I remember when I turned 15, someone told me “you’re at the exact midpoint of your youth”. That stuck with me, somehow, and I’ve thought about it a few times in the last few years as I approached this birthday. I also thought about the Blur song “End of the Century”, and the whole “never trust someone over 30” punk ethos thing. They both seem kind of silly now. Perspective or cognitive reframing as self-preservation? I’m not sure. Probably a bit from column A and a whole buttload from column B.
Though as I get older, these birthdays seem increasingly like arbitrary yardsticks, I do feel like there’s a certain solemnity in crossing over from one decade to the next. All the usual questions are dredged up– are you where you want to be? (not exactly, but, things are good!), are you ready to settle down? (settle down from WHAT), do you want to start a family? (uhmm). But truthfully, more than any anxiety about aging, what I am somewhat shocked by is just how fast everything seems to be going by. Having lived the last ten years, I can say with some certainty that ten years isn’t actually that long, and applying that line of thinking to whatever time I have left starts to feel a bit disquieting. But it’s fine. Things are fine. I’m feeling good about what’s to come. Things are happening.
The main thing that I’m thankful for after all these years is the sheer quality of people I’ve somehow managed to accumulate as friends, and lucked into having as family. They were the ones who made the ensuing celebrations special, and the ones who carried me through 2016, probably the single hardest year of my life (I’ll detail the reasons at some point). I consider it a point of pride. These are some good folks.
I keep saying this, but I’ve got dozens of half-finished blog posts lining my Drafts folder, and I want to get back to writing more frequently on this site. I intend to do that. In the meantime, if you want to read my terrible dumb words on a weekly basis, I’m still rambling about songs over at Trunkworthy, and I’ve also started collaborating with my friend Evy over at The Bubble, an Argentine news and culture site; together we run The Setlist, a weekly round-up of the best live music in Buenos Aires. We’ve also been given the go-ahead to expand the column in fun and exciting ways, featuring video content and writing profiles on bands and independent labels and such. I also write the occasional film or TV piece for various sites, but those are the two go-to venues to catch my writing every week.
Finally, considering I’ve been kind of obsessive with the whole Spotify playlist thing, I’ve put one together consisting of 30 songs that have had some kind of special significance for me throughout the last 30 years. A kind of audio collage of people, memories and situations. As much as the extent of their personal relevance is not evident to anyone but myself, it’s also a really good list of songs [likely the only time you’ll hear a Björk song segue into an Offspring song and then into Roberta Flack], so I’m sharing it with you all.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the annual Jorge Farah Awards (colloquially referred to as the Golden Jorges). An ill-informed and insulated look back at the year’s highs and lows. Here are this year’s winners!
TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES OF THE YEAR:
2. Nocturnal Animals
3. Hidden Figures
4. Hail, Caesar!
5. The Conjuring 2
6. Karaoke Crazies
7. The Neon Demon
8. The People Garden
9. The Witch
10. The Nice Guys
MOST VISCERAL AND GUTWRENCHING MOVIEWATCHING EXPERIENCE OF THE YEAR (OF A MOVIE THAT CAME OUT JUST BEFORE 2016): The Demons
MOST FRUSTRATING SUPERHERO MOVIE THAT LOOKED AMAZING AND I WANTED VERY BADLY TO LOVE BUT WAS BOTCHED IN A SPECTACULAR FASHION OF THE YEAR:
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
MOST SURPRISINGLY DELIGHTFUL LIVE-ACTION ADAPTATION OF A BELOVED ANIMATION CLASSIC OF THE YEAR:
The Jungle Book
TOP TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR:
1. Nels Cline – Lovers
2. Mitski – Puberty 2
3. Vijay Iyer and Leo Wadada Smith – A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke
4. Rihanna – ANTI
5. Violenta Josefina – El Ejercito del Aire
6. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
7. Julianna Barwick – Will
8. Lisa Hannigan – At Swim
9. Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death
10. Camp Cope – Camp Cope
BEST LIVE ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Kate Bush – Before the Dawn
MOST INITIALLY IMPRESSIVE BUT EVENTUALLY UNDERWHELMING ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
(RUNNER-UP: Kanye West – The Life of Pablo)
FAVORITE ALBUM TO BE RELEASED ON NEW YEAR’S EVE IN A CONSCIOUS EFFORT TO FUCK UP MY OFFICIAL TOP TEN LIST BUT IS TOO GOOD NOT TO MENTION OF THE YEAR: Sean Eldon – You Didn’t
MOST OBSESSIVELY LISTENED-TO POP ALBUM FROM BEFORE 2016 THAT SERVED AS A SORT-OF HEALING BALM FOR THIS STUPID GARBAGE YEAR:
Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASONS OF TELEVISION OF THE YEAR:
1. Better Call Saul season 2
2. Veep season 5
3. Lady Dynamite season 1
4. Mr. Robot season 2
5. Bojack Horseman season 3
FAVORITE SEASON OF TELEVISION THAT PURPORTED TO BE A VERY DEEP AND INSIGHTFUL SOCIAL CRITIQUE BUT AMOUNTED TO LITTLE MORE THAN THOSE “YOUNG PEOPLE WITH FACES BURIED IN THER PHONES” MEMES YOUR OBLIVIOUS AUNT SHARES ON FACEBOOK, AND YET STILL MANAGED TO DELIVER ONE EPISODE OF TRANSCENDENTAL BEAUTY (SAN JUNIPERO):
Black Mirror, season 3.
MOST FEVERISHLY REWATCHED SHOW FROM BEFORE 2016 TO REMIND ME OF WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE ALIVE:
MOST THOROUGHLY DEBUNKED BELIEF OF THE YEAR:
That humans are generally good and kind and capable of empathy
FAVORITE MONTH OF THE YEAR:
(RUNNER-UP: December, which was pretty alright)
FAVORITE LIGHTWEIGHT CULTURAL DEBATE OF THE YEAR:
Does Ken Bone’s Vaguely Creepy Reddit Comment History Make Him a Fundamentally Bad Dude?
LEAST FAVORITE LIGHTWEIGHT CULTURAL DEBATE OF THE YEAR:
Does Bob Dylan Deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature? (he does, but it’s weird)
FAVORITE FAILED BLOG RELAUNCH OF THE YEAR: This one!
FAVORITE ELVIS COSTELLO BLOG OF THE YEAR:
The one I write with Kevin Davis. Every week on Trunkworthy!
MOST DEVASTATING CELEBRITY DEATH OF THE YEAR:
Alan Rickman. (Prince and Bowie and the rest were sad, but Rickman wrecked me)
SADDEST CELEBRITY DEATH THAT IS INFURIATINGLY ABSENT FROM MOST YEAR-END ROUNDUPS:
FAVORITE CELEBRITY OF THE YEAR:
Amy Adams, fifth year running
LEAST-FAVORITE INTERNET REACTION TO SOMETHING:
The hoopla surrounding the Ghostbusters reboot
MOST ANNOYING INTERNET PRESENCE OF THE YEAR:
(RUNNER-UP: Milo Yiannopoulos)
MOST STUNNING DISPLAY OF MY OWN INCOMPETENCE OF THE YEAR: The time I tried to make eggs benedict
FAVORITE VIRAL CHALLENGE OF THE YEAR:
The “Keep Your Chin Up and Try to Maintain a Sunny Disposition Even Though the World is Literally Crumbling Into a Hellish Funeral Pyre All Around You” Challenge
(RUNNER-UP: The Mannequin Challenge)
BONUS! A Spotify playlist of my 40 favorite songs of 2016 (that can be found on Spotify, anyway):
Congratulations to all the winners! 2016, you were a year-long garbage fire. I’m happy to see you go. 2017, you don’t have much to live up to. Do your worst.
When I was a little boy and I found myself faced with the question of what I would do when I grew up, I wasn’t ever really sure what the answer was on a professional level. An abundance of possibilities, but no clear vision of what I would be doing as a job. One thing was always very clear to me, though: I wanted to be married and have kids by the time I was 27. This was a kind of ultimatum I’d consciously set for myself because that was the age my parents were when they brought me into the world. Every daydream I ever had of myself as a grown-up was basically emulating what my Dad did, because I thought he had done a pretty great job at it.
For most of my early life I saw myself, quite proudly, as a carbon copy of my old man. Everybody would even comment on how much we looked like each other. We had the same sense of humor, the same steadfast sense of right and wrong, the same overall demeanor. I was a bit of a giant, like he was. I would feel happy whenever I caught myself displaying some of his mannerisms. There were entire conversations at the dinner table about how much I was like him. I’d be beaming while my other siblings sat there, annoyed by our celebration of my genetic predisposition.
One of my first reality checks came during my teenage years, when I found myself feeling increasingly oppressed by my Catholic upbringing. When I started to veer away from the path, Dad wrote it off as a phase. When it became clear that I had truly abandoned the flock, I had to sit down and have one of the most difficult conversations I’d ever had. My father, a lifelong Catholic, struggled with the fact that his firstborn was grappling with his faith in this way, and the fact that he might even abandon it altogether must’ve felt akin to an act of deep betrayal. In hindsight, I could’ve handled that whole situation better, but petulance is inherent to the teenage condition.
My relationship with my father remained strong over the years but there’s still that weird little bit of lingering regret that pops up every once in a while, in the nooks and crannies of my psyche. Sitting together with my Grandmother last year, he asked her if she thought we still looked alike. She said “a little bit.”
I turned 27 years old on Friday. Buenos Aires gifted me with friends, joy, love and laughter, as well as the first few whispered hints of the coming winter. I pull my collar up as I count my blessings and move forward.
April is my favorite month, man. I realize my birthday is April 11th and picking your birth-month as your favorite month of the year is predictable and boring, but it’s not about that. See, I don’t like getting older. I don’t like being reminded that I’m getting older. I don’t enjoy having to continuously re-evaluate my station in life every 365 days, reflect on successes and failures, project new goals and deliverables, and make a bunch of false promises to myself. That’s what New Years Eve is for. And yet, every April 11th, that’s exactly what I find myself doing. Again.
Yes, April is my favorite month, but it’s not because of my birthday. It’s because every April I get to participate in the chaotic, unpredictable, sometimes terrifying but always exhilarating celebration of cinema known as the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente— which is a mouthful, so it will henceforth be referred to as BAFICI). Each year, hundreds of movies from all around the globe are showcased in this rich and eclectic festival. It features all kinds of styles, approaches, tones and genres– from side-splitting comedies to arduously paced dramas to outright bizarre, inexplicable experiments. There’s a wealth of treasures to be found, some garbage to be scoured through, and a lot of fun to be had in the process.
I am never quite as creatively charged, never as genuinely excited to sit down and just make stuff, as I am immediately after a festival screening. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true; I get a weird high from the whole festival scene. I leave inspired and empowered, aching to vent, ready for the challenge of the blank canvas. That creative boost is enormously beneficial and stays with me for weeks. It dissipates after a while, sure, like every high, but you have something to show for it. It’s gotten to the point where I cherish these walks back home after a film almost as much as I do the film itself. This is especially true about the last screening of the day, when it’s late at night and I’m making my way through lonely streets which would be bustling with activity in the daytime. I soak up the silence; in my every day life, I’d be hooked up to my iPod. Each year during the festival, I leave it at home.
Because of the sheer vastness of the festival, I’m not able to watch every single film. Hot tickets can sell out in a manner of minutes, and I end up missing out on some movies I really want to see. I usually figure out some sort of itinerary that fits my work schedule and allows me to watch around 30 movies. I realize thirty movies in ten days sounds obnoxiously ambitious, but the sheer excess is part of the appeal for me– jumping from screening to screening, navigating in and out of diegeses, submitting to a new film experience while you haven’t quite finished processing the previous one. It’s an exercise in endurance, yes, but it’s also a thrill in of itself, akin to that weird feeling you get after you’ve stayed up for over 48 hours with no sleep.
So I pick my movies based on what works for my schedule, which means sometimes I’ll walk into the theater without knowing a lot about what I’m about to watch. As you can imagine, this leads to some interesting experiences– I once suffered through an experimental Italian film about a bunch of people just hanging around naked for two hours (not nearly as enticing as it sounds). This year, the lineup includes new movies by Jim Jarmusch, Hong Sang-soo, Lav Diaz and Denis Côté among others. The films I’m most looking forward to are probably 20000 Days On Earth, Mistaken For Strangers (the documentary that’s sort of about The National), Afternoon Delight and Fifi Howls from Happiness. The films I’m most bummed out to be missing are Rebecca Ziotowski’s Grand Central, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves and Gabe Klinger, James Benning & Richard Linklater’s Double Play. Also, for some bizarre reason, The Muppets: Most Wanted is playing as part of the festival, which is odd because 1) it’s not an independent film (what with it being MADE BY DISNEY and all), and 2) it opens properly in Argentina in a month.
Anyway. I’m just psyched, man. This is gonna be fun. And sure, I may kind of resent the fact that I have to turn a year older, but at least I’ll be spending my birthday doing what makes me happy. That feels like a pretty sizable victory to me.
About a year ago I was riding the Amtrak train from Penn Station to Rensselaer, on my way to my sister’s house in Lake George, New York. This was after a grueling flight from Buenos Aires with a layover in Atlanta, on absolutely no sleep. I was beyond tired, nodding out in my seat, not really making much sense out of the chaos surrounding me, but somehow getting by on sheer mechanics. I’ve long been under the impression that my creativity thrives in such precarious states of exhaustion. That the drowsiness and fatigue and general inability to focus somehow result in drawing associations that would’ve otherwise been obscured by the fog of common sense. I don’t know if there’s any science to back this up or if it’s just a holdover from years and years of cognitively reframing my chronic procrastination.
So as I was fading in and out of consciousness in my seat, my creative side was concocting all sorts of strange scenarios incorporating the bits and pieces of information that I was able to discern during each brief moment of lucidity. I suddenly took notice of the train attendant– this waifish, auburn-haired, remarkably attractive young woman wearing a comically ill-fitting uniform. I started to draw up ideas about who she was. What she came to New York to do. Why she was a train attendant. I started to wonder about her family, about her environment, about what she did every day after work, and about all the crap she probably had to put up with on the job. I wondered if she’d ever met any weirdos who developed unhealthy obsessions with her, or if she developed any strange obsessions of her own. If she was perpetually tormented, or a tormentor herself.
Within just about 10 minutes, I had developed a rough outline of a story: a farcical comedy-adventure about love and misery and mental illness and trains. It had laughs, romance, international criminal rings, gunfights, sex and all kinds of wackiness. When my sister Cristina and my brother Jonathan picked me up at the train station, I excitedly guided them through this Coen-esque adventure, throwing in ideas as I thought of them, egged on by their positive response. That very night, I typed up a version of this rough treatment and proceeded to send it along to various friends (industry and otherwise). For the rest of my stay in New York, I’d talk about it at social gatherings. I’d bring it up in conversations with new acquaintances, fine-tuning and rearranging the story with every reading. The response was unanimous. Everybody thought it was just great. Everybody thought it was sweet and funny. Everybody was excited. Everybody encouraged me to keep writing. It was great.
A year or so later, that rough outline has built a cozy little nest for itself in the Incomplete folder of my computer documents, with no immediate plans to move out. Stalled, stagnant, flatlined. The momentum had dissipated into a halt. The moment had passed. Why? Why was that initial flurry of creativity suddenly exhausted? What sucked the wind out of my sails?
With screenwriting, as with any art– be it song, painting, poetry or interpretative dancing– there are many possible reasons for coming up with an idea, and many other potential reasons for following it through to completion. Some are guided by whimsy, others respond to patronage, some get a thrill out of audience reaction, others feel this burning sensation from the pit of their stomach which tells them that this thing they’re making is important and absolutely needs to be said, and that it needs to be seen by the world– that foolish but admirably resilient (and remarkably powerful) conviction that there’s nothing more important than making it happen, and that you’ll just implode if they don’t get it off their chest somehow. There are all kinds of variations and permutations and combinations of these motivators, and they’re not specific to the artist as much as each individual project.
The last screenplay I completed and sold was one of those projects that had to be completed, it just had to. I had to get it out, like my chest would start to cave in if I held it in for too long. So I wrote this deeply personal story, redrafted it a few times, then handed it on to languish at some executive’s desk. Boom. It’s out of my hands, but I got through it, and I was able to sell other people on it. This new idea? Nothing like that. It wasn’t tied to my sense of identity in any way. It wasn’t making grand proclamations about the world as I saw it. It didn’t even transmit a clear message. It was just a silly idea I came up with when I was riding the train, and I didn’t feel that deep-rooted sense of responsibility to finish it. Why was I so excited about it at first, then? If it was such a dumb idea, why couldn’t I stop talking about it for weeks? What got me all riled up, drafting outlines and talking about it at length with pretty much everyone I knew?
It was their reaction. It was their positive reinforcement. It was, in essence, the attention.
By talking at great lengths about an idea that I had, but hadn’t actually seen through to completion yet, I was awarded with a barrage of “oh wow how cool!”s and “you’re so creative!”s and “wow, I couldn’t possibly have thought of that myself!”s. Basically, I got the adulation from having made something great without all the hassle of actually having to make it. And once I get that, I am sated, and the desire to actually make the damn thing quickly fades away, like the last remnants of a dream upon waking. Since I’m describing it in the most hyperbolic ways possible, I’m avoiding the risk of nitpickers or negative feedback focusing on the details. As far as positive reinforcement goes, I get all the reward without actually risking a misfire, kind of like cheating. Well, not “kind of”, that’s exactly what it is– it’s basking in the glow of my supposed genius based on a hypothetical, an unfinished draft. Except when I’m talking about it, I’m not actually aware that that’s what I’m doing. It’s an obscure negotiation that goes on in a shady room somewhere in my subconscious. And upon realizing this, I started to think of dozens of other instances of this in my life– ideas that are entertained for a bit, talked about at length, reveled in the positive feedback, and then abandoned. That’s no way to treat a friend.
I didn’t have this problem with the last one because, well, that one was just too big, too important, too me. This one was a passing whimsy. But I want to be able to pursue those, too; if everything I wrote had to come from some place deep in my very being, I’d never come up with anything. I just don’t have too many important things to say. Big or small, I want to be able to chase that elusive muse where it takes me instead of taking shortcuts and detours to get some cheap praise. C’mon. How gauche is that? First you write the thing, then you bask in the glory of your unrelenting genius. So I think, for the time being, I’m done talking about what I have in the pipeline. Wanna find out? Good. I’ll tell you when it’s done.
You can proofread it if you want. Just go easy on the praise, I might never get around to pitching it.
My grandmother was a great woman. She was strong, caring and joyful, with an infectious energy that served as a beacon of inspiration for her peers, and a sense of humor that elicited boisterous laughter from those lucky enough to find themselves in her company at any given moment. She was passionate and forceful, but also compassionate, gregarious and kind. She had a heart that was filled with music and love. She knew the importance of song, of dance, of laughter. She cared, and deeply so.
For the last few years, in my visits back home, I’d witnessed a steady decline in my grandmother’s health and overall wellbeing. Her disposition, once sunny and affable, had dulled into a muted grey from the side-effects of medication and sheer exhaustion. Unscheduled visits to the hospital became a regular occurrence. Sudden and continued health scares led to live-in nurses. Daily blood work. Assisted living. Life became a daily struggle to stay alive, and soon that flame which shone so brightly inside her dimmed into a glimmer. Every once in a while, however, given the right combination of circumstances, like an old in-joke or a funny memory, that flame would materialize itself again in the form of a mischievous smile decorating her weathered visage.
I was extremely lucky to have been born into an environment where humor is such an integral part of our daily lives; where ridiculousness is not shushed or stamped out, but celebrated and encouraged. From both sides of the family, I was surrounded by people who knew how to have a laugh: at the world, at each other, at themselves. My grandmother knew the power of a well-timed zinger, and losing it over a ridiculous pun, and falling over in side-splitting hysterics. She instilled that sense of irreverence and jocosity in all her children, often to the chagrin of her husband.
My grandparents were married for 56 years. Any half-baked cynical bullshit I can come up with about the fleeting nature of human relationships and how marriage is an unnatural societal construct which keeps us from realizing our full potential starts sounding like the embittered braying of a snot-nosed punk when I think about all these two went through together. They were each other’s rock, and for over half a century they kept each other moored and at peace. During her last days, when the stress of constant health scares left her exhausted and weak, they’d take comfort in each other’s mere presence, communicating in absolute silence what a million poems could never say.
A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of one of my extended visits, my Dad woke me up and told me my grandmother had just passed away. He was weeping. I hugged him as hard as I could. He’d just lost his mom. I knew that the pain I felt from losing my grandmother couldn’t begin to compare to the staggering heartbreak he was grappling with, having lost his mother. The next few days were a blur of old familiar faces offering their sincere condolences. Words of remembrance and sorrow. A building cacophony of hundreds of different voices offering variations on a single idea: I’m sorry for your loss.
I don’t know much about grief. On a surface level, it seems counter-productive and, honestly, a little silly. But living through my grandmother’s funeral, seeing the amount of people who cared about her enough to make the trek to the outskirts of the city and pay their last respects, was kind of a profound experience. It got me thinking about the ripple effect in motion, and how our actions, however seemingly innocuous, extend way past what we perceive to be our scope of influence. How we can and do transform others’ lives in a million profound ways, and the power that we have to be a force for change in the world. This funeral– this hokey, seemingly archaic and wholly depressing ritual– is, in itself, life-affirming. The deceased reach the end of their earthly voyage, and the people that they marked in one way or another congregate to see them off. In this sense, the use of the word “loss” when referring to the dead starts feeling inadequate, as they remain with us regardless of physical presence.
I think there’s something beautiful about that. Solemnly ceremonial.
However troubled my grandmother’s final days were, the many upheavals she soldiered through, her mark on the world is one of kindness, passion and joy. Of an unabashed love for song, and humor, and Lebanese cooking. Everything she instilled in us will continue on for generations. She taught me more than I was ever able to express to her. I loved her, and I will miss her. But I’m carrying her right here with me, and I’m not letting go any time soon.