The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image

By Michael W. Harris

The word “curated” or “curation” is perhaps a bit overused these days. We talk a lot about how we “curate” our photos on Instagram or Facebook, or “data curation” for academics and scientists. Or how we might “curate” our collections for display in the home. Believe me, I am just as guilty of these things as the next person, if not more so, and I am not saying this is good or bad (yet). However, what I do believe is that the word itself, “curate,” has become one of those buzzy words, and whenever I heart it I just want to go all Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word…” Continue reading “The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image”

A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia

By Michael W. Harris

Note: A playlist of all the songs I discuss here is available on YouTube here. It is also embedded below to listen to while reading.

A few years ago, around the time of the 2016 election, I wrote a post reflecting upon the Japanese principal of mono no aware. Around that same time, about a month before, I also wrote a post on three albums that reflect the mood of fall. In my mind, these two posts are very much linked in spirit even if I do not explicitly link them in writing. The spirit that I speak of in the “Autumnal Playlist” post, the cold fragility, the feeling of passing, is very much the feeling of mono no aware. Which, if you do not click on the link above, is a recognition of the impermanence of all things. An acceptance. And while there is a sadness inherent in that acceptance, there is also joy in it, because in ending is also beginnings. In every death, there is also life.

Such is the mood that I find myself in as I prepare to leave my home of less than a year in Williamsburg, VA, and begin a new life in Memphis, TN. And as I have been mentally reconciling myself with this change, and all that led to it (to be discussed in a more detailed upcoming post), a few tracks have entered heavy rotation in my listening. Continue reading “A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia”

Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)

By Michael W. Harris

Better late to the game than never

It is much to my detriment that I never really encountered the works of Anthony Bourdain until after his death, but it is a process that happens to me more often than not (I had barely listened to either Prince or David Bowie until after they died). Regardless, my only prior experiences with his work was the graphic novel Get Jiro, which is really fun, and a few episodes of Parts Unknown that a friend sat me down to watch during a visit this year. I really enjoyed these dips in Bourdain’s work and gave me a lot of respect for him and how he approached other cultures. He was upfront with his background, never shied away from who he was, and approached others from a place of respect and eagerness to learn.

As a person who studies cultures other than his own, I have a lot of respect for that. And also as someone who has a healthy disdain for the type of person who adopts the stylings of cultures they study in some forced “rejection” of being American or White or Western (or whatever their background is)—it is refreshing to see someone respect, enjoy, and truly love other food and cultures while also being secure enough in their own identity to just be themselves. Continue reading “Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)”

The Return of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine

By Michael W. Harris

So many memories…

In less than a month, a big part of my childhood and teenage years will be returning to comic book shops across the world. After a too long, three year hiatus, the Fantastic Four will be back and with it a big part of my love of my first and abiding hobby.

The adventures of Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben, and the other extended members of the First Family (both blood related and not), were not the first comic book I ever read, but it was the one that captured my attention and imagination. The reasons for this are numerous: the crazy sci-fi adventures across time and space that were quite different from the standard supervillain of the month punch-ups that I had read before, the more relatable problems of a family of adventurers and the group dynamics that came with it, and a cast of characters that felt both relatable and real (well, as real as unstable molecules clad superheroes can be).

It is established canon that each of the FF’s individual powers is somehow reflective of their personalities: a woman who feels invisible in a patriarchal society (though who also turns out to be the most powerful of them all…a wonderful twist added by writers in the 1980s), a flame powered hot-headed youth, a rock-solid friend who would stop a bus for you, and the greatest mind on the planet who is constantly reaching and stretching his imagination to ever greater heights. But deeper than that, I also saw something of myself and my life in each of the member of the Fantastic Four, both aspirational and how I felt about and viewed myself.

Let me explain. Continue reading “The Return of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”

The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World

By Michael W. Harris

Nostalgia Bomb for my generation. [image found on web, not mine]
I always love seeing the looks I get when I tell people that I have schoolwork COMPUTER files dating back to sixth grade. Now, for some that would not be that remarkable, but for me, sixth grade was 1992-93. The first web browser only went public in 1991. The first version of Windows was released in 1985. And the ubiquitous Apple IIe that was the first computer in my elementary school lab was released in 1983.

These files of mine are not things I created at school, though. They are Word and Excel documents I made at home for school projects. Papers, reports, etc. The odd personal or Boy Scouts project files are also included, but most are school reports. More importantly, though, is that they are still saved and with a little work could be made accessible again (currently the file formats are no longer readable with the newest versions of Office, but there are ways of migrating them). And this is not theoretical. The files are not stored on obsolete media. Yes, they were first saved on 3 ½ inch floppies, but from there they were first migrated en masse to a 100MB (mega…not giga) Zip Disk in 1999 and from there ported to a 128MB jump drive in the early 2000s. And today these files live both on my 200GB microSD card that is my main data archive, with a back-up stored on a 5TB external hard drive (these drives are named “The Library” and “The Matrix of Gallifrey” respectively). Continue reading “The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World”

Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival

By Michael W. Harris

I love technology. Let me get that out of the way and established. I can build you a computer, install the OS, and get it on-line and running in just a few days. Need a home theatre system installed but don’t know a coax from HDMI? I can help you with that. Want multiple game consoles running into a single receiver with the ability to record to a PC for streaming your sick [Insert Current Popular Battle Royale Game Here] rounds? I can even get that sorted for you.

This is all to say that I am unafraid and embrace the tech…despite the fact that my most recent game consoles are the PlayStation 2 and the NES and SNES Classics. I have also ditched the home built PCs for a Surface, and my home theatre setup is now a lowly 2.1 system (when I used to have a full 7.1) with a regular TV instead of a projector. And in a sign of what is to come, that system still has a CD player and turntable hooked up.

In many ways, as the technology has gotten easier and less complex to use and install, I have scaled back my own setups—though multiple moves in just three years after living in the same place for seven also has a way of forcing one to scale back. But, in that same time, I have also been drawn to two decidedly older and analog hobbies, or maybe fascinations is a better term: pens (or stationary products in general and fountain pens more precisely) and gins.

I have already talked about the latter at some length, so I will largely set gin aside for now. So instead, let’s talk about the former: pens and paper. Continue reading “Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival”

Leaving The Matrix Behind – AKA Taking the Red Pill

By Michael W. Harris

In 1999 the Wachowskis burst into the cultural zeitgeist with the anime inspired The Matrix—a “heady, post-modern, what is real, how do we know we are alive or just simulations, bullet time fight, genre defying, how the hell did two relative unknowns do THAT” kind of film.

It was kind of popular.

They followed that up with two sequels that doubled down on the philosophy, fight choreography, and green tint aesthetic, yet also failed to connect with audiences in the same way, though still made truckloads of money for Warner Bros. The Wachowskis have yet to have a true hit film since then, but have directed, written, and produced a string of films (and TV) that while all finding a small, niche audience, have failed to match that earlier success for some reason. In this post want to look at a mighty handful of these and hopefully make the case for at least some of them finding a broader audience.

Note: I am leaving Cloud Atlas out for right now as I will be taking a deeper dive into it as part of my hauntology series, however know that I believe Cloud Atlas to be worth your time.

So with all of that out of the way, let us plug back into the world of the Wachowskis, with all of their philosophy, wire-fu fights, and stylization within an inch of their life production design. Continue reading “Leaving The Matrix Behind – AKA Taking the Red Pill”

The Struggle Is Real: Meditations Upon Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender”

By Michael W. Harris

Jackson Brown is one of those artists who has the tendency to drift in and out of my playlists without much thought. His songs will simmer in the background for weeks or months before exploding to dominate my listening for a solid month. His easy acoustic melodies and plaintive voice paired with an equally longing piano is the perfect companion to certain moods.

In many ways, it is a perfect fit for feeling of mono no aware that I wrote about almost two years ago. There is a wistful sadness to many of his songs, especially the ones I gravitate towards, that captures the peaceful resignation to the inevitable passing of all things. Not a rage against the dying of the light, but an acceptance, nigh an embrace of it, that is at the heart of mono no aware and much of Japanese thought.

For me, nothing captures this feeling in the work of Browne more so than a pair of couplets in his 1976 song “The Pretender,” off the album of the same name:

“Out into the cool of the evening strolls the Pretender,
He knows all his hopes and dreams begin an end there.”

And:

“Are you there? Say a prayer for the Pretender.
Who started out so young and strong only to surrender.”

The resignation found in these lines, the walking into the night, knowing that it holds all of his ends and beginnings in equal measure, the giving into the forces that would beat him down into submission and compliance…it is a deep, cynical view of the world, jaded even, that is the darker tinge of mono no aware. It is not the peaceful acceptance of the Japanese mold, but a more Western resignation. Not full of rage, but contains a simmering resentment none-the-less. But it also does not detract from the other wistful qualities of the song.

So, if these lines are about a submission to something, it begs the question: a submission to what? Continue reading “The Struggle Is Real: Meditations Upon Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender””

How I Lost It, And the Ongoing Battles Therein

By Michael W. Harris

I hit two major milestones recently that have finally forced me to change my mentality with my weight loss. 1) I have logged into the phone app I have used to track my food and exercise for 700 consecutive days. Which is just kind of unreal when I step back and think about it. And 2) I finally hit the mid-180s, which, while still not my quote ideal weight unquote, seems like it should be where I stop and seriously work on maintaining instead of losing. And while losing over 200 pounds was a challenge, I firmly believe that maintaining where I am and looking ahead to the next 700 days will be even harder. But let’s back up a bit first and talk about how I got here because that seems to be the question I get. And for that, we will have to go back further than 700 days. Let’s go back to 2013-2014 and when I made the first major change to finally get my health under control.

Warning: this post gets a bit “real” at times. Continue reading “How I Lost It, And the Ongoing Battles Therein”

…six months later

By Michael W. Harris

I have become quite adept at putting on a happy face. Like so many, when things get bad you rarely want to talk about it openly, especially to family and co-workers. Friends are a different matter, but being thousands of miles away from those nearest and dearest to me, and having only fleeting contact with them, I started lying to them as well about how rough things were during my first six months in Virginia. A difficulty that I barely hint at in my previous essay.

But, I think I turned a corner in early March and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that a few things have became clear to me. 1) I completely withdrew into myself soon after moving to Virginia. 2) In doing so I had created an emotional barrier around myself as a protection measure. And 3) both of these things combined were preventing me from both embracing my new job and area, and also from properly healing. Continue reading “…six months later”