Archive for December, 2019

December 31, 2019

#158) Of obstacles and pussy, part II: My new direction for the new decade

“I’ll bet you if there was some pussy on top of that obstacle, you’d find a way up there!” So yells Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, unforgettably played by R. Lee Ermey, to an out of shape recruit in Stanley Kubrick’s film “Full Metal Jacket.”

While Ermey was characteristically crude about it, his point is one that dates back to our hunter-gatherer days: when the prize is exciting or important enough, we will overcome obstacles. The “P. on the O.” formula is frequently employed by modern man: athletes logging that extra hour in the pool or on the track in pursuit of Olympic dreams; cubicle drones working late at the office while envisioning a promotion; young men picturing their new girlfriend naked as they pretend to agree with her father’s political views.

I have been a devout disciple of P. on the O. for a long time. As a musician, the goal of playing better shows for bigger crowds and more money often motivated me to practice more and cold call venues. When I started my hiking site, Nobody Hikes in L.A., dreams of cyberspace glory helped me embrace some of the less glamorous aspects of blogging as a business, such as search engine optimization, navigating lowball offers for sponsored posts, keywording and (gasp) establishing a social media presence. In some cases, P. on the O. became literal: surviving the dark days after a breakup by imaging myself finding the woman of my dreams (something that I’m happy to say, actually did happen almost 12 years ago.)

Yes, I have always used pussy as a motivation for tackling an obstacle. Now, I am going to take a break.

It doesn’t mean that I am no longer pursuing goals. It doesn’t mean that I am gay, although I have made some jokes over the years that might have caused people to question my sexual orientation and I do love “The Music Man.” It doesn’t mean that I think the concept can’t be a good motivational tool for others or that I myself won’t return to it someday. It only means that I am heading in a different direction.

I have long been more motivated by the result than the process; the destination rather than the journey. I have realized that as I approach the middle of my fifth decade, it’s time to find processes and journeys that I can enjoy, regardless of the payoff.

Lately, a lot of people have been sharing the “At some point in your childhood…” quote/meme/article. While it doesn’t directly apply to me – I didn’t have much of a social life growing up, and to the extent I did, it revolved more around D&D and video games than outdoor activities – I can still relate. At some point, I played a musical instrument for the last time without it being preparation for a gig or rehearsal and I wrote my last song without being preoccupied with how I was going to record and promote it. At some point, I went on my last hike without thinking about how I was going to write it up or which pictures to submit to stock photography sites. I miss that, more than I miss the successes that felt important to me before they happened but empty once the euphoria was gone.

How does one motivate themselves without pussy on top of the obstacle? I don’t claim to know, but perhaps it involves redefining what an obstacle is. For me, it could involve reorganizing my practice shed into a place where I want to go instead of forcing myself to when there’s a gig coming up. Making new play lists for my workouts, or watching my new kindred spirit Bob Menery on Youtube so I’ll want to hit the elliptical regardless of whether I’m getting ready for a big hike (Don’t know who Bob Menery is? You’re welcome). Looking for new grassroots level content providers whose work I enjoy and want to share just because I think other people will too and not because I want them to link back to me. (Although I won’t say no if they offer).

Will any of this work? I don’t know, but I do know that while I once envied people who had all of the trappings of success – the hot chick, the legions of followers, the big endorsement deal, the high profile brand partnership – I am now more jealous of those who are committed to the journey, who find meaning in an activity even when no one is watching. The good news is that I can become one of them. After all, I was before.

December 9, 2019

#157) Book review: “The Valedictorian of Being Dead” by Heather B. Armstrong

Heather Armstrong is known as the founder and creator of Dooce, one of the first widely read and financially successful blogs. But what happens when a pioneering mommy blogger finds herself so overwhelmed by single parenting that she wonders if her kids would be better off without her?

“The Valedictorian of Being Dead” is Armstrong’s first-hand account of her journey: “The true story of dying ten times to live.” Dying to live may sound like a Zen parable, but in Armstrong’s case, it was rooted in blunt reality. Feeling as if she had run out of options, Armstrong became the third patient ever to undergo a radical treatment for depression, one that had her brought to the brink of brain death and back ten times in a three week period. Developed as an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy, the idea of this treatment was to reboot the brain, not unlike restarting a computer.

How did Heather Armstrong get to the point where she was willing to take that drastic a step? As the youngest child in a family with a history of depression, Armstrong felt pressure to be perfect, especially after her parents’ divorce. This self-pressure led her to accomplish many things, including being valedictorian of her high school, only to still feel inadequate, ultimately leading to a profound burnout. By the time she decided to undergo the treatment, she would regularly go for days without bathing or changing her clothes. Yet once she agreed to the treatment, her old perfectionist impulses were triggered and she resolved to become the valedictorian of being dead.

In telling her story, Armstrong illustrates the difference between the effects of clinical depression and simply feeling exhausted by life’s responsibilities and circumstances. Before her treatment, she writes, “As I’m driving back to the house…I suddenly remember, Oh no! Marlo was supposed to have taken empty milk cartons to school for an art project, and I totally forgot…Someone else would have remembered those milk cartons…someone else would be a better mother. They would be so much better off without me.” Later, when she starts experiencing the effect of the treatments, she writes, “What I was feeling was rooted in urgency, not sadness. I was overwhelmed, yes, but not hopeless.”

The book’s darkest moments are nicely balanced with humor. “The morning routine…was the one I dreaded most. Because it began with waking up and realizing I was alive. Again! Jesus Christ, it just kept happening.” At one point she tells her nurse that it’s been so long since she’s had sex that she should apply to have her virginity reinstated. Armstrong even manages to work in a dig on Trump: part of her treatment including taking the Montreal Cognitive Test about which she says, “[Trump] bragged that he had passed it with flying colors, and good for him. He can recognize the outline of a lion!”

Ultimately,”Valedictorian” is, more than anything, about the importance of asking for help. Armstrong had to ask for help on two fronts: committing to the medical treatment and accepting help from her mother and stepfather with day to day tasks; her mother in turn asked for help through prayer. The book concludes with Armstrong explaining the struggles that people with depression have, not just with the condition but with those who think they can just turn it off at will and asking the reader, “Please believe us.”

December 4, 2019

#156) Kaepernick and the NFL are in on it together

There, I said it.

You can’t tell me the thought hasn’t crossed your mind.

The saga has gotten to the point where neither side’s behavior makes any sense, at least if the goal is to find the right NFL team for Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who has been out of a job since he started taking a knee during the National Anthem.

Were any of the NFL teams that attended Kaepernick’s recent workout in Atlanta serious about signing him? As Andrew Hammond notes in this News Tribune article, “[A]ll 32 teams in the league have had three years — a lengthy three years — to do their due diligence on Kaepernick, check his commitment to football and see if he was keeping in shape. You don’t need a closed-door, staged event to put those questions to bed. If you did, it may be time to reevaluate your free-agent scouting practices.” As for Kaepernick, did he believe that his appearance at an Unthanksgiving event was going to get Jerry Jones beating a path to his door?

If it all is in fact a long con, someone has to be benefiting. Who and how?

In the 2016 season, when he started protesting, Kaepernick already had a relationship with Nike (dating back to 2011) and a contract that ended up being worth $39 million. However, in the years following the protest, he was featured in a much more high-profile Nike ad and landed a new endorsement deal which included his own line of branded apparel. However one interprets the motives of Kaepernick’s protests, it’s a little naive to say that in no way has he benefited from the controversy.

For the NFL’s part, like every sports league, they need a villain. With incumbent bad guy Tom Brady near the end of his career (sorry, fellow Patriots fans but we all know it) who will be next? Due to rules that favor parity across the league, it may be a while before the NFL gets a good on field villain. Kaepernick seems to ignite more ire among his detractors than almost anyone on the planet, with the possible exception of Greta Thunberg. As long as he is not in the NFL, he will be a news story, begetting loud fist-shaking mobs both pro and con. If he were to sign? Sure, there would be some outrage, but Kaepernick is a 33-year old quarterback with (sorry, I know it’s not woke to say this) a losing career record. His return would be short lived and after gloating about it on 4chan, the Nike burning crowd would get bored and move onto inter-racial couples reading the Koran.

Regardless of who is the villain and who is the victim, Kaepernick and the NFL need each other, just like Superman and Lex Luthor, the Hatfields and McCoys and Taylor Swift and the Kardashian/West family. But the relationship is only symbiotic as long as Kaepernick is not with a team. Once he sets foot on the field, his supporters won’t have a face for their cause and the NFL will lose a story line.

Cynical? Sure. Crazy? Probably. But maybe just crazy enough to be true.

December 1, 2019

#155) How not to complain #11: Whom do you WANT to be president?

Sometimes people just don’t learn.

In this case, people are Michael Harriot, who recently called Democratic candidate Pete Buttegieg a “lying motherfucker” and Guardian columnist Poppy Noor who responded to Buttegieg’s phone call to Harriot by writing, “It’s telling that we are so grateful for the scraps thrown our way by powerful white men who make mistakes.”

You see, eight years ago when Buttegieg was campaigning for mayor in South Bend, IN, he said that “[T]here are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods—who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.” According to Harriot, “Pete Buttigieg went to the best educational institutions America has to offer and he—more than anyone on the goddamned planet—knows that everything he just said is a baldfaced lie.”

To which I ask Harriot and Noor, is a remark from 2011 really worth this level of vitriol and if so, to what end does the vitriol serve? Does it help the current political climate? If a perhaps ignorant but reasonably intended comment from 8 years ago makes someone a “lying motherfucker”, how motivated will future candidates be to connect with the inner city? If an apology is a “scrap”, then what do Noor’s powerful white men have to gain by apologizing? Why shouldn’t Trump continue to double down? As John McWorther noted in The Atlantic, “[T]his sort of response is more religious than rational; it bypasses into the realm of imposed liturgy, of ritual: We are less to think than to pose and follow.”

Harriot and Noor’s grievance with Buttegieg basically amounts to, “You don’t know us.” Noor asks, “Is [Buttegieg] the right person to be pontificating on why poor minority kids weren’t motivated enough to make it to class?” Maybe not, but are any of the three candidates that currently lead Buttegeig (Biden, Warren and Sanders) “the right person to be pontificating?” Is Trump? This is not about whether Mayor Pete is the Democrats’ best bet – it’s too early to tell – but does calling him a “lying motherfucker” pave the way for a candidate who is better equipped to help solve the problems of impoverished America?

Maybe by making an example of Buttegieg, Harriot hoped to send a message to white candidates who claim to understand black struggle. If so, will the result be meaningful political change, or will it just make speechwriters revise their candidates’ messages to avoid certain talking points? Should candidates not even try to empathize with inner city voters unless they came from poverty themselves? Unless someone such as Kyrsten Sinema suddenly throws her hat into the ring, the 2020 Democratic candidate will be from a privileged background. Perhaps a more nuanced, less combative take might have given the Democrats something to think about for 2024.

The search for a perfect candidate hurt the Democrats in 2016 (Bernie Bros sitting out the election or voting for Trump out of spite) and it is on its way to doing the same in 2020. Every 2020 candidate has baggage if you are willing to spend time looking for it (as opposed to celebrating a candidate about whom you feel positive) and in this case, you have to go pretty far back for something that most people would probably consider pretty mild by today’s political standards (wouldn’t we all love to go back to the time when Mitt Romney turning his nose up at store-bought cookies was a news worthy faux pas?) To quote McWorther again, “Our antennae must go up when notions of what an insult is become this strained…If Pete Buttigieg has done anything that reveals him as an MF, it was not that night in 2011.”

And so I say to all Democrats, white, black, brown, yellow, red, blue, pink, purple, chartreuse, aubergine: don’t be the political equivalent of Marian the Librarian, Shirley Jones’ spinster character from “The Music Man” whose mother warns her, “There’s not a man alive who could hope to measure up to the blend of Paul Bunyan, St. Pat and Noah Webster you’ve concocted for yourself out of your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness and your library full of books.” Or, to quote How Not To Complain alumna Sara Benincasa, don’t throw your vote away because of your personal brand.

Am I just another white man trying to tell black people what’s best for them? Maybe. But I’m also a white man who will be voting in the 2020 election and Harriot’s rancor hasn’t changed the fact that I am as likely to vote for Buttegieg as I am for whoever his candidate of choice may be (I haven’t seen him say, “Pete Buttegieg may be a lying motherfucker but _____ isn’t, so you should vote for them”). If Harriot’s goal was shock value or to galvanize people like Noor who probably wasn’t part of the Pete Patrol to begin with (not to mention, a British citizen who can’t vote in the upcoming elections) then he achieved it. Will his dressing down of Buttegieg ultimately convert anyone to his opinion? I don’t claim to know how many people read Harriot and said, “You know, that Mayor Pete is a lying motherfucker after all.” I just know I wasn’t one of them.