Best — Oh, Dear

Evidently my membership in the union of “bibliobloggers” entangles me in Ed Cook’s idea that we share our personal “best of 2004”s. Here we go:

Best Fiction: Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson — though it’s probably the only fiction published in 20004 that I’ve read at all

Best non-fiction: Oddly, I’m not sure I read any “copyright-2004” non-fiction — apart, that is, from the collections of essays in which my writings appeared this year, which seems a bit of a cheat.

(This exercise reveals to me how little my reading patterns depend on what’s just been published.)

Best Film: The Incredibles wins, but I haven’t seen most of the movies that other people think rank among the year’s best.

Best TV programme: We don’t watch TV, sorry.

Best album: I think Blueberry Boat, with Get Up and A Grand Don’t Come For Free (as below). And I forgot to mention below My Endless Numbered Days, which still knocks me out (thanks, Simon!).

Best single: Tough call, among “Naked As We Came” (Iron & wine), “Such Great Heights” and “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” (the Postal Service), and “Straight Street” (Fiery Furnaces).

Best gig: I think I didn’t get to any gigs other than Open Mike night at Kafein.

Most missed: The time I might have spent reading, going to movies, and attending gigs?

Holiday Story

Once upon a time, there was a family getting ready for their Christmas celebrations. . . .

You know most of the background and circumstances; most recently, Margaret and I went to the emergency room at the local hospital so that they could do something about Margaret’s anxiety which, in the aftermath of her nuclear therapy, had grown and abounded to the point that Wednesday night was sleep-wrecked, and Thursday morning panicky and emotionally fragile. We put in phone calls to her doctors, but they were evidently busy — busy, can you imagine that, two days before Christmas? — and when we finally got through to one, he firmly suggested that we go the ER route to get the anxiety treatment we needed (as Margaret’s recent thyroid radiation put too many variables in play for over-the-phone assessment).

So we spent the afternoon and early evening in cubicle 8 of the ER, dealing with very earnest residents and crisis docs, and we came away with a prescription for short-term anti-anxiety meds (our original target) and urgent invitations to drop in again if anxiety was getting out of hand, perhaps even to drop in for a short stay and observation. Margaret politely declined the latter invitation, but we have their number and will be sure to contact them should occasion arise.

Everything’s in hand for now, and we’re very, very thankful for concerned friends, for an attentive medical team, for family solidarity that makes it possible for our young’uns to help one another, for the marvels of modern pharmaceutical technology, and for an unfathomable grace that reveals itself even in grim times.

You Must Remember This

I loved telegrams. One reason I never liked Federal Express (over and above the underplanned executives who needed overnight service on jobs that could have been done for a quarter the expense if someone had placed the order a few days earlier) was its displacement of real, exciting, exotic telegrams. Always the yellow paper, please, with all caps, no punctuation. That’s the same message a Carnegie might receive, or a Hepburn or Valentino!

So when I point to the link for Retro-Gram, which offers free emailed telegrams or moderately-priced mailed telegram replicas, it’s because nothing will ever replace the thrill of a uniformed courier knocking at your door, saying, “Telegram for Adam. . . .”

Top Whatever

I’m glad that I’m not the only one who’s wondered how Mike Skinner lost a sheath of bills amounting to a thousand pounds in a slot in his television. The reviewer at Pitchfork and I agree that it’s a terrific album (even if Pippa doesn’t like it), and I could understand if it were a check for £1000, but it sounds from the songs as though the sum really was in cash. Anyway, I thought that A Grand Don’t Come For Free was a terrific disc. Likewise the Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boats and the Postal Service’s Give Up. I wasn’t swept away as many were by Franz Ferdinand, and don’t quite see the appeal of Morrissey (so You Are The Quarry drifted past me without making much of an impression). L liked what I heard of Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Like Bad News, but I haven’t listened to it thoroughly (same with A Ghost Is Born). I’m supposed to like both How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and Around The Sun, but I haven’t had enough time with them for them to grow on me.

Here, Tom Coates’s brilliant insight into the future of recorded music applies: there just isn’t enough time to listen, when you can listen to almost anything you want. I try to listen broadly to the recorded music I’ve collected, rather than focusing on this or that album; if a track or an album doesn’t win attention-share pretty promptly, it goes into a random shuffle with tens of thousands of other selections. That marks a fundamental change from a time in which a broadcast medium could focus my attention on a relatively few tracks repeatedly for an interval, where I could not choose to listen to just-any track at almost any time, where there was (indeed) no function for listening to random tracks — any track one listened to had been selected in one way or another.

The ecology of musical performance (and other modes, if they’re paying attention) has changed in a tremendously important way. It’s not clear what that entails — does music now have to be catchy in order to survive? What agency, whose ears, will help sort the vast ocean of recorded music into attention-worthy work and disposable work (and for whom)? (Nate and Si help me, but not everyone has teenage sons) — but in this new ecology, some dinosaurs will perish, and making laws to keep obsolescent institutions and practices alive in a new media environment will not work any better than would laws to keep polar bears alive on Mercury.

Top Five

Bob Carlton has been gently soliciting my participation in his “top five” posts for 2004 project, but I’ve been putting it off (by way of avoiding it altogether — looks like he’s offline for a while, so maybe this is too late). Then yesterday Tripp prodded me to post my top five, and as I wrote back about why I was resisting, I realized how dreadfully self-important I sounded: “I don’t think of my blogs as ‘better’ or ‘best,’ as though they were singles off a series of albums” — thus, as if I were a stuffy rocker whose Art couldn’t be sold by single downloads (though it can be broadcast in singles).

Anyway, I — chastened, humbled — have been trying to figure out which would count as my Top Five. Part of the problem, for me, is that I don’t remember the last year all that well! My final candidates aren’t especially “spiritual,” though they hold some lessons for emergent congregations, I suppose. Counting down from Number Five, I guess they’d be:

Number five might be the post that triggered a complex of ideas that will turn into my Winslow lecture next spring.

Then, for number four, I nominate “Why churches should have websites,” which at the time seemed to me to be just repeating stuff that Jordon et al. had been saying all along, but which caught a lot of attention anyway. If it helped people tune in to the value of putting up even a minimal web presence, then so much the better.

I’ll make number three my response to seeing The Passion of the Christ (and the follow-up “Passion and Postmodernism”).

Number two would be the Lessig Read-a-thon, which was covered by Doug Kaye’s IT Conversations, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and eventually turned into a series here, here whose fruits can most simply be retrieved via the Internet Archive.

And the obvious number one would be the InfoHighwayman series, recounting my [mis]adventures with wireless security law in Nantucket. It all begins here, and continues here, here, here, and here (with the image of the newspaper story here).

There were a bunch of sermons this past year — I don’t have the perspective to pick and cchoose among them for “best”-ness, but I’ll see about making a compendium post later.

Should Be, But Not Part Two

Should be finishing up those papers, but instead I’m making digital Christmas cards with the TYPEFlake greeting-card designer. That, and playing “Christmas Is All Around,” by Billy Mack, on iTunes — Halley recommended Love, Actually last year (and just re-commended it), so Margaret and I watched it last week, and enjoyed it immensely. Now, through the wonders of online music purchasing, Margaret can’t seem to get that tune out of her head.

Arresting Developments

While I was pioneering through Montana, Jonathan rejoined the Macintosh cosmos, and Liz founded a Social Computing Lab at RIT. Cheers to both, and open offers to lend such assistance as may be helpful (I do think that a Social Computing Lab would benefit from the participation of an online theologian. . .).

And since Nate doesn’t blog, I’ll take this opportunity to link to pages identifying him as a singer with Rochester’s Kairos choral ensemble, and as a friend of Zach’s (for this one, you’ll have to scroll down a ways, but there’s a picture of Nate as a reward).

And Helenann Macleod Hartley, a friend from her days as an exchange student at Princeton Theological Seminary, has a blog of her own (after a long time starring as a supporting player at Mark Goodacre’s blog). Huzzah! Helenann links to news about the sixth Harry Potter novel, bringing a cheer from Pippa (whom Helenann may remember), which reminded me that Micah “The Piano Man” Jackson pointed me to the Classical Greek translation of the first Harry novel, which in turn led me to the translator’s website. All quite wonderful — and they tempt me to teach Greek via Harry Potter. . . .

Meet Bob

Our family has developed an odd holiday custom.

Six years ago, when we first moved to Evanston, we bought a Christmas tree. Nate and Si (mostly Nate) called this tree “Bob,” partly because they’re whimsical guys, and partly because it annoyed Pippa. Pippa felt that the tree shouldn’t have to endure the indignity of being named Bob; our Christmas tree should be permitted to stand with its intrinsic anonymous grandeur, or at least bear a more noble monicker. The boys’ usage prevailed, though, and all season we called the tree Bob.

The next year, the Pippa insisted that the tree not be named Bob — which insured that Nate and Si emphatically perpetuated the custom. Pippa’s monitory protestations bore a tinge of intra-sibling humor, and that year her objections seemed more a game than an actual claim on behalf of the beleaguered tree.

Beginning with the third year in Evanston, Pippa referred to the tree as Bob all season. Thus are traditions born.

Today, Pippa and I rolled down to the vacant lot next door to Reconciler, and bought this year’s Bob. He’ll move from the garage into our living room on Christmas Eve, occupying the space that till then will have been occupied by our piano, destined shortly to move to Heather’s place, via Micah’s mediation.

My Trip From Montana Back To Chicago

It was a dark and stormy night, at least in my innards. Something seems to have disagreed with me, and I spent much of the night awake and in a greater or lesser state of discomfort. I was so queasy that I couldn’t eat the cinnamon roll I had brought back from the pot luck, or even — gasp! — drink coffee. I tried to sit absolutely still for the morning, watching SportsCenter over and over at the Youngs’ home while Todd handled some parish business. He then drove me in to Butte for my return trip. I hadn’t remembered that the ride was so bumpy and curvy. . . .

I managed a Coke at the airport, and a cup of coffee and granola bar during my flight to Salt Lake City. Although we landed in broad daylight, the valley has filled with low-hanging clouds and snow, so our approach afforded no view of socks or anything else. It did convey the sense that we were landing in a vast sea of fluffy white foam.

Change in SLC for O’Hare, and I’m just an hour or so away from greeting my beloved, greatly-missed Margaret. I predict that I will not stay up late tonight.

My Trip to Montana, Part Three

The New Sign

Todd’s New sign

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

I had it easy the rest of the trip; Todd had Sunday services well in hand, so I sat with Joelene (that’s with her proper “e”) through the morning masses in Sheridan and, a mere twenty miles away, Virginia City. This is the same Virginia City that provided the setting for Bonanza, so now you know that I’ve been there. I don’t know if St. Paul’s Episcopal Church appeared in the TV series, but if it didn’t, it was their loss.

St. Paul's Interior

Inside St. Paul’s

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

I’d be willing to bet, if I were permitted to bet, that Lorne Greene never used the windshield of his carriage as a device to protect him from low-flying magpies, as we did. Well, not Lorne Greene’s carriage, but the Youngs’ car. One moment I saw a big lump of gray flapping its wings toward the car, and the next I heard a loud whomp and saw feathers going all over the place — luckily (for us — I don’t think the bird cared much any more by that point) only on the exterior of the windshield. We held a learned ornithological debate over what sort of bird it might have been (I lobbied for “quail,” because the underside of the bird, at which I got an especially close look, reminded me of the quail etchings and engravings that my grandfather made), but the indigenous population felt sure it was a magpie, and their word was good enough for me. No damage to the car, but the magpie probably did not have the opportunity to fly into any other vehicles.

Meanwhile, Joelene had arranged for someone to meet us at Virginia City bearing electrical tape, so after the service, I shifted into my boy-electrical-engineer mode and splice together the cell-phone cord, and patched the computer cord, both successfully.

Rev. Ref preached at both services on the text in which the angel instructs Joseph to name the baby Jesus, in order to fulfill a prophecy that he would be called Emmanuel. He did a fine job, even with his New Testament professor sitting in the front row; I, at least, didn’t heckle him the way a certain not-to-be-identified spouse did. Todd stumped me with a question in the middle of the sermon, but then when he asked a question to which I did know the answer, he wouldn’t call on me.

Two masses and an electrical repair did not bring our day’s accomplishments to an end, though. We returned to Sheridan, ate some delicious leftover lasagna, did some odds and ends, and then hopped back into the car to take part in the Lessons and Carols service at St. Paul’s. That very well-attended service (including Fr. Ed, who claimed he was only there for the food) was followed by a lively pot luck dinner, pitching tips for Cece from a retired Little League coach (me), and another drive back to Sheridan. No further collisions.