2017: In Review

I’m a few days late to wrapping up 2017, but I think that will hardly matter in the grand scheme. This is my 5th year recapping, so happy to continue a good tradition. And, well, years usually seem to shift more on my birthday (January 9) then the Gregorian calendar (January 1st), but that’s not too vain……

I always enjoy answering the questions below, but always struggle a bit to do this part (this intro). How to sum up a year?

Not sure. Still not sure.

2017 was light(er) on travel—which is super relative, considering I went back to Asia, both coasts (a few times), and I think 10 states if I’m counting that correctly. It was full of concerts, parties (the Mardi Gras party from February may have been the best one I’ve been to, and we hosted it!), movies, books, the like. For these, I’m always grateful and looking back fondly.

It was a big year for weddings. Three of my best lifelong friends got married to wonderful women; and I even got to officiate Kevin and Emily’s, which was most certainly a highlight of 2017.

What else? Too much. I still find these years filled with so much richness that it makes it hard to summarize. That’s a gift. To live variously to a degree that simple summations cannot possibly do justice.

My goal for this year was to be ontologically leaner. That meant to be consume less, take less, register a bit less in the atmosphere. I wanted to see if I could produce more with less weight, burden, energy, etc….I don’t know how I did. I know I bought less. I built more. I spent more time with myself—meditating, reading, writing, floating. But Chicago is still a city of friends and I’m still an unabashed extrovert, so I still went out. Still bought things unnecessarily, still drank more than I needed. I guess the leaner part will have to be a lifelong pursuit; and that’s probably a good thing.

And 2018, what does that have in the waiting? A whole lot. Big, big plans for this year. The biggest? Get started on this book. Do my dream thing.

But that’ll come. Here’s the rest of my notes from 2017. Thanks to anyone reading for being a part of it!

Other Notes

Travels: Chicago > NYC > Santa Fe > Manila > Bali > Manila > Phoenix > Florida > Lake Geneva > Martha’s Vineyard > Phoenix > Los Angeles > California Road Trip > Minnesota > Madison/Lake Geneva > Austin > San Diego > Los Angeles > San Francisco

Writing: Lots of notebook (learned what a commonplace book was and realized I’ve been doing that for years…). Did an experimental month of poetry, wrote a few blogposts. Overall, probably my lightest year of “public” writing—but I think a lot of that is gearing up for a massive 2018 where writing takes over my life.

Reading:  Finished 24 books, and somewhere in the middle of half a dozen more. 2017 was the year I finally finished Moby Dick. I read two Anne Lammott books, two Irvin Yalom books, and focused more on books about writing or the self. Less reading of novels (fiction) (only 5 of the 24) than previous years too. I said I wanted to touch on spirituality in reading this year and I didn’t do that specifically, but I did dive in where in certain places (poems, psychology…..actually I barely did this. Hmm). Full list of books read in 2016:

  1. The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson); January 1st
  2. A Sport and a Pastime (James Salter); January 28th
  3. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (Anne Lamott); February 12th
  4. The War of Art (Steven Pressfield); February 17th
  5. Desert Solitaire (Edward Abbey); March 2nd
  6. Wise Blood (Flannery O’Connor); March 6th
  7. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (William Finnegan); March 15th
  8. Iron John: A Book About Men (Robert Bly); April 25th
  9. The Servant: A Simple Story About The True Essence of Leadership (James C. Hunter); May 9th
  10. Book of Hours (Kevin Young); May 10th
  11. The Harmonious World of Johann Kepler (Sidney Rosen); May 12th
  12. Collected Poems (Jack Gilbert); June 8th
  13. Meditations (Marcus Aurelius, trans Gregory Hays); June 14th
  14. Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis): July 18th
  15. The Dog Stars (Peter Heller); August 14th
  16. You, Beast (Nick Lantz); August 25th
  17. It Ain’t No Sin To Be Glad You’re Alive (Eric Alterman); September 6th
  18. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Emil Ferris); September 11th
  19. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Herman Melville); September 23rd
  20. The Counterfeiters (Andre Gide); November 12th
  21. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott); November 19th
  22. Love’s Executioner (Irvin Yalom); November 20th
  23. The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu); December 5th
  24. Creatures of a Day (Irvin Yalom): December 26th

For record-keeping purposes, I read 19 books in 2015, 21 in 2016, and 24 now!

Professionally: Another year at Uber down—with some amazing progress here! Expanded my team and put in some first-of-its-kind infrastructure that wil surely outlast me in my role there. 2017 was a year in which the team and I took those steps; rather than being hustling to be reactive to the calls of the business. We got more organized, more streamlined, more specific, and because of that and the talents of those around me, achieved more than we have in any other year. Pretty proud of 2017s professional accomplishments!

Pearl Jam: no shows, but Let’s Play Two came out and saw the premier at The Metro.

 

Favorites

Favorite 2017 New Thing: Cryptocurrencies

This is an obvious one even if it’s not my favorite “thing” as the title suggests. It certainly consumed a good chunk of my time this year, after consuming so little of it in years past (even after buying some Bitcoin in 2014—I wasn’t reading or writing about it).

I think crypto has become a favorite thing of many in 2017 (as I’m sure bull markets make favorites out of many things). So it has some of the cliche and I’m okay with that. But it wasn’t just monetary growth, it was actually a hobby of learning about this technology, writing about it on a few sites, and discovering little-known “coins” that have intriguing offers. In other ways, this became part of my identity as people found out I knew a bit about it. No idea where this whole thing goes, but 2017 was certainly the year I dove in.

Others: Commonplace Books (link), Mardi Gras parties 🙂

Favorite book I read in 2017: A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter

Salter’s book is well known for its eroticism and probably some readings of misogyny, as well. I won’t deny the latter and 2017 has certainly opened my eyes to more of these readings. But I think what gets written off with both of these summations is the prose that the author composes here. It’s fresh, it’s French, it’s sort of full and light at the same time. I haven’t read a book in a long time with so much underlying and marginalia—a big part of why it was the favorite book I read this last year.

That and a undeniable desire to be in Paris and around love and lust and freedom. Salter has enough in there to leave you kind of gasping for that experience a few times over.

There was some serious contention here with The Three-Body Problem which became (I think—trying to avoid some recency bias here) my favorite science fiction book.

Other Favorites: The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu), Collected Poems (Jack Gilbert)

Favorite 2017 movieLady Bird

I really liked Lady Bird; it stuck with me for some time after and I was happy that my mother and sister saw it and liked it as well. I normally find my pretentious self looking for holes in first-time directors films, but Greta Gerwig pulled this off with amazing style, grace, and some serious conflict with Sacramento.

The acting, too, is great. The script much the same. Really enjoyed the

In general, 2017 was a low one for me with movies. I’m still working through a bunch so maybe the tides will change, but no movie blew me away the way that some in the past few years have (Moonlight, Deus Ex Machina).

I did see The Handmaiden this year which I thought was excellent. And Jules et Jim, and I’m sure a handful of others that were great. Nothing just blew my hair away.

Other Favorites: Columbus, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Personal Shopper

Favorite 2017 album‘A Deeper Understanding’ (The War on Drugs)

Lots of solid music came out this year (this album and the other favorites below are probably four of my top 10 current bands, hard to ask for more from one year).

Other Favorites: ‘Capacity’ (Big Thief), ‘We All Want The Same Things’ (Craig Finn), ‘Sleep Well Beast’ (The National)

Favorite 2017 song: ‘Mary’ Big Thief

Probably the easiest pick of favorites from the year. This song stopped my cold on the first listen (after a pretty magnificent album (it’s the second to last track). Simply put, this song is beautiful—it’s Adrienne Lenker’s voice over a piano and it’s as bare as its lyrics are winding. She takes it to the last of her breath, giving off a surreal vision of something wonderful. It made me remember that one single song can be a tremendous journey; unconfined to itself, a marvelous trip the ears lead the mind down, hand in hand.

Other Favorites: ‘Knocked Down’ – War on Drugs, ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny” – St. Vincent, ‘New York’ – St. Vincent, ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’ – The National

Favorite Place Visited: Sequoia National Park

There’s a somewhat common trope of Americans traveling abroad and marveling at other nations’ natural (and manmade) wonders without remembering or realizing that the U.S. is home to some of the most marvelous landscape our planet offers. That’s certainly true and my trip to Sequoia helped me remember that. I hope it’s long before I forgot it again.

The trip to Sequoia is coupled with the roadtrip taken to get there—which involved renting a 31-foot RV. For free. Yes, that’s right. For free.

Favorite Meal: Dim Sum at Din Thai Fun

Had some very solid meals in 2017, including some homemade ones. This one made an impression (truffle dumplings, seriously?) and I went twice in one trip while in Manila—so think I gotta give it to this place.

 

And, that my friends, is a wrap on 2017! Some more pics!

 

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Automatic Vultures | hyperlinked poetry series | #6

open your mouth to the stand of trees
automatic vultures tend to sneeze.
sonic or sickness, hums a creature first
where it matters, it matters most.

a nun escapes the passenger seat
her luck in a trunk at the covenant
a hero she gave up on for lent
bedsheets in sapphire, the room for rent

foreign geography with a touch of sobriety
lossless in an empty stall to call up
mirrors at an anxious length in a haul\
you carved out a tomb where
a winter went instead.

no one listens close in the city of god
dreams startle beans where green glass grows
in a fit without luck, the prayer picks a fist
in a knife fight with oblivion.

Dum V. V. | hyperlinked poetry series | #5

What goes up
Must stay in sky. Dum v. v.

What ain’t ancient
Ain’t coming back. Dum v. v.

I howl Dum v. v.
From the back of my throat
Which is filled with malbec
Matched moonlight
And you say you can’t hear.
Dumb to see. Let us be.

What spills from the block of clouds
Are gifts we string to pearls.
Dum v. v. is a blessing
Of your sacred art.

I flop with dum v. v.
In ocean and salt sticks to hair
And you are sandside, waving in a black bathing suit
And the sun is a knuckle. We get drunk
And stay drunk
And get drunk again when we come down
And live where music never stops
This is Mexico and all else before anyway
It’s easy to say dum v. v.

I found my Ithaca to come back to every night
Excited and with barrels of wine, dum v. v.
And you dum v. v. late nights with you finish before they’re done
V.
Very
Merry
I’ve never had a bad time living hard.

What we miss don’t matter
What we build is the only standing thing
Dum vivimus
Vivamus.

Another, Then The Rest | hyperlinked poetry series | #4

You are gorgeous and I’m sadly ostracized from the table
at the moment. Intrigue and blue
Awnings, the ceilings we celebrate fade to night.

If the wind breaks, the crops they creak. They have no other feet.
If the sirens call, the dirt cannot to them speak
Back, cannot haunt the sleep
Of a farmer pushed to the bed’s brink.

Day one, something in you died. Where there is growth
A small angel takes things away.
Tell me the difference between an angel
And a ghost? One is active,
The other deliberate.

All walls bring terror; bring about nothing that eats
Sleeps, peaks.

I’ll have another unexpected catastrophe
Then the rest of the onslaught can carry me to a tune,
Away.

Counting Little Explosions | hyperlinked poem series | #2

I come to
[from a coma break]
And you are up counting little explosions
[that broke my head back then].

 

All this mist
All this mutter
I won’t know the gifts you dreamed you gave me
[So half this heart
Has all the fun]

 

In the morning, you are still and I am crowbarring
[with the spare of my mentality]
Into the hot engine steam of your midnight expenditure.
Once in, I see
You tidying your nightfalls
[and my steam is molecular bounce]

 

Years later, when I think of this moment
I’ll say
The pain you woke to was not the urgent argument you contended.

 

You had not
Set up the crosses appropriately.
And that I could have stood another
Takedown of your raw twirl.
[that time you were my Orpheus, and I the suffering-to-be-saved Eurydice]

 

I should have
Never invited you in; though how would
I have a record of every little thing that breaks
And bursts, then.

Living On | hyperlinked poem series | #1

Let’s keep living on advices we love. Wrap ourselves

In nothing cloths on summer evenings and lie about.

 

Let’s stay put

with grace. Or go on and on without punctuation

We’ll do the whole damn ceremony without it.

And forget prayer.

 

Let’s renew vows in a garbage dump—or fake a break up

Over the airport P.A. while they all break the other hearts

Delaying flights. Let’s cover ourselves head to toe

In honey, stick on the bandages bought that morning at market. Call up

Love’s captain to drop us off on a strange pier. Linger for a while.

Go back home where we’ve stitched dreams to streams

Of advice in letters across the floor.

 

And let’s throw in some bad apples too.

Disasters are the parades that remind me why I love you.

And have we already forgotten the too-drunken toasts to what we caught

And what we killed. And what we had but could not hold.

 

See I had all these plans and no gun to trigger the start. I had all this

Money and no tools to bury it.

All these seeds and

No pots to corrupt

That spectacular emergence.

Collars, but had no dogs. Chains, no commands.

Pride, but no patience.

 

I promised you the glories of life and came up short on what to do about it just

Yesterday.

 

So today I listen to advices, mostly from fabled folks

And they say to let love spoil as fast as possible—use it up,

Stomp on its throat,

Move on.

 

Well, I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve always preferred

the lovesongs you used up on me

To tragedy’s flirtation.

 

And even then I’m fresh out of my own ideas anyway.

Waxing [Poetically] Frank In Love

Some nights you find yourself happening back upon the words of your favorite poet and it’s pure bliss.

This one to Vincent, from Frank. Notice the acrostic of it. “We’re all for the captured time of our being”–after all of that headlong movement like a train barreling on he comes to stillness; “captured time”. Ahhh, yes.

You are Gorgeous and I’m Coming

Vaguely I hear the purple roar of the torn-down Third Avenue El
it sways slightly but firmly like a hand or a gold-downed thigh
normally I don’t think of sounds as colored unless I’m feeling corrupt
concrete Rimbaud obscurity of emotion which is simple and very definite
even lasting, yes it may be that dark and purifying wave, the death of boredom
nearing the heights themselves may destroy you in the pure air
to be further complicated, confused, empty but refilling, exposed to light

With the past falling away as an acceleration of nerves thundering and shaking
aims its aggregating force like the Métro towards a realm of encircling travel
rending the sound of adventure and becoming ultimately local and intimate
repeating the phrases of an old romance which is constantly renewed by the
endless originality of human loss the air the stumbling quiet of breathing
newly the heavens’ stars all out we are all for the captured time of our being

 

H1 Goal Review + Q3 Goal Planning

For the sake of ledger(ing), here’s a review of my H1 2017 goals and a listing of my Q3 2017 goals (all personal goals—professional goals excluded).

H1 2017 Goals

Buy less than H1 2016

— Success. I’m sure I’m missing a few variables (tracking reimbursable work spend, for instance), but my YoY spend through Q1 and Q2 in 2017 is down 15.02% from the same periods in 2016.

I don’t have a great hack for this—I still think I spend too much. I tried to spend less on Amazon (down almost 50% in same time period as last year). I tried to make myself think about any clothing purchase for at least 3 days before purchasing (do I really need this?). Lastly, I tried to not buy books, with the only reasoning being that I have more than enough to read through this year (and several more). I’m essentially building my own queue that’ll hit impossibility eventually. So…….I bought 11.

Volunteer at least 25 hours

Not success. I volunteered a total of 21 hours in H1. I have no excuses here. I know that volunteer work is good for myself, my community, and my world. I didn’t prioritize this. It was a failed attempt at a worthwhile goal. And it’s not that many hours. Darn.

Publish 2 literary criticism essays (+1000 words) on my blog

Not success. I published one very not-well-thought-out piece of criticism. I had another draft. I just couldn’t get behind this. It’s not an excuse since it’s just a lack of discipline but it wasn’t my favorite goal. I did throw up one review of the exceptional Nick Cave documentary, so many that can count too. Either way, no success on this one.

Deadlift 160% of BW

— Success. On 6/5/2017, I deadlifted 275lbs. I weighed myself that morning at 169.8 pounds. That’s 162% of my bodyweight. I’m glad I set this goal too since it was the morning after a later night—U2 show at Soldier Field. Without having this goal set, I likely would have skipped the gym or held off from going for 275.

Can’t say how good this feels to see progress in my deadlift. It was just 4 years ago I was walking with a cane in Vancouver.

 

Q3 2017 Goals

Moving to quarter goals. Here’s what I’ll try to achieve before October 1, 2017.

Take SuperLearner course (link)

10 pieces of writing as part of a themed project (theme is TBD)

Two weeks on time-restricted diet & two +24-hour fasts (link)

Deadlift 295lbs

The Geography of You, Reader

Unsurprisingly, I think a lot about destinations. A lot about geography. This comes naturally to a traveler; and for a long time I identified as a traveler. In even the slightest of caged-in moments, I still do.

Some of this came swelling up my stomach recently as I read W.S. Merwin’s lines: ““we travel far and fast/and as we pass through we forget/where we have been”

These lines pained me in a small way; thinking that the destinations of the past might not have the hold they once did. That travel is tied to a being-present(ness) and it becomes a series of moments that center around the current.

Anyway, it got me thinking about destinations, like I said.

And all of this got me thinking about another time, one from earlier this year. It was in a moment where I had a fleeting obsession with my own geography. Of my very particular geography. And it happened in Bali, in March.

It happened in Bali because while in Bali, amid doing the things one normally does in paradise, I read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. Why I made this decision, I don’t know, but since I didn’t find any bookstores flying from Manila into Bali (late at night) this book was what I was going to read at my villa—or on the beach—for the next 4 days. And that I did.

While reading, a gulf occurred to me. A rather meaningful one too, or at least I thought so at the time. Wise Blood is the story of Hazel Motes, a vet returning home to the South, sometime in the early part of last century.

Through the story, he takes his disenfranchisement with certain cores of Catholicism to bat—by way of oratory and persuasion on the less intelligent. As it unwinds, it drives him to murder. In between all of that is a slew of creepy characters, copycats, and more Biblical allusions than one could mark properly in marginalia.

For me, it’s not O’Connor’s best, but O’Connor’s best is some of the best there is. But this isn’t a book review. So here’s why all of this matters.

Wise Blood is dark, ominous, and foreboding. There’s not a happy step in it. And I read this in perfect 89º weather, with a pool, the ocean, fresh fruit, yoga, beautiful people, you name it. Paradise.

Even more, Bali isn’t just all aesthetics. It itself has religious roots, though far from the ones Hazel clobbers with his sloppy proclamations. It is the Hindu foothold of Southeast Asia; a place whose beauty is owed to the various gods, whose rice paddies are in pious symmetry. The landscape a sort of prayer, or ode, of its own.

This was odd enough to be remarkable (at least to me, which is why I’m writing this at all). Why so? Because it left me with a central question: the criteria for any good literary essay. And the question is this: what does the reader’s geography mean to a story?

So let’s start here: I don’t have the answer. And I don’t expect to find one in the next few hundred words, either. But let’s see where we get.

Undeniably, we’re colored by our landscape. Our moods, our smiles, our tone are all affected by the seasons and the views we’re in at any moment. Wallpaper matters, you know. And I’m confident the same can be said for any reader. Even the best reader, so absorbed and engrossed in some text, is textured by setting. Think of any time your room is too warm, too cold, or too loud. These change you as a reader.

So we know there’s an effect. The question is on the magnitude of the shading.

And so I’m looking for the longball here. I’m thinking about the effect of opposites; reading something totally antithetical to surrounding. And it’s not the actually effects of my surrounding worth examining here, it’s the geography of place. I can’t change the settings on Bali like I could on my air conditioning.

First, my thoughts are on the escapability of your two worlds. A book is easily escaped, at least tangibly, simply by closing it. You have, then, no access to anything further, and all that you could bring up are (a) already read pages, based on your memory, or (b) a memory of your feelings while reading the preceding pages.

Your limited in your geography in a similar fashion. You see what your eyes see. You feel what your heart feels; warmed by sunlight, calmed by the tide, or disturbed by something jarring. You can know more by hearing about a place, but cannot go beyond knowledge—into experience—until your senses grab hold of your surrounding.

So we have equalization there—in one’s exploration of each of these facets.

In the comparison of physical geography and literary geography, one of these is easily defeated, however. The world of a book ends in totality when that book is closed; even really if you’ve kept it in your mind. It exists only in the worlds on the page—while the real world one occupies is created based on the five (or more, definitely more) senses. One would need to lock oneself in a room with no windows and walls of concrete to escape ones real geographical surroundings—and even if one did, that stale room would then become one’s geography. You cannot escape place. You can likely escape words (can you language?), and certainly someone else’s.

One last point is about contributors. We can say that, with varying degrees of effect, an author is affected by her geography. More suitable critics than I can pick where those effects take part in one’s story. But the author does not know the readers’ geographies; and cannot predict. This puts one at a disadvantage if we can assume, and I think we can, that a reader’s geography plays some part in the experiential part of being an audience.

The author can provide instructions on reading, which may mitigate this mystery. We see this in music sometimes (the Stones’ Let It Bleed came with the very specific instructions of “Play this LOUD”, for example) but it’s not often, it holds no guarantee of instruction following. AND it might impose a limitation in story that many authors are not interested in.

Going back to Wise Blood, I cannot imagine O’Connor penning these words on a beach, and likely can’t imagine her imagining her reader reading her words on one. We know, from its history, that part of it was written in Iowa, part in New York, and others in other inland places of high Americana. No Bali listed on that part—nothing foreign, no Indian Ocean tide. The terrains seem light years apart.

I think this is where the geography question gets most interesting. It’s intriguing to me to think about reading southern catholic gothic (some call this the “grotesque” in O’Connor’s works) in one of Earth’s most beautiful places. It’s even more bewildering to think of O’Connor trying to hold the idea of her book being read one day in such a diametrically opposed setting. That for me holds the most substance.

For now, I think that’s where I can take this. I’d add in an urge to any reader to reflect on their environment. Where are you reading this now? How is that changing your reading of even this? On the other side, authors must somehow come to grips with the mystery of what any future readers setting will (not might) be; and then somehow sacrifice some truth of their story to the whims of geography.