Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Hubris of Elizabeth and Ruth

Queen Elizabeth, long ago expected to abdicate and allow Charles (himself 70 at this point) to rule, just allowed herself to be used as a pawn in the Brexit calamity.

She seems to possess all her faculties, and many of us celebrate her historically long reign and the sense of stability flowing from her stiff backbone and staunch traditionalism. But few 93 year olds - even those as formidable as Elizabeth II - have it in them to risk a nuclear option - defying a prime minister at titanic risk. Paradoxically, figurehead rulers might need more balls than empowered ones. There's enormous headwind in opposing audacious choices in the event of once-per-century crisis, making it quite an undertaking to step out of the background and do what's right. It seems clear that Elizabeth's inability to answer that call this week stems from her much earlier refusal to cede to a younger successor. Her hubris left her country in danger, and the bill just came due.

I won't waste ink explaining the perfectly obvious case of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who I similarly otherwise admire and respect.


Neither of my parents put enough effort into anticipating their respective declines. They wrote wills and appointed executors, but other details were left gapingly unaddressed. It wasn't a matter of sloppiness or poor legal advice. It stemmed from baseless confidence that, up to death, they'd remain competent and autonomous.

It's a sort of hubris. Me, I know from long experience that I'm flawed and failure-prone, and fully expect it to get much worse going forward. I plan for (and frame for) failure in all things, and I seem to fail a little bit less than normal - only because I've slopped around in my own incompetence like a pig in his muck, while others feel sparkly clean as they periodically fall into holes hollering "DOH!"

Remember my observation that most people would rather be idiots than feel like idiots? It's like that. The desire to imagine ourselves perennially robust and immortal helps ensure that we'll be extra frail and dependent. Smart people embrace their stupidity, and successful people embrace their failure. It's the perennial choice: you can seem, or you can be.


It's all in the framing!

Thankless

This works well as a duet with my previous posting, "Just Some Regular Guy"


I walked up to the circulation desk of my library and greeted the worker.

"Hi! How are you?"

Blank stare. Silence. Totally unsurprising. This happens a lot. I actually expect it.

"So, uh, you guys are holding a DVD for me! Here's my library card!"

Wordlessly, he turns back to the shelf, grabs my DVD, and silently hands it off to me.

At this point, my line would normally be a chipper "Thank you very much!", accompanied by an amiable grin. But I just couldn't muster it. I was obviously not a breathing human being for this person. I was a patron-unit, he'd performed his rote duty, and I couldn't see any reason to unilaterally maintain a sham display of social interaction.

So I did something I've seen many, many thousands of people do. I shifted my mind firmly toward my next errand, distractedly (not peevishly) took the DVD from his hand, and, making no eye contact, walked away.

I've never done this before. I have never not said "thank you". It felt strange, like a sentence lacking a period. It felt like shoplifting.

As I ambled toward the door, I spotted a reflection of the librarian in the glass. He was glaring at my back. At the rude monster.


You may imagine that I have insight into human psychology. I notice things seldom, if ever, noticed elsewhere, and make fresh, interesting connections. But I am nothing but a befuddled flabbergast. 56 years into this life, many of them spent tenaciously unknotting human behavioral mysteries, the workings of it all - at least when it comes to my own strange outcomes - are still completely unfathomable. None of it makes a lick of sense.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Just Some Regular Guy

A friend just got back from a concert at a nationally famous winery. She'd sat next to an ordinary-looking dude with whom she enjoyed a pleasantly ordinary chat. Nice guy! Imagine her surprise (she told the story like it had a big twist) when she discovered he was the owner of the whole operation. Just some regular guy!

I will never, to the day I die, understand the framing that makes such stories (you hear them everywhere) surprising. But neither will my framing ever be relatable for those who tell such stories.

"So after going to the heroic work and aggravation of turning his operation into something noteworthy," I asked her, "you'd expect him to put in the extra work and aggravation to seem like someone who'd produced something noteworthy? To not only succeed, but also meet people's expectations of what success ought to look like? And it's strange if he doesn't?"

As I finished the question, she considered it for a moment. I watched her eyes search for a comprehension foothold, but nothing materialized. With a small subconscious shrug, she changed the subject.

People who accomplish stuff work really hard. They generally leave it all on the field, and it'd be downright strange if they took time/energy away from the doing to construct a shiny facade for themselves - to don a mask to impersonate the accomplished sort of person they actually already are. Am I the only person who finds that prospect completely Cocoa Puffs?

Shiny facade people - what I call "the David Copperfields" - are a whole other crowd. Real magicians don't usually have super white teeth and polished manners. That stuff's only for the fakes. As I once wrote,
If you've got the goods, you tend not to waste effort on the "seeming" end of it. Watch out for seemers.

I highly recommended a nearby restaurant to a bartender friend in a local craft beer bar. He grimaced. That joint's only for drunk teens. Awful!

I replied that I thought it was terrific.

He asked whether I'd grown up nearby, building up irrational affection.

I told him i'd only recently discovered it, and that I actually review food nationally and find it top-class - not that this makes me right and him wrong.

He stared vacantly through "review food nationally", like I'd lapsed into speaking in tongues or was making some strange arid joke. So I took a deep breath and ventured into my background.

"Wait, you built Chowhound? Seriously?"

"Somebody had to do it, no?"

"I had no idea!"

"How would you be less shocked? If I came in here with a couple ex-Seal security dudes? Maybe after landing on the roof in my private chopper? What, exactly, would I need to do to look more like someone like me?"

I watched his eyes search for a comprehension foothold, but nothing materialized. With a small subconscious shrug, he changed the subject.



Question: what happens when CBS finally mismanages Chowhound out of existence, and nobody's ever heard of it? Will Schrödinger's Cat finally die? Will my food opinions become worthless? Will I lock enduringly into the shmucky loser persona I appear to project due to my lack of pompous gravitas? Who, in the end, is this character I'm playing in this movie? I feel like I'm pretty good at the living part of this undertaking, but I'm the world's worst poser, and social rolesmanship appears to revolve entirely around posing!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mad Ravings of a Lunchtime Lunatic

I'm an obnoxiously bubbling burp of a man, overflowing with loopy data points. I'll grab your collar and insist you pay attention to them. Sounds "wonderful" for a movie character, but in real life it's a bit much. Frankly, I give even myself a headache.

After subjecting my tax accountant to my usual hyperbolically zig-zagging conversation amid lunch, and depositing her, exhausted and dazed back in her office, I sent follow-up links, because that's part of my shtick. Jane, stop this crazy thing.

Anyway, why rave fruitlessly at one hapless person when I can rave at the entire Internet? Here's my follow-up email to her, in case anyone out there finds it usefultaining:



This Fresh Air interview with the author of a new book on Koch Industries is super-interesting.

Talk the Talk podcast on linguistics (support them on Patreon for good goodies).

As I mentioned, I bumped into the above while researching an issue raised in Episode 1 of an acclaimed series called “The Story of India” (streaming on Amazon Prime Video) about pre-linguistic mantras possibly having been passed down for 10,000 years in the jungles of Kerala by Brahmins (they are completely unrelated to any language, and seem to resemble birdsong). The show may have overstated the theory a bit, as discussed here on the web and in this episode of “Talk the Talk”. I’d suggest watching the Story of India's first episode before delving further.

Speaking of historical documentary series, Simon Shama has created a number of great ones. Maybe start with "A History of Britain”. You can buy DVD second-hand for $25 at above link and resell at the same price when done.

The linguistics of "Mairzy Doats".

Why I think it’s fallacious to blame bad-not-awful previous Republicans for seeming to have launched a process leading to Trump (i.e. the fallacy of the domino effect).

Season 1 of the super-awesome HBO series " Succession" can be bought/streamed on Amazon (worth it IMO, though, again, it takes a good while to get under your skin...if you actively dislike it, by all means bail early, but if you’re on the fence, keep going!). Season 2 (which is even better, so far) is currently under way, but can surely be bought/streamed eventually on Amazon.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Housekeeping Note

I added an important sentence to the second-to-last paragraph of my last posting, "Framing Failure". You might want to back up a 'graph or two and reread. It makes much more sense now.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Framing Failure

Here, let me give you a pep talk: You're going to fail. You're going to fail, you're going to fail, you're going to fail. Failure is assured. You're a screw-up, so it's not a matter of "if" but of "when" and "how badly".

This, counter-intuitively, is the mindset of people whose performance seems flawless. Having recognized the truth, they take appropriate measures to ensure that they fail well. Those who harbor delusions of perfection, on the other hand, fail poorly because they don't plan for it. They figure the game is about failing less. But they can't. None of us can.



Amateur musicians sometimes play out of tune. This is because they're trying to play in tune. If you try to play in tune, that means that when you fail (and you will fail!), you'll be noticeably out of tune.

Professional musicians don't try to play in tune. They're preoccupied with trying to play really, really in tune. So when they fail (and they will fail), they're still reasonably in tune, though not precisely enough for their standards. They'll wince, and feel like failures, but you won't hear it.

Amateurs conclude that professionals fail less; they must be trying to play in tune and consistently succeeding. Wrong. They're failing as often as anyone, but they're working within narrower tolerances. We're all failures, but they're failing well.



Someone in my life is notorious for doling out vicious tongue-lashings. She thinks of herself as kind-hearted and full of bubbly good cheer. But like anyone else, she inevitably gets mad sometimes. And while she may not be trying to chew people out - honestly, she'd rather not, because it creates problems for her - hey, sometimes we all lose our cool and find ourselves screaming our heads off to tell people what awful wicked stupid lowly fucked-up awful slovenly thoughtless pigs they are, amiright?

Again, she tries not to do this. But if you try not to do something, that means you'll do that thing whenever you fail. And, yet again, failure is inevitable.

She figures that the rest of us, who don't do this sort of thing, simply fail less often. But that's not it. It's that we're playing a different game; a different framing. We aim to never reveal a trace of disgust or disappointment or fury. When we fail, you may notice a curled lip or a long exhalation, but control is more or less maintained. Not enough for our standards, so we'll be kicking ourselves; chalking it up as failure even though we haven't brutalized anyone.



You're going to fail. Failure is assured. You're a screw-up, and it's not a matter of "if" but of "when" and "how badly". I think every human being fails with more or less the same frequency. It doesn't seem so because we all frame failure differently, which makes results vary widely.

Those who imagine perfection to be achievable are the most obvious screw-ups. They're aiming not to fail...as if that were possible. And, inevitably, they do.

Those who acknowledge their inevitable flawedness (not in a whiny, defeated, depressed way) are the ones who perform well. They've planned for failure, so it expresses as fine-grained malfunction rather than full-blown catastrophe



Last night I sat slumped in shame, knowing I'd strayed far from my diet. I'd gone nuts. I'd blown it all up. But then I did the thing I do every night, reviewing every bite eaten that day and considering the larger picture of it all. Perspective!

Here are the results:
  • Bowl of low-sugar, high-fiber cereal with skim milk
  • 1 thin hamburger, no cheese, no fries, from Shake Shack
  • 1 kasha knish from Knish Nosh
  • 3 chocolate rugelach from Andre's Hungarian Pastry (I'd normally never order this at Andre's, but they were perhaps the best thing I've eaten this year. They were mesmerizing; I nearly fainted from the deliciousness.)
  • Two fried chicken thighs, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese from Rocelyns, a good-looking soul food takeout that just opened on E Lincoln Ave just off the Hutchison Parkway in Mt. Vernon.
  • 1 no- fat yogurt
  • 2 reheated tortillas
  • No soft drinks or adult beverages; only water.
This was very far from optimal (and 2800 calories by my reckoning). But I had to admit that, as blow-outs go, this was fairly restrained. This was not quite a quart of Häagen-Dazs, or an entire large pizza, or a weekend of beer and barbecue. But I'm particularly remorseful because I've narrowed to the point where this is not merely the sort of eating I avoid. It's more of a second-order failure. A failure of failing, like a noticeably out-of-tune note from a professional musician.

My problem going forward is that framing adjusts to recent experience, so this style of eating could easily become my new normal - or, more insidiously, my normal avoided failure, i.e. the way I eat when I fail (and I will fail!). If this becomes the thing I avoid, I'll have widened tolerances and redefined failure. I'll eat like this a few days per week.

If tolerance does widen, a habit is established, but it's a habit of framing, not doing. The doing proceeds from the framing. I'm burying the lede here, but all habits are habits of framing.

And this is good news, because framing's infinitely, instantly, and effortlessly pliant, if only we can remember that it's under our volition and not something imposed upon us. When we forget this, tolerances appear to widen of their own accord - beyond our control - in the aftermath of every fried chicken binge as we powerlessly watch behavior shift. That becomes the thing we must not do. Which means it becomes the thing we sometimes do. Framing!

It's hard to deliberately not eat the pizza, because trying to forcefully change behavior is like wagging the dog. It's much easier and more effective to reframe tolerances.


Your Body's Just Trying to Accommodate You

Monday, August 19, 2019

"Go Back to Your Country"

A Chinese-American friend was approached in a parking lot by a tight-faced older woman who snidely told him "Go back to your country". He replied, naturally, that he was from Brooklyn.

He's been telling the story to everyone in his circle like a war story - a traumatic experience demonstrating the hellscape we currently inhabit. He found it deeply wounding.

But, as I frame it, the fact that this encounter seems like a horror/trauma proves he's living in Paradise. One can almost hear peels of muffled laughter from graveyards around the globe as generations who sacrificed to bring humanity to the brink of Paradise watch their descendants feel completely wrecked by mere trifles.

The woman was neither performing nor threatening violence. She was wearing no uniform - i.e. in no position of authority. No bloodthirsty mob arose to egg her on. She just got into some grim crappy car and drove away. Was this pleasant? No, it was not. But if brief unpleasantness was the worst thing that happened to my friend on that day, it can mean only one thing: he's living in Paradise.

Practically only yesterday we strode around savannas, bashing each other senseless with clubs for no good reason. One brief generation ago (I still remember it from my childhood!) it was considered perfectly acceptable - even admirably "manly" - to occasionally slug people in the mouth if you didn't like something they said. Now that we've reached a point of ultimate civility, safety, and pampered comfort, some rando uttering an unkind sentiment can aggrieve us just as much as famines and plagues and warlords and lions and 46% child mortality once did.

As I wrote here:
By the time we're down to our very last Nazi (some geezer raving and saluting from his electric scooter), we'll all be so unhinged by his presence that we'll jump in the ocean and drown en masse like lemmings.

"If this is the worst thing that happens today, would that mean it's been a good day?" That's always the key question when rich, comfortable entitled people (i.e. everyone in the First World) feel compelled to frame trivial slights and discomforts as The Worst Thing Ever. This question, which I treasure as a magical amulet, is a red pill with the power to reveal that we're princesses increasingly vexed by smaller and smaller mattress peas. I've lived through heart attacks and heartbreak, sadistic authority, curses, and more, but I've never had cause to not answer "yes" to the magic question.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Grease, Sugar, Junk Mail, and Cinematic Manipulation

I exasperated my friend, hiking buddy, and favorite documentary filmmaker Les Blank by describing a film I'd recently seen as "manipulative". He was incredulous; nearly sputtering. "All movies are manipulative!" he hollered. "That's the whole point!"

We had six miles of trail ahead of us, so I had time to sharpen my thoughts. Finally, I produced a revision he deemed reasonable: the film seemed brazenly manipulative. The emotional manipulation itself wasn't the problem. It was the failed application.



Whenever someone pronounces food "greasy", I can't help grinning. That person - along with every other human - undoubtedly loves croissants, mankind's crowning achievement in the saturation of starch with fat. A croissant is a delivery system for the maximal fat per volume. No one who's ever curled her lip at a "greasy" dish would ever turn down a competently-baked croissant. So it's not the grease, it's the application.



A phrase that exasperates me is "Not-too-sweet". It strikes us as reasonable praise even though we'd all be bewildered if someone were to praise a steak as "unburnt" or an apple as "non-rotten".

There seems to be universal agreement that desserts shouldn't be too sweet. Yet (thanks, The Diabetes Council!) the average American scarfs down 25 teaspoons of sugar daily. We crave sweetness more fanatically than a swarm of fruit flies.



Everyone despises direct mail advertising yet it works very effectively (guaranteeing the existence of junk mail until the heat death of the universe).



The underlying dope is what entices us, of course, but it must be artfully disguised to spare us revulsion by the bald-faced truth of the unseemly underpinnings. We attribute our attraction to the frills and specifics of execution, which allow us to feign sublimation. Please, good sir, cease this unseemly talk of opium and pass the hookah. I am no addict.
Most high-end wine tasters are raging alcoholics. They maintain a certain veneer by up-paying for lofty grog, though every blessed one of them would go all Bartles & Jaymes if that were all there were.

I've framed these four examples of a certain psychological hiccup a certain way, but they connect in other ways, as well. I'm offering a cognitive lozenge, and invite you to ponder it (ideally for more than three seconds) and see where it leads you. I suspect it reveals something more fundamental than an addict's self-delusion.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Smiley Quiet People with Sweet Demeanors

A lesson I'm incapable of learning:

Smiley quiet people with sweet demeanors can have titanic egos.

It shocks me every time.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Evangelicals

My favorite pundit, Rick Wilson, tweeted this:
After decades of invective about us godless depraved NYC assholes, these guys have chosen to worship the very worst of the ilk.

One day they’ll line up solidly behind a Mexican rapist/criminal socialist, just wait and see.


BTW, this move dates all the way back to the beginning with a crowd that maybe wasn’t always super pro-Semitic following a Jewish dude.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Aging: The Video Game

I'm only 56, but I think I see how old age works.

You know how, in video games, you keep leveling up to acquire greater strength, skills, and weapons, but the opposing monsters keep getting commensurately tougher to maintain an overall balance?

Aging is just like that, but the monsters get tougher just a bit faster than you get better.

Eventually, you reach a tipping point where the monsters start winning, and your strategy turns to preserving as much as possible for as long as possible amid increasingly indomitable opposition.

I'm not at the tipping point yet. I'm still gleefully leveling up and slaying monsters. But I sense the imbalance - monsters getting tougher faster than I'm getting better. Each new victory takes just a bit more doing, and my sack of resourcefully clever tricks is not infinitely deep.


I previously answered (on Quora) how old age feels.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Grinders Always Win in the Long Run

Yesterday I saw a woman, about 5'6" and 175 pounds, wearing a fancy new gym outfit and doing terribly ambitious and exhausting things: pulling heavy ropes, leaping up onto boxes, etc. I watched this grimly in my wrinkly beige gym shorts (I think they started out blue; I can't remember) while grinding away on my treadmill, just after having completed my standard grunting circuit of unsexy weight machines. Behold my mindless zombie workout, sweat-and-soreness-producing but certainly not optimized nor scientific. No gym balls, pilates, high-intensity interval stuff, trainers, etc..

Scattered around the gym, inevitably, were several other grim grinders. It's hard to focus on us; we blend in with the furniture. We're like the "townies" of the gym, and we range from marginally overweight to haggardly underweight (i.e. don't know when to stop). None of us are fat, but we see lots of fat people showing up and doing very fancy and ambitious workouts. We can’t remember any of their faces because they never stick around.
Think about that fancy gym outfit for a moment. If she were really gunning for weight loss, why make such an investment in her current size? Me, I curate a full portfolio of homely beige-faded shorts of every size, including the exalted and gleaming "32"s, which still retain a bit of color and which I can barely wedge my thumb into.
Here are the best workouts, in declining order:

1. Half-assed, wimpy, short, easy, barely effective workout every other day that you easily commit to.

2. Half-assed, wimpy, short, easy, barely effective workout daily that you occasionally need to cancel.

3. Exertive workout that leaves you sore and aggrieved and with a bad taste in your mouth (unless you're really locked into the long-term groove).

4. A scientifically optimized highly-effective diligently full-body workout that feels like you've climbed a mountain (non athletes are not wired to climb a mountain every day).

The best workout is the workout you commit to (i.e. the "worst" workout). So I think you've got to tailor your workout to commit-ability above all else.

Resuming after a lapse, I always start with #1 (sometimes even less than #1; once I just sat in the parking lot, lazily checked my email, and drove home...and deemed myself successful). I max out at #3, but only after I've really locked into the long-term groove and actually crave it.

Comfort zones are a deep-seated thing, so I protect mine vigorously. Faithfulness/consistency is my overriding objective, followed by frequency, with exertion/calories/pounds/durations/reps/laps only barely relevant. By the time I’m addicted, I hardly notice that I’m lifting heavy weights and running long distances and sweating buckets. It’s the routine that matters, not the content. Hardware, not software.

This is true for most worthwhile human aims. The creator of the stripped-down meditation style I practice makes an analogy to tooth brushing. If you brush with enormous zeal, you'll just irritate the bejesus out of your gums, ensuring that you miss the next few brushings, thus setting you back in the end. And the fact that your teeth won't look any better even after a couple weeks of eager brushing can break your morale.

That's not how you approach it! With gym workouts as with tooth brushing, you need to recognize that while no one nor ten nor even hundred sessions makes much difference, a locked-in daily practice - even a grim, grinding, semi-conscious one - can make an enormous long-term difference.

Settle down and do the work. Momentum quickly dissipates; it is not a viable ongoing fuel source. The grinders always win in the long run.


Have I ever posted anything to this Slog that didn't carry the underlying message that "It's all in how you frame things"? Even before I started zeroing in on the whole framing thing?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Water’s Just Fine, Regardless

An old friend who's one of the best musicians in NYC just told me he's in rehabilitation after having been institutionalized for several months for mental issues. I knew he was perennially depressed, and had struggled with substance abuse while coping with some bad childhood trauma. But it apparently came to a head. I sent him this.

It's the third in a series of examples of induced perceptual reframing, along with this and this. Those two "worked"; this one, we'll see (the payload, tied to his specific background and prompting him to use his toolset, is the short final sentence; the rest is just prep):



I'm very sorry to hear that. Let me know if I can help with any real world issues. I have a car.

I’ve been having the converse experience, probably not much more pleasant.

Most people find a way to make their generally pleasant life experience a living hell. I’ve always been curious about this, and even did it myself for a while. Finally, I tried the opposite move, just for shits and giggles. I dropped my resistance to whatever happened, and to whatever my mind conjured up (worries, memories, etc.). No flinching. No judging. I lean in. It’s all “acceptable” (ha, like the world cares how I label it!).

I made that my move. Whatever happens, I embrace. Not stoically/dramatically (I gave up the dramatization habit), just gamely up for the experience. I just live right through it all, come what may. Not trudging/shlepping amid persecution, just curiously receptive to the latest. Even when it’s horrible.

And it’s been kind of horrible (almost like my resolve's been tested). So while everyone else dramatizes and ruins a pleasant life, I’ve been gamely embracing a life that’s horrible on paper. It only feels horrible if I resist, or take the drama view, though. So I just don’t. It’s sort of like one of those Chinese finger traps, on grand scale.

I recognized that the move that's always made me miserable was to frame the world as events happening to me. That sounds so normal it’s impossible to imagine another view. But the other view is that things happen around me, not to me. I'm just sort of there, blinking and watching, same old me, unaffected.

I know I’m unaffected because the awareness peering out of my eyes hasn’t changed since as far back as I can remember. My body may be completely different, and the contents of my memory and mind may be completely different (that stuff does get affected by what happens) but the awareness, the presence, has never changed, so it’s never been touched. It’s always curiously taking it all in. And that’s who I am. As such, nothing ever happened to me. And I’m gamely receptive.

Like I said, often it feels like a test (“Oh, yeah? Try gamely embracing THIS!!!”) I’ve had horrific things thrown at me, and if I lapse into my old habit of resisting (and self-consciously watching my dramatic character suffer), the suffering can be remarkable. But I don’t lapse as much now. I’m not in a movie. I just live straight through it (not as some insipid “personal growth” bullshit, but as a commitment that required insight and courage and gnarly life experience). As I do so, the water’s just fine, regardless.

Anyway, that’s my story. It’s nice in one view, horrific in another. It’s a fresh perspective on great pain, not a negation of it. We have infinite freedom to shift perspective, which only gets as stuck as we want it to be. The world does what it does, but we can view it in an infinity of ways. I think maybe that’s what creativity is: ingenious reframing.

Your friend,

JIM


[Update: total radio silence. Upon rereading, I see I loaded it up with WAY too much stuff, WAY too much concept, way too much crap he'd never relate to. I probably looked like a loon - which is fine, I'd risk that if it might help, but...sigh. I am, alas, not always very good at this, and don't mind freely admitting it]

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

El Paso is a Better America

El Paso is a place where women who look like Mexican telenovela actresses speak better English than I do, and seek out regional Japanese cooking and write knowledgable Yelp reviews about it, yet also speak in rapid-fire Spanish with their abuela.

This is a border town, and we assume we know what that means from movies, but that's mere gloss. A border town can be a profound scenario; less like brotherhood and more like co-joined twins. You can't draw lines, much less build walls, because there's an inseparability, a morphing from one into the other and back again. It's disquieting. It's wonderful.

There are people here descended from the original inhabitants, and others from their Spanish successors, both long predating Texas' statehood. Both lines experienced some "neither-here-nor-there" malaise for a few generations, but as America has become a more comfortable place for Hispanic people - and, not coincidentally, more thickly composed of Hispanic people - there's been a flowering. No longer forlornly rejecting both, many have flipped to embrace both; identifying readily with American culture while feeling renewed pride in their roots.

Folks in El Paso don't like to be called "Hispanic" or "Latino" or (hoo boy; worst of all) "Mexican". It's not that there's some ethnic chip on their shoulders, it's that they're very proudly American - even "'merican", the conservative corn-fed variety of patriotism coastal Americans love to mock. These are pickup-trucks-and-barbecue folks who do not take kindly to hyphenation. The identity empowerment politics of a South Bronx community center has no place here.

El Paso preserves village warmth and charm in a metropolitan area of nearly a million. Many non-Hispanics here speak at least some Spanish. Not the cavalier pigeon Spanish of a Beverly Hills homeowner instructing the pool guy to limpiar la agua pooor favor, but a more heartfelt Spanish representing the same cross-culturalism that resulted in many New York Puerto Ricans speaking decent Yiddish in the early 20th century. This is what magically happens when you pack different people together; they morph into each other a little. They understand each other. They may not always love each other - Benetton's a clothing brand, not a bona fide planetary movement - but the blending goes too far to reverse.

It works both ways. I'm a bit Puerto Rican from having eaten tons of pasteles and arroz con gandules and playing salsa gigs and generally being exposed to the culture. Jews and Puerto Ricans, like Jews and Italians, are somewhat co-joined where I grew up. There's overlap. Anywhere can function like a bordertown, and it's always an improvement. The rest of American could use some El Paso/Queens-style cosmopolitanism. We should all talk a little Yiddish and a little Spanish.

When Trump first started yapping about his damned wall, I didn't need to read polls or listen to man-in-the-street interviews around El Paso to know people there would be furious. Show me a xenophobe and I'll show you a fearful provincial lacking personal experience with The Other...and thus unable to overcome hearsay and stereotype. Most -phobias and -isms stem from unfamiliarity, while border towns like El Paso forge deep familiarity and are improved for it. Blessed with multiple vantage points, they are better suited to triangulate truth. We should look to them for our answers.


I've added an ancient El Paso report ("El Paso to Silver City: A Make-Do Romp Through a Desert of Chow") to the archive of old articles on my web site.

Fired in Two Minutes Flat

As a musician, every once in a while I'd give a younger, less experienced musician a break and call them for a gig that normally would be out of their league. I could tell immediately - by how they walked in the door! - whether I'd made a mistake.

About 25% of the time, the player would walk in quietly, perhaps a bit nervously, and with bristling excitement. It would go well. He'd be on top of his game, listening hard, ever-alert, and eager to contribute. These things would more than compensate for a few inevitable gaffes and inadequacies. He'd be a "team player", helping foster a positive vibe that would lift us all.

75% of the time, the player would walk in bored and blasé, as if it was just another damn gig. Hey, he was sharing a stage with us, which made him, obviously, an equal colleague. Whether his attitude was a contrivance (he was scared stiff) or delusional (he was clueless re: his place in the scheme of things), I'd brace for a bad night. He'd be just as off-handed as a really good player...but without the really good playing. Ouch.



I once needed to recruit writers for a project, and invited a blogger who lacked the expertise and experience of the rest of the crew. I figured he'd work extra diligently, flattered at having been included. On his first day - first minute, really - there was a group meeting about a nuanced decision. He ignored several of the fine points I'd laid out, and barreled forth as informally as if he were chatting idly on Facebook. After listening inattentively, he blurted out whichever idle thoughts occurred to him.

I fired him on the spot.

I'm sure he hates me. But I saved both of us a lot of pain. It would have been much worse if I'd postponed the inevitable.

You might hear this as "I demand to be shown proper respect." Not at all. It's not inter-personal. My point is that if you're not awesome, you need to bring your very best game. And I know, with the certainty of long experience, that you won't elevate your game unless you arrive with a respectful attitude. I'm not looking for respect, per se, but for the sort of results that flow only from that attitude.
From that framing.

Attitude stems from framing, not vice versa. So I know your framing from your attitude. I know which universe you exist in, and what you're capable of, from your attitude. One cannot directly change attitude, but one can effortlessly shift framing...which instantly transforms attitude. "Emotions", same. They, too, stem from framing, are hard to change directly, but effortlessly shift with reframing.

That awful thing your mother once said that you've paid shrinks $$$$$ to help you grapple with? If you found out your mother was mentally ill, or joking, or rehearsing a line from a play, you'd be fine in a flash. You'd reframe, and emotions would fall in line easy-peasy. So what if you reframe just for shits and giggles, recognizing, say, that everyone's spinning like a top from their own issues, with a long chain of separate reasons for saying/doing silly stuff, none of it having anything to do with you?

Forgiving is reframing. Laughing is reframing. Recognizing other people's long chains of cause/effect is reframing. Realizing other people's errant statements are no more deeply significant than your own is reframing. You can also just go ahead and reframe anytime just 'cuz and without a reason. Flip!

The only thing holding you back is a conviction that the grimmer framing is truer, while more free-spirited framings are lightweight and “unrealistic”. That's an illusion stemming from a perspective frozen in Grim-land. Our most habitual framing feels truest. Try another! Any other! Flip!!

Framing is not a nerdy conceptual mind trip. It's the motherlode of who we are and what we're doing here. It's humanity's ground zero. It directly impacts and centrally underpins every issue in the human experience.

Check out "The Joy of Stepping Up", describing the thrill of my lifetime, when I was lucky enough to be the very worst player in the band.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Day Vandals Wrecked Chowhound

Late in the painful saga of hosting a web forum for nearly a million people without any resources, a horde of strangers stopped by one day to add to our pressures and woes.

Several hundred random vandals blitzed our message boards with smart-aleck comments for a few minutes and were gone. Imagine a crowd of kids bursting into your home with spray paint cans. And imagine the aftermath, as you painstakingly remove the damage.

It was really painstaking. Our software offered no modern deletion system; postings had to be nuked manually one-by-one. If we worked too quickly, it could corrupt the database. So we set to work sloooowly deleting several hundred garbage postings.

Our volunteer moderators - busy people with real lives - treated this like a biblical plague, with much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. For my part, I regretted imposing this extra work (keeping their job loose and fun was my job), but I could view the situation in two ways.

Bugs Bunny was constantly annoying the bejesus out of Elmer Fudd (even when the latter wasn't wabbit hunting). The Marx Brothers kept crashing parties of stuck-up rich lady Margaret Dumont, interrupting her warbly arias and taunting her and her stuffy friends. I loved both. I love it when giddy tricksters collide with self-seriousness. I subscribe to the "keep it light" credo even while at my most serious. Elmer may not have had many days off to enjoy west and wewaxation, but I never considered that. I applauded Bug's efforts to disrupt his twanquility, however sadistic they might have actually been.

As I helped scrape away the garbage postings, I found a lot of them funny. We were an awfully self-serious bunch, oblivious in our warren of foody foodtalk, obsessing - at first ironically, but eventually not-so-much - over yum-yums which, in the scheme of things, maybe weren't the most important thing in the world. And though I'd sweated blood to keep it running, and these people were wrecking the joint and upsetting my crew, I could nonetheless adopt their point of view; their framing of us, and even of me.

I couldn't hold both views at the same time, however. Perspectives are monogamous in a given moment, though they can be flipped sequentially. Each framing felt enormously different. In fact, the entire world felt completely different when I was 1. chuckling at the wisecracks and viewing Chowhound as slightly Margaret Dumontian, or 2. lamenting the heartless defacement of my labor of love. The flip - back and forth, like the two choices of an optical illusion - was instant and effortless because I'd chosen to loosen the reigns and to opt out of the impulse to freeze perspective on the viewpoint I DAMN WELL HAD EVERY DAMNED REASON TO....blah-blah-huffy-blah. Even at the meta level - framing my framing choices - I was more of a free-wheeling Bugs than a tightly-wound Elmer.

Just because the current movie plot appears to call for a certain scene doesn't mean you need to play that scene (realizing this once may have saved my life). You're the screenwriter. You write the script. You get to choose what kind of movie this is. Try something different! Try loving red lights! Or per the video embedded in that link, try framing an insufferable sound as beautiful music.

You needn't play out a sad scene just because someone just said or did something that correlates (in your mental database of social consensus...or of previous conditioning, aka trauma) as sad - "They're messing with my web site! Cue fury and stress!" You can be creative. 

This posting has offered an example of reframing, and of how we're always free to do so but mostly choose not to (and, over time, forget we even have the option). It should be obvious that a lithe, flexible willingness to reframe is helpful and happiness-causing, whereas frozen perspective makes life a tedious torture.

It should also be obvious that a playful pliancy of perspective (PPP!) can really piss people off (the other moderators, understandably, absolutely did not think the vandalism was THE LEAST BIT FUNNY). So be careful out there. Don't get crucified!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Funnel of Weight Loss

I've done daily grueling gym workouts, avoided restaurant and snack foods, and generally eaten immaculately for four days.

I'm sore, I'm slightly disoriented, and I've let other elements in my life go a little....with absolutely nothing to show for it. If I were to keep this up for three weeks - an immense achievement requiring huge sacrifice - I'll have lost 3 or 4 pounds. Nearly insignificant!

In the cartoon version, it makes clean and tidy sense. A pound of weight loss per week is to be expected, and, hey, it's good to shift priorities to healthier living. There! Done!

But we don't live in a cartoon, we live in the living. And in the living, I'm doing a very hard thing, with considerable sacrifice, for a great length of time. A two month hospital stay for physical recuperation would be a tumultuous life-wrecking disruption. You'd send me cards! And this is only a couple notches less disruptive, and will take twice as long.

My little-understood (judging from the comments) posting titled Losing Weight Costs $1000/pound" really stands up, I think. The monetary value of a serious weight loss regimen is $1000 per pound. One must budget accordingly.

Consider this. If I were to ask you to upset your rhythms and patterns for three weeks; to lose your free time, change your diet and deemphasize your social life; to go beyond your comfort zone and feel sore and disoriented while letting some parts of your life go a bit, what would I need to pay you? You'd demand $3000, bare minimum

If you're accustomed to Pringles, iPads and sofas, it's an enormous change. Four days of this feel like an achievement - with no actual visible indication of achievement. Three weeks, which feels downright Olympian, buys you only a small token; a bit of slack in the waistband. You really can't make this work without reframing perspective. You need to shift to liking it, to being it. "Means-to-an-end" thinking only takes you so far.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

THE FRAMER

Good news! My recent sojourn into difficult postings about mind framings (aka shifts of perspective) and their relationship with creativity, insanity, messiahs, inspiration, and weight loss is nearly over. This will be the final installment, at least for a while. We've lost 75% of our small feisty crowd thanks to this tangent, and I don't imagine they'll be back. But they say it's healthy to thin a herd, so I can only salute your bovine magnificence.

Going forward, I'm at a loss as to what I can do for an encore. I've solved every mystery that's intrigued me (there've been many; I'm abnormally curious). I've connected nearly all my scattered observations and insights in describing a common basis for art, creativity, spirituality, hypnosis, insanity, depression, and self-destructive behavior, weaving an original and credible theology, cosmology, plus a quick-start guide for would-be messiahs. I've accounted for the most elusive phenomena in the human experience - inspiration - and explained how to bottle the lightning.

I’ve also explained why it’s perfectly ok to blindly relish the mere surface of it all. If so, then why dig around behind the curtain? Well, curiosity, obviously, but, more importantly, for those for whom drama has overheated into trauma, and who find themselves on the brink of giving up on the world. Even those intentionally intensely jacked in to the drama can reach a point where they need to pause the movie and have a nice long look around the calm, safe theater. They say Prozac's a helpful drug, but it won't give you that. Reframing will. Booze, sex, and workaholism are blunt reframing cudgels, with wicked rebounds. But the good news is that perspective has been infinitely responsive - at your very fingertips! - all along.

I feel squeezed dry (especially coming after the two year build-out of my smartphone app, Eat Everywhere, which incorporates pretty much every speck of my food knowledge). But having uploaded himself, your desiccated husk of a slogger has one last trial for your flagging patience.

Before I get to it, I'd like to object to the notion that what I've been doing here is "philosophy". Philosophy is abstract conceptual masturbation, usually irrelevant for everyday people. This material is anything but. All things mind-bending and assumption-challenging are not philosophy! Every "long view" is not philosophy! It's a lazy term. Like "ethnic food", it's a planet-sized drawer where we toss anything not brutally familiar. This material is too singular to sort, so into the drawer it goes. "Smells like philosophy" justifies one's retreat back to a more comfortable diet of endless hours of watching people on TV calling a senile 73 year old moron "racist" over and over again.

It will be decades before these insights reach broader attention. When that happens, my writing won't play a part. It surely won't be noticed among the 180 quadrillion web pages, but others will stumble into the same conclusions independently (the first popping kernel doesn't make the other kernels pop). I hope you've enjoyed a sneak preview of humanity's next phase of evolution (snarkers: there's your pull-quote). We will realize that we frame; that its not imposed on us; that we're free. This is the only truly effective salvation that can reasonably be imagined.

These conclusions would have been reached far earlier (likely by the Presocratics of Ancient Greece and/or the eerily contemporaneous authors of the Hindu Upanishads) if only they'd had the enormously helpful metaphors of movies and video games to consider.

Anyhoo...

Since early childhood, I've had the sense that I was really good at something...but it was fuzzy. I dived into music, and was good but not really good. Same for writing, community management, guerrilla entrepreneurship, food, yoga, meditation, and a few  lower-profile undertakings. Always dancing around some fuzzy Thing. Finally, at this late date, I see that childhood me was right (as usual; he was so much better than this shleppy, bleary-eyed grown-up). This is what I'm really good at. This is the fuzzy Thing! Glad I found it. I very nearly didn't. The ten year discovery process was charted in real time right here in this Slog (here's a very rough overview, underscoring a different through-line), amid all the lasagna porn and vacation slideshows.

Ok, having run my miserably self-aware little victory lap before a mildly appalled gaggle of jazz musicians, Chowhound loyalists, eating buddies, and ex-girlfriends - a bedraggled juiceless raisin of a man trudging mirthlessly in beige track shorts - it's time for the final (for now) chunk. Embarrassingly, this one actually is philosophy. But here goes:




I recently wrote:
Epiphany, eureka, and inspiration are the peakest experiences a person can enjoy in this world. They dislodge stuckness and open up fresh insight, leaving us euphoric. Who wouldn't want that? They arrive, famously, in a flash, via a mysterious channel that's clearly distinct from everyday thinking.

These blessings stem from reframing, that’s all. Blind to our infinite freedom to shift perspective, we enjoy the beneficial aftermath with befuddled gratitude. Since we haven't, as a species, fully framed our framing, major shifts seem to manifest as a thunderbolt from heaven; a gift from the muses. “What the hell was that?!?”
What I'm really saying is that God is a construct upon which we project our framing faculty. 

We frame incessantly. It's how we create and traverse our world. But the faculty is almost entirely unconscious (fish don’t know that they swim!). And so we frame it as an external Framer doing it. The ensuing blessings - the epiphanies and eurekas and inspiration; the creativity and the consolation - are attributed to Him (and since those outcomes are extremely wonderful, whoever makes it all happen does indeed deserve immense gratitude. So, hey, give yourselves a nice round of applause!). 

A book was published back in the 1970's, titled "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by Julian Jaynes. It sparked much animated discussion.

Jaynes theorized that introspection is a relatively new feature of the human brain. In ancient times, before we came to fully "own" this higher function, our thought stream didn't seem to emanate from us, so we figured it was imposed from outside. The benign hallucination of an externalized inner voice explains all those ancient prophets and their revelations. They heard their own inner voice as the voice of God.

In the final estimation, a consensus deemed this crank science, and the book's barely remembered these days.

But Jaynes was right in the broader sense. We do have a divided mind (cognition vs framing) and we have indeed long attributed the more elusive, loosey-goosey part (framing) to God. He doesn’t talk to us much these days, but our shifts of perspective - along with the associated epiphanies and inspirations - still come from "out of the blue", as even the staunchest nonbeliever would agree.

Jaynes wasn't drawing quite the right distinction, and he got hung up trying to explain this via structural issues of the brain. Humanity will find no neural structures underpinning framing. It's the other way around: Framing underpins all structure (i.e. the entire multiverse). Perspective is pure subjectivity, and there can be no objective basis for it. Subjectivity doesn’t spring magically from objects; objects are an interpretation of subjectivity, and that's why this faculty is so extraordinarily slippery, spurring us to create a God to attribute it to.
Humans, like beavers or ants, are brilliant with objects but brutishly ignorant of subjectivity. That’s why we outsourced the latter to a Supreme Being early on, who we, naturally, immediately objectified.
Most every spiritual tradition includes some quietly-stated acknowledgement that God (i.e. the kingdom of heaven) is within. You are God (and heaven is a perennially available frame). Not the "you" represented by this body with this name. Not the narrative with which you identify; not the Movie of You. There is a more fundamental static self - with clear lifelong continuity - overarching your perpetually changing materiality and your perpetually changing mentality. It has been palpably present since before you had a name or a backstory. It has stared blithely and unwaveringly out of your eyes for as long as you can remember. This is the pure subjectivity that you actually are. Often called "The Witness", what subjectivity really does is frame, via placement of attention. And that is, literally, God’s work. 

There’s nothing spooky or holy or exalted about this framing/being-God function.

It's the function that pays attention to one alternative or the other while viewing that optical illusion I keep pointing to (like here). Only one perspective is inhabitable at a time, but it can be flipped at will.

It's the function that can view Donald Trump as, alternatively, hilarious...or not the least bit funny (one perspective at a time, but flip at will - and, if you'll notice, the entire universe shifts accordingly).

It's the function I used to view a long-ago Christmas Eve as, alternatively, sublimely cozy or depressing and pathetic (choose one, flipping freely).

It's the function that makes 32nd Street seem like heaven if you’ve just been kissed for the first time or hell if you’ve just been dumped...or impels you to lead your entire life as if you've just been either kissed or dumped (the latter’s enormously more popular, yet, still: choose/flip!).

Once we recognize our infinite latitude for shifting perspective - for reframing - it changes everything. You need not wait for a God to do it for you. The faculty has always been freely available. You are, at the ground of your being, the chooser. The Creator.

So has anyone found any good tacos lately?



Reframing/perspective shifting is a bit like breathing or muscle contraction: it's something that we do automatically/unconsciously, but we can also seize intentional control. Unconscious framing choices stem from habitual patterns of attention placement. If, over time, you mildly favor framing minor snafus - stubbed toes and lost car keys - as being part of a pattern of lifelong persecution by the fates, that framing becomes the default, and every subsequent snafu adds to your greater burden. But an infinity of other perspectives/framings can be consciously established as habit (again: kissed or dumped!). The salvation of humanity will be in recognizing that our sowing leads to our reaping.

Oh, and “spiritual enlightenment" is just another shift...to the widest possible perspective. It makes for a fine bookmark among the infinitude of framing options, but is no more difficult a shift than any other. They’re all effortlessly available (again: consider the optical illusion, or the piano smash). Reframing is not something we toil to achieve, like with cognition. The only problem - THE ONLY PROBLEM! - is unfreezing one’s ability to consciously frame at all. Once, that is, you've remembered that you even can. And I’m working on a book of exercises to help with that.


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