Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D.

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
 
Teaching
 
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
 
Companies and Brands
 
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
 
On Google
 
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
 
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
 
7 Books
Thousands of articles
 
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
 
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
 
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
 
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
 
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
 
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
 
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

We’re at least as much to blame for the state of things as the viruses.  §

It’s 2003 and I’m scheduled to go on a trip with a friend. We’re to visit China and Russia and everything in between.

But a new virus has been identified that causes a disease called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and it is killing people in China. And elsewhere. And the World Health Organization is requesting that people cancel or postpone all non-essential travel.

I do. It nearly costs me one of my dearest friends.

I never make it to China. Or Russia.

— § —

And here we are. It’s 2020 and I’m worried. I’m worried because everywhere I’ve looked for half a decade or more now, I’ve seen a kind of worrying complacency and lazy decadence that—in the end—always comes to no good.

We’re so far down the rabbit hole that we’ve spent years now yelling at each other about the words that we use, doing elective surgeries to bodies in a manic conflation of cosmetics and biological necessity that is only possible in places where everything is so inexpensive that cosmetics and surgery can easily be mistaken for one another because each is as inexpensive as one another.

Where nothing has costs, everything seems serious—and then the figure of death rolls in, scythe in hand, and laughs at everyone while they wail like brats about just how unfair it all is.

— § —

I regret that I have not yet completed (nor even taken real steps to complete) the conversion that has been a clear matter of destiny for me now for years.

I regret that I have not done so many things that I believe I ought to have done, that I have invariably put off until “tomorrow.”

I have bad premonitions about this one.

Cancelling trips will not be enough, I think, for any of us.

I watch the news about “elections” and it becomes clear just how stupid all of this is. Just how stupid all of us are.

— § —

There is a tendency amongst the young—I had it in spades when I was young—to want to cry out to the elders, “What are you doing? Don’t you know that life is short? That it’s precious? How can we live like this? How can you go to work every day and do nothing in particular, and continue to vote for and participate in a system in which these people hunger their entire lives and those people have more money than they can spend and no one—neither group—is contributing whatever it is that they’re best able to contribute to human memory?!”

The elders of course take pains to explain that this is the sort of thing that everyone comes to understand in time, and they’re right in a way—in time, you do come to understand it, which is to say that you begin to do the same things that they did because there appears to be no practical alternative.

Today, you have to eat. Tomorrow you’ll worry about tomorrow.

But there are moments in a person’s life, and maybe—just maybe—moments for an entire world at which it becomes clear that at least in some way or other, the young people are right. So many tiny specs on a pale blue dot and yet we have Shakespeare and Plato and calculus and physics. These are the things that matter.

All of that other stuff—all of that other stuff doesn’t matter.

— § —

I’d like to think that if we end up with 50 or 100 million dead, we’ll wake up this time and do something different with ourselves, stop yelling about the safe spaces and the idiots and those other people who are to blame for the terrible things that aren’t, after all, so terrible—like being called a name here and there.

If only microbes were so facile as to fall for name-calling, we could do away with them for good.

But they’re the work of nature, and nature is not patient. God is not patient. It’s very possibly the greatest irony of fallen man—we, we mortals on the pale blue dot, we have infinite patience. Patience until we fade away or are suddenly snuffed out.

And we all throw up our hands and have more patience.

God and nature—not so much. What they have is being, that which is. Being that is not nearly as ephemeral as ours is.

We wear the costumes of control and dance around in them like so many fools.

— § —

All those years ago. 2003. Now it’s nearly twenty years later and everything old is new again.

Except me, that is. Except all of us who were here then, and ought to have known better, but instead have fallen for idols like “activism” and “innovation” and so on.

Where are our novels, our treatises, our memories, our legacies?

We’d better get to writing them. For all of us, come COVID-19 or some other cause, time is running out, because time is always running out.

And the control emphatically does not belong to us, however highly we may regard ourselves.

House cleaning, COVID-19, divorce, and Vietnam are all multiples of forty-four.  §

You put off cleaning the house. You put it off because of how overwhelming it all feels. And then at some point you get started.

And then, once you’ve started, you clean for hours and hours without stopping, unable to stop. Sometimes when this happens, you clean in places that you haven’t cleaned for years.

— § —

I am not normally an alarmist about things, but COVID-19 is different.

Already we see what is effectively community transmission in a variety of places. Meanwhile, the entire economy of China, manufacturer of virtually everything physical—everything real that exists in the world now, has been shut down for weeks.

And it’s all going to stay shut down. At least for weeks more. Possibly for months more. It’s not beyond imagining to come up with scenarios in which it does not return to what it’s been.

Meanwhile, that community transmission hums along. More and more clusters pop up. The climb begins. People say things like, “Oh, the mortality rate is only two to three percent, it’s not that bad.”

But the R0 is well above three, at the very least—it’s going to keep spreading absent some incredibly drastic measure taken by everyone in the world. And climate change has long told us that we cannot, as a world, take drastic measures.

And if we presume that the mortality rate hovers around the low bound of two, and that only half of the world comes down with it in the end (which may be optimistic under some realistic scenarios), then we are talking about 50 million excess deaths. Few things like this will have been seen before. Not Hitler, not Stalin, not Mao.

World War II as a whole is the only thing that really matches it.

And keep in mind, that mortality rate has thus far been in advanced industrial societies with clean hospitals and respirators—and is likely underreported due to the nature of the regime where the outbreak is currently largest.

— § —

Some people are calling this a “black swan” event. But a black swan event is something that is both incredibly unlikely and that could never have been predicted.

That makes COVID-19 anything but a black swan event.

People have been warning about and expecting it for years. Decades, even, in a variety of ways.

  • Worries about the offshoring of critical manufacturing, including things like medication and basic technology, have been a staple in politics since the first elections that I can remember, and I’m nearly half a century old. Now we face a situation in which critical resources will be needed, but they’re only made in the epicenter of the pandemic—which is currently entirely shuttered, and keeping what little production it can muster all to itself.

  • Worries about bioweapon and biodefense research at BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs are nothing new. How many times have we been warned that if a pathogen escapes, or an insane person working in one of these labs wanted to destroy the world, it could mark the end of civilization as we know it? There is, in fact, an entire cottage industry in Hollywood dedicated to playing out and portraying these scenarios for the public.

  • Worries about the US healthcare system, it’s inability to sustain basic health and basic immunity due to a broad lack of practical access to healthcare and healthcare guidance across half the population, are also a staple of national politics for at least the last three decades. Now we face a global pandemic in an environment in which medical bankruptcy is a way of life and people routinely avoid doctors yet go to work to ensure that they can continue to make ends meet.

  • Worries about largely uncontrolled crossing of most of the world’s borders have been treated as prejudice and an attitude that runs counter to the ethos of basic human rights, without regard for the obvious public health and public safety issues that porous borders all over the globe represent. I can remember discussing this when I used to teach sociology—most of my students had never considered questions of public health, only economics and crime, when it came to this issue. Now we have a tremendous exodus of potentially exposed Chinese citizens through a variety of countries with lax controls where they can then disperse around the globe.

We have a complacent, comfortable public. The kind of public that wails and gnashes its teeth about how free speech of various kinds is “literally killing us.”

I can only hope they are not in for a rude awakening in which they gain more experience with what the phrase “literally killing us” means—one in which, if it comes to pass, their protests in the streets will and can do nothing to stem the tide.

Nature may be about to have its revenge.

— § —

Beyond all of this, yet somehow also weirdly apropos of coronavirus and dogs and student debt and a million other things, I realized today as I was wiping down the front of the microwave oven that I haven’t had a plan in over a decade now.

I got married. At the time, I planned to finish my PhD, become a professor, start a family, write a slew of books, make a life for myself in New York, and grow old in the cocktails-and-books set.

Then, the marriage started to go south. There were fights. Ultimatums. A demand for pregnancy. More ultimatums. An realized pregnancy. Then fear. Desperation. Tactics. More tactics and more tactics, all just to try to hold things together and do right by self and offspring.

I was in myopic survival mode by 2009, and it has been a perpetual race against the metaphorical blitzkrieg and the clock since then.

I have been in tactical survival mode for over a decade, and I’m tired. And there is no end in sight. No moment to plan. No room for meaning or legacies or thoughts about the bigger picture.

I don’t quite know of any path to escaping survival mode, short of that particular kind of insanity that some people opt to adopt in which they suddenly chuck everything and disappear, sometimes in to jail, sometimes into a new identity, qua escaping their situation and leaving everything behind.

I do know that I’m tired. That I feel like a soldier that’s been on the front for far too long, jaded, loud, growing ever more careless even as I grow ever more skilled at the tactics, day by day.

Survival mode has a strange and toxic effect on the soul. It is generally incompatible with the maintenance of a strong moral center. I need to be vigilant.

But that doesn’t quite work either, because vigilance is what got me here. It’s all I do. It’s the crux of survival mode.

— § —

For some reason, I’ve been asked several times over the last few days how old I am.

I grow tired of answering: “Nearly forty-four.”

I grow tired of it because it’s causing a kind of panic to set in. For reasons that may or may not be obvious. And because it exacerbates the fatigue in some strange, subtle way. The more I say it, the more I have to confront it. And to confront my circumstances, my little Vietnam that will never, ever end.

— § —

All of it.

Just all of it.

Hence hours and hours of cleaning, including all of those places that I never, ever clean.

When you’re not sure about anything at all, at least try to get some sleep.  §

So I’ve been ill.

I’m not ill very often, but this is an accumulation of things finally catching up to me. I was due. I’m probably due for another few days at least. Been a long time coming.

Life can wear you down.

I’m not quite sure how it’s possible that my life is so simple and even underwhelming in the abstract, in concept, yet so incredibly complex and overwhelming on the ground, in terms of the actual day-to-day experience.

— § —

I feel the novel bug rising inside me again.

A couple times before I’ve started writing a novel and made very good progress, arrived at hundreds of pages and a cracking good story that others have said they were eagerly waiting to read the end of—only to lose momentum and not return until I can’t even remember what’s in the pages.

Not sure why.

Somehow it links to a larger, common thread through everything. I’ve been so successful in so many ways, and yet—yet I can’t shake the feeling that there are a million and one things I ought to have done, could have done, yet simply didn’t for some inexplicable reason.

I think it has something to do with actually being subconsciously averse to certain kinds of success. But I’m not sure exactly what the details are or why that might be—it’s just an intuition that I have.

— § —

It’s late and it’s been a few nights since I really slept well—I’m ill in that way that leaves a person with a hacking cough and a huge headache at 2:00 am, and then at 3:00 am, and then at 4:00 am without any particular resolution.

Maybe tonight I’ll get a good night’s sleep.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll start again on a new novel.

If I had a million dollars, I’d go to therapy and learn to write fiction—and go to bed.  §

If I had a million dollars, I’d go to therapy and ask the therapist why it’s so hard for me to go to bed in the evenings. I put it off—and then I put it off—and then I put it off some more.

Every now and then, but only every now and then, I stumble by accident upon the solution, which is to stand up at some point before my hand is forced by physical collapse, and simply walk in the direction of the place where I intend to sleep, lay down, and declare myself to be in bed.

But it’s maybe one out of a hundred times that I manage to do this. The rest of the time, I’m powerless to resist the intertia that keeps me nailed to the office chair in front of the large computer, and solutions do not occur to me.

What’s the source of that weakness? I don’t know. I’m sure it’s the same thing that’s at the core of a great number of things that bother me about myself.

— § —

Fiction is dead.

This is clear to anyone that’s looking. No measurable audience of import any longer consumes it. The public is not aware of it. As a category, it’s barely remembered to exist.

It’s just not a thing any longer.

I think this fact is related to much of our modern, post-industrial society malaise.

Fiction, after all, is about stories. About narrative. And stories—narratives—are things that we don’t do any longer. Fiction belongs to the world of biography, a world of storied selves in which people understand their own lives and the lives of others in terms of a chronological sequence of events and the feelings and relationships that accompanied them.

That’s not the world that we live in today.

We don’t see ourselves as biographical creatures, as creatures with stories. We don’t understand ourselves in terms of chronology, or of events, or of relationships.

Our lives aren’t characterized by the wide range of things of import that happen. We don’t even inhabit that universe any longer.

We’re quantitative creatures. We’re bundles of metrics. Our achievements—graduate degrees, job titles, marriages, births—are no longer tales to be told; they’re data points to be aggregated.

We live in the age of analytics. No longer bundles of memories, we’re now bundles of facts and measurements. Averaged 3.3 in high school. Went to college on time, or maybe early, or maybe late. Not because anything—the because doesn’t matter; it’s a peripheral issue at best. There is no “because.” Scored some quantity on the GRE components. Interned at this company. Made partner at that company after only that many years.

Conversations, pivotal moments, drinks in bars, inspiring mentors—none of that stuff resonates with us any longer because it means nothing to our organizations or for our earning potential.

Fiction is dead because biography is dead. We don’t even maintain them for ourselves any longer.

When future generations try to understand our lives, we won’t leave behind ourselves diaries of thoughts and feelings or an oral history of family relationships.

We are leaving behind ourselves databases of achievements and statistics. We measure ourselves in numbers and facts.

Creatures that measure themselves in numbers and facts don’t read Dostoevsky or Mark Twain. They read The Week and The New York Times and The Nation and the latest analyst reports from Gartner and Deloitte.

The age of products and feature sets is also the age in which we ourselves are products and feature sets.

This is not a salutory development.

— § —

I lay in bed typing this in the midst of a general failure of discipline and initiative.

Yes, I have managed to put myself to bed.

No, I did not manage to do the things that I was supposed to do before I got there. Chief amongst them was to start (or even re-start) the novel I have intended to write for at least a decade now.

Parts of it exist. Maybe a hundred pages or so.

Many is the weekend on which I declare to myself at closing time on Friday that this weekend I will race to the finish. Because I know that I can do it. Only I don’t.

I never do.

Once business has closed on Friday, I declare my intention but say that I’ll do it over the course of Saturday and Sunday. Friday, of course, is to rest and recuperate.

Saturday morning I tell myself that I’ll start Saturday afternoon.

Saturday evening, having done nothing—or perhaps having wasted hours and hours “putting my tools together in preparation to begin” or some such nonsense—I’ll tell myself that I’ll start Sunday morning and work all day Sunday.

Sunday morning I manage to get out of bed and to walk and feed the dog, telling myself that I’ll absolutely race to the finish on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday afternoon I do the dishes and the laundry and console myself with the thought that after these are done, I can at least get one more chapter out Sunday evening as the last thing of the day.

And then—and then I put myself to bed. Rather than waiting until I’m exhausted.

Why don’t I write?

I know that I can do it.

I know that I can do a great many things. Just like going to bed. I just don’t do them.

— § —

If I had a million dollars, I’d go to therapy and ask the therapist not just why I never go to bed on time, but also why I don’t do any of the things that I want to do, and that I ought to do, and that I know that I can do.

And why I’ve always struggled to do any of these things.

Am I trying to punish myself for something?

Am I trying to punish others for something?

Is all of it psychobabble?

— § —

I can remember a particular uncle on my mom’s side that was abusive to me as a child. Violent. Physically abusive. Thrown furniture. Drowning attempts.

Nobody ever really took it seriously but me. The other adults trusted him to back off before serious harm was ever done, and in his defense, he always did. Now that I’m an adult I can see that the physical abuse was really a form of emotional aggression. He’d never have harmed me, but he did want me to suffer—to be afraid, to feel small.

That’s not a terribly huge in in the grand scheme of things.

The bigger sin really belongs to a great many other adults with whom I grew up or who were involved in my education, or my upbrining, or the local community in which I was raised.

The thing that I took away from my childhood about adults—and the thing that I remember most about most of them—is just what liars and hypocrites they were.

Not intentionally, of course—just as a matter of expedience. I’m sure they fully intended to keep their promises, or to make good on their word. I’m sure they meant every word that they said at the moments at which they said them.

But it never stuck.

Because at the end of the day, what all of them had in common was the fact that every word out of their mouths was fundamentally gutless. They were saying to me—me the child—whatever needed to be said in order to get themselves off the hook at the moment.

Sure—sure, I’ll remember to do that for you. Sure we can do that together. No, I don’t believe this. Yes, I do believe the other. Only they didn’t ultimately mean any of it, once time had passed, once the chips were down. They said the things they said because they were weak.

Just like I’m now weak about working on my novels.

I don’t take this to be a normal human failing. I don’t let all of us off the hook. There have been generations that were’t limp like this, that meant what they said and said what they meant and kept their word.

Oh yes, there are times when I definitely blame the Boomers. And there are times when I blame those who raised the Boomers. But of course they were, in turn and in their own right, traumatized by world wars the likes of which the world had never seen and could never have imagined.

Who is to blame?

There are times when I don’t think there’s any point in blaming anyone at all.

— § —

And so, here it is—I am laying here writing in bed, just not the thing that I’m meant to be writing, that I want to be writing, that I know that I can write.

And there is nobody that I can blame but myself, just as there is nobody for the generation that raised me to blame for my lack of faith in them but themselves.

The collapse of our institions is part and parcel with all of this, and with the collapse of the novel.

We don’t do the things that we mean to do any longer, and we don’t hold anyone responsible any longer—including ourselves—because we no longer track any of these details anyway.

We track the metrics. The little things, the day-to-day, the relationships, the stories, none of it is stored anywhere. None of it matters.

It’s why we graduate worthless people these days. I was one of them and I taught a bunch more of them besides. All that matters is the data point. All that matters is the degree at the end.

So the moment-by-moment—the reading the actual texts, the knowing the actual canon, the being on an actual journey, the developing into an actual wise soul—it isn’t tracked anywhere, or observed anywhere, and there is nowhere for it to make sense.

Hell, if I was a wise man it wouldn’t make any sense to me because I don’t understand what a wise man is and I don’t know what to do with a wise man anyway.

What matters is the data point.

  • Did he get the degree?

  • Did he wake up at the right time in the morning?

  • Did he continue to earn a good salary?

  • Did he keep his kids out of prison?

Those are the only things that matter, or that anyone understands.

The color of the snow or the taste of the confection or the scent of pine on the air while the Christmas carols played—that’s all the bizarre, foreign stuff of memory and narrative and fiction.

And fiction is dead.

I know because I’m lying in bed on time for a change to avoid having to try to write in that alien tongue.

There is an inexplicable way in which reality is far more shaky than we make it out to be.  §

The most inscrutable dimension of the human experience is the separation that exists between lived reality and material reality—between the concrete, physical things and the feelings, emotions, and events that we experience as the biggest components of our lives—yet that are very often conceptual more conceptual in nature, strictly speaking, than we make them out to be.

— § —

You subscribe to a magazine. It’ll be a month or two before the first print issue arrives. Your interest in it is vague, but perhaps you’ve been meaning to take up windsurfing, or gardening, or whatever—and the magazine will help. Time passes. You forget.

You receive divorce papers—or maybe word of the death of a friend. You attend a custody hearing—or is it a funeral? The world falls apart. You spend days alone in grieving. You consider seeing a therapist. You wonder how you will go on. Finally, after days and days of deepening, darkening isolation, you finally put together the strength to drag yourself to the mailbox for the first time since it all happened.

And there is your windsurfing magazine. Or your gardening newsletter. The one you subscribed to all those weeks ago. You stare and stare at it.

Or you’re at home on a normal weekend. The laundry needs to be done and you do it. It takes so very long to dry the towels in the machine; you muse on the need for a new dryer. Finally you get them out. As you fold them, you absent-mindedly appreciate their warmth and softness. You stack the folded towels neatly in the linen closet.

A few days later, you’re in a car accident. Your car is totaled and you have to buy another one. There are insurance claims to deal with. The other party in the accident is in the hospital. There are claims and counterclaims. Several police conversations. Perhaps court dates are scheduled.

Meanwhile, you buy a new car. It’s very different from your old car, a big change and a large expense you hadn’t planned to have for another few years—maybe even another decade. The other party experiences significant complications. Now, they’re in need of a donor organ. Your life becomes a matter of intensive waiting for news about this other party, half your enemy, half your comrade in a strange kind of battle, and their quest to save their life.

You find yourself driving back and forth to the hospital in your new, strange car. Now you’ve made the trip four times in two days. You come home, red-eyed, full of bewilderment about the turn your life is taken. You go to shower. You open the closet.

There are your towels. Short days ago, you were trying to decide whether or not to buy a new dryer, then telling yourself it’s a needless luxury, because look—they’re beautiful and soft and fresh.

There they sit, nicely folded. You almost can’t pick one up. You can’t believe that they still exist. The fact of their presence in the closet, sitting there as if nothing had happened, makes the world seem insane.

— § —

In all my nearly forty-four years of life, this is the sensation that I still am most mystified by—that I simply can’t figure out and don’t know what to do with.

The sudden realization that the larger objective world has gone on its merry way as it always does even if your own little subjective universe has seen catastrophes and holocausts seemingly unbounded—and that the person that you were a few days or a few weeks before—a person whose story you know and whose activities you’re intimately familiar with—is nonetheless no longer you, but has passed on and is entirely dead.

You have somehow been born anew, a new person in new circumstances with a new future unimaginable to the previous you that no longer is.

It’s the strangest sensation on earth.

The problem with our society isn’t a lack of awareness or a lack of empathy, it’s a lack of surrender.  §

It’s impossible to calculate how many dollars circulate through the economy in service of the building of “awareness” about one issue or another—how many man hours are spent every year, every week, every day by skilled individuals whose dearest desire is to raise “awareness.” Awareness is everywhere; it’s a key prayer, the most beloved incantation, among the deepest desires of contemporary secular religion.

“Please, holistic universe of oneness, bring them all awareness. Let my eyes be uncovered; let me have awareness. Please ensure that all of us come to awareness. Please it be awareness and nothing else, awareness for all and forever, amen.”

— § —

What has all of the last thirty years of “awareness” done for anyone, though? Did “awareness” actually help anyone, with any particular issue. No.

More to the point, this is the information age. Anyone can distribute any message to millions. Everyone stands on every digital street corner not merely peddling but proselytizing to raise awareness of their particular, cause, issue, source of suffering, idea, catastrophe, etc.

We do not have a dearth of awareness.

Everyone is aware of everything. Every damned thing. It only took a year or two for every person in advanced industrial societies to receive “awareness” of every one of a billion distinct issues once “awareness” became part of the economy.

We’re all aware. We’re aware of the whales and the owls and the plastics in the ocean and the indigenous medicine men and the blacks and the latinos and the diseases and the natural disasters and the disabilities and the political crimes and the forms of discrimination and the queers and the veterans and the fallen heroes and the pesticides and the child labor and the spiritual suffering and the forgotten and the indigenous languages and the insulin and the fires and the workplace traumas and the same-sex marriages and the opiods and the genetic abnormalities and the agricultural adulterants and the refugees and the seniors and the underpaid teachers and the disappearing frogs and the overloaded social workers and the surplus waste and the needed safety standards and…

We’re all aware.

Some people have tried to overcome the stalemate by saying that it’s not an awareness deficit that we have, but a deficit of feelings, an “empathy gap.”

That’s bullshit. We all feel terrible. We feel terrible all the time. We suffer deeply. We cry and cry and drink and bemoan and editorialize and activize. Oh, we feel terrible. We’re full of empathy.

No.

— § —

What’s missing is simple.

Self-denial. We’d rather suffer through a thousand years of empathetic wailing than give up a single, tiny iota of our agency. Everything must be voluntaristic.

Our careers, our families, or communities, our religion, our laws—everything. Above and beyond anything and everything else is the basic value of agency. We’re only too happy to empathize, but we want to choose who we empathize with, then choose what we do about it (and, preferably, choose who is to do something about it, and what they are to do).

What’s missing is a key lack—a lack that we need to re-establish if we are to save our civilization, but one that I don’t believe we can re-establish, because all of public theology runs against it.

What we are missing is a lack of passivity.

To survive again, we must re-bind ourselves, re-link the chains, re-tie the ropes. We must lose our freedom. We must be constrained again by social norms, society-wide mores, legal structures, heavy responsibilities. Not rights. Not options. Not individual agency.

Individual agency is the form that our particular decadence has taken, and until we replace it with self-restraint—not self-control, not self-discipline, but self-sacrifice and self-restraint—we are on the short path to end times.

All that has to happen is for one person to cede all ground to his enemies—and for his enemies to then do exactly the same in return. That’s the entire metaphysical Judeo-Christian basis for the west and all that it has achieved. That we demure with civility to our enemies, instruct our children in this method, and ensure that one overriding social pressure exists: that everyone must give in whenever possible, at all times.

Activism won’t get us there. Policy won’t get us there. Awareness certainly won’t get us there. Only reciprocal surrender, with civility, gets us there. It’s also the least likely thing to happen at this stage of the game, despite how desperately simple and (ironically) just and equitable it is.

We’re all trapped in a giant game of The Prisoner’s Dilemma where the only way to win is to stand up and leave the game, but we won’t. We’re all embroiled in a tragedy of the commons—but the one thing we won’t do is the one thing that can save the commons: agree en masse to take none of it at all for our own part, and to do without—and to give it wholly to everyone else.

That’s all it takes—for everyone to simply choose to walk away. It’s both tiny and simple and catastrophically huge and inexplicable all at once.

Personal blogs have died because humanity, honesty, and actual freedom are dead.  §

Every now and then I think to myself, “Someday this blog is going to cost me. Big.”

And yet here it is. And I continue to post things. Honest things. Maybe not all of the things, but enough things.

Why?

There have been times when I’ve pulled it offline for a few months, maybe for a year. But it always goes back online. And the older I get, the more I think that it needs to be here.

Without wanting to sell myself to be more than I am, I still conceive of a place like this to be a bit like Václav Havel’s greengrocer’s window. There are so few places any longer to be honest. On left and on right, ideology has commandeered the world. On the left, you must be woke. On the right, you must be professional.

In our everyday lives, we are caught between these overlapping polarities. So long as you are to be gainfully employed, you must never say anything other than that which is “professional.” You have no feelings, no opinions. You are a machine. You are efficient. You show excellent judgment. You do not harbor grudges, or experience regrets, or frustrations. You are the smiling, inoffensive greeter-of-the-world. You represent your employer. Always. And so long as you expect to have a place in polite company, you must haver say anything other than that which is “woke.” Your religion is that of secular “emancipation.” The Christians are evil. The Muslims are good. The women are oppressed. The men are violent. The same-sex couples and gender transitioners are saints.

It’s not about whether these things are right or wrong, either in the abstract or for any one particular person. It’s that you must say them, say that you believe them, and say nothing else. Ever.

You must not express a contrary opinion. You must not admit that you feel pain, that you have bad days. You must not talk about little personal eccentricities, foibles, mistakes.

No, I don’t put myself at the level of the anti-totalitarian hero, standing in front of the tanks. I don’t have that much courage. Nor am I that foolish. But I do believe that there is a moral imperative for someones—and one of them may as well be me—to openly be human in public. That’s what this is.

Every time I take it down, I regret it. I feel as though I am lying to the world, and to myself. And that is not acceptable. And so it comes back.

But someday, it’s going to cost me.

Big.

Every pirate retires at some point—you can’t stay at sea forever.  §

For over twenty years I have been living a life of big risks and middling rewards, with an inbuilt candle-at-both-ends requirement and less than zero margin for error.

I’m tired. I’m very tired.

What I’ve really come to this week is that I’d like to stop now.

Not sure where I go from here.

— § —

— § —

For what it’s worth, I’ve had so many moments of absolutely crippling sadness. Longing and pain that literally takes breath away, that makes breathing impossible, leaves a person gasping for air and pulse swinging erratically between fatally absent and fatally explosive. Hell, the other day at the gym I could barely stand up. And I wasn’t exercising. I was watching others do it while struggling not to collapse under the existential weight of being.

Oh yes. Moments, days, even weeks of utter desolation. Not looking people in the eyes because you just don’t have anything to give them.

People ask why guys don’t share these things.

We don’t share them because it doesn’t fucking matter. Sharing them makes nothing better.

Tragedy. Tell friend. Tragedy remains. They can’t fix it for you. Nobody can fix it for you. You’re not eight any longer. Those days are gone. Only you can fix it for you. Others rely on you—not the other way around. That is what it is to be a man.

The telling—the telling is just more of a scarce resource to spend.

Want to know why guys have a shot of whiskey late at night and look off into the distance?

It’s because in their deepest self, they are dying a slow and painful death yet again.

So that they can get up and do it again tomorrow.

It’s such a loss that women don’t understand men any longer—find them to be inscrutable, hate them, even. Hell, men don’t understand men any longer. But don’t let anyone tell you that we don’t have any feelings. We just stand up and do what we have to do in spite of them—for as long as we can, as tall as we can, until we die prematurely, which is what statistically we do.

FWIW.

Do one thing every day that’s hard—but maybe find what you love first.  §

“Do at least one thing every day that’s hard—that you don’t want to do.”

“Successful people never quit just because the going gets tough.”

Those are the things that I heard growing up, and I internalized them. They’ve served me reasonably well, I have to say. I’ve said “yes” to a lot of things in my life that I wasn’t sure I could do. In fact, I’m still not sure that I can do them, despite having done them.

I wrote a pile of books for major publishers that were translated into a pile of languages and wound their way into a pile of libraries. I went to the University of Utah and did a double major. Then I went to the University of Chicago and got a masters degree, then to the New School for Social Research and did a Ph.D in sociology. I taught a bunch of different courses, over years and years, at a bunch of different campuses. I edited big encyclopedias on world history with dozens of volumes and hundreds of contributing authors, all doctors themselves. I became a senior communications and public relations manager, then a marketing director. Did television and radio. Became a father. Filed for divorce and fought a custody battle. Last couple of years, I’ve taken up taekwondo and worked my way up to a couple colors away from black belt and I’ve learned to rebuild my own car engine, remediate asbestos-contaminated areas safely, and redo plumbing and interiors.

I had no business doing any of these things, but I did them. I had no formal training in any of them before I did them, but I did them. I was never the A-list candidate, the obvious gonna-be-a-success, but I took them on and by god, I did them. I said “yes” even when I thought it was likely that I was going to fail, or even when they seemed insurmountable, or even when the costs and pain involve were likely to be huge. Often, the costs and pain were huge.

But they’ve all been done. To successful completion. By me.

This is a blog post, by the way, about Kobe Bryant. No, I’m not comparing my achievements to his; obviously they’re apples and oranges (and, in fact, some very large apples and some comparatively very average oranges).

When I heard about the helicopter crash, I was driving across a suburban parking lot on my way to buy groceries. I stopped, mid-parking lot, and just sat there, thinking.

In the days following the crash, I’ve heard one thing over and over again: Kobe loved basketball. He found something that he loved and he lived that love, lived it body and soul, achieved greatness and didn’t care because it was love. Simple love.

— § —

I’ve done a lot of hard things.

It’s second nature in my life now: every day, I do something that I don’t want to do. Something hard. It’s a rallying cry, even. I see something that I don’t want to do but that maybe could stand to be done, that maybe is the right thing, and I say to myself: that’s why I have to do it—because I don’t want to.

And then I do it. The fact that it’s hard is, precisely and directly, motivation for me. I do it.

Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but all in all it’s led me to climb from lower-middle class kid in a poor minority neighborhood with no particular prospects to multiply-published author, doctor, former professor, boss, single father with reasonably well-adjusted kids, and a bunch of other stuff. All in all, yes, I’m proud of what I’ve done in life.

But—what do I love?

What’s my basketball?

There’s never been a love. I have never once, ever, in all of this, done something that I love. The closest I’ve ever come was probably at about ten years old, learning how to code in C. Before almost everything else. And I can’t really even say that I loved that—but at least I enjoyed it.

The rest?

The rest has been doing hard stuff, because it was hard stuff. Taking it on, stumbling through, coming out the other end “triumphant” having succeeded and—quite often—silenced some naysayer or other.

That was enough, for a very long time. But now, I’m about to turn forty-four years old.

Life is finally in the process of passing me by, as it does to everyone. I have a kid that’s about to become a tween. My body is starting to give out—if I’d left this taekwondo stuff for another five years, it would have killed me. (In fact, it may still do so.)

— § —

I didn’t realize how much I admired Kobe Bryant until I was sitting quietly in that parking lot, stunned at the news. I sat there for maybe a full ten minutes in silence. Part of me caught under the weight of the moment, part of me wondering just why it seemed so weighty to me.

I’m not a basketball fan. I’m not really even a sports guy, and when I do do sports, it’s football, and then because it’s my alma mater.

Here’s the thing. I admired him so because he was the world’s purest embodiment of—in a state of direct unity with—that which he loved.

I realize only now how captivating that was to me. And that I knew, as everyone knew—without a moment’s thought—that he wore his love everywhere he went. He wasn’t just good at what he did, he reveled in it. He savored it. He lived it, breathed it.

Me? I’m just doing shit because it’s hard. As I’ve been doing all along, for dozens of years.

But what do I love?

Years and years ago, before all of the things in my life happened, my father asked me what it was that I loved to do. I told him then that I didn’t know. I couldn’t answer. He warned me that that just wasn’t going to be enough. He was right.

All these years later, I still don’t know.

What, pray, do I love?

It’s time for me to be doing that. If only I knew what it was.

— § —

I’m forty-four years old. Time’s a wastin’.

In American life, few actual people remain.  §

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it—just how shallow and lost everyone is in American society today.

Read the articles. Watch the television ads. Look closely at the smiles. They obscure empty souls. These people are ciphers miming the performance of human being.

You feel pity for them. Pity and revulsion.

Removing the child locks is something you’ll likely only do once in your life.  §

My daughter is sitting in the living room assembling a Lego set while singing a tune. The set has nearly 1,000 pieces. It isn’t presenting much of a challenge. She’s cheerful and full of melody as she works.

My son, he’s in the other room reading a book. A thick book, with words. Lots of words. A thick book.

I didn’t tell them to do these things.

— § —

We began the morning by de-decorating.

Okay, actually we began the morning with the handoff. Dad drives to mom’s house. The kids are finishing breakfast. There is chat. Everyone is pleasant. They get up from the table and put on their clothes. We all tell jokes. We talk about our pets, and about literature. Mom asks dad about work. Dad asks mom about comic books when she was a child.

It’s all normal. The kids are as comfortable as any kids anywhere. Eventually, they get dressed. We all get into dad’s car and we drive back to dad’s house.

Dad gets down to de-decorating. They help out here and there. At length, they drift into their own activities, happy and content.

— § —

Around the holidays, this old house becomes laden with hooks. You know the ones—they’re made by some plastic company or other, and they have foam pads on the back with which you stick them to walls.

The idea is that they’re easy to remove—you pull on the foam pad, which extends just a bit beyond the hooks, and slowly, slowly they stretch. Then, suddenly, snap! They’re off the wall.

The stockings and their hooks—down. The wreaths and bells and their hooks—down. The hooks remaining on the ceiling from October’s Hallowe’en decorations—down. One by one, the hooks of the fall and late year seasons come down, and another year is retired.

— § —

Without thinking much about what I was doing after the final hook, I moved a yard to the left and began to fidget with the foam on other plastic attachments—not quite hooks—on closet doors. The cleaning closet. Then, the bathroom cabinet.

These bits of plastic didn’t have little foam tabs extending outward from behind them, but these days I carry a Swiss Army knife with me and while absent-mindedly hearing my daughter sing and not hearing my son quietly read, I wedged the blade in and cut through the foam adhesive pads holding them to the doors.

They popped off and I began using my fingers to rub and scrape off the residue, bit by bit. It came away cleanly.

“That was easier than I thought it would be,” I said to myself.

Then, I stopped and looked at the doors, and at my hands.

— § —

These last items for removal, they are the child locks.

You know the ones—they keep little crawlers from opening the doors that lead to cleansers, and bleaches, and toilet brushes. They close things. They create strange spaces that no longer properly exist within the comfort of a home, send them outside time, into the future, to some unknown day in the future, in fact, when such locks will no longer be needed and the spaces in question will return, with a kind of redemption, as though they’d never gone.

That day is, apparently, today.

For years and years—eight of them, I suppose—those locks have been there, always. They became invisible, an unquestioned part of the business of the everyday, like air or the floor underneath you.

I hadn’t noticed their existence in years.

Now, suddenly, they’re gone.

It’s time for them to be gone, after all. No one has been stopped by them for ages and ages. I mean, the kids don’t crawl any longer. Crawling is this hazy memory, like something from another life. No, they walk. They ride bicycles. They make themselves sandwiches and vacuum their own bedroom.

— § —

At the outset—of your own life, and of theirs—early childhood is forever.

At the other end, it’s done. It passes, unseen and unheard, into an unsettled genre of legend.

My children have had a wonderful childhood and a terrible one. They have been blessed and they have been cursed. Loving parents—who divorced. First-world plenty—marred by the excess and strange kids of discipline that come from having to maintain two sets of everything, from having to remember which winter coat and hat belong at mom’s house and which coat and hat belong at dad’s house.

Their early childhoods have been times and places of very real happiness, and very real pain.

But what is now most real of all is the fact of them. Their early childhoods are concrete, completed. Facts. Not environs. Not possibilities. Not futures yet to be written.

— § —

Whatever we as parents may have intended, our children have had their early childhoods and finished with them.

Their completed reality is a reality of divorce, of multiple homes, of strained conversations and of many wonderful moments always marked nonetheless by a strange surplus of people in them and too little time to live them before the two most important adults in their lives need to separate once again—and go in unavoidably different directions.

It’s all done with; it’s all just memory now. It is what it unquestionably was. That is a bewildering reality to sit with, to take in.

— § —

I took the child locks down, every single one of them, and threw them in the waste bin under the kitchen sink, just like that.

Just like that.

I can’t say the house looks any different at a glance. These little details of life aren’t the sort of thing that busy adults notice.

Reality marches on, undeterred and unsentimental.

— § —

The Lego set has been completed. She’s built a series of three birds with little plaques showing their scientific names in binomial nomenclature. My daughter quietly took them and put them on the mantlepiece above the fireplace, and moved on to other activities.

My son is still reading because the book is a long one.

Conversion stories and the heights of trees, living and dead.  §

I started this blog so very, very long ago.

It’s difficult to remember the person I was then, the things I was going through, the ways I felt about them. I know that it began in a period of deep pain, and deep loneliness.

I know that it has sustained me through many such periods. I’m not sure why it should have been a blog rather than any one or several particular person(s) that should have been my haven all these years. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m an introvert—that when I interact with other people, it is never a transparent thing, never automatic, but rather a process, an active engagement in the doing of a thing. Socializing for me is never intuitive, even when I do it well.

I don’t know.

I do know that it’s still here.

Today for the first time I had serious thoughts about starting a vlog. I’m not ready to do it just yet. Maybe I never will be. But I had the thought, and for a moment, the impulse. That’s new. We’ll see.

— § —

I’m fighting. Myself, mostly. I’ve been engaged in this battle for (two? three?) years now. It shows no signs of letting up.

The battle is a metaphysical one, in a way. It’s about what I believe, and about who I will be. It’s about faith and the future and the past and all of the things. All of them.

I fight alone. I suppose the argument could be made that this is a choice. The argument could also be made that it’s a matter of necessity, or even ontology. I don’t know which argument is right. That is, in fact, the crux of many things in my life right now—I don’t know which way is right.

Yes, yes, I know all of the things. All of the advices from all of the persons about all of the thinking and strugglings. To ask others’ opinions. To consult great works. To pray. To look at the stars and imagine yourself to be startdust. And so on.

It doesn’t matter which of these things is the right thing to do. It’s difficult, in any case. It’s lonely. I am lonely—and it is not the kind of loneliness that can be overcome by engaging with others.

It is the loneliness of being on a difficult road that one is compelled to walk. The loneliness of facing the music, of instantiating by empirical obligation the consequences of one’s own being and self.

What am I even talking about? What nonsense, no? And yet—

and yet…

— § —

I live in my dead grandparents’ home. In it I have hanging on the walls the words of my other dead grandparents. I keep the memory of dead friends with me. I have the ashes of dead pets still sitting, un-dealt-with, in my kitchen (how sanitary). Here I am writing on a blog that exhibits in its depths multiple dead versions of myself.

The time, it passes.

The pine tree in front of the house was just a sapling when we arrived. Back then, it was a “we.” Now, it’s just I. Our stay here was to be temporary. Now, my stay here seems of indeterminate length. All of the things are gone. The marriage is gone. The academic career is gone. The pets of that time are gone. The plans for the future are gone. Many of the old friendships are gone.

That self is gone.

The tree, the tree is now twice as tall as the house. It towers over us. Meanwhile, the other tree, the one in the back yard—the one that I climbed on as a child many years ago, sitting in the branches, eating the cherries—the one that would live forever—is gone. I oversaw its end.

I’ve overseen so many ends.

Forty years is a long time. It’s a very long time. I am seeing my body gradually decay. Not only am I unable to do the things that I used to do; I am also unable to enjoy the easy comfort—which I never once noticed for the first several decades of my life—that used to be like the air in the room, but that is also now gone.

It’s all gone.

That is the nature of things. The nature of things is to be gone.

— § —

For three years now I’ve been on the path toward Catholicism. Much of the time, I don’t want to be. I can’t make head or tails of why or how this has become a thing.

For so many years, I was a committed atheist. Now—now this.

I haven’t told anyone. I have started on many occasions to tell my ex-wife, as a matter of courtesy and integrity, and fallen short. If I’m tremendously unlucky, she’ll see this before I manage to raise the issue and I’ll know myself forever to be a coward for being unable to tell her before it turned up on my blog.

It’s a frightening thing, this compulsion that I fight against. This is not the age for such things. I may as well have just said that I’m on the way to becoming a heretic, and a traitor, and a criminal. This is not an age that is friendly to Catholics, or to any Christians.

There is also the small problem of belief. Which is itself a distinct component of my loneliness. After all, when you have the inkling that you’re about to make a choice that the world increasingly rejects, the first thing that your fellow travelers on the path to the Wrong Side of Things ask is what led you to belief.

Imagine their consternation at your explanation that you can’t even honestly say yet that you believe—that you don’t know why you’re here or what you’re doing, yet here you are anyway.

Do I believe? I wish I did.

Instead, I have the worst of both worlds. I am properly a member of neither guild, of neither faction, and perhaps an enemy to both. I vex members of the church of the secular by threatening to defect. I vex members of the church of the holy by saying, as I am doing it, that I cannot promise after all that I am one of them, or that I believe in the cause.

Who am I? Who, for God’s sake, am I?

I am the one who stands under the very tall tree, and says, with a feeling that can’t at all be put into words—even a thousand or two of them—”You used to be a sapling, didn’t you, when we got here? That was the other me, of course, back then, with the other life. But I suppose there’s a symmetry in that because that was also the other you.”

And then, I am the one who stands in silent communion with the tree as we reflect on just how absurd and lonely and confusing reality can be.

— § —

So why?

Why all of this, by God?

Because it is inevitable. Because despite long-held convictions, I cannot deny the metaphysical contours of being that increasingly seem to inhabit every corner of everyday life for me. You can only deny for so long before you realize that if you continue, you are denying yourself for having rejected the unmotivated conclusions of your own faculties.

Because affinities. Because at some point in your life, once you’re done being young and naive, you wake up and realize that you want to be with others of your own kind. And you look around and try to see, amidst the fog—”Where are the people that value what I value?”

And then, once you’ve spotted them, you aspire to join them.

The doing, however—the doing is more difficult than it seems.

— § —

The tree, however, remains tall, whatever else is true.

The tree is tall and the air contains the whispers of every truth that can’t be told, whether you believe any of them or not.

The air, in its generosity and grace, will provide you with life whether or not you thank it adequately.

But if you have any integrity, at some point you’ll do so. Even if you have to do it alone.

Brexit, Trump, Populism, Divided Societies, Star Wars, and the Western Malaise.  §

The last two Star Wars franchise films are the Rosetta Stone that tells you everything you need to know in order to understand (1) why the West appears to be at war with itself, (2) why Trump and Brexit happened, and (3) why there seems to be such a lack of understanding amongst the administrative class about the reasons for these things.

Note these two images.


What do you see here?

The point? The literati and the elites have fundamentally different tastes, values, and and relationships with reality and meaning than do members of the public. Now there’s no inherent problem with difference—but if one party to the difference is always “above” the other, in status, in income, in practical rights, in mobility, and so on—then you’re going to have discord and push-back on your hands.

Any questions?

Once everyone was a comedian. Now everyone’s a preacher.  §

Media today is completely unconsumable.

Look around at any medium. Print. Television. Radio. Online journalism. Social media. It’s all the same. It’s:

  • Banal

  • Insipid

  • Pointless

  • Naval-gazing

  • Moralistic

The last one deserves a special mention, because it’s so unbearable. Literally every piece of content in every medium on every platform is preaching at you.

Preaching at you.

It’s always some lonely hipper-than-thou righteousness auteur speaking in that NPR documentary voice trying to convince you of either your own sins or someone else’s sins, and working hard to assert, somewhere underneath it all, that You Had Better Do The Right Thing, which is of course precisely what said auteur would prefer. But of course for nobody any longer is anything mere personal preference, because the personal is political—so all matters are matters of justice.

Whether or not you like the same drinks as me is a matter of justice. Whether or not you wear the same pants as me is a matter of justice. My favorite color and my favorite holidays are matters of justice. And ethics. And morality.

All of these people—all of them—ought to be shot. It’s disgusting. It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. It’s a waste of skin.

The culture is a cesspit of narcissism and self-indulgence masquerading as religion masquerading as media.

People, just go to church. You all make fun of it but it’s so infinitely more moral that your Atlantic videos, neusitcoms, and “creative nonfiction pieces” in the New Yorker. In other words, *uck you all, and the more literate or media-savvy you are, the more *uck you all I express.

Take me to the river. Drown me in the water.  §

The story is told of a man who read religiously the best books from the best public minds offering the best advice to people who aspired, as he did, to be the best.

The books told him to eliminate from his life anyone that was toxic. He proceeded to act upon this advice, and only at length began to realize that he had only ever known toxic people and was now alone.

The books told him to discard any possessions that did not bring him joy. He proceeded to act upon this advice and at length came to realize that he now owned nothing at all.

The books told him to waste no time at any task that was not in some way in furtherance of “his passion.” He proceeded to act upon this advice only to realize, once bone-idle and consumed with inertia, that in fact he had no particular passion nor any idea what such might even be.

It was at this point, or thereabouts, that it occurred to him that all of the “best” people who had written such “best” books were in fact akin to those people encountered in public parks who, being well made up and dressed in conspicuously expensive fitness gear, do yoga loudly for the eyes and ears of whomever might happen to be walking by, and who afterward say loudly to no one in particular and at the same anyone who will listen,

“Wooo! That was an amazing session! I still don’t know whether I prefer Glacéau or Fiji but I do know that my vegan, gluten-free cupcakes are going to be a huge hit at the HRC-sponsored reiki party later on!”

Beyond this point, the story diverges into a number of different variations, each equally apocryphal.