Year: 2018

2018 in Review

See other year in review posts.

What am I doing New Year’s Eve? Looking back at my 2018 calendar and logbook to remember the notable happenings that made up my year. In roughly chronological order:

  • Started a paper logbook (a la Austin Kleon) in a Moleskine notebook I got for Christmas. Have actually kept it going regularly, and enjoy it much more than my previous journals in composition notebooks, probably because it’s not lined. This encourages me to do things like magazine mashups and tape other life ephemera and keepsakes inside. It’s a much richer diary because of that.
  • 2/24/18 log: “Today at work an older guy was looking for White Heat, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. I found them on the DVD shelves and he said, ‘You’re the nicest guy on this side of the tracks.’ Thank you?”
  • Started going to a local independent barber shop and love it
  • Wrote or quoted some opinions about Donald Trump and have yet to be proven wrong
  • Got a real, professional massage and why don’t I do that more often?
  • Saw I’m With Her in concert at Thalia Hall
  • Wrote several Refer Madness columns for Booklist
  • Bought a Royal Arrow typewriter and then sold my rickety Royal Quiet De Luxe
  • Saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Music Box in Chicago
  • Saw The Okee Dokee Brothers at Lincoln Hall
  • Went to a college friend’s wedding at my alma mater
  • Switched to Firefox, fixed Twitter, and made other tech improvements
  • Hosted a type-in at an Evanston bookstore
  • Went on a pontoon boat with family in Madison
  • Had octopus and a sake bomb for the first time in Wicker Park with college friends
  • Went to Midsommarfest in Andersonville, where I bought my first pair of real Birkenstocks and got roped into a Swedish dance circle
  • Learned my wife was pregnant with our first child, visited Starved Rock, then saw Hamilton on stage, all within 24 hours
  • Walked the Custer Street Fair with friends, got dinner and dessert and talked tech ethics
  • Acquired, cleaned, and quickly sold a gorgeous Royal Empress
  • Went to wife’s cousin’s wedding at Illinois Beach State Park
  • Visited Colorado for my friend Tim’s wedding in Denver: stayed at a gorgeous Airbnb in Maintou Springs, hiked in the Rocky Mountain National Park, rode a vintage Otis elevator at the Hotel Boulderado, ogled the stunning Boulder Public Library, toured the Celestial Seasonings headquarters, wended through the hoodoos of the Painted Mines Interpretive Park, shot billiards until 1 AM, cried and danced and gave a speech at Tim’s wedding
  • Won my case on Judge John Hodgman
  • Celebrated 10 years of filmlogging
  • Spent a few days fishing and lounging in the restorative Northwoods of Wisconsin
  • Saw Rayland Baxter at Lincoln Hall
  • Went to a Cubs game on a super hot day
  • Gave my Royal Futura 800 to a neighbor who needed it
  • Went to another Cubs game on a super beautiful day
  • Got a Fisher space pen for my birthday and it’s fun to use
  • Visited Colorado again for my friend Taylor’s wedding: whacked balls at Top Golf, beheld the Crush Walls, sang the processional along with the wedding party, cried and danced hard
  • Tried to make a typewriter emoticon happen ‘(:::)
  • Canned homemade applesauce with the family
  • Dressed as Fred Rogers for Halloween
  • Went to Green Mill Cocktail Lounge for the first time and sat in the Al Capone booth
  • Saw sound designer Gary Rydstrom speak at Northwestern
  • Acquired a new Olympia SM7 with an interesting story
  • Had fun putting together a LEGO Delorean
  • Released a full-length album of old demos called The Wonder Of It All
  • All things Baby C: baby showers, appointments, clothes, toys, books, classes, and so much more
  • Got a portable washing machine
  • Wrote some good blog posts, like:
  • Watched 70 movies (old and new) and read 72 books, according to my logbook
  • Read 2 presidential biographies: John Tyler and Harry Truman
  • Watched several good TV shows: The Crown season 1 and 2, Big Mouth season 2, Queer Eye seasons 1 and 2, The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, and Big Little Lies

Long Quotes on the ‘Prairie Fires’

Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is about 150 pages too long, and spends a lot more time with Laura’s daughter Rose than I expected or desired. But the first third of the book, with the Ingalls family and Laura as a young adult, was quite illuminating. (Great Scott am I glad I don’t live on the prairie in the late 1800s!)

The Little House novels and TV show were, shall we say, not quite accurate. But they certainly contain a grain of truth, as Fraser writes about the Ingalls family’s time in Kansas in 1870-71:

In a brief and concentrated span of time, the Ingallses had experienced virtually everything that would come to be seen as quintessentially Western: encounters with wolves and Indians, angry disputes over open range, prairie fires, neighbors coming to their aid. Although they would retreat for a time to Wisconsin, an enduring impression had been made, one that would strengthen over the years as the family moved. From the open doorway of a tiny log cabin, Laura had watched as a parade of Western iconography passed by. It was as if the spirit of manifest destiny had been imprinted in her memory, leaving a series of stereoscopic images, each more dramatic than the one before, each intensely experienced and utterly unique, yet emblematic of all western settlement. The family spent little more than a year on the Kansas prairie, but it shaped her temperament and outlook for the rest of her life. That year made her who she was.

Another quote rang relevant to today. Powell, a Civil War hero and the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, warned that the West (today’s Great Plains states) was too arid for farming and spelled bankruptcy for farmers. He advocated cooperative irrigation and grazing schemes, but “bonanza farms” promoted by Big Business at the time offered get-rick-quick fantasies that were much more alluring:

Fundamentally, the question was whether national decisions of significant economic import, affecting thousands of citizens, would be governed by Enlightenment science or by huckster fantasy. The outcome was immediately clear to anyone reading the newspapers: fantasy won. In a campaign comparable to modern-day corporate denial of climate change, big business and the legislators in its pocket brushed Powell’s analysis aside. Railroads were not about to capitulate to the geologist’s limited vision, and his plans as director of the U.S. Geological Survey to limit western settlement would be undermined by intense political attacks. James B. Power, land agent for the Northern Pacific—who had earlier admitted that Dakota was a “barren desert”—dismissed Powell as an elite intellectual, lacking the experience of “practical men.” “No reliance can be placed upon any of his statements as to the agricultural value of any country,” Power said. For good measure, he called the geologist “an ass.”

Shorter Power: “Fake news!”

Now available: ‘The Wonder Of It All’, a new album of old demos

Surprise! I just released a new album of old demos called The Wonder Of It All, now available on SoundCloud.

Since 2010, when I first got my MacBook Pro, I’ve used GarageBand to record song ideas. Some of them remain fragments and half-songs, but many have become full songs. This album is a collection of the songs that became something.

Most of the songs were written and recorded in 2010 when I was in Colombia, or in 2011 after I returned home and had a good amount of spare time. None of them are professionally or even decently recorded; I did them all myself, usually just with the MacBook’s built-in microphone in a bedroom or other non-soundproofed space. (Piano and drums were recorded at Reba Place Church.) Except where noted I did all the singing and played all the instruments. I am not a good singer, but I am proud of how I composed and arranged many of the songs. Some turned out well, some make me cringe, some I’m just happy I finished.

I’m releasing them now for two reasons:

  • Now in my thirties with a kid on the way, I’d very much like to just get these out into the world and achieve some sense of closure rather than let them languish on a hard drive. They represent a formative time of my life for which I’m very grateful, but it’s time to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.
  • Without a band or reason to record them professionally, I’d rather release them as demos, lo-tech warts and all, because something is better than nothing.

Keep reading for some short liner notes on each track. Thanks for listening and sharing. And thanks to Richard Polt for the authentic Royal Executive typewriter font for the cover.

1. “The Wonder Of It All”

The most recently written and recorded song on the album, from 2015. Initially had some drums towards the end, but between that, the guitar, and piano, the rhythm got too choppy. Just realized how much the beginning sounds like “Hero” by Family of the Year (a.k.a. the Boyhood song).

2. “It All Comes Back To You”

Originally called “Shouldn’t Have Done,” written by my friend and former bandmate Taylor, I changed the chorus and wrote two more verses for this new version. (Original version is track 14.) The random children shouting in the background were playing in the Colombian church where I was recording.

3. “Minor Lovers (feat. Taylor Martin)”

With a little banjo and stand-up bass help from Taylor.

4. “Be Still Your Fears (Christmastime Is Here)”

Once I started coming back around on Christmas music in general, I figured I should try to write my own. A bit strange putting this together in a warm Colombian winter. Should have added some sleigh bells in the interludes.

5. “Rejoice Evermore”

Proud of the backing vocals on this one. Can you tell I was listening to Mumford & Sons a lot around that time? This and track 13 are the most explicitly worship-songy I think—not a surprise given I was living with a Colombian pastor’s family and heavily involved at church.

6. “I Can Do Anything Good”

Remember that viral video of a cute little girl saying affirmations in her bathroom mirror? I turned everything she said into lyrics.

7. “Heaven Knows”

My “sad bastard” emo song. Added the harmonica interludes after I got one for my birthday one year.

8. “I Will Find A Way”

Went through several different tempos and feels before landing on this more upbeat version. Regret not adding some foot-stomps to give it some meat and drive.

9. “Long Gone Days”

Also went through several different tempos and feels before landing on this slow rock rendition. Needs some bass or low-end.

10. “Today Starts”

Wrote this all the way back in high school, and even recorded it with Taylor on a 4-track mixer. But couldn’t locate the recording, so I tried it again. The original was better, and not just because Taylor sang it.

11. “I Carry Your Heart”

Chorus lyrics are quoting an e.e. cummings poem, which I first heard in the good movie In Her Shoes. Had fun stacking harmonies throughout.

12. “What Love Looks Like To Me”

Kinda funny that I wrote this before ever actually being in love and having botched two different shotgun relationships. Call it a creative writing experiment.

13. “Awake And Alive”

Another fun vocal one. Not sure what I was thinking with the claps but why not.

14. “It All Comes Back To You (feat. Taylor Martin)”

The original “Shouldn’t Have Done” with me on guitar and Taylor singing.

Cookie Monster, typist

I’m just gonna say it: Cookie Monster is the best Muppet in the Jim Henson Muppetverse. And not just because of his typewriter scene in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, which I watched last night. Though I cannot endorse his flagrant destruction of a perfectly good fake typewriter, his GIF-worthy reaction at the end of his scene with Gordon is golden.

Also, I just now discovered his parody of “Call Me Maybe”, maybe the best pop song of the last 10 years:

LEGO my DeLorean

Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you built a time machine… out of LEGO?

While rearranging the apartment in advance of Baby, I was sorting our small games collection and stumbled upon the unopened LEGO Back to the Future set my dad got me a few years ago. I gotta say, it was super fun to put together:

I haven’t encountered LEGOs in years, maybe decades. Even a relatively small project like this one had several bags with hundreds of small pieces. But following the directions made it come together pretty quickly. Much respect to the engineers who create these designs.

Tale from an unknown typist

Once in a while I stop by a nearby antique rental shop that is stocked full with all kinds of vintage junk. And in its musty, cavernous basement, among the rotary phones, LPs, radios, and TVs, is a wall of typewriters. I already sifted through most of them awhile back: varying conditions and styles, some just needing a good cleaning and others more in-depth work, and all of them too expensive ($100+) to buy outright.

This time, expecting to find the usual suspects collecting dust, I turned the corner and saw, uncovered in the noir-ish lamplight, a gorgeous 1961 Olympia SM7:

It’s very similar to my other Olympia SM7, just with a different color scheme and a larger typeface. Since it didn’t have a price tag, I took a pic and, expecting the worst, asked the woman at checkout (who wasn’t the usual proprietor) what she wanted for it.

She wanted $30.

Ummm… Sold!

Did she not know how the other typewriters were priced? Was she just happy to sell anything? I knew enough not to ask. When the typewriter gods offer an unconditional gift, accept it and appreciate your good fortune.

But before I bought it, I wanted to do a customary typing test. As I reached into my backpack for scrap paper, I noticed a piece of printer paper in the case beneath the typewriter. Almost a page long, untitled and single-spaced, it was a window into the mind of someone freshly out of a dark time, struggling with some heavy regret.

Was it by the typewriter’s previous owner? A recent store browser? It could have been just a creative writing exercise, but it felt genuine to me.

So before making this typewriter my own, I feel duty-bound to honor this anonymous person’s story by presenting the unedited transcript here. Thanks for typing, whoever you are:

How is it that something so tiny can have so much power, can bring so much happiness yet destruction and deep sadness. What was once an ancient medicine has brought my life, and my body, to its knees. It has healed me none and taken everything from me including my morals and dignity, and on top of all that it stole any happiness that it once gave, which I now see was no more than a false prophet.

The bastard that I speak of has gone by many names and has taken on many names and has gone by many forms. The one that I am most familiar with is Heroin. Maybe you have heard his name before. Odds are you have as he has been creeping his way out of the jungles and mountains around and into our American cities, slowly but masterfully working his way into the outlying suburbs and even further into our countryside.

We are a nation plagued by opioid addiction and at this point no one, no family, has become immune to it. You see this is a problem that does not discriminate. It attacks our mothers, fathers, and children, it attacks the rich and the poor alike and it doesn’t stop until you are dead or until you jump out of the ring with him, making a conscious decision to “give up” because you will never win this fight. He wins every time, leaving you only one choice, to admit defeat and choose to live without him, which really is not giving up, but knowing that you are powerless over him because in the end there is only one choice and that is to choose a life without him, so I am told anyway.

This is all very new to me. It’s taken fifteen years for me to realize that heroin is not my friend, as I had once thought. All those times that I can remember him being there for me, all those times that he had helped me celebrate, all those times that he was there to comfort me, it was all a lie and the bastard was stealing from me the entire time. As I sit here now it seems as plain as day. It seems like the warnings of who I was becoming from all those on the sidelines were right. I’m sitting here a defeated man, pieces shattered far and wide, alone.

I hope in the end for this to be a tale of triumph, but knowing the outline in my head I don’t know how a story of destruction, sickness, and loss can come to have a happy ending. Maybe it could serve as a cautionary tale, maybe I will just serve me the purpose of getting some of these things off my chest and onto paper, maybe this is just another selfish expedition on my part. Whatever it is I believe that it belongs on these pages.

In the new Phish song “More” frontman for the band sings a few lines that go “half of what I say is lies, and it takes so much to keep up this disguise, I see a doorway through the haze and I’m trying to get it”. This verse has spoken to me, as it reminds me of who I’ve become, a look into the mirror if you will.

Recent Views

More photography here. And on my Instagram.

Pretty cool frost patterns on my car window (I call this one “Frozen Fractals All Around”):

A few shots of my building’s backyard in the snow:

Scraping off the car one morning, the snow shavings fell in a pattern that encircled the car. They contrasted well with the dark asphalt, and sorta looked like the Milky Way:

And a bonus GIF from when I was looking through microfilm at work for a patron. The zooming effect made it look like those whirling newspaper montages in old movies:

The Seventh Seal

Because the only screengrabs of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal I’ve ever seen are of a knight playing chess with Death, I really thought that would be the whole movie. Just a Very Serious Film that would be more film-buff obligation than an enjoyable experience. But wow, am I glad to be mistaken. It’s a profound, disturbing, grotesque, even goofy film, impressively rooted in religious inquiry but humanist at heart.

Two quotes stood out from Antonius Block (played gracefully by a young Max von Sydow), a disillusioned knight returning home from the Crusades to plague-ridden Denmark. His wager with Death—being spared if he wins—sets him apart as a determined, sensitive, and thoughtful seeker. So his wrestling with God is keenly felt:

“Is it so terribly inconceivable to comprehend God with one’s senses? Why does he hide in a cloud of half-promises and unseen miracles? How can we believe in the faithful when we lack faith? What will happen to us who want to believe, but can not? What about those who neither want to nor can believe? Why can’t I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way—despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can’t be rid of?”

Yet later, while enjoying a moment of solace amidst the chaos of his journey, he practices a Middle Ages form of mindfulness and calls out his gratitude:

“I shall remember this hour of peace: the strawberries, the bowl of milk, your faces in the dusk. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lute. I shall remember our words, and shall bear this memory between my hands as carefully as a bowl of fresh milk. And this will be a sign, and a great content.”

This is only the third Ingmar Bergman film I’ve seen after Winter Light and Wild Strawberries. My regard for Bergman has shot up based on the caliber of these three alone. God bless Kanopy (free with a library card) for making it available. Looking forward to discovering more.

Paper Only! No TVs

This sign is posted in the parking lot outside my work. Why “NO TV’s”? A while ago someone left an old TV next to what they thought was a dumpster for trash but is actually a dumpster for paper recycling. But only people who had seen the TV there before it got picked up will understand the odd specificity of the sign.

It’s still a great sign without that context, because paper is the far superior technology.

New words for obscure sorrows

I love learning new words. (And writing them down.) All the better when they are invented words. John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a collection of words Koenig has created—inspired by real etymology—for specific emotions that don’t have precise English words to describe them. Tell me you haven’t felt every one of these:

Sonder: (n) The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own

Opia: (n) The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable

Monachopsis: (n) The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.

Énouement: (n) The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.

Vellichor: (n) The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.

Rubatosis: (n) The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.

Kenopsia: (n) The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.

Mauerbauertraurigkeit: (n) The inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like.

Jouska: (n) A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.

Chrysalism: (n) the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.

Vemödalen: (n) The frustration of photographic something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.

Anecdoche: (n) A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening

Ellipsism: (n) A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.

Kuebiko: (n) A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.

Lachesism: (n) The desire to be struck by disaster – to survive a plane crash, or to lose everything in a fire.

Exulansis: (n) The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.

Adronitis: (n) Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone.

Rückkehrunruhe: (n) The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.

Nodus Tollens: (n) The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.

Onism: (n) The frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time.

Liberosis: (n) The desire to care less about things.

Altschmerz: (n) Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.

Occhiolism: (n) The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

(via Tyler Cowen)