box of Jack

Learning Las Vegas

00:48 PDT - July 17th, 2014

I just got back from my fourth trip I’ve ever made to Las Vegas.

I think I’m starting to understand how to have fun in Vegas:

  1. Go with a group people that know exactly what they want to get out of Vegas (gambling, drinking, clubbing, shows, strippers, etc.)
  2. Spend time and a lot of money to accomplish that
  3. Do not stay for longer than the weekend

This most recent trip was a surprise bachelor party and it was well-organized. We used Airbnb to get a suite for 8 people at a steal; centrally located on the strip. We secured a contact in advance to help us get a small discount at the club and help us skip the line. We planned ahead for the embarrassing challenges that the bachelor had to do. And when I say “we”, I mean the best man did everything. I just showed up, had fun, and paid my fair share. (We used a cool app to track all the costs and arrange settlement.)

The Need Not to Know Yourself

15:57 PDT - June 29th, 2014

Via kottke, Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst that was interviewed for The Paris Review. He had some really cool things to say about “knowing yourself”:

PHILLIPS: Analysis should do two things that are linked together. It should be about the recovery of appetite, and the need not to know yourself. And these two things–

INTERVIEWER: The need not to know yourself?

PHILLIPS: The need not to know yourself. Symptoms are forms of self-knowledge. When you think, I’m agoraphobic, I’m a shy person, whatever it may be, these are forms of self-knowledge. What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way…

I was a child psychotherapist for most of my professional life. One of the things that is interesting about children is how much appetite they have. How much appetite they have–but also how conflicted they can be about their appetites. Anybody who’s got young children, or has had them, or was once a young child, will remember that children are incredibly picky about their food. They can go through periods where they will only have an orange peeled in a certain way. Or milk in a certain cup.

INTERVIEWER: And what does that mean?

PHILLIPS: Well, it means different things for different children. One of the things it means is there’s something very frightening about one’s appetite. So that one is trying to contain a voraciousness in a very specific, limiting, narrowed way. It’s as though, were the child not to have the milk in that cup, it would be a catastrophe. And the child is right. It would be a catastrophe, because that specific way, that habit, contains what is felt to be a very fearful appetite. An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways. Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.

We all have self-cures for strong feeling. Then the self-cure becomes a problem, in the obvious sense that the problem of the alcoholic is not alcohol but sobriety. Drinking becomes a problem, but actually the problem is what’s being cured by the alcohol. By the time we’re adults, we’ve all become alcoholics. That’s to say, we’ve all evolved ways of deadening certain feelings and thoughts. One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense–as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost.

This hits home for me because I’m convinced that I “know myself”. I’m shy. I’m afraid of approaching people. I’m bad at making new friends. I suck at sports. I hate to fail. I am not good at smiling. Etc.

Yes, there are a lot of great things to “know” about myself. I know I can dress well, I know I’m good at computers, I know my friends love me. But before I can know something new and good about myself, there has to be a space to not know. A period where I can simply be trying something with no definitive statement about me as a person. A time when I can say, “I don’t know if I’m good at this. I’ll find out later.”

The self-cure stuff reminds me a lot of procrastination. We create other issues to avoid thinking about the one we really should. Sometimes, these new issues become their own problem to run away from.

I’ve had some success in the past few months with procrastination by sitting down and willing my mind for quiet. Distraction comforts me, multitasking is a bad habit of mine. Lately, I’ve been asking myself to sit quietly for a few brief seconds and asking about what I really want. My gut tells me I should buy some new video games, but the few seconds of quiet tells me I should continue on that project I started. My gut says I should open a bag of chips, my quiet tells me I need to drink more water.

I’ve not been perfect about this but I’ve done it often enough that I feel like I’m started to develop a sense of discipline around it. I think as long as I keep exercising this muscle, it will stick around.

Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence

17:45 PDT - June 23rd, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot since listening to Lana Del Rey’s new album, Ultraviolence. There’s a lot to unpack here just culturally and artistically. I won’t say that this album is a must-listen but I will say it’s actually pretty good at achieving what it set out to do.

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

Pitchfork’s review sums up my feelings perfectly.

Where her last full-length, the frequently terrible Born to Die, tried on different moods and looked at her character from a few angles, Ultraviolence finds one feeling—a seedy, desperate, hyper-romanticized sense of isolation and loss—and blows it up to drive-in screen proportions, saturating the color riding the blue crest of sadness for the better part of an hour.

To me, her first album sounds like a lounge singer trying on different styles and singing songs that aren’t her own. It swings wildly through different cliches and kind of just ends. Ultraviolence is all about how Lana has picked her favorite Instagram filter and she’s dedicated 60 minutes of love songs to it. It still feels like she’s pretending to be someone else but now she’s committed.

Whether or not you want to take this particular ride will largely depend on how much stock you put in “authenticity,” your tolerance for Del Rey’s vocal tics, and your reflexive response to her lyrics.

I think this the biggest point here. She is a grown woman but adopts a persona of a tragic flower child caught in abusive relationships where she can’t help but be utterly devoted to him. If you hate that concept or you hate that she’s not being honest, you’ll hate her music.

I had a friend once who had a habit of getting into terrible relationships with really unsuitable older men who treated her like dirt. No surprise, I introduced her to Lana Del Rey’s music and she fucking loved it.

They’re songs that would make no sense if anyone else sang them. In this way, and a few others, she draws inspiration from rap music, broadcasting her obsessions and forcing you to engage with the persona first and the content of the songs second.

This is true on so many levels; I feel the same way towards her music as I do towards the rap music I listen to. The lyrics are often nonsense and sometimes they’re repetitive nonsense but the evocative instrumentals and dramatic vocal tricks suck me in.

What I really want is someone to come along and do this way better than her. (That might actually be the 60s singers that she idolizes and tries to embody, I haven’t listened to enough music to say for sure.) But I’d love to see more competition in this genre of faux-vintage music, to evoke that nostalgia for tragic American pop culture but to do it in a way that doesn’t glamorize self-harm and abusive relationships.

And that is an honest-to-god fear I have about listening to Ultraviolence. Is that I might enjoy it so much that I’ll think there’s something incredibly cool about being in a terrible relationship or having a low opinion about myself. I’d like to leave that phase of my life behind me.

The Reason I Take Selfies

00:07 PDT - June 17th, 2014

This is a selfie I took last night with my friend’s two-year-old. I love it because she is a great little human being with a great sense of humor. But I’m also fascinated that, for a brief period in time, we were two friends speaking the same language. She not only understood to copy my social cue for sticking our tongues out but she also totally gets the concept of a selfie. In her world, it’s totally normal to hold a piece of glass in front of you and make a face and instantly review it. For her, selfies are everywhere and they’re fun, spontaneous, and mostly ephemeral. Soon, they’ll be mundane.

I hated having my photo taken growing up. I had to behave. No fussing or fidgeting, just sit still and force a smile. Photos were not for me, they were for other people. They were for baby books, and they were for boring old relatives that I never interacted with. Film was expensive and getting it developed was an ordeal. To do anything less was to commit the cardinal sins of wasting my parents’ money and embarrassing them in front of others.

Sony Ericsson K750

In 2005, I got my first camera phone. The 2.0 megapixel Sony Ericsson K750. It was a revolution for me. This was around the time my group of university friends was really cementing; I couldn’t shake the feeling that these days of doing nothing were somehow significant. These stupid days were important and everything was going to change when we graduated. So, I took a ton of photos and spent hours organizing them and uploading to my Flickr account. I still treasure these terrible and boring photos, despite the laughable quality of 2.0 MP.

Comparing the K750 to my current cameras

Comparing the K750 to my current cameras (not actual pixel size)

2010 was another period of important days and nights. In-between serious relationships, I was making the friends that would make me feel like I finally belonged in Seattle. I’ve lived here 7 years but it has only felt like home for the past 4.

It was also the year I signed up for Instagram; a special place meant only for photos. It wasn’t about sharing with friends as much as it was sharing with the entire world and uploading photos removed of almost all immediate social context. 2011 was the year I started paying attention to fashion and dressing better, 2012 was the year I started taking selfies and really learning to tolerate and come to love how I looked in photos.

For me, it’s been a long journey to this point. To feel comfortable in my skin, to selfishly point to camera at my own face, and to learn to celebrate my appearance. For the first time in my life, I think I look pretty good.

Skyping with Mum

23:44 PDT - May 25th, 2014

My mother was calling to let me know they’d arrived safely in Europe.

“I really like your brother’s girlfriend. I was hesitant at first but I can see she’s smart and she’s very ambitious. I look at my three sons and they’re not ambitious and they don’t push themselves very hard and, well… y’know.”

middle finger dance

This was my initial response.

Or the other time when I told her my then-girlfriend was very smart. “Probably smarter than me,” I joked. She started lecturing me on how I would probably get dumped unless I went back to school to get my Masters or something.

There’s this narrative that she’s built up over the years and it’s one that’s thoroughly invaded my thinking. One that has me feeling like I’m too soft for this world. Too weak, too quick to trust. A hapless fool that can’t think ahead and mindlessly accepts what’s placed directly in front of him. One that gives up at the first sign of adversity.

I love my mum, I really do. She’s a very strong woman and fiercely protective of her loved ones. She’s been through some shit and come out the other side stronger and more thoughtful and more loving. But she’s only human and sometimes her flaws and insecurities get inflicted upon us.

With all the love in the world, mum, I must tell you to fuck off. Fuck all the way off. I might not have the kind of hustle you expected me to have (yet also actively discouraged in me) but I did my best and I made a lot out of what you sacrificed to provide me. Maybe you’ll never be able to shake this profound disappointment in yourself but I love and admire all that you’ve achieved and I’m learning to love and admire all that I’ve personally achieved.

Your careless words leave me unhappy, mum. Despite all the love and care you’ve poured into our relationship, your casual insults are a barrier to my personal growth. When the Welsh Troll tells me I’m not good enough and that I’m bound to fail, it’s most often in the guise of your voice. A voice that I trusted and internalized all through my life.

I still love my parents and want to remain in their lives but I need to start finding ways to diplomatically tell them to fuck off when this bullshit does rear its ugly little head. I wish there wasn’t the language barrier. The best I can come up with right now is sarcastic self-deprecation but that just makes me into more of a victim. I think all I can do is state it plainly. “No. Don’t talk about me in that way.” Although I suspect it’s going to make her defensive and that’s when she’ll start to play the martyr. But hey, it’s a good place to start until I come up with a better idea.

In the meantime, I’m going to take my advice from this little girl instead: