Mickey Mouse mural on a Main Street garage in Richmond, VA

I’ve been quite a bit more active lately taking strolls around town. Yesterday, while my car was in the shop I was able to enjoy a particularly beautiful morning and snapped some photos along the way around Richmond’s Fan District

New garage on Brunswick in The Fan
Mural of a woman on the side of a Park Avenue row house

Fighting Words

Jill Bearup is a stage combatant with training in the art of fake fighting. Her YouTube channel has evolved over the years from from an assortment of topics to a tighter focus on all things stage/TV/cinematic fighting, whether it’s about weapons and reach, the absurdity of certain stylistic/armor choices in a fight, or how to defend yourself with a hat pin.

But my favorite format of Bearup’s videos are those which appear to be analysis of particular fights from TV shows or movies, but really end up presenting a thoughtful video essay on characters, themes, and story within that media. Take the Avatar example at the top of this post: yes, Bearup speaks to the styles of combat and the shifting nature of the fight. But Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t an animated documentary about martial arts; it’s a dramatic story with dynamic characters! So Bearup details how each combatant’s circumstances and character arcs inform their behavior and choices in this climactic duel. She speaks from a position of deep understanding of the show and the the motivations of each fighter. Watching this video gave me newfound understanding and appreciation for what was already my favorite sequence from the entire series.

It’s worth checking out her channel in general, but if you like media analysis/video essays and want a heavy dose of fight deconstruction along for the ride, you could do a lot worse than her examinations of Inigo and Wesley’s fight in The Princess Bride, or the throne room duel in The Last Jedi.

The Friends We Made Along the Way

Lately I’ve had a few things kicking around in my head that seem obvious, but I feel the urge to put them down in words on my blog for personal record and clarity. This one’s about friendships.

I’m 40 years old now and have seen quite a few relationships come and go, blossom and whither. I often think about what can help friendships get started and, more-so, what it takes to keep them going. Even if the right pieces are in place, some friendships eventually fade for a variety of reasons, but I feel like I’ve gained some insight since childhood on what has the capacity to sustain friendships for the long term. I still fail at this often enough myself, of course.

How it Started

Most friendships seem to be instigated by either a chance encounter, life circumstances, or some unifying social group. I think about a chance encounter like striking up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop that turns into an extended conversation, which results in the exchange of social media profiles and eventually a long-running friendship. We just happened to be in the same place at the same time and happened to interact.

Life circumstances accounted for most of my childhood friends. My best friend during elementary school was a boy who was in the same class with me, and we mutually tolerated/enjoyed each other’s quirky personalities and shared some common interests. Even if we weren’t always in the same class, we still attended the same school and lived in the same town, so it was easy for our parents to drive each to the other’s house, or meet up on the playground at recess.

Unifying social groups could be topical conventions which bring together like-minded and commonly-interested folks, predisposed to have at least a few things in common with each other by virtue of attendance. Whether it’s the campus ministry I participated in during undergrad, or a conference for people who make websites, these settings provide a lot of social shortcuts that can help strangers accelerate the whole getting-to-know-you part of a new relationship. I’ve made friends online this way where the unifying social factor was a mutual friend that started a podcast. I’m not religious anymore, but I still have quite a few friends I made during those college ministry days or in past church congregations.

I’m a Firestarter

“We have a lot in common.”

Common interests are like starter logs. They can get a friendship going, but you need more than that keep the fire burning. Most of the friendships of my youth and early adulthood were defined by common interests because so many young people wrap up their identities in their interests. Grunge rock. Making stuff. Beach life.

But most people don’t like all the same bands for their whole lives. Most people don’t want to do all the same activities, visit the same places, read the same genres of fiction. People change, and with personal change comes a new, or at least shifting, sets of interests. It’s entirely possible that your interests may shift with your friend’s, but it’s also possible you’ll run out of things to do and talk about if that’s most of the scope of your friendship.

I’m pretty sure that’s why my best friends from high school aren’t even acquaintances of mine today. We all went to separate colleges at different times and, when we came back together after an extended time apart, we’d all been shaped by new experiences, influenced by new people, and our tastes had changed in different ways. Those common interests were just about all we had between us, so there wasn’t much left when they no longer aligned. I don’t morn the loss because I recognize that none of us really did anything to split up the group. We just grew up and grew apart.

“Well, I gotta keep it going keep it going full steam”

If common interests are the fire starters, shared experiences and proactive communication are the fuel and oxygen, respectively.

With legal adulthood came increasing autonomy. Now I could travel, make some (limited) financial and social decisions on my own, and generally explore the world around me a bit more. I didn’t need my mom to drive me to my friend’s house to socialize. My friend and I could decide, together, that we wanted to drive up to New Jersey to see Weezer in concert one college summer. I’m not in to Weezer as much anymore (though their first two albums will always be some of my favorite music) and my friend was never as big a fan as I was, but we will always have that trip. We will always have that time spent traveling, sharing in the choices, consequences, and rewards of those days. Shared memories have the ability to unite us in ways that don’t change with our tastes.

But that same friend and I rarely talk anymore. We were best friends for years (and I dare say we could still pick right back up and have a helluva time together), but because the lines of communication have long run silent, we just don’t keep up with each other. There are loads of factors that can disrupt communication; with this friend I think it’s because we shifted into different stages of life. But what differentiates that friendship from the ones I still count as strong and active is that my still-healthy friendships include regular, two-way communication.

“I felt so symbolic yesterday”

I don’t think I’m saying anything profound here, and I’m certainly not speaking from a place of expertise. But I dunno, maybe it’s the kind of introspection that comes with the awareness of one’s own aging.

Thanks for reading, friend.

Advisory: Sea Fog

lifeguard stand at Fort Fisher state recreation area in North Carolina

Yesterday my family went to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area in North Carolina, in the Wilmington area. We wanted to hang out by the ocean in the unseasonably warm weather and test out a new kite that my sister-in-law and her husband gave the kids for Christmas. As we approached our destination my wife checked the weather and saw a special advisory statement for dense sea fog rolling in from the ocean. I don’t think there’s anything more alluring to an amateur photographer than fog, except perhaps decaying buildings.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this other than the kite was terrific, and the chill of the fog was an oddly welcome break from climate change’s late December spring temperatures.

Brain Worst

It’s commonplace in liberal circles to talk about friends and family “lost” to Fox News. There’s “Fox News brain”, “Fox News brainwashing”, and other variations of what I’m starting to feel like is a form of denial. I’m sure there are folks who really have been duped by false and/or misleading information from that god-awful TV network, but I suspect the truth is more depressing. We just don’t want to admit that Fox News has merely provided pithy soundbites and new dog whistles to our loved ones that have always believed some terrible things.

I’m Pumped for Lightyear

The trailer for Pixar’s upcoming scit-fi feature Lightyear has been out for a little bit now, and I’ve been mulling over why I’m so excited about it. Because seriously, I am super excited for this movie. There was a lot of weird confusion and questions around the Extremely Online set following this trailer mainly because folks were trying to figure out whether this is supposed to be the backstory for the toy in Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, or if it’s simply a spin-off based on the character.

I don’t actually care how and why it connects to Toy Story. I know trailers are frequently made by different groups that have nothing to do with the movie production and they’re working from incomplete footage, but the tone of this one has all the wonder and excitement of a classic space adventure story. A beautifully grandiose take on Bowie’s Star Man plays behind shots of launch preparations, spaceports, longing stares out the window, action and adventure in strange locations. There’s even a shot of Buzz’s ship on a marshy planet reminiscent of Luke’s X-Wing on Dagobah.

Still frame of Buzz's ship on a swampy planet from the trailer for Lightyear
Buzz’s ship
Still frame of Luke's X-Wing on Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back
Luke’s rescued X-Wing

If you grew up watching anything Star Wars or Star Trek, how could you not be excited by this? Yeah, I know this will likely have plenty of silly humor and call-backs to Buzz’s haughty toy persona from Toy Story, but I’m hoping it can also be an exciting sci-fi adventure film that’s accessible for kids, but enjoyable for anybody who dreams of traveling between the stars.

Town of Charles: Here we go again

Metal Church Street sign stamped into the sidewalk in Charleston, SC

Today the weather was BEAUTIFUL. And it was a walking kind of day. We walked about 5.3 miles, actually. It would have been more but we took advantage of the free and excellent downtown bus service several times. In the morning we left the B&B after pancakes and headed for Waterfront Park. It was almost chilly that early and the wind by the ocean certainly added to the feeling of autumn’s late arrival.

Palmetto fountain in Waterfront Park, Charleston, SC
Modern fountain in Waterfront Park, Charleston, SC

We were simultaneously enjoying the outdoors and killing time until the opening of Robert Lange Studios where we could see a painting by our friend Cassandra Loomis Kim. It was wonderful to see our friend’s work in a group show (her work is “King Grizzly”) away from home, but it was also a really cool gallery in its own right. I’m a particular fan of Nathan Durfee’s work which reminds me a lot of children’s book author/illustrator Dan Santat.

After the gallery we wandered uptown toward the College of Charleston, grabbing an okay lunch at Basic Kitchen before visiting a disappointing triceratops-themed coffee shop. It’s called Tricera Coffee, but it’s really just a sad, slow business with a bunch of triceratops toys in random places around the interior.

My wonderful wife sitting in a banquette at Basic Kitchen
A toy Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle riding a triceratops toy.

We made up for the disappointment by meandering through Marion Square before grabbing some truly delicious pastries from La Patisserie at Hotel Bennett.

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC
A royal chocolate pastry from La Patisserie in Charleston, SC

Here is where we grabbed our first bus to the western end of the old market, after which we walked a short distance to our true caffeine destination: Second State Coffee. This place just straight up delivered. The espresso was delicious, the cappuccino was perfect. I bought a bag of beans to take back to Virginia, it was so good. The barista was terrific and even tipped me off on a different way to try brewing a Chemex (going to look up “double blooming” when I get a chance). Turns out they have a second location now just across the bridge from Charleston, so we’ll likely grab some brew on the way back to NC to get the kids tomorrow.

The afternoon consisted of meandering around a bit more, killing time before our dinner reservation at 5:30 (reminder: we are olds). So we walked by the old Dock Street Theater and the French Huguenot church, hit the market so Valerie could get souvenirs for the kids, and even snagged a little cocktail before din-din. We supped at Poogan’s Smokehouse – part of the same group as Poogan’s Porch where we ate so many years ago. The food was pretty good, but the service left a lot to be desired. The one cocktail I ordered? Truly abysmal.

We didn’t want as early a night as yesterday so we grabbed another bus to head up Meeting Street to Little Palm, quite possibly the coolest bar I’ve visited in a long time. There was a real Miami Beach club vibe in this bar at The Ryder Hotel without feeling kitschy, and the drinks were super inventive. Great staff, great interior, even greater drinks.

Entryway to Little Palm bar in Charleston, SC

We caught one more bus further downtown so we could finish the night with some fantastic frozen treats from Off Track Ice Cream. Bellies full and tiredness setting in to our aging bones, we headed back to the B&B where we’re now recuperating and winding down. We head out after breakfast tomorrow, but it’s been a spectacular return to this old city in The South. There’s a lot of fun to be had and sights to be seen without feeding the Plantation Tourism Complex, and I hope we can make it back sooner than another 10 years.