Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Finding Your Voice: Reflections from a Guitarist

Long before he was the guitarist for the Police, Andy Summers was a guitarist at large, first in London, eventually in the United States, touring with bands both known and unknown. One day, after an abrupt and curt dismissal from the Soft Machines that sent him straight into the arms of the Animals, Andy got an invitation to swing by a music studio in LA, where Jimi Hendrix had booked some time to record.

This wasn't Andy's first encounter with Jimi, but it was a more relaxed environment than their earlier encounters, and Andy and his mate passed the time doodling with guitars in a corner. Eventually Jimi came and joined them on bass. They jammed for a while, and then Jimi asked if he could take the guitar, so Andy switched to bass and they kept on jamming. Finally the moment had passed and they all knew it, so they nodded appreciation to one another, and Jimi returned to the recording booth, while Andy returned home.

Try to imagine that feeling, sitting alongside the master of your chosen instrument, the universally acknowledged exemplar of your chosen vocation. Try to imagine how you would conduct yourself with him, how you would process the experience afterward. What course would it set you on? What changes would you make to your life? What decisions would such an encounter demand of you?

For Andy Summers, this was a moment of truth:

That night when I finally lie down, I know I have just passed through a seminal moment in my life. Jimi is having a huge influence on guitarists everywhere: people are mimicking his style, and little Jimis are springing up everywhere. The Hendrix style is very seductive, and at this moment in the world of rock guitar, it’s hard to resist trying to get all his licks and aping his style. But I wrestle with it because from almost the first moment I began playing the guitar, the one precept that has consistently come at me, been hammered into my brain, held up as the sine qua non of playing music, is the idea that you must find your own voice, you must - in the words of countless musician interviews in the magazines I read as a teenager - "have something to say." Jimi has something to say, but somehow through a combination of natural stubbornness, in-born musical instincts, and the long embrace of the "own voice" idea, the thought of being a Hendrix clone is anathema to me.
TWEET THIS: Imagine sitting alongside the exemplar of your chosen vocation. What decisions would such an encounter demand of you?

Andy Summers writes this memoir in the present tense, an interesting quirk for most of the book, but in moments like this the memories crackle with energy. The fact is, so much of contemporary music, of any creative endeavor, actually, is mimicry. We emulate those we admire, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Earlier in One Train Later Andy wrote about the Eric Clapton fever that spread throughout the guitarist community in England, another occasion for him to resist the temptation to co-opt someone else's style. I'm impressed with Andy's capacity to honor those musicians whose innovations he rejects; he doesn't deny the greatness of Clapton or Hendrix or anyone else, he just declines to play their way.

There's a cost to this commitment. To continue to seek an elusive voice of your own is to make yourself less marketable; other, lesser artists will happily don the Jimi mask and take the gig you refuse to take. It hurts to not have a voice; you suffer for continuing to search for it. But it's out there, and with patience and vision, you'll find it.

I am in a position [as lead guitarist for the band The Animals] that many guitarists would covet, but inside I have a nagging feeling that it is temporary and that I have not yet found the environment in which I can be the most expressive. . . . Other guitarists I started out with — Clapton, Beck, Page, Albert Lee — are well on their way. Maybe I have been sticking to my own path too rigidly, maybe I should have taken a more obvious route like everyone else, or maybe my time hasn’t come yet. But like anyone, I need the setting in which it can take root. At the moment the partners I am seeking are both still at school in England: one at Millwall in the English west country, the other at St. Cuthbert's grammar school in Newcastle.
TWEET THIS: It hurts to not have a voice. But it's out there, and with patience and vision, you'll find it.

The partner Andy sought at Millwall in the English west country was drummer Stewart Copeland; the partner at St. Cuthbert's in Newcastle was bassist Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting. Together they would become the Police, who carved out a unique sound in the 1970s and 1980s by blending jazz, reggae and punk music with smart, literary song lyrics. They've sold over 75 million records and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and are included on numerous lists of the greatest artists of all time. Andy Summers eventually found his voice, and it sounded nothing like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix. I, for one, am glad he held out for it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Being the Change, Being Yourself

I've started my new job as a telecommuter; after a few weeks I'll shift to working onsite. I was always attracted to the notion of telecommuting - fewer disruptions, plus the acceptability of pajama pants as "business casual" - but my wife wisely warned that I wouldn't take to it. I'm too relational; I miss the group dynamic.

So I'm glad I'll soon be entering more fully into my new work environment, but I've been around long enough to recognize that the introduction of a new element to an ecosystem (which is a very vogue way of talking about being a new employee) introduces a fair bit of disequilibrium. And with the introduction of disequilibrium comes a crisis for the collective: who must change, the person or the system?

TWEET THIS: A new element in an ecosystem introduces a crisis for the collective: who must change, the person or the system?

This is the old evolutionary dilemma: adapt or die. Except that in this instance we're dealing with human personalities, and to change oneself simply to fit in to an existing culture can feel like the end of a significant part of oneself. In this instance, we contend with a more existential dilemma: adapt and die. Just a little bit.

Is that melodramatic? I suppose it is. I'm not going to die just because I can no longer play music through the speakers of my computer as I work from my office. Given the environment in which I'll be working, I'll have to do like one of my new coworkers and wear headphones. Then there's style - another challenge to my existing habits: as an editor, I have to conform my work to the house style guide of my new employer, which, unlike my previous employer, seems to think, that commas, should be used, like, everywhere.
These are survivable adaptations - microevolution, if you will, rather than macroevolution. But there are more inherent, more subterranean cultural markers of any defined network of people - any culture - that present more significant evolutionary quandaries to the new guys among us, and when we come upon them we have to decide how much, how often, and for how long we will adapt to suit. And similarly, we have to gauge how receptive our new environment is to change, and what and where the levers of change are.

(I'm sure my new boss has read this far and is starting to panic; I sound a bit like a Bolshevik or something. I'm not. I'm an editor. Although as with Bolsheviks, it's in the nature of editors to change what they're presented with.)

Anyway, to prepare myself for adapting to (and, where appropriate, adapting) my new environment, I loaded up on some new books. I picked up Change by Design by Tim Brown, a great read about extending the method of designers from the production of artifacts to all corners of an enterprise - to galvanize imagination and collaboration toward the whole health of an organization. Something like that. It was good. And then I shifted to a book by Debra E. Meyerson: Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble.

(Happy, boss? I'm not "making trouble"; I'm just "effecting change." It's all good.)

I expected something very different from Rocking the Boat than I got. What I expected was practicality, utility - a method for stirring the pot without landing in the hot seat. I was looking for, I suppose, advice on how to win new friends and influence new people. And there are elements of that in this book, particularly in later chapters. But instead of reading this book and looking forward to my new job, I found myself looking back, through many years, at how I've managed to survive being what Meyerson calls a "positive deviant."

"Positive deviants" are those people who don't naturally or comfortably conform to an established environment, and yet they've committed themselves to that environment and seek its good. In the process, they make small strides toward making the environment more receptive to people like them, and other people who are, like them, unlike the dominant culture. I identified immediately with this characterization. It's hard to know why, since most of Meyerson's examples have to do with minority identities in majority settings - people of color, women, LGBT folks. As a straight white man I better fit the profile of the dominant than the deviant. But it turns out that once you've defined a norm, it's hard not to notice the ways in which you deviate from it. It might be more helpful to think rather of "positive deviance" than "positive deviants," since really anyone at really any time can feel like an outsider to the system they find themselves in. But telling a positive deviant that what they're feeling is normal actually does very little good.

Meyerson's other term for this type of actor in a system is "tempered radical," one that I greatly prefer. A "positive deviant" has a relatively passive challenge; she has only to come to terms with her deviancy and try to stay positive along the way. "Tempered radical" implies something more active: the challenge facing such a person is to pursue her radical agenda in tempered ways - to make the change she wants to see in the world, as Gandhi sort of put it, causing as few headaches as possible for the people affected by those changes. A "tempered radical" focuses externally, on effective change; a "positive deviant" focuses internally, on not losing sight of oneself. Plus, I'd rather be thought of as radical (or even tempered) than as deviant.

Nevertheless, both are good, accurate, helpful terms, and whichever one you identify best with, you're going to need some encouragement. "Most organizations," Meyerson writes, "implicitly reward people for maintaining, not disrupting, the status quo." There's a tyranny to equilibrium; to disturb it is to engender confusion and anxiety, and to invite a suppressive response. If you deviate from the norm - even if you are positive about it, even if your particular deviation offers positive benefit to the environment - there are forces in play that will push you back toward acceptable norms. Any proposed change to your environment, no matter how tempered, will seem radical to some. The tempered radical, the positive deviant, can be seen as oppositional and treated as such; they face the threat of formal punishment or insidious, even subconscious, marginalization.

People who stand out as different face ongoing pressures to prove their loyalty to the majority. One way people do so is to distance themselves from those who are similarly "different."
Yet another way the norm tyrannizes the deviant: the norm pits the deviants against one another. And the deviants play along, because simply by acknowledging their commonalities they establish a new norm, which establishes new deviances, which invites more marginalization. It's stunning how effective we all are at attacking one another's sense of self.

Whatever. It's hard out here being a deviant. Shocker. The question is, what are you going to do about it? And how will you, a tempered radical, pursue your radical agenda in appropriately tempered ways?

TWEET THIS: Any proposed change to your environment, no matter how tempered, will seem radical to some.

I do wish I'd read this book fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was first facing up to my deviancies, when I was first being radicalized. Not that it isn't helpful in my current season of life, and not that it won't be helpful in my new environment (and, frankly, not that I suffered all that much for being different), but I do think we first contend with these challenges to our identity early on in adulthood, in our earliest encounters with organized environments. John Lennon actually sees this pressure reaching all the way back to our infancy:

As soon as you're born
They make you feel small.
The ways we engage our environments with our uniquenesses, with our distinct visions, are cast relatively early and harden into fixed attitudes relatively quickly. Cynicism plagues the tempered radical when an environment resists change; it's increasingly hard for a deviant to stay positive (or recover positivity) when their deviancy is actively, formally discouraged. Indeed, when simply being yourself feels like a battle, when your vision for the future is seen by your host culture as aberrent, Meyerson advises that "it is important to know when to stop fighting and instead look elsewhere." But because so much of tempered radicalism is a matter of identity, because our positive deviancy sets so quickly and follows us forward in life, we also have to be patient, circumspect, resolute and resilient. Meyerson quotes Keith Hammonds to remind us, in a way that is simultaneously inspiring and discouraging, that "Tempered Radicals .. are irritants to their organizations in the way that pearls are irritants to oysters." She goes on:

The capacity to push people to confront the conflicts and adaptive challenges facing a system is one of the most crucial and difficult aspects of real leadership.
In this way, and really in countless other ways, tempered radicals and positive deviants are assets to any environment; the disruption to equilibrium they offer may occasionally be sloppy or produce unintended consequences - they are human, after all - but it unsettles environments that, as often as not, need to be unsettled.

I count ninety-five commas in this post. Happy, new norm?

Friday, July 25, 2014

What Is a Church?

As my wife and I prepare for our move across country, one of the many questions that nags at us is, "What do we want in a church?" The question seems positively quaint, I suppose, in the grand scheme of history; for increasing numbers of people, the answers to that question range from "We want a church that contributes to the tax base of our community so our property taxes can be lower," to "We want a church that minds its own business." Meanwhile, however, for evangelicals such as we, what we want in a church is a natural and even necessary question. Evangelicalism has been, historically, among the more entrepreneurial movements in Christian history, such that local church cultures are notably distinct from one another (even though by and large they read the same books, listen to the same radio stations, and play the same music at roughly the same volume).

So we have to ask, and I suspect we will have to take our time in discovering the answer. But the process will be helped, I think, by wrestling with a prior question: What exactly is a church?

Much noise has been made in the past several years that a church is - contrary to popular, unconsidered opinion - not a place but a people group. We don't go to a church; the church of which we are a part gathers together in one place. It's this distinction that sets up the old evangelical joke: "Going to a church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a car." Trust me, it's funny if you're an evangelical. But more recent conversations are uncovering an even finer distinction, one that centers on why we gather.

Why we gather is an increasingly important question because increasing numbers of people reject the premise: If you decline to gather as a church, then the reasons why you would gather become irrelevant. The jokes that challenge this "leaving" phenomenon, of people who practice their faith outside the confines of Christian community, have yet to catch on. And really, how could they? They're really hard to make: "Not going to church doesn't make you a non-Christian any more than not being in a garage makes you a non-car." What? It doesn't work.

TWEET THIS: "Not going to church doesn't make you a non-Christian any more than not being in a garage makes you a non-car." What?

It's possible to make too much of the exodus of disaffected Christians swearing off organized religion, but it's equally possible to make too little of them, especially those of them whose faith remains vibrant and, in some cases, becomes more personally meaningful and culturally significant. These folks may have left the church, institutionally speaking, but theologically speaking, the church has not left them. They can't not wrestle with the meaning of this phenomenon of church, spoken of in such sweeping, emphatic language in the Christian Scriptures that it clearly must somehow exist.

So, in what form must it exist? What makes a church a church? What have we imposed on the concept of church over the course of multiple millennia? What do we strip away from it at our peril?

Another shift is in order, I think, one that is talked about in a number of circles: a shift from the notion of church as an institution, even an immaterial institution overarching our individual faith practices, to church as a movement.

When we think of movements, we don't think of church per se. We think of Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, which organized and mobilized largely through church gatherings. We think of Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement, advocating for immigrants and other marginalized people in the shadows of big cities. We think of Lech Walesa and his Solidarity Movement in Poland, resisting the oppression of the Soviet Union and leaning on the support of the Catholic Church. So I suppose when we think of movements we actually do think of the church - only not in the way we typically think of church.

Writers and thinkers in the missional church conversation have leaned in to this understanding of church as less an institution and more a movement. Steve Addison of Move (a missions agency in Australia), as only one example, has read the New Testament and the broad arc of Christian history through the filter of movements; he sees five "key commitments" as central to any successful movement and as undercurrents of the church's movement through time:

  • White-hot faith - a very conscious confidence that the values driving the movement are pure and right and good.
  • Commitment to the cause - no ambiguity about what constitutes commitment and who counts as committed.
  • Contagious relationships - a real charisma to the people advancing the movement, grounded on real concern for the "unreached."
  • Rapid mobilization - a sense of urgency mobilizing and actualizing the high commitment of the devotees.
  • Adaptive methods - perhaps the most vulnerable of the five keys, a freedom to experiment and an honest though undeterred assessment of existing constraints.
But maybe the most important aspect of a movement - and the easiest one for American evangelicals to lose sight of, given the emphasis on the individual so prevalent in our cultural context - is that a movement is fundamentally communal. You can't be a part of a movement by yourself.

TWEET THIS: A movement is fundamentally communal. You can't be a part of a movement by yourself.

This shift toward thinking of church as a movement throws open the whole meaning of church. The language of church is now interpreted communally, contextually, as the movement takes shape in each particular place. (For an example of how these implications might tease out, take a look at the book The New Parish by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen, founders of the very movement-friendly network of churchy people Parish Collective.)

We've had our expectations shaped by all these conversations, which means among other things that we won't so much know what to look for when we move across country as we will know it when we see it. So as we go looking for a church in Colorado to park ourselves in, I hope that what we'll find when we get there is not a consortium of institutions but a network of people following Jesus together, both locally in small gatherings and collectively in culturally meaningful ways. I hope that when we go looking for a church, we'll find ourselves caught up in the movement of God.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Best of InterVarsity Press: Reflections on My Last Day

July 11, 2014, marks my final day as an editor for InterVarsity Press. IVP was my dream job when I arrived seventeen years ago, even though I was convinced at the time that I'd only be there a year or two. I had bigger fish to fry back then, and IVP was just a way to put some bacon back in my piggy bank.

Nevertheless, I was quickly labeled a "lifer," with some of my colleagues comparing me to coworkers who'd been there for decades. And now, decades later, I'm finding it hard to leave. IVP has been the site of many life-changing conversations, the point of origin for many lifelong friendships. It's where I discovered my vocation and began to live into it. It's where I honed my craft as a writer and experimented with other avocations, from public speaking to improvisational comedy. The running debate at any organization like IVP is whether it is best thought of as a business or a ministry, but for me IVP has always made the most sense as a family, a community.

As such, when I think of the "Best of IVP," I don't think first of the books we publish, which is where the mind of the typical consumer would probably go. I think of the authors I've edited, the colleagues I've worked together with, the "friends of the Press" I've shared meals and jokes with on the road. They deserve their due, so I acknowledge them all here. I'm sure I'll neglect more names than I'll list, but I hope you all know who you are, and what you've meant to me over the years.

So here, in no particular order, are the best of IVP.

Forge America
I stumbled onto the Forge Mission Training Network a few years ago; Forge America based itself in Chicago's western suburbs, not far from where I live, and I went to some trainings out of curiosity. Scott Nelson was my early guide; it's appropriate, then, that he eventually wrote five Forge Guides for Missional Conversation for IVP.

Through Scott I met the adorable Kim Hammond, Forge's (now) international director, whose thick Australian accent has made phone calls nearly impossible but whose warmth and humor have made every encounter memorable. Gradually my contacts with Forge expanded, leading me to a wildly entertaining dinner with Lance Ford and Brad Brisco, and fun and gracious conversations with Ryan and Laura Hairston, Kimberly Culbertson, Eric Lerew, Hannah Seppanen and any number of other great folks.

Somewhere along the way I worked up the courage to strike up a conversation with Alan Hirsch, whose intellectual heft and inherent coolness made me assume wrongly that he was unapproachable. I got over that after my first "Hirsch sandwich," when Alan and his wife, the equally brilliant and incredibly endearing Debra Hirsch, simultaneously kissed me on both cheeks. I've been working with Debs on her forthcoming book Untaming Sexuality for some time now, and while I'm sad I won't be at IVP to see it roll into the warehouse, I'm excited for everyone who gets to read it for the first time.

And then there's Mike Frost, who lives in Australia but travels regularly to the States. I'm in awe of him every time he speaks, whether from the stage at a conference or from the back seat as we're driving around Seattle. His book Incarnate was my precious while he was writing it and I was editing it.

Through Forge I got to meet a number of other friends, including the delightful and sharp Jo Saxton, the innovative JR Woodward, and theo-guru David Fitch. Forge is highly relational and not artificially bound by institutional divisions; they welcome and befriend all, and they encourage the same in the people they meet. May their tribe increase.

Forge Books from IVP
Forge Guides for Missional Conversation
Creating a Missional Culture
More Than Enchanting
The Missional Quest
The Story of God, the Story of Us
Dwell (forthcoming)
Beyond Awkward (forthcoming)
Untaming Sexuality (forthcoming)

Red Letter Christians
Under the auspices of the legendary Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne, and guided by the leadership of Brian Ballard, there has coalesced a network of writers, thinkers, activists and ministers who are inspired by the possibilities that unfold when we read the Scriptures through the lens of the teachings of Jesus, rather than the teachings of, for example, the Apostle Paul. I met most of my friends in Red Letter Christians before I had ever heard of such a thing, but the annual RLC retreat has become a highlight of my year. There are plenty of attenders of this retreat I've never had the pleasure of editing, but then again every year I reconnect there with around fifteen IVP authors, some of whom have become dear friends.

Long, heartfelt conversations with Chris and Phileena Heuertz, Andy Marin, Bart Campolo, Tony Jones, Mark Scandrette, Kent Annan, Sean Gladding, Hugh Hollowell, Lisa Sharon Harper, Leroy Barber and others; robust conversations and even debates about the appropriate Christian participation in the pressing concerns of the world; howls of laughter and occasional tears. The dear and brilliant Richard Twiss offered a formal blessing to each of us at a Red Letter gathering; two months later he died without warning, and we were bound more tightly together by our shared sorrow at his passing.

Last year we released the first ever RLC-branded book from IVP: Faith-Rooted Organizing by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel. I'm hopeful that we'll continue to see the RLC logo on future books, signaling the distinct and compelling vision of the world that comes when we put Jesus first.

IVP Books by Red Letter Christians
Faith-Rooted Organizing
Everyday Missions
After Shock
Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle
The Unkingdom of God
Practicing the Way of Jesus
Simple Spirituality
Pilgrimage of a Soul
Love Is an Orientation
Rescuing Christianity from the Cowboys (forthcoming)

A few years ago the good people at Christianity Today launched a blog, Her.meneutics, to showcase the best of robust thinking and good writing among women of evangelical faith. I was inspired by this vision of giving space to women thinkers without partitioning them off into so-called women's issues, and I began regularly to look to them, and other coalitions of women writers, for authors to work with. The result has been truly gratifying, both in the relationships I've developed and the books I've had the chance to edit.

I've since managed to be the token male at not one but two gatherings of the Redbud Writers Guild ("Fearlessly Expanding the Feminine Voice") and edited three of the first four books to be released in IVP's Crescendo line of books by women. I've occasionally found myself in the midst of some uncomfortable conversations, and experienced more directly the gulf of understanding between men and women, but I've also gotten the chance to participate in the bridging of that divide and, along the way, to be guided and led by some remarkable women.

Crescendo Books and Their Offshoots
Refuse to Do Nothing
Breaking Old Rhythms
The Easy Burden of Pleasing God
Troubled Minds
Teach Us to Want
Anxious (forthcoming)
Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going
Commitment Phobe (forthcoming)

In 2006 IVP launched a seven-year experiment in galvanizing an audience that had proven hard to galvanize: young evangelicals, newly out in the world, stress-testing the received traditions of their evangelical upbringing. Likewise Books were about social responsibility, shared spirituality, creative missiology and a world of possibility. In the process of developing this line I met some real characters and developed long-term relationships. I've mentioned many of the authors and books that fell under Likewise already, but there are many more than that, and they like Likewise itself, defy easy categorization. They're friends, and I'm glad I had the excuse to work with them while I was at IVP.

Likewise Books and Their Offshoots
Pure Scum
Community Is Messy
Faith Without Illusions
God on Campus
The Cost of Community
The New Friars
Living Mission
Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem
Letters to a Future Church
The Circle of Seasons
This Ordinary Adventure
The New Conspirators
Flirting with Monasticism
Mobilizing Hope

Everyone Else
I know I'm forgetting people who I will never forget. The Wild Goose Festival, the National Youth Workers Convention, the Christian Community Development Association, the Missio Alliance, the Parish Collective, Radio Free Babylon--these and other networks and events have been the breeding ground of new friendships and creative collaborations over the years.

  • Lynne Baab
  • Brian Godawa
  • Noel Castellanos
  • Steve Addison
  • Dale Hanson
  • Scott Boren
  • David Dark
  • Ken Gire
  • Wayne "Coach" Gordon and John Perkins
  • Garth Hewitt
  • Daniel White Hodge
  • Amy Jacober
  • Mike King
  • Terry Linhart
  • Marie Little
  • Deborah Loyd
  • Brandon McKoy
  • Chad Meister
  • Tim Morey
  • Mark Oestreicher
  • Lindsay Olesberg
  • Wayne Rice
  • Matt Rogers
  • Andy Root
  • Tom Ryan
  • Brian Sanders
  • Jason Santos
  • Amy Sherman
  • Carol Simon
  • Chris Smith and John Pattison
  • Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen
  • Andrew Wheeler
  • Dave Wilkie
  • Matt Woodley

And more and more and more and more. Thanks to all of you, mentioned and unmentioned here (not least of which are all my coworkers, for whom colleagues seems too stuffy and friends seems too casual). It's an axiom of business that "everyone is replaceable," a kind of coping mechanism during times of transition. But I think it's also true that everyone is irreplaceable. I'm reminded of John Donne's genderized lament of death:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were
I'm not dying, I'm just moving on. But it's not easy to move on, and I'm glad it's not. Life would be much less if leaving were easy. Leaving IVP is hard in part because life is good.

There's a good life out ahead of us all, however, and I look forward to the irreplaceable friendships I'll make at and through NavPress in the years to come. Till then, thanks IVP and everyone it signifies; you're the best.

Both Inspiration and Cautionary Tale: Excerpts from Middling

What follows is an excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of Middling, my quarterly newsletter on music, books, work, and getting older. I'...