Remember Why

Recommending this Void Academy interview with my friend Treya Lam, as she reflects on the sustainability of being a musician.

As an introvert who is constantly working through issues of self worth as well as other mental health challenges, it is often challenging to carve out an authentic space in an oversaturated industry that generally celebrates the shiniest stars. The only way to work through this and stick to the marathon is to remember why I create music in the first place – to process and make sense of the chaos, to connect with and inspire others to help create a more compassionate and balanced world.

– Treya Lam

The Dickinson Bill Method, v. 2.0

In the fleeting memories of my childhood, there’s one moment that strikes me as weirdly formative.

It was a family reunion on my Dad’s side; I was maybe 12 years old. The collective – my parents, my Dad’s four siblings and their spouses, and an excessive number of my cousins – were grabbing breakfast at some forgettable restaurant.

As the meal ended, the adults got into a heated argument over who was going to pay the bill. There was a weird source of pride among the family about grabbing the bill, with an outright refusal to let anyone split it, to the point where it would nearly turn into a fist fight. Cards were drawn, cash was readied, fingers were pointed demanding others stand down. It was equal parts tense and hilarious.

The server came by, and someone asked for the check. And then, the punchline: my 80 year old grandmother had gotten up at the beginning of the meal and slipped the server her card, trumping everyone else.

This actually happened once in a Dickinson check battle.

If behavior has to be inherited from your family, there are worse ones to pick up than wanting to grab the check. As I rolled into adulthood, this became the ongoing game with my parents, for both me and Katie.  She once proudly blindsided my parents by grabbing the bill in the same way as my grandmother – forever after referred to as “pulling a Dickinson”.

This method has also proven somewhat useful when I’m out with friends, as years of being the Designated Bill Splitter when out in large groups has made me despise the practice. It’s easier/nicer to just pick up everything and tell everyone not to worry about it. (This goes doubly when I’ve picked the spot we’re hanging at, as sometimes my picks are not the most wallet conscious.)

There’s a roadblock, though: I’m not the only one who tries to do this. For the segment of my friends that want to do the same, or take offense at being told that everything’s cool, it can be considered an dick move. And so we start getting into battles about who’s grabbing the next check, or trying to keep a running total in the name of balance – and that sucks too.

So after some consideration and refinement, I’ve come up with what I will dub The Dickinson Bill Method 2.0. It greatly simplifies settling the bill, allows for acceptable contributions from those who want to contribute, and leaves everyone feeling reasonably good.

Life’s too short to fight with your friends over money.


The Dickinson Method 2.0

  1. One member of the party will pick up the bill, in full, including tip. We will refer to this person as the Payer.
  2. Other members of the party (The Party) are told that while the bill has been covered, they can contribute what they feel comfortable giving and/or what they think they owe to the Payer.
  3. Members of the Party are not allowed to look at the bill, either in sum or in detail, to try and crunch an exact amount they owe. Contributions must be made off gut feeling.
  4. Because contributions are optional and made off of gut feeling, the Payer may not indicate that a contribution is “too low” or “too high”. No grudges may be held by any person over the size of a contribution.
  5. Contributions can be made by whatever method is acceptable to the Payer. If using cash, $1 bills may not be exchanged. (No one wants a wallet full of singles.)
  6. If the outing consists of multiple locations with multiple bills, the same Payer should pay for all stops, with contributions being made when the last bill for the outing arrives.

Loyal To My Sorrowful Country

Eight years ago, immediately following the first election of Barack Obama, I wrote a blog piece entitled The Great Release. While I had memories of writing it, I hadn’t re-read it in the years since.

The short version of the post: it had been around eight years since I had started this blog; writing was my catharsis, and I wrote to ensure I couldn’t forget the emotions I felt on that night.

Those exact emotions, I had forgotten. Sure, there were symbolic actions (“as the tears came to my eye”) and (now) foolish declarations that the country had “spoken resoundingly” and rejected fear mongering. But the description of those eight years under Bush felt like a repressed memory:

I can not ever forget what the last eight years have done to this country. It has divided us, such that my own relatives feel that calling me a “commie pinko” is acceptable discourse. It has destroyed our good standing around the world. It has warped our values: intelligence and eloquence had become something that we no longer wanted in our leaders.

So. Here we are again. Back where we started, as though the last eight years not only hadn’t happened but had somehow caused us to backslide. Our international good standing is shattered, buffered slightly by the UK beating us to the punch some months ago. Our values have warped farther, where playing to hateful views is not only viable enough to win you the nomination, but the presidency as well. And the “commie pinko” comment from one of my in-laws was not merely said but screamed at my wife last night.

Unlike eight years ago, my emotional spectrum over the last twenty four hours doesn’t feel worth jotting down in detail. Dread, regret, sadness, indignation, exhaustion – they all eventually gave way to knowing the sun would come up and the world around me would try to find a way to continue. (As I grow older, my emotional range in narrowing; less jittery highs and lows, more smooth curves.)

The emotion I do want to focus on is the recurring theme as I check in on my friends: heartbreak and resolve.

There’s the heartbreak of my LGBTQ friends who now will wait in fear for the inevitable rolling back of their rights.

There’s the heartbreak of my married friends who have to find a way to explain this to their kids.

There’s the heartbreak of my female friends who are terrified that birth control will be outlawed.

There’s the heartbreak of my immigrant friends who have had their impressions of what this country represented fractured.

There’s the heartbreak of friends who have to face antagonistic family over the holidays, who now feel empowered to spew hate about minorities, immigrants, and imagined threats.

The heartbreak was pretty uniform, but a collective resolve is showing through soon after. Whether that’s resolve to protest, resolve to work to understand the other side, or resolve to dedicate themselves to a cause, it’s starting to show up in my conversations as much as that initial heartbreak. There’s not talk about “second amendment solutions”, little serious talk about running away to Canada – everyone’s just ready to put in the work. Society can’t change on its own.

As for me: while I need to figure out a path to make a difference on my area of biggest concern (trying to reverse decades of slow-building voter suppression efforts), the thing I’m going to focus on for now is supporting the people I care for. Despite 2016 having plenty of low points, I refuse to lose sight of the incredible group of people I get to call my circle of friends.

So to the older version of myself, who will eventually pull this post up in a future election cycles: remember that you don’t win every time. Remember that what feels like progress can disappear in the blink of an eye. Remember to put in the work. And remember to be there to help with the heartbreak, because that is when you may be needed the most.


When I wrote that piece eight years ago, I chose a fairly deep cut from the LCD Soundsystem discography for the post title. The lyrics may not have worked as well as the title did, but it stuck enough to make it through.

This year’s post comes from a 2003 Ted Leo song. The lyrics work better here, but they’re slightly at conflict with the title of the song:

No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country

And I’ve walked from coast to coast
And I’ve seen, yes I’ve seen…
No one’s business but my own
Where I’ve been, where I’ve been…

And no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country

In the days when we were young
We were free, we were free…
Now that Georgie’s reign’s begun
We won’t be, we can’t be…

And no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country

Though I’ve lived my bygone years
In this land, in this land…
I’ll uproot it without tears
And I’ll change it if I can!

And, no more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country
No more shall I be, loyal to my sorrowful country