Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing in the New Year - A Fantasia for Youth

As I prepare to attend a New Years Eve party, I am faced with all the traditional elements of an adult ring-in-the-new-year event. Is this a formal engagement? Should we bring a side-dish, hors d'oeuvres, a bottle of wine? Are we going to stay late, stay the night, or chance driving home through precarious city festivities and overly-skeptical authorities?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Music For the End of the World

With 2012 quickly approaching, the likelihood of apocalyptic destruction seems to be imminent. Whether you believe the Mayans, the fundamental Christians, or Kirk Cameron, it is going to be a busy year for all of us as we brace for the coming of Jesus, asteroids, zombie epidemics, or whatever other form the end-times may take.

There are a few things that are crucial for any doomsday survivor to have in their emergency kit. Mcgyver always recommended keeping a few paper clips, chewing gum, and a pocket knife on hand. Indiana Jones was never far from his bull whip. Sherlock Holmes used naught but his common sense. And Nostradamus prophesied that the most important item to have as the world came to an end was a mysterious machine called a "Walkman".

So here are a few songs that will get you through the end times. Mix a tape, burn a CD, or Upload it onto your MP3 player, because this is the playlist for the end of the world.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thoughts on the Role of Ritual in our Lives

A few weeks ago, in the frosty haze of a brisk Southeast Iowa Sunday morning, I awoke from one of the most solid slumbers that I'd enjoyed in a long time. I donned my best blue jeans and, with my wife and my grandmother in tow, cruised down the sleepy, two-lane highway bound for Sunday mass.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

To Do it Yourself or To Pay the Man - The Eternal Struggle

I grew up in a society of do-it-yourself, self-sufficient agrarians who refused to pay someone for a service they could do themselves. I serviced most everything on the beat up old vehicles I drove in high school - the brakes, the tires, oil, anti-freeze. You name it, I could probably find a way to do it myself. I pulled the engine, replaced the gas tank, fuel lines, and carburetor on my pickup, all with the help of my grandfathers and a book.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life - A Different Take on the Same State

University of Iowa Professor Stephen Bloom wrote an article for the Atlantic online last week that has scores of Iowa natives up in arms. The professors inflammatory words about the state that boasts the first Republican primary in a matter of weeks have created quite the cacophony among bloggers, facebookers, and Iowans of all make, model, and color.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Boxing Day - Not Just for Canadians

This week I took a giant leap into the unknown and signed up for boxing lessons. Many people, upon reading this may be thinking,

"Boxing? What in Hell is the matter with you?"

Let me explain.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Time is Here - The Music of the Season

Christmas is upon us and the top 40 stations have been piping the same dozen auto-tuned Christmas songs into our brains since late November. I love the holidays, but if you are like me, I get pretty scroogey when all I hear is "Santa Baby" and "All I want for Christmas is You".

So here is a list of alternative albums for everyone who wants to save their sanity and their love of Christmas this holiday season. You'll find old favorites and discover new loves. As always feel free to share your favorite hidden holiday gems.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bowlin' is Hard Work...

Today my staff is celebrating the holidays in true professional style - We're going bowling.

Although I am not at all a good bowler, I love the sport. It may be because of the great bowling movies that have inundated my youth. So here is my list of influential movies that at least mention the great ten-pin sport.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Passion for Coffee - Fuel for the Soul

As of seven o'clock this morning I had already notched two hours of productive morning under my belt. As I stepped out into the waning darkness, the crisp air that accompanies the first snow of the year slapped my freshly shaven face like a forgotten lover in an old Cary Grant film. I drove to work in the chill of a sluggish car heater, surrounded by commuters who looked similarly drowsy and equally frozen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mixtape to D.C. - A Congressional Compromise Playlist

Sometimes you cannot express in simple words the way you feel about a person. In this case, it is the five hundred thirty five members of congress who need to get their heads out of their special-interest groups. When words are not enough, a mixtape is the way to go.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turkey Day Footballing - A Lesson in Pain

Thanksgiving day has always been a day of general malaise and sloth in my family. We wake up late, over-eat, and take an afternoon nap. So when my brother-in-law invited me to his annual Thanksgiving morning football game, I was both honored and a little uneasy. First of all, football is not a game in which I have ever been proficient. In fact, I have not played any sports in several years (aside from the occasional ping-pong match). This, combined with my brother-in-law's uber-athleticism, set the stage for an eventful and embarrassing morning.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Super Bad - The Eternal Adolescence of Congress

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a Congressional Super-Committee charged with meting out the painful cuts and revenue reforms to the US budget is supposed to come out with a comprehensive plan to balance the federal budget this week. Six Republicans and six Democrats have been meeting behind closed doors for weeks while America waits with baited breath for some modicum of stability.

Friday, November 18, 2011

On a Frosty Morning Such as This

I woke up before the sun this morning, an unfortunate side effect of both the season and my current job. I laid still under my down comforter, frozen by the impending chill that awaited me beyond my bed. Mustering the courage to sally forth into the icy tundra of our tile-floored bathroom, I forced myself vertical and stumbled down the hall.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Bluth Family Guide to Being a Renaissance Man

My wife and I just finished watching the second season of Arrested Development, a hilarious television series that was sadly cut short after its third season. The premise for the series is that the head of the family, George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor), is arrested for building houses for Saddam Hussein in Iraq. His son, Michael (Jason Bateman) is left to save the family business and reign in the licentious spending habits of his dysfunctional siblings and alcoholic mother.

The show is full of awkward situations and even more unnerving characters. Amid all of the tension and out-right bizarreness, there is a certain charm that emanates from each of the characters' self destructive tendencies that don't allow you to loathe their existence. Instead, you can't wait to see how they will untangle themselves from the next family debacle.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"We Held the Day..."

I have been trying to find a way to succinctly convey my feelings toward Veterans Day. Distinguishing my dismay for the conflicts in which our nation is currently involved and the respect and empathy for the men and women who serve in the armed forces is difficult. So instead of some tired diatribe, I have chosen to let the chillingly beautiful work of Billy Joel do the talking.

Joel wrote this song as a tribute to the friends and fellow soldiers he lost in Vietnam.

Happy Veterans day. Remember those who have fallen with fondness, regardless of what you think of the conflicts, whether past and present.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Pursuit of Protection - Surveillance & Personal Freedom

The Supreme Court Tuesday began hearing a case where technology and the first amendment collide in a very tangible way. The case focuses on an attempt by law enforcement agencies to track and monitor the activity of suspicious members of society. Police organizations have been affixing GPS tracking units to the vehicles of suspects, thereby employing a very effective, tireless mechanism for tailing.

It seems that gone are the days when a suspected criminal is followed by men in trench coats and Ford Crown Vics. Instead of intuition and gumshoe surveillance, investigators are using technology to emulate CSI or perhaps Brave New World. The implications of the latter is the source of ire among defendants in the case currently under review.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stitch and Bitch - The Art of Craft Survival

My wife loves to craft. Sewing, painting, gluing - she does it all. Even her cooking becomes a work of art. I love the creative work that flows out of her brain and into the wood, fabric, and crock pots of our lives. But sometimes these projects go beyond the realm of creative expression and into the world of patience-testing. If you are unsure, mine is the patience that is generally being tested.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All Souls Day - Remembering a Few Impactful Souls

Yesterday, November 2nd, is celebrated in many faith traditions as All Souls Day, a day to commemorate the members of our community who have passed on. It offers a time of respectful reflection on the lives of those who've impacted our own in positive ways.

Here are a few Renaissance men and women whom I would like to pay homage to today:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Containing Houdini

On the way in to work this morning, I heard a report on WBEZ about Harry Houdini's great nephew. The great illusionist died of complications of a burst appendix eighty-five years ago today.

Anyone who leads as eclectic and fascinating a life as Ehrich Weiss (Houdini's given name) did deserves a closer look. So I did some digging, and found out some fascinating tidbits about this early twentieth-century magician.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All Hallows Eve - A Playlist to Chill You

This is not your traditional Halloween playlist. This is my off-beat, indie-influenced, thought-provoking list of music that I love to listen to during the Hallow's Eve festivities. Some of these are down-right chilling. Some are fun and whimsical at first listen, but upon hearing the lyrics, you'll realize they are sinister and horrible. Some are perfectly harmless when taken out of context, but unnerving once you understand where they come from.

I would like to thank all the folks who submitted suggestions on facebook for this entry. There were many suggestions that fit the criteria, but I had to trim it down. Because of this, I disqualified anything that was purely instrumental, or sung in a foreign language (sorry Mark). I also trimmed out any hardcore metal or screamer music, because it is generally more annoying than scary (Sorry Rob Zombie). What I came up with is simply my picks - not the ultimate list.

Feel free to suggest other songs - I'll add them into the lineup, or save them for next year!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Understanding the "Occupy" Movements

Let me first clarify that my comments on this movement are in no way a statement for or against the Occupy demonstrations. They are merely my attempt to add clarity to the actions and intentions of this wave of protests, as misinformation has been rampant.

As I approached the Occupy Chicago congregation on Friday night, the scene was picturesque. There were close to two hundred individuals huddled at the base of a bronze statue that depicted a Native American war chief astride a rearing horse. One arm is eternally stretched back as he prepares to loose an arrow from his bow. Off to the side of the gathering the Chicago skyline lit the night air with a poignant glow. The lights and opulence, in some ways, represented what these people came out to speak against, as far as I understood.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On the Hunt for the Perfect House

House hunting in Chicago is difficult.

To be fair, house hunting in any market is difficult. House hunting in this economy is difficult. But as a twenty six year old who has spent the majority of his life in a rural setting, my situation has created several extraneous issues.

First, let me provide some context. My wife and I have been living with her parents in suburban Chicago for the last few months. We are ever-thankful for the subsidized housing, but are now in a position to start looking for our own place. As we've day-dreamed and wishfully thought about what we're looking for in a house, Annie and I have come up with a checklist of wants and needs:

3+ Bedrooms
1+ Car garage
Hardwood floors
A fireplace
Medium-to-large backyard
A good neighborhood (you know, minimal amounts of drug-busts, violent crimes, etc)
Within our price range

We know that we arent going to find all of these things, but we're hopeful that, if we aim high, we might be able to stumble upon a property that fits our needs.

So we've been on the lookout for that perfect property. Scanning the real estate listings, Craig's list, and even flipping through the classifieds of the daily paper, we are doing all we can to find that home-sweet-home. And a few times, we've thought that we had found it. The price was right, the pictures looked nice, and there were minimal remodelling jobs that needed done. We could live with that.

And yet something felt too good to be true. I didn't know the area that well, so I shot an email over to a friend who'd been living in the city for a few years.

I asked him, "What is wrong with this place? Am I missing something, or is this really a good house to look at?"

He responded almost immediately. The subject line of his email read, "HELL NO! Re: Your thoughts on this neighborho​od?" You can guess how the rest of the email read.

But I didn't want to give up hope! Not wanting to admit to myself that this house was actually a lost cause, I decided to check it out using Google Maps' Streetview. As the initial image came into focus, I saw that the front yard was filled with overgrown bushes that seemed to be growing trash like berries. Fast food cups and old wrappers littered the yard. As I panned to the side, the next house down came into view, it's windows boarded up like it had just barely survived Hurricane Katrina. On the front steps, it looked as if two men were playing dice over another mans dead body, while tall-boys of some indeterminate malt liquor rounded out the ensemble.

I resisted the urge to look any further. As my heart settled despondently into my lower intestines, I realized that this house was not going to be an option. I purged any remaining hope from my mind, and set myself back to the task of finding our ever-ellusive dream house.

I still haven't had any luck finding that perfect property, but I keep on searching. I've learned a lot about many Chicago neighborhoods over the last few weeks, so I hope to avoid anymore housing heartbreaks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Going Home - A Prodigal Playlist

This weekend I went back home to Southeast Iowa. The weather was crisp and cool, the leaves were crunchy on the lawn, and I was feeling very reminiscent of growing up in the rolling foothills of the Mississippi Valley River Valley. In honor of my voyage home, I'd like to share a few songs about going home.

Pilgrims Chorus, from Tannhauser - Richard Wagner

This song is a part of Tannhauser, one of Richard Wagner acclaimed operas. The piece was first performed in 1843, and this particular number was infamously used as a victory march for the German armies as they marched through Berlin.

More recently (and more pleasantly), my good friend Richard Harrod used this song to herald his arrival in his home state of Maryland after a fifteen hour drive home from Monmouth College.

This piece definitely evokes feelings of homecoming, if listened to in context. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of German.

Sloop John B - Beach Boys

While this summer-fun tune from the Beach Boys' 1966 Pet Sounds album is often lost among bigger hits such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows", I find "Sloop John B" to be one of the most entertaining songs on this record.

Maybe it's because the Beach Boys veer away from the surf themes, love crooning, and hot rods, choosing instead to sing about how miserable life is aboard a sailing ship. Add in the eternal perkiness of Wilson's music and you get a peculiar, camp-song quality that I personally can't help but smile at.

Side note - What is going on with this album cover? Possibly one of the weirdest album covers the Beach boys ever came up with.

Homeward Bound - Simon and Garfunkel

This is the quintessential Homecoming song. Written in 1965 by Paul Simon while touring, this music will eternally be belted in cars while travellers young and old make their way back home.

This song, and really Simon and Garfunkel in general, bear special significance to me personally. I can still remember when I first heard the names "Simon" and "Garfunkel". When my sister was around thirteen, she had asked my dad for a Beatles album for Christmas. She was going through a personal Beatle-mania, and hoped that my father could facilitate her obsession.

I remember her getting that small rectangular package, then the excitement in her eyes shift to horror and confusion as she ripped off the paper to discover some strange album - Sounds of Silence. I remember thinking, "what kind of name is Garfunkel, anyway!?"

In retrospect, I am eternally grateful to my father for inadvertantly exposing my to two of the greatest poets and musicians of the last fifty years.

Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show
Old Crow Medicine Show will always remind me of a different sort of home - not physical or geographic. The feelings evoked by this band are that of comradery and brotherhood. Wagon Wheel is one of those songs that any time we get together and there is a guitar laying around (and lets be real - when is there NOT a guitar laying around?) this song is belted out.

It's a great ballad of life on the road, the tribulations of travel, and that deep yearning to be back with the ones you love. Even though this song was written in 2001, the band gives their music an early twentieth century flavor that evokes the spirit of hobo's, gunslingers, and traveling shows.

Gravel Road - William Elliot Whitmore

This song will always be my homecoming song. I am proud to boast that William Elliot Whitmore and I share the same homeland - Both growing up in Southeast Iowa. Because of that connection, whenever he sings about farm life, the Mississippi River, and old coal trains, I know exactly what he means, because I've lived alongside the same rivers, farms, and trains. 

The song Gravel Road gets me every time with the line, "Lifes mysteries unravel when my tires hit that gravel and I leave the paved road far behind."

While I love living in bigger cities, this song perfectly capitulates the unquantifiable love I have for the rural beauty of Southeast Iowa. And Whitmore is the only person who has ever articulated that love with lyrical perfection.

So those are five songs of homecoming that I personally hold dear. I'm sure there are countless others, both general and specific to ones experiences. What songs make you want to go home? Which ones do you crank as you are rounding the bend to your childhood stomping grounds?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dog is Love

As my wife and I drifted to sleep last night, we pondered the affections of our droopy eyed hound. My wife mused,

"Do you think she actually loves me? You know, can dogs actually love humans?"

Love. Comin' at you!
"Sure. Look at that face - those lurching eyebrows and doleful peepers. Looks like love to me." I said this with my own eyelids drifting to their nocturnal rest.

"Yeah, but do dogs have the ability to love?"

"I believe some level. Cats, on the other hand, I'm not so sure. Hobbes, for instance, has no ability to love in his body. Only loathing." *

A thoughtful silence settled over us. I began to nod off, while my wife deliberated.

"Why are dogs and cats so different?"

"What kind of question is that?! Why are...giraffes and orangutans so different?!" Sleep was not in my immediate future.

"Yeah, but cats and dogs live in houses together."

"So do people and mice! And they're very different. On second thought, you know what? They're actually not. Genomically, mice and humans have many similarities. That's why scientists grow human ears on the backs of mice - and mice on the backs of human ears. You should see the rodent growing out of my ear!"
Ear, meet Mouse. Mouse, Ear.

"They do not! Wait, they do? That is disgusting...why would they grow a human ear on the back of a poor little mouse?"

I don't know! For people who have no ears. You know...ear transplants or something."

With that, we finally settled into a blissful rest.

Thank you science, for settling the question of "Do dogs have the ability to love?"

*Hobbes is the cat with which we currently share residence. This arrangement is against my will and better judgement, but I tolerate his presence.
I wish he would return the favor, but alas, he does not.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Unknown

Today, as I was deleting the scads of forwards, email newsletters, and other garbage that had inundated my email inbox, I came across a post from a blog that I follow. The author of the Mission Paradox Blog is Adam Thurman, a theatre producer from Chicago, and he has some very interesting ideas about promoting your craft, whether it be a theatre or a corner store.

Today's post was entitled, "Most People", and in it Mr. Thurman discusses how, in our current disparate society, it is virtually impossible to achieve even a minute level of fame or notoriety, let alone the star power that will land you on the cover of Rolling Stone or The National Enquirer.

Thurman is absolutely correct. Consider the music or film industry in the 40's and 50's. How many genre's of music were there when Elvis, Sinatra, Buddy Holly, or Hank Williams were crooning their love songs? A handful at best. Now, there are more sub-genres and niches in music than hip-swivels in an Elvis song.

Some of the most clever, well written television programs are have only lasted a few seasons, before being bumped for some cheaply-produced reality show. Programs such as Arrested Development or Freaks and Geeks have kick-started the careers of some now wildly-acclaimed actors, but never saw even a paltry following during their existence. And yet Two and a Half Men and King of Queens have been on for nine seasons (I apologize to any fans of the aforementioned programs)?!

Thurman states in his essay that, "The goal isn't (or shouldn't be) to have the world know you. The goal is to build a following large enough to sustain you . . . large enough to be able to devote a substantial portion of your life to art creation."

On one hand, I agree with Thurman completely. Obtaining a regional or genre specific following, in today's cultural climate, is the realistic way to position yourself as an artist.

On the other hand, I disagree entirely with the premise that you should not try to conquer the world.

This is a potentially dangerous way to look at the world. A true renaissance man looks beyond his comfort zone, surpasses his area of expertise, and attempts to understand all things. This means becoming ubiquitous your niche, then moving past it, into areas yet undiscovered.
Master the craft that you want to dedicate your life to, but don't restrict yourself to only that world. That is what drives me - a respectful curiosity for the world in which I live. I believe that this is the most fulfilling way to approach life.

Seek to understand the world as a whole, so that you might exist in the world as a whole, rather than simply the world that you know.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

"The Thomas Edison of Our Time"

As I drove into work today, WBEZ - Chicago's NPR affiliate was offering commentary on the passing of Steve Jobs last night. The commentator referred to Jobs as "The Thomas Edison of our time".

This phrase made me stop and think. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, right? That's what my elementary education at Central Lee Community Schools taught me. A seemingly small invention, but through this harnessing of electricity, he opened the door for an infinite number of other advancements in technology and modern luxuries we now enjoy.

Similarly, Steve Jobs, alongside Steve Wozniak, invented the Apple computer in his garage. Now a laughably simple piece of technology, this device opened the doors for an outpouring of technological advancements. As a techno-minded friend of mine posted on my facebook epitaph to Jobs last night, "Can you imagine a PC without the windows OS? Without a mouse? Without a GUI (Graphical User Interface)? Jobs' crew at Apple made the PC what it is today 10 years before Microsoft started trying the same innovations." All of those who grew up in the 90's and beyond owe their current lifestyle to this man, in some regard or another.

So when the following words were forwarded to me by a co-worker this morning, I knew I had to share them hear. The chilling relevancy of this commencement address, given by Jobs in 2005, reminds us of what is important in life.

'You've got to find what you love,' Jobs says
Stanford Report, June 14, 2005
This is a prepared text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Talk about a true Renaissance Man. And I haven't even mentioned his impact on the worlds of marketing, public speaking, Computer animation, the music industry, the telecommunication world, and the education system.
Thank you very much, Steve Jobs. An innovator, a dreamer, and a revolutionary. Your ideas and inspiration will be greatly missed, and your impact on the world will not be forgotten.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Department of Motor Vehicles

Today I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew the registration on my vehicles.
As I walked into the unassuming, fluorescent-lighted office, nestled between an insurance office and a pet store in a generic Midwestern strip mall, I hoped that my experience would be the same - mundane and uneventful.

License and Registration, Sir
But as I walked into the government office, a wave of warm, pungent aroma washed over me. The small gray room was a cauldron of swirling body odors. It did not matter the age, race, gender, or station of the citizen, their smell was represented in my olfactory.

Slowly my nasal passages calloused to the harsh scents and I made my way through the melting pot and to the woman at the front desk. Taking my ticker tape that bore the number "774", I glanced around to take stock of my situation.

The electronic signs above the cubicles read "942", "946", and "947". Judging by the people standing below these neon numerals, those digits may have been indicative of the number of hours they'd been waiting.

Never have I been in such close proximity to so many people who's collective apathy and loathing was directed at a few drab-uniformed government employees. And those employees radiated equal-and-opposite apathy directly back. The tension burned in my sinuses worse than the body odor.

A woman a few seats away from me held a child, who in turn held an iPhone. The child evidently was not happy with the game selection that Apple proffered, and was vocal about this deficiency. Unable to keep the child quiet, she sternly threatened,

"If you don't start acting better, I'm taking you out to the car to sit with grandma."

Aren't there laws against leaving your grandma in a car unattended? I hope she left the windows cracked.


A man behind me, in an effort to pass the time, strikes up a conversation with the gentleman next to him. Their words add to the din of the crowd, when suddenly I overhear the man say,

"So do you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon?"

"No, that wouldn't be a good idea. I am an angry person."

The second man proceeds to go into his resume of car thievery and automotive parts trafficking. The conversation meandered through the cacophony of children wailing, phones sounding, and what I can only assume was the wheezing cough of avian bird flu.

The man boasted his conquests of car repossession, ATF cajoling, and dog beating. Judging by the inflection and light-hearted quality of his tone, he truly felt that this was the American dream.

And if that is his dream, I salute the achievement.


Finally, after two hours of listening to "Grand-Theft-Stupid" and "Geriatri-buse", my number is called. I land in the cubicle with the excitement of a schoolgirl at recess. Handing the woman my old registration, I chimed, "I need to renew my registration! What information do you need?"

"I'll let you know when I need it."

Ok. Sorry for my attempt to assist.

The curmudgeonous woman began clicking away at her computer, her fingers using all the excitement she could muster. Honestly, to call her a curmudgeon would be kind. She tottered around with an unyieldingly sour face, then handed me a bill with a little sticker on it.

"Are you paying with cash, check, or credit?"

That was the most expensive sticker I have ever bought. But also the most entertaining one.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Team of Rivals - Finding the Truth Through Your Associations

As I was driving through the gray rain of a Thursday morning commute today, my music player tuned me into a podcast from the awesome folks at One of the segments was an interview with Brooke Gladstone, host and managing editor of On The Media, a radio show about, well, the media. Very meta.

The interview was a hilarious discussion about Gladstones journey around the world and through her career with various media organizations, and ended with a question and answer session with the audience. In that portion, someone asked an incredibly insightful question about the proliferation and diversification of media sources in our time, and how that affects consumption. Simply put, we get our information from so many different sources today, as compared to our grandparents who watched a handful of television channels, listened to a few radio stations, and read the local newspaper for all of their media consumption. So how does that affect what and how we consume?

Brooke referred to a concept coined by Cass Sunstein, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, known as incestuous amplification. The basic premise of incestuous amplification is that when you surround yourself with people who share the same beliefs and philosophies as your own, you begin to remove a majority of dissenting ideas from your view, thereby seeing the world through a more narrow defining reality. Soon, you only see the world as you believe it is (or should be), and can be oblivious to alternative views.

Arguably, this homophony of perception is running rampant in our government today. Politicians gather in their gaggles of tunnel visioned, party line-cadres, filling each other with vitriolic fervor. As they demonize the other side of the aisle, they often fail to see anything from their soap-box rivals as having an ounce of merit, even when it is a concession or political olive branch. Any chance for bi-partisan conversation is quelled by hate-speech and finger-pointing.

This is evident in daily life as well. We as Americans get into our own bubbles of contextualized news aggregation. Either we are listening to the left-wing whispers of NPR while watching MSNBC and reading the Huffington Post, or we are watching FOX News while listening to Rush Limbaugh and reading Sarah Palin's newest rant about bears. In whichever camp you fall, the fault is equal. You are not getting the full picture.

It was said that when Abraham Lincoln gathered his cabinet, he brought together a "Team of Rivals" (also the name of a recent biography of the 16th President). He refused to surround himself with "yes men", who would drink whatever Kool-Aid he fed them. He wanted his advisors to challenge his ideologies, thereby forcing him to defend himself ferociously before making a fool of himself vociferously.

I believe that, even though the majority of us will never be faced with the challenges that Lincoln dealt with, we can take a cue from this renaissance man's tactics. Force yourself to read news from a source that contradicts your own beliefs. Talk politics with friends that you know you don't agree with. Listen to the other sides ideas. And while doing so, remember to be respectful of those beliefs, as you would like them to be. Don't start a yelling match, but rather approach the conversation as an attempt to learn why they believe the things they do.

When I taught Business Communication at Black Hawk College in Kewanee, Illinois, I had an hour commute, three days a week, to that rural campus outside the "Hog Captial of the World" (self proclaimed). I generally listened to Iowa Public Radio for the first half of the drive, until I lost signal in the rolling hills of the Mississippi river valley. Unable to get anything other than pop-country and farm reports, I would then flip over to the AM dial and tune into Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I will admit that I am more an NPR listener than a conservative radio consumer (though please don't assume that this fact makes me a left-wing liberal. My politics are multi-faceted and complex). But over the course of my commute, I actually enjoyed listening to what the far-right conservative yellers had to say. By engaging in this inadvertent political discourse, I was given two very different views of the world, and was able to piece together what I consider a well-rounded view of what was happening in our country's political landscape.

Since then, I have tried to continue to surround myself with people who do not necessarily agree with my political and philosophical views. If I had to come up a list of my personal "Team of Rivals", I might include:

My father Dave Walljasper
My Uncle Jim Engler
My Uncle Doug Walljasper
My previous employer Todd McGreevy
A few of my best friends Mark Shoemaker, Brian Wilcoxon, Adam Lovinggood, Matt Hobbs, and Chris Stemple
My cousins Adam Overberg and Casey Overberg
My old Scoutmaster, Jim Eads
My wife, Annie Walljasper

Some of these folks have extremely different views of the world than I do. Others are very similar to my thoughts. Most are somewhere in between. But together, they've helped me shape the way I see the world around me, and for that, I respect all of their views, no matter how contradictory they may be to my own.

And that, in today's society, is a revolutionary idea that I believe could truly start a renaissance.


Monday, September 26, 2011

SkyMall - The Adventure Continues

I couldn't let these SkyMall gems get away without comment. The folks at SkyMall obviously scour the world for the newest in fashion, convenience, and technology. These are prime examples:

As if this guy could have a more flaky look in the picture to the left. Then he slides his glasses down, through the bill of his hat, and removes all doubt.

I would argue that anyone who is this serious about their sports teams and/or their eye protection is a flake. I try not to judge people by their looks alone, but this look is so strong, it is hard to do anything but shiver.

Note that, if you aren't a die hard sports fan, you can also get the SunCap as a boonie hat. A perfect gift for that gopher-hunting, Dali Llama-assisting, Bill Murray from Caddyshack-type in your life. As long as you want to publicly humiliate said person.

SkyRest Travel Pillow
"This person is able to sleep comfortably in any seat! Can you say the same?"

No. I cannot say the same. If I had that creepy of a mustache, I'd be afraid to go to sleep, for fear that my upper lip would eat me in my sleep.

Not to mention the fact that if I inflated a SkyRest in public, I'd probably be thrown out of the plane for being such a jerk.

The Dallas Morning News is quoted as saying, "But you can be...more comfortable with a SkyRest pillow...Simply lean forward and snooze, and the miles will fly by." I have a feeling that SkyMall edited the full quote, which was something to the affect of, "Ever think to yourself, I'm glad I'm not THAT big of an idiot? But you can be, all while being more comfortable with a SkyRest pillow"

The SkyRest, for those times when you just can't think of another way to piss off your seat partner.

Kenzie Covers
What better way to show how much you love America than by wearing it on your muzzle? Avoid breathing in the noxious fumes of terrorism, avian bird flu, and that smelly guy on the train.

Not feeling patriotic? Now you can customize your mask. Always wish you could wear an impressive creeper-stache like the guy in the picture above? Print it on your safety mask!

Or maybe you just need to complete your ninja outfit with a super ninja respirator - a la Shredder's foot soldiers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Whatever design you choose, you're sure to find a breath of fresh air in these masks.

The Pillow Tie
Your eyes do not deceive you. The pillow tie is exactly what it sounds like.

By day, a symbol of corporate professionalism. By mid-afternoon, a soft cushion for your meeting-induced migraine. Simply blow a few puffs of air into the nozzle and find yourself quickly on your way to la la land.

And yes, the item above is a Mustache Mirror. A mirror, with mustaches painted on it. Genius.

Please note the simple, easy to use pictorial diagram under the Pillow Tie, using the same artist as those nonsensical emergency water landing brocures found in the back pocket of the airplane seats. Right next to the SkyMall...

And we've come full circle.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

SkyMall - Where Dreams Come True

You may have heard of the magical wonders held within the pages of SkyMall - The mail-order catalogue found in the back seat pockets of airplanes. If you aren't familiar, just unscrunch your legs next time you're in the sky, look past the barf-bag and the water landing tutorial, and I'm certain that you'll find a tattered periodical filled with products that you've only dreamed of.

I've taken the liberty of highlighting a few of the wonders I found in my issue of SkyMall below. This is only a peek into the ingenuity that can be found inside.

For the Pets

The Potty Porch
As a pet owner who is also an apartment dweller, I've always thought to myself, "I love having a big dog in a tiny space, but you know what is missing?"

"A box full of dog piss."

Yep. I'd say that I'd rather have an astro-turf box of urine in place of where my recliner should be.

The headline reads, "Go ahead and sleep in late this weekend, your dog has a yard of his own". So now, you are not only a cruel dog owner, you're also a lazy one.

So strap on that doggie sweater that you've been waiting to put on little Rover, and complete the humiliation of your canine friend.

At least they can now be humiliated in the privacy of your own loft.

 The Litter Kwitter 3-Step Cat Toilet Training System
 Holy crap. Where do I begin with this one?

First, let me draw your attention to the deranged look on the cat in this picture. This animal is pissed that her owner is not only forcing her to sit on a toilet, but that she is being photographed as well. She's thinking,

"Stop stealing my soul with your devil box!"

In eight short weeks of grappling with your feline, overcoming scratches and bites, not to mention your cat urinating all over you out of spite, you can have an animal that loathes you even more than you originally thought possible.

It even comes with a training DVD. Can't wait for that one.

The Hidden Litter Box and The Dog-Off Deluxe
Instead of letting your cat ruin your potted plants on their own time, why not lead them straight to the deciduous destruction?

Then when your botanist friends come over, you can try to convince them that you've bio-engineered a new breed of CatShit Fern, with Kittie-Litter Berries.

I don't know what's going on with the dog in this picture, but I have a feeling he's just angry about what is happening to this fern.

Or that he's being deluxed by something called a "Dog-Off". I'd be upset too.

Lost in Space - Head Cases 

SkyMall seems to have a ridiculous number of space-aged contraptions that go around your head.

iGrow Laser Hair Rejuvination Treatment

This particular bit of headgear is designed to stimulate hair growth and rejuvination. With a glowing infra-red halo around your cranium, the hair will be sprouting within a few months. In the mean time, your current follicle stock will be grooving to the rave that is thumping on your naked frontal lobe.

Did I mention that it includes iPod compatibility for those of you who are worried about looking cool while donning this hair-helmet?

Don't worry. This is obviously a device that is designed for the fashion conscious.

It even comes with a remote control. Because they know that you'll never want to take the thing off your noggin.

iRestore Hair Laser
Why is it that everyone thinks that the best way to make a new device sound cutting edge is to add a lower-case "i" to the name?

I blame Apple marketing.

This hair growth helm is not officially sanctioned by apple, but it may be a licensed accessory for the Nintendo Wii. Batteries not included.

This contraption also has the signature, "Your hair is here to party in a 2028-spaceman sort of way" red glow. This is so that everyone you meet knows that your head likes to party.

Modes of Travel
If you are tired of rising fuel costs, looking lame by taking public transportation, or the drag of rush hour traffic, this is the sweet ride you've been looking for!

What better way is there to get around, all the while looking like a bad ass? Take the awesomeness of using a skateboard, add the freedom of roller skates, and throw in the roundness the hula hoop for good measure. What do you get? Orbitwheels!

Just strap on these fashionable O-rings, and slide down the walk like Marty McFly in Back to the Future 2 (minus the puffy vest or the coolness of Michael J. Fox).

Be sure to wear your helmet to protect your cranium from the bludgeoning you are sure to receive when you are seen in public with these things on.

Ballistic Shoes by Gravity Defyer
Do these shoes have a spermatozoa as their mascot?!

There is nothing that says "Speed, Comfort, and Agility" like semen and springs. I'd imagine that these shoes are particularly affective while swimming.

This ladies shoe was designed with the ladies foot in mind, taking form elements from the male phallus and using it to sculpt the perfect running shoe.

The Ballistic shoe is lab tested for it's virility, producing short bursts of speed, and it's desire to cuddle after a particularly rousing jog.

Notice the random numbers with adjacent colors that make you think there was true scientific analysis completed.

Try them for yourself, risk free for 60 days! Please note that the only true, risk free form of running shoe is abstinence. Avoid risk, don't run.

SkyMall - The Sky is the Limit

These are just a few of the amazing items that can be found within the lofty pages of the SkyMall The wonders held within are endless, and include furniture, clothing accessories, and appliances. Ever want an eighty inch, blow up television for your back yard? How about a life size statue of a giraffe? Take to the sky, and let the SkyMall make your life complete.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Whats on YOUR Playlist?

As I have started a new job recently, I've been engaged in more small-talk than I care for with people who, for the most part, are very different than I. Because of that, I have grown to simultaneously love and hate this question:

"What kind of music do you listen to?"
The problem is that I have such varied interests in such eclectic genre's of music, that I cannot provide the simple, two-to-three sentence answer they are looking for. This is perfectly illustrated by the playlist that formed itself on my phone as I was flying to Kansas City this weekend. I tapped "shuffle all", inserted my earbuds, and began flipping through SkyMall. This is what the music gods bestowed on my auricles:

"Kinky Reggae" - Bob Marley & the Wailers
"Blindsided" - Bon Iver
"Cocoon" - The Decemberists
"Allentown" - Billy Joel
"Le Valse du Ballard" - Amede Ardoin
"Dodging the Wind" - Joe Pug
"Talkin' World War III Blues" - Bob Dylan
"Greatest Hustler of All" - Old Crow Medicine Show

I wouldn't know how to explain this lineup to anyone. Most people who I know do not listen to such a hodge-podge of genres, time frames, and perspectives. But for me, each of these has its personal reason for showing up on my list, so its place in the playlist is perfectly justified. Here's what I mean:

Bob Marley & the Wailers

Bob Marley joined my collection after a semester of teaching Speech Communication at Black Hawk College in Kewanee. The class was a three hour marathon every Monday night during the fall semester. For the most part, the students were great. They were engaged, interested, and as alert as you could be at seven o'clock at night.

I gave an assignment about halfway through the semester, directing each student to research a person that they admired, and give a presentation on that person. I don't remember any of the other details of the assignment - it was a speech class, so I was trying to mix it up a bit. One of the students, a scrawny white kid with stringy blonde hair that recalled Kurt Cobain's mop, decided to do his speech on Bob Marley. He came up to me after I assigned the project,

"So, uh, Mr. Walljasper - Check this out...I'm going to give my speech on Bob Marley...and I can probably go first, if you want...I'm already prepared...I know his whole life, did you know that when he was --"

I cut him short, "I appreciate your excitement for the project. How do you know so much about Bob Marley?"

"I been listening to his music since I was like ten. I've read a ton about him."

"Great. You can use those things as sources. You'll need to cite where you got the information from, as we discussed in class."


If I remember correctly, he did a mediocre job of citing his sources, as most did. But his speech was one of the most impassioned displays of admiration for the life and cause that Bob Marley so adamantly preached. I was genuinely inspired and intrigued, so I went out and get a couple of Bob Marley albums. And I love them.

"Blindsided" - Bon Iver

Bon Iver is a project by musician Justin Vernon. I love the story behind this album, which is why I bought it to begin with. That and the fact that I'd heard a couple of the songs, and loved the stripped down, repetitive, haunting melodies he creates.

It is said that one fall, Vernon simultaneously faced the break up of his band, his relationship, and a bout with mono within days of one another. His response was to take off for his parents cabin in northern Wisconsin. While holed up in the woods of the north all winter, he recorded this album.

The romantic setting for this album's creation definitely adds to its joy for me. I love the idea of getting away from every distraction, every annoyance, and simply pouring yourself into your craft for months at a time.

"Cocoon" - The Decemberists

My friend Michael introduced me to The Decemberists in college. I remember playing the song "Crane Wife 3" over and over again, being completely speechless as I listened to the wordplay that Colin Meloy articulated as he recounted this ancient far east tale. It was this band that showed me that modern music can be poetry.

"Allentown" - Billy Joel

Billy Joel was always playing in my childhood. I always saw him as an American institution, beside John Mellencamp, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springsteen. I loved dancing around to the upbeat hits like "Only the Good Die Young" and "Moving Out".

Now I love Joel for his cultural relevancy as well. Songs like "Allentown" and "Goodnight Saigon" are indelible markers of a shift in our culture. These reflections on dying towns and dying soldiers offer insight into our country and its journey from "The Greatest Generation" to "Generation X".

"Le Valse du Ballard" - Amede Ardoin

As many know, I own an accordion (two actually). I love to play these unique instruments. So when my friend Brian ran across Amede Ardoin, he knew that had to send it my way.

Ardoin is known as one of the preeminent creole accordion players at the turn of the century. His carefree french vocals and lightning fast accordion are both marvels and joys to listen to. Every time Ardoin come on, I cannot help but smile.

"Dodging the Wind" - Joe Pug

Joe Pug falls into an interesting genre of music that is very difficult to label. In the mid 90's, they  deemed it "Alt-Country", a term that is still thrown around today. Others call it "Americana". If I were to describe it, I would call it Rock-a-billy meets folk meets the alternative music scene of the nineteen ninety's. Add in the strong, silent sensibilities of John Wayne and my grandfathers, and you might be close.

Brian also turned me on to Joe Pug. The thing that I love the most about this artist is that he is also an amazing lyricist. The phrases turned in his songs that make you go back and listen again. He is still a rising musician, but I have a feeling he will be reaching serious acclaim soon.

"Talkin' World War III Blues" - Bob Dylan

"Talkin' World War III Blues" is one of my favorite songs by Bob Dylan. I know it is not his most famous, but it is truly a masterful pastiche of whimsy and peculiarity. I've heard that Dylan denies any political or cultural commentary in his music, but perhaps by writing music about what he saw, Bob Dylan was making a profound statement on the nature of the world. This song is a perfect example of that.

"Greatest hustler of all" - Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show is similar to Joe Pug in their inability to be succinctly labeled. With Old-time Country influences, bluegrass instrumentation and vocals, folk themes, and outlaw country attitudes, there website calls it "American Roots Music". If that sheds light, good. If not, check them out.

I've played dozens of their songs, most of the time while drinking whiskey with good friends. The song "Wagon Wheel" is one of their more famous songs, and one that always brings back fond memories.

As you can see, all the music I listen to is steeped in context and memory. And that is how I feel it should be. Seldom do I listen to music that I have no connection to, unless it is upon the recommendation of a friend, and I am exploring new artists. But listening to the top 40, because it is the top 40, is not a good reason to listen to music.

Maybe the question, rather than "What kind of music do you listen to?", should be "Why do you listen to the music that you do?"

I think that would invoke a more engaging response.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Peace, Love, and Turkeys

With the tenth anniversary of September 11th this last Sunday, everyone has been sharing perspectives and memories of that fateful day.

St. Basil's Catholic Church, Overlooking Lake Michigan
I labored to determine what I could bring to the table that hasn't been said a million times already. Then on Sunday morning, Annie and I attended church at Saint Basil's Catholic Church in South Haven, Michigan. the sanctuary is a simple white worship space, with blue leaded glass marching alongside worn oak pews, all paying homage to a simple crucifix at the head of the altar.

The service was pleasant, complete with off-key cantors and snoozing grandfathers. Then the priest approached the altar to give his sermon. This portion of the mass always makes me hesitant when I visit a new parish. It's difficult to gauge the sociopolitical topics that may come out in the sermon, and on this of all days, September 11th, 2011, I was leery.

The priest allayed all my fears when he began to speak. He spoke about forgiveness. He spoke about forgiving our neighbors, forgiving our enemies, and forgiving the people who inflicted all that death, pain, and fear a decade ago.

Franklin the Turkey's official response to 9/11

So I finally realized what I can contribute to the September 11th conversation. Partially inspired by the sermon of forgiveness last Sunday, slightly spurred from the patriotic color schemes of the republican debate on Tuesday, and largely born out of the America-loving emotions that came to me while watching Rocky IV (the one with the Russians) last night, I've come up with the below image. Most of the credit goes to Franklin the Turkey.
However you remember September 11th, I ask that you do so with forgiveness and love. It is time to move forward and continue to build a peaceful world, rather than live in fear and hatred. I'm not saying that we remove all defenses against attacks from enemies, domestic and foreign alike. I am merely saying that we ought to move past the over-inflated military and defense spending, instead focusing on our education, infrastructure, and quality of life concerns in the United States.

Sorry if that got a bit soap-box. Not trying to evoke vitriol.

I'm proud to be an American. Especially when Lee Greenwood is playing.