Saturday, December 17, 2022

Oblivion Tour: Paterson, NJ Turkish/Arab Wonder Zone

Welcome to Jim's Oblivion Food Tour, where, homelessly awaiting my visa, I amuse myself by driving aimlessly in a rented car, half-heartedly seeking out interesting eats (my cruise idea crashed when I learned I'd need a passport - no good, because Portugal's been holding mine for 3-1/2 months).

I already did a similar tour back in 2006, but that time my bills were paid by a corporation.

I won't be doing lots of glossy reporting here, as I'm still post-traumatic from that previous Chow Tour. But this is too surprising not to mention.

Paterson, NJ has always been an intriguing food town, just off-the-beaten-track enough to host little gems and pockets of surprising immigrants. I haven't been here in years, and, my god, it's now turned into a Turkish/Arabic metropolis nearly as teeming with restaurants, cafes, and bakeries as Dearborn, Michigan.

Most prominent is their Turkish community, very welcome since most Turkish places in the five boroughs have had the life sucked out of them. New Jersey Turkish boomtown was exactly what we all needed, and Allah provides.

I got a little obsessed with Taskin bakery. Like all Turkish bakeries, there's as much savory as sweet, and I drastically over-ordered on two consecutive breakfasts.

Sorry for the hasty photos. I am not your dancing monkey.

Note that they heated that stuff up for me (in an oven, certainly not a microwave).

Under the Taskin sun

Day one breakfast:

Front row(!) left to right: Lahmacun (mouth-melting), Taskin borek filled with meat (unimaginably crusty), Bazlama potato (home fries stuffed into a pancake). Second row: chocolate thingee, sarma pistachio (done properly with slightly rancid butter), Turkish coffee with a generous free lokma (fried dough ball)

Day two breakfast:

Front row: Cut-up su böregi (noodles and cheese; more on this below), UFO roll thingee, meat pie. Second row: Turkish coffee and kadayif.

I'd like to call special attention to su böregi, which I rediscover every few years, always making the same astonished connection to Jewish lokshin (noodle) kugel, which is the exact same dish. Here's the slab plus a close-up:

Some Jews make this dish sweet, and even add (yeeeeech) raisins. These are dangerous, unhinged Jews known as Litvaks, and you must avoid them and their kugel at all costs.

Moving on, this shot gives you a sense of the splendid local restaurant density:

Driving around, my dawning intuition bloomed into a conviction that Palestinians are here, and that they are making kunafeh. Palestinian kunafeh bears no relationship to the Lebanese or Turkish versions. This is cheese-based, and, as I wrote in my smart-phone app "Eat Everywhere", it's "one of mankind's most triumphant creations." I honestly believe it's the world's greatest dessert.

Problem is I'd just consumed a boatload of Turkish sweet and savory baked goods (not everything in the photos in single sittings; but close to it). So when, while driving around looking for a pharmacy, Nablus Sweets cropped up in my peripheral vision, and a buried connection linked it to Jordan, which linked it to Palestinians, which linked it to Palestinian kunafeh, I groaned. But facing the inevitability, I parked, and entered a bakery as vacant as a salt marsh and filled with treasure.

The photos are way way better if you click to expand them:

So many versions of basbousa that it made me a little dizzy:

The baklava, while obviously crazy-fresh, seemed to shimmer in a sepia haze from a distant century. It's not a photography trick. It really looked like this:
And here's the blessed kunafeh:

And a close-up:

So great. And no rosewater. The owner, a cool dude who speaks perfect English and immigrated in the 70s, told me that kunafeh from Nablus, Jordan never has rosewater. He was amazed I'd ever had it that way. But I have, in Palestinian kunafehs in Astoria, Brooklyn, Austin, and Dearborn.

We got into a long discussion of this, and of the world, and of human imperfection, and of politics, and I didn't agree with much of what he said, but I could see - as is often true - that opinions are like stick-on labels, completely arbitrary and not self-defining. I've lost the ability to confuse people with their stick-on labels. Opinions are flimsy and cartoonish, while individual people are neither.

The words coming out of his mouth were not my words, and included some phrases I'd normally deem disqualifying (though I'm no roaring progressive), but we were friends by the end. Actually, from the beginning. We agree on the big picture stuff that's what matters. He latches onto certain "takes" in his bewilderment, while I latch on to certain others. But we're both bewildered. Brothers in bewilderment.

He would not allow me to pay for my kunafeh. Which broke my heart because there should have been thousands of customers vying to get in, but there was only me. And even I wasn't a paying customer.

The moment when I earned my free kunafeh was when he explained how money interests had ravaged Syria, Sudan, and other places. Behind the authoritarianism, t's all about the money. Like most/all Palestinians, the guy was freely loquacious, but I stopped him cold in his tracks when I asked, with enormous sincerity, "But what's so great about money?"

He froze. He considered it. And he melted into a recognition as soft as his kunafeh. 

"Your beautiful baking makes people happy. I never saw a rich person get anywhere near as happy from an extra few bucks."

He couldn't argue.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Postcards From My Childhood Part 16: Remember to Take Profit!

First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order

"The child is the father of the man," they say. Surprisingly, I understood this even as a child. And so I willfully sent forward to my elder self some thoughts and images which I knew would be helpful, and which I suspected I'd otherwise forget.

Of course, "Remember to take profit!" is not how I phrased it as a child. It was only much later that I learned that, until investors "take profit", by selling their investments, gains are strictly propositional. But my old-dude mind sometimes expresses things in boring, stodgy adult-speak. My inner eleven-year old tolerates this, so long as I haven't diluted his message.

I was fascinated, as a kid, by the psychology of saving. I still use the budgeting scheme I came up with at age seven. I wrestled with the question of exactly what we save for. Squirrels understand, at some level, that they’ll retrieve those acorns during winter. Their savings process is necessity, not luxury. But human saving is more abstract.

We spend on essentials - because they're essential - while saving comes out of the rest. It's deliberate deprivation, and it's a bit bizarre. We endure deprivation to asssure future enjoyment, which means either 1. your future self is a tyrant (who therefore doesn’t deserve it), or 2. you expect to know when to pull the trigger; i.e. when to stop saving and start spending. Neither seems quite rational.

I couldn't wrap my head around the issue, but I did send a postcard to my older self, reminding him/me to keep a keen eye so as not to miss the trigger-pulling point. When it’s time to spend, I need to actually do it!

I have, alas, failed momentously. I just gave away my beloved collection of aged Belgian ales and port wine, because I'd blindly awaited tyrannical future me to arrive, zestfully yanking corks and swigging grog. That guy never appeared. And if there was a clear moment for me to about-face and get drinking, I never noticed. So the bottles just sat there.

It's not just drinks. I've recently thrown away countless fruits of herculean effort, vast profit sadly unrealized because I never made a withdrawal. Nothing but deposits! I've ignored my childhood maxim. I failed to keep a keen eye.

But, after that recent experience, the issue was on my mind. And this week I found myself homeless, my house and car sold and my stuff in storage while I await a residence visa from Portugal - which should have arrived weeks ago but god knows when it's coming - leaving me with nearly just the shirt on my back and nowhere to go and nothing to do. With all my careful planning exploding on me, keenness finally arose.

My inital plan was to couch surf, book cheap AirBnBs, and generally crouch into a holding pattern, grimly awaiting the damned visa with a clenched jaw.

But no. I'll book nice hotels in cool places (none of them abroad, since Portugal has my damned passport). This won't be a grinding austerity. I''ll make it a blow-out. And I won't sweat the money one bit, because it's time to take profit.

I may even take a cruise. I'm not generally that guy, but in present circumstance, the easy infantilization of cruise ship life, padding around and catching some comedy or some solar radiation or a shrimp cocktail, maybe spending hours in my room reading, sounds good to me. Fewer decisions and less stress than driving around in a rental car, booking hotels and constantly loading and unloading suitcases in the dead of winter.

No one one could deny that my youthful deprivations were worth helping 60 year-old me avoid a hideous chapter, especially when this is the very thing youthful me urged me to do. I will take profit in a moment of genuine need, and not look back.

But I'll also execute a nuanced counterstep. A finishing touch; a coup de grace; described by Buddhists as "The Middle Path" and by mathematicians as "regressing to the mean." Any guesses? Take a moment to ponder!

As I loosen the buckle, allowing myself this profligacy, I'll also oh-so-gently feather back the other way. I'll stay at good hotels, but not exorbitant ones. And I'll find deals. I won't opt for the fanciest cruise in a high-status cabin. I'll find bang-for-the-buck last-minute offers. Just because you're blowing out doesn't mean you can't also pare down. Calories don't magically devalue in the presence of lots more calories.

I will not economize to the point where it no longer feels like a party. I'll be strategically profligate. To me, that's the sweet spot. There's a Zen art - or at least a level-headed maturity - to keeping firm-not-fraught attention on the opposite thing without spoiling the contour and spirit of what you're primarily trying to do.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Relief Fallacy

I'm an inveterate hacker. A yogi. A persistent mo-fo. I plug away at mysteries, impasses, and issues, propelled by titanic curiosity. But there's one issue I've given up on. It's the only human problem I know that can't be solved or worked around or reframed.

If you're in great pain and manage to find relief - a 25% or 30% or 50% or 75% improvement - you will feel all better. You will not sense the remaining pain; at least not right away. It will be invisible to you, your perceptions overwhelmed by the relief. Ecstacy accompanies alleviation of great pain, and nothing can cut through it. It's like an opium cloud.
The first joke I learned as a very small child:
Q: Why do you keep hitting yourself in the head with a hammer? 
A: Because it feels so good when I stop!
This is dangerous. Unaware that you're still bad - even maybe excruciating! - you will stop treating yourself gently/carefully. You'll resume larding on stress and exertion, until made aware that you were skating far closer to the threshold than you’d imagined. It's a horrifying discovery. 

Note that I'm talking here about real trauma. Not garden-variety pain. And it can be physical or emotional.

A 50% improvement can still leave brutal pain. Ugly pain. Killer pain. No one - not even an experienced yogi - can register, much less gauge, that remainder.

My posting, "Don’t Stuff a Rising Threshold", makes the related point that there are levels of pain no quantity of morphine can touch. It's another warning to avoid letting pain stack up, or packing stress into every available gap. Don’t be John Henry!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Real Men Do Not Want To Be Feared

Check out Real Men Do Not Want To Be Feared ("If your definition of 'a real man' comes from insecure, foppish charlatans like Gorka, Tate, and Cawthorn, it's time to find new role models who actually are 'real men.'")

More and more often, you don't need to read the article. This is why Twitter works so well, or used to, before Musk's crazy decision to increase to a 4000 character limit. 

 A few more:
Secure heterosexuals don’t try to act flamboyantly heterosexual.

Secure non-racists don’t try to act flamboyantly anti-racist.

Genuine people don’t try to project genuineness.

Honest people don’t try to project honesty.

Kind people dont try to project kindness.

Smart people don’t try to project intelligence.
5000 years into Civilization, we’ve compiled mounds of experience with the human race. So why do people still find this basic, self-evident stuff so phenomenally hard to grok?

For one thing, I repeat my assertion that autism - a disinclination or inability to traffic in the "seeming" end of things - might be an evolutionary improvement. Severe cases, of course, do bring stiff downsides, but you can't present an improvement while simultaneously fitting in smoothly.

Further reading:

Seemers Always Win: Posing as Someone Like You

Going All the Way in One's Shmuckery

Monday, December 5, 2022

Hiatus Advice

As I work through some keenly orchestrated self-torture, pinging the precise receptors of my PTSD (fun!) and discovering for not the first time that there are levels of pain no quantity of equanimity can counterbalance (it’s actually nothing - Jesus, listen to me carrying on - but I warned you I’m really bad with three-or-more simultaneous channels of pain), I realize I’ve been neglecting the Slog. 

Question: have you read through all the “hits” indexed at left? Or re-read them? As I periodically explain, I’m not aiming here to present stirring reads. I’ve concocted lozenges to be mused over and periodically re-read. I hope they’re worth it. I think many of them are, but what the hell do I know…

Brief story. An online friend told me he’d experienced a shift of perspective that left him framing things differently. He was plowing through my stuff, finding that it was the only place guiding him to understand and expand his mysterious shift. 

Nice, right? But it wasn’t thanks or praise. He was registering a complaint. “There’s so much to read!” He protested. He asked me to boil it down. Point to the essentials. Maybe write a book. Give him the shiny tome that could be one-stop-shopping for everything he wanted to know (as if I - or even he - could possibly anticipate this). Frustrated by too many answers to the vexing questions vexing him, he left in a huff. 

Another one bites the dust. Oh well. But then don’t imagine you don’t have anything to read here. If I get run over by a bread truck tomorrow and never write another word, there will be more than enough to sustain those kooky enough to get a charge out of this sort of thing. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go throw away yet another cache of painstakingly acquired treasure.

Sunday, November 27, 2022


Gurwinder is a good Twitter follow (he's part of my Must-Read list, which you're welcome to follow).

Like me, he's fascinated by fallacies. And he just posted a master list.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Class Implications of Resorting to Nano Double-Sided Washable Removable Transparent Sticky Tape

You've likely never heard of Nano Double-Sided Washable Removable Transparent Sticky Tape. This is obviously specialist tape, but the nerdy specificity doesn't mean it's not extremely useful.

Have you ever found yourself propping up a smartphone against a dashboard or car radio or cigarette lighter or whatever, so you could use it for the GPS directions? And suffered the pain of hitting the brake or making a turn and seeing the phone go tumbling around the cabin?

The standard solution is a cumbersome and unsightly suction cup stand like this:

Dreamy, no?

Unsightliness aside, it's an over-engineered solution. It's overkill - and looks like it! You just need some stickiness where it counts.

The aforementioned tape is like flattened soft silicon gel with tacky top and bottom. Adhere one side to any sort of horizontal surface, e.g. the skinny plastic ledge beneath the speedometer. And set your phone down upon it, for some modest grab on your phone.

Is it perfect support? It is not. The phone, lightly stuck just on the bottom, might still tumble over. Just not nearly as easily. It's like 90% better, and you don't have to live with a stupid plastic extensor arm suction-cupped to your windshield.

The tape is admirably reusable. If you pull it up, it won't leave residue. I always bring a little roll with me when I rent a car, and have used this in every car I've ever driven (that doesn't have CarPlay), replacing it every six months or so as it loses tackiness.

Ok, so I know how this lands on contemporary ears. Good-enough quasi-solutions seem shoddy; fumbling; weak. They might even elicit class prejudice. "I'm not someone who puts cheap tape on my dashboard to hold up my phone. I'm not that person. I do things nicely. I do things properly."

There was a time when only aristocrats expected their domain to be uniformly Nice and Elegant and Solid. Then this became a bourgeois expectation. Nowadays, it's everybody. I recently tried to give old clothing to an unemployed friend, who looked at me like I'd offered a wad of snotty tissues. Just because he incessantly complains about his oppressive poverty doesn't mean he's some hobo! He's a nice person (implication: poor people aren't nice people) experiencing temporary setbacks, that's all!

A "good-enough" solution wreaks of lower class. Mrs. Howell does not seek workarounds. Mrs. Howell tears out the wall, or the whole darned building, if necessary, to ensure it's right! She's a nice person with nice things who does things nicely! And Jim's stupid tape idea is NOT NICE. NOKD!

The young couple who bought my house want to add HVAC (central air) first thing, to evade the shabby tyranny of wall unit air conditioners (the house came with a slew of them).

I told them that HVAC is indisputably great if you can afford it. Totally smart move! But why not live in the house for a year, and suffer a bit from the inadequacy of imperfect comfort? That way, when you finally install the HVAC, you'll be relieving something. It will feel like an upgrade!

And, by waiting, they might discover that the wall units work well enough. No one has ever stood in a house where HVAC replaced decent and plentiful wall units and said, "My God, that's so much better!" Despite the lofty price tag, it's just not that sort of life improvement. So why not experience the baseline first?

They listened patiently, but I could hear their thoughts. Dude. Well-intentioned shabby old dude. We're getting central air. We are not farm animals.

Being aristocrats, we've lost all touch with the notion of "good enough". The phrase evokes poverty. Grubby. Not-nice. Like someone offering you their shabby sweatshirts.

Indeed, I can read the above while visualizing myself as a stubborn old coot futzing around with plastic tape to mock up his stupid smartphone, which still falls over a bunch of times. Jesus Christ! Then setting his calendar to remind him to REPLACE THE TAPE every six months. So grubby! So suboptimal! So poor!

I didn’t change. Everything else did.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Spurning the Cookie

If you undergo any sort of extended ordeal, or stressful slog, or false accusation, bewilderingly persecution, or never-ending stream of weirdly overblown unpleasantry, and you don't extract from the experience some small redeeming kernel of wisdom - a cookie, if you will (like the cookie they give you after you donate blood) - that is, if you just walk away, rattled, tightened, melodramatic, and empty-handed, you're a failure.

That's a word I rarely use. It's not really my groove to describe a full, three-dimensional human being via one flat term of contemptuous dismissal. In fact, I've got a very low bar for success. For me, you can be homeless and not be a failure. You can have a string of unsuccessful ventures and not be a failure. You can be hated by everyone and not be a failure. You can die young or live depressed and not have been a failure.

I'm the guy who sees self-destructive people as simply having chosen to increase the difficulty of their gameplay for an extra-intense experience. I'm the guy who sees addicts as simply stuck - nothing depraved or wretched. I'm the guy who thinks autistics are on to something. I'm the guy who sees the rewards as chintzy and the punishments as oversold. I'm the guy who realizes that God lets kids get cancer because we like it that way.

I don't see the world in terms of binary success/failure, so I'm making an exception to a cardinal rule here. Yes, you're a failure if you go through trials and get so tensed-up and stressed-out and freaked-out, melodramatic, and self-pitying that you take away no wisdom and glean no higher perspective from the trauma and sacrifice. If all you have to show is “PAIN-NO-LIKE!” For me, that's the only way you can fail in this life. Do not spurn the cookie!

If you're prone to musing, you'll want to know what happens if the volume's turned up via even greater suffering, travails, and friction. Might that pop out an even heftier and more delicious cookie?

How much wisdom is attainable if you don't tighten up or freak out? If you don’t smack away or insolently disregard the cookie? What if the travails multiply in chain reaction, to the point where you recognize the absurdity of it, and feel less gripped by it, and stop contracting against it? What if you go the other way, and relax? Dilate? Embrace? What if you frame yourself as dancing, like a reed assaulted by violent wind?

What if you choose to wryly observe it all, amiably awaiting the cookie from within what looks like hellish inferno? What's the ultimate outcome if you go all the way through the tunnel? What do you get?

This Slog.
If you read any of that as bitter self-pity, then you missed it. Read again! I'm one of the most curious humans ever. Very early on, I recognized that I wanted to Know - needed to Know - and would sacrifice any in-game victories to Know. All chips on the table.

My wish was granted (my wishes are always granted; the trick is not to wish for the standard crap). So I have no complaints. If you're a tightener-upper rather than a 
letter-goer, prone more to anguished whelps than to wry observation, you [understatement] would not have enjoyed my ride [/understatement]. I can't say I much did, either. But it's been worth it. I wanted what I wanted, and I got what I wanted.

If, by the other token, you think I'm boasting, you also missed it, and you, too, need to re-read. I have nothing to complain or boast about. I bought something extravagant, paying full price, and was left neither in surfeit nor deficit.

But I do have something to offer: this fourteen year effort to open-source the priciest and most unattainable insights, for the cost of only your attention and consideration. I can't imagine many/any people willing to purchase it the hard way, so I've done my damndest to offer it pre-masticated and conveyed with professional writerly pizzazz (this stuff's way less entertaining in the original Sanskrit, believe me).

Monday, November 21, 2022

Explaining Human Sociality


You know how people are types? There are only a few dozen human personas in a given era, and nearly everyone has picked one to portray.
If this is news to you, that means you've been unconsciously doing this, yourself. Dissidents will easily recognize the truth of the observation, because it's been unnerving us all along.
There's the husky-voiced high-energy female who’s loads of fun and everyone's instant best friend. Or the chill dude in the fuzzy sweater who says "It's all good" a lot. The snide, glaring sourpuss. Nearly everyone is a familiar flavor. You've known dozens, maybe hundreds, of each type.

I noticed this very early, and was always proud of not being a “type”. But the joke’s on me. There's a reason for this set-up, and my opt-out has cost me dearly.

Making yourself a recognizable Type make things easy. Others know what to expect. You exude familiarity, and this familiarity feels soothing.

People like known quantities. They like to feel soothed and comfortable. A known quantity doesn't challenge comfort zones. There are words for people who threaten comfort zones (even if benign and well-intentioned), and none of those words are kind.

We are biologically wired to repel the unclassifiable. So if you’re not a type - if you speak, act, and think in surprising and unscripted ways - you will confuse and irritate, regardless of benevolent intentions.

Projection Booth

If others can't place you, then, in their confusion, they will project a motivation for you. And it won't be flattering, because the projection stems from their own preoccupations. If someone is sex-obsessed, you must be some sort of pervert. If someone is paranoid, you appear to be scheming.

The most-feared thing inevitably gets projected onto the inscrutable. Even the word "inscrutable' carries a slithery, menacing connotation. Few of us expect lovely surprises. That's not how our minds are set up. Confused people don't brew up benign accountings. They scarcely reach for the poetic. Rather, they project their issues, complexes, and dark obsessions. Stir people from their complacency and you won't get their best selves.

To be seen in your unique individuality would require attention, empathy and intuition. Rare traits, and people aren't very curious or perceptive. That's why we adopt recognizable personas! By making ourselves known quantities, it all stays nice and buttery. Humans aren't adventurous. They're hardly eager to start from scratch with some unknown quantity, exploring who you are and what you're like. That's hard work! That's scary!

Unfamiliarity provokes anxiety, and no one willingly seeks out anxiety, so nonconformists become outcasts. It's a natural winnowing process. You're neither comfortable nor familiar. You require work, and you're scary. Plus, again, amid the confusion, gruesome qualities are projected onto you. If you're not an obvious Someone, that means you're the Other, and it can't have escaped your attention that humans have deep-seated issues with Otherness.

Not Me!

You may assure yourself that you are not a "type". Few would recognize it, much less admit it. In fact, type-portrayers never feel more uniquely "themselves" than when they're really leaning into the character. But if the situation I'm describing doesn't hit a nerve (explaining why everything's so weird and menacing), and you're not quite sure what I'm going on about, then, sorry. You've gone along with it.

But, then, good for you! You've enjoyed heady societal perqs unimaginable for us dissenters. You have no idea how menacing it gets for us, particularly in times of elevated stress, when people are even more eager for comfort and resistant to surprise and otherness.


This all took a quantum leap with the dawn of movies and TV. Before, we imitated parents, teachers, etc. Our “role models”! Now role models are professional role-players. A much richer palette of options.

This explains why so many of us imagine ourselves starring in a TV show. You sometimes spot folks playing to an imaginary camera, or spewing canned snatches of prefab scripted dialog. Memes and catch-phrases. Being that guy/gal. Hey, it's me doin' it!

The worst thing for people starring in movies is when someone ignores - or flips - the script. They need others to flatter their performance - to play along - but if you're grounded in the here-and-now, that makes you the ultimate buzzkill.

This accounts for still more of the malevolent weirdness. You didn't mean to spoil their performance. You merely failed to buy it! But they easily sense your disinterest in playing along. Your non-artificiality. And it's the worst thing. As I once explained, truth is like turning up the house lights.


So let's talk about "crazy" for a second. Many people have deemed me - even to my face - as "crazy". Or "eccentric". Or lots of similar descriptors. Even though I'm patently quite sane. It took fifty years to feel secure about that, amid the gas-lighting. For all my faults, I'm pretty sure I'm lucid. At least that.

But if you're not a type, the quality most commonly projected onto you will be "crazy". And here's how those wires get crossed: Crazy people are unscripted, due to their dysfunction. They're unable to produce the standard patter and project a standard persona type. Therefore: anyone unscripted must be dysfunctional.

Sane people follow a script! Sane people are a type! Sane people are predictable! So if you're not doing those things - whether you're a schizophrenic battling inner voices and dark impulses or just some regular nice person opting not to spend her life role-playing - that signifies CRAZINESS.

We hear it enough that nonconformists get provoked into leaning into it. Consider this Apple ad, "Here's to the crazy ones":

It's an attempt to "take back" the term, like black people reclaiming "nigger." Hey, we're PROUD to be crazy!

But there's an enormous difference between nonconformity born of frail incompetence and the nonconformity of defiant creativity. It's simple enough to distinguish: defiant/creative noncoformists get good results. But no one considers the results. Off-scriptedness, in and of itself, signals dysfunction. Everyone else has a recognizable character they play! What the hell's wrong with you?

Opting out of playing a type condemns you to gaslighting and rejection. And you can't help but be affected by the warped mirroring. In the determination to hold fast, you can veer further and further from the well-trodden conformist path, eventually sending the car over a cliff. Sustained gaslighting can make a defiantly creative person legit crazy.

If you're a nonconformist, maybe don't proudly label yourself hahaha crazy. How about "surprising" or "spontaneous" or "creative" (especially if you do boast good results)?

The important part, though, is, as always, the framing. Hopefully I've armed you with a fresh perspective on how it all operates. Here's a concise boildown: You've opted out of spending your life pretending to be someone you once saw in a movie. But nonconformity has its perils. Resistence inexorably sows friction.

Let's return, for just a sec, to the example of driving the car off the cliff.

You needn't go to an extreme to stake out your freedom. Nuance is better.

Just as the antithesis of hatred is not love but indifference, the opposite of adopting a canned persona isn’t a brash or flamboyant display of nonconformity. It’s living a stable, comfortable, honest, three-dimensional existence...with good results!

That's the healthiest foothold from which to utter the timeworn words: "Fuck 'em!"

See also "Unifying Framing, Learning, Creativity, Depression, and Narcissism"

Friday, November 18, 2022

Permanent Shmermanent

Everyone asks me the same question about my impending move to Portugal: "Is it permanent?"

The question irritates me, which shows it's a harbinger. It's a key, a lens, a Rosetta Stone, uncoding a pervasive human tic I've chosen to eschew. I once wrote:
Big-picture scenarios are like cartoons, and we don't live in cartoonish big-picture images, we live in trivial moments. This is not a movie. We're raindrops slowly working down windows, not heroic protagonists.
That's the best I ever expressed it. More often, I just mockingly point out that "we're not starring in movies". But that isn't the best metaphor, because it sounds like I'm urging humility. Keep your nose down. Don't be expansive. Be small.

But that's not it. Expansive grandiosity is as good a way to play this game as any other....just as long as you recognize that it's a game. We're all acting. That's what this is. So if you can briefly turn away from the big silver screen in your mind where your Life Journey has appeared to triumphantly play out, you may enjoy a moment of lucidity. In that reframing, ask yourself what you've ever done that was "permanent".

Are you even capable of doing anything "permanently"? Does anyone really live in a big sweep narrative where such words apply?

Like all musicians, I've been a detached observer of strangers' weddings. I can report they all palpably mean it when they swear to remain together forever. But many won't. And they SWORE! In front of everyone important to them! At a party costing thousands - or tens or hundreds of thousands - of dollars! That's as high-stakes an oath as one could imagine! What more elaborate proof could you possibly contrive that you really mean it this time?

Lofty pronouncements often prove worthless, because we don't live in the loft - in the grand narrative arc. No, we live in the muck; in the moment, swayed by pheromones and endorphins and unconscious anxieties and gastric volatilities. While our mouths utter noble intentions and initiatives, the status of our digestive, eliminative, and sexual release cycles are far more causative factors.

Humans love to flatter ourselves, but, in reality, we ricochet wildly, like pinballs, from whatever just happened - including stuff that only happened in our heads. Really, it all happens in our heads, because whatever seemed to have just happened was perceived through a heavy fog of pheromones, endorphins and unconscious anxieties.

We realize all this, at some level, but we suppress the recognition, persisting, despite towering evidence, in the loopy and unsupportable notion that our lofty pronouncements and dramatic trajectories are meaningful.

Why don't we fully frame ourselves as we are - raindrops slowly working down windows rather than heroic protagonists? It's because we're addicted to telling ourselves stories about who we are and what's happening to us (spoiler: it all happens around us, not "to" us). This is the starring-in-movies issue I'm speaking to. It's a matter of framing, not of behavior.

I've opted out of that one, and it was as effortless as any framing choice. So my move abroad is not accompanied by a soundtrack of tremulous violins. I don't visualize myself as "on a journey". And I have no clue what the term "permanent" even refers to. It seems as preposterous a conceit as "happily ever after". That's not how things work. That's not who we are. I am not a protagonist. I'm awareness.

I don't even know what a permanent decision would look like. I've never made one (I've pretended to make them, but it was 100% dramatic bullshit). I've never seen a human being do anything permanently - though death inevitably freezes the film.

Hell, I might be back in a month! Stuff happens, conditions change, opportunities arise, epiphanies dawn. That rich and unpredictable unfolding is what life is, no? If so, I won't waste energy being embarrassed or disappointed. Per the Slog's tagline, I play the cards I'm dealt, striving to be a diligent earthworm (who shits out - hopefully! - ever-so-slightly more nutritious earth as he goes), proceeding with the uncomplicated industriousness of an ant. All of this, on a good day, with the blitheness of a reed.

Low glory. No journey. Permanent shmermanent.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Mac Magic Trick

A new magic trick: Command-comma opens preferences within most Mac apps!

30 years of fervant Mac use, including hours spent pouring over lists of obscure keyboard shortcuts, and I never knew this! It's a new day!

I love nothing more than being shown my gaps. My ignorance, my short-sightedness, my wrongness, my illogic. You can do me no greater favor than showing me that my favorite taco place is nothing special (by revealing how good tacos can actually be!), or that my conclusions are based on faulty assumptions. Of course your logic - and your taco - has to be on the money!

For one thing, this helps me course-correct, so I can be even more of an obnoxious know-it-all. But that's not the ultimate reason. It's that nothing great ever comes from knowing. The real treasure is leeched out of the ether by the enormous vacuum power of my yawing ignorance.

Possibly the greatest moment of my life came when I stepped up from being the best player in the bad middle school band to the worst player in the good one. I improved 1,000x every minute in the new setting, ecstatically discovering how complacent I'd been in my own wretched mediocrity.

It was an Awakening, but you can only wake up by realizing (and fully conceding) that you were previously asnooze. So I'm eternally thirsty for evidence of my own somnolence. Heaven's where I'm the very dumbest, wrongest, most limited, ignorant, blinkered, mulish sonofabitch.
Here's the big problem: I reflexively follow the Golden Rule, which is ruinous when you're the only person who enjoys being done unto a certain way.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Chowhound Moderators Discuss Elon's Twitter Conundrum

Discussion of my previous posting ("How Elon Went Wrong with Twitter") with a longtime Chowhound moderator (I'm on the right). Click for greater clarity (note that there are two screen captures).

Sunday, November 13, 2022

How Elon Went Wrong with Twitter

I can't find the original tweet, but the best analysis I've seen of Elon Musk’s Twitter misadventure - amid all the absurd noise about how we're simply seeing what a stupid stupidhead he's been all along - was someone drawing an analogy to science/math/technology grad students smugly declaring how comparatively easy all that social science bullshit is.

They figure that if you can master differential calculus or machine language or analytical chemistry, then all that soft-headed human realm stuff is just a bunch of loosey-goosey crap, easily faked through.

Yup. Bingo.

Engineering types are susceptible to the fallacy that humans and human communities and societies can be engineered (it's a classic example of Maslow's Hammer).
To digress, this is the thinking that hatched all our ultimately dystopic Egghead Utopian theories. Communism, Libertarianism, Anarchism, and Totalitarianism all stem from applying engineering thinking to human societies. Nazi Germany was a precise, efficient, highly rational engineering machine, and it ran fabulously aside from its barbaric disregard for the humanity of humans. That's not something one can instill in a machine. And that's the problem.
Bright intellects at the time proposed shiny and highly-efficient solutions for Chowhound's moderation agonies. But as I've written, the bad online behavior content moderators work to thwart is not defeatable. It's more of an chronic condition, like diabetes, requiring elaborate ongoing management rather than a curative pill. Impressive weaponry might help you win a battle, but not the war.

Engineering types invited in would peer at our elaborate, laborious human filtration system and dismiss it as inefficient and unviable. Quite rightly, but it was also necessary, because you cannot "solve" human problems. You must manage them, and that's not an enterprise engineers or scientists have chops for.

The issue is that humans are creative. Unlike light waves or cadmium isotopes or bits and bytes, we behave unpredictably, irrationally, and we fight back with purpose. So as you engineer your side of the spy-vs-spy, the other side will engineer back at you - or hack around your engineering - to thwart your thwarting. It's messy and irrational and emotional and psychic and intuitive. It's an undertaking far better suited for a mom than a rocket scientist (not that one can't be both, of course).
Rocket scientists falsely assume they outrank moms. In their minds, "mom" is like the "chop" setting on a blender, while they're all the way up at "liquefy"...and "liquefy" is intrinsically better because it's more resource intensive.
Come to think of it, the only engineering mindset that might be usefully applicable to the human realm is fluid dynamics, which boasts a truism which actually applies to human groups: Water Finds a Level.

Water, alone, is creative.

Saturday, November 12, 2022


My Moderately Comfortable Upbringing in Purported Splendor

My confusion about the concept of wealth began in early childhood, when my parents drummed into me how very wealthy we were. I believed it, though it was evident we were not wealthy. I've suffered from lifelong bronchitis and easy dehydration from my mother's adament refusal to buy me drinks during long drives, shopping trips, etc. Drinks are cheaper at home! The discomfort certainly didn't make me feel "privileged", but kids can be made to believe things amid direct evidentiary conflict. They're pliable that way.

The wealthy feeling was certainly true for my parents, though, as recent emigres from the dreary slums of Yiddish Brooklyn. And it was contagious, so I framed that way, too. It held fast even during visits to the mansion of my uncle, a highly successful anesthesiologist. He lived on several rolling acres with a swimming pool and Japanese gardens. A childish dysmorphia convinced me that our house, a boxy little suburban number, was equally fabulous. Which, in a way, it was (who wants to live in a mansion?) but...well, you get the idea.
I found it hard to find level ground as a kid, and this chronic confusion kindled my lifelong curiosity (confusion and curiosity being two sides of the same coin). This Slog is where I attempt to piece it all together!

I know fat people who believe they're skinny and skinny people who believe they're fat, and this is exactly like that. My parents kept telling me we were rich, and I kept believing it, and the spell didn't break until I was 45 years old, and my mom was fixing to sell the house to move to an apartment, and a fancy lady came over to give us an estimate on the value of our best stuff. Our heirlooms. Our treasure.

The lady did a yeoman's job attempting to mask her sneer, but I noticed it. She very, very politely let us know that the market for second-hand goods is just so particular. "Buyers like what they like," she explained, with a hapless shrug, thanking us for having her over and wishing us the best of luck with our home sale.

The scales dropping from our eyes, my mother and I both peered around and clearly saw ourselves standing in a sagging generic mid-century suburban house with paneled basement and olive green fuzzy carpet, and that literally all our stuff was worthless shit. The new owners demolished it - appliances and all - and started fresh.

None of of this felt demoralizing, because I had no real stake in any notion of privilege. It was just a thesis I had never thought to question, so I easily moved on to another thesis (I reframe well).

Years in the Desert

For the 25 years since I'd left home, I'd struggled financially, even while finding success in both of my main careers. Food writing at that time did not pay well. And jazz trombone never paid well. I was working constantly, but could barely survive.
Musician's joke:

Q: What does a jazz musician do with a million dollars?
A: Work till the money runs out!
I was averaging 200 to 250 gigs per year, some of them impressive, and was a cult favorite food writer. But I would never crack 30 grand/year, and there were nights when I went to bed hungry.

It was particularly confusing because, by my 30s, after all my nonagenarian black musician friends had passed, I was running with a rather fast crowd. Back in the 1990s there weren't many people who knew where the good food (or good anything) was at. You couldn't check your smartphone! I was pretty much it (and I'm only barely exaggerating for comic effect).

So I was an essential person to know, and the people I met, via music or writing, tended to be highly successful, even illustrious. Oddly, they looked up to me, because while they knew all the usual places to go spend $500 or $5,000, none of those places offered the satisfaction of the soul food diner in Jamaica Queens with jazz jam sessions in the basement every Wednesday, or the little Chinatown haunts not listed in Zagat, or the secret German bar on the Upper East Side run by an old lady who only let in friends (I was, naturally, a friend).

I had my finger on such pulses (and zillions more), and so I attracted a crowd of adventurers well above my economic class. Disorienting!

The Excruciating Weirdness of Inspiring Envy While Whipped Like a Dog

Then I started Chowhound, and was attracing tons of press and everyone assumed I was extraordinarily successful because my name was frequently in major media. And, for the first time, I had to deal with jealousy.

Not jealousy for running a cool thing, or for my publicity. That was an issue for a crowd of would-be food poobas, who I kept at a safe distance. No, I had actual friends jealous of my supposed elevation, which was horrifying, given that I was dead broke, horrendously overwhelmed, and in a state of panicked dread so thick and irresolvable that I avoided walking near busy streets due to an unceasing impulse to throw myself in front of cars. To plummet to such a horrendous low point - afflicted, stressed and desperately dead-ended - while a significant number of one's friends turn snide from envy - is a level of hell even Dante never catalogued. Talk about "worst of all worlds"!

My Vast Wealth

My confusion only worsened when I sold Chowhound. To this day, most of my friends and family assume it made me titanically rich. A bar owner once invited me to invest a couple million to help him expand his operation (my reply: "DOLLARS?????")

The more I deny it, of course, the more certain they all become, including those who understand that I'm moving away in part to extend my savings to avoid a cat food diet in my old age.

But here's the thing - the deepest confusion amid all the greater topsy-turvy confusion. Going from desperately poor to reasonably comfortable (dentist comfortable) actually felt like a huge step-up; much more meaningful than a reasonably comfortable person coming into a billion dollars. So I actually do feel massively wealthy.

You see, I'm POOR-guy-rich, just like my parents fresh out of Brooklyn in their proud little suburban house. I take pay bridges! I buy not-the-cheapest-wine! My phone's less than a year old and has no cracks in the display! I'm living the life, baby!

Deeper Truth

Wealth confusion and dysmorphia have been with me from the start. Compounding it, I recognize a few truths that others miss. Like that everyone in America is rich. Even our "poor" are rich.

Whenever I hear young progressives bitching on Twitter about those damned RICH PEOPLE, friends of mine in Oaxaca and Morocco come alive within my cranium, howling with laughter. America's a place where rich people bitterly complain about marginally richer people. What deluded and entitled asses!

I know that the difference between the self-styled struggling American proletariat and Elon Musk is way less practically significant than the difference between me, circa 1985-2005, and the poorest of them.

I appear to be the only American who realizes we're living in Utopia. We are akin to gods, with infinite entertainment, communications, comfort, security, and health care; and more discretionary income and time than any generation that's ever lived. Julius Caesar would eagerly trade places with any of us, for the antibiotics alone.

Defining Wealth

What is wealth, in the end? Is it being able to afford the BEST car and the BIGGEST house? If so, well, that certainly serves the aspirational need of humans to keep climbing ladders mindlessly until they croak from exhaustion.

But that's the only insight I can offer. The whole thing is a house of mirrors. A meaningless tally on an imaginary scoreboard for a game existing only in our fevered imaginations. Yet here's the truth: even I, in my highly detached bemusement, still get caught.

Real Wealth for a Hot Minute

As I recounted a month ago, my net worth (on paper) more than doubled for a few weeks, while a bug in my electronic scale had me convinced I'd lost a slew of weight. I was practically floating on air!

Ah, good times! That was wealth! That was attainment! I hardly recognize what's become of me since those brief, heady salad days on paper!

Nah, I know. I'm the exact same dude, living the exact same life, bearing up quite well despite the tragic shift in a meaningless tally on an imaginary scoreboard for a game existing only in my fevered imagination.

Nothing Changes Beyond the Frothy Storytelling

I've been that same guy all along. All through a youth that felt normal, but was framed as rich, but was actually working class. Through a young adulthood that felt poor, but was the envy of a high-toned set. Through apparent fame and fortune that was an actual kick-in-the-teeth. And through landing on my ass as a reasonably comfortable dentist feeling like a trillionaire in his poor-guy wealth, actually far below other people's expectations. And let's leave aside the unfortunate up-and-down I experienced earlier this fall - a mere blip from which I swiftly recovered, mostly just wryly ashamed of myself for having gotten caught up.

It all shifts and changes and churns around me, like a carnival ride, but it's somehow always me in here. The same me. Never not him. The numbers go up or down, expectations and assumptions weave into confusing patterns inspiring tectonic nausea (if I pay too much attention), but, in here, it's the same me.

These days I'll sometimes eat a $50 sushi lunch, giggling giddily to myself. It never gets old! I hardly recognize this guy! Yet I'd easily concede that a $7 chicken parm roll is no less toothsome.

A $7 chicken parm roll is no less toothsome.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Eric Trump’s Dog

I petted Eric Trump’s dog yesterday. Eric was not there. Reasonably nice dog. A bit glassy and distant.

I actually feel like my Zelig juju is contracting. This seems like a denouement.

Maybe not, though. Yesterday I also pulled a trigger (absolutely nothing to do with the dog, or Eric), via a small emailing action, that may or may not have a cascading history-altering effect. We shall see.

I have never felt bona-fide controlling or powerful for even a moment in my life. I feel like this kid, having fun in his lonely eagerness, rigging up cool stuff with his ball of string with no one particularly paying attentionThat’s been my model all this time. I’m him.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

My Ranting Howard Beale Valediction, Nominally about Elon Musk

I still don't hate Elon Musk. And I find the wild and shameless mischaracterization of his statements and actions tremendously disorienting.

Worst of all is the conformity of it all. People not paying close attention pick up the tribal revulsion via snideness on Twitter or MSNBC, in the same contagion pattern as MAGAs mindlessly conforming to the senseless snideness of their media silos. Visceral snideness and hate, none of it more than a micron deep. Shallow snark will be the death of us.

OF COURSE Elon is a malignant, devious, extreme right-wing hateful plutocrat and an ABSOLUTE IDIOT. Everyone knows it! We hear the tone of voice of our thought leaders, and instantly fall in line, smirking at that sorry rich shmuck. Elon is TRENDING DOWN. Step on him!

Just like with the MAGAs, it's all pro-wrestling kayfabe all the time. Nothing means anything, it's all just opening socially-acceptable channels for venting resentful snideness and cruelty. No different from "BURN THE WITCH!" It's that old trope.

It's not just that the Right's gone mad (and, hooboy, has it!). It's that America's gone mad, and Republicans are currently expressing this madness in a more harmful manner. That's temporary. Just wait till the Left gets a truly effective populist demagogue of their own (even milquetoast Bernie nearly ignited that kindling, demonstrating how primed and ready they are). The Left looks better because it hasn't found a Trump of its own.

Elon has taken solid and effective strides to helping the environment with electric cars, and has already saved the country's space program with rockets. His Boring Company may or may not work out, but it's a noble effort, and his battery work is groundbreaking. He's patently not in it for the money, which I (and apparently I alone) find admirable. The wealthiest man doesn't hang out in Aspen, he does literally nothing but work all day. He casually throws his chips on the table when captivated by an opportunity to do some good, which is my idea of heroism. I don't know anyone more widely beneficial and committed, including Bill Gates. And this guy's the great ogre and pinhead???

Elon says some dumb shit, as do we all. That's because he's human. The main problem, so far as I can tell, is that Elon remains unfiltered. He doesn't strive to project smooth omniscience and diligent thought compliance (empty poses, both). Why would we demand that of him? He puts himself out there, unafraid to be wrong. He hasn't outsourced Elon Musk™ to a PR battalion. We should admire that, not ridicule it!

I was about to type "he tells it like it is", and suddenly recoiled. I sound like a mild MAGA failing to grok what's so awful about Donald (who is unquestionably unfiltered). Ugggggh!

With all the gaslighting and disinformation surrounding both these people, it's nearly impossible to find stable ground. I'm still quite sure Donald Trump is a legit cancer - utterly selfish and sociopathic with no redeeming characteristics - hugely damaging to the nation, while Elon is a smart, principled guy doing his imperfect best to do cool and widely helpful things while defiantly remaining an actual (i.e. flawed) human being despite glaring spotlight. But, Jesus, the floor's not level, so who knows? Somebody exfiltrate me from this funhouse!

It's excruciating to me that the more people hate and misrepresent Elon (all driven - just like in MAGAworld - by pundits trading off a famous name for clicks, competing for maximal screechy excoriation), the more I question my antipathy to Trump. I wonder if I've been spun on that; if I'm being trendy. It's a centrist conundrum in moments of escalating bipolar extremism. My refusal to conform with Elon hatred softens me ever-so-slightly re: Trump, because the extremists hating both repel me to the point where I viscerally want to oppose everything they propose.

That's the danger right there. That's why extremists are toxic. Radicals radicalize others either for or against. They are like tops whose intense spin contagiously induces either sympathetic or counter spin. Good luck trying to remain still and stable! The aversion to dancing with the devil is, itself, a dance. In fact, the moment you call a devil a devil, you're already dancing! So good luck trying to find level ground!

It takes great effort to reframe oneself out of being radicalized or reverse-radicalized by appalling behavior. Given my visceral need to try and do so, America hasn't been a good setting for me (though I do feel obliged to keep writing, to offer cognitive support to others trying to hold the line of rationality - or, at least, what I deem rationality, though this deeming becomes more and more effortful).

Portugal hasn't caught this virus quite yet. So off I go.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Of Rocks and Wrecks

In every marriage, the seeming wreck is always the rock, and vice versa.

This may (not sure) be related to something I’ve heard about S&M: the masochist always has the upper hand.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Voting for the Power to Remain Empowered

So today, Sunday, I did late early voting, which in my mind jibes with having been raised upper lower middle class.

And for my first time ever, I voted Democrat straight down the line, without knowing who anybody was or what their policy positions were

Every election, naturally, is "the most important election of our lifetime." That's the freak-out line politicos perennially use to get out the vote. And as a cynical bastard, I have little truck with cryers of wolf. Decades of fearmongering have, alas, left America ill-prepared to handle an actual wolf. But I buy it here. I see the problem. And it's a whopper.

I'm a big fan of James Madison, Ben Franklin et al, and I'm not by any means ready to throw the dice and try a new form of pro-wrestling style government for shits and giggles (in the name, of course, of "patriotism").

Whatever these Democratic candidates do, should they win, I'm pretty sure they'll respect the ground rules of American democracy, at least in terms of elections being determined by voters and not by secretaries of state or governors. My right-wing friends believe my trepidations on this are over the top, but their leaders are saying it out loud. For example, the Republican candidate for gov in Wisconsin recently promised that "Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I'm elected governor."

So I'm way beyond caring about issues, or integrity, or any other normal electoral turn-ons and turn-offs. I am a single-issue voter re: the sanctity of the vote, which is fundamental to the American system of government. The entire structure rests on this. Literally nothing else matters.

As I ticked off boxes next to Democrats largely unknown to me, I kept recalling the age-old genie strategy of wishing for three more wishes. Meta-wishing is a wish for wishes. Today, I meta-voted. I cast a vote for voting.

A mansion, yacht, and Olympic size swimming pool full of crispy home fries are captivating genie wish prospects. But if I have an option of meta-wishing, I'll punt to keep all options open. Wishes are more valuable than any given quantity of home fries. Wishes beget home fries.

I voted party-line, without research on candidates or their positions, because voting begets everything. I feel obliged to protect that leverage at all cost; to wield the power to remain empowered. That's so much more urgent than any momentary favorable result.

It's likely that one or more of the Republicans I did not vote for are reasonable people, horrified by the election denial shenanigans and creeping authoritarianism that's thoroughly entranced their party. They may, in their heart of hearts, be fine and rational, and privately share many of my views and concerns.

But two things. First, I can't look into their hearts. I'm not gifted that way. I can only judge by their stated affiliation and allegiance (and it's not as if the Republican party is divided. In 2020, they didn't even bother to offer a platform. "Whatever the strongman wants, baby!"). And, second, if they're not willing to take a courageous stand while campaigning, I have no confidence they'll show the guts to buck deplorable trends during their actual governance. In my experience, the cookies seldom look better than they do in the photo on the front of the box.

TV Tens

I just watched the penultimate episode of "Atlanta", absolutely wrecked that the series will be ending, yet intensely grateful that 1. it happened, and 2. I got to enjoy it.

Atlanta is the story of a low-level pot dealer named Alfred who rises to stardom as rap star "Paper Boi" ("It's all about the paper, boy..."), but the career trajectory happens entirely off-screen! Like it's not even significant! Which, unless you're prone to drinking your own lemonade and sniffing your own farts, is how it actually happens. But, man, the audacity to make that choice!

The show's about much more than that. Week by week, it's about whatever creator Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) wants it to be (though it never wanders so far afield as to loosen the viewer's deep bond with the characters), and Glover is a towering genius investing heartbreaking care.

I can't rate Atlanta. There's no comparing it. I just have the assured conviction that nothing will ever be better. This is absolutely as good as it gets.

But, wait. I've just rated it! According to my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating stuff on a 1-10 scale, a "ten" is
"Absolute certainty that no one at this moment, anywhere on Earth, is eating anything more delicious than what you're currently consuming. Total contentment, tinged with the rueful acknowledgement that life can't always be this good."
My certainty that Atlanta can't possibly be rated is the rating: a "ten".

So, with that established, what else is a television "ten"?

"Succession". Nothing could possibly be better than Succession. I don't even have to/want to explain. Have you watched it? It's self-evident!

I think "The Leftovers" may be, as well. Definitely "International Assassin", an episode that left me as profoundly grateful as Atlanta did as a whole.

I also lean toward "Rectify", a perfect gem of a tiny, modest show (by the way, search the Slog for more thoughts from me on all these shows, and google show name + Sepinwall for episode-by-episode recaps by my favorite TV critic, Alan Sepinwall).

I'm finally watching "Deadwood", and haven't gotten far enough to say, but it's got the aura of coordinated greatness - in writing, acting, directing, staging, editing, and, hell, even music - that emanates an instant-on "one for the ages" vibe.

But it knows this. Everyone on and behind-camera is palpably clamoring for that result. Which is fine! But Atlanta never clamors. Succession never clamors. The Leftovers never clamors. If you can see them clamoring, it may be toweringly great, but not a "ten". A "ten" just is what it is. A "ten" is like water.

I thought about including "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul", but as hugely as I admired them, neither left me with a sense of intense gratitude or inability to compare. I loved them so much, and am at least somewhat grateful, but they weren't quite incomparable. Close, though. Near-tens for sure.

"Rick & Morty" is by far the most intelligent TV series ever made. It trusts its audience to be smart and clueful more than just about any work of art has ever trusted and respected its audience. But there were weak episodes. There were instances where the creators went too far, or not far enough. I'm more than willing to forgive, but forgiveness has certainly been required.

Atlanta never went a micron too far, or fell a micron short. There was precisely one episode I disliked, and only because it provocatively conflicted with my view on a hot button topic (reparations). Upon further reflection, however, I wasn't sure it actually did. It was just too nuanced and sophisticated and slippery to flatter my bluntly stubborn opinion. That's Atlanta at its worst: too fleetly elusive to catch up with. There was a problem, but it was with me, not with the show.

"The Wire" was a towering work of art; pulling the skin away from the city of Baltimore to show how the pieces fit together. No one who's ever seen The Wire is likely to commit the distinctly American gaffe of stridently pushing simple solutions for complicated problems. The Wire taught us that complexity can be legit complicated, and, in such incidences, prescriptions of simplistic common sense - easy fixes - are not merely inadequte, but the very problem itself.

Chuckle-headed simpletons with easy answers are an eternal American scourge, and three seasons of this great show drive home that elusive but essential point more persuasively than anyone's ever done so. Plus, it's entertaining. But is it a "ten"? The Wire is eminent and glorious and brilliant, but it didn't leave me convinced nothing else could ever possibly compare.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Love Theater

A few months ago I wrote "Post-Covid Narcissism: The Unnecessary Extra Effort of Custom-Tailoring", fleshing out my frequent observation that we're too narcissistic to notice how narcissistic everyone's become. My problem is that, having forcibly pruned myself back to mere 99.1% narcissism, I do notice.

I described a brief conversation where a friend failed to take into account who I was.
I urged a friend to check out a TV series called "Patriot" (here’s why).

This friend has known me for 30 years. She has a rich sense of who I am and what I enjoy, and of my reliability when it comes to recommending specific things for specific people. A lot of my tips have become her most-cherished things.

"I'm not really into high-testosterone entertainment."

"Why would you think it's that?"

"The title."

"So your gut reaction to the show title supersedes all your experience with me and my recommendations?"

Short answer: yup, she absolutely prioritizes her gut reaction above the massive evidence of a 30 year personal relationship.
I hovered, as an individual, in a foggy mental slurry for her, 90% generic person (aka "People") and 10% specifically me. I'm mostly "people", and only partly and occasionally "person".

In that same posting, I upped the ante with a brief recollection that, if you're paying attention, should challenge a lot of your assumptions regarding social interaction:
It's like 2000 and [my family is] in Memphis for a wedding. Having finished a rehearsal thing, we're standing around a parking lot discussing dinner options. I pipe up: "I know a place, not too far!" A cousin replies, haughty and dubious, "Is it good?"
Another family example. I'm one of three siblings. My two sisters share some personality characteristics which I happen not to. And while my mother, at some level, recognized the distinction from decades of direct and prolonged experience, she seldom managed to maintain that distinction. It was too much work. Easier to bundle "the kids" into a single thing (to her credit, the math supported her, given that 67% does constitute a majority). So in any given circumstance, she'd assume I was motivated by the sort of thinking that drives my sisters, because I was a member of a grouping characterized by such thinking.

When you spot your mom doing it, you're helpfully forced to recognize that this is a really real thing!

Most people mostly view other people, including those close to them, as cartoons. We may periodically wake up and pay attention, registering them as fully real and unique, but mostly only during moments of reflection and assessment. Less so amid the tumult of dynamic engagement, where we easily slip back into deeming a given person "PEOPLE".

This, among other things, explains why people turn so easily. And why you're only as good as your last ____.

We are mostly blips on people's screens, even if (especially if) they frequently declare their effusive esteem/gratitude/etc. I'm not being bitter, I've simply accepted the rules of engagement. This is not a deep planet, and that's ok; we have home fries and iPads and tons of nurturing sunlight and oxygen! And, anyway, most of the tears shed over this predicament are strictly unilateral. Few of us rue our own fickle ingratitude.

You might imagine that falling in love would be the antithesis of this cartooning process. Another person becomes elevated into being THE person! Certainly not "people"! But, no, love, in most instances, is an even more egregious denial of individual humanity; an even more obvious demonstration of narcissism. That's why the divorce rate is so high. And why break-ups are often so acrimonious. Let me explain.

"I thought I knew him!"

No, you didn't. And that's on you, not him.

You were casting around for Prince Charming, and this person was nice to you, and attractive for you, and reflected back your attraction to create a rapport. This fortuitous rapport felt not just enjoyable, but significant. "It's happening! HERE HE IS!"

This narrative, which I'm mocking, like a shmuck, is considered the pinnacle of interpersonal relations. Love! Not just love, but narrative love, epic love, STORYBOOK love.

It has little to do with the actuality of the other person, who's flattened into a two-dimensional love service provider, fulfilling fantasy and enabling destiny.

Pleasant aspects of the other person's individuality are celebrated as they appear, and get spun into the STORYBOOK tale. The flaws and horrors, less so. Initially overlooked (as part of the suspension-of-disbelief critical for any dramatic narrative), they eventually penetrate the haze of endorphins, and love begins to suffer the death of a thousand cuts. "My god, this is just some freaking person. Is that what he's been all along?"

Yes. He was a person all along. The towering elevation was always phony; an artifact of opportunistic rapport and biological engineering. But it was your choice to compress three-dimensionality into a two-dimensional scripted fantasy costar. You even deemed that dehumanization profoundly beautiful!

By reducing the totality of a person into the embodiment of a scripted role you've nurtured in your head (spurred by Hollywood), you've made a cartoon of that person. Yes, you are bestowing the most elevated and privileged status of cartoon character, but that's not the honor you imagine it to be.

As you consider yourself more deeply connected and generously expressive than ever, your narcissism is peaking. Widen the frame and see that you are performing love theater with the most treasured figurine in your glass menagerie. There's only you; Narcissus peering delightedly at her reflection.

"If I love you," asked Goethe, "what business is it of yours?”

Other people are not cartoons, and you are not the only real person, and no one exists to serve as a character in your movie, speaking the lines and running the gauntlet of your dramatic narrative. If that's how you do love (and, alas, most do), then eventually - inevitably - emergent characteristics and petty irritations will compile into a revelation that the project was miscast from the start. A "poor fit". The person was never the cartoon you'd imagined. But no one ever will be, because people are not cartoons.

We never question whether the other person would/should enjoy being turned into a cartoon. After all, we're bestowing the highest possible cartoon status! Such anointment being our greatest gift, it couldn't possibly be anything but delightedly accepted. And as any such delight wanes, and as an actual human being emerges, well, that's the unthinkable worst result from an unthinkably horrible person.
What’s more, as this un-delighting progresses bilaterally, the negative rapport makes antithetical (villanous) cartoons out of both parties via the precise same process. That's how your most-favorite-person becomes your least-favorite-person.

It's always an option to humanize humans rather than compress them into cartoons - noble or villainous. Many of us forget that option. It's a framing problem.
As we begin to notice the humanity - the off-script three-dimensionality of our idealized costar - we don't like it. It abrades the perfection. But it's entirely our fault. Not for having miscast - anointing the wrong glass figurine. The problem was the impulse to turn a three dimensional unique individual into a flat dramatic character for acting out love theater with in the first place. This is not a movie. This is reality and other people are real.

"This is reality and other people are real." That strikes me as incontestable, however it reveals a diagnosable mental health issue on my end. I'm not full-out autistic, but I do have a streak (or, at least, a dangerous sympathy), and it's emerging here. Autism is a refusal (in some cases the inability) to play along with hollow drama. (More here and here)

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Fixing Reflux

I've been working on fixing reflux for 20 years (along with several other self-healing hacks I've brewed up). And I've finally gotten somewhere.

Alas, it is a very difficult move even for an experienced yogi (it's possible that I'll find a way to simplify it and make it more accessible). But if you suffer from reflux, you have lots of opportunity to practice! While you pop pills and/or prop yourself up on pillows, waiting for symptoms to subside, maybe work on the following. For a few decades! It can happen sooner if you're talented. (Me? I'm like an ant).

First, make sure your front abdomen is lithe and energized. This itself will likely be a multi-year ordeal, especially if you're older. Young people don't get reflux because their front abdomen is lithe and energized! Cause/effect is all interwoven with this stuff!

The best way is by practicing nauli (rolling abdominal muscles up and down and - more difficult - side to side). I could do nauli like a champ as a child, but when I tried in my 40s, I couldn't even begin. Because I’d lost that supple connection. I essentially had gone dead there.

Most middle-aged people end at the bottom of their rib cage, just beneath their diaphragm. We know that below this there's elimination stuff and sex stuff and walking stuff, but that machinery is akin to the underside of a trolley, not well-integrated with one's sense of corporeality...which, once again, ends, for middle-aged people, just beneath the diaphragm.
See, I told you this wouldn't be easy. I know, I know...."What the hell is he talking about???" etc etc. But (please, world, hear this plea) just because you don't understand doesn't make me crazy!
So when you can do a nice responsive nauli all the way down to the top of the pubic bone (where there's not a lot of actual muscle to contract, but that doesn't mean you can't activate what's there) then you're good to begin working on my suggested fix. That's the prerequisite. Also: a few years of meditation (I do this stripped-down, simple, efficacious practice, but I do not recommend the rest of the web site) will help develop your concentration and body awareness to the point where the following will seem less daunting.

Ok, here goes: Be a crocodile. That's it. But it's hard to be a crocodile.

If you lack deep visualization and concentration skills, you'll need to practice while lying prone on your stomach, ala crocodiles. But it can be done while in any body position. This is an entirely internal action, not external. You can do it (I have done it) while playing basketball. But that's way, way harder. I'm apparently one of the few in the world able to do so (I didn't realize this until a celebrated Taoist master explained it to me).

What is the fundamental body charateristic of a crocodile? From one end to the other, it's all a straight line. Food hovers magically in empty space which passes - like a tube - through the body. And crocodiles understand this at some deep level.

Humans don't conceive of our digestive track as a tube, largely because we have a weird and un-animal-like right angle at the throat, which is great because it lets us walk erect, but problematic because it creates a sensation of complication which makes our digestive tract seem like some remote terrain "down there".

We need to learn to disregard the complication of the throat's right angle, and visualize a straight empty tube from mouth (gaping open, and filled with scary sharp teeth - remember, you're a crocodile!) to your body's end, i.e. the soles of your feet. That way, we can integrate it. This is an integration practice.

Foot-wise, there's a certain point just above the arch and roughly in the center of the sole. You'll discovery this point experientially, because as you practice, it will sparkle a little. Watch for that. It will be reminiscent of the sparkly sensation of a body part "falling asleep", but more subtle and more pleasant.

So, again, be a crocodile, with one straight line going from scary open mouth/maw to the other end - the mid-soles of the feet, just above the arch.

Stretch this line. Unify it - make it one. It's hard, because of that stupid right angle at the throat that you need to utterly disregard. You're not a bent human being with a complicated relationship with its digestive tube. You're a crocodile with one line from beginning to end. Stretch the line, unify it, making the soles of your feet sparkle, and then locate your stomach and join it in the line. Maw (scary!), stomach (sour), and feet (sparkly), all as one single unbroken straight line.

If you can't feel your stomach, then you don't have reflux and this is all unnecessary! Just locate the unpleasant sensation, and let that sourness stream down inside your thighs, into your feet (to the sparkly place). Maintain the linearity. Keep it one thing. You're a crocodile. Mouth ajar. Scary teeth. One line. All the way. Include the stomach. Let the acid fill your feet.

I'm repeating myself incessantly because that's how you'll need to practice. It's many things to bear in mind, so you'll need to self-coach, constantly self-reminding the various elements. A straight line really should be easy and all one thought. But often simplicity requires the most conscientious effort. This is exactly why spaghetti aglio e olio is the hardest dish to master. Simplicity makes the mind wander!

If you can learn to actually do this, you can shut down a reflex attack. Don't ask me what's physiologically happening while you're doing it. Perhaps you’re somehow closing that damned flap separating esophagus and stomach. I can't really say. I'm actually a scientific-minded guy, but you can't translate yoga moves into coherent science (though lord knows yogis try). Better to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's - "Caesar" being your GP. Let doctors do the things doctors are good at. But reflux sure ain't one of those things. And necessity is the mother of invention. So welcome to my invention!

I said of crocodiles that "food just hovers magically in empty space which passes - like through a tube - through the body." But it's even more magical for us, because people are vertically-configured whereas crocodiles are horizontal. Our food essentially levitates amid this long hole/tube running through us. It's no wonder that it sometimes wants to reverse course when we lie down. That's why this whole practice is about establishing a unified downward flow.

Connect down to feet from the mouth, via the stomach. Let the sourness shower down through the thighs, pooling in the soles of the feet and making them sparkly. Reading those two sentences might, alone, bring some iota of relief. Maybe memorize them.

There's no stomach acid in your feet, of course, silly! The sparkle is vital energy (which always follows attention). This is why acolytes for millennia have grabbed their guru's feet. It's not supplication, they're getting a charge from the sparkliness. Can I explain any of that scientifically? Of course not! But I'm grateful not to suffer from agita quite as badly these days. Good luck!

Blog Archive