The Moving Target and the North Star

December 6, 2014

Sorry, been a little busy lately.  Got a new job you see, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied with that as you might guess.  As I start to settle in, get used to the new office and new department, a time of introspection has started about career, life and personal goals.  If you’ve read this blog at all, you know a fair amount about me, what I’m passionate about, to what I aspire.  Taking a new job makes me think about where I am both personally and professionally and where those things intersect.


When I started blogging, way back in the heady days of MySpace, I was still working on the Ph. D and was a new(ish) father.  I thought of my career was on a certain trajectory, a traditional scholarly path; get the Ph. D, get a job, work toward tenure and there you go.  That path became more and more unrealistic for a number of reasons.  Yes the job market was, and is still, very bad.  Pick up the Chronicle of Higher Education and there will probably be at least one story about the dire straights of the academic profession, more than likely more than one story or column.  Talk to most academics/professors and it seems like the work in a gulag, not a university.  I dropped my share of CV’s prior to finishing the dissertation, in many cases I didn’t even receive a rejection letter.  I remember as I was going through the process, I had an opportunity to teach 3 courses a semester and one in J term for $10,000.  For about a thousand less, but no 2 hour commute(each way no less) and a tuition stipend, I got a dissertation fellowship and skipped the “opportunity.”

I eventually got a job in higher education, even before I finished the Ph. D, but it was on the administrative side of things.  As it turns out, teaching experience, if you actually like students, is a great prep for advising.  It was a lot like teaching, except without all of grading.  However, it lacked that overall exchange of knowledge that I truly enjoy.  I did get to share a lot of experience, but that is different, still satisfying, but not as exciting.  I think most of all when I teach, I love to tell a story, to share with students what excites me and still inspires and challenges me.  Advising had many other pluses, but it didn’t quite scratch that itch.

A couple of months ago, I moved on to the aforementioned new position.  It has new challenges, even a couple of opportunities to teach, all to the good.  I don’t have as much contact with students, but it is still a component.  What put the brakes on the writing, beyond the new job and acclimation, was an urge to reexamine why I do all of this.  Including a full-time job, a full-time family I write this blog, write another blog, try to do a podcast on a semi-regular basis* and slowly putting more and more work into bigger projects, I kind of hit upon the questions, “what is the point to all of this? why am I doing this at all?”

*After almost a month of trying to set up a new website to host the podcast, I finally got it working in the order I want.  If you’re interested in US history, like my dulcet tones and if I dare say, a dash of wit, go check it out at History of the United States.

It is probably no coincidence that this was happening around my 45th birthday.  I think that number is quite the generous bulls eye of mid-life. I think the number signifies the end of  a big chunk of life to be examined, 25-45.  And looking to the future, that next block 45-65 (the historic retirement age) is looming.  After hitting 45, it is amazing how fast 20 years can go and will go, probably even faster.  So, I’ve been looking back and looking forward.

What kind of got the dust off of this post was a friend who mentioned his desire to stay true to his artistic northern star.  I was left wondering, “what is that for me?”  Pretty much all of those things I listed, blogs, podcast and something to really sink my teeth into.  What makes it tough is that a full-time job is a pain in the ass when it comes to writing for free, no matter how fulfilling it can be.  As the Grateful Dead sang, “keep your day job until your night job pays.”  I’m not sure if that will ever happen, but I know I don’t want to quit.

A final piece of the puzzle that has come into focus, or better put, placed in the right spot were the dual feelings of inspiration and realization.  First, the inspiration: my friend Jennie just published a book and is a critically acclaimed graphic novel author.  I was sure she was doing the writing thing full-time at this point.  Nope, still has that day job.  Not to find comfort in her misery of a full-time job (for the record, Jennie is not miserable) but knowing she is still doing it filled me with hope that I can keep at old things and try new things.  That I can stick to my artistic north.

The realization came as I was reading a blog from a person who hasn’t been blogging much lately.  I posted a comment about the feeling that I know how she feels, that I just can’t seem to get it going anymore.  The realization was that I’m holding back.  When I started writing a blog, it was reflective, personal, but also timely.  It was what was on my mind and influencing me at that time.  I still have my set things to write about, Phish, the White Sox, general randomness but a part of my fourth step that I still see as a challenge was the phrase, “stand up and tell the truth.”  I don’t feel like I’ve been doing that lately.

Finally, in August, I threatened to start writing something on these pages of a fictional nature.  I even wrote the first installment, but it hasn’t left the draft box on the dashboard.  I’m not ready to tell you all what my big project is just yet, but it’s fictional too.  Basically I need practice writing outside of my comfort zone.  In a weird way, to get back to telling stories.  So, another list of goals, another writing schedule and another chance to keep writing.  Watch this space.

Apple: Think Boring

September 30, 2014

When I see the Apple ads recently and they are either quoting Dead Poet’s Society (1989) or redoing an ad they did with U2 (product of the 80s no less) in 2004, I can’t help but think, “When did Apple become the old?”  What’s more, when did Apple become synonymous with reactionary?  It doesn’t feel that long ago that Apple was producing the products that made me go ooh and ahh.  I know that Steve Jobs was an inspirational leader and a visionary, at the very least in his ability to make planned obsolescence seem cool.  But since his death, nothing that has come from Apple is all that inspiring or alluring.  Was all of that innovation, new product mojo all brought to the table by one guy?  If so, Apple is doomed.




In Apple’s history there have been missteps, the Newton springs to mind.  But since the iPod they always hit the right notes, iPhone, iPad, even AppleTV seems to have a dedicated audience.  However, since Steve Jobs died, the products that have been exciting haven’t been coming from Apple.  The smart watch, the larger smart phone and the more adaptable pad all have come from Apple’s competitors.  I’m sure plenty of Apple aficionados can tell me why the Samsung watch isn’t that good or that the Surface from Microsoft isn’t worth the money, but that is so much inside baseball.  Even if the products aren’t as good as the Apple responses (and what is the Apple response to the Surface? the Mac Air? meh.) those products are the more attractive.

It’s fair to say that I’m getting pulled by the power of good ad campaigns, and I suppose that is fair.  However, it was Apple who once made those hip ads that inspired my curiosity and seek out the new products.  Now, nothing from Apple is new.  the iPhone is on its sixth generation.  I can’t think of anything besides Harry Potter that I was excited about by the sixth installment.  Even more, Apple’s roll out of various new items and OS has been riddled with glitches and snafus, if not just a tone deafness that had been more associated with other tech companies.

It comes back to Apple and its partnership with U2.  It feels like a sad attempt to appear young and hip, and bringing out a dinosaur, kind of like being told as a kid how great Elvis was; sure he was super famous, but he was an old man in a jump suit, just not my thing.  Even though I’m at the heart of U2’s demographic, I can’t imagine I was who Apple was trying to get.  Instead, Apple and U2 are the object of ridicule from younger folks and they have reminded me that I’m getting old.  Good job Apple, one side of the divide thinks you’re lame and the other is pissed that you’ve pointed out my combover.

Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth

August 18, 2014

The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Did this one on audio with the kids and it is a solid three star. The audio version really deserves only two stars because Jesse Bernstein is almost unbearable. His voice in general isn’t very pleasant and when he tried to do other voices for effect it was downright terrible.

Anyway, as far as the story goes, Percy has another quest to go on to save the world, stop the titans, and figure out being a teenager. Yes, it is remarkably derivative of Harry Potter, but still entertaining. I’m hooked enough to see how it all pans out and for a book solely read for enjoyment, that is enough.

View all my reviews

A Work in Progress: Introduction

August 1, 2014

One of the tips that the admin for the ChicagoNow bloggers likes to share is read more blogs.  the thinking being that one will get some ideas of what to write about, get inspired and as a nice side benefit, drive a little traffic to a friend and or colleague’s stuff.  Also, I’ve found the more I click on other sites, the more clicks come my way.  While I appreciate the idea of writing for one’s self, I also realize that the great thing about blogging is that it is shared, otherwise I might as well write a journal. (not saying journaling is bad, just private) Even if a blog gets one reader, I’ve shared my ideas, it’s OUT THERE and that is a good feeling.  I need to write for myself, be true to myself, but I also need to share.   If I don’t it feels like yelling at the sea.

So, I’ve been following my friend’s blog, Outlaw Mama for quite awhile.  Christie is a great writer,  honest, funny and insightful.  For my money, it’s what good blogs are: a balance between personal and social observations with a healthy splash of humor.  She is currently working on an interesting project of her own making, “30 Opening Chapters in 30 Days.” It is pretty much what it sounds like, a new beginning to a story each day for thirty days,  ambitious as hell too.  Christie laid out that she doesn’t know what’s going to happen to the chapters; she might hang on to some, she’s encouraging her readers to pick them up and run with them, and she’s even cracked the window and let us know that she might just quit.  I hope she doesn’t, but I get it if she does.  My blogs are littered with the corpses of abandoned series and projects.

Which brings us to me and a new project.  Taking the lead from Christie, I’m going to start writing a story on the blog.  I won’t be taking one of Christie’s starters, but cutting from my own cloth.  I’m also going at it from a different perspective.  I really love a quote from George RR Martin that some writers are gardeners and some are architects.  I generally fall into the latter camp.  This time though, I’m going against my personal grain and taking a page from Martin and Stephen King, just starting and seeing where it goes.  Basically what you’ll see is a slightly less than rough draft.  I’ll try and keep it pretty organic, but I want to at least read through once or twice before out it goes.

In the next day or so the first installment should appear.  Like so many good ideas I’ve had, it came when doing something ordinary.  The first paragraphs you’ll see came to me while I was trying to fall asleep the other night.  I should have written them down right then, but I didn’t want to get out of bed.  For some reason though, the thoughts, the feel, and even some of the words have stuck with me.  I’ve plopped them down in another draft page, so any day now.  Also, I make no promise regarding length or frequency.  I’ll post when I post and the entries will be as long as for as long as what feels write.

Also unlike Christie, also taking the lead from other writers, namely Neil Gaiman and Brian Michael Bendis, I’m going to try my damnedest to finish what I start.  We’ll see how that goes.  To say the very least, I’m already excited and terrified.  Full disclosure, I love writing, but I’m scared to death of writing fiction.  For the record, writing fiction is ten times harder than writing non-fiction.  It is so much more personal, so much closer.  I’ve written one story to completion and allowed, I think, one person to read it.  It wasn’t that their criticism was harsh, it was the most exposed I ever felt.  So here goes nothing. I have no idea how often I’m going to write this, no idea what is going to happen, even what to call it, but I’m on the edge ready to jump off.


Phish at Northerly Island: A Weekend to Remember, 7/18-7/20

July 22, 2014

Nine blogs over three days or so, that is some kind of record.  Jimmy Greenfield would be so proud.  I had a blast, to say the least.  In part because of the usual suspects, being out and about among my people, soaking in the jammy atmosphere; chatting with my neighbors, talking about what we wanted to see, what we liked from the night before; getting an upgrade for my seats the last two nights.  I can only assume that the security team was aware that the way to one side of the bleachers was open to the floor seating.  Of course none of that matters without the music and the music was something else this weekend.


I’ve been to a number of two night runs and a few of the festivals over the past twenty years, but the three night run is the most intriguing.  I figure the band can pull it together for two nights, or get up for a festival, but to do three nights is a row is something special.  Two years running we have been treated to three shows in Chicago (though I missed most of last years, due to a vacation) and since I’ve been following Phish I’ve seen two other three night runs in 1998 and 2011 respectively.  It’s a small sample size, but this weekend was best.  As far as runs go, for my personal shows, it is right up there with Alpine Valley in 2010 and Deer Creek in 1997.  Festivals deserve there own consideration and since they are so different from each other it is hard to compare.

Back to Chicago 2014.  Looking back at my quickie blogs and starting to listen to the shows over again, it is amazing how strong Phish sounded, how much energy they had through most of the shows.  The set where I thought there was a lack of energy was the first set on the first night.  The band just didn’t come out blazing.  It really was the outlier of the weekend.  The remaining 5 sets were just sizzling.  What’s even more amazing is that the last set on the third night, was for me, the best set of the weekend.  A must have is the Mike’s->Wedge, Ghost ->Weekapaug.

I often see people comment on who was the “MVP” of a night or a run or a tour, but I can’t really pick out one of the four over this stretch.  The band just seems to be really listening and working off one another.  If there is one element I’ve really enjoyed the past two tours is that while Trey is still the leader, in some ways still the driver, he has really be ready to take a step back and allow Page to thrive.  Combined with the Mike and Fish the melodies that the band has been coming up with have been truly extraordinary.

A couple more thoughts.  The new album seems to have rejuvenated the band.  If 2013 was a celebration of the past, 2014 is a celebration of the future.  The best single set may have been set two from 7/20/14, but so much of the music is worth your time if  you are a fan of Phish.  The first sets (minus night one) were well constructed and while the second set is generally the province  of the more exploratory, lengthy material, the first sets from nights two and three are great pieces in there own right.  I can see those sets making for some good running soundtracks over the next months and years.  Phish, they keep me rolling.


Phish at Northerly Island Night Three, Set Two 7/20/14: Ka-Wedge!

July 21, 2014

So to answer my own question of “what can be left?” the answer is, “a lot! A whole flipping lot!” Set two of the third night was the best set of the weekend.  I’m still on kind of a buzz from last night so I don’t want to think about the whole run just yet.  I know I need to get to it before the band performs again.  The internet does not rest.

Down With Disease, a big ticket number if there ever was one, started the set out and pretty much let us know that we were in for something special.  It was a pretty steady jam and the segue into Winterqueen felt natural, not forced.  With Winterqueen nine of the ten songs from Fuego were played over the weekend.  As it stands, Fuego and Wingsuit are my favorites and I appreciate The Line.

After a nice musical sorbet of Theme from the Bottom, the main entree of the set came in the form of Mike’s Song.  When Mike’s starts, it’s just a given that we are in for a run of songs that may or may not have been linked in the past, ultimately ending in a Weekapaug.  For most of us, we’ve seen some good Mike’s, some bad ones too (bad being a relative term.)  This was definitely a good one.  Mike’s Song was pretty straight-forward, booming its way until the next, improbable song, The Wedge.  At this point there has already been quite a bit written about this Wedge, and it is pretty much true.  It was magnificent, breaking aware from its normal bonds and going into strong Type II jamming.  The chord progressions that Trey explored were just beautiful, one of those moments where I realize, again, why I love this band.  Watching, listening to Phish explore something new, yet familiar (folks were comparing it to Paradise City) is what drew me in from the beginning.

To the delight of the crowd, Ghost started, though I was kind of hoping for a “Wedgiepaug.” Though The Ghost was up to the task of keeping the strong set going.  Hearing almost all of the Fuego songs along side the songs from Story of the Ghost really brings home some of the comparisons between the two records.  It isn’t a perfect match, but there is a certain mood in the music that works well together.  More pairings between the two will be fun to see explored.

The Ghost moved perfectly into Weekapaug and it is a great way to close a the set, except that it wasn’t.  After a deliriously fantastic Weekapaug, the band launched into First Tube that was as close to the spike of the ball as you will ever get.  It was pushing the envelope and it was another unsuspected, yet somehow, perfect moment.  I still can’t get over how good Phish is still at more often than not, making the right choice when it comes to that next song.

I stayed for the encore, a rare choice for me.  I’ll get into that later, but it was fun to walk out with everybody for a change.  I actually saw some folks selling their wares toward the parking lot which was also fun to see.  There was a day I’d pick up a few extra shirts, probably a grilled cheese, not last night.  I probably need another Phish shirt (after the tour shirt, I’m not a monster) like I need another hole in the head and a tour grilled cheese even less.

Phish at Northerly Island Night Three, Set One 7/20/14: What Can Be Left?

July 20, 2014

Maybe because I’m running on fumes, but this set just blew me away. Things started off innocuously enough with a smooth, groovy Gumbo, but then Runaway Jim just took over and set us on a course for some hard rock and groove. I still haven’t seen My Sweet One, but I did see Tela for the first time since 1994, so that is pretty cool. There are people here who weren’t even born the last time I saw that song!

The Line came next and it has a nice build up feel to it, a natural song for tension, seeing how it is about personal tension. What came next was one of the craziest rides I’ve seen at a Phish show, that’s saying something.

The Scent of a Mule started out normal enough, enough for a song about a mule and laser beams anyway. Then in the breakaway segment, things got weird. Fish started playing some weird vibraphone kinda thing, then Trey and Mike started playing on the cymbals and drums. I have no idea what Page was doing, but everyone was around the drum kit. It was the closest thing to a Drums/Space I’ve ever seen Phish play.

The energy stayed up, way up with a raging Bathtub Gin. Quite frankly I don’t know where that Gin goes in the pantheon of Gins I’ve seen. All I know is that I’ve been spoiled to see so many. We finally got to cool down with a Silent in the Morning, but were brought right back into it with Maze. Confession, it took a while to get into Maze for me. Whenever I heard it I was hoping for a Bowie. Now I’m older, wiser, happier with whatever comes.

In keeping with the well constructed sets that we’ve gotten this weekend, the Ocelot/ Walls of the Cave closer was just perfect. Not exactly the Antelope from last night, but hot nonetheless.

Speaking of hot, first time all weekend I have the Phish sweats. Talk about some summer time memories. Also, and I’ll get into it a little more later, but I’m going to do something crazy tonight. I’m staying for the encore. If three nights in a row has taught me anything, it’s that this is tiring and special. I won’t see any more shows this year, and depending on the timing, maybe none next year. This is to be savored.

I finally got an opener right! DWD just kicked in, see you later.

Phish night three: 10 minute preview!

July 20, 2014

Not much time l’ll reflect more later. Tired as hell though, two nights then a day at the pool for my daughter’s birthday. Daddy is beat, but answering the bell. Speaking of: any second the lights are going down. So, got my two from Fuego, but little else. I’m not disappointed though. If Phish can pull off a three show run without any staples, that is something to see in and of itself. Even so Mikes makes the Kaufmak dance! How wrong can I be part three: PYITE.

Phish at Northerly Island Day Two Set Two 7/19/14: We Keep It Rolling

July 20, 2014

I was wrong on this set opener too, but at least I was standing next to a guy who called Carini. I’ll admit, before Carini became a slightly to great exploratory tune I wasn’t the biggest fan, kind of found it to he a bit gimmicky.

No gimmicks now, Carini got us started in a spacy/jammy place with Waves taking over and leading to the other new song I’ve been pining for, Fuego. It only disappointed in the fact that it was too short. In a year or two this is going to be a tent pole of a set. Twist held its own and I also like the direction Light is taking.

Another prize shorter/breather song in Twenty Years Later was next. I’m not sure where this song is in the popularity of Phish songs, for me it’s a favorite. The lyrics speak to me more than most Phish songs. While I love the music and playing of the band, I would never argue they are great song writers. For me anyway, this song touches me. Perhaps it’s the reflective tone, the memory inherent in the words. I can relate.

Next came Hood. Seeing some buzz about Hood, something about its best year since 1994. I don’t know about all that and considering my favorite Hood is Vegas 1996, I’ll leave that discussion to the literati.

It was a good version to be sure. A very playful intro with just an inspiring finishing crescendo. I was shocked that a Cavern followed to close the set. I made my way out at that point.

I didn’t stick for the encores, in part because I had a long-ass walk back to my car. Also I wanted to see on my long-ass walk how the sound was toward the remote parking. Not bad. I also wanted to see if I could get a cool shot across the water. No such luck, too many mosquitoes.

As sets go, I put the first night second set a little higher, but not by much. After repeated listening the final tally might be different. We’ll see tomorrow.

Phish at Northerly Island 7/19/14 Day Two Set One: Getting Us Going

July 19, 2014

Quite a difference a day makes. Where yesterday started on with a slow trend, tonight was funky to upbeat to rocking. Throw in a couple of bona fide ballads and it is hard to come up with a more balanced set.

The funk: Moma Dance opened followed by a very groovy Wolfman’s Brother. Another newbie, Devotion to a Dream was followed by:

The Rock: 46 Days was pretty hot. I still get a kick out of Trey jumping up and down. It won’t go down as legendary 46 Days, but fun. Yarmouth Road created a great start to an incline culminating in one of my favorites, Brian and Robert.

It’s been said that a set of Phish music is like a suite, following it’s own path, but connected. Wingsuit felt like taking flight, like the turn in a symphony, moving the story to the conclusion. Tube and Free brought an even greater sense of rock, of power.

A short respite with Roggae, to get our breath for the last kick. First one of the most poppy songs in the Phish arsenal, Heavy Things, an appetizer. Then the release to all of that tension that was working since Tube: Run Like An Antelope. There might not be a better set finisher than Antelope. Maybe it’s because I finish so many long runs with this song, but the energy is just amazing. The hotter and sweatier the better.

I’m back I. The bleachers, but the path is still open. It is the best of both worlds: go to the floor, get the groove on, come here to write and chill.

How wrong can I be: no Jim, let’s say DWD to open the second set. Got to go!

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