reality is weirder than you think

Tag: nothing new under the sun

The upside of upside-down world

Gather ’round, children, and let me tell you a story.

Many years ago, before universities passed out pacifiers and blankies at freshman orientation, I went to college. During that time, I majored in Old English Books and Visual Communication Design. English was administered through the traditional Harvard model. The VCD degree, while still 100% university accredited and therefore curriculum mapped within an inch of its life, was taught by people who actually worked in the real world. Instead of pretending we were all intellectuals and writing paper after paper, we put our work up on the wall and critiqued it.

It was in my VCD classes I learned that writings from real-world practitioners (like graphic designers) were eons more insightful than anything produced by the English Department Academics. Even when I read pieces by people with views I wildly disagreed with, like Michael Beirut, I could appreciate the insight honed by real-world experience. Reading non-academics was like climbing out of Plato’s cave.

Now, did I apply this experience and run screaming from academia? No I did not. But that is a story for another time.

Let’s talk about Paul Arden’s book WHATEVER YOU THINK, THINK THE OPPOSITE.

Full of ideas that you could write down on a blank page

This is a book written by a designer. An ad man. Someone who played long and hard in the marketplace of ideas. It’s a clever little book full of advice. (And full of visual puns.)

I grabbed it off my bookshelf for a re-read after AJA Cortes tweeted another fount of advice on how to dig yourself out of a 10 year hole today.

You know why? It’s a lot of the same timeless advice.

The premise is this: you are where you are in life because of how you think. If you’re thinking the same things as everybody else, you end up like everybody else (even if your idol is Hunter S Thompson). To be great, think for yourself, develop your own point of view, and start doing the opposite of what you think you should do.

From page 20:

It’s not because you are making the wrong decisions, it’s because you are making the right ones.

We try to make sensible decisions based on the facts in front of us.

The problem with making sensible decisions is that so is everyone else.

Fear not, Paul Arden designed a beautifully bold spread to persuade you to make bad decisions. (Or as Jordan B Peterson would say, “do it badly.”) If you start to think differently, your life will start to take a different direction.


Arden also delivers some advice on ideas:

The effort of coming to terms with things you do not understand makes them all more valuable when you do grasp them.

This is given in the context of art appreciation, but it can apply to just about anything in life, from fitness to creativity to developing business ideas. Guess what? You have to do the work. But the work is important.

So is your ego and how you present yourself.

The design of this book is just as much visual as it is written. Arden mixes the ideas, the visuals, how the visuals are presented, and all the text takes form in short, punchy sentences. Advertising sentences. Twitter sentences.

It’s practical, motivational advice that’s fun to read, makes you think, and readable in 30 minutes or less.

Highly recommend.

Oh, and university? Arden says stay far, far away. Too bad this book was published when I was already walking that dark path.

Go read Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite.

The gap between head and hand

It’s relatively easy to recognize good art (or writing or music or whatever).

Some people have terrible taste, but most of us do alright.

It’s also relatively easy to conceptualize the act of drawing in our heads.

Or even watch it on a YouTube video — Draw with me! — when someone else’s rendering looks so easy.

So you go to take the leap and try it for yourself. You grab a sketchpad, and a pencil, and say “Self, today we’re going to draw X.”

(Congratulations for taking that leap, btw.)

Despite what your brain knows to be true, despite all the time you’ve spent looking at reality and at artful depictions of it, what comes out on the other end of your pencil is trash.

Your eyeball neurons don’t know how to connect with your finger neurons. Your fingers don’t know how to hold the pencil. You try to see what is in front of you, but you cannot recreate it.

There is a gap.

When you are a child, it’s easier to see past it. Maybe you don’t even know that it exists, because you haven’t yet had the chance to take in great works of art. So you practice, and you improve, but you never cringe at yourself.

As an adult, you know full well what you’re producing is garbage.

Maybe you want to stop, in shame, thinking that you should be better — even though there’s no way you could be better, having never drawn X before.

There’s now a conceptual gap, not just a behavioral one: you versus what you think you should be. Nevermind that your conception of yourself is unrealistic.

The hardest part is knowing that it is impossible to jump or bridge or maneuver around the gap. The only way across is through — through all the garbage and the shame and the unknown.

I started drawing again this past week, after a very long time of not drawing. I did a practice sketch this evening.

Guess what? It was garbage.

Nobody wants to look at garbage, especially myself.

But it’s the first step into the gap. Someday, with effort and persistence, I’ll get to the other side.

Maybe then my drawings will be worth looking at.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch THE GAP on repeat.

Same advice, different source

Fran Meneses is an illustrator who vlogs about…what it’s like to be an illustrator. Or really, a freelancer of any sort. Or even more really, a “choose yourself-er.”

People who have chosen to take their destiny into their own hands instead of a mostly-guaranteed steady paycheck. The people I admire but have convinced myself that I could never join the ranks of, because I’m too scattered and/or lazy and/or lacking for time.

But I watch their videos and read their blogs anyway. I bet you do too.

Here’s a vlog of Fran’s that hit home with me.

Spoiler: her advice is BE PROACTIVE. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how or what to do, but instead figure it out for yourself.

“You only need yourself, and internet, the library and books. You also need motivation…and coffee.”

The funny thing is, as we started rounding out the video, I realized that I have heard most of this advice before. Where? From Mike Cernovich and James Altucher and Tim Ferriss. From other people who have actually done it. (Although they wrap their advice in very different aesthetics than Fran does.)

But what really caught my attention, is that I remember reading these things in the granddaddy of self-help books, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

In fact, I pulled out my nearly-full pink sparkly learning notebook circa 2015/2016, where I took notes from my first read-through. Mr Hill is a lot more prolific and early 20th century feeling than Fran, but they share some very common overlapping points.

Fran’s Advice on How to Be Good at Something

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. Get organized–find where these things live
  3. Make a schedule–so that you will carry through with learning these things instead of procrastinating
  4. Surround yourself with people that motivate you, that make you want to do things
  5. Meet with a study group to learn and discuss
  6. Be consistent

Mr Hill’s Advice on How to Be Good at Something

  1. Desire backed by faith
  2. Clear and definite plan
  3. Decision is the opposite of procrastination
  4. Specialized knowledge (from the library!)
  5. Form a “master mind” group
  6. Persistent, continuous action

Funny how they’re almost exactly the same. Now, I have many more notes on Mr Hill’s advice (which is mostly general), and Fran has many more videos (which are very much more specialized onto freelancing, running an online shop, and illustration) so the comparisons won’t stand up to a huge amount of scrutiny.

I enjoy the synchronicity between them, and the echo of truth that rings when the same advice holds true, and actually works, in 2017 as it did in 1937.

Now, as always with the truth, the hardest part is doing it!

James Damore and the Neverending Meme War

When I first heard that the guy who wrote the Google Memo was fired, I was not surprised. I work in a very similar psychological environment; if I ever hinted that I thought facts like that were true, I would immediately become a pariah.

I read people speculating about his motives and his plan.

“He knows what he’s doing — he totally knew he would get fired”

“Such a poor sacrificial lamb — he clearly had no idea this would happen”

“He wrote an open letter for other companies to hire him for upper management”

At this point, I became worried for him. It was becoming clearer and clearer that he’s not an alt-right scrapper, but a niceguy nerd with an unwavering commitment to the facts. I thought he might get eaten alive.

I’m not worried anymore.

via Peter Duke

James Damore, whether he likes it or not, is going to become a figurehead for the fight against ingrained leftist groupthink in the workplace. And it’s very clear that he has some heavy hitters on his side.

Already, he has some weapons-grade memetic photographs out, courtesy of our friend Peter Duke.

His brand-new Twitter handle is @Fired4Truth, a punchy battlecry that sums up his symbolic martyrdom. It’s the 30 second elevator speech version of him — “Who are you again?” “I’m the guy who got fired from Google because I told the truth.”

Some of his first post-firing conversations online were with Jordan B Peterson and Stefan Molyneux, both solidly committed to reason and evidence.

Wesearchr is taking care of his fundraising. (And I suspect Chuck C Johnson is behind his Twitter and periscope dealings, as well.)

Cernovich has started referring to the battle against the “Diversity Industrial Complex.”

Even congressman Dana Rohrabacher is stirring the waters of Twitter on this issue.

I hope James is ready for his crash course in memetic warfare. It’s clear from his memo that he’s a very logical guy; now we see if an intelligent coder can learn how rhetoric works.

This is shaping up to be a very interesting next set of battles in the meme war. We’ve moved from the streets of Berkeley to the boardrooms of Mountain View.

Postmodern Journaling

File this under “no such thing as coincidence.”

The very same day I posted yesterday’s post on a type of journal entry, Vox Day began ruthlessly examining postmodern literature. Essentially, the argument is that postmodern literature is void of information content or actual communication; instead, the writing is meant to be skimmed for an impression.

This holds true to what I know of modern MFA-style workshops in creative writing. They despise “genre fiction,” which tends to focus on such quaint, old-fashioned ideas like story and character, while being absolutely obsessed with sentence-level stylistics. If you never look past the WORDS to the MEANING, however, you don’t get a good story. (Hence why you never see any good stories coming out of MFA-style workshops.)

This can also apply to journals and diaries.

If I go back to my longhand journals, I can re-read entries and remember what was going on in my life at the time. There’s usually some sort of structure to what I wrote, and it reflected what was in my head. There’s content being communicated. And even though it’s to-myself from-myself, I can understand past entries even with the passage of time.

Now, the Keel’s Simple Diary, I don’t think I’ve ever gone through and re-read past entries.

[Press pause while I do so.]

Based our previous observation of words and content, I can validate the conclusion that you probably just leapt to that Keel’s postmodern approach to journaling does very little to retain the content of a day. Even in the entries that I specifically mentioned events, I have no idea what was going on. Nothing evokes a memory.

It’s fun to fill out, to make your brain stretch a little bit to fill in the random types of questions that are asked for each day, but because the questions are so random, there’s no comparison across time, or even space for a narrative or even just a data point or two.

You validate the action of updating a daily journal, but the purpose (to provide a document for daily life, thoughts, emotions, etc.) is completely obliterated.

Postmodernism strikes again.


Mullet hairstyle, come back now

You saw it here first: male mullets are making a comeback.

Stylists have inflicted three different versions on K-Pop idols in the past six months, so I’m betting that it’s only a matter of time before they catch on worldwide. Obviously.

First, example is this baby mullet on Taeil from rookie group NCT 127. It doesn’t come through in this photo, but his hair is a pretty cherry-brown color, with a small fringe down the back. Head on, this looks like a simple haircut with a focus on bangs, but when he turns his head, you get a mullet surprise.

Which is the whole point of a mullet, really. Business in the front, party in the back.

Next up is one of G-Dragon’s hairstyles for the MOTTE tour this summer. The shaved sides really set off the length in the back, and add more of a rock edge, almost verging into rockabilly territory.

via YG Entertainment

Less business, more “all party, all the time.” But it’s G-Dragon on tour, what else do you expect?

Finally, we have Baekhyun’s promo photos for EXO’s upcoming summer comeback. Speaking of rockabilly, we are verging closer and closer with this look.

via SM Entertainment

Baekhyun suits all sorts of looks–he’s such a chameleon–but this is especially great on him. The bangs are so feathery, and the long parts in the back frame his face and show off his jawline.

I’m ready for this style to catch (back) on in the States. I’ve speculated that the Trump era will become the Dark ’80s (as opposed to the actual, optimistic ’80s), so the time is ripe for a mullet comeback.

Is the mullet the evolution of the currently ubiquitous fashy haircut?

I vote yes.


This is not, of course, to forget the magnificent mullet formerly sported by @BakedAlaska, who just cut off his mullet into a fashy haircut. You’re going the wrong way–bring the mullet back!

via Baked’s instagram

(A moment of silence for our dearly departed: may it rest in peace.)


EDIT: Looks like All K-Pop published an article on mullets today too, with more examples. BRING IT BACK, BOYS!

Who needs a hero?

Interesting clash of perspectives today.

I’m working on a project at my job (large corporate-type situation) with an internal process improvement consultant. One of the major issues that we’re encountering with this project is the fact that things get done through the herculean effort of certain members of our staff. They get faced with a nearly impossible task, and do it.

Our job is to take that herculean task and process-ify it until it comes with a mission, vision, guidelines, step-by-step guides, and (my favorite) best practices. Basically we’re sanitizing, streamlining, and Disney-ifying it so that anyone can do it. Which is the point, really. We need more of these tasks done. The point is to break it into a step-by-step process so that people can just “go with the flow” and the institution will get what it wants out of it.

But I found myself using the phrase “extreme ownership” in relation to this task (the extreme effort expended I think leads to extreme territoriality over the end product). Now, I haven’t yet read Jocko Willink’s book on the subject, but Jocko is a military man focused on leadership. A hero.

And it occurred to me: there is a HUGE subset of media focused on urging people out of the “go with the flow” mentality into a hero mentality. Gorilla Mindset, Four-Hour Workweek, Extreme Ownership, Unleashing the Giant Within…whatever you want to call it, there a huge demand for people to be coaxed into the hero role.

So why am I fighting to take them out again? Doesn’t a competitive process produce good results, as iron sharpens iron?

Perhaps if there is also loyalty, and the herculean effort doesn’t cause people to break down, hate their job, and quit. But there is no loyalty at a corporate-style institution.

On the one hand, I feel like I’m removing a chance for people to prove themselves. On the other hand, there’s a huge giant problem around this issue that might get fixed with standardization.

Now I feel the need to seize the means of production.


Bonus question: Are people who need a class on how to be a hero really heroes anyway?

On Aesthetics and Truth

There’s reality. Layer 0. Reality is Truth with a capital hard T. If you don’t run with it, it will smack you in the face. Or kill you.

Then there’s words. Layer 1. We use words to communicate, to build things. Words add another layer of meaning. We joke with words, deploy irony, twist meanings. There are a lot of fun things you can do with words.

But, while words are “real” to an extent that they make other, physical, things happen…words aren’t real. Most words are sophistry, painting a picture of a real thing over Layer 0 so as to obscure Layer 0. The best words clear away the obstructing Layer 1 debris to uncover the Truth beneath.

This can be a painful, dirty process, which is why people kill truth-tellers like Socrates and Jesus.

That leads us to the crux of my thinking, the thorn in my side: “The Word became Flesh.”

Jesus, LOGOS, became man to walk among us. LOGOS, truth. LOGOS, words. Jesus is the reconciliation between Layer 0 and Layer 1. Jesus is the anti-sophist. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth in Words. So to be like Jesus, you need to also become Truth in your words. If you tell lies, or “bear false witness against your neighbor,” you are not pointed in the direction of Layer 1 bearing witness to Layer 0. That is, Christ.

And that leads me to aesthetics. We communicate also with pictures, through art and advertising, design and memes and architecture. There are lots of ways to convey messages non-verbally. Many language-oriented academics deny this, a fact that got me thinking about this subject when I was in graduate school. They claim that all thought is mediated through language. I content that they’ve never been emotionally moved by a true, deep color or played music ever in their lives. It is entirely possible to communicate without words. In fact, there’s a whole movie built on that premise (Close Encounters with the Third Kind).

But I digress. Reality is Layer 0. Words are Layer 1. Words build culture, a shared understanding. So that can be Layer 2. Culture builds up law, Layer 3. And so on. All of those are socially-based things, intangible things.

(This is also why I’m so interested in words and how they are physically formed with typography and the like, because words are intangible so to make them physical is one of the ultimate Acts of Creation, see “Word became Flesh,” but again I digress)

Where does that leave us, though, with the visual? Man made cave drawings before writings. We communicated through visual medium before the written word (although we probably had spoken words at that time). The written word is a subset of a visual medium.

A house is four walls and a roof, but there are many different styles in which you can put together those components. You can build a mud hut, or a house out of bricks, or a cookie-cutter Victorian or a modernist concrete structure. Style changes over time, depending on the available technology and materials, plus the people to put them together and their history.

Physical artifacts of history, like old forks that are dug up from archeological sites, and paintings and book printings, and more interesting to me than historical records. For one, written historical narratives can LIE LIE LIE like people do with Layer 1 (and if that Layer 1 is built only on an understanding of Layers 2 and 3, rather than a firsthand account of Layer 0…God help us).

That is why Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Truth. He is the conduit to Layer 0 so that we don’t get confused and lose our way.

Old forks give us a physical representation of Layer 0. These are things that people used to live their lives, and they give us clues to how the world was around them. Paintings and novels are as a physical artifact Layer 0 but as a commentary, Layer 1 or higher, because they run Layer 0 through the brain/worldview/of the artist. So you get an idea of how they view Layer 0 (unless they are a third-rate mind looking only at Layer 3 or 4 or 5).

This is why social media gets us into so much trouble. At that point, we’re on Layer 6 or 7 or 8…so far removed from Layer 0 that we’re in danger of floating off into the ether.

I’m circling my point but I’m never actually getting there.

The Style of a Thing is not always the substance of that thing, but it is an integral part of that thing. And the style of that thing–how the creator chooses to present that thing to the world–communicates a lot. Fancy or plain. Baroque or brutalist. Intuitive or overly complex.

How does that point us to the Truth, or obscure it? Is there a true “style” of Truth? Some Christians have believed that a thing needs to be stylistically plain to avoid distracting from the truth (looking at you, Puritans, with all due respect) but at the same time, I also understand why icons and statues and other things are needed in the Church–especially in a time when most people were illiterate.

Is a true aesthetic one that points to the reality of thing it decorates, rather than misrepresenting it? IE, putting fancy packaging on a cheap product in order to charge a higher price for it.

For example, the biggest “tell” that a charcoal face mask that Tati and Jeffree Star reviewed recently was a fraud was how cheap the packaging was on the product–that nasty gold thread with the cheap bottle. That is an example of untruthful style. It is a crooked thing that doesn’t stand up straight so that the claims, price, product and outcome all stack on top of each other with a straight line to Layer 0.

In one sense, a facade can be a lie, because it obscures the actual product behind it. Think of the buildings in the old west that made one-story buildings seem taller, or the set on a movie that’s only looks like a skyline when in fact it’s just cardboard.

On the one hand, these things are a lie. On the other hand, just like art, they are used as a representation in Layer 1 or greater to (sometimes) get us to look at Truth in a new light.

That is my mission: to investigate the relationship between aesthetics and Truth.

I am not sure if aesthetics/style is another layer in the stack, but I doubt that because different styles can apply to every layer. Maybe style is a kind of force-multiplier? Sometimes style is used to obscure truth, and sometimes style is mistaken itself to be the truth. But style is just a manner in which we do things, a manner in which truth (or any subject) is presented.

Side note: as mentioned earlier, style changes with time period and people group and available technologies (such as the brightly colored Victorian dresses that sprang on to the scene when synthetic dyes were developed). I doubt that one aesthetic style can be of more truth-value than another…right? Another thing to investigate.

I’m sure some philosopher somewhere has already covered this to a much greater extent than I already have, and hopefully I will read them someday. But I also want to work through it on my own.

Hopefully I’ll add value to someone else’s search for truth, because it really bothers me that most people who write about style do not include much substance. There’s IYI-level academic analyses, and breathless magazine writeups, but not much that’s thoughtful and in the middle. Much of my favorite cultural analytical writing is done by graphic designers, which strikes a good balance of thoughtfulness and experience, but as I’ve pointed out in my About page, most of those people are on the left somewhere.

There are lots of political commentators on the right, and to an extent social commentators and persuasion commentators, but there aren’t many design commentators. And while I am loathe to call myself an authority on anything (trust me, I’m not), and don’t really want to become a “commentator,” I’m still curious and figure–why not make a fool of myself in public? All truth-tellers do.

There’s this layer of meme magic that I’ve become aware of during the past year and a half (shoutout to Pepe here) that I think plays into this whole aethetics thing, as well. Are memes at like, Level 10? The whole “oversoul” or “shared consciousness” idea? The forces of fate that are outside our control–those shape a lot of the aesthetics of the age. And what does that mean? Can we help shape or control those things? Or do they control us? We are all trapped in our own time, and some of us who are prescient can see glimmers of the future, but most of us can’t. Those of us who are wise will learn from the past, from the other time periods that we have access to. But we have to learn from Layer 1 or greater, because it is not possible to access Layer 0 of another time. Only of our own time. Layer 0 is the present, always.

Because this is my own blog and I’ve decided to not limit myself to any specific topics, I’ll write about other things like my diet (which is related to Layer 0 and contributes to my own personal aesthetic…hah) and probably Time, which fascinates me. Also Christianity, which I believe to be the Truth. So it all really relates together on some level.

I honestly believe that everything relates to everything eventually, and part of the fun of living is trying to tie disparate things together. That’s what the “Pulling at Threads” category is for.

So Amazon bought Whole Foods

Where I live in Portland, I’ve used Amazon Prime Now to get groceries delivered from New Seasons Market, a local Whole-Foods-type chain.

New Seasons doesn’t partner with Instacart, which I also use. Whole Foods does.

Because of the buyout, I assume that Whole Foods will someday soon deliver via Amazon.

Where does that leave New Seasons?


Ordering groceries online has its ups and downs. For the most part it’s great: quick, convenient, and because I don’t have a car–incredibly less cumbersome.

But you pay for it in money (fees, tips) and also in lack of choice or care. The Anon shopping for you doesn’t have any skin in the game, so to speak, about picking the best produce and certainly doesn’t have your particular dietary requirements in mind when swapping out replacements.

For instance, a while back I was not eating dairy, soy, and sugar, but occasionally would like a 100% dark bar of chocolate. I added one to my Instacart order, but the brand I had picked (and researched online to make sure that all the ingredients were legal for me) was out of stock–the brand that the shopper chose as a replacement was sugar-free, but had dairy.

No incentive for them to care.

Or, for instance, the steak that I had yesterday was probably 1.75 pounds but came with a “sidecar” steak that’s about a half-inch thick–because I had ordered 2 pounds of steak. Nobody thought to get two one-pound steaks?

The best experience I’ve had with grocery delivery has actually been ordering directly through Safeway’s website. The quality of the produce and meat that I got through them was by far superior, but the delivery fees were higher. I suspect that this is because Safeway was not using a “gig” setup with random Contractor Anons doing the work.

Safeway didn’t let you tip the delivery guy.

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