Interview 02 | Modern Love

It’s funny. I go to a few girlfriends: “I want to do some ‘expert interviews,’ what topic do you want to discuss… if you’re up for it?”

And you know what I got back? Not “oh I’ll do film,” or a Netflix series, or my love for vinyl.

Nope, I get a handful eager to offer up their opinions on “modern love.” With “modern” being the necessary keyword. I hardly know why I’m surprised, and, honestly, I’m equally eager to be enlightened.

I book my first modern love interview with Ashley, a dear friend I’ve known for at least a decade.

We end up spending a solid two hours convincing ourselves that the struggle is real. We lament that technology is eroding the charm of dating and replacing it with confusing games. We vent about people’s impatience and shortsighted millennial-ness. We discuss the limitations of algorithms’ ability to really know us and what we’re looking for…How online dating has become weirdly comparative and addicting. Etcetera etcetera.

And, yes. Sure. All that is frustrating and — for many–  is defining of today’s reality, but …

I walked away from the conversation feeling unsatisfied. We only echoed what seems like everyone else’s stance —That we’re living in an era of “modern love” where the standards are different (i.e lower) than our parents’ generation. I hate how black and white and defeatist this stance seems.

Naturally I take my frustrations up with Google. Unfortunately I get more of the same — If you ask your search bar to define love, it’s “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Modern love, though, that’s far bleeker. Urban Dictionary confirms, it’s mediocre love; love of this decade.

Lovely, what ideal times we live in!

But I disagree with this arbitrary line in the sand. Modern love, psh. ‘Modern love’ is — should be — ‘love’. What is up with believing the 21 c. gets to write new rules for romance?

In order to prove my theory though, I deiced to entertain the idea that there is in fact a retro, real love and then this more recent, mediocre version.

I go back to Google: “Percent of songs about love in western culture?” I assume this percent is high. Pairing a stat about Americans singing their hearts out for romance, in spite of the fact that 52% of women are unmarried proves… well…I don’t know, except maybe musicians are the experts I should really be talking to when it comes to all that. But I digress.

The fourth line of results returns, “Love in America” sans any reference to music.

Click.

I scan the headline and subtext.

Perfect — proof that today we have high expectations for a kind of love that isn’t being met by the real world….but surely these expectations have to be based in some kind of truth…probably from a past, better version of love…right?

Then I dropped to the next line of the article: Issue — May 1938. 1983?!

No: May 1938.

Wait what? For the past 80 years, love has been troubling our country? Even when everyone was paired off in cookie cutter houses, we struggled with this fantasy of finding our one, true soulmate and all the promised bliss in that?

Apparently technology can’t be our saving scapegoat. This proves that our problems with sourcing deep, passionate love date back to way before Tinder.

I was stumped. Maybe America’s independent, always-forward-thinking culture and the construct of long-term compatibility are fundamentally at odds with one another.

I’ll also venture that many 20 year olds may think they’re craving love but in equal measure love their freedom; Love being able to roam around as individuals — ever improving, ever becoming weller, wealthier.

After all, personal optimization can often seem easier as a nomad. And let’s face it. When marriage is less necessary, the logic goes that a relationship should be THE BEST or else what’s the point.

I don’t think modern love means lower standards than other generations — quite the opposite. Shakespeare was ahead of his time when he taught us that love, at the end of the day, is “an authentic and free expression of one’s innermost self.” In other words, modern love might actually be the highest order of romance.

Unfortunately, though, romance today is measured by the same impossible standards so many American overachievers apply to themselves, their careers, and their Instagram feeds. So while modern love — the good kind — might in fact be an alluring, self-actualizing experience. It’s also, maybe, a far rarer commodity, leaving many still searching.

…Or hopefully giving into a love for life, with or without some other half.

Interview 01 | Drew, Designer & Entrepreneur

The following is the first entry in a new series, On the Orange Couch with JLG. It derives whole heartedly from my new found obsession with beloved podcast, magazine and Netflix series Off Camera with Sam Jones

Velvet couch, orange. Framed by barrel lamps with shaggy, seagrass shades. The wine needs opening, but the record’s on, Leon Bridges maybe. What else on a Sunday. Racing back to the mirror and in my haste I set myself back a solid two minutes as the mascar dots my eyelids with black flakes. Naturally in the midsts of wiping everything clean, he’s knocking. He can wait a few more seconds, I tell myself as I dig into the draw for a dab of lip paint in desert rose. The mascara I’ll forgo: too stressful, too tedious. And the messy bun atop my head will have to do.

This is hosting at 25 — Hasty but pulled together enough to almost pass the adult test. Naturally Drew rolls up classy as ever with his collar popped and that side smile. Arms go out, as though you could resist. His eyes move inside as he assesses…and more or less seems to approve, “Looks great, so much space,” says the boy with the most impeccable taste, and an immaculate shoe box in Beverly Hills.

We’re midway through the first story, and I’m nodding like a bobble head. No bother that in my absent minded twisting I’ve likely ruined any chance of ever untangling that cork from our extraction contraption. We pour generously, and there’s a sense that the room is sort of floating. Finally The Great Gatsby’s descriptions of “smudgy” (to use a Joan word) spaces makes sense in my head.
I lied. Actually the first conversation was more of a musing than a story. He opens in earnest with ‘Isn’t it the worst when everything’s going right? When you feel too happy with the way things are?’ This could come off as irritating, but it’s clearly a genuine quandary. And I get it. Feeling settled is the goal that never feels all that satisfying. Is happiness suppose to be a sense of enjoyment ‘in the now,’ but clouded with the ever present concern over just how long until it all turns stale? Or is a better version of happiness a yearning that can never feel stale because it’s never really all there? We discuss.

I cut myself off before I can get to my Quartz article spiel: The cornerstone of my argument on the matter. He hasn’t told me about Abu Dhabi!

It’s like a sweltering version of the Netherlands– moneyed, incomprehensively well run, filled with happy, communal people that barely work — barely as in 3 day work weeks. And moneyed as in people don’t have mansions; they have compounds filled with mansions…and “fridges for Ferraris.” Yet for a nation that has it all, the one thing they lack, he observes, is the very thing that fuels America. They lack a sense of individualism, and with that comes an utter lack of personal tastes, a creative class, and really any mode of true self-expression rooted in personality. Every aesthetic object is valued in terms of monetary capital. In short, people there buy based on known price tags, then shamelessly flaunt their expensive “hodgepodge of bad taste” for all their friends and family to see.

In other words, the AUE is one of the 10 wealthiest nations in the world, so how wild to have all the money in the world and yet not know how to spend it, or rather, to spend it well? For a place that could easily be written off as a utopian kind of wonderland sounds to me like a dystopia. Surely it has to feel slightly unfulfilling to clutter one’s life with objects one doesn’t even personality like — but simply wants because the rest of the world has decided to give them a steep sticker price?!

The ending to our overdue gathering lands on the topic of love. Well I force him to discuss. Initially he coyly says, “Nothing new, lets hear about you.” No no. I press on. And it’s funny, no one worth talking to ever opens up about this topic at the first try. Everyone always holds back. It’s almost like an unspoken social code not to gush about these things on the first cue. “So how’s that guy?” I’m vague but I can’t be wrong if I keep the line open-ended.

We finally get into the heart of what turns out to be a truly crazy story. The plot line revolves around an Instagram star that initially seems like a promising potential but around Christmas time goes off the rails. For every curt text by Drew an average of seven rapid fire replies are vollied back. He’s relentless and revealing all his cards — i.e. shamelessly proving just how many tabs he keeps Snapchat history. It’s actually absurd…and hilarious to read. The endless texting thread has me thinking back to an all-too-true op-ed by The Atlantic, How It Became Normal to Ignore Texts and Emails.

“As much as these communication tools are designed to be instant, they are also easily ignored. And ignore them we do…The result is the sense that everyone could get back to you immediately, if they wanted to—and the anxiety that follows when they don’t. But the paradox of this age of communication is that this anxiety is the price of convenience. People are happy to make the trade to gain the ability to respond whenever they feel like it.” And in some cases this drives some mad. And gives the other party all the power.

The article continues, “it’s not always easy to figure out what someone meant to convey by using a certain emoji, or by waiting three days to text you back. Different people have different ideas about how long it’s appropriate to wait to respond. As Deborah Tannen, a linguist at Georgetown University, wrote in The Atlantic, the signals that are sent by how people communicate online—the “metamessages” that accompany the literal messages—can easily be misinterpreted.” The irony is that we seem to both be troubled and obsessed with this ambiguity.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. Because we did too. Drew got a message from Pillow telling him it was past his bedtime if he wanted optimal REM.

All this rambling is to say that we had a good conversation. One that was offline. I want more of these, so I’m going to make them happen…Next up? ‘On the Orange Couch with JLG’ will host Ashley, Consultant & athletic enthusiast, on the topic of modern love. Stay tuned.

Fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments

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Why does any writer sit down to write?

For exactly a year, I’ve sat on a book I told myself I had to start. It wasn’t the subject matter that had me tripped up. I simply didn’t see a point in going to great lengths to say something that felt insignificant. It’s such a crippling feeling to want to write but to feel it’s not worth anyone’s time, namely my own.

According to a recent piece by The New Yorker, “personal essays cry out for identification and connection,” but cautions that the system, “the personal essay economy, is a dangerous forum for people to participate in” as it often returns feelings of shame and ridicule. In other words, people looking to pour their intimate insights out to the Internet often aren’t met with the comforting head nodding they so crave.  

I’m not sure I agree. Some may write personal essays for themselves. This is why I write — to better understand ill-defined inklings percolating in my brain. “Identification and connection” are lovely byproducts but not the root force driving me to write.

So taking this full circle…when musing over “why does the writer sit down to write,” I don’t think all those who string words together do so for the same reason (naturally). That said, every writer has an audience in mind, even if sometimes that audience is oneself.

So here I am writing for myself. I want to own that I’m writing for myself. It’s suppose to finally allow me to be okay with not having to say anything of substance. I can write for the exercise of writing rather than the final product.

Philosophy Now argues “art is something we do, a verb. Art is an expression of our thoughts, emotions, intuitions and desires but even more personal than that; it’s about the way we experience the world, which for many is an extension of personality.” In another argument,  the New Republic suggests that there’s two flavors of art and that “liberal” art refuses to be art for art’s sake. Instead, liberal art demands hyphenation– “We have art-and-society, art-and-money, art-and-education, art-and-tourism, art-and-politics, art-and-fun. Art itself, with its ardor, its emotionalism, and its unabashed assertion of the imagination, has become an outlier, its tendency to celebrate a purposeful purposelessness found to be intimidating, if not downright frightening.”

On the other hand  “Confessions of an Aesthete” suggests another flavor of art, one with the sole purpose of being itself rather than being an object in service of proving some higher ideological point. I find this delineation between liberal art and what I suppose amounts to conservative art rather American. What other country would question the “utility of art” the way the above “liberal art” argument seems to?

Maybe art doesn’t need to make a point, a conclusion. Maybe art doesn’t even need to be a finished product. Maybe art truly is a process of trying to arrive at truth, trying to accurately reflect how we’re seeing what’s around us.

Just as I found it liberating to set my audience as myself. I find defining art as a verb freeing.

Quartz recently released a fascinating article about winning at work by caring less. Oddly enough, it’s also about seeing value in a process rather than an end achievement.

The author makes the case that after WW2 Americans created a culture of “total work” wherein “work becomes total when all of human life is centered around it; when everything else is not just subordinate to, but in the service of work. We believe in working on ourselves as well as on our relationships. We think of our days off in terms of getting things done. And we take a good day to be a day in which we were productive.” The article goes on to question, how we might actually enrich our lives by letting go of our drive to be productive, or in other words to complete to-do lists, make things, and otherwise push ourselves continuously toward goals: “Once you’ve detached the notion of success from that of happiness, you need to work out how else to find that satisfaction—but without actually achieving anything. This exercise opens us up to Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum, ‘All art is quite useless.’ We can refute total work’s claim that only useful things are valuable by taking Wilde at his word, and considering how we can perform fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments in our own lives.”

The conclusion of this quote — “[how can we train ourselves to] perform fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments in our own lives?” is likely the entire reason I’ve decided to return to writing More Interested. I’m surrendering to the notion that his book needs to be a success let alone get published. I’m choosing (or trying) to invest in the joy of writing as a process. Maybe this process will result in a finished product maybe it won’t.

Then again, while writing for myself may help me get going on this process, but I know that what will push me to finish it is the audience of others — An audience that’s at first personal and second anonymous.

Tell me more

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As a creative person, there’s no better feeling than a wave of inspirational energy. It’s the most motivating power to suddenly feel moved to create. I think that explains why I’m so excited this week. After a 6+ month build, I’m finally at a place where I can openly admit to my latest project, a semi-autobiographical narrative of a social experiment released in a coffee-table-sized lookbook detailing all my favorite things and how they’re connected.

Before you go…”wait what?” Hear me out. The working title of this mess of a project is:

More Interested: An essential field guide & inspiration engine for those searching for more

If you’re still lost, here’s the Amazon-books-style pitch:

This book is for anyone that dreads being asked, “so what are your interests?.” And this book is especially for anyone that’s watched, with respect and a  hint of jealousy, someone else take that question and transform it into a spelling binding conversation.

Wellness, acting with intention, clean eating, meditating, fitness, self-awerness, natural beauty, peace of mind — The desire for gaining greater control of our bodies and mental states has never been higher. The desire to more deeply understand why we’re drawn to certain TV shows, people, vacation destinations, etc, is equally fascinating and valuable, yet who’s investing great swaths of time to gain deeper self-awareness of one’s interests? We let Netflix or Spotify tell us what we’ll probably like, but what if we could better be our own “discovery” engines? 

This coffee table book is an essential field guide toward helping people do exactly that — become their own discovery engines, told through the narrative of one girl that started from scratch. 

(Image source: The Curated Life)

Hygge: A Danish way of life, now trending worldwide

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What: Hygge 2016 was a rough year, and 2017 is off to an interesting start. Maybe that’s why more people worldwide are embracing hygge, “the Danish idea of coziness” (Vogue). Though difficult to succinctly describe, The Little Book of Hygge author, Meik Wiking, elaborates that hygge is about “being with the ones you love, about indulgence, good food, gratitude…all those things mixed together” (Vice).

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Why it matters: Because its popularity continues to grow The magnitude of hygge’s power can best be summarized in the publishing industry: “More than 20 books on hygge were published last year in America alone, and more are due out [in Europe] in the coming months.” One author reported to The Guardian, “it is the most striking publishing trend I can remember, in terms of the sheer number of titles published at the same time” (The Guardian). Hygge is no stranger to social media either. “Look up hygge on Instagram and you’ll find 1.7 M posts,” (Vice) and on Pinterst the term’s presence has spiked 285% from 2015 to 2016. Fashion also loves the concept of cozy layering.

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During this year’s Milan Fashion Week, “Max Mara models came down the catwalk wearing thick, warm camel colored cable knit sweaters, oversized shearling teddy-bear-like coats, and velvety trousers [that the brand itself describes as] ‘wearable Hygge'” (Yahoo).

When: Given today’s cultural climate, the desire for hygge makes sense In the US, interest in self-care, relating to values including health, relaxation and comfort, has been on the rise since 2010 (Iconoculture). Therefore, Americans’ adoption of the long-standing nordic version of indulging in “me” time should come as little surprise. That said, the reason for hygge’s rise to prominence might also have to do with the polarizing nature of the political landscape, the stress of a workforce under pressure from automation, the never-ending barrage of information, the impacts of urbanization, and other draining factors that have been cause for more people to turn inward. TIME may have said it best, explaining that “people are feeling very nervous about the future, and feel a deep primal need to start looking after themselves. We can’t control outside events, but we can control ourselves – hygge is about savouring that and not getting drawn into the maelstrom of craziness that’s going on in the world” (TIME).

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How: To capture the spirit of hygge brands need to understand what it stands for At its worst, hygge has become a word to slap onto cable knit sweaters, cakes and candles, or to simply prove something is Danish. In other words, “just as ‘chic’ is the thing that everyone knows about the French, the word hygge must now be affixed, almost by law, to any media story about Denmark or, indeed, anything remotely Scandinavian, whether the subject is clothes, furniture, cookery, travel, or working hours” (The Guardian). For brands to fully leverage the emotional power behind the hygge philosophy, they must remember that the term celebrates “resilience and making the most of what life has to offer you” (TIME). At its best, when brands authentically speak to the word’s ethos, hygge-identified goods become more than mere “products with a particular and practical use, but rather transcend into magical objects that might summon up feelings and emotions: of safety and solace, of comfort and calm, of a being-in-a-time-before” (The Guardian). In short, buying hygge is buying an antidote to outside stresses and uncertainty. Who wouldn’t want to buy that?

Sources: 

  1. Vogue, Forget Hygge, 01/05/17 http://www.vogue.com/article/hygge-trend-lagom-2017
  2. Vice, The Scandinavian hygge lifestyle is taking the world by storm, 02/19/17 https://news.vice.com/story/the-scandinavian-hygge-lifestyle-is-taking-the-world-by-storm
  3. The Guardian, The Hygge conspiracy, 11/22/16 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/22/hygge-conspiracy-denmark-cosiness-trend
  4. Yahoo, Hygge has taken over fashion week, 2/23/17 https://www.yahoo.com/news/hygge-has-taken-over-fashion-week-235057970.htm
  5. TIME, Hygge, the Nordic Trend That Could Help You Survive 2016, 12/05/16 http://time.com/4579894/hygge-denmark-nordic-trend-survive-2016/
  6. Iconoculture, The self-carevolution, 08/16/16

 

Preying on your losses, fears and inaction

Let’s get real. Sports brands have all sold us on the inspirational story about finding our grit, strength, or winning streak. But what about owning up to our moments of weakness? This seems to be the latest trend coming from the likes of Under Armour, Gatorade and Nike.

Check out these three very different takes on the the theme of “strength from weakness:”

Pushing past a loss

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Brand + ad: Under Armour – Make that old
Insight: There’s no point in dwelling on a loss: Soon it will be old news. Even the good news gets old. 
What: The spot turns Stephen Curry’s loss at the NBA Finals into a story about constant reinvention. The ad repeatedly reports on a fact/accomplishment relating to Curry and young fans respond with “that’s old news.” To conclude, the ad reports on Curry’s loss and the same fans urge, “now make that old.”
Business aim: Sell Curry 3 trainers and bring awareness that true fans stand by Curry through his highs and lows.

Fighting fears

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Brand + ad: Gatorade – Nightmares
Insight: Fears don’t have to be bad. They can become your motivation…your “fuel” pushing you to the next level.
What: Kevin Durant dreams his dunk is blocked by rival, Dwyane Wade. The dream inspires vigorous training. To conclude the dream is replayed with Durant making the shot: This time the dream, or rather nightmare, belongs to Dwyane.
Business aim: Bring awareness to Gatorade’s range of products, by show the brand’s relevance before, during, and and post workout.

Stop sitting on your screens

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Brand + ad: Nike – Time is precious
Insight: If time is limited, don’t waste it doing useless things on a screen.
What: The spot opens with a black background and white text, reading “time is precious.” Then a robotic voice narrates all the ridiculously unproductive, yet popular, activities we partake in when we fall victim to the internet, TV, social media, apps, etc. The spot ends with, “time is precious, are we running today?”.
Business aim: Align Nike with the things in life that really matter to peoples’ lives, like healthy habits and self-improvement.

 

 

Athletic edge: Why a data field may be better than a home field advantage

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(Image source: The Washington Post)

“Sideline replay is allowed in high school football to a degree more advanced than what’s legal in college or the NFL, so throughout the country, coaches and players can be seen jabbing their fingers at tablets, smartphones and TVs, breaking down film from a play that happened seconds earlier.” 1

“Researchers call this era of high school football ‘a technological arms race’ over who has the newest gadget, and the sideline replay technology is opening a wider gulf between scholastic sports’ resource-rich programs and those struggling to get by.” 1

Popular options like Hudle, Echo 1612 and SkyCoach go for at least a few grand. 

John Lush, coach of Lackey High in Indian Head, explains, “if you’ve got athletic and coachable kids and you’ve got them ready, regardless of what technology you have, you can win a game.” 1

But is he right? Many high school coaches are realizing data and devices truly do offer an advantage: “With each new piece of electronics on the sideline, players and coaches can quickly solve pet peeves. [And] those fixes, added up, can mean games won and games lost,” 1 urges Ann Pegoraro, director of the Institute for Sport Marketing at Laurentian University.

In-game use of footage isn’t new, but it is catching on: Back in 2013, The National Federation of State High School Associations, the governing body of public high school football, officially made replay technology legal. And as Tom Dolan, the assistant director for compliance at the Virginia High School League, explains, “[the technology] became something where the rules committees said,‘we’re not going to be able to stop this train, so let’s get out in front of it and control it.’” 1

While the technology may be a bother to regulate, is it fair for “the haves” to indulge in a paid-for advantage?

“‘The way that technology enters into [high school sports] is almost entirely based on the financial wherewithal of the individual schools,’ said Galen Clavio, a professor of sports media at Indiana University. ‘That’s problematic if you think everyone going into the competition has the same thing.’” 1

Sport brands, including Adidas, Gatorade, Nike and Under Armour, love to tell the story of athletes emerging from unlikely places. To protect the potential of that narrative, how can brands help fight inequality across the sports space? Or should brands embrace a future where technology becomes part of the victory narrative?

1 The Washington Post, ‘A technological arms race:’ New replay devices widen the gap on high school sidelines, 11/14/16

Additional reading:

BBC, The wearable tech giving sports teams winning ways, 04/15/16