Famous Dead Person

You get the opportunity to talk to a famous deceased person. Who do you chat with and what do you talk about? What are some of their answers? Try writing in their voice. The first person who comes to mind is Kurt Cobain, maybe because I just read an interview with Dave Grohl. But I think Kurt pretty much already said everything he had to say. Or if he didn’t, I can still listen to him singing, so I don’t need to summon up his ghost to hear his thoughts. Also, he was alive relatively recently, so his opinions probably wouldn’t stray far from the rest of his generation that is still around to chat with. To really take advantage of an opportunity to talk to someone who’s dead, I think it would be most interesting to go back further and get perspective from someone who’s entire generation is gone, whose influence is waning, …

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I guess I like ‘Podcasts’ Now. Here’s a few shows you should check out

I had avoided Podcasts for many years after they surfaced because of what they were called. Words derived from commercial products just seem gross to me. They’re lazy. Maybe I also just didn’t enjoy listening to people yap, instead preferring all the music that became so limitlessly available around 2008. But, times change. For the past few months, I’ve been listening to several ….Podcasts…. (the term still makes me cringe) and gathering information, insight, and entertainment.   Here’s a roundup of what’s been in my queue: Longform Longform has been great to hear writers talk about their craft. It’s an interview show that spends an hour or more asking good writers great questions. So far, I’ve heard Josh Dean, Malcom Gladwell, and Carol Loomis. Listening to Josh Dean sent me careening down the David Foster Wallace rabbit hole, since some of his stories were edited by Dean for the New …

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202 days down, 163 to go

I’m still in the photo-a-day project, more than halfway to 365 pictures. It hasn’t gotten any easier, and the difficulty that’s been creeping in could be due to the repetitive nature of the project, or the wearing off of novelty, or my transition from walking everywhere to spending time in the car, or my continual pull away from photography and toward work, and writing, and home life. The catalyst for this project was thin – it was a cold, wintry Sunday and I felt the need to do at least one thing, other than nurse myself on the couch, after a long Saturday of carousing. So I went for a long walk, took a picture of some trees, and decided on the fly that I would take another picture every day for a year. That was it. No research to start, no browsing through other’s work and finding inspiration, no possible financial reward. Just a …

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Freedom, Concrete Island, & Richistan

The three books I’ve finished in the last few days initially seem disparate in theme, but if I dig, I might find a way to associate them and forge a coincidence in completing them around the same time. For some reason each of their unique stories caught my attention, after all. It’s a fun game to pick out three diversely categorized books and try to connect the dots between them, reading each at a completely different pace, thinking about them as various events unfold in my own life, and maybe looking for similarities I wouldn’t otherwise have been interested in. This fumbling investigation is the side effect of having no structured agenda when I decide which book to pick up on any afternoon. On the surface, the novel Freedom is a long and gossipy portrait of modern love and grief in post-9/11 America, and Concrete Island walks the line of …

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Welcome Home, Charlie Brown

We’ve had Charlie Brown for two full weeks now. I started writing the second sentence to say something like “he’s quickly become the center of the family,” and as I was typing, he peed on the floor. That’s what having a puppy is like so far. Mid-congratulation, he does something he’s not supposed to, and I say “No,” and he is sorry for a moment. The hiccups are mostly a reminder that he isn’t a supreme being – a notion that without occasional reminders to the contrary, his human-mom and I might be spun up into believing. Something about having a face with enough wrinkles to be mistaken for an ethereal 150 year old wise man must be the connection. Charlie’s French Bulldog mouth is an ugly thing, pocked with hundreds of  little bumps that signal eventual whisker growth. It’s often clamped on an innocent teddy bear, or octopus, which …

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The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

It was the never-discarded trail of breadcrumbs left behind by my browsing on Amazon.com that led to Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” getting stuffed in a cardboard box and mailed to my apartment. With precision, Amazon remembers everything I’ve ever looked at, how long I looked at it for, and what I looked at next. It really wouldn’t benefit them to “tidy up” that history, nor would it anyone else who is enamored with the idea of “big data” and harvesting trends from massive collections of information. So it’s in this age of everything digital lasting forever, and giant mountains of digital ’stuff’ being heralded as the holy grail of information, that a book about throwing things away has become an international bestseller. Despite the celebrated promise of data hoarding, my past browsing led the magical website to believe that a book about cleaning (or ’tidying’ …

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Bright Sided

Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. Barbara Ehrenreich. Picador, 2010. Twenty seconds before I sat with this book for the first time and saw the opening chapter’s title, ‘Smile or Die,’ an acquaintance walked by and saw me in my harried, just come in from the cold state, and said – “Hey, man, Smile!” So the context I’m working from is one where I have a very immediate sense that Ehrenreich is looking at real attitudes that exist everywhere around me: Smiling is Happy. Happy is Good. Good is Mandatory.  I was attracted to ‘Bright Sided’ because I knew it would take on ‘positive psychology,’ and propose that ‘thinking good thoughts’ is more delusional than anything else. As I’ve written before, I have personally benefited from learning about positive psychology – the ‘What Went Well’ exercise had a tangible effect on my life.  Ehrenreich believes that focusing on what’s good and going well is selling ourselves …

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On Finding Brian Writing

Brian Writing has moved! You can now find me at http://www.brian.digital/writing I switched from living on wordpress.com to managing a self-hosted site. Hopefully this doesn’t cause any headaches – I think I crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s, so you should still find me in your WordPress readers or email inboxes, if you are a subscriber. And Bonus! No more ads! All the old posts are also still available, so maybe use this update as a reminder to go digging through the archives while I come up with something new to write about. -Brian    

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on the Oscars and Being Liked

If you haven’t seen Birdman, Boyhood, or the Imitation Game, maybe don’t read this post yet. Three of the films nominated for Best Picture this year had climactic scenes in which characters confronted the importance of ‘being liked.’   Coincidence? Or important cultural phenomenon, captured? I’m leaning towards the latter. The ‘being liked’ discussion did heavy lifting in these narratives, and served as a critical character-defining plot point in each. In Birdman, Michael Keaton’s character Riggan is overwhelmed by the criticism and potential of failure he faces for trying to re-define his legacy. As a former action-movie star, now forgotten, his quest for recognition has led him to produce a serious drama on Broadway. He tries to explain his motivations to his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) but she calls his sincerity into question. She’s right. Riggan: Listen to me. I’m trying to do something important. Sam: This is not important. Riggan: It’s …

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on ‘The End of Absence’

“I fear we are the last of the daydreamers. I fear our children will lose lack, lose absence, and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value.”  –  The End of Absence Many children this winter, especially in Boston, are having days off from school because of the weather. They’re being ‘absent.’ I used to love being ‘absent,’ on snow days. There was a peculiar isolation in it, a kind of detachment that’s almost impossible to reproduce now. This winter, those kids in Boston are having an entirely different ‘absence.’ They’re not absent in the way that I used to be absent. The End of Absence by Michael Harris is another book about the internet and how modern technology is changing the human experience. I keep reading books like this. Most of them have a pessimistic take on what it all means, and the fact that I spend many evenings reading stuff like this …

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