A Week in and I’m Just Fine

February 27, 2015

A week into Lent 2015 and I’m feeling pretty good.  I won’t say that I don’t miss my social media outlets, but it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be.  As far as what has been the hardest platform to do without, I’d have to go with Twitter.  I really missed it during the Academy Awards.  Good, snarky comments are always fun during award shows.  When baseball is officially back, I will still have a week or two to go until Easter so that is going to be rough.


I don’t miss Facebook as much as I thought I would.  Though I do miss keeping tabs on some of my favorite folks, it really hasn’t felt like a void.  I can definitely see just turning it off during election season.  I do have a fun project in mind for Facebook after Easter.  I would like to see if there is a way to collect a series of updates and make them one blog or something or other.  But first I need to make the status updates.

The true killer has been the treats at work.  I’m happy to report that I haven’t broken as of yet, but it is hard.  Two days donuts were in the office and another day a student brought in homemade brownies.  I mean, COME ON! Am I made of stone!?! Thinking about that for a second, three out of five work days thus far during Lent there have been treats around.  No wonder I can’t lose any weight.  It is amazing too, how temptation has a way of finding us.

I have really been enjoying, however, the Lenten observance my employer has provided this year.  If you are looking for a quick, easy and very good way to get back to prayer and reflection, I encourage you to visit Igniting Our Values.  It shares each days gospel, reflections from Jesuits and lay people and also offers some multimedia bits as well to help and inspire reflection.  I’ve particularly enjoyed the music provided on the Spotify playlist, beajesuit.  Give it a lesson if you’re into that sort of thing.

A week in, and I’m feeling it.  I think at this point last year, everything had already gone to shit.  There is something about making a good start that helps me keep moving.  A spiritual and metaphysical kind of Newton’s Law.  Here’s to staying in spiritual motion.  Have a good week everyone.

A Real Lenten Challenge

February 18, 2015

Two years ago I wrote about my enjoyment of Lent, or perhaps better said the benefits of the practices of Lent.  All of that still holds true.  I still like to balance my practice between deepening spirituality, self-sacrifice and self-improvement.  Hopefully as the sacrificing and improving are going on, I’m also thinking about a greater connection to my faith.  It doesn’t always work.  I sometimes fall and give in to temptation and forget the whole thing.  Admittedly, and probably why I’m writing this now, I am genuinely nervous about what I plan to do this year.  It ranks right up there with giving up sugar and sports media.  Both were hard to do and only one has sorta kinda lasted (hint it isn’t the sugar.)


So what is it going to be? Two big things.  One was what I gave up on last year, treats at work.  Dear God, that was tough.  It is amazing how much food is on offer at the office.  I haven’t ever really put it to the test, but I bet I could do pretty well just scrounging around the kitchenettes on the various floors.  And I do mean well.  Many of the food choices that come my way are pretty high end and highly caloric.  Mostly post-catering grub but someone, myself included, bring in treats.

The second is a big challenge.  I’m going to give up social media.  Now, there are some parameters of what is and is not included.  The biggies (at least for me) are definitely out; no Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr all gone.  I don’t do much on other platforms, but still no Instagram, Pinterest, and anything else that comes to mind.  E-mail doesn’t count and nor does blogging.  Hey, my spiritual journey, my rules.  No, the only interaction, and no Catholic Sunday exception, will be to post blogs on the various platforms, nothing else; drop the links and get out of Dodge.

Believe it or not, the two are linked.  From two very different sources, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Dave Ramsey, both used the idiom, ” X is a good servant but is a cruel master.”  In both cases, I’ve found myself eating food and checking social media, more out of a compulsion or boredom than anything else.  It definitely wasn’t out of a need.  I obviously love food and social media, but I’ve been feeling more servant than master lately and that isn’t a good feeling.  Seriously, how much hummus does one person need? And how many checks on Twitter is too many in one day? I don’t know the answer to that one, but it felt like too many recently.

I’m doing some other stuff too; some physical stuff and the Jesuits are doing a cool Lenten practice, ironically enough, via e-mail and a website.  But neither of those brings the excitement or fear that the denial aspect of this year does.  I’ve got a feeling this won’t be the last blog about either of these practices.  I don’t know which withdrawal will be worse, but I’ll be sure to share.

I Can Do It. Maybe. Sometimes. Well, Not Everything

January 25, 2015

I’ve been doing some serious de-cluttering around Chez Kaufmak. Over the last couple of weekends I have cleaned my kids bedrooms with a ruthlessness that I didn’t think I possessed. Old toys, old clothes, strange random bits of paper are all history now. It isn’t stopping with the kids either. I’ve ben through my closet, my comic books, my books. The scythe was not to be denied.  All of this new space, this new clean house has also spilled over to my, what is it, exactly, creative life? writing life? Whatever. I realize that some cleaning needs to happen in this arena as well.


I’ve always felt like a bit of a dilettante when it comes to writing and other creative endeavors.  I like writing the blogs but I think about writing other things too.  The idea of screenplay has intrigued me for years as has a novel of some sort.  Of course I’m trained as an academic and I do like researching and writing in a strictly non-fiction sort of way.  And that is just the writing side of things.  I sometimes think of doing more stand-up comedy.  I’ve been enjoying the hell out of doing the podcast.  I would like to make improvements/tweaks to that to make it a better product.  The one major drawback to doing the podcast is that it reminds me how much I miss teaching.

Speaking of being an academic and working in higher education, the killer is that I like my job and I want to do more stuff with that too.  I went to a presentation the other day and the focus was on how to recruit and engage more students in doing research as undergraduates.  It was a great discussion, but very science heavy.  Getting students in a lab and directing them dovetails nicely with the natural sciences, but how do we get students outside of the hard sciences equally engaged?  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  I went to a documentary screening about urban gardens in Detroit.  What else can we do to revitalize our cities? We can’t nor should we make all reaches of a city into a pasture.

Which of course leads to politics, especially local politics.  There are so many things, SO MANY THINGS just in Chicago to want to affect real change.  An elected school board, curbing gun violence, homelessness, preserving the lake shore are just a few of the items that make me want to get involved.

And then there is just fun stuff.  I would love to get back to playing guitar in some fashion.  I enjoy playing Magic and would like to get better at that too, or at least win a match or two during Friday Night Magic.

You get the point.  This is just the “me” stuff too, this isn’t even bringing in being a parent and a husband which are pretty awesome.  I wish I could be laser-focused on one particular thing, but that just isn’t me.  I wish I could just let some things go, not be nagged by the feeling of “What If?” or “Why Not?”  I just can’t get it out of my head sometimes, that I need to finish something I started.  That to work and try, to try and fail is not only ok, but rewarding in its own right. (Geez, I didn’t even get to physical fitness goals.) I think I have some priorities set, have put some ideas and such away after trial and error, or lack of desire.  If I could design a perfect day it would involve a good dose of writing(lord knows what though), some teaching and some kind of activism.  What do you think that is filed under?

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.

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