Friday, 6 October, 2023 in Portland Oregon and hoo boy it's going to be unseasonably warm for autumn.
I described this in a chat yesterday as "nice, and a horrible omen of things to come".
Here's an experiment: I'm going to share three things that caught my attention that don't have anything to do with the internet, and hopefully that will also make for a shorter episode today after this week's barrage.
But first, as they say, Some Personal News.
Hallway Track is an experiment that's came to life over the last couple of days.
It's an attempt to recreate one of the best parts of a conference -- when you'd gather outside a particular interesting and stimulating session to keep talking about it with friends and meet interesting and interested people.
Taking that feeling and applying it to the great threads and conversations we have online.
So: free, ad-hoc, impromptu conversations. Not too big, not too small.
I'm co-hosting the first one with Katie Dreke as a follow-up to her LinkedIn post I covered in s16e08: Free-range, Organic, and Natural; The Original Promise.
20 spaces. Interesting people. People from the original LinkedIn thread and more.
Thursday 12 October, 2023, 7am Pacific, 10am East Coast, 3pm London.
I don't think I've watched Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet since it came out in theaters, or shortly afterwards when it was on VHS and DVD. The big kid has just been exposed to Shakespeare at school, so I've got William on my mind and was idly browsing Paramount+ last night before starting this week's Lower Decks.
Anyway. My god is this film good. Everything about it. The re-framing. The casting. The production design. The music. If you do nothing, just the first fifteen minutes, up until we meet di Caprio's Romeo are mind-blowing. The recontextualizing the first moment you see one of the boys' swords that had me yelling. Much of this, I suppose, has to do with how long it's been since I've watched this film.
Next I have to credit my wife for bringing this clip of the National Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Bridge Theatre from 2020, titled Bottom takes a Selife.
This isn't really to do with the internet. I think. Or at least, a lot less, so I'm going to say it counts for this episode's theme.
Back when I was on TikTok, my page was full of people doing mental health walks, and the deal was that they'd do them angrily. The whole conceit is that it's irritating that they work.
I know I'm supposed to go on mental health walks. Supposed to go is even part of the problem: that cycle of shoulds and shame and guilt about knowing what you're supposed to do that would be helpful, but every single second that you're not doing it is another second of failure. Those seconds add up. Even typing this isn't great, in the way that simple thoughts can instantly provoke feelings and the physiological responses that go along with those emotions, a microsecond-latency trigger into flight-or-fight.
So. What I started doing was that I went on mental health walks, I called them stupid, and I took pictures of them and posted them on the internet because that's the kind of person I am. I wrote about them, variations of "doing this stupid thing because of my stupid brain", or "did this thing with my stupid body in the stupid sun", and I have to admit that part of it -- not all of it! -- was (is) committing to a bit. A way of writing about a thing, of having decided on the audience I was writing to, and the tone in which I wanted to connect to that audience.
There's a part of this that has felt manipulative to me, which people have pointed out to me is "goddamn stupid, Dan", partly because "writing" to "people" cannot be, at a base level, anything other than manipulative because you are trying to communicate something, an idea, or whatever.
I could say that the pattern of doing things I could be proud of, or that a tiny part of me wanted to be proud of but couldn't expose, is where I minimize and deflect. That I can't just say "hey, I'm super proud of this act of self care", but instead I have to make fun of it. Some therapists would see that as an opportunity to investigate a difficulty in performing and accepting self-love, of compassion to oneself.
But of course, like many people, I thrive unhealthily on external validation. "Look at me doing this stupid thing!", I'd be sharing, and honestly the "well done for doing the thing!" and the likes and comments for doing the thing provided that jolt of worthiness that's difficult to find within.
Then again, why read more into it? Why push so hard into this can't count, instead of this is what it is?
Over time, I would start getting messages from people. Mostly private, some public. About how me posting about my stupid mental health walks has inspired them to go on mental health walks, and how that's made a change for them, how it's helped them.
It's hard to let that in, and to accept that thanks. "You're influential!" my therapist would say. "An influencer!" and I would wince because let me tell you, I am more online than them, and the connotations that go along with influencer are certainly not attributes I would wish to have; I would not wish to be seen as an influencer by those who are important to me, who I respect. "And yet," that therapist would say, "you are influential. The evidence is there, and you're trying to deny it. I can read it off your phone. So how else would you describe it?" And I have to admit: I would be at a loss.
It is complicated. I do this thing and it is good for me. It is even better for me than it might be for others, than it might be for you. The U.S. healthcare system means that a few years ago, my doctor suggested I have a DNA test so we could figure out what would be more helpful and less helpful for my mental health. This also being the U.S. healthcare system, it meant that nobody could tell me ahead of time how much this DNA test would cost. Anyway: turns out, at least this report indicates, that I'm not great at producing BDNF, which is "a thing that is good for mental health". Or in our current state of neuroscience, may as well be "as far as we can tell, this is correlated to mental health and resiliency but we don't really know why". Turns out, exercise helps express BDNF if your genes aren't good at it. Or if they are, I suppose! So. Exercise.
So I overthink it. Is it okay to frame these helpful mental health walks as stupid? Certainly there are enough people on the internet for some to have replied subject to context collapse because they don't know me with "but this isn't stupid". I know it's not stupid. Calling it stupid is the bit. So then: is that okay? Or: who cares? Who cares if it's just for me, if sharing it is a way of providing accountability, or if I've found that over the decades of being online, it turns out that talking about some of the challenges I face has directly helped people get much-needed diagnoses and help?
I mean if I put it that way, that's good. I would care. That's me sharing and wanting to help because it's important to me.
And all this for posting a selfie of going for a walk.
This is going to be a Star Trek bit, I'm afraid. There's this new series, Lower Decks. It presents as adult animation. Adult animation usually has a reputation for crass, gross humor and being mean and so on even though, yes I know, not all adult animation and no I haven't watched Fionna and Cake yet.
Lower Decks isn't like that. I mean, it's got some of that in it. It is certainly more adult in that it's acknowledged that people have sex, that people swear, all the stuff that Roddenberry (inconsistently) thought we'd be beyond in the future, what with living in Hilton conference rooms in space.
There are a lot of easter eggs, but I will be the kind of person who maintains that you don't really need to know about them or the lore [sic].
Anyway. The premise is that it's about, well, the lower decks: not the important bridge crew. And because it's adult animation and because it is supposed to be funny (and it is!), the main characters are somewhat... unbalanced. Their behavior is pushed to the extreme in the service of humor (and it works!)
There's this one character who has self-destructive tendencies, self-sabotages, problems with authority, all that stuff. (The other main character is a ball of anxiety who can't let go and is always trying to do his best). These characters have grown over the past three seasons to the extent that Beckett Mariner, the self-destructive, self-sabotaging lead, has been confronted and started to accept what might be a threatening notion.
Her commanding officer is proud of her, believes in her, and doesn't want to get her in trouble. He goes out to bat for her, finds assignments he thinks she'll do well at, that will stretch her. He lets her know he's doing all of this, and she gradually starts to accept it. In a few episodes where she outright rebels, he sucks it up and uses it as a teachable moment: that he knows what she's doing and he won't let her get away with it because he wants her to succeed.
I mean, forget about all the technobabble and the space exploration and the non-violent conflict resolution, forget about the other renaissance series Strange New Worlds, with its Space Dad of the Year in Anson Mount's Captain Christopher Pike (who has pretty much performed admirably to win an award like that, apart from the last episode of the recently concluded season). This support -- in a series that started out apparently portraying its characters as dead-end fuckups with jobs suitable for fuckups -- feels like the product and result of a post-scarcity utopian society.
In another episode, one character exclaims: "You can just ask for what you deserve?!" (after, of course, the asking for what they deserve was received casually and naturally granted). You can ask for what you deserve. That, I think, wasn't even a message in any of the 90s era Star Treks, one of which notoriously had a ship's counselor who wasn't seen to counsel, and when it was seen, was pretty derogatory, simplistic and dismissive. This insult, and a sexist one at that, was at least remedied in the new series.
You can just ask for what you deserve.
There. Three things not about the internet. I knew I could do it.
This was also episode ten of season 16. If this were a premium streaming show, I'd be done with the season about now. I don't think I am, though.
It's Friday here. How's your week been, and how are you?
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