Snow and commuting in Wisconsin

There is something magical about taking the train to work in the snow. Most of the time I read a book or magazine on the way to the office.

But this morning I just looked out the window — watching the snow gently cover the landscape in a soft white blanket.

Collision of jazz and Chinese poetry

The train was late. Or rather, I was late for the train. Work ran later than expected. Missed the 5:45. The street car was running. No mechanical problems like Monday. But a few minutes behind schedule due to a presidential rally.

I decided to skip the street car and walk to the station in order to catch the last train home. There is almost two hours between one train and the other. Walking gave me a chance to find a coffee shop and some time to catch up on reading. The Public Market was on the way, but it tends be loud. And crowded.

Stone Creek Coffee is nice and near the train station. And open until 7 p.m. It displays a nice interior design. But sometimes the atmosphere feels a bit too mod. The baristas are often impertinent. And I feel inelegant when I visit. Maybe I am getting too old to haunt swanky coffee shops. Stone Creek coffee is luxurious. In spite of pretentious barista I bought a cup and then walked to the train station to wait and read a book. It is an autobiography of the Chinese poet Tu Fu. The fact that a book published in the 1930s is still in circulation at a public library is impressive. Also interesting are the translator notes. A few weeks ago I finished reading a recent translation of Li Po poetry. The translator, Seaton, made observations similar to those made nearly 100 years ago by Ayscough and Lowell.

I struggled with one passage in the book as the train station grew loud with passengers arriving from one train and departing on a Greyhound bus. Pulling a mobile device out of my pocket I placed in ear buds and cued up episode 88 of the Discovering Jazz podcast. As I listened I read that one Chinese ideogram may require more than one word to transliterate. Sometimes an entire phrase is used to convey the idea of a single Chinese character. The last train arrived. I boarded. Found a seat. Continued reading. And listening.

The jazz podcast explored absolute pitch. The show host mentioned that Asian languages are tonal. Pronouncing a vowel with one pitch may mean one thing while pronouncing the same vowel with a different pitch provides a different meaning. I experienced that when I visited Japan. But I did not have the knowledge to appreciate it then as I do now.

Reading a dozen pages was all I managed to accomplish before the train stopped at the home station. Thankful to be homeward. Grateful for the travel disruption that mingled American jazz and Chinese poetry into one commute.

Patience to reconnect broken hyperlinks

Ever come across an article or blog post where the hyperlink leads to a deceased web page? That is what I discovered when scanning through old web log posts.

Exhibit 1

How to keep your job in journalism

POSTED ON MARCH 8, 2008
  1. Create killer content
  2. Pimp your work
  3. Brand yourself

This from Jason Sandford, founder of Ashvegas and veteran reporter. I shared my summary [1] and linked to his blog post. However, the hyperlink at the end of the post leads to a web page that reads: “Sorry. The Squarespace account ashvegas is not available.”

After a bit of research, it appears that Mr. Sandford migrated the blog content from Squarespace to an impressive hyperlocal news web page.[2] After scrolling for a decade, I found the original post [3] and reconnected the broken link. Problem solved.

Reading his original post, I learned that he quoted from a Robert Niles article [4] published two days before he shared excerpts with his readers.

Exhibit 2

The Knife Metaphor

POSTED ON JUNE 13, 2008

I do not know who created the image,[5] but I did provide a couple source links.

The hyperlink to The Flowfield Unity reads: “Nothing Found. Sorry, but we can’t seem to find what you’re looking for.” Follow Aja’s link I read a similar note: “Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for.”

I used to follow Aja on Tumblr. That is, before I quit Tumblr. The proliferation of adult content by users and providers prompted me to delete my account.

Sometimes I re-posted an image with source attribution. Link love was the proto-social media expression and polite thing to do.

Exhibit 3

A 90-second GTD primer

POSTED ON AUGUST 25, 2008

Surprisingly, the 43 Folders hyperlink from my blog post [6] is still active. Merlin Mann shared this — abridged here — jewel during Google’s infamous [7] August 11, 2008 outage:

  • Project. Any desirable outcome that requires more than one physical action in order to be considered complete.
  • Next Action. The next physical activity I could perform that moves a Project nearer to the outcome I want.
  • Context. Any limitation, opportunity, tool, or resource that lets me do one of the physical actions in my Project.
  • The Four Criteria Model. The notion that Priority is only one of four criteria in deciding what to do at a given moment.

The full, original post is worth reading. Especially for young readers who may find it interesting that even Google has service outages.

Exhibit 4

Poetry, the highest form of art

POSTED ON OCTOBER 8, 2008

Posted this Guardian lead paragraph [8] on my blog.[9]

“Imagine living in a society where poetry was considered to be the most important art form. Where a poet could easily fill a football stadium. Where a poet’s death was the top news story for days.”

Not surprisingly, the hyperlink is still active. Even if the article is more than a decade old.

Closing thoughts

I expected to find a lot more dead web pages and broken hyperlinks than I did. The sampling from 2008 of blog posts offers insight into journalism and social media.

Social media is reactionary. At its best, social media sneezes an ideavirus [10] that is contagious. At its worst, social media spreads toxic influenc-za.

Journalism reports news and events. To provide a permanent record for this age and the generations to follow. Journalism informs and educates readers. When done well, journalism inspires.

It is an easy tirade to attack social media as harmful rather than helpful. Equally, it is simple to launch a screed against poor quality journalism. Especially when broadcast news makes it effortless. (Side note: I do make a distinction between broadcast news and print/legacy news. But that is a topic for a different day.) It is fair to say that both journalism and social media may effectively be broken. Like an old, broken hyperlink they need time and patience to reconnect to a valid source.

NOTES:


[1] How to keep your job in journalism, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/03/08/how-to-keep-your-job-in-journalism/


[2] Ashvegas.com.
https://ashvegas.com/


[3] “How to keep your job in journalism,” by Jason Sandford. First published March 8, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/06/13/aja-the-flowfield-unity/


[4] “Keeping your job in journalism,” by Robert Niles. First published March 6, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
http://www.ojr.org/080305niles/

[5] Accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/06/13/aja-the-flowfield-unity/


[6] A 90-second GTD primer, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/08/25/a-90-second-gtd-primer/


[7] “We feel your pain, and we’re sorry,” by Todd Jackson. August 11, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://gmail.googleblog.com/2008/08/we-feel-your-pain-and-were-sorry.html

[8] “Importing a passion for poetry,” by Sarah Maguire. First published October 6, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/oct/06/poetry.in.translation


[9] Poetry, the highest form of art, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/10/08/poetry-the-highest-form-of-art-2/


[10] Unleashing the Ideavirus, by Seth Godin, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://www.hachettebooks.com/titles/seth-godin/unleashing-the-ideavirus/9780786887170/

Reflections on a decade of sharing Advent poetry and art


A 183-word blog post published a few years ago became the most visited blog post I have written. How did this all begin? Part of the story started with a family tradition of creating handmade greeting cards. Part of the story involved a search for good seasonal, Christmas poems. Part of the story was how a father learned about Advent.

Last year I had the ambition to share a poem a day throughout the season of Advent. Newly discovered poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Christian Wiman, Edmund Spenser, and others. Unfortunately, work life became unmanageable due to circumstances beyond my control. Only six poems shared during last year’s 2018 Advent season.

This year the plan was to share twelve poems during the Advent season. But again, work life demands became excessively burdensome. The poems were not released. They remain in the draft category of the content management system. In spite of the hurly-burly of this December, one of the children drew a very nice drawing on the chalkboard. It accompanies the Advent calendar that our family has used each year for more than a decade.

Finally, I wrote a long-ish essay to mark the decade. A story about the handmade greeting cards, the search for good Christmas poems, and how a father learned about Advent. But I decided not to publish it. I doubt anyone is interested in the story. In lieu of that, here are blog links that highlight the last ten years of Advent art, audio recordings, blog posts, and poems.

2018

Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon
A Scandal in the Suburbs, X.J. Kennedy
Hill Christmas, R. S. Thomas
Remembering that it happened once, Wendell Berry
Advent, Mary Jo Salter
Advent, Patrick Kavanagh

2017

Exploring 12 Days of Advent poetry

2016

A holiday podcast for Christmas Day

2015

It’s that time of year
First Sunday of Advent — Poems
Second Sunday of Advent — Poems
Third Sunday of Advent — Poems
Fourth Sunday of Advent — Poems

2012

Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)

2011

Mighty Mercy, John Piper
Advent Calendar, Rowan Williams
Annunciation, Denise Levertov
The God We Hardly Knew, Óscar Romero
Mosaic of the Nativity (Serbia, Winter 1993), Jane Kenyon
Advent, Donald Hall
For Christmas Day, Charles Wesley

2010

Into The Darkest Hour, Madeleine L’Engle
The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold, Madeleine L’Engle

2009

Woodblock printing on a budget
Diy woodblock prints/greeting cards
“Christmas night,” a limited edition woodblock print
Woodblock prints/greeting cards
“Peace on earth,” a limited edition woodblock print

Finish what was started

 

One of the challenges of an artist and designer is the amount of unfinished sketches or mock-ups (a working sample of an illustration or design) that collect over the years.

Found a unfinished illustration from over five years ago. Decided to finish the ink drawing. Added watercolor as a painting exercise.

Never too late to complete an unfinished illustration.

A good test of skills


Tested a couple old brushes using a dozen watercolor half pans on illustration paper. Purchased the art supplies for a book cover illustration project a few years ago. Have not had the occasion to use them since then. Apart from recreational sketches and practice.


Painted some studies of graphic design advertisement posters from the 1960s. Muscle memory atrophied more than expected. How does the aphorism go? Either control the watercolors or they will control the painting. Some clumsy mistakes. A good test of skills. Not ready to paint a book cover illustration. But the exercise warmed up the muscles and mind to consider more opportunities.

12 notable books read in 2019

The book reading routine I was accustomed to six years ago is nearly unobtainable at this present time. However, I did manage to read quite a few thick books both in content and page count. Here is a short list of 12 books read in 2019:

  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
  2. Bright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po
  3. The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway
  4. Facing the Moon, Li Bai and Du Fu
  5. Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  6. Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
  7. Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff
  8. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
  9. My Antonia, Willa Cather
  10. The Poems of T. S. Eliot
  11. The Republic, Plato
  12. Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey

This is not a complete list. And a few of the books were a second reading. It is safe to say, there is not a single book on my reading list that appears in the best books of 2019 lists of  Chicago Review of Books, the Guardian, Washington Post, or the New Yorker.

Whether poetry or play, novel or nonfiction, these 12 books are recommended. Which of these books is my favorite? Some of these books challenged ideas, disturbed my understanding of the cosmos, and lead to changes in my life. But which is my favorite?

Inktober — Day 23 #inktober #inktober2019

Tried to accomplish four Inktober prompts in this illustration — days 20 through 23. Inspiration for the piece comes from reading the poetry of Li Po.

Enjoy — and keep inking!

Inktober — Day 15 #inktober #inktober2019

Inktober’s rules are simple: draw something in ink each day for the month of October, post it online, hashtag it, and repeat. So, if I draw three panels in a single day, does that make up for two missed days?

Ever watch those drawing challenges? Do a drawing or illustration in 10 minute, 1 minute, and 10 seconds. My self-imposed challenge for day 15 was two hours.

The prompt that day was “legend.” The inspiration: two-fold. One, I revived a cartoon character I created long, long ago. Two, an homage to Starchild, created by James A. Owen.

The big challenge for me is that a two-hour block of time is a lavish luxury for me. It means I can not begin until the work day is done, household chores completed, and kidlingers in bed. Mostly.

Before I finished the inking process, one of the kidlingers reminded me that within the two-hour window I stopped twice. Once to spend 15 minutes brewing a pot of tea for the night owls of the household. And once to re-tuck a younger kidlinger into bed.

Hope you enjoy the results of day 15 of Inktober.

Live an examined life

If your brain operated like a digital video camera, the playback video would take 300 years to watch. Think about that for a moment. The capacity of the human brain to store data would take almost four lifetimes to view if it were a film. With all that data, how does anyone organize it?

Note-taking is a practice. Maybe an art form. Possibly a lost art form. Here are some handwritten scrawls I found in my notebooks:

  • abiding by one’s principles is getting more important
  • a marketers job is to manufacture consent
  • to be a successful business guru: use faux scientific terms, command attention and speak with confidence
  • “Your head is a crappy office. . .”

Some of these are quotes, paraphrases and scribblings in the fashion, or after the manner, of a commonplace book.

Notes.

From time to time I review these notes and weigh their merit. How does the old expression go? Eat the meat and spit out the bone and gristle. Or, as I suggested earlier, thistles and wild flowers. Some ideas are rubbish. A couple of these notes I have considered off and on during the last couple years. One of these big ideas is productivity and time management. Another concept that captivates my thoughts is guiding principles.

Many business books explore the topics of productivity, time management and purpose. A lot of business books seem full of great ideas. Some are useful. But after a few critical passes a lot of these business and marketing books melt away like cotton candy. Nothing left but a stale after taste.

Weeds & thistles.

One such business book offers the thesis that leaders should ask why their company does what they do. This starts out well. Purpose is offered. But not principles. Is a purpose-driven company wrong? No. Everything has a purpose. But what about a plan? Is it Benjamin Franklin who wrote: If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail? Many business leaders implement ideas suggested in books without considering the consequences. Is purpose and plan interchangeable? What about a triumvirate of purpose, plan and principles? Plans change. Marketplace adaptation and other factors. Purpose is shifted due to internal and external needs. Principles. Principles are value statements. They are core business doctrines.

Wild flowers.

Many years ago, possibly fifteen years, I read that an international news magazine avoided presenting their news on their web site because the editorial leadership found no reason for it. (Keep in mind this was before the disruption of mobile phones and social media.) The subscriber-based magazine found no need to compete with itself on two platforms: print and digital. When the global market crashed in 2008, a lot of magazines and newspapers ended publication. Permanently. But this international news magazine increased its circulation during that time period. Their guiding principles were not compromised in spite of competition rushing to publish content online free of charge. To paraphrase their mission: you’ve seen the news, now read the story. The editors did not ask, why aren’t we on the internet like everyone else? When the time was right, when the method fit their mission, then they provided content online, in audio and video, on a mobile app as well as their legacy product — a weekly printed magazine.

One of those handwritten notes mentioned earlier was a quote from David Allen. He pioneered a system called getting things done (or GTD). The method offers a plan of how to get stuff out of your head and in to action. The goal is productivity. Each task should have three general responses: do, delegate or defer. Decisions are based on variables like time, energy, resource and others. While listening to one of his GTD audio podcasts I noted: “Your head is a crappy office. . .” A cluttered mind is a cluttered life. One of the practices of the GTD system is to unclutter your mind by capturing data outside the head. Whether you write notes or lists on paper with pencil or pen or email or text message yourself, the goal is to clear the mind. A clear mind provides space for planning, examining purpose and establishing principles.

Closing thoughts.

In the first draft of this piece (which was crafted nearly two months ago), I wrote: “A clear mind provides space for meaningful purposeful actions.” In the margin I noted: “What does this mean? Define the term meaningful. Define purposeful. Rewrite this line. Be clear, direct and to the point. No room for squishy platitudes.”

This is an example of why it is essential to re-examine the notes and ideas presented. A noble task is to live an examined life. The amount of data in a human brain is expansive. If your brain operated like a digital video camera, the playback video would take 300 years to view. Ultimately, how does an individual bring order to the chaos from the stream of cerebral activity?

An acquaintance, many years ago, mentioned that keeping a diary or journal was useless if you did not review it periodically. In other words, it is a good discipline to glance at the rearview mirror of commonplace books, diaries and journals before returning your focus to the front windshield and the task at hand.