January 31, 2014

The American Unhappines Project

Last year I read a fascinating book called My American Unhappiness.  The main character, Zeke, navigates an empty post-modern landscape as he gathers stories for his Inventory of American Unhappiness Project.  The Project amounts to collecting responses to the question “Why are you unhappy?”  Via email, live interview, or otherwise.

One of my favorite parts was the explanation of what Zeke did when someone said: “What me? I’m not unhappy.” A short discussion or just a look was usually all it took to get a response to the question. It reminds me of a favorite passage from David Foster Wallace:

“The next suitable person you’re in light conversation with, you stop suddenly in the middle of the conversation and look at the person closely and say, “What’s wrong?” You say it in a concerned way. He’ll say, “What do you mean?” You say, “Something’s wrong. I can tell. What is it?” And he’ll look stunned and say, “How did you know?” He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong, with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it.”
― David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

Below are some amazing (fictional) email responses to the Inventory of American Unhappiness Project from the book. Even though its fiction, they are so very poignant:

"Theodore M., 28 cable installer, Morris, IL:

Ideas. Ideas make me unhappy.  I get so many of them. I'm going to make a film about my great-uncle. I'm going to build a writing shed near the garage. I'm going to send a letter every day for the next year.  But I don't follow through on anything. And I know this about myself, so it drives me crazy that I keep having these ideas. I keep having ideas, but what am I doing this week. I'm re-watching The Wire on DVD. Starting over, season one.

Alexandria W., 23, waitress, Seattle, WA:

My boyfriend is a total dick.

Ron C., 24, waiter, Seattle, WA:

My girlfriend is a total bitch.

Wanda P., 37, sales associate, Cody, WY:

I guess when I see grownups dressed up for Halloween it sort of makes me unhappy. Unless they're real sexy sorts of costumers, like a slutty bee or a dirty cop or something. And I suppose its okay if they're with their kids, or at some drunker party or whatever. But I'm thinking about a secretary who dresses up as a witch, you know, standing there in the glare of an insurance offices' fluorescent lights? Or a used-car salesman wearing devil horns? Or a postal clerk dressed up as a cowboy or whatever? I can't abide by that. I can't think about it. Its about as sad as a guy who wears short-sleeve T-shirts and what he describes as "wacky" neckties. There are things adults must not do, you know?

Carrie, 33, legal analyst, Normal, IL:

These binders that line the walls of my office. They hold meeting minutes for every damn meeting from the last ten years; the paper falling out of them is yellowing and often printed in a font and I don't think it exists anymore. We're always in the process of getting ready for another meeting and making another binder to put on the shelves No one looks at the binders after the meetings are done, as far as I can tell, but we will never, ever, get rid of them. On some very fundamental level I don't understand why we make or keep the binders, and since it is my job to make the binders, this makes me unhappy."

Trying My Hand at Satire, With Apologies to Jonathan Swift

After My Kid Learned To Walk, I Got Him a Wiffle Ball Bat. What Happened Next WILL BLOW YOUR MIND:

Here is my Good Men Project post, riffing on this week’s story about college sports teams recruiting eighth graders with this home-spun satire.

Since when is potty-training a prerequisite for getting a scholarship commitment from Florida State anyway?!

January 28, 2014

On Male Friendships - Hollywood's Best Sidekicks and Wingmen

From Wayne’s World to The Big Lebowski to Tombstone to Swingers, Michael Kasdan goes to the movies to explore male friendships
Knowing what we need from our male friendships. . . . It’s hard.  That’s what she said!

We’re talking about male friendship: What does it look like, and what should it look like? What makes it unique from male-female or female friendships, if it is so unique?

Today, we’re exploring this topic through the lens of the most well known, endearing, and hilarious wingmen, sidekicks and partners in crime ever to grace the silver screen and television, drawing from classics like Wayne’s World, The Office, The Big Lebowski, Swingers, Top Gun, and more.

Check out the whole article, complete with some of my favorite video clips here at The Good Men Project. I'm calling it required reading and viewing for all friends, sidekicks, wingmen, and those in budding bromances. 

January 27, 2014

Some Recent Posts for the Good Men Project

January has been a busy writing month, but - I realize - not in this space.  I have, however, been keeping busy writing on the side for the Good Men Project, mixing in Sports-related stories with other stuff.

This month, I have written on sports comeback and rags to riches storieshow our relationship with sports changes as we grow up, and the important connection between sports and social change in our MLK Day Sports Special.

I've also written about war, covered popular Super Bowl commercials and Olympics political satire commercials, and written about the NFL playoff matchups and silly Super Bowl prop bets.

I've also shared a humorous un-sportsmanlike moment in the wake of the much overblown Richard Sherman controversy, as well as one of the best movie/dance mashups I have ever seen.

January 11, 2014

All of Life is a Metaphor, Metaphorically Speaking

In recent times, I've taken to saying (half-jokingly), after everything that happens or is said,  "Well it’s a metaphor."  

From Joseph Campbell.  (Yes, yes.  I know he's been a source of much posting lately; but I'm reading The Power of Myth and I've been quite taken with the breadth and depth of his thoughts on so many topics.)

“A metaphor is an image that suggests something else...The reference of metaphor in religious traditions is to something transcendent that is not literally any thing.  If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference, it would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu . . . [to misread a metaphor is] reading the words in terms of prose instead of poetry, reading the metaphor in terms of the denotation instead of the connotation.”

Who are we?  Where are we?  What are we experiencing and why?  

Maybe everything in life is - or should in part be understood as - a metaphor.

Thoughts developing...

Human Stories...

I hesitate to ask.  I guess I should know this?  But Willa Cather, what are they?

(Photo Credit: Me - 41st Street Sidewalk In The Rain)

January 2, 2014

Humanity and Transcendence, The Singularity and Dualities

A terrific parable by Joseph Campbell (Power of Myth) on humanity and transcendence, on the singularity and dualities:

"There is a wonderful story of the deity, of the Self that said, 'I am.' As soon as it said 'I am,' it was *afraid*. It was an entity now, in time. Then it thought, 'What should I be afraid of, I'm the only thing that there is.' And as soon as it said that, it felt *lonesome*, and wished that there were another, and so it felt *desire*. It swelled, split in two, became male and female, and begot the world."