Radio (Or The Contemporary Equivalent) Lab

A thought that I’ve been having on an irregular, but recurring, basis for sometime now:

Curating a weekly podcast in which a writer, chosen by me, contributes an essay (read either by them, or someone of their choosing within reason) of around 10 minutes in length. Each calendar month’s essays are all based around a shared theme also of my choosing, but the writers are free to approach said theme as they see fit. (In an ideal world, I am able to pay each writer for their efforts, of course; I’ve already done the mental math in my head for this bit, worryingly.)

Themes and authors are chosen with no logic other than my intuition and curiosity. The overall idea is to create a themed magazine of 40-60 minutes every month with different voices (metaphorical and literal) discussing the same topic from different angles, celebrating the diversity of thought and opinion, while also sharing fun stories and bringing writers of different backgrounds together in a virtual sense.

In my head, it’s called The Anthology.

Maybe one day.

And, Doggone It

So, I asked for a raise from one of my outlets.

(I would have asked for a raise from more than one, but I suspect doing so from the second might have ended with either a no or, worse, a “What if we paid you less instead?” which, as surreal as it sounds, is what happened last time I tried.)

The entire notion of asking for more money is a fraught one for me, tied up with issues of self-worth and selfishness and the like; the very idea that I could think, “You know, I do so much for you guys and it’s actually much more than it used to be, I think I deserve to be paid in such a way that reflects that,” comes with a sense that I somehow have ideas above my station and deserve to be swatted down for it. It’s not a good way to be, I know — I’m in therapy for a number of reasons, after all — but it’s there and I have to deal with it nonetheless.

All of this was exacerbated by the way in which I had to ask, which saw me screw my courage to the sticking post and make my case to my immediate supervisor and then, following his okay, have to make my case in more detail, with an argument for why I’m worth it, to his boss. (Admittedly, my imposter syndrome has to deal with the fact that I have been approved once already, but still.) It’s this weird, awkward experience that forces me to wrestle with my own insecurities multiple times, with me thinking, Actually, never mind, I’m fine, the whole time.

I’ve not heard back, yet, as to whether or not I’ll get the raise. It’s the limbo part where decisions have to be made and balances have to be checked and I’m here, feeling simultaneously anxious and self-consciously proud for having raised the subject it the first place. But if I don’t get it…? That’ll be awkward.

See What’s Become Of Me

Watching people compare their 2009 looks to their 2019 looks on social media has been a strangely disorienting experience, not least of all because the photograph I’ve been using of myself for whatever official purpose necessary — judging the Eisners last year, for example — are from earlier than 2009. What can I say? I… don’t age…? Or maybe that’s just the story I tell myself.

(To be fair, it’s not like I have publicity photos, per se; I don’t like being photographed, at all, and the one I’ve used so often was simply taken on a trip that I thought I looked reasonable in. I think it’s probably from 2007 or so, if memory serves.)

I have aged, of course. It’s just that it doesn’t feel like something that is particularly visible, for the simple fact that I’m bald, and I have been since before 2009.

There is something genuinely liberating about having no hair. Think of the decisions about haircuts and styles I’ve avoided, not to mention the haircut disasters I’ve missed, if nothing else; I’ve thankfully managed to skip out on having ill-advised moptops or dye jobs purely because they weren’t possible. (Otherwise, I know they’d have happened, sadly.) As heartbroken as I was upon discovering my baldness, via an errant photo of the back of my head about 20 years ago or so, I’ve never quite gotten to the point of wishing I had hair again, or pretending it was still there. No wigs for me, friends.

With a lack of hair, however — or, more likely, a lack of receding hairline — comes a strange kind of agelessness, where people seem unable to guess how old I am, and I look essentially the same now as I did 10 years ago. Or, at least, I did before I grew a beard; a 2018 addition that was part sad-beard and part wanting to make a change, it has all the white hairs and age that would otherwise be on the top of my head. People keep telling me it suits me, which is nice, but that could simply be manners and politeness.

Either way, were I to put a photo of me from 2009 and one from 2019 next to each other, I suspect people wouldn’t see a fine aging or anything similar; instead, they’d say with some justification, Oh, I guess he grew a beard.

And The Morning Seems So Grey

Something that no-one seemed to consider about this whole “living through history” thing is how utterly exhausting it is. We have, for the past two years or so, been in a political moment as dramatic and important as any since Watergate (at least; I’m sure there are those who feel what’s happening right now is more, somehow), and as thrilling as that may be — admittedly, alternate terms may include “horrifying” and “anxiety-inducing”; your choice as you may feel applicable — it also feels as if it’s an endurance challenge intended to destroy us.

The lives and livelihoods of friends and strangers have been constantly under threat during all this time, the moral thread of this country feels at times almost permanently lost, and reality often seems to be folding in upon itself as things which feel like paranoid conspiracy cliches turn out again and again to be true. (As I write, there are yet more stories suggesting with worrying legitimacy that the President’s loyalties lie with Russia, not the US, something that feels as if it really shouldn’t be true, as if that were too unoriginal and hacky.)

The upshot of this is a fraying of the nerves, and a growing weariness towards… Well, everything. There was a lot of don’t normalize this at the start of the Trump presidency from well-intentioned scolds, but how could we not? The alternative was to constantly live in this heightened sense of alarm and disoriented shock, which is an easy way to lose perspective on everything. And yet… isn’t that what kind of happened, anyway? I know that my good humor feels strained past breaking point, at times, now, and 2018 as a whole was a year that broke me — and legitimately broke parts of my life-as-was for good.

I was talking about this to a friend, recently. (Hi, Jeff.) He said that things feel different now, somehow, better in some inexplicable way that felt dangerous to try and identify for fear of simply tempting fate. I feel that, too, and the mixture of excitement, optimism and, to be honest, this beaten-down fear that, no, things don’t get better anymore, they just get weirder and worse is difficult to describe, beyond simply saying that it’s tiring. There was a time, once, when I didn’t feel so tired all the time, and I want to get back there soon.

Or perhaps that’s just age, for all I know.

Then there’s the impact of the digital revolution on publishing and, by extension, on politics. “Our news ecosystem has changed more dramatically in the past five years than perhaps at any time in the past five hundred years,” says Emily Bell, the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Journalism School.23 Digital technology, she warns, has actually put the future of publishing “into the hands of a few, who now control the destiny of many.”24 Social media, Bell says, have “swallowed journalism” with what she dubs—with a medieval symbolism that might have amused Erasmus of Rotterdam—the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, engaged in a “prolonged and torrid war” for our attention. These private superpowers are thus becoming our “new speech governors,” usurping the traditional role of government in determining what can and can’t be published.25 Meanwhile, online publishers—the actual creators of content and, one would assume, economic value—remain mired in crisis, with 85 percent of all online advertising revenue going in the first quarter of 2016 to just two of Tim Berners-Lee’s centralized data silos: Facebook and Google.26 The monopolization of media isn’t just a problem for publishers. With Facebook as our new front page on the world, we are simply being refed our own biases by networked software owned by a $350 billion data company that resolutely refuses to acknowledge itself as a media company because that would require it to employ armies of real people as curators. It would also make Facebook legally liable for the advertising that appears on its network. So what we see and read on social media, therefore, is what we want to see and read. No wonder everything now seems so inevitable to so many people. This echo chamber effect, the so-called filter bubble,27 has created a hall of mirrors, a “post-truth” media landscape dominated by fake news and other forms of online propaganda. Thus the disturbing success of Trump, Brexit, and the alt-right movement; thus the virulence of Putin’s troll factories, networked ISIS recruiters, and the other mostly anonymous racists, misogynists, and bullies sowing digital hatred and violence.

From How to Fix the Future by Andrew Keen.

Recounting the actual history of curating and exhibitions can help us steer clear of a related confusion: that the curator herself or himself is an artist. It is true that the exhibition format has become more recognizable and popular, and exhibition-makers have come to be identified as individual makers of meaning. As artists themselves have moved beyond the simple production of art objects, and towards assembling or arranging installations that galvanize an entire exhibition space, their activity has in many cases become more consonant with the older idea of the curator as someone who arranges objects into a display. These developments have given rise to an impression that curators are competing with artists for primacy in the production of meaning or aesthetic value. Some theorists argue that curators are now secularized artists in all but name, but I think this goes too far. My belief is that curators follow artists, not the other way around. The role of the artist changed greatly over the last century. The artist Tino Sehgal has said that the notion of art generated by sculptors and painters in the early nineteenth century, and fully articulated and established by the 1960s, is detaching itself from its material origins and venturing into other realms in the twenty-first century. The exhibition-maker’s role has expanded in turn. Curating changes with the change in art.

From Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist.