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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Brainstorming  §

Brainstormed ideas for “shaking things up” in my life in hopes of finding a better balance. Call them major-minor-modest proposals:

  • Selling every last book I own to clear out shelf space
  • Quitting academics and focusing entirely on non-academic work
  • Quitting non-academic work and focusing entirely on academics
  • Moving the entire office (behavior, time, self—not furniture) into the downstairs spare room
  • Shopping around a book proposal / getting back into the authorship game
  • Reducing my workload down to a single job, trying to make ends meet
  • Launching a new blog, and this time being professional about it and commited in all related ways
  • Hiring an assistant or setting one up by way of an internship
  • Working outside more often
  • Creating hard minimum requirements for bedtime and fitness, regardless of consequences
  • Quitting everything and just doing photography
  • Quitting everything and just doing fiction writing
  • Setting up a serious “tea center” in the office and drinking tea until I pop
  • Turning much of my non-academic work into a company, hiring employees, pursuing larger contacts
  • Switching back to Linux for everyday computing
  • Switching back to historical platforms for everyday computing
  • Becoming locally involved in Buddhism
  • Taking up a martial art
  • Taking up some other hobby that’s totally new, even without any particular interest
  • Enrolling in law school or medical school
  • Finding a way to co-work in some other building
  • Taking up investing and/or financial speculation
  • Developing and writing some better life management or life balance apps
  • Switching all of my non-marketing writing to longhand on paper
  • Taking up some sort of radical simplifying/very low calorie diet, just to clear out the sense of metabolism a bit
  • Applying for a bunch of pie-in-the-sky jobs, just to see what happens
  • Having a mass “best fit” sort and “junk it” clear-out in which a ton of material and virtual stuff if mercilessly “handled”j
  • Hiring a “life coach” and/or a “financial manager,” despite lack of affordability
  • Hiring a “personal trainer” despite lack of affordability
  • Founding a nonprofit service for post-academic non-lottery-winners
  • ???

Obviously some of these are more plausible than others, and none of them are particularly plausible. But then, I have a feeling that a lot of the books would tell me that “lack of plausibility” is simply another way of saying “lack of courage” or “lack of decisiveness.”

Life is life. Stuff is gonna happen, even if you’re paralyzed. Might as well not be paralyzed, right?

— § —

But then, I don’t know.

There must be some better ideas than these; most of these are superficial, shallow, and trite.

— § —

Things I’ve definitely learned about myself over the course of my career (and especially in the last few years):

  • I don’t really like being an editor
  • I don’t really like being a manager of any kind
  • I’m happiest as a focused craftsman
  • Who can believe in whatever it is I’m crafting
  • I’m not afraid of the sportlight
  • But I hate spotlights about pointless shit
  • I am keenly interested in the world
  • But not necessarily in any one topic
  • I like to work slowly, deliberately, and conscientiously
  • I like quality, not quantity
  • I’m not ambitious in “career” ways, but in “life” ways
  • People trust my judgment
  • My skill set is often smaller than people assume, but I have a talent for doing more with less, and doing it well
  • I like to automate and systematize
  • I dislike doing grindy, manual, decision-by-decision and click-by-click stuff
  • I work better alone than in a team
  • I work better delivering small perfection than massive “acceptability”
  • I’m great at the long view
  • I’m rotten at the short view

What all of this seems to mean is that I’m not ideally “configured” for today’s economy and job market.

But I must be ideally configured for something.

Here we go again.  §

The start of a new academic year, the changing of seasons, a rarrangement of employment for family members, and so on—all of these herald the beginning of yet another season.

And yet again, it is the case that the coming season will be both the most important and the most intense and impossible ever in my life thus far.

All of this has a sort of “if-not-now-when-if-not-me-who” ring about it that might be satisfying if I was some sort of guru or practitioner, but as for me, just regular old me, living my life, I’d be more than happy to have a semester or two or even a few years of just the “comfortable grind.”

— § —

I remember that when I first started grad school at the University of Chicago, I ran across a body of literature on “precarity” and wondered, after glancing through the top publications, whether the word meant what I thought it meant.

Being now a veteran of grad school about four inches shy of a Ph.D., I realize that the word meant exactly what I thought it did, and refers to exactly the state of being that I thought it might—the one in which I and most others are economically embedded.

The insane piles of theoretical language surrounding the term were just the typical academic way of saying something like, “Sucks to be po’, don’t it!?” and, in fact, the academic community’s own unique way of coping with their own precarity in today’s spiraling higher education landscape.

— § —

But yes, I could do with less of it, all the way around, in every industry and context that I touch.

“Before enlightenment, I carried water. After enlightenment, I carried water.”

If only I could do that as well.

Yes, I realize that the previous statement marks me as “not enlightened.”

Oh well.

See, it sucks to be po’. That’s all.

Another day…  §

…another missed opportunity.

These days, they all somehow feel like missed opportunities. Every day begins as an empty book, open to the first page. Sounds great.

But every day also ends as an empty book, now shut.

— § —

Sure, I know all the stuff.

Zen Habits.
Habits of Highly Effective People.
18 Minutes.

And so on.

The problem with all of these isn’t the general concept; the concept is fine in the abstract. The problem is that in real, concrete terms, what they simply describe as “making sacrifices, and yes, it will be hard,” often amounts to things that will leave a person in jail, or in an early grave:

– Not being able to pay your bills
– Not being able to afford medical care
– Not keeping your family as a result of not doing right by them

And so on.

In short, they’re lifestyle and priorities training for rich folk.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of just “making sacrifices.” No doubt the gurus would call this a “choice.” I suppose they’d be right. But it’s a different sort of choice than the ones they’re making.

— § —

I used to know things that I’ve forgotten.

I keep having this sense.

It overwhelms me, in fact, much of the time.

I can’t articulate what these things are, or even what their nature is. I don’t know where the sense comes from, or how to talk about it with clarity.

Just that I’ve forgotten important things; very important things. Not facts, or a particular kind of “knowledge,” per se. More ways of being—being alive, being emplaced, being a body, being in the world, being busy, being a self.

In some ways, it feels like the conceptual version of phantom limb syndrome.

— § —

We race.

We race from one thing to the next.

That’s what we do; that’s the nature of our society.

We race toward death.

— § —

My forgetting wasn’t an accident. It was necessary. Required, even. There was no avoiding it; there was no other choice.

It was, however, a catastrophic loss made plausible only because the alternative was so much the more catastrophic.

And now, having forgotten, I’m like the dying traveller standing outside the city wall; all the world’s pleasures are just inside, but I stand in the desert, slowly sinking toward the hot sand and toward my death because I do not remember the password given to me at the start of my journey.

Those on the inside would love to help, but their advice and hints are pointless. Forgotten is forgotten.

The password is lying somewhere in the middle of the desert, half-buried and camouflaged in sand, between a vaguely recalled place of origin left behind countless footsteps ago and the wall through which none may pass without it.

— § —

I can’t articulate a purpose for most of what I do, other than that I do it to get paid.

That’s no way to be.

— § —

I am surrounded by camera bodies and writing tools and gadgets. I can’t seem to stop myself from acquiring them, configuring them, and putting them through their paces in the few minutes that I have before the end of the workday and the beginning of sleep.

Clearly, if I were able to make “sacrifices,” I know which things I would sacrifice *for*.

— § —

I suppose I’ll just have to be buried alongside them.

There is a poetry in that—the most valued tools, empty, but nonetheless there. Always kept in hopes of the discovery of an open moment—which never came.

The messiah arrived first; the words and pictures will simply have to wait.

— § —

I am repeating myself. This has become a space in which I say the same thing over and over again.

This is largely because I live the same days, same weeks, and same months over and over again.

Same days.
Same posts.
Same problems.

Groundhog Blog.

“Simplify”  §

A siren song heard in the middle of an endless, threatening ocean.

I so want to.

It’s so for me!

— § —

The problem with the entire idea of simplifying life is that it’s really a euphemism for reducing one’s attachments. Yes, I know, Buddhism and all that. But Buddhism, like certain strains of monotheism, also presumes an afterlife, despite atheistic claims.

What if this is all there is?

Sure, you can say, “Well then, no matter, you’ll be dead, number of attachments is irrelevant.”

But that’s nihilistic, or suicidal. Why not just kill yourself today, in that case? No difference, in the grand scheme of things. Your life is valueless!

— § —

Of course, if life does have value, and we can’t presume an afterlife to make it eternal, then there is a very limited amount of time in which to do the rare and interesting thing called “being alive.”

That leaves us with some choices.

1) Do nothing. This hardly seems like a good way to “value” the rare and interesting—effectively, by negating both.

2) Do some things. This requires some sort of selection mechanism—criteria for excluding others, and while this seems to be a simple problem in theory and in the self-help books, over the course of everyday life it quickly becomes clear that this devolves quickly into Dali-esque arbitrariness and absurdity as a matter of decision-making processes.

3) Do everything. This seems to achieve the opposite from valuing life as well, leading to suffering and a general sense of emptiness resulting from the facts that (a) if you try to “do everything,” you will actually manage to do nothing, given that the list of “everything,” in human terms, is essentially infinite, and (b) the attempt shifts the focus of life from being/dwelling in the Heideggerian sense to a kind of manic, insane natality in the Arendtian sense—constant, nonstop initiation without any time to proceed further, since there are an infinite number of things to be put into progress before death—and thus no time to work on any of them.

— § —

“The human condition.” We talk about it as though it’s noble. What it is is a kind of very highly refined bullshit.

I sound like a teenager saying it, but life is a kind of cruel joke played on the living by the universe.

— § —

Yet still the moralists and the self-satisfied and the entirely insecure and desperate all continue to lecture us about greater morality.

Some lecture us about sex.

Some lecture us about the suffering of the “others.”

Some lecture us about meat and colon cancer.

Some lecture us about recycling.

Some lecture us about things that don’t even make any fucking sense semantically or syntactically.

All of them do this even as they contribute to any number of what might be held to be problems by any number of other moralists with any number of behaviors that don’t fall under their own particular rubrics of moral behavior.

— § —

Yeah, this is all the same old, same old. I didn’t claim it was original. It’s high school thinking. It’s what everyone realizes by the time they’re 12, the reason they start to talk about their parents behind their parents’ backs, if their parents are the sort (as most are) that have tried to pretend that it all makes some kind of sense, that there’s a difference between nihilism and optimism.

— § —

But the fact that parents do this speaks to something. Obviously, they see in the children that they are trying to shield some differentiating factor, some essence of something that justifies, intuitively, the deception and misdirection.

What is it?

I don’t buy the Arendt argument.

I also don’t buy the right-wing-wacko-Jesus-freak argument.

I think it’s closer to Benjamin. Just as we warm ourselves by the fires of others’ deaths, we also fill ourselves with the sustenance of other’s naiveté.

— § —

People don’t find God because they need something to believe in. They know what to believe in, they just can’t do it.

They believe in God because it’s a subroutine for overwriting memory with lies. In a way, there’s nothing wrong with lies; it’s all software. In a phenomenological universe like the one that we each individually live in, the question isn’t what the room that the computer sits in looks like, but how the software can be rewritten for better security, for the prevention of memory access across boundaries.

Reality is whatever you can unmake of yourself.

The real tragedy is that you were made or that you made something of yourself to begin with.

— § —

There’s a tragedy of the commons story wrapped up in here somewhere as well.

The tragedy of the commons is, of course, and despite the accusations and condescending judgments that others will make, the only social science, humanities, history, and biosciences training that anyone actually needs. It’s the architectural flaw in natural selection, the one that leads to unstable, circular, noisy repetition and perturbation, rather than progress.

The one that probably explains why there’s relatively little life in the universe at any particular time.

— § —

But simplify? Zen?

It’s nihilism-optimism, just like baroque Christianity was.

Just as this entire post has been.

It’s all bullshit, and the only people that have it figured out are the homeless drunks that pick up a subway performance skill.

Tomorrow?  §

For nearly everyone, aging involes making a particular sort of deal with the devil.

You are granted a comfortable, increasingly doubt-free existence for the duration of your natural life.

In exchange, you agree to almost immediately surrender your voice. You also agree that toward the end of your natural life, you will be erased from all of history—from the memories of strangers, the memories of friends, the memories of family, and even—in your final years—your own memory. At the moment of death, your negation becomes complete, and it is as if you never existed in the first place.

The meaning of the deal is precisely that there will be, in the final analysis, no meaning. It is an analgesic, perhaps a narcotic.

— § —

Life is hard and the deal is seductive.

It is difficult for most to resist.

Few manage it for long.

Fewer manage to avoid making the deal altogether.

The numbers are vanishingly small.

— § —

For some time now, I have been in negotiation with the devil. It’s not so much that he drives a hard bargain as that he drives his bargain hard.

I am struggling to stay afloat, to avoid intoxication, to keep my wits about me.

At times, I think that I am losing, that I have very nearly taken the deal, if it is not already too late.

At other times, I feel a resurgence of determination, will, and fortitude. I am sure that I will outthink him.

— § —

Tonight, in a rare moment of clarity, I can see that neogiations are ongoing, but his tactics are not entirely fair; he is also in possession of manifold forms of persuasion that I simply do not yet have.

I hope to acquire them yet—and I continue to race, where I am given the opening and retain clarity, to do so.

— § —

All of this, however, leaves the question: Can the devil be outsmarted? Cheated? Is it possible to con him?

For the sake of my voice, my history, and myself, there is nothing for it but to try.

I am unsure about the costs of failure. About this, however, I’m actually quite happy.

Should I come to understand them, it will be too late; the deal will have been made and the trajectory of my existence set in stone—or in vapor, as the case may be.