Colbert carol covers, new Malick trailer, win a subscription!

Well. What a month we've had so far. Before I jump into the meat of this possibly final 2012 artRecs, two brief things:
  1. Sandy coverage has slowed, but there are still many needs. Hope for New York lists several ways to help with ongoing relief efforts.
  2. My latest (and possibly) last piece of the year was a profile for my employer, a story I really enjoyed hearing and retelling: From goat-based pricing to eye injury radio dramas: how an ophthalmologist tackled improving eye health in Pakistan
Be sure to enter my Books and Culture contest! Enter by posting a sentence or two in the comments below, about why you should win. Haiku entries encouraged but not required. Be sure to include your contact info in the appropriate field.

:: reading/food for thought ::I discovered K'Naan by way of a catchy song iTunes gave away. The lyrics were probably more somber than I realized (the song's called "Bang Bang"), but I'm notoriously slow to hear the words shaping melody and rhythm. This recent piece in The New York Times, however, brought me back to the question, "Why create?"

The last two months have been a whirlwind of travel and writing -- a mix of sweat, celebration, joy and grief that ultimately leaves me grateful for this longing season of Advent, in which bitterness and hope comingle.

Diana Krall's Glad Rag Doll has been a cheerful companion for drives, but at home I've favored brooding piano concertos and Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas. Behind it all looms the specter of longer-form writing, not even tapping on the window -- just standing there, waiting to see if I will meet her eyes through the glass.

I want to believe the things I'm really supposed to do will seize hold of me with such force that I'll have to write until the muse relents. But excuses blossom as readily as the good ideas I've discussed, begun ... and discarded when real sweat was required.

Why create?

Dana Gioia said something at a reading earlier this year, about how stories give us models for life -- examples of how people handle surprises, reversals, betrayal, forestalled hopes finally satisfied. And I can attest, in small part: Tolkien gave me a portrait of courage, while Dostoevsky showed me the folly of social isolation.

This lovely little story on NPR foretells the longer story of a Paraguayan orchestra born in a dump, the young musicians playing instruments made from trash. (Watch the clip if you click no other link in this email.)

When I hear of creative tenacity like that, or play Cohen's "Going Home" another time, excuses wither. But I'm not sure I can forge on toward a completed first draft of any long story without accountability and community.

I'm not quite sure what that means, but wanted to throw it out to all of you as you work away in your various media. Would any of you be interested in some kind of monthly or bi-monthly get-together to share current works-in-progress and encourage each other to persist?

As you mull on that, join me in congratulating one of the better persisters among us, who got some very good news last week: Laura won the 2013 California Writers Exchange contest for fiction!

Lastly, don't forget to enter my Books and Culture subscription contest! Winner gets a print or online subscription (your choice) and a regular stream of book reviews and commentary from the likes of Andy Crouch, Lauren Winner, John McWhorter and lots of other folks you haven't heard of but would surely enjoy reading.

Merry Christmas!

:: upcoming concerts ::
:: tunes ::
  • Ravi Shankar has died. If, like me, you know more about his work than the work itself, NPR has compiled a short list of essential tracks, which you can stream on their site.
  • Beck has a new album out, which is being released as a songbook for listeners to record and share themselves. He did a great Q&A with McSweeney's about the concept. Seriously, one of us has to buy this, and then a bunch of us should get together for a playing/listening party. :D I absolutely love that he's done a project like this, in case you can't tell.
  • Stephen Colbert, Diana Krall and Elvis Costello perform "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (via Paste). This is actually just the latest in a series of Colbert-Costello Christmas duets, which includes: 2008's excellent "Much Worse Things to Believe In." Colbert's celebrating the holiday with several other duets, too:
  • Charlie Peacock performs "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" with Ruby Amanfu (vocalist on Blunderbuss)
  • December's listicle free-for-all has begun, which means everyone and their neighbor has an end-of-year reflection to help you make up for all the stuff you could have done/read/heard instead of eating, working and checking your handheld device for new updates.
  • I don't watch much TV, generally, but I recently discovered some of the musical performances Jimmy Fallon's done with the Roots since assuming the helm of Late Night -- and I gotta say there's some pretty inventive stuff.
:: visual art, film & theater ::
:: food ::
  • Despite intentions otherwise, I wasn't able to attend ReImagine's recent discussion on alcohol, but Dani Scoville provided a nice summary on her blog. Though I only attended the discussion on sex, which I was part of, I really appreciate the different topics they've taken on with this more or less monthly series. Keep them on your radar for 2013.
  • I was talking with one of you recently about the Eric Felten mini-cocktail story I shared last time. Said conversation provided a chance to enlarge on my love for Felten's writing, so I thought I would share a few highlights here.


Brubeck, Douthat, 46 free songs + Books and Culture giveaway

The Rathaus Christmas market in Vienna.
Truly, I did not think I could possibly find this much in the few days since I've been back from Europe, but go figure. December brings too much of almost everything. I've only had one article published since my last email, but I think it applies to holiday eats in general.
And coming next month, I return to the actual pages -- not just the servers -- of Books and Culture, with a review of Christian Smith's book Lost in Transition. Which brings me to my holiday giveaway.

Since the viability of publications like Books and Culture enables me as a writer to not just reach interested readers, but actually get paid for my efforts, I'm giving away a one-year subscription to Books and Culture this month -- your choice of print or online edition. (After all, as artists, we all ought to "support media," no?) To enter, write a one- or two-sentence comment below about why I should give you the subscription (be sure to include your email address in the appropriate comment field). I'll notify the winner shortly before Christmas.

:: events ::
  • Tonight! New York Times columnist Ross Douthat speaks on his new book Bad Religion, 6:45-9 p.m. at Christ Church (Cedar and Walnut in Berkeley, 10 minutes' walk from the Downtown Berkeley BART station). Tickets may be scant, but purchase them here.
  • Sunday: Open Studio at Mills College, noon to 4 p.m. I do believe Dave Young Kim may be one of those with work on display ...
  • Monday: Join the folks at ReImagine for Filled with the Spirit(s): Towards a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol. People of faith have often had a simple relationship with alcohol: don’t drink. Yet, wine "that gladdens the heart" was praised in the Psalms and the first miracle of Jesus was turning water into wine. Many Christian communities haven't talked about the proper use of alcohol, because it was forbidden. But if we are going to be spiritual people who also enjoy spirits then we need to be thoughtful about how we drink-- inviting each other into honest self-reflection and develop best practices for alcohol consumption. Join us for an evening of lively story-telling and group discussion.
:: tunes ::
  • Jazz legend and one-time Bay Area son Dave Brubeck has died -- one of probably very few such musicians whose death could become a Twitter trending topic, as it did this morning. Death is never good news of course, but the jazz lover in me thrills to see the medium touching so many tongues and ears, however briefly. Here's a small roundup of the obituaries and assessments of his career and musical impact.
  • Noisetrade is giving away a 28-song holiday road trip mix featuring Guster, Young the Giant and others (note: you'll need to "like" them on Facebook to get the songs).
  • And Noisetrade and Paste have teamed up on a free, 18-song holiday sampler featuring Sufjan, Leigh Nash and others.
  • Paste has compiled a nice holiday gift guide for music lovers, most of which have wrapable mass. For those of you considering electronic gifts, however, say of the Andrew Bird album Break It Yourself, I'm still trying to sell my unused download code so I can buy a real CD version (emails to the record label having gone unanswered; I know you're as shocked as I am). My Christmas special price is $7.50 + mystery holiday treat, probably edible and homemade.
  • Album streams:
  • Lastly, you can now hear Ryan Adams' contribution to the soundtrack of Judd Apatow's forthcoming movie, This is 40.
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • Even if you're not a writer, this analysis of C.S. Lewis' success with Mere Christianity provides food for thought on boundaries in work and ministry (to the extent those are distinct things!). When we feel strongly about certain issues, it can be so tempting to weigh in -- and channels like Facebook and Twitter give us increasingly public platforms for doing so, yet as Lewis' example suggests, restraint can afford long-term fruit.
  • The New York Times profiles the woman behind the great Brain Pickings blog I've shared from in the last few months.
:: visual art ::
  • Writer Tony Carnes' New York City Religion projects shares a cool video on Mako Fujimura's latest painting Golden Sea. The accompanying text reports that some of his works at the Dillon Gallery escaped damage, but I haven't yet found further substantiation of that.
  • Two recommendations from the Grotto folks:
      "Throughout his career," writes Alex Baker in the exhibition catalog, "Barry McGee has continued to surprise and contradict expectations." Including rarely seen early etchings, letterpress printing trays and liquor bottles painted with his trademark cast of down-and-out urban characters, constellations of vibrant op-art painted panels, animatronic taggers, and an elaborate re-creation of a cacophonous street-corner bodega, along with many new projects, this first mid-career survey of the globally influential San Francisco-based artist showcases the astonishing range of McGee's compassionate and vivacious work. Through Dec. 9.
      Check out some truly amazing and novel artworks created by IPhone art applications, of all things, in the exhibition "The Third Wave," at the Garden Gate Creativity Center in Berkeley. Artists include DIY types and professional photographers, and contributors have made images from fantastic animals to painterly landscapes to provocative nudes. Garden Gate Creativity Center, 2911 Claremont Avenue, Berkeley. Through Jan. 30.
:: food ::
  • Eric Felten, one of my favorite writers for the Wall St. Journal returns to his old beat, cocktails, for a piece on downsizing libations, which is right in step with my experience at two hip Chicago cocktail spots last month. And, the piece includes 11 drink recipes. Merry Christmas.
  • While in Vienna, I discovered this easy recipe for chicken breasts, which really does take about an hour to make, start to finish.