Writing Slump

“Like a Pitching Slump, but With Fewer Balls”

I haven’t been able to write the J.R.S. for about, oh I dunno, six weeks? For those of you who noticed and mentioned it to me, thank you. I appreciate your words.

Basically, it all comes down to pressure.

Almost everything in my life is driven by an internal pressure in my head. Pressure to do well in my career. Pressure to write the most wonderful words. Pressure to be the best person I can be.

To be honest, the JRS was originally created as a personal pressure release valve. It was a place to write just for me, without any pressure on performance or writing quality.

Then I had to go and share with friends and family, and I immediately developed a new pressure point in my life. I have to deliver a finished product to people I love Thursday morning, come hell or high water.

This is not a dig at you, dear reader. In fact, knowing that I have readers keeps me honest, keeps me accountable. Except when we were traveling in Amsterdam I got distracted.

I’ve done this time and time again in my writing. I’ll start something and go full steam 68% of the way, and then somewhere I’ll spring a leak and the momentum will bleed off without me noticing.

So I missed a week of writing. Then a second week. The first week was excusable – I was in Amsterdam for work. The second one, less so, but hey, I was jetlagged!

The third Thursday I woke up with a dread and guilt. I wasn’t uninspired, in fact, I’ve known what my reviews from Amsterdam were going to be all three weeks. It was the pressure (and guilt) that was trapping me. Not only was I letting the readers down, but now I was another six reviews behind.

Fast forward to today, and the last time I graced your inboxes was August 23rd. That’s 6 weeks ago. I’m now 18 reviews behind.

My goal when I started this was to write one newsletter a week, for a year straight. I’ve missed a week or two here or there, but nothing like this.

Looks like I have some reviews to write.

And some pressure to release.

Writing Slump – 1 out of 5 Stars

Rapid Fire Reviews

“Because Snackable Content Sticks”

To stop living in a festering pool of guilt and internal tension, I’m going to reset the clock. Here are 18 rapid fire reviews.

Travel Edition Part 3: Amsterdam

Trains to Work – The only time the world can hit “snooze” on your perfectly timed morning is with a late train. Still, it beats driving.  – 3 out of 5 Stars

Zoos – Whenever I have a moment while traveling, I’ll visit a zoo in a weird place. Animal rights tabled for the moment, the zoo in Amsterdam is my favorite cuddly jail, it had wide awake animals all over the place. Talk about instant gratification! – 4 out of 5 Stars

Envy – A fancy restaurant Kate and I went to in Amsterdam. We sat at the Chef’s Table and had an 11-course meal, four of which were mostly foam based. Do I want to eat most food in foam form? No. Was it cool though? I dunno, is eating bubbles cool? Absolutely. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Misc

Our Current Political Climate – 0 out of 5 Stars

Jicama Sticks – They lack the crunch of carrots, and yet have the weird texture of watermelon. – 2 out of 5 Stars

Bohnanaza – A card game where you’re a bean farmer and have to trade with other farmers to reap the best bean harvests. You know it’s a good game when you’re standing up and shouting across the table “HOW MANY STINK BEANS DO YOU WANT FOR ONE CHILI BEAN GODDAMMIT” – 4 out of 5 stars

Twitter – I’ve gotten back into the word whirlwind that is Twitter. Avoid all Kanye tweets. – 2 out of 5 Stars

Chia Pods – We were mistakenly given a bagful of these in our last Instacart order. They’re like if you mixed bad pudding with the gelatin portion of pomegranate seeds. – 1 out of 5 Stars 

The Good Place – What a brilliant show, and what trust in the writing staff. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Cheers – Speaking of Ted Danson, this show is uncomfortably misogynist. However, that seems like a great bar to hang at. – 2 out of 5 Stars

A Career in the Postal Service – I’ve often dreamed about is being a mailman in a nice walkable neighborhood. You get to exercise every day, you could listen to podcasts at work (learn French!) and most of the time you’re delivering something important to people’s lives. – 3 out of 5 Stars

Jazz Flute – When Kate and I were in Spain, the only music we had at the house were a stack of CD’s her family had left. Most of them were classical, except one was an album that had crazy good jazz flute renditions of Brazillian music. An Absolute Banger. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Silent Discos on the Beach – If time permits, I try to run after work before the sun goes down on the beach. Recently I’ve been coming across a group of Burner types who all wear headphones and gyrate wildly in silence on the beach as the sun goes down. Whatever works I guess. – 3 out of 5 Stars

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes – A recipe taken from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings, put this in your weekly rotation now. It’s the deliciousness of mashed potatoes, sans the Irish guilt. – 5 out of 5 Stars 

Bad Blood – I just finished this book about Theranos, the Silicon Valley startup that tricked investors out of a billion dollars, and then immediately made Kate read it. I’m usually not one for nonfiction, but this is a fascinating and fast read. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Wearing My Suit to a Wedding – Got to finally break that bad boy out for a trip to DC a few weeks back. While people weren’t throwing money or their bras at me, I did feel like a million bucks (at a 40% discount, thanks Atta!) – 4 out of 5 Stars

Pumpkins for Decoration – It’s October again, which means I start stressing about my Halloween costume, and Kate goes overboard on decorating. Our house now contains a pumpkin that we will never eat. It will just slowly rot until I throw it in the garbage. – 1 out of 5 Stars

Crossing Things off a List – Every Monday morning I sit down and make a list of thing I need to get done for the week. Some of them are ongoing projects, but some of them are gimmes. I literally write “make a list” and then when I’m done, cross it off. I encourage endorphin manipulation at all opportunities. – 3 out of 5 Stars 

The Comeback

“That Was Easy”

Well, there you have it. 18 reviews done and dusted, and just like that, I’m back on track. Now I don’t count this as six newsletters worth of content – I’m not letting myself off the hook that easy.

But, I have to say, I do feel that jolt of accomplishment that I love so much on Thursday mornings. No matter what the rest of the day throws at me, I’ll be buoyed by my sense of personal achievement.

And a lack of guilt. Holy shit it feels good to take the weight of those reviews off my shoulders.

Long story long, talk to y’all next week.

The Comeback – 4 out of 5 Stars

Pan Catalan

This is the second of three-part series that documents the two-week journey that Kate and I are embarking on. We’re going to a beach town in Spain for a week, then heading to Amsterdam for work.

PART TWO: SPAIN

“I Don’t Think It’s Ketchup”

Upon our arrival in the small Spanish beach town of Moraira, I was stressed.

After almost 24 hours of travel, which at one point included Kate and I literally running through the Schiphol airport (Our first flight was delayed, meaning we landed at 1:10, and our connecting flight to Alicante began boarding at 1:22), we were officially on vacation (vactiones).

Getting into “vacation” mode is harder than it sounds. And before you click the spam button on this email and throw your hands up in disgust as a straight white male talks about the difficulty of relaxing – well, I don’t have a serious point that I’m making. But shifting one’s mind from the stress of travel, projects left ongoing, emails unanswered, it’s tough.

In an attempt to cleanse our minds of the lives that we had consciously taken a break from for seven days, Kate suggested that we take a walk from our house in the hills down to the glimmering waters of the Mediterranean. The sun sets very late here, so even though it was almost 8:30, we enjoyed a pleasant (if steep) descent, and I was soon digging my toes into the wet sand with the Mediterranean lapping my ankles in a mellow roll.

Above the beach was a bar that served light food and drinks, so we timidly claimed a table and begin to practice our Spanish with our waiter, David. Our months of DuoLingo study paid off (not to mention my 5 years of Spanish) and within un minuto, I had a frosty mug of cerveza in front of me, and Kate had a dark and delicious glass of red wine begging to be sipped.

Libations imbibed, I began to feel my brain loosen a bit. Then we decided to order some tapas. Fried squid (chiparones) were a must-have, and Kate suggested we order pan catalan.

Returning with plates, the chiparones were salty and hot, the perfect pairing to the cold beer, but it was the basic delight of bread, Spanish ham, and a thin pastiche of tomatoes that have come to symbolize this vacation for me.

I’m not a huge fan of nightshades, and I rarely make an effort to order tomatoes. However, there’s a magical taste that is occurring in Moraira, the effortless combination of a mashed up tomato in some olive oil and salt and pepper spread over fresh bread that is a pure delicacy.

In an effort to not be one of those Americans who spends some time abroad and becomes insufferable (when I came back from Italy in my 20’s, I was one of them), I won’t waste words on why I think the food here is just better, but trust me it is.

Now I’m on vacation, and I’m assuming you, dear reader, are not. But I want to give your tastebuds a treat, and hopefully take your mind to the meditative Mediterranean, even if just for a few bites. Just go to the grocery store, buy a fresh baguette and a tomato. Go home, dice half the tomato up, put it in a mortar and pestle and add a healthy dose of olive oil (not enough to overwhelm the tomato though), a few wrist flicks of freshly cracked salt and pepper, and then get to pestling.

Take the mixture and spread it across a few halves of fresh bread, and then take a bite.

Fresh, simple, and savory – that’s the true taste of vacation.

Pan Catalan – 4 out of 5 Stars

Going Commando

This is the second of three-part series that documents the two-week journey that Kate and I are embarking on. We’re going to a beach town in Spain for a week, then heading to Amsterdam for work.

PART TWO: SPAIN

“Is This What Freedom Feels Like?”

When we told Kate’s uncle we were going to visit the family house in Moraira, he gave lots of amazing advice. From where to get the best empanadas to his favorite wine bodega, there is nothing of more value while traveling than local knowledge. However, there was one piece of counsel that stuck out above the rest, and it’s a piece of wisdom that I’ve carried with me this entire trip.

“Listen, once you get to Moraira, all you need is shorts and sandals. Maybe a shirt, but that’s it. Nothing else – do you know what I mean? Nothing else.”

Underwear is a garment for the worker. It protects and provides support in places where it’s critical both of those duties are filled. To live a life without underwear is to throw caution (and body parts) to the wind, and to embrace a life that is more…free.

At first I was hesitant. I’m a cautious person by nature. Unless I have direct plans to be in the water, it’s very rare that I’m traveling unaccompanied by accompaniment, if you will. But once I settled into the thought process of a man who was going to live free, at least for the next several days, the lifestyle became second nature.

The weather here is incredibly hot, and there’s no better way to cool down than to truly embrace the full nature of the sea breeze.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been an element of danger to the whole endeavor, but since we’re in a secluded compound, I feel like the stakes have been relatively low, while the rewards high. Not to mention that the whole European sense of body image is in full force here – large old men in speedos are a common sight, and they wear their flesh with a proud and quiet dignity.

We’re set to end our Spanish vacation mañana, and will be spending the next week and a half in Amsterdam, where I will be once again donning the vestments of a working man – underwear. But for this last day, I’ll make sure to enjoy the true feel of freedom, and that feeling is a gentle gust of wind.

Going Commando – 4 out of 5 Stars

Calvin and Hobbes

This is the second of three-part series that documents the two-week journey that Kate and I are embarking on. We’re going to a beach town in Spain for a week, then heading to Amsterdam for work.

PART TWO: SPAIN

“Still Relative”

Whenever I have even the whiff of free time, there’s a strong chance I’ll spend it reading. So when I was tasked with choosing a limited list of books to bring with me on this European experience, I was noticeably stressed out. This is not a new trend in my life.

At the age of 11, I got in a screaming (and then sobbing) fit with a poor babysitter who was getting me prepared to spend a weekend away from our home in Los Angeles. I had packed a shirt, pants, socks, and then filled the rest of my large bag with books. They numbered over 20. The thought of being somewhere without the perfect book to read has been a real fear of mine since a young age.

Since our arrival last Friday evening, I’ve burned through three books and a few short stories. I finished the latest one, The Alienist, a copy of which I found in the bookshelves of the home we’re staying, early this afternoon, and I’m now in the sad funk between finishing a book and starting a new one.

To satiate my need, I read a few essays in Consider the Lobster while Kate puttered around the house and tided up (all while listening to a book on tape using her AirPods – this trip has included hours of silence between us as we’ve read. It’s been glorious). As I read, she stuck her head out from behind a corner and said: “There’s a Calvin and Hobbes book here!”

Bill Watterson’s genius comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, holds a special and unique place in my heart. According to my parents, I began to read in earnest in second grade, and it was Calvin and Hobbes compilations that truly opened my mind up to the wonders of reading.

The layers of sarcasm (and competing philosophical attitudes) that were ingrained in the selfishness of Calvin, played against the earnest and through provoking foil of Hobbes occupied hours of my young life. I would pour over these comics with wonder, relishing each and every witty response, even looking up (or asking my parents) the definition of the vocab that Calvin used. My first encounter with the word “homicidal” was the title of one of my favorite compendiums.

It seems like Spain has given me a special love letter to reading in the form of an old Calvin and Hobbes book, just waiting for me to open it up and say hola. It’s not often we get to return to the experiences or items that formed a very core part of the person we have become, but when those little moments pop up, be sure to treasure them.

Much like the unique friendship between Calvin and Hobbes, I know that I’ll forever have an unbreakable bond with the sarcastic young boy and his come-to-life stuffed tiger whose adventures set me on a path to explore words and attempt to create worlds beyond my own two eyes.

And for that, I can only say muchas gracias, Señor Watterson.

Calvin and Hobbes – 5 out of 5 Stars

Carry On Bags

This is the beginning of three-part series that documents the two-week journey that Kate and I are embarking on. We’re going to a beach town in Spain for a week, then heading to Amsterdam for work.

PART ONE: TRAVEL PREPAREDNESS

“Because Suitcases Aren’t Cool”

After almost 12 years of dedication and service, it was time to retire my one and only piece of carry-on luggage.

Obtained as a gift/cast off from a college friend, who was getting ready to fly back to his hometown in Sao Paolo after graduation. He dropped off a stack of luggage at our house, telling us that he wasn’t bringing it back to Brazil, and we were free to keep any of it.

We promptly threw all but one of the pieces of his luggage in the trash. I swiftly snapped up a small black two-wheeled bag that proceeded to accompany me all across the world.

That little bag wasn’t particularly flashy or fun, but it got the job done. It crossed climates, countries, and countries with ease, always resing snugly above my head in whichever window seat I had crammed myself into.

When Kate and I did a quick trip to Washington, D.C. to meet Kate’s new niece, the wear and tear of my little bag became evident. It had fought the good fight, but the wheels were starting to go, the inside was cracking, and it was a decade behind in current carry on travel bag technology.

With much reluctance, I accepted that it was time to bid my satchel sayonara. Now I had to find a worthy replacement.

After reading multiple articles breaking down the best carry on bags, I settled on a sturdy 21-inch tall olive-green Travelite bag. Kate has one of those bags with four wheels (double the wheels!), and it seemed that they made her life easier.

After a minor snafu with bag ordering, I received my new carry on companion last night, and I’m now in the airport with it sitting obediently by my side. Like a silent R2D2, this rolling container has layers of intrigue and whimsy, and I can’t wait to see what adventures and memories it helps me create.

Oh, and those four wheels? Holy shit what a delightful change. It’s almost like I’m letting the bag lead me. If you’re thinking about a bag upgrade, get one that spins. I’ve already made it do maneuvers that would make even the most fanatic fans of Fast and the Furious gasp.

Carry On Bags – 4 out of 5 Stars