On being a man's man

Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman

I watched a biography on Ernest Hemingway last weekend. His was an interesting existence. Although I'm not a Hemingway fanatic, there are definitely aspects of his life of which I'm envious (his brevity, his time spent in pre-Castro Cuba, the entirety of Old Man and the Sea). There are other aspects of which I'm not. One in particular is Hemingway's whole "man's man" schtick. 

A real man's man doesn't spend his entire life trying to convince people that's what he is. Much like, for example, an intelligent man would never say "I have a good brain" or "I have the best words."  You, Mr. Best Words Good Brain, are an idiot. And you, Mr. Hemingway, are overcompensating.

A man's man defines himself based on his own standards, not the standards put in place by others. It's that simple. Whatever his individual standards may be, a man's man lives up to them with confidence and consistency. A woman's woman does exactly the same. And so on. Gender and orientation actually have nothing to do with the concept.

Which brings us to Nick Offerman. Like Hemingway, he's also frequently referred to as a man's man. This is in large part because he played one so perfectly on the television set as Ron Swanson on Parks & Rec. Ron was a character, of course. But there's a lot of overlap with real-life wood-working, whiskey-sipping, bad-assing Nick.

I came across this interview with him in Men's Health. The whole thing is a great read. But his comment below really stood out. Because this, to my standards anyway, is what a man's man sounds like.

You’re synonymous with being a man’s man. What was the last thing that made you cry?

"I went to theatre school. I took two semesters of ballet. I’m the sissy in my family. I cry with pretty great regularity. It’s not entirely accurate to equate me with manliness. I stand for my principals and I work hard and I have good manners but machismo is a double-sided coin. A lot of people think it requires behavior that can quickly veer into misogyny and things I consider indecent. We’ve been sold this weird John Wayne mentality that fistfights and violence are vital to being a man. I’d rather hug than punch. Crying at something that moves you to joy or sadness is just as manly as chopping down a tree or punching out a bad guy. To answer your question, I recently saw Alicia Keys perform live. I’d never seen her before and the sheer golden, heavenly talent issuing from her and her singing instrument had both my wife and me in tears. What a gorgeous gift she has. Her voice is so great. And I had no shame [about crying.] If you live your life openly with your emotions, that’s a more manly stance than burying them."

How come nobody told me!

PaintBar, Madison, Wisconsin, October 15, 2017

PaintBar, Madison, Wisconsin, October 15, 2017

The other night I parked in front of PaintBar. It's a place I've driven past a thousand times. Walked past it too without ever really looking inside. 

I assumed it was a community art center of some sort. I assumed they used the word "Bar" in the same way that Apple uses it in "Genius Bar." If you've ever been to the Genius Bar, you know it's not a bar at all. Nor is it especially genius. I'd have suggested "Apple Condescending Nerd Table" as a more accurate name but, you know, marketing.

Anyway, I was parked in front of PaintBar and I glanced in the window as I passed. What's that I spy? With my little eye? A bottle of Citradelic IPA next to an easel? Can it be that PaintBar is an actual bar? A woman saw me standing outside like a dope and waved me in. And just like that, my painting career was underway.

For 15 bucks they set me up with a canvas and as much paint as I wanted to slather. It was late, on a Sunday, so there were only a few of us there. I have to admit I was a little uncomfortable when the woman who got me started came back to see "my work." I am, I know, a shitty painter. (Or at least I was the last time I checked in middle school.) Her response? "I love how you're taking it in an abstract direction!" She seemed to think I had some sort of choice in the matter. But it made me feel good anyway, or at least good enough to continue.

The fact is, I really enjoyed painting. The whole time I was there, I kept thinking "How come nobody told me!"

Except: I've always known painting existed as a thing. And I knew PaintBar, based on the name alone, was probably worth some additional investigation. I just never gave painting, or PaintBar, a try.

The reasons are familiar: I was too busy to look into it. I was too cool to look stupid. I was too focused on what's next to look at what's right in front of me. None of these are good looks.

But long story short, I gave it a go. Now the world has one more shitty painter. I have one more thing I'm shitty at. And that all sits just fine with me.

Mic check one two...

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It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you...
Without a strong rhyme to step to
 – Rakim

Hi! Remember me? John? Perpetual underachiever prone to fits of unwarranted optimism and profanity?

Yes! Of course you remember! Because you're one special motherfucker and life is beautiful!

Anyway. I'm back.

I'll save the details of my whereabouts, perhaps, for another time. Suffice it to say it was a weird bouillabaisse of a summer – a mixed-bag kettle of road trips and stasis and sorrow and sun. Disparate ingredients thrown together and clumsily seasoned by the untrained hands of a hungry fisherman.

On the bright side, fishermen know how to stay fed. They know how to work with whatever they've got. They know that eventually the flavors come together. Eventually the bones fall away.  Eventually they'll feel full again.

I'm feeling full again.

So if you please... kick it Rak:

Dance wit the speaker 'til you hear it blow
Then plug in the headphone 'cause here it go

Bring Limes – Float Songs.

You know how some people dedicate their lives to their community or the environment or the betterment of humanity? I'm the same way! Only I've dedicated my life to ridiculously overthought playlists.

Anyhoo. For that reason, or other reasons, or maybe no reason at all, some of you have been asking for a Bring Limes playlist. Something summery and new. So without further ado, here are The Float Songs. 33 tracks hand-picked with floating in mind: On a placid lake, or a shimmering sea, or in the state of Colorado if you know what I mean.

I'll post some additional lists throughout the summer. Enjoy.

On the road with my mom, the bad-ass.

Last weekend my mom and I met in Los Angeles for a wayward run down the coast. According to the Google machine, the drive to San Diego takes two hours. We wisely gave it four days.

The first morning found us on Manhattan Beach at 6 a.m. The grey dawn was working its way up to 60 degrees – water temps were cooler than that. A line-up of wet-suited surfers bobbled out along the second break.

Locals only. And my mom. 

I had a surfboard that I snagged from our AirBnB. She had a body board. I have no idea if she's ever used one before. I realize now that I never asked. In my defense, she was in the water and paddling out before I had a chance to inquire.  

We got pounded by the waves that day, and the next, and the days after that. It's what the ocean does best: it reminds us of where we stand. It pounds and pushes and puts us in our place. But then occasionally, whether we deserve it or not, it lets us ride. Fast and free and grinning like children.

Life can be the same way. And so it came to be, for four days last week, that my mom and I rode fast and free.

From sea level, to the rooftop bar at Hotel Casa Del Camino, to the wonderfully curvy road leading to the 6,000 foot peak of Palomar Mountain. And then down, down, down, lost maybe a little, until we finally dropped right into the heart of San Diego as if that was the plan all along. Music loud, top town, fueled by joy and a massive cache of roadside-stand strawberries.

Along the way, I learned that my mom can road trip like a champion. I also learned that, as a child, I had trouble pronouncing "T" sounds. So when I wanted my toy truck I'd yell "Fuck!" Or when passing the fire station: "Fire Fuck! Fire Fuck!" This anecdote has no bearing on our road trip, other than it never would have come up otherwise. Also, I'll add, it makes me very very happy.

I've always recommended taking any road trip, anytime, headed anywhere, alone or with anyone who's wired right for road trips. It's never a bad idea. But if you haven't tried it with your mom? Damn junior! You need to get on that!

Oh Eaux Claires!

I spent some magical time in Eau Claire, Wisconsin this past weekend. I wasn't aware that I needed a weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, magical or otherwise. But ho-lee-shit. As it turns out I needed a magical weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. 

Eaux Claires is the music festival Bon Iver built. In its third year, the Justin Vernon created/curated event is unlike any I've experienced. The musical portion, as you'd expect given the event's pedigree, was eclectic, cohesive, and stellar throughout. You want Chance the Rapper? Yup, he's a friend of the fam. How about five tenor saxophones playing a surprisingly moving 45-minute drone note in the woods? They got that too. 

Although the music was fantastic, the part that's stuck with me the most is the forest. Step away from the stages and you'll find a mulchy network of trails leading to all kinds of art installations and random whatnot. Some of the ideas fit in the woods perfectly: wooden sculptures, feather poetry, a box of crickets with a mic and a big-ass speaker. Other ideas didn't fit, also perfectly: a full Sconnie living room, for example, playing an old packer game on the hi-fi. Or a Mom's booth, staffed by Mom's who were there to offer sunscreen and life advice and games of Connect 4.

A little precious? Yes! Sometimes, though, a little preciousness works wonders.

Whatever happened to happy?

I've been away for a while.

My last post, back in May, might have suggested I finally fled to Canada once and for all. Although I did consider just disappearing into the woods, I ended up returning home with a cooler full of walleye and a sheepish "I can't quit you 'murica" grin.

You wouldn't know I'm back, though, from the look of things around Bring Limes HQ. I've been laying low as of late, in a deepish funk for reasons that took me a while to fully understand. Nothing I considered sharing here felt right (except for this sweet-ass jazz/surf video which wasn't embeddable but oh man hit this link because it's so cool).

Nothing I wrote seemed, I don't know, appropriate?

The fact of the matter is that we're living in strange times.

That's not a political statement. That's a no-shit-sherlock statement. Calling these End Days, I hope, is an overstatement. But it sure feels like we're experiencing the end of something. The continual squelching of compassion, the suppression of hope, the fear. The feeling is palpable and, on some days, it seems inescapable. Good old fashioned happiness, it seems, has gotten harder to come by.

But here's the other piece: Being happy is only part of the challenge. Just as problematic is the notion of seeming happy. In a world that's grown wobbly and dark, happiness has fallen out of fashion. Sure we're allowed to momentarily enjoy things – a majestic sunset, say, or a duck confit salad. But true uninhibited joy? It's become gauche – a guilty pleasure that, at best, should be indulged in the privacy of your own home.

Being outwardly happy, in 2017, has become an indicator that you're either ignorant, tone-deaf, or Chance the Rapper. Lil Chano gets a well-deserved happiness pass. But the rest of us? It feels sometimes like we're just trying to avoid the ignorant/tone-deaf label. We've become the Great American Congregation of the Appropriately and Respectfully Subdued. 

I know happiness isn't a switch that we can just turn on. But that doesn't mean we should keep it in the off position all the time either. On a recent flight to Boston, I realized that's what's been holding me back. How do margaritas and clam bakes align with Manchester and the Paris Accord and the perpetual waiting for shoes to fall? The short answer is that they don't. Last summer, I was accused (by me) of ukulele-ing while Rome burns. I see now that Rome was merely smoldering at the time. These days? Holy shit. 

Like a lot of people, the ways of the world have been wearing me down. I didn't understand how much until this past weekend. On Friday evening I took my son and his two buddies out on the boat. My head was kind of elsewhere (see: all my gibberish above), but they asked to go so off we went. As we eased out of the ShoreStation, they were already excited. As we passed the Slow No Wake buoy they were giddy. When I put the hammer down – laughter and high fives all around.

Out on the open water, with our faces tilted toward the setting sun, I realized this: It's okay to be happy. As one of the kid's bracelets reminded me, it's okay to laugh.

And so laugh we did. I swallowed a few bugs along the way, but that's alright. The world could use a few less bugs anyway.

Light Painting. Darren Pearson. Holy crap.

If you spend many nights outside, and I hope you do, at some point you'll try messing around with longer camera exposures.

20 years ago, that involved slow film, slow shutters, and lots of disappointing trips to the Fotomat. 10 years ago, it would take a digital camera with a good manual mode. Today, you can just use your mobile telephone/flashlight/camera/jukebox device!

If you're just looking to futz around and get a feel for it, I'd recommend the Slow Shutter app for the iphone. It'll put you back $1.99 but let you do pretty much anything you want related to long exposures. You'll need a tripod too. (I personally like the smaller Joby options but cheaper ones work fine, as does pretty much any stable area to place your phone.) Once you're set up, grab some different light sources and start messing around. And... this concludes the tutorial!

Now for inspiration, let's get to Darren Pearson. AKA Darius Twin. AKA a guy that's definitely not messing around. He creates the coolest creatures you could ever hope to see using nothing but light. In doing so, he also creates a momentary window into an achingly beautiful alternate reality that I so wish was real. 

Darren was originally inspired by Picasso's famous light paintings and it shows, in the most magical ways.

Just as impressive as his work, Darren's built a career, and business, around light painting. Another shining example of "do what you love, and the rest will come."

You can see more of his work right here yo.

The work of Dan Pearon, aka darius Twin.

The work of Dan Pearon, aka darius Twin.

5 Reasons to give Francis and the Lights a try

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It's hard for me to know where to begin with Francis Farewell Starlight and his musical project Francis and the Lights.

Many of my favorite songs right now are his. Several of my favorite musical artists hold him in the highest regard (Justin Vernon, Chance the Rapper, Ye, etc.). I can hear his highly layered synth-y harmonic influence all over indie pop, rap, and R&B right now. 

And yet. There are times I just want to watch him dance.

Good lord, the guy can dance. Not like how dancers dance. He dances like little kids dance. He dances like your dog dances when she sees you heading to the back door with a tennis ball. He dances like it doesn't matter at all, while at the same time being the most important thing in the world. 

Musically, he's worked as a vocalist and/or producer with some of the biggest names in music (the above mentioned trio, Frank Ocean, etc.). But he's only released a handful of EPs and full-length albums over the past decade or so, but he's evolved his sound significantly along the way.

He's best known for last year's song Friends which also features Bon Iver. (Kanye claimed it as his favorite song of 2016.) Friends is off Francis' most recent album Farewell, Starlight! and showcases the floating harmonic sheen of his most recent work. There's definitely technology at work, but you (or at least I) can feel the humanity behind it all. An example would be a line in the song that hits me for reasons I can't even explain: "I heard you bought some land in Mexico/And I said "Way to go, man!"

And the video. It's a humdinger of simplicity. 

Anyway, here are 5 Reasons to give Francis and the Lights a try:

Looking for more? Try the Farewell, Starlight! album for a nice synth-based float. Go with It'll Be Better for some more traditional, but still damn sweet, songcraft.  

Summer summer summer!


This past weekend was Trout Camp.

It's an annual gathering, the first weekend in May, in the driftless region of SW Wisconsin. And yes, although temperatures routinely get below freezing at night, and my traditional Saturday swim is a cold one, this trip is the one that officially kicks off summer in my mind. So here we go.

Deep in the Driftless, May 6, 2017

Deep in the Driftless, May 6, 2017

Pornstar Nation!

Looking to add more sophomoric giggling to your next road trip? Here's something that might help.

A couple years ago we road tripped from Madison, Wisconsin to Midland, South Dakota (aka "the Bud Light in a bottle" capital of the world). All told, it's about a 10-hour drive. At some point, I noticed that one of the exit signs featured an especially pornstarry name. And, looky there, so did the next one. 

I've logged quite a few miles to quite a few places since then. And yup, this little game works pretty much everywhere. Here's a small selection of what you might find on your next drive to Midland, South Dakota.

How to choose limes: A cocktailer's guide

There's nothing better than a well-crafted cocktail. (Nothing!) Done right, it's a wonderfully nuanced thing – from the conceiving and concocting, to the sipping and savoring. 

But let's be honest. If you're short on time, tinctures, or both, you can pretty much grab a bottle of anything and a gang of limes and you'll be just fine. I know this because you're my people.

As we've already established, there's nothing the lime can't do. But while thwarting scurvy is a fine attribute, it's drink-making where the lime truly shines. A lime gives any drink worth drinking an added sense of oomph.

Lime is the cowbell of cocktails.

But what makes for a great lime? Let's start with a little background...

Limes have a twisted provenance: lots of hybrid this and crossed-with that. Most types of limes, though, can be traced back to a holy mash-up of the citron, the mandarin, and the pomelo. They probably joined forces in southeast Asia or Indonesia more than a thousand years ago. Although there's at least a dozen varieties of limes, the ones you'll find in the Corona section of your typical U.S. grocery store (or the produce section for that matter) are probably Persian limes which were grown in Mexico. 

Limes haven't been formally branded the way oranges and other fruit have. So you kind of end up grabbing whatever they've got. Since I've grabbed a lot of limes over the years, below are a few things I've learned.

As a note, I'm assuming you want a good juicy lime for cocktails, ceviche, beer accessories and the like. (I don't know shit, nor shinola, about baking pies.)

How To Choose The Best Limes

1) Heavier limes are juicier limes:  When choosing limes, compare the weight. Heavier limes, for their size, hold more juice. Simple!

2) Brighter is better: Limes ripen in the opposite order you might expect – they actually start green and, as they ripen, they turn yellow. That's not to say you want yellow limes, they're too far along. But a brighter green lime is riper and will have more juice than a darker green one.

3) Nipples aren't your friend:  You know how some limes have nipples on the end, kind of like a lemon? Often accompanied by darker green, bumpy skin? And sometimes, right in the same bin at the grocer, there might be smoother, rounder limes that are nipple free? Go with the rounder brighter nipple-free ones. A more boldy nippled lime usually has a thicker rind and, from my experience anyway, they produce less juice. Of course a nippled lime is still far better than no lime at all, so don't get too militant on this one.

4) Give it a little squeeze: A good juicy lime will give a little to thumb pressure. The skin will be shiny and healthy: Too hard and you won't get much juice. On the other hand, too soft, too wrinkly, too spotty, too dry, etc. and a lime's margarita-making days over. Just a little give is what you're looking for.

5) And yeah, about key limes: Those bags are tempting! Key limes are so cute! But key limes aren't much for juicing – they're tiny lime-scented marbles which serve little purpose in a proper cocktail. Unless you're making some sort of sugary key-lime-pie flavored martini which, if you are, gtfo anyway.

So alright! You went and got yourself some beautifully heavy bright green nipple-free limes! Now what? Glad you asked, friend-o. Here's what!

How To Store and Juice Limes

1) Store 'em in the refrigerator: Limes are fine on the counter for a few days, but they'll last a week or two in the fridge. No bag is needed because limes are basically sealed in a nice oily skin. However if you've broken the skin – by peeling, slicing, or zesting – all bets are off. Put it in a zip-loc at that point and you'll get another day or two out of it, but the flavor falls off pretty quick.

2) Warm 'em up before juicing: Cold limes store well, but they don't juice as well. I'll take them out of the fridge a few hours before it's time for juicing. Or I'll forget and juice them cold, because I'm a bad boy and you never know what I'm going to do next. Some people advocate putting cold limes in the microwave for 10 or 20 seconds before juicing them. But for whatever reason that just seems heinously wrong.

3) Roll 'em: I roll my limes against the table before juicing. Just press down good and hard with your hand and roll 'em around. It makes for easier squeezing.

4) Juice 'em: If you're looking to make the most juice, the quickest, go with an electric juicer. For aesthetic reasons, though, I prefer a hand-held citrus press or one of those old-school pointy cone things you put right over a glass. If you're hand-squeezing without tools (other than a knife), cut the lime into quarters and squeeze away. Quarters make for much easier squeezing than halves or slices. 

5) Timing is important: Have you ever squeezed an entire camping trip's worth of lime juice ahead of time? Me too! Bad call! Fresh lime juice doesn't last like store-bought bottled juices. After you squeeze limes, you've got eight or so hours to use the juice before it starts losing it's aromatic ooh la la. After 10 or 12 hours, you'll notice it turning bitter. I've read that lime juice is actually at its very best four to six hours after juicing. Verification is difficult though because my lime juice usually doesn't last that long.

So there you go! Yay limes!

If you're looking some additional ruminations on the wonder of limes, check out All Hail The Lime!