Magnanimity

Monday, 18 September 2017

Back in January, I briefly talked a bit about the need for more sincerity in the world. I still think that post holds true, but, as in most things, could be expanded upon after more reflection. I’ve had chats with friends about call-out culture & seen eye-rolling amounts of outraged headlines & no end of online chatter about how some thing or some one didn’t do some thing well enough to please some one. As cliche as it is: perfect remains the enemy of good; and those who expect their definition of perfection to be met will forever be outraged by the fallibility of every one.

What I almost never see is magnanimity – I don’t see acknowledgement and praise of effort, or understanding & encouragement when someone is trying but makes mistakes. I understand that it may be hard to be magnanimous when most people are pushing their own agenda (either disingenuously or sincerely), but I fail to see how the excoriation of imperfection & fallibility is useful for anything other than vainglorious virtue-signaling & self-aggrandizement. It’s a neat little tautological flip to support the type of pride that was once considered sinful back when people believed in sin. Without a sense of humility, it’s nigh impossible to be magnanimous. The world would certainly be a bit better off if we practiced it from time to time.

People need to chill.

The Conversion of Saint Paul, Caravaggio
The Conversion of Saint Paul, Caravaggio

Something in the hills is angry

Friday, 1 September 2017

I am deaf but for rumbles and blind but
for the way the night lights when I strike the ground
I am outside searching deep into black fractal hills for the drum
summoning. A great spirit is awake tonight and haughty.
I am some beast long-chained attempting a great labor
The sky furrows and crouches on the ridge-lines
and nothing will hear me yell as I stalk amid the pines
I am bravado shaking trees and slapping the wet red earth
I have seven league boots and a peacock’s tail but
everything in the dark is much larger than me

I am awake inside a drum 
I am asleep inside a drum
I am rent haggard and
something in the hills is angry and enjoying this

Behind me
in the dark
my son sleeps
dry and uneaten

he wakens
to bright and resinous air a
strange lightning in his eyes

De rien

Saturday, 22 July 2017

I’ve lived in Cleveland for nearly 15 years now, & in all of that time, the city & its people have been, through existential trial & error, trying to taxonomize what it means to be Cleveland. All of them should have visited Steve’s Lunch before it burned.

There are a few who have me beat, but, for the most part, I’ve been to more places in more neighborhoods than people who’ve lived here their whole lives. The common denominator, when you wipe away all the branding & internet-era posturing to reveal the rusted heart at our core, is a moderately exasperated politesse. Clevelanders are busy, we’re in a hurry, we know what we’re doing, we don’t have time for your shit, but we aren’t gonna be jerks about it.

We’ll hold the door just long enough for it to not close in your face; we’ll throw up our hands at a senior citizen who probably shouldn’t be on the road, and impatiently give them the right of way. We’ll serve up a completely unpretentious hot dog, on a cheap plastic plate that’s been cursorily washed 10,000 times in 15 years, that changes your life when the stadium mustard smears across your tongue.

Steve’s Lunch is where I went when I had $20 to spend on a night out & could buy a hot dog with my last two dollars at 3AM. It burned before I could introduce my son to the place, but we’re regular enough at Steve’s Diner that the staff knows us on sight & the Pepsi is waiting for us when we sit down. We grouse with the staff about weather & homework & bills & split a plate of fries. Steve’s is where I go when I’m lonely or in need of comfort, & where I head when all I have time for is a hot dog.

That hot dog could be dim sum; or pierogi; or ribs barbecued in a converted 50-gallon drum & served up without a permit at an abandoned gas station. The core of Cleveland, that no amount of luxury condos or new coats of paint can obscure, is a lack of pretension. Dandelions like Steve’s are in every neighborhood; lifting their yellow heads & growling at whatever Cleveland supposedly is this week.

We’ve seen so many grand gestures & prophets of prosperity descend from the clouds to save Cleveland, using money & influence to change entire swathes of our neighborhoods. The loudest story is that we need to be saved. We do our best to obscure the fact that we serve up little bits of salvation every day.

You want another hot dog?

A Short List of Things I’ve Failed

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

  • Developing consistently healthy eating habits
  • Figuring out a regular exercise schedule
  • Driving below the speed limit
  • Patience
  • Home ownership
  • Long-term romantic relationships
  • Investing
  • Weight loss
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Good posture
  • Beating the original Super Mario Brothers
  • Going on vacation
  • Not being weird
  • Publishing my writing
  • Being respected in my community
  • Learning guitar
  • Being quiet
  • Expressing emotion
  • Listening
  • Having confidence
  • Ancient Greek 103
  • Making biscuits from scratch
  • Writing regularly
  • Maintaining friendships
  • Doing dishes in a timely manner
  • My son
  • My mom
  • My dog
  • You

Excuses

Sunday, 5 March 2017

My grandpa used to say to me: “You have more excuses than Wrigley has chewing gum”. He grew up during the Great Depression, fought in World War II, supported 4 kids and a wife running a postal route, was a city councilman, et cetera, et cetera.

I can’t think of one time that I ever heard him complain or offer an excuse or fail to take responsibility for something that was brought to his attention – whether or not if it was his problem to begin with.

My life has been extravagantly decadent compared to his, but when I’ve been faced with adversity or failed at something I’ve always kept that saying of his in mind, and his example.

  • If you’re held responsible for something that isn’t your fault; there’s no point whining about it – you’re already blamed. Clarify the situation and help solve it. Take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  • If you’re in any position of leadership, the failures of any part of your team are your failures. The instant you shift blame, you’re a whiner, not a leader. Spreading blame is worse than a waste of time, it is counter-productive. Are you here to find a scape-goat or get some work done?
  • Don’t complain that reality gets in the way of your goals. Don’t invent realities that justify your failures. Be humble, be honest, work hard, and know your capabilities.
  • Admit your mistakes but don’t give up; have another idea ready at hand. Ask for help, guidance, or feedback.
  • It’s okay to express frustration, but it should be done in private; and the next step after that is called “getting back to work.”
  • The difference between an excuse and an explanation boils down to responsibility. An excuse avoids it, an explanation owns it.

When I have interactions with people who do not seem capable behaving in the manners described above, I feel pretty safe in assuming that they’ve never truly been held accountable to others & probably won’t be able to hack it when they finally are.

State Capture

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

I keep reading articles & news posts about how the Trump Administration is doing a bad job of communicating its policies & governance. This presupposes two things:

  1. That the Trump Administration has objectively and holistically comprehensible policies and governance strategies
  2. That they have the desire to communicate them clearly to the public via the media

I think the press is still doing a bad job at understanding what’s going on here. The easiest way to #DrainTheSwamp is through neglect. Shut down whatever you can, fill key positions with administrators who will further hamstring the bureaucracy, and leave the rest to dry rot.

This is the kind of state/regulatory capture you learn about in an introductory public administration course.

Sincerity

Sunday, 22 January 2017

In the apotheosis of postmodernity that we are currently subjected to sincerity is hard to find. The alt-fact (propaganda) & alt-right (white supremacist) are unscrupulously disingenuous at dissembling. The social justice left has balkanized due to self-inflicted “No True Scotsman”-ship. Hipster irony in the early aughts was at least performative – a joke that everyone was in on; and even if you didn’t think it was funny, you at least knew it was a joke. Now, just about everybody is a revanchist.

The tools used to make nothing mean anything, and anything mean nothing have been so refined that 140 characters can take 10,000 of analysis to unpack. Speed, volume, and anonymity create so much noise that there might as well be no signal.

I used to think hipster irony was the problem & that sincerity was the answer. I was wrong. Postmodernity is the problem.

I still think sincerity is the answer.