Showing up in Seattle

Airplane window view of downtown Seattle.
Airplane window view of downtown Seattle.

Just back from Interaction 19, a big design conference held in Seattle this year. I gave my How to Get the Writing Done talk on Thursday in the Cinerama, a lovely theatre space with an intimidatingly-large screen.

Scott speaking in a movie theatre space in front of a large screen displaying his slides.
Photo by José Lara from early in my talk at Interaction 19.

I almost didn’t go. Thought about canceling when Mom died in December. I didn’t know what kind of state I was going to be in. (I still don’t quite know what kind of state I’m in.) But I’d grown tired of putting my life on hold every six-to-twelve months to deal with some personal tragedy. So I stuck it out. I’m glad I did.

I skipped what I’m sure was a lovely speaker reception, and didn’t stay long at one of the happy hours on Thursday. There were some old friends I should have talked up, and some new connections left unmade. More than my mood could manage. I put my energy into getting there, getting back, and giving a good presentation. Check, check, and check. We’ll call it a win. Sometimes showing up is all you can do.

The machine knows what we fear

Do you ever have that thing where you hear or say a word while you’re typing and you accidentally type that exact word?

That happened to me on Facebook the other day. Can’t remember what I was trying to search for but I heard the word “photos” and typed that in instead. The suggestions for common searches including that word were…revealing.

If there ever really is a robot uprising they’ll never have to fire a shot; they can just crush us emotionally. Think of all the worries, all of the anxieties, that we’ve all poured into those little search boxes over the years… Will this flower poison my cat? How much money do I need for retirement? What are people saying about me? Are people saying anything about me?

A good little start

Gratitude journals seem to work wonders for folks. It’s not quite my bag but I am always trying to notice, to at least tell myself in the moment: this is good. Today? Now? My day is off to a good little start, and I am grateful.

It’s above zero and the sun is shining, which feels downright tropical compared to the past week. I checked Twitter when I woke up, in bed, on my phone … not the first thing I checked, but one of the first. That’s a dumb thing that I should not do, but I got lucky: someone had said something nice about my book. So that put a little spring in my step, along with the weather. Then, walking to the coffeeshop, the neighborhood vintage shop guy recognized me and said hello. He was at a stoplight, piloting the big maroon moving truck they use to haul furniture. I quite like that kind of thing, clerks and bartenders and barbers that remember my face, sometimes even my name, that say hello, how’s it been. Helps a guy feel like he’s supposed to be where he is and is where he’s supposed to be. Grateful.

Saw a pug being walked. All black. Too far away to say hello, but grateful, nonetheless.

It’s 90s alternative on the coffee shop Pandora. The Cure. Smashing Pumpkins. Radiohead. Pixies, now, as I’m writing this. Coulda been butt rock. Coulda been Mumford. Grateful.

THEN I got an email with a Lyft ride credit for rides to First Avenue, which is timely as I caught a ticket to the Never Better 10th Anniversary show. It’s warming up but it’s not warm enough to take the bus to a show without a coat. I’ve got some dancing energy I gotta get out tonight, so Lyft it is. Grateful.

The coffee’s good. The half and half is fresh. I’m having a good hair day. Grateful, grateful, grateful.

A joyful capacity

Brian, one of the organizers of the open mic I attend now, issued a songwriting challenge last week. The input/theme was “stand up”. I started scratching out lyrics in Drafts on my iPad right away that same night, and finished them up on Saturday afternoon. Jon, my music partner, came over Sunday and we hashed out the music in about an hour. I went with the vocational interpretation, and wrote about a standup comedian who did a few gigs back in the day, let a decade slip by, and is thinking of getting back out there again. I told Jon I had a Mountain Goats vibe in my head for it, and we listened to a few tracks to get the pacing right and borrow some strumming patterns. Picked a chord to start with and just went for it, and got the whole thing done in under an hour.

The song went over okay last night; I’m actually pretty proud of it, but I think it might work better after a few listens. Or else it’s not as good as I think it is. 🤷🏻‍♂️ Anyway, I’m on a reading-about-John-Darnielle kick again and was struck by this quote in an AMA he did on Reddit:

Suffering is seldom joyful, but expressing one’s capacity for survival almost always is. I think what I mainly sing about is survival, tenacity, practice[, and] patience.

John Darnielle

Expressing a capacity for survival…spitting the bullet back out and asking the world “Is that all you’ve got?”…that’s an emotional space that’s always interesting to me, and the kind of thing I’m drawn to sing about, too.

Give me back my man

I’ve never really dug into the B-52s catalog, despite having done Love Shack at karaoke at least a dozen times now. I love how unapologetically weird they are. I’ve got Whammy! on vinyl, but this isn’t on it:

The songs where only Cindy sings don’t seem to get as much airtime, which is too bad because she is great and this song is great. I’ve been listening to a new cover of it on repeat, which is how I found it. The Apple Music algorithms correctly deduced that I would love this new Sleater-Kinney-esque cover of it by Ohmme:

Good shit right there. Ohmme has proved to be an enlightening musical rabbithole. Two-piece from Chicago that’s probably worked on something you’ve heard, even if, like me, you’d never heard of them.

Take pictures with your mittens on

A local urbanism blog is encouraging the sharing of sidewalk-shaming photos (good!) and it occurred to me that not everyone knows you can take a photo from an iPhone without ever using the touchscreen.

  1. Just say “Hey Siri, open the camera!” if you have “Hey Siri” enabled. Otherwise, press and hold the home button or the button on your earbuds to wake Siri up, then say it.
  2. Compose your shot.
  3. Press either of the volume buttons to take the picture.

And there you have it. You can access the camera without unlocking your phone, and take a picture without ever using the touchscreen. Great for documenting unshoveled sidewalks, as well as snapping pics of dogs in their cute little winter sweaters and booties.


My 2019 obsession is film photography. I’ve got a lot to learn yet, but I am really enjoying it. It really checks a lot of boxes for me: lovely little mechanical things that make pleasant sounds, small consumables you can collect and stack up like ammo, technical skills to master, and plenty of YouTube rabbit holes to fall down.

Photograph of a stylized sign for a hamburger restaurant named Blake's.

My coworker Sean tipped me off to a film … hashtag event? I’m not sure what to call it … happening on Instagram called #RollFilmWeek. It’s for shots done on roll film (i.e. the stuff in canisters, as opposed to instant photos). Participants are encouraged to post one or two of their best shots each day that haven’t been on Instagram before, and then the team curates some to feature and repost. A simple little thing, but it’s quite fun, and I was very tickled that one of my shots got featured on Wednesday. I haven’t invested much in Instagram since restarting it back in June, so this has been a nice motivation to give it some attention.

Screenshot of the @rollfilmweek Instagram account sharing one of my photos.

I have two photography goals right now: one is to take Mom’s old Nikon FunTouch 4 on more adventures; it does not do well in low light at all, but does take really charming shots in daylight (the sign photo featured in this post was done on that one). My other goal is to feel confident shooting concerts on film, so I’m doing lots of night-time photo walks in my neighborhood to get used to shooting in a mix of pure darkness and bright lights, which seems a reasonable facsimile.