A Chance That I’d Been Given

Many years ago, my wife discovered that there was a tiny little brewery in our town called Baying Hound. It was a scant 25 minute walk from our house and we hadn’t realized it. I quickly became a regular, but in March 2016 Baying Hound closed up shop for good.

Flash forward a year and a half later and we found out that a new brewery was opening up an even scanter 20 minute walk from our house. Saints Row Brewing threw open its doors in September 2017 and I was so excited I walked there in 15 minutes.

You see, I aspire to be a fake Englishman. Being a fake Englishman mostly involves walking my dog along a stream through a field and some woods to the local pub to have a pint, then going home to watch panel shows and complaining that no one votes for our Eurovision songs anymore.

I got the dog and the neighborhood pub  within weeks of each other, and I could even walk through a field and along a stream to get to Saints Row. Unfortunately, my dog Buddy hates literally every dog in the universe, and we have since discovered that every house in our neighborhood owns 2.5 dogs. So I cannot completely live the life I want to lead.

But, my dog’s neuroses aside, it’s still nice to have a place where everybody knows my name in the neighborhood. It’s not like I am there every night, like some sort of amiable accountant or trivia-obsessed postal worker. But I’ve established my presence enough that I can walk in and co-founder and head brewer Tony can say, “You’re going to like this one, it’s in your vibe.” And he’s usually right.

For example, they recently tapped an English brown ale called The Cabin. It’s a cozy, comfy beer, full of apple and black currant flavors with a strong, malty finish. It’s a beer you drink while curled up by the fire. The cask version adds a bit of citrus, cinnamon, and clove notes to the mix. The base recipe has a lot of room for versatility.

Not that I’m entirely predictable in my love of bitters, brown ales, and Pilsners. They also produced Careless Whispers, which in theory is a New England IPA. But the beer is finished with toasted coconut and vanilla beans, so the taste has subtle hints of cream soda and… well, coconut.

It’s a playful beer that makes me even happier that Saints Row is in my neighborhood. The fact that it is almost always packed when I stop by shows me that I’m not the only one here who feels this way. Although I am annoyed that everyone else in my neighborhood can bring their dogs without fear of canine panic attacks.

“Paul’s Boutique” Lyrics That Can Double As Librarian Twitter Bios

I published this years ago on my old blog, but I can’t resist reposting it here because I’m reading Beastie Boys Book right now.

And if you don’t believe us you should question your belief, Keith.
(“Shake Your Rump”)

Humpty Dumpty was a big fat egg.
(“Eggman”)

Cash flow getting low so I had to pull a job.
(“High Plains Drifter”)

I’ve been dropping the new science and kicking the new knowledge.
(“Sounds of Science”)

If your life needs correction don’t follow my direction.
(“3 Minute Rule”)

While I’m reading On the Road by my man Jack Kerouac.
(“3 Minute Rule”)

The dirty thoughts for dirty minds we contribute to.
(“Shadrach”)

If I had a penny for my thoughts I’d be a millionaire.
(“Shadrach”)

I mix business with pleasure way too much.
(“Shadrach”)

I’ve got money like Charles Dickens.
(“Shadrach”)

One half science and the other half soul.
(“B-Boy Bouillabaisse: Get On The Mic”)

Speak my knowledge to the crowd and the ed is special.
(“B-Boy Bouillabaisse: Year and a Day”)

Do I Believe In Me?

I really like Prince, so I have enthusiastically gobbled up the archival material his estate has been putting out in the past few years. But I have a question in the back of my head and the New York Times podcast Popcast asked it out loud: “Would Prince Have Wanted His Rough Drafts Made Public?

The general consensus among the Popcast panelists was that fans were already sharing bootleg versions of much this material, and the estate has generally done a good job of curating and releasing material in a way that remained respectful of Prince’s career. Even if that isn’t entirely in the spirit of Prince as a control freak.

I still can’t shake the feeling, though, that there is a need to generate revenue here too. Maybe I’m being harsh, but in the introduction to the book The Beautiful Ones, co-author Dan Piepenbring writes:

And one of [Bremer Trust’s] first priorities [to run Prince’s estate], given the sizable tax bill the estate was facing, was to monetize Prince’s assets however they could. As it happened, the book had been one of the last projects he’d finalized with a contract. With that in mind, representatives from Bremer got in touch with Random House: Was there any way the book was still possible?

Dan Piepenbring on page 43 of The Beautiful Ones

So maybe my concerns are legit.

Prince had just begun sketching out his ideas for The Beautiful Ones when he died in 2016. He wanted the book to be part autobiography, part biography by Piepenbring, part handbook on how to create and how to control what you create, and part treatise on race relations in the United States.

There was no way that book was going to live up to those expectations, but Part I of The Beautiful Ones is an aching glimpse into the possibilities. It is transcribed directly from Prince’s notepad, right down to his use of abbreviations: 2 for two, R for are, and  a drawing of an eye for I. It’s a first draft, as indicated by the liner notes in the margins that describe ways to fill it out. But Prince’s sense of humor, his philosophical nature, and his contradictions are all on display. Regardless of what the end result would have been, it wouldn’t have been boring.

But that’s just 40 pages of a 279-page book. Piepenbring’s introduction makes up another 43 pages. At first this section grated on me, as he only seems to be confirming the popular image of Prince on display in his cameo on New Girl or in Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Story on Chappelle’s Show. But eventually I found his story to be kind of sweet in a melancholic way. He had this amazing opportunity to work with Prince, but fate conspired against him. It’s heartbreaking, but at least he can appreciate that he got to experience something most people never would.

The rest of the book is filled out with interesting items found in the vault: photos, storyboard drawings and sketches, drafts of lyrics, quotes from interviews, even an outline for the script to Purple Rain. There are extensive notes describing all of the material, and this is where The Beautiful Ones becomes a museum catalog more than a book.

So on the one hand, it’s nice to have these snapshots into Prince’s life. On the other hand, Prince never got the chance to write about his creative process, and that’s gutting to me. While there are other sources available to provide insight (see below), it sucks that we didn’t get a chance to hear from the man himself. And, fairly or unfairly, that makes The Beautiful Ones most disappointing to me.

May We All Have Our Hopes, Our Will to Try

Happy New Year!

For my New Year’s resolution, I have set myself a suitably ambitious plan for this blog. My goal is to write four posts a month: two career-minded pieces, one beer review, and one book review.

I’m not entirely sure I can pull that off, what with my full-time job and my other full-time job raising a kid who needs all the support he can get and my other other full-time job covering the Eurovision Song Contest for my other blog. But you don’t get anywhere if you start off by deciding that you won’t make it.

And, as this post should prove, I don’t have to make every single thing I write deeply profound. Just keep writing and get what you want to say out there.

To Raise the Ghost of An Idea

I am not a huge fan of Charles Dickens, but I do love A Christmas Carol. It’s a story told with great economy: Dickens wastes no time in establishing how awful Ebenezer Scrooge is. And the trope of spirits showing Scrooge shadows of his life and the London around him is ingenious. It allows Dickens to neatly combine the biographical details that made Scrooge the miserable bastard he became with the compulsion he needs to reform himself and wrap the whole thing up in about 100 pages. (I have an edition without illustrations that totals 68 pages.)

Dickens wrote the book in roughly two months, and he financed the publication himself. Impressive, but I get the impression that no one, least of all Dickens, cast a critical eye over the final manuscript before it went to press. How else to explain the random tangent Dickens goes on in just the second paragraph:

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Funny? Sure, but if I were editing A Christmas Carol, I’d cross that out straight away.

This is not an isolated example; for such a short story, there are a number of digressions and asides to pad out the book. In many cases, I’m willing to give them a pass, because it usually adds colorful detail to the picture of English Christmastime that Dickens is painting.

But sometimes, he goes off the rails in utterly ridiculous ways. For example, there is no scene creepier in this ghost story than the part where Dickens the narrator ogles Scrooge’s ex-girlfriend’s daughter:

The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to one of them. Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest license of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

That’s what a stalker says! A stalker says that. Perhaps Dickens ultimately realized it, since he cut that part out of his edited text for public readings.

Although I’ve read A Christmas Carol dozens of times, I think it was years before I read it closely enough to pick up on a lot of the details Dickens packs into the book. Part of the reason why is because I have seen so many of the various adaptations that I had a tendency to gloss over scenes that weren’t universally included in them. Certainly it took a long time for it to dawn on me exactly what was going on in this passage:

He broke down all at once. He couldn’t help it. If he could have helped it, he and his child would have been farther apart perhaps than they were.

He left the room, and went up-stairs into the room above, which was lighted cheerfully, and hung with Christmas. There was a chair set close beside the child, and there were signs of some one having been there, lately. Poor Bob sat down in it, and when he had thought a little and composed himself, he kissed the little face. He was reconciled to what had happened, and went down again quite happy.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a version of A Christmas Carol that depicts that.

Dickens can be rightfully accused of making Tiny Tim ridiculously angelic, but then Scrooge is awful to an exaggerated level as well. Dickens uses Tim’s death to make the point that even the greatest good can be destroyed by unchecked evils like avarice, ignorance, and want.

The final Stave of the book features some of Dickens’ most expressive and joyful writing. When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Day, he says, “I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby.” Dickens describes Scrooge embracing all the trappings of the Victorian-era English Christmas with a child-like exuberance that is a lot of fun to read. And that’s really the reason why I’ve read A Christmas Carol so many times: as Dickens catalogs and defines in lush detail the joys of the holiday season, he gets me into the Christmas spirit every year.

Note: I wrote this post six years ago for an old blog and am republishing it because there are plenty of Scrooges out there right now who need to be visited by Spirits.

Let’s Hope the Next Beats the Last

2019 was a tough year for my family and me, and I am happy to see the end of it. Even though I don’t necessarily think 2020 is going to be a cake walk for us, I can at least see a horizon I didn’t think I would get to see.

I spent a lot of time scared that things would happen that could upset the path I thought I should be on. Only at the end of this year did I realize that even when those fears came to pass, I still had different paths to take. At worst I would still arrive in the same destination. Otherwise I would just end up in a more interesting place with better stories.

I will celebrate my 10th anniversary at my job next year. I’m still a contractor and my dad keeps telling me that it feels like it’s a temp job. Goodness knows I’ve had a few  opportunities to change that. But I realized a long time ago that I would rather work at a job I love that contains a bit of uncertainty then work at a job that bores me to tears, but gives me an illusion of stability.

So with everything going on at home and at work, I found myself re-reading the Cult of Done Manifesto once again. I had remind myself, “There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.”

Next year is a scary place, but this year laid the groundwork for me to tackle it head on.

The Old Ones From the Furthest Shore

A couple of years ago, I started a blog about local beer, but with the news that LISHost is closing, I decided to shut it down. I’m not quite ready to let the beer diary go, though. Mainly because I really like this Nordic Brume from Elder Pine.

So I thought it would be fun to do monthly beer reviews on this blog. They’ll give me something light to write about while I’m formulating library science-related posts, and also give me an excuse to visit my local market Dawson’s and my local brewery Saints Row Brewing Company on a regular basis. Gotta keep them in business.

I’m a big fan of English-style ales and of Pilsner-style lagers, which means I’m not necessarily a key market for most craft brewers. Variations on IPA have dominated the taps, which is fine, but not something I want to drink on a regular basis.

But when I get a really good one, I want to sing its praises, which brings me back to Nordic Brume. Elder Pine is a brewery in Gaithersburg, and Nordic Brume is [adjusts glasses and reads the can] a “hop-saturated tribute to Kviek, a uniquely expressive Norwegian yeast.” It’s a hazy IPA made with Kviek yeast, in other words. And it is quite lovely indeed.

An old acquaintance of mine once described Guinness as “a beer that eats like a meal,” and that describes Nordic Brume to a tee. It takes me a good hour to get through a pint because it’s so rich. Plus I want to savor this for as long as possible. The flavor combines sweet mango and resiny pine with a touch of tangy lemon and orange. It’s a complex beer that wears well, especially on a cold winter night. Fire up the fake fireplace and the Nordic power metal and I’m the happiest camper in Maryland.

And I Won’t Screw It Up This Time

I have written more than a couple of posts about organization and productivity. They have become snapshots in time versus the solid basis for a fully organized work life, but on the other hand, they could still be the latter. If only…

As I allude to a couple of times, I struggle to make time to set routines into habits. I can do something consistently for a period of time, but as soon as something happens to disrupt the routine, I can’t get back into it. And then I beat myself up over it here!

But because I’ve written about all of that, I have the documentation to get back on track. Field Notes’ motto is “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” That is true, but beyond that, because I wrote it down earlier, I can jog my memory now.

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been reading Messy by Tim Harford, which makes the case that disorder can help spark creativity, and probably leads to more creativity than a perfectly ordered life.

I feel like that last sentence is also the main plot to any movie about how awful the suburbs are.

Anyway, after describing how Twyla Tharp manages her work, Harford discusses how he keeps track of all his projects and plans and stray ideas.:

I have a related solution myself, a steel sheet on the wall of my office full of magnets and three-by-five-inch cards. Each card has a single project on it-something chunky that will take me at least a day to complete … I’ve chosen three projects and placed them at the top. They’re active projects and I allow myself to work on any of the three. All the others are on the back burner … They won’t distract me, but if the right idea comes along they may well snag some creative thread in my subconscious.

pp.53-54 of the Libby ebook version of Messy on an iPhone with the font size increased because my eyesight is poor

There is room for some sort of organization so long as you make room for the disorganization that could lead you to new discoveries. One of my challenges, then, is not letting the organizational part get in the way of the discovery part.

For example, I use Pocket to save articles that I love or that I want to read later. If a bunch of articles pile up, I will get overwhelmed and then skim each article and archive or delete them to clean up my list. It took a long time for me to realize that all this is doing is forcing me to organize without understanding why I saved articles in the first place. There’s no point in archiving files or getting to inbox zero if you are only cleaning up for the sake of cleaning up. Thinking about why you left something where you did helps you understand its potential.

Which gets me back to my original idea for this post. I have all these tools I created to help me get organized, but maybe the reason why they didn’t stick is because I didn’t think about why I thought they were important. That’s my next step.

It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday

Blake Carver announced yesterday that LISHost will be shutting down in 2020. I’ve used LISHost for years to host my personal site and the Eurovision Lemurs blog, and I’ve always appreciated how helpful Blake has been in keeping them up and running. He’s amazing.

Of course, the first thing I thought after reading the announcement was that I needed a new place to host my sites. Since I don’t update this blog very often, I didn’t want to spend any money on hosting and whatnot. So I just imported my old content into a new WordPress site and am chugging along from there.

I have been reading Messy by Tim Harford, which is about how disarray leads to creativity. Reading about unexpected disruption at the exact time I was experiencing disruption made the book more enjoyable.

For now, inspired by Kendra K Levine, let’s let Boyz II Men take us out…

Kick Like We Used to

I chuckled a little bit while reading Brendan Schlagel’s “Weaving a public web, or, why don’t I blog more?” It’s something I could have written when I was lamenting the demise of biblioblogging in the social media era.

I have these dreams of reviving the form, but I don’t know if I have the wherewithal to lead the charge. I feel like I don’t have the time because of my commitments to work, home, and… well, the other blog.

That’s just an excuse, of course. My goal right now is to write at least one blog post here each month. It seems modest, but the side goal is to spend more time preparing to write, versus only posting stuff when the magical inspiration fairy deigns to visit my brain.

Since I’ve been thinking about library blog history, which is now totally a thing, Schlagel and Tom Critchlow’s new blogchain on networked communities is really interesting to me. They are covering a lot of the same ideas I had been musing on, but in a more proactive and interesting way. It’s pretty inspiring.

Of course, posting this doesn’t move me away from my habit of writing about writing when I’m not feeling inspired. Old habits die hard!