All posts by Matt

Songs for My Father

One of the things that surprised me most about when my Dad was sick last year was that while he was in the hospital over about 5 weeks he lost any interest in music, TV, movies, anything on a screen. Music was particularly surprising given that he had music on at his desk pretty much all the time, and really enjoyed loading a new CD or record into the media library he had set up at home. One of the songs I remember playing for him was from a band, Manhattan Transfer, that we used to listen to a lot when I was younger and just learning about jazz, I chose Tuxedo Junction because it might cheer him up.

I remember him smiling faintly. (I wish I had played him more music. I wish I had recorded more of his stories, ideally before he got sick. I wish I had figured out how to navigate the hospital and health care system better.)

What I didn’t anticipate was how after his death there would be aftershocks of grief that would hit me over and over again, especially while driving or in a plane. I went from crying maybe three times in the past decade to breaking down at the end of a company town hall, when talking to family, when my Mom found out about the anniversary present my Dad had been looking at, and with any number of songs that unexpectedly took on a new meaning.

Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth’s See You Again, is obvious, and was in heavy rotation every public place I went; Lukas Graham’s 7 Years completely broke me down when it talked about children — if I ever have any my father will never meet them; Kayne & Paul McCartney’s Only One, the tribute to Kanye’s daughter and passed mother and I think perhaps his best song; Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, about growing old together, turning 70 as he was so close to doing; Kanye’s Ultralight Beam snuck up on me, I didn’t expect it, but the questioning and gospel and anger and hope in it captured something I didn’t even realize I was feeling. Even jazz wasn’t safe, Horace Silver’s lyric-less Song for My Father had the same effect.

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John Mayer’s Stop This Train is a song I’ve probably heard a hundred times since it came out in 2006, but all of sudden these words meant something completely different:

So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young
So I play the numbers game
To find a way to say that life has just begun

Had a talk with my old man
Said, “Help me understand”
He said, “Turn sixty-eight
You’ll renegotiate”

I almost had to pull the car over: he was sixty-eight. What I would give for just one more conversation with him like the one the day before he passed. I wish I had written more down, recorded more of his stories, learned more about his journey.

As the year has passed, the surprise crying is much less common even when one of these songs comes on the radio. Usually when I think of my father it’s with a smile. I’ve even had a few treasured dreams where we’ve been able to talk, nothing that made much sense (it was a dream) but I remember waking up with an overwhelming feeling of enveloping love. While the “new normal” is different, I can’t say it’s better — he’s still gone.

There’s a new “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list out! I follow the list and try to check out restaurants on it when I’m in the area, and as of last month had made it to 28 out of 50 of last year’s list. It’s a goal but in a rolling, gentle fashion: as the list changes every year I’ll probably never make it to 100%, but I enjoy exploring the highlighted folks and I’ve never had a bad meal at one. I was able to make it to Eleven Madison last month and predicted they might take the top spot, which they did in a well-deserved win. As with any award, there are lots of detractors, but Scott Vogel at Houstonia has a great essay on Why the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List Matters, which encapsulates nicely what the list represents to me.

Review: From Plato to Post-modernism

51GBGRne7aL._AA300_.jpgOne thing I’m going to try this year is to write a review of every book I get a chance to read. It’s March already so I’m a bit behind and the next few will be out of order, but this seems like as good a place to start as any.

One new thing I’ve been doing this year is listening to audiobooks with an Audible account, so this first book review is actually an audiobook. Great Courses is actually an old school thing where you could order college lectures on tape. From the references throughout the lectures I listened to, my guess is that the recordings are from the 90s. This one is called From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author ($25 on Audible, $9.99 on cassette tape 🙃).

I really enjoyed this series. Some of the early lectures covering Aristotle, Longinus, and Sidney’s “Apology for Poetry” were quite brilliant. Later ones from Foucault and Derrida on were weaker and harder to follow, which I think is a function of both the material, which can be dense when it starts getting into Modernism, the length, fixed at 30 minutes, and the lecturer, Louis Markos. Markos teaches at Houston Baptist University and his asides can sometimes be a little traditional, but in an adorable grandpa way. He has an infectious enthusiasm that makes even the slower chapters on Kant and Schiller bearable, but his love of and fluency in the earlier classics is really a pleasure.

It made me curious to look into more online lectures and sometime this year I’m going to check out this one on Value Theory at Khan academy. I also picked up a used copy of Critical Theory Since Plato which had the original text for many things discussed in the lecture, so was a great reference point when I was at home in Houston, where I end up listening to most audio content since it’s a driving town.

WordPress Collaborative Editing

I’m really excited about the new Google Docs integration that just launched — basically it builds a beautiful bridge between what is probably the best collaborative document editor on the planet right now, Google’s, and let’s you one-click bring a document there into a WordPress draft with all the formatting, links, and everything brought over. There’s even a clever feature that if you are copying and pasting from Docs it’ll tell you about the integration.

I think this is highly complementary to the work we’re doing with the new Editor in core WordPress. Why? Google Docs represents the web pinnacle of the WordPerfect / Word legacy of editing “pages”, what I’ll call a document editor. It runs on the web, but it’s not native to the web in that its fundamental paradigm is still about the document itself. With the new WordPress Editor the blocks will be all about bringing together building blocks from all over — maps, videos, galleries, forms, images — and making them like Legos you can use to build a rich, web-native post or page.

We’re going to look into some collaborative features, but Google’s annotations, comments, and real-time co-editing are years ahead there. So if you’re drafting something that looks closer to something in the 90s you could print out, Docs will be the best place to start and collaborate (and better than Medium). If you want to built a richer experience, something that really only makes sense on an interactive screen, that’s what the new WordPress editor will be for.

One final note, the Docs web store makes it tricky to use different Google accounts to add integrations like this one. To make it easy, open up a Google Doc under the account you want to use, then go to Add-ons -> Get add-ons… -> search for “Automattic” and you’ll be all set.

I’m very excited to have been selected to join the Henry Crown Fellowship Class of 2017. Many, many folks I admire including Reed Hastings, Kim Polese, Cory Booker, Aileen Lee, Stephen DeBerry, Deven Parekh, Chris Sacca, Tim Ferriss, Reid Hoffman, Scott Heiferman, Troy Carter, Bre Pettis, Lupe Fiasco, and Alexa von Tobel have been through the program in previous years, and several of those people have spoken highly of it to me. I’m excited to meet and get to know the rest of the 2017 class, and embark on a learning journey alongside them.