Friday, October 11, 2013

Life Update: My gamification system, ten months in.

Well, hello there! And sorry that I haven't gotten a chance to update either of my personal blogs in so long (both this one and my main journal over at As those who regularly keep up with my life at Facebook know, 2013 has seen just as many growing pains with my arts organization, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, as 2012 saw, and for the last ten months I've been doing nothing but desperately playing catch-up with everything CCLaP is behind on, to the point of literally making myself sick on several occasions. But we've got lots of new people on staff, in three days we'll officially have released every book we're doing this year, I'm finally all moved and settled into my new apartment, and I'm finally getting back on track with everything; so I'm hoping that means I'll be getting a series of updates written and posted soon about all the things that have been happening to me this year. It's a lot, and it's going to take awhile to get it all written out for you, so here's hoping it won't take too terribly long.

In this post -- an October update from the "Gamifying all the crap I hate doing" system I started at the beginning of this year! As regulars remember, this is something I started because of a post I read at at the beginning of this year; it basically recommended assigning points to things one hates doing in one's daily life, much like you might assign to a child for doing their chores, then with a series of rewards you can 'turn in' for a certain amount of points, the main pleasure being not the rewards themselves but the luxury of cashing in such "indulgences" guilt-free.

So for example, since January I've been rewarding myself with one point every time I do something I dislike doing; shaving, for a good example, or biking to the post office, or doing one hour of bookbinding work, or sweeping my apartment, or emptying every trash can in my apartment, or getting something off my to-do list that's over six months old. And then the original plan was to turn in these points directly for little rewards -- so 25 points, for example, which I can typically generate in one week of steady work, gets me a night of beer and pool, or one dinner of takeout food -- but what I discovered was that this "one point = $1" system was not feeling very fair when all was said and done, what with some of my basic rewards only being worth $10 or 15 in the real world, so now I grant myself one "gold star" for every 25 points I accumulate, and with my rewards now based on stars instead of points. So basically any reward I want to turn in whatsoever is now worth at least 1 star, which lets me turn them in for tiny rewards like a night of pool and beer without feeling that I'm underspending myself; but the "1 point = $1" rate still applies for big rewards that require multiple stars, so for example if I want to spend $100 at a used book fair, I have to expend 4 gold stars in my reward system. And if I don't HAVE four extra stars, I don't get to spend $100 at that book fair; and that's what keeps my indulgences equal to the amount of work I'm actually doing, while still feeling that even little rewards are worth it, as opposed to when I was spending the points directly on tiny little rewards.

And how are things progressing at this point? Well, I started this system back in January, and I said at the time that I'd be extremely happy if I reached 1,000 points at the end of one year; and here we are, ten months into the system, and I've now racked up 1,300 points. AND THAT'S GREAT, because that was the entire point of trying something like this, to build up a lot of daily crap work I hate doing; and obviously I'm at a higher point right now than I was even expecting. But yet the entire system really balances itself out, because I'm literally not allowed to spend money on self-indulgent items unless I've built up a certain amount of back work on finishing and promoting the things CCLaP does, and it's this finishing and promoting that leads to the kinds of sales that lead to the kinds of money that leads to the kinds of points that leads to these indulgences in the first place.

And again, just to be clear -- it's not the rewards themselves that I treasure so much (it's just a night of pool, just a used book); it's the opportunity to indulge in these rewards guilt-free that is the main pleasure, which as a self-employed middle-ager is the thing that's truly difficult in my life, not to pamper myself but to feel like I earned that pampering. That's the single best thing about this reward system, besides it being a remarkably self-correcting way to determine just how many nice things I deserve in life; because when you're spending your savings on these indulgent rewards, it's difficult to do so unless you feel like you truly earned them, and this point system is a way to determine that without feeling guilty. It's a way of feeling like this entire system is balancing itself out naturally, so that you're only patting yourself on the back exactly the amount that you deserve to be patted on the back.

So yes, back in January, I said that if I managed to reach 1,000 points in twelve months, which I thought was going to be difficult, I would reward myself with a vacation to the Caribbean (specifically Puerto Rico); and here we are, only ten months in and already 1,300 points ahead. So am I going to be taking that Caribbean vacation? Well, no; because since making that decision, I've also made the decision to move into a new apartment, which was a BIG MAJOR FUCKING CHANGE TO MAKE IN MY LIFE HERE IN CHICAGO, and which by definition cancelled out all the plans I had previously made to have a big self-indulgent vacation in a far-off exotic island. (I had budgeted $3,000 to move into the new place, and to buy all the new furniture I needed to expand from a studio apartment into a one-bedroom; but I ended up spending around $5,000 instead, which was all the extra money I had in the bank, which means I no longer have an extra cent to go down into the Caribbean.) I mean, I'm glad, don't get me wrong; I'm glad to be in the new apartment, and I'm glad to own the $2,000 in new furniture from hipster creative-class places that I now own, the couch and recliner and chairs and tables and loft frame and computer desk and coffeetable and bookshelves that I used to NOT own and that I now DO. But certainly that means I can no longer even begin to afford a trip down to the Caribbean, although I take comfort in the idea that my move to my new place actually took place right around the time I reached 1,000 points.

So what's the plan for rewards now? Well, for the time being, I'm still SUBTRACTING points I'm earning from the thousands and thousands of dollars I spent moving into the new place, because I literally don't have enough money in the bank to indulge myself in even the tiniest amount of self-indulgent rewards; so as of today (October 2013), I'm up to 12 indulgence stars without being able to yet afford to buy something new, so I'm going to keep adding up those stars until I finally CAN afford to buy something new and self-indulgent in my life. And when that happens, I will have considered my "psychic debt" finally paid off for that move into the new place and all the new furniture that move required; and then I'll finally be ready to start adding up those rewards again to new self-indulgent presents. And like I said, this turns out to be a remarkably self-sufficient system; so much so that I HIGHLY recommend all my creative friends trying this in their own lives themselves.

Okay, so enough about this boring subject. 11pm here in Chicago and I think I'm ready for bed; and hopefully soon I'll be getting everyone caught up on everything else going on in my life these days, and I'll finally be ready to move forward with all the things I"m getting done right now. As always, more later!

Life Update: I'm now eating a Mediterranean Diet!

Well, hello there! And sorry that I haven't gotten a chance to update either of my personal blogs in so long (both this one and my main journal over at As those who regularly keep up with my life at Facebook know, 2013 has seen just as many growing pains with my arts organization, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, as 2012 saw, and for the last ten months I've been doing nothing but desperately playing catch-up with everything CCLaP is behind on, to the point of literally making myself sick on several occasions. But we've got lots of new people on staff, in three days we'll officially have released every book we're doing this year, I'm finally all moved and settled into my new apartment, and I'm finally getting back on track with everything; so I'm hoping that means I'll be getting a series of updates written and posted soon about all the things that have been happening to me this year. It's a lot, and it's going to take awhile to get it all written out for you, so here's hoping it won't take too terribly long.

First up, a new project in my life -- I've decided to spend the next year trying to eat almost nothing but food that traditionally fits into the so-called "Mediterranean Diet!" And that's because I'm fucking disgusted with the way my body looks when I'm naked; not the overall weight (I'm 6'0" and 175 pounds, just about perfect), but the amount of fat that hangs around my middle like a bloated, pale, nightmarish baby out of a horror movie, so incredibly common among middle-aged males like me (I turned 44 this year) who have a history of refined carbohydrates, such as pizza, pasta, beer, big rolls for sandwiches, and potato/corn chips (SO many potato/corn chips). First identified and academically studied in the 1960s, the typical diet found along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (including such European countries as Spain, France, Italy and Greece, Northern African countries like Morocco and Egypt, and the entire "Holy Land" of Israel, Syria, Libya and more) is supposed to be a natural antidote to this carb-heavy diet we Westerners have developed over the last half-century, without going to the extremes of a "diet" diet like Atkins; so I've decided to try sticking to this type of palette and menu for an entire year straight, combined with my usual daily bicycle rides or trips to the gym, to see just what kind of shape my belly area might be in by this time next year.

So what exactly does this entail? Well, I've read a number of books on the subject now, and here's how things boil down in terms of most common and most easily remembered advice…

--Fruits and vegetables: 10 servings a day (1 serving = 1/2 cup fresh fruit; 1/4 cup dried fruit; 1 cup raw vegs.; 1/2 cup cooked vegs.) Or more simply, 3 cups of vegetables and 3 cups of fruit per day. Or even more simply than THIS, make half of every meal vegetables or fruit. This is THE most fundamental key to the Mediterranean Diet being as healthy and as slimming as it is, that it skews so incredibly heavily towards most of your daily caloric intake being fresh vegetables and fruit; and it turns out that when you're ingesting such stuff, without all the additives found in so much processed versions of these fruits and vegetables, you can eat almost as much as you possibly could want every single day. Because seriously, have you tried eating six cups of fruits and vegetables every 24 hours? I now have, and every time I get full long before I reach my maximum.

--Grains: 3 servings a day (1 serving = slice of bread; 1/2 roll; 1/2 cup cooked grains). The major key: ONLY "WHOLE GRAIN" PRODUCTS, which means literally that the product was made out of all three major parts of a piece of grain, while "refined" grain (i.e. white flour, white bread, white pasta) means that two of these three parts have been removed because traditionally people have felt this makes the grain "bitter-tasting," then the remainder cut with bleaches and other preservatives to make the white color we '70s kids are so familiar with. And please note that "multigrain" is not the same thing as "100 percent whole grain;" it simply means that a number of different grains were combined, but it could've very well had the most nutritious parts of the grain seed stripped just like white bread.

So what does this practically mean? Avoid all white bread, white pasta, white rice, tortillas, pizza dough, potato chips, corn in any form, and pretzels; stick to popcorn, oatmeal, brown rice, brown flour, brown pasta, couscous, whole wheat crackers like Triscuits, and new-age-friendly bean chips and lentil chips (which I can now attest taste just as good as plain ol' potato chips). Also, for those like me who are trying to get rid of a spare tire, it's good to think of grains as always a side to your dinner instead of the main entree; or in other words, skip the "pasta with such and such" meals and just make the "such and such," with a small side of couscous or rice pilaf or toasted barley.

--Legumes: 2 cups a day. In a diet short on meat (but more on that in a moment), legumes are a major source of protein; they include things like hummus/chickpeas, lentils and all forms of beans.

--Nuts: 1 oz a day (50 pistachios, 25 almonds, 15 sesame sticks, 14 walnut halves, 170 pine-nuts). Another major staple of the Mediterranean Diet, you should always reach for these every time you have an urge to snack, backed with legume-based chips like beans and lentils.

--Dairy: 2 servings a day (1 serving = 1.5 oz cheese; 1 cup milk/yogurt; 1 egg), but with the key being only low-fat milk and yogurt. Also, never have eggs more than once a week; and any day you include cheese in a dish, skip cheese altogether the next day. (Need more calcium than this? You can get lots of calcium as well from almonds, figs, sesame seeds, salmon, and leafy green vegetables.)

--Fish: 2 to 3 servings a week. When it comes to animal flesh, this is the main choice in the Mediterranean Diet, for obvious reasons; and as you can see, even it is not turned to so terribly often. Most common fish associated with the Mediterranean: salmon, sardines, tuna, mussels, and oysters. Best fish for buying frozen and then re-thawing: shrimp, squid, tilapia, sole, snapper.

--Chicken and red meat: 1 serving a week. Beef is almost unheard of in the Mediterranean Diet; instead turn to lamb and pig, and more often simply serve chicken.

--Olive oil: 2 to 4 tablespoons a day. And much more importantly, SUBSTITUTE ALL BUTTER IN ALL RECIPES FOR OLIVE OIL, at a 75-percent ratio. One of the biggest factors of all in the Mediterranean Diet being as healthy as it is.

--Red wine: 1 to 2 glasses every night. Hoorah! I miss my beer, but I don't miss my beer gut.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges always for me with specialized diets is that I'm a single male, with not much reason to cook very often, and with bulk purchases always pointless because things go bad so quickly; so the basic plan for me is to start every morning with some sort of combination of yogurt, fruit and oatmeal, have either a soup or salad for my main meal every weekday, and supplement it with lots of nuts, legume chips, vegetables, dips like pesto and hummus, fruit, frozen fruit bars, and popcorn. LOTS AND LOTS OF POPCORN. And then every Friday evening, starting next week, I've decided to commit to a major sit-down, "slow-cooked" meal of fish or chicken, which I will dutifully record for all you Facebookers and other social mediers; and now that I'm in the new apartment with all the fancy furniture and red walls and shit, I'll also be inviting anywhere from three to seven other people over on most Friday nights, to help partake in these fancy slow-cooked dinners. Combine this with daily visits to the free gym on the first floor of the fancy new apartment building I'm in, and I'm hoping this will quickly get me into the kind of shape where I can start dating again, which I haven't done in a decade. (This was another major reason to get the new apartment, after all, was to have a nice enough place that I could invite women over; but since I'm still sickened every time I look at myself naked, it's still going to be awhile before I start getting into the habit of asking people out. And hey, hopefully these Friday dinner parties will help grease that wheel!)

Okay, so that's enough about the new diet plan; next up, an update on my "gamifying all the crap in my life I hate doing" plan, in which like a child on allowance I assign myself points every time I do something I dislike doing (going to the post office, updating CCLaP, cleaning my bathroom), then assign rewards based on how many points I'm spending. (25 points = night of beer and pool at my neighborhood hipster tavern; 50 points = rare book; 75 points = EXPENSIVE rare book; 100 points = out-of-town trip; 150 points = new iPhone). I've been gamifying all this stuff for ten months now, and the results have been surprising!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Photo essay: A "magic hour" bike ride through Lincoln Park.

I had a CCLaP meeting to attend at North and Clark at 6:30 this evening, so it gave me a good excuse the ride the entire southern half of Lincoln Park during the "magic hour" of sundown, when the light is all goldeny and slanty. I want to try to get this whole thing posted and done with quickly, so I will probably keep the comments to a minimum. This is one of my major bike routes during the warm weather, because it lets me dash up and down the north side in no time at all, so there will be many more detailed reports like these coming throughout the summer.

Every bike ride starts with this view, of the back alley behind my apartment building, since we're not allowed to bring bikes in and out the front door. It's just half a block until the end of the alley, which takes me to Kenmore Avenue where I go either north or south, in this case north one block and then Buena Avenue east to the lake.



I mostly enter and exit the park at Buena Avenue, 4200N by the city grid, which takes me through this little cul-de-sac known as Peace Garden. I've tried to research this little area over the years and have so far had little luck, other than to find out that it was created sometime in the early '70s as a countercultural refuge against the mostly Victorian and Edwardian Lincoln Park. The statue is brand-new, just installed last year.


Some of the baseball fields in front of the Waveland Country Club, this entire area of the park first developed during the Edwardian Age of the 1910s, and nearby a playground. The bike trail in this area of the park is mostly like you see it here, gently winding between parkland and the highway nearby.

The totem pole at Addison Avenue, or I should say the replica totem pole; the real one was donated many years ago to a Canadian museum from the same area where the pole originally came from. We're directly across from the Boystown gay neighborhood here; during the hottest weather of the year, gay men flock to this little area to sunbathe and check each other out.



Then the section through Belmont Harbor, which has some of the best views of the entire northside, a string of early-20th-century luxury high-rises that still exist in this middle-class neighborhood. There's lots more to see in this area, but I will wait until another photo essay for that.



Whenever I need to get into the city somewhere between Belmont and North Avenue (as opposed to bicycling ahead to River North or the Loop), I always take the underpass just south of Belmont that then takes me into the Inner Park, basically the more local-oriented, less flashy area of Lincoln Park just west of the highway, which opens directly onto vehicular streets on its edges and is a place for hyper-local residents to have picnics, take walks, play with their dogs, etc. The bike paths are crappier here and you have to go slower, which is the entire point.


Then a jagged turn at Diversey and you're in a very old part of Lincoln Park, one that juts right into the actual city itself, home of the giant Goethe statue, the Alexander Hamilton memorial, the Elks national headquarters and more. Many more photos of this area will be coming as the summer continues. The paths for bicycling get especially bad in this area, but it literally skates you along the edge of the vehicular city grid, so is hard to beat when doing some urban commuting.


And a brief detour to the northern edge of the North Pond, one of two Victorian ponds here in the middle of Lincoln Park (but more on the other one in a bit).



Then a hop across Fullerton, and a ride along the edge of some of the most famous sights in the park, including the zoo, the conservatory, and the formal gardens that connect them. Not much to see here early in the season, so I'll take lots more pictures later this summer when everything is in bloom. I wish one of the millionaires who lives in this section of town would donate the money to shore up these beautiful Victorian Arts & Crafts underpasses! These ugly wooden braces have been up all over this section of town at least since I moved here, nearly twenty years ago.



Then a ride down the edge of the South Pond, which was taken over by the Lincoln Park Zoo just a few years ago and transformed into the cutting-edge "Nature Boardwalk" natural wildlife habitat experiment. The zoo is basically letting this pond turn back into the kind of wild lagoon you would've seen in this area before human influence, and has built all these quiet eco walkways around the edges and into the water so that people can observe the nature taking root there close-up, a hugely popular new addition to the park and a much needed 21st-century infusion into a notoriously 1800s area. And just now open again this year, the area just south of this, one of my favorite little areas of the whole park, a very British-looking straight path covered with ominous trees on either side like that one scene in "Watcher in the Woods" that used to scare the crap out of me as a kid.


Then a quick ride past one of the oldest objects in the entire park, a Ben Franklin statue partially paid for by people who personally knew him when he was alive.

And then that finally gets us into the oldest section of Lincoln Park, the original section first designated back in the 1860s when this area opened to begin with. There are lots of interesting things all mushed together in this area, including the Chicago History Museum, the famous Lincoln statue, the Couch Tomb and the Chicago Archdiocese Mansion and grounds (including one of only three public streets left in Chicago still paved with wooden blocks instead of bricks or pavement), so lots more on this area as the summer continues. Here in particular is the big fancy fountain right at the corner of North and Clark, the official "entrance" to Lincoln Park proper, here looking back out into the dirty city we're about to enter again.

And the reason for today's ride, a meeting with the editorial team for the coming CCLaP book "Sad Robot Stories," currently scheduled for release on August 5th: from left, assistant editor Robert O'Connor, author Mason Johnson, and shadow editor Allegra Pusateri. (Not pictured, fellow shadow editor Karl Wolff in Minnesota.)

Ugh, too pooped! I'll take on the rest of this photo essay tomorrow!

Monday, April 29, 2013

This video from a CCLaP release party made me cry.

Absolutely gorgeous video shot two nights ago, at the release party for Eleanor Stanford's CCLaP book Historia, Historia, held near Philadelphia which is why I couldn't attend. Watching it today, and realizing that I was the first step in the process that eventually led to this joyous, drunken moment, really overwhelmed me for a moment and made me cry a little. It's hard for me to express in words how profound it is sometimes to be an arts administrator for a living, to be the little god who gives the thumbs-up on deserving projects and makes them live as a fully-formed creature in the world, a physical object that deserves to have a crazy, crowded party thrown for it. And to know that the unusual way I've decided to do things is succeeding, that we're making money hand over fist at a time when most of our colleagues are breaking even or losing money, winning awards and breaking internal sales records literally every month right now. Last year our gross revenue was $7,000, and I've been optimistically hoping that we might generate $10,000 in 2013; but at the rate we're going, it would not be outside the realm of possibility for us to end the year more like $12,000 or 13,000. And this is all while doing something I love, something that literally makes artists' dreams come true, something that makes the world a better place than before that thing existed, instead of still being in advertising and my job being to convince teenage girls to become skinny, dumb whores.

There are a whole lot of other things that go into making one of CCLaP's books a success besides just my work -- there is the entire editorial team, the author who writes the great manuscript in the first place, our marketing director who gets it promoted, the retailers who get it sold. But I have to admit, there's something extremely powerful about being the guy who caused step #1 of the process, and knowing that every step between #2 (write back the author) and #1000 (shoot slick professional video at raucous release party) would not exist without me starting the chain. Seeing videos like these are without question the biggest high points for me of running CCLaP, and makes all the crazy 80-hour workweeks I've been having to put in lately completely worth it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

O My Northside Home: A walk down Wilton and up Fremont.

For the first time in 16 years, I'm moving on August 1st; and although I'm going to try to stay in the same neighborhood, I might not be able to afford to, so this spring and summer I'm trying to get a bunch of photo essays done of various walks through the Uptown/Buena Park/Lakeview/Wrigleyville areas I live sort of in the center of. Here, an errand I had to do over at Waveland and Halsted, so took the little side streets of Wilton and Fremont there and back, starting with the historic St. Mary's Of The Lake Catholic Church you're seeing in the first photo below, which I live just a couple of doors down from. I don't really have much to say about the rest of the images, so I'll just let them run without comment, which is sort of the whole point -- I want these to be reminders that why I liked living here for so long is precisely because there's nothing particular special about it, just a pleasant and clean urban neighborhood full of architecture from the Victorian Age to the 21st century, dotted here and there with historic buildings and hipster bars and interesting graffiti and humongous brick-like public schools. I spent the majority of my college years desperately fantasizing about living in this kind of neighborhood, and I have to say that two decades later it still remaining the deliriously fulfilling experience I always hoped it would be, so I like being able to do these photo essays about nothing particularly important at all, that nonetheless remind me of why I love living in Chicago so much.

Oh, and a tech note: I was going to color-balance these, like I do with most of the photos I post online, but then I thought there was something nice about these reflecting the gray, cool, rainy day it was when I took these. So many of my memories of the Uptown and Lakeview neighborhoods are associated with such gray rainy days, it's nice to occasionally have faithful photographic records of them.