Snakebite

I’m out of breath when I reach the top of my alone place, afternoon sun baking me and my mind and the bike under the thin, useless shadows of the power lines and the towers; I want one last run–like a cop on the day before retirement, thumbing my nose at fate–the starter gun or whistle or whatever (I’ve only seen races in the bike magazines I read at the library) goes off above the imaginary crowd and I’m off too, big gear, bigger gear, biggest gear, toes tied to pedals, bombing to the bottom, hard metal frame clanging with every skittering rock, every empty puddle, brake, pedal, brake, pedal, brake and don’t break the bike, speedometer reading 22, 23.5 (light-speed, almost), into the final straightaway with the little bumps that I love to bunny-hop so much, just like in the magazines, first one, beautiful air—can you all see me flying?—second one even higher, then slowing, 19.5, then—why not?—one more, and I’m landing but something is wrong, the wheel turns funny and I’m sideways, and I know, I know that my tires are too low, too soft, and the ground and the rim pinch and puncture the tube as OH SHI not even time to swear I slam into the ground and slide, slide, and this is going to hurt, and I stop, stop, clutch my elbow, wrap it in my shirt, too afraid to see the tattered flesh and the tiny rocks I’ll have to dig out of my skin; home, please, I need somebody real to take me home, because I can’t patch a snakebite flat out here, and it’s three miles to walk.

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My Idea

There’s a story we like to tell about my middle brother, Matt, and the fact that he sometimes doesn’t like to do things if they weren’t his idea.

I’ll probably screw up the specifics, but it revolves around the fact that Harrisburg, PA, was the nearest authentic city to where we grew up. Sure, we had a shopping mall and McDonalds and KMart back home, but in Harrisburg, there were strange and unusual delights: a gargantuan store with aisles and aisles of GI Joes and Transformers and Nintendo games. Another that sold nothing but office supplies. And nearby, a restaurant that dealt in a new variety of cuisine called “Mexican”.

And it was nearly an hour drive, down a two-lane highway with a tendency for traffic to get backed up somewhere around Duncannon, where somebody had built a small scale model of the Statue of Liberty on a rock in the middle of the Susquehanna. Harrisburg trips were reserved for Christmas shopping and, rarely, birthdays, so, despite the arduous length, the fact that we’d usually come home with at least a small new toy made it worthwhile.

Dad probably went down there the most, given that his job occasionally made it necessary, but more so, there were electronics and stereo equipment stores in Harrisburg that had no equivalent in our backyard. On one of these trips, Dad asked Matt if he wanted to come along. There would definitely be lunch as part of the deal, and probably a visit to the hallowed halls of Toys-R-Us, and a pretty solid opportunity for the acquisition of a new ninja turtle.

Matt’s thing has always been that he likes to be in control. If he had come up with the plan–if he had said, “Hey Dad, I was thinking it would be fun for us to go to Harrisburg today, and you can look at computer stuff and then we can go look at toys”–it would have been fine. But it wasn’t, so he dug in his heels. He had plans. He was going to play in the sandbox, maybe ride his bike. He had a schedule. He had things to do and this impromptu trip was not on the timeline.

Dad sweetened the deal by promising a toy, bribing him outright, but that only made him more obstinate. There were tears, there was yelling. In the end, one person went to Harrisburg alone and the other went to his room, where he would have to make do without Sewer Swimmin’ Donatello.

I was at the periodontist yesterday, having a tooth removed–long story, but let me just say that if you grind your teeth or have a tendency to carry stress in your jaw, please, please get a grind guard before you end up cracking a perfectly good cavity-free molar right in half, just from repeated clenching over the years. And having the tooth out got me thinking about control, both real and perceived.

I made a point, before starting the procedure, to crack a few jokes with the doctor and his assistant…everything from complimenting the periodontist on his excellent hand-washing habits (there is, or was, a real problem with basic hand sanitizing amongst surgeons, believe it or not), to asking him not to freak me out by telling me the gory details of exactly what it was he was doing. “If I were fixing your computer, I’d probably skip the play-by-play,” I said. Some of it was the Atavan talking, but some of it was legitimate nervousness over the fact that I was about to put this other person very much in control of my life; if he wanted to do something nefarious, I’d be none the wiser, and certainly in no position to protest.

So I joked. When it came time to fill the gap in my jaw with processed bovine material–cow bone–I wondered aloud if I’d get “cow powers” such as cud-chewing, multiple stomachs, and the ability to sleep in fields. “I can fight crime as Moo-Man,” I said. They laughed.

Mentally, I put us on the same level. We weren’t, of course–he’s an accomplished medical professional with far more skill and experience than I. But I needed to feel, in some way, that I wasn’t surrendering to somebody else, wasn’t giving up control. Like the lion allowing the mouse to extract the thorn from his paw, I wasn’t abdicating my throne, but merely taking a brief leave of absence.

I do the same thing with my primary doctor. Sometimes, I do it with coworkers. It can have mixed results with superiors…not everybody wants you to be on the same level as them. In some situations, I have to keep that sense of control very much internalized.

On days when I don’t feel like going to work, I convince myself that I’m just going to swing by for a few hours, take care of a few things, then head home early. At the gym, I’m just going to bang out a quick run. I’m not going to make a complicated meal, but I might as well start the potatoes cooking, maybe preheat the oven, and I’ll make the call on fresh or frozen burritos a little later. In my own time. More often than not, the result is that I work a full day and then some, or get in a reasonable workout, or complete a substantial meal.

Ultimately, of course, I do have control…I don’t have to do any of those things, although I’ll reap the consequences if I don’t. The same went for my teeth. At the beginning of the appointment, the doctor asked if there was anything that would make me more comfortable with the upcoming procedure. “To not go through with it at all,” I joked. He laughed, said we could reschedule. “No, let’s just get it over with,” I said.

My idea.

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Some Rules For Life In No Particular Order

Rule #27:

Never drive behind a van with ladders on its roof. The same goes for pickup trucks with ladders in the bed. Being a good roofer/exterior contractor does not necessarily grant one the ability to tie good knots.

Rule #5:

The stress of worrying that you’ll forget something on vacation is often more costly than just shelling out the five bucks for a toothbrush at the local 7-11 equivalent.

Rule #5a:

This does not apply if the vacation involves, say, camping in the Alaskan wilderness.

Rule #5b:

If you do not have a toothbrush in the Alaskan wilderness, you can brush your teeth using the end of a charred stick. Take care to verify that it is “charred” and not “actively on fire.”

Rule #43:

If you have trouble motivating yourself to start something, make a detailed list. Sub-divide tasks into component parts so you can feel a sense of satisfaction each time you make progress, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the entire project. For example, divide “do the laundry” into “sort lights and darks,” “load the machine”, “realize a red shirt went in with the lights,” “debate whether pink undershirts are noticeable,” “resolve to overcome color-based gender norms,” “lose confidence as you replay childhood memories of challenges to your masculinity,” “consider that you really need to replace some of your dustrags,” “drive to Target.”

Rule #5c:

A pink undershirt could probably be used to hail a rescuer if you were lost in the Alaskan wilderness. The rescue pilot probably would not judge you. Much.

Rule #5d:

If your vacation involves camping in the Alaskan wilderness, you may not be aware that there are travel options which do not carry the risk of being eaten by bears.

Rule #12:

Plenty of things taste as good, or better than, thin feels. These include chili-cheese fries, chili dogs, chili, the Fried Sausage Bucket at Nine Fine Irishmen at New York New York in Las Vegas, and the Portuguese fried dough snack known as a “fartura”.

Rule #5e:

There are no farturas in the Alaskan wilderness, as far as anyone knows. It’s possible they were eaten by bears.

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New Things

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually love new things. Not really.

I still do them all the time; I’ve got this huge list of cool stuff I’ve tried over the years, and obviously there was a first time for everything. Being in a city is all about new and different. We travel when we get a chance. I’ve worked a bunch of places. I like habit, but an outsider might not realize it, based on the evidence.

There’s a quote I’ve seen floating around from a few different writers: “I don’t like writing; I like having written.” I think it’s the same for me with new experiences: I like traveling to that new country, eating at that new restaurant, watching that new show, playing that new game, talking to that new person, because once you’ve tried it, it’s familiar. It’s not new or scary anymore. And the more stuff you try, the more places you go or things you experience, the more of the world is no longer scary.

We experienced this just about every night on our recent trip to Portugal. You sit down to dinner, not knowing at first if you’re dressed appropriately, if the menu is going to be reasonable, if the waiter will speak any English or be able to understand your pidgin Portuguese, if they’re going to take Visa and how much you should tip. But by halfway through, you’ve ordered, the food is great (even if the shrimp are served with the heads still on and “cocktail sauce” apparently means “mayonnaise”), you’ve found that you can communicate just fine, you’ve found a reasonable wine that is pretty good and you’re just as relaxed as you would be at the place down the street back home, where you’re almost a regular. More relaxed, in some ways, because you’ve overcome a challenge–a small challenge, not like negotiating a lasting peace in the Middle East, but something harder than hiding under the covers at the hotel and gnawing on Swedish fish and Pringles.

The other thing is that, a lot of the time, on vacation, you only get one shot at visiting a given spot. It’s exponentially more relaxing to become a repeat visitor: we made a point, one day, to go back to the little town where we’d gone for dinner and drinks two nights prior, and we sat at the same little corner cafe, had the same smiling waitress bringing us pints of Sagres, knew we had enough euro, and that the ATM was right across the street if we ran into problems.

I’ve read that chain restaurants are successful because they capitalize on similar emotions: no need to brave that greasy spoon, because a Big Mac is a Big Mac. So maybe it’s not just me. But I think it’s possible to strike a balance between the familiar and the not-yet-familiar, with the understanding that everything new eventually brings comfort in a place no longer so alien.

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Pond

There’s a pond. It’s not really a pond…it’s a puddle. But it could be a pond.

It’s in the woods, nestled in the shadow of a hill. It’s really just a divot in the dirt that fills up with rainwater and leaves in the Spring and acorns in the Fall and freezes into a tiny ice patch when the air turns cold, fed by no stream and feeding no river. It reflects the tall Oaks and Maples and the dirt path that leads there if you circle around to the uphill side, and sometimes, you can see the footprints of deer in the muddy banks.

It could be as deep as the lakes in Upstate New York, glacier-carved and measureless in places, deep; the locals will warn you against canoeing across, because there are bodies in the depths that will never be found. It would be afraid if it knew of these stories, although it, too, shelters the bodies of insects and frogs and other smaller things in its depths, and they will never be found, either.

It could be deep, but not too deep. It would take shovels. Maybe boys borrowing tools from Dad’s woodshed and sneaking up through the weeds after school, coming home muddy and with blisters on their young hands. It would upset the reflections and maybe it would fill back in after a time and they’d need to come back, to maintain the work. It would be a lot of work for young boys, and they might tire of the effort, leave it in a state of disarray, worse than when they began.

But then, but then, if all went well, perhaps they could divert one of the little artesian streams up above, if they really put their minds to it. It could become a river. A widening would remain, a pool, to be sure, to remember the most important place, where it all began. But then the flow could be too much, overwhelm it, become so much more. It might sweep the whole mountain away, and sweep the pond away, too, because it exists as a gap, a place to be filled, and it could overfill. And then it would be nothing. It would be gone, replaced, and nobody might remember that it had once been just a little puddle–a little pool–content with reflecting.

The pond wouldn’t mind being bigger. It would like it, in fact. But there are so many risks, aren’t there? All that digging, all that churned-up mud, the well-meaning work…well, even in the best case, it would upset things. Stir them. You probably wouldn’t be able to see even a little reflection, not for weeks, maybe even months, and then where would it be? Then it would really be a puddle. A brown, dull, useless mess.

The pond is really just a puddle, but it feels like a pond. At night, it dreams that the wheeling stars reflect on its broad, silent surface, just big enough, just big enough to be seen.

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Can I Write?

I’ve had kind of an up and down last couple months, and part of the reason is that I’ve started writing again. Specifically, I’m taking a writing class with Grub Street, which is a creative writing organization in Boston that provides instruction and support for fledgling writers.

A friend of mine suggested it to me. I was looking for something to do with my free time, for a hobby. Anybody who knows me knows I have lots and lots of things I’ve tried over the years, from sailing to Kung Fu to homebrewing, but…it gets complicated.

You might say that one of my hobbies is “trying new things.” And I’ve tried a lot. But very few have stuck with me, in the sense that most of them are things I pick up, try for awhile, and then put back down again.

I struggle sometimes because I find that most people don’t have this same approach, at least as far as I can tell. Most people have one thing they do, and they focus on it. Maybe it’s playing softball for the company team. Maybe it’s multiplayer video gaming. Maybe it’s their job. Increasingly, I find that, for many friends, it’s their kids; there isn’t much time left over after job/spouse/child/household to do more than watch TV and go to bed.

There are temporary arrangements as well, like grad school. You start, you do it for awhile, but there’s always either a light at the end of the tunnel or a point where you have to say goodbye, depending on how you look at it.

We don’t have kids. Grad school is done. My job, while far from easy, benefits from the fact that I’ve effectively been working in IT for a decade and a half, since I was a sophomore at Syracuse (yes, skills I learned working the help desk at Bird Library and the Newhouse Lab are sometimes more relevant than anything since). And my gig with Accenture–flying out every Monday, coming home every Thursday, thrown into an absolute maelstrom of a project–hardened me, prepared me, so things come a lot easier now. It was the Catholic school of my professional life, you might say.

So I started thinking back to all the things I’ve tried, all my hobbies, and I thought that maybe it might be fun to pick one, to go back to it, to try to integrate myself with other practitioners, to find new friends, to find more of myself. I emailed a local fencing school–I was secretary of Syracuse’s fencing club at one time–and Grub Street. The writing school got back to me first.

There are several things abut that decision that are scary. First, there’s some fear when you take part in any activity where at least some of the people are already enthusiasts. I think back to when I did the First Year Players as a freshman; I had acted all through elementary school and high school, even had a play that I wrote produced when I was about 16 or 17, and my superlative was “Most Dramatic”. Despite all this, I couldn’t have been more different from the other kids I met in this acting club for non-drama majors. These kids were seriously into this stuff; they were a 10 on the scale and I was maybe a 3.

What would happen at this new writing class? Would I find that I wasn’t nearly as into it as the other participants? These guys were the type of people who read legitimate, adult fiction, the kind you find in literary journals or at least in the front section of the bookstore. Me? I like sci-fi and fantasy. My literary tastes have a culinary equivalent in Chili’s. I find “deep” fiction boring and irritating and I feel the same about “the classics” as I do about Citizen Kane: yeah, great. It’s a sled, and you’re so insightful and intelligent, talking about the human condition. Good for you. Can we watch Commando now? How about RoboCop?

This doesn’t mean that I don’t prefer quality writing, in terms of mechanics: good word choice, realistic dialogue, variable sentence length and structure. It’s just that I want a good plot to go along with it, and no, I will not work to understand the subtle nuances of it unless I enjoy it enough to give it a second reading simply because I thought it was cool and fun the first time. I’m not doing literary analysis unless there’s some tit-for-tat, like a letter grade, or you critiquing my work in exchange.

But that’s me. Maybe that’s not everybody else. And what happens if I’m in a class with 11 other people who are pretty sure A Tale of Two Cities is as good as literature ever got, and anybody with fond memories of something called “Xanth,” or, God forbid, anything by Neil Gaiman (didn’t he write comic books or something?) has juvenile taste and has no place in a class about the craft of short stories? What happens then?

I have a paranoia about judgement. It’s easier to self-judge, then be pleasantly surprised, than to have somebody catch you off-guard by putting you down then you felt like a rock star. My personality is very fear-based. Yes, it is exhausting to be me.

But is that what happened? No, of course not. My classmates are great, are producing some great stuff, and are giving me great feedback. Like a rock singer on American Idol who has to sing country, I’m being challenged to explore different types of writing and different approaches. And so, my second fear–that they might not like what I have to write–is not something that I’ve had to confront, either. Oh, I’m sure that not everybody loves every aspect of every one of my stories or essays, just as I might not love the particulars of a classmate’s story, but we all focus on the technique, on making sure that the characterization is good, that plot points are authentic and believable. I do that for others, and they do that for me.

So that’s good. But there’s one other thing: the fear that I might not actually be able to write.

Let me clarify: I know that I can write, in a certain sense. There was one Sunday where I practically wrote the entire A section for the Daily Item when I interned there; my article on the state of IT education in the six school districts we covered was massive, but editorial liked it, so they ran the whole thing. I know I got good grades in English. I know that plenty of people tell me that they like my writing, that I’m good at it. If we’re being honest here, I like to read what I’ve written–certainly far more than I like to write it in the first place.

Here’s the challenge: let’s assume that I’m in the 99th percentile of English-language writers who are actively doing any kind of writing, in terms of pure mechanics. Eh, maybe say that I’ve got a good eye for plot and an imaginative mind, too.

Great. So I’m better at it than the CEO of my company, than the airline pilot who flew me to Philly every week, than the guy who changes my oil or my personal trainer or Pablo Picasso.

Which would be great. If I were competing against them.

For me, writing is about having people read your stuff, and, ideally, like your stuff. It’s about publication. Emily Dickenson? A hack. She was incredibly talented but she kept everything she ever did in a drawer. Didn’t even bother putting it out there. Writers write, and writers publish.

Otherwise, what’s the point? I don’t have this manic desire to tell stories that nobody will ever hear. Writing is WORK. It is HARD. Yeah, these blog entries are fun and so are Facebook posts or any type of relatively mindless prose where you’re not editing, you’re not revising, you’re not second-guessing every turn of phrase, every character motivation. It’s hard, and I barely spend much time doing it. It’s not my job. My job is doing computer stuff. And computer stuff is a cakewalk compared to writing.

That’s why taking a writing class is so terrifying for me. Say I sign up for a fencing course: what’s the worst that can happen? I realize I’m not an Olympic-class fencer? That’s ok, I never thought I was. Or I start focusing on brewing beer. Some batches are better than others. That’s fine…I’m not trying to start the next Boston Beer Company. It’s just for fun.

Can’t writing be just for fun?

Maybe. But I’ve got a lot of baggage that goes along with it. A lot of short stories in school literary journals; a lot of writing teachers telling that I was pretty good. A lot of potential. It was, at so many points, so close to becoming a legitimate career for me, that it’s not something I can just treat like a pure hobby.

So the question becomes: can I write? Can I write well enough to get published? I don’t know the answer, but I know that that’s my goal…not to quit my job and do this full-time, not to have a regular article in the New Yorker or Cracked.com or even the Improper Bostonian, one of our free local weeklies. Just to get a photocopied ‘zine with a circulation of 30 to read one of my stories, to say, “yes, of all the stuff we’ve read, even though we don’t know you, don’t know your history, but your work stands on its own, and we’d like to put it in print.”

Can I write? I don’t know. I’m finding out.

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Tax-free weekend

Massachusetts is celebrating our annual tax-free weekend. This is not a good time to go to Ikea, Target, or a furniture store, unless you’re hell-bent on making a purchase large enough to justify saving 6 cents on the dollar, or whatever our sales tax is right now. I was not, but I went anyway; the wife is out of town, and I will sometimes reserve home-decor-related purchases for a time when she is not present.

Listen: I am a pretty good interior designer. However, she sometimes questions my personal taste. It’s harder for her to argue when the poster of the Yuengling dogs smoking cigars is already in a frame and on the wall, so sometimes I use that technique to minimize any meddling in my grand vision. Seven years after we bought the condo, the dogs are still there, and she has not divorced me, so there may be some value to this approach.

Tax-free weekend usually coincides with early-bird college relocations; the greater Boston area has nearly 60 colleges and universities, so we usually have one or more “Running of the U-Hauls” at this time of year as people move out of their old apartments and into the new. Given that this usually necessitates spending a bunch of money on furniture and household goods, a lot of the people you see in Ikea are kids and parents loading up on all-in-one cookware sets and futons.

As an aside, it’s not like you need a brand new couch, especially when you can easily score a freebie during the other part of moving season: we call it Brighton Christmas. Yes, grabbing a mattress off the side of the street is asking to get bedbugs, but a couch…well, Febreeze and a slipcover won’t set you back that much. Less than a new Ektorp or Kivik, anyway.

I love this time of year and it reminds me of one of the reasons I love Boston, love living in the city. You get these fresh-faced new kids coming in, lugging cardboard boxes of all their worldly possessions from Mom and Dad’s overloaded RAV-4 or Odyssey, up the narrow back staircase, into their new home. And every year, you see the trash and the curb littered with Target 3-way reading lamps and plastic 3-drawer storage units that somehow either won’t fit in the truck, or won’t fit wherever their former owner is headed. The circle of college life, as depicted by an Anne Geddes poster and a whiteboard with marker dust ground into the edges of the particle board frame.

A lot of the stuff won’t end up in landfills, though. Just as the “canners”–the old Asian ladies with grocery carts full of empty beer bottles and cans, collected and recycled for the nickel return–will pick through the blue bins out back, so will pickup trucks filled with Hispanic-looking men cruise the streets and alleys, scooping up headboards and chests of drawers and lamps and anything else that looks remotely salable. How or where it comes to market I have no idea, but anyplace is better than the trash.

There’s a lot of “stuff” associated with your first tentative forays into the real world. Ikea was full of people buying it today. But just like my Dad’s old blacklight is still lighting up Zeppelin posters somewhere in one of my brothers’ houses, so does a lot of this stuff stay in circulation, somewhere, long after its owners have moved on.

But still…stay out of Ikea on tax-free weekend. It’s crazy in there.

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Social Media Audiences

I think I get that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a personal blog are for separate and distinct purposes; however, in my case (in the case of most people not Building Their Personal Brand), the audiences overlap so much that it’s not always intuitive why you would use all four of them. Here’s what I think of them:

  • Facebook: pictures of your child(ren)/cat(s), complaints about your boss, bragging to people you went to school with. Keep it short and sweet. However, the people who see this stuff are probably people you know, or people who know people you know; the degree of separation from your audience is probably 1-3 deep, at most.
  • LinkedIn: your resume, reasons people should hire you. Useful for flogging your professional abilities, particularly if you are active in a professional community or you’re a freelancer. Not a place for pictures of cats, unless you are a cat photographer. Degree of separation can go all the way to Kevin Bacon level, and you’re probably going to get contacted by (or you will contact) recruiters and/or other people you’ve never spoken to, have no relationship with, but where a relationship could be mutually beneficial in the career sense.
  • Twitter: brand flogging and communicating with people outside your personal network when you’re selling the type of “self” that doesn’t fit into the LinkedIn box. Useful for media personalities and would-be personalities to share thoughts and opinions and establish connections and relationships that are more Facebook-like in content, but where the degree of separation can go much further. I understand Twitter the least so this is all conjecture. I know that some people will post everything they post on Twitter to Facebook. I think that the opposite is not always true, because you might say something on Facebook that you don’t want accessible to anyone and everyone. Whereas a Facebook goal might be to have all your actual friends, family, classmates and other acquaintances read your posts, the Twitter goal would be to get random people out in the world to do likewise.
  • Personal blog: long-form communications and expounding upon topics raised in the other three media. The benefit/drawback of the other three is that, generally speaking, content and commentary are brief. You can’t publish a serial novel on Facebook. There are also limitations on the type of content; you’re posting on somebody else’s network, and while I can’t think of too many things you’d legitimately want to say that you can’t say (illegal/offensive/etc. stuff is obviously out, but I probably wouldn’t want to make such a post on Facebook anyway), your blog is your blog and it’s a lot more wide open. I think that you can post about something in the other forums that would drive people to your blog where they might see what you have to say in more detail. However, they’d really really have to be interested, both to get them to your blog in the first place, then to stick around long enough to read, then, finally, to comment or otherwise acknowledge what you’re saying.

Some examples: I might write an article about Salesforce.com custom development here on markdalius.com, then I might post about it on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to try to get people here to read it. I might write a short story here, then I might post about it on Facebook and Twitter, but probably not LinkedIn, because it’s not related to my professional growth. I might write a post on Facebook about what I was doing tonight, but I wouldn’t write more about it here, and I wouldn’t put it on the other sites, because it’s only interesting/relevant (and barely that) to friends and family. I might Tweet that I’m looking to meet up with people at a convention, and I’d probably put that on Facebook too, but not put it on the blog. Finally, if I wrote something on the blog that I wasn’t really focused on getting people to read, I probably wouldn’t mention it elsewhere, either.

Kind of like this.

Unless, of course, I thought that my definitions above might be incorrect. At which point I might ask others to give their thoughts. And because Facebook is my primary source of people who might read what I have to say, I’d mention it there first.

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A Year of Beer #3: Boston Beer Works Back Bay IPA

I really like Boston Beer Works; they’re one of my favorite brewery/restaurants, and the Fenway location used to be a regular dinner destination when friends came into town. I didn’t realize that they had started to bottle their beers, so when I saw a sampler of four of their styles, I picked it up.

One of them was their Back Bay IPA. And…it’s an IPA. It’s bitter and hoppy and there’s not too much else going on there. It tastes, well, like an IPA. It’s not bad. It’s not outstanding.

I should pause for a moment and say, I am over IPAs and any sort of beer that is hop-focused. I didn’t like pale ales when I first tried them, I gradually grew to like the style, and I then got completely burned out thanks to the “hop wars”: brewers’ efforts to one-up each other by adding more and more hops, upping the bitterness in an apparent quest to achieve the hoppiest possible beer.

Nope. Done. I want other flavors besides hops. So, this is a reasonable IPA; I wouldn’t dump it out if I had an open bottle, but neither would I go out of my way to buy or drink it.

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A Year of Beer #2: Samuel Adams Belgian Session

I picked this up as part of Sam’s Beers of Summer pack for 2013. I’m a huge, huge fan of sampler packs–I remember buying a Saranac “12 Beers of Christmas” back in school as a way to try a variety of different styles at once, from stout to IPA, and I think there’s no better way to experiment outside of going to a bar. Plus, there are relatively few beers that could hold my attention through an entire case (or even half-case), so as long as I like most of what’s included, I’ll go with a sampler 9 times out of 10.

The beer has flavors of apricot and lemon with some more pronounced citrus. No skunkyness at all, but a pleasant honey-sweetness that’s very refreshing. I’d assume this was a hefeweizen if somebody poured it for me. The label notes some spiciness, which is present (once I stopped to think about it), but not overwhelming. I’m guessing the intention was to take a traditional Belgian beer and tone it down a bit so you could drink more than one, hence “session” in the name. Definitely a good summer beer. Wish I had another weissbier or hefeweizen to compare it with.

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