Spring Break beach reads
Improv comedy, android existentialism, long-distance running music, and a food guide for a doomed city
Our kids are on spring break this week and the feeling is infectious. As I write this, we’re getting ready for a bunch of their school friends to come over, have a dance party, build forts in the yard, and play Mario Kart to their hearts’ content.
I say all this to preface a pretty scattershot week in the ol’ newsletter.
I took an introductory improv comedy class with my best friend Steven over the last few weeks at Theatre 99 in Charleston, and we had our free recital in front of a bunch of family and friends last night. I think it went well! A friend and I riffed on Waffle House for a scene, I got to put on a fake Texas accent and pantomime wearing a 50-gallon cowboy hat, and I think I made my wife nearly throw up laughing.
One of the things I’ve been learning is that you don’t have to force the jokes, and in fact you probably shouldn’t, at least not when you’re a newbie. The comedy comes from the absurdity of the situation, and my job up there is to take that situation seriously.
Our instructor Meredith encouraged us to be as specific as possible in our scene-setting. At practice she’d often pause a scene and say “Specificity is caring.” If your scene partner is supposed to be your spouse, how long have you been married, and how is your love life? If you’re working as rangers in a national park, which park, and how do you feel about the wildlife?
My friend Belvin, who’s both a committed activist with the Charleston Climate Coalition and a regular performer at Theatre 99, encouraged me to keep going with it, and I think I will. He’s of the opinion that good improvisation and good activism have a lot of disciplines in common, like listening and paying close attention to your partner’s energy.
3 good reads
This being spring break, I thought I’d share a few good reads for the beach, the front porch, the ride lines at Legoland, or wherever you find yourself with a little downtime. Have you read something good lately? Drop a link in the comments.
The Employees by Olga Ravn (New Directions, 2020, trans. Martin Aitken)
I picked this book up at Itinerant Literate solely based on the gnarly cover art and the blurb on the back cover by Jeff VanderMeer. It did not disappoint.
Recently translated from the Danish, this is a minimalist epistolary sci-fi novella written as a series of staff reports by the crew of a space ship orbiting the planet New Discovery. Early on we realize that some of the crew members are humans who left Earth behind, while others are humanoids created for the mission. Some of the humans have developed feelings for the humanoids, some don’t know which category they fall into anymore, and some of the humanoids are actively resisting firmware updates from their creator.
It’s an existentialist trip at times, like in this entry:
"I don't know if I'm human anymore. Am I human? Does it say in your files what I am?"
Hook it straight into my veins.
“By Human Hands: Russian Circles’ ‘Station’” by Brad Sanders
Some of my favorite music journalism of the past 5 years has appeared on Bandcamp, the human-curated music platform (whose staff, by the way, are in the midst of a union drive that I wholeheartedly support). One of my favorite writers is Brad Sanders, a metalhead from Ohio whose monthly Best Metal on Bandcamp dispatches have turned me on to cutting-edge music from around the world. When I invited Aaron Carey of the West Virginia black metal band Nechochwen onto the podcast, it was because I’d read a thoughtful profile of the band that Brad wrote.
This week Bandcamp published a gorgeous essay by Brad, illustrated by Joey Yu, about long-distance running and the physical intensity of the heavy instrumental band Russian Circles. Brad grew up in hockey country, and when he first started listening to this band he recognized their name as an homage to a hockey training drill.
Brad’s essay reminded me of a phrase that’s been rattling around in my head from Pedro the Lion’s 2022 album Havasu: “to play sports about my feelings.” This passage resonated with me:
This was music played by athletes, at least of a certain kind. Since leaving sports behind for the DIY circuit, I had lost the ability to see the link between creativity and the physical body. Exercise was for jocks; I wanted to be a brain in a jar. Russian Circles shook me awake, helped me realize that such an arrangement was neither possible nor desirable.
I could read this kind of writing all day. Bandcamp’s “Resonance” series is worth diving into; another favorite of mine was Jo Stewart’s essay about sailing on an Antarctic research vessel and listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
I can’t sum up South Carolina’s tourist-restaurant-industrial complex much better than my friend Andre James does in the introduction to his new zine:
"Despite Charleston being a neo-antebellum Wonderland and to chattel slavery what Las Vegas is to legal gambling, I can't lie and say it's not a gorgeous place."
Andre is a food writer from Myrtle Beach, and I loved his previous zine “Dipped in Neon” about the food scene there. This is a great, no-holds-barred look at the culinary world in Charleston. The first two entries are about the crab rice at Hannibal’s and the garlic noodles at Pink Bellies, and my mouth is watering right now.
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