Desks, part two

A long time ago, I wrote a post here about my various desks over the years. (It’s at Desks, a viewport into the mind) I was digging around in some scans, and found a few more pictures to babble about. Why? As I said in part one, why not. I have an obsession with the workspaces of other writers, so I’m always taking a snapshot of mine.

Anyway, exhibit one is my desk from 1991-1993, sort of:

This is actually a view of my infamous 414 Mitchell apartment, as it was being torn down on the 4th of July weekend, 1993. So, the computer is gone. It’s hard to see, but to the left is a green card table. That was my computer table from probably when I was a teenager, up until that summer. I used to build model airplanes on it before that, so it was covered in Testor’s paint, in various camo colors. I don’t know what eventually happened to this table; I think it was still at my mom’s house shortly before she sold it.

The whole summer when Summer Rain took place, I had a DOS PC in a generic mid-tower case sitting on that table. Here’s it’s full of books and dishes, although I also see a copy of the Danzig 3 box set with the weird plastic HR Giger cover on there. Also check the genuine IBM PC 83-key keyboard against the wall, which is worth more than a few bucks on eBay these days. (No idea what I did with that – I think it was broken.) And of course, the horrible wood paneling. This apartment was $177 a month in the early 90s, and it shows.

Same year, next exhibit. Here’s the next iteration in 1993:

I worked at Montgomery Ward in the summer of 1993, and wanted to get a “real” computer desk for my next apartment. We sold these Sauder L-shaped desks which I thought were cool as hell at the time. This was before everyone had a PC in their house, so the computer hutch was still a somewhat new phenomenon. And this was before particle-board furniture got value-engineered to hell, so this was a pretty sturdy setup. I think it cost $150, minus my ten-percent employee discount.

This was in my room in my mom’s basement, shortly before returning to college that fall. More nice wood paneling, sporting a Type O Negative poster I got from my zine days. Other things I notice are the twelve-inch paperwhite VGA monitor I had for a few years, my Kenwood stereo and Panasonic speakers that followed me through college, and I see a bottle of Obsession cologne, from back when I actually thought that shit mattered.

This was my first real desk when I started writing later that year. I either sold it or gave it away when I left Bloomington in 1995.

Next up, here’s what Seattle looked like, circa 1998 or so:

The entire time I was in Seattle, I worked on my old kitchen table, which was too small in area and too high off the ground. I’d upgraded to this ViewSonic color monitor, which was far too deep for such a narrow table. (Remember when monitors were more than an inch thick?) Other interesting (or not) things include a self-inking stamp for Air in the Paragraph Line Zine outgoing mail, and I spy a box of Travan backup tapes, when I used to back up my Linux machine to tape for some damn reason. You can also see my emacs setup on the monitor, with eyestrain-relief pink colors. I used the emacs text editor to write everything up until 2011 or so.

Fast-forward a minute (see the older post for other desks in between these) and here’s my work desk in 2001 right before I set it up for the first time:

This was at my office at Bleecker and Broadway. We moved in there in August 2001, and I left in February 2007. I spent a lot of time at this damn desk in the early/mid-00s. The friend who just passed away was two cubes in front of this, so this pic is a little bittersweet. It was also taken a month before 9/11. Ugh.

When I went back to the company in 2010 and visited in December, the desk was vacant, so I got to set up and work there, which was bizarre. That filing cabinet was still there, and was locked. I still had the key. When I opened it, all of my files and printouts from the early 00s were still in there.

And to close, here’s a shot from last year, which is about current:

This is an Anthro cart I bought in 2010 when I started working from home. It’s not bad, although I wish I bought the one twice as wide, and maybe the matching filing cabinet. The only difference between this and 2020 is the Vanatoo speakers I just got. And the bass is usually in a stand. It’s also never this clean. This is both my work and home desk, so I spend far too much time here. It could use a bigger monitor. Maybe I should look into that next.

 

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JF

Wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this for a few reasons, mostly because I still can’t wrap my head about it. Anyway, an old friend and former boss passed away suddenly on the 4th. We worked together at my old New York gig for years, and then back in 2010, he pulled me back in to work remotely at my current job, and was my boss there for five years. He was a super genius with a PhD in laser physics, an awesome developer, and the best boss imaginable. Coincidentally, we both grew up in Michiana, and had all the various regional eccentricities down pat. He was also a Rush-head, and the last time I talked to him was a brief text exchange right after Neil Peart died. The whole thing was out of nowhere, and he was a somewhat private guy online so I won’t go into any details, but this one really shook me.

This is really off-brand, but I’ve been on a Taco Bell boycott for almost five years. I know I joke about it constantly, but the last time I ate there was when I was at UNLV in the summer of 2015. No real political reason or anything, it’s just I was eating there too much, and it had become A Problem, and I had to force myself to stop. (And I should do this with all fast food, but that’s another topic.) Anyway, one of the thoughts that popped into my head when I heard the news above is about the time me and J. found out there was a Taco Bell at West 4th in Manhattan. There were no others around for miles; I think you had to drive into deep Queens or way the hell out in Jersey to find one. When we found this out, I took orders, hopped the F train, and came back with a big bag of tacos and burritos, and we reminisced about growing up on garbage food in the midwest. Anyway, when I heard the news Wednesday morning, I had to leave work and get my head together, and I ended up at Taco Bell in Walnut Creek, ordering my usual Mexican Pizza and nachos and thinking fondly about that episode probably eighteen years ago. A dumb tribute, I guess, but whatever.

The one good thing that came out of this is I talked to a lot of people in the last week I hadn’t heard from in over a dozen years. The bad news is that I’m still working on a code base that he wrote a huge percentage of, and every time I dig into it, I find some hilarious comment of his buried in the code, or in a JIRA ticket. I’m the last person from the original crew still working on this product, so that makes the whole situation bizarre. Anyway, it was good to talk to old friends and remember dumb stories that happened almost twenty years ago.

Other news – not much. I am taking another trip to Vegas in the first week of March. Once again, I found out I had a window to take a vacation either in a month, or wait for like six months and then watch that window close, so I had to book something right away. I looked at a few options, and thought about going to Phoenix for spring training, but things got stupid expensive fast, so that didn’t happen. Also thought about going to Colorado, but no baseball and it would probably be too cold. Indiana is not an option; it’s always super expensive to fly out there for some dumb reason. It would have been cheaper to fly to Hawaii, and there’s no chance of a freak snowstorm on Maui in March. So, Vegas it is.

I’m staying at Vdara this time, the all-suite tower of the Aria, sort of next to and behind the Bellagio. I booked through Southwest, and things were really cheap that week. I know the resort fee scam, but even with that factored in, it was pretty damn inexpensive to get a room with a kitchen in it. A car was also cheap, so I’ll probably be driving in the desert and posting from half-dead malls that have air conditioning.

Actually, I have no idea what I’m doing, though. It’s an odd time to visit, with a lot of shows dark (no Penn and Teller) and no minor-league baseball that early. There’s hockey, but I don’t understand hockey at all. I went to an AHL game once in Milwaukee and was thoroughly confused and could not keep up. It’s like basketball, but at least I can see an orange ball getting thrown back and forth. Also, it feels like I just was in Vegas, and burned through all the stuff I would want to do. So I need to do some research, but I’ve been too busy to get into it.

I’d post about this on Facebook and ask about what to do, but I’m 100% sure I’d get a bunch of stupid fucking replies. Every time I post anything on Facebook, the reply section turns into a stupid open mic discussion group for people who don’t get the fucking joke in the first place. I’m absolutely certain that when I finally do get cancer and post about it, the post is going to get 137 fucking Family Guy memes posted on it or something. I really need to delete my Facebook account and get it over with, but it’s the only place I sell books. Not that I sell any books at this point.

I still have a book out. Just a reminder.

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Works in progress, works not in progress

I don’t usually talk about this stuff, mostly because I don’t want to jinx anything, but also because I absolutely cannot fucking deal with people telling me what I should be writing. I have a lot of half-started projects. Some are underway. Some I never finished because they were ultimately bad ideas. I don’t know what to do with those. Sometimes I think I should just release them all as-is to confuse people. But I guess you have to be a famous dead person to do that.

Anyway, here’s the current inventory of every car up on blocks in my front yard:

  1. Untitled rough sequel to Atmospheres. Currently 91,000 words. Maybe 75-80% to first draft.
  2. Untitled rough sequel to Rumored to Exist. Currently 89,000 words. Maybe 50-60% to first draft.
  3. Untitled short story collection. Currently 52,000 words. Maybe 40% done, could maybe be split out and submitted in pieces.
  4. Flash fiction morgue. ~450 pieces, 287,000 words. Unknown completion percentage.
  5. Short story morgue. ~200 pieces, 100,000 words. Unknown completing percentage.
  6. A morgue file up to 2012, which includes everything cut from Sleep Has No Master and Thunderbird. 120,000 words. Unknown completion percentage.
  7. Three different attempts from 2006-2011 at writing an adventure novel about a cross-country trip after a zombie apocalypse. ~140,000 words. Dead.
  8. The Device – a time-travel adventure novel that spun out of Rumored to Exist in maybe 1998. ~30,000 words. Dead.
  9. A completely meta sequel about Rumored to Exist, where a character reads the book and tries to hunt down everyone in it to find answers or something. Complete outline with notes, but almost no writing, ~3,000 words. (I actually like this idea and might do it after I finish 2.)
  10. Book of short stories about Bloomington during when I was there 1989-1995. 116,000 words. I can’t even look at this shit anymore.
  11. Heavy Metal Hell, fiction novel based on the summer between HS and college in 1989. 65,000 words. Plotted out, 21 of 45 chapters written. See above.
  12. A Raymond Federman-style meta-perfiction book about writing the above book. 18,000 words. A NanoWriMo project that stalled out fast, maybe 20% done. I like the idea, though.
  13. A sequel to Summer Rain that takes place 30 years later. Lots of notes and a few vague outlines, but there are various political reasons I can’t do this.
  14. An essay book about dead malls. I have a few thousand words of notes on this, but I need to stop it with the dead mall shit.
  15. Untitled book about two guys who move to Florida and start a UFO cult that becomes a mainstream new-age movement and is completely corrupted by a corporation. ~70,000 words. Largely dead because too much of the plot is like the TV show People of Earth, which came out five years after I started this.
  16. A collection of Air in the Paragraph Line #1-7. ~45,000 words. I have no real motivation to release this, because it’s all been released and the writing is so dated.
  17. A book of essays expanded from posts here. There’s millions of words on this blog, and have been various attempts to do this. I’m looking at one from 2014 that’s about 85,000 words. I did this with my 1997-1999 blog posts and sold like three copies, so I have little motivation to do this.
  18. Daily automatic writing archive 2009-2014. 440,000 words. Some has been published here or recycled into stories, but maybe 75% of it is just sitting there.

I’m working on 1 and 2. In the first week of December, I’ll panic and do another short placeholder book like Ranch: The Musical. Stay tuned.

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birthday, containers, books, cynic, etc

Birthday was okay last week. The superfloat went fine, but I couldn’t 100% lock into it for four hours. I think I’m about done with the whole sensory deprivation thing. I think the meditative part of it is good, and the isolation. But the process, especially with the salt water, is such a pain in the ass. Having to take a shower before and after, and then still having epsom salt stuck in your ears and elsewhere for the rest of the day is a hassle. And too many times, I end up in the tank and have an itch on my eyebrow or face, and I can’t scratch it, or I’ll instantly get salt-soaked water in my eye. I like the ritual I’ve done with it the last three birthdays, but as a general practice, I think it would be easier to just meditate in a dark room for a few hours. Also cheaper.

***

Still working on the stack of Christmas books, which now got hit with another round of birthday additions. I’ve been reading The Box by Marc Levinson, which is a history of the shipping container. Sounds like it would be boring, but it’s actually pretty fascinating, for some reason. Maybe part of the fascination is that I live within walking distance of the Port of Oakland, and always see the giant piles of metal boxes being loaded and unloaded with giant AT-AT-looking cranes. There’s also this timely connection between what’s talked about now with automation and the complete reinvention of the work economy, which is something that also happened in the fifties and sixties as Sea-Land and Matson completely disrupted the shipping industry.

I should be reading fiction, but I haven’t been. The only fiction I’ve read this year was Ben Lerner’s new one, and I was pretty meh on it. Most of the stack is nonfiction, but I imagine I’ll get back to it when I get back to it.

***

I did the usual free book giveaway on the day of my birthday, and gave away Help Me Find My Car Keys… for twenty-four hours. I think something’s gone on with KDP and Amazon is really throttling down these in their algorithm or something. I generally don’t agree with the way the giveaways work, and they’ve never really helped my rankings or sales or whatever. And the whole idea of gaming the algorithm and chasing numbers is part of the big race to the bottom that is destroying publishing. But I noticed a really large drop-off this time over last year, even though more people shared the giveaway. Yeah, my books suck and I’m horrible and I write unmarketable garbage, etc. But there’s something really up with it, and my conspiracy theory is that the numbers are being gamed because of Amazon’s paid placement ads, which I refuse to participate in. If they haven’t already, they are probably getting to the point where they will make more money on ads than on their cut of self-published books. Why mine for gold when you can get rich selling the shovels, right?

Another Kindle thing I did not know about, because I do not pay attention to this stuff at all: you used to be able to do a match thing where people who bought your paperback book got a free or discounted copy of the Kindle version. Looks like they took that away. I thought that was a great feature and I enabled it on all of my books, because I think charging people twice is sort of bullshit. But, no more. Sorry about that. Talk to Jeff.

Despite all of this, I quietly made the decision to stop publishing my books over on Smashwords. The ebook war is over and Amazon won. Having the books on Smashwords was a huge pain in the ass, produced a vastly inferior product, and almost nobody bought them there. I had a brief blip of Nook sales there a few years back, but not much else. If Amazon’s self-publishing completely implodes and they start charging a hundred bucks a book to publish to Kindle, I’ll ditch them and move to Smashwords, or whoever else. Or I’ll print out copies on my inkjet and staple them myself. Whatever.

***

Everyone’s talking about Kobe’s death today, but I’m still thinking about Sean Reinert, the drummer of Cynic, who died unexpectedly Friday. My memories of the band Cynic are how they were first a demo band in the late 80s and start of 90s, putting out these demo tapes that were absolutely brutal and technical and exact and powerful, probably better than most studio albums coming out, even at this apex area of the first wave of death metal and grindcore. They were signed by Roadrunner and recorded their fourth demo with them, and everyone was wildly awaiting their debut album.

There was a lot of delay after that, though. Reinert and guitarist Paul Masvidal played on the Death album Human, and were on tour with them when they ran into various financial/managerial/legal issues and ended up having their gear confiscated by a UK promoter for six months. The next year, the day they planned to go into the studio to record their debut, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida and destroyed their studio and equipment. They eventually recorded their first album Focus and released it in 1993, disbanding after that, with everyone going off to record 863 different solo/session projects after that.

The thing I remember most about Focus and Reinert’s work is that he really wasn’t a metal drummer. He obviously was the drummer in many metal bands, but his playing was very jazz/fusion-influenced, more prog-rock than the straightforward blast beat/double-bass stuff on almost every band that came out after Morbid Angel. I listened to that first Cynic album constantly in 1993, right on the tail end of my involvement in death metal, around the time I eventually decided to stop publishing my zine and go on to other stuff. But I always remember being mesmerized by that album, even as I was getting bored with mainstream metal.

Anyway, this is another one of those things where a guy who is actually younger than me dropped dead, with no cancers or medical problems, no drug use, no helicopter crash, and nothing else that would make one launch into the usual “better place” speech. Ugh.

***

Not much else going on. I still feel sick from the break, and can’t believe it hasn’t 100% gone away. It’s starting to almost get nice enough to walk outside now, so I’ll hopefully stop mall-walking soon. Writing’s writing. More on that later, maybe.

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Death of a Mall Intersection

This is an oddly specific bit of nostalgia, and I’m not sure it matters that much unless you lived right by the Concord Mall in Elkhart, Indiana. But I’m going to babble about it anyway.

[Note: I wrote this post a year and a half ago and never finished it. So, this is even more stupid and trivial now that I’ve gotten around to finishing it.]

So the Elkhart County Commissioners picked a plan to build a railroad overpass in Dunlap, the part of Elkhart by the mall, where I grew up. And while I would have loved the idea of a way to cross the busy train tracks back when I lived there, the plan does cause a lot of change that opens up some odd nostalgia, the kind I get when an old haunt is torn down.

Some background first. There’s a stretch of railway corridor that runs roughly following US-33, from Elkhart to Goshen and further south. A large rail yard, once the biggest one in the country, is northeast of this area, and the result is long trains. A lot of long trains. There were routinely cargo trains of a hundred or two hundred cars rolling through town, multiple times a day. And there were no overpasses or underpasses, unless you drove all the way downtown in Elkhart, or I think there was one out in Goshen. You’d routinely get stuck waiting on a train almost every day, or you’d do the maneuver where you’d drive on a parallel road as fast as you can and try to outrace the train, getting to the next gate down while it was still open. Or you’d go around the gates, and either get a huge ticket, or get killed. (This happened often, especially when it was icy out.) It was bad enough that there were places in the area where two fire stations were built on either side of the tracks, because if there was a Conrail going through, your house would burn down before the trucks got there.

So there’s always been a need for a viaduct or overpass. And they did build two since I left (Prairie Street and Indiana Ave) which I never cared about, since I didn’t live in Elkhart anymore, didn’t pay for them, and both were further north than my old neighborhood. But as I read the plans for the new construction in Dunlap, it was oddly disconcerting to me, what major surgery would happen in my old neighborhood.

The details, which I don’t expect any of you to understand unless you lived there:

  1. An overpass is built where Concord Mall Drive/Sunnyside Road crosses US-33. It goes over the creek, US-33, the railroad tracks, and CR-45. The raised section starts roughly in front of the Chase Bank that is next to what used to be Martin’s Supermarket, and comes back down on Sunnyside, right before Kendall Street.
  2. A little stub of the overpass on the north side goes back down to a new bridge over Yellow Creek and meets US-33. Both sides of this get a traffic light. This stub takes out the little bank building by the mall entrance. (I think it’s vacant now.)
  3. The rest of Concord Mall Drive is removed, including its bridge over Yellow Creek.
  4. Center Drive (the little side street next to Martin’s) dead-ends into a cul-de-sac next to Chase Bank.
  5. Concord Mall Drive and Mishawaka Rd get an improved signal.
  6. On the other side of the tracks, Kendall and Amy Street, which cross Sunnyside, will be blocked off into cul-de-sacs on either side.
  7. Helen Street, which also crosses Sunnyside, will get a slight trim and connect with the last little bit of Sunnyside, leading to CR-45.
  8. Sunnyside and CR-13 gets a traffic light.
  9. The Sunnyside railroad signal is removed (duh.)
  10. The weird part – the railroad crossing at CR13 is removed.
  11. The south side of CR-13 gets a cul-de-sac before the tracks. The north side gets a slight alignment improvement with CR-45.

There’s a lot of weird things that happen because of this.

  • My walk from my old house to the mall would either radically change or be impossible. It’s hard to think of that, because I did the walk so many times as a kid, either to the mall or to school. And if the overpass does not have a pedestrian lane (which it probably won’t — this is Indiana) then it would be impossible to get across the tracks, without walking probably an extra two miles, either north or south.
  • The Sunnyside neighborhood would be radically changed. It splits it in half, and the plan would remove a number of houses. This is a neighborhood that was destroyed in the Palm Sunday tornadoes — there’s a good picture of LBJ visiting, inspecting the remains, pretty much at the exact spot where the overpass grade would start. This area was rebuilt after that, but before River Manor (my old subdivision) went in, with its largely identical, more modern ranches and tri-levels.
  • Fun fact, maybe: I can’t tell which houses will be torn down, but I think one of them was a house that was moved there in the late 80s when the US-20 bypass was built and a swath of land was eminent domained crossing CR-13 just north of this area. (If you look at the map, there are two Rivercrest Drives on either side of US-20 – those used to be one street,)
  • The light at Sunnyside will be nice – I always remember getting stuck trying to make a left turn onto CR-13, and traffic would back up after school or events.
  • All of this would be happening to basically bridge the mall with the other side of the tracks, which is ironic given that Concord Mall is all but dead at this point, as are almost all of the businesses surrounding it.

Anyway, this is all some fairly obscure trivia, and I don’t really know why I’m writing about it. If you grew up near the area, you might find it news, especially since the local newspaper is now impossible to read online, and only publishes high school football scores.

 

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49

Another year, another one of these posts. Ugh.

My first thought with this crossing of the 1/20 birthday line is a fear/uneasiness about this being the last year of my forties. A year from today, I’m going to be in a serious funk about hitting the big five-oh, vacillating between “it’s just a number” and “we’re well beyond the halfway point now.” I’m not ready to be fifty, and I need to find a way around that.

I keep thinking about this because I just went to the optometrist, and they cannot figure out my eyesight. I now have three different pairs of glasses, four if you count my sunglasses. There’s the close-up reading glasses I only use when I’m reading books in bed. I just added a mid-range set of glasses, which work perfectly when I’m at my computer or a laptop, which is my chief complaint that they never could fix. And then there’s the distance pair, which is now also a progressive lens with close-up when I look down. They also add a weird dead space in my peripheral vision, which makes me not want to wear them driving, and they’ll probably end up in the garbage, except for the fact that the medium makes anything more than three feet away blurry. No, I can’t get lasik. No, contacts won’t fix it. No, those stupid eye vitamins don’t do anything. This is the new normal, I guess.

The flip side to this is I don’t want to dwell on the various things that may or may not be going wrong. I may have the power to fix some of them (i.e. not eating every fucking thing I see) but I also don’t want to worry about the inevitable. A large portion of my family is sick and falling apart, and it’s like after a certain point, people define themselves by their ailments. I want to avoid that. I’m not sure how, though.

Another thing – I’ve noticed I spend every day during the week wishing the week was over, trying to get through it as fast as possible. I do this 52 times in a row and then wonder where the year went. I think I already covered this in the inevitable stupid end-of-the-decade summary but it’s something I want to figure out how to balance. I need to travel more or something. Get out of my routine. Find a new hobby. Something.

I’m trying to focus on what I can get done in the next year. I have two very big writing projects in the queue, one that’s closer than the other. I’d really like to get one of them done in 2020. Ideally, they’d both go. I need to focus on that. I’ve been a bit obsessed with the writing process with both Rumored and Atmospheres, going back over old journals, trying to figure out how the process went, how I decided things were “done.”

Anyway. I think the plan next year has to be a big thing in Vegas. This year, I get the day off for a three-day weekend, and it’s another superfloat and a big lunch, then some walking and writing. And at least the last year of my 40s gets an extra day because of leap year, so I’ve got to make sure it counts, right?

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bronchitis, editing, speakers, rumored

At the start of every year, I have the grand idea of writing every day for the next 365 (or in the case of this year 366) days. This year’s excuse is that I brought back acute bronchitis from Wisconsin, and I’ve been fighting that since Christmas. It’s the kind of thing where I can sit down for five seconds and be deep asleep, and even getting ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day doesn’t help. I went to the doc last week, got antibiotics and some garbage cough pills that didn’t work instead of Prometh, and I’m mostly okay now.

You probably can’t tell, but I’ve covertly been going back into old entries and cleaning things up, adding tags and fixing broken links and boneheaded spelling mistakes. I’m always surprised by the amount of writing on this site, and I always like when I stumble upon an old entry and read it and have totally forgotten about it or the events that transpired that caused me to write it. I never know what I should be writing here on a daily basis, and that critical thinking, obsession over what is my “brand” causes a horrible self-censorship that stops any writing. But I look back at various eras when I was writing every day about nothing, about killing time or various thoughts and obsessions, and that stuff is always gold to me.

(It opens the obvious questions about “why don’t you write books like that” or “why don’t you turn those posts into articles” or whatever the hell. I did an anthology of early posts from this site, and it sold close to zero copies. And what I do here is exercise, not writing. It’s like telling a person who jogs five miles a day that they should really look into being an NFL running back. No.)

I forgot to write about this, but when I was gone over Thanksgiving, the studio monitors on my desk died. They were an old M-Audio model that had a known issue with the amp, where it was a bit of a perishable item and the capacitors would eventually blow. I got six or seven years out of them, but I’d been looking to buy something else for a while. And that’s a huge wormhole, shopping for audio equipment. I get to the point where I can almost justify buying some expensive tube amp and bespoke speakers, then remember I have no room in this office. But I also don’t want to buy the $20 speakers you usually get for free when you fill out a credit card application at Best Buy.

Anyway, I bought a pair of Vanatoo Transparent Zero speakers. They’re actually slightly smaller than the old M-Audio ones, even though they have a bigger woofer (four versus three inches), and it’s made of aluminum. The case is wood instead of plastic, and has neat magnetic grilles that are easily removed to see the goods. There’s also this passive radiator which is supposed to add better bass response. It has its own DSP, so I can plug it straight into the computer via USB. It has a variety of neat options like a subwoofer output and various limiter and sleep and crossover options I will never figure out. It also has a bluetooth receiver in it, which I will probably never use. Same with the wireless remote. Nice to have them, though. The sound is very transparent and clear and nice at volume. They are near-field monitors, so not great for filling a room, but perfect for sitting at the computer. There’s no goofy “voicing” to them, just straight-up reproduction of what’s on the track. My only complaints are there’s no headphone pass-through jack (but I can just plug into the computer, I guess) and they could probably use a subwoofer. I actually have one sitting in the next room that’s not hooked up to anything, but I have no space in the office for it. Anyway, they are perfect for that price point, and a great solution between the cheapie $20 speakers and blowing a few grand on an audiophile set of bookshelf speakers and amp.

Not much else going on. I took some time off writing during the holidays, which I never do, and it took some effort to get back going. I have two big books that are on the vine and need some serious work to get going in the right direction. One of them is essentially a sequel to Rumored to Exist. It’s currently about 350 pages and totally directionless, with no real through line or “rails” to it. And based on the sales of December’s book, it’s hard to get enthused about packaging up a book that’s about four times as big and trying to get people to read it.

But it’s fun to dabble with it. The big secret is I enjoy the process of writing, the actual meditative action of getting lost for a few hours putting words on the page. I hate everything else, the sequencing, editing, packaging, marketing, production. I’ve been going back and trying to figure out how the original Rumored happened, what kept me going on it. It took almost seven years to write, and it was essentially completely rewritten seven times. I recently went back and skimmed the annotated version (which like only four people have read) and it has a lot about it was written. Always fun to look back at that, but my writing process is completely different now. And you can never reproduce how things like that happened.

Birthday in a week. It lands on a Monday, but we have the day off of work for MLK day. I’m doing another superfloat in the isolation tank. I’d go to Denny’s, but Denny’s is so horrible now. I vaguely thought about leaving town for a three-day, but prices are probably jacked up, and I just want a weekend without anything.

I’m still sitting on my reading list from last year. I rated everything, reviewed nothing, so I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile to share it, but maybe I will later this week.

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Neil

When I was a kid, I was a fan of pop music, mostly because of the insular community where I grew up. We had one pop FM station out of Notre Dame University, which wasn’t a “college rock” station, but played the standard hits. (There were two stations if you had a really good antenna and could pick up WAOR out of Michigan.) When I got my own stereo and started taping things off the radio and buying 45 records, it was all top 40 music. The early eighties wasn’t a bad time for this, hence the “hey, remember the 80s” nostalgia that has pretty much become a genre. I spent a lot of time listening to bands like Men at Work, The Police, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Journey, and whatever else crossed the airwaves. I didn’t have any specific favorites, but I prided myself in being able to identify whatever songs popped up on this AOR FM station, or this brand new thing called MTV.

When I was about 14, I started hanging out with this guy Derik who lived nearby. He had an older brother who was a drummer, and while he was in the Air Force, Derik had also become an accomplished drummer. We were into a lot of the same music, but he also knew of a lot of other bands from his brother Keith, things that were either slightly older, or weren’t in heavy rotation on WNDU. Derik played along on these albums with his drum set, and I started to get enticed by the weirdness and heaviness of it all.

One of the bands was called Rush, this weird little trio of Canadians that sang about wizards and talking trees and nuclear war and had impossibly complicated songs that sometimes spanned an entire album. They also had like a dozen albums at that point, and wouldn’t stop putting out more. I didn’t really know where to jump in on this, so Derik dubbed up a C-90 for me with two of their albums: Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure.

That summer, the one between junior high and high school, was like Rush summer for me. I memorized that tape. I was amazed by the complexity and virtuosity of it all. For a kid who was obsessed with computers and Dungeons and Dragons and was a social outcast, this stuff scratched a serious itch for me, and I scraped together every penny I could to buy more of their tapes, and begged Derik to dub copies of more of their albums. In those pre-employment, pre-social life days of summer, I listened to the stuff constantly.

Rush was also almost like a secret club to me. Other than Derik, I don’t know anyone who was a big fan. They never played the music on the radio. Even though MTV only had like twenty videos in rotation, they did have maybe two Rush videos, but they never, ever played them. Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson were on every hour, but that one Rush video for the song “Countdown” about the Space Shuttle only came on like twice all summer. The people who did know about Rush were the record store cashiers. When I’d go in with my hard-earned ten bucks of lawn-mowing money and approach the register with a copy of Caress of Steel, the long-haired dude at the till would give me a nod, like “yeah, this kid knows what’s up.” Never mind that my mom thought they were Satanic, and everyone else at school was obsessed with Johnny Cougar or whatever. To this narrow audience of people who were the gatekeepers of cool (and who could tolerate Geddy Lee’s singing), I was part of that club.

I don’t know how I pulled this off, but I somehow convinced my parents at that time that it would be a good idea for me to spend an entire summer of babysitting wages to buy Derik’s old drum set. Derik now had a “real” drum set and sold me this mish-mash of various Sears and Ludwig student-level drums with rusty hardware and tarnished cymbals. I quickly learned I have absolutely no rhythm or musical skill whatsoever, and that experiment lasted about a year, until I sold the kit and bought a ten-speed with the proceeds. But trying to learn drums made me listen to the music much more, made me separate the parts and focus on the rhythm and the parts of songs. Before I listened to Rush, music was just something that started when I pressed a play button or turned on a radio. But after examining it, I learned the roles of the drums, could tell the difference between the bass and the guitar, and could appreciate the skill level between something like “My Sharona” and “Tom Sawyer.”

Another thing that Rush did was serve as a gateway to an entirely different foundation of music for me. I read every interview or magazine article I could find about them (there were very few) and I went back to try to find every influence of theirs. So through Rush, I discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Cream. Then I tried to research all of Rush’s prog-rock peers (although they are peerless) and discovered Yes, Genesis, Saga, and Triumph. Each of those bands led to other bands. There was a strong teenaged urge to chase that high, to find things more and more extreme. There wasn’t much more complicated than Rush at that time (although later, this lead to Dream Theater, and guitar virtuosos like Satriani, Vai, Malmsteen, etc.) So I fell down the wormhole of finding things more heavy, more loud, and more extreme, which led to Metallica, then thrash metal, then death metal, and so on.

And I’ve told the story before on The Koncast so I won’t repeat it, but my first concert was Rush, on the Hold Your Fire tour. Me and Derik went, and it was mind-blowing to see the band a few hundred feet away, but also to be in an arena full of people who geeked out to the same kind of music, the stuff nobody in my small town seemed to appreciate. It was like the first Star Trek convention for a lifelong Trek fan. It showed me there was much more out there in the world of music, and life was much bigger than what was going on in rural Indiana.

Anyway, I got to college, and my relationship with Rush “normalized” a bit. I was into so many other bands, and I guess it just fell out of style a little bit, just like D&D and model airplanes and video games. It was uncool to be into Rush, especially after their late 80s synth-dominated albums, and after “college rock” became “alternative” and Nirvana exploded, and anything related to metal was tragically uncool with the mainstream. The cold war was over, and instead of worrying about Reaganomics and tribalism, Generation X became the me generation, and we were all supposed to worry about ourselves, our Prozac, our go-nowhere futures. (Ugh.)

My interest in Rush waxed and waned, because they still put out an album every year or two. A new one would drop, and I’d buy Roll the Bones or whatever, and think “eh,” but still end up spending a week rolling 2112 and Moving Pictures again, before I moved on to Queensrÿche or Morbid Angel or whatever the hell I was into at that point.

Anyway, as far as my personal relationship to the members, guitarist Alex Lifeson was a non-entity to me. No offense to him, but he wasn’t the spokesman, and he didn’t sing, and on those late 80s albums, he damn near didn’t even play guitar. Geddy Lee was the frontman, and because he sang, in my head, it was he who communicated the lyrics to me. He’s also a hell of a bassist, and does that and keyboards at the same time. But the singing was, well, a bit of an acquired taste, and although he seemed like a cool guy and all, he wasn’t who I really related to.

But, Neil. Like I said, I tried to play the drums, and I had that connection. I knew how hard it was to do something like “YYZ” or his marathon drum solos. (Or the song “Marathon”… Jesus Christ, all that weird off-meter stuff – I had no idea how a human being can remember all of that in order, let alone perform it.) And he was indirectly, through Derik’s playing and obsession, the reason I got pulled into all of this. Neil was also the lyricist, the person who actually wrote the words that Geddy sang. So he was the one reading Tolkein and Jack London books on the tour bus, like I did in study hall, except he distilled them into songs instead of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Neil was the quiet, intelligent guy in the band, and that is why I identified with him.

Later, in the Nineties, Peart started writing books. He had a book called The Masked Rider, which was a travel journal of his bicycling adventures in Africa. This was particularly resonant to me, because I spent a long period in high school cycling everywhere, doing every 25K race I could find in northern Indiana, even doing a 100K race once. And every day after school for a year of so, when I first got that ten-speed in exchange for the drum set, I would ride twenty miles in the cornfields of Elkhart county, usually listening to a Rush album. So when I read this book, it felt as if he was speaking directly to me in some way.

Neil had a series of tragedies in his life in the late Nineties. First, his nineteen-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. Then, ten months later, his wife died of lung cancer. After this, he pretty much called everything quits, and took off on his touring motorcycle, on a crazy multi-year trip that wound across the continent from end to end both ways. After recovering, remarrying, and rejoining the band, he wrote a book about this journey called Ghost Rider. This book is absolutely essential reading for people into travel and road trips.

One of the most striking coincidences as I read this is that he was crossing the US at the same time as I was. In 1999, I went on this two-week ramble from West to East, driving everywhere and seeing everything I could. I very distinctly remember an afternoon in remote Utah, sitting on the bench seat of this giant sedan I’d rented, everything I owned in the back seat and trunk, flipping through disc after disc in my collection, going on a twelve-hour jag of listening to old Rush albums in the middle of nowhere. It’s strange for me to think he was out there at the same time.

Some Rush fans lock into it for life, go to every date on every tour, only listen to Rush, get custom license plates and tattoos and teach their kids and grandkids all the words to Moving Pictures and the whole thing. That wasn’t me; I moved on to other things, I guess. All of the albums, every note and word, were still locked into my head, though. And I would still go back to them, a guilty pleasure, a way to immediately teleport myself back to the summer of 1985. But Rush meant a lot to me. When I met a Rush fan, we’d trade our stories like two people who both came from the same small town, both fought in the same war, both knew the same people. It was and is still a big part of my life.

Anyway, you probably already know where this is going. I heard the news today that Neil Peart died of brain cancer this week. He was 67, far too young. It’s hard to process this, because he was such an icon, yet such a close voice in my head from all those albums. He was the root of my musical tree, and an example of how to strive for perfection. Not only that, but he was the perfect example of doing what you want to do, doing what is you, even if it flies in the face of convention. Nobody was doing full-album conceptual science fiction songs, and he was penning these things in motel rooms while broke, facing a record company about to drop the band for dismal sales, touring the country in a car, and opening for Ted Nugent or whoever the hell would take them. He did what he did, and people learned to appreciate the genius behind it, instead of trying to follow whatever formula for success everyone else said to take.

Anyway. Fuck. I have no good way to end this, except to say I really appreciate everything Neil did in his lifetime. A legend.

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One second every day, 2019

You’ve probably already seen this if you follow me on some of the other dumb social media sites, but one of my projects this year was to take a second of video every day, to make one big video of the whole mess.

Here’s the link on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iURF0m4MEQg

I did this with the app 1 Second Everyday (sic, that should be “every day”) which enables you to shoot the video on your phone and mash them all together. More about the history of the app is here. I saw someone else use the app back in 2018, and started late in the year. I also posted my results monthly, but then did one giant nine-minute video on the last day of 2019.

The name is a bit of a misnomer. The app actually allows you to use two videos per day, and they can be a second and a half long. I may have missed a day or two, but I often did two videos a day.

A few observations about this project:

  • I spend a lot of time in malls.
  • A lot of my video was shot on my daily walks. I tend to walk in the same half-dozen places, so there’s some repetition there.
  • You do see some slight change in season in the app, but we don’t really have seasons in California, so there’s that.
  • One of the things I noticed is a lot of things in the video are already gone or changed. One of the most striking is that the new townhouses across the street from my condo were roughly framed in at the start of the video, and by October, they were done and people are moved in.
  • There’s also a lot of retail in the background that has already died.
  • If you watch really closely, you can tell the point where I replaced my phone, because the video quality improves. I got a replacement of the same exact phone, but you can really tell the difference. Maybe reinstalling the app changed something.
  • Vacations and trips are over very quick in the video. Like I spent a week in Vegas, and it’s only a few seconds in this trip. You have to choose wisely to represent the entire vacation in the video, and I probably could have given this more thought.
  • I didn’t shoot people in general, and did more landscape and nature stuff. (And malls.)
  • Lots of cats, though.
  • The sudden volume changes are a bit of an issue. I think you can buy an in-app purchase to add your own music, but that would be silly.
  • I think my favorite non-cat shot is the ice cream truck driving by on the abandoned military base.

Anyway, I don’t expect many people to sit through the whole thing, and I probably don’t have the patience to do this in 2020, but it’s there if you’re curious. There’s some other junk on my YouTube channel that might be fun (like the December 2018 video), although I don’t do much other video stuff. Maybe I should at some point.

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2019 Summary

I just did a post yesterday about the summary of my decade, so I don’t really know what to say about my 2019, except it was pretty anticlimactic, and all metrics were low, and that’s all depressing, so maybe this is all stuff I need to work on next year.

Here’s the list:

  • I published Ranch: The Musical in December. It’s a short little collection, more of a placeholder than a big book, but it’s fun, and it’s cheap, so check that out.
  • I did not write a big book, despite struggling with it all year.
  • I did write just a hair under 200,000 words over the year. All but 20,000 of them are sitting in a giant document that is going nowhere. Maybe I will get some wise idea to use some of it in a book, but I have no idea at this point.
  • I posted 25 times here, for 19,663 words, which isn’t great and I need to work on that.
  • No stories published. No podcasts. No interviews.
  • I took 2546 photos, which is exactly 54 fewer than last year.
  • Walked 2,391,744 steps, 3453 floors, 1,128.14 miles. This is slightly lower than last year. My weight ended up being exactly 0.1 pound more. I did work out every day of the year. I also meditated every day of the year.
  • I finished my “one second every day” video project. More on that later.
  • I went to Las Vegas. Trip report: Vegas 2019
  • We remodeled our kitchen, which is great now that it’s done, but caused about two months of throwing off everything with my routine.
  • Looking back at my personal journals, the main theme was that my day job (which I’m not talking about here) was not great and caused an extreme amount of day-to-day stress.

So looking at all of this, it’s more of a list of what I need to fix in the immediate future, which is wonderful.

Another big thing last year is that 2019 is a big round number in the sense that it was exactly 30 years from a lot of eventful events, being the thirty-year anniversary of when I graduated high school and started college. There were also many thirty-year anniversaries of various events related to relationships, love, sex, and betrayal. I thought I would end up dwelling on this greatly, or writing about it. (I’ve tried and failed multiple times to write a book about the summer of 1989, because a lot happened. I still think about it, but I’m sure nobody would read it.) Anyway, I didn’t end up thinking much about this, because I had like 768 product releases last year and I couldn’t think at all. So I guess that’s good.

So pretty much the same resolutions as last year. Write more, write more here, write more on concrete projects. Exercise, eat right, don’t read the news, try to find a way to get and stay sane. You?

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