Reflecting on a Year of “Daily” Haiku

It’s been a year since I’ve taken on the challenge to write a haiku everyday. Before 2014-11-19, I was only writing a haiku tweet about once a month. I had only starting writing haiku tweets in 2014 after my grandpa passed away. On 2014-10-01, I wrote my first haiku tweet in over 10 months.

Huge air shuts my book/
They say that, “The wind rises! /
We must try to live!”

The haiku was a reference to the poem The Graveyard by the Sea and the movie The Wind Rises, which I had recently seen. The passage I sampled from had to do with living even in the face of death, which was salient with losing my grandpa.

The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!
The huge air opens and shuts my book: the wave
Dares to explode out of the rocks in reeking
Spray. Fly away, my sun-bewildered pages!
Break, waves! Break up with your rejoicing surges
This quiet roof where sails like doves were pecking.


I followed the 2014-10-01 post up with one on the first of November, 2014-11-01, all about visioning.

Go The Artist’s Way/
“Where will you be in five years?”/
Answer truthfully

Then on 2014-11-19, I decided to write haiku daily, or at least try to meet that goal. For a month up until that date, I had much lower energy than I was used to. I was, in parallel, facing the aftermath of losing my mentor and patriarch, feeling the pressure of a new job, and reeling from a relationship that didn’t work out. I needed something to do that would keep my brain busy. I needed a creative outlet that could help me find my voice again. I already had the haiku Twitter, and I’d written a number of haiku as a fundraiser, so it was familiar enough to keep going, but challenging enough to increase the frequency.

Writing 5-7-5 everyday is hard, at least to write haiku that mean anything. I could have cheated and just assembled random seventeen syllables each time, but I wanted each poem to represent something I’d seen or felt. I think some of the haiku turned out beautifully, and some are a stretch. I found that several haiku talked about the same subjects and ideas. Sometimes I had to resort to clip shows.

As of today, I have written 301 haiku on the daily cadence. There are a few more I squeezed in the next day after I missed a day, but I’m not counting those. I’d like to share some of my favorites from the exercise below. They aren’t ranked, and they may not even be the best of the batch. But I think they’re worth sharing.

1. This haiku (2014-12-20) is a translation of John Steinbeck’s letter to his son and some thoughtful advice on relationships. This advice has helped me get through some seemingly rougher times.

Main thing: not to hurry/
If it is right it happens/
Good won’t get away

The original words:

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
—John Steinbeck, to his son Thom

2. This haiku (2015-01-05) was my reflection on the book Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. I volunteer as a store clerk in a fake robot store that is actually a nonprofit tutoring and writing center. This haiku made the newsletter there.

Robots don’t need sleep/
They can do your job, better/
Player Piano

3. In this haiku (2015-01-08), I was upset about the relatively low temperature outside.

Check if Fahrenheit/
Indeed, still zero degrees/
My scarf needs a scarf

4. This haiku (2015-02-15) turned out to be advice, as I found several others in this series to be. They feel kind of like fortune cookies. This is advice about learning.

Slow cook mastery/
Broil not, lest lesson be singed/
All good things take time

5. This haiku (2014-02-17) is about a quiet, starry night.

No wind, stars are loud/
Gripped by wonder, vast blackness/
Ghosts of long dead suns

6. Two pieces of advice within a week. Maybe I needed some inspiration and comfort when I wrote this haiku (2015-02-21). I get some comfort in reading it again.

Move at your own pace/
Be good at being alone/
Then it’s not lonely

7. I wrote this haiku (2015-03-05) on the day I celebrate as “my favorite day of the year”. (There’s no particular reason it’s my favorite date of the year. I do think it’s important to have such a date. For some people it’s Halloween or Christmas or the first day of summer.) It’s about timeless moments. Note that I accidentally put the line break after the last line. Is there more to this poem?

Short breathlessness, peace/
Rare bird spotted once in life/
Elusive feeling/

8. I wrote this haiku (2015-03-08) about winter’s retreat, which seems nice given that I’m currently looking out at the first snowfall of the year as I write this.

Chrome sky, soft mauve, blue/
Air thick, sweet with snow’s retreat/
Dripping percussion

9. This haiku (2015-03-09) sampled from A Tribe Called Quest’s track Push It Along, which itself sampled from Grover Washington, Jr. It’s about keeping at it, like Sisyphus. I read Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus that winter, and I had learned to appreciate tenacity even in the face of futility. The absurd hero pushes the boulder along.

In my way, a boulder/
Strength in character, not arms/
Just push it along

10. This haiku (2015-03-18) is about naked trees and their gnarly branches. I see in trees a lot of personality, mostly in their shape and not actions.

Inverted talons/
Witchy claws scrape baby blue/
Begging for new leaves

11. This haiku (2015-03-20) creates a metaphor out of dealing with difficult situations. Louis C.K. is very good at observing true things (and thus very funny), and he advocates that knowing how to sit with pain and sadness is how to be a person.

Acceptance as moss/
Sit with it and it’s pleasant/
Know your own way north

12. This haiku (2015-04-04) is about the rise of spring and the surprises buried beneath the snow. When I first learned about haiku, the samples I read were usually about seasons and nature. I think these are important ones to highlight in this series.

Branches a-dancing/
Rich spring soil beneath leaves/
Wind blows fall away

13. I wrote this haiku (2015-04-19) while feeling sad during my road trip through the southern United States. I had stayed in some hotel rooms by myself, with very populous cities outside. I thought about the millions of people surrounding me and how I didn’t want to meet any of them. I looked out my hotel window at a skyline I didn’t recognize, and I hated the skyscrapers I saw. Conceptually and architecturally they were impressive, but by that time I’d seen building after building in different cities, and they were all starting to look the same: just metal, concrete, and glass. My best friend P says, “Home is the skyline you smile at.” This wasn’t home.

City far away/
Buildings are generic blocks/
Hotel room quiet

14. I wrote this haiku (2015-05-25) about a stunning mutt named Zeke.

Soft, cool plot of grass/
Gallop gives to gravity/
Dog day afternoon

15. I wrote this haiku (2015-06-22) in thinking about the joy of exploration. When I was little, the forest outside my grandparents’ cottage seemed to unfold larger and larger as I walked through it. That forest is now someone’s property with dusty driveways and not the fresh, untrodden paths I once knew and still yearn for.

Loamy, twiggy floor/
Soft, wild, and new to the step/
Undiscovered glade

16. This haiku (2015-06-26) is about Lake Michigan at night, to my left as I was driving to my grandparents’ old cottage. The moon had risen white, and the small waves on the lake were picking up its quiet, clear light.

Licorice lakeshore/
Ripples like vigil candles/
Soft and sure in dark

17. One common trait among haiku in this series is the subject: clouds. I hadn’t before recorded how often I look out windows at clouds, for significant lengths of time, and it became very clear that’s my most practiced hobby after writing so many haiku about it. This one (2015-07-17) is one of my favorite “cloud haiku”, in that it doesn’t have the word “cloud” in it, and it doesn’t need a picture of a cloud to support it, but a nice picture is attached anyway. (Most of these cloud haiku have an associated cloud picture attached, but I think the haiku should stand on its own.)

Turquoise shines from soot/
Late day sky ponders next move/
Lumbering liftoff

18. This haiku (2015-07-29) is another “cloud haiku” that doesn’t mention “cloud”, but finds ways to express what I’m seeing in metaphor.

Suspend in gray clay/
Sun is somewhere, butter spread/
Ambiguous light

19. This haiku (2015-09-04) is another “advice haiku” about using the right words.

Diction is a knife/
Too sharp, certain injury/
Honed just right, a tool

20. I have a fascination with rivers. When I stopped going to church, my temple became the riverbanks. I wrote this haiku (2015-09-09) to express my reverence.

Rivers never end/
To sea, to rise, and to fall/
Infinity stream

21. This haiku (2015-09-10) is about “the little things”. It’s also about my grandpa going on a walk with me through the woods on a cool summer morning when I was maybe 8. He told me to look closely at the sparkling morning dew on a spider web below a fern along the trail. I’ve been looking at those kinds of details ever since.

“Is all common, base?”/
“Have you seen the morning dew?/
There’s no rarer gem”

22. This haiku (2015-10-13) is about a dream I had the previous night, where I was lost at sea and questioning some of my values.

Silent sea beckons/
Great water doesn’t douse your/
Roaring inner flame

23. I wrote this haiku (2015-10-27) about the impermanence of the beauty of fall. Some people living near deciduous trees make rituals out of seeing them in their traffic light state. I’m one such observer. About 10 years ago I remember falling to the ground as one of my crutches landed incorrectly, and I didn’t get up because I was lost in the golden leaves of a tree. I was feeling a similar awe when I wrote this.

Rush and lust for gold/
Great treasure needs reverence/
So impermanent

24. Precisely one year after I started this practice, I wrote this haiku (2015-11-19) about the practice itself. I think to live up to the phrase, “We must try to live!” we have to do more than merely passively survive, but create artifacts, ideas, and practices that can help and inspire others. (The owner of a local bookstore here replies to “That author has a gift!” with “No, he has a practice.”)

Create or consume?/
The former a firmer stance/
Against entropy

25. I wrote this haiku (2015-11-21) at the first snowfall of the season, rounding out the weather observances for the year.

Light and sound diffused/
All will be immobile soon/
As silver dust falls

That’s it for the highlights, but there are plenty more haiku available at my Twitter page, @ArthurHovinc.

I intend to continue the “daily” haiku practice for the rest of the year. I’ll decide then if I want to keep the frequency into the new year, or resume a monthly contribution.


Insomnia Log 8

There’s the whir of air escaping into an abyss in my bedroom. The vent normally blows in cool air this time of summer, but right now air seems to be leaving out through it into nowhere. It’s about the same sound you hear when you listen into the deep hole of a composting toilet, which I also think is a portal to the Abyss. As my best good friend P and I know from watching As Above, So Below, there are some unconventional ways to get to the underworld if you only look hard enough. Or listen hard enough.

I think a lot about the legacy we leave when we die. This has probably been amplified by several important family members dying in the past couple years. In my pocket notebook I once wrote, “I always think, if I die, someone has to deal with my Speedy Rewards card.” This blog would probably never be updated again if the person known as “Matt Lauer” were to die. Even trivial things like my website or my unused Wikipedia accounts are digital refuse that live on long after the animate maters of me is gone. Digital ghosts. Facebook offers some feature for others to suggest deletion of the accounts of the deceased. That has to be strange to perform. I don’t even tell most people I have four Twitter accounts. How will anyone know to delete those? Or will they just pile up like in the dark memory dump of Riley’s mind? I was reading about Frances Cobain tonight, about how former Nirvana members see her dad living on through her, while others idolize him even though neither she nor they really knew him. That’s the only form of afterlife that makes sense to me, and it’s pretty Absurd.

Sometimes dead relationships also suffer a digital haunting. Two of my friends from Dallas liked each other very much and eventually got engaged. They made a wedding website through a service called The Knot that told their story and details about their wedding ceremony and reception in fabulous San Francisco. I visited that site tonight and read “11 days to go!” there. Except this couple is no longer together. I was one of the last of our friend group to know. One day I noticed one of the people in this relationship was no longer Facebook friends with most of our old Dallas crew (previously our “Mutual Friends” on FB). I remember seeing the wedding site years ago but never got a formal invite. I asked this person what was happening. They ended the engagement. I got more of the story when I visited Dallas this past spring (post coming soon I swear!), and I understood why the old crew detached. How strange that in some digital parallel universe the clock is still ticking for this couple to be wed and I’m probably stressing out about dry cleaning my suit.

Speaking of San Francisco, you should see Inside Out if you haven’t already. I can’t remember the last new movie I watched that had had me tearing up at multiple moments for multiple viewings of the movie (and it is worth multiple viewings). P changed his shirt that said, “Bring back Bernie Mac” to “Bring back Bing Bong”. You’ll understand that after watching the movie. Go tomorrow! I used to like WALL•E and Up the most of the Pixar crop, but I’m now more aware that I really just love the beginnings of those movies (and their remainders I think are just fine, but not moving). (Somewhere (where?!) I read that the dividing line between mere entertainment and art is in its ability to help us understand the human condition.) I think the beginnings of WALL•E and Up should be their own short films, both pretty tragic. Inside Out, on the other hand, is just as affecting (moving) as the beginnings of WALL•E and Up while still being genuinely funny, smart, relatable, and intriguing for the entire runtime. There are other Pixar films that hold up for the whole movie, but I don’t think they have the same poesy as a film entirely about emotions, family, coping, and loss. While other Pixar films primarily focus on the things that bring us joy (a good thing for whole-family movies), Inside Out (literally) turns the spotlight to sadness as an important and neglected emotion that must be felt to be truly human. It helps us connect with the people we love when we need to be loved. I’m going to say this so that it’s somewhere on the Internet for those whose search for these kinds of opinions: Inside Out is my favorite Pixar movie.

Blue or Kind Of Blue has a Sunny Border Blue,

Insomnia Log 7

It’s that time of the night when the only thing I can think to do is write. This seems to regularly happen after a decent streak of nights of going to bed “on time”. Maybe I feel defeated about missing “bed time” one night and just stay up with an attitude of apathy. I don’t think that’s all of it, because I’m not yawning or feeling that heavy sack-of-sand feeling in my head, so I’m also not physically tired.

I’ve got The 88 stuck in my head but I’m happy to have them as guests. OC is OK with me. Before that I was listening to how quiet it was in this room. I couldn’t tell if what I was hearing was coming from my head or the space around me. Sort of like how when it’s dark enough black looks black with your eyes opened or closed. Sort of like how dark it is in the room except for this lighted screen.

A mentor of mine at work reminded me on Monday that it will always take a long time for anyone’s impression to change of anyone else. Put another way, trust is built slowly like habits, but it shatters like porcelain with a few mistakes. I won’t go into those mistakes here, but I’ve got some habits to work in that I think will allow my coworkers to trust me as one of their own. These will take time to develop. I think I often want instant results, but there’s no magic pill or “program” that I can throw money at. (Believe me, I’ve thrown some serious money at “programs” before. The lasting effect has always been, “Wow, I guess I really should do that,” while leaving it to me to do the work on it. No quick fix.) I think it will work the same way that I don’t realize how much my hair grows in a day but notice it over a few months. (I don’t cut my hair very often.) And yet, according to Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

I realized this the other day: I think it’s challenging my ego and self-esteem to have so much “constructive” feedback from coworkers all the time, but I think I prefer it to the non-feedback I used to get on the job. “Yeah, you’re doing fine. [“Fine.” No better way to sound insincere.] Just keep doing what you’re doing.” There’s no path for growth or mastery there! A book I’m leafing through called Apprenticeship Patterns (appropriate for me as an apprentice in this company) suggests to “Be The Worst”. To surround myself with people who are far above my level and gain whatever I can from them. Seems like it would work like learning a foreign language by immersion in another country, immensely stressful at first, but builds a language in my brain out of necessity rather than sheer willpower (which I know is a limited resource I’m good at burning through). I think while I’m still “learning the lingo” I’m going to be stressed because I don’t know how to speak yet.

I’ll need to accept that I have some shortcomings as a developer.  Some are inherent to my character, because whether we call traits “strengths” or “weaknesses” are just labels for perceptions of how common inner mental structures affect other things. In that way, my strengths lead to my weaknesses, and vice versa. I’ll do what I can to go further than my short arms can currently reach. Until I’ve developed confidence in this “pattern language”, as the book calls it, I’ll look to this image for inspiration.

You can do anything.
The sun’s the closest star, but it’s dang dark,

Insomnia Log 6


I owe you some more blog posts about my spring road trip but you aren’t going to get them right away. Soon enough. I’ve at least been thinking about writing them recently as opposed to not thinking about them recently. Patience.

I wish I had patience. I think at my core is rage that I try to prevent from feeling. I nod and say, “Mm,” when I really want to say, “No, that’s not correct,” or, “That’s terrible.” My good friend P and I talked on the phone last night and agreed we need to stop more pointless conversation in its tracks. Simply halt the speaker and say, “OK. We can talk more about that after you change your shirt. Why are you wearing that shirt? Why did you think that was a good idea?” Flip something pointless on its head with something equally irrelevant. If they actually change their shirt they care enough to deserve your attention.

I haven’t felt so angry in probably months, which might be what is causing this sleeplessness and stream of unedited words. Dawna Markova says, “Rage is passion without choice.” It feels like a spit of gasoline into the engine. If Color Theory (more on this another time) is to be trusted, and I think it is, rage is composed of the colors black and red, where black represents one’s own ambition and power and red represents one’s emotions. We use words like “ardent” to describe someone’s passion, and the feel is fiery, which is also very red. Red is about creativity and emotion; I just worry about its pairing with my own ego and power, manifesting in anger. It’s a potent fuel, no doubt.

I’ve continued with my mostly daily haiku on my Twitter. I missed up to five days at a time, but I keep coming back to it. I like the challenge. For my grandpa, for whom we just this weekend held a memorial service, I dedicate every day of the remaining half of the year that I will write a haiku, a poetic (thus red, but controlled, with choice) expression to help channel the anger I have that he’s gone. I felt that this weekend. I clutched my magic egg (a lucky charm, more on this another time) as “Taps” played, my throat tight with strained tracheal cartilage and my face a frown canyon. I looked at some of the treasure maps my grandpa and I made year after year for a forest that no longer stands where now rest pole barns and snowmobiles. I miss him so much. I want to live a life as great as his and often worry I won’t. I want to walk in the woods again with him, him pointing out the morning dew beading on old spider webs below ferns, white light and long shadows abundant. It can’t happen. I remember collapsing in front of an angel statue the last time I saw him, fingernails piercing palms, so angry that anything could take someone so great away. I want to keep channeling this rage in a creative way.

There’s another reason I started writing these haiku. One that I’m now ashamed to admit but think I must admit at this point. Most longer term projects of mine kick off because I’m upset that someone doesn’t reciprocate my feelings for them. I created Behold The Cheese as a way to cope with longing for someone. I learned Graph Theory and developed Color Theory from it as a way to take my mind off someone else. And I took on the poetic challenge as a way to deal with rage about my grandpa and rage about someone who left me with feelings of withdrawal. I directed so much of the latter anger toward myself for months after I stopped seeing her, after conversation previously held everyday abruptly stopped. I believed that there were things wrong with me that were keeping me all alone, that I wasn’t funny enough or strong enough or that I was too obsessive. I compulsively ate and drank without realizing I was over my limit. I sighed, so much. I created such a narrative about this person in my head that thoughts continued on far longer than I expected them to. I felt haunted. I kept thinking of reasons why this person was justified and I needed fixing.

I don’t need fixing. I’m not broken. (I sense my own power in writing that.) I don’t want to diminish myself anymore. I don’t want one person’s rejection of me to bring down my esteem and affect relationships that matter far more. I deserve love.

P asked me if this person liked me for the reasons he likes me (that is, for my real self). I didn’t have a good answer back then. The answer is probably no. The people who really like me say, “Never change.” They tell me they miss me and wish I were there.

I am also angry about some comments I’ve received on my appearance and beliefs. I received both from a teenager who probably doesn’t know any better, but that doesn’t defuse my immediate emotional response. I don’t like being called “Jesus” mockingly, especially because Jesus probably didn’t look anything like my mostly Nordic self. I don’t like being called “Sasquatch” while I’m staring at my grandfather’s urn about to be buried, the last time I would ever see his physical form, though dust. He said, “Whoa, it’s Saquatch! Let me get your picture!” pulling out his phone while I was sobbing and sullen about my fallen hero. I’m sorry, that’s disgusting. That’s asocial. I don’t ever like hearing gay jokes, but especially not from a punk teenager as I’m celebrating marriage equality with my Facebook profile picture. I hope this person reads this when he grows up and realizes what a shit he was.

I have a tendency to get carried away. “Matting out” is the present participle coined for this excited behavior. I can be vocal and loud about things. Some people like it, some people cover their ears. I think it’s one of my greatest strengths and a simultaneous weakness (but I believe strengths and weaknesses are intricately tied). It sometimes leads me to think more about another person than can be reasonably reciprocated, which leads to me being alone. But it sometimes also leads to one hundred something haiku produced so far this year, or over 5,000 miles traveled across these United States in two weeks. Sometimes it leads to twenty mile walks which result in deep insights to my brain and brewing of lavish life philosophies. Sometimes it leads me to inexplicable sobbing, or at least looking out windows for hours wistfully. Sometimes it leads to lengthy rants like this one.

The more I use up this anger rocket fuel in creative projects, the better.

Black and red all over,


Road Trip Log: Delay in Updates

Hello, readers. I’ve woken up alive and rested in Raleigh, NC, soon to grab some of my favorite maffé sauce, and then I’ll drive north to DC.

I’m sorry this blog hasn’t been updated as I go from place to place on my road trip; it started that way, but over the past several days I haven’t found the time to update in the kind of detail I want to share. I sacrificed valuable writing and reflection time to see six concerts in six separate cities in a row. There’s plenty to share when I find time to sit down and write and actually have the energy to do it.

Know that I am safe and still making all the dates on my tour poster. If I haven’t seen you yet, I’ll see you soon. If I have seen you, you’re great! Let’s do it again sometime!

Lots of updates next week,


Road Trip Log: I-40 and I-30 West

The beginning of a very, very long leg of the trip
The beginning of a very, very long leg of the trip

Tennessee is longer than you think it is. I’d make a corollary for Hofstadter’s law to say this:

Corollary for Hofstadter’s law: Tennessee takes longer to drive than you think it does, even when taking into account the Corollary for Hofstadter’s law.

To be fair, Tennessee was only a little more than half of the distance I needed to cover.

The distance I needed to cover
The distance I needed to cover between “tour stops”
A reasonable amount to travel in one day?

There was rain and construction most the way on I-40 west. Fortunately fog and pink redbuds made the drive scenic even when I was halted to a stop.

Not a good sign when you see red tail lights and one lane of traffic.
Not a good sign when you see red tail lights and one lane of traffic.
Fog and redbuds, both lovely
Fog and redbuds, both lovely

Long after the sun had set and I continued on, not even close to being through Tennessee, Nashville appeared as ghostly lights through the rain. My legs were starting to get antsy and I was happy to stop driving, even in this ghost city.

Ghost Nashville
Ghost Nashville

Sidebar: I have a trick for finding the most interesting spots of any city: search for vegan restaurants nearby. You usually find two categories of vegan restaurants:

  1. Asian restaurants serving mostly vegetables and vegan beef and chicken (sometimes vegan eggs, too; My good friend T had some and didn’t think they were like eggs at all), and
  2. Very hip, ethical vegetarian/vegan places in very hip parts of town.

I’d only driven past Nashville in the past to head west (or east) to (or from) Dallas, TX. I wanted to dip into the city a little bit and get a feel for what it might be like. I tried the vegan restaurant trick by using Yelp near Nashville. I found a place called The Wild Cow. Seemed like a pleasant residential area around that restaurant. I feel like I hit the jackpot every time I see tattoos and blue hair. And not only that, the food and scene were both delectable.

A view from the counter at The Wild Cow in Nashville. Haha, "Hail Seitan".
A view from the counter at The Wild Cow in Nashville. Haha, “Hail Seitan”.
A vegan variant for the Wild Reuben at The Wild Cow. A vegan Reuben?! You betcha.
A vegan variant for the Wild Reuben at The Wild Cow. A vegan Reuben?! You betcha.

I stayed the night in Memphis after getting very, very tired of driving through the car wash that was weather over Tennessee.

Adverse weather conditions and darkness do not make for a pleasant drive.
Adverse weather conditions and darkness do not make for a pleasant drive.

Little Rock was a beacon of hope while driving the next day. I only had a little longer to go before finally making it to Texas. The sky was clearing up. I filled up on gas there and marked another merit badge in the dirt coat my car was wearing.

Sunny and shiny Little Rock, AR
Sunny and shiny Little Rock, AR
Ohio and Tennessee, COMPLETED!
Ohio and Tennessee, COMPLETED!

I traveled along I-30 long enough and sure enough eventually made it to Texas. I put on some Throwing Muses albums, looked out at the silver sky, and felt tingling elation. After two years away, I was back to see my old stomping grounds and friends and coworkers.

Suddenly everything was bigger.
Suddenly everything was bigger.
The last major stretch into Dallas. The surrounding area is called Rockwall. I could see Dallas's skyscrapers in the distance here, but I guess the camera didn't pick them up.
The last major stretch into Dallas. The surrounding area is called Rockwall. I could see Dallas’s skyscrapers in the distance here, but I guess the camera didn’t pick them up.

Up next: an entry on the fun in Dallas, TX and surrounding area.

My back hurts,

Road Trip Log: Appalachia (KY, TN, NC)

A sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, NC
A sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, NC

There’s something about mountains that really magnetizes me to them. When I was little, I had these dreams that mountains magically appeared in my backyard. Having grown up in the Midwest, the greatest changes in elevation I was used to were tires popping into potholes. Mountains beckoned me last summer as I drove east from Seattle through the Cascades, and then again into the Rockies of Montana and Alberta. I knew I wanted to see the Appalachians this time around.

These are the Cascades in Washington. Don't get too excited.
These are the Cascades in Washington. But what if you woke up and saw them in your backyard out of nowhere?!

Heading south from Cincinnati, the other side of the Ohio River is Kentucky, a land of good basketball teams and fried chicken. I didn’t spend much time there, as my next planned stop on the tour poster was Kingsport, TN, and I intended to get there quickly so I could spend more time with my kin there. But there are a couple notables from Kentucky.

Florence, y'all
Florence, y’all
This cloud was impressive.
This cloud was impressive.

I took the route south through Lexington, KY. I got into some rolling hills and forest in southwest Kentucky, part of Daniel Boone National Forest.

The 6 hour alternate route looks boring, but I could be wrong about that.
The 6 hour alternate route looks boring, but I could be wrong about that.
2015-04-11 19.53.36
Wooded, rolling hills

There’s a fascinating part of this trail that goes through three states in a very short distance, called the Cumberland Gap. You’ll be in Kentucky, then Tennessee, then Virginia, all in a matter of minutes.


Welcome to Tennessee!
Welcome to Tennessee!
Haha, just kidding! You're in Virginia now!
Haha, just kidding! You’re in Virginia now!
Sunset over Cumberland Gap
Sunset over Cumberland Gap

The sunset beauty around the Cumberland Gap behind me, US-58 through Virginia felt like a roller coaster in the dark, a Space Mountain. Along US-58, I experienced my first DUI checkpoint, two flashing blue cop cars on each side of the highway. “Uh, Officer,” I said, “What is this?” He flashed a light in my eyes, looked at my clearly-not-Virginia license, and let me through. Apparently I was not drunk.

US-23 south spiraled through some more mountainsides, passing by Food Lion, Food City, and Food Country stores, and then I was in Kingsport, TN. A few wrong turns through town and I finally made it to my kin’s renovated farmhouse on a hill. I was welcomed with sushi and a local IPA. Feeling full in all regards, I fell into pillowy bed and collected four times as many sleeping hours as I had the previous two nights.

Cozy farmhouse living
Cozy farmhouse living
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Neat old bathtub and the second cat on my journey, Gabriella

I started my day nice and slowly in the fairly luxurious “spare” bedroom. The room had a couch where I typed up the previous entry, a coffee nook with several K-cup flavors, a bathroom with all the amenities. I doubt I’ll stay in any room that nice for the remainder of the trip.

This is what you find under "Southern hospitality" in the dictionary.
This is what you find under “Southern hospitality” in the dictionary.
Lazy Sunday southern breakfast
Lazy Sunday southern breakfast

My kin and I went on a hike after breakfast around Bays Mountain. I love hiking through the woods. Plenty of fine vistas around the Kingsport Reservoir, which was historically the fresh water supply for Kingsport, TN.

View from behind a naturally occurring dam at the Kingsport Reservoir atop Bays Mountain
View from behind a naturally occurring dam at the Kingsport Reservoir atop Bays Mountain

I drove south to Asheville after a warm goodbye to my kin. It feels good to know I have such a comforting place to stay in Appalachia.

After I parked near my friend W’s house in Asheville, I ate dinner at Plant on Asheville’s north side. Some of the most delicious food I’ve had, let alone vegan food.

Lemongrass seitan, with a winter squash puree, baby bok choy, fermented black lentils, cashews, and pickled daikon radish
Lemongrass seitan, with a winter squash puree, baby bok choy, fermented black lentils, cashews, and pickled daikon radish

I walked south through Asheville’s downtown to the River Arts District (RAD). I immediately felt at home seeing a high relative density of plaid shirts worn. Asheville is a very pretty city. So many colors!

Modern architecture reflecting sunset
Modern architecture reflecting sunset
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Turquoise and periwinkle buildings
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Blue, olive, and yellow buildings

I decided to get a beer at Wedge Brewing, a beer garden and brewery in the RAD I heard good things about. I thoroughly enjoyed their IPA and their peaty Scotch ale. Both cooled me down from how sweaty I’d been walking that way.

Eventually my friend W made it to Wedge and we caught up. It was nice to sit outside with beer and chat, something I haven’t been able to do in the Midwest since last September. We headed to Wicked Weed Brewing afterward and enjoyed some sour beers produced by their offshoot Funkatorium.

I had fragmented sleep on W’s futon because a cat named Hazel wanted to rub her head on my hands and face at all hours of the night. She was darn cute, so I let it happen. I’ve met three cats along this road trip so far, and I hope to meet more.

Oh, good morning to you too, Hazel.
Oh, good morning to you too, Hazel.

As I write this, I’m sitting at Izzy’s Coffee Den in downtown Asheville, NC. I’m planning out how I want to get to my next “planned” stop, Dallas, TX. Something like 14 hours of driving that I hope to split across a couple days. I hope there will be music blue, green kudzu, and barbecue along the way.

Ain’t no mountain high enough,

Road Trip Log: Ohio

"You must never go there, Simba." —Mufasa
“You must never go there, Simba.”

If you’re driving south into Ohio, do yourself a favor and avoid US-23 south for as long as possible. Yes, Google Maps suggests it is a shorter route by 10 minutes and 23 miles (distance and time may vary). Don’t fall for it.

Or you could fly for only $451!!!

If you go that route, you will be forced to drive through rural Ohio, including the bizarre Fostoria. Here is what you can look forward to on that route.

55 mph with periodic traffic lights THE WHOLE WAY
55 mph with periodic traffic lights THE WHOLE WAY
This establishment is Butt Hut, selling tobacco. "Great Deals on Great Butts." :sigh:
This establishment is Butt Hut, selling tobacco. “Great Deals on Great Butts.” :sigh:
"Truckers welcome."
“Truckers welcome.”

The first “posted” stop on my road trip poster itinerary was Columbus, OH, in the Short North neighborhood. My best friend B and her husband live there with their furbabies. I hadn’t seen them since I officiated their wedding last July. (Search here for “Lauer” under last name. I’m available to perform your marriage ceremonies in Ohio.) It was great catching up.

We ate pizza and drank pitchers of beer at Hounddog’s.

I prefer dim lighting to ghostly green flash on food photos.
I prefer dim lighting to ghostly green flash on food photos.

We watched amusing and disturbing videos like Adult Swim’s Off The Air and captures of a Furby’s last moments.

The next morning we sat around taking in the morning light and chatting, and later ate at a cute Asian deli serving both vegan bagel sandwiches and spicy tuna bowls.

Townes Van Cat taking in the quiet Columbus morning
Townes Van Cat taking in the quiet Columbus morning
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Be sure to visit Cincinnati. Until last summer I thought the city was only pigs and P&G. Turns out I was mistaken. Cincy feels like an independent city state that happens to be in Ohio. My friend B was telling me that they designed it to be like New York City. I agreed that it smelled about the same.

Cincinnati’s architecture is classic and lovely. Some examples below.

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We need more clock towers. Sometimes I intentionally don’t have my watch or phone on me.
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There are two bicyclists in the middle of Main Street, in the shadows. Lots of bikes around, if you’re into that. Many people wear Reds apparel. Ohio is overall a very “red” state in terms of apparel.
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Down on Main Street

Definitely check out Main Street in Over-the-Rhine (OTR). Park + Vine is a general store and vegan cafe in OTR that satisfies me every time I visit. They serve vegan goetta, which is normally absolutely not vegan, a product of Cincy’s meat culture.

Worst State Ever? Nah,

Adventure Map for 2015 Road Trip

I’m following this rough map as I continue south then east then north on this road trip. So far I’m only at the first dot. Something like five days of driving to go, fortunately with things like eating, sleeping, and spending time with others in between.


I find it interesting how the shape of the path looks like a character from my old comic Behold The Cheese. This was not intentional. Also unintentional was how I wasn’t sleeping much the night before I started driving south. I swear.


The question is then, why go to all these places, in that order?

In Columbus, OH (my current location), I’m visiting one of my best friends, her husband, and their two animal children. We’ll eat, drink, and be merry.

In Kingsport, TN, I’m visiting family that I used to see once a year in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for family gatherings. Feels good to visit someone who normally makes the long drive. I’m looking forward to those blueish mountains too. So much so that I changed my phone wallpaper to be blue mountains.

In Asheville, NC, I’ll be mostly exploring around. I have a friend living there that I’ll probably have dinner with. Everyone keeps saying, “Oh man, Asheville’s great.” It’s time for me to find out why.

On the way between Asheville and Dallas, TX, I’m sure I’ll see some kudzu, country music, and hot springs. The days between are a little bit less planned intentionally.

In Dallas, I’ll be catching up with old coworkers and friends, and also seeing a show at the historic Granada Theater.

In Austin, I’ll be pretending to be hip and seeing a show at Stubb’s BBQ.

In Houston, I’ll be getting lost and seeing a show at Warehouse Live.

In New Orleans, I’ll be looking at architecture and musicians, while seeing more musicians at The Civic Theatre.

In Atlanta, I’ll spend time with my cousin whom I also normally only see once a year, and—you guessed it—seeing another show, this time at The Tabernacle.

In Raleigh, I’ll be looking for Maffé sauce. I’ll also be seeing a show at The Ritz, which is rated terribly on Yelp. I like going to places rated terribly and then being pleasantly surprised. Example: Lewis & Clark Motel in Bozeman, MT.

In DC, I’ll stop by 826DC, which is a sister nonprofit to the one I normally volunteer at, 826michigan. I also have family that lives around there.

NYC has so many BuzzFeed and Thrillist articles about what to do. I’m sure I’ll find a way to spend some hours. I better find a way to spend the night. 826NYC is also there, another sister nonprofit.

Finally, the last “planned” stop is Providence, RI to see a show at The Parlour. I love Rhode Island. I can’t wait for coffee milk and looking out at the water.

At some point I’ll drive back home, too.

Announcing The South by Southeast by East 2015 Road Trip

I’m hitting the road again. (And I’m also going by my real name for the duration of dates listed in the poster below.)


Thanks to Jen Harley, I’ve got a really attractive poster for a road trip I’m taking starting tomorrow. I think the design is really appealing. The compass rose at the top perfectly complements the name I decided on for this trip. She illustrated my car, a 2009 black Pontiac Vibe GT, fully prepared for road tripping, and also decked out in stickers representing the locations I’ll stop at. I’ve got a feeling that Appalachia is going to be one of my favorite stops, so I love that she made the mountains distinctly blue, a nod to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Appropriately, the license plate has my pen name on it. My real license plate is non-meaningful characters.

I commissioned this poster as both an informative flyer for friends and family to keep up to date and a keepsake for the adventure (along with miscellany I’m bound to collect along the way). I also worked with Jen to get handbill and Facebook banner form factors (pictured below).



Up next: a discussion of the adventure map and why I’m stopping at each place.

While some of y’all are waiting to order your Apple Watch in the middle of the night, I’ll be packing.
Art (Matt Lauer)