Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sweet home Chicago

Off the grid, and on to Chicago tomorrow afternoon.

As far as I'm concerned, California can keep Los Angeles and New York can stay put. I'll take Chicago over either of those still-bigger cities.

Heading there with the Anderson crew by train tomorrow at 1:30, then on to pizza, comedy, the Art Institute, and lord knows what else. I'm kind of a tag-along for the trip, because I sure don't work at the print shop, but I do appreciate Suzanne and Carolyn for the invite.

I haven't been back since the big trip last year, and even then it was only a few hours to grab dinner and pictures. Two summers before that it was Wizard World with Gugin, and then my first trip that spring for my birthday.

There's a big Apple store I have to visit. And I'd like to do breakfast at that little restaurant by Union Station where I got hit on by the salon owner. Not because of him, thanks, but because it was great food. Good memories.

I could see myself living there someday, but I don't think it would ever happen. It'll probably always be the big Midwest city, just west of Lake Michigan, that draws my heart.

It's the Place to Go, so I'm going. For the weekend. It's kind of a warm up for trips to come later this month.

Sweet home, Chicago.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I am a prophet of doom

"The glorious feelings, those that most we prized,
That made indeed our very life of life,
In the world's turmoil and ignoble strife
Are sear'd and paralysed."

- from Goethe's Faust

Maybe it's what I've been reading, or maybe it's what I've seen on the news, but I feel like we're all doomed.

Politically, environmentally, socially - maybe there's just a grim undercurrent in the tap water we're all drinking, but there's a confluence of events and happenings that makes me want to buy a house, dig a big hole in the back yard, and hunker down for Armageddon.

Take "The Road," by Cormac McCarthy. It's a beautiful, moving book about a father and his son traveling southbound down a highway to the ocean to escape the cold of winter. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the world has ended, all life has dissolved into ash, and the few people left are scavengers, Mad-Max-style, and prowl the landscape looking for canned food. McCarthy doesn't say exactly what happened, but it's apparent - from the scorched, mummified bodies and the blackened tree stumps - that all people are going to die before things get any better.

Great bedtime reading!

Last week Nine Inch Nail's new album, "Year Zero," came out. And maybe you've heard, but it's one big game. Placed 15 years in the future, Trent Reznor's story places America in a very scary place: a dirty bomb goes off in Los Angeles, freedoms have been curtailed, poison is being leaked into the drinking water by the government, protestors are tortured and killed, the Middle East has become an even bigger mess (with Iran suffering an atomic attack), and people are hallucinating about a giant, ghostly hand coming down out of the sky.

Perfect for cool, quiet rainy days!

I'll give it to Mr. Reznor - at least he's made a game out of the whole thing. But still, his vision has to come from somewhere, and I'm afraid he's seeing a result of the world we currently live in. Reznor's vision reflects Hegel's non-Marxist view of the struggle for freedom, and yin-yang observations about the close relationship between creation and destruction. We're creating so much, but at the same time we seem to tip-toe ever closer along the edge of destruction.

Things could always be worse, right? We could be experiencing the plight of the Mandeans, an ancient tribe who, every day since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, face apocalypse at the hands of Shiite and Sunni extremists. The Mandeans believe that bottled water is "dead," and that we should only drink from free-flowing sources. But what happens when all the rivers run dry?

The rivers of American democracy are surely in need of fresh water, and all one needs to realize this is a newspaper and a history book. It's like we're reading a dystopian novel - some Orwellian yarn brought to life - while the world around us goes to pot.

I remember reading about "global warming" as a simple theory as a kid reading Carl Sagan. Sagan was one of the first to diagnose the effects of a full-on nuclear exchange - a "Nuclear Winter" he called it - and to propose that a runaway greenhouse effect would lead to conditions not all that unlike our sister planet Venus. Been to Venus lately? It's a literal hell. And here Sagan was warning the world about the effects of atmospheric polution in the 1980s.

Jump to 20 years later, and global warming is pretty much confirmed - and most scientists blame human activity. Sagan said back then that it would take decades to undo what humans had done. Are we too late, Carl?

Existential dread is a bitch. It's not something you talk to about at dinner, or bring up during phone conversations, because apocalypse lays bear, as McCarthy writes, ├Čthe frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night.├« Even sitting at the luxurious hotel in Orlando, I thought about the uselessness of all that tropical excess. Is this what matters in life? Would I care if I had to fight and claw my way through the world, as McCarthy's pilgrims do? Are these thoughts even worth having?

But I feel like a lot of my friends are feeling the same as me. Doom. Peril. Ruin. It's in the air.

There are some who would say I have a serious case of Chicken Little, to which I would tell them it's only a theory. More study is needed. The verdict isn't in. The tea leaves are unreadable.

I would also tell them that I wish I lived in their world, where caring is an option and critical thinking is drowned out by Fox News and the way-too-early presidential election politics. We can't even breathe and think anymore because students are shooting their classmates, TV and YouTube are stealing our time, important, earth-affecting celebrities are dying, and the Cult of Too Busy to Care grows in membership.

If the point of good - or at least reflective - art is to highlight the struggles of the human condition, then today's artists have plenty of material to draw upon.

It's enough to make us doomsayers want to move to the Northern Territories of Canada and wait this shit out by reading paperback Huxley novels and listening to "American Idiot."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Busy is as busy does

Having too much to do can be a curse.

It's been like this ever since I can remember (which stretches about as far as freshman year of college): to-do lists, notes written on my hand, stacks of paper, unresponded-to e-mails. It all adds up to one big pile of busyness.

Just ask anyone who's e-mailed me. When's the last time you heard from me right away, especially if you need something done? My tendency is to receive the e-mail, read it briefly, then let it sit in my inbox for, what? Days? A week? Then, when I realize the pile that's buildling up, I plow through each message and tackle the project in a fury of productiveness.

On a good day, that is.

But lately I think I'm hitting some kind of stride. Especially when it comes to Rotary and Recycling; the projects I'm working on have actually been getting done.

My trick? Keeping an electronic to-do list on my flash drive. Every day I plug it into my computer, read the lineup for the day, and try to spend a few minutes working on whatever needs working on. Just a plain ol' text file is all I need.

E-mail? That's getting better, too. I subscribe to the zero-inbox philosophy; there's something about an empty inbox that screams "aaaahhhhh." So making sure I hit e-mails as they come in, or at least flag them for some kind of response later, becomes key. Luckily, Gmail makes it pretty easy for me with the neat little "star" feature. If I need to respond to something, or someone needs something from me, I "star" the e-mail and that lets me know I need to get to it eventually.

Google, thankfully, has been helping as well. Have you checked out all the non-search stuff Google has been up to lately? Did you know you can personalize your Google homepage to give you your Gmail inbox, your calendar, local gas prices, the weather, and - a must for me - late-breaking headlines?

And sweet Jesus, take a look at Google Maps or Earth. I'm in the process of marking down every place I've ever been in this country. For free.

Tonight I even made a web site for my Rotary club. It's simple, but it works for our non-technical group.

The trouble with all this is it can quickly become a soft addiction. I could spend hours logging all the trips I've made on Google maps, and for what? Just to show off? For me it's like a scrapbook of Places I've Been, but it can be a big-time time waster.

And now I've got a bunch of big trips and plans in the next month - weddings, conferences, a giant trip cross-country to Seattle - that will be taking up more of my time. Who needs sleep?

It seems like a have a decent system down. iCal at home, Outlook at work (with those life-saving pop-up reminders), calendar on my iPod, and a scribbled-on hand that goes wherever I do - it's a recipe for Getting Things Done.

I've written before the benefits of slowing down, counting the breath, and not devoting one's life to GTD, but the habit is hard to break.

Life always happens in the meantime, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Back in blue

On the way back to my room last night, my skin glowing red, I dig into my swim shorts pocket for my room key and find a sea shell probably from the last time I was here.

Us midwesterners can't comprehend non-stop sunshine. We can dream about it, and we can visit it, and we can even imagine it coming to our own state. But to live here? Unthinkable. Too much pastel color. Too many smiles and sweet drinks with fruit.

I told someone yesterday that bankers go to cold places, like North Dakota, for meetings to justify a suit and tie. Credit union folks dress down, drink often, and are far more laid-back then your typical financial professional. It could be the deeper relationship we have with our members. After all, statistics and surveys consistently show a credit union/member relationship is one of the most loyal in all of capitalism. When you have people giving their money with such reverence and love, why dress fancy? We've got nothing to prove. The trust is already there.

And it's with great trust that American 1 sent me down here to collect the award. I like to tell people I've learned more in the four years I've been here than I ever did in all the years at school, and it's true. I do use the stuff I learned at Adrian, but this "real world" everyone keeps talking about isn't so bad - not when you really are rewarded for hard work.

Work has always supported and rewarded my efforts, and I appreciate that more than I can say. Kristi, my boss, has to make it a point to embarrass me by saying I can't ever go anywhere, and that we make such a great team. I've been well treated by the credit union: concert and Tigers tickets, training seminars and classes, a car loan, decent pay, my Rotary membership, and now this, my trip to sunny Orlando to learn about credit cards and collect my award.

I really appreciate all of it.

Friday at Epcot Judi, Chris and I took a trip Around the World. I guess it's a process, pretty well known, where you stop at each of the country stations at the park and sample the booze. Mexico, China, Norway, sub-Saharan Africa, France, Germany, Japan, Morocco, America - they're all there, and each has a nice restaurant with plenty of drinks to choose from. We barely made it to Canada, the last stop (see above), before the park closed at 9 p.m.

The cool part about each station was that the workers were actually from the representative country. The Norwegians were blue-eyed and blonde-haired (except for one brunette beauty, who still had the dazzling blue eyes), and I talked with a Canadian law student who helped me sing a verse from the Hip's "New Orleans is Sinking." She also gave me the only Labatt available in Florida.

Having sampled the world's drinks, and passing out on the bus ride home, Friday was an early night for me.

Judi and Chris? They kept going until 2 a.m. They're pros - experts at this credit union conference game, and they showed me a thing or two about partying with co-op comrades.

The gala awards dinner last night was a hit. I worried about the dress code, but my Hawaiian shirt fit right in. The dueling pianos couldn't compete with the great conversation and the sparkles of light dancing off my award. It was a work of art, as was the production of the night: open bar, concert-style lights and sound, and great food.

Our country really is an amazing place, because people can be so different and we're actually curious about the differences. Mormon or Michigander, we won't cut your head off because of diversity. I like visiting with people from other states because, as a traveler, I like to get a feel for what the place is like. And part of that is getting to know the people. Steve, the guy from east Alabama, spoke eloquently (drawl included) of the SEC's superiority over any other college conference. Rich, the manufacturer salesman from Chicago, showed off his accent and love of '60s and '70s pop songs. A lot of ladies from Pennsylvania were worried about going home for fear of the Nor'easter moving in.

My own trip home was smooth sailing, and the first class seat sure helped. Flying first class is one of those things on the "Must do before you die" list, like seeing the Grand Canyon or traveling to Europe. Spacious seats, free food, and quick on-and-off service. And no screaming kids.

As I type this I'm flying somewhere over Georgia or Tennessee, and there's nothing but clouds. I've never been able to see this part of the country from the air, unfortunately, and it's giving me a sign of things to come when I get home. The weather says 50 degrees, and I'm already missing the warm Florida sun that put me to sleep when I was pool-side yesterday afternoon. I won't be thinking of pools in Michigan until at least late May or June, and even then a pina colada probably won't taste the same. Not without UB40 or the Beach Boys playing in the background.

Tomorrow life as we know it begins again, and I'll try to use the knowledge I've gained and the energy I've fostered to make a difference at work at apply all the cool stuff I learned.

Goodbye dream vacation. Hello Jackson.

[As always, check the Flickr account for more pics]

Friday, April 13, 2007

So many limes, so little time

The crickets chirp, the owls hoot, and I head to bed.

Madison. Kalamazoo. Minneapolis. These cities mean something, because I can say I got drunk at them and survived nicely, thankyouverymuch, all on someone else's dime.

I can now add Orlando, FL to that list.

Had an eventful day, full of fire and brimstone credit union speeches (by an amazing guy, Rex Johnson, who is mad as hell and won't take it anymore) that - with a bit of luck - won't be forgotten between now and the flight home Sunday.

Melissa and Jennifer. Liz and Lori and Maureen. John and Steve and Chris and Judi. These last four I just left at the hotel lobby after taking advantage of the open bar (my vote for the two greatest words in the English language) and the all-you-can-eat dinner. I'll never look at a bottle of Corona the same, and I'll never forget the relaxed, laid-back style of credit union professionals.

The dress code calls for "business casual," which to those in the CU biz means khakis and a logowear shirt, if that. We're supposedly known for our ability to drink and hang loose and actually engage each other in the gospel of membership and democracy and volunteer boards and "movements." We preach to the choir, except when the Aflac folks show up and we have to justify our existence to former bank presidents.

"Yeah, but ya'll are tax-exempt," Steve said.

Your goddamn right, pal, and for good reason.

In Rotary, I'm used to the fact that I'm the only single and young member when I go to these types of conferences. I tend to stand out, and even when I wish I didn't it makes for good conversation. What I'm finding is that CUs are a female-centric business, and this makes for its own conspicuousness.

No pool today, but plenty of food and conversation and "how's the weather?" (a talent perfected by us Midwesterners) and "What Disney park are you headed to tomorrow?"

Me? I'm all for Epcot, a grand adventure to the future, and probably the least family-focused of the parks. But then that's my style: go it alone, do your own thing, and hope nobody notices your by your damn self.

I wish it were different. I meet people, and they talk about kids and husbands and wives and grocery shopping and mortgages, and a part of me wishes that was happening. Especially when I see so many my age with rings on their fingers (I remember when I started looking for that).

But then I think, "Jesus, could any of this be possible with all that?" Which is better? What do I want more?

Right now I want sleep, and this terrible, booze-heavy feeling in my stomach to go away, because I know I have to get up early tomorrow and sit through some three-hour bore-fest before we storm the parks and raise Donald Duck as our pagan fowl god, drinking Goofy's still-warm blood and hoisting Mickey's head on a pike.

We're credit union folk, dammit, and we know how These Things Work.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Leavin' on a jet plane

Goodbye, cruel mock-spring.

Not that Orlando is looking all that sunny here lately, but hey - it's beats the snow we're supposed to get, right?

I'm taking off to collect my marketing award tomorrow at the CSCU Annual Meeting, right after work's quarterly meeting. Our HR rep got my flight, my room, and all the details taken care of. All I have to do is show up at the airport, luggage in hand, and enjoy a kind-of four day vacation.

One day includes a whole afternoon at the Disney park of my choice, which is kind of cool. The rest of the time I'll either be sitting in a conference room, eating, or lounging pool-side and sipping on some alcoholic beverage served to me by some Norwegian nympho who gladly takes Canadian coins for tips.

Ah, Florida.

So for a few days I'll be off the grid, in a way. I'm taking the trusty iBook G3, and my ethernet cable, just in case there's a plug-in in the room (I'm betting there is). In which case I can post photos and rants in my drunken haze.

Because, let me tell you, credit union folks know how to party. Don't call us "bankers." Call us "fun." Or perhaps "paid less than bankers."

And us graphic designers know a free lunch when we see one. I'll be doing my victory lap, sure, but the resort must know better than to trust credit union card service executives to the veritable mini-bar keys. I've heard stories.

With titles like "How to solidify member relationships with credit cards" and "Take the fear out of risk-based pricing" - the seminars are sure to be a hoot. I'll come back to those bastards at the Michigan Credit Union League, slap my learnin' on the barrelhead, and show them how to righteously Take Control of these annual meetings.

That, or just come back with a decent tan.

Wish me luck friends: Dave's leavin' for the big time.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Fear and tanning in Jackson County

"Spring won't come / the need of strife to struggle to be freed / from hard ground." - Type O Negative, 'Green Man'

My profile picture was taken a whole year ago - that magical age of 25, with Guster and Mates of State and Suzanne and I at the bar. It seems like a world away, and in a lot of ways it is. A lot's changed.

* * *

If spring won't come, then I'll leave. I took a look at my agenda for the Orlando conference and things will be...easy going, to say the least. I fly in Wednesday evening, with nothing to do but swim and drink and lounge and enjoy. Friday, I get the whole afternoon to explore one of the Disney parks. And on Saturday, when the rest of the card service officials are golfing, I'll be doing...something else.

* * *

I'm going to do battle with Detroit again tonight. We'll call it the rubber match, because last time Harpo's got the best of me. A slashed tire, a scary drive home, all after the great KMFDM show Don and I saw. Now we return to see Type O Negative.

And to think the guys from Type O pick Harpo's as their favorite place on Earth to play. Maybe they've never driven there. Maybe they don't have to worry about parking.

* * *

The show tonight wraps up birthday week 2007. It's been decent. Last Saturday felt more like my birthday than yesterday did, but it was nice to have the extra day off. And I've eaten pretty well over the past few days, thanks to good friends.

* * *

Thursday's blog started quite the discussion (see the comments section if you have any doubt), but I think it was the last comment that summed it up for me. How would my friends have felt if I had deleted a comment I didn't like, before it had a chance to be read?

It's too bad when people have to experience something before they identify with it. I always think of Dick Cheney in cases like this. The president is all for outlawing gay marriages, probably because he doesn't know anyone who's gay.

The VP doesn't hold the same epistemological outlook at Bush, lacking the born-again label, but he doesn't stray into outlawing rights because he has a gay daughter. So why does it take having a gay daughter to identify with people who don't sleep with the opposite sex?

Locally, I have a feeling we'd all be pretty angry if one of our transgendered relatives were treated like Julie was treated. Or we'd really be angry, at Adrian, if our beloved College World was ever stolen from the bins.

Maybe I lack a definite prism through which I see the world. But I like it this way. Makes me sound less dogmatic and self-righteous in arguments.

* * *

My good friend Josh came to see me at work the other day. We used to be the best of friends, and now our jobs and lives take us away from each other.

But he still makes it a point to stop in and see me when he's working out at the YMCA or testifying against some law-breaker at court.

I'll never forget when I first started working at American 1, Josh came in and asked for Dave, the president of the Gay Club of Jackson (or something like that). He freaked our receptionist out, and gave me a good story to tell. He knows how to embarrass people, a skill I think we've shared and perfected through the years.

He thought it would've been funny, on my first day, to wheel me in Hannibal Lecter-style - with the mask and straps and gurney.

* * *

Today I went tanning for the first time.

I was nervous about the whole thing (nude? lotion? do I cover "it" up?), but the friendly lady at Bronze Villa was really helpful about the situation.

Tanning comes pretty easily for me, thankfully, but I tend to burn the first time I greet the sun. I figured that before I head to Florida I should build up a base or something.

There's something about lying naked in a bed of glowing tubes that frees the spirit. I'm not really any darker (I only made it to level 1, with its UVB rays, today), but I am wiser.

Twenty-six years wiser, to be exact.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Stop the presses: here comes Jesus

If you live in Jackson, or even if you don't, you might think of it as a pretty conservative place. Birthplace of the Republican Party. Voted for Bush by a great majority in the past two elections. And now home to a paternalistic "university" that seeks to steal the speech and behavior rights of all who step foot on campus.

The latest evidence? Spring Arbor University recently seized every issue of the student newspaper because it printed a story about a cross-dressing professor the school didn't agree with.

The cross-dressing professor thing (Julie Nemecek used to be "John," but was fired from SAU after seeking transgender therapy - it's been big news around here) was bad enough. Now Spring Arbor University wants to prepare students for "learning and critical participation in the contemporary world" by seizing the student-run newspaper.

What, really, would Jesus do?

The school swiped all 500 copies of the newspaper, "The Crusader," from school grounds, offering to give it back only if the student editors cut the Nemecek story out. The school's reasoning? The story was innacurate (and they haven't even said why).

It's one thing to respond to a newspaper article with a letter to the editor, or a request for a correction. That would be the sensible thing to do. But to seize every issue with a ransom attached is deplorable, and unfit action in a democracy. The university has every right to add its thoughts to the paper's marketplace of ideas. Instead, it plays the part of the bully dictator.

SAU has had an image problem lately, and it responds by censoring the news it helped create. The school has raised all sorts of issues just with the Julie Nemecek issue: does a Christian-based workplace show compassion by firing a professor who needs help? Is it legal? Is it right? Is it even nice?

This latest example shows the university's backward ways - after all, how can a place of learning prepare students for the real world when its constantly acting like a paternal overseer? Is this the "contemporary world" SAU wants to represent?

I remember applying for a job at Spring Arbor - something like a PR assistant or something. I couldn't believe the requirements the school asked of students and employees: no drinking, no smoking, no pre-marital sex, or else. It was unbelievable. Slip up, and you're gone.

We're done with the Dark Ages, right?

SAU's actions show students what it's like to live in communist Russia, or fundamentalist Iran, not the United States. Here, we follow the words of Thomas Jefferson by respecting newspapers more than any governing body.

The lesson: if you're different, or even have a different opinion, than SAU, you're not welcome.

The Pharisees would be proud.