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53

I am fifty-three today.

53 is a weird number. It’s a prime number, so I can’t play the usual games like “I’m exactly twice as old as when I ____”. It’s not a nice round number age-wise, but now I’m old enough and this blog is old enough that I’m twice as old as when I wrote this entry, which is a bit weird to think about. But other than that, there’s no numerical relevance to 53. My locker in junior high was 153. My combination was 2-31-16. (Why do I remember this?)

Grasping at straws, this birthday is 35 years since I turned 18, I guess. It’s 40 years since my parents divorced, which means it’s 40 years since I got my first computer, the Mattel Aquarius. But as I start writing this, I can’t think of any other big even-numbered anniversaries or dates or anything else. It’s another year.

* * *

I’m loath to write about this, but I guess in the interest of full transparency, I should. That little cold I got when I came back from Wisconsin? Turns out it was COVID-19. I’ve spent the last three weeks out of commission dealing with that. And although it was not as bad as it could have been, it was as bad as most people say it is.

It’s stupid to have an illness that is so politically divisive. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, and end up in an argument about how it did or did not exist. For the most part, everyone was nice about it, and the only unsolicited medical advice I got was that I needed to take it easy and rest. And that was correct, because I was horribly tired, and sleeping twelve hours a day was not enough.

The worst part about COVID was that I had to spend about two weeks on an air mattress in my home office, staying isolated so S wouldn’t catch it. (She didn’t.) And sleeping on the floor of an 8×10 room for weeks is a good way to put the zap on yourself, especially when you’re already depressed about your station in life and what you did over the last year, and are looking up at another big milestone.

So that whole thing was no bueno. And I am supposed to be in Las Vegas right now with the usual crew, but I had to cancel that. Physically, I’m 90% better. I’ve been testing negative for a few days now, and the symptoms are mostly gone. Mentally… what am I doing?

* * *

When I wrote this post for my last birthday, I basically said I wanted year 52 to be better than year 51, that I wanted to write more, do more, be more. Was it? I don’t know. I traveled a lot. I did another master’s degree. I published two zines. But I didn’t write anywhere near as much as I wanted. I was recently looking at the draft of Atmospheres 2 and I put a bunch of notes in it on the morning of my birthday last year, a laundry list of things I wanted to do, a punch list of what I needed to finish. I did almost zero on that. And it wasn’t because some other big project got in the way. I “un-quit” writing, but I haven’t gotten back into practice yet.

Year 52 was spent spinning my wheels on a lot of stuff, thinking about what I need to do, what I need to start, what I need to finish. Need is a bit of a dirty word, though. When I say I need to write a big book and I don’t write a big book, it just makes me feel bad or guilty. I should want to write a big book, then either do it, or do the prerequisite work or exploration or research. Ultimately this is all noise, because the era of fame and fortune from a book is about to end. I shouldn’t want to write a book because I need to keep a roof over my head or become a household name. I should want to write a book because I want to write a book.

I was emailing with my friend Michael about this need to create the other day, and I remembered a story from my childhood. I was maybe ten years old, playing with Lego, like I did for months at a time. And I must have seen the M.C. Escher lithograph Relativity in an encyclopedia or something, the one with the orthagonal staircases going off in different directions and opposing gravity wells. And instead of assembling the stock fire station or moon base or whatever you do in the instructions that come with Lego kits, I started randomly building this structure with staircases going nowhere and little side pods of houses in the air and catwalks going across them and walls sticking up akimbo, leading to towers and ramparts and pieces of vehicles affixed to turrets or cupolas. It was this endless mess of structure going everywhere and nowhere, eventually taking over the entire kitchen table until I was required to remove it. But what I remember most was just the joy of growing the thing in every direction with no plan or idea or concept, spending hours just creating for the sake of creating, and it generated such a wild out-of-the-box product. I thought about this a lot when I wrote Rumored to Exist. And now, I feel like we have unlimited Legos and an unlimited kitchen table to build on, and it’s all a matter of snapping those first bricks onto a baseplate and going.

* * *

So 52 was eh and 53 is no magical number. But I’m still here, and I’ve got a lot to do in the next year.

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general

New Album

I released my first album yesterday. Yes, album. And it’s not spoken word or audio book or anything else. It’s a first attempt at creating music and releasing it into the world.

The album (more of an EP really) is titled Ø. It’s five songs of ambient drone music, and just a hair over 30 minutes long. It’s available only on Bandcamp here: https://jonkonrath.bandcamp.com/album/0

Why did I choose to make an album? I have played around with both Logic Pro and Ableton Live for a while now. I used Logic to record my old podcast, and I’ve mostly done utilitarian stuff like make backing tracks with drum sounds to practice bass and guitar. But I’ve also messed with synth and drones and wanted to pull that together into something cohesive.

Back in 2015 and 2016 when I was mostly playing bass, I started piecing together an ambient album. I listen to a lot of ambient music when I write, and I wanted my own soundtrack for my writing. I think I had maybe half the EP sitting on my hard drive for almost ten years, and it was time to get it done and out.

I will admit this album is very much a learning experience. It isn’t anything complicated or highly musical. It’s mostly simple drones with basic production, and I have no idea what I am doing, but I’m slowly figuring it out. The album was entirely written and recorded in Logic Pro, and uses no analog instruments or outboard gear. I think the only plugin I used that wasn’t included in Logic was the Valhalla Supermassive plugin, which if you are doing this kind of stuff, you really need. (And it’s free!) I used an Akai MPK mini controller when I started, then moved to an Arturia Keystep. But honestly, I do a lot of edits and even basic composition using the keyboard and mouse on the Mac.

Just for fun, I’ll run through each track and give you a couple of notes on each one:

  1. Autumn Synthesis – This is silly and I don’t know how obvious this is, but the inspiration for the bright, lush drone intro for the album was actually the PlayStation 2 startup sound. This is the Alchemy synth and the Space Designer plugin at its finest. I also used the MIDI ChordTrigger plugin to build up the chords a bit.
  2. Sublispheric Waves – Here’s a good example of what Supermassive does; the low-end Alchemy synth has a loooong delay through Supermassive which gives it the warped-out sound.
  3. The Derision Bell – This has nothing to do with Pink Floyd; it’s just a snarky title. The low end of this was heavily influenced by the SleepResearch_Facility album Nostromo. The bell was subliminally influenced by the clocktower on the IU campus. The low end is the ES2 with some weird setup. The bell is a chopped up singing bowl sample in the sampler synth.
  4. Enceladus Lost – Probably my favorite song to put together. Once again, heavily influenced by Nostromo. The synth is again Alchemy going through Space Designer. The low end is two different samples, both fed through Supermassive. The more discrete samples are from NASA mission transmissions. The lower lush drone is from Aerospace Audio’s AeroPads.
  5. Inner Echoes – I know like every ambient musician messes with Tibetan singing bowls, but I think my direct influence was the David Ummmo track “Bowls” which is on Typewritten, Vol. 1, which was the soundtrack for the OmmWriter app, until it abruptly vanished from the face of the earth. The bowl is the Sampler synth, again. The low end is the Sculpture synth. The sample at the very end was something I recorded on my iPhone when walking at night in Mishawaka, Indiana in 2015. This is silly, but the decision to end the album with that sample was largely taken from the very end of the Queensrÿche album Empire.

So that’s my story. I don’t know how to sell music or “build a platform” as an artist or whatever else. My only next step is to keep playing and see what I can come up with.

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NYE, MKE, CA1

montara beachHappy new year. I managed to catch a cold on the way back home, so I’m running at diminished capacity for the day. S has the same thing and she’s about a day ahead of me on the symptoms, which means this should be 75% clear by tomorrow.

The Milwaukee half of the trip was pretty lax. One of my in-laws had COVID and we did not get to see them, except for a quick present exchange at distance with masks on. That was unfortunate, and it meant we had to scramble to figure out how to move things and spend the whole week with the other parent.

We stayed at a pretty unique new hotel called the Kinn Guesthouse. It’s a boutique hotel downtown, just north of the Public Market and Third Ward, and is a unique setup. Instead of cramming a hundred or two rooms into the space, it has 31 rooms across five floors, each room with high ceilings and great layout. What was cool about the layout though is that each floor had a large common area, with a full kitchen and long island to eat at, a living room area with a large TV, and a meeting room with a board room table and such. My sister-in-law also evacuated to the hotel due to the quarantine situation, and it was nice to be able to sit and eat breakfast each morning. The setup felt like a large SoHo office of a tech marketing firm, almost.

Most of the trip was family stuff. I did get a good walk through the Third Ward one day, and everyone went to the Public Museum one afternoon. Otherwise, it was lots of food and conversation and whatnot. Shot 600-some photos, but I am so far behind on doing anything with pictures. I still haven’t posted albums from that June 2022 trip to Denver.

Oh, one unique thing about Milwaukee was this heavy fog during most of the trip. I didn’t have the big camera, so I tried to capture it a bit, but there was this thick soup on the first few days, like enough that you could barely see a block down a city street. It started on the drive from Indiana to Illinois and into Wisconsin and went on for days. I’d never seen Milwaukee like this, so it was unique to me.

Trip back wasn’t bad. We stopped in Denver, which was a weird flashback to my trip in 2022, which I almost called “last year” but now it’s “the year before last.” Gotta get used to that. We stopped in the Amex Centennial lounge, which was decent but way too crowded. Got home just in time for a torrential rainstorm, which almost reminded me of the Singapore trip, albeit 40 degrees cooler.

Today I did a quick spin down Highway 1 into Pacifica. There have been some crazy waves down there a few days ago, thirty or forty-foot waves crashing ashore and flooding out roads and houses. I got down there today with no real traffic problems, and the waves were at about the usual level, maybe slightly bigger. Lots of people had the same idea, though, so parking was a problem. I ended up going down to Montara Beach and climbing down to shore. I had the big camera with me, but I got there after noon, so the sun was the wrong way. The camera had the 16-35L lens, which is absolute butter for wide-open shots. It has such beautiful detail and color to it, especially on a beach. I had trouble getting down to the beach, though; there were a lot of washed-out and eroded trails, and I had to walk about a mile to find one that got down to the shore.

I love the Pacific ocean. I mean, I liked looking at the Atlantic from the south shore of Iceland, but I can get to the Pacific in fifteen minutes. The first time I touched the water of an ocean was at the Oregon coast, and I used to walk to Dockweiler Beach every day when I lived in Playa Del Rey. And of course Hawaii is amazing. But there’s something about the coast on Highway 1 south of Daly City that seems to mix together aspects of all of these places. There are rugged slopes and cliffs like Seaside, Oregon. There are the same little beach houses and surf shacks you see along the LA coast. But there’s like this rugged individualism to the beaches below Pacifica. You don’t see wall-to-wall families camping on the sand with umbrellas and chairs and grills. If you go during the week, you can sometimes see almost nobody there, except for the die-hards in neoprene suits, fighting the big waves. Places like Mavericks can be downright dangerous, and aside from the occasional fisherman, you might see nobody brave enough to take on the big surf. But I’d rather be walking on a beach like that than fighting my way through Coney Island-on-a-holiday crowds.

Anyway. I’ve rambled on for 800 words here and you may be wondering if I’m going to put some big turn in here at the end. And I honestly don’t know, but the new year/new me energy always makes me want to blog every day and write every day, and it usually times out by January 5th. But there are a lot of big questions I want to answer. One is if I can simply keep writing on here without running out of stories or things to say. I forget what the current tally is here, but it’s something like 1400 published entries and a million words, so the odds of having some original thought and saying, “Hey, I should write about my old Commodore 64” – well, I already did back in 2003. So I need to figure out a way to keep the words going. Or do I?

I don’t know who reads this or how people find it or if there are any on-ramps to blogs anymore. I think people just doom-scroll and sit and spin on their favorite low-attention-span app on their phone. (I know I do.) Is this something I could change? Is there some alternative to blogs that scratch the same itch as blogs? I don’t know. I know I don’t need to old-man-yells-at-cloud about how blogs were so much better in 1998 and these damn kids need to get off their phones. That war has already been lost. I guess what I need to figure out is how to spend my time and do what I want to do and what I can do. I want to keep writing about nothing and everything, and try to see what gels. So, here I am.

 

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general

2023

I did this last year, so I should keep with it and do another big year in review post. So, in 2023:

  • Started the year by going to Las Vegas for my birthday with a bunch of the regular crew. This was a great trip, and good to finally see a bunch of people and have fun.
  • Went to Iceland (and London) for a solo trip. Hauled a lot of film camera stuff. The trip started very dark, but by the end, it all came together, and this was probably the most impactful and memorable trip of the year.
  • Went to India (and Dubai and Qatar) for the first time for work.
  • Solo trip to Poland. Great food. Auschwitz was overwhelming but necessary.
  • India (again).
  • Went to Singapore on the way back from India, and it was incredible.
  • Went to Reno for Thanksgiving. It’s been a while.
  • Went to Indiana and Wisconsin for Christmas.
  • The travel total was eight countries total, six new, and something like 100,000 miles total.
  • I finished an MS in Management and Leadership at WGU. I forget how much I ended up writing for this course, but it was 12 papers and two tests. I wasn’t as into this as the MBA, but it’s done. I started on 4/1 and finished on 7/31, so there’s my summer.
  • FitBit and my FitBit scale crapped out on me, but I have Apple Health data and I did work out every day of the year. Steps are 2,568,505 and miles are 1168. 2022 were 2,200,380 steps; 1,038.01 miles, so a bit of improvement there.
  • Weight is not good at all. I definitely did not meet that goal of quitting Taco Bell. I’m pretty much back to my pre-WW numbers, so I need to get on that.
  • Returned to office, so I’m in SF three days a week now.
  • I “un-quit” writing, but got no appreciable work done on anything solid. I have two titled projects that are starting to congeal, but there were a lot of roadblocks in the way on this. I got about 35,000 words into both.
  • I “re-published” two of my unpublished books, so there’s that.
  • I published two zines. That was a lot of fun, and I’d like to do more.
  • I published 25 entries here. That’s eight more than last year, but it’s still rookie numbers.
  • I did a lot of writing in Day One. I also published one-off hardcover books of my entries from 2013-2018 which were somewhat depressing and reminded me I’ve been trying to write the same three books for ten years now and making no progress.
  • Only took 6490 photos. I got an Sony a6400 for the times when I need a “real” camera but can’t carry the full DSLR. I’m a bit burned out on photography, so not sure how that’s going to play out in the future.
  • I gave up on dead malls and tried to take a big step back from nostalgia stuff in general.
  • I got pretty much no reading done except for books on management theory, which were not exactly pleasure reading.
  • Way more interpersonal drama I can’t get into, which involved taking a months-long break from all social media, which pretty much nobody even noticed, which tells me a lot about the strength in my online friendships and value of social media in my life.

I think my resolutions this year are to try to get writing again (or figure out what writing even is); throw out or donate about half of what I own; stop buying dumb stuff I will never use; and continue trying to get healthy both mentally and physically. And write. And write.

 

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Indiana

I just spent five days in Indiana for the pre-Christmas Christmas with my side of the family. It’s a split trip, with this second week in Wisconsin. We flew into Chicago on Monday, then rented a car and drove out to South Bend for the first week.

It’s always weird to be back. The area around University Park Mall was all cornfields when I left in 1995, and now the Grape Road and Main Street strips that run parallel to the mall have exploded with big-box stores, strip malls, and chain restaurants. This time we stayed at at Hilton Home2 that’s roughly by where the old Night Lights all-ages club was in the 80s. (I think that club is a Hooters now, but I don’t remember where it was.) The hotel was built in 2017, on the site of what used to be some anonymous banquet restaurant. Everything around it is new to me. Day Road used to be an empty road through corn fields we’d drive at high speed on the way to the mall. Now it’s full of big boxes of stuff.

* * *

So, various family stuff on Tue-Fri. Ate a family lunch at the Howard Park Public House on the river. I think that used to be a parking lot or empty field when I grew up, and now the entire riverfront has a walk and parks and an ice skating rink, and looks great. South Bend appears to be on the up and up, with all the new spots and the ever-growing Notre Dame. I always regret that I did not spend more time in South Bend as a kid and really learn what was there so I could appreciate what it has become.

It was good to see family, exchange presents, eat too much, and do the usual grip-and-grin photos lined up against a tree or wall. Not into what I look like in the photos, and the food is adding to that. I really need to lean into the “new year new me” coming up shortly, but that’s another discussion.

* * *

I keep saying I am not into nostalgia anymore, or I’m trying to get away from it or whatever, and honestly I am trying. I intended to not even go to Elkhart for this trip. But S had to catch up on work and I had an empty afternoon with nothing to do, so I got in the car, put on my 1990 playlist, and went on the grand nostalgia misery tour.

First stop was IUSB. I pretty much lived in Northside hall in the 1990-1991 school year. I worked in the computer labs in the basement, my first real paying computer job, (occasionally) went to classes, and hung out with Ray endlessly. I had really strong memories of that place, but in a very isolated base way, probably because of my depression level and loneliness at the time. I commuted every day, which meant spending long periods by myself, rolling through the long strip of nothing between Elkhart and South Bend.

I wanted to take some pictures because the street view in the area is pretty lacking. But I wanted to find places that looked exactly like they did 33 years ago, which is tricky with all the additions that have happened. There’s a bridge from Northside across the river to a set of dorms, which is pretty odd compared to my commuter experience. The old education building has been torn down; at least two other big limestone buildings are where a soda bottling plant used to be; a chunk of the mega-parking lot is now a garage. And most of Northside, the main class building on the river, has been completely redone inside.

Walking around the halls, I did find a few things that haven’t changed. The outside structure of NS is the same limestone, the same courtyard with a walkway going across on the second floor. I ducked in a stairwell that I used to climb up and down multiple times a day to get from the sub-basement computer labs to the second-floor computer science classrooms, and they are absolutely identical inside. There’s a long cafeteria, more like a wide corridor with tables where me and Ray would hold court and pretend to study, and it’s still there but completely redecorated now. But I went around the corner to the vending machine alcove, and there’s a set of microwaves that look absolutely identical to 1990. I’m not sure if they’ve been cleaned since then. The area outside the auditorium looked very similar too, with 1961 wood trim and a set of benches where I’d sit and read between classes.

You can take the US-20 bypass to get between Elkhart and South Bend pretty quickly. I guess it’s not called the bypass anymore; it’s just US-20. But that didn’t exist in 1990, so I took Lincolnway east, which is now 933 aka “old 33” aka US-33 back then. That road isn’t quite a highway, and is mostly 35 MPH and winds through Mishawaka, then Osceola and into Elkhart. Like most of these drives, the bones of things are still there; there’s still a McDonalds and Taco Bell in the same place in Twin Branch, and the giant gas station at County Line Road. Signs change, the colors of houses sometimes change, and buildings vanish. But most of the drive is hauntingly familiar.

* * *

I really did not want to do this. But I had to do this.

I went to Concord Mall. The former Concord Mall. They are just started with the big transformation, which is gutting the mall and turning it into seven light industrial spaces. They have painted the vintage brick exterior a generic drab white, and chopped off the signage, awnings, and entrances, sealing things up in anonymous industrial doors. The JC Penney parking lot was full of heavy machinery, pallets of construction material, and various debris and jetsam from the construction work. The exterior entrance of the old McCrory’s was a gaping hole in the brick exterior. The Hobby Lobby, aka my Wards store, remains untouched. The Martin’s grocery, Concord 1 and 2 theater, and USA Fitness buildings are all in various states of disassembly or abandonment.

The front entrance, by what was once Super Sounds and Enzo pizza, was open, but had “no mall walking” signs on it. An optometrist was still operational, so I could go in the entrance. The interior was bleak. A chain-length fence blocked off most of the concourse, with a floor-to-ceiling wall of black plastic running the length of the hallway. I could hear water falling behind the plastic, and assumed they were doing asbestos abatement. Storefronts were all covered in plywood, but I could still see glimpses of the original brick, which was a signature of the mall, and will probably either be chipped out, covered in drywall, or painted an industrial battleship gray soon.

I didn’t stay long. I snapped a few pictures and got out of there. I went to Hobby Lobby to use their restroom and buy nothing, and on the way out, I realized something: they had the same fixtures as Wards, the same shelves and brackets, and they hadn’t been repainted. I painted all of those fixtures in the summer of 1988. It took me like a month to wash every one of them with turpentine, prime them, then roll them with a special shade of Wards-brand oil-based enamel. Examining one of those shelves, now filled with Jesus-based Christmas crap made in China, sort of freaked me out. It was a strange legacy for me to have in this town.

* * *

I did the rest of the tour: my old house in River Manor; the old runway that got turned into a subdivision in the 80s; my old abandoned Taco Bell where I worked my first job in 1987. I drove up main street and through downtown, and some of that strip is utter devastation. I don’t mean to keep shitting on Elkhart; I’ve done enough of that over the years, and it’s somewhat pointless now. But it’s just amazing how far it has fallen. I heard news while I was in town that the last movie theater closed, and the mall closed. The city is apparently buying the failed strip mall that was built when Pierre Moran got de-malled and doing… something with it, or not. There are long stretches of properties that have been abandoned for decades, or razed and left vacant. There are I think two major overpass/viaduct projects starting, and more businesses are closing and houses are being moved or demolished. The only growth industry in town seems to be Superfund sites.

Previously, these trips would give me heavy “you can never go back” vibes. Now, it’s just a big door closing. There’s nothing to be nostalgic about anymore. Everything is gone and done.

* * *

There are many reasons I could never go back to Indiana. And the Indiana I knew is rapidly vanishing. But sometimes I get a strong and strange feeling of deja vu I can’t entirely integrate.

I was walking across a parking lot the other night, and it hit me. There was something about the crisp winter air, the clouds overhead, the look of the sky. I was in the parking lot of a casino, but when I looked out, I saw fields plowed down for winter, and the one row of tall trees a quarter-mile in the distance, the leaves fallen in December, just century-old skeletons reaching into the sky. There’s something about the sparseness, the feel of the atmosphere, that gives me a deep base memory, a sense memory that goes deep into my bones. It reminds me of the holiday breaks of childhood, the feeling of being 16 and driving a beat-up Camaro to a friend’s house on the back country roads. It’s a very entrenched time machine and these memories aren’t about a specific event or person. They’re just a sense, a feeling. Not happy or sad, just a quick flood of memory about everything and nothing.

When I was on the second floor of IUSB, looking out a window across the parking lot, I had an incredibly strong memory of looking out the same window in 1990. It was a Friday, during a shift at the computer lab, in mid-December. The air was the same crisp cold, the clouds heavy, and I could feel in the air that it was going to start snowing. I knew I would mess around on the VAX computer or two or three more hours, go to the McDonald’s on McKinley, and listen to the same Queensrÿche album I listened to every day that school year as I ate my #2 meal on the long drive home. I knew that classes were over, and I’d spend the next two weeks indoors, at my girlfriend’s parents’ house in Ottawa Hills, or at my parents’ house. It was not good or bad or anything else, but that moment is so entrenched in my head, and it’s amazing that it instantly came back 33 years later.

Anyway. It’s Christmas morning and I’m in Milwaukee for the week. I should write about that next, but I have a few thouand calories to eat first.

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general

Reno, gloves, winter break

I was in Reno for Thanksgiving, which was a pretty straightforward affair, except I forgot to bring gloves, and it was like 25 degrees outside. No snow, no trouble at the Donner pass; I just neglected to remember you need hand coverings when it’s below freezing. This wasn’t a major thing, as I didn’t really do a lot outdoors, but I’ve got more winter wonderland travel coming up next week, so I have to remember to bring gloves.

I have these gloves I bought in April for Iceland, which are very thin, but have the special magnetic junk in the fingers so you can use a touchscreen, and the index fingers and thumbs flip open in case you need to twist a knob or futz with a lens and don’t want to take your gloves off. I haven’t used them since Iceland, and when I dug them out of the bin today, they were filthy. I got some Woolite, started scrubbing them, and my sink was suddenly filled with bright red volcanic dirt. I think the last time I wore them, I was climbing Snæfellsjökull, and on the way up Bjarnarfoss, I fell down and thought I broke my knee. Weird memory to see and smell all of that red soil again.

* * *

Reno was pretty sedate. It was my first time there since 2019. We stayed at a Marriott, had a mini-suite that wasn’t bad except the heater sounded like a hundred-year-old film projector. The gym was decent. The pool was outside, so no pool, although I can’t swim anyway. I did a lot of writing down in the lobby. I don’t know why I like writing in the lobbies of hotels, but I do. For some reason, sitting in this one very vaguely reminded me of the Grand Hyatt Berlin, where I stayed in 2014, but looking at the pictures on Google, it looks nothing like it. That seems to happen to me a lot. I just walked around the College of Alameda, which always gives me a weird sense memory of the IUSB campus, but the two look nothing like each other. They just built a new classroom building that looks very vaguely like it’s in the same style as one of the new buildings they put on Mishawaka Ave at IUSB, but all campus buildings built after like 1985 look like that.

Aside from eating and more eating, I didn’t do much else. Oh, I went to a sports book and bet $20 that the Rockies would win the 2024 World Series. I don’t even vaguely believe in the team after this year, and I’m honestly pretty much over baseball in general. So, no idea why I did that.

* * *

The Christmas travel is South Bend for a week, then Milwaukee for a week. I’m trying to tighten the blast radius on this so I can keep things under control, so there won’t be any side trips anywhere else, and just family stuff. This is the first time I’ve been to Indiana since 2018, and I don’t know what to expect. Well, I know what to expect. What’s weird about this trip is I don’t even think I’ll be in Elkhart. My sister was the last holdout there, and she moved to Chicago a few years ago. Normally I’d go to Concord Mall, but I’m done with malls, and there is no Concord Mall. Ray is there, but I will have to convince him to meet us in Mishawaka or something. I have no interest in doing the Jon Konrath Reality Tour and look at a bunch of vacant buildings. If it was summer, I might be up for walking Ox Bow park. And Goshen’s downtown is neat. But other than that, the nostalgia is far too depressing for me.

I often wonder about visiting Bloomington again, for the same reasons. Looking at old journals, I used to fixate on Bloomington far too much. I haven’t been back in over ten years, and I feel like that obsession has faded away. I don’t know how that happened, and I wish I could apply the same technique to like 167 other things or people in my life. Maybe it’s because so much has changed there. Or maybe it’s just not important to me anymore. I do want to go back at some point and look around, but it’s a hard trip to make just for the sake of that trip. It’s probably cheaper for me to fly to Europe. Maybe at some point.

* * *

Another glove memory: I once had this pair of leather gloves that were like Darth Vader gloves. They were very well-padded inside, black leather, and they had a long cuff that went halfway up my forearm. They were like motorcycle gloves I guess. I think I got them from my step-grandfather in like the late 80s or early 90s. I remember having them when I got my first leather motorcycle jacket in 1993. I lost them, I think in 1994, maybe by leaving them on a Bloomington Transit bus. I’ve never been able to find a pair exactly like them. Probably doesn’t matter much since it rarely gets below 40 here. Maybe if I move to Iceland, I’ll start looking.

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general

30

Today is an anniversary of sorts. Thirty years ago today, I decided to be a writer, decided to “identify” as a writer, started calling myself a writer. Actually, I probably didn’t put those words together on October 30th, 1993, and I definitely did not put my occupation as a writer on a 1040 form until at least a a few years later. But today was the day this whole thing really started.

I’ve told the story before, in different permutations, different mixes of fact and fiction, enough that I don’t even know what is real anymore, what I would tell someone if I had to. I mean, I’ve always been a writer to some extent, even if I didn’t know it. I had a poem published when I was in grade school; I wrote a lot of short stories and papers and whatnot when I was in high school and college. I’d already published zines by that fall, written stuff in other zines, and put thousands and thousands of words into USENET posts and forums. I’d even published a story in a university newspaper at that point. But I’d never thought of myself as a writer, never considered it as a vocation, a career, or even a hobby. I always thought, “Someday I will write a book” but never put any more thought into it than that.

The actual story of how this started is somewhat trite and stereotypical. I was struggling in a deep depression in the fall of 1993 — that year, really — and had been abandoned by someone I trusted. And sure, it was all my fault, but it was at a key junction in my life when a maelstrom of shit was falling down on me. I’d been kicked out of school and was on probation; I was unable to continue in the computer science department; I’d lost the scholarship that was paying my tuition; I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for a degree anymore. Most of my friends were graduating, getting jobs, getting married, moving away. I was stuck, didn’t know what was next.

The abandonment thing, I won’t get too into that. I was in this relationship that I got far too invested in, and I messed it up, and she left. I’ve blamed myself for it for decades, and then recently, I read a lot about attachment anxiety and adult attachment theory and realized the fix was in decades before I met this person, and my problems go back much further than 1993, and I really can’t get into any of that in the scope of this dumb little story. Short story long, I was very damaged on October 30, 1993, and I desperately needed to find some way out.

* * *

In 1993, I lived at Colonial Crest apartments in Bloomington. (They no longer exist.) I did not have a car. I had a city bus pass, but the bus line was all screwy and didn’t run at night, so I walked, a lot. My apartment was 1.3 miles to the 17th Street office of UCS where I worked a few days a week. It was 2.2 miles to Ballantine Hall, more or less the center of campus. At the very least, I’d walk about two hours a day, every day. I would listen to a tape walkman for all of these walks, plus whenever I was sitting around campus, working on a computer, whatever. And I was spending a lot of time sitting around campus, because I’d have a class, then have 90 minutes of down time until the next class, half an hour in the student union, 20 minutes waiting for a computer, an hour eating Pizza Hut Express, whatever.

The gist of this: I spent a lot of time alone, in my head, beating myself up, in three different ways: long walks, dead time in public places, and of course the hours and hours I spent in front of computers, screwing around on the immediately-pre-web Internet. I needed some way to not do that, or do something productive with that time, and through strange kismet, this sort of fell into place.

Once again, this is horribly cliché, but my friend Ray told me I should check out the spoken word albums of Henry Rollins, who had not yet recorded “Liar” and shown up on Beavis and Butthead, but aside from the post-Black Flag Rollins Band, he was about six albums deep into the spoken word racket, and had published maybe twenty books or chapbooks. So a few days after the 30th, I bought The Boxed Life, a two-tape album of his spoken word and started walking and listening to it, memorizing it.

The whole thing seems stupid now. I think there are various machismo stereotypical male idols that men of my age back then latch onto, be it Charles Hemingway or Charles Bukowski or Joe Rogan or whoever else. In one sense, it almost pains me that I got so wound up with this thing. But I felt like I had nothing, no direction, and there were far worse things to get tangled up with. Even mentioning the male loneliness epidemic pisses about 50% of the population off, but there is a real phenomenon of early twenty-somethings not knowing what to do with their life, and turning to whatever idiot has the biggest mouth. Nobody has fathers; nobody can open up to male friends. So you’re going to have guys who get in that rut who suddenly find a Doors record and lock into Jim Morrison and start wearing leather pants and writing shitty poetry. It happens.

At some point, I thought, “Hey, this Rollins guy just talks about what happens to him and writes it in notebooks. I should get a notebook.” So I got a notebook, and I started writing in it, in those weird little gaps of time in my day, journaling from lunch or at a bus stop or late at night. I also hunted down all the Rollins books. I wasn’t a book collector at that time, and would maybe passively read a non-computer book a few times a year. But I read his stuff, then read everything he referenced: Henry Miller, Bukowski, Fante, Burroughs. That got me into the beats, which got me into postmodern fiction, which got me to experimental, which got me to a room full of books. I started hoarding, reading constantly. I’m embarrassed by my early influences, but they got me to my later influences, so what can you do.

* * *

The little 80-sheet notebook I bought at the campus book store for $1.39 turned into several journals, which turned into short stories, one of which became the start of my first book. I never healed the wound, but I filled the void. That particular relationship did not heal for years, but I now realize that it wasn’t the hole from the missing person, but a hole in my soul that existed since birth. She was just a symptom of the problem.

I wrote. I wrote badly, but it slowly got better. I slowly got better. I mean, I never got “better” like I was somehow cured. It took me years to stop thinking about her every hour of every day, how I was betrayed, how it was all my fault. It is mostly gone, and I can’t even remember what her voice sounds like. But last night I had a nightmare about her, woke up at 3:30 AM with my fight-or-flight fully triggered, didn’t even try to go back to bed and got up and hit the shower to start my day. There have been a half-dozen people who have done far worse to me since, and maybe the dream was about one of them. Anyway, writing was the one constant. It got me past this, until it didn’t.

* * *

The writing continued until 2021, when it stopped. There are a lot of threads to this story that recur: the wound, the loneliness, abandonment, frustration, emptiness, defeat. In 2021, I tried to tell myself I was no longer a writer, because the pain and frustration of my writing “career” caught up to me and I simply could not write anymore. So I quit writing, said I wasn’t a writer. The void remained. Nothing could fill it. Believe me, I tried everything. Nothing worked.

So, I came back. I think. Did I? Am I still a writer? Am I writing now? The void still remains, but maybe I’m making progress.

* * *

Bill James – the baseball statistics guy (you know, moneyball, Brad Pitt, whatever) – had a quote about writing that always stuck with me:

I learned to write because I am one of those people who somehow cannot manage the common communications of smiles and gestures, but must use words to get across things that other people would never need to say.

I always felt that I fell into writing because of that, because of my ability to get lost in words, in absence of being able to get lost in people. My frustration with love and life drove me to a universe of communication in a much deeper format. I don’t know what I’m doing now with writing, or what will come next, or what I need to do. But I know that it all started when I fell into this exactly thirty years ago today.

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Singapore

So, I was in Singapore last week. On the way back from India, I stopped in the city/country/island for four nights. It’s one of the options for a layover when I fly east-to-west to Bangalore, so instead of spending an hour there, I figured out how to book a gap between flights, and Americans don’t need a visa for tourism. Airfare cost the same either way, so I booked a hotel on my dime (Amex’s, actually – more on that later) and made a quick vacation of it.

The flight from Bangalore took about five hours, leaving just before noon on a Saturday. India security was the usual, had to take every single thing out of my bag and was asked “what is this” about each and every cord and charger and plug. I forgot I had a Leatherman in my laptop bag, and even though it was a TSA-compliant one with no blades, I may as well have been carrying an M-249 and four hundred rounds of belt-fed ammunition. So there went sixty bucks.

Flight wasn’t bad. The only notable thing was I was watching Interstellar for the 167th time and I was at the giant scene at the end of Act 2 where the space station is crashing into the atmosphere and they have to emergency dock with it and push it back up to orbit, and I wasn’t paying attention to our descent into Singapore at all, and their ship collided with the station exactly when our wheels hit the tarmac, which was a bit freaky.

In Singapore, customs was 100% automated. I did not talk to a single human. I applied for the entry card online two days before, promised that I didn’t have a fever and knew drug use was punishable by death, and when I got there, I scanned my passport, scanned my thumb, looked at the camera, done. Bags were there fast, money exchange took five seconds, taxi was quick, and there I was.

This hotel experience was absolutely hilarious. This was at the Conrad Centennial, which is a towering five-start hotel in the marina bay. I had a trifecta: booked on Amex in one of their “curio collection” featured properties, paid with an Amex platinum, have gold status at Hilton, and used points for the whole thing. When they found my name on the bag, before I even got to the front desk, the hotel manager was there to welcome me. Amex already gave me a $200 credit for the curio thing, but Hilton gave me a $100/day room credit, plus I had free breakfast, and access to an executive lounge with free food. The main issue at the front desk was they couldn’t figure out the conflicting amenities, and it appeared I had six free breakfasts per day.

The room was absolutely insane. They upgraded me to a giant suite with a dining area, couches along the full-length bay windows overlooking the marina, a bathroom bigger than my apartment in college, the whole nine yards. I immediately ordered a pomme frites and ate steak until I collapsed.

* * *

Singapore looks like a futuristic Star Wars city, like Bespin: towering hotels and offices, tons of retail, food everywhere, perfectly manicured parks, a perfect transit system. On the first morning, after loading up on breakfast, I went for a walk to get the lay of the land, and the Marina area felt very weird. It looked incredible, but felt very sparse and desolate when you’re in it. I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in some big Midwestern cities like in the inner loop of Chicago or the center of Indianapolis. Nice postcard, but you walk around after 5:00 and there are big chunks of areas with a lot of nothing, and that big mall that you thought was a block away is like a mile and a half in the distance. So I should have made a plan and didn’t.

That walk: big mistake. 88 degrees, humidity was 88%. I could barely propel myself; it felt like I was walking in 2x gravity. I found one of those bikes you unlock with an app, and five minutes later, got it rolling. Biking was not bad, although it was a heavy junk bike with only one speed and a seat that was slightly too short. There’s a trail along the river that has lots of shade and excellent views. Rode about five miles, then went to this mall across the street to get a drink. There was a 7-Eleven in the mall and I got a Coke Zero from an old woman who was yammering away and I didn’t understand a word she was saying. She obviously knew I was a tourist, because she paid me back my change in like 47 coins.

It felt eerily quiet, nobody out. Maybe it’s because it was Sunday morning, or maybe I was in some weird commercial district where nobody lives, like when you visit “Chicago” and your job dumps you in a Marriott in Schaumberg and the nearest anything is a Shoney’s two miles away you can’t actually walk to.

* * *

It was too bad I’m completely off this mall shit, because I quickly found out the entire country is basically a gigantic mall. There were four supermalls within a block of my hotel, and probably at least a dozen of them within a kilometer. Seriously, the place next to the mall I first went to is about the size of Mall of America, and the other three were bigger than the biggest mall in California. Singaporeans love their air conditioning, and all of these things are connected to each other through catwalks and tunnels. You can spend your entire life indoors like it’s an old Asimov novel.

I went to the biggest mall for lunch, because everyone would not shut up about these Hawker stalls of food. I walked into the food area and just about had an aneurysm, First of all, the mall was probably 20% more crowded than the most hectic mall I’d ever been to in the midwest during Peak Mall on like a Christmas Eve. There were wall to wall people in this massive three-story structure that’s actually just the first three floors of five towers, each 45 stories tall with all office space and a convention center in them. I looked it up and the mall has 186 restaurants. I don’t think I saw a single vacant store. It was absolutely overwhelming, just wall to wall people speaking Chinese or Malay, eating chicken feet and fish with heads on them and whatever else. I was so far out of my comfort zone, I took one look and thought, “I need to find a fucking Pizza Hut.” 

Wandered that mall and it was just truly bizarre and amazing. It was full of teenagers cosplaying in Magna or Anime stuff, wearing boots and uniforms and face paint and everything else. There were several arenas, open spaces with domed ceilings. One had a full-on flea market, old ladies buying bolts of cloth and household goods. Another had an e-sports competition, someone rattling on like a Chinese auctioneer, their play-by-play of a PUBG match echoing through this giant auditorium. I was pushing my way through crowds, and… there was a Toys R Us.  Not a knockoff, not a reboot, but an actual honest-to-fuck TRU that looks like it’s from 2004 or so. 

I stumbled into a McDonald’s, famished, and got a fries, a drink, and two of the bizarro burgers only available in SG. One was the Samurai Beef, which was basically a quarter-pounder but drenched in teriyaki sauce. The other was the Ninja chicken, which was a decent fried chicken patty, but covered in nanban sauce, with white cabbage coleslaw, cucumbers, and on a black charcoal bun. Fries are fries, and every MCD gets those the same. The beef burger was disgusting, too much sauce on it. The chicken sandwich would have been decent with 80% of the sauce removed. They have a cup lid that has a weird plastic spout that you can drink from without a straw which is genius and saves a lot of plastic, but would be considered woke communism in the US and would get someone killed.

Back at the hotel, I booked a massage at the spa. It was pretty decent, nothing too weird about it, except the woman was slapping me a bunch and that was different. The spa was on the same level as the pool, and there was also a wedding going on, with lots of people dressed up in super-high-end dress clothes.

I went to the executive lounge on the top floor with my laptop, thinking I’d get some work done, but it was too crowded, and the food was eh. I drank a bunch of Coke Zero, but it was too busy to write, and I needed to get my dinner plans in order.

* * *

Dinner Sunday night – got a reservation at this place at the Four Seasons, which is about three clicks west of my hotel. Took a taxi there and the cabbies are all insane in Singapore. Slam the gas, slam the brakes, slam the gas, slam the brakes, never stay in the same lane for more than 500 milliseconds, etc.

The place was called One Ninety restaurant. It’s normally a modern Asian brasserie, but an Argentinian place called Brasero Atlántico was doing a three-month takeover. Got there 30m early and I went walking around. There was a very weird liminal space – a long series of hallways connecting between the hotel and another property, and I think it was like a temporary art gallery. I sat down in a chair and messed around on my phone for 15 minutes, and absolutely nobody walked by. It was like thousands of square feet of empty space in the busiest city within a thousand miles, and there was just absolutely nothing there. So bizarre.

At the restaurant and there’s this Argentinian guy chatting with the waitress and he says hi and shakes my hand, and I’m like, “OK, whatever.” I sit down and two googles later I realize the guy is one of the top ten bartenders in the world, and this popup is a clone of one of the top five restaurants in the world. I don’t drink, but felt I had to get a drink. I got this thing that was absinthe, mandarin napoleon liqueur, and wheat beer. I then ordered a t-bone steak and it was like half a cow, just a ridiculous amount of meat. I also had fries, salad, empanadas, and too much bread. I barely made it back to the hotel and crashed out.

* * *

Monday, I woke up and had no idea where I was. After too much breakfast, I went for a long walk, then got on the MRT train to head for Chinatown. The Singapore train system makes the Disney monorail look like the bombed-out New York subway in the 70s. I was able to pay with my watch without getting a card or account or app or anything. Ridiculously clean, everyone super polite and behaved, and eating and drinking is strictly prohibited. You could perform surgery on the floor of the subway station there. It was amazing, I did not see a single cop during my stay, but I’m sure if anything went down, a hundred of them would show up. I think they are hiding in Disneyland tunnels backstage.

Chinatown – another giant mall, and this one had large mazes of semi-outdoor market stalls on each side. I ducked into one and it was sensory overload, vendors selling shirts and food and fruits and watches and everything else, and crowds of people walking the narrow alleys. Lots of temples in the area too, Hindu and Buddhist, people lighting incense and bowing. It was such an extreme juxtaposition, seeing these fifty-story chrome and glass towers filled with banks running tax havens, next to temples that looked a thousand years old, next to Vegas-style themed shopping centers, next to Asian markets.

I ended up at a Korean beef noodle place which was in a crowded mall but had a Michelin star. Got a stir fry and a bottle of soju, then remembered that drinking soju is like 3x the alcohol of beer and basically tastes like a 50/50 mix of Grape Nehi and lighter fluid. I had good stir fry but that soju got on top of me fast, and I wandered around the mall drunk, wondering what the hell was going on, because everything looked the same and there were strange stores, durian and snails for sale, places that could tell your fortune, reflexology and acupuncture places, and far too much anime stuff. Got back on the train, back to the other mall, and it was pouring rain, a wall of absolute monsoon deluge, like the inch-per-hour kind of torrent. I couldn’t figure out how to get across the street (there are usually tunnels or bridges, like Minnesota) so I just sprinted and got soaked.

Back at the hotel, I needed to write. I booked a room in the business center so I could get something done and stop eating crap out of the mini bar and doom-scrolling in bed. They only had once space and I ended up in a giant conference room with seven other chairs facing me. A bit weird, but it was a decent way to get some writing done. (Yes, I’m writing again.)

Monday dinner: there was this row of Japanese places I saw the other day but could not triangulate exactly where it was, so I ended up at this Bavarian restaurant. Tried ordering in German (“Entshuldigung! Wo ist die speisekart!”) and of course the waitress only spoke Malay and broken English and freaked out. I got a decent currywurst and pretzel and sat outside, because it was super-refrigerated inside and they were pumping in loud music (and not like Oktoberfest sing-a-long polka; I’m talking like Huey Lewis or some garbage.) The temp was cooling down, and it was actually nice on the patio.

After dinner, I got my new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 prime lens and took a stroll around the neighborhood for some night shooting. I love taking pictures at night, but never get a chance to. So that was fun, and having the new prime lens was great for shooting the buildings at night.

* * *

Tuesday: I massively overslept but was still tired, and I was going to walk to the giant gardens just south of the hotel, but after two minutes outside, I changed my mind and hopped a train, picked a color and a direction, and just wandered for maybe an hour. The train system has all these arterial lines that go from the city center to the extremities, but also has this orange line that runs in a big circle maybe five clicks out, so you can easily shift lines or avoid dumb routes where you have to go all the way downtown and then all the way back out in another line.

I eventually ended up at another mall, which is on Orchard sort of near that Four Seasons, on a big drag where there are maybe a dozen malls, all interconnected. It is a total Blade Runner city, a mix of gigantic supermalls where you can go to a Lord and Taylor or a Rolex superstore, but then between those are these Asian malls with tiny stalls filled with people selling bamboo plants or housewares or melons. I was just walking for hours in marvel, thinking, “What the fuck is all of this? How did I even get here?” 

I ended up having lunch at Shakey’s Pizza. It’s a huge touchstone in Elkhart. There was one just south of Concord Mall and a lot of kids at my school worked there. They had pizza buffet, mojo potatoes, etc. I last went to one in 2008 in LA, when there were maybe a dozen left in the US, all in California. It was pretty garbage back then, so I didn’t know how it would be in Singapore. This was in a food court with a bunch of stalls, and not like a full sit-down restaurant. Pizza was airport-grade eh. The mojos tastes the same but they were little discs of potato, not like a wedge. It was worth a laugh to go there, but not exactly revelatory.

Back at the hotel, got the board room again, and then couldn’t figure out dinner. I finally decided to go to Marina Bay Sands, which is a massive convention center/mall/hotel/casino just a bit south of my hotel. MBS is three 55-story towers with a gigantic cantilevered platform at the top, made to look like a surfboard, with the longest infinity pool in the world on it. There’s also a million-square-foot mall with canals and giant arched ceilings, a giant spherical Apple Store that sits on the water, theaters, museums, hotels, and one of the largest casinos in the world.

Getting into the casino was like getting into Area 51. I had to bring a passport, my travel visa, fill out all this paperwork – their loyalty program actually asks you how much you make and what your net worth is. The casino was giant, but I didn’t find it terribly great. I’m not much of a gambler, and wasn’t into the table games, so I tried a few slot machines. They all seemed pretty tuned down, with almost no bonus play and none of the crazy kinetics of American slots. I burned through about a hundred bucks (Singapore) and gave up.

Last meal: I went to one of the Hawker-type food courts and ordered a Chinese fried pork chop and some steamed dumplings. The place was crowded and I lucked into an empty table. The second I had my last bite in my mouth, someone swooped in and asked if they could have my spot.

* * *

On Wednesday, I had to leave at about six in the morning, so no time for breakfast or anything else. I got to the airport with plenty of time and wandered around a bit. The airport has this butterfly garden, which is pretty cool. It’s a two-story thing with a waterfall and lots of plants, and there are butterflies flying all around inside. I caught a 9:30am flight straight back to SFO, which landed 16 hours later at… 9:30am. I didn’t sleep and powered through the rest of the day, so I could black out right after dinner and then get to work at my regular time on Thursday.

* * *

I don’t think I had enough time to get a feel for any of Singapore other than the area around Marina Bay. Honestly, after about ten days out of the country, I was getting severely depressed from the food situation and just from wandering around alone, unable to speak to anyone in English, and everyone I knew online was asleep when I was awake. This always happens, and I’m never fully prepared for it. I’m always interested in seeing other countries, experiencing the differences, getting a feel for what it’s like there. But the loneliness of being there by myself gets crippling at a certain point, and I never know what to do.

I was reading the book The Art of Noticing recently, and I forget who said this, but their tip on what to do when you’re trying to take in a moment is to look up. Look around, but then look up and look around, then look up even further. I was walking on Orchard in the middle of this Vegas-like strip of mega-malls, listening to this ambient soundtrack I normally listen to when meditating, and looking up, looking at the glass towers and the wires and lights and trees. I thought about how weird it was to be out on a Tuesday afternoon in the sweltering heat, with all these people around me. And I thought about how I’d explain this to the 1992 me who had never been more than a few hundred miles from home, how I was in this strange land ten thousand miles away. And I thought about how grateful I was that I had a job and a life that allowed me to do this. And I wasn’t looking forward to the early wake-up call the next day or the long flight back. But I was thankful for the entire strange experience, and that burned that moment of standing in front of the Takashimaya Shopping Centre into my head forever.

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Bangalore

I’m back in India. I’ve been here since last Saturday, and will be leaving tomorrow, so it’s a shorter trip than last time. This was very last-minute and I did not have much time to plan, so I didn’t do anything exciting. Just work.

The trip out was long, as usual. I went through Singapore this time, and was able to get an upgrade to premium economy, although that doesn’t get you much. I was in an aisle in the bulkhead row, which meant nobody reclining their seat in my face, but it also meant the TV was far away, and I had no place to put my bag. The flight was just shy of 16 hours. Then I had a super quick layover and caught a five-hour flight to India. I think I slept two or three hours on the Singapore leg, and maybe an hour going to India. That meant I left my house in an Uber at 7:40 AM Friday and checked into my hotel in Bangalore at just before midnight on Saturday.

I think this trip was less overwhelming than June’s visit. I knew what to expect, had a vague idea of the terrain, and my schedule was packed with nothing but work. I got this hotel that’s about 2km from work and maybe 1km from where we were having this off-site, so that was fine. I now know you can get from anywhere to anywhere in an Uber for like a dollar. And walking is fine, too.

Every day I would walk to work. Like I said, it’s maybe a mile each way, but it takes about 45 minutes, and you have to follow a convoluted route with your head on a swivel. Traffic is bad, the random motorcycles are worse, and pedestrians have no right of way. And sidewalks can be somewhat random, or simply end in an open trench.

I tried to be somewhat zen about my walks, look for things I normally don’t see, find things that give me joy. Here’s a list of what I liked:

  • There are so many different types of buildings. It’s not just a bunch of perfectly optimized 5-over-1 construction or a sea of ranch houses all built during the same housing boom. Some buildings have more than four sides, shoehorned into odd spaces. Some have very European lines, but some have arched windows or Jharokha windows or pyramidal roofs. Some houses look like they were built last year and some look a century old. It’s amazing to see them all butted against each other.
  • Part of my walk twists through some narrow alleys going behind rows of five-story buildings. There are small slits of light where you see the sky, criss-crossed with random wires and cables from power and internet. I don’t know why I like seeing that – it reminds me of parts of Berkeley or even Bloomington, where student buildings were randomly assembled next to each other.
  • Bangalore has so many trees. When I stay off the ring roads and take side streets, there are smaller streets that feel almost like they are going through a tunnel of green. Mountain ebony, Indian Elm, and cork trees line the city streets, with thick trunks jutting from the sidewalk. And there are amazing flowering trees. I’ll be walking along a main road and see an Indian laburnum with bright yellow flowers or an African tulip tree dotted with red-orange petals.
  • I love the randomness. You can walk past an all-glass aerospace building, then there’s an empty field with a cow eating grass in it, then there’s a retina surgery center, then there’s a shop rebuilding motorcycle engines in the street. It makes it hard to just like go to the suburb with all the grocery stores or fast food places. Everything is everywhere.
  • People draw chalk mandalas on the sidewalks in front of their house. I know nothing about the ritual or significance, but there’s something I like about it. I like spotting them as I walk through alleys and streets.
  • There was one night I was walking home from the off-site to the hotel through the EGL tech park. This was after spending all day in the air conditioning, and it was dark out, and the air was dropping from 90 to 70 degrees rapidly, and it gave me the strangest sense memory of the summer nights back in Bloomington in 1992, of walking in the cool darkness to the fountain at midnight after a day of triple-digit temperatures. I’m thirty years and half a world away, and absolutely everything is different. But I still felt that feeling for a minute, and it was amazing.

Anyway. Done with work. Leaving India tomorrow morning and taking a quick vacation for four nights over here. More updates on that soon.

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Zine(s)

I published another zine last week. It’s a bit of a throwaway thing, an experiment, an attempt to get back to writing. I deliberately did not make this something I would try to sell or distribute. I wanted to focus solely on writing and producing something that would take my focus and time. If my writing was running and this was a couch-to-marathon thing, this zine was like getting off the couch and walking around the block. And it worked well.

I like making zines. I think one of my biggest distractions with writing is focusing too much on what sells, what people want, what’s expected of a book. Also, working on a book takes forever and I don’t get feedback until sometimes years after I write something. Making zines just for the sake of making zines alleviates both of these. Back when I first got free access to photocopiers at my corporate job in 1995, I started Air in the Paragraph Line so I could copy dumb stories and mail them for free to a dozen or two friends. I didn’t care about the layout or the format or anything else, because I wasn’t trying to get stuff in Barnes and Noble. At the apex of this, I was putting out a zine every month, and I loved doing that. I would drop off a big box of envelopes at the PO, and within a week, people were emailing me, telling me what they liked.

Another reason I love zines is they are tactile, physical objects. There’s something about getting a zine in the mail, opening the envelope, holding the little booklet in your hands. There’s a certain joy in paginating a stack of copied pages into individual bodies, folding them in half, stapling them, counting up the number you made, stacking them up and getting them ready to stuff into envelopes. I’ve messed with e-zines and posting PDFs and whatnot, and it’s just not the same. Creating a newletter on Substack or writing a blog like this is its own thing. Reading a physical book is another. And it’s even better when you’re holding an object that you know the author held, folded, stapled, ran their fingers over the spine. It’s a direct connection between author and reader.

So, back on the horse. I couldn’t find my long-arm stapler, but I did find my (fake) bone folder to fold pages in half. I did the layout in Apple Pages this time, laid it out in portrait and pasted in a bunch of crazy graphics as backgrounds and asides, mostly screenshots taken from badly scanned PDFs on the FBI’s FOIA page, things about UFOs and cattle mutilations and how to build fallout shelters and perform tracheotomies on the battlefield. I spent a lot of time messing around with that stuff and it was a lot of fun. It reminded me of the time me and Ray messed around in Photoshop 1.0 when it first came out, in the Mac lab in the Fine Arts building at IU. They had these Mac IIfx machines (“wicked fast!”) loaded up with an insane amount of RAM, dual monitors, color printers, drawing tablets, Sytek drives, and everything else. We spent a few hours just chopping up Anne Geddes pictures of babies, and it was an overwhelming amount of joy just working on nothing, playing and having fun.

Some of the writing in this zine was old stuff from automatic writing going back to 2016. I think one of the pieces was something cut from Atmospheres in 2014 during the final edits. The actual writing was more of an afterthought. 5000-some words, 20 pages, double-sided and folded in half. I’m not selling these; maybe if I do a few more (and that’s the plan), I will bundle them up in a book. That’s not the point. It’s not about selling it. Hell, my name isn’t even on the front cover. It’s just about creating.

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Pro tip: I don’t know when this happened, but Adobe made it much easier to print stuff like this. I used to have a labored process of laying out folded-in-half booklets, where the first landscape page for a 20-page zine would have page 20 and page 1, and the flipside would have page 2 and page 19, and so on. Huge pain. Now I can make a PDF that’s in portrait orientation, pages 1-20 in that order. Acrobat will turn them sideways, shrink them down, and paginate them so it’s 20-1, 2-19, 18-3, etc.

There’s a trick to this, though. If you shrink down 8.5×11 pages, the trim will be all off. So anyway, here’s what I did. (Note that this assumes you have a real printer to print the master.)

  1. When you do your initial layout, make a custom page size with no margins. File > Page Setup, I made one called “half-letter” that was 7.14 by 11 inches. (My math may be slightly off there.)
  2. Write the zine. Make sure your number of pages are a multiple of four.
  3. Print to PDF, double-sided and make sure scaling is shut off.
  4. Open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader (not Preview.app or some other knockoff PDF reader.)
  5. File > Print.
  6. In Page Sizing & Handling, select Booklet.
  7. I think all the default settings will be right. You can flip through the pages in the preview to the right, although the preview sometimes looks junky. (For me, I had Booklet subset on “both sides” and Binding as “left.”

My right margin on odd pages was a bit truncated, so maybe that’s my math. Also I could not figure out how to print to PDF with this feature. https://github.com/rodyager/RWTS-PDFwriter might do this for you, but I haven’t tried it.

Oh, and if you’re on a Mac, Apple Pages has a mode called Page Layout mode. Instead of working like MS Word (ugh) it behaves more like Pagemaker used to, where you put in text flows and hook them together and resize them, and it shows at the end of a flow if there’s more text and you need to add another column or box or resize things. Back in 1993, I did Xenocide 5 in Aldus Pagemaker 4.0, which was the gold standard for desktop publishing back then, and was absolutely amazing in a world where a lot of people in the labs where I worked were still on the cyan-screened Wordperfect 5.1 for DOS. It’s a great memory to be back to juggling colums and placing images behind them.

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Also, programming note that this page is back, with a list of everything I’ve written. It has the awkward issue that many of the things on there are not currently published. I’m working on it. But I’m currently at the start of another writing project which I can’t talk about, but I’m excited to start actually writing again. I’m off the couch, but I’m still walking.

Oh, and if you read this far and you didn’t get a zine, drop a line and send me your address. I’ve only got a couple left, but if not this, I’ll send the next one.