April 26, 2019

To lie on the table is to be vulnerable

Every month, my massage therapist and I have great hour-long conversations.

We chat the entire time I’m on the table, and over the past while, we’ve gotten to know each other quite well. She knows about my family, about my hobbies, about my travels, about my work. I know the same about hers. We remember each others’ birthdays, milestones, anniversaries. We have, after all, spent one full hour of non-stop conversation each month for over a year; I don’t always get that much conversation time with some of my closest friends.

It’s not just my massage therapist: my personal trainer, too, knows my life and I know his. Three times a week, for a full hour, we spend time not just working out, but chatting about sports, politics, interests, and our lives. Aside from my lovely wife and my adorable cat, he is probably the person I speak most with on a weekly basis. We send each other texts during the week after we witness a great sports play, or have a question about what’s going on in the world.

After reading Laura Entis’ piece on the the importance of touch, and how massage therapy fills that need for the lonely and isolated, I was struck by this short sentence:

To lie on the table is to be vulnerable.

I’d take that further to say: to allow someone to have access to your body is to be vulnerable, whether that access comes from someone giving you a massage, someone pushing your body to go further as you lift that barbell, or any other circumstance. We create connections with those who manipulate our bodies mostly because we have to: we trust them to take care of us, and we give them access based on that trust.

We don’t often feel comfortable being vulnerable, being open to others in our everyday lives. Having people whose job it is to take our trust, to embrace our vulnerabilities and make us stronger and healthier because of them, is so important as we pass through our days, guarding ourselves from the poking and prodding of others.

Poem of the week:

by Hazel Hall

I have known hours built like cities,
House on grey house, with streets between
That lead to straggling roads and trail off,
Forgotten in a field of green;

Hours made like mountains lifting
White crests out of the fog and rain,
And woven of forbidden music—
Hours eternal in their pain.

Life is a tapestry of hours
Forever mellowing in tone,
Where all things blend, even the longing
For hours I have never known.

A few things to read and explore:

Undergraduate students at Georgetown have voted to pass the first reparations policy in the nation, raising student fees to benefit the descendants of the 272 enslaved people who were sold in the founding of the school. Whether or not the vote passes legal challenge, I’m proud to be an alum of a school whose student body takes strong social justice stands like this one.

I think about this quotation by Sir Tim Berners-Lee every day as I do my work in public service transformation:

Governments must translate laws and regulations for the digital age. They must ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and freedoms online. We need open web champions within government — civil servants and elected officials who will take action when private sector interests threaten the public good and who will stand up to protect the open web.

I am a chronic precrastinator, early to everything and rushing to do things immediately. That tendency has been causing some problems in life recently, so I’m working on breaking the habit:

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor of management and psychology at Wharton, said precrastination is a perversion of diligence.

It’s the dark side of being really good at getting things done,” he said. It stems from the concern that you won’t have enough time to do something well, especially when other people are depending on you.”

This rumination on citrus, on oranges and pockets and writing and the city, is absolute poetry. I dream of being able to write this evocatively:

In California, citrus season runs loosely from November to March. I used to drive through the orange groves in Visalia and Fresno in the Central Valley on my way to and from the tiny mountain town I lived in which was tucked into the foothills of the National Sequoia Forest. During citrus season, I’d roll down the windows of my volvo and revel in the citrus-scented wind while picturesque and round-topped orange trees passed in symmetric lines. I’d stop in small towns and buy satsumas with cash from fruit stands with hand painted signs. Orange peels piled on the passenger seat. Later when I lived in Los Angeles, I bought my oranges in thick plastic bags from the fruta street vendor with his rainbow-colored striped umbrella on the sidewalk, along with mango sprinkled with tamarindo.

It took me until the break between last season and this one to finally start watching Game of Thrones, but I binged through it in a few months and am eagerly anticipating this season. I usually don’t like fantasy—books, movies, etc.—but this show has me, and millions of people around the world, transfixed. This piece on The Ringer on how GoT is the last collectively popular TV show” is worth reading because it tracks the history of the phenomenon of the show, and why so many people are mesmerized by it:

In penetrating the public’s subconscious, Thrones has risen to a new level of global monoculture and become the de facto water-cooler topic of the decade. The series’ mix of detailed mythology and historically influenced political intrigue makes it a worthy story topic for both a subredditor and The New Yorker’s television critic. And its characters and themes have grown so recognizable that they’ve proved as effective at selling Johnnie Walker as they have in communicating foreign policy, however politically horrifying that may be. Thanks to a following that has organized around the original book series since the early days of the internet, and a media environment that thrives on obsessive fandom, Game of Thrones the show has become a launchpad for careers, consumer products, and entire online ecosystems.

But as technology continues to shape entertainment, it’s become increasingly difficult for studios to re-create the gargantuan success of a franchise like Game of Thrones. The internet has spawned a hyperactive attention economy that has revolutionized both the content people consume and how they consume it. As on-demand streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Apple pour their riches into the entertainment arms race, both the budgets and standard of quality for television have been raised. At the same time, viewership data and recommendation algorithms have driven studios to make shows that are far more fractured and niche.

As someone who is decidedly not beautiful but spends too much money on clothes and shoes in order to get a proxy of beauty, Ive recently been asking myself what the world would look like if we weren’t all trying to be beautiful, and that if being non-beautiful was okay:

Wouldn’t it be freeing to admit that most people are not beautiful? What if we stopped prioritizing pleasing aesthetics above so much else? I wonder what it would be like to grow up in a world where being beautiful is not seen as a necessity, but instead a nice thing some people are born with and some people aren’t, like a talent for swimming, or playing the piano.

I think I admire Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as much as a public intellectual and writer as I do as an athlete. His recent piece on the dichotomy of athleticism and intellectualism in America is a perfect example of why I do:

A culture can admire both the physical and intellectual. The achievements of athletes inspire us to push the boundaries of what our bodies are capable of. We can run faster, jump higher, endure more punishment than we thought. That makes us all realize we have untapped potential. Equally, we can be inspired by the insights of our poets, the vision of our philosophers, the medical breakthroughs of our scientists. Both should make us strive to be greater: stronger and smarter. The problem is that when the average person sees an athlete perform an amazing feat, there’s the lurking belief that, if they really wanted to train and practice, they could do it, too. It is within their grasp. But with intellectual feats, some people see that as beyond their understanding and therefore beyond their reach. Rather than strive, they resent. It’s easier to look up baseball stats than read an article on melting ice caps. Plus, there’s an implied pressure to the latter: if I accept that something is wrong, am I not obligated to do something about it? It’s easier to deny, deny, deny. Like those common sense” citizens who loudly decried the existence of germs, the benefits of penicillin, or the evidence of DNA, such anti-intellectualism leads to sickness, death and the hobbling of a society’s progress.

We all love reliving the glories of our past. Knowing this, Drew Magary perfectly captures why it was so thrilling to watch Tiger win the Masters last weekend:

Athletes are measuring sticks. You measure their ability against yours and you measure their ability to handle pressure against your own, naturally. But you also measure their lives against your own. Their history is your history. They’re personal markers, just as certain movies and songs and pictures evoke moments from your youth that have grown warmer and fonder and perhaps more unattainable over time. I was rooting for Tiger yesterday, but to be more accurate: I was selfishly rooting to relive my own past.

The air we breathe is slowly poisoning us—that’s not new news—but so few of us think about it or mobilize to do something about it:

Invisibility is a strange feature of this crisis. You see one person run over in the street and you’ll never forget it,” observed a Los Angeles environmentalist I met. But thousands dying from the effects of dirty air will never even faze you.” He was right. When smokers succumb, they know their own actions, and those of the tobacco companies that fed their habit, helped bring about their illness. But, in a world powered by fossil fuels, we all travel from place to place, use electricity, heat our homes, and few of us fully grasp the effects.

I understand the need for tipping in a world where the tipped minimum wage exists, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand living in a world where the minimum wage discrepancy between those who work for tips and those who don’t is so large. I wish we could abolish tipping and pay everyone a living wage, but this article proves that getting there won’t be so easy:

Without widespread buy-in from other restaurants, it’s just too easy for front-of-house workers to leave to make more money elsewhere. About 40 percent of our servers were like, Hey, this is awesome, but I’m going to go to State Bird Provisions, where I can make 10 percent more,’” Vogler says. And who doesn’t want to make 10 percent more? They’re not freedom fighters.”

An amusing take on finding the ideal partner—find a sauce man:

A mix of sensuality and support, a Sauce Man seeks simple pleasures and delights in sharing them with you. […] A Sauce Man is a person you look at and think, they’d just treat me so nicely. The opposite of someone unattainable, a Sauce Man is available without being smothering. They’ve got interests and passions and know how to live life to the fullest; they wear suede, not leather.

I love this idea of bringing back webrings. If you scroll down to the footer of this site, you’ll see that I’m already a member of one (the IndieWeb Webring) and happy to join and explore others.

Winnie Au’s Cone of Shame project, which looks to dispel the shame of the cones dogs must wear after medical procedures, is bringing me immense delight:

Photo of dogs wearing ornate medical cones

I need to go find some mid-century modern playgrounds soon because I am completely smitten by so many of these:

Mid Century Modern Playground

I don’t watch SNL anymore, and the thing I miss most are the amazing bumper images they showcase between ad breaks and the show. Turns out, they are all photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews; you can take a look at her process on this short bio. These two are among my favorite:

Dave Chappelle at SNL

Will Ferrell at SNL

I’ve had this quotation by Kurt Vonnegut running through my brain for the past week, and thought I’d share it with you all:

I’ve had a hell of a good time. I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Thanks to Ashley for sharing it on her blog last week.

I hope you give yourselves some space to be vulnerable over the next few days, my friends. See you in a few weeks.

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