Category - personal

Dispatches from the Outskirts of Facebookistan – Day 8

As a few friends and followers (fans?) have observed, for the past week I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid Facebook.

This divergence from my usual routine (a word I use loosely) started last Monday, when I awoke to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas and immediately – impulsively – went to gauge the public reaction on Facebook. I pretty much knew what to expect once I got there: the same righteous indignation I found after the last such event – and the one before that and the one before that etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseaum.

But this time my reaction surprised me. This time, it wasn’t the triggering event that repulsed me so much as the boilerplate reactions that scrolled by on in my “news” feed. This time, something about the futility of the whole experience – not just the event but the predictable responses to it – resonated in a way that was vaguely unfamiliar. I’d seen it all before, but this time I really found myself wondering what was the point of seeing it all again?

That’s when I started “pushing in the stops.” I resolved to get some kind of handle on this digital beast, this virtual narcotic that I puff on like I used to smoke pot all day (from 1969 to 1987).

I started by removing the permanent “pin tab” for Facebook in my laptop browser, then I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

Removing the pinned browser tab means that Facebook is not lurking in a tab at the top of my browser window when I am trying to do other things on my computer (which is pretty much where I do everything). Removing the permanently pinned tab means that an effort is now required to open Facebook on my laptop. Yes, it’s a minor effort, but it’s more of an effort than simply clicking a tab. Now I actually have to open a new tab and type. But – no surprise here – as soon as I type the letter “f”, the browser auto-fills with “facebook.com” and off I go into the oblivion of the Infinite Random Trivia Generator.

The bigger change was deleting the Facebook app altogether from my iPhone. I had come in recent weeks to be painfully aware of the extent that I would punch the blue “f” icon on my iPhone and then just vacantly scroll through whatever the display had to offer. The only way to stop that was to remove the app.

That was Monday. The following Friday was the first day I woke up and did not feel the impulse to start my day perusing Facebook.

*

One thing that these behavior patterns seem to be telling me is that I am at a vacant place in my life right now. I seem to be seeking some kind of solace and gratification from the other side of this digital mirror.

I know that these habits are not mine alone. As this recent item from Wired observes,

“It’s a dirty digital habit, and it doesn’t make me happy. Maybe you can relate. Studies have repeatedly found that while social media connects us to one another, it also makes us feel bad. And yet, we do it anyway. We do it because we can’t stop.”

Or, from another item in Wired: 

43% of smartphone users check their phone within five minutes of waking up.

That presumably includes a very high percentage of Facebook checkers.

Count me in that number.

I suspect the pattern is fairly common: I post something or comment on something somebody else has posted. Then it’s only a couple of minutes – maybe less! – before I return to see if anybody has noticed how witty and profound (or just profane) I have been.

That is a habit not unlike taking a hit of pot, or a swig of whisky – getting the buzz, and then needing another one within minutes. Where alcohol and drugs are concerned, habits like that have finally come to be recognized as symptomatic of a disease. How is it any different with a “virtual drug” like Facebook? Indeed, I have too-often compared the “Facebook Habit” to “the way I felt about Scotch and Vodka in the months before I finally quit drinking…”.

I hope last Monday was the day I finally put the pipe down.

*

As well as I can tell from inside my own damn head, I’m facing two issues: obsession and dissipation.

The obsession is with the medium itself.  I am referring here to that nagging impulse to scroll. To punch an icon and and scroll scroll scroll until… what?  Like there is some pot at the end of the rainbow or a rabbit at the bottom of the hole?  There is something primal going on here: the relentless need to fill some kind of vacuum, to fill an inner void, like rats in a digital cage poking for pellets. My life feels hollow, let me see if I can fill it up with… Facebook??

The notion is absurd on its face but nevertheless obsessively present. It grabs me all day long. Like when I’m driving, and I come to a stop light. I’ve got a minute, why don’t I punch the phone (which is mounted on my dashboard) and scroll Facebook? Look! Notifications! That will surely give me something that will fill this momentary pause in my info-continuum.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and books when I’m in the car. That might be the best-spent hour of every day (an hour to and from my job). But even with all that meaningful input, when the car comes to a stop, I am instantly possessed with the need to do something else, to find another form of input. To punch and scroll.

Perhaps more important than that finger-to-screen obsession, I think the constant posting and commenting and replying on Facebook has dissipated my creative energy.  Instead of thinking my way through to something substantive, I scatter my seed.  The Facebook Habit leads to the loss of concentration. The inability to focus. And I don’t think it’s just because my brain is in its seventh decade of continuous operation.

To the contrary, I think the Internet has destroyed my brain. I’ve been online since 1979, but almost constantly since wireless broadband was introduced at the start of this century. That’s 20 years of jumping from one thing to another all day long. As Nicholas Carr wrote in “The Shallows,” the medium has rewired my brain.

So instead of posting pithy links (#TMITM!) and snarky comments on Facebook, I’ve started using a new app called “Day One” – a journaling app suggested by friend Mike Lovett. Mike suggested “keep Day One open on one half of your screen, and when you see something on the web that you want to post on Facebook, or a post on Facebook that you want to comment on, put those links and comments in Day One. At the end of the day (or week), round up the most pertinent and worthy stuff and put it all in a post on your own website.”

Which is exactly what I’ve done here. Much of what I’ve just posted was gathered through the week. Some of it by dictating short snippets to Day One via the app on my Apple Watch – boy, that’s a real game changer!

Once I’ve assembled a post for CohesionArts.com (like this one), my WordPress installation automatically posts a link to my Facebook Profile and Page. Hence the notion of “lobbing it over the wall into Facebookistan.  

Otherwise, during uring the day, I have made a concerted effort to limit myself to the occasional “guerrilla strike” into the forbidden zone. Like this afternoon – while I was in a parking lot –  I got an email notifying me that my sister had mentioned me in a comment. So I opened Facebook on my iPad to see what the comment was. I clicked “like” on the comment. Then I went to the grocery store.

I don’t think that I can escape Facebookistan altogether, any more than I  expect that I will ever get my “old brain” back. But I do think that I have to make a concerted effort to figure out how this “new brain” works for me, and I’m not going to do that by impulsively, relentlessly, scrolling through the Infinite Random Trivia Generator.

In the meantime, old habits die hard.

Now then…. any notifications??

 

 

Harvey and the Lionel Trains

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to those days
When I was young enough to know the truth
Now there are no games to only pass the time
No more electric trains, no more trees to climb
Thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win

–– Carol King

Trains1955-op_8abelhj6h120

Harvey, Arthur, and the 736 Berkshire

For Christmas in 1955, my father bought, set up and gave to my older brother an elaborate set of Lionel trains, tracks, and accessories.  

In our family photo albums, there is  just one photo of Harvey operating the trains, my brother Arthur looking on in gleeful fascination as the cast iron 736 Berkshire electric locomotive “steams” by; Just out of the frame,  circles of chemical-pellet induced smoke are puffing out of its little smokestack.

In the 1950s, Lionel trains were the quintessential under-the-tree expression of America’s post-war prosperity.   The Lionel Corporation had found a way to flourish during the war, by retooling their assembly lines to manufacture servo motors for military equipment instead of electric motors for toy trains. Once the war ended, the company repurposed those servo motors in the first post-war generation of its marquee product.

Our family was sufficiently prosperous (the family business produced ceramic household tile at a plant in Keyport, New Jersey) that our parents could afford to give their kids the very best: that Berkshire locomotive with its smoke puffing stack and whistling coal car was top-of-the-line, but that was just the start of the layout. Arrayed within the circle of tracks were equally high-end accessories:

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Tomorrow

Tomorrow
I will do the things
All the things
that need the doing
the plant watering
the bird-feeder filling
the cat-box cleaning
the dish-washer emptying
the trash taking out
the compost dumping
the laundry washing
the run to the recycle center
the errands
the shopping
the fridge-stocking.

all those tedious chores
that must be done
so that the plants don’t die
and the cats aren’t crapping
in a litter box
already filled with
their own crap.

But today,
Today is my Saturday
Today is the day I get to do
whatever I want
including the nothing
if that’s what I feel like doing
or not doing.

I’ll write a silly poem or two
I’ll  surf the Interwebs
and post inane things on The Facebook
so that all my friends will think
that I am witty and profound.

I’ll make a few phone calls
send a few emails.
mess about with
my new computer.

I will try to
put aside
all pretense of “purpose”
long enough to let
“random” prevail
because “random” is where
the creative things happen.

So that’s what I’m going to do today.
But tomorrow
I will do the things,
like go to the store
and stock the fridge
so that the day after tomorrow
I don’t starve.

What Did He Just Say???

So here’s what all the fuss is about...

This is 17 month old Juniper Rae, Ann’s first and quite possibly her only-ever grandchild.  She is the primary reason why Ann decided to pull up stakes and move to Portland back in July.

Sunday night, we all – Ann and I, eldest son James, younger son Robert, Rob’s wife Melissa and Juniper – all tuned into the professional verbal wrestling match aka “The Presidential Debate” btw Hillary and Drumpf.

Her parents don’t let Juniper have a lot of screen time, and she doesn’t see much TeeVee, so this was an exception.  But as you can tell from her expression, even a 1-year-old can look at Trump and wonder whatthefuck just came out of his incoherent noise hole.

Oh, and I have to put a dollar in the “swear jar” for saying “fuck.”  Actually, I put in two dollars.  Figured I may as well pay in advance for the next one…

RIP “Rags”

She was 17 years old and was fading fast… last time I took her to the vet they told me there was a 70% likelihood she was suffering from liver cancer.  It was pretty much downhill from there, and I finally put her down about two weeks ago.

And no, I did not put it all over Facebook etc., but this is my personal space on the web so I’m mentioning it here.

Ann found her at the gas station down the street not long after we moved into our house in 1999.  Seems oddly apropos that she’d leave us about the same time as my wife (who moved to Portland, Oregon back in July).

I’m a ‘cat person,’ and Rags was ‘my’ cat.  I named her for ‘Rags The Tiger,’ a character in the first animated cartoon series on television, “Crusader Rabbit” – which was created by Jay Ward and was something of a prototype for “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” You have to be old (i.e. my age, 65) to remember “Crusader Rabbit.”

Rags was a cranky, whiny cat.  She’d cry for some attention, but when I picked her up to pet her, she’d lie in my arms for about 30 seconds and then start whining again.   Hissing was a pretty regular part of her repertoire, too.

I took some photos of her about a year ago… I guess I knew then that she wasn’t going to be with us much longer.  It wasn’t until I looked at these photos, just before I took her to the vet, that I realized what a beautiful cat she was.

Just more evidence that everything is permanent only so long as it lasts.

Labor Day (#UnRetirement)

Seems like as good a day as any to start a new job. 

Yes, I have a day job now.

I was hired by Apple to work in their Green Hills… well, they don’t want to call it a “store” any more.  So I just work at “Apple Green Hills.

Please come by and say hello.  I will be happy to direct you to the people who can resolve your issue (it ain’t me, babe…)

 

Don’t Try This At Home

This is a story about how being a jerk can actually pay off.

I went to the Container Store in the Green Hills Mall yesterday because it is Nashville’s only retail source for Moleskine notebooks. While I generally avoid having/doing anything quite so trendy, I had decided Moleskines are as good a bound journal as any, so I  went to get one.

I walked into the Container Store and my first impulse was to find an employee and ask “where are the Molekines?”

Good luck with that…

There was not an employee anywhere to be found  in the vicinity of the entrance, or on the whole upper floor.  I could tell just by looking around  the first floor (which is relatively small area compared to the rest of the store which is the floor below) that the Moleskine display was not going to be on that floor, so I took the escalator down to the main floor.

The escalator opens to a large open area in the center of the main floor.  There are cashier counters in the center of area.  But, again, there was not a sole to be found – except for some other customers who seemed equally baffled at their inability to find any personnel to help them.

I felt like I’d stepped into some television show where only the employees had been swept up in the Rapture.  I figured the next scene would be customers helping themselves and just walking out of the store…

Just in case I was wrong about that, and being the incorrigibly obnoxious person that I often default to, I just shouted, quite loudly and to nobody in particular,

“DOES ANYBODY WORK HERE?!?!”

And of course, at just that instant  a young man appeared from amid the the aisles and stacks in a regulation black t-shirt – rather shocked that anybody would actually conduct themselves that way, and equally embarrassed that a customer had found it so difficult to get help that he seemingly had no recourse but to ask for it at the top of his lungs.

Quickly and efficiently, the young man asked what I needed and directed to the Moleskine display. After a few minutes of deliberation I decided which notebook I was going to buy. The task was made slightly more difficult than it needed to be because all of the products on display were hermetically sealed in plastic wrap, making it impossible to see what the pages inside actually looked like.  But I managed to figure it out.

Ah, retail… This is why I buy almost everything except groceries from Amazon.

I made my selection and rode the escalator back to the upper floor to the only cashier that was open and waited my turn in line (another one of my least favorite features of bricks-and-mortar shopping).  The couple I’d seen downstairs that was as perplexed for help as I was in front of me.  They paid for their stuff – a variety of big plastic containers – and then it was my turn.

I put the Moleskine down on the counter and reached for my wallet.  I had my credit  card out and was all set to pay my $20 for the notebook…

…when the young man who had magically appeared downstairs when I started yelling like a crazy person magically appeared again, behind the counter.  He waved off the cashier, then picked the Moleskine off the counter and handed it to me and said “we’re good…” – in other words, giving me the notebook and not charging me for it.

I certainly didn’t see that coming.

I was sufficiently surprised that I did not fully register what else he said. He might have said “I hope you have a better experience the next time you’re in the store.”

Or he might have said “Please don’t ever come back…”

In some kind of bemused shock,  I ambled out of the Container Store with a free Moleskine notebook, wondering how exactly being such a jerk had produced such a seemingly worthwhile result.

And figuring that I would tell the story and end it with the hashtag

#Don’tEncourageMe 

My Weekend with the
Hot Screaming Death Torpedoes

That’s what my friend Craig Havighurst calls those fragile, over-powered, insanely fast, open-wheeled vehicles (I hesitate to call them “cars” since a “car” is what we drive around town all day, and these are definitely not that…) in which daring young men hurtle themselves at ridiculous speeds  around oval-and-road courses all over America almost every Sunday afternoon through the spring and summer.

The “death torpedoes” line comes from “The Speed of Sound”  – a long-form essay Caig has written about the audio engineering at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which he’s offering as part of an experiment in crowd-funded independent ‘literary journalism’; follow this link to his Indiegogo campaign, or learn more about the campaign on this Facebook page. 

Thanks to Craig, I just spent an extraordinary, memorable four days covering an IndyCar Road Race – would you believe the “Grand Prix of Alabama”? (some how that combination of words seems almost oxymoronic: the elegant European traditions of a ‘Gran Prix” are not normally the sort of thing one associates with ‘Alabama’) – at the exquisite Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham.

Craig was on assignment to write a profile of Josef Newgarden – the Nashville (Hendersonville, actually) native who has risen through the ranks of motor racing to become one of the hot prospects on the IndyCar circuit, one of America’s two “major leagues” of auto racing (the other being NASCAR).  I got to tag along for the weekend to provide photo coverage for the story, which will appear in the Nashville Scene the Thursday before Memorial Day, aka the weekend of The Indianapolis 500.

Craig and I share some interest in what are generally called “motor sports” – that daring marriage of men and machines that has been around for as long as the horse was taken off the carriage in the late 19th century.  Admittedly, Craig is a far more avid proponent of the sport than I.  He closely follows the Formula 1 circuit, which some consider the zenith of all auto racing, though Craig actually prefers the somewhat more raw, more muscular world of the open-wheeled roadsters that have been racing around the big oval in Indianapolis almost every year since 1911.

My own interest in auto racing is relatively dormant compared to Craig’s.   I followed auto racing when I was in my early teens, following the exploits of Colin Chapman, Jim Clark and Team Lotus as they conquered Indianapolis in 1965.  Craig is very much up-to-date on the drivers, the equipment, the rules, the schedule, and the season-long championship standings;  I sorta lost interest when Jim Clark died on a track in Germany in 1968 – which, not coincidentally, was about the time my own interests were gravitating more toward girls and guitars…

Anyway, this past weekend was extraordinary.  Armed with a media pass, I had access to the entire facility, and spent much of race day in the infield, where these things were zooming around me in all directions and I could get right up to the edge of the track as they roared and screamed by.

Anybody who knows me knows that the word “awesome” is on my short list of the most over-used words in the English language, but the experience of being in the middle of all that was, how shall we say?  It was just was fuuuckinggggg aaaaaaaaaaawwwwesoooooome….

There was one the moment when I was standing behind a guard rail at the end of one of the fastest straight-aways, the cars going by me at their top speeds in the vicinity of 200mph…  And I had a moment where I realized where I was standing and just thought “this is inSAAAANE!”

I mean these “cars don’t just “crash,” they explode and throw parts and debris in all directions.  Granted,  there was little likelihood of a car going off the track on a straightaway, but it’s not impossible. For example, were one car to try to pass another and their open-wheels touch, the result can be two cars going in all but their intended directions; One could go off the track, strike a guard rail and explode, tossing wheels and other parts in multiple directions.  Yes, the actual likelihood of such an event was slim – but not quite nil.   And there I was, leaning out over the guard rail with a camera as these things screamed by…

I can’t post any of the photos from the weekend until The Scene has decided which ones they will use to accompany Craig’s profile of Josef, but I don’t think they’re going to use the “arty” shot at the top of this post.

I caught that one in a hot moment as Josef was blasting out of the pits for one of the qualifying heats on Saturday afternoon, the day before the big race.

You’ve heard of a “pit stop”?  I’m calling this one “Pit Start.”

*

Digest subscribers, I’m sorry that’s all I’ve got for you this week.  The past week has been pretty much “shoot / edit / sleep” – and tomorrow I’m off to Portland OR for the next 10 days to visit with family there.  Hopefully I’ll have some time to post from there.  Thanks, as always, for your interest and support.

Preview: Time Capsule 1969:
A 60-Something Looks Back At The 60s

So…

This is what I have been working for (I hesitate to admit) the past year or so…

It started when I went into the basement last winter to see if I still had an ‘off-the-air’ tape recording I made in 1966 of Arlo Guthrie performing “Alice’s Restaurant” – a year before the record [Spotify] was released.

When I opened the big Rubbermaid tub where I thought I’d find the old reel-to-reel recording, I also found the journals that I started keeping in the spring of 1969 – a record of my last months in high school and my first year of college (though not, really) at the end of a very tumultuous decade.

The timing was providential.  For a while, my personal guru (OK, my therapist for the past 20+ years) had been encouraging to “tell your own story…” And there was the beginnings of it, in a set of three-ring, loose-leaf binders.

So that’s what I have been doing… spending as much time as I can transcribing those journals into a word-processor-on-steroids called ‘Scrivener‘ and slicing and dicing and massaging and compiling and trying to come up with a story.

A few months ago I published (to Medium.com) a few installments that were drawn from the notes I made during and after two days and nights at a little music festival in the summer of 1969 called “Woodstock.” (Actually, it was called ‘The Aquarian Exposition’, and it didn’t really happen in Woodstock, but, hey, who’s counting?)  Read the resulting account starting here:

Whatever Happened To The Age of Aquarius?

Last week I added several new installments, what I imagine will be the first three chapters once this enterprise finds it way in to some kind ‘book*’ form:

Preface: A 60-Something Looks Back At The 60s

Chapter 1: Suspension – In which I get sent to the principal’s office – with about two dozen of my classmates 

Chapter 2: Admission – Destiny fulfilled, I get in to a college.

There are some other links on the home page for the project, TimeCapsule1969.com

In addition to the initial incarnation as a ‘book’ of some kind, I also keep imagining this project manifesting as some kind of stage show, with readings from the book and performances of some of the music that provided the soundtrack of the period.

With that in mind, as I’ve worked on this project I’ve been compiling and listening to a Spotify-based playlist of some of the music I listened to during the period I’m writing about.  A lot of these are the songs I figured out when I was learning how to play guitar (starting in 1966); a lot of them I can still play, and those are the songs I’d perform along with readings from ‘the book.’

Whether you’re a refugee from that period or curious millennial, I think you’ll find a lot to listen to in this playlist:

I have been adding new tracks to this list on a fairly regular basis. At present it’s almost 150 songs and more than 9 hours.  If you are a Spotify subscriber, subscribe to the list and you’ll be notified when I find new things to add to it.

And if you’re interested in following this work as it unfolds, use the form in the sidebar to the right of this post to subscribe to my “Weekly Digest.

I am publishing the material that I’ve got so far for the sake of soliciting some feedback, to see if any of my stories resonate with a potential readership.  It’s really easy for me to think the worst of my own work, so if anybody finds it worth the time and effort, it would kick my ass a little to know that’s the case.

Now then, where was I?

Oh yeah, just arriving at the George Washington University in September 1969… hmmm… who’s that pretty red-head…

What Ever Happened to The Age of Aquarius?

Just posted to Medium.com: one of the early chapters from…

Time Capsule: 1969 – A 60-Something Looks Back At The 60s

Yes, was REALLY there.

Yes, was REALLY there.

This is a first hand account of my experience at Woodstock, based on notes scribbled at the scene and a more detailed account written shortly after – and then embellished with 45 years of hindsight and retrospection.  The entire chapter is about 4,000 words, but for the sake of web-induced, nano-second attention spans, I have broken it down into three shorter installments.  Start with:

Whatever Happened To The Age of Aquarius, Part 1

…and if that holds your attention, follow the links to subsequent installments.

Comments and feedback much appreciated, wherever you care to leave it (in comments here, on Medium.com, Facebook, Twitter, Cuneiform tablets).

And by all means feel free to pass it along… there are surely others outside my immediate sphere of influence who can relate… regardless of their age.