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Category: Thoughts (page 4 of 61)

On secondhand embarrassment.

Last week, Sarah wrote a funny, accurate article about the show Girls (and if you’ve ever wondered what talking to the girl in the dance videos is like, you now have a very good idea). She’s right too: people love to bitch about Girls. It’s the hip thing to bitch about. When the show first came out, I was actually a firm supporter the program. There was a ton of press about how the show was racist because, in the very first episode, there were no black people. Seriously? It’s a show about entitled white girls. Why does there need to be a black person in it? I’m not complaining when some Chinese kung-fu show lacks white people. Get over yourselves. It was only the pilot. Why not let the series develop a little bit before you start smearing it all over the press? Or perhaps the show was shattering a little too much of your own entitled white girl self-delusion, making you uncomfortable by revealing to you just how vapid your life is? Or maybe you are just insanely jealous of how successful Lena Dunham’s been?

Whatever the reason people had, all the negativity toward the show left a really bad taste in my mouth. I was prepared to be a big fan of the show, even though by all rights I am literally terrible at watching TV shows. Perhaps this one would be different! And then I saw an episode.

At about the 15-minute mark in the first episode, I found myself yelling at the TV. Why?

It all comes down to what I call secondhand embarrassment.

secondhand embarrassment (ˈse-kən(d)-ˈhand im-ˈber-ə-smənt)
noun

The unpleasant sensation of feeling shame, self-consciousness, or awkwardness for someone else who is too naïve, stupid, or just plain unaware to recognize that they should be feeling shame, self-consciousness, awkwardness, or some combination of the three.

I am not sure when I started calling this sensation I’d been feeling my whole life “secondhand embarrassment”. I seem to remember my brother Charlie saying it once, but it came up in conversation years later and he didn’t remember hearing it before. Maybe I got it from my older brother Mike. He’s usually pretty sharp with the neologisms. We have friends who call the feeling “the twingles”, which is a cute name, but betrays the true depth of anguish it causes me.

Regardless of its source, secondhand embarrassment is one of my most unpleasant feelings and will quickly ruin any film or television show I am watching. It is not funny when writers rely on putting characters into mortifying situations to generate laughs; it’s mean-spirited and lazy. Instead of making a joke or some clever turn of phrase, they put some hapless character into a situation for the audience to laugh at. I don’t want to laugh at someone too stupid to recognize they should be embarrassed, I want to laugh with someone because they have excellent timing and do something unexpected. It is the comedy equivalent of using an overheard conversation to create dramatic tension. Lazy lazy lazy.

The other night we were watching I Love You, Man and I spent the half of the film we made it through hiding. That movie is the perfect example of the sort of thing that fills me with secondhand embarrassment. Oh, Paul Rudd is a socially inept boob who fucks up every single conversation he has with another man! Hilarious! So clever! Give him the Oscar! Sure, I had a few chuckles, but the film was so unbearable overall that we turned it off. Right in the middle. And I didn’t care. I didn’t once find myself thinking, I wonder what is going to happen to Paul Rudd’s character? Will he make friends? I didn’t care in the slightest. I was so embarrassed for everyone in that film that I would rather die than watch the rest to find out.

Ok, I’m being hyperbolic. I’d rather cut three fingers off my right hand than watch the end to find out.

Another prime example of the sort of schlock that makes me cringe can be found in reality TV. Pretty much all of it. The first episode of this season’s Bachelor was so painful, I spent half the episode pacing around the apartment, busying myself, doing the dishes, tidying up the fridge, because I could not stand to watch the idiot women make fools of themselves in front of the blonde, white bread lead of the show. The woman who came out in a wedding dress?! Or the one who tried to do backflips—BUT COULDN’T?! Oh Christ, deliver me from that sort of hell.

A good non-tv/film example is during any poetry slam. Any poetry slam. Oh my god. Even the phrase “poetry slam” makes me embarrassed for people who take them seriously. Do people still do those fucking things or did we leave them to die in the 90s?

I can sit through just about anything else. Horror movies? No problem. Documentaries about people on death row? Easy! Ken Burns films with soft narration and banjo music? Bring ’em on. But put me in front of something where I feel embarrassed for someone who should be feeling embarrassed but does not and I’ll do anything I can not to sit through it.

Bringing it back to Girls, I spent so much of that one episode being mortified for all the characters that it actually made me angry like a parent getting angry at their child for being a fucking asshole. I shouted at them to correct their behavior. To grow up! Get real! Get a job, you lazy sack of shit! As a reaction, it’s different but ultimately similar enough to secondhand embarrassment that it’s worth lumping together. Indeed, they are close enough that Sarah’s post and a few other recent cinematic experiences got my brain churning on the topic.

Look, I know I’m not the target demographic for The Bachelor or most other reality TV. Maybe I am for I Love You, Man, but that is probably debatable. Those shows and that film are just a couple of example of this offense. I am sure that you, kind reader, have had many moments when you have experienced the shame that someone else should be feeling. The point is putting characters into situations that only serve to allow the audience laugh at them like a bully who has just pushed a smaller kid down on the playground is piss poor comedy and lazy writing. From the moment I was empathetic enough to feel embarrassed for people on the screen, I’ve been unable to sit through this crap and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

That’s it. I’m never writing again.

Because this guy obviously has the most nuts story ever. All fiction from here on out is a shallow waste of time.

Month of Letters 2013

LetterMo2012header2

Remember A Month of Letters Challenge from last year?

Of course you do!

Well, February is nearly here again and that means more letters! I really enjoyed doing it last year so I thought I’d do it again this year. I wrote to a ton of you and even got some mail back. That’s awesome! Let’s all send mail (even though the USPS is on its last legs).

If you don’t remember from last year or are, for some unbelievable reason, NEW to The Black Laser, here’s a description of the challenge.

I have a simple challenge for you.

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

All you are committing to is to mail 23 items. Why 23? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 23 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month.

If you would like me to send you a letter, send your address to my personal e-mail (if you have it) or to joe@ this domain. If you’re feeling brave, stick it in the comments.

If you would like to send me a letter, great! You can send it to my home address in Brooklyn (if you have it) or to my office.

Joe Dillingham
No6
36 W 25th St Fl 15
New York, NY 10010

If you’re interested, you can see my public profile at lettermo.com here.

Awesome. Here’s to another successful month of letters.

Crossfit – Take 2, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Say “Fuck It”

In September 2011, I took a trip with my friend JJ to Spain, which you might have read about before. And, if you haven’t, there’s a handy dandy link in the previous sentence. Hyperlinked!

One night in Barcelona, JJ and I thought it would be an awesome idea (after a few bottles of retsina) to break into Parc Güell. We’d been there the day before, but it was full of tourists and hard to get a sense of what it was really like without the swarming masses of picture-takers. We also saw that the place was only protected by a 10 foot tall stone wall. No razor wire, no spikes, no nothing. So come 1am, JJ and I and our gracious host Iolanda, broke into the park. I had trouble pulling myself over the wall because of a serious lack of upper body strength, but we still managed to get in.

Over the next few days, JJ and I got to talking about fitness and he brought up Crossfit as a good, albeit intense, way to get into excellent shape. He had been training that way for a while and sang its praises. I got excited about it since I’d never really been into exercising before and it seemed like a good, directed way to get into shape. If it was left up to me to self-motivate and go to the gym to spend some time fucking around without any clear idea of what I should be doing, I would never ever work out. Case in point: I never ever worked out. But a class was something I could get into, and having someone there guiding you was even better. Plus, I wanted (and want) to get into good shape and impress this girl I was seeing. Besides, if your fitness goals are based on struggling while committing a crime, you’re probably on the right track.

Back in New York, I signed up for an intro class, nearly died doing it, signed up for the Elements course, finished that without dying, attended classes for a few weeks, but then got sad and drifted off. All the good intentions in the world weren’t going to get me out of bed in the morning to go work out. It was hard enough getting up at all; self-improvement was out the window. I spent a lot of time at the bar, though! That’s pretty cool, I guess.

Fast forward 12 months and a whole mess of life changes and I am back in the saddle. I took the Elements course again at the beginning of December to reacquaint myself with the exercises and ease into the regular (read: beginner) WODs. And I am still attending regularly. Hell, I’m even getting to the 8:30a classes on these miserable 15° January mornings which means getting up at 7:15, getting dressed in the half-light of dawn, leaving behind a nice warm body in bed, and getting on the god damned subway. Crossfit, do you understand what I sacrifice to be there on time?!

DO YOU!?

This time is different in that I feel like I am going to be successful in my goals. I think that deserves an examination. What exactly is different this time than it was a year ago when I stopped attending during the first attempt?

First, and most importantly, I feel a lot better about my life and the things going on in it. That is the biggest difference from last year. It’s a lot easier to take care of yourself, to make yourself incredibly uncomfortable for the purpose of bettering yourself, when you don’t feel like a worthless, miserable sack of shit all the time. Surprising, right? I know it is.

Second, I am allowing myself to be vain. Is it wrong that a big part of my motivation is wanting to look good when I get married? Nope. I don’t feel bad about that being a motivator for me in the slightest. I would like to do away with some fluff and add a significant amount of tone to my body before the date (which we do not yet know). Why not? I am stil trying to impress that girl. I want to do a billion pull-ups at the wedding.

Third, I’ve adopted an incredibly helpful “Fuck it, whatever,” attitude with the workouts. My gym, Crossfit NYC, posts the next day’s workout every day so you can get a sense of what to expect. While I understand that they are just trying to help people plan their training regimen, I found this information to be absolutely poisonous to my attendance. I would read what was planned for the next day and start worrying about it so much I would end up not going. “Oh no, 30 million push-ups?! I’ll die!” or “What the fuck is a ‘thruster’?” or “Burpees?! Fuck you.” It was a terrible way to approach Crossfit.

This time, I don’t even bother looking. I don’t want to know until I get there and it is too late to leave. There are enough things that get in the way of showing up (work, life, soreness) without psyching myself out about it. Now I just go when I can and think “fuck it, whatever the WOD is, I am going to do it. It might be miserable, it might be fine, but whatever it is, I am going to do it.” So much better. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, that attitude echoes a lot of what I’ve written here on The Black Laser about being a creative person. And it boils down to “shut the fuck up and do the work.”

Here’s what we’re looking at for the weather tomorrow morning when I am supposed to be getting up and going to work out.

That's in Fs, my Metric friends.

That’s in Fs, my Metric friends.

Am I worried about it? Yup! Sounds miserable.

Is it going to stop me from working out? Nope! So it’s going to be cold! Fuck it, whatever. See you guys on the other side.

Crossfit – Beauty In Strength

Besides the fact that these ladies are all super cut, I think that this video has an incredibly positive message for not just women, but anyone who is trying to improve their health: work hard and focus on the things you have power over, and you will succeed.

I suppose the advice echoes the serenity prayer (without the God aspect) which every 12-stepper knows. The truth is, though, that it is good advice and a good way to look at life. And it applies to so many things. Want to write books? Want to kill a million dudes in Halo? Want to own a business? Want to deadlift twice your body weight? It doesn’t matter: work hard, control the things you can, and you will get there.

Do your ten thousand hours.

Do the work.

My brother is starting a whiskey company in Tennessee.

The arrow indicates the brother in question.

The arrow indicates the brother in question.

And the Tennessean has a profile on him and his business partner Sean’s efforts to get their company up and running.

A little clip from the article my dad forwarded to me.

Former Notre Dame quarterback Patrick Dillingham plans to join the growing legal Tennessee moonshine industry by launching the American Born Moonshine brand later this year through his Nashville-based Windy Hill Spirits.

The startup has raised $2.5 million of a planned $5 million fundraising round and has 18 investors, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

A California native, Dillingham, 29, was a walk-on quarterback for the Fighting Irish and played backup in the position during the 2002 season. He has since earned an MBA from Stanford.

Pretty sweet. I especially like that he’s decided to name it Windy Hill after a landmark in our home town. It seems like a stupid, generic name, but it holds some significance for our family on top of being a nod to where we grew up.

Patrick joins a strong group of booze producers on both our mother’s and father’s side of the family.

Best of luck, Patrick, and I want a bottle of the first batch. Well, two bottles: one to hold on to and another to drink.

WordPress.com’s Year End Report

WordPress.com does a year-end report summarizing The Black Laser’s activity for 2012. I thought it was pretty interesting, so I’ve made it public for everyone to see.

Wordpres.com’s 2012 Report for The Black Laser

38,000 views. Not bad for something I let flounder for a good portion of the year.

The cat game.

I play a game with Sarah that has no name and very few rules. In fact, it might have only one rule, a rule which I have imposed upon the game myself: no repeats. Everything else is fair, but repeats are expressly forbidden. You see, what I do is every day around when I think she has a little lull in her day before peak-stress, I send her a funny cat photo.

hxKXt

The cat photos can be anything: funny cats in costumes, cute kittens, dumb looking cats, kids holding cats up like The Lion King, whatever. The only thing dictating the cat photo is my taste…and whether or not I think she’s going to like it. Therein lies the game.

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See, I never really know what she’s going to like. I suspect, I estimate, I gamble, but I am never entirely sure if she is going to like one photo more than another. Some choices are more obvious than others, but there’s always a risk.

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Because I am never sure, I’ve collected a huge variety of cat photos from all over the internet. Then I dole them out, one at a time, when I think the moment is appropriate.

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I almost never get direct feedback on the game. I only know if I’ve hit a home run one of two ways. 1 – She posts the photo to someone else’s Facebook. 2 – She changes the lockscreen photo on her iPhone. The most common is the latter. Both make me feel like a complete winner.

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So. The folder of used cats on my phone grows and grows (remember, no repeats is the only rule), and finding myself amazed at the myriad idiot, adorable cat photos the internet produces. It’s amazing. And startling. And a little bit scary. But they are out there, just waiting to be sent.