Friday, September 30, 2022

The False Smugness of Middle-Aged Life Smoothness

I've been having trouble articulating the mounting trepidation I'm feeling about moving out of the country. But the whole thing just popped clearly into my head. I understand it all. And I understand middle age!

I have an honest, super-competent mechanic. It took me years to learn to work with him, because he has quirks (e.g. he hates phone calls). At this point, Jimmy handles my car, smoothly as silk (I make no decisions, I just write checks), and I don't need to think about cars...ever. Jimmy's got it! And while Jimmy's not cheap, he's not particuarly expensive nor will he ever rip me off. So he's budgeted for. Case closed, realm handled. One less thing to ever worry about.

I didn't reach this position of smoothness from learning how cars work, or evaluating every single mechanic. I don't stand atop some mountain of knowledge. This is not an achievement! I just stumbled into Jimmy and my search ended, that's all! Crack that shell open - take Jimmy off the table - and I'd face a cold wind of stress. My true helplessness would be revealed. I don't have great skills for finding Jimmys! I just found one of him once! And it's way harder in a foreign country with any number of X factors...and even Y factors (unknown unknowns).

The great thing about being middle-aged is that lots of stuff gets smooth. Having stumbled into solutions and procedures that work, you don't need to push every boulder, like in your 20s. You enjoy easy momentum as certain things appear to take care of themselves (though right around then your body begins to break - often soon after you've managed the final breakage of your parents - opening up whole new realms of stress and stategy).

This is my recent epiphany: all my easy momentum came about by having stumbled into solutions. I don't necessarily understand those realms. I haven't, like, mastered them! I've just jury-rigged processes into working well. It's all precarious, but it's stood the test of time.

None of this applies when moving abroad. New ground-rules and perils. And language! The lid comes off every pot, and you realize you never had reason to feel smug about your buttery smoothness. You didn't build this smoothness out of wisdom, you just relaxed into decades of accumulated serendipity! want to hold onto your US phone number from abroad? Ok, cool! Keep your wireless account! But, hold on, then you'll need an American bank account. And if you give the bank a New York address (even a postbox), you'll need to pay state income tax. Whoops! Rug pulled!

Yes, there are other ways, e.g. Google Voice, but I'm just offering an example of how when the lid comes off you need to be savvy about a range of options and co-dependencies. You need to actually know how systems work, and you're a helpless baby, flailing for the old serendipitous smoothness!

I feel like a centipede forced to contemplate each foot after a lifetime of simply walking. I'll need to either master car mechanics and banking and appliance voltage and container shipping and European attitudes to taxing gains on American mutual funds, and god knows what other stuff that previously just worked...or else await serendipity, hoping to stumble into jury-rigged solutions. I'll reach that point right around when I'm ready to mortally uncoil.

I mean, it took me 59 years to jury-rig my life, acquiring a portfolio of serendipitous solutions that let many processes seemingly take care of themselves. I'm not confident that I can conjure up another smooth life any faster than that. I didn't do this a hundred or a thousand times. I just did it once! So I suppose I'll need to increase my tolerance for dropped balls!

Monday, September 26, 2022


That's a nicely terse explanation of how Italy is about to wind up with an openly, flagrantly, fascist leader (here's Ben-Ghiat's profile of the candidate, Giorgia Meloni).

If you refuse to join in coalition against a common enemy due to philosophy/policy differences with potential partners who fail your purity tests, the enemy will win and you will lose.

That sounded rather anodyne. Let me vivid that up for you.

This is how the world goes down in flames: Tunnel-visioned people unwilling to sacrifice any iota of idealogical purity despite the presence of a massive threat.

I'll jazz it up and dumb it down even more: Remember how in Game of Thrones everyone wasted time with pointless infighting while an infinite army of murderous icy zombies advanced toward them? That!

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Blacks Standing Up for Jews

I'm watching Ken Burns' new three-part series "The U.S. and the Holocaust" on PBS, and it's, obviously, a tough ride, even though Burns offers a balanced presentation, duly citing the many ways America - and various Americans - helped end the Holocaust, not least by defeating Nazis on the battlefield (also: we accepted over 200K Jewish refugees, a larger number than I'd thought). But even in its grimmest moments, the series keeps me latched on to a happy thought.

Jews were very active in the Civil Rights movement. They were right there in some of the most heated, dangerous moments (I have friends who were there, and were jailed for their efforts). It's not well-noted, because, for various reasons, a vast tide of anti-Semitism arose among black people in the 1970s, and since black academics at the time were (properly) deferred to in recording their own story, the role of Jews was, and remains, broadly under-recognized. I'm not bitterly indignant about this. I'm not complaining. It is what it is.

I personally experienced this sour climate after I became a jazz musician in the mid 1980s, perpetually finding myself the only white guy in the band. The flames had cooled some by then, but they certainly existed. When younger, angrier black musicians would inquire about my "family background", my older pals (most, if not all, of my friends at the time were geriatric black people) would step in and describe me as "a mixture". This felt truthful to me, and it's how I self-identify to this day. A mixture of what, exactly? Just a mixture. That's me. Not this, not that. I'm not ashamed of any of my component parts, but I certainly do not feel like any one thing.

So flash-ahead to today, a strange and eerie era of latent yet unrealized anti-Semitism. The coiled spring has not yet sprung. 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 am not paranoid about this stuff. I normally go months without using the term "anti-Semite". It's not my normal shtick. But my spidy sense has been peaking geometrically (admittedly without any hard evidence), and at the exact same time I've noticed black writers and intellectuals suddenly appearing on TV to articulately and full-throatedly attack the anti-Semitism of Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano (who scares me a lot). I also see Black faces in Ken Burns' series, treating our struggle against the Nazis as if it were their own. And I can't stop recalling how American troops in WWI fought to liberate France under the rallying cry of "Lafayette, We are Here," referencing the French general critical to revolutionary America's defeat of England centuries earlier.

I probably should be preoccupied with anxieties about America's political peril, and with foreboding for Mastriano's impending victory, and with sadness from viewing Ken Burn's important series. But whenever I spot a black commentator on TV condemning anti-Semitism in passionate, heartfelt language, I hear "Lafayette, We are Here" and I feel much, much better. 

I was too young to take part in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the March on Selma, etc., so I certainly can't take credit. No one has reason to repay me for anything. Yet while it's not dark here (yet?), and American Jews do not presently require defending/saving, and TV hits aren't courageous actions, I can't help feeling moved. Like something is being made right. 

Support is not something you can ever count on. Go to an aquarium with a mixed tank, and you'll quickly observe that schools don't mix. A bluefish never stands by a whitefish, and when sharks attack, surrounding fish can almost be seen to mumble "I'm alright, Jack" with swimmy Schadenfreude.

Support normally appears only once a tide has turned. Liberals today love them some LGBT culture, oddly forgetful of the recency of their turn. Until circa 2008, when headway had already been made, hardly anyone spoke up for gay people besides other gay people (and not all of them did, either). Everyone loves a winner!

Heartfelt support should never be taken for granted. Black people standing up for Jews feels deeply soothing. It completes the circle re: my love for, and adopted devotion to, Black culture. It helps soothe the profound gap in my life since my elderly friends and mentors departed en masse. And it mellows the memory of the pain I felt as a child and young man observing the needless, senseless, pointless turning of Black people against their longtime allies. Something's different now. The same spidey sense won’t stop registering it.

It certainly doesn't make the world perfect, and it's a mere trickle rather than a flood. But errant wildflowers blooming through pavement cracks can be far more moving than a fancy formal garden.

That's a tenet of Nano-Aesthetics, btw.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

"Lost Knowledge" Found!

I recently wrote about lost knowledge, the disheartening fact that while civilization appears to be on a broadly smooth uphill curve, loads of useful knowledge, technology, and general know-how have been (and continue to be) lost to the ages.

I linked to an informational page about Benjamin Olshin's "Lost Knowledge" ("The Concept of Vanished Technologies and Other Human Histories"), which goes much broader, examining the evergreen proposition that early civilizations with sophisticated tech may have vanished tracelessly ("All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again").

For what it's worth, while one can't dispute that progress is jagged - i.e. often retrograde - and that earlier civilizations were well on their way with certain  notions and methods and contraptions we've only recently begun to regenerate (or have missed entirely), I seriously doubt there was ever a Shangri-La or Atlantis with laser scanners and mopeds that receded into the dust before history’s dawn.

But it's still a fascinating topic, and Olshin's book costs well over $100 practically everywhere, and keeps coming up in conversations of smart people, and I'm delighted to have found a free PDF download (hit "Download Original PDF")!

Another postscript: When we speak of technology, we mostly refer to gadgety/sciency tech, but creativity and spirituality might be thought of as an inner technology. That sounds funny to modern ears, but only because we've sunk so far from the ancients, and even more so from the primitives. I wrote about it years ago, in a posting about Werner Herzog's film, "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams":
[The film] takes us inside a French cave, discovered in 1994, containing the oldest known art, from some 32,000 years ago. The obvious surprise is that these ravishingly beautiful drawings are far more sophisticated than we'd have expected. The most skilled modern artists could respect them without condescension. The less obvious surprise, spoken of only indirectly, is the nature of their power. Herzog, the investigating scientists, and the cavern's discoverers all report a vivid and very chilling impression of presence in the cave.

You may squint and study the drawings as closely as you'd like, trying to pinpoint the magic, but, of course you will fail, because a lasagna's magic is never about the noodles, tomato sauce, meat, or cheese. As we analyze the art, trying to define it and conceptualize it, we miss everything. It's what's missed when our own art is viewed literally and technically. The thing our ancient forebears excelled at is the thing we've mostly lost - to the point where we can't even recognize it when it's in front of our face - or, more to the point, under our skin. We can only chatter in confusion and fear, like the cavemen probing the monolith in "2001".

Popular Entries

I've beefed up the "Popular Entries" list of links in the left margin. Take a look, if you'd like.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Magic of Low Density

Night Driver

It's 1980 and my big exploits are 1. learning to drive and 2. hanging out in pinball/video arcades (arcades in the 80s were like philosophy in the 00s, art in the 10s, bebop in the 50s, pop music in the 60s, film in the 70s, and food in the 90s). I like playing an early driving game, "Night Driver". Unlike current day ones, there is no photorealism, just a highly abstract ribbon of highway to be navigated via physical steering wheel and gas and brake pedals. Per video game convention, one crashes frequently. So, after an hour or so, having "died" umpteen times, I make an anxious connection: "Wow, it's so easy to crash while driving! Should I be much more scared?"

It took a while to recognize the critical difference: The video game takes place at the equivalent of 200 mph. If you were to slow the game way down, it would be extremely boring to play, but you'd hardly crash at all. That's real driving. Real driving I realized, with relief, is like a video game played at 1/10th speed. Boring, but you don't crash.


I've always eaten a lot of cereal. I once experienced the joy of impressing my favorite food writer, John Thorne on the topic. While reading his erudite and beautiful white paper on the historical foodway of "milk toast" (reprinted in "Best Food Writing 2010", and much of the piece can be viewed via Google Books) I emailed him this:
About 3/4 of the way through, though still full from dinner, I stormed into the kitchen like a man possessed, and, without thinking, poured myself an enormous bowl of cereal. And immediately realized that breakfast cereal is, in just about every way, the contemporary stand-in for milk toast.
He loved it. He hadn't thought of that connection.

To this day I curate more cereal choices than anyone over age 10 with parents worth under $100M (I normally stock like six or seven boxes). Sometimes visitors ask me to account for this overabundance, and I offer this explanation: "I'm a grown-up now, so I at least get to have as much cereal as I want." It always strikes people as 1. odd, and 2. completely indisputable. It is what they call a "conversation stopper".

At some point I learned, to my immense surprise, that muffins contain 500 calories or more, and even Dunkin Donuts crappy soft little bagels - plain ones, shmearless - weigh in at a hefty 310 calories. And yet a serving of Corn Flakes or Rice Chex is just 100 calories (sans milk). How is this possible, when a bowl of cereal occupies similar volume to a bagel or muffin?

This, too, took a while, but I figured it out. Cereal is almost entirely air. Break it up and compact it, and a bowlful would reduce to a few tablespoons.

I find it cognitively soothing to connect these two epiphanies. What's at play behind both counterintuitive conclusions? The magic of low density!

Friday, September 16, 2022

The State of the Mac

I've always used Macbook Pros docked with external monitor, keyboard, and mouse at home. It offers the best of all worlds; maintaining a portable option without sacrificing full desktop comforts at home.

But then iPads got better (I'm still using this setup from ten years ago), and I found myself taking my laptop with me less and less often. So when it was time to upgrade to a new machine, I had a choice: 1. pay up for a Macbook Pro with a fancy expensive retina screen I'd never actually see as I used it like a Mac Mini, or 2. buy a Mac Mini. The latter cost half the price, making it a no-brainer. So I sold my Macbook Pro and bought the Mini (either used or refurbished, I can't remember; I never buy this kind of equipment new).

I kept using my excellent 4K monitor (link above) with the Mini for a while, but, compelled to give my aging eyes every advantage, began researching 5K monitors. I learned that the only affordable route was to buy a 2020 iMac Retina, with built-in 27" 5K display. The thing was so bafflingly cheap that the computer essentially came for free. So I sold my Mac Mini and monitor.

The iMac's 5K display is astounding, though the computer, while considerably faster than the Mac Mini on specs, didn't deliver any discernible speed improvement. No computer does anymore. As I wrote earlier this year, computers are now fast enough…though I’m apparently the only one who’s noticed. My 2015 Macbook Pro, my 2018 Mac Mini, and my 2020 iMac felt more or less equally fast, though their specs vary widely. So fast as to be essentially instantaneous for normal tasks. Fast enough!

I'm headed to live in Portugal for a while, and, having researched options for bringing iMacs on a plane, decided to put it on the slow container ship that’s bringing the rest of my stuff. After much scheming, here's how I'll bridge the gap: I bought a 2021 MacBook Pro (open-box on eBay), and will use that until my stuff arrives in Portugal in the Spring. Then I can sell the Macbook Pro in Portugal for more than I paid for it, and return to the comforts of my luxurious 27" 5K iMac screen (note that all Apple devices are dual voltage).

I'm averse to small screens - even the comparatively huge 16” screen of this Macbook Pro. When I first started writing (on a Mac Classic II with a 9" screen) a more experienced writer - I think it was David Lindsay - mused to me about how writers suddenly all seemed to be stamping out 9" chunks. There'd be great coherence within each tiny block, but the beginnings of paragraphs/chapters/articles/books and their endings often felt oddly disconnected, as if they'd been crafted with blinders on. Which they were!

I've embraced larger displays whenever I could afford them, and each leap improved my writing coherence. It's painful for me to revert to a laptop screen. A big part of what feels like "home" to me is a large display. And while I'm plagued by anxieties re: chunky coherence, and thirst for the day when I can unfold a business card-sized slab of magical material into a semi-rigid 27" screen anywhere I want, this temporary screen size demotion is a concession for the move.

For the moment I'm still typing on my 2020 iMac, and the screen is fantastic. It remains nearly impossible to find an affordable separate 5K display. Advancement isn’t a given! In fact, Apple discontinued this 27" iMac, so you might want to look for it on eBay (again: computers are fast enough™, so you won't take a processor speed hit by reverting to two year old hardware).

I just received the 2021 MacBook Pro 16" M1 Retina (note that an M2 version is due soon), and it's terrific, display dimensions aside.

Sometimes a computer "feels" great. I remember, after buying a Performa 630 in 1995, emailing my friend (and programming hero) Bill Monk to rave about it ("I haven't had to restart it in days!"). It was impossible to say what made the 630 so creamy delicious to use, but it's less of a mystery with this MacBook Pro.

It's got the custom M1 chip, designed by Apple not just for MacOS and Mac hardware, but specifically for recent MacOS and recent hardware, so it's not tasked with serving all scenarios. Most chips support a funnel of legacy hardware and software, but this thing's positively bespoke, so the usability - the Fahrvergnugen - is off the hook.

I described the Performa 630 as more solid than any Mac computer I'd ever used, though the touchy-feely notions of “solidity” and "usability" are surely nonsense. Hardware differences are easily quantified via drive and processing speeds. Beyond those stats, it either works or it doesn't - though, sure, poor hardware will torture you as errant operations touch errantly upon errant points of failure.

Yet no one buys more credulously into the "usability" myth than hardcore computer geeks - the ones you'd expect to be super rational. I remember Bill being genuinely excited to hear how buttery good the Performa 630 "felt".

On those same terms, the MacBook Pro is doce de leche. It's fast, but all computers are fast now. Bespoke architecture, fahrvergnugen, impressive build quality, crazy nice 16" screen. And Apple's finally put keyboard-gate behind them (notoriously crappy keyboards for several generations of Macbook Pros). This may not be my favorite keyboard, but it's good, and the built-in TouchID relieves pain I didn't know I’d been suffering on the iMac. I’ll say this, though: my 5K iMac display at half brightness looks like stadium lights compared to this laptop at max. 

One real speed benefit, courtesy of the M1 chip: boot time is under 20 seconds. Not that I often reboot.

I particularly enjoy talking and writing about Apple tech, because, while I've been very avid about it for a very long time, the topic gets buried beneath my more public-facing interests. Really, I could write full-time about this stuff. Prior Apple writings (including, sorry, lots of posts about AAPL stock) here. Don’t miss ”Massive Mac Info Dump.”

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Twelve Light Years, or Half an Inch

I figured out a great analogy for something I previously found impossible to explain. But it will take a minute to set up (especially with the self-indulgent digressions).

I was talking to a friend about the Slog. I said I'm never unaware that one day a lot of people might read through the backlog.

Totally Understandable Reply: Jim, only a very small number of people will ever have a taste for this sort of thing, and be willing to take deep dives through convoluted and deliberately counterintuitive thoughts. This is hardly a mainstream undertaking, and, I hate to break it to you, but that's unlikely to change.

My reply: In the 1990s everyone I knew thought I was out of my mind for devoting so much time and effort to hunting down great eats. And I seemed like an embarrassing hippy for practicing yoga. And I was downright demented to hold out for obscure imported beers when Bud's perfectly fine. I tried to interest my friends in the Internet, but they assured me that "computer stuff" was strictly for nerds like me.

I could go on. Hoo, boy, could I go on! This has been the pattern for my whole life. So I reject the notion that I'm a contrarian doting on esoterica; a golden retriever fallen rapturously in love with random sticks and squeaky toys; an eccentric destined to remain as marginal tomorrow as I seem today. My kooky interests always - always! - blow up into enormity. And yet the slate wipes clear every damned time. I move on to my next fascination, and even those who've paid attention continue to view me as oddly beguiled. At some level, I've come to believe it, myself.

The stuff I write here isn't so difficult or convoluted or intellectual. It's just hard to choke down while firmly locked into the assumptions and framings of our era. There will be a reframing, and my insights will seem absolutely "duh" for a swath of society (this series of postings will take the longest to strike a chord, but we'll get there, as we finally did with relativity - which many of us still don't really understand, but we're at least past considering it silly hogwash). So I write as if a bona fide crowd might one day read. Even though it's highly unlikely.

To be sure, people never go back to consider how things started. No one ever raked through my ancient beer writing so they could shake my hand for being super early. The craft beer craze sailed right past me like a train. My name's not engraved in The Annals of Beer. It doesn't work that way. And there were no public apologies from folks who deemed me overheated on the subject way back when. Redemption is not a thing. And that's fine, I'm not looking for medals. I'm just delighted to be awash in great beer. The future is awesome!

So while I can acknowledge that, to contemporary eyes, the Slog seems like eccentric writing on esoteric shit, I know that 1. the world will move closer to my perspective (not through any actions of mine - the first popping kernel doesn't make the other kernels pop), and 2. I won't be noticed or remembered when it does. However...a few stragglers might randomly bump into the Slog and spread word to a world better prepared to pay attention to these sorts of observations. That's possible, though by no means probable.

A kooky, marginal project of mine drew mass attention once. Suddenly, I didn't seem so kooky or marginal. In Chowhound's early days, I occasionally imagined what it might be like if it blew up big, but those were cartoonish fantasies, invested with very little reality. The humble beginnings and the imagined outcome were two unrelated things, separated by twelve light years of space.

From the reverse perspective, they are one thing, barely separated at all. The humble origin remained quite real for me. I'm sure that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak never stopped associating Apple with Jobs' parents' garage, despite the success and scaling. Having lived through a marginal thing drawing wide attention (at a lower order of magnitude than Apple, of course), I'm always mildly cognizant of the possibility. To me, it's not twelve light years of distance from origin to outcome. I've learned that it's half an inch, even if it never happens.

That last part is unrelatable for most people, which is why I've long strained for an analogy. And I've finally got one! Here goes:
As a child, you fantasized about being an adult. And that fantasy was cartoonish and unreal. Origin and outcome were two separate things, 12 light years apart. But looking backward, it's only half an inch, right? Aren't you much less distant from your childhood right now than your adulthood seemed back then?
So here I am I working in obscurity, plying a pursuit that will likely remain obscure. Fine. If a few people benefit, great. If it's only me here, alone, working out answers, that's great, too. But it all takes place a comfortable half-inch from mass attention, because I learned, once, that that's the truth.

Consider if you were to relive childhood. The second time, adulthood wouldn't feel like a grand goal or preoccupation. You'd recognize that your fingerpaintings are more than a silly childish proxy for fine art painting. Smart, sensitive kids perpetually feel themselves to be engaged in silly childish proxies for proper adult accomplishments. "Kid-sized meals" and "children's books" and "G" ratings, etc. But, the second time around, you might recognize that fingerpaintings are beautiful and perfect in and of themselves. You'd take the here-and-now more seriously, and have more fun, and be in less of an impatient rush. You certainly wouldn't idealize adulthood. In fact, it would hardly enter your mind at all.

So I'm not praying to Cheeses that THIS TIME I'll cook up an insight that might draw mass attention AND I'LL BE SOMEBODY AGAIN! That mindset is for people for whom that result is a distant two-dimensional cartoon, twelve light years away. No, I putter in my garage, fully immersed in the doing, bemused by a mild awareness of both origin and potential. When the two are separated by a mere half inch, you sense no gap, and proceed full-heartedly.

Of course, it’s gotta be genuinely good (I can vouch, at least, for the postings listed in the left margin). I don’t register a potential for tour groups to one day file in and out of my house to view my sock drawer. I mean, yeah, it’s a pretty good sock drawer. I’m not un-proud of it. But I’m no lunatic. I don’t harbor delusions of sock grandeur. I know my frickin’ limits.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Fantasy Commencement: Chapter 3

Ever since I graduated from college, I've fantastized about what I'd say if I were a commencement speaker. I'm slowly compiling ideas, labelled "fantasy commencement".

Anytime you find something great (a writer, a book, a poem, a brand of yogurt, etc.), note it down.

Anytime you receive a good sounding tip (for pizza, or a podcast, etc.), note it down.

Anytime you notice something that looks cool (a park, a tree, a cafe, etc.), note it down.

Anytime you figure out how to do something you'll need to do again some day (download a PDF, print on an envelope, add lyrics to iTunes music, etc.), note it down.

You have a smart phone. Use it! You can also note stuff by shooting photos (which, don't forget, conveniently record location and time).

This sounds like abnormal behavior. And it is. But consider normality. Most people eat crappy yogurt and can't recall 99% of the great stuff they once knew about or heard about. What was that movie? Where was that restaurant?

Abnormal behavior is problematic if it puts you at a disadvantage. But the following are abnormal:
Being super good at something
Not being overweight
Committing to life-long learning
Being kind even when you can get away with being mean
Being generous when no one's watching
Living below your means
God bless abnormality if it gives you an edge. Happiness is abnormal. Creativity is abnormal. Excelling is abnormal. What's normal? Tedium, depression, and conformity.

I'm "Mr. Tip". I've offered hot leads to thousands of people, face to face (way more via my writing). And 95% of them thank me profusely, pretend to commit it to memory, and obviously immediately forget. They go back to eating needlessly crappy yogurt (you want Esti brand, often found at Shop Rite...and their humus is great, too). Simply because they couldn't be bothered to jot it down. 5% of people note stuff down, and enjoy greatness in every aspect of their lives. It's like night and day.

I promise this: You won't look back in regret for taking the time to note stuff. At no point will you think "Geez, all that work...for nothing!"

Obviously, you needn't obsessively chase down every single lead. That would be the bad sort of "abnormal"! But give yourself a fighting chance. At least have them available. Be kind to your future self by leaving a trail of breadcrumbs!

It's not "eccentric" if you get great results.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Postcards From My Childhood Part 15: The Declaration of Independence

Previous installment
First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order

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

As a child in 1969, I saw something on TV that deeply affected me. The Right at that time was fond of the sentiment "America: Love It or Leave It!" America is a free, just, moral country, so everyone needs to fall in line and shut up. You don't like the Vietnam War? You want to holler about minority or women's rights? Go start another country. This is how we do it here, and if you don't love it, again: leave it.

This was, on the face of it, patently un-American, of course. And not the only time half the country leaned authoritarian in their freedom-loving desire to uphold liberty and democracy. But the inherent contradiction was even less self-evident in those days.

A conservative rally was being held somewhere to celebrate our founding fathers and the glorious principles upon which the nation was based. Cannons firing and fifes and drums and lots of salutes to our boys over in 'Nam kickin' Asian commie butt. Meanwhile a reporter strolled around the crowd, asking participants for their opinions about snippets of writing, which he didn't identify as having been drawn from the Declaration of Independence. Not the parts we all know (i.e. the first two sentences). Lesser-known chunks. And every one of these respondents belligerently invited the reporter to take his Commie propaganda elsewhere.

This landed hard on me as a thoughtful seven year old. Wait. They love America's founding principles. But they spit in your face when you quote them? My little brain ground feverishly at the illogic. And I directed myself to watch for this phenomenon in other contexts. And, man, there's been plenty to see. It's just further evidence for my claim that most people are posing nearly all the time.

Just one example among multitudes (few intelligent observers lack for examples of this phenomenon): I don't talk about yoga with yoga people anymore. I know from experience that I tend to disturb and annoy them. Mr. Weirdo talking crazy talk. It's not that I hold heretical views, or am antagonistic or arrogantly condescending. I amiably chime in with observations more or less straight from the teachings, but all of them - including the teachers (especially the teachers) are into yoga in precisely the same way 1969 Republicans were into the Declaration of Independence.

If humans were a truth-oriented species, this would be a whole other world. Earthly existence would not be devoted to concocting and inhabiting fake dramatic trajectories, and we would not be endlessly and transparently posing as this or that. So the truth seldom attracts. In fact, it least mildly. This is a reasonably easy observation to accept, yet I find that I, at least, nonetheless get snared by it in day-to-day life. I have a visceral and seemingly irradicable assumption that most people love truth like I do (so apparently I don’t love truth so very much after all).

Monday, September 12, 2022

Aging In and Out of Fun

In Aging Out of Fun, I described having spent the past few years immersed in a comical number of tasks I hate and am terrible at. Attempting to mine some insight from the experience, I observed that you reach an age where "you've dipped so deeply into the bucket of stuff you're good at and enjoy that there's not much left. Having consumed all the green, red, and brown M&M's, all that remains are those goddam yellows."

In Aging Back Into Fun, I reversed course, deciding that I was just an old dog grousing about learning new tricks:
I have described this process as a hell, enduring all the things I suck at and hate. But all I'm actually saying is that I learned things! How is this any different from an 8th grader learning geometry and haiku? The 8th grader may not deliriously love school, but he certainly frames it differently than I just did. The friction that's vexing me is born of my own resistance [to learning].
I spent two years either learning and growing....or else undergoing an ordeal. It depends on how you frame it! But I think I can unify the contradictory perspectives.

Learning shouldn't be an ordeal, in and of itself. But life can compel you to learn stuff you'd rather not know.

I didn't want to learn how to defend an online community from hundreds of vandals, psychos, and spammers. I didn't want to learn how to manage volunteers or survive working in a large high tech corporation. Chowhound was a decade-long education in skills I never wanted. Worst of all: I learned how depraved humans can be. Retail workers deal with hundreds of humans per day, coming away with ample battle scars. I handled tens or hundreds of thousands per day. Not just kooks and creeps, but stone-cold sociopaths like Julie. As I once wrote:
One of Chowhound's moderators is a doctor who's spent years treating indigent addicts in the South Bronx. After just a few weeks working with us, she declared that she'd been shocked to observe vastly more twisted and demented behavior in a given week of moderating Chowhound than she ever had at her day job. Helping to manage Chowhound amounts to what she describes as "a post-graduate course in aberrational psychology".
So regarding my recent experience, both takes are right. I was learning...about things of no interest to me, constantly rubbing against my talent gaps and phobias. I'd have been fine going to my grave without knowing how to navigate Portuguese bureaucracy, or how to renovate, declutter, stage, and sell a house.

But, per interpretation #1, such dreary tasks are all that's left because I've already immersed lengthily in the delightful, and have taken my talents as far as they can go. These were the remainders at the back of my closet, which I'd resisted all this time. The grounds in my coffee cup. The yellow M&Ms!

It's not that I woke up moaning. I didn't hate my life. Hell, I marched forward and spun the plates, just as I'd done with Chowhound, and with my app (a monster to complete), and all my various book projects (life advice: never write a book). Learning/growing is always a greater good, but stoicism may be called for.

This explains the aging process - why many older people recoil from change, and don't learn, and recede into a contracting comfort zone. Familiar plates are spun with great ease, so what's left are literally the last things you ever wanted to have to grapple with.

These three postings show how my mind works. None of it is smart; in fact, much of it is rather thick-headed. I'm blundering around to draw banal conclusions and rekindle insights previously forgotten. And playfully, uncertainly, working to integrate my conclusions, aloof from any emotional duress. Maybe I'll get somewhere, maybe not (on a bad day, I'm more or less Joe Pera).

There’s cumulative benefit to idle musing (not worrying; not fantasizing; not brooding; not constantly replaying that nasty thing that awful person said...clear away all that self-indulgence to make room!), even if you feel/seem/are sloppily adrift. If you apply steady curiosity, never straining to prove yourself brilliant, flashes of brilliance may errantly arise.

Did that happen here? Or was this posting trilogy entirely tedious? No idea! But I'm sharing my process. Worthy insights can sometimes arise from thick-headed piddling. I blithely hover between knowing and not-knowing - between self-inquiry and self-instruction. That's the game for me.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Aging Back Into Fun

I've shifted my perspective on yesterday's posting, "Aging Out of Fun".

In Facebook discussion of that posting, I reframed it, pretty much topsy-turvy:
In past two years, I learned to renovate a home, to organize possessions, to market and sell a house, and the elaborate process of Portuguese immigration bureaucracy. I have described this process as a hell, enduring all the things I suck at and hate. But all I'm actually saying is that I learned things! How is this any different from an 8th grader learning geometry and haiku? The 8th grader may not deliriously love school, but he certainly frames it differently than I just did. The friction that's vexing me is born of my own resistance [to learning].
I realized that I'd previously realized this (I'm an idiot seemingly incapable of retaining and integrating his own insights). Check out Embracing Failure to Get Good, where I note that grown-ups can't learn because they won't embrace their gaps/flaws/limitations/ignorances. If you can't acknowledge and embrace not-knowing, how can you possibly learn? (I acknowledged it, but hadn't embraced it, remaining stubbornly stuck on being This Guy Who's Bad With Houses And Boxes And Bureaucracy):
If one starts out with an assumption of flawlessness, how can one grow? Learning requires wallowing in the fetid mud of your shitty incompetence. Fun! You must expect and even welcome failure, because that's the grain you’ll be laboriously grinding between your millstones. Learning isn't a glorious acquisition of virtuosity; it's a humiliating revelation of inadequacy. If you can't handle the latter, you won't/can't learn. In fact, you'll run, terrified, away from anything smelling the least bit like learning.

What is there for perfect people to practice, labor over, and develop? One can't polish perfection; one can only produce it and peer upon it rapturously. Work, practice, development, improvement, and aspiration require slop, much as soap requires dirt.

If you like to work on stuff - to improve, grow, and develop - you need to love your muck. More muck, please! When the muck runs out (spoiler alert: it never will), what's left besides bong hits and masturbation? The end of muck would be an excruciating steady state of dreary boredom.

Strange post, I know. I'm forcefully convincing myself of my own skew. But that's what this entire Slog is and has always been: unknowing and knowing locked into mutual devouring. A perfect Yin/Yang. We all straddle that paradox, but I guess I'm a bit more blithe about hovering there than most. The knowing and the not-knowing feed each other. There's no hunger if you accept the Tao of it.

Here is the final posting of this trilogy

Friday, September 9, 2022

Aging Out of Fun

Two postings back, I described how I've spent the past two or three years immersed exclusively in a comical number of tasks I hate and am terrible at.

At several junctures, I paused to wonder, with amused exasperation, whether I'd died and gone to hell. It seemed so strange  to be trapped in a confluence of my very worst aversions, phobias and ignorances. "Jim’s Greatest Shits"!

I made out well. I got it all done - I lived straight through it! - and, honestly, it feels lke a miracle. On someone's score sheet somewhere, I "won". But, looking ahead, there's no rest for the weary. I still need to complete a move, which is my second worst phobia after the dreaded Boxes.
Like most NYC musicians, I moved dozens of times in my 20s and 30s, in and out of a series of crap rental apartments owned by raving lunatics, often with very little notice. Gentrification kept sweeping me out of outer boroughs neighborhoods, as if I were a pestilence. I have recurring nightmares about moving.
Also, I need to learn Portuguese. I'm not good at languages, and my Spanish "contaminates" my Portuguese, and people there detest Portuñol (pigeon Portuguese/Español), and I could really use less social headwind, thanksverymuch.

Special bonus fiasco: I missed selling my SIGA shares at their $26 peak, and they're down to $14 and sinking fast (I believe they'll rise back some, but never again to $26; I'm so well-trained re: "hanging on" with this stock that, after 16 years, I almost can't imagine unloading them).

So, going forward, at least for the short term, it's just more more aversions, phobias and ignorances. Jane, stop this crazy thing!

But I had a eureka. I realized what’s happening!

By the time you're 50, you've dipped so deeply into the bucket of stuff you're good at and enjoy that there's not much left! Having consumed all the green, red, and brown M&M's, all that remains are those goddam yellows (totally unrelated, see "Leff's Law of Green M&Ms").

I have a friend who's spent his life avoiding his family's real estate business. He hates real estate. He's built up a whole other enterprise, without nepotistic assistance, to avoid getting ensnared in real estate. But now, with his real estate mini-mogul father pushing 85 and unable to keep plates spinning, my friend is forced to dive deeply and protractedly into, yup, real estate. Jesus. But that’s the chunk that remained. It was spring-loaded all along! Who knew that Michael Corleone is all of us?

This makes for interesting commencement address advice: at some point, all that will be left is the stuff you hate and suck at. That will be your diet. Be ready for this!

But let's consider a step further…

It always struck me as peculiar that comfort zones retract with age. We grow less, do less, stretch less, tolerate less, are less. We become increasingly conservative and complacent. I feel this process playing out within myself, and I rage, rage against it by deliberately placing myself outside my comfort zone.

In fact, hmmm, that's why I'm decluttering and selling a house, and going through boxes, and moving to Portugal. Those are not normal activities for 60 year-olds. Most keep cluttering ad infinitum and certainly never move to some other country, like some vagabond. They hunker down for the duration and let the kids declutter and sell the house after they croak (which will be the kids' big first taste of the cycle I'm describing!).

And if they for some reason (e.g. impending civil war) do move to Portugal, they won't learn the language; won't take steps to avoid social headwind. They'll find whatever comfort they can, and hunker down in that nest of complacency.

Out of a perfectly understandable aversion to doing stuff they hate and are bad at, they tolerate suboptimal results and mounting tedium. And clutter. And boxes. Even maybe civil war. They essentially collapse. This behavior is hard to fathom if you’re observing as a 25 year old, starry-eyed about an enormous exciting world full of glittering trophies to grab at.

I don't judge the complacently collapsed! I get it! When taking any remaining step forward requires full-on broaching of phobias, aversions, and ignorances, it's no wonder old people are so averse to change and growth!

Here's why it's actually sort of okay, when you finally reach this point, to occupy yourself with things you hate and are bad at:

By the time you're 35, parental instinct kicks in (even if you don't have kids). You become less concerned with getting your way than with keeping plates spinning. You become a plate spinner.

As years pass, plates aspun, you notice it hardly matters whether it's your favorite plate, or just some stupid plate, or even an appalling one. They're all just fodder. It's about the spinning, not the plates, themselves. And there's genuine satisfaction in learning to spin less familiar plates...even if they're unappealling (which they will be, 'cuz the appealing ones - having become much more familiar - practically spin themselves!).

There's a generational issue, however. My real-estate-hating friend and I share a stoic tolerance for suboptimality. I'm not sure the current younger generation - helicopter-parented, bursting with entitlement, and seemingly incapable of suffering silently - can fill such a role. I'm far less stoic than my parents, who were far less stoic than theirs, etc. Have we reached a tipping point? Or am I just falling (as all old folks do) into the fallacy that society's perpetually disintegrating? Time will tell!

Follow-up posting totally contradicting all of this.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Social Stigma of Easy Shifters

When people change my mind via argument, and I declare them correct, they always keep arguing. Always!

After I've apologized, people keep reciting their injuries.

And after I've expressed forgiveness, they keep apologizing.

No one ever believes me! At least, that's the superficial explanation.

Deeper explanation: it's not about me (nothing's ever really about you). They're enjoying watching themselves argue and recite. It's only nominally performed for you. You're a non-player character. Simmer down and bear witness to the performance. It's their time to shine.

Even Deeper explanation: The above is true, but exacerbated by the fact that I reframe effortlessly.

Most people persuaded into a change of mind perform a ritualized series of squinty facial gestures to signify the weighty internal changes taking place. Similar kabuki also applies to apology and forgiveness. One conveys a process of emotional boulders weightily hoisted and blockages solemnly released. Then: a beatifically calm re-composure. It's all different now. I HAVE SHIFTED!

Yeah, I don't do any of that. I just calmly shift and I'm there. And this gives the impression that I'm glibly insincere. I’m just saying it. They haven't viewed me undergoing the ARDUOUS JOURNEY OF SHIFTING. If I'd truly changed my mind, or genuinely apologized or forgiven, that journey would have played out on my face. They'd have witnessed me passing an emotional kidney stone. But, no, I simply arrive, and the insistent sincerity of my words can't possibly override the innate parsing of body english and sniffing of pheromones, so they remain unpersuaded.

See also "Angel on a Bike"

That was only my second use of the word "insistent" in 14 years of Slogging. As I wrote in "My Grave and Pitiful Faults", I am creative but, alas, not consistently inventive ("day in/day out, I'm mulishly complacent about following templates").

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Resting is Not Real: Postscript

This is my postscript for yesterday's posting: "Resting Isn't Real". That post went a bit long, so I'm running this separately.

Since a while before Covid I've been immersed in an ambitious slew of house renovation projects. I'm bad at every aspect; I don't know what a crown molding is, I don't know about glossy or matte paint. I'm easily deceived and misdirected by contractors and workers. I don't know how to choose a color or a drawer pull or a fixture. I'm ill-equipped to decide what needs to be done and what can be left alone. I can't distinguish between charming/antique and decrepitude. And in the best-case scenario, with diligent, honest, competent workers eager to serve, I still have to tell them what to do. As if I had a clue!

I also took these years to work through several dozen boxes that have accumulated (and been dragged from home to home) since college. I was profoundly phobic about broaching them. My great paralysis. If anyone had honored me for my work as a musician, writer, teacher, community manager or entrepreneur (thank goodness no one has!), I'd have scoffed. None of it meant a thing. Me, I'm that shmuck with the boxes.

I was also gathering paperwork and permits and letters and seals and notarized copies and filled-forms and bank accounts and identity numbers and leases and baggage certificates and transfer services, hiring foreign lawyers, accountants, consultants, and relocation specialists to apply for residency in Portugal. A poor slob who freezes up at the Post Office or DMV spent two solid years immersed in unfathomable Portuguese bureaucracy, jumping through hoops for imperious gov types. Fun!

I also hired a realtor to sell the house, and embarked on radical (but thoughtful) de-cluttering.
Why "thoughtful"? Any idiot can rent a dumpster and a backhoe and be de-cluttered by tomorrow. But that sort of butchery would have haunted me forever.
It's not that I was living a pack-rattish silence-of-the-lambs existence. It's just I've been a lot of people, had many careers, and each left a wake of artifacts. I may not be presently working as a big band arranger, but I'm not ready to throw away my big stack of arrangements. I may not presently be a restaurant critic, but I'm not ready to throw away my Chinese menu decoder books. Etc etc. So it hasn't been easy. The eBay sales operation alone (I grossed over $7000) was like a full time job for a couple years.

But this week, my visa application was submitted, my house is 100% decluttered, there are no remaining boxes and no remaining house issues (everything works great and everything looks great, though I barely register it). And I've had two offers on the house (fingers crossed) even though the market crashed right after I listed (I was saved by having worked so long and so hard to make the place irresistibly charming and bright and happy).

A friend asked if I feel happy/proud/excited. I replied that, no, I'm mostly just super tired. I've been so geared up for so long, doing stuff I hate and am/was terrible at, that I didn't realize how hard I'd been pushing myself. I have tons of resilience and determination, which makes me prone to drastically overloading my high bandwidth. This is dangerous. My Achilles heel. I can get into real trouble.
I've been trying for years to write an article linking this phenomenon to the tale (and one of my favorite films) of The Red Shoes, wherein a ballerina straps on magic shoes and dances herself to death. Most people consider it a clear parable about obsession, but it's something more than that; something much deeper and scarier...and tectonic for genuinely creative people. But I can't seem to explain it, and my irrepressible drive to do so might eventually be the death of me.
So my impulse was to "rest". I leaned back into my couch for a few days and watched movies. But, having been punked via previous futile efforts to "rest", I knew what to watch for. And, sure enough, I only felt worse and worse. Pretending to be static is not helpful. Resting isn't real. My perpetually beating heart leads the way, showing me that I’m here to act. So this time I decided not to rest-pose. I'll do stuff!

I began to resume decluttering, vacuuming, eBaying, house marketing, Portugal researching, etc. Overdoing it and aiming for infinity. Mindlessly reentering the same pressure cooker via sheer momentum. But this time I resisted. I reframed. 

I'm finding fresh gruelers. For instance, that last posting took real effort. This one, too. One of the unwritten Slog rules is "no self-revelation without greater purpose.” I'm deathly afraid I'll get caught using this as "Dear Diary", venting gratuitous emotional hooey. I hate that sort of thing, and I resolved as a child never to do things I hate when other people do them. So every word needs to be generously insightful and useful, and hopefully entertaining. And it's hard to keep that pedal firmly planted at strong emotional junctures, especially while feeling tired! But the effort feels far more salubrious than rest-posing!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Resting is Not Real

I launched Chowhound in a state of deep exhaustion after completing a marathon book project, never imagining the site would require much effort. Chowhound was supposed to be a food tip network for musican friends trying to suss out good bites on the road. However, a million people showed up, there was no damned revenue (I'd created it as as a public service), and, by the time I sold it in 2004, I was in an uber-bedraggled state. I had people vetting my outgoing communications to ensure I wasn't raving. It wasn't pretty.

One condition of the sale was that I'd spend a year in indentured servitude to a raging sadistic corporate manager, and the final portion of my, er, tenure was spent solitarily roaming endlessly on an ill-defined assignment, forced to overeat like a foie gras goose. The saga - told less drearily than I just did here - can be read starting here. When my 12 months were up, I silently walked away like Keyser Söze emerging from the police station:

My mission was to rest. Relax. Rejuvenate. I did tons of yoga and meditation. I hit the beach. I learned to cook healthy. I moved into a Victorian house in a charming New England small town for a while.

For the first time in my life, I owned a TV and a couch (giving rise to this epiphany). I traveled a bit. I ate well - and without pressure or note-taking. Food as food.

So when, exactly, did I recover? When did I feel truly "myself" again? "Tan, rested and ready," per Nixon's phrase?

Never! No one ever resets to baseline. There is no rebooting in the human world. It doesn't work like that! That's fake, and you can - and many of us do - make yourself crazy feeling around for that unattainable result. And you can believe me, because I've pushed the extremes of both "stress" and "resting" much further than anyone you know. I'm Mr. Edge Case, here to report my findings!

I once had occasion to view a live sonogram of my heart, which, I was fascinated and repulsed to observe, looks like a clock made out of meat. My meat clock is no winsome valentine. It is John Deere agricultural machinery. Gettin' it done.

Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh!

Endlessly and mindlessly, for decades whence and decades hence. Pure unfettered perseverence!

The heart is stupid-obsessive. Smart-obsessive is a problem, because there's self-awareness. Sisyphus, for example, grimly registered each and every re-slide down the mountain with his boulder. Tragedy! But I once wrote about chickens in Skinner Boxes, trained to push the yellow button delivering a corn kernel, and to avoid pushing the red button delivering an electric shock. I noted that the chicken will literally never stop pushing that yellow button:
It never "gets wise". Blessed with the result it most seeks, there's no reason to ask deeper questions. The chicken thinks it's just killin' it.
The heart is an idiot exactly like that chicken. So its stupidly obsessive circumstance is not tragic. The heart is like a drunken co-ed hollering "Whoooooh!" endlessly from the same inane prompt. The heart is like The Simpsons' Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes:

Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh!

That's us. That's what we are. That's our baseline. The human baseline isn't cool and composed. Not tan, rested, and ready. Baseline is a hunk o' meat gettin' it done. Baseline is a John Deere tractor. We're here to do stuff - or to act too paralyzed to do stuff, which is another way of doing stuff (far less enjoyably). Resting isn't real. Even if you try to force it.

Remember, I'm an advanced yogi. I can relax, like, all the way. I can make lovely loveliness gush out of my chest, expanding my heart until the universe is felt to tenderly cradle within its perimeter. I have, for decades, practiced the Metta Sutta:
With a boundless heart
Should one cherish all beings:
Radiating love over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths.
But I tried it with the sonogram hooked up, and Stupid Meat Clock remained visibly oblivious. Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh!

Resting is a silly attempt to stop a process that doesn't want to stop, wasn't built to stop, and, if it actually stopped, would not be a result you'd enjoy.
Your body is a goer. Your mind is a goer. The meat wants to move. Must move. Won't not move. This isn't a bug. It's a feature.

That said, there are certainly times when a strategic, highly-focused bout of rest is necessary. If you stayed up two nights in a row, you need sleep. But that's not a choice you'll need to make. Your body will effectively shove you into snoozeland, ready or not. The necessary rest happens and you have no say about it. That kind of rest is real!

Similarly, if you've been overexerting, you need to not exert for a while...and it just happens. The biology arranges it. If you're sick, well, that's a whole other scenario, beyond the scope of this posting. But for those who are more or less physically healthy, a few days of rest is sufficient. Imagining that more rest will help even more is fallacious, like vitamin faddists concluding that since Vitamin A deficiency is bad for the eyes, a ton of Vitamin A must be super-good for them. Pure ditzery.

But let's talk about stress.

If you've been stressed (genuinely stressed, not trumped-up-rich-people-stressed, like Mrs. Howell tormented by a lack of available manicure appointments), what you need is not rest. That's a common misconception. No, you need to put yourself in a situation where you're not stressed - or, at least, not stressed in the exact same way - for a few days. Two weeks, tops.

There's a reason we conceive of vacations in two-week chunks. Two weeks is the outer limit. Even if you just bicycled from São Paolo to Montreal. Even if you just served months in a war zone. Even if you’re post-traumatic, malnourished, and/or sobbing a lot. Same for break-ups and other forms of grief. After two weeks of change-up, you’re just willfully stoking the drama. Volitional depression is not rest, though history and literature are full of theatrically ennervated people (invariably wealthy) endeavoring to deem it so.

Stress is a real thing, but we don't need to de-stress, e.g. via spa treatments or martinis. The notion that we must reverse engines and go "the other way" into some static state for a while is aristocratic delusion. No, if you're stressed, you need to either find a way to more gracefully bear it (heh, sorry, I forgot where I was for a moment; obviously, FUCK THAT), or, ideally, remove the stressor for a while. No need for hydrotherapy or mudpacks or oatmeal colonics. We don't need to "recover".

Resting is not real. We don't recover. Ever. We keep going, like tractors. Can't help it, either. The relentless meat clock in my chest has never recovered once in 59 years. Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! Kah-CHING-kluh! In fact, it appreciates and thrives from exercise; from being forced to work even HARDER! Consider that!
Life is a process of thriving in the resistence of repose.
That was a flowery way of saying "resting is not real."

If your battery doesn’t feel quite recharged, if you’re feeling lingering pain, walk it off. Rest - the fake kind where you choose recreational-ish activities and eschew upsetting experience like a piqued aristocrat - is a fantasy. Don't get me wrong, I’m a big fan of hot tubs, hammocks, and sofas. Huge fan! But a nice grueling workout works better. A bicycle trip, or a jog, or a swim, or helping a friend move. A new project. Even something grueling! Just don't be grueled the usual way (i.e. remove the stressor). Walk it off!

As with most deep insights, there's a glib cliché to be yanked from the shelf:
"A change is as good as a rest."

So how did we develop the mistaken notion that we need to actively de-stress - reverse motors and do absolutely nothing, rather than simply remove the stressor for a while (or else take the unAmerican path of learning to bear stress more gracefully)? Because removing a stressor is a subtle surgical move. It's easier to dream up a gigantic and theatrical sprawl into a smiley realm of fluffy downy cushions, even if all we needed was to avoid the stressful thing - the aggravating project; the angry boss; the ne'er do well brother - for a few days. But we don't need to go anywhere, or put on our Special Relaxing Clothes. We don't need to pose in static repose. In fact, we can simply re-frame! Right where you are!

Postscript here.

Monday, September 5, 2022

The First Web Site Building Tool that Works

Web site creation got legit easy, and I only just heard about it (thanks to friend-of-slog Paul Trapani for the tip). Google Sites is the 300 billionth attempt to make web site creation simple. And it's the first one that actually works.

It snuck up on me. We've had so many junky tools for this for so long that no one believes a good one is possible. What's more, companies like Squarespace have been hyping so loudly for so long that anyone claiming easy web site building comes off sounding like a Squarespace ad. And Squarespace sucks.

I learned HTML in 1997 (thanks, Lynn LeMay), but, alas, everything I build still looks like 1997. I didn't keep up. I've puttered around with "modern" easy site creation tools over the years, but all were excruciatingly awful and spat out super ugly HTML - gobs of crappy, buggy code for every decision. I never managed to build anything with any of them.

My stopgap solution - which I used, for example, on my homepage and on the page for my app, Eat Everywhere - was to get a non web designer to design a look and a flow, and then hire hardcore devs to replicate the design in HTML/CSS.

But with Google Sites, I was able to build a professional-looking and modern site in two hours flat. And, yes, I realize this sounds like a Squarespace ad.

The tools make sense, the whole thing "just works," and while I did need to dive into the manual (and, for a few issues, into previous user discussion), the answers were always findable. It can't do absolutely everything, but what it can do it does well and results look good without needing to make a zillion fine-tuned design decisions.

Our long national nightmare is over.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Posin' & Flauntin'

My recent posting, "The Pose is Usually a Cover", noted that the truth about people is often the antithesis of their pose. They reveal who they are by the show they put on to hide it.

This jibes with an oldie-but-goodie posting, "Cringeworthy Displays of Status", where I noted that when people flaunt, they tend to reveal "not their awesomeness, but their deep-seated smallness and dysfunction."

Friday, September 2, 2022

TV Check-In

I've bailed out of Yellowstone and am getting close to bailing on Ozark. You see, I have a requirement of fictional drama: it's got to more or less make sense.

You can't use the characters to hoist plot moves. Quality drama is when plot moves stem organically from the characters (that's a big part of what made "Breaking Bad" and "Saul" so fantastic). "Character-driven". If you wield your characters like puppets to move the plot from Point A to Point B, that's soap opera, not fiction.

Good actors try to "sell it". But if they're smart, you'll have crushed their souls by making their characters - which they sweat bullets to make three-dimensional - two-dimensional cartoons. If the actors are dumb, they'll just keep sayin' lines and emoting for their paycheck. Either way, the result is painful to watch.

I liked Yellowstone. Liked the location, the cinemetography, the vibe. But at a certain point I needed to pause the action and scream at my TV "Not one bit of this makes a lick of sense!"

I'm not talking about interference with my "suspension of disbelief." That's lower-level stuff. That comes from minor but aggregating intimations of off-ness. Yellowstone wasn't that. Yellowstone felt "real", it just didn't come close to making sense. Wasn't even trying to make sense. It was just expensive soap opera.

And now, during my binge viewing of Ozark, Darlene just poisoned her heroin - the heroin whose quality she took great pride in just a few episodes ago - for no discernible reason than that she's just super angry, generally (also: it needed to be poisoned to create conflict for the season's dramatic arc). And even though her husband, Jacob, is sternly upset about it, neither have the faintest notion that angering their Mexican cartel partners is like signing a death warrant. I'm a food critic and I understand this. You guys are heroin producers and haven't gotten the word on that?

The characters keep shifting their personalities and inclinations - needs and desires - to accommodate plot needs (I imagine the actors checking their investment balances at every shooting break to maintain fortitude). I'm watching soap opera. Understand that I'm not using that term in a snotty way. Like I need everything to be Zola or Chekhov or whatever. It's just that this is junk food. You feel like you're eating, but there's zero nourishment so you come away empty. Life's too short - and Peak TV is too plentiful - to come away empty.

In other TV news, I rejoiced a few months ago at the resurgence of Mind-Fuck TV after a very long hiatus (since 70s public television shows like "The Prisoner" and "Steambath"). I was writing about "Severance", but the latest example is "The Rehearsal" with Nathan ("Nathan for You") Fielder, on HBO.

If you didn't watch "Nathan for You", which was great but spotty, I recommend just checking out the highest-rated episodes. Here's a sorted list from IMDB.

"The Rehearsal" is creepy and upsetting, while also funny, which is exactly what Mind-Fuck TV is supposed to be. It's a slow build, and the creepiness and upset only swell (the humor, too), but it's way more profoundly thoughtful than mere cringe programming. It's nutritious. I recommend checking out recap discussion for each episode on Reddit. Just for stuff and connections and callbacks you might have missed.

Re: the Game of Thrones prequel, "House of the Dragon", I am (as is often true) in agreement with Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall, who found it a dryly humorless “calculated piece of brand extension.” Makes you realize how much Dinklage added to the original series.

Sepinwall liked Lord of the Rings prequel "The Rings of Power" a lot better (I haven't started it yet). And he raves over Steve Carrell's straight drama work in Hulu's "The Patient".

Previous TV rundowns in reverse chronological order

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