Friday, May 28, 2021

Will Androids Dream of Electric You?

There is a writer whose name I can not remember and whose work I can not find, but I have been thinking about him a lot recently. He was not actually a writer. He was some sort of business analyst and what he did was start compiling information about his life on a blog and then each year he would put together an annual report in the style of what he did for work. 

So the final report would be like: 650 Diet Cokes, with a trend line increasing in Q3 & Q4. If I remember right, he correlated his increased trips to the gym in Q1 & Q2 with the anticipation of summer in Q3, with a steep drop off in Q4. That kind of thing. 

In one of the years he did this reporting, his father died. That was the one that I remember most, because that was when he worked on quantifying the existential. Therapist visits, moods. He tried to tried to look backward and figure out what had made his father a good father; he tried to sum it up in charts and graphs and it led him to explore the question of what it even means to live a life and how one can measure a life well lived. It was interesting work and I’ve always been peeved that I didn’t think to do it.

Man, I really need to find that guy’s stuff because it was great.

I’ve been thinking about him lately because of some stuff I’m doing at work, but also because it seems like the sort of project we should all do from time to time. We should be able to buy a workbook at Target that we just fill out, or maybe a piece of software that’s free to download from the US Census Bureau. 

I keep a journal. I call it a “bullet journal” even though I’m not one of the crazy bullet journal people (watch one of their videos on Youtube; they’re nuts) and I also write this blog (or rather, I have started writing it again) and I also keep a time log at work, just a simple spreadsheet where I track each time block of my day and make notes about what I was doing. All of this is in addition to whatever creative work I’m out putting, like the silly daily drawings I post to Instagram (@standard_kink) or the actual writing I do. Creative work, be it fiction, or photography, or painting, is always a pretty good record of where you’re at emotionally and intellectually during the period when you’re creating it. I know a lot of poets who would argue with me about that, but they can go write their own blogs for no one to read, thank you very much.

My point is simply that without meaning to holistically, I have documented my life extensively. Add into that my camera roll (I’m one of those jerks who takes pictures of interesting looking bugs and I love a well cracked window) and — let’s get Big Tech about this — my internet history and my debit card spending, and you have a pretty good sense of me as a person. Obviously this is not new thinking. Amazon and Google figured this out a long time ago, it’s the basis of their business models: by learning what a person does, you can figure out what they will want to do next. And they’re good at it. That’s why people think that Facebook is listening to them through their cell phones. The reality is that would be a less efficient way of learning about people because you’d have to sift through how they present themselves (ie: the person they want others to think they are) when it is far easier to simply watch what they do (ie: who they really are). 

If you’re not like me and creating your own documented life (which, again, I have ended up doing mostly by accident and via accumulation), then when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil, the most accurate biography of you will be a long string of code living inside a server in a data warehouse owned by Amazon.

We like to think that our lives will be remembered by the loved ones we leave behind, and to a degree that is true; in bits and pieces of ever decaying memory we will live on for a generation or two. There is a novel I can’t remember the name of where when people die, they all go live in the same afterlife city until the last living person forgets about them, then they just pass out of existence entirely. They’re walking around the afterlife city and then one day *poof* they disappear because no one living remembers them anymore. I wonder how that would work with a data farm. Would it be enough if Facebook remembers you for eternity? Because we all know that Facebook never forgets.

When the computers eventually gain sentience, I wonder if they will be able to read the code of our lives and know what we were like. 

I know this post probably sounds like I’m leading up to the revelation that I’m dying, but that’s not the case. I’ve just been thinking on that tension between what we believe about ourselves and what is objectively true about the lives we lead. It’s that old chestnut about how we judge ourselves based on intention, but we judge others based on outcome. It seems like in reality, everything is outcome, but we aren’t very good at figuring out what that means. We should probably find ways to get better at that.




Thursday, May 27, 2021

Tips On Not Buying A Decorative Owl Statue.

Like many people, I spent a lot of Quarantine trying to make my home more comfortable. This was no small task for several reasons. I had only lived here about five months when the lock down started and when I’d moved here I’d done so with all my belongings packed into my little 4-door hatchback. It was me and a cat and some backpacks filled with clothes and books. And that was it. In some ways it was the culmination of a decade spend slowly and deliberately shedding things and slimming down my life. It is possible that when I got here to Monterey I was living as light as I ever will (though I do still harbor the secret ambition to just live out of a backpack, but more on that some other time).

The problem with having only an economy-car’s worth of things though is that it makes the actually-living part somewhat difficult. For instance: nowhere to sit. That first weekend I bought a couch that came in a box and inside of a couple weeks I had a Craigslist kitchen table and a microwave and soon after that a TV and some bookcases. But that was about it those first few months.

One weird thing to know is that I live in an absurdly GIGANTIC apartment. The cost of modern housing being what it is, I have learned not to complain about this, but it is one of those odd ironic curve balls that life throws sometimes. I work for a public university that occupies a decommissioned Army base. I live in the old Army housing, which means that they don’t have studio apartments or anything (because the army had no need for that sort of thing), so I live alone in a two bedroom apartment designed for a military family. When I got the job here I told the housing people I just wanted the smallest, cheapest thing they had, they said, “Sure thing; it’s a 2-bedroom with a garage and a balcony.” God has a sense of humor.

So those first few months this place was pretty bare. A friend of mine called it ‘The Empty Place.”

If you’re into the aesthetic version of minimalism (which I kind of am, but that is really a secondary part of it for me), then you’ve no doubt seen the simple clean lines of white and gray rooms on Pinterest. Always with beautiful old wood floors and great light. Open concept floor plans and lofty ceilings. Kind of Frank Lloyd Wright crossed with the star ship Enterprise sort of look, but with more plants. Well my apartment is not that. Wall to wall cheap-ass carpet in most of the rooms. Old wood kitchen cabinets the color of wet cardboard. One living room wall is unreasonably long. The whole place is just damn weird. Bad design. Roman Mars would be very unhappy with this apartment.

I put my brain to it and tried to figure out how to make this a pleasant home without filling it with a bunch of crap … then Quarantine came along and things got … strange.

Like many people, I was forced to spend so much time here that I noticed every weird uneven-ness in the walls. I noticed every piece of crap joinery on the door frames. The place began to annoy me and rather than feeling like a minimalist, I felt like someone who didn’t know how to make a home, like someone who didn’t know what to put on the walls. And that isn’t actually me. So I went about fixing it. I bought another couch in a box, delivered by a singular intrepid UPS driver. I started my little window sill herb gardens. I bought some rungs and had ordered prints of pictures from my various travels. I even bought a cool black minimal desk for my living room. Throw pillows. Guest bedding. Lamps. I briefly even considered purchasing a decorative owl statue (Did not but it because it didn’t do anything but look like an owl).

By anyone else’s standards, this place is still pretty bare, but I think it is pretty about it.

One time I read an article about the way fancy restaurants and bars are designed and decorated. The guy in the article explained, “people love restaurants because the kitchens are practical and simple, but even better is the sense of plenty: lots of wine, lots of candles.” That made an impression on me and I wrote it down in the Notes app on my phone.   

Simple, but with a sense of plenty.

I guess that is what I have tried to do here, but I still feel weird about it because even though I am still mostly surrounded by things I care about, I do still feel like I could get rid of most of them in a heartbeat. So my minimalist brain shouts at me, “If you can live without them at all, then you should get rid of them now!”

A few months into Quarantine, I realized that all I really needed to live in this apartment is a mattress and a bar stool (the kitchen has a counter bar) and that's it. So why do I have all this other stuff???

The part of me that wants to live out of a backpack also wants to throw out the couches and the rugs and the lamps and the throw pillows. Most days it is a challenge not to over-purge and throw out my flatware. I’m not kidding. I have one set of bamboo utensils. Why do I need more than one knife, one fork, one spoon?

The answer of course is: other people. 

What kind of life are you designing for yourself when the only place to sit in your entire phone is on your one bar stool? It’s a life that doesn’t have anyone else in it. And I know that I would like this life to have other people in it. The loneliness of Quarantine has taught me that. 

Even though I only NEED a mattress and a bar stool, I don’t WANT the life that would create for me. I want a life where I host fucking dinner parties. Right now I could host a small one, but only because I have a table and chairs and haven’t thrown out my flatware yet. Now I just need the people. That part of life is slowly beginning to happen now that we are poking our heads out of our homes like suspicious meerkats.

It isn’t about the stuff, or the lack of it, not at this point in my life anyway. It’s about simplicity with a sense of plenty. The simplicity part I have locked down, now I have to work on the sense of plenty. And that is the work of a life.




Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Let’s Talk About Text, Baby!

I’ll be honest here, I’ve been in something of a creative slump for quite awhile now. 2019 was a hard year for me personally and I’m not great at writing my way through adversity. So I didn’t get a lot written. Then 2020 … I had such high hopes as 2020 started. The — you know — there was some more adversity. The anxiety and isolation of the pandemic did not do much for me creatively. I did some stuff, I still made some things, but nothing that was worth anyone’s time.

Now as we are beginning to return to a world filled with interesting and inspiring things, I have been getting prepared. In much the same way that I have been trying to get my body ready again for the world, I have been trying to get my creative brain back in gear again as well. That is part of the reason I have started writing this here little blog again. I know that no one reads it, but I have never really written it to be read. I’ve always written it just for the writing of it. This is the mental equivalent of going to the gym. I just have to do it. I have to rebuild a daily writing practice and I have to reacquaint myself with the simple little joys of typing words on this keyboard. 

It has always seemed odd to me that a writer has to be an idea-haver and then a kind of story structure architect, someone with the loose whimsy to think up people out of nothing, but then also someone expected to have the self-discipline to sit down and write every day, but then also someone who has the dispassionate bloodlessness to slash and edit their way back through the thick damp word jungle that they themselves grew and tended. It is an odd way to exist. You can barely blame writers for having the reputation of being prodigious drinkers. It is a weird way to spend one’s time and life.

And I have been wildly unsuccessful at it. At least lately.

And yet, here I am on a Wednesday morning before work, typing away. Even when there is no inspiration in the fingertips, it is important to still type away. 

And I have  a few ideas. A precious few, but ideas nonetheless. I’ve been trying to tend to them like the sad, constantly dying herb garden I’ve been trying to grow since the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve had about the same success creating as I’ve had gardening, but the lack of success is not the same as failure; failure is giving up, everything else is just learning.

The other day I read a poem that I liked and it has been stuck in my mind for a while. I have been turning it around like a skillfully cut diamond, trying to appreciate the craft of it. This is what I used to always be doing. It feels good to be doing it again.


It is hard for me to dive back into long narrative writing, which was always my home for most of my life. So I have been looking at these smaller things lately. One can produce a small collection of poems in a weekend if one is properly energized. I’m not saying they will be good poems, but I have never concerned myself with that sort of thing. 

And I have a three day weekend coming up.

And I have my first late-pandemic out-of-state trip just days after that. 

And I have hope that those things will produce ideas.

And that those ideas might produce words.

And that those words might become text.

And that that text might become something called “writing” and then I will hold that writing above my head and proclaim, “Behold, I am a writer again!’

And then maybe if I say it, I will feel like it again.




Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Memory Hole Mindset.

One day someone is going to write the definitive Covid-19 book. It will be big and heavy and heavily footnoted, meticulously researched. We are all going to buy it and none of us will actually ever finish reading it. The author will hit all the morning shows and all the news shows and all the late night shows and Trevor Noah will ask her, “So what should we have done differently?”

That’s the part that I know will make me angry all over again. Because there isn’t going to be anything new. There aren’t going to be any revelations, not really. We should have worn masks earlier, we shouldn’t have worried so much about disinfecting our groceries.

But Trevor will nudge her a little more, “Let’s imagine that you run the world in January 2020, but you get to know everything you know now …”

She won’t want to go there, but she will and she’ll say that we should have done all the things we know that we should have done: that we could have contained the virus in a couple of months if we’d actually shut the country down. If we had done what they did in South Korea where the government was delivering food to people’s doors. If we had done what they did in New Zealand and just sent people gobs of money to stay home. That we could have suppressed it by limiting people’s movements, by contact tracing their movements using cell phone data. That the NSA should have been involved. We should have had testing mobiles driving up and down every street in America like ice cream trucks. That we should have shut down every single Target and Walmart in the country. That we could have been reasonably safe in about two months. That we could have opened schools again by the summer of 2020, but it would have meant keeping bars closed.

“Why do you think we didn’t do that?” Trevor will ask thoughtfully.

She’ll say something about the American character. About the tradition of individualism in America. About the fact we are actually a libertarian country, we just don’t know it.

Then Trevor will pause and say, “So we’re assholes?”

And she’ll laugh, but then sheepishly agree. Then Trevor will throw it to a commercial.

As we begin to return to something like life, I think that we will collectively do everything we can to never have to talk about Covid again. We aren’t going to want to talk about all the ways we failed and why. We aren’t going to have any of the hard conversations about people’s behaviors. We’re going to want to put it all behind us and I understand that inclinations, but I think it is the wrong one.

Where I work the process is beginning to return workers back to face-to-face work and while I am happy about that, I have coworkers who do not want to go back. And why would they? The commutes? The cramped little work spaces? Being around other people? Not being around their kids or their dogs throughout the workday? I completely understand why someone would want to continue working from their kitchen table in their PJs. What has been weird though is that the management class keeps creeping right up to the line of saying, “Well, you CAN’T do your job from home!” 

The problem of course is that these jobs have been getting done from home for more than a year. But we have not collectively LEARNED that. It has not become something that is universally understood as true. In the rush to forget all that we have experienced in the last year, we are leaving behind the lessons of the last year.

That concerns me because it also means that we are not going to address the collective trauma of the last year. This has been hard for everyone and hard in different ways and it really seems like we should all just get a month off over the summer to clear our heads and get our shit together, but that insn’t going to happen either.

I fear that when this is all said and done, we will have learned nothing.




Monday, May 24, 2021

Limiting Factors.

I have been thinking a lot about traveling. As we can see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel, the very idea of traveling has come roaring back into my consciousness. I already have a trip booked with some friends NEXT WEEK! I am very excited. That trip kind of fell into my lap though because someone else organized it. By next Friday I will be sitting on the shore of a little lake outside Bellingham Washington, probably drinking a beer, soaking my feet in the cold cold water and thinking deep, deep thoughts. It is going to be great!

That will be an unusual trip because left to my own devices, I don’t usually take relaxing chill-out trips. I tend to take random wander-around-and-look-at-stuff trips. Last week I was making a list of the places I would still like to go wander around and look at stuff. I set some parameters: I focused on domestic destinations because it feels like international travel will still be sort of weird for awhile. Destinations also had to be somewhat reasonable. For instance, I can’t reasonably go hike the Pacific Crest Trail because that takes months and I have a job. However, I do want to see Great Sand Dunes National Park and that is reasonable because I have family in Colorado. For years I’ve wanted to go to Pittsburgh because I love bridges and I want to see the Cathedral of Learning. If I find cheap enough tickets, I could probably do that trip in three or four days. I’ve never seen Redwood National Park and it is a seven hour drive from where I live, so I could reasonably make that happen, but I’m not sure if I want to do that much driving. 

I want to go to The Rothko Chapel in Houston and Houston is a pretty big airline hub, so I can probably knock that out in two of three days. I want to go to Cleveland because I was supposed to go there last year on a work trip that was cancelled due to Covid and I feel now that I have a duty to make that trip. It is one of the very specific things that Covid took from me and as a personal little Fuck You to Covid, I’m going to see Cleveland, even if it is just out of spite. But anyway, I did some research on it back in the Before Times and I bet I could make a fun little weekend trip out of it.

The list goes on and go: I want to ride the Alaska ferries, I want to go to New Orleans, to Marfa Texas, I want to be on a boat on one of the Great Lakes, I want to walk the Skyways in the Twin Cities, I want to see Hawaii, I want to drink at a cool rooftop bar in Miami. I want to stand at 4-Corners (which is way in the middle of nowhere, BTW).

What limits me in all of this are the normal things that have always been limiting: time and money. What is no longer a limiting factor in these things is the dumb, deadly, airborne disease known as Covid-19. The world will likely never entirely return to whatever we mean when we say “normal” and probably that is a good thing, but we are very near to the world returning to life, and I am looking forward to that.




Thursday, May 20, 2021

New Ways to Not Sleep.

The sleep doctors amongst you will probably yell at me, but often I listen to podcasts while I fall asleep. I find that it helps because I often have trouble sleeping. Surprisingly there are not a lot of podcasts that are good for this (Yes, I have tried Sleep with Me). I’ve discovered that what really does it for me tend to be mildly interesting history podcasts.

Some are a little too interesting, like Our Fake History and The Constant. Some are weirdly shouty, like In Our Time. Some are too much white-libertarian-guy for me, like Hardcore History. Some are too much fun, like Ancient History Fangirl or Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!. What I need is something interesting enough that I can calm my mind by just focusing down on what I’m listening to, but not so stimulating that it actively keeps me awake. 

You know what is weirdly great at this? A podcast called Fall of Civilizations, which is all about how various civilizations have collapsed throughout time. The episodes are long, they’re well-produced, the guy has a nice voice, and he never shouts. You might ask, “Doesn’t it weird you out listening to all that tragedy as you drift off to dreamland?” Good question; no, no it does not.

Another good one is called Historical Blindness and I was listening to it last night and I was still awake enough to be impressed when the dude dropped the ten dollar phrase “pre-Columbian transoceanic contact theory.” 

Let me tell you, while it is often a pain in the ass living inside my particular brain, one thing I do enjoy about it is that even though I didn’t know that phrase, I knew all of the constituent terms of that phrase, so this brain processed it for me automatically and I was just all like, “Oh this is going to be awesome!”

It was episode #67 entitled, “Written in Stone: The Archaeological Frauds of Pre-Columbian Trans-Oceanic Contact Theories”, but I did not know that at first, I just clicked play.

Basically it was about how in America, white colonizers throughout history have gone out of their way to fake evidence that white people were in North America before Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492 (Remember, Columbus never set foot on the North American continent.)

Now, yes, Northern Europeans had been to North America prior to Columbus (the so-called Vikings even had settlements up in Canada for awhile, but they were only the Middle Age equivalent of a Flying J [also, also the Middle Ages aren’t real, but that is a discussion for another time]).  However when white Christians were stealing land from Native Americans during our early settlement period, they did not KNOW that Vikings had had camps up north.

The purpose of these various hoaxes was usually to “prove” that one or more of the so-called lost tribes of Israel had gotten to North America a long time ago and — I guess — by the law of transitive property, that meant that North America was (somehow) Christian? And so they could take all the land and kill all the people who lived on it. QAnon was not always called “QAnon” folks. This is all very similar to the “ancient aliens” theory, which — by the way — is also racist.

Anyway, the fun thing was that when the dude dropped, ““pre-Columbian transoceanic contact theory” I immediately recognized that this was going to be some Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates level of crazy. There are few more fun stories from history than those of people who are simply, bold faced lying (Seriously, check out The Constant, that podcast is all about grifters). The problem is that it was too interesting of an episode, so I couldn’t fall asleep.

I blame this not on the podcaster, but rather on the 400 years ago grifters who were simultaneously so stupid and audacious that even now it is fascinating to ponder their delirium.

Someone could write a whole book (and probably has) about the simple topic of how much of our modern lives is built on a foundation of outright imaginary bullshit. I’m not going to be able to do that now though, because I’m exhausted this morning, because i couldn’t get to sleep, because of those damn grifters.




Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Blame an Architect.


I’ve been reading a book called Brave New Home by Diana Lind. It is about housing in America … no, wait, come back! I promise, it isn’t as boring as you think! It’s more a work of Sociology than anything else. Yes, it is about housing, but really it is a history of the way modes of housing interact with our lives in a society. It is about how our spaces shape the lives we live inside of them.

For instance, for most of human history, some kind of multi-generational home was the norm. This made a lot of sense because people didn’t usually move around that much and it actually made living easier because the work of the home was distributed among many people. Grandparents watched the kinds while the parents were out hunting and gathering, etc. This persisted (with exceptions, of course) for most of our time on this planet.

Let’s fast forward to the post-World War II housing boom in America: this is when things really start to change. The Industrial Revolution produced pretty squalid and terrible housing because that’s when people became commoditized as simply “labor” and the living conditions were terrible and over-packed and this is where much of our housing code started, which was a good thing at the time. In the era after World War II, there was a pretty dramatic shift toward the single family detached home. Culturally this had to do with a movement away from the cramped industrial housing of the urban tenement house, but also was a result of the fact that farm boys who’d been drafted and survived the war didn’t want to go back to the farm. Not when the GI Bill would send them to college and government-backed loans allowed them to own their own homes. It is really this period from the late 40s onward that shaped the American idea of what a “home” should be, because that idea had not really existed in this form before that.

Now fast forward to now. Now we know that a whole bunch of single family homes, private, accessible only via car, closed off from the world with big backyards and useless front yards have altered our sense of the individual’s (or the individual family’s) place in society. You can’t sit on the stoop with your neighbors when you have no stoop and have never met your neighbors.

In James Howard Kunstler’s fantastically bitchy book The Geography of Nowhere, he really goes in on the idea that mandatory housing setbacks (how close the house can be to the curb) caused the flourishing of the green front yard with its picket fence, but that they destroyed the community life of the neighborhood.

Lind makes the argument that the idealized “privacy” of the single family home created a mindset that bled over into down market housing like apartment buildings, basically our entire society became about minding one’s own business in the residential sphere and that is reflected in the design of apartments now as well as housing.

The book makes a lot of really good arguments about how ecologically disastrous our current forms of housing are, but this thread about how they have had deleterious effects on the social and community lives is the one that is really connecting with me at the moment. She connects the inbuilt privacy of our housing designs with the increasing epidemic of isolation and loneliness, which we know now translates to actual erosion of health and which (apparently) has been linked to earlier deaths. She even says that smokers with a lot of friends live longer than smokers with no friends, which I thought was interesting.  

I think about this a lot because the walls of my apartment are so thin and poorly insulated that everyone in the building can hear what everybody else is up to. I can hear not just when my downstairs neighbors are having a party, but when they sitting down to dinner. It is always odd to be able to hear so much of these other lives so near my own, but to not be a part of them. There is a line in a poem I have always liked that goes, “almost being there/is a kind of punishment” and that is a little bit of what I am describing here.

In the Robert Putnam book Bowling Alone, he talks about the collapse of American social communities (like churches, bowling leagues, service organizations like the Rotary Club, etc.) have contributed to the splintering of our society into ever smaller and more isolated groups and that idea basically wrote the check for Putnam’s whole career. While I think he was correct, Lind’s idea about the design of our housing working like castle gates to keep us apart from others, seems like a far more practical explanation for some of the ills in our culture.

I think that Roman Mars and 99% Invisible have taught us all about the importance of the design we never think about. I’m writing this the same day I have a physical therapy appointment to work on the pinched nerve in my neck caused by spending 14 months hunched over an impromptu work desk in what is now my office and used to be a guest bedroom. Design and intention matter.

I could go on and on on this topic, but mostly this morning I just wanted to tell you that if you ever feel lonely, you can probably blame an architect, as this is obviously all their fault.




Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Be Best.

Yesterday when I posted I was feeling pretty down about my own lack of follow through when it came to building a more effective and productive life. I should mention that I am not one of those self-help-book-reading people who wants to maximize their output and vibrate into some sort of astral projected new plane of productivity. In fact, I tend not to like those people. All I’m looking to do here is be better. Be best.

The work of a life is never done until — you know — one day it suddenly is, and with great finality. Until then though, I think it is important that we should make efforts to build lives that we can both enjoy and be proud of.  That is a weirdly tall order. Both ENJOY and be PROUD of. We live in a society that requires us to have these jobs that consume so much of us, that exhaust us so, that most of us, all we have the bandwidth to do after them is eat crappy food and watch TV. If you’re lucky maybe you find love (or a close enough facsimile). Maybe you have kids and in them can find both joy and pride. So much of ourselves though we are forced to abandon along the side of the road of life. Some people make it work, I guess, squeeze their passions into “side hustles” or something like that. Or convince themselves that what brings them joy are actually childish things that must be put away.

None of this seems great.

It is almost as though we live in a system that prizes capital over people …

Zoom out from our own lives to everyone’s lives. What would a world look like if it wasn’t organized this way? What would a world look like if it was organized around people and not profit? I’m not trying to be a dorm room Marxist here. This is something I think about a lot. 

It probably would be a world with fewer cars and televisions, but a shitload more public access television shows. But who builds the cameras and the who strings the cables that move around the electricity to power those cameras? Who works at the power plant that makes the electricity? I’m sure there are probably people out there whose passion is running a nuclear reactor, but probably not enough of them to make this all work.

There is a fallacy that we have to choose between an electricity-less, pre-modern world or the one that we have now. As if those are the only two options. Discussions like this usually degenerate into those kind of blunt abstractions. 

Often I like to think on a world like ours, but better. We can keep our electricity, but it is solar and wind now. And yes, someone still has to run the power lines, but it is a hard job, so maybe they don’t have to work as much. Maybe we can just all agree to 20 hour work weeks instead of 40 hour work weeks. Or, as is the reality for so many people, 50, 60, 70 hour work weeks. I believe it really is possible to construct a way of life that cares about people and so reduces the size of our capital-focused activities. I believe we really can create a mode of socially organized life where working for a wage is only one of many parts of our lives. That society would have to be structured a little differently than ours and it would likely result in a world that physically looks a little different than ours (higher density housing, fewer cars, more communal spaces, community gardens, etc.). It would be a world where you can’t necessarily get a banana 12 months out of the year, but it would also be a world where Jeff Bezos doesn’t buy a second yacht to follow around his first yacht because the first yacht doesn’t have a place to land his helicopter. 

I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase, “From each based on ability, to each based on need” and even now, all these years after I first read it, I still think it is one of the most beautiful ideas I have ever heard of. I think we can nudge our lives closer to that idea. 

It would have to start with nudging one another. It would have to start by spreading the word a little, which is what I am doing here (to all of my non-existent readers).

This post was not supposed to unspool into my own take on post-late-capitalist utopianism. All I had planned to do was tell you that after feeling down about my life yesterday morning, I worked on getting my shit together a little. I worked hard at work. I ate clean all day. After work I went running even though it was cold (I ran a 10k and my time was TERRIBLE!) and then I made a simple dinner and then I read a book for a while and then I went to bed on time. Yesterday was one of my (treasured, but hard to pull off) RWR days, where I ran, wrote, and read all in one day.

I worked at making my own life a little better yesterday and I will try to do the same thing today. Living a good day is like adding a dash of hope to the next day. So this morning I have a little more hope than I did yesterday morning. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking on a world that is better. 

I hope your day is better today and I hope it makes your life a little better.

Be better.

Be best.




Monday, May 17, 2021

Inconsistent Failures.

 A friend of mine joked once that the third post on every blog says, “Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile.”

That’s a funny joke, but it also speaks to something very true about our human tendency to let our ambition outrun our execution and I have got to tell you, I am feeling that lately. Back in February I started thinking about ‘redesigning” my life so that more of it would belong to me and less of it would belong to my job. I gave it a shot in March and had a good month. Then in April work completely consumed my life again. In May I have fine tuned the re-design and I was all clear to leap into it, but then I kind of just … didn’t?

I’ve made some changes that have stuck. I’ve been getting up earlier so I have more morning time, but I haven’t been consistent enough with it. Every morning I post a silly drawing on my Instagram (@standard_kink) and MOST mornings I write a blog post like this one. I’ve also standardized my bedtime and I’ve been able to stick with that. My diet is better now than it was a few months ago, I’ve even been eating fruit and vegetables consistently! 

So those parts of the re-design are functioning, but the other big parts aren’t. I’m not writing more, I’m not reading more, I’m only running and doing yoga sporadically. These are the things that the re-design was supposed to be in service of. A lot of the minimalism stuff I read/listen to tells you that what you actually do is what you actual value and if there is a misalignment between what you value and what you actually do, that is a point that you need to deliberately address. So obviously these are the things I need to address. I have built out a daily schedule that (generally) has enough runway in it that I COULD and in fact SHOULD be able to run and read and write all in addition to what I am already doing.

Admittedly it is hard to work a stressful 8 hours and then say, “Well, I need to go out running now even though I’m totally drained and it’s cold and gray outside.” I know that I have it in me to do that because I have done that sort of thing before. I just need to find a way to do it again.

I know that I am lucky to have such small problems in my life, but that doesn’t make them not problems. As I grow older, I really do feel the hallway of the rest of my life narrowing. I feel like I’m approaching a lot of last chances. If the person I want to be is someone who writes and runs and reads everyday, I feel like I’m running out of days to become that person. 

But the one great thing about the relentless forward movement of time is that every morning we get a whole new day. Let’s see what I can do with this one.




Thursday, May 13, 2021

Vaccine Summer in Bloom.

I’m trying to grow flowers now. I have avoided flowers because I am apparently so proficient at killing herbs that I was certain flowers would not be hearty enough to survive my poor farming skills. But the other day I was browsing the seed aisle at my local Walmart and they had packets of perennial wildflower seeds and I thought, “Ah yes, WILDflowers! They will grow anywhere! Surely they can survive little old me!” 

I bought a few packets and came home and potted them and now they are sitting here on my windowsill. It has only been about five days but they have already started to sprout. Thai little green head already have the shape of a tiny leaf and their little stalks do look healthy. I’m really impressed how quickly they have come up. 

This is maybe the part that I enjoy the most; when the little seedlings start to emerge and there is a little more life in the world. I really admire these tiny plants. There’s so much hope in them. During the day I find myself getting up from my desk and wandering into the dining room to bend down over their pots and just study them. It makes me really happy.

The next part is the part I have proven to not be good at: keeping them alive. I think I am getting a little better at it. I’m more careful about when and how much I water them. That’s about all I can do. I can’t control the amount of sunlight they’ll get, but I’ve done the best I can by completely giving over my window sills to them.

It would be really nice to go into summer — particularly this summer, our Vaccine Summer — with actual flowers blooming in my little apartment. There would be something fittingly promising about it.

We’ll see. 




Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Thinking on the Life of Lars Larce.

There is a Spanish idiom that goes, “Thinking on the immortality of a crab” and I only learned about it recently, but it has become one of my favorite phrases. It relates to daydreaming and it is a funny way of saying, “I’m not doing nothing, I’m actually deep in contemplation.”

So the usage would be like this:


RINALDO is staring passively out a window. Enter MARIA.

MARIA: Rinaldo! You lazy bum! Why are you just sitting there while I am making dinner for the kids?

RINALDO: I’m actually thinking on the immortality of a crab.

MARIA: Well why don’t you do that while you set the table?

RINALDO: Yes, Maria.

MARIA: My mother was right about you.

And scene!

Now, whatever marriage problems Maria and Rinaldo might have are not the topic of this blog post. I am mostly concerned now about daydreaming.

I have spent enough of my life engaged in creative endeavors that I recognize how essential it is to daydream, to ponder and to simply let the mind wander. I’ve had trouble with it the last year or two though and I really do think that it is because of podcasts. 

That seems like a leap, but hear me out. The explosion of podcasts has made it so that whatever your niche interests, you can find a podcast. For instance, the inimitable Glen Weldon of NPR now has a podcast called A Degree Absolute that goes episode by episode through the 1960 British TV show The Prisoner which is the single most insane television program that has ever been produced. And listening to the podcast is absolutely delightful and I love it because it was clearly made for me and like the four other people in existence who would like to see David Lynch make a James Bond movie.

The problem is that my podcast consumption has been increasing substantially over the years and there are some days when I basically don’t even take my earbuds out. There is just SO MUCH information out there to consume! And some of it is good. It is not all bubblegum that I’m listening to. I listen to several daily news pods and numerous wonky policy pods and shows on minimalism and stoicism and history and all kinds of other smart and fancy stuff like that. 

But what I’m not doing much lately is thinking on the immortality of a crab.

Last night I was in bed trying to go to sleep and a name came to me. This is not a terribly unusual thing for a writer and I like odd names, I even keep a list of them. So even though I was warm and comfy under my blankets, I had to roll over and reach for my phone in the dark and that is why this morning I have an email from myself that just says, “Lars Larce”. Now I don’t know who Lars Larce is or what I’m going to do with his name, but at least it did not leave me in the middle of the night, which would have happened otherwise.

As I settled back into bed last night, I realized it had been a long time since I’d had to do that. This was my first Lars Larce in a long time. That makes me sad because when the creative process is really kicking, you are getting Lars Larces all the damn time. A productive writer lives a life drowning in post-it notes that say things like: “The feather is GREEN” or “the roof of the arboretum needs cleaned and so it’s gloomy when they meet.” Stuff like that is common.

But you can’t realize that the roof of the arboretum needs cleaned if you’re not letting your mind wander around in there. You can’t find your way around the arboretum if you’re focused on Glen Weldon talking about the state of BBC Four in 1967. 

I need to find a way to cram more non-time into my life. I need to spend more time thinking on the immortality of a crab. I need to open up some space for more Lars Larces in my life. After all, who is he meeting at the arboretum? Why there? And what’s with the feather? I’m never going to figure it out unless I find some time to.




Monday, May 10, 2021

The Wonderful Return of Being Boring.

Today is Monday. So get this: I just had the closest thing to a normal weekend that I’ve experienced in the last 14 months!

There was nothing amazing about it. In fact it was pretty mundane. I went to see a coworker’s kid perform in a little play at an outdoor theater. I went to BOTH Target and Walmart. I planted some new seeds in my window sill garden. Yesterday I made a frittata and as I was getting started I realized I was out of cheese, so I just hopped in the car and drove to the store and bought some cheese, without even feeling any trepidation about it! No Greco-Roman mental wrestling about the ethical implications of making an unplanned grocery store trip. I even went to a thrift store on Saturday! 

Now I am not saying life is back to normal. It will be a long long long time before we get back to whatever “normal” was, and we probably won’t ever get there anyway.

But what I am saying is that this past weekend was the closest thing to life I have experienced since the quarantine began. And that is a good thing.

I should say here: I’m fully vaccinated as of about a month ago. And YOU should go get vaccinated too. Everybody should. If you’re not inclined to protect yourself, then do it because it protects the people around you. This is not complicated.

After the so so so many months of quarantine, it was so very nice to be able to return to even the most mundane aspects of living in a society. I walked around Target slowly and just looked at all the stuff and I even touched some of the clothes! Can you even believe that? What joy it is to be alive.

It gets even more exciting! I have PLANS! With other people! PLANS TO SPEND TIME WITH HUMANS! Later this week I am going to go with a small group of fully vaccinated people to get drinks! DRINKS, I SAY! I have not had proper drinks in more than a year. I think sometimes about whiskey and I wonder, “How is whisky doing? How has whiskey been without me all this time? Will whiskey remember me???”

And even more exciting! Next month I am taking a trip! Yes, A TRIP! I have requested vacation days and everything!

I’m slowly trying to get my head in gear for that. We have all — well most of us anyway — internalized the Covid caution over the past year and I think that for some of us it will take a little bit of time to be able to deprogram ourselves out of that. I think that the fact we still have to do mask wearing is actually a good thing. The masks function kind of like training wheels for us as we begin to take those tentative steps back into the world. When I walked around Wal-Mart this weekend, I could often hear the sirens going off in my brain telling me that I shouldn’t be inside, that there were too many people in the store, that my trip wasn’t essential.  Then I’d have to calmly remind myself that it was okay, that I was vaccinated, that I wasn’t going to hurt anybody with my germs, that it was okay to do something non-essential. It will take some time for those sirens to quiet, they’re on a hair trigger after the last 14 months, but with time, they will fade.

While it is true the pandemic is not over and while it is true that the pandemic may never entirely end, it is also true that we are probably through the worst of it now. We are entering a new phase of this whole thing and by all accounts, this phase is so much better.