John Green on Vulnerability

And then he would do something absolutely extraordinary: He would roll over onto his back, and present his soft belly. I always marveled at the courage of that, his ability to be so absolutely vulnerable to us. He offered us the place ribs don’t protect, trusting that we weren’t going to bite or stab him. It’s hard to trust the world like that, to show it your belly. There’s something deep within me, something intensely fragile, that is terrified of turning itself to the world.

I’m scared to even write this down, because I worry that having confessed this fragility, you now know where to punch. I know that if I’m hit where I am earnest, I will never recover.

It can sometimes feel like loving the beauty that surrounds us is somehow disrespectful to the many horrors that also surround us. But mostly, I think I’m just scared that if I show the world my belly, it will devour me. And so I wear the armor of cynicism, and hide behind the great walls of irony, and only glimpse beauty with my back turned to it, through the Claude glass.

But I want to be earnest, even if it’s embarrassing. The photographer Alec Soth has said, “To me, the most beautiful thing is vulnerability.” I would go a step further and argue that you cannot see the beauty which is enough unless you make yourself vulnerable to it.

John Green, “Sunsets” from The Anthropocene Reviewed

Well said, sir.

Workism is Making Americans Miserable

Over at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson has a piece on how Workism Is Making Americans Miserable. He’s not wrong.

What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.

Homo industrious is not new to the American landscape. The American dream—that hoary mythology that hard work always guarantees upward mobility—has for more than a century made the U.S. obsessed with material success and the exhaustive striving required to earn it.

No large country in the world as productive as the United States averages more hours of work a year. And the gap between the U.S. and other countries is growing. Between 1950 and 2012, annual hours worked per employee fell by about 40 percent in Germany and the Netherlands—but by only 10 percent in the United States. Americans “work longer hours, have shorter vacations, get less in unemployment, disability, and retirement benefits, and retire later, than people in comparably rich societies,” wrote Samuel P. Huntington in his 2005 book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity.

Derek Thompson

Neil’s Well Wishes for 2019

I’ve always appreciated Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s Wishes, and this year’s is also worth calling out:

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead.

Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them.

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

Neil Gaiman

Interview with Philip Glass

Via Kottke, The Atlantic has a nice interview with Philip Glass. It’s interesting, sort of a quick snapshot into his life growing up and the early days of his career. There are bits that feel a little melancholy to me, talking about his brother who passed on, or his father, while you can sort of imagine him lighting up talking about his time in Chicago or driving cab.

Something in particular I really liked:

To this day, among my earliest memories was someone would give my father $5 and he’d hand them a record. So the exchange of money for art, I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what everybody did. I never thought there was anything wrong about making money.

That’s kind of important, and I can relate (my parents ran a photography studio when I was growing up, and I also grew up in a worldview where people were paid for art). If you spend even an hour browsing various artists’ tumblrs and twitter feeds, you’ll inevitably run into stories of rude people at cons or in commission requests simply expecting art to happen for nothing. It’s dumb if you take even 30 seconds to think about it, but it’s prevalent. It’s nice to see it get called out that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Neil and Kazuo Talk Genre

Not sure why it resurfaced now, but from 2015 over at the New Statesman, there’s a delightful interview between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro, discussing genre and class and escapism and all sorts of interesting things. Well worth the read, and feels pretty topical even now.

KI I don’t have a problem, necessarily, about reading for improvement. I often choose a book because I think I’m going to enjoy it, but I think also it’s going to improve me in some sense. But when you ask yourself, “Is this going to improve me?” what are you really asking? I think I probably do turn to books for some sort of spiritual and intellectual nourishment: I think I’m going to learn something about the world, about people. But if by “improving”, we mean it would help me go up the class ladder, then it’s not what reading and writing should be about. Books are serving the same function as certain brands of cars or jewellery, in just denoting social position. That kind of motivation attaches itself to reading in a way that probably doesn’t attach itself to film.

Many of the great classics that are studied by film scholars are sci-fi: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Kubrick’s 2001. They don’t seem to have suffered from the kind of genre stigmatisation their equivalents would have done in book form.

NG I remember as a boy reading an essay by C S Lewis in which he writes about the way that people use the term “escapism” – the way literature is looked down on when it’s being used as escapism – and Lewis says that this is very strange, because actually there’s only one class of people who don’t like escape, and that’s jailers: people who want to keep you where you are. I’ve never had anything against escapist literature, because I figure that escape is a good thing: going to a different place, learning things, and coming back with tools you might not have known.

Wil Wheaton on Depression

Depression is a dick, and Depression lies, and even though I know all of that with the rational and reasonable part of my brain, the Depression part of my brain has been really loud and persistent and just relentless for a couple of weeks, now. It’s Friday, and when I look back on this week, I can see all the important and good stuff that I’ve done, I can see the small but meaningful steps I’ve taken toward completing things that are important to me … but those things are all in the shadows that are cast by the giant spotlight Depression is shining on the things I didn’t do.

And the thing is, I could probably come up with good reasons that I didn’t do the things that I wanted to do, and they are probably reasonable reasons, too. But I also know that all week long, Depression was right there on my shoulder like the leprechaun that tells Ralph to burn it all down, and quietly telling me that there’s no point, there’s no reason to do it, it’s not worth my time.

And now it’s Friday, and Depression is telling me that I’m a failure because I didn’t finish the things that Depression helped ensure I didn’t start.

That’s the insidious part of Depression, at least for me, and I know that to a person who doesn’t struggle with mental illness like I do it just sounds like a pity party where all the gifts are excuses.

But here I am. On Friday. No closer to finishing the things I wanted to finish than I was on Monday.
Wil Wheaton, so distorted and thin

(I’ve posted a few prior quotes/links to Wil’s depression posts, partly because they’re well written, but mostly because it’s so spot on for how my own depression manifests itself.)

Elizabeth Bear on Committing

Here is thing I learned when I was 29, which I now give away for free:

If you want to do a thing, do it now, or as soon as feasible. Because there might not be a later.

[…]

But to succeed at a thing–a job, a relationship–in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary. And commitment is scary because once you’re in you’re in. It’s not bobbing around close to the shore, paddling with your feet. It’s both feet and swimming as hard as you can out where the rip currents and the sharks are, where the water turns blue.
Elizabeth Bear, everybody’s scared of things that they don’t understand and all the living they don’t do.

Being Who You Are

And sometimes that’s hugely painful or difficult, especially when we’ve been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it’s all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it’s risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it’s also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)

That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being–and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.

Elizabeth Bear

Read the rest of the post (and really, a lot of her posts lately). Worth it.