One More Layer Peeled Away

Today I finished packing up the books from Greg’s apartment and the Metafilter Book Exchange.

The tally was 362 softcover books that ranged from fiction to self-help, from computer programming to Buddhism and mystical Gnosticism.

The woman at the Books to Women in Prison offices seemed really excited by them!  I think that they usually get things that are a little more mundane and this helped round out what they have to send out.

There are another 188 hardcover books that are going to be donated to the Unique Thrift store down the street – the funds that Unique collects are used to help disabled Veterans.

As it is, I had a hard afternoon with it.  I got everything together and took them over in grocery bags and realized that one more layer of this estate process is peeled away.


Be Careful What You Consider A Solution

I was reading about Easter Island and the monoliths (Moai) on Atlas Obscura.

I vaguely remembered from school that there were almost no trees on the island and that there were all of these mysteries that surrounded them.  Who built them? Why? How?

I didn’t realize that we know the answers to most of these questions, nor did I realize just how horrible the history of the island was.

I started to think about the island based just on the Atlas Obscura entry.  It got me thinking about use of resources and problem solving.  There was an idea forming in the back of my mind that was saying: “Be careful what you consider to be a solution to your problems” which then developed into: “Easter Island is what happens when you don’t pay attention to the environmental impact you have as a human being and rely too much on spiritualism and/or religion to solve your problems”.

The island is only 45 square miles total. In the 16th and 17th centuries, statue building accelerated, and the population grew, reaching around 40,000. Then, around the year 1160, the whole thing collapsed. Some 2,000 people live on the island now, and the landscape is barren. No trees grow here except for a few invasive and problematic eucalyptus groves.

The article describes how the island’s original inhabitants at one point used the lumber on the island to build fishing boats and move the giant moai.  It briefly describes how the monoliths were created and moved into place, but the most interesting thing is what they were:

These sculptures (often called heads, though they are in fact disproportionately sized full-body figures, often seen buried halfway in dirt) represent specific ancestors. These representations were erected between the village and chaos — the ocean — as a wall of protection. The two major tribes of Easter Island lived in a tropical rain-forest, a paradise of food and fishing, with plenty of time to put into the Great Work of the statues.

This was leading me to think of the island in comparison to the West in the 21st century.  How we think about our resources, how we rely on religion and spiritualism as a means of problem solving instead of really looking at the problems that surround us.

Are we going to be as stuck as the original island’s inhabitants were when the oil runs dry or becomes too expensive?  How will we deal with that?  Will we erect huge monoliths to help or protect us?  Will we use up the last of our resources in an attempt to delay the inevitable?

How could a people smart enough to navigate to tiny landfalls on thousands of miles of Pacific ocean and capable of vast engineering projects like the Moai statues be so unable to deal with the coming of a doom which must have been obvious on such a tiny island?

It may have been easier then we imagine. A few years ago, locals on Easter Island discovered they could catch and sell lobsters from around the island. They then caught and sold those lobsters until there were no more.

Though much is known about the Moais, there’s lots more archaeology to do on Easter Island than digging up stone sculptures. Researchers are just starting on the villages — and their story is one of the most compelling on Earth: Humans can make their own bad luck. In the case of Easter Island, ever larger and larger statues were not the right defense.

Of course nothing is ever easy or as simple. *

When you read the Wikipedia article linked at the beginning of this post, you get a much richer and more traumatic history of the island.
Slave raids, Catholic missionaries, intentional germ warfare (smallpox), and any number of horrible, monstrous things.  So it isn’t as clean and easy as the shorter article makes it out to be.  Few things are.

It did get me thinking, though, that perhaps if the island were closer to the rest of the colonial possessions it could have ended up more like Haiti – perhaps the reason that Haiti is still what it is is because it has proximity to both help and information?

Just thinking about stuff.

*In all fairness, to Atlas Obscura, they are an amazing website that isn’t meant to be comprehensive.  Their goal is to bring neat places to the attention of people who are interested in… neat places.  I am in no way criticizing their narrative, just adding to it and making some commentary that is outside of their scope.



You Can Blame Or Try To Understand

But at the end of the day, you have to find a way to PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER.

I was having an email conversation with my friend Mitch the other day.  He said that, in his opinion, one cannot blame their parents or anyone else for things going wrong in their lives after the age of 30.  It is hard, but I think he is right.  You can try to understand it, but there comes a point when you have to just deal with things and not blame, blame, blame.

It is harder than you think.

I have to find the time and energy to get this together.  There is a lot I need to do and if I wallow in my own pain it both magnifies it and negates the pleasurable things that are going on in my life and takes so much of the energy that could be channeled into the positive (or at least productively neutral) things.

This is a real problem.

I have noticed recently that my general tone is getting more and more negative and that needs to stop.

It is one thing to point out where there are problems, but when you dwell on them instead of trying to solve them you are in trouble.  I am getting to the point where I am in trouble.

Classes have started this week, and with them underway, things need to be changing.  They need to be changing fast and they need to be changing thoroughly.  I am giving myself FOUR MONTHS to turn this boat around.

So starting today, I am sitting down and coming up with an outline for the next four months.  There is no reason for this to be this way.  No reason whatsoever.

Stay tuned and/or come along for the ride.

We will see what happens.

Awww… No, Wait… Oh, Nevermind…

I hate graffiti.*

I mean really, really hate graffiti.  It makes me angry on a cosmic level.  You want to express your distaste for the system?  Fine, whatever.  You are doing yourself no favors by doing it this way.  You want to tag SOMEONE ELSE’S property?!? Did YOU work for that?!? Did YOU bust YOUR ass to keep it tuckpointed and clean?!? Are YOU the one paying insurance premiums?!?


Graffiti makes me feel like some angry old Grandpa.

This makes me really angry
Nice. Really nice.
More B.S. Graffiti


Because the antique terra cotta needed some help.

Because the antique terracotta needed some help.

But then I came across this.  This “FORGIVE” graffiti has been popping up here and there throughout the city over the past few years.  Sometimes it will be up and obvious, sometimes it will be tucked away in a little corner.

And then I soften a little…

Forgive Graffiti

I get romantic about this.

I make narratives.  I think of things that could be… What does this mean?

More Forgiveness...

More Forgiveness

And then I think of James Baldwin and that maybe it is just a little but of that sensibility in all of it…

And I see this one:

Forgive Yourself, my friend...


Following the drips from his paint can…

Drip Drip Drip...


Drip II


Up the block…

Drip III


Oh, man… nevermind.  Damnit…

Oh, nevermind...

Oh, nevermind...

You almost had me thinking you were something there for a second, Mr. Graffiti.  Almost.

*I think I have to note that graffiti in my mind isn’t the same thing as public murals or street art.  They serve very different purposes and operate on different planes.

It’s Putalca Time!

I originally wrote this on an old MySpace Blog 12 June 2007 at 10:45 P.M.

I wanted to rescue it since I really don’t use the MySpace page anymore.

It’s Putalca Time!

Current mood:contemplative

Putalca. I always think of the word the first or second week of June.

I had a friend in high school named Marc, who was dyslexic and a little backwards. We would play cards with Marc and his wife when we got off work at the Burger King. I guess you could say that it was strange my friend Kristie and I were hanging around a 40-some-odd year old couple when we were 16 and 17, drinking beer, and playing cards in the side yard until three or four in the morning. But it was something different from the faux-goth angst I dealt with at school, and a whole lot more interesting in terms of life experience.

I did not sit down tonight to write about my relationship with Marc and Judy. In their side yard there was a large tree – one of my favorite trees – a Catalpa. Catalpas are a favorite of mine for a number of reasons.

Functionally, they are the perfect wood for fence-posts and damp areas. The wood is dense and has a green cast. Because the live trees can take a lot of abuse, they are also good for tree houses. Once the tree is cut, the wood is difficult to split and does not work very well for lumber or firewood. This was good for me, as I had a special affinity for them. More on that later.

Aesthetically, they are a kind of strange and knobby tree.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

They remind me, in the fall and winter, of strange and burdened old men. Crooked and worn, they are easy to pick out of the dormant woods. In the spring and summer they remind me of an old man in love. The leaves come on fast. They are large and heart shaped and have a heft to them. The first week in June, they start to bloom cascades of creamy white flowers spotted with orange and brown that smell sweetly and fall from the tree. By the second week in June, they are well in bloom, and the smell of the flowers can carry for yards and yards.

Catalpa in bloom

My particular affection for the catalpa tree developed around age seven or so. I had always known what they were thanks to a forestry program in which so many of the kids in the country were enrolled. They were also used as plantings along property lines and in cemeteries, so they were very common in the near-south, where I grew up. We had two of them on each side of our sandbox.

These two catalpas were planted around the civil war and used to mark a large gate that connected the barnyard to pasture. By the time Dad built the sandbox, the pasture was long grown over and the barnyard had become our side yard. But there stood these strange trees. Our sandbox was a large 16 foot square made of 2x12s that Dad had filled with two tons of sand. We did not have a TV at the time, so I spent a lot of time in the sandbox over the next five years letting my imagination go. These trees helped.

I should mention that we did not have a TV because we had no electricity. Mom would play a battery operated radio in the kitchen, but if one wanted control over their music, the only option was a wind-up Victrola in the living room. That Victrola informed and fueled my fantasy life in the sandbox.

For those who may not know, a Victrola is a record player that plays the old 78 rpm standard records. You wind it up, put the record on, and then lower the needle onto the grooves. When you release the clutch under the spinner, the record starts to spin and sound is vibrated through a series of baffles in the front of the case. There is no electricity involved, and the longest record you can play is – maybe – 10 minutes. This is labor-intensive aural enjoyment for sure. By the 40′s they were for the most part obsolete in all but the most remote areas. Most everyone had switched to electric phonographs by the 30′s and 40′s.

Because they were out of favor early-mid century, there was not a whole lot of selection as far as music was concerned. While my friends were listening to what we would now call “the best of the 80′s” pour from their parent’s radios and cassette players, I was content with Operas staged in the teens and 20′s, JaZZ recorded in Chicago, traditional German hurdy-gurdy oom-pah-pah, and blues from Mississippi.

One of my favorite Operas was “La Traviata”. I understood it. The other was “Lucia di Lammermoor”. But these particular versions were special. I am probably one of the only people in my peer group who has heard Lily Pons sing. The scene that was the most powerful for me was the “Mad Scene” in “Lucia…..”. Here, even if you do not know what she is singing, you just feel that her life is crumbling and she is losing her mind as well as her body as she is getting ready to kill her husband. The part is written for a very dynamic soprano and its power was enough to bring me to my knees. I was eight or nine.

Well. I was still a little kid in the middle of nowhere and needed something to do, so I began to incorporate these operas in the sandbox. While my brothers played baseball, (which I refused to play) I staged elaborate operas in the sandbox. On the south side was the stage – the proscenium framed out with twigs and pieces of rags. The audience sat in very graciously sloped stadium seating and an old wooden ammunition box was propped up over the audience for the more respectable and genteel members of society who had the taste and good fortune to purchase private box seats.

Unfortunately, my audiences were very lean most of the spring and summer – except the first two weeks of June. These were my prime attendance weeks. All of the ladies would come out in their finest dresses.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

La Traviata and Lucia di Lammermoor would play to standing room only crowds. Almost all of those in attendance would be women. And, even though they were all wearing very similar garb, they were secure in that they were very, very elegant.

I think the gentlemen who were in attendance at these performances resembled popsicle sticks or clothespins. Probably the latter, as the clothesline was next to the sandbox.

One day, as Lucia was just getting ready to murder her bridegroom, my father decided he had had enough. I should be playing baseball and not “Lost in my own world” (his words). I ignored him when he asked me to join him and my brothers, I avoided him when he told me to join them, and I forgot that he wanted me to play ball when he outright demanded it. So Lucia was getting into her highest notes when my father started toward me. My back was to him, so I did not see it coming. Lily (who was playing the part of Lucia – duh) must have been frightened to death. She could see him coming, and yet she kept climbing the register. Up and up she went, higher and higher, when – throughout the audience – there was muffled shock as someone was yelling “WHEN I TELL YOU TO DO SOMETHING IT BETTER HAPPEN MR DO YOU THINK I AM KIDDING I AM TIRED OF YOU WITH YOUR HEAD IN YOUR OWN LITTLE WORLD OR UP YOUR BUTT AND YOU ARE GOING TO PLAY BALL WITH YOUR BROTHERS”

Imagine the audience’s shock and horror as my father stomped them all into the sand as he jumped over my shoulders. In my head, stages were crashing as the gilded columns fell into the orchestra pit. Women were running every which way as their lacy petticoats were torn from their gowns. Men were driven, feet first, into the floor of the opera house. And there I stood. Unable to do anything about it.

I did end up playing ball that day – all the while thinking about the carnage in the sandbox. I don’t think I ever staged another opera at that particular venue. It was deemed too dangerous. The foundations must have been bad. We moved a few of the performances to the more secluded venues near the lake, and eventually the troop disbanded. Or I grew up a little.

I am not sure what made me first think that Catalpa flowers looked like Victorian ladies when they are inverted, but to this day I look forward to the first two weeks or June. I am very lucky that there are Catalpas in Chicago. I go to the park and eat lunch around them, let them fall on me, and before I leave I always remember to set up a few of them as if they were having a small get-together. Theatre troop veterans having a laugh at tragedy they escaped from that tense afternoon in June sometime around 1983.

R.I.P. Homie, R.I.P.

One of the dogs up at Getaway Farms died today.

Homer on a Stroll

Homer was one of those good old mixed breed 14 year old dogs that every farm needs.

This Summer Cyndi decided was going to be the “Summer of Homie”.  She didn’t put any restrictions on him and let him do his thing.  Luckily he went before the cold set in and the ground froze solid.  It sounds morbid, but you have to think about these kinds of things when you are in zone 4.

RIP Homer.




I have a Superpower.  I don’t talk about it much in the city because I don’t get to use it very much in town.

But it really is a Superpower.

I have no dermatological response to this:

Poison Oak


That, my friends, is Poison Oak and Poison Ivy. Plants I am not allergic to.  It may not seem like much to brag about, but when you are in the woods with people who are allergic to it (and most people are, I have found) you may as well be bullet-proof and trying to catch rounds coming from the end of a 357.  The reactions you get are the same.

So while anyone with me cowers and covers and runs from anything vaguely vine-y with three to five leaves, I am swinging from vines that would make them turn into oozing pustules of despair and regret.

Chiggers, on the other hand, are my kryptonite.

Too Bad Potato Soup Doesn’t Age As Well As Burgundy

I was so hungry.

I am in Elliott, IN and wanted to go to our place in Spencer County.  It is right next to where Abraham Lincoln grew up and I have always felt a connection to it.  My Dad says it is because the Spencer County farm is where I was conceived.

In any case, I wanted to go up there and so got a ride.  It is about 45 minutes away on highway 162.  On the way, I bought a bag of ice and a bottle of Port.  One can’t have a nice evening at one’s country place without a nice Port, you know… I did not, however, buy any food because I know that my Dad and his friends hunt deer up there and there is always lots of canned goods.

So I get to the farm after a comedy of errors and realize I didn’t bring the right key.  No problem.  I took the door off the hinges by removing the pins.

Once I get inside I realize that no one has been here for at least 7 years.  SEVEN YEARS.

The inside is a mess of mouse nests and snakes have shed their skins in every tight crevice possible. Also: Raccoons.  Turns out I will have guests with my Port for my country evening.  No problem.

I start clearing away the fire-pit that had been overgrown by Sassafras trees and got my firewood together for the night.  I looked at the cupboard and saw two shelves of canned goods.  Cupboard


I got a fire going and opened a can of potato soup.  As it plopped into the pan I thought it looked odd.  I chalked it up to the freeze-thaw cycles that have happened over the seasons, but then hesitated and thought it was a good idea that I should look at the expiration dates. Oh, my.  My potato soup had a best if used by date of 2002.

I was so hungry I thought about taking the chance – the nearest grocery or gas station is miles away. But then I thought better of it and started looking through the cans…

I didn’t get a chance to eat much tonight.  All of the food is expired by at least 6 years and the only thing viable in the past five is the coffee.  Instead, I cracked open the Port and went out into the treeline to gather a local wild green: Lambsquarter. I boiled it up and had a couple of cups of it. If you have never eaten it, let me tell you it is quite good – milder than spinach with just the slightest pecan-ish nutty flavor.

As soon as I ate my wild-man dinner I started making really bad decisions.

As it turns out, if you haven’t been on an abandoned farm that has two unmarked and overgrown cisterns, four dilapidated outbuildings, and enough wildlife to stock four counties in more than seven years, you should probably not go wandering around in the dark looking for big dead trees to knock down and burn after having had a little more than half a bottle of Port.  At the very least take a flashlight.

Also: Once you find the cistern that hasn’t been used in 40+ years, best practice is that you should 1. Not try to draw water when drunk and 2. Not drink or use said water before boiling.

Breaking all the rules!

(I am lucky I didn’t 1. fall in and 2. Get Typhoid.)


I would like to speak to the management, please…

Lake Michigan is usually pretty placid:

Lake Michigan at Diversey Harbor

What my usual morning runs look like.

I got excited when I saw this yesterday:

Flood & Despair warning

Uptown Update warning Saturday.



So I went for a run and… well… I guess that’s cool, but they oversold me on the destruction and mayhem a little:


Wah. Wanh.. Waaaahhhhhhhh…


Carthago delenda est

I am avoiding the media today.

Ten years ago I was working at Jo-Ann Fabrics trying to get the Fall quarter visuals up to standard.  I had been up with my team all night setting and re-setting pumpkins and ghosts on the sales floor and decided I needed to put my head down for a bit.  Michelle came in about 8 in the morning (Chicago Time) telling me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York.

I thought she was joking, told her it wasn’t funny what she was trying to do, and tried to put my head back down in my office.  She came over and bonked me on the head and told me to come into the break-room to look and see for myself.

{If I have the time and inclination, I’ll add the entry from my journal that day.}

I first started to study Classical Greek and Latin to counter my fundamentalist family members.  I wanted a way to talk about things that are important to them without debating their theology.  I WILL debate their theology when it is important that I make my point, but don’t make a habit of it.

What I didn’t realize was that studying Latin and Greek would give me as much political and historical insight as it has.  All of the sudden I start developing informed opinions based on historical sources instead of “Oh, it seems to me…” without knowing exactly why it seemed this way or that.

And that brings me to my early-morning September 11th musings as I avoid news feeds, newspapers, and get ready for my Sunday classes.

When the buildings collapsed I had this vague feeling of doom and gloom.  It wasn’t just that the buildings fell and the horror of what was going on in New York.  It was a sense of political dread.  It was like looking into a volcano. The nice thing is that the Patriot Act and its decommissioning of the Constitution didn’t surprise me.  The invasion of Afghanistan and  Iraq seemed like a foregone conclusion.

Enter: Carthage.

Except that George Bush is certainly NO Cato. You can see that in the streets of Kabul and Baghdad.  So either we are in some parallel First Punic War and are going to be pushed to the limit and see history out to the Third or we are floundering and poking Carthage in the eye ruining our reputations internationally.

Of course, this needs to be developed more, and I barely have the slightest idea what I’m talking about, but I really think there is something to it.

It Was More Than A Month Before Hallowe’en, George

I am avoiding the media today.

It is early and I have to get ready for classes, but September 11th always bites me in the ass.
For me it will always be the day that George W. Bush decided to start channeling a learning disabled version of Cato.

I will write more tonight after class, but I hate what this has become.

Greg, Greg, Greg…

Now that everything is starting to settle down from Greg’s death, I’m going to start posting my journal entries from the time I found out he was in the hospital (that entry is already up – I posted it the day I found out, as I had just finished coding the blogs) to the week after his memorial service a couple of weeks later.

None of it is earth-shattering, but it may be interesting to you if you have never had to be with someone at the end of their lives and then deal with the arrangements afterward.

I will be back-dating the stuff so that you can read it in sequence with a note or two about when I actually posted it instead of posting it on the day it is actually put up.  I thought about it and think that it will give you a better sense of what was really going on.


Yes, Well, We are VERY Classy

I have a friend who has strange ideas about what impresses people.

He grew up soul-crushingly poor. To this day it haunts him.  He carries it with him in everything he does. He thinks that everyone is trying to take his money away from him and undervaluing what he produces.

I was helping him organize some digital images on a USB drive the other day and as we were creating folders and getting things together I saw that he had a number of pictures of $100 bills strewn across the table in his gallery.  I asked him where they got filed and he said “résumé”.  I asked him why résumé and he said: “I print these out and take them in with me when I am interviewing for a commission [he is a fine artist] so I can show them and let them know that they can’t cheat me. I make money.”

I was shocked that someone would do this.

It goes against every single business theory I have.  I asked him if maybe he understood that he may not be getting the commissions he deserves because he was putting people off.  He didn’t understand what I meant.  To him the idea that someone would show up with those kinds of pictures meant business; where to me it would mean it is the last time they would EVER hear from me.

This surprised him.

I explained that those with money don’t really want to see huge displays of it.  That someone commissioning a work from him would be really disgusted by those pictures.

Me: “It speaks of a lack of class!  To me it says ‘I have no grace or elegance’, ‘I am the farthest thing from refined you will see!’, and ‘I don’t know how to behave in social situations’.”

Him: “Um, Tchad, since you are giving me a lecture about class, refinement, and grace… I wasn’t going to say anything… but you have a big booger hanging out of your nose… I can’t let you go on and on about dignity while you have something hanging out of your nose.”

Me: “…”

Him: “I’m sorry.  You were saying?”

So that is it.  I still think that it is classless behavior on his part to take those photos to an interview… something glass houses… something something stones…




I’m NOT Happy

One of the things that a number of therapists suggest is to make your troubles ridiculous.  You take your emotional reaction to the problem and you scramble it up so that it becomes this stupid thing instead of this giant hand-wavey hysterical mess. It is a way of changing what it means to you.  You also learn to laugh at yourself in the process.
It works. I am going to have to record more of these.

And Then I Thought:

Unlike most every average human being since the beginning of the species at the age of 36 I have:

  • Lived longer.
  • Lived better.
  • Had better teeth.
  • Gone through less pain.
  • Worked less.
  •  Produced more.
  • Lived more honestly.
  • Lived a safer life.
  • Had more freedom.

Just trying to keep things in perspective.  While it may have been ok to have been born in the past 150 years (for me), boy howdy am I glad I wasn’t born in 922.


If I read this ONE more time:

Please advise. 

Please advise. 

Please advise.

I hate it.  It drives me bananas.  There are way too many other ways you could phrase things without this little fleck of douchebaggery.

It always comes up in emails when there is something that the person is disputing or wants to correct:

Your mannequins are too expensive.  I will pay $75 for each, not $200.  Please advise.

I was under the impression that x, y, and z… and that is not the case, I would like a refund.  Please advise.

I am interested in the 3-6 class but can only come every third week and have to bring special (whatever).  Please advise.

I really try hard to be kind and understanding, but I HATE this phrase.  It feels very passive-agrressive to me.  Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe people think that it feels neutral and corporate.  Maybe I am the one with the issue.  BUT FYI: It feels threatening and almost ENSURES that you won’t get what you are looking for.  At least from me.

So consider yourself advised.


Don’t roll your eyes, Don’t roll your eyes, Don’t roll your eyes…

A few years ago I stumbled on a series of Anthony Robbins’ self-help cds at the thrift store.  I guess whoever bought them gave them away when they moved into their Castle on the beach in St. Croix.

Anthony Robbins

You can roll your eyes, but it does help some of us.

In all seriousness, I was grasping at straws when I found them.  I was (am) skeptical about self-help. I have a parent who turned to them (not Robbins, but others in the “rage therapy” vein) and I blame them for a lot of my late childhood issues.

But I was struggling.  It was 2005-06. I had no support, was essentially bankrupt, and had just spent the better part of the past year taking care of an alcoholic friend who manipulated me into one of the most soul-sucking friendships of all time.

I was desperate.

So I bought them and started listening.  I wasn’t doing it right. I was coming from an “I’ll show all of you assholes what I can do” instead of “Here I go! Watch me explore and develop my world!”.  It turns out that anger CAN drive you. The caveat is that it can only get you so far. In my case, I got up to 180 Lbs (in a good way), built an almost 3,000 square foot workspace from scratch, dated, traveled, and wrote a lot. Once you have grown and matured a little, it cools a bit and then you have to decide what to do with all of the emotion that you invested in these things that it created.  It taints the creation a bit.*  Others may not see it, but it does.

I’ve gotten better since then, but have gone back to those cds.  Friends make fun of me, and that is totally ok, but there are those of us who have no emotional tools to work with.  I am not a child abuse victim, have never been sexually abused, and enjoy what most people would consider to be a good helping of first-world racial privilege.  I can do just about anything.  I can make you an evening gown (or suit), tell you the best way to grow Paw-Paw trees, cure leather & hides, conjugate (some) Latin verbs, tell you the finer points of the NEC code as they relate to Chicago, make GREAT sutures (don’t ask how I know, please), and (poorly) code html.  I grew up with parents who told me that I “could do ANYTHING!” which meant that I could do anything with that little tidbit of motivation as long as it meant that I got married, became a doctor, and had millions of babies.

A lot of the breadth of my interests were mocked as silly.  Latin, especially.

So anyway:  I have picked up the Robbins series again and am listening to it with a more neutral ear.  My friend is dead, I have no romantic relationships, and I am running a business I never planned on having but enjoy more than most people enjoy their jobs.  I am in a good place to re-develop where I am going.  I can’t change who I am but I CAN change how I look at things and what is important to me.  Isn’t some of it ridiculous?  Yes, yes, it is.

And yet: One hour every morning is now going to be going back to the personal development basics.  To give myself the tools I wasn’t given and redirect a bit.  Kind of like adult braces: You are always going to have to wear that damned retainer because the bone is already formed.  You have to get over the anger and resentment that your parents didn’t take care of it when they should have and just move on.

* You should also know that if you connect it to music as inspiration, you will never be able to listen to those songs again.  And some of them are good. But nope – all you remember is the anger behind them and how that felt.  It is especially problematic if the person is dead or you really really liked the songs.


What Should Be America’s Version of “Never Forget”*

When I was in Evansville, IN last month, I did a lot of walking.  I would walk from my mother’s house on Madison Avenue just East of Highway 41 to the library downtown.

These walks took me straight down Washington Avenue to Haynie’s Corner, where Washington goes left to S.E. 2nd Street and right to Parrett and Third Street.  This was not entirely unintentional.  Besides being the most direct way to the new Central Library** it took me past the corner of Third and Parrett Streets.

Third and Parrett Streets Evansville Indiana

Third & Parrett Streets, Evansville, Indiana. Where did the marker go?

The intersection is one of those strange cut-in intersections that is a result of the original Evansville plat being SE-NW and growing due East and North.

I was looking for something specific.  When I was in high school I brought my Grandma into town for lunch one day and we went walking.  She brought me to this weird little intersection to show me something.  A plaque.  I wanted to get a picture of it.

But there was nothing to be found.  I asked around and a few people say they remember it.  I know it was there when I moved to Chicago in 2000.  Now I am pissed.

The plaque commemorated a Civil War refugee camp that used to be there.  It doesn’t seem like much to some folks, maybe. To me it is part of my core.

I put away thinking about it when I came back to the city until I stumbled across this thread on Metafilter a couple of days later.  I made a comment, but my mind was cloudy and I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I could have been.  I NEEDED to respond, though, so I did. Now I feel like I need to flesh it out a bit.

The Metafilter thread was a link to The Civil War Isn’t Tragic, an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Ta-Nehisi writes for the Atlantic and has written some of the best modern social and racial commentary in his time there.

I have the same reaction to the Civil War that he does.  It does not mean as much for me and where I am today as it does for him (I am white and he is black) but we are in agreement.

It drives me nuts when I hear or read about Southern Romanticism, Civil War battle reenactments, or how maybe slaves had decent masters and it wasn’t all that bad… It drives me absolutely bananas when I am in Southern Indiana and see a Confederate flag as a bumper sticker or flying from a truck or in a window.

The Civil War wasn’t tragic.  It was the first step in what should have been the real leveling of American society.  It was a bloody birth that gave us the opportunity to make things right.  And we squandered it.

Let’s start at the beginning…

This is my Aunt Sarah Elliott:

Sara Elliott

Sarah Elliott*** c. 1880

 Sarah was born in the late 1840s in Elliott, IN.  Her parents were Welsh-Irish immigrants who were farmers, devout Methodists, and proud American abolitionists.  She grew up with the idea that one man shouldn’t own another.  It was part of their interpretation of the American identity that everyone really IS equal. One of the family sayings was (and still is): “If you are good enough to work for me, then you are good enough to eat at my table”.  When there were too many workers to eat in the dining room properly, tables would be set up on the farm and everyone ate al fresco. We are in the United States!

Her brother, William Elliott, was quick to volunteer for Union service when the war broke out. He served in the 42nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry from October of 1861 until October of 1864.

William Elliott Tombstone, 42nd Indiana Infantry

William's tombstone at Bluegrass cemetery in Elliott, IN

She then spent time with family in Evansville during the conflict at that refugee camp helping people get settled and reinvent their lives while her brother fought. He was taken prisoner at Perryville, KY at one point and was discharged in October of 1864 in Rome, Georgia.

The cedar trees in our front yard on our property where I grew up were trees that he brought back in his suitcase from the battle of Lookout Mountain.

Cedar, Juniperus Virginiana, from battle of Lookout mountain.

Cedar, Juniperus Virginiana, from battle of Lookout Mountain in Elliott, IN.

After the war, the family tried to do what they could to help reconstruction along.  Sarah and her mother took in orphans that were wandering the countryside and sent them to school so that they wouldn’t be taken advantage of by farmers who were using the refugees as cheap (often horribly abused and mistreated) labor.  They worked in town to help women get work and Sarah taught freed slaves that were now in Indiana to read.

All of this is to say that I grew up being PROUD of what these people did.  I grew up hearing about how OUR PEOPLE (meaning my family, not white people generally) did our part for the American struggle for equality.  I grew up with my Grandma lamenting that Southerners and Copperheads prevented a proper reconstruction and brought on the racial woes that we as a country had to face for decades after what should have been the beginning of the end of it. I grew up with the idea that April 9, 1865 is when the American dream of real independence truly began.

What does this have to do with anything?  A whole damn lot.

Being from original Lincoln Republican stock, it makes me sick that there has been a shift in the way we look at the Civil War and what it meant to the people fighting.  You hear about the tragedy of brother-against-brother and you read about how it wasn’t really about slavery but about “State’s Rights” you hear any number of things that may have some grain of truth, but (and let’s use the crazy-people caps lock for this):



They didn’t care about whether South Carolina printed their own money or Tennessee could  give women the vote.  They were concerned with their own souls in the eyes of their god and they were willing to fight and shed their own blood so that the taint of slavery would not be on them.


In fact, they weren’t particularly thrilled with the consolidation of Federal power that the war brought with it, but freedom trumped it all.  Freedom trumped everything.

As far as Lincoln changing direction into it and making it about slavery:
“The greatest thing about the President isn’t that he is one of History’s great leaders.  The greatest thing is that he admitted to being wrong and did what was right.” That was what my Grandma said about her mother’s take on his stance on slavery and why he is a hero.

So please, the next time you hear some idiot tell you that the Civil War was about State’s Rights and that slavery was secondary at best or perhaps even an accidental point in the whole affair, please remember my Aunt Sarah and her bother William.

Remember what they did and how they thought about it.  The problem is that time is slipping by and people like me – people who still have these kinds of stories to tell – are going away without writing them down. Cedars in the front yard become “those trees that have been there forever” and Uncle Will becomes an unmarked black and white photograph fading in a box in the attic.  I am lucky because I am so young for someone who has this much of a physical, historical,  and emotional connection to it. Eventually we will lose everyone who has a connection. That is how History gets re-written, and it isn’t good.

*Tangentially related: I was having a conversation with a Rabbi friend of mine.  We were talking about the origin of the Reform Jewish movement in Germany and America in the 19th century and it struck me that there is something similar in America as it relates to general race relations, how we understand each other… It got me thinking something… something about assimilation… Something about the idea that if people just put aside and tuck away what makes them different culturally things will be OK… If we just try to fit in well enough and blend blend blend everything will be fine… Like a battered woman who, if she just makes the dinner without burning it, will go one more day without being hit…

**Kudos to Evansville on the Library, by the way.  It is probably the nicest and most useful thing to have gone up in a long time.

***Her married name was actually Sarah Elliott Smith, but through a particularly gothic turn of events**** we don’t use Smith.

****She was the first wife of her future sister-in-law’s first husband and died of TB around 1888 at 40. Got it? It takes a second and isn’t really easy to grok without more background.  You will just have to wait for my genealogy blog to come out.

Ok, Cut The Comedy*

After this past Spring I decided that I was going to have the Summer off.
But like a late night infommercial: THAT ISN’T ALL! THERE’S MORE!

See, I have had a full-time job since 14 legally and a little before that in reality.  I have (had at this point) never had a Summer off.  Never. Add to that that my best friend died and you get a really good recipe for needing to forgo responsibility for a while.

So this was going to be not only my Summer vacation, but I was going to spend most of it in a bottle.  Yes, that’s right. I am an adult and have no work for three months, so… A Summer of near-constant drinking regardless of the time of day seemed like a GREAT idea. I had never done that.  I had always been too busy and had too many responsibilities.

So I tried.  Believe me, I tried.  My friend Carrie called it a “forgotten Summer” when I told her what I planned to do.  The thing is (and this is why I don’t drink in my regular life as a rule) I have such a high tolerance that I have never blacked out or forgotten anything because of booze.  I may may terrible decisions, I may overreact to things, the hangovers may be unbelievable, but I remember every second of it.

So I have been walking around with beer in styrofoam cups  (don’t worry, I don’t drive) drinking publicly for three months, feeling like I have been getting away with something and then drinking Cabernet or Burgundy from 4 p.m on and settling in with a nice Port before bed.

And now it needs to come to an end.  Luckily I am actually looking forward to it.  But it can’t go on.

After all, We aren’t in Wisconsin, dear.

*My mother’s catchphrase when we were supposed to go to bed and wanted to stay up and play and act like idiots.

Indulgent Redemption

I am going to try to be blunt but not offensive here. It will be hard for me, but in the interests of not seeming too ignorant, I have a nascent thought about what I have always privately called “indulged redemption”.

I was reading Metafilter today and came across this post.

In my mind, indulgent redemption is when one squanders a good deal of time and energy in things that don’t matter and then (TA-DA) finds their redemption in something outside of themselves.  Usually it involves lots of judgment and sometimes it even gives birth to screeds or political movements.  In my mind, it is almost always a negative thing.

I started thinking about it when I was a kid.  My dad, when he first met my mother in the early 1970s, was a fraternity party-boy.  My mother grew up with alcoholics and so wasn’t thrilled with being around it.

So in order to court her, he made a HUGE deal of not drinking anymore.  He was from a teetotaling family anyway, so it was fairly easy for him to do it.  So I grew up with one side of the family raging alcoholics and the other side prim teetotaling Methodists.  It was interesting, to say the least.

And that was my first introduction to indulgent redemption.  It comes close to martyrdom, but not quite.  It is more like wearing a judge’s gavel around your neck 24/7 because you deserve it.

This is just the beginning of an idea… Maybe I’ll get more into it later.

Oh! THAT is what it is!

I picked up a book a few years ago called The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World’s Most Astonishing Number.


This, my friends, is Phi.

I have been reading and re-reading it for the past two years and have never really gotten a good sense of it. I get that it has to do with the Fibonacci Sequence, but I am not a math major. While the idea of Φ (phi) makes sense to me, the nuts and bolts of why it makes sense don’t… make sense.  I mean it is the number or ratio I use when I don’t have an image in my head – chamfering an edge on a piece of wood, establishing a ratio of height-width, et-cetera.  1.618 just works.

So I re-read and play around with it, but it just doesn’t set in my brain.

And then I stumbled across this thread the other day on Metafilter. It is about a 13 year old kid who is experimenting with Fibonacci to harness solar power more effectively based on his observations of trees.

Then my friend Erin posts a link to this story.  And all of the sudden it makes sense.  The article isn’t very well written.  It seems rushed and a little cobbled together, but it has this:

My investigation started with trying to understand the spiral pattern. I found the answer with a medieval mathematician and an 18th-century naturalist. In 1209 in Pisa, Leonardo of Pisano, also known as “Fibonacci,” used his skills to answer a math puzzle about how fast rabbits could reproduce in pairs over a period of time. While counting his newborn rabbits, Fibonacci came up with a numerical sequence. Fibonacci used patterns in ancient Sanskrit poetry from India to make a sequence of numbers starting with zero (0) and one (1). Fibonacci added the last two numbers in the series together, and the sum became the next number in the sequence. The number sequence started to look like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34… . The number pattern had the formula Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2 and became the Fibonacci sequence. But it seemed to have mystical powers! When the numbers in the sequence were put in ratios, the value of the ratio was the same as another number, φ, or “phi,” which has a value of 1.618. The number “phi” is nicknamed the “divine number” (Posamentier). Scientists and naturalists have discovered the Fibonacci sequence appearing in many forms in nature, such as the shape of nautilus shells, the seeds of sunflowers, falcon flight patterns and galaxies flying through space. What’s more mysterious is that the “divine” number equals your height divided by the height of your torso, and even weirder, the ratio of female bees to male bees in a typical hive! (Livio)

And there you have it.  The sequence explained.  I think I am going to pick up the book again once classes start and take another crack at it.  I think I can really get it this time around.

Agriculture Blog Is Up And Running

Just finished setting up the Agriculture blog I have been wanting to get going for a while now: Rural Pursuits.  You can click on the link or go to

Overall, I am happy with it.  It does need just a little tweaking, but it is there.  I have tons of things in the pipeline that I am writing – everything from Hedge Apples to Horses.

Ok, getting called away for real work now.  Stay tuned.