Things I Can No Longer Pretend to Care About

(a continuing list.)

The taste of terrible-tasting things.

Q) What (aside from being liquids that exist on a bewilderingly wide continuum of pricing) do tea, coffee, beer and wine all have in common?

A) They’re all drinks that evolved as delivery systems for mind-altering chemicals. By various trials and errors, our ancestors figured out that treating particular plants with specific combinations of heat and water and microorganisms resulted in miraculous concoctions that could affect your energy level in pleasant ways, take your mind off your grinding subsistence poverty for a fleeting moment, and maybe help you avoid the waterborne illnesses that came along with lots of people living (and shitting) in close proximity to their source of drinking water.

They’re also all drinks that objectively taste bad. Alcohol and caffeine and their byproducts aren’t naturally palatable. They’re bitter or sour or some combination thereof, and we have to talk ourselves into actually liking them.

How can I generalize so broadly about drinks that are so widely and faithfully consumed across cultural and socioeconomic divisions? I’ve seen what happens when children sneak a sip of any of them. They make that face that looks like they’re trying to harness the power of sheer regret to squint themselves back in time to the moment before they took that sip, in the vain hope of correcting the first of many unfortunate life choices.

But the real clue is the ridiculously complex set of rules and rituals that have grown up around what constitutes “good” vs. “bad” versions of these things. Sure, your bitter black brew is bitter and black, but did you get the kind that was shat out by an ocelot and roasted by a beardy Brooklynite and brewed in a hand-blown carafe to get just the exact right nuances of bitter and black? Okay, your wine is kind of sour, but can you smell the cud of the cows that ate the berries that grew in the field next door? Sure, your beer tastes likes something that yeast would shit out, but has it been so stuffed with hops that you could almost imagine being reincarnated as an overripe grapefruit? Nothing that was simply, objectively enjoyable would require that kind of stratification.

Friends, I have grown weary of pretending that I give a desiccated rodent’s scrotum about the particular intricacies of these drinks. There are types and tendencies and trends that I favor, but I can no longer feign an energetic devotion to any particular iteration. Let’s stop pretending that any matter of taste separating different versions of them is more sophisticated or enlightened. (If you need a caste system to enjoy your drink, are you really a connoisseur, or are you just looking for an excuse to feel superior?) Instead, I propose that we celebrate the ingenuity and persistence that it took to develop these complex, multi-step procedures, and the original intent behind them: to very slightly fuck up our brains in pleasant and/or useful ways. Cheers.

Hey, Girly Girl: How To Turn a Hero Into a Heel in < 5 Minutes

MusicMan_CoverI recently saw The Music Man for the first time. (I’ve lived in Des Moines for three years, and there seems to be an unspoken rule that you can’t really call yourself an Iowan until you’ve seen a community theater group sing “Iowa Stubborn.”) I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but it was reasonably enjoyable, even though I beat the median age of the audience by about 20 years. One of the things that really stood out for me was a short scene about 3/4 of the way through the show that’s pretty relevant to the modern debate about street harassment.

At this point in the show, a self-professed serial con artist, posing as a music teacher and band leader, has spent weeks deceiving the residents of a small town. He’s sold them uniforms and instruments, and promised to turn dozens of children with zero musical training into a marching band. Before the “professor” can cash in and skip town, a travelling salesman shows up with a case full of anvils, and a ream of evidence that will expose the scam and save the townspeople from being swindled.

This development poses a problem for the script. The writers have worked pretty hard to make the “professor” a sympathetic character. He’s charming and dashing and witty, and his budding relationship with the local librarian has given him a few minor pangs of conscience. Still, it’s really hard to ignore the fact that he’s moments away from pocketing his ill-gotten gains and grabbing the next train out of town, fully intending to pull the same scam at every stop down the line. The guy who shows up to put a stop to that should totally be the hero.

So what do you do when you’ve got less than five minutes of stage time to make it clear that the guy who’s going to save the town turns out to be a bigger scumbag that the guy who’s trying to swindle it? Have him obnoxiously hit on a woman he’s just met on the street. (Insulting her intelligence and giving her a demeaning nickname doesn’t hurt, either.)

The show was written in the 50s, and depicts small town life in the early 20th century, so its treatment of female characters isn’t always stellar. The librarian’s flirtation to distract the salesman, or the number that explicitly compares gossipy women to clucking hens, don’t portray women in the most respectful way. Still, it’s telling that a show that opened on Broadway in 1957 knew that an uninvited advance toward an unfamiliar woman was an effective way to signal creepiness, yet in 2014, we’re still arguing about why the ladies can’t shut up and take a compliment.

Also, I’ll save you the trouble of making this argument: #notalltravellingsalesmen

OMGDSM #004 – Community Youth

This time on OMGDSM, we’re learning about programs and people working with at-risk youth in the city. We’ll talk to the staff of Community! Youth Concepts about their new programs designed to connect students to career skills and community opportunities. And we’ll speak to John Mark Feilmeyer, Executive Director at Art Force Iowa, about using arts instruction to enrich and empower at-risk teens.

Click here to listen or download.

If there’s a topic you’d like to suggest, you can email, share it on social media with the hashtag #OMGDSM, or use our handy suggestion form.

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A Month of Madness (Maybe)

I have a somewhat strained relationship with creativity. When I’m busy – with work, with life, with practical things – it feels self-indulgent and irresponsible to spend time and energy doing something that’s not productive. When I’ve got a lot of time on my hands (when I’m not working full time, for example), my muse gets hunted down and messily consumed by self-doubt. Prolonged anxiety gives a megaphone to the voice in my head that says your ideas are terrible, and you’ll never do them justice.

The last few months of job hunting have been rather unkind to my confidence, and absolutely brutal on my ability to create. Things like writing, drawing, taking pictures, that I used to do regularly (if not frequently enough) have being come vague, sporadic things, more intent than execution. When I don’t have a task to do, I’m distracting myself so I don’t have to think about how deathly afraid I am that I suck.

It’s ridiculous and awful and self-defeating, and it needs to stop.

In the spirit of helping oneself, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon with an iteration of the recently ubiquitous “30 Days” concept. Every day for the next 30 days, I’m going to do at least one completely extraneous creative thing. I’m going to give myself a fairly broad definition of “creative.” I might write something here, or for my podcast. I might draw or take a picture, or update my Tumblr of ridiculous business jargon. Hell, maybe I’ll even use the excuse to do something new. The only real rule is that it has to be something that’s otherwise unnecessary. Nothing that pays, nothing that’s assigned to me, nothing that anyone else is relying on me to do. (Cover letters absolutely do not count.) When they’re done, I’ll share them on my social media feeds with the hashtag #30dayscreative.

So follow along, if you’d like. Words of encouragement are always welcome. So are suggestions for things you’d like to see me try. I’ll especially appreciate a boot to the posterior if I fall behind. And as always, thanks for paying attention.

OMGDSM #003 – City Sounds

This time on OMGDSM, we’re exploring the musical landscape in Des Moines. We’ll talk to Christopher Ford, Program Manager at the Des Moines Music Coalition, about the experience of making and sharing music in Iowa. Kathryn Dickel, founding partner of MIDWESTIX, shares her plans for City Sounds: The Des Moines Public Piano Project. And we’ll talk to musician Rae Fehring about empowering girls through music with Girls Rock! Des Moines.

Click here to listen or download.

Thanks to Maximum Ames Records and artists Christopher the Conquered, TWINS and Gloom Balloon for providing the songs in this episode. Thanks to Kelli Lydon for the ragtime piano.

If there’s a topic you’d like to suggest, you can email, share it on social media with the hashtag #OMGDSM, or use our handy suggestion form.

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