The Ongoing Rehabilitation of My Critical Faculties: Revisited

Don in the archives. | AMC

UPDATE, FEB. 6 2020: My Facebook profile is officially dead, thank Crom. By my understanding, it’ll take another thirty days for all of my data to (hopefully) get wiped from their servers.

If you’ll indulge a moment’s introspection, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve allowed social media to completely derail my focus and thinking. To counter this effect, which has been building up over (roughly) the last decade and a half, I’ve deleted my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

First, let me try and describe what’s been happening up in the ol’ noggin as social media’s come to take up more and more space. My hope is that describing my symptoms may help to give this a name — beyond the obvious, of course — and help me to plot a course to safer, more serene waters where I can reclaim my mind.

My feelings include:

• A compulsion to check my social media, if not all the time, then more than I’d like, to be sure. 

• A sort of brain fog that sets in from time to time, most notably when I try to focus on projects that call for extended periods of concentration; specifically, writing and programming. In other words, two of my very favorite things in the world.

I could go on, but if you’re a social media user of any degree, I suspect you may already have at least some idea what I’m talking about. Social media is designed to pump our brain’s dopamine receptors, constantly hitting us with a barrage of comments, likes, loves, ha-ha’s, angrys, sads, and always those alerts, alerts, alerts. Every time I see one of those little red hearts or numbers, my heart leaps with joy. 

Except when it doesn’t. Except when those pretty little hearts spark a deep-seated sense of dread in me. I may talk more about that dread in a future blog entry.

Before I go on, let me pause and point out exactly what this blog entry is: it is — I sincerely hope — a re-entry back into a healthier headspace. You might’ve noticed the title of this entry, the ponderous and pretentious “The Ongoing Rehabilitation of my Critical Faculties: Revisited.” I added the subtitle “Revisited” because I’m revisiting an older blog entry, dated June 6, 2013, in which I explored some of the same themes as today, though I didn’t quite realize it yet. I talk about how my critical skills had atrophied as I was ramping up efforts to get my first novel published.

A lot’s happened since 2013. 

I didn’t know that in September of 2013, my mom would die, setting me into a tailspin. My girlfriend — now wife — and I would have our ups and downs and close shaves before getting married in 2017. I’d go on to start a new small publishing company called California Coldblood Books. I’d get a few novels published, though not in the way I’d hoped when I was a kid. I’d go on to work as an editor with eight different authors on about a dozen books. Some of those books would do well, others wouldn’t. One received a major award. One got shortlisted for another major award. 

It’s been interesting, but as with my own novels, my publishing company hasn’t turned out the way I hoped, either. None of the titles I published cracked the New York Times bestseller list, and although some have been bestsellers in other markets, I haven’t been able to build CCB into the kind of presence that I hoped. 

But regardless of how my publishing efforts have gone, one thing has remained constant: social media has taken up more and more space in my life and mind. 

Part of this was an understandable function of running a small business. It’s incumbent on small business owners to maintain multiple presences on social media for promotions, customer service, and fan interaction. To that end, although I’ve deleted my personal social media accounts, I’ve left CCB’s accounts active and asked my amazing, talented, lovely wife to maintain them for the time being. I’ll very likely ask her to post links to whatever personal blog entries I post. 

So … let’s pause and talk about what it means for me to delete those accounts. First, they’re not all deleted yet. Facebook gives users a thirty-day cooling-off period before completely wiping their account, meaning that a relapse back into Facebookworld is only a click away. (Check back with me in early February, when my deletion goes permanent.) Instagram and Twitter are a little more permanent and instantaneous with their deletions. (And if you know otherwise, please don’t tell me.)

A host of factors contributed to this decision, but one standout came when I downloaded my post content from Facebook. Holy Crom, it was a lot. (In my meager defense, it was content that had accrued over thirteen years.) And it had just … disappeared. I posted on Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram) and  my content just came and went with no archive or permanent home. In some cases, I’d posted some lengthy essays about this or that movie, comic-book, or TV show — inconsequential stuff, to be sure.

But it was mine. And it was gone. 

One of my goals for this blog will be to unearth those old blog entries. I read through some of ‘em, and they’re pretty raw, but there’s some decent material in there. I plan to find the best entries, dust ‘em off, and give ‘em a fresh coat of paint before posting them here. Hopefully I’ll find the odd pearl.

I’m also hard at work on a new novel. I don’t plan to pursue publication through traditional channels anymore. Any novels I write will simply come out through California Coldblood. There’s a long, boring array of reasons why. Some reasons are connected to social media, though most are connected to my experience in the publishing industry. I may write more about that experience at some point, if only to try and offer what advice I can for aspiring authors, editors, or publishers.

On that note, I wanted to further announce that California Coldblood will be making use of Amazon’s extended distribution for the vast majority of its upcoming titles. I’ve tried to let everyone in my professional circle (agents, etc) know about this change, but if I missed you, please accept my apologies and drop me a line if you have any questions. CCB will continue on a far more limited basis with a small group of authors and artists. 

Moving on:

It’s funny—looking back on my old blog entry below, I can detect some personal changes. I was reading a lot of Film Crit Hulk and Birth Movies Death (formerly Badass Digest) in those days. I don’t read either anymore. There’s a long, boring array of reasons why, but in some way, they’re all connected to my relationship with social media. Again, it’s a long story.

I’ve got a lot of long stories to tell about myself. I may want to share them at some point for the vanishingly few of you who may be interested in visiting this blog. But for now, let me simply say that this blog is my new online home. If you’d like to interact with me, it’ll be here or over email or other more traditional methods. 

Thanks for reading!

From June 2013: The Ongoing Rehabilitation of My Critical Faculties

If you’ll indulge a moment’s introspection, I’ve come to a realization over the last couple years: I need to re-learn how to think.

Let me explain:

While organizing this new blog, I’ve populated it with content drawn from three different blogging platforms I’ve used over the years — CC2K, a pop-culture website I co-founded with some college buddies; The Odds website, a promotional presence for a sci-fi novel I’m self-publishing; and my own personal website, which I revamped into the one you’re looking at now.

Over the last 10 years, my critical writing about pop-culture has largely fallen off as I’ve ramped up my efforts to get a novel (or novels) published. It’s been a gradual process. I used to contribute to my pop-culture website CC2K all the time, but as I got deeper and deeper into my creative writing (which has also included some screenwriting), it’s been more difficult to find the time to bang out 2,000 words about Iron Man 2, although I’ve occasionally found the time for that. And to be fair, my professional life — web development and graphic design — has also demanded more and more of my time.

But my current situation is this: I feel like my critical faculties have atrophied.

I don’t mean entirely atrophied. It’s not like I haven’t been able to engage with pop-culture, but when I get into discussions with my friends — a brilliant, brainy bunch — I find myself gasping for breath, so to speak. I’ve been consuming a lot of media, but I haven’t been writing about it with the regularity or intensity that I have in the past.

The writing included in this blog spans more than 10 years of output online. It shows you a few different sides of me. My personal blog, which I eventually ported over to The Odds blog, is far more professional in tone and focused on specific topics related to novel-writing, self-publishing and self-promotion. By contrast, my early writing on CC2K is far more free-wheeling; i.e. far more profane. In the event that anyone has discovered this blog through my web design job, only to get their sinuses cleared when they encountered a screed like “How to Fix Star Wars,” I apologize, although I hope you also enjoyed the read.

Part of me cringes when I look back at those old CC2K essays. That’s a function of getting older, I guess. Writing “fuck” 100 times in an essay about Star Wars doesn’t make me laugh the way it used to, but all the same, there’s an energy, a dexterity of intellect in those old pieces that I haven’t tapped in some time. (Crom, at least I hope there is.)

In my defense, I feel like my powers as a creative writer have been expanding at a healthy clip as I’ve completed more and more works. (Crom, at least I hope so.) But as I organized this blog, I found myself taking an inventory of my virtual headspace. I didn’t like everything I saw. A recent piece of top-shelf cultural criticism brought all of these themes into a single clear Venn diagram for me — “Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. SPOILERS AND THE 4 LEVELS OF HOW WE CONSUME ART.”

It’s a great piece, and I encourage you to read through the whole thing, but here’s the nut graf: We consume media in different ways. Those different modes of interpretation inform how we react to events like last week’s mind-blowing Game of Thrones episode. Those modes of interpretation also inform how we react to spoilers to big cultural events — like that Game of Thrones episode. Film Crit Hulk (an anonymous contributor to Badass Digest, which is another site you should be reading) goes on to argue that TV is one of our last shared cultural experiences; it’s one of our last campfires, and we shouldn’t let our fear of getting spoiled — or spoiling others — prevent us from sitting around that campfire together.

Here’s a particularly arresting passage:


In the event that you’ve been reading every word of my blog with bated breath, you may have noticed that I opened a dialogue about spoilers and media consumption the other day. In discussing my article with friends — my special ladyfriend, especially — I found myself moving in the direction of a deeper, more involved inquiry, but I didn’t come within a nautical mile of the kind of full-body takedown that Film Crit Hulk arrives at.

Part of this is a function of time. I have other demands on my schedule. But it can’t all be a function of time, because I’m sure Film Crit Hulk has many demands on his or her schedule, as well. (Smashing another tank platoon commanded by Thunderbolt Ross, I’d wager.)

I’m not writing this entry to elicit compliments or sympathy (or pity), and I don’t mean to suggest that I was converging on the hallowed grounds of the fourth level of media consumption that Film Crit Hulk describes. (There’s a longer conversation there. Some other time.) Mainly, I’ve been taking a mental inventory over the last few weeks, and the realization that my critical faculties have atrophied (to some extent) has been on my mind for awhile — I’m just writing about it publicly to hold myself accountable.

(Oh, what the hell: I’ll offer a side note — I’ve been feeling a little raw about losing the campfire, even though I feel like there’s a place for preserving the childlike wonder Film Crit Hulk describes. As tetchy as this sounds, I’ve grown frustrated with pop-culture discussions on traditional social-media channels, where just about anything can qualify as a spoiler. I do honestly feel like it’s possible to preserve a spoiler-free experience for someone, but let’s face it: Do spoilers really spoil the experience? I said the other day that simply being told “Wait for the lawnmower episode of Mad Men” was a spoiler for me, but was I really spoiled? Did knowing about the existence of a lawnmower-related episode really and truly lessen the impact of one of Mad Men’s greatest, most infamous scenes? Maybe a little bit, but not really. In the same spirit, back when the first season of Game of Thrones aired, there was no escaping those spoilers online. I had the ending spoiled for me through sheer brute force. But did that lessen the impact of one of George R.R. Martin’s best literary choices? Maybe a little bit, but not really.)

Full stop for reality check: Like I’ve said before — these concerns are silly first-world problems. “Oh, no. I haven’t been dissecting the symbology of Mad Men in exacting enough detail!” Hey, at least I’m putting food on the table.

But all the same, pop-culture occupies a prominent place in my firmament, and I need to do more reps, more sets, more workouts when it comes to analyzing and criticizing pop-culture. I’ve let my critical writing fall too far to the wayside. (If you look at my last few reviews for CC2K, you’ll see that I’ve only taken the time to talk about the biggest releases: The Avengers, The Hunger Games and the like. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not enough.)

Do you see the image at the top of this entry? That’s a shot of Don Draper, sweaty and high as a kite, going through the archives of SCDPSPSP (whatever). I include this image because it’s one of my favorite presentations of a virtual headspace I’ve seen recently. Don descended into a figurative representation of his memory to find an old advertisement he designed. In the process, he connects a few of the dots from his past — dots that overlay his many, many neuroses with women, sex and manhood. (Side note: If you’re not reading Matt Zoller Seitz’s recaps of Mad Men, you should start.)

I feel a little like Don, except my mental account has more to do with my relationships with movies, books, television and other media. (Crom, at least I hope so.) If you’ve read any of my pop-culture writing over the years, or if you’ve arrived here via other means — my self-publishing efforts, my web design job — then I invite you to come with me as I re-learn how to think.

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