Saturday, July 30, 2022

Don't You Dare Use Your Insight to Relieve My Unnecessary Pain!

Last week, I posted "Post-Covid Narcissism: The Unnecessary Extra Effort of Custom-Tailoring". The title was quite a mouthful, so I have a nice clear example to offer...after a quick recap.

Last week, in Jim Leff's Slog....
It's a "new normal". We must earn everything anew every time. There is no credit, no slack, no benefit of doubt or money in the bank. It's all "What have you done for me lately?" Our roiling belchy stomachs are the source of all truth, so we mostly just announce at people, rather than interact in a truly personalized way.
....
Narcissists don't customize. They don't/can't take into account who you are and what you know and what you're like. They don’t temper their thoughts, statements, or actions in consideration of your particulars.
....
Most of us, most of the time, are blankly uttering the canned lines we customarily say; dreamily expelling pronouncements from the gastric flares within our seat of truth.
....
This may seem like a bitterly dark observation, but, no, it's actually liberating. It means you're off the hook! Congratulations! To survive this, you must remember that it's always "about them" with narcissists.

A few months ago I received an email from a musician abroad. He'd attended one of my jazz seminars in the early 90s, and told me that my teaching had played a key role in inspiring him to become a full-time guitarist. Thanks for the wonderful insights, Jim!

I congratulated him on his success - he'd shown me a slew of recordings with his smiling mug on the cover - and somehow the discussion turned to the sacrifices he'd made on the way. He'd been through brutal poverty! Once, at his low point, he came home and found that he'd been evicted, with all his gear thrown out in the street! Though we were talking via email, his trembling horror over the memory was apparent. He'd been through the gates of hell!

I figured I'd try to relieve his post-traumatic suffering by offering an alternate framing. Y'know, some of that much-admired insight!
"For 99% of human beings who've ever lived, and a substantial number even today, the very notion of having "gear" would have been unthinkable. Only rich, privileged people owned "gear", and they'd have dearly loved some, even out in the street. In fact, they wouldn't have understood what "out in the street" even meant. As opposed to what? Your palace? Where else would they keep their hypothetical gear?"
Here was his response (not literal - he doesn't speak in American cadences - but it's a pretty fair translation) and final words to me:
"Ok, Boomer."



Thursday, July 28, 2022

SIGA at $21

"Investing is a vehicle whereby money is transferred from the impatient to the patient."

~~ Warren Buffett

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Fantasy Commencement: Chapter 2

Ever since I graduated from college, I've fantastized about what I'd say if I were the speaker at one of those. I've actually come up with some good stuff, but never wrote any of it down. Where would I put it? Create a new file drawer for "Fantasy Commencement Address"? C'mon!

One of the things that's made me feel neurotic for much of my life, but which has turned out to pay serious dividends, is that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I keep incrementally working on everything I've ever worked on. 10,000 progress thermometers glacially eke forward. And this is one of them. So, as new commencement address ideas emerge, I'll publish them under this tag.



In every family, every office, every group of any kind, there's an unpleasant needy loudmouth. If we're forced to remain in that person's firing range, it feels excruciating. Even if their intentions are benign, they come to seem like demons; destructive and exhausting and The Worst Possible Thing.

But they're not. A person can be awful, corrosive, and exasperating, but there is genuine evil in the world, so anyone who wouldn't dream of going out of their way to do deliberate harm is a “5” at worst.

A person can be nasty, selfish, derelict, uncompromising, unreasonable, willfully ignorant, and astoundingly unpleasant without scratching a nanometer toward actual evil. They can inadvertently ruin lives and knock over every worthy thing without being evil. The end result of their actions may be indistinguishable from that of genuine evil, but intentions do matter!

All non-evil people are on our team. Awful people are the worst of the best, not the worst of the worst. They are the bottom rung of acceptability, not the bottom rung of humanity by a very long shot. We know this, yet we must constantly be reminded. Which is why I'm doing so now!

Why do we need reminding? Why do merely unpleasant people seem full-out evil? Because humans are getting nicer. We're mostly 6s and 7s. Plus: our day-to-day lives - even for the so-called poor of the First World - are quite comfortable. We have become entitled, leaving us increasingly sensitive to suboptimality and abrasion. When weak cell service or a delayed flight or no milk left for your coffee is "a nightmare", then, by the same token, a merely annoying person is Evil Incarnate.

We are spoiled princesses increasingly vexed by smaller and smaller mattress peas. We're Mrs. Howells, endlessly piqued by poor picnic weather and inattentive servants.


No, you're not suffering from deja vu. This is a re-working of an earlier posting.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Scan Your Photos!

As part of my downsizing, I've done extensive research on photo scanning services. Scanmyphotos.com is the biggest of the bunch, and you can read David Pogue's (lightweight, ancient) account of the experience here

Those guys operate an add-on scam, like Ryan Air, optionalizing necessary services, then upcharging you for them (get revenge by using coupon code ‘TrustedSince1990’ for 50% off across the board).

DiJiFi, in Brooklyn, is supposed to be better. Fewer restrictions, more flexible and personal service, and their color correction is supposed to be excellent. Your price will be painful, but they'll get it right.

But I found the best service of all, and I can't wait to share. It's called: GarbageCan.chuck.

I went through my immense crate of photos from family trips, 6th grade graduation, etc etc, intending to winnow a little bit. And I found that 95% are:
Faded, crappy shots of things like Cinderella's Castle at Disneyworld which have been professionally shot a quintillion times and can be googled in twelve microseconds.

Faded, crappy shots of resting lions and bored zebras at Lion Country Safari.

Faded, crappy shots of teachers and classmates I don't remember and don't care about.

Faded, crappy shots of teachers and classmates I do remember, but do not require photos of (they look EXACTLY LIKE I REMEMBER).
5% are decent shots of worthwhile things. Friends in familiar repose, long-gone things and places, etc. My backyard growing up. My chowmobile in 2003 (when everyone assumed I was fabulously successful, crazily failing to notice that Chowhound was free). I can scan these myself via my iphone (it's worth paying a few bucks for a scanning app, which autocrops and squares-off each photo).
Chowmobile in 2003
(quickly scanned via iPhone; I could correct brightness, but why bother?)


After exuberantly junking 1500 photos of negative-to-zero value, and keeping 75 for quick/easy iphone-scanning to digital, I found maybe 25 worth sending to DiJiFi for professional scanning and color correction.

It would have been insane to send them the whole box. Insane!

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Post-Covid Narcissism: The Unnecessary Extra Effort of Custom-Tailoring

I amuse myself by trying to observe post-Covid psychological skews. Most existed pre-Covid, as well, but have mushroomed into far greater prevalence (Here is a previous such observation).
I urged a friend to check out a TV series called "Patriot" (here’s why).

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

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

"Why would you think it's that?"

"The title."

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

Short answer: yup, she absolutely prioritizes her gut reaction above the massive evidence of a 30 year personal relationship.
My family has been way ahead of this curve. Quick story! It's like 2000 and we're all in Memphis for a wedding. Having finished a rehearsal thing, we're standing around a parking lot discussing dinner options. I pipe up: "I know a place, not too far!" A cousin replies, haughty and dubious, "Is it good?"
This happens a lot. It's a "new normal". We must earn everything anew every time. There is no credit, no slack, no benefit of doubt or money in the bank. It's all "What have you done for me lately?" Our roiling belchy stomachs are the source of all truth, so we mostly just announce at people, rather than interact in a truly personalized way.

Narcissists don't customize. They don't/can't take into account who you are and what you know and what you're like. They don’t temper their thoughts, statements, or actions in consideration of your particulars. For that, a cognitive sub-routine would have to be cranked up, requiring much greater effort than simply saying/doing whatever reflexively pops up. And that effort is scarcely worth it, because, you know, people, am-I-right? People aren't worth it. Effort with people is strictly for plebes, and we’re a society of coddled aristocrats.

Most of us, most of the time, are blankly uttering the canned lines we customarily say; dreamily expelling pronouncements from the gastric flares within our seat of truth.

Why don't we notice how bad the narcissism’s gotten? As I've previously noted, it's because we're too narcissistic to notice how narcissistic everyone's become.


This may seem like a bitterly dark observation, but, no, it's actually liberating. It means you're off the hook! Congratulations! To survive this (believe me, I’m your guy for the low-down on surviving narcissists), you must remember that it's always "about them" with narcissists. And narcissism in America has become pretty much universal.

So if you make an effort to be helpful and useful and generally sum-positive for people you encounter, you can blithely let the chips fall, because you’ll seldom register as a full-fledged presence existing outside their own headspace. Their action and reaction, in other words, have nothing to do with your reality.

I don’t normally traffic in New Age treacle, but consider agreement #2.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Hack or Be Hacked

Complacency can be a serious mistake, and premature action can also be a serious mistake. So how does one resolve this paradox?

I answered this in my previous posting:
By shaving sensitively away at it. Open your mind to possibility...and then keep gently stretching that opening.
If you don't shave away at it, and don't stretch the opening, then developing events will shave and stretch you.

That's what a lobster boil (very gradually heating live lobsters in a pot of water to lull them into complacency so they don't try to jump out until it's way too late) is. That's the world shaving and stretching you; conditioning you to accept worse and worse circumstances without ever quite activating an emotional response to spur you to jump and sputter.

So: you can hack the world (per my strategy), or you can let the world hack you. Either way, the trick is to sensitively avoid the emotional tripwire. Do stuff - move forward; make progress! - to avoid complacency...while calming the hell down to avoid counterproductive overreaction.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

How to Plan an Alternative Timeline While Remaining Momentarily Complacent (Part 2)

A few days ago, I recounted how I'd spent time as a child plotting my exit from Nazi Germany circa 1935. And, without intending any direct analogy - because there absolutely isn't one - noted that I will shortly move out of America.

We're obviously nowhere close to Nazi Germany…but that doesn't mean I'm loving it!

I didn't, however, detail the tactics. So here goes:



You're in 1935 Germany, or some other scenario where ill winds conjure a feeling in the pit of your stomach that things might turn real bad.

Perhaps it's just paranoid overreaction. After all, everything cycles! Up and down! Better and worse! One doesn't flee whenever things turn south! One resiliently awaits the turnaround! This, too, shall pass!

But what if it's a descent that never reverses?

That's what people always say during downslides, isn't it? Sane people don't immediately plot their escape! That's for kooks!

History shows what happens to people who wait too long. A refugee is an immigrant who wasn't paying attention. Who didn't want to feel kooky.

Yes, we've heard about people who got into trouble for waiting too long. Movies are made about them. But you never hear about the many more who jumped ship unnecessarily. And there have been tons of them. For every lobster boiled alive while relaxing in gradually warming water, a thousand lived unnecessarily desperate lives, jumping spastically whenever the water warmed up a bit.



We're torn between two wise but contradictory maxims:

1. Don't freak out just because there's turbulence!

2. But don't be complacent!

This, I realized as a child, was the paradox faced by Jews in 1935 Germany. It's easy to be complacent, even when things turn legit nasty. Yet there's always nastiness if you look for it. Sane people don't pack their bags just because things are imperfect.

So how does one resolve this paradox?

By shaving sensitively away at it. Open your mind to possibility...and then keep gently stretching that opening.



A composer sits staring at a blank sheet of music paper. A motif comes to him, and he coddles it like an outdoorsman cultivating a spark into a campfire. He doesn't force it. He doesn't tighten up. He remains loose. Capriciously casual. It's all good, man!

To foster something fresh, remain loosely expansive. Make yourself feel a little “high”. Don't actually get high, though, as that will create false confidence that your choices are AWESOME while ensuring that they're not.

So, maintaining this state of mind - this framing - blithely consider emigration options. Put yourself in that position, like a composer places himself in the concert hall. Stay relaxed, and ponder the proposition: where would you go?

OH MY GOD WHERE WOULD I GO???? WHERE, WHERE, WHERE?????

Woops. Let's try again without the unnecessary anguish. Remember you're contemplating this from a position of enviable comfort. You're not an actual refugee, or anything close. Prussian troops aren't hunting down your kids while they hide in a snow bank. No urgency to figure it all out right here and right now. You're outside that timeline!

Take a moment to acknowledge your immense safety and comfort, the envy of every one of your ancestors, going back to the monolith. Then once again entertain the hypothetical. Do you have some connection to another country? Easy immigration due to family connections? A language skill? Is there some aspect to the work you do (or other valuable skill) which might make it easier to emigrate to and live in a place where that skill is valued?

Take your time. This is not a 30 second knee-jerk think. More like a week or two. Really puzzle it out...bemusedly! Don't plan it. Use your fantasizing faculty, the one you'd use to contemplate how you might spend a lottery jackpot. You are not planning a move, just running a hypothetical. This won't go on your permanent record!

Say your wife is a Kiwi (i.e. from New Zealand). What are your immigration options there? What are NZ's policies? If you don't already know, take time to read up. That's something you should already have checked on. It's good to know your options!

Over the following weeks and months, keep exploring how you might one day start this process. And then start verrrrrry gently tugging the rope. Any steps that are cheap and easy and non-obligating...DO. Why not? You're still not emigrating, you're building options and alternatives. It's always good to have a Plan B!

Maybe you're a freelance graphic designer. Why not start marketing your services in New Zealand? Make connections and learn more about the market. Even if you stay put, this might drum up a whole new source of work!

You haven't committed. But you've taken steps. That's how you shave away at a paradox.

Learn about colors and fonts currently popular in New Zealand. Lazily surf Kiwi web pages. Since New Zealand is now of interest, devote time, as you presently do for, say, social media interaction or masturbation (fine line between the two, I know). Don't muster any sense of purpose, just be curious. And blithe. Don't back up the camera for a panoramic view of yourself plotting a bold trajectory. Opt out of that framing.

We all encounter fleeting facts or leads or connections relevant to New Zealand (or some other destination)...and ignore them. Now you'll find yourself paying attention, just because your brain's watching for that stuff. Befriend Kiwis as they crop up. Pursue all professional leads with a New Zealand angle - or with a degree of separation from a New Zealand angle, e.g. Australian, etc. The flywheel gathers momentum! Through all this, again, remain blithely bemused. You're not considering a move, you're just opening a window.

After a year, the notion of moving to New Zealand will no longer seem life-explosive or impossibly complicated or bewildering. Much human trauma is caused by the collision of reality with a narrow perspective. By mere surprise. You've eliminated that barrier, so if you ever feel a compulsion to move, you won't feel the gulping sense of disorientaton that prevents people from believing they can do perfectly do-able things. You'll be at step four, not step one, thanks to light, easy musing.

And you're still not the least bit committed! If you remain in America, you won't have wasted much time or money. You've increased your knowledge, broadened your network, and expanded your options. Who knows, you may decide to move to New Zealand just because! Having opened a fresh option, serendipity delivers unexpected opportunities. So never stop opening options!

But the first thing is to gently, playfully open the window without freaking out. That's how you avoid the paradox.



Next phase: methodically do every single thing you'd do if you were going to emigrate, so long as:

1. It doesn't obligate you.
2. It doesn't cost much.
3. You can do it calmly and playfully.

No weighty announcements. Still just light musing. Like assembling a model airplane. You're not going anywhere. Just cultivating options.

At some point you'll hit a wall and need to take more concrete action. You'll have to pay some money, or do something strenuous, in order to continue seeding this path. Shave there, too. What can you spend, what assets can you devote, to this Plan B without obligating yourself? Can you afford $20 to to feed the fantasy? $200? $2000? Can you reconcile it even if you never actually move?

If you can sell it to yourself as capricious indulgence, then go for it! People spend on their hobbies all the time!



I have no checklist to offer, because it's different for every case. I'm just offering a mindset; a framing; an approach. Thread the needle, sidestepping paradox via non-agitated musing, while avoiding the perils of hysterical overstepping. Plus, there's a bonus!

As you work on opening this option, your perspective will shift without your awareness. A few years down the line, if it starts looking like you truly do need to get out of the country, no chain saw will rip into your stomach lining. No cold sweat of panic. No movie camera zooming in for a close-up of your devastated, weepy face. Instead, you'll think, "Hmm, guess I'd better get my form #2477 notarized, and contact Indie, Cora, Blake and Beauden in Auckland about housing and job leads." You will have come a long, long way further than you'd realized.

You can travel awfully far via fine-shaving and light musing; by bemusedly entertaining hypothetical possibilities; by leaning your business and social life a bit this way or that way over the course of months and years. Subtle leanings and hypothetical ponderings can float you so far up Mt. Everest that you find yourself sufficiently altitude-adjusted to make an easy jaunt up to the summit.



I've followed this path multiple times using no special talents. I just remember, from childhood, how to playfully play and bemusedly muse. I keep it small. I don't turn things into dramas if I can help it. No big emotions or cinematic performances.

Your route might be more twisty/difficult than my example. Again, every trajectory is different. But regardless of specifics, you can ease yourself into a far better frame of mind, if/when the time comes, than the version where any such contemplation leads you shrieking "WHERE WOULD I GO???? WHERE, WHERE, WHERE?????" And that's how you avoid becoming so complacent that you eventually must drag your family over mountain passes to the border.

If you frame the world as a place where you own a Plan B, you'll live in such a world. And that's how you plan an alternative timeline while remaining momentarily complacent. 

That's Little Jimmy's Fantasy Nazi Plan.



Wait. That’s it? Was this a joke? Two thousand words to tediously restate the Boy Scout Motto, "Be Prepared"?

Correct. The word you're looking for is "juvenile". And that's the whole magic trick.

Who are the most adaptable and resilient humans? Kids! Kids think this way! They know, instinctually, how to hack a new world for themselves (at least until they've been taught to inhibit the faculty). That's how they manage to grasp this world, in a few short years, starting from scratch! Me, I brewed this plan up at age seven, after observing how grown-ups always screw up.

Adults rarely muse effectively on emotionally-charged topics. We're conditioned to tighten up and get serious as stakes rise. We stress and gnash our teeth because that's what grown-ups do. And that's 180 degrees off.

Shifting perspective must be done lightheartedly. If you think maturely about stuff like this, you’ll find yourself nursing an ulcer, even if it all ultimately proves unnecessary. In fact, we do it all the time. We pre-suffer!

When contemplating big changes, go light and breezy, with the playfulness of a child. Mull capriciously. We were taught as kids to apply discipline and maturity, but that was always bad brainwashing. I'm explaining how to reframe the world and prepare for any eventuality.

It's also the way to ride the flow of serendipity. You can't control that flow. You can't command it or force it, just as you can't push a string. But you can gently coax it, over the long run, as the Colorado River coaxed dirt and rock, a grain at a time, into reconfiguring as the Grand Canyon.

Open a window...and then keep stretching the opening.




A reason not to move out: if the good people, the smart people, the sane people all check out as the assholes gain traction, that leaves the assholes unchallenged. You're in this. Your actions are not divorced from the outcome. You create and define the future. So consider carefully whether you truly want to cede to the idiots.

SIGA Latest

If, at my urging, you bought shares in SIGA many years ago at $2-4, you're welcome (it's now around $14), and I'm sorry (that it took so long).

I can't possibly mind-dump all my thoughts, speculations, anticipations, and caveats at this point, but I owe some update. Here it is, for those who aren't watching every move:

From here, it will most likely either double or else very gradually waft back down to 8s/9s/10s.

If it would kill you to sell at $14 when $20s or $30s are quite possible, maybe hang on. If you've been holding shares so long that it's like a twenty dollar bill left in an old jacket pocket, maybe let it ride and see what happens.

Otherwise, selling here wouldn't be so bad. But wait a few days, as W.H.O. is likely to declare a "public health emergency of international concern", which should be good for a moderate rise.

If it does pop up to $20s or $30s, know that I will sell every last share the moment the needle slows down.

Finally, no, the monkeypox pandemic wasn't an unforeseen outcome. I've always considered TPOXX's effectiveness with animal poxes a strong fallback in case govs failed to take the smallpox bioterror threat seriously. I'm not sure the latter is true, either; it's all just moving glacially.

Fantasy Commencement: Chapter 1

Ever since I graduated from college, I've fantastized about what I'd say if I were the speaker at one of those. I've actually come up with some good stuff, but never wrote any of it down. Where would I put it? Create a new file drawer for "Fantasy Commencement Address"? C'mon!

One of the things that's made me feel neurotic for much of my life, but which has turned out to pay serious dividends, is that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I keep incrementally working on everything I've ever worked on. 10,000 progress thermometers glacially eke forward. And this is one of them. So, as new commencement address ideas emerge, I'll publish them under this tag.



You need to budget for screw-ups.

Try not to screw up, obviously. But when, inevitably, you do, know that it's budgeted for. It's expected. It's part of the game.

You will, for instance, lose your wallet a few times over the course of your life. And need to replace the money and docs. Budget for it!

You'll receive a bunch of parking tickets (and, if you park in NYC, will be towed at some point). Budget for it!

You will buy a few things that seem spectacularly useful but which you will never, ever, use. Budget for it!

You will loan money to friends who won't repay (my grandfather said "never loan money you're not happy to kiss goodbye"). Budget for it!

No one proceeds through life immaculately. Your shiny new car will, over time, acquire dings and scratches. Recognizing this doesn't give you free license to be thoughtless or incompetent. But you are allowed to enjoy being alive - here on this sole refuge of color and action and oxygen and water and sunlight and food in a frigid, dark, vacuous, dead universe - even when you drop your iPhone in the toilet (budget for that, too!).

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Rascal House 1985

I'm eating in a Jewish deli in Miami Beach with my 96 year old Russian Jewish grandfather. We’re seated at a banquette, and in the booth behind us some dude’s loudly boasting about his investments. “I got 3 million in General Electric, and 4 million in IBM...” My grandfather swivels his head, gets his attention, and breaks in with his thick Yiddish accent: “Excuse me. Sonny boy. Talk in thousands, there’s poor people here.”


Note: connection here.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Nuclear Preparedness PSA

Thanks to friend-of-the-Slog Paul Trapani for hipping me to this groovy new video from NYC Emergency Management about the important issue of Nuclear Preparedness, which confirms my prediction that while you can purge DiBlasio, you can never eliminate DiBlasioism:



YOU'VE GOT THIS!!!


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

How to Plan an Alternative Timeline While Remaining Momentarily Complacent (Part 1)

I'm guessing many/most/all Jews go through a stage where they ponder what they'd have done if they were living in Germany in 1933...or 1936...or 1938.

German Jews back then were as assimilated as Jews in today's America (we see newsreels of super jewy-looking Jews - with curly side burns and massive beards - in concentration camps, but those were the Eastern Europeans). They were largely doctors and lawyers and teachers and such, and pretty secular. They identified primarily as Germans, though, alas, the feeling wasn't mutual.

They were complacent, so once the scheisse really hit the fan, there was disorientation and panic and impasses galore. Lots of leaving-all-your-possessions-behind-while-hustling-your-family-through-snowy-mountain-passes-to-get-to-the-border. I'd like to think that I'd have seen it earlier and gotten out sooner.

So as a child I gave it thought, and came up with some counterintuitive ideas. I've kind of spoiled it with the title, above. I.e. it's possible to prepare a big ship for a prospective major turn without obligating yourself so that if/when you reach that juncture, you have a comfortable choice, without having to, say, drag the family over the Alps. That's Little Jimmy's Fantasy Nazi Plan. But more on that in a minute.



By chance, I'm about to move out of the country. My reasoning is only partly a matter of politics, but it did figure into my decision. You know, the whole impending civil war and autocracy thing. And there’s also a bit of a Jewish aspect. 

I think there will be a serious conflagration of anti-Semitism here (those who insist it's already begun are hysterics who need to ground themselves into a more rational perspective). As I wrote way back in 2017:
The infectious smoldering of economic populism, of xenophobia, of white supremacy, and of vitriol at "coastal elites", media, "Wall Street types", etc., is not being pushed forward, I don't believe, primarily by anti-Semitic people (though plenty of rabid anti-Semites are, of course, conveniently enjoying that tide). However, The Jewish Problem is like super-dry, crackly, hyper-flammable kindling, lurking adjacently to it all, just out of frame.
I don't think we'll be stuffed in ovens. History doesn't repeat, it merely echoes. I don't expect anything nearly as bad as extermination/genocide. But I do believe it will grow more unpleasant, and here's a funny thing about me: I prefer "pleasant".

Adding to the unpleasantry, I roll my eyes at the Right exactly as the Left does, but also vice versa. So while everyone else enjoys a tribal affiliation to huddle with for warmth and for mutual hatred of the "Other" (plus that distinctly American sort of sanctimonious moral superiority), me, I got nobody. I'm just standing here, like a shmuck, poxxing both houses.

Adding further, I've been gaslit my entire life on a plethora of fixtures (I've been taught to never mix metaphors, so, goddammit, I see them through). And right now Americans are gaslighting each other 24/7 (you probably only notice the "other side" doing it, but I see both). My perfect hell.

Plus my house is worth nearly twice what I paid in 2011, and I'd love to realize that gain. And also cut overhead.

Plus I've always loved Portugal. Here's what I wrote for my personal statement to the Portuguese government as part of my visa application:
In the 1980s and 1990s, I was a busy New York City-based jazz trombonist, arranging foreign tours several times per year. I often performed in Portugal (many appearances in Lisbon’s Hot Clube, and various clubs and cultural centers in the north) and taught seminars for conservatory students in Seixal. In all, I performed in thirty countries, and Portugal was always my favorite. I traveled there many times in this period.

At that time, Americans had barely heard of Portugal. My friends asked why I loved it so much. Here is the answer I gave: Spain and England lost their empires, but still act as if they rule the world: with macho swagger and a false sense of superiority. Portugal, by contrast, lost its empire, and developed saudade. It *evolved*. Everyone’s a poet, a musician, a philosopher.

I’ve felt this way for thirty years, and always expected to end up in Portugal. After a two decade delay (while I worked as a writer/author, Internet entrepreneur, and gastronomy expert), I will finally, with your kind approval, achieve the inevitable.

It amuses me that so many Americans are now attracted to Portugal. I find myself part of a trendy mass! But I don’t shout “I was first!” like a Spaniard or an Englishman. Instead, I grin with quiet irony, like a Portuguese.
The political system in Portugal is stable (if you read up on dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, you'll notice startling parallels, but he is, for now, in the past), and the people are only moderately narcissistic. The cost of living is substantially lower. And I could grab $75 round-trip flights to, say, Naples, for lunch on Ryan Air. Or drive to Seville (or onto the ferry to Morocco). Also: after five years of Portuguese residency, I'll have an EU passport, massively increasing my options.

Portugal will be a relatively easy move for me because I'm not, as they say, super tied-down (my tombstone epitaph: "Kept All Options Open!"). But how would I advise friends who are tied-down, but see me making this move and recognize, from long experience, that I'm generally on the leading edge of things (it's not my goal; frankly, it's an uncomfortable position)....and have the sinking feeling that perhaps they should be considering their options?

To answer, I'll reach into the bag of tactics and strategies I devised as a kid (I was way more clear-headed then; check out the great budgeting system I devised at age 7).

But this introduction has droned on for so long that there's no room. Tomorrow(ish) I'll post part two, and you can hear Little Jimmy's Fantasy Nazi Plan. Here it is!

Monday, July 11, 2022

It Must Be Due to Age

As I mentioned, it's Year of Smoothies, so I'm ingesting quite a bit of flax seed*. It's easy to sneak into my smoothies - along with some spinach - for stealth health.

A few months ago, I was observing how I'm less regular with the "elimination" thing these days, and figured it must be due to age. No, dork. It was due to lack of fiber!



I have a 65 year old friend who's 5' 4" and 300 pounds and complains that he doesn't have a lot of stamina. He told me it must be due to age. I stared expectantly, but nothing ignited for him.



When I was 30, I noticed I was grunting whenever I rose from a couch. Must be due to age! But around that same time I relaunched my hatha yoga practice, and also started working on my core strength (the modern term for "doing situps"). Now, at age 59, I hop up from sofas like a restless eight-year-old, with no embittered groaning in pidgin Yiddish.



Chalking stuff up to age is, more often than not, a manifestation of lazy complacency. Why not just fix it??

I'm not an alcoholic, or a Christian, but I'm nonetheless a fan of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The thing is, though, that as shitty as we human beings are at accepting the inevitable, we're still worse when it comes to fixing the fixable.



* - Flax seed notes: they're healthier toasted (especially if you're eating them in quantity). I pop a teaspoon's worth in a small nonstick pan on low heat for 3-4 mins, and periodically shake the pan. They will, if you let them, brown (immediately apparently from the toasty smell filling your kitchen). I let this happen for nutty smoothies, and avoid it with fruity ones (unless I'm looking for variety). Also, you must grind your flax seeds, as whole ones pass right through your system (don't buy them pre-ground; they'll almost surely be rancid). You can use a coffee grinder or food processor, but that's not great in small quantity like this. It's faster/easier with old fashioned mortar and pestle (which cleans in a jiffy). It works best to grind after toasting.


Here is the rest of my fast-growing bundle of postings on aging. I think it's some of the Slog's most useful stuff. Per my custom, I only offer counterintuitive thoughts you've likely never considered (I don't like to bore people by restating The Usual).

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Exactly Like Jimi Hendrix...Only a Pasty Rich Suburban Kid 60 Years Later

There's a "rock concert" happening near my house. I can hear it through my open window. 23 year old princes of suburbia playing a 60 year old revolutionary music style as if were karaoke.
Hey, I'm doin' it! ROCK 'N ROLL!!!! WOOOOO!!! I'm just like those guys! Only this time it's me!
"Only this time it's me." That's the core of it.

You know how old-timey tourist traps often have cardboard scenes of, like, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with holes cut out so you and your family can stick your faces in the holes and snap a cheesy photo? "Whee, look at me! I'm a whole other thing!"

That's what's happening down the block from my house. "Look at me!! I'm Jimi Hendrix!! WOOOOO!!"

But it's not just a rock star problem. Virtually everyone is sticking their face in some cheesy tableau. That's why I keep noting that most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.

And there's nothing wrong with it, if you want to be a tourist. But if you want to actually add something during your brief worldly residency, and not just compile silly photos to your camera roll, do something you love and believe in. And do it just because you love it and believe in it.

And don't turn that into yet another cheesey cut-out photo op - "Look at me! I’m that incredibly committed person who does it because s/he loves it so damned much!" That's the most obnoxious pose of all. The would-be rock stars down the block are doing that with their flamboyant bluesy excesses. Flaunting what soulful bad asses they are, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants (dogs don't have much internal narrative, but I do think they get "This time it's me!").

Human beings can do better than dogs (nothing against dogs!). If we opt out of narcissistically watching ourselves star in movies, we have a chance of inspiring a few people as much as Jimi Hendrix did (even if we sweep streets for a living). You can't get there via "This time it's me!"

Lots of people misinterpret this timeless advice to mean "be original". No, that's not it. That's just another cheesey cardboard tableau to stick your face in. "Maverick Guy!" Don't flail around for a deeper, better pose! Stop posing entirely! Come on in, the water's fine!


Read "The Crux of Creativity"

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Never Take a Good Fresh Idea to a Smart Person

Tell a smart person something fresh and radical - an insight unlike anything she's previously heard, or requiring a shift of perspective that doesn't come easily - and she'll swirl it around in her smart mind...for a few quick seconds.

"Have I heard or read anything like this before? Does it sound vaguely like something I've previously determined to be dumb? Does it 'seem smart' (i.e. conform with my cognitive biases)?"

That's the process. And it is inherently unsuited to recognizing and valuing fresh thinking. But smart people won't grind away at it. The idea will be granted only a few fleeting seconds of attention, because their minds are like powerful, expensive blenders. If the fruit doesn't swiftly crush, there's obviously something wrong with the fruit.


Tell a dumb person something fresh and radical - an insight unlike anything they've previously heard, or requiring a shift of perspective that doesn't come easily - and they'll try, laboriously, to think it through, and either 1. fail (in which case, you may enjoy benefit of doubt, because, being accustomed to noncomprehension, they might be capable of self-doubt), or 2. really work on it, slow-and-syrupy-like, until they get it (vanishingly few very smart people, to my enormous surprise, are capable of slow-cooking a line of thought, because doing so makes one feel brutishly stupid. This constitutes my edge, btw).

Never take a good fresh idea to a smart person!

Friday, July 8, 2022

My Grave and Pitiful Faults

I foolishly wrote, last time,
I have plenty of grave and pitiful faults, btw; list available upon request.
Predictably, multiple readers have emailed to call my bluff. So here goes.
One of the unwritten Slog rules is "no self-revelation without greater purpose." There must be a reason. Funny/entertaining, or else usefully insightful. Never just "Dear Diary". I'm not that guy.

So it's on me to make the following worth your time and not an indulgent dive into the fascination of Me Me Me. There must be cookies.
Poor Judgement
I have terribly poor judgement. Most people don't notice, because I've learned to check myself twelve different ways with everything. So there's not much external evidence (though, alas, there is some). I've developed circumspection beyond my natural inclination. That's penance for my awful judgement.

Similarly, my first drafts are puke-like. Truly repulsive. 99.9% of my writerly skill is in primping my own puke into something worthwhile. I do this in a state of near-panic because god forbid my raw stream (i.e. true self) is ever revealed. I am both a reckless six-year-old child and a concerned parental chaperone wrapped into one.

And even with my panicky self-checking, my poor judgement still gets me into trouble. "What was I thinking?" is something I often have cause to think. If I didn't meditate, I'd be haunted 24/7 by the backlog.

And here's the worst part: "Taste" is judgement. It's the aggregation of lots of good judgement calls. And taste is necessary for everything I do. So my life is a Jenga tower built upon a foundation of roiling goo. I'm known for good taste, but it's as natural as Cher's eyelids.

It occurs to me, as I write this, that I might have this backwards. I once wrote that "Selfish people think of themselves as overly generous. Generous people think of themselves as overly selfish." Who knows, this might be like that. Perhaps good judgement always involves keeping a very tight lid on your inherently crappy judgement. I honestly don't know.

Low Intelligence
People get the false impression I'm smart because 1. I've coughed up some insight, and 2. my writing seems smart. Let's tackle the latter first. All experienced writers seem smarter than they are. You're reading them in real time, but they're not writing in real time. It's a form of cheating. If you'd like to view the agonized slobbering necessary to make my words line up, I made a video once to show what it takes me to produce two prosaic paragraphs. The end result seems perfectly tight, bright, and articulate. Fooled you!!

And insight isn't intelligence. Eurekas come from a different place; from shifts of perspective, not from cognitive muscling. I'm insightful and creative, but don't have much cognitive muscle. I have trouble following instructions. Remembering names. Learning simple things. Whenever I rewatch a film or TV show, I'm dumbfounded by how much I missed the first time. Even fundamental plot points. Third viewings, too. Also: I can't read. I have bookmarks in literally hundreds of books. Everything activates my musing (as I noted last week, every gift comes with a built-in - and highly unpredictable - rebound/backsplash/downside). Musing ties up my mind and precludes further input. So I have scant foothold in the corpus of human knowledge. Not smart in that way, either.

Three Pains
I manage pain well. I can even manage two different sorts of simultaneous pain well. But make it three and I become confused and carry on like a toddler getting a shot. A 59 year old man should never ever carry on like that. Not ok.

Empathy Light Switch
I generally try to be helpful. But many people don't want help, and you don't want to be overbearing. So if someone declines help, I've trained myself to shut off like a light switch. No problem! No hard feelings, good luck, godspeed, and g'bye.

But I do another thing. A bad thing. I become numb to that person, generally, for a while. That's going too far, I understand, but I can't help it. If your leg has been pinned under a collapsing piano, and you tell me, sharply, not to worry about it, I'll easily walk away and go about my business. I can wipe clean the slate. But in so doing, I over-wipe. So if you request a glass of water before I go, I'll only grudgingly fetch it. Because I've shut down my caring.

This is a bit ugly. But it is what it is. At least I'm no longer trying to force help ("But...but...I know how to fix this!!!!"), like I did as a kid, or torturing myself when help is refused or unappreciated. But I can't seem to fine-tune this. Black and white. All or nothing. Ugh.

Creative, Yes. Consistently Inventive, No.
I discovered once, to my immense horror, that I am a surprisingly uninventive jazz improviser (you don't realize how awful a confession this is). I wrote about it here. Same's true with my writing, I think. Yeah, I have my bundle of different voices and approaches that create an impression of versatility. And sometimes thunder strikes and I do something "completely different". But day in/day out, I'm mulishly complacent about following templates (which at least I invented...again, I'm creative, just not consistently inventive). Help, I'm trapped.

Can't/Won't do Canned Dialogs or Movie Scenes
I don't perform roles. You want a boyfriend to squeeze your hand like Hugh Grant did in that movie 'cuz it's a Tuesday and Tuesdays are hard because your parakeet died on a Tuesday? You want me to go "Oh, honey....", etc? The whole shtick?

I will do 10,000 things to try to cheer you up, but you're not gonna get that hand squeeze; that cinematic moment. I realize I'm declaring this disdainfully, even proudly. And, sure, that, right there, is the problem. But even if I wanted to (and I really do not want to), I couldn't personify the role you perceive me to be playing. I'll never cough up the canned line or gesture. My aversion is extreme.

A uniformed soldier once grew increasingly peeved when I found several different ways to thank him for his service without saying thank you for your service. Why wouldn't I just say the damned words? He was waiting for them! No. Not gonna. Not now, not ever.

Despite my brashness, I do, in fact, know that this makes me a dick. I know it. Sorry.

Over or Under-Embarrassment
For most of my life, I'd have driven 1000 miles to avoid embarrassment. This means I've got ego in there somewhere. But it's been evaporating, and that turns out to be even worse.

When I was in hospital getting my stent inserted, and my doctor told me, finally, that I was cleared to walk and walk and walk as much as possible (and it would help me recuperate), it felt like utter release and salvation. The organ in my chest still belonged to me, and wasn't some unrecognizable flaccid shard. It stood ready to keep powering me through the world! I was stuck in hospital for a few hours after that, so I reflexively began walking. Long circles around the immense hospital floor, simmeringly ecstatic. With, apparently, my butt crack showing.

Normally, being informed of this would have mortified me. And a few nurses and techs did glance over with undisguised disgust. But it took a patronizing floor nurse to kindly approach the poor old foggy dude and get his hospital gown properly configured, like a mother dressing a toddler. There you go, champ. All better now. Off you go.

I didn't care. I didn't care! The whole world could glimpse my butt crack. My chest cavity isn't a smoldering pile! I'm walking! I can move; I can stride; I can turn on the juice! I'm still me! I'm gonna be fine!

I could have used more shame that day. It was suboptimal to present myself as a deranged slobby old dude. But I had my framing - which superceded by light years - as dynamo and victor.

To this day, I'm still not well-adjusted, one way or the other, re: shame. I think I never stopped framing as grateful dynamo and victor - superceding all butt crack anxiety (or other such anxieties). And, six years into The Donald Trump Political Experience, with the whole damned country maladjusted re: the propriety of shame, I can't easily brush off this maladjustment.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Don't Get Back to Me with ANY Questions!

Continuing the recent string of postings about the odd disjoint between fake/posing/seeming vs authenticity...

People who make a habit of telling other people "Don't hesitate to get back to me with any questions!", or other such effusive offers of help, tend to be oddly unhelpful and unsolicitous. Over time, and the sheer weight of aggregated life experience, I've come to ignore such statements. I subconsciously register them as reverse indicators of helpfulness. And I now understand it all completely.

People who say that stuff want to think of themselves (and want you to think of them) as helpful. They want to seem helpful. One does this by declaring one's helpfulness. Saying the thing and acting the part. Hey, I'm Helpful Guy!

Of course, when it comes to actually answering a bunch of stupid questions from some asshole, that's a whole other thing. Who has time for that? You can get away with asking one or two questions (which will be answered carelessly), but do not test this person's patience. She's helpful-seeming, not genuinely helpful.

I'm genuinely helpful (I have plenty of grave and pitiful faults, btw; list available upon request). I have friends who are solicitous, as well. We're here to help! There are many of us, but you don't notice because we're not making a big deal about it. We don't announce it.

It would never, ever occur to me to tell someone they can ask me questions. It goes without saying! Of course you can ask me questions! But genuinely helpful people don't announce themselves as open for question-answering. We don't make an effort to seem helpful, because our energy goes into helping, not seeming helpful. We don't contrive to seem like the sort of people we actually are. Who does that?

People who strive to seem helpful are never actually helpful. They just have an interest (commercial, personal vanity, etc) in appearing that way.


Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Simply, Freely, Doing

It just struck me that that line I keep repeating (most recently here):
Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.
Is incomplete. It should be:
Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing (if that strikes you as a pointless distinction, that means you are, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the former).
Don’t strive to be a teacher. Strive to teach!
Don't strive to be a lover. Strive to love!
Don't strive to be a kind person. Strive to be kind!

This is what the gurus mean re: "transcending ego" (a musty phrase that needs to be retired and replaced by something more modern). They don't mean "ego" in terms of egomania - "I'm so awesome!" They're pointing to the subtle self-reflection where you're watching yourself do, rather than simply, freely, doing. Don't then strive (as everyone who hears that advice stupidly does) to be someone who simply freely does. That's the same error! Just stop watching yourself. You're not starring in a movie. Put everything you've got into doing the thing...rather than being the doer of the thing.

Don’t strive to be a teacher. Strive to teach!
Don't strive to be a lover. Strive to love!
Don't strive to be a kind person. Strive to be kind!

The cinematic view of "me" is a horrendous interference (have you noticed how awful most singers are?). It's ironic - perhaps the height of irony in all human experience - that the trick to raise your value is to completly stop trying to raise your value.

This isn't some lovely platitude. This is the whole ball of wax. I'm revealing the trick. For free! And it's just a shift of perspective. A re-framing. Instantly available and effortlessly easy. The only barrier is lazy habit.

In fact, what I'm proposing is easier. It's easier to simply do the thing you do for its own sake than to contrive some cinematic you grandly doing the thing. And that's the problem! If your energy and attention are divided between doing and seeming, you can't give the doing everything you've got. It takes cognitive and emotional assets to mantain a "Hey, look at me!" loop. Free up those assets and direct them to the doing, and you might become someone worth looking at!

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Personal Experience Must Be the Apotheosis

Another after-tremor from my recent Seemers Always Win post...

A meaningful percentage of my food writing fans harbored an eager desire to eat with me. In their minds that would have been "the ultimate."

I never understood this. You know what "the ultimate" is? Reading the words I bled through my pores for hours and hours to arrange as artfully as I possibly could. That's the ultimate. Me using every nano-joule of energy and talent and commitment to offer the most sparkling, captivating, and nutritiously useful output I could possibly contrive.

But some viewed the writing as a mere after-report of something awesome that went down during the consumption of the grapefruit. A photocopy of some deeper thing. And they wanted the deeper thing.

Eating with me - hearing me make oddly opaque small talk, observing my poor table manners, and sitting patiently while I frown and strain to gather my impressions and try to identify that goddam spice - felt very much like eating with anybody, only a little worse. But a number of people imagined that's where the shining glory was.


Similarly, I always found it perplexing that people kept asking Stanley Kubrick to explain the ending of 2001. As if the really GOOD part of the film experience comes when you sidle up to the bedraggled, chubby director and engage him in conversation. That's the gold ring right there. That's the good stuff.

The $20M film he spent three years shredding his adrenal glands to bring into existence? That's just some movie. A fussy arty confection. The real deal about the ending can be gotten by asking him about it.


I know I haven't done a great job of connecting this to the "Seeming versus Being" puzzle. But I'm sure these observations stem from the same delusion.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Inalienable Right to an Autonomous Perspective

The preceding post, about how Seemers Always Win, accounts for my deep misgivings about militant aspects of the trans movement.

Everyone has the unquestionable right to identify, behave and live as they'd like. I unreservedly support the right to affiliate and identity as one chooses, including sexual orientation and gender. I would oppose anyone who denies others that right. 

But the notion that we must not only accommodate choices, but actually see people precisely as they desire to be seen - to align our view with their self image - strikes me as shocking chutzpah.

I've rarely, if ever, been recognized as anywhere close to my truth. I've lived a life of misapprehension and underestimation, gas-lit into such self-doubt that I'm barely able to see myself as the person I provably am. I am not, however, the least bit outraged by this. 

None of it was persecution. People see what they see, and are entitled to their assessment; their judgement; their taxonomy. Even if wrong. That's their human right. I can’t be compelled to see things as you do...including you. It's your job to convince me!

These are the perennial ground rules for human sociality. We can't dictate other people's impressions - unless we imagine ourselves fantastically powerful and important. Humans enjoy freedom of perspective, even if nothing else. It’s outrageous to demand that others conform their view of me to my declared self image. “You must see me this way!” Who does that?

To imagine such control over others requires deluded entitlement. No one deserves such privilege. Most humans struggle to be seen as any sort of individual at all. To ferociously demand that others measure you in obedience with your expectation is the stuff of mad earls and emperors.


That said, you of course can use whichever bathroom you'd like, love whomever you like, and freely strive, with uncertain results, to play whichever role you choose in this play. I might not buy your performance, though, any more than you'd buy mine (in my mind, for example, I'm handsome). You see what you see, and I see what I see, and we do not owe each other solicitous credulity.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Seemers Always Win: Posing as Someone Like You

I have pondered the following several times here on the Slog. This time, maybe I'll cough up a novel insight. Or, at least express it more vividly, so you can ponder it, yourself.


Wait, YOU founded that website????

Whenever I meet someone new who recognizes "Chowhound" if it comes up in discussion, I always get the same disbelieving reaction:
Huh? Hold on. That was you? YOU?!?
At this point, I stop the conversation and beg the bewildered, skeptical person to explain what, exactly they expected. It's not that I'm being defensive or confrontational. It's that I genuinely don't know how a Jim Leff is supposed to look or act! No one ever taught me how to act like someone like me!

To me, I'm a shmuck who's done cool things. I'm "crew", not "talent". I'm the shlubby and put-upon director juggling a thousand plates, not the composed and preened movie star oozing charisma. I'm busy doing stuff. I create pizazz, I don't exude it.

Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. And I really care deeply about the singing (so to speak). So much so that I don't waste a nano-speck of energy trying to seem like it. Or to seem like anything, really. If you're doing, with all your heart, who's got time to seem?

I never receive a satisfactory answer. It's not that they expected me to travel with a security team, or to address them with smug condescension. They don't have any particular image in mind. Just certainly not that.

Instead of putting 6000% of myself into making Chowhound good, I suppose I should have reserved some energy for making myself look the part. Maybe coif yourself better. Jaunty blazers and expensive Italian loafers. Don't move your head animatedly. Act your age, and your "station" - snidely complacent and redolent of cologne and gravitas. Most of all, never give others your full attention. In the wolf pack, this signals beta status, making you smell needy and subservient. Weakly reactive. It's the antithesis of the manly man plotting bold courses and kicking ass. That guy hardly has time to devote to the likes of you. Sorry, bud, but I got people to fry!

Being and Seeming

So here's the question. Having been successful in a half dozen unrelated fields, with my name on a bunch of books and records and media stuff, having inspired a generation of Spanish and Portuguese jazz musicians and had some minor rippling effect on how folks think and write about food and use the Internet, is it also incumbent on me to seem like that person? Have I ignored a critical chunk along the way? Am I going around obliviously without my pants on? Do I need to fix this?

I can't imagine anything more foolish than posing as the sort of person I actually am. Isn't that backwards? One dons an aloof "That Guy" persona - too busy with important importance to do whatever - if one is a bluffer who hasn't done much but wants to seem like he has. I get why people strike that pose, but why would we expect the genuine to match the pose? To imitate those guys?

Why would I pose as me? The question makes my head explode. None of my insight re: human psychology helps. And the awful and dopey truth is that even if I put effort into posing as someone like me - to look the part, whatever that even means - I'd surely wind up in the lower 20th percentile of me-posers. I'd be terrible at it!

I'm quite good at doing things, but horrendously bad at posing as a thing-doer. There are specialists for that! Thousands of them! And they're good! They can do something I can't, and I truly admire them! Me, I could never fool anyone into imagining I could do something notable. Even if I actually have.

Seemers always win!

Nice Guy

The same applies in many other realms. For example, I don't seem like a nice guy.

I'm not diffidently soft-spoken. I don't massage your shoulders while telling you how awesome you are. I don't bend over backwards to never contradict you. I don't do any of the standard things Nice Guys do, and am therefore widely considered ornery and irascible.

Yet I'll do nearly anything to help almost anyone. If you call me at 3:30 am needing to be picked up on the Jersey Turnpike, I'll be there with delicious chocolate I'd desperately hoped to hog for myself. I'll mull stranger's problems with the same determination I devote to my own (I don't even make a distinction). I am very far from being "Mr. Wonderful", but you'd think I'd earned, at least, "nice".

It's even worse than that. Friends who've been on the receiving end of my helpfulness, and spent years watching me extend myself, still don't think of me as a particularly nice guy. Because Nice Guy status is earned not by being nice but by seeming nice. A nice guy rubs your shoulders, modulates his voice, never contradicts anything, and tells you you're awesome (note: that guy will never, ever come get you at 3am, though he’ll leave you feeling fantastic about yourself as he hangs up the phone and rolls back to sleep). I could sell all my belongings and live naked in the woods to give some random taxi driver a better life for his family and still never earn that sobriquet. Because it's 100% about the seeming. Again, seemers always win.
Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.
Paramours and Potheads

So many other examples. For example, I'm a funny-looking dude - the anti-Brad Pitt, if you will - and yet I've recruited, in my time, a succession of quite glamorous girlfriends, all oddly enamored. Yet no one - including those who witnessed that procession - would ever imagine that I might have boyfriending skills. We know what desirable boyfriends are like. Leather pants and coiled abs. Steely gazes and strong jawlines. It ought to be a clue that guys with those womanizing attributes often turn out to be gay. But even the other side of that coin - geez, that shlubby trombonist seems awfully popular! - never moves the needle.

"Him?!? That guy???"

Seemers always win.

One more. I was recently standing with a gaggle of acquaintances passing around a joint. One of them - who actually knew that I'd spent decades as a funky horn player for great jazz, blues, funk, ska, and Latin bands...

Me in 1988

....passed the joint not to me, but past me to the next guy. "What gives?" I asked. "Sorry...I assumed you wouldn't be interested". He knew who and what I was. But he couldn't help acting on how I seem.

Empathy Theater

I once proposed a radical new view of autism, suggesting it's not a dysfunction but an evolutionary improvement (like all improvements, bringing along certain drawbacks, particularly marked in severe "cases").

In that article, I recalled discussing this with a school psychologist. I'd asked her to consider that just because someone isn't acting empathic - engaging in "empathy theater", i.e. spouting empathic-sounding platitudes and composing facial features in empathic-seeming configurations - doesn't mean there's no empathy. In my experience, autistics are more empathic, not less. They just don't engage in (or even understand) empathy theater. They're not seemers.

She asked the salient question: If they don't externalize their feelings - say the words and make the gestures and act the part - how could we possibly know how they feel?

To me, it's abundantly clear. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Their actions. Because platitudes, as we all know, can easily be faked.

Fake Jim Leff didn't build a cool web site.
Fake Nice Guy won't come get you at 3am.
Fake Don Juan shares her Brad Pitt fascination.
Empathy theatrics are as significant as a shot of Botox.

Why would anyone pay credence to empty cliché and stock gesture? How could such tropes parse as genuine, when they're so easily faked? Time and again, we see empty posing and manipulation. Yet "Seeming" remains the sine non qua of genuineness, while "Actuality" barely budges most people's spidey sense. Are we really so certain that autistics are the dysfunctional ones?

Read my autism post, and ask yourself this: isn't it smarter, deeper, better - and way less dishonest, manipulative and shallowly craptastic - to Do than to Seem? To be The Person Who Does The Thing than rather than to pose as a Thing-Doer? Who would you rather listen to: a singer who became a singer because she wanted to be a singer, or one who became a singer because she wanted to sing?


Alas, no fresh insight to offer. Well, wait. That's not true. The giving-others-full-attention-makes-you-look-subservient is a fresh chunk. Anyway, I'll try again.

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