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.

Categories
Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 276 and Magical Thinking

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.

Categories
Chronic Disease

Day 194 and House

The downward pressure I was discussing yesterday is taking me out for a few days. My doctors are torn between whether it’s the virus I’ve been prescribed some exciting news drugs for, or if the exciting news drugs are simply too much for my body to handle. The minimum viable dose in pharmaceuticals can be tricky. Too much and you kill the virus and it’s host. Too little and the suffering continues on.

I was watching the tv show House last night. It seemed like an appropriate show to rewatch as when I first came across the show I wasn’t myself an idea “House” patient felt extremely soothed by it. Would I make to watch a doctor that gets to the heart of odd diagnostics? Who instead of saying “well the tests are normal” says “these tests don’t help us explain the symptoms” and carries on? Why yes I would.

I’m lucky to have a number of doctors who do the same. It makes watching the show enjoyable as I’ve sat through countless diagnostics meetings and drug experiments that sound exactly like the ones on the show. I recognize tests and treatments. I’ve been put on several of the drugs just for the two episodes I watched last night.

We are dosing down on the antivirals for a few days. I’ve been told to get some rest and not to add in any stresses that I can avoid. While I don’t think writing is stressful I do think checking off the box for my daily essay would feel like a relief. So I’m doing that a bit early and keeping it short. If you are inclined to send good energy my way or you are from a tradition that values prayer I would appreciate being in yours.

Categories
Emotional Work

Day 148 and Ted Lasso

As I’ve written about before, I like shibboleths and secret codes. And Ted Lasso is my go to show for the language of emotional empathy.

It’s touched a nerve for a certain corner of the internet. The folks yearning for positivity. It shouldn’t have worked. And yet the show’s curiosity opens up your heart. It was a tonic for a tough year. So much of its magic is about learning to accept others as they are and love yourself for you.

Jamie Tartt: “Coach, I’m me. Why would I want to be anything else?”
Ted Lasso: “I’m not sure you realize how psychologically that is

I’ve written about the concept of psychological safety in building partnerships, most recently in venture capital. If you have a desire to improve your bonds with others try Ted Lasso. It will teach you much about feelings you never knew you had.

Whenever someone special is going through something in their life or if I just really love them I’ll rewatch Ted Lasso. I’m having an afternoon off and doing just that.

Categories
Emotional Work

Day 133 and Emotional Shibboleths

When I was a kid I was terrified of drinking. A family member went to daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and my reaction to it was “I hope I never become an addict because this seems like a huge time commitment.” Little did I know that it’s one of the best possible uses of one’s time! As a kid I had not yet been initiated into the secret code words of emotional work.

AA and Al-Anon are filled with shibboleths. So many phrases (don’t “should” on yourself) or or even a single word (triggered) that I heard in daily life turned out to be passwords for the initiates into emotional work.

It’s not just AA that uses a these types of passwords to show that you too have committed to to either program work or some other system of working on yourself. Inner child shows that you’ve done family systems or trauma work. Speaking of mindfulness generally means you have committed to a meditation practice.

Once you commit to therapy, performance coaching or program work (which isn’t just for alcoholics Al-Anon is for anyone) you will find yourself noticing the little hints that someone else is also on a path to working though their self limiting beliefs. Wait that was another shibboleth! Entire television shows like Bojack Horsemen and Ted Lasso light up the minds of folks on this path. My favorite quote from Ted Lasso is a classic framing of self love work

Coach, I’m me. Why would I want to be anything else?” Jaime

“I’m not sure you know how psychologically healthy that actually is”. Ted Lasso

If you ever find me using phrasing you don’t recognize it’s quite likely it’s because much to the chagrin of my teenage self I now know that this is the best possible use of an hour a day to work on oneself.

Categories
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.

Categories
Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 108 and Energy Vampires

Recently I’ve been watching a mockumentary about vampires living in Staten Island called What We Do in The Shadows. It’s surprisingly funny for what you’d imagine is a set of basic gags. My favorite running joke is a type of vampire called an Energy Vampire. Everyone in the house is your standard drinks blood loved forever vampire except “Colin Robinson” who is an energy vampire. He lives forever by draining the life force out of people. It’s the most common type of vampire.

As you probably guessed Colin Robinson is meant to remind you of vampires you probably have in your own life. The show runs heavily off “boring” jokes but the real kicker is how energy vampires are perpetual victims. Colin Robinson is always sucking you in with pity and apathy. Energy vampires prey on your emotions.

As you might expect they have an episode about social media and Colin Robinson gluts himself on the low quality but copious amounts of energy available. There is also a troll joke. It’s pretty funny because it rings true. One accidentally viral tweet and suddenly your energy is being sapped by a crowd of vampires. The extremely online eventually pick up some Van Helsing skills to keep their energy from being drained. I like to think I rarely spend time online without my garlic, holy zingers and reply through the heart stakes.

The real issue is when you discover you’ve got an energy vampire in your real life. I recently realized someone was draining my life force. I thought they were a friend but a set of misunderstandings I finally realized they’ve been sucking me dry for years. They are pretty good energy vampires as I actually thought I liked them quite a bit. It took one overdrawing of my energy to wake me up to the reality that their tactics exhaust me. With the energy vampire metaphor you can enjoy a laugh as to whether this behavior is malicious or not. Energy vampires need to feed! But the end result is you feeling shitty.

As much as Colin Robinson jokes amuse me I do think I need to keep my energy vampire away. Their last feeding left me feeling tired and obsessive. I let the shitty feeling they induced in me upset other people close to me. And that’s just fucked up. Then energy vampires get even more energy. So I’m going to try to keep them at bay. I don’t need to prolong the life of someone feeding on me and I certainly don’t need to waste my boy immortal life as someone else’s emotional food.

Categories
Chronicle Media Politics

Day 83 and Tribalism

For what are probably obvious reasons (a mass shooting inside a grocery store a few miles from my home) I’ve been trying to keep off of political media the past day or so.

I’ve mostly succeeded but it’s a challenge when my primary relaxation space, Twitter, is saturated with commentary on a topic I don’t want to discuss with anyone that isn’t also living through the trauma personally. It’s not even that I don’t want to hear from folks it’s more that even if you have had a similar tragedy in your community your reaction may not be the same as ours. Every trauma is unique even when cultural circumstances may not be.

I bring this up only because I realized today when a new app claiming to analyze your news bubble filter went viral I didn’t know what folks “thought that I thought” about politics. The app said I was 100% leftist in my filter. My immediate reaction was “bullshit” in that I probably tweet once a day “as a libertarian” and regularly discuss my views on small government. So I asked folks what direction they thought I leaned. There is not a lot of consensus so far.

I follow and am followed by a very diverse group of people. I probably follow everything from alt-right fanatics to avowed socialists. I socialize with bro-science masculine fitness folks and queer chronic disease and disability advocates. So I’m not surprised I am hard to place. If you are a trad life carnivore on a homestead your opinion on my politics is probably pretty different than if you are a healthcare for all anti-ableism urbanite. I work with Silicon Valley folks and venture capitalists and the New York media establishment. Finance and the press corp are not generally politically aligned so unsurprisingly those two groups may also think I’m in a very different place on the spectrum. To someone at war with the media I may look left wing. To someone in the media I may look right wing. And yes this comes out in the wash as centrist.

The reality is that I have fairly nuanced views and your take on my leanings may say more about how much you like me and thus how much you want me to agree with you. This is for a nice reason. We tend to like the people we agree with more.

So it’s possible if you want me to like you then you may assign me views that are more aligned with yours than I am in reality. Don’t fret though we can strongly disagree and I will still like you. If we have fun together on social media I don’t need you to agree with me on social or political issues. I spend time on social precisely because I do like all kinds of people and I want to enjoy that incredible diversity of humanity. And we are all here because in the end the only thing that keeps the loneliness at bay is each other.

Categories
Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 67 and Virality

There are few more satisfying feelings in the world than seeing your emotions mirrored back to you. It’s what makes us fall in love, form communities, build anything that takes the work of more than one person. I’m not sure that anything matters more to humans than feeling seen.

Feeling seen is valuable. Finance knows it, marketers know it, fashion designers know it and the algorithms really know it. A switch flips when the outside world mirrors us back. The cold reality of being atomistic individuals dissolves just a little with the prospect that the other might not be so far away after all

This is why going viral on social media is such an ecstatic feeling for people. Being mirrored at mass scale is beyond pleasure and pain. Virality is existential. This fact is not lost on Silicon Valley and various expatriates of the culture and even current citizens question the morality. Creating virtual existential experiences feels wrong to us. And I can’t argue that the consequences of virality hasn’t done significant damage to the fabric of civilization. Facebook has more blood on its hands than a small government. But I’m not sold that synthetic experiences are morally worth less than natural ones. Social media replicates religious and cultural experiences but whether it’s “worse” than the other existential experiences is a bit like questioning if opium or fentanyl is worse because plants are morally superior to chemistry labs. The effect is the same more or less. Sure the dosing is what gets you but arguing scale gets you into a “good of the many or good of the one” debates and I’m not the crew of the Enterprise or Spock.

I can tell you that it’s probably best to be cautious about anything that can get you hooked if you know you are an addict. I’ve gone viral on Twitter several times in the past week and probably going on double digits now in the last year. Each time I get a new appreciation for how much it can feel like a god has messed with your reality. If it goes poorly you feel like you got hit by a bolt from the blue. Even if it goes well you worry if maybe Aries has decided to make you his tool. I’m a Christian so I’m no stranger to the feeling of surrender to a higher power, but watching a machine algorithm play like the left hand of God in your life is fucking weird.

By Silicon Valley standards I’m a minor clerical authority in some backwater. I’ve been initiated into the rights but I’m not close to the Vatican or Mecca. Being swept up in the miracle of virality makes some amount of sense to me and I appreciate the benefits of status that it confers. But I know it’s a ritualized way of bringing us closer to the divine that’s not about the individual and is ultimately about the institution. Fortunately I’m also a Calvinist so I have very few illusions about my place in the experience. I’m still a sinner and whether I’m damned or not hasn’t got much to do with human rituals. But I’m not immune to the awesome either.

So if you are inclined to use social media be careful what weight you assign to your actions and words. At any moment a miracle facilitated by the rites of machines can and will occur. I made a stupid joke about a monarchy in decline and a television show about a witch in a massive universe of superheroes. But 31,000 accounts decided to like it and a million discrete instances of it were produced to “others” willing to mirror it back to me. Which is about as stupid a thing as I can imagine happening and also as close to the random miraculously nature of God as I can possibly imagine. Just don’t read too much into it or your faith might have an existential crisis as well.

Categories
Chronicle Politics

Day 48 and Rush

My high school years had some ups and downs, which is how I ended up in Manhattan as an 18 year old, making up credits from the year I dropped out. I had an interest in news, so I talked my way into a job at a talk radio station 77WABC.

I’d take the 1 train down from 116th St to Penn Station and l, without even going outside, went up into one of the Penn Plaza towers where I screened calls for the block of radio programs that took the afternoon and evening hours. Some of the programs were pretty shoddy “left wing white guy vs right wing white guy” and announcing for New Jersey Devils hockey games.

But the marquee talent was Rush Limbaugh.

In the back of the rabbit warren of sales team cubicles and behind the other recording studios for B-list talent (which at the time included Sean Hannity), Rush had his own recording studio. And yes, the golden microphone was real. It stunk of smoke. His producer had somehow struck a deal with building management to allow him to smoke his cigars when the rest of the station had to plod down to 34th street for a cigarette.

The funny part of him having his own private recording studio is that Rush had already moved to Florida. Sure he recorded at the station, but even at the time he was enough of a star that he maintained multiple private studios. Such was the power of the EIB Network. Dittoheads had made Rush a fortune even before 9/11 and the rise of the neoconservatives. I can still recite the ditties. I can hear Rush recording his commercials. The way he would say Ruth Chris Steaks will stay with me till I die.

I have complex feelings about having spent time in talk radio. I didn’t stay long, I saw the money wasn’t particularly good in media and I decided a college degree was worth pursuing. Conservative chit chat hadn’t yet fully diverged from the overall skepticism of mainstream media into its own behemoth yet. 6 o’clock news on broadcast probably still mattered. Facebook hadn’t been invented. People got their hard news from real television and the side opinions of grumpy white men hadn’t fully turned to grievance culture yet. Sean Hannity was still partners with Alan Colmes.

Seeing what Rush Limbaugh wrought on America has been hard. I don’t doubt that without him January 6th wouldn’t have happened. Trump might not have been president.

But without Rush and my experience in talk radio maybe I wouldn’t have studied economics. Maybe I wouldn’t have pursued business. I might have stayed a comfortable Silicon Valley liberal. But spending my afternoon talking to the weirdos that call into talk radio was an experience I value. I had come from crunchy hippie comfortable white upper class towns like Palo Alto and Boulder. I hadn’t ever considered the kind of politics that bred Republicans and subsequently Tea Party reactionaries and eventually Trumpist alt righters. A lot of ground got covered in the years.

I doubt Rush (or Sean) would have liked where my politics landed. Libertarians are frowned on in “real” conservative circles. Probably worse than the kind of pleasantly socialist left wing politics I had when I arrived.

I hope no one takes any of this as affirmation or justification or even acceptance of what talk radio culture birthed. I’m not even sure how to feel about Rush Limbaugh’s passing. Not that we were close, heck I doubt he knew my name. I was a teenager doing shit work and I spent much more time on other programs. But I still had to take the afternoon off as social media rushed to rejoice in his death. Even knowing the scope of his legacy I just couldn’t take it. My life path might have looked very different without encountering the EIB Network.