Joe Exotic in Netflix's Tiger King

News about coronavirus is coming hard and fast, and the Portland Monthly staff is working to bring you up-to-date information about how the crisis is affecting Portlanders. It’s vital we all stay informed and figure out how to help each other through this surreal, challenging moment.

It’s also vital that we take some breaths. Every week, in lieu of a “top things to do this weekend” post, we’re going to pause and share the pandemic-free content that’s keeping us grounded.  

Bread Books

You may have noticed that everyone and their mother is growing their own sourdough starter and parading it around Instagram. (No, we don’t think it’s possible for COVID-19 to grow in a sourdough starter). If you’re gonna do it, do it right: grab a copy of Tartine Bread, written by legendary San Francisco baker and sourdough godfather Chad Robertson, before growing your own microbial menagerie. Looking for some local advice? Flour Water Salt Yeast, a tome from Ken Forkish (Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Ken’s Artisan Pizza) has the secret formula for a levain to rival the city’s best. –Benjamin Tepler, Senior Editor

Stick Control for the Snare Drummer

In order to keep myself from playing Overwatch during all of my now-abundant free time, I've tried very hard to spend time on my more productive hobbies. I started playing drums when I was 23, jumping straight into playing in bands without spending too much time worried about my technique. Although that approach has gotten me through dozens of bar shows and jury-rigged recording sessions, I've always fantasized about taking the time to go back to basics and start filling in the gaps I ignored in my quest to become the next John Bonham.

That includes a return to George Lawrence Stone's Stick Control, a foundational book of hand exercises for drummers written in 1961, which I have owned for 17 years and never read past page one. The past few weeks have found me diligently tapping away on a practice pad in my apartment for 30 minute sessions, twice a day. I've also been playing along with this video, where percussion educator Heather Thomas plays all 25 exercises from the first page of Stick Control 20 times in a row at 152 bpm. About halfway through, it becomes sort of like meditation—a rhythmic, repetitive connection between my mind and body that is incredibly soothing and stabilizing. And I've already seen huge results! My left hand has gone from 'intransigent' to merely 'uncooperative!' All of this is to say that your favorite hobby, like mine, probably has a tradition of education and knowledge that goes back decades. What better time to access it? –Brian Breneman, Deputy Art Director

People I've Met from the Internet

Something magical happened this week: I remembered how to read. More than once, I've been able to quiet my screaming brain enough to sit on my balcony (brag), sip a drink, and flip the pages of an honest-to-god book. I snagged Stephen Van Dyck's People I've Met from the Internet from the small press section at Powell's a few months ago, mostly because it was gay and displayed with a breathless a Miranda July blurb. Turns out, it's prime quarantine material.

Fashioned as a form-busting memoir, People I've Met... opens with a sprawling 16-and-a-half page spreadsheet documenting the name, screen name, and age of every man Van Dyck has ever met IRL after connecting online, plus the date, location, and summary of their first meeting (yes, there's also a column detailing sex acts). The text unfolds as annotations on these meetings—we start in 1998 New Mexico, when Van Dyck is a rebellious, closeted 14 year-old, and end in LA more than a decade later. If there were no global crisis on, this would still be a startling, funny, warm document of queerness at the dawn of the internet. Given the questions swimming in everyone's heads right now about digital intimacy (not to mention the nostalgia for a world where you can touch other people), it's essential reading. Consider ordering a copy from Powell's using their union affiliate link; 7.5 percent of your purchase will go directly to their worker relief fund. –Conner Reed, Arts & Culture Editor

Dancing with the Birds

Watching this documentary about birdie mating dances was literally the only time I felt stress-free this week. It’s all about male birds and the WILD rituals they use to try to attract a lady bird for approximately .01 seconds of bird sex. The birds have entire choreographed dances, they play instruments, they create sky high nests for seven years to show their #manskillz. It is truly fantastic and there’s not a sad moment in the entire thing. You will be entertained and awed and remember nature is both amazing and utterly ridiculous.  

If you need more reality, but less feather related, Portland’s own Lili Yeo will be on Shark Tank Friday, March 27 at 8 p.m. with her eco-friendly children’s apparel line, Goumi–Eden Dawn, Style Editor 

The New York Times on Poetry

In an attempt not to sound too embarrassed about my love for this perennially uncool but defiantly magical literary genre, I’m grateful for this imprimatur from the New York Times, a reminder of the solace and sweetness to be found in poems. It set me clicking on the Poetry Foundation, which today alone brought this gem from Nikki Giovanni. There’s enough in this stout collection to get us through, well, at least some of the months ahead. When the theaters closed during the sixteenth plague, Shakespeare turned to poetry, Sarah Ruhl reminds us. Be like Shakespeare, everyone. –Fiona McCann, Senior Editor-at-Large

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

For whatever reason, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has been a constant since this whole COVID-19 pandemic started. A coworker shared a gif of Veruca Salt singing “I Want It Now” when I told them my partner may make an appearance during our daily Slack meetings. A friend on Facebook shared this meme as the number of coronavirus cases continued to grow and more and more people seem to lose their grip on reality. It was time. And the 1971 musical, directed by Mel Stuart, did not disappoint. The musical numbers are still catchy. That chocolate river still doesn’t look very good. The snosberries still taste like snosberries. And Gene Wilder is still delightfully insane as the titular Willy Wonka. His monologue from the Wondrous Boat Ride down the mysterious Tunnel of Terror just might be the mantra for our time: 

–Gabriel Granillo, Digital Editor

My Brilliant Friend

You need HBO for this one, but I am living for the new season of their adaptation of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend series. Yes, it's in Italian, with subtitles—get over it. The actresses who play the two friends at the center of the story whose lives intertwine, break apart, and come together again are perfectly cast, the silences are meaningful, the Naples scenery is both gritty and transporting. I kind of like that it is old-school, releasing one new episode per week. In these troubled times, it's nice to have something to look forward to.  
–Julia Silverman, News Editor

The Valhalla Murders

“Valhalla murders is keeping me semi-sane,” tweeted Susan Orlean last week. On its face, this statement makes no sense. But the legendary New Yorker writer and author of the best-selling Library Book is known for first sentences that will stop you in your tracks. (We've been friends since our young-punk writer days at Willamette Week.) So I had to know: what is a Valhalla murder? Turns out, it's a new, Icelandic crime-thriller that uses an icy, snowy landscape as the backdrop to a mysterious serial killer targeting prominent businessmen. As two complicated detectives pursue clues, it appears that everyone in the town of Reykjavik has secrets, including them. 

Meanwhile: does anyone in Iceland smile, ever? I only have one episode left, and I'm already wondering: what will keep me semi-sane when it's over? –Karen Brooks, Food Editor & Critic

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness

Everything you’ve seen or heard about this 7-part documentary series about a mulleted zookeeper named Joe Exotic is 100% true: it is indescribably insane, and filled with improbable and over the top characters. It makes HBO’s McMillions look like a Ken Burns doc. Every episode is a perfect little vacation from your anxiety. 

–Marty Patail, Editor in Chief

Armchair Expert

Bet you didn’t know Dax Shepard has a degree in anthropology. He also has a two year-old podcast called Armchair Expert where he, along with cohost Monica Padman, interviews famous folks of all stripes. The actor, known mostly for his struggles with drugs and alcohol, his marriage to Kristen Bell, and a series of cinematic misfires (CHIPS, anyone?) turns out to be a fairly insightful interviewer. Celebrities, philosophers, journalists, writers, etc, gather in his attic to record their most intimate (and random) stories. From Claire Danes describing her only one-night stand to Shepard and Ashton Kutcher commiserating over their shared hair loss treatments— it’s an unpolished and often revealing view into the minds of celebrities. The hosts bring a rough and tumble honesty to the show, managing to find common ground with almost everyone they interview.

An added bonus are the annual holiday spectaculars, featuring the likes of Sean Hayes and Kristen Bell singing a medley of seasonal show tunes. What more would you want during a pandemic? Mike Novak, Art Director
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