Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D. ▼

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
 
Teaching
 
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
 
Companies and Brands
 
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
 
On Google
 
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
 
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
 
7 Books
Thousands of articles
 
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
 
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
 
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
 
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
 
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
 
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
 
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

Recap.  §

So it’s been a hell of a couple of weeks. Maybe longer, I lose track. I guess it’s about three weeks. I haven’t been posting much. I’ve been behind in contacting friends and in sharing photos on Facebook. I’ve managed to get the kids to Taekwondo, but not much else—every non-work, non-Taekwondo moment has been spent trying to cope with urgent tasks.

Car Stuff:

  • Blew a cam seal on the new (used) car. This is partially my fault, partially the universe’s fault. I bought a V70 when I wrecked the old one, and I knew that the PCV system needed to be serviced, and that until then, I needed to drive it gently. Well, I didn’t.
  • Because the cam seal blew oil everywhere, also needed a timing belt.
  • European shop estimate for all three jobs (cam seals, timing belt, PCV rebuild) was ~$1,500. This did not make me happy.
  • So I decided to do it myself.
  • Um, twice. (cam seal = okay, but PCV = I fucked up the first time, TB = the new tensioner was defective the first time)
  • In the process, also caused some headaches for myself (broken hoses, misfires) that have occupied a bunch of time.

I think we’re finally back on the road now. I’ve spent most of the last three weeks buried in car parts and engine dissection, pretty much every last bit of non-work, non-Taekwondo time. And then there are the other details:

  • As car work has proceeded, my hands have been more and more beaten up and swollen. Hard to type.
  • Splashed hot oil on myself (no, not from the car, while trying to cook in a hurry). Got second degree burns up and down my right arm. Hard to use.
  • Broke up a dog fight (the young one went after the old one for a bit of something). Small dog got three fingers on my hand because in the moment I pried open with hands, rather than with a break stick. Harder to type.
  • Things at work have been everything but normal, with lots of urgent directives from the top down.
  • Still have a friend in town visiting, which is helpful for all of this car work time, but also shakes up my routine and invades my brain.
  • Ended up having to take the small dog to the vet, and other unnecessary expenses—which meant that money got very tight and some things had to go. So there was also frantic eBaying with greasy hands, and fulfillment to do.
  • Because of the routine changes, the friend in town, and me being so busy, the small dog regressed over the last few weeks in potty training—so there has also been a lot of poop cleanup and dog training.
  • I created a social complication for myself that I am just socially awkward enough to not be able to deal with well. And it bums me out because it’s one of those cases in which you’re really positive on something and then it gets complicated and doesn’t turn out like you thought and you’re both crestfallen and a little bit caught. I won’t go into that one.
  • The house is a mess, the laundry is undone, but the car is finally back to reliably mobile again (I hope) until I tackle the drive shaft (there is some vibration; I’m hoping a CV joint and not, say, a center bearing or something—but one thing at a time) and the transmission flush (I might just to a series of drain-and-replace though).

    My hands are barely working and are full of injuries and the same goes for my arms. There has been zero recreation so far this summer and the summer is half over. And there is zero money (thanks to car and vet and so on) to do any just yet.

    I would sincerely like for July to be nice and calm and simple and fun, because June has been a bear. In fact, 2017 in general has not been easy to cope with thus far. By comparison, 2016 was fairly easy to manage. That is not at all what I would have thought if you’d asked me in 2016. A divorce year is supposed to be as hard as it gets, right? Well not in this case.

TGIF.  §

This has been the week from hell in the middle of the month from hell. I’m glad it’s over.

Never ask yourself how it could get worse; life will show you.

Age.  §

Today I found out that someone I know is so young that I’ve been blogging longer than they’ve been alive. I had no idea, and frankly, it gives me the willies.

— § —

I don’t like being the age that I am now. Not becuase age has taken it out of me (people routinely imagine that I’m in my twenties) or because I’m embarrassed to be my age (I know stuff and I’ve done stuff, and that’s a useful defense against a great many accusations and assertions), but because socially it’s not a good age for me to be.

When I was a kid, I always felt more comfortable around people who were in their twenties and early thirties. Now that I’m in my forties, I’m still more comfortable around people who are in their twenties and early thirties.

Why? Because age seems to take the piss out of everyone else. I don’t like people my age. Here’s what I think of them:

– Are dour
– Have their values wrong
– Have forgotten how to care
– Are wrapped up in their own baggage
– Take life both too seriously and not seriously enough
– Spend their middle years on things that won’t matter in the end
– Talk about boring, boring “adult” stuff that I don’t care about

Note that with the last item, I don’t mean—say—politics or the price of fish in China. Those are interesting topics, actually, when done right. I mean they seem to talk about themselves, endlessly, but in ways that induce a coma almost instantly.

It’s all little day-to-day details and who did what and when and work politics and past experiences and blah, blah, blah.

Try—just try—to get a forty-something to talk about why the sky is blue or how rain smells or what they imagine for themselves at 80 years old, beyond the size of their house, car, and bank account.

— § —

I suppose that’s it in the end. It feels as though everyone my own age has given up on the universe and settled into rank materialism. They have succumbed to the pressure to “grow up” and rendered themselves husks of the human beings that they once were. Capitalism’s fault? Who knows.

All I know is that “adults” are boring.

— § —

None of this is meant to connote irresponsibility. In fact, I’m more responsible than most of them. I pay my bills. I’m rarely late for anything. I actually follow laws. Even the little ones. That’s more than I can say for most forty-somethings.

I mean that people my age quite literally confuse responsibility with a kind of dull dourness. They imagine that you can declare bankruptcy, never be on time, speed, jaywalk, evade taxes, and shoplift, yet still be “mature” if you adopt a blase, instrumentalist, cynical pose and gossip about co-workers a lot on weekdays and go to clubs on weekends.

Basically, they’re disgusting.

Sure, from time to time they finger-paint or climb a mountain or whatever, but there is a weird way in which they don’t do these experiences in a genuine way; it’s all for the story—for the social capital and the identity-building, not for the experience itself.

They might finger-paint on Saturday night with a bunch of other adults, and probably even do it drunk, but they don’t finger-paint. Not like a kid does. It’s not pure. It’s not imaginative. It’s not honest.

— § —

I think that’s a core issue. Nearly everyone beyond their early thirties is a liar, to themselves most of all. I suppose they’ll all get cured roundabout retirement or something.

No doubt they’ll have more stuff than me in most cases.

There is something to that. I do wish, at times, that I had more stuff. Or more money. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade my own way of being in the world for theirs.

— § —

That does bring up the question, however, of how it appears—and reflects on me—to be perpetually better at interacting with people half my age than I am at interacting with people my own age.

But it just has to be that way. When people my own age or shortly behind it start talking after hours, my eyes glaze over. Because they’re talking about nothing that matters in almost every case, but I am bound by social norms to pretend as though it does.

Nothing is more deadening than participating in those sorts of “conversations.”

— § —

Seriously, just once I’d like to meet some people my own age who wonder why the sky is blue and who are willing to sit and reflect on that for four to six hours, and find it to be a moving experience—even if it means that they’re not getting yardwork done or missing an opportunity to earn more overtime so they can afford a better Bimmer.

Down, down, down.  §

What if someone was always trying to tell you what to do, but in the most congenial possible way, that comes from a “place of caring” and sociability?

They were always trying to tell you what to do, even though these are not the things you wanted to do. And worse:

  • If ever you said no, a room full of people would call you an asshole and anti-social and a bunch of other things and complain about you to your face—each time.
  • But doing anything that they would tell you to do would by its course result in a punch in the gut that left you reeling—each time.

So sometimes you said “no” and got a chorus of people swirling around you calling you an asshole. Other times, you did what they said even though you didn’t want to and got punched in the gut as a result.

What if?

Sound like fun?

That’s what it’s like to be an introvert hanging around extroverts. It just doesn’t work. It’s painful. Invariably you feel worse afterward.

— § —

Here’s the thing: extroverts always, without fail, assume (not consciously) that everyone in the world is exactly like them. That their experience is the sum total of all experience, that their preferences are the sum total of all preferences, that their lifestyles are the natural lifestyle for all human beings.

They do not listen. They are incapable of listening. They certainly do not think that you know what is best for you if what you think is best for you differs from what they think is best for you. You must be wrong. Never mind that you live in your body, in your life, have your preferences; never mind that nobody is positioned to know you as well as you are.

This does not occur to them. You have a thought or a preference or a behavior that does not align with theirs—and therefore you must not have a clue about yourself, or about what makes you happy and what doesn’t.

— § —

The archetypal version of this problem is the “just go to the party” problem.

E: Let’s go to a party.

I: I don’t want to go—I won’t have any fun. You go and have fun! I’ll read a book.

E: Oh come on, you can’t stay here by yourself. You’ll have fun once you’re there. I know you will!

I: Really I won’t. They leave me feeling lousy. But you go and enjoy!

E: Come on! Seriously, I have to drag you kicking and screaming to have a life sometimes!

I: Not going.

E: You’re going. I’m your friend and I want you to be happy. I won’t let you not go!

…10 minutes later…

I: Okay, fine. I’ll go but I’m leaving after an hour or so.

…30 minutes later, at party…

E: Isn’t this the greatest party ever?! Oh my god I’m having the greatest time! How about you?

I: I’m not having fun. This is hell.

E: Oh my god, you’re trying not to have fun. You’re actually working at it.

I: Seriously? No, I’m not. I’m just not into parties. Like, at all.

E: Well it’s your own fault if you’re at a great party and you’re determined to sulk!

Here’s the thing.

No, extrovert, it’s not the introvert’s own fault. They told you they wouldn’t have any fun, they knew they wouldn’t have any fun, they didn’t want to go and they were right about it. It’s your fault as the pushy extrovert who would no doubt be offended if they didn’t go (which is why they went—they value your friendship and did it to make you happy) that they’re stuck in a situation where, as predicted, they’re not enjoying it.

They don’t need to try harder. Trying harder is not going to get them a thing. They are who they are. But you can’t fathom it because it’s not the same way you feel, so naturally they must be trying to be miserable. It couldn’t be that they agreed to do something that violates every principled fiber in their being just to make you happy, and now they’re suffering the consequences.

But are the extroverts ever grateful? Do the introverts get words like this?

“Well thanks for humoring me and coming. I really appreciate it. I’m sorry I dragged you here. You were right, I should have listened to you.”

The answer is no, the introverts do not. What the introverts get is more shit for a week or two from the extrovert for being “such a downer” and for “going to a party and just sulking and ruining it for everyone.” Extroverts generally don’t even notice, or care about, the gesture—which was made at their virtual command. Worse, they appear to be cheerful and full of joi de vivre in such situations, not caring in the least about the introvert’s feelings.

Because, of course, the introvert’s feelings are wrong. Because they’re different from the extrovert’s feelings—and so they can be dismissed.

— § —

Of course, it’s not just about parties. Extroverts are pushy. They’re always pushing on introverts to do or say one thing or another. If you’re an extrovert, watch for this. Watch for yourself to give “suggestions” that:

  • Presume that the introvert doesn’t know WTF is good for their own self.
  • Get repeated over and over again as you look for signs of acquiescence.
  • Aren’t a response to advice solicitations, but are given proactively and of your own initiative.

Every time you do this, your introvert friend is feeling more and more disrespected by you, and they don’t know how to get out of this situation because you won’t take “no” for an answer—and they’re not ready to terminate the friendship yet.

— § —

People are different. Often introverts are very different. They have different habits, different objects, different wants and desires from you. And when you push them into stuff and they do it for you, they are unhappy, best case scenario, or really important stuff in their life breaks, worst case scenario.

And you probably don’t even see these things as being broken. You’ve probably even “good naturedly” told them these things don’t matter and they should “let loose” a little.

That’s right, extroverts. You are probably harming your introvert friends—and so far as they can tell, you usually don’t even care.

So if you’re an extrovert—think about all of this for a while. Is this you?

— § —

Oh, and do not, under any circumstances, ever, give advice to an introvert unless it is solicited. Introverts don’t need your advice because they already know what they are doing and already know how they feel about it. I know you don’t understand that, extroverts.

None of this occurs to you. In fact, it’s in large measure why we won’t go to the party, and why we know we won’t have any fun. Because we’ve done this a thousand times, and we know that the party will be full of extroverts, and we know how that goes. We’ll go home at best feeling worse and at worst wanting to chew on nails and punch extroverts.

But we put up with it all patiently. We try for you. We’re willing to accept and respect the ways that you think and work. Would be nice if we could get a little acceptance and respect ourselves, without being belittled and without being punched in the gut.

Dead leaves and the dirty ground.  §

So you reach a certain age and you cross a certain threshold of experience and it becomes impossible to piece it all together.

I’m sitting in a dark room on the leather couch that was ordered from Ikea and delivered to a Queens apartment but some buff guys in do-rags years ago and here it sits now in Provo beside a dirty 60 gallon aquarium and I’ve got two kids and a completely different Volvo and I haven’t been attracted to another person in absolutely ages and I haven’t taught a class in ages, either.

I just finished replacing the timing belt on my Volvo on jack stands in a carport off the kitchen. “My” kitchen, in a way, not in another way. In another seven or eight ways.

Where am I going? Interesting question. I have no idea. That’s a “together” sort of question to answer. In some ways I’m more “together” than ever; I have a very good job with a very reasonable title and income and I’ve worked it for longer than any other single job I’ve ever held. The bills are paid. I mostly do the right, responsible things.

— § —

Is it strange to say that I wish I’d been in love once? To say that I am envious of that longing in other people? All those things they talk about… pining away for the one that got away… remembering first loves… being heartbroken after a divorce. It all sounds lovely and meaningful and deep.

I am still looking for someone to inspire all of that in me, realizing that at my age, it is unlikely ever to happen.

— § —

I had a phone call with my committee chair the other day and we talked academics and I was both in it and out of it, a weird kind of ambivalence, or maybe more a weird kind of living in two universes at once.

Now here I sit listening to the White Stripes being both too old to listen to the White Stripes and too young at heart to grow up, all at once.

I went to the library today and checked out two books on Taoism that I won’t read. I’ll return them in three weeks, probably slightly late, and pay the fine like I always do. When I was young, the public library was a place of learning; then, I was an elitist and a scholar and the public library was embarrassing in its povery of resources; now, the public library is once again punching above my grade.

Things don’t just change, they swing wildly.

I don’t talk a lot. The older I get, the more I think there’s nothing to say. Or rather, I always thought that, but I used to try to cover it up, to exceed myself somehow, to respond to norms and mores &c. Now it just seems pointless; you get older, you are what you are.

You are what you are. But what is that, exactly?

Can other people answer this question? I was always the person that could answer it without a second thought. Now suddenly I’m as bewildered as anyone.

More on introversion and extroversion and relationship work.  §

Read this on one of the many introvert blogs: “I’ve seen plenty of these things extroverts need to understand lists and they are really starting to irritate me. I just think social interaction is a two way street and these lists make it seem like introverts don’t want to do any of the work. No relationship will ever work if people aren’t willing to offer a bit of compromise.”

This drives me nuts. My reply, in part:

“Speaking as an introvert, it’s the extroverts that don’t want to do ‘the work.’ Extroverts see space, reflective exchanges, and silent co-presence as the absence of something. Frankly they see it as the absence of anything.

Extroverts see introverts’ entire lives as ‘doing and saying nothing.’ Well those things are not nothing for introverts, they are the important things, the things that are real interaction. The things that are meaningful. And extroverts just don’t care, by and large, and refuse to invest the time. The moment things quiet down, extroverts disappear.

Introverts regularly sigh and suck it up and join extroverts for a night out to do some of ‘the work’ to be in the extrovert world, to support their extrovert friends. Does it ever run in the other direction? Not in my experience. Does an extrovert ever just come over for a few hours of quiet time? If they even turn up, they never stop talking. They refuse to join the introvert in their world.

It’s the extroverts who won’t do ‘the work’ to meet in the middle. The introverts invariably do their part by going to the party for six hours. And then the extroverts never stay for the other half of the deal, the six hours of quiet togetherness afterward; they breezily blow off after 15 minutes to somewhere else, or at the very least go into some other room and hop on the phone with some other friend, and ignore their supposed introvert friend summarily. No party? No listen, no stay.

“Well, nothing is going on here, so—”

You want someone to do the work? The extroverts need to wake up and do some of the work of maintaining friendships with introverts for a change!

— § —

Extroverts, you want to know how to be better friends to an introvert? Stop being mystified and listen to what we are telling you.

Shut up, calm down, and sit with us in the same room for a few hours, exchanging a word every now when it is honest and true and revealing, and otherwise simply working on quiet projects. Don’t leave the room. Don’t call someone else. Don’t talk incessantly. Be quiet—together—for an afternoon. Actually be with someone, rather than with your own chatter and a dozen superficial playmates.

Bet you can’t do it. Not even for half an hour.

Nobody’s ever asked you to do that before, have they? Is your skin crawling yet?

It is what it is.  §

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

3,163 posts and 775,413 words.  §

It’s one of those moments at which I feel compelled to post but I have nothing to say. There are a bunch of people I could call but I don’t want to call any of them. Places to go but I don’t want to go to any of them. There are people and places and things that I’d give limbs to spend time with right now—but none of them are within reach. So—Sunday night and here I am, listening to Coldplay and looking at old photos from the 2000s and drinking more tea.

Earlier it was The Strokes. I should be listening to them still. Less maudlin, better mood. Okay, change made. Sometimes life is simpler than I make it out to be.

The power of music to affect mood is scary. And cool.

— § —

Today:

  • Shampooed upstairs carpets
  • Mowed lawn, front and back
  • Fixed swamp cooler
  • Watered lawn (finally)

Did not yet manage to:

  • Wash dishes
  • Mop the hard floors
  • Do any actual work work

Look, ma! Look, I now do all of the things you once told me to do but despaired about my ever actually doing!

— § —

I lied. Enthusiasm for watches hasn’t left me.

I think next I want a Hamilton. Either that or a Zodiac Sea Wolf.

“Next.” As though that’s anytime soon.

Okay, I gotta seize control of this thing. I’m tired of being at the mercy of circumstance and fate. What was I saying about spring before?

Yeah, that.

Seasons.  §


© Aron Hsiao / 2017

Spring — Gather myself. Feel expansive, then, as the season progresses, on top of the world. Projects. Goals. Launch the rocket, start the train. Acceleration. Abandon.

Summer — Pick up a passenger. Fleeting days, meaningful nights. Cacophony. Melee. In the midst of it all, momentum slows.

Fall — Hang on until the bitter end. Pull into the station, haltingly, but sure. Achievement. Arrival.

Winter — Realize the passenger is either bad for me or bad in general. Leave them behind. Suffer some. With no destination ahead, anomie. Wreckage.

— § —

These are the seasons, though in my life they are somewhat slower than they are on the calendar.

The river flows, the wheel spins, the clock turns. A season, a season, a season, a season.

Late winter / early spring now.

Let’s do it all again.

— § —

I mean, when it hits you, you’ve gotta do something.

May as well hit it back, head-on.

(It’s taken me a lifetime to learn that. Still learning it.)

— § —

So yeah, did not “let it go.”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I must be crazy. Let’s find out!

Forward.  §

Just another private in the army of humanity, speeding along into the future. We’re all going to get there together, and we’re—well, by god, we’re coming!

— § —

Let it go.

This, too, shall pass.

River and rope, or, ambition without direction.  §

Don’t know as I start this whether this post is going to go onto the blog or into the archives. Why do some things go into the archives? Most common reason is because they’re too boring and abstract to go onto the blog (and you thought the blog was boring and abstract).

What I do know is that I feel compelled to type, and to potentially type a lot. For most of the afternoon, every single though that’s passed through my head became a chain of thoughts and then a full-on sequence of musings, and each time I thought that it ought to be on the blog.

Now that I’m actually sitting down to write because I just can’t take it any longer and need to start typing rather than merely thinking about typing, what invariably happens will happen all over again:

  • I will suddenly have no idea what to type
  • I will suddenly get very sleepy and that will be that

I have no doubt that some of this comes down to psychology. My psyche is giving me the bum steer for some reason when it comes to thinking these days. Maybe for a lot of reasons. But the only solution to the problem of “I am not allowing myself to think for some reason” is to continue to think and peel the god damned onion.

— § —

My committee chair and I haven’t spoken in a while. I’ve love to speak to him. He’s a good man and a friend. We’ve talked off and on about setting up a time to catch up this spring, and over the last 48 hours or so he has reached out to me to see if we can chat. I haven’t responded.

The reason for this is that I frankly don’t know what to say. That sounds like a bad reason not to speak with a friend, and it is, but it’s very me. I hate speaking with people when I don’t know what to say, when I don’t know what my feelings or thoughts are.

The contemporary virtue-signalling position is that “I listen to everyone, and I’ll listen to you, so share with me what’s on your mind and I won’t judge, because I’m here to hear you, because you matter and it’s all okay” and so on and so forth. And I’m sure he’ll be just like that.

But I’m going to be the contrarian and honestly say what people won’t allow themselves to think: someone who literally does not know which three words to string together is not a good conversation partner, and high-minded non-judgmentalism does not change this fact.

— § —

Academics right now is all of the following to me:

  • Cipher
  • Hazy memory
  • Distasteful morass
  • Insurmountable mountain

Probably a few other things besides.

Yes, I did get to talking the other day with one of my best friends, who is staying with me for a little while, about Dialectic of Enlightenment, One-Dimensional Man, and the Frankfurt School and ISR crowd as a whole in the context of intellectual history and the juncture between politics, social science, philosophy, and cultural criticism.

And it was exhilarating to be talking about such things again, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But academics is not about such things. Academics is about publications and the job market. And I have been out of that game for years now. And for good reasons:

  • The job prospects are terrible
  • It is not a good job even if by some miracle you get it
  • Getting it requires far more than a miracle; it also requires heroic self-crucifixion

I’m just not interested. That’s the part that’s difficult to talk about with other academics, because of course they conflate the two. The job is the books, the books are the job, the journals are merely a medium, and so on.

Well, no.

In the time I’ve had to reflect since getting my Ph.D. I’ve come more and more to the opinion that academics and academe by and large have little do to with inquiry or research. It is a kind of coincidence of marketplace activity that the two are related, sort of like when General Electric ends up putting out a line of flying discs or dog toys at one subsidiary or another.

The fact that this happens does not indicate, contra appearances, that General Electric and petkeeping really and necessarily have anything to do with one another.

Academics is rent-seeking on an industrial scale as people pass through the part of life’s river known as “youth.” The particular contents are irrelevant. Yes, there are many people in it that love the books, but that’s merely good business—good marketing strategy. It’s not at all unlike eBay’s business model in connecting buyers and sellers together.

On one side of the room we have some people who absolutely love books and journals—so much that they will work under horrible conditions and almost for free at a thousand other things if only they get the chance to read and write a lot of books and journals. They come incredibly cheaply, will work extended hours, and accept all manner of indignity so long as they can continue to read and write a lot of books and journals.

On the other hand we have the youth, who—by a combination of patronage, lobbying, blackmail, and other strategic behaviors often bordering corruption—are now essentially forced (or at least believe they are being forced, which often comes to the same thing in the end) to travel up this stretch of river in order to reach adulthood and receive an income of any kind.

The professoriat stands on the banks of the river and lifts the rope, but the money collected goes to the rent-seekers, who happily pocket it and reinvest it into the aforementioned youth campaign(s) to ensure that a steady supply of rivergoers continues to pass by—that no-one disembarks and ends up walking along the bank instead.

And the professoriat are promised that they can read and write as many books and journals as they wish between rope-liftings and toll-collectings, so long as they do not slow the flow of traffic or fail to collect in any one case. They simply have to work it all in. (They are also promised that the reading and writing that they do in between toll-collectings and rope-liftings is tremendously valuable and laudable and will be read by everyone, which serves as an incentive to certain high-minded sorts of people, as well as to certain insecure sorts of people.)

But in fact what is going on is that the reading and writing is done on a riverbank and comes to nothing in the broader world. The rivergoers are poorer for having passed up the river, and don’t feel as though the rope-lifting was a particularly beneficial exercise worth the price that they’ve paid for it. The estate owners happily reassure both, pocket the tolls, and enjoy their life in the manor.

And it all happens out on the river, far away from much of anything else, and comes to nothing in particular.

(more…)

Beauty.  §

Consider it to be axiomatic that whenever and however beauty is encountered, it will precipitate a crisis. Beauty invariably constitutes a kind of emergency; this is its nature as something fleeting and vanishingly rare yet deeply, longingly needed.

Every encounter with beauty lays bare the blizzard of lies that a person tells themselves day after day after day; only the indictments handed down by truth remain.

In such moments, the urge is to strip all of life and its endless artifice away entirely and begin to build again from the start.

Since this generally cannot happen, beauty becomes a haunting, a loss, a failure of redemption, an unfinished pilgrimage whose promise will forever remain the stuff of dreams and hazy recollections.

That which is beautiful, in other words, is also that which signifies one’s own end, with a clarity and inevitability that leaves one stunned.

Experiencing beauty is equivalent to seeing one’s life pass before one’s eyes. It is a nostalgic and fulfilling and harrowing and most of all wistful experience.

Art from the death of malehood era.  §

I’ve been digesting the death of Chris Cornell for several days, and reflecting on the previous deaths of Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Stayley, Scott Weiland, etc.

Ryu Spaeth at The New Republic gave me the tidbit that I needed to finally clarify my thoughts. He describes grunge as being colored by a “ferocious masculinity” that was also somehow feminized in its lyrics, politics, etc.

That’s really the crux of it, but Ryu doesn’t quite understand, doesn’t quite go far enough.

Grunge was indeed mens’ music, and it was indeed masculine. This is not an accidental fact, however; grunge was the piercing lament, the death cry of masculinity. It was western masculinity finally giving in, committing seppuku, an honor killing of its very self in the face of evidence of its unimportance, unwantedness, and rejection by society.

It was the moment at which masculinity as a force in society “stopped believing in itself” (to use Camille Paglia’s words) and accepted the judgments of feminism and capitalism together, judgments that had been brewing for half a century, since the end of the second World War. It was a continuation of the metanarrative of Vietnam—this was made explicit by Alice in Chains, the band in which Layne Stayley made his mark.

With grunge, masculinity surrendered its heroism, stopped trying, and accepted the assertion that it was obsolete and ignoble. It then, by embracing the politics that made this assertion, destroyed itself in a final heroric act of regret and generosity.

It is both fitting and natural that each of the major figures of the movement then killed himself as well; this had to happen. Once they had conceded, they were men outside of time, as all men in this culture are. Ferocious masculinity has no place here; heroic masculinity has no place here; simple masculinity has no place here. There was nothing left for them to be after this act of heroism; their early deaths were set in motion with the founding of grunge; the trajectory cannot be altered.

Those who applaud the death of masculinity must be warned, however: men are still being born, and testosterone is going nowhere. The fact that men have collectively committed suicide on the social scale is evidence of masculinity’s ultimately unaltered nobility, not evidence of its disappearance at the individual biological level.

All that testosterone has to go somewhere when not channeled into wild, courageous heroism. Where it goes is into mass shootings, terrorism, and other similar social problems.

And (again, Paglia) the barbarians—who for their part do not and did not commit ritual suicide, and are very masculine indeed—are now at the gates.

In another time and place, we could have used swashbucklers and seen-it-all hard-men to command squads and units, make the hard decisions involved in the maintenance of the gestalt social order, etc.

Now there is no one to do this but the left protestors. And they continue to demonstrate that they are not entirely up to the task.

They’d better learn quickly.

Untitled. (a.k.a. Pretty faces, new old photos.)  §


© Aron Hsiao / 2006

I had this whole thing typed up on another topic.

Then I got to looking at some photos. And developing some photos. Looking at beautiful images. Making other images into black-and-whites, because they’re meant to be memories, because things are ending.

Deleted the other post. Put on Simple Minds. Sitting here next to a bunch of roses that my daughter picked for me, drinking iced tea instead of whisky, thinking about the past and the present instead of the future.

— § —

And on Thursday I was all hot to write a blog post about beauty. Still am in some ways, but I’m moving on. Painful to do so, but necessary.

Getting older happens. You look in the mirror and you try to rationalize your age. You tell yourself that you still look good. That you’re still interesting. That there’s time to make plans.

But things are different. You can do cost-benefit calculations too well; the element of excitement, of exciting danger, has gone out of risk. Now you just know; now you have judgment. This is good, I suppose. It’s supposed to be, in any case.

Thing is, it’s not as exhilarating. It’s not youth; that’s gone.

You look around and you find so many people to be unattractive. You’re bored with most everyone—and of course everything—you encounter. The things that aren’t boring are now timeless and deep and all of that nonsense. They’re outside of you; they belong to everyone. The narcissism won’t stick. Sometimes you try to revive it, but the narcissism of youth can’t be sustained. You know better.

When you spot beauty, it’s not for you. Rare enough that I find someone to be interesting, but when I do, they’re in my kids’ circles, not mine, or they’re a kid themselves. Rare enough that I find something lovely or desirable in the world, but when I do, it’d look silly on me; it’s something for people twenty years younger than I to plan for, not for folks like me to reach backward to obtain.

Life has passed you by? No. Not really. Life has changed, that’s all. The difference is black and white; the difference is inescapable.

— § —

Endings. People leaving.

Different when it’s your kids’ endings.

You get over all of that in your own life sometime in your late twenties or maybe in your thirties. That unsurvivable bittersweet of the present at its apex, that longing that brings you to the verge of tears but won’t let you cry because it’s not time yet and never will be; that all goes out of your own life. You get used to it. Something—I’ll bother to say meaning—is lost.


© Aron Hsiao / 2017

You forget.

Now you watch your kids begin to go through it. People come, people matter, people go. Things come, things matter, things go. They now have to learn, not to understand, but to live with it, to embrace it, to paint sepia photos of last moments and haunting memories in their minds and cherish them without dying of need and unalterable, unavoidable gone-ness.

It’s all back. They say that you live your life through your kids once you reach a certain age as a parent.

I can see this happening to me.

The things I can’t feel for myself any longer, I can feel for them, both in the same way I once did and in entirely new ways.

Life hurts. And life is lovely. People hurt. And people are lovely. Things go wrong, but they’re nonetheless still right. You want, and you can’t have; you have and you can’t hold; you hold and you can’t move forward; you move forward and you paint the pictures.

— § —

Black text, white screen.

That’s been most of my life.

Still is.

Every now and then, I am witness to a miracle; I see a holy image. Time is that I know better and I move on. Keep typing. Time is that today is gone and tomorrow is predictable; only the past is unstable, and more unstable it will become.

Until everything is painted in sepia and shot through with unsurvivable longing for redemption.

— § —

Playlist:

Simple Minds / Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Crowded House / Don’t Dream It’s Over
Duran Duran / Come Undone
Led Zeppelin / Ten Years Gone
Ivy / Edge of the Ocean
Allman Brothers Band / Melissa
Concrete Blonde / Joey

Unseemly.  §

There is something unseemly about “dating” at my age.

I look at other people doing it and see these graybeards going out and “dating” and posting couples’ photos on Facebook and so on, and I just find it to be embarrassing.

No, I don’t see myself doing it. After 40+ years is not the right time to be “looking for love.”

Ugh. So unsightly.