Hooray, The Force Awakens was great. Let me quickly gather some spoiler filled notes of reaction, now that it’s been a day or so since I watched it.

(Do check out Jason Kottke’s also-spoilerrific 15 thoughts about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, too.)

  1. I read all the spoilers about the movie months and months ago, from great sites like Making Star Wars and I don’t feel it diminished my enjoyment of the movie at all. Even knowing about That One Huge Moment With Han Solo a year ago didn’t make me feel any less excited about the movie.
  2. All of the new actors are great, though as part of the small minority of viewers who’ve seen Adam Driver in Girls and in Lincoln, it was hard at first to see him within this universe and not be distracted by the familiarity.
  3. All of the characterizations (including those of the “classic” characters) were far more loose and natural in this film, as compared to Lucas’ formal, even stilted, direction. For the most prat, that was fine and appropriate, but when it got more jokey or self-aware, it felt a bit like, “That’s not Star Wars!”
  4. Just as the characterizations were modernized, so too was the pacing. Parts of the original trilogy are downright languid, and of course parts of the prequels drag on endlessly. But in switching to contemporary, fast-paced editing we lose a little bit of the epic feel from the original trilogy. That’s a fair trade, as quick reveals like the Millennium Falcon’s unforgettable first appearance in the movie more than justify the change in style.
  5. John Williams was very restrained in not relying very heavily on the themes from the classic trilogy, but as Creed (which is excellent!) showed, smartly deploying a legendary musical theme in the seventh episode of a franchise can have powerful effect. That was really only used well in the case of the Force Theme when Rey finally takes the lightsaber, which I loved. Otherwise, the new music in the film was pretty unimpressive. While it’s fair to note that great themes like the Imperial March weren’t in the first film from the classic trilogy, it’s also worth noting that the prequels, for all their many shortcomings, averaged having at least one great theme per film.
  6. The places where the movie references the rest of the Star Wars universe are great. The nods aren’t generally too heavy-handed, and it doesn’t veer into obsequious fan service. By contrast, the reuse of Star Wars story elements is just tedious. There is a direct analog for nearly every character in a New Hope. There’s a trench run. There’s a weakness in the battle station. Hell, the could have made the Starkiller at least shaped like a cube or something — that might show that the First Order learned a little bit from the Empire’s shortcomings!
  7. There was a lot of detail that will clearly reward repeat viewing. The Star Wars Leaks community is already assiduously cataloguing those (I didn’t see a grave stone by Luke!) but I know I missed a number on my first viewing. At one point, Han and Chewie are standing in a ship doorway and Chewie does something that Han reacts to, but I didn’t quite pick up what it was. I’m sure many other small character-building moments (or setups for payoffs like the crossbow blaster’s shot power) are throughout the film waiting to be noticed.
  8. BB-8 was a lot better a character than it had any reason to be.


Beyond Doing Half the Parenting

Doing my fair share for my son means I have to start carrying my weight in other areas at home.

Malcolm's first time sitting at a drum set. Gotta work on his grip but his timing is not bad!

Posted by Anil Dash on Saturday, December 5, 2015

Growing up as an Indian-American son, in a family-oriented culture, I considered it an inarguable truth that I would have kids when I grew up. So when I met my wife and she first introduced the idea that we should really think about whether we wanted to have kids—that we might decide to never have kids—it was as radical an idea as I’d heard. I loved the audacity of it, and the many logical, rational reasons to stay child-free.

Forgoing parenthood would mean more flexibility for things like travel, and a lot more freedom to take risks in our careers. We would of course have much lower financial obligations. And while I didn’t know what other changes might be in store if we had a kid, there was a comfort in knowing that nothing really had to change.

Naturally, we eventually decided to have a kid. I wish I could say one particular argument in favor was persuasive, or that there was a single conversation that cemented our decision, but it was ultimately just intuition on our parts. We came to the conclusion that we could probably be pretty kick-ass parents.

I didn’t take the decision lightly. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment and definitely did not want to move to a house in the suburbs. My wife and I are both entrepreneurs, each running our own startups, so we knew we’d have to carefully juggle our careers and our responsibilities as parents. And at a personal level, I had grown up in a household with very traditional old-fashioned gender roles, with my mother working full-time and then coming home to do pretty much all of the cooking, cleaning and housework. If I was going to have a child, I decided, I would have to commit to being a much more participatory father who was an equal contributor at home.

Before having a kid, I had imagined I understood what the commitment was like. It would involve, I was told, lots of diaper changing and sleepless nights. There were these vague, jokey refrains among parents that I heard most often, and I had imagined it to be a little bit like crunch time at a job, where you’re staying up all night to get some project done.

For me, though, the lack of sleep was almost a footnote compared to the changes in perspective that arose. Before, my career (and more broadly, all the things I was interested in) occupied almost all of my waking hours, except for time with my wife. Immediately after my son was born, the entirety of my work life shrank from its central role in my thoughts. There’s a clarity about what matters that I could only have found as a father. My son Malcolm is now four and a half, and I don’t know if we’re kick-ass parents, but he is a kick-ass kid. My son is one of my best friends, and I truly can’t think of anyone I’d rather hang out with.

The pragmatic effect of my change in perspective has been that I actually became more efficient and effective at work. If I had five items on my to-do list in the morning, I might have checked off one or two of them by the end of the day before I had a kid. Now, I know I better get four or five done, or they’re just not gonna happen. I thought I was unique, in that parenthood actually increased my productivity at work, but I’ve heard this from a lot of other parents as well. Life hack!

Spending lots of quality time with my son has turned out to be relatively achievable. I have a career that is flexible enough to allow me to be present, so I am able to do pretty close to 50% of the work of caring for my son. Both my wife and I can take time from work if needed for a dentist or doctor’s appointment, and we alternate between which of us drops him off or picks him up from daycare. The exception is when my work takes me on the road, for meetings or conferences; almost all of the burden of parenting falls on my wife then, but I’ve tried to ameliorate the situation by cutting back on a lot of my trips and having all of us travel together when possible.

That said, one of the biggest stresses that parenthood puts on mothers and fathers is that doing things for the kid crowds out every other responsibility. In my case, that has often meant that while I’m doing my fair share for my son, I haven’t always carried my weight in maintaining the rest of our family’s life together. That could be anything from not doing the dishes to not always being intellectually and emotionally present during those precious few hours in a day when my son is asleep and my wife and I can have a conversation among adults. I’m still working on it, but it’s among the hardest self-improvement challenges of my life, and that has been a humbling realization.

The challenge of actually doing half the work is probably amplified by the fact that I’ve tried to be an advocate for better inclusion and diversity in the technology industry that I work in. If women who choose to have children are going to be able to be full participants in tech, then those of us who are their partners have to carry half of the burden. And for many of us men, that’s far easier said than done. Lately, I’ve begun to match the to-do list that I maintain at work with a mental to-do list at home; I want to take on more of the responsibilities that I used to say I was willing to do, but that often would somehow “mysteriously” land in my wife’s lap.

Of course, this entire structure still depends on my wife being the lead parent handling all the responsibility, from household and parenting duties (which are really just two facets of the same thing) and then being responsible for educating me about my role, too. It has to change.

I know I’m not the only one who has the “right” ideas about inclusion when it comes to the tech industry overall, but who isn’t doing the work at home to make that a reality. Interestingly, the biggest turning point in me starting to change my behavior was when I realized my son was becoming old enough to observe my actions, and that he would be learning from the example of whatever he saw me do. The idea of having your kid mirror your worst traits can be a powerful motivator to get off your ass and get to work.

I originally wrote this piece for Medium's Working Parents in America series. It's reprinted here with only slight edits.

A little less rocking with you...

After talking to a friend about how Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" is so romantic if you just focus on the strings, bass and vocals, I was inspired to mix down the tracks to feature just those elements.

Obviously the original is a perfect masterpiece, but there's a lot you can hear more clearly without the drums and (most of) the guitars. I also lowered the lead vocals so you can more clearly hear the harmonies. One of the biggest things that stands out is that Rod Temperton is kind of amazing and that Quincy Jones is a complete genius. Nothing else sounds like this.

These songs hold up because there's so much substance, and that's why I, and so many others, love this song so much.

Fourteen is Remembering

Last week I went and visited the memorial reflecting pools for the first time. I had been to the top of the new One World Trade Center, but had deliberately avoided ever visiting (or actually seeing in person) the space where the old towers had been. And then I went.

I don't know what I was expecting to feel. Sad, maybe? And certainly that was there. The enormity of the overwhelming list of names weighed on me. But there were tourists around, smiling for selfies, checking off an item on their list of places to visit while in the city. And maybe that was okay.

For the first time, I clearly felt like I had put the attacks firmly in the past. They have loosened their grip on me. I don't avoid going downtown, or take circuitous routes to avoid seeing where the towers once stood. I can even imagine deliberately visiting the area to see the new train station.

But of course, this anniversary isn't about buildings. The horror of the lives lost on 9/11, of how they were lost… that's still my biggest impression of the day. I don't fault others who were further away, or too young to remember, for being less viscerally affected when they visit the site; their distance from that horror is entirely appropriate.

And I suppose finally I can see putting the events if that day, and my most aggrieved responses to it, firmly in my collection of memories. I remember it, I always will, but it's now clearly the past and has loosened its grip on me. I hadn't even known I was waiting for that to happen.

In Past Years

Each year I write about the attacks on this anniversary, as a means of recording for myself where I am compared to that day. I don't think I'm saying much that's profound or original, but it's a ritual that's helped me fit those events into my life.

Last year, Thirteen is Understanding:

There's no part of that day that one should ever have to explain to a child, but I realized for the first time this year that, when the time comes, I'll be ready. Enough time has passed that I could recite the facts, without simply dissolving into a puddle of my own unresolved questions. I look back at past years, at my own observances of this anniversary, and see how I veered from crushingly sad to fiercely angry to tentatively optimistic, and in each of those moments I was living in one part of what I felt. Maybe I'm ready to see this thing in a bigger picture, or at least from a perspective outside of just myself.

Two years ago, Twelve is Trying:

I thought in 2001 that some beautiful things could come out of that worst of days, and sure enough, that optimism has often been rewarded. There are boundless examples of kindness and generosity in the worst of circumstances that justify the hope I had for people's basic decency back then, even if initially my hope was based only on faith and not fact.

But there is also fatigue. The inevitable fading of outrage and emotional devastation into an overworked rhetorical reference point leaves me exhausted. The decay of a brief, profound moment of unity and reflection into a cheap device to be used to prop up arguments about the ordinary, the everyday and the mundane makes me weary. I'm tired from the effort to protect the fragile memory of something horrific and hopeful that taught me about people at their very best and at their very, very worst.

In 2012, Eleven is What We Make:

These are the gifts our children, or all children, give us every day in a million different ways. But they're also the gifts we give ourselves when we make something meaningful and beautiful. The new World Trade Center buildings are beautiful, in a way that the old ones never were, and in a way that'll make our fretting over their exorbitant cost seem short-sighted in the decades to come. More importantly, they exist. We made them, together. We raised them in the past eleven years just as surely as we've raised our children, with squabbles and mistakes and false starts and slow, inexorable progress toward something beautiful.

In 2011 for the 10th anniversary, Ten is Love and Everything After:

I don't have any profound insights or political commentary to offer that others haven't already articulated first and better. All that I have is my experience of knowing what it mean to be in New York City then. And from that experience, the biggest lesson I have taken is that I have the obligation to be a kinder man, a more thoughtful man, and someone who lives with as much passion and sincerity as possible. Those are the lessons that I'll tell my son some day in the distant future, and they're the ones I want to remember now.

In 2010, Nine is New New York:

[T]his is, in many ways, a golden era in the entire history of New York City.

Over the four hundred years it's taken for this city to evolve into its current form, there's never been a better time to walk down the street. Crime is low, without us having sacrificed our personality or passion to get there. We've invested in making our sidewalks more walkable, our streets more accommodating of the bikes and buses and taxis that convey us around our town. There's never been a more vibrant scene in the arts, music or fashion here. And in less than half a decade, the public park where I got married went from a place where I often felt uncomfortable at noontime to one that I wanted to bring together my closest friends and family on the best day of my life. We still struggle with radical inequality, but more people interact with people from broadly different social classes and cultures every day in New York than any other place in America, and possibly than in any other city in the world.

And all of this happened, by choice, in the years since the attacks.

In 2009, Eight Is Starting Over:

[T]his year, I am much more at peace. It may be that, finally, we've been called on by our leadership to mark this day by being of service to our communities, our country, and our fellow humans. I've been trying of late to do exactly that. And I've had a bit of a realization about how my own life was changed by that day.

Speaking to my mother last week, I offhandedly mentioned how almost all of my friends and acquaintances, my entire career and my accomplishments, my ambitions and hopes have all been born since September 11, 2001. If you'll pardon the geeky reference, it's as if my life was rebooted that day and in the short period afterwards. While I have a handful of lifelong friends with whom I've stayed in touch, most of the people I'm closest to are those who were with me on the day of the attacks or shortly thereafter, and the goals I have for myself are those which I formed in the next days and weeks. i don't think it's coincidence that I was introduced to my wife while the wreckage at the site of the towers was still smoldering, or that I resolved to have my life's work amount to something meaningful while my beloved city was still papered with signs mourning the missing.

In 2008, Seven Is Angry:

Finally getting angry myself, I realize that nobody has more right to claim authority over the legacy of the attacks than the people of New York. And yet, I don't see survivors of the attacks downtown claiming the exclusive right to represent the noble ambition of Never Forgetting. I'm not saying that people never mention the attacks here in New York, but there's a genuine awareness that, if you use the attacks as justification for your position, the person you're addressing may well have lost more than you that day. As I write this, I know that parked out front is the car of a woman who works in my neighborhood. Her car has a simple but striking memorial on it, listing her mother's name, date of birth, and the date 9/11/2001.

In 2007, Six Is Letting Go:

On the afternoon of September 11th, 2001, and especially on September 12th, I wasn't only sad. I was also hopeful. I wanted to believe that we wouldn't just Never Forget that we would also Always Remember. People were already insisting that we'd put aside our differences and come together, and maybe the part that I'm most bittersweet and wistful about was that I really believed it. I'd turned 26 years old just a few days before the attacks, and I realize in retrospect that maybe that moment, as I eased from my mid-twenties to my late twenties, was the last time I'd be unabashedly optimistic about something, even amidst all the sorrow.

In 2006, After Five Years, Failure:

[O]ne of the strongest feelings I came away with on the day of the attacks was a feeling of some kind of hope. Being in New York that day really showed me the best that people can be. As much as it's become cliché now, there's simply no other way to describe a display that profound. It was truly a case of people showing their very best nature.

We seem to have let the hope of that day go, though.

In 2005, Four Years:

I saw people who hated New York City, or at least didn't care very much about it, trying to act as if they were extremely invested in recovering from the attacks, or opining about the causes or effects of the attacks. And to me, my memory of the attacks and, especially, the days afterward had nothing to do with the geopolitics of the situation. They were about a real human tragedy, and about the people who were there and affected, and about everything but placing blame and pointing fingers. It felt thoughtless for everyone to offer their response in a framework that didn't honor the people who were actually going through the event.

In 2004, Thinking Of You:

I don't know if it's distance, or just the passing of time, but I notice how muted the sorrow is. There's a passivity, a lack of passion to the observances. I knew it would come, in the same way that a friend told me quite presciently that day back in 2001 that "this is all going to be political debates someday" and, well, someday's already here.

In 2003, Two Years:

I spent a lot of time, too much time, resenting people who were visiting our city, and especially the site of the attacks, these past two years. I've been so protective, I didn't want them to come and get their picture taken like it was Cinderella's Castle or something. I'm trying really hard not to be so angry about that these days. I found that being angry kept me from doing the productive and important things that really mattered, and kept me from living a life that I know I'm lucky to have.

In 2002, I wrote On Being An American:

[I]n those first weeks, I thought a lot about what it is to be American. That a lot of people outside of New York City might not even recognize their own country if they came to visit. The America that was attacked a year ago was an America where people are as likely to have been born outside the borders of the U.S. as not. Where most of the residents speak another language in addition to English. Where the soundtrack is, yes, jazz and blues and rock and roll, but also hip hop and salsa and merengue. New York has always been where the first fine threads of new cultures work their way into the fabric of America, and the city the bore the brunt of those attacks last September reflected that ideal to its fullest.

In 2001, Thank You:

I am physically fine, as are all my family members and immediate friends. I've been watching the footage all morning, I can't believe I watched the World Trade Center collapse...

I've been sitting here this whole morning, choking back tears... this is just too much, too big. I can see the smoke and ash from the street here. I have friends of friends who work there, I was just there myself the day before yesterday. I can't process this all. I don't want to.


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