For whatever reason, sometimes a line from a song or movie will really stay with us. And sometimes it’s hard to explain why. Content, context, and delivery probably have a lot to do with it, I’m sure. But that’s rarely the whole story. Sometimes we just relate. We connect. We ascribe meaning, even when we can’t actually put our finger on what exactly it is. That’s where this all begins—with that kind of line.
Up in the Air is a perfectly adequate film.1 Ryan Bingham is a “career transition counselor,” which is a polite way of saying he fires people. He spends most of his time figuratively “on the road,” but literally “up in the air,” as he flies around the country doing the dirty work upper management no longer seems to have the stomach for. But “up in the air” is also a statement about Ryan’s personal life. His continuous travel comes at the expense of keeping in touch with his family and developing real relationships.2 In fact, it appears that Ryan’s only ambition in life is to earn 10 million frequent flier miles, a feat achieved by only six people before him. Read More
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It is a very dreary, very rainy Sunday in New Orleans.
Another way to say that is this: It has rained for the past twelve hours, and I live in a bowl.
The weather and my hangover are debilitating; I have slept away the morning, napped most of the afternoon. I wake up violently into my gray bedroom. I am filled with the anxiety of a day wasted, the anxiety of a mind that has been allowed to idle—to drift in and out of consciousness—too long.
I attempt to reign in this mind that is supposedly my own, to occupy it with a series of menial household chores. I consult the list written on the notepad resting on the desk (sitting in the room rented above the restaurant selling noodles to the people surrounded by the Gulf feeding into the ocean covering the sphere drifting through the infinity).
Another way to say that is this: I start the laundry, do the dishes, and lay out my clothes for work on Monday. Read More
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There’s no pretty way to put this. I grew up in the suburbs. . . . In a way, those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs.
Although I love The Wonder Years, I can’t speak to whether Kevin Arnold was right or not. I didn’t grow up in the suburbs, and I don’t know whether they were any more wonderful than any other place. But I do know that my generation doesn’t do suburbs. At least not all of us. We do gentrification. And while we, as a generation, might think it makes us “different” (indeed, that’s the point) or makes us more “cultured” (also, the point) than the suburbanites before us, it doesn’t. It is, I think, just a suburb in a different dress.
Gentrification has best been defined as “[w]hen ‘urban renewal’ of lower class neighborhoods with condos attracts yuppie tenants, driving up rents and driving out long time, lower income residents.” Traditionally, it arrived with the “local artists looking for a cheap place to live,” which in turn gave “the neighborhood a bohemian flair.” It resulted in a noticeably changing neighborhood with modish cafes and bars and shuttered local establishments. The debate over its effect on communities in cities across the country and world has raged and raged. (Certainly, I’m not here going to enter the fray on this heated debate.) Read More
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As we pedaled harder and harder into the night, the distant lights pulsed. They streaked. They spun. They multiplied and minute-by-minute receded into where the horizon should have been but wasn’t. We were so distracted by the spectacle that we never noticed the ground fall away from our tires. We were free falling. Sailing through the cosmos on machines of light. Suddenly, I was aware of it. My heart shuddered. My stomach turned. Don’t look down. I looked down. I found reality in the under glow of my bicycle. I put it away. Back up and I felt the infinite flatness of all things. It consumed me. I opened up. My vision bloomed. The desert was pregnant with life, but everyone was invisible. We crossed their paths like signals through a circuit, waveforms drenched in darkness. We became tangled in a tractor beam. It towed us towards a stage, which emitted dazzling color and sound that soaked my bones. It was an organism, and around it stirred the nocturnal fur people. The earth tilted. My stomach turned. We lay supine beneath the sky. The stars fell around us and the clouds birthed a caterpillar consuming itself. Read More
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I’ve said it once and will say it again: Trains are dangerous; trains make me think. See, e.g., Take heed of the stormy weather. I don’t know why it is that they do. Some weird mix of travel nostalgia and the loneliness of sitting next to an empty seat occupied only vaguely by my own thoughts.
Most often I have this thought, which is mostly foolish, about being born in Illinois and finding myself sitting on a train in New York or the District, so far away from home. I smirk a bit to myself because, I guess, it is gratifying thinking that I made it all this way over the last twenty-eight years–that I escaped the cornfields and I’m sitting in a city a thousand miles away that’s mine.
Next, I usually think about being able to get to New York in just hours, or anywhere but the District. I think about the Sun Also Rises and the nights they had stumbling from one bar to another in Paris, champagne or cocktail in hand, and embracing a strange sort of purgatory in life that isn’t punishment because it’s better than heaven. And I wish that was me. See, e.g., Is the past a time or a place? Read More
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“Who is that?” Or, so said a friend on a winter afternoon between law school classes. That question came in response to a comment about Nirvana. Somehow, someway this friend, Steve, a man who was born in the 1980s and as a matter of course grew up in the 1990s, had never heard of the Seattle grunge band that has wound up on every one of those “list” television shows about music and the nineties.1
This is where I come in. I wanted to cure Steve’s ignorance. But to be honest, I wasn’t that into music myself. It’s not that I didn’t like music; I did. I fell hard in love with those nights when you’re with those people in that place with that music playing in the background. I liked those songs, but I didn’t pick them, they picked me. Generally, they amounted to a pretty narrow slice of alternative rock though. Read More
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I had no business trying out for a spot to speak at commencement. I took the “college is about the experience” mantra a bit too literally, and I certainly did not waste my time on the classroom experience any more than I had to.
But, in March 2009, a couple months before graduation, the Student Advisory Counsel solicited volunteers to speak at the College of Media’s commencement. In language apparently targeted at a middle school kid, the email read:
Do you have something you want to say to all of your peers? Ready to conquer your stage fright? We ask that you prepare a 2-minute speech for the audition, while the actual speech will be 4 minutes long.
It’s mostly unclear to me, five years later, why I decided to respond to that email. A shadowy memory suggests that I wanted to make up for being a less-than-stellar academic while at the college. Maybe for a day, I could sound like I learned something about the world over the last four years.1 Read More
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I read five books at a time.
Obviously, I don’t sit down and read from all of them simultaneously; I’m not a mutant. I simply mean that at any given moment, there’s no book I am currently reading; I am currently reading books. I know other people do this as well, but I can’t speak to their motivations. For me, it’s certainly not an intellectual exercise in keeping multiple plots and concepts straight in my head, but something else entirely.
They say: adapt or die.
And that’s what I did. Really, it was the only way to save one of my favorite hobbies—reading—from what the information age has done to my brain. But let’s take a step back first.
I grew up in a family of bookworms. My sisters and I read incessantly. It’s not that any of us had a preternatural knack for it; I don’t think I learned to read until the first grade. (Is that normal for the early 90s?) It’s just that education was thrust pretty forcibly upon the Doguet children, and reading was the primary conduit. Neither of our parents went to college and so ensuring that we escaped blue-collar careers was one of their primary goals. Read More
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Matthew Butterick is a Harvard educated graphic designer who eventually attended law school at UCLA after his website design firm was acquired by Redhat. In other words, he is a man after my own heart.
Though my education in graphic design came from somewhere less prestigious than Harvard (the Internet), and I’m still waiting on a corporate takeover of Oak+Tower, I am, in fact, also an attorney.
My careers in both design and law have led me to claim on many occasions that I am interested in exploring how they might intersect—namely, how the former can help the latter in terms of efficiency and comprehensibility, among other things. Read More
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I am at peace with the fact that the news I read reinforces me as much as it informs me. The lamestream, lefty, online news outlets I frequent tell me things I’ve been told before, denigrate people with whom I already disagree, and link to other media that also do those very things. It’s all very well and good, and I get to delight in the high and the low brow from writers who look at the world the way I do. I get to feel smart and current while knowing I’m actually often just congratulating myself for thinking the way I do. But I care less and less about that last bit the more entrenched I get into my tribe of writers and readers through my laptop and spotty wifi connection.
Recently, writers of my tribe wrote about the burgeoning online community of supporters of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown on August 9th. They reported about Facebook groups pledging that they stand with the officer and believe he was in the right that day in Ferguson. They also told of a gofundme page and others pledging money to Wilson that have raised over $400,000. Read More
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