august 2021

Last Friday we were supposed to finish up both of Will's remaining birthday surprises: his rescheduled VIP experience at the SkyView Atlanta ferris wheel that we couldn't do on the original date because it started to storm right before our scheduled time, and a VIP experience at the World of Coca-Cola where we got to go in before the museum officially opened and have a private tour.

But bad luck struck again: on Thursday, the World of Coca-Cola people called us and told us they had lost power and wouldn't be allowed to reopen to the public until Friday afternoon at the earliest, meaning our morning trip on Friday would have to be rescheduled.

Thankfully, the SkyView trip that afternoon still worked out. We took Will's friend Ignacio, who had also come with us on our first attempt, and they had a ball together. We got to sit in a VIP lounge and enjoy free beverages until the VIP car came around, and then were escorted inside that car. The VIP car (there's only one) is different than the other pods on the ferris wheel because it is black on the outside, and on the inside it features a see-through floor.

Mom is still in the hospital in Athens - she has been moved from the recovery section of the hospital to the rehab wing, where she will spend a couple of weeks doing physical therapy until they feel she's strong and stable enough to be on her own at home and continue her physical therapy with a home health assistant there. I drove out to see her on Sunday, which is quite a hike from Atlanta even with no traffic.

Will and Julie weren't able to come—due to Covid, the hospital has a policy where only people 18 and up are allowed to visit, and each can patient can only have a maximum of two visitors per day. Not two at a time, but two for the entire day, regardless of how far apart their visits might be.

I actually got pulled over on the way out there, the first time I've been pulled over for speeding in years, but I think it helped that 1) my driving record since moving to Georgia is completely clean and 2) I told the officer I was on the way to visit my mom in the hospital and I had a hand-drawn card from Will sitting on the passenger seat next to me. He let me go with a warning, and even noticed a piece of metal that had been thrown into the grass in front of my car and moved it out of the way so I wouldn't run over it getting back onto the highway.

Mom had requested a milkshake when I came, so I stopped and got her a large vanilla shake from an Arby's that was a few blocks from the hospital. We had a pretty good visit—I stayed for an hour or so, and she was very lucid and chatty the entire time. She's doing well with her rehab so far, but I really worry about her—she's had so many planned surgeries over the past few years, and then this fairly major unexpected surgery on her neck/spine that I just don't know how much more her body can take.

Will started middle school this week and it's...okay. Middle school sucks for everyone, and this is Will's first big school transition (his elementary school that he's gone to for all but the first couple of months of kindergarten (it was a brand new school building built on the site of the original Fernbank that was built in the 1940s, and they didn't quite finish in time to open the school for the start of the school year) was a 10 minute walk from our house, and Will always struggles with getting to know his new teachers and classmates and routines.

But all in all it hasn't been as bad as it could have been these first few days. He likes riding the bus, even though it's painfully slow getting them home in the afternoon (we'll probably do an after school carpool with some neighbors so he gets home at a reasonable hour), and we're excited about some of the music and theater activities he has to choose from there. I know there will be some rough days ahead, but hopefully he'll be settled in by Labor Day.

After the Rabbits book, I stayed in the sci-fi realm with Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, a near-future novel about climate change. I loved his Aurora book, which was about a generation ship that was notable because much of the story was told by the ship's AI, which allowed the narrator to span multiple generations of humans and was also a brilliant take on the inner monologue of an AI that is starting to exceed its programming after decades of learning and mental growth.

The titular Ministry for the Future is a global organization that has been empowered to advocate for the rights of future inhabitants of the Earth as if they already exist by radically addressing the causes of climate change that will drastically impact the world they will live in. To the extent that there's a narrative, we primarily follow the stories of Mary, the the head of the ministry, and Frank, an aid worker who has a near-death experience due to an extended heat wave in India where he is the only survivor among thousands of dead people.

There are lots of other chapters that focus on minor characters who are sometimes engaged with one of the other two characters and sometimes just other people working to find innovate solutions to curtail carbon emissions, but we keep encounter Mary and Frank throughout.

With Mary we get the logistical, political side of fighting climate change, where she must, for example, convince banks and investors that climate change will destabilize the economy, which makes it worth addressing far more than the moral and ethical reasons why they should use their power to prevent the deaths of millions. Frank loses his mind a bit after the India experience, so the chapters that focus on his story have a much more human element driving them—he becomes the living embodiment of the negative effects of climate on the planet and the people who live on it.

This is a book that should be read in every high school and college in the US (and quite frankly the world) for the next 20 years, because it's extremely well-researched and well-informed about the myriad ways our societies, economies, systems of governments, and biospheres will be impacted if we cannot reduce emissions and keep temperatures from rising by the end of this century. I won't be surprised to see many of the ideas in this book implemented in the next few decades—in 50 years, if we end up focusing our resources and prioritizing the reduction of emissions like we need to, this will read like a history book more than an extended sci-fi thought experiment.

Not a great read like a more fictional novel is, but a very necessary read that gives a very realistic picture of where we're headed and pragmatic (if sometimes surprising) ideas on the many different ways we will need to attack climate change if we want the beginning of the 22nd century to look substantially similar to the beginning of the 21st from a climate perspective.

One cool thing that happened to Will at school this week: he was asked to play piano in the school's Jazz Band. This is a renowned program, and you typically don't even get to audition until you are in 7th grade, but one of the music teachers has a son who also takes lessons at Will's school, so she's seen him perform at some of the music school recitals and convinced the Jazz Band director to give him a tryout.

He's the only 6th grader in the band, and I'm so excited for him—he's never played in a group setting before, nor has he played much jazz, and both of those experiences should expand his skills quite a bit.

It was a busy weekend, and I spend most of it working. We still do not have a new operations manager, and that role and the processing team that reports to it have a huge amount of work that needs to be done in the two weeks between course registration opening for first years in late July and their arrival on campus in early August.

So I'm standing in for the manager until we get a new one, and I'm unfortunately the only person on that team who is salaried and isn't bound by overtime pay rules (which we aren't allowed to authorize now anyway), so I had to do everything that wasn't done by the rest of the team by the Friday deadline so everything would be ready for students and advisors on Monday.

I also went out to visit mom again, this time bringing her a full meal from Arby's to go with her milkshake. We're hoping she might get to come home this week sometime—the current plan is for her to be released Thursday or Friday, so my godmother and her longtime friend is planning to fly down from DC to spend the first few days with her as she transitions back to her home.

Well, that was fun while it lasted. Since Will's vaccination took full effect in June after getting into a vaccine trial in May, we've been, in accordance with current guidance, behaving more or less as we did in pre-Covid times: spending time with friends and family indoors, going to eat indoors at restaurants, and anything else we felt like doing, all while not wearing masks.

But now delta is surging, and since we don't have good data about its transmissibility and deadliness compared to the original strain, we're starting to pull back a bit. We're still going to do some stuff, but anything indoors or in crowds will likely be masked again until we have a better sense of whether the vaccines will protect us as well against this variant.

Strangely enough, this is also when my workplace has decided to ask us to all start coming back into the office semi-regularly, and also mandated vaccines (although people who haven't gotten them yet won't be fully vaccinated for at least another six weeks). We still have to social distance and wear masks indoors (unless we're in a closed office by ourselves), which makes me wonder why in the world those of us who don't have customer-facing roles need to come in: all meetings will still be over Zoom even if all the participants happen to be in the building that day, and we won't really have opportunities to interact with colleagues in meaningful ways.

Maybe they're hoping this variant will peter out quickly or that the vaccines will be proven just as effective against it and we can transition in the near-term to a Before Times office environment. But with winter coming on and more variants likely on the way, it seems like the better bet is that we should still anticipate a lot of remote work for the foreseeable future.

I love Modest Mouse, but it's been a long time since I've loved any new music they've put out. I still everything they release, because most of their albums have at least a couple of songs I can really get into, but their output for the past 15 years is pretty mediocre compared to the first few years of their existence, when they put out material at a prodigious rate and every single track was worth your time. In addition to their three proper albums from that period (This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About, The Lonesome Crowded West, and The Moon and Antarctica), they also had a few EPs and two collections of outtakes.

In June they released a new album called The Golden Casket, and I dutifully bought it with pretty low expectations. But I've been listening for a weeks now, and it keeps pulling me in deeper each time I listen to it. I think I'm ready to say that this is the first Modest Mouse album I've loved from back to front since 2000's The Moon and Antarctica.

One of the issues with the more recent releases is that they felt too much like they were trying to sound like the Modest Mouse that made Good News for People Who Love Bad News, which was their breakthrough to the mainstream. They felt weirdly constrained and flat, and even when they tried more experimental instrumentation or structures, it felt like this, too, was part of the carefully curated image they were creating.

But this record feels a lot looser, like there wasn't a specific goal in mind beyond writing some songs together and exploring frontman Isaac Brock's weird headspace and inner monologues. There's a lot more genuine emotion in the lyrics here too: Brock is a parent now, and all the heartache and joy that comes with raising kids and thinking about who they will become and the world they will live in are right on the surface with no artifice as a filter (especially on songs like "We're Lucky" and "Lace Your Shoes").

I've seen other late-career resurgences fizzle off into mediocrity again after a single album, so I'm not counting on this being the beginning of another run of great albums. But I'm grateful to have another Modest Mouse that I can wholeheartedly embrace, something that hasn't happened in more than two decades.

We're most of the way through the fifth season of Rick and Morty, and it's…okay. Don't get me wrong—an average Rick and Morty episode is better than most other animated shows best episodes, but compared to previous seasons (even season 4, which took me a little while to warm up to but I now regard as a strong season with some of the series' best episodes), it just hasn't blown me away yet.

There's a good mix of canon-advancing episodes and standalones, but the canon episodes seem a lot more labored and forced than the other seasons (where the canon episodes were often among the strongest), and only "Mortiplicity" (about a spiraling cascade of duplicates who create more duplicates) is solid enough to be ranked with the best episodes from other seasons.

The season finale will be split into two episodes that will air in a few more weeks, and it will presumably by a canon episode since that's been the tendency most seasons. Even if those episodes are brilliant, I'm not sure they can save this season from ranking at the bottom of the ones they've released so far (they signed a megadeal a couple of years ago for 70 episodes, or 7 seasons, so we're theoretically only halfway through the minimum number of episodes they will eventually produce).

This is still one of my favorite shows, and even if this season is going to be the quality level we can expect going forward, that's fine. But I do have to wonder if the creators' other projects—writer Dan Harmon is working on a new animated series for Fox and voice actor/cartoonist Justin Roiland is working on his third season of a different animated series for Hulu—have diluted the quality of Rick and Morty.

My mom is coming home from the hospital today, just three weeks shy of undergoing emergency surgery for an issue with her neck followed by a couple of weeks of rehab and physical therapy. We're planning to go out and see her tomorrow, which will be Will's first time seeing her in over a month (we were out of town the week before her neck issue was discovered).

So…mom actually did come home from the hospital. But only very, very briefly.

Her friend Jane came up late last week to get her house ready for her to come home and to spend a few days with her getting her acclimated to being in the house again. Jane brought her home on Friday night and everything seemed to be fine until the next morning. Apparently around 5 or 6 in the morning my mom tried to walk to the bathroom without Jane's help and without using her walker, and she fell and hurt herself.

Jane called me frantic a couple of hours later—Jane knew something was really wrong, so she called an ambulance to take her back to the hospital for an evaluation. But when the ambulance arrived, my mom refused treatment, and after 45 minutes of trying to convince her to go to the hospital, they had to leave. That's when Jane reached out to me to try to convince her to go.

It took a long time—I get that the last thing she wanted was to go back to the hospital after being away from home for three weeks—but Jane is a former nurse (so is my mom—they actually became friends in nursing school), and if she says mom needs to go to the hospital, that's what needs to happen. I finally got off the phone when mom promised that she'd get in the ambulance this time, and then I immediately got in the car to drive out to mom's house (and hopefully the hospital after that).

Mom actually did get in the ambulance a few minutes before I got there, and Jane and I soon followed (her hospital is in Athens, about 35 minutes from her house the opposite direction from Atlanta). Jane and I were eventually allowed to go back and see her in the emergency wing, and we stayed with her until they ran some tests and got the results back.

Of course Jane was right: when she fell, my mom broke one leg and fractured her ankle in the other leg, and right now it seems like both will require surgery, followed by a few more weeks of rehab and physical therapy before she'll be allowed to return home. Thankfully she didn't re-injure her neck, but I know that she's heartbroken about working so hard to get out of the hospital and come back home only to be back in the hospital less than 24 hours later.

Back in March of 2020, only days before Covid would consume our lives and radically alter what normal looks like, I bought tickets for Will, Julie, and me to see Sleater-Kinney and Wilco at the Cadence Bank Amphitheater at Chastain Park, the same venue where Will and I saw Wilco the year before. The show was scheduled for August, but of course by the time we got to August, the band had rescheduled it for a TBA date sometime in the future.

They rescheduled the entire tour for basically the same time period in 2021 (the original date was Saturday, Aug 15 2020–the rescheduled date was Saturday, Aug 14 2021), and so we were looking forward to the show on Saturday night—it was to be the first live music any of us had seen since January 2020, when we all three traveled down to Macon to see Lyle Lovett.

But that was before my mom's unexpected trip back to the hospital. Even though she was at the hospital by noon, I didn't want to leave until we had some sense of what was going on and Jane felt comfortable being there on her own, and since we had to wait for the results of x-rays and bloodwork, I didn't know if I'd have time to get back home, pick up Will and Julie, and get to the venue before the show started (or at least before a substantial portion of it was already over).

By around 5:00, however, we had a pretty clear picture of what was going on with mom, and it was clear she was going to be admitted to the hospital that evening, so Jane and mom both said I should go back to Atlanta. I got home just in time to get us to the venue and get to our seats just as Sleater-Kinney's set was starting.

We started off sitting in the seats we had purchased, which were pretty close to the front of the amphitheater-style seats (as opposed to the floor seats), but even though we were outdoors, Julie felt too uncomfortable with all the unmasked strangers packed closely around us, so we moved towards the back of the venue where there were rows and rows of empty seats. The sound wasn't great back there, especially for Sleater-Kinney, but Julie was able to relax a bit more.

It wasn't the best show I've ever seen, but after attending an average of two concerts a month for the last several years before Covid, I was just happy to get a chance to see live music again.

I have nothing to say about today, except that, with my mild synesthesia, the color of this day is one that I do not care for at all. The white and brown of the 18 doesn't work at all with the reddish-brown of August, and the milky yellow of 2022 makes it even worse.

Mom has now had surgeries on both her ankle and her leg, and will begin another long stint (likely at least 4-6 weeks) of physical rehab, although we don't know where yet. We're hoping it will be on the rehab floor of the hospital she's at now, which is where she did her rehab for her neck surgery a couple of weeks ago, but it could be a dedicated facility (hopefully somewhere closer than Athens if that's the case).

I don't know how much more trauma her body can go through without a permanent breakdown—she's been through so many accidents and surgeries over the past few years, some for longstanding issues she needed to have corrected, some as a result of a fall, and some that developed due to over-reliance on a certain joint while she was recovering from having its counterpart repaired. She's tough, and she doesn't give up (although there's no doubt this affects her mental health as well), but I'm still really worried that she's reaching her limit of what her body can take.

One of my favorite new band discoveries from 2020 was a group called Me Rex, who released two EPs that year (which were then later combined into a single release on vinyl). They have a very endearing habit of naming their releases after prehistoric animals, including Woolly Mammoth, Woolly Rhino, Brontosaurus, Triceratops, and Stegosaurous.

Their latest release, their first full-length release, follows in that tradition and is called Megabear. It's a concept album with kind of a cool concept, but I'm not quite sure how successfully they pulled it off. The idea behind it is to take 52 short song fragments that can be endlessly remixed, so there's no official track order, just a collection of 52 tracks that can be played in any order (and should always, according to the band, be played in a shuffle order).

Part of band leader Myles McCabe's inspiration for this was realizing that on streaming platforms like Spotify, he gets paid the same for a 30 second song as he does for a five minute song, and so by creating a bunch of shorter tracks across a normal album length, he could turn the algorithm in his favor and generate far more plays for the same amount of music. That's where the 30 second length came from; the 52 songs was inspired by the number of cards in a deck, which correlated with the shuffle concept.

But he obviously had to make some compromises in this framework. The first of these is that all the songs have to be in the same key, and they generally have to start and end with a limited set of complimentary notes/chords. This lends a sameness to it that isn't helped by the fact that several of the song fragments co-opt melodies from their earlier releases, sometime even using the same older melody in more than one song on Megabear.

And whether he likes it or not, he did have to decide on a specific tracklist for the digital but especially for the physical release—at least with the digital release, people can press shuffle once they've downloaded the tracks or on their streaming service, but they vinyl version of the album is immutable, and no record player has a shuffle function.

I still love this band, and again, I think it's a really cool concept, but this might have been better as an experiment released for free as an interactive element to their website. As much as I loved their two EPs from last year, I was really wanting a fully fleshed out album in a more traditional format this year, and in the end, while it has some nice elements and its intellectually compelling, it's not really listenable for very long, and the songs, such as they are, all bleed together into an indistinguishable mood piece.

On Saturday morning we did had our makeup date for the World of Coca-Cola VIP tour that we were supposed to do last month, but which was postponed when the museum lost power the afternoon before our visit and wasn't allowed to reopen to the public until late the next afternoon. We got there around 8, a couple of hours before the museum opened to the public, and met our guide outside. We joined by a couple more small groups—we ended up with about 10 people total—before we went inside to start the tour.

I'd never been before, but Will has been many times, and he was super excited to get a personally guided behind-the-scenes tour. It was great having the museum empty too—we could really look at everything closely, and when it came to the experiential parts, like the room where you try to match up fragrances with the spice or fruit that make them or the tasting room, it was great not have to wait our turn to try everything. We also got a photo op with the Coca-Cola polar bear mascot, and a souvenir cup and enamel badge that you can only get from the VIP tour.

I don't know that I necessarily need to revisit anytime soon, but if anything, this increased Will's love of the museum. It's always one of the first things he suggests we do whenever we're entertaining out-of-town visitors, even ahead of the aquarium or the botanical gardens, and I'm sure we'll be back again soon.

I've had pretty consistent issues with mild to severe insomnia my entire adult life, and I'm in one of the bad phases now. I can get by perfectly fine these days of five hours of sleep (although a catnap in the afternoon is a good supplement if I'm only sleeping a few hours), but days and days of only getting three or four hours of sleep and never sleeping for more than an hour or a two at a time really start to take a toll. I hope I get out of this phase soon, because it really, really sucks.

I started taking guitar lessons in early 2020, just before the pandemic hit, going along with my son to his music school on Friday afternoons and taking a guitar lesson while he had his piano lesson. I liked my teacher as a person, and I loved the depth of his knowledge of music theory, but in terms of his teaching style, especially being able to convey tips for getting better with some of the more difficult parts of the process (like palm muting, barre chords, etc.), he sometimes struggled to give me anything useful.

This was exacerbated once we hit the pandemic and we went to virtual lessons, where it was harder for me to see what he was doing with his hands/fingers, and where he seemed more easily distracted in his home environment. He would often come to the lessons unprepared, forgetting what I had been practicing and either going back to something we had covered a couple of weeks previous or jumping ahead to something I hadn't practiced at all. It also seemed like we ate up a good quarter of each lesson with me going through my basic scales and chords, which we did every time even after it was clear that I knew them.

This music school works similar to a regular school in that you sign up for two semesters and for a summer session, and when it came time to sign up for this summer, I was told that the time slot I had been using for the previous year and a half would not be available, and the only times they could give me were in the middle of the day earlier in the week, which didn't align well with my meeting schedule at work. I asked them to see if they could find another time for me, and gave them my availability, but they never got back to me and it just kind of fizzled.

Which is kind of weird, because we've been really invested in that school, and my son seems to be one of their better students. But I'm not going to quit playing the guitar just because I don't have lessons now—I'm going to focus on continuing to get more nimble with playing my scales, learning more songs that I want to learn, and making progress on my own through the textbook I was using at the music school.

When I get more comfortable with the idea of being in a small indoor space with someone outside my household again, maybe I'll see if they have another teacher who can give me a lesson during my son's lesson, or maybe I'll just see out a more traditional teacher outside of the context of this particular music school. I feel like I'm slowly making progress on my own, even though I usually don't practice for more than half an hour a day—I'd really like to have enough skills at some point to comfortably play complete songs and be able to quickly learn new material.

When Gotham first starting airing back in 2014, I was a regular viewer. I'm not a huge fan of the DC universe (comics or films), but I enjoyed both Burton's and Nolan 's Batman films, and I liked the idea of a gritty approach to that world that focused on the perspective of a young Jim Gordon encountering more realistic versions of the characters we would later encounter once Bruce Wayne (a teen in this series) transforms into Batman as an adult.

That approach went off the rails pretty quick, with outsized, overly dramatic fun-house mirror versions of the bad guys and ridiculous storylines soon dominated episodes. But I stuck with it for a bit anyway, until a lapse of a few months allowed far too many episodes to accumulate on my DVR and I just erased them all, knowing I could revisit them on a streaming service if I wanted to.

I dipped my toe back into the series as something to watch while using the treadmill, and in that context it's been working for me. I've worked my way through a full season (picking up where I left off) over the last month or so, and there's a good chance I'll reach the end of the series sometime this fall. It's still way too over the top, but having accepted the reality of that world, I can still acknowledge that it's pretty entertaining, and the casting and sets are impeccable (if any of these characters were played by lesser actors, I don't think they could get away with the high levels of camp).

As of the beginning of August, I had written off this season for the Braves. After a seemingly endless cycle of battling their way back to .500 and then reeling off a string of losses, they hadn't had a winning record once all season. After they lost star Ronald Acuna for the rest of the season on July 10 (where they won and got to .500 right before the All Star break before another series of losses returned them to the 3-4 games under .500 they've spend most of the season at), I figured they'd call this a lost season and maybe even trade away an asset or two to a team in the hunt.

But instead they went out aggressively on the trade market and grabbed several veterans to fortify the roster (including fan favorite Adam Duvall, who played on the team from 2018-2020 before signing with Miami to start 2021). And it paid off—they started to win. They started August three games below .500, but had a string of wins that would give them their first winning record by August 6.

They haven't looked back since then—they have not had a losing record since that date, and they went an incredible 12-1 from Aug 8-Aug 22. They currently sit at ten games above .500 and are leading the division by five games. The postseason isn't a lock at this point, but it's highly probable if they can play even slightly above .500 ball from here on out, and if they continue to have hot streaks like they did a couple of times this month, they could walk away with the division.

I've never really cared for and/or given deep listens to Tyler, the Creator's albums, but after listening to a few tracks from his latest, Call Me If You Get Lost, I decided to take the plunge and buy the album. And after spending some time with it, I can definitely say that it's pretty great—lots of old school beats, a narrative about growth and exploration in the context of a failed romance that he's not really over, and an overall sense of an artist who is being honest and vulnerable with us when it would be so much easier to play the tough guy.

After loving this album more and more each time I listen to it, I know I'm going to have to explore his earlier works. I'm not expecting to find another album that hits me the same way as this one does, but if he's got even one more release that can impact me half as much as this one does, it will be well worth it.

My mom has now moved from the hospital to a long-term care/rehab facility, and we have no idea how long she'll be there. Her body just has so much to recover from, and after injuries to/surgeries on her shoulders, hips, knees, leg, and ankle over the past couple of years, and with all the time she's spent lying in a hospital bed since the end of July, it's going to take her a while to build up her muscles and relearn how to stand and walk and be able to take care of herself.

The rehab facility is much closer to us than the hospital was (it's even closer to us than her house is), and it doesn't seem like a bad place, but unfortunately their Covid policies mean we can't go into her room to visit her, and she's too physically frail to come outside and see us. So our visits will consist of us parking on the side of the building where her room is, walking up to her window, and calling her on the phone so we can talk to her while we're standing outside her window where we can all see each other.

This is less than ideal even under the best of circumstances, but what makes it even worse is that an air conditioning unit for her wing of the building happens to be right next to her window, and it runs ALL. THE. TIME. So if we're standing next to the window where she can see us, we can't hear her because the unit is so loud, and if we move back far enough to where we can have a conversation with her, we can't see each other. So hopefully she'll get better soon and be able to return home in the next few weeks.

I'm thankful that she's still essentially in one piece after all she's been through this summer, but she's got a long road back to even get back to the middling state of health she was in before she went in for her back surgery in July.

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