On Grievances

March 4, 2009 — 6 Comments

One thing I’m slowly learning is how to stop holding people accountable for things you haven’t articulated. It’s the emotional equivalent of waiting for an answer to a question that you mumbled. It seems basic but it’s actually really easy to avoid ever doing. There is so much incentive for abuse.

It’s insidious. On the one hand, there is some vulnerability in having to explain honestly how something makes you feel. On the other, saying anything means they might stop and then you can’t hold it against them anymore. Comparing the two options for someone like me, it not even a question. Think about how often people turn down the chance to feel better than someone else. In my experience, it doesn’t happen very often.

So I’ve tried to use the Mirror Trick on a regular basis. It’s meant for married couples but the application is far reaching:

Before you approach your partner with a grievance, take a mental peek into the mirror. What aspect of yourself, what issues or ‘stuff,’ either past or present, are you bringing to the discussion about this problem? For example, if you don’t like the amount of time your partner spends with friends, ask yourself “what does his/her spending time away from me mean to me specifically?” It could be an issue of feeling inferior to them or unwanted, something that cuts beyond the core of “a man/woman needs to be home with his/her spouse.” If you can ‘look in the mirror first’ you can then approach your partner with the grievance in the form of your personal idiosyncrasy with the issue as opposed to simply pointing the finger. This will often decrease defensiveness and lead to a more productive outcome. Consider: “When you spend such a large amount of time with your friends, it taps into my fears that you don’t want to be with me. I feel inferior to them.” Compare this with: “I hate it when you’re with your friends so much. You need to be home more.”

When I run through the list of my grievances they almost all are rooted at some level in this problem. I’m holding someone to account for something they never knew they signed up for. Changing that variable is an instant release of tension. I’m no longer carrying the resentment and suddenly, they aren’t the “violator” anymore. And for the other cases where you can’t do anything about it? It’s still ok, I think, to hold people to your own internal standards. You just don’t get the right to bemad about it.

The Age of Ages

March 2, 2009 — 26 Comments

I read a review of Watchmen and it said something about how the premise might be dated because it was written during the height of the cold war. It struck me because as far as I know almost nobody really thinks of 1985 as the raging year of the cold war. Normally they think back to tit-for-tat hydrogen bomb testing, Vietnam, the Missile Crisis, or Khrushchev getting shut out of Disneyland.

So what does that mean? I think that eras and ages amount to exactly dick. They are rhetorical devices that writers and politicians use to manufacture significance. Think about it, at the same time Americans were supposedly consumed by the darkness that brought us Watchmen, groupies were blowing stagehands so they could ‘bang the broads in Poison’ and John Hughes was shooting The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller back to back.

When was the last time you got up and actually felt the cultural consciousness pulling you this way or that? The underlying variable (people) are basically unchanged between now and then and 500 years ago, but we have no problem casually referring to the Decade of Greed or the Roaring 20s or the ‘Panic’ of some year the market crashed. The fact of the matter is that we have no idea what we’re talking about. We’re just trying make ourselves seem more important, like maybe if we give that generation an ethos someone will be kind enough to return the favor and that will somehow undo the fact that you’re dead and none of it matters.

The Image

February 26, 2009 — 16 Comments

Michelangelo once went at night to look at the near finished sculpture of a friend. As he examined it, he watched the man fiddle with the window for favorable light. Michelangelo stopped him and said “Don’t trouble yourself, the important thing will be the light of the Piazza.” Meaning that the public decides whether the work is good or bad. His posturing in the shop late at night was irrelevant.

I was thinking about how often we go around trying to just that. Have you ever heard someone describe themselves as eccentric? Or some community college professor put “philosopher” after his name? People like to revel in the status of titles that are inherently not theirs to give.

But it’s all just masturbation. In other words, they’re living in unreality. I’m not saying that someone else gets to decide if you’re a writer or not, but maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t call yourself a “social media expert” unless you get a paycheck with those words on it.

Here’s the thing: the delusion is your loss. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a joke. Giving yourself credit for something in advance does the opposite of encouraging growth, it breeds atrophy. And foolishness. And arrogance. And everything but the thing you want so badly to happen; that is, for people to respect you on your merits.

Selling Out

February 24, 2009 — 19 Comments

I think this ranks as one of the proudest moments in my life. That’s Hanno, slutting it up as a dog model.

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If I do the math correctly, I believe that instantly makes her more popular and more accomplished than Maxie, Murphy or Buckley.

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I think the most appropriate thing to do in celebration is mount a larger than life size portrait of the dog in the center of my apartment. Right near the books.

Three Good Books, Three Not So Good Books

February 22, 2009 — 3 Comments

Good:

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan

An exploration of the effects of being articulate, well-spoken and obsessed with learning is especially relevant after watching Obama use those three traits to take the presidency. It’s the author’s point that Lincoln’s log cabin story has obscured how impressive a writer and speaker he really was. More importantly, we forget that with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt we’ve never really had a president before with equal deftness in reading, writing and speaking. Normally they are good at one and abysmal at the others. There’s a part in the book where he takes one of Lincoln’s speeches and lays it out into a poem. It’s just one example but an incredible way to make the book’s central point: that Lincoln’s understanding of the English language and the power of persuasion were so impressive they we’re not even aware that he was using them.

The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley

A wonderful concept for a book. It spends a page and half or so on the deaths of 170 different philosophers. For some, it nicely juxtaposes their beliefs with their practical applications. For others, it illustrates a hypocrisy. Mostly though, I think it does a good job bringing the lot of them back down to earth. The introductions (there are three) are themselves a decent discussion on death and dying. It’s one of those books you wish was a Wikipedia page so you could follow all the strands it begins to tug at.

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by Daniel J. Boorstin

This has to be one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time. The central point of the book is so incisive that it not only survived the major technological and cultural shifts of the last 50 years but is made stronger by them. He looks at how much of what we take as important or news is image or artifice – press conferences to announce press conferences, awards, articles about how much money celebrities make, news leaks, news breaks, annual “Best of” list, press releases, “no comment”, et al. A nice example is foreign policy. A president might say he wants to increase our “prestige” abroad. What does that even mean? As far as I can tell it means nothing, except perhaps a naive desire to receive credit for something you’re not taking any action to produce. The rest of the book is on what he calls “unreality”, a place similar to the dream would where our friends at Brazen Careerist live. I got the sense from the title that it was going to be about the media it much deeper and more personal than that. Very, very good.

Not So Good

Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal and It’s Ruining Our Conversation by David Denby

Ahh, I had such high hopes for this and I think the author did too. Unfortunately, I don’t think he quite understood the subject on which he was writing. Snark is a very real and very important trend in American culture but nyone that thinks Bill O’Reilly is snarky (he’s not, he’s an asshole. big difference) is completely clueless about where it’s going. It almost boggles the mind that someone could assert the right is leading the snark charge. The fact of the matter is that they aren’t culturally relevant or smart enough to be responsible. But it is something that you should have at least a vague knowledge or sense of because one day it will blindside you or your company. A nice example is to monitor the writing of any Gawker writer – see how often one day’s post will contradict the one that came before it. That’s because they write considering only the immediate post at hand (partly because of the economics of it) and it prevents them from developing a coherent editorial voice. Since everything has to be controversial or critical, what they write ultimately is never about what they have to say but the way in which they have to say it. It’s more sad than anything else.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America by Frank Rich

It’s a shame that a book about story and spectacle would be so poorly structured and without message. The book has a fantastic title but is otherwise a complete waste. Rich is very endemic of the problem that critics of Bush has – they want to paint him both as a Machiavellian genius and completely incompetent at the same time time. The reality is much simpler and more in need of telling – his leadership style created incentives to be dishonest and manipulative and he was incapable of being aware enough to admit their was a problem. It makes for a bad presidency and boring books.

Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age by Steve Knopper

We need a book that looks at why the music industry resists innovation and makes poor decisions. This book is not that. It’s a timeline as told by a series of agents, scouts and label heads. Rarely does the author question what they say and he certainly never analyzes it. I get the feeling that his background as a journalist held him back from making this much more than a long article.