Big wallopin' universal truths
Plus: give up on reading. You'll read more!
Est. Read Time: 4 minutes. Read Time brought to you once again by the Ashburton Energy + Hair Logistics Group, in association with the Bradley Hills Bureau of Corrections.
Tuesday July 26 (los angeles): Mama Shelter rooftop! Tickets to come!
AUGUST 4-28 (scotland): Edinburgh Fringe! This is the big one! If you’re in Europe, come on out!
Hello, Sternal Journalists!
I’ve been gearing up for Edinburgh Fringe festival (see above for tickets if you’re in Europe), which means a lot of exciting crunch time. Everyone’s different, but for me personally, there is absolutely nothing that gets me in the zone like painting myself into a “gee-a-lot-of-people-are-gonna-be-disappointed-not-least-of-all-myself-if-I’m-not-prepared-for-this” corner.
That probably stresses some people out and surprises zero people who know me, but as I near the ripe age of 34, I’ve come to terms with it. I do my best work when I’m like “Ohhh, fuck. That’s soon!” The hard part is setting up the “fuck! soon!” opportunities at the right tempo so as to be regular, but not overwhelming.
The other hard part is not getting completely obliterated by procrastination. One thing I’ve tried in order to not get completely torn apart by it is giving up on all the books I was reading. I can’t remember where I heard it, but the best and maybe most actionable advice I’ve ever gotten—it may actually be the only truly non-bullshit piece of advice I’ve ever come across—was that you simply do not have to finish a book just because you started it.
I spent large swaths of my 20s not reading at all because I had started a book that I found boring, but felt like I was supposed to finish it before I found another one. This is true of movies, podcasts, and television (especially television! Abandoning Big Little Lies season 2 is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made), but it’s most true of books because of how many goddamn books there are out there. And because reading takes a little bit more action on one’s part than pressing play, it’s a bit more fragile of an activity, easier to fall out of the habit.
So a couple weeks ago, upon realizing I was juggling three different books I didn’t really love, I said to hell with it and went to Barnes & Noble to buy a Kurt Vonnegut book I’d never read. He’s one of my favorite authors and it’s silly I’ve only read like four of his books.
I’ve been tearing through it and it’s been a great time-sponge to suck up my procrastination tendencies—that way if I do get in a distractible mood, I have an activity that is both exciting to me and will make me feel enriched and fulfilled once I’m done, as opposed to reaching for a phone or un-constructively trying to stay on task when I simply don’t have the focus.
Which brings me to my favorite quote I’ve read in a while. This book I hadn’t read is called The Sirens of Titan. It’s, as far as I can tell from the blurbs on the back, his second book and the book that made him a household name.
It’s wildly prescient. It’s about a billionaire who goes to space and starts a civilization on Mars. (!!!!!) It was published in 1959, when there had only been a handful of billionaires ever and a decade before anyone would step on the moon even. It’s also got a lot of classic Vonnegut wackiness and is bursting with universal truths that still pack wallops, including but not limited to the quote I’m about to share.
All you need to know for context is that two of the characters, not really astronauts themselves, have been placed into a ship leaving Mars and ensured that it will take them where they need to be.
“The only controls available to those on board were two push-buttons on the center post of the cabin—one labeled on and one labeled off. The on button simply started a flight from Mars. The off button was connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of Martian mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off.”
I mean, first of all, I couldn’t have told you with certainty that “mental-health” was a known term 60 years ago. How often do we Millenials complain about how “that just wasn’t a thing” when we were little? So now to find out that, damn, they had it when our parents were little?! What are we doin’?
But more importantly, the big thing that this made me think of was… phones. I’ve sped through half a book in a few days, but boy if my phone weren’t around, I would have finished it by now. But the thing is, in my mind, I do turn off my phone. Sometimes, I literally power it down. Other times, I leave it in another room. I deactivate it.
Or so I thought. Because all you’re really doing when you turn off your phone is turning off one component—the screen. E-mails and texts still come in, Instagram will still be updating with things that others are posting, the internet sheds it’s skin and regenerates however many million times a second.
And, vitally, you know all of that is still happening so it’s impossible not to wonder if any of it has happened in a way meaningful enough that you need to know about it. On one hand, that’s what FOMO is. There’s nothing novel about FOMO.
But on the other hand, it feels very by-design and more than a little bit spooky that we (myself very much included!) convince ourselves we can turn off Instagram, e-mail, or a news app just because there’s a physical button on the thing where they live—and where they always live and chug and whirr, whether we’ve turned off the screen or not.
Wouldn’t it be a way cooler world if, when you turned off your phone, it also turned off all the feelings your phone gave you? Wouldn’t we use our phones less if there was ever a solution to feeling the way they make us feel?
I don’t have the answers, but I loved the quote and am going to continue to think about it and hopefully to more reading than scrolling in the coming week.
The Sirens of Titan. Book. Duh.
Slow Horses. Television. Re-upping on the recommendation of this AppleTV+ spy show because I finished the first season. It’s fun and funny, the thrills are thrilling, the characters are big, and it had just enough commentary on fucked up systems. Made me want to read the book series it’s based on, even though I was sad to discover it was based on a book series.
The Comedy Lineup: Jak Knight. Special. Knight tragically passed away this week, and if you only knew him from his work writing (and playing DeVon) on Big Mouth, you should absolutely check out this 15-minute stand-up special. Huge loss, phenomenal comic.
99% Invisible: The Octagon House. Podcast. Avery Trufelman returns to her old stomping grounds to produce the hell out of yet another podcast story. Both love this episode and it got me to sleep probably four or five nights last week.
Ibis. Clothing brand. There are these two guys who stand out on Fairfax with a rack of clothes every Sunday. I bought a shirt a few years ago and they are always very friendly and appreciative. They had their first pop-up today and it was really cool to see them movin’ on up. If you like colorful streetwear-ish stuff, check em out. (Also, for the ATLien readers, they’re from Kennesaw!)
Also also, they gave out balloons:
That’s all for this week!
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