I thought it was about time I gave myself permission to write about things that weren’t all that important.
We’re living through such Unprecedented Times when so many Serious Things are happening every hour, I think I started to feel like it would be irresponsible to write about things that were not directly related to the end of the republic or the plague.
But honestly, who cares what I think?
I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way. Okay, yes I do, but I also mean to say that plenty of other smart and good-hearted folks already have this covered. There are times when I do feel like my particular perspective on current events is valuable. But, you know, not all the time.
And at the same time, I have a lot of big thoughts about things that simply aren’t existentially consequential. Lately, though, I guess I’ve felt like it would be almost inappropriate to talk about anything frivolous, like superhero TV shows or gadgets, let’s say. Since no one is currently paying me to publish my thoughts on unimportant things (oh please someone pay me to do that), it sort of felt rude to do so—almost gauche.
I wrote about how cool it is that when I needed my iPad to serve as my primary personal computer, it unexpectedly filled that role really damn well. Read that too!
I also posted some fake news! Let me explain. I am experimenting with coming up with fictional news articles, not satire per se, like The Onion, but just things that aren’t true. Maybe it’s funny, maybe it’s not.
I am tantalized by the glowing reviews of the new MacBooks running on Apple’s own processors, wherein normally jaded tech pundits express their astonishment at the speed, battery life, and fluidity of these M1-based laptops. But as tempted as I am to scrape together the means to purchase one, I simply can’t justify it. You see, I already have a laptop running Apple Silicon, and even after two years it’s still wicked fast, unfailingly fluid, lasts as long on a charge as I need it to, and like the M1 Macs, it also runs iOS apps.
Of course, I’m talking about an iPad.
For the past several months, the 2018 11-inch iPad Pro has been my primary personal computer (as opposed to a work computer, which is a 2017 iMac). I sold my MacBook Air a few months ago in order to cut some pandemic-era costs, and I have been genuinely surprised by how little I’ve missed having a traditional laptop and how I almost never feel the need to use my work machine for “serious computing.” This was supposed to be a kind of sacrifice, and I was prepared to deal with what I assumed would be a heavily compromised experience. But as things stand right now, if I had to choose between my iPad Pro as my main “laptop” and a fancy new M1 MacBook, I think I’d have to stick with my current setup.
I did not expect this.
To be clear, I wouldn’t replace my work desktop with an iPad. My job as a communications director for a national nonprofit benefits mightily from a large screen running multiple applications at once, an easily manipulated cascade of windows and tabs, browsers outfitted with extensions, and a robust file system augmented with several external drives.
But I tell you, if I had to do my job from the iPad, I totally could. I could not have said that just a couple of years ago.
When the work day is over, I use my iPad Pro to write essays, articles, newsletters, and the novel I’m working on. I use it to record and edit video and audio for my podcast and YouTube channel. I manage my photo collection with it and do basic image editing (“basic” because I have no idea what I’m doing, not because of any shortcomings with the hardware). I also draw my ridiculous sketches with it, play a few games, watch TV shows and movies, read books and articles, and even write and record songs.
And perhaps most importantly, I use it to read comics. I’ll get to that in a bit.
There’s nothing special about my setup. It’s an 11-inch iPad Pro with Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Pencil. That’s it. No dongles, no drives, no mouse. I used Logitech’s less expensive keyboard-with-trackpad solution for a time, and while it was very good, it was a victim of its own success, showing me that an iPad-only solution for my personal computing needs really was possible, and worth the extra cost to make the experience just that much better with Apple’s keyboard.
There are definitely limitations and frustrations with using an iPad as a laptop, but they have been massively reduced with the last couple of years’ worth of iPadOS updates. Apple’s full embrace of the trackpad really has made all the difference in the world; not just that they enabled the functionality, but optimized for it. Simple processes that were once maddening to attempt on an iPad, such as working with a CMS like WordPress, are now almost indistinguishable from the experience on a laptop. The inability to truly arrange windowed apps, and the weird block the iPad has on doing anything else while video conferencing or recording, are definitely pains in the ass. But I can cope.
As reviewers of the M1 MacBooks have raved about the zippiness of the new laptops, I realized that these were qualities that my iPad setup already possessed, and it also reminded me what I would be missing if I were to opt instead for something like a Surface Pro. There simply aren’t any other platforms that offer this kind of instantaneous responsiveness.
And then I remembered that the iPad Pro’s display also boasts the 120Hz “ProMotion” refresh rate, which not even Apple’s own laptops (or phones!) have yet. The front-facing camera on my iPad is still leaps and bounds better than those on the new MacBooks. And though the M1 Macs run iOS apps, by all accounts the experience is about as awkward as running Android apps on ChromeOS: doable, but kind of a mess. But at least Chomebooks have touchscreens for interacting with Android apps! MacBooks still don’t, so using an iOS app on an M1 Mac would still be a cursor-only situation. Not optimal.
As a side note, I used to own an 11-inch MacBook Air, circa 2012, and while I wound up needing something more powerful and with a larger display to get work done, good lord I loved that thing. It was so small and adorable! The iPad isn’t adorable by any means, but its compact size recalls a lot of what I loved about that old 11-inch Air.
As for comic books: If Windows had available tablet-optimized apps for Marvel Unlimited and ComiXology, I might very well have switched to a Surface Pro ages ago, and all my personal computing needs would have been fulfilled; a tablet-laptop hybrid with a complete ecosystem of powerful, desktop-class applications. But on Windows, Marvel and ComiXology are limited to their abysmal web interfaces (and Marvel Unlimited’s iOS app is already janky). And of course with a Surface or other Windows two-in-one, there would also have been the lesser battery life, the display’s lower refresh rate, and the general chug and churn of PC performance.
My day job has particular demands that make a traditional PC, if not necessary, then at least highly preferred. The iPad can fill in when necessary as a secondary work machine, but I wouldn’t want it to be my primary work device. Besides, I go to some lengths to keep my work and personal lives separate, and that very much includes my technology; my iMac sits on a desk in a particular corner of my apartment, and when my work day is done, I leave that desk and make it a point to avoid using that space for anything else. Opening up the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard signals to my brain that work-work is over, and whatever I do next is for me. It might still be work, but, hopefully, it will be largely labors of love.
Or it might just be catching up with Thor and Loki in the Marvel “War of the Realms” crossover event. Who can say?
I’m still drooling over those new M1 MacBooks. If fortune smiles upon me such that I can acquire one, I certainly won’t turn it away. But things being what they are at this point, owning one would mean selling my iPad setup to cover the cost. Not only is that not worth it right now, in some meaningful ways, it would feel like a step back.
I wrote a sonnet about a TV show that’s been on for a while.
I have really been enjoying the “Arrowverse” shows, Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl. They’re so much fun, in large part because they so gleefully embrace their inherent silliness and absurdity.
I‘m hoping to get fully caught up with all of the shows in that universe before I watch the big Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, so I was overdue to get started on Legends of Tomorrow, which debuted in 2016. So I watched the two-part pilot.
And it’s pretty dopey. I may or may not trudge through the whole series, but the pilot was definitely rougher than the shows off of which it is spun. Maybe it’ll get better.
I was looking for an excuse to write a sonnet. And I thought it would be fun to pick a subject that wasn’t all that important. And “Legends of Tomorrow” fits so well into a line of iambic pentameter. Although, it turns out I didn’t actually use the title in the actual sonnet, but NO MATTER.
Here you go. A two-part, non-rhyming sonnet. About a TV pilot. About superheroes. You’re welcome.
Let’s put aside the fact that Snart and Mick Are not endowed with any superpowers; But only have the fancy guns they stole From heroes on another show. The team To which they’ve been conscripted has been told By some time-hopping malcontent that none Of them have value on their own, and must Abscond into the past to thwart the plans Of some immortal fascist demigod Before he murders billions decades hence. It’s only then that these fantastically Empower’d also-rans will find a sense Of worth. I think that’s just a bit absurd.
There’s Ray, a supergenius billionaire Who built a suit combing powers of Mans Both Iron and Ant. The odd couple that forms Into a human conflagration? Holy crap! The oft-respawning couple with the wings Would seem to me to be a pretty damn Big deal. And Sarah Lance! She once was dead! And now she’s not! And smashing many heads. It takes a special kind of asshole to convince These Legends that they’re both of no import Yet also indispensable. Come on. I simply can’t believe how easily they’re duped. (And what was up with Martin drugging Jax?) They’d have been fine if they had just stayed put.
I took some time off last week, which was desperately needed, and it gave me some extra time to do more extracurricular writing. So that’s good!
I know it’s a cliche, but good lord it’s hard to actually relax into vacation time. I don’t think I really nailed it until the last two days. In the first few days, I wasted a lot of energy fretting over what I “ought” to be doing with my free time. But I can report that I did manage to come out the other end of this mini-vacation (entirely at home) feeling just slightly more grounded. Probably because I worked through a lot of my personal angst in public, which you can now enjoy! Lucky you!
Maybe I can’t get free of the fetters I’ve fitted myself with, nor the ones that the culture has clapped onto me, because I maintain a delusion that meaning, peace, and validation will still be given to me by Someone Else, by some force Out There. Maybe by shedding hope, I empower myself to provide it on my own.
I think natural selection and I need to have a talk. I need to thank it for getting us all this far, what with the conscious brains, the opposable thumbs, and whatnot. And then I need to tell it, honestly, that its time with me is over, because it’s holding me back from, well, evolving.
Are people just getting together and hocking mucous-globs into each other’s mouths?
And finally, I came up with a little speculative fiction about what might happen if we just let the Trump cultists believe that Trump is going to be president for however long they want to believe it, in a sort of MAGA-Matrix:
It is 2023. Joe Biden is embroiled in several lawsuits over his attempt to steal the 2020 election. Hunter Biden is in prison in Moscow. Kamala Harris is still out there, working with AOC, Antifa, and George Soros (now 93 and obviously being kept alive with some kind of secret pharmaceuticals or cybernetic implants) to foment a revolution and take over the country.
I won’t always have this much extra time and energy to put out this much Quality Content, but I’m glad I did. I hope you are too!
The United States is politically held hostage by tens of millions of people living in a delusional version of reality. No matter the facts staring them in the face, just a little less than half of the electorate seems to believe in an alternate universe in which Trump won the election, left-wing terrorists are destroying our cities, COVID is a hoax or an exaggerated flu, and white Christians are the most oppressed group in history.
So I had a thought.
Information silos, filter bubbles, and algorithms can obviously make millions of people believe almost anything. So if what the Cult of Trump needs is to live in a fake reality, well, maybe we can just let them. And then the rest of us can carry on with actual reality.
I turned this thought into a bit of speculative fiction.
* * *
After a hard day at work, Rick plops down on the couch and flips through his phone to see what’s new.
He’s a father of three, but two of the kids are grown and out of the house, and the other is out with friends. His wife, Danielle, is making dinner, which she always does unless she’s not feeling well.
Rick scrolls through his social media feeds and gets updated on some of the latest headlines. The border wall had just been completed, and the pictures were stunning. 30-foot high partitions, black as midnight, effectively invisible in the dark, but reflective so that the sun blazed in the eyes of anyone who looked at it from the right angle. Smooth, unscalable, and a true monument to America’s force of will against invaders. President Trump would be there tomorrow afternoon for a ceremony celebrating this achievement.
It’s a good time for this kind of morale boost, as China has made more threats against the United States, promising to choke the American economy while making incursions into our Pacific territory. And who knows when they might release another virus. The president has been undeterred, however, and Rick is reassured when he hears Trump call China’s bluff. You just try it, thinks Rick. See what Donald does.
It is 2023. Joe Biden is embroiled in several lawsuits over his attempt to steal the 2020 election. Hunter Biden is in prison in Moscow. Kamala Harris is still out there, working with AOC, Antifa, and George Soros (now 93 and obviously being kept alive with some kind of secret pharmaceuticals or cybernetic implants) to foment a revolution and take over the country. (No chance, thinks Rick.) Black rioters have nearly destroyed several major Democrat-run cities, so they are now being occupied by federal agents who are arresting criminals, guarding property, and saving the lives of innocent Americans. The president has forced Twitter to shut down for censoring conservatives, which is against the Constitution. Facebook has learned its lesson and now treats conservative voices fairly.
As he scrolls through his feed, Rick almost skips past a headline that said something about someone on Fox News saying something about Joe Biden. He reverses the direction of his thumb swiping to find the item. And there it is. The post reads, “Fox News Guest Says Joe Biden is Currently President!” Rick chuckles out loud.
“What’s so funny?” Danielle asks from the kitchen.
It is stupid. Everyone knows that Fox News went off the rails back in 2020, and really couldn’t be trusted anymore, except for a few hosts like Hannity and Tucker. But what kind of delusional nonsense was this? Why would anyone say that Joe Biden was actually president right now? Some kind of hangover from the 2020 election debacle? The facts are the facts! Trump won the election, even though Democrats tried to steal it with loads of fake votes. But President Trump refused to concede, vowed to keep fighting, and eventually (and inevitably) triumphed in the courts. Thank you, Justice Barrett!
Some say that Trump is thinking about running for a third term. That would be just fine with Rick.
Danielle coughs from the kitchen. And then again, and emits a little bit of a groan.
Rick calls out, “You okay, honey?” Danielle had been under the weather ever since they went to that basketball game Danielle’s nephew was playing in. It was actually a really good game, and the place was packed! She probably picked up some bug going around.
“I’ve been better,” she responds. “I’ll lay down after dinner.”
Rick makes a mental note to check her temperature, and maybe his own. He’s not feeling so great either, but he’s never been one to admit when he’s sick.
Then he remembers what he was looking at. Right, that dumb Fox News person who said Biden’s the president. Rick taps on the item.
The post had been deleted.
That’s weird. Fake news never really goes away, does it? You just have to keep vigilant, and only trust the sources that you know for sure are giving it to you straight.
Rick thinks back to the border wall, and he smiles. Yeah, he thinks, Trump is doing a fantastic job in his second term. A third term would be just fine by him.
I’m not talking about the theory of evolution as a scientific concept, I mean I am having some strong feelings about what a pain in the ass natural selection is to me, right now.
If you’re new to my writing, let me just give you a quick status report: my sense of self is kind of garbage. I’m not currently experiencing existential anguish, per se (but, you know, catch me on a different day and see what you get), but I am wrestling with a crisis about who I am and why I bother existing.
And a lot of that hinges on a deep, aggravating need for validation. I need other people to justify my existence for me. It’s a big reason why I was a professional actor, why I write, why I make music, and why I do pretty much anything else not directly related to my own survival or the well-being of those I love. I need to be told by The World that I belong.
For the last few years, I’ve been able to pin some of the blame for this on my autism, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 39. As you might imagine, someone with my particular neurological quirks might grow up developing a sense of alienation. That’s what happens when you 1) feel like you’re not the same as everyone else, and 2) are constantly told you are not the same as everyone else, often in very painful terms.
So of course I seek validation now! I’ve been conditioned over several decades to expect to be an outcast, to believe that any sense of belonging I do manage to experience is temporary and tenuous at best, and that I am not capable of judging for myself whether or not I possess sufficient value as a person to continue existing.
Damn you, autism!
The thing is, the need to feel belonging with a tribe is not particular to the neurodivergent. It’s hard-wired into humanity as a whole at the deepest levels. Many humans achieve this belonging rather easily (or so it seems to me). They provide value to their families and communities, they receive the benefits of being a part of those families and communities, and they are validated for playing their part in those social systems. They don’t have to think about it.
But threaten that belonging, cause someone to feel like their place in the tribe could be reduced or taken away, and see what atavistic shit comes up.
For someone like me, that sense of threat is ever-present, and I feel it on every level: I feel like humanity on Earth doesn’t want me, and I also assume I am perpetually on the edge of being rejected by the people Iove. Any minute now, they’re going to decide they’ve had it.
So maybe I feel this kind of alienation and anxiety more often or more severely than most, but all of us have it in us. We’re supposed to! It’s how early humans survived through our time as nomadic hunter-gatherers.
It was Robert Wright, in Why Buddhism is True, who clarified this point for me, that this anxiety over other’s opinions of us is all natural selection’s fault:
Why would natural selection design organisms to feel discomfort that seems so pointless? Maybe because in the environment of our ancestors it wouldn’t have been pointless; in a hunter-gatherer society, you’re pretty much always performing in front of people you’ll see again and whose opinions therefore matter. My mother used to say, “We wouldn’t spend so much time worrying about what other people think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” She was right; our assumption that people give much thought to us one way or the other is often an illusion, as is our unspoken sense that it matters what pretty much everyone we see thinks of us. But these intuitions were less often illusory in the environment of our evolution, and that’s one reason they’re so persistent today.
That’s right, natural selection wants us to be insecure.
There’s so much else that natural selection “wants” us to do that is ultimately harmful to us now. And it seems to me that so much of what we think of as human civilization and progress is really a big species-wide struggle against natural selection and all the things it pushes us to do against our own interests, from the desire to eat too much sugar to the urge to decimate nearby tribes and take their resources. Self-doubt is just one more thing.
I think natural selection and I need to have a talk. I need to thank it for getting us all this far, what with the conscious brains, the opposable thumbs, and whatnot. And then I need to tell it, honestly, that its time with me is over, because it’s holding me back from, well, evolving.
I need to remember that my ache for belonging, while exacerbated by my autism and other quirks, ultimately stems from an instinct that no longer serves its purpose, and that I am free to let it go. To be at peace with who I am and where I am, I think I to kick natural selection out of the tribe.
I am trying to disconnect without isolating. I am trying to find meaning without validation. I am trying to unburden without irresponsibility. I am trying to be aware without being overwhelmed. I am trying to be at peace without being passive. I am trying to matter without having to ask whether I matter. I am trying to fit in without being too ordinary. I am trying to stand out without jutting. I am trying to have hope without being crushed by it.
Maybe it’s that last one that needs to go.
Derrick Jensen wrote a few years ago in praise of giving up on hope. He’s talking about this in the context of his struggle to defend the natural world from decimation by humanity. To me, it applies universally. It’s not even about rejecting hope, but simply not dealing with it one way or the other. Once hope becomes irrelevant, Jensen says:
…you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope didn’t kill you. It didn’t even make you less effective. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems … and you just began doing whatever it takes to solve those problems yourself.
This is not the same as hopelessness. Hopelessness implies defeat, pessimism, resignation to things getting worse. This is something else.
Here’s the part that’s both the most appealing about this idea and the most frightening:
When you give up on hope, something even better happens than it not killing you, which is that in some sense it does kill you. You die. And there’s a wonderful thing about being dead, which is that they — those in power — cannot really touch you anymore. … The socially constructed you died. The civilized you died. The manufactured, fabricated, stamped, molded you died. The victim died.
And who is left when that you dies? You are left. Animal you. Naked you. Vulnerable (and invulnerable) you. Mortal you. Survivor you. The you who thinks not what the culture taught you to think but what you think. The you who feels not what the culture taught you to feel but what you feel. The you who is not who the culture taught you to be but who you are.
As someone who has wasted so much precious life trying to define himself through others’ perceptions, who could not find any value in himself without the explicit approval of everyone else, this is tantalizing and bewildering.
Later, I began to take a more nuanced view. While I must still learn to accept my unmasked, unfiltered self, there is still power to be had with intentional masking, endowing myself with aspects of an identity in order to achieve the things my unmasked self might seek. One can adapt without self-deception. One can modulate one’s behavior without imprisoning oneself. One can augment, and those augmentations are under the control of the “true” self.
But whether one is masking, passing, augmenting, retrofitting, or what have you, I wonder now if it’s hope that is still an ingredient of falseness. Maybe I can’t get free of the fetters I’ve fitted myself with, nor the ones that the culture has clapped onto me, because I maintain a delusion that meaning, peace, and validation will still be given to me by Someone Else, by some force Out There. Maybe by shedding hope, I empower myself to provide it on my own.
“When you quit relying on hope,” writes Jensen, “and instead begin to protect the people, things, and places you love, you become very dangerous indeed to those in power.”
In my case, “those in power” are the imaginary blessings from an amorphous other. That’s what I’ve allowed to have power over me, the wish, the hope, that at some point I’d prove myself worthy to be One of You, worthy to belong to this world.
Maybe if I give up on hope, the ache for validation, the yearning to matter, will ease.
I grew up under a strange and rather painful contradiction. Those who loved me told me I was special, that I had greatness in me. My peers told me I was garbage, that I was beneath them. As a result, I spent a lot of energy just trying to pass as ordinary, hoping that my latent greatness would get its chance to shine later on.
I guess I’m still doing that, except now it’s with the awareness that there’s a lot less “later on” left, and coming to terms with the possibility that the greatness is really more like “just-okay-ness.”
Think of how young you were when you first thought you had to be the hero of your own story. I must have been barely older than a baby. My father called me maverick. It made me feel like a rebel. I wanted to be a star. I had to win at all costs. And yet: when was the last time anyone ever told a man to be ordinary? Think of the difference that would make, to begin to dismantle our need to be heroes, to finish things, to consider ourselves defined by accomplishment…
While no one is encouraged explicitly to be ordinary, it’s pretty obviously and vigorously implied. But I do not think we are ever encouraged to be extra-ordinary. We are told to excel, to achieve, to be great. Great, but not different. Be the same as everyone else, but be better at it.
What if you’re decidedly extraordinary, as in un-ordinary, but not quite great? Oddness can be forgiven if it comes with a superpower. You can be weird, sub-ordinary, if you truly excel at something. But not if you’re “just okay” at a few things.
Those of us who are weird and just-okay at things can be envious of the ordinary. Astounding no one, but not disappointing anyone either.
No one should feel pressured to be ordinary. But nor should anyone feel like a failure for not being great. What we should encourage in others, and aspire to for ourselves, is to be at peace with who we already are, and utterly free to discover what we might be.
We may discover more ordinariness. We may discover greatness. We may discover flaws and deficits. But whatever we find, we should be free to feel we are enough.
Tomorrow, there will probably be just as many new cases, if not more. These will all be from people who already have it, whether they know it or not, but will be counted anew tomorrow. We don’t know how it will compare to today, but it’s a safe bet that it’ll be another Alexandria, more or less. In one day.
What the hell is going on? What are people doing? I know there are more than enough deniers and reckless people who simply don’t care to keep this disease spreading. I get that people are being idiots and refusing to take basic precautions, having close indoor gatherings even when they know they shouldn’t. But 160,000 new cases in just one day?
Are people just getting together and hocking mucous-globs into each other’s mouths? Are people going around in public licking doorknobs and other people’s faces? Is there an explosion of meetings where thousands of people get together for casual, serial French kissing with arbitrary partners?
I get that we in the United States are screwing up this pandemic, I really do. But how can it be this bad?
And at what point does it become inevitable that we’re all going to get it? Are we already there?