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MJBizCon Las Vegas – 2019

Today I am off on an airplane to magical, mysterious, miserable Las Vegas, Nevada for the 2019 MJBiz Conference. I will be there until Saturday. If you have yet to decode the name, the conference is for people and companies interested in doing business our country’s emerging market, which is currently only legal on a state-by-state basis. This will be my third time at this particular event. The header image above is a photo I took of the line to get badges last year.

I rate my excitement for the trip, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, at about a 3. I’m being generous.

Trade shows are tiring. You spend all day walking around kissing hands and shaking babies, business card to you, business card for me, what do you have, nice booth, hello guy I haven’t seen in a while, what a neat display, oh the Futurola crew went all out again, uh oh avoid that former client. Then, after the show lets out for the day, you go out until all unholy hours of the night doing the real business of the show: making deals, talking about projects, socializing, the whole thing. Add to all this that the show is in Las Vegas and you have a recipe for coming home feeling like a shell of a person for four or five days.

The show comes at a tough time of year for it to occupy most of a week. I’ve got a lot of year-end tasks to worry about, not to mention lining up work for 2020. Squeezing a week’s worth of in-office work into Monday is not the best. I’ve got reports to figure out how to write! I’ve got to make sure my accountant has all the things he needs! I’ve got to do this and that and whatever else! The entire company office will be in Vegas this week (there are two of us). I hope the building doesn’t burn down.

Even worse is that I am not especially interested in the theme of the show. I like being part of my construction company and I am often proud of what we make happen as a small crew. Our work is excellent and we run an honorable, no-bullshit business. However, we service an industry that just doesn’t excite me. There are loads of good people working hard to make something of themselves and I have tons of respect for a lot of them. I am not in any way trying to something negative about the people we work for and with. But, I’d probably be more interested in the booths at a horror movie convention. Just not super hyped on the wacky tabacky and its accoutrements, you know?

The only reason the show gets even a 3 out of 10 is that it is, admittedly and without reservation, nice to see all our vendor friends. You spend a lot of time on the calling and e-mailing people all over and it is good to spend some real face-time with them at least once or twice a year. That part I like.

The rest of it you can have.

Wish me luck! And let’s see if we can make something happen.

In search of good Horror Fiction

I’ve read Stephen King.

I’ve read Shirley Jackson.

I’ve read Clive Barker.

I’ve read Lovecraft and Poe and Shelley and Stoker and Matheson and Staub and Rice.

I’ve read a mountain of horror fiction and seen hundreds of horror films, but I feel like I am still missing out.

Stephen King is great, but his books aren’t scary. Clive Barker is inventive and gory, but I feel like sometimes he is better in films where he can drive his ideas with visuals. Joe Hill is writing some incredibly smart, fast-paced horror fiction, but I’ve read all his books. Shirley Jackson wore the Victorian-Horror-In-The-1950s crown, but she’s not producing new work. Lovecraft set the tone for thousands of writers to follow, even if he has some real problematic race ideas in his writing.

So. Who is out there writing our era’s great horror fiction? Who is creating terrifying new worlds and driving people insane? Who is haunting the manor halls with the unjustly dead? Who is condemning the souls of the greedy to eternal torment? Who am I missing? Someone must be doing all this, right?

Give me some ideas in the comments.

Photo by W A T A R I on Unsplash

Recipe: Sausage & Sage Stuffing

My friend Nicole was recently giving me my monthly haircut and we got to chatting about Thanksgiving. She mentioned that no one in her family was good at making stuffing, which was surprising to me because stuffing might just be the easiest, most delicious part of a Thanksgiving spread. Because I am such a generous soul, I offered to send her my recipe for stuffing, which I basically stole from Mark Bittman. Ok, ok, maybe not stole, but definitely adapted.

Granted, Thanksgiving is past at this point, but Christmas is coming up and stuffing is just as good then as it is any other time. Make it during the summer time, too! It’s good!

So, in the interest of bragging about my selfless, generous nature, here is my recipe. Feel free to follow it or change it or do whatever. It’s your life.

Sausage & Sage Stuffing

Ingredients:
1.5 lb sausage, herby Italian, not spicy
2 loaves of bread, I like sourdough
Butter, 1 stick, unsalted
Yellow onion, 1 medium
Celery, to match the onion
Fresh sage, half cup
Fresh thyme, quarter cup
Fresh flat leaf parsley, maybe half a cup?
Chicken stock, unsalted, for wetness
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1) Slice and toast the bread. Allow it to cool. If you’re really nuts, I like to toast the bread on the grill. I think it give the toast better flavor and better color to the stuffing in the end. You might need to scrape off some more burnt bits, but sometimes you have to suffer for your art.

Pulse the toasted bread slices in a food processor until both loaves are broken up decently. I like a mix of medium and small chunks. Save the toast powder this creates.

2) If you could only get sausage links, pull the meat out of the casing. If it’s loose, you’re set to go. In a dutch oven, cook the sausage until it’s done. Break it up into crumbles while cooking. Remove it from the dutch oven.

Dice your onion and celery. You want approximately equal portions of each. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the dutch oven. Sauté the onion and celery in the dutch oven until soft. Salt and pepper. Add the sausage back with its accumulated juice. Stir in the sage, thyme, and parsley.

3) Next add the bread crumbs and dust. I find it’s easiest to do this in two passes. Stir the it all up in the dutch oven.

Add the chicken stock. Again, I like to do this in steps. Add some, mix it in, add some more, mix it in. That way you know when to stop. The right amount of liquid yields soft toast crumbs, but is not soupy. Better to be sparing on the liquid as you can always add more later, but you can’t get rid of it. You’re just going to need to suss out this volume yourself.

4) Bring the stuffing up to temp over medium heat for a couple minutes. Just until it’s hot. Now taste it. It should probably not be salty enough, so add more salt, but be sparing as it concentrates a little before serving. If it’s lightly salty, to your preference, then it’s good.

Transfer to a crock pot set to Warm until you are ready to serve. I like to put another two one-tablespoon pats of butter on top of the stuffing when I put it in the dutch oven. It will slowly melt and butter is good, so fuck it why not.

Yields 6 to 7 quarts. So much.

That Damned Voice

You know that voice in your head that hates everything you do?

This idea is so stupid.

Why are you wasting your time? Just give it a rest.

No one gives a damn about this garbage.

I hate that guy. I hate the way he talks to me. I hate the way he affects everything I try to make or do. I hate that he is always there, always nagging, always loud, always getting in the way of exercising the creative juju that helps me feel like a whole person.

But, you know what the worst part of that voice is? That voice is me. One hundred percent, inextricably me.

I wish I could blame his negativity on some external influence, but that would be dishonest. That jerk telling me how much I suck is me.

The voice is something I’ve always struggled with, especially when my job was more creative. I would stress and stress while working on a cut, wrestling with that voice the whole time. They’re going to hate this. This sequence doesn’t make sense. I am a fraud. This is horrible. I will never work again.

The voice was a constant companion back then, like an overly sensitive smoke alarm placed directly above your oven door that goes off at the slightest provocation. He would smell my lack of confidence, sensing that I was about to put my core in front of the jury and he would start screaming, screaming, screaming. Relentless.

Eventually, fear of failure would drown him out and I would push through the noise to get things done. That was the cycle. Project starts -> stress stress stress -> down to the wire -> recognition that I had just enough time to get the thing done -> execution. Far from the best way to work, but I managed to squeak by. I never excelled, never enjoyed the process, but always enjoyed the creative flow-state that resulted when the voice drove me to the precipice of fear. Then I could work.

Pretty frustrating. No use dwelling on what could have been had I unlearned this bad habit decades ago, though. You can’t change the past, only the decisions you make today.

Now, he’s a less common visitor since my work is, overall, much less creative than it once was. Now, I have numbers and math to back up the decisions I make and, as long as those make sense, there’s less uncertainty, less of my self on the line. The voice no longer has such frequent opportunities to make himself known.

But when he does?

It feels like he’s making up for lost time. He shouts about everything tiny choice I’m considering. The din is nearly impossible to cut through. I can feel it in my chest and in my head and in the jelly of my eyes. Without the fear to drown him out, I have no escape. The voice grinds until I cast that day’s creative idea away and give in to easier pleasures. Then reprieve.

Reprieve, however, is short lived. My mind is never quiet and during that easier pleasure I recognize the pattern of emotional self-abuse and get angry. Angry at myself for letting the voice win again. Frustrated for another night of giving in to an unearned reward. Depressed that this is just how it will always and forever be.

Luckily, that pattern, too, is just another bad habit. The only real way to do away with the voice is to unlearn his language. So, here I am, struggling through this post to try and shut him up.

Noodle

In case you were wondering yesterday what Noodle looks like, she looks like this:

Where have I been?

Hi there, The Black Laser friends. It’s been a while. Nearly three years, in fact, if we’re judging by the date on my Donald Trump post directly following this one. And, boy, is that post still unfortunately timely.

But where have I been since January 21, 2017? Here! Everywhere! Lots of changes! In the interest of keeping things brisk, let’s do a nice, vaguely chronological list.

  • I quit my job at Wax and left the industry all together. I loved my crew there, but I was burnt out on the ad industry and needed to change. My energy output was far greater than my energy input.
  • I moved from New York City to San Jose, CA. Similarly, I was pretty burnt on New York City. It’s the most fun place when you are 28 and single, but that gets old and you get married and move out to Queens and, one day, you wake up and think, “What the hell am I schlepping through the fucking snow for?” So we moved. Even better, I moved away without writing a break up letter with the city. Feel free to search for some examples of one of those on the internet.
  • I started a construction company that focuses on greenhouses called Verdant Construction with JJ, his dad John, and an Australian named Jason. I figured that it would be easy to jump head-first into an industry I knew basically nothing about. Whoops!
  • We moved from San Jose, CA to Soquel, CA, which is not too far, but the quality of life near the beach is wildly superior to San Jose.
  • I bought a monster grill that I get to cook on 4 times a week, even through the dead of winter. I haven’t seen snow, or my arch-enemy “the wintry mix,” in nearly three years.
  • I spent a semester at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA taking some basic business classes. I realized that, suddenly!, I was a business man who knew pretty much nothing about business. Whoops again! So I thought to fix that problem without having to learn everything the hardest way: by failing.
  • After whetting my appetite for higher learning at Cabrillo and recognizing that community college was never going to meet my standards, I started an MBA program at the business school at Santa Clara University. Because I was not busy enough working full time and traveling all over the west coast for work. Whoops whoops whoops!
  • Our old cat Henry died. He grew more and more threadbare over his last six months and spent a lot of time sick, barfing much more frequently than even his usual high level. Eventually his motor control gave out and he quickly wound down. Rest in peace, business cat.
  • We got a kitten, Noodle, to keep Baby company. Her name was Dixie at the foster home, and I wanted to call her Cup. Sarah thought Cup o’Noodles which matched the fact that she (the kitten) is a floppy, cross-eyed, little cuddle monster who loves belly rubs. And, it turns out, that Baby didn’t want to company. We hope she warms up to Noodle over the next year.

And that’s pretty much it for me for the last 2.8 years. Many changes, some good, some not great. I’ve been a lot of places, met a lot of characters, and eaten a lot of sketchy burritos. Life is pretty good overall. I’ve got some upcoming projects to share, a strong new theme for 2020 I am getting started on early but won’t share quite yet, and a bit of a bug to exercise the old space bar. So, yeah, hi, I love you. Thanks for reading.

Donald Trump is Cancer

Today, I had a brief moment of insight and recognized what I am—and have been—feeling about Donald Trump becoming the President; this whole process has felt a lot like watching a loved one die of a terminal disease. In fact, as I think about it more, the metaphor and emotional arc I’ve experienced extend to pretty much the entire campaign process, so let’s go through the whole thing together.

Donald Trump’s rise through the ranks of the already-toxic GOP was difficult for me to watch and impossible for me to stay level headed about. All the warning signs were there: the lies, the hate, the malice. Trump has been cartoon evil the entire time, a smirking villain in a group of otherwise unremarkable Republican contenders dominated by Tea Party whackos and members of the old guard who just couldn’t compete for the attention of America’s bible-thumping red state voters. He climbed through the ranks on the backs of more qualified men, and then stole their thunder with wild boasting and impossible promises. Never ready to openly embrace the darkest aspects of the American electorate, but also never willing to publicly separate himself from them, Trump didn’t go away like any sane person wanted him to, but grew in influence and became more serious. So serious that the soreness and aches could no longer be ignored, and suddenly there was blood in the urine which definitely required a trip the doctor.

While you hoped for a mundane response from the doctor, a bruised kidney or maybe dehydration or stress or some other manageable thing, the news was more dire than you would have ever feared. The doctor had ruled out all other possibilities and Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee. The bad news pulled people together to fight the spread of disease, but people couldn’t decide how it should be treated, so they bickered and argued and some people decided that abstaining from treatment was the right choice. And the good doctors all tried their hardest to fight the spread of the Trump cancer, but spread and grow it did.

We all struggled and we were angry. Trump was wildly unqualified for the job the Republicans put him up for. He was a vile, reprehensible man in both his public and private lives and this was the person the GOP thought should run the country? It seemed so insane to everyone. How could this happen? Why us? This couldn’t possibly be real, could it? But it was real. Incredibly real. Yet, we were assured that he wasn’t going to win, that it was almost a certainty that we would beat this monster and we would continue on with the grand American experiment the way we had for the previous eight imperfect but incredible years under the stewardship of Obama. Everything was going to be fine! People would never actually vote for that monster. Why would anyone want cancer to spread?

Suddenly, there was an unexpected turn for the worst, and Trump won the Presidency with 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. It was a devastating blow. Spirits were crushed. The future felt dark. For me, Trump winning was that moment you watched your loved one being admitted to the hospital with very little possibility of leaving. Sure, you hoped that something would turn around, that he would have been impeached or that this business with Putin would have had some effect. You read and you researched, and some information elicited hope and some inspired dread. Yet, you couldn’t turn yourself away from the reading, from the discussions, from trying to figure out how to fix the problem. Surely there must be some solution. You racked your brain and you were filled with anxiety and sleep eluded you. And when everything was boiling inside you, you screamed into the void and you pled with the heavens. But deep, deep in your heart, you knew that this was always a one-way trip. Your loved one will not see the outside of a hospital again and Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.

On January 20th, 2017, you watched the light in your loved one’s eyes fade and Trump was sworn in to the highest office in the land.

And it was sad, but, in a lot of ways, it was also a huge relief.

The death of someone you love is an unparalleled loss, but watching them suffer and erode is much worse. Terminal disease robs people of the people they are, and by the time they actually pass, you feel like you can finally stop holding your breath. You can finally stop worrying. You can let go. That person is gone and absolutely nothing will change that. No more unknowns, no more worrying. Now, you mourn, you celebrate, and you rebuild your new, different life.

That feeling of relief is what I recognized in myself today and it took me a moment to understand where I’d felt it before. But when I figured it out, the last year was suddenly thrown into stark clarity. Of course! these feelings are like when my little brother was sick and died, but on a more abstract, macro scale. With Nicky’s dying, it was pointed and sharp and very personal. With Trump’s presidency, it is broad and formless and everywhere, but the feelings—the loss, the anger, the anxiety, the fear—are exactly the same. And now that the wondering is over, I feel prepared to get on with it. And that doesn’t mean giving up. It means that my energy can be focused free of crippling anxiety. Trump is death and he has arrived, so we no longer have to worry about dying.

I suspect that a lot of Americans are feeling the same way this weekend. The Women’s Marches across the country and the world are sure indicators. Sarah is down in DC today for the march on the capital. I am proud of her for that. Lots of women I know are also in DC for the march, or in various cities for local marches. I am proud of all of them, too. I am proud of every American woman, man, and child who is out across the country raising their voice to help us all rebuild after our devastating loss. This is a positive first step and a strong statement that the desire for progress is real. The message is love and equality and acceptance. The message is hope. The next four years are going to be rocky, unsure, complicated. Now it is time to rebuild our new, different life as Americans to battle the poisons spilling from the Trump regime.

Mountain Dew – Drone Hunting

At the end of last year, I cut this spot with some cool dudes from BBDO here at Wax and it was just finally released. It’s the moving, emotional story of a bunch of kids chasing a tiny helicopter with nets. It was a fun challenge to cut something fairly different than my usual comedy work and I think it came out pretty cool.

If you are a lover of motorbikes, teeny helicopters, Chile, dust, Mountain Dew, nets, trees, grass, or all or none of those things, check out the spot and enjoy the hell out of it.