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The Black Laser

The Avocado Book

The girls have this book, Little Avocado’s Big Adventure, and it’s got this cute little avocado finger puppet in the middle. Look:

He’s cute! You can wiggle him around while reading it and they absolutely love it. Easy to please, sure, but the little extra jazz is fun. If you look closely enough, you can see that they also think the book is quite delicious.

From the cover we learn that Little Avocado is going on vacation somewhere to sit by the pool. That certainly seems like a Big Adventure, especially if you are 11 months old. While I’m not totally clear on how an avocado wears the flip-flops on the floor next to his lounge chair, I’m willing to go along with the story.

This is nice! Our little avocado buddy is hanging out with other food friends. We’ve got our short and green avocado, a tomato, a lime, an onion, a Mexican bag of tortilla chips, and another slice of lime. Who seems to be in some sort of distress? Perhaps because he’s so tart? Or because he has been cut? It’s not really clear why Mr. Lime Wedge is unhappy. We can only speculate.

He’s getting ready for his trip! I hope he’s packed all the essentials. The onion is crying (or laughing) because that’s what onions do to people. Unless you’re wearing contact lenses, but that’s a discussion for another post. Everything else seems to be in order. The tomato is jumping. The whole lime is having a great time. The bag of chips’ mustache looks great. And the lime wedge is…. screaming?

Oh.

Oh my god.

The avocado is afraid of being murdered to make guacamole.

The little green avocado is escaping the kitchen where he is due to be cut open, scooped out, and mashed with his friends into the “world’s best guacamole”. And the only one of his friends who has any idea is the already mutilated lime wedge. The bag of chips has been disemboweled and his insides are dancing around the bowl. The tomato and onion have no idea what fate has in store for them. The avocado is abandoning his friends so he does not have to meet the reaper.

This isn’t a story about going on an adventure; this is a story about someone running for their life.

He left the lime wedge! So consumed with fear for his own life, the avocado left his friend who directly requested aid behind to suffer the very ignominious fate the avocado is running from. Perhaps the avocado is a self-centered monster who doesn’t care about anyone but himself.

Nevertheless, he’s on the plane now with some other fruit friends, none of whom are Mexican stereotypes, literally flying for his life.

A good question, to be sure. Based on this map, the avocado is either coming from somewhere in Yukon, Canada or from Russia’s coast along the Kara Sea and is destined for Western Australia, with a layover in New York City.

Though the book claims we’ll never know, I feel like we established where avocado’s flight from the clutches of the grave took him. Palm trees, sunshine, pools. Little guy is in Perth or somewhere in the vicinity.

But, wait a second. Wait a second. What is that on the table next to avocado? Is he drinking from the hollowed out skull of a coconut?? Forget that strawberry, banana, and pineapple seem to be totally cool with this refreshment abomination, witness protection program avocado is a monster! First he abandons lime wedge, and now he is enjoying a beverage from the split open head of another fruit friend? What bleak hell is this book? Murder! Abandonment! Cannibalism! Mutilation! Racism!

And thus ends the nightmare that is Little Avocado’s Big Adventure. Thankfully we only have to bear 12 pages of this ghastly tale. The mind of Brick Puffinton is a truly horrifying place.

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A Brief List of Goals for 2022

While I’ve gone over my primary goal of staying away from social media for the year previously, I’ve also been thinking about some things I’d like to accomplish for the year. It’s not a bad idea to add a positive thread to a year about avoiding things, even if the things I’m avoiding are crazy-making.

These aren’t just personal or professional goals, but a mix of the two. In this era of working from home in the midst of being a stay-at-home parent, the lines between the two types of goals are often hazy, so why not mix them together in this list and let it fly? They’re already mixed together in my head. Besides, work is essentially personal since, for me at least, I work to support my life rather than live to work.

I share these with you as a commitment device. If you, faceless reader, know that I am striving to accomplish these things, then I will more easily be able to pressure myself out of slacking.

In no particular order, here we go.

  • Record some TBLR episodes: I dabbled with The Black Laser Reads many years ago and then sort of let it drop. However, I’ve been thinking about The Black Laser Reads non-stop since then. A dig through the post archive reveals that only two episodes were released, both in the in summer of 2011. That means it’s been bouncing around in my head for ten and a half years with little public action. I’ve finally got an acceptably imperfect VO booth set up here in my office and an ever-deepening list of public domain works that I am interested in. It’s just a matter now of doing the recording.
  • Make more photos: Sarah and I have this crazy idea of owning a photo studio one day, but, as a photographer, I feel like I still need lots of practice. I’m getting the dust out and I shoot and process very deliberately, but there are so many aspects I need to improve on before I’d be comfortable charging for the work. Practice practice!
  • Improve my photo compositing skills: I am like a B-minus level photo compositor. The problem is that I don’t really know what I need to do to improve. I enjoy the work, definitely, but I am at a bit of an impasse where I need some structured education in the matter. I really just want our holiday cards to be better than everyone else’s. Simple.
  • Write more on The Black Laser: I’ve already started doing this. I’d like to keep it up. At the beginning, I wrote here all the time about anything that interested me. A lot of it is very bad, but that is the price we pay to get better at a skill. Then, for many years—let’s call them “The Quiet Years”—I worried that no one cared at all about what I wrote here. That is the result of my skill and taste levels increasing at different rates. Significantly better taste with moderately better skill. Many ideas were hatched and all were killed by the “Why bother?”s. Much silence ensued. Now, while I am still unconvinced that people are too interested in what I have to write, the whole purpose is the bother. That is, the work is the reason to do the work. And I’m enjoying it again!
  • Write some more stories: During the class at Cabrillo I was on a streak. Sure, it was for the class, but I was in the mindset and the barrier to the work was low. Then we had COVID hit the world, the cross-country move, the triplets pregnancy, the temporary move to Maryland, the birth of the girls, the unending hospital misery, the loss of Olive, the move back to Delaware, and the struggle to figure out how to be parents who work. Somewhere along the way, the needle just sort of popped out of the groove. I’d like to flip it over and start the B side.
  • Make a local friend: It’s crazy what social distancing and two little girls who can’t walk yet will do to prevent you from making friends. No one’s fault, of course. As much of an introvert as I am, having a friend within driving distance would probably not be such a bad idea. How to make that friend is a totally different proposition.
  • Continue to practice my penmanship: My handwriting is not bad, by any means, but it is a funny mix of half-remembered cursive and printing. You will often see both a cursive S and a printing S in the same word. I purchased the Spencerian Penmanship book set a few months ago and was steadily practicing while doing overnights just after we brought Penelope and Beatrice home. After the move back to Delaware, I have not been keeping up with it so well. There’s something about not having 8 hours of forced quiet time every single night to make you lose sight of the learning you were doing. Of course, my penmanship doesn’t matter at all, but it’s something I’d like to improve so I am going to.

That’s kind of a lot of stuff, I guess. But there is kind of a lot of time in a year and it is important to have goals. Keep up with me and see how far I get! Commitment devices!

Also, you might have noticed an audio file embedded in the top of this post. Click it! That’s me reading to you on my website for your enjoyment. I thought that adding audio versions of these posts would be a fun way to add a little value to the site and give me a chance to hone my monologue editing skills. You get all the benefit; I do all the work. Win-win.


Photo by Erfan Afshari on Unsplash

The Theme for 2022: No Social Media

Social media is bad. There’s no denying it’s bad. It’s been a major source of the disinformation which earned us Orange, a prolonged pandemic, and Q supporters. It’s also incredibly distracting, makes people compare their lives to illusions, and can be alienating. The companies that run the social media ecosphere are villainous with little respect for their users, only seeking to commoditize attention. This is no secret. No one doubts this.

And yet, social media used to be fun. When I first signed up for Facebook—which I assume was most people’s first major social media exposure—it was great. It was fun to see what people who I hadn’t seen or spoken with in ages were up to. I enjoyed looking at people’s silly photos and reading about their trips and lives and ups and downs. It was nice to bullshit with people in a way that allowed me not to face my crippling phone anxiety (sorry, everyone, I still love you). It often felt a lot like real connection. Distant, sure, but genuine still.

Then we had Twitter, Instagram, and a whole host of also-rans which worked themselves into our daily lives. And they were pretty fun, too! Each in their own way. Twitter was a fun way to interact as succinctly as possible. Instagram was a fun way to get a photostream of in-the-moment photos of what people were up to. That was pretty cool!

But then things started to change. Slowly. Imperceptibly. Yet change they did.

People started to perform for social media, instead of allowing their social media pages to reflect how they actually behaved. We saw the beginnings of what would come to be called “influencers”, a term nearly as cynical and heartbreaking as “content creator”. Soon after the advertisers came. And with advertisers came real money. And with real money, the platform was doomed.

Users transformed from participants in a network of real people, to click-throughs and eyes for a new generation of internet advertising. Sure, the new ads weren’t the old pop-ups everyone rightfully hated so much, but they were just as intrusive, just as in-your-face. And, worse, it was often harder to tell what was an ad and what was genuine. They learned to dress ads and news and lies in a friendly disguise. Those of us who were savvy understood the difference, but your uncle who grew up in a world without any internet at all didn’t.

Now, my Facebook feed is full of ads, suggested posts, and nonsense. I use an ad blocker and an additional browser plugin that cleans up the feed and it’s still filled with nonsense. Where we once got posts in a chronological order, the algorithm now puts them in some impenetrable order which is decipherable only to its machine intelligence. Why can I not just see what the most recent post is, by default, all the time? My well-curated selection of liked pages means nothing when Zuck & Crew just put whatever the hell they want in front of me any time they please. My eyes are vastly more valuable as a target for ads than I am as a contributor to the platform.

Instagram, now also owned by Facebook, is just as bad. Suggested posts slipped seamlessly into my feed, an unending stream of reels which I didn’t sign up for, ads shoved into ever crevice, and posts presented into the algorithm’s order.

All the old pleasures of the platforms are gone. It has been a death from a thousand cuts, but, finally, now, it has reached a point where it’s just not worth it any more. All social media gives me now is anxiety from yet another political post or someone else asking for me to be outraged about something or some dire click-bait news about something I have no power over shoved in my face. If I have to see one more photo of Mitch McConnell’s wattle in my social media feeds I will lose my mind.

It all just stresses me out. We have a duty as adults not to subject ourselves to things that make us crazy for no reason. Many things in life are unavoidably crazy-making. Why not eliminate the things we can?

With that, my theme for 2022 will be:

The Year Without Social Media

Seems simple, right? It’s not! Stupid social media has become such an easy crutch for me, my most favorite of all time-wasters even if it constantly makes me feel bad. Many of you have had me leave stupid comments on your posts or click through your Instagram stories (without my sound off) or whatever this or whatever that. This year I’ll be having none of that. For me, it’s time poorly spent avoiding doing things that would ultimately make me feel better even if they are more difficult in the short run. Like writing here on The Black Laser.

I won’t be checking my feeds this year. At all. None of them. If I had a way to check to see what my friends are family are posting without being subjected to endless aggravating noise, I would. All day! But I can’t. Clearing out that section of my head will be helpful. If your trash can was full, you’d take the trash out, right? Same thing.

I’m not glassing the earth, however. I still think my accounts will be a good way to direct people here. I still want to share and no one reads blogs anymore without being pointed to them. So, the accounts will stay with handy signposts to come here to The Black Laser to follow-up and see what I am doing.

I don’t know if I will eventually come back after the year is up. I am not even sure how it will make me feel. Better? Worse? More isolated? Less aware of my isolation? The whole point is to detox to see how I feel. Get some things done. Make some stuff. If I get to the halfway point in the year and I find myself direly missing social media, I’ll come back. Or if this year ends and I realize some utility for enduring the misery, I’ll come back. However, in the meantime, the break will be nice.

You want to see cute pictures of the girls? They’ll be here! You want to read my inane, messy thoughts about my life? This is the place! You want to comment on something I wrote or shared? Do it here! I’ve already got a platform; I built it myself thirteen years ago. There are no ads, no trackers, no algorithms. This is what it is and I encourage you to make yourself at home here with me.


Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

Photo by Trollinho on Unsplash

Book “Review”: Station Eleven

Goodreads tells me it took me nearly five months to read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. That is between October 5, 2020 and February 10, 2021. Quite a long time to read a mere 333 pages of prose. While I am not the world’s speediest reader, five months for a novel this length is pretty long even for me.

I jumped into the book knowing nothing about it on the recommendation of a friend. And, boy howdy, was it a humdinger. Eight months into heavy COVID, and I am greeted to a post-apocalyptic novel about a world ended by a super flu. I found the whole setup a little TooCloseToHome dot com for me and had to put it down after a little while, hence the protracted reading period. And if you’re worried about spoilers, this all happens within the first chapter of the book.

It’s not that the novel is bad. Not at all. It’s fantastic. Compelling characters. Beautiful prose. A lushly painted world. But it was causing me all sorts of anxiety reading it, and in October of 2020 I just was not in the headspace to finish it. So, I spent some time with some horror novels and short stories and came back to the book when I felt a little more balanced. Which, doing the math, must have been around when the girls were born. Makes sense. While the pandemic hadn’t lifted, a vaccine was in sight and Trump had lost. Two major stressors out of the way allowed me to dig back in without losing my dang mind.

Would I recommend this one? You bet. If you’re happy to experience a beautifully-written, time-hopping story in which the plot is a distant second to the inner lives of the characters, then this one is for you. St. John Mandel has a gothic sensibility with the way she treats the ephemerality of life after the end of the world as it contrasts to the always-on, always-available life before. It is almost poetic, a meditation on how easily things come and go and how fragile our lives actually are.

Plus, there’s an adaptation coming out on HBO any day now. You might as well spend less than five months with the novel before binging the show.

Anne Rice has died.

The announcement of Anne Rice’s death is making the news today. As with many weird kids, her Vampire Chronicles books were formative for me during my teen years. My friend Derek Lomas let me read his well-worn copy of The Vampire Lestat one summer at camp in the mid-1990s and it kind of blew my mind? I’d never read anything quite like it before—lurid, violent, sexy, rich—and I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite like it since. I went on to read everything through The Vampire Armand before sort of losing track of the series as one does as an 18 year old.

More recently, I listened to the audio book of The Witching Hour, the first book in her Lives of the Mayfair Witches series. It accompanied me while driving to doctor appointments 2 hours away during Sarah’s pregnancy, then to see the girls in the NICU, and finally to see Olive in the PCICU. It is a massive book and the recording clocks in at more than 50 hours, providing me with a lot to listen to during one of the harder moments in my adult life. Kate Reading’s narration (and amazing Dutch accent) of Anne Rice’s words is an inextricable part of the memory collage of the whole experience. A nice part, as it goes.

So, thank you, Anne Rice, for the escape. First for the escape from aches and pains of being a teenager, and second for the escape from the nightmare around a terminally ill child. Rest easy.

The Lure and Repulsion of Outside

COVID has turned me into a shut-in.

Ok. That’s not entirely true. A more accurate statement would be that COVID, moving across the country to a place where I have no friends, having kids, taking care of those kids while Sarah works, and working exclusively from home have turned me into more of a shut-in than I already was. Not some manifesto-writing, greasy-package-sending, sunglasses-mugshot sort, but quicker to stay in and avoid interacting with other people in other than a passing way.

During lock down, I’ve realized I am more of an introvert than I ever gave myself credit for. I knew for a long time that social events took a lot out of me, that the recovery time from those social events was long. I’d much rather hang out at home or with a small group somewhere quiet than be surrounded by people. I am excellent at entertaining myself! It’s a skill I honed through endless years of being grounded as a teenager. Going to be alone for a few days? Perfect! I’ll fill the time with something that I enjoy.

Lock down was that multiplied by, what is it at this point, 18 months? I still haven’t run out of things to do to keep myself busy. I’ve learned that I can go on for a long time and be basically all right with the situation.

Similarly I’ve never been good at spur-of-the-moment social outings. I’ve always needed a long time to prepare mentally for engaging. Even when I have a long time, sometimes I get to the day of the thing I’ve been preparing for and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less. The idea of going somewhere and being stuck in a large crowd fills me with anxiety. Concerts, sporting events, parades, the mall before Christmas, or any place with a ton of people are immediate “No”s for me.

I don’t draw energy from being around people; I spend it. And that equation is not in balance. I am often left in psychic debt after a company Christmas party. Or after schmoozing at an industry event. Or any time I have to turn on the charm and interact with people, especially in a context where that interaction has an impact on the greater scope of my life. When I was an editor, I had this sort of interaction all the time and often left me totally drawn out, temperamental, and grouchy. And while I like to imagine I was reasonably good at hiding my moodiness, I know that I was not.

This tendency had been slowly worsening for the last five years or so, but the protracted period of isolation that COVID brought on accelerated the downward spiral. I can remember in the recent past being at shows with friends and becoming overrun with anxiety about being there and wanting nothing more than to leave. Some of the shows I did leave! But, at the very least, I made the effort to go out in the first place. Now? No way. Don’t even ask if I’ll go. The answer is no.

And, really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to be social. Staying in and tinkering or having quiet time is a perfectly valid, reasonable choice. I don’t miss parties. I don’t miss crowded bars. I don’t miss concerts. I don’t miss any of it. I’ll kiss my babies’ drooly cheeks, drink a beer, and learn about something all by myself. A perfect evening.

The problem at the root of all this is that I feel anxiety over feeling like I should miss those social interactions. Part of me is super cool with not having that stuff in my life for the foreseeable future, but another part of me—a mean part—is all twisted up with this idea that I should be making an effort to get out and interact with the world, make new friends (another thing I am traditionally BAD at), and do more than spend time alone. That part drives me to make bad decisions, fueled by agitation, in the expectation that my life would be richer with more external interaction.

For example, tonight I was supposed to go to a dinner at Sarah’s restaurant that they do every year where they pair a multi-course menu with various beers. Pretty cool! Yet, the idea of sitting at the bar by myself, while Sarah worked, making small talk with people I don’t know so I could create some appearance of wanting to not be a weird shut-in dropped a red-hot glowing lump of iron in the center of my chest. I almost went, too, even though I knew I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I knew it. Certain as sunrise. But part of me thought, Well, I should just go and do the thing because I never go out, even though the rest of me was like, This sounds like pulling teeth.

And when Sarah gave me an out? Oh, you know I took it as quickly and definitively as I could.

Do I feel bad about taking the out? Yeah, a little. But not as bad as I would have felt engaging with strangers tonight, pretending that I wanted to be there.

Would my life be better for having more adult interaction than just Sarah and our babysitter? Honestly, yeah, it would. I’ve been pretty depressed and the growing tendency toward being a shut-in is pretty clearly an expression of that. This has been a hard year. But the solution to my depression is not small talk, surrounding myself with strangers at some event, or engaging socially. I feel confident in that. Still, I feel bad.


Photo by Ian Wagg on Unsplash