New Computer

Buying a PC, 2002

Open box, turn on computer, run updates, download third-party software to replace pre-installed software, then devise ways to disable or hide proprietary software you can’t uninstall.

Buying an iPhone or Mac, 2014

Open box, turn on computer, run updates, download third-party software to replace pre-installed software, then devise ways to disable or hide proprietary software you can’t uninstall.

Jettison the Rest

A few weeks ago, I reread Joan Didion’s essay on self-respect. It smacked me on the back of the head at the right time: I was wringing my hands over work and life, then, as a fully-realized modern person, I began to worry about my worrying.

It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self.” In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.

Self-respect yields honesty, honesty allows directness, directness produces integrity, and integrity suggests grace. I’ve always longed for grace in my day to day—to elegantly jump from obligation to obligation and juggle it all with assurance and skill. Until the last paragraph, I was left without good example, since most grace is surface, and under the skin lives a barely concealed chaos.

I am like most everyone I know—I have too many obligations. Last month, I would have identified this as the perfect opportunity to practice gracefully. This month’s man feels otherwise. Continually attempting to manage too much isn’t the mark of grace, it’s the sign of a dumbass. It’s best to identify and do what you’re required and able, then jettison the rest.

I made a small note: remember your reasons, so your noes mean no and your yeses mean yes. If yes, understand the cost, accept it, and go forth. This is the antidote to the whiplash of modern life, to automatic and unchecked desire, to the anxiety created by spinelessness. A person must know what’s enough, and stand beside the choice.

The Woozy Walk

I was thinking about the city last night. It’s hard to remember the things outside of New York while you’re here—the city is your mental field of vision, plus a little bit. It might as well be everything since you can’t see the edges. So many things are so needlessly difficult in the city, and that extra friction builds in me to an axiety I’ve named “the haze.” Cow-eyed people on the train have the haze. Sometimes you need to shake it off, to pluck your mind out of the city to retain some sanity. Here is what I do:

  • Find a song. Something you can listen to forever. Possibly this. Maybe that. Whatever song, it’s best if it could be classified as “woozy.”
  • Grab your headphones, and put on the song. Repeat this one song. No other songs are allowed for a while. That song is a house, and you’re going to live in it.
  • Go outside. Choose a direction.
  • Walk. Thirty minutes minimum. An hour is best.
  • Find your way home. Then, two Advil with water.
  • Ten deep breaths. It will feel like the most indulgent thing you’ve done all day.
  • Twenty minute nap. Use one of those sleep cycle apps so you don’t wake up feeling worse.
  • Shower. In the shower, think about something methodical and relaxing. You are dicing celery. You are stacking cinder blocks and unstacking them.
  • Then you put on the song again, one more time. A coda, or whatever.

The woozy walk takes about an hour and a half to two hours. If you cut out the nap (suggested, but not necessary), you can do all this on your lunch break. If you don’t feel better, sorry.

When you move to New York, people offer good, but base advice (don’t get on the empty train car!). Really, we all need to be reminded that New York is too much—it’s part of the appeal—but you’ll have to invent ways to cope, so your brain doesn’t become a tea bag that’s steeped too long.

Every Step Is Moving Me Up

Yesterday, while driving home from upstate, we listened to classic rock radio. I looked out the window, and imagined what it’d be like to hear an Arthur Russell song come on the radio, and how the world would be different if he had a hit. The dream puttered out from there. Which Russell? There were so many.

The disco producer.

The avant garde composer.

The earnest country singer.

The esoteric pop savant.

All these personas were facets of Russell and his approach. The farm boy from Iowa moved to the East Village in the 70s and tried to make music as pop as ABBA and experimental as the downtown music scene. The pursuit was to make divergenent elements converge—Allen Ginsberg even said Russell wanted to write “Buddhist bubblegum music.” Russell was creating a mold for future contemporary musicians: see through the walls that separate different styles of music and try to blend the sounds others think incompatible, even if that means mixing the deep and inane, or better yet, finding the depth in common things.

All this artsy-fartsyness sounds like an opportunity to get pretentious, but Russell’s earnest lyrics disarm any kind of posturing. From joy to isolation to romance, Russell always struck me as an artist more willing than most to take all the aspects of himself seriously and without shame—even the frivolous parts, even the cliché parts. There’s a magnetic realness to it. I defy anyone to not genuinely enjoy Wild Combination and its plain-spoken appreciation of being with someone you love:

So, what song would have been on the radio? Wild Combination is a strong choice, but my underdog vote goes to The Letter and it’s endearing, plodding pace:

But if I had to choose a personal favorite, it’d be This Is How We Walk on the Moon.

Everything with Russell was too early. In 1992, he died of AIDS. He was forty. We won’t get more music, but the existing songs are deep, even in their unfinished state. (Many of the available releases are compilations of his demo tapes). Those rough edges invite interpretation, so later this month, Red Hot (who did the Dark Is The Night compilation) is releasing an album of Russell covers to benefit AIDS research. Here’s José Gonzalez’s great version of This Is How We Walk On The Moon:

I urge you to check it out. Maybe you’ll find as much pleasure and peace in these songs as I have.

There Go The Grown Ups

R,

Funny you would bring this up. Last weekend, M and I had a really nice chat about all of these articles on adulthood. Everyone wants to talk about it, because things are changing, aren’t they? It’s temping to label it as generational fighting, but I think it’s a simple communication breakdown. The rules are changing, and everybody knows it.

I mentioned that I don’t feel any particular social pressure to take on the trappings of “grown-uppiness.” I’ll draw a line between being a “grown-up”—which comes with all the expected obligations like marriage, children, home-ownership, etc—and being an adult—living well within a dignified role in society, educating yourself so you can contribute, honoring responsibilities, having empathy, being a citizen, defining and living the life you want, and the other good stuff that makes the world get along a little better than it would otherwise. I am an adult, but I am not a grown-up. There are many, many more like me.

After thinking about it for a few days, it seems to me that the bad articles are looking for grown-ups instead of adults. Grown-up is a flavor of adulthood that’s been the dominant version for the last century or so. Grown-up is the 20th century adult. Here in the 21st century, the changes that sprung up at the end of the last are finally taking root—choices about how to live a life, educate yourself, participate in a community, and rear a family (whether that’s with a partner and kids, a network of close friends, or some combination of all that). There’s greater variety in adults, so if you have a narrow criteria, you’ll leave worrying that the world is stuck in arrested development. You might even go off and write an opinion piece for the Times.

The bad articles mistake choices as requirements and requirements as choices. A few common examples I’ve seen:

  • Most articles cite children as a requirement for adulthood. But between women’s reproductive rights, the pill, and a larger scientific and socially-acceptable window for child rearing, the grown-up requirement of having children is now a choice—not just of timing, but whether to have kids at all.
  • Home-ownership is a “requirement” that is less and less likely as my generation becomes increasingly urban and property costs soar. Home-ownership is a very North American ideal, however. For example, most Germans don’t own their homes—they rent.
  • The older generations participate in a double speak when it comes to education: faulting my generation for not launching into careers and stable income by their 20s, while helping to produce a world that necessitates more and more formalized education for roles of diminishing consequence.

The social pressures around becoming a “grown-up” are lessening. This doesn’t mean people aren’t becoming adults. I’m actually glad the grown-up is dying—we need the space to have versions of adulthood for people who don’t happen to be straight, white, and cis-gendered. I look forward to fewer noun-based versions of adulthood (spouse, house, kids) and more verb-based visions of adulthood. The future is a lot less scary if you believe an adult is someone who wields autonomy, empathy, and responsibility with an even hand. I’ve been looking around, and come to realize that there’s just as much of that—and maybe even more—than ever before.

Yours,
F

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