An Update: The New Project & South Africa

Hello from Stellenbosch, South Africa — wine capital of this part of the world, and all-around beautiful little slice of land. South Africa has been a dream for the first 9 days and I expect it to continue to be so. Cape Town was hilly, unique, cloudy, sunny, wet, wonderful, empty, full, etc; everything and all of life bursting in so many ways. Inspiring, sure, but moreso just a great place to pass some days in joy.

What I want to write about here though is my new project—the beginning stages of my attempt to write a novel. It is the most daunting of tasks I’ve undertaken, and I’m just beginning so nothing has happened so deserving of praise quite yet.

But I’m on my way. I’m sketching notes in my notebook, writing words and fragments that come to mind and starting to form my foundation. I said that my timeline goals for South Africa were: committing to a plot (done!), writing 10,000 words (done!), and settling on a disciplined approach to daily work/writing (not done yet). So, well on my way for Part I, with some decisions left to make on just how I’ll get this project done.

I’m not going to reveal the plot here quite yet, nor the characters. That will come soon. But I did want to take a minute to take a stepped-away look at the novel writing and be happy with what’s come so far.

The next part will provide some writing break as I wrap up life in Chicago before taking my longer hiatus to try and do this whole thing. I expect that to take several months, but more likely longer—a year? (longer?) and really challenge me to dive deeply into these characters and myself. Of this, I have fear, nervousness, and a tremendous deal of an anxious, excitable orientation. I have no idea how I’ll take to the challenge.

What I do know is that what I’ve written so far is the easy part—clips of scenes that have come to mind easily. Smoothly. Without resistance. The basics of characters. But what about the longer scenes? What will happen to one of them when chaos ensues? Disaster strikes? Disagreement descends? I don’t have these answers but I’ll need to after some time. So far, too, I have exposition. My explaining of these things. I’ll need to turn that into dialogue. Action. A narrator that does not know everything. Setting. All the things that go into a novel. Luckily, I’ve read some great books, so I’m in the hands of some great teachers. I just need to make sure I’ve paid attention—the right attention.

But, for now, I have another 11 days in South Africa—including a safari! So I’m going to enjoy that, keep dreaming of my half-made characters, and work on finding whatever routine is best going to help me get into “flow” so I can write at my best.

More updates soon!

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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!

 

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.

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.

Waxing [Theatrically]: One More Time With Feeling

I got turned onto Nick Cave by way of a smattering of recommendations, and from all angles. See, it’s fairly apparent after spending time with me that I have a sway toward deep-voiced, brooding lead singers (see Morrison, Jim and Vedder, Eddie). Nick Cave fits into that—with a more poetic bent than the rest, another reason I was drawn to him once I heeded those recommendations.

I saw on Metacritic that Cave’s last album Skeleton Tree was getting rave reviews. I read some of those reviews. I quickly learned the story that has become inextricably attached to that album: it’s a portrait of heartbreak after Cave’s 15-year-old son died unexpectedly during the recording of the album.

It takes not even one single second of starting that album to get that vibe. The first track ‘Jesus Alone’ starts with a wicked theremin-like wail of lightning. And then Cave’s voice comes on, guiding our ears through the tunnels of some dark, dark, dark poetry. And we’re entered into it all.

Around that same time, Metacritic also featured an exceptionally praised new documentary called One More Time With Feeling.  It was a music film (I’m tempted to avoid the word “documentary”) about Cave making the album. Or, more appropriately, it’s Cave putting the final touches on the album—post-tragedy.

nick-cave-bad-seeds-one-more-time-with-feeling

Let’s just say that the air is thick with this one. There’s a few light moments and they cut through hard, but the mainstay is much closer the character that Cave portrays externally—dark, suited, clean around the corners, and bathed and aged in experience.

This is, at least, the main crux of the film. There are other parts mixed in—Cave’s narrating of out-of-studio scenes, for instance, allow us a glimpse into the man’s existence. There’s also a crafty director playing games with the cinema of the music; swerving camera angles and bending our perception points. The whole thing is filmed in black and white (with spontaneous bursts of light so stark it might as well be color) and with some new-fangled kind of 3D camera. I’m sure there’s more info on that online.

The director that pulls these disparate parts together into a cohesive unit (at least as cohesive as a chaotic punk like Cave would allow for) is Andrew Dominik. I know him from The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford—a film as solid as its title is long. He’s benefited, at least in my view, by Cave’s knack for understanding the point where music can meet with cinema for a collaborative and combined, rather than negative, effect. Cave, after all, has scored several movies (including last year’s excellent Hell or High Water).

It could be for this reason, or another entirely, that Cave plays his part on camera so well. While his voice echoes almost like statuary, he is animated in the way a wise elderly poet is animated. His genius is cast through. His musical partner’s genius is cast through by way of lens work, as well. We are swarmed by genius—musically, visually, emotionally.

In the end, its one of the most unique films I’ve seen in years and touches upon the nerve of the viewer in ways both beautiful and dark. And that doesn’t require one more time. It’s got all the feeling offered that we’re ready or able to accept.

This Is My Hope In An Alleyway

The last five or six weeks have been oddly up & down for me. I think the stoic in me is usually able to keep things on a more even keel. The epicurean in me keeps joy as a fundamental priority. Usually, this is my mainstay: a streamlined and consistent happy.

And the last few weeks have been seen plenty of that. This last Saturday my friends and I hired a live band that put on a rocking house party AND two parades around the neighborhood. I had a great weekend in NYC recently; hopping around Xanadu. Friends are still warm, books are still wonders, exercise moves my body and strengthens me.

But there’s also been some downs. Work has had a few letdowns; both in my small area and in the larger ones (Uber’s string of headlines haven’t been rosy lately, to say the least). The weather, after being away from Chicago for so many years, probably has me down more than I care to admit. Politics, of course, have been, well, some kind of deliberate hell.

But I’m breathing and I’m alive and I’m happy despite these things. And if I get down, I’ve found a few inspirations lately that have brought out some poignant uplifting in me.

I felt compelled to share. Here they are:

February’s Inspirations

W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks”

(full poem here)

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

Pearl Jam’s ‘It’s OK’ Performance, Virginia Beach 2000

In 2000, Pearl Jam played a festival in the Netherlands. Early in the show, things got out of hand and nine people died from being crushed. That, I can only imagine, is likely the worst thing you could experience as an entertainer. The band made it clear how hard it hit them.

That was June 30.

They cancelled a few shows after that. The next show they played was August 3rd, about 5 weeks later, in Virginia Beach.

After ‘Daughter’ the band brought out a cover they’d done a few other times, but not often. This time, playing a cover of Dead Moon’s ‘It’s OK’, Eddie pleads with the crowd to sing, and sing along the simple of “it’s ok”.

His instructions: “Sing it loud. Sing it loud beacause we’re outside. Sing it loud because we’re still alive. Just…..just sing it loud.”

Clearly, it’s as much for him and the band as it is for us. But it’s a useful reminder; after tragedy, after boredom, malaise, terror, anything…..It’s ok.

This is my life/This is my chance/This is my hope in an alleyway

 

Langston Hughes’ “Dream-Dust”

Gather out of star-dust
Earth-dust,
Cloud-dust,
Storm-dust,
And splinters of hail,
One handful of dream-dust
Not for sale

Mahershala Ali’s Interview

I saw a lot of movies last year. Should-be-Oscar-shoe-in Moonlight was my favorite. And a big part of that was Mahershala Ali’s character Juan—a mentor, father figure for the main character. Juan, more than any of the other best support actor nominees, or any supporting role really, loomed on screen in nearly all the scenes he was not in (no spoilers!)

I was impressed with Ali’s acceptance speech at the SAG awards. The idea of oppressed people folding into themselves was a profound way to put it.

BUT, it was this interview he did that really got me this month. I must have read it two weeks now and I still think about it. Why?

Because, here’s a man who has had MASSIVE success this year. Like peaking in his craft, his life’s work. And, how does he end an interview? Not by saying he’s grateful or that he’s basking in the success of his hard work. No, he leaves it like this, a perfectly reflective, all-too-human look at ourselves and our own capabilities. It’s really quite profound.

“Now, I’m just dealing with the things that all men and women deal with when we recognize our faults. We all have to do work to be our best selves, to civilize ourselves in the way we see fit. I’m dealing with the things that keep me from being the fullest person I can be.”

 

 

 

2016: In Review

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In front of William Burroughs’ 1950s home; Mexico City, Mexico

2016 was, well these things are always so hard to whittle down to simple adjectives, but it was fun, surprisingly both stable and unstable at times, and packed full of new and unique experiences. All in all, it was a good year. I’m happy to say that upon reflection. I suppose that’s all we ever really want, yeah?

But it’s especially important since 2016 was the first year in a long time that I stayed put. I lived in one place for the year. I signed my first yearlong lease (since college, which really doesn’t count the same way). I built myself a room in an apartment with some friends and kept coming back to it like a boomerang. It’s the longest I’ve ever done that for in my adult life.

So I’m glad that I could find joy; both in the present and upon reflection, without needing the influx of new locations streaming through.

So the year. I’ll start with the highlights: the Chicago Cubs, my team of all teams, finally ended its famous drought and won the 2016 World Series. Since the baseball playoffs are a month-long affair, I got to enjoy their winning ways all through October and a bit into November. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

I got to go to Burning Man and check that off the bucket list. I was prodigious in my reading (less so my writing but that might be a 2017 focus). I finished my ebook and got it on Amazon. I got my first tattoo. I tried the ketogenic diet. I juice cleansed. I bone-broth cleansed. I’m currently in a bout of vegetarianism.

I said at the beginning of the year that I wanted to be in a relationship (since it went hand in hand with the whole being location-stable part) and I was able to do that—for most the year. I decided later in the year that I wanted to explore something else, but the relationship gave me great joy and I’m grateful for it. It’s a year that will be tied to many memories with that individual.

I wanted to spend the year in service to others. I set a very ambitious goal of volunteer hours that I did not meet (goal was 150, came out around 55). I do, in many ways, find my job to be a fulfillment of that idea, but I know it doesn’t always count when you’re getting paid for these things. Still, it’s a bonus to receive that sentiment—one of doing service to and for others—from my professional day-to-day.

My other three goals for the year are related to the above: read more books than last year (19 last year, 21 this year), get a tattoo (done!) and go on an experiential retreat (Burning Man). Accomplished. Nice! I set some professional goals as well and hit most of those, but that’s for a piece of writing and reflection outside of this blogpost.

Ups and downs. Swings to and fro. They happen in every year, but it was an important reminder for me that this year had them too. That I have an identity outside of being a nomad and a wanderer, and that life can and will reward me with its richness even as I do, like I said, stay put.

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Home; Pilsen, Chicago

 

So, some other notes, highlights, and favorites from 2016.

Other Notes

Unique Destinations Traveled To: Roatan (yep, started here!) > Chicago > Madison > Phoenix/Scottsdale > Mexico City >  London > Dubrovnik > Mostar > Sarajevo > Split > Zadar > Plitvice > Rijeka > Venice > Crothersville > San Francisco > Black Rock City > New Jersey > New York City > Flagstaff > Los Angeles

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Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Writing: In 2016, I finished my ebook on traveling while working (link). It was a project that started in 2015, got semi-abandoned in 2016 and then picked back up again. Though it’s not exactly what I pictured from my first (e)book, I’m proud to call it my own. There’s a lot of good nuggets of learning packed in there for my years traversing the globe.

Over the year, I published 9 blog posts. That’s a fairly slow year for me comparatively. (I did do a fair amount of notebook scribbling that I didn’t publish anywhere). I did have my single most successful (in terms of visitors/page views) this year; a letter to my little sister on the election of our future president (who shall go nameless).

Reading: Book list below. Goal was to read more books than last year (19) which I did! Dates are when the book was finished.

  1. Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter (Mario Vargas Llosa); January 5
  2. Momo (Michael Ende); February 9
  3. The Principles of Uncertainty (Maira Kalman); Feburary 10
  4. Consolations (David Whyte); February 29
  5. Gilead (Marilynne Robinson); March 10
  6. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (Kristopher Jansma); March 27
  7. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Daniel Pink); March 29
  8. M Train (Patti Smith); April 26
  9. Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett); May 30
  10. Tinkers (Paul Harding); June 27
  11. The Bonfire of The Vanities (Tom Wolfe); July 10
  12. Notes from No Man’s Land (Eula Bliss); July 23
  13. 33 1/3 Series: Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (Gina Arnold); July 29
  14. The Sleep Revolution (Arianna Huffington); July 30
  15. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov trans. Burgin & O’Connor); September 26
  16. The History of Pi (Petr Beckman); October 23
  17. Flash Boys (Michael Lewis); October 31
  18. Ready Player One (Ernest Cline); November 13
  19. Modern Lovers (Emma Straub); November 18
  20. When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi); December 2
  21. The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 (Adrienne Rich); December 22

Professionally: This was my first full year at Uber and first full year at an office. It was nice to have that kind of stability, but it’s the unique opportunities that a year coming to the same place can afford you. This year I got to know my coworkers in a deeper way and got to enjoy the diversity of my specific office. As chaotic and challenging as my job can be at times, it’s rewarding in these ways and so many more. Several times over the year I felt a nice pang or rush of satisfaction for what I got to each and every day and the people I get to serve in my role.

Pearl Jam: 2 shows. Glorious nights at the Friendly Confines (Wrigley Field)

Favorites

Favorite 2016 New Thing: Going to the Movies Alone

I don’t mean this as a knock to anyone I’ve been to a movie with, but there’s something so much free(r) about going by oneself. And it’s not just that I tend to be shyer about showing emotions surrounded by people I know—it’s the thinking and intaking. The depth of what you’re being shown. The “is”-ness of the movie (which a friend recently sent me) that you can become part of on your own. It’s just a simpler way to go deeper in the silence of your own mind (or the walking out of the theater after), and I love it.

I did this about a dozen times this year. Lied about what I was doing once or twice, and other times just flat out told people. Either way, I reveled in it.

(This section was originally Hardcore History, the amazing podcast by Dan Carlin, but I had done a podcast the last two years and really wanted to think about my favorite new “thing” in 2016. It was the movies thing).

Favorite book I read in 2016: Consolations by David Whyte

Definition as poetry. Poetry as an attempt to escape metaphor and become concrete. David Whyte merges these and more in Consolations. And it’s a whirlwind of prose and story and explanation and precision with shades of beauty.

The book is divided into chapters which seek to define a word. A common word. Friendship. Pain. 50 others. The full title of the book is Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words and there’s a sense that Whyte takes his mission to heart. Each chapter peels a word backward only to leap them forward in your mind. No more are there limited definitions for the ways we use these words; but wider maps (*) that each allow us to explore.

Reading Consolations was like opening a dictionary to find only obscured photographs begging you to interpret, realize, define, distinguish, and so on. I was grateful to do it 52 times over.

Other Favorites: Notes from No Man’s Land (Eula Bliss), The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Favorite 2016 movieMoonlight

It’s already a critical success—one of the biggest in the last few years, and I’m sure reading the heaps of praise put on Barry Jenkins’ movie swayed me in some ways. But there’s something undeniably unique about the way this movie brings you in. And, more importantly, how it spits you out.

Split into three parts, each seems to end abruptly. In the middle of some development (not necessarily action) and you find yourself aching to have that character back (or, really, that version/age of Chiron). You never get to. But you do get to see into that person’s future, and an almost fresh narrative forms around our character.

It’s a brilliant and brutal way to tell a story of an adolescent (and one just as daring, I might add, as Linklater’s extreme on the other end in Boyhood). Especially when that narrative revolves around the character’s search for his own identity. If the motif of a movie dealt with location, or a relationship, the chopped up storytelling style might play off easier. Instead, it’s hard. It’s hard to have three different actors play your main character. Hard to see the others around him grow. Hard to not see the middle parts, the ties that bind our Chirons together.

And, yet, it pulls this off beautifully. Both with subtle color and with dialogue acting as a a hammer to the emotional core.

Other Favorites: ArrivalAmerican Honey. To Hell or High Water. Demolition. Jackie

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San Francisco Peak; Flagstaff, AZ

Favorite 2016 album: Teens of Denial (Car Seat Headrest)

There were some great albums this year, no doubt about it. This one stood out as something new, but also nostalgic. It brought me back to my days of listening to punk/pop-punk and doing so loudly.

The album has its moments, some concentrated in that punk tradition and others found it longer songs, nearly jam sessions themselves, sprawling out with tales of growing up and teens of all walks (some in denial, as the title suggests).

It’s a fine tuned album that has some creak to it and it kept drawing me back. It’s hard to separate the spring and summer of this year from it. And, in many ways, it will be a quintessentially “Chicago” album for me (alongside Coloring Book, a more appropriate home perhaps, but just the same for me).

Other Favorites: Masterpiece (Big Thief), You Want It Darker (Leonard Cohen), Painkillers (Brian Fallon), Coloring Book (Chance the Rapper)

Favorite 2016 song: ‘Same Drugs’ (Chance The Rapper)

I recently made a c.d. for my car with my favorite tunes from this year. On a long(er) drive back home, flipping through the tracks, it was this Chance song that stood out among the rest.

Not just for its different genre from the rest (see below), but for its uplifting soul and storytelling. It’s a sing along that instantly possesses you, a driving piano, background vocals, a gospel-like appeal.

In it, Chance uses “drugs” as a metaphor of identity and the story is one of displacement and separation from an old friend. It’s a tale of growing up, growing apart, and interests. It carries the aura of something potentially big: a play on Peter Pan (at least the internet thinks so) or a comment on American opiod addiction. But as much as it could be these, it’s a simple song with a driving piano to back its ballad. We grow up. Time makes no guarantee that those we once shared something (anything) with will always be together.

Other Favorites: ‘Fill in the Blank’ (Car Seat Headrest), ‘Paul’ (Big Thief)

(Favorite non-2016 song listened to in 2016: ‘Drive All Night’ (Bruce Springsteen))

Favorite Place Visited: Mexico City, Mexico

It’d long been a dream to make it to North America’s biggest city. The 2000s saw an increase in violence (whether real or perceived) in Mexico’s capital, but these days parts are booming, safe, and one of the more attractive traveler’s destinations I’ve been to recently.

Whether it’s streets lined with mansions, sprawling parks, delicious street tacos (3 for $1!!!), the city has an energy that’s moving millions and tourists from all over the world. There’s no doubt that it’s a city of the world and it’s reputation continues to build. And all for good reason.

Was only there for 5 days but it made an imprint on me for sure (Sarajevo did too, but alas my trip was so short there). It’s an easy jaunt there and I hope to make it back (and stuff myself full of tacos again!). Highlights were Frida’s house, a Lucha Libre night, a dance club with swanky 20-somethings, and just the opportunity to wander the criss-crossing streets of such a bustling metropolis for the first time.

Favorite Meal: Cevapi (in Bosnia)

Cevapi is a Bosnian sausage-like dish. I believe it’s made up of various meats but mostly veal. It’s stuffed into a pita-like bread and you’re given sauces on the side. It’s intensely caloric, and insanely satisfying. I had Cevapi in Croatia before I got to Bosnia and was impressed but it wasn’t until I got to Sarajevo that I had the meal of the year (and I had it twice!). I could write poems to these sweet little sausages and checks to the chefs who packed my plate full of ’em.

The specific place for this meal was called Zeljo (there are two in Sarajevo, not sure if I ate at 1 or 2) and it’s in the old part of town—the famous part, the part that looks like an 18th century Turkish outpost and just blocks from the place where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated.

If only I could find some good Cevapi in Chicago (might get me to eat meat again immediately!)

And, that my friends, is a wrap on 2016! Some more pics!