Me and My Stuff

Since I’m traveling a bunch this summer (3ish weeks in the SF/Bay area, a couple of weeks in New England with some stops in NY and a brief excursion to MD likely), I’ve been considering what I will be taking with me on these trips and am just about 100% certain that I’ll be leaving behind my computer and taking only my iPhone and iPad. This is partly dependent on getting my PodCastle episodes done and submitted ahead of my trips as the iPad doesn’t really have a good app for putting those together. However, I’m also thinking that even if I don’t get all of those episodes done before my travels, as long as I can borrow someone’s computer for a couple of hours I can put them together that way.

Thinking about these trips and carrying the minimal amounts of stuff I need so I don’t have to check bags and can travel light, I have also been thinking about my life in general and my relationship with stuff. It’s been changing for a while now, and I think I’m going to make some further changes this summer by making some assessments about what I need and how “light” I want to travel through life. There are some great sites that talk about living a “minimal” lifestyle, including, Minimal Mac, and Art of Minimalism and I’m not going to get rid of everything I own: especially as I’ll be moving into a new apartment this summer, and one that I’ll be sharing with a friend from school. So yes, things like my futon, kitchen table and chairs, and a few other pieces of furniture are, at present, non-negotiable. Bookshelves, for a grad student are nothing less than a necessity, as is the need to own a lot of books. In reality, I don’t have a lot of stuff, but I do have things I don’t need and/or use, clothes that I no longer wear, knick-knacks and the odd electronic equipment that I don’t really need.

After the end of the semester, I plan on doing a thorough cleaning of my apartment and make sure that everything I own can be put into one of the following categories: Trash/Recycle/Donate, Necessity, Useful for Now, and Unsure. The first two are completely self-explanatory. By Useful for Now, I mean things like furniture and other household items. This is stuff that is not necessary per se, but considering the fact that I am going to be living in Pittsburgh for at least 3-4 more years, there is no reason to get rid of it. Unsure will be all those things that I might not use presently but I should at least give myself time to consider the cost of replacing down the line if it turns out that the item may become useful. An example of this is my small, hand-turned washing “machine” and electric spin-dryer. I don’t use them regularly any more, but they might prove an essential in case of a) a long power outage, b) the apocalypse, c) a long camping trip with friends, or d) the rather likely chance that I might, sometime in the future, move into an apartment that does not have laundry facilities. (Ok, so I’ve just convinced myself that these will actually go into a new category: Worth Keeping.)

Of course, all of these kinds of choices are contextual and there is no correct “right” way for everyone. If I lived 40 miles outside of a city my necessities would be different than they are now. If I weren’t in grad school I might very well shift away from owning physical copies of any but my most favorite books and rely on digital books and libraries. If I end up moving to Hawaii sometime in the future, you can bet that most anything that seems useful will quickly become something I sell or donate. The point isn’t to indulge in minimalism for it’s own sake, but, as Merlin Mann has pointed out, to find out what is enough for the task at hand—in this case that task is living my life—and then stop pointlessly adding on more and more stuff.

At it’s most basic level, the issue resolves to the basic question: do you own your things or do your things own you? I suspect, for most of us, the answer is mixed and complex (as the answers to most “basic” questions often are), but I am definitely feeling the urge to really think hard about that question and the relationship between me and my stuff.

If You Want to be a Writer You Need to Listen

This morning, as I am occasionally wont to do, I stopped at Kiva Han to get a breakfast burrito and a coffee before heading in to do my marketing hours for the department. I took out my earphones when ordering and then didn’t put them back in while waiting for my food or for the short walk to the Cathedral of Learning. At the corner of Forbes and Bellefield, as I was waiting for the signal to walk across the intersection and standing quite close to the curb, I heard a voice next to me say “back up, hey watch it.” I turned to my right to see an older man, about 6’1” who looked to be in his mid-50s I then turned to my left to see that a bus was approaching and beginning to turn onto Bellefield. I knew immediately what the man was referring to and while I did not step back from the curb because the bus was in the left lane and wasn’t making a tight turn, I appreciated his concern.

If I had been wearing my earphones, I either would not have heard him or I would have gone back to my isolation after acknowledging him. As it was, since we were walking in the same direction until we reached the Cathedral, I actually, of all things, talked to him. We chatted about the busses and how fast they sometimes go and the danger of the lane of 5th Ave that is one way for everyone but buses in that special bus lane and he related the fact that he’d been at a city meeting once and a number of people had suggested that the drivers slow down sometimes and drive more safely and the Port Authority representative saying that they couldn’t do that and that they had a schedule to keep.

Then we parted ways and I went up into my academic ivory tower. But as I did so, I realized something about a whole lot of young (or in my case, youngish/middle-ageish) writers are spending a considerable amount of time completely disengaged from the world and from other people and from strangers and, most importantly, from various rhythms of speech that surround us on any given day.

Let’s be honest, most of us spend most of our time with people in our general socio-economic-ethnic background. Our interactions on buses, in subways, at airports, grocery stories, etc., are some of the only times we are around people who are coming from different backgrounds, especially socio-economic. If writers engage this world and these places stuck entirely in their heads, cocooned with music or podcasts or audio books, will they encounter enough of the variety and random inflections that make up the music of individual voices that a writer needs to hear in order to write in rhythms not stuck in his/her own cadences? If writers don’t listen to the world around them in all its noisy chaos, how can they capture that chaos and transmute it into compelling characters?

This is as much a reminder to myself as to others: If you want to be a writer, you have to listen. Unplug from your media and let the music and discordance of life in. The alternative is to be stuck writing your own voice over and over again.

Getting All Emotional in My Middle Age

I don’t cry very often. Even during last semester, which was hard and miserable and lonely and made me feel completely unsure of myself and my abilities as a student, teacher, and scholar, I only actually cried a couple of times.


I find myself, the older I get, the more apt I am to tear up at something beautiful and deeply touching: TED talks, listening to Judith Malina talk, so entirely sincerely, about the anarcho-pacifist revolution after the death of her second husband, Neil Gaiman’s “Instructions, and Carl Sagan’s words, are just some of the things that have made me get all choked up and while I don’t actually cry, my eyes get teary and my voice will break with emotion and I’ll be on just this side of the line from crying. This seems to be happening more and more and I don’t know if it’s because I don’t cry regularly and so it all gets bottled up and threatens to come out when I encounter something that strikes me deeply and emotionally or if I’m just less guarded about letting certain things affect me. The other thing is that these are not sad moments. In fact, most of what gets to me (like my recent post about the Virtual Choir 2.0) are words, music, images, thoughts, and descriptions about beauty and humanity that come from an honest place and that communicate something true about what it means to be alive and to be human or something about what it means to be the best we can be.

I don’t have a real point or lesson to draw from this observation, but I wonder if anyone else my age is having a similar experience. As we get older do we get more sentimental? Do we simply have less at stake in guarding our emotions from ourselves?

So Much New Music Coming Out

So. Much. Good. Music.

As I write this, I’m listening to Paul Simon’s new album, So Beautiful or So What and am blown away by how fresh, how vital, how powerful this music is and how relevant Simon remains as an artist and a musician. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few of the other releases that came out today:

Meat Puppets: *Lollipop*

Alison Kraus & Union Station: *Paper Airplane*

KD Lang: *Sing It Loud*

"Build a Rocket Boys!" (Elbow)

"Into Battle With the Art of Noise" (Art of Noise)

Next week sees new releases such as

Gorillaz: *The Fall*

"Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL!" (Brian Setzer Orchestra)

Then the following week (April 26) we will get

Emmylou Harris: *Hard Bargain*

"I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive" (Steve Earle)

"Sign Of Life, Music For 858 Quartet" (Bill Frisell)

"Ending on a High Note: Final Concert" (A-Ha)

and . . .

(wait for it . . . wait for it . . .)

Rockabye Baby: Lullaby Renditions of the Flaming Lips

I honestly don’t know how I’m going to avoid spending way to much money on music this month . . . oh, right, my paychecks stop at the end of April and don’t resume until September. That might help me remember not to buy every album I want.


Of course, if you buy any of these through the links here, you’ll help me get some Amazon Associate’s scratch that might help me get a couple of them. Hint. Hint. Well, actually that’s not so much a hint as an obvious plea.

Anyhoo . . . off to concentrate on this new Simon album and ponder all the fabulous new music coming up.

Couch to 5k

Today marks my first day of doing the Couch-to-5k program that will, by the end of nine weeks (as long as I am good and diligent and, you know, actually follow through with it), get me to the point where I can run 5km. I’ve never been much of a jogger. However, my increasing weight, the fact that I have, somehow, arrived at middle age, and my desire to not have a heart attack like my father did in his early 50s, and, most importantly, the inspiration of my friend Jay who has been doing this for several weeks now, have all led me to the point that I a) want to exercise regularly and b) need to make sure I don’t depend on various exercise machines to do said exercise. Thus, the walking/jogging route (although I did buy new sneakers since my other ones were close to 3 years old). That’s not to say I won’t use my step machine and rower, but those need to both be additional workouts and not my primary ones. Especially since I’m going to be traveling quite a bit this summer I need to be completely portable with my workouts.

Ok, so, I’m a bit geeky and did download C25K to help me with the program. I have to say, I kind of dig having to not worry about the time and that I can just let the program tell me when to walk and when to run.Overall, it was a good first day and it challenged me some but not in a wipe-me-out-oh-my-god sort of way. I’m kind of looking forward to my second day on Wednesday.

Wherein I Read My First Full Length Story of PodCastle

It’s called The Wizard’s Apprentice, it’s written by Delia Sherman and read by moi. To tell you the truth, I’m not happy with the recording quality and production of it and was planning on re-recording it after the semester ended, but I guess I’m going to hold off on that since the author liked the reading and I should see if other people have issues. It may be that I’m just being hypercritical . . . well, actually no, it could be better and I definitely have had cleaner sounding podcasts in the past. So, we’ll see. I won’t do anything for about a month anyway.

You can hear it here.