From Musings

Getting Tedious

Part of my quest to keep good digital hygiene—which is frequently less than successful—is to continually re-examine my habits and compulsions with my devices and the stuff I use them to do. I finished reading an intense, stirring interview with Jaron Lanier about the state of social media (and the internet in general). That’s not unusual, his interviews are usually dense like that, and have been since the 90s. His forthcoming book will argue for ditching social media accounts entirely.

One other thought-provoking interview I came across was from backtracking through previous episodes of Jocelyn Glei’s podcast Hurry Slowly. In episode 15, Oliver Burkeman talks about the difficulty we have of doing anything for its own sake. Not for a goal, not for a higher purpose, not to make us better and faster at doing other things. It’s extremely hard not to ascribe a benefit to it, but sometimes we should get bored just to experience it.

Boredom is now a scarce commodity—at least for most of the digitally-networked. We have endless distractions available, many for free, so why let an unpleasant state like being bored get any foothold in our day? There are some distinct creative benefits to becoming bored. But, as hard as it is to avoid selling this idea using some, I’m advocating for becoming bored despite those benefits.

It’s good for us as people to do a little nothing every so often. If our predominant state is to be on-the-move, working, being productive, getting distracted, filling idle moments catching up on The Latest—then activity has become a monolith. It’s good to have perspective and also to experience different states of mind and being. It’s like an inverse meditation, putting aside every amusing distraction and indulging in stultification.

I prescribe 20 minutes, at first. Do it today or tonight, see how different it feels to have nothing to do. There’s no restriction on what you think about, but I’m trying to get into the same mindset I had as a kid. Kids are often experts at getting bored. They usually have fewer things they’re supposed to do, fewer responsibilities, fewer pressures churning our minds into a constant fret.

Go. You’re 10 years old. Nothing on TV, no friends available to play, internet a distant dream. Twenty minutes. This feels different. Good.

Getting Physical

Fig. 1: detail from a game concept sketch

A fair bit of the internet is being charmed by this video of two girls who are meeting for the first time in person. It’s true that real friendships are forged and nurtured on the ‘net (as the kids no longer say), and that some connections wouldn’t be possible at all without it. But the joyous intensity of emotion on these girls’ faces as they touch for the first time is a level above where they were just minutes before they saw each other.

A best friend of mine and I have daughters the same age. We introduced them via FaceTime 4 years ago. They’ve talked daily since and are best friends. They live 7+ hours away and our schedules never lined up to have them meet in person until this moment. Neither of them knew it was happening. from aww


We need each other, but we need each others’ physical presence, too. The idea so many of us had of staying home and reaching out to the world from safety and comfort isn’t what we need. It’s nice to do that and have interactions across world-spanning distances. But standing across from you and your body next to me is deeply and essentially part of what makes us human. I’m moved to tears and I’ve had not a single previous moment with either person above, ever. It’s deep and it’s touching. “Are you real?” is going to stick with me for some time.

I’m a fan of hers, but I didn’t think I’d want to listen to more than a snippet of Juliana Hatfield’s Olivia Newton-John covers album. But I did! It’s a lot of fun, and good to hear these songs interpreted by a musician I’ve long admired and respected.

Systems Analyst

I like systems. I like organizing principles. I don’t often keep to them strictly, but I’ve got some kind of organizing fetish—with an office supplies corollary—that keeps me becoming intrigued by them and putting at least some of them into practice regularly.

Frank Chimero’s music organizing system of Spotify playlists is the latest. It’s pretty specific and elaborate, so your mileage may vary, but so far it’s been quick to adopt, if slower to get used to the details of it.

The advantage of a system is it cuts the amount of brainpower necessary to do any particular mechanical task like sorting and distributing. In theory, it leaves me freer to spend those newly-available neruonal firing cycles on stuff that matters more. In practice, it might just keep the itch to sort things that pokes at my conscious mind satisfied for a bit longer. Either way, there’s value.

Memory-Correcting Error

Update on yesterday’s post waxing rhapsodic about the respect for public art here in Portland. It’s not a repudiation of that stance, but there are some rectifying observations I should make.

Art isn’t perfect. Writing, music, dance, the same. What we’re told, what we tell others, can and maybe should be subject to a kind of scientific method: if new information comes to light, the thing you said yesterday will be modified in its light.

And looking at the same thing from different perspectives can lead us closer to the truth. Whatever that is.

And so I noticed things aren’t pristine. But public art places itself in the world, exposed. It makes itself vulnerable. It’s open to change, from the elements, if nothing else. I’m left with more questions than answers.

Do the things we make and put into the world belong to us, or to everyone? The people who buy it—is it theirs to do with as they wish, or do they have an obligation as caretaker until whomever they sell it to takes over? If it’s sold as copies, does it belong to anyone at all?

If art is public, is it an object? Or is it a new piece of its environment?

Art Is a Gift

Not only did I have the wonderful surprise of waking up to a gloriously gray, wet, and green Portland morning, but the pictures hanging in the AirBnB we’re staying in make me want to sit down and make things with whoever did them. Are there kids here? Can we have a painting sesh?

You aren’t just creating for its own sake if you show your work. Somewhere. Everywhere would be nice, but I’ll be realistic for now. What I mean is your vision of the world, the universe, your soul, brings something new into being.

We are human in part because we make art, and all art is about being human in some way. I need your art as much as I need to make my own.

Home Stretch

Postpartum Post-mortem of a vacation.

Sleep deprivation. Satisfaction. Weariness. Lack of motivation. Minor disorientation. Relief for happy pets. Minor anxiety that one has spent too much money, didn’t read as much as one imagined, complained once too often instead of enjoyed the moment, you know, in-the-moment.

There’s a noticeable lack of disdain for fellow humans, a live-and-let-live undercurrent to encountering others. It’s possible that Oscar Wilde—via the little squib—was right.

So here we are, and there’s a habit to keep on track, and it was pleasant to have the routine both there and back again.

Magic of the Unmagical

Something that’s always kept me interested in The Lord of the Rings as a story is the idea that men—humans, but Tolkien was stuck deep in his culture’s patriarchy, so that’s how he labeled all of us—

I don’t have nearly the familiarity I’d need to pick the best chapter, but I’ve always been partial to Return of the King‘s “The Houses of Healing,” where Aragorn doesn’t just ride into Minas Tirith in triumph after effectively turning the tide of battle, but then proceeds to deftly heal ALL the wounded heroes in turn, suck it, haters.

He’s so completely human, and self-realized, with all the profound doubts and assured self-confidence the extremes of our species can muster. And you think, “Yes, sure, democracy is the moral imperative of government, and all, but holy Silmarils—if Aragorn were before me, I’d bend my knee without hesitation.” Just in sheer reverence at his magnificence. At the idea that a human being is the greatest of all these magical and ancient creatures that surround him. That we are worthy of continuing beyond the age of magic. That the ordinary can be as extraordinary as any ring of power or woven sorcery. And if you have to have a monarch, it better be someone generous of spirit and given to bouts of circumspection.

I certainly do wonder at and try to learn the lessons of the magical in stories, wizards and hobbits alike. The former are often steeped in worldly wisdom, or sometimes arrogant and mad with power, the latter are ever-vulnerable and unguardedly emotional, and free with their feelings. But I’m human, and I think, at the best of times, we have a lot to offer to ourselves and the world, despite our failings.

More Foolishness

Today’s the day. Pranks are pulled, Ricks are rolled. Here’s a brief history of April Fools’ Day.

It’s not easy to pull pranks in blog form, not without some long traditions, probably, and claims that one is quitting or some such invariably fall flat. It is good, however, to play games. With oneself, with family, with your friends. The resurgence of tabletop gaming is heartening, because it means we’re perhaps more serious about play, and that’s a good thing. In the U.S., we tend to value work above all else, the career and job milestones are often primary. But life is bigger, and our minds need balance.

It’s the difference between concentration and wandering. You get better at each by doing one, then the other. They feed off each other, these disparate parts of our brains. Not as simple as left vs. right, either, the myth that one type of thinking comes from one half. The brain, like the people who house it, uses balance to do its best work.

Seize the opportunity to be a bit of a fool. We probably need more days to do so.

And have a freebie on me.

The Struggle Is Really Real

Speaking of failures, I’m still spending way too much time reading news, political analysis, and random minutiae online, despite a redoubled effort to shift my attention to creating stuff and reading books.

Distraction is easier all the time. Setting out to write this post, I have opened Spotify, messed with battery settings, checked text messages, started to read emails twice and realized what I was doing—it’s really endless.

I’ve learned how to circumvent this monkey mind dopamine loop—MMDL in the literature, I’m pretty sure—pragmatically: make your to-do list he night before, stick to it in Pomodoro segments, start early. It’s still always there, and it’s always a fight. Habits of distraction built up over years, as my social media and information overload have been, are really really hard to break.

I don’t have any real advice, here, maybe just an ongoing reminder that almost nobody knows what they’re doing and is muddling through it all just like you. Unless you’re effective and prolifically productive. In that case, teach me your ways, kind stranger.