Observations 2020-12-01

  • “Love Is Only Mine” by Bob Dylan, from The Basement Tapes Complete. Dylan in improvised Motown mode.

Observations 2020-12-02

  • Between How To with John Wilson and The Overstory, feeling awash with human beauty.

Observations 2020-12-03

  • A trip to the Chicago River’s north branch.
    • The beaver forming a little triangle wake behind her.
    • The huge blue heron, to whom I crept up slowly, trying to figure out if she was real or a statue. I’ve been fooled by too many lawn ornaments.
    • Making some kind of happy noise when I saw eight or so ducks jumping into the current, one after the other.
    • The shopping list on the forest floor. First item: “Dr. Scholl’s corn remover.”
    • The two women about my age who, when I passed them in the woods, gigglyly said, “you seem special,” and when I asked why, “because your hair” and “you’re just walking alone in the woods, watching that big bird.”
    • The little gourd bobbing in the just-starting-to-freeze river.
  • The window AC unit being held up by a weathered can of green beans.

Observations 2020-12-04

  • Busting out the ol’ hot glue gun and cardboard to make a studio rack prototype.

Observations 2020-12-05

  • Photos of my grandma (bubba) Judy and me, scanned by Mom. Bubba’s sheer mag of bright liveliness showing through even in tiny photo format, twenty-five years later, not diminished at all.

Observations 2020-12-06

  • The tagline on a box for an angle grinder dust shroud: “Nothing but Powerful!!”

Observations 2020-12-07

  • The blister in the center of my palm.

Observations 2020-12-08

  • Pooping while wearing a full-size construction respirator.
  • One candidate for a sentence that describes the way I want to be: “Head in the clouds, hands in the dirt.”

Observations 2020-12-09

  • The little orbits of black asbestos mastic emerging in the slurry of concrete grinding gloop.
  • The saltwatery smell of that gloop (smelt by me through PPE).
  • Before bed, after eight hours of concrete grinding, tooth-brushing feels like tooth-grinding, and air purifiers sound like floor maintainer machines.

Observations 2020-12-10

  • More koans from using a concrete floor grinding machine:
    • The machine is hard to control. It grabs the floor in ways that make it want to spin around and fly into the wall. So you have to maintain a firm grip, of course, but more importantly a calm mind.
    • There are crossroad moments: you can either choke at the first sign of losing control, or trustingly coax the machine back to where you want it. And those moments are too short to think through, so your mind has to be primed, pre-stilled to survive them.
    • This is what drumming to a metronome is like. If you’re thinking too much, you get out of time. But if you can calm yourself, it’s easier to stay with it.
    • I think of it like smoothing out your actions — seeing around the corner, so that you’re not responding to each individual metronome click or knick on the floor, but instead moving in long arcs that land where you want them to.
    • Though these things sometimes lead to anxiety (what if I can’t still my mind?), I love the way that subtle mental shifts lead to really impactful physical consequences. This is floor grinder and drumming mysticism.
    • See also: Zhuangzi’s “The Dexterous Butcher.”

Observations 2020-12-11

  • Sometimes people assume that to be fully engaged with an activity means to direct your eyesight to it, but full engagement can probably be had with any senses, or sometimes no sense at all.

Observations 2020-12-12

  • The “three-story” Christmas tree in the north suburbs of Chicago (three slices of Christmas tree: one in a first-floor window, another in the second, and the top on the roof).
  • How hard it is to open Chanukah gelt without getting chocolate under your fingernails.
  • A hallmark of a shyster: they say “Think about it!” when they mean “Don’t think about it!” Trust what seems true; don’t dig to see what’s more probably true.
    • Just one example, with COVID: it seems like common sense to think that if you can smell things through your mask, then it won’t stop a virus. But dig just a little further and you find that masks are about stopping droplets, which are bigger than the particles that cause smells.
    • It’s worth remembering that “common sense” is necessarily based on observation or things we’ve learned from other people. It’s not in-born. So it makes sense that we’d have to tune it up every once in a while, amend it when new information comes into play.
    • It strikes me that the “crisis of facts” in America isn’t always caused by people willingly sticking their heads in the sand. Sometimes we really are thinking, we’re just thinking based on missing or inaccurate information. And that’s when more info or better info can help.
    • Those who continue to rely on so-called common sense, even when new or better info conflicts with it, can probably only be moved by shifting the whole Overton window — making the bandwagon so big they don’t have to think to get on it.

Observations 2020-12-13

Observations 2020-12-14

Observations 2020-12-15

  • Good Zoom fortune: two good meetings and a therapy session in one day.
  • R.A.P. Ferreira’s virtual cafe promoting his upcoming album, bob’s son. So cool and inspiring.
  • Even more concrete grinding philosophy, if you can bear it:
    • The status of “cleaned” concrete versus “not cleaned” concrete is not binary. It takes dozens of passes, over minutes, to remove the mastic or whatever schmutz from a patch of floor. And even then you can’t really be sure that some trace of it doesn’t persist in the concrete’s porous surface. So concrete-grinding is a matter of pragmatic best-guessing. You grind until it looks clean enough.
    • Other things seem binary, like scraping paint off glass — the paint is there and then it’s gone — but those turn out to be matters of “clean enough,” too. If you took a microscope you’d seem some paint residue left behind. It seems everything physical is spectral, continuous, not perfect and discrete. (How strange is it that spectral, continuous matter can give rise to perfect, discrete things like digital objects? Though those get weird too sometimes, when the physical chips underpinning them behave in predictably unpredictable ways, as all physical things do.)
    • So the difference between concrete-grinding and binary-seeming processes like glass-scraping is not of category, but of degree: of time scale, and effort. Glass-scraping goes quickly, sometimes even in one pass. Concrete-grinding takes minutes on a particular patch before the desired result is achieved. Over a whole room, even longer.
    • If you didn’t know this, you might stop before the job was done, thinking that the process doesn’t work. So it’s important to approach a task with the right time scale in mind. Brushing my teeth: it seems to work in two minutes, but what if each tooth needed the attention of concrete?
    • (Sometimes you can’t see the floor, because the slurry of ground-up mastic is too thick, making the question of time scale more difficult. How do you know when you’ve reached “clean enough” when you have no visibility into the process, no feedback?)

Observations 2020-12-16

  • Beethoven’s 250th birthday, and my 25th. 😎
  • Waking up to a Grogu-themed birthday display and gingerbread cookies, both by Casey. 👶
  • The surprise Zoom with friends that Casey organized for me… and which made me cry. 😭

Observations 2020-12-17

  • The abandoned-looking playground toys strewn about a preschool’s side yard.
  • The contractor talking about the Christmas tree he bought this year — complete with train set underneath — as a “stupid, costly idea.”
  • Imagining Dust-to-Digital as the WorldStar of musicians. e.g. you’re playing a wicked solo on a makeshift drum set and people around you start yelling “Dust to Digitaaaaaaaal!”

Observations 2020-12-18

  • I know that fonts aren’t what makes the country better/safer/fairer for those who need it to be, but it is nice to soon be led by people who care about these details (and collaborate with super-dedicated artists to manifest them).

Observations 2020-12-19

Observations 2020-12-20

  • Getting threatened by an anti-masker customer at — of all places — our sacred Superdawg. I asked him to put a mask on in the enclosed carryout area, and the next words out of his mouth were “I’ll fucking drop you.”
    • He was spouting off about “you voted for [unintelligible]” and “you little fucking punk, open your mouth again and I’ll fucking knock you out.” He got so close to me, to do one of those primal “you wanna go?” chest bumps, I had to put out my forearm to block him. Then his buddy told him to calm down; I got my family’s food and left; and hero Superdawg kicked him out.
    • I think such an abrupt jump to blind hatred would be shocking for anyone to experience, but it’s especially shocking when you’re as sheltered as I am. I’ve had to deal with practically zero behavior like that in my life. So the moment stuck with me for days. How do you cope with that? With the humongous, practically universe-wide chasm between how you see yourself and how someone chose to see you, based on almost nothing, at a split-second’s notice?
  • Petting Casey’s cats while she’s away, then going to my grandpa Zaid’s house and petting (massaging) Zaid. (To Zaid: you’re not a cat, but the acts of caring for you and for the cats bore an undeniable similarity today!)
  • How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, the documentary about the Bee Gees. So great.

Observations 2020-12-21

  • Rory Ferreira addressing critics and fans as “beloved” when setting the record straight or giving advice — something that could be seen as passive-aggressive, but which I really think is gentle and sweet, and for that I love it.

Observations 2020-12-22

  • Sammy’s twenty-first birthday. 🥳
  • Another episode in Chicago North Side bigotry: Talking to a local house paint seller about music in Chicago, and him replying, jovially, “Let’s keep the rappers on the South Side [of Chicago], right?”
    • I said, “That’s a super racist thing to say,” and he went the peace-preserving and cowardly “I was totally joking” route.
    • Which, on one hand, makes his racism seem shallow — as if it’s only about trying to build camaraderie with other white guys like Jason, who was there, and me. But I know it’s not shallow. Or that we can’t allow ourselves to see it as shallow — because he can actually hurt people.
    • And how any shallowness is belied, anyway, by the full-blown, paternalistic insidiousness of it: “let’s keep [them away].”
    • I was unsurprised but angry and disappointed, especially because he had asked about upcoming Chicago artists earlier in the week, I had told him about Sen Morimoto, and he had actually gone home and listened. So I thought, Here’s an open-minded paint seller. It turned out his mind only seemed open, to me, because I’m white.

Observations 2020-12-23

  • The tiniest tumbleweed blowing across the highway.

Observations 2020-12-24

  • Decorating Christmas cookies with Casey’s family. Baby Yoda ones, lizard ones, oops-I’ll-just-douse-it-in-sprinkles ones.

Observations 2020-12-25

  • Delicious tostones and arroz con gandules made by Kiki, Kristin, and Casey.
  • Live Nation’s new $500 million investment from the government of Saudi Arabia. Upsetting… on at least two levels.

Observations 2020-12-26

  • The little ramp in the artificial pond, for turtles and ducks and any other water-stranded local citizens.
  • Pixar Soul. Beautiful animation with an even more beautiful story.

Observations 2020-12-27

  • The difference between cuts with kerf (such as those made by a table saw through wood) and cuts without kerf (such as those made by scissors through paper).

Observations 2020-12-28

  • Our personalities show in the way we pet animals.

Observations 2020-12-29

  • The snow made everything brighter. There’s more light in the windows.

Observations 2020-12-30

  • The mental condition of “samaritrophia,” coined by Kurt Vonnegut’s Dr. Ed Brown in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:

    “Samaritrophia is the suppression of an overactive conscience by the rest of the mind. ‘You must all take instructions from me!’ the conscience shrieks, in effect, to all the other mental processes. The other processes try it for a while, note that the conscience is unappeased, that it continues to shriek, and they note, too, that the outside world has not been even microscopically improved by the unselfish acts the conscience has demanded.

    “They rebel at last. They pitch the tyrannous conscience down an oubliette, weld shut the manhole cover of that dark dungeon. They can hear the conscience no more. In the sweet silence, the mental processes look about for a new leader, and the leader most prompt to appear whenever the conscience is stilled, Enlightened Self-interest, does appear. Enlightened Self-interest gives them a flag, which they adore on sight. It is essentially the black and white Jolly Roger, with these words written beneath the skull and crossbones, ‘The hell with you, Jack, I’ve got mine!’”

Observations 2020-12-31

  • The Christmas-decorated yard with what appeared to be Santa’s head on a stake.