Posts Tagged ‘2011’

Improve Your Life (and Those Of Others)

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

breaking-bad-habits.jpgEvery day we act in ways that don’t move us forward. I stay in bed longer than needed, sue me. With that here are a few late-year ideas on ways to make everyone around you like you some and tips on how to be a better human:

1. Stop using “!” in email subject lines since you’re not as important as you think you are. Remember nothing is urgent except babies flying out of mothers. And stop blind-copying. This is a big eyeroll and people will think less of you (and thinking is hard to do).

2. When stepping into an elevator turn off all contraptions and talk to the person there. Try a few human steps and maybe Orwell can stop spinning in his grave!

3. When driving just drive. Try it once. No CD changing, satellite connecting, phone dialing, talking to yourself, text making, makeup wearing, seat adjusting, screaming at back seat person, even singing. “Accidents will happen. I don’t want to hear it /Cause I know what I’ve done.” (Thanks Elvis.)

4. Pick up the phone and call someone with whom you sport-mail constantly (back and forth, forth and back) but haven’t called in — no, no you’ve never called! Voices carry. Indeed.

5. Grab a piece of trash on the way to work (stop — not a person) or Starbucks. After dropping the trash in the can, spritz your hand with Purell when you arrive.

6. Say one fabulous and positive thingat random about your spouse, whether you feel like it or not. To anyone.

7. Count your change. I bet you half the time there’s a mistake there. Let the cashier know they got caught. The crowd behind you will cheer…

8. Ask someone — anyone — for help. Even if you have to pretend you don’t know everything. This act always surprises people. Then you’re not the jackass they thought.

9. Read something that surprises you, and share it with someone you don’t ordinarily like. See the response. Then watch the relationship change in seconds.

10.First breathe. And then speak. Three breaths, deep and strong. It’s stunning what happens when things that come to you in your own addled head stay there.

11.Ignore the newest technology. For once. Don’t run to the Apple Store. Damn it, watching the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy on your new techno-toaster is not a good use of your glasses.. If we put a machine down for seven seconds an hour, we become better than Neanderthals. Vonnegut will smile down from wherever he is.

Thanks for playing. Now try and become a better words of wise-ass-ness than me. I dare you.

Are you still reading?

@laermer good

The Last Decade & Mediocrity……A Look Ahead

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

There’s a Kurt Vonnegut short (very short) story called Harrison Bergeron. In it the United States Handicapper General, under the auspices of the 211th, 212th, and 213th Constitutional Amendments, has stamped out individual talents and characteristics for the sake of total unimpeded equality. The population is fed mindless entertainment, all their memories periodically wiped clean. It isn’t torture, not exactly, nor is it intolerable. It’s just mediocre. Imposed, entrenched mediocrity.

And it is terrifying.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that our current moment is anything like this Vonnegutian nightmare. But it was close to this for the last decade. We weren’t physically burdened by actual weights meant to “level the field”, nor did buzzing alarms trigger mass distraction and short-term amnesia. Intelligence and beauty are not outlawed. We still had our wits and our various beacons — in politics, culture, athletics, the arts, and so forth. And yes (or no), we were not suffocated by comprehensive, dystopian egalitarianism.

Things did seem during the unfriendly 2000s to be damn mediocre! We seemed to be waiting, on pause, not necessarily with bated breath so much as with Lunesta and an Us Weekly. It was as though we’d been treading water beneath mostly gray skies for a seriously long time, without a “Look, land in sight!” We were weary, we’re wary, and rather than swim for shore we floated straight-laced and glazed. Our so-called entertainment stood in for our current events (quotes left out for obviousness). Our political anger was sooner directed toward straw men than funneled into substantive policy debate and prescription. And while we don’t loll about hamstrung by the Handicapper, world citizens did tend to diminish or ignore our most natural advantages. Our enormous opportunities — many of them unique to America — for renewable alternative energy. Our once-prodigious diplomatic capital. Our heavy industry. Our edge in scientific and technological innovation.

So ready for good news: We did not die out nor did it turn out we were living a post-American life. And Newsweek was sold for a dollar to an old geezer destined to destroy its whiny words of nothingness and bold headlines that made us feel worse. Now we are starting to scrape the sky. We’ve since become — not in every way, but in a lot of ways — just a wee bit more than average. In our actions and in our expectations, we stop this toeing of that safe, paunchy middle.

Look back. Kennedy promised the moon by a decade’s end — it happened. WW II’s Greatest Generation was asked to tighten belts and roll up their sleeves — they did. And while these admittedly cherry-picked examples might have been nothing more than a function of their unique times, is it easy to imagine us reflexively rising to the moment in ours? Look where we stood for nine-and-two-thirds endless years: on a precipice, always told of danger and devastation. But even with terrorism, climate change, one or two constantly-simmering wars, genocide abroad, a credit crunch affecting us till we cried “Uncle”, and countless other messes the newest century has brought..what precisely defines US (not Us)? Had we struck out with renewed vigor? Had we succumbed to fear? Neither. We are slowly becoming less mediocre. We’re embracing a new term.

Like our heroes, a lobotomized couple who are at the center of Harrison Bergeron, we sensed something wasn’t right from 2001-2010. We knew we ought to be breaking inertia. And this unease wasn’t just a tickle in the recesses of our minds because, behold, it has pushed itself front and center. But what will do the trick and wake us all from the stupor (stop checking your email while reading this)? Could it be another catastrophe? Web 7.0? One of those Tea candidates that actually won? Or will it not be so dramatic, this eventual extrication from the muck of mucks? Might it be more like the car you rock back and forth until what had been an inconspicuous gathering of momentum launches it back onto the road with a heart-starting roar?

Let’s forget the 2000s. Things today aren’t so terrible; they are (to use a teen word) ‘meh’. I know that most of us feel that: plateau coasting is better than a downward spiral. But the Internet-savvy 1990s were notable ONLY for jejune prosperity. Those unnamed 2000s are remembered for the steady unease we could never shake.

I proclaim a promising decade starts in 2011. It will be nothing like its immediate predecessor–because that would be the saddest sign ever. Means we’d be living inside a pattern of room temperature mediocrity that hasn’t soured us but kept us looking down, at our laps gazing at the latest text or news. (Taylor Swift has a new CD out; it’s everywhere.)

Look forward. . . only forward.

Like-minded ideas are found in the book 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade, now out in whatever you want it to be.

[On twitter via @laermer for laughs and reportage.]

Demeaning (Any) President (Really): America

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Last year, responding to a question about President Bush, now-beleaguered Representative Charles Rangel told his television interviewer:

Hello, Narrative: Building Up and Tearing Down

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

thewood.jpgThe Masters golf tournament opened Thursday. It is, in some ways, like Passover. It falls sometime in April, matters a great deal to a small segment of the population, and everyone else kind of looks up and thinks, “Oh, right, it’s probably time to take off the snow tires.”

But in recent years The Masters has been a somewhat bigger blip on America’s socio-cultural calendar, and for one reason: 11 Aprils ago, a man of mixed race months out of college went out there to take on the world’s best golfers (on a course, it should be noted, that for decades hadn’t allowed black members) and coolly destroyed them. Destroyed. Them. And ever since Tiger Woods put up the biggest winning margin at one of golf’s majors in over a century on its grandest stage, the tournament and the game have never been the same. The history from there is known. Tiger became the face of the sport and its best player. There were Nike ad campaigns, higher television ratings, swarming hordes in the galleries, etc. Blah blah-de-blah.

History and greatness and underdogs-cum-superstars attract eyes.

That’s old news, and has been the case in entertainment, sports, politics, and culture for the better part of forever. In everything there’s a pecking order. Bill Clinton will always draw a bigger crowd and a higher fee than Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, that French lady who won the Best Actress Oscar this year will be forgotten by six months after THIS year’s telecast; Lindsay Lohan, with zero awards to her name, is roughly 20,000 times more famous. Just the way it is. And we like it that way.

But what’s interesting this particular week is not The Cult of the Superstar. It’s The Cult of the Narrative. It’s often said that we build up our heroes only to tear them down. And to justify the claim we hold up to the examples of Britney Spears and Eliot Spitzer and all the rest. But I think it’s only part of the story. It isn’t the downfall we crave - it’s the Grand Story. We are a culture of Fabulists and Fictionalists and Dreamers and Absolutists. Our mediasphere behaves accordingly. Sure, sometimes the Grand Story is a bit more tangled and harder to pinpoint (what is it, for instance, we eventually want Hillary to represent in the end, win or lose?), but most of the time we get a handle on it early and fit the facts to it.

Tiger Woods has failed to win four of the past five Masters tournaments. This, of course, does nothing to diminish his deserved status as the world’s best at what he does. But his superstar status doesn’t alone quite explain why 90% of the coverage and attention is devoted to him again this year. Yes, we get it, he has an exponentially better chance to win than any other single golfer, but somehow Las Vegas puts him “only” at about even odds to take the thing. Surely there must be some worthy stories out there among the dozens and dozens in the field?

In 2007, an unknown named Zach Johnson came from nowhere to win the thing. Catnip for a country that loves an underdog, right? Well, 12 months later, I think even Zach Johnson’s family is probably more interested in The Grand Tiger Narrative than they are in young Zach’s chances to repeat. And it’s because we like big, shiny, lasting arcs that we can take with us from one season to the next.

We like the Narrative. We like curling up and having ESPN (or Access Hollywood, MSNBC, you choose) filter out all those annoying subplots and details, the Zach Johnsons and the Marion Cotillards.

It’s the Narrative that is at work this weekend in Augusta, not the Known Superstar. And there aren’t many nuanced alternatives. Downfall is one, like what we’ve chosen for Britney. Glory is another, and it is Tiger’s at our behest. Some we build to tear down. But some we build to keep building and building and building.

A Letter From Laermer

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Dear Blog Person:

Junk. That’s what these last few years has amassed.

Buy the Book - 2011