Misc for August 11, 2014

What a remarkable week it has been! Yes, I turned forty and, no, the world didn’t end. Instead, life is already opening up all around me like so many of you warned me it would. Thank you for all the well wishes and notes. I truly feel like the best is yet to come.

Part of that optimism may stem from still being full from a once-in-a-lifetime birthday meal at Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo last week. It was a feast befitting a milestone. We were genuinely speechless over some of the food, and the team behind the restaurant has done an amazing job at creating refined and modern interpretations of soulful Mexican cooking, without being bogged down by pretentiousness or art for art’s sake. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

We also spotted Linda Yu from Chicago’s ABC 7 and drank quite a bit of very good wine.

This weekend we also visited the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin. If you’re not familiar with HOTR, it’s a staple of “Weird Wisconsin” tours that Neil Gaiman wrote into American Gods as a portal to another dimension. As Gaiman wrote on his blog:

I had to tone down my description of it and leave things out in the book in order to make it believable.


It’s a monument to kitsch and wonder and madness and uncertainty.

True story, Neil. One of the best overviews of the location I’ve found on the web is from earlier this year in Slate.

The place reminded me of a more rundown and sinister version of the Sanfilippo Estate and “Place de La Musique” in Barrington where I met Mr. Gaiman, along with other literary luminaries in a never-to-be-forgotten tribute event for Gene Wolfe and the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

The visit caused me to ditch my previous draft of this letter and start exploring some of my thoughts on the kooky, creepy, sideshow museums that I seem to have developed an interest in. Here’s where my thoughts have gone so far.

The notion of the misunderstood genius, often an artist, unappreciated in his or her lifetime but revered for the ages, is an enduring one in American culture. I can see why. It’s comforting for those of us whose adult lives don’t quite match the super-heroic expectations we set for ourselves as children. It’s also a peculiar brand of afterlife story, to believe that no matter what one endures here and now, redemption will come someday from a more sympathetic future.

I’ve become particularly intrigued over the years, not just with such people and their stories, but with the way their lives tend to leave behind otherwise inexplicable monuments to their particular drives, and the way they become attractions for those of us “normals” to stand at the foothills of their madness.

Look at the weird legacies left by eccentrics like Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House, Bob Cassilly’s City Museum in St. Louis, or Alex Jordan and the House on the Rock.

For each, the outcomes of their obsessions draw thousands of tourists each year. Our thrill comes not only from viewing the collections or the results of their passions, but from the glimpses at the obsessions and neuroses that drove them into existence. The compulsion that drives someone to defy social consensus is fascinating to those of us who are hemmed in by those same constructs.

Perhaps I’m showing some kind of selection bias, but at least in the three examples above there’s a kind delicious creepiness at play. Something slightly sinister leaks from the walls that makes it all the more fun, even as we imagine these auteurs visions to be unreachably far beyond our own.

[I’m sure I’ll write more on this topic someday. Send me your thoughts!]

On to some Serious Business.

One more thing. If you follow me elsewhere, you may already know that one project I’ve had underway finally saw its first light of day last week, but in case you missed it: I’m a podcaster now! My friend and podcasting partner Toni McLellan said it best in her own kick-ass newsletter:

In other news, my friend Mike and I just released the first episode of a just-for-fun podcast called Serious Business. We are silly, hopeful, engaged, and at times irreverent, so if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll definitely want to check it out.

You can listen to the first episode and find links to subscribe at seriousbusinesspodcast.com. I’m having a blast recording the shows, or as my daughter calls it, “talking to Toni in the basement.”


Until next time,