On being a Band Dad

30 Nov

Photo by Omar L. Gallaga

I haven’t done a lot of personal writing this year due to … a lot of things. Just some personal ennui, and a general fatigue with journalism, and a sudden interest in stock trading of all things.

But I sometimes do miss the kind of writing I was doing on Medium the last couple of years after I left the newspaper. I got to be more myself in my writing than I ever had before and then I just stopped when leadership changed over there and I stopped getting paid for assignments.

Well, whether I’m getting paid or not (decidedly not in this case), I still like to share, so here’s something I wrote over there, completely on my own, about what it’s been like to be a marching band dad. Hope you enjoy it.

2020: Big

9 Jan

An Email from the Realtor for the House from ‘Hereditary’

28 Jun

Dear Mrs. Fentonwick:

Thank you for your interest in the property at 129666 Paimon Lane. We’re thrilled to have this gorgeous house on the market after a lengthy delay and I’m happy to address the questions your client has sent since we met at the open house last week. I’ll answer them in order:

  1. The house is not currently zoned for a school district. It was previously in the Salt Lake City School District, but the zoning was redrawn a few months ago with the property just out of the boundary. If this is a problem, we can petition the school district, but in the meantime, I’m happy to provide a list of private tutors and private schools in the area. This might be a good opportunity to consider home-schooling as an option!
  2. I’m embarrassed about the dense trail of ants in the hallway your client walked into at the open house. We contacted pest control immediately and I am enclosing a receipt for that work. The swarm of flies was also cleared from the attic.
  3. Since the open house, all markings and candle wax pools have been removed from the interior of the treehouse, as we discussed. The religious group that was using it for small gatherings has since relocated to its own church and did a thorough job cleaning.
  4. On the matter of the 1/12-scale miniature houses and dioramas your client asked about: good news! Any undamaged works left in the house by artist Annie Graham will be included with the home. Since her disappearance, the art gallery she was working with dropped its request for the pieces, and they will remain on the property with the exception of “Charlie Decapitated,” “Quicksand House,” and “Family On Fire,” all of which are still being held as evidence by the sheriff’s department.
  5. There are no longer any bleached, naked people lining the bushes alongside the house. We have asked those individuals to leave informing them that heads would roll if they stuck around, and so far, they have respected the request.
  6. We were unable to remove the leather-bound notebook from inside the fireplace. It’s stuck pretty firmly in there! Please consider this a conversation / art piece.
  7. The looping symbol that is carved throughout the house and on some of the remaining furniture is obscure, but we believe it’s Gaelic for, “Good luck and good fortune!”
  8. The welcome mat at the front door is included with the house. Very fortunate that “Charles” is your client’s name as well!

If there are any other questions about the home, the treehouse, or the surrounding property, please don’t hesitate to contact my office. This unique, rustic property is a steal and I’d appreciate it if you could convince this family to buy the house! I haven’t slept in weeks.

Shonda Conroy
Eighth Circle Realty 

Summer came early

20 Jun

Schlitterbahn dragon
The dreaded Schlitterbahn Submerged Sidewalk Dragon,
who was not a fan of the last season of Game of Thrones

For a lot of years, especially since I moved to New Braunfels in 2004, summer has felt like I wave I’m trying to catch. The place I live has a lot of rivers and trails and one gargantuan water park, plus I’m short-driving-distance away from even more summer fun in Austin, Corpus Christi and lots of other place.

By the end of the summer, I’d always be regretful that I didn’t do more, that I allowed myself to be stuck in air-conditioned offices and commuting to work instead of taking more vacation or burning a mental-health sick day or two just to go swimming or get some sun. By September, I would always have this low-grade bummer feeling (“depression” would be too strong a word for it) that summer was gone and I let it get away.

Last summer was very different. A bunch of things in my life changed very quickly in the span of a couple of months from around June through September and summer became something really different, a way for me to cope with what was happening, and for me to remind myself that the sun, the water, the beach, that these things weren’t going to go away just because this time of transition was so scary and new.

I traveled a lot last summer, I got season passes for the water park, I tubed and went to South Padre Island, I tried not to get sunburned under the blazing Texas sun and mostly succeeded. When I didn’t, aloe vera.

This summer, one year after all of that, I’m trying to continue that appreciation with more visits to the water park, some yard work, several vacations that are booked. I had some financial stress the end of last year where I got really anxious about how I was going to make it through the holidays and this year, but it turns out the IRS doesn’t want all of my freelance money and that I am able to afford to not be afraid to do any real vacationing.

I still have no proper job (I still get confused on forms where “Unemployed” is an option, but “Self-employed” is not), but things have been busy with lots of freelance writing, ongoing radio stuff, and some really weird things that have fallen into my laptop’s lap that I would classify as “Miscellaneous income.” I helped a website do some online instruction for its users. I ghost-wrote a band’s biography. Someone I admire asked me to help them put together an application for an award program. All of these were not completely in my wheelhouse, but I enjoyed doing them and it was supplemental to some bigger-picture stuff I’m working on as well as continuing to contribute when I can to the Statesman and Austin360.

Lots of changes, but summer still feels the same to me as it did when I was a kid: big and inviting, with days that stretch out like yellow-orange taffy, but then gone too quickly, just a lingering taste on the tongue when it’s gone.

Prince Solms Park, May 19, 2019

The other day I was on a tube ride with the girls at Schlitterbahn and it was the same day that word went out that the water park is being sold after 50 years of family ownership.

Whataburger is being sold, too, and it’s a little weird, but not unexpected or unusual, that these iconic Texas brands are going through these changes.

Schlitterbahn is in the town I call home and Whataburger is probably the fast-food restaurants I’ve eaten most in my life (I worked there in high school, so that throws the curve a little).

I know people who are freaking out because they love these brands and feel ownership of them as longtime customers, and I’m wary of change too. I also have friends who’ve made snide comments about them, dismissing their value, or implying that they did something wrong to deserve succumbing to market forces.

Not to tie myself to these corporate events too much, but I still get asked sometimes why I left the Statesman last year, how I could walk away from a dream gig at a place that appreciated my work, why I would basically succumb to market force to sell out my own voice at a big outlet to stay home and write articles for smaller outlets and do things like write bios for musicians and not be part of the media scene in the way that I had been doing for a really long time.

Apart from all the personal considerations that I won’t get into and a very pragmatic look at the situation, a big part of it was simply feeling that it was time for a change, a big one, and that staying in the gear that I’d been in was no longer good for me. It just felt like it was enough of that and time now for something else. Maybe I would have been laid off a few months later, maybe I would have stayed another 20+ years, but I stopped wanting that job to define my whole life, and wanted to know if it wasn’t too late to be something else besides a newspaper writer dabbling in a bunch of other things.

What if the dabbling is the thing?

Which is to say that even though there was some very cynical, ledger-based decision making for those companies and their family owners, I also get the immense relief that comes with walking away, with starting fresh, with not being in charge of the thing that you’ve been in charge of and mindful for and tied to whether it soars or sinks. It is nice, I’m finding, to make your own fortune and luck for a while. It’s nice to reset.

That’s what summer feels like to me now, too.

Like a good time for change.

By The Way

A while back, this would have been February, I got approached by The Washington Post about a travel project they were working, something really ambitious that involved local city guides from 50 different cities.

I agreed to work on a guide to Austin and spent the a big chunk of March and April revisiting old haunts, checking out some new ones and putting together a guide of old and new Austin restaurants, hotels, entertainment destinations and more for what ended up being called “By The Way” and which launched on June 18. The guide seemed like an easy enough assignment at first, but once I got started realized it was going to take a lot of legwork, double-checking, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, tons of design, editing and photography talent.

The Austin guide is up and I’m so impressed with how it turned out and feeling good about what I got to include. Photographer Ilana Panich-Linsman did such an amazing job, and I got to work with my former co-worker Ponch Garcia, who did some copy editing on the Austin guide. By The Way has a really great Instagram account and I’ve been enjoying learning about all these other cities that were covered around the world. The postcards, Instagram stories and logos created for these guides are so wonderful. They also have a weekly newsletter for By The Way worth subscribing to.

It’s my first Washington Post byline, which has me bursting with joy. I’m so glad I can finally talk about it — keeping it a secret these last couple of months was really, really tough.

I got paid AND I got a badge!

ATX TV Festival

Great screening of my favorite new show, HBO’s Los Espookys.

A lot of the writing I’ve been doing lately has been focused on entertainment, including some book, TV and movie reviews.

For the last couple of years, I’ve had to miss the great ATX Television Festival due to travel and other obligations. This year, I had a chance to attend three of the four days and do some coverage for Austin360 of the fest. I wrote about a panel on inclusion and access, the new Comedy Central series Alternatino with Arturo Castro (which is great, watch it!), an upcoming animated Amazon series called Undone with animation from Austin, and a script reading of Wannabes, which is in production.

For the site Primetimer, which has taken the place of the much-beloved Previously.tv, I got to write up Los Espookys, which is a fantastic new HBO Spanish-language comedy you should seek out. The first episode is free online.

The Alternatino with Arturo Castro screening at ATX TV Fest.

Other writing

For my former bosses the Statesman and Austin360, I wrote a few things including a family column about how my daughter and I have been using TikTok. For the business section, I did a Sunday centerpiece on weighing your options with cord cutting now that we’re in the age of dozens of streaming pay TV services.

Over on Book & Film Globe, I reviewed Howard Stern’s new book of interviews, Howard Stern Comes Again. (I liked it, but it took me a full month to get through it. It’s a LOT of words.)

Amazon’s Good Omens which is… good?

I also reviewed Amazon’s Good Omens, and to prep for that, I ended up reading the whole book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Not sure how I missed that one in the ’90s, but the book was a delight and the TV show is a very good adaptation that only feels a little bit dated. In the windup to the show’s release, I also did a roundup of all the major (and some minor) characters on the show for Primetimer.

I’m all about streaming TV, so I also took a look at the brilliant second season of Amazon’s Fleabag (maybe you’ve heard of it from all the online hype?) and Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, which is essential, silly viewing for sketch-comedy nerds. For Primetimer, I also did a ranking of the 10 best sketches from that show.

I also helped say goodbye to the last episode of HBO’s Veep with a list of all of crimes, great and small, by Selina Meyers just from that last season.

Mister Miracle is the best graphic novel I’ve read since Tom King’s last mindblower, The Vision.

On the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, I sang the praises of the Eisner-winning comic book series Mister Miracle and posted a dad’s theory that I believe may solve the book’s major mystery.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, it’s the best thing I’ve read all year.

Texas Standard and two great podcasts

I’ve got your tech topics from Texas Standard! It’s been a busy couple of weeks with some actual tech news; summer is usually pretty slow in the tech industry, but there’s been no shortage of interesting things to talk about. Since the last time I posted, we’ve covered:

I’m also working on a new batch of scripts and recordings for Tech Minute, you can find 150(!) episodes I’ve done on the TechMinuteTexas.com website.

On the same day this week, I also appeared on two great podcasts hosted by some of my favorite people.

On the TV podcast “Extra Hot Great,” which is hosted by the original creators of Television Without Pity and Previously.tv, we talked on Episode 256 about Los Espookys, Alternatino, Atlanta and lots of other shows. Seriously, if you’re a heavy TV fan/watcher, you really should subscribe to this podcast. It’s a great listen every single week.

Sarah D. Bunting, who is a co-host on EHG, also has a podcast called “The Blotter Presents” and even though I know fuck-all about true crime, she was still kind enough to invite me on the show to talk about two films based on New Yorker writer David Grann’s articles, Robert Redford’s acting swan song The Old Man and the Gun (which was really good!) and Incendiary, a really infuriating documentary about the famous Texas Cameron Todd Willingham arson case. I loved being on the show and you should subscribe to this podcast and its sister newsletter, Best Evidence, as well!

Other life

mitski in concert

Like I said, it’s summer here and I’ve been trying to spend a lot of it in and on water.

I saw Mitski in concert again (but missed her Austin City Limits taping), celebrated Mother’s Day with lots of meats, mourned Grumpy Cat, made a fox friend, saw the Latino Comedy Project pull off an amazing Cinco de Mayo / May the 4th crossover show, saw a shitload of Marvel movies including Avengers: Endgame (three times!) and played a lot of Overwatch. Yes, I still play that.

Heavy Metal Drinks for the Middle-Aged

21 May

(Inspired by the Oskar Blues Guns ‘N’ Rosé lawsuit and with inspiration from Wendi Aarons)

Pinot Noir Sabbath

Iron & Wine & Maiden

System of a Daquiri


Judas Prix Fixe Bourbon Flight

Cherry Ratt-A-Ma-Tazz Jamba Juice

Great White Russian 


Poison (Not Actual Poison, Contains DHEA)    


Linkin POM

Mastodon Mule

Mint Julepantera

Lamb of Grappa

Kornbernet Sauvignon

Green Teasrÿche


What’s next?

23 Apr

New me, new cards


Change is trauma, I guess, or at least a shock to the system you can’t really gauge without some perspective.

Your body re-forms a lot of its own cells constantly as you move along in this world and in a decade you’re mostly not even physically the same parts. And I can imagine that a sudden change of environment, a big swing of emotions and priorities and goals must speed that along, the stress-shedding of even more skin and bone and follicle.

Last year was all about change, the “Bulldoze” year, this year was “Foundation,” building on new ground and starting new things.

It’s late April and there’s a bit of a lull right now. South by Southwest took up a lot of my energy in March (more on that below) and the weeks leading up to that and as soon as that was done, I dived into a big project for a publication I’ve always wanted to write for that I hope to post about here really soon. That took me into early April, then I had to finish up my taxes, which were incredibly complicated and weird for 2018, and then I was in the middle of some home appraisal stuff, preparation for a whole other project that I’m excited about and now it’s now and I’m taking a deep breath and resting a little bit and seeing where I am.

Everything from like Halloween to Easter is a big blur, preparing from one holiday to the next, traveling a lot, spending as much time as I can with my kids now that I’m not rushing home from an office after 6 p.m. every night against traffic.

I got past the bit where I was stressing out about money every day. Even after I knew that a contract I signed for 2019 was going to keep me financially OK, I was still worried about Christmas gifts, the costs of all these house things that needed repairing or improving, the ridiculous cost of having basic health coverage as a freelancer, and this looming fear that whatever I owed on my taxes for what turned out to be a windfall year (minus putting a down payment on a new house) was going to wipe me out.

now it’s now and I’m taking a deep breath and resting a little bit and seeing where I am

That didn’t happen, but I still have that nagging need to hustle, to keep accepting assignments that only pay $50-$100 just to keep income flowing instead of wasting time, just to cover dinners and dental visits, to hedge against some future costly emergency. Not every day anymore, but often enough that I can’t sit still for very long.

There are days that are incredibly relaxed, when there is nothing due and no place to be when I can work on the shed/guest house that came with this house with my dad, putting up particle board and using saws and drills. Those are days when I can catch up on movies I missed when my life was too busy (shoutout “Civil War”), or to just go the gym and not feel rushed to get it all done in 45 minutes.

But it’s not without problems. I get bent out of shape chasing invoices that don’t get paid for a long time, I always feel like I should be writing more, even when there’s no assignment in front of me, I have that fear of disappearing and being forgotten because I’m not pushing stuff out there like I used to.

When I went freelance last year one of the first things I put on my to-do list was “Make business cards.” I played around with some designs on the Kinko’s website and wasn’t really happy with any of them. My brother, who’s much better at design than me, agreed they weren’t great and I just kind of put it aside. Truth be told, I don’t get asked for a business card very often, but the few times I did at interviews it was always that awkward, “Oh, I don’t have them yet, working on it…” and I wanted something to hand out, even if it was a happy face on a piece of lunchmeat (how great would that card be? But you’d have to keep them in a mini fridge you always carried around.).

So after SXSW I used a coupon code I got from a very good Moo booth at the event where they gave out lots of samples of their stuff. I threw something together that I ended up really happy with. Sure, the fonts are all over the place and the photo could be sharper (it’s a picture of a picture), but it reflects me more than some simple modern design. They came so beautifully packaged in little ornate boxes that I felt spoiled, like I was treating myself to something I really didn’t deserve. Moo really makes lovely stuff, you should give them a try if you need cards or other printed stuff.

The only thing on it I really wonder if I should have done differently is the title. “Technology Culture Reporter.” Is that what I still am, more than 20 years since I started using that title? Aren’t I doing a lot more than that? Is there room for me to list all those things? It it better not to pigeonhole myself at all?

Maybe by the next round of cards, I’ll be something completely different.

South by Southwest 2019

Photo from me at the Henry Winkler acting workshop panel. He was magic.

A month ago, it was South by Southwest, maybe, I don’t know, the 15th or 16th time I’ve gone (there were a few years in the early 2000s where my main job wasn’t so tech focused so I skipped some).

I always thought that if I left my job at the Statesman, that would be the end of me being obsessed with SXSW every year and running around covering stuff. But a month before, I got asked to contribute as a freelancer for Austin360 and the Statesman’s business desk and to get badged up and so there I was, back in the mix. But it was really different this year in a lot of great ways.

For one thing, I didn’t spend a couple of months planning and prepping and writing lots of previews and exhausting myself so much that by the time SXSW starts, I’m already burned out on the whole thing. It was nice coming in fresh, doing the things I was assigned to do (or other assignments I picked up for other publications on top of my initial list) and then spend the rest of my time actually enjoying SXSW.

Ironically, I managed to get sick the day it all started with what we call the “SXSW Crud,” but a week earlier than usual, so I soldiered on with boxes of Kleenex and a very phlegmy cough, but managed to make it through.

Working with the Statesman team did give me the opportunity to go back and sit in on some planning meetings and to visit the newsroom again, something I hadn’t done since around October. I’ve been telling people that I don’t really miss the newsroom or the act of committing daily newspaper journalism, that what I’ve really missed are the people I worked with and the feeling that comes from being part of a large team working together to make something bigger than any one of us.

That’s true; I miss the social part of my job, being able to look up from my computer monitor and seeing friendly faces of people I respect and admire.

But when I visited, I didn’t expect the warm wave of nostalgia I got from just riding the elevator, the one I’d ridden thousands of times before. The little warm fuzzy from being recognized and greeted at the security desk, the temperature of the conference room and the scuff of the conference room chair on my legs. I was in that newsroom for more years than I’ve ever lived in any home in my life, and that’s probably going to remain true for a really, really long time.

I don’t miss being there every day, but the thought that in a few years it may not exist — that the staff will move to an unfamiliar place as the building is razed or built out into something else — fills me with a lot of sadness. But I guess I’m learning how important it is to make new homes, to find new places you love, and to be out in the world more.

I’m trying to explore more, to be less tied to locations and rooms, to feel as comfortable in wide open spaces than in bulb-lit interiors. It doesn’t always come natural for me.

All I did for the Statesman at SXSW:

CNN’s clubhouse at SXSW was… bogus

In the lead-up to SXSW, I also got asked to double up on some panels and write different versions for the journalism organization Poynter. This was a much bigger challenge than I was expecting! South by Southwest is exhausting enough and when you find the time to sit and write something, it’s a small miracle, but then to start over and try to write the same thing again, the thing you just pretty much said what you wanted to say about, from a different angle… well, that was tougher than I thought it might be.

So for Poynter, I offered a more journalism-focused take on the Trevor Noah panel, a more Poynter-iffic take on the panel about rural/Trump country reporting, and a third piece that wasn’t double-up for the Statesman, a very powerful panel about covering family separations at the border.

SXSW activations, always a constant

And because I wasn’t done overloading myself with work, I also did two pieces for a blockchain news site, Modern Consensus. I interviewed Austin’s Dave Sikora after he did a panel and I covered a “Blockchain deathmatch” panel that included Jimmy Song, whom I profiled a few months ago for Breaker Magazine. And for the Book + Film Globe site, I did a wrap-up of all the crazy SXSW activations including ones for “Game of Thrones” and “The Highwaymen.”

We told her how much we loved “Russian Doll” and she was nice enough to take a pic with us.

It wasn’t all work, though. I still got to have fun and hang out. Thanks to Jeana, who was not as shy as the rest of our group, I got to meet Natasha Lyonne at an afterparty for a premiere of “Booksmart” where Santigold played and Olivia Wilde celebrated a birthday.

I ate a fucking lot of cheese. I gave good cookie advice. I bought a “Nancy” shirt that arrived in time to wear for at least one day of SXSW.

There was lots more, but like every SXSW, it has already started to fade and compress and feel like one long fevery dream where everything happened all at once.

South by South Rest

Here’s the rest of other things I’ve been working on since February.

For the aforementioned Book + Film, I did a review of Rooster Teeth’s Austin-made anime gen:LOCK which I really enjoyed. I finished off the season after this review was published and I thought it finished strong and left me wanting more. I also reviewed another Austin-made creation, Battle Angel: Alita, which I liked a lot less. Comment writers noted that I don’t seem familiar with the source material, and boy howdy is that true. I had major problems with the film version.

I had much nicer things to say about the pretty perfect conclusion of Broad City. Most recently, I wrote a mixed-bag review of Donald Glover’s strange but also strangely compelling mini movie Guava Island, now available on Amazon streaming.

For the Statesman, after SXSW, I wrote about a really great exhibit that took place at the Texas capitol building, “Refugee Is Not My Name.”  For the business section, I did a piece on Austin-made AR pet-adoption app “Furiends.”

And, new freelance gig! I started writing some piece for Barnes & Noble’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog.  My first two pieces were a roundup of scariest Stephen King books that aren’t Pet Sematary and a roundup of six very funny comic books / graphic novels you should be reading.

Wendi Aarons and I returned for our second piece together at McSweeney’s. It was timed to Equal Pay Day but ended up running a few days after that. It’s called “If Women Completed Work Based On Their Percentage of Wages Compared To Men.” I thought it came out really well.

And for Texas Standard, I did a whole bunch of things, here’s that list of topics:

I should also note that I’m still doing daily audio segments for Tech Minute Texas; the site has been updated with 30 more segments, so we’re up to 130 total and I’ve got more coming.


When I wasn’t working, I celebrated a birthday, did a long-ass 8+ mile hike for a waterfall in Arizona, ran a 5K with my daughter,  got confused for a dog, adopted three fish as pets, got into a fight with Build-A-Bear, celebrated Manu Ginobili’s retirement, made a really dumb video nobody saw, saw Kacey Musgraves in concert and got excited for Latino Comedy Project’s upcoming new show. I’m not in it, but I backed the project and can’t wait to see how it turns out.

These have been good months and I can’t wait for summer.

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