Welcome Home, Charlie Brown

We’ve had Charlie Brown for two full weeks now. I started writing the second sentence to say something like “he’s quickly become the center of the family,” and as I was typing, he peed on the floor. That’s what having a puppy is like so far. Mid-congratulation, he does something he’s not supposed to, and I say “No,” and he is sorry for a moment. The hiccups are mostly a reminder that he isn’t a supreme being – a notion that without occasional reminders to the contrary, his human-mom and I might be spun up into believing. Something about having a face with enough wrinkles to be mistaken for an ethereal 150 year old wise man must be the connection. Charlie’s French Bulldog mouth is an ugly thing, pocked with hundreds of  little bumps that signal eventual whisker growth. It’s often clamped on an innocent teddy bear, or octopus, which …

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The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

It was the never-discarded trail of breadcrumbs left behind by my browsing on Amazon.com that led to Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” getting stuffed in a cardboard box and mailed to my apartment. With precision, Amazon remembers everything I’ve ever looked at, how long I looked at it for, and what I looked at next. It really wouldn’t benefit them to “tidy up” that history, nor would it anyone else who is enamored with the idea of “big data” and harvesting trends from massive collections of information. So it’s in this age of everything digital lasting forever, and giant mountains of digital ’stuff’ being heralded as the holy grail of information, that a book about throwing things away has become an international bestseller. Despite the celebrated promise of data hoarding, my past browsing led the magical website to believe that a book about cleaning (or ’tidying’ …

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Bright Sided

Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. Barbara Ehrenreich. Picador, 2010. Twenty seconds before I sat with this book for the first time and saw the opening chapter’s title, ‘Smile or Die,’ an acquaintance walked by and saw me in my harried, just come in from the cold state, and said – “Hey, man, Smile!” So the context I’m working from is one where I have a very immediate sense that Ehrenreich is looking at real attitudes that exist everywhere around me: Smiling is Happy. Happy is Good. Good is Mandatory.  I was attracted to ‘Bright Sided’ because I knew it would take on ‘positive psychology,’ and propose that ‘thinking good thoughts’ is more delusional than anything else. As I’ve written before, I have personally benefited from learning about positive psychology – the ‘What Went Well’ exercise had a tangible effect on my life.  Ehrenreich believes that focusing on what’s good and going well is selling ourselves …

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On Finding Brian Writing

Brian Writing has moved! You can now find me at http://www.brian.digital/writing I switched from living on wordpress.com to managing a self-hosted site. Hopefully this doesn’t cause any headaches – I think I crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s, so you should still find me in your WordPress readers or email inboxes, if you are a subscriber. And Bonus! No more ads! All the old posts are also still available, so maybe use this update as a reminder to go digging through the archives while I come up with something new to write about. -Brian    

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on the Oscars and Being Liked

If you haven’t seen Birdman, Boyhood, or the Imitation Game, maybe don’t read this post yet. Three of the films nominated for Best Picture this year had climactic scenes in which characters confronted the importance of ‘being liked.’   Coincidence? Or important cultural phenomenon, captured? I’m leaning towards the latter. The ‘being liked’ discussion did heavy lifting in these narratives, and served as a critical character-defining plot point in each. In Birdman, Michael Keaton’s character Riggan is overwhelmed by the criticism and potential of failure he faces for trying to re-define his legacy. As a former action-movie star, now forgotten, his quest for recognition has led him to produce a serious drama on Broadway. He tries to explain his motivations to his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) but she calls his sincerity into question. She’s right. Riggan: Listen to me. I’m trying to do something important. Sam: This is not important. Riggan: It’s …

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on ‘The End of Absence’

“I fear we are the last of the daydreamers. I fear our children will lose lack, lose absence, and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value.”  –  The End of Absence Many children this winter, especially in Boston, are having days off from school because of the weather. They’re being ‘absent.’ I used to love being ‘absent,’ on snow days. There was a peculiar isolation in it, a kind of detachment that’s almost impossible to reproduce now. This winter, those kids in Boston are having an entirely different ‘absence.’ They’re not absent in the way that I used to be absent. The End of Absence by Michael Harris is another book about the internet and how modern technology is changing the human experience. I keep reading books like this. Most of them have a pessimistic take on what it all means, and the fact that I spend many evenings reading stuff like this …

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on 365 (Inspiration is for Amateurs)

Twenty-four days ago I decided I would take a single photograph every day, for 365 consecutive days. I’m only using an iPhone, and I’m often taking more than one picture, but the goal is a single ‘shareable’ image at the end of each day. Creative people who ‘sit around and wait for the clouds to part,’ as Chuck Close has put it, before they sit down and get to work, are not going accomplish very much. Often it seems easier to believe that the best work only comes in moments of divine inspiration, but as I embark on this challenge I’m finding that routine & persistence is the best way to refine technique and make good work. Knowing that I need to make a photograph at some point during each day is opening my eyes in ways that they weren’t open before, when I was lazily waiting for the right image to coalesce before me. …

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ICYMI

I can sense the ‘cycle’ of news media as this rotating blob, tucked just inside a massive doorway, and the moment one tries to step away from it, a persistent wind continues pushing it closer and closer. It’s unavoidable – even consciously trying to decide that I’m not ready to jump back in after a break, I can’t go anywhere without incidentally grazing the ‘rotating media blob’. I visualize it like Slimer from Ghostbusters, or the big ancient space portal in Stargate – in the case of Slimer, you’re not going to outrun it – and in the case of Stargate, you’ve gotta step through, just because it’s there. In the waiting room at the dentist’s office, CNN blares the sound of gunshots in Paris. At home, my dormant iPad pushes alerts of Academy Award nominations; newspapers collect at the front door, and restaurants everywhere are painted with televisions that shower everyone passing by with what’s …

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Paris par Deux

I last visited Paris in November, 2011. It is a city I admire and my imagination returns to it often. Despite what the terrorists would have us believe, Paris is a city of love – maybe a cliche, but for many, absolute truth. During my last trip, I walked the city at length. I love the city’s rhythm, and my camera kept finding moments of ‘two’ – two people sharing a small corner of the city, amongst the millions who inhabit it. At a time when Paris is threatened by separation, division, and ideology that seeks to break apart – I want to pause and reflect on these small moments I last saw there, and the unity they represented – simple frames of two people, sharing togetherness, freedom, and fraternity.

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