march 2022

Way back in April 2020, when people thought the worst of the pandemic would only last through June or July of that year and that live music would resume no later than the fall, I bought tickets for a December 2020 concert with Andy Shauf, whose Neon Skyline album I had recently fallen in love with.

Of course that show was eventually rescheduled for a much more realistic date of Feb 25, 2022, which was last Friday. And although I moved my calendar reminder to the new date, it was so far away that I didn't realize I already had tickets on that night until I had already purchased tickets for Origami Angel and Spanish Love Songs on that same night and I went to add that event to the calendar.

That was bad enough, but I came this close to also buying tickets for Cursive that very same night a few weeks later, and only stopped to check my calendar because an alarm went off in my brain that something else was already happening that day.

I briefly toyed with getting Cursive tickets anyway—I was leaning towards Origami Angel and Spanish Love Songs over Andy Shauf, and since they were the two opening acts on a four band bill, and Cursive was the headliner on another stage in the same venue, I thought I might be able to catch those two bands and still have time to get to the other stage before Cursive started their set.

I ended up not going to any of the shows, which I kind of regret, as I've been wanting to see Origami Angel and Spanish Love Songs for a while. But I was exhausted and stressed out and felt like I was coming down with something, and I was also planning to attend the show solo, so I didn't have a concert buddy motivating me to get out of the house and get down to the show. But both bands seem to be on the road pretty often, so I'm hoping they'll make a return visit sometime later this year.

I recently finished reading Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World by Simon Winchester. I've read three of his other books, The Meaning of Everything (about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary), The Map That Changed the World (about the founding of modern geology), and The Perfectionists (about how we developed precision engineering that led to the technology and machinery of our modern world), and I loved all of them, so I was looking forward to this one.

It started out a little more slowly than I remember from his other books, focusing much more on his personal story, specifically with his acquisition of a piece of rural land in New York state. And although it remained a little more meandering than his other works, wandering from topic to topic without as much of a sense of a continuous throughline to bring everything together, the title itself is so broad that you almost have to attack the subject from a wide variety of angles because there are just so many ways to explore the concept of land and property.

I wouldn't recommend it as strongly as the other books from him that I've read, but it still had its moments of brilliance, and it chugged along nicely once it built up some momentum. Winchester is one of our best contemporary pop history writers, and even a lesser work from him is still going to be worth your time.

We're at the point at work where we're finishing our initial review of our Regular Decision files, which means my part in reviewing individual applications is effectively done for this cycle. I usually don't participate much in the committee review part of the process, as I'm turning my attention more to the systems/operations side of things as we prepare to release all the decisions in a few weeks and have all the associated forms and events configured for the April yield period.

That's especially true this year, when we're still understaffed in that area of the office. We did finally hire a replacement for our operations manager, and although he has good experience in higher ed and with the system we use, he's still not ready to take over such a critical task with so little training on the quirks of our particular process.

I really enjoy reading files, but like everyone who does it, by the time we get to the end of the process, I'm sick of it and feel like I never want to read another application again. That fades with time, and by the time reading season picks back up again in November, we'll all be eager to dive back into that part of the process. But for now, I'm happy to turn my attention to other matters and enter the fallow part of the year for file review.

Although I can't wait to have our house rebuilt and move back to our real neighborhood (no real timeline on that, but best case scenario at this point is November), there are some nice things about the neighborhood where we're renting a house in the meantime. The one that I appreciate the most is how many friends live in the same area, like my college roommate who's about a ten minute walk in one direction, or my friend Steve, who's about a ten minute walk in the other.

I also have a work colleague who lives nearby and with whom I have a monthly lunch. And since we both work from home pretty often and we're now both in the same neighborhood, we can meet up at one of the restaurants around the corner from our rental place instead of having to drive separately to someplace off-campus.

Since my family is still not eating indoors, we can only do that when the weather is nice, which it finally was for the first time since our October meeting. We met at a place called Universal Joint, which is only about a five minute walk for me, and had a really nice lunch and conversation while getting a sneak peak at the coming warm season where it will always be warm enough to dine outside (and practically every restaurant in Atlanta has some kind of outdoor seating, which was mostly the case pre-pandemic).

Look, the UNC men's basketball team has played nowhere near its potential this year, and there have definitely been growing pains under first year coach Hubie Davis, who is taking over after Roy Williams' 18 year tenure (during which he won three national championships).

But on Saturday night, they won one of the most important games in the storied history of the Tobacco Road rivalry between UNC and Duke by soundly beating the Blue Devils' longtime coach Mike Krzyzewski in his final home game after 42 years at the helm in Durham.

I don't know how far this team will go in the NCAA tournament—it wouldn't shock me if they got knocked out in the first or second round, nor would it surprise me if the made it to the Final Four—but after that final, humiliating loss in front of an adoring home crowd, most of whom paid hundred or thousands of dollars to be there, Chapel Hill fans already consider this season a success.

So: we're making some progress on the house rebuilding effort. We weren't offered an initial settlement from the insurance company until December, but as expected it was far too low, so low that we didn't even feel comfortable selecting a contractor and getting started on construction plans. So we had our public adjuster go back to them and get a more reasonable initial payout, which they finally got for us in mid-February.

We had already narrowed our list of potential contractors to three firms, so we got started with more intense conversations and finally settled on one that felt like the right fit based on their reputation, their approach, and a gut feeling about how our talks with them had gone. So now they're starting to pull together plans and permits and putting us on the calendar for their various teams, including the initial step of determining how much of the previous structure can stay and the extent of the demolition that will be necessary before they can start to build back.

There is some small hope that we might get our home back this year, as they are telling us that if everything goes to plan, they could be done by early to mid November. But we all know that things won't go according to plan, and we've also made it clear that we do not want to move in the time between Thanksgiving and the December holiday season, so I'm fully expecting that we will spend the entirety of this calendar year in the rental house. But hopefully it won't be for too much longer beyond that.

One welcome distraction to all the chaos and uncertainty of the past few months has been the game that has been part of my leisure time since 2004: World of Warcraft. And they just issued a new patch a couple of weeks ago, which is likely to be the last substantial content update for this expansion, including a new raid.

Raiding with a group of people that I have known for probably 15 years and raided with for at least the past 10 is how I spend a lot of my time in the game these days, so a new raid is something I look forward to. We continue to raid even after we've completed a tier of raiding for the current patch, but attendance is much spottier and it's not as much fun once we're just farming everything with no real progression in terms of gear.

There is a new zone as well, but I likely won't be able to engage as much with that content (typically done solo as opposed to the group format required by raids) until after we release decisions. But I'm planning to take a lot of time off over the next few months after we pass our major decision release and yield milestones in April and May, so hopefully there will be enough fun stuff to do with this final content update to tide me over until they release a new expansion sometime later this year.

Part of our file review process is that we do the initial review of files in pairs, typically matching a territory manager (like me) with one of our part-time readers (part-time because they only work with us during the reading season; they are full-time during that period from November through March when we are working our way through hundreds of files collectively each week).

Last week I got paired up with a part-time reader I hadn't worked with before, and she happened to be from the Ukraine and also still has lots of friends and family in Russia. We spent some time after we were done reading the files talking about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and as heartbreaking and infuriating as this illegal war is at a distance, it was even more tragic hearing about it from someone who is close to it and whose life and the lives of people she cares about have been impacted by it.

She and her husband came to America years ago, so she wasn't there when the invasion began, but she lived most of her life there and still thinks of Ukraine as her home. I can't even begin to imagine what she's going through—no American can, really—but what was remarkable was her compassion and empathy not just for the Ukrainians, but for the ordinary Russians who had nothing to do with Putin's violent attempt at a land grab and who also have friends and family in Ukraine that they have lost as a result of the war.

I don't know how this will resolve—as a point of pride, Putin will never back down, but he's missed his chance for a quick strike and now Ukraine has the unofficial support of much of the western world, who will continue to supply intelligence, arms, and other support to the country. But I hope for the sake of this woman and the millions like her who are impacted by the warmongering of a despot, Ukraine eventually regains its sovereignty and can begin to rebuild the cities that have been devastated by the relentless shelling of the Russian army. And that Putin and his commanders will be held accountable for their war crimes, but that's probably too much to ask in this broken world.

Now that I'm getting comfortable going back to live music venues and the concert calendar is filling up as bands return to regular touring, I'm buying tickets for tons of shows later this year.

In the past month alone, I've bought tickets for the Decemberists, Pinegrove, Belle and Sebastian, Stereolab, Spiritualized, and Sigur Ros, with hopefully lots more to come as more band announce new albums and subsequent tours.

Many of these artists are ones I've seen before but who haven't toured since 2019, and many of them are also shows I'm planning to bring Will to, so I'm excited both to see them again and to introduce Will to them.

Hopefully we won't have a major Covid resurgence or new strain that will put the brakes on things. I'm still planning to mask up until public indoor gatherings get safer, but I've been enough shows in the past few months without getting infected and without having any of them turn into superspreaders for other attendees that, even if thing stay in their current state, I'm all in on returning to a robust calendar of concert attendance.

Atlanta United have started their sixth season in the MLS, and I went to my first game of the season on Sunday. I've had season tickets with a couple of friends since year one, but I wasn't able to make it to their first home of the season in February, so their match against Charlotte was my first look at this year's squad.

I honestly don't know what to make of this team at this point. Star Josef Martinez is still with the team, but despite him scoring the first goal of what turned out to be a win for Atlanta, he's clearly on the downward slope of his career. I really don't know what the identity of the team is, something that has been getting murkier and murkier since their MLS Cup win in 2018 before they lost both Miguel Almiron (who was a great scoring partner with Martinez, and who was traded to Newcastle in the English Premier League) and coach Tata Martinez, who left to coach the Mexican national team.

You never know what a team is going to turn into until they actually take the field and start playing games, but this is the first time ever that I haven't been all that excited about going to games. Maybe that will change as we get to know this year's squad, but I don't get the sense that either management or the coaching staff has any clue what they need to do collectively to right the ship and bring back not only a winning team but a team that's exciting to watch.

A couple of months ago my alma mater sent out invitations to all alums and current students to join discussion groups, where moderators would lead participants through a variety of hot button topics, assigning people to groups to ensure there was reasonably balanced diversity in terms of age and gender. The first meeting was on gun control, and we had our discussion (over Zoom, of course) last week.

Because people who graduated from and currently attend the school (and who would self-select for an exercise like this) tend to be a little more homogenous and on the progressive side of politics generally, there wasn't as great a diversity of opinion as you would get from a broader cross section of Americans, but there were still lots of details to talk through in terms of gun ownership and gun control.

I am firmly in favor of gun control myself—I don't know why the courts have chosen to completely ignore the "well regulated" part of the 2nd Amendment (I mean, it's the first phrase in the text of the amendment!)—but I strangely found myself being one of the voices arguing what, in that context, would be a more pro-gun position. That's because, unlike licenses to drive a car, operate a business, build a house, etc., the right to own a gun does have a unique standing in the law due to its inclusion in the Constitution.

So while I think regulation is necessary and obviously part of the founders' intent with the amendment, I do believe it has to be considered in a different light than many other rules and regulations that govern our daily lives. Not that we can't impose many of the same restrictions and bars to entry that we do in order to do something like drive a car on public streets, but we have to be more circumspect and have stronger justifications for such barriers.

It was a good discussion, and I'm hoping I'll be able to make it to the next two, which are on abortion and college admissions respectively. I obviously have a strong interest and very informed opinions on the last topic, but that's also happening during the week of Will's spring break, and we're not sure if/where we're traveling at this point.

This has been a pretty great year for music so far, especially coming on the heels of 2021 where I struggled to name ten albums that I really loved. Already this year we have fantastic new releases from Spoon (whose Lucifer on the Sofa might be my favorite of theirs since Kill the Moonlight) and Big Thief (a critically lauded band who I've been lukewarm about so far, but whose double album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You has me all in on them). We've also got great new releases from Yard Act, Nilufer Yanya, and Me Rex, plus a smattering of releases that solid but may not end up in my top 10 (like the new records from Pinegrove, Sea Power (formerly British Sea Power), and Oso Oso).

There's a lot of great stuff on the horizon, too, with new releases expected from Destroyer, Vince Staples, Arcade Fire, the Smile (featuring two Radiohead members, including frontman Thom Yorke), Lyle Lovett, Soccer Mommy, Regina Spektor, and Kendrick Lamar to name just a few.

I liked James Gunn's The Suicide Squad movie (as opposed to Suicide Squad, released five years earlier) reasonably well, but I've never been a big fan of the DC movie universe, so I wasn't particularly interested in watching the offshoot series The Peacemaker, which gives a deeper backstory to one of the characters from the movie (and which was also produced and written by James Gunn).

But out of boredom I gave it a chance one night, and I'm totally in love with it. It's one of the best shows I've seen in a while, and it's easily better than any of the series that Marvel has made for Disney+ (and again, I'm much more heavily invested in the Marvel universe than I am in the DC one, which has been true since I first started reading comic books when I was a kid).

I'm only about halfway through the episodes for the first (and so far only) season, but it's a breath of fresh air in the superhero series world in the same way that Deadpool was something new in an increasingly formulaic world of superhero movies; it's profane, gory, and hilarious, and it still makes you care about the characters (yes, plural—you are given real time with more than the titular star). It's a show that is (finally) for adult consumption, not some watered-down audience that has a median target age of 12.

James Gunn is one of the few directors who have worked on movies for both Marvel and DC, and while he is currently worked on Guardians of the Galaxy 3 for Marvel, I'm hopeful that he will return to DC for more movies in that universe and to spearhead more seasons of The Peacemaker. Even though I haven't finished the first season yet, I already know this is a show I want to see more of.

After my previous operations manager resigned to pursue a graduate degree last May, the position has been vacant and its substantial responsibilities have been split between me and my systems manager (and both of us have substantial responsibilities of our own independent of the operations manager's tasks). So it's been a pretty brutal and exhausting year, but we were finally able to hire someone in February, and he's now getting up to speed enough with our processes that we can start handing back many of processes we've taken ownership of since last summer and focus more exclusively on our own work.

In a first for our office, this new employee is also currently fully remote. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and three kids, where they have deep ties to their community (including two sets of elderly parents who live in the state). He is willing to move to Atlanta if that's what's necessary, but I've convinced senior leadership to give him a trial of being fully remote through the end of the academic year, at which point I'm hoping we'll have enough data that we can extend the trial for at least another year, with the hopes that he will eventually get approval for a permanent remote position if he and his family want to stay in Michigan.

Currently we're paying for him to fly to Atlanta once a month for a few days, and this week was when he made his first visit to see campus and his colleagues in person. We had lunch with the rest of my direct reports, and then he and I also had dinner in downtown Decatur one evening and had lunch at Golden Drops (where we weirdly ran into his predecessor, who I hadn't seen in person since he left our office last year).

As has become typical for the UNC men's basketball team the past few years, the regular season has been up and down despite an astounding level of talent, and this year we also got stomped at home against our hated rivals at Duke, which was especially galling given the fawning over their retiring coach, the vile Mike Krzyzewski.

But none of that matters now. Because on March 5, when we played Duke for Krzyzewski's final regular season home game, we returned the favor and annihilated Duke on what was supposed to be a celebratory sendoff for the only coach Duke has known since I was nine years old.

I don't know how UNC will fare in the tournament—they have the players to go far if they can just maintain their focus and energy and not make stupid mistakes due to laziness or selfishness—but it's going to be a long time before that team makes me feel as happy as I did watching the final moments of that game.

We have a rookie coach in Hubert Davis, bearing the weight of succeeding two legendary coaches in Dean Smith and Roy Williams, and there were games this year where he and his team looked completely out of their depth (including the earlier regular season game in Chapel Hill against Duke). But that was all forgiven and forgotten on March 5, and I don't know that Duke fans will have a more delicious comeuppance on their side of the ledger for years, or even decades.

I've long been a fan of Kristin Hersh's music, starting with her first band, Throwing Muses, who were an obsession of mine during the late 80s and early 90s. I haven't followed her more recent musical endeavors (solo albums intermixed with new Throwing Muses records and releases from yet another band, 50 Foot Wave), but I'm still a big fan of her as an artist and a person, and I try to support her when I can (including a quarterly payment to a Patreon-like site that she set up).

A few years ago she published a memoir called Rat Girl, which I picked up more out of curiosity than anything. I had low expectations for it, but man, it blew me away. It's one of the best books I've read this century, and easily the best rock memoir I've ever read (although my Throwing Muses fandom probably helped increase the ranking, as the book covers the formation and early years of the band).

I didn't know if she'd ever write more in that format, but she recently released a sequel called Seeing Sideways that picks up basically where Rat Girl left off. And while it might be just as good in its own way, it's a very different book from its predecessor. It seems to take place in isolated pockets of time and space untethered from traditional linear time, and it's much more impressionistic in tone. It also focuses a lot more on her family relationships, especially with her two sons, but music is so central to her life that there's still plenty of paragraphs that focus on her professional life of writing, recording, and touring.

If you liked Rat Girl, you should definitely pick this up. If you've never read Rat Girl, then go pick that up immediately, and once you've finished it and fallen it love with it (as I know you will), then you can grab this one. A great read from one of the most compelling and honest artists of our time.

Love Tractor is a band I've been wanting to see live for over 30 years, and while I've come close a few times, I've never managed to make it happen. I've had more opportunities since moving to Atlanta—they don't really tour anymore, but they will play occasional dates in Atlanta and Athens, kind of the same way the Connells will play sporadic dates around the southeast.

They played two nights in a row at the 40 Watt Club in Athens last weekend, and I had hoped to see at least one of the shows, but I'm so exhausted from work these days that I just couldn't work up the energy to do the 90 minute drive and deal with the hassle/anxiety of figuring out the street parking downtown.

As has become fairly typical for the past few months, I'm topped up on vacation days and will not accrue more hours in April unless I use some of my current balance, so I'm going to take a vacation day tomorrow.

Of course, it wont' be a real vacation day—there's far too much going on for me to check out entirely and take a long weekend—but I will at least try to keep my task list limited to the absolute essentials and give myself permission to step away from email for a couple of hours at a time.

Last week I was invited to go see Bob Dylan at the Fox Theater here in Atlanta by a friend who had a block of tickets with other friends after one of the original invitees canceled at the last minute. He called me the night before the show, and I was very excited to get a ticket to see Dylan, and as a bonus they were not asking me to pay for the ticket.

But then the next afternoon, just hours before the show, I started to develop a sore throat and a sinus headache. I was hoping it would fade, but I kept feeling worse and worse, and whether it was Covid or not (it wasn't), I wouldn't feel comfortable going to a crowded space to mingle with strangers in close quarters for a few hours. Even if I wore a mask, I knew I was infected with something that I didn't want to chance passing on to other people.

So that was a real bummer. I'm not a huge Dylan fan (although I'm of course aware of his music and his cultural impact), but I would never pass up a chance to see a huge legacy artist like this, especially when we don't know how many more times he might be able to tour.

I just finished reading a great musical autobiography, Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life In The Music Business by Miles Copeland. Copeland, of course, was one of the three Copeland brothers who had major impacts on the music industry—his youngest brother Stewart was the drummer for the Police, and the middle brother Ian founded the FBI booking and talent agency which represented many seminal New Wave acts and stayed vital until the 90s when it was acquired by the InterTalent Agency.

Miles was the Police's manager while they were active, and also went on to manage Sting as a solo act after the Police broke up. But he was, of course, best known for founding the seminal indie label IRS Records, which included R.E.M., the Bangles, Fine Young Cannibals, the Go-Gos, and the Cramps among many others on its roster. Miles and Ian also developed the strategy of touring new bands at a string of smaller clubs up and down the East Coast, which led to the 80s club culture chronicled in the excellent Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azzerad.

Copeland has a breezy, conversational style in this book that can feel like you're sitting at a bar with him and letting him rattle on in a semi-organized set of stories about his life. It's very readable, and has a lot of good tidbits about he and his brothers, in addition to lots of behind-the-scenes info about IRS and the bands that were signed to the label. But as impressive as the accomplishments of Miles and his brothers were, he still has a sense of grandiosity that leads him to overstate his genuinely-considerable impact on the music industry. But again, like you would a fun drunk at the bar, you're fine with it because he's so charming and his stories are so good.

Would definitely recommend if you're into that era of music and/or you want another take on how the college music scene developed in the 80s and eventually led to the mainstream dominance of alternative acts in the 90s. It's a fun read either way, but caring about the bands Miles worked with from the 70s through the 90s certainly adds to the enjoyment level.

Today is our decision release day, and tomorrow I leave on vacation and won't be back at work until April 11. This has absolutely been my most challenging admission cycle in 20 years in this industry, and I need some serious time off over the next few months to try to stabilize myself and rethink the boundaries around what my team can reasonably be asked to do.

This week off with my family will be a good start, but first we actually have to have a successful decision release. We've got a great surprise planned for Will, and I'm pretty excited about it too. More when we return.

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