Category: The Otter Life

30

I’m 30 now, the age I was always meant to be. This seems like a good time to write a post with some subheads of conclusions I’ve reached in three decades. Luckily, I have subheads AND conclusions, though I reserve the right to modify both.

1. The work is its own reward.

For me, “the work” is writing. (Also sometimes photography, and frequently video editing, but in this particular instance, I’m mostly talking about writing.) For you, it might be something else. Woodworking, perhaps. Or design. Or maybe it’s writing. Regardless, in any creative endeavor, it’s easy to get caught up in the end result.

What will I do with this?

Will anyone buy this?

Will I ever finish this?

For me, these thoughts have been often prevalent. What’s the point of it all, anyway? Money? Acknowledgement? Surely the work must have a concrete, tangible, validating end result to make it worthwhile, yes?

Through a fair amount of seeking, I’ve found the answer to be, “not really.” These things are nice, yes, and we need the occasional sprinkling of them to keep motivation (I do, anyway). But the truth is, the real reward is just the work itself. Not even the final product, but just the work. The process of sitting down to write, or firing up the space heater in the garage and getting into a hunk of pine (or ash? Oak? Whatever you people use). The process. The challenge. The act of engaging, of concentrating, of working through it. Of consciously tuning out distractions and giving the time to yourself to do your work. This is the gift. The cathartic, unique, independent practice of doing your work. And, when it’s over, of having done the work.

That’s where the reward lies. And, whatever the medium, that’s the reason we started doing it the first place. The purpose is the work, and the work is the purpose.

(For more on this, I highly recommend Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Right up there with any book on craft/process. Motivating, enlightening, and an easy read.)

Faith vs. Religion

god-mohawk-cartoon-characterI’ve been on a spiritual journey of late. I’ll spare you all the details—they’re scattered and frankly hard for me to corral—but in the last few years I’ve been trying to reconcile my feeling of connection with a higher power with the seemingly arbitrary (and sometimes hypocritical) boundaries of organized religion. I think we all have that connection, actually; I think a spiritual longing is a deeply embedded part of the human race. It’s part of us, the want for a connection with God. Some call it Christianity, some Islam, some fishing. Even atheism is a form of faith—such a steadfast belief that the only things that exist in the universe are those we can perceive with our limited human senses takes more faith than most religions, in my opinion.

But for years now, I’ve asked myself, “why this religion?” Can it really be that a single set of rules and regulations is the one way, truth, and light, and all others (most of which are shockingly similar at their cores) are flat wrong? What a coincidence it would be that the religion I was born into is the only one that counts. I’m already white and male. I can’t be that lucky.

The Otter Lodge Year in Review – 2015

Retirement of the Year

David Letterman

Screen grabs taken from the the "Late Show with David Letterman" on Thursday, October 1, 2009 on CBS. Letterman tells story of extortion case.

To be clear, this award is meant to recognize a marvelous and distinguished career, not to celebrate the fact that someone’s going away. If it was, it would go to Floyd Mayweather. But Dave! Dave, Dave, Dave. I haven’t watched Letterman in years, but I will still miss him. In my opinion, one admittedly governed by the fact that I never saw Johnny Carson or any of the old timers work, thus essentially pitting Dave against only Leno and Conan for the title of King of Late Night…David Letterman was the King of Late Night. The best ever. As a kid I would force myself to stay up until 10:30 to watch Dave, eager to see utterly pointless and completely hilarious bits like “Bear in the Pool” or “Will it Float?” or the critically underrated series where he sent Rupert, the guy who ran the deli around the corner, out in Manhattan to torment innocent people. Letterman did stuff he thought was funny, and he didn’t give a damn if you liked it or not, and this was what made him the funniest late night host in the world.

 

Otter of the Year

Pup 681

I want this job.

 

Song of the Year

Hotline Bling – Drake

This music video has 226 million views. Please do not watch it. It’s not that the song is bad—hey, it’s our song of the year, after all—it’s just that it’s quite confusing. I’ve been watching Drake from afar for a while now, and have struggled mightily to understand his allure. The man is one of the biggest stars in music today, and yet his work is laden with question marks and paradoxes. The whole thing is a boondoggle!

What do I mean? Let me give you an example: in our song of the year, Hotline Bling—and again, please don’t listen to it, because it’s fucking terrible—it’s hard to tell if he’s rapping or singing. He sort of sits in this purgatory in between the two, doing neither well. Also, this sack of shit worldwide music sensation employs near constant voice modulation, i.e. autotune, but even with the help of the computers, his voice never approaches a tone that is pleasing to the human ear. What artistic choice! While I admit I lack the sophistication to appreciate any of Mr. Drake’s work, I also understand my limits as a critic, namely the ability to understand why anyone would willingly listen to this song. Our song of the year: Hotline Bling.

 

Album of the Year

3 – HoneyHoney

In contrast with our song of the year recipient, HoneyHoney’s 3—the best work to date from my favorite folk/Americana duo—favors more traditional musical elements like melody, harmony, and tune. First time I can remember that I haven’t been disappointed by a beloved artist’s new release. Buy it.

 

Film of the Year

Roar (1981)

Released decades ago, yes, but RE-released in theaters no one has ever heard of select theaters in 2015. This movie has zero script or plot; it’s just 90 minutes of lions destroying a house and trying to kill a family. It’s simultaneously terrible and excellent. The theater run is over and it’s impossible to find on DVD, but message me if you’re interested. I have a digital copy.

 

Author of the Year

Gillian Flynn

flynncouch

Enormously famous for the smash hit Gone Girl, Flynn is so hot right now. I’ve actually read all of her books except Gone Girl—I am so damn counterculture—but can reasonably assume that book is excellent, too, because all of her work is. The woman brings it. If you like raw, turbulent stories with a big dose of weird, pick up Dark Places and be terrified.

 

Internet Phrase of the Year

ALL THE FEELS

In the land of run-on sentences and total chaos over the usage of “you’re,” we’ve—against all odds—managed to dumb ourselves down even further. Yes indeed, the ‘ol internet is at it again, and the online deconstruction of the English language must be nearing completion. This year, we at the Lodge are recognizing the phrase “all the feels.” Generally written in all caps, this term is presumably used to describe something—a video, a song, a piece of writing, perhaps—that made the person in question experience an emotion. Or, if we’re to take it literally, every emotion. Joy, anger, sadness, hope, empathy, et al, all at the same time. Looking past the fact that this is impossible, it’s curious how fixated we are nationally on using language that makes us sound like developing toddlers. Even if we were to say something made us feel “all the feelings,” that would still be obnoxious, but at least grammatically correct. “All the feels” is intentionally wrong, and we use it not despite but because of that fact, as if speaking like a drooling child who struggles with the basics of language is some form of comedy, I guess? God send a plague.

 

Man of the Year

Bob Ross

This is Bob’s second consecutive Man of the Year award. He is love, embodied in the human form. We need more Bob, less…hell, less everything else. As we bask in the joyous observation of Christmas and Chanukah, let his words flow through you, my friends. Be the person Bob would want you to be. Alleluia. Allelu.

Let’s be Honest (Wine Edition)

red_wineYou lying bastards. Admit it: you don’t know what a good wine is. You have no damn idea. You know what you like, and in the end that’s the only thing that really matters, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about good.

We’re talking about “points” (OMG 90+!!!). We’re talking about “the sommelier’s pick.” We’re talking about hundred dollar bottles. We’re talking about all the pretentious stuff.

We’re talking about the idea that a more expensive wine is supposed to mean a “better” wine, and the fact that we all nod along like we actually agree with this. Let’s be honest; we don’t. We all have our favorite grapes and brands, but above a certain price point – let’s say, $20 – none of us can tell a damn difference. Sure, we can tell a decent cabernet from a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, but most of us wouldn’t know we were drinking a $60 dollar bottle unless the price tag told us so. We want to. We pretend to – because it makes us feel smart and cultured. But save for the snobbiest connoisseurs, none of us can.

I’m looking at you, too, waiter, when my lady asks you for a wine recommendation and you suggest a $14 glass. The hell do you think this is, the Virgin America company Christmas party? The hell do you think I am, Richard Branson’s son? There’s no way I’m not putting the squash on that. You already price this shit crazily enough that if I order the $8 glass, I’m the cheap guy. How about you suggest something that isn’t gonna run me a $200 dinner? I know you want us to buy the most expensive one. I get how it works. We’re good on that arrangement. Cut the crap and just tell me which one tastes good.

Gang, let’s stop being beholden to the wine industry’s games. Buy that $12 bottle you like, and stop trying to impress your friends with that high-dollar French garbage. You’re only going to get 4 glasses out of the damn bottle anyway.

On Branding

Some moons ago I was sent to Indianapolis by my employer to attend the NCAA Emerging Leaders Seminar. This event is described as “an annual professional development event providing effective leadership, educational and transitional programming for more than 200 current graduate assistants and interns from NCAA membership institutions, conference offices and affiliate organizations.” For me, it was a free trip to a new city with an expense account.

Thankfully the employer (and our sister office across the highway) saw it fit to send Friends of the Lodge Thomas and Emil (names changed (sort of)), who were my only two friends in Texas at the time. This was important, because my idea of a work trip was (and somewhat still is) to carouse, carry on, and generally sample the delights of a new city, while keeping the “work” aspect to a bare minimum. These things are more fun with friends. AND, there wasn’t any actual work to do. We just had to sit through some seminars and listen to speakers for a few days. Score.

Howl-At-The-Moon-2

70% of the trip was spent patronizing piano bars and sleeping off hangovers, and the other 30 involved the actual activities of the NCAA Emerging Leaders Seminar. This was a satisfactory ratio. And while I learned far more from conversing over whiskey at Howl at the Moon Dueling Piano Bar than I ever would from a lecture in an auditorium, there were some redeeming elements to the actual event.

The first evening, we were treated to two different speakers who were starkly contrasted in both style and content. The first was a guy – no idea on his name – who was billed as a “branding expert.” His talk was titled, “Building Your Own Personal Brand,” and basically revolved around the idea that your personal image should be a carefully calculated fabrication of what you think people want to see. The brand is what matters, he said. In your personal and professional life, you must create your own brand. He spoke loudly and enunciated well. There were graphs and charts.

The second speaker was a reserved, roundish gentleman. He had no script or podium, and rambled through a partial recollection of his career before taking questions for most of his time allotment. His answers were thoughtful and sincere, and he had two basic messages for the Emerging Leaders of NCAA nation: do what you love, and work harder than everyone else.

It wasn’t until Thomas brought it up later that I realized these two speakers were polar opposites. On one end: The Brand. Mold yourself, market yourself, make yourself what they want. Position yourself as an attractive candidate. Wear a tie. Whatever.

On the other end: work hard. Keep your head down, and don’t worry about the other shit. Be yourself and follow whatever it is that makes you get up in the morning.

SBJ200703121901-30I have no idea who the first guy was, other than an empty suit with a binder full of corporate speak. But I do remember the second guy. It was Greg Shaheen, who at the time was a senior VP of the NCAA, and is basically the architect of the modern day NCAA tournament (i.e. the best event in sports, period). I think he’s on ESPN now from time to time. Google him if you want. The guy gets it done.

The point? Shaheen was right. You get where you want by working harder than the next guy, not by “branding” yourself better. And that’s why I despise the idea of branding – yourself, a product, anything. Because what is branding, even? To me, it’s basically creating a false image of something in order to get money for that thing (e.g. sell a product, get a job, whatever). It’s pretending things are something other than what they actually are. Because if they WERE really the thing you’re pretending they are, you wouldn’t have to “brand” them that way. They would just be that thing.

Let’s take people, for example. Let’s talk about branding yourself. Who would you rather interact with? A real person, with quirks and flaws and a personality? Or a cardboard cutout who can “understand where you’re coming from,” and thinks “both sides definitely make some good points?” Who would you rather hire? Someone with opinions, or someone who says what they think they’re supposed to say? An individual or a brand?

Me, I’ll take the human being. Every damn time. So what if you have a misstep once in a while, or go too far, or fart in public? That’s what people do. You’re a person. Be a person. Don’t be a brand.

 

Saying No

You know how we all feel obligated to explain ourselves every time we say no to something?

“I’d LOVE to come to your swanky thing where I’m required to make small talk with people I’ve never met this Friday, but I’m afraid I can’t. I have a, uh…racquetball-related conflict. You know how it is. Next time!”

It’s like somewhere along the line, someone made it mandatory to follow each no with an excuse. I blame politeness. The only reason I’m saying no is because I literally cannot say yes. If I could say yes, I would, because I like you and want you to like me. 

Turns out this actually isn’t a requirement. It is in fact okay to decline a request or invitation just because…you don’t want to. You don’t need to pretend you’re doing a different activity that will take the place of the activity that’s being suggested to you. There doesn’t need to be an activity. It’s okay to have free time.

Actually, free time is good. It’s healthy and will clear your mind for those times when you do have activities. If you ask me, your free time should be protected.

Give it a try. Instead of saying “no, because…,” just say “no.” People will probably look at you like you’re slightly crazy, but if you’re like me, they were already doing that anyway. You don’t need to explain why you won’t do something. You’re in charge of your time.