Not back on it still on it.

Realized that I hadn’t posted a picture of me riding bikes in awhile and maybe you were thinking I didn’t anymore. You’d be thinking wrong.

I call ‘First Mud of the Season’. And yup, I’m out in jeans, Blundstones and a puffy jacket. I got pretty dirty on my regular clothes like I used to when I was a kid and it was pretty glorious. Remember when you were a kid and you did everything in your regular clothes? You had no technical fabrics, nothing ‘breathed’. It was hot and when it got wet it was heavy and you’d keep going till it dried and stiffened with dirt and grime until it was time for dinner. Same clothes you wore everywhere else. ‘Venting’ was unzipping your jacket and letting it flap or tying it around your waist.

Then I came back home and sent a group email to nine dudes at various points on the globe who know/don’t know each other to discuss an obscure 2014 record and see what kind of trouble that can turn into. It’s ok, they all ride bikes.

While I was riding bikes this thought occurred to me that I texted to a friend the other day:

“So, a lot of Brad Warner’s Youtube videos lately have discussed the concept of ‘no self’. And I think I’m finally sort of getting it. And today, sitting listening to the latest Sam Harris podcast about Freewill things are becoming even clearer. So now I’m in the stage that is the perpetual loop of realizing there is no ‘I’, but still asking who is this guy who is realizing there is no ‘I’. From where am ‘I’ having this realization when as Sam says, we’re not standing on the bank watching the stream of consciousness flow by, we, ARE the stream. Sometimes I think the people who never bother to think about such things are much happier in their apathy.”

-2 days ago me

And he said:

“I remind myself (?!) several times a day that “I” am not the thinking of these thoughts. They think themselves, if you will. Bubbling up from a subconscious, no more substantial than soap bubbles. What Alan Watts describes as the sound of chickens clucking or the noise from a busy intersection. Real but of no real consequence.”

-2 days ago-texted friend

Then today as I was riding around my neighborhood on muddy roads on this overgrown BMX bike and bombing a massive muddy hill in a gloriously warm sunlight that I was overdressed for I thought:

I don’t know who I am, or who this is, but this is awesome and we don’t care.

-Muddy hill bike bombing me

Some things will never happen again.

Several years back, after at least 5 years of waffling back and forth, I sold all my CDs. 1000+. It’s a long story I won’t rehash here. I also won’t say what I sold them for because it’s embarrassing and painful. The guy I sold them to has a used vinyl/CD place in town and actually lives just up the road from me and our paths cross out in the world sometimes.

After selling them, every now and then I’d come across an album that for whatever reasons – most likely copyright legal nonsense – isn’t on Apple Music or in some cases ANY streaming service. It’s so odd. Sometimes it will literally be one album smack in the middle of an artists’ catalog while all the others are there. This would be a bummer. In one case, Michael Penn’s Resigned (possibly a top-5 desert island album for me), it was so catastrophic that I bought the CD online somewhere so I could have it again.

Another album I listened to just a ridiculous amount at one point was Cracker’s FOREVER – which I couldn’t believe wasn’t online anywhere. I just don’t understand it. Anyway, I actually wrote to the guy up the street and asked if he still had it and could I get it back – no dice.

For awhile back sometime in the ether – before I’d sold all my CDs, I made a jump from the MacOS to Android – got the phone – the full nine. At the time Google Music was just starting up and I didn’t want to pay for a lot of stuff, but you could rip and upload your own CDs too. At one point I went back to Mac and forgot about it. A few weeks ago I got an email saying they’re shuttering Google Music and do I want to download all my stuff? I almost didn’t, because I figured no biggie, but did anyway. 14 zip archives later, I went and unzipped it all to see what was there.

A lot of it was what I’d expected. Albums that were still in heavy rotation or at least on my radar. But there was some that came to comprise what I’m calling the ‘digital dusty box in the storage space that had been forgotten’. A bunch of albums I’d either uploaded because Google Music didn’t have them or I couldn’t find them elsewhere. So now – even though I didn’t have the CDs anymore I had the MP3s. It was like finding a treasure box. I feel like I won the garage sale lottery.

The past week has been a trip in the serious wayback machine playing albums I’d either:

  1. forgotten about;
  2. or couldn’t be found online anywhere easily.

What a blast. For anyone interested, here’s what that list is comprised of along with marginalia:

311 – Grassroots

Band of Horses – Everything All the Time – found out about these guys thanks to Danny MacAskill’s first video that went huge.

BRAD – Welcome to Discovery Park – this came out during a time when I had an hour drive back and forth to work. I would usually spin whole albums and keep only 3-4 in the car, so this was on heavy rotation at one point. Guitar solo/outro for ‘You Are’ is a long-standing favorite for me.

Catherine Wheel – Wishville, Adam & Eve – Adam & Eve is probably my favorite Catherine Wheel record.

Cracker – FOREVER – another hour-commute album. I may have listened to this for a year straight. Listened to it today for the first time in, probably, 8 years. Remembered every second.

Curve – Come Clean

Dada – Self-Titled – another hour-commute alumnus.

Edna Swap – Wacko Magneto, Wonderland Park – found Ednaswap by way of Kelli Scott, drummer for Failure, one of my fave ever bands, who plays on Wacko Magneto.

Fig Dish – That’s What Love Songs Often Do, When Shove Goes Back to Push – my buddy Steve A. knew these guys and turned me on to them.

Finger Eleven – Tip

Geddy Lee – My Favourite Headache – I’m a huge Rush fan, so duh.

Handsome – Self-Titled – came onto these guys by way of the guitar players for Helmet and Quicksand. Add in a dash of Terry Date producing and what the hell is not to like?

How to Destroy Angels – Self-Titled, Omen EP – via NIN mailing list.

Infectious Grooves – Sarsippius’ Ark

Josh Clayton-Felt – Inarticulate Nature Boy – Really loved the School of Fish – self-titled record. Found this in the used CD store. (He was the singer).

Josh Joplin Group – Useful Music – think I saw the video for a single off this on MTV’s 120 minutes.

Juliana Hatfield – Everything

Limp Bizkit – three dollar bill y’all – Saw these guys open for Faith No More at Lisner Auditorium. I think I bought this at the show. To be honest I’ve always liked the Bizkit’s music, I think they are solid players. Fred just got a little old sometimes.

Liz Phair – Whipsmart, Exile in Guyville

Low Pop Suicide – The Death of Excellence – Saw these guys on a triple bill back in the day at Hammerjacks in Baltimore. It was them, then Sloan from Canada (who weren’t well known at the time) and the headliner, The Lemonheads. I bought this CD and Sloan’s Underwhelmed EP at the merch table.

Mad Season – Above – via Seattle/Grunge/Alice in Chains/Everyone-was-in-everyone-else’s-band-up-there connections.

Marcy Playground – Self-Titled

Mark Curry – It’s Only Time – another one I saw a video for on 120 minutes.

Mike Doughty – The Question Jar Show, Stellar Motel, Circles, Haughty Melodic

Orange 9mm – Tragic, Driver Not Included – saw these guys open for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin in DC – I forget where. Hooked.

Primus – Suck on This – First Primus record I ever heard. Exploded my head.

Ruth Ruth – Laughing Gallery – a solid record. Saw these guys open for Everclear at the old 9:30 Club in DC.

Sean Verreault – Victoria House Concert B – Acoustic, Victoria House Concert B – Electric – These were a download from somewhere – that strangely enough, I’d just gone looking for about a month ago and found mentions of them, but couldn’t find the files anymore.

SmartBomb – Yeah, Well Anyway… – this was a buddy’s band.

Smoking Popes – Destination Failure

Strange Boutique – The Loved One – a very cool DC band that I think was ahead of their time.

Suzanne Vega – 99.9F, Nine Objects of Desire – not sure how I got tuned into Suzanne Vega. This was well after the blow up of ‘Tom’s Diner’. I know I liked these two records more than I liked that song.

The Dandy Warhols – Come Down – listening to this right. Now. And spacing the fuck out.

The Darcys – Self-Titled, Aja – saw these guys open for the Arkells at the UNB Sub, I think. They were great – their more recent stuff got dancer and I wasn’t into it.

The Jezabels – The Man is Dead EP, Dark Storm EP, She’s So Hard EP – Jezabels another band featured in a Danny MacAskill video.

The Knack – Get the Knack – I’d only ever heard ‘My Sharona’. When I finally listened to the whole record it blew me away.

The Miller Stain Limit – Radiate – I think this was like a deep-cut find on MuchMusic. I listened to this a lot.

The Pursuit of Happiness – Love Junk – This album is great. I liked The Downward Road even better – and I can’t find that anywhere.

The Vaughan Brothers – Family Style

Therapy? – Infernal Love

Toadies – RubberneckBackslider, yes. But so much more.

Torche – Harmonicraft

Trey Anastasio – Self-Titled – never got much into Phish, but love this record.

Urban Dance Squad – Mental Floss for the Globe – Straight. Up. Genius.

Year of the Rabbit – Self-Titled, Hunted EP – My Man Ken Andrews can do no wrong in my book.

Congratulations, if you’ve read this far, you have earned the title of ‘Certified Music NerdTM and as a result you can’t get the time it just took you to read all that back.

Lessons from a Year of Covid

No surprise, Yuval Noah Hurari does an excellent job of summarizing this year of Covid pandemic in his article: Lessons from a Year of Covid.

Some key takeaways for me:

“If it is not too complicated to start monitoring what you do — it is not too complicated to start monitoring what the government does.”

“…we need to safeguard our digital infrastructure. It has been our salvation during this pandemic, but it could soon be the source of an even worse disaster.”

“…each country should invest more in its public health system. This seems self-evident, but politicians and voters sometimes succeed in ignoring the most obvious lesson.”

“…we should establish a powerful global system to monitor and prevent pandemics.” 

Any current or aspiring politicians out there looking for action items need look no further.

Attention, attention.

“The fundamental thing is that you can’t escape the attention economy.”

– Michael Goldhaber

So as I was snowshoeing around my backyard, writing this post in my head, I had a good chuckle at myself. I could tell, just outlining it, that it was going to be a long post and that meant automatically in this era a certain chunk of people wouldn’t read it.

This is not meant as a slight against those folks. They feel like they don’t have the time to read it. Or that’s what they’ve been led to believe. Or that’s how their brains have been conditioned. I know, because I was there too.

To begin, a bit of context. Let me speak to how I’m currently consuming my media – or what also passes for reading online these days.

I currently use an RSS/feed reader, News Explorer, wherein I’ve got a bunch of site subscriptions. For the most part, they’re old-school single-person blogs, but there’s also a few literary and essay sites in there. I used to have mass-media news sites, but it just got so ridiculously out of hand in terms of post quantity every day so those got axed. All told I’ve got about 40 sites I’m subscribed to. On any given day, I’ll get from 25-50 new articles that show up, depending. I have the app on both my desktop and my phone so it syncs and I can ‘favorite’ things to read later. Once or twice a day I’ll go through and check out what’s there, favorite stuff to read later. Anything friends or people I’ve actually engaged with in-person or via email is an automatic read. Sometimes I’ll stop and read a whole article if I’m feeling like it. Often, all these articles have links to articles within them as well that sound interesting too. I’ll sometimes click through and open those up in Safari, and if I want to circle back, I bookmark them to a folder I’ve got there called ‘Junk Drawer/Read Later’.

Lately I’ve also been using ReadUp, and in a similar fashion, I can go through that and ‘star’ articles that I think seem interesting for later reading. These articles too, often contain links to further articles that could be of interest. See the note about Safari above. I also have friends and contacts that will send me links, and links that are in some ways work-related that I’ll get via email newsletters or via work social-media accounts.

I don’t have any personal social media accounts, so I don’t get any links there, but even still, given all the above, I can easily rack up a ‘to read’ list of anywhere from 150-200 articles within any given day. That’s a lot – if not impossible – to keep up with. Which is why I don’t.

There are certain sources I read everything from, regardless, but for the most part in the interest of sanity, I realized the best way to manage it was just to let it all go. I do read a few articles each day, but every day or two, I go through and nuke all those links/articles I’ve saved/favorited. I don’t have time to read the whole Internet – there’s far more there than I could ever get to and I’m ok with that. Still, sometimes weird things happen and stuff that is meant to find you, will.

This is the system I’ve developed to help me ‘pay attention to what I pay attention to’ when it comes to the Internet.

About a week ago, I’d marked this article from the New York Times Opinion section, ‘I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age‘ by Charlie Warzel as a ‘to read’, but at some point, it got culled. But really, the Internet is just 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon when it comes to links.

Two days ago I read an article on ReadUp (it made the cut) and it left enough of an impression that I wrote a post about it. As a rare treat, the woman who wrote it, Lisa Richardson, actually read my post and emailed me and we had a lovely exchange. At the end of her first email, she shared a link she had just read that morning and thought I’d appreciate…wait for it – I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age. I remembered it immediately and told her so. Surely the Universe had sent me a sign.

You should definitely go read the whole article, I won’t spoil it, but the TL;DR (if you’re paying attention, you’ll get that joke) is that years ago – in prehistoric times internet-wise – 1997, physicist Michael Goldhaber wrote an essay in Wired magazine outlining almost to the letter, all the issues we’re struggling with now with regards to the pitfalls of the ‘attention economy’. Thing is, not many folks paid attention back then. Upon reading, it kinda makes me wonder who we’re not paying attention to right now.

Most of this came to him in the mid-1980s, when Mr. Goldhaber, a former theoretical physicist, had a revelation. He was obsessed at the time with what he felt was an information glut — that there was simply more access to news, opinion and forms of entertainment than one could handle. His epiphany was this: One of the most finite resources in the world is human attention. To describe its scarcity, he latched onto what was then an obscure term, coined by a psychologist, Herbert A. Simon: “the attention economy.”

These days, the term is a catch-all for the internet and the broader landscape of information and entertainment. Advertising is part of the attention economy. So are journalism and politics and the streaming business and all the social media platforms. But for Mr. Goldhaber, the term was a bit less theoretical: Every single action we take — calling our grandparents, cleaning up the kitchen or, today, scrolling through our phones — is a transaction. We are taking what precious little attention we have and diverting it toward something. This is a zero-sum proposition, he realized. When you pay attention to one thing, you ignore something else.

– Charlie Warzel, The New York Times

After reading the article, I wrote back to Ms. Richardson, conveyed my story, thanked her and also mentioned that it immediately reminded me of a post I’d written a little over 2 years ago, Using My Attention with Intention.

I’d noticed my own tendency to read only shorter pieces, avoidance of long articles, and deteriorating attention span. Though I’ve been attempting to rehabilitate my reading skills, I’ll ironically point out that old habits die hard. In the case of the article I discuss below, I read it 3 times. The first two I would resort to skimming, looking for hooks and trying to get to the end so I could get on to ‘next thing’. Part of my efforts have been working on stopping, slowing down, and staying with the writing. Too often these days we are in a hurry to ‘get elsewhere’ either virtually or physically and don’t pay attention to the one thing we are actually doing.

– Me, February 2019 – I seem to think about this stuff a lot in February.

The good news is, looking back, over the past 2 years I have been very successful in my endeavor to use my ‘attention with intention‘. I’d say this is due to a number of factors. Working from home, finally jumping off social media (for good), and practicing a lot of what Cal Newport talks about in Digital Minimalism. A regular practice of meditation has been huge in this regard. Sam Harris makes this perfectly clear in his audio clip from his Waking Up app:

In his recording, “Don’t Meditate Because It’s Good for You,” Harris says that meditation is a profound life process, analogous in some ways to reading—“one of the most important skills our species ever acquired.” Meditation, like reading, has “sweeping implications” for human life, so that over time, “almost everything we care about depends on it.”

In reality, our daily working lives find ourselves “always meditating on something”— habits, worries, desires, obsessions, expectations, insights, prejudices and the like. He emphasizes: “We become what we pay attention to,” so that we are effectively changing our brains in each moment. Mindfulness is “the ability to notice this process with clarity and to then prioritize what you pay attention to.”

“Why not focus your attention on things important to you,” he asks, rather than on a host of “trivial things that clamour for it?”

Elizabeth Shih,

Here’s the audio clip, set to an animation:

We’ve come to the point – or past it – that Mr. Goldhaber wrote about in his initial WIRED article, in that our attention is now a commodity and it is being bought and sold by the likes of social media, news outlets and advertisers. Interesting that those of us talking about the ‘attention economy’ and its associated perils are pretty much relegated to using the very tools, platforms and devices at the core of the economy itself. It would seem we have no choice. However, even Mr. Goldhaber acknowledged this.

“It’s not a question of sitting by yourself and doing nothing, but instead asking, ‘How do you allocate the attention you have in more focused, intentional ways?’”

– Michael Goldhaber

It took a lot of my attention to sit and write this and compile all these quotes and links. Arguably I’m doing it to get attention – as outlined by Mr. Goldhaber in his WIRED article. We all are. We all need attention – though the amount varies by person. I guess what all this has me thinking is it possible anymore to pay attention to the right things given the state of the ‘attention economy’ today. Are we even able to accurately determine what those things are?

“Rule Number One is to pay attention. Rule Number Two might be: Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.”

– Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community

The best part of all this, is searching out Howard Rheingold – whom Mr. Goldhaber cited in his WIRED article, I found his twitter page and therein was a link to a clip from Thelonious Monk from 1966, playing Blue Monk. If you’ve read this far, you deserve to be rewarded. Whatever you do, give at least the first 12:10 of this your full attention.

Passing a Note

I was reading the post Speak the Wild Words and it’s good, you should check it out. This stuck out to me:

Craftivism is a kind of anathema to slacktivism, which is the more common path of protest these days – yelling loudly into Facebook to try and effect change. Craftivism, is quieter and gentler, it generates art and artefacts, and is about creating a better world, note by note, stitch by stitch. It’s about putting something into the world that is more than just your rage or your despair – something that people can approach with curiosity, and engage with. 

– Lisa Richardson

One of the things that drove me off the social medias repeatedly on-and-off until I finally dumped ’em whenever-back-when was the constant stream of activism and advocacy posts – that were in many cases just “yelling loudly” into the void. Even if I agreed with whomever it was and whatever they were championing – it never really struck me as the most effective way to go about changing things – I think the comment threads attached often attested to that very point. Except for the very early days, I certainly never posted that kind of stuff, mostly because I didn’t particularly want to deal with the backlash and/or moderating other people’s bad behavior in my comments.

After getting off social media, I still felt strongly about certain things but increasingly felt that beating people over the head with those ideas was just not the way to go. Since then I’ve sort of been experimenting with and trying to find a ‘name’ for whatever it is that I’m trying to do those ends. Things like reading more, thinking more critically, trying to be present and do the ‘right thing’ – an often moving or seemingly mysterious target.

The above article’s discussion of ‘craftivism’ lit a bulb in my head. Though I’m not really creating anything tangible – no “art and artefacts,” what I am constructing is a life – the best one I’m able – and doing that seems the best way to champion what I think is important or feel strongly about. For me the concept has become one of ‘lived activism’ or ‘living advocacy’. Or ‘lived advocacy’ or ‘living activism’ or whatever. I’m realizing now that whatever it’s called really isn’t important at all. As my main man Brad Warner likes to say, “Buddhism is a philosophy of action.” So in one sense, it’s very much that.

My guess is someone already has created an academic term for this. In my case it’s mostly a mash up of Stoicism and Zen, with some Jocko Willink sprinkled in – no doubt there’s components of other things in there. Obviously, bikes.

In the simplest terms it boils down to ‘practice what you preach’, but in my case I’m leaving out the preaching and just practicing. In this way, I’m advocating to those I come into contact with – family, friends, strangers – all merely by example. That’s good enough for me. And I think it’s likely to have a deeper impact on one person I interact with than 40 people who read something on a social media post in a feed with 50 other peoples’ hollering – no matter how good the video I choose to embed is.

I know what you’re saying. “But my dude, you’re posting it here.” Yes. The difference is that posting it here is almost solely for the purposes of working it out in my own head. This is just my mental sandbox. I know that at any given point there’s probably only 5 people paying attention. I’m not “yelling loudly” into the void. If anything, this is the internet equivalent of going “Pssst…” and then passing someone a note.

It’s more about the real-world execution. My going for a snowshoe at lunch with my dog and then telling you about it in person via passing conversation is going to tell you everything you need to know about how I feel about the Environment, animals, and the importance of getting outdoors on one’s physical and mental health. Subtly, with less yelling – and less competing for your attention.

By way of shout-outs – I found the article I mentioned above via a platform I’ve lately rediscovered – ReadUp. They’re looking to change the way folks read and interact with others about what they read. Check ’em out if you’re so inclined.