Searching for distraction

I know people lament how much time people waste on the internet. But as a person who has been here since the beginning, I disagree. I remember being able to really get lost in the internet, and it seems like the quick-twitch, low-effort content currently populating the social media-driven internet doesn’t do much for me. I think there’s value in getting lost on the internet. You just have to get the right kind of lost.

I remember in the late Nineties and early Zeroes, wasting serious time swimming through long-form internet sites. When blogs were journals and weren’t commercialized or commoditized, a small group of people were doing interesting things, endless experiments with actual writing. I know I’ve bitched about this before, in my endless “blogging is dead”/”is blogging dead” diatribes. But I really miss reading things like these, that would compulsively suck me in for hours. There was nothing like finding someone’s crazy travel site, or a project blog about restoring an old car or building a weird house, then spending hours plowing through the entries from start to finish.

Maybe this is still going on, but the problem is I can’t find it. And maybe that’s part of the problem. This article describes this struggle well: Searching the creative internet.

I’ve noticed that searching is pretty much dead these days. I mean, I use google constantly, but something is fundamentally broken in its algorithm. And I’m not just complaining about the fact that I have a million words of text on this site that draws zero heat from search engines these days. (That could also be for a lot of other reasons, like it stretches back twenty years, or that I’m boring and inconsistent in what I write about, and not cool.) But there’s also the issue that most searches bring up nothing but corporate crap, and anything interesting, independent, or worthwhile is buried.

The linked article mentions Disney, but here’s another example. I had a Camaro as a kid. I wish I could rebuild one now, but the boomers have driven up prices, I don’t own a garage, and I’m lazy. But, I could see burning an evening reading a long-form blog about someone else restoring a Camaro. So, enter “Camaro” in google search, and what do you get? Page after page of official GM spam landing pages, car dealerships, third-party “Used Camaro Near Me” sites that just redirect you to car dealership pages (after opening a thousand pop-ups), and Chevy press releases dumped on big car magazines. Searching on “camaro project” gets less of the corporate media, but mostly just sale sites and eBay listings. (Not even real listings – just links that go to ebay and search on “camaro project.”)

And sure, the first problem is I don’t know how to use google, and I’m supposed to be searching on some gigantic regular expression that excludes corporate sites and blah blah blah. That’s not the point. I want to find cool stuff about my search term, and 80% of the web has become robot zombie garbage that automated scripts and SEO wonks have spun up to sell affiliate ads.

I guess the solution to this is to read blogs that point to this stuff, but that gets into the “blogs are dead” thing. I think Facebook and Twitter are supposed to have replaced blogs, but they aren’t aggregating the kind of content I want to see. I think the commercialization of things drives what we see, and this is what we now get: divisive news stories and click-bait advertisement disguised as stories.

I’m not sure what the solution is. I’m trying to dig deeper to find things of interest, and investing more time going off the beaten path. And I’d like to blog more about it, and encourage others to do the same. But something’s missing here, and I’m not sure what, or how to fix it.

 

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i like when this didn’t require me to enter a title before i entered a post

1. I was on this stupid thing where I thought I should start carrying a fake phone and wallet in case I was mugged. So I bought an iPhone 3G for $20 on eBay, which is the same exact phone I had nine years ago. It is ridiculously small and uses a different dock connector and has a shit camera and plastic back and is missing about every feature you could imagine. No Siri, no Apple Pay, no Find my Phone, no Facetime, no front camera. The OS is stuck like six or seven versions ago. I think the current Facebook app wouldn’t even fit on this phone. It’s sort of wonderful.

2. My allergies are so insanely bad since I got back from Alaska. I always joke about moving there like the Anthony Edwards character from Northern Exposure, who lived in a geodesic dome to escape his allergies, but I’ll be god damned, that would actually work.

3. My new watch tracks my sleep now with the Sleep++ app, and I don’t have to remember to start the app first – it just figures it out. It’s amazing to see how much I sleep when I take Ambien, and how many times I wake up in the middle of the night when I don’t.

4. For some freak reason, I didn’t drive my car at all this week. When I had to drive somewhere Friday, it was caked with a layer of dirt like I’d left it outside at Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980 or whenever that was.

5. I remember people selling bottles and jars of ashes after M.S.H. blew up. This was all pre-internet, so I’m not sure how I knew about this. Maybe it was in the el-cheapo ads in the very back of Parade magazine, where they normally sold biblical coins that were supposed to be older than Jesus but were actually punched out of sheet metal from Ford Pintos and then artificially aged in vats of Coca-Cola.

6. I’ve been writing the bulk of my next book by hand. No reason, except I write a lot of it in diners. It’s challenging, because I can’t read my own handwriting, and I only get maybe a hundred words per page of these little pocket notebooks.

7. I started reading about the bad effects of cortisol, the stress hormone, and how it stops you from losing fat and makes allergies worse, and now I am convinced that is like the nexus of every problem I have right now. And googling “get rid of cortisol” gives you ten million pages that basically just say to sleep more and be happy about your life, and maybe eat more salad.

8. I subscribed to a Facebook group about people who grew up in my home town, and everyone in the group is functionally illiterate. Like, they don’t know the difference between “to,” “two,” and “too.”

9. I also looked up my home town on TripAdvisor, and the top ten restaurants included Cracker Barrel, Perkin’s, and Texas Roadhouse.

10. I was going to go on a big rant about tenderloin sandwiches and mandala effect, but my dinner is here. (I ordered a salad for some inexplicable reason. Maybe the cortisol thing. I need to stop it with the Joe Rogan Podcast.)

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The Awl

So it looks like The Awl is no more. Another blog bites the dust.

The Awl started in 2009, originally some folks who left The Gawker and decided to do their own thing from their apartment in Brooklyn or whatever. It was a general culture blog, with emphasis on New York City, and a bit more about new media, comedy, and technology or online life, with a wry and sarcastic sense of humor, and less of an emphasis on the usual celebrity stuff that drags down a lifestyle blog.

I don’t remember how I got hooked on it — maybe some cross-posting from Boing-Boing or Wired or something. But I started following it religiously in 2010 or 2011, reading every day, commenting frequently, sometimes deep-drilling on research when I read a story that interested me. And I always kept it on my distant radar that I’d try to write something to publish there, some nonfiction or memoir piece, maybe a smarmy cultural analysis thing, I don’t know.

I think one thing that did come out of that was that in that 2011, 2012 timeframe, I blogged a lot more here, and was probably influenced by The Awl to write more article-like things. That always happens, through osmosis or kleptomania, maybe a mix of both. I was writing a lot in general then, trying to find a way to restart a mostly-dormant writing career that hadn’t released a real book since 2002. I didn’t want to be a journalist, didn’t want to fall into that “new media” category or anything, but it shows in a lot of my writing here that I was influenced heavily by that. (Go read an old post like The Death of Death and tell me I wasn’t reading The Awl when I wrote that.)

Another big takeaway for me as I think back over the last ten years of The Awl is how it fed some need to be a New York expatriate, in a weird way. I left Manhattan four or five years before that, which is six lifetimes in New York time, but I had some distant nostalgia for the city then. Magnify this even further by the fact that I started remotely working for a New York company in 2010, and would occasionally find myself in town again, but would also virtually be in the city every day. Reading stories about the hyper-gentrification and strange politics and book gossip and the struggles of living on The Big Smear partly satisfied that need for me, at least a little.

Like all online properties, The Awl got stupid at one point a few years ago, either flipped ownership or editors or something, and the ensuing reboot just wasn’t as interesting to me. I stuck with it when I could, but it no longer became a daily read. Some of this was just the way blogs changed over time: long reads became one-page reads; articles became listicles; opinion pieces became link-bait topics. Things slowly morphed as ads dominated page layout, comment sections vanished, and it went from being a bunch of cool kids exchanging smarmy jokes to a… well, whatever it became. Not really a blog anymore.

I’ve been in my head a lot lately about what’s going to happen when Facebook dies – that’s another article I’ve been meaning to write for a bit. And it makes me think a lot about the cycle of life of these web properties, like SomethingAwful or Fark or Digg or whatever. I know there are things that I used to use daily and then somehow abandoned, and I always wonder why they lost critical mass with me, and with everybody. When did everyone make a conscious decision to stop using MySpace? Was it because Facebook was so much better, or was it because everyone else stopped using it?

And it makes me think a lot about what the next thing will be. I am trying to make more of a conscious effort to blog here, because I will always have this blog, and can always keep going. But I’m shouting into the darkness here, and there’s no network around this, no way for me to follow others, draw in new readers, find like minds, or whatever. This is a single silo, connected to nothing. That’s fine by me, but it’s not the solution for others. Other people won’t blog. They aren’t idiots like me.

And I don’t know shit about how to make money on this, and I never run ads here or strategize some grand scheme, like picking focused topics and trending keywords and how to flip these posts into a book proposal that will get me a deal, blah blah blah. This also is not a way for me to sell books — my writing here is much different than the writing in my books, and I’m a horrible marketer, so who knows what works. So I can’t pull the “I made a million dollars blogging and you can too!” scheme to get the rest of you creative and interesting folks to entertain me by writing your own blogs.

But yeah — the death of a blog like The Awl makes me think the trend is going in the wrong direction, and that’s frustrating. I feel like I have the lifelong dream of opening an indoor shopping mall in the Midwest, then getting in the car and cruising around the dying remains of the malls of Indiana and Ohio and Pennsylvania. It’s depressing. It makes me wonder what is next.

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KONCAST Episode 7: Andrea Donderi

http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-7-andrea-donderi

In this episode, I talk to long-time friend Andrea Donderi, a recent graduate of The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

We discuss: the IU support center; the early web; knowledge bases and creating content; Jorn Barger and the invention of the blog; Gopher versus the WWW; the ChiNet BBS and other internet BBSes; social networks before social networks; hoarding old email; identifying as a writer; learning how to capture life as a writer; the Stanford Stegner Fellowship program; the Warren Wilson MFA program; how a low-residency program works; Victor LaValle and David Shields as teachers; the one fellow graduate student/actor who has been in everybody’s MFA program and shall not be named; Zeroville by Steve Erickson; the inevitable UFO discussion; the government keeping secrets in the desert versus the internet; Don Donderi; and is an MFA worth it?

Links from this episode:

– Andrea’s blog: http://loosestrife.dreamwidth.org

– Jon Konrath: http://www.rumored.com

– The Warren Wilson MFA program: http://www.wwcmfa.org

– Don Donderi’s site: http://www.ufoets.com

– Zeroville by Steve Erickson: http://amzn.to/2eEMTFW

– The UFO documentary I couldn’t remember was Mirage Men: http://www.miragemen.com

 

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Mexican hookworms and shipping companies run as a hobby

I’m not sure which is more depressing: a long-running blog with no entries for months, or the blog post that has a giant preamble talking about how sorry the author is they haven’t posted, the promise to post more, and the likelihood that this post will be an island in the middle of a long body of nothingness. I guess both are better than then site vanishing and redirecting to a Chinese boner pill site, or the long “farewell” post announcing its closure.

I’m still semi-obsessed with hookworms. My allergies go in cycles — not seasonal, but they wax and wane, according to some unmeasurable cycle. And when they get bad, and it knocks 40% of my efficiency away so my body can run my immune system overtime, I start googling dumb cures, which is always a bad thing to do.

The other night, I ended up on some crazy helicopter parent autism site about antihistamines and diet. I’m not saying autism is crazy; just the ideas about crystals or chanting or gluten or whatever else that seem to cross-pollinate (no pun intended) into every other autoimmune disorder’s narrative. Anyway, there’s a low-histamine diet, I think it’s called, and I read enough to start thinking it almost made sense, until the person started talking about the evils of microwave ovens. Then I tuned out.

I already wrote about hookworms a few months ago, which is the danger of this blog. I have a dozen and a half years of various memories here, so when I am suddenly inspired to write about that Christmas in 1992, it turns out I already did. Anyway, I was thinking of the hookworms and that made me think of going to Mexico in 2009, and caught food poisoning. We took this tour of a coconut plantation, which was interesting, but then they had a huge lunch, and brought out a salad, and I think every person at the table stared at the washed greens, and thought “I’m going to get dysentery and die if I eat that” and the guy said “don’t worry, is filtered water!” and so everyone reluctantly took two bites to be polite, and everybody got sick.

I didn’t get as sick because I’d been taking probiotics prior to the trip, but to me, probiotics are the same logic the flu shot: you’re trading a low-level misery for a long time to avoid a brief burst of heavy misery. Some people love probiotics and think they cure everything from allergies to paralysis. Every time I suddenly decide “I’ll start taking probiotics” I get whatever supplement or drink, and it gives me a horrible taste in my mouth 24/7 and I think “this is the rest of my fucking life” and then stop.

And to some people, the simple act of me saying “no, I don’t think I’ll have crippling abdominal cramps and the taste of garbage in my mouth forever” is like taking a dump in the holy water at the Vatican. I get the endless “maybe you aren’t buying the right stuff,” which is basically like “maybe you’re not stabbing yourself in the eye with an expensive enough pencil.” So there’s that.

A lot has been going on, and writing’s been uneven. It’s been long enough since the last book, and I didn’t like the last book, that I feel an overwhelming need to put out another book, because the other ones are slowly rotting on the vine. But I have two projects, and one has no structure or purpose, and the other looks like it could take years to finish. So there’s that. I have a couple of stories out and accepted, and they’ll show up at some point.

I’ve fallen down a horrible music gear k-hole, and have bought three basses in 2015. For the record:

  • Ibanez BTB-686SC Terra Firma – very beautiful and great-sounding. But 35″ 6-string, which has me lost.
  • Squier Jaguar short scale – Great $170 bass, but incredibly neck-divey. I replaced the tuners with lightweights and the bridge with a heavyweight, but I still can’t get into the ergonomics.
  • Lakland 44-01 – love this bass. Lowest action ever, and very great sound. It has a really bright “modern” sound to it, which is the opposite of my Jazz.

I’ve also fallen into a Don Delillo thing. White Noise was exactly the book I needed right now, and is an absolutely incredible piece of absurdism. Libra was a great historical piece, about Oswald and JFK, but had me on the edge of an all-out Nov 22 Book Depository k-hole that’s endlessly deep with far too much online reading to do. I’m mostly through Falling Man right now, and it’s decent, although I typically can’t deal with 9/11 stuff. Ratner’s Star is in the mail right now.

Also, is it just me, or has Amazon’s service gotten much worse since they raised the price of Prime? I swear, before the increase, two day Prime meant two days. Now it’s “well, let’s take a day or two to get our shit together and ship, and then it’s two days from there. Unless it’s a weekend. Or you know, any of those 4 or 5 days take place on a weekend. Also, Mondays and Fridays are sort of part of the weekend.” It doesn’t help that our UPS service routinely takes multiple days after something goes on the truck, because we live in the ghetto, and when the sun sets, if the driver’s not done with his route, fuck it.

OK, need to figure out what I’m writing.

 

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Julie, Julia, Queens, 2002

I’ve been back from Denver for a week now, sorry about that. We had a good time, and went to two baseball games – won one, lost one. We also took a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens, which I drove by a million times in 2007 but never visited. And that’s partially a good thing, because if I had, I would’ve spent ten thousand dollars on pieces for a geodesic dome garden for my land in Colorado, or at least spent a month googling plants that survive well in a high mesa desert.

We’re back, and it has been busy, and my arm is almost better, but I got new glasses and they are bugging me. One window closes, another opens. I have also started a new writing project that promises to suck the life out of me, although there isn’t much of it after work and everything else. But it’s good to have something churning that has me awake before 9:00 on a Sunday morning, wanting to get the words into the screen.

I saw the movie Julie and Julia last night. Overall, it was a decent movie – yes, a chick flick, and no explosions or Real American Heroes (TM), but entertaining. The film had two stories going on in it, which means it hit on multiple levels for me. One was the Julia Child story, which has always fascinated me, or at least it has since a few years back when I saw a show on her, maybe an A&E Biography. I also later read a book about her that Sarah had lying around the house. She’s interesting to me because she was nearly 40 and couldn’t boil an egg, and she suddenly started this passion and empire from scratch. That’s appealing to someone who is almost 40 and has sold a grand total of about seven books in their lifetime.

The movie also made me wish I cooked more. Granted, I think we cooked dinner every night last week, and I think only one of those recipes was one of our standards, with everything else being something new. But it makes me wish I could try more new things, and it makes me want to reorganize this kitchen a bit more. Yes, it’s a brand new kitchen, and we just moved in. But we did a lot of “just throw this crap in this drawer, and we’ll figure it out later”, to the point where it took me 45 minutes to find some oatmeal the other morning, and it was exactly where I thought it would be when I started the hunt.

The bigger resonance for me was the fact that the story of the blogger Julie takes place in 2002 in Queens. And for those of you who are new here, I was blogging in Queens in 2002. (Hint: See the link on the left that says 2002 archives.) Of couse, this meant I spent half the movie looking at billboards and subway stops and Queens-style addresses, trying to determine continuity errors. (There were plenty.) But it also greatly reminded me of that era, and what things were like for a struggling writer-type in the general ecosystem of 2002.

First, 2002 was a standout year for me for whatever reason. I published my magnum opus; I travelled more than I ever had before (three trips to Vegas, one including a roadtrip to my land in Colorado; a trip to DC, a trip to Pittsburg, and a return to Indiana.) I struggled in the dating world. I tried to lose weight and I didn’t. I tried to grow a garden and I didn’t. I converted my bike into electric and never rode it. I bought 40 acres of land in Colorado. It was one of those years where a lot happened, and maybe it wasn’t as much as other years, and it was just a nice, round number. And at the time, I certainly didn’t think things were better or worse than other years, but it’s one of those dog-eared eras pf time that my brain easily flops back to without much trouble.

The Julie/Julia project blog brought me back instantly to 2002, because it was a huge meme in New York City for whatever reason, and I think every person I tried to date that year was interested in it. It had huge resonation with the crowd I was on the outside of looking in, the people who think Dave Eggers is ha-ha funny and thought blogs were invented in 2002 by Salon.com. It was the tipping point for blogs in some weird way. I’d been doing it for years at that point, but suddenly, an army of yuppie scum started blogging, and monetizing blogs, and turning blogs into books and movies and careers. I blogged almost 60,000 words in 2002, and looking back at it, it’s not that bad a collection of words. But I felt like a purist acoustic Bon Dylan in a sea of gone-electric, commercially commoditized Bob Dylans. Maybe that frustration turned me to do some good work, but at the time, I felt like I was treading water in an ocean of shit with no land in sight in any direction.

And it feels like 2002 is so god damned long ago, and it feels like yesterday, and I had to subtract 2 from 9 and think about it, and it baffles me for whatever reason. And what happened to all of those people from 2002, all of the wannabe writers and fuck-Bush revolutionaries and artists stuck in secretaries’ cubicles? I can answer my own question – they’re all on Facebook, posting pictures of their kid every god damned minute of the day.

I just got distracted by reading old journal entries from 2002, and I need to get my day started, and I need to make a grocery list for all of these giant cooking project disasters I won’t do this week, and I need to work on the aforementioned secret writing project, so I better get to it.

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