Rather than writing an “About me” section and droning on about the expected, I decided to make a list of questions from friends and family and then respond to them as they rolled in. Because I have such creative and incredible people in my life, I thought this would do much more to present a conglomeration of my thoughts, personality quirks, and idiosyncrasies than if I just sat down and hammered out a few obligatory paragraphs.

They did not disappoint…

Behold, some seriously amazing questions, answered in the order they appeared in my inbox.

Also behold, some legitimate, professional quality headshots taken by my lovely and talented friend, Steph Malmquist.  And I do mean that.  Steph is one of those people around whom it is impossible to be in a bad mood.  And she got me to genuinely smile for a picture, which is no easy feat.  I hate getting my picture taken, and you wouldn’t even know it in these shots if I hadn’t spilled the beans.

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about me_photo 1 About me_photo 2

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What is your favorite animal and why? – Angela, of Life with Alfred

This is difficult…my favorite animal is sometimes a penguin, sometimes a lobster, sometimes an alligator, sometimes an octopus…But I think on most days I would pick the octopus and other thingies with tentacles. Why? I’m not entirely sure. They can camouflage themselves. Plus they steal sandwiches. They’re crafty. I guess I like that? If I had an Octopus I would name him Oswald.

Why should I read this blog? 😉 – Matt

Because, Matt, you winky-faced bastard, I thought we were friends.

For other interested parties, you should read this website because it’s going to be fun. So many things are humorless…this website is not one of those things. I take academic conceptions of history and break them down into accessible and energetic conversations. I also speak about writing, both academic and creative, as a cherished art form, not a chore. Writing is mystical, material, and all things in between. Finally, I provide a forum where readers and I can learn and grow in interaction, both with each other and with the characters and personalities that will pervade these posts. So if you’re a writer, historian, life-long learner, imaginer of Anything…you’re going to love it here. Let’s hang out.

Who is your favorite pen and how would he/she/it describe your morning routine? – Madelyn, of Ideal Space Consulting

Well, I wrote out an answer for this one, and it turns out I have very complex feelings about writing implements.  So, I turned this answer into a full post.

What kind of wood is Aloisius made from? – Ben, of Benjamin Hjertmann, composer

You know, I’m not entirely sure. Aloisius did not come with papers of authenticity or anything like that, but I did a bit of research (surprise) when he first came to live with me in 2007. His mother of pearl inlay, most likely makes him German. And his era of manufacturing, 1830s to 40s, most likely makes him walnut or mahogany. Given his reddish hue, I’m going to have to go with mahogany, but maybe stained walnut. Not entirely sure. I should go on antiques roadshow.

Describe your ideal date with Aloisius. – (Ben)

Well, somewhat sad to say, Aloisius has eyes for someone else. It’s unrequited. He manages, though, he really does.

But I’ve never felt second-fiddle, because we do get to spend a lot of friendly time together. Our evenings are quiet. We listen to baroque music most of the time—he favors lute. We turn up the fireplace in the winter or leave the balcony open to the breeze in the summer, and we drink red wine, dark beer, or Vermouth-heavy Manhattans. We dream and introspect and share our imaginings. I guess it’s already ideal…

…As long as I ignore his furtive glances toward the desk chair.

If you had to orbit a different star, which would it be? – (Ben)

A blue one.

If you could be physically present at any historical event that took place in Illinois, which event would it be and why? – Brian, of Brian Baxter Music

I don’t really know all that much about Illinois history, to tell you the honest truth. But the World’s Fair comes to mind. I think it would be quite the thing to fly up in that balloon on the midway and look out over Olmstead’s electric boats and such.

Talk about land and how it relates to your work. – (Brian)

This turned into a full post, too.

Which British monarch (living or dead) do you relate most to and why? – (Brian)

Well, British monarchs are British monarchs, so it’s kind of difficult to relate. My favorite British king is Charles I because he had a tragically poetic speech impediment–the only two speeches he gave without stuttering were his trial defense and his farewell at his execution. And my second favorite is King John, because I think he was just super misunderstood. Sure he did some dickish things, but they all did, and he sort of made England a priority for the first time. So I have to hand him that.

Choose your favorite literary character. NOW, devise a vegetarian-friendly last mean for him/her. What would it include? – Katy, of Cooking With the Choir

Sherlock Holmes, obvi. For honest, the first thing that came to mind was a nettle soup. I have not made a nettle soup, but I seriously want to. And I think that Sherlock with his diet of tobacco, tea, and a 7% solution of cocaine could probably stomach some nettles. I doubt I could get him to spend time with me, though. Mostly likely, Watson would end up eating the soup and telling me how much Sherlock would enjoy it if he only had the time. And I’d be like, you’re a great guy Watson, you really are.

When an author writes a novel, does he/ she have a conscious focus on creating “meaning and imagery” as he/she writes or does the story unfold from a fertile mind leaving the reader the task of finding these elements?

This is an excellent question from my Uncle Raul that definitely necessitated a full post.

If you had to be any evil dictator in the world throughout history, who would you be and why? – anonymous

Yikes. I consider myself to be relatively pacificist, so the very idea of this question freaks me out. But if my feet were in the fire, I would choose to be Lenin. The guy actually had some moral codes and social values, and although he did a number of terrible things (as dictators are wont to do) I think in his heart of hearts he had the interests of the people in mind. And then Stalin came in to power and just went crazytown on everything. I also like Lenin because he likes Trotsky. I also like Trotsky.

If you could invite three historical people to dinner who would it be and why? Also, what would you serve? – Keach

Alright, I had to think about this one for a while. And although there are a million people I’d like to invite and a million things I’d like to serve, these are the names and dinner item I kept coming back to. First, I would invite Leonardo DiVinci, figuring on language barrier not being an issue. I get the sense that he had a wicked sense of humor, and I am desperate to know what kind of small-talk a visionary makes. Next, I would invite Charles II of England. I think he would get a kick out of DiVinci. And Charles II was a total weirdo who dispersed charm like a royal Pez dispenser. Finally, I would invite Mark Twain. Because…Mark Twain. He had this way of seeing how everything in the world has to come from some spark of ingenuity, be it man-made or organic. And he wasn’t afraid to put his soul out there in his words, just ironically masked in irony. So, as long as Twain and Charles didn’t steam-roll DiVinci, which I don’t think they would—people tend to listen to geniuses—the dinner would go just fine.

And I would serve pizza. Not because I like it all that much, but because I want to know what toppings they would pick and how they would eat it.

Please name your favorite film from each year of the 1990s. – Luke, of Luke Gullickson

I was going to answer this question and then I actually looked at the movie lists on IMDB. Who the hell knew that Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump both came out in the same year? How do you choose between them? Similarly, I found myself pitting Twister against the Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Good Will Hunting against Princess Mononoke (1997), and The Big Lebowski against Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). And then I was just too stressed out to decide.

What is your favorite color? Please provide 3-5 reasons justifying your choice. – (Luke)

This took a bit of thought. I really like blue, burgundy, and rich greens. But in the end, I had to go with blue for the following reasons: it has the most enjoyable shades—pretty much every kind of blue is lovely; I find the sky totally engaging, and it is blue; blue inevitably makes me think of stars and deep night and magic; my grandmother on my dad’s side, my dad, my sister, my brothers, and I all have the same blue eyes, which I find comforting; the ocean is blue, and my favorite creatures live in the ocean.

If you could go back in time and change the results of one U.S. presidential election, which would you choose and why? Please limit your selection to elections that took place prior to 1932. – (Luke)

I would make Andrew Jackson lose. Hard. I’m sure there’s someone out there who knows more about the guy than I do who is having a conniption fit right now over how we needed a) b) and c) of his policies. But the guy was a total asshole with the Native American relocation, AND he basically invented the modern system of campaigning, which I sure as hell could do without. Take back your buttons and signs and slander and personality politics, Jackson. I ain’t afraid of you.

Can you remember the first time that you realized words on paper had an impact on your mood or emotion? – Mom

I think this honor belongs to The Color Kittens.  I vividly remember this book from my childhood, and how in the last page all the colors collide and create a river of brown.  And the book says, “And in all that brown, the sun went down.”  And I was inevitably content and sleepy when I read that line.  I found it very comforting.

The first time I ever wrote something that had an impact on my mood and emotions was when I wrote a little poem called “Boxes.”  I was about six, and I remember being about as excited about this poem as I was about Christmas.  It made me incredibly happy in a bittersweet way.  Here it is:


They leap across the floor

They wear bows

They wear ties

They spin

They bound

They twirl

They stop and bow

They walk on their toes

They get wild with the music

They stop again

They start to fade

They are imagination


Could you provide a quick primer on latinate vs. germanic english and explain any preferences you have and whether the style of writing influences that. If you like, expound on greek language influences on the english language. – Kevin

Well, I think linguistics is fascinating, but I haven’t really had the chance to do much research. Basically, all I know is that the Romans, when they occupied what is now Britain, mainly kept to the cities and their plantation-like farms. Their culture and language didn’t really reach to the countryside, but they did govern the church, which governed grammar construction. The Angles and Saxons, though, took their language and culture everywhere they went, and went pretty much everywhere. So the Germanic roots of English are quite strong when it comes to vocabulary. Norse and Norman-French influences arrived later as political rule changed hands. I can’t say I have any preferences, and I don’t really know about the Greek influences. Stumped.

This is a teachable moment. If you were my student, I would tell you to look it up and get back to me. Since you’re not, I won’t tell you that, but if you know more about this than I do, let me know. I’m intrigued now…

What is the strangest item you have anthropomorphized? – Jon Sestak

Oh God. I don’t know. I’m so far out of the realm of normal here that I don’t even know what people would consider strange. Anthropomorphizing a musical instrument is fairly normal, right? and a car? How about a hole punch? That’s probably bizarre. My hole punch is a beast in a very quiet, reliable, and buttoned up sort of way. His name is Reginald.

Is there anyone you consider your hero? living? or dead? – (Jon)

My Grandparents

  And click here for a lovely video of my Grandma Byram.

What historical person has influenced your life the most? – (Jon)

George M. Beard influenced my academic life the most, as he was the guy who came up with neurasthenia and put me on the path to my PhD project. But If I had to pick a historical figure who has changed my day to day life, I would have to say Albert Einstein. My highschool math teacher had a bunch of his quotes up on the wall by my desk, about how the most beautiful things are the mysterious. That we should all be creative beings. I think about those basic ideas nearly every day.

Is there any piece of literature fiction or non-fiction that had a large influence on you? – (Jon)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society helped me through the loss of my grandparents with its eloquent statements on dying and living. It was just light enough to keep me going and just deep enough to remind me that some thoughts will always be all-pervading, and that’s alright. And aside from that, it is some of the most vivacious and lovely writing I have ever encountered.

How has Achewood changed your life? – (Jon)

In so many ways.

What are you most afraid of and why? I think there should be two answers rational and irrational. – (Jon)

Rational: I fear losing my ability to communicate. I can’t imagine anything worse than having a head full of gorgeous, coherent thoughts, and failing to communicate them due to some kind of physical let-down.

Irrational: Either pool drains or dandelion weeds.

What is your favorite piece of furniture and why? – (Jon)

My bed. I’ve grown into it since the time I was six years old. It’s a sturdy farm-sale bed with a ¾ mattress that doesn’t fit sheets properly, so all my bedclothes are vintage. And that bed has seen nearly every book I’ve read from Mother Goose to Nancy Drew to Sherlock Holmes to Nuala O’Faolain. I do a good deal of creative writing in bed, and I spend a lot of time at night winding down and thinking deep thoughts and wondering what to dream about. So even when I’m asleep it aids my creative process.

Too bad it’s a pain in the ass to move.

Would you take up drinking or smoking to make your study more awesome? – (Jon)

Well, I enjoy a good drink as much as the next adult, and I smoke a tobacco pipe once or twice a month when the weather is good. But, no, I don’t plan to take either of those habits to excess.

If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island for one week and you could only bring three things with you, what would they be? – Sheerya

I’m going to assume I don’t need water, food, etc., because it’s more fun that way.  So, reality suspended, I would take a pencil, fresh paper, and a well-written, inspiring book to command my thoughts for the week.


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