February 22, 2018

Tomorrow feels like a day of quiet

Every fortnight or so, I publish a list of links and things to read that have piqued my interest and made me think—something I like to call my weekend reading.” It has been almost two weeks since I posted my last one, but instead of sharing this on a Friday morning as I usually do, I’m posting this on a Thursday, a day earlier than normal.

The reason for the change in schedule is because tomorrow is my birthday. Usually, I’m not much for making a big deal about birthdays—I probably won’t tomorrow, either—but it didn’t quite feel right to release this weekend reading post on that day, for some reason. Something about tomorrow feels different: not momentous, but in fact, just the opposite. Something about tomorrow feels serene, reflective, and unassuming. It feels like a day of quiet.

Tomorrow, I will wake up in the morning, make myself an espresso, and do my work diligently and with enthusiasm, like I do every day. I will have a protein shake for lunch, and go to the gym after the work day is done. In the evening, we will pick up some takeout and sit on the couch and talk and maybe watch a movie and then read by the fireplace. In between it all, I will reflect on what it means to be thirty-six years old, and think about what I’d like my next thirty-six to look like.

Mostly, though, I will embrace the quiet, the stillness that comes with a day of reflection. I will listen for the raindrops against the window, the purring of our cat as she snuggles next to me on my desk. I will notice the crackling of the fire, and the laughter of my love. I will let the world around me be my symphony, and relish the brief moments of silence, thought, and appreciation that come between each movement in the grand performance of life.

We moved to London, Ontario, two years and one day ago. While I was excited to move to a smaller city, a smaller life, I was hesitant: what would it mean for me, someone who thrived in large urban spaces, to become a denizen of a mid-size city?

What it ended up meaning was that I was able to better discover who I was and what was important to me. I’ve become more involved in civic discourse and community organization, and more connected to the people who make and grow the products and food I use every day. I’ve thrived in a mid-size city; we’re due for a resurgence in smaller cities across this country and continent:

Vibrant small cities not only offer a hedge against the health of our big ones—certain as that health seems now—but a number of distinct perks of their own. They’re small enough for regular people to participate in politics and make a mark on civic life; small enough for responsive, local ownership over institutions and infrastructure like banks, broadband, retail, and food production; small enough for short commutes and easy access to nature. Newly populated by immigrants, small cities are no longer the staid, conservative outposts they once were. It’s time for some big ideas about how to make them viable again.

I don’t know where the world will take me in the future, but I know that I’m very happy to be in a mid-size city, for now. There’s immense opportunity in being in a place of this size, and so much potential to change things for the better. It’s that potential and opportunity that keeps me excited to be here, every day.

In case you missed it:

A few things to read and explore:

My love for Popeye’s Chicken is no secret; I’ve eaten incredible fried chicken, but I always keep coming back to Popeye’s because it is available everywhere and consistently excellent. It really is the Gold Standard” of fried chicken:

Popeyes feels like a D’Angelo track — it’s desirable in a way that embarrasses you a little bit, but it makes you come back for more. You might shield your eyes before walking up to a Popeyes because it’s just too damn fine and oh my God, me? Is it really calling for… me? You look side to side and back at your girls and back at Popeyes and feel a reassuring wink in your direction. Sup, shawty,” it seems to say to you as you ease up to the counter and order a three-piece combo with a side of mashed potatoes. You throw in a cinnamon apple pie because you’re feeling cute. Everything is going to be all right.

The MCM of fast-food chicken joints is ubiquitous. Popeyes is love. Popeyes is patient. Popeyes is kind. And nothing compares to the moments when you come face to face with the choice, nay, the calling to good meat.

I’m working with some citizens here to create a pedestrian advocacy group here in the city, but really, it’s an advocacy group for better urban design. This article on What Is A City Street is a perfect look at where our urban planning should be going:

We use our streets in primitive ways. Every time an agency or a utility company needs access to the largely unmapped tangle of conduits, pipes, cables, sewers, tubes, transformers, and trenches, it dispatches men with jackhammers to tear up the surface and then put it back for the next team to rip up all over again. The asphalt’s impermeability means that storm water sheets toward the gutters or seeps into fissures, blocking drains and bursting into potholes. In winter, plows clear lanes for traffic — at pedestrians’ expense . Snow towers on sidewalks and at bus stops, leaving narrow goat paths that only the most athletic pedestrians can safely navigate and forcing the elderly or disabled to stay at home. By night, dozens of private waste-hauling companies swarm areas that are dense with stores and restaurants , so workers can fling leaky garbage bags into trucks. Long-distance truckers triple-park their semis in front of a drugstore to unload a few cartons of deodorant, then go snorting off to their next destination a few blocks away. And even though the network of roadways has been optimized for cars, drivers regularly find themselves unable to go forward, reverse course, or hop out and walk, so they sit in caged fury, pumping toxins into the air. […]

In the 20th century, when vehicular traffic shaped urban design, optimizing streets was a process of constant trade-offs. A corner wide enough for a fire truck to maneuver is a terrifying one to cross with a stroller. Shortening drive times kills kids. Bus lanes crimp the flow of cars. The future street, though, will cut through those tensions. Cutting cars, easing travel, weaving nature through the cityscape, promoting good health, crafting technology, and creating a more vibrant city — these goals all reinforce each other, and are all eminently within reach. Unless, of course, New Yorkers decide that they enjoy gridlock and fumes too much to give them up.

It’s no secret that watching Black Panther was a highlight of this year so far. There are so many things I want to say, but so many of them have been said so perfectly by others. I especially like this piece, Behind the Revolutionary Power of Black Panther, by Jamil Smith:

Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multi­faceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it. […]

After the Obama era, perhaps none of this should feel groundbreaking. But it does. In the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fueled in part by the white-nativist movement, the very existence of Black Panther feels like resistance. Its themes challenge institutional bias, its characters take unsubtle digs at oppressors, and its narrative includes prismatic perspectives on black life and tradition. The fact that Black Panther is excellent only helps.

There were many reasons to love Black Panther; the amazing work on the costumes was one of the most obvious reasons:

African fashion has always been cosmopolitan, and Carter was careful not to depict it as frozen in the past. Contemporary designers across the continent are remixing tradition, creating innovative silhouettes and combining prints and textures. Carter and her team collaborated with several vanguard fashion houses to reflect the range of tailoring and textile production that animates the current African fashion scene. She was drawn to the impeccable Ghanaian-inspired tailoring of Ozwald Boateng, as well as Ikiré Jones’s florid textiles, which reimagine Nigerian culture through high Renaissance art. South Africa’s MaXhosa by Laduma, with its futuristic knitwear based on graphic Xhosa prints, and the peculiar silhouettes and color clashing of Duro Olowu—the Nigerian designer who dressed Michelle Obama—add an avant-garde edge. Together, the styles channel the dandified elegance of Congolese sapeurs and the transgressive spirit of the Afropunk festival to express the characters’ wide range of personalities.

The stories we tell others define who we are; more and more these days, the stories we tell about our country, about our culture, are conveyed through headphones. I loved Bryan Curtis’s framing of podcasts as the new soft diplomacy:

An American who spends time abroad inevitably reports the same discovery: that foreigners know more about our politics and culture than we do. In the month I’ve lived in Melbourne, I’ve learned a new corollary to that rule. Foreigners not only know more about America than we do; they are also more caught up on The Daily. […]

If podcasts have become the new soft diplomacy, Haultain said, it’s because they can offer things that the old standbys of American culture mostly can’t. […]

At its core, soft diplomacy is about transmitting American values around the globe. In the podcasts she listens to, Haultain hears new American values.

I learned how to create websites, twenty years ago, by visiting my favourite ones and then looking at their source code. That’s actually how I cobbled together my first web diary” back before I discovered blogging software. I’m sad that we’ve gotten to a point where that kind of discovery is harder to do because of the way we create complexity in the way we share things online. (For what it’s worth, I work pretty hard to make every page on this site to have easy to understand, easy to read, and easy to replicate source code.) This talk, Everything Easy is Hard Again, by Frank Chimero really hit hard:

So much of my start on the web came from being able to see and easily make sense of any site I’d visit. I had view source, but each year that goes by, it becomes less and less helpful as a way to investigate other people’s work. Markup balloons in size and becomes illegible because computers are generating it without an eye for context. Styles become overly verbose and redundant to the point of confusion. Functionality gets obfuscated behind compressed Javascript.

Illegibility comes from complexity without clarity. I believe that the legibility of the source is one of the most important properties of the web. It’s the main thing that keeps the door open to independent, unmediated contributions to the network. If you can write markup, you don’t need Medium or Twitter or Instagram (though they’re nice to have). And the best way to help someone write markup is to make sure they can read markup.

Almost two weeks later, and I still can’t stop staring at this incredible portrait of President Obama. For context: the Obamas’ portraits are not what you’d expect and that’s why they’re great.

Portrait of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood premiered fifty years ago this week; it was my favorite television show growing up. Now, Fred Rogers is getting his own postage stamp, deservedly:

Mr. Rogers gets a stamp

I’ve written about re-using tea bags before, but I’ve never thought of using tea bags as canvases for art, as Ruby Silvious does:

Ruby Silvious uses tea bags as canvases for art

Ruby Silvious uses tea bags as canvases for art

And a few more:

Before you go, another gem from Reza Farazmand:

What if no one knows anything?

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