Stoltzfus Devil Chair

The other day, a friend who chooses to make art rather than work a conventional job presented his latest creation, a sculpture built from found objects coupled with a backstory that blended ancient mythology, Amish folklore, and sexual politics.*  The reaction in some quarters was that he had “too much time on his hands” to have created a piece like this.

Are they right? Or should they seek out some unstructured “hand time” for themselves?

Today’s human is programmed to be a productive creature who is meant to work at making money least 8 hours a day, while filling the rest of their waking hours with activities to ward off idleness.

Being fully employed is a way to “keep the devil at bay,” the devil being the stress of controlling your own thoughts and actions. Many believe that without a normal schedule, you will veer into sinfulness, sloth, and eventually full-on madness should you go slack for any length of time.**

But what is the result of all this busyness? For one, we’re moving in the direction of fusing man with machine, until people are more like the computers they rely on to increase  productivity. Is this a good thing? We’re too busy to stop and find out!

Meanwhile, the race never stops for new products, experiences, and pharmaceuticals to fill our time so we can shut off the incessant voices telling us that maybe we’re going down the wrong path. Our planet is now burning up from the results of our industriousness, thanks to carbon, methane and other toxins being released into the atmosphere.

Maybe not working so much, reversing our mad dash towards “full cyborg” and taking some of the trash we leave behind to create objects d’art is the right path forward. Indian Yogis have known the power of being idle for centuries, sitting in meditation to gain power, aura and knowledge from the state of idleness. Doing absolutely nothing can really be something, as Shiva and his followers can attest.

In another bit of good news for those contemplating a slower life, research shows that when one remains idle, blood flow to brain doesn’t decrease. The blood flow formerly used to “power ahead” and “win at all costs” is used to store data in the permanent memory compartments, so the state of idleness improves the sensitivity of the brain helps you retain information.

Still, the world today only allow idleness as a function of old age, the retired sitting on porches and staring out into the void. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s more a function of gravity taking it’s toll, than an embrace of freedom’s virtues.

So rather than idleness being the devil’s workshop, reversing our mad dash towards full productivity may be the only way to keep the devil from claiming our souls.

*”Stoltzfus Devil Chair” 

**”I’m crazy busy” is now a frequent refrain of the upper classes. Despite the negative connotations of being crazy — i.e. “mentally unhinged” — it is used as a symbol of status, the implication being that one’s life is full to overflowing between work, family and recreation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Muslim, a Catholic, an African American, a Jewish person, a Hispanic, a Wasp, a native American, a lesbian, an old woman, a gender-neutral person, a Chinese communist, a Russian oligarch, an Iranian mullah, a red state Republican and an Upper West Side Democrat walk into a bar…*

First of all, have you smiled? Or are you already getting your back up at the possibility that someone could be made fun of as this story unfolds? This is a litmus test to your future well-being. Can you survive in the cancel culture without cancelling yourself out?

Let’s start with the facts. Humans are the nuttiest creatures on the planet, and our ability to be “triggered” has become so sensitized that each of us now needs a personal injury lawyer just to leave our homes in the morning.  Our big brains and thin skins leave lots of time to parse language, self-select into special interest groups, and worry ourselves over slights both real and perceived. Each person would prefer it if other people agreed with their opinions. Naturally, each person would also like the freedom to render judgment on those who don’t.

Meanwhile, tribal hostility has been going on since homo sapiens first noticed differences in their appearance (“Hey, you’re not wearing the same bearskin as me. I’ll feel safer if I make fun of your outfit!”) and will no doubt continue despite corporate offices hanging up “Zero Tolerance” banners. Because humans love conflict, and deep down they love feeling superior to other humans, even when that superiority is based on how “caring” or “woke” they are!

If all the wars of history (current skirmishes included) were not proof enough of this idea, we salivate over professional sports, rooting for the home team to “kill” the opposition and raise the championship flag over our particular city of “winners.”

Meanwhile, the media and industry have been harnessing trigger words for years to gain audience share and exploit our interest in being wise vs. being gullible. We like being triggered when it’s “easy” or “secret” or “free.”  We go the other way when it’s “complicated” or “difficult” or “overpriced.”

SuperOptimists understand that people are different, and that these differences should be respected and celebrated. We also know that being overly sensitive is not an enjoyable way to go through life, as you become predictable and boring and whiny and nobody really wants to hang around you (except for other overly-sensitive people).

What’s the best solution? Pure, unadulterated laughter at the absurdity of it all, especially a good laugh at ourselves. We’re all fallible creatures, after all. Laughter is a tonic for all colors of skin, sexual preferences, religious convictions, or gender reclassifications. Laughter is one of the core emotional expressions of joy. Who has ever wanted to turn away more spiritual joy – besides ruthless dictators and antagonists in Charles Dickens’ novels, that is.

So if you think you’re special because you’re a “woke white,” go fuck yourself! And if you think you’re special because you’re multi-ethnic, or a member of a fringe group, or call yourself “they” instead of “he” or “she”,  go fuck yourself! As for us, writing this post with the superior attitude of know-it-alls, we’ll go fuck ourselves too!

See? Now we’ve all got something in common!

*As for the joke that started this column, the fact that there is no ending is what’s funny about it.  To us, anyway.

In the past six months, we’ve gone from world leaders saying there was no major threat from Wuhan to a rip-roaring pandemic. We’ve seen medical experts say that only the elderly and the immune-compromised were at risk, to learning of perfectly healthy people dying from the disease. We’ve been told that wearing a mask is unimportant, to wearing a mask is very, very, very important.

Now we’re seeing various governors arbitrarily decide to keep their states open in the face of increased outbreaks (but maybe they’ll close their states in a week or two, depending), while Wall Street shouts that the worst is over as 20 million people remain unemployed.

If ever there was a time to question authority, this is it.

Looking back, mass confusion is not a new phenomenon; it breeds a group of so-called “experts” who take to the airwaves to tell you what to do next.  From politicians to religious leaders, opinion columnists, business gurus, life coaches, self-help authors, movie critics: Here’s a set of professional guidance counselors that outwardly preach the ability to “live your best life” by following their expert tips.  Yet when in their homes with the shades drawn, they are just as confused, foul-mouthed, and imperfect as you are. 

Perhaps more so.  Scratching their backsides, yelling at their kids, sneaking glances at pornography, greedy for more wealth and power — just like everybody! Remember, despite their confident, toothy grins, these “experts” are not their book jacket photos.

So what is the “truth”?* Which facts do we embrace? Or is life just a lucky guess after all?

What they (and you) can learn from current events is to laugh at the human condition, chortle at our constant foibles, and re-think what makes you happy in the first place.

One way to start? Ignore everything an “expert” says on a cable news show. As Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, put it: “Let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know yourself, and never to trust implicitly the information of others.”

NOTE: The only advice you should follow is your own personal truth.  With just this secret alone, you are nine times more likely to find it! (Oh, and wear a mask. That should go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway.)

Quit vaping. Start making big money in the stock market. Quit dating losers. Start learning how to code.
2020 is here, and with it the pressure to halt all our bad habits, right all our wrongs, improve our posture and lose 15 pounds.
But is attempting the impossible the best way to start the day, much less the decade? And what’s wrong with eating gourmet chocolate while watching reruns of “30 Rock” anyhow?
Here’s the resolution the SuperOptimist always adopts, whether it’s New Year’s Day, Arbor Day, All Saint’s Day, or just another Wednesday: “All is well, life is swell, and I’m good just the way I am.”
By starting the new year accepting every screw-up, flaw, and mistake as the price of being human, you have a 130% better chance of enjoying the first days of the new year.  So ignore all those life coaches with their exhortations to improve everything about yourself.  If they want to drink celery juice and get on the scale five times a day, that’s their problem, not yours!
Remember, the definition of resolution is “the firm decision to do or not do something.” Why not make a firm decision to make no decisions about your future, and enjoy the first month of the year without putting undo pressure on yourself?
By starting 2020 this way, you might find this turns out to be “your year” after all.*
*If you are compelled to figure out how to improve your life in 2020, we suggest looking back on what worked in 2019.  Here’s a short quiz to separate the pluses from the minuses. By doubling down on the good stuff, you’ll assure yourself of more personal victories in the coming year.
MY PERFORMANCE REVIEW 2019 
 What was the best thing I experienced in 2019?
 What was a huge waste of my energy?
 What activity gave me the most pleasure?
 What was my bravest failure?
 What can I try that I haven’t?
 What error can I avoid now that I see it?
 What did I fear in 2019 that I survived?
 Did I handle the bad shit well?
 How many times did I feel joy?
 Who did I like hanging out with?
 Who would I prefer never seeing again?

Another day, another set of absolute miracles taking place. And in every direction!

Wait, you didn’t see them?

Perhaps you have become inured to such marvels. You are not alone. Since humanity started about 6 million years ago with primates known as the Ardipithecus, miracles have become so plentiful in life, we take them for granted.

Yet all it takes to reignite the senses to the incredible phenomena that surround us is to pause and consider that it wasn’t very long ago that humans walked on all fours and had body hair they could neither groom nor shampoo. And today? In haircare alone, you have your choice of hundreds of fabulous shampoo brands! (Here are the statistics on the favorites from 2018.)

See how everyday occurrences we take for granted can become jaw-dropping revelations, just by reframing your perspective? Here are a few more examples that we’ve recently found deserving of deeper appreciation.

DAILY COMMUTE: We take a “train” pulled by a “diesel engine” that runs on “steel tracks” from one “state” to another. That’s amazing!

PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT: We work in a “building” that’s 52 stories tall, has 21 “elevators” and 189 “water fountains”. That’s amazing!

LUNCHTIME IN THE CITY: We eat a “pulled pork sandwich” from a “food truck” one block away, and they give us an “extra side of coleslaw” because it’s almost closing time. That’s amazing!

CHANCE AT GREAT FORTUNE: Twice a week we buy a “ticket” that qualifies us to win hundreds of millions of “dollars” if our numbers are chosen. That’s amazing!

MOBILE PHONE: We all stare at a “computer” the size of a human hand that offers endless news, games, televisions shows, weather, and “shopping opportunities”. That’s amazing!

STREET BUSKER: Every morning there’s a man near the 42nd St. “shuttle” who wears a “paper crown” on his head and plays “House of the Rising Sun” on a red Telecaster “guitar”. That’s amazing!

We could keep going like this all day. And you can too!  Any time you feel the heavy burden of routine starting to drag you into the darkness, close your eyes, click your heels, and remember that you have eyes and heels to close and click.  Then open your eyes, point at the nearest object, and marvel at it out loud.

“Wow, that’s a ‘metal file cabinet’ that contains sheets of ‘paper’ with words and pictures on it.  That’s amazing!”*

*Note: You may need to explain to onlookers why you are behaving like this, as they probably aren’t as attuned to the miracles of everyday existence as you are.

If ever there was a day to consider your quirks, ticks, neuroses, body dysmorphia and secret thoughts to be your most valuable assets, it’s Friday.  So let us help you disengage from the race of the rats for a few moments and celebrate all that is freaky, beginning with the first true oddballs who paved the way for the iconoclasts we rally around today.

While today it can refer to anyone who chooses to take the road least traveled in search of new experiences, ideas or behaviors, the term “freak” originally referred to those with physically deformities or strange diseases. Superstition lead the masses to label these creatures as bad omens up until the 16th Century, when they were brought out of the closet  during the reign of England’s Elizabeth I. Public curiosity led to the development of the “sideshow,” with many of the genetically-challenged agreeing to be publicly displayed in return for a cut of the profits.

Over the centuries, people with physical abnormalities grew into a highly profitable market, specifically in England and the United States, with P.T. Barnum and the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. popularizing the circus sideshow to the delight of ticket-buyers.  In turn, performers of all stripes took this as a cue to develop more outlandish acts in order to shock and titillate audiences who had “seen everything.”

So where do we acquire our current understanding of what “getting your freak on” means? During the early 1960s, former marathon dancing champion Vito Paulekas and his wife Szou established an art studio and boutique in Hollywood that become the epicenter of a new movement combining semi-communal living with free-form dancing. Along with their friends and fellow artists, they called themselves “freaks” or “freakers” and became well known in the area for their unconventional behavior.  Among the musicians and performers of the day who congregated at Paulekas’ place were Frank Zappa, David Crosby, Don Van Vliet, and The GTOs.

It was Zappa, leader of the seminal ‘60s group The Mothers of Invention, who attempted to distance the freaks from being narrowly defined, preferring to champion an aesthetic that eschewed fashion or political leanings in favor of independent thought. He described their behavior like so: “Freaking out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricted standards of thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express creatively his relationship to his environment and the social structure as a whole.”  It’s no surprise that Zappa’s first album with the Mothers was entitled “Freak Out.”  Also noteworthy is that it was the first double album debut in history, which was a freaky thing to do.

At the Mothers’ first concerts, audience members were invited to express themselves however they wished, whether shouting, dancing, playing kazoo, or letting a band member spray them with a foreign substance.  Unlike the hippies with their emphasis on drug-taking and socialized protests, a freak could behave in whatever way they deemed creatively satisfying.

Naturally, being freaky and letting one’s freak flag fly was taken up by popular culture to mean any sort of fun, mischief or invention that could be had at the expense of normality. One way Zappa defied even the normality of being a freak was to make friends with the television avatars of pop music, The Monkees.  According to ’60s historian Barry Miles, Zappa was a fan of The Monkees, and actually invited Micky Dolenz to join his band.*  While that didn’t happen, The Monkees got Zappa to appear on their TV show and in their subsequent feature film,  “Head.”  Co-written by Jack Nicholson, Zappa plays “The Critic,” who commandeers a talking bull on a leash.  In his scene, Zappa tells Davy Jones he needs to work on his music because the youth of America is depending on him.

Today, letting your freak flag fly is something anyone can do, even if you spend most of your time behind a computer, inputting code for a social network.  We invite you to get up from your desk, walk into the hallway, and express yourself however you please.  Just make sure no one from Human Resources is nearby; they don’t let their freak flags fly until no one is around.  Then you should see what they’re up to!

*Shown above: Frank Zappa and Mickey Dolenz, both freaks of nature.

 

 

 

Performers expect to hear applause after they do their job.  In fact, standing ovations have become the norm at entertainment events. But why should this be the case for actors and musicians only?

Getting applauded feels great, and everyone should experience that acknowledgement of their effort.  Hotel maids, traffic cops, baristas, coders, heavy equipment operators, escorts…they all deserve a rousing cheer for a job well done.

And while you’re at it, give yourself a big hand for whatever you’re doing right now. Whether it’s successfully delivering a power point presentation to a grim boardroom, navigating the bowels of Penn Station to make a train, or cleaning out your hall closet, the one you haven’t touched in 12 years — three cheers for you!  Remember, you deserve it!*

*The researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have discovered that applause is contagious, so the more you give yourself, the more others will join in.