I’m a cryer. I hear the swell of trumpet from the Star Trek theme song and I’ll start welling up. I’ll read a poignant passage in a cheesy airplane novel and my chest will tighten with emotion. My eyes will tear up when I tell a friend that I’m proud of them. I’ve found myself sniffling over a set of emotional text messages. I love a good cry.
I think I’m a cryer because I bottle up my emotions otherwise. I’ll share feelings in public but the real deep down core emotions are harder for me to express openly. The fear and hurt and sadness that make up the core of my emotional unconscious take some coaxing and a lot of psychological safety to get out into the open.
The more I see the negatives that comes with keeping emotions bottled up the more I appreciate ways to let them out. If it is a good cry then I’ll take whatever brings it on. If you need something stronger than I highly recommend a light dose of Internet emotions. Just don’t let it overwhelm. Ease into the shallow end with an anonymous shitposting account first.
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 love writing to others. I had some pen pals as a child but it wasn’t until as a teenager that the Internet gave me the chance to correspond with practically whomever I liked. And it’s been one of the great joys of my life to reach out to others for conversation.
I developed a habit of writing to journalists, authors and academics whose work I admired. Many of them maintained email addresses and personal websites even back before social media. If you are ever worried that someone will find it odd or unsettling to receive a note from you, don’t fret. I can share that if you are polite and sincere outreach is almost universally appreciated. Most people want to be seen. If you feel you’ve seen someone then you should share it with them. It’s a kindness to you both.
While I particularly like short form correspondence like Twitter, there is no substitute for a more in-depth and layered letter. I’m personally a fan of the threaded twenty response deep email chain. I think of it as like the letter writing of our forefathers. Maybe it’s a bit less satisfying to our heirs than discovering a box of letters but I’ve got a fantasy that the Ken Burns of the future will make excellent use of email and chat logs.
If you aren’t convinced of the benefits of reaching out through writing feel free to test it out on my before you write a letter to your favorite author or thinker. We just might become pen pals.
I have been playing a mobile massively multiplayer online game for a couple of years. It’s a pay-to-play game that mashes together every mechanic and trope into one stupidly expensive pile of unoriginal comfort. I absolutely love playing it. It’s called Lords Mobile. It is entirely worth playing if you appreciate the craftsmanship and conversion marketing. It doesn’t gave any unique creativity but that isn’t the point. It’s just perfectly executed to be an engaging game. I cannot recommend this game enough if you want a soothing “everything and the kitchen sink” social game.
Because it asks so little of the gamer intellectually, the appeal of the game is in the community of people. You work in teams of 100 called a guild. This can be a very low key camaraderie situation or the kind of bond where people spend tens of thousands of dollars to compete together in their chosen hobby. Needless to say if you are in the group that really spends real money and time you get to see human nature nakedly on display. It gets wild.
Ive seen guilds explode because a guy was cheating on his girlfriend with another player. That mistress then destroyed 30,00 worth of gear and destroyed the guild. I’ve seen people steal maxed out gaming accounts worth over $100,000 with no recourse. Just poof you trusted someone with your keys. Ooops!
And today I saw three dudes try to convince their guild that the leader of the group was stealing from the guild because she’d allegedly been in sexual relationships with all of them. It doesn’t sound like she stole anything from anyone but they resented that they had spent money on gifts for her account. The guild didn’t believe the dudes. It’s their problem if they want to buy gifts was the general consensus.
The level of human drama is probably even more enthralling than the game. And the game is designed to be very engaging. I don’t watch reality television but I have to imagine it has a similar “oh no she didn’t” spirit. If you enjoy watching the depths of sorrow and the purity of genuine human connection it’s worth a try. Just be warned that you may become emotionally attached. I definitely have. I’ve met some dear friends in these guilds. But I’d recommend you not give anyone your credit card. Or if you do don’t go whining about it to me.
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.