Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Ed Norton Approach to Shifting Perspective

Realizing truth is shockingly easy, in any scenario and at any scale. It's often not a matter of learning, which is laborious, but of shifting perspective, which is instant and effortless. The truth is always blowing in the wind. It's right there in front of your nose, awaiting your embrace.

The impediment is the need to recognize - and let go of - previous wrongness. That’s the hard part, because, being an unflattering process, emotions arise. So you must adjust yourself to accept the possibility that your assumptions might be crap.

You can’t let go of something while continuing to embrace and defend it. Visceral self-skepticism is requisite. Not self-loathing, not neurotic ambivalence. Just an earnestly alert blitheness. "Hey, wouldn't it be interesting if I were totally wrong on this?"

If you have a big ego (most do, including mild-mannered quiet types), self-skepticism challenges everything you've been clinging to. Terrifying! So wrongness stays.

This is why wise people advise us to work on ego. Loosen those straps, they say, and quit clinging. Then quiet your mind to reduce shouty mental distraction. By the time you've run that gauntlet, years have been spent preparing to make an easy shift of perspective so you can become a little bit less wrong.
What's worse, 95% of the time you'll bring that ego and clinging and noise along with you, so the supposed shift of perspective becomes a dramatic pose rather than an actuality. You'll conjure up a mere emulation of knowing.
Jeepers, so much work for something intrinsically effortless! Just shift! Choke down ego, favor childlike earnestness, open yourself to fresh perspective, generally STFU, and blithely try another perspective!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Quick TV (and Movie!) Update

Following my sweeping TV update back in May, here's a quick update:


"Love Death and Robots" is a sometimes raunchy animated anthology series (each episode stands alone), sort of a mash-up of "Black Mirror" and Heavy Metal Magazine. Each episode has a different creative team, so quality is very mixed. But here's a list of the highest-rated episodes (in descending order), which makes it easy to just catch the good ones. At 6 - 20 minutes/episode, it's a neat way to fill time when you don't want to digest anything more ambitious.

If you want to list out best-to-worst episodes of a series, create a bookmarklet with the following code and trigger it from the main IMDB page for any series:
javascript:window.open(%22https%5C://www.imdb.com/search/title/?series=%22%20+%20location.href.split(%22/%22)%5B4%5D%20+%20%22&view=simple&count=250&sort=user_rating,desc%22);
Movie, not TV: "Everything Everywhere All at Once" features an everything bagel that is literally everything. The movie itself is also every movie (it's not at all the film you think it is for the first few minutes...or ever). I thought it was fantastic, and you can still catch it in theaters (the usual streaming services charge $20).

HBO's "Rome" was their Game of Thrones (hugely expensive, sumptuous production values, sweeping purview) before Game of Thrones. At the time, it was known for being rrrrracy [Austin Powers cat meow], but I've finally dug in and find it tame compared to GOT and other more recent titles, and quite substantial (in a good way). The kind of show that tugs at you to view another episode. It can't hold a candle to "I Claudius", but what can? The latter can be streamed for free on Hoopla or Acorn (both likely available via your library account).

"The Other Two", a series about the elder brother and sister of a viral child megastar was great in its first season. This season it's been a bit too in love with itself. Still good, but not great. If you like this show, you'll love "You're the Worst", which is near the top of my pantheon of great shows nobody heard of ("Breaking Bad", "The Leftovers", and "Party Down" were originally part of that pantheon).

"Detectorist" is a lovely small, slow, charming, subtle show about metal detecting enthusiasts in England. Very highly recommended if that's your cup of tea. If you're allergic to affected, self-conscious British cutesy, don't worry, this isn't that. It's miles above pandering. Also: it's funny how emotions scale. The show's extraordinarily mild antagonists - e.g. detectorists from a competing club perennially trying to horn in on a promising meadow; a poacher from Germany; an archeologist consultant sold out to construction industry interests - seem far more awful than Joffrey in GOT or Sauron in LOTR. Absolutely horrible and emotionally scarring.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Mike Pence Fallacy

There is a popular argument that Mike Pence was no hero because he was merely doing his job and obeying the constitution.

This argument is fallacious.

Heroism is doing right under duress. And no one can argue that Mike Pence wasn't under world-crushing duress. And there's no such thing as "merely" doing right. Right-doing is morality, especially under conditions where "right" becomes strenuously distant.

In any given moment, 10,000 bureaucrats are passively not-accepting bribes, which is moral (they'd all love Teslas) but not notably so. But if one is actively offered $10,000,000 - while everyone else in his office flagrantly accepts pay-offs and threatens to destroy him for making a fuss by refusing - his refusal is an entirely different thing from the passive complacency of non-criminality.

Heroism is actively doing right amid elevated effort and repercussions. It's evidently distinct from mulish passive compliance.

So Mike Pence behaved heroically.


Some point to the heroism Pence did NOT demonstrate to devalue the heroism he did exhibit. This is nonsense. When a fireman "just does his job" to pull you from a burning house, he doesn't also need to be nicer to his kids and cut back on drinking and philandering to deserve credit for heroism. If a person needed to be morally impeccable on every front to get credit for a heroic action, there would be no heroes on Earth, ever.

And the twisted notion that there exists a higher moral choice than "merely doing the right thing" has long been the source of much evil in the world.

There's a political stratum the Right mocks as virtue seekers. Discontent to be "merely" moral, they stridently, belligerently attack ("call out") those who engage in an ever-shifting and ever-growing portfolio of taboo thoughts, phrases, or behaviors. Such people see themselves as super-extra moral.

Their impetus is identical with those on the Right who reject being "merely" good Christians, framing themselves as super-extra good Christians by ferreting out witches for burning or "sexual deviants" for punishment.

Always try to avoid super-extra good people. They will fuck you up. They practice an ancient human trope: screaming, seething, accusing, and attacking in the name of morality. One might seek to be so Christian as to become obviously unChristian and so anti-racist as to become plainly racist. Vanity masquerading as lofty moral aspiration manifests as savage immorality. So the extremes of both Left and Right are perennially afflicted by super-extra virtuous types for whom everyday morality seems like such weak tea as to scarcely warrant attention while they grandly set their sights on towering moral heights.

In fact, those are the very ones currently shrugging off Mike Pence's genuine heroism on that one day. For them, doing right is weak tea.


Monday, June 13, 2022

My Piano Tuner's Romanticism

I've gathered a stable of titans. My massage therapist is a miracle healer (as umpteen of my friends have discovered, you don't need to even tell him what hurts; his fingers find, and rapidly fix, the problem, and that's that). The guy who cleans my car (I originally wrote about him here, and then again, recently, here) can, quite seriously, make cars look better than they did in the showroom (my theory is that he changes how light reflects off the car via a zillion strokes of his cleaning putty - like a Renaissance artist applying dabs of fresco). And my plumber may be the world's best brewer. Actually, he's my ex-plumber, having finally gone pro in the beer world, working here and here, though his full genius has not quite scaled. His commercial output is very good - worth going out of your way for - but not yet as mind-bending as his home brew.

There are others, but let's cut to the chase. My piano tuner, Lou, happens to be one of America's best contemporary composers.
He's also a good piano tuner. The thing you need to understand about piano tuners is that they hate your piano. Doesn't matter what piano. Piano tuners are fussily pedantic perfectionists, predisposed to exasperation, and no piano can be perfectly tuned (they're fiendishly complicated boxes which swell and contract from minor climate variations). This makes the entire proposition - i.e. their livelihood - a complete horror. But Lou is a good piano tuner because he doesn't quite curse my piano out loud. He does his best with my turd of a (very nice) 1959 Chickering baby grand (same year/model Bill Evans kept at home), and he walks away (with fistfuls of my money), his unbridled contempt stoically veiled. A consummate professional!
Louis Pelosi's compositional work merits thorough examination. But while I've played a decent amount of contemporary classical music, it's not really my thing. So I'm not the guy to write it, nor is this the place to publish it. I'd recommend a deep dive into his web site, full of sound excerpts (start with "Twelve Etudes for Piano"). I'll just use his work as a launching pad for some broad thoughts on music, and creativity, generally.

There's a word that frequently comes up with Lou - sorry, Louis. Mr. Pelosi. "Romanticism". Usually it's something like this: "While thoroughly modern in most facets, Pelosi always has one foot firmly set in Romanticism." They say it like he's defiantly holding on to Old Ways. They mean he's a bit conservative, or even - seethingly insulting to a modern composer - traditional.

I’ve never seen a really satisfying definition of Romanticism, so I’ll roll my own. Romanticism, when it comes to art, is the deliberate arrangement of artistic events into a dramatic contour intended to create emotional engagement with the audience.
There's a Japanese word for the pace of unfolding events in an art form, and it's almost entirely unheard-of outside of Japan: "Ma". Think about "Ma" - make it the thing you listen/watch/taste for - and you'll reframe your appreciation interestingly.
More simply put, Romanticism is storytelling. And that's widely considered reactionary, because we're still coming to terms with a rather extreme shift orchestrated (hee-hee) by 20th century composers. Like all extremists, this crop defined themselves by their transgressiveness. For them, Romanticism is your father's music. It's gross.
"You might as well go all the way and don a straw hat and pick up a banjo if you're concerned with emotions and engagement and all that corny showbiz bullshit!" I hear them shouting from their graves.
That generation - primarily snooty academicians, naturally - prized a dryly intellectual approach and produced radical music impossible to listen to. They shunned any hint of romanticism, which struck them as juvenile and unserious as stringing up garish Christmas lights on one's appallingly bourgeois abode.

These days, classical composers find themselves adrift in the backwash of that extremism, and it can be hard to find one's bearings. If one manages to forge a coherent and persuasive compositional style that's modernly unchained yet also emotional - dare I say, Romantic - you'll be seen - even by those who don't share the radical frosty severity of a Schoenberg or a Webern - as reactionary.

I've been listening to Lou Mr. Pelosi's work for years now, and recently realized I'd unwittingly bought into this. All this time, I've been discretely appreciative of the emotional coherence and tasteful unfoldment, which make his output more accessible. More "musical", if that's not another taboo term. But as I listened to the dazzling performance of his work at Merkin Hall in NYC this Spring, I finally realized I'd bought into utter hogwash.

Romanticism is not a trend. It does not connotate an era or school. One may depart from it, or even reject it, but it's been the default approach to art for all eternity, and will continue to thrive forever. Telling stories with a coherent dramatic contour arranged to evoke a given emotional response is not "old school", unless Fire and The Wheel are "old school". If you design triangular tires, I'll salute your creativity, but, when your contemporaries persist in designing round ones, it doesn't make them fuddy-duddies.

Lou Mr. Pelosi's work is "grounded" modernism - free-wheeling, often dissonant, inventiveness arranged in a coherent, engaging manner that Handel might, with effort, find affinity with.

Note that I said "manner", not "structure". Novice composers pay great attention to structure. An etude is, primarily, an etude; a chorale a chorale. But real artists regard structural norms as mere scaffolding; a throwaway framework - a mere propositional excuse, really - for organizing the deeper thing they actually do. A chef might serve a smaller portion of pasta at lunch than at dinner, but it's the same cooking; he's not thinking "LUNCH". A great chef barely acknowledges framework - yadda yadda like whether wait staff wears bikinis or tuxedos. It's all about the food!

Handel would not find a single structure in this music he'd feel comfortable with. He'd experience the full violence of the gradual unchaining by which generations of composers have freed themselves, and with which our modern ears have grown gradually more or less comfortable. But he'd still dig the Romanticism. Not because it's of his time, and thus stuck-in-the-mud, but because it's grounded in the terra firma of humanity's eternal relationship with art.


Mateusz Borowiak, a young Polish-British pianist, is the most frequent performer of Lou Mr. Pelosi's music, and he's a gem. The Japanese "ma" I mentioned above - the pace of unfolding of events in an art form - is something Borowiak has mastered (normally, one must be ancient, with throbbing arthritic fingers; e.g. check out the immortal Michal Hambourg). This comes in addition to his technical mastery - never wielded as a raison d'ĂȘtre - and his delightfully juicy, "go-for-it" gleeful passion (passionate glee?). Check him out, he's about the best guy out there, for my taste (we all keep expecting him to explode into massive fame and champagne and limos, but perhaps 2022 isn't the era for that).


But how does classical piano relate to the cheesy cake of El Salvador? Here's your answer!

My proudest writing on music composition is a piece seemingly no one can get through. But since I do try my damndest to be coherent, digestible, and emotionally engaging (I'm very much a romantic), I'd be grateful if you'd at least take a stab at "Shostakovich, Eddie Barefield, and The Evolution of Western Art"

Here are all postings tagged "music", in reverse-chronological order


Sunday, June 12, 2022

Opting Out of Rumination Over What's Missing

Way back in January 2009, at the dawn of the Slog, I posted one of the most enduringly popular entries, titled "The Monks and the Coffee". It featured this story:
A woman worked as a driver for some Buddhist monks traveling around California for a series of meditation programs. The monks had fallen crazily in love with a certain brand of coffee they'd discovered during the trip. But while they practically jumped for joy whenever they came upon some, she found it interesting that they never showed the slightest trace of disappointment if they failed to find any. Even when days went by without finding their coffee, they were no less happy. It began to dawn on her that if they never drank that coffee again, it wouldn't bother them in the least. Yet each time they found it they positively basked in the delight.
It struck a chord with me (and with many readers), but I couldn't say I really understood it. But a few months later, I was given the key to unlock the mystery. That Christmas Eve I found myself flipping between peak experience and crushing sadness, all while nothing changed even the tiniest bit. Just my perspective! My framing!

This galvanized my attention, and I pondered it closely for years, cataloguing here my unfolding epiphanies, as indexed in "The Evolution of a Perspective". Eventually this exploration of perspective/framing produced fresh understanding of human happiness, autism, addiction, depression (here and here), creativity, art, cosmology, theology, and all the way up to the nature of the universe and multiverse.



But the initial insight was the most practically useful: we don’t live in What’s Missing. We live in What Is. What's Missing isn't real. In fact, it’s the very definition of unreality. And there's always stuff missing; an infinite depot to draw from in dredging up needless misery for oneself.
Why would you do this? To ballast your happiness, of course!
It works according to a dementedly simple formula:
(Optimality) - (Current Moment) = (Misery)
It's absurd, because "optimality" is a mind trip; a head fake; an empty intellectual construct. It's plainly ditzy to begin with. Just for one thing, optimality is famously slippery. Once you attain it, you quickly grow tired of it and start dreaming up some other notion of it. You know this! Yet you still fall for it every time, generating gratuitous misery. 

Whatever's happening right here/right now, your dear departed grandpa won't be here to see it. And odds are that you are not currently experiencing a thrashing orgasm courtesy of a mesmerizingly attractive and solicitous lover. Moment: I proclaim thee SUBOPTIMAL! Hence misery.

But what-isn't-happening doesn't have anything to do with anything, and certainly shouldn't affect our experience of the current moment - aka "reality". If you drop the habit of scanning for suboptimality (like a princess detecting smaller and smaller peas beneath her mattress), you'll be left with nothing but appreciation of the current moment on its own terms. And that appreciation won't deplete over time, because it's real.



Peak moments are quickly deflated by trivialities. You have to pee. You remember that you don't own a Porsche. You recall that terrible thing your second grade teacher said. Or you just get tired of the sunset view from your chaise lounge in Hawaii. Time to go in, and find lots of fresh juicy suboptimalities to thwart your natural flow of contentment, appreciation, and grace.

We scramble to reconstruct peak experience by trying to book another vacation. We save up, praying for a raise at work and for the perfect obliging companion to share it all with. We struggle to get it all just right; to make the world correspond as closely as possible with the fake, cartoon-like optimality cooked up by our fevered brains.

But, again, even if we make the world cough up that optimality cartoon, we won't be happy for long. Soon we'll need to pee, or remember we don't own Porsches, or recall that thing teacher said. When the dog catches the car, it's just a car. Just a chaise lounge. And I need to pee.

The spiritual teacher/troll GI Gurdjieff wrote a book that was bullshit aside from its title: "Life is Real Only Then, when 'I Am'". He hid the entire message in plain sight: We're all 100% aspirational. Like greyhounds at a racetrack or hamsters on a wheel, we never arrive, and it's entirely a choice of perspective. Of framing.

Arrival is a manifestation of perspective, not the prize received for lining up ducks in a perfect row. You can arrive now, just as you are, even if you need to pee and are not in Hawaii and still don't own a Porsche. Even if grandpa isn’t here with you right now

Without the neurotic, delusional consideration of fake-out "Optimality" in the formula...
(Optimality) - (Current Moment) = (Misery)
....all you have is Now; un-judged, un-ranked, directly experienced. “Right here, right now” is all that’s real. What’s missing is not real. Obsession with What Isn’t is indulgent caprice. At best, it's stories we tell ourselves. At worst, we're all bonkers, living a dystopian fantasy of un-lost loss; of needless misery.



If you live in a fairytale (i.e. bonkers) world of self-narrated stories, you are condemned to live in What's Missing, and there's another word for that world: Hell.

If you opt out when your mind gently invites you to consider how GRANDPA'S NOT HERE WITH YOU - which is completely irrelevant - you will appreciate the here and now, and there's a word for that world: Heaven.


The links are important. They're not just pro forma.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Jan 6 Hearings: We All Know it Wasn't Power Trump Was Grasping At

I'm configured for honesty. I can't say I'm a 100% honest person - no one is - but I choose truth even when it makes me look bad, or lowers my position, or creates impediments. Show me truth and I'll click to it like a light switch.

It's not because I'm virtuous. It's because I configured myself this way as a child. I fully recognized back then that the child is father to the man, so I had a responsibility to set myself on a good track. Adults seemed like lying liars so conditioned for untruth that they lied even when they didn't need to. The aggregated weight of falsehood was a pressurizing, toxic burden leaving them unable to see straight. I wanted to see straight, so I locked in a robust propensity for honesty.

So I find it cognitively unpleasant when the good guys - e.g. the congressmen bringing Jan 6 instigators to justice (or, at least, to public exposure) fudge the truth.

Trump wasn't desperately hanging onto power, as they framed it last night. Trump didn't even like being president. If we'd made him a cool outfit and propped him up in a regal chair and appointed him king - a constitutional monarch with only ceremonial power - he'd have loved it. Trump was no more interested in presidenting than Chauncy Gardiner (Peter Seller's character in "Being There") would have been. Hell, he's not even interested in real estate, which is why, after several bankruptcies, he changed his business into mostly a licensing bureau for his name and image (self-elevation, his sole interest, being a malady that could be leveraged into remunerative commerce).

Everyone in America, from these Congressmen, to you and me, and to the MAGA faithful, understood that Trump would never accept defeat. All his turmoil, division, noise, and propaganda is 100% about saving face from the loss. It's not grasping at power, it's grasping at feeling like a winner.

But the Jan 6 committee chose to cast this as a power grab rather than a petulant child stomping over the game board and setting fire to the house, the neighborhood, and the nation, after being defeated by other kids.

If you're configured for honesty, the above will hopefully soothe you and help inoculate you from the colliding waves of expedient truth buggery on both sides. I'm no fan of confirmation bias; I normally fight against it here, where I present counter-intuitive notions and endless observations of how we all do it all wrong. But in a moment where one side lies and gaslights shamelessly, and the other side seems dementedly incapable of recognizing that the truth is bad enough - a bit of confirmation isn't a bad thing.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Downsizing 101

Here's what I learned from finally going through all my stuff and selling/giving/throwing most of it away. It's all about triage:

Take ample time to sell high-quality in-demand stuff for a good price.

Do this first, if possible. Clear somewhere in your home (and a folder on your hard drive) to dedicate to organizing, temporarily storing, and packing/shipping actually valuable stuff.

Make this distinct - and higher priority - from other downsizing tasks. This one actually pays! Disposing of your previous laptop or iPhone is not akin to getting rid of, say, a Napoleon Dynamite DVD.

Note that you can process and store items in this category together with items in the following category, but do make a distinction for the valuable stuff. Give it more time/attention/marketing muscle.


List anything worth over $20 for sale and hope for the best.

Between eBay fees, credit card fees, postage and handling, and materials, you won't make much even on a $20 sale. But you can learn to create tidy listings (eBay, Craig, NextDoor, FB Market) quickly, and streamline your fulfillment to the point where it's easy and fun and worth it even for the flow of a few bucks here and there. I was once eBay-phobic, but I've made it so efficient that it's now a delight. For details, see my previous posting, "Making eBay Efficient and Fun".


Give lots of gifts.

But don't waste much time hunting for charity solutions. Everyone's rich now. Nobody wants your old shirts. You can donate books to the library, but the "normal" titles will be sold in annual sales for pennies, while the really cool and interesting ones will almost certainly wind up in the trash. Maybe .5% of books are worth something and have a chance of connecting with a buyer. If no one wants to buy it, no one wants to own it. So if you can't sell or gift a book, trash it. Any other solution is just a conscience-salving intermediary step to trashing. (Caveat: if it's something that a typical 15-25 year old might read, maybe find a library in a rough area that might accept the donation, but they will not make proper use of your Shanghai soup dumpling cookbook or anything else "weird". Only stupid books are widely useful. 


Photograph anything you hate to let go of.

This is how you push past the tipping point on mementos and curiosities you want to remember but don't need to display or keep close. Tell yourself you're photographing it so you can remember, but really photograph it so you can let go.


Then blithely chuck what's left.

"When in doubt, throw it out." That's your Johnnie Cochran money line. Use it early and often. You don’t need to justify trashing it. Flip that and try to justify keeping it. 

Everyone starts out by pricing garbage containers and other industrial-strength solutions. That may be right for some people, but you're likely not to produce that scale of garbage so fast. Try putting it out incrementally with the garbage. If this backlogs you with many large trash bags (I use these for this purpose, because they don't puncture easily and they're unscented) perennially awaiting the next trash day, ok, pursue sturdier solutions.


Before you start, here's a framing: how much would it be worth it for you, in dollars, to get this done? Probably a few grand, if you're honest. Make that your reverse budget; the amount you're willing to waste to get this done. You may need one of those five clipboards - or felt stick-on furniture gliders, or light switch wall plates - one day! If you throw them out, you might need to re-buy them! Well, if/when that day arrives, the money you spend will draw from the reverse budget. Accept that you might waste $XXXX at some indeterminate future date rebuying items you imprudently throw away today. As you toss those things in the trash, make a mental note of it. And notice how satisfying it is to trash more and more stuff. It’s worth a lot!

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Making eBay Efficient and Fun

I was once eBay-phobic, but have made the process so efficient that it's now a delight. Here are tips.

Between eBay fees, credit card fees, packaging, postage and handling, you won't make much even on a $20 sale. But if you can learn to create tidy listings (eBay, Craig, NextDoor, FB Market) quickly, and streamline your fulfillment, it becomes an absolute breeze; worth it even for a few bucks here and there; or even just to escape the shame of throwing away useful stuff. eBaying is the new "donating". It's like this cool thriving circle of regeneration.

First, get a free account at Pirate Ship, a beautifully sleek web app that imports order data from ebay and offers you shipping choices (all discounted). Great service, too (they communicate in pirate-speak). Note that options like Priority Mail flat-rate and media mail (which you must ALWAYS use for books/audio/video) are available; you just need to dig around a bit as you plug in the particulars for a given shipment. And remember that padded envelopes ship way more cheaply than boxes.

For shipping, weigh with a good digital kitchen scale (don't buy a postage scale, they all suck). Weight limit is usually 10 lbs, but you won't be shipping heavier items much. Get this tape (don't use a tape gun for small packages; they're too unwieldy) and this handy little tape measure. Print labels out (Pirate Ship makes it easy) and stick them on with tape (see below).

If you don't already have an enormous collection of small and odd-shaped cardboard boxes (which are expensive and annoying to buy one-by-one), treat yourself to Amazon Prime for a while and order every damned thing you ever need to buy (toilet paper, tissues, toothpaste, eyedrops...everything!) that way and save the boxes. Just do it for the boxes. Also buy (e.g. from Staples) some 8x10 and 9x12 clasp envelopes and some 5x9 and #3 (8.5 x 14.5) poly bubble mailers. EBay seller TheBoxery has the best prices. Remember you can "shrink" large padded envelopes by folding them over on themselves and taping, and shrink clasp envelopes by cutting from the opening side and taping shut.

Buy all that stuff and set aside a dedicated space for eBay activity so you're not constantly reinventing the wheel ad hoc for each sale and shipment. Keep dedicated tape and tape measure and scale handy there even if you have similar items scattered elsewhere around your house. I also keep dedicated scissors, box cutter, and sharpie. Set up a folding table to serve as Sales Central. Dedicate a closet shelf to storing listed items awaiting sale/shipping. This is how you make eBay fun rather than hassle. Respect the hustle!

Always thoroughly scrape off or cover up or black-sharpie over old shipping labels. I've heard horror stories of a sticker code meaning "hazardous item", so your shipment gets pulled aside and you need to drive hundreds of miles to go pick it up because they won't restore it to shipping channels.

If the fussy scraping and taping and weighing and all the rest start to feel oppressive and/or "beneath you", here's a framing trick. You're sending personal items which have served you well off to nice people who eagerly await them. Pack and process like you're dispatching holiday presents - or even pets/babies for adoption. Call it corny if you want, but that's actually what eBay is at its heart (though plenty of buyers and sellers might not get it). I sometimes throw in minor treats, too, as a disciple of Walter the Bus Driver. The world insidiously improves, despite the evident shmuckery.

If you're on deadline, every couple weeks, reduce prices on anything unsold by 20%. But bear in mind that more obscure items can take a while to connect at any price.

For pricing, don't just search eBay. Check the "Completed Items" box in the left margin as you search to discover what stuff's actually selling for. Remember that good feedback, coherent and thorough description (talk like a real person; don’t feign brusque impersonality), and quality photos all help earn a premium. 

It's way better to lose money than to anger a buyer, even if it's someone awful/stupid/crazy (they mostly are very nice!). I have 100% feedback, and it serves me way better than 99.8% feedback. So maybe let them keep the item even though you've refunded. Etc etc. Your goal is to serve people as quickly and effortlessly as possible, even if sometimes it costs you extra. Delight them if possible, but marginal satisfaction works fine, too. Don't get drawn into spats or negotiations. Who's got time? If you're the contentious and/or penny-pinching type, eBay will drive you slowly mad. Everyone else: enjoy the release and surrender of low-stakes caving-in to imperious consumers. Retail satori!

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