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May

28

2014

Unknown

"Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning."

I was on the Washington Mall that clear January in 1992, 19 years old, having voted in my first election the November before, when Dr. Maya Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" for the inauguration of President Clinton. I will never forget that day, standing there in the freezing cold, with my mother and youngest brother, seeing a speck of a tall African-American woman in the distance speak of the new president and the America we all came from and was dawning that morning. 

I thought of how my mother had marched for civil rights and the rights of women, how my father had welcomed the black friends of my brothers and I to our Passover Seder table then insisted on hearing about their families, their traditions and how my late grandfather, at risk of reprisal, loss of business and professional standing, had given good paying jobs and no interest loans to the African-American men who worked on his construction crews, simply because it was the right thing to do. 

And I looked at that tall woman in the distance, whose voice and words rolls from the steps of our capitol, like thunder rolling down the mountains. I knew that woman's personal history meant she had every reason and cause to be bitter and disgusted with the country of her birth, the country that broke its promise to her and generations like her. 

And I heard her say it was our country, all of us, and at its root was not the promise to get it right the first time, to try and do it better next time, with year, each election, each generation. That to be an American was to believe, fundamentally, that from night always came morning. 

I will miss you, Maya Angelou. You were the guiding spirit of one of my proudest days as an American.



May

21

2014

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Ask someone to quote a line from the ’80s teen classic Sixteen Candles and there’s a good chance it was uttered by Gedde Watanabe. Thanks to “What’s happenin’, hot stuff?” “Ohhh, sexy girlfriend!” and other quotes, his character, Long Duk Dong, lives on in ringtones, comedic folklore, and a debate about whether he’s an offensive stereotype or just a caricature like nearly every other supporting role in the movie. In the years since the portrayal — Long Duk Dong and Sixteen Candles was released 30 years ago this month — Gedde Watanabe has appeared more than two dozen films, played Nurse Yosh on ER, and done voice work on the The Simpsons. To celebrate three decades of the movie, Vulture spoke with the actor about exercise bikes, growing up in Utah, and having his feet tickled by John Hughes.

I interviewed Gedde Watanbe, the actor who played Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, for Vulture. Bucket list item of the biggest kind. 



Apr

16

2014



Mar

17

2014

I was fortunate to be one of the speakers at 20x2 this year at SXSW Interactive. The question each of us had to answer in 2 minutes was "What Was The Last Thing You Remember?" 

My answer... 

 

What was the last thing you remember?

The Act of Remembering is a half-filled promise, an open loop, the brass ring falling to the ground as the carosuel whirls by. You may remember every detail, but you cannot retrieve it or live it again. Memory gifts you every sense, except touch.

Collective Rememering, we remembering is memory you can touch  visit, live with, and wrestle to understand. Momuments, cemeteries, labrynths and sidewalk graffiti all say “We were once here and through, stone, paint and time we have reconciled the past and the future in the silent present.

Remembering can be glue, a golden rope, a circle of held hands. The sharing of memory pull us tighter together than the sharing of money, place, even blood. “We have been here” is the hydrogen of history. We have been here is the same as we have shared this, how we begin any understanding of who we are.  

Remembering can be curse. Hyperthemesia is a neurological disorder of not being able to forget anything. Sufferers describe it as being a loud party where every past version of yourself. And you can never go home.

Remembering can also be a mistake. Some things are best left as memories. We keep them slung lighty over our backs so we may live looking ahead.

What if the last thing you remember is that there is no last thing? If our memories stand not in a line but at an intersection, arriving, departing, lingering, then circling back again? If our pasts were a library not a well? If to forget and to remember both meant to live, richly? 



Feb

10

2014

 

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I'm jumping off walls with excitement to announce that I'll be writing another book. "Brat Pack America" a look at the locations you know and love from 80s teen movies, will be published by the incredible people at Rare Bird Books in Los Angeles. I start working this month with a publication date in Fall 2015. 

Here's the official announcement...

Kevin Smokler's BRAT PACK AMERICA, a backwards and forwards trip to the places made iconic by 80s teen movies; arcades, malls, neighborhoods and entire towns, these are the places we remember from the last great era of movies about teenagers and where they met up, worked, fell in love and broke each other's hearts, to Tyson Cornell at Rare Bird Books, for publication in February 2015, by Amy Rennert at The Amy Rennert Agency (World).
julia@rarebirdlit.com 

I'll expand this post with questions as they come in. 

See you online and with any luck on the roads of Back Pack America then and now. 



Feb

6

2014

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My next piece for BuzzFeed Books is a look at (mostly terrible) video games adapted from classic works for literatre. The image comes from the Great Gatsby Video Game which you can play onlne for free



Jan

15

2014

The year is 1998. Filmmaker Spike Lee is ten movies into his career but things have hit a snag.  The writer/director’s last three movies have all been adapted from other people’s material and have done so-so with both audiences and critics. The harsher among them say that Lee–successful, admired, and a long way from earlier films (like Do The Right Thing) which have his stamp on every frame–is now phoning it in. For his next project, Lee thinks, he’s got to bring the “Spike Lee” back to “A Spike Lee Joint.” He’s got to write and direct. This story has to be both untold and recognizably his.

He calls the movie He Got Game. The premise: a father-and-son story about basketball. Untold? Not really. But then Lee jukes:  basketball is not just any sport, he’s argues, but more than football or baseball,  America’s Game.  To prove it, Lee opens with slow motion footage of hoops being shot in urban playgrounds and suburban driveways, by high school girls’ teams, across amber waves of grain. The music underneath, in case we didn’t get the message, is “John Henry” by Aaron Copland, a less-recognized piece by the most recognizably “American” composer of them all.  Copland, eight years dead at the time, even gets an onscreen credit.

Music by Aaron Copland

My newest piece for Salon97 on Movies and Classical Music



Jan

8

2014

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I'm going to be doing some writing for BuzzFeed Books. First up: "11 Great Bookstore Names and How They Got Them."  The above photo is from Entry #10: "Murder By the Book" in Houston whose tagline is "Where a Good Crime is Had By All!" 



Jan

8

2014

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

--Alfred Tennyson (via The Writer's Almanac)


Dec

13

2013

Road-Ahead

After 10 months, 16 cities and many thousands of miles, my touring for my book Practical Classics has come to an end. It has been a grueling but immensely rewarding year one I would never trade. But as Andy Richter told Conan O'Brien at the end of the Can't Stop tour.

"Touring is summer camp. And you can't be at summer camp forever. Life calls." 

It's unlikely I'm ever going to be in a band. Nor ejected rudely from the host chair at The Tonight Show. So this is the closest I'll come to going "on tour." And since book tours for authors are now a rare thing unless your last name is Tan, Chabon or New York Times Bestseller, I count myself very lucky. 

This doesn't mean I'm going to looking the other way if a great speaking opportunity comes up (I've got a few on deck for next year already). I'll just be turning my focus to the next thing.

 There will be next book. I'll tell you more about that early next year when the announcement rolls off the line. But I'm very excited to share it with you. I think you'll get a different kick of kick out of this one but a big kick all the same. 

Until then I'll be taking a few weeks off to rest and spend time with friends and family. 

Thank you to everyone who read Practical Classics, invited me to come talk about it, argued and wrestled with it, encouraged me to keep going. It meant everything to have you along on this adventure with me. 

See you on the next one.