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Teh writery stuff

Letter on Public Hearing on Penokee Hills Mine

Today the DNR is holding a public hearing at Hurley High School to hear public testimony about issuing a bulk sampling permit to Gogebic Taconite LLC. Those who cannot make the hearing have until September 3 to mail or email testimony.

Here's my letter.

Larry Lynch, DNR
101 S. Webster Street
Madison, WI 53707

August 15, 2013

Dear Mr. Lynch, DNR

I have walked through the Penokee Hills site of the proposed Gogebic Taconite LLC (GTac) Mine. Following the core drilling they did earlier this year, GTac left behind bright orange snow fences, inorganic riprap, and hay bales that do not stop erosion. The deep trenches cut into the hillside by GTac’s heavy machinery are filled with a bright red watery sludge and will take years to recover.

This is all evidence of GTac’s inability (and perhaps unwillingness) to work this public land in a manner that is respectful to the Penokee Hills. It is an ugly walk through a formerly beautiful swatch of land that will now forever bear the scars of GTac’s agenda.

Here are some additional reasons why I urge you to deny not only GTac’s bulk sample permit, but any application for additional mining within the ceded lands in Wisconsin.

  • Wisconsin Geological Surveys show grunerite, one of the most toxic forms of asbestos, on and near the proposed mine site.
  • GTac’s response to the potential of asbestos in the proposed mining site is rhetoric and denial. Good science demands non-invasive sampling of the proposed site and comprehensive testing for dangerous and toxic compounds.
  • GTac has a history of providing the DNR with misinformation, including repeatedly denying their involvement in the drafting of Assembly Bill AB426.
  • GTac has a history of aggressive anti-public behavior, including the July 2013 hiring of an un-permitted paramilitary militia to guard core drilling sites.
  • Any mishandling of the mining activities on the proposed site has the potential to have significant impact on the world’s freshwater.
  • A Wisconsin Sierra Club document on the environmental track record of taconite mining states, “The evidence from neighboring states demonstrates that all taconite mines are polluters.”

It is my sincerest desire that the Wisconsin DNR deny the bulk sampling permit to GTac.

Thank you,

Gabe Wollenburg

Johnny Cash watches over the public hearing

Broken, Unworkable Things.

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Crind is Broken.

Some systems are simply unworkable.

This is a fact. There are things in this world that, for whatever reason, have become unworkable. They are broken.

These broken, unworkable things are not made to spite you or to annoy or damage you personally. They’re simply unworkable, broken things. And eventually, they will fail. Darwin. He was smart. However, the sad, painful realization that you are embroiled in an unworkable system is probably the more interesting thing to consider, really; what do you do after you’ve realized:

  • This system, thing, project, hardware, lifestyle choice is unworkable.
  • It’s not about me.

At that point you have three pretty clear choices.

  1. You can walk away.
    This is a pretty good choice, really. Most of the time. Let broken things that aren’t about you stay broken. Darwin will take care of them. It’s scary though– the broken thing is familiar. You’re walking away into the unknown.
  2. You can try to fix it.
    Great idea. But what about the second bullet point up there? It’s not about you. Unless you have considerable agency over he broken thing, this is a bad choice. Without the agency to fix it, trying to work the unworkable thing is going to frustrate you. And that’s not much better than living with the unworkable thing in the first place, is it? Because now, not only is it unworkable, but you’re fighting it every step of the way.
  3. You can love the unworkable thing for what it is.
    If you can’t walk away, and you don’t have the agency to fix the thing, this is all you’re left with. The unworkable thing is broken and you’re not going to either be ok with that or take one of the other two choices. End of story.

The thing is, not all broken things long to be fixed. Some are completely happy to be broken. And, maybe they even know that they could be better. And that’s sad, really. But that’s the nature of broken unworkable things. Love them. They are what show us the beauty of our complete, workable things. They are what inspire us to be better. The broken, unworkable things show us the way not to proceed, and point us in the direction of wholeness, completeness, and fulfillment.

Thank you, broken unworkable things. Thank you.

Phase IV

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I have this artificial barometer for "How I'm Doin'" these days. It's called this here blog.
I started blogging a long time ago because I felt like I couldn't put everything I wanted to put into my Newspaper collumns into my newspaper, and I needed an outlet where I would write about videogames and movies and tv shows I liked. I did some podcasting and made some observations about life and culture.

Then, awhile later, I said that everything had to change. And I reinvented this here blog. I put up one of those Everything new is old again posts, and launched, Phase II: Now with Drupal.

it's time

The internet kind of grew up around that idea and became an outlet where everyone writes about video games and movies and tv shows they like. I like that. There's so many good places out there nowadays to read about what video games and movies and tv shows that people like. It's good.

Then, in a post that I'm pretty sure I didn't think was rambling and incoherent at the time, I launched, Phase III. Now with more of the same things.

I still want to write about things, I really do. But videogames, movies and tv shows are not really the things I feel compelled to write about anymore. I guess it's a sign of being not-quite 40, but I no longer care to compel you to like what I like. I guess I don't care if you and I have a difference of opinion on whether it is a good emotional investment to watch sportsball. Fandom comes in many flavors. Whatever makes you happy, I guess.

I wrote a letter today to my lawyer about the car accident I was in last June. It made me sad and upset. I wrote a release note for a piece of software that you'll never use but will impact the lives of 4 in 10 of you today. It did not make me sad and upset. Both of them created compelling writing. But neither of them was very satisfying.

That's what I'm getting at here. I'm done writing for you, dear reader of this here blog. (As if I ever did....) I'm writing for me now. I want to write in fucking markdown with links and in a CMS that I like, and I want it to be published immediately, and I want it to be ok if it has 10,000 typos in it because fuck you, guy who has to point out typos.


*ahem.* ... And so.

Here comes Phase IV.

Look the fuck out.

De facto, Design!

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I recently had to compile a couple of thoughts about Design. I've never really thought of myself as a designer. I usually think of myself as a writer. Lately, I've been trying really hard to think of myself as a person, but I digress.

I thought I'd share it here. Enjoy.

How I practice design:

I have worked in Adobe’s Creative Suite, as well as Publisher, Word, and many of the open-source Adobe alternative programs. I find that there is usually a way to achieve the design impact I'm looking for via whatever toolset I have available. Pro-tools are nicer, easier, and almost always have better results, but they're also expensive, fiddly and not always available.

Because of this approach, I can make Microsoft Word sing.

I believe the key to successful design isn't in the tools you use, but in applying a consistent and deliberate aesthetic. Ultimately, it comes down to taste.

Some thoughts on my past design experience

I've learned design through real world experience. I have mostly worked for small firms where the writer was often times the de facto designer. I've read a number of design and style books over the years, had endless design conversations about font and leading while working in the newspaper industry, and lead a Milwaukee-based technology and design-based meet up from 2004 to 2007. Not that I know much about deisgn. But I do know what I think looks good. Start from there. Learn about the rule of thirds. Talk to lots of people about color theory. Learn about print standards by trial and error. Steal someone's Pantone book. This is how I learned design. I'm not sure that qualifies me as a designer, but it certainly qualifies me as a designer pro tempore.

Five design principles I hold dear:

  1. Simple is better.
  2. Font choices matter. (I have an expensive taste in fonts. I know this. I try to keep it under control. )
  3. Just because you have lots of colors, doesn’t mean you should use them.
  4. Usability often trumps fashion.
  5. Typography should mean something.

I used Microsoft Word and Windows to develop an electronic workflow that seamlessly integrated a manual paste-up and electronic pagination system based on Quark Express in the Lake Country Reporter’s newsroom in 2004. It was magic. I can't believe it worked as well as it did.

She mixes her own.

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She mixes her own. She mixes them strong.
The maker's lament.

I remember how good she is with a recipe. She takes the parts she needs, drops the parts she doesn't and improvises with what we have.

This is one of the many things that make her wonderful.

We were laughing only 24 hours ago. We were crying 24 hours before that. This is the season.

Oh, these waning moons of December.
We bear witness to the fullness of shadow's power.

Writing scripts for 'Sketchnote: the Video'

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It was my great privilege this summer to work on the scripts for the video edition of Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook.

Mike and I had worked together a little during my Web414 days, and I knew him from BarCamp and other Milwaukee projects. He’s a great guy. When he and I connected in the spring of 2012 he mentioned he wanted some help getting the scripts together for his upcoming book and video package; I knew I wanted to get involved.

And then, actually, less than 2 minutes after meeting with Mike and the video’s director and cinematographer Brian Artka, I was in a pretty wicked car crash. I was able to walk away, but was dazed and not right for months. I’m still not right. I still freak out every time someone comes up too close behind me. Seriously: Don’t text and drive you guys. Not cool.

But, the point is, eventually, through my concussion and all that, we did manage to put together a bunch of great scripts for Mike and Brian to work from.

I used the fantastic Scrivener for drafting these pieces because, Scrivener forces me to think in terms of the larger product and keep the deliverable in mind. When you’re plumbing a source as vast and ripe as Mike’s first drafts, you need to actively keep the end in mind. Trust me.
After I’d made outlines and drafts in Scrivener, I shipped drafts and outlines over to Mike and Brian in RTF format. Eventually, Mike got himself a copy of Scrivener and we started sharing that over the project’s BaseCamp account. Even accounting for Scrivener’s strange package formats and cross platform idiosyncrasies, I’ll admit it was not a pretty workflow. But the outline and note-card view of the final scripts is pretty cool.

Screen Shot 2012-12-02 at 8.56.12 PM

Mike would send me early and red-line drafts of The Sketchnote Handbook, and I would cram them into the outline we’d developed for the video series. One of my goals was to break the video material up in a way that added value to the book. I really wanted these two editions to be complimentary, not derivative of each other.

Having seen the two editions at about 98% complete, I can tell you that the two products are very different. They are each a different perspective on Sketchnoting. They both have that friendly vibe that comes from working with Mike. They’re two totally different things, and that’s good. Get both. Trust me.

Because of the way we developed the each edition, they drove each other throughout the development process. Sometimes the video was in command, other times the book was front and center. Sometimes we just kind of wiggled and waggled until all the pieces fell into a super cool package of awesome.

Dare I say I think Mike and Brian got it right though. The whole thing is a great package.

Here’s a shot from Mike’s [flickr] set that highlights my cameo appearance in the video series.

Mike B-Roll

Mike worked really, really hard on this project, and it shows. It’s a gorgeous book and a compelling video series. I got to help him along the way. And it’s a super huge privilege that I enjoyed.

I am so grateful to get to work with Mike and Brian. – Even in the small way that I did.

Laid off

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As of 3:30 p.m. on May 23, 2012, I became a fully independent content creator and personal historian. Go me.

I'm Free.

Gone indie, but not forgotten.

I’m working really hard to keep a positive framework on this. I would have preferred to transition into this new job over a longer timeframe. But the universe had other plans.

I think the weirdest part is not being able to wipe down and clean out my hard drives and computers. It just makes me feel unsettled. I would have preferred to put away each of my machines like one says good bye to a friend. Now they are out of my control without so much as a farewell ssh tunnel. I would have liked, at least, to have had the opportunity to remove my own user accounts. TNO, baby. TNO.

Also weird: When Gaia finishes school this year: I will have no connection or reason to go to Oconomowoc. For anything. Ever. Unless I want to. I have been working in Oconomowoc in one way or another since 1994. First at Olympia Resort, then at the Oconomowoc Focus newspaper, and then at the hospital.

Actually, the hardest part (that I’m going to talk about publicly) is accepting all the love and support that all of you have shown me. It really is amazing how many of you cared to let me know you were thinking of me and my family. Thank you. All of you. It means a lot. More than that.

So… what about ‘The Future?’

Well, my $100 startup, Pretty Good Content is suddenly going to get a lot more of my attention. And I’ll be doing lots more things in the coming weeks to demonstrate that to as many people as I can. I’m planning on giving free monthly content talks. Watch this space for details– and tungle me if you’re interested in booking one for your venue.

Even if you don’t have a venue, tungle me anyway. I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands to get together and make stuff. I honestly believe that there is a ton of great work being done out there. And I honestly believe most people could use some help telling their stories. I want to help most people tell their stories. This smells of opportunity.

Seriously. Lets get all excited and make stuff together. You’d be surprised how much a little of my time can make your business better– and how much fun we can have together. You have stories to tell. Let me help you tell them.

So there’s that.

I started my day today wondering how I was going to find the time to keep cranking on developing Pretty Good Content into a full-time business. I end the day with a much clearer picture of how that is going to happen.

I want to steal a bit from another writer who really inspires me, and this borders on silly fanboyism, so I’m a little embarrassed. For whatever reason, I started today by re-reading Merlin Man’s essay “Cranking”. At the end of that essay, Mann writes that walking away from his book contract was not him quitting on his book, but rather, it was “doubling down” on producing a kind of work in which he can be proud.

I’m doubling down, my friends. I’m doubling down.

"The Tree Cutter" at

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I have submitted my story “The Tree Cutter” for consideration in indy publisher’s “Hybrid Beasts” collection.

I’m extra excited because it’s a story that really hope you’ll read. And that scares me, because it’s a story that is completely true. Except for the fact that it never happened. This story is, at its core, all real experiences, emotions, and characters, and settings. It is, at its core, a memoir of my experience of my adult relationship with my father, his land, and our place in it.

With one hitch: All this takes place in story that never happened.

That’s the hybrid part, I guess. This story is an memoir written about an alternative present.

Here’s a sample:

When I came back to the front yard to carry on with the clean up my father had not moved, except to turn 180-degrees from the tree and stare wistfully up the hill again.

“I’m not sure why I stay here,” he said.

It was kind of a strange bomb to drop, given the fact that my daughter and I had stopped here on our way to our home a few days ago to escape the rain. And we’d been evacuated to the basement as the weather worsened. I tried to smile it off. My wife might have asked a question like that, I guess, because she had moved around her whole life, but my dad always seemed permanently rooted to his land. For me, stopping at my dad’s little valley to ride out the latest crisis was something of a habit. The crisis of the westward storm was only the most recent of the string of financial, emotional or vehicular storms I’d weathered in my parent’s valley.

“It’s good land,” I said, peaking at the swamped garden. “You’ve worked hard.”
He was swaying a little on his feet. His gristled back, baked a cinnamon brown from years of shirtless Augusts tending his plants and garden, twitched and pulsed as he swayed.

It’s a challenging and dangerous thing, to write about who you really are so brazenly. I do not envy memoir writers, theres is a truth-speaking that cannot be on spoke. But, I do think this is a good story, and I intend to honor the dreams that inspired it by helping it to find publication.

You can read the whole submission (and comment and and make suggestions, revisions, and etc) over at Red Lemonade’s Hybrid Bestiary.

The story is called “The Tree Cutter.” There really is a teepee in my dad’s backyard. There really are gigantic supercattle up the hill from him. I have no idea if it is safe to drink the water there anymore, but I do anyway. I really slept on a VW microbus in the summers. That bus is still parked there. Seriously: Read the story.

This is why we carve.

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Watermelon Sushi

Every melon tells a story.

Was it plucked from the vine too soon? Or left to linger too long in the weeds? Does it carry the battle scars of youth into its plump old age or is its wizened skin pocked with fresh victories?

Our job, as those who carve the melon, is to slice away those scars. With each stroke of our knife we carve away another distortion, another half-truth, another falsehood from the melon’s purest essence, which awaits us at the fruit’s core. There, in fleshy pink, is the melon’s central core; the truth of its melonness.

It survives there not in defiance of its stories, but in celebration of them.

This is why we carve, my child. This is why we carve.

Baby Mellon Gaia eatin' a melon!

Perspective in blue jeans.

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[Man in bill cap and dungaree coat, possibly a farmer] (LOC)

Perspective in blue jeans

It seems to me that the times when a man speaks out against injustice are the times that we should celebrate, not condemn that man.

A man picking at the scabs that have formed around the lesions left by an unjust attacker might not be pulling on the wound, he might just be healing it.

It would seem to me, that man, in any other time, and in any other context, might be called a hero.

He might be. If you’re brave enough to call him one.

Sports figures and supermen aren’t real. But warriors are.

May they always have the courage to soldier on.



April 27, 2012 \ Photo Attribution \ For Peter.