December 30, 2005
All the Best...

Sadly, I have never gotten a card like this. In fact I would be tempted to make one myself.

We have reached the age when our holiday mail contains equal parts greeting cards and equal parts photo cards. To be specific, many of our friends and relatives now reflexively include photos of their children in their cards. In fact, a number of them have dispensed with the card altogether and just send us a picture of their children. This is a nice thought, particularly when we have seen the children sometime in recent memory (because then we stand a chance of recognizing them, instead of standing around puzzling 'Did the baby have that kind of nose?').

This phenomenon is interesting to me on a number of levels. It was not in vogue when I was growing up in the '70s and '80s. In fact, it was all my parents could do to get me to sit for a hideous school photograph once a year. Believe me, I am thankful that these photos were not copied and distributed to everyone we know at the holidays.

It will also be interesting to see what these parents will do when their children hit their teenage years and cease to be cherubic and have bad skin, weird haircuts, and possibly piercings or whatever the next generation has. It is my hope that when this happens, our friends and relations will not relapse back into greeting cards but will be moved to send us pictures of themselves. It doesn't have to be fancy; a fun vacation photo will do, or in the absence of a vacation, a photo of themselves with a favorite car, pet, or fruit basket could be fun. A way of saying "Hi, remember me? Still out here, still alive, still more or less the person I used to be."

In the meantime, there is still the problem of what to do with all of these pictures of other people's offspring. A friend has come up with a solution: mail them to someone else. Even if you don't have children. That would prompt some head scratching, or even a phone call or letter and, voila! A friendship revived.

Tips on how to avoid photo card flubs! This one is catchily titled "for God's sake, sit up and get your crotch out of the photo." Words to live by!

Posted at 06:13 PM
December 27, 2005
Good Read

One day after I'd heard Mother reading the Jungle Book to Sally and Jimmy, I went up to my room with a new ambition. Soon my wails of agony reached through the house, and Mother came running upstairs frightened nearly silly. "What happened? What is it?" I pointed to an almost blank sheet of paper and wept anew. ..."I c-can't write like Kipling," I sobbed.--Hildegarde Dolson

If there ever comes a day when E. finds me weeping over my keyboard, it will not be over Kipling but over the fact that I can't write like Adam Gopnik. His blog for Powell's last week is a fun read, mixing pop culture, mythology, literature and culture, each post with a beginning, middle, and end somehow taking you back to the beginning. Must go find a handkerchief now and mop my tears from the desktop.

Posted at 06:38 PM
December 20, 2005
Lights of the Season

B&W is taking a holiday break. Back on the 27th or thereabouts. In the meantime, enjoy the city lights!

Posted at 06:45 PM
December 15, 2005
Misty Water-colored MP3s

Delighted to see some of the Bloomington music scene history documented, complete with downloads, at the Indiana band site Musical Family Tree. My favorite addition is this band, one of the first groups I ever interviewed in person. The music holds up well, particularly the jazzy/surfy instrumentals, although the their hallmark sax solos are notably not the kind of thing in vogue today.

I wrote reviews of this band's late '80s cassettes and I think they even wrote up notes about each track and what it meant to them. Certainly more trouble than most bands take today. Listening to this music brings a number of thoughts to mind, but looking back I am struck by how musically clueless I was for a 20-year-old music writer. I'm sure I committed some howling errors in my time and I'm relieved I didn't commit even more. Whew!

A little more information here. See also the history of our favorite hipster club, complete with flyers.

Posted at 09:32 PM
December 14, 2005
Oh Dark, Dark, Dark

Oh dark, dark, dark, withdrawn from joy and light!
--From "The City of Dreadful Night," James BV Thompson*

Fifteen years ago when I first visited Chicago in the winter, I was shocked at how early it got dark outside this time of year. Now after 10 years of residency here I still find that while others may hanker after warm weather, I look longingly outside and think of long evening walks--in the daylight. Currently we're creeping toward the shortest day of the year and from there it can only get better. I find myself counting the days until I am leaving the office in the daylight again. Till then, I will be monitoring this handy tool, which you creates a sunrise and sunset calendar for your location. Meanwhile, I will be taking comfort in knowing that I do not live in Copenhagen (sunset 3:36 p.m.), Reykjavik (sunrise 11:12 a.m., sunset 3:32 p.m.), or Glasgow (sunset 3:30 p.m.). But ah, to be in Buenos Aires right now (sunset 8:01 p.m.)!

*My, we're getting a little too serious here. Whatever can be done? Let's see now:
The new shavings come, the old go
Oh dark dark dark they all
Go into the dark
The sodden chips of pine,
The uneaten carrot, the too-sour orange,
Your lost cufflink and collar button,
The tax receipt I've been chewing on,
Strips of the Wall Street Journal
The Stock Exchange Gazette
All go into the dark
--from NOT TS Eliot's "Four Pigtets"

Posted at 06:34 PM
December 08, 2005
This Charming Ann

I would go out tonight
But I haven't got a stitch to wear.

Several thoughts about this news story, in no particular order:

Check out that photo. One good reason to cut my hair: so that I don't get mistaken for Ann Coulter, for crying out loud.

On the other hand, she's wearing some nice boots. In fact, it's a cute outfit. Too bad her ideas are so ugly (I'm no fan of her tooth-and-claw conservatism but worse is the lack of graciousness detailed in the story.)

Elsewhere, we turn our sights to the world of ideas. Could you use a daily e-mail about literature, publishing, and the arts? If you are like the B&W elves, the answer is probably yes. Go here: I'll be subscribing and hope to be accordingly elevated.

For more ann-otations, see this article.

Posted at 08:13 PM
December 06, 2005
Backyards and Fences

Urban planning enthusiasts in Chicago will enjoy the ongoing observations and commentary at West North. Recently thought provoking is this post about a community group's response to a proposed development in Wicker Park. We've seen similar development-related activity in my neighborhood--some good, some not so good--and the community response. There are lots of opinions to have about this issue, but it's also instructive to watch who's doing the talking. This sentence in particular sounded familiar to me:

I find it profoundly undemocratic that thirty four self selected individuals, almost uniformly white and middle aged, can claim to have definitively spoken on behalf of a neighborhood with 15,000 residents.

During a local meeting about gentrification last year, I noticed a similar dynamic and found it troubling. A very limited group was making decisions that were going to affect a large number of people who weren't being represented. But how to get the immigrant shopkeepers, the hipster kids, and the stroller-pushing set involved in these groups, much less to participate in such discussions? Or are they all killing time before they exeunt to the suburbs? It's certainly an uphill battle and while such community groups are certainly well intentioned, I am not deluded that that their voices are representative. They're just louder than anyone else.

Posted at 07:50 PM