Workin’ in a coal mine

15 10 2018

Still doing clean-up work on the main freelance project, but I am beginning to see the light!

After which I’ll be doing some ongoing work for this gent, but it shouldn’t (?) be so intense.

I do want to get back to this, if only because I miss writing in my own voice. I’m ghosting his, and he is, as I told him, a more “enthusiastic” writer than I am. While I don’t have too much trouble getting the basics of it right, I am leery of adding too much of his beloved “WOW” moves. (No, he doesn’t actually write WOW, but he does like to dial it way up.) So I send him a pale imitation of his style, and he cranks the color.

It works for both of us most of the time.

I’ve worked for him before. He’s a good guy, straightforward in dealing with any conflicts, and he pays on time. It helps tremendously that he works in a field that I care almost nothing about, so it’s easy for me to yield when there is any difference of opinion: I’m not invested in being right. I want to do good work for him, and it’s up to him to decide what that good work entails.

After all, it’s his name on the cover.

Oh, and I’m not at all conflicted about ghosting. It’s his project, his ideas, and he’s got the last word when it comes to editing. I do offer my thoughts when I think it might be useful, but mostly I’m filling in a sketch he offers. I’m a bit more than an amanuensis, but it’s easy to think of this as work I do for him, rather than my work.

I mean, I’ve worked for organizations to which I’ve contributed my words and ideas and only rarely has my name been attached to those items. That’s kind of the job: they pay me to think and to write, and they claim the output.

And, again, I’m fine with that.

But I do miss my writing, work that I claim as my own. I fell away from it before I took on this latest project, but now, having written tens of thousands of words for someone else, I’m kinda juiced to reel off a few for myself.

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It seems like everybody got the blues

27 08 2018

This is not an obit.

Yes, Aretha Franklin has died. And John McCain. And Neil Simon. But I don’t have much to say about any of them.

I mean, Aretha’s “Respect” is a song for the ages, one I can’t begin to listen to without finishing it, and what she could do to and with so many songs? Yeah.

But even as I had a cd or two of hers, I wasn’t a devotee, and don’t know that there’s much I could say.

I’ve enjoyed Simon’s work, but: ditto.

And John McCain? His reputation was on the whole better than he was, but that for bravery was entirely earned. And as terrible as so many of his policy preferences were, he seemed actually to give a shit about the common good.

A low bar, yes, but one too few are able to clear these days.

Anyway, I comment on these deaths mainly to comment on the commentary on their deaths. It wasn’t enough for Aretha to have been a musical genius: every song she sang had to be better than any other version! And John McCain? He was a hero! He was a warmonger! How dare you say anything good! How dare you say anything bad!

How dare you say anything good! How dare you say anything bad!

That’s how it is, I guess, policing every reaction to every event. It’s probably always been like this—gotta keep folks in line—but with social media it’s not just fights but fights about the fights and fights about the fights about the fights. I like a decent recursion, but this is a bit much, even for me.

I’ve got my own lines, of course, but as I’ve said before, I’m not much for boundary policing. There’s some worth to it, I guess, especially on public matters, but I don’t much see the point of cracking on people for their personal reactions. I read a really good in-depth negative obit of McCain—one which probably comes as close to any to capturing my own sense of the man—but I’m not bothered by those which lean positive. There’s no betrayal of principle in recognizing he lived a long time, did a lot of things, many (from my perspective) negative, but a few positive.

Besides, what the hell kind of principle is it to deny humanness to an adversary? He may not always have been the best of us, but I think he tried. I think it’s fine to land on either side of that; just don’t deny the other side.

~~~

That said, I’ll be honest: I probably won’t react well if, when the current president dies, someone who ought to know better says something good about him.

So, if I do anything other than roll my eyes at those folks, well, feel free to call me out. This is one line I would defend.

 





Oh, but things ain’t just the same

4 07 2018

Yeah, I’m an inconstant bum, but still. . .





Do you hope to find new ways of doing better than your worst

10 06 2018

I could just as easily led this off with any number of “Hello. . . ” lyrics, for any of you left reading this.

It’s been awhile, yeah. Sorry about that.

Truly, I am. It’s taken me years to get more than a few followers, and while I doubt you’ve been pacing for the past month or two wondering When is Terri gonna get off her ass and write, still, I haven’t kept my (written) word to you.

It’s the same thing, really, that I’ve written about before. I’m out of sorts, drifting, and, lately, sad. I think of something to write and then I don’t and then I think Oh, I should write and then I don’t and then it’s easier not to write because I haven’t written and the longer I haven’t written the more the not-writing weighs and the long I’m silent I wonder is it better to be silent than mediocre?

I am not the only one to get sucked into this whirlpool of anxiety, I know; the sucking sucks, nonetheless.

My life isn’t terrible. I’m teaching this summer, doing some freelance work with someone I’ve worked with previously and who I like. I finally bought a new mattress (loooooooooong overdue) and new bedframe (because) and I’m working out and eating fine and, y’know, I’m mostly fine, in most of the important ways.

But I am drifting, and sad, and I need to do something about both, sooner rather than later. There is no emergency, and while I can look at Kate Spade (who was only a few years older than me) and Anthony Bourdain (whose most famous book I’ve read and whose shows I’ve watched) with a weary sympathy, where they ended up is on the other side of where I am, now.  I’m sad, not self-destructive.

And I’m not sure what to do about it. Therapy, sure, yes, I’ve done some initial checking-around, and I should follow through, but, okay, yes, I should, no buts.

But: I’ve never done therapy when it wasn’t propelled by an emergency. Therapy was a backstop to self-destruction, something I deliberately put in the way of my own conflictedly-willed erasure. I used it both the prepare for and to prevent my end.

That’s not how I would use it, now, and maybe that’s what bumfuzzling me. What is it like to try for something more, rather than something less?





If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake

2 04 2018

Why didn’t anyone tell me about The Great British Baking Show?

Okay, yes, there all kinds of social media stories and tweets and whatnot about the show, but still.

I was scrolling through Netflix last weekend, once again failing to get into Jessica Jones, and thought, huh, this Brit bake bit, why not.

Why not, indeed. I slurped down that first season Fri-Sat, then on Sunday watched the entirety of season two. This past weekend, did the same with seasons three and four. (I was going to save that last available season until next weekend, but then thought, Who am I kidding, and binged away.)

I don’t know why I liked it so much. I have watched my share of cooking shows (tho’ I’m not much for cooking) and enjoy baking (tho’ rarely do), and even a few competitive cooking shows, but nothing about all of the media around the show made me particularly want to watch it.

The set-up (for the eight of you who haven’t watch it) is simple: 12 (in one season, 13) amateur bakers start in episode one; after 3 different bakes judged by two judges (and watched over by the mildly-comic-relief hosts), one person is declared star baker and one sent home. Episode 2, same as the first, on down to the last episode, in which the final three bakers compete for the title.

That’s it. Regular folk from across the UK watching their custards curdle and caramels crystallize and peering into their ovens for their goods to rise and bake in the too-little time left.

All the while trying to meet judge Mary Berry’s standard of “sheer perfection”.

It’s charming.

The bakers are both competitive and cooperative, aware of their own positions but also helping each other and teasing each other and sharing a kind of esprit de corps in the face of the judges oft bewildering instructions.

And withering criticism: Berry and fellow judge Paul Hollywood are unsparing, clear in what they like and don’t like.

That first season, I admit, I cringed at the criticism. I found it hard to watch the bakers as they presented wilted towers and underbaked breads to the judges, watched the color flow into or out of their faces as Berry and Hollywood noted precisely what was wrong with the bake.

Of course, there was plenty of praise for “good bakes”, too, but it was the criticism that got to me.

I’m terrible with criticism, more so now than I was when younger (when I was also not great with it). I have difficulty separating a critique of a performance or an essay from an evaluation of my very existence as a human being, which has meant, unsurprisingly, that I have difficulty putting forth anything which matters to me out in front of other people.

I have of course: am doing so now, with this blog. But it took awhile to get comfortable with this—early on I went to some effort to separate my give name from my chosen blog-name—and even now I oft say, Well, it’s not like any of this matters.

(Which is, of course, a dismissal of those of you who do read this. The joy of neuroses lies in the double move of magnifying the number of those who see one’s faults and diminishing those who see the good.)

Anyway, these firefighters and gardeners and stay-at-home moms and students are afraid—literally shaking afraid—and putting themselves out there in front of gods and country and having a go.

So there it is: not just charming, but inspiring.





Everybody wants a box of chocolates, 24

20 03 2018

Too much money makes people weird.

I am not at all opposed to weird—I got a whole series on “weird wonder”—but man, the weirdness that comes out of wealth often ranges from the pitiful(ly out of touch with the rest of the human world) to the just plain creepy.

I’m not quite sure where to put this:

The audacious real estate project – branded Powder Mountain – is becoming a mecca for altruistically minded members of the global elite. “The goal will always remain the same,” says Elliott Bisnow, Rosenthal’s business partner: “To be a beacon of inspiration and a light in the world.”

A mountain retreat for the psychographically correct billionaire as beacon. Huh.

The beautiful surroundings and unique blend of people, Rosenthal believes, will create the “exponential opportunities of the future”. “I have this whole rap with Gertrude Stein, Katharine Graham, De’ Medici, Bauhaus. There’s this rich history of groups coming together, where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, right?” he says. “I think that’s what’s happening here.”

Again: huh.

It’s not just rich folks on a mountain, though; it’s also rich folks thinking something like this is a good idea:

Further Future, a gathering in the Nevada desert attended by the ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, which has been described as “Burning Man for the 1%”, promises a culture of “mindful optimism, wonder and exploration”. . . .

Oh, god. Burn it all.

Anyway, back to Powder Mountain (which, really, that’s the best name you could come up with? Powder fucking Mountain? Christ, I think there’s some 75′ snowhill in south-central Wisconsin called Powder Mountain): of course, it would be gauche actually to discuss MONEYMONEYMONEY at a place like this:

Rosenthal had told me I would be immersed in a community of “polymaths” and “savants”, but they would be a humble bunch. “If people are really like ‘oooh’, showing off, showing you pictures of their supercars or some shit at the dinner table? Probably not a cultural fit at Summit,” he says. . . . .

Like others, I had been quietly schooled in the unwritten social rules. Asking someone what they do is considered a faux pas (the socially acceptable alternative is “What is your passion?”). Business cards, I was warned, should not be exchanged in a brazen way.

So, okay to exchange those cards, just not “brazenly”.

Oh, and I don’t need to mention the talks take place in a yurt-ish structure, do I?

For years the team worked remotely in Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, New York, Miami and Barcelona. They would combine work with snowboarding in Montana and surfing in Nicaragua. But by late 2011, the friends were approaching 30 and starting to travel less. They were living and working out of a mansion in Malibu and, Rosenthal recalls, hosting “amazing dinners that became pretty culturally significant in LA at that time”.

I. . . what?

I [journalist Paul Lewis] steer the conversation to the subject of how utterly detached from the real world elites seem to have become. “Elitism, the way I would define it, is obtainable,” he replies. “All that stands between you and being elite is your own investment in yourself.”

I invest myself in sleep: I am a sleep-elite! And cheese! I am a cheese-elite!

Oh my god, I hadn’t read all the way through, and just stumbled on this (after Lewis had pressed him about hard work not always leading to wealth):

“What are you doing to create the utility for yourself? Are you introducing people so they can collaborate?” he says. Struggling Americans, he adds, might want to “host a dinner. Invite 10 strangers. See what happens.”

Rosenthal presses on with his thesis, telling me there are just not enough people in the world who will “excessively commit their lives to something. Journalism, cheese, automobiles, whatever. Rocket ships – perfect example. Everyone wants to work at SpaceX, no one wants to go to engineering school.” [emphasis added]

“Everyone wants to eat cheese but no one wants to milk the cow!” I am an aphorism-elite! Pay me monies to talk at your rich people!

There is, of course, more of this, because there’s always more of this. I mean, these people are so ridiculous that I almost feel a little bad pointing out how ridiculous they are.

When I hitch a ride in Chawla’s SUV, he tells me how he came to invest in Powder Mountain. He had just been on a disappointing trip to Verbier, a resort in the Swiss Alps where the food was “not that progressive”. Utah, he says, made for a refreshing change. “I bumped into 30 of my friends. I didn’t have to do anything. The food was amazing,” he says. “There was a moment when they served coconut water.” Coconut water was the very thing he’d been craving in Switzerland. At that moment, he thought to himself, “These guys just get me.” He adds: “I thought, you know what, I’d love to support this project.”

But then I remember they’re all billionaires with their snoots so far up their own asses they sneeze into their large intestines—

He tells me he’s “still evolving”. He’s been meditating, reading, learning about ecology and sustainable farming. If Bisnow is committed to altruism, why is the Summit Institute, the not-for-profit wing of his empire, so minuscule, with an annual budget that is a fraction of what it cost to build his house?

“We’ve just been so busy with so many things, we thought there’s no rush,” he replies. “Why not just slowly ramp it up?”

—and I think, Fuck ’em.





Weird wonder #43, update

14 03 2018

Alas, the last of the Oldman Cats has died.

I reprinted one of the the dialogues here, but you can find more old-cat wisdom scattered across his writings for Lawyers, Guns & Money, including this bit:

OLDMAN MUND: I SO FUCKING BUFF I DO CROSSFOOT

SEK: You mean CrossFit?

OLDMAN MUND: CROSSFOOT MAKE ME SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: You don’t do CrossFit — but you’re annoying as people who do, so there’s that.

OLDMAN MUND: FUCK YEAH I DO CROSSFOOT I DO IT RIGHT NOW

SEK: That’s not CrossFit — that’s you crossing your feet.

OLDMAN MUND: FUCK YEAH I CROSSFOOT

SEK: Why do you even —

OLDMAN MUND: I SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: No, you’re old and feeble, so you cross your feet when you walk and —

OLDMAN MUND: CROSSFOOT MOTHERFUCKER SO FUCKING BUFF

SEK: I’m gonna let you have this.

OLDMAN MUND: LIKE YOU HAVE CHOICE I WILL CROSSFUCK YOU UP

SEK: That’s not even a —

OLDMAN MUND: YOU SHUT UP NOW I GO BE FUCKING BUFF OVER HERE

SEK was Scott Eric Kaufman, and it is in the past tense that another, bigger, Alas lies: Scott died in the fall of 2016 from a chronic medical problem that turned acute.

I never met him, never interacted with him, but even now, writing this, I’m tearing up, because he was young, and smart, and funny, and kind, and he brought his whole human self to his writing. Check out the encomiums to him.

I don’t quite believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, it’d be nice to think Oldman cats Virgil and Sigmund are hassling SEK about mofungo and sideways hopping at all of the strange noises in the great beyond.