Category Archives: Life

Capturing and Cataloging the Digital Ephemera

In the constant battle to get the most out of my life, I’ve been mulling over how best to add catalog my reflections.

I am a reflective person. Duh. I like to talk, I like to discuss ideas and events, I like to analyze social interactions, I like to write. All of these things help me process, help me reflect and dissect and make sense of what happens to me in my life and what I think and feel about issues or events or people.

I’ve been writing on this blog for about seven years now, and I’ve journaled intermittently for around 12-13 years. Two years ago, I made the upgrade from flip phone to smart phone, which has opened up a new world of reflective possibilities.

What I’ve been trying to figure out is how best do I organize all of this digital ephemera? Let’s face it, my generation is one of digital reflection. When we think, we tweet. When we debate, it’s online. I still hand write thank you notes, but I haven’t handwritten an actual letter or journal entry in years.

Yes, people can lament the loss of the handwriting medium, but what I gain from digital expression is that the potential for organization and cataloging is nearly infinite. For example, iPhoto has allowed me to catalog nearly 15,000 pictures of the last seven years by geographical place or by human face.

And this is just one example of all the cataloging technology has allowed. What I ultimately want is a cataloging standard for all the disparate places where I record my life: my journal, my blog, my photos, things I save on the web, random little notes, to-dos, etc. I’m not tech-savvy enough to be able to actually get all these platforms to connect to each other, but having a standardized cataloging system implemented would help me keep all this digital stuff in place, help me more efficiently find the content I’m looking for right when I need it.

The most simplistic (and very likely, the most realistic) solution to this problem is tags. Tags are digital flags that can be attached to content; I can name them whatever I want and so create a hierarchy all my own.

As the amount of digital content increases, so does the ubiquity of tags. People want this stuff organized, and tags are a really easy way to do so.

However, tags are not the perfect solution, mainly because as I start to think about what tags I’d want to create a filing system, I begin to realize that what I’m really looking for is a very specific hierarchy of tags. If I write a journal article about my baby, I could tag it “Baby.” If I then journal about a friend having a baby and tag that “Baby,” I can’t actually delineate between the journal about my baby and the one about my friend’s baby, and at some point, I’ll probably want to parse those out.

One problem is that this tagging structure isn’t necessarily available for all digital platforms. But even more so, the disparity between digital platforms is going to stop me from actually creating a cataloging standard that I can fit on top of each platform in the first place.

So I almost have to categorize the various digital media first, and then try and create an organizational standard with variables; these variables can then be molded to fit any given platform I’m using.

These are all overtly conceptual terms and I want to give a real example. I keep all of my music in iTunes. I write this blog on WordPress, and I keep my journal in Day One. Three separate digital platforms, hosting different kinds of content, with their own individual organization built in to each system.

With iTunes, you’ve got a platform where organization is built in. Files are meant to be organized by artist, album, song, with lots of extra fields for composer, year, genre, comments, etc.

WordPress has a hierarchy of categories and tags. I keep my categories fairly broad (politics, music, movies, life, blogging, etc.) and my tags are whatever the heck I want them to be. Some are actual informational tags, some are just joke references for people who know more pop culture than is good for them.

And then Day One has a cut-and-dry tagging system. No hierarchy, just tags.

So rather than trying to create a system that will fit perfectly on top of all three of these platforms, I want to create a structure that is fluid, with variables of organization that might not interchange perfectly, but logically make sense in the platform I’m using, and that are at least analogous to another system.

And for this, I keep coming back to tags. Tags are my variable. They will bend to fit what I need them to fit. For my previous example, they are three different platforms that hold different kinds of content, but with tags, I have a tool that can help me organize the content in all three.

If you have no interest in organizing digital content, my thanks and appreciation goes out to you for reading this far. But less important than how I actually do it is why I care about it so much. For better or for worse, my American generation is full of kids whose lives have been lived in a digital environment. We interpret the world very differently than our parents (like every generation in the last 150 years has) and so much of our identity is tied up in a digital space.

And that’s why all this organization matters to me. I am one of those kids with a digital identity. When I reflect on various events in my life or process through difficult life issues, I don’t want to lose those reflections or processed thoughts. I want to keep them so I can return to them. One of the best parts of having written for as long as I have is randomly going back through old journal articles. Reading my words and remembering the thoughts attached to those memories. Who doesn’t love going through old photos and being immediately rushed back to the thrill of when that boy held your hand, or how much fun that concert was with your best friends? Insert whatever cheesy memory you might have and it works.

I’ve recently taken on a pretty extensive project, much like the home video project my wife and I worked on a few years back. I’ve begun scanning all the old photos from the albums that my parents have at their house. So far, I’ve only done three complete photo albums and I already have nearly 500 pictures done. I’ll move on next to old disposable camera photos that Colls and I took in high school (ah, the early 2000s), and eventually I’d like to move on to Colleen’s family photos.

What’s awesome about this is that I’m stumbling over photos I remember from growing up, but even cooler, I’m finding old photos of my parents that I don’t remember ever seeing, and that offer a peek into a world and time in which I didn’t exist yet.

Scan 5

Seeing photos of my parents when they were the age I am now is fascinating. It’s crazy to look at a picture of the two of them with a brand new baby and think that they most likely were feeling the same confusion, frustration, and white-hot joy being new parents that I’m beginning to feel now.

Once I’m done with this photo project and have all this new content tagged in my organizational system, it’ll take only a few keystrokes to find all the pictures I have of my parents with any of their kids, or my own baby, or me and my wife when we were 16 years old.

Ultimately, I believe our lives can be fuller if we don’t forget where we’ve come from, what we used to be. It helps me appreciate things more. When I look back at the photos of my wife and me when we were tiny little teenagers, I am transported back to what it felt like to have an unstoppable crush on a girl. And that’s such an important memory for me to keep, because obviously, after more than 10 years together, that’s not how Colleen and I feel for each other anymore. Our relationship and love has matured into something completely different than that high school crush and we’ve seen a lot more difficulty and goodness in life than I could ever have imagined. I don’t want to feel like I did when I was 18, I want to feel like I do when I’m 28, but with the knowledge of our past firmly intact.

That’s what organized reflection provides.

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Reading Rainbow

This link will appear various times throughout this post so I hope you click it at least once.

The world we live in can be overwhelmingly disheartening. In our country, we are subjected to a broken political system where it seems like nothing can get accomplished and things continually get worse. We are a people so unwilling to do the littlest thing for our neighbor because it’s an inconvenience.

And then there are things like Reading Rainbow and its Kickstarter campaign.

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Just a quick bit of background, Reading Rainbow was a show on PBS that premiered in 1983. It was hosted by LeVar Burton (guy in the picture) and encouraged its viewers (aimed at kids in elementary school) to read. Each episode covered a topic found in a children’s book (the rain forest, optical illusions, lions, music, etc.), and explored it through several segments, while recommending several other books on the topic for viewers to seek out and read.

That video was my childhood. Reading Rainbow was in the lineup of PBS shows I watched religiously as a kid. I guarantee that this next statement is included in every piece written by a mid-’20s to mid-’30s writer about Reading Rainbow or this Kickstarter campaign, but I feel obligated to include it:

Reading Rainbow had an incalculable effect on my love of reading and learning. (If it’s any indication, I named my book review blog series I started at the beginning of the year “Butterfly In The Sky.”)

One might assume that because I am a career librarian, I have some entitled love of the show that transcends the “average” viewer’s love of the show. First of all, librarianship is not a field of book reading. Books are only a part of the field, and I could write a long post about this but others have done it far more eloquently than I could. I encourage you to go read some librarian-written blogs. They’re awesome.

Secondly, of course I’m grateful to the show for instilling a love of reading in me. But far more importantly than that, the show encouraged a love of learning. Learning was its cornerstone. It just happened to explore the joy of learning through the lens of literature, which I think I was predisposed to love due to my educational upbringing (shout out to homeschooling moms with el. ed. degrees) and the ironic fact that my staunchly conservative parents were overwhelmingly supportive of our family’s utilization of any and all resources at that most liberal of government institutions, the public library.

Here’s that link again.

But I’m digressing. Let’s fast-forward 30 years to 2013. By last year, Reading Rainbow had been off the air since 2006 (23 seasons, not too shabby for a publicly funded television program) but had regained some serious patronage numbers through the release of their iPad app in the summer of 2012. The app allows for unlimited reading of children’s literature and video field trips with LeVar. Within 36 hours of its release, it became the #1 most-downloaded educational app in the iTunes App Store. Well done, Reading Rainbow team.

Fast-forward one more year, to just about three weeks ago. Reading Rainbow launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to make their app available on the grand-daddy of all digital platforms, the web, along with 1500 free classroom subscriptions to lower income schools. The initial fundraising goal was $1 million.

And this is really where the heartwarming stuff comes in. The campaign hit its fundraising goal of $1 million in 11 hours.

ELEVEN hours. That’s insane. That means enough people cared about this project getting off the ground to contribute a 7 figure sum of money. That many people cared about getting literature in front of kids, to promote literacy, learning, and the pure imagination that comes from reading. It makes me emotional.
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After they hit that goal in almost no time flat, the team behind the campaign decided to raise the goal to $5 million. With this goal increase, the team will be able to offer the app through multiple digital platforms (Android, gaming consoles, OTT boxes, etc.) and offer free classroom subscriptions to 7500 classes.

This is huge. The amount of kids who will have access to this app has exploded with their goal increase. Right now, the campaign has raised $3.8 million, and approximately 82,500 backers. There are 12 days left in the campaign, and while they raised the second million within the next 24 hours, the funding has slowed considerably since then.

Here’s where you can help. Go to this link, and pledge some money. You can pledge as little as $1 and as much as you want above that. Plus, you get gifts based on how much you pledge. Honestly, there is not a downside.

It’s weird how strong of a visceral, emotional reaction to this campaign I had when I heard of it. It was an amalgam of nostalgia and pride and hope, mainly due to my month-old baby daughter. My hope is that she grows up in a world where learning is easily accessible for her. Where she is empowered by information, by the facts, by truth, rather than frightened by them. A world that puts value into her character and personality and mind rather than into the preconceived roles it thinks she needs to play.

I want Millie to have every opportunity she can to experience what a painfully beautiful world this can be. I truly believe the best way she can do that is through learning and the belief that her imagination and creativity and curiosity will take her wherever she wants to go. I think Reading Rainbow believes the same thing, and that’s what they want to bring to kids all over the country. I strongly support their mission, and I hope you do too. The campaign ends on July 2nd, so go pledge!

BA DA BAH!

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Eighty-Eight Keys

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWith one simple addition, our home has been injected with the potential for culture and tradition like it didn’t have before.

After eight months of searching, Colls and I have a piano in our house. Specifically, on our main floor. There is also a large upright piano in the basement, but there are various keys that don’t sound and it will take a fair amount of work to get that thing back up to playing condition. Repurposing it will become a huge new project for the weekends.

So actually, we’ve now got two pianos in our house. That’s more than anyone actually needs, but both were free so I’m not complaining. I found the new one on Craigslist, the seller just looking for anybody to take it off their hands during their downsizing move. We gave it a once-over, and other than being in severe need of a tuning and a missing screw in the music stand, it looked good to go.

It’s on the main floor in the living room. The floating couch faces away from the piano, so even though it’s the second largest piece in the room (behind the entertainment center), it doesn’t draw the eye due to the segmentation of the room.

And I like that. One of the reasons I enjoy playing the piano is because for me, it is more of an individualistic instrument to play than guitar. There is less performer-listener interaction that happens, and I’ve found that my high from playing music doesn’t come from that interaction. If I was a huge rock star, it wouldn’t be the effect of my music on the audience that would keep me touring. It’d be the feeling of making awesome music that I enjoyed night after night.

That’s probably why I’m not a diehard live music fan. I don’t go to have some transcendent experience seeing the artist performing the music in front of me, I go because the artist is good and will make good music. The times I’ve actually gotten some euphoric feeling from playing music live in front of other people has always been connected to specific songs, or instances where I can remember playing something and thinking, “That sounded awesome. We just created an awesome sound.”

When you play guitar in front of people, most likely, they will be staring you directly in the face. Behind that decently small piece of wood, I can’t mentally retreat to focus strictly on playing music. With the piano, the closest a spectator can get to you is on your side (unless you’re playing on a grand piano, which is not what I’m ever going to be playing on). I don’t have to focus on who is listening, I can let my mind go to a more meditative space than I can with guitar.

The piano is an instrument that is more easily nuanced than the guitar. This is one of the reasons every fall, on campuses across the nation, there is an army of frat guys who learn how to play “Better Together” by Jack Johnson (or whatever the 2014 version of that song would be. My apologies for the outdated cultural references, I’m nearing 30 and don’t have the time). With the guitar, you can put a near-zero amount of effort in, and your yield is the temporary heart of any white girl who happens to be in earshot.

With the piano, the activation energy is much higher. You’ve got to either have a fantastic ear or be able to read sheet music to figure out how to play anything. Back to the nuance point though; with the guitar, the most notes you can play simultaneously is six. If you’re good, you can create sounds that sound fuller than six notes, but it’s not nearly as easy. With the piano, right off the bat, you’ve got ten fingers, so at a minimum you can pound out ten notes. Then on top of that, you’ve got the damper pedal, which extends the notes-played potential a great deal.

So with the right sheet music and a little bit of time, I can elicit these chords that just break my heart. For as long as I’ve listened to the Vince Guaraldi Trio provide the soundtrack to my Christmas seasons, now I can recreate a shadow of those sounds, and it is remarkably satisfying.

And I hope this does create a unique feeling in our household, for our kid(s). Colleen and I both grew up households with a piano. I remember siblings practicing on it for most of my kid years, and Dad playing ragtime, which is probably why I love The Sting so much. Colleen’s got home videos from her dad playing the piano and having the girls sing together at various ages.

Now that our home has a baby in it, I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to create a cultural home of memories for our kids. A place that has a distinct feeling for our family, different from anywhere else. I know I don’t really have to try and that will just happen naturally, but I’m trying to find this balance of creating a home culture that my wife and I find happiness in but also one that our kids treasure as they grow older, without totally shoving it down their throats. I’m decently worried about the day my kid starts to listen to some awful kid music du jour that I can’t stand.

But I’m sure these sorts of battles will come in time and hopefully work themselves out. For now, we have a piano that should last us for at least as long as we’re in this house, and I’m relearning how to play ragtime, learning anew how to play pop music, and shooting for speed on jazz scales. While she might eventually love 1-D or whatever artificially-produced effluvium is passing for pop music when she’s older, she will at least have an understanding of quality music, in the form of Gershwin, Joplin, Brubeck, Guaraldi, Folds, John and Joel.

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Happy New Year: Midyear Check-In

At the beginning of 2014, I wrote a short piece on New Year’s Resolutions. I picked 6 goals that I thought were measurable, valuable and attainable and attempted to keep them. Here’s a quick recap of the first half of the year.

  • Journal for 31 consecutive days

I did this in for the entire month of January. As I wrote in my original post, the Art Of Manliness posited this challenge to its readers and actually had a day-by-day writing roadmap. Each day had a new prompt to jog the writing muscle, and it worked great. I wrote my 6-word memoir, picked out a DIY project I wanted to tackle*, picked out my Cabinet of Invisible Counselors, did some free association, figured out what I’d do with loads of money, and determined my current place in the Hero’s Journey. And that was just a week’s worth of journal prompts. It was awesome, and I’ve kept up journaling at least three times a week each week.

  • Listen to a new album for 2 weeks straight, write about it

This is the resolution I’ve probably kept the best. I made a list of 26 albums from before 2013, none of which I’d ever listened to before. It was a mix of R&B, funk, rock, pop, jazz, country, folk, and ranging from the ’50s to the ’00s. I tried my best to keep the variety relatively even, with no one decade or genre being favored. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Sure, there have been a few albums I haven’t fallen in love with, but there have been far more gems I’ve stumbled across. It’s also been a new way to uncover just a few of the infinite connections within pop music.

For example, a few weeks ago I listened to Funkadelic’s Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On. After getting to know the album and really digesting it for two weeks, I randomly started making a playlist of my favorite tunes from the Native Tongues Collective, which caused me to go back through De La Soul’s De La Soul Is Dead. As “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” began, I realized I had heard the intro phrase directly from a Funkadelic record. This was quickly followed up by the riff from “I’ll Stay,” a tune from the Funkadelic record I had just finished writing about. I had listened to this De La Soul record many times, but had never made this connection before.

If that wasn’t a cool enough connection, that exact same week on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a song with The Roots. They played “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On.” Had they done this two weeks prior, I wouldn’t have had a clue what this song was. And it was so awesome.

  • Read a book every 2 weeks, write about it

I’ve been less consistent with this one. While I started off the year strong, the last month has been so insanely hectic that I haven’t kept up well. I’ll explain why in a minute, but continue as best as I can for the back half of the year.

  • Drink less alcohol

Definitely succeeded in this. Haven’t completely stopped drinking, but having a pregnant wife helps.

  • Complete Insanity again (twice, or once and run a marathon)

It’s a shame that the one physical goal on my list was completely abandoned, but I feel like I have a legit excuse. I actually started Insanity in the beginning of January, and on like the 4th day, I went down to the basement to do the day’s workout, and found about an inch and a half of water on the basement floor. Turns out our neighbor’s irrigation system hadn’t been turned off, and the brutally cold days we had in January caused some pipes to burst between our houses, and the result was water. No joke, it seriously was two full months before we had the entire place cleaned up and back to normal.

So I haven’t completely given up on this goal, although my expectations are a little different.

  • New blog post once a week (average)

Definitely kept up with this one too. Some weeks have been a challenge to come up with something and other weeks I’ve had more than one post with no problem.

So hopefully I can keep these goals up as the year keeps going. The biggest change in our life is that I’m writing this post with a 6-day old baby sleeping on my chest. The last two months has been wall-to-wall getting prepared for our family becoming three. Trips to Babies ‘R’ Us, rearranging nursery furniture, playing go-for for my increasingly pregnant wife, going to prenatal classes at the hospital, etc. My usual lunch breaks where I’ve been able to get an hour of reading in has been replaced with baby-related errands.

So I’m not being overly hard on myself for not completing Insanity twice, or keeping up with the reading. I’ve got high hopes for the back half of the year, like getting back into running (a marathon is a pretty lofty goal, I might scale it back to shorter race) or getting some other books read. If nothing else, I’m absolutely going to keep writing. Aside from that and caring for a newborn, everything else is gravy.

*Homemade ladder ball set, completed two weeks ago with tools and moral support provided by my pal Eli. We’ve since used it and it is an awesome and gorgeous addition to my yard.

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Last Rites

We are two weeks away from the due date of our little girl. My mental state has been hitting extremes; at times I am exuberantly happy about where I am in my life, what I’ve been given, what I’ve accomplished, and what’s ahead. Other times it truly begins to dawn on me that in a very short period of time, I’m going to be completely responsible for a helpless child, an actual human being that has a brain and a soul.

And one isn’t the positive extreme and other a negative; I’d almost say more that these are just corollary emotions. They aren’t the same but they are very closely intertwined.

As I look back over the last 27.5 years of living (about 20 or so years of memories to reflect upon), I’m realizing that the life-changing events that happened, I wasn’t aware that I would be radically changed by them, let alone how they would change me. Missions trip to Mexico at 15, moving to Kansas City at 17, transferring to UNI in the middle of college, studying abroad in Spain, becoming a husband. These are formative experiences in my life that changed me at a fundamental level, and I had little to no idea that change would occur.

One of the most humbling parts of getting ready to have a baby is trying to prepare for change to occur again. It’s the first time in my life that I am so utterly cognizant of the fact that my world is about be torn apart at the seams and everything I know and am used to is going to be flipped upside down.

And I can’t prepare for it. Not fundamentally, anyway. Practically, sure. We’ve spent 8.5 months getting ready for our family to grow; putting a crib together, taking classes at the hospital, figuring out new work schedules and childcare and trying to settle as best as we can in our home. But with this first kid, there is such a gigantic variable that we can’t prepare for. Basically, the little kid herself.

What is she going to be like? Is she going to be fussy, a good sleeper? Will she have curly, blonde hair like both me and Colls did? Will she find us funny? What will she become passionate about that isn’t like us at all?

I am looking forward to getting to know our little woman. And it freaks me out to think about how Colls and I are both going to change as a result of growing our family. I’ve never been more lucid or aware of the fact that I don’t know what’s about to come.

And we’re getting down to the wire here. When I’ve thought about big moments coming up in my life, like graduating, getting married, buying a house, retiring, they’ve always felt so distant, like I couldn’t totally get my hands on the concept of the event actually happening. Colleen and I have been talking about having kids since before we were dating (I guess that’s how church kids flirt?) and even after we started talking about it once we were married, it always felt so far off, like it would always definitely happen, just not right now.

And wouldn’t you know it, all of a sudden, it is right now. I can tangibly count down to when our baby will be coaxed into the world if she hasn’t decided she wants to arrive of her own volition.

So here are my last rites. This is my prayer for me, and this is different than my prayer for my child. I’m calling it my last rites not because I’m dying, or I think having a kid is ruining my life, but because for the first time, I am 100% aware that the Jon writing this right now is not going to be the same as the Jon writing about his new baby in a month. I’ve been excited to meet this little woman for a long time, but I’m surprised to find I’m getting more and more excited to become this new Jon too.

I pray that God is preparing me to be a good father, one who is present, loving, listening, communicative, and strong. I pray for acceptance that the life I’ve known for a long time is ending and a desire to fully embrace and experience everything about this new chapter that is beginning. I pray for humility in accepting that I cannot be a perfect parent, and that God is using my role as a father to teach me to more fully realize and accept the love He has for His children. I pray that I can throw away any sense of self-consciousness and be a dad who isn’t afraid to play and imagine and encourage and talk with his little woman. I pray that God gives me a childlike heart to experience the world like she does and provide her with opportunities to feel and embrace, with everything she is, the overwhelming beauty of the world God has given us.

And I pray one day she finds me interesting enough to want to read this. I love you, little woman. I will always do my best for you.

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My 6-Word Memoir

I spent the wretched month of January journaling every day, thanks to a great article and call to action from the Art of Manliness. They have some awesome journal entry prompts in that article, one of which I’d like to share here. This was by far one of my favorite entries to write for the whole month, due to the sheer uniqueness and ingenuity of the prompt. So here we go:

Continuing to work within that idea of constraints, try to write a 6-word memoir of your life so far. This idea is rumored to have originated from Papa Hemingway. The benefit is that with only six words, you really have to filter your life to what you deem most important. It may take you many iterations, but you’ll end up with something that speaks largely to who you are, if not in toto, then at least in this moment in time.

There is a touch of ambiguity to this assignment, but not enough that it makes it impossible. So I started by writing words that for some reason or another I associate with my life and my identity, and then went from there.

  • Music
  • Colleen
  • iPod
  • albums
  • play counts
  • minor chords
  • beauty
  • mystery
  • organization
  • reading
  • growth
  • sadness/melancholy
  • confidence
  • guitar
  • individualism
  • hummus
  • ping pong
  • rum and coke
  • Spain
  • media
  • writer

For an extra challenge, I wanted to do more than one, but ultimately only choose one that was the defining 6-word story, the one that was My Memoir. All of these are unique in their own way and communicate different things about me. I ended up with 10, and I almost listed them out in order from worst to best, 10-1. But after starting to manipulate the order, I realized I love how they read when written out exactly as I wrote them. You can begin to see the train of thought my brain followed as I was writing these out. Most of what follows is exactly from the journal entry almost a month ago now. So here we go.

1. Compiling life’s soundtrack after leaving family.

I might like this one the best. It contains two incredibly complex parts of my life in a very simple structure. It hits on my love for music which trumps nearly every interest or hobby or passion I have in life. And not just that I enjoy listening to music but compiling a soundtrack is finding music that fits the moment. I don’t want to just throw on whatever I want to listen to, I love playing to my audience.

For example, I’ve been working on a playlist for about a year and a half called “vacation” that I have at the ready whenever we go on vacation with Colleen’s family and I’m asked to put on some music. It’s nearly 300 songs, none of which my father- or brother-in-law will actively dislike. The reason I’m proud of this playlist is that neither of those men would really say they care what was played (and I believe them), which actually makes it insanely difficult to find music that they’ll actively enjoy listening to. This playlist is 18+ hours of music that both will, at the very least, not dislike, and at best, really enjoy listening to.

That’s a huge feat for me. And that’s why I love the first half of this statement.

But the second half ties in my upbringing, but most importantly, the breaking away from my upbringing. I have lots of complex feelings towards my family, my childhood, being homeschooled, having five siblings, how I was raised, etc. And to be honest, a lot of my identity is wrapped up in how I differ from my family.

This isn’t to be read as I have bad parents or I hate my childhood. I’ve just found a lot of strength in drawing a line in the sand of my life and resolving to be my own man. To raise my version of The Jeffrey Family, not my parents’ or grandparents’ or siblings’ version. Everybody has things about their parents or siblings or grandparents that annoy them and most often, it’s just shrugged off with “Oh well. That’s just Nana being Nana” or “that’s just <blank> being <blank>.” I reject that notion.

First off, it’s insane to think that people can’t change and it’s foolish to give up on them. Secondly, I refuse to accept that the things in my character or personality that I dislike are irrevocably ingrained in me and there’s nothing I can do about it. “It’s in my genes!” is such an easy way to justify a negative behavior in yourself that will be difficult and painful to change. There are loads of things about myself that I dislike, character traits and behaviors and what-have-you that I find negative and unproductive and dysfunctional and selfish and I want to spend my life eradicating them to the best of my ability, not justifying them with an “oh well, that’s just me!”

And that’s where a lot of the second half of this statement comes from. In my mind, the concept of leaving family meant leaving behind the child I was and becoming the man I want to be for my wife, my children, my friends and my community.

I also played with “compiled” versus “compiling” and I like the present tense better. My memoir isn’t complete yet.

2. Earbuds in, confidence comes from identity.

Another musically themed one, but I like the confidence from identity idea. I do find myself most confident when I have a fully-formed sense of identity, in an high-level perspective of my life, but also within smaller, individual situations.

3. iPod fully charged, ready to go.

This is incredibly trite, because it really only hits upon the music thing and nothing else. “Ready to go” is maybe the worst set of three words I’ve ever written and not immediately deleted.

4. Busy making lists with music playing.

I hit upon my OCD list-making tendencies and music again.

5. Eating hummus, drinking rum, iTunes scholar.

I love this one, aside from the fact that it’s not an actual sentence. It might seem odd I’d mention something as superfluous as hummus and/or rum, but both tie directly into individual memories that I remember as something that has shaped me. Hummus reminds me of a recent memory, where an older adult woman suspiciously asked what that hummus was that I was eating and I implored her to try some. After many declines, she finally took a small cracker and put on it the most miniscule amount of hummus. Barely visible. She then ate it and said she didn’t like it. It was that thing you did when you were a kid and you wanted someone to think you tried something but you really couldn’t even taste it and then you said you didn’t like it. This woman essentially confronted me with blandness, plainness, unwillingness to try new things and more importantly, the non-creativity or lack of ability to see new opportunities and take advantage of them. I got to see this unadventurous behavior manifest itself in not wanting to try a weird new food, and it made me sad because hummus is hands down one of my Top 5 Favorite Foods and this woman* had already written it off before she even gave it a go. It was a moment of character clarity for me.

The rum attests to my time in Spain, where I learned how to play ping pong, and what kind of social person I wanted to be. I will also look back on my five months abroad as the time I grew into my own as a person. Not necessarily grew up, but became a much more realized version of who I wanted to be heading into adulthood. I also saw several people go through the same sort of transformation, and I was a part of several different social circles Venn-Diagramming themselves with each other. It was educational to say the least. In particular, in the big group of American students from different parts of the States, I remember one kid who was desperate to latch onto someone else’s concept of self-assuredness and identity because he couldn’t create one himself. He literally bounced between social circles, trying on different social persona hats. Now to be clear, I don’t think it’s wrong to try different personality hats, but this kid was literally stealing them off of people’s heads to see how they fit. He had no clear notion of how to create his own hat and be his own person. He couldn’t even cobble together little bits of personality from other people and form something semi-original from them. And for some reason, all of this is associated with rum, because that was my drink of choice at social functions. I remember one evening in particular, I was having a rum and a coke, we had a group of probably 20 or 30 kids hanging out on the beach, and I noticed Unoriginal Kid begin to personality-mooch. It was the moment I realized I had an emotional gut reaction to it.

And then obviously the music aspect communicated through iTunes. What I like about this is how specific it is. It’s not just “fan of music” or something, but it’s the fact that I am near-obsessive about this music software that allows me to catalog and organize my music in a very exact way. The program has allowed me a way to interact with my music that I couldn’t through just a set of LPs or something. It speaks to my innate tendency to make lists. iTunes was definitely a slow-burn life-changer for me.

6. Reshaped idea of home in Spain.

Contrary to how this might read, this isn’t referring to any sort of eternal love of Spain that developed and desire to move back. I’ve said often since my trip that traveling abroad is an incredibly valuable experience because it forces you to redefine your sense of what home means to you. I was away from my home, my family, my friends, and my country for five months. I was away from my culture, my language, so many things that are so decidedly natural to me that I had to start from scratch and quickly find what was important to me and how to stay sane in that foreign place. It was incredibly useful to me as a human being.

7. Life intertwined with Colleen and media.

First one where I mention Colleen, interestingly enough because she is such a inseparable part of my identity. I also mention media here, which hits movies, TV, books, music, the whole nine yards.

8. Social introvert found love in Mexico.

A much more artful way to reference Colleen. The Mexico mention refers to our making our acquaintance on the Mexico trip of our freshmen year in youth group.

9. Musically-shaped worldview provided confidence, identity.

I’m just recycling stuff at this point. I wanted to bring music back in somehow though, and I like the idea that my worldview is shaped by media, which obviously it is.

10. Struggling to stand out, found love.

This references every teenager’s desire to be their own person, to stand out from the crowd. I did it through a huge afro and landed Colleen. Not bad I’d say.

This was an outrageously fun journal exercise to do. From the amount of writing on each one, I’d say I’m evenly split between numbers 1 and 5. I’m pretty proud that the very first one I wrote it one of the two best. What is your 6-word memoir?

*The woman was not Mom; Mom likes hummus. As her kids have become adults, my mom has grown leaps and bounds in trying new things and embracing new experiences. She is an outstanding lady.

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Baby/Blog Posts

Two pretty big pieces of news to share:

  1. This is my 200th blog post.
  2. My wife is pregnant.

The way that list is numbered makes it seem as though the 200th post thing is 1st in importance but obviously we all know that’s not the case. I am pretty proud of myself for reaching this arbitrary round number of posts, even if it has been over the last 6 years. It still averages out to about one post every ten days, which is only slightly less than I’m shooting for now (once a week). The big difference is, and I’m patting myself on the back a little bit here, is that I’ve been aiming to create content that is slightly more well thought out than just “guys check out this cool movie trailer.” As far as I’m concerned, I’m succeeding.

Onto the monumentally bigger news, I am going to be a father. That is a surreal and terrifying and very good sentence to write. The last year and a half has been a whirlwind of major life changes for us. I earned my graduate degree, we moved from the apartment we had called home longer than any other apartment (and subsequently left our ten minute walk to Red’s Alehouse, the best damn alehouse in the damn state), I took my first “real” “adult” job, Colleen found a job and then found a better job, we traveled to Miami and Seattle, we bought a car, and we bought our first home. And hot on the heels of the home purchase, we’re growing our family with a kid.

I feel blessed beyond comprehension. I am so very thankful for everything we’ve been given and the things we’ve earned, and I am especially thankful for Colleen. She is the greatest support, she provides for and takes care of our home so well, and she’s carrying our new child and going through all the stuff that comes along with pregnancy. Seems kind of unfair that all I have to do for nine months is not have a total mental freakout/breakdown. But she’s handling it like a total pro, carrying herself with grace even as she’s dealing with so much. And we like the same TV shows, so I honestly could not ask for a better partner.

So no worries, I have zero plans on this becoming a baby-centered blog as the months pass. I find I still have more fun writing about iTunes and personal finance than Baby.

I’m going to wager a guess and say our kid might have blonde curly hair. At least for a few years.

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