Wow, it has been quite a year (so far 🤞🏿)….
My personal life felt relatively unscathed in comparison to the suffering I saw many others enduring — this dissonance (and what types of problems it suggests will continue even after the pandemic) was for me the most distressing part of 2020.
Here’s my look-back at how I tried to avoid despair this year by ‘keeping extremely busy.’
Camp Douglas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It never was. But if you’re feeling lonely or homesick even I recommend that (1) You call me. I’m staying at Bob Mapplethorpe’s and (2) that you keep extremely busy. It’s working for me…
— Bottle Rocket
When the pandemic first hit, a few of my friends from NYC (Ny, Jesse, Iqram) had the idea that we should setup something like a “moneypot” to help out service workers who were being laid off. We built bailout.nyc to collect and disburse donations via Venmo.
A few months latter, when the George Floyd protests began, we repurposed the site and began redirecting proceeds to the Nationwide Bailout Fund.
This project got me thinking pretty deeply about the place for various mechanisms of change – mutual aid vs activism vs structural reform – and probably the next long form essay I write will discuss this topic.
Film Noir and Failures of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. For IAP 2020, Rob and I organized a three-part seminar, and we made this film essay on the topic:
(This was a sort of crash course in video editing with Final Cut Pro for me and Rob.)
When You Gaze Long Into the Machine, The Machine Also Gazes Back. In June, Rob, Nam, and I presented at the RadicalxChange conference. Instead of your more standard off-the-cuff academic talk, we did a sort of ‘powerpoint play’ video:
Live Action. I also spent a bunch of weekends messing around with friends shooting live action comedic shorts about a highly tech-ed up + self-serious ‘neighborhood watch’ in West Oakland. These were a really fun way to learn by doing – things like writing short comedic scripts, rehearsing, doing a day of shooting, figuring out lighting and sound, etc.
sq. For the last few video projects, we switched from using Final Cut Pro to DaVinci Resolve, which had two benefits: (1) Rob got to spend time learning about / doing color-grading, (2) Resolve has a ‘multi-player mode’ that allows two people to simultaneously edit different scenes in the same project. Of course, we ended up building a bunch of software / automation / scripts that made this process a little bit smoother (things to sync raw files across our machines, ssh tunnels and an AWS Postgres server to store all the project metadata), so I think we are setup for things to be pretty streamlined for our next project. Shout out to Syncalia which we discovered on our most recent project is a huge timesaver for syncing multiple audio / video clips, which is surprisingly still very manual by default.
VS Code Markdown Notes. Early in the year (inspired by some friends raving about roam) I built this extension. See the blog post for details: Suping Up VS Code as a Markdown Notebook. It’s up to almost 20k installs, has a bunch of open github issues, and a small set of people other than me contributing now – probably the ‘biggest’ open source project I have been a core contributor on. Something I want to do in 2021 is use Twitch to live stream some coding sessions working on this project — lmk if this sounds interesting to you.
// The Infinite Frontier as American Capitalism’s Response to the Malthusian Trap
// Advertising, IP Law, and the Invisible Hand. In the beginning of the year, I got invited to do a talk at The Berkeley Forum, but the event got cancelled because of the pandemic. I spent quite a bit of time researching the talk, which was inspired by (1) an experience I had trying to get a torn backpack repaired and (2) a conversation I had with a friend about what I previously had thought was one of the only examples of bottoms-up evolution in social mores (the stigma against littering). I published the never delivered talk as an essay in 3 parts and still really like the way this one turned out:
Virtualization, Forklifts, Microphones, Shipping Containers, Video Conferencing, Stethoscopes…. My obligatory thoughts-on-the-pandemic-essay discussed the winners and losers of a virtualizing economy. A cool meta-note on this one is that I think the most often quoted bit — which is not super often, to be clear — is in the final paragraph. So, at least some people are finishing reading it.
The Social Dilemma Dilemma. The final essay I published in 2020 was this sort of film review. I think it was fair criticism of the film, but also re-reading this now it feels pretty negative and reminds me of my distaste this kind of criticism (vs storytelling or more generative essay writing).
With terse comments on some of my favorites…
- Arendt // Origins of Totalitarianism. VERY timely, highly Rx reading in the United States in 2020/1
- Quinones // Dreamland. I wonder why no one trusts American medicine / pharma?
- Shepard // The One Inside
- Kaufman // Antkind. If you like Kaufman’s movies, you’ll love this.
- Murthy // Together
- July // No One Belongs Here More Than You. Miranda July is my new favorite discovery of the year. She is one of those people like DFW or PTA where I just want to check out everything she has made.
- Wallace // Infinite Jest. Finally read this after having read (I think) everything else by Wallace. I have tried and stopped many times before, but this time it clicked – I loved it.
- July // Miranda July. As soon as I finished, I texted like 10 people, said “send me your address,” and sent them copies.
- Wallace // Girl With Curious Hair
- Mechner // The Making of Prince of Persia
- Agee + Evans // Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
- Wallace // Both Flesh and Not
- Stålenhag // Things from the Flood
- Woolf // A Room of One’s Own
- Moore + Gibbons // Watchmen
- Pynchon // Gravity’s Rainbow. I forgot how much I loved Pynchon. This book is really incredible.
- di Lampedusa // The Leopard. Another VERY timely book in America 2020/1.
- Lowenharupt Tsing // The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
- Berger + Luckmann // The Social Construction of Reality
- Gopnik // The Gardener and the Carpenter
- Zucman // The Triumph of Injustice
- Lasch // Culture of Narcissism
- Wallace // Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
- Tolentino // Trick Mirror. Really loved this – kind of reminded me of DFW in some ways. Craving more of this kind of writing (serious + creative), if you know of any.
- Munro // Too Much Happiness
- Lippmann // Public Opinion. This feels like the playbook for governance of the Western world since the advent of mass media.
- O’Brien // The Things They Carried
Oakland Film Club
Once the pandemic hit, we made this a lot more about getting together regularly (and less about the accompanying essay / talk).
If you need some pandemic pick-me-ups, check out Brigsby Bear, Hedwig, and The Death of Stalin.
- #057 // From Dusk Till Dawn // 2020-12-29
- #056 // Platoon // 2020-12-08
- #055 // My Dinner with Andre // 2020-12-01
- #054 // Brigsby Bear // 2020-11-17
- #053 // Kajillionaire // 2020-11-10
- #052 // The Manchurian Candidate // 2020-11-03
- #051 // What the Constitution Means to Me // 2020-10-27
- #050 // Far from Vietnam // 2020-10-20
- #049 // Dr. Strangelove // 2020-10-13
- #048 // The Death of Stalin // 2020-10-06
- #047 // The Act of Killing
- #046 // Some Shorts
- #045 // Four Lions
- #044 // Sometimes, Always, Never
- #043 // Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- #042 // Salvador
- #041 // The Dark Knight
- #040 // Fight Club
- #039 // Man on Wire
- #038 // The Matrix
- #037 // The White Ribbon
- #036 // They Live
- #035 // The Grand Budapest Hotel
- #034 // Drunken Master II
- #033 // Castro Street + Quixote
- #032 // Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
- #031 // Phantom Thread
- #030 // The Great Beauty
Whew, what a year…
One of the pleasant (and few / only?) social upsides of the pandemic has been more zooms and emails with friends in far more distant locations that I probably would not have talked to as much in a ‘normal’ year. Drop me a line if I have not heard from you in awhile!