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10360212_10152479194111573_6733113443566222091_nSAFE TO SAY I THINK about my daughter’s education more than my parents thought about mine. I can’t imagine my mother worrying about the “learning environment” or “teacher accountability,” or even saying those words. Granted, in 1980s Des Moines where I grew up, there wasn’t much to complain about. Solid and safe public schools with mostly good teachers and challenge and resources for all kinds of students. There was bullying, drugs, sex and discipline problems to be sure. But you wouldn’t pin that on the school. The world isn’t perfect.

I’ve been loyal to the public school ideal since way back, even choosing to attend a public university when most of my friends went private. Along with travel, I see urban public school classrooms as one of the few reliable places to learn about the world outside of your own cultural bubble. I want Johanna to understand that, as special as she is, she’s not that special. I think she’s learning about her place. Whether she learns much else, I’m unsure.

For the last four years, I’ve been on the sidelines of Jo’s school life. My knowledge of who’s smart and who’s bad (and who’s both) is mostly hearsay. Until this month when I chaperoned her 3rd-grade field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (after a feel-good criminal background check). It was like time-traveling back to 1983. All the old gang was there: super-shy guy; big loud girl; shady kid looking to bolt; the wisecracker; the inseparable BFFs; the over-eager hand-flailer (my own archetype for a time).

It was a fast outing. The tour guide didn’t attempt to illuminate, only asking the kids, “tell me what you see.” Being challenged to really look and have your personal reactions honored can be a revelation, especially if you don’t see much art. For Johanna, who’s done this museum 150 times, it was pretty forgettable.

I worry that most of her 3rd grade time is like that. Last week was conferences. Her teacher, a 30-year veteran, could tell us nothing specific about our daughter’s progress, strengths or weaknesses. Sarah asked her whether Johanna is getting any extra challenge since she was identified for “talent development” (the new nomenclature for “gifted/talented” is supposed to be inclusive, but it seems vague—more an aspiration than a concrete program). Her teacher told us her “team” was “navigating” the new “standards”; for example they do “pull-outs” on some “sites.” We know they aren’t doing pull-outs at this site. If there are any efforts made to tailor the curriculum to students of different abilities, she couldn’t describe them. It was like we were asking about something she didn’t think was her job, even though it is. We felt embarrassed and dropped it.

The achievement gap between whites and students of color in Minneapolis is notoriously wide. The district superintendent resigned over the issue in December. This week, after the Atlantic heaped praise on our city‘s “economic miracle,” many were quick to note who’s left out. Closing this gap is the right priority, though for all the plans and energy expended, it hasn’t changed. I don’t underestimate the challenge or pretend to know the solution. But in contrast to the rosy mutual enrichment of my own public school education, some days it feels like every child is left behind.

12340HEADS UP. On a rare trip to Minneapolis without his kids, my friend Kirk seemed like a different person, noticing details and cues he usually ignores. We laughed that the difference was just 15°—the angle between a person’s eyes chasing a three-year-old and ones raised to a grown person’s face. This struck me as poignant and a little tragic. Keeping your head down and doing what you think you’re supposed to may prevent everyday shit from derailing. But it’s entirely at odds with finding new experiences and challenging the status quo, our own or the world’s.

My angle of repose may be higher than Kirk’s right now but lower than I’d like it. The conditions of my work—ever-shifting, emergency-prone—keep me mired in the moment (or actively trying to suppress it). But the future looms larger to me lately. Maybe it’s turning 40, or Johanna’s transformation from a little kid to a half-adult who asks less of me each year, freeing me to ask more of myself.

So what else is supposed to happen? My sister’s friend David, who does things and knows things, spoke persuasively of the advantages of employment over of carrying all your own water. No doubt he’s right, but just the thought of wedding myself to a company or a job makes me panicky. My agenda may be muddled, but it’s my own, dammit.

Braver people are going there. Linda X. wants to start a Lao food truck. A lady I know just bought a store in South Minneapolis because it sounded fun. Travis O. is shopping around his pet project to get it funded. My sister is reducing her hours to focus on becoming a yoga teacher, or maybe a professional officiant. Lucas will become the Twin Cities’ next architect-impresario of the Autonomous Dwelling UnitWith the value of Portland real estate through the roof, Travis D. is seeing a retirement endgame in 5 to 10 years (business keeps you busy, but land is forever). Paul has launched a national conference on arts criticism. What are you up to, slacker?

This month Sarah was awarded a grant to develop her artistic practice, recognition of awesome stuff she’s been simmering for the past year—from textiles to teaching artist to community/social engagement. My hopes are pinned on hers and all the others. May their changes change me.

photoTODAY MARKS 40 YEARS since the Big Bang of my personal universe, that slide into self-ness when sand began spilling through an hourglass of unknown size and dominos began cascading in a pattern so intricate and pleasing (so far), I’ll forever pretend to take credit.

Sarah made me an almond-lemon cake with five roses (for my first four decades plus my next) and six candles (not sure). My mother, sister, wife and daughter each recited 10 things they admired about me—small but important observations no one otherwise bothers to make. It could be the best gift I ever got.

I’ve planned a week-long, mostly musical celebration. Sang karaoke Friday at the Vegas lounge (“Electric Avenue,” “Fever”). Seeing Quintron & Miss Pussycat Tuesday at the Turf with Craig, then New Pornographers the next night with Sarah. Thursday, Kev and I are seeing Jem Cohen’s “Instrument” doc about Fugazi at the Sound Unseen film fest. I know what trips my pleasure triggers.

Going around the sun forty times is a show of endurance if nothing else. I seized the excuse to celebrate, spearheading a damp gathering of old bros in the North Woods. Over Labor Day weekend, 13 of us hiked into a forest to be slowly stewed in rain, smoke and spirits (including Malört, a Chicago liquor so rank it involuntarily contorts the face). It was a long, idle, sometimes beerless slog that might have been judged a failure if not for the beautiful people who showed up… just because I asked.

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Whatever 40 is—a landmark, a tick mark, an end to childish things, a new beginning—I shudder to imagine going it alone. Thanks for coming this far with me, friends. The trip may not always feel worthwhile, but I’m trying.

PEEKABOO My VW’s muffler clean rusted off last month. I pulled over and examined it before putting it in my trunk: probably hadn’t functioned for months. Meanwhile warning indicators say I have no coolant, so I keep dumping it in, which you shouldn’t have to do. Over 60 mph, the car fills with an odor I call “ozone” but it could be smoldering engine wires. I don’t want to detect more problems, so I keep my windows open and the tape deck all the way cranked, a strategy I call “mystical ignorance.” I pray it will cover my ass until winter.

We squander our potential waiting for worthiness. Find a concept, however narrow or tedious, whatever dumb thing is your thing, and be faithful to it. Content has a shelf life of a nano-second. Recognition is all bought or self-awarded. Make it, flog it, take your couple Likes and move on. Even if you’re onto something, what the world wants will change while you’re sleeping. I guess I’m saying, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”

Contemplating a project on the Mississippi River next month—a public panoramic drawing to be made on the riverboat Padelford as it moves downstream. Like so much, it comes out of an invitation. Not a burning desire or even an Idea. Who needs those? Someone says they are making a mini golf documentary. And they want to interview the artists behind “Move Your Hole.” Who would come see that? I’ll be at the Walker at 3 Sunday to demo. Caring much will require some effort on both sides of the camera.

With love from outer space, via Detroit and mental illness.

I began drafting my will this week, and in a weird coincidence, I’m experiencing Old Man problems. Three weeks ago I started having back spasms that brought me to my knees. Only now am I coming to the end of the indignity: shuffling slowly, teeth gritted, clumsily grasping walls and chairs. I worked from the floor for days, searching for positions free of pain. At one point, I laid on the side of the road whimpering until Sarah (literally) picked me up.

When did Building Mode stop and Breaking Down start? 20 more years and the problems change from acute to terminal. My dad told me in June that he’s got Alzheimer’s—at 64, the Early Onset kind. He won’t spend the next 25 years growing old, gracefully or ungracefully, however he might have pictured it. He gets maybe 10, quite possibly fewer, without his memories to soothe him. Of all the ways to wind down a life, no one would pick this one. Here’s him in ’73, before bad backs and bad brains.

[fd][believer] 1972

40 years is no time at all. I’m learning this sooner than expected.

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I READ THAT CONTRADICTION AND MENTAL DISSONANCE are the price of our ridiculous modern lives. It’s undeniable in my case. The son of an artist and an engineer, I’m liberal but obedient, cheerfully fatalistic, a staunch anti-consumer who makes his living on corporate largesse. There’s not much I do without some psychic friction. I know I’m not alone.

So I cherish the unconflicted moments. I found my respite long ago in the instinctual act of drawing—blindly, with no grand ambition or promise of reward. When I draw, counter-arguments grow silent. For a few minutes or hours, I know I’m doing the right thing.

That’s what drives the MakeSh!t experiment, now in its third year: low-stakes longing for uncontrolled creativity. We finally found a way to bottle it for mass consumption. To my astonishment, people showed up.

Public Acts of Drawing, first projected on a dark mill ruin in the summer of 2012, made its primetime debut this month on TPT’s TV Takeover, and again during a terrifying July storm. Hundreds of intrepid revelers (The Mayor, piano prodigies, drunks, tykes up way past their bedtime) huddled under our Fleet Farm party tarp, braving lightning and sheets of rain to scribble with us for hours. At 3:30am when the power went out, they were still washing up.

The project is also a thicket of contradictions: Solitary yet social, free-wheeling yet constrained (by media and elbow room), ugly until it’s beautiful. One component of the event—broadcasting on a skyscraper in real time with a Hollywood-grade projector—was shut down on account of weather. With 10 inches of visibility, no love was lost.

The best measure of the project isn’t the final artwork, which I love, but Aaron’s time-lapse vids. Watch us fill in everything, almost without thinking. Hard to say why exactly. Maybe because we have hands.

Another utterly pointless job well done. Thanks, fellas.

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TrafficON JUNE 14 SLEEK ELECTRIC TRAINS start rolling from downtown Minnneapolis to downtown St. Paul around the clock. There are 18 stations in between, including one a few yards from my front door. It’s historic for the Cities and pretty sweet for me: essential services are already popping up nearby, housing values should get a bump, and I get the designated driver I always needed.

So this is how it feels when social investments align with personal gain. Privilege in effect.

I thought that day would be all happy-hour-on-rails, but I got more party than I bargained for. As part of the 4th annual Northern Spark, MakeSh!t is re-upping our Public Acts of Drawing event around the Minneapolis convention center from 9pm to 5am. Each hour is planned as a unique drawing event: vernacular lettering, Minneapolis mapping, life drawing (mixing things up so we don’t get bored, more than anything).

Here’s how we pitched it:

… a real-time art-making event that merges free-form collaboration with large-scale urban spectacle. Participants put pen—and charcoal and stencil and glue stick—to paper alongside local artists, dignitaries, and a few hundred friends. Drawers of all ages, skill levels, and styles are welcome. Guest contributors will help steer and energize the proceedings, but the results are delightfully unpredictable. Over the course of the night the individual marks of many become a vibrant lattice of interpenetrated doodles, the Hive Mind documented in graphite and ink. The draw-a-thon is simulcast on downtown architecture [Ivy Hotel, turns out], turning each small gesture into a heroic act. Public Acts of Drawing made its debut in 2012 on the (now destroyed) Pillsbury A Mill in St. Anthony Main.

Did I mention Mayor Hodges is scribbling with us? What shall I lobby for?

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I caught a talk last month by Canadian artist Jon Rafman. It was on a whim with Paul, Witt and a bunch of students and faculty at MCAD. I wasn’t prepared.

I’m a fan of Rafman’s “9-Eyes” project, a gallery of snapshots, some sublime some disturbing, culled from the ever-expanding archive of Google Street View. I thought of it as a kind of found-object work, but Rafman’s description suggests bigger stakes. Google’s simulacrum of civilzation is just one corner of a vast Internet world—explorable, infinitely seductive and terrifyingly human.

As a fellow cyber-explorer, I’ve felt this. I’ve adventured down internet rabbit holes, tripped headlong into its taboo regions and wondered what it all meant (and what it meant that I was there). But Rafman’s take is profoundly dystopic. His videos reveal (but do not really examine) the perils of Internet-addiction, lives completely given over to desire, mostly sexual. It’s a bleak picture. Hentai meets Abu Graib.

No doubt this world exists. But is that us (or more than a few of us)? Is our private universe so perverse? The audience response seemed to say, “that’s not me. I don’t know that Internet.”

One project fascinated me. Rafman’s avatar is the Kool-Aid Man, the ever-smiling sugar water pitcher/Pitch Man known for walking through walls. As Kool-Aid Man, Rafman is our tour guide to the mostly abandoned online world called Second Life, which had its heyday around 2008. The game’s often beautiful invented landscapes (all user-generated) are filled with dreamy experiences—alien discos, snowy deserts, endless archipelagos of fantasy. While the world evoked by Kool-Aid Man in Second Life can also feel warped and off-putting, it rings truer. By Rafman’s reading, it’s a mirror of the collective id.

When we can be anyone and make anything, this is what we make.

(WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK, FAMILY, OR SENSITIVE EYES)

 m1ta665I HAVE SERIOUS SKEPTICS IN MY MIDST. Not rainy-day naysayers like me, but the advanced kind: people so far down the rabbit hole of mistrust that any widely-held conclusion is a flimsy alibi begging to be blown up. Spend too long in their hot house of doubt and the suspicion is contagious.

It’s not like I’m some sheep. I question authority and assume hidden motives. But some things seem beyond argument: the efficacy of childhood immunization, for example, or the need to alter our behavior in the face of climate change. When terrible shit happens, why jump to an evil conspiracy of corporate/government/Illuminati-backed monsters? Incompetence or stupidity is so much likelier.

Yet here they are, seeds of doubt, planted by people who I know to be intelligent (if obsessive and not always reasonable). My father in law, our contractor-in-residence for the past week, gleefully debunked every argument I had in my (admittedly tiny) arsenal in favor of alternative energy and against continued reliance on oil. Solar and wind power are not young technologies with a long way to go, he says. Not at all. They are corrupt government boondoggles enriching well-placed criminals (George Soros is a favorite of his) while threatening animals and even people (“ask a pilot: solar arrays blind and kill”).

Is wishful thinking clouding my judgment? Do I lack for facts? Are facts even relevant anymore? Am I paranoid enough?

Among many myth-busting conversations of late, one that sticks with me is about Flight 370. For 29 days, it seemed plausible to me that a state-of-the-art jet equipped with all manner of transponders, GPS and backed-up back-up systems, could tracelessly fade into oblivion. But after a boozy late-night talk with my friend Aaron, I feel naive. He points to what others claim is undeniable evidence of a coverup. By 11pm I’m half-way buying that we’re not getting the full truth. Then Aaron tells me that three Chinese owners of a priceless semiconductor patent were on the flight. The only other owner is an American with high-level government influence. So that monster called in the hit and the U.S. cloaked the whole deal so we alone can exploit the technology.

Well, duh.

>> Download a new mix, “Normcore Omniverse”

The Cool Kids – Freak City (Outro)
Latyrx – Watershed Moment (f. GIft of Gab & Merrill Garbus)
Annie Nilsson – Gotta Get Up
Donovan – Clara Clairvoyant
Grant Hart – Letting Me Out
Parquet Courts – Tears of Plenty
John Vanderslice – “Diamanthunde”
Dâm-Funk – Mirrors
Melt Yourself Down – Fix My Life
Open Mike Eagle – I Rock
Brand Nubian – Shinin’ Star
Quasi – Nostalgia Kills
Joanna Gruesome – Secret Surprise
Elastica – Stutter
The Imps – Uh Oh
The Beatles – Boys
Lou Reed – Real Good Time Together
Royal Trux – Liar
Actual Wolf – Victims & Things
Graham Nash/David Crosby – Frozen Smiles
Bill Callahan – Javelin Unlanding
Pentangle – When I Get Home
The Jim Carroll Band – People Who Died
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X02EPARTING THOUGHTS FOR JANUARY.

Since a fierce tendril of frigid air arched over Canada earlier this month (said to be colder than Mars), Minnesota has been testy, if not from the black ice and dead batteries then about widespread school closures. While the 3-, 4- and 5-day weekends cured me of any impulse to home school, a lot of the reaction was mean and stupid—calling district leaders “wimpy” and even suggesting it was a conspiracy to drive mall traffic. I, for one, was glad to see kids in the workplace, twirling on office chairs, dry-erase coloring, and dispelling any illusion that the work we do is serious.

Polar vortex or no, January in Minnesota blows. Unless you’re working or living outside, the inconvenience is only a matter of degree(s). Below -10°, I confess I can’t feel the difference.
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Sarah awoke yesterday morning to hear NPR announce that China has expelled our friend Austin from the country after refusing to renew his visa, almost certainly because of his newspaper’s reporting on gross corruption in the family of former Chinese prime minister Wen Jiaobao. Austin’s in Taiwan for the indefinite future, despite high-level pleas to Chinese officials and even tough talk from Joe Biden. We are wishing the guy a swift resolution to his exile, but secretly hoping it means we’ll see him this year.
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I head to New York City Tuesday to attend the world’s largest gathering of legal technology professionals. I’m not one, but the immersion should help me better understand my newest client. As you would expect, the industry in question is dry, wonky, legalistic and dull to explain to almost anyone I know. Which is why making something really good from it feels like a worthy challenge.
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As of this week the hole in our home now has walls, windows, a wooden floor, can lights and wires poking out where appliances and outlets will be. The refrain of my inner monologue, and ultimate answer to all questions I face in life at the moment, is “March,” the month after which I will never again scrub dried oatmeal or degrease a skillet in my bathtub.

JB

Old Man John Brown, subject of “The Fighting Farmer,” Steve Davis’s history of Iowa abolitionists coming in 2014.

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Portrait of Brown on horseback, 1877, published in the Davenport (Iowa) Weekly Gazette.

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Detail of the outraged actress from Raymond Pettibon’s illustration for the Minutemen’s Paranoid Time 7″.

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A much-parodied bumper sticker.

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CBGB in NYC, known as the spawning ground of punk, New Wave and vintage cowboy type.

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An illustration for the Fighting Farmer book, Boxcar letterpress experiments by MakeSh!t, and possibly a T-shirt.

WWJBD? I’d venture he would free Bradley Manning, demand amnesty for Edward Snowden, clean up our criminal “justice” system, open the borders, and otherwise slap us silly with his Stick of Righteousness. Truly a hero for our time.