Thursday, June 28, 2007

Toxic Attitudes

A week or two ago I began using a small, spiral-bound pocket memo book for jotting down shopping lists, books to look up later, phone numbers, notes, and so on. This was an evolution of my previous Hipster PDA methodology of tearing used letter-sized paper into quarters and binding it together with clips. That was OK, and I always felt good about pre-recycling all that paper, but it always felt kind of ghetto and wasn't really a thing you could slip into your pocket. The clip would dig into your thigh, and the whole thing would fall apart when trying to pull it out.

I have been loving the memo book, but as I began to embrace it enthusiastically it too began to feel a little bit shabby and flimsy. The spiral binding was none too comfortable in a hip pocket, either.

Last night I decided to upgrade, and purchased a Moleskine plain pocket notebook.

Right about now you're probably either silently welcoming me into the Moleskine fold as a Lodge welcomes a newly Entered Apprentice, or you're rolling your eyes and writing me off as another hipster geek, appalled that I would spend that kind of money on a lousy old notebook, and convinced that I only did so because of its popularity.

It's true that some (probably a lot) of people out there have purchased these little black books just because all the other cool people use them. I sought out the Moleskine brand specifically because of all the good word of mouth I had heard... fad or not, there's got to be a seed of truth in there somewhere.

I was not disappointed... and, much like the first time I got my hands on Mac OS X, I have become an instant convert and unpaid salesperson for the Modo E Modo company. Yes, this simple 192 page book cost several hundred percent more than the Mead spiral-bound equivalent, but it is quality. Nice cream-colored paper, thread-binding, sturdy and attractive cover, cloth bookmark, elastic cover band, and a pocket inside the back cover. The thing just sits there and screams at me to pick it up and write in it. It is stylish and functional in the way that pushes my aesthetics button repeatedly. It's a dreadfully tired saying, but you do get what you pay for... and while you might classify Moleskines as a luxury, as luxuries go they're a darn sight more affordable than, say, designer handbags or handmade italian shoes.

And write in my new notebook I have! I can't help but think of it as "offline blogging," which is a perverse way of looking at things considering how many thousands of years humans have been writing things on paper or papyrus. It has been 15 years since I kept a written journal of "deep thoughts" for my high school Humanities class. Journals were to be turned in once a week, at which point the teacher (the best I ever had) would read them and write responsive comments in the margins. After the course ended I continued the paper journal exercise for a while and then migrated to electronic entries on my state of the art Amiga 500, but I ultimately gave it up... without my audience of one, it felt strange to be writing into the void.

I started blogging about 6 years ago, but until I began The Examined Life I rarely ventured into the deep-thinking territory of my humanities journal. There is something about this kind of thinking that lends itself to real, physical writing, and I think I may be headed in that direction. Somebody else out there must be writing a weblog by hand and then posting scans of it online - I haven't gone looking yet, but I'm kind of intrigued/amused by the idea. I would of course include transcripts to keep search engine bots happy.

I am sidetracking myself! About toxic attitudes: When I went searching for Moleskine organizational tips (some people add tabs to divide the book into sections, some people number the pages for future easy reference, some people keep post-it notes in the pocket, et cetera,) I encountered a great deal of backlash against the whole Moleskine phenomenon. The eye-rolling I can take... but the pat dismissal of the notebooks AND anyone who uses them as trendy/shallow/wanna-be/impostors/et cetera goes beyond that. Under the surface there seems to be a deeply entrenched attitude in a lot of people around my age, which is to immediately dismiss the notion of anyone taking anything seriously, or having a real passion for something in life.

Oh, you like wine? Probably jumped on the bandwagon after that Sideways movie.

Oh, you play the banjo? Yee-haw! Banjo = Hillbilly rape! Play that song from Deliverance!

Oh, you collect bladed weapons? What, do you still play Dungeons & Dragons in your parents' basement?

Freedom of religion? Freedom from religion, I say! I'm an atheist and anyone who's not an atheist is a small-minded sheep!

(Examples chosen arbitrarily and don't have much to do with me specifically. Except the banjo part - trust me, if you want to tick off a banjo player, start stomping your feet and slapping your knee, or ask them to play Foggy Mountain Breakdown or Dueling Banjos.)

Nothing is ever genuine enough, everyone's a poser, and nothing seems to really matter to anyone. Mine is the generation that turns its back on their favorite musical acts once they make it big, because if you become wildly successful from pursuing your passion, you've "sold out."

If you're incapable of being inspired or passionate about anything, damned if you're going to validate my inspirations or passions. So in the end, life is just one big negative snarkfest. This is not a new phenomenon, either; one of my favorite Simpsons moments ever is from an episode that aired in 1996:

Teen 1: Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. *He's* cool.
Teen 2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Teen 1: I don't even know anymore.
(Episode: 3F21 Homerpalooza)

I assume this attitude is an invention of my generation... but maybe it's more of a societal shift. Or maybe it's becoming a societal shift as my generation matures and comes into greater positions of influence in business and society.

Whatever it is, I'm tired of it, and discovering the many articulate, passionate voices of Freemasonry online has been a breath of fresh air. It's not just about Freemasonry itself. After much reading over the last month or so I have a better understanding about why brothers like to talk so much about how great it is to be a Mason, but I still think that ultimately turns into a feedback loop if it's all you talk about. It is encouraging to see some of the Masonic weblogs I'm reading touch on other personal interests with that same passion and enthusiasm.

Next step, procuring a fountain pen - another thing I used in high school and then abandoned as most of my written school work went digital. I would also like to improve my handwriting so that my scribblings look like those of a 32 year old, not a 12 year old.


Isaac Davidson said...

A.C. -

I use the more modern equivalent of a notepad - a flash drive. I keep my flash drive on my key chain and whenever I get a chance to write or a thought pops into my head I open a text editor on whatever computer I am nearest and start writing. Then, when I get home, I go online and post. True, it's probably more rewarding to have a notepad and sit under a tree while composing your thoughts, but I've found that a flash drive is more convenient in most situations.

As for the generational difference - I was still a kid when most of the Gen-Xers were in college, but a lot of the media of that era had a profound effect on me. I loved the zeitgeist of that era: the Seattle music scene (Grunge), Eddie Vedder's melodic voice, Lollapalooza, Kurt Cobain's anguished lyrics, and the disenfranchisement that you spoke about with popular culture.

However, the whole thing got so commercialized over time. The "grunge" look and sound was something that artists tried to emulate. I read an article in Rolling Stone (by none other than Cameron Crowe) that said that fashion designers started copying the hand-me-down clothes that Eddie Vedder wore. Like any "movement" the revolutionaries eventually became the establishment. To this day, modern rock is called "Alternative," but what is it an alternative to?

To me, the real essence of that era was the attitude that you have to be real, you can't pretend to be something that you're not. That attitude has been the impetus for my own path of self-discovery.

A.C. said...

Good observations, Isaac! I really "came of age" in the early 1990s myself, discovering much of my identity during my junior and senior years of high school, and then polishing it in college.

My older brother had me hooked on classic 1970's rock from an early, early age, so I really never related to the 1980's pop/synthesizer/new wave aesthetic, nor the lycra-and-hairspray metal bands.

The music and attitude were so refreshing after the 1980s, it really was "alternative" for a while. But you're right, disenfranchisement itself has become the establishment! It's that permanent state of disgruntlement and fatalism that ultimately drove me to seek out some kind of more meaningful connection with society, which in turn led me to the Freemasons.