Fairly articulate mammal

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Live from the Cactus Cafe

New song on the YouTube channel. It’s called “Ledger,” and it’s about the record-keeping we all do in our heads. 

The lyrical idea comes from a Kacy Crowley prompt: a hundred mistakes. The idea is that at the Cactus Cafe’s songwriters’ open mic, Kacy will toss out a phrase to stimulate song ideas. If you write a new song from that prompt by the next week’s open mic, you get a free drink at the bar, which is a fun incentive to write. “A hundred mistakes” led me to ponder the notion of taking internal inventory, all the wins and losses, and how to make sense of them.

I went to that open mic a bunch this last summer and had a great time. Kacy is, besides being an excellent writer and performer herself, a terrific host! 

The space is historic and legendary. It’s literally the stage where Townes, Lyle, Ruthie, and any number of great Texas songwriters used to regularly play in their early days. It’s a thrill to play on that stage, even in an open mic situation. No delusions of grandeur here, but it connects me, loops me in as a small part of a beautiful tradition. I recommend it.

Now that the school year has imposed earlier mornings on our family, it’ll be a rarer thing for me to go play, but I’ll be back. 

Meanwhile, here is “Ledger.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Hamlet: three cool but not super-deep observations

My youngest son played Hamlet in a theatre production this past summer. That meant that (a) I spent a lot of time running lines with him and (b) I saw the play four times on four consecutive days. So I spent a lot of time with the play and noticed some things. Before it all fades away, I want to capture a few of the thoughts I had about the play.

Here are three of them . . .

1. I’m stealing this one from the literary critic, essayist, and communication theorist Kenneth Burke, from his essay about literary form. He uses Hamlet as an example, noting that when Hamlet is about to first encounter his father’s ghost, there is a distraction right before the big moment. As noises from the castle drift down to where Hamlet and his friends keep watch, Hamlet begins to kvetch about how much he hates the waste and rowdiness of the king’s parties. The ghost we’ve been waiting for then arrives, startling the group of friends. It’s a great example, Burke notes, of how form works, creating an anticipatory desire (seeing the ghost),  delaying the fulfillment of that desire (Hamlet’s rant about the stupid king and his stupid parties), and then fulfilling the desire (oh shit, that’s a GHOST!) to maximum effect.

2. We get a glimpse into Hamlet’s complexity right away, by seeing three versions of him in his first scene. First we see him talking to his mother and uncle. As they push him to move on from grieving for his father, urging him to adjust to the new normal, Hamlet steps to the edge of politeness in his responses to them, and we see him being smart and controlled, even as we understand that he is suffering and angry and struggling. Secondly, when he is left alone, we get his deepest thoughts, see how he is scorched with grief and rage. It’s a powerful moment of dropping the public mask and seeing into the private soul. And thirdly, when Horatio and friends appear, Hamlet gets it together and kind of bullshits with his buddies for a minute, engaging in dark humor as they catch up on all that’s been going on. So: the first appearance of the protagonist gives us three views of him, establishing that there’s way more to Hamlet than meets the eye any given moment.

3. The funny stuff is really-really funny. There is a bit of hilarious double entendre dirty talk with Hamlet talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, where they are ostensibly saying it’s good to be not too happy and not too sad. They personify Fortune as a woman, and make jokes about how not being at the top or bottom of Fortune, that is, neither her cap nor shoes, would mean that one was near, um, Fortune’s waist, you know, near her secret treasures, and so on. It’s a funny bit of schtick, comic relief from a heavy theme, and right on point for these university students goofing around with wordplay.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: three cool but not super-deep observations

Spoilers below. You have been warned.

1. Brad Pitt’s deadpan dopey sort-of-amused reaction to people breaking In with weapons and threats is a fantastic callback to his very fine but brief performance as Floyd in the Tarantino-penned 90s movie True Romance. Well played, all the way around.

2. The thing Pacino tells Dicaprio, that having a daunting hero from the past lose a fight as a way to boost the new protagonist‘s cred, is exactly what is going on with the Bruce Lee scene. That bit of dialogue is a funny moment of inside baseball, Tarantino referencing a method he himself is using.

3. There are a couple of  instances of beautiful and glamorous women snoring. This is close to the heart of the movie’s theme about reality vs depictions thereof.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Design thinking and making things better

I work at the City of Austin’s Office of Design & Delivery. We recently designed a new website and form for police oversight.

The form gives people a chance to lodge complaints, of course. However, it also offers a chance to recognize officers who are doing good work. By making it easy for people to give feedback, we encourage input.

I just learned that an officer earned recognition from the department for having gone above what was expected in handling a recent sexual assault case. The survivor felt that the officer was excellent in really listening and helping her feel supported and safe to talk about what had happened. She felt that way strongly enough that she took time to fill out the feedback form, which is remarkable.

Everybody knows this approach hasn’t always been the case for how these kinds of cases have been handled (everywhere).

The chain of feedback has been significantly shortened. The officer got that positive feedback quickly. This creates a virtuous circle for the department, pushing back harder and sooner for negative behavior, and giving due credit sooner and better for officers doing good work.

Proud to be working there. This is part of how the world gets better.

Here’s my recent blog post regarding the form we built and the design thinking that informed it: