October 18, 2012

[Preface: In light of my revamped blog look, which is nearly finalized, and a new logo, designed by my talented friend Kate, it seemed appropriate to write a pathetically long, memoir-ish post about why I am still blogging, after nine years and five hundred posts.]

Confession #1: I have been blogging on the internet since the summer of 2003. You won’t see any of those first posts, but they are there, meticulously counted and indexed in my own personal archives, forever saved in draft format so I can (thankfully) be the only one who sees them.

Confession #2: I have been blogging in my head since sometime in the fall of 1986, when I first remember the need to scribble down and document the happenings of my life. I was fresh out of kindergarten.


If you were to go back in time, to my late elementary and junior high years, and examine my bedroom, this is what you would find: a single bed, which required a small climb to get into, but was sufficient none the less; a metal desk with a wood veneer top; a closet full of socks and white washed Wrangler jeans and the only pair of Nike shoes I could afford, which usually were blue or maroon or a strange combination of colors that persuaded stores like Foot Locker to lower the price until it was affordable for kids like me, who wanted Nike shoes but couldn’t pay for the standard white or black ones. There was a plastic orange nerf basketball hoop affixed to the top of my closet door; a small stack of my favorite books, which included Where The Red Fern Grows, Hatchet and Baseball Fever; a drawer full of journals filled with abbreviated notes about my life and diaries from road trips, both of which included little doodles and printed pictures taped within the pages; and last, but perhaps as telling as the journals that filled my drawer, you would find a giant, wall sized bulletin board with blue trim that my Grandfather built for me. This was my masterpiece, the place I called my own, the board on which I could document my collecting habit with meticulous detail and a level of grandeur that could only be rivaled by the comic book and baseball card collectors of my day.

The board represented years of collecting and organizing, from the insanely trivial, like when I spent an entire summer consuming Reeses Pieces and then saved and hung each and every bright orange plastic wrapper (four thumbtacks per wrapper, of course), to the more important things, like Baseball game ticket stubs, back when they were hard tickets and simple in design, with serif fonts and seat numbers and sometimes, a color picture of the team logo. I had magazine cut outs of iconic pictures of the day, like Bo Jackson posing with a baseball bat and football gear, and the cover of Pearl Jam’s Ten record and the famous poster of Michael Jordan soaring for a dunk from the free throw line. Along the top of the wall sized bulletin board were Baseball hats, hung systematically on nails, each representing a different team.

Eventually, when it was time to leave the home of my childhood, I packed up my vast collection in boxes, and then, promptly, started new, more appropriately aged collections, like patches from every country I’ve visited, vintage picture frames and city maps.


Confession #3: If I didn’t stop myself over the years from going into an all out collecting frenzy, I would have gathered license plates from the forty-eight states I’ve been to and t-shirts from each of the National Parks I’ve ventured in and rocks from every mile of the Pacific Crest Trail I’ve hiked and a small piece of timber from every batch of reclaimed wood I’ve worked with over the past several years.

Confession #4: I once had the idea to cover an entire wall with a series of maps from every state in America, neatly laid out with where each State belonged in relation to the other, and then to use a highlighter to mark every single highway and interstate I traveled on in each of the states. This is something I still dream of doing for my kids, since I can now accurately keep track from birth.

Confession #5: When my family bought our first desktop computer, I spent an entire Baseball season inputting every single Houston Astro’s box score into a spreadsheet purely for my own statistical analysis. All 162 games.


So you can imagine my sheer relief and astonishment when I first learned about what blogging was. My mind went racing with questions. There is a way to organize all of the ways I already document my life? A place where I can write and post pictures and keep track of all the stuff I’m already keeping track of? And it will be in one place? And I can have some creative control over how it will look? It was an idea I had spent my whole life waiting to find out about, the light at the end of a long tunnel dedicated to documentation. 

Nine years and five hundred some posts later, Jack at Random is simply a place where I can document my family record through writing, photography and statistics. It’s my creative, writing and collecting outlet, a space where all of my hobbies can come together under one roof. It’s a place where I can reflect and remember what we were up to in any given month. It gives way to all of the content that goes into the books Kari prints every two years, the physical documentation of our lives. It has survived many unproductive tangents, like when I wrote highly uncritical film reviews or when I broadcast the messy personal details of my faith deconstruction or when I briefly delved into politics in the summer of 2008.  It has plowed through several years of a readership that consisted solely of my wife and mother. It has documented many of the books I’ve read and the films I’ve watched over the past decade.  It has been with me through nearly every month of my life since I graduated from University, including living in Sydney and moving to Los Angeles and the two hundred and sixteen days in 2007 when Kari and I when gallivanting around the world. It was here through my vocational ups and downs, from preacher to eBay to woodworker.

It was here waiting for me with a blinking cursor when my first daughter Stella was born. And when my second daughter  Margot died. And when my son Leo was born a year later. 

In thirty-three years of living, there have been many things that I have quit or fell out of love with. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an ambassador for staying the course. But I can say with some measure of certainty the things that have been most consistent throughout my life: my love for the game of Baseball. My penchant for collecting. A ridiculously happy marriage. Not eating cheese. And this blog.

So I suppose, to answer the question of the piece, I blog because I’ve always been blogging, on scraps of paper and bulletin boards, in leather bound journals and in countless collections that currently live in small tin canisters and boxes and behind glass frames.

The answer to why I blog is fairly straightforward once put into context. The harder question to answer is why I have spent a lifetime meticulously documenting my journey through collecting objects and experiences and data. I have asked myself over the past several years why I do these things. What prompted me to fill all of those journals with pictures and doodles and notes on my normal life? Why on earth would I collect meaningless things like candy wrappers and box scores? Why do I feel the need to keep track of the countries I’ve traveled in by collecting patches? Is it simply a personality trait, a complicated strain of my DNA? Or does it fill a deeper need to remember where I’ve been? Or a need to feel like I’ve done something with myself, however trite some of these collecting endeavors may have been?

The answer, I’m afraid, after years of contemplation and interesting discussions with my wife, is that I don’t know.

I simply don’t know.

What I do know is that my three and a half year old daughter likes to collect things. Objects she has deemed worthy of keeping and protecting at all costs. A series of rotating boxes contain her “special treasures” which includes, among other things, three marbles, a screw, one dice, one wooden scrabble letter, small rocks from our trips to the beach, a painted quarter and what appears to be a small metal hook she found in the yard one day. This small collection was started all on her own, over a year ago, and is revered and treasured almost as much as her stuffed animal sleeping partner, George. 

Her more recent collecting journey has led to those pennies you retrieve from an apparatus after cranking a wheel, which flattens the penny and stamps something kitschy onto it. She has a penny from the LA zoo, one from Northern California and one from Budapest that was worth more to her than anything else I could have brought back (expect for, perhaps, a twirly pink dress with different shades of pink rainbows on the sleeves and princesses on the front who were dressed in pink).

After her sister died, we started collecting rocks from the river that we poured M’s ashes into. We pick one special rock per visit and add it to a glass jar that sits in Margot’s corner of the living room. We rarely go anywhere special these days without her wanting to collect a rock for Margot’s jar, an act so common that it’s more and more beautiful and less and less heartbreaking.

I don’t know why I have spent most of my days documenting my life, or why my daughter seems to have picked up the same habit, but as I peer into our future of collecting rocks and pennies and taking pictures and perhaps even posting blogs together, I find the best companion a Father could ask for, the ultimate pay off for all these years of collecting.

October 13, 2012

A while back, I stumbled upon an Apartment Therapy feature on Cathy McMurray, an artist from Portland. I was immediately drawn to her mixed media paintings of nature and landscapes, which are done with such vivid color and striking detail and originality that I hoped one of her works would eventually make it's way into our home.

In January, she posted a new piece, Caldera, which she painted on locally sourced wood, and then wrote beautifully about new beginnings, both of which resonated with me as we approached the one year anniversary of Margot's death.

After trading emails, Cathy and I came up with an art for furniture swap, artist and artisan, which involved trading Caldera for three hexagon shelves that I would make for her out of reclaimed pine.

A few months later, our trade was complete. :)

You can find more of Cathy's beautiful (and affordable) work in her Etsy shop. She also has a regularly updated blog, Habit of Art, that features new artwork and beautiful images from in and around Portland.