Saturday, June 23, 2018

6.1 - How to be Happy in a Dumpster Fire

A lot has happened since I last posted here. To be specific, a lot of good things have happened, to me. I ran a half-marathon in a half-decent time. The World Cup has started. And, most importantly, I got engaged. It’s not a stretch to say that this has been one of the biggest weeks of my life.

It’s also felt like one of the most disgusting news cycles in recent weeks. There are kids being kept in cages along our border. Trump’s seems hellbent on destroying alliances with allies and making friends with dictators. And people seem more intent on defending their “team” rather than doing anything.

If there was one person I didn’t want to hear from the weekend I proposed to Kelley, it was Trump. I didn’t look at news, I only checked my notifications to see who liked our engagement photo, and we soaked up the moments when we shared the news with our family and friends. Hearing my aunts choke up over the phone, seeing the reaction of Kelley’s brother and sister-in-law, and seeing messages from friends who I haven’t heard from in years was fantastic and life giving.

Yet, Trump wasn’t going anywhere. I knew my Facebook feed would still have articles documenting the wanton cruelty, corruption, and recklessness of his administration. These things would still be happening. The reality of the world would eventually pop my bubble of warm fuzzies.

Social media doesn’t help any of this either. If you’re silent, you look apathetic. If you’re posting about stuff like #MPRraccoon, you’re accused on trivial and inconsequential things. If you’re angry, be prepared to spend half your day moderating comments on a post. It just doesn’t seem like a productive use of time, even if it’s your only outlet.

A tweet from one of my favorite movie critics, Tim Grierson, summed up how I feel. He said, “Being angry all the time is exhausting and corrosive. Not being angry feels morally irresponsible.” A reply to the tweet stated, “None of this seems particularly complex.
Anyway, I use my anger as fuel. Looking away is a privilege I refuse to indulge in.”

Something about that response made me angry. I don’t doubt that the woman who wrote it is a good person whose intentions are in the right place (and I don’t want to judge the person based on one tweet.) However, it dismissed the complex, beautiful, and subtle things that make us human beings. We weren’t born with two emotions: anger and not anger. Anger is not my main fuel. And yeah, you can look away, because if you’re shocked by everything, pretty soon you’re shocked by nothing.

I don’t think it’s healthy to feel one emotion all the time. I don’t think we should strive to feel one emotion all the time either. Sometimes you embrace your anger. Sometimes you embrace your sadness, and sometimes you embrace your joy (and you shouldn’t feel guilty about any of these things.)

Yes, I’m going to continue to be angry by the inhumane treatment on our borders and make my small voice heard how it can. But I’m also going to be watching a lot of World Cup games and sharing my enthusiasm with my friends and family. I’m also going to be working hard planning a wedding. And I’m going to revel in the journey I’m taking with my fiance.

The world is so much more complex than we think it is. Embrace it. 





Wednesday, March 28, 2018

3.1 - Two Americas in Minneapolis

There were two Americas on display at the Minneapolis Convention Center today. One, called “ Tax Cuts To Put America First Event” featured the Vice President of the United States of America talking about how tax cuts have improved the economy. He was up on stage with two congressmen who are afraid of their constituents and a businessman who’s taken part in some sleazy advertising practices.

About eight hours later, one floor up, at the “Step Up” event,  one of the convention halls was filled with 400 teenagers getting critiqued on their job interview skills by about 100 working professionals. The kids ranged from ages 14-21. Most all of them were kids of color, many of them were kids of immigrants, and about 25 percent of them were Muslim girls.

I interviewed four kids. One kid, named Johnny was a bright kid with an enthusiastic spirit and a good heart. He wanted to do well in school for his parents, who were from Mexico. I found out he was a soccer player. I asked him about a time he was challenged while playing soccer and he spoke about the time his club team was down 5-1 in a state championship game at halftime, but they came back to win. I was impressed. He also played center-midfielder, which is one of the toughest positions on the field because you have to direct the game, but also keep an eye on everyone.

I talked to another kid who was quiet, but he wanted to help other teenagers with mental health issues. There was a young Somali girl who didn’t speak a lot of English, but her eyes lit up when she talked about a school project she did about Nina Simone. My last interview was with a Somali boy who went through the program last year, but was looking for “an indoor job” because it was hard for him to build playground stairs in the summer while he was fasting for Ramadan. Kudos to him because I could barely keep my Lenten promise for this year.

While I’m not going to wade into the weeds of tax cuts and job growth numbers, I did see that Pence did not mention anything about equality in hiring, or giving opportunities to people like those kids. While Pence touted how many jobs his tax cuts have saved Minnesotans, he didn’t mention that the state is second worst for racial inequality.

I wonder what Vice President Pence would have said if he had just been able to stay a little bit longer and talk to those kids. I wonder how those kids factor in to his and Trump’s “America First” plans. After all, they are American, too.

Monday, February 26, 2018

2.6 - One Beer

I had a beer on Sunday. It was one of my Lenten resolutions to give up alcohol for 40 days. I did it last year, and while it was difficult, I lost a few pounds and felt great after Easter. I took a little bit different tack this year. I decided to do it because Kelley and I were celebrating two months together. It was a wonderful day out. And we had a heckuva time talking about home repairs to my water-damaged apartment. I really wanted to have that beer as a culmination to the day.

I used the excuse of “Oh yeah, you’re able to break your Lent promise on Sundays.” (Which, for the record, I’m not sure is an actual thing.) We went to Steeltoe Brewing in St. Louis Park and we each enjoyed one beer together. It was a wonderful way to end the day.

I justified this beer because my real goal this Lent is to have a more mindful relationship with my food. I’m don’t think my habits with food are unhealthy, but they could definitely be improved. I sometimes eat a second lunch if there is extra food leftover from a work meeting. I have a donut even if I feel full, and I tend to eat way too close to my bedtime. The pleasure of eating has dulled due to my mindlessness.

I’ve started a Google Doc of all the food I’ve consumed since Lent. It helps me examine all the times when I could have refused something. I’m not removing myself from pleasure, heck, I had a donut and coffee on Friday, I think I’m just pinpointing the times that really make me happy (like one donut on Friday, as opposed to donuts three times a week.)

I think the expectation to be “full” all the time is one of the leading causes of unhappiness in our society. Whether that’s with our food, our entertainment, or just how we get through everyday life, it’s damaging. I think the more things we count and take note of, the happier we’ll be.

And I took note of that beer.

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People who know how to do home projects: A pipe burst in my apartment this weekend. It damaged a good portion of the floor in my roommates room. Now I have to think about new flooring, and a bunch of other projects that I want to get done. It’s all very stressful. Luckily, my girlfriend Kelley is very good at organizing and planning, two things I could use some help with. I’m thankful for that because otherwise my only home furnishings might still be a secondhand card table and three mismatched folding chairs. Also, half of my floor would probably still be torn up.

The Como Conservatory: It was a very sunny day on Sunday. After two snowstorms in the previous 48 hours, I was ready to go outside. I had been worrying about my floor all weekend and I didn’t want to listen to the hum of fans and a dehumidier anymore, so Kelley and I decided to go to the gardens (which she had never been to.) I don’t think I appreciated being in tropical heat when there is over a foot of snow on the ground. There’s something great about the freedom to just be outside without worrying about getting your feet soaked or your nose freezing. Also, I can’t wait for spring.

The Black Panther: I saw the Black Panther last weekend. I’m not going to go into the cultural significance of the film, there is plenty of that and you’d be better off reading about the deeper meanings of the film with other writers. I will say that it’s nice that we have a cultural event that’s come close to achieving a shared experience to a wide swath of people. The film is probably going to break the $1 billion dollar mark and people of all ages and races have enjoyed it. Critics have given it almost universally positive reviews. So, in an age when the biggest unifying event seems to be gawking in awe at the U.S. President, it’s nice to have something more meaningful to take in. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

2.5 Lent

I’m behind on my music review writing. Maybe that’s a sign that I’m not going to go through with it. Who knows? Oh well, I’ve had a few other things on my mind recently anway. I thought about. I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent recently and what I should be doing.

First, I’m giving up alcohol again. It was difficult last year, but I’m glad I did it. I lost some weight. I felt pretty good about myself, and I think it was good discipline for future things. I’m not as intimidated by the challenge this year. It also helps that Kelley is giving up alcohol as well.

Second, I started writing down everything I eat. I’ve been pretty mindless about my eating recently. That’s been an especially problematic at work. We always have leftovers from one meeting or another. I sometimes have eaten more than one lunch, or more than a few snacks. I’ve also started not to feel as well about everything. I’ve gained some weight and I’ve just not felt as energetic. I suppose that’s partly due to the weather, but I like the thought of thinking more about my food. I think I’ve tended to just throw food down my gullet at times. I think it’s good to stop and reflect about what your putting in your body.

I’ve also noticed that not a lot of people say hi here near me. I’ve decided to become more proactive about saying hi to people. Most of the time in my apartment, people just tend to walk by and not even make eye contact. I figure if I start to say hi, and maybe even introduce myself, things could probably change. It’s just a weird and uncomfortable feeling when you walk by someone, you know they know that you’re there, and they don’t even make an effort to say hi. I kind of want that to change.

I’ve got a good feeling about being able to grow a little bit more during this time of Lent. It’s odd how I think it’s become one of my favorite times of the year, when I used to really hate it. I think I like the idea of the challenge and being able to force yourself to grow a little bit more. We’re rarely challenged at a deep level on our own. I think that’s a good time to try and change that. Day five in the books.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2.4 - Thanks

I’ve had a hard time getting things together this week. So, we’re just going to reflect a little bit on three things that I am thankful for.

New Things - I went to the National Women’s Hockey League All Star game this weekend. It was at the new Wild practice rink in downtown St. Paul. I had heard about the NWHL before, but all of the team’s are located in the northeast, so I haven’t been to a game. There were about 1,000 people there to watch the game. I’m happy to see people support a league that isn’t in the mainstream of popularity. I saw a lot of families and friends of the players. So, kudos to the NWL, hope to see it gets more popular as time goes by.

Lent - I really enjoy Lent much more than I used to. In an age of excess, it’s always good to be reminded of our mortality. This year I’m going to be giving up alcohol again and keeping a food journal of everything I eat. I want to become more mindful of what I’m putting in my body. I feel like I’ve become a notorious snacker and I want to rein it in a little bit. I think it’s always better to have a healthy relationship with food. Giving up alcohol was a little tough last year, but this year my girlfriend is doing it as well. I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds either.

Basketball - It’s good to have some basketball to care about in February. For all of my adult life the Wolves have been pretty much a laughing stock. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, when I was 16. The Timberwolves are currently in fourth place in the Western Conference. It’s nice to actually care about games again. I get upset when they lose, and I definitely feel calmer when they win. I just don’t want them to screw this up again. It would be nice to end the futility of being the team with the longest playoff drought in professional sports. I’m going another game on Thursday.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2.3 - What I'm listening to...

Here’s what has caught my ear this week. These aren’t really reviews, but just things that I’ve listened to repeatedly this week.

“Be My Baby” - The Ronettes. For some reason, I really wanted to hear this song this week. I keep thinking about that Phil Spector sound. It’s not quite R&B. It’s more complex than a pop song. I keep hearing it described as a “haunting” sound. There’s something about the background horns and harmonies in the background of the song. It also not exactly a happy song. It’s feels like a girl begging to have her guy take her back. “So won't you, please, be my be my baby.” I wonder what the guy who she’s singing this to is thinking. What happened that she wants to get back with him so bad?

Drive By Truckers - “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” It was the 10th anniversary of this album being released this week. That made me feel kind of old. It was one of the first albums I bought on iTunes. I got into this record because they were on the bill with the Hold Steady at First Ave, which I’m pretty sure was my first concert there. I’ve grown to love DBT because they provide a narrative about the south that cuts against what most of us in the north think. There’s depression, self-loathing, but also pride and partying. It’s got touches of magical realism, and deep sadness. I feel like I’m hanging out in Muscle Shoals, Alabama every time I listen to the record.

Ezra Furman - This has probably been my favorite musical discovery of the last few months. Furman has got a voice that’s got a scratchy foreboding. If the Turf Club in St. Paul had a voice, it’d sound like this. It’s dogged, but not a caricature of Tom Waits. I think the thing I like about him is that he identifies as gender fluid and he dresses however he wants. When I first heard him, I could picture some sort of Dylan disciple, but that’s not the case at all. Ever since the Beatles, bands have embraced a gimmick, a lot of the time for show biz purposes, but Furman does whatever he wants. I respect that.

Monday, February 5, 2018

2.2 - Busses

I was prepared to not talk with anyone on my bus ride back home. I was looking forward to just finishing out the most recent episode of This American Life. I sat near the back of the bus. It was crowded at first, but then it thinned out to just me and one other guy about two-thirds of the way of my ride. And then the gentleman, who looked to be about my age, asked me a question.

He was wearing decent headphones and was wearing decent clothes. He asked, “Where does this bus end up?” I told him that I didn’t know, but I knew that it went as far as the Louisiana Avenue Transit Center. I asked him where he was going, just in case, I knew a route to get there.

“Detox,” he said. I wasn’t expecting that. I took out my headphones and put them in my coat pocket. We were sitting across from each other. I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded and gave him my attention. I couldn’t hear everything he said, but I got most of it. He was talking about how he just needed to get away from alcohol. I nodded and told him he was in the right place. He kept talking about how much he needed to get away from some people in his life. He had been on the phone for most of the route with I’m assuming someone from the phone company. He was trying to change his number because he was so sick of the negative people in his life trying to contact him. He thanked me for just listening and said that he just needed to get that off his chest.

I kept trying to encourage him. I told him that I had dealt with shitty people before and the best thing you can do is to just cut them out. I made a motion for the cord to request a stop. He asked me one last question, “How do you change?” I had about 15 seconds to think about that before I got off. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Turn off your phone.” He nodded and smiled, satisfied with that answer.

I got off the bus and waved at him as the bus pulled away. Immediately I felt regret. I should have stayed on longer. I should have got his name. I should have given him my card. But then I remembered that saving the world doesn’t require superhuman gestures. Sometimes all it takes is just the willingness to listen.

My mind keeps coming back to the thought that every interaction you have is an invitation to encounter Jesus. I don’t think God works through big events. It’s really just the small things. I hope the gentlemen found a safe place for the evening. I’ll be praying for him.
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Three things.
Kids books. I never knew that kids books have actually gotten good. I went to dinner with Kelley on Saturday night. I was still feeling a bit antsy from the day because I had been pretty lazy. I wanted to walk around a little bit more, so we went to a Barnes and Noble. We ended up in the kids’ section, and I naturally started reading some of the books. They’ve got some really good ones! Who would have thought that children’s literature has gotten so funny? Also, my bedtime story reading talents are pretty good, in case anyone needs some bedtime stories read to them.

Schedules. I’m a much more organized person that I thought I was, or maybe that I give myself credit for. I mapped out my entire Sunday, right down to the hour. Surprisingly, I pretty much stayed on schedule down to the hour. I’ve come to the realization that things go a lot smoother, and the day doesn’t feel like a drag if you have a schedule to work off. I don’t think you have to schedule the whole day out, but it sometimes helps if you feel like you need to refocus your life. I don’t know if this is going to be a regular thing, but sometimes it just really helps.

Grace and Frankie. I’m surprised I haven’t written about this show yet. It’s been the best show I’ve picked up in quite a while. It’s about two women in their 70s (played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) whose husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) leave them for each other. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, much more than so many other shows out there today. I love that it doesn’t project stereotypes of so many different people out there. Fonda and Tomlin are lively as two 20-somethings rooming together. Sheen and Waterston don’t fall into the flamboyantly gay stereotypes that Hollywood has put out there for so long. It’s got a lot going on, and I’ve really enjoyed it as my go-to tv show recently.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

2.1 - SZA "Ctrl"

I didn’t care too much for SZA when I first heard her song “Drew Barrymore.” The song never really came together for me. At least according to her Wikipedia page, SZA’s genre has been described as “alternative R&B.” I never really cared for it. It always made me sleepy.

But then I saw that SZA was nominated for five Grammy awards. While one can debate the cultural significance of those awards, I think getting nominated for five still carries some weight. And there’s the whole point of this whole music writing thing. I could write about why I love Bruce Springsteen for the rest of the year, but that wouldn’t challenge me or force me to grow in my listening/writing. And being a white dude, there are obviously things I’m not going to get just by judging an artist I heard one time on my favorite radio station.

I delved into SZA and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. While the two most popular black female artists out there, Beyonce and Rihanna, are fantastic in their own ways, the fact that they are people with real problems gets lost underneath their superstardom. I did not feel that way with SZA. She’s a 20-something with her own set of problems and a voice that should be heard.

She’s got clever lyrics that require you to listen with a more active ear than if you just treated it as background chill music. I liked the lyrics, “All I got is these broken clocks/I ain't got no time/
Just burning daylight.”

I watched a couple interviews to find out a little bit more about her. The first question in the interview was, when was the first time you found the love for music? She answered that it was this album. That sort of surprised me because it feels like you find your passion first, and you make it into a career. “I couldn’t figure out how to be the artist I wanted to be,” she said to the question. Music fans tend to forget that there’s a lot of work that goes into crafting a sound. What we hear from singers and bands is rarely what they started off sounding like.

On the album “Ctrl”, she also had recordings of phone calls with her mother and grandmother. I’ve never really enjoyed the chatter that goes on between songs on some albums, but I enjoyed this one.

I don’t know how much more I’ll listen to SZA, but I appreciate her a little bit more. At the very least, I’ll be sure to dig a little bit more into an artists discography before I make a judgement on them.

Monday, January 29, 2018

1.9 - Online

I haven’t tweeted from my personal account for almost a month now. I did log in on my birthday, and in order to search for James Taylor presale tickets, but both times I didn’t stick around for long. I have used my work account to log in to Twitter. It isn’t the same, though.

I feel a lot better about the world around me. I’ve learned to moderate my anger towards most things in the world. I still get angry. (Trump is still president, after all.) But I no longer feel like I need to weigh in on everything. For example, I just couldn’t muster the energy to be #madonline about the Grammy’s. I don’t really care who got awarded something and who got snubbed. Most of the music I like isn’t really featured anyway. My Sunday night was spent at a dinner party with friends. I felt like I didn’t need much of anything else.

I just don’t think having instant access to an endless variety of opinions is healthy for anyone. I also don’t feel as much of a need to contribute my own two cents to the online conversation either. (Although I’ll admit that I still occasionally do post takes on my Facebook page.) Just because we have access to a microphone, it doesn’t mean we should use it.

Take for example an article I saw in the Star Tribune the other day. The article was about a lawyer who was opening a grilled cheese restaurant, which will be hiring ex-convicts in order to help get their lives back in order. I don’t know the woman who’s running it personally, but I know some people who do know her and everything I’ve heard about her has been amazing. Yet, people seemed eager to disparage the woman or tell her that they couldn’t wait to read about the closing of the restaurant in six months.

Why are people so quick to put out an opinion on someone they don’t know? And I’m presuming that most of those people had no experience in the restaurant industry. I think it’s fair to criticize lawmakers, but why do that to a private citizen who’s trying to make the world a better place? Just read the article and get on with your day.

I’ve also been slower to announce news via social media. I’ve wanted to tell more people things in person instead of just posting it and waiting for a reaction. For example, I didn’t really announce via social media that I’m going to Europe in the spring. I’ve either texted, called, or just talked to people directly. I’m an expressive person and that excitement showed in my announcements.

I’ll probably keep my twitter account around. I still won’t go on it very often though. I changed my password to something difficult so I won’t be tempted to go on every five minutes. Bits and pieces is probably best.

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Art Shanty Projects - I’m a big fan of things that are weird, but an inviting way. Kelley and I went to the art shanty projects on Lake Harriet. They consist of a few dozen art installations. Some are purely for art, others talk about scientific things, or have an art component to them. My personal favorite was the notary public shed. I got a decleration notarized. It said, “Nicholas Anthony Hansen and Kelley Lee Hemken are awesome.” And it was made official! It was also fun to see a bunch of people of all ages out enjoying the day. It’s always good to see lots of people having fun, together.

Grace and Frankie - This is my new favorite show. I spent a good chunk of my snow day last week binge watching this Netflix Comedy. It centers around two married couples in their 70s, played by Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen and Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston. Sheen and Waterston’s characters leave Fonda and Tomlin for each other. The two women end up moving in together. It’s a modern twist on the Odd Couple along with a much more heartfelt and dramatic undertone to it. I love it because it tackles the frailties of human emotion while being absolutely hilarious.

Dinner Parties - My friend Ashleigh and her boyfriend invited Kelley and I over for dinner on Sunday night. We ate and talked for about three hours about every subject from music to politics to the #MeToo movement. We rarely checked our phones, and we just seemed to keep the conversation going throughout the night. I’m sure the bottles of wine we consumed didn’t hurt, but it was nice to just be in the presence of good people while consuming good food. It’s nice to be a grown up sometimes. Even in our interconnected world, it felt reassuring to just be in an apartment and enjoying a nice evening together.

Friday, January 26, 2018

1.8 - Alex Lahey "I Love You Like a Brother"

So I love Bruce Springsteen. I love his songs. I love that he’s always writing for the working guy. However, I don’t see myself in a Bruce Springsteen song. I’m not in a union. I’m not going to down to the river. I’m not sweating it down the street in a runaway American dream. I sometimes like to think I’m a Springsteen song, but it’s sometimes like a movie. You think you could be like the characters in a movie, and theoretically, you could, but in your heart, you know that it’s a movie.

So who would have thought that a twenty-something female pop-punk rocker from Melbourne could write songs that made me say, “Yeah, I know what that feels like.”?

Alex Lahey’s debut album, “I Love You Like a Brother” was one of my favorite albums of this past year. I first heard her single “Every Day is the Weekend” on the Current. I dubbed it as my song of the summer of 2017. It’s a song about lovers getting that first taste of a relationship, but still realizing that there are other things in the world that you have to pay attention to, like your job and your family. But in the end, they’re all ok, and you just “ride the wave to shore.”

My favorite song on the album is the title track. It’s got that surf-rock guitar that makes you want to get out of your chair. And how many pop-music songs are about brothers? The two that come to mind are, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “Brothers in Arms” neither of which capture the intricacies of a sibling relationship like Lahey does. Siblings have a unique bond, especially adult siblings. You over your youthful growing pains and you can focus on, you know, being friends.   “Clashed like the band, but now we're back stronger/While we're both young yet still a bit older.” The chorus “I love you like a brother, just like I oughta” feels like Lahey’s singing it with a smile to her brother in the crowd.

The song “Backpack” talks about a lover who’s close, but there’s that little bit of distance in the relationship in there that prevents it from becoming something more. Hence the chorus, “It's hard for me to put my arms around you/When your backpack's on.” I also loved the line “Your disorganized perfection is ok with me.” There’s something beautiful about acknowledging your partner’s flaws and still accepting them.

The best art makes you feel many things at once. Lahey made me dance, think, reflect and even be a little bit sad while listening to this album. And I love you Bruce, but Lahey knows me a little bit better than you.

Monday, January 22, 2018

1.7 You Know My Name

My least favorite colleague didn’t ever make an effort to get to know me. The first thing he said to a group of us when we were fresh faces at our state park was, “I’m not even going to try and learn your names.” That has stuck with me for the last eight years. What kind of asshole doesn’t even make an effort to get to know people he’s going to be working with over the next year? (There is a piece of bitter irony in that I still remember his name, but he never learned mine.)

I like to contrast that with an experience I had working at summer camp a few years prior to that interaction. A coworker, David Lovett, who spent the summer in character as the founder of Scouting, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, led overnight trips for scouts and taught merit badges in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Boy Scouts.

I accompanied him with a group of scouts for an overnight canoe trip. I don’t remember everything about the program he put on that evening, but I do remember one thing about it. He, in character as Baden-Powell, talked about the importance of learning people’s names. And he mentioned that when you don’t know people’s names, you introduce yourself with a firm handshake. That one moment provided one of the most valuable lessons in professionalism I’ve ever learned. Get to know people’s names.

I’ve started attending a yoga class with a new instructor. I went to a few of her classes a while back. She’s a bit eccentric, and some of her classes involve chanting, which I don’t always get into during class. However, she remembered my name. She even was the first person to wish me a happy birthday (which I’m not exactly sure how she found out about.) I even asked her for help doing a headstand. She obliged and has been consistent in helping me achieve my goal.

A few months back I told myself that I wanted to get better at learning people’s names. So, I decided to introduce myself to my bus driver. Most days, I’m the first person on and it’s a good five or 10 minutes before the next person gets on. I started chatting with my driver, John. It was usually small talk, but I came to appreciate bus drivers a lot more. They deal with lots of unruly people and don’t get the credit they deserve. I haven’t developed the same rapport with the new bus drivers (drivers switch about every three months), but I’ve learned to give drivers a break and the benefit of the doubt.

It still kind of amazes me that people don’t make an effort to remember names. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to make the world a little bit friendlier. And I think we need that more than ever right now.
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Three things:

Openers- There’s a school of thought in concert going that you don’t really need to go to the opener. I really don’t agree with that. Case in point from this last weekend. Kelley and I went to the 13th birthday party for my favorite radio station, The Current. While there were four acts on the bill, I bought tickets due to the headliner J.D. McPherson. I also knew the third act of the night, Ron Gallo. I had heard of the first two acts, Reina Del Cid and Lady Lark, but I didn’t know any of their songs. I ended up enjoying the first two acts a lot more. Reina Del Cid was a breezy, but rocking blues-inspired band with a dynamite lead guitarist and singer. Lady Lark was one of the funkiest bands I’ve ever seen live, and we ended up dancing through the whole set. While Gallo and McPherson were fine, I enjoyed the first two sets a lot more.

Seizing the day- On Saturday morning, I went out for breakfast with Kelley and one of her brothers. She and I had a lot of time before that evening’s concert, and we didn’t have a plan for the day. I’ve been in a lot of situations where “I don’t know” ends up with just two people sitting on the couch and scrolling through Netflix. We ended up going downtown St. Paul and check out the state capitol, a few new breweries, and the Italian grocery store downtown. Sometimes you just have to throw a suggestion out there and go with it. Quit being so indecisive and do something.

Simple pasta- I made the best pasta of my life on Friday night. It was a recipe from a new cookbook that I bought, “Salt Fat Acid Heat.” It was for Cacio y Pepe (cheese and pepper.) All I needed was pasta, cheese, pepper, and olive oil. Fun fact, I ‘ve learned that the key to making good pasta is salting the cooking water. I also used an emulsion technique! I literally had no idea what that was prior to Friday. That, along with a nice bottle of wine, made my Friday all that much better. Sometimes it’s good to try out new things even if you think that something that simple couldn’t possibly be that big an improvement over what you know.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

1.6 - Margo Price "All American Made"

Liberals like their country music much like the way my dad likes his vegetables, “cleverly disguised.” We call it “Americana” or “roots music.” We make sure there’s some association with Johnny Cash. We’ll accept it, if it comes out of Nashville. We just don’t want to directly be associated with “country music.”

Now it’s a shame that country music from that side of the geographical or political spectrum doesn’t get the love it deserves because Margo Price deserves more credit than she’s getting.
Her latest album, “All-American Made” taps into that disaffected midwestern voice better than any one of those New York Times profiles of “real America.”

The album starts of in a place that I don’t associate with country music: vulnerability. The first few tracks are named, “Weakness”, “A Little Pain”, “Learning to Lose”, and “Pay Gap.” I’ve always found country songs to be as disingenuous as regular pop songs when wading into this territory. Price avoids falling into honky-tonk heartbreak or Toby Keith-Fox news anger at the system through deft songwriting. The choruses are much smarter than your typical country song, but they’re just as fun to sing out loud. And Price steers away from typical country tropes and instead relies name drops like Levon Helm, Virginia Woolf, James Dean, and Tom Petty.

The album’s first single, “A Little Pain” is a declaration of self-care that Price wrote while on the road. I found myself humming the chorus, “A little pain never hurt anyone” numerous times throughout the week. I’m guessing that more than a few millennial women who have slogged through dates with guys they met on Coffee Meets Bagel could identify with the line,  “I like you the best when I’m all alone.”

The other standout track from the album, “Pay Gap” goes after what the title implies, pay inequality. Price isn’t afraid to stick it to the “rich, white men” who still play king and queen makers in traditional country radio. She also addresses the fears of what I’m guessing many white, suburban women who probably don’t fall into the Bernie Sanders camp. They don’t want to litigate the same battles that were fought with the Equal Rights Amendment, they just want to get paid what they deserve, “It’s not that I’m asking for more than I’m owed; And I don’t think I’m better than you.”

Price addresses other all-American issues like depression, working mothers, drug use, and the rotting of rural America. The title track begins with an overlay of speeches from Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King, among others. But in one of the final lines of the album, Price asks recently-deceased Tom Petty what he makes of all this, “So tell me, Mr Petty, what do you think happens next.”

I don’t think anyone knows, I’m just glad Margo Price has the courage to admit it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

1.5. - This I Believe: 30

I believe in trusting your gut. For the last few years, I’ve lost track of what my “gut” is. On some days, my gut was the trending topic on Twitter. On other days, it was what my friends and/or family were wanting me to do. Or it was what coworkers or colleagues wanted. While I’ve gained some wisdom or insight from those places (some more than others), they are not my gut.
 
My gut is like the bass guitar in a rock and roll song. It often gets overshadowed by other instruments in the band, and you often have to really listen to the song before you hear it. But it’s there and it often drives the whole song. It’s a steady beat that keeps everything on track. 

I’ve tried to cut things out of my life that are not conducive to listening to my own gut: Twitter, my phone, my tendency for people-pleasing. I’ve tried to take more walks without my phone and allow time for silence and peace. Our society’s tendency to fill every moment of every day with some sort of stimulation is toxic. That’s why I’m hesitant to get one of the AI machines. I feel like I would eventually defer to it for everything. I am going to hold on to some of those spaces for myself. Those quiet spaces allow me to hear my gut much more clearly. 

That’s also changed my relationship with my faith life. Growing up, I thought of praying like asking Santa for things. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work. Praying centers you, which allows you to listen to your gut, which is probably one of the ways God speaks to you. 

I believe our gut is a conglomeration of all our collective experiences in life. I know my gut has a certain privilege.  As a white male with a comfortable middle-class upbringing, I was fortunate enough to have opportunities that others may not have. And while some people may think that their gut is well-seasoned and in tune with the issues of modern life, I know that mine still has room to grow. 

As I enter my 30s, I’m going to spend more time listening and developing my gut. 
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Three things
Jon Klarfeld: A friend of mine sent me a Facebook message that a journalism professor of mine at Boston University had passed away. Klarfeld was my columns professor and probably did more to develop my love for that form of writing than anyone else. He was a tough professor to love, but those were always my favorite ones. I have two distinct memories of him. After I shared my Veterans Day column with my class, he said that he thought it was better than Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen’s column. I loved reading Kevin Cullen and wanted to be just like him as a writer. It’s still the best compliment I ever received about my writing. Second, I gave him a bottle of Jameson as a thank you gift after graduating. His eyes lit up after receiving it. Cheers to you, Klarfeld. 

The Vikings. I’ll admit that I’ve been down on the Vikings the last few years. They’ve been knocked down a few rungs on my sports team fandom due to their ineptitude, and the general awfulness of the NFL. That game last night against the Saints changed all of that. I watched the game with my girlfriend (a Packers fan, mind you) and I was going through all seven stages of grief as the Vikings frittered away a lead. But that all literally changed in an instant as Stefon Diggs crossed the end-zone for a last-second touchdown. Two decades of anxiety and self-loathing was vaporized in that instant. Kelley and I yelled and screamed with joy. If everything else goes wrong with the Vikings season next weekend, I’ll at least still have that. 

The Post- Kelley and I went and saw “The Post” on Friday night. The movie was about the decision on whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers. For a movie that mainly showed people talking, it was excellent. There is a piece of me that regrets not staying in a journalism career, but I know I made the right choice. There’s a moment in the movie where (spoiler alert) Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, gives the approval to publish. You could tell she arrived at the decision after some wrestling. It was one of those gut moments that changed the course of history.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

1.4 - Francis and the Lights "Just for Us"

Do you ever meet someone and you immediately want to become friends with them? That’s what I felt like when I first heard Francis and the Lights. They’ve got cool friends like Chance the Rapper and Justin Vernon. They covered “Dear Theodosia” for the Hamilton Mixtape. And they’re name makes me think that they don’t take themselves all that seriously, in a good way.

Their single “May I Have This Dance?” was one of my most listened to Spotify tracks of 2017. It’s an airy song with a synthesizer hook that has made me dance in my cubicle on more than one occasion. It’s a song that feels like it could be on the soundtrack to an indie film about an awkward teenage couple.

So Francis’s latest album, “Just for Us” felt like that all-important friend date where you take that friend-of-a-friend status to the next level. I was hoping they brought that same energy as when they were hanging out with people like Chance and Bon Iver. However, this felt like a coffee friend date where you realize that you don’t have that much in common at all.

The album starts off with a peppy sunshine-laced piano hook in “Morning.” I’m normally a big fan of tracks that lead with a simple piano hook (See Atmosphere’s “Sunshine”), but this 90 second track is over before I can let the vitamin D soak into my pores.

Justin Vernon lends his auto-tuned harmonies to the title track, “Just for Us.” And while it’s got a catchy chorus, it doesn’t have the same effervescence as Francis’s previous singles. The lyrics sound like a lecture from a father to a teenage daughter. While that could be the case, I’d hope he would have stuck that message into an album that was longer than the 26 minutes.  

The rest of the songs are lost in a blur of synthesizers and electronic harmonies, and it goes by quick - the first seven tracks are all under three minutes long, and the longest is 3:26. There’s no killer single that I want to put on repeat and dance to, nor is the album deep enough to make me want to get lost in. It’s the coffee with friend of a friend that doesn’t really work out. Overall it was a good experience, you’re just not sure you want to do it again.


In the end, I like Francis and the Lights. I just like them a little bit more when they bring their friends.

Monday, January 8, 2018

1.3 - Lost and Uncommon Friends

I’ve thought a lot about friends the last few months. As a kid, friendship is pretty simple. You call someone up to see if they want to play and have your mom or dad drive you over to their place. You run around, or bike around town until you get sick of each other. Sometimes you sleep over and stay up way too late playing video games and talking about girls you like. If a kid moved away, you most likely lost touch with them.  Up until about age 13, almost all of my friendships were in this vein.

As an adult, it’s much more complicated. Romantic partners must fit into the equation. The time constraints are different. It’s hard to find places to meet new friends. You don’t have nearly as much energy as you used to.  And distance doesn’t matter as much anymore.

What exactly is a friend as an adult anyway? We have our Facebook friends. God bless my 694 Facebook friends, but I’m not sending you all birthday cards.

I’ve thought about this a lot because my friends who I consider close at age 30 are slightly different than those I considered close at age 25, or age 20. At the core, I’ve got about half-dozen friends who I know I can count on, but the dozen or so who I keep in regular contact with have changed.

There are those friends who I thought I would remain close friends with for a long time but have ended up losing touch with. I’m a little sad about one friend, in particular, We were roommates a while back and we went through some pretty significant changes in life together. We visited once since I left his home state of Maryland. But over time fewer and fewer calls and emails were not returned, and communication just dropped off. He pops up on Facebook every so often, but it’s not the same.

On the other hand, I have a few friends who I’ve kept in regular (or at least semi-regular) contact with even if we perceivably didn’t have a strong base of our friendship. Shout out to my friend Chris, who I text multiple times a week to talk soccer or about the Ball family. I don’t remember the last time I saw Chris in person and I can’t remember any significant life moment I went through with him, other than one or two classes. Yet, I frequently text him about Premier League goals or “Ball in the Family” updates. It feels like we hang out just as much as my friends close by, but he lives in Boston.

There are my friends who I know I will stick with for the rest of my life. I invest in those relationships heavily, just to make sure we don’t fall too far behind. And then there are those friends where things just seem to align. You match in communication skills, you have similar interests that your passionate about, and you both get something out of it. I don’t think there’s a specific formula for a long-distance friendship, but that comes pretty close.

Three things I’m thankful for:

Bilingual mass - Yesterday, I went to a bilingual Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary. I loved it. While the Basilica is a wonderful community, filled with many amazing people who are passionate about justice and helping others, a good portion of the community is middle class and white. The community invited our sister parish, Church of the Ascension in North Minneapolis to celebrate with us. That parish has a large Hispanic population, so I was in the minority yesterday. I got chills when hearing people saying the Our Father in both Spanish and English. I also loved giving the sign of peace. It was a powerful reminder that no matter what language you speak, you can find points of commonality.

Being the Youngest - On Friday, I went to go see Davina & the Vagabonds at a blues club in St. Paul. I noticed that my date and I were one of the youngest people there. We also saw “The Darkest Hour” - about Winston Churchill and the Battle for Britain - a week earlier. A few weeks earlier, I attended a neighborhood planning meeting where I think I was the only person under 70. I’ve enjoyed all three of these events. I can be a bit of a self-hating millennial at times, but as I’m nearing 30 I’ve begun to realize that I like what I like and I don’t care what people think about it.

Squash - I’ve eaten probably eaten over five pounds of squash in the last few weeks. Pretty much all of it has come from my farm share. I remember hating squash as a kid. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking then. My current favorite dish was to cut up squash, potatoes, rutabagas, and beets and roast them. It’s been especially good with some sausage in there. I’ve also made some soups with my immersion blender. While those are very good, I need to add some other things to them to make it not look like I’m eating baby food. To emphasize my previous point, sometimes you just have your tastes that you enjoy, who cares what you (or your previous self) thinks?

Friday, January 5, 2018

1.2 Review: Waiting on a Song


A quote I heard last week about art has stuck with me this week. It was from Will Leitch (again) and he was talking about how he bought certain movies instead of relying on streaming services because “he wanted them to be there when he needed them.” That made think of what movies have I needed to be there for me this past year. The first one I thought of was, “Waiting on a Song” by Dan Auerbach.

I needed this album because it was an antidote to the national despair that was hooked up to our national psyche like a morphine drip. This album was fun in a year where very few people wanted to talk about having fun. With all due respect to the artists who tackled heavier issues this year, there were more than one days where I just needed something that I could just move my hips and shoulders in cubicle too. More often than not, that was Dan Auerbach.

This album was recorded in Nashville after Auerbach got burned out from touring with the Black Keys. Auerbach lives in Tennessee now and he wanted a record that reflected the city of Nashville. It couldn’t have been made anywhere else and it does a great job of mirroring the rich music tradition from that city. It’s got guitar from Mark Knopfler and Duane Eddy. It’s got country sounds, it’s got R&B sounds, it’s got some classic rock and roll sounds. It like a glass of cold lemonade on a hot day.

The lead single, “Shine on Me” has got a shimmery chorus to accompany the staccato guitar from former Dire Straits man, Knopfler. You might think “Stand by My Girl” is about a man’s loyalty to his girl, but it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a man who’s afraid of the wrath of a woman after he cheated on her. And the title track talks about waiting for the inspiration to write a song to arrive, “Songs don’t grow on trees, you gotta pick them out the breeze.” Talking about writing a song one thing, but you just have to do it.

The thing is that this record came from a very 2017 place. Aren’t we all burned out in some form another? Couldn’t we all stand to just take a look around and find some good things where we are? Couldn’t we find something fun about where we are? Auerbach has done that, and I’m going to keep listening because I think I’m still going to need it for a while.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

1.1 - Beginnings

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything worthwhile. The new year is always a good time to work to change that. I love New Year’s resolutions. We’re a stubborn culture that is stuck in our ways, and I think it’s good to always reevaluate things. So here are a list of things I’m going to do.

- I want to get back in the rhythm of regular writing. So here’s my schedule:

Mondays: Write three things I’m thankful for. I think I’ll usually have other things to say, so I’ll include that at the end of whatever blog post I’m writing.

Wednesday: Write a letter to someone.

Friday: Review something. I want to get more into music reviews, and I know the best thing to do is to just write. We’ll see where it goes.
I also have a journal. My goal is to update a half page of it every day.

- I want to read 30 books. I think it’s a good goal to read your age in number of books.
- I want to do a headstand in yoga. I’ve gone to a lot of Yoga classes the last few years. I’ve benefited from the regular practice, but I want to take it to the next level.

Lastly, I’m going to quit Twitter for at least a month. I got into a discussion with some friends while on retreat at St. John’s about racial issues. I found myself continually saying “I saw on Twitter.” I realized how stupid of a way that is to gauge the pulse of a nation. It’s stupid to always listen to the loudest people.

Second, I just don’t need that many opinions in my life. I don’t think the human mind was designed to process emotions at that rapid of a rate. It’s hard to just sit with anything and think about it while on Twitter. It rewards the fastest opinion. Also, I just can’t deal with people’s anger about Trump in such a steady stream. Yes, I hate the man, but I don’t want to hear people yelling about him all the time. That’s just not healthy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the good things I’ve gotten from Twitter: I’ve met some cool people that share some similar interests, some of them have even become friends. I’ve also been able to use it to say thanks to people I like. (I made a joke that most of my tweets are about how much I enjoy different people’s podcasts.) But even that’s not enough to keep me on there. If I really want to thank someone, I can make the effort to go to gmail and email them about what I like. And if there’s a person I’m truly meant to connect or keep in touch with, I will do it. I have other avenues.

So, I’m going to sign off for a month and see where it goes. If I really need it, I’ll bring it back. I also still have to use Twitter for work, so I’ll still be able to see any newsworthy tweets through there.

Ok, this writing thing has felt like exercising again for the first time in a long while. It’s choppy and hard, but it’ll get better.

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I’m thankful that I’ve still maintained good in-person friendships. I had a group of friends over today to watch the LSU-Notre Dame game. I made brats and we had a couple of beers. I was told a long time ago by a friend that I’m very good at investing in my friendships. I wonder if that’s because I’m not married and I don’t have kids. Even so, it’s something I’d like to continue as I get older. Friendships are so weird because they are people you chose to hang out with. They’re not family, and you don’t get any of the other benefits that come with being married. It’s a completely voluntary relationship that you’re not bound to legally or by blood. It’s kind of weird when you think about it.

I’m thankful for Yoga. I’ve never been much of an intense workout guy. I like to run, but I like to go at my own pace. I don’t like strict training schedules because I have a hard time sticking to them. I’ve found that I enjoy Yoga because it gets me away from the stressful things in my life, mainly my phone. It’s both relaxing and physically challenging. I’m not always into some of the hippy-dippy stuff. However, I’ve found that aroma therapy is super underrated. I’m looking forward to growing my practice a little bit in this next year. Maybe I’ll even try aerial yoga.

I’m thankful for the writer Will Leitch. He’s been an inspiration to me, and I’ve been lucky to find out that he’s a pretty reachable guy. He responds to emails regularly, so it’s cool to find out that he cares enough about his readers to connect with them. Leitch was part of the inspiration for me to give up Twitter for a while. He doesn’t use it very much anymore, for many of the reasons I described. I’m currently in the middle of finishing his year in review movie podcast with his friend Tim Grierson. I like how they’ve turned pretty much a lifelong friendship into such an enjoyable program.