Monday, February 27, 2017

Mark A. Peterson 1978-2017

I was surprised and astonished to hear of the passing of my online friend and real-life acquiantance Mark Peterson. After nearly a month of uncharacteristic silence on Twitter, I learned rather abruptly of his death on February 25th, six days after the fact. Mark had been battling colitis for the last five or six years, and an epic flare-up in mid-January resulted in an extended hospital stay. Whether his death was the result of C.Diff or a previously unknown ailment, I guess we'll never know. A memorial service had been held, and as I write this Mark has likely already been cremated. I found out about his death while on a road trip, so I haven't been able to articulate my thoughts until now.

For those of you that were regulars on TV Tome or in the mid-to-late 2000s, he was known simply as mp34mp, that opinionated fellow in the SNL, Conan, and sports forums. After he was ignobly banned in 2009, he resurfaced under the alias Dolph Rudager, and maintained that alter ego on Twitter, his sole social media platform. I bonded with him on a variety of levels: we were both from the west Chicago suburbs (he was from Naperville, and I grew up in Downers Grove, we were comedy and music nerds, and we were ardent Chicago Bears fans. That alone was enough to fuel a correspondence that lasted just over 12 years.

In an indirect way, our connection was yin and yang. Where I usually took the high road in internet discussion boards, Mark could be an argument waiting to happen. His presence at TV Tome and could be polarizing; he was frequently sarcastic and bilious, and had strong opinions that often veered into the minority of the site's groupthink. Even if his penchant for asseveration wore you down, Mark never resorted to name-calling or character assassination. Mark's true weakness was that he was opinionated, and that his opinions were in multitudes.

It was only a matter of time before other site members began to report Mark. CNet was bought out by CBS/Viacom in late 2008, 3 1/2 years after CNet bought out TV Tome's founders and overhauled the site. This noble effort to create a high-quality, all-encompassing TV episode guide and discussion board struggled to make a dent in a crowded market, and the new bosses assumed it was because of internet trolls. The decision to exile Mark and at least a hundred other regular users brought the glory era of to a halt, and the beginning of its gradual decline into a co-opted clickbait site with a fledgling "community." Alas, Mark found a way to return a few months later --it took me a moment to realize he was Dolph-- but the diminishing rate and quality of discussion was enough to turn him away on his own volition.

I only met Mark once in person. I had a table at a card show in south Naperville, and toward the end of the day he dropped by to say hello. Mark drove a 90s model Ford pick-up truck, and scuttled across the parking lot in 30-degree weather in a light zip-up hoodie. He was tall and a little gangly, with big expressive eyes. I wasn't sure what to anticipate, but he turned out to be gawky and a little awkward. His opinions were legitimate, but he expressed them in a timid and skeptical manner. We spoke for about an hour before we went our separate ways. Mark suggested going bowling sometime, depending upon my schedule. Once he started having back issues, which then segued into colitis and other ailments, the suggestion was shelved indefinitely. Mark suggested going to a White Sox game last summer, specifically for throwback jersey giveaway, but we both forgot that we'd even discussed going. Perhaps we dodged a bullet.

Through email, IM and Twitter, I was able to paint a clearer picture of what Mark was about. He was a loner, a quiet do-it-yourself type living in a small house in unincorporated Naperville. Mark was an only child, and he had a strained relationship with his parents, who psychologically abused him. He was fascinated by greasy fast food, especially White Castle and Arby's, but also adept at cooking. Mark was also a whiz with Photoshop. As for late 2016, he was coming out of an on-again, off-again relationship with a woman in a messy divorce. Mark was living on disability, and was only working sporadically after his last construction job in the late 2000s. His political beliefs were somewhere between libertarian and moderate conservative.

Even if Mark could be trying to be around, he shouldn't have died the way he did, nor as abruptly or as quietly as he passed. He was perennially thirty-something going on 60, ready and willing to be the ornery crank that shouted at kids to get off his lawn. He had just a handful of friends in real life, but was part of a greater community online. In a way, he returned the favor; we seldom agreed on anything, but he was one of my first followers on Twitter when I finally joined in August 2011. The inherent brevity of 140 characters fit him like a glove. If he disagreed with or was annoyed by a tweet, he would say so in a half-joking manner. Mark Peterson wasn't a close friend but his presence, intangible as it often was, will certainly be missed.

NOTE: I will update this post in the next day or so to include a picture of Mark.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Random Notes, February 2017

Typically I'm not very political on social media. Then again, these are very unusual times. I still feel no inclination to support President Trump, and even though I refuse to normalize him, I admit that any chance of him being impeached or resigning from office is pretty slim. This first month in office has been fairly bizarre and at times unwatchable. Trump achieved that most elusive of brass rings in American society, and it seems like he's struggling to justify wanting (or keeping) that grand prize.

President Trump has already demonstrated that he's out of touch, and that his inner circle is more or less calling the shots. That press conference on February 16th was four weeks of chaos in a nutshell, and the Kellyanne Conway/Nordstrom flap demonstrated that his inner circle isn't necessarily on the same page, either. Nearly everyone in the Oval Office beehive is making up stuff as they go along, and only his most ardent supporters are still eating their honey.

Other notes:

+ Please read this excellent and moving essay from a Muslim woman who quit the Trump administration. Its an insider's take the chaos going down as well as a plea for sanity and tolerance.

+ Speaking of social media... since January 19th, I've gained 10 Facebook friends and lost nine. Evidently, a lot of people are deactivating their accounts; I would attribute this to something I might have said or done, but with one exception I've largely avoided political posts. (I save the topical hot takes for Stu News.) I used to be more vocal on my Facebook profile, though I'm more open about current events on Twitter.

+ Last year I achieved the goal of traveling more, and I anticipate continuing the pace in 2017. Next week, my girlfriend and I are driving to Bay City, MI (her childhood hometown) for a friend's 30th birthday party, and I'm heading back to the Omaha Improv Festival on Memorial Day Weekend. Depending upon finances, there might be more road trips in store later in the year.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Confessions of a Grad School Dropout

Last week, I had to resist the temptation to tweet "I just dropped out of grad school. #AMA"

I understand your cause for concern, whether or not you knew beforehand that I was in grad school. I hadn't told that many people, mostly just my family and close friends, but I was also going into this with some trepidation. This was a moment of self-actualization, without a doubt, but it was also a conflict of want versus need.

In the end, I found myself asking the same question I posed when I first started the paperwork last summer: do I really want to be a teacher?  I had expressed doubts to my adviser, but I was encouraged to soldier on. I earned A's in both of my courses first semester, but the effort felt oddly hollow. Three weeks into my second semester, and after nearly six months on the fence, I finally took a side.

In my mind, the concept of being a teacher was more entertaining than what reality presented. I underestimated the level of bureaucracy involved, and I didn't put into consideration the hours in the day that are necessary to prepare. I spent a lot of time thinking about fun activities in class, but not necessarily the educational substance of the course or adhering to a rigid curriculum. On a more personal level, I also didn't want to sacrifice performing.

So what's next? I started a temp job in mid-December that I really like, and I hope that it eventually becomes a permenant position. After a rough first semester, I'm taking a breather from substitute teaching. I would still like to move back to Chicago city limits at some point before year's end, after an extended delay. Above all, I want to focus on my art and work towards my "big" 2017 resolution of consolidating and simplifying my life. I'm a little disappointed in myself, but at the same time I feel like a burden has been taken off my shoulders.