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Aesthetics

Day 357 and Festivities

I’ve had a bit of a comically disastrous holiday season. Early in December I tore two ligaments in my ankle. I was immobile stuck on the top floor of the house for about two weeks. Just as I was getting back my ability to bear weight on my feet my husband Alex got really sick. At first we thought it was a cold. But surprise we both had Covid! Cue quarantine.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and we’ve done nothing remotely festive all month. When I was off my feet it didn’t seem achievable to go get a Christmas tree. We had this idea we’d get it once I was walking because well picking out the tree is part of the fun right? Turns out this was a tactical error as now neither one of us can go anywhere as we are isolated at home so we don’t spread Omicron. No pine scents and twinkling lights for us!

The funny think is Christmas I went all out on making our home as cozy as I could. With the pandemic isolating us I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy a season of light at home.

And I went all out. I spent like $200 on shipping IKEA ornaments & candles. I bought out the entire seasonal line up at Trade Joe’s. I bought a fucking stand mixer and made five types of Christmas cookies. I stuffed boots for St Nick’s Day. I baked rolls and light candles for St. Lucia. I made an elaborate 3D advent calendar. I sent hand written Christmas cards. And lest you think I ignored Chanukah we made latkes from scratch. We lit the menorah and said prayers each night. We did the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. We did stockings. We made a roast. We watched Die Hard. We got Chinese delivered.

But this year we’ve done nothing. Absolutely nothing. I haven’t even do much as done a boxed cookie recipe. No candles have been light. No advent doors opened. We haven’t eaten anything I’d qualify as even remotely seasonal. I’m not even sure what we’d do at this point we are both too exhausted to cook.

But I don’t feel bad about it. Maybe I’ll get a pie from Whole Foods. Maybe it’s because I did so much last year that I don’t feel like I’ve got to celebrate in any particular way. For me Christmas has always been about receiving the quiet optimism of a better future. The end of the year and the transition to a new one is a reflective space. I don’t need it to look any particular way to feel the spirit of the season. I’ve been so incredibly lucky this year. And even in the last month, bad as some of it was, I’ve achieved more then I could have imagined. I’m going to be alright no matter what.

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Aesthetics

Day 342 and Cosmetics

I’ve barely worn any makeup since the pandemic started. If you knew me in my former life as a cosmetics CEO this might surprise you. But I found that I had mostly worn makeup (also fashion) for other people. I found it fun and enjoyable for social signaling purposes but otherwise didn’t engage in it for personal pleasure.

But today I found myself wanting to wear some eyeshadow. Not a tasteful nude from a basics palette of pressed powder. No I wanted to put on some velvety cream with some shine to it. Maybe even a bit of sparkle.

Initially the desire came over me because I haven’t been able to get a Christmas tree or set up decorations yet as I’ve been immobilized to heal a ligament injury. I thought a little bit of shine would make me feel a bit of the season spirit. I wasn’t going to be able to trim the tree for a bit but I could trim myself in something tinsel colored.

This desire to do something for fun and for myself isn’t something I’m used to. I have a bit of paranoia about using too much energy on something frivolous. Like I’ll regret having had some fun if later I felt too tired for routine obligations like working out or cleaning up. I’ve even been known to put off activities if I know I need to wash my hair and do a big bout of grooming. Laugh all you like,but with chronic pain in my spine bending over to clip and file nails takes it out of me!

So I take it as a good sign that I found the idea of doing something unnecessary and energy intensive like putting on some eyeshadow sounded like fun.

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Aesthetics Preparedness

Day 339 and Doomer Optimism

I write a mini-festo for the Doomer Optimism community. I am sharing it here today as well as gosh darn it I wrote it so it counts.

I come from hippie utopian stock. My parents, both working class union types, moved us to the promised land of Silicon Valley right before I was born. The family lore concludes that my father had no job on the day I came into the world as he was pitching a startup. My parents believed in the promise of computing, and eventually, the internet, to connect free thinking humans in a culture of collaboration and self-sufficiency. The do-it-yourself ethos of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog combined with a heady blend of technical opportunity and growth that is well chronicled in What The Dormouse Said. This gives you a sense of cultural milieu in which I was raised. The sixties had long given way to the Reagan revolution and the rise of Clinton’s neoliberalism when I came on the scene, but I never forgot my roots. I invest in startups to continue that legacy of autonomy and freedom at my own fund chaotic.capital.

“Remember what the dormouse said: feed your head.”

For me doomer optimism is the continued braiding of those cultural strands. Each one of us is capable of connecting to each other and enabling ourselves, individually and collectively, to lead the life of flourishing and growth we seek. We want tools and information that feed our head but also crucially our heart. The key insight that these very different culture strains, hippie and technology, have shown us, is that individual empowerment is what ultimately connects us to our tribes. 

How does it work? Well, natural law is pretty simple. The laws of thermodynamics are clear.  “If you do not fuck around, you never find out.” As we cede autonomy to others, we cede our capacity to fuck around. The inexorable logic of that, means we also cede our capacity to find out. Without the natural chaos of energetic entropy pushing man against nature, we get stuck. We stagnate in the local maxima. 

And we long to find out. We want to find our communities, our families, our capacities, and our passions. That is how we build. That is how we invent. That is how we solve our problems. Humans are capable of huge creative leaps. Massive shifts in capacity have risen in a blink of an eye. We can solve our problems, and indeed have been doing so, for millennia. But the only way we do is if we fuck around. Otherwise we will never find out what we are capable of overcoming. No matter how dire our problems we can rely on the deep laws of energy. So don’t be afraid, go and fuck around. We are counting on you to find out.

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Aesthetics Chronicle

Day 332 and Advent

I don’t talk about it much but I am a Christian. Not the American evangelical type but more of the original reformation Calvinist type. I happened to be taking set theory at the same time as I was reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. God is the set of all sets. Which cannot exist. You probably follow my logic from there. Math and divinity school are a weird mix.

I like routine and rhythm and even seasons. I particularly like holidays and the way we set our calendars by them. The holy nights between Christmas and epiphany are some of the most sacred in my own calendar as I use them for rest and reflection. It’s the space between the in breath and out breath of the year.

Tonight is the first night of advent. It’s the 4th Sunday before Christmas. Advent, from the Latin adventus and the Greek parousia, means arrival or coming. I guess strictly speaking it’s the liturgical calendar’s preparation for the nativity of Christ but also maybe the second coming. Apparently no one knows exactly when Christians decided to celebrate advent (maybe the Council of Tours?), but it seems to involve fasting.

I have an advent wreath and candles. I am ready to celebrate the changing seasons. I like the idea that the end of the year is the beginning of the new one. Beginnings and endings now being so wrapped up in the Christian calendar that we don’t even remember what pagan light festival they replaced. Winter solstice is just a part of the season now. The first Sunday of Advent are coinciding with the first not of Chanukah this year. Festival of lights are aligning this year. I’ll be lighting a lot of candles to see myself into the end of this year.

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Aesthetics

Day 317 Walk Without Rhythm

I struggle with accepting the reality that humans have natural rhythms. I struggle even more with the idea that living by them is to my benefit. Circadian rhythms and seasonal rhythms control our days and nights. The body craves the repetition that rhythm brings even as the mind rejects the idea that we are behold to it.

Call it a Calvinism of the body. We are predestined to our rhythms. We’ve got freedom to chose how we live, so even though rhythms bring strength to our bodies, our mind strains against the constraints. We must have free choice we say. Except what good does it bring us to reject our natural physical rhythms?

There are many types of rhythms. Our world is built out of them. Regular, random, progressive, alternating and flowing rhythms give shape and order to everything around us. All of our art forms leverage the beauty of rhythms freedom and constraints. Nothing is new under the sun but the combinatorial possibilities are infinite.

I’d do well to retain that sense of wonder at the infinite as I fight against the sense of indignation that I am limited by rhythms. We are all limited by the forms in which we exist. Until I get to discover what is beyond the veil of physical existence I’m stuck. Maybe beyond that I’ll find the formless freedom of pure comprehension. Or maybe I can learn that freedom always comes with the constraints of its medium. That doesn’t mean I’m not free to be creative within the form I have.

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Aesthetics

Day 312 and Future Perfect

After a disastrous year in San Francisco, in which I broke up with a cheating boyfriend and discovered I was almost completely incapable of integrating into the culture of the startup which has purchased mine, I fled to Williamsburg Brooklyn.

I had rented, sight unseen, a bedroom in a large converted industrial loft on North 6th and Berry off of Craigslist. The lease holder was bald Turkish hipster with a corporate job working IT at Bank of America. He loved partying and dance music. We rarely saw each other. It was an ideal home for a 24 year old.

The loft was above a furniture store called The Future Perfect. They had extremely expensive, extremely tasteful shit. The owner David was very nice but he probably knew that his neighbors would never be able to afford the designs he stocked and curated. Well, at the time.

The building shared a courtyard backyard so I got to fantasize a little about having great taste through exposure. My proximity to Future Perfect’s design slowly shaped my taste, even though I slept on a $300 futon whose defining feature was pebbled black pleather.

I never really believed I’d live a life where I had the stability that investing in furniture required. I mostly had sublets and moved by trash bag and taxi. My godfather introduced me to his “guy” for moving which let me acquire some Ikea but otherwise I didn’t invest. I was used to instability having moved a lot as a child.

Maybe that’s why the furniture store spoke to me. Future Perfect. A future that is perfect is one you will never live in. So it’s safe to indulge in the fantasy, knowing you will never take any real steps towards making it reality.

An older male friend of mine, who I had wanted to fuck but who never reciprocated, bought a couch from Future Perfect. I was impressed by his good taste and capacity to invest in real furniture. He had taken on a lease in a building in SoHo with plans for spending part of his time in New York. He let me stay there when he wasn’t. I luxuriated on the couch. I remember reading Watchmen for the first time on it.

At some point he decided New York just wasn’t for him. Or at least having a lease there wasn’t worth it. He asked me if I had a moving guy. I gave him the name of the guy my godfather has introduced me too. I got a phone call a week or two later.

“I’ve got a couch for you. Can I bring it up?” My mind was blown. My friend had just given me the couch. He didn’t even make a big deal about it. He just paid my moving guy to pick it up and deliver it to me. I cried. I loved that couch. It was the first truly nice piece of furniture I could ever call my own.

Sometimes I think about how my friend had more faith in the future than I did. That he was willing to invest in making his current moment perfect in a way I never could. I still have the couch. I moved it cross country with me to Colorado. It’s no longer the nicest piece of furniture I own. But only just. I invested in a working desk a few months ago. But nothing will ever rival the Future Perfect couch in my heart.

Categories
Aesthetics Preparedness

Day 308 and Apocalyptic Aesthetics

It’s a pretty open secret that I’m a prepper. And by secret I mean I’ve been quoted in The New York Times and the BBC for being a new kind of “socially acceptable” preparedness aficionado. That basically means I’m not a conspiratorial reactionary but a nice white lady with politics that aligns with the powers that be. I say things like being prepared is the socially responsible thing to do for your community if you are privileged.

I got interested in preparedness because my family has been through a few natural disasters. My brother was in Louisiana during Katrina. My parents have survived a few fire season scares in Colorado. I was in Lower Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy. Watching the power grid go out for ten days in a city like New York changes you.

Now granted I’m still a libertarian and I’m from the mountain west so I’m not too far off the mark of prepper aesthetics. I picked up a lot of shall we say “heritage” skills as a kid with farming, animal husbandry and lots of camping. So it didn’t seem too intimidating to act like a Boy Scout and be prepared. But compared to what the rest of prepper and survivalist universe gets up to I am probably one of its most palatable emissaries.

I’ve been refining some of my longer term preps recently as I’ve been making the transition from being an urban prepper to scouting for a sustainable homestead. That means I’ve been looking for inspiration on what to prioritize. And holy shitballs has the apocalyptic aesthetic gotten even weirder. I read a book called Black Autumn that started pretty normal with lots of practical details about grain milling & food storage. But maybe the the cover should have clued me in.

The damn book ended with, and I am not making this up, a war between illegal Mexican immigrant “gangbangers” and the nice white folk in the Salt Lake City adjacent homestead. It ended up being “operator” porn. If you don’t know what that is read this piece on Black Rifle Coffee and the aesthetics of marketing to conservatives. Americans have a hard on for the military even if they never served.

I’m kind of mortified this is now in my Amazon history. Folks in the analytics department are going to start marketing even more reactionary shit to me. And deservedly because I bought another book called Day 299 (in case you hadn’t noticed I label my shit by the day too) in which some white guy goes from generic conservative “the government is bad” to full blown only alpha male traditionalist reactionary. I’m a third of the way in and I’ve so far gotten exactly zero useful preps out of it. At least the racist operator porn gave me a good tip on a wood fired stove for my fantasy homestead in Montana.

Apparently there is an entire genre of apocalypse fiction and all the books covers are guns, country and God. Which are all things I value too but like let’s tone it down people. Preparedness shouldn’t be the province of one political affiliation. Natural disasters are happening more frequently whether you believe in climate change or not (if you don’t think the climate is changing well you can’t borrow my grain or my rifles). Being a prepper doesn’t mean you are a MAGA, a good ol’ boy, a conspiracy nut or a Christo-fascist neoreactionary. Hell you probably aren’t a blue lives matter bootlicker if you are also a staunch 2A small government type. But the aesthetics sure make it look like it. This Mark Goodwin dude must be really weird in bed.

Everyone needs water, food and shelter. And we’ve been skeptical of FEMA since the X-Files movie so it’s not exactly news that self reliance is critical. So if you write apocalypse fiction please convince your publishers to chill on the imagery. I get that sex sells but the aesthetics are cringe and that’s keeping people from being prepared.

Categories
Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 304 and Higher Resolution

I finally watched the new Dune today. This post probably has spoilers. I liked it a lot even if it breaks no new aesthetic ground. It’s just a higher resolution envisioning of David Lynch. I’m no film critic. I don’t give a lot of thoughts to cinema. I prefer TV. But it’s fascinating to see just how much the Denis Villeneuve version matched it’s predecessor. It’s got the same muscular Christianity that tosses up messiah myths in the desert but this time with Baudrillard’s hyper reality.

It’s fantastic to see really. Dave Bautista is a great aesthetic match for the grotesque petrodollar plutocracy. You love to see it. Timothée Chalamet is a terrific white savior. Zendaya is Pocahontas. Also great gear fetish work too. Apocalypse fashions are functional just like in cyberpunk. But now with water filters!

It’s all a look and I’m so glad the director of the Fifth Element isn’t being asked to break any new ground on his own aesthetic brand. It’s even got pandemic masks baked in! And the best villains are as always environmentalists. And just like Star Wars it’s mostly a movie about trade policy. All our best movies are about money in modernity. End of empire is our favorite romance. The death of empathy is about seeing numbers in humanity because going from authoritarian to communitarian must involve proud patrilineal martial men.

If you walk without rhythm then you won’t attract the worm!”

I felt the same way about Mad Max Fury Road. Everyone was raving about it as an aesthetic achievement and all I could see was that it had simply polished up the mood board of the original. It’s a miracle it got made said the reviews. And I’m like no this seems like the system working as designed.

Of course we get to consume a new hyper reality. We get a better version of our childhood beamed back to us. Also parables about feminism because someone feels guilty about all those princes movies that rotted our brains.

South Park called it ‘memberberies and made fun of the culture of nostalgia. It’s astonishing how much of our current entertainment is just better versions of what we’ve already had. We are so spoiled for choice and it’s all the same.

Baron Harkonnen is still fat and flying over rooms. It’s just all a lot slicker than on the first go. It’s all sexier and smoother and utterly absolutely the same. No wonder none of us can imagine the future anymore. The future’s aesthetics haven’t changed in two decades. We stopped in the aughts and went hard into refinement culture. Skalla the Lindy Man got this aesthetic nuance just right and I feel like I’m only just noticing how much I hate it.

It’s enough to make me want to stop wearing clean lines just as some desperate attempt to break free from the inexorable horizon of the long now. Ben Hunt points out that we’ve broken ourselves off from investing in our future so we never get there.

And it’s all very good. And it’s all well executed. And I enjoy it all. But it’s just a fraction off from being authentically good. It’s not quite the reality you’d hoped for but it’s somehow crisper than you’d imagined. It’s polished and it’s boring. No wonder Gen Gen Z is over all this shit. Crystal clarity in all our media makes the soul despair. I say let’s clutter up the web with financialized jpgs. At least the vibe is different.

Everything else feels decadent and rooted in the cannibal consumption of the late empire’s transition to capitalism. And I mean America not Arrakis. The slice of people commenting on any of this are necessarily removed from the reality of day to day life. My asshole take on shit is just the most removed crap and it’s comical I even take the time to signal it into the abyss. That’s excess labor value in the form of a social class. It wouldn’t be any surprise if we brought on our own apocalypse because we couldn’t face a future with consequences. The spice must flow.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 292 and Television

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.

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Aesthetics Emotional Work

Day 284 and My Birthday

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.