Someday, I’d like to be a 100-year-old Northwestern alum

From the class notes in the latest issue of the NU alumni magazine:

Water H. Sobel (McC34) of Wilmette, Ill., celebrated his 100th birthday with family and friends on July 27. He survived a kamikaze attack aboard the USS New Mexico during World War II. A former architect who lives in a Frank Lloyd Wright home, Sobel designed synagogues and other landmarks on the North Shore. He closed his downtown office in 2003. Sobel and his wife, Betty, raised five children in Wilmette. She died in 1997.

And then:

Helen Froelich Holt (WCAS34, G38) of Boca Raton, Fla., celebrated her 100th birthday in August. She was West Virginia’s first female secretary of state, serving from 1957 to 1959. In May 2013 West Virginia University awarded her an honorary doctorate. Holt graduated from Northwestern with a degree in zoology and started her career as a teacher. When her husband, Rush Holt Sr., a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, died in 1955, she filled his empty seat, serving from 1955 to 1957. In 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Holt to spearhead the Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance program. She was reappointed by six presidents and retired in 1983. Her son, Rush Holt Jr., has served in Congress since 1998.

On the same page are a pair of 98-year-old men, friends since Evanston.


SXSW was a trip


I only spent two days at SXSW Interactive. It felt like two weeks. Don’t me wrong, I had a good time. Both NPR events were terrific, and I enjoyed my panel. But the conference puts miles on an introvert. A friend noticed my Instagrams from Austin were all escapist in nature, and she was spot on.

The panel: Digital Engagement and the Conscious Consumer, alongside leaders at Participant Media, the Techmanity Conference and I talked about how NPR does non-commercial media and builds products for conscious consumers, mixing my current world and my 2009-ish world with Gannett’s entrance into the philanthropic space. Anyway, I got meet a bunch of cool, enthusiastic people after the panel as well. Some photos:

And here was the first of two NPR events, #Storied. Not pictured? An hour of catching up with good friend Laura. But friend Matt and I did hit the GIF photo booth. He did great hosting the the storytelling part of the night.


Outside the panel and the NPR events, life was a lot of wandering. The events were spread out and the marketers were on every street corner and temporarily running half the restaurants, it seemed. It was impossible to find any sessions or events if you hadn’t planned in advance to go to them. Friend Casey’s “Hucksters and hustlers: inside the hidden brand orgy of SXSW” for Verge was no exaggeration. Nor was the Onion’s “SXSW As Cool And As Real As It Gets, Reports Marketing Associate.” At one point, I gave Samsung my email address just to sit on a quiet porch outside a noisy spot they’d rented and meet up with a couple digital friends from home.

The entirety isn’t without its magic, though. To be swept up, briefly, in something so much bigger than yourself was exciting. Moments where I didn’t feel lost often felt invigorating. Poetry ran this Mary Mapes Dodge work as its poem of the day during the event, and it felt so apt. In full:

The moon came late to a lonesome bog,
And there sat Goggleky Gluck, the frog.
‘My stars!’ she cried, and veiled her face,
‘What very grand people they have in this place!’

So, here are my escapist Instagrams, starting and ending in Washington.

Yo, narrative, we did it

I’ve always been a big fan of all the Rocky movies, but I’ve pretty skeptical of the new Balboa musical coming to Broadway. When the guy has a great line about how he can’t sing or dance, I find that line hard to work around.

So, it’s with some surprise that I can’t get enough of the New Yorker story recently about how the musical is coming to life. The focus of the article is the choreography in the show, not the songwriting, and that choice helps. The central question is terrific: How do you stage a live, extended boxing match, have it seem real to a big audience and do it every single night?

The article is behind the magazine’s paywall, but here’s my favorite part. The focus of much of the piece is on choreographer Steven Hoggett.  The first paragraph is good. The second is great. As talented as we are, we can only invent so much of any work. We have to look for the superstructures. What a cold, industrious word! We have to look for life’s greater frames. Others may create them. Or they may be natural contexts or momentary emotions. The frames are beyond our creating but not past our grasping.

This, when you can’t sing or dance, is an important possibility.

While Apollo and Rocky are punching each other, they have to continue acting. Prior to the fight, Hoggett says, “you’ve had an hour and forty minutes of watching a character, Rocky. Now when he steps into the ring, we need to follow that character through to the end.” He added, “So, I’ve got to pick up every storytelling device we’ve used — song, staging, text, acting, the whole thing — and make sure Andy [Karl, playing Rocky] takes those elements and moves them forward rather than just treating the episode as  a boxing event. It’s actually a character arc, for him and for Apollo.”

Hoggett believes that the only medium in which he’s truly happy is a physical narrative: “I don’t really have a skill set to make work based on just an aesthetic. And technique is something that I can see, but I woudn’t know how to put any two purely technical moves together. I always want a story.”

5 songs that made my day last week, which was quite a week

Free ft. Emile Sande, Rudimental.

Lucinda Williams, Something About What Happens When We Talk.

Beyonce, Get Me Bodied. On the place back from SXSW, I watched The Kings of Summer (enjoyed it more than I thought) and a beat heard briefly during one scene made me think of this song. The beat turned out to be a different song. But still. I’d argue songs can make your day by mistaken identity.

The 1975, Chocolate.

Marah, Sing! O Muse of the Mountain, live at Jammin Java.

Imagining the great ‘pleasures and perils of independence’

Jenni Quilter, quoting John Ashbery, on painter Jane Freilicher:

“After the early period of absorbing influences from the art and other things going on around one comes a period of consolidation where one locks the door in order to sort out what one has and to make of it what one was.” It is a “question,” he wrote, “of conserving and using one has acquired,” of “having to live with the pleasures and perils of independence.”

I read these sentences and was lost for probably been 15 minutes.

This is one of the battles every day, you know? Not THE battle. But one of them. The one that comprises flight AND fight and makes leaps of faith so scary. We’re surrounded by more ideas than ever. When to break free? To break ahead? Or, more perilously, to break and fall back to go another way.

Read “Telettrofono” by Mattea Harvey. Innovation and hope and sadness and poetry and vivid past that got me lost afterward for 15 minutes more.

Five poems that remind us the current is not the permanent

Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun: ”In the first part of my life with Sotatsu, he lived in a cell in a jail where the sun came south through the window on an avenue all its own where it was forced to stoop and stoop again until when it arrived at its little house it was hardly the sun at all, just a shabby old woman. Yet we were always looking for her, this sun, when she would come, always eager to have her meager presents, her thin delineations.”

Robert Frost,  writing a letter in 1913: “The best place to get the abstract sound of sense is from voices behind a door that cuts off the words.”

These two quotes are the only two reasons I’ve dog-eared pages recently. The first is from late in this story, and the second is from late in this one.

I haven’t been focusing as much as I’d like. I’ve been working or packing all the time recently, one or the other. I’m getting ready to move, and tasks at the other end of the apartment are always calling, no matter at which end I may be. Work is kind of the same. These poems have broken through a bit and directed my focus outward, at least for short periods of time. Yes, they deserve better. They throw me off kilter in a way both scary and hopeful.

Son of Fog,” Dean Young.  Makes me think of being in San Francisco two or some  years ago, staring into a foggy cove and having no idea where life would go next. “What a mess. We stand at the edge / of a drop that doesn’t answer back,  / fog our only friend although it’s hell  / on shrimpboats.”

From “The Sonnagrams,” K. Silem Mohammad. He puts a Shakespearean sonnet into an anagram engine, then rearranges the text until it makes some sense again. I feel this way at the end of almost every week these days. Productive but scrambled. “A purple fist, a Federalist, a sunspot, / A bird that’s got a big big butt to study, / A guy named Toots, ten dumb galoots, a gunshot, / Die Fledermaus by good ol’ Strauss (my buddy)….”

You’re,” Sylvia Palth. For Plath, happiness looking at her baby before her eventual final sadness. “Clownlike, happiest on your hands, / Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled, / Gilled like a fish.” And then we flip the journey…

Epilogue,” Robert Lowell. Starts with sadness, ends with a higher calling, within sight of happiness? In life, sadness haunted him, but he never gave in.  ”Pray for the grace of accuracy / Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination / stealing like the tide across a map / to his girl solid with yearning.”

Song,” John Fuller. Naturalism of the face. ”You don’t listen to what I say.  / When I lean towards you in the car / You simply smile and turn away.” A lover? God? Life? Take your pick, your perspective. Take the smile, at least.

The glory of our evolving taste buds, the return of food exiles

Here’s maybe the perfect example of a story you didn’t know you wanted to read until the story arrived and was wonderful: “A Taste You Hate? Just Wait” by Frank Bruni,  in The New York Times a week ago, via friend Josh.

Are there really foods that we don’t like, or just foods that we haven’t liked yet? And are we cheating ourselves as we ceaselessly expand our culinary horizons with new tastes by not circling back to old ones? I increasingly suspect that the greatest pleasures-in-waiting aren’t in some foreign land or fringe neighborhood. They’re right in front of us, if only we’d be adventurous enough to give the ingredients we’ve exiled a chance to return to our plates.

Of all the foods he mentions, so many are in my life former exiles and now friends. Beets, oysters, mushrooms, sushi, Brussels sprouts, crab, broccoli.

Coconut water still doesn’t do much for me. I can’t say I’m dying to try bull testicles or the other sweetbreads. But most of this story is my story with food. I have open in another browser tab right now a menu my local BBQ place, Rocklands, is cooking this week: muskrat, catfish, beaver, gizzards.

A picky eater for so long (apologies to my family and close college friends), I have to catch up for lost time. But what’s most exciting to me about this article is the reminder of how tastes keep expanding. I already feel like the last decade has set me free, food-wise. What can the next decades bring?

It’s great personal heresy to say so, but I’m looking at you, peanut butter.

Videos: Springsteen’s best/most unexpected covers down under

Counting down…

5. Auckland, New Zealand. Opening with a cover of Lorde’s Royals. Count this as most unexpected, not best. Great, adventurous idea. Okie-style, though, was not the right choice. But let’s get more experiments like this.

4. Sydney, Australia. Covering INXS, getting loud — Don’t Change.

3. Adelaide, Australia. Highway to Hell opening.

2. Brisbane, Australia. Opening with Stayin’ Alive (yes, that one), turning out so much better than expected, into It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City.

1. Hunter Valley, Australia. Opening with an awesome 10-minute version of Spill the Wine. Here’s the official video, which is great, except for in how it makes Seeds, the show’s fourth song, appear to be the second song. Just bizarre. It’s nothing new if you’ve heard the sources of the Live ’75-’85 box set, but I thought we’d left that weirdness behind us. Still… spill the wine.

Chasing randomness and form