Dinosaur Shaped Food and the French Way of Eating

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Americans have a strange relationship with food. We’re equal parts over-indulgent and judicious, choosing to stuff our faces with heaps of non-fat products. In my Southern California perspective there’s a new diet that catches on every week with people around you consuming more and less amounts of fat, sugar, carbs, etc… It’s a muddled mindset where one begins to develop guilt for eating anything at all, whilst being surrounded by pictures of the most unhealthy foods in the world. Eating is a constant experiment in abstinence until it’s not and you’re going back for your third bowl of ice cream because you were “good today”.

Contrast this with the French view of eating, which I recently learned about while reading Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, her memoir/recipe book about moving her family to France for a year and how this helped to shape her views on eating. It’s a pleasurable read, she approaches her successes and failures with self-deprecation and wit while laying out the rules of French eating.

Le Billon tells of the way the French emphasize the importance of food from an early age. It starts at the very beginning and is integrated into children’s education, as they experience four-course school lunches hand-cooked by their school’s personal chef. Each kid learns to savor their food, try new things, and wait until the appropriate meal time before eating. Food for them is neither a functional tool to get them through the day nor a tool meant to comfort them in their time of need. It’s not a crutch or a sin. Food is something that should be enjoyed. It is something you wait for, something you appreciate, something worth putting time and effort into. The French don’t go on diets, they just choose to avoid excess and choose to eat healthy meals. When eating is based in a joyous and delectable sensory experience, one that uses healthy ingredients at its core, there’s no need for indulgence.


Vox.com has been on a tear to take down Big Diet over the last couple of years, releasing several articles and an episode of its Explained Netflix series about what the research behind dieting says. The research they pull from concludes that no diet — Paleo, Keto, Atkins, Whole 30, etc… — really works better than another. There is no magical solution when it comes to losing weight, no scientific hack. What really matters when eating healthy, is giving yourself the best opportunity to make sustainable, healthy choices.

Most diets actually can be effective in that they force you to change your habits in ways that are healthier for you. The problem is being able to sustain those choices over a long period of time. If you stick to a diet it will work, but being able to stick to that diet, particularly for any length of time, is where people struggle. A lot of this is personal preference, we all enjoy certain vices here and there, but as the Vox writers point out, we are set up terribly for success, inundated with messages of juicy and fatty burgers on our screens, passing colorful sugar infested cakes as we walk the grocery aisles, told that cereals featuring marshmallows are a part of our balanced breakfast. We are set up to fail.


Much of French Kids Eat Everything is focused on raising kids in this new food-obsessed environment. Le Billon tells of her struggles of placing her kids, who refused to eat anything but the most comforting foods, into an environment where they are expected to be adventurous and avoid using food as a comfort tool. There is an instant tension, but the French have been trained for this very thing, introducing kids to a wide swath of foods while they’re still young, teaching them how to enjoy it. For foods they don’t like, the response for them is not “eat it, it’s good for you, but “that’s okay, you haven’t tried it enough times yet, maybe next time you’ll like it.” This is based in research that indicates that it can take 11-15 times introducing a new flavor/texture for someone to fully realize whether they like that food or not. That’s why we often come to enjoy foods as we grow older. Sometimes all it takes is that try, try again attitude.

In my own home, we’ve been adopting certain aspects of these lessons when introducing foods to our son, wanting to make sure he knows that food is something that is beautiful, complex, and worth savoring. We want him to be open to trying new things and come to experience culinary elegance because let’s face it, while American food culture is bad, American kid food culture is even worse.

Kids are bombarded with bright colored foods that tempt to overwhelm their pallet. And I’m not talking about the iridescence of Indian food or the splashy assortment of fruits and vegetables found at the farmer’s market, these are pre-packaged in cardboard, with colorful cartoon mascots calling out from the front cover.

Our kids are consistently told there’s a distinction between kid foods and adult foods. They are told to accept the most simple, bland, sugar and sodium soaked foods out there. And once they do they become insistent that they shouldn’t break those molds. Dino-shaped chicken nuggets, bites of hot dogs soaked in corn syrup (aka ketchup), and bright orange cheddar themed goldfish become the typical meals. They are taught foods should retain the shape of their favorite television and movie characters, as our largest companies work their brand loyalty from an early age. Even our healthy alternative puffs and cereal bars are really just marketing exercises in how far companies can push false claims without getting sued. It’s honestly an ethical tragedy that the children’s food industry exists and that it creates such garbage; limiting palates and ruining the dinner experience.

The French don’t have this divide. They adapt their practices for children, but they serve them the same foods that adults eat and expect them to partake. It’s important for their children to try new things and to participate at mealtime. And the kids do it. One of their main strategies is to never battle with their children. The minute it becomes a battle, they’ve already lost. Food, for them, is supposed to be something worth celebrating, not arguing over. It is a joy–a pleasure–to put a meal together and they let tastes linger as they, and their children, come together at meal times.

This approach to food is what leads them to healthier outcomes. Sure, the French may indulge in a chocolate mousse after dinner or have slices of baguette and cheese for breakfast, but as a whole, they tend to be healthier as a country. There are many reasons for this (less fast food and more walking integrated into their daily lives being among them), but part of the reason comes down to the mindset of eating, where food is meant to be enjoyed rather than indulged in. They don’t spend their young lives being taught that trashy foods are the foods they should like, then grow up suddenly making fruits or vegetables or low fat/low sugar/low whatever the staples of their diet. They don’t experience the culinary whiplash of alternating between abstinence and indulgence or pleasure and guilt as we so often do. They are not bombarded simultaneously by the messaging of the fast food and diet industries.

As stated previously, the research on diets indicates that simply making a change in your life is generally what leads to success when it comes to achieving health goals. You just have to find what works for you. But the way we’ve been taught to approach food from an early age is detrimental to how we come to eat. The French approach to food minimizes the need for diets. There’s little need to count calories or throw butter in their coffee to put their body into ketosis, they eat bread and drink their coffee butter free (!) because it’s good, not because they’re looking to absolve their sins.

This is the relationship to food I’ve been trying to have and that we’re trying to impart to our son. I want food to be something that’s worth putting an effort into. I want to fully enjoy it to a place of satisfaction. This means figuring out my body, listening to when it’s full and letting it wait a little when it desires food before a mealtime (le Billon emphasizes that the French view snacks as a near-immoral practice). This means going to the farmer’s market once a week to get the freshest, most delicious ingredients (there are a plethora of other reasons to go there as well). This means taking that extra time to peel, steam, and puree foods for my son so that food becomes something that is beautiful and ever-interesting to him.

These sorts of life changes don’t come easy and I haven’t broken many of my bad habits. My son hasn’t enjoyed everything we’ve given him, so there’s a lot of regrouping and trying again. But it’s been a rewarding time. He’s eaten eggplant and broccoli and quinoa and curry and it’s a joy to see his reactions and the enthusiasm he has even if his favorites are still bananas and baby cereal. I hope we can teach him to try new things and in that he comes to truly enjoy all things culinary, never having to fight through the parts of his brain that think all foods should be in the shape of dinosaurs.

In Which I Slowly Become Rev. Toller

We look to the Bible for answers on how to live in our day. Which makes sense, it’s a document that’s been passed down for all of human history, telling the story of God. Its words have inspired and led billions of people. Yet when we interact with the text, trying to apply the Bible’s wisdom and God’s will to our modern life it becomes absurd. The concerns that I have for my life are of the utmost importance to an all-loving God, but rendered instantly absurd when light is shed upon the state of our world. There are 65 million people who are displaced and somewhere over a billion living in some form of poverty around the world. The world is steeped in a global economic system that highly benefits one half, while leaving the other to live suffering lives. This is not to discount the lives of those living in poverty, there is much beauty to be found in any life, but any sermon about honoring God with money feels ridiculous in light of this. How are we to honor God with our money when most of our purchases are– at worst –causing the direct harm of others (sweatshops, etc…) and — at best — a part of a corrupt and unfair system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. God surely is not pleased by this. But there’s almost nothing an individual Christian can do, we are cogs of a grander machine where God does not seem very present. Except for when God is. Like when God blessed us with that parking spot or helped us to pay our bills. Bummer that God didn’t use that providence to save one of the 9 million people who die every year because they do not have enough food. Thy will be done, though. “Vanity, vanity, it’s all vanity.” This may be the truest verse of them all.

On Anthony Bourdain

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I write, I travel, I eat, and I’m hungry for more.

This was the opening to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, a travel show that ran for seven years on the Travel Channel.

Bourdain was discovered dead earlier this week in his hotel room while traveling for his latest show, Parts Unknown; suicide was listed as the cause of death.

I’m not sure if there was another public figure who actually affected my life as much as Bourdain did. Those words listed at the top became a mantra of mine in my early post-high school days.

Bourdain had a voracious appetite, he was a rebellious iconoclast, approaching the world with an eagerness to learn that’s rare in our world. 

The lyrics for the Parts Unknown intro go:

I took a walk through this beautiful world / felt the cool rain on my shoulder / Found something good in this beautiful world / I felt the rain getting colder.

The lyric portrays Bourdain perfectly, a hardened cynic that was nonetheless so inspired by what he saw around him that he felt the need to share its beauty with his audience.

His show was filled with gorgeous shots (all inspired by the film classics that he and his crew loved) and earnest conversations that intersected food, culture, history, and politics. He knew that the best way to understand someone was to sit across from them, eating the food they call their own.

I haven’t kept up with Parts Unknown over the last couple years, I don’t have cable and it just wasn’t a priority when episodes were released to Netflix. But his episodes were always there as comfort for me. When there was nothing to do throw Bourdain on and see what was going on in Myanmar or Vietnam or France. 

I honestly don’t know if I would be who I am today without his works, at least not entirely.

He taught me to explore, to approach people with compassion and dignity, to learn from them.

His approach to eating, especially when it was something foreign to him, was to always ask his host the best way to do it, something I’ve tried to adopt while getting to know the fantastic pleasures of others.

He said at one point the best meal he’d ever had was a bowl of pho from a small restaurant in Vietnam. This a) inspired me to try pho for the first time and b) made me realize that the most fantastic culinary (and life) experiences come not from hip, trendy, or fancy places, but from those who cook with historical, cultural, and familial traditions.

I don’t think I would have ever have dragged my family across Kauai, making sure everyone tried plate lunches, loco mocos, poke, and spam musubi without his influence.

He railed against foodie culture, seeing past its often false passions and appropriation; he hoped instead for real conversations and real food.

In doing this he captured the complexities and beauties of life, believing in a gray area that must be accepted when traveling the world and entering into people’s lives. Life is never simple, but it is beautiful.

He talks about this in a little interview for a war blog in 2014, saying:

There is rarely, however, a neat takeaway. You have to learn to exercise a certain moral relativity, to be a good guest first–as a guiding principle. Other wise you’d spend the rest of the world lecturing people, pissing people off, confusing them and learning nothing. 

He wanted to learn about the world and he did just that, emparting that knowledge after deep reflections.

Just last weekend my son was sick with a fever and could not sleep without being held. My wife and I rotated our shifts, staying awake as he slept in our arms.

I watched a new mini-series of Bourdain’s, which features highlights of little pockets in Los Angeles: Little Iran, Little Great Britain, Little Ethiopia, Little Armenia, Little Guatemala, and the Filipino population in Chinatown. It’s far from his best produced work, but it was as salivating and educational as ever. 

When we found out we were pregnant I wrote that the two virtues I hoped I could pass along to my son were curiosity and compassion—that he would be interested in the beauty around him and treat it all with great love. Bourdain exemplified those characteristics in his life’s work and as we attempt to guide our son into “this beautiful world”, I can only hope he finds that same complex beauty.

A Guide to California’s Propz

Voting day is almost here and if you’re like most Americans there are a few things that are probably true about your life:

  • You know which Presidential nominee you will be voting for
  • You want this all to be over
  • You are lying down, buried beneath 500 pounds of political ads and can’t get up
  • You’ve been so inundated with Yes and No on certain propositions that you might just try to mark “All of the above” on your ballot

There are only so many solutions to these issues and there is not much that I can do to fix this from my high horse in this corner of the internet, but I will try.

I’ve put together a simple guide to the California Propositions here (let’s call ’em propz, shall we? That’ll help convince your brain that all this stuff is really cool right?), hoping to give you the faintest idea of what each is all about as you try to cram for this huge test we have coming up this Tuesday. (For something similar and better go here to study up in a fun, edgy way).

This guide will give you the pros, as well as the cons, as well as a basic description in the form of a mock Friends episode title. And when you’re done reading this go ahead and go watch an episode of Friends, because you deserve it (but stay away from anything surrounding those episodes where Rachel gets pregnant cuz boy has that show jumped the shark by that point).

Hope this helps.

Prop 51:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that gives schools 9 billion dollars.

Pro: It provides desperately needed upgrades to schools.

Con: Jerry Brown and co. don’t want it because it seems to favor schools who already receive funding rather than those who need it most; mostly benefits wealthy areas and construction companies.

Prop 52: 

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that continues the taxing of hospitals and gives the $ to Medi-Cal (and back to hospitals), while matching this with their own $.

Pro: The government doesn’t take your tax $ to pay for Medi-Cal, instead they take it from private hospitals.

Con: I suppose one could argue that by taxing hospitals it would make them more expensive, but nobody seems to be doing this and it seems like it will pass.

Prop 53:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that forces big state construction projects to be approved by voters before being built.

Pro: Puts a check on big projects that can often go over-budget and end up forcing tax-payers/users of the project to pay more.

Con: It’s a confusing bit of legislature that never really makes it clear who would vote on what and when, it slows down certain projects, and how are we supposed to know whether high speed trains are good or not?

Prop 54:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one where a bill doesn’t become a law unless it’s been on the internet for 3 days.

Pro: It gives us all the chance to read fun laws in between checking Facebook and Instagram!

Con: It’s supposed to give special interest groups less time to persuade lawmakers, but actually may give them more time.

Prop 55:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that continues a 2012 prop, maintaining the higher tax rate on those who make over 263K.

Pro: If we don’t continue it we might not have enough money to support important things like education.

Con: Essentially it breaks the promise of Prop 31 and extends it for another 12 years (oh and if you think taxing the rich doesn’t work, you won’t like this one).

Prop 56:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that increases how much your smoking habit will cost you.

Pro: Incentivizes people not to smoke while giving $ to Medi-Cal and tobacco research for every pack of smokes that is purchased.

Con: Incentives to not do something are great, but when people are addicted to something it’s not as simple as more $ = less people will do it, especially when smoking demographics lean toward low-income, vulnerable individuals—it punishes them for choices they probably made when they were young.

Prop 57:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one where prisoners can earn reduced sentences for good behavior (and also makes it harder for juveniles to be sent to adult court).

Pro: Decreases the prison population in a way that could be good for society.

Con: The prisoners who can receive shortened sentences is not really defined well, which is, uh, not good.

Prop 58:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that allows for more bilingual education.

Pro: Has a potentially easier path for children who don’t speak English to learn it; certain studies show that bilingual educated students end up on equal or better levels of English at a later date.

Con: You REALLY don’t like Spanish being spoken in school.

Prop 59:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that lets the government know how you feel (particularly about their ruling on Citizens United: corporations are people too!)

Pro: There’s no legal effect, but if you think the Supreme Court was wrong and corporations should be limited on public spending then this will let the government know that.

Con: Same as the pro, but the opposite.

Prop 60:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one about porn.

Pro: Would lower risks of STDs spreading by forcing people in adult films to wear condoms.

Con: There’s little evidence that there is any need for this amendment as there are hardly any cases of STDs happening and tests are done quite frequently.

Prop 61:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that forces pharmaceutical companies to change their sales model from used car (where anything is negotiable) to Target (where everything is the same for everyone).

Pro: The government would be able to buy drugs as cheap as possible, making it cheaper for those on their programs to access them.

Con: Pharmaceutical companies would attempt to maneuver around this and the price wouldn’t drop as much (for Veterans Affairs it probably goes up)

Prop 62:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that prevents the state from executing people (or more mildly put: repeals the death penalty)

Pro: These vary dependent on your morals, but there’s also the fact that it would save a lot of $ and skirt the issue that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy the lethal injection drug.

Con: You see capital punishment as a moral imperative.

Prop 63:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that makes it a little more difficult to buy gun ammo.

Pro: This is another one that depends on your politics, but there will be more background checks, less ammo available, and harsher punishments.

Con: If you’re pro-gun rights you already know what this is about.

Prop 64:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one with POT!

Pro: Legally provides access for the selling and use of marijuana which could be beneficial tax-wise and would eliminate small crimes that occur around its usage.

Con: The same arguments that have prevented marijuana from being legal thus far—morals, possibility of gateway usage, its effects on the brain.

Prop 65:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one where grocery stores have to give away all the $ they make from charging people for plastic bags.

Pro: More $ toward research and sustainability initiatives.

Con: Stores have less incentive to support these initiatives because they don’t gain anything from it.

Prop 66:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one that amends the death penalty in order to speed up the trial process for those facing execution.

Pro: It will save $ by making it easier to kill someone via the state.

Con: Risks wrongfully executing someone and continues the death penalty.

Prop 67:

If it were a Friends episode title: The one where plastic bags are really made illegal in California.

Pro: Keeps the law that already has passed and pushes people to using reusable bags.

Con: You have to pay for plastic bags.

 

Hey, you finished! Congrats! I might even say props to you (get it, get it!?). Now go out and as Ted Cruz would say, “vote your conscience.”

Vulnerable about Not Being Vulnerable

Vulnerability is having a moment right now. Increasingly authenticity and realness are seen to be defining traits in people, whether it be celebrities, politicians, or other leaders. Even in the age of internet memes, those who are real with their audience have grown to the top.

Take for instance certain current hip-hop artists like Drake or Kanye who go against type to be honest and somewhat somber across big and bold beats. Hip-hop, known for its self-promotion and braggadocio, has become more emotional and self-doubting to great success of the aforementioned artists.

Look at two of the biggest podcasts around, WTF with Marc Maron and You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes, both bring in guests–usually comedy types and ask them serious questions about their lives. Maron revitalized his career and the podcast format through his honesty and unique ability to draw authenticity out of his interview subjects. Holmes admittedly mirrored the format of Maron’s podcast, but took the vulnerability interview to another level–focusing specifically on religion and sex–forcing his interviewees to “make it weird” by revealing information they would usually be closed off to. Despite the faults that both interviewers (and occasionally their guests) lay on the table, they are adored–their vulnerability is part of the charm.

Being honest about one’s failures and doubts and mistakes is a risky thing, but by opening up about these sorts of things we slowly realize how shared these are and it draws us closer to one another. You are broken just like I am broken. It’s beautiful.

Which makes me wonder, why can’t I be vulnerable?

I am such a child of this moment, I bask in other people’s vulnerability, despising those who put up a front for their own reputation, yet I can’t really talk about my feelings. I went through that third-wave emo phase where we all were sad. For some reason this hasn’t transferred over into adult life and things like sharing how. you. feel.

There are even times on this here blog where I don’t want to share things or to put things in public places, I guess for fear of what people will think, I’m not really sure.

I’ve pondered this for a little bit now and memories have begun to come back to me. I’ve always been an emotional kid, overtly serious about serious things. And I think being serious and emotional and caring about stuff began to haunt me when I didn’t see it reciprocated around me.

I remember my parents made us do an acted out lip sync of “Christmas Shoes”, yes that song about the kid who is buying shoes for his dying mother. The song had just come out so everyone was very emotional about it. There were three characters in the song, played by my brother, sister, and I. I don’t remember which one I was (there was the cashier, the boy, and the man standing in line) and though I was only nine or ten, this song gave me a real case of the feels. There was a moment when we were rehearsing it that I think I closed my eyes in a piece of impassioned performing during a real emotional part. Did my family go, ‘that Jacob is really trying to get into character here’ or ‘wow he’s a little weird for being so into it, but I guess that’s cool’, no, they laughed. I got upset. And I think a little part of the “don’t let them see you cry” piece of me grew.

In high school we had this big presentation come through about one of the Columbine victims in an anti-bullying effort. The assembly was pretty affecting, talking of the need to treat one another well in order to prevent great tragedies like the Columbine one. I was pretty moved by it, wanting to devote myself to a campaign of kindness to everyone around me. But as I looked around it seemed as if no one took it as seriously as I. They had a large piece of paper up on the wall where everyone was supposed to go sign their names to commit to these principles. I remember being semi-embarrassed because I went to do it, but none of my friends were quite as enthused as I.

Being young it is hard to deal with serious and emotional subjects, there is no understanding there and it is easier to harden yourself to the things you don’t understand. I always had a soft hard, but it is one that has calloused over time–hardening with years of feeling and having nobody to really meet my feeling. You don’t want to bawl your eyes out after A Walk to Remember ends? Saosin’s “You’re Not Alone” doesn’t make you want to befriend every person and wallow in sadness with them? Oh.

Maybe everyone was just too scared then. Irony is an easy train to jump aboard–foregoing all sincerity for a good laugh.

Maybe as time goes I’ll unlearn this habit of bottling it all up.

Anyway, I welcome the age of vulnerability for all those participating in it and those growing up with serious and emotional hearts like mine.

Privelege and Privacy

I did laundry the other day–an oft skipped chore due to a lack of quarters and an apathy to seek out quarters. We have communal washers and dryers in our apartment complex and as I stood there I realized that this was one of the few forced communal activities that I take part in. Most things throughout my day are done in privacy, I am rarely forced to interact with people or even be near people that I don’t choose to be. This is a form of privilege, one that I had rarely considered. Like all forms of privilege, it is one that must be checked, its innate unfairness must be thought through, and what to do about it should be judged according to its benefits.

Only the privileged can afford privacy; to weed out various types from their lives–picking and choosing when they want to spend time with people. This comes in obvious forms like the difference between houses and apartments. Houses are larger and often come with more space between each one, apartments are large buildings filled with many rooms that share walls. Apartments are invasive, your words and actions are not entirely your own and your neighbors are daily a part of your lives. With houses more effort is required to annoy, but even so, as houses raise in nicety privacy often increases with night watches, gates, and Beware of Dog signs rising all around. As your upward mobility takes you to larger and more expensive places you can afford to construct people out of your life.

In most parts of the US it is the poor who take public transportation, occupying the buses, metro lines, and trains. Those who can afford cars take them, often by themselves to avoid the inconvenience and to dwell in the privacy. Cars ensure that we don’t have to talk to anyone, bump into anyone, or be disrupted in any way. The upper class are also more likely to be able to avoid being in government service buildings, places packed with long lines of often anxious and nervous people. People put their kids into expensive private schools–places meant to fit specific needs for those who can afford to get their children there. Public schools are more random, dependent on whoever lives in the particular neighborhood.

When we are privileged we don’t have to (get to?) have these experiences. We systematically set ourselves up to choose who we want to see, interact with, and be a part of our lives. When we do participate in communal activity it is in the social clubs of our choice (think of the stereotypical country club, the monocultural church, or a book club). The ability to make this choice is not necessarily wrong, even if it is privileged, but there is a lot of power in being able to make these choices and we must be careful with who we choose because our histories of exclusion have often been ugly portraits of marginalization, discrimination, and injustice.

You’re Hired! Or… Why I’ll Never Be Hired

Job interviews are the worst; while they are a place of potential prospering, they end up turning into a sort of audition, where you better have your lines ready. I’ve heard people be asked questions like: “when is one time you went above and beyond at work?” and “what does integrity mean to you?”. Both of these are questions anyone would want know about a potential employee, but asking them seems to highlight a different skill entirely.

I assume that employers looking for new employees through a list of applicants must find the balance between a good-looking résumé and a good interview. A résumé shows the experiences that you’ve had, building a portrait of your capabilities, and giving references to people who can account that you are indeed a good employee. This is of course an easily manipulated experience–anybody can look good on paper. To combat this, interviews are conducted in order to see if the face actually matches what is on the paper, attempting to figure out just who this person is and whether they are suited for the job.

These interviews at times seem biased towards a certain type of person, one that does is not necessarily more capable of performing the tasks required of the job. The interviewer asks questions that are largely unknown to the interviewee (I suppose the “what’s your biggest strength/biggest weakness” are a given) from which they then must improvise an answer to convince the other they are worthy of the job. The thing that this actually feels most akin to is a performance–here’s me at my most energetic and smiley, trying to seem like I can give a good definition of integrity because apparently this is integral to my get hired (see what I did there?).

I know that for me personally, this is not a place where I excel. I’m not good at trying to convince others that I’m worthy of something. I need like five minutes to prepare what I’m going to say before I actually say it and when I do say it, it will only end up being like one minute (when we do group prayers at church, I have to plan ahead every single thing I’m going to say, because I can’t come up with it on the fly). There is a disadvantage going into interviews when you don’t naturally speak or converse well.

Susan Cain has a TED Talk based on her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, in it she advocates for a world that adapts to people’s strengths rather than forcing a certain mold onto all people. The larger systems are designed to benefit certain kinds of people, while others are left by the wayside. My personal experience has seemed to be that charm is a necessary ingredient to success, at least when it comes to job acquisition.

I do suppose that it is difficult to determine good questions to ask when it comes to hiring somebody. Certain questions will be able to suss out past experiences the potential employee has had doing that kind of work and this is surely helpful. Others will show what kind of a person they are, their desires and personality inclinations. Yet open ended questions naturally fall back to the charm of the person and their ability to say something coherent.

Obviously some interviews and hiring processes do quite a lot to weed out people and to find a perfect fit for their job. Multiple interviews probably help to paint a larger picture of a person and references help to give an outsider perspective. There are jobs that need people to be personable and outgoing, so of course this should be a part of that process. People should also probably be able to state what skills they have to fit specific positions. In any case, résumés and interviews feel like an insufficient way of measuring a person’s hiring worth–I’m sure some people have complex processes that determine people that would fit well in their company, but at this point the application process continues to feel like an extrovert’s paradise.

Weekly Thoughts 12

Sincerity in an Age of Irony

The Star Wars teaser was released last week and if it was any indication of how the film will turn out it looks to be a step in the right direction for the series.

The universally detested prequels were released starting in 1999, looking back now this seems to be the most ill-timed period for these films to be released. This was the rise of the internet era, a time where technology quickly changed and shifted the way that we interact as well as the way we discuss things. With the internet came a rise in snark, irony, and viral capacities.

Star Wars as a series is perhaps as sincere as they come, sure there are some parts that are straight up cool–the light saber duels, Vader’s voice, the Millennium Falcon–but there are a lot of things you have to accept in order to fully commit to the series. The first film hinges on the Rebel Alliance exploiting the weaknesses of the Death Star by X-Wings attacking one spot which inexplicably can destroy the whole thing (see, this sentence alone shows that there is no real way to talk about this film without sounding utterly and sincerely ridiculous). Another part of the first film features a tense scene where the characters wonder whether they will be squished to death in a garbage compacter. One of the series’ most beloved characters is a silly little alien who phrases things backwards for no real explained reason. Even the series shocking twist–that evil villain Darth Vader is in fact Luke’s father–feels a little dumb when you think about it. Really? His father? Good one.

If these films had been released in the internet age, perhaps they too might have been ridiculed. After all, the type of nerd who first got into Star Wars, obsessing over each character’s details and backstories is probably the cynical commenter who sits at home spewing hate on message boards all over the net today.

The new films followed this same format, George Lucas gave us new alien characters, more lightsaber duels, and cool racing ships, but instead of falling in love with them we laughed and cringed. And I mean, these were bad, there’s no denying that, but perhaps the time period had  more to do with it than the actual creations themselves. The over the top sincerity required to accept the Jar Jar Binks storyline was nowhere to be found on the internet as it had once been found with Yoda. The Gungans and pod racers didn’t make the impact that was expected. Sure, most of the time they were over the top charicatures more focused on being children’s toys than anything that would hold up at all in the viewers imagination. Yes the CGI and the script were also pretty bad, but these might have been ignorable if the film had not been released into this climate.

This new Star Wars seems to have fixed these problems–or is at least attempting to scale down what the prequels were so guilty of 15 years ago. It’s subtle and smaller scaled when it needs to be. The changes in costume and design are small. The majority of the shots shown are on the simplest planet of them all–Tatooine–the sand covered desert where it all began. Where the teaser does go sincere is in the most heart tugging moments of our nostalgia–X-Wing pilots, the Millennium Falcon, John Williams’ classic score.

Our generation has grown up a little bit, we’re more accepting of sincerity, especially when it’s not shoved down our throats. From the teaser Disney and Abrams seem to be aiming for a Star Wars that fits this generation (it is even progressive in its choice to show a black actor and a female character in its first two shots–something all Star Wars movies have lacked over the years).

I’m still skeptical, we’ve all been burned by reboots enough to warrant suspicion, but for two minutes last week the Star Wars universe was something I was excited to reenter into again.

Weekly Thoughts 11

Emojis

Technological advances often bring about vast changes in the ways that we communicate; this, in turn, often brings large cultural changes. With any form of cultural change there is a resistance both to the technology and to the unique forms of expression that these new forms can bring. Nobody wants to commit themselves to a form that will soon be out of style–a relic of an old age only to be parodied later–so they do their best to ignore that which is modern or new. Others commit themselves entirely to new technologies either to great avail or to great shame.

There comes a point when these forms enter into a debate as to whether they are juvenile forms of expression or something that can be used in deep or profound or even mainstream ways where culture at large recognizes it as a part of the norm.

Today the focal point of this discussion is the emoji. The emoji is something that is not poised to go away (though it might be replaced) and the question is whether it is something altogether useless or is it something that can be used to contribute to living life in the world?

Full disclosure, I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to these things. I’m not sure I’ve ever used an emoji–I don’t own any sort of smart phone, I don’t have an Instagram account, have never snap chatted, etc…

My natural inclination on this is to reject it entirely. I’ve seen the emoji in use and it feels quite lackluster. Really? Small pictures? People messing around with these reminds me of my high school days where you would send the most abstract smiley faces you could to one another–it was fun for a minute, but it never really stuck.

But that doesn’t mean emoji won’t. I remember my senior year of high school my English teacher declared that our texting acronyms (this was at the first peak of texting, when all the parents would joke about how weird text-speak was. LOL) were actually their own form of poetry. We sort of laughed her off–she was kind of strange after all.

Upon review though I don’t think she was entirely wrong. While a lot of the the texting acronyms (do we have a better phrase to describe this? I swear there is an actual name for this) have failed to remain a part of the larger consciousness (TTYL anyone?) others are relevant and have escaped that connotation of simply standing for something else. LOL, OMG, and WTF are real things now. If a modern poet used them in a poem it still might be for playful or ironic purposes, but at this point I don’t think it would look too out of place.

Emojis could go this route. We never wanted to be poetic, but we altered the way we spoke and communicated. By not intending to be anything profound something can in fact obtain profundity. Kids aren’t trying to do anything special or important, they’re just doing it and this is a form of expression and that makes it work. Layers of meaning upon meaning are being formed later to be used and to be undermined and to evolve the way language and culture always does.

Emojis are so dumb though, right?

Weekly Thoughts 10

The Hate-Read

I have a confession to make.

I struggle too.

I am an advocate for building up cognitive dissonance within the self, creating the ability to accept the tension between what you believe to be true and taking in something that is poised as being the opposite of that. Being able to live with this tension allows one to deal with people outside the immediate social circle, manufacturing mutual respect, and paving pathways to peace–or at least the avoidance of violence.

I’ve suggested before that we should build in a diversity of voices into our lives and the feeds that we consume–whether they be online or elsewhere. I’ve tried to do this, but I lean a certain way and its easy to commit to leaning this way. After all, we like to read things that we agree with. I was thinking about why it is we stick around people whom we tend to have the same social, political, and religious leanings and I think it’s because it is exhausting not to. Being around someone who thinks the opposite of you is tiring, every statement can be contradicted and one must carefully consider everything they say and whether they want to respond to the other. Nobody really desires to live in constant, expressed disagreement. This is why family get togethers are notoriously stressful–that tension is carefully hanging in the balance of every conversation.

I find it hard when perusing my feeds to accept the tension of another’s opinion. I notice a desire in myself to categorize things that appear into two broad places: ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’. Instead of dealing with the author’s arguments, I brush it off as being ‘incorrect’ garbage and move onto something I find to be more in line with my already existing beliefs. Again, cognitive dissonance is exhausting.

This lately has taken form in another desire, this I will call from here on out the Hate-Read (yes, hyphenated and doubly capitalized, this is real). The Hate-Read is what happens when one reads an article with the sole purpose of despising it; to set off those little tingles in one’s brain that lets them know that they are not only better than the author but anybody who would actually think this way. Sentence by sentence a righteous anger builds mixed with guffaws at how idiotic that person is for contributing such trash to the world. There is no better way to feel great about one’s lifestyle than to read something trashy written by or about people with the opposing point of view. This is what the Hate-Read is all about.

This is tricky, because for someone who has advocated for other points of view to be consistently present in each of our lives, Hate-Reads can become material to prove to ourselves that the opposite side is completely wrong while also saying that we’ve given them a chance. Then we can go subtweet about how this article we read was so awful and we cannot believe people think this way.

This is the pop cultural equivalent of hating on Coldplay or Transformers, yes we get it they are not that good and may even be posing as thoughtful pieces of art, but spending so much time hating on it is only to make yourself feel good about your superior tastes.

The Hate-Read is out there and yes it happens because some people write some hyperbolic and stupid stuff, but reading stupid stuff to elevate your own pride is just as useless and self-serving.