chris ash needs an alias

This isn't the Art History 183 essay I've been writing all day.

Added on by Chris Ash.

Today I learned that someone died yesterday whom I'd known for almost 16 years. We weren't close friends. She ran and later owned the little convenience store up the street from me. There were many years when I probably dropped by to talk with her at least five days a week. We'd lost touch over the last year. I'd stopped spending money I didn't have, and she began succumbing to her health problems (of which I only became aware in the last few months.) I'm not in mourning, our friendship wasn't close enough for that. While for me this certainly generates feelings of loss, and thoughts about life and mortality, this isn't a post about those issues.

Time passes quickly, and I have no habits regarding my friends; no good habits, at least. Keeping in touch with friends (new and old) is one of my many shortcomings. I'm not particularly attached to the past. With the vagaries—or shoddiness—of memory, often my friends and acquaintances are the only remaining link to that past.

What I'm interested in knowing is what makes friendships work? Not the mechanics of having shared interests, geography, etc.—those are relatively low obstacles. I desire a better understanding on how good friendships are nurtured and maintained. If the reader wishes, I welcome your feedback. (Although I'm truly hoping the contemporary answer isn't Facebook; if so, someone had better make one hell of a case for it.) I have ample evidence that I'm not good at friend mechanics. Indeed, I may not be good at being a friend. Maybe I keep too much of my private life on lockdown. I try keeping off social media unless I have something useful (or funny) to say. The depressing truth is that I think I already may have seen for the last time most of the friends from my lifetime. It seems mathematically likely. Conversely, I have friends I've never met, nor am likely to meet. It is apparent that the friendship formula simultaneously comprises and exists separate from those two extremes.

Whatever the equation is, I wish I understood it better. Having a galaxy (or even a constellation) of friends is nice, but not if they're all light-years away. Admittedly though, that distance may be my own perceptual error.

10 reasons why musicians often seem damaged

Added on by Chris Ash.

When considering the reasons why musicians often seem like damaged individuals, consider the following items culled from our two-night road gig this last weekend.

  1. 3.5 hour drive to a gig in the middle of nowhere. If you leave at 6:30pm, you will arrive approximately 3 minutes before everything (except the bars) will close for the night.
  2. Bar patrons in tourist areas have a higher density of drunken louts. I suspect this is due to a preponderance of day-drinking.
  3. Bars in tourist areas seldom have proper stages. Lacking that delineation between band and audience, this often leads to an identity crisis whereby some of the audience believe they are the lead vocalist. They will commandeer the microphone for: singing the wrong lyrics, shouting to their friends in the bar, political speeches, and/or psychological breakdowns.
  4. Without well-defined boundaries, people will want to talk to you. While you're in the middle of a song. To request a song by the band you're already covering. They will seem confused by your inability to have a conversation while you're playing an instrument. (You will be confused by the fact that they're talking to you instead of the sax player who is doing nothing and waiting for his solo.) 4a. You're just a radio to them. They don't want to hear your songs.
  5. Bartenders will want you to play quieter. It makes it easier for them to do their jobs (or not, as the case may be.) You can ignore them if you wish because their only real authority is the ability to call the police. Unless the bartender is also the owner. You don't want to upset the person who will pay you.
  6. Bars will want you to begin playing around 10pm. They expect that you will play until shortly before they close. In Wisconsin, that is typically between 2 and 2:30am. With breaks, that's 3 sets of at least an hour each. The intense physical demands of that performance duration will kick your ass. If you have a 9-5 day job, that means by the time you're done, you've been "on" for 17 hours. And you still have to deal with all your gear and get to where you're crashing for the night.
  7. If you're fortunate, you have friends, family, or band members nearby who will let you stay the night. This is desirable because you are most likely poor enough that a hotel is prohibitively expensive. But it can also mean that 8 people are sleeping in or around a doublewide trailer. You won't fall asleep until approximately 4am. The birds are already awake.
  8. The people who are putting you up for the night probably don't want to actively punish you. But in the morning they will proceed according to their routines and desires. As a result, you will likely sleep for only 4-6 hours.
  9. Food. Unless your hosts are generous, you won't eat well. It will be road food. No vegetables. You will be dehydrated from performing, etc. Depending on your age, be prepared for stomach/G.I. problems.
  10. Now, repeat steps 2-9. If you're successful, you will be paid modestly for your performance (possibly enough to cover the expense of gasoline.) If you're lucky, no one will be sick, injured, or frustrated enough to quit the band.

I think it's rare that people are well-adjusted enough to do this. (I think it's rare that people are well-adjusted!) Hopefully this gives you some background for dealing with musicians in your day-to-day life. They probably deserve a little slack. And if not slack, understanding.

Bomber Jacket Journal Refill Solution #1

Added on by Chris Ash.

or, how I learned to stop worrying and make a minor adjustment.

As a person who writes, I go through a lot of paper. As a person who writes with a fountain pen, I'm also unnaturally particular about the quality of the paper. Fountain pens behave differently depending on a number of variables: width of the nib, viscosity of the ink, and the paper. What we think of as normal paper is usually inappropriate for fountain pens. They either "feather" too much, which means the strokes of the letters widen on the page through capillary action. Or the ink bleeds through to the back side of the page. Or, they aren't porous enough to set the ink and it smudges. Of all the papers I've tried (and I've tried a lot) Clairefontaine makes the best paper for fountain pens. Trust the French to make the best paper!

Years ago, I bought a Medium Bomber Jacket Journal from Levenger. In those days they sold the highest quality refillable journals available. The leather is simply sumptuous. But, the paper in the journals was inferior quality (high feathering and bleed-through.) The ruling on the pages is narrow—likely narrower than college rule. That's two strikes against their journal refills. The last is that the journal accommodates a 5.5" by 7.5" journal, and that's an uncommon size. What is an inveterate journal-er to do?

Solution: modification. Clairefontaine has a Clothbound Notebook which meets all of my criteria but one: size. At 14.8cm by 21cm, it's about a quarter-inch too wide on three sides and cannot slide into the bomber jacket journal. Not deterred by paper dimensions, I used an Exacto knife to trim a quarter inch off of the covers (which are merely a stiff laminated card stock.) There is no need to trim the paper because only the covers need to fit inside the flaps of the journal. Once I did that, the journal fits perfectly!

Now I have what I've always desired: perfect paper (for me) inside a beautiful (non-vegan) journal cover. The only thing better would be if I didn't have to trim the covers, but that's a 2 minute task that only needs to be done when I refill the journal. DIY for the win!


Added on by Chris Ash.

Suppose you don't have a job, your spring semester is over, and you have 17 days until summer classes start. Also assume that you're a little burnt-out on reading from school, and your budget is limited. This is my situation.

I’ll complicated this slightly by adding that I’m struggling creatively right now, no doubt caused by ongoing isolation; so getting out of the apartment is also a good idea.

Time for the serious question: how do you combat boredom? Other than finding some revenue, which is ongoing, and having a few gigs/obligations scheduled, I’m bored. There’s just not enough to occupy myself when I (finally) get out of bed in the morning.

What is your boredom cure? Any recommendations for me?

Ink Madness

Added on by Chris Ash.

A few months ago I told myself that I would only keep four of my fountain pens inked at any given time. The reasoning went like this: four pens could still have four different colors, and would take much less time to clean. Also, I wasn't writing enough to justify more than that.

Fast forward to today and the actual number of pens that are inked is: nine.

9 times larger view

The pens are, from left to right:

  1. Lamy Safari inked with Diamine Oxblood
  2. Namiki Vanishing Point with custom stub nib inked with Diamine Majestic Purple
  3. Lamy Studio Royal Red LE inked with Noodler's Cayenne
  4. Pilot Custom 823 inked with Pilot Blue
  5. Lamy 2000 inked with Namiki Iroshizuku Syo-ro
  6. Namiki Falcon inked with Namiki Iroshizuku Kiri-same
  7. TWSBI Vac 700 with custom Wahl Signature Nib inked with Noodler's Purple Heart
  8. TWSBI 540 inked with Namiki Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki
  9. Waterman Carene inked with Diamine Majestic Purple

Mac Nerdcraft

Added on by Chris Ash.

For the purposes of completeness, may I direct your attention to the article I've just written? Keeping your Mac looking sleek does what it says on the tin. I realize that it may appeal only to those with my level of file system OCD, but this is the internet so it probably applies to millions of people.


Added on by Chris Ash.

I was listening to Warren Ellis's excellent SPEKTRMODULE volume 11 a few nights ago and heard an excellent drone piece near the end. It sounded familiar, somehow. Like I'd heard some of it before... well, no wonder. The band is called Pocahaunted, and one half went on to form Best Coast, with whom I'm quite familiar.

This doesn't sound anything like Best Coast, but if you like to get your drone/dub on here and again, then by all means please enjoy Iron Shirt.

If anyone knows where I can get a digital version of this album, I'd be grateful if you slipped me that info.


Added on by Chris Ash.

Casablanca through water bottle 4

Casablanca through water bottle

For some reason I decided to watch a bunch of Bogart films this weekend. I watched the Maltese Falcon, Sabrina, African Queen, and Casablanca. It was a pretty good idea for a cold and snowy weekend.

I have a serious question (spoiler alert). If Ilsa and Rick parted company in Paris on the day the Germans invaded (June 14, 1940) why do they refer to it as "a long time ago" in December 1941? That's only 18 months. I can understand that it's a matter of perspective, wartime, their own feelings of loss. But is that enough?

Second, Casablanca came out in 1942. Maybe it's my modern perspective, yet it seems odd to me that they would tell a story set in wartime 1941. The outcome of the war wasn't yet decided. The events feel like they would be too fresh, too close to being unsettled. I can't imagine how theatergoers would've felt seeing that story against the backdrop of an ongoing World War II.

My name is Chris and I have a pen problem.

Added on by Chris Ash.

I admit that I'm a fountain pen nerd. I love fountain pens. I love filling the ink reservoirs with crazy Japanese inks. I love writing with them. So I was excited that Goulet Pens received a shipment of Lamy Studios in limited edition "Royal Red".

I can report that it writes smoothly like any high-quality fountain pen. The construction reflects a certain "no calibration, only German steel" attention to detail. The quality of my handwriting is a... different story.

I'm no color expert, but I think that by the word "royal", Lamy actually means "orange". Which is what attracted me to this pen in the first place.



Added on by Chris Ash.

Every morning, the folks at Tricycle send me an email with a quote containing some wisdom. (Some quotes are more relevant than others.) I particularly liked this morning's quote from Jack Kornfield:

"There are many ways up the mountain, but each of us must choose a practice that feels true to his own heart. It is not necessary for you to evaluate the practices chosen by others."

Superficially he's talking about spiritual practice. It seems inarguable that our species would be better off without the religious judgment between discrete religious groups*, or even between individuals within a singular group.

Yet, look at the definition of Judgment (New Oxford American Dictionary):

  1. The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions
    • an opinion or conclusion
    • a decision of a court or judge
  2. a misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment

It gets even more interesting in the thesaurus, but we'll leave that aside. Look at the language. Considered decisions, sensible conclusions, an opinion, and finally divine punishment. These are subjective terms; Fact and Truth aren't found there**.

Though we usually discount it in today's post-factual society, Facts and Truth are axiomatic and thus don't require belief; what's required is understanding. It's the equivalent of knowing 1+2=3. You don't need to believe that 1+2=3 in the absence of evidence, 1+2 does equal 3. Unfortunately we're rarely talking about simple mathematics. Discussions where judgment comes into play often are debates about whether 1+?=God. Philosophical discussions are a fun exercise, but at best they can only help triangulate a truth.

Therefore as a word, Judgment is about deciding what to believe, not what is. From a pragmatic standpoint this is useful because we almost never have perfect objective data to guide us through life. Philosophical judgment is slipperier. Many of us think we feel comforted when choosing belief in some concept.

We cling to a belief like a life preserver because we feel as though we're being battered by the ocean waves. Since beliefs lack the substantiality of truths, we could let go of them and realize we were never at risk of drowning. If I may extend this analogy to its breaking-point, then Judgment is an anchor. The anchor's effect is the same whether it's our vessel or someone else's: we use it to keep from floating away.

The one thing you don't use an anchor for is going someplace—and if we're not going anywhere in our lives, then what's the point?

* For that matter, it would be a fine thing if atheists and faith-believers could stop antagonizing each other. But I'm not holding my breath.

** I'm not saying that judgment implicitly ignores objective data, only that the data is part of a subjective opinion which comprises a judgment.

Who wants a note card?

Added on by Chris Ash.

When is the last time you got a handwritten note in the mail? Your birthday?

I have a big stack of note cards and postcards to mail out (more than a hundred.) You could get one too!

Just tell me your snail mail address and your favorite color.

Promise I won't spam you!


Added on by Chris Ash.

From my letter to my best Australian friend:

Thinking a lot about the horrific massacre in the Colorado movie theater last night. I wouldn't say I'm struggling with it. I know these things happen in modern-day America. I'm thankful it wasn't worse (bad though it is.) I look for silver linings, and I think these things do generate more discussion. Although we've had a few decades of this violence and nothing seems to change. I don't think it's merely that we have easy access to guns. One of your countrymen (@indefensible) said on Twitter:

"American society makes sense when you realize they are all fucking terrified of each other."
I think that's probably true of most people, actually. It's rare to find people who aren't afraid of being alive in society. Sure, there's a lot of legitimate things to worry about... when you're actually confronted with them. Most of the time, we don't see those things at all—and we still suffer the anxiety of them.

The other part is the culture of violence in this country. I suppose it's understandable in the context of our history. Not acceptable, but understandable. I just don't know how a culture moves away from it. The willingness of people wanting blood for vengeance is sickening. Today I heard people say, "I'm not really for the death penalty, but this guy who shot up the people in the movie theater deserves to die." I don't need to get into all the reasons why I don't support the death penalty. And I can empathize with the pain people feel that moves them to want punishment for the guilty. I just don't know what good it does. Who are we to judge whether one is deserving of life or death? Do we have any greater moral authority than the extremely disturbed individual who tried to execute dozens of people last night? I know I don't have that authority. Nor do I feel any great need to perpetuate a violent act as punishment for another violent act. This is perhaps the route by which violence becomes circular. A cycle of violence becomes a culture of violence.

I'm not playing that game.