Open letter to my niece

My sister's baby was due July 31, but has decided to make everybody wait. She and her husband have started a private Facebook group for family and close friends to come together around the impending birth. I posted this letter the other day, and a lot of people have said they're moved by it, so I thought I'd share with everybody.

Note that they are using the nickname "Kishkah." It makes sense for us Jews. The rest of you can Google it. Enjoy.

Dearest Kishkah,

I know where you are is warm, and food comes whenever you want it, without effort. I also know that change is scary, that New England is getting ready to enter its cold season, and that trying to get attention for food is not a happy prospect.

But there are some things you should understand.

The world you are entering is amazing. There are trees and flowers and big metal boxes that move people around at remarkable speeds. There are love and heartache.

There are smells and tastes — refueling your body in this world is so much more wondrous than getting nutrients through a cord.

The planet you will inherit is in need of some help, to be sure, but we are currently adding one day to the human life span every two months; by the time you can vote, we'll be closer to adding a day to the life span every day or two. You'll be a member of the first generation that could potentially live indefinitely, and I have no doubt you and your cohort will use your lives for good, to help each other and the world as necessary.

It sounds like a big responsibility, but understand that you'll have help. Your parents will be your first line of help, but there are hundreds of hands right behind them. In no time, you'll be able to communicate with them and with others you will introduce into the group. And soon after that, it will be your turn to run the show — a much bigger show than the one you're running now, which is composed of merely a single choice: to stay in the comfort you feel now, or to take a bold step into the world.

I hope you'll choose the second. We'll see you soon.

Love,
Uncle Josh

Ass scratches and belly rubs: Remembering the simple things

2015-07-27 12.13.17

Rufus does four things every morning upon waking. The first thing he does is wipe his eyes. It's a very awkward movement, but is one of the most human-like things he does. Next, he stretches. Then, he looks at me, wags his tail, and backs into my leg, wanting me to scratch him above the tail in that one spot he can't reach. When he's had a few minutes of that, he will roll over on his back and take a minute or so of belly rubs.

Then I'm allowed to meditate and have some coffee.

There are two things to be gleaned here, and they're lessons that don't need a lot of deep diving.

(1) Morning rituals are important. I can run to the kitchen and grab some coffee and hop in the shower or whatever, but Rufus will follow me around, nose in the back of my knee, until he gets his scratches and rubs. He needs his morning ritual to have a good day.

(2) Keep it simple. I can help those rituals along with one hand. They're one step each. It's not like David Ortiz approaching home plate or the Ickey Shuffle. Strip the rituals down to the things that are most important and don't require a lot of preparation.

Now, go scratch your ass, rub your belly and have a great day!

The president is doing podcasts; what does the future hold for the medium?

You probably heard that President Barack Obama appeared on comedian Marc Maron's podcast, WTF, about a week and a half ago (photos). It wasn't the first time he's done a podcast — he was on the B.S. Report way back in March 2012 — but you most likely heard about this one, since he said the word "nigger" (in the context of "it's not OK to call someone a 'nigger'" — he wasn't just dropping an N-bomb casually) and mainstream media freaked the fuck out.

After you've listened to that episode, take some time to listen to Maron talk to his producer, Brendan McDonald, about setting this up. Maron had been scheduled to be on vacation, so that was rescheduled, so McDonald dealt with Secret Service and such leading up to the interview.

Maron has one of the most popular podcasts on the planet. His 2010 reconciliation with comedian Louis CK was selected as the best podcast ever recorded. He's interviewed Terry Gross, Robin Williams, Mick Jagger and over 600 other people. For most of the people who aren't scared of disruptive technology and formats, Maron is old guard in a new world.

But still, this wasn't like doing Bill Simmons' podcast with ESPN (a Disney subsidiary) backing it. That's still old media, just in a new format. For his WTF appearance, the president parked his helicopter at the Hollywood Bowl, climbed into a car and went to go talk to a comedian in his garage.

If podcasting hadn't already arrived, it has now. And it's only going to get stronger.

Mind dump: Charleston church shooting

"They're already using the nuanced language of lack of effort," Jon Stewart said on a night when he had no jokes for his opening monologue.

The shooting Wednesday night at Emanuel AME in Charleston was different from the bigger racially-tinged violence we've had this past year. On Staten Island and in Ferguson, white police officers were responsible for the deaths of black men on the street. In Baltimore, it was again white police officers responsible for the death of a black man, this time in custody. These turned into citizens vs. authority figures.

Charleston was different: A young white man walked into a black church and killed nine black people who were at Bible study.

As some of you know, I work in news. The story unfolded very slowly for us. The shooting took place around 9:30 p.m. For a long time, all the news we knew came from the Charleston Police Department's Twitter feed.

My parents live in Charleston, and, in fact, my father had finished up giving a tour and left downtown right as the shooting happened. I got a text from my mother, who said their internet and cable went down right around 9:30. Interesting.

We first got a paragraph of news from the ground at about 11:15 p.m. That's a surprisingly long time. Over the next hour and a half, we got bits and pieces of information. You can see our first story, which incorporates that trickle, is clearly a cobbled together mishmash of information. By about 1 a.m., there were confirmed deaths, and when we finished about 3 a.m., this is what we knew. So, not much.

Looking back only 36 hours after the shooting, things came about very quickly. The suspect was arrested, the governor is calling for the death penalty and the mourning can start in earnest without the manhunt. Now there are some things that are definitely worth talking about.

The sanctity of church. The victims of this shooting were gathered in a place of prayer, comfort and safety. I don't understand the underlying feeling that compels someone to shoot people, but I have to think that, beyond whatever racial hatred is at play here, it takes a little something different to walk into a church to shoot people. Apparently, Emanuel AME has seen this kind of thing before. It surprises me that in a Bible Belt town, a house of worship isn't sacred.

The Charleston paper didn't pull a gun ad.

I get that there are perfectly legal reasons to own guns. I definitely respect the right to hunt, and I understand that by getting my meat at the grocery store I'm just asking someone else to kill an animal for me. But also note that the suspect arrested in this case, Dylann Roof, owned his gun legally. By and large, guns used in crimes are obtained illegally.

But let's look beyond gun control for a moment. A newspaper is historically the conscience of its community, and The Post and Courier is a really good paper. But I think placing an ad right on top of a major shooting story is something I hope took a lot of discussion when they were getting ready to distribute. Sometimes it's worth saying, "Sorry, we had to pull the ad."

The confederate flag is the only one at full staff over the state capitol. Far be it from me to tell you how to show your state's colors. But. The U.S. flag and South Carolina state flag were being flown at half staff at S.C. government buildings, but the confederate flag is at full staff. The flag is a point of pride for some, and a point of hatred for others. State officials decided at one point over the past few years it should remain at the capitol. Go ahead, remember it as a symbol of states' rights. But admit that it means something else entirely to a lot of people. To many, it's a symbol of oppression. This might be the right time to take it down entirely, but at least have the respect to fly it at half staff with the others.

#WeWillShootBack. This is among the more difficult things we're going to have to deal with as a nation. While up until this point, the unifying cry has been #BlackLivesMatter, the conversation on Twitter has shifted from a position of resistance to a position of revenge. With that necessarily comes a responsibility for all to be vigilant, and to not take on an act of pure revenge — that is, walk into a church and shoot a bunch of innocent white worshippers. That would be an identical act of hatred.

What are your initial thoughts?

More discussion: Parsing Ferguson »

First half marathon diary, Week 2

Happy Monday, friends!

After that scary reaction to fire ant bites last week, it took some time getting the cardio back, and we're moving into high heat season here in Savannah.

Today we're looking at some of the tools I use on my runs. Links are below, show and tell in the video. Cheers!

Links

Shot Bloks
Camelbak bottle with hand strap
FlipBelt
Bass Pro Shops XPS 2L hydration pack
Me on Runkeeper
More running diary
Rock 'n' Roll Savannah
Training schedule

Stats

Miles logged last week: 12.28
Time logged last week: 2:17:27
Weeks until race: 21
Weight: 165

Sweaty Josh picture of the week

2015-06-13 13.15.24

Building a better you

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[image credit]

Here are some great posts to get you up and moving, in no particular order. These are the ones I most often come back to, to remind myself of their importance, to help build a better me.

In Freemasonry, we call ourselves, as fallible, imperfect humans, rough ashlars (an ashlar is a stone used for building). We work on ourselves to try to become a perfect ashlar – in builder's terms, a stone perfectly fitted.

I hope you think they'll also help you to build a better you.

What does 2015 look like?

This was my annual look back and look ahead, and it's by far the most in-depth post like that I've done. My biggest takeaway for me:

You know how sometimes you want to be good at everything? Well, you probably should be.

What do you have to offer your heroes?

It's easy for most of us to name some people we might call "heroes" or "inspiration." It's another thing altogether for us to be able to offer them something if we ever have a chance to meet them.

Create something

So go out, and create something. Because creating's fun. Do it for the sake of creating something. Don't worry about the rest; just go out and do it. And do it with purpose. If you're not ready to create something big, create something small. Let it grow. It doesn't matter what your scale, just create.

How do you plan for success?

That's an honest question. I have to admit I'm scared shitless of the idea of success.A lot of people are afraid of failure. I'm not.

We are nothing if not present tense

For the past couple of years, since I stopped being driven by The Almighty Search Ranking, I've been either a former writer or an aspiring writer. I'm not sure which is more dangerous of an attitude to take. "I used to do this," or "someday I'll do this." We are nothing if not present tense.

The universe isn't out to get you

the universe is busy dealing with entropy and eventually collapsing on itself. There are stars blowing up every day. Let me repeat. There are stars exploding every single day. There are comets careening around willy-nilly.

The universe could give a rat's ass if your power goes out while you're trying to make dinner, or the cable's on the fritz at kickoff, or if gravity took a beer glass from your hand and pulled it to the floor. I mean, gravity, for fuck's sake. It's keeping you on the planet, stopping you from floating up in the air and having your head blow up because it can't take the pressure.

You know what? If your head blows up? It's going to leave a hell of a lot less crap floating around the universe than those exploding stars. The universe isn't even concerned if your head blows up. It's not hiding your car keys, you just didn't put them on the hook when you got home yesterday.

More favorite motivational posts

My dog is more interesting than you
Want to crush life? Take a chance at getting crushed
6 tips for just getting on with your miserable fucking life

Are you your cause? Art, and life, for your own sake

He died seeking the cause, seeking A cause. He was already dead, he never really lived — uptown, downtown, crosstown — his body was found all over town.

Every now and again I wander back toward the edge. I rewatch "Piñero" (watch) and "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and remember to be open my eyes a little — maybe not wider, but differently, both outside and inside (myself and the house).

In a world in which we're focused on Baltimore and Ferguson and train wrecks and royal babies and underinflated footballs, we need to take time to remember that while the world might be bigger than us, we are not. And further, we are us. I am me. You are you.

I often look to others for inspiration, but those I feel most inspired by are people who do things outside my field(s). I understand the Miguel Piñero portrayed by Benjamin Bratt. That got me started doing some spoken word about 11 years ago, and I've since had some of those poems published in juried journals and compiled chapbooks.

But street artists like Shepard Fairey (known for the Andre the Giant "Obey" posters and the Barack Obama "Hope" posters), Banksy, Invader and even Mr. Brainwash make me want to dabble in something different; not what they do, since that's not my thing. But they open my eyes in different directions.

The same holds true when I watch parkour videos.

David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, mentions something along these lines when he talks to Marc Maron. Byrne grew up in suburban Baltimore, and it wasn't until he went off to college at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that he started meeting black people and Jews and rich kids and people from California — California! — who all helped broaden his horizons and help formulate what became his style: something of a fusion of a variety of influences. Did you know he couldn't actually speak any French when he wrote "Psycho Killer"?

These artists and poets and athletes don't do it for the money (though Piñero eventually made a living writing for TV and Fairey and Banksy have become well-known artists), they did it, and continue to do it, for themselves.

The important thing, though, is to remember something Rick Rubin tells Tim Ferriss: Compete only with yourself, and don't think too much. Write a better song tomorrow than you did yesterday; don't try to write a better song than The Beatles wrote. Lead with your heart, then let the brain look at what the heart has presented.

He died yesterday, he’s dyin’ today, he’s dead tomorrow. Died seekin’ a Cause, died seekin’ the Cause, & the Cause was in front of him, & the Cause was in his skin & the Cause was in his speech & the cause was in his blood but he died, he died seekin the cause. Seekin A cause. He died deaf, dumb and blind and he died and never found his cause because he never, you see, he never never knew — HE was THE CAUSE.“

What are you going to do for you?

[Both excerpts from Miguel Piñero, "Seekin' the Cause".]

Some of my favorite musical moments

A little diversion here. Occasionally I post a few favorite songs or some tunes that make me happy or are workout motivation or whatever, but today, I wanted to present some favorite musical moments. Actual moments: notes in songs pinpointed to the second that present a perfect shot of relief.

Here are four of my favorites; I'd love to hear some of yours.

Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb"

The first note of the guitar solo that enters here at 2:04-2:05 might be my single favorite note. It's a moment of wide-awake in a song that otherwise stays on the brink of observing from the corner.

Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah"

This might be the version of this song that made it popular, and that eventually led the good people at "American Idol" to make sure people never want to hear it again. Word from the production team is that the breath you hear at the beginning is not meant to be a sexy introduction to a sensual version of what is at its heart a tormented song; instead, it's an exasperated exhale — Buckley tormented over it so long to get it right.

My favorite moment comes 45 seconds in. Listen for the transition from minor to major, or, to the non-musical ear, the transition from dark to light. It's quick, but you're not going to miss it.

Paul Simon, "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes"

This becomes an entirely new song at the one-minute mark. You think you've heard an interlude or an album introduction, but it changes from something in an African folk style to a pop song showing Ladysmith Black Mambazo's versatility. And nobody really things of that sound Paul Simon gets out of a guitar when you bring him up, but I really love that transition.

Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road"

In the history of rock music, there are only a few songs that transition from a good song to an entirely different good instrumental. Think "Layla" and "Hotel California." And, of course, "Thunder Road." It's a great song anyway, but the transition to the solo at 3:52 is what makes Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons some of the best in history.

OK, your turn!

Ah, the sweat: My running these days

#running #sweaty

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

For the first time in about a year and a half, I've been putting in miles this week, and it feels great. I'd been running sporadically since I did that 31-day run streak in Oct. 2013, but lately it's been about 1.5 to 2 miles twice a week. I'm already over 10 miles this week, and I feel fantastic.

It's not real hot out yet, it's not super-humid yet, and I've been doing some conditioning and strength training. I haven't been running fast, but I haven't been crapping out at longer distances. I'm not setting any distance goals, but the fact that I can now do 5k several days consecutively is encouraging, both from a cardiovascular standpoint and the fact that my legs aren't overly fatigued.

I've been running with a hydration pack, which is a big help; I like having my hands free and two liters of water distributed over my back is not a lot of weight.

What are you up to? How's your running?

Discovering your photos: The world we live in now

google-images-screengrab

2015-04-14 10.02.30Above is a screen grab from Google Images' search page. At right you'll see a smattering of the sweetgum tree seed pods that fell in our yard this spring.

I know they're sweetgum seed pods because I took my phone out of my pocket, took a picture with it, uploaded the photo to Google Images (you can do this by clicking the photo icon at the right of the search field), and it spit out and bunch of like images that I could click on and learn about the contents.

Pretty much none of that last sentence made sense 20 years ago. A phone in your pocket? Maybe if it was a cordless, and you definitely couldn't sit down. Take a picture with your phone? I'm not even sure that was on anyone's radar. The rest of it? Well, google.com was first registered in 1997. Pretty much all Internet 20 years ago was dial-up, and even the "high speed" stuff still took a long time to upload a photo. There were probably people working on the "what is this a picture of?" thing, but with the sort of speed I found this out with? Not even a thought.

I know I've written about innovation recently, but I am just continuously astounded at the world around me.

Next time you complain about poor cellular signal or the crappy battery on your phone, remember that it wasn't too long ago that if you wanted to talk on the phone you had to be attached to a wall, and if you wanted to take pictures, you had to carry your camera bag.