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“To hide from sadness—and one way or another, that’s what Americans struggle mightily to do—is to remain a child all your life. Most Americans have never grown up. (Foreigners know this, by the way.)”

from “How America’s ‘Culture of Hustling’ Is Dark and Empty” by David Masciotra for the Atlantic

Related in some ways to the last post. Sobering, but probably just water off the backs of anyone mired in the rat race. I wish I could unplug and take it all to heart sometimes. One haunting quote: “It took me a long time to understand that I, or, my ego, had no idea what was best for me.”

(Note: Kardinal Offishall is exempt from this criticism, seeing as he’s Canadian.)

The Revenge of Alanis

Take, for example, an ad that calls itself an ad, makes fun of its own format, and attempts to lure its target market to laugh at and with it. It pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful. No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself. The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

from How to Live Without Irony by Christy Wampole for the New York Times.

I am reminded of a “lesson” taught to startup people here in the Bay Area: fail early and fail fast. Don’t get too attached to your supposed million-dollar idea, lest it break your heart if it likely fails. The implication is perhaps that this is not your life’s work; this is business. It runs counter to what I always thought was a requirement of new businesses: make sure you can devote your heart and soul to this, because it’s not worth all the difficult work otherwise.

But maybe the above article (which is very thought-provoking, and somewhat long) sheds different light on all that. Really loving something — whether it’s a new business, a work of art, a beloved place or a special person — opens us up to disappointment and pain. Some folks can’t bear to let down their guard. In the part of America that reads the New York Times’ online blogs, we’ve gotten really good at minimizing pain and inconvenience. Intentionally putting ourselves out there is terrifying, so why not operate within the cloak that Wampole describes? Young people are terrified of placing actual phone calls, and even food has replaced art as the primary form of cultural cachet. Might as well shroud your feelings inside some other scattered ideas.

Or, be original and believe in something. Fight for it and be sad when it dies. People will notice.

(This post brought to you by my dozens of unfinished and unpublished posts, aged in oaken barrels during this blog’s year of silence.)

California, Pt. 2

This was also my Halloween costume.

I arrived in California on October 1, 2012. In the 14 months since then, I have the following observations. I’ll try to keep these going as I think of more stuff.

1. The weather is really nice. Not quite as nice as advertised, but still better than nearly anywhere else.

2. The cult of technology is tremendous. I’ve used Google and Facebook for almost 10 years, but I look at them completely differently now that they’re right around the corner. They’re more than just websites here; they’re rearranging the social order in some places.

3. There is more good food here than I know what to do with. Just in a 10-minute walk’s radius of my non-hip corner of Palo Alto, I have a 24-hour donut shop, a Thai restaurant, a deep-dish pizza joint, two Mexican restaurants, two Chinese restaurants, a Jamba Juice, a Starbucks, a Korean barbecue place, a Belgian beer bar, and yes, a Subway. And I’m not in one of the neighborhoods most people have heard of.

4. In most respects, it’s significantly more expensive. My rent tripled between Virginia and the Bay Area. Gas at the station at the end of my block is 40 cents more than in a town 4 miles away. Plus there are tolls and higher taxes and all that. Salaries are higher here, but it doesn’t totally make up the difference.

5. Public transit options are incredible. If I want to (and I have), I can ride my bike five minutes to the train station, ride the train for free (thanks, Stanford!) and get around San Francisco on two wheels. Or I can transfer to BART and ride over to the East Bay. Or take one of the many bike lanes around Palo Alto and surrounding area. It’s wonderful to be able to leave the car at home even more than I did in Williamsburg.

6. I’ve enjoyed going to more pro sports than I ever had before. Since moving here, I’ve been to seven San Francisco Giants games, four Golden State Warriors games and a 49ers game. Candlestick is by far the worst facility, but that’s changing soon. And while I’ve adopted the Warriors as my NBA team (FOR NOW!) I have remained a faithful Seahawks fan. The Mets, well, they’re something I’m stuck with.

7. Williamsburg, institutionally, is a city obsessed with the past. The past makes the tourists come, and W&M trades on its history extensively. The Bay Area (especially my subset, Silicon Valley) is obsessed with the future. There’s something missing in both these approaches, and I’m hoping to come to some sort of insight at some point. But that’s the extent of my deep thinking so far.

In a nutshell, I like it here. It’s not perfect, nor is it the be-all, end-all the way people like to treat it out here. But I feel fortunate to be here at this time, observing the changes that the Bay Area is exporting to the rest of the world. (Those changes aren’t all good, either, but that’s another story.) Will it ever be home? Time will tell. But I don’t regret the move.

Dr. No

“All those folks uniting – for most of every year – behind one cause. For a region as atomized as this one, that’s a considerable something.”

-from “Always Crying Foul,” by Don Luzzatto in the Virginian-Pilot in September 2012

Don Luzzatto is my journalism spirit animal in a lot of ways: first, he’s a columnist and editorial board member for the Pilot (my erstwhile dream job). Second, we’re each an alumnus of the greatest university in all the land. And third, he writes columns like that one.

Before my unintentional hiatus, I spent a good amount of electrons on the proposal to bring the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to my hometown of Virginia Beach. I have mixed feelings when I say the proposal failed. Sad, because I really desperately want a pro team where I’m from. Happy, because the city of Virginia Beach didn’t assume all the financial risk to make the Maloofs (widely considered some of the worst owners in basketball) even richer. The Kings will stay in Sacramento, and Hampton Roads gets nothing. Yet.

Canceling the proposal was the smart move, and while money for schools and money for sports rarely come from the same pot, essential services should always come first. What’s more bothersome, more influential, and more permanent are the attitudes Luzzatto is describing. What brings people such joy from unrelenting negativity, even in the face of solid facts? What sad undersea currents sent them on their hateful course? You see it in the 757 when it comes to light rail or pro sports or big development projects, but you also see it with national politics. Everybody knows someone who just absolutely LOVES to see their opposition party embarrass itself.

I wrote about this months and months ago, but it remains a fascination for me. Sometimes I go into the Internet rabbit hole, get really cynical, and have to watch standup comedy on YouTube to get back to a palatable mood. But I’d be interested to hear thoughts on this. Where do the naysayers come from? I’ve been cranky about lots of stuff in my day, but I like to think I still find stuff to support and encourage. Is it purely resistance to change and newness? Is it just because “no” is always safer than being vulnerable and excited about something?


The usual suspects.

In September, I turned 30. Unwilling to fully accept the adult-ness of that number, I decided to buy myself a toy: the beautiful, impressive Nintendo 3DS. And I use this beautiful, impressive, $150+ machine mostly to play Tetris, a game that first took over my life sometime around 1990.

It’s still a great game. But it made me realize something about adulthood.

In 1990, I turned 7. I’d hold the massive, AA-devouring Game Boy in my hands and drop each piece into place for hours — as did my mom and my grandpa. As far as I could tell, the game gives you a random sequence of pieces. If you don’t get the crucial long piece when you need it, your whole plan is ruined and you lose. That’s just how the cookie crumbles when you’re 7.

Now, I play and sometimes I find myself getting mad at the designers of the game for giving me four of those blasted square blocks in a row. Don’t they know I can’t possibly find a place for ALL of them? How unfair. It’s like they’re intentionally screwing me over. I’m being dealt a biased hand. At 30, I felt victimized by Tetris.

And then I realized that it’s this exact attitude that people see in Millennials. Seeing this, I have tried to be more mindful. Sometimes life is unfair, and you have to deal with it. You don’t always get the long piece when you want it. Maybe it’s okay just to get little one-liners and two-liners until you’re ready. Don’t hate the game; play it smarter and don’t bank on the jackpot.

Current high score: 319,628 (A-Type, level 9: the only way to play).

Interesting Pants

“Learning that your life isn’t some glorious plan, and that you aren’t the smartest, most talented person in the world is a great way to stop being an arrogant jerk. I think I was, back then, whatever my intentions to be good. I took for granted that I was better than other people. Now I know, absolutely know, that I am not.”

 from Goblinbooks: I Am A Bizarre Minor Character In Tina Fey’s Book, by Paul Bibeau

Over the summer, I read Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which is in large part a fictionalization of what Paul Bibeau describes in that quote. It hit me hard, and I’ve spent the last few months recommending it to anyone who asks, and many who don’t. It affected me because it drew me into a real, honest discussion about talent with myself. Not everyone is good enough for the heights of the creative professions; many of them aren’t lucky enough to even get a shot. My many aborted novels speak more to the former category than the latter (sorry, NaNoWriMo!)

Suffice it to say that this quote encapsulates something I’ve spent much of the last year thinking about.  I gave up on the Stanford certificate this past spring just as I was emerging from the fog that haunted my first few months in California. I lost steam on the novel I was working on, and then The Interestings came along. It’s hard not to have to look your own talent in the face once in a while, and I was overdue. As a writer, I was discouraged, and turned away from it. And after that, without noticing, I had a pretty good year.

I spent time with a dear friend yesterday who I see once a year around Thanksgiving. I thought back to the last time we got together, and how that edition of myself seems like a thousand light-years away. I’ve become stronger and better in the interim, and it takes little milestones like that to bring it all into focus. I think it’s time to wade back into the writer’s pool and see if all that strength is going to be good for something.