MMXIX: The Decade In Review

At the start of 2019 I wrote a blog post called Ten for Twenty Nineteen, which was simply a few things I was thinking about as I began the new year. It was primarily forward looking as opposed to the reflective Year In Review, In Photos posts which I published annually between 2007 to 2013. In 2008, I wrote about the previous year:

“I don’t know if 2007 was as shitty as I’ve been saying it was. It was certainly full of change, and mostly unexpected. It had some very low lows, but also some very high highs. I lost a lot, but I think in the end I’ve gained even more. And standing here looking back over the last 12 months I don’t know how much of it I’d change if I had the chance.”

I found significant value in revisiting the previous year with hindsight perspective and it often helped me appreciate my own narrative in a way that my memories alone hadn’t allowed. I remembered things in the moment, but the blog posts gave me a greater context.

I genuinely regret (unintentionally) abandoning the In Photos series, as I would love to visually revisit 2013-2019 (heres 2010, 2011, 2012). As I’ve mentioned before, when I started it I was actively “life blogging” so at the end of the year it was fairly easy to scroll through the posts over the last 12 months and pull out the highlights. In an attempt to improve my photography skills, I began transitioning from frequent documentarian cameraphone pics to more curated film photos, but I didn’t realize at the time that instead of posting them when I took them (easy to sort by date) they would now be posted when I developed them, sometimes months later. This significantly complicated my previously simple date search – something I learned too late. I also used to say that I moved away from Flickr because a series of unfortunate acquisitions made the future of the site questionable, but to move away would require going somewhere else, which I didn’t do. I had also slowed written blog posts from several a day to one a month, if that. So it’s more likely I was just burned out on it all. That said, this year I’m trying to put Flickr back into my workflow, so we’ll see how it goes going forward.

A friend recently told me that Russian Physiologist Ivan Pavlov had a thing where every 10 years he’d completely change his focus – arguing anything you can contribute to a field you can do in 10 years, beyond that you are just taking up space. I haven’t found direct confirmation of a hard and fast “10 year” rule, though he did work in many different fields throughout his life. I liked that idea and related to it deeply. I could see parallels in my businesses and wondered if this “10 year” thing applied to other interests and focuses as well? While I might not have the same kind of images to easily allow an almost week to week revisitation of the last 7 years, I can identify some major events and accomplishments. And so, with all that in mind I wanted to look back over the last decade, to put some things into a larger context for myself, as inspiration and motivation as I move ahead into the next, whatever and wherever that might lead. So here it goes.

How I spent The Last 10 Years

Dogtown

I started the decade living in Venice Beach, California (USA) with my wife Tara. With our bedroom windows open, we could hear the waves crashing on the sand all night long. Ten years later I’m living in Shibuya, Tokyo (Japan) with Tara and our 9 year old son Ripley. On a clear day, from our bedroom window we can see Mt. Fuji. It’s my feeling if you spend more than a consecutive month in a single place you’ve lived there, and using that definition, in between there and here, we’ve also lived in Singapore (Singapore), Vincennes (France), Vienna (Austria) and Boulder, Colorado (USA) as well as the Los Angeles (USA) neighborhoods of Silverlake and Atwater Village.

In addition to residing in the aforementioned locales, I also bounced around the world for business and pleasure – several times. Sometimes with my family, sometimes with colleagues, and sometimes alone. I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dublin, Fukushima, London, New York, Paris, Sarasota, and Vancouver. I’ve also spent not a lot of time, but time none the less in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Climping, Costa Rica, Dubai, Florence, Geneva, Honolulu, Iriomote, Jackson, Kagoshima, London, Malta, Manila, Marrakech, Milan, Newark, Oman, Piza, San Benito, Siquijor, Savinja, Toronto, Venice, Winchester, Whistler, and the Yucatan. Among others, that was an incomplete “top of my head” list.

Coffee Common x NYC

For new chapters to start, old ones need to end and with that in mind I decided to walk away from the blogging company Jason Defillippo and I started almost a decade earlier. I started (and ended) a coffee company with Stephen Morrissey, Peter Giuliano, Kyle Glanville, Brian Jones, Brent Fortune and Tim Styles. We built Coffee Common as an educational, inspirational mouthpiece and produced several absolutely insane events, then shut it down to move on with our lives. For a while after that I curated a coffee subscription project as well. As a board member of CicLAvia I helped people Los Angeles connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods. Along with Joi Ito, Pieter Franken and Ray Ozzie and countless volunteers I built Safecast which has become one of the most important citizen science projects ever. We changed the way the public expects to get environmental data, and the expectations researchers have about public projects. Tara and I recently started Street Sheets because most of you have crappy taste and we wanted to improve the aesthetics of the world around us.

Music has remained a constant and important part of my life. In the 90’s I worked mostly behind the scenes, in the 2000’s I embraced just being in the audience. In the 10’s I got on stage. I sang backups for a Strife record, joined Brevi, DJ Muggs and Andrew Kline as part of Cross My Heart Hope To Die, Massacred Saturday Night with Wil Wheaton, contributed a soundtrack to a short film by Uchujin, and dicked around with various other noises. I’ve performed live in front of audiences in Los Angeles and Tokyo. I started 2010 with no musical instruments or know how of any kind and now possess and play a few more than none with a growing fondness for guitar and synths.

All of 'em

In 2010 I sold my first artwork, some music related post-it note sized drawings as part of Giant Robot’s annual exhibition of the same. I have no idea who bought them, but I love that they are out in the world somewhere. The same year, I decided to get a film camera and thought it might be interesting to take photos of people on the streets. Since then my photos have hung on gallery walls and sold to people who buy artwork. I published a photobook of my Tokyo street photos and some of my other images have been published in the Leica published book Leica Myself, Souris Hong’s Outside The Lines, Too, Peter Gilmore’s The Devils Reign and Invader’s Invasion Los Angeles 2.1. While I officially ran away screaming from the world of music design in the late 90’s, I popped out of retirement to design the first Die Antwoord album, in collaboration with Clayton Cubitt and Gary Baseman and a bunch of merchandise for Bad Brains with Glen E Friedman. Yeah sex is cool but have you ever tried making cool art with your friends?

I wrote an introduction to Shepard Fairey’s book Covert to Overt, a few sidebars for Algis Tamosaitis’ Rock Your Travel, and cowrote a book about the future of philanthropy for the Shuttleworth Foundation, with whom I’ve been a Fellow since 2014. Morgen and I wrote books about Zombies and Oklahoma. Either I or my work was written about in books by Colin Harmon, Mike Walsh, Dr. Mamie Lau, James Wynn, Joi Ito, Shaka Senghor, Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, and others.

I gave dozens of talks about various topics to audiences all over the world. A few standouts including talking about minimalism at TEDx in Vienna, about Safecast at 29c3 in Hamburg and at CERN in Geneva, and about my life at Re:Publica in Berlin.

I learned to snowboard and scuba dive. I biked hundreds miles and skateboarded hundreds of feet. I snorkeled with sea turtles and hiked through rain forests.

I’ve lost friends and family to overdoses, diseases, suicides, honest mistakes and dishonest bullshit. I’ll cherish and remember the beautiful moments, and I’ll never forgive or forget the betrayals. I stay in regular contact with friends I’ve had for decades, who amazingly still put up with me. I’ve reconnected with friends and family who are important to me, but I’d lost touch with over the years. I’ve made new friends and new family, and my life is richer and more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined it would be because of them.

Nikko Japan, November 2019

I’ve watched my son grow from a boulbous poop factory into a bilingual, dangerously smart young man with a razor sharp wit. He’s a pleasure to be around, and I can barely wait to hear what he says next. Currently a few months past our 11 year wedding anniversary, this decade was all about my love affair with Tara Tiger Brown. As a muse, she’s woven into everything I do. As a partner she always there to kick my ass or bandage my wounds, depending on what the situation calls for. She’s the architect of our adventures, and wind in our sails.

Even though I never really gave a shit about it and dropped out of college, in the last decade I’ve become a Researcher at MIT and a Professor at Keio University. Conversely, after decades of practice I now have the licenses & certificates to legally prove I’m both a ninja and a Satanic priest, fulfilling all of my 1980’s suburban American teenage dreams.

Not a bad way to spend 10 years if I do say so myself. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

In the streets, in the sheets

It’s been almost 3 years since my photobook “Don’t Go Outside” was released. The book was inspired by my ongoing visits to Japan for business and pleasure. A little over 2 years ago the whole family and I moved from Los Angeles to Tokyo and things that seemed exciting previously became normal. It’s an interesting shift that happens when you go from visitor to resident, and vice versa. Visiting Los Angeles now lets me see the city in ways I never did living there – but that’s a different story for another thing. I’m talking about Tokyo right now.

Not long after moving, Tara and I started talking about an idea, loosely based on our new surroundings and how they were making us feel. I made some new photos to try and convey how that felt. We liked them. We thought we’d like to have the photos on some things around our house, and thought maybe others would as well. We mapped out the idea, bought the URL, spent a few hours on it and then put it on the back burner. More than a year later we kicked each others asses and decided to finish it. So we did. Today we launched Street Sheets.tokyo.

Here’s some of the things we made:

There’s more now, and we’ll keep adding more as we go. I’m pretty happy with how these turned out, and am excited to hear what others think, and see the products out in the wild. Here’s a little more that I wrote about the idea behind the work:

After moving to Tokyo in 2017 we began to realize how the lines on the streets offered more than just direction. The bold, iconic lines served their purpose of helping millions of people to navigate the public space, but they seemed to help navigate interpersonal distance and interactions as well. The orderly placement and repeated patterns were soothing and almost comforting. At the same time, the cracks and decay as the paint aged told the story of how things might look beautiful and perfect at a distance, but upon closer inspection the flaws are revealed. This applies literally to the physical paint, but is also indicative of society as a whole. With this insight the stark black and white imagery becomes suggestive of the duality of humanity at scale – functional but inescapably flawed.

These products can be seen as a followup to the book “Don’t Go Outside” – a collection of street photography by Sean Bonner, a voyeuristic exploration of the public human interaction in Tokyo. This stylistic reinterpretation both forcibly minimizes the imagery by removing the people, the individuals, as well as putting full focus on the intention of the population at large. Stripped of the human subjects, all that’s left is their impact. The intention of bringing this imagery literally from the public streets inside to the intimacy of our own homes, living rooms and bedrooms further plays on this duality of intention.

Snuggle up with the struggle.

There was a time in my life when I was just cranking things out left and right. I’ve been feeling pretty stagnant for the last few years, and moving this from idea to shipped felt really good. I give all credit to Tara for putting her foot down and insisting we finish it and get it out the door. It’s exciting to see it materialize, and a testament to committing to just getting it done. I hope you like it.

Let’s talk about race for a moment

[This is an excerpt from my newsletter, sign up here if you want]

On Joi’s recommendation I started reading White Fragility. As a white kid who grew up in the south at various times getting my ass kicked by racists, who now lives in a country where over 99% of the population doesn’t look like me and has been refused access and services because of my race, I have a hard time personally relating to any of the popular narratives around race in the US but I think it’s important to understand what they are and how other people experience them. 

I’m reminded of a moment a few years ago when I was visiting Detroit. My friend Shaka helped arrange a tour of some urban farms for me and some of our friends from MIT. The tour was led by Malik Yakini, a community leader who spent a lot of time helping people in many of the blighted neighborhoods. He started the tour by saying “As part of my introduction let me just say that I’m a recovering misogynist” which caused the women in our group to exchange some looks. He continued “I grew up in a time and place and environment that colored my view of things, and as I got older I realized the problems with those and I work every day to correct that.” Everyone relaxed and smiled. But he wasn’t done, and followed that quickly with “I say that, because it’s just like how all of you are recovering white supremacists, and you have to work on that every day too.” This jarred everyone as you might imagine. This guy didn’t know anything about me or my background, who was he to make a call like that? I’ve literally punched nazis! I got in trouble in high school for wearing a “Fuck Racism” shirt!! I wanted to argue with him, but wisely I kept my mouth shut. I recognized pretty quickly that the fact that his words bothered me so much meant there was something to them that I wasn’t prepared for at the time. I thought about it a lot then, and I think about it a lot now. As I consider the reverse culture shock I’m sure to have when I move back to the US it’s something I’ll continue to think about. I don’t have a nicely packaged resolution to that thought yet, I don’t know that anyone ever really can. But we can work on it.

Experiments in Notebooking

In efforts to deal with old age forgetfulness and a lingering case of screen aversion I’ve been trying to get in the habit of using my physical notebook. I wrote about this a bit before on my mailing list, moving from a small pocket sized moleskine to a larger journal type thing and using a modified bullet journal method for daily planning and notes and general keeping on top of things. I also like that, even though it’s purely functional for me, I feel like I’m making something.

While I’ve been enjoying the pen and paper aspect of using a pen and paper I’ve also found myself wanting a little more of a creative visual experience but I’m not fetishistic enough about this journal thing to spend endless hours doodling and and drawing on the pages like a damn pinterest board. A little while ago Warren (I think) mentioned getting one of these little pocket printers that allowed him to quickly snap a photo of something interesting and print it out and then slap it in his notebook for future reference. This notion has kind of stuck with me and last week I decided to pull the trigger. Twice actually.

I ordered and received two different mini printers, that function a bit differently with different desired outcomes. This is what I got:

Paperang
This is a super tiny thermal printer (which means it never needs ink), b&w only with questionable archival qualities (the basic paper is guaranteed to keep an image for a full year) but it’s fast and cheap and fun. While I got in with the intent to print little photos, the Paperang app also has a number of text and todo list templates and options that I can see myself playing with sometime in the not terribly distant future. I’ve been scotch taping a few quick prints with the default paper in to the notebook here and there and it’s added a very cool new layer to the look and feel of it. I also ordered some upgraded paper spools of sticker backed paper that is supposed to hold an image for 10 years so I won’t have to tape the prints in each time. Knowing that the image will eventually fade is interesting too because it keeps me from thinking anything is too precious, and also forces me to write a little something next to it explaining what it is.

Instax print from the SHARE, photo taken on a Leica M10D

Instax SHARE
It’s no secret I like instant photos and that I have a softspot for Instax. I’ve got a few Instax cameras in various formats (I especially like the Instax WIDE monochrome film, though the camera for it is huge) but this requires planning ahead and carrying the camera around, and the film is kind of expensive for quick memory jogging notes to self. That said, being able to take any photo that I have on my phone and make a Polaroid style print anytime I want is kind of appealing. Between my regular carry around every day camera (currently a Leica M10D) and my iPhone (currently an XSMax) I have some pretty nice digital photos. So I picked up the new SP-3 which uses the Instax SQUARE film as I like that format (though I wish they offered a monochrome version) and have used to make a few prints of things I shot with these other devices. This is nice if I want to give a photo to someone, or include something I know will more long lasting (and thus, more thoughtful and artistic I guess). This also allows me to play more with this format, I really liked the Instax MINI print series Clayton did a few years ago and being able to physically riff on ideas is kind of fun.

Both of these printers are small enough to carry around in a hip/shoulder bag without much trouble and then always be available, though the SHARE is a bit bigger and heavier than the Paperang so in actual practice I don’t know how often I’ll really carry both around. Likely one or the other. Guess we’ll see. In the meantime I’m happy with the ability to hold in my hands something that was only in my head previously.

Personal Uniform Update 2019

I’ve been writing about personal uniforms for a long time now [2015, 2010] and adhering to them for even longer.  While the major themes have remained the same over the years some of the specifics have gotten more specific and as I’m often asked for recommendations I find it useful to take stock once and a while so I have something for people to reference. The last time I did this I was living in Los Angeles, and traveling 100k+ miles a year, today I’m living in Tokyo and still traveling 100k+ miles a year. Tokyo gets colder than Los Angeles and has snow, but it also gets more humid. I previously tried to have things that worked in all weather, but I’m now more a fan of fabrics and cuts that are optimized for seasons.

Generally I still stick to all black or dark grey and avoid anything with logos or visible branding of any kind.

The specifics:

T-Shirt

  • Basic. 100% Cotton. I’m still a fan of American Apparel’s Fine Jersey which I find to be the perfect cut, thickness and softness. These were the only things I wore for years and I’d buy them a dozen at a time every 12-18 months though honestly they hold up much longer than that and at less than $10 on Amazon it’s effortless. This is my goto shirt for training at the dojo because I know it’s strong enough to hold up under abuse and I’m not worried about ruining them. Cotton rules for structure, but it’s less optimal for most other things.
  • Hot weather: 100% Bamboo. The best ones I’ve found are made by Onno and are almost 3x the cost of the AA Cotton shirts at about $30. Bamboo is the perfect material for t-shirts, it wicks moisture away from you and is soft and anti-bacterial.
  • Humid: 100% Ramie. A recent find for me, Ramie is a really interesting natural fiber and in Tokyo’s super humid summers this has become my goto option. Outlier’s Ramielust shirt is the best shirt for hot and humid weather. It’s $125, but it takes one day if walking around in 90% humidity to understand why. I found some cheaper Ramie blend shirts on amazon but they don’t feel the same. As a fabric it’s a bit stiffer than Cotton or Bamboo, but it’s also light and airy like nothing else.
  • Cool: 100% Wool. This is going to be my most controversial recommendation ever but Outlier’s Gostwyck Single Origin Wool is really interesting. Wool is an amazing fabric, but it’s almost always ethically bad news, so a company working with a single farm with the specific intention of creating ethically produced wool is something I thought was worth supporting and looking further into. I know some people love wool and if they are going to buy it I’d prefer they put the money towards a more sustainable and ethical option like this. These shirts are also $125, but they might be the nicest shirts you’ve ever touched. A secret some people don’t know is that Wool shirts can be worn for several days in a row before they need washing, so you need fewer of them  for a wardrobe and end up doing wash less often, so they have other environmental benefits to weigh out.

Pants

  • Slacks. I find the materials that Outlier are using for their Slim Dungarees and Futureworks pants to be fantastic, versatile, lightweight and durable. I was initially hesitant to buy $200 pants, but I now have 3 pairs and easily wear them 300 days out of the year. Their shorts are equally fantastic.
  • Jeans. I have an ongoing love/hate with denim that I continue to be unable to resolve. There was a point in the late 2000’s when I realized that not only did I not own a pair of jeans, I hadn’t owned a pair in over a decade, as I’d been wearing almost exclusively Dickies for most of that time. At the same time I had friends working with and lusting over “high end” denim and I wanted to understand it. I’ve since owned and worn many varieties of denim and from high end Japanese brands like Iron Heart & Sugar Cane. They’ve been great in some ways, and horrible in other ways and spending hundreds of dollars on pants that you know the crotch and pockets are going to blow out in, and require additional cost to keep repairing just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me these days. And while there are some minor details here and there, I don’t find them to justify the 5x or 10x cost over something like Shrink To Fit Levi’s 501s or something similar. In the end, I’m going to skip a recommendation on this one and just say individual preference is going to win out.

Socks

  • Darn Tough. Seriously, regardless of what style you like Darn Tough socks will be the best you can get. In addition to being super comfortable and rock solid, they have a life time guarantee so if you somehow find a way to wear a hole in them they will replace them free of charge. Forever. I don’t know how they do it, but they do and do it well.

Underwear

  • Update: I used to religiously recommend ExOfficio Boxer Briefs for many reasons but no longer do, a few years ago the company changed manufacturing practices and both their fabric and build quality went downhill significantly, when I first found them they were upwards of $30 each but now seem to be sub $20 and I’m quite sure they are making more money on each one due to the corners they cut. Avoid.
  • Warmer weather: Bamboo. $30 for a 4 pack of David Archy bamboo boxer briefs seemed too good to be true, but turns out it to be legit. Endorsed.
  • Cooler weather: Wool. Specifically Smartwool who are also publicly committed to ethical and sustainable wool production. They also have a lifetime guarantee which given their $45 price tag, being able to return them once they get worn out for new ones is a bonus.

Shoes and Jackets are much more personal and I can’t imagine recommendations here being worth anything. So look for the styles and cuts that you like and run with them I guess. Though I will say a good hoodie and a good windbreaker are an awesome combo.

Talking to friends, for no reason at all

[Originally sent out to my brilliant mailing list, to which dozens of people are subscribers.]

I snuck out for lunch the other day and grabbed pizza at a new favorite brick oven spot in Harajuku which happened to be silently projecting Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes on the back wall of the restaurant. (Unrelated, his upcoming film might be the best thing in cinematic history) It’s minimal black and white scenes making for a nice backdrop to the minimal black and white design of the dining room, though I don’t know if that was intentional. If you haven’t seen it and you enjoy people analyzing the subtleties of simple conversations then it’s worth adding to your watch list. I love it, but I can also sit and watch people all day long. It had been a while, but as it played silently I started remembering how fantastic some of the scenes are and decided to rewatch again soon.

Soon turned out to be last night. Michael Booth from the Denver Post originally wrote that “At least three of the spots make the hour and a half worthwhile through an addicting blend of hilarity and beauty” and before last night I would have agreed with that. The movie is made up of these short vignettes, conversations between 2 or 3 people that are completely unconnected, but begin to reference each other as they go. It’s hard to tell what is improvised and what is scripted, and if the actors are playing themselves or characters of themselves. Before I would have said it was worth watching just for the Iggy Pop & Tom Waits, and the Bill Murry & RZA & GZA scenes alone but something else struck me during this viewing.

In the episode entitled ‘No Problem’ Alex Descas and Isaach De Bankolé play a pair of old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time, but are meeting up because apparently Alex called Isaach out of the blue recently asking to talk. Isaach expresses how happy he was to hear from his old friend Alex and the two agree it’s wonderful to see each other. Isaach then asks his old and obviously dear friend what the problem is, assuming that must have been the impetus for the call. Alex says there is not a problem leading Isaach to question why his friend can’t trust him with whatever the problem must be. This goes back and forth a bit, Isaach obviously cares for his friend and is visibly hurt by the silence, and Alex seems put off by the questioning leading to awkwardness that extends until Isaach decides to take off, leaving the invitation to confide in him open. This is a really long way to getting at the point – there is a notion here that is more powerful than immediately recognizable. The idea that we all have these friends, best friends, who we can not talk to for years and still consider them to be friends.  People who we wouldn’t hesitate to call if we had a problem and would expect the same from them, but in practice don’t even call otherwise.

And why not? Especially as adults the important interactions become fewer and farther between. Somewhere along the way catch up calls became text messages and social media likes.

I started wondering why that is. When I think of my very favorite people on this planet, I’ve actually spoken with very few of them in recent memory. Some I’ve interacted with online, liked a photo they posted or made a quick joke in an ongoing group email thread, but we haven’t really talked. Sure, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of my very best friends while traveling through their cities but that requires planning and effort, and it’s the exception, not the norm. Living on the other side of the world now only makes that separation feel deeper, the distance that much more tangible.

“These days the people I love are spread so far apart. All out of reach.” – Ache, Jawbreaker

When I was younger, as I imagine many of you will remember, long distance calls were expensive and you had to hack pay phones to have any kind of meaningful chats with friends anywhere outside of your city. I still clearly remember the hours I spent at payphones when I lived in Florida talking with my friend Sean McCabe who lived in Philly at the time. I’d sit outside for 3-4 hours in a stretch. Talking about nothing really, but it meant everything. This was circa ‘95 and while we’d become friends online, when we wanted to talk we still picked up the phone.

And here we are all these years later with a million essentially free ways to video chat and I can’t remember when the last time I had a call with a friend without a specific preplanned purpose. When I think of the last people that I’ve had calls with who aren’t right in my physical vicinity it’s 90% work, 10% family and nothing else. Meanwhile I watch my 9yo son spend every second he can on the weekends FaceTiming with his friends in the US and Europe – time zones be damned. They play video games and watch YouTube on one screen and have another propped up with video just to hang out with each other. He doesn’t realize it now but these are precious, beautiful interactions that at 9 I couldn’t have even imagined having. At that age I was excited to steal 5-10 minutes on the phone with a friend from school, not much more was allowed because those were the days before call waiting and tying up the home line for any extended period of time was not cool.

So it’s easier than ever now, and yet I feel more out of touch than ever as well. I don’t think I’m the only one. One of my standout memories from the last few decades is a call a received from a friend out of the blue for no reason, just to say hi. This is stand out because it’s one of the only times post 2000 that I can ever remember it happening. But why? Are we so busy that we can’t spare a few minutes to reach out to people we love? Are we so stressed that the idea of trying to schedule something is monumental and the mere idea of calling out of the blue unsolicited feels monstrously rude? But maybe we need to be monsters if that’s the case. Scheduling a call for next week seems like it requires a purpose. An out of the blue call today, right now seems like it needs an urgent problem. But maybe the problem is that we haven’t talked recently and that urgently needs to be resolved.

I guess I strive to be both Alex and Isaach, from their own perspectives. I want to be there for my friends if they need me, and I want to be comfortable just calling them out of the blue for no reason. I’m better at the first thing than the latter, but I could be better at both. We probably all could.

Some thoughts about where I am today, on 3/11/2019

Landed in the UK and pelted with sleet upon arrival at Heathrow, moments outside of the door. Honestly, I’d expect nothing less. London for me has always balanced between quaint and brutal. Teetering from National Lampoons European Vacation to UK National Front.

Some people find that duality uncomfortable, preferring things to be one way or the other but that leads to disappointment as nothing is really ever one way or the other. There are extremes, and we all find some comfortable middle ground and occasionally bounce into the walls. This was what attracted me to punk rock and straight edge – goodie two shoes kids who ‘just said no’ but would also throw a brick through a storefront window or jump Skinheads in the park without thinking twice. And I enjoyed embracing that duality then, being impossible to fit nicely in any single box.

I think about that middle area a lot these days, I used to write off “moderate” or “centric” as a static form of inaction, unwilling to commit or take a stand. I saw clear lines and firm positions. Now, for me, I find these notions come more from intimate familiarity with the edges and the damaged that can be caused by running into them too hard, and the understanding that constant motion rather than fixed inaction is where I live.

I think about this in temporal ways as well, not just in immediate thinking. Where did I come from, where am I going and is there really only one path or several running concurrently. I guess as a kid from Florida who grew up on food stamps, with no lights in the house because the power bill hadn’t been paid, who is currently flying around the world on a Billionaire’s dime, that’s not an unreasonable thing to consider. Those pieces don’t fit nicely together, but it’s folly to assume they would should in the first place.

Our lives are puzzles. The already completed pictures are boring, the ones with lots of pieces that you can’t figure out where to put are vivid, challenging and exciting.

Here in the UK, today is March 11th. It’s hard to overestimate the impact the events of this day 8 years ago had on my life. Upon writing that I immediately recognize the criticism of making this about me, however that’s really the only thing I can honestly do and my best writing has always taken the form of introspective diary. It would be disingenuous for me to try to tell anyone else’s story – I’m not a documentarian and have never been good at that. There are thousands, 10’s of thousands of stories about people impacted by disaster, and perhaps millions more from the ripple effects – those stories need and deserve to be told but I’m not the one to do that. The only thing I can do is look at myself, consider how one thing leads to another and marvel at the chain reactions.

Without 3/11 there would be no Safecast, and suffice to say I wouldn’t be where I am today. Quite literally as I type this sitting in an old farm house in the British countryside that used to be a recording studio and birthed works by the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Oasis, The Beat, Roxy Music and Whitesnake – me being here to to co-write a book about the future of non-profits and how open thinking can change the world. There’s no conceivable way I end up here today without 3/11, and that’s true for a hundred different reasons that spill over onto the people around me every day. That could be an entire essay itself, but this is to say I recognize that, and appreciate the people who have joined with me on this ride. Occasionally running into the walls, often correcting course and always dreaming of where we are headed next. We’re the compass people, eschewing maps, and I love you all for that.

Home, but not.

I’m sitting at Intelligentsia in Silver Lake drinking a cup of coffee from Burundi. In many ways this feels familiar, and if it was 2009 it would be unremarkable. But it’s 2019 and it feels weird, to say the least. A coffee shop that was once the mecca of LA east side hipster culture, in many ways the unquestioned north star of 3rd wave coffee culture. I’d often sit here for hours writing and chatting with friends who happened by, surrounded by celebrities and punks, bike messengers and young local politicians. A place so iconic that it was represented in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It felt electric and exciting. It was the town square.

Today my company includes standouts such as people obviously from out of town taking selfies of themselves to prove to friends they were here, some possibly homeless people taking up half the seats outside, a definitely homeless guy who keeps coming in trying to fill an old paper cup with all of the milks and sugars they have on the condiments counter, spilling most of what he tries to pour all over the floor, screaming that the containers are empty and leaving, only to come back 10 minutes later and repeat the cycle, and while the milks get refilled, the puddle on the counters and floors remains. A 25 year old Veruca Salt song blasts from the ceiling mounted speakers. Everyone inside has a laptop, no one outside does. There’s a mother who handed her child a bag of goldfish crackers so that he won’t distract her from Facebook on her iPhone, the kid not having it has dumped most of the crackers on the ground, the mother hasn’t noticed. A artist in one corner has filled half a notebook with with nothing but straight lines, suspiciously glaring at anyone (me) trying to see what he’s up to. Someone’s dog just shit on the iconic blue geometric tiles.

It feels weird.

In many ways, it’s kind of representative of my visit to LA. The reason I’m at this particular coffee shop is because the 3 previous coffee shops I visited were a bust. No parking anywhere near, or no seating available in the shops. These places used to be Cheers for me, I’d walk in and know everyone. On a bad day I’d only know half the people. I’m exaggerating but you get my point. I haven’t seen a face I recognized all day, but honestly why should I? Having moved out of this city more than a year ago, I wouldn’t expect things to stay the same. Shops I’d hoped to visit have closed, restaurants have new menus and friends have busy schedules. I’ve made, and cancelled several dinner reservations. I’ve found myself driving around without any real idea where to go, I’ve parked somewhere and put 2 hours on the meter, walked around for 5 minutes and then gone back and driven away, calling it a day and going to sleep by 5pm. It could just be jetlag.

I have a confusing relationship with LA right now. I don’t want to rely on that cliche’d ex-lover analogy, memories of attraction balanced with self preservative distance and 2020 hindsight, but it’s apt. When does home stop being home? I wrote about the idea of “home” almost a decade ago, questioning what makes something home. I don’t think I answered it very well then, I don’t know that I have the answers now but increasingly for me, home is more of a feeling and less of a place. I feel at home in various places, but no place really feels like home to me. I used to say that Los Angeles was the first place that I ever lived that felt like home, but I think now that’s more about the time and the people, and less about the location. I feel at home when Tara and Ripley are near me, and they are too far away right now. They get into town tomorrow, so maybe they will bring some home with them.