I overdid it a little today. I pushed to go for a evening walk and got overwhelmed by the appearance of some pain. It wasn’t so much the pain that bothered me, it was the anxiety that washed over me as I contemplated the pain. I struggle to juggle life with pain sometimes, less because the pain is bad but more because I let it get in my head. The surest path to letting the worry go has been television.
If I take half an hour to watch some TV and let every other thought go but the plot of some cartoon or sitcom I’ll be calm and eventually the pain will be controllable again. It’s fascinating how the mind body connection works sometimes. I wanted to let the anxiety over the pain spiral in my mind but the utterly predictable and calming plotting of a Tim Allen comedy grounded me. I can let my mind wander the simple pathways of a half an hour show and find myself more centered than after a mediation.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds television soothing. We wouldn’t call it zoning out to the boob tube if it didn’t do something to tamp down higher level thinking. But maybe derogatory commentary is missing the point. Maybe the dumbing down of America has some benefits. We are constantly overstimulated. In my case the stimulation can be spinal pain. Letting the high frequency worries come down to a more mellow intensity is a positive for me.
I’ve not enjoyed celebrating my birthday the past few years. There hasn’t felt like a lot of joy to go around which hinders my appetite for celebrating. I was struggling with my health and then the planet was struggling with a pandemic, and frankly I was just too sad to see my way into being happy about a birthday.
Not that I’ve traditionally been a big believer in birthdays. Some people love them and I find that lovely. I think it’s nice to celebrate another turn around the sun but it’s not generally been the mile marker for my own life. I’ve looked to other markers like the new year or the start of a new project. This post is title day 284 because on New Years Day I committed to write on essay every single day. But I don’t entirely write off birthdays. I do have little rituals that I enjoy for my birthday, and I was relieved that they felt joyful again this year.
I like to call my mother at precisely 7:14am California time as that was when I was born. I have always felt like my birthday was as much about her as it was about me. She brought me into this world, so taking a beat for the exact moment of my birth with my mother has felt like the most important ritual.
We were texting before the clock turned as we are on mountain time now. But at 8:14 MTN, I turned the text into a call and we got to enjoy the moment together.
It’s been hard to find the right ways to spend time with people as the various worries of the pandemic added rules and concerns to interactions. But today we just celebrated. I had lunch with my mother and my husband. We got an enormous sushi lunch. And then a surprise chocolate cake. And while this was all decadent it was also normal. It was normal to have a fancy meal and cake on your birthday with your family. I’d like to have more normal because that means more joy. And that’s my wish on my birthday. That we all have more normal joys.
I first started blogging in college because a friend of mine pointed out that I needed to own my digital identity. I had written something about designer jeans in the lesser school newspaper and another student was dunking on me in her personal blog.
Unless I acted swiftly, Google results would be tainted forever he assured me. So I started blogging. Not because I necessarily felt like I was meant to be a writer but because I didn’t want this other girl to scoop my life story. I didn’t want to get “Bad Art Friended” by letting someone else tell my story.
I’m pretty grateful to both my friend James and the “mean girl” Phoebe for launching my social media habits. Every big break I’ve ever had has come from the connections I made on the Internet. If I hadn’t been petty enough to want to own my own digital identity I might have missed out.
Rather like the “Bad Art Friend” piece where one writer uses details from another’s life for her art, whoever is able to own the narrative is the default winner. It’s not terribly fair but it could have been someone else telling my story had I not chosen to write. If the victors write history then there is an incentive to be the one whose narrative wins. And the only way to win in our social media saturated works is to be sure you’ve got the scoop on your own life.
I like to watch television to let my mind take a break. Because I spend so much of my time intaking and integrating new information for a living, I find it relaxing to have someone do that work for me. Plus I wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid so rebellion.
I’ve been getting served up a lot of tv shows about magic. Earlier in the year WandaVision was all about chaos magic. Then we had Loki. The algorithms then sent me to a Norwegian show about the Ragnarok. And now all I seen to find on Netflix has some kind of magic plot line. A secretly Ivy League university for magic? Check out the Magicians. Prefer Victorian era? I started with on The Irregulars. But only because I just finished Witcher as I thought I’d tried some medieval fantasy. Basically any setting you might like now has a show about magic. Outlander, Supernatural, The Order, The Umbrella Academy, Shadow and Bone are all popular right now and available to binge on Netflix.
I’m beginning to think that Harry Potter might have rotted too many brains in the millennial generation as now everyone needs stories about how they are secretly on the edges of society because of powers only a select few can ever wield. If reality is so disappointing then we need to have some other layer of existence revealed where we can thrive.
I remember being depressed when I was in 3rd grade when my mother explained to me that it was unlikely I’d ever be able to work on The Enterprise. The one TV show my parents approved of was Star Trek because I guess they wanted me to be into utopian science driven worlds. But once it was explained that this was so far in the future it’s not likely that I could be a science officer on a space ship I was sad.
Now granted I got over it and did the next best thing to living in a science fiction utopian and went to work in startups. I still feel like I get to help the future come about. But what about all these kids being raised on magic? There is no easy career alternative for the dismal prospect that you cannot manipulate physical reality with a wand or saying a spell in some elder god language.
Or maybe kids will figure out you can manifest stuff into reality. I guess the meme mobs have done weirder things like turn a washed up tv star into the president. Maybe chaos magic is real for someone. Or are least chaos is real.
I’ve been eyeing the full recline zero gravity chairs and desk combinations for a while. Because of a spinal condition sitting upright at a regular desk is tiring for me. It seemed like an extravagant purchase as they are well over $4000 at a base model but being able to spend a full work day in comfort reclining seemed worth the investment.
Last week I finally decided to pull the trigger and buy the chair on the advice of executive performance coach Dr. Julie Gurner who helped me see that investing in an environment that accommodates my physical needs is worthwhile.
Today was set to be the big set up and reveal day but in the excitement Alex was trying to take a picture of me laying flat while working and he dropped my phone form about three feet over my head onto my right ocular bone. It hit so hard it formed a blood bruise immediately. It was such a shock I didn’t even yell. So rather than playing with my new desk I’m icing my face.
It hurts like hell. My face is swelling and I’ve got that jumpy nerves thing that comes from a physical trauma you didn’t see coming. So tomorrow I’ll finish setting up my new workstation. Right now I’ve got to stave off a shiner.
I admire a well executed gimmick. Being clearly branded has become a necessity in digital life. Living life at a scale larger than your local community turns out to require we communicate who we are for easier communication.
Mediocre marketing people will insist that you find areas you can “own” in planning materials for promotional campaigns. They want you to find a schtick. But you better like what you come up with as you will be forced to repeat your greatest hits ad nauseam.
It’s not that they are wrong. Repetition is pedagogy. Which is a fancy way of saying in order to teach you must repeat your lessons. Humans usually require hearing something a few times before the information will stick. But then it can be very hard to dislodge a piece of information that we’ve become convinced is true. That’s why it’s much harder to change a brand than it is to build one. We get indignant when we feel someone has mislead us with their brand.
That’s why you need to be very sure if you are going to dig into a schtick. The temptation to go full Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow can be tempting. It’s seems like it’s an easier path to attention and awareness if you develop a clear point of view. But be warned, if you change it people will get mad at you. If you explore shades of grey you will get called a hypocrite. Nuance is the enemy of clarity. And clarity is required to reach big audiences.
I swear half of cancel culture is just assholes who don’t understand that their friends may see them as whole empathetic humans who are more than their schtick but the masses won’t. And remember you too are a member of the masses and judge others hypocrisy just as harshly as they judge yours. That’s like the basis of all Abrahamic religions. If the golden rule was easy we probably wouldn’t need to attend various worship services regularly.
So if you see someone with a good schtick admire it. But recognize it’s a Faustian bargain. They sanded off some portion of the wholeness of their being in order to be easier to understand. And if they drop some portion of that gimmick in the course of their lives it’s worth showing a little grace to them. You’ll appreciate it when you require the same.
I did my best to stay off the news and internet today. I went into the mountains and spent the morning walking. I didn’t want to intake discourse about the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. But it’s hard to avoid all discussions of American influence and it’s place in the world. Even when you are watching a tv show. Perhaps especially if you are watching tv. American cultural hegemony is alive and well, even if our political, military and economic might is waning.
I like science fiction so when Netflix suggested a Norwegian horror show about a small town experiencing an environmental apocalypse I clicked watch. It’s called Ragnarok so I was hoping for claustrophobic terror, glaciers and the end times. But aesthetically it feels like I am watching Riverdale or one of the CW “Arrow-verse” teenage dramas. Which is to say it feels very American. I’ve been watching an American television show in Norwegian.
All the music is American. There is hip hop playing as the background music in a small rural Norwegian town. All the clothing is American from the track suits to the basketball shoes. Even the food is American with teenagers enacting personal dramas over baskets of French fries in a diner. The backdrop is a remote village on a fjord but you could easily mistake it for any town America.
This despite the fact that the plot and the cast of characters are all Nordic elder gods. Presumably inheriting a rich culture that is not straight out of Compton. But such is the reach of American culture that it pervades the imaginations of even the remotest and oldest cultural legacies. America may never have had an empire in the geographic sense, but we’ve had a strong hold in your mind. We live there rent free.
But that power was born out of a dynamism we are losing. America won’t be the center of geopolitical or economic power for much longer. Eventually this will slip our cultural power. As we lose the high ground of the world’s imagination other cultures will be emulated.
I’m actually afraid of the end of the empire. Where will I go to be part of building the future if it’s not here? Will I be allowed in? Will I be able to assimilate into whatever culture is making what comes next? I was born into an era of American dominance so manifest that attacks had to be brought through asymmetrical terror. It was impossible to imagine anyone taking on America any other way.
And while it’s true we still hold sway in the far reaches of global imagination, are we headed the way of the Norse elder gods too? Has it already slipped and we kid ourselves that we could fight back to prominence. Maybe Ragnarok already came for America and no one noticed it.
Today is Star Trek day. The original series debuted 55 years ago. I was searching for a photo of myself as a child wearing a captain’s uniform to commemorate it and instead stumbled upon a file containing my old WordPress blog. So rather than find an adorable picture of me in a red jumpsuit I found this picture from September 10th 2007 waiting for the Marc Jacob’s fashion show.
I used to be a fashion blogger you see. I have a few dubious CV distinctions, one of which is being the first person to live blog fashion week (at least according to Women’s Wear Daily). In the late aughts just before the Great Recession, it was a hell of a time to work in fashion and I wanted in. Being utterly unqualified I did what any kid would do and started a new media company. It went pretty well, we turned it into an ad tech company, sold it, and survived “RIP good times” but before all of that I partied professionally. A lot of business in fashion used to get done over drinks in fancy hotel lobbies while we all clutched our Blackberries.
This particular photo represents a time when Condé Nast still mattered. I was at the Mercer Hotel with my friend Lauren Goldstein Crowe (also apparently economic writer Felix Solomon). My friend Lauren was the newly installed fashion columnist for the new glossy magazine about money called Portfolio Magazine. We were killing time in the then trendy Soho hotel before the always reliably two hours late Marc Jacob’s show.
I don’t actually remember if I legitimately had an invitation or if I snuck in with Lauren that season. Back in 2007, if you can believe it, social media was considered very uncouth and no one has begun writing “bloggers are taking over the front row” thought pieces yet. Could have gone either way.
Portfolio was the last hurrah of the print behemoths, a glossy magazine dedicated to the culture of finance, so naturally I was appreciative that I could tag along with my much better financed friend. Condé Nast reported spent 100m on the magazine and I appreciate that some small portion of that went to drinks before the fashion of the season. Lauren is an especially erudite editor, of the sort who writes deeply studied long form work, so the fact that Condé Nast was paying to send her to fashion week was pretty decadent. She wasn’t a mid tier market editor who needed to see the clothes. She covers culture so the entire milieu was her domain. The gossip before the shows absolutely counted.
Of course, the business of media couldn’t support that sort of thing forever with changing advertising models and Condé Nast didn’t really keep up with the times. It’s a real loss. People like me ended up winning and it’s been perhaps a net loss for some things that were valuable cultural artifacts.
I spent no more than a couple grand getting our rinky dink operation up and running. We still managed to publish faster than anyone else. I had several meltdowns in service of that effort. In hindsight it was probably a waste but it felt so very new and urgent to be publishing things at the very second a look went down the runway. Now fashion week is an exercise in instant publishing and live-streaming everything from a million perspectives. But the actual studied writers don’t get expense accounts and drivers and corporate Blackberries anymore. If they are lucky maybe they have a blog with a subscription. Lauren knew it even then. She and I slowly occupied the same basic space in the ecosystem. She was just 15 years ahead of seeing it.
I wasn’t much for makeup or clothing as a teenager, but I fell in love with fashion as I got older. I was swayed by the mysteries of style. The power of being dressed precisely for the occasion was not lost on me. I wanted to command the powers of vanity for myself
But as the pandemic set in I cancelled all my beauty box of the month subscriptions and closed my Rent the Runway account. I didn’t need red lipstick or cocktail dresses. When we summered in the Hudson Valley the first summer of the pandemic, I only brought one suitcase of sweatpants and cotton dresses. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was was leaving behind dozens of vanity rituals.
Like many other people, we decided to move closer to family as the pandemic continued. Going from Manhattan to Boulder isn’t exactly conducive to keeping up with appearances either. I found myself buying hiking pants and wool socks. I had no occasion to dress for anyone but myself.
The pandemic seems to have proven that for me aesthetics are all about the dance with others. The joy of communicating one’s taste and preferences to the outside world is more riveting than playing with my look for an audience of one.
But I do miss that dance. Vanity can be a wonderful motivator to connect and communicate with others. I so badly want someone to see my hair. I haven’t heat styled my hair for well over a year. In fact, I haven’t had it cut for nearly 10 months.
My vanity tells me my hair has never looked better. It cascades down to my mid back without a split end in sight. Just waves. It’s fucking princess hair. My vanity whispers that someone surely would notice how beautiful I look. If they noticed how I look then they must always want me to notice them.
I miss the pleasure of seeing beauty in each other. Sharing a compliment and an appreciation for the little vanities we all keep.
I own a reasonably good library on the intersection of class, wealth, and capitalism. I suspect that sort of preoccupation isn’t that odd of a leaning when you come from family that jumped from working class to bourgeois and had set its sights even higher for their children. And it’s reasonably amusing that I file the topics together in my head and on my bookshelf.
Money has never been the determining factor for class, but the American preoccupation with capital has led us to develop elaborate social mores to try to distance that we have overlapped wealth and status into the term “upper class” in this county. We don’t have peerage so things like taste and creativity has come to dominate. We absolutely hate the nouveau rich and disdain people with bad taste.
I spent a number of years working in “style” which is the overarching set of professions that dominate who has class. I worked for luxury houses, founded a cosmetics brand and even did marketing for a very high end gym. All of the kinds of things you can buy to demonstrate you have good taste and thus are worthy of being considered upper class.
Honestly it seems easier to have to learn the manners of the aristocracy than to have to bother with keeping up on style. At least those assholes had a consistent dress code. But an elaborate set of social distinctions overlaying signifiers on who has taste and credentials is fundamentally more accessible. Hipster are social progress.
Showing you’ve got the capacity to read social signals has lead to a lot of weird shit. Our current preoccupation with critical theory for one. But it’s opened up class status to people who are capable of demonstrating their understanding of what it takes to occupy their place on the ladder. And yes I think shitposting is the new Harvard degree or house in Newport. I guess it’s no weirder than marrying someone with an estate on a cold island off the coast of Europe.