Michigan light.

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

I’m sitting on the futon couch in Sammy’s dad’s living room, and her dad is paging through this morning’s NY Times, which shows up at 4 am in the mailbox across the road, along with the Wall Street Journal, which Sammy’s brother Gordy is reading. Their postures are remarkably similar in the way that direct relatives are. They’re both sitting to get as much daylight from outside as possible. Although it’s cold, it’s sunny and bright, and we’re grateful for that. It just as easily could have been the dark grey cloud helmet of winter that seems to settle in here and make people’s lives, well, dim in addition to cold.

We’re here to help with the pile of mundane tasks that accompany the passing of a loved one. Sammy’s mother—Nick’s seven-decades-long wife—left the stage just as 2011 turned into 2012. The basic chores—moving, disconnecting, finding places for things— have gone well, and we’re hoping to leave things in a good place for her dad to make his personal adjustments to life more alone.

Somehow being up here in winter always puts me in the mind of beginnings and transitions. Cold, darkness, and vast, flat stretches of midwestern dormant agriculture will do that to you.

Hope your year is starting with enough light to burn off the winter doldrums.

A feeling for timelines.

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Ten years ago today the original iPod was introduced. (Ours is on a shelf next to a Brownie camera in our dining room.) Sixty years ago last Thursday the CBS ‘eyemark’ logo created by William Golden and taken and ran with by legendary CBS design guy Lou Dorfsman was introduced. (Dorfsman’s book about his CBS design career is in our downstairs bathroom.) Nine days ago the newest iPhone, the 4S, became available for sale in the US (and a handful of other countries…we watched the rain-soaked first adopters outside the Apple Store in downtown Montréal.) Four years ago last Wednesday Sammy and I were in “our” Apple Store picking out her desktop machine, which in some ways still looks and “feels” new. In 1999 on October 23rd we were in CompUSA (where? wha?) picking out her blue-and-white G3 desktop, which is…well, I have no idea what happened to it. That day “feels” as if it’s long, long ago. But our data stream reports we had sushi with Bill, Morgan, and Miranda after picking up the machine.

I can string all this data out on a timeline and it still doesn’t “feel” like a linear progression that makes any kind of sense. It’s more like a half-hearted attempt to line up Billy Pilgrim’s unstuck jumbled bullet points of an existence. Our modern digital devices say we were here, or there, at discrete moments. On this day in 1992, we were in Little Rock Arkansas, and while archaeologists met, Bill Clinton’s war room moved him closer to the White House in rented space just down the street from our hotel. We saw Jim Carville in the bar. The next day, we’ll eat at a Hunan restaurant in Benton, Arkansas. Last year on October 23rd we went to Trader Joe’s and spent $39.27. Some of that on chocolate-covered almonds, I don’t know.

And a year or two from now, I can pull out my phone and ask “Siri, where was I on this day in 1977?”

And it’ll still feel completely abstract.


Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

I’m not sure whether I’m squinting because it’s late, or whether my allergies are kicking up or because I’m squinting with skepticism at the idea of writing in this dusty old journal. Probably it’s all of the above.

My sister visited over the weekend, and it was great to see her. When last we saw her, she had graduated law school and had the sword of passing the bar over her head. Well, she has earned that ‘Mission accomplished’ banner, and now, as she visits, I’m aware that she’s simply a lawyer, without disclaimers or asterisks. She’s for real. We celebrate that.

And somewhere in there America commemorated a holiday that is easily the most…well, maybe this is what it felt like to commemorate Pearl Harbor just a handful of years after the event. We did a lot of our commemorating by averting our eyes from the pre-edited pre-digested media presentation of the anniversary. It happened. It’s a while ago now. We go on.

And now, the day after my sister’s visit, I got up early with Sammy and dove deeply into work, crafting layers of (as it turns out) rendered PNGs and animate sequences and making type sizes hit nice even round numbers and, well, it’s the work of a designer. And it felt good to get a lot done.

But now, I’m pretty sure that it’s just late. So I think I’ll go rest my eyes.

Dear nice Swiss tourists…

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Sammy and I enjoyed talking to you at Segesta the other day. Remarkable that you remembered having seen us before at Selinunte, specifically, you remembered Sammy from her somewhat distinctive hat.

We were once again struck by the language skills of so many we encounter in Europe. We have trouble crafting a sentence in English sometimes and you’re able to communicate in our language and apparently several others. And we were delighted to hear that you had visited the United States in the past and had wandered from Niagara Falls out to Arizona. I had to tell you that I had only briefly visited one tiny part of Switzerland. The places you mentioned sounded quite beautiful and I hope we get there sometime.

And when you told us that it would be much harder to choose to visit the US nowadays because our government treats people entering our country like criminals, well, I realized immediately what you were saying and, out of embarrassment for the choices our leaders have made and out of embarrassment for the choices the American people have made in choosing leaders, I apologized profusely.

No amount of terrorist threat, real or imagined, justifies a government that treats its visitors—and its citizens—as suspects first and human beings second. I kept wanting to somehow explain that once you get past the Orwellian paranoia of government, the American people are a fairly decent lot, but of course if you can’t get into the country without being searched, scanned, queried, and probed it’s hard to experience that hospitality.

So, again, sorry. And maybe we’ll be able to dig ourselves out from the pile of scanners and security cameras and secret laws and offer a warm welcome to the rest of the world that matches our beliefs and best traditions.

Traveling colors.

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Sammy tells me that we are looking out from this lovely balcony at the Tyrrhenian Sea. I can tell you it is a calm vastness of water, a blue that would be at home painted on the walls of our Virginia Highland home, and it extends to a soft, defocused horizon.

Our home here for two days, perched on a steep hillside, is a collection of terra-cotta tile colors, stonework old and new, and soft canvas awnings that, taken together says style and comfort and hey, sip some coffee and be contemplative.

So, OK, sure.

Unlike the busy seaways over by the Amalfi coast and between the Punto de Campanella and the island of Capri, these waters seem to be punctuated by just a tiny white fishing boat or two, maybe that’s a sailboat with masts down off in the distance. Still, somehow, you get the sense that the sea is a workplace, a superhighway, a playground.

If I mention that three italian donkeys—Asini in Italian—(Equus asinus domesticus)—are watching me type this, do their shades of cocoa brown and hay-brown add color to the scene, or muddy the picture?

The problem with writing about any of this is as soon as you drop in place names like those, you end up with what sounds like Mythical Typical Travel Writing, an attempt to string phrases as lyrical as the placenames they connect. And if you find yourself hearing your words in your head narrated by Robin Leach, stop, you’ve definitely done something horribly wrong.

So maybe I should practice a bit.

Echoes of protest and repression.

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I’m going to sleep after watching dawn rise over Cairo through live internet feeds from Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, and CNN. (As it turns midnight on the U.S. east coast.) Tanks. Tear gas. Molotov cocktails. Protest. Fear. Rumor. Machinations behind the scenes. Incredulity.

Very nervous about what today will bring to the good people of Egypt. Kinda fearful that if we won’t—or can’t—watch, very bad things will happen.

I look at this faraway square in Cairo.

I think back to another distant square, 22 years ago.

And I think back much further to an Ohio campus square, 41 years ago.

We can look on, listen in, and twitter amongst ourselves and the world community about this pivotal event in the history of a country and its people better than at any time in history. Does it make a difference to their fate, in the face of a gun barrel?

Scanned past.

Monday, January 24th, 2011

At my sister’s behest, I’ve been scanning a large collection of old images from our family. And at this rate, I should have them done sometime in 2017, so, hey, that’s progress. Came across a badly crinkled old black and white contact sheet from my stay in the fall of 1974 in New York’s East Village (I returned some filmmaking equipment for some friends—on the Greyhound—and spent a while living by myself at their Crosby Street loft, which was then a new term to me.)

At any rate, here’s one of the images:

And it didn’t take more than 20 seconds of messing with Google Maps and Google Street View to line it up with the near-present:

This is (and I didn’t know this back in 1974, because my online search capabilities were a bit more limited then) a view toward the The Puck Building, which Wiki-p tells me is “an example of Romanesque Revival architecture”, and during the 1980s was the home of Spy magazine, which I faithfully read, even though their use of tiny type surely led me to my squinty early adoption of reading glasses.

Back in 74, this rust-colored historic place housed a printing ink manufacturer, and in fact I remember the rich smells of toxic ink formulations that wafted down Houston from that fine Romanesque whatever-you-said-it-was architecture. And the smells mixed with the Gulf (hm, now BP) gas station to provide a wonderful urban bouquet in Abe Beame’s New York City.

I’m hoping I can find the negatives from these long-ago pix in all of this mess, but these crinkly scans might have to do.

Target audience.

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Yeah, I thought this was a great example of using design as a political statement:

As reported in Salon, this cover, designed apparently by Dan Savage and Aaron Huffman, reminds us of the power of symbols and the impact of the gun on politics—and personal freedom—on American history.

I’m aghast at the machinations of the Palin/Beck block to try and spin this into something of an attack on right-wing political speech; they attempt to conjure a world where people on the left use the same violent, final terminology as they do. Doesn’t happen. When the very malevolent Roger Ailes has to say “tone it down, guys,” and “make your arguments intellectually,” something has really gone off the rails. They may be so far down the track from the intellectual components of their political arguments that they’ve forgotten how to do that, Roger.