Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Click any image to see it in full size.

I think this is probably a nice ending for this series, as I head into my final month as a Chicago resident. Ten posts, ten pics each, hopefully worth 100,000 words of stories. A nice visual archive of my time here, focused on the city itself, not on Marcia and I as protagonists within it. Such a beautiful, inspirational place. I will miss snapping it as often as I have over the past four years! Here are the earlier installments of this series:

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

The Albums Of Our Lives

I was reminded recently of an old interview with (great) writer Chuck Klosterman where he deflected a “best album ever” type question by citing a list of his favorite albums from each year of his life. Probably no surprise to those who are regular readers here, but that made me say “Ooooo! I need to do that too!!”

So I did. And it was an interesting process to develop the list. Some thoughts and observations:

  • The key word is “favorite:” I didn’t try to pick “best,” but rather the things that I enjoy the most, right here, right now, really hewing to the true definition of “favorite” in all of its subjective glory. The difference between “favorite” and “best” is significant, since I know that I love some bad things, and I also know that I hate some good things. Such is the essence of taste.
  • I used my Top 200 Albums Ever list as a starting point, but that quickly stopped being useful, primarily because there are some years where literally dozens of my favorite albums were released (e.g. 1977, with David Bowie’s Low and “Heroes,” Eno’s Before And After Science, Wire’s Pink Flag, Pink Floyd’s Animals, Steely Dan’s Aja, the Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, just to cite the top of the pile), and other years when I had to deep dive into my collection to find a single album that I considered worthy of being on this list. As much as I always espouse my non-nostalgic “the best music ever made is the music being made right now” rubric, in truth, objective music quality and import over time is a lumpy graph, and that really shows up in a project like this.
  • I had what would seem to be another quality resource available to me in developing this list, with my own “Best Album” reports from print or digital outlets going all the way back to 1992. But interestingly enough, I did not receive much utility from that list either, as there were loads of years where my identified “Best Album” entries from those long gone years either didn’t have long-term legs and do not please me as much now as they did then, or where I still like those old records well enough, but saw them supplanted by things I only heard some year or years after their original releases. Perspective changes over time, for sure.
  • The final list I developed here is a little bit more of a Caucasian Sausage Party than I probably would have preferred. That said, I am glad to see that the trend lines for diversity generally move in the right directions as we careen into 2019.
  • Chuck Klosterman is younger than me, but we do have two albums in two years where we overlap in our lists. See 1990 and 1993. I’m highly skeptical of any self-proclaimed music critic/nerd if he, she (or you) does not agree with me and Chuck on these two. 1990 and 1993 are years where there’s not a lot of room for negotiation. Seriously.
  • If the first year presented in this list seems incongruous to you in terms of what you think you might know about my life’s timeline, let’s just say that I come from a grand old South Carolina family where such piddling insignificances as “When was I born?” or “When was I married?” or “What year is it, really, and how much does it matter, darling?” are highly negotiable in one’s personal narrative. Suffice to say I’m old enough that it’s rude to ask for clarification on such matters, so don’t.

And with all of that as preamble, here’s the list I’ve developed of my favorite albums, right now, from each year of my life:

1965: John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

1966: Simon and Garfunkel, The Sounds of Silence

1967: Yusef Lateef, The Complete Yusef Lateef

1968: Bonzo Dog Band, The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse

1969: King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King

1970: Grateful Dead, American Beauty

1971: Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Tarkus

1972: Jethro Tull, Thick As A Brick

1973: Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

1974: Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

1975: Wings, Venus and Mars

1976: Steely Dan, The Royal Scam

1977: Steely Dan, Aja

1978: Jethro Tull, Heavy Horses

1979: David Bowie, Lodger

1980: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (III)

1981: Kraftwerk, Computer World

1982: XTC, English Settlement

1983: Swans, Filth

1984: Christian Death, Catastrophe Ballet

1985: Kate Bush, Hounds of Love

1986: R.E.M., Life’s Rich Pageant

1987: Butthole Surfers, Locust Abortion Technician

1988: Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven

1989: Einstürzende Neubauten, Haus der Lüge

1990: Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet

1991: Public Enemy, Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black

1992: Television Personalities, Closer To God

1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese

1995: The Bogmen, Life Begins at 40 Million

1996: Sepultura, Roots

1997: Katell Keineg, Jet

1998: Clutch, Elephant Riders

1999: Coil, Musick To Play in the Dark, Vol. 1

2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya

2001: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Original Cast Recording)

2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone

2003: Ween, Quebec

2004: Xiu Xiu, Fabulous Muscles

2005: Coil, The Ape of Naples

2006: Kamikaze Hearts, Oneida Road

2007: Dälek, Abandoned Language

2008: The Fall, Imperial Wax Solvent

2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic

2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics

2011: Death Grips, Exmilitary

2012: Napalm Death, Utilitarian

2013: David Bowie, The Next Day

2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold

2015: Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

2016: David Bowie, Blackstar

2017: The Fall, New Facts Emerge

2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins

1965 was a very good year to be born, hypothetically and musically speaking . . .

The Trees That Move Us

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the February 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.

Last summer, I wrote a Leading Thoughts column on “trees as inspiration,” sharing my affection for a wonderful work-in-progress book about ginkgos by Jimmy Shen, a professional botanic photographer based in east China. Last month, my column focused on another book, The Overstory by Richard Powers, a powerful novel about the ways that trees can shape our lives, from birth to death, and maybe beyond.

I received more feedback on those two columns than I did from any of the others I’ve written here, I think because those of us who count ourselves as “tree people” generally don’t leave our interest in trees at our work sites but are also awed and moved by them in our personal lives as well. We look for and admire great trees in the cities, fields and forests where we work, live and travel, and then we also seek out opportunities to celebrate trees in books, art, music, and in all of the other myriad of creative arts.

On one of our recent snow days, I bundled up and walked over to the Art Institute of Chicago – my favorite place in my favorite city, hands down – and wandered around the various galleries there as I often do. In the 19th Century European Art collection, I saw a wonderful painting that I’d not noticed before by Albert Bierstadt, depicting a glorious stand of birches around a rocky waterfall, and I shared a photo of it in on the TREE Fund Twitter feed.

And then I decided to have a full tree day at the museum, walking through every gallery, seeking out great trees in the collection. It was a wonderful way to re-experience galleries that I’ve seen more times than I can count, looking through a different lens at paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, and more. I found abstract trees, photographic trees, and impressionist trees. I was awed by the ways that artists were inspired by trees over centuries and around the world. I shared my findings on social media, and they were widely liked, commented on, and retweeted.

A couple of weeks later, I was home again and the song “The Trees” by the BritPop band Pulp came up on my stereo. Once again, thinking about trees, I decided to have a tree music day, going through the 14,000+ songs that I have on my computer, looking for great ones about trees, woods, forests, and more. I posted my 25 favorite tree songs on my personal website and once again got loads of comments, feedback, and response from others about their favorite tree songs. People just love tree art, in all of its forms.

I recommend you have your own museum tree day, or make a tree song playlist, or look at some other creative idiom through tree lenses. It’s truly rewarding to actively consider how the trees we care for professionally enhance our lives beyond their scientific and landscape value.

The Albert Bierstadt painting that inspired my Tree Day at the Art Institute.

St. Kitts

Updated February 16, 2019: We got home last night at around 1 AM after a long day on planes and in airports. I completed our photo album from the trip this morning. You can click on the beach horse (Marcia’s photo) below to be taken to the full gallery:

Marcia and I are in the Caribbean island nation of St Kitts and Nevis this week for the Tree Care Industry Association’s annual Winter Management Conference. It’s a great gathering of business leaders in the tree care and related industries, and I am always grateful that they afford me the opportunity to be a part of the event, providing an annual TREE Fund report, and being able to spend quality time with the folks who make our work possible, year after year after year.

I’m also always grateful to the event planners for keeping the schedule open enough that folks have the opportunity to explore the beautiful locations where the conference is held. Marcia and I arrived a couple of days early, and got a fantastic island tour from Barry Wyatt, who met us at the airport and then spent four hours a couple of days later showing us his home nation, with knowledge, perspective, wisdom and pride.

We have also had two brilliant dinners at Tiranga, an excellent Indian restaurant right across the street from the Marriott Resort where the conference is being held. If you are reading this while you are still at Winter Management Conference, I heartily recommend you give Tiranga a shot for one of your remaining meals, and then call Barry for a great tour, too. You will not be disappointed!

As always, I’m constantly snapping photos, and will do my usual Flickr album when I get home, but here are a sampling of the sights we’ve seen so far (obviously if I’m them, then those are Marcia’s snaps), with a few days yet to go before we return to the frozen north. Enjoying it while we can, life is good!

Credidero #1: Hostility

I went to college six weeks after my 17th birthday, and I learned how to kill people.

That educational process started early on during my time at the United States Naval Academy with one-on-one types of hand-to-hand combat and self-defense techniques, before we moved on to heavier fare, literally and figuratively. I qualified as a marksman with a pistol and as a sharpshooter with a rifle during my freshman year, and then I had the opportunity to operate a variety of portable ordinance devices in later years, including shooting at a (scrap) truck with a tube-launched, optically-sighted, wire-guided anti-tank missile. That was fun! Later on, I trained in airplanes, on submarines (including ballistic missile boats), and on surface warfare ships that were all stacked with formidable people-killing armament. I then went on to a decade-long career managing budgets and contracts for a program that designed and built nuclear propulsion plants for transporting various instruments of mass carnage around the globe, rapidly, stealthily, lethally.

Thankfully, I was never asked to use any of those skills nor any of those tools in any real acts of hostility, simply by virtue of having had my time in the military correspond to an unusually long peaceful streak in our nation’s history. Had I been directed to do so, though, I certainly would have followed my orders. Interestingly, though, I doubt that I would have actually felt any real sense of personal hostility toward any of my targets, but rather would have just been a willing pawn deployed to implement my kingdom’s institutionalized hostilities toward other kingdoms.

Unless, of course, someone was shooting at me or my loved ones first, which would have changed everything, instantly. I can think of few things more likely to trigger towering feelings of hostility than the sheer indignity of having one’s life or family threatened directly, whether by an enemy combatant, or by an armed robber, or by a drunken or road-raging driver, or by any other external assault on my/our well-being.

I learned first-hand by stepping into the boxing ring during my time at the Academy how such an unbidden sense of preservation-based hostility can emerge suddenly and unexpectedly. I fought my own room-mate a couple of times, and while I truly do love him like a brother, he’s a good deal bigger than me (it sucks to weigh in at the bottom of the heavy-weight division), and after he popped me in the face a couple of times and the adrenaline started flowing, I just wanted to hurt him quick before he hurt me again. If I’d have been able to score a knock-out blow, I would have been happy to land it. And then the final bell rang, and then we hugged it out. Hostility resolved. Wow, where did that come from? And where did it go?

In considering the nature of institutional and personal hostility, it seems helpful to sort the ways in which it can emerge or be imposed, as a possible first step in considering how (and if) it can (or should) be mitigated. Perhaps a quadrant model like this, where the X-axis plots how ordered the hostility is, and the Y-axis plots the number of humans sharing in the hostility:

In the organized group hostility quadrant (top right), the types of hostilities experienced are generally those imposed from above or beyond any one individual’s emotions. Below that, hostilities in the organized individual quadrant (bottom right) may be more personally deep-seated, with gang members deeply hating their rivals, xenophobes self-organizing into militias to fight the feared others (whoever they might be), and rival sports teams (or more often their fans) actually hating those who play or root for other teams.

On the chaotic side of the grid, the group quadrant (top left) represents spontaneous or non-governmental hostility against a ruling caste, or a different ethnic group, or a competing economic system. The chaotic individual hostility quadrant (bottom left) seems to be one most prone to and rife with sudden personal violence, and it’s also the space where those transient, emergent senses of rage and aggression and ill-will can quickly emerge, and possibly abate, just as quickly.

While the word “hostility” is certainly one fraught with negative connotations, as I look at this graph, I can hypothetically formulate situations in the upper quadrants where hostility may be a justified, and even noble, emotional state. Oppressed citizens throwing off the yoke of a tyrant (top left), for example, or soldiers fighting a “just war” as the Allies did in Europe against the monsters who conceived of the Holocaust (top right), among myriad other horrors. (More problematic: those who were just “following orders” in implementing those vile dictates). Humans should feel hatred toward loathsome dogma, and if that hatred manifests itself as active, overt, institutional hostility toward those who embrace such dogma, that seems a fair, fitting and reasonable fuel for the actions required to quell and quash such noxious beliefs and the regimes that promulgate them.

The lower half of the quadrant is more difficult to parse: it’s hard to frame a sound argument for justified street crime, or sports hooliganism, or mob hits, or hateful graffiti, or destruction of private and public property as a hostile response to undesirable stimuli. The sense that individualized hostility is always (or nearly always) a negative condition to be avoided or suppressed is borne out in mental health diagnosis and practice, where hostility is actually considered a symptom of many underlying mental or emotional disorders, and where numerous theories have been put forth to explain hostility as a psychological phenomenon.

So unwell people may feel hostility as part of their mental illness, and we would theoretically seek to treat or cure that symptom and its cause — even as every single one of us feels what could be considered clinical hostility toward some of the people we interact with, some of the time, regardless of how we might aspire to avoid such emotional states. We may not act on our hostilities, mind you, but we feel them, on a very deep, organic basis. In some ways, it seems that this type of chemical hostility is simply a manifestation of the disgust reflex: nobody likes feeling repelled or nauseous by filth and decay, but that strong bodily reaction to such stimuli actually protects us from harm by steering us away from toxicity. Are some forms of emotional hostility toward others just manifestations of that disgust reflex?

If hostility is, in fact, an intrinsic, organic part of what we are — and century upon century upon century of humans hating and harming each other would certainly seem to indicate that this may be the case — then perhaps the only meaningful reflection on individual hostility is to consider how and when we let that inner state of aversion manifest itself externally. Is shouting racial slurs at strangers acceptable, desirable behavior? Of course not. But how about “punching Nazis” (to cite a common current trope), literally or figuratively? Is that hostility justified? And if so, is acting on it acceptable and desirable? Could be.

While we may not be able to choose what feelings of hostility we experience as individuals, we do have more personal agency when it comes to our willingness to accept and act on institutional hostility. As noted above, I know full well that had I been given a legal order to take the lives of others in the field of war, I would have done so, accepting that whatever hostility my Commander-in-Chief dictated on behalf of the Nation’s citizenry was a hostility that I would be willing to act on, whether I actually felt it emotionally or not.

Many others would not and do not, obviously, by either refusing to take up arms, or refusing to accept orders to use them. I tend to think that when a national leader regularly expresses loathsome personal hostilities, then there’s an even greater onus on those who serve the nation to actively, consciously weigh their obligations to embrace institutional hostility, since it’s a slippery slope down the “just doing my job” argument into concentration camps and genocide.

There’s a conundrum in all of this: many (most?) of us are willing to service hostilities that we don’t personally feel, even as we work hard to not act on the hostilities that we actually do experience internally. The social contracts that create this odd dichotomy are easily understood and widely accepted on a macro basis, even as they provide ripe fuel for cognitive dissonance and other psychological turmoil on a micro basis. We may even find ourselves feeling hostile toward the very structures and strictures that define how hostility manifests itself in our lives, both publicly and privately.

The only way to completely step beyond this dichotomy would be to step beyond the company of other human beings altogether — but while the hermits of the world may not wrestle regularly with the conundrums of every day hostilities, they ultimately end up being conceptually hostile to humanity as a whole. Managing our hostilities makes us functionally human, on some plane, and the shared alignment of our expressed hostilities may even serve to create and bind the societies we live in — and thereafter the societies that we hate, individually and institutionally.

Imagine a world where all humans were all hostile toward the same things, in the same ways. A single global hatred would actually result in a more peaceful planet than we’ve ever experienced since we learned how to kill with our hands, and with sticks and rocks, and with blunderbusses and bazookas, and with guided missiles and cluster bombs. It’s the wide breadth of human hostilities that segregates and isolates us, more than the depth of any one hatred. Ironically, as we grow ever more connected on a global basis in this our brave new digital heyday, we also grow ever more aware of just how many specific types of hatred and hostility are available to us all, individually and institutionally, which divides and agitates us ever more precisely on many planes.

So should we aspire to reject and rebuff all the forms of hostility that surround, shape and define us? I’m personally hostile to that idea, and I would oppose a regime that promoted it as a defining organizational dogma, since such a regime would pragmatically represent nothing more than the fever dreams of mad Utopians. A rejection of hostility as a defining characteristic of the human experience is an impossibly inhuman stance, and collectively stripping ourselves of our own humanity, flawed though it may be, would be a precursor of an ultimate collective psychological and sociological implosion.

We’re better served by understanding our hostilities than we are by denying them, segregating the justifiably actionable or expressible ones from the ones that constantly patter around inside us, whether we want them there or not. Some hostilities protect us from harm. Some do not. Some hostilities define who we are. Some do not. Some hostilities shape our communities. Some do not. The art of being successfully human may come from being able to skillfully parse these distinctions, and openly and fairly encouraging others to do the same. In doing so, though, we need to understand that others may view the world through different lenses than we do, and that the hostilities experienced by (say) an older, affluent, white male may be entirely different from those experienced by a woman, or by a person of color, or by a homeless person struggling with the very basics of subsistence.

We can know how to kill without killing. We can know how to hate without hating. We can feel hostile without being hostile. Or we can be hostile without feeling hostile. We have agency in the presence of hostility imposed and hostility expressed, both individually and institutionally, but we must choose to accept that agency. I believe we should do so, and I believe we may all become better humans by occasionally facing the ugliness that sits at the very heart of our species’ collective soul, and also occasionally considering the ugliness that our societies ask us to assume as part of our social contracts, and then consciously, actively shaping our behaviors to manage, accept, or reject that ugliness, as best befits our personal and collective circumstances.

I didn’t generally feel hostile, even when I was training to be an agent of hostility.

Note: This is part one of a planned twelve-part writing project. I’m using an online random die roller to select a monthly topic from a series of twelve pre-selected themes. With this article complete, I roll the die again . . .

8die

. . . and next month I will consider Topic Number Eight: “Curiosity.”

All Articles In This Series:

Credidero: A Writing Project

Credidero #1: Hostility

Credidero #2: Curiosity

Credidero #3: Security

Credidero #4: Absurdity

Credidero #5: Inhumanity

Credidero #6: Creativity

 

Tour des Trees 2019: Rider Registration is Open

TREE Fund Headquarters has been closed for the past two days due to the Polar Vortex, but we all still worked remotely behind the scenes so that we could flip the big switch this morning and open rider registration for the 2019 Tour des Trees, hooray!

It’s lunchtime, and I see that 10 riders have already signed up this morning, some regulars, some new folks to the team. I’ve waxed effusive at length here about the experience of riding the Tour over the past four years, so I won’t do that again . . . but I will simply ask you to consider joining us this year, for five amazing days of fully-supported riding through the beautiful back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee.

It’s a good time with good people for a good cause, and you’ll get good and fit training for the event, so what’s not to love? Click this year’s Tour medallion below to be taken to the main page for all things Tour des Trees, and then consider making the commitment, as I’d love to ride alongside you this year! Or if that’s not in the cards, then I would gratefully appreciate your support for my own campaign, which is now underway here.