Rearview Mirror

When I set out to create something, I typically stumble all over myself at first as I look for a pattern to establish. Rarely does the original outlined idea actually happen as I realize, through the creative process, that I was short sighted in how the thing I wanted was going to be achieved. What ends up as the end product is almost always the product of my aforementioned stumbling. This is how creating art of any kind works and it takes patience, dedication, and stubbornness to achieve. There are exceptions to this rule, but not everyone is a savant nor can they be. But those of us who have creative drives need to learn that in an ever increasing ADD world, finding the right stumbling block takes time – 99 percent of us will never see that right moment at the right place. But we will see our ideas come to fruition, even if it doesn’t look exactly like what we originally thought.

When I originally set out to do the BetaFiles, my first idea was a blog of me doing mess like this. Then, a few years later I got the idea that I could do a podcast. I planned the podcast out, wrote corny dad-style jokes, and did the exact opposite of what I promised myself I wouldn’t do in focusing on politics – particularly the President. Thankfully, life intervened and forced the podcast to end its short 10 episode run. But that creative push to create something, though shifting to an album I’ve been working on for three years now took its place for the interim, led to me looking at YouTube and what possibilities I could have there. Originally, I was going to move the podcast to YouTube and do audio only tracks while promoting everything through Facebook. My distaste for Facebook led me to leave the platform and subsequently shut down my personal Twitter account as well (there is still a BetaFiles twitter account out there that doesn’t require a personal account to be tied to it, though all it does is tweet that latest postings from this site). The idea of having audio only videos soon soured with my exodus from Facebook, and I began rethinking my strategy again. This time I would use Instagram as the primary social vehicle while expanding the YouTube idea to be both audio and visual. I was still going to use the original format of the podcast as the template.

But the more I thought about it, I didn’t really like the way the podcast had evolved. In turn, I decided to create shorts that I would tie together in a TV show – style episode for each week. My original plans for this have proven immensely time consuming, and I have (through those stumbles) been forced to step back and re-evaluate how I will actually create this content leading to a new system that should have been obvious to begin with.

I was also forced to realize that, even though I am creating content, I am going to eventually need a second or third or fourth creator to help with the projects along with coming up with other new ideas. So far, the few ideas I have had seem to be working for what I want them to accomplish, but I realize that, like so many things, only a couple of them will be able to withstand the daunting demands of changing tastes over time. Richard Cranium will live for a long while on the channel. “The Two Brians,” inevitably, will expire as the schtick will grow old. So will the newest idea “Janice from HR.”

My point in all of this rambling is that I have actually reached one of those productive stumbling blocks in this venture that is helping to define what I am trying to achieve. I have re-evaluated the whole project and have found the best way for me to create and distribute this content for consumption. Now I will execute and continue to learn and grow and create and evaluate and create more. That is the real workflow of art.  Patience, learning, trial and error, and continuous growth.

Piano Man

Binge-watching:

Verb /binj-ˌwäch/

the practice of watching multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming

Overexpose:

Transitive Verb /ō-vər-ik-ˈspōz/

to expose excessively: such as to expose (someone, such as a celebrity) to excessive publicity especially to the extent that attraction is diminished

During this continued human reset known as the COVID pandemic, one thing has become more prominent as we search for meaning in a universe of masks and Instacart deliveries: the art of binge-watching. But what exactly are we binge-watching? In my household, there are currently three chains happening: the reality TV shows that my wife is engorging each day, the obscure UFO documentaries and YouTube review videos I am ingesting daily, and the 90s comedy shows we are sharing together. But what will happen by fall when we have overexposed ourselves to the massive, but finite libraries of content on the web and there is no new content being released by the networks? This could be a serious issue for the entertainment industry that no one is really talking about.

As we continue to cruise through this new restrained world, one thing that usually happens in the spring and early summer is the filming of the fall season of TV shows. But, because of COVID, what exactly is going to happen come September when the new content that usually shows up at the network shipping docks isn’t there? What is going to happen once we, as a culture, exhaust Netflix and Hulu and Prime and nothing else is left to watch?

Side note: Disney Plus = everything we have already seen before, so the nostalgic luster will only last for – wait! There it went…

I think what will happen when we reach the fall are the following possibilities (here comes my magic 8 ball predictions):

  1. Easy to produce, fast editing, YouTube style reality TV shows
  2. Lots of Zoom readings
  3. Documentaries about trying to entertain during COVID
  4. Documentaries on those documentaries
  5. The Last Dance Part II: Jordan’s year as a player for the Washington Wizards
  6. The Last Dance Part III: Jordan talking about the Last Dance and COVID
  7. Tiger King II: Revenge of the Paw
  8. Lots of YouTube style retrospectives on life before COVID
  9. Modern Marvels: Masks

I could go on, but I think I wore the joke out.

The point is that whatever shows we get in the fall, they will be things that we would normally as a culture not pay any attention to yet, through necessity, we will be forced to engage with as there will be nothing else to watch.

But I also think that in this vacuum, musicians will be having a renaissance of sorts as the truly gifted will flourish as recording does not require more than one person. So, maybe this is wishful thinking, while visual entertainment will be struggling, true musical talents will reshape the landscape of the recording industry in ways that we were not prepared for. I won’t go into it too much, but the recent Joe Rogan – Spotify marriage has definitely created a few interesting possibilities for artists to bypass record labels through exclusive deals with streaming services, and I think when you add that to the lack of visual content (which dominates the entertainment industry) and the ease of creating music individually or in small, less than 10, numbers, a music renaissance isn’t actually that farfetched.

Then again, maybe I am just talking rubbish. Who knows what the networks and Hollywood are stringing together.

Semi-Charmed Life

COVID fatigue is real – I know because I have it.

In our first “Optic Poet” segment, Dr. J jokingly started the video by noting, “I hate my house” and “I love my children. I loved them more two months ago.” Although we laughed, I later wondered how much I have slipped into the COV-atigue. The reality is that I have replaced my “old” routines with new ones that have become more monotonous, more restrictive, and way less exciting. This is not news, unfortunately. We are all finding new ways to engage with mediocrity and limited shared space.

I am one of those people who will consistently find something to do when I feel boredom creeping into personal sphere. There is always something to create, something to fill my time with, something to build. But since mid-March when I was instructed to work from home, I have struggled to really fulfill anything of importance, and what I have been able to create and complete, I have found it harder to keep myself engaged with it. Routine is important, and I have forced myself into an ongoing routine complete with tasks and goals to complete in an effort to fend off monotonous actions and activities.

Routine, however, can become (in itself) a string of boring activities that eventually lose the desired effect of keeping me engaged. And so I find myself struggling to find something that will continue to peak my interest just enough to distract me from the reality of the COVID and this continuing string of days where most of my travels take place venturing between a home office, balcony, living room, kitchen, and home office. The cyclical nature of each day is grinding on my psyche and leaving me with the very real fatigue that has consumed my energy.

This is the COVID fatigue – and it will only get worse before it gets better. There is a reason they say patience is a virtue, and you really cannot appreciate patience until it has been forced on you much like it has during this odd epoch of our current condition. The real answer to dealing with the COVID fatigue – the non-exciting reality of living literally one day at a time and focusing only on what needs to happen today. Tomorrow is more of a guesstimate now than ever before, so trying to figure out what will happen then is pointless no matter how tempting it is to fall down the rabbit hole of “will it ever end?” – yes it will. Just not today, and that is ok…well, it has to be ok. We really don’t have any other choices.

Across the Universe

At what point did we become so petty? For years I have tried to understand why we have made climate change, abortion, civil rights, and the first amendment political issues that we defend vigorously with little to no regard of who is challenging us. Now, during the largest crisis in my lifetime, I am watching us divide ourselves over a virus as we argue over personal rights and which personal rights our government can or cannot impede on. I don’t understand.

I could easily spend the rest of this post complaining about both the President and his administration’s approach to this crisis and the response by the elite liberal media and how they are focusing on every little mistake being made, magnifying them to distract from reporting real, worthwhile news. Both of these are guilty of creating the response to this mess, and social media has been the tool that they have exploited to further their messages and continue to deepen the divide in our culture. And it is working, for the worst.

Militias in Michigan have tested the boundaries of how far they can push the state and local governments as they demand that the governor reopen the state immediately. One story from Michigan reported that one particular militia stood guard outside of a barber shop so the owner could reopen, defying the current statewide order and daring police to get involved. The natural reactions to this story in our current climate are 1) good for them as they are defending their rights as Americans and 2) why are they being stupid? – these fringe movements are dangerous and its Trump’s fault. What I want to ask, desperately, is can someone with a loud, influentially broad voice talk some sense into both sides of this mess? They are guarding a barbershop because Trump called for “liberation” and then the left leaning media ran with the story only further stoking the anger and frustration these people were feeling which emboldened them to stand outside a barber shop with AR-15s. What the fuck, America? Do we even understand the reason the barber shop was closed to begin with? Has enough accurate information about the virus been decimated to the public to really establish a clear understanding of why we are trying to keep it from spreading?

“The news has posted and reported what is happening” – actually, no. They haven’t. While the left leaning news media has reported the recent numbers and warnings, they have done so while focusing on our current administration’s short comings and gaffs. The right leaning media has then chosen to report, on top of the current numbers and warnings, how the administration is doing a wonderful job and pointing out how the left is creating this divide – further creating the divide.

Meanwhile, people are dying. This is not a cold. It is not the flu. It is killing people, and instead of using our brains to create a path to getting past this, we are bickering over whether the lizard people of Clinton’s army are teaming with George Soros to help the Chinese create a super bio weapon where Bill Gates will then implant us with microchips so he can track us since the anti-Christ is coming soon.

Oh yeah, and we aren’t going to wear a fucking mask.

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Lifelong fears are remarkable. They fill us with anxiety over what others may see as asinine or irrelevant. But for those who fear them, they are as real as the air we use to fill our lungs. We rationalize them, find ways to avoid the consequences that lead to them, and we March through each day envisioning the end goal of that fear – the ultimate pay day when the fear comes to collect. But what happens when we pass the threshold that encompasses that fear? What happens when we turn to look back on the fear instead of looking forward at it as we always have?

Today, I am in that unique position as, today, I have officially lived longer than my father.  

My father died on July 19, 1980. He was 43 years, 7 months, 14 days old when he passed. Today marks my age in time as 43 years, 7 months, 15 days. In my life, I have run into many different fears that led to whether I would survive. When I was 32, I was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease (heart disease). I have brought my plaque numbers down from 53% blockage to 14% over 11 years in the more important arteries that doctors focus on. In 2015, I had a horrible lung infection and before they found out what it was, I was certain that my chest was going to collapse and I would not live to see another day. I was in the hospital for 12 days before they finally found the right anti-biotic that beat back the infection. By March of 2017, I was drinking so much that I had pancreatitis, was borderline with cirrhosis, and was riddled with gall and kidney stones. I got sober and have recovered with a relatively healthier liver, pancreas, gall bladder, and kidneys.

But none of these fears matched the overwhelming fear that I would not live longer than my dad.

When my dad died, I was almost four. As I grew, the idea that I would not live beyond my father’s age grew with me. It was a totally irrational fear – I had the opportunity to change how I lived, how I treated my body, how I could change the way I approached life. So, naturally, when I turned 18, I started smoking because – I’m stupid. I worked at a fast food restaurant in my teens, eating cholesterol laden burgers nightly because – I’m stupid. For years in my teens and twenties, I was a rabid binge drinker. In my thirties, the binge drinking turned into nightly drinking. Nightly drinking turned into daily drinking. Daily drinking turned into non-stop drinking high functioning alcoholism because – I’m stupid. And yet, through it all, I watched myself knowing I was tempting fate. I was going to make the fear become reality.

When I was diagnosed with heart disease, I actually sighed a deep breath of relief. They had found it a decade ahead of time. I also had at my disposal more tools and better medicine than my father had (he died of a second heart attack). Through all of the stupidity of my thirties, I stuck to a heart healthy style diet. I clung to my regimen of pills that are designed to help keep the numbers in check. I did what I could to eliminate sodium as much as possible. And even though I was actively trying to test the boundaries of how far I could push my organs, I also monitored how I was doing with my ticker because – I’m stupid.

So, this morning when I woke up, and the realization that I had somehow come to the other side of a fear that has weighed on me for around 30 years, two things crossed my mind: “I did it, somehow, I did it” and “does this mean I can back off?” Then it hit me: back off of what? Outside of just making sure I eat semi-better, I haven’t exactly done anything except survive. This doesn’t mean I’m gonna just throw up my hands and do whatever. My daughter is nine, and I would like to see her grow to be a woman. So, the game will change to what it was supposed to be the whole time. In short, to answer the question I posed before (what do we do when the fear is no longer a fear), we do what we were supposed to do while we were living in that fear. We live. We move forward. We take a deep breath and enjoy the life we have been ignoring because of the overwhelming presence of our fear.

I woke up today not afraid. But instead of being relieved, I realized I have been completely stupid in how I have approached life. So, today at 43 years, 7 months, 15 days I approach life in a new way – the way I should have done for 30 + years. It is too late to fix the past, but the future isn’t here yet…

Bohemian Rhapsody

Common knowledge is a misnomer.

I personally do not believe there is such a thing as something that everyone knows as specific knowledge. I do believe there are common actions and reactions – ways in which we understand how to naturally defend or oppress which is driven by innate understandings of our environment. But common knowledge would mean that we all think the same way which would mean that we would all have to live the same lives. The reality is that we do not.

I often tell my students that they have been lied to all their lives as being “special.” I explain to them that none of us are particularly special – however – each one of us is unique. Let me explain the difference: to be special would be to say that you have lived some way of life that would put you above everyone else. You have become the epitome of everyone who wants “success.” The problem with this idea is that success is defined by each person differently in different environmental circumstances. My success may be defined by having just enough retirement savings to live another 10 years beyond retirement. Someone else my own age, living in a deep portion of the amazon in some “uncivilized” culture may see success as making it through just another day. For that person, retirement doesn’t even exist. Thus, the person that I see who has achieved the goal of saving enough to live comfortably beyond retirement becomes “special” to me, but they mean nothing to the deep amazon Brian counterpart who is constantly making sure that they survive one more day.

But to be unique – you need nothing to accomplish that. Each one of us lives a life that no one else can live. No one else on this planet can or will ever experience life the way I have. The total sum of events in my life have happened to me only in the order, consequence, and experience that I have observed them. They have completely shaped how I interact in this world, and they have created the knowledge that I have.

Thus, in sum, the knowledge I have is unique to me only. There is nothing that I have seen that can lead to a connection with some kind of common shared knowledge as the knowledge I have belongs to only me. I can use my knowledge to make connections with other people through a shared sense of experience, but the experience itself is different from individual to individual. How we interact with others comes not through what the group understands, but what the individuals understand based on their personal experiences. Commons knowledge then is nothing – common connections, that’s a different story.

Hot Blooded

The thing about language is that context drives meaning. The meaning of that context then drives how we interpret and digest what the language is telling us. For example: if I said “alternative archaeology,” some of you would immediately think “ancient aliens,” “lost civilization,” “life implanted on earth.” But, if I put it into a context that infers a different meaning around the two words “alternative archaeology,” then you as the audience do not even go in the direction of “kooky science.” You instead define the terms based on how they are being presented in the sentence.

So, let’s talk about UFOs.

A UFO is typically defined as an unidentified flying object. Inference from previous contexts leads to alien spacecraft that people get taken up into and given a butt probe before being beamed back into a trailer park in Nebraska amidst swamp gas (because there is so much swamp gas in Nebraska…). But, if I’m walking through the living room, and my daughter launches a bouncy ball from across the room, I don’t see the action of her bouncing said ball, and it goes flying across my path at speeds my brain cannot immediately comprehend due to the environment that my brain is in at the moment, I see a UFO. The ball knocking a glass over and the glass shattering then defines the object that I will proceed to throw away in an angry huff leaving a nine-year-old broken hearted and temporarily hating her father.

But, let’s say I am walking across a parking lot at 5 pm and look up to see a long, silver shaft hanging in the sky for a few seconds before it zooms off silently. I have seen a UFO. I am crae crae.

Because I have defined the same phenomena with two different objects in two different settings, the term has changed based on where and what the object was. Maybe I saw a new vibrator flying across my path in the parking lot and I did not hear it land on the pavement. Maybe I saw a reflection of something as a car went by me. Maybe I saw nothing and my brain for a few seconds glitched and showed me something that wasn’t there (my daughter would love that idea in the case of the ball).

Or maybe I saw exactly what the term was originally meant to describe: an object in the sky that I could not identify. No aliens, no swamp gas, no weather balloons.

Here’s my point: the issue isn’t really about UFOs, it’s about how we define terms and connect specific feelings and prejudices to them. At a moment in time like this one, we tend to connect the extremely negative to a group and how they interact with that negative when they themselves have no responsibility in the creation and definition of the negative. An person of Asian decent did not create COVID. They are not more prone to it. They are not secretly plotting your white doom. So don’t be a douche and humiliate a poor college girl born in North Carolina because she inherited physical Asian attributes. Not all Asians are Chinese, not all Chinese are communists, and not all communists want to take over the world through giving you a super cold.

Endless, Nameless

There is a quote attributed to Kurt Vonnegut which says, “[w]ho is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” Coming up with something to say – the ultimate trick.

Depending on the day, my mind wonders from issue to issue, historical moment to historical moment, cultural problem to cultural problem. So far this morning, in the two hours I have been awake, my mind has wondered from COVID to the MLB to the NFL to plate tectonics to laundry to Literature studies to YouTube to social media in general to David Sedaris to this: a meandering ADHD style blog post that is currently taking up space on a digital page.

Over the years, I have tried to force myself to write each morning. I am now on day four of my most recent endeavor to try this, and for the first time ever, when I ran into the issue of not being able to land on a single topic, I did not stop. And here we are – meandering.

I’m getting burnt on the front page of the Post. Not because I’m burnt on news, but because the headlines are the same every morning: Trump screwed the pooch on COVID. People are dying. Everyone is bored. Joe Biden is ___________ (fill in the blank). A picture of Nancy Pelosi in a mask beside a picture of Mitch McConnel without a mask. A graph that updates every 60 seconds.

Recently I have turned more to YouTube than I have before. To say that a new tidal wave of content has hit the social media platform is an understatement. Which is cool – creativity is enjoying a mini-renaissance. But most of what I have found myself doing is following rabbit holes into weird – alternative theories (NOT conspiracy theories) that present different points of views of established knowledge. I have also reveled in the two to three-hour long interviews across different podcasts and shows like Joe Rogan, Rich Eisen, Dak Shepard, and Whitney Cummings. I’ve been watching documentaries on the NFL and MLB, 30 for 30 films, “The Last Dance,” Friends, The Nanny, and Nova.

What bothers me is that my default explanation of this is that the pandemic has caused this rut. But has it? If there were no pandemic, and there were no stay-at-home order, I would still be sitting in this chair, still staring at this screen, still whining. There is a reason I have struggled to create a meaningful schedule of writing in the past when there was not a pandemic: patience. Patience with your own brain is hard to manage. When I have a creative urge, and I am stymied in expressing that urge through music, writing, drawing, etc., I get angry. I get anxious. I get mean. Understanding that creativity and art are the product of patience is an epiphany waiting to happen. And it only happens when the artist forces themselves into an uncomfortable position that they have avoided before.

I think I am there. I’m in the backseat of a Volkswagen.

More Than a Feeling

Creating content today is not as easy as it used to be. It could be that I am old or that the audience has been trained to expect something different. What ever the reason, I have been struggling to come up with anything original for a while.

The Richard Cranium character has gone through a few different evolutions over the years. He was born as a game show host for a sketch I wrote in college back in the late 90s. Later, he was a columnist without an outlet, and now, in his latest and probably final role, he has gained a 50s style news program where he will “dive” into issues that seem silly on the surface but build a deeper opportunity for real conversation. I am still struggling on how to fully fill him out, and trust in the process of repeated exposure to help narrow his character.

So, who is Richard Cranium?

First and foremost, as his name suggests, he’s a dick. But he’s also an idiot – he is the fully realized physical embodiment of my own personal imposter syndrome fears. He is a highly educated man who slept through most of his education, and he blends numerous over-exaggerated stereotypes into a ball of eyebrow raises and quirky pronunciations of words. He worships the giant icons of news – Murrow, Cronkite, Brokaw – and believes in News-y style elitism. He is a product of an older age and doesn’t realize he is stuck in the past – quite frankly, he doesn’t care either. But unlike Ron Burgundy who relishes in his own conceived notions of celebrity, Richard Cranium does not care about fame. His view of the world is narrow and simple: he is on a TV news magazine show, and he rules the roost. Outside of the studio, he’s a simpleton who is stuck in a marriage where his wife loathes the very site of him.

But it is in his negative attributes that his positives shine through. His limited knowledge of anything important helps lend to his objective stances and simple truths that he spouts. Of course, this is where the comedy lies – and the message to be produced. And that is where I struggle the most. Turning this arrogant elitist idiot into a vehicle for common sense objective views to be digested by the audience.

This most current version of the character was born by accident thanks to COVID. I was teaching Murrow vs McCarthy in my American Lit class, and because of the quarantine, I had to do so through a video lecture. So, I chose to do so in the form of a 1950s style news magazine broadcast. I couldn’t land on a single voice, so I meshed an odd British accent with a North Eastern ivy league accent and ran with it. I continue to hone the accent, trying to find just the right tone and vernacular.

After the lecture turned out to be quite hilarious, I decided (since I was relaunching The BetaFiles) to create content highlighting this new version of my old alter ego. And here we are.

He will continue to evolve, and more will be added to his narrative – I can only hope that he will do so in a productive way.  

Longview

So, exactly what is The BetaFiles?

When I was in grad school, I was introduced to Word Press and the idea of the blog. I started with a simple looking blog called VanNordan’s Loft about being a father and stepfather who was trying to navigate graduate studies. As time progressed, I stopped. Then, around 2013, I tried to get the blog going again, this time focusing on being a twice divorced single man. That didn’t pan out either.

Around 2015, I wrote a new post about major league baseball and my undying love for it. I left the post there for a while and promised myself that I would build on that.

Nope, didn’t happen.

Finally, in 2018, I started building this brand with a sincere drive to keep it going. I recruited another writer to help with content, came up with a couple of (what I thought) catchy recurring click bait columns, and started a podcast that would be the marquee of the site. We published 67 posts and 10 podcast episodes before my wife became seriously ill and was forced to have surgery. The illness and subsequent surgery led me to suspend (what I had planned to be temporarily) the podcast and eventually the continued publications.

After a tumultuous 7 months at the end of 2018 and early 2019, things began to calm down a bit. Professionally, I found stability I had lost a few years before and was able to help my wife secure our home financially in ways we had felt was lost due to all of the unfortunate events of the previous year.

Meanwhile, The BetaFiles was still lingering in the back of my head. I re-upped with Word Press to keep the domain name, just in case…

However, I knew that if I got this thing going again, I would want to take it in a different direction. During the brief 10 episode run of the original podcast, I was not completely satisfied with the overall format. I wrote it in a three-act frame with a focus on the news and current events. I promised in the first episode that we would stay away from national trends in headlines, and broke that promise in the second episode because, like everyone else, I lost myself to the cyclone of Trump’s news cycle.

And so, the NEW BetaFiles was born. The idea this time is to entertain. I kept one segment from the podcast and threw out the rest. Now the adventure begins – May 8, 2020 is the re-launch date for the new series. What is The BetaFiles? It’s another attempt of a failed rock star / playwright to do something creative. Hopefully, this time it will stick…