Regular English Speaking Tree Nerd On Holiday

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the January 2019 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here. Also, if you don’t get the reference in the title of this post, then you must go play this video while or after reading the article.

It’s always an extra treat to travel when you’re a tree nerd, since you get to play “canopy compare and contrast” between your home turf and your destination(s) while you are abroad. Marcia and I greeted 2019 with a trip to London and Paris, and my FitBit tells me that we walked 160,000 steps (about 80 miles) over the course of the week, much of that time spent with me ooo-ing and ahh-ing at special street trees or historic park trees or “what the heck is that?” trees we passed as we ambled about.

I love London Planes (Platanus × acerifolia) anywhere I spot them, and it was particularly delightful to see so many mighty specimens at the heart of their namesake city, their dappled trunks striking in sun or shade, and their distinctive seed balls providing “winter interest” as you surveyed the streetscape. In Paris we strolled the Bois de Boulogne with its native and curated forests, and we admired the Tilias that abound throughout the city, and which lay people call lindens, or basswoods, or limes, depending on where they make their homes.

We spent a lot of time in airplanes getting to and from Europe, and also had a nice EuroStar train trip via the “Chunnel” between London and Paris. This gave me a hefty amount of quiet time to read (more than I normally have, anyway), and the tree nerd in me was happy with that prospect, too, as I read a most remarkable book about trees, and people, and people and trees called The Overstory by Richard Powers.

I have to assume that if you’re reading this article in the TREE Fund newsletter that you’re at least a little bit of a tree nerd yourself, too, and so I most heartily recommend this book to you. It’s a transcendent novel that twines the tales of a half dozen wildly dissimilar humans into a single, solid, towering, powerful creative monument, with every step of the story given shape and substance by trees. The New York Times perhaps captured this concept best in their review of the book, where they noted “humans are merely underbrush; the real protagonists are trees.”

While The Overstory can resonate with those who don’t necessarily love or know their trees (e.g. it was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, awarded to the best novel in the English language issued each year), it was positively electrifying to me given my professional avocation. It’s not every day that mycorrhizal networks pop up and play key roles in a work of fiction, after all, but they’re quiet superstars here.

Like all great novels, The Overstory leaves the reader with a lot to consider when it has run its course, and while not everyone may agree with all of Powers’ implied or explicit lessons and morals, I can guarantee that his words, his stories, the magic of his prose, and most of all his trees will resonate with you all.

Happy reading, and let me know what you think!

Street trees had a big role in the experience of New Year’s Eve on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

The Weasels: Smart Music for Stupid Times

The Weasels, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (Mustella Furioso, 2018)

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow is the seventh studio long player from The Weasels of Albany, New York, who have been offering exquisitely crafted uneasy listening to discerning audiences since the early 1990s. Anchored as always around the songwriting partnership of Dr Fun (who also provides lead vocals, woodwinds, keyboards and sundries) and Roy Weäsell (guitars, vocals, keyboards, programs, etc.), The Man Who Saw Tomorrow features 15 new cuts that apply the duo’s sardonic worldview to a surprisingly topical and timely palette of subjects, creating a very smart, very classy record that’s very much a choice product of its time, never mind how very, very stupid its time happens to be.

Examples: “Et tu Harvey” and “I Sing The Weiner Electric” draw their inspirations from media coverage surrounding the base behavior of notorious #MeToo-era creeps Harvey Weinstein and Anthony Weiner, but then project those galling stories’ awful sensationalism through a twisted surrealist’s lens, turning them into a pair of modern morality parables that have good beats, to which you can cha-cha. “Wokeflake” and “New Black” also tap into current phrases, feelings, and fetishes, and both are charmingly wistful, even as they stomp the broken butterflies of youthful idealism, and deftly nestle today’s traumas into a spectrum of spectacles stretching back a cool century, most especially via the delicious “Wokeflake” chorus text of “Hello America and all the ships at sea / Goodnight Miss Calabash, wherever you may be.” (Walter Winchell and Jimmy Durante there, kids. Google ’em).

And the hits keep coming. “Winona Minnesota” is a heart-worm infected modern love song (“If I loved you like I hate you, all our troubles would be over”) that rides a ridiculously sinuous bass line from guest Weasel Baba Elefante. “Finnegans Wake” is, well, Finnegans Wake, flush with Joyce-isms (e.g. words that don’t quite make sense, but add up to something more than they would if they did), all set to a jolly drinking tune and with Dr Fun stepping away from the microphone to give Weäsell his customary once-per-record lead vocal turn. “Cherry Of Course” and “Gold Medal Flower” have rolling, repetitive, romping, rhyming lyrics that creep pleasurably close to Edward Lear  territory, the former over a rollicking country swing, the latter atop a synth-fortified funk strut. “George Barely” offers a zesty effervescence to the record’s mid-latitudes, all cheer and bubbles and fun, though with a hanging, unfinished chorus line — “and if I ever get the urge to play the blues or sing a dirge . . .” — that adds a pinch of piquant to the proceedings as you ponder just how Fun might finish that phrase.

I could readily and enjoyable unpack every one of The Man Who Saw Tomorrow‘s thirteen lyrics (one song’s an instrumental; more on that latter) at essay length, but for general review purposes, let me settle for saying that these songs are smart beyond reproach, and truly invite and reward active, deep listens. The Weasels’ deft deployment of word play, story-telling, random asides, cryptic references, literary allusions, broadcast bromides, sampled media snippets and other subliminal mutterings are engaging and entertaining, and the depth of meaning gets stronger and stranger as you peel the lyrical onion layers back, trying to figure out just what’s going on, and just how Fun and Weäsell managed to make earworms from such unexpected turns of phrase.

On the musical/instrumental front, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow is mostly delivered by a crack core band of Dr Fun, Roy Weäsell, guitarist Chuck D’Aloia and drummer Art Bernstein. The quartet have chops to spare, and D’Aloia is particularly and notably on fire throughout this album’s run, delivering tasty licks and titanic solos, soup to nuts. With decades and decades of stage and studio experience between them, the core quartet have got the skills to deliver the goods in rock, jazz, folk, country or pretty much any other idioms that inspire them, often pivoting on a dime between genres within a single song, like when an unexpected little breakbeat-EDM-electroclash thingie breaks out at the end of the clattering Bernstein-driven Vaudeville blues of “Fancy That.” There are also a pair of terrific traditional blues numbers with laugh out loud clever lyrics (“Ointment for My Stump” and “Yuge”) and a chunky, funky instrumental groove called “Planieren Sie Die Mond,” which upon closer inspection turns out to be an instrumental remake of “Bulldoze the Moon” from The Weasels’ 1995 sophomore album, Leon’s Mystical Head; the new version of the song features Fun on — wait for it — amazing jazz flute stylings.

Production and sound are as exquisite here as they ever are on a Weasels record (I’m not the only person to have compared them to Steely Dan when it comes to studio fastidiousness), with group co-founder and prodigal sound man Chris Graf returning to the fold (along with Scott Apicelli) to deliver a deep, rich mix that’s a joy on good speakers and (old school) headphones, with all sorts of touches layered atop, between and beneath the obvious bits that you catch on first listen. It’s never busy, but it’s textured in all the right ways. I know The Weasels’ catalog well, and I’ve had a lot of time to spin this disc over the past month and a half with some trans-Atlantic flights and long train trips along the way, and I’m inclined to place The Man Who Saw Tomorrow beside 1998’s Uranus or Bust as their two finest records. (Both Tomorrow and Uranus, as it happens, feature cover art from Michael Oatman, who co-created the “Weasel Vision” multi-media extravaganza back in the days when The Weasels were a live concern). It’s a classic, instantly. And no doubt for years to come, too.

As something of a coda, I want to close this review by discussing opening and closing tracks “Nostradamus is Dead” and “When in Rome” in a bit more detail, as they perfectly frame this exceptional album, lyrically, contextually, and musically. The opener’s got the ballsiest rock riffs on the record, as it spins a tale about, yes, “the man who saw tomorrow,” knitting in narratives about Nostradamus’ fellow traveler seers, hucksters, and seer-hucksters, famous and otherwise, from days gone by, days disgustingly present, and days yet to come. “The world is ending in a horrible fashion,” Fun sings, before noting that we sure could sure use a future-seeing warlock now to help us pierce the fog of worlds on fire and flying saucers crashing and skies turned red and such like. Jesus even makes an appearance here (in his 900-foot tall form), and the song ends with Fun calling out “hey” to a swirling litany of the semi-famous dead, none of whom ever answer.

“When in Rome” opens instrumentally like some lost Earth, Wind and Fire ballad, then rides a killer D’Aloia lick into a tale about an unnamed “he” (or maybe “He” is more fitting) who plans a special celebration, which is described in loving detail, and sounds utterly delightful, until He suddenly and unexpectedly cuts all of His guests’ heads off, mounts them on poles, and later eats pudding from their scooped-out skulls. And that’s just in the first verse! Verse two then explores a world gone crazy (“its brains run out its nose”) where “even Jesus prays that he can make it through the night,” until . . .

” . . . And when the nails were driven, not a fuck was given.
When in Rome, you do as Romans do.
And when the thorns were woven, and the spear was drove in,
when in Rome, you do as Romans do . . .”

Things then dissolve into a swirling fever dream of striking images and incantations (“a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy is a monkey”), culminating with the song’s and the album’s final words — “I fear we’re not in Kansas anymore” — after which D’Aloia solos us out into oblivion, world without end, amen, amen. “When In Rome” is an absolute masterpiece lyric, and a superb companion to fellow album closer “Doubting Thomas” from 2013’s AARP Go The Weasels, which also evoked the passion of Christ in trying to capture just what’s helplessly wrong and perverse about the world around us, and just what we all did to make it that way. Jesus wept, indeed.

It’s heavy, it’s profound, it’s sad, it’s funny, and EWF’s Philip Bailey could totally sing it if he wanted to, because the song itself is so damn funky, and soulful, and sweet. That deeply incongruous and deeply effective/affective (both apply) approach to lyric-writing and music-making has always provided the magic at the heart of The Weasels’ now 100-song strong catalog. What a pleasure it is, every few years or so, whether we deserve it or not, to look up in wonder at a new constellation of wonderful Weasels weirdness, sparkling above the wan and wasted plain of modern musical mediocrity.

LINKS AND REFERENCES:

The Weasels Website (Includes album ordering information)

The Weasels on Twitter 

The Weasels at Wikipedia (History and full discography)

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow on Spotify

J. Eric Smith’s Top 30 Albums of 2018 (Including This One)

London (2018) and Paris (2019)

Marcia and I are home from a great trip to London and Paris, with a quick zip via EuroStar train under the English Channel between those two epic destinations. We were fortunate to have unseasonably nice weather in both cities — dry and (relatively) warm — so we spent a lot of time outside walking about, logging a lot of distance. (My FitBit tells me I walked about 160,000 steps and covered about 80 miles on foot in the past week).

We’d been in London last summer, so this time we visited some less obvious tourist sites (e.g. Dickens Museum, National Gallery, British Library, Soane House, Battersea Power Station, Westway Flyover/Portobello Road, Tate Modern, King’s Cross/St. Pancras), having hit the more obligatory highlights in June. On the flip side, this was my first time in Paris, and Marcia hadn’t been there since college, so we did a mix of the expected and unexpected there (e.g. The Louvre, Notre Dame, Catacombes, Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse Cemetery, Bois de Boulogne, Stade Roland Garros, Shakespeare and Company, Bon Marche).

We had an extraordinary seven-course dinner at Le 39V just off the Avenue des Champes-Elysees on New Year’s Eve, and then joined a mass of people stretching from the Arc de Triomphe back towards the Seine as fall as my eyes could see. The countdown to 2019 was made magical by lasers and lights and fireworks turning the Arc into the grandest, largest projection screen imaginable. It was not quite as insane as New Years Eve in Reykjavik two years ago, but it was a close second in my own life experience.

I took a lot of pictures, as I always do, and if you’d like to see the full gallery, you can click on the picture below of me and mine beloved sharing our last meal of 2018, and getting photo-bombed by the Eiffel Tower. Next up on the international travel register for 2019, we’ll be visiting St. Kitts and Nevis for a work trip in February, then celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in June with a trip to Greece. Watch this space for the photos and reports!

32678308868_ac3c21553f_h

Happy after delightful dinner at Le 39V. Click the pic to see the entire gallery.

2018: Year in Review

The shortest day of the year approacheth, by God, and that puts me in a reflective mood, meaning it’s time for my annual trawl through “The Year That Was” to capture the “Most This” and “Fave That” and “Best The Other” for those interested in such reckonings. (If that doesn’t include any of you, well, then at least I’ve given myself a nice summary of the year for future reference, and satisfied the list-making monster that gnaws on my brain stem like Níðhöggr as December 31 draws nigh).

ON THE BLOG:

I posted 41 articles on the blog this year, up from 35 last year, and 27 the year before. A positive trend, though still nothing approaching the 77 posts I wrote back in 2015, and more in years prior. I doubt I’ll ever see those levels of productivity here again, for a variety of reasons, but this seems like a good and satisfying “new normal” level for me at this point. I have a 2019 writing project in mind, so will announce that here via a separate post at some point soon.

The ten most-read articles among those 41 new posts here in 2018 were these:

And then here are the ten posts from prior years (this blog archive goes back to 1995, y’know) that received the most reads in 2018. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on. I mean, why does the transcription of my 1999 chat with relatively obscure Son Volt guitarist Dave Boquist perennially appear on this list, while interviews with much more well-known artists never do? And people do realize that the “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” and “Coffee and Crystal Meth” articles are jokes, right? Hmmm . . .

ON THE WEB:

Outside of my own sandbox, I found 2018 to be a mostly dismaying year online as the constant barrage of shrill electoral and political messaging, all of it requiring my attention RIGHT NOW . . . and RIGHT NOW . . . and RIGHT NOW . . . and RIGHT NOW AGAIN . . . RIGHT NOW . . . eventually just overwhelmed me by the time we got to the elections. Once I crashed, literally, on that screaming digital beach-head in November, I just decided to put myself on a social media time-out program, and I intend to stick to it in the year ahead. Enough is enough is enough is enough. And enough is what I’ve had, and enough is all I need. Enough.

I need to keep Twitter for work purposes, but I’ve unfollowed everything on my personal account, including some good friends there. I am sorry about that, and hope that we’ll keep in touch elsewhere in other ways. You can still follow me at Twitter if you want to get tweets alerting you when I post something here on the blog, but I won’t be putting any new content there, and will need to find a new outlet for all of those little wordy bon mots, I guess. Similar situation with LinkedIn: I need it for work, my posts here will get cited there for information when they go live, and then that’s it. Read the blog if you want to keep up with what I’m doing, at bottom line, or email me, or call me. I’m always happy to talk. Seriously. Let’s do lunch. My treat!

Back to Twitter for a minute: I should note that I hit the 10,000-tweet mark (after about eight years) right around the time that I bailed on the platform. If we figure that my average tweet was about 200 characters long (I straddled the 140-character and 280-character epochs), and that the average English word is composed of about five letters, then that’s about 400,000 words, or several novels worth of bullshit spewed into the ether between 2010 and 2018.

Oof!!! That’s an awful lot of writing, just done gone, which probably explains why my blog volume dropped so precipitously in recent years. (To my own credit, I saw this coming). While I can’t get those words back, at this point, I definitely don’t want to add any more volume to that rambling stream of unedited piffle and tripe on one of the very same platforms that Russian trolls and their handlers used to wage cyberwar on us all, with terrible, terrible consequences. No mas. I’m out. See ya ’round. Done, done, and gone.

On a macro basis, I think the whole social media era may be drawing to a close for me. I also think that our descendants and their historians will look at how we collectively acted online over the past decade or so with disgusted bemusement as to how freaking stupid we all were in the nascent days of our lives as a digital species. I’m glad to have been an early adopter of lots of these technologies, and I’m equally glad to kick them to the curb when they have exhausted their utility in my life, or when they make me into a dumber, slower, sadder human being. This here internet thing was supposed to be fun, remember? I want to make it more of that, for me, starting right now, if not yesterday.

Also on that web and app front: while I am acutely aware that our Nation’s chief executive is a blithering, blundering, uncultured, unindicted co-conspiring buffoon, and that his enablers in the U.S. Congress, on FAUX News and its ilk, and in State Houses around the country will go down in history as some of the most criminally inept and amoral politicians and media figures ever to serve their citizenry, I do not need to be reminded of what those people are doing more than once or twice a day. Being alerted on a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour basis about the crooked cabal’s misdeeds and idiocy doesn’t make me any more woke . . . it just makes me more morally exhausted and depressed than I would be otherwise.

So I am finished with doing that to myself, too. If a website or phone app has a “refresh” button (literal or virtual) on it, then I really don’t want to read it anymore, lest I get stuck, pressing “reload” over and over again, waiting for the next hit of inane and sulfurous nothing to flash up on the glowing screen before me, to nobody’s betterment, ever. For the past month or so, I have chosen to get my political news from three good sources, once or twice a day, at most: I read my long-time web favorite Electoral Vote Dot Com every morning on the train, along with a print copy of the Chicago Sun Times, and then I read The Economist when it arrives in my home mailbox each week. America’s educated working classes functioned for decades, if not centuries, with once-a-day newspapers or news shows on radio or televisions, and we did just fine all that time. Better than we’re doing today, actually, by most metrics.

I want to return to that model in my own news-consuming life, reading professionally edited articles by qualified journalists, researchers and reporters, just a couple of times a day. That’s enough. That’s all I need. Please, Jesus, stop shouting at me beyond that, all of you. Thank you. My new writing project will probably touch on some of these themes more in 2019, so that’s all I’m going to say about that, for now. Watch this space.

On a more positive front online, and outside of the agitating news and social media worlds, Thoughts on the Dead remains my clear favorite and most happily read website, with the ever-prolific Mr TotD continuing to build and manage the best semi-fictional universe EVAR!!! Dive in, the water’s warm, though that might be because somebody’s nephew peed in it, and the pool also might be dosed with acid, so keep your mouth closed while you splash about. Also, the Donate Button may be sentient there, so you should befriend it and curry its favor soon, lest your cell phone ring unexpectedly, and Kim Jong-Un be on the other end. Just saying. It happens more often than one might expect.

My favorite new (to me, not to others) website/blog of the year would be Messy Nessy Chic, an utterly fascinating and well-curated deep dive into amazing art, culture, stories, pictures, and stuff, in all of stuff’s glorious stuffishness. Gorgeous, fascinating, and fun — and Nessy’s ongoing “13 Things I Found On the Internet Today” series is the best recurring catalog of its sort that I’ve seen anywhere online in ages and ages. Every edition’s a gem, filled with literal wonders. My other favorite regular reads online in 2018 are listed in the sensibly named “Regular Reads” column in the right sidebar here, so I commend them to all of you, too, once you’ve had enough here.

TRAVEL:

We greeted 2018 in Key West, Florida, and we will see it out in Paris, France, unless the Yellow Vest protesters burn it down first. I did a lot of professional travel this year, atop some fun family trips, and a really strenuous Tour des Trees in Northeastern Ohio, so my travel itinerary for the year remained almost as busy as 2017 and 2016.

With our move to Des Moines in March, I’ll be making a lot more trips between Iowa and Chicago, but I am planning to limit my work travel to one professional trip per month beyond that, with my board’s blessing. It will be nice to see this spaghetti chart get a little bit less tangled in 2019, even as a good chunk of long-haul travel will remain. (We have Greece and St. Kitts already booked on the 2019 itinerary, along with next year’s Tour des Trees in Kentucky and Tennessee, so those are exciting benchmarks upon which to build other adventures).

RECORDINGS:

I’ve already posted my Most Played Songs of 2018 and Best Albums of 2018 Reports, and I updated my Top 200 Favorite Albums list to reflect 2018 listening. After I issued the latter list, The Weasels released their outstanding new album, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, which is certainly a best of the year, and will be getting its own review addendum here at some point soon. You can go buy it now, so you’re prepared.

LIVE PERFORMANCES:

We experienced a lot of performances in a lot of idioms and venues this year, so rather than list a Favorite Opera, or a Favorite Play, or a Favorite Classic Rock Show, here are the 15 live performance events of all stripes that moved me the most this year, in chronological order, and all in Chicago unless otherwise noted; the most amazing and compelling of the bunch was The Joffrey Ballet’s incredible Midsummer Night’s Dream (no, not that one, Shakespeare was not involved here). Wow!!

  • Turandot, January 13, Lyric Opera
  • Blind Date, January 27, Goodman Theater
  • The Antelope Party, February 23, Theater Wit
  • Uriah Heep, March 11, Arcada Theater (St. Charles, Illinois)
  • Faust, March 18, Lyric Opera
  • Women Laughing Alone With Salad, March 31, Theater Wit
  • The Residents, April 17, Old Town School of Folk Music
  • The Doppelganger: A Farce, April 29, Steppenwolf Theatre
  • Midsummer Nights Dream, May 5, Joffrey Ballet, featuring Anna von Hausswolff at Auditorium Theater
  • Jesus Christ Superstar, May 16, Lyric Opera
  • Todd Rundgren and Utopia, May 22, Chicago Theater
  • George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars, July 15, Petrillo Stage, Taste of Chicago
  • First Aid Kit, October 2, Queen Elizabeth Theater (Vancouver, British Columbia)
  • Tom Hanks: “Uncommon Type,” November 2, Harris Theater, Chicago Humanities Festival
  • Familiar, December 16, Steppenwolf Theatre

ART EXHIBITIONS:

I saw every exhibition that opened at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago this year, probably amassing more gallery time in 2018 than in any other year when I didn’t actually work in a museum. I think the Art Institute had a curatorial banner year in 2018, though probably not for the big, splashy, media-friendly exhibitions that most folks would cite. (I was very underwhelmed by their John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age show, for example, having seen a much more compelling collection and interpretation of Sargent’s works at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown many years ago; this one felt very forced and “second city” to both Marcia and I). MCA mostly underwhelmed me this year, I am sad to say, and while the Cultural Center had some great shows in their smaller spaces, programming in their larger galleries also did not live up to the some of the creative thrills they’ve offered me in recent years. With that as macro preamble, then, here are the ten exhibitions that rocked my world the most this year at those three venerable venues. The Art Institute’s Hairy Who? 1966-1969 was unquestionably the best art event I saw this year: I have visited it about a dozen times at this point, and it reveals new wonders each time I walk through its generous galleries. Bravo!

  • Hairy Who? 1966–1969, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Volta Photo: Starring Sanlé Sory and the People of Bobo-Dioulasso in the Small but Musically Mighty Country of Burkina Faso, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Charles White: A Retrospective, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Bronzeville Echoes: Faces and Places of Chicago’s African American Music, Chicago Cultural Center
  • de-skinned: duk ju l kim recent work, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Tomma Abts, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
  • Flesh: Ivan Albright, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

BOOKS:

I am embarrassed by how few new books I read in 2018, which is another one of the reasons behind me saying enough when it comes to social media soul-sucking time: tons and tons of words passed through my eyes and into my brain this year, yes, but very few of them added wisdom or produced pleasure. Yucko, I am done with that, and I need to read more books in 2019! Let’s do this!

The best books I read this year were actually released between 2015 and 2017. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy — The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky — marked the finest example of timely and timeless world-building that I think I’ve enjoyed since the original Dune books. These are the right books in the right time when it comes to the ways in which we write about and read the fantastic, and how the fantastic mirrors and reflects real issues in our real world, and the series absolutely deserves the trio of Hugo Awards bestowed upon it, among many other honors. Very enjoyable reading, and I was very happy to have gotten lost for a couple of months in Jemisin’s sublime The Stillness.

The best new fiction releases I read in 2018 were The Cloven (the final book in B.K. Catling’s sprawling Vorhh Trilogy), Suah Bae’s exquisitely surreal Recitation and Sarah Perry’s engaging Gothic Noir Melmoth. I have Richard Powers’ The Overstory queued up next, and I expect to start and enjoy that before the year is up. On the nonfiction front, I liked Jorma Kaukonen’s autobiography Been So Long: My Life and Music, and Joel Selvin’s expose on the post-Jerry days of the Dead, Fare Thee Well because I’m interested in the subjects — but I would not cite either of them as a particularly great example of contemporary rock literature.

And that’s pretty much it for me in terms of books released in 2018. Did I mention that I am embarrassed by this? Well, I am. Goddamn you, Twitter!! Curse you to hell, Russian Trolls!!

FILMS:

We have two good movie theaters within easy walking distance of our condo, not to mention Amazon Prime and Netflix, so we watch a lot of movies every year. At the time of this writing, here are my Top Fifteen Films of 2018, though I note that I have some Oscar Bait movies that I want to see between now and early January (e.g. If Beale Street Could Talk, Can You Ever Forgive Me, Creed II, Vice, Leave No Trace, etc.), plus some sub-Oscar contenders in genres I like (e.g. Suspiria, The Sisters Brothers, etc.) so I’ll be updating this list a bit in the weeks ahead before the dust finally settles on 2018:

  • Annihilation
  • The Death of Stalin
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • First Man
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • Never Goin’ Back
  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Thoroughbreds
  • A Simple Favor
  • First Reformed
  • Hereditary
  • Green Book
  • The Favourite
  • Roma

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . that’s it, I think. I’ll disclose my planned 2019 writing project here at some point soon, and then Marcia, Katelin and I will spend Christmas together in Chicago, and then Marcia and I will jet off for London and Paris, and then the proverbial wheel will click through one more annual revolution, and instead of looking back at the rut it has left behind us, we will look forward at the path over which it’s going to carry us in the months ahead. Which will go quickly, as they always do once one reaches a certain age (ahem), so vultures willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back here in December 2019, marveling at that which was, and that which is yet to come. See you then?

Mine beloved and I returned to Vancouver this year after a 28-year hiatus. We’ll be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in June 2019 in Greece, so there’s one adventure I know you’ll read about here 12 months hence, if not sooner!

People Make the Mission

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the December 2018 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.

As I write my final column for 2018, we are deep into TREE Fund’s annual year-end operating appeal. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for a long time, so I’ve come to associate these appeals with the season: there’s turkey, there’s shopping, there’s revelry, there’s resolutions, and in the midst of all that, there’s a last push to raise funds, to give donors both “feel-good” experiences and year-end tax benefits.

I wrote here back in September about how changes in Federal law may impact the tax benefit of those gifts, but also how important it is that we all still “keep charity charitable,” empowering and celebrating the good work that nonprofits do in so many ways, in so many places, for so many people. That charitable intent is particularly important when it comes to the unrestricted operating funds that many year-end appeals support. They may not have the pizazz of brick and mortar giving, nor the permanence of endowments, but they are crucial to what we do.

For some folks outside of the nonprofit world, that phrase — “unrestricted operating funds” — may have unintended negative connotations: “Wait, you can do anything you want with it? Are you going to just spend it on overhead? Is that okay? Maybe I’d better give to this restricted endowment pool instead.” But all it really means is that we have the flexibility to support our “areas of greatest need” internally, and for TREE Fund, that need largely equates to people!

When you remove grants we pay from our operating budget, about three-quarters of the remaining expenses pay for the folks who actually do the work to fulfill our mission — and do it well, if it’s not inappropriate for me to say so. That’s Barb managing the grants, Karen communicating our research findings, Monika educating our donors, Maggie managing community engagement, including the Tour des Trees that Paul directs, Dipika keeping the books, and Russ ensuring our computer systems support it all. Plus me, often on the road, doing my best to champion tree science and the professionals who benefit from it.

Some of those folks you may know, some not. Some are employees, some are contractors, some part-time, some full. All are passionate about our mission, work hard to pursue it, and are largely supported by unrestricted operating funds, secured via appeals, partnerships or events. So anytime you email, call, engage on social media, read a newsletter article, share a research finding, or see a TREE Fund team member in person giving you great service in pursuit of our shared goal, then that’s what “unrestricted operating funds” are all about: it’s the people who make the mission.

 

You can click the advert to donate online. Do it for the people!!