magic feather syndrome

I spent most of my adolescence and early adulthood as a hopeless romantic.

I wandered the halls of my high school and my college campus aimlessly, in search of a girl I thought would love me into completion. No such girl ever came my way.

Every relationship I had buckled under the weight of my expectation. Most ended in chaos and calamity. And I always walked away thinking, “The next one will be better.”

I had magic feather syndrome—the same ailment that plagues Dumbo, convinced his capacity for flight is wholly dependent upon the feather he keeps in his trunk.

I’d convinced myself I needed someone to love me before I could be complete. It’s only within the last few years I’ve shifted this pattern of thinking. You have must love yourself into completion.

And let me tell ya, loving yourself is way better than waiting around for someone to do it for you.

a posture of gratitude

Earlier this year, I finished reading The Book of Joy, a series of conversations between His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One quote in particular stuck out with me:

“When you are grateful,’ Brother Steindl-Rast explained, ‘you are not fearful, and when you are not fearful, you are not violent. When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people and respectful to all people. The grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.”

Yes, let’s be grateful today. For our friends, our families, our loved ones. For our health and safety and livelihoods. But let’s be grateful every day too.

By inhabiting a posture of gratitude, we do our part in making the world a little bit better.

the importance of being earnest

Spotify has a habit of suggesting podcasts. There’s one in particular that gets recommended to me over and over again, with a title something along the lines of “Your Favorite Band Sucks.”

Why would I be the least bit interested in this?

Why is it we citizens of the internet have decided it’s fun or cool or interesting to hate things so much? We write articles and tweet lists like, “Most Overrated Movies of the Last 10 Years,” or “Twenty-Five Reasons This Particular Thing is Terrible.” Everything is snarky and sarcastic and ironic.

I had a teacher who used to say sarcasm is the poor man’s wit. If this is the case, it appears everyone on the internet is bankrupt. And we don’t have to be.

While this certainly falls under the umbrella of “Why be mean when you could just be quiet?” I’ll actually take this a step further. Why spend so much energy on the things you hate when you could instead you could share the things you love?

Why be sarcastic when you could be earnest?

Instead of shit-talking certain art/music/movies/politics and the people who love these things, we should be sharing the things we love and encouraging other people to love them too. And I don’t mean shaming others for not liking them.

Instead of saying, “Oh, you’ve never seen Star Wars? What’s wrong with you?” the conversation should be something along the lines of, “You’ve never seen Star Wars? Here’s why I think you’d love it, let me share this experience with you.”

Let’s stop making ourselves the police of bad taste and accept that in our media-saturated world, there is no universal metric for what makes something good. Some art speak to some people and other art speak to other people and that’s okay.

Maybe accepting this would help make the world a little kinder, a little softer, a little bit more fun.

the problem with cancel culture

The idea of being “cancelled” has been on my mind a lot lately.

There are times when public figures do and say unspeakable things, many of which merit legal action and criminal charges. This is not a defense of those actions.

But there are also moments where someone slips up and says the wrong thing or recklessly wields their privilege, something shouldn’t merit a social and professional death sentence.

Yet, we as the mob have decided that’s the case.

The problem with cancel culture is it denies the opportunity for forgiveness and growth. By current standards, a person must conform to present social and cultural correctness, even in their past comments and behavior (i.e. James Gunn getting fired for making a joke on Twitter ten years ago). There’s a vast difference between unintended ignorance and a pattern of malevolent abuse. To treat the former as the crime is absurd.

People grow and change and learn. This is what it means to be human. It seems unjust that we refuse to allow people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and become better than they were yesterday. We’re all so eager to prove we’re not who we used to be while judging others for their past selves. And we shouldn’t be.

Hemingway once said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

To my mind, we should all strive to be a little more noble.

That said, Harvey Weinstein can rot in Hell.

why mean when you could just be quiet?

I was listening to the radio the other day and the DJ asked, “Where do trolls come from?” She meant, of course, the cyberbullies who leave scathing commentary in the comments section.

Easy answer: the troll is the person who uses their hatred of something as a distraction from pursuing their own work.

It’s so much easier to tell someone they’re doing something wrong than it is to pursue doing that thing right. (Steven Pressfield would make that case it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to sit down and paint.)

But this is the task before us. We have to stop talking and start doing.

For example, I personally don’t like Billie Eillish. Her music doesn’t speak to me. For the most part, I find it obnoxious. Do I spend my waking hours dropping bombs on Twitter, telling her how much she sucks? Of course not. I’m too focused on my own work.

Instead of pissing and moaning about what someone didn’t say, we should be focused instead on saying those thing with our own work.

check the scoreboard

I read yesterday that Trump wants to kick 200,000 people off Social Security before leaving office. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it made me think.

It seems in our political moment, our two parties can’t agree on a metric to measure success. Democrats measure people benefiting from social services and Republicans measure tax dollars returned to voters. There are certainly other metrics, many of which are inherently problematic (such as people kicked off Social Security), but these two are just the first two that came to mind.

It reminds me of the episode of The Office where Michael hosts a competition among the employees. When he asks Pam who’s winning, she responds, “At various times you gave Jim 10 points, Dwight a gold star, and Stanley a thumbs-up. And I don’t really know how to compare those units.”

This perfectly encapsulates the point.

For the longest time, we measured success based on dollars earned. Now, we measure likes, retweets, followers, subscribers, and page views. To my mind, most of these things are meaningless, and yet we base so much of our culture on these arbitrary statistics. We don’t have a metric for measuring the depth of impact on an individual or the ways in which your words can change someone’s life.

If you ask me, we all need to not only make sure our definitions of success align, but construct those definitions within the context of humanity. While it’s certainly true no one wins when everyone is playing a different game, it’s also true that success does not need to be a zero-sum game.

There’s a seat at the table for everyone.

digital libraries

Isn’t it strange we don’t pay to own things anymore?

It used to be that if you loved a movie or a record, you went to the store and bought it. You could hold the DVD or CD in your hands. You took it home with you. You could play it whenever and wherever you wanted.

Netflix and Spotify changed the business model. Now, instead of paying to own the thing, you pay for access to the thing. It’s like buying a pass into a private library, where you can access whatever song or movie you want, but you can only use it within the confines of the library.

I’ve always been an advocate for ownership, for taking the thing home with you. I used to berate digital music for removing songs from the context of albums and liner notes. I’ve gotten over this for the most part, but I haven’t been able to shake my distaste for feeling the things I consume don’t belong to me. To my mind, this is an essential part of the artistic process. Once a creator places their work out in the world, it ceases to be theirs. It belongs to the audience.

Maybe this business model is a symptom of late-stage capitalism. We don’t get to claim to own the things we consume. They’re just on loan to us for as long as we want, so long as we pay our subscription fee.

Perhaps this is why I still buy songs on iTunes.

if you want to write songs, write songs

I had an interesting conversation today.

I met a woman who described herself as a songwriter. She told me she’d been in Los Angeles for five years, trying to work in the music industry. She works at a recording studio, for a producer who has worked with a bunch of musicians we’ve all heard of. She bemoaned being in the building where it happens, but not the room where it happens.

I asked her if she was writing songs.

She said no, working at the studio left her too tired to do anything.

I launched into one of my usual pep talks: gotta get up early and do the work in the morning, when your time is your own. If you wanna be the noun, you’ve gotta do the verb. Etc. Etc. Etc.

She smiled. Her eyes lit up. She said, yeah, you’re right.

I felt good, like I’d inspired her.

Of course, I was telling a writer friend about this later in the afternoon. She responded, oh, that’s bullshit. If this girl wanted to write songs, she’d be writing songs.

Made me wonder, I guess.

Either way, I hope this woman went home and wrote a song.

lessons learned at karaoke night

You ever wonder if you could learn valuable life lessons from getting drunk and singing a bad rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in a bar packed with people?

Rob Sheffield thinks so. In his book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: A Karaoke Journey of Starting Over, Falling in Love, and Finding Your Voice, Sheffield has this to say about the repetition of daily life:

You have to walk that dog every day, with no mileage credit for what you did yesterday. Work doesn’t get finished, and neither does play. You start over every day…you fight the sensation of getting overwhelmed by the repetition of things. You build up some momentum but you don’t get a climax. You don’t even know if you’ve done your day’s work right, because nothing’s ever really done. That’s very disconcerting to me.

When this year started, I would have agreed. The mundane banality of everyday existence sounds disconcerting to me too. I’d love nothing more than to be in a bar packed with people, singing my guts out, just for the sake of breaking up all this monotony.

But six months deep into the pandemic and having racked up quite a few days that look all too similar, I have to say, there’s something to this whole Groundhog Day style of life.