Ten Cool Things

1.) Mount Rainier

 

 

“Mount Rainier contains the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” – John Muir

My spiritual home. I spent many summers growing up here: wandering, thinking, and deciding what sort of person I wanted to become. It is impossible to describe how beautiful Rainier is, so I’ll just share a few photos from my last visit in 2016. They’re pretty, but they hardly do it justice.

The visitor’s center at Paradise, Mount Rainier

 

2.) A Sense of Humor

Ask anyone who knows me well: I can find almost anything funny. My tendency for deadpan confuses those who don’t know me on a regular basis, and occasionally those who do. But I’m also cheesy as h*ck and I like bad puns.

Intentional goofiness, for me, is survival. Wait, you say, this post is literally about a sense of humor, and that sounded awfully serious. Hear me out. I’m gonna get super un-funny about humor for a sec, because sometimes, laughter is more than silliness: it is love.

And love is being trapped in a cramped hotel room (where everything is within earshot) during your 12-yr-old brother’s first chemo treatment, while he’s having some very noisy diarrhea, and he’s giggling, because even in this moment of misery, farts are still funny, and soon he’s got everyone laughing until their guts are sore. And even as I’m cracking up, I’m in awe of how he’s choosing to face this humiliating circumstance that marked the beginning of more than 3 brutal years of treatment.

Once, right after Bryan’s diagnosis, a guy from our ward posted a rather puzzling comment for him on Facebook: “Kirk Cameron’s butt!” It was quickly followed by an apology explaining that autocorrect had changed the phrase from “Kick cancer’s butt,” and I’ll never forget how the three of us kids erupted into laughter. Our new encouraging phrase of choice became, “Hey. Hey Bryan! KIRK CAMERON’S BUTT!!”

Death, the void, the unknown – we face it, and sometimes we laugh in its face. Other times we mark the universe with a moment of bravery, when we coexist alongside what we fear, and smile. That’s what my little brother taught me to do.

So about those Stranger Things valentines: I would never give them to Joyce Byers, and I would never find it funny if she was my friend in real life. But this isn’t life here, this is art, a place where we go to deal with our demons, and repackage them into things we can grapple with. Because when we can face hard things and laugh, we have conquered; in that moment we regain control over chaos; we have the upper hand.

That said, we make art out of life, and we have every right to find humor in the darkness of our own reality – as long as that humor stems from a place of empathy and not denial or complacence, we’re healing instead of hurting.

It is not mindless silliness. But sometimes, something just tickles you, and you don’t need to know why, because the act of laughter is joy, because in that spontaneous moment, you feel. And as someone whose depression tends to numb, I intend to feel as often as I possibly can.

3.) Hamilton

“My Shot” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

“I’m only 19, but by mind is older.” – Alexander Hamilton, “My Shot’

I was 19 when Hamilton first arrived on the Broadway scene with the dumbest premise ever: A rap musical about the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury. Um, what? Turns out, it speaks for itself, but here are a few things I love about it:

The unexpected relatability of its villain, Aaron Burr.

“I am the one thing in life. I can control. I am inimitable. I am an original.” -Aaron Burr, ‘Wait For It’

The masterful libretto with its complex rhyme schemes and its Shakespearean joy in word-play. Its all-inclusive vision for America and its celebration of the immigrant. Its conflicting, passionate driving forces of ambition, survival, and love (for one’s country, for family, for one’s ideals and dreams).

“I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation. Every action’s an act of creation! I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow. For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow”- Alexander Hamilton, ‘My Shot’

In most musicals, songs slow down the number of words able to be communicated within a given moment, but utilizing rap, Hamilton’s words often flow faster than normal speech, and yet none are wasted – each line packs a meaningful, musical punch, whether it is spoken, sung, or somewhere in between.

And unlike most musicals, the whole plot is there in the album. If you haven’t yet, take a couple of hours sometime and give it a listen. (And pull up the lyrics to follow along when you do!)

4.) Flying

Photo of the cockpit I took while inside the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. In first grade, I thought Anakin Skywalker was the coolest dude in school because he could fly a pod-racer. I earnestly watched an old videocassette tape about NASA  and was blown away by my first IMAX movie, which demonstrated zero gravity in 3D.  I love planes so much that in Writers Room, the guys started building Top Gun references into their scripts and would eagerly look at me during table reads to make sure I caught them (I did.) My favorite plane is an SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest planes in the world. For reasons I can’t explain, I start to tear up at the sight of a shuttle launching into space. It’s an entirely visceral reaction.

5.) “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie

Two of my all-time favorite artists. One of my all-time favorite songs. Our world could use it right about now:

“Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work.
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why – why – why?
Love, love, love, love, love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?

Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the  edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure.”

6.) Batman

As a kid, I wanted a skateboard for my birthday. I couldn’t imagine anything cooler than an electric blue skateboard with the Batman logo on it. There must have been some miscommunication somewhere, because I ended up with a Barbie board with a training handle attached to it. How could I show up to the skate park with a board like that?! I thought. How humiliating.

Batman’s always been my hero. On 9/11, I remember waiting to go to school, only to be sent to my room all of a sudden. I’m from Washington, so by the time my parents woke up and checked the news, New York was already in total chaos. I’ll never forget the weight of my dad’s footsteps as he slowly trudged up the stairs from the basement, where we kept our TV. When I got to school, some kid next to me had clearly seen it all and was spouting off about how these giant twin towers had collapsed after planes flew into them. I remember hoping that the people on the planes would be okay, and though I didn’t really believe it, I fantasized that Batman would save them. To a five-year-old from Washington, in faraway New York, anything seemed possible.

To top that off, I also have a weird fascination/fear of bats (long story). Spiders are fine. Snakes, too. But bats?!?!?! Heck no. (But I still think they’re cool!) So I really do relate to Bruce’s thing with bats.

And yes, Batman Begins was and is the fulfillment of all my childhood dreams.

7.) Lin-Manuel Miranda 

 

Yeah, okay, so I referenced Hamilton as one of my cool things and now I’m listing its creator. But guys, even though I’m making a list about things I think are cool, I’m like, the most un-cool person ever. I HAVE NO CHILL. I’m cheesy and intense and sometimes kind of awkwardly pretentious (but not really, I just love The 400 Blows and discussing existentialism). So it’s super inspiring to me to see a great, successful, kind writer who, despite his fame, still freaks out like a little kid when he meets his idols. He’s still got a sense of wonder. I hope I always will too.

8.) Drum Corp 

I loved the four years of my life that I devoted to marching band – telling a story with musical and visual elements, dance and shapes formed on the turf under the stadium lights. I know I’m un-cool, but if you thought marching band was just for nerds, check this fantastic performance by Carolina Crown – a drum corp much better than my high school band that nevertheless explains why I had something resembling a six-pack my senior year (I’m not kidding, marching while playing a wind instrument is INTENSE, y’all). Anyway, watch for a performance that spans from  2001: A Space Odyssey to Philip Glass’s trippy, abstract Einstein on the Beach, and explores the eternal nature of love in an ever-changing universe. And get this: All the performers in drum corp are 21 or under.

If you don’t have time for a full performance, check out these short clips from a couple of my other favorites:

9.) Curiosity 

I once accidentally caught a banana on fire at 1 AM. Ok, it was a slice of banana, which I was roasting over an oven burner with a fork, because I was bored with marshmallows and wanted to know what it would taste like.

I also once freaked a roommate out a couple of years ago by creating a giant burst of plasma in the microwave, using grapes. (See video clip above).

The thing is, I’ve never Googled how to create the largest burst of plasma, because in my opinion, the fun of it is figuring it out on my own. It’s the joy of gaining knowledge through experience. And it’s much more fun than just eating the grapes.

10.) The Unknown

The Unknown as represented by the the animated TV show “Over the Garden Wall”
This is the flip side of Cool Thing #9. I want to know and understand everything, and yet I’m so grateful I don’t. Imagining a universe where there is nothing left to learn fills me with a sense of dread. Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated with outer space. Maybe it’s the reason I can never own enough books or watch too many movies. Maybe it’s why my whole body resists sleeping at night, because I can’t stand wasting one second of this crazy, wonderful experience.

Of course, with the unknown comes the threat of an end we can’t fully predict or understand. At least for me, though, the hope that we do continue on counteracts that threat, and makes this whole existence all the more thrilling.

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

– Thornton Wilder, “Our Town”

 

6 Replies to “Ten Cool Things”

  1. I’m really happy that you were able to open up about a lot of personal subjects. I also really admire how you are able to laugh and find joy in times of hardship, even if it’s through cheesy jokes. This is something I feel like that I can apply more to my own life. Maybe I should just try laughing more.

  2. I really appreciate the strong writing here! Thanks for taking the time to well-articulate your thoughts. I loved reading through these, and found many moments to be profound. I especially love that you put “The Unknown” on your list. Your explanation was very powerful. You were extremely personal, while at the same time remaining entirely relatable.

  3. I always like reading about people’s love of Lin-Manuel and Hamilton because they drive me nuts. People often assume that I would love it because I’m really into hip hop and have a pretty wide base of knowledge about musical theater, but when the two intersected it turned into something that somehow felt offensive and parodical to both types of art. That, and Lin-Manuel’s voice is pretty unpleasant to me. That being said, your explanation of why you love him and his work helps me understand some of the fanaticism surrounding him. I also loved your entry on humor. Finding the funny in morbid situations is hard but healing. Also, the way you used the * in h*ck– now that’s comedy gold.

  4. I really liked your kind of more broad topic things that you liked like your sense of humor. It was interesting to me how imaginative a sense of humor is when classifying it as a cool thing. Your part about laughing in the face of death was powerful. It gave me some sweet hope.
    I really liked reading this post and getting so much detail out of each of your cool things.

  5. I was sitting next to you in the HFAC when you were brainstorming things for this list and I remember you talking about some of these things (flying, Hamilton, etc.) but it was really cool to see them in the context of all this other stuff that’s important to you. I feel like you opened up and were just yourself.

  6. Everyone’s said it at this point, but I still appreciate the vulnerability and time you put into this post. Not only do I feel like I know you a little bit better based on your likes, but I get a wonderful sense of your personality. Also — Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, 400 Blows, and lighting random things on fire? You have good taste.

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