Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Monthly Archives: February 2016

Ideology.  §

Branding is the opposite of creativity.

Branding is a way of obscuring the details and abstractions that underlie the operation of everyday reality.

It is a way of hiding mundane, intelligible, repetitive practice beyond a veneer of magic.

The incredible dominance of branding, and the fact that the industries dedicated to it are amongst our largest and most powerful, mean that for most people in most things, the repetitive and otherwise wholly intelligible details of life are hidden behind an impenetrable wall of ignorance.

See the details of constitution, assembly, and operation in all things, and all of reality is yours to play with. This is the primordial resource of creativity.

Live in a world of brands, and you have nothing to play with—no raw material from which to create in the first place.

Stupidity and ignorance don’t come from poor education so much as they do from sound marketing. The stupid and the ignorant are the people that have become attached to, and that memorize rote, the products and brands that they are meant to buy or to aspire to buy, and that understand every aspect of every day life, from feelings to physics, in unit terms of brands and products, which are nothing but brands by another name.

This has implications and effects in every area of life, from the management of your own body to the gathering of tools for productivity.

Branding is, quite simply, effective thought and behavior control.

No, this is not my insight. In fact, it was never a “discovery.” Instead, it is a conspiracy. It’s not that branding is a natural phenomenon that has to be decoded and analyzed.

It is, in fact, that branding was invented precisely in order to control minds toward economic ends. Branding was conceived from the beginning as a tool of mind control.

It’s just that now we’re so far from the first half of the twentieth century that people have forgotten their history.

Twenty years.  §

Time was, I went to the Capital Theatre (and other venues, too—PMT, Babcock, Abravanel Hall, etc.) all the time as a young person in Salt Lake City. Often I went alone, sometimes with others. Either way, I was a dedicated consumer of every last bit of the performing arts that I could get my hands on.

And then I graduated from college the first time around. And then it stopped.

It’s been at least twenty years since I set foot in Capitol Theatre. And suddenly, tonight, there I was again, appreciating a Ballet West presentation once again.

It’s been too long.

If there’s one saving grace of this metropolitan area, it’s that as a major tourist destination, we have a world-class set of attractions, and this includes the performing arts.

— § —

Living as I do in Provo these days, it’s been so long since I saw a live performance of any kind that I’d forgotten how edifying and wonderful it is.

The last link that I had to any kind of live performance was my own, as a teacher, and I gave this up in 2014.

As a result, it’s been more than a year since I saw people appreciating one another, each in his or her own unique identity, knowledge, and creative self, in public. The publicness and generosity of spirit that public performance entails is one of the few things that can renew one’s faith in humanity in an era of corrupt politics, the decline of the cultural canon, global warming, runaway capitalism and consumerism, and so on.

Collective effervescence is a thing, and it is good. I need to have more of it in my life.

Witnessing someone’s act of sharing their inner self with everyone, everywhere can completely change your outlook on life for the better.

So long as individuals are willing to cry out in sincerity to their fellow humans, particularly to mere strangers, there is hope.

In a backhanded and totally incorrect way, it’s Habermas.

— § —

Saw a band at The Bayou after the Ballet West performance. They had an Asian guitarist. He reminded me that Asians can, under the right circumstances, look cooler than anyone else on the planet, even if their default appearance is to look less cool than anyone else on the planet.

This guy had square half-bifocal glasses and a well-trimmed beard, and he frowned harshly as he played guitar. He looked like the Serious Einstein of Jazz. It was awesome, and he was pretty good. So, too were the crawdads.

— § —

There remain a lot of problems to solve.

But we have, perhaps, solidified a foundation on which to stand as we solve them. One can hope. And believe.

Fish food.  §

I’ve just realized that I increasingly mark the passage of time with the nightly feeding of giant goldfish.

Interesting when goldfish are the most stable, predictable thing in your life.

Futures, careers, academics, writing, noodles, and totalitarian radio.  §

It’s been a bit of a dry month and yet here I sit writing the third post in a day. I don’t exactly even know what I plan to write. I’ve written the title before I begin sort of intuitively, and now find myself wondering whether the post can live up to the promise.

I suppose there’s nothing to do but press on.

— § —

I still read The Chronicle of Higher Education, but whereas I once read it quite enthusiastically and identified with it greatly, having some distance from the academy for the first time in many years has given me a different perspective.

At times when I read now, I feel a distinct sense of pity mixed with distaste for everything that is going on in the academy. The reasons for this are quite mixed. I wonder if I can make a list:

  • First off, in a very real way most of these people and topics are people and topics that simply don’t matter. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t matter, but in fact in the actual world they don’t. They play a role in the idiosyncratic stageplay of youth, but beyond this, their work is read by few and used by even fewer. This isn’t true across all the disciplines, but it’s true enough across enough of them to make the generalization worthwhile. And yet they believe that they matter. Or rather, they wish to convince themselves that they matter. They work hard at it. So hard. Drearily and painfully so. It is, ultimately, pitiful.

  • It’s also pitiful that they’re paid a fraction of what they ought, in a better world, to have been worth given the quality of their minds and the experience and determination that they bring to bear. They’ve spent many, many years and sacrificed virtually their entire personhood and life narrative to be a part of this club, only to be paid very little in exchange, to not matter, and to find themselves imprisoned in a system and culture in which there is very little diversity, freedom, or excitement.

  • Institutionally, the place is a mess. And the fights are intense. The whole place reeks of disaster and emergency management; it’s not like reading about the cultural vanguard and conservatorship of a society ought to be. It’s much more like reading political blogs, only without the national implications. There’s a truism that people fight so intensely because the stakes are so low, and in a way, I think this applies very well.

  • The sad odor of wasted potential hangs over everything. Here is a set of institutions, and an institutional system, that are so deeply embedded in society, so full of bright minds, and that reach people at such a critical age, and that are so systemically privileged (even if their members aren’t necessarily financially privileged) that they ought to be a sort of shining beacon of what is possible across any number of dimensions. Instead, together they amount to a kind of cultural sideshow. The bearded lady of American life.

I’ll stop now before it gets out of control. And at the same time, I am conflicted because I still feel as though there’s something to aspire to in that life, and I also feel as though I’d love to have been a part of it, despite everything. And that sense also makes me pity and feel some measure of distaste for my own self and preferences. Humf.

— § —

The problem with writing as a vocation is that it’s not a skill per se. You actually have to have something to write about, a story to tell, and the courage and self-awareness to be able to tell it.

Very good “writers” that don’t actually have stories (say, yours truly) don’t get to be called writers. They get called marketers, advertisers, managers, directors, and so on, but the writing in the vocation of writing is really not at all about turns of phrase, sound rather than ostentatious use of vocabulary, a well-disciplined and well-selected voice, or other similar things.

It’s about one’s ability to close eyes, hold breath, grind teeth, and jump from well-chosen narrative cliffs.

To date I lack the courage or discipline to make this work for myself, though I’ve tried at various times and continue to accumulate interrupted projects of various lengths.

— § —

Given that I am about to pass forty, I suspect it’s time that I begin to tell myself that the future is here. There’s far less future, in fact, than there is past in my life, and I’m rapidly running out of whatever future is left.

I am one of those people that stockpiles cherished plans and dusts them off every now and then to revel in and review them. I invariably make progress toward them, but the progress is slow and meticulous and punctuated by the pauses that come with project-switching.

There are too many goals and not enough time. This is an insight that may seem obvious, but it hasn’t been obvious to me until now. I need to pick one or two and go with them. Probably just one, as much as it pains me to say it. The time for “bucket lists” and “sets of goals” is over. If I have more than one or two, none of them will be accomplished before I pop off into whatever afterlife awaits me.

So the project needs to be to take a deep breath and allow myself to experience the pain while I cross things off of my list not for having completed them, but for having vetoed them in favor of the one or two things I plan to do in the time that I have left.

Focus needs to be the watchword, and focus has never been something I’m particularly good at. I’ve always cast a wildly wide net, and made my mark by eventually always returning to everything in it—by keeping plates spinning forever and ever. The result has been reasonably good—books published, trades learned, degrees earned, accomplishments immortalized on the resumé and so on—but now it’s time to pick the one or two plates that I plan to adopt, take the rest down, stack them up, and write them into a letter to the kids about “other stuff that I always wanted to do but had to decide against as a matter of pragmatism.”

— § —

Not so long ago, we (wife and kids and I—yes, we’re separated, but in that odd way in which you are living together, only apart) went to a local Japanese joint called Shoga. The food was good, the atmosphere and service were even better, and I didn’t order the ramen that night. I vowed to return and do so.

Now at 11:10 pm on a Friday night, alone in the house with sleeping kids, I am suddenly wishing that I was sitting at Shoga over a bowl of noodles.

— § —

I’d purchased a Citizen Nighthawk A-T watch at an incredible price thinking that I’d sell off my “regular” Nighthawk in favor of the slightly higher-end watch with the sapphire crystal.

It seemed like a good idea, but when I got it, I found that I actually couldn’t live with the fact that it set its time automatically by radio using the NIST feed in Colorado. This is supposed to be a feature, but to me it was a step too far toward gadgetry.

I’ve hinted at this before, but wearing this watch cemented the self-knowledge for me: what I value so much about watches in a way is that I and a wristwatch are traveling together, two little autonomous universes of complex information processing, in our own bubble. The time on the watch is my time, mine and the watch’s, in my universe. It’s very hard to explain, but phenomenologically, it feels empowering, validating, and reassuring.

Wearing a watch that set itself automatically from a radio broadcast that millions of other clocks and watches use to also set their time was like using Facebook or checking the time on my mobile phone. It subject me to social forces. It was totalitarian in nature; I was disempowered, invalidated, undermined, and interpellated.

I can appreciate the totalitarian in large-scale social systems that need to get things done in the interest of the public good, but on a tiny machine worn on my wrist for which a couple seconds’ variance on way or another ought not to matter, it was a bridge too far.

I sold it on eBay, happily at a decent profit.

— § —

My sister is getting married and may move to China. I insert this fact here apropos of nothing in particular. I’m very happy for her. On a more selfish note, the complexities of my own life are vexing in relation to the event, which I’d like to be able to celebrate more freely.

— § —

And meanwhile, springtime is here, I believe.

Another spring. Given my age, I’m going to try to appreciate this one. To stop, even if it’s terribly trite, and smell the roses. Literally.

It’s time to put a bit more effort into appreciating things again.

Yoko Ono.  §

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

That one’s good enough that I had to give credit where credit is due.

Dish towels.  §

I just opened two drawers in the kitchen I think for the first time ever and found dish towels.

Heavy. Just really, really heavy.

— § —

On a happier note, there’s nothing nicer than a tidy house. Or kids that helped to make it that way.

— § —

I have read about a watch specialist in Sugarhouse that might be a good bet for the five-year services of my automatics, if the price is right. If a basic clean/lube/check-seals is under $100 then he’s my man. It’s cool that this sort of thing still exists in this day and age. Most “watch stores” and “jewelers” will just tell you that they can replace batteries, and if anything more than that needs to be done, chuck it and buy another.

Throw away society.

Throw away nation.

— § —

Sold my XF 27mm f/2.8 on eBay today. I just never use it. The 18mm f/2.0 is about the same size physically but has a much cooler field of view that speaks to me far more, and a wider base aperture to boot. So long, 27mm. It was (very tepidly) nice knowing you.

— § —

About to turn forty.

Couldn’t be a better time for it, in the midst of an extended mid-life crisis.


Allergic.  §

It’s been a long time since I thought about the fact that I have an allergy to nickel. I used to get contact dermatitis something fierce when I was young, to the point of blood and scars. It took a while for docs to point to the nickel as the culprit, but as soon as I cut metal out of my life, it all basically went away.

I haven’t really had to worry about it for years.

For the last few years, I’ve been wearing watches again. Then, in the fall, I bought a pair of Dr. Martens boots, the first I’d worn in just under a decade.

Aaaaaand the allergy is acting up again. I’ve stopped wearing the boots. I’d forgotten about the eyelet effect—the little metal eyelets that shoelaces pass through have nickel in them, evidently, and it’s causing my leg to itch up a storm, and I’m getting rashes elsewhere as well. So, no to the boots, and I’ve started taking my watch off at night. Hopefully that does the trick in calming this back down again.

No more Dr. Martens for me, sadly. Or any boots or shoes with metal eyelets in them. The close contact with skin is just too much.

— § —

Every now and then these days I have a moment in which I suddenly stop and think about the fact that I am separated from my wife. My kids have to travel back and forth between houses, splitting time and realities. I live in a broken home. I have contributed to making a broken home.

I never, ever thought that would be me.

To is set of thoughts, too, I am allergic. I can press on and plod along as long as I don’t really think about it all. But to realize where I am is absolutely paralyzing.

I’m deeply into that “one day at a time” territory that children hear “the adults” in their lives pass back and forth between each other over the various treacheries of reality.

It sucks.

— § —

I have been very involved in the primary election horse race this year, with some donating and phone calls as well, and thoughts of volunteering at some of the Orem events.

But I think I’m done; I think I’ve reached my saturation point. The election, the nation, and the electorate are—basically—disgusting.

Elections destroy my faith in humanity. Funny, because I seem to remember learning all the way back in high school civics class that it was supposed to be the opposite.

I’m glad I’m not having to teach this semester on all those topics I used to teach about—authority and legitimacy, legitimation crises, democratic theory as juxtaposed against totalitarian and autocratic models, and so on. Because I’m pretty sure I’d find myself sneering and saying inappropriate things at least once or twice.

Yes, I said it: the election, the nation, and the electorate are disgusting.

— § —

Cleaning is something that I can’t seen to stay ahead of. The older I get, the more allergic I feel to having a messy house, but at the same time, working daytimes with two kids around doesn’t make it easy to keep the floor bare.

And then I have these insane “cleaning bursts” that are basically two hours of jogging around the house as I replace item(s) that have strayed from their places, mop, vacuum, do laundry, disinfect and sanitize, and so on. But it is a cycle: clean -> borderline -> disaster -> manic tidy -> clean. Basically Monday/Tuesday (clean) -> Wednesday (borderline) -> Thursday (disaster) -> weekend, respectively.

The problem with this model is that as the calendar moves, I have to intervene after disaster with the “manic tidy,” generally on weekends. If I fail to do so, then there is no time for the “manic tidy” during the week and we end up with a full week of: disaster -> worse disaster -> ugggggh -> impossible tidy task.

It all leaves very little flexibility to actually live life.

The fall thing.  §

Spring begins.

Not really my season. I don’t have too much feeling in one way or another about spring, to be honest. Spring is and that is, roughly speaking, that.

— § —

Fall is my season. Fall is my season in particular when it is not fall. In fact, it is my season precisely when it is not fall.

Because throughout every other season of the year, I dream of fall, particularly when seasonal change is in the air, but when fall arrives, I am inevitably disappointed.

— § —

This disappointment comes from the fact that I have strong recollections of fall, sensuous and earthy and strong and deeply, subtly sentimental.

These memories are of a particular time in my life, a particular set of years as I was a teen. A time when a particular quality of light, a particular scent of plant matter and salty air, a particular genre of literature, a particular way of being in the world and lifestyle, were imprinted in my memory.

For three seasons every year, I flash back to fall at least once a day. To those falls, to my experience of fall, and I am seduced by the longing and the promise that I attach to the next fall to arrive, whenever it occurs.

And of course, when it does occur, I’m no longer a young guy in white tees and faded jeans walking amongst fallen chestnuts, reveling in cool, airy mornings that smell of Egg Island, or reading fiction endlessly while draped in various ways on, over, and behind the couch. I’m no longer at one with time and the world and my own youth. I’m not floating in the eddies being filled by myself and the world around me.

Now when fall comes, it comes with the jarring realization that I’m older, have children, that there is yardwork to do and housework to do in order to winterize, that it is time to begin to prepare for the holidays, that I still have to go to work today, tomorrow, and everyday—that I am, in a word, old.

— § —

They tell me that spring is the season of youth and beginning, but for me it was fall that once left this indelible imprint.

For three seasons every year, I recall it rapturously, in fits and starts, in response to the way the morning light lands on a table, the sound of the wind in the chimes in the backyard, the scent of exhaust on the driveway—in response to and endless list of things.

I’ve been doing that without meaning to do it again tonight.

It’s time that I begin also to realize that when fall does arrive, it’s not the bringer-of-redemptions, much less the bringer-of-resurrections, but rather the measuring stick against which I will be shown, once more, to be another year older and farther away from that state of being in which everything—time, the world, myself, my surroundings, and the people that passed here and there around me—was simply natural.

I won’t arrive, when fall comes again, as the me that I imagine, no matter what my soul tells me.

I will arrive, when fall comes again, as the me that I merely am.

Sadness and time and humor.  §

This thing keeps happening to me. Maybe once or twice a week.

I’m plodding along, doing the things of everyday life—often walking through the house for one reason or another—and I am suddenly overcome by sadness.

Not resentment masquerading as sadness, not anger, not fear, not regret, not a million other things that often get mistaken for sadness. No, this is sadness. Pure, unadulterated sadness.

Not just a little bit of it. An impossible ocean of sadness, a catastrophic tidal flood of sadness that leaves me struggling to stand. Sadness at family and career and friends and goals and time, the inevitable passage of time. In that moment, it is as though I am taking my last breath, seeing my last moment of light, feeling the deep loss of my own eventual death and confronting the realization that from that point forward I will never be able to make anything better for anyone, ever again.

And then, a moment later, it’s gone. Just like that. A few seconds off the clock. Another four or five steps. Not a even a minute in duration.

But the memory of the sadness remains.

What does it mean?

— § —

There’s something beautiful about a wristwatch. Any kind of wristwatch, but especially the many varieties of “perpetual” ones—the mechanical automatics, the Eco-Drives, the solars, and the kinetics. A watch is a tiny little package of miraculously ingenious and precise technology, created precisely to celebrate the miraculously ingenious and precise social technology of time. A watch carries with it a small pocket of time all its own, just as does its wearer.

And, most importantly of all, there is the knowledge that this little thing, and every other one like it, unlike an iPhone or a blender or a Mercedes, will have a unique history that may stretch out as long as does a human life. It will see triumphant events, desperate failures, and quotidian stretches of boredom; it may become battle-scarred, may meet and then leave multiple people, yet it will retain its own little essence throughout, both rigid and somehow also yielding in its concession to marks and scratches and dents, each set unique, until the day that it finally gives up the ghost or is forgotten, never to mark time again.

Wristwatches are like little people with little lives of their own. I swear, they speak to me. They feel like my friends.

— § —

Perfection itself is imperfection, equally anomalous and unexpected.

That is the dark secret of the universe. Everyone longs for perfection, but the nature of being is such that it has been defined out of existence.

Certainly our cognitive schema are incapable of perceiving or valorizing it. This is why human beings invariably attack and destroy everything that approaches perfection in their lives; because anything approaching perfection is the most irritatingly conspicuous anomaly of all.

— § —

Sometimes people tell me I should be more funny here, that I have a great sense of humor that never comes through in my writing.

The thing is that my sense of humor, if that’s what it is, is immediately social. It requires the presence of others. It’s just a kind of delight, not really anything to do with wit.

When I laugh out loud at and banter with my wife or my daughter, it’s because I’m in the process of falling in love with them all over again. When I do the same with my son, it’s because deep in my soul I am feeling that he is a fine fellow, and I am effervescent just at having the privilege of knowing him.

Yes, I realize that the parallel accounts that I just gave are sexist, and if there were someone here with me, I might break wide open smiling, laughing, and talking about the fact that we’ve just shared a “sexist” moment in which we both, in fact, found it amusing that such a thing as simple, irrepressible happiness of the sort that leads to uncontrollable, delighted laugher is inherently sexist in some eyes, precisely what the Best Souls Amongst Us often so seriously wish to repress beneath stern and furrowed brow all in the interest, supposedly, of the general happiness.

When I’m alone, I’m often just as content as when I’m with other people. But it’s true that I don’t generally laugh on my own, nor do I do things on my own that are laugh-worthy. Humor, to me, is a way of reveling in the value of others’ lives.

When others aren’t there, I tend to be carried away on other, more inwardly-directed currents.

— § —

I will be forty years old in a matter of days. I can still remember turning eight. And five. And, vaguely, three.

This is what death feels like—a lot of hazy memories run together inadvertently yet somehow also unavoidably, in order to mark a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

— § —

Don’t think I’m morbid or maudlin. I’m wearing a Seiko, laying on the carpet next to a large dog, and I had ice cream earlier.

These are the things of comfort and triumph; the are the opposite of flies and border checkpoints.

Good thing, too.

Withdrawal.  §

Made a post, pulled it back.

I hate doing that, but sometimes it has to be done.

Better angels of our natures and all that bullshit.

So consider this very short, pointless post to be a post in lieu of the post I was otherwise going to make.

Human emotions.  §

Emotions are a fantastically bizarre and fascinating thing. Most interesting of all is the oddly quasi-behaviorist way in which we are trained in and construct our own emotional universes as a matter of the interaction between the culture(s) in which we are embedded over time, others’ interactions with us (which in turn depend in part on their own emotional universes), our individual biological uniqueness, the reflections of ourselves in others’ moment-by-moment gestures and responses, and the aggregate internal data that is our ongoing bodily state.

For a while in my twenties, I was very interested indeed in the sociology and anthropology of emotion, and a certain amount of that interest and emotion remain vestigially in play for me.

I’m most fascinated by the factoid that even after accounting for all the variations and empirical complexity in the factors at issue, there is an individual component to emotion that is both unavoidable and ineffable. That is to say that the bodily states, circumstances, and sensations that for one person might be experienced as “joy” can be experienced by another person as “terror.”

I know that is some bionormativity at play here, but it isn’t absolute; it’s the multifactor/multidimensional equivalent of a bell curve. This is where discussions of neurotypicality come into play.

Sure, it’s easy to say that people at the topological equivalents of the far fringes of the various curve(s) are probably maladapted or in need of particular kinds of sociophysical care, but what about those that are neither at peak nor at nadir, particularly given the complexity of the space in question.

That infinite and infinitely complex gray area is the space in which relationships, personality, and the indeterminacy of social interaction and social life play out, not to mention the little everyday misunderstandings and delightfully-wirecrossed-unconscious-semi-understandings that both bring people together and push them apart.

What am I saying here? That it’s so wildly wild that we can’t know what it’s like to be another person at the end of the day. And I don’t mean all that “having walked in their shoes” nonsense, I mean, we can have someone tell us that they are “very happy right now” and have absolutely no idea what that really means in their terms, physically, cognitively, etc.

We know it only in our own terms, but the experience of “happiness” might actually be a totally different thing for them qualitatively, as though if you could trade consciousnesses for a moment, you’d find yourself perhaps aware of feeling something totally different from what they felt even though all the inputs are the same.

— § —

No, don’t ask me to try to disentangle everything I just said, it was hard enough to dump.

And don’t go on about it. Neurotypicality is so over.

Wristwatches.  §

Okay, I’m in love with wristwatches again.

For a long time, I didn’t have any fashion anything to speak of. The wild hair colors had to go with “professional life” and “grad school” (at least, the second time around). My wife and my growing waistline cured me of my love for edgy t-shirts. And wristwatches, well, they were too expensive a fashion item once I became a family man.

But with therapy and difficulty and “finding myself” again, the goal of finding “space” once again to attend to my self-presentation and to carve out some space for customizing my appearance, wristwatches have come to the fore. I can’t afford anything “real” in the sense of a Breitling or even, say, a Tag Heuer, but between eBay and makes like Citizen, Orient, and Seiko, I can find a little bit of space to adorn myself.

I feel guilty about this sometimes, but I never even pay close to a fraction of retail (thanks, eBay used item sales!) and also I remember that unlike many others, I have very few other “personal appearance” expenses. I wear a basic ensemble of very “lower middle class” clothes from the likes of Target, Old Navy, and Wal-Mart. I don’t spend any money on skin care products or jewelry of any other kind. I spend basically next to no money on my appearance. So wristwatches can fit the bill, many years after I last paid attention to them.

Current preferences:

– Eco-drive
– Sound budget “automatic” movements (Orient 46943, Seiko 7S26)
– 40mm or greater case diameter
– 10ATM+ water resistance
– Stainless bracelet
– Either mineral crystal or sapphire (not picky)
– Either a very narrow bezel (e.g. Citizen Nighthawk series) or a standard “diver” bezel

Strangely enough, I am not too keen on some things that others are:

– Lots of sub-dials
– Clear homages
– Retrograde complications
– Low-end Swiss/ETA movements
– Anything that says “Swiss” anywhere on it
– Leather or neoprene bracelets

For example, a lot of people have panned something like the Orient Sparta series as having odd complications, no sub-dials, a very utilitarian Japanese movement calibre by Orient (46E40), etc. but I actually like it a lot. The same goes for the Citizen Nighthawk series.

I am trying to limit myself to just a few watches, even given that I am paying just a few pennies on the dollar thanks to eBay and the ability to buy these things used from sellers that don’t care all that much about what they get. But it is nice to like something that I am wearing in some way again, after years of adorning myself in purely utilitarian ways.

— § —

The other major purchase was another Wilsons’ leather jacket. Also didn’t pay retail or it never would have happened.

It’s all about baby steps.

Portrait of a family.  §

Just for fun, and with thanks to Tsemrinpoche.

Fire Dragon

The fire element strengthens the naturally fiery dragon. They breathe power and ambition, and are unsurprisingly the most competitive of all dragons. They have intense energy and place high expectations in all areas of their life: love, career, self-development etc.

As self-cultivated perfectionists, they become an unstoppable force due to their high intelligence. They have the midas touch and will succeed in whatever they do. If they choose to be, they have the potential to become great leaders. This is especially so if they are able to subdue their temper and energy-exhausting pace. Others may mistake their overzealous and powerful approach towards leadership to be dictator-like! The fire dragon demands as much from others as he demands from himself. Their emotions have a tendency to control their actions, and at times they may react recklessly causing them to accumulate plenty to regret.

However, although they may shoot fire at others, they in actual fact place great care towards others’ well-being. They will be the first to donate towards a charitable cause and the first to uncover the truth on behalf of the wrongly accused.

With their vibrant charisma and larger-than-life personality, fire dragons have a natural tendency to become celebrities.

Earth Sheep

The earth sheep is extremely honest but can be brutally blunt at times. However, although she is good at dishing out her opinion of others, she is not very receptive to feedback and can become very defensive when criticized.

Nevertheless, she tends to look at the bright side of things. She is loyal to her friends and family and is willing to make sacrifices for them. She is someone you can definitely call upon if you are in trouble or need help, and can be sure of a lifelong loyalty.

The earth sheep is industrious and works well under pressure. She is a responsible worker and seldom encounters difficulties in her career. She is also more independent, able to hold her own ground and not likely to be as easily influenced as other sheep.

The earth element in her makes her more conservative and cautious than other sheep where money is concerned. Although still indulgent in nature, she is more controlled in her spending.

Metal Tiger

Be prepared to steer clear of the metal tiger once she’s got her mind set on something. This very independent character isn’t likely to listen to what you have to say and will charge headfirst into her passions and goals. She is highly competitive and very confident (perhaps too much) and can tend to overstretch her expectations, becoming easily impatient if they aren’t fulfilled as she wants them to be. That said, they can also be very hard workers who are able to maintain a high level of energy to get the job done… so long as and only if it’s something they believe in.

The metal element also makes her quite inflexible—once she’s set her mind on something, it’ll be a challenge to get her to think otherwise or accept another point of view. She might also be prone to acting impulsively and unconventionally—she’ll need to be careful she doesn’t also offend people along the way.

She has a great deal of ambition, but quite unlike the other tigers, this one is focused more on her own interests and less on the interests of the greater good. She’s much more into herself and accomplishing what she wants (or thinks she wants), whether it upsets others or not.

Water Dragon

The calmness and coolness of water pacifies the naturally aggressive dragon. This attribute will provide the dragon with clarity and balance making them good negotiators and diplomats. Unlike the fire dragon, water dragons are able to take time out to think and plan their next move wisely.

The secret to their success lays in their ability to be humorous when necessary, hardworking when necessary, and to bite their tongue when necessary. They are able to control their emotions and thoughts providing them the composure and stability the other dragons lack.

Passionate, opportunistic and progressive, they will not feel defeated even when they fall flat on the ground or if a door is slammed in their face. To them, it’s part of the growing process that everyone must go through—they are no different so there is nothing to be ashamed of!

They believe in a slow-and-steady approach, as opposed to the metal dragon who charges towards a goal. They are patient enough to know that good things come to those who wait. Don’t mistake their patience for inertness or passiveness. Just remember, who won the race: the rabbit or the tortoise?

The water element will also make him expansive, open and gentle with others. The water dragon enjoys company, cooperativeness and sharing.

— § —

Important caveat: Chinese culture has a different structure than U.S. culture, so some of these characteristics (loyalty, industriousness, family, independence, competitiveness) don’t have the same timbre in that milieu that they do here. The translation of the concepts isn’t perfect, and some traits appear more positively or more negatively in that culture than they do in this one.

But it’s fun nonetheless.

Parenthood, work, and life.  §

I am exhausted.

And behind. Behind, behind, behind.

Weekdays are nonstop sprints. I haven’t stopped running since first thing this morning. Much more to be done after the kids are asleep (we’re doing the bedtime routine in five minutes).

Tomorrow I will run, too.

All anyone ever asks when they hear this is would I like to have the kids taken off my hands for a while.

Howcome the answer to everything in this godforsaken society involves spending less time with your family?

How about asking if I’d like to have work taken off my hands for a while, if I’d like to have my bills paid for me for a while?

No, I wouldn’t like to have my kids taken off my hands for a while, and no I wouldn’t like to see less of my wife and my family.

I’d like the same economic system that was in place two generations ago, thanks very much, with dirt-cheap higher education, high wages, and easily affordable homes.

How about that?

And please don’t femsplain to me that at least I’m a man so I don’t have to cook and clean and take care of the kids all the time. That makes me want to give you a big, tall talking-to about your gendered preconceptions and the way in which nobody appreciates men’s work either. Work like, let’s see—doing the dishes, doing the laundry, vacuuming the house, feeding the kids, trying to keep a tidy appearance (in fact, this one is harder on men, since an unshowered woman in sweats is a “poor thing, hang in there, you’re a mom and a saint” while an unshowered man in sweats is a “disgusting loser, full stop”), somehow still being a professional, and generally trying to have it all while seeming not to have to work at it.

Yeah, I’ve been doing this stuff for few years, too. Gosh, surprise!

Sound familiar?

Only nobody praises a dad for it. Not on Facebook, not in everyday interaction, not in song. Everyone just assumes a man is never pulling his weight and has it easy.

Superego.  §

The cause of American decline isn’t “gridlock,” it isn’t catastrophic trade or economic policy, it isn’t the end of the Cold War, and it isn’t military adventurism.

All of these have their roots in a deeper problem.

The American academy is dead.
The American church is dead.
The American statesman is dead.

These are the three civic pillars of the American superego, the reservoir of grown-ups able to propose grown-up solutions to serious problems, to guide ethical reflection, and to carry and perpetuate cultural knowledge and identity across generations.

They are all dead. Some will claim that they’re alive, but I call bullshit. They’re not living, they’re tottering zombies, un-dead, with insatiable drives for consumption, but with hollow, glazed-over eyes, marked by vacuums of self-awareness, with no hint of their former selves on display. Decades of moral activist criticism have undermined and eviscerated them, but without leaving anything in their place. There isn’t an American superego any longer; what remains are the American ego and the American id, running (instrumentally and irrationally, respectively) amok.

“Where have all the grown-ups gone?” goes the common cry. The fact is that we’ve killed them, one by one, and been left with no one to lead, to sacrifice and persevere, or to teach us to sacrifice and persevere in our own best interests.

Our Very Serious People are no longer the adults in the room, they are boomer and post-boomer rock stars. And inevitably, we have thus also come to see our rock stars as Very Serious People. What’s missing are the stodgy and wise. In their place, we have Keith Richards, Hillary Clinton, Richard Dawkins, and Lee Corso.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with these people. Only that they aren’t grown-ups. They’re not caretaking or contributing in order to moderate, nurture, and preserve. They’re teenagers or twenty-somethings trapped in failing bodies. Their “big picture” remains forever centered around themselves.

And the same is true across society at this point, from the bottom to the top. The grown-ups have gone, like the Jedi of lore, out of our universe.