Measured by how we are seen

This is from the eighth edition of the Near-Earth Object newsletter, to which you can and should subscribe, right here.

This project of producing newsletters and media at a somewhat regular clip, is still new to me, and I’m still trying to find the right mix of elements that make it really click. For my first video-cast-pod-thing, I chose to read a piece I’d written a couple of years back about how hard it is to put in the time, effort, and emotion into all this creative work, all the while knowing that it will reach only a handful of people. Of course one can’t know this for certain, but it’s a solid bet!

I think the cold reality of irrelevance has hit me a little harder this week, as the election receded from the top of my mind and I took a little time off work. When a room opened up in my brain, it was quickly furnished with feelings of futility.

I began reading How to Disappear by Akiko Busch this past week, and in the introduction she says, “It has become routine to assume that the rewards of life are public and that our lives can be measured by how we are seen rather than what we do.” As someone who grew up being utterly ostracized for how he was seen, and then later became a professional actor, and then later got into nonprofit communications, I think I’ve been conditioned to measure my value by how I am seen. I’m not sure I’d know any other way.

We’re all feeling fragile right now. The slow-moving coup in process makes it feel like we’re watching an asteroid that’s going to slam into us in a couple of months, and all we can do is watch it get imperceptibly closer day after day. The foundational things we’ve relied on to tell us who we are as a people look like they’re about to crumble. If they do, we won’t know who we are anymore. If they don’t, we’ll still know that we aren’t quite what we thought we were. We’re all facing an identity crisis.

So maybe none of us can settle our minds enough to find meaning within (or nearby) rather than without.

In my favorite novel, Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, the protagonist Erasmas, a sort of monk-scholar in training, is given an urgent bit of wisdom from his mentor, Orolo.

“That is the kind of beauty I was trying to get you to see,” Orolo told me. “Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.”

Maybe if our identities weren’t so wrapped up in these performative digital spaces, we’d be handling things better right now. Maybe if I were better able to see myself as enough, if I were able to love the beauty that is right in front of me, perhaps I could more thoroughly cast out the ugliness in my head that tells me I am not and never will be enough.

But if I do that, then what will I be?

If you’re reading this, I’m so glad you’re here. You are part of a small group, and I appreciate each and every one of you.

More of Paul’s irrelevant-yet-immeasurably-valuable stuff

New post on how news sites’ homepages are covering the coup: “Homepage Hopping at the End of Democracy.

New video-cast-pod on Biden the caretaker, with some post-election thoughts as an addendum:

As always, if you find this stuff valuable, you can toss some currency my way. It’s totally okay if you don’t!

And thanks.