Be careful what you sleep with…

Some people need absolutely quiet to fall asleep. I’m not one of them. I need a fan running on high and some background noise. Any program featuring talking heads will do, but for best results I’ve found the ones that are less objectionable to your own political philosophy are less apt to jar you awake because someone said something you want to argue about.

For my traditional bedtime process I usually rely on either Sky News or BBC Radio 4 (broadcasting the World Service overnight UK time) to deliver me safely in the hands of sleep. For the last few weeks, I’d gotten out of a long held habit that has closed out my day for longer than I want to remember. Instead it was parking on CNN, or Fox News, or, less often, MSNBC, to pick up the discussion about the Supreme Court nomination fight.

The longer I went in that vein, the less well rested I felt when the alarm went off in the dark hours of the morning. After a few days back in the old routine I find I’m certainly more rested – even if other circumstances have prevented my mood from making any dramatic improvements.

I know it makes me sound slightly mad, but there’s just something about hearing the news carefully enunciated and sent back across from the mother country that makes it more palatable. Even if not palatable, it’s far more pleasing to the ear. That probably sounds for more than I should admit.

Now if I could just stay away from Twitter for an hour before bedtime things really would be looking up.

The point of the exercise…

After scrolling through my twitter feed and Facebook timeline this afternoon at lunch, I’ve come to the not-particularly-surprising conclusion that social media isn’t fun any more. Maybe it never really was fun, but it was once new and interesting and held loads of promise of being the for people to communicate in the new century. Now it’s become something more like a never ending grudge match of who can shout loudest, post up the most toxic memes, and get the most reverb from their echo chamber of choice.

Although I have occasionally learned new things thanks to a random post on social media, I can’t think of a single time that Facebook or Twitter have gotten me all turned around on an issue. The way in which we discuss our politics or other issues of the day on these platforms leaves me wondering if anyone has every actually changed their mind based on what they hear and see. It feels more like the perfect tool for those with their minds largely made up to entrench and find others who agree with them.

Look, I know I’m as, if not more mouthy and opinionated than the next guy… so if I’m managing to glam on to the idea that beaming these electrons back and forth at one another is an exercise in futility maybe there’s a thin layer of hope that things could improve. Given the absolute and total rage being thrown by the left and right and the moment I don’t see how any of it ends well. Maybe seeding that kind of division is the point of the whole exercise. If that’s what our benevolent electronic overlords were going for, well played.

Swinging the ban hammer…

I follow a lot of really dissimilar people on Twitter. Politicians, comedians, real life friends, actors, talking heads, meme accounts, porn stars, bakers, and candlestick makers are all on the list. I follow them because I find them either entertaining, informative, or fun to look at. For me, Twitter is the electronic equivalent of walking down the street and hearing snippets of the conversations taking place around you. It has the decided advantage of not requiring you to be out walking an actual street interacting with actual people.

What so many of these seemingly dissimilar individuals appear to have in common is the swift and violent reaction to any comment or re-tweet with which they happen to disagree. I saw at least three posts this morning before 6AM that had some variation of “come at me, I’m itching to hit the block button.”

Sure, you’re perfectly free to block or unfollow someone at any time for any reason under the sun or for no reason at all. I post what I want, like what I want, and almost always give everyone else as wide a berth as possible to do the same. More and more, though, it feels like net denizens are just roving their feed looking for either a fight or an excuse to display how offended they are. Hey, feel free to swing that ban hammer till your heart’s content. It just seems to me there are better and more entertaining and productive uses for social media.

But I’m just a guy sitting here, so do whatever I guess.

By 35…

I’d never really thought of MarketWatch as a leading newsmaker, but after their social media post noting that “By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts.” They’ve experienced their 15 minutes and then some.

The thing is, if you’re contemplating what it takes to achieve a “normal” retirement at the “normal” age in the “normal” way, their post isn’t broadly off the mark. Their point, beyond being something that seems to beggar belief to millennials, is that if you ever want to retire in the traditional sense of the word, you need to plan for it… and more importantly you need to save for it. Only you know for sure what right number – 2x, 10x, or 50x your annual salary invested – is going to meet your needs at any given time along your glide path.

“But,” you say, “Everything is so expensive. I have loans, and bills, and kids, and a master’s degree in advanced basketweaving. I can’t save anything.”

That’s fine. In many cases those expenses came along with decisions you made. That means you placed a premium on those other options rather than building a stable platform for retirement. It means you’re going to have to work past the traditional retirement age or contemplate a significant lifestyle change in order to realign you financial priorities. In some cases, especially for those who decide the whole long-range planning things is just too hard, you may have to accept that there’s a good chance you’re going to die in harness.

I got my first “grown up” job at 22. Making about $30K a year, paying rent, a car note, household bills, buying groceries, and all the other expenses that come along with being a grown ass man. It sucked. Money was always short, but before I saw a nickel of it in my checking account $25 of every check that first year went into my retirement account. Let me be clear on this – to me, back then, $50 was a shit ton of money to “do without” from month to month. There were a lot of things I could have spent that cash on to make life a little more civilized and comfortable that first year. The thing is, even at 22, when I still believed I was on my way to a long and fulfilling teaching career, I knew I didn’t want to still be touching America’s youth when I was in my 70s.

Here’s the kicker: Life isn’t easy. It’s full of hard decision, medical emergencies, and events that don’t work out quite as you had planned. Take it from a guy who changed careers, lived through five regional or cross country moves in 18 years to follow better opportunities, and then took a bath on a house he bought at the height of the real estate bubble. I know this shit isn’t easy.

There are precisely 300 million websites out there that can help you develop the mindset and skills that make retirement a thing that’s possible. But it means you’re going to have to do more hard work and educate yourself on the topics and the tools available. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to do it for you while shitposting on Twitter, well, I guess you’re right – retirement is definitely never going to happen.

Strange bedfellows…

I find myself in the awkward position of wanting to congratulate Anonymous for their first salvo against ISIS. By the initial reports 5000 or so Twitter accounts linked to terror groups have suddenly found themselves disabled. It’s not a sweeping victory, but anything that negatively impacts the terrorist’s ability to exercise command and control, recruit, or otherwise get their message out is absolutely welcome.

I can’t help but think of the vagaries of this Global War on Terror we find ourselves in and what strange bedfellows it makes. Nevertheless, well done lads, keep pouring it on. While you do that, we’ll keep prodding our own “leaders” to do something that feels like more than lip service.

Selfie…

So apparently last night Ellen DeGeneres posted a selfie of a ragtag band of Hollywood A-list celebrities that thundered across Twitter faster than any tweet in the history of the universe. That’s an interesting factoid, but while I’m sitting here getting caffeinated, I’m left mostly wondering why we care.

I like movies as well as anyone else, but I don’t lionize those who make them or endow them with super-human, superlative qualities beyond them being good at acting. That’s great. I’m glad they’re doing what they do, but I don’t want to get on the band wagon of anyone who thinks the biggest names in Hollywood are spending their days doing anything particularly heroic. They’re doing their job and that makes them professionals, not demi-gods.

It’s good that a professional organization like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pauses for a few hours and recognizes member achievement. People should be recognized when they’re reached the top of their chosen field of endeavor. What I don’t particularly understand, though, is why anyone outside that field pays attention to what those individuals are wearing, who they’re screwing, or what they have to say about politics or current events. It’s a little like looking to the best dentist in America to give me fashion advice or to tell me how to build a suspension bridge. Sure, he might have an opinion, but it’s the furthest thing from his professional area of expertise.

There’s no real point to this little ramble aside from my own continued curiosity about why we collectively make a big deal about watching other people put on formal ware and sit in an auditorium for hours. I hate putting on so much as a tie whenever I can avoid it, so the idea of making an event out of watching other people wear uncomfortable clothing simply defies any kind of logic I can muster.

Big things in a short month…

This is the space where I had planned to rant about the sequester (again) since today is the big day. Since you’re probably as tired of hearing about it as I am of writing about it, I’m opting for a different direction entirely. Even though the republic does seem to be in a constant of financial distress, there are a few high points to the week and month that was

First, www.jeffreytharp.com broke through the 1000 visits mark for the first time in almost year. I was pretty impressed with that since February is a short month anyway. Usually we slide along here with somewhere between 600-800 hits, so adding 200+ to that is kind of a big deal. When it comes to blogging, the more shrill it gets, the better people seem to like it. There could be a lesson in there somewhere.

Second, but first in pride of place, I launched a “fan page” for what I hope is the first of at least several book ideas I’ve been kicking around for as long as I can remember. Since both blogging and writing are extreme part time gigs, neither one happens as quickly as I might like, but things are happening. Every day the plan comes just a little more into focus, another couple of hundred words hit the page, and I realize that there may actually be an audience for the things I have to say. I’m not going to lie, it’s a pretty damned awesome feeling.

So, in summary: 1) February was a great month; 2) Even better things are in store for March; and 3) Thanks to everyone who is reading the blog, helping edit the Field Guide, “liking” away at what they see on Facebook, and retweeting whatever random thoughts and links show up in Twitter. You guys really are the best.