Free Read: “IN MICHIGAN: A PRIMER, A TRAVELOGUE”

jewishturkeyI wrote this essay a few years back, as a little bonus for the folks kind enough to have subscribed to my newsletter.  A good friend, Chris Salzman, was gracious enough to make something pretty of it, and I’m sharing that with you now.  Every word is both true and factual—which is a harder trick than you’d think. It begins like this:

You’ll be invited to your wife’s Full Family Thanksgiving Feast in Michigan

Attending means driving to the hinterlands around the middle knuckles of the Mitten’s middle finger. Shortly before leaving you’ll learn that this Full Family Feast does not, in fact, exist. Instead you’ll be directed to a somewhat lesser Secondary Family Feast in a somewhat less remote part of the hinterlands, at your in-laws’ cottage in a town mostly known for holding an annual ice fishing carnival on a frozen lake.

You’ve witnessed this carnival. You’ve ridden the ferris wheel atop the ice with your wife and young son, a ferris wheel you were told was unique for its age and direction of spin. You learned this from the man operating it, the man who proclaimed that he’d bolted it together himself, a man with something very clearly wrong with one side of his skull.

These are things you do in Michigan. These are the decisions you make by just letting things keep going the way they go in Michigan. …

And goes on from there. You can read it all free online here:

IN MICHIGAN: A PRIMER, A TRAVELOGUE” by David Erik Nelson

Take 11 Minutes and Learn the Secrets to the Science of Persuasion

This video is mostly narrated by Dr. Robert Cialdini, who’s most famous for his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (where he first presented most of the ideas seen here).  This is a text book—if not the Bible—on how to talk to people about things that you really care about, and get them to see your perspective.

Cialdini started out as a research psychologist, and my understanding (which fits the tone of the book) is that he began working on the book—which catalogues and examines several categories of sales/influence tricks and techniques—as a sort of warning to lay folks. After its first publication, it became enormously influential among marketers, copywriters, businessfolk, and all manner of modern propogandists.  If you write for any purpose (e.g., speechs, op-ed, news, fiction, non-fiction, persuading folks on the fence to vote for this or that) or run any sort of business, you need to read this book.  For that matter, even if you don’t seek to persuade anyone of anything, I still strongly recommend every adult in America  read this book, in order to better understand how it is you’ve come to believe what you believe, embrace what you embrace, and reject what “just isn’t your thing.”

(While we’re on the topic, you really should also read Darrell Huff’s HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICS; the black arts outlined in these two books cover the two major toolsets that the politically and economically motivated are using to manipulate you and your loved ones every single day.  Get your hands on Master’s tools; consider their possible applications in tearing down Master’s house*.)

Caveat: Yes, some of the hard data and studies in the original Influence haven’t aged well, but the bold strokes—about how people behave and how our minds get changed without our realizing it—is still rock solid.

BONUS: Check out this analysis of Oprah, and compare it with what Cialdini describes above:

Continue reading “Take 11 Minutes and Learn the Secrets to the Science of Persuasion”

Re-watched WAKING LIFE last night

This movie was a Big Deal to us back when it came out in 2001, but it hasn’t necessarily aged well (“Oh, look, another annoying young white man talking,” my wife opined near the end).

That said, I was struck, over and over again, by how hopefully the movie is about now.

Even in its cynical moments, it’s hopeful about us—the humans of the future—in a way that feels like something midway between “charmingly quaint” and “astoundingly, nearly nauseously, naive.”

I want to be like the people in this film. I want to see us the way they were certain we’d be. I want to be as confident as they were that we’d at least be trying to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.

Today is Summer Solstice. Quite literally, it gets darker from here.

Let’s try and be the people we always assumed we were, dee down inside.

If you want to understand the last three years in American politics, read Stephen King’s 1985 novella “The Mist”

This is, by no means, any sort of endorsement of any of the film/TV/radio-drama adaptations of this work—all of which either entirely miss what gives this story its lasting power, or convert a fundamentally profound work about kitchen-table American politics (i.e., the only kind that actually matters) to a moderately stupid and lazily nihilistic creature features.

Read the novella (which is also the first story in Skeleton Crew—a whole book of classic King shorts that costs just a couple buck more than the standalone novella—and is bootlegged here).  Ignore the monsters and the titular mist; watch the people.  And never lose sight of the final word in the story.

  

Wanna keep your New Year’s Resolutions? Quick trick: DO less, EAT more (trust me; this is legit)

I’m not natively a “New Years resolution person”—but as a freelancer, I live and die by forming and keeping good habits. Over the years of not starving to death or losing our home, I’ve learned a few shortcuts to faking a disciplined life. Principal among these:

Do LESS to Earn MORE, Eat MORE to Weigh LESS——a quick-n-easy “happiness hack” 

This principal principle is super-duper useful for addressing the two most popular New Year’s resolutions:

  1. do/earn more (e.g., start this side hustle, take up that hobby, hit the gym, etc.)
  2. lose weight

#1 Do LESS to do MORE: The “Stop Doing” List

For Resolution Type #1 (which require doing more with the same number of free hours that already feel over-packed), the usual approach is to try to cram in one more thing.

That is obviously destined for failure. You aren’t going to suddenly have more free hours or more energy just because you added one more item to your calendar.

Instead sit down for 10 minutes, uninterrupted, in complete silence.  This is vital, and insanely hard.  For real, lock yourself in the bathroom or sit in your car in the grocery store parking lot or go to the laundry room—whatever it takes to get a solid 10 minutes without distraction.

Take a hard look at what you do on the daily—especially what you do with your phone in your hand—and ask yourself if you really love doing that stuff, or if it is vital to you earning a living.

Now write a quick “Stop Doing” List.  This is a bulleted list of things that just really aren’t worth your time or attention.  Just an example, if I glance at YouTube, I end up loosing an easy 20 minutes watching video compilations of old Vines or “Wins/Fails.”  I don’t even really like those videos; I’m just stressed out, so I glance at YouTube, and YouTube knows what I watch, and there’s a whole endless scrolling list of distractions and . . . and I don’t enjoy it, it’s no good for my family or my business or my bank account.  There’s no point to it. It is time squandered.

So, Funny Fails are on my “Stop Doing” List.  So are:

  • Reading news items about celebrities who cannot call in air strikes
  • Looking at Google News and just reading headline after headline after headline without clicking
  • Facebook in general
  • Looking at my Roth IRA more than quarterly
  • Finishing a book/movie that I’m not eager to finish
  • Looking at email on Saturday (I’m a freelance writer, not a doctor or cancer researcher—no one lives or dies because I made them wait until business hours)
  • Fundraising at my kids’ schools (I know that’s controversial, but I’ve get mental health issues that make those sorts of social things literally insanely stressful for me; I earn enough to happily donate double what the PTO suggests if it means skipping shilling gift wrap or popcorn or whatever)

If your resolution is to work in a 20 minute walk every day, trust me, you can find those 20 minutes easily just by cutting out two or three phone-based distractions alone.

 

#2 Eat MORE to weigh LESS: Apples

When it comes to things we like but are bad for us (cheap pizza, salty snacks, pricey coffees, etc.), the usual advice is to cut back.  We resent this for a variety of deeply ingrained psychological reasons (from loss aversion to just plain perversity).

So don’t cut back; load up on Good Stuff instead.

Need to lose weight?  Don’t say “I have to cut out cookies” or “I have to cut calories.” 

Instead, say “I have to eat a ton of fruit.” 

Any damned fruit you like—sweet n’ juicy berries, melons, bananas, grapes, carrots (veg is fine, too).

But, two important things:

  1.  Not fruit juice! Those juices are as sugary as soda pop.  You need the fiber of the fruit for this to work (plus, whole fresh fruit is cheaper).
  2.  No human EVER got fat gobbling apples, and no pre-diabetic EVER insulin crashed on baby carrots. Every time I mention this strategy, someone warns me about how much sugar is in fruit—which is true—but it doesn’t hit your bloodstream (and pancreas and belly) like refined sugar.  Your body has to work to process it.  If you eat real whole fruit and veg you can gorge yourself and be fine.

Buy your chosen fruit or veg by the sackful.  Take some with you every time you leave the house.  Pack it with every lunch.  Every time you’re hungry, start with whatever your chosen fruit/veg is.  Have it first thing in the morning, have it last thing for desert.

Sick of your chosen fruit/veg?  That’s fine; just means it wasn’t the right one.  Pick a different one.  Keep trying.  There is a fruit or veg out there that you will never, ever get sick of having fresh and whole.  That is your special fruit; cherish it.

I am a middle-aged White(ish) American man with a sedentary job.  I don’t go to the gym (I do walk a lot, because I like walking and I have a dog).  I drink alcohol daily.  I drink a ton of coffee.  I used to smoke.

My body should be a damned wreck.  But I pack away five apples per day, minimum, and am subsequently in good health.  ’cause you know what? If you have three apples before lunch, you don’t feel like stuffing your face. And if you’re full of apples and then a bowl of chili (or whatever), you don’t feel bloated and logy.  You feel like going for a damn walk.

And you lose weight.

This is one of those bone-simple virtuous circles.  Just ride it ’round and ’round and ’round: Do LESS, earn MORE; Eat MORE, weigh LESS.

 

RECOMMENDED READ: “Angel, Monster, Man” (with props to @sentencebender and @nightmaremag)

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this (and the audio version—also free on the Nightmare Magazine website—is really good).  

Nominally a horror story, Sam J. Miller’s “Angel, Monster, Man” is, in fact, a really interesting piece of speculative fiction.  Gets me thinking about how frequently fiction that speculates on a disenfranchised group getting power gets slotted into “horror”—and once you start thinking that way, all horror starts to look like a liberation fantasy as seen through the establishment’s eyes: Is Night of the Living Dead more about zombies, or more about the terror experienced by rural whites and the patriarchy when confronted with a competent black man? Is The Exorcist about demon possession or the threat of women’s liberation (see also, Carrie)?  Is Psycho about a “psycho” or about the terrifying prospect of homosexuals no longer shackled by shame/guilt?

First Days (or “To Hell with Mitch Albom and his Bullshit Flat-Earth Nostalgia”)

About to board the bus for her First Day
About to board the bus for her First Day

Tuesday was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. At 4:20, when her bus finally arrived, she didn’t get off.

The driver checked, first calling out from the front, then shushing all of the kids and calling out again, then finally going seat to seat down the length of the big yellow bus.

My daughter wasn’t there.

Don’t worry—this is an “all’s well that ends” situation: Due to a printing error her First Day of Kindergarten name tag didn’t have her bus number printed on it, and subsequently she’d gotten on the wrong bus.  She ultimately wound up exactly where she should have been, all smiles and in fine fettle—albeit about an hour and a half late, following two bus transfers, and thanks to the intercession of three bus drivers, two transpo office workers, four school admins across two buildings, and one teacher. (The second day went smoother—in part because a neighbor kindly took it upon themselves to assign their first grader the job of making sure my daughter always sits next to her.)

You’re probably thinking “You must have been terrified!“, but the thing is, my son (now 11) also never showed up at the end of his first day of kindergarten. I can’t even properly recall how that came to pass, now, just that he didn’t get on any bus at all.  This may have been due to some confusion about aftercare (which required he take a different bus to get to a different locale)—

Retrieving him up at the end of his First Day.
Retrieving him up at the end of his First Day.

but I seem to recall that the geodesic dome he’s on in the pic had something to do with it, too, being strategically located right next to the bus loading area, but on the far side of a hedge tall enough to block the play structure from view, but not thick enough to prevent a kindergartner from slipping through.  An attractive nuisance if there ever was one.

Incidentally, his fish—a beta named “Electric,” given to him by an older boy who’d won it at a Labor Day fair, decided he didn’t want some stupid fish, and had thus stood in a gazebo and called out “Who wants a fish?”—had died that day while my son was gone at his first day of school.  That would be lamely symbolic if it wasn’t just a fact.

Point being, the boy was fine, as you can see in the picture.  He was more upset about the fish, and even that didn’t last.

Anyway, you’re probably thinking “You must have been terrified!

But I don’t know that I was terrified then either, because I remembered the end of my first day of kindergarten.  I remember it clearly, because it occasioned what I now recognize to be the first truly adult thought of my life:

I was the only kindergartener that rode my bus.  The “safety” (one of a small cadre of fifth graders given fluorescent orange Sam Browne belts and tasked with holding doors, keeping the halls orderly, and making sure the little kids found their buses) led me down a long cinderblock-and-linoleum hall, where kids were other kindergarteners were lined up under construction-paper cut-outs of school buses.  He stopped me in front of a red paper bus, taped high above my head on the wall, and said: 

“This is your bus.”

He walked away.  I stood there, alone, staring up at the two-dimensional red paper school bus, and thought to myself:

“How the hell am I supposed to get home on a paper bus?”

I tried to puzzle this out, and had a brief, vivid moment where I imagined myself shrinking down and flattening out like a Shrinky Dink™, transforming into a big-nosed black-and-white cartoon character (basically the kid from that 1980s Tootsie Pop commercial).  Cartoon me moseyed up to the bus, the door accordioned open—just like the door of the real, steal, three-dimensional bus I’d ridden to school just after eating lunch with my mom (back then it was half-day kindergarten, and I had PMs)—and I climbed aboard. Then the paper bus chugged to life and cruised down the wall in a little Pig Pen-esuque swirl of penciled diesel fumes.

In that moment, and for a moment, I entirely believed in that scenario. It was the only thing that made sense. And then I recall thinking:

Nothat can’t be right.

Soon enough another safety came and lead us kindergarteners, lined up like ducks, down to the turnaround where the real steel yellow schoolhouses were similarly lined up, and I discovered that my bus was identified with a number (that I could not read) written on a sheet of red construction paper—hence the red paper bus on the wall.  So, sort of a semiotics lesson built into that first day of school to, I guess—although it was a bit above my head (pun? joke!

Point being, kindergarten was my first time out of the home place, in a meaningful way.  Going to kindergarten, among other things, meant my first brushes with anti-Semitism, with both the quiet, constant terror of bullying, and the quiet heroism of the few bigger kids who tried to stand up for you.  And it was my first taste of solitude, being left to think my own slow, long thoughts in the intervals between assigned activities—something that I still treasure very much.  I wasn’t me before I was finally left alone to be me.

But none of that was on the First Day.

On the First Day I had to grapple with staying calm when faced wth a seemingly impossible scenario: Here, kid, you’re six now; figure out how to ride a paper bus home.

In a lot of ways, my life has been a series of brief intervals separating moments of distorted, disconcerting reasoning–and in which the only thing that separated me from a Very Bad Turn of Events was that simple first adult thought: 

“No, that can’t be right.  Calm down and think this through.”

It’s the only useful response to the apparently endless string of Kobayashi Maru that make up our lives.

Not that I knew any of that then—for chrissakes, what do you expect?  I was six; it was My First goddamn Day.

The end draws nigh! EXPIRATION DATE chapter 7 is here! #FreeReadFriday

… and, SPOILER ALERT: the *FAKE NEWS!1!!*, “ghost SWATs” and Boltzmann brains have arrived!

ExpieDate-banner

Chapter 7 is here, as is every every previous chapterfree online and downloadable as PDFs, courtesy of the fine folks at Arbor Teas (who’ve also furnished discussion questions for book groups and connected with the Ann Abror District Library for special Summer Games points and badges.

Also, I’ll be doing a little Q&A here once the final chapter of Expiration Date drops, so if you have questions, please feel free to drop me a line.