Of antennae, pizza, the French and Goats: What’s worth fighting for in Chicago?

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Chicago points of pride, both real and imagined. How upset you got over these slights depends on whether you see Chicago as a real place or some kind of carnival ride. Based on our collective reaction, it’s sometimes tough to tell the difference.

First, there was the Sears/Willis Tower losing its status as the world’s tallest building because of an antenna. This one’s in the carnival ride category. New York has a bigger antenna, we have a higher occupied floor. At this point, it’s almost a literal dick-measuring contest and it does not behoove us to separate fly shit from pepper, as my mom used to say. You could maybe argue there’s a real economic loss here due to the possible tourism dollars that flow into a city with the tallest building in the U.S. but since we long ago lost the title of tallest building in the world it always struck me as a bit of a booby prize.

Besides, everyone knows the view at the Hancock is better anyway.

Then there was the whole “Jon Stewart insulted our deep dish pizza” thing, which is really just an outgrowth of the tallest building thing so come on now. It was a master class in trolling as Stewart drew Chicago in a gloriously caricatured sketch. Mayor Emanuel added his own flourish with a faux tough guy response, mailing a dead fish to Stewart – the fish, in this case, being anchovies on top of a pizza. Again, a carnival ride.

Besides, everyone knows the best Chicago pizza is served on a thin crust and cut into squares.

A better man than me, Chicago Tribune‘s Phil Rosenthal, sums up the above thusly:

Civic pride should be a knowing grin, not a battle cry. It’s the world stage on which Chicago wants to play, not some Montessori schoolyard. You are how you beef.

Speaking of the world stage, let’s discuss the French travel advisory which states its tourists may want to avoid the South and West Sides. You’d think this one could be easily dismissed with a Jerry Lewis joke, but no.

One one hand, there’s obvious ignorance at work here and ignorance should be mocked, whenever possible. Leave it to the inventors of the Maginot Line to determine that everything north of 59th Street is A-OK just because the Museum of Science and Industry and Hyde Park are down that way. But even arguing that point reinforces the idea that some neighborhoods should be avoided, that they are unsafe, that they should be left to rot. Just this week, Gapers Block published a post that deftly sums up this ignorance that makes it all too easy for some to decide kids in Englewood are animals.

Yet French idiocy is somewhat useful here. If anything, it demonstrates there are real problems on much of the South and West sides of the city and we aren’t dealing with them well at all. Those problems start at home though so let’s worry less about what the French think and more about why most of us are fine with taking the Dan Ryan to head south through the city but would avoid Wentworth Avenue at all costs. If we’re going to silently endorse the mindset of the French, we don’t get to be upset about it. Especially the mayor. *

Finally, there’s the likely (perhaps temporary) move of the Billy Goat Tavern (nee Billy Goat Inn) from its cozy, dark corner of lower Michigan Avenue. At first blush, this is a carnival ride issue.

It’s the place from the Saturday Night Live sketch! Royko drank there! And they put the curse on the Cubs! That’s Chicago history! 

All of those things are true and they’re worth preserving, in some way. Perhaps in a museum. But it’s not why it’s important for the Billy Goat to remain a vibrant part of Chicago’s downtown.

For some, the Goat’s as much a caricature of Chicago culture as deep-dish pizza: a tourist trap with lousy, overpriced burgers or a calcified tribute to the greatness of Old White Guy Journalism. And for those reasons, we should be glad to see it go. But these are folks who haven’t been to the Goat in a while – if ever – or have been there during lunch when it’s all too easy to bump elbows with, well, French tourists.

The key to understanding why the Goat remains worth fighting for is knowing The Goat at, say, 7pm or 10am is far different from the Goat at noon or 5pm. In the off-hours, you’ll see cops, construction workers and, yes, a couple of journalists. As someone who’s eaten there recently, I can tell you the burgers are a helluva lot better – and cheaper – than most of what you’ll find nearby (though too much bun for my taste). It’s still a place where you can find – in the words of my friend, Chicago Tribune reporter James Janega – “a bit of the realest Chicago I know…A credit to our future and this city’s value. [A reminder] of who you were comfortable being.”

A bar that serves a blue-collar customer in the basement of the National Association of Realtors building is literally underground subversion and that’s what Chicago – especially downtown Chicago which is too often given to showering developers with TIF funds intended for the city’s neighborhoods – still needs. The original Billy Goat Inn opened in 1934 on West Madison, near the old Chicago Stadium (itself replaced by the United Center which went on to create more Chicago history). In 1964 – post-curse but pre-SNL – the Goat moved to a tony Michigan Avenue address but lost nothing of what made it essential to Chicago.

I would prefer the Goat remain intact in its current location. But if the will of real estate developers means that can’t happen and we need to create the Billy Goat Mark III, let’s remember the great Chicago architect’s words “form follows function.” It’s more important to have a place off Michigan Avenue where people can still feel “comfortable being” instead of wringing our hands because you won’t ever hear cheezbooga, cheezbooga again (though I acknowledge the revenue from the latter probably allows for the former). Picture frames, old tables and chairs and tap handles can be moved with all their worn corners intact – if it can happen with Miller’s Pub**, it can happen with the Goat. But their use needs to continue. Move it, yes, but not behind glass lest the Goat turn into an amusement park like its namesake on Navy Pier.

Chicago needs to maintain its active third places to preserve its history and its future. It might keep us from having to pitch fits over pizza casserole and antennas and help us maintain the communities we have instead of abandoning them and letting the French pretend they don’t exist.

* After I wrote the above (but before I published it) Chicago Tribune‘s Mary Schmich pointed out Chicago’s tourism board doesn’t exactly endorse the South and West sides as tourist destinations. 

** Thanks to NBC Ward Room’s political columnist Mark Anderson for the above link.

Image via Wikipedia

I am writing this post because I want something on my blog to rank well for the phrase “weasel poop coffee”

Here were the first two things I was aware of when I woke up this morning:
1. A dream I’d just had about my friend Mike who, in an effort to drum up publicity for a project he’s working on, made a long-form travel documentary in which he visited, among others, Ted Nugent and Mavis Staples. I think it was supposed to divine the intuitive from non-intuitive stories like some Malcolm Gladwell book or something. It also seemed like a really expensive, if cool, way to garner publicity.
2. Weasel poop coffee exists and people drink it.

So, it’s been a weird morning.

20131109-075912.jpgFive-star hotels in Honk Kong, have – up until recently – served coffee from berries that have been eaten, partially digested then excreted by animals called civets, which resemble weasels. The coffee beans themselves are not fully digested by the civets, but their digestive juices apparently give the beans a “smooth, chocolatey, earth flavor” (I have seen Caddyshack and I am pretty sure that is not “chocolate” but OK.)

According to a New York Times story from 2010people have been drinking weasely-ass coffee for three years and I am just now finding this out?!?!?! – this coffee sells for several hundred dollars per pound because some people have too much money and the only way they can possibly spend it all is to drink weasel poop coffee. (Oh and apparently fake weasel poop coffee is a problem, too.)

These same hotels now say they will stop serving the coffee because of the cruel and inhumane way the animals are treated. Which, great. Let the civets run free, no longer to be trapped in cages, their poop harvested for literally shitty coffee. It is way easier to cite that as a reason than, say, making the residents of Hong Kong’s finest hotels squirm over income inequality.

Apparently, this is not the only animal whose poop is used to make coffee. Someone on Twitter made me aware of jacu bird coffee, which is harvested in roughly the same manner as the weasel poop coffee but in a more humane way because the animals are allowed to freely roam their South American farm, crapping away the day. “Imagine taking part in natures [sic] own selection process. Survival of the fittest, as Darwin would proclaim.” It seems to me if you are drinking coffee shat from an animal, you have already made your feelings on natural selection known and have deliberately chosen to take yourself out of the running. Somewhere there is an collective of individuals who have written “people who drink coffee pooped out of animals” on their list of the first ones to go during the revolution.

But hey, let me tell you about this idea I have for a certain type of gourmet corn…

An endorsement: Putting to-do list items in your calendar

20131103-214644.jpgI love to-do lists. They keep my head organized and clear. Even better is the feeling of knocking completed to-do list items off your list.

Parenting and agency life lend themselves well to the making of lists, but not so much to the doing of those items unless they have a hard-and-fast deadline. In both cases, unexpected situations often arise and must be dealt with quickly, if not immediately. So those short and long-term goals often take a back seat. Parenting adds another layer to this which is anytime you get 30 minutes to yourself you’re really taken with the notion of doing nothing.

I’ve found the best way to make something a priority is to give it the distinction of a calendar entry.
Without a digital represenation of the activity during the day, it’s way too easy to put it off and think ‘I’ll make time for it somewhere else in the week.”

In my personal life, I’ve recently been trying to make more time for reading, writing, running and listening to new music. None of these has a real deadline. If I don’t run three times a week or listen to music at all, nobody cares. There are consequences (poor circulatory health and an underdeveloped knowledge of culture) but nothing falls down.

But when you see a calendar appointent that says you have to write a little on Tuesday night, not Monday night, because if you can see that if you stay up late writing on Monday you won’t be able to get up early for that scheduled run on Tuesday and listening to music should happen on your way to work on Monday mornings because everyone needs quality tunes before starting their work week…things start to create their own deadlines. And the way to enforce this is to actually write in in your calendar.

As a workplace tactic, I definitely recommend doing this for anything you have to get done on a certain day as well as any of those ephemeral tasks you should be doing but are easily pushed aside, like industry research or diving into analytics. Since other people will see your time marked as “busy” it ensures it won’t get pushed aside for a meeting. Plus, a standing hour of right brain thinking makes it easier to tackle left brain work.

There are productivity gurus who will tell you this is a terrible idea – I think there’s a portion of Getting Things Done that specifically says not to do this. But anytime I follow this rule, I get more done and feel more relaxed and in control. I even go so far as to use this tactic to remind myself to eat oatmeal three times a week. (My blood pressure isn’t going to reduce itself.)

Image via ironybelle

That time I inadvertently wrote the liner notes to Mavis Staples’s “Hope at the Hideout” album

I’ve been thinking a lot about 2008 lately and it occured to me I’ve never posted this.

Back on June 23rd, 2008, Mavis Staples made an appearance at The Hideout, one of Chicago’s best live music spaces. I was there as a fan but back when I was working at Time Out Chicago it wasn’t unusual for me to turn the personal into something professional. I went to the show with my friend Lindsey because, if memory serves, Erin was out of town for work (we were four months away from that first trip to Vermont).

I spent an inordinate amout of time in our home office the next morning, writing this review. I’ve never been a fast writer and I sweated this one hard because it was Mavis Freaking Staples and because there seemed a lot more going on that night than just a few songs. Pretty sure I ended up rolling into the office late because I was trying to get this one right. But I was pretty pleased with it. Still, I posted it and then kinda forgot about it.

A few weeks later, the publicist of her label emailed me and asked if it would be OK if they used the below review as the liner notes for a live album of that night’s performance called Hope at the Hideout. I didn’t have an actual bucket list but I remember the time a high school friend and I discussed how we’d love to write the liner notes of an album someday. So uh…yeah…Mavis Staples can definitely use my review…uh, thank you.

I asked her publicist to let me review it so I could make it better, seized with fear that once it was printed inside the label I’d discover some horrible error or typo. I’m sure the below could be improved but I stared dumbly at it for a while and thought “Well, if they liked it, it must be fine” then told her to go ahead. I think I’ve mostly avoided re-reading it in the past because I’m worried I’ll find something wrong with it. (Even now I’m just cutting-and-pasting it.) The album was released on Election Day 2008.

So if you buy Mavis Staples’s Hope at the Hideout, you’ll see the following in the liner notes with my name at the end. I don’t talk about it much because it seems like something I lucked into. Or I’ll wake up one morning and find out I was wrong and they used something Greg Kot wrote instead. (Even though I own the thing and can double-check it anytime I like.) But I’m posting it here as a reminder, to myself at least, that sweating things out is sometimes worth it.

Mavis Staples, Hope at the Hideout

There are few living musicians who can lay claim to being America’s conscience, even fewer who continue to make vital music. On Monday night at The Hideout, Mavis Staples proved she’s still capable of both. But far more than merely being capable, the 69-year-old Staples showed she can light a fire, agitate for change or re-energize the American songbook.

20131102-081021.jpgThough she never referenced it directly, it was impossible – even in an anachronistic setting like The Hideout – to experience Staples’s performance outside of the context of an election season in a country at war. Opening with “For What It’s Worth,” a song whose power – at least in Buffalo Springfield’s all-too-familiar version – has long since ebbed thanks to its ubiquity, Staples tapped into the song’s theme of absolute corrupted power, giving new resonance to lines like “Paranoia strikes deep…it starts when you’re always afraid.” Later in the night, she would sing of waiting for a letter from a long-away son or daughter (“Waiting For My Child”) or of letting her light shine in the streets or on the battlefield (“This Little Light of Mine”).

Staples commanded the stage with a dual mission: To record a live album (the bulk of her performance that night pulled from last year’s We’ll Never Turn Back, a collection of songs from the black civil rights movement) and, in her words, “to bring joy, happiness, inspiration and positive vibrations…to last for at least the next six months.” Just enough to get us to Election Day.

Befitting the intimate space, Staples performed with only a three-piece band, and a trio of backup singers. The warm acoustics of the Hideout were the perfect setting for their Southern-fried soul and Staples’s voice moved with ease from the high notes of church-choir praise to a throaty growl of defiance. The deep, swampy bottom of the rhythm section perfectly complimented guitarist Rick Holmstrom’s no-wasted-notes style.

Though Staples has performed some of these songs countless times over 40-plus years – she introduced “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” as the first song her father “Pops” taught her to sing – she injected her set with a stunning immediacy, as these are both traditional songs, and stories of her life. Whether it’s the autobiographical lyrical touches she adds to J.B. Lenoir’s “Down In Mississippi” or the lunch counter standoff of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the politics of Mavis Staples are very personal indeed.

As for the happiness and inspiration she promised at the outset, Staples and her band delivered. A Monday night crowd of once-in-a-while concertgoers is a rough audience, and most of the assembled kept a hushed reverence as she sang, limiting their joyful noises to moments between songs. But by the end – with warm encouragement from her backup singers – she helped them find their voice in call-and-response and revival rhythms, bringing the night to a close with the hopeful promises of “On My Way” and “I’ll Take You There.”

Anger burns hot. So much so that if not properly directed, it burns up quickly, preventing movement, resulting in sadness or frustrated impotence. Hope, on the other hand, promises joy on the other side of the river, just over the mountain, a few more miles away. It is this country’s primary renewable resource and, as such, Staples’s show demonstrated why it is the only way to conquer fear and inspire change.

Set list:
For What It’s Worth
Eyes on the Prize
Down In Mississippi
Wade In The Water
Waiting For My Child
This Little Light of Mine
The Weight
Why Am I Treated So Bad?
March Up Freedom’s Highway
We Shall Not Be Moved
Turn Me Around
Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
On My Way
I’ll Take You There

Five years

Erin and I are in Vermont this weekend, celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. We got married out here then and we’re staying at the same B&B we did then. A few things have changed but not much.

Yesterday we spent our afternoon in a bar/restaurant called Bentley’s, which five years ago was the first place we landed when we arrived and the last place we spent time at before leaving for the airport. As we sat there, we dug back into this Glamour.com article about how we were going to live-blog and “Twitter” our wedding. (We weren’t, really, but nevermind.)

Reading it five years later, it seems adorably quaint – both the tone of wonder and surprise and the idea that such a thing would be worth writing about at all. At the time, I suppose it was. Twitter was only a year and a half old and had yet to become the celeb-filled and influential communications tool it is today. And the extra spin that we were eloping but people could follow along as it happened – again, not really what we were doing – gave it a societal change element.

The biggest jolt the article – and our accompanying website – provides is how long ago it seems while feeling as if the time has flown by. For example, I barely remember what iMeem was but apparently we used it to build our wedding playlist. Also, we had enough time on our hands to build a playlist and write a bunch of pages for a whole other website. The jobs we had then are four jobs ago in both our cases. We were still living in a small apartment in Roscoe Village and there was just Glin, no Abigail yet.

Somehow though, it doesn’t feel as if that much time has passed and everything seems new still. I’m still ridiculously in love with Erin. She remains my greatest champion and between her and Abigail they are the people with whom I prefer to spend the most time.

Erin’s sleeping next to me as I write this (typed out on my iPhone because I can’t get the WiFi to work on my iPad for some reason so forgive me my typos). We found a new restaurant here that instantly became a favorite last night. In a few minutes, we’ll go down to breakfast and then later revisit the farm where we got married five years ago. This weekend will be like that: old favorites and new discoveries we didn’t have time for then because of all the wedding hijinx. Exactly how you’d like it to be.

20131025-085413.jpgWhen I got up from the table at Bentley’s to use the bathroom, I started to wander around and remember the circuitous route it takes to get there: around the bar, through the hallway, up the stairs, around the corner. I remembered it exactly. Five years ago and it was like no time had passed at all.

On our wedding site, I said this:

Without Erin, there is no story, you see. There is no “us.” There is no “rest of my life.”

I hope that feeling never goes away.

Happy anniversary, Erin.

A Silk Road to ruin: The Paper Machete – 10.05.13

I’ve said this before but one of the reasons I like performing at The Paper Machete is its hard-and-fast deadline and word count. The show starts at 3pm. If I’m going to make it to The Green Mill on time to read my piece, it needs to be written no later than 130pm. There’s no bargaining, no extension unless I want to piss off the good people who run it. And unless I want to disrupt the flow of the show, I can’t go on and on for thousands of words.

Deadlines and limits make you creative. They force you to go places or try things you might not otherwise to get to your goal.

If I had more time to work on this piece, I probably would have made the ending seem less depressing or inevitable. I’d have found a middle ground. But it was 130pm and I had hit my word count and I still ended up with a piece I was really happy with.

Whatever you think of the FBI, you have to admire its flair for marketing.

On October 1st, the FBI arrested and subsequently put a name to the man behind a website called Silk Road. Silk Road was a two year old website through which one could buy and sell drugs. An internationally-known marketplace where approximately 1.2 billion dollars were exchanged over its life. Before it was shut down, the site had a user base of 900 thousand and had earned its owner – a man known only as The Dread Pirate Roberts – approximately $80 million in commissions and a writeup in Forbes, the first two words of which referred to Roberts as “an entrepreneur.”

That’s a big deal. And naturally if you’re the FBI you’d want to make a big deal about something like this. Now, criminal investigations are complicated things. They’re a mix of tireless work over long hours and a lot of luck. You don’t always get to pick your shots.

So perhaps a signed complaint asking a judge for an arrest warrant just four days before a government shutdown – which would curtail the FBI’s ability to, say, post a press release on its website about the arrest is entirely coincidental.

It’s entirely possible that the timing of the Dread Pirate Roberts’s arrest had nothing to do with the conclusion two days prior of America’s most beloved series about a murderous drug kingpin who poisons children. (OK, to be fair, it was just the one.)

I’m just saying an organization that maintains a list of “America’s Most Wanted” and produces daily radio shows has a flair for the dramatic.

Purely as a matter of scale, the shutdown of Silk Road is interesting. But it’s also interesting because of the technology that powered it. Silk Road users maintained their anonymity through the use of two technologies: a piece of software called Tor which allows everyone from journalists to NGOs to, yes, criminals use the Internet without revealing their actual, physical locations. And all Silk Road transactions were conducted using something called Bitcoin, a purely digital currency that uses cryptography and a series of electronic ledgers to blah blah blah nerd talk sci-fi Star Wars magical unicorns of money.

As interesting as the technical aspects of this story are, you came here for a mix of current events and social commentary mixed with some showmanship and bitcoin is like the band that plays before the burlesque dancers so I’m just going to skip to the parts where the gloves start coming off.

So big drug marketplace shutdown and an interesting statement on somewhat obscure technical tools for conducting anonymous, often illicit activities. But who cares, right? Tor, bitcoin, pirates. It’s hard to take something seriously when it sounds like a game of Dungeons and Dragons. None of you are looking to create a billion dollar drug empire…OK, maybe that guy. Also, Chad The Bird. I mean, obviously.

At first blush, the real impact of the Silk Road story is that the era of the Internet as a haven for criminal anonymous activities is over, especially with the NSA listening in on every message just short of “Do you like me, Circle Yes or No.”

No, the real lesson here is “The mythical permanent record we were all warned about in grade school has finally become real and it’s the Internet.”

You see, the government figured out the Dread Pirate Roberts is actually a guy named Ross Ulbricht. According to Ars Technica’s report on the government’s criminal complaint, the first mention of Silk Road was made by a user on a website called Shroomery.org. This same user posted a comment in a Bitcoin forum back in 2011 asking for some help with the nascent digital currency. This user’s account had an email address attached to it: “rossulbricht at gmail dot com.” This same Gmail address was attached to a Google Plus account which listed some of his favorite videos, some of which were from a place called the Mises Institute, which is named after an economist whose theories the Dread Pirate Roberts frequently cited as the basis for the larger philosophical ideas behind Silk Road. Similar references to these economic theories were also found on a LinkedIn account registered to Ulbricht.

For someone who masterminded a small drug empire using an untraceable digital currency, Ulbricht didn’t exactly cover his tracks very well. You could rightly argue that if you’re going to start selling drugs on the Internet, you shouldn’t do it with the same email address your aunt sends all her “THE TRUTH ABOUT OBAMA’S MUSLIMNESS” emails to.

It’s a little hard to blame Ulbricht for this behavior. After all, he’s no different than anyone else who leaves bits of his or her interests and views in various corners of the Internet. We used to be able to think of our lives as different circles of friends and family but for most people, the dream of keeping our personal lives and our professional lives separate died in a Facebook argument about the President’s birth certificate between a significant other and an aunt we never see. You can leave a job, but your former co-workers will continue to follow you. And it’s a lot harder to get over that bad breakup when someone’s Instagram account is just clicks away.

And thanks to the current nature of the Internet’s cloud architecture it’s all tied into a central username or email address for sheer convenience if nothing else. Argue, if you like, that Ulbricht was an idiot and if you and Chad The Bird were going to start a criminal enterprise, you would at least go to the trouble of creating a second email address. But who gets on the Internet for the first time thinking they’re going to create a criminal enterprise? Or cheat on their girlfriend? Or need to lie to their boss about calling in sick that day?

The problem isn’t that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care about your privacy, it’s that we think we can hide in the sheer volume of conversation happening online right now. The Internet’s ubiquity has made everything we do on it seem ephemeral. A phrase like “the Internet of things” and gear like FitBit or Google Glass means we have – in a relatively short amount of time – gone from thinking of it as worldwide network of blogs and websites – to something we can wear on our faces or wrists or clip to our belts. Because it’s everywhere there’s the sense that no one will see us if we jot down a few thoughts in a notebook we literally tuck into our pocket, only showing them to a few people we know. Conversations on Facebook, Twitter or in comments sections have now become so ubiquitous they’ve come to feel like little more than a conversation we’re having with a friend on the bus or the train. We lean over and chat conspiratorially with a friend, confident that the stranger seated in front of us can’t hear and so what if they can anyway? Our stop is up next and we’ll be gone.

So while the details of the time you sat at a bar in college and rambled on about some obscure economic theory is…long forgotten by the time your 401K breaks $500, there’s usually a trail when you do the same thing online. And someone with the time and motivation to look for it can find it.

I’m not sure what the end game looks like here. Either we’re all going to end up truer, more honest versions of ourselves or everyone is going to end up hiding their online selves behind Tor and Bitcoin and the Internet will become the least social version of social media ever.

Silence is a strategy sometimes

Napa Road

Thing I did this month: Ran through Napa Valley and took this picture

I swear this will not turn into a blog about my work.

This has been a month of work trips, live readings, volunteer projects and personal distractions. Hence, the neglect here. (Not counting the drafts of things that felt best left in that form.) In many ways it’s been a fulfilling month but when the glass is full, it’s sometimes best to stop pouring water into it before you make a mess.

When I get some spare time, I’ll post the essay I read at The Paper Machete earlier this month and the two-minute burst of goofiness from last week’s 20×2 Chicago (though I think I’ll wait until the video goes up for that one as it works better performed than merely read).

Until then, here’s a piece I co-wrote with fellow Cramer-Krasselt’er Jeana Anderson about five questions brands should consider before they make  “newsjacking” a part of their social media plans, particularly on days when tragedy occurs. I can sum up the whole piece with this paragraph:

It’s unlikely your fans will get upset if you decide to “stay dark” for a day. If you post something anodyne, your commentary will probably get lost in the volume of conversation or you’ll risk earning a spot in the inevitable roundups of embarrassing brand posts. When in doubt, leave it out.

I’m a big believer in making a bigger impact with less content so it felt good to plant a flag here.

Content marketing that wins: Making brands, readers and Google happy

As part of my day job at Cramer-Krasselt, I presented at Social Media Week Chicago on the topic of content marketing with my colleagues Steve Radick and Nick Papagiannis. Steve summarizes our talk here and I don’t have much to add to what he says other than this: If you hate it when brands say “LIKE this post if you…” or “SHARE this if you agree!” then this is for you.

My colleague and fellow presenter Steve Radick summarizes it here.

You can view the slides here:

…or watch a livestream below.

And after the jump, there’s the Twitter-fueled recap thanks to my teammate Jeana Anderson.

Learning to climb

Learning to climbThere’s this Steve Wynn song called “Bruises” that’s stuck with me ever since I heard him play it at South by Southwest in 2006. The first verse goes like this:

Bloodshot, tired and torn apart
I’m at my best when I can barely start
I fall down easy but I get up slow
I really, really hope that the bruises don’t show

The reason it sticks with me is a lyric in the bridge…

If I came to you late at night
Would you answer to my call
I can’t do anything to make it all right
This is how you learn to fall

“This is how you learn to fall.”

There are so many things I love about that line. Summed up, it’s the acknowledgement that life is not without pain and failure and one should learn how to manage it so permanent damage does not occur. You are not entitled to easy living but there’s plenty to be learned from experience and one can learn to wear it well. Maybe that’s not how Wynn intended it but that’s what it says to me.

I’ve thought about that line an infinite number of times since we had Abigail.

There are a lot of things they don’t tell you about being a dad. The list is almost too long to bother with but off the top of my head there’s “Changing diapers never gets more tolerable (just easier)” and “You might give some jackass the benefit of the doubt because you suddenly remember he’s someone’s kid.”

The big one that no one tells you because it seems too obvious  - but it’s the one that terrifies me – is “barring catastrophe you never stop being a dad.” That one gut-punches me out of nowhere when I’m lying in bed at night.

I used to think the early months of child-rearing – those days of colic and reflux and walking around the dining room table while doing lunges with Abigail in my arms because it’s the only way she’ll stop crying – were insurmountable. But they passed. Then comes talking. And walking. First birthday. Sentences. Second birthday. Paragraphs. Intent. Agenda.  Yet each stage is just a minor evolution from the one prior so they’re easy to get your head around.

Then I start to jump a few years ahead and it all goes off the rails again. There’s always so much more ahead of you and the vast expanse of life gets you to thinking of events both reasonable and ridiculous.

How do I react when she starts liking someone in her class? Not just “like ‘em” but “like em, like ‘em.”

What happens when someone bullies her? Do I kick that kid’s teeth in or his parents’?

What if we’re on a cruise ship and she falls over the side? *

Someone is going to break her heart. Wait…what if that person is me? What if I disappoint her in some huge, therapy-inducing way?

My God, she’s going to leave home one day and be on her own.

You’d think the idea of parenthood as an evolving, decades-long undertaking would have occurred to me before. Like when Erin and I discussed having kids in the first place, perhaps. I submit to you that you can know things intellectually and be fine with them and then encounter their emotional reality and find yourself completely unprepared.

A better summary of parenthood I have likely never written.

The other thing no one tells you about being a dad that crops up all the time for me is how it breaks your heart a little when you’re not around your kid. I used to think the idea of being in love with your kid was an exaggeration. Nope. There’s no other way to describe that sense of loss you feel in the middle of the day when you realize you’re working on a project you enjoy yet it pales in comparison to being at the park with your kid. You just want to spend as much time as possible with your favorite person and that person is not here right now and so…blagh. I used to think I felt this way because my job was making me miserable. It was, and certainly contributed to the feeling but I’ve been at a job I really like for the last two months and still have occasional blagh moments.

Feeling blagh is helpful. It gives you perspective into what really matters and a clue as to how much time to spend worrying about something, regretting a project or bemoaning anything that didn’t go according to plan.

This is how you learn to fall.

Remember the castle boat? Abigail used to struggle with climbing it. She eventually figured it out. We also have this glider (or what non-parents just call “a chair”) she spent significant time learning to climb into and climb out of. I figured it was inevitable she would start climbing on things what with humanity’s tendency toward locomotion so it was probably a good idea for her to learn to do so safely and even learn to fall once in a while. So I taught her how to back out of a chair when she was around a year.  She applied this thinking to the castle boat. Sometimes she fell. And she cried. But she got used to it. And she learned to distinguish between a “whoops” fall and a real fall. And cried less.

Then came the stairs.

Our stairs are steep. We live in a classic Chicago bungalow and unless you’re in pretty decent shape the steps will remind you of  your calf muscles’ existence and how tight your hamstrings are.

One day Abigail decided to climb the stairs. Again, she was barely a year old. Part of me wanted to stop her but the other part of me thought “Well, she has to learn sometime.”

It probably goes without saying that my wife was not home at the time.

She climbed all the way up. Fourteen steps. By herself. I followed immediately behind her, centimeters between her back and my hands, ready to catch her if she lost balance. She didn’t. I was so proud. Several months later she learned to climb down them. Since then, she’s developed a love of playing on the stairs. We’re always with her, except in moments when she’s snuck by us. She’s occasionally lost her balance and hurt herself but hasn’t ever done permanent damage.

From there it was off to the park, climbing the wrong way up the slide. Or the right way up a ladder. Ascending a climbing wall. (No, seriously, there’s a kiddie climbing wall. Surprised me, too.) Occasionally missing a step and bumping her head but doing it all the same.

Then there was climbing onto the bed and accidentally falling off but immediately yelling out “I’m OK!” She says that a lot when it seems like we’ve roughhoused too hard, as much to reassure herself as me.

It’s all been an evolution. Parenting is a long process, but apparently there aren’t so many big leaps forward that it’s unfamiliar.

Eventually, Abigail is going to get bullied. And like someone. She will get her heart broken.  And leave home.

By then she will have learned to fall hard and get up slow.

So will her dad.

Probably not going to take her on a cruise ships anytime soon though.

* Since Abigail was born, our family has never been on a cruise together. Erin and I went on a cruise once and didn’t end up overboard and that was back in 2010 because of Oprah which is a long story but what I’m trying to say here is this possibility does not at all relate to our current circumstances and is therefore completely irrational but popped in my head once and now it occasionally revisits me…like hemorrhoids.