Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I am currently “under-employed” and consequently, I am in a state of amusement because I want to be productive. The last time I was in this situation almost seven years ago, I pumped hundreds of poems that I had written into this WordPress blawg because I am a poet. Present tense, I wanted to make the best use of all of this free time, so I spent countless idle hours getting all of my DJ Lurk’s MP3 mixes online, because I am also a DJ. I clearly remember when I dropped poetry as an expression mechanism and graduated to recording sequences of songs because these sonic paintings expressed my headspace much better than writing in spiral-ring notebooks. It’s been a while since I captured the creative expression of my DJ Lurk persona, but it is humbling that I have almost seven straight days of mixes if you play them start-to-finish.

DJLurkLogo

Providing these sounds to the public is a cathartic, selfish action. As a human being that is capable of influencing the world around me, I find it to be of the utmost importance to provide a measurable value: this time, it is DJ Lurk, my army-of-one alter ego that mixes music instead of writing poetry. The technology has caught up to where it is simple to post an MP3 recording that captures a shitload of hard work. I have already spit about how important it is to Press Record and capture your own efforts. This is because you are the product.

Brother-and-Mallory-Battlemat

DJ Lurk’s biggest fans: Brother and Mallory.

There are three types of people: past tense, present tense, and future tense. Everyone can operate within those categories to a certain level of competence, but everyone defaults to their most comfortable worldview. Typically, I am a creature of present tense; however, when I am faced with my own musical selections recorded in the infinitely replicatable format of digital MP3s, they are messages to yourself from the past. No one is a better subject matter expert on this media than I am: what was I thinking? Where is my mind?

It is way too easy to take a shitload of pictures on your iPhone of your children, pets, loved ones, food plates, vistas, and your experiences — it’s now getting worse, turning into videos and Vine loops — and YOU NEVER LOOK AT THEM AGAIN. The social media drive to post unadulterated crap all of the time is horrific. 21st Century humans collect tons of media almost reflexively; it is the art and action of going back through it and framing it with times, dates, tags, and explanations that will make that media worthwhile. Otherwise it is a waste of audience time and QVC will not invite you back as a vendor. You have to manage your own brand.

With my newfound temporary freedom, I have looked back on my output of product, and I am thrilled to build out the DJ Lurk side of this WordPress blawg with all these recorded dreams of being a professional DJ — DJ Lurk, if you will. This is adding hours of product — original content, if you will — to the Virtual Lilypad, and the effort reinforces that elusive immortality sought by the Froggacuda.

At the top of the page, roll over the DJ Lurk item, and explore the madness and mayhem.

The Way It Is

Posted: August 20, 2015 in Music, Rant
Tags: , , , , ,

Pus & Zero B0y — The Way It Is

Download: PUS & Zero Boy – Adventures in Rhyme – 04 – The Way It Is

I turned this in as my final essay to a Student Colloquium at CCS / UCSB on Female African-American Literature in 1993. Last male standing in the class, this effort got me an A+. Great Depeche Mode inspired synth solo. Nothing has changed: this track holds up well today in 2015.

I was born down south San Diego
left all alone so I got switched to the home
of Mom and Dad – they’re not my real parents
but they’re the ones who loved me best, y’all.
so I made a lot of friends through trial and error.
I learned the hard way not to think or care
about foolish opinions that don’t belong to me.
I try to be happy and who I want to be,
now I’m not saying that I’m a hard lucker
and I’m certainly not a big bad motherfucker.
when I get a lot of money, I tend to share
and when I get real drunk I like to say [yeah!] – beastie boys
I’m never too busy to get busy
and a lot of my friends get busy with me.
I don’t know everything so I go collect knowledge;
I went through high school to end up in college.
I caught a cool class from my good friend Sara
she told me of the problems I should work to take care of.
things aren’t equal in the land of the free
and I know that it isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.
I live my life as best as I can;
I smile and say hello to my fellow man.
I’m not going to tell you how hard I hit,
all the women I’ve been with or any of that shit.
I don’t pride myself on being a jerk
‘cause like Kool Moe Dee [I go to work] – Kool Moe Dee
this world I’m in ain’t the perfect place to live
but I’m not going to keep it just the way it is.

Alright,
maybe I’m weak – I get beat in a fistfight
but before I get up I’ve begun to write.
I pick up my glasses and back home I go
‘cause next week I’ll dis you on the radio.
I’m not the type of guy to reply with violence
but like Bell Hooks it’s hard to keep my silence;
to tell you like it is: ignorance is hell,
so pick up a book and educate yourself.
I can’t stand to see you dismiss my sisters –
think you can rape her just ‘cause you kissed her?
listen very carefully to the words of this song –
you’re not only ignorant – you’re wrong.
now you go home and you beat your wife
and I’ll cheer my head off when you meet her knife.
you haven’t really recognized their rights yet
and you’re wondering why they seem upset?
women cross lines in all races and creeds;
a little respect is all they need.
I make sure my mother gets across on a green light
and I make sure my girlfriends get home at night.
I learn and I write, make music then preach
I’ll get a college degree to continue to teach.
I turn on my mind and mix me a drink
to write something funky to make you think.
I’m not always sure of what I can say
‘cause the PC strictures make my hair turn grey.
some stuck out of luck dumbfuck says it’s none of my biz
but you know it is, that’s the way it is.

(Analog solo a la pus and zero boy)

I light my pipe, sit back and kick back
because I know I just pumped out a fresh track.
I’ve got some homework but I know I’ll be done soon
then I pop in my tape and I [pump up the volume] – MARRS
sometimes I get drunk, bounce checks, and get high,
think about what I want to say and I sigh,
I can’t seem to get it out right through my teeth,
a sharp bladed dagger that’s stuck in its sheath.
because other people don’t let me live
I’m getting plenty of time just learning to forgive.
I guess I’m just waiting for the world to get wise:
talk to your friends and you’ll realize
that I’m not out for world peace,
just tolerance, understanding – some relief at least.
I take time to turn on and tune in,
writing white raps with a big old grin
because I’m slurring you can guess that I’m sauced
but at least my message is coming across.
I get funky on a track ‘cause I’m badder than Cheese Whiz
want to know why?
that’s just the way it is.

[inspired by Sara Seinberg — thanks to Bruce Hornsby]

It has been a hot minute since I have fired up the ol’ WordPress blawg and wrote myself a letter. This effort has an audience of one: myself, and once you accept that, it gets easier. In this feed- and filter-driven 24 hour news cycle of technology, when you are staring at a blank page, it is asking you to be creative and say something. Say anything. It is much better on a cosmic, spiritual scale to create content than to passively watch the social network feeds go by.

I used to write poetry and stories to capture what I was feeling. This “blog” is full of it; when I was unemployed I kept busy (because ADHD) by pumping tons of those “witless driblets” into this online database called WordPress from a stack of hand-written journals that I subsequently burned in the mountains and the deserts in campfires. They’re all now indexed Internet content and ashes. Ribbit. Fuck you. Enjoy.

Once upon a time I built pages for music I composed, wrote, played, produced, rapped and sang on. Labored over, instead of going to class or doing homework, I caught them on magnetic tape and transferred them to a computer. I figured out how to embed those songs here with a play button. I still have a couple of handwritten cassette tapes I can refer to for source material and memories. That includes a page for M0nster Zer0, a band I was instrumental in–ha, ha–when I was in high school.

I remember making DJ Lurk compilations every year for 15 years, many times multiple disc sets, of my favorite music and giving them out by the dozens for free. Custom, handmade printed paperboard CD case insets, printed on an inkjet, and CD-Stomping labels on them. Those comps keep me grounded, and company, because you should always make your own mix tapes.

I used to record two hour sessions of vinyl-spinning to capture all of my music collection the way that I heard it blending and surfing together. That’s how it was on Pete Tong’s Essential Mix program on Radio One: a two-hour uncensored journey. I made this effort because the Woodweaver gave me a Sony DAT recorder that could do two hours per tape; that was hot tech at the time, and I wanted to use it. There are 12 Essential Mix @ Mordenkainen’s Parlour tracks, labelled with exact dates. They have incredible power to return me to years ago.

More recently, with a MacBook Pro and a shitty pair of USB controllers attached to Traktor, I would record DJing live at the Edgemont Compound, the Isle of Lesbos, Below the Chateau, or at a Dirty Little Mansion. This content has names and maybe rough dates, but I was asked to show up and spin, so I did. I get to wonder who this particular character is, because I can’t believe that I produced that. But it is undeniably The Froggacuda.

So there it is as evidence: a poem, a mixtape, an occasion: captured somehow so that I have to go back and verify that it actually happened for my audience of me. Memories that are fleeting ghosts. Content that is hard and unrelenting to experience again and try to put into perspective in the present tense.

Is this thing still on…?

You Betta Recognize

You Betta Recognize

I used to rock a Kermit the Frogg icon that had some iron-on 80’s T-shirt lettering at the top that simply said “you betta recognize”. No exclamation point or nothing. Kermit has some sort of Muppet hand-gesture going on, and it’s just delightful. Recognition: think about it. I’d like to recognize this phenomenon called Dubstep. It is–apparently–a relatively new and popular type of electronic music that has made its way into commercials and Hot Topic and youth culture in a way that I have not witnessed in a while. Little does the average Dubstep fanatic (or Skrillex-only brostep lover) know that this style of music has been around since the mid-1990’s. Vanity Fair is bemoaning that culture has been stuck in a rut for the last two decades, but I think that they are just not looking hard enough for novelty in this sea of multimedia we all swim in.

Those of you who have been to the Man-Cave known as Mordenkainen’s Parlour in person know that I have a lot of loudspeakers. And I have full control over the effects and equalization that eminates from these units. Kleptus, as I write this, is sanding the Saltillo tiles he laid upstairs at Edgemont as I write. Without playing music, the grinding sounds coming from through my roof sounded way too much like these 60 BPM Hybrid-esque breaks that have rocketed to public consciousness.

I am going to embed the video that I think was the springboard to Dubstep for me. I am a music fanatic; a DJ, even. I still marvel at these Video Disc Jockeys that can real-time juggle slices of video as they are mixing good tracks together–it is beyond me. However, I subscribe to the four elements of hip hop so fundamentally that I apply that litmus test to things I listen to when I detect an entire subculture developing in front of my ears. When I saw the dedication of Marquise Smith to a performance of a single track that he loved so much he believed in it, then you can understand why Dubstep is here to stay. Witness this. Recognize.

This reminds me of Mr Fantastic,  Robert Muraine out of LA who auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance? and was subsequently featured on an Ikea commercial. I really think that the expression of dance actually adds the appropriate video element to an audio element that I already am entranced with. As a DJ, I always ask myself this question: how would I dance to this? It’s a fundamental concept if you are running a dance floor. It’s actually where all good DJ decisions come from. I remember in the phenomenal documentary SCRATCH, Africa Bambaatta would just hand unknown records to his DJ and say “the break is about two thirds from the start”. Boom. Play it. Trust. Recognize.

That is musical teamwork. Think Run DMC or Beastie Boys and how fast they can trade rhymes back and forth. Have you ever witnessed freestyling rappers beyond, say, Eminem in 8 Mile? Switch gears to DJs. Now shift again to (break) dancing. If I can extend you one more time, here is the least represented of the four elements of hip hop: (graffiti) artists. Speak, Mix, Dance, Art. This is how I judge musical culture.

Tyler Rae--PEACE!

Tyler Rae--PEACE!

I am getting older–I turned 40 in 2011–and I am trying not to become calcified as an “old guy”. I shamelessly use my godchildren–Tyler, Taylor, and Bélen–as Soundwave’s “little friends” to get a real idea of what is going on in their lives as a present tense report of what they are facing in this minute in America, and like all the brilliant young minds I have seen lately, are NOT CONCERNED about the future. Because they have not lost faith in their elders yet.

Tyler Rae has a buddy who makes Dubstep music, and frankly, he is pretty damn good; I am encouraging her to use her formidable skills to manage this artist.

Taylor has been crushing it in both his schoolwork and on the basketball court.

Taylor--LAKERS!

Taylor--LAKERS!

Bélen earned $10 from me by selling me a cat scratcher that she proved that my über-kitty Brother would actually use and love–after I stepped her through the process of selling product at outrageous prices and then applying a “family discount”. Kleptus and I then showed her the Marquise Smith video and gave her an impromptu (albeit poorly demonstrated) lesson in dancing to Dubstep in my living room.

My lovely niece Michaela just brought my first “blood” nephew into the world: Breslin Franklin Geddes, who is by all pictures and reports a bundle of joy. I asked when I could start sending video games and Lego kits.

I actually receive quite a bit of passive-aggressive shit that I don’t have kids of my own; hey, I don’t need them–I have plenty of responsibilities to insure these life forms generated by my friends and family grow up happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Belen at Sheep's Canyon

Belen at Sheep's Canyon

What does this have to do with knighting Dubstep a relevant musical phenomenon that is worth paying attention to? There are a couple of reasons, but the most important is that Dubstep is the product of young people. Music is its own language, like math–although I have always been better at music than algebra or speaking Spanish–and as a language, it has dialects, is a creative endeavor, and is constantly morphing. Dance is a physical interpretation of a piece or pieces of music. Playing music, whether a live instrument (and that includes turntables, people), singing, or pre-recorded–hell, even clapping or whistling along–is an act of creation. I grew up doing yardwork with my dad, and when engrossed in a task, he would idly whistle. This is his equivalent of Michael Jordan hanging his tongue out of the side of his mouth when he was contemplating just how to dunk on an outmatched opponent. It made the chores go by faster, and fostered my personal philosophy that everyone has a soundtrack going on in their head-space. Some of us also have a laugh track and a sound effects track as well. I’m so in love with media that this is the best way that I can describe what ADHD is like. All of this is going on in my head, all of the time. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Dubstep accurately represents how gritty, slow motion, and ridiculous the present tense is. DJ Lurk firmly believes that the BPM meter has flipped: we have had enough of trying to communicate music at ever-faster beats-per-minute. 165+ BPM craziness has been around since the drum machine was distributed to the masses in a programmable and affordable unit. For crying out loud, Google “Happy Hardcore” and try to dance to that. It was a mid-1990s staple. But now we have rolled over to the bottom of the BPM spectrum. This is a stroke of genius.

Dubstep is fundamentally SLOW. As in slow down. Look at Marquise Smith: he is interpreting everyday–nay, every MOMENT–life. He ties his shoes. He’s just waiting for a friend or public transport. All the while amusing himself–and us–with an incredible display of interpretive dance. You can WORK to Dubstep. Folding laundry–a task I loathe for some reason–becomes fun when listening to Dubstep. I mentioned (and linked) Robert Muraine before; he’s a street performer from LA. Check out his audition for “So You Think You Can Dance”; spoiler: you betchya!

Muraine is not quite using Dubstep per se, but a parallel style that can sometimes be labelled as “Glitch”. Again, this is not exactly the type of club banger that you regularly hear on your normal 128-136 BPM dance circuit, yet talented dancers thrive when translating strange beat signatures, weird synthetic noises, and general wubwubwub. This stuff is not old people music; it is a blend of new, ever evolving technology with the oldest communication in the world: beats. And I find that there is almost no better way to understand the mindset of today’s youth than to figure out what they are listening to and how they dance to it.

It is possible that technology like samplers and drum machines makes our music lazy; a great 20 minute example of this is the Amen Break, which is the most popularly over-used sample in the history of music. On the other hand, I think that all of this tech allows for more freedom, more creativity, and the awesomeness of remixing and repurposing music. There is a whole movement of people who use loop pedals and effect units to do incredible things with just their voices as the only instrument they are playing, whether it is just straight beatboxing talent like Eklips or the jaw-dropping stylings of Hyperpotamus. Here’s a fan-made video set to Benny Benassi’s track Cinema remixed by the king of brostep, Skrillex, that was brought to my attention by the mighty Woodweaver.

For me, it is really all about dropping heavy-lidded into a sort of trance and almost seeing the composition; your body will then attempt to express this feeling through dance, through singing, through art, and through making your own music. Trust me, I still love the 80’s stuff I grew up on that was new and fresh and edgy, but there is no purpose in becoming trapped in your own set of oldies but goodies just because that is where you are most comfortable–and possibly nostalgic. Today’s youth culture is more vibrant than ever, and it is less frequently older generations that push the boundaries of sound. They used to say that teenagers built the original World Wide Web because they were the only ones with enough disposable time and passion to actually figure out HTML. The same thing goes with music. And art. And dance, and song. Pay attention! Recognize!

There has been no song I have listened to more consistently in 2011 than the cover of the Pixies’ “Where is my Mind?” from the Sucker Punch original soundtrack by Yoav featuring Emily Browning. For those of you who have seen Sucker Punch that haven’t made this connection, Emily is Baby Doll in the movie, thus she is in the video–this Australian siren has a pretty set of pipes and is featured all over the OST. I saw Yoav live in San Diego about eight years ago–opening up for Tori Amos of all people–and he is abominably talented as well. This phenomenal version of a spectacular song is just hauntingly beautiful. There really are not words. Check out this (apparently) German fan-made, wonderfully reconstructed version below; turn it up and full-screen this shit.

If you are just reading past the video and have not yet seen it, STOP. Go back and watch it. Context is very important in this world of too much information, and you will not get a true understanding of the rest of this blog post without watching the above. I don’t care if you have seen Sucker Punch or not; if you saw it and hated it: fine–I am talking to you Beth Accomando (and trust me, I love Zombie Beth). The availability of soundtracks and footage across the Internet allows for the basement creation of a six minute version of Sucker Punch that does a great job of substituting for the whole movie. The real question that I have for myself is this: why do I keep coming back to this song over and over again all year long? It is because the title is really, really thought-provoking: WHERE IS MY MIND?

This is how my parents still see me.

This is how my parents still see me.

This question seriously resonates with me because I am 40 years old now. I used to be smart–really smart, as proven by years of crushing K-12 curriculum and standardized tests at the top of my classes without any effort. Then I realized that I was more black sheep than white and got into the bad habits that I continue until this day: drinking like a fish, smoking like a chimney, eating as an afterthought maybe once a day, never seeing medical professionals, prescribing myself my own medicine, depriving myself of sleep to the point of just passing out on my couch each night, working until my fingers bleed, giving everything I have to the world right now. It is being present tense rather than living in the past or praying for the future, and it’s the only way that I know how to conduct myself to maximize my value to humankind. The problem is that this head-down approach causes me to lose my mind, and as I get older, sometimes I just stop what I am doing and I ask myself…

Where is my mind? It is–and always has been–fascinated with death. I “flunked” my first IQ test in my early years because I was grappling with the fact that I would never talk to my great-grandmother Massie ever again. When the score came back that I was a moron, my Mom–bless her heart–stormed into the school and demanded a do-over. IQ: 143 as opposed to 80-something. My teenage years of writing depressing poetry document this preoccupation well; I still believe that that the close presence of death smells like Pez candy. Over the years, I lost the rest of my grandparents as they moved on to the next level; these deaths are expected, but they are still sad and thought-provoking. Yet you see and hear about death all of the time: from horror movies to the nightly news; from video games where you can earn “extra lives” or “resurrect” or “respawn” to Steve Jobs‘ apparent sainthood, the Seal Team raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, and the execution of Troy Davis. Death and taxes: we are all just inured to it. As you get older and live more years, gaining more experience, you encounter instances of death that are more shocking than the normal background noise of life happening until it doesn’t anymore. Then it’s all you can do to not think about what dying means to you.

Ansel Adams: Moon and Half-Dome

Ansel Adams: Moon and Half-Dome

For me, personally, the untimely but beautiful death of my close friend Bela Chris Feher is strikingly haunting because he died doing what he loved to do: that is his legacy. That is setting the bar pretty damn high, and I don’t forgive him for leaving me behind. Bela was my friend, and I miss him every day; I would have loved to see what he would have thought of Occupy Wall Street. Remember, BC Feher is the guy who would send long diatribe e-mails to the Federal Government calling them out on complex conspiracy theories. I still find myself thinking “oh shit–you know who would love this? Bela!” and then I have to chiggity-check myself. I refuse to take his contact info out of my phone. I can’t watch Aliens or listen to The The or mention D&D without reminiscing about Chris. Because he is dead. And he left behind some truly epic stories, and that is precisely what I aim to do.

Let me be clear: I am not depressed, nor do I consider keeping an eye on He Who Rides a Pale Horse unhealthy in the least. Death is the second bookend, and our entire existence is spent putting this fact off until tomorrow. This inescapable event supersedes other important life measures and milestones: your spouse, your career, your family, your children, your accomplishments. Terence McKenna informed me that my responsibility as a Shaman are to view the “wiring under the boards” and return with critical information for the rest of my tribe; that is why I am exploring “Where is My Mind” in writing. Carlos Castaneda taught me that if you look fast enough with an empty mind over your left shoulder that you will see Death waiting. That is an incentive, my fellow human beings. I guess I’ve been at a Mexican standoff with the Grim Reaper long enough now that I just shrug. 40 years and you still can’t kill me! Come at me, bro.

Come At Me Bro

Come At Me Bro

I blog because my mind (aha! there it is!) wanders through the drudgery of everyday existence, past the wasteland of mortality, and suddenly stumbles on to a garden of legacy: what can I say I have truly accomplished so far in my life? What am I leaving behind when I level up? Can I die today–hoka hey–and be content that I was net-positive to the bank balance of humanity? I am certain that everyone at one time or another has had the distinct feeling that they are being watched, or on hidden camera: did I just hear laughter, an audience, a echo of soundtrack? There is a distinct deja-vu-esque prickle of awareness like some sort of prehistoric monster surfacing from your subconscious and thrilling up your spine: a frisson of “da fuq?” Maybe it’s a twitch of your Kundalini. A repeating black cat in The Matrix. Perhaps it is God watching your particular sitcom on His omniscient media center. Too many thoughts like this will drive a person insane; as A-Pope said:

Great wits are to madness near allied / And thin partitions do their bounds divide.

Seriously, ask yourself this question: where is your mind? What has that powerful, agile, sexy beast been doing the last five minutes? Do you remember what it feels like when you learn something earth-shakingly new and a big lightbulb goes on? Admire, acknowledge, and respect yourself for a minute; your body is a temple; verily, an Oracle of Delphi, where your brain, and your heart, and your soul, supposedly reside. Admit it to yourself: you are unique and totally, 100% perfect as is. You exist; that fact is relevant enough to take a deep breath and continue on and forward: there is only one You. Until you die. Then the bookends–and everything in between–go to the thrift store, and you have your legacy. Speaking of legacy; TIL from Reddit that The Pixies – Where Is My Mind? was transmitted to team behind the Mars Rover in order to “wake it up”. Wake up!

"Da Fuq is this?"

“Da Fuq is this?”

I write things down because I have always wanted to leave an important and cohesive body of work behind me for someone else to discover, enjoy, and maybe get lost in. Shit–my Dad even wrote a book; talk about setting the bar high, /grumble. Perhaps the Virtual Lilypad is an easily-accessible site for anthropology studies of privileged white males in San Diego from 1971 to 2011 and beyond. Maybe someone else will stumble across my original work and it will move them in a positive direction. At least I have generated a record that I existed once upon a time, and I have provided poems and DJ mixes and art to the international community. The world–especially the online, electronic world that we all increasingly participate in–suffers drastically from a lack of original content that can endure the test of time. For every single person that presses record and captures something, I guarantee that there are at least 1000 other people currently on this rock we agree to call Earth that will point to your effort and express “that is how I feel!” You just need to be brave enough to give yourself full credit. For me it is surviving 40 years of being on this damn planet. It’s a fucking accomplishment. And I am not dead yet.

Communication is Leadership: everyone row in the same direction

Communication is Leadership: everyone row in the same direction

INTRODUCTION

Communication is the bedrock of the human condition: there is perhaps no greater accomplishment of homo sapiens than being able to share an idea, a concept, or an opinion with a fellow ape. In the 21st century, there are more ways to share your own unique perspective on the world to the world than ever before in the blink-of-a-galactic-eye that we upjumped animals call human history than ever before, yet I keep running into the same old problem: people don’t know how to communicate. I am not talking about using the right emoticons in a text message, or being unable to get their video running on their GoToMeeting videoteleconference, or attaching a file or photo to an e-mail message. I am talking about the raw ability of people to actually communicate: that is, to exchange information effectively. I have recently run into two situations where this lack of what I consider to be a fundamental skill–like walking upright and breathing regularly–has driven me to take definitive, tie-cutting, self-preservationist action.

SITUATION ONE: Read My Mind

As a self-proclaimed King of the Nerds, a hard-working employee, a small business owner, and a 15 year IT veteran, I have a constant stream of requests coming in to assist people with an alphabet soup of apps, platforms, strategies, tech help, troubleshooting, and plain old good advice from a geek. Most of these pleas for assistance I handle with my inimitable blend of slightly-pedantic schoolteacher and humorous, patient, step 1-2-3 teach-a-man-to-fish wizardry; I like to see people do great things with their ideas, and I understand how frustrating a simple tech impediment can be for someone who just wants it to work. Occasionally I will run into a situation where communication breaks down because someone is making the assumption that you can read their mind. And they will get very frustrated because you cannot read their mind. This also breeds the Catch-22 situation of either requesting additional clarification–thus angering them further–or making your best guess–and then running afoul of not having delivered what was in their mind. This is maddening, and I am certain that most everyone has run into this situation before.

Spock IS able to read minds; however he has to lay his hands on you to do so

Spock IS able to read minds; however he has to lay his hands on you to do so

Case in point: while assisting a small company with the creation of their corporate website, I was bluntly accused of not following the proper policies and procedures. Since I had never seen these policies and procedures, I asked for a copy of said P&P, and none were produced. Instead, a stream of angry invective about “common sense” and a slew of unrelated issues were produced with how unhappy this company was with my performance. Seeking to understand where the communication had broken down, I continued to probe the issue by pointing out the obvious disconnect: I cannot follow P&P if I don’t know what the P&P are. And lo! the client was enraged further. For the first time in my life, I was sincerely agog at the wrath of the client. There was only one option: I calmly handed off all of my projects and responsibilities to other team members and quit working with that company.

From my training and experience with teaching both high school and college classes, I am fond of reminding people that “the only dumb question is the one that goes unasked”. Without bending the thrust of this idea through ridiculous situation-based specifics, I strongly believe that anyone who is asking a question is trying to communicate effectively. You have to extend this basic credit to a person who wants clarification. It should also cause you to listen to the question, both the content and the context; and this simple act of communication–between a someone asking a question and someone responding with information–is literally how the world works. No amount of technology, power, or skill is going to change this most basic of things on a fundamental level. It just boggles my mind that some people are so caught up in themselves that they make no attempt to listen. Willingly or unwillingly, they are breaking the time-honored chain of communication from one individual to another. The only recourse is to join them in the obstruction: stop attempting to communicate and effectively, give up.

"He said 'this one's for Becky', as he watched the last one fall..."

"He said 'this one's for Becky', as he watched the last one fall..."

Choosing to walk away–or as Kenny Rogers puts it in “Coward of the County”, turn the other cheek–is incredibly difficult for me to do. It is like choosing to fail, and I avoid making that choice at all costs; there HAS to be a way to compromise, remove this impediment, or find a win-win situation. On the other hand, I really don’t like to choose to fight, but in the most reductionist, simple terms: communication comes down to fight-or-flight, and you gain more information by fighting to communicate than by fleeing and guessing.

And, if you really want to talk about policies and procedures, it is now my policy to not do any more pro bono IT work or consulting. It is very much why lawyers are so careful not to hand out advice willy-nilly; it can be construed as an attorney-client relationship, and now you are on the hook to see the issue through in one way or another. This is colloquially called the Cocktail Party Client phenomenon [PDF, 123kb]. There was also a phenomenal Reddit thread (that of course I can’t find) from a lawyer walking all the way through how much work one “free” piece of advice from a lawyer could cause–and this was via experience, not theory–including the fact that the lawyer had to prove in court that there was no attorney-client relationship (thus NOT representing the “client’s” best interests) and a running total of dollars lost versus a paying client who would benefit from all the skill and knowledge of the attorney in a proper relationship. Doctors also can’t–or shouldn’t–give free information for approximately the same reasons. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but IT people: you must protect yourself in the same way by getting an agreement in place or by resisting the urge to fix things for free. Although this goes against every fiber of my being to help, teach, assist, educate, and un-frustrate people, the same technologies that enable people to communicate often fail to do so effectively.

My final thought on example #1: Read My Mind: if I had a do-over with this same client, I am pretty damn certain that I would handle it exactly the same way as I did the first time. NOBODY reads minds, and when you explain to someone that “I cannot read your mind” if their response is “everyone else does; why can’t you?” then it is time to end that relationship post-haste. It is unreasonable to expect someone to be a Jedi mind-reader (presumably like everyone else), and unconscionable to excoriate someone who “can’t”.

SITUATION TWO: Occupy San Diego and the Threat of Legal Action

A sympathetic OWS protester in Munich (AP Photo/Joerg Koch)

A sympathetic OWS protester in Munich (AP Photo/Joerg Koch)

It is no secret that I am fascinated by the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon that is sweeping the globe. Although a lot of assumptions can be made about my politics, civics, and sympathies by this fact, I have carefully considered where I stand on the #OWS issue, and I can assure you that you don’t have any concept what my actual position is. The corollary to “I can’t read your mind” is, conveniently, “you can’t read mine”. In a nutshell, I am enthralled with the real-time adventures of the American people voicing their discontent by exercising their Constitutional rights to be n

oticed, seen, and heard. Some people describe this as “democracy in action” — I think that it is certainly “communication in action”, and as such, deserves paying attention to and forming your own opinion about so that you can participate in the melee in one way, shape, or form, whether it is on the ground at an #OccupyEverything event, around the watercooler at your job (if you have one), or heated and valuable Facebook wall discussions. Trust me: I have actively participated in all three in the last 168 hours.

I have been following the OWS movement since early September, when I first got wind of it. I am very interested in what sort of reactions and results happen because of regular people deciding to come together and test the exercise of their rights in America, especially in this economic depression, this political landscape, and this unprecedented age of information. The Internet has transformed communication at its core: it really can only be compared to the invention of movable type and the printing press; perhaps even the written word and language itself; i.e., communication. Much has been said about the role of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other new media in communicating real-time information, as evidenced by the “Arab Spring” and the riots in the UK, but now we see this come to the American heartland. What are we Americans–who invented a lot of this tech–going to do with it?

OccupySD protesters being arrested for refusing to take down tents at the San Diego Civic Center (AP Photo/ Gregory Bull)

OccupySD protesters being arrested for refusing to take down tents at the San Diego Civic Center (AP Photo/ Gregory Bull)

So when the OWS movement came to San Diego, I figured “think globally; act locally” and started trawling the websites, Facebook pages, Twitter and Tumblr accounts, LiveStreams, and other Internet-based intel that were available to get some local boots-on-the-ground information as to how this event was happening in real-time. The experience was eye-opening, to say the least: not only did it take an inordinate amount of browser windows to keep track of all of the latest breaking rumor, news, announcements, and innuendo, everyone participating had the best of intentions, yet were engaged in an organic exercise of “telephone”. Because all of this chaos was happening within 30 blocks of where I live in San Diego, I was enthralled with the way that my sleuthing and juggling of two different browsers packed with 20+ tabs of information would see the same event ripple out with dozens of voices and opinions, none of which quite aligned. It was an awesome firehose of information, and yet I couldn’t get over the fact that if this communication was coordinated just a little bit better it would make all the difference in the world between having a geek like me able to piece together all of the relevent info from a dozen technologies and a regular person being up to speed on the latest by checking a Facebook page.

Violating my pro bonorule from the previous example, I decided to jump in as a volunteer on the LiveStream chats and lend my skills to squash rumors and promote advantageous information sharing across these social networks, calling out my sources with links and pleading for representation on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Meanwhile, let the opinionated move the chat room along with discussion and conversation. It was a powerful, organic solution that included either loops of relevant video production and occasional live events brought to you by a number of dedicated personnel including video producers, tech people, anonymous donations of equipment, and most importantly, several dedicated LiveStream anchor personalities. It was the height of professionalism when I could depend on the LiveStream coming up and someone like Kym or Kali was dependably giving us on the receiving end of the latest on-the-ground information backed up with a full audio-video stream.

Protesters marching on October 7, 2011 at the start of the Occupy San Diego movement (Nelson C. Cepeda)

Protesters marching on October 7, 2011 at the start of the Occupy San Diego movement (Nelson C. Cepeda)

I was so impressed, I decided to get directly involved. I have been to #OccupySD locations dozens of times. I have been invited to moderate committee meetings due to my percieved neutrality, focus on coordination, and leadership via discussion and compromise. I have personally driven to multiple locations to provide boots-on-the-ground reporting to the members of the live chat so that they could get accurate information out. I have donated a significant amount of time, money, and effort just to insure that people can get factual, relevant, real-time information out of the Occupy San Diego movement so that we don’t come across like a bag of dicks. This is an inside joke from the Occupy SD “Media Team” worth explaining. One person trying to figure out if the LiveStream was actually live said “if you can hear me, say ‘bag of dicks'”… I said “bag of dicks” in chat. That went out to roughly 150 people on the LiveStream, including international news media. Oops. Now search YouTube for “Live TV News Bloopers”. Shit happens. Let’s get back to getting accurate information out, right? I will just get back on the phone and try to continue to negotiate win-win situations, and having everyone associated with OccupySD row in the same direction.

Last Wednesday, I went down to the Civic Center (CC) for the first time to attend the PR/Media Committee meeting before General Assembly (GA). I came in my Boy Scout uniform and ridiculous camo hat with a whiteboard of suggestions, requests, and feedback from the chatroom. I had told my friends on the Live Stream chat that I would go represent their interests; after all, I should have some weight representing 150 people or so, right? I was effectively ignored, besides contributing some “let’s move along” Certifed ScrumMaster advice. I figured I had more value going back to the Live Chat and reporting that the Committee had heard me…sortof…and continuing to quash rumors and link to verified information.

It became pretty easy to recognize kindred spirits in the chat room; they were the ones who really wanted to insure factual information dissemination and quash rumors. I am pleased to report that I made quite a few good acquaintances via the OSD chat infrastructure. That is why I took another crack at organizing the online presence of Occupy SD: I stood up the “SMC” or “Social Media Committee” Friday night.

Full regalia for the BSA uniform; although I have all this stuff, I just wore the shirt

Full regalia for the BSA uniform; although I have all this stuff, I just wore the shirt

On Saturday, I went to the Civic Center and moderated a small group of dedicated people in a discussion of Social Media. I think we started out with 10 people, most of whom had come down to have this discussion because I had deigned to appear in person to help moderate the discussion, and ended up with an unruly crowd of 40+. I was there to promote healing. I believe my catch-phrase was to “rise from the ashes like a Phoenix!”. I have never in my life drawn on that many hidden reserves of calm and patience as I did for that meeting. If you did not understand that there were a lot of egos and misplaced anger and flat-out territorialism concerning the flow of information out of Occupy SD after that gathering, well, then you weren’t there. We accomplished having most people leave with a sense of purpose, unity, and urgency: the Occupy SD social media had to do a better job of coordinating accurate information. Let’s get to work; I will help coordinate and broker win-win situations.

It was later Saturday evening that one person, understandably frustrated, uttered the words “file criminal charges”. It was not in any way directed at me, nor my efforts for Occupy SD; however, them’s fighting words, and my self-preservation kicked in.  This is why I quit answering my phone, responding to e-mails, and otherwise participating in the movement for the time being. I have witnessed more nefarious bullshit–circulating chat room logs, threatening legal actions, locking people out of accounts, redirecting websites, hijacking donation sites and their funds, bitching on live-to-the-world broadcasts, accusing people of being “infiltrators”–than I have ever seen in my life. You all should be ashamed of yourselves, and you know who you are. In fact, this clash of egos is the Achilles heel of the entire OSD movement.

Occupy Wall Street, and “We Are the 99%” has to understand what including 99% means. A constituency of 99% it is a movement of inclusion, not exclusion–we all have to get along and agree on basic principles to be able to communicate.  In order to communicate effectively, you have to broadcast at a 6th grade comprehension level in the US. A lot of my friends would insert a Fox News joke here; I have learned to insert a MainStream Media (MSM) joke here because they are the same thing: profit-driven talking heads with fancy graphics and reliably suspect information. When you see an organic movement such as Occupy SD actually get a live broadcast of a semblance of a news report that glues you to the screen because it is actually happening in real-time, this is nothing less than a triumph of communication and technology.

No amount of technology replaces simple, time-honored communication skills

No amount of technology replaces simple, time-honored communication skills

My final thoughts on Example #2: Occupy Wall Street and the Threat of Legal Action: Communication is broken within the OccupySD Media Team from the perspective of the Internet; this audience is measurably 100+ people strong and can occasionally multiply by a factor of 10, and they are figuratively dying to help out, participate, and communicate. They are doing the best that they can with the tools that they are given, and they want their voices to be heard. I don’t see the difference in this 21st century of me speaking in person or through Skype / Facebook / Twitter / Chat Room. I don’t believe my voice is diminished because I am rendered on a computer screen versus standing there in front of you saying the same thing, and OccupySD should pay equal attention to the awesome volunteers that are participating virtually as well as the physically present ones.

CONCLUSION

Communication is broken: we just don’t know how to get our point across effectively any more, from the hundreds of communication technologies to the strangeness of having to talk to another human being in person–like during the SD Blackout of 2011–without your iPhone, tablet, or computer signaling you and demanding your attention with a never ending stream of update messages, SMS messages, e-mails, phone calls, Skype conferences, Facebook posts, Twitter retweets, Dropbox syncs, Growl pings, FourSquare check-ins, Yelp! reviews, YouTube video suggestions, LiveStreams, GoodReads notes, software updates, and the rest of the cornucopia of ADHD business that occurs through your tech. Redouble your efforts–regardless of the platform–to understand whether or not you are listening, and in return, if you are being heard.

None of this technology can read your mind.

None of these gadgets removes the fact that you are responsible for your own actions.

I was driving to work at Fortis Family on September 11th, 2001, just pulling into the parking garage around 8:45 am while listening to Neil Boortz on talk radio when he stuttered and went quiet for a long couple of seconds. He stammered unintelligibly, and then stated in an incredulous tone that he had just been handed a note: an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I pulled into a parking space and turned off my truck, leaving the radio running. After verifying what I thought I had just heard, I sprinted inside the building and up four flights of stairs to the breakroom and turned on the television to CNN.

CNN video in progress

The network was scrambling to get any sort of information on what had just happened; news teams were mobilizing to get shots of the skyline of NYC where an appalling cloud of smoke was erupting from the side of the famous twin towers. The shock and horror was evident on the faces of the anchors that were struggling mightily to absorb and translate the chaotic eyewitness reports that were pouring in across all sorts of media. Other Fortis employees were passing the break room, and on inquiring why the TV was up so loud I solemnly turned and said “something terrible is happening”. Nobody left the small hallway-sized kitchen; my co-workers reacted in one of two ways: they either crowded in and stared dumbfounded as the shaky handheld videos started being rolled out onscreen, or they turned stark white and ran to get their mobile phones to call their family and friends in New York. I distinctly remember someone asking desperately “which tower? WHICH TOWER!” because they knew a number of people at one of the insurance firms at the intersection of Liberty and Church Streets.

Fortis Family occupied half of the fourth floor of the building, probably 35 or 40 total employees, and most everyone was packed into the break room. Since I was the first person in, and closest to the TV, I was repeating the most concrete information that I had heard over every two or three minutes to keep new arrivals informed as more people crowded into the small space. Just after 9 am, we all witnessed the live reports that a second plane had flown into the South Tower. In the stunned silence, broken only by the horrified stammering of the news broadcast, I turned to my fellow IT Project Leader Ben Leslie and said “this is not an accident; this is deliberate…”

Front license plate on the old Nissan since 9/11

Front license plate on the old Nissan since 9/11

After verifying that the second plane wasn’t some sort of sick joke or acid flashback, I hurried outside to smoke and I called my parents in San Diego. It was quarter after 6 am on the West Coast and I shouted into the phone to get out of bed and turn on the television. My mom, struggling to wake up, said she’d have my father turn on the TV. I called my brother Kyle, who travels to NYC often — he was in Las Vegas, luckily, and left him an urgent message; later I found out he had several friends from Stanford that perished in the destruction. After sucking down several coffin nails in a row, I went back upstairs to the break room, shouldering my way back into a space where I could see and hear the unbelievable efforts of CNN anchors who were barely keeping it together while trying to report this ghastly event in real time. I made it back up in time to hear the rumor, then confirmation, that a third plane had hit the Pentagon and that a fourth–and possibly a fifth and sixth–plane had been hijacked: targets, unknown. As news crews and amateur videos flooded in, there were gasps and cries as we witnessed people hanging out of twisted steel windows waving clothing and to try to get help, and eventually, bodies plummeting dozens of stories downward as people jumped from those windows. Some people fled to their offices and cubicles, tears streaming down their faces; others were desperately trying to get through to loved ones, only to receive “all circuits are busy”. Others shuffled away in stunned silence. A couple people were praying.

Best newspaper headline of them all

By 10 am, the break room had mostly cleared out. People were trying to figure out what to do in order to make sense of what they had seen. Some were trying to go back to work; others were huddled in little groups throughout the fourth floor talking in hushed tones, some comforting others. I have an unhealthy interest in catastrophic events, and I knew that there was no fucking way I was going back to work. In fact, I was planning to leave for home to be able to use my home computers and televisions to gather as much information as possible at once as this was happening. I can’t remember exactly who the four or five people were in the break room with me — I think Art Saul was there — when the South Tower collapsed in a slow motion rush of almost graceful destruction. The wall-hung 27″ TV could not adequately contain the shaky on-the-street footage of the most horrifying thing I have ever witnessed in my life. Every person in that room was transfixed in sheer awe; there are not words to describe the scant 10 seconds it took for the building to irrevocably change the NYC skyline by plunging millions of tons of concrete and steel downward “almost a quarter of a mile” into a choking, billowing cloud of debris that flooded the streets and overwhelmed the cameraman. Somebody screamed in the break room. Co-workers came running. We could only point at the screen with mouths agape. Someone said “it’s just gone!” Someone else sobbed; “oh my god there were people in there!

The subsequent images on that TV were mind-numbingly awful: people covered in dust and detritus stumbling out of the surreal darkness; people on the street who were watching fleeing the scene. Reports of casualties kept flooding in; they were too much to absorb: firefighters, police, Port Authority…and regular people. Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania; the Pentagon was on fire; rampant speculation on who was behind this monstrous — and now apparent — acts of gruesome terrorism. There were many more people in the break room when the North Tower collapsed at 10:30 am, and I am certain that some of them did not believe that the first tower had crumbled. I couldn’t take any more; I left work and went home.

President GWB delivering his infamous megaphone speech on 9-14-2001

I didn’t turn my television off for hours and days. I watched the Congress of the United States, helpless and trying to lead a country rocked with multiple simultaneous attacks spontaneously sing “God Bless America” on the steps of the capital live on national television. I remember the President stating through a bullhorn “I can hear you! I can hear YOU! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” American flags and related items cleared the shelves. The stories of bravery and heroism continued to pour out of the news channels; hundreds of emergency personnel rushing back into the fray to rescue complete strangers; the ultimate sacrifice documented by cellular phones from Flight 93 who apparently rushed the cockpit with a drink cart to force the hijackers to plunge the plane into the ground rather than the nation’s capital as is the speculated target; a dead and injured toll that kept ratcheting up and up until it was too much for anyone, anywhere, to bear. And America set aside all of these petty differences we endure today, 10 years later, and in the face of horrific tragedy, we were a unified nation. True patriotism by 100% of the American people had not been challenged — nor demonstrated — in that same way since Pearl Harbor, and these were not military personnel: these were regular people like you or I going to their regular jobs and going home to their regular families in their regular neighborhoods.

The original version of the cover of In Memoriam

10 years later the political rhetoric has ratcheted up to where the rest of the world believes that we are paralyzed and divided. Even the events of 9/11 are being politicized and leveraged in the never-ending pursuit of political power, monetary gain, and network ratings. This is the ever evolving “normal state” of the USA; our 24 hour news cycle and the advent of all of this real-time 21st century technology allows us to air our dirty laundry constantly in 160 characters or less all of the time. Do not make the simple mistake that America is divided or paralyzed. This is democracy across a federation of 50 states, and the most successful democracy the world has ever known. On the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, I would present to you this very hallowed advice: do not fuck with the United States of America. It may take ten years and thousands of our people’s lives and millions of dollars of spending, but as one of our Presidents stated:

“Make no mistake: the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” ~George W. Bush

In the days and weeks following 9/11, I collected a huge number of nameless “basement” DJs and producers trying to express their feelings about this event, using songs that have deep meaning and laboriously, lovingly, and respectfully laying in samples of the newscasts that we witnessed that day. It is the innovation and leadership that I expect of my fellow Americans; all I have done is kept these archives for 10 years to share with you now. This is why my alter ego DJ Lurk will never produce any compilation that compares at all with this one: 09-11-01 In Memoriam. I hope this is my most-found blog post. I hope someone makes a lesson plan for high schoolers out of this. I hope Anderson Cooper calls me to interview me for my perspective. I hope that our political leadership downloads this entire album and it becomes required listening. I hope that the people who built these incredibly moving, inspiring, and truly important works of art find this and I can tell you that I love you for these tracks. I have blasted them out of my significant stereo system every September for a decade.

TL;DR: Listen to the first track, below: Faith Hill’s version of The Star Spangled Banner (WTC Mix) and see if you want to hear the rest.

DJ LURK — 09-11-01: In Memoriam

Faith Hill – The Star Spangled Banner

Blessid Union of Souls – I Believe

Live – Lightning Crashes

Collective Soul – The World I Know

Creed – Higher

Don Henley – New York Minute

Annie Lennox – Why

R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts

U2 – Stuck in a Moment

Live – Overcome

Sarah McLachlin – Angel

Higher Faith – Angels in Heaven

Splendor – God Can Explain

Jo Dee Messina and Tim McGraw – Bring on the Rain

Leeann Rymes – Please Remember Me

Jewel – Hands

James Horner – My Heart Will Go On

Lee Greenwood – God Bless the USA

Enya – Only Time

Here is an extra-special bonus clip: Depeche Mode did a little seen promo video for Enjoy the Silence on top of the World Trade Center in 1990.

I have ranted before about this strange drive I have to create things. Being digital has helped a lot, because I can perform magick tricks that were only in my head–or I didn’t think I had the chops to do–and send them out into the world as my little wind-up creatio

n and see where they ended up. Case-in-point: my buddy Miguel runs an awesome blog/podcast/site called The Monster Island Resort Podcast. It was his birthday. Through FB, he asked what his “monsters” were going to do for his b-day. I suggested in a comment a Photoshop-Miguel-into-vintage-movie-posters contest. I really thought the amateur PSers would come out of the woodwork. Apparently, it is not such a common skill

Miguel vs Monster Zero

Miguel vs Monster Zero

; this means I am taking my own proficiency for granted. Far be it from me to suggest a contest without participating; I threw together a pic of Miguel laughing via screencap off of his FB and Google Image searched for some Godzilla movie posters. A few minutes in PS later, and I sent the composite up to Imgur and posted the link back to his FB wall. Lo and behold: I won the contest! He posted it up in his FB album. My artwork is now–briefly–his FB icon. I laugh every time I see it, and I brought a friend some birthday magick.

Because I PRESSED RECORD.

I am still sortof blown away that I have written poetry for something like 25 years (not so much lately), and I have 15 consecutive years of doing music compilations. I am listening to my record collection that Kleptus and Moonbow helped me move into my spare bedroom after 2 years of rotting in my garage, and every song I hear is a message I had left behind for me to discover later on. This funk phenomenon has happened to me many times over the year. It is why I am passionate about creating. “I’m not bragging; I’m confessing” ~King Fantastic

My last entry was So You Think You Can Blog. No matter how many people think that I was somehow commenting on their efforts (or lack thereof), this was nothing more than a message to myself that I will be able to discover again and again when I decide to do the painful process of reviewing shit that I have already created. I made a Nu Decade resolution to myself to blog once a week; I’m supposed to use Sundays–it’s on my personal Google Calendar. My phone blows up with SMS reminders. I’m trying to convince myself that uploading and tagging camping photos to Facebook with witty captions somehow absolves me of blogging that week. Because it is fuckin’ hard.

The Turntables are Alive!

The legendary Studios of Doom be alive and kickin'!

The more you create original content–in whatever media you choose–the more you attract people who feel that it is a breath of fresh air because it is not recycled: it is actually new. This is the act of creation. Press record. Put it out there. What do you really have to lose? How big is your audience, really? If you’re scared that someone is going to dig up some Tweets or a blog you wrote weeks or months or years ago, then you need to reconsider what you stand for. Although there is an unsettling–creepy and threatening, really–trend to use interconnected networks on the Internet to squelch your individual voice, you HAVE one, and it is your human duty to exercise it across ALL media. It’s called integrity, and it leads to serenity in troubling times because it gives you confidence. And if you can capture–or bottle–some of that in a blog post, or a mix CD, or a painting; work on a vehicle or a piece of furniture; a biz plan outline, a stream of photographs, a poem, an essay, a sketch…comprehend that it is creation and you are creating it. The world ALWAYS needs more content!

I am old enough to remember when the drum machine and the synthesizer appeared in the music market. The critics opined that now you don’t have to hire a drummer, or a string quartet, or a horns section. Then digital recording came along; now you didn’t have to rent an entire studio; you could four-track in your folks’ basement. Then came the worst evil of all: the sampler. Just go ahead: rip-off and re-use any break you could load into the computer. Music has not suffered from these advances; it has grown and proliferated and been brought to the masses. Anyone with a mind of their own now can Garage Band themselves into the public’s eye. I have to applaud the effort–or luck–that it takes to leave a message that potent in the past for yourself: you get to live with it. Did you fuck your brand up? Probably not; in fact, I bet you built it–it’s like character.

Going back through old mixes and compilations and poems and stories, I am certain that I am continuing to be sincere and amazing. It is important that I recognize that these creations are love-letters I am leaving myself; it does not matter that sometimes I feel like I have an audience of one. Someday, I might have an audience of one more: some other creature that gains knowledge or strength or spirit from some message that I have left for myself. I certainly gain wisdom, knowledge, and opinions–experience points–from other people’s efforts on- and off-line. That’s icing on the cake.

I get a lot of questions about how to start one’s own website because I am that sort of nerd. This is partially due to the fact that I have owned froggacuda.com for almost 20 years now, and have had a web presence at or around that domain / name / moniker / handle for just as long. As King Fantastic says, “I be go to hell before I fuck my brand up”. I have spent just as long trying to figure out not just what my brand represents, but what I stand for — it’s part of being a human being if you think about it. You have a brand; it is you. You’re unique in this world, and you’re the subject matter expert on you, so you’d better get to work figuring out what that brand is. Maybe you should write a manifesto. I’d just recommend that you do it privately so that you can see how goddamn hard it is to sit down and write a blog post with an audience of 001: you. Because nobody else is really going to care. Ever. Not like you care about it: you expressed yourself. Maybe even like Salt N Pepa.

Status messages, actually, are the new blog. Twitter defined the concept of value in 140 characters or less, and the platform totally suits the sound byte culture of ADHD that is the norm now. I seriously believe that having ADHD is actually an evolutionary advantage, not a “disorder” nor a “deficit”. The beauty of cheating at your blog or your website (they’re interchangeable terms now) is that you can plug your Twitter stream-of-consciousness in as a sidebar (there! module top left!) and it updates your site. That is, if you Twitter more than you blog.

Lady Gaga as Queen of Hearts

Lady Gaga as Queen of Hearts

Here is the fundamental rule for the 21st century: whatever it is you have to say, I’ll be interested if you add value to my life. This is an important concept to catch, because of its corollary rule: Content is King. Certainly, appearance and functionality is Queen, but without valuable content, you can go fuck yourself and your fancy interactive 3D website or application. It does not add any value to my life besides a fleeting and forgotten sense of “that’s sortof cool”. That is Milli Vanilli value — the sort of thing that one-hit-wonders are made of. I’m too sexy for my shirt. I’m on a horse. Where’s the beef?

Poet Philip Larkin

Poet Philip Larkin

Do you know why I write? Because I am fuckin’ good at it. My Mom tells me so. My friends tell me so. My stats, no matter how pathetic, tell me so, because random people are stumbling across my content and commenting on it, and “like” buttoning it, and retweeting it, because by definition, it is original content for free and these entities are finding value in it. One of the most consistently hit posts I have made is a poem imitating Philip Larkin’s “And The Wave Sings Because It Is Moving“. Don’t ask me why, because I have NO IDEA; it’s mediocre poetry for me and that’s ME commenting on my own work. Remember: you are your own subject matter expert. Isn’t that why you got an e-mail address, and a WordPress site, and paid for a domain name, and hosting for the website, and set up your Etsy or CafePress e-commerce, and got a PayPal account and an eBay storefront and a matching Twitter handle; your LinkedIn and Facebook custom URLs are configured to represent that same nickname or persona that you casually developed years ago?

Stats 2011-03-08 at 9.32.08 PM

Stats 2011-03-08 at 9.32.08 PM

So you think you can blog. Well, write something interesting. Post photos that are thoughtful. I want to giggle or WTF or click on your status message and go somewhere I wouldn’t have normally browsed to. Make me LOL, or say WTF, or go “dawww!” Contribute something to me that will make me appreciate you and your unique point of view. Otherwise, STFU; I have a cornucopia of other feeds and stimuli that are working harder to catch my attention. Which has a span of short. I can barely pay it.

Do you know who has a brand? Lady Gaga. I fucking adore her; she is unashamedly her own self-generated brand. She works really, really hard at maintaining that brand, and as a consequence, 40-year-old fans like me are wearing a glow-in-the-dark LGG rubber bracelet on our wrist. OK mine is special: it was given to me by my goddaughter Tyler Rae who commented that although she bought it for me, she didn’t think I’d wear it. I haven’t taken it off yet, not even to shower.  Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta acknowledges that she cannot leave the house without becoming Lady Gaga due to her role in the world at large; this construction is moving and inspiring my godchildren and literally millions of her fans – Little Monsters — worldwide and possibly throughout the galaxy if you’ve seen her latest video for “Born This Way“.  Hahaha! She presents her manifesto!

Lady Gaga + Kermit the Frogg

Lady Gaga + Kermit the Frogg

This is the best example I can make of that ridiculous Supreme Court ruling that a corporation is a person. LGG should incorporate as a single owner ASAP to take advantage of this idiocy that is destroying America as I knew it: she could then hire lobbyists and really get to changing the world. If Arnold can win two terms as ‘Governator” of the most productive state of the union, then Lady Gaga can win the first female presidency. Because she has a brand, knows how to flaunt it, and then leverage the results, both good and bad. She just smacked Target to the curb because of a couple of questionable donations.

Lady Gaga is an over-the-top example because she’s…well, over-the-top. But that does not mean that her example should be lost or dismissed: she is representing herself, her brand, her persona, and — as a matter of fact — I know quite a few people who are actually representing themselves well on the wild blue yonder that is the Interwebz. Here’s a few of them; for other examples, check out any of the Blogroll to your left.

  • My Aunt Flo’s Etsy site, KnowYourFlo, a collections of totally awesome vintage sewing patterns that are one facet of an extraordinary woman
  • Valancy Jane’s CafePress site, Vjanity Faire, which features her signature phrase “hello pigeons” — I’m one of those too; the merit badge is proudly displayed next to my LGG Little Monsters one
  • Kristina Rose proves she’s more than just an “LA Face with an Oakland Booty” on her blog — not that we’re complaining about the latter two, but her street smarts and opinion are just as attractive
  • J.A. Huffman’s venture Surface Furniture, where one man takes visions out of his skull and crafts them in wood and metal and sustainability and dreams
  • J-Moon’s RX Earth consultation creation — he passionately believes we can heal this planet and shift the paradigms now rather than later by being smart about living
  • I also have a couple of other naescent projects up my sleeves that are vaulting on to the stage soon
Table by Surface Furniture

Table by Surface / photo: Jen Jansen Photography

You have no idea, unless you have done it yourself — or attempted to do what it takes to actually run, write, maintain, and promote a simple web address, much less run an entire brand by yourself. It is exhausting, and you can get lost in your perfection and never publish anything. I’ve been there, with a private folder full of ‘drafts’ and too scared that it wasn’t good enough to actually press record — in this case, go ‘live’ and throw some content out there. For an audience of, potentially, one. Everyone wants content, but I imagine that the average person struggles hard when actually trying to produce some. I am serious, this writing that you love takes a lot of love from me: let’s see you do it. I want to come back in a few weeks or months or years and read what I wrote just now and think that, like Eliza Dushku or another one of Josh Whedon’s Dolls, I was my best. What’s in your manifesto?

It is easy to set up a blog nowadays. It gets harder every day to find something worth reading, laughing at, or marveling over. But I think that part of playing things forward is the word-of-mouth status message to alert your peeps that this might be worth checking out. If anyone — even me — takes the extra time to turn it into a blog post, then we should consider this 21st century art. I salute anyone else who is actively participating in the stream of consciousness that is the tsunami of information that is online every second, constantly changing and continually being added to. I just have one request: don’t be afraid to throw some value into the maelstrom: become part of what is being created.

You can blog: now go do it!

The Silence Is Deafening

Posted: February 21, 2011 in Writing

I found myself out of breath, halfway up the side of some godforsaken hill in a cave that had been carved out by a shit ton of recent water, and decided that it was not in the best interest of my feet and lungs to go any farther. So I sat down, lit a smoke, and dug into my Camelbak to see what sort of goodies I had left myself earlier when I was at home, sober, and preparing like an Eagle Scout for just this occasion. I found a clipboard with some blank paper, a good pen with excellent ink flow, and a can of Budweiser. I sipped some water from the bladder and thought I had found nirvana. I sat there quietly, in awe: the silence was deafening.

My Mud Cave

My Mud Cave

Brother Jamie had imported some buddies from Portland that wanted to go camping. They had never been to the desert. Huffman was determined to show them “the Mud Caves”. Anyone who has heard Jamie and Freer wax reminiscent about their last trip is familiar with the legend of “the Mud Monkeys” and all sorts of these two idiots just collapsing into laughter about an experience that you weren’t part of. Tall tales and bullshit.

This is how I found myself out beyond Octatillo Wells off of the 8 East freeway in the dark on a Friday night in my new yellow Nissan Xterra not five days after I signed the papers to take it home on a $125.00 down payment. This is the replacement for the venerable-but-dead Nissan Truck that I gimped around to the alley that is Edgemont Place right into the “do not disturb, I’ll be parked here for quite a while” spot in the neighborhood. I was driving a new-to-me-at-least 2007 4×4 out to the desert specifically to test out its personality. It passed; I’m in love.

We arrived where the pavement ends way after dark. After some coordination, Jamie in his packed-to-the-gills Tacoma and me and Moonbow in the Xterra set off into the desert on dirt roads. After about 30 minutes of bumping around in the pitch dark except for headlights, Jamie pulled over and pointed out a lonely brown BLM sign in the middle of nowhere. “The mud caves are this way” he intoned, and then sped off down one of the many winding roads into the darkness. Following, we arrived at a campsite off of the road and proceeded to set up camp by the glow of our headlights.

Michael, Jamie, Tommy, Ryan, and Matthew

Michael, Jamie, Tommy, Ryan, and Matthew

Rachel, Gina, Jason

Rachel, Gina, Jason

Moonbow, Surface, Froggacuda, and fire

Moonbow, Surface, Froggacuda, and fire

Anyone who has been camping with me recently knows that I like to camp in style. My buddy Steve quips that we “eat like Vikings”; Moon says that my ridiculous rig is “P-I-M-P”; I just like to be prepared, and if I overpack for that reason, at least when we get to where we are going in the vehicles, I can set up my cooking area and start firing up the grill and the stove in order to produce magic out of the sometimes random and always overstocked food that people have brought to the occasion. Everyone thinks that whatever they brought would be good to eat; nobody — or few people — actually think all the way through and figure out exactly how they are going to cook it, serve it, eat it, prepare it, and then clean up afterward in accordance to the A-16 sticker I still live my outdoor life by: “take only memories, leave only footprints”. This philosophy is important, although I might change the last line to “leave only tire tracks”. Every time I go camping, I go for the experience, and that includes the illusion that I am the first person that has ever camped there. If you camp in style or bare bones, please, for everyone’s sakes, clean up your mess so that others can enjoy the same spot tomorrow or the next week.

Epic Camp Kitchen

Epic Camp Kitchen

After getting tents set up, the fire ring custom manufactured by Surface Furniture blazing, and the red checkered vinyl tablecloth across the thrift store aluminum folding table ready to get busy, I started prepping and cooking. Jamie and Moonbow went out in the Tacoma to find Gina and Rachel who were rolling in late. They returned to the boys from Portland (Tommy, Ryan, and Matthew) entertaining themselves by using my Eastwing camp axe and hatchet to split the abominably wet eucalyptus logs that we stole from the Edgemont compound and me cooking up a storm on the portable gourmet kitchen. Even my Mom, who has a Masters degree in Home Economics and is a bitchin’ chef would be at home with this much hardware. Fresh cut vegetable medley of peppers, onions, baby Portabella mushrooms, and other goodies was first off of the BBQ. And that’s when the drinking really began; there’s nothing like getting a full belly in the great outdoors  to think that repeated shots of scotch and tequila are a good idea.

Xterra Sound System

Xterra Sound System

That’s when several people decided to go hiking. I think it is noteworthy that Jamie, Moon, and I all stayed behind, preferring to really desecrate the quiet of the desert by rejiggering the location of the Xterra, flinging all four doors open, and blasting Lady Gaga remixes at top volume on the new JVC KW-XR810 color changing stereo with the 10″ JL subwoofer. OK, we were all inebriated, but there’s a categorical wisdom delta between staying in camp and blasting King Fantastic and going out into the wilderness on a late night hike in treacherous territory with scrounged flashlights.

Bactine stings, but Gina laughs it off

Bactine stings, but Gina laughs it off

One of the mentioned — and often ridiculed — things about the Nissan Xterra is that there is a recess in the rear hatch that is meant for a first aid kit. Mine didn’t come with one — and Pacific Nissan made every effort to find one for me before I left the lot — but one of the first things I did when I drove it home was to produce a spare kit from my camping gear and lash it into that space. It fit perfectly. So when the midnight hikers made it back safely, but having sustained several injuries, guess what: out came the first aid kit. One gouged eyelid, one monster shin-scrape, and one set of bruised ribs was the damage. For years I had overpacked gear for just such an occasion, and as Jason and I treated the walking wounded, I couldn’t help repeatedly pointing out that we were prepared. Including, apparently, having enough liquor to drown the pain of these injuries: we proceeded to get even more wasted, burning all of the wood that Jamie had lashed into the back of the truck next to Sioux the desert dawg, and draining two out of three of the tri-flasks that my great-aunt Peggy has bequeathed to me and that I had filled several years ago with Hornitos and Glenfiddich.

At some point, everyone passed out after stumbling to their tents, or in my case, to the Xterra. I curled up in the back seats in my North Face sleeping bag that I had inherited from Bela Chris, and slept like the dead. The next morning, after the legendary Murdoch breakfast burritos (next-day Unorthodox potatoes, eggs, cheese, maple sausages, next-day vegetables, Tapatillo from the kitchen kit in warmed flour tortillas), we packed up camp and set out in our three vehicles for the Mud Caves. There is something special about motoring through the canyons of Anza-Borrego with a frosty Budweiser in one hand and the steering wheel in the other.

The Badlands Camp

The Badlands Camp

Arriving at one of the Mud Caves, the troops disembarked, took some pictures, and proceeded to try to wrangle up enough flashlights to explore this dark hole in the side of the hill. Although the cool, crisp air pouring out of it was inviting, I decided to stay back and supervise my cooler of Budweiser rather than venture into the cave without my headlamp, which I couldn’t find while intoxicated the night before. Side note: when I returned home, my trusty Inova was right where it should have been, in my action vest.

After the party emerged from the first cave, we all decided to head up into the main cavern system, which alternated between carved canyons and fully roofed tunnels, some of which you had to scramble through sideways. It was after 40 minutes or so of this adventure that I decided that I had seen enough of the Mud Caves and found the cool corner of the tunnel where I wrote the beginnings of this blog post. Shaking rocks out of the Steve Madden sneakers that I decided to hike in and letting the footfalls of my companions retreat higher into the gorge, I became aware of how powerful the quiet was. The strength of this lack of sound grew and grew as to become almost deafening; it was in this state that I realized that I was the farthest away from technology that I had been in a long while. No iPhone, no MacBook Pro, no constantly updating streams of information from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. No noises were emanating from my pockets or backpack noting newly received e-mails and push notifications, no hum of cars or sirens in the distance. Just an overwhelming quietude as I sat in a beautiful corner of a wide tunnel that had captured the frozen sweep of water, receding off into the distance like a series of pictures taken with different camera lenses. Very Marcel Duchamp.

The Crew at the Mud Caves

The Crew at the Mud Caves

In the depths of the caverns

In the depths of the caverns

Da Boyz and Sioux

Da Boyz and Sioux

I had come out to the desert to get drunk, party with friends, and make a lot of noise: the best part of the whole trip was the hour or so that I spent in complete silence by myself. Like so many things in life, this was a lesson that I needed to re-learn. In my kitchen I have a well-worn wooden copy of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, the beginning of which has always struck me as extraordinarily powerful:

Desiderata in my kitchen

Desiderata in my kitchen

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, /and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

The next week my homeboy T-Boz came over and pointed out something so obvious I was stunned. Then I started laughing uncontrollably. “Yo Mike, why is it that every time I’m watching [the cable television series] ‘I Should Be Dead‘ it’s always stupid white boys going out to the boondocks to camp or something?” This is true. That’s why I had been telling him tales of this camping trip: people going on midnight hikes with questionable flashlights; the testosterin-fueled impromptu WWE wrestling matches in the talcum powder dust of the desert floor; drinking so much that you had trouble walking, never mind avoiding nocturnal desert flora and fauna. It’s true — I am not sure what comes over me to leave my comfortable home to go out into the back country and “rough it”. Part of it, for sure, was putting my new vehicle through its paces, but other than that, I think that food tastes better, the air is cleaner, the beauty of my surroundings more palpable, the highs higher, each step is more important somehow because it is hiking, not just walking from the couch to the refrigerator and back.

It is also the power of silence; this is similar to being in the pitch dark — another feature of being in the middle of nowhere — the richness of nothing is equal to, and sometimes more than, a world full of color and sound, or “noise and haste”. I am content with this being my answer to why I am driven (or drive myself) to adventure into the seemingly uncomfortable, inconvenient, and sometimes dangerous areas outside of civilization: you cannot get the same experience in the city, no matter how hard you try. But if you make the effort to occasionally soak up some true silence and some true darkness, then you have a recent memory as a touchstone to remind you of the beauty and peace that was here long before us, and will remain long after we human beings are gone.

Death in the Vehicular Family

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

“THUD! Thud thud thunk!” … with this noise, I knew it was all over: my baby of 18 years, the now legendary Nissan 2×4 “hardbody” truck the Murdochs rolled off of the Pacific Nissan lot in 1993 for $9600 cash, has bit the dust. I cannot express how sad I am that I have reached my breaking point: I will not put another $1000+ into this vehicle; it is barely worth $500. Love ya, and every one of your 177,546 miles, but it is time to put you out to pasture. Or perhaps donate you to KPBS.

Nissan Truck Front End

Nissan Truck Front End

Thinking back over the lifetime of this truck is pretty magical; there are almost too many stories to tell about where it has been, who has ridden in it, and what shenanigans have occurred in and around it. A good example is the damage to the front end; I constantly had to explain what happened and why I refused to get it fixed. When I was living in the Evil Dead 2 cabin in Roswell, GA back in the early oughts, the mailbox was at the foot of the driveway — a 300 yard long crumbling asphalt road — so I would always hop out and grab the mail before driving up to the crib. This one fateful day, I was counting $300 cash that I owed my ex-wife (#1) and forgot to set the parking brake. While getting the mail I heard a loud bang and looked up and down Roswell Road to see if someone had fender-bendered or backfired. There were no cars on the road. Strange, I thought; then I turned around and my truck was gone! After a moment of panic, I saw that it had rolled about 30 yards down the side of the driveway with the driver’s side door open and smacked into a young pine tree.

The Evil Dead 2 Cabin on the Acres

The Evil Dead 2 Cabin on the Acres

Without that pine tree, it would have gone another 50 yards into the creek. The engine was still running. I hopped inside and drove it up to the cabin, then wrenched the hood open and inspected the damage. I had assumed that I had cracked the radiator, but after slipping a piece of cardboard under the front overnight and noting no leakage, I realized that — once again — the luck of the Froggacuda held. The damage was cosmetic only, and after getting a number of estimates to fix it, I decided that it just wasn’t worth it. It is a proud battle scar, and it has helped avoid tickets for not having the front license plate on in California.

One time when I happened to be picking someone up from the San Diego airport, a Harbor Patrol cop motioned me over to the side. He commented on me not having a front license plate, and proceeded to write me a fix-it ticket with no expiration date that he said to present to anyone else who wanted to ticket me for that infraction. He had a friend or a family member perish in the events of 9-11-2001 and thought that it was pretty badass that the truck was sporting that alternative license plate. I am pretty certain that piece of paper is still in the glove box, along with the original window sticker listing the $13,600 price tag. I am certain I will find a treasure trove of garbage that only has meaning to me when I get around to cleaning it out this weekend.

Chart House - Lo Mejor

Chart House - Lo Mejor

This truck has been everywhere. I first got ahold of it when I was a junior at UCSB, and it made many trips to and from The Playgrounds, camping and inner tubing at Red Rock River over the San Marcos mountains, and reliably got me to and from my dishwashing job at the Chart House — which is now the Fish House. Back then I didn’t have the camper shell on it, and it was easy to throw a bunch of gear in the back and just take off for the mountains. It didn’t take a long time owning the truck for me to festoon it with stickers. The Ministry one got me an approving comment from a septuagenarian, who said “It’s so nice to see young people who are involved in the Church”. The other side of the bumper sports Fishbone and The Beastie Boys from the Check Your Head era. The back windows — now underappreciated because they are inside the camper shell — sport stickers of Calvin and Hobbes, several stickers given to me by my T.A. Amanda Ireton at West Hills High School (Fly Girls and a stylized girl kitty), and one from Blanket Party, Erik Rogers‘ band pre-Stereomud. Once I got the camper shell on the truck, I went out and bought a bunch more stickers to apply, and kept adding to the collection on the back window as late as last month, when I applied the Surface Furniture one, apparently sideways according to the owner, Jamie Huffman and, slightly earlier, the Who Is John Galt? slogan. The truck was broken in really well over the summer of 1994, when I would spend a week in San Diego working, and then drive back up to Santa Barbara to go out to Santa Cruz Island and work with LJ Moore and Adrian Wenner on removing feral European honeybee hives from the environment.

Rear Window Stickers

Rear Window Stickers

On moving back to San Diego, the truck was a landmark at the foot of Abbot Street in Ocean Beach. After moving up to Sutter Street in Mission Hills, the truck was notably involved in the incident of the gigantic rat in the engine block. My cat Hobbes decided to capture a sewer rat out of the canyon — seriously, this monster’s body was a foot long — and on letting it go, it scurried up the left front tire and into the engine compartment of the vehicle. My neighbor must have called the cops, because they skidded up to me in the middle of the street as I had the hood open, wielding a flashlight and a straightened coat hanger, wearing a black sock cap and a black turtleneck at 2AM, and trained their guns on me. San Diego’s Finest didn’t believe my story of the rat, even with three cats circling the truck and peering inside, until the beast decided to make a break for it, erupting out of the engine and running around in the middle of the street. Pandemonium ensued. The lady cop was shrieking and pointing her sidearm wildly around at the ground, and the guy cop — who was playing the tough guy — was immobilized in shock, and then in laughter. Needless to say, they let me collect my felines and go home with no further interrogation.

Mermaid Thursdays

Mermaid Thursdays

It was when we moved to Las Vegas, NV that I regretted not springing for the air conditioning. I remember it getting as hot at 117 degrees F once out there, and I used to prepare for the drive home from Nevada Power Company by stripping my shirt off and burning my fingers on the sun shade. The truck reliably got me to and from the Mermaid Cafe every Thursday night for my weekly four+ hours of DJing and drinking 22oz Sapporos. This was also the start of putting a lot of miles on the truck, as trips to and from San Diego would start to take their toll on the odometer.

On moving from Las Vegas to Atlanta, GA, the logistics company was good enough to put the truck on a flatbed for the trip, saving wear and tear on the vehicle. The Woodweaver and I got out there by driving the valuables — including four cats and a tarantula — in a U-Haul, making it to a snow-covered city in less than 48 hours, including an unscheduled stop in Jackson, MI. I had to flatbed the truck myself on the way back, driving the 17′ U-Haul plus the truck on the trailer all the way back to San Diego when I finally moved from the Acres back to my hometown of OB. I hadn’t seen my homeboy Tyrone since I had moved out to Vegas — something like 5 or 6 years — until I moved back in 2003, and he could not believe that I was still driving the same Nissan truck. Although the front end had been busted up, the rest of the vehicle was in pretty good condition; that is, until it was sideswiped no less than five separate times because it was parked on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard when I was living at The Porch on Santa Monica Ave.

In the last 12 months, I have poured about $1200 into the truck to keep it running, including fixing the brakes that were squealing like stuck pigs, and new tires all the way around after an exciting blowout going 70mph on the 15 south in the fast lane coming back from visiting S.A.T. in Murrieta.

Cthulhu by Erol Otis

Cthulhu by Erol Otis

Kelly Blue Book for fair condition (and that’s a stretch) is $675. But there is no denying that I love this truck dearly, and it has never let me down. I was on my way to Target to obtain moar wet fud for the creature that is my cat Brother when the thunk of something critical in the drive train went kaput. The truck was nice enough to let me flip a bitch and limp her twelve blocks home so that I could abandon her outside of the Edgemont Compound. This vehicle has been such an integral, personality-defining part of my life for so long, I feel a little lost having to do new and interesting things like apply for a car loan and figure out what ride could possibly replace her.

Everything about the Nissan is rich with details, stories, and legends:

  • the amplifier under the driver’s side seat was purchased for $100 including install from Circuit City in 1995 and is still working
  • the speaker box with the 8″ MTXs in it behind the bench seat was given to me as a birthday present by Bob Nickel around the same time
  • I traded the dual 12″ speaker box that used to be in the truck bed for the Cthulhu tattoo I have on my left shoulder back in college
  • Every single compilation I have ever produced has been extensively tested on the stereo in the Nissan rolling around the city I happened to be living in, including Festivus, which I just released in 2011
  • Even though it was only a 2×4, I treated it like it was a 4×4, and that lightweight truck made it through some stuff that stuck Jeep Grand Cherokees, especially sand in the desert
  • I lost count of the number of people that “learned to drive stick” in the truck; the clutch was rebuilt three or four times and the transmission once
  • You get used to $100 / month insurance and $50 / year registration costs
  • The Nissan has the “chrome package” which includes rims, bumpers, mirrors, and other details, although you couldn’t tell; the last time I had it detailed was in Las Vegas, and the company cleaned the air vents, which promptly fell apart because they were so brittle

    Tire Blowout

    Tire Blowout

  • When I was out in Atlanta, I ran the truck for three years without any maintenance, not even an oil change
  • Fact: the most environmentally-friendly thing you can possibly do with your vehicle is drive it until — as the SoCal gangstas say — the wheels fall off; you are not encouraging the production of another vehicle just for you, thus this was the most energy-efficient vehicle at GreenHouse
  • Fact: the Nissan did not qualify for the Cash-for-Clunkers trade-in because its MPG was too high
  • It was astonishing, the breadth of things that could be found in the depths of the truck, either in the buckets bungie-corded into the back of the bed or behind / underneath the seats; spanners, socket wrenches, frisbees, road flares, Taco Bell sauce packets, lighters, money, wire, jumper cables, folding wheel chocks, LED disco lights that ran off of the cigarette lighter adapter, flashlights, rigging knives, packs of cigarettes, mung rags, screwdrivers, and other assorted random magic items

Research has proven a relationship between your vehicle and your personality (here, here, and here, for example). I could have a field day with all of the descriptors that would match me and my Nissan: messy, sideswiped, dependable, function-before-form, tough, rugged, beaten up, olde, etc. This is why I refer to this as a “death in the family”; there is an emptiness when I walk outside and look at the carcass of the vehicle that I have loved for so long and that has been my faithful companion for so many years sitting next to the curb and not going anywhere but to a junkyard to be parted out for other 1993 Nissan trucks that are still running.

A long time ago, I received $5000 from my Grandma Gelin as an inheritance. I spent $1000 of it on an engagement ring, and the other $4000 of it on this truck. My dear Aunt Peggy gave me a matching $4000 towards a vehicle and my parents made up the remaining dough so that I could buy this truck outright from Pacific Nissan (<–warning: irritating audio intro) on Mission Bay Drive. The truck panned out a lot better than the ring did. Everyone that worked on this truck over the years, from Fred at Muryani Auto Care to Ron at Pacific Automotive noted that this particular year, make, and model were incredibly dependable, sometimes seeing 300K miles on the original engine. Buying this truck was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and she has served me so well, I just don’t know what could possibly replace her. There are yet more stories about confining cats in the back of the camper shell to move them from one place to another rather than stuffing them in little boxes, and that’s why I am reminded of Kanji, who hated transport more than any other child of mine, and who has helped inure me to the inevitable death of those that you love.

Double Rainbow and Nissan Truck

Double Rainbow and Nissan Truck

It may seem weird that I am eulogizing my truck, but those that have ridden shotgun bumping tunes, or driven it to pick up (pun intended) something or other that wouldn’t fit in your own vehicle, or were just happy that I made it from point A (my home) to point B (your house, or work, or elsewhere), then you know my truck. She is the best investment I have ever made, and will be only the second vehicle to join the storied ranks of those things that I have driven like I have stolen them, right next to the 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Part of the drive (pun intended) to blog about this is that I have promised myself that I would blog at least once every week in 2011, and there is nothing better than reflecting on almost 20 years of history to inspire me to write. I seem to be pretty good at eulogies, and so I thought I would reminisce for a while about a faithful friend and companion of mine, that rarely complained, was a true workhorse, and who I relied on like family. Because, honestly, she always loved me more than I loved her.

I just finished burying my belovéd cat Kanji beneath one of the great eucalyptus trees in the garden at Edgemont Place. I had to do this once before with the Murdoch family cat, Frodo, in 1997, after I moved him in with my first wife and our four cats Kalvin, Anastasia, Hobbes, and Atari on Sutter Street. Frodo was over 16 years old, a canny outdoors cat with a penchant for rubbing so vigorously on the edge of roofs that he’d almost fall off. He had never been away from the fiefdom on Amiford, but the people who were leasing the house while my parents were in Canada were “allergic to cats” and didn’t want him around. It was only a couple of months later that he quit eating — even hand-shredded warm chicken — and I knew it was time for him to go.

 


Frodo

 

When I took Frodo to a highly impersonal 24 hour clinic to figure out what was wrong with him, the diagnosis was swift and sure: kidney failure. He wouldn’t miraculously heal and start eating and beating the shit out of the younger cats when they wouldn’t leave him alone like he was doing last week. It was clear that it was time, and when I looked into his eyes when I put him down, he was so much wiser and greater than I could ever be; he thanked me with a wink as he slipped over the edge and was no longer there in feline form.

I had no cat carrier at that time, so I took Frodo to the clinic in a paper ream box with a lid. As I took his body home in the same box, driving west on the I8, the clouds poured sunshine through a halo-like hole in the sky over the ocean, and I had to pull over to let the tears course down my face and to scream how unfair it is that I am left behind with all of this grief and a hole in my heart. I went home, got a shovel out of the shed, and drove to Monaco Street near the Amiford residence. I hiked up the drainage ditch I used to play in and around as a child, struck off into the depths of the old acacia bushes, and found a spot under a tree that I thought Frodo would like. And I buried his body there, in the wilderness behind the house where he would disappear for hours and sometimes days, hunting, napping, sunning, and doing whatever it is cats do when they go adventuring. Performing this ceremony made me whole over time: I knew I had done the right thing and done it with power and grace. It is not an easy thing to do.

 

Kan*Ji

the Japanese Kanji for Kanji

 

It doesn’t get any easier the second time around.

The week before this one, on Thursday, I woke up with Kanji curled up between my legs where I had fallen asleep on the couch. What puts this into perspective is that Kanji does not like to come inside the house. She’s always been like this; I am certain her previous owners didn’t allow her inside, and it was hilarious to watch her at Saratoga — where I inherited her — with an open door and a bowl of wet fud just inside enticing her to cross that threshold. When I moved and took her to Panorama, she stayed in my room for two weeks straight, terrified and freaking out that I had moved her from where she had always been. After she ventured outside, she found the spacious basement and spent her time sleeping in the rafters, only emerging to demand fresh kibble and occasionally sprint halfway up a tree when chased by the native cats Brother, Jedi, and Vader. She would continue to sleep at the foot of the bed every so often; a pleasant morning surprise keeping my feet warm and blinking her big blue eyes at me as I would be sleepily slapping the nightstand for the snooze button. At Edgemont, Kanji quickly took up residence under the house a

 

somebody is dreaming...

Kanji abed

 

gain when I let her outside and removed an anti-rodent mesh from the sub-basement. Over time, she found many hidey-holes, but spent most of her time curled up snoozing in the beat-up garage, sometimes on top of my carpeted DJ coffins or speakers. She did get used to coming in the house in order to feed and water, though, so I got used to her occasionally showing up inside, although she much preferred to enter via the window rather than crossing a doorjamb. So it was unusual to have Kanji curled up next to me, rubbing blood and pus all over my comforter from her ruined nose and ear because she just couldn’t quit being a kitten and, well, she wanted to communicate with me that she needed me.

I spent the last week with Kanji as an indoor cat. She had gotten skinny — skin and bones, really, so I plied her with wet fud and booted Brother out of the house so she could eat in peace. Lots of time was devoted to scratching her in all the right places, and gently, so when she would encourage me to rip the scabs off of her nose and ear to drain the grisly shit that was going on underneath, my fingers could dance around it. She peed on everything and I didn’t give a fuck; that Thursday she came in the house, I promised her that I would take care of this once and for all, and so we hung out hard-core: nerding it up while I solved Halo: Reach on Legendary mode with her next to me for good luck; watching Netflix Kung Fu movies until 4 in the morning on school nights; hand-feeding her American cheese slices and black forest ham on her Mexican blanket on the couch and hearing her little “om nom nom” noises; waking up in the middle of the night as she decided that she wanted to sleep closer to me, so she would carefully crawl on to my chest or between my calves and pretend like she had always been there. Kanji was fiercely independent, but she knew better than I what time it was.

 

Handsome Girl Modelling School pose #113

Kanji on the back of my couch

 

I took Kanji to Heather at Cabrillo Vet four or five months ago to find out what was wrong with the persistent scabs on her ear and nose. Heather and her whole staff, by the way, are the greatest lovers of animals on the planet. Referring to me as “Dad”, Heather told me several months ago that this was fast-moving, untreatable skin cancer, and as tears welled up in my eyes, she informed me that Kanji had 1-6 months to live. Today I took Kanji back to Cabrillo and Heather to put her down. Over the last week, I would come home from work at GreenHouse, drop my heavy backpack of tech, and go looking for her. I was worried that Kanji would try some disappearing bullshit on me. At first, I would find her laid out on the couch somewhere, but as this last week went by, I would have minor panic attacks and search the yard fruitlessly, thinking that Kanji either couldn’t get back in the window or that she was trying some dumb “I’m just going to disappear” ploy. She was always inside the house, but these last three days, she was so embarrassed with her incontinence and appearance, she found a secret spot in my back closet where she would hide until I coaxed her out of it and encouraged her back to the couch. Usually, this involved playing Lady Gaga tunes and putting fresh food in her bowl; she loves teh Gaga while she delicately ate while trying not to bang her scabby nose into the kibble.

So the second vet visit ever was to put her out of this misery. I am comforted that I spent good time with Kanji and have lots of pictures and even a little bit of video (where she got excited and tore the crap out of the back of my hand). Heather and Cabrillo are very efficient; I signed some paperwork and there was no wait. We went right back to the exam room, and they gave me a scant two minutes to let Kanji out of the carrier and let her freak out and run around a little. As I put her back on the table for the procedure, I got one good look in her big baby blue eyes, and saw them change from fear to resignation to trust. I trust you. I. Trust. You. And that is how Kanji went forth into the great beyond.

 

This is where I buried Kanji

This is where I buried Kanji

 

I’m an Eagle Scout; I pride myself on being prepared and being good in the “clutch” situation. As I drove home with Kanji’s still form in the cat carrier, I couldn’t help but look at her as if she was just sleeping. When I got home, I didn’t like her body in the carrier, so I carefully pulled her out and laid her on her circular cat-tower-throne that she liked when she was sunning and sleeping. She looked like she always did, sans an infrequent mini-bath and look around while squinting and licking her chops before resuming her nap. I found my shovel under the stairs and dug a deep hole next to two of the massive eucalyptus trees here at Edgemont place. Curling her up in that hole, and arranging her limbs to cover her eyes and give her the semblance of a nap reminded me of doing the same thing with Frodo. And that’s when I knew that it doesn’t get any easier the second time around.

As I updated Kanji’s Catbook profile to provide how long she had been loved, I realized that I have known her since 2008. It is 2010; that is two years. But when you love unconditionally — something I have a problem doing with humans, but rarely with animals — that is a lifetime. I have received many beautiful expressions of sorrow and understanding from my friends and family, and I appreciate them all; however, none of them goes as far as a simple meow from Brother: “Are you OK? I love you. BTW where’s Kanji? Can I have her fud?”

Kanji is physically gone, like so many other cherished pets and loved ones, but that does not relinquish the responsibility of playing it forward: lives are spent setting examples, and I remind myself constantly that this is why they were here in the first place: to move and inspire me now. Even after I have laid one of mine to rest in the cool earth. Kanji is not even a girl; Heather took one look at her and laughed, stating “that’s a boy-kitten, Dad.” Having known this for over four months, I still could not quit referring to her as a girl; Kanji didn’t care about the context — only the tone of voice and the love contained within and that there was Fancy Feest involved if he/she acted cute enough. This is unconditional love, and I can haz it with cats; human beings, though, I am not so sure about. Kanji was like that: suspicious of “hoomins” — this is, perhaps, one lesson that is worth remembering; and, that once alleviated, love is all I have to give to you.

I can’t count the number of times I have exhorted myself to sit down and write on this damn blog. I sit in front of wonderful technology, with multiple screens, and everything that I need literally at my fingertips, and I can’t do it. As I age, I feel myself becoming more careful, more conservative. I think I have figured out part of it: now that I have a platform that is beyond scribbling in a spiral notebook, or sketching on the beach in an art pad; drawing on big sheets of paper while bored in class or even pecking away at a keyboard into AppleWorks, I am aware that I have an audience. And that’s frightening. I don’t want to let you all down.

And that, my friends, is the problem. This is MY blog, and — as Eminem has deftly reminded all of us — I’m not afraid. This is pretty simple to do: just write.

“Write, and be prolific / Not everything written is monolithic” ~Thee Froggacuda, 1988

That is the best two-line poem ever for Michael. And I wrote it. I have ignored this advice from the past me to the future me, and it is powerfully captured as a nine word reminder. I think everyone can benefit from this. It’s a simple distillation of my “press record” rant. Nike has made an entire multi-year campaign out of “just do it” that everyone loves because everyone needs to hear that repeatedly over their lifetimes.

I have a lot yet to be said. I am Thee Froggacuda. Release Teh Tadpoles!

Ho!

once again it's on

So here’s what I did, relatively present tense: I got a little inebriated, put on the new Chicane album “Giants”(reference: Middle Distance Runner), and reskinned my blog to give it a whole new appearance, even to me. After some WordPress admin tweaking to get the elements in the right places, I hit the button labeled “New Post”. And I sat in front of the screen daring myself to write something — anything — and publish it. Tonight.

I am angry with myself that I let the Kanji-Part-1 blog lay fallow in the Drafts folder for as long as I did. I was waiting for the Muse to strike me with inspiration and that’s not how she visits you or I: thou must seeketh out the opportunities, and if you have a fully functioning blog, just write for no reason, any reason, because you are writing for yourself.

That is the point of a personal blog — [insert legal-compliant disclaimer from professional life] — it’s to be able to write; not about whatever you want, but also not because you have an audience. I’m a Libra; there’s a balance to be struck. This gift of a new album from Nick Bracegirdle even has a beautiful song on it called “Where Do I Begin?” Synchronicity is serendipity. I am learning that restraint is not always care; however, baring my soul is not always as simple as it used to be. That’s why there are archives, and I will never regret being unemployed and casting around for a project important enough to deserve all of that free time, and entering all of those poems and stories and rants you’ll see on the left-hand side month-by-month, year-by-year. There’s some good stuff in there; I am committing to digging some of it back out and throwing it in my face again. Here, on the Virtual Lilypad; you can come along and read if you like, but it’s not for you. It’s for me. Because I can’t help but think that I am actually smart enough to code messages into my content for my future self. Maybe it’s a function of being on the bleeding edge of human evolution because I have ADHD and society and civilization have not caught up to how many threads my brain is processing at any given time.

literally -- burning love

literally: burning love. // Jamie Huffman

I am a single human being trying to make a difference with my life. Everyone struggles with this same thing. I write who I am because at an early age I was inspired by Jared D’nofrio to tear out the back of an old math notebook and try to write poetry. Shit, we were studying Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Pope, in school, and if he could do it; why not me? Well, Jared’s stuff was great, and I never thought I could equal that elegance…but I gave it a shot anyways. It was like drawing block letter names of girls I had crushes on and spending a whole science or math period at Correia Junior High School coloring them in uniquely with fluorescent hi-lighters. Y’know what? I just found that I was good at it.

DJing is a lot easier than writing. You get to express yourself with the beauty of other people’s interactions with their Muses. The problem is this: if you are good at something, don’t you owe it to yourself — and everyone else — to share it? That is why I have a drive to capture things in cages of ink and tape and 010010 and MP3. I think this is fundamentally the human condition; interaction is like breathing to me. I have just forgotten that I can target myself, and that I am my own primary audience.

I cannot depend on messages that I have coded myself in the past unless I make the effort to read them again; to listen to them again, to experience them again. And I certainly cannot pass any of my current wisdom on to myself in the future unless I produce content right now. This is the heroic circle of one’s life, Scar.

The Archangel Michael wields a sword. I’m not so good at the martial arts. I promised my ninja-to blade to my youngest godchild, anyways; Belén is going to be a better Samurai than her Unkle or her Father. But this Froggacuda character has a wicked tongue and sharp teeth, and I’ve been representing as Thee Froggacuda for almost 20 years now. Recognizing that you have a sticker that reads PROTAGONIST over the mirror that you never look at, finally you understand: this is the Muse trying to shake you free. The Muse is me. The problem is that I never look in that mirror: my mirror until now been everyone else except me. All of that is changing.

I am Thee Froggacuda. Ribbit; fuck you.

I took my cat Kanji to the vet because her ear wasn’t getting any better. Ever since I have known her, she’s had problems with her ears being mangy. I’m a pretty live-and-let-live pet owner — no collars and indoor / outdoor freedom, occasional wet fud and cursing them for being filthy fleabag dirt-tracking loveable spoiled brats — but after neighbors and girlfriend insisted they would cat-nap Kanji to take her to the vet, I had to act. And I knew that Kanji would hate me for it.

I inherited Kanji from the legendary six-month residence at the OB Saratoga crib. When I was forced to move out by unforseen witchery, I sat down with this cat that came with the property and explained that there were two options:

  • Stay here and find a new owner after I have spoiled you rotten treated you like the princess you are, or…
  • Come along with me and my ride

It was pretty clear, if you were there, that she chose me.

Scrapbook Kanji

Scrapbook Kanji / photo credit; LdlN

Kanji is an OB alley cat. She doesn’t take shit from nobody; she expresses discontent with bared claws and a wicked repeated paw whipping to feline, canine, and human alike. Moxie is her middle name. At her home at Saratoga, there were raccoons, skunks, dogs, opossums — never mind other stray cats — and Kanji would just sit relaxed but warily on the top of the porch table and let these creatures do whatever they came to do, as long as it wasn’t bothering her.

So Kanji decided to throw her lot in with me. When I had to move, I hauled her down to the Panorama Compound in La Mesa kicking and screaming, where I kept her in my studio for about a week before letting her explore outside. She spent most of her time either curled up on my futon at my feet or in the Mithril mines under the hosue itself. There were three other cats already on the property — Brother, Jedi, and Vader — who she decided were irritating and unworthy, so she would pointedly ignore them as much as possible. She loved the 1.1 acres of land to explore, yet seemed happiest curled up in the dark spaces beneath the house or — when she got used to being inside — being inside my room.

When I moved to Edgemont Place, she was furious with me — again — and although I kept her inside for a couple of days, at the first opportunity, she absconded to the beat-up wreck of a garage on the property, eventually becoming master of the rafters. Kanji would emerge when she heard the sound of my 1993 Nissan Truck engine after I would come home from a day of work at GreenHouse to miao and follow me to the house where I would have to open the doors for her so that Her Highness wouldn’t have to jump through the open window to get in and get some fresh kibble. If there is anything Kanji loves more than me, its her “fud”.

I eats on duh tables; dose udder onez kin eats below decks

dose udder onez kin eats below decks

git mah wet fud, hooman!

git mah wet fud, hooman

Handsome Girl Modelling School

Handsome Girl Modelling School

Because I have no idea where Kanji came from, originally, I also have no idea how old she is. This is just a strange fact that you just learn to accept. Also, she probably likes it that way because she’s a girl. The hoodrats around the Saratoga Party Palace called her “Cloud”, “Ghost”, and other nicknames because nobody really knew what her real name was. I forget who it was, but one of the older neighbors speculated that she belonged to the original owner of the house I was renting who had moved to a facility; apparently I was renting the house from his or her daughter. I think it was this neighbor that seemed to remember that her name started with a K. Kanji came to mind when I was playing with her; after a couple of years, she knows her name when I call it. It has taken equally as long to work on our relationship; she is still skittish and very particular about everything, especially touching her (she likes her butt scratched and if you don’t scratch good enough or long enough, she will bat your hand and tell you to get back to work).

That is why I never took her to the vet before. Every time I have to stuff Kanji in my truck or in a carrier to go somewhere, I lose her for about a week as she sulks and spits and swears she hates me. It’s a lot like having another girlfriend. I knew she wouldn’t run away, but I could always feel her eyes glowering from the shadows of the shed or the garage or from under the house shooting laserbeams of control into my head like some sort of feline Onceler: “you will put three open cans of warmed Turkey and Giblets wet fud, a diamond tiara, and a QP of White Lightning catnip in the bucket or I will eat your eyeballs out while you sleep.” Kanji is the master of making you feel like an abusive husband, looking at you reproachfully and measuring out her trust to you again by the spoonful. She is very intelligent and unlike many cats who can be memory-wiped with a can of Fancy Feast after a traumatic trip, Kanji will not forget the embarrassing and totally inappropriate “you-don’t-put-your-hands-on-me, my-FATHER-doesn’t-put-his-hands-on-me” treatment that vehicular transport entails. It is totally against the way a graduate of the Handsome Girl Modelling School is supposed to be treated. I love this about her personality, and I will very rarely overstep these boundaries and devastate her pride by forcing her into a 1′ x 2′ box to be taken to a strange person who is going to stick a thermometer in your ass and feel you up in the harsh light of a vet office.

Kitty Love-Love

Kitty Love-Love Kanji

It is indescribably awesome and horrible that I can walk out my front door, which overlooks this beautiful canyon that my brother Kleptus is guerrilla landscaping with native plants and find Kanji curled up peacefully on one of these old wooden Adirondack chairs half in and half out of the sun. The cancer that is melting away her left ear and left nostril is due to SUNBURN. Melanoma, essentially the same thing that humans (and dogs and even horses) get when sunshine is dangerous. It can’t be helped, except by keeping Kanji inside 24-7, and I won’t do that. Is it her fault that she wants to sleep in the sunshine and the long-term result is that she is going to die. Relatively soon. Every time I can touch her while she is alive is facing the fact that I am going to watch her face get eaten off by cancer, and I am directly responsible for her quality of life QoL). That is, until I make the awful decision for her that enough is enough, and it is time to go.

Wear sunscreen, sheeple. And how about we fix that ozone layer. I don’t have children, but I do love my cats as my kids. I have godchildren I adore. If you cannot get on board the “save the planet” bandwagon, then I think you give up your right to be on this green Earth.

So when does it transition from Kanji enjoying the sunset of her life and me having to decide QoL for her? She is still audacious and strong, she eats like a pig and mugs for attention like a kitten. At the urging of my girlfriend, Lilith de la Nuit, and my neighbors, Dawn and Jenne, I took a half-day off and stuffed Ms Thang in the cat carrier. I took her to Heather at Cabrillo Vet Center for Kanji’s first visit ever to the vet to check out this ear and nose thing. Now we know what it is, and what we can do about it. Heather was extraordinarily kind and sensitive, even though she was in the office with walking pneumonia. She is that dedicated to animals and their “Moms and Dads”. If money was not an option, there is pretty much nothing that can be done to save Kanji’s life. It is a matter of QoL for one to six months from June 15th, 2010. And this decision is mine.

Kanji humbles me with her bravery. She knows she is dying, and yet manages to ham it up and act like a kitten

Kanji-licious

The Duchess / photo credit: LdlN

and squeeze all of the attention and specialness she can out of her situation. When she mugs for some love, and you give it to her, she gets so corny that she wants to rub up against everything — including with her torn-up ear, where she rips the scab off and then shakes her head, flinging blood everywhere. It is ghastly and somehow beautiful that she does not care but for the moment. And for love.

[later, August 10, 2010]

I have had this blog post in draft for over a month and a half now, and I have realized that I can’t finish it just yet. I can just post what I have and do a Part 2 later on. Kanji has almost a whole ear missing and her nose is halfway gone, but she does not seem in pain or too much discomfort. It pains me to hear her sneeze occasionally, and snuffle a bit, but her big blue eyes say that it is not time yet. I am comforted that she has already beaten the odds of the low end of her possible time frame on the planet, and frankly, she is keeping me company, maybe more than I am doing service to her.

Every day when I come home from work, I whistle for her, and she usually comes trotting from the garage where she sleeps, or out from under a piece of lawn furniture with a raspy miao. She’s been waiting for me to arrive because I am reliable like that, and Kanji wants to point out that her special on-the-table fud bowl is empty. And that she missed me.

I will miss her, now and soon.

The Froggacuda’s Top Ten Albums

  1. The The – Soul Mining
  2. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
  3. Chicane – Behind the Sun
  4. Depeche Mode – 101
  5. Oingo Boingo – Alive
  6. Kruder and Dorfmeister – The K+D Sessions
  7. Hybrid – Remix and Additional Production
  8. Original Concert Recording – Dance Craze (The Specials, The English Beat, The Selecter, Bad Manners, Madness, The Bodysnatchers)
  9. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
  10. Original Movie Soundtrack – Hackers

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

  • Deee-Lite – World Clique
  • Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

Worthy of posting January 2010 — we’ll see how this list stands up in 2020. I challenge you to do the same thing.

Some tracks just resonate with you. These are the ones that get stuck in your head, or you find yourself quoting lyrics from them, or — the most telling tale — you keep playing them over and over again because they move and inspire, as Landmark Education would describe this feeling. That’s why I make “compilations” of tunes every year; even the year I said I was going to stop making compilations, I made a compilation. I just didn’t make physical copies with custom covers and inserts and liner notes, which takes hours and days and months to perfect, in 2008 or — most likely — in 2009. I give them away for free because they’re my way of communicating. It’s a way to say something along the lines of “here’s what I played for myself all of this year; hope you like some of it” in a palpable format.

What’s a real trip is letting this sink in: I have been making these compilations every year for 12+ years now. That is just a count of the official, main compilations; sometimes more than one disc, but always tuned to fit on an audio CD (OK the Old Skool Hip Hop McGee Mix can’t, but there are always exceptions). There are adjunct comps, live mixes, bootlegs, extra cuts that couldn’t quite make it, times I didn’t record while spinning to an international audience on the Mordenkainen’s Parlour stream, and practice stuff — some of which I recorded and some of which I didn’t.

When engaged in the constant act of choosing music you like for 12+ years on a day-by-day basis, you know what you like and what you don’t like. Everybody does that. That is why everybody is a DJ. The crucial difference is that I recorded it. This fact sets me apart from the rest of the amateur record-scratchers and mix-tapers. Why don’t you go pull out one of your old mix tapes or CDs, or an old .m3u playlist and try to understand what you were thinking about when you felt passionate — or bored — enough to actually press the record button and pick some songs in a particular order. Or did you give them all away to potential booty calls?

Songs become old friends when you play them enough. Ensconced between the lyrics and the bassline, the drums and the swells, a personal soundtrack has embedded itself into the fabric of the music. Playing certain tracks is evocative to you in a way that nobody else is going to get just like you. Sharing these particular musical missives with others is, I believe, a fundamental art form. That’s why I do it.

So when I spend hours listening to my compilations, in order or on shuffle play, it has become something akin to going to church. The best way that I can be a Shaman for everyone is to bring something back; that is certain compositions of music, perhaps in a certain order. I love these sermons. Because I recorded them myself of myself in space and time. When I press record, I realize that it is a positive, creative, wonderful thing that I have the cojones to take a deep breath and go live for posterity.

Dust Your Own Pedestal

Posted: November 23, 2009 in Rant, Writing

Ask yourself this question:

Do you put yourself on a pedestal?

Yeah, now that I think about it, touching that soul-searching apparatus that has been gathering dust in the basement for a while. Dust your own pedestal. Take the marble bust of yourself off of the Doric column you have in your mind, and while you’re at it: move the papier mache it is levitating on and vaccuum under that. You’ll find some interesting dust bunnies; I guarantee it.

I am not saying after [insert years of life on earth since birth] years you don’t deserve your own statue on some sort of fancy plinth, but you can’t rest on your laurels (or laurel wreath). You have to keep swimming, like a shark, to breathe that stuff of imagination and innovation, the basic H2O that is the 98% of my human body and 96% of this Budweiser here at my elbow that I am consuming. Sure, there is a certain amount of complacency-to-years-lived ratio that you are owed, but if you really do a good job at dusting, you’ll be shocked by the amount of taking-yourself-for-granted buildup there really is on your little monument to yourself.

Metaphor clear? I can’t recognize who that is in my own personal cleanup on aisle five. Time for some gritty cleaner, like Bar Keeper’s Friend, to get in there and scrub that grout. Note how cheezily you chiseled this sculpture out in the first place. You start looking around and flushing to the face as you clean house as you know full well how to clean house. What took you so long?

I’ll tell you why: trophies are easier to earn than the upkeep to keep them on display and dust-free. And prizes don’t mean shit to me. Neither does this bust on this pedestal, the ultimate Caesarian nod to your own ego. If you had your 15 minutes of fame, then sit down and shut up when your timer is at zero. At some point, when the spotlight is dead, you’ll be the one that will be dusting your collection of whatevers and muttering to yourself that you aren’t appreciated. That’s pathetic.

The lesson is embedded in the hard work of dusting; cleaning house; polishing the things you have so that you appreciate them again; lifting your eyes to the horizon rather than the task at hand, even if you are a filthy animal while you get the job done. The reward is tangible: you approve of your job at cleaning, if not that artifact in your museum, and you move on. Perhaps to dust the next dinosaur bone in your closet. But you do a good job of it at your own thorough pace, nonetheless.

Clean on.

My Feet Won’t Touch the Ground

Posted: October 11, 2009 in Rant, Writing

Occasionally I am transported. Somewhere where people actually mean what they say and have no games to play. It’s like being in a Coldplay song, like Life in Technicolor, where you can’t decide if the song is more pure as an instrumental — where everyone has a smile in their eyes and is pulling in the same direction — or if it really takes another album and another shot at the song as a full-blown vocal track. I think that the best songs will stand alone either way. So thank you, SAT, for breaking my anti-Coldplay stance on the undeniable rocks of “wow, this is really good”.

You know, folks, I am aware that people think what they think of me. I am okay with that, because you still seek me out for my opinion. It must matter. I find that stunning, and then a real honor. But baby, it’s a violent world. Everything counts in large amounts. Telling the truth is never easy, but it is the most universally recognized sign of sincerity. I have been reticent to blog on my own blog because of an old racket of mine: I think too much about what the audience — whatever or whoever that may be — will think of what I have to say. It defeats the purpose of the technology.

Publishing in an instant for all history to record is a serious responsibility. Please contribute something to the blogosphere that is worth recording. Remember all the people who died to bring you this freedom, this technology, this lifestyle, this success, this ability to type letter after letter, purse your lips, read it again slightly aloud, and then press the Publish button.

Say something that matters. Speak from your heart. Scribe it in electronic papyrus; chisel it in the ones and zeroes of the Intarwebs. Send it out there beyond your control, but remember that you birthed it. Create content, or else you will have a hollow life manipulating other people’s creations for a living. Be a catalyst.

I know from my experience that when the bat hits the meat of the ball, and I can feel that thrum through my muscles, and I lift my gaze to the far wall of the park, a smile dawns on my face: this is good. And then my feet don’t touch the ground for a while. You taught me that feeling long ago; you remind me of it tonight. And I thank you for it.

If you look at my Archives, you’ll see that I actually used to write for myself, by myself, for years and years. The idea of transferring this to an electronic medium since I sit in front of my MacBook Pro most of my waking hours should be a no-brainer, except for one small detail. I refuse to use it privately; it’s just my personality.

When I was let go by Achieve Internet last year, I realized that unemployment, in a sense, is like forced vacation, and even if you really wanted to get on with your next gig, you had a metric shit-ton of time that you spent thinking about the world we live in, and life in general, and inevitably, you wander into some really deep, frightening places. So when I had all that free time where you literally cannot spend towards finding a job, I decided to type into this WordPress blog several hundred poems that I had written over my formative years in high school and college. And then BURN the original journals in the first camping trip I had taken in years with a couple of friends led by Kleptus himself.

For those of you who stumble across this and are not familiar with WordPress, it makes blogging and publishing so easy even a caveman could do it. The hinge here is that there is security; you can blog all you want and never publish a thing to the general Intarwebz. I think that you owe it to the online community to share; hell, everyone else is doing it and some are even making money at it.

Part of the fascination I have with the World Wide Web — rockin’ it at 14,400 baud since my first AOL account in 1992 where they asked me for a “unique” screenname, and the online presence known internationally as Thee Froggacuda was born — is that no matter how you interact with it, you develop a personality. On AOL in the early days, this used to consist of hanging out and doing free-form text-based roleplaying at something like the legendary Red Dragon Inn, which I just discovered is alive and well (and still has my “Kiss the ‘Tender” apron hanging in its accustomed place behind the bar), unless you were going back to the early, early days, hanging out and doing free-form dice-based roleplaying in Galsteefus’s basement.

The point of this bit of writing is that I have been taking writing for granted because of some sort of personal paralysis due to having a real live audience. And my worst critic is myself. I think that this says a lot. “I actually used to write for myself, by myself, for years and years.” That was earlier in this blog post. The archives are right next to you on the right-hand side under Archives, go figure. Choose a link; check it out.

This is where the public / private thing comes in. Our lives are on camera and on the Internet right now; isn’t it our duty to try to be graceful footage and Facebook for future generations? There is this misconception that old web pages die natural deaths, but I still have all of the HTML code, graphics, databases, and other artifacts from many iterations of my own Virtual Lilypad site, and nothing is safe from The Wayback Machine. Content production on them Intarwebz is, I would suspect, at an all time high and still rising. What are we to do with all of this dreck that we make public?

Whether you keep it public or private, nearly anything you do is capable of being recorded or transcribed or captured. And then traced back to or otherwise attributed to you. Tagged, if you will. I read an article that 1 in 5 US Recruiters Google your ass when your resume comes across their desks. People upload their own videos to YouTube, their own photos to Flickr, and their own shopping interests to Amazon. This is all content that may or may not be of any passing interest to anyone but the people that are adding the content. Where is the value?

  1. Creative aggregation of data
  2. Remixes and mashups
  3. Historical record

1. There is so much damn data out there at any given time being copied and created and beamed around the world, it is literally like a gigantic ocean. Data mining with all of that out there moving and morphing and trending and boiling has got to produce some fascinating art if it could be visually represented. When you dig into this matrix and start following threads, there would be intricate patterns and relationships and chaos theory butterflies, and I would probably just be hypnotized. With an uber dashboard to pan around and zoom, you could literally “zoom” all the way in with search algorithms to find specific pieces of content that are the catalysts for larger currents. Maybe one of those elements is one of these poems, songs, or stories that are contained in the Archives.

2. As most everyone knows, DJ Lurk loves hisself a good remix. He has even made some of his own. So I know how much of a labor of love most remixes are. There’s a relatively new piece of lingo the means essentially the same thing: mashup, which is a little more specific, at least in music, than remix. Most all of the created content on the Internet is public. Even if you think it is private, it isn’t as private as you think — somebody can see it and potentially mash it up with something else. Repurposing existing content in a new way is as much of an art form as making the content in the first place; in fact, many times a fresh take on an old standby is better than the original. Take Vince Shlomi — the Slap Chop is an amazing product, I know — but the Steve Porter Remix “Rap Chop” was so damn good I started following him on Twitter. I was going to spin the remix at the first chance I got but somebody beat me to it already. Speed of information flow is approaching speed of light.

3. History has always suffered because it was a privilege for the powerful and rich to be able to write the accounts. Publishing your own version — essentially documenting your own personality, life, and experiences — is, in and of itself, riches and power directly proportional to the amount of content you produce over that lifetime. You can’t take it with you, but you can sure make a conscious, good-faith effort to provide something for the seething, sentient mass of ones and zeroes to Borg. The value of anything that you do should be weighed first and foremost by whether you find value in it yourself. Then, and only second, think about the audience. The value of this blog is because I find it fascinating. If others do, too, well, icing is my favorite part of Delicious Cake.

I just realized — part of the reason writing electronically versus otherwise is less productive. I find that some of the most fun is using hyperlinks as footnotes. They’re even better because they are in-line, and you can click them if you want extra context or detail. However, they do a damn fine job of preventing me from getting my point across in a coherant manner sometimes. And potentially, other readers. Note to self. On WordPress, no less.

This was not the best content I have ever created, but I do feel like I cracked my knuckles and limbered up a bit before all of the writing that lays ahead of me, both personally and professionally. So, in the interest of reading more writing, well, an enigmatic word to the wise: GreenHouse.

Here’s the backstory: currently on Facebook, it is all the rage to use your Notes application (read: blog) to write up 25 random facts about yourself, then “tag” 25 other people to make them have to do the same thing. Personally, I think that this was started by the Facebook people themselves as a way to introduce people / drive traffic to the Facebook blog functionality, and since my WP imports via RSS to FB, I figure I’d do it here so that people can get their fix and stop tagging me.

Original rules (as in, I didn’t write this schlock):

“Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)”

25 Random Things:

  1. I am a better human beat box than Justin Timberlake
  2. If you ask me what one word describes me best, I will always reply with “lucky”
  3. I still suffer from ADHD just like I did when I was a child, but I am better at masking it; I do wish, however, that my metabolism had kept up with the rest of the handicap
  4. I have always been in love with being in love, with music, with friendship, with my family, and with you
  5. I have been known to embellish a story or two, but usually it is due to my tendency to describe my friends and acquaintances as movie-worthy comic book heroes, which is born from a deep respect for their individuality
  6. I often wonder what would have happened if Monster Zero had accepted the gig to open up for No Doubt on their first West Coast Tour in the summer / fall of 1990
  7. I would be happy if I could just listen to music, select cool tracks, and play them at loud volume to interesting people all of the time
  8. For some reason, in some election I was not made aware of, I am the de facto communications hub for a bazillion people; you look up Murdoch if you want to randomly communicate with someone who you lost track of years ago, and somehow I have some sort of last known contact info
  9. Possibly the greatest thing I have ever done is the eulogy I gave Chris Feher after he died doing what he loved: rock climbing Half Dome in Yosemite by himself
  10. I hate children, especially babies, but apparently, they love Unkle Mike, and this fact never fails to humble me
  11. Speaking of luck, I was lucky enough to be adopted at birth by the best parents in the world — Diane and Gordon — and what I can piece together about my biological parents is pretty crazy: Mom was from Massachusetts, married, and had three other children, aged 8, 9. and 11 when I was born; her husband was NOT my father; she was short, Swedish, and had blond curly hair; my dad was an Italian steelworker, son of an immigrant shoemaker who woke up one day to find a note from his wife that she was leaving him and half of the closet was gone; Mom’s husband had a nervous breakdown and was committed; this explains a lot of what is running around in my genetic pool — don’t blame the Murdochs
  12. I am the best party liaison this side of Van Wilder
  13. I have three home-produced album to my name under various alter-egos (see Pus & Zero Boy) and one professionally released 12″ single called “Everybody” that I did with Grant Goad and Andres Mijangos
  14. I am still very proud of all the work I did to become an Eagle Scout
  15. I wrote poetry every day for almost 15 years; most of it is available — tagged and searchable even — on my WordPress blog; my current favorites are “Cellardweller“, “I, Ape“, and, of course, “Froggacuda
  16. I often wish that everyone else could hear the soundtrack and audio effects track that accompanies my life
  17. I am a pack rat, especially for things that provoke nostalgia; for example, I still have many of my childhood toys — Legos, Transformers, Micronauts, etc. — and a box full of the stuff I had pinned / nailed to the walls of my room when I was in high school, such as Fishbone ticket stubs, a referral from Coach T (R.I.P.), and extra pictures of hot chicks I had crushes on from Yearbook class
  18. I have always owned a “strange” pet as well as my beloved cats ever since Linda Nickel bought me my first Emperor scorpion; currently I have Tuonetar Mac Mordenkainen, who is the third Mexican Red-Knee tarantula in a long line of wonderful arachnids I have loved
  19. I don’t code Web 2.0 anywhere near as well as I did Web 1.0
  20. I love jackets; first and foremost is my ska-patched black jacket, which used to be a bomber, but out of all the clothing you can wear, nothing beats the right jacket for the right occasion or situation
  21. I have been a true (4 elements, y’all!) fan of hip hop ever since seeing the Sugar Hill Gang perform “Rapper’s Delight” live on Solid Gold 1979; this seminal moment changed my life forever
  22. There is nothing better in life than having a good conversation filled with enthusiasm, a meeting of the minds, and laughter
  23. Being rejected in junior high school by the popular white folks as a glasses-wearing, uncool, too-smart nerd has served me well; I have good friends and strong cultural ties to non-white communities who have accepted me for who I am from then until the present day; this is one of my greatest sources of pride and what makes me wince when I have to choose “caucasian” on “optional” survey information
  24. I love language, especially since the world is made of it (see the collected works of Terence McKenna), and I have a fierce propensity towards sesquipedalianism just because long, multisyllabic words sound cool and are sometimes the key to doing what Salt & Pepa, Madonna, and Dr Dre during his NWA tenure said best: expressing one’s self
  25. There is nothing I value more in life than my friends; they are the Desiderata of my happiness, the real value in social networking, and many times, the only reason that I keep on keeping on, because I can’t do it all for myself

There we are: 25 random things about me. Feedback — as always — is very welcome. Have at!

I.
There was a woman
Who I loved with all my heart.
It’s the only way
I know how
to love.
The problem I have
With falling in love
Is that I just keep falling
And falling on through.
It’s a perpetual autumn;
Storming leaves of memories,
Possibilities,
Skeletal trees.
And turning my collar up
Against the cold of this world.
Holding my hands out
To the warmth of the fire
That we had kindled
To keep the darkness at bay.
Every time these things end
I look up from the glow
Of the smolder, the embers,
For the ignition of a smile,
That familiar, beloved synching
Eyes to eyes:
It’s just understood
We’ll revel in the work
To pile on more fuel
From our common woodpile.
But nobody is there
Across the coals from me;
I’ve fallen through
The bottleneck of the hourglass
Along with all these ashes.

II.
Songs get tied
Like complicated knots
Around my feelings;
They remind me of how
I used to think about forever.
Some are bright blossoms
Stolen from yards
On the way to your window
In the middle of the night
To kneel and present you
With a moonlit bouquet,
My Juliet.
Another is the crosshatching
Of spray painted poetry
Hanging in midair
Amongst the tree branches
Between the shadows
Of the stars that were ours;
Witchcraft and wizardry
For an unrelenting passion.
Tapestries of smoke
And of tie-dyed freedom;
Soft paws of haloed kittens,
The chocolate and the champagne
Of the once in a lifetime.
Threads on a magick loom
Synchronicity unparalleled,
Spiderwebs like a hammock,
An embrace as if I was coming home;
Touch burning like the fire of a faerie,
Or the resurrection of the phoenix,
Tracing sigils in the sky,
Re-ignition of belief
Like a firestarter
Or finding a soulmate.
I am haunted
By the breadth of my music
And the depth of my commitment.
The failure
of my eyesight.

III.
The carnage is absolute;
A battlefield strewn with my corpses,
Beer cans and shrieks and cigarette butts,
The best of intentions and
The stench of taking things for granted.
These raw wounds
I have sustained over my lifetime
Of loving how I should have been loved
Never seem to heal;
They just ooze and pulse
Making heartbeats painful;
A crazy accumulation of luggage
Like owning an airport carousel
Of baggage you can’t strip off.
It just grows with you,
Older and less attractive,
Smelling faintly of urine and gangrene
When you can’t bear
To perform the required surgery.
It hurts too much;
I’ll excise memories I want to keep
Along with the decaying flesh.
Retrospective or post-mortem;
It’s still the death of a relationship
That I thought would live forever
As if I had infinite chances,
Infinite quarters.

IV.
I was pinned to a mortarboard
Like a butterfly from a caterpillar,
When I had to eulogize my friend;
My brother, my partner-in-crime,
Someone who understood
By the merit of not being female
The depth of love and an enduring relationship.
I don’t ever want to do that again.
It is the same with love;
I know I can, and it will be better,
But the pain of losing someone to provoke that work
Is too much to accept;
Besides, who the fuck will do that for me?
The answer is as clear as hindsight:
20-20.
I listened to my voice echo hollow through a church
That he wouldn’t have appreciated
To the people who were left behind,
And became even more haunted.
I did my best to represent,
Tell tales, romanticize, believe
And I went home with ashes in my mouth
To cry, cry out, want to evaporate,
Disappear, erase myself from existing
Because I had lost something precious:
A true friend.
It’s a lot like losing your love
Because you have lost a friend.

V.
The light switch is off.
This is the eye of the storm for me.
Now I deal with the still shatter of leaves,
The cold of being alone,
And shoving my hands into the campfire.
There is no warmth.
This destroys the fabric of memories
That took deep commitment
And sweat equity;
Deeper resources than I had without you.
And I see them all retreat,
As if they never existed;
Vanish into the thin, thin air
That I breathe.
Flatlined.

VI.
To move along,
Because there is nothing to see here;
It’s a pretty penance,
My cross to bear;
One that gets weightier
The more years I carry forward,
This boulder I am pushing uphill.
It’s that lost luggage from the carousel;
It’s those old wounds from the battlefield;
It’s those lyrics of happier times
When I would write, compose, sing
Of how I loved being in love
And how I expected forever
But you only had right now to give.

VII.
Perspective is a function of wisdom,
Which is a byproduct of experience,
That is what happens when you live and die
Through these things.
Perhaps they build character;
Actually, they create defense mechanisms
To try to prevent this from happening again
And again.
Expectations collapse
And you lay bricks and mortar in the fortress
That you think will keep you safe
But not sound;
You all are quite persuasive.
Certainly isolated
In the aftermath
Of bequeathing your everything —
Heart, mind, soul —
To your everything
Around that campfire
And you look up and discover
That she is long gone.

Clarity and Closure

Posted: December 2, 2008 in Rant, Writing
Tags: , ,

“I don’t think this is working out…I don’t see any future with us.”

This is how this heartbreak goes down: on the phone, during a conversation about something totally unrelated. I heard her go outside, heard her light a smoke, had been hearing all of this for the last six months, but somehow — being a child of the 80s and listening to all of that Depeche Mode and Cure — I didn’t hear this one coming. Damn me for being me: having faith, thinking that love can overcome all, thinking that God has a sick sense of humor and boys don’t cry, believing that patience is appreciated when the vines are withering and it is some sort of Constantine Industrial Light and Magic thing that is going on outside my vision.

I am not known for having good eyesight.

By the time I had gotten back to my laptop to check in on Facebook, her relationship status had changed to “single” and I was left in a “complicated” relationship with no one. Good Lord, is this how we communicate in the 21st century? Hey, we should get together and figure out this divorce stuff, since that is obviously what needs to happen. She is out of town this weekend; she’ll call me next week when she has some free time. Brutal, but probably honest — that factor is always in question now — and I guess I’ll do some more waiting. What’s another week or three on the end of this wreck, anyways? Could we at least get this done by the end of this piss-poor, fucked up year?

I had to wake up my friend Kleptus just to cement the information received on this phone call to the time and date, so I can move forward with clarity and closure. He was wonderful enough to look me in the eye and let me know that limbo is not a place that you can effect change or move forward. I am stunned by this revelation that she is gone, yes, but moreover, I am relieved that this game is over and that I can move on to whatever the future holds for me without having to continue to pretend that there is a chance of her coming back. All that remains is the legal paperwork, the separation of bank accounts and credit debt, and all that other shit that I have done before, and here’s a fuck you and have a nice day.

It’s divorce #2; I have practice.

So it is what it is, horrible delivery and all. Obviously premeditated, just like several events leading up to this: a trip to San Francisco, a talk on the front porch the last night we inhabited Saratoga Street, the lack of communication since we separated. It doesn’t matter now, because it is what it is: annihilation of our relationship, repudiation of the time we spent together, and a new beginning for each of us. There’s a little cleanup to perform for both of us, but then we’ll be moving right along with our separate lives. With clarity and with closure.

I will admit that I have drowned my sorrows lately; not in alcohol, which is sort of a refreshing change, but in video game addiction. With the launch of the NXE (that’s New Xbox Experience) and the release of several highly anticipated Xbox games, I have guiltily gone on a rampage through several virtual worlds. This has kept me somewhat sane and distracted from becoming a basketcase. 2008 is a banner year for getting blindsided by crazy shit, but hey, what’s a Frogg to do besides bounce?

XBOX 360 DASHBOARD UPDATE

Highly anticipated, Microsoft basically revised the entire Xbox 360 “dashboard” — essentially the operating system for that specific PC. Boasting a much expanded feature set, Wii-style avatars, and a whole host of marketplace options (buy this, rent that, customize your “experience” for “credits” that are the Xbox’s clever way of making you pay money for bits). The upgrade process was relatively painless, taking about 15 minutes to download, restart, install, restart, and then present a shiny new intro video in 1080i on the 32″ flat panel I have it hooked up to. Here are the highlights of the upgrade:

Netflix Movies On Demand:
If you have an Xbox Gold account ($60 / year) and a Netflix account ($120 / year) you can queue up movies that are available for streaming to your PC and they appear as DVD covers in the Netflix section, which you can “cover flow” through, read about, and initiate to stream direct to the 360 and thus to your big screen. At the start of each movie, the OS analyzes your network bandwidth to determine what sort of quality it can successfully send to your Xbox, and then proceeds to buffer and play the movie. If you have enough bandwidth, apparently you can get true hi def, but I have yet to experience that. The Xbox controller allows you to change the resolution (stretch, native, letterbox, etc), play, pause, skip forward or back, and all the stuff you would expect from a DVD player, except that moving around in the movie will require another relatively quick buffering from Netflix as it sends your request back to you. Overall, it is a decent service, even before I tune up the network to provide the bandwidth that I pay through the nose for to Cox, mostly because I am watching crappy movies that only I would enjoy, like Transmorphers, Raptor Island, and Superstarlet AD. For this sort of background, fall-asleep-to-it, type of movie experience, it is perfect. The convenience of no physical media is supreme. The largest problem, which I am certain Netflix is going to fix over time, is the limited amount of material that is available for on demand viewing, and I am rapidly cruising through the available titles that interest me. There is a benefit to this, though, for I am starting to queue up stuff I wouldn’t normally be interested in just because it is available through the Xbox / Netflix connection. The upshot is this: if you have a 360 and a Xbox Gold account already because you game online or whatever, the cheapest Netflix account is well worth it just to add this functionality to your Box. Definitely the most-used feature of the upgrade for me, and probably a harbinger of the future — no late fees, no physical media to return, and if you already have the Xbox for games and whatnot, and can get your network to play nice with the hi def offerings, this could revolutionize how you look at your TV.

Rip Games to Hard Drive:
This is a bittersweet feature that has both pros and cons to it. The pros: not having to hear the DVD rattle around in the notoriously noisy optical drive on the 360, potentially faster loading times (Gears of War 2 reports slight improvements, Grand Theft Auto IV apparently has a significant loading time increase), and — you would think — the convenience of not having to put in the game disc to play. WRONG! The cons: you STILL have to have the disc for the game you want to play in the tray for verification that you own it, and us early adopters of the 360 with the 20GB hard drives (wait, the dashboard upgrade just ate 8GB of said hard drive) are screwed. Installation of GOW2 ate another 7GB of space, so that’s one game per 20GB hard drive…goddammit! And here I thought I could load my three new games on the 360 and haul it around in my Xbox-logoed backpack to friends’ houses to do some co-op. Nope! Furthermore, the hard drive space issue has now come front and center, and Microsoft’s insane prices on official 360 HDs are retardiculous given that they are standard SATAs with a custom firmware. Give me a 1TB add-on drive with the one-time transfer cable for a reasonable price, and I would be happy to buy, even if I have to put the game disc in to play (although they should solve that, too).

New Network Testing Issues:
This is not really a feature; rather, it is an issue that is somewhat reasonable, but really a problem in disguise. The updated Xbox 360 Dashboard now identifies how strict your network is in terms of connecting to the Live service for all these new bells and whistles. The Interwebs are going crazy with people complaining about not being able to connect to online games, poor Internet performance, and other issues because (in my opinion) Microsoft is trying to push Xbox 360 certified router / firewalls. I actually had to set my Xbox to a static IP address, static DNS servers, and get the most awesome Mr Wendle to drive two ports to that static IP to get full, unfettered Xbox Live performance out of my machine. For you techies out there, you need either UPNP wide open so that your router can react appropriately to requests for open ports (scary) or drive the following ports to your Xbox: 88/UDP, 3074 UDP/TCP. At least the new networking tools allow you to determine how your network is seeing your 360; if you run the test (find it under My Xbox–> Network Settings) it will report what your firewall looks like to the 360 service. This is a pain in the ass, but necessary if you want to unlock the full potential of the new NXE update.

I doubt that Microsoft is going to make the new Dashboard optional; if you take a look at what the OS offers, it is full of increased business potential. The timing, right before Xmas season, coupled with the price drops on Xbox 360s, makes for a compelling purchase — but insure you get at least the 60 GB version, not the $199-with-256MB-memory-card sucker punch if you are in the market to buy a system. Microsoft makes no effort to hide the fact that they want to dominate your living room as well as your computers, but overall, the 360 upgrade is a pretty phenomenal upgrade for free, and is a welcome retooling of an existing component in my multimedia rack.

Something about “being Agile” tends to make people think that productivity magically appears when you install Scrum as if it was some sort of speed boosting software optimization. This is not the case; it takes preparation, dedication to the methodology, and above all, discipline. Daily Scrums are a good case in point; many times I have seen participants show up to this critical forum without being prepared to transfer knowledge. The traditional Daily Scrum asks three questions to try to evoke the necessary intel from the Sprint participants:

  1. What did you accomplish yesterday?
  2. What do you plan on accomplishing today?
  3. Are you impeded?

There are two issues that arise from the Daily Scrum formula that I have encountered: one, the answers to these questions from each Team member don’t always get to the best information that needs to be shared; and two, Team members are not prepared to answer these questions with valuable 411. Both devalue the Scrum, and with a 15 minute timebox, it is critical to impart focused, specific information as fast as is productive to the Team. With this in mind, here are a few suggestions to keep Daily Scrums from becoming rote meetings that developers and other participants show up at, roll their eyes when they’re asked the same old questions, and — as one developer I worked with threatened — produce a simple audio file to play when asked the questions above.

Ask the right questions to get valuable answers:
Every project is different, and the questions asked of the Team should be designed to insure that knowledge is transferring properly between the Team members. This does not mean that you abandon the yesterday / today / blocked formula; rather, it means that the ScrumMaster should know enough about each Team members’ commitments to be able to help them with getting to the good stuff. The key here is to reinforce that the Team succeeds or fails by the estimation, communication, and hard work of the individuals that comprise that Team, as Clinton Keith adroitly notes on his discussion of Daily Scrums. The questions that are asked of the Team are not designed to be a simple formula so that you can repeat the same valueless information; that is why I prefer to use the term “accomplished” rather than “do”; this engages the Team member in a different way — it asks him or her to report to their Team members if they met their commitment from yesterday’s Daily Scrum. Keith makes a good point that the key to the first two questions is commitment: if a Team member commits to finishing feature x and does not, this is an impediment that is telling you a lot about the progress of the Sprint.

Be a Boy or Girl Scout; come prepared to the Daily Scrum:
Because Daily Scrums are usually timeboxed to 15 minutes, a lot of participants think they can just show up and answer the three questions and then get back to work. If this is what is happening in your Daily Scrums, you are in danger of having these crucial meetings become valueless and might as well let people play audio files to report their status. I found quite a bit of value when I insisted that Team members bring the ticket numbers for the Tasks that they were working on from whatever tracking system was in place was enough to make ’em prepare just a little bit before showing up to the Daily Scrum. This also had the side benefit that they would bring a pen and a piece of paper, which would at least have the materials present to make a note in case (shocking!) that something came up in the meeting that they were not expecting, such as “have a conversation with so-and-so immediately after this meeting to help them with impediment z”. Stacia Broderick has a wonderful phrase for a common symptom of Daily Scrum fatigue: DSW or Daily Standup Withdrawal. She prepares herself before each meeting; I don’t see why the same, short, focusing process shouldn’t be encouraged for each participant.

Handle diverging conversations immediately:
As a CSM, I have always found that the most memorable part of teaching Scrum to people is using squeaky toys to prevent Daily Scrums (or other meetings, for that matter) spiraling out of control into technical discussions, impediment removal, or other unfocused diatribes. Scrum is full of animals, starting with Jeff Sutherland’s Pigs and Chickens, but I can still remember the rubber rats from my CSM training with Dan Rawsthorne when he handed them out and thinking “what the hell are these for?” Since then I have used a front desk bell, a squeaky dog bone, and even threatened an air horn with a particularly garrulous group. The squeaky toy almost becomes like the conch shell in Lord of the Flies with some groups; even reaching for the talisman has an instantaneous effect on someone who is off on a soliloquy once they know what it means. This does not mean that you should be a heavy-handed ScrumMaster; on the contrary, it is the sign of a good Daily Scrum when a Team diverges to try to solve a problem. In this case, I take a page from XP and shut it down by providing a concrete way forward, such as “ok, you three obviously need to have an offline discussion about this; how about right after this meeting for 15 minutes and somebody be responsible for communicating the resolution?” This prevents the squeaky toy from becoming something to be feared and restores it to what it is for: focusing the Daily Scrum.

Provide concrete output from the Daily Scrum:
Whether it is on stickies, a quick set of notes, or directly updating the community Scrum Board, make sure that there are tangible results coming out of your Daily Scrums. The most important thing is definitely in the heads of the Team members, but it is highly valuable to have some sort of record of what went on yesterday today. This is a prime way to ask those extra questions suggested at the top of this list if necessary — review what the commitments were from yesterday and insure that each Team member is answering whether or not they accomplished what they set out to get done. These notes also become a key starting point for Sprint Retrospectives, when I have found there is naturally a lot of brain fade after a successful delivery. Like most everything else in Scrum, find what works for you; I have provided concrete output from Daily Scrums a variety of ways, but it is another Scrum operation that can be shifted from person to person, or combined with the Scout rule above — if Team members know that there is concrete output from the Daily Scrum, they are more likely to come prepared. These types of notes, especially in an electronic format such as a shared document or an e-mail update, also provide the added benefit of being able to communicate Sprint status on a daily basis to other interested parties, such as business owners and / or stakeholders, if necessary.

As usual, these are my observations from practicing Scrum at several different organizations, and I would be interested in any feedback about how you focus your Daily Scrums to prevent DSW, insure effective knowledge transfer, and make your Daily Scrums something that people look forward to because they provide help and value to the contribution of the Team to the Sprint.

Everybody knows that the economy sucks; the October Jobs Report is about as dismal as it gets, especially when you shovel into it and understand that:

“Not only did the economy lose a massive 240,000 jobs in the non-farm sector, but the previously reported declines of 159,000 in September and 73,000 in August were revised sharply lower to 284,000 and 127,000 respectively as well. As a result, the economy has now lost a total of 1.2 million jobs since the beginning of the year, with nearly half of those losses occurring in the last three months alone, pointing to an acceleration in the pace of erosion in labor markets.” -Anthony Karydakis, Fortune

Being part of such a massive bunch of horrifying statistic and having no job myself is, actually, quite exhilarating; the big question is how to keep myself from going stir-crazy without an unexpecting company to throw my heart and soul into, day in and day out including weekends and nightmares.

So I have decided to put myself on a writing regimen; I think I’ll do what any Gen-X, social network addicted, thirty-something who used to be an English teacher would do: I’ll WordPress all about it. Instead of trying to come up with some sort of literary masterpiece when I craft this nonsense with an audience of one, I think I will try to write every weekday that I am searching for a new career and try to find the humor and interest in the job of finding a job. I had a recruiter tell me to “enjoy my unemployment; with a resume like that, you won’t be for long”. It is this nugget of wisdom that I’ll try to take to heart as I blog and social network my way to some more pay-to-play project management. See you tomorrow.