Saying no?

I take on a lot of projects.

I’ve taken on a lot of projects.

I’m excited for all these projects.

This blog is one of them.
It is not difficult for me to say no to things in general – I’m a fairly forceful and strong-willed person. I’m confident in a frank and deliberate “no,” even occasionally to the detriment of others.
But it is much more difficult for me to turn down work that excites me. Projects that pay, projects with people I admire, projects right up my alley & right in my field. These are a difficult “no.”
I’m excited to work on these projects, and excited to finish these projects, and excited to have done them. But right now, tonight, I’m feeling the impending weight looking forward to many months that look fuller than the last several.

It is indeed a lot of projects.

And they will hopefully lead to more.

The Morning Crew (short story)

The engine cut out with a chug and a whine as Patrick twisted the key – tricky to keep a firm grip as he pulled it from the ignition. He did not like the way his hands had cracked.
Slipping the key into the red pack clipped around his waist, he looked up across the parking lot and saw a familiar crowd. Just a few other cars dotted the asphalt as the sun slowly started to peak up over the Kepcke Public Library.
It was 8:56 AM.

8:57 AM.

Patrick creaked the car door open and started to step out unsuccessfully, his big leather jacket catching on the seat belt buckle, nearly tearing a button from his cuff. Rattling out a sigh, he looked at the dangling thing, held on pitifully by two thin strings. He did not know how to sew. He did not do the sewing.
He would have to ask a friend to help him with it, he thought, standing as straight as he could and swinging his door shut. The breeze was starting to find its bite as the air crisped quickly into late October. Patrick liked the air chilly, but mostly for the feeling of sitting inside away from it. Shielded in the warmth of books and shelves and people.

Opening the back door of the squat white sedan, he grabbed his Tosa Grocers tote bag and metal cane, glancing around at the half dozen other folks in their cars or standing near the revolving glass front doors. He saw Stewart and Dawn standing at the front, Stew gazing fondly at the reddening trees. Mrs. Darlington sat in her large SUV, her nose barely peaking out above the steering well, evidently asleep in the growing sunlight. Two young college students Patrick had seen a few times stood by the bike rack, their helmets off, their eyes locked downwards on their phones.

9:00 AM.

Jenna, one of the librarians on staff at Kepcke, walked down the hallway inside towards the glass doors, and opened them up. Giving Stew and Dawn a familiar smile, saying something Patrick could not hear. He shook himself, reaching up to dial up his hearing aid, the slight crackle whispering in his ear as it sparked to life. He had kept forgetting to turn it on these last couple months. The habit of putting it in every morning had been ingrained solidly for years, but the second crucial step of switching it on had refused to stick with him. There were a lot of things he kept forgetting these days. Where the coffee filters were kept, which days the garbage came, which side of the bed he belonged on.

The Toyota let out a high honk as he shut the door and jabbed the lock button. He walked across the lot patiently, spying Mrs. Darlington start and open her eyes in the big SUV. Throwing open her door, she stepped down, barely clearing the tops of her tires, her large frizzy hair adding several inches to her height. Patrick waved as he saw another fellow patron stepping towards the door – his friend Donny was walking towards him, waving back. Sometimes they played chess together at the big tables near the back windows. He liked those windows, they looked over a little pond with geese. Sometimes they talked about what they were reading, and Donny would share a poem he’d written that week. Often though they would just sit in silence, engrossed in their own thoughts and pages, nestled into the two leather arm chairs that had become their steadfast companions through the years.
Patrick walked through the front doors, smiling softly and nodding at Jenna behind the front desk. Heading to the right, Patrick and Donny walked together to their chairs by the nonfiction shelves and sat down without a word.

9:05 AM.

Patrick liked his library friends.
Patrick missed his home friend.

Lists

Lists are a passion of mine. I keep many in my notes app, all in a folder to scroll through, effectively acting a singular list of all my lists. I could describe the many lists I keep, but I will keep those for other days – today, there are three that caught my attention.

I have a list in which I mark down how many times I wear each of my four current baseball caps. I call this my Hat Log, started almost exactly one year ago, October 13, 2019, on my very first and very enchanting visit to New York City. I bought a black heathered cap from a street vender for $5, ‘New York’ stitched in small white print across the front. Since that day, I’ve worn this cap 62 times.
I have a white cap that I my sister gave me on April 1, 2020, a patch from a favorite local restaurant sewed to the front. I’ve worn that hat 53 time in the shorter time I’ve had it, and the ware is showing through. It is desperately calling to be thrown in the wash, along with my towels and mask.
My last 2 hats, both acquired in the last month, have a combined wear count of only 3. I like my hats. I have two fisherman beanies, one beige, one black, that I did not keep track of when I first acquired them – and the lack of data frustrates me to this day.

The other two lists in the same category list out two pairs of shoes and two vests, counting the individual wears for each item. The first of the shoes, a pair of gray velcro New Balances, lasted nearly a year before retirement, in which I wore them 280 times. The vests, both recent purchases, have both been worn six times.

I do not know why I like to keep track of these things. But it brings me comfort. I love to see the history of things. The evolution of things. The data of things. I love to see some aspects of normal life that always fly unnoticed under the radar quantified through tracking and diligent notetaking. I like to see how I use my things, and in turn see the value they give me.

It’s weird, but it’s fun – I recommend the practice, even just to try.

Writing Craft

This morning, I spent an hour or so discussing stories and writing with a sister of mine, at my kitchen table. Writing is something I’ve always found alluring, and something I’ve wanted to pursue in some form or another – but in talking with her, it quickly became clear how few tools of fundamental writing I had strapped to my toolbelt.

This afternoon, I got two months free on Skillshare from a YouTube video I watched, and dove in. It is absolutely wild how many high-quality courses there are on myriad creative topics, with hundreds in the realm of creative writing.

This evening, I took two preliminary writing courses. One about an hour in length, the other only 25 minutes or so – I found both very valuable. I found revelation even in truly rudimentary things, such as a character’s desire, what’s at stake and story context. These are all things I’ve known about forever of course. In my head, I know that a character has a desire, and that’s how they spur the story forward through action pursuring that want. In my head, I know that a story needs conflict and clarity – but so many of these things have never actually been presented to me in a teaching / educational format, and hearing many of them strung together cohesively in one course was extremely helpful.

Perhaps my favorite tool from the second course I took was the difference between Plot and Story.

Plot = Physical: the journey, the challenge, the action.
Story = Emotional: the thoughts, the character’s change, the reaction to action

Take these ramblings as you will… I’m excited to continue learning, and I’ve decided to try and put 30 minutes of my time every day into taking a course on Skillshare. This is my public resolution.

That’s all boyos – excited to keep trying things and learning stuffs.

Sports Rivalries

It’s late. 11:07 PM.
I’m back at my desk after a day of work culminating in an evening of sports – the Chicago Bears played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today, led by the legendary former Patriot, Tom Brady. I was expecting a loss, but instead a messy game dominated by a Chicago defense that excelled, far exceeding their play of the last couple games, resulted in a Bears win 20-19. The Bears record is now 4-1 for the first time since 2012, but we have a long road, and the road we’ve travelled thus far has not been a smooth one.

We’ll see what happens.

For now, I don’t have a lot more to say, but I do have a recommendation. John Green, author of young adult novels Paper Towns, the Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska among authors, hosts a podcast called the Anthropocene Reviewed. It is brilliant.
He reviews aspects of a human-centered planet, such as Prom or the flavor of Dr. Pepper. It may sound gimmicky, but the show is really a collection of essays about the deepest aspects of humanity, and the beautiful stories wrapped up in the objects and items all around us.

He has one episode in particular that I thought of tonight as I sat next to my dad on the couch, cheering for a sports team I have no real connection to – and yet feeling the emotional turmoil of seconds and scores.
Go listen to a review of the Notes App and Sports Rivalries – I’m going to listen to it now too. I hope you find as much value in the words as I do.

(I’m going to write more about John Green in the future, he is fantastic – one of my favorite creators in the world. Sometimes we talk about wanting to meet celebrities or have dinner with a famous person – but I think most times that wouldn’t actually be enjoyable… John Green is one of the two people I would genuinely like to have a conversation with over a warm beverage.)

The Beauty of Children’s Entertainment

Hayao Miyazaki (79) is the co-founder of Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. He wrote and directed hallmark features including Castle in the Sky, Ponyo and won the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2001 for Spirited Away. His work is enchanting and imaginative – some of the most revered animation in the world. I didn’t really know any of this until I was a freshman in college.
Growing up, we did not watch the studio Ghibli movies – except, strangely enough, Castle in the Sky. That is the only Ghibli film I’d ever seen before watching My Neighbor Totoro just last week. I was skeptical when sitting down to watch Totoro. I have never been a fan of anime, and I assumed this would be no different – but I found myself immediately enchanted by Miyazaki’s directing and animation. The world was peaceful and serene, moving slowly from scene to scene, beat to beat. Much slower than most animated features I’ve seen before.

We are used to children’s entertainment being as loud, colorful and flashy as possible. The result is often garish and unenjoyable for most older than the target demographic. It seemed the opposite for My Neighbor Totoro, though, and I was shocked to hear that the film had been a childhood favorite of the friend I watched it with.
Thinking back to my childhood movie taste, I don’t know if I’d have liked the movie then – I can say for certain that I appreciated the craft and care Miyazaki put into the film much more watching for the first time at 20 than I would have at 10. All the things that likely would have bored me in my youth were my absolute favorite elements today, the exact things that make me want to explore more of the Studio Ghibli canon.

It was that realization that sparked a revelation: a majority of the work I love and find the most impactful and inspirational was originally created for a younger audience. The Harry Potter series, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Calvin and Hobbes, Ratatouille, Peter and the Starcatchers, Little Women – and now Studio Ghibli. Whether I discovered it in childhood or adulthood, I continue to find beauty in works for children.

All of these works do something in common: they press into themes and ideas and plot points that are not generally found in children’s entertainment, that push the viewer or reader outside of their comfort zone. Harry Potter is a series that can be seen as considerably darker than many other children’s novels – JK Rowling forced her young readers to develop and grow through reading her stories, right alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione. And growing up, each time a reader goes back, they may discover or understand more and more of the story as they see deeper and deeper into the narratives and ideas that JK sewed throughout this “children’s” series. The books appeal to everyone, because they force everyone – children and adults alike – to grow alongside the characters in the story, facing the same challenges and obstacles.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, a brilliant children’s film by writer / director Wes Anderson has the spectacle, goofiness and scale of a traditional children’s animation, but at the same time it deals with incredibly human and adult themes of honesty, occupation, parenthood and relationships. Not only that, but it juxtaposes a childish world of talking animals and cookey farmers with the realism of a genuine world – with a badger’s real estate office, an invented sport and inter-race relations. Anderson, like all the best animation directors, laces things throughout his movie that children just won’t understand when they’re younger – but these things make for an even better experience for the child as they grow up re-watching the movie, understanding and growing more with every return.

So far as I’ve seen, Hayao Miyazaki does the same thing with his films – and I can’t wait to watch more. I’ll let you know how I like them when I do.

“The concept of portraying evil and then destroying it – I know this is considered mainstream, but I think it is rotten. This idea that whenever something evil happens someone particular can be blamed and punished for it, in life and in politics is hopeless.”
― Hayao Miyazaki

See more Miyazaki quotes here, they are brilliant.

Aaron Copland

Currently listening to Aaron Copland (1900-1990). I’ve been listening to a fair amount of Copland recently, likely more than most. Appalachian Spring is my favorite of his pieces. It sounds like an early morning – soothing, and peaceful and patient, but full of the excited energy and possibility of the new.

We in America are currently living through an incredibly momentous and strenuous season as a country – and for better or for worse, Aaron Copland’s work reminds me of a time in this country that is now cast in a warm orange glow of an ethereal past. A time of which I’ll never know or understand much. A time that was objectively worse in so many ways – in discrimination, life expectancy, poverty, war, etc. Yet his work brings me a peace and comfort, carrying with it a wave of longing for a time drenched in proud Americana. Of cowboys and ranches and trains and all the things a child imagines the Wild West to be. Of adventure and destiny.
The America that this music was born from is not an America to be proud of in many regards. We have taken many strides forward from the America of the early twentieth century, and for that I am extremely grateful – but even so, I dream childishly of this simpler era.

In too many areas, the problems that haunted the early twentieth century continue to plague our days and years now. Discrimination and racism are at the forefront and the loyalty and pride in the America built over the last 250 years has stumbled, becoming strenuous in the face of a divided culture, people and government.

Listening to Copland, I am struck by two things.

First: that the weight and power we give to music of the past to encompass its time period as a whole is often uncharacteristic of the past’s reality. I hear Aaron Copland’s work, and it is like looking at my own memories as a child growing up amongst my siblings at home. The strife and disagreements and fights and arguments that pervaded our lives on a nearly hourly rate have drifted conveniently out of my memory, leaving only the warm glow of happiness and nostalgia. Copland encompassed the best, most idyllic (in my mind) version of the early twentieth century, but that does not mean he captured the reality of the time.

And second: it is important to listen, to learn and to reflect on the music of the past, but we must separate the music from it’s period. The peaceful and graceful and lovely notions I hold alongside Aaron Copland’s work should not be attributed equally to the period it was created in. Those qualities should be taken independently, but instead put forward: as a template and model for what the future could look like and feel like and sound like, rather than as a masked image of what we think the past was like.

“To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.”
― Aaron Copland

Inktober, days 1-5

Today marks the 5th day of Inktober 2020, the annual art challenge created by cartoonist and comic book artist Jake Parker in 2009.
The challenge is simple: Jake puts out a list of 31 words at the end of September, with each word correlating to one day in October. The goal is to create a new ink drawing every day of the month, inspired by the word of the day.

I have participated in Inktober in the past, but decided against it this year. Five days in, the words that have passed thus far are: Fish, Wisp, Bulky, Radio and Blade (notice the lack of the Oxford Comma – I hate the Oxford Comma. It is clunky and unnecessary).

Instead of drawing, I decided to take a stab at writing something inspired by these words – all 5 today. Perhaps I’ll continue the trend, every 5 days or so this month. Sitting here on my couch, I will now craft something hopefully coherent inspired by Fish, Wisp, Bulky, Radio and Blade. Wish me luck. Or don’t, I’ve already written this… The time for luck has passed.

       A bullfrog croaked just beyond the window, lamenting the cool chill that had swept through on the heels of shadowy clouds that afternoon. Benson looked up at the noise, his hands still fiddling with the dial on the large radio. It was temporarily tucked into the corner between two oversized squashy armchairs, harder to reach than usual. The bulky cabinet had been a chore to move into the cramped little cottage, and filled more than its fair share of floor space in the newly cluttered sitting room. 
       Benson was the new caretaker, watching over the large park the quaint little cottage sat in. Benson was also a gnome.
       Having moved in just days before, near the end of the summer holidays, he was still finding his way round the place. He had just now gotten to plugging in the large radio, planning to listen to the weekly programming on the consortium channel, but had been finding issues dialing and tuning correctly, unable to find the right frequency now he was so far from where he’d been listening for years. 
       Hearing the croaking again, he wondered if it was the same friendly frog who he’d seen fishing by the pond that morning while making his rounds. Trying to recall his name, and turning back to his dials – a crack split the night suddenly, much louder than Kettlemoor’s – ah, that was the bullfrog’s name – louder than Kettlemoor’s croaks. 
       Benson dashed around the patterned armchairs to the frosty window and peered through the glass, one hand shielding the glare of the lantern swaying high on its pole outside the cottage door. A wisp of wind fluttered through the park, rustling the tall grass and rippling the surface of the glossy pond – as a small thud came from outside the home. 
      Quickly making up his mind, Benson donned his short squirrel-skin cloak, grabbed his crook and marched through the front door. Closing it behind him, he felt the cool air brushing his cheeks – fluttering his short beard as the sound of a knife being drawn sounded just feet away. 

Okay! That’s the beginning of a little story? Perhaps I’ll continue down this trail for the rest of Inktober 2020, we will see. It was fun to just write a little bit of fun fiction for the first time in a while – I got into it more than I expected. Anyway… that’s all for today! See you tomorrow.

Collage

The other day, Austin Kleon (gee I’ve been mentioning his name a lot, inspiration comes in phases and waves) posted this. “Kick the world, break your foot.” Both a wonderful sentiment and a beautiful image.
That same day, inspired, I picked up a newspaper off the street and my sister gave me an old illustrated medical text book, printed in 1895.

The paper and the book took a new form today, distracting me again from my official work I’ve kept securely on the back burner for about a week, allowing me a wonderful new sense of play. I have not done any sort of physical cutting-and-pasting collage work in… years? A decade+? In quite some time.

I found it incredibly enjoyable, as well as incredibly freeing to create something like this – multidimensional, colorful, new – away from a screen. I will hopefully be doing more collage work in the future, and will surely post them here when I do.

I highly recommend trying something like this for yourself – share it when you do, and tell me where to find it!