My 2013 Year in Review

Here’s the problem with my Facebook “2013 Year in Review”: When you spend most of your time on Facebook being a sarcastic idiot, your milestones are the jokes your friends liked the most. . . and your wife’s and kids’ birthdays.

But this year was kind of a big year for me and my family. I haven’t always had the time to write about the milestones here (it’s been a really busy year, too, at least in terms of work), but I thought it would be a nice way to close out the year by making short list, at least for those who might be interested.

Diaper-free
My lovely wife and I are the proud parents of three kids–three amazing, beautiful, intelligent, creative, loving kids. When I’m not working, most of my time is spent trying to be with them. Well, even though she didn’t turn 3 years-old until September, the #3 kid went diaper-free last spring. This is the end of an era that began in the fall of 2005 with the birth of our son, #1. I can’t understate what a wonderful development this was for us all and, yet, kind of sad, too.

The Book
This one Facebook got right. For that matter, since I’ve been hitting the social media airwaves with the news of my book’s release since it was released, this one probably doesn’t need re-stating here. That said, MY BOOK CAME OUT THIS YEAR!! It’s an event that I’ve been describing as “surreal” when people ask but the more I think about it, it’s not. I feel very proud and accomplished. I also feel detached, like the book that came out isn’t something I produced. I feel happy, to be sure. I also feel a little disappointed. I wish it were the book I always hoped it would have been, or at least more like that book. While I am happy that a major and well-respected academic press saw merit in my work and agreed to publish it (I would not have a job if they didn’t), I also feel like the “academic-ness” of the book makes it something less useful to the people who are the subject of the book. Complicated stuff, but so overwhelmingly good in the final sum.

Sister moves
I have two sisters, the youngest of which has been living with her husband on the Central Coast since 2008. My wife and I moved down to Southern California (from the Central Coast) in early 2006, so for most of the time that we’ve been down here, she has been up there. Well, this summer she moved back to LA to start working in residential life at USC. My brother-in-law finally joined her just this month. So happiness all around for them and the demise of the long-distance feature of their relationship, but also for us. While we haven’t seen much more of her since she moved, I suspect, in the long run, this will change. And that is a great thing!

Dodgers
I realized this year that I don’t really post many things about the Dodgers on social media. A blog post here and there, a comment to a friend’s post more often, but nothing really that would give you a sense of how much I enjoyed them or this season. It was a really fun one to watch, even though the ending stunk. What made it a lot less painful was that I went into the NLCS already having accepted the fact that the Dodgers were going to lose to the Cardinals. What I’m left with is a season that rewarded the true-blue fan who stuck it out through the heartless years. I can’t wait for next spring.

Big Sur
I also don’t write much about the kids and the family on social media, but this year was one of the best for us, as every year has been. We’re healthy, happy, secure financially and otherwise. Every year (well, for the past 4 years, which feels like a long time to the kids) we take a family camping trip to Big Sur. Ever since my wife and I lived in the Monterey area, that place has been a special one for me. It’s a peaceful place, a recharging place, and a place I look forward to visiting every time. This year we almost didn’t take our trip–we were the victims of a pretty bad hit-and-run just two days before we were scheduled to leave–but we ended up going, just for a shorter amount of time. I don’t have the words to describe how great it was.

There’s a bunch of other things that made this year a special one. Happily, daily life is filled with those. We had a few sad events, too; my grandma passed away last October at the age of 92 and my wife lost one of her life-long friends. Alas, that is also part of life. Some events happened to others but will undoubtedly be good things for us as a family. Like, just this week, my mother-in-law retired. With two retired parents of my own, I’ve come to see this event as the beginning of a new phase of life for everyone involved. And I know my kids are excited to see more of her in the year ahead.

And that year ahead will be filled with more than a few things to look forward to. Professionally, I have a few “book talks” planned in the Bay Area this coming spring. (In the academic world, these handful of speaking engagements might be the equivalent of a “book tour.”) The Summers Sandoval family is planning to change it up this summer and go visit Glacier National Park. And I think I might be moving forward in a big way on book #2.

And who knows what else. . .

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Silence

And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.

Elie Wiesel, acceptance speech on the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 1986.

____________________

Silence is like starvation. Don’t be fooled. It’s nothing short of that, and felt most sharply when one has had a full belly most of her life. When we are not physically starving, we have the luxury to realize psychic and emotional starvation. It is from this starvation that other starvations can be recognized–if one is willing to take the risk of making the connection–if one is willing to be responsible to the result of the connection. For me, the connection is an inevitable one.

Cherrie Moraga, “La Güera,” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981).

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Friday Five: Ray Charles

It’s hard to say anything about Ray Charles that hasn’t been said by countless others, countless times, and in countless venues.  For that matter, there’s no shortage of stories related to his life and music, whether online, in books and magazines, or in film.

So I’ll say this: you can not understand popular music without knowing a little bit about Ray Charles. And, for that matter, there’s never a bad time to listen to his music. In a career that spanned more than a half century, he has very few things that don’t deserve more than a listen.

These are five Ray Charles songs that are among my favorites. (My thinking here is to create a list that might serve as a nice introduction to Ray, rather than to his breadth, and so my bias is toward his pre-1960s work. After that, I think he becomes something of an eclectic cover man, reinterpreting country, gospel, and even pop tunes from his distinctive R & B style.)

5. “Come Back Baby” (1954)
This is the B-side to the #2 song on this list. Produced by Jerry Wexler, this music in this song always sounded to me like it dragged behind Ray Charles’ vocals. I suspect that was the point.

 

4. “The Danger Zone” (1961)
Ray Charles wasn’t a very political singer. Maybe that’s why I like this song so much. Beyond the lyrics, it is a master work of soul.

 

3. “(Night Time Is) The Right Time” (1958)
This is one of the rhythm and blues songs that evolves over time as a number of blues artists contribute to the tune and/or the lyrics for their own performance. Roosevelt Skyes may be the first recorded version of it (in 1937) but it bears only a bit of similarity to this version by Ray Charles. Charles wasn’t the first to record the song in this version either (Nappy Brown did so a year earlier) but its’ safe to say it put it to bed. (Fellow Gen Xers are likely to now it from this Cosby Show episode.)

 

2. “I’ve Got A Woman” (1954)
You can build a class around this song. It’s a gospel song (“It Must Be Jesus” by the Southern Tones) which Ray Charles secularized in lyric and sound. He makes it sexy in every single little way. When he does that, he turns it into his first biggest hit (it went to #1 in 1955) and he creates one of the most influential songs in popular music.

 

1. “What’d I Say” (1959)
Ray Charles improvised this song at a concert in 1958. He recorded it in 1959. The Wurlitzer piano intro, the vocals, the horns, the rhythm section, the background vocals… goodness but this is a piece of work! (It was released as a part 1 and part 2 single; here are both together.)

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October 15, 1988

Today is the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

Gibson’s dinger is one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history, and certainly the greatest in Dodgers’ history. It came in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, when the Dodgers faced the Oakland A’s.  (The boys in blue would win the series 4 games to 1.)

Gibson came up in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, with the tying run (Mike Davis) on first. The count went 3-2 before he lifted one over the right field fence.

A lot of folks might forget that Game 1 also included a grand slam by Jose Canseco, the source of the A’s 4 runs in that game (and, incidentally, his only hit in the series).  I never forget that. It was a trauma I lived with for hours waiting for the end result of that game to unfold.

I bring that up because that made the home run all the sweeter. Of course, Gibson wasn’t even in the line up that night, the stalwart workhorse sidelined by leg injuries that left him hobbling. As Vin Scully said that night, if he had hit it anywhere in the park they might have thrown him out at first.

The call by Scully–who was broadcasting for NBC at the time–is so familiar to baseball fans. But I didn’t get to hear it until the replay.

On October 15, 1988, I was 16 years old and I was working the night shift at my first job, Taco Bell (on Colima Rd., just past Azuza Ave.). I brought my walkman along and listened when I could, usually running off to a supply closet to check in. I listened to the entire 9th inning in that supply closet–alone, in the dark, with a walkman.

This is what I heard: Don Drysdale calling the play-by-play.

I started screaming when Gibby hit the home run. I was a little more excited I think than Drysdale! I went out to tell everybody what happened, but they didn’t understand baseball enough to get it. I mean, a scenario that every kid who has ever played imagines him or herself being in just transpired. In real life!

It’s one of my fondest memories. That night, I felt like Don Drysdale and I shared something special.

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View from the cheap seats

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Los Angeles Dodgers versus Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, October 7, 2013. (©TFSS, 2013)

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Friday Five: Motown

There is no conceivable way to reduce the Motown catalog down to just 5 songs and have that mean anything. Not a best list, not a favorites, either.

So here are 5 Motown songs that I would like to share, right now.

5. “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 (1969)
If I made a fav 5 list of the Jackson brothers this wouldn’t be my top, but it would be in the list. That might seem like a lukewarm endorsement, but this is one of those song’s I never get tired of hearing (and signing along with).

4. “Tracks of My Tears” by The Miracles (1965)
Smokey Robinson was a big part of the Motown greatness.  This is right up there with some of his greatest greatness.

3. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (1967)
These two had a string of hits, none more glorious than this 1967 hit.

2. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by the Temptations (1972)
These legends of Motown were hesitant to record this song, thinking it might be too reflective of the larger societial perceptions of African Americans and “broken households.” I’m glad they thought that, if the story is true, as I am glad they ended up recording the song. This is the super long version, with a lot more instrumental interludes.

1. “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by the Four Tops (1966)
A simple love song is really a careful anthem of solidarity during the height of the civil rights era. It’s a beautiful arrangement, backed by some of the best vocal work from this group of legendary vocal workers.

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Mission Row

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At the San Gabriel Mission (© TFSS, 2013.)

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