Don’t look into her eyes!

In the end, you can really only feel sorry for these people, lobotomized by an ignorantly hateful perversion of Christianity (Christianism is the correct term) and left without the tools for proper participation in modern society. Apocalypse or no, they are already profoundly left behind.

Like I said, you can only feel sorry for them. And, of course, their husbands.

I just voted!

Seattlites who vote by mail should now have their ballots. No time like the present! If you need some music while you vote, I offer the following (with apologies with Plain White Ts).

Jesus saves his money at the Chase Manhattan Bank

(As goes the terribly blasphemous rugby song that I can’t seem to find a link to)… and now so do we. Like David, I’m wistful… I opened a WaMu account on my second or third day in town when I moved to Seattle back in 1999 and have always been 100% pleased with the customer service. Sad that it failed on the very date of its 119th anniversary. But the FDIC appears to have managed an awfully smooth transition… a run on the bank would have been really scary and much more damaging to the health and sanity of the market. We do have a lot of friends who work for WaMu and hope that their jobs are secure for as long as possible.

I suppose JP Morgan Chase is about as strong a bank as exists in these uncertain times, but I would have preferred Citi to have bought WaMu out… our Australian bank account is with Citi and at the rate things are going we might just need to make a transfer and cut our losses. Only, of course, if America goes all battered wife on us and re-elects the party that has given her 8 years of black eyes, red ink and moral bankruptcy. Here’s hoping Barack wins decisively against Grandpa Simpson tonight!

Second Cities and True Loves

Sorry for the shameful gap in posting. I am really going to try to work on that. I do have a reasonably good excuse for the past few months, which is what this post is about.

As many of you know, I’ve been working and living part time in Chicago since mid-April. The working part started first, but by June I was here a few days a week on average and it made sense to escape the horrors of hotels; I now have a place to leave some clothes, my favorite breakfast cereal, a few books and (perhaps most importantly in the Age of the Quart Size Plastic Bag) duplicates of a few indispensable toiletries.

The work has been hard – taking over the leadership of a team that needed some – but also extremely rewarding. I’m working with fantastic people, and it’s worth the effort because they have so much potential. It has been a bit like getting a rusted out classic Mercedes from your rich uncle… lots of work is required but you know it will be magnificent when it’s up and running. For a while I still had all of my Seattle responsibilities to manage too, but that has been rationalized a bit and I’m concentrating on fewer things to greater effect. My team back home, the new one here and all the managers scattered around have been really wonderful and I’ve really never felt out on a limb – I have known every step of the way that lots of people are backing me up.

But as is often the case with my work, the less said about it the better. The real challenge of being here is about where I’m not: home. Looming somewhere below the glimmering trite whiteness of clichés like “there’s no place like home” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” there’s this great iceberg of longing and loneliness that I had only ever imagined in the most childish of ways. It’s one thing – wrenching at the time to be sure – to be a homesick child, and I did have my share of that. But to willingly put myself away from family and friends, for work, realizing from 1,720 miles away exactly how much I love the life David and I are blessed to have built together… it’s crushing really. My father spent a lot of time on the road and living away for business, but for him it was necessity – literally how he kept our family fed – and he managed it without complaint. There’s a bit of vainglory in my assignment, given the queasy knowledge that I could say “enough” if I couldn’t stand it and go home with career and reputation largely intact. On a bad day, that lends the impression of a self-imposed exile.

I’ve had a couple of those. For only the second or third time since I claimed a Second City, it hasn’t made sense to go back to Seattle over a weekend. Work days here are invariably 12 or 14 hour affairs, and even when I’m back at the “Chi pad” I’m catching up on email, reviewing documents and generally able to anesthetize myself with the small details of a small life alone – laundry, perhaps a jaunt to Whole Foods, the occasional TV show watched in Tivo-less real time. In the context of that, a short call to David cheers me up more than it makes me miserable. Weekends, though, yawn like an abyss. It’s nice, in a sad way, to have 48 hours to collapse into and recover. There’s always a bit of work to do, more errands and in theory one of the world’s great cities at my doorstep to explore. And I have done a bit of that – and enjoy Chicago much more than I ever expected. (More, to be sure, on that happy topic later.)

But this weekend, as with all the time away, has revealed itself a terrible joy. What passes as our quiet domestic life in Seattle is, from this perspective, so clearly a miracle. David – surpassing in his wonders, surprise and above all patience – is simply so much better a match than my wildest dreams ever hoped for. The life we have built together, the friends whose love and companionship we enjoy together, our home (currently under rather ridiculous renovation!) and even the silly dogs are… perfection. When I’m home, time with our best friends is such a blessing too; when I’m away, it means so much to know that they love David almost as much as I do and take such good care of him. I’d like to think I have always appreciated these things as much as I do now, but it is simply not true.

In the day to day passing of “ordinary time,” it is easy to get caught in the trap of wanting more, of hoping for different, of pushing for the next thing. Distance has lent me perspective, and every time I’m home – which, really, is wherever David and I are together – the smallest, most common moments just knock me over. A Sunday sleeping in with the dogs snoring at our feet is heaven; if it happens to be one of those sun-kissed Seattle summer Sundays, I lie in bed awake smiling broadly, trying not to move and jar any part of it out of place. Against all the odds of place and time and the vagaries of attraction, we found each other… and I can’t keep from feeling like an ass each time the plane door closes to take me away.

I also can’t truly fathom how hard it has been for David, too – extra work to keep everything together, responsible for all the inscrutable needs of the dogs, and left with a big empty house when he comes home from his own long, hard days of the office grind. Though in my mind I imagine him enjoying a break from my chatter and ceaseless motion, I can hear in his voice how much he misses me too. We parted ways last Monday morning after a fantastic week and a half vacation – first in Houston for my cousin Clay’s wedding, then in Cancun with absolutely nothing planned or required of us. The margaritas were fine, but it was the time together that left me drunk. Saturday, the one day we were back in Seattle together, must have been the hangover — I was in a fuzz to about-to-be-gone-ness.

It’s just a few more days now until I’ll be home again through Labor Day, with a couple of weekends away together to look forward to. And I do. I suppose the end of all this rambling is simply how grateful I am to have someone I miss so much, who is patient and understanding enough to put up with this temporary arrangement, someone so manifestly good to come home to.

I should cut short this ramble and save something up for another post before too long, but I’ve been radio silent for too long. Thanks to everyone who has been putting up with my travels and travails lately. Most of all, darling David. I’m counting the hours until I see you again, at which point I’ll shift to savoring every simplest moment that passes.

How I Learned to Love the Future

It’s funny, I thought I was pretty clear on what my deeply formative influences were… Star Wars, evangelical Christianity, my family’s deification of Ronald Reagan and of course the profusion on male flesh on TV during the 1984 LA Olympics.

Then yesterday I clicked on a link to scans of The Usborne Book of the Future and it all came flooding back to me. I never went truly hard-core into science fiction books, but pseudo-nonfiction future-science books drilled deep into my consciousness and the Usborne series from the UK were at the top of the list.

I always loved science — up until the point when my lagging math skills meant that our misguided educational system forced me to abandon that passion. These sorts of books remained an outlet, and offered the buoying thought that it was ideas — not just equations — that invented the future. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to harness this love for ideas in my professional life, regardless of my inability to do long division or solve multivariate equations.

Back then, under the twin eschatologies of the Nazarene church and the Cold War, the future seemed so much less likely than the Second Coming or the Blinding Flash. I think these books helped me to imagine that both of those might be delayed until we got some cooler gadgets. I must admit looking back at these, that’s about all we go… we’re perilously closer to some of the dystopian imaginings of these books than the bright frontiers.


Anyway… take a look. Even for those who aren’t that interested in my formative years, it’s clear that these influenced a lot of other people — certainly including the future designers of Wired.

Lurni your furni

Secrets of The IKEA Naming System revealed. I cannot express how much I love knowing things like this:

Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish placenames (for example: Klippan)
Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names

Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names

Bookcase ranges: Occupations

Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays

You have to read the whole list. Quite a nice blog on naming and branding overall.

(Sorry, by the way, for the radio silence. And happy new year.)

Notes on laryngitis

As some of you know, I have been without much of a voice since Friday afternoon. At that point I thought I was getting over last week’s cold, but I started losing my voice during a late-afternoon meeting and it just got worse from there. At some point over the weekend it became clear that my cold had morphed into one of the disgusting sinus infections I get at least once a year, with evil bacteria marching south to my irritated vocal cords.

That’s really how it feels — like an invading army has occupied the seat of my voice — despite my agreement in theory with Sontag that these martial metaphors for disease serve us poorly. I think it is fair to say that we guys tend to think of our identity as being tied up in certain body parts, and as much as I may fall prey to this phallic fallacy myself from time to time this incident has made me painfully aware of just how much my identity is invested in my voice. To a surprising extent, I am my larynx.

While I am a decent writer, it is clear to me that I’m a better talker, or at least that my gift for gab is the one I use to greater effect. My work in PR means that I talk for a living — less so than for a newscaster, but probably more than most of my friends. Being voiceless makes it impossible for me to counsel my clients, rally my team or share my ideas. It was a wake-up call to realize that despite my prodigious production of emails, memos and PowerPoint decks, most of my real business value inheres in my voice. Likewise at home, I’m the talkative one happily married to a man of few words. Not being able to talk to David made me feel like I was somehow angry at him, giving the silent treatment. I’m the master conversationalist, social caller, the planner of events, the maker of reservations. Just not right now. In a profound sense, being voiceless has made me feel impotent.

I spent the weekend in near-total silence. It was bad enough that I resorted to using the “text to speech” function on my Mac to talk to David, which led him to call me Mr. Hawkings. The few times I did have to talk to someone — ordering coffee, getting my hair cut at Rudy’s — my interlocutors looked stricken, as if they were unsure whether this were a temporary problem or a more permanent muteness, and that either might be catching. It was deeply strange for me, a jabberjaw virtually from birth, to be so conspicuously quiet.

It seemed like resting my vocal cords had helped, so I went into the office yesterday. That was a huge mistake. Even people who knew it was painful for me to talk couldn’t help it — they needed things out of me, and despite all our electronica sometimes an IM doesn’t always cut it. Talking was not just painful, it was exhausting. I decided, wisely, to cancel a two-day trip to Chicago for some meetings — realizing that not only would the travel probably make me sicker, it just made no sense to go to a meeting where I would be unlikely to be able to speak. Worst of all there would have been no way to keep up my two-tea-an-hour consumption habit. There are only so many times you can leave a meeting to pee and refill your tea.

On the way home last night I picked up some prescriptions designed to give me my voice back. They seem to be working, but slowly. I was  listless last night, but as soon as I went to bed I set to painful coughing and couldn’t even apologize properly to David for waking him up as I tossed and turned. Today I slept in, deep in a codeine cocoon, listened in mutely on a conference call and reviewed a few documents in a desultory fashion. I’m really ready to be talking again; whether those around me are enjoying their vacation from my voice remains to be seen. But in any case, I’m looking forward to the end of my own private quiet period, the longest no doubt since I starting speaking before my first birthday. And I will return to the land of the speaking with a newfound respect for the tone, timbre and power of my voice.