Saturday, April 30, 2022

Mars Sucks

We are not going to colonize other planets. Here's why: they suck.

Mars sucks. The Moon sucks. There's nothing there. Not "nothing" like Elizabeth, NJ is nothing. Really nothing.

This is ridiculously obvious, yet space nerd tech billionaires - mired in the petty business decisions of daily life and yearning for outlets for grandiose broad-strokes rumination - don't seem to grok the fact that other planets totally suck.

You know what a drag it is to spend time at the DMV? Uncomfortable chairs, harsh lighting, stale vending machine candy? Everything run via strict protocol with no consideration whatsoever for "chill"? Life on other planets would be like that, only 10,000 times worse.

It's not just the lack of breathable air or soil or whatever. If, after 5000 years, we managed to drop a layer of top soil and a ribbon of oxygen on Mars, it would still suck. Earth's air isn't nourishing and salubrious because we're so into a certain oxygen/nitrogen ratio. It's because of the subtleties.
If subtleties could be formulated, McDonald's would offer the scrumptuousness of a four-star Michelin meal.
The stale shitty dry air on your airplane flight is far more delicious than what you'd breathe indoors on Mars. And if centuries of miraculous tech advancement allow us to imbue outdoor Mars with a breathable atmosphere, it will still be much less enjoyable to breathe than the air on a jumbo jet you can't wait to exit. It took a billion years for Earth to co-evolve the myriad subtle factors that let us inhale without our amygdalae firing off dire warnings. It ain't gonna happen on another planet. Ever.

Mars sucks. The Moon sucks. Even Ganymede, with its familiar-seeming reserves of liquid water, would suck even in the unlikely event we could manage to shield people from its frigid temperatures and deadly radiation. Ganymede water is not going to be "nice" water, because our notion of "nice" is unimaginably narrow; specifically locked to the stuff flowing out of your sink (which many of us spurn, opting to up-pay for Poland Spring).

You know how animals wither in zoos, even if they're carefully catered to? It's not because they yearn for an abstract notion of "freedom". Animals don't do abstract notions. It's because while a koala may be happy to be given eucalyptus leaves to munch, and be protected from predators, and have the temperature in his habitat adjusted to the ideal koalic range, those are all coarse adjustments, and it's the fine-tunings and subtly aggregated factors that make a koala feel at home. And a koala locked in a cage in Cleveland feels vastly more at home than you would in a base on Mars or the Moon.

Fast-forward 10,000 years through a series of terra-forming miracles, and we still wouldn't be close to a confined Koala scenario. We might (might!) be able to walk outside without dying, that's all.

We'd still be considerably less comfortable than at a DMV. It took eons for the Earth to produce a DMV office. It's sensationally hard to match the heady comforts of a DMV. That would be the impossible aspiration of millennia of Martian terraforming.

Even with deforestation and global warming and mass extinctions and air pollution and light pollution and acid rain, when you step outside in Queens or Akron (let alone some sweeping Colorado ranch), that merely "normal" feeling is something you'll never experience on the Moon or Mars. Never!

"We'll adapt!" you say. And yes, we will. Just like the captive koala, who loses weight and suffers high stress levels ("Something's just, Idunno, off!") for its entire unnaturally shortened life, we won't PERISH. And, if we're lucky, our females will, with some frequency, manage to carry a baby to term. That's what adaptation looks like. 1. Not dying and 2. Not completely failing to reproduce. Low bar!

So, yeah, it'll suck. It'll suck worse than the DMV, and worse than a caged koala. Way, way, way worse than both.

I say all this as a person in the top percentile of space nuts. I actually would volunteer to sail on a generational ship to a distant star. I'd join a first-wave Mars colony. Shoot, I saw "Encounters at the Edge of the World", Herzog's film about McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and thought it might be cool to spend a dark winter there. I often remain indoors on sunny days and would likely do ok in a Supermax solitary block (I'd eagerly teach the other prisoners to meditate).

Mars would still suck for me, but I'd be excited, because I'm excited about such things and have an unusual level of chipper resilience that doesn't evaporate after twelve seconds. And, frankly, I'm not particularly well-adapted to the daily grind and self-generated tedium and phony drama most of my friends and neighbors deem "normalcy". So I'm an edge case; precisely the sort of guy who should be pushing for space colonization.

But I see what my fellow geeks somehow miss: humanity would not enjoy space colonization. Our experience would be far worse than mere unease or displeasure. We would yearn for an Earthly DMV or jail cell. Day to day life would be tantamount to torture.

And "adaptation", again, is not what people think it is. Eskimos, after millennia of adaptation, can be happy at twenty below. But the most savage white-out wintertime Alaska moment still feels like home in a way that the lethal blank vacuum of another planet (or even the canned environment of highly functional sealed buildings thereupon) absolutely would not.

Visualize the short-lived, fraught, atrophied koala in its cage, and know that you'd never come anywhere close to its wellness level. As you hear talk of space colonization, never lose sight of the koala.

Why is it so hard to anticipate the awfulness of life in an off-planet environment? It's because we're so jaded; so loathe to appreciate our on-planet environment. We feel entitled to luxurious perfection as a baseline, and have lost all gratitude for the love implicit in the perfect match of our exceedingly narrow comfort requirements with precisely what we've been given right here/right now.

It's part of a greater jadedness. Our lives feel like turds as we enjoy vastly greater comfort, security, health, and general coddling than any previous generation. We pray that each coming new year will be better than the excruciating suboptimality of the previous one. Optimality is a human right!

As I wrote here:
We humans shuffle through our blinkered existence, lost in mental drama, amid this gorgeous paradise planet, a miraculously lush sanctuary in a coldly inhospitable universe, blessed with trees (if trees had never existed and sprung up overnight, people would be driven insane by the beauty) and life-giving oxygen and sunshine and delicious food and refreshing water and all the immersive storylines we could dream of, all of it tailored to our every need (including our need for challenge, violence, and heartbreak) and permeated with heartbreaking love. Yet we scarcely notice. We're jaded, bored, and impatiently awaiting Something Better. We live in eternal anticipation - of our next big win, of momentary gratification, and of the arrival, finally, of "The Answer". We pray for help and then spurn the responders. We even actually have the gall to demand a messiah.
We can't grasp how bad Mars would be because we can't grasp how fantastic this is.

Follow-up posting

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

"Free Speech"

My reply to a random person's reaction to Musk's purchase of Twitter:

LEFFtover Latest

Fridge LEFFtover contents:
2 thick Guatemalan tortillas
1 roast chicken thigh
1/2 cup Dominican pinto beans
TJ's Moroccan harissa
What do you make?

Note: yeah, that's a drizzle of olive oil beneath the harissa smear

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

You Could See Putin Coming From at Least 1839

A quadrillion articles explain Vladimir Putin by the fact that he's KGB.

A million articles explain him in connection with the diabolically sneaky Chekists who preceded the KGB.

A thousand articles explain him in connection to pre-revolutionary Tsarist times. Once you go back that far, light starts to be shed on the Ukraine invasion, which stemmed more from Putin's bombastic Peter-the-Great aspirations than from his KGB flunky inclinations.

John Sipher (one of my favorite expert writers on Russia - don't miss his Twitter feed) connects him all the way back to 1839, when Marquis Astolphe de Custine published his authoritative account of Russian political culture. Sipher's musings were prompted by a NY Times article on the long history of brutality in the Russian military and a New Yorker discussion with historian Stephen Kotkin explaining that a certain mindset predates any actions the West has taken, predates NATO, predates just about everything. This is centuries of cultural momentum - an immense and oblivious flywheel of karmic inevitability - playing itself out.

The cutting-edge question of the moment is: does Putin drink his own lemonade? how deeply does he believe the baloney he's peddling? Sipher finds that De Custine answered this beautifully nearly 200 years ago:
“By continually endeavoring to hide truth from the eyes of others, people become at last unable to perceive it themselves.”

Note: Bill Browder says (most recently on Preet Bhahara's podcast) that Putin has no Peter-the-Great aspirations. He says that's all for show. Whenever his approval rating tanks, he invades a neighbor, hollering grandiose statements, and it's always to distract his people from the fact that he and his cronies have sucked all the wealth out of the country. The notion that Putin gives even a nano-crap about Russian standing or interests is laughable, given that he's the guy who's sucked the very life out of it.

So how do we square that with Sipher's contradictory assessment? Easy-peasy. Again: “By continually endeavoring to hide truth from the eyes of others, people become at last unable to perceive it themselves.” Stop reaching for a linear throughline of actuality. It's all lollipop kazoodles. When truth is methodically deprecated for a very long time, no one can find solid ground; not even the deprecators.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Housekeeping Note re: Food Travel Posts

I made many great finds on my recent Portugal trip, but the reports were poorly organized. I've added table of contents atop each one, making it easy to jump around. Here's the first report, but they're not in any particular order. If you caught one or two of these, and would like to be completist, or at least quickly browse the rest, click in for easy links to all nine of them.

I didn't expect my El Salvador trip to be so...trippy. This series actually should be read in order. It's more travel writing than food writing, with a metaphysical slant. Start with the first installment and work forward.

Many readers seem to have missed my very recent Dallas report. I found a new barbecue place, not far from downtown, that may well be the new king of Hill Country barbecue. It's almost completely unknown.

Other, earlier, trip reports are tagged "Travel". You can also scan the "Labels" (aka tags) list in the left margin (beneath "Popular Entries") for specific locations.

Speaking of "Popular Entries", those are updated. Take a look!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

"The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need" by Andrew Tobias

Andrew Tobias is one of my writing heros. I've been reading him since I was a teenager, beginning with his cheeky first book (it's actually been purged from his bibliography), "Honors Grades on 15 Hours Per Week (How To Keep Studies From Interfering With Your College Education)". The hypothesis was that real growth in college comes from social activities, extracurriculars, and higher-level pondering, rather than firmly implanting quadratic equations and papal lineages (you should learn the equations and lineages well enough to regurgitate them on the exam, but, yeegads, don't, like, master them!).

I took it to heart and graduated in three years (with honors, just like he said), while working a part time job (delivering campus newspapers), playing music gigs in town on the weekends, helping run the campus radio station and science fiction convention, having my heart broken a few times, and learning to drink, smoke pot, play foosball, and pull all-nighters. Tobias' approach worked, and his hypothesis proved true: I got what I needed from college without spending eons hunkering down in the library (my big trick: I wrote term papers so brightly entertaining that grateful profs - normally forced to read turd after soporific turd - would gratefully underweigh my so-so exam grades).

I read everything Tobias wrote after that. It was mostly topics I didn't care about (financial stuff, and, later, gay stuff), but his writing was so clever and satisfying that I sopped up every word.

His magnum opus is "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need", a book so celebrated that Mark Cuban's superlative blurb ("This is the only investment book I have read that truly makes sense") barely makes the cut, coming well after quotes from "giggirl" and "J. Tussing 'Sales Coach'". It's been in print forever, and updated so many times that Tobias no longer even bothers to lampoon the obvious irony of updating "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need". Paradoxically, this book is what it claims to be and I eagerly look forward to new editions. The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, so I guess I'm killing it.

Consider this passage from the new edition on budgeting:
Where would you like to be a year from now? "Out of debt" might be an appropriate goal. And two years from now? "Out of debt with $5,000 in an IRA and $2,000 in the bank and a sound system that will wake up the dead." And five years from now? "A net worth of $60,000 headed for a million."

It is to reach these goals that you make your budget. Write them down on the second page of your yellow legal pad. Don't make them too aggressive. Try to set goals that, after going back and forth with your budget for a while, you secretly think you'll be able to exceed. If you aim too high, you'll never feel you're doing well enough. You can still have unwritten goals and hopes and dreams -- by all means! -- but think of them (and not too often, if you can help it) as icing on the cake. Sure you want a BMW. Everybody seems to want one (not me -- I want to be invisible and to fly). But it's really nuts to want one so much you're unhappy you don't have one.
DO YOU SEE WHERE I GET MY STUFF FROM??? Not just my writing style (a chunk of it, anyway), but my perspective, and my writerly delight in provoking shifts of perspective.

Notice the playful adjustment of perspective; the self-aware hacking (so much hacking in so few sentences!!) of emotion and expectation to engineer a desired result; the warmly gleeful clarity and rationality (as opposed to colder forms of clarity and rationality, which do not appeal to me).

Reread it a couple times, and perhaps you'll notice he's actually hypnotizing the reader; literally transforming perspective on the fly. Consider that final sentence, sharp (and deadly) as a dagger. It leaves you rethinking everything, reframing all that's ever needlessly gotten you down. Silly rabbit! Did you ever imagine a writer could extricate readers from human foible in one single paragraph, and with nary a heavy-handed preach?

I'm not overstating it. Read it again! Read it ten times! This is witchcraft (messianic, even). You are not the same person by the end of that paragraph that you were going in!

As for the investment advice, it left me level-headed about money through poverty and (mild) bounty. I can think of no greater testament.

Buy this book to learn how to invest. Buy it to learn how to write. And buy it to learn how to live - in warm rationality via the cultivated ability to blithely shift perspective/reframe and to savvily self-hack (not "harshly discipline") your natural drives and inclinations.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Snobbery is Evil

Typical posting in one of the myriad "Italians Angry About Food" social media groups:
Meanwhile, those same Italians enjoy Chinese dumplings with their take-out dinner, unaware that dumplings are exclusively breakfast food. Or they gobble tamales for lunch, when those are also only for breakfast. Same for Middle-Eastern foul madamas.

We are all clueless slobs. You see these dishes at American breakfasts with the frequency of total solar eclipses. But that's fine, because all are terrific for lunch or dinner! And, as far as I know, no diurnal bodily process makes cappuccino less delicious or healthful past 9am. It's always terrific. So up your nose with a rubber hose, judgemental Vinnie Barbarino.

Let's reframe to the Big Picture. We live in a world where people grasp for enjoyment (it's senseless, given that we bask in ample free oxygen and live-giving sunlight and quenching water, and, for many of us, our most pressing problems include a surfeit of food and of personal possessions). Whether from deprivation (rarely) or jadedness (uh-huh), people feel that they have scant enjoyment in their lives. We can use all the enjoyment we can get. We treasure our treasured treasure.

And the purpose of a snob is to exert social pressure to curtail enjoyment. Stop enjoying that! They literally reduce human happiness. And with no valid reason!

I don't believe evil is a thing. There's just disconnection from innate qualities such as empathy and generosity. It's a spectrum of deficit, not a polarity. In quality drama, the villains, in their heads, feel like the good guys, and this holds up in real life. There's no devil pulling us the wrong way, just various ways we forget ourselves and suppress kindness, empathy, sensitivity, and, finally, humanity (we personify "The Devil" when we choose to inhibit those faculties via our framing).

War can be justified. Killing can be justified. Many horrible things can be justified. But snobbery has no possible justification. It is laser-focused to cut at the jugular of human happiness, and the snob does not profit from this. It's done purely for sport. That's why snobbery is the closest thing to pure evil. (It's worth examining one's life and actions to ensure there's no morsel of snobbery present.)

So drink cappuccino any damned time you want, and if anyone tells you not to, send them to me and, after a brief pissing contest re: who has the more impressive taste-making credentials, I can offer a custom evaluation of the many, many, many ways this person behaves idiotically. I'm standing by!

Hmm. Turns out, I made this point once before. And did it better that time.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Early Work Postscript: The Pussywillows

Age 7 or 8.

Once again: Poor draftsmanship, high viscerality.

Even an idiot can spot the poor draftsmanship. But not everyone can consciously detect, much less appreciate, viscerality (and, alas, no one ever did).

If you devote attention to that less obvious part, you may notice that apparently poor draftsmanship actually serves the visceral purpose. But those unaware of that purpose lack the key to unlocking intention. It's like viewing a multidimensional thing flatly. No coming and going; just some static something.

Try to self-edit out the stain and tear at the base of the tree, and the fading near the right edge of the page (I wish I had the Photoshop skills to fix it).

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Chocolate Life (with Matcha Digression)

I need to brain dump my chocolate notes. I never really got "serious" about chocolate. I've applied my dopey/bumpy/meandering style of knowledge acquisition - glacially slow - where one day I wake up and realize, "Man, I've been finding and eating super-great stuff. Guess I'm some sort of expert!" Even though I don't have all the brand names and beans and tech terms at my fingertips. I have come to eschew autistic fact hoarding, especially in fun realms like chocolate. It's dorky. Save that for orchids or train timetables.

As in most food realms, the first step is to dissuade yourself of misinformation. 95% of the brands you've heard of, and see at gourmet stores and at Whole Foods, are utter crap. Lindt, Godiva, Ghirardelli, Cadbury, Rain Forest (JFC), yeah. Forget them. No.

Second step is to recognize that the better the chocolate (we're only talking dark chocolate here), the slower the flavor onset. I've had single-estate chocolate where I needed to stand there with semi-pulverized chocolate lumps poised on my tongue for upwards of a minute before tasting anything beyond a faint beany bitterness. Good chocolate requires massive patience. You don't shovel it into your face like Hershey's Kisses. But when it hits, angels sing.

Which is a good thing. With really good dark chocolate, a chunk the size of a half dollar is really all you need. And since we're talking dark chocolate, the sugar content is quite low (even diabetics are allowed to eat dark chocolate). The fat's still an issue, but not if you're sticking to a chunk the size of a half dollar. In fact, lots of recent research shows great health benefits from daily dark chocolate. So if you can go light enough on portion size to avoid arterial congestion and weight gain from the fat, you're doing a sum positive thing for yourself.

My ritual involves an afternoon iced matcha (not a matcha latte; just warmed matcha tea shaken furiously with some ice cubes) followed by my daily chunk of quality dark chocolate. It's a good ritual. Start with the cheap stuff from Ippodo (their matcha only; don't bother with other products) or else this from Trader Joe's. Then, if curious or bored, gradually work up to fancier matchas from Ippodo.

Forget the bowl and whisk and all that other junk. You're no samurai, dude. Your name is Kent and you work in a cubicle. Get over yourself. I heat 1/2 cup water in a sauce pan, using a thermopen to cut the heat at 170 degrees. Then add 1 tsp matcha powder sifted through a fine screened strainer. Stir lightly, drain into a shakey cup, rinse stuck-on matcha from the pot with a bit more water, and top off with cold water to yield two cups, total. Shake, with two or three ice cubes, like your life depends on it, and drink. Don't be a shmuck and sweeten it.

Note that this makes yuppie iced matcha, not ceremonial super-thick matcha which offers a blitz of caffeine and umami intensity that precludes use as an everyday ritual for anyone who doesn't spend their day painstakingly raking pebbles into decorative patterns for their Zen garden.

Back to chocolate. Again, we're talking (unless otherwise noted) about dark chocolate bars. Not truffles, sprinkles, novelties, bonbons, or what have you. Frickin' bar chocolate...dark. The chocolate equivalent of whiskey neat.

Everything from Lake Champlain is ace. Seriously class act, at fair prices. Their most innovative products are their nutty/crunchy "squares", which I consider the best candy bars in America. More grown-up flavored bars include "Dark Spicy Aztec" and "Grace Under Fire", both highly recommended. But their unflavored dark chocolate bars - modestly titled and few in number - are serious.

Further upmarket is Amano Chocolate, out of Utah. They've tried selling single origin stuff, but the American market doesn't really support it, at least not at the price point required for serious stuff. They've settled on a limited range, but it's good. Check out their 9 bar sampler, which, alas, is not offered with a financing arrangement. Amano sells the best Venezuelan chocolate bar I've tried lately in America (more on Venezuela in a minute), which they call "Ocumare". Pricey but worth it. You might want to start there, as a reference. Calibrate yourself!

Much harder to find, though Whole Food seems to have started carrying them: Noi Sirius Chocolate, from Iceland (that hotbed of tropical chocolate goodness) sells a 70% extra-bitter, dark chocolate, and while it doesn't have stately single-estate elegance, it's extremely friendly. It's one of those things where you can drag your friends through a lengthy formal chocolate tasting, and they'll take tiny bites and write high-falutin' notes for everything, but this is the one they'll actually finish. Not cuz it's the best. Just cuz it's the friendliest.

Even more friendly and even less stately, and quite widely-available, Belgium's Cote D'Or makes dark bars in slim format 86% Noir Brut - quite bitter, and Noir de Noir, a slightly milder black bar in more of a bender format.

Then there's a new wildcard: Tony's Chocolonely Dark Chocolate, which they claim is made in Belgium. Because that's totally a name a Belgian would come up with. I'm deeply skeptical of their glaring "FROZEN CUSTARD CARNIVAL!!!!" style artwork, and the whole thing is so cheesey and desperate and marketingish that I can't stand it, but, alas, the chocolate (at least in their 70% dark "big bar") is good. Not stately, but better than just friendly. It's solid-quality - at least as good as Cote D'Or - and pretty cheap (for the generous bar size + quality level) if you find it in groceries.

Some of Trader Joe's chocolate is pretty good (best is their boxed selection of single-destination bars, "Chocolate Passport", available at holiday time only). Problem is I'm forever finding foreign objects. Figuring it couldn't be a problem across the line, I've tried sticking with this or that product, but their stuff's just rife with crunchy, hairy, clotty, chewy, UFO junk. I could almost tolerate it, but, even worse, I'll often be eating their chocolate and all of a sudden, some certain bite will taste eerily less chocolatey. Like the lights dimmed. Which means I'm consuming something other than full chocolate in that bite. I no longer eat Trader Joe's chocoate (except the Chocolate Passport, which you should stock up on).

Best value (i.e. bang-for-the-buck) chocolate in the world is the 85% LaCasa from Spain. For nearly a century, they've made modest chocolate, marketed without a trace of snoot (they're located in modest Zaragoza, not snooty Barcelona), yet god damn their dark bar is good. And cheap. Hard to find outside Spain. Or in Spain. But El Corte Ingles stores - Spain's version of Macy's - carry it in a high-end chocolate room next to the food department. You'd expect it to be expensive. Then you eat it and expect it to be real expensive. But it's like three or four bucks.

In Barcelona, the Museu De Xocolata sells a righteous house brand dark chocolate bar. Much better, though, is a local shop called Cacao Sampaka, where everything's good (including, naturally, the Catalan-style hot chocolate), but their Venezuelan bars are killer. A major bring-back item.

Venezuelan is, for my money, the best chocolate, and the best Venezuelan chocolate is a type called chuao (choo-OWW), largely unavailable outside fancy shops in Paris and Italy. Some American sleazebag named his chocolate company "Chuao" in order to draft on whatever status the name brings, but his chocolate sucks and is definitely not chuao. How do you know if you're eating real chuao? Well, for starters, you're paying over ten bucks per skinny bar. And you're finding it totally worth it.

Hotel Chocolat used to sell a fine chuao, but they've changed their whole business method and I don't understand what the hell they're doing at this point. I get the feeling some hedgie bought the company and is squeezing out easy money. Fun!

I just stumbled upon this alleged chuao, made in Oakland. It's a bit inexpensive, I don't know what "American Chuao" is supposed to mean, and most chuao makers hold back to 70% (this one's 76%, and, geez, they also sell a chuao at 86%, which is like "ketchup-on-steak" for chocolate snobs; very dark/bitter choc - particularly Ecuadorian - can be great, but never chuoa!). Might be worth a try. Lots of other single-estate stuff from them. Free shipping. Hmm.

The most price-effective way to eat fine dark bar chocolate is to buy in bulk from wholesaler Callebaut, and carve off your daily portion like cheese. It used to be available in Fairway, but now it's all mail order and you never know quite what to expect (one reason it's relatively inexpensive is it's not marketed super finicky). Look for something 75-85%.

I'm currently trying one of these boutique Frenchie bars. So much breathless verbiage at that link, yet so few specifics.

Marketingmarketingmarketingmarketingmarketingmarketingmarketingmarketingmarketingmarketing - and pop it in your mouth and BULLSHIT. The food industry eats the credulous.

Friday, April 15, 2022

People Resist Being Categorized

I have two friends with unusual jobs. Both of them buy and sell vintage guitar equipment for a living. And they didn't know each other. So I figured they probably should, and sent an email to both, inviting them to say "hi", figuring people in that line of work might appreciate some network expansion.

I should have known better. "I think you people should meet!" emails always trigger awkward silence. I knew that. But I figured the sheer specificity would make this different. If you know two albinos, or Komodo dragon owners, or parents of quadruplets you put 'em together! Right?

Wrong. Neither replied.

I am 1% as pushy as I once was, but nevertheless pushed back. "Hey, are you guys going to greet each other, or just leave me feeling like an asshole for trying to do you both a solid?" One budged. "'sup." The other, a couple days later, managed to choke out a furtive "nicetomeetyou." And......CUT!

People resist being categorized. Don't stick me in a cubbyhole. Even if it might be helpful to me!

I was friends with both halves of a famous two-man painting partnership. I had dinner plans with one, but we needed another person, so I invited his partner, not realizing they hated each other. While I knew both of them pretty well, I'd maintained a fan's perspective on the partnership itself. Those irrepressible mavericks!

Dinner was excruciating. Even if they had a decent working relationship, they'd obviously have been well sick of each other. But I felt like I was doing the logical thing. Similar things obviously go together!

It's natural to mentally associate Laurel with Hardy, but people - even people who've flagrantly self-categorized! - resist being categorized.

I can't hang out with one of my oldest friends. Whenever we do, he brings along his other food writer friends, all fanemies of mine. I can't be in a room with any of them. They alternate between obnoxious slurpy ass-kissing (I was an early influence in their evolution into a supremely influential food authority! I should be immensely proud of the all-knowing gastro wizard I played some small role in encouraging to gloriously blossom!) and needling, challenging, and skull-sledge-hammering (I wrote about the phenomenon here). Anything but just enjoying a meal like normal human beings.

My friend doesn't notice any of this. He just drinks in the satisfaction of having assembled his awesome chowhounding posse. A complete shiny glass menagerie, right there in front of him! No missing pieces!

People resist being categorized!

Here's a sentence you can't write nowadays:
Most tall people dislike small cars.
There is 100% certainty that someone will angrily lash back:
I'm tall, and I'm perfectly fine with small cars!
As part of my life trajectory toward increasing laissez-faire with Crazy (closely associated with my renunciation of pushiness), I've learned not to try to explain the term "most" to such people, or how it differs from "all". I resist the urge to diagram it for them. I know it won't help.

"Many" might be safer than "most", right? Nope. You see, every tall person is THE tall person. Anything you say about any/many/most/some tall people - about any category they're in - speaks directly to them (it's narcissism; as I endlessly try to explain, narcissism isn't aberrational)...and it galls them. A lot.
Don't presume to tell me how I feel about small cars!
Same for any characteristic. "Deaf people often wear hearing aids," or "Many children enjoy spaghetti." Nope. If you write any such thing, readers will respond huffily. Because they resist being categorized. Even though that's not what you're doing, and it wasn't about them in the first place, and sane people realize the voices on the TV aren't talking specifically to them.

Many of my friends aren't particularly educated. They didn't pay attention in school, and don't read much, so they don't know stuff. To me, it doesn't matter. I know lots of stuff, and it hasn't gotten me very far. And there are myriad faculties unrelated to knowledge, and I admire them at least as much as the ability to call out the dates of the Peloponnesian Wars.

The problem is that I'm their "smart" friend. Which means I will be invited to meet their other smart friend. And the other smart friend will inevitably be some dude who spends all day on the Internet researching bizarre conspiracy theories, or who only cares about sea slugs. The other smart friend will be highly arrogant (that's the trigger that makes people recognize intelligence), and will not want to talk about anything but conspiracies or sea slugs.

I'd gladly use up a genie wish to extricate myself from the "smart friend" category.

I had a friend, a nice guy, who was married to a kind and hard-working woman. Neither were glossy types; just good solid folks with talent and intelligence. The woman happened to have immense breasts, but she dressed modestly and did not in any way present herself as the owner/bearer of any remarkable anatomical feature. She was a fully-dimensional real person, not particularly sexualized.

I once attended a party with this couple, and my friend's ex-girlfriend was also there. She, too, turned out to be a very nice, not-particularly-sexualized woman with, yep, immense breasts.

I mulled it over, trying to understand my cringing reaction to seeing the three of them awkwardly socializing. Finally I struck upon a perfect analogy: It's like if your wife, who just happens to wear an eyepatch, ran into your previous girlfriend...also wearing an eyepatch. Yikes.

Categorization can impose itself in inconvenient and embarrassing ways.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Burden of Exuberance

A friend writes, in response to my recent posting "Early Work: Redux"
Hey! I also have that exuberance in my personality. I get my energy from playing with kids. But the kids who love me as little kids get weirded out by an grandma who just wants to play. Then they sadly avoid me and won’t give me a smile or a hug. The people who are around me the most get really tired of me or begin to really dislike me. Where does this come from I wonder?
The Diagnosis

As I wrote, nearly everyone's depressed (“normality” at this point means merely semi-curdled), and depression isn't a deficiency of joie de vivre, but a deliberate rejection of it. People resist it in their world and in themselves (that's why they're depressed!), so it's only natural that they'd resist it in you, as well!
More on depression here (including further links).
The Prognosis

First and foremost, don't expect damaged people to self-repair to accommodate you. They're not treating you any worse than they treat themselves. They're sour, bored, and irritated. They can't extricate themselves from the mud, so don't expect them to offer you sunbeams. Keep stoking your modest commitment to be who and what you are, just...because (more on that at the very end).

The world is not set up to validate you. We are 6,989,500,000 humans doing nothing but desperately seeking validation 24/7, and 10,000,000 who should know better, and 500,000 who are blithely enjoying their existence without expecting much. If you want to dive into the madness, then validate others. But in any case, step down into the 500,000 by being complete within yourself.

Here's one of the 500,000. Meet Zack. Zack's the guy who noticed the subway bomber and called it in, singlehandedly rescuing New York City yesterday:
I get the feeling Zack's not a billionaire. Yet Zack says "the life is nice" (so what the hell is everybody else's problem??). If you're even partially alive, hearing him pronounce this will send a small jolt of exhilaration through you. That's what exuberance can do. That's what you're here to provide. And note that Zack won't get a parade. He's lucky he got a clip on Twitter. But that's ok! Zack lives a nice life! And it's 100% a product of his framing!

Take Your Victory

To anyone viewing with clear perspective, you're doing it right. Seizing the day and living with joie de vivre. The people you're irritating are doing it all wrong, squandering precious alive time by engineering tedium, boredom and numbness for themselves.

This is not a world where the Mistaken appreciate the Correct, but know that just by being here, steadfastly embracing the world, you are 1. living an incomparably better life, and 2. raising the average, brightening it all just a bit, which has an effect. Every action ripples forever into the future. You are The Ancestor of everything that follows. You and Zack and a few others push the train. Bored numb people just trudge behind it, complaining.

Don't be greedy! It's enough to live well in a mental space that's non-horrible and torture-free! Why would you also expect appreciation and good vibes from people who hate their lives and world? It's unrealistic to expect positive vibes from negative people…and most are negative.

To get an idea of just how negative they are, listen carefully on New Years’ Eve, and try to find someone describing the previous year as anything but completely awful. Me, I've never heard a positive word in 59 years of New Year’s Eves. Every year SUCKED for nearly everyone, as they luxuriated in delicious free oxygen and life-giving sunlight here on the only colorful, comfortable speck of life in an infinite cold and deadly void (now further upgraded - as if antibiotics weren’t enough! - with magic glass rectangles containing the totality of human knowledge, entertainment, and communications in our pocket).

That's how bad it is out there, and how bad it is in their heads. Don't expect much from them! You've won! Enjoy your victory!

Expunge Your Neediness

All that said, there's one thing to work on. Meditate or do Tai Chi or yoga or just lots of exercise to expunge any pushy neediness. If your exuberance is stress-based, you're like a stiff wind containing sand grains. That would explain why people feel sandblasted by your presence.
This is the meditation practice I do (ignore the rest of the web site). It's the simplest, most stripped down, non-dogmatic practice I've ever found.
I've always recognized an anxiety at my core driving me to try too hard (plus residual pain from how things have gone). It's one reason I keep returning to spiritual practice. I need to periodically unclench that core and sweep the pain. I worry that my intensity might otherwise propel anxiety and pain outward. I’m not here to make things worse for people!

Everyone's situation is different. Different sand quantities borne by their wind; different degrees of fretful clench. But, spoiler alert, if you relax all the way (I've been meditating for 50 years, and I was a prodigy at it as a child), it still won't fix the problem you describe. You’ll find that it’s no more welcome to blind people with clear bright light than to blast them with sand. Again: the problem's on their end, not your's. They're not here to appreciate you or even fully see you. They're here to seek appreciation while staring in the mirror. Which is fine! To each their own!

But meditation, etc., isn’t wasted. It's helpful in all sorts of ways. For one thing, it increases equanimity, which is the antidote to your predicament. Be aware, however, that the clarity and bliss of meditation can further stoke your exuberance and joie de vivre. But, at this point (as they emerge even more peevish from their COVID ordeal) you know what? Screw 'em!

People don't collapse into glum dullness if they have the least appetite for life and gusto. Grown-ups reach that point by actively repelling gusto (kids - at least most of them - haven't learned that trick yet). If you represent life and gusto, how could you not be rejected by people who define themselves by this very rejection?


Exuberant people are nice people. Earnest people. They don't like to manipulate. And charisma - persuading people to like you - feels manipulative.

I realized, after a few years of very bizarre social reactions, that, in my eagerness to swear off manipulation, I'd completely dropped my charisma. "Naturalness" seemed like a more appropriate approach than crafty enchantment. I'm not a con man; not a schemer; not a "player", you know?

Don't do this! The world runs on charisma! People need it! Without it, you're making them uncomfortable; creating stressful ripples in the world. You owe it to them to force yourself to make them like you - to sell yourself, baby! - even though you'd prefer a more organic appoach. So turn the faculty back on...a little. A minor correction!

I figured this out when I found myself at an airport counter needing to do some fast talking and create rapport with a stranger who had the power to either help me or absolutely ruin my week. My charisma powered itself on, all by itself, and I suddenly remembered how good at it I actually am.

I have an aversion to using this faculty, so it turns on only rarely, in critical moments. But I hadn't left the other person any the worse. I hadn't "taken advantage". She was glad to have met me! I seemed to have given her a lift - not something easily achieved with raw exuberance!

Charisma makes your intensity feel personal; tuned specifically for them. It seems, from their perspective, less like a random spray. Charisma is a precise nozzle for a gushing flow of exuberance. Use your nozzle!

Artsy Talk

Here's choreographer Martha Graham's advice to younger choreographer Agnes De Mille. They're discussing art and creativity, but those things are closely related to the topic at hand. Creativity flows out of exuberance!
The greatest thing she ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was in a Schrafft’s restaurant over a soda. I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Related Postings:
Filtering the Zombie Army
Taking Notes

Note to newcomers: Strewn above you'll find many links to previous Slog postings. Each explains, in greater depth, a concept or idea I didn't have space to fully flesh out here. I don't want to write 150 page treatises reexplaining everything every time!

Are those links a lot to read? You bet! It was also a lot to write! But I try to offer a breadcrumb trail in case you want to follow up on ideas, especially the more counterintuitive ones.

It's up to you, of course, whether to launch into a clicking frenzy. I don't expect everyone to be super-into every posting. If you suspect I'm full of crap on something, but want to give me a! If something whets your appetite, and you'd like to hear! If something has the ring of truth but you don't quite grok! But if a posting strikes you as eye-rolling yadda yadda, I highly recommend Spelling Bee for a more pleasant time waster!

I honestly believe the insights are insightful and the conclusions solid, so it's worth taking time to follow the breadcrumb trail. That's why I took the (immense) trouble to build it for you! But I certainly won't be insulted if you disagree!

However, I want you to understand that I'm not linking pro forma - i.e. because my teacher in Blogging 101 said to sprinkle them liberally. I add them thoughtfully, in places where I recognize that I haven't fully explained or supported my point. 

The beauty of the web is the ability to create deeper structures and map it all magically together. So, unlike reading a book, relief is only a click away. And unlike writing a book, I have limitless ability to digress, parenthesize, and recount stories pertaining to a given point, all without interrupting the flow.

It's a deep rabbit hole, I know. But I tried my very best to make it worth your attention. Happy diving!

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Rare Adult Artwork

I haven't done much artwork since childhood (though I do enjoy photography). This, my tribute to a niece, is an exception. It's got my trademark combination of primitive draftsmanship and high viscerality.

There's a quality ballerinas prize. They call it "lift"; a deliberately-created impression that gravity works the other way for you; that you're pulled up to the sky almost as much as you're pulled down to the ground.

Dancers achieve lift via an adjustment long known to yogis, called mula bandha in Sanksrit. As with almost all yogic stuff (e.g. karma yoga), don't try to do quick research; you'll just get colder and colder. Lots of people talk and write about this stuff, but shockingly few have any understanding.

I wasn't consciously trying to create the impression of "lift" in the little ballerina, but, years later, I see that it's palpable.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Early Work: Redux

A commenter to one of the recent childhood postings described the series as “sentimental.” I replied:
I would never subject readers to mere sentimentality. I always have a higher reason - a spin I'm putting on the ball - and I always intend it to be useful or interesting or entertaining for others.
For the past 10 days we've spelunked my childhood. I have keen memories of creating each of those paintings, essays, and micro-pranks. I remember the accompanying smells and sights and sounds. I recall my exuberance - the gleeful conviction that I was doing something special.

All the rest, I'd forgotten. I did not record the full frostiness of my teachers' reactions. I do remember cheekily amending my teacher's Thanksgiving note to my parents - and the gut-punched feeling that prompted it - but I'd always assumed I'd overreacted. I forgot how tart it really was. I'd forgotten, too, that my stuff was garnering Cs. I'd remembered Bs. But, no. Jesus. Cs.

So it was worse than I'd remembered. I've been severely underestimated all my life, but I thought it hadn’t gotten bad until much later. I figured my youthful cuteness had shielded me a bit. I recall my early teachers with visceral dread, but always figured I was over-sensitive. Now I see that I wasn't, and I admire his perseverance. Especially so because he was sensitive.

He had no idea how good his stuff was. I've often noted on this Slog that I was better, sharper, keener, clearer as a child, and that my goofy, stumbling adulthood has been a spotty effort to avoid embarrassing his legacy. But I didn't imagine I was actually producing worthy stuff back then. I knew it was special - that I was putting a certain distinctive spin on the ball - but never imagined it was actually any good!

I'm particularly surprised by the artwork. I was deemed to have zero artistic talent. I agreed with this, myself, at the time, recognizing that my output lacked the meticulous precision of more talented children.

But the talented children couldn't convey visceral impressions of horror or alarm or heat or unbridled exuberance. As an adult, I understand that viscerality is the whole point, far more so than fine points of careful draftsmanship. "Neatness" scores points only in elementary schools. But, alas, I was stuck in elementary school.

The teachers couldn't fully ignore my ability to fluently string words together, because there was precision there. So there was talk of how I'd become a writer. But even that praise was oddly backhanded, e.g. "I think we have a writer of sorts in our midst." C'mon, lady! Maybe go hog-wild and make it just "writer," period! Give the kid some inertia!

My impression of mediocrity has stuck with me to this day. And now that I'm actually looking at this stuff, I realize that I wasn't just showing potential. I was legit better then than now.

I lacked adult experience and skills and discipline, but the level of invested care - and the palpable result of that care in the output - was something I can't match now, as I painstakingly ply my various pursuits. I'll admit that I get good results most of the time now, but what you see on the page is a pittance compared to the humungous effort (see the video in that last link!). As a kid, I was far more efficient. 95% of my effort found its way into the result. Now it's more like 1%. These days, I shovel planets into building a hill, and take satisfaction in having conjured a righteous hill. Back then, it was planets in/planets out. No dilution. Lossless!

My superpower was exuberance. Unbridled exuberance, which throughout my youth was assessed as obnoxiousness, pushiness, and mania, among less polite terms. It didn't play well in a world packed with dreary, grim zombies. The soundtrack of Earth is Depeche Mode, while I’ve been bopping around to fun Ska. Having intruded with joyful exuberance, I've drawn perpetual fire as The Thing That Doesn't Belong. In a world of depressives, the last thing anyone wants is a compassionate, infectious offering of unbridled enthusiasm. Depression isn't a tragic deficiency of all that. It's a defiant recoiling from it. From me.

I once wrote a rebuke, 57 years in the making, to all those who've sneered at my exuberance. I made the case that it's not a question of my being manic, but of everyone else being sluggish. To me, they're on antidepressants (or ought to be), and frame their lives as a tedious grind. So bored and boring that anything interesting arising gets boiled, evaporated, and desiccated by their implacable numb ennui. As the persistent lively bit, I'm often construed to be the problem.

I still retain some lively exuberance, but not much. I was broken by age 12, and now I see why. It's not that I was sensitive, after all. It's that the beatdowns had commenced early, and support was sparse and grudging. Bearable for a grown-up; tough for a kid.
Note: this sounds bitterly self-pitying. No, I'm not that guy. In fact, that's the whole point! Even this dark material is viewed with exuberance, because I'm delighted to finally see clearly. Unfolding clarity feeds my immense curiosity and replenishes my ardor. Clarity/curiosity/exuberance, for me, is the magic formula. I feed on it while also playing it forward (I'm essentially an earthworm). A virtuous circle!
Re-examining the photo sequence from my last posting:

Age 4

Age 7

Age 8

By age 14, you can see that my lights had gone out a bit, my eyes reserving more than they’re offering:
And, flashing forward to my touring musician days (age 26), I'd puckered into a jaded leering vampire with gaping larynx, deep eye bags, and "go fuck yourself" haircut:

34 years later, I seem an ashen husk, but proudly so.

I once described what I was like by the time I hit junior high:
I was a cynical, bitter little shit. I'd discovered early how cruel and ignorant people are. My family had trained me to view fellow humans as a contemptuous herd of stupid fucking assholes deserving neither respect nor sympathy, and this proposition was not a hard sell. I already bore scars from random cruelty, and had witnessed dishonesty, corruption, and antagonism gratuitously wielded even where truth, propriety, and kindness would have better served. At a very young age I was already fed up (and, shamefully - though predictably - beginning to display touches of needless cruelty of my own).
This childhood spelunking has filled in critical background. I wasn't a sensitive mediocrity whining about insufficient praise. I was more talented and devoted than I'd realized, and the reception was frostier than I'd remembered. It helps to know this. I can forgive myself for not holding it all together with perfect aplomb, and for becoming what I'd become in junior high. I wasn’t close to monstrous, but I'd picked up some regrettable skew.

Fortunately, I course-corrected. At that juncture, something triggered inside, steering me toward yoga and meditation. I was too young to take classes or find gurus, so, as recounted in the same posting linked above, I devised my own spiritual practice, with unexpectedly transcendental results.

Then (also described in that posting) I eventually lost touch with those practices - and those results - for a long while, and my life fell apart (it's worse to know and to forget than never to have known), leading to a highly successful suicide in my mid-twenties which granted another reprieve. Another reset.

And finally there was, sigh, Chowhound. A few years in, I resumed - out of sheer desperation and deep survival instinct - my old yoga/meditation practice, engaging reset/reprieve #3. The stress of the final year, followed by my year at CNET, working for a sadistic and deranged boss, challenged even impregnable peace. There are pain levels able to penetrate the highest opium dosage.

Then I popped out of Chowhound and CNET into blank white space. A decade was a long time to have lost. Friendships don't easily resume. I was not remembered as a serious writer; just a zany food-obsessed musician. Having not touched my trombone in many years, I'd lost my ability to make even a sound. The gazillion journalists and media types who'd counted on me for pithy quotes on food news quit calling en masse, via a flocking process I still don't fathom. I wrote about it here:
I figured even if I wasn't helming Chowhound, I'd occasionally be called for a quote, or invited back to some of the dozen or so public radio programs where I was considered a "friend of the show". There'd be a trail-off, but it would be years before it all dried up.

Nope. There were very few calls (I ignored most, being tired of acting the part of the whacky, food-crazy Chowhound), and, within two months, my phone went dead. It wasn't that word had spread about my going incommunicado; my contacts were far-flung and disconnected. Yet within just eight weeks, it was as if I'd never existed.
I tried to fight my way out of the blank white space. I tried to find work, writing to an old friend who was chief editor of a major food periodical, noting jocularly that Chowhound's readership had exceeded that of her own publication, and offering to write a column to attract fresh blood to her aging demographic. She responded weeks later with a short sloppy note, asking where I was playing trombone these days. My pitch hadn't merited a response. And she didn't say a word about Chowhound. It was like it had been my childish lemonade stand.

All doors shut in my face, so I spent years creating an app packed with every iota of my food knowledge and offering savvy, pithy guidance for approaching restaurants of most every cuisine. A few dozen people bought it. The hundreds of journalists who'd considered me a wizard (and/or an influence) completely ignored it (all but John Thorne).

I was ok through all this. Finally wise to the perils of dropping spiritual practices, I'd kept them up, so inner peace deflected any pain. So, again, I'm not offering this as bitter complaint. But the oddness of my experience did leave me curious. My life had made little sense. I almost wished I were paranoid, because a world deliberately scheming against me would have been a relatively sane explanation!

I was compelled to create this slog, chronicling my efforts to figure it all out. I once wrote that deliberately creating a vacuum can leech out eurekas, and the blank white space I found myself in post-Chowhound - inexplicable and hermetic - presented one of the most potent vacuums any person has ever experienced. And I made hay. If you've ever wondered what conditions give rise to unusual levels of creativity and insight, the answer is: conditions you’d never want to experience! But to me, the most curious person in the world, powerfully confused about issues of creativity, perspective, and human thought-processes, it was worth it. Clarity, curiosity, exuberance!

So I harnessed my remaining exuberance - floating blithely on a perpetual yogic high and drawing from an unusually broad range of life experiences, with a perfect storm of oddball faculties and talents - and busily typed out these 2896 postings. I overshot, figuring out just about everything. Everything, that is, but how I got here. The path was murky and fragmented.

As I once observed, no one has ever driven from New York to Boston:
We drive from NYC to the Bronx, and from the Bronx into Westchester, from there into Connecticut, then through a boring patch, possibly involving bathrooms and food. Then we drive to Sturbridge Mass to get on the Mass Pike. From there we might glide into Boston in more or less one swoop. But the drive, overall, is six drives, minimum, and more often 60 or 600. I defy you to get in a car in NYC and simply drive to Boston. You can't do it. You will lose the flow. It will fragment.
Similarly, no one has led a single life. It's normally shattered into a billion pieces. But having weaved in this early chunk, the superstructure trawls into view. My life is becoming one thing.

What did it all mean? "Meaning" is beside the point. We're not grand enough for our lives to mean something. As I wrote here,
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.
And as I wrote here:
Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. And so it is with Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." That quotation used to conjure up images of wild-eyed fanatics banging hammers in garages in the middle of the night. But it's just a matter of normal people blithely but indefatigably putting out. The Colorado River, etcher of the Grand Canyon, is just some shitty little river. The best among us are shitty little rivers. To me, that's what Edison was saying.
Yet there are benefits to making your life one thing, even if it's nothing grand. Because the implacable truth is that you've always been you. Which means it’s you that has shattered, not your life. So, while I'm no Freudian - he was way too specific - one can relieve considerable latent confusion and subconscious stress and dread by twining the split ends back together. Clarity! Curiosity! Exuberance!

Monday, April 11, 2022

Early Work: Me

Me, age 5 thru 14

...and a mere 12 years later:

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Early Work: More Stuff

Visceral evocation of tremendous desert heat. Wavy and mirage-like, like a scene from Herzog's "Fata Morgana" (if you haven't seen it, do), with some Don Quixote vibe, as well (I knew nothing about Don Quixote at the time).

The giant sig was how I rolled back then. I started scaling back the whole "Big Me" thing at age 11, when I spent hours/day in meditation or frozen in exotic yoga poses.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Friday, April 8, 2022

Early Work: Future Transportation

Here is a booklet I produced in seventh grade (1974) on future transportation modalities. Consider my notes on page 3 for the car of the future:
  • "Computer programs the traveling route so no driving is necessary."
  • "Telephone runs by satellite communicator."
  • "Rubber bumper, protects against crashes."
  • "In-vehicle movies."

If you suspect my parents maybe ought to have drowned me, I'd forgive you.

Grade? 81/100

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Early Work: James the Catfish

My fourth grade report on catfish strikes me as gushing with interesting facts and tall tales.

Mrs. Shannon was unpersuaded.

Grade: "C"

Letting Go of Simplistic Extremism Without Succumbing to Bitter Cynicism

A few weeks ago on Facebook I observed how disorienting it can be to spot and discount Ukrainian propoganda while strongly supporting the Ukrainian side:
Just a general drench of cautionary cold water to those who are quite properly rooting for the nice people of Ukraine amid this hideous invasion by an evil and psychotic monster with no shred of justification:

It's often reported that Ukraine is winning the PR war. And they sure are. But the downside is that we're the target demographic for this effortful persuasion.

I have heard so much flagrant Ukrainian bullshit reported - and coverage widely skewed by reporters who've abandoned any objectivity - that I'm having to work to stay focused on my principled support.

My mental defenses are set to activate and repel bullshit, and to target its source. But bullshit from the righteous - from the Good Guys - leaves me confused, like an upended centipede pathetically wriggling its feet.

The Good Guys can absolutely bullshit you. In fact, that's their job during a war! But it requires screening on our part. It doesn't make us pro-Russian to apply healthy skepticism.

As you chew and swallow Ukrainian propaganda (yes, Russian propaganda is 10 billion times worse!), maybe don't relish it utterly. Maybe don't make a feast of it. And while you can allow rage to be stoked inside you....maybe don't indulge it 15,000%. Maybe favor moderation?

I realize this is the black-and-whitest of all black-and-white conflicts, but we can view news and memes (oy, the memes) coming out of Ukraine with just a tad of skepticism, and apply critical thinking, and bear in mind that we are being spun. And just because the spinners are the Good Guys doesn't make it a healthy process. They're not doing this to improve our mental health. They have bigger problems. They're not wrong to do it!

And if you can avoid calling me a Putin propagandist, my cardiologist says that would be best for my blood pressure. So please tolerate the shade of grey I'm proposing without parsing it in terms of black/white.

Support Ukraine. Send money. But you're not flotsam, so resist being moved by everyone pointing a hair dryer at you.

That's all I ask. Just a proposal. Sorry. Ok.
None of my Facebook friends hollered at me for being a Putin fanboy (I'd strangle the guy with my own hands given the chance), but that's because they've stopped paying attention to me because I'm so incorrigible. There's only so much counterintuitive bullshit a person will force themselves to consider. It's exhausting already. I get it!

It takes discipline and clarity to see straight and maintain views and values. It's much easier to make the Ukrainians totally noble, because that's my team.

We ignore the complexity of the real world via confirmation bias. We overlook, ignore, or deliberately misunderstand inconvenient evidence (much as we overlook conspicuous flaws to idealize new romantic partners). When the evidence becomes insurmountable, many people flip 180 degrees. Stridently obnoxious conservatives become stridently obnoxious liberals and vice versa. Apostacy and converts. That old story.

Those who refuse both - overlooking and flipping - frequently turn to cynicism. "It's all crooked and they're all assholes!"

That's nearly correct, but the coloring's all wrong. We paint it rancidly bitter because of the come-down from the candy-colored happy-talk black hat/white hat framing. The real world feels fetidly swampy and grizzled when you're coming down from a simplistic comic book view. People settle into that fetid grizzle with the joie de vivre of a gruff school cafeteria manager grimly sucking cancer smoke on infrequent breaks as the sole micro-delight amid the burdensome endeavor of serving shitty slop to snotty little shits.

Show me a bitter cynic and I'll show you someone who had nowhere to go after being shaken from a childishly simple-minded perspective, i.e. a comic book view. Realism feels like a terrible come-down from lofty candy-colored conceits. This is why the mentally ill don't like to take their pills. It's all so drab without the creamy hallucinations!

Having amply prepared you, I offer a challenge. Read this report on Ukrainian atrocities. Absorb it. And don't deny it, rationalize it, or purge it from your mind. But also don't groan and feel yourself plunging into paralyzing ennui 'cuz EVERYBODY SUCKS SO WHAT'S THE USE. Don't be the lunchroom lady!

F Scott Fitzgerald said "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." I don't aspire to a first-rate intelligence. I'll settle for the firm recognition that the world isn't clean while opting out of the view that it's irredeemably dirty. It's unfashionable to point out that there's a middle! And just because there's no simple good or evil doesn't mean it's not worth trying to snake our collective way to marginally better outcomes.

That's the ballgame: seeking marginally better outcomes. Not framing things as childhood fairytales where baddies get smitten while we goodies bask in our nobility. Privileged First-world aristocrats have lost our foothold. Everything seems two dimensional, distinctions are glibly drawn, and every transgressor is deemed pure wickedness, ripe for pitiless smiting.

The good guys are never that good and the bad guys are never that bad (except for a few genuine psychopaths like Putin). And here's the clincher: you and I are not so great, either! AND THAT'S OKAY! We can humbly keep our heads down while seeking marginally better outcomes! It sounds puny and non-monumental, but such modest incrementalism is the source of all nobility.

Support Ukraine! Reject Ukrainian propoganda! Do both! They're not irreconcilable! In fact, the discipline and maturity required by this subtle endeavor represent the ideal antidote to precisely what ails our society! In the widest framing, we've lost our capacity for subtlety.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Early Work: Scarecrow

My problems started way earlier than I realized.

I couldn't do better than this today. Willie Nelson would have paid good money for this lyric. But icy Mrs. Quarterman seemed to have found it lacking.

Age 7:

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