Friday, July 23, 2021

Fake Sincerity

 

Six day ago, I posted a quote from ski film maker/documentarian Warren Miller to my “timeline” on Facebook.  It was, in true Miller fashion, clever, sarcastic and said more about a lot of shit than a paragraph or more ever could. Two days before that, I posted a screenshot of my last text message and a memory of my last conversation with one of my closest friends – ever – Art Werstler. It was one year ago, but he did not pass until September, however, COVID incapacitated him to the point that he was unable to communicated much, and then, only at the end, with his family. I also added on some thoughts regarding the medium I referred to as “Fakebook,” a much more fitting name for this platform that makes distortions of reality so common it appears normal – that distorted reality actually is reality.
 
Since posting that Warren Miller quote (don’t worry, I didn’t forget – I’ll get to it), I have not interacted with Fakebook via my own timeline/profile/page/whatever except to post links to stuff I’ve published elsewhere – stuff like this – usually to my spot in the online magazine, The Medium. But it could also come from my personal blog and I could, in the future, post other creative works using other media, such as video, as well. The key distinction is that nothing is being produced for Fakebook (the Miller quote was, despite it being properly attributed and clearly not my words, it was placed on my timeline – only). Although I have interacted with the few commenters from those two posts, I am still on the fence about whether I will continue to do so. At the moment, there are very few; this is no surprise considering the average Fakebook user’s attention span is less than a paragraph, never mind five or more woven together in a well-spun tapestry. However, I’d prefer that those “conversations” occur in the areas provided in the original publications.
 
That quote? I posted it because I found it smart, clever, witty, and everything I said about it above. I figured my Facebook “friends” would see it and find the same in it that I did. And for some, I knew it would have a time-delayed element, that it would hit them a second, a few seconds or even moments later. And, the truth? I wanted that to be a reflection on me. I post the smart shit, I make those bold statements on society and the particular topic of this quote – sincerity – is one I’ve spoken about many times before. Posting the quote from an icon of the stature of Warren Miller validates me and my position on it. That quote is, “The secret to being a good [ski] instructor is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made” (Miller, 1982). The paradox of faking sincerity is, of course, what sends this quote into the stratosphere, but it begs the question: Why did I feel compelled to post it, especially after I “swore off” Fakebook?
 
It’s a good question and one that I didn’t really consider until recently. As it turns out, in light of the conflicts I was having with Fakebook, the post felt rather empty. It became a microcosm of so much of what I would put out into the Fakebook “environsphere.” It was almost, but not exactly, a passive-aggressive declaration of who-I-am. And while it is certainly true that I am partly about what that quote denotes, at least as far as I perceive it, there is so much more to me than that. I realize that I could be over-analyzing myself (not that I ever do that…), but the mindlessness of the things we place into the world simply because we can, sans any kind of reflection as to why, could be a big part of what makes Fakebook fake.
 
The two things that have appeared on my timeline since are like this – much more detailed, explorative, nuanced and rich. They require more than two seconds to consume and will only be consumed by those who are truly interested. They are not “drive-by” posts on someone’s news feed and, when they do generate comments, those comments are typically not of the drive-by variety, either. For those who want to come to my “home” on Facebook to see what I am up to, they will no longer find the Reader’s Digest version of me, but, rather, if interested enough, they will find some reading to do. If you want to know who-I-am, it will require the commitment to find out. Unfortunately, the quickie Fakebook post standard has been pretty well established, I do not expect many to make the effort. But that is not my concern – my concern is authenticity. And… sincerity, not faking it.
 
I have not completely extracted myself from other aspects of the Fakebook ecosphere. I still read other’s posts, I still comment from time-to-time, I still administer a couple of interest groups and participate in several others and I still own my page, ShirtPocket Productions (and its version on Instagram - @shirtpocket_productions and YouTube - ShirtPocket Productions). All of those things have some value to me, but not in the creation or maintenance of some online or real persona – a distinction that Facebook has blurred to be almost one and the same. Perhaps, through my alter-ego plural first-person “good folks” at ShirtPocket Productions, I do speak in an institutional, almost Warren Miller-esque voice. As “the good folks,” I do play around with persona alteration, however, I am clear that they and I are all me and that “we” are about getting out into the world and doing things – or, as the good folks at SPP say, “Go out and do shit!”
 
Since leaving the inane shit off my Fakebook timeline, my writing output immediately increased. It seems I need a creative outlet, but Fakebook was the junk food equivalent substitution for nutritionally balanced meals. I wrote a lot of longer, original posts for Facebook, but, with rare exception, they were short by literary standards, but still long by Fakebook standards a very unhappy medium. This is the third substantive work I’ve written in the last week, an output in frequency the likes of which I haven’t seen since I began using Facebook regularly many years ago. Coincidence? Partly, maybe; I’m sure there are other factors at play, but the evidence that posting stupid, fast (even if they were “important”) things to Facebook seemed to satisfy any desire to do the real work it takes to do this. And this is who-I-am.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

More Than 150 Thousand Miles Later

 

I’m not exactly sure how many lifetime motorcycle miles I’ve ridden. I can make a pretty good guess how many I have rolled up in the past 10+ or so years, however. The miles logged from the time I bought my first bike when I was 18 years-old (a Honda CB 550 – the venerable 550 Four) in 1981, through the 80s and the 90s until I went through my non-motorcycle years up until my first Harley in 2005, I really have no idea. But, I didn’t go on the multi-day, super long distance rides I do now, every year. However, I rode a lot and, depending on the era, every day – I racked up a lot of miles.

 

At this time 11 years ago, my friend, Steve, and I embarked on our first extended motorcycle road trip. It was to span almost two weeks and covered, ultimately, almost 5,000 miles. At the time, I owned a 2007 Harley-Davidson Road King – a “bagger,” and an excellent
choice for such a ride. Steve had an older Harley, but it, too, was well suited for the ride – both bikes are big, burly and formidable machines. The ride began to take shape months earlier – a “bucket list” thing that not just the two of us, but a few of our friends who ride were all going to do. It was originally going to be a guys thing, but after some pressure the guys relented and allowed gals to come, too. The decision turned out to be moot – one by one, everyone dropped out except me and Steve.

 

And we almost did, too. There is strength in numbers and the confidence and security we once felt with a group of five, eight or more was gone when we were faced with the reality that it would be just us two. None of us – any of us – had any experience with that kind of riding. We would be going hundreds of miles every day, several days in a row without a whole lot of planning regarding route or, except for our ultimate destination (Butte, Montana), any of our overnight stops along the way. What if something went wrong? What if we couldn’t handle
it? Those and a hundred other forms of fear almost stopped us dead in our tracks.

 


But we decided to go anyway and we did so because we both had sons deployed in Afghanistan at the time. If we could not muster the courage needed to take a fucking motorcycle ride, how could we even face them? Seriously. And that really was the tipping point – so we rode. And it was magic. There were times we had to adapt and overcome; there were times when luck smiled upon us and it was not always glamorous, easy or like we imagined. Indeed, it was way more than all that. And it was worth every inch of every mile.

 

Since then, I have ridden either that motorcycle or one of its successors a total of more (much more) than 150,000 miles through most of the western and gulf states and two Canadian provinces. I have ridden in temperatures as high as 120 degrees and as low as the 30s, in rain, hail, sleet and even a little snow. I have ridden at altitudes above 10,000 feet and lower than 200 feet below sea level. I have ridden solo (a lot), with one or two others and, more recently, a few others. Soon, it will be eight others on a five state ride from Sacramento, CA to Sturgis, SD – maybe that ride, like it didn’t happen all those years ago. All of it started 11 years ago – in fact, at this very moment 11 years ago, Steve and I were riding along the base of the Sawtooth Mountains on our way to Jackson Hole, WY.

 

I have been known to show some disdain for sharing “vacation pics” just for the sake of showing them. It reminds me of the days when, upon being invited to someone’s house for dinner, the “after dinner activity” involves the host breaking out the slide projector and sharing his or her recent family vacation photos to Wally World. Yawn. I will quite often not even stop to take that breathtaking shot, instead committing it to memory, sharing it with myself, at will, when I please. However, when I do shoot ride video and photos – and I do, with some degree of passion – I will often include my mantra. It is my go-to for my life and what I hope my adventures inspire in others: Go out and do shit! Go get your own pictures; go see this shit with your own eyes; go ride the miles to that faraway place and experience the entire scene, not vicariously through my words and pictures (or anyone else’s)... make your own. It doesn’t have to be a motorcycle, but it can’t be through a fucking screen. Go out and do shit.

 

Eleven years ago, I went out and did some shit. I haven’t looked back since.




Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Facebook Zombies

This is the beginning. Actually, this is the documented beginning, the real beginning began, probably, when this whole social media morass did. The end began when it started. But, for all intents and purposes, as a practical matter, this is the start of a process in which I extract myself from social media, specifically from Fakebook (yes, I know that is a denigration of our social media lord, but it is a much more accurate name). I am not deleting or deactivating my account (I have deactivated a handful of times in the past, for as long as a few weeks) because I have, unfortunately, a couple of commitments that are inextricably tied to the platform. However, those commitments do not require any involvement from me personally on my personal timeline (page, profile, whatever the fuck they are calling it at the moment). It is not as easy as it appears or (and this bothers me), as easy as it should be.

 

bulentgultek / Getty / The Atlantic
Okay, here we go. Introduction written, it’s good, it should have taken a curious reader to this point. Now what? This is a violation; a peak behind the curtain, a look into the writer’s mind. This paragraph can be where the heavy lifting begins. It’s not always the case, sometimes the words just flow as if they have a will of their own – they seemingly want to exist. These are not those. I’m going to go smoke a cigar, I’ll be back. This is important, but I have not yet assembled all the words…

 

It’s been a couple of days, a few cups of coffee and at least a couple of cigars. In those days I have not added to my Facebook profile, have not added to my “timeline,” and where I have interacted, it has been mostly in respect to specific groups I am either a member of or the administrator of. I have also “allowed” my Facebook page, “ShirtPocket Productions,” to be cross-posted by posts made from my “ShirtPocket Productions” Instagram account. I realize that that sounds like a fairly intricate level of involvement, but in reality – and especially compared to maintaining a personal presence via my own timeline, it is not – not even close.

 

Unfortunately, one of the things I actually do like about Facebook – something I’ve written about before – will eventually be bookended. In fact, if I stay committed, it already has. The history feature, “Memories,” will no longer be replenished with new memories for future recall. True, there are 10 or 11 years of solid entries to view, but if I stay the course, that ease of recall via Facebook timeline entries will be lost because there will be no new Facebook timeline entries. Save this. This will be published to my personal blog (michaelalthouse.com) and to The Medium, and I will link one or both to my Facebook timeline. That, however, is simply promotional. I post those to Twitter and LinkedIn as well.

 

Why? Nothing much new, just new iterations of the same old shit. I have hundreds of examples of how the reality is not what Facebook portrays it and of how reality is absolutely affected by what Facebook portrays. Not reality in how water is made up of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom, but the reality of how people relate to one another – a reality that is no less “real,” but unlike molecular reality, one that Facebook has an inappropriate and disproportionate ability to alter. Even knowing that is often - too often - not enough to combat what Fakebook has constructed.

 

The age of information has also turned essentially every little nuance of daily life into some kind of data, each minute division of everyone’s daily life is another thing which can then be known as yet another bit of information, as though all of that information is somehow valuable. Its existence, its mere passing though time, does not demand documentation and the fact that some informational bit is documented does not mean that it must be examined, reviewed, studied, saved or even known. Too much of what goes on in people's individual lives that, prior to the “age of information” simply existed and evaporated as it passed through liminal space, now finds its way into permanent storage, often altered – intentionally or not - from what actually transpired. But forgetting about errors in record-keeping and context, there are things that find their way into the public domain that were not necessarily “meant to be private,” but were private by default, prior to the age of “now we know everything.”

 

I don’t want to know what all my friends think about every little thing that comes to their minds. Sometimes I agree, and we can have a wonderful online slam-fest with a group of like-minded souls, attacking anyone who might enter that arena with an opposing view, like a bunch of sharks at a feeding frenzy. Of course, if I came upon a bunch of friends in said frenzy about a view I opposed – I then become the food. That shit never happens in real life. I also do not need to know if my friends are associating with my not-friends (yes, I have “not-friends”) – it’s none of my business, however, Fakebook not only doesn’t care, it feels it is duty-bound to inform us. And then Facebook serves up, as a main course, the feelings of betrayal that real life would not normally produce.

 

It’s easy to say that Facebook is morally neutral, that it is a tool, like a hammer, neither “bad" nor “good,” that it is up to whoever wields it. While that is technically true, Facebook is more akin to a wrecking ball than a hammer. It is true that a wrecking ball is also a tool, but it is a tool that is used primarily to destroy whereas a hammer can be, but it is equally useful in building. I don’t know where this ends, but it has to end here and now for me. I don’t want to know the things I know, I don’t need to know the things I know, and, despite the fact that the vast majority of it is “public information,” it is none of my business knowing these things. Information is power, and power is intoxication and intoxication of any kind, in my experience, is bad. I see the Fakebook zombies, they don’t even know they've crossed over. If I walk on the edge long enough, I’ll fall in, too.

 

#peace

 

 



Friday, July 09, 2021

One Redeeming Quality Might Be Enough

I maybe should be more appreciative toward Facebook — or whoever developed the idea that Facebook commandeered its “memories” function from (I want to say, “Timehop,” but I’m not sure and don’t care enough to do the research). I’m not being facetious, and this is not a new revelation. I have made this assertion many times before; the “memories” function is among Facebook’s most redeeming qualities. In fact, it might be Facebook’s only redeeming quality. So, I give the platform itself a lot of shit, I criticize the money-people behind it (not the regular day-to-day employees, they are just doing a job) and, generally, think when weighing the pros and cons, the cons break the scale, but that does not mean that this one pro should not be given it’s due — again.

There was a time — before e-everything or Apple’s betterized i-everything, before this informational epoch — the “age of information” — was upon us, that our personal histories were recorded differently. Just before the computer revolution took hold, an age that I, like other Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers are very familiar with, we appeared to rely more on the oral, tribal tradition. I can’t say with certainly for most other families, but the general feeling I get is that we did not write a whole lot of our familial histories down — we passed it down verbally. While there are a few analog photographs that date back (if we are lucky) 150 years, at most, for most of us, the only printed records of us are kept by record-keeping agencies. There is no story told, at least not in a story-telling way.

However, there were some who did more than just remember and talk. There were some who did keep written records in the form of diaries and journals. And some are/were meticulous. Mine were not, and while they, I believe, are “around somewhere,” I have no idea where and even if I could find them, the records I wrote were a very brief window in time. Some people, however, wrote with much more detail — with names, dates and places. They are rich and robust. And, we, as a society, have greatly benefited from those personal histories — to fill in gaps, to add humanity, to lend insight and in thousands of other ways the original authors could never have known.

Much has been lost and even that which survives is not so easily accessible. It cannot be searched, indexed, organized, sorted, etc. like the digital versions Facebook’s archives (and IG, and Twitter, and all else) can be. Furthermore, there are not just a few dedicated souls documenting their lives — many on a daily basis — for posterity. Y’all are journaling, y’all are writing in your diaries and you’re doing it with the kind of precision that will make it extremely valuable 100, 200, 500 years from now. It doesn’t have to be a 700-word or more essay like this — most aren’t and most won’t read even this far (and someone will comment about how this is too long). But because of Facebook and, in a similar fashion, all other social media platforms, we are all now writing not only our own familial, personal histories for the benefit of our offspring, but society will benefit from it, too.

I was inspired to write this today by my own Facebook history, what they used to call “on this day,” what is now simply, “memories.” I opened my Facebook account in May 2006, but I didn’t get active on it until about two years later. Today, July 9th, my Facebook “memories” date back to 2009. Apparently, this general time of year has been something of a personal roller-coaster — as recently as two years ago. However, even that particular undulation was not as pronounced as some in the past have been. The peaks and valleys are, according to the historical record, smoothing out. I have some memories of tumult that precede Facebook — plenty — and some took place during this time of the year, too, but the precision that e-everything gives me is lacking. I cannot see any patterns or trending like I can in the past decade or so. That additional information, that context, is valuable, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Facebook’s role in it.

Is it worth it? Is Facebook’s one redeeming quality worth all the bullshit that comes with it? Short answer: No. Longer answer: Still no, but with a caveat. In time, the cons, the vastness of the deceit and the lies and the divisiveness that is also part if this historical record will also be preserved. Maybe, just maybe, we will survive all this division, rise above it and that history will be the history we learn from. Because if we don’t, we are surely doomed to repeat it.

 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

You Know What I Mean?

There is a consensus that the level of overall skill in terms of grammar, spelling and written composition, generally, is not what it once was. That might not be entirely true. It might be that, with the advent of easy publication of written texts, the level of skill (or lack thereof) is simply more visible now. I’d say it is part both; there is a decrease in skill and that there is more visibility — and technology is to blame for both. I am on the record that “I don’t like it,” but that’s hardly unique. Even those who are guilty of egregious liberties with written English will lament about how lax attention to proper grammar has become — in the same paragraph “then” is used where “than” should have been.

I accepted long ago that there is a different and lower standard for social media. The argument, “you know what I meant,” is valid, as is the one that claims this is part of the evolutionary nature of language. There are, however, caveats to both arguments. In the first case, we are basically speaking about function and form. For some things, function and form are inextricably linked. Language is not purely one of them, however, for it, function and form cannot be mutually exclusive, either. And, for all things, form — beauty — is important. And it is important in terms of communication, even if the form itself doesn’t actually discursively speak. Don’t believe it? Ask Edsel Ford how form and function are related.

Ironically enough, there are some exceedingly talented, artistic, creative people in the world who know exactly how important form is, but will demonize it when it comes to the art in writing. Who better to understand the importance of form, of beauty, and what that means to a thing’s underlying function? Further, these same people should be the most understanding when it comes to the exactitude of publishing (or otherwise publicizing) their work — their art — if it does not reflect their standards. But when it comes to certain art, apparently, only function is important — “you knew what I meant.” Okay, but not when applied to me and my writing. Form, to me, is at least as important, maybe more important.

From time to time I am accused of being the Facebook “grammar police.” When that happens, my challenge is pretty standard — “show me when I have done that.” They can’t, but I have done it, on rare occasion. I will slam someone for grammar only when it’s some troll slamming me or someone else for being stupid, uneducated, otherwise “dumb,” or (my personal favorite) using bad grammar when incorrectly correcting me or someone else. That’s it. However, because I am careful about the words I put out into the public forum, because I care about form and (I hope) because I am successful in producing some beauty in that form, some assumption follows that I am “judging” everyone else.

No, with the exceptions I already enumerated, I am not. But I do assume others are judging me based on everything I present — my words, my image, my everything. I am careful that I present authenticity, and that authenticity includes attention to detail in my craft — just like a musician, or a painter, or a custom car builder, or any other crafts-person or artist would. Do I cringe when I see certain uses of the language in certain places (i.e., social media)? Yes. Do I say anything? No. Do I feel compelled to? That’s a better question and the answer is that I used to want to “help” everyone be better writers. I still didn’t, wholesale, do anything — that was and is much too overwhelming a task, but that was my desire — to help. I figured everyone would want that, too. That was a long time ago. I no longer think that and I am no longer compelled to help (unsolicited, of course I’ll help under some circumstances).

Because… I do not want or need anyone’s help becoming a better musician, painter, etc., either. I’m cool. If I did need those skills, I would certainly: a) know it, and: b) find the help I need. I expect if someone needed to be a better writer, he or she would know it and get the help needed to become one. The other two reasons are much simpler. First, language evolves and this is part of the process — not all or even most of the current “new conventions” will stick, but some will and the generations behind me have as much right to fuck around with our language as we did. Second… 99 percent of the time, I know what you meant.

 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Common Denominator

In the fall of 2003, I returned to school for the first time in many, many years. My previous attempts at higher education were mixed, but in total, unsuccessful. I had less than two years of college credits accumulated, and they were scattered across several areas - too many were redundant or otherwise did not count toward anything. It was rebuilding my life and nearing my 41st birthday. I was also, for the first time "clean and sober," a story for another time, but a key part of that rebuilding process.

 

My goal was not to complete a bachelor's degree, I was only shooting for an AA degree so that I could start a new career in substance abuse counseling. But really, it was a much shorter-term goal that drove me initially - I was in it for the money. The student loans and grants that I would receive would put the kind of money in my pocket that I had not had since my life came crashing down about three years earlier. However, some time during that first semester, my motivation changed. It changed because I was getting the kind of grades I was never able to earn consistently before. I was good at something good.

The coincidence was not lost on me. My ability to apply myself and do the work necessary, consistently, without the distraction of not only substance abuse, but also the lifestyle that goes with, enabled me to realize the potential I always knew I had. But I never could do it. I knew I could, but I couldn't, no matter how good my intentions, no matter how much I willed it, it didn't matter - the bottom always fell out. Of everything, eventually. That fall in 2003 I had four As and a B - the best GPA in a semester I ever had up until that point. I relapsed during the winter break and went to school that next spring with all those distractions and, while I managed to power through, my grades suffered considerably. I was also arrested again and by the time the fall 2004 semester came, I was in jail for a few weeks. That relapse also ended any hope of becoming a substance abuse counselor.

 

But I was, by necessity of circumstance, clean and sober once again. And the fire of that first successful semester was still smoldering. When I got out some time in September of 2004, I could not go to school right away, and even when I could go back, I did not know what future I had there. However, after talking to a counselor at American River College, we discovered that I was only one semester away from transferring to my local university. One semester of general education courses would earn me a spot as a junior at California State University, Sacramento. My choice of major was hugely influenced by my new appreciation for my old ability to weave words and punctuation, so journalism seemed a natural choice. The dual major of “government-journalism” manifested itself after I got there. My final semester at ARC was even more successful. Still clean and sober (since going to jail on August 6th, 2004 – to this day, no drinks, no drugs), I achieved straight As, and it would not be my last perfect semester.

 

I finished my BA at CSUS in the fall of 2007 and took a semester off writing for a local newspaper before entering the MA program in communication studies there in the fall of 2008. I was awarded my MA in 2012, but in the fall of 2011, I moved to Baton Rouge where I would begin my study in the PhD program at Louisiana State University, also in communication studies. Every semester with the exception on fall 2003 (I was in jail) and spring 2008 (in between my BA and beginning my MA program), I have been a full-time student and taking a full load of classes to fulfill the various requirements to achieve whatever degree I was pursuing at the time. From the fall of 2008 until I left Baton Rouge and LSU at the conclusion of the spring 2015 semester, I was also teaching two undergraduate classes per semester. That is a lot of school for a 40-something turned 50-something “non-traditional” student.

 

It is the longest run of sustained success I have ever built – the bottom still has not fallen out. And that common denominator – clean and sober – is still common. However, that fire did eventually burn out. For a lot of reasons, all of them important in their own right, I only advanced to PhD candidacy – I never wrote a dissertation and never won the big prize, I never earned the right to place “Dr.” in front of my name. I did earn another MA at LSU, however, and those two master’s degrees, along with the PhD coursework I did complete has secured me a place as a lecturer (adjunct professor, part-time faculty, non-tenured faculty… we have many names) at my first alma mater, CSUS, where I continue to work today.

 

But it was this day, seven years ago, that I sat in my last classroom as a student. I would still be another year at LSU as a student, but my coursework was complete. I had my comprehensive exams to take and that little dissertation thing to write – and, of course, I was still teaching. But today, seven years ago, was the last time I sat in a classroom on the front side of the podium. I don’t remember what class it was or who the professor was, and although I know it made enough of an impact on me at the time to make note of it, I don’t know that I could have really appreciated the magnitude at the time. Not just that – all of it. All that has happened in all those years – and there is so much more than just this.

 

And that common denominator… seems to be something there.