Monday, December 5, 2016


There’s a bug on Instagram that affects so few people there’s no real urgent need to fix it. I don’t even know if it can be classified as a bug, to be honest, because technically it works the way it’s supposed to. It’s just that for people with common usernames like mine—as an early user of Instagram I snagged @josh—it can cause significant confusion.

Here’s the deal: When you share a photo from Instagram to Twitter, any Instagram @username mentioned in the photo’s caption is converted to that user’s Twitter @username, like this:

Having tea with my buddy @josh —> Having tea with my buddy @joshriedel
[Instagram —> Twitter]

Many people with friends named Josh simply write @josh in their Instagram captions, even though it’s not me in their photos. On Instagram, I just ignore them. When these photos are shared to Twitter, however, and the username is converted to my full name—@joshriedel—it feels much more personal.

I had largely ignored these Twitter mis-mentions until one day, last summer, when my inbox filled with Twitter notifications about my supposed appearance at Comic-Con. Thanks @GQMagazine, the stylist Ilaria Urbinati tweeted, for including Tom Hiddleston, @joshriedel Dallas, and Ben Affleck in your…—at this point the tweet had reached 140 characters so I went to Instagram to read the rest of the caption—…Best Dressed Guys at Comicon list. All styled by yours truly.

I had a brief what-the-hell? moment, trying to figure out why I was mentioned in this tweet, whether I knew this Ilaria stylist person, and actually considering, briefly, whether I had in fact gone to Comic-Con earlier that summer. Inspecting the photo on Instagram, I admit I got a little giddy, searching for myself in a collage of well-dressed men waving at the cameras on whatever counts as the Comic-Con red-carpet. It didn’t take long to discover, sadly, that I wasn’t among the well-dressed men. Apparently Ilaria had meant to mention @joshdallas.

From then on, I became intrigued with these mis-mentions. I began to feel a certain affinity with my online Josh counterparts, these people who share an internet namespace with me. A new mis-mention pops up for me every week or so. Here @joshriedel is dancing at his wedding, here he is with his band backstage, here he is having tea with his buddy in Hyderabad.

There’s so much talk of echo chambers, these days, so much talk of how we construct our online worlds to reinforce what we already believe. These mis-mentions feel like little cracks in the code, offering up a serendipitous expansion of my online world I don’t come across in my routine interneting.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fortune Cookie Fortunes: an Anodyne Analysis of the East/West Paradigm

Western philosophy has proven itself raucously inept at addressing the fundamental horrors underpinning our modes of existence, to say nothing of its startlingly impotent logical justifications for various theoretical configurations of the ideal state. Plato? More like Play-dough, since his dialectics are the equivalent of a child distracting itself from death with a colorful if inedible diversion, mere contrivances born out of a desire to justify a pre-existing ideal through tautologies of varying circuitousness. John Locke? More like a lock to induce a lengthy bout of sleep whenever I read Two Treatises of Government before bed. Robert Nozick? More like Robert No-way am I buying the larger implications behind the Wilt Chamberlain distributive justice thought experiment. Friedrich Nietzsche? Well, I can’t invent a pun involving his name off the top of my head, but, clearly any thinker who validates my worldview (through aphorism, no less) isn’t to be trusted. My gramps agrees with this last bit, in any case, though it is also true he eats pizza with a fork and knife, and believes himself to share a deep, spiritual connection with Kissinger.

Learning from my antecedents, I decided to discover myself by traveling to a foreign locale. I would eat, I would pray, I would love. Each experience would be an opportunity to reflect on my character, my relationship with the external, my operating principles as a headspace attached to a withering flesh sack. Narcissus was a hunk, after all.

But, I had little money. But, I was 16. So, after morose resignation tinged with morose self-pity, I landed upon an avataristic simulation of the sorts of experiences I would otherwise expect to experience in the East. I must credit Gramps for the revelation. Sure, he refers to those of asian descent as orientals, caring not at all what Edward Said has said on the subject. But his affinity for crude American iterations of Chinese cuisine has long prompted a fondness, within myself, for the perverse utterances found within those so-called fortune cookies. Over the past eight years, I have accumulated 683 such fortunes. This is what I learned:

Don’t take life too seriously; laugh and smile at it once in a while.
Ask advice, but use your own common sense.
Pretty meta, if you ask me.
Inch by inch life’s a cinch. Yard by yard life is hard.
I’m definitely offering this formulation to Gramps next time his beloved Washington Redskins fail to convert a 4th and 1 yard. 
Change is happening in your life, so go with the flow!
Go with the flow will make your transition ever so much easier.
A healthy way of living is be good to your health.
I’m going to blame that typo on the translation. The publishing industry cuts corners in this regard, often. Or so say the experts.
Man is born to live and not prepare to live.
No one is standing in your way anymore, time to moving forward.

Furrowing my brow, my phone rings. It is Elizabeth Gilbert. She says we need to talk.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

La Vie en Sea Foam

For as long as I can remember I have had a strong affinity for the color sea foam. Of course what counts as "sea foam" falls into quite a range (after all, a foamy sea takes on many hues) – which is why you will see so many variations in this cabinet. Actual foam from the sea, to be honest, can be a bit gross, and so the name of the color beautifies and mystifies the sea in a charming, if not reductionist kind of way. 

My office window, with sea foam trim
I'm not sure exactly when sea foam became such a popular color. Ander shared some research he had done into Crayola history and found that they have only ever made a marker that was literally colored "sea foam" - otherwise, the company has called the color "sea green," "light green," and even "New York Lady Liberty." It seems maybe anyone's classification of the color is haphazard at best - which makes collecting it all the more whimsical, I suppose. 

Encountering and wearing sea foam in Hanoi, Vietnam
This playful little color drives my consumer habits (as the cabinet illustrates, I opt for the sea foam line of a product when I can). It drives the habits of my friends and family too - who gift me items that are sea foam as well, or contain a flicker of sea foam, like the wash rag featured in the cabinet that my mother knitted for me.
Sea foam salt and pepper shakers at the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand

If I travel, I am sure to take pictures of sea foam objects or landscapes. Writer Ellen Maloy wrote a book called the Anthropology of Turquoise (a close cousin of sea foam) in which she discusses the color's appearance and significance across various cultures. I suppose in collecting the color myself, I am interested in its emergences/reappearances across cultures, too.

A shelf of the sea foam bottles used by New Zealand colonists - Matahoke, New Zealand
But in the end, I think what's more interesting to me about this ongoing collection is the way that my affinity for the color has allowed me to notice mundane things in a new light. Sea foam helps me notice: objects, clothing, landscapes, doors, all sorts of things. So I strive to add it to my life, make room for it, take time to appreciate it, whenever I can.

Chicken perching on sea foam chair, painted by author

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Patrick Cline: Seeds by eBay (Naïve Melody)

The Collection:
Non-native seeds purchased on eBay with no other guide than novelty and childish wonder.

The Project:
With little know-how, or gardening experience, or research into soils and climates and temperatures and fertilizer and scoriation and stratification, the author hoped to grow from seed a set of plants that seemed inaccessible by location (Tucson, AZ) and/or wholly abstracted from nature by the commercialism of globalist late capitalism.

Second, Aborted Project:
To then use the produce from these seeds to make the familiar products associated with the plants, thus furthering the defamiliarization of those products by rendering their production wholly visible and accessible.

The Hypothesis:
The world isn’t as difficult, or inaccessible, as it’s advertised to be. Also, the author supposes, that globalization is pretty neat: that one can send $3 to Lithuania, and receive Japanese Barberry Tree seeds. And that it will work out.

The Seeds, and Location of Seller:
River Birch (Betula nigra): Elko, Nevada USA
Monkey Face Orchid (Dracula simia): Malaysia
Sequoia Tree (Sequoia sempervirens): Walterboro, South Carolina USA
Dorian Tree (Durio zibethinus): Bangkok, Thailand
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans): North Conway, New Hampshire USA
Cashew Tree (Anacardium occidentale): Bandara Koswatta, Sri Lanka
Cacao Tree (Theobroma cacao): Choiseul, Saint Lucia
Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii): Alytus, Lithuania
Juniper Tree (Juniperus communis): Istanbul, Turkey
Tabasco Pepper (Capsicum frutescens)(?): ???
Bloody Butcher Corn (Zea mays): Hobbs, New Mexico USA
Purple Tomato (???): Malaysia
Purple Barley (Hordeum vulgare): Plant City, Florida USA
Afghan Blue Poppy (Papaver somniferum): Sanford, Florida USA
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum): Julian, California USA

When an experiment is intentionally designed to be naïve and it fails, one supposed one cannot blame anyone but oneself. And yet, the world has been teaching the author since he became an adult that it is so much more slapdash, unthought-out, over-hyped, and naïve itself than anyone seems to acknowledge. The author became a cook without knowing how to cook, an editor of legal textbooks with no knowledge of the law, began a nonprofit, built a chickenwire hutch, repaired an 8-track player, secured a temporary living as a writer (a true absurdity), and these are not boasts¾one can do these things, right now, with almost zero googling.
So why can’t a sequoia tree be grown in Arizona? The author is not asking about science, he is asking about permission.

            Plant, in planters, using Home Depot potting soil. Water daily. Transplant to larger pots as needed, or in the case of corn, to a plastic bucket with holes drilled into the bottom. Look out the window at the seedlings, sometimes, head against the glass, missing the autumn and certain rhythms of life sacrificed in order to come to Arizona. Needless to say, given a 2500 mile separation from fiancé, certain people as well.

Results (see below for photographs):

The Unmitigated Failures
            Here is why this project has become so dispiriting: it was meant to be an exercise in optimism and wonder. In, hah, hope. What timing.
            It was meant to take certain abstractions and render them physical, obtainable, and completely defamiliar to normal life. The author wanted to ground chocolate in a physical reality in a country where cacao-based chocolate is becoming increasingly rare.
            Here is a cashew plant outside of factory farming.
            Here is a durian plant outside of Southeast Asia.
            Here is poison ivy as a seed, a choice, rather than an accident.
So, the author has been humbled, then. This shows him to seek reality in a year of magical thinking. Or, come on, to not be so blithe and uninformed. (So many lessons lately!) Just because the internet exists, and one can send one’s money to Istanbul, Saint Lucia, Bangkok, and receive certain small aspects of their world, does not mean that one can ignore certain basic facts about soil, care, and place.

The Mitigated Successes
            In September there were early successes. Though the seeds were sent from Florida, two Middle Eastern plants better known by the spice they produce (poppy seed and fenugreek) sprouted and seemed to thrive. The former, however, stopped growing after a month, refused to take root, and withered sprout by sprout. This was during October 2016, a month of many crises, both personal and national. The author will admit, he did yell at this pot of dying poppy sprouts, taking their suicide as personal insult. He also apologized, and propped the larger plants up with little sticks, and whispered encouragement. The last plant died around Halloween.
            Mid-October, the Fenugreek was ripped apart by birds.
            For the most part, the remaining successes offer a conclusion more disappointing even than total failure, at least from an aesthetic perspective: No Duh. Corn grows in Tucson. So do hot peppers. So, until the birds came again and again, does barley. From a humanist perspective, the author will make a spicy corn salad and feel some pride.
            The most exciting result is that a set of seeds purported to be purple tomatoes, sold through a clearly faked photo of deeply purple fruits, purchased through willful naivety, sent from Malaysia, have sprouted. They seem to be thriving. They do not appear to be tomato plants. The author tends the pots and wonders—what rare and distant fruits does he keep? If they produce, will he eat the results? It seems likely. Keep in touch, and prepare to send for help.

The “Actually Trying Here”s
            The final two seed packets to arrive, Juniper from Istanbul and Barberry from Lithuania, the author chose to google. And yes, he has learned how little he knows. The Barberry Tree seeds require 60 days of cold stratification. They are currently within a freezer bag, immersed in peat moss, lying on top of hot dogs in the vegetable crisper, 39 days from possible germination. The Juniper Tree seeds require 60 days of hot stratification (atop the author’s fridge), and 90 days of cold stratification (atop the author’s hot dogs). And then, one supposes, more research, more care, more knowledge.

            Actually, the author’s chicken-wire hutch collapsed immediately. Call it radical optimism: the idea that the same action will produce different results. It’ll make you president.  


The Unmitigated Failures:


River Birch (Betula nigra): Elko, Nevada USA

(Purchased because the author was craving New England)


Monkey Face Orchid (Dracula simia): Malaysia

(Late-night, two-beer wonder)


Sequoia Tree (Sequoia sempervirens): Walterboro, South Carolina USA

(This was my greatest hope. Two months after planting, a blade of grass began growing from the planter. The author continues to water this grass at the time of writing.)


Durian Tree (Durio zibethinus): Bangkok, Thailand

(Another gesture of wonder: That such a huge and distant tree could be purchased by seed. Research says these seeds lose viability after three days. This was delivered wrapped in toilet paper.)


Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans): North Conway, New Hampshire USA

(Planted with such guilt, and the sort of excitement that comes from active guilt. These seeds are bone-white, and smell of tobacco even now. Delivered wrapped in two bags, and taped inside cardboard. The author planted them wearing disposable gloves, felt itchy for days, and believes a rash is developing on his arm at the time of writing from handling the bag while taking this photograph. Due to his guilt and trepidation, the author was certain these seeds would sprout. But no wonder from this project, not even of a negative kind.)


Cashew Tree (Anacardium occidentale): Bandara Koswatta, Sri Lanka

(Delivered in a disposable sealed bag, as if very common. Stolen by birds soon after planting.)


Cacao Tree (Theobroma cacao): Choiseul, Saint Lucia

(One hour after purchase, the seller emailed demanding that payment be made. The seeds arrived nine weeks later, loose in their envelope. Wouldn’t it have been lovely?)


The Mitigated Successes:

Tabasco Pepper (Capsicum frutescens)(?): ???
(Hot peppers in Tucson. A mundane consolation prize.)


Bloody Butcher Corn (Zea mays): Hobbs, New Mexico USA
(Corn in Tucson. See above. So far, for some reason, untouched by birds.)


Purple Tomato (???): Malaysia
(Advertised by a picture of very very purple tomatoes(?). It remains to be seen. This was the only non-continental, non-pepper seed to take root.)


Purple Barley (Hordeum vulgare): Plant City, Florida USA


(Barley! The author was very interested in grains at this time. Then came the birds.)


Afghan Blue Poppy (Papaver somniferum): Sanford, Florida USA
(This result was very surprising to the author, and filled him with an early confidence. However, these sprouts never formed root systems, and basically chose to die before the author’s eyes through sheer spite.)


Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum): Julian, California USA
(A spice used as a leavening agent before baking powder and baking soda. The author has used it to make a very tasty flatbread which goes well with stew. Another early, promising result. Another casualty of birds.)


The “Actually Trying Here”s:

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii): Alytus, Lithuania
(A beautiful deciduous tree, purchased after a night the author spent scrolling through photographs of deciduous trees.)


Juniper Tree (Juniperus communis): Istanbul, Turkey
(A gesture toward Tucson, before the author learned that you have Cyprus trees here. The author plans to, next year, if they take root, take up Bonsai pruning with almost no prior research.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Family Recipes (from strangers, from friends)

I am collecting and cooking family recipes from other people's families. I am ever grateful for the recipes below, and the generous friends and strangers who gave them to me. A recipe is a gift and a challenge. Which is to say that I am growing increasingly aware of potato varieties, increasingly adept at kitchen gadget use, and increasingly awestruck by people who are actually good at food photography. Below are a few of my recent attempts.

Have one to share? please email!

I broke the rules of collecting non-family family recipes in order to ask Kristen for her recipe for Kimpura. Kristen is my aunt, and she makes this dish every year for Japanese New Years. 

Failures/Adaptations: I didn't wear gloves because I was cooking at a friend's house and she didn't have gloves. My hands were fine. A bit brown, yes, but the stain faded throughout the night. I also didn't have a kimpura peeler, and would certainly recommend getting one before making this. I spent nearly thirty minutes finely chopping the kimpura.                     

Ken writes: 
While the last two generations of my family are periodically struck with an unrelenting craving for Loksha, the story is that when my great-grandmother made it, it was not to be talked about outside the house. To my grandmothers, Loksha was a sign of how poor the family was. Indeed, the alternative name for Loksha in my family to this day was given to it by my great grandmother herself, who reportedly scolded her children for wanting to share their Loksha with neighbor kids, saying: "It's for no one. It's Bohemian poverty bread."

Ken tells me to serve Loksha with brown beans and black tea. He says the recipe is most delicious "when the snow is piled up to the window sills."

Failures/Adaptations: I serve the bread with black beans and tea, and also with pork chops and onions. I definitely buy the wrong kind of potatoes - I choose these lovely, translucent rose potatoes - which create a sort of gummy, waxy texture that doesn't seem right. It's still delicious.

Claire invited me over to have Jook one Saturday morning. It's a savory rice porridge, thicker than chicken soup, but with a similar taste. She decorates the dining table with small bowls of condiments: shredded chicken, minced ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions. 

Her mother sends the recipe. She writes:
My mom, who was born in Hong Kong, made variations of jook when I was growing up. Jook is also called congee.  If I was sick with a fever, she made a very thick gruel, not a typical jook,  that was bland but had some meat cooked for a long time to give me protein. Regular jook was a lot thinner. I've come to find that jook is something that varies regionally and depends what you have available. Mom used to go to the local "Hofbrau" to buy their turkey carcasses that they threw away. She made a rich broth and then jook from the broth. I've developed the jook you are familiar with after our Thanksgiving dinners with the Carrolls. In Chinese restaurants, jook is very bland and white and the condiments are added for flavor. I like to cook jook in a rich broth and add all various condiments.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

[Head/Lines: A DW Song DW Song]

Dorian Rolston

Head/Lines: A DW Song DW Song

Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest:[1]
Fame's pillar here at last we set![2]
Give me more love. Or more disdain[3]
When I have fears that I may cease to be…[4]
Black beauty, which above that common light[5]
Thou hast made me. And shall thy work decay?[6]
I that have been a lover, and could show it,
In this strange labyrinth how shall I turn?
You jerk, you didn't call me up!
Next to of course God, America—I 
Move him into the sun.
The eagle is my power:
Invisible, chimerical.
Others abide our question. Thou art free.

[1] The first thing to note is that this is an opening line. It opens Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 3,” and now it opens my “Head/Lines: A DW Song DW Song.” What struck me immediately was its call to fame: look in the mirror, tell yourself what you see. In other words, you may see yourself on the cover of the morning paper, but what, exactly, of yourself is reflected is for you alone to know.

[2] The next thing is that this, too, is an opening line, this time from Robert Herrick’s “The Pillar of Fame,” which the Norton Anthology (5th ed.) makes a point of noting “is ‘shaped’ to resemble a pillar.” That a conspicuously pillar-shaped block of text should have to be pointed out to me as being pillar-like is a little patronizing, sure, and perhaps that flaw of indiscretion extends to all footnotes kissing the feet of poems. But here the scare-quoted “shaped” redeems the kiss for me, napkin-dabbing the bit of something on the lips: to shape anything but a three-dimensional object is to shape figuratively. Herrick’s “pillar,” then, would seem to hold fame only in a kind of metaphorical space, which has a real consequence for those who equate themselves to it—I am famous!—and, ultimately, for poets trying to talk about it.

[3] And I am trying to talk about it, with this next opening line from Thomas Carew’s “Mediocrity in Love Rejected,” and with each that follows. The art installation to which this (my) sonnet is a kind of footnote is a (my) visual sonnet called “Head/Lines: A DW Song,” and its visualization is meant to give some physical extensionality to the flat text, extend a grubby hand out into the world, greet you. Love me or hate me, the poem wants to say: here I am! No more mirroring, in this song (sonetto in Italian) I want to break free…

[4] …now especially, as Keats’s on deck without even so much as a proper title, leaving us to default to the opening, “[When I have fears that I may cease to be].” But the thing I’ve come to like so much about this opener is that it does what my installation aims to do, which is, first, refresh our old ideas about what a headline is, and next to play some with the new ones. I started this project cutting the heads out of the Daily Wildcat cover photos, figuring that it was these actual heads, not the textual heading lines, that were the center of attention, that ought to be the literal headlines. And if you figure a poem’s opening is kind of like a cover photo, then that seems to be just what Keats has done too—on top of which (forgive me) lamenting a future inexistence “that I may cease to be” while giving us that very future (sans title).

[5] I just resisted the urge to Google this next one, turning instead back to my Norton, where poems are indexed at the back, for my convenience, by opening lines. There’s the black beauty, the first of the black Bs (followed by jackets, a maid, some reapers and some riders), hooked to pg. 346. A quick fanning flip: “Sonnet of Black Beauty,” you’ve got to love that, it’s right there in the title. Oh, Herbert…how sincere! I got the anthology when my girlfriend moved in, lugging the old verse-clunker with her, and it’s been a real pleasure to register her reactions to my project as it evolved, from the collecting of Daily Wildcats stage without any real purpose in mind to the pun stage that made it apparent just why I'd been collecting and just what the project should be. She liked the headline pun, especially—though, come to think of it, when she saw the finished work, including as it did cutouts not just of heads but of helmets and footballs and volleyballs and fireballs and rocket ship noses and cactus flowers and…hands, that last especially, she made a sound like something unrealized, not what she’d been expecting.

[6] Ah, Donne.