If you want to know about SEO, I’ve always been the wrong person to ask

What do I know about SEO?  Lynda.com Logo

I started this blog, “Brian Writing,” ten years ago as an assignment in my undergraduate English program. I’ve continued writing posts occasionally since then, sometimes more frequently than others. In all that time, I have never tried doing anything about my blog’s SEO – the one thing that might help people actually find me. I always assumed the internet elves that live behind the digital curtain would take care of it for me.

That’s all changing, now! This week I watched a course on Lynda.com called SEO Foundations, taught by instructor David Booth. For anyone who enjoys writing a blog but has never gotten into the messy details of finding an audience for it, learning about SEO is critical. I recommend checking out the course or finding other ways to learn about SEO.

In a nutshell, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is way to help search engines like Google and Bing find your web content and show it to people who are searching for topics that you’ve written about. If you have a website about Mexican pastries, but you haven’t optimized it for search engines, the next time someone Googles “Mexican Pastry blog” they will have a difficult time finding you.

“Search Engine Optimization is a process that requires a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of patience.” – Lynda.com SEO Foundations Course

The Lynda.com course is divided into ten sections, which include topics such as keywords, content optimization, link-building strategies, measuring SEO effectiveness, and more. Each of these topics covers an area of SEO that can enhance your website’s discoverability. At the start, a helpful introduction to SEO kicks things off by answering basic questions about setting expectations for what SEO can accomplish, and how it affects your business or website. You can watch the entire course in just a few hours.

A screenshot of the SEO Foundations course on Lynda.com

Lynda.com SEO Foundations Course

The concept of keywords could be the most important concept to learn in researching SEO. On the surface, it is pretty simple to understand: a “keyword” is the term that someone enters into a web search engine like Google. As most everyone has experienced, the more specific the keyword is, the more relevant the search results become.

Pinpointing some of these specific terms that are frequently used by searchers and incorporating them into the content on your website can put you on the path to discoverability. Specific parts of a webpage benefit from having keywords included: headings, URLs and meta-tags with keywords all increase search engine visibility.

From the perspective of content optimization, the course suggests using the website www.schema.org as a resource for formatting content in a very search-engine-friendly way. Schema.org offers frameworks for formatting different types of content so they are recognizable by search engines. For example, if your blog post includes a recipe, using content tags from schema.org can help Google identify the post as a recipe and display it as such.

Keywords and content optimization is just the beginning.

Building the right inbound and outbound links into your pages, planning your long-term content strategy with an editorial calendar, and measuring the performance of your SEO efforts are all important pieces of the puzzle.

I have spent years blogging on a whim without much consideration for developing a “target audience,” so at first, these concepts seemed a bit intrusive to my creative process. Instead of just writing about whatever I want and posting it, SEO suggests being more deliberate about creating content that is relevant to a specific audience & easily searchable.

The first step to reconciling these different attitudes is to learn about what SEO actually is, and the Lynda.com SEO Foundations course is a great place to start.

 

*ed. note – this post was written for a digital marketing class at the Georgetown University S.C.S. 

The Music I Listened To in 2017: (#24-1)

I listened to 544.66 hours of music on Spotify this year – about 13 full-time workweeks – and captured all the data with Last.fm. The ranking is ordered by how many times I listened to a song by the artist, with #1 claiming the most listens.

My top 50-25 artists were published in the last post. So here, without further ado, are the rest of them.

My #24-1 most listened artists of 2017:

24. Anderson .Paak
.Paak may have crept into the top 50% of my artists this year on the strength of his NPR Tiny Desk concert alone. I probably watched it 30 times this year. His record ‘Malibu’ is great too.

23. Jon Hopkins
Surreal soundscapes that thrive on simplicity. Hopkins can have an impact as strong as an artist who goes five times as loud because of the clarity of his compositions.

22. Eric Satie
When I picture the streets of Paris in my mind, a Gymnopedie by Satie plays in the background along with the image. A more formidable critic could even trace a line from Satie across the century to my previous entry, Jon Hopkins.

21. BADBADNOTGOOD
After compulsively listening to their first studio album for months, I got to see BBNG perform live this year. They’re full of young, raw talent and I’ll be waiting to see how they develop.

20. The xx
I haven’t gotten into the newer work by the xx, but their first album stays in my rotation. There’s so much heart in their songs.

19. Oddisee
Homegrown D.C. hip-hop instrumentalist Oddisee has a classic track about biking through the city, and a lot of other chill tunes that sound like home to me.

18. Lapalux
Lapalux’s ‘Lustmore‘ is a couple years old, but it wins the ‘sexiest thing I listened to in 2017’ award. Discovered by way of the tracks featuring Andreya Triana & Szjerdene, known to me from their work with Bonobo.

17. Mac Quayle
I haven’t watched any of the latest season of the TV show Mr. Robot, but I have continued listening to the soundtrack while I’m working to force a quality of suspense to all the hum-drum shit I have to do.

16. Jack Johnson
Jack’s easy, happy songs feel ageless, even 15 years after the first time someone recommended him to me – I remember it clearly as one of the sincerest recommendations I’ve ever been given.

15. Yppah
I don’t really know anything about Yppah – if I had to guess, one day Spotify recommended it based on my listening to Tycho. OK, computer, you have figured me out. I’ve been returning to ‘Eighty-One’ a lot this year.

14. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Nine Inch Nails were hugely popular when I was in high school, but I only came to appreciate them years later. This year I’ve been playing the soundtrack to the film ‘The Social Network’ on repeat, and it makes perfect background music for watching polite society immolate itself on Facebook in 2017.

13. Steve Reich
Learning about and listening to Reich this year was kind of a milestone for me – a lesson I taught myself in what I was capable of enjoying. I guess I’ve always been more of a pop and rock fan, so this kind of neo-minimal-classical is a brave new world to me.

12. Thelonius Monk
At the end of some long workdays, driving home through the city, the only recording I want to hear is ‘Round About Midnight.’ Monk sounds like those minutes after the daily grind is over but life keeps buzzing all around.

11. The Roots
The legendary. I don’t watch the Fallon show, despite their nightly presence as the house band, but I go back to their records over and over. ‘What They Do’ is still as fresh & powerful to me as it was when I first heard it 20 years ago.

10. Odesza
I learned about Odesza by hearing them on the ‘Song Exploder’ podcast, as they explained the genesis of the song ‘Kusanagi.’ The song turns out to be completely unlike the rest of their catalog, but I really enjoyed getting into their music this year. So much happy energy.

9. Nick Drake
There are some nights in the Summer when there’s a full moon and the world is quiet and the only music that should be played at that moment is Nick Drake. There are lots of other moments when it’s OK to listen to Nick Drake, too.

8. Igor Stravinsky
As a contrast to Debussy’s soft piano work, I got into Stravinsky’s challenging violin concertos this year. Thanks to Alex Ross’s tremendous book ‘The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century‘ I learned a lot about Igor, and now understand how I’m hearing echoes of him in jazz and rock.

7. Claude Debussy
Debussy emerged as my favorite composer as I went deeper than usual with my interest in classical music this year. I’m not at the level of discerning which renditions I prefer, or which orchestras I like, or anything like that – but ‘Claire de Lune’ is the most beautiful composition I listened to in 2017, 112 years after it was first published.

6. Wolf Alice
What an amazing discovery Wolf Alice was for me this year. On the strength of their appearance on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack, they slid into my top ten. I just caught their concert last weekend and Ellie Roswell & Co were just as brilliant live as they are on record.

5. Tycho
There are not many artists I’d rather listen to than Tycho when I’m feeling good and optimistic and bright about the future of the world. They sound like a self-help book without any words, in a completely non-corny way, if that makes any sense. The latest record is a year old now, so let’s keep ’em coming guys.

4. Foals
Has it really been two years since ‘What Went Down’ came out? It still feels new every time I spin it – but don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a new record from Foals in 2018. As strong as ‘WWD’ was, I probably listened to ‘Total Life Forever’ even more this year.

3. Little Dragon
I had the pleasure of seeing Little Dragon perform live for the first time this year. I started writing a blog post about it, but really just couldn’t find words. If Super Mario, Janet Jackson, Pink Floyd and Lady Gaga came together to form a super group, they still couldn’t come up with what Little Dragon does.

2. Bonobo
Meeting Simon Green & Co. as they toured the U.S. this Summer was a highlight of my year. Readers of my blog will know how much I appreciate them. I listened to their new Grammy-nominated album exhaustively in 2017 and will continue to do so for years to come.

1. The Beatles
I know, they’ve been around for a few years. I’m a little late to the party. I started going deep on the Beatles last year after watching Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Love’ performance in Las Vegas, which remains one of the most incredible live entertainment experiences I’ve ever had. This year I read Bob Spitz’s tremendous (and enormous) biography, and I had to listen along with every anecdote. Their story and their music goes beyond inspiration and into something else – an earnest belief that all you really need is love.

The Music I Listened to in 2017 (#50-25)

A long while ago, the painter Paul Gauguin wrote: “To be an honest critic, one must not love.” So maybe writing this post makes me dishonest, but I’ll take the risk: I’ve put together a list of the top 50 musicians that I loved in 2017.

This is the time of year when all the critics start listing things. The top ten this and the top twenty that. I listened to Rolling Stone’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 2017’ podcast a few days ago and caught the bug. I’m going to borrow their format, but they can keep their judgments and assumptions about how the newest things matter the most. Unlike them, there is nothing timely about these rankings. Many of the artists had nothing to do with the year 2017. Look for the zeitgeist somewhere else.

I listened to 544.66 hours of music on Spotify this year – about 13 full-time workweeks – and captured all the data with Last.fm. The ranking is ordered by how many times I listened to a song by the artist, with #1 claiming the most listens.

My #50-25 most listened artists:

50. Chet Faker
There’s one part of one CF song that I kept coming back to – the beat on ‘1998’ that kicks just before the hook. Something about the way it steps into the song. Couldn’t get enough. His Song Exploder episode is also great.

49. Angus & Julia Stone
I listened to the ‘other Stones’ a bunch before they played DC, because I thought I was going to make it to their show, but other plans intervened and then the show sold out. Glad I become acquainted with their tunes even though I missed it.

48. Tours
Tours makes amazingly chilled out renditions of songs I love. Listening to them is kind of a way to be nostalgic about a song without listening to the actual song. It plays like a memoryscape sound painting.

47. Spoon
I think Spoon released a new record this year, but I’m still listening to ‘Kill the Moonlight‘ and ‘Girls Can Tell.’ Hard to find a rock band playing as raw as this these days.

46. Phantogram
I think I see Phantogram posting on Instagram as much (or more) than I listen to them – not complaining, it’s been awesome watching them get so popular. Missed the tour this year, hope to catch them on the road again soon.

45. Green Day
Something about the political climate this year (hmm, I wonder what?) had me going back and re-listening to American Idiot a couple of times. And Dookie just is and will always be permanently in my rotation.

44. James Blake
I’ve got to be in some type of mood to put on James Blake. So much emotion comes through in his voice, and his sparse, textured arrangements enhance it even more.

43. Dave Matthews Band
It’s been a tough year for DMB listening – they’re almost too upbeat and positive for 2017. But there were moments this year where only some ‘Bartender’ would do.

42. Seapony
Listening to Seapony is just like having a nice cookie or something. Just pleasant. Easy. Like it’s Friday morning and nothing is going to ruin my day.

41. Pantha du Prince
I’m surprised Pantha isn’t higher on my list – maybe it’s because many of his tracks are over 7 minutes long. This is serious focus music. Really good for painting. I’ve been hooked since I read Philip Sherburne’s essay on ‘Black Noise’ in the 2011 edition of “Best Music Writing.”

40. Jain
I heard her on the radio in a coffeeshop and someone told me who she was and I got back to Spotify and streamed her album like six times in a row, then didn’t really listen again. “Siri, remind me to listen to Jain again next year.”

39. Led Zeppelin
As much as I love Led Zep, every now and then I’ll put on an album and hear a song that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. Either their catalog is that deep, or they are just that good.

38. The Appleseed Cast
Such a great band. ‘Mare Vitalis’ will always be one of my favorite albums and I listen to it in full a couple times every year. I’ll also get into Low Level Owl when I want to drown out every other noise in the world.

37. Cut Copy
I’m not sure what did it, maybe listening to so much Little Dragon this year – but I went back and got into ‘Bright Like Neon Love’ (2004 album) and rocked out like it was brand new this year.

36. Alt-J
These guys had a new album drop this summer, and I don’t think I listened to it at all – because I’m still so floored every time I hear the 5-year-old ‘An Awesome Wave.’ I have no problem calling it one of my favorite albums of the last ten years.

35. Tame Impala
I’m obsessed with Australia, where these dudes come from, and I really like their music. Psychedelic rock for people who don’t love jam-bands. I’m also still amazed by Rihanna’s awesome 2016 cover of their song “Same ‘Ol Mistakes.”

34. Boards of Canada
I can’t remember any particular song or melody from BoC, so I must have binge-listened to their whole catalog and not gone back to it yet. I will. Maybe the next time I go to Canada.

33. 311
I wonder if I’ll ever truly get tired of listening to 311? I haven’t yet, but the amount that I listen shrinks year after year. I think they had a new album, and I probably listened to a few songs, but it’s ‘Transistor’ that I always go back to.

32. Tosca
Whenever I look around and realize that it’s a dreary Tuesday and I’m sitting in a suburban office park working myself to death, and I think to myself, “I’d rather be in a sexy European hotel lobby watching fashionable people come and go right now,” then I put Tosca on and I’m basically there.

31. GoldLink
Multiple levels of respect for Goldlink – first, he’s been letting my cousin manage his tours for a while now. He’s also representing my little village of Washington DC. And he’s bringing some really fresh sounds to rap (if that’s even how he describes what he does.)

30. Broken Social Scene
I really wanted to go see BSS when they toured this year, but somehow I missed it. Was the whole band there? All 59 members? A few years ago their self-titled record carried me for months. This year ‘Hug of Thunder’ reminded me how much I like them.

29. Bob Marley & The Wailers
I finally got around to watching Kevin McDonald’s 2012 documentary, Marley, this year. An amazing story about a legend. I don’t think anything will ever surpass Babylon By Bus as the greatest live recording of all time.

28. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
If there was one song I could call out as being my jam of 2017, it would be “Can’t Keep Checkin’ my Phone” by UMO. I don’t think it came out this year. But I danced in my underpants to it on a weekly basis.

27. Francois & The Atlas Mountains
I found these guys while looking for vocals sung in French, because I want to learn how to speak French. I didn’t learn how to speak French, but I learned that the French are making some rad music these days.

26. Antonín Dvořák
I listened to Dvořák as a historical reference this year as I tried to learn more about 20th century classical composers. He influenced them a lot.

25. Massive Attack
Over the summer, rumors broke out that the elusive street artist Banksy is actually Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack. The speculation drove me to dive back into their records looking for clues.

Two Ideas

“Have more than one idea on the go at any given time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I can choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.”
Geoff Dyer

I read Geoff Dyer’s book “Paris, Trance” over the weekend, and came away with a great deal of respect for his writing. Some books you pick up and read a few pages of and think they aren’t going to be great, then 24 hours later you turn the last page and realize you haven’t put the thing down since you started and it’s over. The effect is all the more pronounced when you took a chance on a low Amazon rating (I really can’t comprehend why it only has 2.5 stars on Amazon – the Goodreads aggregate of 3.65 is much more reasonable.)

The suggestion to carry two ideas all the time is interesting and I can relate to it. I can also relate to having too many damn ideas to do anything about any of them. This blog is an example.

Most people with any sense come up with a theme for their blog, market it to an appropriate audience, and make some money. Or, if they’re photographers, they focus on their photography and don’t spend time writing book reviews or literary weather reports.

I’ve historically been torn between visual art or writing as a creative outlet, but the last few days I’ve been trying to paint with one hand and to take photographs with the other. Thankfully, painting and photography are two things I can deal with more ambidextrously than painting and writing, or photography and writing. The answer is just to paint from photographs.

Here’s a photograph I took in Paris, in 2011:

Here’s a painting I made of that photograph, in 2017:

There’s a party scene in “Paris, Trance” where a character is introduced as a “writer and a painter,” and another character retorts that nobody can be any good at both. “What about Van Gogh, haven’t you read his letters?” the writer/painter asks in his own defense…

“Sure, they’re great, but have you seen his paintings?”

What’s that got to do with the price of ads in Russia?

I’ve been reading comments on articles about the Russian intelligence effort to influence the US election by social media subterfuge. I know this is a dumb idea. It directly goes against Matt Groening’s advice: “No matter how good the video on YouTube is, don’t read the comments, just don’t, because it will make you hate all humans.”

But, against my better judgment, I’ve come across an argument a few times that I want to discuss. It goes something like this:

“Clinton and Trump spent $81M dollars on Facebook ads, but we’re supposed to believe that Russia spending just $46K made an impact? Yeah right, libtards, har har
har.”

Fair enough. The candidates spent a butt-load more money than the Russians did, as they should have. The basis of the argument is real: Facebook’s lawyers came right out and testified those exact numbers to Congress. It would be naive to argue equality of effort.

But if we permit ourselves some historical context, I think it’s worthwhile to come up with an analogy for Russia’s long game.

Let’s take a brief look at the history of small change vs. big money:

In 1997, Amazon was a baby with a market capitalization of less than $1B.

The year before that, KMart and Sears were two different companies that had a combined market cap sixty times larger than Amazon’s, each around $30B.

Where are we now, 20 years down the road?

KMart went bankrupt, restructured, and ended up merging with Sears in 2004. The consolidated Sears Holding Company hasn’t done much better, now posting a market cap of about a half-billion. Yawn.

And Amazon, the little company that wasn’t even in the Fortune 500 twenty years ago, while Sears and KMart were the 800lb gorillas… what happened to that scrappy bookseller?

Amazon’s market cap in 2017 is FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FIVE BILLION DOLLARS.

That’s 535x more than what was once the ‘real thing.’

What does a story of retail market capitalization have to do with the price of Facebook ads in Russia?

Nothing, if you aren’t willing to think about it. But if you are, it’s just one example of many that prove looking at investments over the long haul is how you measure success – not analyzing them a few months later.

I’m willing to bet that Russia didn’t spend $46K with the expectation that in six months their effort would be complete. Isn’t it more likely they were spending $46K to find out what would be possible in six YEARS, or longer?

So, you can make the argument that a hostile foreign government spending a few thousand dollars on divisive Facebook ads in 2016 isn’t a big deal, because hey, the actual candidates spent way more than that.

Or you can remember those people who in 1997 said “Oh, Amazon isn’t very big, nothing to worry about. Sears and KMart are where we should invest!”

I could be stretching the comparison beyond its merit, but honestly, this story makes me nervous.

What kind of money does Russia have to spend for people to take them seriously? What if in the next election they spend $500K? $1M? $5M? At that point, could it be too late to undo the damage?

If Facebook and others don’t address this problem now, where are we going to be in 20 years?

Marathon runners crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

On Running #2

I’m not sure when it happened – but I crossed a line somewhere along the way, and became a morning person. I’d regularly find myself sitting by the window, waiting for the sun to come up, watching the steam rise from my coffee, letting the quiet and the wakefulness and the possibility of the day course through me. And then… I would go running.

On one of those mornings this Summer, I was about six weeks into a marathon training plan, and halfway into an eleven mile run along the Potomac River. On some runs, I just listen to my own ideas. I think about what I see, or I think about myself and assess what’s going on in my life. But on this particular morning, I was listening to an audiobook of Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” – going for the meta-experience, forcing reflection into my morning’s effort.

I put on the brakes when one particular line struck me. Meditating on his own training, Murakami shared a mantra he repeats to himself on hard runs:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

There are moments of clarity on some runs, lingering beneath the surface of the repetition – simple truths that bubble up, instigated by a few words, a melody, or some dormant experience.

I started repeating Murakami’s mantra to myself. I pounded the trail, counting my paces. One step, two, three, four.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

A week later, on a tennis court: the “inevitable” pain came, along with the “optional” suffering: a torn calf. I couldn’t stand or walk. My wife had to leave me on the curb while she found a car to drive me home in.

Three weeks of physical therapy went by before I could even think about stepping on a treadmill, another three weeks before I could comfortably log a few miles. I still had a marathon to run.

Running does something to the brain. It lights up cannabinoid receptors, a part of the nervous system that regulates physiological processes like memory, mood, and pain sensation. If cannabinoids sound like cannabis, you’re on the right track. “Runner’s High” is not just shoe company marketing bullshit – it’s science. Running gets you high. High enough that you don’t listen to your body, that you give it a heavier beating than it can withstand, and that you don’t really care.

When I was a teenager in gym class, and we had to run “the mile” – it was death. An entire mile might as well have been a trek across the Sahara. I was not an athlete. Candy bars, soda. Video games and smoking. Those were my things, my highs. Not running. I never let myself go far enough to feel the runner’s high.

I gave up smoking during college, but I didn’t adopt any healthier habits in its place. Instead, I learned to love traveling. It took me a while to connect the dots, but now, when I lace up my running shoes and start going, the relationship is clear. Travel is the essence of running.

A run is a journey like any other – for joy, for necessity, or for any of the infinite reasons people choose to move their bodies from one place to another. The name of the race isn’t an accident: In 490 B.C., following the battle of Marathon, the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran to Athens – 26 miles – to announce that the Persians had been defeated. To run has always had a purpose.

A few years after graduating, I was working in an office and a group of colleagues invited me to sign up for a 10-mile race with them. I considered it, and running 10 miles somehow didn’t seem any crazier than the other things I was doing that once seemed inconceivable: being an adult, traveling, having a job and an apartment. OK, I said. Let’s run.

I trained for that race with focus and discipline I hadn’t known I was capable of. That I had never run more than a mile before wasn’t important. I inched my way up, night after night, on the treadmill in the gym that overlooked the parking garage. Two miles, then three, then four. Running felt like an easy problem to solve. The equation was simple. Keep adding.

Years later, I’ve grown as a runner and a person. I finished that race and I’ve run lots of others, of various lengths, in a variety of places. Despite the injury, I crossed the finish line of my second Marathon last weekend.

My memories of different runs stretch across the palette of human emotion: from indescribable euphoria, to complete suffering and misery. Anything can happen as my body nears its tipping point; my knees screaming, my feet black and bruised, and under several grimy layers of dirt and sweat, my mouth twisted into a grimace.

Running is a rush of something… a feeling… what is it? I look up into a beautiful cloudless sky, a breeze shushes Spring cherry blossoms, the right song plays. I jog across a car-free bridge, look up at a skyscraper, at a waving flag, or over to the sea. My skin is freezing, or it’s scalding. An old man passes me going uphill, a child in a Superman costume hands out a high-five.

Everything else stops, except for me. I am in motion, I am motion, and my heart pounds. My feet ache, my mind smiles.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

the Anthem sings a tribute to 9:30

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I was a little sad when I first heard I.M.P. was opening another club in DC. I love the 9:30 club so much. I’ve been going there for longer than I haven’t been. Why change it up? Why mess with perfection?

Then last night I walked into The Anthem for the first time… and it all made sense.

There’s a big, classy lobby when you first enter. A glass elevator rises up to the terrace area from near the entrance, with access to balcony levels above. Cymbals hang like tiny spaceships in the three story atrium, leading to a crab’s eye view of a rooftop swimming pool (unfortunately, part of nearby condos, not the club.)

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Moving out of the lobby and into the concert hall… the space is enormous. The floor is probably twice the size of 9:30, the balcony 3 or 4x bigger. The stage is huge, too – I can picture it supporting an orchestra-sized act with no problem. If they weren’t going to call this place The Anthem (which is a great name) #930OperaHouse would have worked, too.

There’s an outdoor balcony right above the club entrance and marquee, looking out onto the channel, with a view of the Lincoln Memorial dome poking up above the treeline. Add Anthem to the short list of places in DC where you can have a great time with a view of the waterfront.

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9:30’s rewards program, “Friends with Benefits” has been giving me loyalty “points” since who knows when. Apparently these points accumulated to a point where they tapped me to come for this secret show, pre-official-opening. The performer wasn’t announced until showtime, but internet rumors came true: Andrew WK took the stage. And believe this: if you have a nightclub, and you need a stress-test for it, Andrew WK is your guy. He parties hard. It’s what he does.

Deciding where to watch the show from was, and will probably always be, the hardest part of showing up at Anthem – there’s great sight lines all over, and the space felt large enough that even with a sellout crowd, there would always be an open spot with a stage view.

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Giant light panels programmed to look like curtains flanked each side of the stage. I can’t wait to come back and see the visuals artists will come up with for those. (So when is the first Radiohead show going to be??) Everything about the look and feel of the place embodies 9:30.

Anthem Stage

 

The floor area is an ocean of smooth concrete. Maybe not as perfect for dancing as 9:30’s parquet, but immediately I started picturing Boyz II Men performing with Naughty by Nature on “Roller-Skate Night @ The Anthem.” Seriously, the floor is perfect for it. Lace up those skates!

After stumbling around, jaw-agape at the awesomeness, I was thirsty. Lucky me, there are three bars on each level…. But, I do feel obligated to throw a tiny dart here – and it should be an easy fix – one of the classiest things about 9:30 is how there’s always pitchers of water sitting on the bar. Not so at Anthem (yet.) Hydrate your customers! (Maybe work on the food-ordering system, too… but people should really be eating before they show up for a concert.)

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There are going to be a few minor growing pains, little quirks from 9:30 that got lost in translation – but nothing serious enough to tarnish what will now be the best concert experience in DC (and maybe in the entire USA.)

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#ShowYourWork

I read Austin Kleon’s book “Show Your Work!” last week.

It presents an idea that seems pretty basic on the surface, but is actually pretty challenging: “You can’t find your voice without using it.”

According to Kleon, creative people have to show what they’re doing for it to be meaningful. Showing the work is as important as doing it.

I used to have a good habit of doing that with this blog. Until a few years ago, I was posting regularly, and it seemed like people other than my Mom were actually reading it. (Thanks for reading, Mom!) Things I wrote about here turned into the things I talked about with people out in the world.

Then life caught up. I started grad school. I got engaged. We got a dog, moved, got married, bought a house, and moved again.

Amidst all that, I also changed jobs – and in doing so, had to significantly refocus my energy on learning a new organization and becoming a useful part of it.

Some people use their work experiences as material to write about, but I’ve never thought of this blog as connected to my professional life. In my mind, blogging is separate, a kind of mental ‘safe space’ where the drudgery of work can’t encroach, where I can let my creative brain run free without any requirements or deadlines or connection to the stuff that pays the bills.

Reading Kleon’s book had me thinking about that differently.

A few months ago, my wife and I had an awesome night out – we went to see Bonobo in concert. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that I interviewed Jack Baker, Bonobo’s drummer, almost three years ago. (That interview continues to be, by far, the most read thing I’ve ever posted here.) After their amazing show, we hung out with Jack and the group for a little while. I was embarrassed when Jack and some of his bandmates asked about what I’ve been writing lately – and I had nothing to say.

To me, Bonobo et al. are artists who are right up there where Michael Jordan was when I was a kid – legendary and truly inspirational. They make the world a better place by doing something beautiful that they love (#LifeGoals.) When they seemed to be genuinely curious about what I’ve been writing, it hit me like a brick – I have not been writing or doing anything else creative lately, and that’s a huge missed opportunity when people I admire are asking me about it.

Me, Jack, & Wifey

I quickly resolved to get back into a creative routine after that night. Freshly motivated, I’ve been rekindling my interest in art… drawing, trying to learn how to paint, challenging myself to write at least 500 words everyday… and relishing anytime I can spend away from a glowing computer or phone or TV screen. It isn’t easy. Life is busy, and there’s always something to do. But I’ve found when I make the time for it, the rewards of creating something… anything… are abundant.

Getting back to Kleon’s book – I haven’t been showing anything that I’ve been up to. There’s always a voice in the back of my head, whispering… “This isn’t real work. No one needs to see this. This isn’t what you get paid for.”

After reading “Show Your Work,” I’m starting to think that voice might be right… as long as I don’t show what I’m doing, it won’t be real work. No one will want to see it if I don’t have a story to tell about it. If I don’t show it, it will never be something I get paid for.

So… ahem. Fuck that voice.

Here’s a watercolor I’ve been working on. It’s a work in progress. I had fun doing it – it’s the first time I’ve tried anything like this. I started with a photo I took of Circular Quay, in Sydney. I put the image on a lightbox, traced it into a grid, then reproduced the grid on watercolor paper with pencil. I mixed up some paints (without knowing nearly enough about color) and did some work with my poor student quality brushes. Viola! Now I have a painting of Circular Quay to show the world:

Circular Quay. Watercolor in progress.

Circular Quay. Watercolor in progress.

So, that’s that. I’m showing my work, and I hope anyone who finds this enjoys it.

I’ll close with some wisdom from one of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, who is quoted in “Show Your Work.”

“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

About today in Charlottesville…

When I was a “younger lad”… 14 or 15, maybe? The cops picked me up one night when they found me spray-painting anti-Nazi graffiti on the back of a building. I don’t remember much about the political climate of those days because I don’t even remember specifically when those days were, just that I was a younger, less risk-averse version of my current self – but I do remember that there weren’t any Nazis marching through the streets of Virginia at the time.

And now, there are.

As an adult who used to be a kid who used to tag anti-Nazi graffiti on the back of buildings (when I didn’t even have Nazis around to show it to) what’s the law abiding, responsibility-having version of myself supposed to do about the current state of affairs?

The most saddening and immediate thing that I feel obliged to do… since some of my newer friends didn’t know that teenager that I was, and maybe all they know about me is that I’m a white, 30-something male who lives in Virginia… is to state publicly: unlike those other white, 30-something males, who marched through Virginia today spewing Nazi hatred & violence – I think racism, xenophobia, white supremacy and Nazism are disgusting and have no lawful place in our society.

Now that I’ve gotten out in front of the ambiguity surrounding who these dipshits are, and hopefully distanced myself adequately, the next step, I think, is to acknowledge what’s going on – no easy feat. How is this happening? What world am I living in, where in 2017 Nazis are marching through the streets of Charlottesville? Where I feel the need to digitally wave an “I’m Not a Nazi” flag? I don’t know, I can’t explain. But it’s happening, and letting that sink in is the first step.

So with acknowledgment and denunciation accomplished… how can I help stop these ideas from spreading? My first instinct (resting dormant since I was that 14 or 15-year-old kid) is to grab a baseball bat, hop in the car, drive to Charlottesville, and swing until it lands on the face of the first pig-fucking racist I see… but over the years I’ve developed a passable capacity for restraint, along with a few critical thinking skills that lead me to believe turning that feeling into action isn’t an appropriate long-term solution.

I’m not sure what the collective response to today should be. But I know that part of it should be to speak out, to let everyone that I’m capable of communicating with know what I think:

Nazis are bad. The fact that I have to remind anyone of that, something definitively established half a century ago, is embarrassing and sad. That they are marching through local communities is also bad, embarrassing, and sad. The hateful and racist ideology promoted by these people does not represent real American values. They hide behind a warped sense of patriotism.

I guess, for now, fellow Virginians… be aware that this is, unfortunately, a thing that is happening, and it needs your attention.

Please be resolute in denouncing it at any and all opportunities to do so.

A few words about all the movies I watched in 2016

I’ve been keeping a list of every movie I watched this year… those I’ve seen before and those I saw for the first time.

For each of them, I wrote a very brief reaction. Some are thoughtful, some are irreverent. All are honest.

Here’s the list, in sequential order of my viewing:

Babel – makes Tokyo and Afghanistan and Mexico seem like another planet
Revenant – more movies should be filmed 100% with natural light
Winter on Fire – meanwhile in America the Kardashians what??
Big Eyes – the guy in this movie is a huge asshat
Moonraker – are they serious? They can’t be serious. I love it
The Big Short – Steve Carrell should always play this character
Dallas Buyers Club – drugs should be mostly legal
The Princess Bride – I have no good excuse for seeing this for the first time in 2016
The Perfect Storm – but I can’t stop wondering if Marky Mark is from Boston or not
Unbroken – the book was probably much better
The Men Who Stare At Goats – I don’t know how this got made but I love it
Deadpool – if only they had given Green Lantern this treatment
Finding Vivian Maier – why are the most creative people usually so troubled?
Beasts of No Nation – this should be seen by more people than it probably was
Turner & Hooch – I want a sequel with cats
Ex Machina – the future is going to suck (and kill?)
The Agony & The Ecstacy – it really is a nice ceiling
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – Batfleck, you did alright
Spotlight – shame that newspaper stories have to be made into movies for most people to notice them
All Together Now (Beatles/Cirque “Love” Doc) – Vegas is so rich
Captain America: Civil War – I wanted to take a nap through most of this
Return to the 36 Chambers – I’ll never hear Wu-Tang the same way
“21″ – MIT is so smart
You Only Live Twice – I already forgot literally everything about this
Good, Bad and the Ugly – I have no good excuse for seeing this for the first time in 2016
Ghostbusters (original) – somehow it still gets better every time I watch it
Jurassic World – I wouldn’t complain if this were on at the gym or something
Rock the Kasbah – everything about this was tremendous
The Woman in Gold – cool story but Ryan Reynolds does better with dick jokes
Frances Ha – I love when people who like photography decide to make movies
Fight Club – still good but doesn’t change how I feel about IKEA <3
The Dark Knight Rises – still good but still not as good as Banecat
The Peanuts Movie – beautifully drawn Nyquil
Bo Burnham: Make Happy – the funniest musical since ‘what.’
Beatles: Help! – for someone who grew up with MTV already established this is a revalation
The Man With the Golden Gun – I already forgot literally everything about this
A View To Kill – I already forgot literally everything about this
Chef – the best movie that anyone has ever tweeted in
Bo Burnham: what. – the funniest musical since South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut
Suicide Squad – Margot Robbie
The Bourne Supremacy – still good but so hard to hear all the whisper-yelling
Best of Enemies: Buckley vs Vidal – this is where all the people yelling at each other on TV started I guess
Steve Jobs (Boyle) – Boyle deserves thanks for un-Kutchering this story
Father of the Bride – still good but now anything with early 1990’s fashion is funny
The Hangover – still good but why couldn’t they just leave it without the sequels
Hail, Ceasar! – this basically closes the book on Hollywood
Elvis / Nixon – oh shit this 10 minute meeting seems like a microcosm of the next four years
Prefontaine – why does Jared Leto always have to die
The Lady in the Van – British movies are so much more thoughtful
Allied – what is this like the tenth Brad Pitt movie about WW2
Arrival – omg how can she afford that house on an adjunct’s salary