"My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" or, Yes, Kanye is Insane

Since Kanye West’s latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy “dropped” a few weeks back, people can’t stop talking about it. Rolling Stone and Pitchfork Media both gave it a perfect score, and the single “Runaway” has over two-and-a-half million views on YouTube. His 35-minute video that accompanies the album has (counting both clean and unedited versions) close to twelve million views. Ridiculous. I don’t even follow any hip-hop/rap releases, and not only did I hear about it, but I sat through the whole half-hour ordeal. Oh, and I watched the single eight times. Why does the press and the internet like this release so much? Heck, why do I like it so much? Of course, West is still a complete egotist - his music is still a reflection of that personality. Allmusic.com puts it well:
“In some ways, [this album is] the culmination of [his] first four albums, but it does not merely draw characteristics from each one of them. The 13 tracks, eight of which are between five and nine minutes in length, sometimes fuse them together simultaneously. Consequently, the sonic and emotional layers are often difficult to pry apart and enumerate.”
What was good about (I think, specifically) Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak, here coalesce to form a holistic view of West, a view only bolstered by his latest media shenanigans. Beautiful...Fantasy is just completely Kanye - these 13 tracks are what he is about, inside and out. It's raw and even embarrassing at times. When, on “Runaway,” he claims to have taken a picture of his genitalia and emailed it to a woman, you get the idea that, so long as the lyric is not a prophesy about a aging NFL quarterback, that it is something that Kanye has actually done. Sad, but that is who he is, so “runaway from me, baby. Runaway!,” he pleads. Pitchfork elaborates:
“[W]ithout his exploding self-worth-- itself a cyclical reaction to the self-doubt so much of his music explores-- there would be no Twisted Fantasy. "Every superhero needs his theme music," he says on "POWER", and though he's far from the virtuous paragons of comic book lore, he's no less complex. In his public life, he exhibits vulnerability and invincibility in equal measure, but he's just as apt at villainy-- especially here.”
Kanye knows that he is fallen and so has to prop himself up. He has to build something out of nothing. And see, I don’t think that that is lost on us. Yes, the tracks are well-crafted and the bass is thumping, but what makes the album so appealing is that Kanye is effectively starving himself to death on top of a pillar in the town square. It’s a spectacle, an aestheticization of his own destruction.
This idea, I have also argued, is why Lady Gaga is so attractive. Just as Gaga “left her head and her heart on the dancefloor,” so to is Kanye baring himself, multitude of flaws and all. And, let’s not forget, Gaga already acted out her own death in a music video. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kanye’s next move echoed those impulses.
It’s said that the best music is that which does not bore the listener, and as I listen to wider varieties of music, the more I find this to be, in fact, completely true. Many things can make music interesting: new sounds, new rhythms, quirky lyrics, etc, but I would argue that most important is the ability to show your personality through your music. David Bowie can change with the times and yet still be himself. Vernon Reid can smoooothly transition from a twenty-something shredder in neon tights to the anchor of a free-form jazz/rock hybrid collaboration. Lady Gaga is a wacked-out plastic disco antibarbie. Each transition inevitably shows in their music, and this is what keeps it interesting. Ultimately, Beautiful...Fantasy is a solid record because it is inseparable from Kanye himself, and this is precisely why we are attracted to it. We aren’t really listening to slick production and bi-polar lyrics; we’re listening to a functionally insane man make music. And functionally insane men are interesting to us.

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Guest Post: Maria Rainier on Cultural Arrogance

This week's post comes from Maria Rainier who contacted me, like, a month ago, and offered to write a post. I'm pleased with how it turned out, even though it was a long time coming. Like me, Maria has experience living in Japan, and her views on cultural cross-pollination and adjustment, while unique, certainly resonate to some degree with my experience. That being said, her opinions are entirely her own and I welcome the diversity she brings to core::minimalist. I hope you enjoy her article, and feel free to give her link a click once you have reached the end!


Around the World in a Little Over 80 Days and What I Learned About Cultural Arrogance

Until I arrived, America was my promised land. And then it all went to hell. People didn’t greet me with huge smiles when I entered convenience stores and they didn’t give me an exaggerated bow when I left (they also threw my change back at me instead of placing it in a little plastic tray and gently nudging it across the counter toward me). Nobody had any sense of personal space in concerts or bars. Nobody had any manners. My friends gave me funny looks when I gave themomiage, or gifts. Everyone told me to stop apologizing.
To a college-bound kid who grew up in Japan, America was a nightmare.
And then there were the questions. It’s not news to most kids who grow up abroad that when you go (or go back) to America, you get an interesting array of questions. Here are some—word for word—that I was asked:
Do you eat raw fish?
Do you live in teepees?
Is Japan that island off the coast of Africa or somewhere?
Do you guys have gnats? I hate gnats.
Is Hiroshima still in ruins?
I won’t go into the Hiroshima bit. I want to, but I won’t. Instead, I highly recommend a great book, Stephen Walker’s Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
Cultural Superiority: the American Way
What I will go into, however, is how appalled I was that when I offered a couple of American friends Japanese chocolate candies—and anyone who’s ever had Japanese candy knows that it’s phenomenal—they took one look at the foreign writing on it and said, “I don’t eat furren food.”
This would not be the last time I’d hear something to the effect of, “Why doesn’t the world do things theAmerican way?”
For a few years, I went through an I-hate-American-and-I-can’t-wait-to-graduate phase for this very reason. I found the Americans around me to be self-righteous, self-important, and self-serving. If it wasn’t in English and if it didn’t praise the Lawd or Amurrica (as the two are synonymous to many Americans I know), it was trash.
Cultural Superiority: Not Just the American Way
In 2007, I studied abroad in Europe. My home-stay family lived in northern Italy, where locals spoke more German than Italian. I found that if I spoke Italian to the town baker or gelato man, I got dirty looks. These looks, however, were nothing in comparison to the derision on the faces of Romans to whom I accidentally spoke German. German was the “lesser” language, while Italian was the language of the oppressors.
Similarly, when I visited my family in Japan that same year, I found that if there was a Mandarin-speaking person in a Japanese town, the usually humble and open-minded Japanese turned up their noses and protected their purses. Koreans and southeastern Asians had the same effect on many Japanese I saw.
Not too long ago, a Chinese trawler bumped into a Japanese patrol boat around what the Japanese call the Ryukyu Islands, which they boldly deemed their territory and therefore held the Chinese captain and crew hostage for days before returning them to their country. The history between these countries can’t be discounted—before WWII, Japan defeated Russia, China, and Korea, and the Imperial Army’s conduct there was less than reputable. Post-WWII turf wars aside, China and Japan haven’t been buddy-buddy on anything: China keeps kidnapping Japanese citizens and putting lead in their toothpaste, and many Japanese refuse to admit to the Nanking atrocity. That many Japanese citizens hold deep grudges and prejudices against the Chinese and feel a sense of cultural superiority over them is no exaggeration.
This sounds oddly familiar. Since the colonists’ defeat of the English oh-so-very-long-ago, many Americans can’t stop poking fun at the Brits and Europeans (and the latter can only laugh at American antics). Meanwhile, North American treatment of Latin Americans is beyond abysmal. That racial epithets—most of which I didn’t even know existed before I came to America—can be so blithely dropped in everyday conversation is a point in itself.
The Kamikaze Incident
Bigotry is alive and well, not that it’s news. In September of this year, an American military base employee in Japan ran over an elderly Japanese man going home from his garden plot across the road. He died three hours later. He also happened to be the vice chairman of the anti-base housing coalition, which happened to be having a very important meeting that day with a prominent Japanese official to prevent the nearby military base’s planned expansion. Local Japanese often fall victim to military personnel’s drunken driving and prejudices, ear-splitting and low-flying jets, and the humiliation of living under the thumb of the country that dropped not one but two atomic bombs on them over sixty years ago.
On that base, whispers quickly abounded among American military and civilians: Did he do it on purpose?
What for, how, and why, I might ask?
You know, they used to be kamikaze. . . .
Oh, right. That hugely misunderstood band of brothers who were forced or brain-washed into dying for their lying government and Emperor because if they didn’t, their families would be punished and they’d be sent to a deadly war in the Southeast, anyway. That thing that no one in Japan talks about anymore because it’s ludicrous and horrifying even to them. That thing that’s been falsely linked by the ever-so-fair-and-balanced Fox News to the 9/11 terrorists when in fact the kamikaze never once targeted civilians in a non-combat situation. Oh, yeah. That thing.
But I Don’t Mean to be a Killjoy
Yeah, American prejudices and examples of cultural superiority annoy me more than anyone else’s, I think. That’s my own bigotry. Bigotry is alive and well. Again, it’s not news. You don’t have to look far for it, either. I found it around the world.
The good news in all this? That there are sane people around the world, too, whose kindness knows few, if any, culturally implemented bounds. It was an American who let me cut thirty people in the security line at the Kansai International Airport when I had five minutes before my plane took off. It was a Japanese man that let me charge my camera battery and warm my frosted hands in his sake store in Iwakuni. It was a My Lai massacre survivor who hugged me when I told her that my mother was a Hiroshima victim. It was in Grand Cayman that locals and Americans worked together to shelter and feed abused and stray animals on the island. These are the truths that let me sleep at night.

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online programs and blogging about student life issues. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.


Guest Post : Angelita Williams on The Russian Experience

This is my first unsolicited guest post, which is rather exciting. Even more exciting is that Angelita's article is coming from a part of the world that I have never been to nor know much about. (She also cites The Paradox of Choice, which is one of my favorite books and definitely recommended reading.) She was great to work with, and very gracious as I was super busy and often late in getting back to her. That being said, I'm glad how this turned out: I really enjoyed her essay and I hope you will, too. I am still very open to guest writers, and if you think you have a story and experience to share, please email me and we can get working on fleshing out your ideas to the fullest potential!


The Russian Experience: How My Time Abroad Changed My Perspective
When I was an undergraduate student a few years ago, I decided to take a semester to study in Russia. I had been studying the Russian language for a few years, and so I figured I should put my knowledge to some good use. However, what I didn't bank on was how much it would change my perspective on several different things, not least of which was my relationship to consumer goods.
It would be trite to say that America is a consumerist society mired in the acquisition of material goods. And whenever anyone said something to that effect, I always thought it was more of a stereotype than anything. However, when I went to Russia, I realized that there was more truth to the stereotype than I had ever imagined.
One difference that I encountered was the fact that no one kept tabs on anything. The Russian students I hung out with were very serious about sharing. When I was in college in America, there was always talk of "I got you the other day, now you owe me X." Not only did this notion of debt not surface among my friends, but whenever I told a Russian friend, "Hey, I owe you a meal; thanks for helping me out with this or that," he or she was not only dismissive, but actually confused. "What do you mean?" they would say. "I did it because you're my friend; you don't owe me anything." This idea that everyone has a share in everything, that when it comes to things ownership is irrelevant, is even reflecting in the language. "My" is often omitted in phrases like "I lost my key," and when you say "I have an X", the literal translation is "I am next to an X".
Another distinction between Russian and American students that I noticed was a profound respect for both the arts and sciences. Where I studied in America, if someone was studying hard sciences, he or she knew or cared little about things like literature, art, etc., while if you were a humanities student you didn't dabble in mathematics or physics. In other words, knowledge in America is considered to be black and white. You're either interested in one side of it or another. Most of the Russian students I met, however, drew inspiration from various fields, even if they were focusing on one in school.
One of the most refreshing differences I encountered was the fact that there was far less choice in terms of brands and products. Trips to the grocery store were simplified ten-fold simply because I wasn't being inundated by millions of different varieties of the same exact product. Of course, there were a few varieties, but not nearly as many as I was accustomed to in America. When I returned home, I had become so used to the simplicity that I found it frustrating to even step into a superstore such as we have. This reminded me of a recent book I read called "The Paradox of Choice". It was not until I experienced the alternative in Russia, that I saw author Barry Schwartz's theory--that too much consumer choice actually can cause anxiety and inhibit our ability to choose--in action.
This is not to say, however, that Russia doesn't have its fair share of problems, or that its culture is perfect or even preferable to American culture. However, it was a truly eye-opening experience in that it made me see my own way of living in a different light. What's more, spending six months in Russia also did much to dismantle the popular image I had of Russians as cold, suspicious people. And I think it's precisely this destruction of stereotypes that makes living in a different place so valuable an experience. If you have the chance, I think everyone should spend time abroad, no matter where you go.

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.



On Cultivation Of Musical Tastes Via Old-School Serendipity

One thing my resolution of not buying music for a year has taught me is that music is more than a commodity. It is more than something to be bought, consumed, and collected. Huge digital music libraries, in this day and age, don’t say much about their owners. Yet we continue to define ourselves by what style or artists we listen to. I think this is misguided - personal musical taste, rather than the musical collection, should be the object of curation.

This is somewhat paradoxical, because the primary way we expand and refine our taste is through acquiring new music. We buy new albums, give them a few spins, and, if we like them, keep them. If we don’t like them, we still keep them because A) the album was an investment and we don’t want to suffer the loss of getting rid of it, or B) the music has been ripped on our computer, and it now pads our iTunes song count. The ultimate end result of both reasons is that we accumulate music we don’t necessarily want. I’m dealing with this right now - I have a couple albums I impulsively purchased from Amazon MP3 at the end of last year, and now I never listen to them. I don’t want to delete them because that would effectively mean I lost $10. What should I do?

I don’t have this problem when I buy used CDs. If I buy a CD and end up not liking it, I give it away to a friend who may like it. If I have no interesting interested friends, I just take it to Goodwill; somebody else may enjoy it, and the money goes to support a good cause. I’ve gotten rid of scores of CDs this way. It’s great. Music on physical media is easy for me to get rid of. But could it be easier? What would be the easiest, most cost effective, legal way to discover new music? Let’s look at where the current options are lacking.

The obvious answer is bittorrent, but that is illegal. Internet radio stations like Pandora or Last.fm, or sweet sites like YouTube Disco, are legal, but they’re not very mobile yet. (You know, for the 95% of the market that the iPhone hasn’t penetrated.) And if you do hear something you like on those services, you still have to go out and buy an album. Besides, the key word in play is discovering new music. There is, almost by definition, a huge serendipity quotient here. This is not music that Amazon, iTunes, or Last.fm recommends to you. This is not borrowing a friend’s CD to give it a listen. This is music you may/would never have sought out on your own. This is browsing the “recent arrival” racks at your local record store.

But browsing racks takes a lot of time. You have to stand there and flip for the better part of half an hour. Also, you don’t know if you’re going to get something good; what if the CD is scratched? There are other downsides: record-store CDs are not (relatively) cheap. Most discs are near the $7 mark - a lot to spend on a album you’re not sure you’ll like. And if you don’t like it, you again have to deal with how or if you’ll get rid of it - kind of mentally taxing for what is supposed to be serendipitous.

So it’s clear we need a music format that is:


*Home to a wide range of music

*Cheaper than $7

*Widely available

*Practically disposable, so that there is no separation anxiety if the album is crap

What am I talking about here?

I'm talking about the audio cassette tape, which neatly fits all of the required categories: You can stick them in a Walkman (which never skips!), you can find every type of music on them, you can buy them at any thrift store in the country for pennies, and because of that you feel no guilt about throwing them away should you not fancy whatever you bought. As the saying goes, it’s a win-win(-win).

Cassettes are so cheap that it is no problem to wolf them down, glean any nutritious value from their music, refine your musical tastes accordingly, and toss them. If you like the music, keep the cassette until it wears out, and then legally download it. That’s the great thing about digital music - you can get practically any music from any time period. You don’t have to waste time tracking down another copy of your favorite cassette.

I love cassettes. A few years back I was driving a borrowed Nissan that only had a cassette player. I went to the local Salvation Army and bought three tapes for like a dollar: David Bowie’s Black Tie White Noise, Nirvana’s Bleach, and Primus’ Pork Soda. Those tapes got really heavy rotation because they were all I listened to when I was driving. The Bowie album was awesome; the other two pretty much sucked. So I bought the Bowie record on CD and the others were lost when the car was totaled and towed.

Experiencing music this way was so easy yet so practical. Musical taste: Refined! Cost? Minimized!

A year later I had my own place and kept a tape player in the kitchen. I spent a lot of time in there and consequently was heavily exposed to the only two tapes I had at the time: Living Colour’s Vivid and Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In! Hard rock albums on cassette is a glorious thing. For a reason that I have yet to discern, I took the tape player to Goodwill when I moved. I still don’t know what on earth I was thinking. I recently was given some more cassettes (Public Enemy, Frank Zappa (!!), Smashing Pumpkins, Cream) and now I have no player to play them on. Sigh.

Some might raise the objection that I’m being sentimental. If I was being sentimental, I’d advocate records, which, oops, I already did like two years ago. Records are great for establishing a music collection, not for trying new music out. Try the cassette out, then, if you like it, buy the record. The cassette even mirrors the double-sidedness of a record! Seems perfectly acceptable to me!

Another objection might be in your minds: But cassette’s are only available for old music!

So? The object here is to refine musical taste cheaply. Was there no good music available on cassette? Or have you heard it all? Yes, cassettes are old. So is Hysteria, Aja, London Calling, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, and like a bajillion other albums that weren’t released in the last twenty years. If you’re going to be that elitist, feel free to stick with the Popular Songs Right This Second list on the iTunes Store.

I really do believe that cassettes are the best way to develop a great taste in music - they are the cheapest, easiest way to expose yourself to any and every artist and style of music. It excludes new releases, but who cares? If I want new releases, I can go to Amazon, Ping, iLike, or one of the other dozens of services who want to define my musical taste for me. With cassette tapes, I’m being exposed to music history serendipitously. And much of the music that makes up music history is really, really good. Cassettes deliver that to me. But even if they don’t, that’s OK - in the same motion I can toss it into the trash and pop something else in the Walkman. (As soon as I get one!)

Dann writes from his home in Minnesota, which can be rearranged to spell "Aeon Mints," which, you gotta admit, is a pretty great name for a band.

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Guest Post: Daniel Gateley from DeeplyInexplicable.com!

I haven't been able to get any decent writing done lately, so I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce you to my friend Daniel who writes a literature and entertainment review blog. We were classmates in Tokyo and have been friends since back in the day when Xangas were cool. He knows more about American literature than I ever will, and I'm honored that he agreed to write a guest post for me! I really like where's he's coming from in this article because I think we were in the same boat after high school. I also took a year off, but the only difference was that he was traveling in exotic Europe while I was living at home with my parents. His takes on life are witty and thoughtful and almost always infused with the wistful longings of a boy hopelessly in love with Emily Dickinson. I hope you enjoy!

The 20-Somethings

Lately, I've been hearing and reading a lot about 20-somethings. I'm 24, myself, and it's been extremely interesting to read some of the research being done on my age bracket. Most of the findings suggest that, as generations go, mine is taking much longer than usual to settle into normal, stable adult lives. I can identify with that.

When I graduated from high school, I postponed college for a year and backpacked through Europe instead. It was an incredible year - one that I wouldn't trade for anything - but looking back, I have a better idea of the reasoning that went into making that choice. Doubt played a big part in causing the prospect of impending adulthood to loom large in my thoughts. I remember how I felt the day after graduation: abandoned. In those days I was in the habit of turning my thoughts into poems; in one of them, I described (rather dramatically) being set adrift on an ocean, alone. On a sub-conscious level, graduation was a lot more like a death-sentence than an emancipation. Heading off to Europe was a way to push off the inevitable, spend an expectation-free year abroad, and hopefully, return better prepared. I didn't go alone either; two of my classmates joined me in a temporary escape from our formless future.

The New York Times recently ran an article on the 20-something phenomenon which had some pretty big numbers:

"One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation."
The numbers only confirm what I've been observing the last few years. More and more, my generation is undergoing a pretty unique state of being. Most of my friends, the people I hang out with, talk to on a regular basis, identify with - they don't have steady jobs that they can expect to keep for years to come, or want to, despite already being old enough to have careers. Almost all of them are unmarried, and a surprisingly large number don't even date. Few of them have finished school. They all live from paycheck to paycheck, barely getting by on what they make.

It's tragic that the small number of people I've known who have successfully taken on some of the "adult" responsibilities that elude the rest of us have become irretrievably distant and cut-off - my first room-mate from college is just one example. When he got engaged, about a year after we started living together, everything changed very quickly. Only a few months later, he was married, had a new car, had graduated and gotten a lucrative full-time job in another state. Less than a year after that, he was a father. We don't talk or see each other much anymore. When he isn't working, he's spending time with his brand-new family, and when he's not doing that, he's spending time with couples, or co-workers - people he has a lot more in common with than I do. I'm happy for him, but I kinda miss him. Also, when I think of him, I feel a little bit guilty. "Why don't I have a job, or a girlfriend, for that matter?" I ask myself. "How come I'm not responsible like that?"

Why is this happening, and how long will it last? What effect will it have? Nobody seems to have any answers. There is a psychologist who's making a case for "emerging adulthood" as a new and previously nonexistent developmental phase, but his position seems to be an unpopular one, or at least a problematic one for most psychologists. Financially, no one is sure what effect the postponing of marriage and entering the workforce will have in the long term.

Maybe the most significant epiphany we can have as a result of all this is that our parents can't explain, fully sympathize with, or do anything about the difficulties we have to deal with. The world is, quite simply, a changing place, and changing faster all the time. If anyone is going to sort out this new world, it's got to be us. It may not be fair to have to start from scratch, so to speak, but we can do it. We ARE adults, even if we don't have some of the same responsibilities that our parents did at our age.

Daniel Gateley keeps a blog at DeeplyInexplicable.com

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Everett Bogue and the New Minimalism

A notable snobby bicycle blogger recently alerted me to the existence of celebrity minimalist blogger Everett Bogue and his blog Far Beyond The Stars. Everett is apparently a minimalist guru of sorts who quit his writing job in New York and moved to Oakland to take up a “location-independent” lifestyle with his girlfriend. He is the author of two best-selling e-books (a position that, like “employee of the month”, is a great way to be a winner and a loser at the same time) and proves eager to share about how he lives on the income of working only two hours a day. This ten-hour workweek is a bit more than Tim Ferriss’ four-hour workweek but Tim has a bit more stuff than Everett does, thus canceling out any perceived advantage. (Everett actually admits that no work can be 100% original these days, and is no doubt heavily influenced my Ferriss, Seth Godin, and other work-better-not-longer gurus.) Despite this two-hour workday, however, Mr Bogue has recently admitted that he needs a vacation and will go camping to get away from the electronic hive that makes his lifestyle feasible. It’s a tough life when you need to rearrange your schedule to fill two more hours of the day with recreation.

Snide remarks aside, after reading a few of Everett’s posts I realized he does have some things going for him. He is quite skilled in writing propaganda, motivating readers with such lines as

- “The idea is that we need to curb our consumerism in order to focus on the important. This is why I live with less, because I’ve decided to stop consuming and start living.”

- “You need to write down an unrealistic goal and start to live and breathe it every single day. This can be simple, or more complex. Make it crazy though! The sky is the limit, and trust me, people have been up there too.”

- “The time to start your own very small business is now, as there have never been more opportunities to reach out and find the tribe that will support your goals.”

Using words to stir emotions is a powerful skill; one I think should be taught in schools. In light of Lenin’s teaching that the line between education and propaganda is subjective and reflects educator’s confidence in the student’s ability to learn, Everett has no problem playing the role of shepherd to his flock of commenters, offering advice on everything from small business entrepreneurship to selecting social circles. He is an enthusiast of lists; indeed, his “e-book” is tantamount to a list of bullet points with short elaborative paragraphs. These lists are a handy way of organizing more information than a reader can handle on the first read, thus ensuring a sense of information overload that will cause the reader to keep the book close at virtual hand for quick reference should they find they don’t remember Point 34. Maybe they won’t even be looking for enlightening texts, as the book is also illustrated with “peaceful photographs from [Everett’s] travels.”

But let’s shluff this rather superficial criticism aside and actually analyze some of what Everett claims to be about - let’s see what walk he is walking.

He claims to be “location-independent”

This is really just a fancy way of saying that you have no roots. It may be hard for white-collar people to swallow, but being location-independent is actually a default human state rather than a progressive one- a state that ancient Mesopotamian people lived in for hundreds of years. The idea of people settling down together to foster the basics of a community - things like commercial trade, cultural growth, division of land, organized defense, etc - is actually a pretty civilized notion. Being “location-independent” just means you’re rejecting permanent community, and the English language has, in fact, several words for such people who have no home base: nomad, vagrant, drifter, fugitive, itinerant, and refugee come to mind. And living as a celebrity blogger certainly isn’t the only occupation that allows comfortable itinerancy - be a half-decent bartender or car salesman and you can get work anywhere.

He counts how many things he lives with

It used to be 100, then he cut it to 75, then 50, and now he’s up to 57. He originally intended to cut possessions down so that he could spend less time worrying about taking care of all the stuff he owned, but if he’s still doing regular inventory counts, chances are he’s still kind of worried about his stuff, albeit now out of different motives. I applaud his cuts - I think that living with less stuff is good - but I am wary about the quantification of the minimalist ethos. We humans love comparing ourselves to one another, and using numbers is a really easy way to do that. Is Everett with 57 things doing a “better job” than someone with 62? He lives in Oakland, with a mild climate. What about me in Minnesota, where I need at least two distinct seasons of clothing? Having to own winter boots, hats, mittens, snow pants, etc, just adds to my stuff count, putting me at a disadvantage. The numbers quickly become meaningless, so why bother with them at all?

He lives life with no direction

A direct quote from his blog:

“...I don’t really have a routine, I simply wake up every morning and do what I feel inspired to do from start to finish.”

This is worthless to anyone looking for concrete advice. Routinizing the mundane tasks of life allows you to turn your brain off and not worry about them, freeing it instead to focus on what you want to think about. If you want to work for only two hours a day, as he advocates, there must be some routine that you can follow in order to get anything done. Even something as basic as - wake up, breakfast, newspaper, read for 30 min, check email, work - can form a simple trellis around which you can weave your life. Spontaneity and daydreaming are important, but the entropy of the universe ensures that repetitive tasks are a part of daily life. We just have to organize those tasks so well that we don’t have to think about them. Everett abhors routine yet automates his blog as much as possible, so he at least gets the irony vote.

He wants to also be your financial guru

Everett is also the author of the e-book Minimalist Business, a (virtual) tome offering tips on how to get the most money out of your work time. Advice also includes how to quit your job successfully and follow your dreams, since, obviously, there is no way that your current job is part of your dream. Apparently downshifting your lifestyle, reducing expenses and eliminating possessions means earning less money as well. One wonders why you can’t keep making $40,000 a year and just buy less stuff. Sure you have extra money, but can’t you give that away to the homeless or to your church or some other charitable organization? Why can’t you use extra income to enable others rather than minimize your income and support only yourself?

You can check out the blog for yourself and make your own decisions but, to me, Mr. Bogue just sounds like another aspiring self-help writer. Everything is focused on you, the reader and consumer of his advice. You can follow your dreams. You can live the life that you always wanted to. You can be an outlier from society and make your life into a model for others. You can earn the respect of others by being semi-ascetic and respecting yourself first. Be centered and your life will fall into place around you! It really isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. Sure, try and live on less stuff. But don’t let how much stuff you live without define you anymore than how much stuff you live with. You’re not your job, or lack thereof. You’re not your 100 things, or 62, or 33. You’re not your location or state of permanence. You’re who God made you to be, doing what He wants you to do.

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Christian Memes and Double Rainbows

Last week a friend sent me a text asking something to the extent of, “Can there ever be ‘Christian’ memes?” The question struck me as odd so I didn’t reply, but it has provided me with much to think about since then. Christian memes? Can such a thing be generated? What would that look like?

If you read a lot of my posts you may gather that I am a big fan of viral marketing and sleeper hit advertising campaigns. More than anything I guess I enjoy the revelation of people’s interests and thought patterns manifest in their reactions to successful attempts to part them with their money. Product (Red). Mountain Dew partnering with extreme sports. Red Bull Flugtag. Dominoes Pizza soliciting fan pictures of pizza to use in their promotional literature. Free shoes from Chrome Industries. Ideas that, once acted upon, generate intense interest and participation from people around the world.

Memes, at least in the colloquial, are kind of like this, but restricted to inside the realm of the Internet. When we here “meme” we think of things like the Numa Numa dance, archaic raps, poorly translated Japanese video games, songs that question the underlying mechanics of magnets, and philosophical velociraptors (philosoraptors). These memes spread like wildfire and, like any good ad campaign, generate a tremendous amount of user-generated content as denizens of the Interwebs try to jump on board and garner impressive amounts of view-counts, whether it be on a video, picture, or webpage, of their own material. Memes bring out the id superstar in us who wants to rule our sphere of influence. We like to show how creative we can be.

So what would a “Christian” memes look like? Photoshopped pictures of King David being a badass? Auto-tuned dcTalk songs? “Hip” Christian slogan ideas Bible verses in lolspeak? I can only think of retarded ideas. Christian memes based on these ideas would turn out like the rest of the so-called “Christian culture”, most of which is just regular culture watered-down and sterilized. So much of “Christian” culture seems to be about generating religious-themed merchandise that people can “feel good” about buying and, once they do, revel in proclaiming their “lifestyle” to the world. It’s a picture of Jesus screen-printed onto the twisted t-shirt of ethical consumerism. A little more to the point, what would be the goal of generating said “Christian” meme? To spread the Gospel? To publicize a church? To convey the importance of incorporating a rational way of addressing pain and suffering into your worldview? These things are much to important to be trivialized by a mere meme.

And therein lies my main objection to Christianizing the meme. Internet memes are only done for moar lulz; never for anything really important. They are here today gone tomorrow - the very digital embodiment of that which does not matter. Something that should truly slide. If anything, why don’t we Christians focus our energies in pointing out God in what society already finds meme-worthy, such as how cool (and, also, sweet) it is that God wants to display two rainbows at once. Sure the song has a bleeped curse word in it, but should that keep us from appreciating how bright and vivid that rainbow is? Show your friends and be like, “Hey, my God does that.” It’s certainly better than any t-shirt idea I have.

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Trash Messenger Bags FTW!

One of the drawbacks of using a bicycle for everything is that I can only buy as much groceries as I can haul on a bike, which means that I have to re-stock at regular weekly intervals. That’s actually just a really pretentious way of saying that I go grocery shopping once a week. Today was one of those days, based on my observations of lack of food in my pantry/kitchen. I decided that I had about $50 to spend on groceries this trip, so the next step was deciding where to go shopping for food. The obvious answer that requires the least physical effort on my part is to go to Whole Foods, because fifty (whole) dollars worth of (whole) food can be hauled in this:

But the obvious answer is not always the economically viable answer, so I then thought “Aha! ALDI!” This option was short-lived, because hauling $50 worth of food from that store would require me to rent this:

I don't have a CDL, so I decided to choose the happy medium and go to Cub Foods, which is where I was going to go anyway before I considered other options. I usually take my grocery/utility bike with baskets on it when I go grocery shopping, but since I recently bought a Trash Messenger Bag I decided to do what everyone does with a messenger bag - fill it with stupid amounts of stuff. So I hopped on my normal bike with no baskets and went late-night grocery shopping at Cub.

Twenty minutes and fifty pounds of food later I was riding my bike home, experiencing what it would feel like for a dude with a 50lb beer gut to ride my saddle. After making a mental note to be considerate of others, I turned my attention to my vertebrae, who were all yelling at me at a volume I hadn’t heard since that one time in a high school wrestling meet when I got lifted up and dropped and pinned by a south-Asian Arnold Schwarzenegger. My back reminded me there is a reason why people buy cargo bikes in favor of large bags. Also, the print-out that came with my bag now made more sense:

I did make it home safely, however, and for your viewing pleasure (and Trash Bag promotion) decided to take a few pictures of just how much stuff you can fit in these top-quality bags. The craftsmanship is superb, the bag is really comfortable across your shoulder, and Andy, the CEO/President/sweatshop employee of Trash Bags, is a really great guy to work with. Feel free to check out the website while I go and reserve a massage and make sure that my fridge is well-stocked for the coming week.



David Bowie - Everyone Says "Hi"

There’s something to be said for being able to write a deeply heartfelt song about an emotion that you haven’t felt in years. It really is a gift to remember so clearly what it was like to be a certain age and feel the things that that person felt then. For a man, for instance, to remember what is felt like to be a boy full of unrequited love. It’s one of those things that can make a song truly great, and it’s what I like about David Bowie’s song “Everyone Says Hi”.

It's off of Bowie’s album Heathen (2002), meaning that Bowie was in his early fifties at the time of writing and had been married for ten years or so. Yet the song conveys what I take to be the sentiments of a heartbroken lad who has just realized that a girl he didn’t really know that well, but still was inexplicably in love with, has left him for a life of adventure. It starts out poignantly:

Said you'd took a big trip

They said you moved away

Happened oh so quietly,

They say

She’s gone and she never told him she was leaving! He had to find out from someone else! Judging by the later lyric (“Said you sailed a big ship/Said you sailed away/Didn't know the right thing to say”) I’m guessing that she sailed across the channel to France in search of a bigger world, leaving behind a boy from the neighborhood whom she didn’t think merited a proper good-bye.

Self-centered remorse is the first reaction for the boy, like it is for so many other teenagers who suffer imaginary heartbreak, expressed here through longing for a memento of some kind.

Should've took a picture

Something I could keep

Buy a little frame, something cheap

For you

Lest he get swept away in his own river of emotions, however, he quickly gets to the main refrain of his letter - “Everyone says ‘Hi’”. A admirable gesture of corporate well-wishing, perhaps, but really only a Trojan horse for expressing his own feelings of abandonment as his “concern” for her well-being continues through listing various fears and disgruntlements common to anyone adjusting to a new environment (“Hope the weather's good and it's not too hot/For you” “If the money is lousy/You can always come home” “If the food gets too eerie/You can always phone home” “Don't stay in a bad place/Where they don't care how you are”).

By the second chorus he is all out of excuses to proffer and instead appeals to her emotional attachment to loved ones she’s left behind. They say, “Hi”, he says.

And the girl next door

(Everyone says hi)

And the guy upstairs

(Everyone says hi)

And your mum and dad

(Everyone says hi)

And your big fat dog

(Everyone says hi)

But notice how he repeats that “Everyone says hi”. This is where Bowie’s expressive voice takes over the song and communicates the true intent behind a seemingly altruistic lyric. With every repetition of communal concern, behind Bowie’s rich tenor the timid teenage voice is screaming “I say hi! Me! I care! Look, I’m writing you a letter! I miss you! I want to be with you...”

But everyone says “hi”, because that’s who you really care about.

The amount of resigned angst in Bowie’s voice is almost palpable, and it’s this kind of performance that makes him, even past age 50, a remarkably accessible artist. The whole song, start to finish, communicates an emotion that resonates with fans 35 years younger in a generation that is realizing that no matter how digitally connected you are, physical separation and loss is still a painful, wrenching feeling.

Maybe she’ll come back. Maybe she won’t. Maybe they’ll live happily ever after. Maybe she’ll fall head over heels for a Frenchman and move to Sicily and live on the coast. Maybe he will rent out an airplane to fly over the Mediterranean trailing a banner, reminding her that

“Everyone says ‘Hi.’”

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Growing Up With My Face On a Prayer Card: A TCK Experience

The other day my friend Daniel (it’s uncanny how many people I know with my some variant of my name) and I were talking about missionary kids and how we (he is one too) grew up with this pervasive feeling of ‘being known’. The feeling is, in part, a side effect of growing up in another culture where your entire neighborhood knows who that “little white kid” is, but I think has a lot more to do with all of the attention you get from people you don’t know.

As a missionary kid you get used to your family being treated like some sort of Christian rock star. Not rock star in the “Audio Adrenaline” sense, but rather in the “Superchristian” church hierarchy sense. Your face is depicted in its various iterations of maturity on numerous prayer cards which are distributed to anyone and everyone, churches rearrange their schedules to listen to Dad preach, and you receive birthday cards postmarked to an address you lived at four houses ago from Sunday School groups at churches you never remember attending. These cards were filled with birthday greetings scrawled in various shades of crayon and were brimming with eager questions about what missionary life was like.

Living in Japan, a highly developed first-world nation, did not exempt me from the ‘typical’ missionary questions. What is Japan like? Do you have TV? Do you speak Chinese? Have you ever eaten raw fish? Do you like Japan or America better? With all these kids clamoring to gain knowledge that you intrinsically possess, you start to feel a certain sense of power. I am super-special. People know who I am.

As I grew older I started to resent some of the attention - after all, it’s not like I chose to go and live in another country. Everyone I met had these ideas of missionaries that involved danger and sacrifice and hardship. I didn’t feel like my life reflected that at all. I had clean water, Western living standards, delicious food, a very good English education, and a faster Internet connection than most people living Stateside had. But none of that mattered. People in American churches still treated me differently.

As I experienced more of the world I started to realize just how different that “differently” was. I never thought it weird that a picture of my family was on a church bulletin board or a family’s refrigerator, or that Dad would send out prayer letters telling people in America how our family was doing, that we would sometimes open a letter and find an unsolicited check from a generous individual, or that people would come up to me and say “Hey, I’ve been praying for you since you were a baby.” But that stuff doesn’t happen to everybody; it’s a unique experience - one that I now treasure - but it also contributes to the aforementioned paranoia of feeling ‘known’.

It doesn’t matter where I go, there's a pervasive feeling that people know who I am, who my parents are, and where I are from. Maybe they even know my education history, friends I’ve had, or where I currently live. And all that means that I mentally prepare myself for awkward interactions with people I don’t know but who know me. People around the world have been vicariously following my life, and yet when we meet I have no idea who they are. It makes one-off interactions such as ordering pizza, making a reservation, talking to customer service, or asking for help locating an item in a grocery store irrationally daunting. It contributes to the insights behind this article I wrote about why I don’t like talking on the phone. I remember a time in high school when I had to find a somewhere to volunteer for class credit. Calling up a volunteer coordinator at a local rescue mission, something most people wouldn’t blink at, was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. And why? Because I was used to people whom I had never met knowing a lot about me.

People in Japan knew me as the blonde, white kid, and people in America knew me as the missionary kid from Japan. Not only did people know me, but they had been following my life for a long time. They had, through pictures and family updates, watched me grow up. Who’s to say that they weren’t going to continue that? I assumed they did, and that I was going to have to watch my back. It took me a few years to come to terms with this and try to compensate for my skewed perception of the world. Over time I realized that not every new person I meet knows everything about me, and that most people I meet just see me as a tall, skinny white boy. Cool. I can deal with that.

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"23" - Then and Now

Have you ever listened to a song where the lyrics mentioned a specific age that seemed really far away and talks about the songwriters experience at that age? I just had one of those experiences.

In high school I listened to a mediocre electro-industrial band named God Lives Underwater, (I actually created that page, way back when) who I thought were one of the greatest things to happen to music. (Admittedly, they made some catchy stuff.) They sounded a bit like Depeche Mode meets Nine Inch Nails and I thought they were “gritty”, “advanced”, “unique” “underrated” and probably some other words that get thrown around by pretentious high school music fans. In reality all of their albums were about heroin addiction and produced on equipment that you could find in any aspiring twenty-something musician’s bedroom.

This didn’t stop me from developing a love for their song called “23”. The seventh track off their sophomore effort Empty, it's the one “slow” song (basically just a synthed-up loop for the verses and then an acoustic chorus) on an otherwise extremely sonically harsh album, which meant that I immediately labeled it “deep”, “emotional”, and “super good”. The lyrics go something like this:

I'm breathing the air
the air i always breathe
I don't have a lot
but i want someone to share it with me

I really only want a few things
they've all been taken away
what does the next life bring
I just want to feel o.k.

I'm searching forever
for someone or something
I want to be high
and i want someone to love me

I spent 23 years now
trying to get by
other people make it day to day
I still wonder why

I only really had a few things
they've all turned to tears
one tried to kill me
the other kept me

i'm still here

It’s so painful and hopelessly full of cynical optimism that I almost want to burn myself with cigarette butts in a way that the scars form a smiley face.

Listening to the song reminds me of not only how far my musical taste has improved, but of what kind of person I was before Jesus saved me. Obsession with the hopeless turned into a passion for God; depression was slowly replaced by joy. God Lives Underwater, a band I liked eight years ago, serves to remind me of what my life was compared to what it is. I was fifteen then. I am twenty-three now. I pray for joy, love, compassion, and wisdom in the years to come.

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Unbridling Your Speed

I recently attended a spectacular wedding of two high school friends, which was a nice treat in the middle of an otherwise predictable summer of work and cycling. The nature of weddings (gifts, dressing up, being clean and fresh) and the ceremony being a good 17 miles away made it difficult to make the trip by bike, so I borrowed a car. Being able to use a car was really helpful and saved me a lot of time. However, it did remind me of why I love to bike as much as I do. I think about the car/bike debate a lot, and while driving I had a new insight into why I prefer cycling.

On a bike, you don’t have speed limits.

Not relevant ones, anyway. (Actually, one of my life goals is to be issued a ticket for speeding on a bicycle. I can probably achieve this if I find a hill where upon descent I can hit 30+mph and then zoom into a 15mph residential zone.) More to the point, you don’t have limits on your “engine”. You go as fast as your legs will take you. If you are tired, you pedal at tired speed. If not, you pedal at normal speed. Regardless, you are pedaling at maximum comfortable output. This sounds simple, but it’s actually really liberating to not have to worry about how fast you’re going. So liberating, in fact, that I was experiencing a sort of anxiety over driving a car on the highway. Having to worry about going too fast was actually a painful psychological experience. Add to the the lack of wind blowing past me and the isolation from surrounding traffic, and I was mildly claustrophobic as well.

Driving is turning into a genuinely distasteful experience. Maybe it’s time to look into a cargo bike?

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Commenting on the Marketability of the Zombie Apocalypse

It's no secret among twenty-somethings that cultural adoration of zombies has been on the rise over the past few years. Ever since we started blasting them away in Resident Evil (we’re too young for the Thriller video - we had to YouTube it afterwards) we’ve been intrigued by the creatures - these living dead who walk with their arms outstretched in their search for braaaaaiiiins. I could list all of the appearances of zombies in popular media, but that would A) be tedious and B) probably be a repeat of what Wikipedia already does. To make a long list short, the zombie trend is fueled by video games like the aforementioned Resident Evil series, Left 4 Dead and the House of the Dead series, comedy films like Army of Darkness, Shawn of the Dead, and Zombieland, and books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or The Zombie Survival Guide.

Zombie are usually portrayed in the media as slow, indestructible beasts (save for their susceptibility to chainsaws), oozing gore and intent on killing for no reason other than to spread their numbers. They don’t really feed; they never hunger or thirst. They are the animated shells of the former living, and they are never the good guys in any form of narrative. So why the cultural obsession? Why the zombie walks and zombie pub crawls?

After all, zombies are ugly, horrid, grotesque creatures. Their image reeks of death and putrid decay. They have no qualities that real live humans would want. So why do we emulate them? It doesn’t even matter where we are in the world; zombies have appeal.

Take for example this photoset from a Russian zombie walk (warning: heavy fake gore, some brief nudity). This crawl was a flash mob (a group of people organized quickly for a specific event through the use of mobile devices) and as you can see got quite large. I don’t really know what they did while dressed as zombies, but I imagine they walked slowly everywhere, took a lot of pictures, and commented on each others’ costumes. I suppose I would liken it to a bunch of performance and make-up artists getting together and having a grand old time. As anyone can plainly see from the pictures, most of the costumes are pretty creative, and a few showcase some real talent.

The image that really struck me, however, was this one capturing the juxtaposition of the clean-cut advertising model with rejected and soulless zombie bride.

That right there is the heart of the appeal of the zombie movement: its un-marketability. Other outlaw-type figures can be manipulated to the advantage of commercial marketing. Ninjas? Check. Cyborgs? Check. Pirates? Double check. Vampires? Don’t even get me started. They can all be turned into heroic figures. But not zombies. Just looking at the photoset makes it obvious why. Some of those costumes are genuinely terrifying. That’s not fit for a billboard. Well, how about watering it down? That won’t work either, because the zombie image is so pervasive in media that people will take one look at a consumer-friendly zombie and say, “WEA~~~~~K”. We all know what a zombie should look like.

It’s unfortunate that this has to be the case, that our youth culture has to turn to the mutilated, the rejected, the soulless and the decrepit to find something that it can have all to itself; something that won’t be usurped by advertising machines and cultivated and curated to be sold back to us. The only imageries worth indulging in are the ones which are offensive to the general public, to the consumer. I wrote about this a while back, commenting on the happy-slap craze that invaded the UK for a brief time. The same thing is going on here, this time in a less violent form, but equally untouchable to an ad-man. Will this trend of planning social events around glorifying the ugly increase? Are we that sick of being marketed to? And what will be the long-term consequences of this social phenomenon to the human psyche?

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Solving Pantslessness and Inquiring Into Transportation-Specific Wardrobe Choices

In the last month or so I have become the proud owner of two pair of wool pants. This is unusual for me, because I hate pants shopping like teenagers hate braces. I like to keep my pants-buying activities relegated to A) special occasions or B) in response to sudden unexpected bouts of pantslessness. But recently I bought two pairs of wool pants for completely different reasons.

My motivations behind buying wool pants, and my delight in discovering new bonus features that these pants provide, have lead me to think a lot about how transportation influences and molds our clothing choices and habits. Since pretty much every one in America drives a car, transportation-specific clothing choices - even those that coincide with car travel - often go unnoticed.

I bought wool pants for three reasons: they are warm, they shed water, and they keep you warm even when they are soaked with water. Basically I bought them for when I have to ride my bicycle in the rain. My wool pants are great for this, but they have other features of which I was unaware until I started wearing them regularly. First, they are incredibly comfortable when riding my bicycle. The fabric doesn’t rub or chafe the inside of my thigh when I pedal, nor does it bunch up in the crotch or flap into the chain. That is really nice. And secondly, since the fabric is a charcoal-grey color, even after a full day's work in a greasy bike shop, the pants don’t look dirty. They look just, well, like normal wool pants.

And how much did I pay for these features, you ask? Did I follow some minimalist principles and save money while maximizing value? Or, to put it in fancy-shcmancy terms, did I forgo acquiring a liability in favor of enhancing my life with an asset? Yes, yes I did. The two pair of pants cost me less than $5 each. Wool pants are easy to buy used because, even though my local Goodwill arranges their pants by number of belt loops, because they have a different texture. I can walk down the store aisle at a normal pace, feel all the pants as I go by, and know without visual confirmation when I find what I am looking for.

There are some aisles of Goodwill clothing that I can skip all together. Fancy jackets, for example, or sweaters or polo shirts. My wardrobe is noticeably ebbing towards more cycling-specific clothing, just as some of the clothing that the general public now wears is actually car-specific. This article from the BBC talks about the decline of fancy hats coinciding with the rise in car culture, and you can say the same thing with coats. People used to wear huge overcoats in the winter to keep warm, but once cars became the norm, people found that their huge coat got in the way of getting in and out of cars, not to mention all of the bunching up it had to do when they sat down. And since the cars were heated anyway, there was no need for such a huge coat - just walk quickly from warm place to warm place.

Footwear is another issue. People can wear sandals everywhere only if they walk, use public transport, or drive a car with an automatic transmission. Operating a clutch pedal with sandals is a pain, as is riding a bicycle with them on. I don’t wear sandals much anymore because they don’t give a good platform for my feet to push down on when I pedal and because they are open-toed and hence kind of dangerous.

This gravitation towards cycling-spscific clothing does have its downsides, though. Wool pants should be dry-cleaned and are really hot in even mild weather. On hotter days my clothing gets soaked in sweat, requiring me to take a second shirt along at the very least. Deodorant needs to be kept in the backpack, along with perhaps some extra socks. Having to wear shoes all the time can be a pain. I can’t really wear fancy hats, either. All of that, however, is a small price to pay for the joy that bicycling gives me.

Riding a bicycle everywhere has allowed me to see clothing in a new way. Function tends to follow form in cycling, and comfort while riding is key. After all, transportation is a major part of our daily lives, and discomfort there will affect other spheres of social life. Stumbling upon new ways of seeing things is awesome, and as I continue to move at the speed of bike, hopefully discovering wool pants will just be the beginning.

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Throw Down a Yo-Yo and Memories Come Back Up

It isn’t often that you are reminded of your yo-yoing past. Playing with a yo-yo is one of those things that you easily forgot you did until you are reminded that, yes, you too once practiced a completely useless skill for hours until you could look cool for your elementary school peers. Reminding me of all of that was this video, posted on the page of a Facebook friend.

The guy is obviously a sham who has no skills in yo-yoing whatsoever, but at least he tries. And he got on TV, which is more than my yo-yoing ever got me.

I bought my first yo-yo when I was in third grade, a scrawny little white kid in a suburban Japanese elementary school. Yo-yos were the hot new toy in Japanese youth culture, with the accompanying TV shows and manga series and how-to books that come with every new marketing scheme. Mine was a purple and black Yomega Steal
th Fire, a wing-shaped yo-yo good for doing string tricks but lame if you wanted to do any serious looping. Soon I added a glow-in-the-dark Duncan and a Yomega Stealth Brain (the type that automatically retracts after a certain time) to the stable. These were all pretty cheap yo-yos, with solid bodies and plastic bearings. With lots of practice I could soon do all of the beginner tricks, almost all of the intermediate tricks, and a few advanced tricks. I was still behind my best friend, though, who could ‘yo’ like nobody’s business.

Despite my relative ineptitude I kept up yo-yoing until seventh grade, when it was just not cool to do that kinda stuff anymore. The year before I had bought a Yomega RB2 that had a metallic ball-bearing axle - a huge step up from the plastic ones. I could throw that yo-yo down like a crazy man and have it spinning harder than a cordless drill in the hands of Michael J. Fox. It unlocked a few more advanced tricks for me, but soon ended up in a box in the closet.

I still have that yo-yo and know where it is, now ten years later. I can still do some of the tricks - tricks that I couldn’t teach anyone else but can still do because my hands move automatically from the countless hours of practice. I pick the RB2 up once in a while because it’s a fun reminder of childhood. Playing with a yo-yo was something I genuinely enjoyed doing, regardless of how useless a skill it was. That’s still all it is - a fun diversion - and certainly not a way to get infamous on Wisconsin local television.

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In Which I Speculate About Why I Used To Have Long Hair (PICS)

Once upon a time I had really long hair for a boy. I was 18, 19, and 20 during that time.

Classic rock destroyed any hope I had of being cool. An obsession with crappy mainstream rock throughout high school led me into a hopeless devotion to classic rock during my senior year. I idolized Axl Rose, which is, by any stretch of the imagination, completely embarrassing. I thought Axl was the coolest, and because of him I wanted to be in a rock band. But before any of that could take place, I had to look like him. As a result I let my hair grow out, wore leather jackets, and perched a pair of aviators over top of a bandana around my head. There is even a picture of me in my senior yearbook that captures this look. It is horrendous, and I am glad that I grew out of that phase.

(I am pretty proud of my ability to match clothes here)

But I thought it was cool then, and continued to grow my hair until just before my twentieth birthday. By that time it reached down to my nipples and had started to wave and curl in ways that didn’t know my hair could do. My hair took multiple hours to dry and I would shed like crazy, but at least I could headbang like nobody’s business! Eventually I cut it because I got a job working around industrial machinery and really, really didn’t want my hair to get sucked into metal rollers operating at high speeds.

But ever since I cut it I’ve been wondering why I let it grow out as long as it did. I can think of two main reasons, besides wanting to be a rockstar.

First, I was too lazy to maintain it. My hair has a awkward point at which a certain cowlick refuses to stay down, but once it passes that length, it is OK and I am not embarrassed about it. I hate maintaining my hair, so it has to be either really long or really short. If it is short, I can wake up and start my day - no worries. If it is long, I can wake up and throw it in a ponytail and, likewise, no worries. I don’t have to mess with blow-drying or gelling of moussing or anything. It is simple and nice.

My second reason was that I thought it made me more accessible to a certain type of people who I wouldn’t be able to talk to/ hang out with nearly as easily if I had had short hair. I thought that it would be great - that I would be able to hang out with kids who I normally wouldn’t get a chance to, like maybe some non-Christian kids who wouldn’t give clean-cut Christians the time of day. What really happened was I spent a lot of my time with long hair at a Christian college, where most everyone was already clean-cut. Nice. And ultimately the impression I think that other people got of me was that I was secretly a potheaded hippy. I did walk barefooted everywhere, but I didn’t do any drugs.

(I suppose it is easy to see where they got that from)

The long hair did afford me some fun experiences though. I had my wet hair freeze outside in an Illinois February. I went to rock clubs and headbanged like a rockstar. I went to dance clubs and had guys dance up on me, thinking I was a girl. Ok, so that wasn’t so fun, but at least my friend Danielle got a kick out of it.

Would I do it again? I don’t think so. I don’t think the benefits outweighed the hassle and false perceptions that came along with it, and, when you think about it, being clean-cut makes you more accessible to a wider range of people. Besides, now I own clippers and cut my own hair for super cheap, which is a super minimalist thing to do. I like it that way.

(Look at how ridiculous we look!)

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I Was in a National Newspaper!

Anybody who has googled me recently (try it today!) knows this already, but a couple months ago I was interviewed by Sandra Block for her column in USA Today. For those of you who don't want to click on the link, here is the part mentioning me.

"...many consumer experts say that responsible use of credit cards is one of the most effective ways to build a good credit record. Those concerns haven't swayed Dann Zinke, 22, of St. Paul, who works at a gas station to save money for college. He's never owned a credit card and doesn't plan to get one any time soon. 'I refuse to recognize it as a rite of passage into adulthood,' he says. 'I don't want to go through the hassle of signing up and receiving other credit card offers.'"

I don't remember saying the second line, but the first line of my quotation I found rather clever, if I do say so myself.

Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard to contact a reporter of a major newspaper. I had heard her being interviewed on MPR, talking about how she was soliciting stories from twenty-somethings who didn't want credit cards. I emailed her about that, and she got back to me right away, wanting to set up a phone interview. She called me the next morning and we talked for maybe fifteen minutes, tops. I had over-prepared for it, of course, and had three pages of notes detailing what I might say, none of which I had time to use.

Overall I found the article encouraging. Despite it opening with a non-sequitur (Emily has never had a credit card, yet she has also never felt comfortable owning one?) I thought it provided a very balanced view of the pros and cons of credit card ownership. In particular I appreciated the highlighting of the increased use of debit cards, because without mine I would be up a serious creek without a paddle. Or in a serious supermarket without a checkbook. I only write checks for rent, and am guaranteed to make a horrible checkbook-balancer. Though the article claims debit cards as less secure than the credit kind, as long as I keep mine in my wallet and use it only when I need to, I think I will be OK.

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Free Chrome Shoes and Wildly Effective Internet Guerrilla Marketing

So yesterday a free pair of brand-new shoes showed up at my door. Yeah, you read that right. I got a free pair of shoes shipped to me from California. So how did I get this sweet deal? Pretty simple. I hang out with people who ride bicycles, and we all hang out on the Internet.

As geeky as that sounds, it is true. Chrome Industries is a bicycle apparel company out of San Francisco, and they had a two-day Internet marketing campaign back on March 17 and 18, spread through Facebook and Twitter. The promise was simple - “Send us a pair of your old, crappy, beat-up shoes, let us know your address and shoe size, and we will send you a brand new pair of our shoes.” Not only that, but they promised to donate to charity the shoes that could still be worn and recycle the rest that could not. Sound too good to be true? My cyclist friends found out, told me, and I hurriedly mailed away an old pair of sneakers, because I am a man who likes to get free stuff. (One of the many traits I share with the elite 15-98 year-old cyclist demographic.) And guess what? My new shoes, which normally retail for $70, showed up yesterday. They look like this, which pleases me greatly, because my current shoes look like this(but whiter).

I don’t have to tell you that this was a gutsy thing for Chrome to do. They no doubt gave away thousands of pairs of shoes for free. It cost them a lot of money in postage to ship shoes all over the world (the campaign wasn’t limited to the US). They had a lot of logistics to cover to ensure that they could fulfill their promise. And what were they thinking, potentially alienating their hardcore fanbase by giving away an expensive product, an urban cycling status symbol?

But that doesn’t matter, because as I see it, they just pulled off an extremely successful guerrilla marketing scheme that penetrated a very niche market with great depth for very little cost. Hundreds of thousands of cyclists will now here the word “Chrome” and instantly think of environmental responsibility, quality products, and the giving away of sweet loot. Not only that, but the total number of people wearing Chrome shoes in the world just doubled. And I wrote a blog post about it. It would have taken a lot of money and a super-effective traditional advertising campaign to get anywhere near the same effect. Every time I get a comment on my Chrome shoes I will answer, “Yeah, I got them for free. Chromes are sweet!” Even people who don’t care one bit about Chrome shoes will have to put up with me telling about how I mailed in a beat-up pair of Adidas and got a free pair of Chromes.

But what about those people who didn’t get them for free but rather bought them new? Now their (admittedly small) reference group is flooded with shoes that, to be honest, cost a lot of money for what you get. Chromes are more cycling status symbol than comfortable shoe. Those early adopters are now going to be stuck with a bunch of people riding bikes asking each other smug questions like “Hey dude, nice Chromes. How much did you pay for those. Wait! Let me guess!” Maybe we will get some lamenting of all the newbies ruining the Chrome “scene” with their “poseur” ways. Maybe Chromes will go “mainstream” and now owning a pair will be “so 2009”. Regardless, Chrome has made a lot of people happy, and I know that if and when I am in the market for a new messenger bag, there will be one place that will totally hook me up.


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