So, How Was Your Week?
Because sometimes you have to stop drinking from the same poisoned well.
STICK TO SOCIAL MEDIA
Well, let's start with the obvious: I deactivated my Twitter account on Thursday. But it was a long time coming, and people who have followed me for long enough know that this wasn't the first time I’d decided to step away from Twitter. But the previous two times then were reversible by design, and while they were both the right decision at the time (and I don't regret coming back either time), any student of Mike Ehrmantraut could tell you that sometimes, there's no more half measures. So here we are.
Now, I’m not here to try to persuade anyone to do the same thing. My choice was driven by my own experience which was shaped by 13 years (dear god) of following the people I wanted to and etc. etc. But even with the Bad Man banned from doing his Bad Tweets from the Bad White House, Twitter *as it’s structured* just kind of feels like it encourages a shitty mood. Like you wake up in the morning, pull the Awful Tweet Slot Machine Handle, and find out what 10 things you’ll be annoyed at for the day. Did a politician lie about something obvious? Was a pro athlete racist, either today or 10-12 years ago? Did someone make a lasagna with skim milk instead of ricotta in the middle of it? Who’s the rando with a wildly regressive take on gender roles today? You’re guaranteed to find out!
The structure of Twitter also practically demands a judgmental approach: everyone’s allotted 280 characters (and some media, if they want it). Being judgmental serves its purpose at times, obviously, and some truths are so plain that 280 characters is a downright cavernous space to voice them.
But most of them are not that plain, not even close, and anymore even the plain truths aren’t shared by people with a vested interest (either financial or emotional) in not acknowledging them. This letter is no more of an appropriate space than Twitter to hash any of those out, but suffice it to say, it is beyond draining to see two people you agree with politically 80-90% of the time at each other’s throats on account of an intentionally misleading headline that neither of them clicked on. That is every day on Twitter dot com. Several times a day, every day.
There is still a significant part of my brain that looks at eeeeeeverything and thinks “is this #content?” thanks to, again dear god, 13 years of conditioning from that nightmare app. I don’t think I can stop just writing a handful of rough drafts of jokes in my head every day, and I don’t know where that creative energy is going to go now. I do know that I don’t really want to have it go toward trying to get the Good Brain Chemicals from 22 likes and 3 retweets or whatever. No more of that.
Okay, enough of that elephant.
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STICK TO SPORTS
You know what’s a great show if you’ve got AppleTV? Ted Lasso! Yes, you probably already know that, but this is the first edition of this newsletter I’ve written since last August, so we’re talking about it now.
For the tragically uninitiated, Ted Lasso is a show about an American football coach who is hired by a mediocre Premier League team (the fictional Richmond FC, though actual Premier foes do play important plot roles). The ENTIRE premise—name, creator, actor and all, is taken from an NBC Sports Network promo campaign from 2013, and sharp-eared viewers will recognize some of the same jokes that made it into the 2020 show.
What you won’t see in that 2013 promo are the two strokes of genius that carried the show through its first season and beyond (it’s already been greenlit for Season 3, although the arc probably ends there) — 1) the show brilliantly answers precisely why an American football coach is now in charge of a middling Premier League franchise, and 2) an irrepressibly affirmational personality on the titular character.
For a show that, at least in Season 1, never puts a mental health professional on screen, the fingerprints of psychiatry and therapy are all over the script. The instances are too numerous to count here, but here’s a small snippet:
When playing a “would you rather be a panda or a shark” game with various team personnel, one player responds, “I’m me, why would I want to be anyone else?” To which Lasso responds:
At one instance, Lasso refers to “stinking thinking,” which to the uninitiated sounds like another Ted Lasso Folksy Doo-Dah phrase, but is in fact a staple of AA therapy to describe negative thought patterns that lead to self-destructive choices.
The most shining example, though, is almost certainly the “Diamond Dogs,” an Episode 8 subplot that exists as a transparent excuse to get group therapy dynamics on screen (a bit of NSFW dialogue, cover the childrens’ ears before hitting play):
I love everything, everything about the two scenes in that video, namely:
That it’s not only okay to ask for help, but better than carrying a predicament alone.
That self-forgiveness is a critical* aspect of coming to peace with a situation.
That vulnerability is a strength in discussion, not a weakness — Lasso rarely leans on his position of authority over his players, and often acknowledges the problems it can cause.
That men worrying about what women do on their own time is toxic and destructive.
And even that a solid therapy session won’t always be received well in the moment; it’s about how it’s put into action.
*Let’s come back to that one, actually.
A frequent reaction to Ted Lasso that I would see on social media, back in the long-long ago, is that the show often makes its viewers want to be better people. Which is good! And unfortunately rare in popular culture! Not that Breaking Bad makes viewers say “I want to do more heinous things with my time on Earth” or anything, but it sure does seem like lots of shows and movies take their sweet, sweet time getting to the negative consequences of behaving wretchedly.
What I will say is this: a lot of what makes Lasso so endearing is things you can learn in therapy. You should try therapy. Anyone should. You’re not going to get Ted Lasso as a therapist (he’s a television character, not a real person), but hopefully you’ll get someone who knows how to listen, give you exercises and plans to address your insecurities, and maybe, just maybe, redirect your energy in positive directions to the point that the people around you see you in a way that you see Coach Lasso.
This concludes my earnest and passionate endorsement of therapy.
One more thing to address: yes, this is Apple TV+, a standalone streaming service with a weaker library than the likes of Disney, Netflix, and others. It’s a nice promotional toss-in if you’re an Apple customer, but $5 a month is admittedly a dicey proposition. I get it.
Apple does offer a 7-day free trial, and that should be more than enough time to put in the 5-6 hours of screen time needed to power through this inaugural season of Ted Lasso before canceling. Also, if you’ve got a Roku or other streaming device or third-party smart TV, allegedly, so I’ve heard, maybe, a particularly generous friend with their own Apple TV account can sign you into their account from their Apple device without you having to know their password. But none of my readers would ever do such a devious thing, that I know.
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STICK TO MUSIC
One of the more unfortunate aspects of the whole pandemic raging on here is that the feed of new music has slowed considerably, to say nothing of the concert tours that often pay for said music. There are countries who have taken care of business and so limited their virus exposure that they can safely gather today, and then there are the millions of pandingdongs here and in Europe whose reckless behavior have kept the responsible among us in a state of isolated austerity for nearly a year straight. Am I bitter? Perpetually, incandescently. And it’ll probably be until my first full concert I get to attend before that thaws.
Speaking of missed concerts, one casualty of lockdown I’m especially bitter about was an Omaha stop for Sturgill Simpson, an iconoclast of… rock? Americana, I guess? I’d say country, but he hates (HAAATES) the CMAs more than I do. Anyhow, in the absence of his tour, he found a way to bless us in 2020 with two full albums worth of bluegrass sessions, cleverly titled Cuttin’ Grass, Vols. 1 and 2:
The songs on both albums are culled from his prior albums, but rearranged brilliantly for bluegrass, whose organic sound compliments his soaring, soulful voice. The first album is 20 quick bites, some under 2 minutes a pop and most under 3; oddly, the track list is nearly alphabetical, much in the same way that “tidbit” is nearly a palindrome. You kinda just want it to be, y’know. Anyway, Vol. 1 peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard, and No. 2 on the country charts, awfully strong for this type of album AND by an artist with a Puritanical distaste for traditional promotional engines.
By contrast, Vol. 2 (released just eight weeks later, in December 2020) is a spartan 12 tracks, and yet might be better than its predecessor; per Pitchfork, Simpson said this one’s more personal, and that “we recorded everything I was too afraid to do on Volume 1.” Its chart performance paled in comparison, but it’s every bit as essential to Simpson’s catalog as Vol 1.
I realize that this section appears to not have a target audience; non-listeners probably won’t click first on the bluegrass version of a remix album of a new artist, and Simpson’s devotees have had long enough by far to formulate opinions on these bluegrass sessions. But if this is all new to you, click and listen for a while, won’t you? There’s something quaint and beautiful about proper bluegrass, like the cursive of American music.
My hope here is that come 2021 or 2022, however long it takes to not put hundreds of thousands of people’s lives in danger by conducting life normally, is that we get a bluegrass tour out of Simpson and his buddies. It won’t be quite the spectacle that the Sound & Fury tour would have been, but this concept, like his Cuttin’ Grass albums, would be a singularly satisfying experience all its own. I’m for it.
STICK TO AFFIRMATIONS
Thanks for joining me today. We’ll always end on a kind word.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Thank you for not losing your patience with me, friends.
As I mentioned earlier, self-forgiveness — let’s talk about it. An unchecked ego can be terrifically destructive, and to say the least, I don’t recommend it. But we’re all human beings, and by rule human beings deserve love, respect and peace—starting with you. Everyone’s done bad things (they base whole religions around this concept), and guilt is a healthy concept: bad deeds should be atoned. But deeds are just that, deeds. Guilt’s about what you’ve done, shame is about who you are, and that’s the abyss that stares back into you.
The world’s not a better place when anyone hates themselves. Nobody’s lives are improved that way. Do yourself a favor of looking in the mirror and telling that person you love them, even if there’s some days you don’t always like them. Wash your hands clean, pick that chin up, and go get the blessings of the world that were meant for you. Because you’re a human being, dammit, it’s the least of what you deserve.
Statistically speaking, Twitter just got 42.069% worse.
Thank you for the Sturgill Simpson recommendation! I had these albums on my list but had not had the chance to listen to them until today.