So having pushed up everything that was queued (including one five year old draft buried in the console), I think normal service is restored. The blog now plays nicely with the newest version of MarsEdit, which is nifty, and I can easily and cleanly post from the iPhone app (like right now), which may be a useful thing abroad rather than waiting and doing a big travelogue dump at the end. Being on the latest WordPress should also work a treat for performance and security, which I’m sure will make our host happy.

But one thing I did change was the theme. There was an updated version of the basic black text on white background that I’d been using more or less forever, and it was fine, and I reserve the right to go back to it. But the 2017 theme had room for a header picture. And I thought, well, why not.

The header is San Gregorio beach, on a day when the fog is up. Around here, it’s the place where you take that special someone you’re getting serious about. For at least a couple of years now, the whole San Mateo coastline has been my refuge, my place of peace, where I go to get my head together. It’s where I idly dream of retiring someday as I drift off to sleep at night. If I went down tomorrow, it’s almost certainly where I’d want my ashes scattered. It feels like a right place, and a safe place, and a saner place.

Which means it’s a good header for here. Twelve years of journaling here has made me acutely conscious that I spend a lot of time bitching and woolgathering and raging against the storm to no good end. Maybe hanging this over the front door is a good way of reminding myself that there’s a better place and a better aspiration and it’s a half hour to get there…unless I stop at Taco Bell in Pacifica first for a loaded potato griller and some Cinnabon delights with an extra large Baja Blast.

Year 13 is begun. Onward.

eeeeeeeee mail

In the beginning there was eWorld. I knew the internet existed, and that I would have access to it when I got to Vanderbilt, but having just bought my Power Mac 6100 my thinking was “get online as quick as humanly possible” and that meant the short window in which Apple had its own private-label version of America Online. It hadn’t been up and running more than a month when I got on, and while it didn’t really have internet access, it did have an email gateway. And so history will record that my first email address wasn’t, but

I got my Vanderbilt email within hours of arriving on campus, of course. It took a while for me to figure out how to get my computer dialed in with Apple Remote Access and then configure the necessaries to telnet in from there, and then it took me a while to figure out how to actually use Eudora. But for the first three years of my online life, email was something that I had to find a computer with a command line to access unless I was at home. So telnet became the indispensable thing, from any one of half a dozen places around campus. Being home meant being without access. Which was painful.

The big shift occurred when I got to Washington and realized I needed to be on IMAP rather than POP. Vanderbilt was just engaging in that shift as I left, moving from telnet and POP to an actual IMAP client. Webmail existed – I had a burner Hotmail account almost as soon as I found it existed, and that was potentially transformative – but Vanderbilt didn’t, and neither did my new ISP in DC. In fact, I specifically chose them because they had command line access, and that remained my essential backup solution for years after, Sure, there was Eudora – or Outlook Express, or whatever alternative client I grasped at before Apple Mail in Mac OS X ended Email Client Glee for good – but I felt naked without the ability to just telnet in and use pine.

And it stayed that way. I had POP mail clients on my phones from 2000 on, with varying degrees of success – mostly only useful as an enhanced pager of sorts, or to see “oh shit I have to get back to my computer and look at this for real”. My early smartphone attempts – the Sony Ericsson P800, the Nokia 6620 – didn’t handle it much better. It was only once the iPhone landed in my hands in the summer of 2007 that I realized that email was no longer something you got at over the terminal or through a web browser: email was now something that lived in your hand.

And here’s the remarkable thing: through all this time, email remains the only thing you can set up yourself, on a server in the closet, and make work on any platform or interoperate with anyone else’s email. If you could drop back through time and send something from that account, it could be received and read equally well on Gmail, on the mail client of the iPhone, on Outlook at work, through pine at this very host. Nothing, not even SMS, has been as robust and as interoperable for as long. And that’s why I still persist in keeping up my personal addresses and doing the work to train away the spam, because after almost a quarter-century, I still perk up at that “unread” indicator.

Glee gone by

During the blog outage, I was messing about with the Nokia 3310 and decided to compare it to the Nokia 6620 or Motorola V635 via, which used to be an everyday visit once upon a time. Sure enough, for a $60 burner phone in 2018, it could go back in time to January 2006 and it would be a killer. Everything I wanted in a phone twelve years ago except possibly iSync (and let’s be honest, iSync was crap): quad-band coverage for home and abroad, Bluetooth AND speakerphone, an equal-or-better resolution display and a battery 50% larger than anything else I had, and all in a package half the size. A memento mori of the time when your cellphone went in the change pocket of your jeans and manufacturers were competing to get smaller.

But then, there’s a lot of things I don’t have the same glee for anymore. Time was, I was on the eternal search for the perfect bag. Constantly looking at Timbuk2 and Rickshaw and Chrome for all manner of what have you. Messengers, backpacks, the One True Bag that would sort it. And then about five or six years ago, it stopped. Partly because I didn’t need to carry a laptop every day any longer, but partly because I ended up with a small backpack that was just what I needed for work and no more, and because I had a Rickshaw messenger for an overnight bag and a Timbuk2 that could go for two or three days (in fact, I am actively contemplating a Monday-through-Friday with nothing else). 

There was jacket glee. That mostly passed as a result of eventually accumulating everything I could have wanted. The Filson/Levis trucker jacket. The long-sought-after Harris Tweed. The seersucker blazer. The Buzz Rickson, imported from Japan in person. The peacoat, after all that time. And the thing that kills me is that thanks to climate change, I rarely need anything heavier than a rain shell. I’ve gone from a world where I defined my look by my outerwear to one where outerwear is superfluous to requirement.

Well, how about shoes? I accumulated those too. I eventually got my British-made DMs and DM-alikes. The quest for American footwear got me some canoe Mocs and the Alden Indy boots, both of which will be remanufactured for the rest of my life as required. And by a weird stroke of luck, I fell ass-backward into a $35 pair of plastic Birkenstocks which fit and wore so well that I bought two more pair to have stashed in the closet for when the time comes that the first ones wear out.

Which is a recurring theme. It seems that for the last two years, almost, my clothing purchases consist of “stockpile more of the basics.” The Pointer Brand jeans from LC King of Bristol, TN, basic American workwear for a century. The black T-shirts from American Giant, with their slubby cotton weave. The overbuilt work shirt from AG that became almost an everyday garment when I wasn’t in the office from January to June, every chance I could get when the temps were going below 66 degrees. (And yes, there’s a spare still sealed in its plastic in the closet.) I suppose you could make the case that Hat Glee overpowered all other clothing fixations, but the two wool flannel caps and the tweet flat cap from Ireland very nearly put a sock in that as well (special souvenirs like the San Jose Churros lid notwithstanding). 

I didn’t learn not to want stuff. Not at all. This is not me moving past material concerns. But there’s a chance that I’ve accumulated as much stuff as I need or want. I really like the car, I really like the work shirt, I really like the three pair of footwear that do for most everything anymore. If allowed, I would just wear the same five black T-shirts and same three pair of jeans until they wore out. My three wool caps – two flannel baseball, one tweed flat – obviate the need for any of the others. I have everything I require or desire to get through life, and at this point, the money is all for plane tickets and lodging and bar tabs. (And Kindle books and iTunes content, to be honest, but that’s not taking up any more space.) It’s possible that the things of the world finally dovetailed neatly with the life I’d like to lead.

anchor, down

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have that many great memories around my time at Vanderbilt. Not that the ones I do have aren’t great, but there just aren’t that many of them, because of how I wound up spending way too much time back in Birmingham indulging my toxic relationship. I can only remember attending two actual football games in three years, even though I know there must have been more. I remember a handful of departmental team outings – to the movies once or twice, to the Oak Room, bowling, two or three random house parties or dinners. Mostly I just remember being –  whether on campus at the Overcup Oak or the computer lab at Payne Hall, or walking distance at SATCO or Boston Market, or at one of the malls or just wandering around the Opryland Hotel in search of that Disney World vibe. It was just the fact of being in Nashville, being at another school, feeling like I had found this alternate world that wasn’t bounded by Jefferson County Alabama. One where I was happier than I’d ever been in undergrad. Like I’d stepped out of my own time into a better one.

I know in the past I’ve said that Nashville felt like home on day one in a way no other place ever did, but upon further review I’d like to extend and revise my remarks. See, it was Vanderbilt that felt like home on day one. It just happened to be in Nashville, which added to the novelty of it all because I was on a college campus I hadn’t already been visiting weekly since 1978 or so. But Vanderbilt was a highly-regarded academic institution where I’d been awarded a scholarship and was being left to my own devices without the burden of being in the same town or having felt like I flopped to my second choice. It was, simply put, the fulfillment of my life’s work. No wonder it felt like home. 

So when the bubble burst and I came back to earth – and then had to start all over and be rebuilt completely anew somewhere else – Vanderbilt sort of went by the boards. I was vaguely aware of them getting off to that great start in football in 2005 (only to come back to earth hard) or reaching his-and-hers Sweet Sixteens in 2004, but my actual undergrad and Alabama football held at least as much of my attention throughout my time in DC. (When the Skins weren’t soaking it all up. Or NASCAR, how the hell did that happen. For that matter how did I never make it to one Skins game in seven seasons in Arlington?) It was only once I’d spent some serious time in Silicon Valley, caught between Berkeley on one side and Shallow Alto on the other, that I gravitated back toward my consolation-prize M.A. as something more than just degree laundering.

Thing is, my Vanderbilt stuff in recent years has been tangentially related to my time there at best. I’m not in contact with any of the Herd, my old colleagues and cohorts, or any of the faculty I kinda sorta not-really worked with. I’m not involved with my field of study at all, never have been since leaving. I’ve been sporadically involved with the San Francisco alumni club, though I’m largely out of the demographic for that, and of course there’s the blog-and-Twitter content which has become more sparse than ever. I’ve been back since graduation, obviously, but for the first couple or three times it was just a bookstore run with someone else in tow. That 2012 football game was my first trip back alone since I left alone in 1997, and I think it was the echoes of that which I felt more than any real “it’s like I’ve never been away.” Or more accurately, it was as if, having become a devoted fan of some foreign soccer team, I finally got to visit their stadium in their own country for an actual game. Except for the ring on my finger, I could just as easily have been one of those rare precious sidewalk alums, someone who picked Vanderbilt out of a hat with no connection other than wanting to support them.

Which has always been kind of a tough nut to crack. I’ve never settled on any team I wanted to root for without some sort of connection. I think that was what made the ten-year search for a Premier League team so inconclusive; it required me to have a nagging attachment to Fulham, attend an actual home match, and see their ultimate promotion back to the PL to give me a confirmed rooting interest. I had my wife for Cal, I had the Irish pub and its song connections for Celtic, I had political science and my then-girlfriend’s grandfather for the Skins before I ever landed in DC. Vanderbilt was something I went back to at the moment when Bama was a steaming pile and I’d finally entirely disavowed my undergrad, a time when I needed some connection to which I could feel like I had a legitimate claim.

It’s gone kind of sideways in recent years. It doesn’t help that the general toxicity of Twitter has bled into that account as well, but my billet on the blog was football, and it’s become intolerable to be a regular correspondent for a team that has absolutely no shot in its conference, in a sport that embodies the worst of college athletics and may be on the same course as boxing for what it does to the health and welfare of its participants. In a world where the Dores can field three other legitimate national championship contenders in other sports, there’s no percentage in signing up to get your brains beat out in hopes that maybe this is the year football can maybe reach .500 somehow.

I mean, if you think about it, how much of my Vanderbilt life nowadays actually existed when I was there? There was no Twitter. There were no blogs. There was barely a USENET presence. No one had ever heard of “Anchor Down” or “Who Ya Wit” and the three-finger gesture didn’t exist except as a Serbian nationalist sign. Vanderbilt, for me, since 2007 – and especially since 2010 – has existed mainly as a way for me to have something to claim to belong to, something I can point to when people say “tell me about yourself.” It’s become an attempt to reach back and fish something out of the black hole, to built some kind of ersatz college experience that could stand in for seven years of trying and failing to have what I’d always wanted and twenty more of chasing behind it. And somewhere in the last year, the college thing became something I learned to stop really caring that much about. College happened, it didn’t work out like I hoped, and there’s nothing for it but to walk on and do whatever is next.

In fact, there’s an argument to be made for Vanderbilt not as college-laundering, but as the first job out of college. Sure, it was a job as a grad student, but they were paying me to do it and giving me a salary and health care, I could have lived anywhere in Nashville, grad students weren’t remotely tied to what you think of as student life…and the thing is, viewed from that angle, the arc of my career path is FAR more impressive if you launch from just a failed four years at a nothing school in Alabama and get all the way through Vanderbilt and DC to Silly Con Valley. I don’t have to tether myself to it as some bulwark of identity. I don’t have to keep forcing myself to fit someplace that is honestly not that great of a fit for the sake of filling a black hole that I can just plank over and walk around.

Vanderbilt was something that I settled on at the exact moment when I was casting about for an English soccer team, and I think in retrospect it was for many of the same reasons. It was something new, unique, novel, a rooting interest I could claim anew somehow. It has been its own variety of cosplay, its own sort of invented secret identity to let me pretend to be something more or different than I actually am. It was something I salvaged out of the old wreckage, slapped a couple coats of paint on it, and used to try to prove I was something else. And we may well be approaching the day when my Vanderbilt identity, as currently constituted, will be a casualty of my lifelong ambition not to have to prove anything…which began at Vanderbilt.

“Is it safe?”

So about a month ago, Thanos snapped his fingers, and half the server was destroyed. Fortunately it was the OS half and not the content half, and thanks to the diligent genius work of Mine Host, we are back in business just in time to start the 13th year of this blog. Which is kind of crazy to think about. It’s my longest continuous online presence at any one address other than my iTools mail account. I’ve been using this URL longer than any cell phone number (to my wife’s endless chagrin).

We have so much to catch up on. Remedial posting begins tomorrow.