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.
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

Shades of fall.  §

It rained all night. And it’s cool and gray this morning.

It’s beautiful.

I’m ready for fall.

Bigger picture—I’m ready for what comes next, whatever it is.

Class.  §

Today was the first day of summer camp. Which is a bit odd because, of course, summer is almost over.

The reason for this is that we only paid for one week. Because the cost for us, for the entire summer, was prohibitive.

This sort of thing is pissing me off right now. I have a high I.Q. and a Ph.D. and tons of experience and a lot of skills. I’m not happy that the cost of anything at all is prohibitive, much less that my life right now is a circus freak show of disaster that would be cleaned up in ten minutes with a measly five figure windfall.

Or that I once had some momentum in building a brand and a business of my own but gave it all up just to satisfy the needs of what turned out to be a temporary love affair.

I always said that I wouldn’t be my parents when it comes to the work-and-finances world, but I am my parents when it comes to the work-and-finances world. (Not the love affair part, they’re still married all these decades later. In that—precisely the wrong thing, naturally—I have managed to deviate from the course that they charted.)

— § —

This sucks.

Class sucks. Class is so impossibly definitive; it fully colonizes and constrains your consciousness. I eat my class. I socialize my class. I hobby my class. I do everything in precisely the way that someone of my class does.

That despite thinking I could buy my way out of my class with a lot of hard work and leveraged self-investment over a very long period of time. Isn’t that what everyone thinks? Isn’t that the American dream?

© Aron Hsiao / 2006

But no. That is not how it works.

Born working class? Stay working class.
Born lower middle class? Stay lower middle class.
Born upper middle class? Stay upper middle class.
Born upper class? Stay upper class.
Born wealthy? Stay wealthy.

You can’t work your way up a class, and you can’t fail your way out of a class. It simply . doesn’t . happen. Period.

This country’s educational system would be infinitely kinder if it just told kids the truth and didn’t encourage them to tilt at windmills.

“No, there’s no point in you studying right now, much less trying to get on the college track. Your parents were laborers. You’re going to earn what they earned and live like they lived. All you’re going to do by trying to go to college is get yourself into a lot of debt that you won’t be able to afford as someone that lives hand-to-mouth in a squat.”

Now that would be useful to a young kid. They could get started on mastering the norms and mores of their station and become the top dog in their particular stratum, rather than wasting their years trying to be something they’re not and then ending up on the bottom rung instead for having started slowly and under significant misapprehension.

Milton was right: Better to rule in hell.

Doubly so when the unspoken is true: There is no path to heaven. Either you were born an angel or you weren’t. Let’s be real.

— § —

The older I get—the more I use the phrase “the older I get.”

Okay, that isn’t where I was going with that, it just came out in a moment of self-consciousness. Let’s rewind.

The older I get, the farther back I seem to place humanity’s golden age. This may be one of those “perspective” things. Right now if you try to find anything laudable about, say, the middle ages, a lot of people will tell you about death and disease and creature comforts and life expectancy.

Hell, I used to be that person, in front of fifty or a hundred students at a time.

But here I sit aging and thinking that by god, the 1950s really were a golden age, and the 1450s may have been that much more golden.

I guess it’s easy to talk about how unimportant creature comforts are when you have all of them, but every generation has their cross to bear, and ours happens to be the bitter irony of endless creature comforts in an age devoid of any reason to exist other than pure narcissism and in which every single one of a person’s earthy companions are fellow narcissists.

Yeah, this post took a wrong turn. But it is what it is.

— § —

On more prosaic matters, I have been shipping FedEx a lot lately instead of USPS. The rates are better. And I’m working on opening both an online store and an affiliate content marketing setup. Because it’s time to get back on the path that I stupidly abandoned and try to do something other than work for the man.

And if you’re wincing at that last phrase, let me tell you it’s because I come from a lower middle class household and goddammit that’s what I am and a lifetime of trying to be otherwise has brought me a lot of pain and suffering but not much in the way of success, so it may be time to embrace my origins, big words and all.

I may not know how to invest well for retirement, but I sure as hell can fix anything in the house with a bent coat hanger, some glue, and some duct tape, and I know all the best sitcoms from the ’70s onward and can quote from them liberally.

— § —

Apropos of all of this, I am stuck reading the Chronicle of Higher Education daily and getting more and more irritated with each additional word.

I’ll be glad when my subscription finally runs out and I don’t have to try to master self control to avoid all of the incredible tide of hypocrites and elitists (yup, said it) that post over there.

Who’s worth paying attention to?

Jonathan Haidt and Camille Paglia.

Who’s not worth paying attention to?

Hypatia, for one.

© Aron Hsiao / 2002

Cesspool. The number of former haunts that are turning into cesspools in my evolving estimation multiply apace.

Daily Kos? Cesspool.
Chronicle of Higher Education? Cesspool.
The Guardian? Cesspool.
The Daily Beast? Cesspool.

I am finding that pretty much everything that I judge to have been worth my time is being published or done in places that the people that I formerly held in some esteem wouldn’t deign to dignify with a mere glance, much less a sustained presence.

What does this say about me and where I am in life?

Probably that I will lose some friends and acquaintances.

— § —

The primary problem with the academy right now is that the argument about whether it’s a body constituted for the pursuit of knowledge or whether knowledge is simply another name for “politics” and thus it’s ultimately a body constituted for political weight-tossing has been settled—and in the wrong direction, in my opinion.

It’s not that everything is a form of politics, including knowledge.

Ass backward.

It’s that everything is a form of knowledge, including politics.


This mirrors the problem in society more broadly, in which the view that society is a body in the service of whose constitution we find laboring selves has been reversed; now everyone seems to think that society is a body constituted to serve the development of selves.

Not “I exist to serve us” but rather “we exist to realize me.”

I said some months ago that I was becoming a conservative.

This turn of thought proves it.

— § —

The main shutoff for the sprinkler system turned out to be leaky this year when I turned it on in spring. I found out when a man came by from the city to tell me that we were leaking gallons every minute six feet underground, by the water meter’s estimation.

As a result, the grass is yellow.

This would bother me if I cared about the grass being yellow. But as a lower middle class person, I can’t seem to bring myself to care about it, or about my crooked teeth. Those things seem less important than, say, money and career.

I fully realize that this is a poor man’s way of looking at the world. The green grass and the straight teeth are the source of all wealth. I know this intellectually.

Just like the yoga that annoys the hell out of me by its omnipresence and the Whole Foods $2.00 apples that similarly annoy me are sources of wealth.

But as a lower middle class person, I hate the fact that wealth is so superficial. And I cannot bring myself to see the enlightenment behind the appearance of the teeth, though I realize that to some in other classes, the link is only too obvious.

Sue me.

— § —

I suppose this is a rant.

I suppose that in a day or two I’ll regret ever having posted it.

But whatever; tomorrow is the second day of summer camp 2017.

The status quo isn’t just fragile, it’s threatened, and as someone in the lower middle class, I’m in love with status quos, as when they are functional, they sound a lot like that elusive boon called self-preservation that is always threatened by a dark cloud of encroaching precarity.

The precarity that, they tell me, is only in my mind. Abundance mindset and all that.

Funny thing, I’ve never succeeded in eating one of those.

I think that “abundance mindsets,” like “yoga,” “cosmopolitanism,” and “allyship,” are really tales that the privileged and the licensed-self-absorbed tell themselves to ensure that the sheen of their own morality remains intact for and over the course of their skillfully euphemized beatings of nameless masses of underlings.

It’s a fig leaf to cover a certain ugliness that doesn’t—thank god—color the lower middle class.

Yeah, ouch. Again—sue me.


Running, including out of time.  §

Thanks to Google Analytics, I know that people read this blog. Not a lot, but some. And I’m pretty sure it’s no longer people that I know. Every now and then, I wonder who the readers are. Hi, whoever you are.

— § —

One of the most intolerable things about adulthood is the realization that “good at heart” doesn’t matter nearly as much as Disney once told you it did, back when you were small and credulous.

— § —

Every single thing in my life right now has an air of critical unsustainability about it. It is quite unsettling. I don’t need things to be sustainable forever, just maybe until the kids are older. I have to admit, I’m fearful.

— § —

Once you realize that all of those fancy schmanzy leather seats in cars are basically painted with acrylic paint to create the particular color and sheen in each case, you see leather a little differently. It could have been anything; it’s the paint that’s doing the heavy lifting.

— § —

There are so many different kinds and classes of people, each of them different, as to be bewildering. I wish I was one of those people that could pass through life and never notice this—just somehow be and feel natural in the face of it all. But I’m not. I’m tremendously conscious of the people around me and their characteristics. Living in society is living in a drug-driven kaleidoscope.

— § —

Driving on an empty highway at night is one of the loveliest experiences a person can have. Despite the fact that they’re a major part of what’s wrong with our society, and that they’re a major headache in everyday life, for this reason alone it saddens me to think that cars may not be long for this world in the grand scheme of things.

— § —

The kids asked me about steel versus wood construction. I started to say something about the Paris World’s Fair in the early part of the twentieth century. I couldn’t remember the year. I couldn’t remember any details. I stumbled over my words. It has been a while since I was an academic.

— § —

There are many pretty people out there, but almost all of them are half my age.

— § —

Got to get up early. Kids have Taekwondo camp early tomorrow. And after that’s done, it’s just a couple of weeks until school starts. Things are ramping up. And there’s a first-grader this year. Full-time school days. Life is changing again.

I wish life would stop changing for a while.

I realize that’s a wish that’s been made by innumerable people since time immemorial. It just keeps on pressing on around you like a tornado until at some point you die. That’s how it works.

— § —

There is a role in life for amusement parks. They are not silly things. They stand in for unhealthy addictions and emotional crutches and give adults a place to stop worrying, just for a few hours.

Without such diversions, revolution would happen tomorrow.

(It may happen tomorrow anyway; things are a big pregnant in the world just now.)

Leaving a mark.  §

When I was younger I was of the opinion that most of the “self help” and bigger-picture (lifestyle, career) advice out there was bullshit. For the most part, it didn’t work, and was basically in the genre of “information that is marketable because it tells people what they want to hear,” i.e. that:

  1. The things that they wish they could do but can’t because of the sacrifices that would have to be made and how these sacrifices affect other people are in fact exactly what they should be doing, and the sacrifices either are myths or don’t matter or negatively affect people all that much, or
  2. That the sacrifices themselves are myths made up by “negative, toxic” people who just can’t bear to see anyone be successful.

Then I had this period of a number of years, basically from late-Ph.D. stage until last year sometime, during which I thought maybe I had it wrong and this was the problem with me in general, and that what I really ought to be doing is giving all of this advice a chance.

But no.

No, I was right in the first place, and as I’ve learned over and over again over the course of my life, I ought not to have doubted myself. So let me state, for the record, that self-help and “personal development” advice really falls into two major camps at the end of the day:

  1. How to screw other people but rationalize your screw job so that instead of your exploiting or mistreating them in some way for your personal gain, it becomes about how they are “toxic” for trying to hold you back.
  2. Telling you about how all the half-baked, narcissistic stuff that you’re doing is really the best you stuff already (“Hey babe, you’re already perfect, you go girl and don’t let the haters tear you down!”) and how to rationalize your inner judgments so that instead of rueing your incorrect choices and mistakes, you love them and can continue to make them over and over again without regret.

© Aron Hsiao / 2002

There’s a whole nexus of cultural dimensions that reinforce this, from our “theraputic” culture that shifts all choices from the realm of the moral to the realm of the aspirational and personal, to the individualistic ethos of modern liberal-democratic culture, which canonizes personal choice and “self-realization” as the foundational goods of society and social membership.

And there is a master rationalization that stands in for the moral calculus on providing and marketing this kind of advice. It goes something like this:

“People find value in it, so it’s fine that they spend on it, and the fact that they spend on it must indicate that they find value in it, so it must work in one way or another.”

This rationalization is also bullshit.

A huge amount of the spending and investment in our culture (dare I say the vast majority?) occurs not because people find value in something but because they are hoping to find value in something, i.e. it is aspirational—and the tenor of most of the marketing for most of the products sold to most of the people is a dead giveaway that this is the case.

And the more people are let down by what they’ve already spent on or invested in, the more desperate they become to set the ship right with whatever resources remain available to them, i.e. they become more and more aspirationally-oriented as they are stretched thinner.

I guess this is a muddled, 3:45 am way of saying, “It’s all a scam, man, and the more they tell you that what you need to do is work on yourself, the greather the chance that what they’re really telling you to do is hurt someone else to get just a tinier bit ahead, because selves are traditionally and biologically structured in the way in which they are because they necessarily have to function in, and were ‘designed for,’ life in society—as human social animals.”

— § —

Some interpersonal red flags that make me deeply suspicious, whether from women or for men:

  • Excessive use of cosmetics, fashion, or other items aimed at enhancing superficial appearance, particularly if they’re expensive, “sustainable,” “eco-friendly,” “animal-friendly,” and so on.
  • Yoga, rock climbing, or other fitness-isms pursued as a kind of ‘”self-improvement porn,” which is really a form of entertainment rather than avocation, much less vocation.
  • Anything particularly virtue-signal-worthy—recycling, organic eating, community organizing, etc. in which participation at present is significantly above historical baselines.
  • Adoption of cultural practices and material circumstances that are not one’s one, i.e. white folks wearing Indian clothes, upper-middle-class Buddhists, etc.
  • Avowed atheism or agnosticism in the co-presence of the things above.
  • Lots of adult-to-adult socializing in the absence of other demographic groups, particularly amongst those who stridentlyy embrace the things above as it begins to look suspiciously like virtue-signal-worthy self-segregation in the interest of not being confronted by or associated with difference.

I guess this is my way of saying that I think that virtually everyone currently over the age of twenty who is not in the working class or below on the social ladder is a rather cheap fraud engaged in a collective game to pull the wool over their own eyes while standing next to innumerable others who are doing precisely the same thing, so that we can all feel better about ourselves as we drive into the same moral ditch that the baby boomers drove into.

This is the problem with the world. It isn’t climate change.

Climate change is ultimately most enabled by—if you’ll forgive the massive ellipsis here—yoga, Whole Foods, and incense as purchased and practiced by the sanctimonious iPhone set, who are busy mutually congratulating themselves into an enlightened, “diverse,” “verdant” epicurean graveyard of atomized, highly “virtuous” individuals.

The populist revolution occurred and is occurring because the plebes sense this (and not incorrectly) but aren’t educated or savvy enough to have any clue what to do about it.

— § —

Frankly, there isn’t much to do about it other than regret it and hate yoga, “famer’s market” sellers of traditional Indian clothes, and all varieties of duckface, which is not actually a particular physiological manifestation (it actually comes in many different varieties and involves many different body parts) but a particular (and bankrupt) moral pose.

I found the best blog ever.  §

Sadly, it’s gone dark.

The Last Psychiatrist—how did I miss this? And what happened to this person? Why aren’t they writing anymore? They are needed.

Check these out:

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful
Hipsters on Food Stamps

All of the half-thoughts swirling in my head that would have taken many hours of thought to distill into arguments have been chucked out here rapid-fire by someone clearly about a thousand times smarter than I am. This blog ought to be required reading in school.

Perfection.  §

So I like perfect things too much.

Not that I’m a perfectionist, because I’m not. Most things in my life aren’t, and don’t have to be, perfect. (So—take a look around if you’re dubious about this.)

With that said, it is also true that something needs to be perfect. Somethings, rather. A few things. A few precious, clung-to things that are the things that I idolize, fetishize, romanticize, etc.

I suppose this is idol worship, these things taking the place of God(s), who were the original object(s) of perfection in individual human lives.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

But whatever the sin, it remains true that I fumble endlessly to keep a few items from the ideal plane laying around on my desk, and so on. This can look like compulsion. Watch gets a scratch and I am suddenly überbugged until I can sit down for ten minutes and polish and refinish it out, so that things are back to right with the world, e.g. a watch without scratches. Because that watch is one of my perfect things, a little piece of evidence that it is not necessarily the case that everything must, in the end, suck.

Only… everything must, in the end, suck. Okay, maybe that’s putting it harshly, but at the same time, the disappointment that is intrinsic to life can be overwhelming. So much potential.

There is a memory stirring in my mind about that phrase, “so much potential.” I can’t place it. I’m almost positive that either I read it in a novel (A character who said, perhaps, that there was nothing on earth worse than having lots of potential?) or a heard a friend say that once.

I remember being only slightly moved by the thought, but now, at this particular moment, it has the ring of utter truth about it. Potential, an ideation, a human invention, a bit of mist hanging in the air, is the thing that soils everything. If only there were no potential, there would only be what is and it would be fine.

That’s Buddhism in a nutshell, no?

So… perfect things. Yes, have to have a few, and have to maintain them. And this is a complete waste of time and money. And an absolute necessity, no matter what else is going on in my life. No perfection anywhere? Throw in the towel time.

— § —

I know where it was. It’s a quite from Linus, in Peanuts.


The day he died, I went out and bought ten copies of the local daily newspaper with the headline, plus a couple of New York Times editions, and filed them away. I still have them somewhere here. Every now and then I stumble across them and wonder what I’ll do with them.

I don’t ever give them place of prominence or hang them on the wall or anything like that, however, because in time they’ve yellowed and wrinkled. They’re no longer perfect.

And if I’m going to hang a headline about the death of a comic artist on my wall (and have to answer the inevitable questions that follow), it needs to be perfect.

But I don’t throw them away—I have the vague idea that newspaper leaf, like everything else, is in principle restorable to perfection—that is to say, ever perfectable…

— § —

Yeah. QED.

Do or say.  §

I officially declare a stalemate.

So now what?

— § —

Eleven years later, I finally watched Prime Suspect 7. I’d been holding off forever because once I’d watched it, that would be the end. And so it is.

© Aron Hsiao / 1996, 2002

I find so much to identify with in that character.

I hate endings. I mean, I value them more than almost anything because they are the original source of all meaning in human existence. But I hate them all the same.

— § —

I am struggling with the whole “puppy” thing and wondering if in an alternate universe in which honest engagement with self was possible I’d think it was a mistake.

It certainly is endless work and endless destruction and endless cost.

— § —

I don’t know what to do or say with the rest of this post.

But I was born into a class in which there’s nothing but vertical walls and silence around “do” and “say” in general; you do and say what is prescribed and you don’t have any other ideas.

So I don’t have any other ideas, and I never will.

— § —

Aside from my children, everything important in my life seems so very hazy and so very long ago, like I’ve been dead for years already.

— § —

Never marry.

2017 has not been kinder than 2016.  §

This has been the summer of broken things and unexpected expenses. Nothing has worked, nothing has stayed the same, nothing has been reliable or remained intact, and everything is costing me far more cash than I expected.

It is endless costly problems.

I am overwhelmed and exhausted.

And now to add insult to injury, my strategic lifeline—internet connectivity, which is basically the only resource I have for trying to overcome these problems—has been down for two days and will continue to be down for half of tomorrow because a tree took out my fiber line in a windstorm.

Major things:

  • My son had to have unexpected surgery at the end of spring
  • The car had to be unexpectedly replaced at the start of summer
  • The replacement car unexpectedly needed major repairs just three weeks later
  • My only remaining camera (also my phone) developed a buffer memory fault
  • The puppy tore the carpet up, and it will have to be replaced
  • The puppy has had multiple self-caused, head-scratching injuries requiring vet care, far more than her older counterpart at her age
  • The kids tore the puppy gate off the wall, leading to repair costs
  • The plumbing has been a mess, including multiple major leaks requiring service
  • Internet went down and I work online, requiring me to acquire tethering hardware and pay for tethering data

There are more, but these are the ones that have been intractable problems needing extended attention and major outlays.

I have tried to do as much of it as I can myself, but this still involves buying tons of equipment and tools in most of these cases. For example, the service costs on the “new” car so far are still at less than $1,000 as opposed to $2,800 or more, but there remains more to be done, and even “still less than $1,000” is a lot more than nothing, and this is on top of having had to buy a car.

I don’t earn nothing, so there’s a part of me that’s frustrated that I’m not better off right now. But I’m also not a rich man, and I have to pay for student loans, legal debt from the divorce, child support, alimony, plus the costs of having the kids with me every weekday and every other weekend, plus extracurriculars, school stuff, and then of course utilities and insurances (which I am reimbursed for in the case of medical, but which I have to account for in cash flow every month and it’s not a small amount), etc.

As a result, we haven’t done anything that we did last summer. No ball games, no trips to museums or cultural resources, no trips to amusement parks, no campouts, no fishing (because no cash for fishing license or fishing gear), etc.

And if the unexpected expenses keep up at this rate, I will sink under the weight. I cannot keep up at this pace. Already the queue of stuff still to be paid for has stretched me beyond limits and I am trying to find ways to make it all work.

In three years, when alimony ends, when the legal debt from divorce is paid off, and when a couple of the vehicles are paid off, life will be infinitely easier to pay for. But right now? Right now is financial whack-a-mole. Nothing at all is getting saved, and no “progress” is being made. I’m not even treading water successfully.

— § —

I have always been a person of unusual patience and perseverance.

Right now, however, both are wearing thin.

Truth.  §

On multiple occasions recently I’ve found myself thinking about American Beauty, the now decades-old film that seems to either elicit rapture or mockery from critics.

It was easy for the Very Serious People (and for aspiring instances of same, such as myself at the time) to savage the film on a variety of grounds. It was derivative and unoriginal. It swung with a sledgehammer even as its essence was a critique of heavy-handedness from all sides. It wasn’t terribly literate or sophisticated. And so on.

I have to say that my opinion of the film has changed now that I am roughly the age of the film’s key characters.

© DreamWorks / 1999

The problem with the film—the reason why some who didn’t like it much didn’t like it much at the time—was actually and secretly that it was largely—nay, overwhelmingly—true. The film is an instance of truth made up of many smaller instances of truth—and truth, for the in-crowd, particularly the young who don’t believe in truth, is a dead giveaway speaking to a certain kind of naiveté. If there’s one thing that the young and the sophisticated alike can’t countenance, it’s the risk that they might fall prey to naiveté.

What’s changed in me, and what changes in a lot of people as they age, is the end of this postmodern, post-structuralist notion that truth is laughable. This happens, to be blunt, when you have to come to terms with your own mortality—which is, at the end of things, an inescapable, unassailable truth.

That you are mortal and that you will die—as evidenced by the continued accleration of time and similar acceleration of the decline of your body and of your prospects, no matter what counter-strategies you adopt—puts the lie to the seductive claim that there is no such thing as truth, that ontology is a story told by ice-cream sellers to credulous children.

(In fact, there is a kind of circular game at work; I suspect that the entire artifice of contemporary continental philosophy and its North American groupies is a way of daring death—let it be true as the result of my work that there is no truth, and with that gesture I escape the final truth and become immortal after all.)

But matter and time have a way of forcing you to the negotiating table, of prying your eyes open and forcing you to stare at the obvious (or, at the very least, at your wrinkles and graying hair in the mirror). And once you admit the truth of your own age, that of your all-too-familiar life arc, and that of the state of your life while still traveling it, the game is up.

And then, suddenly, American Beauty is a poignant, masterful film because it manages over and over again to embody truth in a medium that is, in fact, pure artifice by design. And with acceptance of the pat and bounded nature of the ultimate truth of your own life, once you’ve confronted and accepted it, all other truth begins to command a premium.

The title is a ruse; beauty is the shallow consolation prize for those that—as of yet—are unable to tackle truth. The film is adept at segmenting audiences and critics along precisely those lines—and those lines are what it is actually about.

Enlightenment?  §

I happened to play “Fireflies” for the first time in my car, driving with the kids.

My daughter absolutely fell in love with it. “That song is so great! I love it!” she said, when it finished playing. She was glowing. She’d had a genuine moment.

I kept my eyes on the road and just about cried.

— § —

We’re failing our children. They start out understanding things, being able to see beauty and intuitively presuming meaning, and then they grow up and become Lena Dunham.

That sucks, as an outcome.

We go out of our way to pull the rug out from under them. By the time they are adults, they will realize that there is nothing particularly meaningful to hold onto, to place at the center of their lives. Not family, those are temporary “arrangements” that last until they become irritating and impinge on personal development, at which point they’re replaced by FWBs. Not God, that’s just a prejudicial myth (I say this as someone that, friends know, is not exactly a religious person). Not true, rooted community or the public body of the nation, those are also prejudicial and have been replaced by Walmart and Best Buy.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

The “enlightened” spend many hours teaching them that the meaning of life is recycling, saving the whales, stardust, yoga, tolerance, the celebration of “diversity,” the “community” that they find at the farmer’s market and meetup.com, and “becoming your best self.”

I’m sorry, but these things are absolute crap as the meanings for life, as things to hold onto, as reasons to get up in the morning, or as things to look back on at the end of life.

And at some level, shallow or very deep, we all know it. And so (we all know this, too) the emptiness and pain get displaced into various forms of literate irony and wink-wink posturing in the case of the lucky and well off, or into opiate and anti-depressant addiction in the case of the less lucky and less well off.

Tada! Lena Dunam. It’s not by accident; she’s a symptom of the ultimate vacuity of what the enlightened folk are marching around calling “meaningful”—of the world that we have built around our selves.

Seriously, it’s crap. And it pains me that this is all I can leave my daughter and son. I’m not concerned about “the kind of world” that I or even we leave them; I’m concerned about “the sense of their place in the universe” and “the nature of things” that they cannot help but settle for in our modern era.

How I wish that she could just listen to lovely music and be six years old forever.

How I wish that we could fix this crap and stop f***ing around with stupid postmodern forms of “enlightenment” that are really just lies that emotionally damaged people tell themselves so as to not fall to pieces until they’re on their death beds and it doesn’t matter anyway.

I am exhausted.  §

Just completely, utterly exhausted.

Shitstorms and related shit.  §

Cut bait.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is cut . fucking . bait .

On a marriage. On a day. On a friendship. On a credit line. On a project. On whatever.

© Aron Hsiao / 2006

Anything can become a rabbit hole, given the chance, and one of the key (and most distressing) skills in life is to be able to recognize the moment at which you’ve entered the maze—at which it only gets worse from here no matter what you do. The best you can do, at such moments, is to literally run in the other direction. To separate yourself from the context entirely, because it is the least bad option for everyone.

There’s a popular trope that people who run from situations of whatever kind are cowards, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes they are towers of fortitude who are cutting bait despite incredible pain and sadness because they realize that running is the only way to make something better, not just for themselves, but for whomever is left behind, too.

This is not an easy thing to do. Much easier to hang around and wander, maudlin and self-absorbed and woe-is-me, through the maze.

It takes guts to do what needs to be done. And it can hurt. A lot.

Never think less of someone for keeping their mouth shut and themselves to themselves, because they may well be straining behind the scenes to preserve this state of affairs, aware that the alternative is far worse.

— § —

I need to get stronger. Harder. Less susceptible to things.

Yes, harder and less susceptible even in comparison to now. It is the healthy way, for everyone. You play the cards you are dealt.

— § —

Shit day and shit week. Intense. High-pressure. Low-time. Low-success. Low-satisfaction.


— § —

This gloomy fuck-up of a blog post was brought to you by capitalism, middle age, modernity, and divorce.

— § —

Speaking of, the worst dimension of divorce by far is when your kids adopt the behaviors of your ex. No doubt this runs in both directions. All those little things you so weren’t able to live with? They’re going to be a part of your life forever, now embedded in the people who are absolutely closest to you and who depend on you utterly.

So you have to find the way that you couldn’t the first time around to make peace with having those personality quirks in your life, right up under your wing feathers.

— § —

Sometimes there just isn’t enough of you to go around.

Not for your kids. Not for your friends. Not for your employer. Not for your banks. Not for yourself.

When those times hit, what you mostly want to do is disappear entirely.

Movies and books.  §

Noah Millman suggests that we watch some movies over and over—as people are wont to do—because we find comfort in them, often some sort of familiarity. He lists films like Groundhog Day, Pixar films, and Star Wars films as those that are most rewatchable.

“..the experience of rewatching is first and foremost the experience of returning to the familiar…an experience of comfort from the familiar, both in terms of companions—these are people I know—and in terms of a journey you want to go on over and over even though—in fact in part because—you know where it ends.”

Apropos of my post a day or two ago on being mobbed by people that thought I was somehow socially misformed, and of a lifetime of being different…I am trying to reflect on what this must mean for me.

© Film Duemila / 1964

I mean, Millman explicitly names Last Year at Marienbad as the sort of film that people don’t watch over and over again.

Except that… I do. It’s on my list of most-watched films, which probably looks like this:

Last Year at Marienbad
Red Desert
8 1/2
North by Northwest
Apocalypse Now
Blade Runner

These are my watch-and-rewatch canon. By and large, they’re filled with characters that you can’t get to know. They embody journeys that are unintelligible, bewildering, uncanny. In most cases, they lead to no resolution; quite the opposite, in fact. They leave troubling questions and even narrative grounds hanging uncomfortably in the air.

Do I find them comforting? I suppose in some ways I don’t, but in some ways I do. Given Millman’s argument, that is both troubling and illuminating. Not to mention suggestive of why groups of people often find me to be unintelligible, bewildering, and uncanny—even if one-on-one or one-hundred-to-one it is often somewhat better. What I should clearly never do is try to interact in small groups.

— § —

On a different-yet-somehow-similar note, Hemingway has been my favorite author since I was very young—maybe even since I was a teen. Yet I’d never stopped to consider before what sort of influence his writing and his characters may have had on my own sense of self over the years.

Enter Frank Miniter’s This Will Make a Man of You, and I’ve now stopped and am considering.

© Asier Solana Bermejo / CC-BY-SA-2.5

Without ever previously realizing this, I do believe that Hemingway’s influence on me is nothing short of profound. His image of masculinity, its characteristics, its nobility in the face of the empty reality of modernity after its fall—these are things that deeply reflect and shape who I am, how I approach situations.

Maybe even the words that I choose to use and the ways in which the interactions that I have had over the years have played out. I don’t talk much. I don’t suffer fools. I try to be honest. I have a distaste for pretense. I often feel as though chat is wasting time.

From long before I was a man, they were compelling to me; they felt right.

My ex-wife absolutely hated Hemingway. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a shock that in the end she came to feel nearly the same way about me.

Be quiet. Know that you’re weak and be strong anyway. Don’t imagine that it matters, but do it just the same. Have a code. Live it because a code is the only thing you can actually have, so you don’t want to lose it.

Plant a tree. Fight a bull. Have a son. Write a book.


Identity, transcendence, and tactics.  §

It is very early in the morning.

I’ve been posting and sharing photos from the past week, which is something I do now, for various reasons that don’t particularly relate to my own motivations.

— § —

Mom will have the kids tomorrow, so today was our day to enjoy Independence Day festivities.

In recent years I’ve come to a new understanding and appreciation of the holiday, and of the idea of the nation in particular, so I now approach this celebration with a comparatively new eyes.

Not that I’ve become a nationalist—for many years I was decidedly anti-nationalist—but I have come to appreciate what many young people don’t want to admit to themselves: that you are who you are, and and that that identity has limits. You can claim all you want to be a “citizen of the world” or to be “part of humanity” but the fact is that there are things that make you unique and distinct from many other human beings, and you share them with most of your countrymen, for good and for bad.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

To appreciate this is not to applaud human balkanization, as I once thought, but to embrace yourself, your past, and the unavoidable truth that others see in you, for example, as an “American.”

I am an American. This I will always be. To come to terms with myself is thus, in some sense, to come to terms with and to embrace Americanness in general and my Americanness in particular, and to realize that in times of distress or conflict, whether I like it or not, this is my people.

That is to say that when push comes to shove in the many possible circumstances of human balkanization, it is my fellow Americans that are least likely to harm me and most likely to support me—and thus, if I’m smart and in fact if I have any sense of gratitude in life at all, I’ll respond in kind at the emotional level.

I am realizing that it is a distinct folly of the young to reject your own people as though some other people are only too happy to take you in entirely—as though you can easily be someone other than who you are. You might get a few gregarious head-nodders in some other group to promise that you’ve been initiated into their circle, but when the chips are down your membership card in some other group can’t take the place of the self-evident ties that you share with your own countrymen, which few want to acknowledge in times of peace yet everyone uses as evidence for judgment in times of war.

Yes, I am an American, for good and for bad. This is my people, and my holiday. Happy Independence Day.

— § —

Fireworks are also something I’ve come to appreciate more with age.

© Aron Hsiao / 2017

As a young person beyond a certain age, I used to roll my eyes at them—I thought my parents were trying to impress me, year after year, not realizing that I was beyond being wowed by their adult command of fire. I thought it was a show.

Now I realize that it’s a kind of prayer, a kind of meditation.

This is particularly true of large fireworks, of the ones that run $10 or $20 or $30 for a single fuse and that shoot hundreds of feet into the air right above your driveway before exploding, filling the entire sky with fire.

When that happens, for a fleeting moment, you are caught outside of time, separated from the rest of humanity by an impenetrable curtain of mathematics, physics, kinetics, and perception, and at the very same time transformed into primal man—beast before and beneath immense, inescapable fire.

It is not so much celebratory as it is a consummation or a rebirth of some kind, a renewal of vows and a kind of phenomenological molting.

It is peyote in a different guise, a ceremonial way of reaching another plane, neck craned back, eyes wide and overwhelmed—as you subconsciously understand that at the same time all of the fellow countrymen around you are doing the same with the patch of sky just above them.

It is a kind of prayer. And when you hear the explosions all around you, from every home, endless, frenetic—you realize that you are all, as a community, praying and reaching that other plane together, in honor of your shared, unavoidable, easily ascribed and ascribable, identities.

— § —

There are no cosmopolitans outside the global cities. To be and remain a cosmopolitan outside of a global city is not possible. There is not enough of a spectrum of identity; there is “in” and “out,” “this” and “not this,” and you will be one or the other, at the hands and attributions of others, whether you like it or not.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

This phenomenological reality is impossible to convey to those who have spent many years or even their entire lives in the global cities. The experience is too large, all-encompassing, and deep to convey.

They don’t believe it, and you can’t explain it—even if you are educated and articulate. It is not a single, coherent phenomenon that exists in clarity in one facet of life or explicable set of objects, conceptual or physical. It is an attribute, a characteristic, a tiny one, embedded in an infinite number of little details of life. It is perfectly diffused throughout reality as a sea, not congealed in some specific, named reality as a conceptual unity.

In short, it can only be experienced, this depth of identity and identity-fabric as the a defining substratum of the entirety and geography of social life.

This is the right/left, red/blue fault line in America, and around much of the world right now—for folks outside of the global cities, reality has is substratum. For folks in them, it does not. The divide cannot and will not be crossed, the gap cannot and will not be bridged.

— § —

Life has a strategic dimension, but it also has a tactical one.

There are times in life when, in service and pursuit of a larger general strategy, one has to tactically select places and times at which to make a stand—to adopt a patch of geography where engagement will take place, and a battle will be occasioned and fought.

© Aron Hsiao / 2003

This usually happens when circumstances begin to swing away from you—when you are not the pursuer, but rather the pursued, not the predator but the prey.

It is the prey that has to choose the moment to turn around and fight. The predator, in his position of advantage, is happy to accept engagement on whatever terms the prey prefers, and the sooner the better.

I have had a few moments like this in my life—”last stands” at which the game is ultimately lost or won, made when they were made because conditions would only get worse, rather than better—it was the last, best, most tactically sound moment to suddenly turn around and fight.

One of these happened two years ago.

The next one is brewing, this time not in my relationship life, but in my career and financial life.

In matters of tactics, particularly in the tactics of life and in the tactics of war, sound selection can be the key determinant that separates the winners from the losers. It’s not just that you pick your battles; it’s that you must pick (and pick well) when and where to suddenly decide to have them.

I am quietly steeling myself for what is to come, and wishing myself luck.

Morning.  §

With the benefit of a night’s sleep, things are better. Always the way: it looks better in the morning, be sure to sleep on it before you start to panic about life.

Still crises everywhere, but back to my old “crises-are-the-nature-of-life-so-what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it” self.