The Big Think

December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 11:40 pm

And good riddance.

September 14, 2016


Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 3:23 pm

Hi friends,

We are writing this as a big email blast to everyone so that it’s easier to manage. Please forgive the non-personalization. 
Erin’s biopsy results came back this morning and we didn’t get the news that we wanted to. While one site tested as a benign cyst (which we expected after it popped during the biopsy) the other one came back as an invasive ductal carcinoma. This is the most common type of breast cancer. We’ll have more details about specific genetic markers/sensitivities/etc later on. But for now, we’ve just spent the day absorbing the news.
The good news is that it’s small (1cm) and there seems to be no lymph node incursion on the ultrasound (the sentinel biopsy will hopefully confirm that). So it’s been caught early. Still, it’s been a difficult week and this isn’t the way we had hoped the diagnosis would go. There are millions of women who have dealt with much worse diagnoses who are completely fine. But today has been hard.
We meet with the surgeon on Monday for an hour when we’ll find out what our next steps are. In the mean time, we greatly, GREATLY appreciate your ongoing prayers and little texts/notes of support. We have a very strong marriage and faith but any encouragement from our friends helps much more than you know.
We will beat this. Someday it will be a part of our past. But right now we’re both feeling like we don’t want to be Old and Wise. We’d rather we could go back in time and be Young and Ignorant. If you’re a woman in her 40’s make sure you keep up with your checkups. Don’t ignore that little bump because of fear or hoping that it’ll go away. As awful as this is for us, we both agree that waiting longer in blissful ignorance wouldn’t have been worth the price we’d have paid.
Knowing that people are praying for Erin is an immense support. If you have any groups you are a part of we would very much appreciate being added to their lists. It is especially encouraging to know that we are being prayed for, so please feel free to tell us.
We both have a strong faith. It’s being painfully tested, but it teaches us that all things work together for good for those that love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). We have to hold to that pretty tightly right now but we really do believe it. Our God is in control, even when we are very afraid. 
Jason and Erin

November 5, 2015

10 Reasons We Sold Our Television

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 11:55 am

10 Reasons We Sold Our Television: “9. I’m Actively Recovering
I’m a story addict. Serial shows are my nemesis, because they rarely ever resolve in a way that is satisfying. This means I (and every other television viewer) must keep watching and watching and watching a program to get an emotional payoff. This is death to my literary spirit. The best solution? Getting rid of the television and picking up a book, instead.”

The other 9 reasons are very good as well. I confess that we have a very nice 48″ flat panel, but this is used for RedBox movies once or twice a month and pretty much stays off the rest of the time.

Breaking the TV habit was hard the first month. Now that it no longer holds sway over us I don’t miss it a bit. Actually, I would actively campaign against ever plugging in the cable again. It’s basically given me years of productive time back — time that can’t be replaced and that would, I am sure, be regretted on my deathbed. Instead, I am using that time to develop skills, build an R2D2, read, and help Erin with her business. That extra time has become precious to me. Why would I pay to have that time taken away?

September 30, 2015


Filed under: Disclosure,Friends — jasony @ 12:44 pm

I work with college students. A lot of college students. Over the past quarter century I’ve probably interacted directly and intensely with two or three thousand of them (and tens of thousands more indirectly and sporadically). But I get to know the main ones really well. These are the cream of the crop. Then among that cream you have the real standouts. I keep doing projects for them after Baylor, we attend their weddings, baby showers, have lunch periodically, and keep in touch with each others’ lives.

Then there is Stephanie.

I met Stephanie back in 2009/2010 and we worked together to put her organization’s Sing act together. There was just something special about this group of ladies. We had a ton of fun in our meetings, sometimes going completely off the rails and laughing ourselves silly. Wasting time in a way that I do not regret. There was an immediate sense-of-humor match that you only get with certain people. I loved working with those girls and I think the feeling was mutual. Just tons of fun. Stephanie kept in touch after graduation and Erin and I see her once or twice a year. She’s even spent work/vacation time and flown down from the east coast to stay with us for a few days to hang out, talk philosophy, art, and literature, and just generally be around. She’s become a good friend to both of us.

Stephanie is one of those rare individuals who gets it. As a fellow scanner, she’s interested in a hundred different things and wants to learn everything about everything. Her bookshelf is eclectic, her conversation wide-ranging, and her interests deep and well-connected. I count her among my most intelligent friends. I’d happily throw her in the mix with any group of people age 20 to 90 and she’d hold her own, listen intently, and have interesting things to say.

I’m proud to call her my friend.

All this to say that the other day Erin and I got this in our email. It’s a perfect illustration of who she is and why we like her so much.

Ever have one of those moments when you just love people?

I have had a few of those recently.

First there is this book I’ve been reading about the rising trend of orthodox christianity in America amongst Generation X and Y.

Then there was my first Toastmasters meeting where over 30 young adults spent their Friday night making impromptu speeches and discussing language and presentation skills.

Then there is the maker faire and the exponentially growing line that wrapped the block by 9:45 for a faire that opened at 10. And within, the fascinating ideas – both in progress and come to life – that are captivating and inspiring and brilliant.

Then there is this TV show I started watching about people who “invented” the portable personal computer.

Then there was the church service yesterday where our pastor integrated Aquinas, Aristotle, and Kafka into a discussion about the Ten Commandments being about how we love people and what God’s rest for us looks like.

Today there was the Space Exploration TED Talks with this man who wants to mine the moon to great a gas station en route to planetary exploration AND also today i learned that John Green and his brother have their own educational youtube channel for kids and adults on so far “only” 14 topics because they want to learn new things and have an output for proving to themselves they have learned them so they are making videos teaching them. (John Green- that guy does EVERYTHING!).

I get so caught up in the people around me who appear so one-dimensional and identify as only one thing, are interested in only one thing, shriek at the suggestion of a non-fiction book club, and generally lack curiosity about anything beyond where are the best happy hour deals or excuses to leave work early to watch TV. 

I forget there are other people in the world. Ones I actually want to be like.

And when I find them, I fall in love with humanity again.

Right? Like I said: she gets it. Stephanie will live an interesting life.

There aren’t many people who stand out in our day-to-day lives. Most people will make a small dent and then move on. But Stephanie has made a big impact on us and we’re grateful to know her.

She has made a difference in our lives.

January 4, 2015

A Prop Story

Filed under: Business,Disclosure,Woodworking — jasony @ 5:38 pm

One of the great things about doing props for me (one of my main reasons, really), is to help the students, particularly the girls, feel more comfortable around tools. So many of them have never held a hammer (really), cut a piece of wood, or built anything in the “real” world. Over and over again I hear from them that one of their top five memories from the whole process is helping a pile of lumber become a bunch of props that they can be proud of. I do much of the cutting (and all of the cutting with the table and miter saw), but they handle most of the nail gun work, drilling/screws, jig sawing, and other medium duty stuff. They do probably 70% of the work with me managing, advising, and “big picturing”. If there’s a problem I toss it over to them and help them solve it. It’s important to me that they don’t stand around and “watch Jason build” because they’ll be invested in their props if they’ve got their own skin in the game (hopefully not literally). Since so much of college takes place in the cerebral realm I feel strongly that it’s a way that I can hopefully help them feel like they can do something physical/tangible.

(Funny sidenote: several years ago a pair of Sing chairs came down for props. One of the chairs was so blown away by the idea of building stuff that she called me a few weeks later to tell me that she’d been to Lowes to buy some tools! Then a few days later she called me again for advice on a present that she was building. She didn’t have a router — the tool that could make the cut she needed— so I came up to Waco and helped her finish the project in time for her roommate’s 21st birthday. The present? A beautifully made… beer pong table. Gotta love college).

Anyway, a group was down this weekend to build props. They did a fantastic job, transitioning in the typical way from “I’m afraid of that tool and don’t want to touch it!” all the way to fighting over who got to use it. I was really proud of them. We had a great time, worked fast, stayed safe, and I felt like I was able to give them a memory and maybe some skills that could help them feel more confident in the future. Man, I love this part.

However (dangit, there’s a however), today one of the girls’ dads drove down in his pickup truck to cart the props back to Waco. We had a few minor things to finish up – a few boards to glue/nail and some casters to apply. No big deal, and certainly nothing compared to what we’d done the past few days. About 45 minutes’ worth of work, tops. Anticipating that the chair would be proud of her new-found skills, I gave the tools to her and walked her through the procedure just like I’d done over our build time. I thought her dad would be proud of seeing her handle a pneumatic stapler, drill, driver, etc. At first she jumped right in there, proudly saying “look what I learned yesterday!” I was beaming, and so was she. But at the first little hiccup/problem, instead of stepping back and letting her puzzle through it (I think the stapler just needed new staples), her dad stepped in and took over. Completely. You know, because “I’d do anything for my little girl”. You mean like take her very minor but potentially significant milestone away from her? I kept wondering if he’d have taken over the tools if it was his son, you know? At first she sort of fought it but then reverted back to helpless-daughter-leaning-on-daddy mode. It made me really sad.

My biggest goal in props is to help these kids (gahhh… I called them kids!) gain experience and confidence with tools in the same way that being a Chair helps them gain experience and confidence with budgets, peers, scheduling, etc. I just hope that the other parents are willing and able to let their kids stand on their own, even if it means holding their tongue (and their help) when their kid has a problem. Overcoming these issues can be much more helpful to their child than just grabbing the nailgun and taking over.. because you’d do anything for your little girl.

Got news, dad, your little girl isn’t so little any more.

November 14, 2014

Rose Window Craftsmanship

Filed under: Audio,Business,Disclosure,Education,Music — jasony @ 1:56 pm

Okay, listen up, performers in all venues. Sing, Theater, public speaking. Anybody with an audience, really. This is a bit long but it communicates something I’ve always wanted to say. If you don’t have an “audience” then you can skip this. But in one way or another most of us do. I think this can help.

When I talk about the level of planning and execution that it takes to work at a really high level, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Take four minutes and watch this amazing performance (h/t Matt for the link). Pay attention to his execution, misdirection (watch what he wants you to watch, then rewind and watch what he _doesn’t_ want you to watch). Then keep reading.

This performance represents hours and hours and hours of patient, slow, methodical practice. Every movement is thought out and carefully crafted. What you’re seeing looks spontaneous and natural, but every twitch, gesture, and facial expression is being executed purely on muscle memory. He’s probably done this sequence of actions five thousand times. And no, that’s likely not an exaggeration.

THIS is the kind of thing I always have in mind while planning a show. You have to think on several levels. What levels? I’m glad you asked:

1. Emotional/Entertainment (highest level): what is your purpose? Not just moment-to-moment, but overall. What do you want to leave the audience with? A feeling of awe? Of sadness? Of quiet reflection? Of anger? Of joy? Each of these is a legitimate goal depending on your purpose. But you will never be able to communicate what you’re trying to say unless you _define_ what you’re trying to say. And saying “we want it to be good/awesome/amazing” isn’t enough. You have to define exactly where the target is or you’ll never know if you hit it. There’s a difference between the emotion you feel during the last scene of Schindler’s List (Liam Neeson standing by Schindler’s grave) and the final image of Monster’s Inc (“Kitty!”). But you can be sure that each of those moments was chosen as a goal. An end-state. And the emotion that you felt as an audience member was carefully crafted and manipulated within you so that when that moment came you were able to experience it clearly. “Manipulated” in this case isn’t a bad thing. There’s an implicit agreement among creators and audience members that this sort of manipulation is okay. I like getting emotional at movies. It’s okay if I’m in on it. Often it’s so easy to lose sight of your target because you get lost in the details. Keeping your goal in mind is always, always, always the #1 thing.

2. Structural: this is the second level of execution. What are the structural elements required to reach your emotional end-state goal? Why is doing that movement or gesture or motion better than that one? This kind of knowledge and understanding comes with experience. With seeing a lot of things that don’t work and then trying something else and something else and something else until you figure out what does and then putting that thing that does work in your bag of tools to use later. With enough time, your bag of tools gets big enough that you can start to see commonalities when presented with a problem to solve. Even better, you start to see connections between things that you never thought existed and can reach into your experience and solve a problem in a unique way. Your bag of tools will look different from mine and that’s okay. This is called personal style, and is a reflection of the particular experience we’ve each been through. However, the accumulation of these tools represents a common language that we all speak, even if we’re not aware of it. Being cognizant of the tools turns you from emotional consumer into experience creator. In our culture that’s a powerful place to be.

So the structural level supports the emotional/entertainment goals (everything supports the emotional/entertainment goals). Just doing the song/move/moment/whatever in a vacuum may be cool, but you have to attach it to an overall scaffolding of elements that builds to a goal in order for the moments to be meaningful. This, in my experience, is where most people lose sight of the bigger picture when putting together a project. They often think that just putting flashy stuff in will be enough. But you need the meatier elements to be present so that the entire thing has substance. In the case of my own work, placing the cool Sing move at a certain point can be neat and make the audience yell, but putting it in a specific spot for the right reason, with the right timing, can absolutely drive the moment home. Having an amazing opening stage image relate to a relevant and focussed closing stage image (even if it’s a “YEAH!” jazz-hands moment) shows craftsmanship and forethought. It looks polished and professional.

In whatever you do, always think about each structural element and how it contributes to the larger picture. Flying buttresses are an important innovation, but people travel to Notre Dame cathedral to see the gorgeous Rose window.

Yet the window could not exist without the supports.

3. Physical (lowest level): Finally there is the physical level. Also known as “ya gotta have the moves”. Once levels 1 and 2 are nailed down, level 3 thinking means doing like this guy in the video and practicing, practicing, practicing. Every movement and gesture. Polishing until they’re all perfect, lead naturally into each other, and contribute together to build a structure that supports the overall emotion. If you don’t execute this level then the whole thing can either look amateurish or come crashing down. So get this part right. Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong. And communicate this ethos to your participants. They need to know that the goal isn’t just good execution of the physical level, but good execution of the physical level in order to support the structural and emotional levels.

An audience’s time is one of the most precious things a performer can ask for. When 2000 people trust you with four hours of their time you become responsible for almost a year of irreplaceable human experience. Treat that sacrifice with planning, respect, humility, and (above all) practice and they’ll return your investment with attention and appreciation.

And somewhere, in all of that, everybody can be changed.


July 7, 2014

First Texas Honda takes the Long View

Filed under: Business,Disclosure — jasony @ 1:54 pm

In 2009 I bought my Tacoma through Toyota of Round Rock. For various reasons, it had to be this dealership (long story). It was an excruciating experience filled with all of the typical sleazy-car-dealer horror stories. “I’ve got to talk to my manager”, “what about my five kids”, “That price I promised you this morning isn’t the price any more”, “you have to have the undercoating”. You get the picture.

Erin has been needing a car for a while now and the time finally came. With great reluctance we stopped by First Texas Honda in Austin and talked to a salesman there. Not only are they a non-haggle place, but the TrueCar price we got through USAA was almost $1250 less than the similar “no haggle” price through Toyota of Round Rock. The sales guy (Greg, a ’91 Baylor grad who turned out to be the guy who mistook my apartment for his friend Steve’s place way back in 1989) spent probably five hours with us meticulously going through the entire process. Researching the car. Answering question. Multiple test drives. He seemed like he was having a blast not “selling” the car but really helping us find what was right for us. He even kept suggesting a less expensive Civic as opposed to the Accord Erin wanted since it might work better. What salesman does that? When we finally presented the USAA TrueCar price, which was $750 cheaper than even their “no-haggle” price, he met it without complaint.

After signing the papers today Greg and I had a long talk about how car dealerships and salespeople have largely earned the horrible reputation that they have, and he’s glad to see things changing, even if that means some of the bad dealers will close. Couldn’t agree more. What a night and day experience.

So just now the phone rang and it said “Toyota of Round Rock”. With a huuuge smile I answered it and talked to the salesman (who had been given our contact info as a result of the TrueCar contact info we filled out). Can I help you with anything? Why yes, yes you can. It really made my day to tell him “No offense, and I’m sure you weren’t even there in 2009, but that experience was so horrible that not only will I never return to Toyota of Round Rock, but I’ll make sure everybody I know hears about it as well. Oh, and your TrueCar no-haggle price? $1250 more than First Texas Honda. I wouldn’t come back to you if you paid me to. So no offense, and I’m not upset with you, but you need to tell your management that, if my experience is anything like the norm, you guys have some major reputation repair to do.” He thanked me and the call ended. It just made my day.

So we bought the car! Signed the papers and we’ll finalize everything on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a pic:


If you’re in the market for a new car, go talk to Greg Ryan at First Texas Honda.

July 4, 2014

It’s a Small World

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 7:27 pm

I win the “crazy story of the day” award:

In 1989 I was living at the Quadrangle at Baylor with Robert Durbin. One Sunday afternoon I was studying in the living room when suddenly this random guy came bursting through the front door asking for Steve. Does Steve live here? Hey Steve! Where’s STEVE?!? Wrong apartment! He was mortified and immediately backed out apologetically and shut the door. Robert and I laughed about it a lot. I probably talked to him for less than ten seconds and never saw him again.

Fast forward a quarter century to our test drive today while looking for a new car at First Texas Honda in Austin. Greg the sales guy was showing us an Accord when suddenly he stopped, looked at me in a really funny way, and asked me if I had gone to Baylor. Why, yes I did. Did I live in the Quad? Number 31? Yup.


Even better: it also turns out that he was good friends with a lot of the guides that I guided with at Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting from 1991 to 1993, knows Josh Ward (who’s pad Scott Amman and I crash at when we’re at Sing), and knew several other people that we know (he’s even been in their weddings).

It’s a small, small, _tiny_ world.

(and yes, we’re buying the car)

July 1, 2014

Tea’d Up

Filed under: Disclosure,Foodie,Travel — jasony @ 12:58 pm

Really sorely tempted to do this again this year.

May 12, 2014


Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 12:51 pm


Too true. I’ve discovered that the best solution to this is to simply let go of those people in your life who would rather argue and speak than listen and understand. I’m sure the self-appointed Irony Police would love to have a field day with the idea that you sometimes have to just stop engaging with those who won’t listen but there it is. There are many people who would rather listen and have a good back-and-forth and those are the people it’s better to spend time and limited life on.

Related: here’s a good breakdown on the levels of listening. Saw another essay a few weeks ago that was really good that I’ll have to look up.

April 28, 2014

The Hierarchy of Camping

Filed under: Disclosure,Hobbies — jasony @ 11:26 am

The Hierarchy of Camping: “”


Personally, I started up at the “Backpacker” stage and have slowly moved down the pyramid as I’ve gotten older. Far from being ashamed about it, I have the attitude of “hey, I’ve done my time”. I spent 5 years as a backpacking guide carrying everything on my back that we needed for up to 2 weeks at a time. And let me tell you, toting around the infrastructure and calories for 12-15 people for a couple of weeks resulted in some heavy packs. At one point, for a brief few hours, I was carrying a 120lb pack (the result of having to lash another guides’ pack to my own and carry both so she could run back to camp for an emergency). Been there, done that.

Post guide life meant we got a decent little tent and did some moderate backpacking. Then recently we started to enjoy car camping (with the same tent). Then a few years ago we bought a stand-up tent and (gasp!) cots!. With pillows, dagnabit. This insomniac doesn’t get a thrill out of lying awake at night with smug feelings of his own camping superiority.

We’ve tossed around the idea of getting a small RV of some sort but we’re pretty much limited by the paltry 3500lbs my truck can tow. A motorized coach would be nice but they’re a lot more expensive, require more maintenance, cost more to insure, and you have to pay for storage year round even though you may only use it a few weeks per year. So for the time being we’ll hover around the “well equipped car camping” stage.

For this outdoor lover there’s just nothing like a campfire and a light rain. That’s my happy place.

March 23, 2014

Concertino #1 for Piano

Filed under: Disclosure,Music — jasony @ 8:49 pm

A few years ago I embarked on a self-imposed assignment to write a short piano and orchestra piece in the style of Mozart. Why? No real reason other than to scratch an artistic itch. I’ve always adored the piano concerti of Mozart ever since I studied K.488 in A Major in college at Baylor twenty five years ago. I wrote a pretty extensive term paper on K. 488 and once I got my head inside it, loved it even more. It’s playful, joyful, and lighthearted. At times serious and at times childlike. Everything I love about music.

So I set out to use the style and general form of the concerto and compose something completely original, but in only one movement (hence “concertino instead of concerto“. It’s a “mini-concerto”). The form doesn’t prevent me from adding a second and third movement someday (which I’m increasingly being pulled into, I think), but it also lets it just stand on its own without structurally needing anything else.

The piece sat fallow on my hard drive for years until my friend Scott recently sent me something he had written. This encouraged me to revive the piece and complete it. It has completely taken over my life this past week. I probably spent 30-40 hours writing it and another 25 hours getting the score in shape and then recording each of the individual parts using my high end Logic East/West orchestral samples. It’s not as easy as just playing the parts in, however. When you hear, say, the oboe part shift from long held notes to short staccato to more emphatic phrases you’re actually hearing a subtle layering of many different oboe samples, each crossfaded (sometimes on a note-by-note basis) to get as authentic an oboe sound as MIDI instruments can currently achieve. Multiply that for all the instruments and you get an idea for the amount of tweaking involved. It would be a lot easier to have a live orchestra play it, but this way I’m able to do it for basically free (well, with only time invested) instead of paying the thousands of dollars it would cost to hire an orchestra.

So here, friends, is the result. My Concertino #1 for Piano. This YouTube video includes the score so you can follow along (full screen recommended. Also hi-def selected in the bottom right corner). It can be quite revealing to see what the music is doing as it winds around and inside of itself on its journey.

I’m very proud of this little five minute piece. I hope you like it.

Dedicated to my wife and best friend, because have you met her? 🙂

February 11, 2014

It’s All In Your Head

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 8:14 pm

13 Things Not To Say To Someone With A Migraine

It’s been a while since I had a bad one, but when they come, look out. The world pretty much stops for a while. Always feel like I’ve been hit by a truck when they’re over.

December 30, 2013

You Don’t Say

Filed under: Disclosure,Friends — jasony @ 9:47 am

“I want to graciously give, accept, and even believe compliments, but our hyperbolic language has rendered the entire industry of verbal admiration meaningless. In fact, I see and hear adjectives used so far past their definitions that the excess can have the effect of making me think the exact opposite of what the speaker or writer likely intended. This happens often in status updates and tweets where bloggers recommend each other’s posts. When I see “stunning,” “breathtaking,” or “extraordinary,” I can’t help but raise an eyebrow in doubt. I’m more likely to click on a link with a toned-down description like “thought provoking,” “solid read,” or “well said.” This culture of exaggeration has made me a cynic. I’ve become suspicious of words.”

How to Give a Compliment

I have a small slip of paper I carry around that says “If your criticism isn’t true, your praise means nothing”. I try very hard to avoid all these “AMAZING!” over-statements (not always successfully). Simple, heartfelt, and _thoughtful_ expressions seem to be the ones that make the most impact. In fact, I have a VERY thoughtful Christmas card on my desk from a former Sing Chair that just about made my year. No exclamation points, not a single use of the word “amazing”. Just a quiet declaration of appreciation and friendship. Not many things can occupy the Inner Sanctum of my precious desk space, but this one will be there for quite a while (thanks, S, by the way).

December 15, 2013

What Pain To Gain?

Filed under: Business,Disclosure,Education — jasony @ 2:47 pm

The Most Important Question You Can Ask Yourself Today:

“So I ask you, ‘How are you willing to suffer?’

Because you have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns.

Choose how you are willing to suffer.

Because that’s the hard question that matters. Pleasure is an easy question. And pretty much all of us have the same answer.

The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain?

Because that answer will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change your life.”

Why I Try Not to Write Bad Reviews

Filed under: Business,Disclosure — jasony @ 10:18 am

Why I Try Not to Write Bad Reviews – Bloomberg:

“To my regret, I am, as my family and friends will testify, neither nice nor sweet. And I have certainly delivered my share of scathing takedowns and over-the-top denunciations. But I’m not particularly proud of it, and as I backpack into middle age, I’ve been trying to cut down on the snark, along with late nights, red wine and almost everything else I enjoyed in my 30s.

If not because I am nice, then why? Out of pity for my victims? Oh, sure, that’s a factor. When I used to write mean reviews of people’s books, I thought of them as big, powerful people who deserved to have their work torn down. Then I started running into those people, and to my shock, they had read — and remembered — even reviews I’d written for obscure outlets. They were people who had spent years of their lives working on something — something they thought was really important — and I had spent perhaps two or three hours composing a sarcasm-filled denunciation. They were hurt, just like I’d be. This is both sobering and socially awkward.

But that’s not actually the main reason I avoid it. The main reason I avoid the joys of snarky takedowns is that it’s not very good for you. Snark is immense, immense fun; the only thing more enjoyable than chortling to yourself over a particularly well-turned insult is having your friends and acquaintances e-mail to tell you how awesome it was. But if you’re basically pretty good at snotty putdowns — and most bloggers have at least an apprentice-level facility with this art — it’s almost too much fun. It’s too easy. It’s the writing equivalent of skiing the bunny slope.

I have written some epic snark, and I have written a book, and let me just tell you, there is no comparison. Books are hard. Reported features are hard. Sarcasm and outrage are easy, which is why they tend to peak in adolescence, unlike, say, mastery of nuclear physics.”

What I do for a living is help guide young students, most of whom have never had any experience, through the difficult process of managing a giant, months-long project from conception to completion. At the end it is put before 12,000+ ticket-buying people for public consumption. While the applause is always loud and enthusiastic (the audience is, after all, made of of many supportive competitors who are also in the show), I’ve lost track of the number of people who think that buying a ticket to the show gives them license to publicly tear down the creators. Mind you, this isn’t the sort of constructive criticism that enables the performers/creators to improve the following year. It usually takes the form of witty, snarky, and even cruel evaluations of everything from how good someone looks in their costume (which is particularly mean if a performer doesn’t fit body norms) to just how well the particular group is liked. The really bad critics seem like they’ve never left high school.

Criticism has a place– but that place must be earned. I have a fortune cookie scrap I carry around with me nearly everywhere I go. It says “If your criticism isn’t true your praise means nothing.” Wisdom! It is very hard to create an atmosphere of safety where you can venture the truly stupid ideas (99% of which never work, but oh that 1%!) without feeling like an idiot. But creating that atmosphere, and creating within that atmosphere, is a rare and rewarding thing. I like to think that the people I work with get to create within this environment. It’s healthy, creative, and fun. It is gratifying to know that once they’ve run that sort of creativity gauntlet they will likely never criticize unthinkingly or cruelly again. Most people, like the writer of the article I linked to, start to see the subject of their criticism as a person, not just an opportunity to build themselves up.

Knowing that the Snarky Ones are out there just waiting to take their potshots and build themselves up at the expense of those who actually did the work is frustrating and disheartening. But teaching others to overcome those kinds of unthinking and immature critics is to know that you’re helping to train healthy and successful people- regardless of what they go on to create.

I have very, very little patience for snark. It’s cheap. It’s mean. And it betrays a shallow person who would rather tear other people, and their creations, down into smoking rubble than take the effort and risk of building something themselves. Those that have grown past this stage are the ones who go on to create worlds.

November 28, 2013

Stay Home, America

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 11:55 pm

Stay Home, America – “you’ve seen the news stories about the big retailers that have decided to open on Thanksgiving evening, to cram a few extra hours in before the so-called Black Friday sales. About a million Wal-Mart workers will have to be in by 5 p.m. for a 6 p.m. opening, so I guess they’ll have to eat quickly with family, then bolt. Kmart will open on Thanksgiving too, along with Target, Sears, Best Buy and Macy’s, among others.

The conversation has tended to revolve around the question of whether it’s good for Americans to leave their gatherings to go buy things on Thanksgiving. In a societal sense, no—honor the day best you can and shop tomorrow. But that’s not even the question. At least shoppers have a choice. They can decide whether or not they want to leave and go somewhere else. But the workers who are going to have to haul in to work the floor don’t have a choice. They’ve been scheduled. They’ve got jobs they want to keep.

It’s not right. The idea that Thanksgiving doesn’t demand special honor marks another erosion of tradition, of ceremony, of a national sense. And this country doesn’t really need more erosion in those areas, does it?

The rationale for the opening is that this year there are fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and since big retailers make a lot of their profits during that time something must be done. I suppose something should. But blowing up Thanksgiving isn’t it.

There has been a nice backlash on the Internet, with petitions and Facebook posts. Some great retailers have refused to be part of what this newspaper called Thanksgiving Madness. Nordstrom won’t open on Thanksgiving, nor will T.J. Maxx, Costco or Dillard’s. P.C. Richard & Son took out full-page ads protesting. The CEO was quoted last week saying Thanksgiving is ‘a truly American holiday’ and ‘asking people to be running out to shop, we feel is disrespectful.’ Ace Hardware said, simply: ‘Some things are more important than money.’

That is the sound of excellent Americans. “

Good words. I didn’t know this was becoming a Thing, mainly because we make it a point to *not* shop on Black Friday. I hate to see people involuntarily being sucked away from their Day of Thanks with family and friends just to increase their employer’s holiday take by another 2%. Go be thankful.

And good on Nordstrom, TJ Maxx, Costco, Dillards, etc. Extra good on Ace Hardware. Wish there was one around here I could go to. On Saturday.

November 22, 2013

Weather, Man

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 1:11 pm

It’s 37 degrees outside and I’ve got my fuzzy slippers, hot tea, and the window open (okay, just the storm door). Some of our favorite weather. Hooray for the cold and rainy! Begone, Texas summer. Away with you.


November 12, 2013

High i

Filed under: Disclosure,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 4:35 pm

Caring for Your Introvert – Jonathan Rauch – The Atlantic:

“The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts’ Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say ‘I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.'”

Funny and insightful. As a closet introvert who plays extrovert very well, I can definitely sympathize with his arguments.

Introverts of the world: UNITE! Or not, if you don’t feel sociable.

October 23, 2013

My Day

Filed under: Business,Disclosure — jasony @ 9:05 am

What a strange job I have. Today I woke up at 4am and gamed out my day (insomnia has been a real bear lately). Spend the first two hours developing a spreadsheet for some props. I’ll spend the next 5 or 6 hours writing music, then I’ll go to TechShop and spend the following 8 hours or so building a set of platforms for a school in Dallas. Then back here to transcribe orchestral music, do a bit of recording, and start to tackle corrections and fixes for clients. In between I’ll try and carve out an hour to glue together the remaining 2 jewelry displays for Erin’s pending business as well as start in on designing and engineering props for the show. I’m the guy you used to see on those variety shows that keeps ninety seven plates spinning at once. Except I’m occasionally asked to juggle. I’d be dead meat if I couldn’t manage my time and discipline myself well but fortunately this job has taught me that. Who needs Ritalin when you’ve got deadlines?

I’ll probably hit the sack around midnight or 1AM and lie there for an hour or so planning out tomorrow (or, more likely, take a Tylenol PM and knock myself out for 9 hours). I call it “roller coastering” where I get 3 or 4 hours of sleep for a few days, become nearly non-functional, then binge sleep under the gentle ministrations of a Tylenol PM. Lather, rinse, repeat until the work is done or my brain finally calms down. Ick.

Anyway, work is good right now so I’m not complaining. This time of year is when I usually get all sorts of calls to do stuff. What is it about November 1st that makes it such a deadline magnet? If I did complain, it would be that there are only 18 work-able hours during the day.

Tea = liquid sleep.

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