hated and then loved

Some of my favorite art (books, music, food, all of it) I have hated the first time. Some of it is understandable: the shock of the new. Bitter foods, dissonant music, singers with weird voices, idiosyncratic writers. Other things I still don’t know why I hated at first. A partial list is below. Heavy on the pop music because, well, I am heavy on the pop music. But for some reason my taste there is fluid and weird. I love everything below but couldn’t stand it at first:

Gang of Four
Joy Division
James Joyce
The Mountain Goats
Bill Hicks
Van Morrison
Prefab Sprout
John Coltrane
Neil Young
Thomas Mann

Part of it is just maturing, I think, and not needing everything to be accessible. But I liked bitter, weird, dissonant, and generally obscure crap starting very young. I can’t explain those taste changes. Glad I enjoy all those things now.

The list of things I liked and now despise is shorter, more boring, and pointlessly negative so I won’t share. Most of them are pop culture that I liked because of some personal context and then realized was shit, or things I enjoyed because I was immaturer and later found the real version thereof.

no swimswim witem ol meme pool

Two recent topics (list of high school cliques and defining the internet/watercooler news story) resulted in another phenomenon. Certain topics present the nearly irresistable urge to respond personally with an opinion or experience, even if that’s not the original intent of the discussion.

In these cases: The mention of teenager social cliques caused almost everyone to deliver their personal clique membership experience: claiming one, resisting them, etc. This accidentally proved my point about the power of that experience well into adulthood. The discussion of bloggable watercooler news stories got a lot of responses opining about the particular story that sparked my interest. In short, a watercooler was formed.

In both cases the general wasn’t nearly as attractive as the opportunity to share the personal and specific.

I think I hit the “talk about the weather” organ again. I wonder where that thing is? I’m sure as hell not “above” it; mention the weather and I’ll discuss it at length, and I’ll bet I’d do the same on the other topics if I hadn’t been the one with the less magnetic general questions.

So the next question is; what is the list of those topics? My first guess is that a lot of things about food, sex, and sleep would cause a similar response.


I’ve been thinking about social responsibility a lot this week. This is partly because I’ve been reading Michael Pollard’s excellent The Omnivore’s Dilemma which is about the consequences of food. Also, causes and activisms get discussed a lot in the LJ space, so whenever I read through my list I encounter the question: how shall I live in light of this information, this opinion, or this cause?

In the LJ environment, social responsibility and activism is focused on speech and symbol. What can you do with an online forum? You can join a campaign, display a banner, pass on some outrage or joy at events. But for most of the people who participate, these things stay in the world of a relatively small social network: Livejournal and similar internet phenomena. It’s important in that community but doesn’t loom too large elsewhere. A good example is the issue of the breastfeeding icons. It’s deadly important to people inside the LJ bubble, and hard even to explain to people dealing with issues in the broader community.

The daily world is different. In the last decade, quite a few friends of mine have gone to work for military, defense, security, and “homeland security.” The pay is good and the work is often interesting. People deal with this in different ways. My friend A., an avowed conservative and hawk, jokes about the things he builds, but there’s an ironic edge to the jokes. At some level he knows there’s a problem and he makes a great show of not caring, indicating that, well, he does, and he’s worried. Other people make a huge wall between their personal lives and the workplace. Some people I know have a huge dissonance between their source of income and their values, and I don’t know how they deal with it.

I myself work for a company whose values in some areas I find disgusting, and some of whose operations are to me actively dangerous. I tell myself that I’m not directly involved in the “bad guy” part of my job, but there I am with an email address at the same place, and an income.

My father the pacifist veteran wrote an essay once about connecting to evil. He served in the Pacific war on a tanker. He was therefore exposed to danger but not to fighting. One day, however, his ship was anchorerd in a harbor that contained a small island. Someone had reported an enemy sniper on the island. A boat was dispatched to deal with this, and my father was in charge of the boat. They circled the island for a couple of hours machinegunning into the brush. No one shot back. It’s not clear that anyone was on the island at all, or whether they hit anyone. That was the only time he experienced fighting in more than a spectator way, and it was still ambiguous.

It’s a more direct connection to violence than most of us have now, but the point of his essay was that it didn’t matter. Whether you’re the person shooting the gun, the one steering the boat, the one who fueled the boat, the person who built the boat, the person who delivered donuts to the factory that built the boat, someone who paid taxes that paid for the boat and the donuts, or just a functioning part of the economy in that nation, you have your hand on the trigger. You can’t opt out without totally dropping out and leaving, in which case it could be argued that you had just switched sides.

I mostly agree with this. I could of course quit my job at the somewhat evil company and work bagging at an organic grocery. But this would, I think, mostly just satisfy my personal desire to feel pure. The somewhat evil company would not suffer from my departure; my expertise is a commodity and they’re huge. I would then be bagging heirloom tomatoes for the local defense engineers.

And it’s hard for me, in this position, to be too critical of the people who are actually building the technology that kills and oppresses, or putting on the uniform and killing and oppressing. I’m a few degrees further out than they are, but there’s no clear line I can draw and say: on my side is good, on yours is bad.

My current approach is to trim down consumption and change my habits of consumption. If I use less gasoline and electricity, eat less meat and more vegetables, spend less in general, give more money to people who are doing good things, there are benefits. Not only is it personally satisfying to reduce my contribution to the ridiculous mess of our petroleum economy, but as I reduce my debt and my expenditures I’ll find it easier to make better decisions about employment. If I spend less and do more with less, maybe I won’t need the salary I get from working for QuestionableCo, and I can opt out further.

I’m not brave enough to say “I’ll right now give up my comfortable salary and my necessary benefits because the system is wrong and I’m too damned close to why it’s wrong.” So I’m going to chip away with it. Maybe I can get my hand off the machine gun, get out of the boat, go back home to the farm, get more self-sufficient over the next few years and be more of a contributor than a destroyer. Maybe.

There’s a Hyatt Goin’ On

Looking at my recent psycho expenses and adding them up, I realize that if I dumped my meds, my monthlyh psychiatrist checkup, my weekly EMDR session, and my twice-weekly NFB sessions, I could spend one week a month in a luxury resort hotel.

If this all turns out to be a huge failure, I think I’ll do that instead of jumping into a lake and/or cult!