Friday, December 29, 2006

reinventing the wheel

you want a cause? how about redefining the nature of work for millions of people? sure, you could argue that making life easier on white-collar workers in the first world isn't the quickest way to save the planet. it's gotta be someone's cause, though, and a lot of this is beginning to make sense to me. plus, if you do it right, you'll enable other people to work more effectively to solve the rest of the world's problems. here are some quick points:

*office-based full-time work is really only suited to single people, or to married people who have a partner at home full-time to take care of the many demands of life and family.

*office workers seem to face increasing demands from their employers

*many of those workers have spouses who work full-time

i started looking at this because i thought it might help retention at my office, but it goes a lot deeper than that. has it ever seemed silly to be sitting at work taking up space trying to put in your eight hours or (for any number of reasons) more than that? i think the opinion that regular hours like that are outdated in the modern office is refreshing.

latest books, part 2

an evening of long goodbyes
-paul murray

the narrator of this book is charmingly hapless, a young british twenty-something trying to live like an aristocrat. breezy read mostly, throws around a few stereotypes and then paints in some of the characters in more subtle style.

no country for old men
-cormac mccarthy

for some reason, this is easy to get ahold of while 'blood meridian' has dozens of holds on it. something about the other book finishing tied for third in nytimes poll best fiction of the past 25 years. anyway, this book is disturbing; you'll figure that out pretty quickly. having read two thirds of the border trilogy, i figured it was worth wading through the blood to figure out what else was going on. i don't think this book is trying to teach us a lesson in the usual sense. mccarthy doesn't have an answer for us, it's more of a warning or a lament. the book is an adventure that takes the tragedy of its subject matter seriously.

about a boy
-nick hornby

i have put this off for a long time, because i enjoyed the movie so much that i knew i'd like the book. i've never enjoyed comparing a movie to a book this much. i love the fact that the dialogue is exactly the same in one crucial scene, but the movie takes a different turn by changing the meaning behind the words. part of the enjoyment also came from reading it in a british accent. would have been harder without having seen the film version.

awol: the unexcused absence of america's upper classes from military service - and how it hurts our country
-kathy roth-douquet and frank schaeffer

not quite done because i would have finished it on the way to work and had nothing to read on the way home. i was going into this believing the authors had a good point to make. that's probably why i finished it, because this is one of the worst books i've read all year. it's fairly self-righteous, talks about racism yet offhandedly ridicules the idea of a hiphop class being offered at stanford, and seems to have a healthy degree of animosity toward stanford, the ivy league, and america's wealthiest citizens. there are some touching stories and letters from soldiers and their families, but the overall book is hard to take. i suppose it's the extremely smug authorial attitude; they bash their peers in order to score points with their audience. this is not a book you'd write if you wanted to reason with, say, a left-wing hollywood exec who doesn't want military recruiters talking to her son. it's something you'd write if you wanted to score points with people who already despise the rich. i think it's sad; there's a good point here - the country would be better off if a few more kids left duke to serve in the military for a few years before becoming lawyers and running for office. however, the arrogance of this book's tone might undermine the authors' effort to convince those kids to serve.

latest books, part 1

i have been reading a lot lately, in fact i read the entire Old Testament this year, but in the past few months i have read a number of books not at all related to religion. i'll try to add to the list as i remember some of the things i read earlier, but i still have all of these so it's easy:

-malcolm gladwell

back at the library, which is why i barely remembered to include it. well-written tale of the power of the subconscious' power of rapid decision making. the concept is easy to grasp, but the stories are well written and worth reading. after quickly relating his thesis, gladwell slowly reveals how various people have acquired the expertise that allows them to make rapid and accurate judgements. this is the sort of book you can talk about with other people, and they know what you're talking about because they're reading it or know someone who has.

licensed to kill: hired guns in the war on terror
-roberst young pelton

it's about military contractors, and despite the author's efforts posturing as a neutral voice, he seems to go for the shock value a bit. overall, interesting if you are into the general subject matter, and there's plenty to learn from this.

war reporting for cowards
-chris ayres

some people end up in jobs that aren't what they'd imagined. ayres wanted to be a journalist, just not in a war zone. written with a good natured, self-deprecating style. he's british, so his perspective is a bit different than you might expect.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


i continue to test the lending limits of the communal book pile. until early this evening, i had 19 books out, but 3 had to be returned. so being down to 16, the question arises: is there even a limit here? can i just take them all?

when is it possible to take too much of anything? i suppose i think it's easier to think too much is being taken when you're not the taker. for instance, an employer could take too much of your time, right? i often think it's easy to take too much of other people's time, which is why i end up doing it still. what about communal goods though? i generally take a modest share of whatever food has been given to the apartment and then a few days later i'll take as much as i feel like. it seems like it's easy to take more and more, because once you get in the habit of taking a certain amount, you can justify it. then you take a little more, and justify that, and it continues until you realize you might have taken too much. still, it has to be some sort of sliding could never actually reach a point where you say 'hey, i really have taken too much.' as a result you go on taking too much simply because you've worn down your own sensitivity to your excess and somehow never gone far enough to shock yourself.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

musical year in review, vol 3: the new landscape

as mj pointed out in the comments to vol 1, it's not that i am really listening to different music than i did a year and a half ago. the difference is, instead of talking with people about who's coming into town and when and which concert is better to go see, i'm talking to myself about it. that is to say, the discussion is all internal; the music i used to enjoy with others is now something i enjoy alone. have i reached that point in my life when all my tastes and preferences are basically set, and i'm now some eccentric fool trying to hang on to the community he's lost? let's hope not. it is necessary at the moment for me to enjoy a lot of music alone. i have the option of going to the concerts by myself or not going at all. sometimes, i do get caught up having fun with the friends i've made more recently, and i don't see any live shows for several months. then i get thinking about who i might want to see and start checking websites and sooner or later i've figured out what my next adventure will be. i don't know if i have failed to meet the right people where i am or if i was just uncharacteristically blessed at that crucial point in my life when i was fresh out of college and starting off with little idea who i would become. no matter what fears i may have to the contrary, i expect my next move to usher in some sort of renaissance of new friends and exciting things to do.

back to the point though; i have seen an awful lot of concerts by myself this year, and thoroughly enjoyed most of them. i think my favorite was flying out to seattle and driving to portland for that one concert. somehow that ranks similarly in my mind to my solo hike up quandary mountain in colorado. i'd been trying to convince a friend to go with me and he didn't want to, but i sure wasn't going to let that get in my way. never mind that in the course of the portland trip i called the girl i'd just gone out with and began the process of discovering we wouldn't go out again. that drive was thrilling, i was free, no one was stopping me from what i wanted. i don't really blame hollywood for linking romantic success to achievement in other aspects; it's merely a symbol, a plot device. so it's merely coincidental that one of my favorite weekends of the whole year brought the revelation that i'd be alone a while longer. as i have moved away from the people i care about, i've had to live for myself a little more, just in the sense of taking joy in solitary moments more often than usual. maybe that's a part of growing up. i can see now how people can persist in being something no one relates to; they've been separated perhaps from their favorite people and they're keeping it real when there's no one really there for them.

despite what i said already about finding new friends, when i think about moving, it's not usually about being surrounded by folks i care about; most of the time it's about hiking and camping and just burning fossil fuels by myself. i crave freedom, i crave the hideous paved roads that scar our nation, and i crave the sky and trees and the fresh wild air.

the last christmas

i have been looking forward to this christmas for almost the entire year. i insisted that the entire family should gather at my parents' place, and the others actually bought tickets it seems like 10 months ago. for the past week or so, i have been looking forward to coming home and driving my parents' cars around, while in fact i have spent much of the day in bed reading nick hornby. it seems a bit sad to come home and find there's nothing i really want to eat; apparently the fact that cereal - hot or cold, packaged or from the bulk granola bins - makes up perhaps 50% of my weekly caloric intake has not been properly explained to the folks. meanwhile, no one else has showed up yet and the airlines have kindly presented hundreds of dollars worth of compensation to those still-traveling relatives.

it'd be nice to be relating something really sentimental and christmas-y, but really all i'm doing is reading a book and thinking how i could fit a used videogame system in my carryon luggage for the trip home. yes, i am so bored that i might just go buy things to rectify the situation. i do expect once everyone shows up that things will be so bustly that i will once again retreat off somewhere to read and get away from the madness, but so far it's kinda like being 17 again. actually, most of the things that have happened to me in the past 10 months have made me feel like i'm 17 again, if only because that's the last time i was so completely hopeless socially. of course, back then i didn't know any better, and now i guess i can mostly take it in stride. merry christmas and here's to finding my way again.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

where you live

people have told me often, as i have expressed disdain for my chosen place of habitation, that it takes time to grown on you. it's true, and not just because it's a hard place to live. really, you have to get accustomed to the way of life. by the time you've been around long enough for the town to have shaped your expectations, you'll like it just fine. yeah, there's a lot of places i'd rather live, but i might be ok at this point. of course, my housing situation is a bit lame and there are no cheap leaving looks as good as ever.

musical year in review, vol 2: out of nowhere

the august norfolk & western appearance at portland's doug fir featured ray's vast basement and loch lomond as openers. for sheer surprise factor, it was the best concert of the year. ray's vast basement has at least a couple songs that are as good as anything i really like, and then a few i found vastly annoying. still, for a few confused minutes (i didn't know there were any opening acts) i thought i was hearing new norfolk & western material, and i was pleased. loch lomond, however, turned in the sort of performance i'll be thinking about for years. they trotted out endless musicians and instruments, from celeste to cello. vocals were delivered in a disarming old world drawl, and melodic layers were enhanced by the timbral kaleidescope unfolding on stage.

loch's ritchie young is a great writer and performer, but i think adam seltzer and rachel blumberg could outdo him if they too had the benefit of seven msucians on stage for many of their songs. i would absolutely fire the bass player and violinist if i were those two. it's not that they're necessarily bad, i just didn't like their contribution to the norfolk & western sound. my problem is that i like 'dusk in cold parlors' too much to really want them to go in another direction. i guess i should consider the old norfolk essentially dead and be glad that what exists is as great as it was that august evening. i was hoping somehow m. ward would be on with the band; he wasn't, but it turns out adam has all the haunting guitar textures necessary to do justice to material from 'dusk.' the interplay between blumberg and seltzer is amazing, but i need the other band members to add something to that, or get out of the way.

somewhere early in the set, adam made a crack about hoping the openers didn't outshine him. the audience sincerely expressed their conviction that it was impossible, but it wouldn't be a bad thing. that loch lomond set was stellar. they had the benefit of obscurity; no expectations to live up to. i bought their second cd after the concert, gifted it, and have regretted it ever since. only this evening did i find it for sale online; sign me up for a copy. as for norfolk, they released a full length that either wasn't out by the time of that show or wasn't for sale. i bought 'a gilded age,' and i enjoy the cleverly-worded title track even if the instrumentation is a bit sparse and the banjo part is unimpressive. for anyone who cares, portland blew me away as much as the concert. i was pleased with myself for having wanted to move there. too bad that dream was postponed.

musical year in review, vol 1

plenty happened this year that i know nothing about. just thought it might be interesting to write about how my musical tastes evolved this past year. other things happened that are of a lot more significance than what happened to me.

2006 was significant because i moved away from the people who had influenced my musical tastes the most over the previous 2 years. it was tough; there's no way around it. of course, even if i hadn't gone anywhere, one of them moved anyway, and things might not have been the same. anyway, the most significant development of 2006 is the possible demise of thievery corporation, my favorite musical act for the past while. they fell victim to changing tastes, more than anything. i've gone more down the indie pop, singer-songwriter, americana roads lately. look at the concerts i've gone to this year: i saw rhett miller 3 times, the elected twice, jenny lewis, voxtrot, calexico, neko case, daneilson, tv on the radio, and norfolk & western. there were others - am, tom clark & the high action boys, garrison starr, the frames, ray's vast basement, and loch lomond all played at shows i saw, and most provided above-average music or i wouldn't have remembered their names. loch lomond arguably outshone headliners norfolk & western, but also turned in one of my favorite performances out of any of these acts. martha wainwright probably is the best opening act i missed; she sang on stage with neko and was excellent, so i am sorry i couldn't bring myself to head out early and see her set.


some people are getting silly puppets for christmas. how would you feel if that were you?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


one of my favorite things about christmas time is the white elephant gift exchange. i really like the challenge of finding something people think is cool. maybe with your family and friends you'll never know if they really like stuff or not. it's always clear, however, with the white elephant things, whose gifts are popular. it's this challenge to get something that resonates with people. there was one monday; i got a couple kinds of cookies from whole foods. i'm not sure if my gift was particularly well received, but it sure beat some of the others. a single package of crackers, snack size. fudge that someone brought to share and then wrapped hastily to join in the fun. a rather large t-shirt that might have been stylish in 1994. the gift everyone really wanted, however, was a card game.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

out go the lights

what do you say when there's no reason left to talk? i'm sitting in my apt, no one around, and the last 3 conversations i've had today have been with the same person, all via electronic means. is there something wrong with you when you're on im with someone who's maybe 20 feet away? anyway, i think part of being friends with someone is feeling like you have something to say to that person. last night i talked to an acquaintance, who does not strike me as someone who will become a friend. i suppose i was overly self-interested going into the conversation, because i heard this invidividual something that intrigued me. it was a tantalizing hint at information i had once been interested in, and i wanted more details. that is a way to begin a conversation - 'oh, you know about this,' but maybe the conversation needs to move somewhere else. i don't know what it is, mabye with some people i don't have the faith that they'll be interested in anything i have to say. maybe they really aren't interested in many things i have to say. still, it's easy to talk to the people you know well. maybe that's because you don't get to know the ones who aren't interested in what you have to say.

Monday, December 18, 2006

sometimes i do what i want and it's nice

we were talking a bit last night about individuality. about certain people who might be better off if they changed. i made the case that one must be oneself, or that it's hard to give up individuality in an effort to make more friends, etc. i used myself as an example - do i really have to have crazy hair or do weird stuff or wear tight jeans. there was a lot of laughing about the jeans, but today i found myself internally being far more pessimistic. i was walking, wearing the jeans, and wondering if i've become a little ridiculous. i'm being myself, maybe to the point that no one else likes me, or at least to the point that i am driving people away. it's easy to look at other people and think 'how could you ever dress like that, wear your hair like that; you are totally nuts.' it's hard to look inward and decide you are becoming one of those charicatures. individuality might just drag us off into the corner.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


i know one person who seems to love saying 'it's a surprise,' when asked any number of questions. another individual, shockingly enough, is known for saying 'i hate surprises.' is there something fundamental about the unexpected that should be loved or hated? i have stressed a great deal when i suddenly found out that we're supposed to be signing a lease in january. that doesn't mean that i categorically dislike unforseen developments in my life. when that phone call, from that one organization, finally came, the timing made it a surprise despite the week or so of anticipation and hope. i neither love nor hate surpises

Friday, December 15, 2006

my love

just went to see one of the newer romantic sappy type movies, and oddly enough i came away pining for a place, not a person. not surprisingly, it's the same place where that one job is located. it's not so much that i have to live there per se, it's almost more important that it's what i want and i'm starting to think it's time to hold out until i can make it happen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

howie day

am i having problems here? is howie day not really a household name? because it's not like people listen to howie day because he's cool and obscure. i got seriously ridiculed for calling josh kelly a lesser-known version of howie day. i mean, howie day is pretty popular isn't he???

a phone call

sometimes, there's a sense of nervous anticipation every time a message shows up on the phone. when it's been out of touch with the network and you don't know who has called until you're listening to your messages. you enter the code, and imagine that one person's voice, thinking what they might have to tell you. there's such a sense of relief/excitement/contentment when that voice does come up. if the message brings some other friend to life instead, the disappointment is always there. lately, though, it's an entity i want to call, not a person. if and when that call comes, i hope it will mark the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

old world

spent the weekend seeing some of the great cathedrals of the world, and it was fantastic. i did something i hadn't tried before - instead of just seeing great cathedrals and churches, i went and prayed in great cathedrals and churches. i hadn't explained this to anyone who was traveling with me - it was a private goal - so i was often interrupted in the midst of my supplications. i think the attempt to commune with God in these monuments of religious faith was a satisfying experience. maybe nothing in particular happened, but it helped bring an understanding of the meaning behind these buildings.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


i'm investigating an intriguing flavored seltzer-type beverage i had at a party once. It was just amazingly flavorful despite zero sugar content and (if I'm not mistaken) a lack of artificial sweeteners. I had to be wrong on one of those counts, or it was mixed with juice, or something...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

melancholy still makes a good muse

i was thinking recently i must be a bit down, because it seems my life is approaching chaos, but really i can't be that down. seriously, if i was fairly well sad, i think i would have posted a lot more frequently in the past two weeks. elation, joy, and surprise make good prose, but there's definitely been plenty of sorrow or angst that have fed my creativity. on the way home, i thought of a short story while i was walking by this subway preacher. i held my latest library read, a collection of essays by a writer who has profiled many musicians and athletes. as i passed the man who told us he knew where he was going if he died tonight, i thought what might happen if i handed him what i knew. yes, i was thinking of the Book of Mormon, but i suddenly had this idea of a short story where this subway commuter hands this novel, with a note on the cover saying "return by 12/14" to the preacher. the commuter is silent, appearing suddenly from the crowd and fading back into the passing mass. he has left this gift, however, which changes the preacher's life. i imagined the process of writing this story. i thought how certain scenes would reveal the world of this religious man, the meetings he attends, the announcements on the bulletin board of his church. i thought of this part of the story, and how i couldn't really write it, at least not without some first-hand research. i thought of the scene as a sketch - the forms laid out for now in general shapes, waiting for details and shades and colors to be added. i liked this new way of conceptualization. i kept walking, and thinking about had just gone on in my head. i thought maybe i should be a writer. that thought felt good. i thought that i wouldn't really know what to write about. i thought that i wouldn't really know where to start or necessarily want to deal with the struggles of becoming a writer. then i figured i could always figure all of that out in my spare time. it doesn't really matter how many of us there are who think things like this. right now, i don't think the soda industry is the answer for me other than it's fun, it pays, it provides benefits, and i'm still learning. i'm not sure what i really think about the concept of success, but half the time i feel like i should find something that matters to me. when i was thinking about being a writer, maybe i forgot to think that i wouldn't necessarily want ot write about anything that important.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rhett Miller, again

You know it's a good year when you get to see Rhett Miller live 3 times. The most recent concert might have been the best, certainly had the best opening acts. He taught The Believers to play at least one Old 97s song that they didn't know how to play before. I am having a tough time remembering what it was. Here's my top observation, though - the recent solo material he's recorded is much much better live than on the records. I was actually disappointed he didn't play 'Four eyed girl,' so it seems I've become so familiar with the solo work I expect to hear it. The Believers are still the ultimate Old 97s cover band, however; I just hope Rhett doesn't get too full of himself to keep the real 97s together.

Friday, December 01, 2006

shopping update

i bought several things this week, basically all on the same trip, and with the encouragement of some deep discounts. mostly, i bought things i have been in need of - socks, to replace the ones with the holes; pants, same deal; hat, because the current one probably still smells like curry. in the process, of course, i didn't buy a number of other items. the one that impressed me the most, however, was the $8 bottle of soda. that takes guts.