Denver, October 2016

Liz presented at the AMWA conference, so I tagged along and cavorted at will. From the mental grab-bag:

  1. I stayed pretty much in the 16th Street mall area, since we didn’t have a car. That’s OK – plenty to walk to from there, though like most malls, chain stores dominate the landscape.
  2. We stayed at the downtown Sheraton, the largest hotel in Colorado, we were told. Also, kind of staid. Nothing special here.
  3. We ate all our evening meals in the Yard House, a sports bar attached to the Sheraton. Loud and expensive, it nonetheless served excellent food and we were never disappointed. (I favored the Cobb salad and chicken tortilla soup.) Liz also liked their sour beer. We never could figure out what the phrase “yard house” meant.
  4. Thank God for the Peet’s Coffee just off the lobby – a life-giving Americano started my busy days.
  5. I spent almost my entire travel budget just buying meals on this trip. I settled on two meals for the day, with the occasional protein bar as a pick me up, and that did me fine.
  6. The Tattered Cover Book Shop is housed in an old railway warehouse and is a marvelous place to browse. City Stacks is a cozier, brighter bookshop where I had a very good peppermint tea and browsed the art books.
  7. Denver struck Liz as heavily male: young men in groups of three and more, bushy beards, tattoos, ear gauges. Lots of young men. Joe told us that Denver is in a tech boom and can’t hire programmers fast enough; that also answered the question of how all these young people could afford to hang out in this expensive area. Joe also said that “LoDo” (Lower Downtown) has become so infested with packs of guys and bros that the area is now called “BroDo.”
  8. The History Colorado Center had the Awkward Family Photos show alongside its own photos of turn of the 20th century Denver and Colorado. Interesting to note the similarities, differences, and reactions between the two shows. I did laugh a lot at the Awkward Family Photos, but I’d love to have a book of the older photos and just stare at them for long periods of time.
  9. Always take free walking tours. The free downtown tour took two hours and showed me places, like Larimer Square and the Blue Bear, that I’d overlooked wandering on my own.
  10. I spent a few hours in the Denver Art Museum. With exhibits in two buildings spread among 11 floors, I couldn’t hope to see it all. And besides, after a couple hours, I’m museum’d out. I went to the Glory of Venice exhibit, wished for more of the poster art exhibit, looked at the English and American art collections, the Western and Native American collections, and called it a day. Good for the soul.
  11. I walked miles and miles every day, and came back 1.5 pounds lighter.
  12. Was it the altitude or the desert environment that aggravated my allergies? I thought I was coming down with another cold before I hit on the right allergy meds that let me sleep without dying of post-nasal drip strangulation. Also: water (and lots of it), chapstick, and sunscreen!
  13. We totally missed the bizarre murals that decorate the Denver Airport and apparently form an apocalyptic story. Search on “Denver Airport murals” and a door opens to a new room of the internet that you didn’t know was there.
  14. We had a wonderful dinner and evening catching up with our friends Heather and Joe, the highlight for me of the trip.

Who's Working for Who?

I traveled with Liz to Denver CO for a few days while she attended a conference while I cavorted. For this brief trip, I carried a Chromebook, a Kindle Paperwhite, an iPod Touch 5g, a retro Tracfone-powered flip phone, a digital camera, multiple chargers, and 2 paperbacks.

This agglomeration of tech accumulated bit by bit over the years. It all works, it doesn't take up much room in the suitcase, it all does what I need it to do. I wish I didn't need a separate checklist to help me remember whether I've packed everything!

Am I on the road to being one of those old duffers who has drawers and closets full of perfectly good stuff that all sensible consumers have discarded? If this blog is still trundling on in 20 years, I hope to let you know.

Google Me This: "The Lost Art of *"

I was cleaning out my Evernote inbox and saw two topics side by side: "The Lost Art of Memorizing Poetry" and the "The Lost Art of Illustrating Your Favorite Books." How many Lost Arts could there be? Are they really lost, were they superseded, or are they underground? Have the practitioners and teachers died out? Did that many people really practice it? And when we say "art" we really mean "skill," right? Or do we mean a craft that elevated both the user and the practice? There's a rather weary head-shake and heavy sigh of regret that seems to go with the phrase "lost art."

As always, when faced with an odd little eyeworm like that, I feed it into Google to see what other pages out there are using, re-using, and wearing out those specific words in that specific order. I tweaked this search a bit and decided dropping the quotation marks netted a few good articles I missed otherwise; I also removed lyrics from the search. Try it yourself.

What do we learn from this? I have no idea. I just find it interesting to see what others consider a necessary skill or behavior that no one in their self-identified peer group seems to find relevant anymore.

From the NC State Fair Food Labs

From a GO magazine article on what to expect at this year's state fairs in the Carolinas:

North Carolina's lineup never fails with offerings like Fry Me to the Moon -- a deep-fried chocolate Moon Pie stuffed with Ho Hos, peanut butter cups, and Oreos, topped with cream cheese, chocolate syrup, and powdered sugar. Need more energy? Try the Bacon S'more -- a quarter-pound of maple-syrup grilled bacon on a stick dipped in chocolate, marshmallow fluff, and graham cracker crumbles...

The mind, the mouth, the gut flora tremble, as if on a knife's edge...


Two people with languages unknown to each other met, and tried to communicate.

One said, “I want to do but cannot for some reason” and then did not, while the second said “do” and did for any reason and many reasons.

There was little to say between them. After all was said and done. Or not done.

The two people went their ways.

In museums, libraries, concert halls and theaters, markets and all across the land there was that which those who did had done. Those who could not fathom how all this had been done shook their heads, thinking they would like to have done what these had done. And then they went their ways, as before not doing as they had not done.

Time passed, as it does. As it will do. People pass as they do, and none don’t.

In 1911, Delafield was accepted as a postulant by a French religious order established in Belgium. Her account of the experience, The Brides of Heaven, was written in 1931 and eventually published in her biography. “The motives which led me, as soon as I was 21, to enter a French Religious Order are worthy of little discussion, and less respect” she begins. This account includes being told by the Superior that if a doctor advised a surgical operation “your Superiors will decide whether your life is of sufficient value to the community to justify the expense. If it is not, you will either get better without the operation or die. In either case you will be doing the will of God and nothing else matters.”


Another death. Another killing.

Another explosion.

Another shooting.

Another outrage perpetrated by those in power on those with none.

Another set of babble and bile from the privileged talking heads.

Another day of confused thoughts and feelings no one knows what to do with.

I dread hearing the word "another."

"Priory of Sion" in Portland OR

In Portland OR, I saw the following chalked on sidewalks in different parts of the city: PofS, with boot


PofS, slant

In one or two cases, there was more of a message but we were typically walking too fast (even on vacation, we hurry hurry hurry) for me to read it or take a picture.

What the hell is the Priory of Sion?

The Priory of Sion is a well-known secret-society hoax, according to Wikipedia, itself a secret society in some ways, but never mind that now. The world has Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code to thank for promoting the Priory of Sion to a higher profile. Google will lead you to many other sites.

Why is Priory of Sion appearing all over the streets of Portland?

That other conspiratorial place, Reddit, had a few threads, like this one, on the phenomenon. One of the posters sees this as the work of one person who has a history of posting messages all over town, and others responded saying they’d seen different guys chalking the sign on the sidewalk.

What does a society have to do to stay secret??

The Case of the Two-Headed Author | The Smart Set

The feuding duo behind one of America’s greatest (fictional) detectives

Source: The Case of the Two-Headed Author | The Smart Set

When I was in – 9th grade? – I loved watching Levinson & Link’s TV series Ellery Queen, which starred Jim Hutton as the detective author and David Wayne as his police inspector father. I think what most captured me was Queen’s direct address to the camera just before he revealed the murderer’s identity: “If you’ve been watching – closely – you have all the information you need.“ I never guessed correctly, of course, but I enjoyed the period detail and that was a golden age for spotting character actors.

Double, Double (Ellery Queen novel)

I moved on to actually reading the damn books through junior high and high school. I have no idea why, as they don’t have a lot of charm, the writing is workmanlike, and there are no thrills or action to speak of. (I was probably also reading Doc Savage reissues at that time, so, you know, forgive.) They didn’t have the sort of antique charm of the TV series or even of an Agatha Christie cozy. I do remember one of the “twist” endings: “He wasn’t John’s twin – he was John’s triplet.

The most memorable thing about the Ellery Queen novel reissues in the ‘70s were their covers – a series of absolutely lurid and ghastly “shadowbox” photos of semi-nude women. In my local DJ’s Books and News stores, the Queens were competing against Matt Helm, Shell Scott, Mickey Spillane, and others of that ilk, so maybe that drove the decision. The distasteful, sexist, and just plain ugly covers did not hint at the musty, tame, and unsexy murder mysteries hiding inside. Ellery Queen was part of that necessary landscape against which real genius or originality is compared.

The Smart Set article is a delightful little delve into the Ellery Queen brand, with its own share of colorful and eye-grabbing pulp covers.



Non Finito | The Smart Set

The Metropolitan Museum Breuer on 75th Street and Madison Avenue (the former site of the Whitney Museum now relocated to hip new quarters downtown) currently features an exhibition that seems perfect

Source: Non Finito | The Smart Set

Paula Marantz Cohen:

I found I often liked the unfinished works on display better than the finished ones that I knew by these artists. Finish has obvious value from the point of view of resale and comprehensibility, but is it as esthetically pleasing or evocative? One could argue that a finished work is often over-finished, and that knowing when to stop is rarer than generally thought.

I also like the invitation of the unfinished work for me to fill it in myself. I also, truth be told, love seeing the scaffolding and architecture, seeing how the rabbit is loaded into the hat.

This may be why I love artist’s sketchbooks so much, more so sometimes. I own sketchbooks by Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Bill Griffith, Gary Panter, and others; their sketches have an energy, looseness, and immediacy that keeps me turning those pages long after their finished stories remain on my shelf. Also, they don’t worry about making them pretty, which makes me feel OK about my own slapdash sketching (though Ware’s dashed-off sketches look better and more like finished art than anything I could create in a million billion years).

I remember the comics artist Neal Adams reproducing from his sketchbook examples of his original pencil roughs and then the final product. He remarked in at least two cases that he preferred the roughs to the finished art. I could see his point. Inking the pencils somehow pinned those drawings to the page so heavily that movement and life had been drained. In the roughs, he was working out the problem and the scene looked alive. That mental and physical activity was almost absent in the published panel.

This may be why I adore reading journals, diaries, and letters more than any other genre; verbal sketches, perhaps, quickly done (most of them) and capturing life as it’s happening on-the-fly. I feel as if I’m living the life with the person who’s writing it down, fast as they can.


Maintaining the Technical Status Quo (For Now)

I spent the last week doing some intensive research on two potential tech purchases: an iPhone for me and Liz, and replacing this WordPress site with Squarespace. I decided to stay with WordPress and we both decided to keep our current "dumb phones." TracFone Wireless

The major lesson from this exercise was one I've seen pop up in various coaching and self-help articles: if it's not a hell-yes, it's a no.


Liz and I have both been using pay-as-you-go Tracfones of one sort or another for so many years I can't count them. We use them only for the basics -- voicemail, calling a few people close to us, texting, sometimes an alarm. I can use my Bluetooth headset and set simple alarms. We can't surf the web with them, check email, take pictures, or any other wonderful stuff iPhone and Android owners take for granted. (Well, the product specs and Tracfone say you can, and we were able to for a while, but it's too cumbersome.)

Tracfone support is not great, and transitioning to a new model was always rocky. But once it was set up, it just worked.

What we like about them is they are cheap to buy and cheap to add minutes to. Liz uses hers so rarely she has something like 2,000+ minutes. As far as Tracfone is concerned, those minutes are for voice and text. (Texts cost, I think, a third of a minute.)

I have fewer minutes than Liz, since I use my Tracfone for hour-long conference calls. That said, I've been calling in to one or two conference calls per week for the last 2 months, and have not needed to add any minutes yet. Also, my particular Tracfone model is pretty indestructible. I've dropped it twice; both times, I popped the battery back in, snapped the cover in place, and I was back in bidness.

So for our minimal needs, the Tracfones have served us well. But lately, they have been showing their technological age. Our friends with the fancy phones can't share pictures or links with us. My phone's keyboard has been sticking. We often don't know or can't tell that our phones are ringing or even that there's a voicemail waiting. They look increasingly old-fashioned. They are, to misappropriate Michael Leddy's word, dowdy.

I thought, it would be nice to have a single device to take the place of my camera, my iPod Touch, and my Tracfone. Why not upgrade these increasingly inconvenient phones and modernize?

Since we're an iMac/iPad/iPod family, iPhones are the way to go. I researched pre-owned phones, the reseller market, Apple's current line-up, and the newly announced SE. But that research was trivial compared to looking for an affordable carrier: one of the Big 4, or maybe an alternate carrier like Ting or Consumer Cellular, or even Cricket or MetroPCS.

For about an hour, we decided we'd each buy an SE and go with Verizon. But then the fever broke and we started calculating how much money we'd be shelling out to both pay for new iPhones (+ Applecare!) and pay for the ongoing service. My co-workers all complained they paid too much for cell phone service, but they are also on family plans, with kids who text and video chat a lot, and they are all hooked on the conveniences of smartphones.

Liz and I took a step back from the cliff, breathed in and out slowly, and decided to soldier on with our current phones. Yes, they are sometimes frustrating to use and not terribly fashionable. Yes, it would be nice to upgrade. But it's also nice to have paid-for, basic phones that we keep mainly for emergencies and to check in with family, and whose service has cost us about $20 total this year. As the saying goes, a luxury once sampled becomes a necessity. For us, now, smartphones are a luxury we can afford but do not want to pay for.

Squarespace vs WordPress

My first blog was on Blogger. After I had issues with Google's handling of my site, I opted to buy my own domain and purchase a hosting service through InMotion Hosting that supported WordPress. I was about to enter a master's program in information science and thought it would be useful to get familiar with these kinds of techy things.

That was in 2007. As the years went on, though, I had my ups and downs with the site. WordPress is pretty solid unless you add too many plugins that may conflict with each other or  slow down your site. I also had to manage the domain stuff, which meant fiddling with CPanel, the File Manager, and lots of other site-related maintenance duties I had to figure out through InMotion's then quite basic online documentation, support forums, and occasional tech support questions. And I always got the passwords confused for my WordPress site, my domain site, and InMotion support forum.

WordPress is a popular target of hacker attacks and, more than once, inMotion has locked me out of my site due to such attacks. Last year there was a particularly nasty set of attacks. So I spent several nights with InMotion's list of 20 or so WordPress security items to check, plugins to load, plugins to uninstall, WordPress configuration tweaks, edits to text-based configuration files deep in the bowels of the WordPress directory infrastructure, and so on. I bought a Genesis framework to provide more stability and some design choices I could not implement otherwise; WordPress is notoriously finicky if you color outside its lines and don't know CSS or PHP. I have Google Calendar reminders to back up the SQL database and I use Site Sucker as a secondary backup.

All in all, this site now ticks along pretty well with minimal care on my part. But when my friend Mike wanted to start his own web site a few years ago, I instead suggested he look into Squarespace. No fiddling with CPanel or managing a server. Limited templates but rock-solid. No need to update plugins or manage security since Squarespace handles that. Easy to add a blog or a picture gallery page. Mike took that suggestion and ran with it; he enjoys playing with his site and loves how easy it is to update and manage. He never stops singing its praises.

It's hard for me to praise WordPress's complexity in the same way.

Recently, an acquaintance who had been a long-time WordPress user switched to Squarespace. She wanted to create a portfolio page for her samples and finding a way to bend WordPress to her will (WP is mainly a blog-platform, after all, not an everything-platform) was too much trouble. She had her Squarespace portfolio page up in a few hours.

This was all turning my head. WordPress has its place, of course. When properly set up and maintained, it's a rock-solid and dependable content management system. That complexity is necessary to handle big, complex sites. In the hands of a skilled designer or developer, WordPress can do whatever you want. There's a deep ecosystem of plugins, themes, support, how-tos, and so on.

But. As a hobbyist with now only mild curiosity in how all this stuff works, WordPress is overkill for my minimal blogging needs. And as I think about the next steps of my career, I also wonder how easy/hard it will be to set up a portfolio page or make other adjustments to this site. At that point, we'll see how easy Genesis is to use.

For now, though, this site isn't broken. No security alerts, no plugin conflicts, no crashes. I log in every couple of weeks to empty the spam comments and update plugins as needed. The Squarespace dashboard looks, at first glance, at least as complicated as WP's. It's also about the same cost per year as I'm paying now. (Am I suffering from a sunk costs fallacy? Maybe.)

Perhaps most important to me personally, changing platforms would not materially change my motivation to write and blog. I do not now have good low-level systems for creating blog posts anyway. Switching to Squarespace would only be a diversion from the real issue of me not writing. It would be activity, not productivity.

So I decided to make better use of what I have now and simply use it more by writing more.

Triggers and Deadlines

Having done all this research, though, I decided on what may I may want to do in the future.

With this blog, for example, I've set a few mental tripwires that will trigger me moving this site from WordPress to Squarespace:

  • If I need to create a portfolio page and WordPress/Genesis proves too difficult, then move to Squarespace.
  • If this site gets hit with another major hack attack and InMotion locks me out, or I have to do more hacking on the site to secure it, then I'll move to SS.

Until that happens, I'll keep using WordPress and InMotion.

With the iPhone, I decided that on July 4 -- if I really want to -- I will purchase a 64GB 5s from a reseller (probably on eBay), open a cell account with, and start playing with the smartphone as a hobby. I do feel I've missed out on the conversations happening around me for years, and I would like to be a part of them. The 5s should be plentiful on the resale market as its owners upgrade to the SE. A 64GB 5s would replace my current phone and iPod Touch.

By having a real smartphone, albeit an outdated model, I would also get a sense of how much or how little I would actually use it. If I use it a lot, then maybe I would upgrade to a more modern phone later. If I use it only a little, I could stick with the 5s and enjoy what it does for me.

The long-anticipated conclusion to this endless essay

As I said a hundred years ago at the start of this post, if it's not a hell-yes, it's a NO. As I researched these two decisions, I could feel anxiety in my stomach that something was not right here. I was not looking forward to getting either a smartphone or a new web site. I could feel myself trying to convince myself that these were good, sensible purchases.

That's the lesson. When I don't feel clarity around a decision, it's OK to wait. When I really want something, I don't need to make pro/con lists or do extensive research or dither about this or that criterion. I'll know it's the right thing to do. When a decision has to be made now NOW NOW then, of course, make the best decision with the information you have. But if I'm not under deadline, then the decision can wait.

As my first coach said, I don't have to motivate myself to eat the cake. If I want the cake, eat it. If I don't, leave it.

If I had a really concrete professional fear, it would be that I would wake up in the morning and know what I was doing.
Quote I found in my old journals, attributed to “an obscure artist” (I have no idea who I was referring to)