Mitch's Origin Story

There once was a mean little boy named Mitch. His body was full of bad little particles. He would dunk over all of the kids in his class, and he would laugh in their small ugly faces.

One day, he dunked over Radiation Boy, and Radiation Boy cried and cried because he had been owned at basketball. He cried alpha particles, beta particles (electrons), and gamma rays. Much radiation came spilling out of his body and into the body of Mitch.

These radioactive particles fixed on to all the bad little particles that were floating around inside of the young boy, Mitch. They made the bad particles so heavy that they sank down from his head, through his neck, past his torso and groin, down through his legs, and into his feet. They went through his ankles, past his heels, along his metatarsals, through his phalanges, until, finally, they all collected in his toenails. There was no more badness in the rest of his body.

That's how Mitch came to be a great guy with awful toenails.


Other Ways of Doing Things

I gave this lecture to Mitch in the kitchen. In person, you can see me do this little shuffle, walking-around thing that you can't via blog post. Stay with me, though. I'll try to make up for it.

I've been watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries! It's a webseries. The first episode is the YouTube video above. It's an adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The main character, Lizzie Bennet (Elizabeth Bennet in the original), is a modern-day 20-something in grad school who is keeping a video blog.

It's pretty fantastic story-telling. I cried during many of the 70s episodes. (There are 100 total in the main storyline.) But aside from that, three of its aspects were relevant in my kitchen-lecture to Mitch. 1) it's in a new medium (webseries). 2) It's a fictional work copying a non-fictional format (vlogging). 3) Other people weren't making stuff like this before.

I elaborate:

1) The setup is cheap: people who make vlogs - video diaries of their lives - don't have a lot of money to work with since they are one person casually posting for the internet. Since this is the form the series is fictionalizing, it means that they get away with having a stationary camera, few characters, and obvious exposition.

2) Its premise is close to a non-fiction reality. Unlike TV shows or other webseries, it's not trying to make its audience feels as if they are in the room with Lizzie Bennet. They're just asking you to pretend she's a real person talking to you, the internet. It's much closer to reality - less of a stretch - making what happens in it feel more real, more intimate. At times in the story, I felt like I was intruding, like "shouldn't these people turn off the camera and talk about this in private?"

3) These days it doesn't take a huge budget or any sort of permission to make something TV-like. It's an exciting reality, but it takes more than just the possibility to make it happen - it takes an idea.

(Lecture Time!)

I feel like, in life, people are looking for other people to tell them what to do. It's not our fault, really, that it happens this way. We're started off going to school, one level leading to the next. Structure. Structure. Structure. And then there are cultural/social life benchmarks we find out about: driving, dating, marriage, children, home ownership, retirement. We all shuffle through life in a line, following the person in front of us.

The crazy thing, though, is that there are a bizillion possibilities in life. But in practice, we only have as many options as we realize we have. (idea = an option realized) That's why I'm so impressed with the creators of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. They veered out of the shuffle line. They saw an alternative means of creating something and took it. Because they did, I also realize that it can be a way of doing things, an option in life.

Art makes the world bigger, folks. It gives us some more options.

(For more, here's a link to a Nerdist Writers Panel interview with the LBD creators. Good stuff.)


This is Not a Church, the Art of Roger Ballen

When Mitch and I were in Copenhagen, we came across a church building with a large vertical banner that read, "This is Not a Church." So, naturally, we went inside.

It was an art gallery featuring the American photographer, Roger Ballen. It cost some money to get in, but it was in Danish krone so nobody could tell how much.

Ballen has lived in Johannesburg since the 1970s, and has taken pictures of some of the poverty there. His early work has more of a documentary feel, something like what you'd find in National Geographic. Of those early photographs, this one stood out to me. 

Man Shaving on a Verandah
I love this type of photo. I grew up tracing ones like it in my parents's National Geographic coffee-table books. In such photographs, the dirt makes the walls more interesting. The weathered skin and hardened eyes of the subjects tell stories of suffering. There's more individuality in photos like that than in ones of boring rich people. 

The problem is that there's a voyeurism to taking or looking at these photos. I, with money, am able to look into your little-money life through this fancy coffee table book. It's an issue. Imaginary tourism to underprivileged classes. 

Ballen's later work does something about this. 

Sick Room

He fictionalizes the work. He sets up scenes. He lets the subjects become actors. He turns the photo around to where the joke is on the audience.

The photos are much more uncomfortable - or even scary - to look at. When I was looking at them, I felt like Ballen was solving something. And while the images were interesting and even beautiful, I felt, rightly, that I would not like to live there.


My Home Town Is Flooding Right Now



I was Skyping with my dad when he showed this to me. He shared with me some thoughts on the flooding: "It's getting bad. People are dying."


3 Things That Were At Least Funny When We Talked About Them

1. Outdoor Preschool

Mitch and I were in Sweden visiting Brittany and Zach, some friends from college. Brittany took us to this gorgeous and huge park in Malm√∂. 

Parts of the park are so forested that it's easy to forget you're in the heart of a major city. In one of these areas is a preschool, a year-round outdoor preschool. There is no building. The kids stay inside a perimeter of sticks, wear bright yellow vests so that they're visible in case they run away, and sleep on crates during nap time. It's one of the hardest preschools in the city to get your kids into. It reminds me of a child-care scheme I would have come up with when I was five and day dreaming in the woods. See these sticks? They're actually walls. 

And the last bit is that I don't know how that preschool can be so hard to get your kid into. You just plunk them down on the other side of the sticks and run away. 

2. Water Rocket Man

Out my window at work I saw this guy wearing water-rocket boots on Lake Michigan.

What at first seemed to be a cool thing out my window, rapidly turned into a story about loneliness and dorkdom the more I thought about it. This guy was out there for hours (two days in a row), tooling around with his little jet ski behind him, looking down on the people hanging out with their friends on boats. At best he had a wife or girlfriend reading a book on the beach while he spent his day alone on a ten-foot water platform. 

There are easier ways to get laid, man. 

3. 9/11, Personal Holiday 

My friend Lisa was relaying a story that her mom told her. Her mom got in trouble about explaining something... in class. I wish I could remember it. But the parents who called up to complain also don't let their second grade daughter go to school on September 11th because they're worried that she'll find out about the terrorist attacks. I asked whether the girl got December 7th off, too, or maybe April 15th in case the girl found out that Lincoln was assassinated. Not sending her to school on the anniversaries of terrible events might keep her home full time. And it'll come as a bit of a shock when the girl eventually discovers that 9/11 isn't just her special holiday. 

We concluded that the upside of the story was that if the girl doesn't know about the attacks at least she'll never forget.*

*That last story comes across a bit harsher in writing than in conversation. Let me know if you think I'm being the worst. 


The Bridge!

Something cool about Mitch's and my trip to Sweden was that we started watching the Swedish TV show, The Bridge, a crime drama set in both Malm√∂, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark, when we were there. We crossed back and forth across the bridge in question as we went from Copenhagen to friends', Zach and Brittany's, apartment in Lund. 

I was so excited that I took pictures of the bridge every chance I got. Here are some of the results. 

The Bridge!

The Bridge!

Look, The Bridge!


Mitch in Search of Ice

Regarding this story, I keep asking Mitch, "Are you sure you don't want to put this on your blog?" He keeps saying "no". I think he might be turning his nose up at the occasionally maintained blog. Huh.

So anyway, I'm taking it. Sux to be you, Mitchies!

We took an overnight ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen. I was grumpy again because the boat was this gigantic party boat with a lot of old people, and what I really wanted from my travel time was some quiet and a book. (I'm working on my application to the Lamest Travel Companion Society, so.)

I was reading in the cabin, making myself feel sick to the pitch and roll of the North Sea, and Mitch slipped out to get us a surprise night cap. He got some Bailey's from the duty free store and asked the cashier if there was a place to get some ice.

"Ice? No, I'm afraid that is not very popular. You could go to the bar? No harm in asking."

Ice does nothing for Europeans.

Mitch walked to the bar, where they had ice, but he was thinking that they would make him pay for a cup of it.

Mitch: "Hi, I have kind of a weird request. My wife has hit her head on the on the bed and she has a bump. She asked me to get her a cup of ice to put on it. We have a bag we can put it in."

Bartender: "Oh! Is she okay? I can call for medical attention."

Mitch: "Yes, yes. She just wants a cup of ice."

Bartender: "Since you've brought it to my attention, I need to report it. I can call for help. They will bring her ice."

Mitch started walking away, saying, "Don't worry, I'll go tell them. I'll go to the desk."

We didn't drink our Bailey's that night. Having it warm would not be the same. I'm sipping on it now at Zach and Brittany's apartment, and like good Americans, they've provided me with ice.

Grumpy Iceland Post

“You’re not in Florida anymore. Ha ha ha.” Said the guy at customs. This was long over-due information seeing that the last time I was in Florida was eighth grade. But Chicago had been 95 degrees- practically Floridian – and so I stepped off the plane in Keflavik wearing running shorts. The outfit, a bit inappropriate in Boston, was insane in the Icelandic wind and rain. It was 5 degrees out, not that numbers meant anything anymore. Prices were in ISK, degrees were in Celsius, distances in kilometers, even time was on a 24-hour clock. I wasn’t sure what day it was. 

We were supposed to get into Iceland on the morning of Thursday, the 29th. Instead we got there that evening? Friday evening? A delayed flight out of O’Hare meant a missed connection in Boston, which meant a night in Boston, which meant another missed flight out of Keflavik, and an unintended night in Iceland.

When we stepped off the airplane in Iceland, though, none of that mattered. Not the lost time, not the confusion over numbers, not the howling wind and rain. Two words in neon lights pushed all this from my mind: Duty Free. A grocery store spread out before me, a grocery store that sold only candy, electronics, and booze in massive quantities. Swedish chocolates, liqueurs marinating birch twigs, pallets of beer, plug adaptors. And all in prices I couldn’t understand. This was going to be great.

We got a six-pack of tall boy cans of Gull beer, a giant Lindt chocolate bar (giant), some peanut m&m’s, a little thing of vodka and one of whiskey.

The last duffle in the baggage claim went around three times before we left it empty handed. I could have used some pants. I was on the second day of wearing my t-shirt and short shorts, and the dress of the people in the airport resembled an REI commercial. Rain jackets, pants, boots, fishing tackle, climbing gear, bike seats, Nate Swenson! (Not all those last things. I mean to say that they were dressed warmly and high-tech.)

I wanted to find out if they sold pants in the airport, but while everybody, it seemed, spoke excellent English, I wasn’t sure if they spoke British or American. I was concerned that they’d think I was in need of some new underwear (underwear, how embarrassing!), and I didn’t think I could pull off asking for trousers.
The airport hotel was within walking distance. Midnight, it was lit up in the wind and rain.

I realized that sitting on the hotel bed, drinking copious amounts of warm beer, and eating large amounts of chocolate wasn’t the great activity I thought it would be. They don’t even have Netflix. Why do I go anywhere?

Today (days later), Kyle saw us off on the ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen. We talked about when we were going to see each other next. Maybe we could go on a trip together? “How about Iceland?” he suggested.

No. Not Iceland. Not unless pants and Netflix.