Category: Life Page 3 of 13

The Dismemberment Plan play a concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco December 10, 2013

I’m no longer that kind of concertgoer

Or “What is it about concerts? (Part II)”

(Previously, on Gohlkus Maximus.)

When I came up with the idea for writing this blog post, I never dreamed it would take nearly a decade to whip into shape. I also didn’t think I would go nuts at the Fillmore one spring Wednesday in 2008.

I don’t even slightly recall the incident (because why not block it out?), but here’s what I wrote back then: “There I was, minding my own business, rocking out to Death Cab for Cutie, at least 20 minutes into the show. The sound was amazing, I was pretty much able to see the band, and I knew every word to every song except for the new ones. Then some guy, a scant foot taller than me at about 6’4″, shoved past me and stopped right in front of me. I said something to him. He responded noncommittally. And then, I raged.”

That was where I left off in my description. I have no recollection of that incident, nor much else of that night, other than buying the T-shirt I still have. I’m guessing I blocked it out, as I did with much of that difficult time period. (My friend Chris almost certainly remembers, because he was there for that and other delightful interactions I’ve had with strangers. However, for some reason, I lack enthusiasm for hearing another “potentially dangerous things that depressed Jason did” story, and thus have not asked him about it in the five weeks since I rediscovered this draft blog entry.)

I do, however, remember the original idea pretty clearly.

Basically I had conceived of two or three main categories of concertgoers. If you’ve ever been to a concert, you probably can guess what I’m talking about.

You’ve got the enthusiastic early birds who line up before the doors open and camp out immediately in the closest possible spot to the stage (where you can see the musicians much better than you can hear them). One thing to note about standing somewhere for several hours, with the same people around you who got there essentially the same way you did, is that you feel a little comfortable. You may even feel a little entitled. Anyway, there is enough variation within this population that they form a few rows.

Those people who are evidently a bit less driven to absolutely maximize their visual enjoyment of a mostly auditory event (which is fine), well, they file in slowly (usually while the opening band is playing, which is also fine) to sort of loosely fill up the floor. They find a spot, drink their beverages, perhaps create occasional tendrils of smoke, and enjoy the show. Let it not go unsaid: They are cool. They are all right. They may be the ones to aspire to be.

And then. Then there is the other group of people who used to drive me crazy (though it’s fine if you want to argue that I was already crazy). Whenever these big jerks actually arrive at the venue, they use this gambit about two to four songs into the headliner’s set, when people have let down their guard and are focused on the show. (I have always assumed that these people arrive late, but now it occurs to me they may even be more diabolical than I’d suspected.) Perhaps they have never in their lives shown up to a concert early, and maybe they were taught early in life that it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and thus they assume everyone got their spot the way they do it. This is what they do: They push and shove their way to the front, physically displacing likely dozens of people on their way to those first few key rows, thus placing them directly in front of one or more of those people who had staked out a spot for, generally, hours.

To a certain very sensitive kind of person, that kind of behavior is very, very upsetting.

Naturally, I was curious tonight if anyone else had taken on this topic in the years since I came up with it, so I searched and found a few pages that (rather superficially, in my opinion) discuss “types of concertgoers” (and by “discuss” I mean make a list with at most a sentence or two per bullet). A couple of them lightly acknowledge and dismiss the kind of jerk I’m talking about here. (“I mean I only stood here for two hours to be in the front, but you, you definitely can go in front of me.”) Yet none of them really focus on what I used to allow to stoke my rage.

That’s the thing: As long as we have people, and concerts, there will always be assholes who push their way to the front of concerts. Most people, when faced with that situation, shrug and say, “glad they’re not in front of me,” or “it’s not worth getting mad.” But I have always had a strong tendency to want to right perceived injustices. (Especially when I’m the one who’s been wronged, admittedly.)

Even if I liked to imagine one in those old, naïve, idealistic days, there is nowhere near a sufficient enough sense of community among the people near the front of the show (especially after the lights go down) for it to matter too much to them when an aggressive jerk, usually tall, rarely female, shoves in front of someone else. It’s too temporary an arrangement to get involved with someone else’s problem. The initial aggressive behavior goes unpunished, and it’s the response in kind that ends up getting negative attention. Probably understandably. People came there to see a show, not to right a wrong (even if it happens to be getting in the way of someone else enjoying a show), and definitely not to see a lunatic yell at someone. (“Chill.” “Don’t trip.” Definitely good west coast advice.)

But in this situation and in general, the main reason not to allow anger to flame up into a full, active rage is that it simply does not pay. It is nowhere near worth it. It’s bad for your health in so many different ways (detailed elsewhere). It might also result in a fight (and I know I have friends who can’t believe I never got into one, because I can see how for a while it seemed like I was looking for one). I’m not saying I was always like that. But I was like that far more than was healthy for a relatively brief period of time.

The kind of concertgoer I have become is a different kind of enthusiastic early bird. Now I get there early enough to get a seat on the balcony (assuming the venue is large enough to have one) or a comfortable standing or sitting position in the rear of the room. Ideally, say at the Fillmore, if you get a balcony seat directly above the stage, you’re golden. If you’re in the back, sure, the performers are too far away to see, but the sound tends to be good, you can move around enough to see okay [and even so there will be a million photos of the show online afterwards], and (most importantly) no one will step directly in front of you enough to enrage you.

This all matters because my now most frequent fellow concertgoer is my wife. She has communicated quite clearly that she is in this for the long run — as long a run as possible. That matters to me. Like her, I want us both to be happy and healthy as long as possible. That matters enough for me to really have examined, and changed, my behavior.

We still like going to shows. We’re just the people who sit in the balcony or the back. And I am having more fun than ever.

How an art major in Madison ended up happy in the Bay Area

About a year and a half ago, I received a survey request from the UW-Madison Art Department and found myself writing a lot about things from 15 years prior. I pasted my response as a draft in this here blog intending to expand on it at some point; since I appear to be on a “draft post finishing” kick these days, that point is now. Here’s a significantly extended version of what I told them about my long-distant experience matriculating there.

I enjoyed being an art major at UW-Madison (from roughly 1995 to 1998), though I certainly did not intend to follow that path when I enrolled at UW in 1993. (How I decided to add the art major is in itself another story, and an important one for me.) Had I been an aspiring art major in high school, it seems unlikely that I’d have gone to UW-Madison — I’d probably have aimed for MIAD (Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design) or somewhere else, maybe more ambitious. While making art was something I enjoyed a lot, it seemed neither to be my greatest strength nor my greatest passion. I did always enjoy computers, and my first work with Photoshop and QuarkXPress was in the art classroom at my high school, so it’s not a huge surprise that I ended up doing graphic design.

Of course, those formative experiences and the subsequent ones way up in the sixth and seventh floors of the gray concrete neo-brutalist “Humanities Building” are ancient history by now. I would guess (and hope) the Department of Art is better off today.

Overall, the quality of instruction varied greatly and the facilities were often sub-par, though our access to technology was pretty good. We had limited classroom space, and it wasn’t contiguous, but given that, the sense of community on the upper floors of Humanities was about as good as it could have been. If I’d tried harder, or sooner, connections I made with my classmates definitely could have become deeper friendships. But at the time I had my co-workers, my former dorm mates, and my drinking buddies, three groups that had a small amount of overlap.

I did feel that I learned a little bit about making art, at least, even though the level of instruction was mixed. Some instructors provided little to no individualized guidance, even in smaller classes, and generally I didn’t sense an overall commitment to improving students’ ability to navigate the larger world. For a self-directed student like me, opportunities were there. (I suppose I could have gone to office hours more frequently, but I spent a huge percentage of my time just working on projects.) There are a few faculty members I’m willing to list by name because I liked them. Stan Shellabarger was helpful in instilling a questioning attitude that informs me to this day, and Daniel Smajo-Ramirez was helpful in bridging the art/technology gap. Phil Hamilton, who taught graphic design, was always incredibly encouraging and warm. He left most of the detailed questions of execution to John Rieben. We used to call them “Santa and Satan,” perhaps unfairly to John, but his relatively harsh demeanor was a shock to our coddled adolescent brains. I took Professor Hamilton’s independent study “portfolio class” and was grateful for his emphasis on the need to have a portfolio, but I was shocked at how many of my classmates ended the semester without having completed one.

It turns out, of course, that that portfolio class during my final semester of college was the link to the rest of my future. My future former co-worker John Ziperski (also coincidentally a fellow Hartford High alumnus) came to that class looking for interns. I saw a terrific opportunity, even though the (now defunct) firm, HBG New Media, was then housed at the charming former cheese factory in distant Paoli (distant at least for those of us who relied on a bike and public transit, which I did at the time).

I convinced my mom it was not merely necessary but also safe for me to take possession of the 1983 Plymouth Reliant that had been sitting, undriven, in her yard for at least a year, so that I could take the internship at HBG. In 1998, HBG (which has its own interesting and cautionary tale) had a large plot on the periphery of the frontier of the great Internet expansion of the late 1990s — meaning we were among the first companies designing and building websites for mid-sized companies with occasionally recognizable brands (Tiger Toys, McGraw-Hill, lots of others). I learned a ton there from John, and Ryan McElroy, and Jessica Edil, and Eric Smith, and others.

And then, in 1999, I started getting annoyed by at least one new bad co-worker and feeling a little wanderlust. I got on the personals on a now-defunct website called swoon.com, met a girl, and — well, head on back to the earliest archives of this site, which start not too long after that.

Three years later, I got in my (new) car (long since sold), moved to the Bay Area, and here I am now. Yay!

Another dream

In early 2013 I was apparently trolling (in the “deep sea fishing” sense) the old USENET archives on Google, because I did participate in some of the earliest Internet communities, pre-World Wide Web, especially during college. Today I was looking through my draft WordPress posts and found this one from then.

From a post by me to alt.dreams on 11/7/1994 called “Another plane crash dream.”:

“Did you perhaps consider that maybe you got into the car accidents because you were thinking about car accidents beforehand? ‘Hope I don’t get in a car accident, hope I don’t get in a car accident–whoops, I got in a car accident.’ See what I mean?”

That’s 19-year-old Jason logic for you, though there is probably a grain of truth to it. I don’t know if the original poster ever answered and can’t be bothered to look it up now (because I should be working).

Mostly I just wanted to post something to Gohlkus Maximus today because I haven’t posted anything in a long time. I had planned on doing some writing and then a month later lost a co-worker, detailed in my most recent post.

Aside from the wonderful honeymoon feeling Dawn and I still enjoyed from our 2013 wedding, 2014 was a pretty lousy year. A lot of losses for both of us in a lot of ways, and hard times for some of my close family members, made it really hard. We ended the year with an ultimately renewing experience — Dawn had microfracture surgery on her knee, which was fascinating to learn about and, more importantly, wildly successful for her.

2015 is starting out better, at least for me and Dawn specifically — we are doing the Whole Life Challenge, which is all kinds of interesting. It is a way to kick-start ourselves into restoring good habits we’ve had in the past anyway. Getting knocked out of a healthy routine isn’t all that difficult, especially with the big disturbances of 2014. So we’re working on doing better this year.

If anyone were to ask me now what the secret of life is, it’s kind of two-fold: be honest with yourself, and go easy on yourself. I think everything else kind of follows from that. I don’t know what 19-year-old Jason would have said, but it sure would have been easier if someone had told him that who he would have listened to. He’d probably have listened to 39-year-old Jason, especially given how voraciously he consumed science fiction.

This morning I had an interesting dream which included David Byrne performing onstage with a monkey. I would pay money to see that happen. I won’t spend any more time thinking about it, though.

Remembering Michael Hawk

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Getting reacquainted

Hello, dear Reader. Let’s get acquainted, you and I.

The reality is more likely that you already know me. (Maybe you’re married to me.) Or maybe you have no idea who I am. Maybe you’re reading this in the year 2465 (which would mean someone survived the present and the near future, which is awesome).

The original rationale for creating this site was to keep in touch with folks I knew (friends, family) who were far away. I think it may have served that purpose to some extent during the pre-Facebook years.

But, again, the reality was that I wrote very sporadically over a long period of time. While I enjoyed writing in the blog when I got around to it, I’m not sure that it ended up keeping people up to date in any meaningful way.

It did keep me writing, slowly and sporadically, for years. At the end of 2010, I had written an average of three to four blog entries every month. In the ensuing 39 months, I published 13 entries — three a year. (That is not to mention the five or so posts I started and never finished, some of which included many, many words and sentences.)

Ultimately, however infrequent my updates were, they still happened. Therefore this site is a more or less continuous history of me in the 21st century, having launched in February 2001 (with a number of mysterious pre-site-launch-dated posts).

The happiest outcome of that fact is that my wife, Dawn, before she was my wife, got to read stories about me that made her want to get to know me better. I will always be glad I started this site for no less than that reason alone.

I am happily married, which is a wonderful and amazing thing. I am still, however, a (self-)frustrated artist who still has an undisciplined and wild urge to create. So, I might be coming back here in the days to come. Watch this space.

Revealed: Who wrote the book of love?

If you didn’t see this on February 25th, you really missed out:

Hilarious, no? An iPhone, a brilliant girlfriend with a great sense of humor, and a whole lot of serendipity are the needed ingredients.

Also, if you haven’t heard, I am moving to San Francisco in June! Dawn and I found a great apartment together in her existing building and we are incredibly excited about it.

Big ideas

This list of vague but big ideas that a particular venture capitalist would like to fund is almost four years old. Though a certain number of the problems have been solved in the interim to some extent, a great many of them are still pending.

I guess the common thread is to figure out what people want and then figure out a way to give it to them, easier and cheaper than someone else can…. or find some way to make some intermediate step easier.

I’m at a point where I want to start using my brains to innovate something new, rather than solve some variation of the same five trivial problems over and over again, which is basically what I’ve been doing for the last nine years.

* * *

Oh, also, happy new year — this is my first blog entry in 2012, as January already nears an end! 2011 was my best year in a long, long time, filled with positive changes, and 2012 is going to be even better. A little over a week ago I celebrated six months with Dawn and I’m looking forward to many, many more. Sometime this year, maybe sooner rather than later, I’ll be living in San Francisco. Woo hoo!

On taking risks

Here is one thing I almost forgot (oh, how quickly we forget!): To improve your life, you have to take risks.

The most important change in my life to date — meeting and falling in love with Dawn — didn’t just happen. The timing was fortuitous, sure, but it happened through an intricate series of intentional acts on my part and hers.

Generally speaking, when we did those things, it involved taking risks. For me, those risks started probably when I moved to Minnesota in 1999, setting off a crazy chain reaction that resulted in three rough years out in the cold, followed by seven very difficult years in the Bay Area and two increasingly wonderful ones. (Happily, the wonderful ones were 2010 and 2011.) Another risk was going into therapy and working hard to discover what I really feared and hated about life and about myself. Another was to put up a profile on OKCupid.com that was truly honest and revealing. I was finally able to do that in a way that was actually attractive, because I finally liked myself and felt worthy of receiving love. There was still an inherent risk of rejection: if someone didn’t like my honest, detailed, silly profile, they wouldn’t like me either. (Of course, the reverse is also true: If someone liked my profile, they’d also probably like me. I was pretty sure of that, anyway.)

Similarly, in contacting me, Dawn risked rejection, or the possibility of disappointment at meeting yet another inauthentic dude on OKCupid. In return for each of us taking those risks (and many others), we have begun to build an epic love that is made to last. (I am thankful every day for it because I am well aware that not everyone gets to have this.)

Taking risks requires you to accept the possibility of losing something you already have. Ideally, that thing you lose is something you don’t want anyway (the parasite crashing on your couch, the soul-sucking job, the girl who doesn’t really love you but you keep answering her calls anyway because you’re lonely, the feeling of worthlessness, etc.). But even that is hard, because the fear of the unknown frequently trumps the potential gain of making a change.

One thing that makes it hard to take risks is giving a fuck. Stopping giving a fuck — about the things that don’t matter — probably has its disadvantages, but it’s the only real path to making meaningful change in your life.

It’s been a struggle for me for years to not give a fuck. During and after high school, I allowed my teen-aged perception of what society thinks is important to shape my choices, instead of just doing what I wanted to do. That put me in a very different place than where I might have been.

That’s not to say that I would trade any of it. Two short years ago, I was at my worst. At this time of year in 2009 I couldn’t see anything but what was right in front of me and a whole hell of a lot of pain and fear. But now, going into 2012, I have a wonderful woman at my side (I’m pretty sure she’s the person I’ve always wanted to be with but was too afraid to look for), and a world that has opened up again with limitless potential.

Stuff that is sort of but not entirely related:

Quashing the self-improvement urge
Letting go of sentimental items

I occupy Oakland every day

Upon reflection, I find it wonderful that a movement of people is growing around the concept that the rich don’t pay their fair share (they don’t) and that corporations have too much power (they do). The Occupy Wall Street movement in some ways is exactly what I think is necessary.

From my perspective, though, here’s the sad thing about today’s “general strike” in Oakland: I have over 150 hours of vacation time, over 100 hours of sick time, and a floating holiday available to me. And I agree with the reasons Occupy Oakland is doing it. However, I don’t feel comfortable taking a day off in what is invariably the busiest month of my job.

This is my dilemma with the Occupy movement right now: The vast majority of the 99%, like me, are living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t feel comfortable taking the day off — much less spending weeks protesting in Frank Ogawa Plaza. And there are many people in far worse situations than I who are going to be displaced today here in Oakland.

It’s not as if I’m sitting on the sidelines. The reason I’m going to work today is that I want to help ensure the California Environmental Scorecard is produced on time, containing as few errors as humanly possible. The Scorecard helps keep California legislators accountable to the public for their votes on environmental bills.

I’m not a fan of politics, especially as it’s practiced in this country right now. One day is not going to jeopardize my job, nor is it likely to significantly delay the Scorecard. But considering everything I have to do for basically the right reasons this month, I can’t afford to take a day off to occupy my own city.

Jason’s “Brainwash” era is no more

Today marks the joyful end of my run of seven years of involvement in the Brainwash Movie Festival.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to improve, enhance, and run the festival for all of these years.

I started helping Dave out in 2004 with one very simple goal: to add a couple of pieces to my print design portfolio (a flier and a program). Somehow that grew into maintaining and redesigning the website, as another portfolio piece, and a way to help out a friend. Then, a couple judges moved on, so I started helping judge the movies. And every year I did more to promote and run the thing. At that point, a couple years ago, I reasoned that I was so involved that I might as well get some kind of minimal material benefit (a tax break, and it didn’t amount to much, monetarily) from participating in the festival, which led to my having become a partner in the business.

I have to admit that during that act I was ambivalent and had a fair amount of trepidation. I knew that Dave wanted to ultimately develop a fictitious, episodic tv series (now webisode series) about the film festival, and make money by doing so. I wasn’t convinced that I could really help pull it off, nor did I particularly want to. I did help, though, and spent many grueling, frequently middle-of-the-night hours in 2010 working on the series.

It certainly wasn’t all bad. We had meetings, wrote story ideas, figured out which shots we wanted, and spent hours putting some stuff on video. (We also had nights that lasted until dawn, and grueling physical labor, and arguments, and tedium.) What ultimately came out of 2010’s effort was a mostly incomprehensible 23-minute curiosity (of which only 4 or 5 minutes ended up being our own footage — the rest consisted of a couple of the best movies from 2010’s festival). The few that watched it reportedly said that it accurately captured the feel of the drive-in festival. However, apparently none of them understood the underlying plotline, which (of course) was that aliens on a distant planet who survived by consuming stimulating intellectual content intercepted from other planets were literally being bored to death due to a lack of such content — and that Hollywood was aware of this and was keeping the quality of their movies deliberately low in order to (I guess) commit genocide. Therefore, one intrepid alien sent his hench… alien… to earth to harvest independent film content so that their race could survive.

Silly? Yes. Clever? I’d say so. Doable? Absolutely not, 100% no way. Not with the team we have (or, rather, had). But we actually created something, which was something. And now, I move on. No hard feelings — it’s just time for a new chapter in my life. In the meantime, check out Brainwash when it comes around again!

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