Tag Archives: 30 at 30

30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

It was 1998. I was a few months shy of turning 14 years old, and it was the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I had recently resumed watching WWE programming regularly—it was the heart of the Attitude Era, after all—and I was intrigued by the concept of an “e-fed.” This was the America Online (AOL) dialup era, so I first learned of the concept of an e-fed while browsing messages boards on AOL. There were dozens of posts looking for people to join, but being something of a perfectionist myself, I opted to create my own organization rather than joining one of the established e-feds.

The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league's run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques.
The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league’s run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques that repeatedly confirmed my status as an amateur.

I named my e-fed the Chat Room Wrestling League (CRWL). The concept was simple. Each member would get three wrestlers. I would create the card of matches in advance and use a simulator program called Rassling 2.01 that I had downloaded to simulate the matches. Depending on my schedule I would simulate the matches on a Wednesday or Thursday night (I called the shows Wild Wednesday Wrestling and Thursday Warfare, respectively) and simultaneously post results in an AOL chat room (hence the name of the league). Members of the league would read the results in real time and be able to comment and chat with one another about the results.

When I launched the CRWL I had 16 members. In the four-plus years that I ran the CRWL, more than 200 members came and went, although there were typically between 20-30 members at any given time. Because everything was conducted online, I have no way of knowing for sure, but suffice it to say that not everyone in the league was as young as me. I understand that some people might look back on this experience and shout NERD! However, when I look back on it, I am pretty impressed with my barely-teenaged self. I started something of my own, built it from scratch, and managed the personalities of complete strangers who all wanted their wrestlers to be successful.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that the CRWL was one of my earliest formative writing experiences. Every week I was writing and producing a substantial newsletter that went out to everyone in the league. Plus, I was creating a card of matches with the hopes that it would intrigue the audience of members. Additionally, as time went on, I shifted the structure of the league to include role-playing aspects in addition to the simulations. I and other members in the league sent emails to each other written in the voice of our various wrestlers—in essence cutting our own promos the way they do on WWE television—to set up feuds and talk trash on opponents. Eventually, I began to weight things so that those who were better rpers (roleplayers, which meant that they wrote better) had better odds of winning their simulated matches. We also began working our own storylines and angles that sometimes took precedence over the simulator for the sake of telling an entertaining story. Long before I decided to major in English I was exercising my creative writing via the CRWL. In fact, I once wrote a four-part interview for my character “3-D” Devious Devon Dawson that totaled nearly 17,000 words. To this day, I’m not sure that I’ve written anything longer, and considering that I wrote it when I was 15, it still holds up pretty well.

I have managed to stay in contact on Facebook with a few people who were involved in CRWL. And it puts a smile on my face to hear that even one or two people remember the CRWL fondly as I do. Aside from those few exceptions, all that I have from the others who I have lost touch with over the years are their old AOL screen names, which are now dead ends. Nonetheless, the memories that I have of them remain. If any of them should happen to stumble upon this retrospective piece, please send me an email to say hello and let me know how you’re doing all these years later.

Being the organized person that I am, I saved a lot of information from the CRWL. Unfortunately, much of it is saved in old, unreadable file formats, or as AOL emails that I can only view now as plain text files. Unfortunately I don’t have any of my old emails from that era nor do I have any definitive documentation of when I finally shut down the league for good, so I’ll have to guess based on the old cards and newsletters that I have saved. In addition to dozens and dozens of old cards and newsletters, one of the documents I found was particularly helpful in trying to jog my memory. It’s a timeline that I made in commemoration of the CRWL’s two-year anniversary. That helps with the first half of the league’s existence. I will have to piece together everything from after July 2000 and after, but the key events of the first two years of the CRWL are all there. So, on this, the 17th anniversary of when I launched CRWL, here are 30 key dates to help me remember one of the most unique aspects of my childhood: running the Chat Room Wrestling League from 1998 to 2002.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

3. John Mayer

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 3 is John Mayer.

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John Mayer’s personal life has often overshadowed his ability as a musician and a singer/songwriter. From a series of failed high profile celebrity relationships to his occasional forays into the world of TV comedy to his infamous interviews with Playboy and Rolling Stone that turned the court of public opinion against him to health issues with his vocal chords, Mayer’s music has been mostly backstory throughout his career. Interestingly, the shift in focus seemed to coincide with a conscious decision by Mayer to shift his music from the acoustic rock/pop sound that first got him fame to a more blues-inspired sound that he felt passionate about.

Although there were some hints of Mayer’s musical direction shifting as early as 2003’s Heavier Things, Mayer made waves in 2005 when he formed the John Mayer Trio with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan to play blues/rock music that was a clear diversion from what a large segment of Mayer’s pop audience was listening to on the radio. The band released a fantastic live album Try! that was adored by my dad and people like him and generally ignored by my sister, who is 6 years younger than me, and people like her.

Caught in between were people like me. Suddenly, my ears were opened to a new style of music. Previously, I had appreciated blues but it was not something I would seek out on my own or listen to over more genres that were more contemporary and popular at the time. Mayer’s decision to go against the grain probably cost him from becoming a top-level pop star, but it also cemented his status as a legit music guy. While his personal life may tell another story, professionally, Mayer was less concerned with being a star and more concerned about making music that mattered to him.

Since forming in 2005, the John Mayer Trio released just that one live album. They never produced a studio recording, and the group has only appeared together for a handful of appearances since 2006. Nonetheless, the influence of the group was felt on Mayer’s career moving forward.

Starting with 2006’s Continuum, Mayer’s solo albums have sounded significantly different than his 2001 debut Room For Squares. In addition to the blues influence, Mayer has also infused folk and country-rock in recent albums.

Without a doubt many people hear the name John Mayer and first think of the person, often in a negative way. That’s unfortunate for John Mayer the musician because at age 37 he already has an amazing discography that rivals anything anyone has produced this millennium. John Mayer the musician is one of the most influential performers of my lifetime, and I cannot wait to see how his legacy continues to evolve as he continues to mature and let his music speak for him in the years to come.

Continue reading 3. John Mayer

30 at 30 List #16: Poetry I’ve Written

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

I graduated from Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University) in 2007 with a BA in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. I know that sounds redundant, but “writing” meant professional writing/business writing/nonfiction whereas “creative writing” meant poetry and fiction writing. In the time since I graduated, I have done well exercising the “writing” portion of my degree. Working as a temp at Erie Insurance, a copywriter for Tungsten Creative Group, a graduate student in the secondary education program at Mercyhurst, and a blogger for Blog Talk BayHawk and D-League Digest—not to mention the occasional freelance project, I have remained consistently active in some way or another as a writer.

However, I have fallen short in my post-graduate years in the realm of creative writing. My Senior English Project at Mercyhurst was a poetry portfolio consisting of 20 poems. As I wrote as part of my academic preface:

…I hope to accomplish a few objectives in my poetry. Through a combination of persona poems and self-portrait poems, I intend to depict a complex depiction of myself (Matt). By speaking about Matt from various perspectives, including that of family, friends, impersonal observers, and myself, I plan to complicate and fragment the notion of a unified self. As one progresses through the compilation, one experiences a variety of opinions, viewpoints, snippets, segments, stories and thoughts, but has no definitive way of knowing the truth. Which speakers are reliable? Are any of the speakers reliable? Going on the assumption that at least some of the information presented in the poems is truthful, how does a reader construct an image of Matt based upon that information?

While the unknown answers to these questions help to complicate any concrete understanding of self, they also lead to the reader to draw conclusions. While they may be incapable of painting a definitive picture, certain themes and motifs resurface in multiple poems allowing the reader to attribute certain qualities and characteristics to Matt. Therefore, the ultimate goal of my poetry is not for the reader to find out the answer to the age-old question: Who am I? Instead, the compilation of poetry functions in a way that urges the reader to render a version of myself in their mind. Since no two readers’ minds are the same, each is likely to form a slightly different final product from his or her perceptions. Thus, the title rings true as this compilation of poetry creates Renditions of My Self.

The persona and self-portrait poems that made up Renditions of My Self were written more than eight years ago. When I began compiling this list of my favorite poems that I have written, I had two surprising realizations. First, I was impressed to realize that I have written and saved nearly 200 poems dating back to my senior year of high school. I am sure there are dozens more that were lost over the years. The second thing I realized was that since that Senior English Project I have written less than 10 poems on record.

It is understandable that I would not write at the same prolific rate that I did in high school and college when the muses of love and dating and teenage angst produced some stereotypically bad teenage lines of poetry. Still, writing less than a poem per year is disappointing to say the least, especially since I think my more recent efforts—rare as they may be—show a more mature, developed use of language.

Having said that, there are a lot of gems that I found while reading through my old poetry archives. My hope is that this act of re-reading and sharing some of my past work will also inspire me to exercise my creative writing poetry muscles more as I progress in my 30s. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #16: Poetry I’ve Written

30 at 30 List #15: Songs

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

What qualifies a song as a personal favorite? The answer to that question is different depending on who you ask. For some music listeners, favorite songs come and go like seasons. Often times people will answer that question with their favorite song right now. Ask them again in a month and they will have moved on a new tune.

For others, favorite songs are like tools to a handyman. They have a favorite hammer, a favorite wrench, a favorite saw, etc. Similarly, these people have a favorite workout song, a favorite meditation song, a favorite song to dance to, and a favorite song to sing with. But asking them to name their favorite song is like asking parents to name their favorite child.

There is no single, definitive, right way to think about favorite songs. It is a seriously challenging task—seriously, try it! But for me, when I was trying to compile this list of my 30 favorite songs, I found myself falling back on two primary criteria: lyrics and context.

The vast majority of songs that made the final cut to appear on this list made it because they have personally meaningful lyrics that resonated with me at a particular time during my life. It also should not come as a surprise that many of these songs were songs that I listened to in my late teens and early 20s. In fact, there is some scientific evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we hear during that stage of life. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern’s article “Neural Nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?” explains this concept in more detail and is definitely worth reading in its entirety. In the article, Stern writes:

The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.

Music plays two roles in this process. First, some songs become memories in and of themselves, so forcefully do they worm their way into memory. Many of us can vividly remember the first time we heard that one Beatles (or Backstreet Boys) song that, decades later, we still sing at every karaoke night. Second, these songs form the soundtrack to what feel, at the time, like the most vital and momentous years of our lives. The music that plays during our first kiss, our first prom, our first toke, gets attached to that memory and takes on a glimmer of its profundity. We may recognize in retrospect that prom wasn’t really all that profound. But even as the importance of the memory itself fades, the emotional afterglow tagged to the music lingers.

Understanding that many of these songs have been etched into my memory and become indelible pieces of the Matt Hubert life story, it’s reasonable to think that many of the sane songs that made this list today would also crack my list of top 30 songs 10, 20, or 30 years from now. But testing that theory will have to wait for another day in the future. For now, read on to check out my favorite 30 songs of all-time.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #15: Songs

30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

When I was younger, I had a dream that is common among children. I wanted to grow up to become a professional athlete. To be more specific, I wanted to play in the NBA. By the time I was cut from the varsity basketball team as a junior in high school, it was pretty clear that I was not going to realize that dream.

There are numerous reasons why that dream did not pan out. Genetically, the odds were not in my favor. My dad is the tallest guy in the family, yet at 6’3″ tall, he is the size of most point guards in the NBA. I never even made it to 6 feet. Then there was the work ethic. I loved playing basketball, but I did not necessarily love every aspect of becoming a better basketball player. Shooting was a strength that I practiced regularly. However, I focused less on other facets of the game, including strength, speed, and endurance that would help me on the defensive end of the court. I realized that I did not have what it took to be an NBA star, but my passion for basketball remained strong.

My parents were not diehard sports fans. There are photos of me as a child wearing NFL team apparel of the Steelers, Browns, 49ers, Giants, Raiders, and Seahawks, and probably others that I cannot remember. My dad was (and is) a Detroit Lions and Tigers fan but also a Los Angeles Lakers fan. My mom was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but otherwise generally sided with dad.

By the time I hit first grade, I had a budding passion for sports, especially basketball and football. I latched on to the Los Angeles Lakers (the only team my family agrees on), the Oakland (then Los Angeles) Raiders, the Michigan Wolverines, and (to a slightly lesser extent) the Oakland Athletics. I was hooked.

When the teachers gave a creative writing assignment, I wrote about sports. When we had to give a speech or presentation, I researched a professional athlete or commentator. I read about sports, wrote about sports, and then came home and watched them on TV. Because I was too young to stay up and watch all of the late games back then, I began every morning began with SportsCenter to fill me in on who one and who lost as well as to see the highlight plays.

By the time my NBA-playing dreams died in high school, I was a sports fanatic. My calendar revolved around the sports calendar—again, especially pro and college football and pro and college basketball.

The first 30 years of my life have been filled with memorable sports moments, including some I wish I could forget. So why is it that I spend so much time watching games?

One major part of it is the thrill of competition. Every blowout seems worth it for those magical matchups that go down to the wire and end on a last second score. Great games and magical moments are key components, but those games and moments don’t just happen.

Perhaps the most significant part of sports, at least for me, is not the game or the moment but rather the people who win the games and make the moments happen. The players are the most compelling reason why I watch. Whether it is a dominant performance of a superstar or a key contribution from an unheralded role player, I love watching how athletes perform on the grand stage. Perhaps it is my way of living out my unrealized dream vicariously through them. Or maybe it is just a fascination with knowing how hard it is to make it to the Division 1 college or professional level in sports that keeps me so captivated by what they do game in and game out.

Whatever the explanation is, I am the sports fan I am today because of the athletes I have cheered for over the past three decades. While I know that my sports fandom will take on new characteristics as I enter the next phase of my life, I also know that I will pass on stories of the athletes listed below to my future children. Without further introduction, here are my top 30 favorite athletes of my life so far. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

4. Kanye West

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 4 is Kanye West.

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With apologies to Eminem, Kanye West is probably my most controversial inclusion on this list, especially ranking as high as he does. Kanye West is a polarizing figure who over the past 10-15 years has grown from little known beat-maker, to well-known rapper to full-blown celebrity. Love him or hate him, if you pay any attention to pop culture in 2015, you likely have an opinion about Kanye West.

So what is it about Kanye West that attracts so many fans and so many naysayers? How is it that one man is simultaneously praised as a genius and despised as a cancer. In a word: Ego.

Rembert Browne wrote an article in February titled “We Love (And Hate) Kanye West Because He Says What We Think,” in which he astutely observed the following:

What Kanye has managed to do is unlike anyone else. He’s not a divider. It’s not that black people love him and white people hate him. Or men love him and women hate him. Or rap fans love him and non-rap fans loathe him. Or young people love him and old people despise him. Or even that Democrats love him and Republicans think he’s the absolute worst.

He’s found a way to rub large segments of every demographic the wrong way. Even Kanye West fans are split on the public persona of Kanye West. There are few things like it.

The polarized response to Kanye is similar to that of another public figure who Kanye name-drops in his verse on the “Ego” (Remix) embedded above, a certain NBA superstar that shares some common character traits with Mr. West: Kobe Bryant.

Like Kanye, Kobe has a loyal legion of fans who will passionately defend him against any negative comments. And like West, there is also never a shortage of negative comments being made in reference to Bryant. (Seriously, if you want to lose faith in rational human interaction, search Twitter for “Kanye West” or “Kobe Bryant” at pretty much any time of day or night.)

Both West and Bryant are undeniably gifted. Kanye West is both critically and commercially one of the most successful hip hop artists of all-time. Similarly, Kobe Bryant is statistically one of the most impactful players in NBA history and his starring role in five NBA championships puts him in the discussion among the games all-time greats. You can argue where Kanye and Kobe fall in the all-time pecking orders of their respective crafts, but they have accomplished to much to be left out of the discussion regardless of whether you like them or not. (There are also people who are entirely dismissive of the NBA as a genre of basketball and/or rap as a genre of music, but I’ll table those arguments for another day.)

The anti-Kanye camp and the anti-Kobe camp have many of the same gripes. Their complaints center around one of the most compelling questions in celebrity culture, an issue that likely has a different answer depending on who is being asked. Should celebrities be judged based on their work, their life outside of their work, or some combination of both? And if it’s the latter, what is the formula that determines such a criteria?

The biggest complaints about Kanye and Kobe are rarely about what they have accomplished in music or basketball. Generally, the complaints about them are about the perceived character flaw of hubris that they share. “Pride comes before the fall,” say the haters, as they wait with bated breath for Kanye and Kobe’s fall from stardom.

The criticism is not entirely without merit, especially if our celebrity approval rating factors in life outside of work. Unfortunately for Kanye and Kobe, if life outside of music and basketball is a significant part of the equation, Kanye and Kobe will always have their critics. Because like it or not, the same reason people hate them is what makes them great.

Kanye West and Kobe Bryant are special for a reason. Kanye West is more than a good rapper. He is a musical pioneer who Paul McCartney recently compared to John Lennon. Kobe Bryant is more than a good basketball player. He is a basketball savant, obsessed with perfecting his craft. However, the greatest strength of Kanye West is not his ability to rap. And the greatest strength of Kobe Bryant is not his ability to score a basketball. The greatest strength of both Kanye and Kobe is their unwavering self-belief. In Kanye’s mind, he is the best rapper alive. In Kobe’s mind, he is the best basketball player alive. Do they sometimes blur the lines between confidence and cockiness? Absolutely. But their belief does not have an off switch.

We live in such a celebrity-obsessed culture. Our society places great demand on our celebrities: musicians, athletes, and entertainers. We want our celebrities to aspire to greatness and, in turn, to inspire us to greatness. Yet we also want our celebrities to be selfless and humble before, during, and after they have achieved said greatness. Fans are willing to forgive a litany of celebrity sins from performance enhancing drug use to infidelity, but if they deem certain celebrities are being selfish or self-centered, they will turn on them or tune them out.

The character foil for Kobe Bryant is Tim Duncan. They came into the league one year apart and both undoubtably will be first ballot Hall of Famers. Both have won five NBA championships. Bryant is 17-time all-star, 4-time All-Star Game MVP, 1-time NBA MVP, and 2-time Finals MVP. Duncan is a 15-time all-star, aa 1-time All-Star Game MVP, a 2-time NBA MVP, and a 3-time Finals MVP. Bryant has played his entire career in the bright lights of Hollywood for the Lakers while Duncan has played his entire career in small market San Antonio for the Spurs. Unlike Kobe Bryant, no one hates Tim Duncan. He is universally respected as the consummate professional and ideal teammate. Is Duncan better than Bryant? Is Bryant better than Duncan? Which player has been the NBA’s best of the 2000s? It is a debate that fans will have for years to come.

It’s less clear who the character foil is for Kanye West. Who is the Tim Duncan of rap? Will Smith? Nas? Rap is more of a brash, in-your-face genre. Perhaps looking more broadly at music in general, someone like Beyoncé would be a more apt comparison as someone with a higher Q score. Everyone would agree Kanye is a better rapper than Beyoncé and Beyoncé is a better singer than Kanye. There is no argument there. But if the question was framed as: who has had a bigger impact on music, Kanye West or Beyoncé? That sets up for a more interesting debate.

As a fan, I am generally willing to overlook minor character flaws in celebrities—such as a lack of humility—especially when the artist/athlete in question would arguably not be as successful without that characteristic. Of course I believe there are some aspects of an artist’s or athlete’s life that cannot be overlooked. There are some personal lines that cannot be crossed without overshadowing professional successes. In general, however, I prioritize the performance over the player and the art over the artist. And that is why I have no trouble ranking Kanye West as my fourth favorite musical artist of all-time.

Continue reading 4. Kanye West

30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

If there is one musical medium that defines me as a 30-year-old, it is the compact disc. I have an entire tower of more than a thousand CDs (and counting) occupying a corner of my living room. Sure, I have fond memories of listening to my dad’s vinyl records, especially Billy Ocean’s Love Zone and Bobby McFerrin’s Simple Pleasures. And yes, the first music I ever owned was Ace of Base’s The Sign on cassette tape. However, it wasn’t until the CD era, that my appreciation for music took off and became a passion.

By the late 90s, I had already followed in my father’s footsteps, joining CD mail-in clubs to jumpstart my collection. Just as my collection was starting to grow, Napster burst onto the scene. Suddenly, digital music was all the rage. Although I admittedly downloaded music during that wild west time period when no one really thought twice about the legality or ramifications of online piracy, I also continued buying CDs. While I liked the instant access that Napster offered—anything free was great for a 15-year-old kid without an income—I was a purist at heart. I liked listening to an entire album and discovering a new favorite song that wasn’t necessarily a radio single.

If you’re slightly older than me, you may have dabbled in the mixtape era, dubbing individual songs onto a cassette tape. Aside from a few cassettes of songs that I recorded from the radio, the mixtape era predated my music obsession. Had I been a teen in the 80s, I no doubt would’ve spent countless hours painstakingly putting mixtapes together. Instead, as the 90s came to a close, my older cousins showed me the newest piece of technology that came with their new computer: a CD burner. I was in awe. A CD burner meant the best of both worlds: the freedom to pick and choose your favorite songs and the power to organize them all in a way that made sense to you. Keep in mind that iTunes and the iPod were still more than a year away from being created at this point in history. The CD burner took the mixtape to a whole new level, and I wanted in. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes

5. Ingrid Michaelson

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 5 is Ingrid Michaelson.

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I have watched exactly one of the more than 240 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (the season three finale). While I knew next to nothing about the characters or the plot, that climactic scene of that dramatic episode featured a never-before-heard song, “Keep Breathing” by a then-unknown artist, Ingrid Michaelson. That episode aired on May 17, 2007. Although that was only 8 years ago, the world was clearly a much different place because I remember scouring the Internet unsuccessfully trying to find the song to download it.

Before I eventually found a low-quality recording of the song from the show, I stumbled on to Ingrid’s 2006 album Girls and Boys on MySpace and instantly knew she was more than a one hit wonder, at least to my ears. The Grey’s Anatomy spot was her first major breakthrough, but when “The Way I Am” was used in an Old Navy ad, Ingrid’s career really began to take off. Despite lacking a major music label, Michaelson was making the transition to mainstream success. “The Way I Am” is simple and short, but it’s so sweet and singable that it climbed as high as #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

A multi-talented singer/songwriter, Ingrid plays piano, guitar, and ukulele, but it is her voice that stands out as her most potent instrument. She has a beautiful voice and a tremendous way with melody that allows her to take simple song constructions and make them sound epic.

I have seen Ingrid perform live twice, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 11, 2007, and in Cleveland on October 30, 2009. In addition to showcasing her musical ability, the live shows allow Ingrid’s charming personality to shine through. Her banter between songs with the audience resonates with a warmth and humanity reflective of someone who clearly does not feel she is above her fans. Both shows had a very communal feel, as if those who were in attendance were in on a shared secret. I’m sure the size of her shows has grown since then, but the heart of her shows remains unchanged. Ingrid remains connected with her fans via social media, and she maintains that girl-next-door sweetness even though she is now a well-established performer.

Continue reading 5. Ingrid Michaelson

30 at 30 List #12: Parental Promises

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Earlier today, Jessie and I publicly announced the good news that we are expecting our first child this fall.

Becoming a parent is a dream of mine despite the warnings from pop culture and even some friends and family. The message is typically something along the lines of, “Enjoy whatever free time you have now because you won’t have any once you have a child,” adding with caution, “Your life will never be the same.”

I agree that it won’t be the same. I understand that I will have to make some sacrifices in my schedule. I even realize that there may be some moments when I wish I had the free time of my pre-parenthood life. However, after 30-plus years of being a dependent, I am ready to pay it forward to the next generation.

The truth is that Jessie and I have been tremendously blessed in our lives thus far as daughter and son, respectively. Our parents have been and continue to be amazing role models for us, giving selflessly and loving unconditionally. If we can live up to the standards that they’ve set, our child is in good hands.

It is in that spirit of love and pre-parenthood hopefulness that I am making a pledge to my future child(ren). It’s idealistic to expect that I can make good on all 30 promises 100 percent of the time, but I’m optimistic that by striving to live up to these promises  that I can be the best parent possible. Some of these promises will be easier to keep than others, but I believe it’s part of my calling in life to be a great parent.

So, in order to live up to my potential as a parent, this is for my future child(ren). I don’t even know you yet, but I can’t wait to hold your little hand. I’m already working hard on becoming a better me, but once you arrive, I promise to:

30. Try to be the perfect dad
The key word here is “try.” Right now I have such hope and optimism. I know that in the future there will be down times. I’ll be tired or sick (or both), and my child will want something. I’ll think it can wait, but he or she will think it’s an immediate need, and in that moment (and all the other moments like it), I want to be willing to try to be the perfect dad.

29. Make mistakes and learn from them
Understanding that I will never actually be the perfect dad, I want to be someone who learns from his mistakes. I will make poor choices as a parent. I will lose my temper. I will misjudge a situation. I will let my child down. What I don’t want to do is make a habit out of any poor parental move I make. When I mess up, I want to own up to it, learn from it, and grow as a person and a parent in the future.

28. Allow you to make mistakes and learn from them
If I’m not perfect as a father, I certainly can’t expect perfection from you. I will hold you to high standards but not unreasonable standards. When you lose your temper or misjudge a situation or let me down, I want you to know that it’s OK to mess up as long as you own up to it, learn from it, and grow as a person in the future. In life, failure actually is an option. What’s not an option is failing to try or failing to learn from past failures.

27. Let you be who and what you want to be
It’s 2015. You ought to have the right to be who and what you want to be. Insert gender stereotype here: if you choose to defy it, more power to you. I am not going to be the one to slam any doors of opportunity closed. And if you choose a more traditional path, that’s fine, too. The point is that you will have a say in figuring out who you are and what you like from sports to music to theater to art. My job as the parent is to expose you to as many different options as possible and then let you decide what fits you best.

26. Provide for you
I’m a high school English and journalism teacher. I don’t foresee a six-figure salary anytime soon, but I will continue to work hard in my professional career not only for my own personal fulfillment but to ensure that you have the necessities of life and some of the middle class comforts that I have grown accustomed to as well.

25. Eat healthier
I think it will be a lot easier for you to maintain healthy eating habits if I help you by modeling them for you from a young age. I have some bad eating habits that I hope not to pass on. I don’t want to fall into a “do as I say and not as I do” mentality because I believe that actions speak louder than words. Setting a good example of healthy eating will go a long way to promoting a healthy lifestyle for you. From lessons in moderation to the kinds of foods we choose to eat as a family, I look forward to making smart, healthy choices about food for myself and for you.

24. Exercise regularly
In that same line of thought, I know that it’s important to promote an active lifestyle. From family walks in the neighborhood to organized sports, I want to encourage you to be active and exercise regularly. Sometimes I fall into the category of someone who stares at a screen—phone, iPad, computer, TV—for too many hours a day. I am a big fan and avid user of technology, but physical exercise needs to be an important part of your daily routine, too.

23. Listen
I want you to know that I am always available to listen. In the early days, I’ll be listening to hear you cry. Later on in life, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. If there’s something on your mind or on your heart, always know that dad is willing to listen.

22. Protect you when you’re scared
It’s OK to be scared. Sometimes you have to be brave and face your fears, but other times it’s good to rely on others to help you be brave. If you ever need that someone to lean on, you can count on me.

21. Comfort you when you’re sad
It’s OK to be sad, too. It’s even OK to cry. In fact, one of my favorite quotes ever comes from the late Jim Valvano, former basketball coach of North Carolina State, who said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” So if something is tugging at your heartstrings and moving you to tears, let ’em out. I’ll be there to comfort you.

20. Help you learn the difference between right and wrong
Some issues in life shouldn’t have to be taught like the difference between good (Michigan) and evil (Ohio State), but other issues are not as clear. It’s part of a parent’s job to establish a child’s moral compass, to teach them a sense of right and wrong and, eventually, a more fine-tuned shades of gray understanding of more challenging issues.

19. Teach discipline and respect
I am a teacher by trade, but teaching as a parent is different. Understand that every lesson I teach is rooted in love, even the lessons that may feel like anything but loving. You won’t like every lesson I teach, and sometimes you might feel like you don’t even like me, but trust me that you will someday have respect for the way you were raised in the same way that I have respect for my parents and the way they raised me.

18. Emphasize the importance of a quality education
As an educator, I know the value of being a lifelong learner. I also know that a quality education encompasses much more than a letter or number in a gradebook. Academic performance is one component, but I also want to encourage you to develop a strong work ethic and interpersonal communication skills and to get involved in extracurricular activities.

17. Learn something new
I really want to emphasize that idea of being a lifelong learner. Education isn’t something limited to the hours you’re inside of school or doing your homework. As a parent, I want to model how I learn new things all the time and pass on that love of learning to you. I also want to share with you the value of keeping an open mind and allowing that something new that you learn to sometimes override or change your understanding of something that you thought you knew before.

16. Communicate openly
There will be times when what I say goes, period. “Because I said so.” Sometimes that’s a lesson you need to learn. See #19 on this list. But as a general rule, I promise to communicate openly. I want to encourage dialogue and explanation. I want you to feel free to ask “Why?” and “Why not?” respectfully when you don’t understand something. Strong communication is at the core of any successful relationship, and I do not think a parent-child should be an exception to that rule. Of course, you will be learning how to communicate, so this process may not always run smoothly, but I want you to learn effective communication skills and strategies and I can’t think of a better way to learn than through your own experience.

15. Model vulnerability
Sometimes the world makes it seem like it’s not OK to feel anything. Some people can be cruel, and it sometimes seems easiest to avoid ridicule by hiding your emotions, by staying as neutral and unfeeling as possible.  I want to model vulnerability to show you that it is OK to be passionate, to be caring, to be vulnerable. It’s OK to feel strongly and to express your feelings.

14. Avoid projecting all of my hopes and dreams on you
This might be one of the biggest  challenges for me personally. I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine if you don’t grow up to play in the NBA or WNBA. Given your parents’ DNA, the deck is stacked against you being especially tall. But what if you choose not to cheer for my teams like the Lakers, Raiders, or Wolverines—am I really going to love you any less? What if you aren’t all that interested in sports at all? No, I don’t think I would love you any less. You’d just be more like your mother, I suppose. And she’s my favorite person in the world! Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any hopes or dreams for you and our relationship as parent and child. I promise I will not try to mold you into some sort of a mini-me, but hopefully you’ll want to follow in Dad’s footsteps in at least some areas of life.

13. Deal with the messy stuff
Let’s call a spade a spade: I am not a big fan of dealing with bodily fluids. I don’t like the sight of blood. The worst physical sensation I’ve ever experienced is vomiting all night long from a nasty case of the flu. And I have yet to have the honor of changing a diaper, but suffice it to say it’s not on my personal bucket list. Yet I know that my future is full of encountering unwanted bodily fluids, especially from you: blood and puke and poop, oh my! I have to learn to deal with the messy stuff, and I will. You are worth it.

12. Encourage creativity
Your dad is a writer. Your mother is a pianist. Your grandparents include artists and musicians. You will be surrounded by creative people, and we will encourage you to find and explore your muse, whatever it is. Be inspired and be inspiring. Creativity is an amazing gift. Don’t let anyone stifle your creativity.

11. Tell stories
One of my fondest memories of childhood is of my dad telling bedtime stories before I went to bed. I am excited to pass on this tradition to you, likely with some help from your mother, who has an imagination that rivals and perhaps even surpasses my own. I think you are in for some awesome bedtime stories!

10. Read together
To start, I’ll read to you. Then, once you’re able, I want you to return the favor and read to me. There is joy in reading. Unfortunately, as an English teacher I find all too often that the joy of reading has either been lost or never even existed in the lives of many of my students. I want to actively participate in your development as a reader and help you appreciate all of the possibilities that will be available to you as someone who reads well, reads often, and reads for fun.

9. Laugh with you
I am really funny. Don’t ask your mother for confirmation on that one. Just trust me. I anxiously await making you laugh, but probably not as much as I look forward to all of the ways that you will make me smile and laugh.

8. Be a father first
My Twitter profile currently says, “I am a sports fanatic, teacher, writer, listener, husband, brother, son, and more.” I will continue being all of those things after you are born, but I want you to know where fatherhood ranks on the prioritization scale for me: first. Well, maybe it’s tied for first with husband, but I’ll explain that more in item #2 on this list.

7. Play with you
Even though I’m your dad, I’m still a kid at heart. Although I may have to deal with some grown-up aches and pains, I cannot wait to play with you. Someday when you’re older, you’ll realize that one of the toughest things about growing up and becoming an adult is losing out on playtime. First they take away recess. Then before you know it most of your free time is occupied by being responsible. So whether we’re outside running around together or inside hanging out playing with your toys, I am likely almost as excited as you for playtime.

6. Pray with you
God is good. You don’t have to look beyond a mirror to realize that. Your mother and I are so blessed to have each other and now to have you. It’s important to give thanks for all that we have, and I want you to feel comfortable praying from an early age.

5. Establish meaningful traditions
You represent a new chapter in our development as a family. How will we celebrate your birthday each year? What will Christmas look like? Easter? Thanksgiving? As the family grows, traditions that I grew up with will change and we will form new traditions. I know how meaningful those memories were and are to me, so I want to ensure that you are a part of something just as special.

4. Pass it on
I have hinted at this throughout the list, but I really want to pass on the legacy of my parents/your grandparents. Many of the items on this list are inspired by them already, but I wanted to call them out specifically. Trust me when I say that if I treat you as well as they treated me you are in for a great life!

3. Spend time with family
Both sets of your grandparents are the coolest, and they live in Erie, so I know they will be around often. Additionally, you have some amazing aunts and uncles to get to know. Some are in town and others might have to check in via FaceTime or Skype more often, but they are all dying to meet you, and welcome you into the world, and shower you with love. You also have two great-grandmothers and so many other extended family members—not to mention all the family members looking down from heaven—who love you already.

2. Cooperate with your mother
Truthfully, this promise works in concert with the other 29 items on this list because I am not entering this new world of parenthood alone. Fortunately, I am entering with the greatest tag team partner I could ever ask for. Your mother is already loving you on a daily basis as you grow and develop inside her. I have known her for more than a decade, so trust me when I tell you that your mother knows best and will love you more powerfully than you could even imagine. Together, she and I will work together to give you the best life possible.

1. Love you unconditionally
I cannot think of a more powerful promise than this one. Yet somehow from the first moment I knew you existed, I was compelled to feel this way. I love you so much already, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about you and all the joy that you will bring into this world. My parents gave me the gift of unconditional love, and for so many years of my life, I was overwhelmed and in awe of that love. I worried, thinking that I could never repay them for that gift. But I am starting to understand that I was never meant to repay them for that gift. Their love did not come with stipulations, limitations, or provisions. Their gift of love was not a debt to be repaid. It was meant to show me how to love you. I do. And I always will.

6. Ben Folds

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 6 is Ben Folds.

BenFolds30at30

Depending on your age, you might know Ben Folds as the sarcastic and sometimes sophomoric frontman of 90s alt-rock band Ben Folds Five or as the bespectacled, dorky dad who critiques people’s singing on NBC’s The Sing-Off. Somewhere between those two benchmarks Folds became one of the most influential musicians in my life.

Like most people my age, my introduction to Folds came in the form of the 1997 Ben Folds Five hit “Brick.” However, it wasn’t until I listened to songs from 2001’s Rockin’ the Suburbs, specifically versions played on a piano in a Mercyhurst College practice room by a young Jessie Badach on a spring evening in 2005, that I became a full-fledged Folds fan.

After that night with Jessie, I began catching up on everything in Folds’ discography, including the fabulous Ben Folds Live album he released in 2002. Upon listening through that album many times, it was undeniable. I had to see Ben Folds live in concert. Correction: I had to see Ben Folds live in concert with Jessie. As luck would have it, Folds was coming to the Promowest Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio, later that summer. As soon as that tour date was announced, I purchased the tickets online.

However, I failed to account for one minor detail. Jessie’s parents were not too keen on the idea of their fresh-out-of-high-school, 17-year-old daughter traveling across state lines to see a concert with a college boy. In hindsight, I totally understand their skepticism, but at the time I was devastated. But I’m one of the good ones, I thought to myself. If they actually knew me, they wouldn’t hesitate to trust me, I reasoned. Looking back with my current day wisdom, I can see the fault in my argument, but back then at 20 years old I was nearly inconsolable. Rather than find another friend to attend the concert with me, I protested and stayed home. I still have the ticket to this day! Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Less than three months after the concert that wasn’t for Jessie and me, Ben Folds headlined a show at Allegheny College, where Jessie was a freshman. As a birthday gift, Jessie got me a ticket, and we were the first people in line for the show, which earned us a front row spot for the concert. As expected, my appreciation for Folds’ music only grew after seeing him perform live.

Following in the tradition of Elton John and Billy Joel, Folds is a masterful pianist and clever songwriter. His crowd-pleasing personality makes for a very entertaining performance on stage, as he enjoys and even encourages crowd participation at many points during the show. His engaging, interactive, sometimes improvisational approach made for some memorable moments. The two tracks that made it onto my compilation from Ben Folds Live are good examples of what makes Folds so fun to see in concert. “Rock This B—-“, which clocks in at just 1:17 is an improvisational  little ditty that Folds has probably played hundreds of different ways over the years. Then there’s “Army”, one of my favorite tracks, which features an incredible, vocal audience that Folds splits in two to fill in for the missing saxophones and trumpets that can be heard on the studio recording. Continue reading 6. Ben Folds