2013

Acquisition

If nothing else the last few years of trying to reduce what I own has caused me to think long and hard before I buy anything. Impulse takes over from time to time of course, but for the most part I try to really consider a few things to decide if something is worth buying or not. I have a few questions I ask about an item – a yes across the board is a very good sign. A “no” to any of them isn’t a deal breaker in and of itself, but it helps put that purchase in perspective. So this is what I ask:

1. Was this designed/made by someone who gave a shit about it?
This is a relatively newer concern, thought in hindsight I’ve always appreciated things that fell into this category without really being conscious of why I liked them. You can just feel when something was created by someone who actually cared about it. The difference between something that was created for the purpose of creating something and something that was created because someone was passionate about it obvious. As I look around at the stuff I end up with, the things that would get a ‘yes’ here are the ones I have a strong connection to, and the things I want to keep.

2. Assuming I don’t lose this, will I still be able to use this in 10 years?
Is it durable or is it a piece of crap. That’s what this boils down to, and it applies to everything from clothing to electronics. I’m totally over single use products and want something to stand the test of time. I’ll happily pay more for something that is quality and will last a very long time. I have a jacket that I’ve owned for 12 years that I still wear. I have a pair of fingernail scissors that I’ve had for over 20 years and they are just as functional as the first time I used them. A few years ago I lost a pocket knife that I’d carried almost every day for over 10 years. I have a multitool on my keychain that is nearing it’s 10 year mark. Those were all solid purchases.

3. Is this thing compatible with other things I already have?
This applies to technology as well as fashion. I’m not going to buy some proprietary POS that requires me to get a whole bunch of stuff just to work with it. I’m not going to buy some item that won’t go with anything else in my closet. Things need to be as modular as possible. That’s one of my travel tricks – everything works with everything else, so I can pack fewer things because everything can be used in a variety of ways over several days.

4. Do I already have something that does the same thing this thing does? If so, does this do it better?
I’m not opposed to upgrading, in fact I might even have a problem with it. But this is something I try to ask and try to wrestle with the answers. If something works just as well as something I already have, then the motivation for buying it is pretty suspect.

5. If I decide this thing isn’t for me, can I resell it for the same price I paid for it? Or more?
This is actually my longest running question, I asked this long before I knew I was asking it. Reason being I’ve never had a wealth of expendable income. I don’t care much about money which means I don’t tend to have a lot laying around. When I need it for something I’m pretty good at getting it, but I don’t collect money. If that makes sense. So, back to the point here – when I decide I want to buy something it’s always been important to me that I not be losing that money – rather I’m converting it into goods that are of equal value. And ideally they will retain that value. If I’m convinced that I can easily get the money back that I spend on it sometime down the line, the decision to buy something is pretty simple. If I know it’s going to depreciate in value the minute I walk out of the store, that also makes the decision pretty simple.

As I said, these aren’t “all or nothing” rules, but they are questions that give me pause and help me consider if something is a smart buy or not. As I progress through this world, I want the things around me to be very specifically chosen, and I want less throw away random stuff taking up space.

Completion

Today I listened to the digital files of an album that has been 22 years in the making, and read the release version hard copy of book that was initially conceived a little over 6 months ago. This has caused me to think a bit about actually finishing and delivering on a project. I’ve written before about my strengths and weaknesses here so I won’t rehash all of that but suffice to say that I’m not as good at the actual final parts as I’d like to be and the list of started but not finished projects I have is longer than I’d like it to be.

But these two things, these two pieces of media, these two finished products – someone had the idea, worked on them, decided they were finished and shipped them. The time scale from A to B is just a bit different.

There was a time in my life that I would have had a lot of respect for A. The commitment to getting it exactly the way you wanted and not releasing it a second before then. But a lot has happened for me and for the world in the last 22 years, not the least of which is Steve Jobs noting that “Real Artists Ship” which gets to an uncomfortable truth here that no matter how great the thing you are working on is, it’s nothing until you deliver it to people. And this album – the band released the previous one in 1991 and immediately began working on this one. A week ago fans had spent 22 years waiting and not getting anything. Today I have the record and I’m trying to rectify 22 years of anticipation with what I actually have. Does it seem like a record that has been perfected over 22 years? Does it seem like something that is completely flawless because so much time has been spent thinking and rethinking every single note? I don’t know that it does. And because of that some people who have harsh things to say about it. Which isn’t really deserving, because it is a good record. It’s a great record in fact. But it would have been just as great of a record had it been released in 1994 or 1995. Maybe better because people would only be listening to it and thinking about the songs, rather than how long they had been waiting for them.

This book is a completely different approach. Idea and execution were almost simultaneous, and that includes a major change of direction and rewrites halfway through. The goal wasn’t to produce the most perfect book ever, the goal was to produce something. Which hopefully is the first step towards something else. It’s a building block. But most importantly it’s a finished building block. I know a lot of people, myself included, who have thought of writing books. Many people, myself included who have started writing those books but stopped halfway for one reason or another. Those books aren’t finished. This one is, and that’s awesome and inspiring.

I’m going to be thinking a lot about this over the coming week as I look at this list of uncompleted projects. Which ones need to be perfect and which ones need to be finished.

I’m thinking that no matter how good something is – or how good I want it to be, if it’s not done it’s not done and the expectation of how good it should be gets built up more and more the longer it goes unfinished. My expectation. The longer it goes unfinished the higher the bar is raised, which makes it easier for me to convince myself that I can’t reach that bar, so it stays unfinished.

I think it will be much more personally rewarding if I forget that bar and throw out those expectations and deliver something.

Long Term Storage

Ripley Scooting

Ripley’s first day of pre-school is tomorrow. I think this is a big milestone as far as growing up goes.

My oldest memories date back to being in pre-school. My oldest real memories anyway, of actually doing things. I have flashes of images or of someone saying something, or being somewhere that might be older than that, but I actually remember doing things when I was in preschool. I remember an art class making bowls and self portrait figures out of clay. Apparently there was some kurfuffle because I sculpted myself naked and hadn’t skimped on the twig and berries. I think my mom actually still has those things in a box some where. Speaking of twigs, I remember playing outside of a classroom in a tent/igloo thing that someone had fashioned out of sticks and leaves. I remember climbing through these damp leaves in what I probably thought was a magnificent fort but was probably just a pile of yard scraps filled with worms and begging my father to come join me inside and him standing outside of it wanting nothing to do with it. He might have even been annoyed as he was probably there to pick me up and I was having too much fun playing to consent to leaving.

I remember the smell of the kiln in that art studio, I remember the main hall/theater where we’d go for music classes and the piano there that our teacher would play and sing songs to us. I remember the slope of the hillside behind the building and how much of an adventure it seemed to me at the time to go down the side of the building that didn’t have the nice path way. I remember being really happy there.

I remember even more from the following year – I went to the same school for pre-k and kindergarten but the classes were on opposite sides of the campus. Ha. Campus. It was a collection of converted bars with a little courtyard in the middle. Opposite sides of the property. That makes more sense. Very little kids on one side, slightly older kids on the other with lots of play time in the middle with everyone. I wrote about an experience I had with one of the even older kids a while ago and I’m realizing now that Ripley is only a year or so away from being the same age as I was when that was all happening.

I say that because until now I’ve had no idea what if anything he’ll remember. I figured it’s all kind of a blur. Will he remember living in Singapore or Paris? Probably not. Will he remember last December in Vienna? Maybe? But I know that over the next year some of the stuff is going to seriously stick – in detail – and he’ll take it with him the rest of his life. I think about that and I think about what I can do to make sure that he is as happy as I remember being and that he only has awesome memories burned into that permanent storage.

I don’t want him to remember me ever being annoyed with him.

I’ll never refuse to play in the leaves with him.

Discovery

Used to be there was something exciting about discovering music. It was a challenge, and an accomplishment. It was something exciting and to be proud of. I’ve been talking about this a lot, and telling these stories because it’s something that actually means a lot to me.

Growing up in Florida and being into punk rock, finding the new stuff that I would be into wasn’t easy at all. Or rather, it became easy through a set of practices but at face value was next to impossible. I live in Bradenton and if I wanted to buy records in person there were exactly two stores that I could consider. Daddy Kool (which was in Bradenton originally but moved to Sarasota pretty early on) and Alternative Records in Tampa. Both of these were an hour away all things considered. Take into account that at this time I was also not yet driving, so getting anywhere relied on organizing a ride with someone else. Anyway, once I actually got to either of these places – ideally on Tuesday as that’s when new records came out – I’d start flipping through records. Labels were a huge part of this. They were almost curators. You could generally be safe picking up a record by a band you’d never heard of if they were on a label that had some bands you knew you liked already. If Revelation put out a new 7″ I’d buy it without ever hearing it and know that I wouldn’t be disappointed. But so would everyone else, so that was obvious.

What was less obvious and often the source of some real gems was thanks lists. Every record came with liner notes – lyrics, credits and a thanks list. In punk rock you would get no where if not for your friends and the way to repay those friends was a mention in the thanks list. In fact not mentioning people could be seen as a real diss. (There are records that I’m not thanked on that I’m still bummed about.) So if I liked a band I’d read their thanks list and see what other bands they thanked. These were likely bands they had played with or bands that their friends were in. Maybe bands they lived with or shared a practice space with. I’d write down the names of those bands and then go to the folks at these record stores and ask them to track down any music by these bands. They’d make some phone calls, and in 2-3 weeks – if I was lucky – a 7″ or cassette would show up with some songs from one of these bands. Sometimes those songs would be amazing.

After that I’d make mix tapes of new stuff I’d found and give them to friends, asking in turn for mix tapes of stuff they’d discovered. Some of the most influential bands in my entire life I learned about from these mix tapes. Knowing about the new stuff meant you’d get the records first, and in the world of limited pressingings due to limited budgets, if there are only 500 copies of a 7″ made ever – you might not have a second chance to get something. And if you heard that a band was good but couldn’t get the record, you might never get to hear those songs. It took me 5 years to get the first Shudder To Think album – I hunted for it relentlessly – and I’d never once heard the songs on it. I knew I liked the band, I knew the record existed, but there was no way to hear the songs unless I had the record. It was incredibly rare and I didn’t know anyone who had it. When I finally got it and got home and pulled the record out to listen to it, I don’t even remember how many friends had rushed over to hear it for the first time as well. A lot for sure.

So it was a big deal to know about new stuff. Hip hop and death metal (the soundtracks to my youth) were similar. And there was some serious feelings of ownership when you found something first and then got to be the one to introduce all your friends to it. There was some real skill and value in being that guy.

Now, any band we talk about you can hear online in seconds. There are a million options. That impossible to find Shudder To Think album? It’s all over YouTube. Anything you want is within reach. Which is great, but also not so great. The thrill of finding something new and awesome is gone. The sweet payoff of finding something you knew about but had never had access to is gone. Everything is available.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. How that excitement has been lost, and how it could be regained. How it could be exciting again. How it could be special. I’m not sure I have the answers, but I have some ideas…

Just Another Crowd

Part of deciding to put things online again requires sorting of where to put those things. One thing that I used to put on my blog way back in the day were links to things I was reading or to articles that had caught my eye for one reason or another. Bookmarking with delicious, sharing on google reader, tweeting the links and even posting them to Tumblr eventually took over this because it seemed easier, but upon talking to people for a while I realized it was easier for me, easier for others if they were paying attention right at that moment but much more difficult to go back and look something up later.

Yesterday in a conversation about this John Bracken said, jokingly I assume, that he’d subscribe to a mailing list of those links if I put something together. I’d been thinking about that for a while but that sort of gave me the nudge to go ahead and give it a shot. So I present, for your consideration, my new mailing list:

Just Another Crowd

This will be a daily, or daily-ish (or weekly depending) announcement only email list. It’ll collect the links I’ve posted throughout the day(s) from twitter, tumblr, google+, etc all into one place and I’ll aim to give a little bit of commentary about them as well. Maybe even some links I didn’t post elsewhere, we’ll just have to see. I make no promises to the topics, this will very literally be anything that caught my attention so could relate to politics or food or clothes or philosophy or rights or coffee or whatever. Sometimes links will be to news articles, sometimes to websites or companies.

This is an experiment, but I think it could be fun. We’ll see. Feel free to sign up if that sounds interesting.

And because I’m incapable of doing anything that doesn’t reference something else important to me…

Assumptions

I was lucky enough to go to an all day lecture by Edward Tufte today in Los Angeles. I wish that had been mandatory for anyone I work with or anyone who creates content that I consume. So full of gems. One of his reoccurring themes was that you should respect your users, not treat them like idiots. Chip Kidd makes this same point in his TED talk from last year. I love this, as it’s something I’ve run head to head with more than one boss about over the years. I figure, if someone is smart enough to make it to your site/talk/whatever then you should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they aren’t idiots. Upper management hasn’t always agreed with me on that, which is in part why I no longer put myself in a position of answering to upper management.

The whole idea of making assumptions about your audience is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. When I started blogging (though it wasn’t yet called blogging) back in the 90’s I took a frequent position that I knew more about something than the people who were reading it. I positioned myself as an authority. I wasn’t an authority on anything by the way, but I was in my 20’s and we all know how that works. Over the years I became less confident in my know-it-all-ness and more and more often assumed that everyone out there already knew about whatever I was thinking of writing about so why should I bother writing about it. It was a pretty good excuse to use to justify not putting myself out there. When ever I did get inspired to write I paid extra careful attention to how I positioned myself when I did write, and that I made it clear I was just writing about my own take on something. Again, that was my excuse and it worked really well as you can tell by the frequent lack of writing here over the last few years.

I thought about this a lot in 2012 and kind of had a big talk with myself towards the end of the year. I basically told myself that crappy excuses like this won’t hold up anymore. I trust that the people who read my site are not idiots because saying idiots read my site would say more about me than them, but also that people aren’t reading my site to learn some exclusive bit of information that I’m expected to deliver expertly – they are reading it because they want to read my take on something. Or my opinion about something. Or just see what I happen to be thinking. And that’s good. That’s enough. That’s why I want to write in the first place, because maybe something I have to say will be interesting to someone. Not that I’m the ultimate authority or the speediest news wire, just be somewhat interesting.

So that’s part of what is behind this resurgence. I’m trying to ignore the little “you aren’t good enough, no one cares” voices and accept that even when I don’t hear them, the little “that’s interesting, glad you wrote it down to share with me” voices are out there too.

Failure

Earlier tonight I asked Twitter what I should blog about. The first reply I got was “failure.” On it’s own I don’t know that I would have considered this, but one of the following replies I got was “the experience of completion, the exaltation of closure and the excitement of moving on to your next big thing?” OK, now this is interesting. Assuming that someone wouldn’t suggest I write about something I didn’t have any experience with, this is some pretty opposite end of the spectrum shit right here. One guy thinks I have a lot to say about failure and the other thinks I might wax poetic about success.

The truth is, I’m not sure I know anything about either of those things. I’ve never considered anything I’ve done a failure or a success. I don’t have some massive bankruptcy everything up in flames ending that could unquestionably be called a failure nor any cash out and be financially independent for the rest of my life I’d be an asshole not to consider it a success. The things that haven’t ended well still did really great things that I’m proud of. The things that didn’t end, probably could have been done better.

It’s perspective.

Where you stand makes all the difference.

Some people are perched in such a way that they think whatever they touch is golden. And sometimes they convince everyone else to view things from their vantage point. Others might never see anything as anything but a loss. I have those kinds of people in my family. Growing up I’d look at one relative with incredibly jealousy because everything they did was awesome. Everything. And they wanted to make sure you knew it. And I’d shrink up in anticipation of the things another relative would likely say anytime I knew she’d be around, because the world looked like a massive pile of shit to her and the only way she could seem to find some joy was to point out everyone else’s shortcomings.

Probably without realizing it, having those kinds of forces around me as a kid helped me try to find the the good in the bad, and the bad in the good. There’s nothing attractive to me in someone who constantly talks themselves up, or beats themselves down. I think for the vast majority of us out here in the world, we all frequently sit somewhere in the middle. And that’s OK.

I’ve always been attracted to this duality. Actually all kinds of duality, but the duality of humans specifically. Good people who do bad things. Bad people who do good things. I like this a lot. It’s complex. It’s fascinating. It’s relatable. Most people don’t feel like I do. At least I get the impression they don’t. They want someone to either be a hero or a villain. They want something to either be a failure or a success. But sometimes the road to failure is littered with tiny successes. It’s easy to only see the failure, but the right perspective will let you see the successes too. And that’s what enables you to keep going.

That’s what enables me to keep going at least.

GND

Today I got nothing done. I had big plans but also no plans. That is, I had no plans for the day so I suspects that I’d get a lot of work done. That turned out not to be the case.

I slept in and then got up and made waffles for Tara and Ripley and then sat on the floor in Ripley’s room and played with him and his trains for a while and then went on a walk with them and got a drink from the new boba tea place around the corner (do not recommend) and then got some coffee from cog (do recommend) and then leisurely made our way back to the house and did more nothing. I planned to do things, I really did, but today ended up a fail.

And also a win.