Archives: December 2014

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.