.

I haven’t gotten to travel as much as I’d like, though there was a surprise trip to New York City in the summer and more road trips than we were ever comfortable taking in the past with the kids. I got outside, though a big chunk of my time is still spent inside, nose to my phone, reading or connecting or Tweeting. That’s a habit I’m having a hard time breaking, though a lot of vacation time in December got me out of my usual habits.

Cohesion.

Here’s the thing: I’m doing fine, everything’s great, but writing-wise, I feel like I’m kind of a mess. I did a lot of writing in 2014, maybe too much and not all of it as high a quality as I would have liked. I wrote a lot of things in a rush, I wrote a lot of other things antsy and not wanting to be sitting and just feeling my attention drifting constantly.  I don’t have the patience to sit and write for hours like I used to and that’s caused all kind of problems with bigger projects.

Mostly, I’ve let my work stuff affect stuff I should be working on at home and stuff I’m working on at home distract me from getting enough rest to focus and adequately tackle my weekly workload. I perform well under pressure, but that’s been requiring constant panicked pressure, and of course that gets exhausting.

This blog is a good example of the breakdown of that cohesion. It used to be essays and personal reflections and over the last few years, it’s become a dumping ground for links to all my work projects and writing elsewhere.  And since the last few posts, I literally wrote so much stuff for work and did so many podcasts that I couldn’t physically even list them all here. Even a bulleted list of all that stuff seemed too overwhelming and I spend several weeks of vacation just dancing around the idea of doing that instead of actually doing it.

And I’m kind of glad. I shouldn’t have spent my free time stressing like that. And maybe I’ll get to that now that I’m getting back into work mode, but what if I don’t? Would it be the end of the world if I didn’t deliver those blog posts to the only person who really cares about them at this point, me? Why am I such a demanding boss to myself? Can I give me a raise or something?

Bottom line is that I’ve had work/life balance issues, and not because of anyone but myself. My workplace is incredibly supportive and lenient about my work hours, work-from-home days and how I meet my deadlines. So much so that I’ve become my own worst critic, calling myself out for stuff that seems fine to everyone else and feeling guilty for not pushing myself harder on personal writing (like this blog).

So for 2015, starting from this first day of the year, I want to have better cohesion of those separate parts of me. Of Work Omar1 and Freelance Omar and Dad Omar, to make those guys work together instead of compartmentalizing and putting them at odds with each other. Am I the only one who feels like he’s wrangling different selves? Should I not have watched “The One I Love” right before bed?

There used to be a very clear line in my business between home writing and work writing and pretty organically, those lines have largely gone away. But I haven’t allowed myself to embrace that instead of creating more lines.

So, “Cohesion.” 2015.

That’s my word of the year.

And maybe I’ll get to those other catch-up blog posts, maybe not. I’ll let Complete Omar decide on that soon.

1

I hate when people refer to themselves in the third person. That’s Douche Omar talking, sorry.