Philosophy

Girls

This is a post about television. I spent a huge number of years of my life watching little to no television so if you hate television I completely respect that. And I’d agree that most of it is bullshit. On occasion though a series, when you let it, can really steal you away. It goes from being just TV to being cinematic. Of course the best way to view something like this is all at once, a full season at a time. Anyone who ever watched The Wire or Deadwood in a single sitting can testify to that. These shows have the ability to steal you away. To forcefully pull you into their universe. It’s not terribly different that what you want from a good film, and that’s what good TV is all about.

And you can’t have good shows without good characters. The ones you can relate to, or the ones you wish you could. The fantasy of living in the shoes of a good character can be addictive.

One of my earliest TV memories ever took place when I was 3 or 4 years old, I would watch Welcome Back Kotter and felt a strong connection to the Sweathogs. Even at that early age I was drawn to the outsiders. I used to have a pair of jeans that, while I don’t remember a thing about them, must have somehow been similar to the clothes the guys on the show wore because I had to wear them anytime I was watching it. I was too young to understand that there was really no chance of the actors on my TV screen looking back out into the world of eyes glued on them, spotting me, and being so impressed by my jeans that they’d pull me into the program and I could hang out with them. Part of it was that I didn’t fully understand the technology behind these moving pictures being beamed into my house, but part of it was that I felt comfortable in the universe the writers had created and could see myself being friends with the characters. In a way I’ve judged much of the entertainment I’ve been exposed to sense through a similar lens – could I see myself as a part of this.

Movies, music, everything – the things that I have the strongest connections and attachements too are the ones that I can relate to.

That’s one of the reasons I love Girls so hard. I read a comment about it early on in the first seasons, written by someone I’ve forgotten but have immense respect for because they completely nailed it. They noted that the thing about Girls that will freak people out the most is that the main characters aren’t the pretty people. They aren’t the perfect ones or the ones that have it all figured out. Quite the oposite, they are flawed and ugly and fat and scared and lost. But most importantly – they are comfortable with that. They like themselves. Any other show that had characters like any of the people on Girls would put them in the jester roll, jokes would be made at their expense and there would be some storyline floating around about how these people wanted to “change” and be like everyone else. Lena Dunham has done the world an amazing service with this series by creating these characters who don’t give a fuck about any of that. I feel like these characters are in my circle of friends.

I wish I had role models like this when I was growing up. It would have been so awesome to know that it’s OK to not have all the answers, and it’s OK to make mistakes while trying to figure them out.

Punk rock gave me a great set of tools for not giving a shit what other people thought about me, but it took a long time for me to be OK with the person I actually was. Figuring that shit out and accepting it is no small task. It would have been awesome to know other people had made it through to the other side and survived.

Fighting your way to the middle

My friend Scott Fisher asked to give a last minute talk to his class at USC the other day. The topic request was vague – Safecast, Hackerspaces, whatever else comes up. I really like discussions that are more open ended like this and was excited to see which things I had to say sparked the students attention. The first hour was a lot of straight forward presentation with the second hour (d)evolving into more question and answer about life and philosophy rather than any particular topic.

Things took a twist when one student suggested that all my projects seem to be very successful, and I had to correct him and note that I don’t get asked to come talk about the failures. At which point we started talking about all the trials and errors you go through before those “successes.” I pointed out – hopefully clearly enough that everyone got what I was getting at – that the failures aren’t actually a bad thing, aren’t actually failures. They are lessons. They are steps. You have to take those steps if you want to go anywhere, if you want to pull anything off. Refusing to take those chances ensures you won’t have any successes. It demands risk. That’s either a chance you want to take or not. Some people can’t stomach the risk, some people can’t live without it.

One student asked me what the biggest mistake I ever made was. How the hell do you answer a question like that? I answered that I didn’t know what the biggest mistake was, but talked about a decision that I’d made a few years back – I walked away from a company shortly before it sold for many, many, many millions of dollars. Some of which would have ended up in my pocket. Had I chosen the other option – my life would be very, very different right now. But maybe not for the better – just different. Scott noted, excellently I might add, that had I chosen that other route many of the cool things I was there to talk about may never have happened. Or at least, I might not have been involved with them.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot since then, and I think I might have given the students the wrong idea. I don’t think that decision was a mistake. I may have suggested that I did, or may have given that impression. I’m very happy with the direction I’ve chosen for my life. I don’t regret that choice at all. I probably should have made that more clear – my point was more that sometimes small decisions can have huge impacts and that specific situation just happened to be on my mind that day.

I think what I would have liked to express a bit clearer to those students before they graduate and head out to the world is that a lot of people spend endless effort fighting to get to the middle. The spend their whole lives trying to do the same thing everyone else does. To me, there’s nothing appealing about that at all. In fact, the more people doing something the less attractive it is to me. Or rather, it’s less interesting. And the rewards for doing it are less satisfying.

Horray! You did the same thing as everyone else! Way to go!

Yuk.

I’d so much rather spend my time and efforts on something new. On something different. Maybe that is the road paved with endless failures lessons, but it’s also the road that can lead to massive success. And it certainly leads to massive satisfaction. If you spend all your time doing the same thing as everyone else, the absolute best thing you can hope for is mediocrity. If you spend your time on things you think are awesome, the worst thing that can happen is you look back to see you spent your short time here on this planet doing things you think are awesome. Not a single person fighting for the middle can say that. This route isn’t paved with fame or fortune, but I can’t fathom choosing any other way.

I want those kids to know that.

It’s not about failures vs successes, it’s about choosing to do the things you love.

Bouncing

One of the amusing tidbits in past was the year I spent working as a bouncer at a rave club in Gainesville, FL. Or rather, the rave club. In the whole south east. The place was legendary and people would travel from all corners of the world for special events there. The head of security had realized at one point that the biggest problem was that his staff would often abandon their duties to dance and get loaded during the headliners. To combat this he fired all of them and hired a team of people who he knew would have no interest in who was DJing, and no loyalties among the clientele – Straight Edge kids and Skinheads.

Turns out that a gang of teetotalers with no aversion to violence make really good security at a place like that.

The money was great even if the hours really sucked. Fridays and Saturdays often resulted in working until and hour or two after the sun came up. But we got paid in cash at the end of the night, and immediate financial gratification made 10 hours of untz untz untz almost tolerable.

I’ve got plenty of amazing stories to share about what when on during those long nights, past the long lines – and I will likely fill a chapter in a book with nothing but that at some point. But the most interesting, and frightening thing that happened wasn’t so much behind closed doors, but inside of ourselves. Well, I don’t want to speak for anyone else – inside of myself.

Acquisition

If nothing else the last few years of trying to reduce what I own has caused me to think long and hard before I buy anything. Impulse takes over from time to time of course, but for the most part I try to really consider a few things to decide if something is worth buying or not. I have a few questions I ask about an item – a yes across the board is a very good sign. A “no” to any of them isn’t a deal breaker in and of itself, but it helps put that purchase in perspective. So this is what I ask:

1. Was this designed/made by someone who gave a shit about it?
This is a relatively newer concern, thought in hindsight I’ve always appreciated things that fell into this category without really being conscious of why I liked them. You can just feel when something was created by someone who actually cared about it. The difference between something that was created for the purpose of creating something and something that was created because someone was passionate about it obvious. As I look around at the stuff I end up with, the things that would get a ‘yes’ here are the ones I have a strong connection to, and the things I want to keep.

2. Assuming I don’t lose this, will I still be able to use this in 10 years?
Is it durable or is it a piece of crap. That’s what this boils down to, and it applies to everything from clothing to electronics. I’m totally over single use products and want something to stand the test of time. I’ll happily pay more for something that is quality and will last a very long time. I have a jacket that I’ve owned for 12 years that I still wear. I have a pair of fingernail scissors that I’ve had for over 20 years and they are just as functional as the first time I used them. A few years ago I lost a pocket knife that I’d carried almost every day for over 10 years. I have a multitool on my keychain that is nearing it’s 10 year mark. Those were all solid purchases.

3. Is this thing compatible with other things I already have?
This applies to technology as well as fashion. I’m not going to buy some proprietary POS that requires me to get a whole bunch of stuff just to work with it. I’m not going to buy some item that won’t go with anything else in my closet. Things need to be as modular as possible. That’s one of my travel tricks – everything works with everything else, so I can pack fewer things because everything can be used in a variety of ways over several days.

4. Do I already have something that does the same thing this thing does? If so, does this do it better?
I’m not opposed to upgrading, in fact I might even have a problem with it. But this is something I try to ask and try to wrestle with the answers. If something works just as well as something I already have, then the motivation for buying it is pretty suspect.

5. If I decide this thing isn’t for me, can I resell it for the same price I paid for it? Or more?
This is actually my longest running question, I asked this long before I knew I was asking it. Reason being I’ve never had a wealth of expendable income. I don’t care much about money which means I don’t tend to have a lot laying around. When I need it for something I’m pretty good at getting it, but I don’t collect money. If that makes sense. So, back to the point here – when I decide I want to buy something it’s always been important to me that I not be losing that money – rather I’m converting it into goods that are of equal value. And ideally they will retain that value. If I’m convinced that I can easily get the money back that I spend on it sometime down the line, the decision to buy something is pretty simple. If I know it’s going to depreciate in value the minute I walk out of the store, that also makes the decision pretty simple.

As I said, these aren’t “all or nothing” rules, but they are questions that give me pause and help me consider if something is a smart buy or not. As I progress through this world, I want the things around me to be very specifically chosen, and I want less throw away random stuff taking up space.

Failure

Earlier tonight I asked Twitter what I should blog about. The first reply I got was “failure.” On it’s own I don’t know that I would have considered this, but one of the following replies I got was “the experience of completion, the exaltation of closure and the excitement of moving on to your next big thing?” OK, now this is interesting. Assuming that someone wouldn’t suggest I write about something I didn’t have any experience with, this is some pretty opposite end of the spectrum shit right here. One guy thinks I have a lot to say about failure and the other thinks I might wax poetic about success.

The truth is, I’m not sure I know anything about either of those things. I’ve never considered anything I’ve done a failure or a success. I don’t have some massive bankruptcy everything up in flames ending that could unquestionably be called a failure nor any cash out and be financially independent for the rest of my life I’d be an asshole not to consider it a success. The things that haven’t ended well still did really great things that I’m proud of. The things that didn’t end, probably could have been done better.

It’s perspective.

Where you stand makes all the difference.

Some people are perched in such a way that they think whatever they touch is golden. And sometimes they convince everyone else to view things from their vantage point. Others might never see anything as anything but a loss. I have those kinds of people in my family. Growing up I’d look at one relative with incredibly jealousy because everything they did was awesome. Everything. And they wanted to make sure you knew it. And I’d shrink up in anticipation of the things another relative would likely say anytime I knew she’d be around, because the world looked like a massive pile of shit to her and the only way she could seem to find some joy was to point out everyone else’s shortcomings.

Probably without realizing it, having those kinds of forces around me as a kid helped me try to find the the good in the bad, and the bad in the good. There’s nothing attractive to me in someone who constantly talks themselves up, or beats themselves down. I think for the vast majority of us out here in the world, we all frequently sit somewhere in the middle. And that’s OK.

I’ve always been attracted to this duality. Actually all kinds of duality, but the duality of humans specifically. Good people who do bad things. Bad people who do good things. I like this a lot. It’s complex. It’s fascinating. It’s relatable. Most people don’t feel like I do. At least I get the impression they don’t. They want someone to either be a hero or a villain. They want something to either be a failure or a success. But sometimes the road to failure is littered with tiny successes. It’s easy to only see the failure, but the right perspective will let you see the successes too. And that’s what enables you to keep going.

That’s what enables me to keep going at least.

Singularity

One of the huge benefits of “stuff reduction” is that it removes a layer of clutter from your mind allowing you to spend more time on the decisions you want to make and less time on the decisions you have to make. There are schools of thought that suggest we have a limited number of X available to us each day (or in a lifetime for that matter) and once we hit that number we have no more available to us. In this equation X can be anything – it could be steps, breaths or decisions. Running gets you to the finish line sooner, so slow down and enjoy the journey instead. Focusing on your breathing keeps you calm, so if you make an effort to breath slower because you think there is a countdown clock running then you end up with a more relaxed life. The same could be said for decisions – if you only have so many available, once you run out you simply can’t make any more.

I’m not saying this is factual, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. Let’s say you are in the kitchen getting ready to prepare dinner and you find that you need a knife. If you open the drawer and are presented with 10 knifes of different shapes and sizes then you have to decide which one is best for the job. Then you have to consider the others just to make sure you’ve made the right decision first. Now you have to make sure this knife is sharp enough for your needs; when was the last time you sharpened it? You sharpened a knife last week, but was it this one? Wait, is this the knife with the shipped blade? Etc..

If instead you have just one knife, then you don’t think about any of that, you just grab it and get to work. You already know it’s the right one, because – having decided to just have one knife – you took the time to select the best one for whatever job might come up. You don’t have to wonder when it was last sharpened, you already know because you only have one knife that you concern yourself with. So in this case, rather than spending decisions points (so to speak) on which knife, you get to spend them on what to do with the knife.

Inspiration

Yesterday my (almost) 3 year old broke his leg and had a full leg cast put on. This is a kid who has been potty trained for barely 2 months, and now has to rely on us to help him even roll over in bed. We didn’t know how he would handle it.

You know how he spent the day today? Taking one lick of the lollipop he got from the Doctors office every few hours because “he didn’t want it to go away too fast.” Figuring out how to pull himself on his chest and get around the house. Figuring out how to stand up on his one good leg so he can pull himself up onto the couch. Hugging the dog that knocked him over yesterday. Telling his parents that he loved them. Saying that his cast looked cool. Playing with his trains on the floor. Being excited that he gets to use the big toilet since he can’t bend his leg to use the small one anymore. Going on with his life as if nothing was any different.

You how how he didn’t spend the day today? Complaining. Moping. Feeling sorry for himself. Being angry. Lashing out. Using this as an excuse why he cant do something. Asking “what if?” or even thinking about why.

I watched this with incredible fascination. This huge wrench just got thrown into his life and he couldn’t care less. He hasn’t let it impact him in the slightest bit. He knows what he has on his plate right now and is using that to his advantage, not wasting his time worrying about what could be there or why he doesn’t have something else. He’s just going full steam ahead, just like he was yesterday.

There’s a lesson here. I hope I learn it.

Punk Rock: A History of Political (In)action and Social Response

Earlier this evening a friend tweeted:

“Punk Rock: A History of Political (In)action and Social Response.” This is a class I would attend. Any teachers out there?

And my head instantly exploded. Because obviously this should already exist, yet for some reason dosen’t. Which means I have no other course of action then to try and rectify that.

One of the main draws to punk rock for me when I was going up was that here was a group of people who by all accounts had been rejected by the society around them – they were the freaks and the weirdos – yet this small group refused to sit still and was going to actively play a roll in shaping the world around them. This was incredibly appealing to me on so many levels, and shaped much of my world view going forward. I’ve never questioned that a small group of dedicated individuals could have a huge impact on whatever they set their sights on, and I’ve always scoffed at the people who assume individuals can’t make a difference.