A New Album: December

December2

It’s so easy to say that Decembers have always been complicated months for me. Who isn’t it complicated for? Every year, we run around and we try to express ourselves to our family and friends with commerce and we put pressure on ourselves to have the most fun ever on the very last night of every year.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a simple December, starting in 1994 when as a sophomore in high school, 4 days after Christmas, my family moved a thousand miles east to a place that felt ten thousand miles away culturally.

In 1997, this feeling of anxiety toward the last month of the year was heightened when as a freshman in college I had to tell my parents my 17-year old girlfriend was pregnant. I proposed to her on Christmas Eve that year with a ton of my family around, and it felt right for such a monumental decision to be made during December. We were married for 15 years, something no one expected when neither the bride nor groom could legally drink at their own wedding.

“We’re in lockdown.”

On December 13, 2013, my son Ian heard a gunshot while in class, and was subsequently put in lockdown for the next six hours. An 18-year old senior used a legally-purchased shotgun to come to Arapahoe High School and murder a girl named Claire in the hallway. He shot her in the face, which was the first shot my son heard. I’m not sure if my son heard the second shot, which was the murderer taking his own life.

This was by far the worst ordeal I’ve ever lived through, and am just now getting the help I need to manage the panic attacks that rarely but still happen to me.

And so: Music.

I wrote my 6th-ish album for a simple reason: I needed to get these feelings out of my brain and music is the easiest way for me to do it. This album is made up of three tracks and is only 10 minutes long. Each song represents the month of December for the year it’s named:

12//13

This song is my exploration of what it was like to go through the process of learning my son was locked inside of his school with an active shooter two years ago. I started it with a ton of siren sounds, which I toned back a lot for the final version because it was a little too jarring. When I wrote this song, I forced myself to walk through the memories of that day, and to take the conflicting and misaligned emotions and turn them into music. This song started out as a trigger for my anxiety, and has since become a way to focus on the pain so that I can heal from it.

12//14

Last December wasn’t nearly as traumatizing as 2013, but it came with its own set of ups and downs. I spent a good portion of it jet-lagged and sad in Rome. On the first anniversary of my son living through the shooting, I was 5,500 miles away on a work trip and separated from his mother, well on our way to divorce. I missed my girlfriend a lot and I’d had some really tough travel to get to Italy and wasn’t looking forward to the trip back. The month did end in a pretty amazing way on New Year’s Eve, for having such a turbulent middle. This song attempts to roll that all into one, which is hard. Drums ended up being unnecessary.

12//15

Which brings me to this year. The calmest December I’ve had in a while, it still started with me desperately needing (and starting) therapy for the PTSD I’ve been suffering since the shooting. This year also ended with me learning that it’s unhealthy and untenable to hold on to dreams you first felt when you were a child. I learned this year that it’s easy to build someone up in your heart and mind into a sculpture of a human that no one can live up to. This was painful to experience and this song attempts to capture the loss I’ve felt this year, and the destruction I put myself and others through just to experience it.

My Days are Dictated by Code

The night of July 7th, 2000, I couldn’t sleep. I’m prone to insomnia so this wasn’t new to me but as I was lying there in a fugue between desire to sleep and annoyance at being awake, I managed to start building up an idea that I just couldn’t let go. It sounds counter-intuitive, but in order to rest, I needed to get out of bed and build this idea on my 15-inch gray-translucent computer with a hockey puck for a mouse.

Quantified Self

defending-your-life1

I was thinking back over my day, going through how long it took me to get to work, what I ate while I was there, what things I had done during the day, and so on. While doing so, I envisioned some kind of layer beneath the surface of my life that recorded what I was doing at that moment into a document to be read later in a sort of Defending Your Life kind of way, and it occurred to me that HTML was a pretty neat way of capturing that. It’s an idea I’d find brilliantly visualized by the agency MK12 in Will Ferrell’s Stranger Than Fiction some years later:

Anyway, so I took the main data points of my previous day and codified them into an XML/HTML-type language. As this was an art project, it was important to me that the code be highlighted and colored so that when you looked at it as a web page in a browser, it resembled what HTML might look like when edited in BBEdit:

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 9.43.51 AM

With a rough draft complete, the idea was mercifully out of my head and I could finally sleep. I remember nothing about the next day.

View & Download

You can view the project on Codepen or download it from Github.

(Looking at it closer now, it’s no surprise to me that I love React/JSX so much. Also, a lighter version of it won some awards in a web contest in 2001, which I can ironically no longer link to).

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

As a 5-year employee of Automattic, I have the option of taking a 2-3 month sabbatical. I opted for the shorter duration as I felt it was a good amount of time to get some artwork created and some studying done on being a stronger leader in my design community, so that I could come back to work strong. I felt like a 3-month break would have been too much time to get lazy and bored, making for a bad re-entry to work.

Copenhagen

Before my break would start though, I’d have an inspiring last bit of work to do in Denmark with the Automattic Design Team (the half that wanted to travel to Copenhagen, that is. The other half went to Atlanta).

WordCamp

During a jetlag-fueled haze, I quickly wrapped up the badges and schedule designs for WordCamp Denver. My first official week off included spending some good time with my kids, the longest time I’ve had with them since their mom and I separated in mid-2014. I also spent time that week designing the slides for my WordCamp Denver talk “Full-Stack Web Design: A Case Study in Interactive Prototyping”

Something Along the Lines of Dating

Between Copenhagen and WordCamp Denver, my girlfriend Beth and I got to see the premiere of a movie that we’d been extras in over a year ago called Something Along the Lines of Dating:

Apartment Decorating

Since I’ve now got an amazing apartment, I finally took the time to decorate it how I like:

Art

One of the main reasons for this sabbatical was art. I spent some time getting back in touch with my art school education by doing some drawing and painting: skills I don’t use in my every-day professional work, done with tools I’ve allowed myself to become unfamiliar with. Time to change all that.

Writing

I’d long had a blog series in draft form saved away that I wanted to flesh out and spend more time getting right before I published. This series turned into the Why I’m a Designer series on this blog that I started posting early into my break. I have 4 more parts planned, but I have some studying to do first.

Part 2 of this series is titled View Source and it’s a concept I’ve decided to flesh out even further by writing an Almost Famous-type film loosely-based on a fictionalized account of my first real job in the early days of the web. I was inspired by attending the premiere of the film I’d briefly appeared in; it seemed possible for me to actually make something worth watching. The rough writing I’ve gotten done is a baby step in that direction. I’ve been watching films by my favorite directors trying to study their work.

Music

Since writing isn’t a strong suit of mine, I decided to mostly tackle the View Source film through its music. I first created a Spotify playlist of the music we used to listen to in the office at the time, music that lived inside of a 300-disc CD changer that also powered what people calling the office heard when they were on hold. I augmented this list with music I was personally listening to a lot at my first job.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The second part of this approach was to record an original motion picture soundtrack influenced by music made in the 1998 – 2001 range.

Some of the elements in this design are over 15 years old
Some of the elements in this design are over 15 years old

I also wrote these songs I’m not sure what else to do with:

Kid Time

I was very glad to spend some extended time with my kiddos this summer.

The Gin Doctors

I got to see my friends and Denver’s Best Cover/Tribute act (according to voters in The Westword) The Gin Doctors a couple of times this summer, which is always an incredible time:

GIFs

I found reasons to use these images:

Underground Music Showcase

I got to go to a couple nights of The Denver Post’s UMS event held on South Broadway. Highlight of the event for me was an epic performance by Denver’s own Slim Cessna’s Auto Club:

Vail Weekend

I got to go a wedding in Vail:

Denver

In general, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather spend two months re-energizing and getting back to my creative roots than Denver.