The Death of Shopping

Well, sort of.

My friend Chad recently invited me to join a service called Shop It To Me. The service is like a personal shopper, allowing you to select various brands of clothing and accessories you like. It generates a weekly (or biweekly) email that collects sale items at various retailers based on your preferences, turning them into clickable links in your email that take you right to the item's page.

I don't think it's an overshare to tell you I've already purchase 2 pairs of Calvin Klein underwear because it came right into my inbox. (If you want an invitation to Shop It to Me, let me know, because I get special credit for that!)

In a related observation, iTunes has totally stripped me of my desire to enter a music store. Not only can I directly download about 99% of what I'd want to buy, iTunes will be kind enough to alert me when artists I like or have previously purchased release something new. I use that all the time. iTunes also lets me "pre-order" new albums coming out--in actuality this is a dubious service because I generally get no tangible benefit by doing so (occasionally a pre-order only track, but rarely), except that iTunes will automatically download that album on its day of release so I don't have to try to remember to click it.

But I'm in the iTunes store every Tuesday anyway to flip through the new releases. To go a step further, the iTunes program itself now features the "Genius" app, which will generate playlists for me when I select just one song, picking and choosing other tracks that are "compatible" with my selection. It's a neat trick. Genius will also tell me (surprise, surprise) what other tracks I can buy by that artist in the iTunes store or (again) identify music I might like based on liking that one track or artist.

Amazon's been doing this with books for a long time, which I'm sure you all know. It's seeping into our culture all over the place--providing the highest levels of service that most retail workers are loathe to provide on a person-to-person basis. And let's face it: I'm a service-oriented person. I drive 6 miles out of my way to go to a grocery store where the employees look me in the eye and say hello, or answer my questions with words instead of gestures.

Shopping as we know it will radically change. I don't think this will ever replace the mall, but it will change how we think about the mall. As an oddly-shaped person (I prefer to think of myself a "unconventional": my lower chest is "medium" in width and "large" in length, while my shoulders, arms, and neck are "extra-large,"--or "unbelievably huge," as one of my friends called my neck recently), I'll always have to try things on before I buy. My waist is "medium" but my butt is "large." I'm also too cheap to tailor, so I grin and bear, or buy a whole bunch of stuff in every color when it fits.

All of this serves me, though, since I'm not a huge fan of leaving my house. Unless I'm pointed at the mall. In which case, heaven.


Success in the Barter Economy

My poet readers will agree that the barter system is one of our primary business transactions: we publish a poem, we get a copy of the journal; we publish a book, we get some free copies in lieu of an advance; we want to buy someone else's book, we offer to trade our own.

Although I do plunk down a good chunk of coin on book purchases, I prefer to barter for them for two reasons: first, my books do no good sitting on a shelf in my living room. I'd rather they be out in the world, in someone's hands--even if that means they're likely to end up on the shelf in a second-hand bookstore. Secondly, I know that the majority of my readers are other poets, and the best way to get to know other poets, as well as to stay current with what's happening, is to get and read as many books as possible.

I'm grateful to all the writers who've swapped books with me over the years. My library has steadily grown and I've grown too, courtesy of their work, the worlds they've evoked, their turns of phrase.

Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to trade some consulting work for free physical training. OMG! I jumped at it. I've always wanted a trainer but I am too cheap to part with the money for it. But it's easy for my workout routine to pleateau, so I'm eager to get someone else's expertise into my life in a way that's meaningful for both of us.

My boyfriend also uses the barter system in his own work, trading haircuts and product for Mona Via, airline tickets, "gourmet" candles, discounts at all sort of places and events. One of his clients even gave him her huge flat screen TV when she had to move out of state. Gave. In thanks for all his great work.

Are you drifting toward the barter system? How's it working for you? Please do not answer if you are a character from Requiem for a Dream.


Climatization and Other Mythologies of Change

When I was a teenager, I traveled to Eurpoe with a big tour group, bunch of other kids, some adults, etc. I was sort of "alone" on the trip, so I tried to be friendly with the other travelers. In the group were two guys my age from Texas, and I remember quizzing them constantly about what they were wearing.

In London, it was cold, wet, windy. Paris was much the same. In fact, I don't think it was until Italy that we had "summer-like" weather by Wisconsin terms. But my Texan companions wore shorts and a t-shirt everywhere they went. They kept explaining they were "climatized" by Texas's weather, but I thought that would mean they'd be cold everywhere. I didn't get it. And, to be honest, I thought they were liars.

This is my first winter since 2000. I can't say I was "eager" to have seasons because I like the obsessive consistency of daily sunshine and bearable temperatures. The only thing I ever liked about cold weather was dressing for it: wool! Flannel! Cordouroy! Rich and varied textures. (I feel the same way about linen in the summer.)

Now that winter has really set in here, I can tell you: I often think it's not really that cold.

Sure, when the wind blows, it's miserable. I hate it, and I freeze. But on a normal day when the temps are low and there's no wind, I'm fine. I can actually still feel the humidity in the air, and it's keeping me from getting cold.

Yesterday, Beau and I looked out the window and saw it snowing gently. It only lasted about five minutes, which is exactly the perfect amount of time for it to snow if it's going to. And just like that, it was gone.

I sense there's a metaphor there.


Are You the Key Master?

Today as I gathered up my things to leave work, I glanced at my keychain and noticed suddenly:

my car key was not there.

This presented a problem as I had driven to work, needed to drive home to feed Arden and go to a meeting, and was facing either a 30 minute commute or a 65 minute Metro ride. I barely had time for the former.

I did what you're supposed to do: I retraced steps, checked under things, felt up my pockets until they blushed. Then, I did the odd/unthinkable: went right to my car and tried to open the door.

It swung open. That morning when I took my key out of the ignition, I noticed my gym lock key sitting on the floor mat, but I just picked it up and put it back on, not noticing at the time my car key was also missing from the ring.

Because it was sitting there on the center console, all bare and stealable. And me with unlocked doors. Oh, how the gods smiled upon me today and saved my little xAnder (my Scion's Buffy-inspired name).

It reminded me of the only other time I've lost my car key. (There is another time an ex-boyfriend dropped my car key in the Salt River, but that's a story for another time when there are margaritas handy.) I woke up in Phoenix one morning and decided I wanted to go to the Circle K across the street from my complex.

But since it was Phoenix, I had to drive there.

You should know I'm the kind of person who never leaves the house without:
> Showering
> Deodorizing
> Doing the hair
> Putting on clean clothes

That day was a notable exception. I hadn't even brushed my teeth! I threw on a scuzzy hat, a tank top, and yes, even a pair of gym shorts (unspeakable!) and tooted on over to the Circle K. I was already so wrapped up in what kind of Frappuccino I'd get that I didn't notice myself lock the car, get out, and start to close the door. What snapped me from my reverie was the anomaly of hearing my radio play as the door closed. The air conditioning on full blast. The shy hum of the engine as it idled. And the sharp click of the door locking.

I spun out. Internally. But then I went in and bought my coffee, got change for the payphone, and called a locksmith.

Four hours, they said. Probably someone would be there by then. I died a little. Four hours, in public, in gym shorts! And flip flops. And a tank top. I might as well pole dance on the corner while I was at it.

The thought did cross my mind, followed quickly by another: Beau had spare keys to my place. Beau was working. So, I did what any sane person would do.

I willed myself to remember Beau's cell phone number, which I don't even know how I did since I don't know any phone numbers that don't belong to me.

And then I called him. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again, hanging up each time before his voice mail kicked in.

After approximately 300 calls he answered. "WHAT DO YOU WANT????"

I calmly explained that I was in an emergency situation involving gym shorts and a locked and running car and needed him to come home, get my spare car key from my apartment, and then unlock my car.

All of which he did in under 15 minutes. Because he is amazing. And he wasn't even annoyed with me after. He has the memory of a goldfish, I think sometimes. But God bless him for it.


Documentary of Embarrassment

My dad recently sent in all our old VHS and film home movies to a company that digitized them for use on DVD and the web. I had to walk him through how to create the DVDs last night, since he (nor I) have any patience for how-to videos and such (they move too slowly!). I went in and started tinkering.

The first set of clips I found were from a video "tour" of my hometown my best friend from high school and I made once, I think during one of my trips home from my first year of college.

It was mortifying. I watched about 30 seconds of it before I died of embarrassment and had to shut it off.

I told my father later, "I think it's some sort of crime of nature that memories of my 18-year-old self won't be allowed to fade into a mellow kind of comfort because all of the worst ones have been captured on video."

The experience reminded me of another quirky video-related thing I did around that time. A few friends and I, video cam in tow, started making a movie called Documentary of a Stranger. We went out into the wild outer ring suburbs of Milwaukee and interviewed Barnes and Noble customers mostly, but also a woman pumping her gas at SuperAmerica.

We'd introduce ourselves and explain we were doing a project for a college sociology thesis called, of course, Documentary of a Stranger. We were going to ask them a series of probing questions, we said, and we just wanted them to answer to their comfort level.

We'd introduce them on camera: "This is Not David." "This is Not Amanda."

The questions were always varied but tended to include:

The normal where-from/sisters-brothers type questions
What do you do for a living?
What three famous people would you most want to have dinner with?
Can you do any stupid human tricks?
If you were stranded on a desert island, which brand of pain reliever would you prefer?

What was fascinating was that most people couldn't wait to bust out their stupid human tricks. One girl walked with her knees bent, knees swinging in and out; another man touched his tongue to his nose.

Unfortunately, Documentary of a Stranger is lost--stolen, I think, but a college friend and then never returned.

It's lost, but not forgotten. Unfortunately.


Favorite Albums of 2008


Sara Bareilles, Little Voice
Sounds like: Linda Rondstadt singing the writings of Gloria Steinem
Best Tracks: "Love Song," "Bottle It Up," "Come Round Soon," "One Sweet Love"
Representative Lyrics: "There'll be girls across the nation that'll eat this up / babe, I know that it's your soul but could you bottle it up"
Notes: Blending traditional pop hooks and melodies with her husky, bluesy voice and piano plaing ranging from honky-tonk to plaintive, Bareilles crafted a fun, interesting, and unique debut album.


Keane, Perfect Symmetry
Sounds like:
Best Tracks: "Perfect Symmetry," "Spiralling," "Again and Again"
Representative Lyrics: "I choose this mortal life / lived in perfect symmetry / what I do / that will be done to me"
Notes: Keane's third album takes the sound of synth pop and incisive, socially critical lyrics and creates and album worth more than the sum of its parts. With the "golden rule" as its moral center, "Perfect Symmetry" examines our historical moment with foresight and concern, building an argument in which everyone is encouraged to stop, consider, and foster change.

Adele, 19
Sounds like: Pre-heroin Amy Winehouse or Petula Clark on downers
Best Tracks: "Melt My Heart to Stone," "Chasing Pavements," "Best for Last," "Cold Shoulder"
Representative Lyrics: "Then I hear your words that I made up / You say my name like there could be an 'us' / I best tidy up my head, I'm the only one / in love, I'm the only one in love" ("Melt My Heart to Stone")
Notes: Adele is the clear standout in the retro-soul crowd of singers. While Winehouse may have a great (yet inconsistent) talent and Duffy a lot of promise, Adele has cornered the market on the melancholic.

Black Kids, Partie Traumatic
Sounds like: 80s synth pop + 21st Century irreverence + 1/2 Olivia Newton John + cheerleaders
Best Tracks: "Hit the Heartbrakes," "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You," "Hurricane Jane," "Listen to Your Body Tonight"
Representative Lyrics: "Don't be scared to fall in love because you don't like heights / Listen to your body tonight; it'll treat you right."
Notes: This was one of the two best musical recommendations I've ever gotten from a friend. I liked the album instantly and thought it was fun and interesting and well-crafted pop.

Blake Lewis, Audio Day Dream
Sounds like: Wal-mart's version of Justin Timberlake with a Fisher-Price drumkit
Best Tracks: "How Many Words," "Hate 2 Love Her," "End of the World," "1000 Miles," "I Got U"
Representative Lyrics: "I don't know where this is / I don't know what I'm in / I can't see down the road / But it don't matter long as I got you"
Notes: I accept the criticism that will come with including this on my list, but I will say he's here partly for not sucking (as a few people on this list are as well). Lewis has a good voice (beat-box aside) and the songs are straightforward pop music without many surprises...except for the meshing of hip-hop and 80s new wave sounds.

The Bravery, The Sun and the Moon [Complete]
Sounds like: Joy Division on Prozac
Best Tracks: "This Is Not the End," "Every Word Is a Knife in My Ear," "Fistful of Sand," "Angelina"
Representative Lyrics: "I can touch your skin but you aren't there / Frustration burns in me, it's more than I can bear / I want to take you in my fist and squeeze the life back into you / But there is nothing I can do; you are gone."
Notes: The Bravery have done something respectfully ballsy by retooling their The Sun and the Moon release as a "complete" set that includes inspired "Moon" versions of the original album. The collection is a truly brilliant example of instrumentation's impact on music--both albums are great: the original versions are frenetic rock-pop with strong guitar riffs and clear vocals; the "Moon" version inverts these songs and replaces guitars with synths and pulsing beats, gurgled vocals, transforming the "sunny" album into something much darker and more mysterious. They are also amazing live.

Britney Spears, Circus
Included after handicap scores were calculated
Sounds like: The drugs are wearing off!
Best Tracks: "Circus," "Unusual You," "If You Seek Amy," "Kill the Lights"
Representative Lyrics: "Mr. Photographer / I think I'm ready for my close-up / (Tonight) / Make sure you catch me on my good side / (Pick one)
Notes: Almost a kind of revision of Blackout, Circus builds on a more mature sound for Spears, although I suspect producers aren't totally comfortable giving her carte blanche to manufacture her own album just yet. Britney's here because the album doesn't suck. It's not as good as many others on this list, but it is proof that reinvention is almost as important as creation.

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
Sounds like: (Depeche Mode - goth) + Apple computer + the gays
Best Tracks: "Out There on the Ice Again," "Heart on Fire," "Lights & Music"
Representative Lyrics: "You don't know what to do / There's a game now; who'll be there for you?"
Notes: Cut Copy has a sound fit for a Macintosh computer ad--tricky beats, ethereal vocals with a slight foreign accent. (All that's missing is Juliet Lewis.) This is another "fun" album of danceable rock music, which to me is the height of our civilization.

Fall Out Boy, Folie à Deux
Sounds like: Fall Out Boy's last album
Best Tracks: "I Don't Care," "America's Suitehearts," "What a Catch, Donnie," "She's My Winona"
Representative Lyrics: "I've got troubled thoughts and self-esteem to match / What a catch, what a catch"
Notes: Pete Wentz's confessional yet flippant lyrics sung through Patrick Stump's bellowing, rangeless voice continue to be the traits separating Fall Out Boy from their guyliner peers. While this album isn't much of a departure from the recent classic Infinity on High, it borrows from other traditions like ska, ZZ Top, and even--yes--a little hair metal.

Heloise and the Savoir Faire, Trash, Rats, and Microphones
Sounds like: Pat Benatar starring in a remake of Foxes
Best Tracks: "Members Only," "Datsun 208z," "Disco Heaven," "Po' T"
Representative Lyrics: "Purple plastic lipstick bitches / butting in line is flipping our switches / and we're too too cool with our frozen margaritas / chewing the fat, pulling on our heaters"
Notes: Frontwoman Heloise Williams has a voice of equal snarl and sigh. Coupled with the disco-rock beats of the band and nostalgic 80s lyrics, the band produced an album both amnesiac and prescient. Although it owes a great debt to its New Wave and disco predecessors, the album is purely theirs: fun, aggressive, and chic.

Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair
Sounds like: Scissor Sisters circa 1974
Best Tracks: "Hercules Theme," "You Belong," "Blind," "Raise Me Up"
Representative Lyrics: "Now that I'm older / the stars should light up my face / but when I find myself alone / I feel like I'm going blind"
Notes: Laying vocals by Antony of Antony and the Johnsons over looping, inane beats takes what would otherwise be cotton candy fluff and makes it both poignant and mature. Hercules and Love Affair have a haunting (and haunted) sound only made stronger by their otherwordly connection to disco's past (and to the trauma and sadness disco sought to obscure or cure).

The Hush Sound, Goodbye Blues
Sounds like: Honky-tonk-rock-pop-soul-etc
Best Tracks: "Medicine Man," "The Boys Are Too Refined," "As You Cry"
Representative Lyrics: "As you cry / I don't wanna lie / and say I love you so / even though I don't / There's no easy way to heal the pain"
Notes: A genre-bending band, The Hush Sound cross all sorts of instrumental and vocal boundaries, including snarling guitars, tickled pianos, a male vocalist, a female vocalist, and thumping drums in their path.

Jack's Mannequin, The Glass Passenger
Sounds like: Coming Out of the Dark, leukemia version
Best Tracks: "Spinnin'," "Swim," "American Love," "Bloodshot," "The Resolution"
Representative Lyrics: "You gotta swim / Swim for your life / Swim for the music that saves you / When you're not so sure you'll survive"
Notes: I love Jack's Mannequin. Andrew McMahon's creative child has grown into its own since the dissolution of Something Corporate--and with good reason. McMahon is an excellent songwriter. This album lacks some of the aggressive piano and guitar of his last work, but the change is for the better. These songs are more complex, documenting his treatment for and ultimate survival over his illness.

Kate Nash, Made of Bricks
Sounds like: Lily Allen's poorer cousin
Best Tracks: "Pumpkin Soup," "Foundations," "Mouthwash," "Skeleton Song," "We Get On," "Nicest Thing"
Representative Lyrics: "Then I'll use that voice / that you find annoying and say something like / 'Yeah, intelligent input darling, why don't you just have another beer, then' / And then you'll call me a bitch and everyone we're with / will be embarrassed, but I won't give a shit."
Notes: This album resists categorization but would probably exist comfortably among your pop albums. Nash's odd lyrics and song subjects often belie their depth, addressing abusive relationships, unmet expecatations, doomed crushes, or pure longing.

Natasha Bedingfield, Pocketful of Sunshine
Sounds like: Radio Disney in a string bikini
Best Tracks: "Put Your Arms Around Me," "Pocketful of Sunshine," "Piece of Your Heart," "Angel"
Representative Lyrics: "Who doesn't long for / someone to hold? / Who knows how to love you / without being told / Somebody tell me why I'm on my own / if there's a soulmate for everyone?"
Notes: Skating on dangerously cheesy ice, Bedingfield departs from her adolescent girl- and single girl-anthems to deliver what would otherwise be a steaming pile of crap. In her voice, with its reedy vulnerability and smoky experience, though, they become something else, excusing the teenage diary lyrics, which are more often about being happy than they are about being heartbroken. Or anything else, for that matter.

Panic at the Disco, Pretty. Odd.
Sounds like: Somebody spent their summer listening to the Beatles, and wow!
Best Tracks: "Nine in the Afternoon," "She's a Handsome Woman," "That Green Gentleman," "Northern Downpour," "Pas de Cheval"
Representative Lyrics: "I never said I'd leave the city / I never said I'd leave this town / A falling out we both tiptoe around"
Notes: Quite a turn away from their last effort, but Panic do their Beatles tribute album well enough, bringing another singer up to meet Brandon Urie's lead vocals (or take them over from time to time). On the tour this summer, the four bandmates seemed more like satisfied elder statesmen than a band supporting their sophomore album. While it's not as good as their last disc, I give them props for taking risks and trying something new.

Paramore, Riot!
Sounds like: Avril Lavigne singing with AFI
Best Tracks: "Crushcrushcrush," "Misery Business," "For a Pessimist, I'm Pretty Optmistic"
Representative Lyrics: "No sir, well I don't want to be the blame, well not anymore"
Notes: Paramore have cultivated a really nice sound by combing Hayley Williams's melodic voice with their dissident punk-inspired guitar riffs. It took me a while to get into this album and I do think Hayley and Avril have more than a passing vocal resemblance, but where Avril defers to pop, Hayley absorbs rock music. Paramore are a tougher, rougher approach to Avril's sound.

Katy Perry, One of the Boys
Sounds like: A drag queen singing Liz Phair's lyrics over Benatar riffs and beats
Best Tracks: "One of the Boys," "Waking Up in Vegas," "Hot N Cold," "Self-Inflicted," "I'm Still Breathing"
Representative Lyrics: "I saw a spider, I didn't scream / And I can belch the alphabet, just double-dog dare me / And I chose guitar over ballet / And I'll take these suckers down cuz they just get in my way."
Notes: I regret we were introduced to Perry through "Ur So Gay" and "I Kissed a Girl." Even with the latter, I can get behind this album, though I always skip "Gay." Perry's voice alternates between a masculine growl and a lighter, more delicate upper register, and much of her album finds her trying to reconcile the pressure/desire to be feminine with her natural inclination to act a little more butch than that. Even in person, she takes on the cultural figure of the drag queen--almost comically representing a hyper-feminine look that belies (or supports) her dangerous "masculine" sexuality. I'm hoping a little maturity in her next album will show her detractors that she's more than just a fad.

Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad
Sounds like: An R&B hit-making robot with dancer's thighs
Best Tracks: "Disturbia," "Shut Up and Drive," "Push Up on Me," "Rehab," "Umbrella," "Good Girl Gone Bad"
Representative Lyrics: "It's gettin later baby / I'm getting curious / My body's lookin at ya / I feel delirious"
Notes: Was it possible to turn on your radio last year without hearing one of Rihanna's unending string of singles from this album? The standout track is "Disturbia," which I've seen a wide variety of people get into. When this album hits the mark, it knocks it out of the part, but for as many great tracks as it has, there are three or four real clunkers. But it's not to say that Rihanna won't continue to be one of the most influential pop musicians of the next several years, especially the way she works at a tireless, frenetic pace.

Santogold, Santogold
Sounds like: Gwen Stefani & Björk made a baby
Best Tracks: "L.E.S. Artistes," "Say Aha," "Creator," "Lights Out," "I'm a Lady"
Representative Lyrics: "Go ahead / I'll be your junkie / I'll be deplete you can heap all rubbish here / Go ahead, now dump it on me / if I go quiet will the itch go down with me"
Notes: One of the oddest albums this year, Santogold's debut disc sounds like a sonic kitchen sink (thanks, Björk) with a firm pop sensibility (Gwen) that incorporates elements of punk, R&B, rock, dance, and even reggae. Often at the same time. One of the oddest tracks, and a favorite, is "Creator," an aural assault that pulses with jungle beats and feline snarls. Fun stuff!

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
Sounds like: Cape Cod meets Cape of Good Hope
Best Tracks: "Oxford Comma," "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," "Campus," "I Stand Corrected"
Representative Lyrics: "Why would you speak to me that way / Especially when I always said that I / haven't got the words for you / all your diction dripping with disdain / Through the pain, I always tell the truth"
Notes: I've never heard music that sounded so much like it belonged at an Ivy League University in my life, but this is that album. Although it reeks of brick buildings and grassy malls, Vampire Weekend maintain an odd connection to work music sounds like reggae and African-inspired rhythms and chants. The end result is something oddly engaging (many people, including myself, asked other people why we liked this band even as we liked it) and utterly unique. Bonus points for writing a song about grammatical style ("Oxford Comma") without seeming smarmy.

Various Artists, OMFGG: Original Music from Gossip Girl
Sounds like: Veronica Mars Soundtrack
Best Tracks: "Do You Wanna," "One Week of Danger," "Got Your Number," "Crimewave," "We Started Nothing," "Glamorous [Constance Billard Girls Choir version]"
Representative Lyrics: "Is there something that you wanted from her? / I want her legs, her body and her cash / And was there something that you needed from her? No. And if she's playing hard to get I'm out the door."
Notes: I wonder if the thicknecked dudes at my gym realize that half of the songs playing on LA Fitness radio were featured on a TV show aimed at seventeen year old girls. Or that they're also playing on my little iPod. I'm not usually a fan of soundtracks, but this one would serve as a great party backdrop. Most of these bands were new to me, except The Ting Tings and Phantom Planet, but almost all of the tracks are catchy and fun--especially the girls choir take on "Glamorous." That's pure genius.

The Veronicas, Hook Me Up
Sounds like: The Donnas, if they lived in our decade and were popular in their high school
Best Tracks: "Untouched," "Hook Me Up," "Take Me On the Floor," "Revenge is Sweeter (Than You Ever Were)," "In Another Life"
Representative Lyrics: "Even if I leave you now / and it breaks my heart / even if I'm not around / I won't give in / I can't give up / on this love"
Notes: This album will probably always remind me of getting settled in DC since it was in heavy rotation on my Metro stranger repellent device (iPod). It's unabashedly poppy, but the twin sisters who front the band dabble in a little bit of everything, which is the recipe for great pop. You can sing it in the shower, you can dance to it, and you can play it on your guitar at home--it doesn't get better.


The Tao of Wayne Gretzky

One of my colleagues at work gently teases me about my ability to bust out a situation-appropriate platitude at just about any given time, for any purpose. Some of my favorite nonprofit work platitudes come from—yes—Wayne Gretzky, hockey great and coach of my beloved Phoenix Coyotes.

Gretzky's most famous quotations rival the deep, metaphorical simplicity of another famous platitude-r, Peter Sellers's character Chance in the film Being There. In the film, Chance, an isolated, seemingly simple-minded man, is the gardener for a wealthy DC resident. A series of events cause people to start interpreting his throw away observations as intrinsically brilliant metaphors for the modern world, to help them make difficult decisions, etc.

A great athlete, Gretzky's musings on the nature of hockey play have this same kind of resonance. In the interest of new beginnings, I wanted to share these with you in hopes that they can guide you on your journey as well:

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
Applicable to: any situation where hesitation will sound the death knell. I most often play this card in fundraising situations, or to encourage people to take risks. When you consider that inaction ensures failure, action doesn't seem so bad. Also, it's statistically true!

"I don't like my hockey sticks touching other sticks, and I don't like them crossing one another, and I kind of have them hidden in the corner. I put baby powder on the ends. I think it's essentially a matter of taking care of what takes care of you."
Applicable to: recognizing interconnectedness and interdependence. For me, this statement guides my human resource philosophy. I perceive supervision as an act of service, not a demonstration of power. One of my first rules of management is to put staff concerns ahead of all else. I want to take care of my people.

"A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player skates to where the puck is going to be."
Applicable to: entrepreneurship, growth, change, development, risk-taking, planning, strategy. I use this quote to encourage people think not about the immediate return of their action, but how the action fits in with long-term expectations and goals. Sure, you can play at the puck and get a lot of game action. But you'll also have to fight for every stab you take at it. When you can anticipate the movement of your game, that's when you have the greatest opportunity to score.

"The only way a kid is going to practice is if it's fun for him."
Applicable to: Lightening up. Very few of us in arts nonprofits are saving lives or saving the world. But we are making the our world a better place to be when we ensure our work stays fun and enjoyable. There will always be stress and strain in the workplace, but as long as you can all step back and laugh together, it will never seem so bad.



LOST returns tonight! I got season 4 for Christmas this year and already caught myself up on the past season, since it was such a short (but intense!) one.

I like the turn the show has taken in terms of how the narrative is unfolding. I think the writers had to do something like that to keep it interesting for the audience short of, you know, Claire's baby suddenly being five years old and telling smarmy jokes.

Honestly, I think LOST is unique because the creators and executive producers have had a pretty clear plan for the first five or six seasons of the show, and they've diligently worked toward those goals. The way the episodes have chipped away at the mystery—while creating new ones—really demonstrates that kind of planning.

Granted, I think unexpected trouble like Michelle Rodriguez's DUI have thrown wrenches into the overall plan. I read an interview in which one of the cast members noted that as soon as someone was arrested for a traffic violation, their character was killed off. Only Josh Holloway, who'd gotten a speeding ticket, has so far tangoed with highway patrol and kept his job.

I'll probably sneak back over to American Idol after they finish up the Hollywood round. Until then, it's just too much of an investment for me to handle.

Plus, I need to be reading books. I went to get the next four Gossip Girl novels from Borders last night. The only one they didn't have in stock? The next one I need to read.



Who Are the People in Your Office Suite?

Yesterday we had a wonderful reading by the staff who work with me at The Writer's Center. Although we see each other on a virtually daily basis and though many of us talk freely about writing and art (including, sometimes our own), for many of us, it was our first opportunity to encounter each other as writers. It did not disappoint.

The event renewed my sense of luck at having the kind of job I do, where I'm surrounded by people who love and care for the art I do as much as I do.

There was great variation among our readers, from a genderless short story narrator to a Kafka-Vonnegut blend of paranoia and humorous insanty to a Danish story in translation. It's encouraging for me to know that among their many workday talents are mad writing skills too.

I read three new pieces, two of them for the first time, and I felt they worked well. I've had a terrible insecurity about a lot of my new poems, but I did some revising over the holidays and feel slightly better about them. My poems in the voices of Dorothy Gale, Omm Sety, and Joseph Smith all felt like they'd come together when I read them.

And I suspect, deep down, the three of them are culminating in a book that examines the nature of faith. In ourselves, in our memory, and in a higher power.