Monday, December 31, 2018

December 31

In a year with little joy, there were a few bright spots ...

I had three great days of photography. May 4th in Cream Ridge at the annual tulip festival, May 8th in Princeton at Prospect Garden, and June 10th at van der Goot Garden in Somerset.

There were also two great days at work. Both had to do with cases I worked on being affirmed on appeal. Finally, I had one great date. It was in November, we went to an art exhibit (ok, it happened to feature one of my photos, BUT THAT WAS NOT THE REASON) and had a long dinner and nice conversation in Princeton. I then did not hear from her for two weeks, because that is just the kind of dating life I have.

On the down side, I almost got myself killed in a car accident in August. The car did not make it, but I was (thankfully) unharmed. My best friend from childhood died too. We had not been close in many years, but it was still a shock. I woke up most mornings dreading going into work and most of the few other dates I did have went horribly. Other than that, banner year .... 

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

December 30

I am grudgingly giving up my Sunday morning workout (boxing) to do some "retail therapy" aka shopping. After-Christmas bargain shopping is my jam. Tomorrow, I am going to recap some of the highlights (and lowlights) of 2018.

A successful trip (original prices in parentheses)

Nike Outlet
1 Nike Jacket - $17.47 ($120)
1 Nike Shorts - $21.99 ($30)

Dick's Sporting Goods
1 Patagonia T-shirt - $6.24 ($35)
1 North Face T-shirt - $6.48 ($25)
1 Columbia T-shirt - $6.48 ($25)
1 Nike Shorts - $40 ($10.98)
*Additional $10 off coupon

2 boxer shorts - $11.98 ($25.98)
1 boxer shorts - $3.49 ($6.99)

Total - $74.87 ($307.97)

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

December 29

There are very few moments of true happiness in my life. To say that out loud is to get one of two reactions - from people who do have happiness in their lives, they do not understand what life is like without it; from people who are like you, they know there is vanishing little you can do to change it. You cope. You make do. You do the best with the hand you have been dealt. 

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Book Review - Bachelor Nation

Like an invasive species, reality shows have taken over television and few have had the staying power of The Bachelor (and its inevitable spin offs). With ubiquity comes examination, and so it was that I, a person who has not seen one minute of one episode of one season of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, or even the short-lived Bachelor Pad, came to thoroughly enjoy Amy Kaufman’s book Bachelor Nation.

Kaufman comes to her work honestly. As a journalist at the Los Angeles Times and “recapper” of Bach episodes, Kaufman had access to the show, its contestants, and behind-the-scenes action, but when she ran afoul of the show runner, she was (to mix a metaphor) voted off the island. But in a make-lemonade-out-of-lemons move, Kaufman flipped the script and has written a book that is less about a reality show and more about the perversion of romantic love and our society’s obsession with fame and celebrity in the early 21st century. It is an often unflattering portrait, but it is well-written, researched, and told. 

Of course, The Bachelor did not invent the genre and Kaufman traces its lineage back to The Dating Game through Love Connection and into nascent reality efforts like Who Wants to Marry A Multi-Millionaire? and Joe Millionaire. At each step in the process, producers recognized that amping up certain aspects - skin, sex, and salaciousness - assured ratings. What The Bachelor did was synthesize its forebears’ efforts, wrap them in a compelling narrative that added fairy tale aspects (the “handsome prince”) and a fishbowl competition that encouraged outlandish behavior.

The  show’s premise, when you read it in print, is absurd, and the short celebrity essays Kaufman slips between chapters invariably include some variation on how the show is a guilty pleasure (it is in the sub-title of the book too!), yet, millions watch it obsessively. And that is no surprise - reality TV allows us to live vicariously through others while also sitting at a remove, quietly (or not-so-quietly if Kaufman’s description of her Bachelor viewing parties is to be believed) judging the people on the shows and the decisions they make.

It may make for interesting TV, but when Kaufman dissects the constituent parts, it is not pretty. For example, it is not a great look that the “in-the-moment” (ITMs in reality show vernacular) interviews done with contestants share common DNA with police interrogation techniques or that producers apply both subtle and overt pressure on contestants by using information shared with them to exploit vulnerabilities, fears, or desires to please, all in the name of creating compelling storylines that may or may not have any basis in reality. 

The whole thing could be written off as wildly exploitative if Kaufman did not meticulously walk readers through the process applicants go through to appear on the show - the psychological screenings, the STD panels (what’s the point of having a Fantasy Suite if you can’t be sure bachelors and bachelorettes won’t leave with anything other than a regret or story to tell?), the questionnaires, the background investigation and on and on. For whatever after-the-fact hand wringing former contestants express to Kaufman, they go into the show with eyes wide open. 

Putting individuals in a hermetically sealed environment for weeks on end (the “Bachelor Bubble”) with little to stimulate them other than alcohol, a princess fantasy, and the lure of temporary fame are heady to be sure, and what I liked so much about Kaufman’s framing was how it all fits together - the marketing techniques, the out-of-body experience shared by former contestants who describe an unreal world where things that would make no sense in the real world make complete sense in the Bachelor bubble, and how that small army of show producers shape a season through a combination of sleight-of-hand and outright deception - to contestants and the audience alike - in order to goose the drama. 

Kaufman also shines when raising sociological questions about gender roles, sexual agency, and cultural views of marriage. On the one hand, we see how a bachelorette was dragged and bullied for having sex with a contestant early in her season while a bachelor who proudly proclaimed he would not have sex before marriage was cheered. Fair? Of course not, but so much of what I got out of Bachelor Nation had to to do with the unrealistic expectations (not to mention obvious double standards) placed on women. On the one hand, they are expected to be chaste enough not to be seen as promiscuous, but “fun” enough to slink around in bikinis while ignoring the fact that a bunch of other women are vying for the same man. 

As Kaufman puts it more pruriently, the ideal Bachelor contestant is a lawyer who gives a good blow job. Make of that what you will, but even in Bachelorette seasons, any marriage proposal is still done by the man. And of course, it goes without saying that a bachelor shtupping multiple contestants is seen as totally fine while a bachelorette doing the same is expected to understand why the man she chooses might reject her when it is revealed she had more than one partner during the season. 

And where there is a hit TV show, a cottage industry of ancillary opportunities also arises. Kaufman brings us behind the scenes at sponsored events featuring former contestants, speaks with bloggers and podcasters who have carved out a career monitoring and musing on the latest twists and turns of the show, and, oddly, the surprising number of memoirs (seriously!) written by people whose main life experience was appearing on a reality TV show. While the hit of celebrity may provide diminishing returns the lower down the food chain you get, shilling products on your Instagram account or getting paid to show up at a nightclub to take pictures with fans surely beats an honest day’s work. 

As a coda, Kaufman muses on a paradox - as financial independence and opportunity have made marriage more of an optional choice for women, shows like The Bachelor bombard them with a more traditional view of coupling, reinforcing the outdated belief that marriage equates with success and, conversely, not being married and not having children, mark you as a failure. Moreover, the heteronormative (and predominately white) vibe and restricted view of what qualifies as attractive (thin, pretty, and wholesome) traffics in some of the worst stereotypes that plague women today. 

With all of that being said, Kaufman rightly goes easy on herself and others for indulging the fantasy. As she notes, with the veil being lifted on some of the mystery thanks to shows like unREAL, a latter-day Larry Sanders that fictionalized elements of The Bachelor thanks to one of its executive producers having worked on the show, viewers better understand how The Bachelor is edited, shaped, and twisted into a version of reality that has just enough truth in it to make it believable. 

Of course, it could also be that, as Don Draper noted, love was created by advertisers to sell nylons, so your mileage may vary. 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

December 28

I still "talk" to my ex-girlfriend. We live 10 minutes away from each other, work less than 5 minutes away, yet we only communicate by email. For a while, we talked on the phone too, but for reasons I cannot explain (perhaps it is because she is never at her desk?) we stopped doing that too. It is banal stuff, mostly photos of our pets (my cats, her dogs). Sometimes I send an email and the next morning I do not want to open my inbox - I either beat myself up that I keep pining away for her or regret that I keep stepping on this particular rake. Often, she has not responded. She will disappear for days and the cycle starts anew.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

December 27

My mother died last year. We were estranged when she passed. That sounds terrible, but you are also probably picturing your own parent, supportive, wise, or at least compassionate. My mother was none of those things. She never offered any good advice, or expressed any pride in my accomplishments (which, I would note immodestly, are substantial), when I needed her in difficult times, she was not there for me. She may not have been a bad person, but she was not a good parent. 

And yet, I feel shame in admitting those things. As if any of it was my fault, not hers. Anyway, the only thing she left me was a $20,000 tax bill because in addition to all of the other things she was not (see above) she was also terrible with money. Thanks, mom!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December 26

As you get older, something is always sore. For the past few days, it has been my lower back. I burned my tongue on some hot coffee too. I have an abdominal muscle that flares up from time to time. I recently bought my first pair of reading glasses. I hurt my right knee a few years ago and now I cannot squat past a certain point. Like, it just will not happen. I am not sure if the amount of working out I do helps or hurts, but what I do know is that aging imposes these small indignities to remind you that you're getting old.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

December 25

As a right-wing talking point, the "War on Christmas" is really effective, but in reality, can you think of another day of the year when the entire nation comes to a full and complete stop after a weeks-long build-up that includes everything from radio stations playing nothing but Christmas songs to an entire shopping season devoted to gift giving around this particular day?

Anyway, I do not mind Christmas. To me, it is Tuesday, just one that I have to spend at home. Which is fine, I have things to do.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

Monday, December 24, 2018

December 24

I got engaged on Christmas Eve. It was the biggest mistake of my life. Actually, that is unfair, going through with the wedding was the biggest mistake of my life, but as a necessary predicate, the engagement is a close second. In retrospect, I did not have the courage to recognize it was the wrong thing to do (in fairness to my ex-wife, I think she would say the same thing). You see, I bought into the idea that dating was a sort of musical chairs, and when the music stopped somewhere between ages 27 and 32, you married the person you were with. 

The old saying that the first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging clearly applied, but I just grabbed the shovel and kept going. By the time I put the shovel down, it was more than a decade later and I had lost most of the prime years of my adulthood (23 to 40). REALLY bad decision.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

December 23

One of the nice things about being Jewish is that the Sunday before Christmas is no different than any other Sunday. There are no last-minute gifts to buy, no dishes to cook, no mental checklists of topics to avoid discussing, or new boyfriends or girlfriends to introduce, hoping your family will like them.

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

December 22

Yesterday, I picked up one of my photographs from an art exhibit it had been displayed in. The problem with demanding a lot of yourself is how hard it is to feel good about something you have accomplished. I have no formal training in photography. I take pictures as a hobby; yet, on two occasions, my work has been recognized as good enough to be included in an exhibit made up primarily of professional photographers' work. I should be proud of that, but because no one has ever bought my work, I still feel like a failure. Because I have no one in my life to tell me they think my work is good, I question my ability. 

This year, I bought a new camera. I had plans on improving my work, but I got frustrated because I was not seeing the results I wanted. The more frustrated I became, the less motivation I had to go out and take pictures, so the less I did. I guess that is what (new) new year's resolutions are for.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

2018 Year in Books

2018 was a very good year in books. I read thirty, but two stood above all others. In fact, I liked them both so much, for the first time, I am picking co-books of the year. Emmy Favilla’s A World Without Whom and Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color do the two things books I enjoy do best - they inform and entertain. But more than that, both authors write with wit and √©lan, cheeky good humor and just the right amount of bawdiness (at least for me). Click on the links to read my full reviews.

My honorable mentions are several. Erin Carlson’s I’ll Have What She’s Having was not just an homage to the brilliant Nora Ephron, but a meditation on modern romance and how it is portrayed in movies. Marve Emre’s The Personality Brokers was a beautifully written and extensively researched history of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test and how it became ubiquitous in society while also lacking any scientific grounding. For immersive experiences, Miles Unger’s Picasso and the Painting that Shocked the World, read like the first part of a multi-part biography of the 20th century’s unquestioned grand master. While the book is ostensibly about the creation of the proto-cubist masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, it is much more than that. It is the story of a prodigy who, before he turned thirty, had moved through three distinct phases (Blue Period, Rose Period, and Cubism) that have influenced modern art ever since. Finally, Rebecca Traistor’s Good and Mad is a rip-roaring polemic against the patriarchy and encourages women to stop apologizing for wanting to exercise their power. I am here for it. All of it.

Other good reads included Hope Never Dies, a fanfic imagination of Joe Biden in his post-Obama Administration years becoming an amateur gumshoe, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, Age 83 1/4, a fictional account of an elderly man’s life in an assisted living facility that captures the poignancy, small joys and absurdity when the final grains are passing through the hourglass, and Broadway, a historical journey of the great Broad Way that has defined New York City for more than 400 years. 

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Prior years-in-review:

December 21

I am on vacation from work until January 2nd. I have not taken a "real" vacation in almost 10 years. At first, it was because I did not have the money after I got divorced. Now, it is a combination of not having anyone to take care of P & G and not wanting to deal with all that goes into traveling. So instead, I just recharge at home. It is not the worst thing in the world and, I still get paid to do it.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

December 20

The cats woke me up at about 4:30 this morning. It was just as well. I am going to do some grocery shopping this morning before work, so I needed to get up early anyway. 

I was sleeping so well too. I tend to do that after challenging work outs. Here is what I did last night:

Warm-up & abdominals (10 minutes)
Interval Training (3 one minute sets of the following exercises with one minute of rest at the end of each interval)

Interval 1

plank jacks -> push ups
mountain climbers
one-legged push ups
squat thrusts

Interval 2

reverse lunge -> one-legged jump (right leg)
reverse lunge -> one-legged jump (left leg)
jump lunges
knee tuck jumps
jumping jacks

Interval 3

spider-man push-ups
plank jacks -> shoulder taps
donkey kicks
squat jumps

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

December 19

I hate my job. I did not always hate my job but a while back I said something to someone I should not have said (which is very on brand for me) and I was moved from a practice group I excelled in to one I muddle through without much enthusiasm. 

I know what you are thinking. Quit. Find a new job. Well, I have sent out some resumes, taken a few interviews, but nothing has come of them. The other thing is age. The older I get the more risk averse I have become (I do not think this is unusual). My job pays the bills. It keeps a roof over my head. It is familiar, if imperfect. Fear of the unknown is a powerful disincentive to blow up your life, especially when 50 is on the horizon.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

December 18

Today is my office's holiday lunch. I am dreading it. Most of the people I work with are around my age or older. I have nothing in common with them. They have wives or husbands. They have kids. They spend their weekends going to soccer games and birthday parties and visiting colleges. I spend my weekends watching House re-runs, hanging with my cats and thumbing through dating apps. 

It is torture. I am not a social person to begin with (you are surprised, I am sure) but I am even worse at the small talk that lubricates these types of events. If you reach a certain age and do not have the life you are expected to have, you might as well not exist. Failing to conform to societal expectations is definitional when you are a teenager, but it erases you in middle age.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

December 17

The first thing you notice about getting older is how long it takes to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps it is the time (usually between 5 and 5:30 am) or the time of the season (winter), but it takes easily 5-10 minutes from the time I open my eyes to the time I physically get up. Mental check - what is the day of the week? (Monday). What do I need to do today? (Go to work). 

Once up, I scurry into my sweats as quickly as possible. The cats are lurking. The house is cold. Drafty to begin with, it is not helped by the fact I set my thermostat to 60 degrees overnight (saving money is a product of growing up without it and not having much of it after I got divorced) and that winter inexplicably settled in weeks ago. 

Pumpkin and Ghost pad around as I start my morning routine. Wash my face (Noxzema and a splash of cold water), brush my teeth, take a piss. Welcome to another week of work. 

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

December 16

When someone asks me how I stay in shape, they inevitably walk away disappointed. There is no magic pill or secret formula. It is two words - routine and discipline. You need to get into the habit of eating well and exercising regularly and then dedicate yourself to doing those two things for the rest of your life. While it sounds simple, it is hard to do. Life interrupts.

Today, it cannot be more than 40 degrees outside and a steady rain is falling. It is a perfect day to stay inside under a blanket, but there I was, shimmying into form-revealing compression gear and heading out to the gym for an hour of boxing and a half-hour of cardio. Now, take today, multiply it by a week, a month, a year, a decade - *that* is how you do it.

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

December 15

One of the things I like most about New Jersey is the diner culture. I have mine (the Route One Diner, formerly the Crystal Diner) that I've been going to for almost 20 years, since before I even moved here. I have my usual order, my usual booth, and, although the servers have changed over time, when one leaves and another begins, they get my order right every time. 

Saturday is my diner day. After getting the cats squared away (boxes cleaned, food put out), I am there before 6 am. It is usually quiet, lonely middle aged guys like me, limo drivers finishing their overnight shifts, laborers fueling up before the coming day's projects, and the occasional youngster just finishing their night out. 

I dropped some clothes off at Goodwill this morning. I'd like to tell you I donate to Goodwill each year out of the goodness of my heart, but it is mostly for the tax deduction and space it opens up in my closest and drawers for new stuff. So, if you're in the market for some lightly used North Face, Banana Republic, and Nike gear, stop off at the Goodwill in Ewing, New Jersey.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy