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

There is more than hot air to conservative claims of censorship.  §

Anyone that knows me knows that I tend to read on all sides of an issue. And that I often hold unorthodox opinions on political issues in particular that straddle lines or thread needles as a result of trying to understand issues from the perspective of both sides of the “political tendency” aisle. I was pro-Gore, for example, in 2000, but at the same time pro-Bush when it came to the court cases. I voted for Obama, but later did not support Hillary, even as I also didn’t support Trump.

I’m not, that is to say, an ideologue, but rather try to understand and judge issues after seeking clarity from all sides.

Until today, I’ve not known what to think about the “social media censorship” debate. Conservatives have long claimed that they don’t get a fair shake, with progressives claiming that what’s being blocked or removed is largely hate speech. I didn’t have a strong opinion in either direction, I suppose, and continued to read arguments from both sides without having been convinced.

— § —

This week, I’ve been following the goings-on in Parliament int the U.K. regarding Brexit. The last couple of days have been particularly eventful, and I’d taken to reading hashtags on both sides of the aisle on Twitter to get a read on the perspectives on both sides from the British public.

What I got instead was an education on Twitter and social media censorship.

Pro-Brexit hashtags, including innocuous ones making no threats, showing no profanity, etc. have been simply disappearing, while the same is not true of pro-remain hashtags.

This morning, I tried to check in on several hashtags on both sides that had been seeing a large amount of activity over the last 24 hours. When it came time to look at the pro-Brexit sentiment, what I saw instead were blanks. No tweets for those hashtags. We’re talking a shift from thousands and thousands of tweets and active discussion to—nada.

I moved from the mobile client to a desktop browser session and searched again. I got a tiny handful of stale posts from several years ago. Everything more recent had disappeared. Simply gone. The pro-remain hashtags? Still incredibly active and deep.

I sat there in stunned silence for several minutes.

I don’t know whether the tweets in question have been removed, or the accounts, or neither and it’s simply that Twitter search is blocking searches for that keyword and returning no recent results. But I do know that actual work had to be done to hide these discussions, which were not hateful, not violent, not white nationalist, not racist, etc. Just politics and regular people voicing their opinions.

— § —

Where I stand on the social media censorship issue is thus evolving: it does, in fact, happen sometimes. And conservatives are right in saying that at least in some cases, it happens rather blatantly to conservatives. Interestingly, famous figures on that side of the aisle remain there and remain searchable.

This implies some amount of bad faith—the platform doesn’t want the public to realize that censorship is happening, which they surely would if very famous figures (i.e. Farage) started to disappear. No, this is a kind of stealth censorship—one that makes it look as though one side of the aisle has very little, if any, support, while making it look as if the other side of the aisle enjoys incredible popularity and support.

— § —

I don’t really know what to do with this information. I do know that I feel as though my eyes have been opened.

I had long ago changed my previously very sunny opinion about social media—the one that I’d held throughout much of my time in graduate school and as an academic. Since then, I’d come to realize that social media was much more a mixed bag, much more dubious, and much more problematic than I’d at first imagined, largely because of the way in which it changed social structure and social discourse, and because of a particular metaphysics that I’d not seen early on that appears in incompatible with certain aspects of a “good life.”

Now, I’m leaning even farther in that direction. Maybe the fiercest critics are right—rather than overselling things—in claiming that social media simply hides conservative voices, not necessarily the famous ones, but the numerous ones. Maybe that’s why the “Trump surprise” happened—maybe in fact social media is obscuring, rather than representing, the actual balance of public opinion on many issues.

No, I’m not positive. But on this issue, I am legitimately shocked. What I’ve seen over the last 24-36 hours is clear: Twitter went from showing two active sides on the Brexit issue to a state of affairs in which it appears that there’s only one engaged side on the issue.

Just. like. that.

At the end of a civilization, everyone plays silly games.  §

Every now and then I suddenly feel just how fascinating it is to be present at the twilight of a dominant civilization, just at the moment of climax when everything is beginning to crash to the ground and burn.

The inflection point that no one noticed was the moment—sometime in just the last few years—when everyone finally came to agree that yes, this is what is happening. Once you all agree you’re giving up, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a project with universal participation and endorsement.

And this endorsement has exploded.

Of course, different factions and tendencies have different rationales for supporting the collapse of their civilization, but the one thing that virtually everyone agrees with is that it is going and must go. (A few people try to wear a weak kind of denial like a pose, suggesting that it’s not that everything must go, only certain little chunks of it that are of course actually massive chunks when you look objectively, which no one does, but everyone in the end knows that it’s just a pose—we are all willing to destroy it without any promises for what’s to come next).

Those that came before us wouldn’t have tossed it away so lightly, but then they’d seen “things you people wouldn’t believe…”

— § —

What everyone gets wrong about Reagan is that it wasn’t about the idea that America was being saved (“morning in America”) but the underlying notion that the west was worth saving that led to his victory and that forestalled the collapse for another generation, as the final wave of holdouts found in him a champion for an otherwise (and soon enough to be fully) discredited idea.

But that demographic reality is long gone and any suggestion that it’s worth saving now, implicit or explicit, is met with derision on all sides, or that kind of disagreement-that’s-not-actually-disagreement by which people say it’s worth saving and then describe it in such a way as to make clear that they’re not actually proposing to save anything, but rather to tear everything down and refer to whatever takes its place using the same name.

— § —

The most comical thing—not amusing at all, but comical—in all of this is to watch our elite (vanguard) play at being The Very Serious People Who Analyze Such Things while all actually frantically working to avoid any analysis (as this might lend doubt to the project) and instead drive the bus onward.

It takes a while to spot this, but once you do, you can’t unsee it.

I was a fool for a very long time (I mean that in multiple ways) and played a role in their stageplay. For ages I was frustrated at the strange ways in which the incentives and sanctions of the environment didn’t seem to support the work that I thought we were all meant to be there doing.

Then, it began to dawn on me, that as someone that society was investing in, I was there to provide a return on that investment, and the return being sought was precisely to destroy things, first and foremost myself, my demographic fellows, and my corner of the population and geography.

Not to identify problems and solve them—not to build things. Building things is precisely what everyone doesn’t want in return for their investment in elites. Because we’ve all decided that this whole thing has to go. I was a commissioned officer in a very particular kind of army, I had a tactical mission in the larger strategic theatre, and that mission was the only thing for which I would receive support.

Once I realized that there was no particular market for anything in elite circles other than destruction vanguardism in my sector, everything began to fade for me, and soon I was out of such circles.

But I can still see them all from a distance, because they march very loudly wearing bright colors. There they go, Very Seriously Onward, putting on this odd, even twee puppet show as the fallout spreads and the bodies fall and everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone is in on the suicide.

— § —

I’ve thought a few times about returning to writing in a professional way. After all, I’ve written and published a minor stack of books, I know how to get it done. And I feel that pang of concern that suggests that a project ought perhaps to be in the works.

But such “projects” are rightfully the children of other kinds of epochs.

Now, the outcome is known in advance; you can quote the reviews, both positive and negative, left and right, before they’re written. You can quote them before the damned book is written. A dedicated artist could sit down and write, as a book, the entire media universe of coverage, discussion and counter discussion, that will arise in response to the book. Then, release the book and point, gigglingly, at everyone haplessly doing precisely what the book says they will in response to it.

But what’s the point? The giggle would be a shallow one and precisely in keeping with everything that such a giggle set out to “critique.”

We know what all the reviews from all of the parties in all of the valences about all of the products say. We know it in advance. We know it because it’s all just pantomime; everyone already knows because everyone is in on this together. We’re full of ennui and we’re going to burn this shit down, and we’ve all agreed that that’s what we’re going to do. The civilization, the neighborhood, the faith, our families, ourselves.

Not in that order. Because it doesn’t work that way. Together, ecstatically and while denying everything.

There is an ancient language that is no longer in play here—that has been lost. It is the language of making, rather than destroying things. At the start of our epoch, it was called “The Word.” No longer with us, we’re left only with technologies and discursive tools of death, despite (and indeed at the same time to the regrettably and regrettably indulgent ecstatic delight of) ourselves.

— § —

It’s not clear what the path out of this sort of vortex is, or that finding a path out is the right path in the first place. (Bit of self-deprecating QED there.) I tend to think that nihilism is like a contagious prion; once you have a critical mass of nihilism, it turns everything it touches into more nihilism—it even does this to anti-nihilism.

It sure is interesting to watch. Interesting times. The death of an entire way of being.

(This post will just have to stand in for the book.)

In which I argue, to much shock and confusion, that the world—and people—are polyaxial.  §

Tonight, apropos of a conversation that the kids and I were having about a particular old friend and my relationship to them, I explained that while I liked this person a great deal and have always considered them a friend, I’d never trust them.

They laughed.

“How can you like someone but not trust them?” came the largely rhetorical question.

The room was shocked into silence when I explained that not only was it perfectly possible to like someone very much and consider them a dear friend but not trust them, but that it was also perfectly possible to not like someone, not particularly think of them as a friend, yet trust them implicitly.

As the kids were spending some minutes in silence punctuated by bursts of chatter and follow-up questions, I realized that I couldn’t imagine most of the adults I’ve known over the years being anything but puzzled and a bit indignant about my position, either.

In today’s world of imposed reasoning and imposed conclusions, often at the point of an invisible ideological gun somewhere prior to consciousness, people just don’t allow this sort of thinking to register or to make sense to themselves.

What a strange, sad world we live in, in which many precious things have been lost.

Adults in the west hate children as much as they hate death. Maybe more.  §

Children today face an incredible set of pressures, partially in the form of negative sanctions, possibly in the form of positive reinforcement (or the withholding of such) by adults to:

  • Be sexually precocious (there are both gay and straight varieties of this)

  • Engage in cynical peformances (contemptuous punk rock at six)

  • Rattle off strings of slang and profanity

  • Exaggerate outbursts of sadness, angst, and self-pity

  • Repress attachment to those closest to them

  • Play the miniature Jacobin, fighting for “justice” apace

  • Appear as jaded as a mafioso as early as possible

  • …and so on

I find this troubling. I always did. Now I find it particularly troubling to see these things affecting my own children, and to know that it is primarily the adults of the world that are driving these things.

— § —

Tonight it hits me with clarity, in a ton of bricks.

I’ve always danced around the question with the presumption that it was a kind of sarcastic thought. “Why do adults hate children so much, sheesh?” I’ve asked myself, assuming that I was being hyperbolic.

Of course, as it turns out, I wasn’t.

Just as a great many things in today’s world can be explained by the generalized fear of mortality on the part of a population that has been insulated from hard things their entire lives, a similarly great many things in today’s world can be explained by the fact that, in general, the adults despise children.

Not only that, but they’re afraid of them. Disgusted by them. Repulsed by them. Torn apart by them. By the mere fact of their existince.

What is it that they hate about children?

Innocence, first and foremost. Innocence and truth. Evidence of the joy that they once felt and the potential that they once embodied, now both lost.

Adults today are terrifically, catastrophically, absurdly jealous of children. Jealous to the point of rage. Sublimated rage, but wild, frothing-at-the-mouth rage nonetheless. Today’s adults hate children with a passion, and their innocence, too.

And so they try to—let’s call it—neuter them. To remove the childhood from them. To get them doing sexual orientation, goth jokes, punk rock shows, and smarmy political virtue-signalling as soon as is possible.

Because when their children were born, suddenly, suddenly they found themselves standing in the very, very unfavorable half of a juxtaposition. Their children revealed just how inadequate they were and how hollow, hateful, and superficial they’d become. Yes, those juxtaposed against their very own children felt betrayed.

And those juxtaposed against others’ children felt indignant and imposed-upon and ashamed, as though a stranger had just seen them stroll healthily away from the handicapped parking stall.

— § —

I’ve saw this for years in people I’ve dated, from all over the place, for years, without realizing it until this very moment.

One of them hated children so badly I struggled to be around her whenever the topic came up. The bile poured forth in waves; it was like standing in the middle of a massive electric field and feeling your hair stand up on end and vibrate.

In the end, she clearly knew how much I’d been troubled by it because when I broke it off, she tried to halt the already departing train with what she thought to be an incredible concession. “I’ll give you children,” she said, “okay, I’ll do it for you, I’ll even give you children, just please…”

Funny thing, I’d never mentioned wanting any, and wasn’t sure I did. But I didn’t hate them, and she could tell—and she misread my decision that I couldn’t be with someone so full of venom any longer as (what in her eyes was) vice. It was like she was granting me an open relationship, or saying that I could drink as heavily as I wanted, or gamble as much as I wanted if I’d just stay.

Even in the moment of concession, she presumed that what I felt was guilt at a secret desire for children—one that she was willing in the end to indulge despite herself. It was beyond her capacity to understand that none of it had anything to do with me, or my responses to things, at all.

Go on, pick up The New York Times or The Atlantic. Or scan your Facebook or Twitter feeds. See how people in the opinion sections talk about children in passing. Or parenthood.

Or innocence.

Suddenly I can see all of the faces that I’ve known across the years that—I suddenly realize—were like wetted-down witches writhing and suffering in agony, burning at exposure to the truths most clearly embodied by our young, and determined to neutralize them at any possible cost.

— § —

Birth and death. Of course. I’ve rattled on about death for years.

But birth—birth, too, and perhaps moreso.

These are the two truths that already reveal a person’s inevitable mortality, and that always, inevitably, also reveal a person’s mistakes, regrets, and failings.

A society of badly fallen people running around like the criminally insane trying desperately to paper over the beginnings of life, the endings of life, and the extent of human potential before it is lost—so that they never have to face the truth about themselves.

— § —

I’m sure this post will earn me a veritable ton of friends.

It’s at the end of summer, not the end of the universe, that you meet yourself.  §

Summer wanes.

Late afternoon. Office chair. Three monitors, same as always. Work has come and gone; daylight has nearly done so as well. I haven’t yet turned on the light, so dusk has filled the room. Yes, that’s an inversion in physical terms—dusk is a growing absence, not a presence.

But absence has a kind of solidity as well, whatever the physical reality of things.

Physical reality is an impoverished dude, frankly.

— § —

What am I doing?

Not here, now. No, I mean—

What am I doing, in general? Big picture?

— § —

I routinely fret about all of the posts that I make that don’t have images in them. I have some 200,000 or more images sitting in Lightroom. So many years with a camera in hand, shooting everything.

And then I don’t use them?

Thing is, if I made the rule—I wouldn’t make any posts.

It’s an allegory on life in general. Or mine, at least. I do seem to recall running into a few people over the course of my life that run the opposite way—that appeared to be marvelously disciplined.

I wonder what’s more frustrating? Incredible discipline with average talent, or incredible talent with average discipline?

But then all of this is probably a misframing of things.

What would I do with all that discipline?

Be someone else. Not notice the dusk around me. Not even have the dusk around me, because I’d have turned the light on already. It’d be my loss.

What’s it all for, anyway?

What am I doing?

— § —

Some things. I’m trying to limit myself to one line each. Yes, yes, fine. Ego, attention-seeking, preciousness, and so on. I concede. Or is it confess? Whatever. I’m sitting in the dark, so I’m not embarrassed. Things:

  • America is in decline and will disappear within my lifetime.

  • Secular liberation is our new civic religion.

  • Yes, it has priests, who wear colorful vestments, even. Points for realizing who they are.

  • Not just America. The entire order that Constantine inaugurated.

  • Friendship is considered a sin in the new religion.

  • Not just friendship. Honesty, self-sacrifice, and loyalty, too.

  • Truth must never be anthropomorphized; when this happens, it becomes wrath.

  • All things pass mostly without notice, and all spans of time are ultimately congruent.

  • The notion that humans can “make” meaning is a tragic falsehood.

  • Always avoid the meaning-makers if you value your life, or your soul.

  • An old, wise fish—or an old, wise turtle—can teach one many things.

  • Old, wise humans lose their ability to convey truth, through no fault of their own.

  • It is a historical constant that no-one likes the Jacobins, including themselves.

  • Light, a miracle, is profaned by those who wield it rather than hear it.

  • There is not someone for everyone—or at least, not the someone you’re thinking.

These lists are never satisfying. It’s like I’m trying to arrive at the center of a maze, but getting no closer, turn after turn. Yet continue to turn I do, compelled—knowing all the while that sight of the center is not fated for me, and never will be.

— § —

The answer, invariably is:

I don’t know.

Small comfort in the existince of small certainties, &c.

Blogs make for interesting complications in life.  §

It strikes me every now and then just how odd it is to have a blog. And how reckless, in some ways.

Your name is out there. Everyone that meets you—from new friends to new employers—is free to find and read things you’ve lived, thought, and been. There’s no guarantee they’ll find something representative, or that they’ll hang around long enough to get a rounded image of you.

They might land on a vexing one-liner from a decade ago—or on a ten-page opus you wrote early some A.M. when your better judgement had gone to bed before you.

In a way, that’s thrilling. In another way, it’s at least foolish and possibly worse.

And yet here it is. And sometimes I absolutely love it. I must, after all this time.

The “all or nothing” trope has all and nothing on reality.  §

I am having trouble keeping up with facts on the ground.

This is the danger of road trips.

Particularly of road trips with your ex and your ex’s significant other.

This is proving to be both a terrible thing and also not a bad thing, all at the same time. And thus, this is also proving to be exceedingly confusing and confused.

The saying goes that when the student is ready, the master will appear. I suspect this adage to apply not only to actual human beings but to situational realities and ontological territory more generally.

Life, that inscrutable thing, is tying me in so many interesting knots.

The disentangling, to be completed later, promises also to be a performance of some interest, should it even prove to be possible.

Certain women struggle to move beyond “in utero.”  §

There is a way in which a certain slice of the world’s women, particularly in the western world, unknowingly want to pull everyone and everything around them back into the womb.

Not being a woman, I’m not sure exactly where this comes from or how it feels, but if I were to speculate, it must have something to do with the feeling of loss that comes from once having carried children as a part of one’s body and one’s identity… and then having seen them disembark and emerge into the world as separate beings… and then having seen them begin to wander off, independently, into society.

I’m sure it’s a wistful, if not downright painful, feeling.

But brass tacks here, there is a toxic femininity, and this impulse is it—all of life cannot return to the womb. It’s a physical impossibility, and even if it weren’t, for anyone not an infant, the womb would be a prison, not a space of nurturing.

The deep, pained pull toward always being and doing things “the same as each other” and “together,” the unbound desire for consensus, the frustration at competition, at independence, at agency and different opinions—all of these seem reflective of the deep-seated desire to recapture a lost unity that can never be again.

Life, in other words, goes on.

For boys in particular, the impulse to engulf isn’t just stifling, it’s deadly. Boys don’t have it. We don’t need it. We have neither womb nor the impulse to fill it nor the impulse to be within it. From the moment we come into existence, it is our destiny to leave the maternal milieu forever, to make a self and an identity that is our own.

We are fertile tendrils in our own right, new offshoots of humanity. We travel for adventure, materially or conceptually. We branch from the primary root and go our own way. We break new ground, forge new foundations.

As the father of a young boy, I have to say—upon reflection—that to try to pull a boy back into the womb is to try to kill him—even if he doesn’t realize it until far too late. Sad that this bit of wisdom has been lost today.

Everything important happens in California.  §

One more musing (or set of musings) for the night.

This time it’s about California.

I have a love-hate relationship with California.

Love because I have much family here, and many good memories of family here. And because the ocean is here.

Hate because every hard life lesson that I have ever managed to learn has finally stuck while I was in California. California has been the site of an awful lot of pain for me.

I only come here to be blessed or to suffer for my sins. There appears to be no in-between.

And for the first time, tonight, now, I am feeling grateful to California for that. Because to fail to be punished for one’s sins is perhaps one of the most painful and debilitating conditions in the universe.

So—here’s to you, California. You are the place that teaches me life lessons. The hard lessons. No matter how much I think I learn, I never truly learn until I come here.

Don’t get me wrong, California is a place of lies of the most seductive, devastating, and plentiful kind.

But, somehow, in that ironic, insane way that is beyond human understanding and that deeply marks the universe in which we live, that also makes California a place of deep an undavoidable truths that must be confronted if one is to grow.

Where did my first California epiphany lead? To me finally finishing my undergraduate degree after 10 years of aimless wandering. Where did my second California epiphany lead? To me going to graduate school and getting an M.A. Where did my third California epiphany lead? To me going back to graduate school, getting a Ph.D., and having two beautiful children whom I love very much.

Where does this California epiphany lead? I’m not sure just how to encapsulate it yet, though a sort of intuitive summary is below in the previous post. I suppose time will tell about how I frame it years from now.

In any case, California makes me suffer. Deeply. Existentially. That’s why I hate California with a passion. But as the (very rare) wise folk of our species know, suffering is the stuff of growth, and growth is the stuff of light.

That’s why I also love California with awe and gratitude.

They are all wrong. Every single one of them.  §

So I’m three days in to one of the strangest things I’ve ever done.

What is it?

I went on a road trip with my ex-wife when directly asked to do so for practical reasons.

Who does something like that? A fool, that’s who. One thing a fool never quite seems to do is to learn the lessons that life throws his way. I am such a fool. At times I could swear that I’ve failed to learn every major lesson life has ever tried to throw at me.

I do believe that I am terrible at learning lessons.

How strange is it?

Her boyfriend was asked along at the last minute, once the trip had already been announced to the kids so that it was too late to back out. So I am on a road trip with my ex-wife and her boyfriend.


Not that he was super-pleased about it, either. I suppose the world is full of fools like us.

— § —

I’d just like to point out that this is sort of ridiculous cabaret is where “enlightenment” and “wokeness” and “being adults” leads.

Which is why I’m off the bus.

I have been unenlightened behind the scenes for some years now, and some of my friends know, but it hasn’t quite been a public thing. The moment is right, right now, for a coming-out party. From here on out, you can regard me as:

  • Conservative
  • Traditional
  • Catholic
  • Unwoke
  • A different person than I was for years

Despite the foolishness, there are some things I’m glad of on this trip:

  • Glad to spend time with my children
  • Glad to be of service
  • Glad to have a moment to get to know their mother’s boyfriend better
  • Glad to have the extra nudge needed to get me to really embrace what I really think

And what I really think is that everyone who tries to separate the world into spheres of “adult” and “child” basically has dirty laundry that they’re trying desperately to launder.

Here’s a bit of a bomb:

  • What’s fit for children is fit for adults.
  • What isn’t fit for children isn’t fit for adults unless time-honored tradition (i.e. thousands of years) says otherwise.

The world of “adults” and “adulting” is basically a world full of people who are desperately trying to stop rejecting themselves for the ugliness that they can see only too well in the world around them and in the lives that they lead.

— § —

Hate me all you want. I’m okay.

I’ve been hated. I’ve been hated, intimately for years on end. I am generally immune to hate. That’s another thing I’m thankful for.

— § —

When I was a kid, people used to say that when in doubt, the right thing was simply to do “the right thing.”

Years of education tried to persuade me that this phrase was naive. It worked, for a good long time. And then, finally, a few years ago, it didn’t.

Doing the right thing is, in fact, a thing. A thing that a vanishingly small number of people actually do, but a thing nonetheless.

In our society today, everyone has let themselves off the hook, for everything.

I’m not here to condemn or call anyone out. Only to say that I don’t believe that it works.

Oh, people may try to let themselves off the hook. They’ll read books. Attend therapy. Talk to friends. Adopt a fancy new age philosophies or eastern religions or organic vitamins that have nothing to do with their culture or actual science and that they only barely understand anyway.

Yes, I’m essentially describing the entire Western world at this point.

But they know. They all know.

That’s why they have to keep pointedly “letting themselves off the hook” every single day. Why they’re always trying to find new ways to let themselves off the hook.

Because without even having to think very deeply about it, they understand intuitively that, despite best efforts, they are still in fact “on the hook” in every way.

Sure, you can try to let yourself off the hook—but everyone knows better than that, deep down. Everyone is the progeny of a deeper truth and reality, one that stretches back to time immemorial.

— § —

Oh yes, there is truth.

It’s not “your” truth, and it’s not “my” truth.

You see, it isn’t the truth that becomes an orphan once someone stops believing in it…

— § —

Strange. Yes, I’ve done something strange. I’m having a strange week. It may as well be in Los Angeles, the strangest place on earth.

Judge? We are all called to judge.

That’s what it means to be the kinds of creatures that we are. To fail to judge is to fail to live up to our essence and purpose. We are creatures with judgment, first and foremost.

— § —

There are approximately zero good people left. I’m trying to increase that number by one—just the fool in the corner here, who does foolish things, trying to be better. Feel free to judge me, only please tell me of your judgment—otherwise, it’s all for naught.

Sometimes you travel to Venice Beach and meet your exhaustion face-to-face.  §

There are three kinds of people on Venice Beach.

  1. Tourists (blind)
  2. Broken people (can see only through a glass darkly)
  3. Commuters / people passing through (blind)

— § —

Things seen on Venice Beach after hours:

  • A scruffy, middle-aged man walking a husky
  • A lone cigarette butt in a sidewalk crack
  • A chopped off pineapple top
  • Two lesbians wearing neon colors and talking about restaurant food
  • A forsaken tennis racket and a split tennis ball
  • A lone cop sitting in a cop car reading a book
  • Me

— § —

Some Americans stereotype Europeans as not ever wanting to bathe. This is of course untrue. There are actually two kinds of Europeans:

  • Those who never bathe
  • Those who always bathe, as in as soon as the damp wears off, they’re hopping back in for “a quick shower” again

There doesn’t seem to be much in between.

— § —

Innocence, once lost, can never be regained.

People imagine that this is a one shot deal, a saying about the end of childhood. In truth, it applies to a great many things, over and over, throughout entire lifetimes.

It’s another way of saying that time moves only in one direction and death lies at the end for everyone.

— § —

Life is about making compromises.

Most of them are compromises you never though you’d make, and that you’d have sworn—as a young person—that you’d never, ever, ever make.

Every situation and choice for young folk is context-free. They don’t have enough life under their belt yet to understand just what the accumulation of life means for a person, how the larger and larger circle of what you are and can’t afford to lose means a smaller and smaller list of hills where one can reasonably plant one’s “die here” flag.

When the end is closer than the beginning is, it’s a lot harder to say you’ll die for this or that position.

I first read Don Quixote when I was in grammar school.  §

Is it possible to have writers’ block for months?

Probably not. What you see here is a failure of courage.

I’ve been having one of those periods in life during which the courage to write fails me. You find yourself trapped between telling the truth, which makes for better writing, but can be very painful and not a little bit boring, and not telling the truth, at which point there’s really no point in putting words down anyway.

The truth? I won’t get to all of it. But but maybe there’s a bargain to be struck, a compromise, a partial deployment.

— § —

A knight escorts his queen through a high mountain pass atop which a voracious dragon lives. His mission is nothing more and nothing less than to achieve her safe passage.

They approach; they are seen. The inevitable ensues. They make haste and the knight fights valorously in rearguard action, maintaining position between predator and queen, who runs breathlessly ahead.

It is only the knight’s presence and continued fight that preserves life and limb, but the knight cannot hold out forever . At length, he will lose, and be torn apart. But perhaps by then the queen will have escaped.

I am the knight. My children are the queen.

— § —

The largest tree in my yard, which is very large indeed, is dead. The lawn is destroyed because the underground sprinkling system leaks badly enough to damage the house’s foundation if left on, but is buried deeply enough to be unserviceable without heavy equipment.

Patio is rotting. Supports of patio and carport are rusting. Windows leak and are becoming difficult to keep together. One of two furnaces is out of service. Basement is now partially asbestos-free but remains unusable. Interior of house requires painting. Wiring is suspect. Bathrooms require refinishing. Plumbing is suspect.

I could try to find a way to come up with tens of thousands to invest in the house, but the house is not mine and at some point I will likely have to leave it; such an investment is difficult to justify. On the other hand, there is no one else that will come up with tens of thousands to invest in the house if I don’t.

Car is aging and transmission shows signs of typical wear. Seats are cracking. Suspension is failing. I could try to find a way to acquire a new, far better one, but is that the wisest course of action when the house is as it is?

Student loans remain as large as ever and will not be retired before I die, so it is difficult to be motivated to make “progress” on them. I could pay two years’ entire salary and not retire them. So where’s the motivation to spend an “extra” several hundred here or there? It feels like burning money.

Alimony payments remain an albatross. Working at foreign employment, healthcare costs remain high.

Divorce remains the same intractable situation it always has been and always will be. The project to ensure the best possible environment and developmental situation for my children remains a difficult and vexing one. Disagreements about childrearing inevitably remain, and must be managed without breaking peace.

Age continues to progress. Infirmities continue to progress. I cannot do the things I did when I was thirty, much less the things I did when I was twenty. Mental fatigue is no longer the issue; physical durability is.

Social life is difficult. There is virtually no subject about my life that I want to discuss, with anyone—because it is uncouth to go on at length about your problems, because it is tiring to have to think about them out loud, and because there is virtually no way to avoid them.

What can be afforded? Both everything and nothing. There is no good answer. When can I host guests? Now I suppose, but properly, never. When can I get away for activities? I can’t. When will any of these things change or make sense? They won’t. There is a strange, surreal substance to it all.

— § —

There is no moment of the day, apart from moments at work, during which I am not either conjuring with one of the innumerable intractable and unsolvable problems that I face or during which I am not effectively hiding under my desk.

The workday, ironically, has become escapism. At work, I am competent and I know what to do.

Neither holds true outside of working hours.

Do I talk about this? To anyone? Certainly not. Particularly not to my children, who deserve, after everything, a sense of security. And not with my ex, because it’s just not on. And not with my closest friends, who know all of it.

Men aren’t particularly helped by talking as women are. Talking doesn’t solve any of the problems; it just sucks time away from any attempts to mitigate and manage them. Talk isn’t just cheap; talk is destructive.

Yes, at times I’m quite lonely, but this mere fact is not its own solution, as so many presume. Things happen for reasons. To alter them, the reasons, too, must be altered.

— § —

How did I get here?

There is no one wrong or fateful decision.

I’ve reached the age at which “you’ll understand when you’re older” makes a kind of sense to me. Life is infinitely complex, things accumulate and interact with one another.

I went to grad school. Twice. I committed myself to an academic career. Then, I didn’t and got married and had children. Again I didn’t when I got divorced; I stayed where I was to parent. Do I regret any of those decisions? No. Nothing was, in particular, a bad decision.

What was bad was all of them together.

Could it have been avoided?

And me still be me? I think not. Maybe this is what is meant by “destiny.”

The die being cast isn’t fate, nor is it any one point of inflection. The die being cast is yourself, not yourself as a momentary quantity, but yourself as a tendency and as a trajectory over time.

It’s hard to see how any of it could have been different, without my having been someone else to begin with.

— § —

What now?

I need to learn to do new things that I haven’t done before.

Hire people to do things. Start businesses. Invest money, perhaps. I didn’t learn how to do any of these things in the lower-middle class family that raised me.

In fact, the values were all precisely opposite to these.

Don’t hire people; always do it yourself. Don’t risk your time and money on a business, when most of them fail; find a good employer, earn their loyalty, and climb the ranks. Don’t invest money, it isn’t safe; put it in a bank and let it stay there so that it will be available once you inevitably need it.

I’m not sure whether it’s that these strategies aren’t viable any longer, whether it’s that they are methods for remaining trapped in a precarious existence and always have been, or whether it’s that they simply aren’t reasonable for me, in my particular life.

What I do know is that I have long struggled to move beyond them. Not as a matter of principle or fear, but as a matter of knowledge.

How, precisely, do you hire someone to work on your yard? And what sort of someone do you hire, and for which tasks? And where do you find them? And what does it cost? And what is involved? And what parts will I be responsible for, and what parts will they be responsible for?

Is this what is meant by people that “never became adults?”

But if so, isn’t it true that for some of us, the previous generation also “never became adults?” Or is it simply that the postwar form of “make due adulthood” is no longer adulthood, has passed into anachronism?

— § —

I took a radical step and cleaned those windows that I swore I’d never clean.

I do miss the view that I had before—the view of essences and of implications. Instead now what I have is a kind of antiseptic clarity.

Consider it to be a spell, an attempt at magic; what is needed now is not just the evocation of, but the arrival of antiseptic clarity.

— § —

So here it is. For the first time in months, I’ve written something, given myself permission to write something, mustered enough courage to write something.

There are so many, many things that I am fighting, and so many ways in which the fight cannot be indefinitely sustained.

I’ll suspect die young. I’ve always suspected it, strangely.

But perhaps I’ll manage to shepherd my children over the mountain pass before that happens, and to leave with them forever the frozen image of the fight being fought with determination, whether or not with skill, and to also leave behind for them to discover someday a few relics that were on my person at the time.

I’m very, very far from home. And I am not well-acquainted with dragons as a species. I fight because under such circumstances, there is nothing else to do.

Legacies aren’t something you’re meant to think about in your ‘40s unless you’re very wealthy and have been thinking about them since your teens, since in such families they’re a practical, everyday, intergenerational matter.

But I think about my legacy every minute of every day.

Right now, today, included.

Online dating doesn’t even get started.  §

Some people ask me why I don’t date. Here’s how it typically goes when—every now and then—I decide to visit a site and start looking at photos or profiles:

Fuck you.
Fuck you.
Holy shit FUCK YOU.
No way, fuck you.
OMG fuck you.
Wow, I bet your parents hate you, fuck you.
I can tell you’re a terrible person in one photo! Fuck you!
Hmm, you seem nice. Owait, just read your profile. FUCK YOU.

And so on.

They’re all terrible people. Judging a book by its cover? If someone makes the effort to put assholery on the cover, you have to take them at their word. They went to the trouble, after all. Just once, show me a humble, unassuming, regular person and I’ll give them the humble, unassuming, and regular award.

Look, I’m in marketing. I’m a marketing professional. I know nonsense when I see it.

What I can’t figure out is why so many people try to use “I’m a badly behaved jerk with an attitude!” as their sales pitch.

Take your narcissism and your attitude and go buy a dog. You’re going to need it. Come see me when you’re 75 and all alone. I’ll give you some advice at that time.

(It will be: FUCK YOU.)

The “it’s an unjust world” crowd is more right than they know.  §

Our most recent dark age begins when the generation before mine, finding themselves in shock—perhaps because of the Cold War and its many hot wars, or perhaps because of the immediately prior changes that Walter Benjamin outlines—decides that they hate God, and are henceforth going to tweak his nose by making it their collective life’s work to erect a hell on Earth.

There’s no particular need to argue the existence of God here, and this isn’t a theological question anyway.

One of the saddest of all metaphysical truths is the fact that no matter what doubts may exist about heaven, hell is always eminently attainable, and rapidly so.

And thus we find ourselves where we are—hurtling down the tracks toward it in the space of a few decades, with the boomers and those that follow in their affective foosteps leaning out the windows of each car and screaming petulantly into the wind, in hopes of further offending whatever may exist that can plausibly be offended (they stopped believing in God once they had fully sated their belief in him by rebelling, like adolescent children, against him).

No, theology isn’t needed for endless suffering. Only for the achievement of happines.

The fact that you don’t remember doesn’t mean it isn’t important.  §

So this has been my view two or sometimes three (or even more) nights every week for four years now. I don’t even think of coming to the dojang as “a thing” any longer—I don’t notice it at all unless we don’t go.

Which we haven’t for a little while because of end-of-year school stuff and then the Utah state taekwondo championships tournament.

© Aron Hsiao / 2019

When we’re away for a while, I notice it.

— § —

Thing is, I’m probably more comfortable here than I am almost anywhere else. The people are decent people, and I consider them to be my friends. The place is clean. The environment is generally wonderful for kids.

And there’s no work here. Or if there is, it’s limited to tablet-work.

At home?

I live in an old home that I also work in.

Home is where there is:

  • pollution and decay

  • environmental danger

  • long hours of work

  • bills to pay and schedules to meet

I didn’t have any notion when we started bringing the kids here that it would turn into such a life-changing thing, or that our dojang would become the place in the world where I’m most able to relax.

I doubt they have any idea either. I wonder what they’d think.

— § —

School ends in a couple of weeks.

There is still snow on the mountains.

Is that typical? I can’t remember. Maybe I’ve never bothered to notice. For all the musing we do about the shortness of life and the things we’ll miss when we’re gone, there are a great many details with which we never manage to acquaint ourselves.

But that’s a digression. Summer is here and winter is still here as well. Of course the boundary is more a matter of imagination than reality, like every boundary everywhere. Post-structuralism (though I hesitate to say “post-structuralists”) figured all of this out years ago.

But we don’t like to realize that because we don’t like thinking about what it means for our own lives and the way in which we imagine birth and death to be separated by a vast gulf in whose presumption of durability we invest rather a great deal.

— § —

It was late at night, and I somehow stumbled across the video section at The Atlantic.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

I watched a short film about a family that makes wasabi in Japan.

I watched a short film about a the everyday life of a woman decades after losing her son to a rare disease when he was very young.

I watched a short film about the grown son of a Buddhist monk struggling to find his own path in life.

I watched and watched and watched these beguiling little films until the wee hours of the morning, every one of them a labor of love.

They seduce me so because I have the same impulse, if not the same aptitude and output. So many years carrying cameras everywhere. So many years tapping out little posts like this one into the ether.

Nobody to see them but—perhaps someday, if they’re interested—my own offspring.

Yet I can’t think of anything in my life more important.

— § —

You’d imagine that after all these years, and given my background in tech, I’d have found a good way to make posts while on the go. For example, while at the dojang thinking about a handful of independent shorts I’d recently viewed.

Yes and no.

I was an early smartphone adopter and an early tablet adopter, but I’m still looking for the grail workflow that will let me post my thoughts with blissful transparency, as though I were thinking things directly onto the page.

Maybe that’ll finally be in next year’s feature set.

— § —

They say that every day is decision day, and that’s true, but the truth of the statement doesn’t do much to make life easier, or to make decisions any better.

All the wisdom in the world will get you nowhere unless it’s your own wisdom. Most of the time, even that’s not enough; we’re compelled by forces we barely understand to gradually assemble and live in selves we can often barely tolerate.

Then, the marketers turn up after the fact and tell us that if only we’d read the book, we’d be millionaires who’d never hurt anyone by now, and since there’s still time to get the book, we can live the dream the next time around.

Young people fall for this all the time. They fail to realize that the people who love them don’t particularly want them to pursue “self-improvement” so much as kind and generous participation and learning—mere everyday growth, not in pursuit of achievement but rather in pursuit of little smiles and nostalgia-inspiring moments.

© Aron Hsiao / 2016

I still fall for it sometimes myself. I start reading something and it seems so plausible that I spend the night reading all of it. I go to sleep in an ecstasy of triumph at having figured life out.

The next morning, it’s only after coffee and a couple hours’ delay that I realize I wasted another evening trying to “improve” myself when in fact I ought to have spent it living.

— § —

The problem with spending time living is that it brings one closer to dying.

I think under the surface of it all, people imagine that if you can claim to not have properly begun yet, someone will give you extra time at the other end of things, so it’s in your best interest to delay as long as possible until you’re really ready to make a splash.

I’m not sure whether people would be twice as interesting or not interesting at all if things worked that way, but they don’t so it’s all academic anyway.

— § —

Taekwondo class is almost over. I’m supposed to be doing it too, tonight, after the kids. But I’m so worn out most Wednesdays that I just don’t. Problem is, I’m more and more “so worn out” at the end of every day. It’s not going to get any better, because I’m not going to get any younger.

It seems so incredibly implausible at 5:00, when I just want to go to bed already, to contemplate waiting through kids’ classes for an hour and a half and then producing an hour of intense physical explosion from 7:30 until 8:30 myself. When we head out the door, I honestly imagine most Wednesdays that if I tried it, I’d have a heart attack somewhere around 7:45.

But now here it is 7:25 and I’m prepping to head home—with that same old dread about all the things that await there. Now I’d rather stay here, heart attack or no.

Didn’t bring my uniform, though. One of those decisions that gets made every day. Only a few thousand of those left in my life, when you do the math.

— § —

Life is so short.

So very, very short.