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Aesthetics Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 122 and Soul Delay

There is a line in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition that has stuck with me for years. The context isn’t all that crucial except to know the hero has just taken a long flight.

She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.

Sadly I am not jet lagged, as that would imply international travel which is a context I doubt I’ll have for at least a few more months. But I’m finding soul delay can happen even without jet lag. The separation between one’s body and one’s soul is a rich emotional issue. For the past week or two I feel like I’ve been reeling from a gap between my soul and my body. It came on suddenly, despite all the disparate causes been easy to see coming and not remotely surprising.

The dawning realization that I may not be stuck forever with a chronic illness hasn’t been the unmitigated joy I anticipated. In fact, it’s been fairly miserable realizing that the convenient excuse to keep me from workaholism won’t be an available crutch forever. I’m assessing all the things I take for granted in my life and their myriad benefits and it’s not pretty. It turns out even the most joyful possible goal attainments come with a host of introspection.

And that generally means you can’t lie to yourself. It actually feels a little bit like attaining wealth overnight. All those excuses you used to have about how you’d just pursue the life of your dreams if not for financial limitations? Some of them turn out to be lies you’ve been telling yourself for years. And then how do you feel? It turns out much of your circumstances were self imposed.

Which isn’t to say that I’m finding out I need to make drastic life changes and that I’ve been living a lie. That would actually be easy! It’s more that the sum of dozens of self limiting beliefs need to be assessed, turned over for utility, and discarded or repurposed. Why was I a founder? Why am I married? Why do I pursue attention? All of these are little bits of honesty that are giving me soul delay. Because finding out what I actually want, without the benefit of a circumstance preventing me from achieving my desires, is going to require reconciliation between my soul and my reality.

So right now I feel a kind of emotional jet lag. After intensive work and a significant amount of willpower I am getting what I wanted. I’m getting my health back. But I’m still reeling in my soul from the journey. The cortisol spiked adrenaline of the effort is wearing off. I need to recover from my recovery. My soul needs to reel itself in. But I don’t know when it’s arriving at baggage claim. And I’m so very tired from the effort. So even if I have arrived it doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I hope I can be patient with myself while I wait. It’s been two years so I figure what is another few months?

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Aesthetics Chronicle

Day 116 and Taking Up Space

I take up a lot of space. I spend time on social media because there is so much space you can literally be the President or a celebrity billionaire industrialist and there are still corners of the web you don’t penetrate. There is a lot of room for loudmouths, so much so that even someone like me still has plenty of room. I barely rate on the Elon Musk attention scale. Even when I’m screaming at best I crack into D-list zeitgeist. It’s like the privacy that comes with living in New York City. You can have some notoriety but the web doesn’t care. I like how you can feel alone.

The irony of course is that I think no one is paying attention to me. I think I’m an average Joe nobody that no one ever notices. This despite the fact that I am paid to be an expert in getting attention. No literally I cost a fortune (I’m worth every penny) but I’m somehow convinced I’m invisible personally. I can feel lost in a lonely world where I’m not even sure the people that love me the most can see me. I’m stuck in some lonely portion of my childhood where I felt abandoned so I’m replaying it out now as an adult. It’s not great but I get something from it.

Except this is a fantasy that is not true. I’m not that child anymore and I know how to get attention. I’m not alone. Even when I’m not consciously drawing energy to myself, people do see me. I can simply be myself and be seen. I command attention. It’s who I am.

You always think as a kid you will get some cool superpower like laser eyes or flying but nope you are going to get a super power like public relations or brand marketing. And honestly, when I’m not a self pitying victim I know those to be awesome super powers. You can make money and direct business and politics with those super powers. I just though I’d get something a little more aesthetic you know? It’s dope but also like adult superpowers are a letdown for your inner child.

I just need to remind adult me that I am seen. That even my normal personality not exerting her will force onto the universe is actually still quite visible. I can just exist and I’ll be holding space for myself. And it’s a good space with plenty of room for all of me. And still intimate enough to feel the love around me.

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Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 113 and Competence

I’ve never found it amusing to watch people be incompetent. The fool isn’t funny to me. Television shows with shitty protagonists who can’t do their jobs, and don’t care, make me sad. I don’t find The Office enjoyable. I never understood Arrested Development. I didn’t even attempt It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The shows I gravitate towards are the ones where people want to make good things. Where the competence is the point. Shows like The West Wing, Star Trek, Mad Men, or The Expanse, where striving to be better is either the core virtue or the central tension.

I hate watching dysfunctional workplaces. Shows where the protagonist is fighting against bumbling bureaucracy don’t inspire laughs for me. They make me want to avoid ever being in a large organization. I still fear organizations like Human Resources. The pop culture obsession with being a knowing cynic makes me despair. How is it better to know something sucks, but rather than try to make something better, you laugh about how it all sucks? It’s not fucking funny to me. It’s sad.

I don’t know when America culturally made the transition from believing those at the top had earned it to knowing it’s all a charade but it certainly wasn’t in my lifetime. When I came of age Clinton was already a liar. We knew the history of Vietnam and Watergate so why anyone gave a shit about a blow job was beyond me. The trend only continued with the aftermath of 9/11 and our forever wars. The Obama era seemed like it provided a reprieve for people at least pretending like achievement was a virtue but the backlash was so severe I worry that was actually a fantasy.

I wonder if the “fool” or the jester archetype has become our default aspiration. If entertainment has decided its simply more appealing to play for laughs than the boring tedious reality of building stories around competence don’t get made. We don’t see the inspiration of good work.

Which sucks as being competent feels amazing. Sure I play for laughs and shitpost on social media but I want to assure you that none of that feels as good as doing work well. I don’t care what kind of thing you are making. It can be a meal or a billion dollar company. The satisfaction of competence is deep. No laugh I’ll ever get from a shitpost will ever feed the soul like a real achievement. A sincere creation hits different. Not to say that humor has no plays or that a shitpost doesn’t have virtue (I will and have gone on at length about the creative necessity of shitposting), but that being a fool isn’t the only enjoyment in life. The enjoyments I relish most are where I’ve shown myself to be competent. And I like watching others be competent as well. So please share your accomplishments with me. Even, or especially, the small ones. I think it’s just great.

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Aesthetics Chronicle Startups

Day 99 and Swag

My favorite item of clothing in the pandemic has been a Facebook hoodie. It’s the perfect garment for long days indoors, not too heavy but not too light. It zips so it’s easy to get on and off. It has pockets for stowing my iPhone. It’s got a snuggly fuzzy inside but a smooth cool texture outside. I’m not sure I’ve been more dedicated to a piece of clothing.

Years of living in New York, where dragging dirt and debris in from the city was a real concern has made me a almost compulsive aficionado of “indoor clothes” which were not besmirched by the grime of subways and pavement. My Facebook hoodie remains my default “indoor clothing” top layer. At night I unzip it and place it carefully beside my bed. In the mornings if it is cold I put it back on before starting my day. The chances are good that if you’ve been on a Zoom call with me I’ve been wearing this hoodie. It’s just on screen and a strange affectation for someone that has literally never been a fan of the traditional Silicon Valley boy wonder aesthetic. The only item I have gotten more wear out of is a pair of Gucci boots I’ve owned for 12 years now.

To say that they are very different garments is an understatement. One is a thousand dollars worth of black Italian leather crafted into the Platonic ideal of day boots. They are feminine with tight knee high lines that maintain the slightly militaristic echo that typify the Italian school of fashion. The other is a baggy slouching genderless sack of blue with an embroidered white logo that splits with a zipper tight down the middle between Face and Book.

You would not imagine the owner of one garment was the owner of the other. Even when the tech plutocracy decided it wanted to play with high fashion status games (thanks Marissa) the two stylistic poles never really gained much common ground. Still tech has inspired a significant portion of modern fashion and fashion craves the semiotic power of Silicon Valley. I’m sure Willian Gibson could explain the common lineage but I doubt I have the chops. Nevertheless I do consider both pieces to be emblematic of my personal style. Something about utility I suspect. The two garments are not from entirely different worlds

Ironically I don’t use Facebook anymore (though I still have an account) and I don’t even support what the company has become. So you might think it’s odd I own a piece of swag from the company. I got the hoodie after I had already given up on the place. But I got it from a Facebook employee who I consider to be one of the best humans I have ever known. His name his Dan.

I didn’t ask him if I could write this little remembrance so I won’t give his full name. Thanks to the efforts of one of my investors he was an advisor and investor to one of my startups and was unfailingly the kindest person I had the privilege of working with. On a trip to visit him in Menlo Park he took me to lunch on the Facebook campus. We had tacos. Afterwards as we were walking we passed the swag store. I said that I thought it was a brilliant bit of marketing that they sold hoodies. Pop culture has long cemented the status of the hoodie with both the company and with founders in general. To have a specific Facebook hoodie seemed a powerful talisman filled with irony and hope. Without missing a beat Dan bought me one.

There was no way of knowing at the time, for either of us, that this garment would end up a significant figure in my daily routine. It remains an emotional link to Dan and the support he always showed for me. He never wavered in his belief in me. This is a trait he has demonstrated consistently with those in his life. One particular example is a dear friend of mine who worked at Facebook thanks to his efforts. She is also brilliant and kind and at the time Dan worked with her the victim of a deeply Silicon Valley crisis. The kind you might even associate with tech bros who wear hoodies with logos on them. An irony that is not lost on me. The tech industry truly contains emotional multitudes.

I’d encourage you to inspect the garment in your life that holds the kind of significance and emotional resonance that this hoodie does for me. Fashion exists in even the places we think are furthest from style. Like corporate swag. Like a Facebook hoodie. There is always a story and a reason behind what we wear. Indeed this was a topic I thought I’d make my life’s work when I first stumbled onto the internet. I kept a fashion blog on WordPress maybe starting in 2004 or so. I didn’t end up being a fashion critic. But I still get to blog about clothing if I feel like it.

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Aesthetics Chronicle Finance Internet Culture

Day 89 and The Real Fake Fendi

What is real? Do originals exist? Can we determine the source of creative genesis when we stew in the folklore of cultural memetics? A knockoff has its own reality steeped in the accretion of culture.

I was once was asked by a tourist for direction’s to find “a real fake Fendi” when I lived in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I was honestly stumped by this inquiry. Was there a fake that had inherent realness that other knockoffs did not possess? Was there a vendor who sold the most authentic mimicry of Fendi which the tourist wished to find? I had no clue how to answer. Did they mean the realness one sees on the catwalks overseen by RuPaul? But which kind of realness? The creation that evokes the spirit of its inspiration? A realness so over the top and yet absolutely true to its essence. Or perhaps the blunt direct feedback that no construction no matter how convincing is the original artifact. Is is serving realness? I honestly didn’t know. I just told them Canal was one block north.

But perhaps authenticity isn’t the issue. In drag authenticity is manufactured. In fashions’ knockoff districts the question of authenticity is a layered confect of replication adhering to the aesthetics of the original. In some cases it actually is the original conveniently lost from some faraway inventory count. The real fake Fendi might in fact be real.

I bring this all up because in Illegal.Auction’s second collection we have curated a selection of the most outrageous instances of authenticity being the commodity sold in the NFT space. None of what we have posted are originals. They are all knockoffs. But like the real fake Fendi how can you tell? What makes something original in digital spaces. All is perfectly replicable. And no we have no new answers from Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction either. But maybe you will. You can buy a token of these real fake NFTs. Like the real Fake Fendi realness is in the eye of the beholder.

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Aesthetics Chronicle Internet Culture Media

Day 87 and Information Processing

I occasionally enjoy dropping a deliberately provocative tweet just to see where people will land on rorsach wordings. I particularly like ones that can be read depending on your place in cultural issues haven’t reached consensus. which is exactly why people get angry. I did this on a whim yesterday asking “is listening to audiobooks reading?”

About 70% of folks said yes. 30% said no. But the reasons why were fascinating. The majority probably doesn’t care about semantics (the minority do which I will get to) but a good chunk cares about the connotations associated with how we learn or retain information. Mostly as a function of diversity and inclusion as many folks find reading to be inaccessible for reasons of neurodivergence or focus.

I relate as I don’t process audio easily so prefer subtitles and transcripts. Sometimes I feel bad about this as folks occasionally moralize about the value of mediums I don’t find accessible. There are plenty of things that I can’t engage with or experience in its original form because of disability. I’m just not particularly angry about it. But I am also left with all of the high prestige ways of consuming culture and none of the lowbrow. Like bummer I don’t have podcasts but I still have Dostoyevsky

That’s ultimately the interesting point about asking if reading and listening are similar. What do we consider to be higher processing? And does that matter? Some folks definitely moralized on the issue on. It’s sides. If you retain the information who cares how you got it. And accessibility is its own value. Pop culture is arguably more important because of its accessibility. This is why memes are folk art. They produce a very low loss form of high meaning to content ratio

A third of folks wanted about the definition used. A lot of semantics of information consumption. If you fall into the camp of caring about how we discuss information processing there is an amazing book called the Alphabet and the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image about the transition from image to binary communication and the changes in our neurological structures by a surgeon called and Leonard Schlain.

Like the actual debate about what types of processing is happening and how it affects our structures is worth having. But so much of Twitter boils down to the moral scolds and the rage woke fighting over ideas of worth and assigning value and status. I’d rather discuss how our minds process and that impacts the trajectory of our civilizations.

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Aesthetics Chronicle Finance Internet Culture Media Startups

Day 62 And Who Can Make Art

My ego dislikes debate, but my heart leaps at tension.

Over the weekend, my friend Phil and I decided to make a functional art installation called Illegal.Auction. The premise is simple: we are selling Fungible Tokens (or NFTs) of Culture. 

Unsettled ideas of generation and representations colliding with abstractions like finance are important issues both culturally and practically.

Art is for itself, so who cares either way. A certain dogmatic insistence that “medium is the message” is pervasive in the critiques. Are movies different than books? I don’t think they have anything to do with the price of milk. It reminds me of the classic Annie Hall scene (speaking of artistic intent and harm) where Marshal McLuhan explodes on a chattering group “you know nothing of my work.” Woody Allen’s character concludes the scene if only real life were like this. Well on Twitter you can recreate this scene everyday!

It is funny because commentary is distinct from creation. And a lot of people have takes on McLuhan that he himself doesn’t agree with. But who cares right? Interpretation of art is ostensibly art.

It’s very interesting to see just how angry people get about the worth and value of culture in particular. As if it’s some monstrosity to comment on the abstract financial value of some creation with worth that cannot be extracted.

If it were so easy to make value judgments about art then we would trade it on the Chicago exchange like pork bellies and orange juice. Not that we don’t already sell art and trade it and frankly it has been a massive tension through the history of human creation how we value that work, but now many have decided to insist that art is non-fungible. Not interchangeable on a one to one basis like an apple. And yet we are acting like everything can be valued and traded so easily with NFTs. By making art tradeable on exchanges, we have made some thing inherently non-fungible, fungible.

This is ultimately where Illegal.Auction came from. These conversations are important and transformative. That we choose to represent the tensions with representations of reproductions of jpgs of art is part of the art installation. That it is a functional sale is in inherent to the tension.

There is a part of me that is really worried that because I am not a practicing artist that is paid for work or represented in a gallery, that I don’t have a right to comment on these issues. I am a technologist and I do work in finance and the overlap of disciplines makes this an inter-disciplinary question in my mind. It seems like some people disagree with my right to create art (and certainly the morality of remuneration).

But if we insist that only artists can make art I don’t have any right to make installations remixing software and representations. But I’m not sure anyone reading this is comfortable with that world. I am not.

I think people want there to be simple yes no questions to these things. Is it legal? Did you steal? Is it a transformative remixing of a cultural artifact? Is it worth $1 million? And the truth is is that there is no easy answer to what political system is best or how much some thing is worth. Trillion dollar industries are based around the fact that we don’t have clear answers. Irate commentary doesn’t help any of us understand the infinite questions of worth and creation. It is good to do and helps further understanding but its crucial to remember indignation and moralizing is a function of ego.

Personally I don’t think that wealth has any moral value. I don’t want to have to be wealthy in order to be valuable. Or if a piece of art I make does make money do you have a right to tell me it is objectionable because this isn’t how you make money? I guess you do. Whether you can stop me from doing it is a central questions for the ages and also literally why it is important to create pieces like Illegal.Auction in the first place.

This commentary I think is worth having. Not whether speculative infinite land grabs with financial instruments make you worth more to billionaires. They probably do. That’s fine! I think people are mostly offended by the idea that non-artists can make art. Especially if a transaction takes place. If we had stamped illegal on the jpgs and blocked out NOT ART on them would it have made it better? Conceptually I’m not sure that that’s true and probably reflects the viewer’s own sense of value and worth more than a legal, political or moral reality. Also I personally think it cheapens the point just to make concessions to dogmatic insistence on ownership in a space that isn’t settled because frankly it cannot be.

Much of the narrative and coverage around NFTs is that they delineate ownership, value and origination more cleanly. I’d argue that they are actually having the opposite effect. NFT’s are ripping away edifice and abstractions that we use to assign value and worth. And that makes people uncomfortable.

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Aesthetics Chronicle Politics

Day 45 & Noblese Oblige

With great power comes great responsibility” is a comic book classic known as the Peter Parker principle. If you are bestowed with gifts, you must gift them back to your community. Noblese Obliege or “nobility obliges” suggests that nobility comes with a responsibility to fulfill obligations to the people who guarantee your status.

This sounds like a social good, and sure it anchors all the great heroic narratives of our modern age, but it appears to be unraveling in modernity. It used to be that we believed the morally good are the ones with gifts, if you weren’t wealthy it was because you didn’t deserve it. It was a bit of a religious and heroic tautology. But it worked! The nobles and the superheroes felt an obligation to their subjects insofar as publicly demonstrating their inherent goodness was crucial to demonstrating their nobility.

A key component of noblese oblige was showing off moral worth by giving to the people without the insistence that the people be inherently good. The people didn’t need to be worthy to get anything. Being worthy was the job of the nobility not the peasants. Which meant that all gifts from nobility to peasants were inherently gratuitous. No one deserves to be given gifts. Gifts were bestowed at random and in significant largess.

I’d suggest the reason our institutional trust is breaking down is not because we are wising up to inequality, but because the narrative arc of nobility living up to its responsibilities have broken down. America’s first robber baron class understood this with their grand social gifts of libraries, parks and endowments. Some of our Billionaires still do. But we no longer feel the gifts match the obligations. No matter how much this new nobility gifts, the rabble is still pissed.

Maybe it’s the insistence on making charity go to worthy causes. Or welfare go to people that deserve it. That is ass backwards. The nobility are supposed to be good. The peons with outstretched arms never had any worth to begin with. If they did then they would definitionally be noblese oblige too. You can’t ask everyone in the system to be good, moral, and true. That’s fucking exhausting. Even Christianity got that sin was so encompassing that literally only God could be expected to be without it. Probably why we used to let nobility get away with bad behavior. That is fine as long as they did their part. The prodigal son got shit without deserving it. That was the moral of the story.

The trouble with a time that has broken with historical arcs of goodness is that now no one is nobility or peasantry. No one is noble or good. Which means nobody deserves anything they get. Which is about as close to the war of all against all as I can imagine. Hobbes would be pleased.

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Aesthetics Chronicle Media

Day 43 and The Freeze

I’ve been watching the television adaption of Snowpiercer. So I’m delighted to have the polar vortex collapse that is chilling most of American dovetail so well with my current media aesthetics. I’ve always loved the cold.

Colorado has been in the single digits all day and will be below freezing for the weekend. I had to drive out to a doctor’s office for some treatments and was terrified I’d slip off the road at every intersection. As the sun slipped behind the flatirons a gloomy grey quickly turned into a pitch back snowstorm.

The aesthetics of disaster and apocalypse generally lean more towards heat and explosions but the subgenre of extreme cold holds our attention. Day After to Tomorrow, Snowpiercer, The Revenant, The Thing, The Grey and many other freezing fear movies capture an aesthetic.

The natural fear of cold isn’t just about freezing to death. Much of the claustrophobic feeling of cold crisis movies comes from isolation, loneliness and it’s resulting paranoia. It’s why the genre does so well when mixed with horror or action. Game of Thrones regularly intoned the threat of winter.

Freezes typically operate on bleak but wide open spaces like arctic tundra or within the confines of a station or refuge that quickly closes in on its people. Scenes of mayhem and violence come out of close quarters that are supposed to guard you from the even more fearsome freeze right outside your door.

All of this conditioning from film and television makes a weather condition like a polar vortex collapse take on a bit of an edge. I indulged in my pre-storm prepping shopping to make sure we has enough beef for stew and chickens for roasting. But that’s partially ritual. A sacrifice to the gods that says I am worthy to survive the bitter cold that is coming. It’s almost superstitious. But it’s also joyful. Humanity against the odds of Mother Nature. We’ve developed rituals and technology to live in the worst conditions.