HYPOCRITE IDLER 2016
January 3, 2017
To idle is to work on meaningful and varied projects — and also to take it easy. (Like Nas, “I used to hustle/Now all I do is relax and strive.”) If you’re interested in my 2016 projects, please keep reading; otherwise, don’t! The title of this series of posts refers to this self-proclaimed idler’s hypocritical inability to take it easy.
TAKING IT EASY
I’m co-founder of a Boston- and New York-based branding and strategy agency: Semiovox LLC. Semiovox’s unique methodology validates and builds on semiotic analysis — which surfaces insights into the unspoken category and culture “codes” that consumers are unable to articulate — with empathetic, human-centered research techniques, from global immersions, in-the-moment ethnographies, shop-alongs, and co-creation labs… going all the way, in some cases, through concept design and consumer testing.
During 2016, in collaboration with partners in Brazil, Mexico, Japan, and elsewhere around the world, Semiovox’s researchers and analysts audited product categories from Cognac to Chewing Gum, and from Pet Food to Probiotic Drinks. Along the way, we cracked the codes of category-specific and cross-category higher-order benefits like Vibrant Optimism, Insatiable Cravings, Kitchen Cooking, and Precision Expertise.
For the benefit of global brand teams and their marketing and design agency partners, we led strategic workshops — focused on brand-building, communications, innovation, and pack design — in New York, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Here in Boston, Semiovox’s in-house research team continued to develop the SEMIODEX — a database of 80,000+ brand communications and pop culture phenomena, each meta-tagged according to, e.g., product category, cultural territory, tonality, color scheme, and emotion.
Since 2012, I’ve collaborated with my friends Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone on what we’ve taken to calling the UNBORED Project. We’ve published three acclaimed UNBORED books with Bloomsbury; and these days, we’re producing activity kits with the brainy toy/game/activity company MindWare. During 4Q2016, the UNBORED team finished up not one but two new activity kits — they’ll debut at the American International Toy Fair in February!
The UNBORED Carnival kit includes everything you’ll need — from prize tickets and a barker’s megaphone to midway game equipment (Ring Toss, Beanbag Toss, Water Blaster Target Shooting) — to stage an all-ages carnival, whether for charity or just for fun, right in your own backyard.
The UNBORED Time Capsule kit, meanwhile, encourages kids to think of themselves as historians and archivists of the present moment. The goal of this activity is to preserve artifacts, interview family and friends, and chronicle the way your life is now… for the benefit of the future.
Both kits were richly illustrated by the UNBORED Project’s Mister Reusch. Tony Leone and his assistant, Cara Ciardelli, figured out ingenious ways to use the kit packaging as part of the activity.
MindWare has already produced two UNBORED activity kits: UNBORED Treasure Hunt and UNBORED Disguises. (The magazine Family Fun named the UNBORED kits one of the best offerings at the 2015 American International Toy Fair; and they named UNBORED DISGUISES one of the Top Ten Toys of the year!) What’s next? We’ve proposed a line of MindWare craft kits aimed at boys and girls alike…
PLUS: Check out UNBORED’s new website — launched earlier this year.
During 2016, I wrote a couple hundred short posts for HILOBROW.
- BEST ADVENTURES: I published 16 new installments — each of which first appeared as 10 separate posts — in this series, which chronicles my ongoing attempt to identify the 10 best adventures from each year of the 20th century. Here they are: Best YYA Lit 1966 | 1906 | 1911 | 1916 | 1921 | 1926 | 1931 | 1936 | 1941 | 1946 | 1951 | 1956 | 1961 | 1971 | 1976 | 1981.
- RADIUM AGE 100. I finished up this series, which chronicles my attempt to identify the best 100 science fiction novels published during the genre’s Radium Age (1904–33), with 30+ installments in 2016. I’m grateful to ARS TECHNICA for writing a very nice story, in May, about the series.
- GOLDEN-AGE SCI-FI 75. During 2016, I began and finished this series, which chronicles my attempt to identify the best 75 science fiction novels published during the genre’s so-called Golden Age (1934–63). THANKS! to Boing Boing, for directing lots of sci-fi fans to the completed list.
- JOSHENILIA. I contributed 25+ posts to this series, which exhumes embarrassing documents, doodles, and photographs from my crazy, mixed-up files.
- CODE-X. I contributed 15 final posts to this semiotic series, which surfaced 100 of the “codes” that make up the a priori network of classifications, categories, and concepts through which each of us intuitively makes sense of… everything.
- ALSO. I contributed two GROK MY ENTHUSIASM series posts: about the SCOUT HOW BOOK and 1984’s THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER; an introduction to this summer’s QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM series; and a QUIRK post about Tim Curry’s “I Do the Rock”. In January, I wrote the final RONDEL FOR HILO HEROES; and in February, HILOBROW republished an essay I’d written, for the British journal New Escapologist, on the topic of the “Perfect Flâneur.”
PS: In her July 5th New York Times Magazine “First Words” column, which examines the notion of political “authenticity,” Jennifer Szalai quotes my apparently seminal 1999 essay on that topic, from the “Fake Authenticity” issue of what Szalai described as “the semiotics zine (yes, really) Hermenaut.”
I’m the editor and publisher, here at HILOBROW. To see what we’ve been up to this year — Adam McGovern’s THIS:, Lynn Peril’s PLANET OF PERIL, Alix Lambert’s SÉRIE NOIRE, Tom Nealon’s STUFFED, James Parker’s KALEVALA and THE BOURNE VARIATIONS, John Holbo’s ON BEYOND ZARATHUSTRA, Douglas Wolk’s LIMERICKANIA, and much more — please check out our BEST OF HILOBROW 2016 post.
Here, I’ll just mention three ambitious series that I edited in 2016.
Each week during 2016, we published a new installment in the GROK MY ENTHUSIASM series. I’m very grateful to GROK contributors Rob Wringham, Gordon Dahlquist, Joe Alterio, Adrienne Crew, Alix Lambert, Adam McGovern, Mark Kingwell, Erik Davis, Devin McKinney, Mimi Lipson, Jessamyn West, Brian Berger, Chelsey Johnson, Flourish Klink, Allegra Huston, Jenny Davidson, Evan Narcisse, Deborah Wassertzug, Chris Spurgeon, Mandy Keifetz, Annie Nocenti, Molly Sauter, William Nericcio, Dan Fox, Brandi Brown, Claire Lehmann, Alice Boone, Colin Dickey, Anshuman Iddamsetty, John Hilgart, John Overholt, James Hannaham, Jason Grote, Roxane Gay, Amy Thielen, and Steph Burt.
In August, we published our latest summer ENTHUSIASM series. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM featured 25 posts on the topic of our favorite New Wave songs from c. 1977–1982. I’m very grateful to QUIRK contributors Mark Kingwell, Joanne McNeil, Devin McKinney, Douglas Wolk, Elina Shatkin, Steph Burt, Greg Rowland, Gordon Dahlquist, Adrienne Crew, Jonathan Lethem, Molly Wright Steenson, Anthony Miller, Luc Sante, Mimi Lipson, Tim Carmody, Ingrid Schorr, Adam McGovern, Deb Chachra, Tor Aarestad, David Smay, Jessamyn West, Drew Daniel, Erik Davis, and Dan Fox.
During 1Q2016, we wrapped up the HERMENAUTIC TAROT series, a comic-book rorschach creative writing experiment in symbol-making and oracular speechifying. I’m very grateful to HERMENAUTIC TAROT’s 2016 contributors Luc Sante, Erik Davis, Devin McKinney, Dan Fox, Patrick Cates, Chris Spurgeon, Jenny Davidson, Lauren Oliver, Brian Berger, Tim Spencer, Chelsey Johnson, Alix Lambert, Ed Park, James Parker, and Amy Thielen.
My heartfelt thanks go out to all of HILOBROW’s contributors — and particularly to those who names are repeated multiple times in this post. You’re the best! It’s a real treat to work with you.
Late in 2016, Rob Walker and I set in motion a sequel, of sorts, to SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, our much-discussed 2009–2010 quasi-anthropological experiment (in which over 200 talented writers — including Sheila Heti, Nicholson Baker, Jenny Offill, Colson Whitehead, James Hannaham, Shelley Jackson, and Jonathan Lethem, for example — invented stories about worthless thrift-store items, then auctioned them off via eBay).
During 2017, Rob and I will publish 100 brand-new, nonfiction significant-object stories… right here at HILOBROW! The overall endeavor is code-named PROJECT:OBJECT. It will consist of four 25-story “volumes.” PROJECT:OBJECT’s first volume, POLITICAL OBJECTS, will kick off the day before Inauguration Day. Contributors to POLITICAL OBJECTS will include Tom Frank, Astra Taylor, Cathy Park Hong, Luc Sante, Lydia Millet, Ben Greenman, Rob Baedeker, Kathryn Davis, L.A. Kauffman, Alexis Madrigal, James Hannaham, Marisa Silver, Stephen Duncombe, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Rob Baedeker, and Carolina A. Miranda — a truly stellar lineup.
Stay tuned for announcements about 2017’s other three significant-object story volumes!
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018). 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE . ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.
The Hermenautic Circle is a secretive society managed by yours truly. I’m not at liberty to discuss the HC, but you can read what may or may not be a parodic version of our history here.
In the taking it easy department…
In February, Sam turned 18; and in June, he graduated from high school, highly decorated with athletic and academic honors! He spent most of the summer hiking in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s (Alaska) Hulahula valley area.
In April, Susan and I traveled to Phoenix, to celebrate the wedding of HiLobrow friend and contributor Marilyn Snell to Gregory Williams.
On Father’s Day, Rick Pinchera and our sons and I raised a couple thousand dollars for the terrific Boston-based organization Bikes Not Bombs.
In August, Susan and I did a little canoeing and camping in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.
In September, Sam headed to Bates College for his freshman year! Sam and his college friends have started a hand-knit winter hat company, called Chilly Willy.
Max and I celebrated our (49th and 16th) birthdays, on October 6 and 7.
According to YearinMusic.Spotify.com, here are some of the tracks I listened to most frequently in 2016: Paul McCartney’s “Heart of the Country,” The B-52’s’ “Dance This Mess Around,” The Cure’s “The Caterpillar,” The Ramones’ “Danny Says,” Teenage Fanclub’s “What You Do To Me,” Nick Cave’s “More News from Nowhere,” Scritti Politti’s “Wood Beez,” Lady Gaga’s “Angel Down,” Pylon’s “Cool,” and Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach.”
On to 2017!