On managing up, and being managed up to

Paul Ford is great on the nature of digital management. Did I blog this already? I can’t remember. Maybe I’m just reverting to digital comfort food. But still! You dance as fast and as best as you can, and hopefully you’re a decent dancer.

Sometimes the right thing to do is keep going and figure it out later and sometimes the right thing to do is just chill out and wait for the next steps to come into focus, because anything you do will be wasted work. And it’s a coin flip, really. Pure instinct. Meanwhile, we’re in a project-based environment, where leadership means delivering work on time. As a result, my instincts, liberally shared, are basically guaranteed to drive everyone who works with me bananacakes. But my instincts are also pretty good.

Always reviving

Loved this Tom Moon piece for NPR about CCR, my first favorite band. Discovering my dad’s copy of the Creedence Gold LP in the basement early in high school was pivotal. Then making Chronicle one of my first compact discs, then I may have written an essay about Green River for sophomore year English class. Anyway…

Lots of acts managed a long string of hits. Very few were able to thread that string into a coherent and sustained evocation the way Creedence Clearwater Revival did. The songs offered scenes of placid rural life far from the purview of most pop – peering into shadowy swamps and bayous populated with all manner of creatures, characters with deep flaws and big hearts. Fogerty told Musician magazine’s Paul Zollo in 1997 that his breakthrough in that regard came late at night, during a period when he was struggling with insomnia.

“I was probably delirious from lack of sleep. I remember that I thought it would be cool if these songs cross-referenced each other. Once I was doing that, I realized that I was kind of working on a mythical place.”

Out of that place came a series of deceptively simple songs that stand alongside the works of Mark Twain and William Faulkner – musical-literary inventions that conjure the idyllic waters and mists and wildness of a remote America, and in the process, reveal clues about the whole country’s soul.

The article came late this summer with the release – the first release ever (long story, but Moon summarizes it well) – of Creedence’s set at Woodstock. Some of the reviews out there say the band sounds more aggressive and live than they do on their previous live material, and I couldn’t agree more. The earlier sets show how tight CCR was as a band – they’re clearly live but sound so close to the album versions. Here at Woodstock, you can feel that talent but also hear live fire.

A paragraph that makes my day

Grammar and language rules are important, for sure. Learning to draw sentence diagrams and comprehend the brutalist Links structure rules are benefits for me to this day. But learning to move beyond them has been just as valuable. I always like the Gaslight Anthem line about “danc[ing] upon the architecture,” and I’m happy to see so many people begin to do as much with language, digitally. Like the rest of them, I’m still working on the evolution. But what a joy!

From a terrific Times essay, I love this paragraph about how digital is changing the way we write:

“In other words, we’ve been learning to write in ways that communicate our tone of voice, not just our mastery of rules. We’ve been learning to see writing not as a way of asserting our intellectual superiority, but as a way of listening to one another better. We’ve been learning to write not for power, but for love.”

The downside of close attention

A personal goal at work the last few years has been to become less reactive, less surprised, to take events in stride, to let the water roll off my wet duck back. With occasional exceptions, this approach has been helpful. When an exception does happen, I find I’m meta-surprised: surprised about the surprise.

So, it was nice consolation recently to read last year’s New Yorker profile of mentalist Derren Brown – a professional surpriser of audiences and (most awesomely) a subsequent explainer of those surprises to those audiences – and find even he’s still working through similar issues. After writing a book on Stoicism, he felt initially prepared when a seven-year relationship ended:

“The breakup was relatively amicable and light and easy,” Brown said. “And I remember feeling quite proud that I’d dealt with it all extremely well.” A few months later, though, when a guy he’d met on Tinder broke things off, Brown, as he put it, “totally went to pieces.”

For a long time, he remained puzzled by his reaction. “I fell apart over the little breakup that followed the big breakup, totally out of proportion to what it was—a decidedly un-Stoic response,” he said. “But I’ve thought about it since, and it makes sense. It’s the bit that takes you by surprise when you’ve dealt with this thing over here and put all your attention on that, and then something else sneaks in from the outside.”

‘And if you need company for the long, lonely miles, try these’

I loved this post from Boyhowdy of Cover Lay Down about taking care of his aging and ailing father. The short essay is quiet and powerful, and of course the selections of songs he suggests for such roads in life are perfect.

Here are a couple of my favorite covers from the list, for obvious biases, and I’ll stream equivalents from YouTube to avoid stealing the blog’s bandwidth:

‘Plain Plate of Noodles’

It would be difficult to write a song that captures my childhood food life more than this one. Efforts from my parents and various significant others eventually worked. These days I eat everything. Even, when fatherhood demands it, my lifelong enemy, peanut butter. But for many years I was the boy in this song. And I still like a plain plate of noodles with a little bit of butter, and lots and lots of cheese.

I’ve always loved this picture of our dog (and loved this dog)

From two years ago and change, before the baby arrived and later the bookstore closed, when Shadow was a bookstore dog.

He remains deeply soulful.


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There’s not a lot of money in the used book business but we love what we do and we get by. We’re grateful to our neighbors and our customers (especially when they are one & the same) for buying just enough books to have kept us here another year. 📚We’re proud to be a part of a community that strives to be healthy, whole and honest. Not everyone gets to be a part of that. And it turns out that it can be fragile. For the month of October, we will be giving away 20% of our income — half to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation & half to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, to a community where we’ve never been — but where it might do some good. (Pictured: Shadow, a rescue dog adopted from Puerto Rico in July 🇵🇷, now a part-time staff member at Riverby.) #puertorico #bookstagram #usedbookstore #thehillishome #capitolhilldc

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Two obituaries of note

I don’t blog obituaries as much as I used to. The L.A. Times really had me going for a while. They can be such art! But then the Times fell off. But now the Times is back! But now I have less time to find their and others’ best obit work.

So, let me explain about these two.

First, there was a man in our neighborhood who used to walk two beautiful huskies. The manes, the eyes, the discipline, these dogs were like heroes.

Our dog, Shadow, whose only dream is to run to every other dog he sees, as fast as he can, with as much happiness barking out as he can, he is a different kind of dog. Love trumps discipline. When he would see these two beautiful huskies, he would break out in barking, straining at the leash, growling for escaping, making a fool of himself and his people. The huskies’ person, meanwhile, he would say something that neither Lori nor I could ever make out over Shadow’s frenzy.

“It’s no problem”? “Your dog is crazy”? Which one?

We stopped seeing the owner and his dogs last winter and soon after were sad to learned the owner had passed away. I was glad to see his obituary mentioned his love for his amazing dogs. I didn’t know what had happened to the two of them until recently. According to another neighbor, they went to a relative in Texas.

I hope they’re happy and still proud.

The second obituary was from 16 years ago. The publication of the late John McNamara’s “The Capital of Basketball: A History of DC Area High School Hoops” made me think of my seventh- and eighth-grade basketball coach, Bo Wright. He ran a city rec league that nurtured tons of talent, and I imagine he’s mentioned somewhere in McNamara’s book – or lurking somewhere near the margins.

Bo asked for hustle from his players and gave us all kinds of encouragement and praise in return, and he made sure we went as a team to church (and McDonald’s afterward) once or twice as season. He loved his wife Doris and UNC basketball so much. He died in 2003. I had no idea about much of what his obit mentioned.

“In 1944, Mr. Wright joined the D.C. Department of Recreation, where he spent the next 36 years teaching woodshop, macrame and sports at city playgrounds and community centers. He organized and ran weekly bowling programs for severely disabled children at the old Military Road School, volunteered with the city’s Special Olympics and helped form the Retarded Citizens Group, which he directed for 24 years until his retirement in 1980.”

A quick update on baby names

(A sad, terrible update.)

Last I checked the numbers, in May 2017, the Social Security Administration’s baby name data reported Patrick had fallen to 170th among boys, the name’s worst showing ever (or at least since 1900 when the data became semi-reliable).

Things have only gotten worse. The 2017 was not much more troubling, 171st place, but the name fell off a cliff in 2018, to 189th. The 18-position drop was the name’s largest ever. So sad. Is there no floor? No foundation under this house?

Boy names more popular than Patrick in 2018 included Richard, Zayden, Dean, Elliott, Rhett, Jasper, Maddox, Rowan, Bentley, Leonardo, and… Maverick (#73).

I regret to inform you that in 2018 we didn’t even name our own boy Patrick. I had a perfectly good chance to begin the comeback, and I blew it. I’m sorry.

(We did, however, hit two of the decade’s trends.)