Posts by Andrew Nichols

Editor-In-Chief, NQN

Loss, Grief, and the New York Mets

My father passed away on May 28th, 2017. The 11 or so months since then have been the longest, hardest, and most bizarre months of my life.

When you lose a loved one, one of the things that people who’ve previously experienced loss warn you about is that grief “comes in waves”. Seemingly random things will remind you of the deceased. These waves are sometimes positive, mostly negative, and you usually never see them coming.

When my father died, I was getting coffee at a local shop with an old friend. I returned home to the awful squeal of ambulance alarms and the anguished cries that you only hear when someone leaves this life. Every day on my commute to work, there’s a sticker advertising that coffee shop on the meter where I pay for my parking. Every morning, at around 5:40 AM, memories of that awful day come flooding back. It is, unequivocally, the worst part of my day.

These moments are the things that make grief such an all-encompassing experience, for months, years, decades after the initial shock of loss. Nine times out of ten, I want nothing more than to escape them.

Which is what makes the Mets’ hot start all the more odd.

My Father and I used to go on trips every summer to catch a baseball game in as many different ballparks as possible. During my teen and pre-teen years we went to 17 different stadiums in 13 cities. Much to the chagrin and envy of my siblings, it was just me and my dad who went on these excursions to embrace America’s pastime.

We spent countless hours in airports, rental cars, and hotel rooms. We ate the local cuisine with the delight and vigor that can only come after a two hour flight delay and three hours in coach. We went to all the tourist attractions in Chicago, St. Louis, and even the much-maligned Cleveland. In short, we saw a snapshot of America.

Above all that though, we saw baseball. It was a sacred experience, just a father and his son, taking in a ballgame. We shut off our cell phones, and only allowed ourselves one half-inning to snap pictures with our camera. For those three to five hours, the only things that mattered were the crack of the bat, the scrape of a slide, the low hum of the crowd, and the pop of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt.

Even though we saw games all over the country, and became experts on each team by the time we left their place of residence, it always came back to our beloved Mets. My Dad was born in 1962, and one of his oldest memories was racing home to watch the Amazin’ Mets of 1969 play in the World Series. His childhood home was just down the street from the elementary school, so all of his friends would come over to watch Tom Terrific battle the vaunted Orioles’ attack. By the time the last out settled into the glove of Cleon Jones, my young father had already become a Mets fan for life.

I grew up with stories about that team and the 1986 squad. We had a commemorative VHS recap of the ‘86 season in my house, and my brother and I must have watched it 200 times in our youth (you can experience it in all of its amazingly cheesy 80s glory here). I was the weirdo six-year-old who said stuff like “Mookie Wilson is my favorite baseball player” even though he retired four years before I was born.

On summer evenings, whenever my Dad got home from work, we’d throw on the TV and watch the Mets. They were usually terrible, as is the case with most Mets squads. The Mets have never really had a sustained run of excellence, so even when they have a great season, it’s usually bookended by mediocrity. It’s what makes those magical runs all the more special.

In 2015, when our beloved Mets made the World Series, My Dad took my brother and I to see game three of the NLDS at Citi Field. It was the game after Chase Utley injured Reuben Tejada on a dirty slide, typical of what I’d expect from a former Phillie. The crowd that night was unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. It was electric. There was a stretch of three innings where we never sat down. When Yoenis Céspedes hit a three-run rocket to make it 10-3, all three of us were jumping and yelling in pure euphoria.

That was one of the greatest nights of my life. I was with my Dad, at the ballpark, and the Mets were on a magical run. It was perfect.

 

 

My father and I never got to share a Mets World Series title. It brings me comfort to know that he saw two in his life. But my first will be experienced without him. It is a fact that has brought me to tears in the past few months, a fact that almost makes me fearful of the emotional strain that will come if our Mets hoist the trophy.

I avoided ballparks all of last summer following my father’s death. It was an experience that was too entangled with him; to go to the ballpark for the first time without him was to admit that the man who had cultivated my love for the game was gone.

However, the Mets have gotten off to their best start in franchise history this year. Each new win beckoned me to the park, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that if my father were still here, we would have already bought tickets. These are the inescapable emotions during grief that make seemingly positive moments clouded and confounding. What “should” be an unblemished positive becomes an infinitely more complex sensation. A yearning for the presence of my father, so that we could share in this joyous occasion.

I went to the park on Saturday night, and witnessed the Mets suffer just their second loss of the year. The scene was familiar; the cracks, scrapes, hums, and pops were still there. Yet something was missing. Someone was missing.

Going to a baseball game will never be the same knowing that my father will never join me there again. But thus far, it is the only “wave trigger” I’ve found that lifts me up rather than tear me down. A rush of memories come back, an inexplicable typhoon of smells and sounds and thoughts of time spent with the man who raised me. Watching the Mets play is so much more than watching a simple baseball game. It is communing with my father, who I love and miss dearly. And for that, I am beyond grateful.

Let’s go Mets.

IMG_0616

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this piece, I highly recommend that you check out “Life, Sports, and the Pursuit of Happiness” by my best friend Michael Graziano. It’s excellent, and had no small part in influencing this essay.  I also suggest you read “The Fiberglass Backboard” by Bryan Curtis, which has helped me through the past few months in more ways than I could list here. Thumbnail image copyright Bleacher Report, 2015.

The Great Book Race of 2018

IMG_0574.JPG

Editor’s note: This e-mail exchange took place between 3/31 and 4/5. Since then Andrew has finished one more book and Maggie has finished two, because she’s a tryhard.

Andrew Nichols: Alright Magz. I got beef with you. My New Year’s resolution this year was to read a book a month. By no means a lofty goal, but one that I felt I could accomplish and feel good about.

Then I log onto instagram on Jan 6th and see this crap:

IMG_0609.PNG

(Go follow @magzreadz on instagram if you don’t already).

So now I gotta double my book goal, and I have an instagram account telling me how far behind I am. I’ve done four books thus far and just started number five. Meanwhile you just finished book 5, right?

@Magzreadz (Maggie Cavanaugh): Yeah, that’s right, and you know me, I can get competitive too, so knowing I’ve got you not too far behind me is a great motivator. A book a month is a great goal, but isn’t this more fun?!

I’m reading books of all genres, whatever I’m feeling like picking up next. Do you have a certain genre you’re sticking with, or are you in the same boat? And what have you read so far?

Andrew: Same for me. Personally I tend toward nonfiction but the book I’m reading right now if my first fiction book of the year.

Thus far I’ve read Chain of Title by David Dayen, American Cinema: Directors and Directions by Andrew Sarris, Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone, and The Horror Genre:From Beelzebub to Blair Witch by Paul Wells.

What about you? I know you already gave out ratings on your instagram, so how about we do some superlatives?

I’m thinking BEST BOOK, MOST ADDICTING, WORST BOOK, and finally the ones we recommend vs. those we don’t?

Maggie: So far I’ve read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Into the Wild by Jon Kraukauer, Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen, Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham, and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

That plan sounds good! I’ll make up some superlatives for the books we don’t cover with those categories.

Andrew: Good looks. Without further adieu…

BEST BOOK

Maggie: So far this award goes to Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed is real and raw in her tellings, and she encounters a fair amount of entertaining situations. I struggled to put it down, when I needed to.

Andrew: I haven’t read it yet but I’m definitely gonna keep it in mind now. I just remember walking out of the movie adaptation thinking that the homie Reese Witherspoon was dope.

For me this goes to Chain of Title by David Dayen. This is the book that’s hardest to explain, hardest to read, but is also one of the most vital books in a while. It’s about how banks used shady, often illegal practices to skirt around regulations during the height of the subprime mortgage bubble. Essentially, banks were selling off people’s mortgages at such a fast rate that they ignored many of the centuries-old property laws that govern home ownership. When the bubble burst, millions were foreclosed on, oftentimes by banks that were not the initial owner of their mortgage (so like, if you got a loan from Citi, and they sold it, then Chase tried foreclosing on you even though you’ve never interacted with them). The book tells this story via three people who noticed the skirting of laws, fought their foreclosures in court, and ended up becoming activists during the financial crisis. There’s hella jargon, it can be confusing, but I’ve also never encountered more “Wait, hang on , they did WHAT?!”, or “holy shit that’s bad” moments in a book before.

WORST BOOK

Maggie: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. I hate giving this book this particular  superlative, because I LIKE Carl Hiaasen, but so far, this book is at the bottom of my list. I just couldn’t get into it, the story took forever to develop, actually, I never felt like it REALLY did.

Andrew: Adolescent Andrew loved Hoot so hearing that Hiaasen wrote a shitter of a book is disappointing.

Maggie: Don’t be too upset, one of my favorite books is by him (Skinny Dip). It’s hilarious and captivating, if you ever feel the desire to read a fiction book, I would definitely recommend it.

Andrew: I at least somewhat enjoyed all of the books I read so this is a tad unfair. But alas, this has to go to The Horror Genre by Paul Wells. It’s interesting, and goes in all sorts of directions you wouldn’t get from a mainstream book. But Wells is so clearly writing for grad students and other academics that it can be frustrating. He falls into the trap of thinking that he needs to use the thesaurus on every word. This book reminded me of the most painful readings from my film courses in college. It’s brief (just over 100 pages) and opens your mind up (Marxist and Darwinist tendencies of Horror, anyone?) but still a slog.

Maggie: Sounds like an enticing one; it’s always a disappointment when the topic of a book is interesting, but the language feels so broken up and unnatural when the author tries too hard.

MOST ADDICTING BOOK

MaggieInto the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I read this book in a day, basically refused to put it down, it was beyond fascinating to me, and left me inspired to rough it out in the Alaskan wilderness, because anyone can do it according to Chris McCandless, it’s why we were put on this earth. Adventure awaits… until you get hungry… and die. I finished this book and started Wild right away, thinking I’d encounter another adventure that inspired me so much that I’d convince myself to ACTUALLY go on a hike (mind you, I was on crutches while reading both books… perhaps I had a small case of cabin fever…) but Strayed told the whole, more true, truth about ditching civilization and living in the wilderness, bringing me back down to earth.

Andrew: Krakauer is interesting to me—I read Into Thin Air way back because a ton of people recommended it. It was solid, definitely a slow starter that picked up momentum. Krakauer got his start as a writer for the magazine Outside and I never felt like he ever fully transitioned into being comfortable writing books. He can hook you in, sure, but it feels very sectioned, divided—almost like it’s one of those Dickens books where chapters were released as they’re written. I think it’s fitting that Wild felt more real; it was written from the perspective of a person finding themselves rather than a journalist preaching to the outdoorsy choir.

Maggie: I never really thought of Into the Wild as sectioned when I read it, but you bring up a good point. Thinking back, the chapters were all very distinct, as if each one was it’s own short story, each one being related to the other, but separated nonetheless.

Andrew: For me this superlative goes to Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone. Malone is one of my favorite film critics/writers/content-creators going right now, and she did an awesome job with this book. Basically it details the history of women in Hollywood filmmaking, via a series of biographical essays on women in periods ranging from the late 1800s to the present (people like Ava DuVernay, Viola Davis, etc.). Malone writes in the intro that you can hop around to whatever you find most interesting, and that’s exactly how I read it. It’s awesome to be able to jump to whatever catches your eye, and I ended up reading all of it in one jumbled 4-hour session. Malone’s at her best when she can expand on a known figure (Marylin Monroe, Gina Davis) and make larger observations on their work and reception. But even when she’s just doing an information dump it’s really entertaining and informative. I wish it wasn’t just Hollywood-centric, because I’d love to be able to read about the influential feminist European directors from Malone’s perspective (and also because Chantal Akerman and Věra Chytilová are two personal favorites of mine).

Maggie: Sounds amazing! I’m all for reading about strong women in history. Women in Hollywood tend to captivate the public eye more than any other group of ladies, so they set the scene for the times, kind of like the #metoo movement going on now. I don’t know if any social issues were brought up in that book, but I’m sure it was interesting to see how times changed along the timeline of the book. I’d love to read it!

As for my other two superlatives, they are:

MOST NOSTALGIC

Maggie: Which goes to Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham. I grew up rushing home from school to watch Gilmore Girls, so I read this out of not only interest, but also for the nostalgia factor, the 13 year old inside me was ecstatic.

And the other is…

MOST POMPOUS

Maggie: Which goes to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I almost quit reading this book multiple times because Gilbert was so irritating, I found her beliefs ignorant, and her stubbornness in some situations was outrageous.

Andrew: I have no clue how Eat, Pray, Love became such a hit. Everyone I know who has read it has absolutely hated it. It’s pretty easy to find happiness when you’re given a $200K publisher’s advance to fuck about all over the world.

At any rate, my superlative is:

MOST “ANDREW’S WHEELHOUSE” BOOK

Andrew: Which goes to American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. I’m a sucker for rankings. I’m a sucker for auteurist film criticism. I’m a sucker for authoritative works that clearly come from a wide knowledge base. Sarris’s style is not for everyone. Hell it’s probably not for most people. But I absolutely love it. This book inspires the closest thing to bar arguments that film scholar have, and I adore it. It helps that I agree with Sarris on most things (though Nicholas Ray and Douglas Sirk are underrated, while Robert Flaherty is criminally overrated) but I think if you disagree with him it can still be a fun hate read. Lots of jokes and stray observations keep it lighter than a purely academic piece.

Maggie: Sounds like it was written for you to read. Humor in more academic texts is so important, otherwise its so easy to lose your reader, unless theyre being forced to read it for class, but even so, a successful author will not make their reader roll their eyes at the thought of their name.

Andrew: Well thanks for doing this Magz! We’ll check back in at the next milestone (ten), whichever one of us reaches it first. And you better watch your back, I’m comin’ for the lead.

MAGGIE RECCOMENDS:

  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

ANDREW RECCOMENDS:

  • Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone
  • Chain of Title by David Dayen
  • American Cinema by Andrew Sarris

 

Mining Film in a Digital Age: Art in its Context

“The more you look, the more you see.”

–Multiple Authors

 

In Fritz Lang’s 1931 film “M”, a serial killer (Peter Lorre) wanders around Berlin, stalking, kidnapping, and murdering children one by one. He is hunted by both the police (using the highest technology of the time) and the criminals of Berlin (who want to get the suddenly zealous police off their backs). Eventually, the killer is identified by a blind man who recognized the tune that he had constantly been whistling: “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg.

Have you heard “In the Hall of the Mountain King”? It’s a trick question; I already know that you have:

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” is one of those songs that everyone knows, they just don’t know that they know it (that sentence makes sense, I swear). You’ve heard it countless times in your life. It’s been  in countless commercials, movies, and TV shows. It’s come to be associated with slapstick situations, and overall, when used, it is to invoke a comedic tone. When you hear it, you probably think of one of these over-the-top scenes. Or maybe you don’t think about it at all, and it’s been relegated to“background music that I’m already pissed is stuck in my head for the next 4 hours”.

And that’s the problem. Because, for Fritz Lang’s M, “In the Hall Of the Mountain King” (from now on referred to as “Hall”) holds a great deal of meaning. “Hall” was written by Edvard Greig as an accompaniment to act 2 scene six of the play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen. The song carries great significance in the play, as it scores the scene when the titular central protagonist is about to meet with the Troll king, in the King’s great hall (as far as I know, Henrik Ibsen did not have access to hallucinogenic drugs. He was just an interesting dude). The Troll King and Peer discuss the phrase central to the play, which represents an attitude that is the subject of criticism in Gynt: “To thyself, be enough”. It is a phrase which characterizes pure selfishness, but is one embraced by Peer and the King.

Grieg tried to encapsulate this with his music, writing:

“For the Hall of the Mountain King I have written something that so reeks of ‘to-thyself-be-enough-ness’ that I can’t bear to hear it, though I hope that the irony will make itself felt.”[Santon, Tim. Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.]

Indeed, the idea of only doing enough to satisfy yourself, without regard for others, is one that fits nicely on a child-murderer. It adds depth and significance to Lang’s decision to make “Hall” the murderer’s theme.

When I first saw M, I had no idea of Lang’s intentions in that song choice. For me, the song carried the connotation of slapstick, of silliness– so that when I encountered it in an older film, it seemed innocuous. I imagine only a tiny fraction of 21st century viewers had a reaction far from mine, or looked into any potential symbolic meaning behind the whistled theme. As a result, at least one part of M’s brilliance was missed.

As art ages, the connotations associated with certain aspects of it change, for a variety of reasons. More media is accessible now than ever, and sometimes the meaning of works of art can change without us realizing it (such as with M and “Hall”). In this media environment, it has become vital for viewers to have a heightened awareness when considering older films, and to try to understand artistic decisions as they were intended, to supplement the way we initially receive them. Because if we don’t, we might miss a stroke of pure brilliance.