Me, Myself, and this blog

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.

Continuing Thoughts On Personal Uniforms

Back in 2010 I wrote about my attraction to personal uniforms. Effectively a simple set of clothing that can be replicated and worn every day, ideally eliminating the “what am I wearing today” decisions first thing in the morning. Just grab the same thing everyday and go.

In the initial post I designated 3 core principles:

  1. Replicable
  2. Mix-matchable
  3. Travel friendly

I’ve been playing with this idea for the better part of the last 10 years, on again and off again, though it’s getting to the point where I find off again frustrating and it stresses me out to the point of inaction more often than I want to admit, so on again is my preference these days and I’ve been actively getting rid of things that don’t fit the bill. Over those years the specific items I choose, as well as what exactly those core principles are have changed and evolved and I thought it might be useful to track it on GitHub so I’ve created a page there with some info that I’ll add to as time goes on, and anyone is welcome to fork or suggest changes to.

My current thinking is that a personal uniform should be replicable by definition so having that as a principle doesn’t make a lot of sense. And for me, mix-matchable is resolved in a single solid color. So, circa December 2015 the principles are:

  1. Primarily Black only – YMMV on this one, but I have to finally admit that when I get things of other colors they never get worn.
  2. No blatant branding – Again, maybe it’s because I designed shirts for so long, but anything I have with graphics pretty much collects dust and I shouldn’t add to that.
  3. No impulse buys, research everything ahead of time – On occasion when I’m swayed by something in a store that I hadn’t known about or considered previously and I’m convinced to buy it, very often I’ll go home and research it and then end up feeling the need to “upgrade it” to something else. When in fact, I should have just researched and bought the thing I wanted first, or taken that extra time and decided against it entirely.
  4. Travel friendly (light, compact, packable) – This is more or less important to people based on their travel schedule, but I fly over 100,000 miles a year so it’s pretty important to me. If something will get wrinkled and messed up, or takes up half my suitcase, it’s probably not the best choice.
  5. Multi season friendly – I’m committing to layering vs single temp items. Base layers, Mid layers, shells, etc. This also helps with the previous packing/travel note as more than once I’m going from hot to cold, wet to dry in the same trip.

Brands I’m liking right now for this include Outlier, Acronym, ExOfficio, Rapha and Patagonia. I’ll list out some specific items from these companies on the GitHub page in the coming days.

Insurances

I’m lucky enough to live in a city with multiple, excellent choices for health care and even more fortunate that I’m able to afford them. I say that because when I first moved to this city and started visiting doctors I quickly learned that there are two kinds of doctors in Los Angeles. Ones who accept insurance and ones who have decided that rather than spend time fighting with insurance companies they’d rather spend time with their patients so they don’t. Specifically, and repeatedly, a number of doctors I found in town told me this – “Insurances companies don’t want me spending more than 10 minutes with my patients, and I can’t do my job to the best of my abilities in only 10 minutes so I don’t take insurance and then I get to spend as much time with my patients as I think is needed.” My pediatrician, my ENT, My sports medicine doctor, my dentist – all told me similar stories. They went to school to learn how to practice medicine and when 20-30 years down that career path an insurance company notified them that they could no longer spend the time with their patients that they felt they needed to they cut the insurance companies out of the equation.

But this was all up front so I knew what I was getting into. I set up a recurring transfer with my bank so that each month I’d put X dollars into a specific savings account that I knew was just for doctor visits. This certainly would have been useless if I was hit by a bus, but as a relatively healthy active guy in his mid-30’s (at the time) it covered the bases for what I needed quite well, and when I needed it I felt that I got the best health care I possibly could. My doctors were thoughtful and caring and took time to give me choices, explaining the potential outcomes of every potential route. This was a starkly different feeling I’d ever gotten from a doctor previously where I’d always felt rushed in and out, and prescribed some course of treatment without any understanding what or why. Of course, now I understood why, those doctors were trying to meet the demands of the insurance companies.

Skip ahead to 2015. I’m now legally mandated to buy health insurance and as noted by many others the low premiums translate into massive deductibles. And to be clear “low premium” is still a few hundred dollars a month. It’s about the same as I used to squirrel away in my health savings account. Which I still have to do by the way, because my doctors still don’t accept insurance. So I could dump them and go to another doctor who does accept insurance and then it would balance out right? Wrong. Because until I hit that giant deductible I’m still paying out of pocket. So where as before I was paying out of pocket for health care, now I’m paying out of pocket for health care and health insurance that I can’t take advantage of unless I get super sick.

Earlier this year I had to make an emergency room run late one Sunday night. Whew, I thought. At least that health insurance wouldn’t be a total waste. A few months and bills later and the end result works out to basically I pay $6,000 and my health insurance pays $200. Because it turns out they don’t cover 99% of anything done in an emergency room. This is on top of the now twice as much as I used to have to spend every month on health costs.

And again, I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford it. But lots of people aren’t. People are forced to have insurance but still can’t afford to go to the doctor. This is a mess. Single payer is still seems like the only reasonable solution.

Running With The Devil

[This is a recent excerpt from my newsletter where I send out thoughts and links and stories once a week or so about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. That is to say, the topic below isn’t something I write about all the time, but I do every once and a while.]

Speaking of the pre-internet early 90’s when I was in high school and controversial topics – In HS I had an english teacher who I thought was the coolest, though he had an obsession with The Rolling Stones that I could never quite wrap my head around. Anyway, his name was Jon Scott and he was one of the few teachers I ever interacted with who I felt I learned something from and helped me along the way. At one point, in an exercise about journalism and writing from a non-biased perspective, he assigned us to write a paper about something controversial that would have clear opposite sides that we could examine. Not to decide which side was right, but to be able to write about differing viewpoints without taking sides – and compare and contrast the viewpoints. I recall other kids in my class choosing things like “which are better, cats or dogs” and “why SPORTS GUY changed the face of SPORTS” and things like that. For my paper I decided to write about Satanism. I don’t think I could pinpoint exactly what led me to that decision but my family was super religious and took huge offense to any questioning of things they felt were unquestionable so probably played into it on some level.

Mr Scott had to approve everyone’s topics and when he got to mine he asked to talk to me after class and wanted to know what I was getting at. I must have made a convincing argument though I don’t recall it because he signed off on the idea and let me write the paper. I wish I still had that paper because I’d like to see now how my 15 year old brain was processing things, but I remember that after spending countless hours in both the school and local public library I couldn’t find a single book making the case for, but there were endless writings against. I thought that was odd, it was like there was this giant discussion about something but no one actually involved was included. So instead of writing a compare/contrast piece I wrote about this bias and wondered how all these authors could have so many opinions and consider themselves authorities on something they had never had any actual interaction with. Seemed odd to me. I remember Mr Scott liked my approach and gave me a nice grade on the paper. He told me later that he was very used to topics having two sides and that I’d approached this from a completely different perspective and surprised him which wasn’t something he was used to happening at the middle of nowhere Florida high school where we crossed paths. I’ve thought about that many times over the years and think I owe much of my approach to research to his encouragement of my questioning the motives of the sources. I imagine if I had known then that Satanists were not in fact devil worshipers but rather atheists I could have written an even more surprising paper. Speaking of memories, turns out morality, not memory, makes us who we are.

Anyway, there’s a point to this and that is that the other night I fell down a google search rabbit hole and found a 2014 article called “Satanism and Scholars of American Religion” by John L. Crow which I found fascinating. He wrote:

“If we look at Oxford’s recent volume, The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, of the twelve scholars, only one teaches in America, Eugene V. Gallagher, a prominent scholar of New Religious Movements. The rest are from or teach in Northern Europe, mostly Scandinavian countries. While a number of the scholars in the book examine Satanism in a European context, seven of the essays look at aspects of American Satanism, many focusing specifically on the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Why is it that European scholars of religion have more to say about religious Satanism, a religious tradition that emerged in America, than American scholars of religion?”

“The answer to all of this is that scholars of religion in America are deeply ambivalent about Satanism, and much of this ambivalence comes from the field’s theological history and the theological commitments of its members. American scholars of religion are frequently uninformed about religious Satanism, and more importantly, due to a variety of reasons, mostly theological, do not consider Satanism a “real” religion or a religion worth study. Satanism shares many of the same problems as the traditions in the field of New Religious Studies. However, it has the added burden that, unlike other traditions studied and engaged by the field of NRM, Satanism rarely has anyone clarifying and educating about its historical background or place in American religious practice. Our field repeatedly attempts to portray itself as secular and independent of theology, particularly Christian theology. But the ambivalence about Satanism brings into focus the ways in which theology still shapes the field of religious studies, especially in America. Ultimately we need to ask ourselves. Are we theologians or are we social scientists? Sadly, when the topic is Satanism, the field, as a whole in America, looks more like the former than the latter.”

He followed that up a few months later with a post on his own blog with more thoughts on the topic and links to some other books addressing the issue. I bought all the books and can’t wait to read them.

Covert To Overt

[This is a forward that I wrote for the book “Covert to Overt: The Under/Overground Art of Shepard Fairey” which was released today. Shepard has been a trusted friend of mine for close to 20 years now and he remains someone I have unmeasurable respect for – I was honored to contribute something to this book. I though I’d post what I wrote here in case some people didn’t see the book but might enjoy it – though I fully recommend grabbing a copy for yourself regardless.]

1985 was a rough year for me. At home, at school. The fact that my recently divorced family had just moved across the country to somewhere in rural Texas, and had started using an assumed name didn’t help things. What did help things was a tutor that a teacher suggested I spend some time with after school. The tutor was a kid from a few grades above who seemed equally excited about the situation. We actually clicked right away. This was noteworthy because I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids. Not saying that I didn’t get along with them, I did, they were just into things I couldn’t really get excited about. I often felt like more of a spectator, just kind of watching things play out around. At that time I didn’t know any better and assumed I was just weird. Not that I’m not weird, but that’s a different story. Anyway, this tutor and I were supposed to work on my math and Latin (yes, Latin) skills which were sub par apparently, though they didn’t get any better during our lessons. Thing is, he didn’t teach me any math or latin, but he did clue me into everything awesome in the world.

The people you can point to in your life who had a significant impact are rare, but this guy, whose name I don’t even remember, introduced me to both Monty Python and the Circle Jerks, among other things. If you know me today you can see how much credit is due this one guy. On his suggestion I snuck home his loaned cassette copy of Group Sex and within seconds of putting it into my walkman I had an overwhelming feeling of “Finally!” Until then music had been one of two things for me – either the slow, mopey and depressing stuff that my mom way constantly playing at home, or the stuff on the radio that people were always dedicating to each other. One psudo-father figure who used to hang out around my house was a big Casey Kasem fan and was always listing to the weekly Top 40 countdowns. I found all of this to be terribly boring. Conversely, this cassette was exciting and scary.

This resonated, and made me excited about what else was out in the world that I didn’t know about. I dove in deep and had similar reactions upon hearing Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Run DMC, Gorilla Biscuits, NWA and Sick of It All not long after. I’d found my people, and even if they weren’t right there with me physically, knowing they were out there in the world somehow made things better. Knowing that these people who weren’t happy with the way things were and wanted to make a change could do something –even if it was just to sing about it. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful for me to learn at such a young age. Unconsciously these bands became my social litmus test, I could gauge right away where new people I’d meet fit in my world view. Were they people who would accept things as they were, or were they people who would try to change things for the better.

I had a similar experience with art. Growing up I’d been to museums and found them largely boring. I know now that was as much due to what I was being taken to be see as anything else, but as an angsty teenager I really didn’t give a shit about the old masters. Eventually I stumbled onto the likes of Bosch, Darger and Worhal and I got it. Just like the bands I was now obsessed with these artists were commenting on the society surrounding them, and not everything they had to say was roses and sunshine. Even if sometimes it was.

A decade later a friend who I’d been exchanging letters with for a while but never met – a penpal as we used to say – came to visit in Chicago. We spent the entire night of his arrival driving around the city in a borrowed pick up truck, blasting NWA and talking about the drive to have a hand in shaping the future. We talked about small actions that can have huge impacts. Writing a song. Telling someone about a band. Creating an image that makes people ask questions. Simple actions that can change the world. As sun rose we called it a night, having accomplished our goal of installing huge images of a sunken eyed figure looking out over the city commanding people to OBEY.

Or perhaps challenging them to resist such orders.

Betrayed

I depend on my hardware when I travel, I set things up and I expect them to do what they are supposed to. It saves me endless stress and frustration, so long as it works. Which, because I’m an Apple user, it always does. I never have to think about it. Until recently when it’s all I think about because Apple thinks they know what I want my hardware to do better than I do.

Example 1: The kid has an iPad, I loaded it up with videos for him a while ago. Anytime we travel together I know that as soon as the plane takes off I can give him the go and and he can watch any of the videos on his iPad and kill a few hours of travel time. Except last week as soon as we hit the runway one of his videos won’t play, then another, then another and another. I look and find some new setting “show all movies” which is turned on, I turn it off and now it shows “only movies that have been downloaded to this iPad” which is about 5 of the 30 that used to be there. Some unauthorized autoupdate changed this and deleted files that I had on this hardware. I don’t have autoupdates turned on for this so everything about this was against my wishes. Who on earth at Apple thought this was a good idea?

Example 2: Same trip, my iPhone. Same problem. Half my music is gone. I don’t use icloud, I don’t use Apple Music, I don’t use any streaming shit. I have my own MP3 files and I chose which of those files, those songs, I wanted on my phone. Except now half of them are gone because again, some update that I didn’t consent to deleted files from my device.

I used to be able to trust that Apple products would just work. Now I can’t. I feel betrayed.

And that’s on top of the massive piece of shit that iTunes has become.

While I’ve been reassessing my digital interactions I now find myself reassessing what tools I use as well. Suddenly a dumb music player that reads 256GB MicroSD cards sounds like a more appealing travel companion than my iPhone. And that makes me reassess everything else.

I need a new laptop as my trusty 11″ MacBook air that I’ve dragged all over the world for the last 2 years is on it’s last legs. I’d been eyeballing the new MacBooks but that was when I was trusting Apple to be making the right steps forward. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the older MacBook Pro seems much more appealing even though it’s bigger and heavier – if only because it has ports I can trust and depend on. But reconsidering that is making me reconsider anything. I’ve loyally used Mac OS since the early 80’s but suddenly I’m wondering if something else isn’t a better choice.

I don’t want a company deciding how I want to want to use my stuff. I want to make that decision. I don’t know if Apple respects my choices anymore. But what else do I consider?

I’m going AFT for a while

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter. No way I’m tweet storming this.)

“I’m done, for now, with spending lots of time in the public online space.
I want conversations, in DMs or emails or channels. I want time to think.
I want to look at the sky and listen to the world.”
Warren Ellis, Blood Work

I think the above sentiment captures a lot of what I’ve been feeling and have alluded to here and elsewhere. For me it boils down to a few things – “social media” as it were, just isn’t fulfilling for me anymore. I feel like I’m chasing something that no longer exists. What once provided community now feels empty. It makes me frantic because I’m not satiated, so I refresh, reload, keep looking and eventually walk away worse off than I started. It’s disappointing because I feel like there was so much promise. Maybe I just miss what once was, and want something more than it can provide. And realizing that, or perhaps accepting it, means continuing to look for something in a place you know it doesn’t exist is silly.

I’m taking a break from twitter for a while. I’ll be AFT. Away from twitter. That’s a terribly hard thing for me to say, and to accept. That site changed how I communicate with the world, it helped me find my voice, helped me find an audience, and helped me see the world through so many others eyes. It’s not the site it was anymore and I need to stop hoping it magically will be. For ages now I’ve pointed people there first and foremost for me. I was one of the first 140 people to join the site and now, 9 years or so in, I can’t even imagine how much of my life has been spent pinging their servers. I’m not sure what I have to show for that either. A few fantastic friends for sure – but can I say I wouldn’t have met those people elsewhere? I don’t regret any of it and I’m not saying this to be remorseful, rather I just need to walk away for a bit to get some perspective. I wasn’t really using Facebook when I quit it and I’ve never regretted that decision. I don’t ever think about it and don’t care what I’m missing. Right now I can’t imagine Twitter not being a part of my life, but I need to be able to do that. I need to figure out how I think through ideas and how I relate to other people without it revolving around a single website. Maybe I won’t be able to stand it and I’ll be back. Maybe I won’t. We’ll see how it plays out.

As I mentioned in my internet vacation thoughts, I’m not going offline – just rethinking what and when I use which things – and for what purpose.

Internet Vacation

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter. Subscribe or else.)

I’m fried. I’m exhausted. I’m overloaded. I have so much I want to do and I feel like I’m not getting anything done. I blame the internet. I need an internet vacation.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently but not exactly sure how to put my finger on it, or explain it but I think I’m getting there. That is, I’m getting no where. I’m feeling like I’m working all day and getting nothing done and I think it’s because I’m always on. Because of everything that I do and everything I’m involved with it’s not realistic for me to be offline for any extended period of time so the thought of an “internet vacation” in the sense of being offline for some giant chunk of time. That said, I think it’s imperative that I find a way to not be online all day long.

I don’t have the kind of relationships and connections with people online that I used to and I feel like I spend a lot of time and effort chasing that, whereas perhaps that time would be better spent building and fostering offline relationships and connections.

I’ve experimented a bit with this, about 6 months ago I moved my phone charger to the living room so I plug it in before I go to bed and don’t look at it again until after breakfast (unless I have an early morning meeting). This has helped, I sleep better, I can read a book in bed, I get a solid chunk of things done in the morning. Then the day begins – so to speak – I’m in front of my laptop or ipad or phone, or some combination of all three constantly. I’m juggling emails, slack teams, tweetdeck, an ever present search window for research, news feeds, etc. Not to mention todo lists, kid/family stuff, eating, and all the rest of it. I also chopped my following list on twitter in half, moving a lot of people to lists I check more sporadically and that’s been a good step, but it’s not enough.

I’m very seriously wondering if I could somehow engineer limited internet access for myself. One hour a day. Or two one hour blocks spaced throughout the day. In the offline times I could focus on the things I want and need to focus on, and knowing I only have an hour of connectivity maybe I’d be more discerning about how I spend that. Random browsing would disappear but I’m pretty sure I’m OK with that, and I could keep a text file with things I need to look up and then batch them.

I have Freedom App but I never use it because anytime I’ve tried something comes up and I need to get online and end up quitting it. But maybe it’s worth a shot – try it for a week or something and just put in 6 hours as how long I want to be offline, then quit browsers, and set a countdown clock somewhere. Is this even reasonable? I know don’t know, but I think I want to try it.