Myriad Topics on the Latest Get the Knaak Podcast

My good friend and old Navy buddy Chris Ingalls of Pop Matters checks in as we discuss books, movies, TV, music, politics and everything in-between.

I’m Actually From this Planet

I have spent my first 49 1/2 years on this planet oblivious of my ethnicity. When I look in the mirror some things are self-evident. I am Caucasian, I have hazel-brown eyes and up until 20 years ago, I had brown hair. You might say I am an average white guy. However, unlike just about everyone else I know, I was unable to tell you where my ancestors originated. I couldn’t say, “Hey, I’m Italian,” or, “I’m Greek,” if anyone asked my heritage or ethnicity. All I could say was, “I have no idea.”

Why? I’m glad you asked. I was adopted when I was three days old. All my parents told me was that my biological mother was a single school teacher and couldn’t afford to keep me. Fair enough. I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, but grew up in western New York. I never really wanted to pursue my biological family because I thought it would be an insult to my parents. The topic particularly upset my mother, who always felt that maybe I thought she wasn’t good enough (this couldn’t be farther from the truth). Pennsylvania is one of the few states that hasn’t loosened privacy restrictions when it comes to adopted kids looking for their biological parents.

Today, Erie’s 100,000 residents are a hodgepodge of every ancestry under the sun from German to Yugoslavian. No Scotch-Romanian however.

It has been more than a decade since my folks passed away, so I don’t feel like it is disrespectful to go hunting for blood relatives at this point. Many people have encouraged me to. I have some paperwork in my possession that I could start that would get my foot in the door with Pennsylvania’s record keepers but I am not quite there.

I have always wondered about my ethnicity. What am I, really? In today’s charged political climate and the hot debate about immigration, I have thirsted for this information because I don’t believe that being “white” is a thing. There is no heritage or culture in just being white. We all came from somewhere else. We are all immigrants. The only people in America who aren’t immigrants are Native Americans. Everyone else either came from Asia, Europe, Africa, or hell, even Australia. I’m no anthropologist but I find all of this fascinating. As Americans, we have developed our own unique culture, especially when it comes to regional traditions and language, but we haven’t been a country for all that long. But just being white? That’s not a thing.

So, what I am I? Who are my people?

My wife actually had the thought that maybe, just maybe, my dad was my biological father. We can’t find my adoption records. What we have found doesn’t make any sense.

Within the last 10 years, I have become the keeper on my family tree. I stood on the shoulders of one of my cousins and filled in the blanks after she and her father did the bulk of it. My father’s ancestors, the Knaaks, are very German. My great grandparents left Germany in 1900 and came through Ellis Island. I have traced the Knaaks back to 1803 or so, I know where they lived, Mecklenberg-Schwerin, I know they were Lutheran, and I know what parish they belonged to. My mother was Korean. Her family and ancestors are nothing but Korean (as far as I know).

My wife got me a 23 and Me ancestry kit for Christmas. A few days later I cracked it open, followed the instructions, and sent my spit off into the great beyond. About a month later I received an email indicating my reports were ready. I only had a few minutes before I had to rush out the door to work but I pulled up enough info to proclaim to the house that I am … wait for it … here it comes … not German … not Korean …

British/Irish with Scottish and Irish Ancestry

 

When you dive into the reports, within the last 200 years, 23 and Me points to London as the strongest concentration of my ancestors; 8 million people live in London today. Mixed in with the list of points of origin for my United Kingdom ancestors – Glasgow City, Scotland, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. My more recent Irish ancestors most likely hailed from County Cork in southern Ireland. Although the breakdown says French/German for No. 2 on the list, the Netherlands (north Holland) is a strong contender for likely ancestors. Apparently what was considered French is greater than I knew. Germany is barely a blip on the report.

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Facial reconstruction of my maternal Scottish ancestor from Achavanich, HIghland, Scotland. Copyright © Hew Morrison

23 and Me offers plenty of rabbit holes for you to dive into and perhaps the two that I find the most intriguing take me back a few thousand years. They can tell you about ancestors through paternal and maternal “haplogroups.” Apparently, I have a maternal ancestor scientists have dubbed “Ava,” who lived more than 4,200 years ago in Achavanich, Highland, Scotland. The paternal haplogroup points to ancestors who were part of the Uí Néill dynasty in northern Ireland, who also spread to northern Scotland.

This information certainly helps me make some sense of a few things.

I have always been fond of Scotch (Highland in particular) and Irish whisky (of course there is a Jameson distillery in County Cork), and gravitate to darker beers – porters, stouts (I love Guiness, and I named my first novel after an Imperial stout). I don’t know if it has anything to do with my taste in food.

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I guess there was a deeper reason why I enjoyed London.

I felt very comfortable walking the streets of London when I visited in 2014. I love books and pubs. I could live in an Irish or English pub. I’m drawn to the sea, I have a year of my life underway – Ava was discovered just west of Scotland’s northeastern shore on the North Sea. I enjoy dreary, rainy, foggy weather (I just hate being out in it).

 

I have always been fond of James Bond films, almost obsessively so, Bram Stoker’s Dracula had a profound affect on me. Stoker was Irish. I love the works of Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron. I adore Hammer Horror films – the aesthetic especially. I enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories and shows like Ripper Street. Boring period movies and TV series set in the Edwardian or Victorian eras don’t do much for me. Much of my favorite pop/rock music originates from England and Ireland. It’s possible I had ancestors in the last 200 years from Manchester, where my favorite band – New Order – hails from.  More likely, some of my forebears came from Merseyside where Liverpool is. I enjoy quite a bit of music that originated there. Everyone knows I am a fan of The Pogues, who hail from London.

Maybe my British/Irish heritage has nothing to do with my tastes at all. Maybe it has everything to do with them.

Bringing this full circle, I am very American. I love American things. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, cheeseburgers, amusement parks, all that – I am a patriot, I served my country. But I am not a wave-my-flag-in-your-face kind of patriot. I don’t believe in forced patriotism. I don’t run around telling everyone that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. I am not naive or blind to the horrible things we’ve done as a country, as a people, in the last 245 years or so. However, I know the great things we’ve done as well. I believe in the American dream and realize that it is different for everyone. It is especially relevant for the immigrants who have helped make our country great, those who have contributed to our scientific advances and our national security interests, those who have brought their culture to our shores and shared it and enriched our neighborhoods and communities with their language and song and dance and art and literature.

In my day job, I have become a professional historian and have been one for the past year and a half. In that position, I am like a dog with a bone with my research. I have been that way with the Knaak family tree. I am nowhere near done with that. I’ve just hit a temporary roadblock. I have no doubt that I will dive into what 23 and Me has revealed about me through my DNA. I will embrace my heritage, culture, and history, celebrate it and learn it. I now have reasons to study the history of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands and even Charlemagne and the Franks.

I’m not a fan of the royals, I think the colonies were right to rebel against England in the American revolution, British colonialism hurt more than it helped – but the history is fascinating and it is history that helped forge and shape the modern world as we know it today.

I now know what I’m not. I’m not German. But I finally know what I am. I am British and Irish with northern Scottish and Irish ancestry. I am also an American. But you know what? I am still a Knaak. And I always will be and I am proud to be.

I don’t think I’ll be trying haggis any time soon, I will always prefer American football (I might be talked into picking and following a favorite soccer team), I doubt I’ll learn Gaelic, but I may be convinced to wear a kilt.

Just remember, if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.

 

Comey the Homey and Much More on the Latest Podcast

My good buddy Chris Ingalls joins me for another edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. We discuss everything from former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony in front of a congressional committee to latest and upcoming movies, including Alien Covenant, Blade Runner and Wonder Woman, the Stephen King multiverse and we throw shade at an old friend.

Got 90 minutes to kill? Listen in, it’s better than whatever you’re doing.

Putting 2016 in the Rear View Mirror and Looking Toward 2017

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My new weight bench is already paying dividends.

For many, ringing in the New Year signifies hope and new beginnings. New Year’s resolutions will be made and broken, goals will be set, college football bowl games will be played and one night of revelry will herald the dawning of the first day of a new page on the calendar.

I rang in the New Year sick in bed in a hotel room in Denver. The flu bug kissed me long before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Fever, body aches and the chills dashed my grand plans for another Beatnik adventure in the Mile High City. That thing I do when I travel, you know, run? That went out the window too. The last thing I needed to do was go running on the 16th Street Mall in below freezing temperatures.

I wish I were in the mood to display piss and vinegar and let out a primal Howard Dean scream. I do not have the energy to proclaim that I’m attacking 2017 with resolve and fire. That’s not to say I won’t; it just means that fiery treatise on what I plan on making come to pass in the New Year isn’t happening today.

The New Year is also a time for reflection, both personal and worldly. It didn’t truly dawn on me until I watched CBS Sunday Morning’s Hail and Farewell how many entertainers who were important to me passed away in 2016. From my early childhood to my present state of being, these were the people who thrilled me on the big screen, made me laugh on the small screen, and provided part of the soundtrack of my life. Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher, Leonard Cohen, Garry Marshall, et al. I can’t recall a year in which we lost so many actors and musicians of note who meant something to me. Gene Wilder and Carrie Fisher hit particularly hard.

For me personally, 2016 was a year of ups and downs, a veritable roller coaster ride. It was one of the more challenging years of my professional life. The losses I suffered have opened a new door for me so I am not going to dwell on the negative. Although I am reflecting on the year that was I just want to put that part of the year behind me. I get to do something new and exciting. That’s the important take away.

So, what did I accomplish in 2016? I started a novel. I am more than halfway through writing my first book. I had hoped to have it done by now but as I am fond of saying, life got in the way. I managed to write over 40,000 words and I know how it ends, so, I just need to buckle down and finish it. I broke down and finally joined Twitter and Instagram. Yeah, yeah. Big accomplishments. I started a podcast and managed to figure out how to post it to iTunes. I dropped 41 blog posts – a few of them were teasers for the podcast. I got lazy toward the end of the year and recycled a few blogs from the year before.

I ran 303.87 miles in 2016. Not as many as I would have liked. I ran 319 miles in 2015. I am nothing if not consistent. I did manage my longest run ever – an eight-miler in Baltimore. I had a road trip run preempted by the flu just like 2015. I probably would have run more in 2016 but I got off track at the end of the year and didn’t run as much. I didn’t participate in any organized races in 2016. I normally just do two per year, but I decided to skip them this time around.

I went back and looked at my New Year’s blog post from Jan. 4, 2016. I’m actually a bit surprised at my optimism. I like to think of myself as a realist, but I’m sure most people who know me would call me a pessimist. I do know I am quite cynical.

Almost two weeks in to the New Year and all I can really come up with is fatigue. I’m tired. I don’t know why I’m tired. I’ve been putting my new weight bench to good use this week. I tried right after Christmas, but that damn flu bug derailed me. Running hasn’t been much of an option lately. I didn’t run in Denver because of the flu, and I didn’t run during a recent trip to Houston because a witch’s tit blew through southern Texas and I didn’t pack my cold weather gear. I had been over packing for my work trips and since I don’t employ a Sherpa, I was tied of hauling extra clothes and jackets all over the damn country. The forecast for Houston was also a bit understated. I didn’t expect Switzerland in the winter.

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My next pair of running shoes. I can’t wait to get back to running on fluffy kittens.

I am currently between running shoes. Almost 300 miles on my Asics Kayano 21s and the spring finally sprung. After some shopping around and trying Brooks and Nike, I have a pair of Asics Cumulus 17s in my future. I don’t dare run in the Kayano 21s again. My last two runs were horrible. Lower leg pain torpedoed those jaunts and I know damn well it had everything to do with the shoes.

Part of me is not too broken up about it. With the weather here in California I would just as soon become a submarine captain instead of a marathoner. We need the rain, but holy crap. If my 10-year-old starts building a boat in the backyard, you better hope you’re on the short list. I won’t have time to notify everyone.

I do not make New Year’s resolutions; I set goals. Want to know what they are? I thought you’d never ask.

  1. I have a major, important relationship to repair.
  2. I will finish my first novel. I am more than 40,000 words into a tale that I have spent roughly nine months crafting.
  3. This will be the year I find my abs. In 2013, I began eating better and exercising. I am still covered in fat. This will be the year I shed the fat and get defined. The goal is to exercise six days per week and run four. The former is more likely than the latter.
  4. I will read even more books. Two years ago I decided to read more books and I have accomplished that goal. I plan on reading even more. I have embarked on the 2017 Book Riot/Goodreads Read Harder Challenge. I have already accomplished one of the 24 tasks.
  5. I will participate in organized races. I took last year off and did not participate in the two 5Ks I normally run. I plan on trying 5Ks, 10Ks, and maybe even a half marathon. I do plan on running more in 2017. I’d like to get to 350 miles.
  6. I will blog more. I got lazy in 2016, especially toward the end of the year. Writing is therapy, writing is cathartic and I desperately need to get these thoughts and ideas out of my head. In addition to finishing my novel, I want to write some short stories this year too.
  7. I will expand my knowledge and consumption of Scotch. I do not pretend to know a damn thing about Scotch or how it’s made. I know that single malt is better than blended. I know that older Scotches are better. Funny, 15-year-old Scotch doesn’t do much for me. I like 12s and I like 18s. You do get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean you’ll be spared from my Tullamore DEW-fueled rants. I do like my Irish whisky.
  8. I’d like to grow my Twitter followers. I currently have approximately 245 Twitter followers.
  9. I also want to grow the podcast audience. The 17 of you who listen regularly are great, but…
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The first book down in the 2017 Book Riot/Goodreads Read Harder challenge – read a book you’ve read before. I finished this last week. I read it the first time in the early 1990s.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more. I have some professional challenges ahead of me this year and I am eager to tackle them. No, this will not be the year I get on Snapchat. It was a feat for me to add Twitter and Instagram to my communication repertoire last year. Snapchat is not a sandbox in which I wish to play. Maybe I’ll buy a domain name for the blog, maybe I’ll actually buy a WordPress template. Maybe I’ll continue to be a cheap ass and use as many free services I can.

I do pay for my Soundcloud account. Since I just love to hear myself talk, I ran out of storage space very quickly. I do have a new intro coming for the podcast. And a new podcast should drop this week. I hosted and posted 17 episodes in 2016 and I would like to stick to the once per week schedule. The first episode was the most played with 105 listens. The least was my Christmas podcast that got 14 plays. So, I’ll be looking for more ways to spread the word and get more people to walk around in my mind via this fun medium.

Listen on Soundcloud or iTunes. And if you don’t already, be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Okay loyal readers. I am looking forward to accomplishing much in 2017, I just hope I can find the energy to do it. I’ll turn 48 in June and hopefully I will have found my abs by then. I look forward to unveiling this Speedo body.

I’ll leave you with that image.