Sean Bonner

misanthroplogist
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Tales from the frontlines of viral photography

On Monday as I was heading home to Los Angeles I spotted a thought provoking sticker on a sign post in Shibuya and quickly sent it off to Twitter. Currently, less than 48 hours later my tweet has received over 23k retweets and 42k likes. And growing by the second. I note those stats specifically apply to my tweet only, but as it’s been reposted without attribution all over the place and gotten similar attention elsewhere so it’s likely in the hundreds of thousands collectively at this point, though I’ll never know for sure. This isn’t the first time one of my photos has ended up having it’s own life online but it’s still a very odd thing to experience and I thought some people might enjoy a little more detail and context about this how this has played out. I also have a book of some of my other Tokyo street photos that is available now, for a deeper dive into my photo work and the neighborhood surrounding where I took the above shot.

I know that my comment in the tweet plays in significantly to the reaction it received and I’ll spend more time on that later but upfront I want to acknowledge that the sticker (and the image on it) itself is the work of anonymous Japanese street artist 281_Anti nuke.  I’ve been familiar with his work for years. In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown I, along with some friends, founded an environmental monitoring non-profit called Safecast and our office is right in the middle of Shibuya, Tokyo. The neighborhood is regularly plastered with 281_’s stickers and we’ve got a few up inside our office as well. My friend, filmmaker Adrian Storey who I’ve collaborated with in the past, even made a documentary about 281_ a few years back. Shortly after I tweeted this photo 281_ also posted the image of the sticker itself which sadly hasn’t received a fraction of the attention it should.

Very quickly after I posted it people took notice and started spreading it around. I think that is a completely factual statement because, as you can tell, it has in fact been spread around. And when I say “people took notice” anyone with half a brain can deduce that by saying “people” I’m referring specifically to the people that took notice and not “all of the people on the planet.” I point that out because the by and large the number one reply I’ve gotten in response is some form of argument pushing back that this doesn’t represent the views of all the people in Japan. Again, a painfully obvious observation.

Certainly, and to 281_’s credit this is a perfectly executed and highly charged political image so one might expect it to cause a bit of a ruckus, but perhaps more than anything I’ve ever posted this one seems to have drawn a significant reaction. Beyond arguing about what I meant by “people” the next most common thing sent my way was arguments about how racists/nationalistic/immigration-unfriendly Japan is so therefore this observation is irrelevant, which is of course a red herring if ever there was one. Racist history of America, Democrats, and other countries that aren’t Japan or the US were also brought into the argument left and right. In fact if you went through this list of logical fallacies you could find perfect examples for each in my twitter mentions right now. I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was genuinely shocked how defensive people were. Not all people on the planet, or all people on twitter, but all people who were defensive. Duh.

Of course there’s also the inevitable comments from people who don’t follow me, yet felt the need to take time out of their day to tell me they don’t care what I post or that I’m wasting their time. Time they spent replying to me I guess? The logic that works in some people’s heads is baffling.

I was also attacked and held suspect pretty frequently. A quick scan of replies finds no shortage of statements calling me a faggot, which I found hilarious in it’s retro cliche nature but was surprisingly being used as a genuine insult in these cases. For simply posting this photo and my observation I’m also apparently a liberal, libtard, SJW, fascist, racist, expat, tourist, etc in the eyes of anonymous twitter accounts with single digit follower counts. I find all of this terribly amusing and fascinating, though I can also understand how someone else in my shoes might take these attacks more personally. I’m simply lucky(?) to have 20+ years of experience with trolling so I see such retorts as almost a script that gets followed again and again with only minor details swapped out each time. So maybe these trolls and shitposters are just unknowingly taking my bait. Who’s trolling who??? I’m laughing, so that’s good enough for me.

A not insignificant number of replies also accused me of making and posting the sticker myself just to manufacture the drama, and even in the face of the existence of 281_’s own gallery showing the image, these folks would then jump to the conclusion that I created 281 as well rather than accept their initial reaction was misplaced. New thing time however was quite a few people calling this fake news. But I guess we all know that in 2017 “fake news” is a term applied to anything you don’t agree with, no matter it’s basis in fact.

Another new twist this time is the number of media outlets that have reached out to me. I’d say this is a net positive as most often in the past these places would just take the extra lame “it’s on the internet so anyone can use it” approach, so outlets asking for permission is a welcomed change. I use a CC-BY license for these kinds of things as there’s really no way I can stop people from stealing it and using it for whatever purposes they want so fighting that is a losing battle from the beginning, and I’m quite happy to just have proper attribution. More than one outlet did ask me to agree to their terms which would have given them an eternal, transferable, non-exclusive license to do whatever they wanted with it for ever and I said no and pointed them to the CC-BY license.

I don’t want to sound like the reactions were all negative, I’ve definitely gotten countless replies from people agreeing with the sentiment, or complimenting the photos which is nice. But at the end of the day, I really was just responding to a question I’ve repeatedly heard with a quick image that I thought answered it pretty well.

TV Guide

Some of my fondest memories as a kid involved TV. The earliest show I can remember watching was Welcome Back, Kotter, I was probably 4 years old, maybe 5. I thought the sweathogs were the coolest and not so secretly hoped they would see me through the TV and recognize how cool I was and ask me to join the show. Like I said, I was 4. I next recall watching Creature Features, hosted by Count Gore de Vol when I lived in Washington DC and later by Dr. Paul Bearer when my family moved to Florida. I vividly remember scanning through the paperback TV Guide and highlighting or circling or otherwise marking the shows I wanted to watch and then making sure everyone in the family knew I had an appointment with the TV at those set times and nothing else could be scheduled because I desperately needed to watch Creature From The Black Lagoon, All Monsters Attack, Black Sunday, Them!, Forbidden Planet or whatever else these goolish curators had chosen for me that weekend. I would sit cross legged on the floor eyes glued to the TV and pretend I understood the jokes being made at each commercial break and try to figure out if these different monsters were all part of one giant story. I loved every second of them, and couldn’t wait to see what the next weeks showings would be.

I think about those movies often and revisit them from time to time. I think about how those helped refine my tastes and shape what I look for and enjoy in movies. I love good horror movies, would I love them as much if I hadn’t grown up with these proto-scary movies? I also think about how in many ways I was a captive audience. We only had a few channels and my choices were very limited so I picked the best option I could find and fell in love with it. And I learned the benefit of hunting for things, as I scanned those TV Guides trying to find anything that sounded interesting and marking it to make sure I didn’t miss it. But if I’d had other options would I have just passed these over? It’s hard to say.

I think a lot about this in context to viewing options today. My son watches TV too, he’s soon to be 7yo so pretty much right in the ballpark of when I was rabidly devouring these old monster flicks, but instead of having local television stations trying to fill their schedules with whatever broadcast licenses they could get for cheap, he’s got netflix and youtube and endless streaming and on demand options. He’s never had to sit through a commercial break, never had to choose between a soap opera, a game show and a b/w movie about a vampire. He watches an episode of Digimon and Netflix offers him every other episode ever made of that show, and then recommend 10 other shows just like it. I of course combat this by watching other things with him when I can, but left to his own devices his curators are algorithms not personalities. Some script is picking things for him rather than someone thinking about what might be complementary. Not trying to kick the algorithms off my lawn or anything, just noting the difference, and wondering how that will play out later in life. For him, and the rest of his generation.

Recent Readings

I’ve been actively trying to read more recently. All my life I’ve gone through cycles where I find something super fascinating and tear through it and then I finish and can’t force myself to start something else, or rather just can’t get into whatever I start next and end up abandoning it. So I read nonstop for months, and then it’s several more months before I read anything else. I’m trying to change that habit. I find that I sleep better if I read a bit before going to bed at night–it’s a nice way to wind down after a hectic day–and so I’ve been trying lots of different things and giving up right away if I don’t like something which has helped me get on to the next thing that I do like. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been enjoying recently. I’ve realized, perhaps far too late in life, that I really enjoy non-fiction. It’s not that I don’t enjoy fiction, I do, but I often find myself second guessing it or just unable to get into the story, where as with non-fiction (assuming the topic is interesting) thinking “I can’t believe this!” makes me want to read more, not less. With that…

Esther The Wonder Pig
A couple who could never say no to adopting a new pet, ended up with a mini piglet that turned out to be a 600 lb commercial pig. Hilarity ensued.

Star.Ships
I’ve just started reading this but I’ve already run screaming to wikipedia thinking “What?? There is no way this is true otherwise I would have heard of it and oh.. there it is, wow…” which is really fascinating and there’s a lot of talk about how new evidence has a hard time getting coverage when people are invested in old theories. I’ve loving it.

Normal
The sole fictional work here and it’s by a friend, but it’s really great and it feels like it could be real because it’s very much about us, people like me and likely people like you, and how our lives and our worlds are driving us crazy.

The Voyeur’s Motel
Totally batshit story about this guy who ran a motel for 30 years that he’d installed a “viewing platform” above the rooms so he could watch his guests, and took very detailed notes of their sex lives and what they did in private. This was 60s, 70’s and 80’s and you (or at least I) balance between being unable to believe he wasn’t caught all that time, and fascinated by what his notes and commentary about people suggested.

Green Is The New Red
I read this a long time ago, and am rereading because everyday it seems like an even more important issue.

New York Is Hell
I just received my copy of this which was published by a friend, but I’ve very much enjoyed other works by the author Benjamin DeCasseres (1873-1945) and I’ve gotten little snipits of this over the last few years and it’s always left me wanting more. It’s described as “a collection of his writing solely focused on New York, but mostly about booze” which, given the tone of his other writing, sounds amazing.

Snipped

I spent the final days of 2016 feeling like I’d gotten kicked in the balls. I’m sure many of you can relate to that feeling, though my pain wasn’t just mental and emotional, but also physical. Two days after we were visited by the man in red and white bearing gifts, I visited a man in white bearing scissors. Yes, I got a vasectomy. If you just cringed feel free to stop reading, but I found a few friends stories of their experience helpful and useful so I thought I’d start the new year off completely oversharing and maybe helping out some others who had questions.

First and foremost, the thing that made it much more of a real option for me was learning about the new No Scalpel method. I say new though it was developed in 1974, first used in the US in 1988, and has been very widely adopted as the method of choice by urologists since the early 2000’s. The old way required making incisions and stitching them up, and came with 2-3 weeks of recovery time. This way uses super pointy tweezers to poke a hole a stretch it, then release it and it closes up on it’s own immediately, reducing recovery to a few days. That sounded much better to me.

Given the modernness of this technique I was still surprised how hard it was in Los Angeles to find a doctor using it. I called many and they were all “yeah, we know there’s a new better way but we still like slicing you open.” I found the San Fernando Valley Urology Associates who were all about it and booked my appointment there. It’s about an hour from my house but that seemed worth it.

California requires you to go in for a consultation no more than 30 days prior to the procedure where the doctor explains the technique, results, and potential side effects. As well as makes sure it’s OK with your significant other. I had to sign off on countless forms saying that yes, my wife knew and approved of my actions. A quick physical exam and then I could book my appointment for the actual event. My insurance covered both visits with a $70 co-pay, so the entire thing cost me $140, plus $10 for the prescription meds.

You are required to shave your junk before the surgery. I was advised by some friends who will remain nameless that shaving was a bad idea because it would cause things to be itchy right when they were painful and sore and healing and a better option was to book a full waxing a day or two before your appointment. That sounded scary. I tried to get some friends to join me and no one was having it. I researched and all the seemingly respectable waxing salons near me primarily catered to the ladies and offered only limited services for dudes. Which means no downstairs action. In fact the only waxing salons I could find that would dehair the ol’ twig and berries were dead in the middle of the super gay part of town, and had websites that were mere pixels away from being gay porn. Huge beards, giant muscles, oiled and waxed male bodies. I’m secure enough in my sexuality that I can pretty much role with anything and not sweat it, I’m just pointing that out because it was amusing. What I couldn’t roll with was the $120 price tag that went with it.

I said fuck that and opted for the $5 disposable razor option.

To be fair I googled around a lot and found some junk shaving tutorials and bought proper moisturizing pre and post shaving stuff and learned the proper techniques. Interesting note, while there’s tutorials on YouTube for every damn other skill you can think of it’s a bit light in this department. PornHub on the other hand has in depth how to videos. You can find them yourself, because that’s really half the fun of it.

Because I’m already delighting you with one winning visual after another, I’ll just mention that the razors I ordered didn’t show up in time and I had to borrow one of Tara’s pink flowery lady razors. So you know, sit with that one for a minute.

Day of the operation I was prescribed instructed to take a Xanex an hour before to loosen and calm everything up and down. And bring someone to drive me home after. The whole thing took 10 minutes, maybe and was almost entirely painless. I got a tiny shot on either side of my balls which felt like the expected pinch, and then the only other thing I felt was really vague tugging or pulling sensations. A simple band-aid as the bandages and I was sent on my way. I got some slightly stronger than Tylenol pain meds which the Dr said people usually don’t even need for more than a day or two. I used them them for a day or two.

Day of I was out of commission. Instructed to put icepacks on my bits to reduce swelling, and advised by friends to instead use bags of frozen peas which are better at form fitting the area you want to cover, and to get several bags so you can hot-swap them out and always have a few in the freezer ready to go. This was good advise and I’ recommend it to anyone considering the same. The procedure was Tuesday and I was told to stay off my feet for a few days. I expected to be much more mobile by Friday. I was feeling really good Thursday and went out for some errands and dinner, but Friday morning felt that was probably pushing it and went back to bed. Today, Sunday, I’ve been pretty up and around and walked around the neighborhood without much issue at all. There’s still some swelling, but very considerably better than just a few days ago.

My friends who have had the scalpel version told me they were down for 2+ weeks, so I think this is pretty good. I didn’t really have any issue with the aforementioned post shaving itching issue, though I imagine if I’d had stitches that might have been a different story and the waxing might have made much more sense. I was pretty nervous going into it, but the story telling from previously snipped friends really helped calm me down and it was much easier than I expected it to be. And Tara and Rips have been waiting on me hand and foot, so that’s a plus too. They’ve been excellent nurses.

Hopefully this has been useful or at least somewhat interesting for some of you. If not, you are crazy for reading it.

The New State Of Things

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve started to write this and then given up and deleted everything I’ve written. I try to write something and then feel like I need to preface it with something else so that people don’t jump to conclusions and then feel like I’m second guessing myself and so on and it ends in a select all and a delete. So I decided to just tell some stories instead which may explain how I’m feeling better than if I just tried to write about that.

***

I’m vegan. Many of you know that and know that I’ve been vegan for approaching 25 years now. More than half my life. In my ideal world it would be illegal to kill animals for food, but I’m very capable of knowing the difference between my ideal world and the real world, and the difference between the two. I’m able to understand that just because I want something really badly doesn’t mean it magically happens. I decided a while ago – after years of taking the opposite approach – that it was more productive to lead by example and answer people’s questions when they took notice and asked, than to attack them and try and force them to change. That’s just me.

Additionally, I like to talk to people who have differing opinions than I do. I find people who always agree with me boring and like to discuss the merits of my positions with people who aren’t convinced. I like to be able to sharpen my take on things on be persuaded otherwise. I count many people with drastically different world views in my circle of close friends and I appreciate that they put up with my hassling them about how wrong I think they are. And they do the same. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing frequently with my friends on the right and the left.

I don’t fit well into any category, which I think helps me with perspective. I try to look at issues on their own and not based on which politician supports and decries them. I know this isn’t a common position, but it works for me.

***

I have friends who were die hard Hillary supporters and friends who were die hard Trump supporters. I was neither. In the early days of the primaries I was backing Bernie pretty strongly. I said several times during that time that I didn’t believe Hillary could could beat Trump and I really didn’t want Trump to win. Once Hillary got the nomination my position remained the same. I didn’t want Trump to win, but I didn’t think Hillary could beat him. I could write many long winded think pieces and hot takes on why I felt that way but it’s kind of moot at this point so I won’t waste anyones time. I’m in a few private slack teams and private email lists. Some of these are very political. Some of these didn’t take kindly to someone not jumping on the party line. I’m not, nor have I ever been a registered Democrat so party lines mean nothing to me. I vote for who I want to based on their own merits. So while Democrats were expected to all get behind Hillary, I maintained that hopes and dreams aside, that while I didn’t want him to win, I didn’t believe she could beat him. In some of these groups I was called a Trump shill. In some of these groups I was called a Bernie Bro and a misogynist. So I left those groups.

My friends backing Hillary ranged from being completely sure she would win, to being completely sure she would win in a landslide.

My friends backing Trump ranged from being completely sure he would win, to being completely sure he would win in a landslide.

I knew both of these groups couldn’t be right.

Again, I’m weird so I recognized that what I wanted to believe and the outcome I wanted might not have been the same thing as what realistically might happen. This was not a welcome opinion.

The echo chamber was in full effect. All these people were only listening to people who agreed with them, and who were saying things they wanted to believe. Most of these people wanted nothing to do with anyone saying anything other than that their candidate was going to slay it.

Then the election happened.

My friends who were backing Hillary are largely in shock. They keep saying things like “How did this happen?” and “How could we have been so wrong?” Someone who called me a Trump shill for saying Hillary couldn’t beat Trump asked me with a straight face “How could anyone have seen this coming?”

***

Tonight there was a protest in Los Angeles, condemning the pick of Steve Bannon as Sr Advisor to the president. I think Breitbart News is very good at stirring people into a frenzy and very bad at reporting the news. I think picking the guy who runs that for a position equal to Chief of Staff is dangerous. I wanted to go and take photos, my wife Tara wanted to go and hold up a sign. Ripley, my 6 year old son also wanted a sign but I’m not a fan of indoctrinating children to anything, and didn’t want to write up a political sign that him carrying around would suggest he was making the statement. I told him what the protest was about, and asked him what he wanted on his sign. I told him he could put anything that he wanted. He wanted a happy sign that would make other people happy too, so he decided his sign should say “I Love Cats.” I thought it was great. On the other side he decided the sign should say “It’s past my bedtime” because the protest was at night and he would be tired and this would show people that even though he was tired and it was late he was there with them. I loved this sentiment. We drew up the signs and headed out.

Tara and Ripley joined some friends of ours on one side of the crowd and I walked around taking photos. The mood of the evening was largely positive, people were protesting something they were upset about but the crowd working together. There were the expected “Ban Bannon” and “No KKK” signs, as well as some more original and light hearted ones including one older lady with a sign that read “I’ve been protesting this same fascist shit for 50 years!” and someone with a trans flag and a sign saying “This isn’t the kind of dick I wanted.” Anytime I was near my family people were taking photos of my son and his sign, with many people telling him they loved it and it was the best sign there, which made him smile big.

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He got in on the chanting, memorizing the rhymes. He waved his sign for people and smiled when they took his photo. This was his first protest and he told me he really enjoyed it. He said he loved seeing all the people together, hoping for the same thing.

By 8:30 it was in fact well past his bedtime and we decided to leave. Tara and Rips started to move to the edge of the crowd and I was behind them. As I turned to leave two younger women tapped me on the shoulder. I only spoke with them for a moment but I’d guess they were late 20’s-ish.

“Hi, can we talk to you for a moment about your son’s sign?”

“Sure”

“It’s very cute, but we are concerned that if someone sees it and takes a photo it will misrepresent the feeling of this event.”

“Lots of people have taken photos of it all night, everyone has been enjoying it”

“That’s the problem, it’s sending the wrong message – I Love Cats? This isn’t about cats”

“He’s 6, that’s what he wanted on his sign. I’m not going to put my politics on a sign and make him carry it.”

“He doesn’t support immigrants rights?”

“He’s 6”

“There are lots of kids here with political signs”

“Sure, that their parents wrote for them”

“But what will people think if they see this sign”

“I don’t really care”

“YOU DON’T CARE?”

“Are you really upset that a 6 year old isn’t protesting correctly?”

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you weren’t a white man, maybe you should meet an immigrant and find out how they feel, you are mocking the serious people here… Racist!”

I turned around and to walk away and one of them punched me in the back of the head.

I kept walking, they shouted something but I wasn’t listening anymore.

In the 5 minute walk back to our car, at least 10 more people said “Love that sign!!”

As some of you know, my wife is an immigrant.

I’m going to sleep now, disappointed.

The sun will rise tomorrow.

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(A version of this was sent out to my mailing list last night. It’s the first thing I’ve sent out since the election. Feel free to subscribe if you want. All photos by me, I’ll probably post more on instagram as well.)

Hello. Remember blogging?

I realized recently that I’ve sent almost 100,000 tweets and that kind of freaked me out. Deconstructed a bit, as one of the first people to sign up for the site which has been online for over 10 years now that’s a little less than 10,000 tweets per year, and not even close to 1000 a month – closer to 200 a week or about 30 a day. Maybe less. Of course that’s not indicative of any actual day, more likely some days I sent 100s of tweets and other days stayed in single digits, but the fact remains I’m approaching 100k. Of from that what do I have to show? Sure I’ve met some cool people and seen some interesting events play out, but I don’t think I can point to any single one of those tweets (except maybe this one) and say “damn, I’m proud of that!” And not that I should, but I’m having a little crisis of faith over here so let me just run with it a bit. So it’s not only a question for me of what I did, but also what I didn’t do. I’ll never know for sure if instead of writing some piece of work that I’d be able to reference time and time again I sent some tweets. Maybe I could have hashed through some of the craziness in my head a little better if I’d spent more time writing longer form thoughts, instead I sent some tweets. I don’t know, and I’ll never know, but at the moment I’m not completely happy with that decision in hindsight. I’ve kicked around the idea of quitting when I hit that milestone, maybe I will and maybe I won’t. But I do know that I’m not getting what I once did from the site and if I’m honest with myself I haven’t for a long time and I need to stop pretending that isn’t the case.

I miss blogging, so I’m going to be spending more time writing here.

Without venturing too far from this reflection go how I’ve spent my time, I’ve been looking at my days and as I approach 42 years on this rock, the acceptance that I may very well have crossed the point where I have more time behind me than ahead of me. And if that’s that case, or even if it isn’t, I’d like to be more conscious of just what I spent my time on. On days when I’m reactive, that is spending all day long responding to inbounds and juggling whatever comes up at the moment, I feel like I get nothing done. Like I’m running too slow on a very fast moving sidewalk and at the end of the day I’m more behind then where I started. On days where I decide ahead of time and put together a structure for what I’ll do and when, I end the day thrilled with all I’ve pulled off and where I’m at. And for whatever reason right now I feel very disorganized mentally, lots of half baked plans and ideas and goals that I don’t know where to start on, or what I need to pull off first to get things in motion, which makes the planning ahead to do X, Y and Z that much more of an effort. Structure helps with this. I’ve been in a super successful routine for a while now where I wake up, make the coffee and the kid’s lunch, get him to school and then stop at the gym on my way home. I start work closer to 10am but I’m in a much better headspace and I can focus on one thing or another noticeably better than if I just roll out of bed and grab my phone or my laptop. The trick of course is exactly that, not grabbing my phone or my laptop. I don’t have email on my phone and I’ve deleted most of the mental itchy notification kind of checking things from it which has helped a lot, but I do work with people all around the world and so no matter what time it is for me its primetime for someone else which means there’s always the potential for the “oh! real quick…” which turns into 3 hours of reacting.

One thing I need to be better at is identifying exactly what I want to do each day, even if it’s just for a little while. Things like reading, or working on music are obvious but because they are obvious they tend to get overlooked. “Of course I want to read every day, that’s a given” isn’t as rock solid of a mandate as “From 8 to 9 every night I’m going to read something, nothing else can interrupt that.” I function well in these kinds of schedules and structures. If you know me then you know I thrive on less options and get caught in loops of second guessing when I have too many, and I think this falls into that part of my head. It’s 8pm, what can I do? Well I have a todo list with hundreds of possible things that I could do which I can’t decide on which is most pressing and so I spent an hour refreshing twitter. And while I knew that before, I don’t think I recognized it as clearly and now that I have my goal is to correct it.

The first step here is finding the things I want to do every day. I used to think that I needed to spend X hours doing something for it to be worth doing, and then I couldn’t find X hours to do it so I didn’t do it, which is a huge fail. I’ve seen the value in spending short time on things and then being able to do them repeatedly. For example spending 15 minutes every day writing is better than not writing all week because I couldn’t find an open hour to sit down and do it. Same for music or anything else. So I’m working on what that daily locked in list might look like.

One of those things is skateboarding with my son. Skating is one of the first things I can remember in my life deciding on my own that I wanted to do and I’ve had a skateboard in one form or another for most of the last 30 years. The summer between 7th and 8th grade sticks out in my head as a notable milestone. I gotten my first skateboard a few years earlier but it was piece of shit mall skateboard that I know I’ve written about before but can’t be bothered to go look up a link to. Anyway, my friends were nice enough to not make fun of me about it and also nice enough to hand me a copy of Trasher and suggest that I get a real skateboard. As a younger kid this wasn’t my choice, but something clicked in my head that summer as we moved back to Florida after a few year stint in Texas and I was determined to not embarrass myself in front of all my potential new skater friends and saved up enough to get my own board. I spent hours obsessing over California Cheap Skates ads and their sweet deals on complete Powell decks that came with Indie trucks and Slimeballs. In my memory I planned out what I was going to get over months but it was likely shorter than that. Anyway, I entered 8th grade with a much better board and didn’t put it down. I lived on it in high school and in college, though admittedly its gathered much dust in the last 15 years. I was never any good at skateboarding, but I always loved doing it. It was fun, and it was this thing I could do on my own without needing anyone else to help or sign off on. I think one of the reasons I stopped was feeling overly self conscious that I wasn’t better at it, especially after all those years. I was always lucky that my friends never made me feel bad about not being better, but I felt increasingly self conscious when I’d be out around people I didn’t know, which made spending time at skate parks or back yard ramps basically impossible. Abandoned parking lots were my jam.

I’ve noticed Ripley talking about some of his friends skateboarding and seen him take an interest when we’ve seen skaters out in public and wanted to nurture that. I’ve also been following the trials and tribulations of Mike Vallely. I knew him from magazines and rode many of his pro models. As a vegetarian turned vegan his animal graphics and themes always struck a chord with me. I met him in person a few years ago through some of our many mutual friends and while I usually try to avoid meeting people whose public persona’s I’ve looked up to because it’s almost always disappointing, in every every interaction I’ve had with Mike he’s been as genuine and authentic as I could have hoped he would be. I’ve tried to keep up with his efforts. I’ve always really liked his message that skating is more than just this activity, that it’s soulful and magic, and that individual fun and enjoyment should be paramount. And so it’s been sad to see a run of business backed ventures not work out. And at the same time, really exciting to see him launch Street Plant, his newest brand with just him and his family driving, so he’s not beholden to anyone elses motivations. And I think this has been the perfect vehicle for him to really evangelize the love of skateboarding as an art, and seeing him talk about it reminded me how much I liked it, and how much I missed it. And that was the perfect impetus to get the kid into it as well. So we’ve been skating together, not a lot, but a little bit every day while he figures out his balance and hits big personal milestones like skating all the way down the street without falling. And it’s been every bit as fun as I hoped it would be. I’m looking forward to doing more of it.

So that’s my stream of consciousness rant for the day. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.

I’m pretty much done with this election

Honestly, please don’t talk to me about it and I’m going to actively try to avoid anything about it. It’s stressful and it’s just not good for my mental health. I was in Europe for 2 weeks and avoided all the news about it and felt happy, as soon as I got back to the US and saw what was going on and what was being said I wanted to an hero. This goes above and beyond the fact that both of these candidates are wildly unrepresentative of the population as a whole and more into the fact that it’s turning everyone into massive assholes. Perhaps that applies to me as well.

In the last weeks/months I’ve had friends tell me that they refuse to talk to me because of where I obviously stand on the candidates. I’ve had friends tell me that my personal opinion doesn’t matter because I’m a demographic. I’ve been called a bro and a baby by hundreds of people who I don’t know in anyway. I’ve watched people I respected call people they don’t know in anyway bros and babies and have lost that respect from me. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t think stupid people should be allowed to vote, and have had people tell me they now demand to know who someone is voting for before engaging in any social interaction of any kind with them. In a country where barely half the registered voters ever bother to cast a ballot, I’ve seen people tell others they are wasting their votes if they don’t vote for someone elses candidate of choice. I’ve found all of this to be terribly depressing.

The polls are horrifically close right now. Terrifying close. I’ve been sad to see Hillary supporters continue to beat up Bernie supporters because very, very realistically the only chance Hillary supporters have for their candidate to win is by convincing Bernie supporters that she deserves their vote. And excites them, and gets them to drag their friends to the polls. That isn’t happening as far as I can tell. Meanwhile, the Trump supporters are being friendly as ever. The other day I noted as much on twitter and over the following 6-12 hours I was flooded with gracious, kind replies from Trump supporters and insults and attacks from Hillary supporters. Many of which were deleted after the fact. Some of which were in direct message from people I thought were my friends. And I should note, I’ve been incredibly critical of Trump publicly. It’s appalling in my mind that things have gotten to where they are. But there they are, and I really have no interest in continuing to aid in the downfall of civil discourse so I’m out. We have confidential ballots in this country for a reason and I won’t be discussing this publicly any further.

(This was originally sent out as part of a longer rant to my mailing list. Sign up for it if you want. Or don’t.)

Living Conversations

The other day I was having coffee with Tara and she mentioned as an aside that she had been invited to speak at an event thanks to a comment she’d made on a blogpost that had been seen by the organizer. I nodded knowingly and recalled similar situations when I’d been reached out to because of some public comment or statement I’d made. It’s been some time since that happened though, which I didn’t realize until I started thinking about it. This assessment ended up running into another thing I’ve been thinking about recently which is that over the past few years there have been more than a small handful of events come up that I’ve been surprised I wasn’t invited to speak at.

I should clarify that so I don’t sound like a raging ego manic, which isn’t to say I’m not a raging ego manic per se, just that this specific statement shouldn’t imply that. Going back many years I considered myself to live very comfortably on the bleeding edge of any number of topics. I’d be involved in conversations where ideas would be proposed for the first time. Sometimes I’d propose them, sometimes I’d just be there to witness their proposal. This was pretty normal for me and I remember some circles of friends telling me it wasn’t a normal thing for most people. I felt lucky to have these things happen almost on accident just because I tried to surround myself by interesting people talking about interesting things.

The result of this would be, months or years later when these topics would be presented to larger audiences I was often asked to be a part of those conversations. Just one example, I can’t tell you how many panels and conferences I spoke at on the topics as blogs as journalism, or vs journalism depending on your position. But these kinds of things happened on a pretty regular basis. And then they stopped happening – though not because I’m not having those conversations with those people anymore, but rather I think I’m having those conversations in different ways.

Lingering back in the good ‘ol days for a moment, I spent collective years of my life writing blog posts and commenting on other people’s posts. This sounds unbelievable to people these days who associate comment threads with nothing but spam and trolls, but I’m sure many of you remember the days where one blog post would propose an idea, spark a very active comment thread which would include countless trackbacks to other blog posts that had been inspired by the ideas in this one. You could spend hours following an idea around the web. It was exciting, and a useful way to spend that time. You felt like you accomplished something, and were a part of something. At least I did. And as I said, these conversations would translate into all kinds of other opportunities.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment where that changed, but over a few years it did completely change. I’m sure someone could argue that the same kind of thing happens today on Medium or some some Facebook post or whatever, but that feels very different to me. Those are like internet “free speech zones” that are anything but, and by nature are off putting to decentralized web advocates such as myself. The point of making your own blog post and sending a trackback to another site was so that your words and thoughts lived on your own site. Someone else couldn’t edit or moderate you, but also someone could go to your site and scroll through your posts and get a good idea what kind of stuff you were interested in and your thoughts on those topics. Not that this doesn’t happen today, it’s just different.

Let’s get off memory lane – that’s not what I wanted to write about. What I realized is that while I once had these conversations which I found thought provoking in very public forums, I now have them in much more private or semi-private ones. And not intentionally, that’s just how they evolved.

Blog comment threads started filling with spam and trolls so people stopped reading them, and if people don’t read them much of the motivation to contribute to them fades away. And with the introduction of Twitter, blogposts from a few days ago seemed like old news. And while #irc used to provide a forum for realtime brainstorming it had a barrier to entrance for a lot of people and easily Twitter became the realtime way to hash through ideas with people for a while. However unless you were already following all of the people in the conversation, you’d easily miss the replies or never even know the discussion was happening. As more and more people joined twitter the spam and trolls followed and it gets hard to have a conversation when half the replies are from anonymous accounts telling you to go fuck yourself.

Private Slack teams helped insulate some of these discussions, but then again if you aren’t in them you don’t know what is happening. And email, especially private discussion groups, ended up providing a safe space to talk about things with the caveat that they were not fully hashed out ideas. Which I think is an important part – for me I always thought of my blog as a place I could have a conversation that was made up as I went along. I might not have a clear idea in the beginning but through the process of writing about it and talking with others I could help shape the idea into something that made a little more sense. That changed for me at least when people I didn’t know started digging through my archives and throwing half baked ideas from 10 years ago in my face as evidence that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because in fact I didn’t know what I was talking about, but in the process of writing those posts I was working to figure it out. And maybe I’d written 20 different posts on a single topic – the 20th being much more refined than the 1st, but having the 1st used against me was enough to make me a little trigger shy about making those kinds of posts. Which, as a result, would prevent me from ever getting to that 20th.

I don’t know if anyone else has experienced anything like this, but I realized in thinking through it that I used to find people thinking about the same kinds of things I was because I was blogging about them, talking about them in public. And I haven’t been doing that at all in some time. Sure I have my mailing list that I occasionally use to think out loud, but more often than not it’s just a collection of things I happened to think were interesting without a lot of deep or long form commentary from me. If you already subscribe to that list you know I’ve lamented this before which should serve as evidence that I’ve been thinking about this for a while without any real clear idea of steps to take to change it.

Though, maybe making this post is just the kind of step I need to take. You tell me, if I wrote more longer blog posts about assorted topics, would you read them and help me think through the ideas? I miss those conversations.