Nocturnal Clock Turns: Thoughts on the other side of 6am

I’ve been staying up all night for work this week, doing the overnight shift. That means I start my work day in the late evening and get off just before 6am and drive home (on a sleep-deprived drive I’m convinced no one should be able to do legally).

My mind is some kind of wobbly, a little bit wrecked, but also energized on some kind of reserve adrenaline. It’s a different filter on the neural network up there, that’s for sure.

It’s equally reserved and lost in haze as it is vulnerable and honest.

So, in the name of that odd congregation on the late side of 6am, here are thoughts. (In no particular order or seriousness).

Losing Bowie was tough. Prince was crushing. But I’m going to split my little blue eyes wide open with tears when Dylan dies. I’ve thought about this a lot. And it’s odd because Dylan as Dylan as I see/hear/believe in him is somewhat dead in one way. But the day will be cold and ugly and nothing good could possibly happen.

I can feel myself less happy working this night shift. It’s temporary and so it makes for a very interesting experience, but I oddly seldom feel such a loss of waking joy. I suppose, then, that’s a good thing.

Is this the best ‘Boots of Spanish Leather‘ cover? Unknown. But it’d make for a multiple choice option.

On a podcast I listened to today, Julia Turner (Slate‘s Editor-in-Chief) said she hated the word “longform” when describing journalism. She hated it as a substitute for well-investigated, deeply researched and resonating journalism. Fair point. Short articles, as she points out and I agree with, too can be powerful. Length need not determine all. To which I say, yes, but then what do you call it? How do you differentiate short pieces of shit from short masterpieces? The masterpieces, perhaps not long in length, are long in life and vitality. Maybe that’s it and space (which =time in reading terms, no?) is an irrelevant dimension like time?

Sometimes it feels like everyone is still moving to Seattle.

Here’s a passage, chosen at random, from the book closest to me:

“The circumstances of my life run counter to the coils of my inner mechanism”

it continues

“I recognize this fact and am always conscious of it, in normal conditions. I find it a cause for rejoicing. When I am alone I am left with nothing but these coils. If I succumbed to their action I would be ripped apart the minute I moved.

I mean.

C’mon.

Just from that:

Who says that so, I don’t know, casually?

Boris Pasternak.

Motherfucker.

And that’s translated from Russian.

(I should write more letters.)

Ripped apart? By the coils of his inner mechanism. So brutal. Mechanical.

(And I see where he intersects Mayakovsky. Loosely remembered: “Love for us is no paradise of arbols. It is a reminder that the stalled motor of the heart is humming.”

 

A friend asked recently: is “Science the poetry of reality”?

No. Poetry is the poetry of reality. That’s what it’s for.

More fitting might be: science is the poetry of the speechless.

 

I’ve always thought that the last word of the fourth line of ‘Badlands‘ (Springsteen) ended with the word “gut-span”. I loved that word. That not real word.

“Guts man”. That’s what it is. Disappointed.

 

Sleep is calling my deli number. The deli of the beckon(er?).

This was fun. Let’s do it again sometime. Yes, let’s. Be careful how deep you go, man. Right, safe word: Sarajevo.

Waxing [Cinematically]: Gleason

I’ve seen some really good movies lately. I finally saw Philomena which was great. I saw The Verdict, Sidney Lumet’s 1980s courtroom drama with a drunk Bostonian Paul Newman. Pleasure, for sure. Rewatched Seven Psychopaths for what must be the 20th time now.

I’ve been wanting to take a few minutes to write a blogpost for a few weeks now, as well. It’s always nice to get the fingers moving and watch the words splay out on the white WordPress screen. Makes it all the more pleasurable to write from my very, very makeshift standing writing desk that I’ve carved out of a large, standing bookcase.

None of those movies deserve a blogpost as much as the documentary Gleason does, which I saw yesterday.

Gleason explores the journey of former NFL start Steve Gleason as he gets diagnosed with, and later lives with the physical impact of, ALS disease. Nearly simultaneously, his wife gets pregnant with their first child and his (Steve’s) deterioration seems to coincide as the baby’s due date gets closer.

By the time their children (a baby boy) is walking, Steve is not. His condition worsens drastically through the film, which puts the strain of living with such an unkindly illness puts on his psyche, his body (most obviously), and especially his wife (who, though she denies wanting to be a saint, one walks away with the very idea).

Gleason, the man, did a very wise thing and kept a video diary (he seemed predisposed to the camera even before his diagnosis) of himself. Once he learns he’ll be a father, the theme shifts to keeping a video diary for his son to view as he grows up. The documentary shows some of these, but obviously not all (Gleason says there are over 400).

Gleason, again the man, is a happy-go-lucky, former bro, former athlete. He’s as goofy as he is aloof. He’s an explorer, a question asker (and he asks very, very good questions of others, and especially of himself). One gets the impression he would have been a great father, physically. Teaching his son about strength, throwing him in a pool. He says that the hardest thing for him is not being able to hug his son. You can get a sense of his personality in this guest column he wrote for Peter King in 2013. Or you can watch some videos of his. Even through his speaking technology, his boyish humor shines through.

His wife is much the same. Or was. She, herself, laments at the loss of her personality as she tackles/d the double duty of caretaker; for Rivers and for Steve. Her life revolves around them. The movie, rightfully, foreshadows on their wedding day with their officiant talking about a marriage being tested not in the good times, but in the bad. Well there were some really, really bad times and Gleason doesn’t shy from them.

But, okay, that’s the film. It’s been reviewed and talked about over and over again. The real experience is the viewers. The scenes that come through are a story of a man and a couple and a foundation and it’s vital to remember it is REAL life. What do we make of that? What does a viewer do when confronted with such non-fictional drama?

It’s hard to say. The movie induced more than a few tears in me, and I suspect it will to anyone but the coldest of hearts. To recognize that level of pain and discomfort and change in people that we learn to love in the first 10 minutes, well it’s crushing in so many ways.

What interests me is that we know this is happening. It’s an eye-opening documentary that reveals things intimately, in a small micro example. It’s not, for instance, a deep dive into the Chinese recycling industry that might blow the lid off of something we had no idea was happening. It’s investigative to the level that Gleason allows and no more.

Does this change the director? Does it change that in which it documents?

These are the perplexing questions I am left with when I choose to, momentarily, abandon the wrecking-ball sadness that the doc provides and ask the intellectual side of it. The criticism that is due of “art”.

But is it “art”? Is it important without being art. Of course, it is. It is human and I am and you are. And, in that, we share in the visuals the screen provides. We are close to the subject until we aren’t (and this includes after the movie since Gleason, the man one last time, is alive and active and wanting to make a difference).

Those are my waxing thoughts. None are necessary. Gleason, the movie, teaches us to love, live, and give, no matter the context. Because the content of our character and the story of our lives do not need to be derailed as they are supremely challenged.

 

Writing Projects & Updates

I wanted to capture a moment here on my blog and sort out some new thoughts on writing.

To start, I’ve now completed a project that took nearly 14 months: the writing and publishing of an eBook on nomadic travel (what I did from 2012-2015). The book, called The 9 to 5 Nomad, is on Amazon now (link here) and clocks in at about 91 pages written out.

It’s a collection of things I learned over my years of travel:

  • How to plan travel
  • Where to Go, Where to Stay, How Long to Stay For
  • How to limit your expenses in doing all of that travel
  • Making the most of the whole experience.

In addition, it also details what I’ve learned about online work productivity, including:

  • Building your own organization system
  • What apps/sites to use
  • Being hyperproductive
  • Being safe
  • Physical Equipment and Wi-fi around the world

And each of those sections has a lot more.

Super happy to have it done and find some completion to that project. A big thanks to those who pushed me to get the thing done, even when I lost some momentum and changed up my own lifestlye in the process.

Next steps are deciding about investments in marketing this. Do I leave it be or do I really put some words behind it and try to sell? We’ll see!

 

Now that that project has finished, I have some time to dive into what’s next. I have a lot on my reading list, of course, but my recent travels have also spun a new idea for a writing project.

What that would entail would be a personal response to Rebecca West’s 1930s travel memoir Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. West’s book is her travels through Yugoslavia; providing a rich background on the region and the current tensions it found itself in. She does this through a long trip through the region, recording her movements with her husbands and the people she encounters along the way.

I read the first half of her book while I was traveling through the same countries West does in that half (Croatia and Bosnia). Her book is magnificent and engaging. So I don’t want to deconstruct that in any aggressive way.

BUT, so much has happened in that region since 1939. It looks so different from West’s days and no one has quite tapped into that change from the angle of a response to one of the English speaking world’s most popular Yugoslavia travelogue.

So I want to write some of the updates since then (WWII, Tito’s Yugoslavia, and the Wars of Independence, just to name a few). And in doing so, I’ll also examine West’s own work as a piece of literary criticism. And, lastly, just as West did, I’ll do this under the linear movement of my own travel in this region.

And that’s the idea. To make a book out of that.

So how does that project start? Well I don’t know but it’s now next on the writing docket and time to dive in.

More updates soon!

And how about a picture or two!

plitvice waterfalls

mostar bridge

 

Waxing [Cinematically]: April Movies

Watched some great (and some not so great movies in April). Thought I’d just put down some thoughts on each.

 

Steve Jobs: Sorkin puts his words in the hands of Boyle, Fassbender, and Winslet. It’s a recipe for success and it achieves it. It’s a grand movie about a grand figure: asking big pictures. The one is asks explicitly “is a computer a painting” is the larger examination of what intersection, if any, there is between business and art. Jobs is the figure propped up most in the debate and the movie does a good job propelling his artistic argument: assholeish-drive for his vision, for example. Poor skills to work with those who do not understand his desire (or are too young to, in the case of his daughter). Fantastic film. Four apples of five.

The Invitation: Well made but with holes everywhere. Like a granite stone pierced with one of those fancy spy tools. Hipster mystery is a good genre that no has really named yet. 2 of 4.

All The President’s Men: Absolute classic. If Fassbender’s Jobs is a prime example of the culture of modern mail acting (takeover of character instead of tinge or interpretation)–Newman and Hoffman showcase the classic aspect. There are flaws in their people. They play humans, not characters. Extremely well done. 3.5 votes of four.

Trainwreck: Schumer’s worth the hype in her genre but how long does the cheap comic laugh? She’s best when she scorches the double standards for what they are, not when she’s delving into the peculiarities of the world those standards create. This, and many of the film’s key jokes, were that. It’s fun though, lots of laughs. Couldve given Bill Hader an open door to humor. His restrictions tie up the movie. No “granny hall” lines in here to provide an comedic paramore. Oh well.  2.5 of 4.

The Birdcage: Truly sad I had never seen this, but happy I got to see it for the first time at an older age. Don’t know if I would’ve appreciated it all in earlier years. What a comedy this is! Shakespearean. Wilde-ean? It’s a dramatic comedy of the perfect degree. Wonderful plot. Nathan Lane puts on one of the finest acting performances I’ve ever seen—comedy or not. Hank Azaria kills. Robin Williams, and this was pointed out in several articles/reviews I read, keeps his restraint almost miraculously but proves his ability to encourage comedy, not reel it into himself (which came so naturally to him). 4 flamboyant stars of 4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waxing [Musically]: John Wesley Harding

Starting on March 22, 1965, Bob Dylan released, it the span of 14 months, perhaps the three greatest rock n’ roll albums of all time. The triad output of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde had immediate enormity; proving that the young star of American folk could handle an electric plug-in and play blues-infused music just as well as he could with the spectres of Americana.

There’s no span of music that I know of with such offered genius in as short of a time span as this that I know of—and really only a few contenders that would even qualify.

For years, it was Dylan’s early folk that I clung to (the ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ tracks), but his electric albums that assured me that my idol is an undeniable genius. Blood On The Tracks (my favorite album) came a decade later to confirm that the artist, though choosing to do different experiments, still had capacity where one might have conjured doubt.

However, there were always gaps in Dylan’s discography for me. Sure, I know Planet Waves and a few tracks. I know I’m supposed to like Nashville Skyline, though I can’t get over its silly cover art. And then there’s John Wesley Harding. Dylan’s follow-up to the three electric albums up above.

JWH is Dylan’s biblical genesis, it’s said. It’s a return to roots, others suggest. A short and tidy album the master made while cooped up after his motorcycle accident. His thoughts on death and legacy after the same event.

All makes for good backstory. All etched in the gospel of the prophet Bob Dylan.

What I knew of JWH was that it was a short(er) record. It had ‘All Along the Watchtower’. It was simply written—explicated by Dylan himself as lyrics in which he chose not to waste any words.

I listened to the album in full a few years ago. My reaction was mixed. Songs didn’t stand out. It felt not just as a return to the folk Dylan, but an experiment in simplicity that denied the hero his platform. It felt bare at a time when I craved Dylan.

And then I bought the vinyl.

And everything changed.

Let me say this now: John Wesley Harding is, should be, can be, will be (?) the archetypical album which anoints the difference in listening to vinyl as opposed to an mp3.

I realize that’s controversial and the classic rock fans can have their picks for that constructed category, but it’s my winner there.

John Wesley Harding needs crackle. It needs to spin, not just play. It needs to live in what is now an antiquated platform because it’s stories are too antiquated. It’s an album of the past; of fictional people in their fictional caves, castles, or caskets.

And it’s a fucking masterpiece.

Each song is a tale of something; man’s dream of freedom, edenic understanding, etc…Each songs moves you from the beginning to somewhere else at the end, with clear intention and an even clearer bit of focus (which answers to perhaps the only criticism one could levy at 65-66 Dylan).

It’s not a rock and record. It’s not a folk record. It’s a record of dripping genius, not waking you up the way ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ might or ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ does. Its songs are not epic enough to stand next to ‘Desolation Row’ or its like (‘Visions of Johanna’ in there too, obviously).

It’s a record only Bob Dylan gets to make.

But it aches and, again, drips, with its verses. Simplicity is the ultimate strength and it cries with such. The lines keep their rhyme with structure instead of necessity (instead of racing toward it the way ‘Johanna’ does or ‘Stuck Inside…’ does).

“Dear Landlord/please don’t put a price on my soul/my burden is heavy/my dreams are beyond control”

It’s boozy. It doesn’t stand upright. It needs not the pantheon of eternal praise the way some might expect Dylan to put out in the becoming-late 60s. Instead it’s a statement. Of acoustic purpose. Of no specific purpose. Reminding us that genius sometimes sneaks out the back porch and plays you something its been “working on”. And it plays and its profoundly simple. Confoundingly brilliant.

(how does one even put a number on the work of an idol? one does not grade gods). but for some sake I don’t know yet, I’ll give it a 9.4/10

 

Mohja Kahf’s ‘Copulation in English’

We are going to dip English backward
by its Shakespearean tresses
arcing its spine like a crescent
We are going to rewrite English in Arabic
(Arabic script: how sweet, how sweet)

 

and all the languages of our blood
We are going to give English the makeover of its lifetime,
darkening the rims of its eyes with Hindi antimony,
making it blush Farsi roses
(Arabic script: the night, the night)

 

We are going to make English dizzy
until English vomits its history,
Norman, Saxon, Celtic, down
to its Druid dregs
We won’t stop playing with English
We are the new bullies in the schoolyard
and we like the merry-go-round of nouns and adjectives
and onomatopoetics and objective correlatives

 

We will bewilder English in Aramaic of Jesus
(Arabic script: My Lord, my lord, why have you forsaken me?)
We know its biblical heart better than it knows itself
and hold the blades of these lilies-of-the-valley
against its jugular vein

 

We are going to make English love us
And kiss us and explore us with its tongues
Then we will play hard-to-get
and English will have to phone
and leave a message after message of desire on our machines
English will have to learn what to say to please us:
(Arabic script: “I humbled myself until even me enemy wept for me.”)

 

English has never tasted anything this purple,
Seen mangos this bursting, trickling down its poems,
pomegranates spraying the tart red seeds
over its stories like white white linen
English has never smelled the cardamom this ecstatic
or breathed rhetoric this thick with love

 

English will come to us hoarse with passion
we will have taught English to have
and English will never be the same and will never regret us
Although, after this night of intense copulation,

we may slaughter English in its bed and redeem our honor,
even while pregnant with English’s bastard
(Arabic script: “Here comes the dawn upon us like a fire.”)

The Affluence of Nostalgia

A long time ago I made a very simple decision. When I burned a new mix CD (yes, we did that)—almost always to play in my car to idle and drive around aimlessly—I took a sharpie and added the date on the front of the burn date.

Simple. A timestamp before a timestamp was thrown on everything.

At the time, I think it was simply a way to recognize which were new(er) CDs and which were older. Now, however, these have become my own personal archeology and I’m so thankful to my former self(ves) for doing this.

What it’s allowed for is a perfect nostalgia—giving me the opportunity to listen as I listened years before. The same songs still play out of that disc, though all else has changed.

_____________

Lately, I’ve been wishing I wrote a journal growing up. Some of this is due to trying to attach feelings retroactively to events in my life (birthdays, breakups, big decisions, etc…)—though part of it is just to better form a timeline of my growing into who I am today.

Who was I at 16? At 23?

Lately, the lack of those answers AND the knowledge that this person too should fade into the background has made me sad. Fleeting, this all is—even you, even me.

This kind of scattered, wanting nostalgia has become all the more prevalent as I’ve moved back to my hometown of Chicago and find myself driving streets I once drove a decade ago. I drive past the Aragon where I used to go to shows. See the skyline sitting prominently as its backdropped self. Big shoulders. Old shoulders. The shoulders I’ve known.

What do to with the memories as they rush back? Where to place them if not to know the person to who they originally belonged? I think this is the platform of nostalgia—we cannot know these past people, but we can know their experiences. And they can rush back with a richness once unlocked by something.

I think of Odyssesus. It took him 10 years to get back to Ithaca. It took me 9 to come back here.

Is this to be my kingdom? And am I to rest, contented in this lifestyle and learned from the past.

Or do I take our hero as Tennyson wrote him, yearning to move:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

_____________

These feelings collided recently when flipping through some old CDs on my way to work I came across the disc pictured here. It’s date—11/6/08—was exactly 7 years prior to picking it up.

20151104_083349

For no other reason than the alignment of dates, I was struck. I brain-stepped into a kind of corny nostalgia I swore I’d never put myself into.

There are easy things to glean from the track list (in full at the bottom). Clearly I was as into singer/songwriters as ever—25 of the 36 tracks are by artists of [First Name] [Last Name] nomenclature. A few artists pop up three times (Springsteen, Dylan, Morrison), but none more than that.

Others take a second of investigation. Young Jeezy? Ahh, yes. November 6th, 2015 would have been just two days after the 2008 election. I don’t have much memory of the days following election day, but I’ll always remember that night—watching the results come in, going to the Plaza after Obama won and drinking to what felt, then, like a new world.

What else do I know? In late 2008, I was working at Epic in Verona, WI—part-time outside of school to make some extra money. The job involved a 30-minute drive out to the suburbs of Madison. An hour each way is probably good enough reason to make not one, but two CDs.

The rest? I don’t know. I probably will never know. But I can start to construct at least some memory—of me listening to these CDs while driving in Madison on my way to&from Epic—and know that new memories will be made as I listen to/from the suburbs or my job at Uber or elsewhere. It’s never just one thing. We’re blessed with multitudes constantly in the millions—and that makes it tough to hold on to anything, really.

The larger question here is what to make of this nostalgia? Is it useful? Worthwhile? Damaging?

As a traveler, part of me says to pick up & move on. Baggage is a burden; weight a hindrance. If we’re stuck somewhere in the past, how do we enjoy the present?

But lately, part of me wants to squeeze these moments. These precious construction bits of who I am today. Understandings of what laid the road to now (in hopes of being evermore present). The affluence of nostalgia provides knowledge and color to our lives. It brings stories and failures; forgotten hopes and stillwater dreams. I look back on the last 7 years and there are moments of immense, unrepeatable joy.

I think about racing to write them all down. To revisit them later as a laundry list of accomplishment. But that’s not the right move. That doesn’t seem like it, anyway.

What is right? I don’t know.

One right move seems to be to smile at our own pasts, the heavy and the light, the suns and moons that have come before. They’ve landed us here and blanketed us with experience.

But nostalgia is not a one-sided thing. There are aches that feel wrong to smile at.

Perhaps, then, the affluence is also a complication. And someday we’ll get to decide how we’ll look back not just on our experiences but also on said nostalgia itself.

Life was once simple, I think. It must have been.

Insert disc.

Play.

TRACK LISTING — MIX 11/6/2008

DISC#1

  1. Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road
  2. Bruce Springsteen – The River
  3. Kate Nash – Mariella
  4. Ryan Adams – Sylvia Plath
  5. Elton John – Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters
  6. Johnny Cash – Desperado
  7. Paul Simon – A Simple Desultory Philippic
  8.  The National – Fashion Coat
  9. Arlo Guthrie – The City of New Orleans
  10. Jeff Buckley – Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind
  11. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Lodi
  12. Radiohead – Jigsaw Falling Into Place
  13. Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
  14. Bob Dylan – Spanish Harlem Incident
  15. Pavement – Here
  16. Pavement – Give It A Day
  17. Bruce Springsteen – Rosalita
  18. Conor Oberst – Sausalito

Disc #2

  1. Young Jeezy – My President Is Black
  2. Liz Phair – Never Said
  3. Liz Phair – 6’1
  4. Van Morrison – The Way Young Lovers Do
  5. Ryan Adams – Answering Bell
  6. The Beatles – A Day In The Life
  7. Tom Petty – It’s Good To Be King
  8. Tom Petty – Time To Move On
  9. Van Morrison — Caravan
  10. Van Morrison – Moondance
  11. Bob Dylan – It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
  12. R. Kelly – Sex In The Kitchen
  13. Scott McKenzie – San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)
  14. The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn
  15. Radiohead – Idioteque
  16. Josh Ritter – Wolves
  17. Bob Dylan – To Ramona
  18. Janis Joplin — Piece of My Heart

In Profile: Lindsey Grant

lindsey pic“What’s it like to be a 12-year-old these days?”

“Well, let me tell about a day in the life of me,” Lindsey Grant responded. Beaming with enthusiasm, unabashed to share a story, a day, a viewpoint—a look on the inside of 7th grade complications.

“I get up at 5:45 to go to school at 7:40. Because to a 12 year old you need a lot of time to get ready. Or at least 12 year old girls need that much time to get ready.”

Grant is that self-described 12-year-old girl. The one who after spending all that time getting ready “spends 6 hours on my iPad at school” (said with the roll of the eyes). She is a high-achieving 7th grade student, busied with homework, after-school extracurriculars, and a social life to always be on top of.

She sat down with me for an interview and allowed me to follow her through her Thanksgiving holiday which she spent with her mother and her older siblings.

Pre-interview she toggled around her iPhone and showed me an intricate Thanksgiving message she sent to a friend made up of about 250 emojis carefully arranged to look like a road and some turkeys. She sat tall and talked loud. Earlier in the day she asked us if we knew the nae-nae. Or the dab. Or something else I can’t remember.

The crowd was all older than 25. No one knew. Grant rolled her eyes. Again.

“I was the bonus baby,” she said, “as my mom said.” She’s 13 years younger than her closest sibling and admitted to growing up much like an only child—a category she’s quick to defend as not all self-obsessed and catered to. She admitted her growing up was easier than others and her relationship with her family strong because she had the atypical generational mismatch.

“I only saw my siblings every so often. So we didn’t fight,” she said. “I think that’s taught me to not fight with others too.”

On top of school requirements, Grant plays lacrosse, practices the viola, sings in the school choir, reads teen fiction, and watches TV shows on Netflix. Often all in the same day. Her calendar is busier than mine, and most of the adults I know.

When I asked if this weighs on her, she was quick to brush it off. That’s what gives me energy, she said.

_____________

No kid these days is safe from a discussion about technology. Grant keeps her iPhone close. She picked it up more than a few times during our chat. She can scroll and glean with hardly any attention or energy. Such is the way of our youth—they’re very good at not paying attention.

Grant has a grasp on her generation and its ties to the smartphone. She laments the loss of the personable communication she might have seen from her parents or siblings’ generations—and pokes fun at those tangled in the technology.

“I mean c’mon,” she said. “We spent, what, like, 10 years without phones.”

Fair point. But 10 years ago, Grant was 2.

And yet it’s not just the technology itself, it’s the derivations of it. As she explained, “the problem with social media is you see exactly what you’re being left out of.”

For her part, Grant tries to limit the extent of her technological reliance. This isn’t easy—homework, like the work done during the school day is done entirely on an iPad. Grades are posted in near real-time, and are checked much the same.

Any friend is just a text away. Her world exchanges information not through newspapers, but on Instagram updates, Snapchat snaps, and text  enjambments of hieroglyphic emoji sequences.

She, however, only has seven apps that are not entirely pertinent to some specific cause. She won’t download more. And if she does she needs to remove one of the current seven. It’s a surprisingly disciplined system for a young girl with all of 16gb storage. We’re not used to see children keep such rules; it seems to be the exact opposite of the way we color the boundarylessness of youth.

And yet Grant is happy with her self-limiting. There are still books to explore. An outside world to “play in” and creative projects to begin, abandon, and begin again.

___________

Grant talked about coming into her own. “I used to be shy,” she said. It’s hardly believable the way she communicates so confidently.

She spoke of her transition. Earning her confidence. Speaking her mind. “If you asked me five years ago, I was not as outgoing as I am now. When I was younger, I didn’t have as many friends.”

Grant’s sister spent time as an actress who encouraged a love for the theater. “If you’re willing to go on the stage, you can be who you want.”

Through this, she says she became “more” herself. Confident. Consistent. Loud. It’s an interesting paradox, becoming yourself by thinking about others being someone else.

____________

12 years in isn’t exactly a marathon, so there’s a lot to look forward to.

What exactly is it that Grant wants from her future? I asked her point blank.

“Well,” she began, “as you can tell I’ve thought about this before.”

On her list?

Go to a good college. Have a decent-sized family. A job like a teacher…. Or a reporter….Or work at Google. (“Because have you seen their office?”)

“I just have big hopes that I’ll be someone people can rely on,” is how she ended that thought.

The future will have to wait. For now there are assignments to finish and grades to earn.

Ahh, grades.

Grades are what Grant calls her “biggest problem” these days, and though she recognizes the pettiness in that idea, there’s no escaping the call of duty for grade-schoolers. So much conflict and torment tied to a single letter.

“We all just want to make our parents happy,” she said in regards to grades.

Certainly Grant’s parents must be happy. Her last report card was filled with A’s and she speaks at an intelligent and mature level about her life.

And Grant insisted her classmates, and those of her generation are keeping up with the times and educating themselves just the same.

“We know what’s going on,” she said of her peers, making one feel the incredulity our adult-selves put on children as ignorant to the passings of the world. “Half the kids in my school keep up with the political dates. And we actually listen to the news. And care about what’s happening.”

Perhaps we’ve forgotten to exclaim that children are the future. Even if it’s a future we imagine with artificial intelligence, global warming, and the sphere of influence moving toward the developing world.

The way Grant tells it we have much to look forward to. That we’re in good hands.

But what’s the limit of what one 12-year-old girl knows anyway?

I found one when I asked a high-level question about “people” in the world (a reflection on 7 billion). She started her answer with “well, in my school” (a junior high of 300). And then you remember that her scope is small and limited. but perhaps that’s not anything to write of.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance there’s an exercise in which a writing teacher asks students to describe their hometown. One pupil struggles. She  can’t think of where to start. Her hometown is large and abstract—hard to pin down in a writing assignment.The teacher’s instruction was to start small. Think about City Hall, he said. Think about just one brick in that building and start describing that. Once you have, go bigger. The next brick. The row. The building. The street. The town. And there you have it.

Grant is still young and although she keeps a thumb on the larger world, it’s hard to allow her to speak for the entire population. On a daily basis, after all, she doesn’t converse with anyone who has gone to war, paid into social security, or refinanced a mortgage.

And yet there’s something to be said about the more immediate focus. The seeing of herself amongst her class and her peers of 12-year-olds—maybe there’s something to it. Maybe that’s the starting point we miss out when we diagnose our species of its ills and wills. Maybe.

That question will have to remain sitting there for now. It’s time to practice the Viola and then math homework and scrolling through the new posts on Instagram and then it’s time for sleep because 5:45am comes around early and there’ll be decisions to make before school starts.

In Profile: Eugene Granovsky

eugene pic“So, what’s the end goal?” I asked.

“There is no end goal,” he said. “I feel like I’m already there. I’m already very, very happy.”

I asked Eugene Granovsky to go a bit further.

“Nothing?” I repeated.

“Look,” he said. “My entire goal was to take a couple swings of the bat at this thing.”

This thing is entrepreneurship. Working for himself. Taking an idea and making it into something. Building, constructing, executing.

“Now, I know I can swing indefinitely.”

Well, who’s swinging? And at what?

______

Born in Moscow, Granovsky came to the United States when he was seven, almost immediately settling in Chicago. He’s been here ever since. He has an Eastern European face—a curly-haired Mayakovsky look in a button-down and sweater.

I’ve only met Granovsky once—on a chilly Chicago Sunday at Lovely Bakeshop. He wore a sweater and boots, comfortable in the coffee shop he said he works out of everyday. “It’s nice to work at a place people know me,” he said. (Ironic, somewhat, considering this is what most people’s office is like).

He spends almost 7 days a week at Lovely (the coffee shop). He takes all of his meetings there. He knows the staff. He looked at my breakfast sandwich and nodded approvingly.

We started our interview running through his work history. It began by studying Engineering at the University of Illinois. Then a job in the Energy sector. He talks about this a lot—Energy— a place he’s found himself working over these years. A place he’s carved out his own space in.

After that job it was on to Consulting. 5 years in that. Then came the questions—what to do next? Where to go? What did he want?

He had dreamt of traveling and wrangled out a 3-month sabbatical in Barcelona. There, he studied entrepreneurship furiously, diving into the wide pool of blogs, articles, and books on the topic. He came back to the States and his consulting job ready to leave. He saved money, moonlighted on startup ideas, pinpointed a departure date, and found a business partner at a nearly identical point in his life.

It wasn’t Granovsky’s first foray into entrepreneurship. He had a business when he first got to college—making about $3,000 per month at its peak, which isn’t exactly loose change for a student.

Let’s just say, the business wasn’t your typical freshman get-rich-quick scheme. It wasn’t gameday t-shirts and it wasn’t drugs. It was a “translational” business run through a popular video game that involved buying replicated currencies from China, selling them in-game and cashing out on items of actual value. Eventually, Granovsky faced some complication and couldn’t run his business through PayPal as its terms of services didn’t guarantee digital items. It folded. Business over—lessons learned.

As he transitioned out of consulting, he worked with a friend on new business ideas. They tried a few out. Nothing stuck.

But then, Granovsky noticed that an app they both used regularly wasn’t being updated, so he cold emailed the programmer. He sold it to Granovsky. It was a habit-building app called AskMeEvery and became the first project to really dive into.

“We worked on it for like 8 or 9 months,” he said. “But it taught us so much.” The app was featured on blogs, in Techcrunch, and the two gained some real users.

“He was going to be the programmer and I was the business guy,” he said. “But he left this job six months before I did and started building. By the time I quit I wasn’t even needed. We did it ass backward.”

AskMeEvery involved some pivoting once it took off a bit more. Granovsky had to learn fast that adaptation was key to keeping users.

The two decided to let things go after their 9-month run and parted ways, though they’ve stayed good friends. Granovsky went off and decided to explore his own ideas.

He originally discounted his consulting years—surely starting businesses would be be a totally different ballgame than consulting for them—but found that crucial experiences carried over. “I have no issue going into a business and selling,” he said, pointing to something he undoubtedly sees other entrepreneurs struggling with.

Soon he had built a successful freelancing career, fielding too many projects and request to fulfill.

Granovsky talks fast and rarely pauses. There were very few “likes” or “umms” in his speech pattern, and he carried an enthusiasm to him when he spoke of his own life’s story. Energy may be his preferred sector and it must too be a noun that sticks close to his persona. One gets the idea that he might never stop—and remember, there’s no end goal in the distance. Perhaps there’s just an inertia to move forward—an energy.

 His is an interesting story of evolution—less sharp turns and more slow pivots, which he’s mirrored in his approach to business and startups. He’s made calculated, precise changes. He’s specific about where he spends his own energy—he won’t interrupt a working session by reading an email or an article. He thinks deeply on what he wants—not four houses, not a fancy watch, not a unicorn business.

 

It’s unclear exactly what it is that he does want, only that he’s found something he was looking for—the chance to keep swinging that bat whenever he decides to pick it up.

And where has this all gotten him?

Granovsky is the CEO of Currenthub, a CRM-type tool for retail-electric brokers. On top of that he has more than a handful of projects he’s currently working on. His clients are businesses (“I’ve gotten as far as from B2C (business-to-consumer) as I can” he said), and they range in scope and size. He programs, he sells, he consults. All from a table and a laptop—usually at Lovely.

The plate is full, so to speak.

__________

These days, Granovksy uses a 4-point criteria scale for evaluating whether to jump into another project.

The four-points—and he’ll actually go through the process of grading these on a piece of paper—Is the project…

  1. Energy related?
  2. Well-paid or does it have the potential to be?
  3. Front-end related?
  4. Interesting?

He shoots for projects that hit at least 3 of these points; though when he started he would take some hitting only 2. As things progress, of course, he’ll aim for perfect scores—but we’re not there yet.

Later, he pointed out that “time” was not an element on the scale. This means he’s as likely to take on a one-day project as a one-year one; provided, of course, that it hits the criteria notes.

This spoke to what he considered—or what he’s been told is—his greatest strength: patience. He’s able to sit with things, and sit with them for as long as is needed to uncover the truth. This he considers a fundamental skill.

It’s also a hard lesson he had to learn, perhaps the hard way. One thing that “calmed [him] down” was the realization that his journey as an entrepreneur would surely be a long one. Articles and interviews that discussed a timeline of 3-4 years made him feel better, instead of deflating. It would be a marathon, not a sprint—and one that will require a lot of patience.

The mindset has to be based on this “long process,” he said. “Don’t kill yourself doing it.”

These are hard truths. Easy to say, harder to live. But it’s the change Granovsky wants to see in the broader world—to “really, really sit with things,” he said. That’s what we need—the kind of self-awareness that comes from hard questions, and hard questions only.

__________

Granovsky doesn’t set false expectations about entrepreneurship. The startup world is hard and busy. It’s a long road and there’s a lot of work to be done. There may be no personal end goal, but there’s also no easy rest stops along the way. The work continues.

He spoke candidly of his transition to the life he lives now. “When you quit after 8 years in the workforce, there were mornings I was just sitting on OKCupid for an hour and a half. On a Tuesday. Because I can.”

Those days are left to the past. More long days at Lovely lurk ahead. More people will come; more will pitch their projects and Granovsky will pit them on the 4-point evaluation scale. There’s always more waiting to be done.

Energy, after all, doesn’t just create itself. And each swing of the bat requires a little bit more.