Privilege is terrifying. Not the idea of losing it. I’m talking about the responsibility that comes with it. The obligation to redistribute it.
This month, and for the next two months, my overarching project is designing my life. It’s an enormous, urgent privilege. I may never get to do it again.
Most years, living my life provides all the terror I can handle. Designing it involves looking inward, abiding the discomfort, and not fooling myself. What is the future I want to create with the people who mean the most to me? Fortunately, I have a guide, Designing Your Life, and a bookclub partner.
There are elements that I hope remain constant. My marriage to Beth. Our family. Our friends. Our new house in Collingswood, New Jersey, which we’re shaping into a home that we’ll move into in March. I’m going all in on running and lifting weights and seeing how it feels. I like the idea of thinking of myself as an athlete.
I need to stay open to surprises. The full spectrum of emotion. Feeling bad when something hurts. Letting myself enjoy success. Listening with empathy full stop.
I don’t know how to do it. I’m grateful that I have help. And a soundtrack.
Welcome to January 2023’s Disappearing Moment, an inventory of my experiences. I hope you enjoy it.
- Mother Country Radicals (A Personal Favorite): A radical couple’s child tells the story of the Weathermen. His mother, Bernardine Dohrn, is the reluctant star. It’s easy to understand her anger.
- My Mother Made Me (I Loved It): Jason Reynolds is a celebrated author. While his style can lean on familiar patterns, his mother, Isabell, is sui generis. She glistens in this miniseries.
- Nobody Asked Us (I Liked It): Olympians Des Linden and Kara Goucher kibitz about running. They’re broadcasters — comfortable behind a mic, with an easy, enthusiastic chemistry.
- Not Lost (I Liked It): I know Brendan and like him. You can hear why in this show. He starts slow and builds a narrative. Be patient with it.
- The Prince (I Liked It): A biography of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and a survey of modern Chinese history. It’s useful if, like me, you need to catch up.
- Time Well Spent (I Loved It): Ronald is “friendly and enthusiastic,” says Break Master Cylinder. And most episodes feature his mother, “Fan Favorite Peggy Lee”. Anyone see a theme this month?
- Visible Women (I Liked It): “Fixing a world designed for men” with data and investigative journalism. Plus a heaping spoonful of snark and schadenfreude. What’s not to like?
No social media means no Strava or most other running apps. Problem: Coros does not track which shoes I run in. Solution: the RunGap app.
I like how linen bath towels feel and look, and how fast they air dry. They’re easy to find on sale or Etsy.
Personal Finance and Investing
Wish you could invest like accredited investors? In private equity? It’s all make believe. We have names for investments that don’t go down.
- Maciej Cegłowski, Why Not Mars? (I Loved It): “The goal of this essay is to persuade you that we shouldn’t send human beings to Mars, at least not anytime soon.” Mission accomplished.
- Matt Levine, The Crypto Story (A Personal Favorite): For the second time, BusinessWeek gave an entire issue to one author. Like June 11, 2015’s Paul Ford, Matt Levine is a writing role model.
For 2023, I’ve recommitted to increasing my attention span. Part of my plan is to listen to albums all the way through. I got the idea when we had drinks with Omer and her partner, Barrett. One of their games is identifying albums with no songs that you skip. It’s harder than it seems.
To develop a bigger, wider playlist than I could create on my own, I sought help from several dozen people I admire. I asked them for 1–3 under-appreciated albums that fit Omer and Barrett’s criterion. Because I love arbitrary rules, I said it needed to be a studio album, not a compilation or live recording.
The result is a list of 129 albums (not counting duplicate mentions). I intend to review each one in Disappearing Moment this year. As daunting as that seems, it’s nothing compared to Paul Ford’s music-reviewing adventure. In 2009, he reviewed a song for every SXSW band that submitted an mp3 to the festival — 1,302 songs.
Paul Ford got to listen to a lot of music in 2009. Here’s what I’ll get to listen to in 2023:
- Billie Holiday, Lady in Satin (1958)
- Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959)
- Coleman Hawkins, The Hawk Flies High (1967)
- Fleetwood Mac, Then Play On (1969)
- David Bowie, Hunky Dory (1971)
- Carole King, Tapestry (1971)
- Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)
- Nick Drake, Pink Moon (1972)
- Betty Davis, Betty Davis (1973)
- The Who, Quadrophenia (1973)
- Cluster, Zuckerzeit (1974)
- Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark (1974)
- Randy Newman, Good Old Boys (1974)
- Cris Williamson, The Changer and the Changed (1975)
- Ryo Fukui, Scenery (1976)
- Billy Joel, The Stranger (1977)
- ABC, Lexicon of Love (1982)
- Horace Andy, Dance Hall Style (1983)
- Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes (1983)
- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Rattlesnakes (1984)
- Friends Again, Trapped and Unwrapped (1984)
- Kate Bush, Hounds of Love (named twice) (1985)
- Tom Waits, Rain Dogs (1985)
- Paul Simon, Graceland (1986)
- Erasure, The Circus (1987)
- Sinéad O’Connor, The Lion and the Cobra (1987)
- Swamini Turiyasangitananda (FKA Alice Coltrane), Divine Songs (1987)
- Cowboy Junkies, Trinity Sessions (1988)
- Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
- Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation (1988)
- Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique (1989)
- Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie (1989)
- Christopher Coin and Christopher Hogwood, Vivaldi: 6 Cello Sonatas, Op. 14 (1989)
- Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule (1989)
- Mary’s Danish, There Goes the Wondertruck (1989)
- Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever (1989)
- K. Sridhar & K. Shivakumar, Shringar (1989)
- The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses (1989)
- Pet Shop Boys, Behaviour (1990)
- My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)
- REM, Out of Time (1991)
- Seal, Seal (1991)
- Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes (1992)
- Beastie Boys, Check Your Head (1992)
- REM, Automatic for the People (1992)
- Counting Crows, August and Everything After (1993)
- Digable Planets, Reachin’ (1993)
- Dinosaur, Jr, Where You Been? (1993)
- Melissa Etheridge, Yes I Am (1993)
- Flying Saucer Attack, Flying Saucer Attack (1993)
- Girls Against Boys, Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby (1993)
- Daniel Lanois, For the Beauty of Wynona (1993)
- Morphine, Cure for Pain (1993)
- Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
- Seam, The Problem With Me (1993)
- Ani DiFranco, Out of Range (1994)
- Portishead, Dummy (1994)
- Reverend Horton Heat, Liquor in the Front (1994)
- Björk, Post (1995)
- D’Angelo, Brown Sugar (1995)
- Patty Griffin, Living with Ghosts (1996)
- PJ Harvey and John Parish, Dance Hall at Louse Point (1996)
- Sixteen Horsepower, Sackcloth ’n’ Ashes (1996)
- Air, Moon Safari (1998)
- Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (named twice) (1998)
- Hum, Downward is Heavenward (1998)
- Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Airplane Over the Sea (1998)
- Silver Jews, American Water (1998)
- Beulah, When Your Heartstrings Break (1999)
- Kasey Chambers, The Captain (1999)
- Cree Summer, Street Faërie (1999)
- XTC, Apple Venue Volume 1 (1999)
- Amy Correia, Carnival Love (2000)
- Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
- Calexico, Feast of Wine (2003)
- Sea Power, The Decline of British Sea Power (2003)
- The Wrens, Meadowlands (2003)
- Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)
- Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous (2004)
- Tycho, Past is Prologue (2004)
- Andrew Bird, The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)
- Seu Jorge, The Life Aquatic Sessions (2005)
- Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)
- Gossip, Standing in the Way of Control (2006)
- The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (2006)
- Leigh Nash, Blue on Blue (2006)
- The Tallest Man on Earth, The Tallest Man on Earth (2006)
- M Ward, Post-War (2006)
- Girl Talk, Feed the Animals (2008)
- Santigold, Santigold (2008)
- Boston Spaceships, The Planets are Blasted (2009)
- Neko Case, Middle Cyclone (2009)
- Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire (2011)
- Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, Rome (2011)
- Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011)
- Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes (2011)
- Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel (2012)
- Lianne la Havas, Is Your Love Big Enough? (2012)
- Melody’s Echo Chamber, Melody’s Echo Chamber (2012)
- Amanda Palmer, Theatre is Evil (2012)
- Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (2013)
- Buddy Miller, Your Love and Other Lies (2013)
- Ooga Boogas, Ooga Boogas (2013)
- The Paper Kites, States (2013)
- Teen Daze, Glacier (2013)
- Holly Williams, The Highway (2013)
- Bleachers, Strange Desire (2014)
- Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain (2014)
- TRACE, Low (2016)
- WHORES, Gold (2016)
- Charlie Cunningham, Lines (2017)
- Lorde, Melodrama (2017)
- The Beths, Future Me Hates Me (2018)
- Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour (2018)
- Until the Ribbon Breaks, Until the Ribbon Breaks (2018)
- Andrew Bird, My Finest Work Yet (2019)
- Cinematic Orchestra, To Believe (2019)
- Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019)
- Grum, Deep State (2019)
- KILN, Meadow:Watt (2019)
- Jessica Pratt, Quiet Signs (2019)
- Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)
- Gaytheist, How Long Have I Been on Fire? (2020)
- Mary Lattimore, Silver Ladders (2020)
- MILCK, Into Gold (2020)
- PJ Morton, Gospel According to PJ (2020)
- Aleksi Perälä, CYCLES 12 黻 (2022)
- Chat Pile, God’s Country (2022)
- RM, Indigo (2022)
I’ll start the reviews with the three albums I added to the list. In subsequent months, my reviews will follow my standard, 25-words-or-fewer format.
Calexico, Feast of Wine (2003). I wrote about a Calexico concert in the October 2022 issue of Disappearing Moment. What I left out is, even though I’d never seen them in person before, they were already one of my favorite live bands. When I was in library school, I got into the idea of listening to Creative Commons-licensed music. This led me to Archive.org’s Live Music Archive. While most of its recordings have a You Had to Be There quality, a few seem to get better every time you listen to them. In particular:
What cinched my affection for Calexico is another live recording. For the Onion AV Club, they did “Danger Zone”, my favorite cover performance.
Santigold, Santigold (2008): When I run, I use a self-talk technique that works for a lot of people. At the start of your run, you repeat a goofy, corny mantra. It should be so silly that you can’t help but smile as you tick off your warm up miles. Then, when things start to get tough, you switch over to a motivating theme song. You sing this theme song to yourself, inside your head. The song that works for me is “L.E.S. Artistes”. And the entire album works for me when I need motivation in the gym. As I was ingraining weight lifting as a habit, I had a steady diet:
- 60%: Fugazi, 13 Songs (a compilation, ineligible for this project)
- 30%: Santigold
- 10%: Fugazi, Repeater
There’s something about an old school Philly punk creating her own version of club music. It doesn’t get old for me.
Seam, The Problem With Me (1993): I’m so devoted to this album that I’m afraid to listen to it. I have a terrible habit of burning out on my favorite records, listening to them so often that I no longer enjoy them.
Decades ago (ca. Tone Soul Evolution), the friend who best understands my taste in music started giving me prescriptions. E.g., Black Country, New Road’s Ants From Up There (2022): no more than once a week.
The danger for The Problem With Me is real. I listened to this record on repeat for the most important month of my life, November 2001. This was the month I “won” National Novel Writing Month by completing my first novel. That Seam album was so hardwired into my brain that I worked it into the story.
I listen to it start to finish every time I put it on. For me, it’s a single, 37-minute work with movements, not a collection of nine songs. Like a great novel (which mine was not), it contains every emotion. It complements every experience. It grows and changes with you.
When I keep the volume low, it puts me into a flow state. Quieter still and I can fall asleep to it. It’s sexy, the sexiest album I’ve ever heard. Played loud, it’s great to listen to in the shower or while working out. If you want to feel the feels while doing chores, cue it up.
Seam is a wonderful band. Every song they recorded is good. For me, it all comes together in The Problem With Me. Proceed with caution.
Thanks to Roula Allouch, James Andrews, Kathy Bach, Audrey Barbakoff, Jeff Bonfield, Robin Bonfield, Peter Bromberg, Rob Burnett, Gretchen Caserotti, Andrew Chalfen, Stephanie Chase, Maggie Clemons, Lindsay Cronk, Heidi Dolamore, Chuck Dolan, Lori Dutta, Beth Filla, Emily Ford, Ally Gobi, Monserrat Gonzalez, Lisa Hamrick, Monica Harris, Ned Heeger Brehm, Kathy Hinkle, Matt Hinkle, Zelda Hinkle, Catherine Hooper, Robert Kelly, Nate Kemphues, Nancy Kirkpatrick, Richard Kong, Laura Lazaraton, Amita Lonial, Jake Marini, Kent Mulcahy, Julia Nawrocki, Jen Neuhoff, Lessa Palayo-Lozada, Leon Paternoster, Jack Persico, Veronda Pitchford, Anita Romero, Lindsay Sarin, Carissa Schanely, Karen Schneider, Aaron Shield, Jon Solomon, Kaite Stover, Luke Swarthout, Diana Vilato, Katie Vogel, Anne Vogelmann, Mike Vogelmann, and Christa Werle for contributing to this list. And thanks for spending a few moments with me. I look forward to corresponding again next month.