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

On Saturday nights these days, nothing makes any sense.  §

I am keeping the kids company while they go to sleep.

Some things excerpted from a conversation with a NOBF (left as an obscure exercise to the reader) today.

— § —

The blog has been apocalyptic as of late. This can be laid at the feet of a lot of different things, so I’ll punt and not lay it at the feet of anything in particular. But I do recognize the tendency.

— § —

I do think that my perspective has not been particularly good lately. Whenever you allow yourself to descend into short-term and purely circumstantial thinking, things are going to take on an exaggerated tone.

This all gives lie to the idea that tattoos can impart—or improve—perspective.

Of course I never really thought that anyway, but it’s a good gag and reminder. Still, at times like this, it would be more helpful to be reminded of what good perspective is than to simply be reminded of the word.

Live and learn.

— § —

Is it bads:

  • Is it bad that I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed my dating life as much as I’ve enjoyed my single life? That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy my dates (this intended in both possible ways), but merely that on balance, life was better on the whole before I knew about them.

  • Is it bad that every “happiest period” that I can think of in my life is a single period, running from about one year post-major-breakup to about two years post-major-breakup?

  • Is it bad that I think both that commitment and reciprocity are the only purposes for human relationships, yet also that they are largely mythological creatures never actually seen by man?

  • Is it bad that I don’t give a shit that I just said “by man” there instead of “by humankind?”

  • Is it bad that it feels like an affront to my ego to ever, ever admit that I fall ill, from any cause?

  • Is it bad that I don’t give a shit about the state of my yard, or what the neighbors think?

  • Is it bad that I remember Poe’s phrase “the imp of the perverse” so very often?

  • Is it bad that I buy amaretto coffee because I believe that I like it, but then never drink it, then buy it again and again and end up with multiple unopened bags?

  • Is it bad that I have another birthday coming up?

  • Is it bad that I am losing, day by day, my motivation to “play the game” any longer?

  • Is it bad to have mid-life conversions on all kinds of ideas, perspectives, and habits in the most stereotypical possible fashion?

  • Is it bad to secretly ridicule your former self?

— § —

Note to self: Research how the religious overtones and undercurrents in Northern Exposure came to be. Writers? Cultural advisors? Cast improv?

Find out. No particular reason.

— § —

In the ‘80s when we didn’t have flat capacative touch displays, voice control, AI, or inexpensive sensors yet, all of these things seemed impossibly utopian and awe-inspiring.

Now we know they are just less personable and senuous ways of buying laundry detergent, attending a concert, and beating someone up on the playground.

— § —

I knew someone once who was sure that people were all basically the same in the details, and different only in the fundamentals—good or evil.

She had it exactly backward; they’re all the same in the fundamentals—good and evil—and wildly different in the details.

— § —

Sometimes it gets me how strangely inflected our value calculations are. For example, if I was considering spending a hundred dollars on:

  • Groceries — Ugh, that’s a lot. What can we swap with no-name brands or substitutes to try to cut that in half?

  • Tires — I know that’s a good price, bug do I really need tires right now? I mean, can’t we go without for one more month?

  • Zoo Membership — Prrrrobably worth it… Will we come that many times over the coming year? If we buy a membership we will!

  • Fiber Internet — OMG necessity, do not count cost.

  • Clothing Item — WTF is wrong with the world Wal-Mart here we come.

  • Taekwondo Weapons — Good price, good price, weapons are cool—

  • Automatic Wristwatch — Wow, that’s nothing what a steal. Can I get something even better if I spend $200?

  • Trip to Lagoon — Such highway robbery. But you have to do it, so they have you over a barrel.

  • Movie, Popcorn, and Fast-Food Dinner — Family memories! So worth it!

  • Haute Cuisine — Anyone who pays $100 for a meal is a dunce. No, just no.

  • Bills or Medical Care — F*ck this sytem and the way it makes me spend, spend, spend.

  • Furniture Item — No way $100 it’ll be on classifieds for $10 without too many boogers just wait.

  • Household Tool or Repair Item — Good heavens, $100? How am I ever going to pay for this?

  • Vet Bill — It’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s fair and totally doable.

In short, the values that I attribute to things are completely irrational and mystifying and correspond in almost no way to price, to size, to duration, or to anything else.

Of course everyone knows that this is true. But when you sit down and look and your own life, and really stare at the irrationality, it’s pretty shocking.

I am blocked.  §

More and more it is dawning on me that I am somehow blocked. This is not a regular “interval” in life.

There is some sort of mental or psychological block going on. I need to understand and break through it before the next thing can happen.

Time to get to work.

The Simple Truth About Brexit and Trump and Shooters  §

Here’s the thing. People want to matter. They want their lives to matter. It’s intrinsic to human nature to not want to be invisible, forgotten, dismissed—unimportant and unheard.

And despite a lot of flowery language that’s come out of the last century, and a lot of purported work toward the dignity and importance of every human individual, the fact is that nobody believes any of this fluff. The truth is that the plebes don’t matter, and in fact are generally held in detached disdain, and they know it.

  • Their desires don’t matter.

  • Their suffering doesn’t matter.

  • Their preferences and loves and family members don’t matter.

  • Their work doesn’t matter.

  • Their potential doesn’t matter.

  • Their futures don’t matter.

  • Their lives and deaths don’t matter.

  • Their identities don’t matter.

Now I’m not talking “matter” here in some transcendental, meaning-of-life sense. I’m talking socially, in relation to the gestalt of the population. Hundreds of millions of such people in our society, and billions worldwide—huge swaths of society having particular demographic characteristics—are cut off from any sense of social importance or acknowledgment.

The . half . that . rules . does . not . give . a . shit . about . them .

There are some within these swaths of the population, possibly a slim majority at the moment, who know, instinctively, that to a very few someones they do actually matter. To their parents, for example, or to their siblings, or to their kids. To the other parents at their school. To the gents at their neighborhood corner store, whom they talk to every morning.

Such people have this instinctive understanding—which is at the core of both Trump and Brexit—that if they don’t matter when the circle is “large-scale society as it has been,” but they do matter in far smaller circles, yet “society” controls so very much about their lives… then the most obvious thing to do is draw the circle of “society” in a much smaller way.

They’ll seek include those to whom they matter, and exclude those to whom they don’t matter, hoping to give the people to whom they don’t matter less input into their lives. Hence Brexit and populist nationalism. “Don’t care about or respect me at all? Then I don’t want you to have any say in my life. And I’m going to try to reshape ‘society’ so that you’re not in it and thus have no effect on me.”

Meanwhile, there are also some that understand full well that they matter to nobody. Absolutely nobody. Their entire experience of life consists of being accused and being negatively sanctioned. Zero empathy, zero ties, zero care. And the accusations keep coming, from everyone around them, and from “the public” at large.

Everyone is determined to make them into a disposable, anonymous scapegoat at best, or into an “enemy of polite society” at worst. So… eventually they give in to the role. “Okay, I’m the enemy. Of everyone. I get it. It’s me vs. all of you. I get it. It kills me but I get it.”

Now they’re identifying with the role. And with the knowledge that no one cares, and that’s by design, and in fact they are quite literally hated at best by most, and loved by none.

Well, what’s the point of life at that point? And if these people all hate you and consider you an enemy, why not fight that war a little bit out of spite, since there’s nothing and no one that you value in life to take care of? You didn’t ask to be born, yet you’re punished for it by essentially everyone that you encounter. Hence shooter.

As long as we have “baskets of deplorables” held to be such by half or more of the population, we will have the other half of the population wanting to redraw the boundaries of society to be more insular and close-knit and giving rise to a few who, crying out in pain and giving in to hopeless nihilism, decide to exact revenge on being itself by exacting revenge on everyone to whom their very unrequested existence is an unjustified and regrettable burden at best.

People who matter to other people, and know that they matter to other people, will not harm the people to whom they really actually matter. Not hipppie-dippie SJW “every life has dignity” matter that’s basically corporate boilerplate from the social media society—enabling us all as a herd of virtue-signalers to feel good about ourselves. I mean actually matter.

I mean really—no bullshit—matter to people. When you matter to someone in a way that is not negative (i.e. “you matter to me and I want you to exist and to have a good life,” not “you matter to me because you are the male white corporate oppression and I want to smash you” or various analogs thereof), you don’t kill them. You don’t harm those that positively, personally, and generously care about you. It’s really not that complicated. But you’d think it was, based on all the nutty discourse.

And even though it’s not complicated, it is hard. Because positive, personal, and generous regard is precisely what our highly activist culture no longer does. It can’t even understand the previous sentence. It asks, with incredulity, “Wait, positive, personal, and generous regard of the enemy? Surely you jest!” QED.

Look, people want to feel that they—and their individual life histories, preferences, likes, and dislikes—in other words, their selves—matter, positively, to those that shape their lives. And they will seek to structure their reality so that their life is directly affected only by those to whom they matter—or, if they don’t matter to anyone, so as to relieve the immediate pain and practical tyranny of the pariah’s existence.

People don’t need to rule or be famous or anything. They just need to not be forgettable dogshit, or worse, He Who Must Be Destroyed, as far as “Society-capital-S” is concerned. No amount of shallow activist talk, collectively or individually, and no quantity of activist bromides about justice and the “arc of history” is going to fix this. To those affected, it all sounds like the adults in Peanuts cartoons. “Wah wah, wah—wah wah wah, wah wah wah wah.”

In other words the problem with our society is that bullshit detectors are going off en masse but the elites, the chosen, the privileged, and the virtue-signaling popular kids imagine that the solution to the problem is a lot more bullshit rather than the hard work involved in seeing, acknowledging, sustaining, and embracing the basic humanity of people who are—yes—quite different from you. Look, they didn’t ask to be born either.

Our machinery for generating and sustaining social ties and social solidarity is broken. We are, generally speaking, a culture of narcissists who broke it on purpose in countless acts of activism that we’ve mendaciously sold to our concerned consciences for fifty years as “justice” when in fact it was really little more than our best Veruca Salt impression and remains so today.

If we want to have a large-scale society, we’d better rediscover a time when we saw in each fellow citizen and person—even if a stranger—someone that we legitimately valued as a fellow human being in our society, regardless of their background or views. Remember “tolerance” in the ’90s? Even that was a big step down from honest-to-god social solidarity, yet we’ve backslid a hundred times farther since then.

Simpler, for the activists: Hate the sin, love the sinner. If you hate the sinner, they’re just gonna sin against you for hating them in the first place.

Fix this and everything else will fix itself.

Sadly, there is almost certainly no way to fix this without or before the catastrophic collapse of the current global social order, or of many current national orders.

A fable about inequality, gender, race, SJWs, poltics, and social trust in America.  §

It’s 30-something degress outside. A late middle-aged white guy walks by the side of the road on a hill, obviously under-dressed for the weather. From what he does happen to be wearing, it’s clear that he’s a working class man in a working class job, and it’s rush hour, so he’s probably recently done with work for the day. He’s carrying a gas can, walking in the opposite direction from the nearest gas station, which is about two miles away.

One could reasonably suppose a few things.

  • He’s probably been saving gas to try to count pennies. He works full time, maybe two hard jobs, but he’s not really keeping his head above water. He cut things too close and ran out of gas. He’s already walked all the way to the gas station in the cold, bought a can full of gas, and is now walking back to his car, which is presumably somewhere within a one to two mile radius.

  • He’s probably freezing cold, especially as he’s low on energy after a hard day’s work and hasn’t had a chance to eat anything in hours.

  • He’s probably divorced, cut off from his kids, and has nobody else in the world to help him. He’s on his own to make trips like this; there is no one to call, no assistance to be had. Maybe alimony is contributing to his terrible financial state, even working as much as he does.

  • Calling an Uber is probably beyond his financial, as well as possibly technological and educational means.

  • He likely has many more years of this to look forward to, alone.

Car after car after car passes him buy as he plods along, arms folded tight. Nobody stops. Nobody even slows. Of course, one can make guesses about what the people in these cars are thinking as well.

  • He’s a stranger. He’s possibly dangerous. Best not to pick up strangers, they could kill you or rape you.

  • He’s a man. If he’s all alone at his age, that almost certainly means he’s a wife beater. Or worse.

  • He’s white. White people—white men in particular—don’t need any help. They’ve had thousands of years of privilege. There are lots of other people who need help, but he’s not one of them.

  • Might be good to help, but there are other, more important, more urgent things to do.

  • Surely somebody else will help. Anyway, four or five miles round-trip isn’t that far to walk in the cold, especially for a man. Especially for a privileged white man.

  • He looks like he works at a dirty job. No need to get the car dirty. Probably he uses coarse language or says embarrassing things that are difficult to respond to.

Back to the man. Am I just making up some sort of sob story or edge case to make some misguided political point?

No, I met him today. He said my sixteen-year-old car was really nice. He was embarrassed to be in it. He was embarrassingly deferential. His round trip would have been about six miles. He was about four miles through it. After working two shifts and not eating. In thirty-degree weather. To get one gallon of gas to his beaten up old car, standing lonely on the parking lot after everyone else has gone home without helping him out. Definitely his ex-wife wouldn’t help him out. She’d just laugh. His kids haven’t talked to him since the divorce, decades ago. They all live in the area, but he wouldn’t even bother to call them, they wouldn’t come.

I can anticipate from any potential audience here some indignation about the second set of points:

  • Cry me a river. As soon as he talks to his men friends and tells them to stop abusing women, maybe it’ll be safe to think about helping out. Until then, I presume that every man is violent.

  • Cry me a river. He’s white and he’s a man. White men have had patriarchal and racial privilege for thousands of years. It’s time he got some of his own. He doesn’t deserve a damned thing from me.

  • Cry me a river. He’s probably a Trump supporter. Let him get his “klan brothers” to help out.

  • Cry me a river. He’s probably a union member. Let him get his “union brothers” to help out.

  • Cry me a river. I work hard, too. Anyway, he should have worn a coat and been more careful with his gas. Personal responsibility, you know?

  • I have better things to do. I get that life is hard, but some of us have places to be and people that rely on us. Sorry he doesn’t, but that’s life.

  • Man, if it was a lady I’d stop, especially if she was good-looking. But stop for a man? Sorry, bro, no can do.

  • Man walking on the side of the road? I didn’t see one. When I drive, I don’t notice things on the road.

  • Too bad. I just hope my own son doesn’t grow up to be like him.

  • Wait, why didn’t he just put gas in his car? Anyway, why doesn’t he just call an Uber now?

I didn’t actually meet any of the dozens of cars that passed him by. I’m just putting thoughts in their drivers’ heads. Call it a thought exercise. I’m not even saying that any of the thoughts are wrong, necessarily. Each of them can probably be passionately and cogently justified.

But lot of people in America are destined for this life. Most young white males born outside of affluent circles know that it’s their only likely destiny. They may already be living it. And many others are besides.

He was shocked that anyone did actually stop to ask if he needed a lift, much less give him one for that last two miles back to his car. He didn’t know what to make of it. He honestly didn’t.

It took all of five extra minutes.

Sadly, as an ex-social scientist who continues to keenly observe society, I wasn’t shocked. It’s where we are.

Yes, yes, structural this, that, and the other. But people don’t live “structural” day-to-day. They live their individual, small details lives. And then they vote on them—if they’re even able to vote at all. I don’t know anything about this guy’s personal history or political inclinations.

The fact that most people would say that both are critically important before deciding to help someone out—especially this “sort” of someone—is where we are, how we got where we are, and where we’re going with even more determination than ever before.

There’s a lot of stuff in our “big picture” right now, but a lot of it is evoked, from many directions, in this particular scene.

Will the signs have been there all along once it’s clear where they lead?  §

You ever get the feeling—that raised-hair feeling—that something may be about to go down? That reality is sliding along on a narrow ridgepole, set at any moment to go pitching over one side or the other?

— § —

The professionals have for a long time been all agog about China. Can it survive? Can they hold it together?

Yet trust in their government and media is at record highs. Trust in ours at record lows.

— § —

Guns.
Gender.
Race.
Abortion.
Religion.
Inequality.
Climate.
Isolation.
Tribalism.
Activism.
etc.

— § —

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were events that, in retrospect, had long been brewing, yet at the time they shocked everyone. Nobody saw them coming.

The potential energy in the system was such that a few tiny vibrations set off oscillations that couldn’t be contained, until the whole thing shook apart.

Suddenly, it was gone.

— § —

Since I was a teen I’ve predicted that by 2050, the United States of America will no longer exist.

That’s never been a considered, academic position. More a gut feeling.

I’m starting to think I was too optimistic.

— § —

If I were to write a bit of free-association narrative tonight, it might go something like this:

In 2026, out of nowhere, a governor or the mayor of a major urban area declares that they’re done. Maybe they do it on social media, where it’s intended to be sarcasm, hyperbole, a meme in frustration. They’re out, they say, they’re done. As of now, they’re seceding from the United States. They cite a list of reasons, amongst them those above. They don’t really mean it seriously, at least not consciously.

Rather than getting into hot water for it, their public is immediately thrilled; it gets millions of likes and comments within an hour or two. Similar figures in a handful of other states begin to do the same thing, making the same declaration for their states. The national press—what’s left of it—begins to cover this in bewilderment. What’s going on? Is this real or fake, sarcasm and steam-blowing or official business? There are people dancing in the streets, not all of them, but enough. The population of partisans.

It doesn’t matter whether the original figure(s) took it seriously; their publics did, and the horse is out of the stable. The tide is going out.

Rather than be upset about this, partisans in the states on the other side of the political divide begin issue rapid and healthy “good riddance” statements. Their publics are equally elated to be rid of their presumed nemeses.

The public as a whole understands what is happening before the politicians of a now defunct society do. Everything is unclear for a time. Maybe for months. It’s not clear what has just happened; only in the aftermath and dialectics of the time does it gradually dawn on everyone that the United States has dissolved, that public and civil servants and military are dividing their loyalties, that nobody was very loyal to the old regime any longer.

Within a year or two, two new nations emerge. There are refugees and broken families and much pain running in both directions. Relations are not good between the fledgling nations, and circumstances on the ground are descending into chaos. Corruption, organized crime, totalitarian state power and oligarchy, along with a healthy dose of valenced cultural and moral fury aimed at remaining Others. Things are not good in general. Both become rapidly repressive and backward, each giving in to its respective brand of mob populisms as its elite seek to consolidate their status, power, and wealth.

The equivalent of two Cultural Revolutions happens at once. Many die in each place. Within two generations, the United States of America has the feeling of black and white or maybe sepia photography about it. It was once there, but no one alive any longer can really remember what it was like.

And in retrospect, its collapse had long been brewing, even if everyone had been shocked about it at the time.

— § —

Am I just dry drunk tonight, thinking up this story, and starting it with the year 2026?

They keep saying that one of these mass shootings, or one or another of these scandals is going to finally bring about change. But there are structural reasons why change is highly unlikely, if not impossible, in the ways in which people are thinking about it.

Maybe one of them—or, all of them together—will bring about change—in a form that nobody sees coming beforehand, because they’re swimming it in, unable to see the implications of the fact, or sense the texture of the fact that social trust is at all time lows and declining rapidly, underneath all of the problems I outlined to begin this post.

— § —

Gut tells me that interesting times are coming.

Actually, this makes me sad.

(Some scary, some inspiring) things.  §

The worst thing in the world is activism. The idea that you ought to spend your time badgering perfect strangers to change their mind about something is offensive on its face.

— § —

There are too many things to remember in life right now, so my strategy seems to be to remember none of them and wash my hands of the whole lot.

— § —

Shaun White came back. As the oldest person in his event. I’m at an age, and at a level of lost possibilities and squandered opportunities, at which that seems very inspiring.

— § —

I think I’m tired of keeping fish. So often in my past, a breakup has meant the end of an aquarium. I suppose they’re hard to move around, their residents innocuous enough to get lost in the shuffle. This time, more than two years later, here I sit changing the water.

— § —

Two years. It doesn’t seem like two years. It seems like yesterday. Every detail is fresh. I don’t feel as though I have much personal history since then. I’ve seen this happen to other men. It was scary then, and it’s scary now.

— § —

I spent a lot of years around jaded progressives who snickered at the Olympic Games. I think you have to choose to become disillusioned about one of the two—either progressivism or the Olympics. I’d already decided to become disillusioned about progressivism some time ago, but watching the games this time around, I’m happy to double-down on my Olympics “naiveté.” The “progressives” can pound fucking sand for all I care.

— § —

Speaking of, I am being haunted by my own intellectual and political history. The times, they are a-changin’.

Is a big chunk of western literature little more than a tantrum?  §

I have these moments when it seems to me that much of the edifice of the western humanities for a great, long time now has been a matter of desperately desiring that life be something other than what it quite obviously is.

There exists a kind of covertly moral prohibition against accepting anything. “Yes, but why should I accept it?” is seen to be the battle cry of the bravest hero, in everything from marital matters to cancer treatment. it is this cry that earns the cultural gold medal, that inspires admiration and reverie alike.

“No, no, don’t you accept it!” everyone responds silently, in their heart of hearts.

Unstated in all of this are two beliefs that can’t be spoken. First, that if others don’t have to accept it, than neither, in fact, do we. Our mothers all told us not to jump off cliffs, but in fact, we’re wont to do so if it means that we don’t have to take our medicine. This brings us to the second belief, which is that by refusing to accept things, we forestall what wasn’t actually inevitable after all and will at some point arrive either at salvation or utopia instead, as a reward for our patience and self-imposed long-suffering.

To accept is to concede, to resign, to submit, and a thousand other things.

And yet—it’s all bullshit. Humanness is what it is. No amount of desire, of lofty prose, of surgically astute poetry has ever changed this. All of this dialogue in western criticism about what the arts and letters “inspire” us to think, feel, grapple with—the very idea of “grappling with” desire and acceptance in the first place, comes down to a deceptively simple premise:

That there is deep value in rejecting the truth about life.

There isn’t. There is heroin and morphine in rejecting the truth about life, and that’s about it. And eventually the chickens always come home to roost. Your fortune, your extramarital affair, your gold medal at the Olympics, your award-winning Ph.D. dissertation, your string of highly successful parties, your string of highly successful perfect-ten lays, whatever—will not save you from:

  • Living a fundamentally human, which is to say, phenomenologically claustrophobic, life
  • Dying at the end of it
  • Being largely forgotten as an individual, as the actual you, shortly thereafter

There is so much wisdom in what Buddhism proposes here. And of course, it has always been the case that such wisdom is difficult to internalize, as desire is every bit as human as death is.

But it seems to me that the west at some point went miles farther, and in the opposite direction—not just to fail to accept the futility of desire or to achieve its transcendence, but in fact to construct endless blocks of cultural scaffolding and lifetimes of twee rationalizations about how burning desire and the refusal to accept things are, in fact, objective and meaningful goods in an individual’s life-course.

They’re not. They’re an evolutionary adaptation, clearly, for the survival of the species. I suppose that in some way it’s reasonable to say that it’s a good thing we have them inasmuch as they enable us to continue to survive. But it’s folly to embrace them personally, as some sort of salvation, or to actually seek out and spend one’s time reflecting on—”grappling with,” as it were—meditations on desire and the rejection of acceptance.

What a waste of time.

I never thought I’d go off literature altogether, but the banal, overwrought sensationalizing of the “human condition” in the western canon is nothing more than the same obvious and pointless note, played over and over again, by ornery and unruly children who don’t know what’s good for them and won’t go to bed.

The human condition is what it is. We all know what it is; we’re living it, briefly. That’s it. It’s worth commemorating, but no more than that.

Accept it and be done with it. Write about it if you must (hey, some of us do this a lot), but not in that way that makes the critics swoon. The critics are all in denial.

To discover Sundays, you must first leave what you have known.  §

I went to bed far too early.

Thing is, I was falling asleep sitting up, in my office chair. Experience says that this doesn’t lead to a lot of phyiscal comfort later on, so sometime around 7:30 or 8:00 last night, I dragged myself to the other room and went to sleep after just enough reading to get the words swimming in front of my face, which is the point at which the transition to sleep is seamless and imperceptible.

Then, I woke up at 3:15 or so.

Now here I sit on Sunday morning, awake in the dark, alone, typing.

— § —

The blog was down for a few days again. It’s been a while since I posted, and I’ve been aware of that; a couple of times I pounded something out, but didn’t end up posing it for one reason or another.

Usually when this happens, it means that I’m just posting something to feel as though I’m posting something, rather than the compulsion being oriented toward the need to actually write thoughts. From the outside, these two things probably look the same, particularly given the ultimate content that appears here, but phenomenologically they’re quite different. So those things didn’t quite make it online.

But in any case, as a result of not having actually logged in, I missed the fact that the domain had been compromised again. Once again, I’ve uncompromised it. I’m getting tired of this, so I’ve also removed a bunch of old folders and directories until I can clean them up and put just the necessary parts online.

This means that images in some older posts will be missing. Hopefully I get them back online at some point. Hopefully.

— § —

Sundays are ciphers to me these days.

I have this cadence of being and experience that I go through, one that swings from intense sensation and perception to a kind of quiet near-non-existence. It happens on a two-week schedule. It’s organized around and by the presence of the children. In our half-and-half custody arrangement, their mom and I alternate weekends.

The Sundays when they are here are the climaxes, the apexes of day-to-day focus and attention—the days of my life when I am most intensely aware, motivated, and busy. The Sundays when they are not here are the nadirs of active being, the emptiest stretches of day-to-day focus and attention—the days of my life when I am least present to the world.

That’s the two-week cycle of my life. If we were to turn it into an aural metaphor, which for some reason seems appropriate, the Sundays when they’re not here are the most quiet. Then, over the course of a week, things get louder and louder until maximum cacophany is achieved on the following Sunday when they are here. Once that day passes, the noise falls away and we race toward silence again.

— § —

Race is the right term. Life is a race these days.

Not because competition, and not because tension or pressure. It is a race because time is passing ever-so-quickly. It is not imperceptible; the passage of time is visible and audible and sensable everywhere.

If you’ve ever been on an MTA subway train in New York City (if you haven’t, think of the Sesame Street song sketch from the 1980s that takes place in subway cars and is titled “On the Subway”), you’ve had the interesting sensation of sitting in place while seeing (thanks to the large windows everywhere around you) the world hurtle by at what appears to be insane speed, with lights streaking through your field of vision one after the other after the other, and the rolling roar and shudder of the cars filling every nook and cranny of space with the inescapable factuality of utter movement.

This is what life is like these days; it’s like riding the subway toward the end of things. Lots of ends of things, in fact—each end being another stop, with the end of the line to come somewhere after it all, at which time the recording will say,

“This is the last stop on the train. Everyone please leave the train, and thank you for riding with MTA.”

And as is the case on the subway, it’s not actually that the world is hurtling past you. It’s that you are hurtling past the world—but in your relative subjectivity, on the subway it tends to be hard to grasp the idea that it’s not you who are stable with the world sliding rapidly by in a blur, but rather the opposite.

That said, right now I am for some reason incredibly aware of the fact that it is me who is speeding toward the end of the line, leaving all of the experiences I’ve had while out and about mostly behind.

The wistfulness of going home on the subway at the end of the day matches the wistfulness of racing from Sunday to Sunday to Sunday as I age, end of the line still a number of stops ahead, but getting closer all the time.

— § —

This is one of the posts that previously didn’t make it online. I present it here for posterity:

Time, time, time. Time is lovely. Time is beautiful. Time is awesome. Time is everything. Time. Perfect. Technical. Impressionistic. Hard. Soft. Ephemeral. Concrete. Simple. Complex. I love time. I am fascinated by time in all of its guises.

Wristwatch time.
Clock time.
CPU time.
Time in physics.
Commentary on time.
Historical time.
Empty time.
Messianic time.
Healing time.
Little time.
Big time.
Memory and time.
Gravity and time.
Being and time.
Time, time, time.

There is nothing I love more than time. Having it, using it, bemoaning its exhaustion. Being blessed with too much time. Being cursed with not enough time. Everything in life in which time comes to the fore is meaningful to me, deeply meaningful, ecstatic, edifying.

I just . fucking . love . time.

I thought it was time to put that in a post. It’s been some time since I did.

— § —

I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t been writing enough.

It’s hard to know what the gaps of writing indicate, but sometimes I think they’re a kind of impasse.

I write up to the point beyond which I’ll have to seriously reconsider or confront something. Then, I stop for a while, because who wants to do that?

Often at such points, I instead switch to reading, particularly works that occupy the unarticulated territory lying somewhere between creative nonfiction, self-help, philosophy, and psychology. I think that I’m trying to gather resources for the trouble ahead, not sure.

Particularly missing as of late has been writing by hand, i.e. actually writing, with a pen. This is something that I’ve always done, and when it stops, I really know that something is up.

In 2015 I was filling about one bound journal a month with writing done by hand. Now I am averaging maybe a page or two every six months.

What am I afraid to confront?

— § —

For many years, I was far left on the political spectrum, and considered politics to be a central pursuit of life. The personal was political, everything was politics, and everyone had to stand somewhere, whether they admitted it or not. I stood with Marx and the cultrual Marxists and with the American left more broadly speaking.

Intensely so.

Amongst the many things that my divorce shook free were questions about myself and the world that I wanted to live in (more importantly, that I wanted my children to live in) that I’d been avoiding, refusing to see, for a very long time.

The result has been a long, slow disavowal of the left—to the point at which I now reject it almost entirely. This doesn’t mean, however, that I have wandered right. I reject the American right almost entirely as well.

In part, it’s about a rejection of politics instead. A kind of realization that politics is pointless and wrongheaded. Rather than politics, it is moral philosophy that ought to be the central pursuit of life. A small, largely individual-and-small-circle way of seeing the world.

I mention this only because it has it has become clear to me just how homeless one is in the United States when one abandons both the “left” and the “right,” the “Demoratic Party” and the “Republican Party.” In a sense, I am pointing to what I believe is a deep pathology—the characteristic way in which moral and community life in the United States has become a purely formally political quantity.

Our way of being in society, our way of life is seen, instantiated, and enacted almost entirely through two political parties and the open warfare that exists between them. To reject both and refuse to participate is to cut oneself off from social identity and embeddedness in a very real way.

A primary driver in the “sickness of America” is the fact that America has become not a community of people, but a two-cylider dialectic engine churning away at the left, right, left, right, left, right cycle, polluting and filling with noise and pestilence all the air around it.

To heal what ails us, we will have to become people again; politics will have to be torn from the position of centrality that it currently occupies in our collective being and in our individual self-identities and once again consigned to a bit part—the small method by which a few little things that are hard to do on one’s own get done.

When politics is life, life is impoverished—not to mention warlike, a battle of competing totalitarianisms.

— § —

Also a casualty the last couple of years is my belief in the academy as a place of learning and social progress. This makes me sad.

From time to time, I still wonder to myself whether it’s perhaps not too late after all to become a professor and return to “research.”

The dictates of my conscience, however, make this a hard sell. There are many well-intentioned people who toil away in the academy to make the world a better place. They don’t succeed, however, because the institution as a whole is at this time fundamentally misstructured, misguided, and corrupt.

It does not do what it aspires to do, because it does not adopt the methods that might honestly lead it to do so. Inquiry is dead. Politics and consumption have taken its place.

— § —

But back to Sundays.

Sundays are the answer.

The question is the grand question, the one that I have been grappling with for two years, and that I continue and will continue to grapple with, I suspect, for some time to come.

“What is vital? What is worthwhile? What is the meaning of things?”

One answer is Sundays. Sundays—loud or quiet, busy or peaceful—are vital. Sundays are worthwhile. Sundays are the meaning of things.

Hello, Sunday. I am already awake. let’s sit together in silence for a while, a brief stop in the station before I resume my race toward the end of the line.

When you don’t have goals, people and nuts fill in the space.  §

During the best times of my life, I have just a few icons on my desktop, a few files I’m clearly working on, and a few tabs open in my web browser. My desk is clean.

Right now, I have icons piled on top of icons, I don’t know which files I’m working on (but there are many dozens of them in recent memory) and my desk is a mess.

Everything seems to be a mess.

— § —

There is a huge pile of pistachio shells sitting on a plate next to my keyboard. This pile has grown throughout the week as I have gone through two one-pound bags of nuts, munching and then munching some more for lack of a better idea.

I’ve been in a dark place. Fevers are here, possibly influenza, money is generally not. A once barely manageable schedule of predictable work at one company, one major extracurriculars, and healthy kids and pets has given way to unpredictable work at two companies, multiple major extracurriculars, and sick kids and pets.

Other drama won’t be mentioned, but it’s there.

There is no better way to get grumpy than to find yourself feeling distinctly overwhelmed and at the same time without a clear, productive focus or near-term goals while surrounded by chaos, thermometers, and medicatons.

I need to clear away the shells. Tomorrow. (I tell myself I’ll do a lot of things tomorrow. In truth, I don’t know whether any of them will get done tomorrow, or whether any of them will matter anyway.)

— § —

When things are going well, you can measure your life progress as an accumulation of successes. I got used to this for many years. Papers turned in, books released, degrees earned, goals met, etc.

In the absence of successes, you can also measure your life by events or milestones. The start of fall semester. The end of fall semester. The start of spring semester. The end of spring semester. The start of summer vacation. The end of summer vacation.

If you stop teaching and you don’t have these events, either, maybe you rely on the seaons.

Unless you have an unseasonably warm fall and winter that don’t give you much to hang your hat on.

Then you fall to measuring the passage of time by the march of possessions around you. Especially technology possesions, since these are the ones we most regularly replace. The Galaxy Tab S period gave way to the iPad Mini period. Now the DMC-CM1 period has given way to the Mate 9 period.

It’s brittle and not edifying. I’d rather have the successes.

But to have a success, you first have to set a goal, and to make steady progress toward that goal. I have done neither in a very long time.

— § —

When I was in my mid-teens, I went through a period of hypersociality. I was still an introvert who didn’t (couldn’t) share much of what was going on inside me, but I did go out a lot, and I had a lot of friends. A lot of them called me the “dark one.” (The “light one,” incidentally, was my best friend of 35 years.)

Then I had a period of turning-inward between about seventeen and twenty-two. Friends fell away. I didn’t return calls. I didn’t go out much. I didn’t want to. I mostly made a lot of notes, worked on my own projects, reconnected with myself.

After that, in the last stretch of my undergrad years, I reached out once again. I made a lot of friends, dated a bunch of people. This lasted until the end of graduate school at about twenty-eight. Then, I withdrew again and read a lot.

Moved to New York and from maybe thirty-one to thirty-five I was more engaged than I’ve ever been. People. Places. Students. Friends. Chats. A born conversationalist.

Until I wasn’t starting late 2010 when my daughter was born. That launched a period of silence and interiority that has largely continued until the present.

Recently, I’ve started interacting again. It’s funny how organic it is; rather than avoid or delay responses to messages, I just shrug and respond to them. I reach out to people with thoughts. I ask how they’re doing. I have the impulse once more.

Is it serving me well? Probably not. It’s never world-shattering. The non-introvert people who see you when you’re introverting always imagine that your life will be revolutionized if you can just “come out of your shell” or whatever. I’ve done that multiple times in my life. It’s never that big a thing. It’s sort of like you replace reading Wikipedia with reading texts, and you replace listening to podcasts of other peoples’ classrooms with listening on the telephone.

But does it change who you are or beat back the darkness with a torrent of social light? Not in the least. Once an introvert, always an introvert.

— § —

I have The Man Without Qualities here but I’ve never read it. I really need to get to reading it. Also the history of the first 3,000 years of Christianity. And a bunch of other books I bought because I really wanted to read them but never got around to it.

— § —

The most terrifying thing about being a strongly expressed introvert is that you sometimes think, before you manage to check yourself, that if you lived that episode of the Twilight Zone in which time can be stopped with a mystical stopwatch—which breaks at the end of the episode, leaving time suspended around its protagonist forever—you might not actually dislike it all that much.

Then for a moment you think maybe they’re going to come and take you away before you get back to piling up more pistachio shells and reading texts from a bunch of random people that you respond to without much thought.

— § —

In a secret dream that I have, somewhere there is an island of the introverts where my tribe lives in a kind of noble savagery of silent introvert comfort.

If there were actually people out there who read this blog, that dream wouldn’t be so secret any longer.

Extroverts have a habit of taking credit for introverts’ work.  §

This is impolitic, but I am compelled to say it.

I’ve been in the workforce for a long time. I’ve never known extroverts to do particularly good work. It’s not that they’re not capable, it’s that they don’t have the time—they socialize a lot. They don’t spend their precious hours in silent focus learning new skills or applying old ones judiciously.

What I have have seen an awful lot of is extroverts taking introverts’ work and getting credit for it as their own, often by omission. The extrovert shares something great with excitement, nobody asks, presuming that it’s their own, they don’t think much about it, and over time they build a “track record” of things that they presented but didn’t actually create (though in some cases I think through inadvertent blindness they come to believe that they did). Then, they are promoted, hired away, etc. on strength of that track record… that isn’t properly theirs.

So if you’re hiring, rather than consider only the extrovert that presents well, consider also the possibility (even likelihood) that the work in their portfolio was actually done by the nearest introvert, who hasn’t received credit for a great many things in their life. At least ask for the nearby introvert’s portfolio. And if you see a great many of the same things in it, you can be sure that it was the introvert—not the extrovert—who is the actual skill player and driver of success.

That narrative about time and pain isn’t quite right.  §

The conventional wisdom says that time heals all wounds. This is incorrect. It doesn’t.

It does, however, place them at an ever-increasing distance. Most of the time, that’s enough.

When reality leaves you behind, you are faced with ‘more.’  §

People find religion as they age because with time, reality becomes otherworldly. Or maybe paradoxical. Or transcendental.

So much is invested in the notion of “the real” that the concept takes on a kind iconography of its own in the church of the Enlightenment, but this is not the religion that begins to creep into life as you age. In fact, it is the opposite—and the impulse.

Age and circumstance invariably lead you to question the real.


© Aron Hsiao / 2004

At first, you do this in a circumstantial way. Which account of what’s just happened represents reality? Which of the instances of ‘me’ over the years is the real one, all the rest necessarily being dreams? Is reality to be found in the memories that I have of the past, in one from a multiplying number of interpretations of the present, or in visions of the future? Does reality lie in the daily routine or in the ever-present possibility that it will be interrupted?

Over time, these reflections become less concrete, less situational; you begin to suspect the very idea of “the real” as something that is both too stingy and too generous, too arbitrary yet also too inflexible.

Then, one day, it begins to dawn on you that you can’t conceptualize “the real” any longer; the real has overflowed its bounds, has outgrown itself. It can’t be contained in a single concept, because it does not maintain self-consistency. Every version of yourself is real. Every version of yourself is false. The mountains are concrete reality; the mountains are mere misconceptions. The sun and the stars and the grass and the trees are real; the sun and the stars and the grass and the trees are ephemeral, literature rather than substance, poetry rather than material-as-prose.

You don’t leave reality; reality leaves you, bit by bit, until you realize that you walk, breathe, are born, and die in a space that is already transcendental, not by fiat but by nature, by the ontological compulsion of a nature that is beyond comprehension and conception. Aquinas was right; Occam was wrong. The image of God as a sovereign agent exercising will is impossibly crude, mirroring the same naive belief in “reality” that possesses the young. Such a God can only exist in an empirically consistent universe.

Once reality leaves you, Occam is dead to you as well.

Then, it is yours to quest. Not for the key to the real, but for the key to whatever lies beyond it; not the real, but the actual, as the two are very different things. At first touch they feel the same to the uninitiated and the blind, but then so do the cheeks of an infant and a dying man.

— § —

To sit for two days in silence is a kind of pilgrimage to the core of things.

Moment by moment, you peel away the layers of what is—car keys and mailboxes, projects and assignments, dishes and brooms, blankets and jeans, hunger and thirst, awareness of breath—even presence—until nothing remains but time and actuality.

Here you hear the numinous call to you, from nowhere and everywhere at once, as nowhere and everywhere, too, have faded.

There is nothing more to be done; you can’t interrogate or share pleasantries with the numinous; it is not there for you. You are there by virtue of it.

First everything sensed becomes art. Then, everything sensed becomes iconography. Then, sense gives way and icons are rendered moot, like the concepts of telephone and letter, speech and writing in the unity of the singularity.


© Aron Hsiao / 2005

This pilgrimage is not to be taken lightly, nor is it available to those who aren’t ready. Like the portals to other states of being that are archetypal in all of literature, they appear only to the chosen.

In this case, chosen by time.

— § —

This is also why, as people age, they begin to take pleasure in “the simple things.”

A book. A pen. A watch. A plant. A view. A pet.

Because on the far shore of the actual, there is a special kind of amusement and delight to be found—a kind of quaintness—in the apparently real, not unlike the aura that hangs over a childrens’ tea set or teddy bear.

That is to say that you know that you are called to seek, that you have crossed over from the real into maturity, when “having tea with bear” is no longer a matter of tea or of a bear per se, but rather a matter concerning everything in the universe and, at the same time, nothing in particular at all.

There are no more old school adults because “old school” was bad for business.  §

The elders are disappearing, largely lost to us already.

As the 1968 generation busily concerned themselves with fomenting a particular sort of cultural change, they didn’t in all their naiveté realize that they were in fact:

  • Decoupling capital from the last remaining check on it—the experienced individual who understands the difference between price (exchange value) and value (use value).
  • Losing, along with the coercive embeddedness of ascribed identity the deeper freedoms of mentorship and inherited self-understanding.

As a result, the role and image of the adult has been transformed—from that of the guarantor of cultural transmission, survival, and embeddedness (we no longer even pretend to expect the university to do this; there is simply insufficient value—that is to say, exchange value—in it) to that of the jaded asset wielder and financial literate.

This jadedness is compulsory for the attribution to be granted, as it marks the key difference between the “old adult” and the “new adult” who possesses (as this “jadedness”) a complete, willed-if-not-innate blindness to use values that are not also exchange values, as these are deleterious to efficient profit and control.

Hence the evolution of the question, from “Do you have children?” to “Are you a parent?” to “Are you financially secure enough to make the life choices you’d prefer to make?” and the evolution in understandings—i.e. in which answers to which of these questions equates with “maturity” and thus social status.

Note the subtle shifts in which things are central to the discussion and in which things are incidental to it—not to mention the shift in the subject(s) and object(s) of history. The freedom won in the culture wars largely comprises:

  • The freedom to consume
  • if certain subtle conditions of self-abnegation have been met
  • these consisting primarily of the reduction of all value to price
  • including, covertly, the value of oneself—
  • and—no small thing—the gradual, anything-but-accidental loss of figures not in thrall to this freedom.

The giants of the past are gone because the traditional conception of adulthood was orthogonal to the project of harnessing of all of history to be a machinery regime for maximally efficient commerce; the forces of capital, astute as they are, saw an opening in the marriage of a particular historical configuration of youthful utopianism and communication and transportation (e.g. exchange) technologies. The seized upon it and were successful.

The rest is merely accounting and bookkeeping.

When you don’t like the things other people do, it’s hard to find activity partners.  §

So, first Saturday in 2018:

  • Binge-watched 13 Reasons Why on Netflix
  • Cleaned the house enough to raise the standard of the environs from “disaster” to “acceptable”
  • Reassembled Oki color laser that is now a parts unit after I scored a new one on eBay for peanuts
  • Drank about six liters of a mix of unsweetened tea and diet soda
  • Reflected on the fact that I’m not doing any of the things that I planned to do
  • Went to Walgreens to buy more drinks, saw none of the college students I flirt with just for fun
  • Put off responding to a bunch of personal communication because I haven’t felt like it, as usual
  • Worried some about a friend who is going through a tough time
  • Got older by a day

In not-so-long I’m probably going to climb back into the car and drive down the other side of the hill to the 24-hour supermarket to get dishwasher detergent.


© Aron Hsiao / 2018

But I don’t want to go yet because it’s too early, I’d rather go sometime after midnight. I’m not sure why. It’s that night owl thing. If I could afford a therapist, I think it would be amusing just to go for a long time and ask about why I do a lot of the things that I do, and see what they said, or what questions they could ask me in turn to help me to understand myself better.

But I can’t, so I won’t.

— § —

I have a few friends that live about a day’s drive from me. I don’t see them all that much.

They’re always inviting me to come out and visit and have a drink and so on, but I just don’t want to. I don’t want to arrive at their place, then visit for one or worse several days, then return. I’d rather text or talk by phone.

Now I would enjoy it if one of them would meet me halfway somewhere. I drive toward them, say, 400 or 500 miles, and they drive toward me 400 or 500 miles, and we meet at a diner in the middle somewhere, say in a little berg that neither of us knows all that well. We pick “local color” looking spot and have lunch and a drink and a few laughs. Then, maybe an hour and a half or two hours later, we both get back into our respective cars and drive home.

I’d do that in a heartbeat. Sadly, that’s not the sort of thing that anyone else seems to want to do. It seems to be a common feeling that there’s more value to a visit if someone flies in and then back out again, staying for days at least in the meantime. That’s to maximize the “together” time, regardless of what we end up doing.

As much as I love friends, I absolutely hate dropping into other peoples’ lives and being dragged around for a couple of days. Their activities are not my activities. It’s usually boring and full of people that I don’t know. As it happens, we make chit-chat that we could also have made by phone, and in the mornings we have to do breakfast at their place. I can’t think of anything more dismal than that.

For just about everyone else, it seems that the point of friendship is to “be together” as you do some things or other things, with the particular things being of secondary importance. I go the other way, really—if there’s a togetherness component to friendship, it’s to “do certain cool things” while together.


© Aron Hsiao / 2005

The meet-in-the-middle adventure is my sort of thing. I used to do it all the time—pick a spot on the map about half a day’s drive away, drive there, get lunch by myself, and drive back. I think it would be great to do that with a friend. In general, my amusement with the conceptual and the absurd remains.*

To date, I don’t really have any friends that share that with me.

* As an aside, this was among the sad, extended arguments that I had with my ex-wife before we got divorced. She wanted to do something big for my 40th birthday and asked that I choose. I kept choosing things that were interesting to me, that were I suppose, conceptual and absurd (though other words for such things could be, say, “adventurous” or even “curious”). She grew more and more upset over many days, imagining that I wasn’t taking her seriously and was deliberately proposing shitty options, I suppose to insult her or something. And I absolutely did not want to fly to some resort or other and sit in a hot tub and eat $60 steaks and drink wine. We never settled on a plan beforehand; the differences were—say—irreconcilable.

— § —

I don’t generally watch much television (or whatever you can call it these days—”streaming video” seems far too technologically precious). My list basically includes:

  • The Grand Tour
  • Intelligence Squared US
  • PBS Frontline
  • Appearances by Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson

The last “other” thing that I watched was the Gilmore Girls reunion series, which I found unsatisfying. But I enjoyed 13 Reasons Why very much. I’m not sure about the reasons, precisely. Probably this merits some self-reflection… which isn’t going to happen. Oh well.

— § —

Everyone is an accumulation of all the people that they’ve been—the children that they’ve been and the teens that they’ve been and the twenty-somethings that they’ve been and so on.

Therapists talk of people getting “stuck” at certain stages of development and having, in a way, gaps in their aggregate. Someone that got “stuck” at age five, for example, due to childhood abuse may be a perfectly functioning thirty-year-old and also a child of ages up to and including five—but the levels of development of the intervening years are all missing. It’s as though if life is a class, they were absent for most of the material that happened between five and thirty.

I seem to have all of my bits of education and development except those in my late twenties and thirties. My aggregate includes all of my childhood versions and my teenaged versions and a good number of twenty-something versions, but they disappear sometime before I’m twenty-six or twenty-seven and there’s not much after that until the present, at forty-two.

Am I perceiving things right? Hard to say. If I am, what is it that caused my development and learning to taper off for my late twenties and throughout my thirties? Hard to say. Like I said, someday, if I could afford therapy…

But in any case, it’s safe to say that while there is a kid and a teenager and a twenty-something and a forty-something sitting in this room, there is not a hint of any thirty-something here. It’s as though I was never thirty-anything. Those ages and that stage of life mean nothing to me.

Maybe that’s what graduate school does to you, who knows. In any case, that’s all over.

— § —

Tomorrow I’ll wake up, do some more cleaning, and then get busy with all of the personal communication I’ve been putting off.

It’s never that hard once I get rolling, but when it comes to getting started responding to email, texts, voicemail, and so on, I’m one of the world’s great procrastinators—and I’m fairly sure that’s why I like email, texts, and voicemail so much—because they enable me to put conversations, even pleasant ones, off for a while.

Always has been thus. Probably always will be.

— § —

There’s a part of me that wants to binge-watch Northern Exposure. I have the complete series here, and I haven’t watched it in years.

There’s another part of me that’s putting that off, because for me, watching Northern Exposure is a bit like taking tough questions from a therapist. Which is probably why I should watch it. And probably why I won’t.

Sometimes it’s good just to take a step back and see yourself for who you are.  §

I’m an unusual guy. With an unusual personal history. I think and do unusual things.

There are times in life when I revel in this fact.

There are times in life when I hate it.

There have been times in life when it has served me very well.

There have been times in life when it has cursed me.

Tonight it seems better to just look at it directly and honestly and without any particular emotional response and see it for what it is. Admit it to myself, tell it to myself, be aware of myself.

There’s a certain self-indulgence that you have to guard against in saying things like, “I’m different from most everyone else,” but there is also a certain dishonesty in refusing to concede it at times when it stares you right in the face. Better to acknowledge what is and maybe to conceptualize it if it’s been a while since you thought about it.

That’s not to say that I’m better than most everyone else. Anyone who looks at me can see that my life is less together, I have less financial stability, and I have seen less objective success than a great many people. For all the doting that adults did on me as a young man, I have never done much that was particularly brilliant. Even my dissertation wasn’t turned into a book in the end, which speaks to the lack of self-discipline that has overtaken me, yet another personal flaw.

So this isn’t about a value claim. It’s a qualitative one. The various ways that most people are in my society—good and bad—I am not. It is what it is.

— § —

N.B. I had originally used the term “strange” rather than “unusual.” And then I went to “odd.” But in the end, “unusual” seemed kinder. And though I don’t want to be unduly generous to myself, it doesn’t pay to be unduly harsh, either.

So unusual it is.

Maybe “anachronistic” is a better term. Given the state of things in western civilization and populations just now, though, that amount of self-applause is probably a bridge too far for a public post. Well, almost.

😉