Friday, December 23, 2011

Moving forward amidst the Holidaze

If you've been reading this blog for some sense of what I'm working on, rest assured that the groundwork for Pelting Out continues. Things keep coming up that interest me, including stories that looked more ominous than certain parties might have thought on first read. I recently began digging into my own Scandinavian ancestry. And I'm still trying to open some doors that I've been knocking upon for months. In terms of writing, it's definitely still time to make the donuts. Concurrently, it's that time of year when work gets ever so briefly repositioned so that the zesty parts of life can be attended to more fully. In terms of straight-up logistics, my family in Seattle is hosting a loving gaggle of visitors. Dinners and excursions are being planned, all sorts of goodness is being hoped for by kids young and old. I love to fully enter Holidaze mode. Which also gets me in the mood to pass around the cheer. However you celebrate this time of year, I hope it proves major league merry. And for those looking to the week ahead and the calendar, you'll want to check back for something I do each year - my annual YearEnder. You can get added to my "nice" list by sending me an email - in which case you'll get the full YearEnder with all the familial updates. Of course, "naughty" still gets plenty here with the business end of the shtick I offer up to assess the year we're collectively leaving behind. Either way, I hope that whatever you wrap yourself up in this time of year keeps you warm and ready for heaps of awesomeness in 2012. Thanks for reading. Rock on. Merrily.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holidaze blaze in Utah

Earlier this afternoon, a two-alarm fire within the metropolitan area of Salt Lake City made the local news. It's premature to jump to any sort of conclusions about the cause since it doesn't even appear that the fire is out yet. But this business has been previously targeted with pipe bombs. I'm watching to see what coverage it gets outside of SLC and Utah. Check back for updates. And let it be noted that now is when what you see here begins - on occasion - to turn more toward ongoing story updates.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Letting go of Hitch. Then picking him up anew.

I'm seldom shocked by the death of someone known to be terminally ill. And Christopher Hitchens was famously sick. His most-recent writing for "Vanity Fair" delved into his diagnosis of esophogeal cancer and the contemplation that followed. As serendipity would have it, I just read his latest article therein yesterday afternoon. I was surprised by the sense of optimism I took from this last piece. He'd survived the radiation and hadn't lost those things he feared being without most - his voice and the ability to type. Coupled with his famously unrepentant atheism, Hitchens provided a window through which to observe something almost too intimate. Cancer and the treatment currently used to combat the disease are twin demons that consumed and weakened him. My first read of the news of his death yesterday came in the form of a text message from a friend and fellow fan. Since then the reflections have come from all over the map, but with the same general angle. Hitchens lived hard, wrote voluminously, defied convention and walked the thin highwire required to be consistently original. My recent hunger for essay collections has proved rewarding (John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead and Jonathan Lethem's The Ecstasy of Influence are both fantastic and highly recommended). Now I've decided to dive headlong into the latest mass of essays from The Hitch (Arguably, which landed on so many people's "best of the 2011" lists). I'm sheepishly pleased to name drop that Christopher Hitchens and I share the same literary agency. I'm sad to think that I'll never meet him, even though I realize how presumptuous it sounds to think that might have happened. Still, I'm wholly saddened by his passing. Because I truly admired him as a writer who so totally slashed his way through the wilds of this age we live in. The Hitch will absolutely be missed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A few degrees separation between the DMV and the South Pole

I need to go to the DMV today. It's that generally loathsome type of visit - when an emissions check is due for one of our cars, before getting a new license plate sticker thingie. In other words, far from a time capsule moment. But I've decided to combine an obligatory trip across the Town with a much cooler side trip. One that marks an actual historic day. For Norway and the World. Because today is the 100th Anniversary of Roald Amundsen's arrival at the South Pole, becoming the first to do so. Well, along with the four other Norwegians and dozens of sled dogs that accompanied him on the trip. Until a few days ago, I was blissfully unaware of this momentous Norwegian. But then I read a review in the "Seattle Times" of an exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum on loan from Norway that features tons of archival Amundsen material. Yesterday I also read an engrossing article describing what's ongoing in Antarctica in terms of scientific research. Combine that with my own family research questions to decipher - I'm looking to the old school staff at that Museum in Ballard for a bit of translation. Because I'm still a bit confused about where we, in particular, come from - Sweden, Finland, Norway, somewhere that doesn't exist any more. So call today part of my own journey out beyond the edge of the known world. Check back if you're curious about what I find there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thoughts that come from the Fire.

I'm way out of my league when it comes to picking apart product design. But I'm surely in the vast population of those who know what they like and speak freely about what that is. Recently, I've wandered edge-of-the-puddle deep into dissecting what can really only be called "fashion" from the point of view of design and the resulting way those "products" are marketed. I'm a total newbie in this role. Still, I know what I like. In an age where essentially anonymous opinions can be amplified through comment boards and endless online avenues for venting, the people responsible for such designs seemingly must always be on guard. I bring it up in response to an article in today's NYTimes featuring reactions to Amazon's new Kindle Fire. I can't say much about the Fire. Yet. I do have a prior generation of the Kindle because I consider it essential for any writer who hopes to sell any books electronically to understand how things work with these devices. No one should really care about which devices an individual actually has and uses. Right? Well, if you comment aggressively on certain products and the pluses and minuses of how they are designed, your possession of those objects can indeed be seriously amplified. Today's Times piece was fascinating because it came largely from the spectacle of new Fire owners commenting on Amazon about this new thing they recently bought. As a practice, this is surely nothing new. I am, however, the kind of shopper who looks at reviews rather closely for details - performance, feel, value, all the self-defined metrics without a specific scale other than "feel". Seeing how Amazon is reacting and how that was tagged as "news" today made me instead think about other products. Like the ones I'm considering for this book. Fashion, in all its hard to quantify terms. What if ubiquitous fashion trends had a similar portal for loving or loathing? Ugg boots, for example. Or dyed mink coats. Or trucker hats. This largely nameless, faceless "commentariat" picking apart product designs has power. Maybe it's always been out there somewhere. Maybe I need to find design sites that feature reviews of fashion trends or products - new or way old school. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Then again, maybe it's a collective load of crap. Powerful, disproportionately influential crap.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Deconstructing Lindsay Lohan's throwback style.

I've been clipping newspaper ads this month. Yes, people still do that. Or at least this people is doing that. I don't really know what I'll end up doing with them. My original point has been to look for Holiday ads that feature fur coats and accessories. The NYTimes and the Seattle Times are daily touchstones. I'm sure you can guess which one has a larger number of those ads. As a result, I'm becoming more attuned to look for fur garments featured in print or online. For example, "Vanity Fair" included a mink stole from the designer Akris in "Punch Hutton's Holiday Gift Guide". Which led me to check out Akris - Swiss designers with a boutique in NYC and on the very fashionable and funky Newbury Street in Boston. See how research works? Then I caught sight of (cough!) the newly-leaked Lindsay Lohan spread in "Playboy". I've scrutinized all the photos, of course. As a matter of research, Officer. It's a total throwback - all inspired by Marilyn Monroe's iconic calendar pose that was reprinted in 1953 as the first centerfold of "Playboy". The reason I bring it up before Playboy's roiling tank of lawyers jump all over the folks that leaked them is to deconstruct one picture in particular. In which Lindsay's wearing nothing but a mink stole. Add that to the overall 1950s theme. If you were going to choose one oversexed garment to nail down (again COUGH!) that era, I can't think of a better choice. I'm sure I'm one of less than a carload of people pointing to that part of the pictorial right about now. Still...clip that and put it your ol' briefcase, Professor.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Does a weasel by any other name smell as sweet?

I've recently become a consumer of results from various Google Alerts. Much of the time, there's very little worth noting from the obscure searches I've set up. Today, however, I hit the quirky jackpot. Or at least gained new respect for the sort of non-news that gets reported from the truly wide world of weird out there. If you want to know how "mink" and "Washington" showed up in the Google newsy algorithms today, click on through to this little nugget. The title "Acquittal in Dead Weasel Assault" only provides part of the story. I expect the remainder will be left to a team of screenwriters to fully flesh out once the rights are sold. Remember, you heard it here first. Or second, if you read what I read daily.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Laboring to keep kids off the farm?

"I grew up working on a farm." I'd love to see current Census stats that could somehow ballpark the number of people who can say that. These days, I'm sure we're talking a miniscule amount of people who can join me in making that claim. For me and my whole extended family from Wisconsin, this is a badge of honor. A serious percentage of the decent stories I carry with me from those formative years come from that farm life. That's why I'm perplexed by the effort by the Labor Department to limit agribusiness hiring of young people. There's a long list of issues raised. Including the fact that serious accidents do indeed happen on the farm (or on those businesses closely associated with agriculture). But do we really want to keep young people from having those jobs and from gaining those experiences? I'm certainly not embracing the recent classist scoldings coming from Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump - a nation that sends its poor to work as apprentice janitors is a nation on the decline in more ways than the obvious. I'm talking about something entirely different. After all, the roots of this nation are solidly agrarian, even if those roots have grown weak and far fewer in number. I see something utterly valuable in having kids - yes, kids - out there working on farms. Within certain limits, of course. Granted, I grew up on a farm that was unconventional. To say the very least. Yet I remember punching the time clock on that farm as far back as the summer before I started Sixth Grade. I think my first hourly wage was $1.50. Adjust that for inflation, up the ante, and give kids a safe shot at life on the farm. Of all the things to regulate, kids working on the farm doesn't belong near the current top of that list.

I'd love to hear from anyone else with similar experience, no matter what view they take. Especially if they disagree. It's far from idyllic out there. It's real. And necessary.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Burlesque after Charleston.

We spent the weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. Meaning we spent two days traveling, basically sandwiching one day worth of a lovely wedding. Not exactly restful stuff. But well worth the effort given the good feelings generated by the event. I'd only been to Charleston once before. That was for another wedding over a decade ago - a similarly beautiful occasion, albeit with a totally different crop of folks. I love that place and each time find more than a few quirky stories I hope to someday share here and elsewhere. However, the motivation lag after such a weekend lingered longer than I like. Still, thanks for checking in for new posting action.

Which leads me to show my hand here a bit more. Some of you have surely wondered just what I'm doing with this blog. I plan to let the light shine a bit brighter on that over the coming weeks. If this blog could be seen as a burlesque dance, admittedly it's been mostly feathers and air kisses up to this point. Consider this fair warning that I'm ready to give y'all more of a peek at the goods. Or at least the teasing focus will sharpen. Expect quick flashes of what I find worth showcasing. That means more explanation of the subject areas that relate to my book. Along with more of who I am, where I came from and how this wraps around the work I'm doing on this book. Like any performer - no matter the venue - I think you'll dig the show. No need to gather up a fistful of dollar bills to slip into my garters. Yet.

So please check back. Sign up for my email updates. Keep an eye out for some design revisions. Follow my Twitter feed. And thanks for all of that. Rock on.