What I’ve Seen

I’ve seen almost every single business across two cities boarded up. We drove from central Saint Paul to South Minneapolis. We had property in Minneapolis we needed to check up on. It took us through two mostly commercial areas. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to it, the boarding. So much so that the ones that weren’t boarded, were almost shocking. You think, “How could someone be so unconcerned and irresponsible?” The same way just days ago you were thinking about those who were unmasked.

I’ve seen seed fluff from the dogwood trees floating aimlessly under a partly cloudy sky. Directionless. No plan besides landing somewhere eventually and hoping it is fertile enough ground to plant roots and grow.

I’ve seen something painted on almost every board. Black Lives Matter! ACAB! BIPOC Owned! Justice for George Floyd! Please don’t burn! Kids Upstairs! “Roses are red. Violets are blue. Peace didn’t work. What else could we do?”

I’ve seen people who believe that words can save them.

I’ve seen far too many out of town plates. You try to catch a glance at the driver. What is an SUV from Utah doing here?  Male or Female driver? Is he Black or white? Note the plate number. Note the direction they’re going. Do they look OK? Because, we know. Then I feel guilty for profiling. Then, just as suddenly, the guilt fades as I realize it happens to Black folks every day. It’s happened to me.  It’s what the daily is for us. I’ve seen it.

I’ve seen the lilacs blooming and filling the air with fragrance when the wind shifts direction and the smoke from the ruins of smoldering buildings is blowing the other way.

I’ve seen neighbors helping businesses board up. I’ve been helping too. As we were boarding up a row of businesses in the neighborhood three pickup trucks with beds full of 2x4s and plywood sheets pull up. A burly young White guy jumps out of each one. They saw a post on social media about us asking for some help from anyone who could come. They were driving around trying to answer any call. Just good guys looking to do good things for good people they said. Those businesses were boarded in minutes. Beers and waters were shared (they had plenty). Elbows were bumped (were still in a pandemic). And four more businesses were (hopefully) saved.

I saw a beautiful mural of flowers on the boards of the wine shop I passed on the way home from the business I was boarding. It hadn’t been there on the way to there. From blank to beautiful in the same time it took to board up.

I’ve seen the press stifled, beat up, shot at, detained, and arrested. I’m reporting this from the United States.

I’ve seen neighbors collecting food and supplies from other neighbors to go help still more neighbors. Because here all strangers are neighbors in times like these.

I’ve seen people with brooms and mops and shovels and crowbars and garbage bags heading to clean up their neighborhood wherever there is cleaning up to do.

I’ve seen parents trying to help their children understand what’s going on. Trying to make sense of the senseless. Trying to explain the unexplainable.

I’ve seen people doing their best and failing and trying again.

I’ve seen the best of who we are. I’ve seen the worst of who we are. I’ve seen everyone in between.

This is what I’ve seen.

The What and The Why (or Why I Avoid Discussing Politics Online)

Some may have noticed that, in general, I avoid talking about politics online. While I am sure you will find or remember instances where I have deviated from this, it is my general policy.

Online platforms are terrible places to have arguments and even worse places to find common ground.

The truth is that I have plenty of thoughts and frequent robust discussions in my offline life surrounding politics. I think people are sometimes surprised by the breath of political views I welcome engagement with among my friends. I have plenty of friends on the far right and the far left. I have friends who are vehemently pro-gun and vehemently no-gun. I have friends that are pro-choice and pro-life. I have friends who vote exclusively left and others exclusively right. And, of course, I have a fair amount who are decidedly middle.

People are often shocked to find that, though I don’t believe I’ve changed much, where I was on that spectrum twenty years ago is far different than where I fall today. Like many who consider themselves independent, I argue that it is the spectrum that has moved, not me. But, like most things, I’m willing to admit that it is likely a fair bit of both of these changing.

But, I find discussing politics online requires a sort of one-to-one that few venues are conducive to. It certainly can’t be done well with 280 characters at a time. It can’t be done well in comments sections with others chiming in. It can’t be done well in blog posts back and forth. Those forums are great for spouting ideas and hot takes but terrible for genuine discourse, mutual respect, and understanding.

It might be able to be done well between two people on a video call. There you can read body language and facial expressions. You can see the genuine humanity of the person with whom you are conversing. You can get a sense of where they are coming from. What might lead them to a certain perspective or understanding.

Because the “why” is far more important and interesting to me — to our ability to even agree to disagree — than the “what”. I’ll give you an example…

  • What: Taxpayer-funded Universal Healthcare (especially for age 21 and under). I support it.
  • Why: One reason? One of the primary responsibilities of government at the federal level is national defense. To defend the country well, it requires healthy, young, strong, troops. Therefore, it is in the best interest for our national defense that all of its citizens receive free universal healthcare so that they may be healthy and ready to serve when the country calls upon them to do so.

The “what” is a view that would normally be aligned as “left”. The “why” is a view that would normally aligned with the “right”. Some on the left would be satisfied with the “what”. But, I might be able to find a bridge of understanding and agreement with someone on the right with the “why”. Why? Because, in general, humans want the same things, have the same fears, and similar dreams. They want to feel safe and secure in their homes and their country. They want what’s best for their children. They may disagree on the details of how much it will cost and who will pay for it. But, we can probably agree on the broad strokes of the “why”.

The “what” is generally what separates us. I believe what ultimately unites us is found in the “why”.

Online discourse is very good at focusing people on the what. It is generally terrible at allowing discourse and agreement around the why.

Photos? Yep. Print those too.

Look, I get it. These days we all have smartphone cameras at our disposal practically every waking hour. So, we naturally take lots of photos. And, if you have kids or pets or just about anything more active and interesting than slowly growing grass around you take lots and lots of photos. In fact, the younger the kid or more cute the pet, you likely have lots and lots of pretty much the same photo.

And, you have plenty of storage space so you just keep snapping and the camera roll just fills up and, sure, occationally you’ll look back a day or two or maybe a week to show a friend or relative that one cute one you got of little Johnny or Sue or puppy Fido but, in general, you don’t really ever go through the roll yourself. Once you upload it to Instafacetweetok and bask in the likes and loves of those you know, you don’t ever really look at them again.

Trust me. I’ve been there. And, I’ve had many a personal consulting client reach out to me on this very subject. It’s always basically the same story:

“I have thousands of photos. I’m not sure what to do with them but I don’t want to lose them. I don’t even know where to start with figuring it all out. Help!”

I believe they are generally shocked when I tell them the same thing I’m about to tell you…

Getting started is the hardest part because it is the most work. But, if you really care you’ll do it happily… Sit down with a strong cup of coffee, nice tea, or pleasant glass of wine and go through each end every photo in your camera roll and ask one simple question, “Do I love this?”.

If you do, print it. Put it in a frame. Hang it on a wall where you will see it. Or, perhaps, gather a bunch of them and print a nice photo book for your coffee table so that you may pick it up every now and then and enjoy them.

Once you do this the first time, repeat this process every couple of months or so. It’ll be easier and quicker then. Because, hopefully, there will be less photos to go through.

So, what to do with any that don’t make the cut?

Sure, backup is a good thing. Spend some time doing a clean up of the duplicates, etc. and get a good backup plan going. I believe in that but…

Anything that remains digital only — in a virtual box — might as well not exist anyway. You likely won’t look at them enough for it to matter, nor will your children or their children, and they probably won’t even have the technology to open them in 20 years or so (see my previous rant).

But, the ones you print, on good photo paper, with decent ink? Those will be here 100+ years from now. Likely more. Those are the only ones your grandchildren and their grandchildren will ever see. So, whaetever you do with anything that is not printed doesn’t ultimately matter. Print is the only dependable and time tested backup there is. If you don’t love it enough to print it, consider it gone.

You have all of these beautiful photos; precious even. Why keep them in a box in your pocket or on your desk? Why not show them the love you have for them? Why not cherish them? Why not find a way to regularly enjoy them? And, more importantly, why not save them from becoming digital dust?

So, once again, if you care about your photos, you’ll print them.

The Beauty to Come

Thanks to a recent newsletter from Robin Sloan, I was listening this morning to this performance which was in memoriam of the September 11th, 2001 terrorists attacks in New York and Washington D.C. In particularly, I wanted to hear the world premiere of Disintegration Loops by composer William Basinski. The piece itself has an absolutely fascinating back story worth checking out as it gives even deeper context to this stunning work.

As I was listening, and ruminating, and pondering, and, at times, crying, by the end I was struck with a sense of profound hope.

During these equally historic times, we’ve lost so much. Not just so many people dead and jobs lost but also so many businesses and institutions that won’t survive the economic collapse caused by this global pandemic. And, it’s not over yet. In fact, in many ways, we’ve only just begun. There is plenty to mourn and much to fear. We remain in crisis and the future is uncertain.

But, one thing that is certain; much beauty will come out of this. It is true in nature and has been true throughout history. That out of tragedy and crisis, beauty always flows. Great art, music, writing, film, and theater always come out of times like these. Examples abound. The Bubonic Plague spawned Italian Renaissance. In nature, forest fires give way to new growth. The AIDS crisis of the 1980’s gave us Rent and Angels in America. In fact, the work linked above likely would not have occurred had it not been for the destruction, devastation, and loss of the 9/11 attacks. The story behind the Disintegration Loops work is itself a metaphor for this.

So, in a time when hope is so desperately needed and it seems we have so little to look forward to, perhaps it will provide some comfort to look forward to the beauty to come. I know it does for me.

Please Print (A Journaling Rant)

In these historic times, many people have turned to journaling as a way of keeping account for the next generation. So when the grandkids ask what it was like to live through the 2020 Pandemic, you’ll be able grab your pipe, sit them on your lap, and regale them with yarns spun from your own written words.

I see so many that I know discussing how important their digital journaling app of choice has become for this purpose and… my heart sinks. I feel so sad for them. The reason….

None of these apps will be around.

Likely not in 10 years. Certainly not in 20 or 30 or 50.

Take it from a 52 year old who has lost more writing in his 30 years of computing than he has been able to save. The reason? They are on ZIP Disks in my basement using Clarisworks or it was into a BBS system that died silently or they are on a Colorado 250MB Tape Backup of my first computer (A home-brew 486/50 PC) or…

Therefore, let me repeat: THAT APP WILL NOT EXIST NOR WILL ANYTHING YOU TYPE INTO IT.

The history of computing has copious evidence to back me up on that bold statement. The evidence shows that Day One (who I will note bills themselves as a “journal for life”) will likely be long gone in 20 years (Go ahead and bookmark this post and come see me then if I’m wrong). Maybe when the company dies they’ll give you an exit plan to save your work or maybe they won’t. Even if you still have the files twenty years from now you won’t have a working app to open them with. Like those ZIP Disks in my basement, your best hope will be to have some old computers with the right app to be able to open them up and print them out.

Yes. Print. On paper. Why? Because, unlike your app, paper has a proven track record for lasting thousands of years if the conditions are right.

I still have the first piece of writing I ever published as a second grader in my elementary school newsletter because my Mom saved her mimeographed copy of it and gave it to me a few years ago. And, you know what? Unlike any of the digital formats I mentioned, I’ll be able to show it to my grandkids and they’ll be able to show it to theirs.

So please, I implore you, if you insist on journaling using any digital tool, please also regularly print what you are writing. Stick it somewhere cool and dry. Even print a couple of copies and put one somewhere offsite for extra security. If you really want to preserve this important history, and you really care about it, you’ll print it.

Or, you could save yourself a lot of trouble and just simply get a good notebook and write by hand. Use good paper. Use good ink. It’ll last for generations. The Library of Congress has a good guide on paper preservation worth checking out. But, even with none of those things, most paper should last hundreds of years if undisturbed.

Dime Store Thriller

There was a time, in a distant past, when books filled the void for many that phones fill today — on the go escape. Many titles were offered in these dime store editions. Action, adventure, romance! Small, thin, portable, and cheap. Easy to slip into a jacket pocket, briefcase, or purse. Text and spacing reduced to the bare minimum in order to pack a lot of reading into as small a footprint as possible.

Perhaps, we should get back to this. Penguin has tried something bold, releasing a series of books by author John Green and a handful of others as “Penguin Minis” — a line designed to be pocket-ish (if not a bit too thick). That said, I’m not sure YA is the best genre or audience for such a thing. But, I give them a a for effort.

Bottom line is I’d love to see more publishers take a stab at resurrecting this idea. Not sure it will make it into my rotation soon but I’ll be taking this along with me to read again and will be on the lookout for others like this in the little free libraries around town.

Opening Up to Not Normal

I know you’d like to believe that as soon as the government allows things to “open back up” that this equates with “everything will go back to normal”. That somehow, our economy will suddenly boom again. That you and your co-workers will be back in the office sharing gossip around the coffee maker. That, somehow, the restaurants will fill up with happy diners, the stadiums will be packed with happy fans, patrons of galleries and theaters will be able to support great art, and beaches will be full of summertime frolic and mischief. You won’t have to stand in a line, six feet from your neighbor, to enter the big-box store (and a mask would no longer be required to do so).

You’d like to believe that all of this will magically change. I understand it gives you hope, to believe that. Hope is important in times like these. But, hope is often at odds with reality.

The truth is, if we were to “open things up” tomorrow, the restaurant would not fill with diners. Because most of the country and those restaurants know that doing so without extensive precautions in place to mitigate the risk to their customers and staff of contracting this virus will mean, in the best case scenario, reducing their capacity by 50%. The additional precautions that staff would have to take in both food service and preparation would be significant and costly. Restaurants, most of whom already operate and the thinnest of profit margins, would not be able to afford it. It’ll likely be cheaper to remain as things are, with a skeleton staff and curbside pick-up only.

How does a sports team re-open a stadium if the only way to keep the fans safe is to enforce strict seating rules and only sell every fourth seat? How can they suggest social distancing at the concessions? Will they have to take the temperature of everyone at the gates? Frankly, it’d be cheaper to play in an empty stadium.

If we open things, will people come?

Likely not.

The truth is that anyone who has been paying even a modicum of attention understands that, even if things were to open up and go completely back to exactly the way they were, going to a restaurant, stadium, conference, grocery store will be balanced with the risk of catching a virus that, if it does not simply make you really really sick, will kill you and or people you love. Is a nice dinner worth that? How about a baseball game?

I know that with a wife with a history of susceptibility to respiratory illness and a daughter with congenital heart issues and a father with severe asthma., even if things were to go back to the way things were tomorrow we would not change what my family has been doing since about mid-February. We would not be going to restaurants or bars to dine-in, we would not be going to concerts or shows. We would not be taking in a baseball game or traveling. We would be socially isolating and limiting our exposure as we’ve been doing. Because that’s what every respected expert suggests is the best way to keep ourselves, and society, safe.

I know most people I know would be doing the same.

I bet most of you reading this would be too.

Until there is a universally available vaccine that is widely distributed and most that we know have taken it and we have been assured by experts that it is safe to do so, then things will not go back to the way they were. Most of the experts I’m seeing peg that in a best case scenario as 36 months.

I know this sucks. I know this means many restaurants will be forced to close. Many small businesses will go under. Much of what we love to do will have to be declined for the foreseeable future. But, this is what it is. These are the sorts of choices we will now have to make. We can’t hope them away. We can’t legislate things back to what they were. We can only make do and make the best of the situation we’re in.

A Favor for a Friend. A Favor from a Friend.

A friend recently reached out to me for my advice. He’s actually a lifelong friend of Bethany’s (and former boyfriend of hers to boot).

His mother is a Holocaust survivor. She’s dying (cancer) and is in hospice.

She wrote a book about her experiences after the Holocaust and paid someone a lot of money ($8000.00) to edit, format, and print it. That work has yet to materialize. She’s received an “edited” version that was hardly even a basic copy edit. My friend was beginning to smell a scam. Maybe they’ll deliver eventually but the work thus far looks, well, not worth eight grand. And, it’ll likely not come to pass before she is alive to see it through.

She’s dying and it was her dream to see this book in print. Something she can hold in her hand and say, “it’s done”. My friend wanted to do this for her. He reached out to me asking if I had any ideas on how to take even the imperfect manuscript and turn it into something that looks like a professionally printed book so he can take it to his mom and tell her (lie to her, basically) that it got done and she can then be at peace.

We discussed what needed to get done and I came up with a plan. I reached out to my friend Shawn Mihalik who’s done book formatting and editing for me before (and who I highly recommend). I explained the situation and asked if he would format it for print as a favor to me. I explained that this book, in this version at least, would be a one-off print. It would not be for sale. That this was simply a way for my friend to see his mother’s wish through before she’s gone. He agreed. Because that’s just the sort of good human and friend Shawn is.

I designed the cover and performed all the mechanics of getting it printed.

So, what you see above is unique. A vanity project if there ever was an example of the term. But a project I am most proud to have played a part in.

We’re All Making Do…

Most of us — whether individuals, businesses, or institutions — are trying to figure it out as we go along. The only plan we have is the one that’s seems right for today. Maybe we’ll try something else tomorrow based on new information or directives. Maybe that new thing will make less sense than the first way. We are using our best judgment in a field of mystifying choices and changes.

Don’t always assume bad intent. Especially now. So many outside stresses and factors. So many unknowns. While there are some that may be trying to stick it to you or play favorites, most are just trying to navigate uncharted waters and not always choosing the right direction. Maybe there are no good choices, only a series of bad ones and one safe one that still sucks. In an environment where safety feels right, which one would you make?

Also, don’t beat yourself up. Maybe the work-at-home thing is not working for you. Maybe you feel guilty for eating in instead of ordering for take-away from the restaurants you want to support through this crisis. Maybe, between the Zoom and the Twitter and the News you just aren’t able to get a good night’s sleep. Anyone expecting you to be OK right now is being unreasonable. Their expectations are the problem, not you. Just do the best you are able to do and be OK with that.

Everyone is doing the best they can. It may not be the best that can be done. But, it’s the best we may be able to do right now. Cut others, and yourselves, a little slack.

We’ve not had a situation like this before. We’re all making do.

This Is Not That

A maple tree is not an ash tree. Sure, they are both trees. They may be similar but that does not make them the same.

A motorcycle is not a car. They are both modes of transportation but they are not the same.

I am not you. You are not me. Though we are both human beings, we are unique. We think differently. What works for me may not work for you. Comparing us in anything but broad hazy strokes is foolish.

The United States is not Sweden. What works there is not what works here. In fact, we now know it might not be working very well there.

Covid-19 is not the flu. It is not H1N1. It is not automobile accidents or cancer.

We want this to be like that. Because if there’s an answer to that it might be an answer to this. But things are what they are.

In the case of a virus that has brought the world to a halt, we long so much for a solution that we seek similarities. I get it. How we learn is from the lessons gained from that which we’ve encountered before. But, here’s the problem…

This is “novel”. We’ve not encountered this before. Just because we did this for that it does not mean we can do that for this.

We have to gain fresh knowledge about this. We have to learn and adapt as we go. Comparing this to anything else risks leading us down the wrong path. Now is the time to forge new paths. This is new. This is not that.