Gallimaufry

Some short bits as a brief reprieve from the live album tournament, while we wait for the next installment of reviews to arrive . . .

1. We’re doing some data gathering to support strategic and tactical initiatives at Salisbury House, so if you’re familiar with the property and would like to have a vote in our planning process, you can take our survey here. 20 questions, should take no more than five minutes. Thanks for your thoughts!

2. I’ve never been a weather whiner, but since legitimate complaints about legitimate problems do not constitute whining, I would like to note for the record that I am seriously tired of shivering all the time at this point in the winter season, especially as our latest Thundahailapocablizz drops feet of Lightninslush and Typhoonisleet and Ice 9 and God only knows what else outside. Yeah, I know that my friends in Snowbany are having a worst time than what we’re experiencing in Hoth Moines right now, but I don’t care, because I am a selfish pig who just wants to be warm, right now, forever. Make it so!

3. I don’t edit my “Album of the Year” articles once I publish them, even though sometimes my affection for select albums wanes over time, or I miss something great at the time of its original release. The latter has happened at least once in my 2013 list, as I’ve really been loving Suns of Thyme’s exceptional Fortune, Shelter, Love and Cure album, which was released last November. Give it a listen, starting with this song.

4. Call me curmudgeonly (it won’t be the first time), but I am completely and totally disinterested in anything happening in the Winter Olympics right now, as I don’t like seeing the noble concept of “sport” being used as a prop to bolster the reputation or financial strength of inept and violent kleptocracies like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I truly believe that the Olympics Movement has outlived its utility, and would be delighted to see this outmoded quadrennial fit of nationalistic jingoism fall to the wayside, so that the absurd resources put into these circuses could be applied to health and fitness and nutrition programs that benefit the greatest number of people, rather than tiny cohorts of elite competitors in sports that virtually no one in the world really cares about, except when the television reminds us they exist, every four years

5. Marcia and I recently booked a two-week vacation in August to celebrate our 25th Anniversary (which I know is in June, lest you think I goofed on the date). Here’s where we’re going. This will be the first time that we’ve ever gone anywhere on vacation together for more than a week, so we’re very excited about it.

6. Oh America, this photo makes me gag with revulsion and grieve for your soul!! This is our culture? This is how we entertain ourselves? This is what we like? Gah! Edward Gibbon has rarely offered more relevant perspective on our Nation’s possible futures than he does today, though 99% of the people who will pay to personally encounter the hideous, garish, trashy, crass and utterly stupid spectacle documented in that photo will likely not know or care who he is. So bring on the Visigoths and the Vandals, please. They have better taste in culture and music than we do, apparently.

Two Years

Two years ago today, at about 5:00 in the morning, I woke up in a cheap hotel room in Latham, New York, drove over to a cold and empty house that had once been full of all of my family’s worldly belongings, loaded two protesting cats into my car, and headed west for Des Moines, Iowa. It was cold. And dark. And raining.

In the two weeks before this momentously dreary morning, I had also spent five days in Annapolis, Maryland as the Naval Academy Class of ’86′s reunion coordinator for a three-day, 25th Anniversary event involving over 1,000 people, $100,000 in expenses, and uncountable numbers of details, questions, complaints and comments to be handled. Just before that, I had spent four days in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in my role as Secretary to the Corporation for the American Institute, dutifully recording days’ worth of meetings, and then transcribing minutes. Oh, and I also quit my job and oversaw the sale and emptying of our home of twelve years.

Barring death and birth experiences, obviously, I can tell you that October and November of 2011 were undoubtedly the most difficult and stressful months of my adult life, made all the harder because Marcia had already moved to Des Moines with her new job, and Katelin was away at college. So I spent most of my time drifting around an ever more empty house, worrying about the fairly stupid combination of responsibilities I had saddled myself with during that period of time, and trying to figure out how to say goodbye to so many people and places that were important to me.

Since I had no regular income at this point, I amused myself by “eating the House” (don’t buy any new food until everything in cabinets and refrigerator has been eaten, leading to some interesting meal combinations), and “living off my shit” (lightening the load of the move by selling a lot of things I’d accumulated over the years, and not spending any more cash than I was bringing in). I also loaded a huge dumpster-full of basement detritus that was not salable, and donated our bikes and house plants to people needier than we were. One woman of very limited means was starting a new household for her child and new boyfriend, and she cried with gratitude as she took the many gorgeous plants I let her have, since she had been forced to leave all of her own beloved plants in her ex-husband’s house. After she left, though, I felt like crying because they were gone.

And then on November 12, 2011, the morning after a lovely wedding and reception attended by many dear friends from Rockefeller College, I got in the car, and I left. I would have liked to have stopped and seen Katelin in Geneseo on the way, but could not do so with the cats in the car; I just needed to drive as hard and as long as I could to get to Des Moines as fast as I could. I made it past Cleveland on the first leg, and spent a sleepless night in a desolate interstate highway hotel listening to the cats pace and cry. The next morning, also by 5:00 am, we were up and on the road again, next stop Des Moines.

Marcia had a great apartment out here already, so it was wonderful to arrive there at the end of a long and unpleasant drive, even if the cats (and their litter box) had to share it with us in close quarters. The day after my arrival, Marcia and I were scheduled to close on our new house in Des Moines’ Beaverdale neighborhood. The closing was, probably no surprise, also stressful due to the seller using a fly-by-night “Sell Your Home Yourself” outfit that did not provide needed documentation, paperwork and filings; fortunately our own exceptional realtor got it all done for us. Thanks, Sue Mears!

The final walk-through and acceptance of the house was something of a shock to us in terms of how much junk was left behind by the sellers, and the unexpected condition of many of the rooms: the prior owners had once painted without moving furniture, and the interior walls of the house looked like a patchwork quilt when they got their stuff out. So there was a lot more work necessary than we had expected, and it was really well into spring 2012 before I felt like we had gotten the required baseline projects done to bring the house up to the standards we wanted and expected. (Our additional shower took another six months after that, even).

But, eventually, there I was, in Iowa, chores mostly done, house settled, spouse gainfully employed, child doing well in school back in New York, cats happy that I gave them their own couch in my home office.

Huh. Now what?

Well, fast forward two years, I guess, for the answer. I am in my 18th month as Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation. It’s a tough, time-consuming and often thankless job, but one that fits my skills and interests well, and it allows my hard work to benefit a truly astounding historic house and its collections. Marcia’s work continues to go well, too, as she always adds value when working on behalf of her clients and their interests, and has much better home/work balance now than was the case when she was a partner in a New York law firm. Katelin graduated from college in May 2013 and followed us out here: she has a great job in her chosen field of her study, and lives in her own apartment in what’s emerging as a hot neighborhood in downtown Des Moines. Our house is fantastic: we pay much less for a much nicer property, in easily the best and friendliest neighborhood I’ve ever lived in. We have seen more of Marcia’s family in Minnesota in two years than we had in the prior two decades. And the cats still like their (increasingly shabby) couch.

So it’s (mostly) all good, at bottom line. The move has allowed us to achieve the objectives that we desired from our relocation, and we’ve settled into new routines, with new friends, in new places, far more rapidly than we did when we first moved to New York. I will say, though that I have actually been surprised at how hard the adjustment was for me in many ways during these first two years. Having moved so often while growing up and during my early professional career, I used to be really good at ripping up and starting afresh at the drop of a hat, but those 19 years in Latham (the longest I have ever lived in any one place) caused my roots there to sink deeper than I realized they had. But when I am back in New York visiting now, two years later, I don’t feel like I am at home anymore. I am always eager after a couple of days to return to my family, house and work in Des Moines. As it should be.

Of course, there are little lifestyle things out here that remain gentle annoyances: the regional acceptance of boomboxes blaring from bikes and golf carts, for instance, or most restaurants being closed on Sundays, or having the State-wide news occasionally dominated by matters that really, truly mean less than nothing to us (e.g. legislation regarding lead vs steel shot when hunting doves, which really evokes a lot of passion in some quarters hereabouts).

When such gentle annoyances start to bother me, as they do occasionally, I have found that the best therapy is to return to a practice that helped me get through my first few months here: I get in the car, and I drive and I drive and I drive around Iowa. (Without the cats, though. They are on their couch. Always). Work peeves, petty urban annoyances, worries about things I can’t fix, all of those thoughts tend to dissipate when I am on the road experiencing Iowa at its most granular level: riding down dirt roads between corn and soy fields; visiting tiny towns with exceptional civic architecture and museum cultures; passing through the gorgeous campuses of the State’s many small private and three large public colleges and universities; appreciating entertaining roadside vernacular statuary and architecture from the earliest days of car culture in the United States. Best of all is when I get to do these drives with Marcia, or Katelin, or both. They are great company in great scenery.

I completed my “Full Grassley” in March 2012, having visited all 99 of Iowa’s counties in less than five months’ time. But I didn’t stop driving, and I didn’t stop exploring, so my current Iowa travel map looks like this now:

jesmap

I rarely go the same way between any two points in the State if I can help it, though I am running out of options between Des Moines and Iowa City, since I go to or through there often. I will be planning on adding some new roads in December when I accompany Marcia to Clinton in the eastern part of the state, and we find a new route to wind our way back. Huttah!

Two years ago today, the cats and I set off on what felt like a terrible, disquieting drive to Iowa. Today, I actively look forward to my drives around Iowa as an anchor, binding me ever deeper to our new territory, our new work, our new friends, our new lives. And then I really look forward to coming back to our new home. To Des Moines. Here.

I think that’s good progress in 24 months’ time, don’t you? The cats certainly do . . .

catcouch

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

1. Marcia, my mother and I watched Katelin graduate from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a minor in Business. Then I drove her and all of her worldly belongings out to Des Moines, roaring through tornadic storms in a U-Haul panel truck with neither radio nor cruise control, quick like bunny. (Six weeks later, Katelin had a temporary/contract job and an apartment of her own. And last week, she started a permanent job with a great company, making good money in an awesome office location, doing exactly the sorts of Human Resource work that she came of college wanting to pursue. It’s nice when it works out the way it’s supposed to!)

2. I saw my favorite band live for the first time. Brutal!!! (I did not shoot that video, by the way. I know which way to hold a camera). (Though I am in the video, if you look closely).

3. I worked hard to bring Shakespeare on the Lawn back to Salisbury House, and it was a big, big hit. (I am in this video, too).

4. I went to Madison, Wisconsin, where I was elected to the Board of the Association of Midwest Museums.

5. I went to Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, with Marcia, where we celebrated her Norwegian ancestry with plentiful white foods.

6. Marcia and I also went on vacation to Lake Superior, spending a few nights at the Lutsen Resort and few nights in Duluth. On our way back, we stopped at the little Bed and Breakfast where we’d spent the weekend after our wedding, 24 years ago.

7. I bachelored it for a week while Marcia and her sister visited London. There was plenty of popcorn and wine and cartoons.

8. I made two trips back to Great Barrington, Massachusetts in my role as Secretary of the Corporation to the American Institute for Economic Research. At the second trip, I was elected to the Board of Trustees for a three year term.

9. I bought a new bike for only the third time in 31 years. I’m very loyal to my trusty steeds, until it finally comes time to put them down. C’mon, buddy. Let’s go out behind the shed for a minute. This won’t hurt much at all. Sniff.

10. I golfed. I walked. I bowled. I took some road trips. I ate and drank and cooked. I went to a lot of community events. Most of the time with Marcia in all cases, but sometimes with Katelin. It’s nice for the three of us to all be in the same town again. Very nice, indeed.

I Do What I Do, Indeed I Do

I have been online for a long, long time. When the World Wide Web launched 20 years ago, I was one of the first people staking a claim to my own website there. I acquired jericsmith.com in 1999 and started blogging on September 7, 2000, before most people had any idea what “blog” meant. WordPress tells me that Indie Moines now contains 975 posts, incorporating articles written here, and at Indie Albany, and at jericsmith.com, and at Upstate Ether, and several of my earlier websites. I received a coveted Freshly Pressed nod in November 2010, and my 2004 “Worst Rock Band Ever” survey went viral in ways that most bloggers can only dream of. At bottom line, I’ve written an awful lot of words in the public domain, and had an incredible number of people read them. I’m pleased and grateful for that experience.

There are few things more boring than blogging about blogging, so I generally try to avoid doing so. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend a fair amount of time thinking about blogging, and what it accomplishes, and why I do it. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my primary motivation for blogging is best summed up by one of my favorite Bonzo Dog Band songs, “What Do You Do?” Here’s that crucial cut, well worth listening to, with the lyrics transcribed below:

\

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it every day

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
Indeed I do

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
I do what I do, I am what I am
We are what we are, we do what we can

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it everyday

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, everyday
Indeed I do

At bottom line, in 2013, I blog because it’s what I do. Indeed I do. Why? I don’t know, but I do it (almost) every day. Is that enough? Today, I find myself answering “no.”

The most rewarding blog experience I had occured in 2004, when I set myself the task of writing and publishing a poem a day, for a full year. On December 31 of that year, I achieved my goal. Many of the poems I shared that year were, to be honest, marginal works, at best. But the discipline involved with producing them also resulted in occasional moments of brilliance, and I think some of the strongest writing I’ve ever done occurred that year, with a dozen or so of the poems I wrote going on to see publication in traditional print outlets.

After I finished the Poem A Day Project, I lost any sense of urgency for blogging, so I took a year-long blog sabbatical. When I returned, I found myself with a more engaged audience than I’d had when I retired my keyboard, so it seemed like absence actually made a lot of hearts grow fonder for my piffle and tripe. A phrase which, if you’re not a long-time reader, stemmed from a poem I once wrote, as follows:

“Piffle and tripe and balderdash!”
roared Lord MacCormack, his purple sash
rucked up beneath his ample chin,
as he pounded his desk again and again.
“Codswollop, blarney and twaddlerot!”
the good Lord raged, his temper hot,
his anger roused by news reports
of politics and sex and sports.
“Bosh, bunk, claptrap, bull and fudge!”
MacCormack the day’s events soundly judged,
while flinging his papers across the room,
and gesturing angrily into the gloom.
(His manservant, Roger, knew this was the cue
to roll in the cart, with the buns and the stew).

I have been thinking about tackling another project of the Poem A Day variety in 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of that rewarding foray into sustained, public creative writing. But this time, I am thinking that I need the sabbatical before I start, not afterwards. So with a little bit of regret — but a larger amount of relief — I announce my intention to take an Indie Moines blog sabbatical until January 2014 to recharge the batteries, focus the thinking, and come up with a reason for blogging that’s more profound than “I do what I do, indeed I do.”

Does this mean that I’m going to quit writing? Of course not. I wish I could say that I write because I want to, but the reality is that I write because I need to. In my 2001 novel, Eponymous, protagonist Collie Hay (who I have always publicly denied is me, though everyone knows that is just diversion and posturing) is quoted as saying: “Writing is the only way that I can actually get facts and my thoughts about them in order, then do something about them and (more importantly) begin to believe that they actually happened. To me, no less. Because if I don’t (or can’t) write about something, then it’s generally not real to me — and I’ve reached a point where I want my life and my history to feel real.” That’s a true statement, made in a fictional context.

What and where will I write? First off, I have some bigger writing projects that keep getting back-burnered — since given the choice of doing a hard writing job or an easy blog post, the latter almost always wins. My primary writing objective for 2013 is to finish a theatrical adaptation of Eponymous that Marcia deftly framed, ideally creating a work that she and I can shop to local stages and actors to see if it has real-world audience appeal. I think it will, and I think Des Moines is a great place to launch it.

I have half-a-dozen short story ideas parked on my office whiteboard, so I look forward to having time to develop them fully, undistracted by self-imposed blog posting requirements. I also have many research pieces related to the Salisbury House library and collections that I will post to the blog I launched on behalf of my employer, here. I have worked as a volunteer “Art Blaster” on behalf of the Des Moines Art Center, so I intend to coordinate with volunteer and curatorial staff there to develop an outlet, somewhere, to help them interpret and share their extraordinary collections online, one way or another.

I also intend to continue communicating in the public domain via the Indie Moines Facebook and Twitter feeds, so I heartily encourage you to like or follow those pages, if you are not already doing so. I find lots of cool stuff in my forays online, and I look forward to sharing such things with you all via those social media outlets. If I place any work in traditional print outlets, I will announce it on those sites. When I travel or have other photographic adventures to report, I will post them at my Flickr account, so you might want to follow that as well.

For most of the past decade, I have done 95%+ of my pleasure reading on the elliptical at the gym or while sitting in my hot tub, so I also look forward to having more time to just sit in my own living room, reading. It will be refreshing to step away from the computer in the evening, since I’ve rarely done that for many, many years. And, finally, I am also looking forward to having our lovely daughter, Katelin, moving to Des Moines in May. It has been seven years since we’ve lived in the same city on a permanent basis, so I want to be available and accessible to her, without feeling like I have an online community that must be serviced as a priority.

All of this being said, I am humbled at the response that my writing has garnered in this and other, earlier spaces over the years, so I thank you all — my faithful readers — for your support, encouragement and interaction. I hope that you will return as active supporters in January 2014, when I launch the next phase of my blogging career, whatever it might entail. I think the break will do us all good.

I hope that you all agree!

“Des Moines’ Own Downton Abbey”

WOI-5, our local ABC affiliate, offers a Sunday morning show called DSM Living. During two recent weekends, Salisbury House (where I am fortunate to spend my days as Executive Director) was featured on the show, and I share the clips with you all below. Thanks to DSM Living‘s Melanie Hall for being a great and enthusiastic guest, and opening her first spot with a nice connection to a wildly popular television show. That’s good marketing! Melanie and her production team did a great job, it was fun to show them around, and I thank them for thinking of us. If you’ve never actually heard me speak about the House, here’s your chance.

I should note that this is not the first time that Salisbury House has been likened to Downton Abbey by guests: when I explain my job here, a lot of times people will say “Oh, so you are like [insert character's name here] on Downton Abbey, then!” I just nod my head and smile . . . because I’ve never actually watched the show, so I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Maybe I should start? Or just stick with my current favorite television show instead? Decisions . . . decisions . . .

 

Capers

1. My Oscar Best Picture Model failed this year for the first time since I developed it. The numbers clearly pointed to Lincoln, based on its other nominations, but Argo obviously pulled off the upset, despite its lack of Best Director nomination putting it in fifth place (in my model) among the nine nominees in terms of likelihood of victory. Apparently, the Academy’s decision to have a larger number of “Best Picture” nominees than “Best Director” nominees no longer means that not having the latter is an absolute death knell come Oscar night. I’m still sticking with my model, though, as I do believe this year’s weird distribution of Oscar trophies and industry indignation on Ben Affleck’s part makes 2013 an anomaly, not a bellwether. I doubt we’ll see another “Best Picture” win without a “Best Director” for many, many years. You can quote me.

2. We watched Argo for the first time last night, and I did not think it was Best Picture-worthy, regardless of what my model and the Academy’s voters thought. The acting was mostly wooden (except for John Goodman and Alan Arkin), and once the intense opening scenes in the U.S. Embassy in Teheran passed, there was never any real suspense about anything, since I knew how the story ended, and I didn’t really care much of about of any of the one-dimensional hostage characters. Affleck, though, tried desperately to artificially generate a sense of suspense with some of the most cliched techniques in the filmmaker’s arsenal: will they answer the phone in time? will the driver get the truck into gear? will the Boeing 747 outrun the Chevy sedan? etc. Honestly, I don’t think Ben and his beard deserved Best Director, Best Actor or Best Film plaudits. I chalk this one up to Hollywood having a fit of self-love, while watching a movie about Hollywood self-love. Bring on the 2014 Awards.

3. I have written before about how much I detest the Weather Channel’s coverage of “extreme” weather, and they outdid themselves again last week with five solid days worth of hysteria building over “Winter Storm Q,” which basically gave Des Moines just a four inch dusting of powder, despite most of the town’s businesses and schools shutting down in advance of this latest “storm of the century.” When I wrote that piece, the Weather Channel had not yet developed its odious campaign of naming winter storms, which adds even more fever to the fire as it seeks to provide cold weather analogs to the National Weather Service’s naming of tropical typhoons. Any credible media outlet who uses these Weather Channel spawned names is a dupe, and should not be taken seriously. So what’s a soul to do when a soul needs just the facts, ma’am, about the weather? Go take advantage of your tax dollars at work, and read the calm and cool presentation available at weather.gov. In the days immediately preceding “Winter Storm Q,” the National Weather Service’s site had pretty much the same forecast, minus all the hysteria making it feel like end of days. It’s weather as news, and weather for grownups. Stop the madness!

4. I am totally a blog snob, if that’s not screamingly obvious, and I am very picky about what I read and (even moreso) what I will link to from my own blogs. So when something exceptional crosses my path, I feel it is important to note here that I have been impressed. That happened this week, when I found Nonprofit With Balls, which is filled with the most well-written, insightful and hilarious writing I’ve read in years, if ever, about my chosen professional sector. Even better, the blogger is an Executive Director, so he doesn’t just understand the industry in generic terms, he understands the specific strain of masochism that leads people like, uh, me to voluntarily lead nonprofit corporations. The blog is filled with finely observed, nuanced observations about how this particular professional lunacy manifests itself in our daily lives, while we earn our daily bread, which we get at the day-old shop. Bookmark this one. Right now. Seriously. No, really . . . seriously. Now. Thank you.

5. For the long-time readers: you know that I title omnibus, multi-topic posts like this one after songs from particular bands’ catalogs. I’ve worked through The Who and Emerson Lake and Palmer and The Bee Gees and Genesis and Frank Zappa and probably a few others that I can’t remember. And now I am starting a new band. Name them.

Shivers

I started a blog for my work at Salisbury House last fall, and have generally kept work and personal posts separate, the former there, the latter here. This made sense when I first set it up, since a lot of the work posts were related to schedules of upcoming events, or calls for financial support, or other market-oriented appeals. But as the months have passed, I have tended to use the Salisbury House Blog more and more as a platform for exposing folks to some of the deeply hidden treasures entrusted to our care, few of which have ever been widely discussed, online or in person. So this afternoon, I imported what I would consider to be some of the most “WOW!” posts from Salisbury House Blog to Indie Moines, since I think they are legitimately interesting beyond my work life, and because I think it’s important that as many people as possible see them, because why do we care for these precious items if not to share them? Here’s an index of the posts I copied over, in case you never saw them at my work blog. There are marvels here, and I have generally included never-before-published photos, just so you can get a taste of what I am seeing, reading, living with, holding . . . I have included brief descriptions to help you browse:

D.H. Lawrence: A Manuscript Mystery (Alternate versions of a key poem)

Knocking Down History (Destruction of Lustron Homes in Des Moines)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s “Liber Florum” (A beautiful book published in 1499)

The Book of Mormon in Des Moines (Rare early Mormon books)

Books as Art (The Private Press Movement, 1880s to 1930s)

Objects Come Home (How Museums Lose and Gain Artifacts)

Friday Photo Mystery (A rare, old book revealed)

The Bibles of Salisbury House (Gutenberg, King James, Doves, Oxford)

Object and Humanity (How our books and art shape us)

Book Smugglers (On importing Lawrence and Joyce when it was illegal)

A Message to Garcia (The work of Elbert Hubbard)

“Voices from the Prairie” Interview

I was interviewed for the Winter 2013 edition of Voices from the Prairie, the official publication of Humanities Iowa, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ affiliate for our state. There’s a link to the full interview below, and I am grateful for the chance to talk about Iowa, Des Moines, and Salisbury House for a state-wide readership. Humanities Iowa has also provided a grant that my staff and I are using to host a Iowa Humanities Festivals at Salisbury House on March 9, 2013, with a bunch of partners from all around the state. We hope it becomes an annual happening. Oh, the Humanities!

Click Here to Read the Full Interview with J. Eric Smith

Fiat Linx

1. I researched and wrote an article about the Private Press movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century, and posted it over at the Salisbury House blog. Here ’tis, with pretty pictures. If you live in Des Moines, you can actually come see some of these extremely rare books, up close and personal, this Thursday night as we host our inaugural Treasures Tour. Mind blowing, for real.

2. For most of my professional career in Albany, I held down at least two paying jobs at the same time, and occasionally I had three or more, depending on how onerous the main job was. I’ve been missing the fresh perspectives provided by my freelance work, so now having some 15 months in the Des Moines market under my belt, I’m ready to re-hang my shingle to explore consulting and other opportunities to supplement the daytime gig. Want to hire me?

3. A tip of the cap and a warm “thank you” are due to the folks at the Des Moines Is NOT Boring blog, both for offering this kind plug via their widely-read Facebook and Twitter feeds, and then for giving RAYGUN head honcho Mike Draper the chance to affirm his taste and refinement when evaluating the strength of the local creative community inh is answer to question number six here. Thirteen months since its launch, Indie Moines continues to pretty regularly break its own daily, weekly and monthly readership records, with no marketing plan, no paid advertising (inbound or outbound), and only one grumpy old expat South Carolinian by way of New York providing content for a primarily Iowan audience. So it is satisfying to occasionally receive external validation like this to affirm that the website and its words are resonating with folks hereabouts.

4. I recently finished Bob Carruthers’ 2012 book Jollity Farm: The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, which incongruously uses perhaps the most iconic Iowa image imaginable on its cover, despite the fact that the Bonzo Dog Band were about as English as English can get. Go ahead. Click that link. You need to see it. Done? Alright, weird cover design notwithstanding, Jollity Farm was a very entertaining read about a band I’ve long loved, especially their masterpiece albums Keynsham and The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse. One of the glories of the internet era is that many of their television appearances from the 1960s (they starred on a show called Do Not Adjust Your Set with proto-Pythons Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and also appeared in The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour) are now available for easy viewing. Here’s a live performance of one of my favorites, featuring a legendarily awful guitar solo by Neil Innes, along with all sorts of other tomfoolery by these amazing showmen:

As Sure As Eggs is Eggs

1. John Crowley’s Engine Summer is among my all-time favorite books. It has such an unexpected, poignant and profound ending that I immediately re-read the whole book after finishing it the first time, just to experience the text while knowing what was coming at the end. Superb!!! Marcia read it soon after I did, and also counts it as a favorite. Katelin just finished reading it for the first time yesterday. I am glad to (finally) have someone new to discuss it with!

2. To the best of my knowledge, Jim Hodder sang lead vocals on only two commercially released songs: “Dallas” and “Midnight Cruiser” by Steely Dan. “Dallas” was intended to be the group’s debut single, but it was recalled at the last minute and, along with its b-side, “Sail the Waterways,” has pretty much been completely expunged from the Steely Dan catalog by mainstays Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. (Poco did release a cover version of the song years later, though). “Midnight Cruiser” appears on the Dan’s 1972 debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, when the group were  more democratically apportioning lead vocal tracks, Hodder taking his turn alongside David Palmer (who left the band soon afterward), Fagen and Becker. Once the Fagen-sung “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years” became hits, though, he became the full-time voice of Steely Dan, and Jim Hodder (who was also the group’s drummer) became the second original member of the band to depart after 1973′s Countdown to Ecstasy. (Hodder’s photo appears on the back of Steely Dan’s breakthrough album, Pretzel Logic, though the drum tracks on the album were played by Jim Gordon, with Hodder appearing only as a backing vocalist on “Parker’s Band”). After some spotty session and studio work in his post-Steely Dan years, Jim Hodder drowned in his own swimming pool in 1990, at the age of 42. So does it seem weird for me to claim him as one of my all-time favorite singers based on just two (amazing) songs? Click those links above to hear them yourself, before calling me crazy . . .

3. I’ve pretty much given up on social networking of the Facebook and Twitter variety, but still maintain a current LinkedIn presence, simply because it’s a good way to keep the professional slate hanging out in front of my (virtual) office without a lot of idle, time-wasting chitchat from people I knew in third grade. If you use LinkedIn yourself, then InMap’s LinkedIn Labs is an interesting application that allows you to visualize your professional networks, and it becomes especially interesting if you have a lot of connections, as I do. (About 700 at this point). Here’s the summary map of my professional connections:

J. Eric Smith's professional network, visually mapped.

J. Eric Smith’s professional network, visually mapped.

You can click here to see a larger version, with me as the focal point in the center. The huge blue blob at right is my oldest social network: my classmates and colleagues from the Naval Academy, with whom I’ve maintained particularly close connections over the years as Class of 1986 Secretary, President and (now) Treasurer. The orange cluster at far left represents my time writing for Metroland and then being heavily involved in a variety of capacities in Albany’s music community for the better part of two decades. Adjacent to that cluster is a green group that represents my contacts from the greater nonprofit sector in Albany, outside of the University at Albany, which has its own blob in purple at bottom left. Between (and often overlapping with) those three groups is a light orange flavored cluster which is largely composed of folks I connected with during my four years as a blogger at the Albany Times Union. At the top of the chart are two fairly discrete clusters, the light blue one to the left representing the American Institute for Economic Research (where I worked for two years, and am still involved in a volunteer governance capacity), and the dark purple one representing my new professional community in Des Moines. Spidering among these various groups is a grey cohort (mostly above and to the left of the blue Naval Academy cluster) primarily representing my colleagues from the Supply Corps and Naval Reactors, who are apparently not terribly social.

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