Year In Review

2015 was without a doubt the busiest year of my life.

A year of singular events and signal turning points. While I got to see my favorite band on their farewell tour (Rush), they didn’t play my favorite song (Limelight). No matter, it, and they, will always be my favorite. They did, however, play my second-favorite song (Subdivisions) on the 21st of July in Portland. And speaking of “turning points”, I had to get my car’s power steering motor replaced before going up to see them—totally worth it, and essential I might add.

I also got to see my second-favorite band (Collective Soul in May) on the unofficial first stop of their new tour. Ed Roland announced partway through the concert that the red tape tying up the release of See What You Started By Continuing had been cut the day before and that the Lincoln City audience (of which I was a member) was first privy to what the rest of the world would soon hear. They released the album in October, only one of whose songs I’ve genuinely warmed to (Without Me), okay two (Exposed).

It was a year of music for sure. I got to see, not just my favorite bass player, but also the world’s preeminent: Victor Wooten. Got to meet him, too. He’s an extraordinarily humble and kind individual.

My brother came out to the West Coast, not once but twice. During the latter visit, he treated me to an evening at the Britt festival in Jacksonville; we watched The Punch Brothers. While they didn’t play my favorite song (a stellar cover of Radiohead’s “Packt Like Sardines In a Crush’d Tin Box), they did play his (Another New World).

Two other musical honorable mentions would be Enya’s new album (Dark Sky Island) which features the exceptional “Echoes In Rain” and Seal’s 7 which has another single I appreciate (Daylight Saving). It’s always cool to see an artist whose catalog you happen upon while they’re in their heyday, so to speak. As time goes on, you continue to warm to them and appreciate them and catch up to them (as I did in the case of both Seal and Enya in the mid-2000s) integrating them into your internal playlist. And then when they release new material that’s in keeping with the quality of their early stuff, the stuff they put out when they were hungry, you feel a circle has been completed. Music is one of the most subjective things in this world. Consider that the root of the word, when you rewind back to Indo-European, means “to think”. It’s a broad correlation from one reference title but our musical tastes are as varied and unique as are we.

William Gibson became my new favorite author in February. My other brother Jesse had read Neuromancer for his “Introduction to Cybernetics and Cyberculture” class. He loaned it to me after finishing it and while he didn’t really dig it, I did. I continued on with All Tomorrow’s Parties. Having seen that Gibson was prolific and that his dense, yet highly descriptive style reminded me of someone else (me, though I suppose this was somewhat subconscious), I elected to sink my teeth into his body of work. While All Tomorrow’s Parties thrilled, I learned it was the third in a trilogy. No wonder so much of it didn’t make sense. I shrugged my shoulders and soldiered on.

A number of years ago, I had seen his book Zero History at The Dollar Tree and thought (having seen and heard of but never read him): “Odd that an author of his caliber would have been relegated to a buck on the bottom shelf.” I remembered this and so went for a copy. I picked it up (it was still there, after all these years) and cracked it open. I found that Zero History was likewise third in a trilogy—The Blue Ant trilogy, so-named for the design firm that features throughout the three books—and I began to see a pattern. My next Gibson outing, then, would be the first in said trilogy: Pattern Recognition. So enjoyable was Pattern Recognition that I ordered hardbacks of it and its sequel, Spook Country, to complement that hardback of Zero History I’d picked up for a buck. I also read that one again, just to round out the storyline. It all made sense now. While I was reading this trilogy, I had this epiphany. I slowly realized that this trilogy, this story arc had been waiting out there in the media ether—to coin a phrase—for nearly ten years and that I was just now coming into its knowing. I took it upon myself to buy up all the copies at Dollar Tree and distribute them to passersby, unsuspecting and non (over a dozen). Needless to say, Gibson is not represented there anymore. I continued with Virtual Light and then Idoru before reading All Tomorrow’s Parties again. He published his most recent standalone novel last October and by the time I was done with his excellent essay collection Distrust That Particular Flavor (and after a little respite from his universe), I was ready to read The Peripheral. Though the paperback edition I happened upon at the book exchange in Ashland (same city in which I saw Victor Wooten) was from the UK. It was still a week before America would get to read it in that format. Good stuff!

I also read the Zanders’ Art of Possibility, a Self-Help-by-way-of-the-Business-section title on remaining open to that abstract. While possibility is all around us, if I had to posit my two cents, I would have to say that we as adults (assuming you’re past a certain age) subconsciously seek to remain in control to the neglect of what is possible. The Zanders (husband and wife) open their slim, bright yellow volume with the fiat: “A book of practices.” Twelve chapters exceptionally detail a way of thinking—illustrated with the authors’ own anecdotes and narratives, of course—that ensures the reader hold a better objective standard in their own life with reference to events and relationships. Chapter three (titled, “Giving an A”) is worth the price of admission. He (Ben) is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and she (Roz—Rosamund) is a therapist and each brings their discipline (music, counseling) to bear on the subjects addressed. Check it out (or buy it, whatever) if you feel so inclined. I probably wouldn’t have read it had it not been in the Business section, just so you know.

I lost my father this year. If all that came before were the high points, this was certainly the low. There are still people who ask how he is when they see me, not knowing he’s not with us anymore. The two offerings I give when answering that question and upon the querier’s (one who queries) hearing of his passing are: “He’s not suffering anymore.” and “He’s in a better place.”  These two statements hold true to this day, five months after the event. My time in Portland seeing Rush was a welcome relief to the busyness and stress of what happened. This was the first time my brother flew out to see me; we miss our dad.

I started college. About four years ago, I met my best friend and he and I shared coffee and conversation every week without fail (unless he was out of town) for three years. He and his wife moved away last year. While our mutual brainstorming sessions yielded the first stirrings of an unformed idea resembling a “creative center”, the horizon would look a lot different. I came to realize that without some formal education, something like that would never get off the ground. In light of this realization, I felt like the best approach to still doing what Dylan and I had discussed was to become a teacher and see where that takes me. Everything’s goes well on that front.

I drink black coffee now; this happened around Spring. My morning usual had been for years a 12 ounce americano with an artificial (pink) sweetener and about an inch of half-and-half. I had long wanted to cut out artificial sweetener from my diet and so I took that plunge, switching to one raw sugar per cup. This tasted about right, not quite that saccharine high I’d been accustomed to since God-knows-when, but more even, mellower even.

But then I had another morning-cup epiphany: why not cut out the sweet altogether? I mean (reasoning to myself), isn’t coffee meant to be enjoyed on its own? It may well have been the fact that I was probably just ready for a change, yeah. So now I got half-and-half, only, in my joe. This winnowing would continue with the elimination of cream to just black. Coffee is the bitter element in the drink and the milk fat balances that bitterness (I came upon this in a book, it makes perfect sense). Then the sweet only serves to complement that balance. This isn’t to say—barring the other two elements in my morning coffee—that I am content with bitterness, no. I appreciate the subtle distinctions to be found in each cup of black coffee (I also stopped drinking americanos, I’ll get one now for every ten cups of black, drip coffee) and I seek to savor each first sip. It is a ritual that I enjoy every morning. Thank you very much.

There remain about two-and-a-half weeks before the year ends. As awesome and momentous a year as this has been, it’s not over yet. We’ll see how it turns out! If I had one piece of advice for the closing of one season and in light of the next, it’s this: be grateful. Appreciate what you have and remain bright in the face of what comes.

Happy Holidays!

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