Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Just a few last-minute preparations, and I'll be on my way out of town. I'm headed for Oxford, Mississippi, for the curious among you. Christie's got family there, and apparently they want to meet me. She's obviously been telling them the wrong stories about me. Oh well, they'll find the truth out soon enough.

I have no idea what the schedule or net access will be like while we're down there, so blogging may be light, or it may be heavy. But I'm guessing light. In the meantime, it's Thanksgiving, so drive kindly and carefully, take care of strangers, and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Back when I was a church-going man, I would spend the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at our "simple supper", a communal meal of bread and soup, usually both homemade. I usually brought a big pot of lentil soup (less than $5 for about a gallon of soup) and two loaves of homemade bread. I suppose the goal was for the austerity of Wednesday night's meal to stand in contrast to the ostentation of Thanksgiving, but the meal felt like a luxury to me, surrounded as we were with good friends and food made with care. And the cooking itself was a nostalgia trip, since I developed both recipes in the days when Carrie and I were living well below the poverty line.

There were two big differences between the poverty I lived and what I think of as "real" poverty. First of all, I was just starting out. I had a college degree under my belt and valid reasons to feel hope for the future. Secondly, I had a strong safety net made up of friends, family, and friends' families. If I'd needed help, the list of people I could go to for help was long and diverse. There was no way I was going to starve.

But that doesn't mean I was never hungry, nor does it mean I didn't economize. I learned to make bread because I could make it for $1.00 a loaf less than it cost at the store. Meat was a luxury, as was anything fresh. I always ate leftovers, and never threw anything away if I could help it. But I got very good at cooking from canned or dry ingredients, which could be bought on the cheap, often in bulk. Even with economizing, a trip to the grocery store meant first balancing the checkbook so I'd know how much to spend, then making a list based on what I could afford, and, finally, keeping a running tally in my head to avoid the embarassment of telling the clerk that something needed to go back. In a discussion with some friends on the nature of wealth, I was asked to define "rich". "Not having to check the bank balance before I go shopping," I said, "and impulse buys at the grocery store." That was a long time ago, and I've long since become rich, according to that definition (mostly by refusing to do the credit card thing).

A lot of folks aren't so lucky. A lot of folks are out of work, in debt up to their eyeballs, feeding their families on minimum wage, or otherwise at the end of their rope. Luckily for me, a group of local radio stations are doing remotes all over town, raising money and food for the Central Missouri Food Bank. I drive right by one on the way home, and I'll be stopping by and dropping off. It's not the least I can do (that'd be nothing), but it's the least I can do and still feel good about who I am and how I live.

This could be mistaken for charity, but it's a selfish deed, really, dressed in charitable robes. For one thing, I've received much more than I've given over the years, so this is just paying down that debt. For another, I never feel so rich as when I decide I'm rich enough to share. I call it Good Deed Therapy, and if you've never tried it, give it a shot. 'Tis the season, right?

Friday, November 21, 2003

Shorter James Lileks: Salam Pax lacks moral authority to say bad things to/about George W. Bush, because he didn't attempt to get rid of Saddam himself. I, however, have the moral authority to take on Salam Pax because three people from my state have been killed in his home country.

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: Lileks is a hell of a writer, but he's got a screw loose when it comes to Bush.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Christie insisted we watch the Victoria's Secret special tonight. Thinking of their probable demographic, I'm thinking Dodge might not have been the best sponsor for this particular special. At least they should have chosen not to display their slogan at the end of the commercial breaks: "Grab Life by the Horns."
Read Nicholas Confessore in The Washington Monthly. It's a great expose of James Glassman and his 'innovative' blurring of the line between journalism and prostitution (my words, not Confessore's). If nothing else, it's worth reading for the phrase "idea laundering", which is one of the most apt I've heard lately.
Well, I lied. No good stories, and probably no poem, either. In fact, I've reviewed the entirety of my 26 hours or so in the city, and I'm not sure there are even any amusing anecdotes in there. We flew in, got stuck in traffic, ate dinner, walked around, went to bed, got up, took a cab, had some meetings, ate lunch, had some more meetings, hung out in the airport for a while, flew home. I wasn't aching to stay, nor was I in a rush to get home. It was, in the end, a day like any other, except it was in New York.

Now that I think about it, that's kind of exceptional. Usually when I travel, I meet at least one person with a story to tell or a reason to reach out to the world, but in the past two days I flew 1,800 miles (to Newark and back) sat in two different airports for hours on end, ate three meals, and made not one meaningful human connection, aside from the "_____, have you met _____?" of business meetings. Not that I don't get to work with some very cool people, but I've become accustomed to fortuitous meetings with strangers, and this trip had none. There are four possible reasons for this: 1. I was in New York, instead of somewhere else. 2. I was traveling with people, instead of alone. 3. I was carrying a 900 page word-brick instead of a notepad, and I had my nose buried in it a good part of the time.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I've been a bad blogger, but I'm off to New York in the morning. It's just a fly-in; I'll be in my own bed by Tuesday night, but people will sit around tables and say things, and some of those things will be written down to be re-interpreted and somewhat acted upon in the coming weeks and months. Possibly years if we talk business over lunch. For my part, I promise to have a good time and try to come back with at least three entertaining anecdotes and one good story. Or a poem. And because it is the season of giving, I promise to turn these things into a blog post or two, unless the anecdotes are boring and the poem sucks.

Anyway, getting ready for these meetings (don't know what questions will be asked, ought to be ready to answer anything) has been kind of a pain, hence the late lack of bloggy goodness, as well as same Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

"There are layers to truth," he said, "like peeling an onion. Cut through all those layers, and what do you have?"

"Nothing?" I guessed.

"No," he said, grinning, "the base for a good sauce."
The front of my mind has been occupied with setting up my Tivo and a couple of particularly thorny problems at work involving the turning of data into information, but in the back of my mind I've been pondering "electability". William Safire sort of started it, I guess, by writing in the NY Times that Howard Dean isn't "electable" because he's too much like McGovern. Naturally, my response to this is "Huh!?" It's not that I don't think Dean resembles McGovern, since I frankly don't know squat about McGovern. It's that Safire's talking about an election that happened 30 years ago as if the world hadn't changed since then, as if the demographics of the nation had been held in place, as if it election results were legal precedent, rather than a snapshot of the will of the people.

Enough about Safire. The fact that he's unhinged doesn't resolve the question of whether Dean can win a national election for President. Personally, I think he probably is. He's never lost an election and has an air of "I'm going to tell you the truth even if I know you won't like it" that I think will appeal to voters starved by a diet of paper-thin truisms that all too often aren't. Frankly, though, I don't care.

I like Dean because he seems to have the kind of honesty, intelligence, and compassion that I'd like to see in the oval office. I like him because he's surrounded himself with people who give every appearance of understanding that democracy starts with individual people, not back room deals. And, I'll admit, that I like him because the established power structure of the Democratic Party doesn't.

These are the morons who have erred on the side of "electability" again and again, focus-grouping every question to be sure that it passes muster with the right demographic groups and kowtowing to corporations that made their coin at the expense of the commonweal (I'm looking at you, Tyson) because it kept the party's coffers full. Based on their track record, they're the last people I'm going to trust to tell me who's electable and who isn't, because their track record stinks.

All this talk of "electability" smacks of a profound distrust of the democractic process, not to mention your fellow voters. As in, "I like Howard Dean because of blah, blah, blah, but once the GOP gets going, they'll put up so much bullshit that no one will be able to see through it." That may be true, and given the last couple of elections I'd be the last person to upbraid someone for distrusting the process. Spin may sometimes cancel spin, but the best antidote to being spun is to stand your ground and call bullshit. Dean does that better than any of the other candidates all of whom seem better at throwing spin than taking it. And, frankly, I'm tired of elections with two candidates throwing bullshit around like Lambert's rolls.

Democracy provides us with a great test of electability - elections. Here's how they work: You pick the candidate you like the best, and a whole bunch of other people do the same. The one whose ideas, personality and presentation most resonate with the electorate wins. At least, that's the ideal. In practice there are all kinds of people trying to game the system with money, emotional manipulations, etc., ad nauseum. But you can't game the system back into alignment any more than you can quiet the ripples on a pond by patting them down with your hands.

My point, I guess, is that Howard Dean is leading the money race and most of the polls precisely because his ideas, personality and presentation have caught on with more people than anyone else in the race. This is what democracy is supposed to look like, and it gives me hope, while listening to chatter about electability makes that hope shrivel up and hide under the kitchen table.
So I bought the electric monk and I feel simultaneously like a self-indulgent yuppie fuck and the kid with the coolest toy on the block (who will probably grow up to be a self-indulgent yuppie fuck). I used to say that I was glad I only had one pet because I wasn't really that comfortable living in a household where the animals outnumber the people. Now that I have a Tivo, Roomba, and a PC, it suddenly dawns on me that I've been outflanked by the machines, and I never saw it coming.
If you think you've got a shitty job, well, it could be worse. You could be Scot McClellan, forced to defend the White House's decision to block funds to POWs tortured in the 1991 Gulf War:

"Q: [Is it true] that this White House is standing in the way of them getting those awards, those financial awards, because it views it that money better spent on rebuilding Iraq?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there's simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering --"

I can see why Ari Fleischer quit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A few weeks back, I got lured into a fight about Iraq, presidential politics, and a bunch of other hoo-ha. Being me, I took the bait, especially when my opponent started saying there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Being sick yesterday, I got to see a significant chunk of Gore's Sunday speech when C-Span rebroadcast it. I'd blog something long and involved, but Alterman said it better and briefer than I could.
Well, in grand tradition, I was sick for my birthday. But this time I had guests, so I was too preoccupied to notice until everybody left, at which point I realized that my "I'm not really hungry right now" was really low-grade nausea, and I hadn't had solid food in about 36 hours. So I either gave myself (and my friends) food poisoning with my basil roast chicken (let me know if you're feeling poorly, guys) or I picked up a tummy bug. Given that Christie had pretty similar symptoms last week, I'm guessing I picked up a tummy bug. Either way, I'm mostly better now, and I have incredibly cool friends who don't mind a lame weekend spent mostly watching movies and talking shit.

Which of course brings me to Matrix: Revolutions. I liked it. Good action, good visuals, good writing, and it tied up the trilogy in an intellectually coherent and aesthetically pleasing manner. No, it won't freshen your breath or wash your car for you, but it's a good movie. That is all.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Christie gave me my birthday present last night, and it's tempting to say that it sucks. But that'd be way too easy.

I was home over lunch and turned it loose in the house while I put away groceries, and I can already tell that I'll have much cleaner floors from now on just because it's so much more fun to Roomba than it is to Swiffer. Which gives me an idea for a Roomba casemod...

("Roomba casemod" is, by the way, almost a googlewhack, with only two results. Or it will be until Google recrawls my blog.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

So, um, Saturday's my birthday. I'm not a Big Birthday kind of guy, so I'm not telling you so that you'll send me presents, flowers, or even emails. I'm telling you because, well, just because. Well, mostly because I've noticed an extraordinary number of extraordinarily cool people born in early November. When I was a kid the only one I knew of was my doctor, but the list has only grown over the years. If I start naming all my IRL friends with birthdays close to mine, I'll forget somebody and they'll get mad. So I'll just name the famous folks, starting with the folks right square on Nov. 8th. Of course there's The Perfect Weapon himself,Jeff Speakman, but you already knew that. But did you know Parker Posey was born on November 8th? Leif Garrett? How about Ethan Hawke? Well, actually, he was born on the 6th, but in the same year as me, so I'm counting him. Two things triggered this post, actually. First was the Accordion Guy's birthday bio, which inspired me to think about possibly doing something similar one of these days when I have more time (maybe for my 35th), and Neil Gaiman's "I got my birthday present early" post. November 5th and 10th respectively.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta run. Birthday dinner to go to. No, not mine. One of those other very cool people with early November birthdays I was telliing you about. Although I have been told to expect a present, as Christie doesn't want hers getting lost in the shuffle on Saturday as gifts pour in from my admirers across the globe.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Well, the beer's bottled, and the frame's built. Whaddya think?
And if anybody out there can translate the characters, I'd appreciate it. Ignorant gwai lo that I am, I'm only about 75% sure that I put them right side up.
Other stuff on my mind...
This is the more concrete side of yesterday's coin.

Beer: Since I'm having a birthday party this weekend, I brewed the week before last. Shoulda been plenty of time, but this batch, for some reason, took almost ten days to fully ferment. So I'm bottling tonight and hoping it's ready to drink by Saturday. But it's been a recurring worry.

Kill Bill: I feel like I ought do a more robust review, but this is what you get: I liked it, which kinda surprised me. The only Tarantino movie I've liked before this was Jackie Brown. His previous flicks had too much casual cruelty and destruction of innocence for me to enjoy them. Kill Bill, on the other hand, was bloody as hell and violent as hell, but it all hung together very nicely. I never thought I'd like a flick with this much blood, but I had a wicked grin on my face throughout.

Wood: I'm building a frame for some calligraphy I brought back from Korea, and the whole process is somewhat experimental. Actually, extremely experimental. But I've learned something with every fuckup, and am fairly confident that I could build it right the first time if I started over tonight. Which bodes well for the next one of these I decide to build, but I refuse to start over until I have definitive evidence that this version isn't going to work.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Stayed late at work to write out what was on my mind, and walked out the door feeling light and hearing nothing in my head but an echo of the leaves blowing in the trees. I killed the stereo before it could start, just to keep it going. I looked to the right as I was going by our little landscaped pond, and a blue heron was just taking off. I picked my foot up off the gas and coasted, matching my speed to its glide. In the fading light, it looked like a piece of sky broken loose and drifting against a background of trees and sunset, but then it stretched out its legs and grabbed hold of the water by the shore and kept on rolling toward home, still enjoying the silence.
Ocupado
My brain's been churning lately, chewing on items crucial and trivial. Anyone of them could be a blog post on their own, but they're not quite resolving themselves out in any kind of useful way. So instead, you're getting a bunch of thumbnails:

1. Aging: A few weeks ago we had an awards ceremony at work, and I got my Five Year Tietack. It was a very touching moment. It is rapidly becoming obvious that, to the folks I work with, I am something of an institution. A go-to guy. And, increasing, an Old Hand. In my head, however, I'm still The Young Guy, so this is requiring some mental adjustment.

On a related note, my birthday is this Saturday. Last year I celebrated with a migraine and the year before I had one of those "what's it all about" conversations with my then soon to be ex wife. Of course, I don't really remember what I did the year before that, so if my recent birthdays have been painful, at least they've been memorable. Still. I'm a little nervous about what 33 has in store. And then there's the whole fact that I'm going to be 33. This is directly related to:

2. Planning: I learned from reading a dorm room door many years ago the life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. But I ignored that advice for many years, hitched my wagon to a star and ended up face down in the gutter when I flew too close to the sun so that she got the gold mine and I got the shaft. Or something like that. Actually, I'm doing all right, but I did get my heart broken and probably learned a few of the wrong lessons. Anyway, I quit making plans, and just concentrated on living life. It's been a fun two years, but there are some things it's better to do while you're young, and while I don't yet feel old, I'm starting to feel like I'm running low on young. So maybe something like a five-year plan would help. It might, for example, help me figure out what's going on in my head with things like:

3. Kids: I won't say it's an epidemic or anything, but if I go through my married friends in my head, half of them are expecting kids in the next 9 months. Of the other half, all but one couple already have at least one kid. At least one of those couples is in negotiations for another. For many years, my wanting kids was outweighed by my awe and terror at the responsibility of it. I'm a pretty seriously selfish guy, and I've always had a sense that having a kid would put a damper on that. But, selfish as I am, I don't think I'm much more selfish than your average bear. And when I go to the mall and look out over the great reproductive biomass that is the midwestern Target demographic, I am struck rather strong with "Hell, if these people can do it, how hard can it be?"

So my wanting kids is gradually growing, while the awe and terror is shrinking. In fact, it's approaching a tipping point. What the hell happens then?

4. Love: The last time I was in love, I was very, very sure of myself. This was It, she was The One, life made sense, happily ever after, yadda yadda yadda and blah blah blah. As should be obvious from my tone, things didn't work out. And I haven't been sure of anything since.

Now, there's Christie. She's funny, smart, sexy, cool, crazy in all the right ways, sane in all the important ones, likes to work on the house, play in the woods and sit on the couch, looks great with paint chips in her hair, and she looks at me like I'm the only real man on the planet, and all the rest are pale imitations. She's not snobby, bitchy, mean, impatient, shallow, self-centered, flighty, or fake. She's interested in everything, has a fully functional bullshit detector but knows when to turn it off, talks trash like a sailor when she's playing Tekken 4, then giggles like a Manga schoolgirl when she wins. She's a better fit for me than anyone I've ever met in this life, and when I'm around her I feel happy and safe. But I'm not Sure, and when things get quiet, I can hear that doubt, like the tinny rhythmic grinding of a mouse gnawing on a floor joist, the sound echoing through the vents.

5. Work: I promised myself five years, long enough to be vested, to prove to myself I could stick it out, and now I wonder what, if anything, is next. But there aren't that many places here in town where I could do the kind of work that I do, so a change in jobs would generally mean a change in towns, and that's some heavy shit. But my brain seems to think, hey, as long as you're evaluating everything else, why not look at your job, too? And there's so much crap floating around in our culture that says that if you're not moving up, you're not doing anything. And then there's the whole city thing. I've never lived in a big city, and part of my wants to see if I could cut it in New York, Boston, Seattle, London, or wherever, in spite of the fact that I love my five minute commute, don't like crowds, and get stressed out every single time I spend more than about 3 days in a city of more than a million people. And while we're on the topic of work, let's talk about:

6: The Novel: I know where it wants to go, I've got an ending, and something that'll do as the beginning. I've got most of the first third figured out, and little bits here and there throughout. I can hear each of the major characters' voices in my head, and they still have plenty to say. But I started rereading Cryptonomicon to be ready to read Quicksilver, and that's a sum total of 1,800 pages. That's quite a break from writing. And then there are the usual projects around the house, which keep taking up time and energy. In other words, it's been a couple of weeks since I worked on it, and the characters are starting to nag me. I can hear the little bastards rolling around up there, muttering to one another. No fights have broken out yet, but given their history, it's inevitable.

Part of the problem is that I haven't found a good Third Place yet (warning: Columbia-centric post to follow). Lakota's got comfortable chairs, but the coffee's not that great, and the scene is too distracting. Das Kaffeehaus, on the other hand, isn't distracting enough. Coffee Zone is too smoky. Amsterdam closes early, while Cherry Street Artisan keeps doing those Dinner and a Show things that aren't conducive to just hanging out and writing. I'm on the verge of resorting to the chains. But is it possible to write an interesting novel at Starbucks? I doubt it. There's always the library, I guess. But I feel bad eating in there, and I'm an inveterate muncher. Any Columbians still reading, feel free to offer suggestions. My preference is for downtown, but I'm open.

So it bothers me that I haven't taken the time to write lately, and I know that's going to bite me in the ass, but I've started a lot of novels only to have them die out of boredom, so I'm happy to still be interested in this one.