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Learning to Skate

This winner of the Best Bocumentary (Short Subject) Oscar this year went to the film Learning To Skate In A War Zone (If You’re A Girl), about the courageous girl skateboarders in Afghanistan.

I fear for the individuals involved in this just as I revel in their enthusiasm. Having been a skateboarder myself, I recognize what an important outlet it can be and I believe that goes doubly for these girls from Afghanistan.

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How To Win Friends And Influence People

I seem to be reading a lot about “influencers” lately. When I think of influencers, the typical profile that comes to mind is the Instagram star with oodles of followers trading their share of eyeballs for products that are ripe for placement.

@rmcrob recently posted a link to an article about an ice cream truck that charges influencers, who try to get free ice cream, in return for exposure, double the cost for some fresh desert.

Though there is something distasteful about how many of these internet celebrities trade fame for product, arguably to the detriment of their audiences, it isn’t really a new thing. This type of trade-off has for some time been proposed in the photography world. Most photographers have come to despise the request for free services to get them exposure, leading to at least one clever Oregon Trail meme on the subject.

It’s safe to say peddling influence has been around for as long as there has been media. I wrote this about the movie Christmas in Connecticut (1945) in December 2017, when compiling a list of favorite Christmas movies for my brother.

Then you find out that the leading female character is a materialistic New York urbanite (played by the delightful Barbara Stanwick) named Elizabeth Lane, who writes a popular folksy column for a magazine under a completely assumed identity.

In today’s parlance, Lane could be considered part of the “influencer economy,” trading tales about an aspirational lifestyle for product sponsorships. The character doesn’t know how to cook (in fact, she’s got a Hungarian cook named Felix who features prominently for comic relief) but she writes whole features around down-home recipes.

@cheri recently opined on the subject in My Problem with Influencers. She starts off of the piece with a David Wallace quote, emphasizing that this trend has been with us for some time, but has only accelerated with the newer outlets for covert advertising.

This passage still feels relevant even though Wallace wrote it in the nineties, long before the rise of social media. Perhaps that’s because the trend of ads-pretending-to-be-other-things has only sped up over the years. As a result, we’re living our lives alongside a bizarre set of social norms that I’ve come to think of as influencer culture. Influencer culture is most visible in the world of advertising, but it trickles into our politics, communities, and nearly all internet-mediated communication.

My guess is that we’ve reached some soft of peak influencer period. People are spending a lot of time on YouTube and Instagram, where popularity is mostly self-made. The newly famous on these platforms need or want remuneration for their efforts to gain followers (which can take substantial effort). As long as that holds, advertising, whether obvious or not, will remain a tempting business model.

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Less Bullets, More Journal

I started the year 2019 with another respectable bullet journal (bujo), crafted from a Moleskine notebook and made to get things done. Something went awry along the way to filling that notebook, though.

The problems begin when I realized, as in other years, I was going to have far less tasks than notebook. Something seemed slightly tragic about having a perfectly good notebook with so much space going to waste. The bullet journal system doesn’t encourage traditional journaling, so much as it does creating action items and systems to develop habits. Sure, it has built-in support for plain notes, but those feel like they are mostly to be used in conjunction with bullets for actions. With more in my head than just what task I needed to accomplish next, I began to explore more traditional journal entries that in years past might have been done in a digital format such as the Day One app.

I have systems in place to limit my screen time after 9pm, which has proven to be a good thing, so it made more sense to be writing journal entries on good old-fashioned paper. I started off slow, at first. Then, as difficulties in my everyday life mounted, the journal entries became more frequent. Those entries outnumbered the action item bullets. I tend to find that, for me, the notion of productivity for its own sake goes right out of the window in the face of medical problems and unexpected life disruptions. My incomplete todo’s from March still look at me and laugh from the page. The best laid plans (well, maybe not the best) of mice and men…

In fact, it would be pretty easy to look at my journal and determine when introspection became more important than productivity. Gauging how each day was going, whether things were improving and reflecting on overcoming past difficulties took priority over tallying up a list of things I was getting done. It happens. Life occasionally gets in the way of progress and sometimes taking a step back to reflect is more necessary than moving forward on the next goal. Sometimes moving forward is not even possible without that act of reflection. Other times, with various things competing for time and mental energy, forward progress is not even possible until a later, more stable, time.

As I fill my Moleskine, I’m trying to stay mindful of the rightful place of productivity in my thinking, in my life and even in my bujo. My identity is more than just what I can done in a day. I think it’s fair to say that my effectiveness as a father, husband, teacher, co-worker, or any other hat I wear is greater than simply my productivity. After all, as Austin Kleon explains in this post from last year, productivity is not the same as effectiveness.

I’ve gotten a handful of tweets recently asking me about “productivity systems,” which is funny to me because it assumes I do any thinking at all about productivity. Productivity is pretty low on my list of cares. “Productivity is for machines, not for people,” Jason Fried recently tweeted. “Think about how effective you’re being, not how productive you’re being.”

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This whole piece on drug marketing and mental illness is fascinating but one thing really surprised me. In its early days, the once ubiquitous soda 7UP contained the mood stabilizing element lithium.

The first thing to know about lithium to understand its strange place in the history of psychiatry is that, unlike all the other drugs, it wasn’t invented in a laboratory. It’s an element. It’s found in the natural world. And it’s found, for example, in certain kinds of spas in Europe that, in the past, bragged about the high lithium content of their drinking water. And so it had a place in spa culture. It had a place as a feel-good tonic. It was, for a period of time, an ingredient in a new lemon-lime soft drink that became quite popular up through the 1950s that gets renamed 7UP [which doesn’t contain lithium today].

Frequently, people know that Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine, but I have never heard that 7UP once contained lithium.

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Skateboarding was the Rosetta Stone that translated jazz into a language I could understand. I still can’t hear good jazz without wanting to skate.

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In congratulations for becoming a teenager, Liam got a ticket to a Stanley Cup playoff game from his Uncle Tommy. Game 3 was intense and Liam was so pumped to have been there to witness part of the Hurricanes sweep against the Islanders.

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🎵 Pure Bathing Culture – All Night: The latest record by Pure Bathing Culture, Night Pass, is becoming my favorite of their three releases. This song illustrates why, with huge hooks and some serious guitar shredding near the end. The video has all the hallmarks of a full-fidelity 80’s video.

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If this means anything to you, we should probably be friends.

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Jesus spent a large part of his ministry healing those who were sick. Why is it that making high quality healthcare available to all is not a bigger priority among Christian churches?

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🎵 Keep Shelly in Athens – Don’t Fear The Reaper: The hushed, dreampop atmospherics of this cover differentiate it from the bold dynamics of the original. There’s less of a sense of urgency and more of a quiet resignation. Keep Shelly also left out the cowbell.