January 14th, 2014

Up until last April, I had never touched the ocean.

1.

I had been close to the ocean. I had travelled under the ocean. But I had never actually ventured out to it – never tried to take in its size, or let the salty remnants of millions of years of biological change wash over my feet. The ocean was a thing outside my realm. The ocean was as foreign as India or Japan.

Last April, I finally did it. I touched the ocean. The Pacific Ocean, scene of a million surf wipeouts and Instagrammed sunsets.

And now, here I was. Ready to do the same on the opposite coast. I got out of my car and walked toward the water.

2.

I used to dream of airports. Each was something new – a way to experience the thrills I had only encountered in a Choose Your Own Adventure. There was freedom in knowing that, given the right situation and the right funds, I could go anywhere. ANYWHERE. Any damned where I pleased, with just a few hundred dollars and the proper identification.

I still do dream of airports, but in a different way. Now, they’re weird nightmares, where I miss my flight or I show up too late to conduct a meeting.

At some point last year, travel became an occupational hazard; each ticket was a debt to my life, and though I enjoyed myself when I was supposed to enjoy myself, I had unwillingly traded my dreams for anxieties. I measured each new city by the number of days I had remaining – the number of days until I could return home. And I began to fear the consequences of enjoying travel too much, of getting too comfortable being on the road.

There’s no way to be peaceful with a new city if you’re rushing to do business and counting the days. There’s no more discovery: there’s only debt.

3.

When I was in grade school, I almost drowned at Wall Lake. I was floating on a neighbor’s inflatable pool lounger when, as I reached for a toy in the water, I fell off. The water was shallow enough to stand in, but the wake and action of thirty other swimmers forced the inflatable pool lounger away from shore.

As I chased it, the water became deeper. Each grasp pushed the lounger further away. Each step I took increased the panic, until, flailing around, my host for the day – our neighbor, who moonlighted as a lifeguard – saw me struggling. She dove in and saved me.

I had graduated from swimming lessons a few years before. I knew how to swim. I knew that I was in danger. But I still kept trying to make things right, to prevent loss, to be safe instead of smart, pushing myself just a little further into the water. In doing so I nearly lost everything.

I was still a kid. I never knew how much this would haunt me.

4.

I neglect to tell Sierra and Isaac about my work travel until the last possible moment. Sierra is riddled with the same anxieties I am: an irrational fear of natural disasters, a belief that when her loved ones leave they may never come back, a super-sensitivity to being embarrassed. Isaac carries those same concerns out of love for his sister; he’s concerned when she is, over-exaggerating each issue in the way a four-year-old does.

My kids become irrational when I’m ready to leave – clinging to me as if I was joining the foreign legion – and they become pills when I’m gone, pushing buttons on every issue. Each trip is a change to routine. Each trip is an added level of stress for Kerrie. Each trip forces the questions I never thought I’d ask.

Do I want to do this?

Do I want to travel?

Am I doing all I can to be a good father?

Of course I am. I never doubt my efforts for long. But that doesn’t mean the same thoughts don’t creep in every time I stand in a security line, one hand throwing my belt and shoes into a bucket, the other chancing upon a bracelet Sierra made, or a few coins I found hidden under Isaac’s rug. I collect these things as I toddle around the house, picking up after myself, but I always assume there’s a bigger reason they end up in that security bowl.

Then I shake it off and shove them back in my pocket as I walk to my gate.

5.

I parked a block away from the Atlantic Ocean, near a beach that shared my name. I stumbled through the sand, wondering how I would remember this moment. I felt proud. I was charged. I was going to surprise my kids by saying LOOK AT WHERE DAD ENDED UP! because I had already decided that the ocean was too much for this bummer of a weekend. I felt empowered by my sudden change of heart. I felt like the lead role in a Springsteen song.

Until I instinctively checked Foursquare.

If I hadn’t tried to check in, I’d have never known that I wasn’t at the ocean. I’d still think that Corey Beach is on the Atlantic and that I’d scored a completed pair. I’d never know that, despite that sudden change of heart, this wasn’t one of the fun Springsteen songs.

I did check. And the ocean was over there, in the distance, on the other side of the outer barrier across Patchouge Bay.

I got back in my car and stared at the beach.

6.

I was afraid of water until, one day, Kerrie forced me to buck up and jump in.

I was afraid to travel to a conference and speak until, one day, my boss told me to just go do it already.

I was afraid to leave home until, one day, I came home and my kids were cool with it all and excited to get presents.

But I still remember the time I pushed it too far. I’m still afraid of going too far past the buoy. I still stay up at night wondering when one step will be one too far, when my charge has slipped past my reach, when my energy has run out and all I can muster is a hand raised in the air as I slowly sink.

7.

When I was a kid, I took one trip a year. My family would pack up the car and we would head to Jackson. It would be stomach-turningly early when the lights came on to leave – a feeling I still encounter on the eve of a trip, where the excitement of discovery is mixed with the fear of the unknown, a queasy churning that’s only solved through a few cups of coffee and an hour of driving into the sunrise.

I knew what travel was, but my scope was limited. It included a car. It included going west. My destination was filled with loving family. It was safe, and it was comforting, and it was always beautiful.

My destination moved wherever my grandparents did, whether it was Wyoming or Kentucky or Minnesota. It was college before I knew what real travel was. I found myself in Paris, struggling with a new language. I found myself in London, seeing things I’d only seen in movies. I was in Seattle, taking mini-pilgrimages to the sites of my favorite bands. I was in Washington DC. I was in New Orleans. I was everywhere.

I wasn’t comfortable, but I was willing to learn. I was an anomaly, I think: my desire to keep moving overcame my fear of the unknown, so I just jumped on a plane and did it.

I want my kids to have a enjoy that kind of movement. I don’t want them to fear the unknown.

I want them to fall in love with countries I’ve never visited. I want them to go on trips that expose them to great friendships. I want them to wonder. I want them to understand that the Midwest is beautiful and perfect in nearly every way, but that they’ll never understand just how perfect it is until they’ve stepped outside its border.

I don’t want travel to be a fearful thing, despite the fact that I now dread traveling without them.

Because instead of enjoying the time I spend in a new city, I now fear the nights they crawl into bed and I’m not there. I fear the dinners when they ask when we’ll be a real family again. And I fear the point when I hate traveling by myself and, as an extension, hate what leads me to travel in the first place.

More than that, I fear that they will see that fear, and they will understand it as a part of traveling. I fear that I will affect their sense of adventure. I fear I will kill discovery before it starts.

8.

My heart sank.

This wasn’t the ocean. I drove here for nothing.

I saw that my short car ride had been for naught, that I had fooled myself in thinking that I was close, and I saw that my only real recourse was to head back to the hotel and watch Netflix and drink a beer and feel shitty and disappointed. It was Labor Day weekend, and I was working, and I thought I didn’t really care but suddenly I did.

But everywhere I looked I saw small people spending the holiday on the beach, making castles and diving into the waves and doing other cliche small people things as their parents looked on, exhausted from the wind but happy that they could sit back and look on. Those small people on the beach reminded me of my small people back home, which reminded me of everything back home, which reminded me that I would be doing my entire family a disservice to ditch this mission – to shake my head and give up, to admit failure. To let the pool lounger go.

So, for once, I refused to give up.

“Fuck it.”

“I’m going to the ocean.”

And I got in my car and drove south.

January 10th, 2014

Sometimes I make lists of lists. I did one in 2011. I did one in 2012. So, hey. “Tradition.”

As always, these lists are not in order.

The Unofficial Album of the Year

  • Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Favorite Albums From 2013

  • Soulcrate Music – “Welcome Back From Wherever You’ve Been
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Russian Circles – Memorial
  • Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
  • XXX – XXX

Favorite Albums From Before 2013 That I Didn’t Pay Attention To Until 2013

  • Morphine – Cure For Pain
  • Uncle Tupelo – No Depression
  • Mogwai – Young Team
  • Big Star – #1 Record
  • Daft Punk – Alive 2007

Albums From My “Favorite Albums From 2012″ List That I Haven’t Listened To Since 2012

  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
  • Heartless Bastards – Arrow

Albums From My “Favorite Albums From 2011″ List That I STILL Haven’t Listened To Since 2011

  • tUnE-YarDs – whokill
  • Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Genres I Didn’t Fully Understand Because I Didn’t Pay Attention To Genres, Apparently (In Order of How Much I’ve Listened To Them)

  • Post-Metal
  • Post-Rock
  • Alt-Country
  • Shoegaze

Bruce Springsteen Records I Ended Up With This Year

  • The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
  • Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
  • Nebraska
  • Live / 1975-85

Best Vinyl Acquisitions (Non-Springsteen Edition)

  • Threadbare – Feeling Older Faster
  • Whirlpool – Liquid Glass
  • Hot Water Music – Live in Chicago
  • Built to Spill – Live
  • They Might Be Giants – Apollo 18

Album I’m Embarrassed I Purchased But Haven’t Yet Listened To

  • Kanye West – Yeezus

Category: Music, The Top...

January 1st, 2014

The ball has dropped and nothing has changed.

I still love how my children challenge my every word. I’m still amazed in the friends I’ve made through my industry. I still wonder why Kerrie puts up with my crap and cherish her for it. I still want to be better, still want to fight for the future, still want to protect my kids from everything, still struggle against that protection so my kids can make up their own mind.

The ball has dropped. It’s a new year. I just learned to add “2013″ to my files, but then again I just learned – for what feels like the millionth time – that the year means nothing. That we’re all tied to our own timelines, and that if we don’t move accordingly we forget that resolutions are worthless.

The ball has dropped? I guess I should write something. Or, I should just keep being aware.

Category: On...

November 16th, 2013

It’s midnight and my family has taken up the entire bed. So I’m sleeping in my 6YO’s bed. It’s nicer than ours.

I saw a boy tonight, surrounded by friends, as he threw up in an arena stall after an asthma attack. I waited for adults, but his friends took care of him. It made me feel very good about The State of Today’s Youth.

I worry my kids will grow to ignore me. Then they pile in my bed, just for the chance to be close. And I can’t be mad.

Because they are kids. They are kind. They are compassionate. And because of that, I can sleep anywhere I end up.

Category: Isaac, Sierra

November 5th, 2013

Yesterday, Sierra picked up a book on the stained glass windows of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Though the book was in English, the captions were still in French. She read them anyway.

“Less troys rosettes noter dayme dee paris est lun dess grands chefs dee lah churn-ten.”

Sierra is six, yet here she is, fearlessly hacking through incomplete French sentences as if they were just another set of words she hadn’t yet learned in first grade. To her, she’s simply learning to read, and these are new words. She doesn’t know it’s a new language because every word is part of a new language.

In each new incarnation of my professional career, I’ve been dropped into a new language, and I’ve pushed forward with fervor. When I first tasted call center middle management, I was eager and ready to work. When I became a copywriter, I devoured every resource. Now, in the impossible to contain web industry, I still find myself going off on tangents, assuming I’ll need to know everything about everything.

These early days allow us to work without history. They allow us to do what we think is right, without censorship, because we haven’t yet been proven wrong.

This happens with films and books and music. We launch ourselves into genres without regard to what’s considered “legitimate.” We fall in love with bands like Coldplay and Pearl Jam before we hear the negative reviews and backlash. We take it all in, because it’s all new to us.

Each failure tempers our exploration. We cut back on tasks and narrow our vision. We stop taking chances, because we know what we’re supposed to do.

But maybe we should just keep reading on, regardless of the content, regardless of whether or not it’s within our bounds. Of course we should learn from our mistakes, but maybe we should spend less time trying to prevent them in the first place.

Maybe we should pretend we’re French, even if only for a caption or two.

Category: Career, On..., Words, Writing

October 9th, 2013

I don’t have a lot of flying traditions. I ask for a Diet Coke. I play one game of Plants vs. Zombies. I look at the in-flight magazine long enough to realize that I already read it on my last flight, which coincidentally was the last time I felt the weight of being away from home, of being vulnerable, of suffering from the muddled emotions that come when pressurized at 10,000 feet over some midwest state.

BMOWP Classic Album

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

At this height, the emotion of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea becomes the equivalent of a hotel lobby bar, dark and distant and lonely. Aeroplane is my newest tradition, to the point that I no longer hear the story of Anne Frank; instead, I hear whatever emotion’s trapped in the airplane cabin. I hear a concept album roughly taped together like an ill-fitting puzzle. Songs that barely fit together meet in the middle as if participating in awkward diplomacy, every word telling a sad story that could be anyone’s sad story – mine, the guy in front of me, the flight attendant racing up the aisles.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the best 90s album I never heard until 2012, and I’m embarrassed to confide it took me so long.

No guitar should bring as much comfort as this guitar does; no lo-fi mic should add as much pain as this lo-fi mic does. No dream has pictured the weird normalcy the way this dream has played out, with pulleys and weights and ill-fated romance, somehow both poetic and stilted, insightful and weird.

Yeah, it’s a tired tradition to shine our sad times onto some tortured record. Of course it is. But listening to Aeroplane, we just can’t help ourselves.

And still, beneath all of that wrenched emotion and torture is a simple and beautiful record. Beneath the gritty acoustic guitar and messy rhythm section and that horn – every time, that fucking horn – lies simplicity at an Elliot Smith level.

(And that’s without bringing in the story we all identify as One Of The Saddest, a World War II angle that provides a story arc as tragic as The Antlers’ Hospice, trading howls and cancer for The Holocaust.)

For the past three weeks I’ve had a combination of hooks from each song stuck in my head. Think about that. An art album with hooks. An art album that gets stuck in your head. An art album about the Holocaust – THE HOLOCAUST! – that toes the balance between must-listen and emotional exhaustion, as if the only thing that can make us happier is remembering how hard everyone else has had it at one point in their lives.

There’s brilliance in creating an album that somehow walks the line between normal and slightly off-kilter. Because it’s not really normal. At times, the lyrics verge into @horse_ebooks territory (Ed: rest in peace, young horse), piecing together random metaphors that, through time, reveal themselves as not random at all. With the warbling inconfidence in Jeff Magnum’s voice and the vaugely Hawaiian guitars and the tortured sadness of the lyrics, Neutral Milk Hotel created something back in 1998 that they must have known they’d never do again. The characters. The endorsement of April Ludgate. THE HORNS. It’s a perfect storm of poetic awkwardness and earworm-ability that must make John Darnielle jealous.

In “Oh Comely,” Magnum writes, “Know all your enemies. We know who our enemies are.” Meanwhile, I write this post sitting miles above the ground, in an airplane over the Midwest. I miss my kids, and I’m in need of some sadness to crush my own. My enemies are exhaustion and insecurity, even among friends, and I accept Magnum’s story as comfort, knowing that everything in life is as awkward and tragic as the history we’ve made, and that by acknowledging that we can keep moving toward home safe knowing there’s no reason to grieve.

I don’t know who the King of Carrot Flowers is, but I know he pulls some of my strings.

Category: Music, Travel

August 19th, 2013

A professional photographer might take 1,000 shots over the course of a week, saving only a handful of those for future use. This is the first rule of digital photography: the more pictures you take, the better chance you have that some might turn out.

Life in FoldersI’m no photographer. I’m just a guy with a camera, two kids, and a heart for the sentimental. But I still take a lot of pictures, and I hold each of my photos dear — all 25,000 I’ve taken over the life of my camera, and thousands more over the life of my phones. The portraits, the action shots, the mistakes, the over-edited Instagrams, the fading blurs that my children turn into as they scatter from the sound of the shutter. Click. One more. Click. And another.

This article originally appeared in issue five of Offscreen Magazine.

I save about one of every three pictures I take. I edit a small percentage of those, and I post an even smaller percentage for the public — enough to curate a sort of public account of my family, from our first house to our first kid to our first major accident. In this way, my photos form into a loose hierarchy of archived history. The high points that are captured are strengthened by the white space in between, where no camera was present, but memory continues to cling to some details.

I began organising information not out of boredom or pickiness, but out of necessity. My memory often fails me, so I was driven to construct a sort of scaffolding through the organization fo tasks and terms, lists and calendars, sketches and memoirs. A rough draft of what I should probably remember, if my mind wasn’t so busy wandering through itself.

Because human memory is unreliable, to say the least, we have benefited from the invention of computer memory. Aided by technology’s ability to create a concrete organisation of our thoughts and achievements — files go here, folders go there, organised by date and relevance — we’re able to let our mind wander without fear of losing something important. We can focus on the important details because we have outsourced the process, with each idea safe and sound under several layers of machine technology.

We’ve always done this. We organise our recipes and we alphabetise our books. We go through mental checklists in our head as we invite friends to a summer barbecue, invisibly marking each name as they’re invited. We place similar dishes in the same cupboard to help our minds remember where they’re located. Now, these things are increasingly being handled with us.

Here’s where the great debate rages. Is this auto-classification causing us to lose our ability to remember menial information without the aid of a machine — phone numbers, appointments, even our own thoughts about a restaurant? Are we letting go of this information and allowing it to be filed away because we enjoy the convenience? Or have we stopped regarding personal details like birthdays and addresses as “things worth remembering”?

There was a time when I could tell you the phone number of everyone I knew. Now, I file them way, organised by last name, split into device and used only as reference. Those phone numbers are just details. Individually, they represent a single person’s contact information. Together, however, they represent the story of my social circle. They represent my family. Certain groupings remind me of conferences I’ve attended; other groups bring to mind college life.

My reliance on organisation is constantly battling my attempts to live in the moment. But there’s no way I could do one without the other. My life is organised so I can be free to live it, free from anxiety and disarray. Free to create something worth saving. Worth organising. We often think of organisation — whether through site architecture or classification or simple groupings — as a way of finding things, as a road map toward hidden ideas and actions. But we rarely think of organization as a form of memory, using the connections between items to form a better understanding of the things we’ve already experienced.

I love being a human. I love the emotions, the pain and the unpredictability. But I also love being able to rely on a system. A system that allows me to think lessa bout where my memories have gone, and more on how I can continue creating new ones. Our systems might distract us from living in the moment, but they also help preserve the moment long after we’d have otherwise forgotten it.

Folder by folder. Idea by idea. Memory by memory.

Category: Technology