Life in Arizona (briefly)

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Went to Phoenix for the first time last week, for the annual Public Radio Program Directors conference, also a first for me. The weather was luckily cloudy, but I got the dry heat thing. It’s their way of saying, “It doesn’t feel as hot as Washington.” (Power to the swamp people.) There were all kinds of interesting people at the conference, including some with cool projects and some with cool owls. I spent less than 48 hours in the city but would like to come back sometime for more food.

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My wife, the baby

Last spring, thieves took Lori’s wallet at work. A woman in Takoma Park eventually found the wallet (minus all the good stuff), got in touch with Lori and met up with her this week to give it back. Said the woman to Lori upon meeting, “Oh my God, you’re a baby!”

Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday. And it’s true.

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The week was full of fun. From Jenny Lewis at the Lincoln Theater…

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To Sense and Sensibility at the Folger…

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To dinner at Rose’s Luxury (see the pastas above!)…

To an extra-innings win at Camden Yards with the Grishams.

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Three poems for early fall as days start to get shorter

The God Who Loves You,” by Carl Dennis. The poem is about God until you discover the poem is about our perception of God amid our thoughts and worries. Or so I think.

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.

Chicago,” by Carl Sandburg. So brutal, so alive. “Hog Butcher for the World,” begins Sandburg’s address to the city, his muse. “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.”

For the Chipmunk in My Yard,” by Robert Gibb. A squirrel who guessed wrong nearly landed on Lori’s head from a great height the other day, and I’ve enjoyed paying more attention to tree creatures since then. Gibb outdoes me.

The best airline safety video I’ve seen in a while

I’ve done a bunch of flying in the past three weeks, and United’s safety-video collaboration with Olympics athletes takes the cake (at least back to when Virgin America did its winning videos ago). The United video keeps your attention and makes you feel good about country, safety and sports at the same time.

The best moment, of many good moments, is this one:

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‘A little bit uncomfortable’

This fall’s Style Issue of The New Yorker wowed me in a few ways, one of which was a profile of Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele. Not only is Michele’s work in colors astounding, but he’s more humble, thoughtful and human than you might expect a global fashion leader to be.

At one point, Michele calls the cupola and oculus of the Pantheon “like a big mother.” He says: “It hugs you, with the light inside. It is a very animistic idea of God. Sometimes when you get inside there you want to cry.” But my favorite quote from Michele is a little more strange, and explains well why the Style Issue each year is always so fascinating to me:

If you think about art, art is about being made a little bit uncomfortable. When you are a kid, you always want to be in touch with something that makes you feel not comfortable. I have a machine from the seventeen-hundreds to make curly hair. You put the tip of it in the fire, and you can travel with it. It is very like a torture object. But when my nephews arrive at my apartment, they say, ‘Please, can we see the machine to make curly hair?’ There is something about discovering different things—things that make you feel curious and uncomfortable—that is very human.

The same issue offers a Ian Frazier meditation on the color of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a beautiful piece and goes to show how much detail and meaning sit under all we see. “That elusive, flickering, familiar, sea-polished shade of copper-green got into my head last year when I was standing on the roof of an apartment building in the Bronx….”

Making Daniel Pinkwater happy makes me happy

My random discovery of the week was finding Pinkwater.com, the closest Daniel Pinkwater has to an official web presence, had posted happily last year about the new story archive pages my team had built on NPR.org. Here’s Pinkwater’s.

Pinkwater was one of my favorite authors in childhood — proudly imaginative to well past the point of weirdness and always kid-first. So, last week’s discovery sent me down a Google hole of what was new with Pinkwater. Somehow he had a podcast! He was on Twitter! His work led to a fun little standardized test controversy in 2012. And with his history of cameos on the program, he said nice things about Car Talk‘s Tom Magliozzi when Magliozzi died in 2014.

Meanwhile, Forward did a terrific profile of him that year:

Daniel Pinkwater, 72, is a onetime Fumetti model, an art therapy school dropout, a former Zen Buddhist, a former cult member, a former NPR commentator, a former sculptor, the alleged destructor of Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! Magazine, a gentleman farmer, a decent chess player, a bad minder of friends’ girlfriends, a surrealist, a bohemian, and an old schoolmate of Errol Flynn’s son. He looks like a bald Allan Sherman, if that means anything to you. (It doesn’t mean much to him. “I do remember Alan Sherman. Mildly amusing,” he told me.) His father was a Jewish gangster from Warsaw, about his mother he has mostly bad things to say, his wife Jill Pinkwater is a writer, and he has the greatest radio voice you’ve ever heard, Carl Kasell included.

When Pinkwater hears of the writer’s interest in a profile and calls for the first time, he says, “My profile is practically spherical. From all angles, it’s round.”

Digital’s greatest danger

In the Sunday Long Read newsletter this week, there’s a doozy from Andrew Sullivan, writing in New York Magazine about the danger of the digital age. It’s not about automation, violence, sex, trolls, or the environment. Instead, it’s what bothers me the most about digital: “An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.” The essay is well worth your time.

That Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.

This changes us. It slowly removes — without our even noticing it — the very spaces where we can gain a footing in our minds and souls that is not captive to constant pressures or desires or duties. And the smartphone has all but banished them. Thoreau issued his jeremiad against those pressures more than a century ago: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.”

Good Kay Ryan stuff

Sat down the other weekend and read her Niagara River collection. At the end of a long crazy week packed to the gills with five- and 10-minute tasks, and recent weeks have been that way more often than not, her writing continues to be a centering place for me. Focus wins, with care and dependency on every word.

Favorites from the book:

20 Springsteen shows

Lori made me a shirt to celebrate at Nats Park this week. The show was great. Three hours and forty-five minutes with terrific sound and a bunch of songs I’ve never been able to hear live before. New York City Serenade was amazing. Summertime Blues, Secret Garden, American Skin, a ferocious Because the Night, Lost in the Flood, Kitty’s Back, Trapped, I’m on Fire, and on and on and on.

Bosstime!

A photo posted by Patrick Cooper (@btrpkc) on

Baby’s 20th show. @btrpkc #bruuuuuce

A photo posted by Lori Grisham (@lorigrisham) on

The 20 shows + 1 cameo appearance:

  1. 9/1/1999. MCI Center. Washington, DC.
  2. 9/28/1999. United Center. Chicago, IL.
  3. 4/8/2000. Kiel Centre. St. Louis, MO.
  4. 8/10/2002. MCI Center. Washington, DC.
  5. 12/2/2002. Philips Arena. Atlanta, GA.
  6. 2/28/2003. Gwinnett Center. Duluth, GA.
  7. 9/13/2003. Fedex Field. Landover, MD.
  8. 10/11/2004. MCI Center. Washington, DC.
  9. 10/24/2005. Richmond Coliseum. Richmond, VA.
  10. 5/28/2006. Nissan Pavilion. Bristow, VA.
  11. 10/15/2007. Air Canada Centre. Toronto, Ontario.
  12. 11/12/2007. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  13. 5/18/2009. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  14. 11/2/2009. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  15. 1/18/2009. Lincoln Memorial. Washington, DC.
  16. 11/8/2009. Madison Square Garden. New York, NY.
  17. 12/9/2011. Guesting with Gaslight Anthem. Asbury Park, NJ.
  18. 4/1/2012. Verizon Center. Washington, DC
  19. 9/14/2012. Nationals Park. Washington, DC.
  20. 1/29/2015. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  21. 9/1/2016. Nationals Park. Washington, DC.