Charles Richard Fesenmeyer Jr, 1948-2012

On Thursday, I drove to Iowa to bury my uncle. He passed away at home last week.

Unlike my grandpa, I don’t have photos of my uncle to post here. I don’t have affectionate stories about him from my childhood. I’m not traveling through the stages of mourning, as we didn’t really have a relationship to mourn. When I got the news last Thursday, I was – and remain – honestly more upset by my lack of reaction than by any feelings of loss.

I had the unpleasant task of contacting Rich’s Facebook friends to spread the news of his passing. I can think of few less appropriate ways to notify someone of this sort of thing, but we had no other way to reach these people, and no indication of others that he would have wanted us to contact. The responses I received described a man I never knew.

After the brief service on Thursday, the lot of us went out to lunch: my parents and grandma, my mom’s siblings, a cousin, and a few friends. My grandparents’ angel neighbor asked my mom and her siblings about their favorite memories of Rich, and it’s telling that most of them involved conflict, but that they could be told with affection and laughter.

So this is what I know of my uncle: he was wildly intelligent, and applied this intelligence to the things he was passionate about: astronomy, model trains, cameras, motorcycles, computers. He He hated the military, and gained weight to avoid having to serve in Vietnam. He had a friend who was poet laureate of some South American country, and when his friend received this award, they drank a station wagon full of beer. Until this fall, he held the family record for the half marathon – when I beat his time by several minutes, he reminded me that he had run the race in a storm with an injured plantar fascia. He was difficult and argumentative – as wildly intelligent people often are – resulting in polarized relationships with his family, but deep respect from his friends. He loved cats, and is buried with the ashes of some of his late feline friends. He smoked enough pot in the 70s that he developed an allergy to it. He was proud of me and my siblings, and told his friends that my sister and I were beautiful, though we never heard it from him.

He didn’t believe in God, and would have turned in his grave – or walked out – at the words of compassion and grace meted out by the pastor at the service. Regardless, I hope he’s at peace tonight, wherever he may be.

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Further Thoughts on Chicago

  1. Chicago is much more fun in nice weather than in the snow. In fact, it’s pretty miserable in the snow.*
  2. Last night we learned an important lesson about paying attention to parking meters. The parking ninjas here aren’t messing around, and at least four of us wound up with $50 tickets. Sheeeiiiiit. Good thing it was a cheap dinner.
  3. That said, we’re still trying to determine when it makes sense to take the train as opposed to driving. Fares are $2.25 in each direction, while parking is $1.75 per hour. If we’re going somewhere together, do we pay $3.50 for two hours of parking? Or do we pay $9 in train fare? This will all be academic when the weather is nicer and we can ride our bikes or ‘peds.
  4. I haven’t figured out why some bars are open til 2am, while others stay open til 4am. I also haven’t put much effort into figuring it out, though I have managed to see 2am at Neo twice since we landed here in December.
  5. I also have absolutely no idea how Google Navigation comes up with its time estimates or directions. I drove to Iowa yesterday for my uncle’s funeral, and the initial estimate for the drive was 3:04. I got in the car and mapped the route with my phone. 3:49. The drive, including stops for fuel and food, took 3:15.
  6. The coop in our neighborhood is sweet and well-stocked, but doesn’t carry yeast in bulk. I miss By the Pound already.**

*I would say that this had something to do with the fact that I just spent five days in California, but no. I think this is empircal fact.

**I still haven’t decided how I prefer to write coop. Co-op? CoOp? I could always go the New Yorker route and use an umlaut, but that just looks ridiculous, even in print.

2011 in Music (honestly)

I loved this post from The Awl, which so accurately describes my approach to music.

Now that we’ve finally cleared out all of those “best of” and “year end” music lists of 2011—and good riddance!—here’s something different: most played songs. The songs that show up on your most played list aren’t necessarily the songs that defined the year for you. They can be timeless—the comfort songs you return to over and over again. Or they can reflect periods of brief, intense obsession, such as, in my case, with “My Heart is a Drummer” by Allo Darlin’, which I first listened to on a recommendation from a friend, and proceeded to play 50 times in a span of three days.

I’m an inveterate music binger. I get absolutely, completely hooked on a song or an album and then have to force myself to move on by enforcing arbitrary rules concerning the contents of my iPod – i.e. can’t add any other music until I’ve listened to everything on it, can only have 5 Essential Mixes on deck at any one time, etc. This tunnel vision also means that I’m slow to discover new music, especially since nearly every time I decide I need new music, I end up downloading music that is new to me but generally dates to the decade of my birth. Oops.

So, with no apologies, I present my top 5 artists and albums from 2011 based on last.fm play counts:

Artists:

  1. Talking Heads
  2. LCD Soundsystem
  3. New Order
  4. Front 242
  5. Magnetic Fields

Albums:

  1. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening. It’s actually not worth listing my top tracks as they’re all from this album.
  2. New Order – Power, Corruption And Lies
  3. Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
  4. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
  5. Talking Heads – Little Creatures

Note: I have removed The Diane Rehm Show from both of these lists as while it contains interstitial music, it doesn’t meet the ‘music’ definition used for this post. It is, however, my 4th most played ‘artist’ and 2nd most played ‘album’.

Chicago, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

Chicago Sunset
Photo by PeteTsai, All Rights Reserved

We’re settling into this long distance, back-and-forth thing. Leaving on Monday was hard, having spent the better part of the previous week putting everything in its place, making our new home feel like a home. I spent the morning making soup for Shane’s dinner, chopping vegetables on the new (and wonderful) island, using my favorite pot to simmer lentils and stock. It was wrenching to leave, knowing that on the other end of my snowy drive lay more unpacking in an unfamiliar place, and an empty twin bed, albeit one warmed by the electric blanket Shane got me for Christmas.*

The routines of my solo life in Ann Arbor are quickly establishing themselves. I do push-ups in my tiny room while I wait for the water for my coffee to boil. I walk to work in the early hours of daylight. I take the bus to the gym or walk home and then drive to yoga. I eat my dinner at my computer, often tucked under the already-warm electric blanket. I watch something on Netflix while chatting with friends, working on job applications, or prepping for class. I drink and snack with my housemates, and stay up too late because my brain won’t turn off at a decent hour. I miss Shane at odd times, and talk to him before sleep.

I’m in Chicago now, and will be back in two weeks. This is our life for the time being. We’ll make it work

* There were other, more romantic gifts, but few things are less romantic than being very cold when already feeling very alone, so perhaps an electric blanket is romantic after all!

2/3 Book Challenge: A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad was my book club’s pick for November. The book and its author, Jennifer Egan, have garnered a great deal of attention in the last year, and three months after finishing the book, I’m still on the fence as to whether or not it’s deserved.

I don’t know that I would have gotten through this book had I not had the Kindle with me when I was stuck in a very long line at a blood drive. I’m glad I was stuck in that line, however, as it gave me enough time to really get hooked on the story, if not on the characters themselves.

I can say definitively that Egan is a master storyteller. A Visit from the Goon Squad weaves in and out of time, with a number of stories told in layers, folding and unfolding onto themselves. The reader encounters characters at different points in their lives – Benny, the record producer, is seen as a middle-aged wash-up, an energetic rocker at the beginning of his music career, a husband cuckolded by his wife’s tennis game, a rock legend. His mentor is a dirty old man seducing teenaged girls, a middle-aged father taking his children and his young girlfriend on a safari, a dying man surrounded by the now-middle-aged girls of his youth. His protégé is a kleptomaniac 30-something, a college student losing her closeted best friend, a mother making art from her stolen treasures. Each of these stories – episodes – windows of time is deftly, though not always gracefully, presented, surrounded by music and an indelible scene, whether it is the Bay area in the 70s, New York in the early 90s, full of optimism, or New York in the near future, recovering but not recovered from 9/11.

I wish I’d written this review closer to finishing the book – or to my book club’s discussion – as there are aspects of it that we found problematic that I’ve since forgotten. Some of the female characters felt flat in comparison to the nuances of the male characters. Some of the scenes feel like they were lifted from a Palahniuk or Coupland novel – a compliment, but also a complaint (see my review of Then We Came to the End).

I finished the book on my friends’ couch in mid-November. We were watching their cats while they were out of town getting married, and I was combating a hangover from the previous night’s 90s dance party. I’m willing to allow that the latter may have unduly influenced my reaction to the ‘enhanced’ chapter, in which we encounter the adolescent son of the former kleptomaniac. Her son has become obsessed with the pauses in pop music, and in trying to explain their significance to his father, fails to say all the things he really means to say. Or rather, he says all the things he is feeling, but his dad only hears the (exasperating) parts about the rests. And in that exchange lies the weight of the book, the way we measure the passage of time, all of the things we want to say but can’t, all of the things we try to say but fail to communicate, all of the moments in time that slip through our fingers.

This is the third of at least 15 books that I plan to read in the next year for my friend Mark’s 2/3 Challenge.

2011, part 1

Does anyone have the patience to read another year-in-review post? Much less more than one? If not, sorry about that, as I apparently have more to say about the year gone by than can be reasonably accommodated by the checklist of sorts that is my resolution list.

First, though, what I intended to do in 2011:

Expand my bread repertoire by baking 2 new types per month.
The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day technique led to a whole lot of delicious bread in the first half of 2011. Halfway through the year, however, we adopted a lower carb diet, and I haven’t baked a loaf since. I miss baking and also bread.

Baguette

Knit socks.
Done! Except that I used cheap cotton yarn and didn’t finish the toes neatly, rendering my lovely handmade socks the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever put on my feet.

Sock #2 in progress

Run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.
Done! Also two half marathons and a handful of shorter races, with 523.22 miles run in total.

Team Astronaut Mike Dexter!

Continue saving aggressively for a down-payment on a house.
The first part, yes. The second part, not so much. Instead we paid off our car a year early and built up a decent safety net.

Complete the 25 Recipes challenge.
If the convener of the challenge is treating it as a lifetime project, I think I can too. I did manage eight successful recipes, and a few unsuccessful attempts.

Learn to accessorize.
I don’t know that I’ve succeeded here, but I did embrace vintage dresses and big hair.

Make a decision about grad school.
In retrospect, I’m not even sure what this was about. Was I seriously considering grad school at this time last year? Huh.

Sock away 3 months’ worth of my half of the household budget (approx $4500).
Not quite there, but in good shape.

Sisters

Survive my first semester of teaching.
Two semesters down, with my third starting on the 17th. I’m incredible thankful for the opportunity, as teaching has been both more challenging and more rewarding than I expected.

Take a solo trip and a vacation with SB.
I went to Philly and DC in the spring, where I gave a talk, went to a bibliodiscotheque, and ran the CB 10 Miler (see above):

Bibliodiscotheque

New York in the summer, where I walked for hours and hours and hours:

Rainbow City

and DC again in the fall, where I dressed up as a fancy lady for Halloween:

harroween

In addition to many weekends in Cleveland, Chicago, and Rockford for weddings, Shane and I took a Midwest road trip, where we rode a ferocious beast, hiked around a lake, ate a lot of ice cream, and laid on a beach long enough that I got a sunburn on my butt.