Sometimes I’m Still Afraid to Walk on the Grass
Just over ten years ago, near the end of July 2008, I was leaving for a mewithoutYou concert in St. Louis when I saw my mom sitting up, watching a cable-tv-version of Carrie in the front room. Taking a seat on the couch next to her, I called my friends to say that I wouldn’t be able to leave early for the show. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the last good day I would get with my mom.
I don’t really remember much about our conversation as the movie played. But I feel like there was some discussion about how the book had scared her when she was younger. How she felt bad for the titular character throughout most the movie. These may be distortions of my memory though. The only thing I remember for sure was that an ad ran for the Will Ferrell movie Step Brothers and I mentioned how I wanted to see it and my mom said that though she didn’t feel well enough to see it in the theater, we could rent it when it came out on DVD and watch it together, and that made me so so sad, because, well, you know…
Anyways, we watched Carrie until it was over then I kissed her on the forehead and left for the mewithoutYou show. Looking back, I of course wish I would’ve cancelled going to the concert altogether. If I would’ve known that was my last good day with her then I would’ve watched all the scary movies she wanted. Or maybe I would’ve asked her the right question to trigger some deep and meaningful story from her life before me. Or maybe I would’ve asked for some marriage advice. Or maybe I would’ve asked all the questions about parenting that I didn’t know I would ever need. Or maybe I would’ve just sat in silence with her until she fell asleep. Any of it seems more important than a show.
With that said, there’s another part of me that feels this was a fitting last good day to have with my mom. After all, she loved scary movies. They were a staple in our house for as long as I can remember. For most of my childhood we only had one TV in our house so that meant I was subjected to scary movies like Tremors, IT, Tommyknockers, Poltergeist (and so on)  long before I was ready. In my mom’s defense, I had a bedroom that I shared with my sister where I could’ve played instead of playing on the front room couch. Counterpoint, I was too scared to play in our bedroom because of Pennywise the clown and I spent a whole summer at 7yrs old afraid to walk on the grass for fear of giant worms eating me.
Eventually, I learned to appreciate her scary movies. They became something we bonded over. And as the years have worn holes in my memories, I can fill in some of them by remembering the movies we watched together.
Sometimes, I even feel that connection with her through movies that she never had the chance to see. Books she never could’ve read. TV shows she never knew would exist. Albums that I never got to play for her. My love of stories of all types comes from her; it comes from those nights in our living room (where sometimes she just watched completely normal shows like: Star Trek: The Next Generation or Earth 2 or later on, Grey’s Anatomy, Big Bang Theory etc). My imagination was set loose by my mom. She encouraged me in anything I could ever want to do. I’m forever indebted to her for that and so much more.
This summer after seeing the movie Hereditary, I was talking with Major and he said: “That’s the most messed up movie that made me want to call my mom.” And man, wow, it definitely was, but also yes! I wish I could’ve talked with my mom about that weird, deeply unsettling, awesome movie. I doubt she would’ve liked it, but I still would’ve loved to hear her thoughts about it.
When I think about it, it almost feels wrong to take anything positive from a movie like Hereditary, a story of a family literally tearing themselves apart. But I feel it now. I would’ve never appreciated that movie if it wasn’t for her. Same goes for Thunder Road, Annihilation, and, oh, God, especially Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
So here are my favorite movies, albums, and books from 2018. I wouldn’t like any of this stuff if it wasn’t for Karen Sue Johns. Somehow it’s already been ten years.
Favo(u)rite Movies of 2018
1- Eighth Grade
Movie premise summed up in a line of dialogue: “I don’t talk a lot at school but if people talk to me and stuff, they find out that I’m like really funny and cool and talkative.” – Kayla (Elsie Fisher)
2- A Star Is Born
Movie premise summed up in a brief dialogue exchange, I mean, do I even have to do this? I do? Okay:
Jack: “I just wanted to take another look at you.”
Ally: *half smiles*
Not really though, the real line of dialogue to sum up the movie comes from Sam Elliott’s character, Bobby: “Jack talked about how music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes. That’s it.”
3- The Favourite
A couple of weeks ago, I missed my morning train home from Chicago so Major picked me back up and we saw an 11:30am showing of The Favourite. As setbacks go, this was a pretty good one. This movie rules and like the other two Yorgos Lanthimos movies I’ve seen (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) my fondness for this has grown exponentially since seeing it. Also like those movies, it’s not for everyone, but I do think The Favourite is the most accessible of the three.
There are a ton of great quotes but the single line that sums it up best for me is:
“I’ve sent for some lobsters. I thought we could race them and eat them.” – Queen Ann (Olivia Colman)
Annihilation summed up in a brief dialogue exchange:
Dr. Ventress: “It’s destroying everything.”
Lena: “It’s not destroying. It’s making something new.”
It’s hard to sum up this insane movie with a couple lines of dialogue, especially without spoiling anything and even some of the dialogue scares me a bit, so with that in mind I’m going to go with:
“I don’t like this. Dad, I don’t like this.” – Peter (Alex Wolff)
6- Won’t You Be My Neighbor
I just now noticed I had the Mr. Rogers doc ranked right after Hereditary and I think I did that subconsciously because, whew, Hereditary shakes me to my core and WYBMN helps me feel like the world is going to be alright. Anyways, this one’s easy to sum up with a line of dialogue:
“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.” – Fred Rogers
7- Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse
Movie summed up in a brief dialogue exchange:
Peter B. Parker: “Look, I'm not looking for a side gig as a Spider-Man coach. I got a lot going on in my dimension, like a lot.”
Miles Morales: “With great power comes great...”
Peter B. Parker: “Don't you dare finish that sentence! Don't do it. I'm sick of it.”
8- First Reformed
“Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers. I can't know what the future will bring. We have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, Hope and despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself.”- Rev. Toller (Ethan Hawke)
9- Thunder Road
Rather than trying to sum up this awesome movie with one line of dialogue, I’m just going to leave the video below for the 12min award-winning short this movie was birthed from.
10- Minding the Gap
This device cures heartache. “Skateboarding is more of my family than my family.” – Kiere Johnson
Next Ten (Listed in Descending Favo(u)riteness)
Best Movie That Was Originally in My Top Ten Then I Decided That Was One Too Many Sad Men Movies: You Were Never Really Here
Best Movie To Make Me Insufferably Remind My Co-Workers Who the Coen Brothers Are:The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Favorite Vignette: The Wingless Thrush which is actually called “Meal Ticket” but I always think of it the other way)
Best Superhero Movie/Best Michael B. Jordan of the Year: Black Panther
Best This is the Most Irresponsible Jim Halpert Has Been Since Starting Athlead Without Telling Pam: A Quiet Place
Most Wholesome Movie of 2018: Paddington 2
Best Family Movie That Also Serves as Commentary for 2018: Ralph Breaks the Internet
Best Movie To Make Me Insufferably Remind Everyone I Read the Book First: Love, Simon
Best Movie to Make Me Almost Forget That Whole Weird Chair Lecture Thing: The Mule
Worse Minding the Gap But Still Pretty Good: Mid 90’s
Best Choose Your Own No Not That One, No Not that One Either, Ehhh, Nope, Okay, Fine, This Ending is Fine: Bandersnatch
21- Mission Impossible: Fallout
22- Incredibles 2
24- Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town
25- Creed 2
26- Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom
27- That Robin Williams doc on HBO
29- Avengers: Infinity War
30- Hold the Dark
32- Pet Turtles (Not the final cut)
33- Wrinkle In Time
35- Ocean’s 8
36- Fantastic Beasts
37- Game Night
38- To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
40- Teen Titans Go to the Movies
41- The Grinch
42- Ready Player One
43- Bird Box
45- Unfriended 2: The Dark Web
47- Hotel Transylvania Summer Vacation
48- Peter Rabbit
49- White Boy Rick
Three Worst Movies of the Year:
51- Before I Wake
52- The Christmas Chronicles
53- Sherlock Gnomes
Biggest Eyebrow Raise at the term “Short Doc”: I Know How to Speak by Manchester Orchestra
Favorite Stand Up Special: John Mulaney Kid Gorgeous
Second Favorite Stand Up Special: Demetri Martin Overthinker
Still haven’t seen:The Hate U Give, Leave No Trace, Wildlife, Private Life, Sorry For Bothering You, Vox Lux, If Beale Street Could Talk, The House That Jack Built (though maybe I won’t ever/don’t really want to see this one). Also, much to the dismay of ten-year-old Dane, I didn’t see Deadpool 2or Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Favorite movie I saw not released in 2018: Phantom Thread (2017—yeah, I know, really digging through the Criterion classics of decades past for this one.)
Top Five TV Shows
2- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
5- The Good Place
Best New Shows:
-Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj
Shows I Started But Didn’t Finish:
Ozark ssn 2
Alex Inc (cancelled)
Splitting Up Together
The Haunting of Hill House (got two episodes left, just sitting there, waiting)
Best individual episode TV episode of the year: Teddy Perkins (Atlanta)
Runner Up: Andre & Sarah (Forever)
Best SNL Host: Donald Glover (5/5/18)
Best SNL Skit: This one.
Best Music of 2018
1- Camp Cope- How to Socialise & Make Friends
Favorite lyric comes off the title track: “Now I’ve been ignoring the calls/I’ve been riding my bike with no handlebars/Through empty streets in the dark/And I think I’m getting pretty good.”
2- Mewithoutyou [Untitled]
Favorite lyric comes from “New Wine, New Skins”: “If God wills this time tomorrow in the early morning rain/ I’ll unpack the boots I borrowed and turn back the way I came/ I’d like to write a sequel to ‘the State I am in’/ And I’d like to call the song “New Wine, New Skins’.”
3- Boygenius EP
Normally, EPs are their own category (as you’ll see below) but dang, this EP is so good. My favorite lyrics are off the Phoebe Bridgers led “Me & My Dog”: “I had a fever/ Until I met you/ Now you make me cool/ But sometimes I still do/ Something embarrassing.”
4- Jeff Rosenstock- Post-
Rosenstock released Post- as a surprise pay-what-you-want download on New Years Day, 2018. In a year where Monday’s news often felt like years prior by the following Wednesday, it was refreshing to have an album stick with me all year.
Favorite lyric comes off “USA”: “Man in a crossover with his family/ Sketched in decals on the window smiling/ Driving parallel in the lane beside me/ Oh, it doesn’t matter now/ But please be honest/Tell me was it you?”
5- Death Cab for Cutie - Thank You For Today
Favorite lyric comes off “Summer Years”: “Sometimes I’m overcome/By every choice I couldn’t outrun.”
6- Liza Anne- Fine But Dying
Favorite lyric comes off the aptly titled (and unfortunately relatable) “Panic Attack”: “Think slowly/Try to remember I’m alive/My body is here and I am inside.
7- Foxing - Nearer My God
Favorite lyric comes from “Bastardizer”: “Here lies the magician/Survived by applause but still can’t listen/The Bastardizer/The patron saint/Of disconnection/Of feel-no-shame/You leave a son/Who has your name/When you’re finally gone/He’ll be okay.”
8- Joyce Manor- A Million Dollars to Kill Me
Also the winner for “biggest disappointment album of 2018 though #8 isn’t that bad either.” Favorite lyric is from “Big Lie”: “Don’t you ever feel lonely?/Baby, I’ve been lonely my whole life.”
9- All Get Out- No Bouquet
Favorite lyric comes from “First Contact”: “Finally a real routine/And I don't want to ever leave/Shake all the hate away/And I can be me any day/I remember the conflict/It's ok to push away/It's all a part of the content/There's not much you can erase.”
10- Hop Along- Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Favorite lyric & best hook of 2018 is from “How Simple”: “Don’t worry we will both find out/Just not together.”
Favorite Album to Downplay How Much I Actually Like It: The 1975- A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
Most Likely to Grow On Me Even More in 2019: Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mother’s- Bought to Rot
Second Only to Liza Anne for Best New Artist & Best Album Recommended to Me This Year: Anna Burch- Quit the Curse
Best Album To Play On A Spring Day With Your Windows Down: Culture Abuse- Bay Dreams
Best If You Know, You Know—And I Don’t Really Know But I Like It Anyway—Album: Pusha T- Daytona
Favorite Album to Turn Down At a Stoplight: Vince Staples -FM!
Favorite “Somehow it’s already been ten years” Album: Touché Amoré Live at the Regent
Best Man, I Really Wanted to Love This Album: Saves the Day- 9
Favorite Album to Run (More Like Slow Jog) To: Turnstile- Time & Space
Soccer Mommy- Clean
Jay-Z & Beyoncé -Everything Is Love
Noname- Room 25
Illuminati Hotties- Kiss Yr Frenemies
Superchunk-What A Time to Be Alive
Best Album Title: What People Call Self Esteem is Really Just Seeing Yourself The Way Other People See You by awakebutstillinbed
Best EP That Isn’t the Boygenius EP:
1- Mewithoutyou- untitled
2- The Mountain Goats- Hex of Infinite Binding
3- The Front Bottoms- Ann
Best Split: Devinyl Split No. 8- Side A: David Bazan (“Thread”)/Side B: Kevin Devine (“Prehistoric”) Now, Now Covers.
Second Best Split: Rare Coins- David Bazan/ Sean Lane
Best New to Me Albums From Years Past:
2017- Gang of Youths- Go Farther in Lightness
2016- John K. Samson- Winter Wheat
2013- Now, Now - Threads
Favorite Shows I Played:
1- Burg’s October 27th, Sleeping Tapes with Jordan McBride and Mello Tonnin
2- Taco Stand April 6th Sleeping Tapes with I’m Fine & Laura King Neville
3- Street Bar June 2nd- Sleeping Tapes w/ Trophy Shop
4- Burg's January 27th- Sleeping Tapes w/ Heather Hammers & Kasey Rogers
5- The Sesspool January 7th- Sleeping Tapes with Don Jacobo, Late. And Electric Bear Trap
6- Burg’s Dec 30th – Sleeping Tapes opening for Ravenhill, Skinny Jim & the Number 9 Blacktops
Favorite Shows I Attended:
1-Pedro the Lion at Old Rock House on February 8th
2- Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus at the Pageant November 15th
3- Manchester Orchestra & the Front Bottoms at Aragon Ballroom (favorite venue) on December 8th
4- Manchester Orchestra & Kevin Devine at the Pageant on August 7
5- Camp Cope at Beat Kitchen on June 25
ICYMI: I did a playlist of my 100 favorite songs of 2018 that you can check out here.
Best Books of 2018
Favorite Books I Read This Year
1- Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017)
“Sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”
― Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
2- Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (2018)
“Strange can be quite normal. Strange can just be the phrase 'That is not important' as an answer for everything. But if your son never answered you that way before, then the fourth time you ask him why he's not eating, or if he's cold, or you send him to bed, and he answers, almost biting off the words as if he were still learning to talk, 'That is not important', I swear to you Amanda, your legs start to tremble.”
― Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream
3- Sum by David Eagleman (2009)
“...you are battered and bruised in the collisions between reminiscence and reality.”
― David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
4- You Think It, I’ll Say It (Stories) by Curtis Sittenfeld (2018)
“It’s not that you’re wrong. But when you say stuff like this, it makes life a lot less enjoyable.”
― Curtis Sittenfeld, You Think It, I'll Say It
5- Let’s Go, So We Can Get Back by Jeff Tweedy (2018)
“I wish everyone had a way to kill time without hurting anyone, including themselves. That’s what I wish. That’s what the guitar became for me that summer and is to me still.”
― Jeff Tweedy, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.
6- You Shall Know Our Velocity! By Dave Eggers (2003)
“You invite things to happen. You open the door. You inhale. And if you inhale the chaos, you give the chaos, the chaos gives back.”
― Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity!
7- Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi (2018)
“I like knowing that you exist. It doesn't make me feel any less lonely, because life is lonely, but it makes me feel a lot less alone.”
― Mary H.K. Choi, Emergency Contact
8- In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders (2006)
“There comes that phase in life when, tired of losing, you decide to stop losing, then continue losing. Then you decide to really stop losing, and continue losing. The losing goes on and on so long you begin to watch with curiosity, wondering how low you can go. ”
― George Saunders, In Persuasion Nation
9- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)
“In this man - this one wretched man - is an entire kingdom. An entire nation of hate and oppression, staring me in the face. It may have been the guards who broke down the doors in Idaban that day, but they were simply his tools.
Here lies the heart.”
― Tomi Adeyemi, Children of Blood and Bone
10- Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak (2018)
“There are hundreds of thoughts per every word spoken, and that's if they're spoken at all.”
― Markus Zusak, Bridge of Clay
11- An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (2018)
12- They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (2017)
13- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017)
14- The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders (2007)
15- All the Clever Words on Pages: A Portrait of My Friendship with Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou by Paul Matthew Harrison (2016)
16- Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)
17- Dry by Neil Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman (2018)
18- The Strange Fascinations Of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold (2018)
19- The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk (2018)
20- The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith (2018)
Best Graphic Novel: All Summer Long by Hope Larson
Best comic book TPB:
1- Runaways: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka
2- Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire by Kelly Thompson & Pere Perez
Best Collection of Illustrated Essays about the Office: Conference Room, Five Minutes by Shea Serrano and Arturo Torres (2018)
Best Novella:“The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil” by George Saunders (2005)
Best Illustrated Short Story:“Fox 8” by George Saunders & Chelsea Cardinal (2018)
Favorite Reading: George Saunders at the St Louis Public Library with Stacy 2/17/18.
Favorite Internet writer: Lindsay Zoladz of the Ringer
Favorite Internet show: NBA DESKTOP
Favorite Short Stories (aka the New Yorker subscription I got tricked into ran out in June):
1- “Training Module” by Elizabeth Crane (Sept 10, 2018 in Guernica)
2- “Orange World” - Karen Russell (June 4/11)
3- “The Boundary"- Jhumpa Lahiri
4- “Under the Wave” by Lauren Groff (July 9/16)
5- “Treatments” by Robert Coover (April 30)
6- “Writing Teacher" by John Edgar Wideman (January 22)
Some Poems I Liked:
1- Poems: “Hammond B3 Organ Cistern” by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
2- “Mayflower Cistern I Feel My Pilgrim Worry” by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
3- “June”- Alex Demitrov
Outro/The Things I’m Taking With Me:
I sat center court for a LeBron James game this year (thanks Matt), got together with old band friends in Evansville over Memorial Day weekend, James Harden won the MVP & the Rockets almost beat the Warriors, had several trips to Chicago to see Major, Joe, Romann, and Matt, released an album with my friends, Stacy and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary at Von Jakob (I may be spelling that wrong) winery, through a fit of depression I finished a new manuscript and I still feel alright about it, hey, the Rams are pretty good, met Stacy’s newly found sister Melissa, hung out with Ethan and Jason a lot, climbed some rocks that made me a bit nervous at Garden of the Gods, got a promotion at work, stayed in a big house with a whole lot of friends for four days where we saw two of our best friends, Jake & Lindsey, get married on the beach in Alabama then stopped in Gatlinburg before driving to Baltimore to see Stacy’s cousin Ryan marry the love of his life, heard opera singers sing the hymns, danced to Lil Jon, had 12 days on the road together as a family and I missed them when it was over, later in December I missed my morning train and had to buy a new ticket but that’s alright, ate off the green China dishes at Vanessa’s house on Christmas eve, the boys danced with their cousins in the living room, heard my dad’s laugh, felt his embrace, saw our boys grow, kissed their heads before they started new grades at school and shared more laughs than I can even remember. These are just a handful of the memories I want to take with me from 2018 into 2019. I’m ready, I think, let’s do this.
This still makes me so sad. I think of it any time someone makes a reference to Step Brothers (which doesn’t happen as much any more). I’ve only seen that movie once and I just now realized why. This is up there with “My mom never got to see the ending of Lost” as things that make me irrationally sad.
At which point, The Rage: Carrie 2 started, which my mom was all too stoked to watch.
Side story here, but this mewithoutYou show actually played a pivotal role in helping me heal that summer. For their encore, they pulled me and my friends, Brice, Wes, Chris, and Chais on stage (along with other people) and we sang along and made noise as they played “In A Sweater Poorly Knit.” It was powerful to stand on stage singing: “I do not exist, only you exist” in a packed, sweaty, St Louis bar. It didn’t make what was happening with my mom okay, but it made me feel a little better for the moment.
Tommyknockers and IT were both miniseries so that meant I actually faced like four straight nights of those shows rather than just one movie. The Stand was probably in there somewhere too.
Man! This show felt like an important part of my childhood but Wikipedia tells me it only ran one season from Fall 94 to Spring 95.
One of my absolute favorite things about my mom (and there are many) is how she would watch such awful B-rated horror/sci-fi movies on Sci-Fi channel and cable all day on Saturdays. Oddly enough, despite costing (I assume) well over a hundred-fifty million dollars, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom reminded me of those movies and in that way, it made me happy.
Yorgos “only” directed The Favourite while he wrote AND directed The Lobster and TKOSD so that could be why this one is more accessible or maybe that’s all relative anyway.
The real sound that Annihilation calls to my mind goes like this (hang with me): wuohhnnn---bzzrrttttt---wuohnnnn---kkkkkrrrrtttttt---weeeeoooooohhhhn—bbzzzrrrtttt etc, etc. This will make sense to maybe two people.
For about three weeks, I don’t think someone could quietly reference this movie in Night’s Shield without me running from my office reciting off Coen Brothers movies. I’m sorry.
There’s an alternate reality where this movie falls into the silly-but-sweet-spot occupied by movies like JP:FK, but nope, I really didn’t like this movie despite Willem Dafoe riding a dang hammerhead shark and a giant octopus playing drums.
Possibly a contender for the Worst Movie of the Decade, but really that would make it sound more interesting than it actually is. Honestly though I’m the jerk here, because who sees a movie called Sherlock Gnomes and then complains about how bad it is? I knew what I was getting into.
MMM is so close to being my favorite show. It is so delightful and Rachel Brosnahan is incredible.