My current list: (at least in the arts):
- Jim Carrey
- George Carlin
- David Foster Wallace
- Howard Stern
- Jimmy Buffet
- Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
- John C. Reilly
My current list: (at least in the arts):
Dear Mom & Dad,
This November, I will be voting for Biden/Harris.
I know that you don’t agree with this decision. It is important to me that you know why I made it. For all of these sections, I have rigorously researched and considered the options. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read and consider my findings. I’m happy to discuss them further.
In short, voting for Donald Trump puts my career, my health, my safety, and the planet at risk. I know this sounds extreme. I know this makes me sound like a sensitive snowflake/cupcake/lefty liberal. Despite this, I believe my conclusion is reasonable. I’m legitimately scared for what my future will look like if Trump wins in 2020.
Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, I have been sexually assaulted… more times than I care to remember. One was a co-worker grabbing my ass and cornering me at a party. Some others were multiple men deciding their right not to use a condom was more important than our agreement to use protection. Earlier this month, a man literally non-consensually pinned me down and grabbed me by the pussy.
When I’ve called these men out for their behavior, they all responded with the same words: “I was in the moment.” I don’t want to live in a world where that’s an acceptable excuse. Could you imagine if we lived in a world where that was an acceptable excuse for any other type of violence?
These aren’t just bad apples. For the most part, these men are good people. They’re fitness junkies, music enthusiasts, and Ivy League graduates. They’re sons, friends, and brothers. Someday they may be fathers and partners.
Their behavior is more than their own: it’s a direct result of the culture we live in.
We live in a world where the Proud Boys are operating on a core tenant of “Venerating the Housewife.” Not the stay at home parent. Not the wife/partner. The housewife, whose only permissible occupation is caring for the family.
We live in a world where if a man decides he wants to have sex with me at any time, even non-consensually, it would take a public and excruciating trial to attempt to enforce any legal repercussions. Where I have to expect continued sexual assault, in various forms, as a reality. And where I continue to “do nothing” in fear that any action I take will have severe repercussions.
We live in a world where the president of the United States has laughed off the fact that he, and other men, can “do anything you want” to women and it’s okay because they “just let you do it” as locker room talk.
That’s not the world that I want to continue living in. In order to make this a reality, I need leadership who–at a minimum does not embody this behavior so blatantly and unapologetically–and at a maximum passes legislation to protect people like me.
This fall, I got the chance to explore Yosemite, one of the most beautiful corners of the world. Immediately after, I spent weeks trapped inside my apartment with a sore throat and burning eyes because the air quality was unlivable. Literally unlivable. The-sun-is-merely-an-orange-glow-obscured-by-haze unlivable. You’re experiencing the same suffering in Colorado as I write this letter.
Trump has pointed to poor forest management as the cause of these fires. This means he carries just as much of the blame. For 2021, Trump has reduced funding for state and private forestry programs by $12.48 million compared to 2020. Additionally, Trump has threatened to stop FEMA funding for victims of wildfires in California when over 60% of the forest in the state is federal property (and under Trump’s jurisdiction).
Whether you believe in global warming/climate change is irrelevant. Whether you believe in forest management is irrelevant. In the case of the wildfires impeding your quality of life and mine, Trump is not practicing what he’s preaching and is not putting our money where his mouth is.
And just like how human intervention can make the problem worse, human intervention can make our communities healthier to live in.
On the financial health side, a vote for Trump is a vote to make [my siblings] more likely to be ineligible for your healthcare. It’s also a vote that makes it more difficult and expensive for you to obtain health insurance outside of a traditional employer. I don’t want our family’s flexibility or health to be impacted that way–our lungs, our loves, and our lives.
On September 22, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order effectively banning anti-racism and anti-sexism workshops in the workplace. You can read the official order from the White House here. I’ve read it. All of it. While some may interpret this executive order as having good intentions, my research has led me to believe that [interpretation] is misguided at best. At worst, it appears to me that the language in this order has been manipulated to prevent further progress for racial and gender equality in the workplace.
This executive order directly impedes my initiative to create a more inclusive and diverse culture at [my employer, a well-respected tech company].
As you both know, I’ve been working with the executive team to build our company’s first Inclusion and Diversity program. Our employees are predominantly white and male. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. However, it means that as a young woman in the company, I notice and fall victim to blind spots caused by unconscious bias at a significantly higher rate than most of my colleagues. For example, early in my time at [my employer], I realized that I was the only person being asked to take notes in meetings. While this is an important task, it also restricted my ability to actively participate. I gave my colleagues the benefit of the doubt, I didn’t think they were assigning this task (and/or expecting me to handle it without asking) maliciously. However, it was important for me to point out the pattern before a precedent was set. It’s possible, and understandable, that a colleague of mine could’ve gotten the promotion over me because they participated more in meetings. It’s also possible–and likely–that this task could follow me even if I was promoted. This is something that happens to many young women in their careers as a direct result of gender stereotyping (whether intentional or completely unconsciously!)
Fortunately, I felt comfortable enough to point out this pattern to my manager. Unfortunately, my manager was not equipped with the vocabulary, experience, or resources to feel equally comfortable in that conversation. This is understandable; I’ve been aware of this issue for my entire career. This was likely the first time he was asked to consider it.
Regardless of my good intentions, this conversation made my manager feel uncomfortable. My manager didn’t actively mean to impede my ability to participate and may have been embarrassed of this unconscious bias.
Trump’s order states that “Government contractors shall not use any workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.” This includes content where “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
As of this summer, [my employer] is a government contractor. Under this order, a training that I helped organize–one that would help colleagues like my manager understand how a history of gender stereotyping continues to exist in our workplace and build habits to combat this harmful bias–could be seen as a risk for the company. While I am not asking that men feel discomfort on the account that they are men, I am asking that we explore unconscious biases that exist for many men due to their life experience. This in itself could be considered a stereotype. For our executive team, which consists of entirely white men (aside from our HR director who is working with me on this program), this equality-seeking program would likely be a risk they aren’t willing to take.
The order claims that it was enacted to “promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting, to promote unity in the Federal workforce, and to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”
For hundreds of years, assuming women were incapable of holding positions of leadership in corporate America was considered American sex stereotyping. Restricting conversation around our current challenges in the movement for gender and racial equality in the workplace directly restricts our ability to make progress.
How much should I care about the economy if I can’t be an equal player in it?
I know that Biden isn’t the ideal candidate. I know you have concerns about his family, his mental fitness, and his policies. For me, the importance and urgency of these criticisms fail in comparison to the concerns I’ve expressed above. I’d rather address these concerns for four years before the next election than with people being more comfortable assaulting me.
I know you’re tired of encountering ignorant people saying awful things about the President. I know you’re tired of the left and the media ignoring the working class people in this country who are disadvantaged and under-served. I know you’re tired of empty promises from career politicians.
But I also need you to know that it’s crucial for me to vote for Biden/Harris and it’s also crucial for me that they win. In that, I have to ask that you reconsider your vote.
Voting for Donald Trump is voting for men to continue to get promoted faster and paid more than me. No matter how hard I work. And preventing me from speaking about it.
Voting for Donald Trump is voting to delay action that ensures we can breathe clean air and obtain affordable health care.
Voting for Donald Trump is voting for a continued culture of locker room talk that validates the aggressive and sexually assaultive behavior of the men around me.
This November, I’m asking you to consider my future over politics. I’m asking you to have my best interest at heart – as you have for my entire life. [I’m asking you to vote for Biden/Harris.]
With love, admiration, and respect,
[Context: Colin Jost hosts the “Weekend Update” feature on Saturday Night Live, was a former head writer on that same show, is currently engaged to Scarlett Johannson, and recently published a memoir entitled “A Very Punchable Face.”]
Our society tends to idolize the successful. That’s glaringly obvious, not profound, so here’s the importance: what do you mean when you say “successful”? Because looking at his life from the outside, one could accurately say ” Colin Jost is successful” in the standard American way. But dear lord, does he have an inner life at all, let alone a rich one?
You’re not supposed to speculate about someone’s inner life based on observed behavior (thanks, Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert)), but a memoir typically dives into the psyche of the author, articulates what it’s like to be them, and helps you come out the other side with some sort of emotional connection. No, not every memoir does that. Some are just stories of amusing anecdotes that the author has strung together for want of an additional platform to be heard… And that’s the problem.
Here: let me give you an example:
And you strung those stories together. Shouldn’t it have emotional appeal?
It’s like the only emotionality I felt in the whole book was that one specific section about 9/11, because it was sufficiently gory and scary and intense and Big to overcome any blockers that Colin had put up… not because it had any human emotion whatsoever.
I teared up during that section for the denotative facts, despite Colin’s method of telling it, not because of it. I’ve overheard conversations on the street that have turned my head with more emotionally-evocative lines. It’s like Colin wrote the equivalent of a Michael Bay anecdote when he should have written a Woody Allen (i.e. something that Feels).
I don’t mean to insult Colin Jost; he seems like a nice person (and may different priorities than me), but to my taste, niceness only gets you so far. I’d rather someone were an authentic, direct, honest asshole than a pretentious nice dude (Colin’s form of “nice” seems like the one frequently found in the Catholic church, and one which I’m not even sure it’s accurate to call “nice” because it’s closer to “polite” and this politeness very frequently actually leads to the opposite of being “nice” or “kind”, such as when he’s about to drown but doesn’t want to disturb another group’s nearby surfing trip so he covers up the fact that he’s nearly drowning, and what if he actually drowned? wouldn’t that be like the least nice thing to do—to demolish someone’s family surfing trip with the sight of your bloated corpse? (a true reference from the book; the family on the surfing trip was Jimmy Buffett’s.)).
I’m deeply saddened to have read a book that includes a memoir about “Parisian teens throwing tomatoes at me, then I throw a bicycle over the fence that surrounds the Musée d’Orsay, and then I hide from the French cops in my hotel room with Scarlett Johansson” (paraphrase) and have the whole thing read precisely as emotionally bland as that summary that I just wrote in this here sentence. Go read that sentence again, then read the relevant section (the antepenultimate chapter, “Tomato, Potato”), and I’ll be damned if this two-bit summary doesn’t have about the same amount of emotional depth, of human connection, of evocative, stomach-pulling impact as the original. And that’s sad. That’s sad. That’s really, really sad. It’s sad in the sort of way I can’t share in this review because it’s the sort of sad that you feel when you look at an old person who’s drunk their life away and ask “what if you had learned to cope properly when you were young?”. It’s sad in the sort of way that it’s sad that such a large section of now and future human populations will never, ever, ever look to the heavens and see the Milky Way or stars. It’s sad in a profoundly sad way that parallels my sadness at my inability to communicate directly to you just how sad this sadness is, and how it reminds me that we, as individual humans who do not share experiences, are at our cores forever alone.
We can train a person to do repeated, fancy tricks at expert levels to satisfy specific societal needs. And that’s nice. Sure. It’s a pretty cool skill. But it also feels fundamentally disrespectful of what it is to be human. It misses out on really existing in this universe, a universe that has been thusfar insufficiently explored. It ignores what it feels like to have someone lack agency because they’re so scared they can’t look inwardly at themselves to see the fetters that bind.
Colin Jost’s memoir made me first and foremost sad: sad for Catholics, sad for people who grow up to hate their emotions/feelings/explorations of self, sad for people taught to trust some external force instead of their instincts, and sad for myself because I’m sure there are areas of myself I have insufficiently explored due to some of that good ol’ inter-generational trauma. Jost’s memoir isn’t even intending to be a sad book; that’s the sad part: it’s meant to make you laugh.
There’s a point in my stomach—to the left and below my sternum—where my Emotional Authenticity lives (no joke). There’s no special sauce or divinity or whatnot to that place; it’s simply a spot that helps me feel myself. When I notice that spot, I connect with some aspect that’s much closer to Oneness or Honesty or God or Accuracy or Freedom or Truth than I usually feel. And that specific spot is where I happen to feel it. And I found that spot after going to PTSD therapy for a few months, then finding a specific shamanistic ritual, and then spending hours and hours and hours and hours over years and years feeling Lonely and Grieving and Crying In The Shower (and the like). And that, my friends, is what we call The Work. It’s The Work of being human, of stripping away what we think is true and getting closer to what’s actually, truly, truly true. It’s learning about Me and You and Reality and What Exists and Where We Are and Where We’re Going and all sorts of other capital activities. That’s My Quest and I’m damn proud of it. And I’m glad different people are on different quests but I still can’t in good conscience read a book like Colin’s—even one where he implies he likes his life—without thinking “I don’t think you know what Life is.”.
An alternate option: maybe Colin is right. Maybe the Right Job is the one where he laughs every day for fifteen years. Where he fritters away the time in a way that feels satisfying but that (to me, at least) seems sad. Maybe the Right Choice for Colin is having a plurality of his memoir-worthy adult stories start with “I was really drunk…” (paraphrase) and end with the moral “sometimes I do stupid things and am clearly still traumatized by my upbringing, family history/background, (former) religion, etc.” (again, paraphrase, but this moral it’s the basic message of like every story, from the time he almost drowned because he was to unwilling to admit he had gotten himself in a spot of trouble while surfing; to the time when he broke his hand because he was unwilling to admit his own physical inability to punch with proper form; to the time he shit his pants; to the time he was too unwilling to cause a fuss when hosting the Emmy’s and therefore hosted what by all accounts (including his own) was a boring and poorly-done Emmy’s (entitled “Worst Emmys Ever”)). My only respite (glint of hope?) from these morals is that he’s consistently seeing problems in his former behavior and improving them, which is the point and I’m glad he’s doing it, but he’s also missing the point: the point of all these morals is not the denotative ‘I made this mistake; look at me’ learning he seems to think it is (and which would prompt some growth), but the underlying principles and structures of behavior/thinking that create the same mistakes over and over and over again. Colin, if you’re reading this: no amount of funny story or chuckle of ‘Oh, I’m always like that’ will actually arrive you at the necessary honest self-viewing for you to heal and grow into a bigger, more satisfying and more accurate life. Look at Dennis Rodman and Jim Carrey as examples. Or Patton Oswalt or Dave Chappelle. It’s the difference between living a life and killing time, and I don’t know if you know you’ve been killing time.
There’s a sadness in the heart of
many most comedians, myself included. I just analyze it. I poke it. I approach it and really, truly try to understand it. I use it to ask how society works and why I—and the world—am the way I am. I wonder what happened to me and dive in when I’m afraid. (Except when I don’t dive in because I’m afraid… which we all do from time to time, and The Work seeks to minimize.). There’s a Scientific Method that’s respectable from pretty much everybody in this capacity and it seems like Colin Jost has just never done it. He’s worked and worked and worked to achieve the things he wanted, but can he articulate why? What’s the point of having a national desk in front of millions of people if you don’t have a purpose to achieve with it? If there’s no point, why do it at all? For a Harvard dude, he’s shockingly surface-level. Compare him to Conan, another fellow SNL writer and Harvard Lampooner, and you see night and day. Conan cares about Comedy itself, about Making People Laugh, about Entertainment (all Big Things)… Colin cared about getting a job, then about getting on SNL, and then about hosting Weekend Update (a bigger, better–his dream job)… that’s the difference: If you care for The Art, you’ll find ways to achieve it; if you care for your job, you’ll always fall flat. (This comparison is unfortunately a tad reductionist; these are my impressions from reading Colin’s memoir and listening to a huge amount of Conan’s podcast; I believe they’re accurate, but necessarily lacking nuance (because I, unfortunately, can’t observe their inner life).)
Conan still has, to this day, Howard Stern’s favorite interview because it’s one in which Conan speaks about his depression, questions how his comedy functions in relation to his depression, and voices his worries about whether medicating himself would make him less funny. Colin can’t do that… at least I think he can’t, because a memoir is itself like the most emotionally evocative art form (short of nude self-portrait), and Colin 100% completely missed the emotional mark. (If he can do that, it makes me concerned why he didn’t here: he would have had to decide that actually honestly opening up in our current age of technology and social movements would be worse—far worse—than just publishing a memoir that is the emotional equivalent of eating popcorn. But I don’t think that was Colin’s intent: throughout the book I’m continually berated by the perception that he does really truly keep trying to do Big things; he wants to do Important things that Matter, etc., and that leads me to the conclusion that if he knew how to be emotionally open he would, because he’d see the connection between “great memoir” and “emotional connection” that’s so patently obvious). I’m reminded of David Foster Wallace’s review “How Tracy Austin broke my heart” for the similarities in what Jost’s memoir implies about the state of both himself and our current world:
It’s really, truly, profoundly sad that someone who our society dubs “successful” can have such a vapid existence. Is this really the best of our generation? A top comedian—the one hosting SNL Weekend Update and head writing for what is still our nation’s (the world’s?) biggest comedy broadcast—completely lacks in internal substance. That’s. Really. Sad. It implies that the vapidity of everyday life has infested comedy, which is itself sad, and then that sadness globs onto comedy itself, so we’re left with comedy now becoming sad, which is sad turtles all the sad way sad down, which is even sadder than the sad fact that me sad-reading this sad guy’s sad memoir about his “comedy” life where he “comedy” stars on a “successful” show and then “successfully” becomes “successfully” engaged to “successful” Scarlett Johansson is not successful nor comedy at all but just another terrible and heartbreaking example of how growing up Catholic traumatizes someone.
But it’s not exactly precisely that, because Conan O’Brien also grew up Catholic, and look how he turned out… Still traumatized, yes, but so much more self-aware (and so much more emotionally vulnerable). So what it is it? Is it the family stifling? Is it the lack of real, intense world challenges (because the worst that Colin ever had to go through is some time spent unsure how he’ll pay rent in New York City? Is it instead that he has actually suffered in real ways (which is probably, statistically true, if only based on his age and the existence of his 9/11 story) and simply lacks the self-examination and Work to articulate them well and/or feels a terrible, crippling fear that honestly sharing real stories with readers (instead of, say, “the time I pooped my pants” (real story; paraphrased title)) will somehow be bad for his life/career, not good?
While the unexamined life may still be worth living, the inauthentic or dishonest or inaccurate or lying life is worse than nothing because we’re social animals and life is a team sport. Whether you’re a cog in your own wheel or you’re a cog in someone else’s or you’re just some tiny ant carrying a boulder up a Great Big Cosmic Hill every day so you can let it roll down again to repeat your Quest, you’ve got to look at the world and say what it is because if you don’t, how will we know? (And also because the truth you seek is probably parallel to one you’re withholding from others.)
There’s one great moment of self-awareness in this book that jumps out as insightful and clever and aware (and which moment on retrospect is really just an average level of awareness, but its being surrounded by non-awareness makes it seem more aware, much like how one would observe a diamond to be shinier if said diamond were surrounded by horse poop). (Not that the book is horse poop; the book is merely awareness horse poop.):
It’s the moment when Colin says, in a footnote, “I want to make it very clear that this list of notes [requests for changes to upcoming sketches] provided to the SNL staff by NBC censors is not exclusively notes they gave to me because I don’t want people to read this and think I’m racist/sexist/homophobic/[other similar categories] and therefore to ‘cancel’ me.” (paraphrase). That’s it. That’s our big ol’ nugget of self-awareness, and it’s not even self awareness qua self awareness per se; it’s only self-awareness because you read it and think “there’s a guy who sees where he fits with respect to one specific national trend that clearly (and justifiably) frightens him”, but we don’t think, “there’s a guy who knows something about Himself or Society or Profundity or Existence”; it’s merely “this guy sees a thing and is afraid”, which might be the single simplest emotional state for
a human an animal of any kind. That’s the only emotion that comes across in this book: Fear. *Sigh*. Fear of authenticity, fear of emotion, fear of society, fear of loss… The big one-two punch, blockbuster ending (the epilogue; the last pages of the book; the final point Colin leaves the reader with…) is Colin saying “Maybe I’ll leave SNL someday because I want to dive deep into one topic instead of staying shallow in many by doing standup/sketches/movies all at once… and maybe I won’t” (paraphrase). Wow. *Sigh Again*. That’s not an ending; that’s a waffle. That’s worse than the fact that your last chapter is “this one time bugs planted eggs in my leg” (paraphrase) instead of, say, something that matters.
Look, kid, Colin, dude: could you please just lock yourself in a room and think? Maybe draw a bath and talk to yourself aloud. Try sitting alone and being uncomfortable. (Not the punish-yourself Catholic Church uncomfortable, but the explore-yourself uncomfortable of recovering from the Catholic Church.) Set aside a day to be just with yourself: no internet, no food, no people, no alcohol. (Fasting helps most people introspect: I’d suggest only drinking water on this Colin-Internal day.) Ask questions. Wait for answers. Ask more questions. Keep wondering. And if you start crying, let yourself cry (because that’s what you seriously, clearly, really need). Feel man, just feel, and grieve for your past. Because reading your book made me so, so sad for the lack of grieving you’ve done. I’ve thought a few times about Steve Martin while writing this review; his memoir Born Standing Up clearly shows self-reflection: there’s one section where he says “I’m going to give you the juicy bits that you want now, because that’s something that has to happen in a memoir” (paraphrase), and then he gives us some juicy bits, and then he says “I’m not going to tell you any more because those are mine” (paraphrase). It’s a beautiful understanding of The Memoir, of its Art and Function and Place and Form, and it clearly shows Steve knows how he wants to go about the world. This is a man who performed to sold out stadia, then dropped it entirely to become a top-billing actor, and then dropped that to, to switch to the… banjo? Because playing the banjo is right for him.
Colin, homie, ol’ buddy ol pal: I don’t get the impression that you know what you want. And knowing what you—yes, you, Colin Jost—want is the single most important question you will ever answer. And not knowing it—not giving it the depth and curiosity it deserves—will leave you and your descendants as hollow shells. You’ll drink on special occasions “because that’s what people do”. You’ll constantly wonder if there’s More. (There is.) You’ll blip into the comedy sphere before fading away, never to Matter because you weren’t relatable, because: To be relatable an audience must connect emotionally with you, and for us to connect with you, you must be available, and to become available, you must first feel your emotions, and then—only then—can you open yourself up to the world. Emotional awareness is nigh step #1 to Seeing The World and Communicating What’s True. (At least it was for me: Emotional Awareness, and, well, duh, Logic. (Also Introspection and Patience and Slowness and speed. And Science and Experiment and…)
I feel drained after writing that bit. This whole review feels really intense, like it’s a Great Big Commentary on more than my feelings about one book: it’s A Great Big Commentary on America and Religion and Isolation and Loneliness and Trust and Censorship and Fear and Shame as seen through American Comedy. Also because Scarlett Johannsen is apparently engaged to Colin Jost (of which interesting details are impressively avoided in a shockingly un-self aware way—so impressively-poorly-avoided that I was curious for a moment whether it was intended as a satire but I don’t think anyone could pull off that level of satire except for, say, Steve Martin if his choice to devote his life to the banjo was itself a big Andy Kaufman-esque practical joke on the world, but I don’t think people actually do that in the world, well except for Andy Kaufman and he’s almost certainly dead) and I find that relationship between ScarJo and ColJo particularly jarring because she was one of the first women I ever swooned for (and therefore the woman after whom I named my highschool tennis rackets), and to see my perception of her (emotionally accessible, malleable, and aware) with my perception of him (basically, like, the opposite…) is like watching clay feet stand on top of feet that I didn’t know were clay because I thought they were just like normal feet but it turns out they’re some sort of leprosied clay, and now both of their pair of deformed, taloned hands try to touch the sky but don’t realize they’re in the middle of a film shoot in the desert that’s actually just a series of bright lights oven-baking clay, and when those lights turn off the pair crumbles to dust.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but damn it Colin, your book makes me sad. I’m sad for you, Colin, and I want to help.
[Actually, though: after a half-decade of suffering through an old PTSD, I found two specific modes of therapy that finally helped. I’d be happy to share them with anyone who wants; reach out anytime: let’s heal the
A friend told me today about the Native American archetype of hekoya. He described it as, “When the crowd goes right, the hekoya goes left.”
: (Wikipedia’s further description: The heyókȟa is a kind of sacred clown… [that] symbolizes and portrays many aspects of the sacred beings… [their] satire presents important questions by fooling around. They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say. Their behavior poses questions as do Zen koans. By reading between the lines, the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things in a different way.)
In the spirit of the hekoya, I shall now celebrate my oddness. Here are things that I did today [well, yesterday as of posting this] that are completely reasonable and yet most people might find odd. Go, verily, and lead a more satisfying life:
Pics of my new closet-room:
Now go, my children, and be the hekoya you were always meant to be.*
*: Most of you were not meant to be hekoya. Tough titties. It’s fuckin’ great.
Telos as a concept is limited. It is a very good concept, don’t get me wrong–but it’s limited in much the same ways that other philosophies of frequently-lauded dead white me have been limited. It’s by-and-large never been questioned. At least I never read something that questioned it in my study of Aristotle while majoring in Philosophy at Yale, so I can assume that questioning, if it exists, is not part of the basic canon of education. But telos is limited. And it’s very important that it’s limited. And here’s why:
Telos means “the aim of a thing”. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is to heal people (or keep them healthy). That parenthetical is the point. The fact is the telos of a physician is somewhat more complicated than the telos of a knife. A knife is obviously for cutting. But what about two knives put together—scizzors: what are they for? Are they for cutting, too? What about slicing? What about unscrewing a screw when you have a pair of scizzors and a screw that they would fit and no screwdriver? Scizzors have many uses, as does a knife, as does a physician. And most problems are scizzor problems, not knife problems. Here’s why:
There is physics and there is culture. Physics (okay, math) is the root of the universe. It’s what exists and how they interact. (Chemistry, biology, existing metaphysics—these are under that category of “physics” too). Everything else is created by humans. It’s culture. It’s rules we made up. And by gum, most of the time we’re living in that second world. Most of the time—almost every second of every day we’re thinking about a topic that has nothing to do with the limitations of the physical world and everything to do with what that person thinks of us. With whether that person did something unacceptable… not unacceptable physically, but unacceptable socially. See: we made the rules.
We made the rules… and they’re restrictive. Because when you operate from a Telos-centric place, you see solutions to problems. You don’t see existence. You see a physician and you think “a healer”, but you don’t see that she’s also a mother and an exhausted human being and a republican and a dog-lover. You don’t see that she’s made of organ tissue herself that is deteriorating over time and will one day die. You just see a tool with the purpose “to heal”.
And yes, if she’s not a competent physician, she shouldn’t act as a physician. But that’s the point: being a physician is acting. It’s pretending. It’s putting on a role, and that role is your telos.
We use “telos” to communicate the specific solution of a specific problem. But humans and experiences are so much more. We’re vastly complicated organisms wandering around incredibly intricate social structures, and seeing other people as specific teloses is bad. It’s damaging. It’s dangerous. It’s unethical.
I would quote Kant here but I hate Kant because he was generally wrong (at least his most famous things), but there’s a Kant quote here, and a Jesus quote here and a quote that we teach kids that would apply here too. There’s an explanation for some of the cruelty of slavery and why we use the word “dehumanizing” in some of our most terrible ethical contexts. Because people are people, not tools. And animals are animals, not tools, too. So when we treat them as though they have a specific telos, with little regard for the other aspects of them, it’s cruel. And megalomaniacal. And paternalistic. And harmful. You can’t know the utility of another person, nor can you know their utility function (what makes them happy/sad/fulfilled/etc.) And that cruelty/megalomania/paternalism is something we’re seeing manifest in our lives these days. And it’s sad. And painful. And sad. And inaccurate, which is the worst of all of those issues because it’s the inaccuracy that causes all those issues.
So what do we do? We try to take a wider approach. One of the correct Buddhist teachings (i.e. an accurate statement about the world) is that you’d probably benefit from metacognating. From noticing your thoughts and how they move. From seeing how the world actually *is* more frequently, and seeing the world how you *imagine it to be* less frequently.
So try it. See people as hammers. Notice while you do. Notice what it’s like to see that barista as a coffee-maker. Feel what it feels like. Ask yourself how much you like it and whether it makes the world closer to the sort of world you want to live in.
And then take the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it is grassy and wanting wear… and that will make all the difference.
(Tl;dr: Use telos for objects, don’t use it for people. And when you use it for objects, start with the goal in mind, then see what’s around you. Or better yet, hold your goals very gently as you go enjoyably slowly through the world.)
 I spell this word the way it should be spelled.
 Proofreader’s comment: “This is why I think everyone of sound mental capacities should do a cadaver lab.”
I saw this piece of interactive art on the streets of SF (you can visit it yourself: it’s on the even side of the 800 block of Duncan – between 814 and 892 Duncan St, San Francisco, CA 94131) & left a note asking the creator if they had thought about vandalism before creating the art. They hollered back with some pics and their musings – you can find those both below!
*Remind Chaotic Evil to pick up toe shoes
This guest post brought to you by Maggie “Maximal Awesomeness” Harper.
I started a writing group. It was awesome. In our first meeting, we completed three 10 minute writing sprints, each followed by responses from peers. Here, my delightful darlings, you may find two of those creations:
I’m two years old and in a swing. A duck swing. A goofy, yellow duck swing. My sister stands behind me, pushing. I don’t have a fond memory of this first memory of my life but hey, isn’t that fitting for a constructed memory? See:
I don’t actually remember being in that swing. I don’t feel my sister standing over me. I don’t feel what it’s like to be bald and big-eyed and have my lips puff out like Alec Baldwin doing a Trump impression. I can’t. It’s not a real memory. It’s a memory of a picture my mother (father?) took. A picture I’ve seen countless times and incorporated so much into my being it’s become what feels like my earliest memory.
I feel sad when I think about it.
It feels like the outside looking in, interposing on me in a nonconsentual way. Like we’re born and we die and in the middle we waffle around, buffetted and muffeted and ruffeted and scuffed by those bigger or stronger or wiser or older or first. Just first. Because first isn’t even a legitimate benefit. First is just first. It’s born at the right time or the right place or to the right sister or parents. And that reminds me of the melencholy in the world and that makes me sad.
I look back to that picture—that swing where I’m dangling form the ceiling, suspended in some ridiculous duck swing and I’m reminded no person is alone. No one is an individual. No being lives in true isolation.
Still, at least I was supported.
“What is sanity?” The blue shrimp told me.
It was tuesday, and tuesday is when the existentialists meet.
“I don’t know, but he does,” he replied.
“You can’t reply to yourself,” I told him, “It’s against the rules” and that’s when it
It shattered to tatters as my grey matter splattered.
What’s it like to be an honest orange?
How do orangutans pick a hand?
What’s a perspective and how does it–?
Can I please have another? or another? Or a hug.
I don’t find myself flying most of the time.
I don’t find myself crying most of the time.
The words come in and I grasp what I can.
Most tunas escape their captors. All salmon some day die.
“This got weird”, I want to say, but then you’ll know that I could’ve stopped it,
and we forgive those that can’t help it while
lighting aflame those that can.
What is responsibility?
What is it to be mean?
One sheet, two sheet, three sheet, four.
Slam that paper to the floor.
Rip it, tear it, burn it good.
Light it up as though it’s wood.
As you hear the crackling flames,
As you feel the warm remains,
Eyes reflect the flickering embers,
Spleen and liver scarce remember…
What he did to break your heart,
How you swooned back at the start,
How you cried o’er these letters,
Before he ripped your heart to fetters.
Now kiss all the gifts he gave.
Rub your cheek and feel his shave.
Toss this bear into the fire.
Hear it roar like your desire.
You may feel crick in your neck,
Weighty eyes as though you’ve wept
Tickling soft palate above your tongue,
Ringing ears as you’ve been wrung.
All these wants, stuffed in your mind,
Salty-sweet of love unkind,
Prickling poke of lover’s yoke,
Brilliant blaze, gone up in smoke.
“I did not knot the naughty Norwegian nurse, nay!” I say to the barrister as she lifts her haughty head higher, sliding her specs down her protruberant and bulbous nose. I wish to honk that nose and I know that she knows that I know she knows it!
“But sir,” the barrister bellows in a reedy, sinewy snarl, “You were locked in her chambers, the only one!”
I snort and hock a particularly phlegm-filled hunk of malevolent mucus into the bin.
“And I’ll have some decorum in my courtroom!”
“Awright,” I relent, congealing into the visage of an upstanding citizen. “I’ll take you there: see, the shipmate and I had spied a trifle of glinting gold in that there stowhole not two days prior to her nursehood’s ‘napping. An’ we, ‘aving ‘eard of ‘er reluctance to part with treasures, either internal or ex-, went a-sniffing our way ‘round the floorboards above, where the bilge’d been spilt and reeking and rotting salty sea water only a few days prior. So the mate, ‘e says to me, ‘why don’t ye stick yer wooden leg under that there board and heave to with yer hips and cascade it over, lettin’ us shimmy downward into Her Highness’s quarters and ransacking her all good ’n’ proper?’ Only that cankered, leprosy-ridden, flea-infested mate sneaks down ‘imself and grabs the gold and hoists ‘imself back up, only to push me down into the hole myeself, to be caught by yer most High and Honorable lawmen!”