2015 Year in Review

Though I haven’t been writing here much I have still been tracking things that happen, by month, in my journal. As ever some of the things I write down are terribly important, some are silly, but all are things I want to document and remember.

Month by Month

January
– Started working at Slack
– Our heat stopped working and we woke up to a 55 degree house
– Finished “The Bond Project” (meaning B and I watched every single James Bond movie ever made up to that point)
– Finished knitting a scarf for B
– Got a very nice “you’re doing great” message from my new boss  that gave me a confidence boost I needed
– Got to meet Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg when she came to Louisville. Her book, Surprised By God, was very influential to me years ago so meeting her was a true joy. She’s a very lovely person.

February
– Met with a friend to discuss serious concerns about another friend’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.
– Visited California for the first time when I went to San Francisco for work. I got to work out of the Slack offices for a few days and attend the company’s first anniversary party. It was very festive.

March
– Bought a new MBP
– Significant (significant for Louisville any way) snow storm
– Felt a little out of touch with my colleagues. Partly due to being remote, partly due to my generally being introverted
– Decided to buy a new car after being a one car family for nearly a year.

April 
– Various health and age related issues caused some serious thinking (and maybe a little freakout?) about mortality and aging.
– Seder at The Z’s
– N briefly hospitalized
– Grace turned 14
– Bought a new car

May
– Started writing a Charitable Giving Plan to be more thoughtful and deliberate about charitable donations
– Made plans to go to DC for my birthday
– Grace’s health started declining
– Decided I wasn’t completely happy with Rdio and started comparing streaming services in earnest

June
– We discovered froyo. It was the summer of froyo and toppings.
– Got TSA Precheck. Amazing decision.
– Friend we were concerned about in February confirmed she’s suicidal
– Named a Slack Windows release
– My marriage became legal in all 50 states

July
– Celebrated my birthday in town at an arcade and playing miniature golf with friends
– DC trip which included seeing some of my favorite people, lots of good food and great museum trips
– Confirmed my love of 17th century Dutch landscapes and seascapes
– Led the memorial service for a very lovely person who died much too young
– Found out our house needed a new roof
– Decided to switch to Spotify for music streaming
– Started feeling much more connected to some of my colleagues. They’re my friends now and it’s wonderful.

August
August was awful. I’m crying now as I write about it.
– My grandfather died after a brief illness
– Led the funeral/memorial service for my grandfather
– My beloved dog Grace died

September
– B got a commendation at work
– Holiday celebrations at various friends’ houses
– Adopted a new dog, Scout

October
– Received a very beautiful ring as a 20th anniversary gift from B
– B and I started a new Sunday ritual of bagels, coffee and the New York times and it’s really really lovely

November
– Started taking Scout to doggie daycare sometimes because he needs an outlet to get his energy out while I’m working
– Got new chairs for The Listening Room and they are amazing. It’s now a perfect room to sit in while reading and listening to records
– Emergency dental visit which confirmed I need to have oral surgery
– Met with oral surgeon who lived up to every stereotype you’ve ever heard about surgeons. I found another surgeon to perform my procedure
– Went to the Slack mothership in San Francisco. It was really lovely to be in the office for a few days but it also made me appreciate my remote home-office situation.

December
– Received an internal award at work and it was extremely gratifying and came with an epic illustration of me holding a no beets sign and Scout wearing a Slack coat
– Scheduled my oral surgery
– Fourth night of Hanukkah at the nursing home again

Music Consumption

Since I switched from Rdio to Spotfy halfway through the year and Rdio closed shop at the end of the year my listening statistics aren’t as accurate as they’d been in years past.

However Spotify’s year end wrap up had a mostly accurate overview of my listening habits.

Top Artists
1. Nina Simone
2. Hozier
3. Johann Johannsson
4. Sam Hunt
5. Coldplay

Top Albums
1. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
2. Hozier by Hozier
3. Montevello by Sam Hunt
4. Coming by Leon Bridges
5. Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

Along with several of my friends I became (and am still) obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack. It’s amazing and I can’t wait for the day I can see the play in person.

Top Tracks
1. Earned It by The Weekend
2. Show Me Love by Sam Feldt
3. A Sky full of Stars by Coldplay
4. Believe by Mumford and Sons
5. Single for the Summer by Sam Hunt

The track data is a bit skewed because during July and August I drove back and forth to my hometown quite a bit and was in such a funk I just had one driving playlist on repeat each time I went. The tracks that Spotify lists as my “Top Tracks” were all on that playlist.

So with that in mind here are top tracks not based on Spotify data but what songs I remember listening to and remember being important to me:

1. From Eden by Hozier
2. When We Were Young by Adele
3. Both Sides Now (Both Sides Now album version) – Joni Mitchell
4. A Song for You*
5. Here Comes the Sun – Nina Simone

* I have a playlist that consists of nothing but different versions of “A Song for You” and I play it often. Donny Hathaway, Ray Charles, Amy Winehouse and Willie Nelson are all on it.

Movies/TV

Our trend of not going to movie theaters continued. We watched a lot of movies at home but I didn’t keep a list other than all the Bond movies.

We watched a lot of British crime dramas this year. Like all of them I think.

Books

I read 35 books this year, far short of my goal. Of those 35 here are some that I really enjoyed:

Euphoria by Lily King
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Expats by Chris Pavone
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Technically I read 38 books this year but 3 of them were about dog training so I didn’t count them in the list.

Mourning

My grandfather and my dog died within two weeks of each other. Comparing human loss and canine loss is unfair and difficult and complicated. My grandfather was a good person and had a really wonderful, wicked sense of humor. He had a good life including a 60+ year love story with my grandmother.

I’m very sad that my grandfather died. I was briefly devastated by my dog’s death. For 14 and a half years she had been my constant companion. She’d been with me for so many changes and stages in my life. Life without that dog seemed overwhelming. I depended on her more than I even knew.

As hard as it was on me it was even harder on B. During our initial mourning period we discussed whether or not we’d ever get another dog. The sad quietness of the house led to us deciding yes we would get another dog and sooner rather than later.

Though the timeframe was quick we had gut wrenching discussions about whether we were trying to replace Grace or whether we were ready to love another being the way a companion dog requires being loved.

In the end we adopted Scout. He is as different from Grace in every way possible. Grace was very much a lady. She was a purebred poodle who hated the rain and mud and liked people far more than she liked other dogs. Scout is a boy who is ready for every adventure even if that means sprinting through mud puddles or walking two miles in a torrential downpour. He also really loves other dogs. He likes people ok but to be honest he’s suspicious of most men. After he gives them the once over he’s usually ok with them but god help you if you’re a man and you try to reach over Scout to hug myself or B. He will give you the business with a quickness. He also hates the mailman more than just about anything.

Scout being so different from Grace is a very good thing. We met two poodles who, though they were different colors and sizes, reminded me far too much of Grace. I think it would have broken my heart every day to look at one of those dogs and see so many physical similarities to Grace but not have Grace.

Scout and I have bonded now though we still have a long way to go. We adopted him from a no kill shelter. He had been moved there after a stay in another shelter after he was found roaming the wilderness in Michigan. He was house trained and even knew how to “shake hands” when we got him so clearly he lived with humans at some point. We don’t know whether he was abandoned or ran away and couldn’t get home (he likes to bolt out open doors). We do know he’s suspicious of men and at times cowers like he’s afraid of being hit. So we think he maybe didn’t have the greatest early years (he’s about 3 or 4 now). He has some habits and manners that definitely need improving so we’re working on it, together.

Work

Last year at this time my work with ThinkUp had just come to an end. In last year’s year in review I wrote “Outside of building Menu and Hours, being part of ThinkUp has been the best work experience of my life. “

In what can only be described as the greatest stroke of luck imaginable, my job at Slack has continued my streak of really excellent jobs. I love my job, my company, the product we make and the people I work with. I am truly very fortunate to work there.

Alternative Sheva Brachot from the Great American Lesbian Jewish Wedding

A friend asked if the alternative sheva brachot I created for our wedding a couple years ago were still online somewhere. Turns out, no! So here again are our blessings in all their glory. We had the traditional brachot (well as traditional as they could be for an awesome lesbian wedding) sung by our cantor and we had dear friends read these.

1. Blessed are those who find joy in all of creation

From Wendell Berry’s The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable.

Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.

2. Blessed is humanity in all its infinite variations

Human Family by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences in the human family.
Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity,
and others claim they really live the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple, tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land.
I’ve seen the wonders of the world, not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women called Jane and Mary Jane,
I’ve not seen any two who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China, we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea, and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland, are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ, in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends than we are unalike.

3. Blessed are those who see each other completely and love each other entirely.

A teaching from Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

When I say, ‘I love you’ it has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re the one.

4. Blessed are they who embrace their community.

From the Divine, source of all energy, we call forth an abundance of love to envelop this couple. We highlight today joy and gladness, delight and cheer, love and harmony, peace and companionship. May we all witness the day when the dominant sounds through the world will be these sounds of peace, happiness, the voices of lovers, the sounds of feasting and singing.

5. Blessed are those who seek to real love.

Adapted From The Velveteen Rabbit

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit.

Said the Skin Horse: “It’s a thing that happens to you. When you are loved for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loved, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“It doesn’t happen all at once. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

6. Blessed are partners divinely joined.

From Sir Hugh Walpole

The most wonderful of all things in life is the discovery of another human being with whom one’s relationship has a growing depth, beauty and joy as the years increase.

This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is a most marvellous thing; it cannot be found by looking for it or by passionately wishing for it. It is a sort of divine accident, and the most wonderful of all things in life.

7. Blessed are those who find beauty and wonder in science.

From our teachers Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin: Hobbes, What’s it like to fall in love?

Hobbes: Well… say the object of your affection walks by…

Calvin: Yeah?

Hobbes: First, your heart falls into your stomach and splashes your innards. All the moisture makes you sweat profusely. This condensation shorts the circuits to your brain and you get all woozy. When your brain burns out altogether, your mouth disengages and you babble like a cretin until she leaves.

Calvin: THAT’S LOVE?!?

Hobbes: Medically speaking.

Spring Cleaning: Photography Version

My beloved 40D and accompanying lenses have gone unused for far too long. It’s time to get them into the hands of someone who will make great photographs with them far more often than I have been for the past couple years. So, the whole lot is for sale!

All of the gear is very gently used by me and me alone. The lenses and body are in great shape. And the lens are just fantastic ones. Seriously, that 85mm portrait lens is amazing.

gear

  • Canon EOS 40D 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera Body
  • Canon 430EX Speedlite Flash for Canon EOS SLR Cameras (Older Version)
  • Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Standard AutoFocus Lens
  • Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
  • Spare battery
  • Black Lowepro camera backpack
  • Sparkle Rainbow Unicorn not included

For someone ready to take their photography to the next level this would be a great kit. Or it’d be a pretty awesome graduation present. But if people are interested in the individual components I’m cool with that too.

Get in touch to talk prices (Google to get an idea of the pricing ballpark): michellej AT gmail DOT com

You need to be local to Louisville or at least local enough to come to Louisville and pick it up.

On Home

Kentucky Has Always Been Home

I’ve lived in other states but I did so not out of desire. And I always knew that as soon as the reason for living in other states ended (say my wife’s medical residency) I’d be heading back to Kentucky with the quickness.

As an adult Louisville has been where I make my Kentucky home. We’ve been back from our last out of state adventure for nearly 8 years now. It’s the longest my wife and I have lived in one place during our almost 20 year relationship. To be honest, I’ve never doubted that I’d live in Kentucky forever. Until now.

I think a lot about Portland, Oregon. I got to visit there over the fall and it was as beautiful and charming as I expected it to be. I also think about cities in other states where gay marriage is fully recognized. I’m not saying I want to leave Kentucky because the governor sued to keep my marriage from being recognized. I am just saying that if we were to move it would only be to a marriage equality state.

But why would we leave? I don’t have a reason, just a feeling. A feeling that home isn’t fitting exactly as it should right now.

What Makes a Home

Kentucky’s uncontested reign as “home” was rooted in two things: family and a deep love of place. It’s an odd thing to love a place. A place can’t love you back. It can’t show you emotion or affection. And yet you feel those things just the same. A cool October day in Kentucky is simply magnificent. The sky is radiant and trees are alive with color. The air feels like it’s just trying to get your attention, not actually make you cold. And as the sun sets the light, my god the light, is a golden glow of wonder that embraces everything. It is a beautiful thing to behold and it is a thing that feels like love.

But other places are beautiful too. Other places have mild fall weather and beautiful foliage. Other places have different rivers or mountains or oceans that help the sun create other kinds of light in the waning hours of the day. How can I know that I wouldn’t love one of those places as much as I’ve loved Kentucky?

Love of place is only one part of the equation. Family, as always, is the more complex issue. My wife’s parents don’t acknowledge my existence. It’s not an issue, I made my peace with it a very long time ago. But they love her and she loves them. They are aging and already have some serious health issues. We live about 3 hours away from them. Far enough that it’s not awkward they pretend I don’t exist, close enough that B can visit them whenever she likes or if there is an emergency. Moving all the way across the country would be difficult on B and heartbreaking for them.

My family is a cake of a different flavor (I’m trying a new expression out here, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). My relationship with my family isn’t exactly what I’d want it to be. Yes, I know, everyone has family issues. But let me bastardize Tolstoy: All happy children are alike; each unhappy child is unhappy in its own way. I am so different from my siblings (I left the farm for the city, I’m gay, I’m Jewish, I was a band geek and they were athletes, they work for our father and I work for the interwebs, I have a different mother and am in a different generation than them). Despite all those differences I love my brother and sister completely and always want to grow closer with them. In truth I wish for a better/closer/different relationship with many members of my family. I’ve never been able to find the secret formula for making that wish come true though. I live across the state from my family but it’s an easy and pleasant drive so visits are easily accomplished. Would I ever find that formula if I moved further away? Or, at 38 years old, is it time to stop looking for it?

So Now What?

Nothing I suppose. There are many reasons to stay exactly where we are: my wife’s job, our synagogue, the community of people in Louisville who support and offer advice on my various creative endeavors, the aforementioned love of place and family. But I think I should try to find something more, to make me happier with home again.

Perhaps I should travel more. I’ve grown to really enjoy travel, that wasn’t always the case. As long as I give myself enough time to recover after a trip the travel experience leaves me feeling happier when I come home than I was before I left. With my new job (yes, I have a new job yay!) I get paid vacation and that’s a perk I’m planning to take full advantage of.

Perhaps I should be doing more good works (donating, volunteering time). OK of course I should be doing more good works. I used to visit seniors at a retirement community and really felt good that the Louisville Jewish community had put together the program I was volunteering with. It made me feel proud of the city at large.

Perhaps I should do the home owner equivalent of retail therapy. There are some things about our house that I really hate. Maybe if I fix/change them I’ll get a jolt of happy each day when I look at them.

Perhaps I should try to shake my hermit tendencies and take more advantage of what Louisville has to offer. We tend to visit the same restaurants, shop at the same stores and participate in the same activities. More nights out, more visits to the parks, more walks through the neighborhood and more new restaurants might be just what I need.

Perhaps I should learn something new. I’ve flirted so many times with upping my skills and finally moving beyond HTML and CSS. Maybe this time I’ll follow through?

The New Newness

I guess I just really need to shake up the status quo. My new job is one way to do that of course and I’m really excited about it. But work can’t be everything and I need to up my game when it comes to self care and “personal development.” I’ll let you know how it goes.

2014 Year in Review

I keep a journal in which I write down things that happen each month. Some of the things are very important, some are very silly. Some I’d remember without writing down, some I want to make sure I don’t forget. Not all of them are appropriate to be shared but I like to share the ones that are.

Month by Month

January
– Decided to sell my car and become a one car family
– My dog had 14 benign growths removed
– My wife started a new job (a year later she still loves it)

February
– Applied for a job with ThinkUp
– Was hired by ThinkUp
– Our marriage was briefly recognized in Kentucky and then very quickly not recognized again

March
– Big snowstorm (well big for Kentucky)
– Began working for ThinkUp
– Fell sick with a GI bug, the sickest I’ve been in years in fact
– Got a gigantic federal tax refund compared to the previous 18 years of tax returns. Why? Turns out marriage is a huge freaking tax saver and the federal government recognizes our marriage

April
– Actually sold my car and we officially became a one car family
– Got new ceiling fans in the kitchen and master bedroom (Look, as a home owner you have to take note and be excited when you can)
– First night of Passover with the Zs, second night with the S-Ts

May
– Had to replace the downstairs toilet (see previous month’s note about being a home owner and taking note of things)
– Carpenter bee invasion
– Found out my nuclear family was planning a family vacation that my wife and I weren’t included in (it’s tacky to note this but it’s honestly what I remember most about May so there it is)

June
– Commandeered the remote control and turned off the “soap opera effect” on the tv in the bar at my favorite Thai restaurant
– Took our nephew to the Kentucky Science Center
– Vet thought Grace had cancer but thank goodness she did not
– Started consciously working to improve my handwriting
– The worst migraine of my life
– Started learning to knit again

July
– Went to a VFW hall to play bingo with friends (it’s way more fun than it sounds)
– A long stretch of perfect weather
– My wife got me a PS4 and a Batman cake for my birthday
– Finished re-reading the Game of Throne series of books
– Was asked to read Torah on Yom Kippur again

August
– Had a bat in our house
– Made plans to head to DC for our first wedding anniversary
– Emergency temporary med adjustment
– Grace had a series of bad infections and allergies. My poor sweet dog is on a million twelve meds now

September
– Went to Portland, Oregon for XOXO. It was an amazing trip overall and a spectacular conference. I’m very lucky I got to attend. I’m also obsessed with moving to Portland now.
– Saw Matisyahu in concert again
– LO/CJ clusterfuck that sprang from a concert of Jewish composers on Rosh Hashanah and the LO’s tone deaf response to criticism

October
– Celebrated our first wedding anniversary (a week late) in Washington DC. It was an amazing trip with a swank ass hotel suite, very good friends and so much good art and food
– The idea of bringing Menu and Hours back to life started to gain some traction in my brain
– Re-played a lot of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag
– Saw The Avett Brothers in concert (outstanding show)
– Brought this here blog back to life

November
– After several starts and stops I finally completed my first knitting project: a scarf, of course
– Found out my time at ThinkUp would be ending in December (startups are hard yo)
– Another Thanksgiving alone (it’s a tradition) playing lots of Assassin’s Creed Unity
– Thought more about what a back-from-the-dead Menu and Hours might look like and how it might be more sustainable this time around
– Handled some very adult financial planning stuff
– Re-launched Consuming Louisville
– Horrible decision by a panel of judges lets Kentucky pretend I’m not married for the foreseeable future

December
– With my time at ThinkUp done started looking for either a full time gig or to get back into freelancing full time (ThinkUp was always part time so I was still rocking the freelance hustle all year). At the moment I’m leaning more toward the former. I have a good offer I think I’m going to take.
– Celebrated the 6th night of Hanukkah with the Jewish residents of a nursing home/long term care facility
– Did a lot of baking
– My dad was briefly hospitalized for a heart procedure

Music Consumption

I use Rdio to listen to music about 90% of the time so their stats are the most revealing about my music habits for the year.

According to Rdio Matisyahu was the artist I listened to most while the album I listened to most in 2014 was actually released in 2011: Drake’s Take Care.

The songs I listened to most are in this embedded playlist.

The top 10 songs I listened to are:

  1. Over My Dead Body by Drake
  2. Welcome Home by Radical Face
  3. Elastic Heart by Sia
  4. Can’t Pretend by Tom Odell
  5. Started From The Bottom by Drake
  6. Everything Trying by Damien Jurado
  7. Cover Me Up by Jason Isbell
  8. I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers
  9. I Go To Sleep by Sia
  10. The Man by Aloe Blacc

Albums I purchased from iTunes or from Amazon this year:
A Love Like Ours by Dominique Toney
Black Messiah by D’Angelo
My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone by Lucinda Williams
Akeda by Matisyahu

Movies/TV

I get so frustrated with the movie theater experience these days we nearly always watch movies at home. We did recently see Exodus: Gods and Kings in the theater but that was because it was a fundraiser for the Hebrew school that started at 9:45am. With Hebrew school teachers and rabbis in the audience I knew everybody was going to be on their best behavior (and they were!).

I can’t remember all the movies we rented at home this year and didn’t keep a list. I’ll do better in 2015.

My favorite new tv shows of 2014 are Jane the Virgin and Black-ish. The Shonda Rhimes Thursday night lineup of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder held onto my affection.

Books

This year I re-read the Michael Chabon books that I love (Wonder Boys, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union) and still love them very much.

I read a lot this year, not as much as I’d like but a lot. Of all the books I read (I’ll keep better count next year) my ten favorites were:

Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel

Wolf in White Van
John Darnielle

Shotgun Lovesongs
Nickolas Butler

The Martian
Andy Weir

The Mathematicians Shiva
Stuart Rojstaczer

The Rosie Project
Graeme Simsion

The Children Act
Ian McEwan

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
Eve Harris

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers
Tom Rachman

Redshirts
John Scalzi

On the Holiday Season

When people say the “holiday season” they mean Christmas. Thanksgiving kicks off Christmas season and New Year’s Day marks its end. If you don’t celebrate Christmas it can be a strange time of year.

Though I came from a Christian background Christmas was never about anything religious. Occasionally I went to midnight mass with my stepmother but Christmas was about presents and food (shoutout to divinity, the world’s best candy and to my mom who makes it better than anyone). I get that it comes from a religious place but my experience of it has always been secular. So I never gave any thought to religion during the holiday season while enjoying the lights and food and presents and music during December.

And then I converted to Judaism.

Haterade

After my conversion I thought about Christmas a lot. Not because I missed it, but because I realized just how much you can’t escape it. You can’t move an inch in middle America during the months of November and December without being hit with some sort of Christmas decoration or greeting. Truly there is no way to opt out of Christmas, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

A couple years ago a bank teller wished me merry Christmas and I said “It’s not my holiday but if it’s yours I hope you have a great one.” I thought it was a pretty good response but it made him mad. It didn’t matter to him that I didn’t celebrate Christmas. It didn’t matter that I’d actually hoped for him to have a nice holiday. He just wanted me to participate in the ritual of wishing merry Christmas and was offended when I wouldn’t play. I was offended by his being offended.

Last year I took a different approach. As Christmas neared I wore necklaces with larger and larger stars of David. By the time December 25 rolled around we were almost to Flavor-Flav clock levels of Magen David-ness. It was awesome in its silliness. Well meaning people who noticed it would wish me a happy Hanukkah. Hanukkah overlapped Thanksgiving last year though so I had to tell them that Hanukkah ended weeks ago. Their faces dropped like I was the Grinch who stole all the holiday spirit. But they were committed to holiday greetings so eventually most said “Well, happy new year then.” It was their third choice in holiday greetings to be sure, but I think it made them feel better to say it.

The Love Below

Perhaps it’s because I’m so completely settled and comfortable in my Jewishness that I don’t think of Christmas season as my adversary anymore. And I don’t feel like a “bad Jew” for enjoying the secular aspects of the season.

Perhaps it’s because I have a nephew now. Christmas is his holiday and I want him to have a wonderful one.

Or perhaps I’ve watched Love Actually so many times I have completely absorbed the movie’s vision of a 100% secular and 100% awesome Christmas season.

I’m not sure what to credit with my change in attitude. What I am sure about is that this is the first year in many years that I’m enjoying Christmas music. I noticed that all the Christmas music I used to love has absolutely nothing to do with anybody being born in a manger. I also noticed that a whole lot of the Christmas music I used to love was written by Jews. There’s something deliciously fun about listening to Christmas songs written by Jews that have absolutely nothing to do with the religious catalyst of Christmas.

So here is my “Hanukkah and Secular Christmas” Rdio playlist. There are far more Christmas songs than Hanukkah songs on the list which makes sense when you consider that Hanukkah is actually a very minor holiday. American Jews make a big deal out of the festival of lights so we’ll be more integrated into American society. I mean what’s this time of year in America without a holiday? And Hanukkah food is pretty freaking awesome.

Of course this doesn’t mean that I’m not still mad that everything except Heine Brothers is closed on Christmas Day. I got errands to run yo.

Turn the Page

What’s Up

Working for ThinkUp over the past 10 months has been such a joy. ThinkUp is a fun app that adds a little more meaning to your time online. The company, founded by Gina Trapani and Anil Dash, runs on ethical business practices and true respect for customers. Seriously, ThinkUp respects its users and everyone who works on ThinkUp tries every day to make it even better for them.

But building a sustainable business is an uphill battle, even with all the good qualities that ThinkUp has. It’s a battle filled with challenges and hard choices. ThinkUp has just reckoned with some of those hard choices and myself and some of my very cool colleagues have been…let go? Laid off? Set adrift? There are really no nice ways of saying “the company has to cut costs so you don’t have a job anymore even though we still love you and you still love us” but that’s the situation.

Outside of building Menu and Hours, being part of ThinkUp has been the best work experience of my life. My job at ThinkUp didn’t have an official title other than “Helping ThinkUp members*” so I handled support requests, wrote documentation, had conversations on Twitter, wrote blog posts, did product testing/QA, lobbied for new features and generally represented the interests of our community of users. I was given the freedom to do whatever I could to make ThinkUp users happier, including giving lots of opinions on how the product should grow and change. For someone who loves technology and really enjoys helping people that’s pretty much a dream job. Add to that, the fact that my knowledge, experience and ideas were all shown the utmost respect and well, you can understand why I’m sad to no longer be on the ThinkUp team.

(*though Anil and I did agree on “Community Manager” as shorthand)

What’s Next?

I don’t know what’s next. I’ve been really lucky that over the past decade or so all of my jobs, freelance gigs and various projects have come to me through networking, recommendations, people experiencing my work or by my own hustle. So when someone asked me for a resume this week I kind of froze. I haven’t written a resume in years. My work has spoken for itself or people I’ve worked with have spoken for it. I feel like as a general web and communications geek I’m singularly ill-fitted to condense my work into a resume. Unless of course someone asks me to present a resume written primarily in emjoi. That would make sense.

While putting off even attempting to write a resume I’ve been responding to friends on Twitter and email who have asked what it is exactly I do and what kind of work situation I’m looking for.

My friend Tiffany asked if I’d like to get back into technical writing (the work I first did a million years ago). I said I’d definitely be cool with that and “ I *think* I’m pretty good at writing documentation & writing explanations for tech things in ways that muggles can understand.” My now ex-boss Anil confirmed that I am in fact pretty good at writing documentation & explanations for tech things in ways that everyone, not just advanced users, can understand.

I told my friend Kevin that I’m a “web technologist who will be the best advocate for your users and nicest point person for your community, all while writing the most clear and helpful documentation your product has ever had.”

Back in 2011 I drew a venn diagram of the kind of work I wanted to do and it’s still accurate:

venndiagram

I am open to part time and short term gigs. I am open to freelance situations. I am open to opportunities both at startups and “more established” companies. What I’m looking for most though is to be proud of the work I’m doing and who I’m doing it for. I want to work on products that I’d use myself or be happy recommending to friends and loved ones. I want to work for a company that doesn’t exist just to make money. I want to work for a company that strives to add a little delight and usefulness to the world through those products.

I’m based in Louisville and relocation isn’t an option so remote gigs are aces.

If you have leads on projects or jobs I’d be right for I’d really appreciate hearing about them. Drop me an email (mj AT michellejones.net) or let me know what’s up on Twitter (@michellej).

Earnest, Cheesy Section of Our Program

I’m an internet nobody in Louisville, Kentucky and I just spent the better part of a year working for two of my internet heroes on a very cool app. That’s the power of the web and I’m so lucky to be part of it. When I first put Gina’s personal blog into Bloglines (yes, I have been on the internet that long) or when my blog first appeared on Movable Type’s list of recently updated sites, I couldn’t have imagined getting to work with Gina and Anil. Thanks for the opportunity y’all, it was awesome.

And Music to End On

I totally chose the title for this post just so I could share my favorite Bob Seger song.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When the app I built, Menu and Hours, was released a couple years back it only got one piece of criticism that really surprised me: it wasn’t friendly to visually impaired users and it really should have been. The app made it dead simple to access the location, hours and menu information of local restaurants. The app was a direct response to restaurant websites that were image heavy or built in flash or only had PDF menus. As a non-visually impaired person those things were very frustrating to me, particularly on mobile devices. But imagine how frustrating it must be for those who rely on voiceover technology, at least partially, for mobile experiences. I didn’t imagine it. It wasn’t something I thought about at all. That was a tremendous failure on my part.

I was very lucky that a kind person affiliated with the American Printing House for the Blind pointed out how valuable the app could be to visually impaired users and how easy it was to update the app to make it friendly to those users. So I updated the app and it was a moment of such joy. It truly felt like “I make silly things on the internet but this is something good, this can help people.”

Menu and Hours died over a year ago (tldr: spent all the money I’d earned with the iOS version building an Android version that didn’t come close to recouping expenses) so thinking about it is bittersweet for me. But I’ve been reading a lot about diversity (or the lack of) in the tech industry lately and this incident keeps coming to mind. I think diversity for diversity’s sake is a good thing. I think it’s generally a better, more fulfilling experience to engage with people who are not exactly like you in terms of race, religion, geography, political opinions, sexuality, sports team affiliations, etc. I also think it’s just the right thing to do to acknowledge and respect these differences. But as far as diversity in tech goes I just keeping thinking about Menu and Hours. Specifically I keep thinking: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that the accessibility standards we used building Menu and Hours weren’t perfect. I didn’t know how a visually impaired person would actually use Menu and Hours in the real world. I didn’t know why the way we had done a couple things were problematic. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

When I finally did know, I made Menu and Hours a better product. I’m proud of that. I think about how many other apps could potentially be made made better if the teams building them were pulling knowledge from a wider pool of backgrounds and experiences. I’m ready for tech at large to be more inclusive and welcoming but really I’m ready for the awesome stuff that will come out of it.

On Marriage

“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers.”
6th Circuit April DeBoer, et al v. Richard Snyder, et al Opinion

I’ve been monogamously pair bonded with Belinda since I was 19 years old. I’m 38 now. This is not a new “social issue.” This is my life. For over half of that life I have loved, made a home with, cared for, been cared for, shared finances and real estate with another person. But according to the vast majority of voters in Kentucky that relationship doesn’t mean anything. And according to the 6th Circuit majority opinion, issued today, those voters should keep on getting to decide that my relationship is less than.

Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.
6th Circuit April DeBoer, et al v. Richard Snyder, et al Opinion

Better for who? Certainly not better for gay couples. While we are waiting for the majority of voting straight people to decide that their relationships aren’t superior to our relationships I wonder how many spouses will be separated during medical emergencies because they live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage? How many will not automatically inherit property when their spouse dies? How many will face significant financial burdens because they are excluded from the tax and insurance benefits of marriage?

I wish you could understand what this feels like. Actually I don’t. I don’t wish this feeling on anyone.

Our Jewish wedding contract

Our Jewish wedding contract

I don’t wish for you to know that your love, commitment and the very core of your being (make no doubt, loving Belinda is the very core of who I am) is deemed less than other people’s love and commitment. Not because it is actually less in any way but because of some people’s interpretations of translations of the bible. Yes, I said interpretations of translations of the bible. This is where I laugh bitterly and point out that I was married by a rabbi who knows the bible in Aramaic. And that I was married in a synagogue surrounded by a whole lot of Jews (and some Christians) who absolutely support my right to be married.

I don’t wish for you to know what it feels like to have judges say that it would be completely ok for voters to again and again and again determine that you are less worthy of respect than straight people. Part of respecting people is respecting the spouse they spend their life with.

I don’t wish for you to know how it feels to be financially punished for loving someone. I had to pay for power of attorney and health care surrogacy documents to make sure I can be with and care for my wife when she has surgery. That’s a dollar and cents financial burden slapped on me for loving and caring for another human being.

I don’t wish for you to know what it feels like to have judges say that if, someday, straight voters decide that I’m not less worthy of respect and love, then I’m supposed to consider those straight people “heroes” in “our stories.”

I don’t wish for you to know how it feels to be betrayed by your home. I was born in Kentucky, have lived the vast majority of my life in Kentucky and have moved back here after every job or education situation made me leave the state. If our governor hadn’t fought against marriage equality my marriage would have been recognized in Kentucky earlier this year. When no less than the governor sues to keep your marriage from being recognized it’s awfully damn hard to feel anything but betrayed.

I don’t wish for you to know how any of this feels. I wish I didn’t know how any of this feels.

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

Don’t tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying “Go slow!”
– Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddamn”

“Mississippi Goddamn” was written about racial prejudice and the discrimination and violence that stem from it. My inclusion of the quote here is not meant in anyway to minimize that struggle that is still being waged nor to appropriate its language and culture. But Nina Simone’s words and voice speak to me and speak for me like no other. I cried the day she died because her voice being gone from the world left me with a deep aching sadness. And at this moment, those words from “Mississippi Goddamn” are the truest words I know.

Watching Geese on a Rainy Day

It’s raining as I sit in a coffee shop staring at a blank document. I look out the window. Across the road is an empty field. It’s an odd empty field. On one side it is bordered by the interstate. On another the parking lot of a boxy office park. On the third, way off in the distance, houses. The fourth is the busy road the divides the field from the coffee shop and shopping center.

There’s a marshy area in the field that is currently occupied by maybe 30 geese. Geese are intimidating creatures so it’s nice to watch them from a safe distance. I notice that none of the geese are moving. They are just standing, in the rain, and all of them are facing the same direction, North. Is that the direction the rain is coming from? Or the direction the rain is going to? Or is it the direction of home and the feeling or scent of the rain reminds them? I don’t know but I find it fascinating.

The geese are not still, exactly. Heads occasionally bob, some bodies wave from side to side but they all look in the same direction. I watch for several minutes and then finally turn back to my work.

After some time the light from the window is noticeably brighter, the rain has stopped. I look to the field and the geese now appear to frenetically busy. Individuals are turned toward every direction. Heads are plunging into the marsh. Backs are being scratched with beaks. A game (or battle) of follow the leader with four competitors seems to be taking place.

I suppose I could Google why geese might stand in a uniform cluster, all facing the same direction in the rain. But it’s so much better to imagine possibilities. So much better to just enjoy observing instead of necessarily knowing.