live musings


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.


IMG_8880TOPICS I MEANT TO COVER WITH YOU SOONER in no particular order.

Inheritance: My exalted grandfather Charles J. Klima died in May. I wrote his obit, delivered a eulogy and MC’d at his funeral, bearing more raw, heartfelt emotion than I’d let loose in a decade. I did the guy’s memory a solid at the time, so I’m done with the tributes for now. Beyond missing him, what keeps coming back to me is a sense, totally unexpected, of “succession.” With that generation of our scary-small family now gone, there’s this void. Who will be the steady presence? The one who thinks beyond narrow interests and steps up to deal with family business—even just preventing us from ignoring each other? In a field of fewer than 8, I feel like a candidate. We bury Old Chuck’s ashes next weekend; I find my back straightening at the thought. That’s how these things happen I guess: almost before you realize it’s your turn, you’re ready.

Disability: I have a usual commute of fewer than 15 feet and a general distaste for danger. So I wager my odds of serious injury are slim. Yet my sense of prudence now whispers, “insure thyself.” Disability coverage, that depressing symbol of fragile middle-class survival, costs less than I expected and requires only the sacrifice of my blood and urine (I was due for a cleanse anyway). What pains me is contemplating when I’d use it: a calamity severe enough to shut me down but not severe enough to kill me. Here I am being cautious and all I can picture is Johanna holding a drool cup for “Vegetable Dad.” At least the cup will be paid for. Far from easing my worry, this deal is harshing my mellow.

Congenital Weirdness: Last month’s trip to Oregon was jammed with close encounters—over 50 friends and family members visited by Sarah’s count. In that Twilight Zone of our existence, drama is endless and ever-escalating, especially as the old get older (us included). In a week full of arched eyebrows and near-spit-takes, I’m left with vivid images—some funny, some terrifying: a brother cruising the ‘burbs flaunting his Taekwondo Green Belt (now that’s reppin’ the WTF); a patch of peaceful family farm converted to motorbike dirt track; Papa Ted commanding 6-year-olds to memorize his favorite bits of “The Lays of Ancient Rome” (Johanna was a real sport, going along with it but shooting me glances like “when will this end?”).

On my last night, I received a stern warning about currency devaluation and the cataclysm to come: “Mark my words, there will be blood in the streets. And it won’t be mine.”

>> Dave Van Ronk – Whoa Back Buck
>> The Mountain Goats – Palmcorder Yanja

IMG_6779I WAS PARTY TO AN ARGUMENT this week about New Year’s self improvement. It was on the Internet, where cynics and contrarians are way overrepresented. They said our good intentions are mostly in vain when we choose to change at such an arbitrary time. Resolutions have to spring from profound crisis, they said, from needs that heed no calendar.

I hear that. I’ve bailed on my share of January fitness kicks and penned lists in the holiday afterglow that seem absurdly pie-in-the-sky a few days later.

But I’m fine making a date with renewal (no crisis, please). The moment isn’t so arbitrary. Winter Solstice is a turning point for every culture outside of the tropics, occurring, not by coincidence, right around New Years. And the cynics seem to miss the social component of intention: it gains force when everybody has it.

At the risk of going all “positive vibes” and “the universe has ears” on you, the moment feels fortuitous. After 3 months of acute self-absorption in New House Land, I feel sparks of genuine interest. Colleagues are writing me into proposals for worthwhile work. Make Sh!t is poised to revolutionize mini golf. I’m using the hell out of some second-hand ice skates, the direct result of a Christmas visit from my brother-in-law (passion transmission in action!).

Then there’s the Book. I’m hesitant to say anything about it because my hopes are embarrassingly high. It’s all very preliminary, except that amazing arch amigo Steve Davis has in his spare time written a history tome (no effing around) about his hero John Brown, Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad in Iowa, which he researched by visiting county historical societies and cemeteries from Council Bluffs to Burlington. I’m doing maps, illustrations and production (my bit’s starting to take shape on Google).

I’m positive this book will make my year. And I haven’t even read it yet.

It’s a New Year’s miracle. 

>> Pslam One – Better Than My Last

WE’RE CONSUMED BY TRANSITIONAL EMERGENCIES both tedious (where to put the boxes) and terrifying (a late-season influx of bats).

So this quick one before I lose another a month: a belated love-note to the neighborhood we called home until September.

Drafting a local Bingo Board has been on my list since at least 2009 (along with “Renegade Bible Bookmarks” and “90s Night” podcasts). I guess I needed to relocate to see Longfellow with clear eyes. The beauty and character of a lot of South Minneapolis, that’s there for sure, but it’s the stubborn homeliness that charmed me—a place unassuming yet unabashedly itself, where change can only be measured in decades.

On a good day, you could blackout this Bingo card in three blocks. Though it would be very Longfellow to stretch the game over several years and have its final completion continually in doubt.

Goodbye, old ‘hood. I’m gonna miss you (if not quite yet, then as soon as I’m fighting for a parking space in a Snow Emergency).

> People Under the Stairs – Talkin’ Back to the Streets



+ This is Minnesota’s warmest January in recorded history (OK, it was fun while it lasted)

+ Obama’s presumed opponent is a snide Wall Street 1%er who can’t attack health care reform—go GOP!

+ After 13 months of exacting labor, my largest (and arguably most rewarding) project launched this week

+ We’re at a point where 99% of all moderately amusing ideas now have a Tumblr

+ Minneapolis is testing curbside organic waste pickup and this recycling nerd is psyched

+ Johanna’s almost run out of titles from my least favorite kids’ book series of all time

+ They’re reopening the public school next door in 2013 thanks to Sarah’s epic perseverence

+ Despite years of resistance (and sound reasons), I suddenly have an iPhone

+ I will visit a Chuckie Cheese’s for the first time this week (as a parent or otherwise) …

+ At least I know what I’m wearing

>> Talking Heads – Warning Sign

LAST TUESDAY I IMAGINED MY LAPTOP WAS STOLEN. I came out of the grocery with my eggs, cheese, and French Roast to find the bag wasn’t in my car. Only after I made several panicky calls, cruised the vicinity for a perp, and stopped to report it at the police station did I grasp that I’d left it at home.

The depth of my delusion was breathtaking. I jumped to a far-fetched conclusion—teens! prowling the co-op lot! burgling soft-headed patrons too trusting to lock up!—when reality was much more plausible.

Competence and control are my stock-in-trade. I deliver what’s expected with no drama. I avoid risk and stick to routine. While I can overreact when things go wrong, I generally hold it together even when others can’t. It’s about the only part of the Male Archetype I’m good with.

And yet I lose my marbles. It’s an not an altogether unwelcome reminder. Steely reliability can’t last forever, and it’s hardly the most lovable gift a guy can be known for. On the eve of my 38th year, maybe it’s time I get in touch with my inner buffoon—worry less about self-possession and laugh more at my follies and false conceits. (While I still have a choice, right?)

This is something I made for my newest friend, Louis Royal Martin, age 1 month. Aside from my usual technical hackery, there’s a mismatched piece that now seems glaring. See it? How did I miss that? I’m losing my goddamned mind.

>> NEU! – Crazy
>> Nico – Afraid

• Ways a moose could kill you
• The trail’s unfortunate acronym
• How I kind of wish I wasn’t getting text messages here
• Idea for a cutthroat tourism jingle for Grand Marais: “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand Lutsen” (apologies to The Police)
• People I forgot to invite to my wedding (eight years too late)
• Similarities between beaver dams and furniture forts
• Animal sex
• A world without the smells and sounds of two-stroke engines
• What won’t people carve their names in?
• Snakes feel you coming
• Those rare things in life that sharing may ruin
• A yearning to renounce civilization
• That what I know about wilderness survival could fit on the back of a business card
• Mortal fear
• Whether this would make a decent blog post

>> Slint – Breadcrumb Trail