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Category Archives: ocd

Crushing On: Productivity Tools ToDoist & TimeSheet

I’m at my best when I’m on the clock.

That’s not just a euphemism for procrastinating until a deadline. I am consistently, measurably better at getting things done when I consistently measure what I’m getting done.

That’s always been true for me at work, especially starting in 2006 when I flourished like a unruly weed when paired with a project management system that allowed me to track my billable hours. Knowing what my to-do list consists of and how long I spend doing it is a huge motivator for me. I guess it was my own version of  “gamification” before that became a hip thing to do to everything in your life.

It hasn’t always been as easy to find the same productivity alchemy at home. I always have long-term goals and near-term projects I’m working on, but I don’t exactly have billable hours. Who is there to charge, aside from myself? Left to my own devices I’ll always pick the thing that is the most fun or the most methodical – which works out frequently to rehearsing, occasionally as laundry, and hardly ever as cleaning the bathroom.

I’ve found a website and an app that both nip that occasional path-of-least-resistance listlessness in the bud, but from slightly different directions.

ToDoist: a tasklist website and app

First, there’s ToDoist. I found it over the summer after demoing over a dozen task management systems online to help my wrangle dozens of things I was hoping to get done. Some of the services were no-frills checklists, while others were practically their own personal Outlook installation.

ToDoist falls closer to the former side of the scale – it’s a simply, obvious checklist that allows you to group tasks into projects and set deadlines and priorities.

When I checked out other systems, I discovered the lack of projects and priorities to be a real dealbreaker. If you can’t organize your tasks or give them some sense of order then you might as well be working with a pen and paper – which is cool and all, but I wanted something dynamic that worked from any internet connection as well as on my phone.

ToDoist does the trick, and for a mere $2 a month you can add improved filtering, tagging, searches, and reminders – totally worth it!

ToDoist meant I was actually crossing things off my list of at-home to-dos – awesome! However, it lacked one feature I really treasure about entering billable hours at work – the ability to perform an audit on what I was spending (wasting?) the most time on. I find that’s a useful exercise to undergo both at work and at home to normalize your expectations … like, your commute is always 45 minutes, so stop being so sure you can leave work late and still get home by six!

Timesheet: a time tracker app for Android

I needed a super-straightforward phone app – effectively, just a stopwatch for tasks. I found my match in a free app called TimeSheet.

It’s the perfect tool for a freelancer or home project enthusiast. You can set up multiple projects, each with a client and a billable rate. When you start working you simply start the clock on your project! When you’re done you stop the clock and wind up with a handy task summary that breaks out your billability and allows you to add expenses and notes. You can also add tasks after the fact without the clock, and export your data to Excel.

Is this overkill for a week or two of auditing how I spend my time? A little. But, you don’t have to use all of those features. Heck, you could use it just for one thing you are trying to bring more of in your life, like working on your NaBloPoMo book or mixing your band’s new album.

(Not that I need extra motivation to do either of those.)

(Okay, maybe just a little.)

In just three days I found out that I’m getting way more sleep than I used to, and that my commute takes up a lot more time in aggregate than I realized – so I should find something productive to do while I’m in transit. I also decided I could be spending a minimum of time each day doing other things (a-hem: blogging), so I added projects for those too.

There you have it – two free productivity tools that can help you get a better handle on your time. I’m totally into them both, so hopefully you can find some use for them too.

Now it’s your turn: What productivity tool are you crushing on lately? Is it super-techy, or as simple as a pen and paper?

Does the past matter after a reboot?

To be fair, I don’t know if any of us really wanted to see a fourth film of Maguire’s puffy prematurely-balding version of Peter Parker.

We are living in the age of the reboot.

Last week Amazing Spider-Man relaunched the webhead’s cinematic universe while the body of the old Tobey Maguire series was still warm. There’s a new Dallas series on TV. Sherlock Holmes revisionist history movies are being released alongside a present-day version of the detective on BBC TV.

So do those older, original versions matter?

Alternate Future History

Think about your favorite TV show or series of books. It’s a serialized, ongoing story that builds with every installment and references its past. You love it. You watch every episode and buy every volume. You are a super-fan.

What if there was some prior series with the same characters and concepts, but it was not a part of the current story you love? Would you buy it? This is increasingly common in our age of reboots. If you loved the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie – which departs from the traditional Trek timeline post-Enterprise- are the other TV series and films automatically a must-watch? What about past Spider-Man movies, original Dallas, Sherlock Holmes books, Charlie’s Angels, G.I. Joe, Inspector Gadget, or Battlestar Galactica?

To me, Garfield is the perfect embodiment of Peter Parker – thin, gangly, awkward, and genuine.

Probably not. All those past series are just an alternate reality to the present ones. You don’t need to watch both.

Case Study: DC’s Crisis of Collected Editions

DC Comics  is one year into their successful line-wide New 52 reboot. Now they’re faced with a major crisis: they have a huge back catalog of trade paperbacks and hardcovers that might not matter.

DC’s rich history of iconic characters stretches back to 1938. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman – these heroes emerged as pure archetypes and over many decades evolved into the rounder, more dynamic characters they are today. There are many hundreds of older issues of their exploits available to reprint and press into the hands of eager young fans of today.

Action Comics #1, 1938

Except, today’s characters are not the same people – and I don’t just mean their personalities. DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths rebooted everyone back in 1984, making post-84 books the equivalent of new-Trek. Some of the characters beneath the masks of Flash and Green Lantern weren’t even the same as before! Then, after many years of tweaking, DC rebooted again last fall – creating a new-new-Trek.

What wasn’t immediately evident from those #1 issues was that some characters survived more intact than others. Batman’s corner of the DC Universe? Seemingly mostly the same, even if Bruce is younger than before. Superman? Origin retold from scratch, parents now dead, never in a relationship with Lois. Wonder Woman? Major changes in the Amazonian status quo, right down to her parentage.

Which brings me to my titular question: do DC Comics Collections matter? Yes, there are the Watchmens and the Killing Jokes, the indisputable classics of the comics medium that will move units regardless of if their stories still count for anything.

But what about DC Archives, their premium hardcover reprints of Golden and Silver Age comics? What about Wonder Woman #205? Action Comics #527? The 70s Green Arrow / Green Lantern series?

Action Comics #1, 2011

None of it counts in continuity, so does it matter anymore? These classic stories have little to nothing to do with the current state of my favorite heroine. They aren’t all prohibitive classics. So, is there any point in reprinting them?

(Marvel doesn’t have this problem. Aside from some isolated soft reboots of certain characters, everything still counts, all the way back to the 40s. Every issue of X-Men is acknowledged and in continuity.)

Does the alternate past matter? You decide.

I want to know what you think. Do older stories still have a place post-reboot? If you loved JJ Abrams’s Star Trek did you immediately jump back to rewatch the original series?

And, on our case study: Should DC even bother to reprint non-seminal stories of characters other than Batman if they don’t matter in current continuity?

What do you think?

Crushing On: Okabashi Shoes

When I joined a gym early in 2011 I had one major concern.

Okay, two, but everyone looks silly at points while doing yoga, so I got over that one pretty fast.

No, my major worry was the showers. Really it was an array of several related worries. A bouquet, if you will.

Meet my new gym enablers. I love them.

After a year of gym-going I was able to sublimate OCD Godzilla for long enough to be seen mostly nude by other human beings not on the internet, use gym-supplied towels without breaking into hives, and bypass my typically lengthy shampoo regimen while still feeling clean. Yet, nothing can disengage my genetic heritage of being skeeved out by stuff, and there is nothing more skeevy than the floor of a four-by-four square stall that has sweaty naked men coming and going from it all day.

For some people, a turn-on. For me, skeevy.

It came down to my feet. I am notoriously sensitive about the idea that feet are meant to touch the ground, which other stuff has touched, and thus might be dirty. I was the child that needed to be carried directly from the ocean to the beach towel, so no offensive sand could stick to my tiny toes. Wearing flip flops anywhere but the poolside was (confession: still is) absolutely verboten, less the edge of my heel slip from their rubberized surface to touch the ground in a parking lot or grocery store freezer aisle or any other location where I might catch a deadly foot plague.

Wow, who knew it would feel so good to type that all out?

Back to the gym. Even after I got over all of my other shower hangups, I could not let any part of my feel touch the shower stall. “Of course,” you say, “I wouldn’t either.” Yet, my autopodomysophobia extended to the flip flops. Would they not also become riddled with disease over time due to their contact with the shower stall floor, spreading to infect not only my feet, but my entire gym bag?

For most people this image conveys the idea of a relaxing vacation. For me, it conveys the idea of OCD heart attack. This may explain why I have not been on a beach for over 10 years.

This spawned lengthy, philosophical conversations with my co-workers about what they did with their shower shoes. No explanation was enough for me. I slowly tapered down my gym-going, as on every freshly-showered return to my desk I could do nothing but worry about my feet, which surely had contracted a fungus from my flip flops.

And chlamydia.

And the plague.

I decided I needed a pair of flip flops that could be put in the washer, or dishwasher, or microwave, or some other disinfecting appliance short of the furnace.

Enter my good (also OCD) friend Mary and her suggestion of Okabashi shoes.

These Okabashi people know all about the concept of shower OCD. Their flip flips are molded from just one or two pieces of injected molded microplast, which means there are few nooks and crannies for dirt and chlamydia to infest. They are treated with an anti-microbial agent, which means less fear today and more super-germs in our apocalyptic future. Plus, Made in the USA!

Most importantly: they are completely waterproof and dishwasher safe!

Three days and $20 later, I had a pair of Okabashi shower shoes that are completely impervious to all possibly gym shower floor related phobias and concerns. And, if I get concerned I can just spray them down or put them in the dishwasher.

Problem solved! I have literally been to the gym twice as much since I acquired the new shoes. That’s even better than a New Year’s Resolution!

(PS: The shoes run slightly small, I would consider estimating up one half size.)

The 30 for 30 Project

When I hatched one of my typically insane musical project ideas – to record 30 songs from the 30 years of my life for my 30th birthday (maybe in the 30 days of September?) – I was working from the assumption it would stay an idea due to my perfectionism. The concept would be safely tucked away as an iTunes playlist with all of the other covers projects that I’d never started.

"Endless Love" by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie was the number one record in America the day I was born. While I won't say that I'll NEVER cover it, you definitely won't be hearing it later today as my pick from 1981.

Then, August happened. I kept posting every day, and really enjoying it. I finally found a blogging rhythm, eleven years into my experiment. I thought, maybe the idea isn’t so crazy after all. Maybe I should do it.

The issue is that I haven’t recorded any new solo music since we moved into the house last June. I have hatched half a dozen cool projects in my head, but I haven’t launched a single one.

This seems paradoxical. I have a studio now. Space to set up and stay set up without having to drape suit jackets over my microphone poles and check email from within a lattice of quarter-inch cables.

I mean that literally. At the old house my studio was my office was my dressing room. It was common to find a discarded microphone atop a pile of wireframe sketches and freshly laundered underwear. Gear shared a walk-in closet with board games and old copies of Rolling Stone. Switching to a different guitar meant risking sending up a tinker-tape parade of brightly colored Monopoly money in my hallway if I moved a box the wrong way.

And you know what? It didn’t stop me. I recorded two seasons of Trio, four Arcati Crisis Live @ Rehearsals, and over a dozen solo demos that became my Brown Bag Demos, Vol. 1. Now I have an entire attic committed solely to recording, and the well has suddenly run dry.

Actually, the well is quite wet. I have the best intentions. The new wrinkle is that with space to set up a perfect signal chain the issue is no longer my willingness, but my perfection. Everything has to be perfect. Perfectly planned, perfectly rehearsed, perfectly executed.

The Rolling Stones' 18th American LP, Tattoo You, held the top album spot when I was born. I won't be playing "Start Me Up" at any point in this project.

Perfect makes things hard. Bobbling that one chord change? Delay it. Tickle in my throat? Cancel it.

30 for 30 is different. I am not promising perfection. I am not promising that I’m going to get it done in 30 days. I am not promising you will know all the songs. I am not promising polished studio cuts. I am not promising all of the covers will be perfectly played.

And, I am certainly not representing it as a collection of my favorite, most-cherished songs.

No. All of that leads to perfectionism paralysis.

What I am promising is a single take video play-through of a song from every year from 1981 to 2010, with some commentary along the way. No cherished favorites. No multi-track demos. No perfection.

Just me and the music.

30 for 30 starts later today, in 1981.

Gina’s Bachelorette Adventure, Pt. 4

The fourth post in this series finds your author all of three days before Gina’s Bachelorette Party AKA All-Day Adventure and I am, let’s say, FREAKING OUT.

Gina modeling a vast collection of our stenciled icons in action on Gina's back late in the day in her bachelorette adventure (while Mikki and I spray more stencils int he background). As you can imagine, we had to spray these quickly and in highly public spaces.

Allow me to set the scene for you. It is eight or nine at night. I am on my side patio, which I like to pretend is private but really is quite in full view of anyone passing directly in front of our house.

I am wearing only my underwear. My blindingly white naked torso vibrates against the dusk like a bike reflector. I am dual-wielding two cans of spray paint against a defenseless bag of planting soil, which is wearing a plain white t-shirt. The shirt bears several iterations of the Starfleet symbol, some in black spray paint, others apparently colored in with a marker.

I swear, if photographs of this scene existed, I would totally share one.

Why this utter madness? Let’s travel back in time two days. As the guy on the ground in Philly, I was on the receiving end of the various bachelorette party supplies selected by Kelly (in Belgium) and Mikki (in Seattle). Both women are so ridiculously kitschy and crafty that it defies explanation. I received many things. A box of 30 pink t-shirts. A set of Erlenmeyer flasks and graduated cylinders. A package of vaguely phallic sidewalk chalk.

What I did not receive was spray paint for branding our t-shirts.

The t-shirt iconography had become central to our gamification concept for the party, with Gina choosing a team for every challenge. If the team defeated the challenge, they would be branded with a special stenciled badge. Think of it as “Foursquare: LIVE!”

Despite working all day in the midst of a team full of craft maniacs, I am not in the least bit crafty. I’m not even good at speculating about methods of craft. I am good at desktop publishing and subsequently printing things on high end paper. That’s about the extent of my crafting abilities. I am not great at creating things with my hands. I still have problems changing guitar strings.

Thus, the spray paint issue was very … concerning. Three days to the party seemed like the time we should be testing the spray paint, to make sure it would work. Kelly and Mikki had mentioned a few potential brands in their emails, but I couldn’t find any online that I could get shipped in three days, because spray paint can only be shipped via ground.  I started researching other spray paint, discovering that most of it needed to be sealed with heat before it set. Every time I found something that sounded like it might work (including, hilariously, “Hunters [sic] Specialties Permanent Camo”) I ordered it for the fastest shipping possible, all the while getting increasingly frustrated that I was researching spray paint at all instead of writing Gina’s instruction book.

The very highly recommended spray paint choice of Kelly and Mikki was "Montana Gold Acrylic Spray Paint," which comes in every possible color, including metallics.

Remember how I recently shared a leadership assessment that said that I have a strong future vision while focusing on data and clearing obstacles? Well, it also told me that under stress I become myopic and focus only on information overload and slaying things.

It’s not a big leap to the scene that opened this post. I had five cans of assorted spray paint and two markers lined up and had dressed a 40lb sack of dirt in one of my old t-shirts. At a loss for an icon I could quickly stencil out of a sheet of cardboard, I went back to basics: the starfleet insignia. Not wanting to get spray paint on my clothes (even clothes I’ve set aside specifically in a bin entitled, “for painting”), I elected to strip down to a pair of blue bikini briefs to conduct this exercise.

Welcome to my brain. It is a scary place.

The next morning Kelly and Mikki talked me down from my panic after I sent them not the sanest or nicest email I have ever written. They helped me figure out which local stores carried the paint they both recommended, and Kelly assured me we could visit one together when she arrived stateside. Mel coaxed me away from my desk at lunch and convinced me I would not have a panic attack from entering a craft store. I bought the recommended spray paint.

Problem: solved!

Now we had all of the necessary elements for Gina’s party, save for three: Kelly, Mikki, and the instruction book that would lay out the rules of the game and all of the various challenges.

Oh. Just that.

Tune in next time for Kelly and my madcap adventures the day before the party, how an off-hand mention of a “side-quest” turned into the most hilarious part of the event, and samples from the now legendary instruction book.

the tyranny of the click

I have never been good at playing to a click track.

[For non-musicians, a click track is a simple rhythm track that plays in your ear while you record to help you keep time. It can be as simple as a beats-per-minute setting that plays a little "beep" for every passing beat.]

For a long time that was a function of other, more major issues in my guitar playing. I was dropping beats left and right and my strums were like the thrashes of a dying man. Not lining up with clicks was the least of my problems.

I still cannot quite play to a click track, even with half a lifetime to refine my playing. Now my problem is syncopation – I so very rarely strum on all the downbeats the click usually slides away from me as I play.

Why is the click so important?

First, it satisfies the musical leanings of my internal OCD Godzilla, who needs things to be both perfect and perfectly aligned. He does not truck with deviations in speed or rhythm, and has put the nix on many fine solo recordings of mine because they ever-so-slightly sped up.

Second, for flexibility. Overdubbing, stealing riffs for other verses, patching biffed guitar solos, and dance remixes. They’re all easier when a song is recorded to a consistent click track.

Though I still can’t play to basic clicks, after a year of drumming with Zina I have no problems playing to a basic rhythm that sketches in a bit more than just the main beats in a measure. A simple rhythm on my Casio keyboard can now keep my songs in time.

That’s fine for me solo, but what about the entire band?

We’ll find out on Saturday: we have a drum engineering session scheduled with Zina. She’ll record her parts to two Filmstar songs with a metronome playing in-ear, and then we’ll all dub our parts on top of her.

In effect, we’re recording like a real band would record, which makes our house a real recording studio, and me a real recording engineer. Plus, the tracks will be a consistent speed.

OCD Godzilla is incredibly pleased.

bondage is progress


Oh, the things I'll do for my art.

Last night E tied me to a chair in the middle of our freshly painted dining room so I could research my novel.

You see, last night I was blasting out words at an amazing pace on the El when it came time for my protagonist to be cuffed to a chair.

Despite many contortions on the El, I couldn’t figure out how far he could stretch, or if he could stand up and walk. The lack of detail was killing me. My nonstop flow of words dried to a trickle.

I hurried down our street, rereading what I had written on my laptop, only twice stumbling off of the sidewalk and into hedges. I unlocked our front door, flung it open, and announced to E:

Honey, I need to you to tie me to a folding chair and take pictures of it!

**

I’ve always been afraid that I don’t know enough to be an author.

I’m obsessive about details. I always have been. As a kid I would compare stacks GI Joe file cards to make sure their stories were consistent.

Oh the irony: Gina the chemist is writing a book and a blog, and Peter the communicator is learning chemistry.

I love getting lost in the fictional histories other authors have created, but I never thought I could create one of my own. I mean, have you watched the special features on the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVD? Tolkien wrote entire history books about his fictional world. He wrote a frickin’ language!

Me? I’m not well-traveled. I don’t know much about history. I haven’t taken science class since the 90s. I don’t know how anything works or how to take it apart or how to turn it into a bomb. I don’t even know the right way to describe a lot of things, like architecture or clothes.

That’s why I like writing songs. Songs have their own internal logic. Sure, they might reference something in the real world, but only for a word or two.

We learned that I would have to make an excuse for the character's feet not to be secured, because I was a deadly weapon with the folding chair tied to me.

Late in September Gina challenged me to do National Novel Writing Month. I didn’t say yes right away.  I spent all of October outlining my story and sketching the details of my characters. If I was going to join I wanted a mythology of my own.

While I outlined I hit a lot of gaps in my knowledge, but I didn’t let them stop me.  I’m smart. I can acquire knowledge. Better to start out with ideas.

A few of my characters  do things that involve some pretty intense knowledge of chemistry and physics. In my outline I glossed over the details, but now it’s time to write about them. I can’t always be asking Gina about every little detail, so to get started I bought Chemistry for Dummies.

And, last night I needed to find out how hard a character could swing a folding chair he was flexicuffed to in order to knock out another character, so I had E tie me up and take photographs of it.

Why? Because that’s what an author does.

The Mopping Fool

I am not what you would call an active “cleaner.”

I’m a tidier. I’m an organizer. But, it takes a lot to move me into cleaning mode.

In my head I always look this adorable while I am cleaning. I may or may not also always wear that hat.

I have a certain fear of activating that particular urge, possibly because I come from a line of hard-core OCD scrubbers.  Much as Bruce Banner turns from nerd to Hulk, when my inner-cleaner is invoked I go from laid back dude to my grandmother. I become intent on vacuuming the floor every time someone leaves the room to get a drink – vacuuming it until it is safe to eat mashed potatoes right off that rug.

E has learned to let that particular sleeping OCD monster lie on most occasions, because getting me involved in day-to-day cleaning is the nuclear option. The one time I have been entrusted with cleaning a bathroom the result resembled a demolition project.

The one area where E is willing to deploy the nuclear strike that is my genetic heritage of clean-freak-ness is mopping. I like a floor to be so well-mopped, so gleaming with elbow-greased shine, that you dare not mar the surface with your shadow after the mopping is done. I don’t trust other people to mop for me, because they don’t employ the five key phases of mopping required for a truly gleaming floor.

To say that I was invested in our mop purchase for the new house would be an understatement. “Invested” implies a degree of detached evaluation. No, our mop purchase was a matter of life or death – life with gleaming floors, or the relative half-life of dull ones.

At one point I was reduced to near tears in the middle of an aisle in Home Depot, wracked with indecision and guilt. Couldn’t we buy a sampling of four or five mops to do our own comparative test across multiple surfaces?

The Rubbermaid Wavebrake® Dual-Water Combo with Sideward Pressure Wringer. Wavebreak? For real? It's a fucking mop cart, not a jet ski.

A test should not have been required. What I wanted was a rag mop with a solid wooden handle, and a bucket to wring it with and in. None of this Swiffer bullshit or tiny little dish sponges on the end of a flimsy plastic pole with a built-in wringer.

Home Depot has a wide, pleasing selection of wooden handled mops. What they had zero of were wringing buckets. They had one massive $100+ dollar custodian cart that came with its own “Caution: Wet Floors” sign in dual languages. I am a serious mopper, so the concept intrigued me, but I didn’t think the cart cornered well enough to get around the island in our kitchen.

Is it just me, or could this easily double as some sort of implement of torture?

Apparently wringing buckets are a rare item, which puzzles me seeing as non-wringing mops are pretty damned common. How do they get dry? Some Amazon shopping yielded the Behrens 412W Galvanized Mop Wringer Pail, but with shipping it totaled almost $40. Seriously? For a mop bucket?

As a result, I committed the cardinal sin of a committed mopper – I bought a plastic handled mop with a built-in wringer. I figured it could last me through three or four moppings – long enough to find a permanent solution.

This is the Quickie Home-Pro Twist Mop with Spot Scrubber. It is the devil.

I was wrong. Super wrong. I popped the wringer out of its plastic threading on my first wring. I began to wring six or seven times to get it dry during phases two and four, which caused the mop head to age six or seven times as fast, which resulted in a busted mop head on its second outing.

$20 dollars for two moppings. I know MY mopping skills are worth $10 a go (hello – I have FIVE PHASES), but I don’t know if the mop quality was equally as worthy.

This all came to a head on Sunday night. I had avoided mopping our kitchen since the mop gave up the ghost, but I caused a bottle of ginger salad dressing to explode across our entire kitchen. Spot-cleaning was not an option – this required mopping.

I dealt with the frustration of my devil mop for all of five minutes. So do you know what I did? Scrubbed the damn floor on my hands and knees. And dried it that way too.

I know I’m my grandmother’s child when I comes to clean floors, but is scrubbing by hand seriously my best recourse with all of the cleaning products in a Home Depot and across the internet at my disposal?

Should I really be having in-store panic attacks and 1000-word blog posts both on the topic of mops?

Am I missing some incredibly simple explanation about how mops get wrung? Do people wring with their bare hands (eewwwww)?

More importantly, what simple home cleaning or repair task drives you similarly up a wall? Please tell me I’m not alone in my insanity.

I just want to understand

At the bottom of my basement stairs, I realized I was defeated. Or, at least, foiled in this particular instance.

The floor of our basement was covered with water two inches thick, and our water heater was hissing and spewing a fountain of water from its top.

I had an idea how to turn off the water. I had a plan to pump out the water. But I had no idea what was wrong with the water heater, or how to fix it.

Defeated.

.

If we wrote out a list of my fundamental character traits, one is that I have to understand how things work.

I don’t have to fix every problem myself. I can delegate and rely on help from other people. But, bottom line, I have to understand what the problem is, why it’s happening, and what’s being done so that it doesn’t happen again.

I’m discovering that this is going to be one of my major challenges as a homeowner. When something breaks or explodes or just mysteriously stops functioning, people expect you to step back, call a contractor, and repeat the serenity prayer under your breath.

Yeah, I just don’t roll like that.

If the primary three letters in my life are frequently OCD, the next trio are DIY. Do It Yourself. DIY is why I know how to do almost everything I know how to do.

When Blogger wouldn’t republish archive pages in 2000 I taught myself how to code PHP. When i wanted to record a studio album I minored in music. Last night I completed disassembled a backup drive with a blown power supply down to the last screw and installed it into another computer, rather than contemplate sending it away for repair.

All that said, I’m still a little intimidated by DIYing the house. It’s one thing to take apart a hundred dollar hard drive, and another to conduct demolition on a multi-hundred thousand dollar house.

So, when we bought the house it was a special challenge to find the right sorts of inspectors and contractors and insurers that could satisfy my need to understand.

We took our best shot. The Great Water Heater Explosion of 2010 tested both our vendor-selection and the limits of my understanding and my serenity.

Our Home Warranty company suddenly had clauses that were nowhere in our contract, and when I called to understand where they explain their coverage, their answer was basically “we don’t; no one has ever cared.”

They were dismissed.

Then we had a plumber quote twice as much as we thought it would be to replace the water heater, without really breaking down how he arrived at that number.

He never got a call back.

Basically, until I’m comfortable with in-home DIY, “understanding” has becoming my homeowner’s litmus test. If someone is afraid to make me understand – because they don’t want to be questioned, or they don’t want to empower me, or they want to charge me too much money – then they aren’t going to touch our house.

In the end we replaced the water heater for HALF of that initial quote in a single day.

Next challenge? The electrician whose lack of attention fried the aforementioned hard drive, to which his solution was to bill us another $1,200 for a dubiously defined solution he couldn’t help me to understand.

I understand that I can’t fix everything and I can’t know everything. But, at the very least, I can understand everything.

That’s all I ask.

But I Regress, pt. 1

With the launch of my monster definitive guide to collecting X-Men comic books as graphic novels, I have officially become a fifteen year-old.

Allow me to explain. Or, to begin to, as I’m sure this is a multiple-post-spanning story (just as that website feature was a multiple-month spanning obsession to research).

A few months ago Philly-local social media mover/shaker/sandwich-connoisseur @MikeyIl threw a series of events for the Ford #FiestaMovement. One of them was an all-local art show, featuring work by my partner-in-fame Britt Miller, as well as Eddidit and others.

Being Britt’s unpaid intern / personal assistant / life coach and a faithful supporter of friends and local artists, I got my ass there – even though the event was smack in the middle of negotiating the price of our house with our Realtor over the phone.

(Literally. Drunk friends: “What are you doing?” Me, to phone: “Hold on a second.” Me, to friends: “Oh, I just got another few thousand dollars knocked off the price of our house.” Drunk friends: “Wowwww.”)

Where was that fateful art show held?

Brave New Worlds. A comic book shop.

Here at Crushing Krisis I haven’t ever fully explained my addiction to comic books, c. 11/1991 – 4/1996.

X-Men #24, one of my favorite comic covers.

It was a brief but tumultuous affair. Comic books combine my love of serial narrative with an OCD urge to make meticulous, alphabetical lists. They created a 10-year-old who would do anything to earn $40 a month to pick up every book bearing the image of Wonder Woman or an X-Man.

(Seriously, I’m surprised I wasn’t peddling coke for my neighbor. It’s a good thing my guitar habit didn’t get to drug-running levels of expense until after college, when I was salaried.)

For only collecting for four-and-a-half years, my comic collection is prodigious. Not only did I collect new issues weekly, but in the pre-spreadsheet days the adolescent OCD Godzilla in my soul – a mere tadpole, at the time – compiled lists of back issues by hand… lists twenty and thirty pages long, complete with estimated budgets and timelines for purchase. Every few months my father engaged my whim, and I checked off line after line.

I was hardcore. The guys at the comic store treated me like I was twice my age (now ironic) because I was so on top of my shit with my pull lists and my back issue pricing and my discussions of the Magneto’s morality and if the ends truly justified the means.

Then came the internet. AOL dial-up cost by the hour, and I was hooked on it within minutes of my first sign-in in January of 1996. Four months later my wallet issued an ultimatum: limit my internet usage, or jettison my comic addiction – now complicated by Marvel’s 90s’ decadence of holographic covers and limited series.

The real decider was probably a demo of Warcraft II, a living digital board of Risk I could play over and over again with my friends over my 14.4 baud modem.

I dropped the comics and never looked back.

Until last month.

(To be continued! In the meantime, if you’re a closet x-fan who wouldn’t know a pull list from their elbow, check out definitive guide to collecting X-Men comic books as graphic novels – the easiest (and cheapest) way to be an adult comic book fan.)

Freak out! Le freak, c’est chic.

It’s my first post as a home-owner!

The events leading up to our settlement at eleven this morning were unexpected and rather ridiculous.

Actually, I’ve discovered that any adventure I am allowed to take charge of that involves both cars and big-ticket-purchases becomes ridiculous, regardless of the relative simplicity of its intended result.

Honestly, I don’t know how I do it. I choose to believe it’s the fault of my inner OCD Godzilla. What for most people would be a simple point-to-point drive with a check in hand he transforms into a travelling circus of oddities to satisfy all of his many obsessive requirements. I have no choice but to comply so that he remains sated, lest he begin to devour portions of my soul and gall bladder.

I feel the need to document the whole madcap venture while it’s still fresh and ridiculous-seeming – and while E can confirm that it is the god’s honest truth and I have not exaggerated a single word even a little.

Read more…

7:45 AM: Realize that I forgot to turn off a complicated set of auto-deductions connecting our byzantine series of banking accounts. Despite having more than enough money to buy a house and despite my OCD-Godzilla-driven careful pre-house-buying accounting, the renegade auto-deductions have quite suddenly put a few of our auxiliary house-buying escapades at risk for the next 24 hours – and not a very convenient 24 hours. Even though the money exists in plain sight in other accounts, there isn’t enough time for any transfers to clear before we cut our bank check for the house.

7:46 AM: Freak out.

7:47 AM: Marvel at the existential paradox of having personal worth.

7:48 AM: Freak out.

Read more…

9:15 AM: Park in a loading zone to visit first bank.

9:16 AM: Leave a lengthy and explicit note in the car’s windshield to explain when we arrived in the loading zone, why we were parked in the loading zone, when we’d depart the loading zone, and where we were located less than 20ft away from the loading zone in the event anyone felt the urge to have our car towed.

9:17 AM: Carry away two jars of change, each Molinjor-like in our seeming inability to dead-lift them off the ground without a Norse God-of-Thunder present to assist.

9:24 AM: Manage to avoid E being arrested at the bank, but discover it does not count change.

9:25 AM: Return to our car, still carrying the nearly-uncarryable change jars. Relieved to find the car intact.

9:55 AM: Visit the second bank. Rectify account balance disaster with a helpful teller. Discover the bank does not count change.

10:00 AM: Distract the teller from cutting us our certified check by all of the following means:

  1. informing her that a gallon of Einstein Bros. coffee includes a lethal dose of caffeine
  2. commenting on how her shirt exactly matches the color of the wall of the bank
  3. talking about PMS very loudly to each other
  4. explaining the Pantone Matching System (PMS), how PMS chips are sortof like paint chips, and how major brands frequently have a specific PMS color for their identity
  5. performing the entirety of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” in two part harmony

10:10 AM: Exit the bank under our own power before mall security is asked to escort us away, still carrying the mythic and increasingly-burdensome jars of change.

Read more…

10:21 AM: Desperately poke and jab the change out of our jars into the maw of the change-counting machine.

10:25 AM: Still clawing out change. Have now acquired several onlookers.

10:28 AM: Have now filled the change-counting machine to capacity with one now-slightly-less-mythic change jar still partially full. The machine makes funny cartoon broken-machine noises at us while we try to find a way to wedge the remaining change into its maw.

10:30 AM: The machine swallows all of our change and spits out a 90s-style SEPTA school token, several coins bearing Queen Elizabeth’s face, and a key to something (hopefully my fire safe, because how the hell else am I going to open it?).

10:35 AM: The change is more than double what we thought it would be! Crisis averted! We can buy a house and pay movers and not starve to death!

10:40 AM: Purchase over 32 ounces of caffeine from less-lethal Starbucks to celebrate and remain upright.

11:00 AM: Buy a house.

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Okay, now I really have to pack.

paint chips, forks, and vomitoriums

The non-extreme portion of Memorial Day weekend found E and I in Home Depot, contemplating paint chips for a redress of our new dining room. Or, rather, E was contemplating paint chips while I idly examined the paper quality and die cuts of the paint brochures.

“What colors do you think the dining room should be?” E queried, fist full of colored slips of high-end paper.

“You know me – everything spartan.”

(I pronounced “spartan” as “spahttan,” a Buffy in-joke about Faith and her seedy apartment.)

While reductive (and an in-joke), as a statement it’s essentially true – the colors I like in a home are white, hardwood, and bricks. That’s it. When pressed for a choice I will always pick the bluest option, unless it’s navy. Oh, and I enjoy stainless steel, where applicable. That’s about the extent of my home decor color preferences.

(Not coincidentally, our wedding colors were sapphire and platinum.)

I continued my careful examination of the paper samples for a moment, at which point E perhaps shot me a look, so I reluctantly joined the color browsing and continued the conversation.

“Well, the wood in that room is pretty blond, so there’s that to keep in mind. Not everything goes with that. You don’t want to pick something that would turn it into a vomitorium.”

Pointedly ignoring my last statement, E produced a deep purple chip. “What about this?”

“No, that would make me vomit.” Here the older couple standing next to us at the paint display began to eye me with caution.

“Can you possibly describe the qualities a color could have that would make you vomit?”

“Well, really there’s two different facets of vomitous colors.”

Having long since grown familiar with my peculiar brand of insanity, E braced for impact.

“First, there’s context. Like, when I was a teenager my mom had our back bedroom refinished for me, and I picked this seafoam-ish green for the walls. It had context – it was part of a palette with the ceiling, the hardwoods, and my area rug. But when you live in a room you’re not always seeing the entire palette, or looking at the walls in the context of the rug. Sometimes you are just staring at the wall and you realize it’s not ‘seafoam’ so much as ‘mint,’ like mint chocolate chip ice cream and, while it made for a beautiful palette, it’s not necessarily the most pleasant-to-look-at color all on its own, but now you’re surrounded by mint chocolate chip ice cream for the next three years.

“Suddenly my room had become a vomitorium.”

At this point the older couple, who had skirted me widely to continue to browse the paint colors, put down their samples and moved to a different display.

I continued. “Then, there are colors that are pretty in the short term but will be vomitous over a longer period of time. Like, see this ‘eggplant’ chip? I love this color. But I can tell it’s like ‘fork.’”

E perhaps thought she had reached an absolute apex of exasperation during my first monologue. However, here she seemed to discover a heretofore unknown height.

“Like a fork?” She said this with a slight steeliness to her voice, like she might abandon me here in Home Depot if I wasn’t the one with the GPS phone. However, I was wound up and could not be stopped.

“No, like ‘fork.’ Like, ‘fork’ makes sense. It’s a tidy little word – four prongs, four letters. But ‘fork’ is one of those words that can get weird. Like, if you say it too many times? Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork. After a while it begins to sound made up. Fork. Fork. Fork. Fork. It doesn’t seem like it could possibly have any meaning. Fork. Fork. Fork. Eventually it starts getting uncomfortable in your mouth. Fork. Fork. Why does it have to sound so quacky? Fork. That ‘k,’ it’s so unwieldy, it kind of unsettles your stomach. It kind of (fork) makes you (fork) nauseous (fork) to even say (fork) the (fork) word (fork).

“After a while,” I intoned, gravely, “you feel like you will vomit if you even see one, let alone say the word.”

“The word for…”

“No,” I interrupted, “please, don’t say it. I’ve already said it too much.”

We stood in silence at the paint display, E staring at me in glassy disbelief.

“You see, ‘eggplant’ as a color is just like f… just like that word. As a paint chip it’s lovely. In a web palette I adore it. On a wall … every day? Eventually it’s just going to wear me down. It will turn that room into a vomitorium.”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“I know exactly what it means, honey. It means a room that would make me vomit whenever I walked into it.”

That was pretty much the end of our browsing for paint chips.

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(PS: This post is dedicated to my dear friend, SLska. Or, I should say, Master SLska.)

There was something so pleasant about that place AKA The House, pt. 2

Where I last left our intrepid first-time home-buying heroes (i.e., E and I) we went on a financial fact-finding outing that unexpectedly also found a house that met all of our requirements.

That was two Tuesdays ago.

On Wednesday morning our Realtor checked in with us to share some newly-acquired intelligence – the house was being shown frequently (even within her office), and had received an offer while we were looking at it! Did we want to submit a competing bid?

Being the logical-negative (AKA defeatist) person I am in situations involving tens of thousands of dollars, I had talked myself out of it in a matter of minutes. I sent E a series of emails deflating her hopes and lamenting that it just wasn’t meant to be. Too soon, too competitive.

Being the logical-positive person I married, she pushed back – if it wasn’t meant to be, would it have been so oddly perfect for us, with its new fireplace and kitchen of butcher block and stainless steel? Did it matter that there was another bid on the table?

Her bottom line: there was certainly no harm in putting in a competing bid, as long as we were comfortable with it. But were we really going to make an offer having seen the house only once?

(Meanwhile, I was having an intense conversation with Drew via text message and one of my most beloved co-workers unexpectedly gave her two week notice. Between that and the house decision, by 1pm the day had reached a three-ring circus level of crazy.)

I had such a huge list of house-buying best practices I planned to execute – staking out the house for an entire day to observe the neighborhood, interviewing all of the neighbors, creating a photo & video walkthrough to show friends, measuring each room for potential mapping, singing and playing guitar throughout the house…

All of you home-owners out there are probably having a chuckle at my expense, but my internal Godzilla runs 24/7 on a proverbial OCD hamster wheel to generate these levels of obsessive-compulsiveness. Despite the implied rush from the frequent showings and competing bid, I couldn’t entirely quell my giant, imaginary, bipedal lizard without engaging in at least a portion of his proscribed OCD investigations.

Since the idea of all of that was crazy and the day was crazy (and, frankly, I’m crazy enough for the both of us), we decided to put the house to the insanity test – cramming as many of my Godzilla metrics into three hours as possible.

It was with that mission that we returned to the house 24 hours after our initial visit, armed with a camera, flip cams, tape measures, graph paper, my electric guitar, and Gina’s overpoweringly loud Fender guitar amp.

We knocked on every neighbor’s door and chatted up anyone we could find. We measured, photographed, and videoed every room. I sat in the attic with Gina’s amp on 8 – so loud I could barely bear to play it, while E walked down the stairs and out of the house.

Her report? Mild amp sounds in the living room, but outside you couldn’t hear a thing.

We made up our minds – a bid was going in.

What followed was exciting, but not in a recapituable way – three hours of amortization schedules, drawing on whiteboards, and eating Twizzlers – resulting in putting in our first offer on our first potential home.

The excitement did not end there, but my ability to sleep through the night did. More on that in the next post.

My Life Is a Joke

Lindsay and I have an ongoing joke about my life.

Lindsay, being my primary secret squirrel, always finds a little nook of day to tuck a conversation into. Frequently we talk about all of the things that I do – work, blog, play music solo and with Arcati Crisis, Lyndzapalooza, freelance writing – &c, &c.

She, one of the more overachieving and time-conscious people I know, marvels at how I actually advance my goals in each of those areas all of the time.

The joke is that, in order to fit in all of those things, I must not do anything a normal person does. I don’t watch television, sit down for meals, or talk to people on the phone. I don’t sleep. I’m like some sort of T-1000 or Cylon. Or Madonna. I’m purely focused on achievements and achieving them, and nothing else.

That’s a slight misrepresentation. I am not a robot, and only aspire to be Madonna. I still do all of the things that human beings do.

Occasionally. And quickly.

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When I graduated from college and started my career I resolved not to do any theatre or music for an entire year. No art, essentially. I would focus solely on being a good employee and a good boyfriend, because I wasn’t sure I’d be good at either. If I had free time I would sit and play video games until another opportunity to be a good employee or boyfriend presented itself.

After a year I allowed myself to get involved in a theatre project with Gina, and from there my natural inclinations for art and recklessly large personal projects took over.

I made a very elaborate chart. It included every possible thing that I could do in a given day. All of the regular human things, all of my time at work, all of my special goals, and everything else. Washing dishes. Walking from one place to another. Making out with Elise.

I tracked what I did for three months, every minute of every day.

At the end I had a beautiful graph of my life. A rainbow of lines interwove with each other to show me the relationship between work and sleep, guitar-playing and housework, or blogging and masturbation.

The area under some of the lines was the shape of my success; the area under others a dimension of dead space.

My priorities snapped me into focus. Before the chart I would have told you I was already busy enough with life. After I realized that I wasn’t writing songs because I was reading TMZ for 20 minutes a day.

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The chart was almost three years ago.

Today Lindsay initiated the latest iteration of our joke, querying if I planned to sleep at all in the next few months while chipping away at my list of measurable goals for the year.

The chart was about sleep too. I tried to live on just five or six hours a night, and suddenly all the useless things expanded. The chart showed me that I need sleep to stay focused.

It was a disappointment, sure. I work and commute for almost ten hours a day, and if I have to sleep for seven that leaves just another seven hours in which I can live my life.

The punchline to our joke is that every minute counts, awake or asleep. 60 seconds to flip channels is a quick email reminder. Three minutes to set the table is rehearsing a song. A half an hour on the phone is this post.

Which would I rather look back on in December, or when I turn thirty, or when I die?

I always eat with the wrong fork, anyway.

a shark for places

I have now been back from Europe and installed in my house for close to three days.

I’m slightly afraid to go outside. Half because I know I’m going to compare everything here to Paris and London, and here will lose out in every instance. But also because as I surround myself with my city the impressions of those other places will begin to fade.

Prior to (and during) the honeymoon I was eager to grump that I don’t understand the worth of spending money to go places. Even afterward that’s still true – when I tallied our total expenses last night I almost cried, even though they came out almost exactly as what I estimated.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the places. I loved Paris, and I liked what little of London I saw well enough. I just don’t enjoy vacations – being idle. On our slowest days in Paris I hated it, but when we turned Paris into work – multiple museums and neighborhoods to visit in one day – then I enjoyed being in Paris. When we turned London into a scavenger hunt – snapping photos and visiting shops – then I enjoyed London.

I would love to live in Paris – to be able to enjoy Paris while I am at rest. Paris was the one place I’ve ever been where I felt totally in-place, even as I stumbled through their language in every interaction.

Philadelphia can’t be Paris, no matter how many French books and newspapers I stowed in my garment bag. But I can bring that swim or sink vacation mentality back to Philadelphia – move or drown, create or die.

If I move fast enough, the scenery stops being significant.