Pre-shift check-in

via GIPHY

The first thing she said after hello, when I asked how she was doing in that distant polite way you respond to strangers in coffee shops, was that she missed her mother, and that the only way she could get in touch with her was through video, but that was the Nevada prison system for you. She was short and her hair was dyed blonde and she was a little bit older than me. She didn’t seem afraid of me, the book I was reading or the hat I was wearing.

She couldn’t stop fiddling with her phone. She lamented that the day she had spent off it meant having to check through dozens of emails, but she laughed heartily when I asked her if there was an app for that. She showed off pictures of her father’s 80th birthday like a proud daughter, but doubted that she might live that long. It was the system that was going to get in the way: the drug companies, and how they parcel out what people need just to live, and the side effects the companies disclose in disclaimers, when they share them at all; the television, filling up poor and old and underemployed people’s time; and the needless divisions between politicians and parties, between the president and the people. After all, he’s in a bubble too, and all he hears is what he is told, and focusing on that means he must insulated from the world of elderly people without enough to eat.

She had snatches of Sinatra floating up off her phone, clearly audible against the 1990s alt-rock stalwarts on the speaker overhead: Oasis, Sublime, R.E.M., Alanis Morrissette, Goo Goo Dolls, Montell Jordan, and a generous helping of Red Hot Chili Peppers. She kept flashing back and forth between her pleasure at not having to be in Florence, Italy, and finding a picture of lights outside a cathedral taken by a friend still there.

The European Union doesn’t really work as an idea, so many countries with so many long-held, deeply felt grudges, and at least we can be grateful that we don’t have those here in the States, where things would be so much better if black and white could just get along together, and if older folks like her Polish neighbor could see Obama as a human being and an actual person born in America, and if they could stop arguing about God and the devil like her mother and her black friend still do, with him insisting that God was black and her insisting that he (her black friend, not God) was Lucifer.

And then she perked up, fixed her blue knit scarf around her neck, put her phone away, stuck out her hand so I could shake it, and said it was time for her to head to work. I wished her an easy shift.

Christmas miracles

Things happen and you cannot explain them by natural, empirical or logical means. You wake up to a phone call from thousands of miles away, and you gain understanding of someone else’s eyes, heart, pain and mind. You feel years of misunderstanding shift position, sprout wings, caw softly and flap off into the distance. Not too far way, mind you, not so far that you have to squint, but far enough that you recognize motion and effort, travel and time.

That’s one kind, and the others are smaller, premised perhaps on parking spaces, belated realizations about relationships and scheduling and diet, accidents of attention and attenuation. Decisions in the moment that dovetail with one made a year ago to the day, or three years ago: drinks you had with a loved one, or time in the company with friends that photographs can outline but not capture in full.

Useful and renewable

If human beings are lucky, what they do lasts longer than themselves. If they are journalists, or if they practice acts of journalism, or they are poets, or practice acts of poetry, they help keep people alive.

If journalists look around the newsrooms through which they pass, those newsrooms pass through them: the editing tips, the calls, the coffee and water, the electricity and the words. They are forests, full of saplings and full-grown trees and deadwood fragmenting into loam and hiding and sheltering all manner of foxes and squirrels and birds and mushrooms.

I never knew Justin, but I combed my living room’s bookshelves for a copy of one of his memoirs. Maybe it’s in one of the half-dozen boxes I’ve been meaning to get out of the house before the new year, and maybe I lent it to someone or it got borrowed at some point. Clearly he was there, because I remember him, part of the other memoirs by poets, or assembled with other local or Asian-American or queer writers, and now not there.

I’m glad I got to be in the room when he was alive and cursing, looking like a live-action Randy Quaid from “The Paper,” honing his articles one day after another for the next day’s paper, and holding forth in front of students in university lecture halls about how to do good and useful and true work.

Chasing the tabs

Seen just after 5 p.m. today: When did the words "We love you Oakland" go away? #bw #Oakland #vscocam #latergram

A photo posted by George Kelly (@allaboutgeorge) on

Mirzoeff focused his presentation around the idea of the “visual commons,” which he defined to be conceptual spaces “where we practice freedom, see each other, invent each other, and create a common space between us that cannot be owned.”

He also said citizens have a responsibility to use the visual commons to protest injustice in innovative ways in order to combat the short attention span of the media.
[Harvard Crimson]

“To have a better understanding and appreciation of potential talents among people whose initial linguistic impressions may not strike one as favorable takes a great deal of discipline,” he says.
[Fast Company]

The following are seven essential truths about the news today that Kamarck and Gabriele explore in detail:

Print newspapers are dinosaurs
Hard news is in danger
Television is still important
And so is radio
News is now digital
Social media allows news (and “news”) to go viral
For the younger generation, news is delivered through comedy

[Brookings Institution]

What Sunni Islam needs, rather, is a counter-reformation, a renewal and reconstruction of what made Sunni Islam great in the first place—pluralism, debate, disagreement, and dialogue, with mechanisms for cooperation. The Muslim world could also really benefit from some kind of overarching and truly multinational institutions, independent and well-funded organizations dedicated to discussing our differences and productively and deliberatively addressing ongoing challenges.
Like, say, a caliphate.

[Quartz]

“As a mother and a woman, there’s plenty of missed opportunities in your lifetime,” Christine said. “The chosen ones. You choose to miss them. But then you get to a certain point, and you don’t want to miss.”
[Quartz]

So, who is winning and losing in the large and growing boredom market today?

The losers are easy to identify. Anyone who was banking on consistent and predictable boredom slots is out of luck. Newspapers, radio personalities and daily game shows and talk shows. They’ve been thoroughly outclassed by a new generation of companies that serve the new atomized and variablized boredom market: pipes like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Still up in the air is what content you’ll engage with while using these apps.
[The Information]

“Shared experiences make a community,” reflects Zoppelletto, “there is nothing more thrilling than being with others in a dark theatre and together burst out in laughter or being in suspense. These shared emotions make us feel equal to the stranger sitting next to us and [because of this], cinema is a very democratic art.”
[The Guardian]

Lynsey was stunned. “You can write on Instagram?”

She laughed, picked up one of her phones. Swiped toward the retro-camera icon.

“I thought that was for, like, food and cats.”
[Nieman Storyboard]

“The boys that I liked read magazines with girls on them that looked nothing like me,” she said to me. “And I thought that I was undesirable for them. When I was a kid, the standard I held myself to was what I’ve perceived the boys I liked personally wanted.”
[Esquire]

Double panorama drama

#Panorama pair, shortly after noon yesterday at 20th and Broadway #bw #UptownStation #vscocam #Oakland #latergram

A photo posted by George Kelly (@allaboutgeorge) on

I had a busy day yesterday and forgot to fill out a time card. Since I don’t like to dream about getting paid, I dropped A. off at BART and parked on the east side of Broadway across from the Paramount Theater. Walking to the corner, I stood there and watched a new row of tight white tarps get pulled across the Broadway face of what will eventually be Uptown Station, and probably something more.

Swinging my phone slowly across my field of vision, I tried to extend it with care and precision. All those cars filling the intersection had another idea though, and left trails of metal skipping across it like needle scratches on a vinyl record. Plus, it captured pretty dim, so it felt right to just filter it down hard and dim. The second pass came out more clearly, but also uncannily empty and spacious, except for that pedestrian who was just slow enough to get caught up.

Shot for me

I didn’t take any selfies today, but someone else did. One of my co-workers, the photographer who works out of the bureau I’m at three days a week, shot me for a personnel badge. Last year, when the Mercury News photographer working on that documentary managed to sneak a shot of me, that was a happy accident. Today was professional, purposeful and pretty straightforward. I stood where he told me to, behind a metal ruler laid in the center of the room, three or four feet of space and air between my backside and a tall white hanging canvas. He told me to hold my hands in front of me and to look in his lens’ direction. In front of me were two of those umbrella-arrayed lights, and they kept flaring in time, connected to controls on his Nikon camera by a cable that kept falling off with every second or third shot he took. He crouched in the corner, pausing occasionally to ask me to lift my chin or turn it to one side or ask if I wanted to look some other way than serious, and after a while he went and got a foot-tall footstool to stand on so he could see me slightly differently. Afterward, he said he would file and archive one of the shots, and send it to me, and I got a little chill. If anything happens to me and I die, that’s the one they’ll run in the newspaper, and maybe in my obituary. In the meantime, it will be what I show, laminated and lanyarded, to press-conference sentries and caution-tape cowboys. This is my face, this is who pays for my words, please don’t hold either of them against the questions I’m about to ask or the answers I’m listening for.

A handful of keys and a song to sing

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I dropped A. and our mutual friend K. off at Lakeshore and Lake Park avenues, about as close as I was going to get given the area’s blocked-off streets, before heading over to Uptown to meet my friend Heather at the Octopus Literary Salon. But streets coming off of Grand onto Webster were just as blocked off, for completely different reasons that only now became clear. Those cyclists that the day’s event listings mentioned that visitors could cheer were actually a thing, and in order to accommodate them, stretches of streets were signed-and-blocked off from parking, slow-moving, evil cars.

I didn’t have time to be mad at this. I just looked for someone who was leaving a spot they’d scored on 21st just west of Franklin Street, and took over when they waved and drove off. Outside, while Heather and I toggled back and forth between YouTube and lyric-sheet sites, men in spandex and sunglasses and grim expressions went whirling past the Octopus’ outside in what seemed less like time trials or some level of athletic competition and more like blind luck.

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