HTG Podcast #22: Summer reboot

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I ramble about rebooting my website and professional life, make some podcast recommendations, and pay tribute to the inimitable musician Brian Hall.

Brian Hall @ The Music House, circa 2001

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The wake of a dream

It’s been a strange summer. Strange in the sense of a vibe, a mood that has permeated my consciousness. I have not lived particularly well these past few weeks. I stay up too late, passively consuming distracto-tainment until I can’t stomach another bite. My sleep has been shallow and restless. I’ve burned days obsessing about trivial matters, all the while in full-on avoidance mode, ignoring whatever intentions were set down on the previous night’s to-do list. I’ve had time to burn, and I’ve burned it, but not well. Not with gusto. But there’s always a new day, today, this morning, right now. I’ve missed myself. Missed the man with the fire in his belly, forever striving to get at the meat of the matter.

The night before last I was suddenly pulled from a dream in which I had been holding my younger brother in my arms. He was having seizures, one after the other, each one more threatening, more violent than the last. I got down on the floor and wrapped myself around him, trying to prevent the convulsions from breaking his neck. My mother was in the room, looking on in horror. The seizures would not stop. At a certain point I understood what was happening. He was going to die at any moment. I cried out with every drop of fear and anger I had left within me. “He’s dead!”

The emotions were so intense that some sort of oneiric panic button was pushed, summoning an invisible hand to reach down into the depths of the dream, grab hold of me, and pull me up through the layers of consciousness and into the bed. The dream extraction happened so quickly that I was still in the process of crying out, and I woke to the sound and sensation of a monstrous whimper squeezing itself through my face, which was still frozen with sleep paralysis. My first clear concern was whether or not my wife had heard the noise. She has heard me whimper in my sleep before, and I find these incidents to be somewhat shameful. She seemed to be sleeping soundly, so my mind then turned to the wake of the dream, and as it faded into oblivion, an idea began to crystalize in my mind through a series of associations.

You become what you take in… What you attend to determines what you are aware of… If you consume chaos you become chaos… Patterns of attention become states of mind… When your attention is captive, you are captive… When your attention is free, you are free.

I don’t know what any of that has to do with my brother dying, or the strangeness of this summer. It just seems important. Important enough that the invisible hand made sure I would see it, think it, write about it.

And now, the day.

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HTG Podcast #21: Time Well Spent

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I share my thoughts on Tristan Harris, his Time Well Spent movement, and the struggle for ownership of my attention in this age of digital distraction.

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HTG Podcast #20: Brain dump

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I scramble to get back on the podcasting horse. Again.

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HTG Podcast #19: Farts, walls, shovels and rope

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I search in vain for a novel perspective on butt-trumpeting, run into walls of creative resistance, and perform a cover of a Shovels & Rope song.

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Letters to Old Bob: #3

2-27-2017

OB,

How’s it hanging, homie? At this point your balls must be about knee level, eh old boy? Just razzin’ ya, dude. Truthfully I feel for you. Already at 46 I’m struggling to accept the slings and arrows of time’s ruthless onslaught. If you’ve actually made it to your mid-eighties, I can only imagine the indignities you confront on a daily basis. I’m reading “Henry Miller – The Last Days”, by Barbara Kraft. She just happened to strike up meaningful friendships with both Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller as each was living out the last year or so of their respective lives. I’m at the point in the Miller book when Henry is starting to decline pretty rapidly, right around his 88th birthday. There’s only about forty or so pages left in the book, and there’s only one way this thing is going to end. Even though I know it’s going to happen, that it already happened in fact, it still has me feeling uneasy. It’s hard to read about the dying of a man who, to me, represents life lived to the absolute fullest. If Henry couldn’t overcome the inevitable, no one can.

I wonder if you remember this, OB, this thing that I do every now again as I’m falling asleep next to my wife. I’ll imagine a future me, a very old man like yourself, who is lying in bed alone wishing more than anything in the world that he could experience just one more night spent holding his dearly departed wife. I then imagine that this old future me is granted the power to travel back in time to experience that one more night of marital bliss. Of course, the precise moment in the “past” to which this old me travels turns out to be the present moment, wherein I am actually and already in bed next to my wife. Suddenly the normally taken-for-granted comfort of spooning takes on a level of intensity that is usually reserved for long-awaited reunions. Pretty weird, huh? But probably not any weirder than writing letters to oneself.

There’s no way for me to know whether or not she is still with you, OB, so I apologize if reading this is painful. I often remind myself that I must commit to the highest level of self-care, so that if one of us must experience the pain of losing the other, I am making it more likely that it would be me. I just can’t bear the thought of my wife having to go through that ordeal. I know, of course, that I have no ultimate control over such things. This drive to survive is hard to reconcile with another tendency of mine, which is to want no part of modern medicine. Left on my own, I think I would be disinclined to prolong my life through artificial means, should I become say, stricken with terminal cancer. I know, I know, OB… It is pure madness to speculate about such things, but I can’t help but be curious about how you are dealing with all the terrible things that come with the territory of oldness. Miller seems to have dealt with it all with the utmost courage and dignity. Still, there’s no sugar-coating it: being really old seems pretty awful.

I’ve got to stay focused on the challenges of 2017, OB. I found out the other day that, due to excessive state budget cuts, I may get laid off from my job in a couple of months. Everybody at work is freaking out, hoping that they won’t find themselves on the chopping block when it comes time for the cleaver to come crashing down. Me, I’m fairy chill about it, given that I don’t really like the job all that much anyway. I do need the money though. I wonder, OB, what your perspective is on such matters at this point in your life. This whole orientation toward the future, the worrying about it, preparing for it, dreading it, aspiring to it, worshipping it. What happens to all that when the future shrinks down to a tiny slice of borrowed time? Once the jig is up and your goose is cooked, where does the mind wander, if it wanders at all?

Maybe I will get an answer from Miller somewhere in the final forty pages.

Until next time,

Young(ish) Bob.

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Letters to Old Bob: #2

10-25-2016

OB,

I’m not a morning person. Never was a morning person. Never will be a morning person—that is, unless you’ve proven me wrong, Old Bob. “New tricks” is what they say can’t be learned by old dogs, but perhaps they’re full of shit, or else maybe you made the transformation while still relatively young. It’s all relative. That’s another thing they say. In any event, it’s what one particular man said that got me so pissed off and got me writing this morning before work, at 5:30am, writing instead of the usual social media consumption. This fucking liar was being interviewed on NPR about his classical music compositions, about how he finds the time to compose despite being a full-time lawyer and a parent to boot. This lying sack of shit says, “Well, the law practice is an 8 to 5 kind of thing, and so after I put the kids to bed, I find some time to compose then.” After he puts the kids to bed! That’s rich! So, I’m to believe that at what, 9pm, after a long day at the office and getting the brats off to bed, he just sits down and knocks out a friggin’ symphony in G minor! Who’s cooking dinner dude? Who’s cleaning up the dishes and packing the lunches for tomorrow? Oh yeah, I forgot—you’re a lawyer! You probably have a well-paid servant who takes care of all the dailies for you!

And so I went on, yelling obscenity-laced objections at the radio the entire way home from work, resting on this final objection, weakly delivered while pulling into the driveway: “As if I’m going to grind away on my writing projects during what few minutes I have each morning to enjoy my cup of coffee. Nothing stokes the creative fires like an alarm clock going off at 5:30am! Fucking ridiculous.”

Then there’s this. My wife came home the other night, elated that a colleague of hers told her that she was “amazing.” The colleague was, is, a man, and so of course my first thought was, He probably just thinks your ass is amazing, dummy! So, to review, the other man told her she was amazing, and I, her husband, told her, through thought at least, that she was a damned fool. And that, my friend, is the difference between saying words and thinking them, at least in the mouths and minds of men. No honest man can deny that there are times when our dicks do the talking, and other times when we keep our thoughts to ourselves in order to avoid trouble. As always, self-awareness is the key to the good life. Now don’t get me wrong, I want my wife to feel good about herself. To feel amazing even. She is amazing, as you well know OB. But now I want to kill that motherfucker who (maybe) spoke to my wife with his dick. This impulse is all it means, really, to “have balls.” They just make you want to fuck and kill. Maybe each ball is in charge of each impulse. So the right one might fuel the fucking impulse, while the left one puts people on the kill list. Or vice versa. Or maybe the balls have nothing to do with any of it, and it just comes down to being an asshole.

Just looked at the digital clock in the upper right corner of this screen and thought, “5:46am? This clock is off.” Turns out, my eyes are off. My eyes have been off for a while, OB, and I’m wondering what, if anything, you can see at your advanced stage of decrepitude. Again, transhumanist utopian future technology aside. Perhaps you just went ahead and got you a pair of glasses at some point! If so, you’re probably seeing a lot more clearly than I am. I suppose eye-glasses are a sort of proto-transhumanist contraption, transforming us not so much into a cyborg but rather a, I don’t know, a dude with glasses I guess. I just don’t want to bother with it until I absolutely have to. As of today, 45 sliding into 46 at the end of next month, I have two bad eyes that somehow, through the magic of the human brain, together allow me to enjoy fairly functional vision. My left eye can see the far away stuff fairly well—not 20/20, but well enough to read street signs and see the digital clock on the stove way over in the kitchen. Can’t read the up-close stuff with the left eye though, as it’s afflicted with the common farsightedness of the typical middle-ager. What is uncommon is that my right eye can see clearly inside of two feet, while being nearly useless for distance viewing. So each eye (like each ball!) has it’s own job, one taking over for the other, depending on what I’m focused on, and the brain smooths it all out so that I rarely notice my antimetropic-anisometropia. But then again, you know this already, OB. I keep forgetting that I am, literally, your memories. I keep forgetting that I am a memory. A strange thought. And so you, OB, are really just a projection into an imaginary future, a fantasy. A fantasy, really. As a fantasy, I can make you out to be any way I want you to be. And as a memory, you can remember me in whatever way makes you feel best about yourself. We’re both bull-shitters OB! Our minds are playing tricks on us dude! I’m thinking of you as some wise old sage who’s finally figured everything out and transcended all of my problems, who has shined a light down all the blind alleys that I’ve been stumbling down for the past twenty years. And you are, perhaps anyway, thinking of me as a seed to your tree, as a naïve green-eared version of your fully-realized self. But then again, it’s me who wants to believe that you have realized your potential. For all I know you’re rotting away with a bellyful of regrets, and you’re regarding me resentfully, wondering why I didn’t take life by the reins while I still had the opportunity and the requisite élan vital. After all, it is I who am creating you, right now, as I think these thoughts and type these words. But if I suddenly flipped the script and were to address my ten-year-old self—Lil’ B, if you will—then who would be the creator and who the crea-tee? If Lil’ B is the real memory and you the real fantasy, then who am I, really? If one eye is half blind and the other can only half see, then is it really a good idea for me to grab the reins? Whoever’s been driving the team up till now seems to know where they’re going, or at least how to avoid going off a cliff.

6:15 am. I don’t have time for this shit, OB. Gotta jump in shower, then off to work. Dinner will need to be prepared straight away after getting home, and the dishes aren’t going to clean themselves. That’ll leave only about an hour to chip away at that unfinished symphony. Fucking ridiculous.

The Old Man Reading a Letter -Fyodor Bronnikov

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Letters to Old Bob: #1

October 16, 2016

Dear Old Bob,

Hope you’re hanging in there Pops, what with you being so old and all. If you waited forty years to read this (and managed to stay alive) you’d be at least what, 85, 86 now? Damn. I’m surprised you made it, given the lack of octogenarians on the family tree. Not sure why I’m calling you Pops, considering your stubborn refusal to pass on your genes. At least, I’m assuming you still don’t have kids. You never know, considering all the potential medical breakthroughs between my time and yours. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about this “Trans-Humanist” movement, where people are lining up to become cyborgs, to have chips implanted in their bodies that automatically open doors and turn on lights, that sort of thing. Frankly, I don’t see that going anywhere but to that scene in the Matrix where the people have all become batteries, or whatever. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that movie. Anyway, at the very least I’m sure there will be a period between my time and yours when there will be a whole lot of fat guys living in basements who never take off their virtual reality goggles. Anyhoo, where were we? Oh yeah, potential parenthood. Maybe they’ll figure out how to grow babies in vats, along with those fake meatballs I’ve been hearing about, or maybe you and the wife decided to adopt a 35-year-old at some point. Truthfully, it’s harder to picture you as a transhumanist than as a father. I mean, I still don’t own a smartphone in the year 2016, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want some corporate-controlled piece of technology embedded in my body, literally tracking every move I make. Fuck that shit, Old Bob. Of course, there’s always a caveat attached to all this transhumanist horse-shit, and it’s that these amazing technological advancements can only happen if we don’t destroy ourselves first. A pretty big IF, if you ask me.

If you are around to read this, then I suppose full-scale destruction has not set in. Yet. Not sure if you can remember the whole social media thing that cropped up in the late aughts and spread like a dandelion infestation throughout the twenty-teens. You know, Facebook and all that shit. (Please tell me Facebook went away at some point!) Anyway, I had fun with the sense of connection, at first, but now I’m not so sure I want to know so much about what’s actually bouncing around in everyone’s heads. Social media has lifted the veil, and the hideousness of what I’ve seen can’t be unseen. It’s just an undeniable fact that a scary percentage of my former and current associates cannot think critically and reasonably about matters which are of the utmost importance to the future of civilization: namely, politics and religion. You know, those topics we’ve been instructed to avoid at the dinner table over the holidays. Now I understand the sentiment behind those instructions. It’s just too depressing to expose oneself to so much irrational thinking. At this very moment the American people are strongly considering electing Donald Trump to the highest office in the land. Of course, you know how all that plays out, OB. If Trump does end up winning the election, maybe reasonable humans eventually flee to Mars, and you’re reading this missive through the inter-planetary wi-fi.

Who knows anything about anything. Not me, Old Bob. Not me. I’m starting to feel a bit old myself, with 46 waiting for me at the end of next month. I’m sure that 46 doesn’t sound too old to you OB, and maybe you’d like to stick your leg through a wormhole and give me a transtemporal kick in the ass. Maybe that’s just what I need. Despite being part of the most fortunate cohort of humans to ever exist, I still find myself feeling weighed down much of the time by the very things that the vast majority of humans on the planet are desperate to enjoy, such as having a full-time job. “Do what you love to do?” Who put this nonsense in my head? As if engaging in an enjoyable pursuit necessarily involves the transfer of other people’s money into your bank account. Ah fuck… No sense going around in those circles again. I hope that you’ve freed yourself from that orbit by now OB. Or else that you’ve been forcibly pushed from it by one of the many asteroids the universe has no doubt hurled at you. I’m thinking you probably just don’t give a fuck anymore. I mean, isn’t that the beauty and horror of old age? Knowing that there’s nothing to be done about anything anymore? Supposedly there are a few among my own age-mates who have already figured this shit out. Not me, Old Bob. Not me. I’m still fighting the same stupid, pointless fight. I am getting tired though, and my hands are starting to drop. It’s almost like I’m hoping to be knocked out cold, so that I can be spared another round of nauseating gut punches.

Well, I’m glad we had this talk bro. Hope it brightened your day a little bit at least. It actually felt good to reach out to you in this way. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime soon.

Peace out,

Young(er) Bob.

The Old Man Reading a Letter -Fyodor Bronnikov

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HTG Podcast #18: Aller Retour

In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I notice that the path upon which I’ve been traveling for the past twenty years or so just might be a loop. Maybe I’ll pay better attention this time around.

Stuff referenced in this podcast:

  • Barbara Kraft Interviews Henry Miller (via the Anais Nin Podcast): http://skybluepress.com/podcasts/podcast17.mp3
  • allerretournewyork

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    Pod smack

    I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime in these past couple of years I’ve become a podcast junkie. Listening to podcasts is now far and away my go-to form of entertainment. I listen while I do chores, exercise, — even while I’m sitting on the toilet. Yeah, it might be problematic. In any event, there are many podcasts that I absolutely love, including:

  • The Waking Up Podcast, by Sam Harris
  • The Joe Rogan Experience
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
  • Common Sense, with Dan Carlin
  • Philosophize This!
  • Star Talk Radio, with Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • We The People Live, with Josh Zepps
  • And that’s just to name a few of the programs I listen to on a regular basis. Again, I might have a problem. Here are a couple of gems I’ve listened to in the past few days:

  • Waking Up With Sam Harris #47 – The Frontiers of Political Correctness (with Gad Saad):
  • Barbara Kraft Interviews Henry Miller (via the Anais Nin Podcast): http://skybluepress.com/podcasts/podcast17.mp3
  • 1200x630bf

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