- What censorship means when, putatively at least, everyone has an internet connection?
- How Ray Bradbury both imagined the future and feared it.
- Is facism different when largely practiced by ordinary people rather than mandated from authority?
- Censorship as a class issue.
This is me in 2006.
I turn 40 years old today. This is what I look like now.
The difference here is around 50 pounds, or about 8 large college textbooks. I used to weigh 20 pounds more than that but I don't have any pictures from that time. When someone holding a camera would yell "Everybody look over here!" I'd leave the room. Photos from that time that did catch me were immediately rounded up and destroyed.
As of today I weigh 185 pounds, 70 lbs less than I did in my late 20s. I've long passed out of the range of my size being a health hazard, a dark promise to future me that I'd be living a shorter, more painful life as I aged. 185 had been a goal my trainer and I set at the beginning of the summer, to be reached by Aug. 1st. When I reported my victory, he geared our entire Aug. 1 workout around a 70 lbs. kettle bell. We finished with me carrying it, like a pail of sand, around the building.
A pail of sand weighs less than 70 lbs. This was more like 7 medium-sized bowling balls out for a walk. Those bowling balls used to be part of me, rolling under my the skin of chest, resting below my chin and under my eyes, assuring me, according to one doctor that the weekly occasions when I'd wake up unable to breathe would get worse and one day, could be fatal.
I did not do this for the noblest of reasons. Of course I wanted to be healthier, to not pant climbing a staircase, fall ill twice a month or sweat while standing still. Just as much I wanted to buy clothes without having to place special orders, have an easier time attracting women, and watch a movie without thinking everyone who looks like me ended up falling into a swimming pool or slow-clapping while the thinner hero made out with the pretty heroine.
And I didn't want to be scared of food. I love to eat, everything about it, around it, in anticipation of it. That will not change nor did I think it should. If food were only supposed to be glorified energy suplements, then clothing should only be glorified blankets and homes only glorified rainflys to keep out stormy weather. Food is a basic joy of life. Which means eating should be a both a joy in the present but not one that robs joy from the future.
There's no magic for what I did. I ate slow enough to know when I was full, then stopped and learned to see leftovers as the chance to eat a great meal twice. I stayed away from bread, grains and any other food than made me feel physically worse after eating it. Eating something tasty knowing you'd feel sick later is like buying a new car then throwing yourself out of it on the freeway. Every other food I said yes to but learned say "It'll be here tomorrow" and stop after two bites. I'd try not to eat out too many nights in a row. I considered exercise anything that kept me moving between 40 minutes and an hour. I drank water, didn't do drugs nor consume alcohol. Which came easier for me than most people. I haven't been interested in drinking for a long time now. When I had a special occasion coming up I ate as one does during a special occasion then booked time at the gym the following morning.
None of this should surprise you. Nor will it when I say that losing weight is not the answer to life's problems nor any promise of happiness. Look out any window and you will see average weight miserable people, fulfilled large people, the anxious skinny, the inspiring fat and every possible combination in between. Life's great challenge is to have the body you have be the truest representation of your mind and heart acting in union. The shape of that is your business.
Kevin at 255 lbs was an angry, self-righteous wounded person, a young man who used his large size to explain away why he couldn't achieve what we wanted and why that was everyone else's fault. My weight was not a simply matter of the parts I came with. It was a living, growing, aching manifestion of how certain I was everyone else got to be happy but me.
I needed to get far happier before I could do any of this, just to get out of my own way. I didn't have the fufilling career, the wonderful marriage, the unyielding support of friends and family back then the way I have it now. But I had enough to know that living that way wasn't what I was meant for, that by being this defensive, embittered person, I was not only consigning myself to sadness but laying waste to my own life in front of everyone who cared about me. I did it just as much as a thank you to them for caring when I clearly did not.
There's another way to go now. I'd like my body to reach newer athletic heights I never thought it would in middle age. I don't have any secret desire about competiting in a triathalon or something like that but living at my physical potential is a gift I didn't know I'd have and don't intend to let pass. I'd like to dance more, which I've loved doing since I was a child but always embarassed me. If you don't get that, try not giggling the next time you see a fat white guy bust a move.
Most importanly, I'm planning on living a good long time, thanks very much. And to do so, in pride and not shame, in gratitude instead of indignation, as this me, instead of some disfigured imposter ashamed of me.
If I can do this, it is all the birthday present I need. It is the gift that will keep on giving for the rest of my life.
This is me at 40. The real me. Forever. And now.
This is what a sheep looks like if it doesn't get shorn for 6 years. Enough wool to have made 20 men's suits. (via Fark).
Lots of weird things are names after U.S. Presidents including extinct lizards. Below is an artists rendering of an Obamadon, recently discovered, long gone and named after President Obama. (via NPR)
It's Joseph Mitchell's birthday today. Mitchell wrote for the New Yorker for nearly 60 years between 1938 and his death in 1996, chronicling the weird, forgotten corners of New York City as no one has before or since. His collection Up in the Old Hotel should be required reading for every aspiring nonfiction writer (via The Book Maven).
I have defended the tech industry (which has employed me, well, at times) and my chosen home to many a non-believer but this article, combined with several others lately, I fear is turning me cynical.
I hate being cynical. Cynicism means I'm lazily naysaying because to actually think the argument through makes me uncomfortable. Cynicism, to my mind, is for chumps.
That said, I can't ignore that bad feeling in my stomach, that the unparalleled success and cultural dominance of technology is coming at the expense of something. And I'm not talking about video stores, or the Yellow Pages or answering machines. I have no nostalgia for a less efficient way of delivering information/art/culture. Instead I wonder if the values it extols are blinding us to others, others that run counter to ideas like efficiency, speed and "disruption."
Put in a really, really dumb way: "What will your average successful software engineer/entrepreneur do when his best friend's mother dies of cancer?" I promise you the answer has nothing to do with speed, efficiency or disruption. It has to do with patience, uninterrupted time and giving someone you love hours upon days of your full attention as the world rolls on by without your participation for the time being. There's already been an app designed for this. It's called "Being Human."
I only learned this with age and maturity so maybe it comes to all of us eventually. Nor do I think the values we practice at work must mirror those we practice at home (Andrew Carnegie sure treated his kids different than he treated his competitors). But I also doubt we can be totally compartmentalized forever. Much of life is simply not elegant, efficient, frictionless or well-designed. A lot of it could be better. But those probably aren't the standards by which we should be judging our human relationships, our psychological and spiritual development, our place in the continuum of the human story. All of that stuff is messy on purpose. The messy part is called "being human."
Same dumb example: When the time comes, as it will for him, and for everyone, will Mark Zuckerberg and all who look up to him, know how to grieve, how to be present, how to sit with a sick person for hours at a time? Will they know how to comfort a scared kid during a thunderstorm? How to hold someone they love as they weep? Will they know how to be real instead of being better than?
Full attention is what makes us human. In this brave new world, Must we give ourselves time to learn that? Or do we no longer feel like we have to?
My POV 15 minutes before I went on KQED's Forum, the most listened to public affairs program in the region.
Afterward: Forgot to take a photo. Was craving the second half of that scone I did not finish.
I think I did ok. But you tell me.
Wow! Practical Classics has been out exactly two months. Thanks to a little bit of touring and a ton of support from you, sales are steady and continuing to climb. We've gotten some nice press in the LA Times, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post and, eh, my first time on morning television.
I've given myself until the beginning of June for this initial push which means there's still quite a bit of work left to go. Here's where else I'll be this spring.
May 3-5: Boston (at the Muse & the Marketplace Writers Conference)
May 6: River Run Books (Portsmouth, NH. 45 minutes from Boston)
May 8: Book Passage (Corte Madre, CA)
May 23rd: Kepler's Books (Menlo Park, CA)
So it was an ordinary Thursday and I was on my way to the gym when I stopped to check email. Waiting there was an email from a producer for the NPR show Talk of the Nation asking if I'd like to come on the show and talk about my book Practical Classics (coming out next month) and rereading books from high school as an adult.
90 minutes later, I was speeding across town, a nervous wreck. 2 hours later I was set up in a dark room at KQED public radio, San Francisco, looking into a darker control room with host Neal Conan, live from Washington DC speakng into my right ear.
I look this photo from my perch at the studio. I've no idea why its sideways. Probably because that's how I felt.
I'm told the interview went well. Listen and judge for yourself. As important, I followed a segment on political unrest in Algeria and another about a horrifying rape case in India. If nothing else, I was the after dinner mint to a very heavy meal.
I was honored to be included in The Million's Year in Reading 2012. Every year, the online magainze The Millions asks authors to speak to what they've been writing that year. The neat part is you don't have to speak to a book that is brand new or on everyone's minds. Just whatever stood out in your year of munching through the stacks.
Let us ignore that I was that idiot in 10th grade who wore a red earflap hat and trenchcoat for a few weeks because Holden Caufield “understood me” and move to this: How many siblings does Mr. Caufield have? We all remember younger sister Phoebe and probably older brother DB, the one working as a screenwriter out west. But do you remember Holden’s younger brother Allie, who has died recently when the novel opens? In a pivotal scene — the one right before he meets Phoebe at the Natural History Museum — he is wandering Park Avenue, lonesome and heartbroken, and each block reciting “Please Allie, don’t let me die.”
- My whole entry.
- The entire Year in Reading list. With entries by writers like Susan Orlean, Chris Ware, And Jeffrey Eugenides.
I’ve never believed music festivals are just for the zealots, young punks who have to mash themselves against the lip of the stage or dress in “festival fashions”. Festivals are for all of us who love music, love it enough to want to be there as its happening, even if being there gives us sore feet and headaches more than it used to. Multi-act festivals are inherently more democratic than single-acts shows. As long as you love music, you’re invited. But if 9 hours of standing up amid the elements is a bit intimidating, that’s fine. You just have to be a little bit squarer, a little more prepared, a grownup about it. So you can have as much fun as the kids.
I’ve put together what I’ve called a Mix-Tape of preparedness. Listen. Then rock on.
Side 1: Before
I. Communicate Expectations. You’re probably going to this festival with someone else. Unless that someone else is a cyborg duplicate, you and your pals will not all want to see the same acts. At a mid-sized festival (think 30-50 bands at an Outside Lands, a Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo) it’s highly unlikely. At a giant festival (The “world’s largest music festival” Milwaukee’s Summerfest had 700 bands last year. SXSW Music had nearly 3 times that many), it’s a mathematical impossibility. And whatever their taste, your friends reasons for attending will be at least somewhat different than yours too.
So who are these good people and how do they approach such things? Do they like to stay all day or see three acts and go home? Are they looking for a sampler platter of music or a binge on one genre? Do they have a must-see band or are they mostly along for the experience? Remember the advantage of being a bit older is that you and your friends have some experience to fall back on, some war stories about great shows and one’s you just as soon forget.
Have a pre-conference jawbone with coffee, or booze or my choice, lavish desserts. Ask about everyone’s skin in the game and don’t be afraid to show your own.
Now having a meeting about concert going might sound about as hip as bringing a life jacket to a waterpark. But believe me, this meeting thing is about maximizing fun and not throwing a wet blanket over it. Showing up with everyone wanting different things is asking for an argument midday with everyone running off in different directions. Which sucks. Then why did you go together at all?
II. Listen. Prep.
We’ve been around enough to know that festival going ain’t just about seeing your favorite bands but discovering new favorites too. We also know that going in cold may be the easiest but not best way to do that. We music junkies are already hooked up six ways from yesterday to streaming services, music blogs, favorite radio programs. We’ve got two raised-fistfuls of ways to discover new music without ever leaving the house. Doing the same with 300$ festival tickets and a weekend of your life is lighting birthday candles with a flamethrower.
Read the festival lineup. Make a quick three column list of must-sees, could sees and never-heard-of-em’s. Compare it with your friends lists. Now take your “don’t knows” and their “must sees”, plug them into the online music service of your choice and listen. Give an artist two songs and pass judgement. Now redo your lists, based on what you’ve heard. There’s your potential new favorites list, ready and waiting.
III. Compare Notes.
Any festival worth its hype has a place on its website to create your ideal schedule and share it with a friend. Do this with your friends and bring it to the meeting. Show them your schedule and include when you’d like to arrive, leave and eat meals. Again, not very “rock n roll” right? But is isn’t any more "rock n’ roll" going to a great set of shows and only remembering how hungry or tired you were and wondering where the hell the john was. A little planning gets rid of distractions and lets you focus on the music. And face facts. We aren’t 19 anymore. Our body and its stupid complaints are more distracting than they should be.
IV. Weed out.
Not the green, fragrant kind (we’ll get to that) but the process of elimination. Every festival has its own set of physical conditions (outside/inside, raucous/intimate) and some bands just aren’t suited to them. You aren’t doing yourself as a fan or them as an artist any favors seeing them at a show where their music has to battle circumstance. So skip the solo guy playing the guitar at the giant summer outdoor stage or the 19-piece afro-percussion band inside the 900 square foot club with tin walls. If the musicians are any good and you don’t live in the middle of nowhere, they’ll be back around soon and you can see them where the music, not the setting, is primary.
Side 2: At the festival
I. Suiting up. Each of us is old enough to probably remember the pre-giant music festival days where the only entertainment were the bands. Nowadays, a festival is a event unto itself where the audience are just as much a part of the show. Which means you might feel tempted to dress in something fun even outrageous, befitting the occasion.
To which I say “enjoy” but don’t feel like you must. Much more important are comfortable shoes (see “Standing Up. Hours of it.”), layers to get warmer/cooler, a small over- the-shoulder-bag for water, earplugs, keys, flask, bus pass etc. Think of fashion here as utilitarian first. Wear a papel robe if you'll have a better time doing it. Otherwise, you want to focus on the music. And clothes that make you uncomfortable are a distracting pain in the rear.
III. Easy on the booze. Off the drugs. None of us just fell off the the 10th grade turnip truck. We’d had the “I got bombed at that show” experience 100 times and no one is impressed with those stories anymore. A 22 year old knackered at a concert is be expected. A grown adult with a job and two nickels of dignity to rub together is pathetic.
Put the shit down. Have a few drinks, a hit of whatever. But no more than a normal weekend’s amount because you’ve probably been excited about this festival for months now making it the furthest thing from a normal weekend.
Then why not celebrate you say? Use your head. You really need to juice up dozens of bands, thousands of people, something as amazing as a music festival with MORE STIMULATION? Then you’re an ADD kindergardener and let me suggest a weekend detox with Yo Gabba Gabba. On mute. In the dark.
V. Sit down if you need to.
Yes, really. No one cares. No one is going to give you a not-rocking-out demerit. We are years past the point of anyone’s “cred” being in question? What are your friends doing this weekend? Putting up storm windows?
VI. Communicate. Repeating from Side 1. Honest communication makes for good festival going. If you’re tired, say so. If you’re hungry, tell your friends and go eat. Don’t whine of course but also don’t think that not listening to your body is being a good sport or a more dedicated fan. It’s stupid. You’ll be in much better shape to do all of that if your body isn’t yelling at you. And you’ll be a better festival buddy if you’re on acting like passive aggressive by not saying what you need.
That includes going home. When you’re done or feeling like the end is coming, say so. Then discuss. And keep right at the front of your mind that music is eternal and wonderful and everything great in life but so is friendship. Don’t knock over one for the other.
I. Day after. You’ll probably be sore and tired. I wouldn’t book time at the gym, a day at the playground with your kids or plan to work late. Think of it as the day after a long flight. Go as easy as you can.
II. Follow-up. I love this part almost as much as the festival itself. If you heard anything you liked at this festival you liked, download some tracks immediately, book time at the nearest record store and put your discoveries in regular listening rotation. That way for at least a week or so, every time you fire up your music library, you’re reminded of the fun you had the festival. The festival then has a comet tail. It’s a complete waste to spent all this time and money and energy planning, getting excited and attending something that you, effectively, forget right after its over.
You’re going to be tired, no doubt. But hopefully tired and happy and ready to share in your joy. Upload your photos and share them. Tell a few friends about the great new bands you experience. Make what you experienced part of your life instead of a memory. Which, hey, is why we love music so much to begin with.
I spent this past weekend as a guest of the Idea Festival, a 10 year-old meeting of great ideas, world-class thinkers and performers in Louisville, KY. I spoke at the event in 2006, when it was much smaller and concepts like "social media" (my topic) were new. This fall, I, along with Cariwyl Hebert of Salon97 and writer Jeff Rider and co-founder of Longform, Max Linsky were invited to cover the festival on social media channels. Though guests of the festival, our coverage was, by mutual agreement, editorially independent.
Here were my takeaways.
- Little Bets. Venture Capitalist Peter Sims spoke of the chief ideas in his new book "Little Bets: How Breakthrough Idea Emerge from Small Discoveries," namely how in both business and creativity, success comes from many small risks you can afford to lose and not minimizing the possibility of error. Examples Sims cited include The Onion headline process (600 written for 12 selected), stand-up comedy (hundreds of hours of lousy material and bad sets in putting together, say a 90 minute HBO special), Beethoven (who made hundreds of notes, and false starts before completing most of his pieces) and Pixar (which was originally a hardware company with an idea of making computer-animated films and no idea how to get there.
While nothing Mr. Sims said was revolutionary, the idea is one creative people need to constantly remember: Fear of failing is failure. Trying, no matter how badly, is a little bet towards a tangible future. And just as Pixar had no idea how to become Pixar, without the attempt, however silly and pointless it felt at the time, they never would have been.
- Cynthia Lowen, producer of the documentary Bully, silenced the entire room with the story of her documentary about bullying and the three clips she showed. No, the conference did not screen the movie and should have, especially since its next screenings and DVD/streaming release are nowhere to be found on the film's website.
- Food. A Louisvillian reported to us that his city has the most new restaurants per capita in the US. I haven't found the statistic he cited but at the conference's Taste of Innovation (held at the legendary Churchill Downs) 30 of Louisville chefs and restauranteurs were at full tilt. And I don't even drink bourbon or care for Kentucky Hot Browns.
- Grimanesa Amoros: A Peruvian artist who came to Louisville and the Idea Festival through the organization Creative Capital, Amoros creates site-specific light and glass installations, inspired my the movement of water and bubbles from Lake Titicaca in her home country.
- Shakespeare Behind Bars. An incredible organization that has, for two decades, been putting on plays in the Kentucky prison system. Actors have a 3% rate of recitivism after completing the program. The national average is 65%.
- Do not miss Dr. Richard Kogan if he performs/lectures in a town near you. A Harvard psychiatrist/concert pianist, his presentations are a thrilling combination of music and insight into the creative mind.
More importantly though, Ms. Lowen's film and companion book back up their advocacy with fact: Bullying is a measurable, horrible drain on our economy, our culture and the very upward process of humanity. A complicated, interconnected world like ours here in the 21st century needs working together and collaboration not I'll-take-mine-and-screw-you-thank-you individualism. A culture intolerant to difference (and this is at all levels. Lowen and her team found that most schools with a bullying problem have a bullying culture at the administrative level) is a culture slowly committing suicide.
Advocacy minus fact is just screaming into the wind. The team behind Bully does better.
We were only in town for a few days but I had at least 3 meals (St. Charles Exchange, Proof on Main and The Mayan Cafe) that would rival anything I've eaten in in better known foodie towns like Portland or Austin. Who knew?
This one, from a Madrid gallery showing is my favorite.
Though Cariwyl and Jeff and I were talking about taking a trip around the world so see all of them in the flesh. Or glass.
We got to hear speakers from both the Kentucky prison system, administrators of the program and the inmate/actors themselves. And there was a documentary made about the program in 2005 available on Netflix streaming.
Go to the friggin Idea Festival next year Sept. 24-28. It's affordable (an all-access pass is $450 for 4 days), different, and still at a managable size where you don't spend most of your effort figuring out how to get a seat, have lunch and find your friends. And we'd like to come back and would love to spend some time with you.
Endnote: Videos from this year's Idea Festival will be available soon. I'll be sure to post my favorites.
This weekend, I'm going to be at the Idea Festival in Louisville, KY. I'll be covering the festival on social media and as an informal advisor. Also covering the Festival will be Cariwyl Hebert of Salon97, writer Jeff Rider and Max Linsky, co-founder of Longform, all people I love.
Our friend Baratunde Thurston will be throwing down.
1. All stories have a beginning middle and end, like a piece of music. The end is never "that's my story" but the beginning can be "let me tell you a story."
2. Every word you say pushes the story forward. if it's there to add color, background, etc, it should be one sentence and quickly return to the main thrust of the story. Do not get caught up in side points, asides, pauses for jokes.
A story is a journey. It must go somewhere. No one travels looking backward.
3. When constructing a story, always bear in mind "why is someone listening to me? What are they supposed to get out it" If you can't answer that, you are telling a lousy story. Attention is a precious commodity. Do not spend it poorly.
4. What is the message you're trying to bring home? Please laugh? Please buy my product? Here's the lesson I learned? A story must serve its message but it must be a tale unto itself. Otherwise is a parable. a sermon or a commercial, not a story.
Finally, stories do not overstay their welcome. They hold a precious moment and vanish. Tell yours and sit down.