Friday, April 26, 2013

don't let it go to your head

"It requires a self-esteem to receive—not self-love but just a pleasant acquaintance and liking for oneself."
                  — John Steinbeck, "About Ed Ricketts"

That sentence has been ricocheting around my brain for the past year as I've made efforts to grasp and digest it. It's one of the most profound things I've ever read.

== == == == ==

"Don't let it go to your head." At some point in our lives we've all been cautioned against doing that. So when someone pays you a compliment, where does it go?

Don't let it go to your head. Let it go to your heart. That's where the good things we think about ourselves and others reside.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

pizza quest

For the past couple months, my friend Jeremy and I have been on a search to find the best pizza joints in the Phoenix area. While I don’t consider myself a pizza expert (though one day I hope to be), I feel like I’ve acquired just enough pizza knowledge, experience, and taste to sound like a snob while talking about it. So please excuse the tone of this post in advance. Here are my favorites, in order:

1. Pizzeria Bianco: Touted by many critics to be the best pizza in the county, it may be the best pizza I’ve ever had. (It’s been a couple years since I’ve been to Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut, so it’s hard to say for certain. Side note: If someone put a gun to my head and made me start a pizza place in Phoenix it would most like be New Haven style). My first and only trip to Bianco was on a date last December. I hear two or three hour waits at this place are typical. We went on a Friday night and within 30 minutes, they had us sitting at the bar. (It was rainy that night, perhaps that kept people indoors.) We split a Biancoverde (mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta, topped with arugula). I can’t wait to go back.

2. Il Bosco: Jeremy discovered this gem, not far from his condo, last January. It’s a small joint, maybe 40 seats inside and out, with a small menu. This place is super simple with zero pretense. I had the Carmella; I could have eaten the caramelized onions on this thing without a pizza, they were so good. Whenever my pizza-loving friends mention their favorite restaurants, I always insist they go here. They also serve Boylan’s bottled sodas—a huge plus in my book.

3. 'Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana: Because it's the "first and only APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani) and VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) certified Restaurant in Arizona," 'Pomo tries very hard to give their customers an authentic Italian dining experience. And by "very hard," I mean "too hard." Tone it down a bit, 'Pomo. I mean, I appreciated our server’s gratitude as he took our order and brought us our meal, but hearing him exclaim "Grazie!" every five seconds got old quick. Really great pizza, though.

4. Federal Pizza: Jeremy didn’t like this place as much as I did. While I was let down by our server’s ginger ale suggestion (Canada Dry from a fountain?), I loved my pizza. I had the Gemini, which was an interesting combination of potato, fennel, radicchio, gorgonzola, and rosemary. I want to say that Federal serves Neapolitan-inspired pizza (more emphasis on inspired than Neapolitan), but with a pizza oven that burns both gas and wood, Federal might be trying to do their own thing (truly authentic Neapolitan pizzas are cooked in an oak-fired pizza oven). The ambience definitely caters to the hipster crowd.

5. Cibo: I was a bit let down by Cibo, as I had heard so many great things prior to trying this place a month or two ago. Not only did our pizza take way too long to get to our table, it just wasn’t that great. Maybe I got the wrong thing, or maybe they were having an off night. I’m willing to try it again because so many people seem to love this place. The restaurant itself is a converted 1913 bungalow in downtown Phoenix, which I dig. As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I appreciate that they have a few bottled sodas on their menu, even if it is just Henry Weinhard’s (a tasty but commonplace root beer and cream soda).

6. Humble Pie: Jeremy, Brian and I dined here last night. I had the roasted mushroom pizza, which was topped with mushrooms (duh), mozzarella, pancetta, and green onions. I would have loved to taste more of the mozzarella; it was a bit overpowered by the mushrooms (this wasn’t totally a bad thing). The pancetta was a bit chunkier than I like, but at the end of the day it was pancetta, and I love pancetta. The crust had a good flavor but was a bit too soft and bready; I prefer pizza bones that are crisp, chewy, and light. Like Federal, this is a less-authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. But that’s not a bad thing because authentic doesn’t always guarantee tasty (although it really helps, espectially when it comes to pizza). While they serve great pizza, I don’t know if I’d go back since I can score a superior pie across the street at ‘Pomo.

7. La Grande Orange: People go crazy over LGO’s roasted corn pizza. It seems to be their signature pie. (Which is why I didn’t order it.) Despite the hype, I was skeptical of LGO because they don’t have a wood-fire oven. Not that that’s necessary for a great pizza, but it does go a long way. I went with the Fallen Angel (sausage, fennel, roasted peppers, cheese, and red sauce) and Jeremy tried the Gladiator (sausage, pepperoni, cheese, red sauce). My pie was great. We swapped slices at the end of the meal. Jeremy’s was pretty disappointing. How do you ruin a pepperoni and sausage pizza? By overloading it with pepperoni, I guess. That said, I will return to try the roasted corn pizza.

Jeremy has compiled a list of about a dozen other spots to try over the coming weeks. Any other pizzerias we need to try? What's your favorite pizza place?

You can read Jeremy's Yelp reviews here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

the dry years

"And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way."

John Steinbeck, East of Eden


Last November I tweeted the following:

As the year came to a close on December 31, 2012, that statement had remained true. Because attitudes and values and perspectives can change, it’s difficult for me to say with absolute objectivity that it was the best year of my life (best is so subjective anyway). But it was without any doubt whatsoever, one of the best years of my thirty and one half years of living.

Interestingly, 2012 was also one of the most difficult years of my life. The biggest difficulty I had to face was myself. Through a series of events and circumstances—too lengthy, and some too personal, to chronicle at this moment—brought about through the unexpected and undeserved (so I thought at the time) grace of God and others, I was able to challenge myself and grow and learn more about myself than I have been able to do in years. It was really hard. So hard.

Last fall I heard this quote by Helen Keller: "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." I’ve thought quite a bit about that word, adventure. And when I think about that word, my mind tends to think of the personification of adventure. That’s right, Indiana Jones.

Take any Indiana Jones movie. Let’s go with Raiders of the Lost Ark because it’s the best one. I will assume you have seen Raiders. If you haven’t, stop reading this and go watch it because if you’ve managed to make it this far in life without seeing that movie I don’t know if we can continue our friendship.

OK, welcome back. What did you think?

Raiders is an extremely fun movie to watch. But I don’t think I’d want to experience it. I don’t know how I would fare in outrunning boulders in Peru, dodging bullets in a burning bar in Nepal, being trapped in a pit full of snakes in Egypt, all while being chased by Nazis (although all that travel sounds nothing short of awesome). As fun as it for us as an audience to watch, experiencing all that could be pretty miserable (for me at least).

But that’s what adventure is. It can be downright unpleasant, dangerous, and even life threatening. But it’s also exciting. And there is something so rewarding about adventure. The prize at the end—the girl, the Ark of the Covenant, fortune and glory—is part of what make the ups and downs so worth it. The greatest reward, though, comes when you recognize that you have the power and strength to survive and triumph over the obstacles of adventure.

The blessing (or problem, depending on how you look at it) of the adventure of life is that it does not end. It’s not a movie you turn off after two hours. Real-life adventure is more continuous than discrete.


At the beginning of 2013 I was on top of the world; my life had many uncertainties but I was on a very steady track to making them certain. Then, only weeks into the new year, anxiety set in and that led to depression. It was a pretty heavy crash.

When I try to describe what that anxiety and depression was like it’s hard for me to find concise English words with the right imagery. One French word comes to mind: épuisé. It means "exhausted" or "spent" and it comes the noun puits, which is a well where you draw water. The word épuisé evokes the imagery of a dry well. And this well isn’t just dry, it is completely sapped, wrung out, baked, and parched. Only a skeleton of the well exists, with none of the blue and green life that might normally surround it.

My well isn’t empty now but there are days where it feels far from full. When my well is full I am happy and more present to the joy and blessings that surround me. When my well is full it is self-replenishing, so others can come draw water from me as needed. I might even let some of them swim in my well (and that sounds pretty weird but I really wanted to keep with this well analogy).

Although I can't quite explain it yet, I think I know how to fill my well. So what do I fill it with? Boyan's ginger ale? Gasoline? No, I think filling it with anything but clean and pure water would be unhealthy and dangerous. (Plus, a well full of Boylan's ginger ale would go flat and it would a true shame to waste such a superlative beverage.) Now it is a question of where: where do I find that clean and pure water?

the dry years

I believe that the spring that fills my well with clean and pure water lies within myself. It can, but will not always, be replenished by those that I love and those that I will love.

I reject the idea that my years will either be wet or dry. My years are just that, years, and how I qualify them lies in my language and actions and heart.

I know that there will be moments where I don't enjoy the continuous adventure that is my life. In spite of this, I hope I will always choose adventure over nothing because life without adventure is nothing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

choosing happiness

In a blog post my friend Andrea posted today, she mentioned the frustration that lies in the phrase, "Choose to be happy." From the first time I considered these words, I’ve agreed that, yes, individuals are responsible for their own happiness and that, in theory, happiness is a choice.

This statement is misleading because it makes it sound like choosing to be happy is a discrete, singular, and/or recurring event. I'm not sure if that’s true. Rather, happiness is a result of choice, or an amalgamation of choices1.

I know that when I'm depressed I'm completely incapable of choosing to be happy in any given moment. Be happy, Myke, doesn’t work. And when I’m not depressed, when I’m simply sad or angry, deciding to be happy in that moment may not be the best idea. There’s a quote from Weakness Is Not Sin that explains this better than I can:

When we accept our own emotional states with calmness, curiosity, and compassion, we can learn from our feelings and let them go. When we get ashamed of our feelings and go overboard trying to suppress or get rid of them, we often make them worse. People who can feel, name, and reflect on their emotions tend to be much better at accepting them, learning from them, and then releasing them. (p. 81)

When I’m sad or angry, I find that when I acknowledge and experience that emotion—to do what’s necessary to really feel it—to cry, hit a punching bag, go for a run—I can then let it go and be happy. (Granted, letting myself experience an emotion and knowing when to let it go is so much easier said than done.) If I tell myself, Just be happy, Myke, I end up shoving those feelings into some recess where they fester, multiply, and return with vengeance.

Do I want to be happy? Absolutely. But perhaps more than that, I want to experience—and I mean really experience—the normal range of healthy human emotions, feelings, and senses: anger, sadness, joy, awe, grief, excitement, wonder, love, frustration. Feeling those emotions, being present to those senses, means that I am living my life. And living my life is how I choose to be happy.

1I am certainly not an expert on happiness and would not be surprised to see myself modifying this statement in the future.

P.S. I'm not saying that others can't choose to be happy in any given moment. I'm only sharing what works for me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


You Weezer fans out there might think that I have misspelled the title of this post. I haven't. Weerez is the name of my Weezer cover band. Is it presumptuous for the name of your cover band to be a permutation of the band's actual name? Probably. Do we care? No. (Honestly, it'd be awesome if we got some kind of cease-and-desist from the band's lawyer and had to change our name.)

Shadows, left to right: me, guitar and vocals; Devyn, drums; Jon, bass guitar and vocals when I can't sing and play guitar at the same time; and Tyson, guitar and vocals. I stole this photo from my friend Katie. Her blog is one of my favorites, visit it here.

We have been rehearsing in our garage (how appropriate) for the past couple months, and last Saturday night we played a pre-show/house party for a small audience of close friends and family so we could work out any first-show bugs. We played a short set consisting of six Weezer staples:

"My Name Is Jonas"
"The Good Life"
"You Gave Your Love To Me Softly"
"Say It Ain't So"
"El Scorcho"
"Undone — The Sweater Song"

I've said this a millions times: Weezer has had an enormous impact on my life. They were the first band that made me love music. I learned how to play guitar by teaching myself Weezer songs. Those skills served me well as I have played in bands in high school and beyond. The shy, timid teenager I was, playing in bands meant making and having friends and meeting so many like-minded people, people whose friendship and positive influence I enjoy today. In a real way—very real to me—Weezer provided a foundation for friendship and an outlet to express and be myself. While that may sound unhealthy—having used this band as a social crutch instead of learning real social skills—it was so important to me at that age. And really, music helped me learn social skills. What's unhealthy about that?

We don't have any big plans for the band. Right now, we're just four dudes who have a great time playing some of our favorite songs together. At some point—sooner or later—we will abandon it in pursuit of worthier endeavors. In the meantime, I will relish the opportunity of getting on stage and playing these songs that have meant so much to me while friends and family and strangers shout the lyrics back at me.

P.S. The name Weerez appears in this music video at the 0:14 mark.