To shave, or not to shave?

Every November, I grow a moustache for Movember – the annual event to raise money awareness for men’s health.

I’ve found, probably as a fact of getting old, my moustache gets better every year; better in the sense of being fuller and more well covered.

This year, I opted for a ‘Trucker’.

moustache.jpg.

Toward the end of the month – in an impulsive moment, I thought ‘Ah hah! You know what would suit this look? – An earring!’. I went out and bought a thick earing to put my ear that I’d had pierced and stretched more than ten years ago.

The resulting look was this:

 

Now – charming smile aside, this look is a bit non-conformist and provocative. It has a theme of villainy (a pirate was most common term used), which was part of the fun of doing it in the first place.

When I was younger, I very much did do the ‘non-conforming expression of personal identity’ thing. Here’s an example:

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Since then – my philosophy has more been ‘Having a neutral look opens more doors’.

A non-conforming look can serve as a useful social signal to others with your values; there’s an easy visual identifier, you know that those are ‘your people’.

But this can exclude you from other people who you might otherwise get on well with, when they have to instantly deal with the discomfort, or their ingrained biases,  caused by your unconventional appearance. If a man looking like a pirate knocked on your door asking for directions, the first thing you might think is that he’s actually casing your place for gold and plunder.

Also – a non-conventional dress sense is a fairly superficial expression of values; while it’s probably safe to reason that someone with facial piercings and tattoos is more likely to be gay friendly and otherwise tolerant – a better gauge on this kind of thing would be actually having a conversation with them.

Here’s what I’m currently looking like:

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This image demonstrates the concern I have – my look is a bit scary.

There’s another reason to consider shaving, or not. Comfort.

The moustache is uncomfortable at times, and I find myself stroking it a bit.

Shaving can also be uncomfortable too; I’m not the best at shaving and I often give myself razor burn. I’m typically most comfortable about three days after shaving with a bit of stubble. A few days after that it starts getting itchy and uncomfortable.

But I what I’ve found, is that even though there are good reasons to shave – there’s an perhaps egotistical resistance to it. I’m aware that a big part of my reason to shave is social conformity – and conceding to social conformity feels like a weakness.

I ended up shaving. Here’s what I look like now.

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The earring is still there. I need to go to someone with a pair of reversible pliers to take it out.

I am considering still having an earring, but a smaller one. One that says ‘a bit original and interested in design, but not outrageous’.

Why I don’t identify as a feminist (or an environmentalist, or a men’s right activist).

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I don’t identify as a feminist, because I’m hesitant to identify as anything.

I support the personal empowerment of women, whether that’s becoming the CEO of a major company or choosing to be a stay at home mum. I support the free and safe expression of female sexuality, whether that’s pursuing casual sex, asexuality,  committed monogamous relationships, or any variant in between. I support access to birth control and abortions.

At the same time, I’m critical of some of the commonly touted feminist arguments. For example I believe the commonly cited US 78% median income gap argument shouldn’t be taken at face value.

I also support some of the concerns of what are commonly identified as men’s rights activists (MRAs). For example that men successfully commit suicide at rates higher than women (women actually make more attempts), and are more likely to be homeless than women warrants attention. I think the argument for the man’s right to a financial abortion is warrants consideration, without immediately being discounted.

I’m also concerned what can be considered shaming of male sexuality in the public sphere. For example I think there is a common cultural meme that in heterosexual sex the man is entirely responsible for the woman’s orgasm, and that a man coming quickly is a bad thing.

I also support various environment measures. I vote Green. I usually buy the carbon offset when I fly. I support carbon taxes / carbon trading schemes and think that meat and petroleum oil should be more expensive than it is. But I also don’t identify as an environmentalist nor a men’s right activist.

This post is about personal identity, and what it means to identify as something.

I do identify as a New Zealander, a Kiwi and a Pakeha. I do identify as male, and mostly straight.

But I don’t identify as a feminist, because I think the label means something beyond having a particular set of political values. I think the term feminist is more commonly used as a social signal.

I would argue that when assigning identities, we are doing one of two things:

  1. Applying an objective, if not always black and white, categorisation of things.
  2. Expressing a social signal to filter for a particular kind of person we want to associate with.

These identities are either self-assigned (eg. ‘I’m a feminist’, ‘I identity as pan-sexual’) or as a way of identifying others (‘That black guy over there’, ‘She’s a feminist’).

Simpler identities, like identifying as human, male, white, straight, a kiwi, a plumber fall in to this first category. Of course, there are always grey areas – is someone who moved to New Zealand when they were seven and have lived here for ten years a kiwi? (I would argue yes, though it’s more down to their personal identity).

Self-assigned identities that have political component, tend to fall in the second category. For example when someone says ‘I’m a feminist’, they’re saying more than ‘I have xyz political views’, there’s also the indication that ‘and this is a core tenant of my life’ or ‘and I want other people to know what side of politics I land on’.

Perhaps I have the wrong approach. Perhaps I’m assigning too much meaning to what ‘being a feminist’ means, beyond the view that there should be equal rights and opportunity between men and women.

But… I’m not convinced, I think this suggestion is disingenuous. The actress Meryl Streep attracted controversy, from self-identified feminists, when she said that she doesn’t identify as a feminist. That people are reluctant to identify as feminists clearly shows that identifying as a feminist has meaning beyond a black and white categorisation of political belief.

I would suggest that the term ‘feminist’ entails more baggage than any other political term. If someone one was labelled or denied the label as a ‘libertarian’, or a ‘conservative’, it would not attract as much controversy as whether they’re a ‘feminist’ or not.

Thus – I think that self-identifying as a feminist is a political act in itself, and in my honest opinion the act says ‘I’m going to err on the side of agreeing with popular feminist doctrine, without critical assessment’. This is not a stance I wish to take.

I would prefer to take an objective, measured approach, and then decide what political philosophies I agree with, than stake my claim as a particular brand, and subsequently adopt the corresposding political philosophies. Ultimately though, my politics do end up being progressive.

 

 

I wished Bill Watterson had licensed Calvin and Hobbes for merchandising.

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Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic Calvin and Hobbes famously resisted merchandising the characters, which would allow the production of Calvin and Hobbes mugs, t-shirts etc.

I followed the sources from the Wikipedia article, which brings us to this speech from Watterson.

The speech is a good insight into an artist who is notoriously private.

He holds the opinion that money corrupts the art. He says:

In a way, it’s surprising that comic strips have ever been that good. The comics were invented for commercial purposes. They were, and are, a graphic feature designed to help sell newspapers. Cartoonists work within severe space constraints on an inflexible deadline for a mass audience. That’s not the most conducive atmosphere for the production of great art, and of course many comic strips have been eminently dispensable. But more than occasionally, wonderful work has been produced.

Watterson seems primarily concerned with syndication and the loss of control of their characters it gives the the creators:

Today, comic strip cartoonists work for syndicates, not individual newspapers, but 100 years into the medium it’s still the very rare cartoonist who owns his creation. Before agreeing to sell a comic strip, syndicates generally demand ownership of the characters, copyright, and all exploitation rights. The cartoonist is never paid or otherwise compensated for giving up these rights: he either gives them up or he doesn’t get syndicated.

… Incredibly, syndicates still today tell young artists that they’re not good enough to draw their own strip, but they are good enough to carry on the work of some legendary strip instead. Too often, syndicates would rather have the dwindling income of a doddering dinosaur than let the strip die and risk losing the spot to a rival syndicate. Consequently, the comics pages are full of dead wood. Strips that had some relevance to the world during the depression are now being continued by baby boomers, and the results are embarrassing.

He then takes on merchandising, noting that some syndicates create the comic after deciding what the product that they’re wanting to sell is:

One syndicate developed a comic strip after it had settled on the products: the strip was essentially to be an advertisement for the dolls and TV shows already planned.

(The original cartoon series Transformers did this, and I’m of the opinion that it’s a great show).

Watterson acknowledges that merchandising can be done tastefully, but is concerned that with the extra money and work involved, the comic strip becomes less a work of art and more a commodity.

Of course, to be fair to the syndicates, most cartoonists are happy to sell out, too. Although not to the present extent, licensing has been around since the beginning of the comic strip, and many cartoonists have benefitted from the increased exposure. The character merchandise not only provides the cartoonist with additional income, but it puts his characters in new markets and has the potential to broaden the base of the strip and attract new readers. I’m not against all licensing for all strips. Under the control of a conscientious cartoonist, certain kinds of strips can be licensed tastefully and with respect to the creation. That said, I’ll add that it’s very rarely done that way. With the kind of money in licensing nowadays, it’s not surprising many cartoonists are as eager as the syndicates for easy millions, and are willing to sacrifice the heart and soul of the strip to get it. I say it’s not surprising, but it is disappointing.

Some very good strips have been cheapened by licensing. Licensed products, of course, are incapable of capturing the subtleties of the original strip, and the merchandise can alter the public perception of the strip, especially when the merchandise is aimed at a younger audience than the strip is. The deeper concerns of some strips are ignored or condensed to fit the simple gag requirements of mugs and T-shirts. In addition, no one cartoonist has the time to write and draw a daily strip and do all the work of a licensing program. Inevitably, extra assistants and business people are required, and having so many cooks in the kitchen usually encourages a blandness to suit all tastes. Strips that once had integrity and heart become simply cute as the business moguls cash in.

Watterson successfully resisted licensing his characters, and as such the only Calvin and Hobbes merchandise you can buy are illegal bootlegs – the Calvin pissing on a Ford image being the most notorious.

Liking Calvin and Hobbes is a part of my identity. I want to be able to walk down the street wearing a Calvin and Hobbes  t-shirt and have someone recognise it and say ‘I like that cartoon too!’.

I could make or buy an illegal bootleg, but I know that if I did, and I wore the shirt out, anyone with a modicum of awareness of Watterson’s aversion to merchandising would know that I’m wearing a shirt that the creator hasn’t endorsed.

I or the person with this awareness could perform some kind of moral gymnastics, and argue that the bootleg shirt is not compromising the original creation’s value, and probably isn’t what Watterson disapproved of.  This kind of gymnastics leaves a sour taste, and isn’t a nearly as good feeling as wearing a shirt that you know that the creator has endorsed.

Ultimately I can empathise with Watterson. He probably didn’t resist merchandising because he didn’t want adult fans to wear a fan shirt; he was probably more concerned with overwhelming pressure to sell more products at the cost of cheapening the characters, or losing control of his characters and later regretting their devaluation.

Watterson could have individually approved certain images to be used on certain mediums, but possibly he felt that was too stressful, and it was simply an easier decision to refuse merchandising outright.

I think it would have been possible for Watterson to merchandise his characters, without cheapening them. He could have said, ‘Here’s a set of images, use these on mugs, tshirts, and mouse pads. No toys, no greeting cards’ and left it at that.

I wish he would reconsider – I really want to wear a Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt

ADHD diagnosis: Six months on

It’s been about six months six I was diagnosed with ADHD. Here’s an outline of a few of my thoughts and experiences.

Losing things

When I first started taking medication I noticed certain behaviours of mine. For example I’d put something down, and then five seconds later not remember where I’d put it. Was this the drugs doing this? Or was my mind always like this and the drugs made me aware of it?

I’d started my Things David Has Lost blog only shortly before starting medication, and during the early stages of medication I made plenty of entries.

More recently, I’ve been losing less stuff. I couldn’t say that’s a product of medication or otherwise improved habits, perhaps in part due to starting the blog.

Sleep and focus

When I started the medication I found I could also drink a lot of coffee (five coffees a day!), and that the coffee, as well as the medication, appeared to help with focus and productivity at work with no negative side effects – I was sleeping fine. The early stages of medication appeared to cure my insomnia and that was awesome.

More recently though, the insomnia has come back.

My hypothesis is that in the initial stages of medication there was a period of mental calm that allowed me to relax in the evenings.

Now, if I’m honest I’m spending more time on social media and I’m simply not as mentally exhausted in the evening. Fixing this I imagine is a matter of changing my habits and being more productive at work.

Anxiety

One major negative effect is that recently I’ve been experiencing anxiety attacks, which is something I haven’t experienced before.

It is similar to past patterns. In the past I’ve swung between periods of manicness where I’ve been motivated and energetic, but also feeling intense emotions and stress. The stress usually triggers a depressive episode where I feel unmotivated and numb, but the stress and intense emotions are lacking.

The difference now is these intense emotional experiences feel a lot more pronounced, and cause hyperventilation.

This is something I’ll probably address by changing medication.

Identity

There is the issue of personal identity. Being diagnosed with ADHD allows me to put a label on my brand of crazy, rather than putting it down to ‘he’s just a bit unconventional’.

But I’m cautious about adopting an identity this way. I expressed this caution in my initial post when I mentioned the Barnum effect – where specific sounding, but actually pretty general descriptions of one’s personality sound tailored to an individual.

For example there’s this list: 19 Illustrations That Sum Up Being In A Relationship When You Have ADHD.

7. Making plans can get a little crazy sometimes.

Not all of them resonate with me, but a few do:

1. What people think ADHD partners are like vs What they’re actually like
3. First date distractions
4. Start of a relationship.
5. Reasons why non-ADHD partner is annoyed.
Definitely not 6. I don’t ignore messages
7. Making plans. Omg.
11. Listening to someone tell a story.
17. Benefits of dating something with ADHD.
19. Partner as the centre of the universe.

There is a pleasure in reading these lists and identifying with them. But at the same time, I think it is sensible not to allow lists like this or any description of personalities define you, or let yourself project certain of your own behaviours into fitting the prescribed behaviours.

I think this open but cautious approach is the right one to take – it allows you to take pleasure in relating to other people, while also keeping an accurate impression of yourself and your influence on your surroundings.

Online dating as a pick-me-up.

Online dating, and in particular Tinder, has been subject to criticism recently for enabling their users to become non-commital and flakey when it comes to relationships. The argument is that popular dating apps like Tinder allow people to see of their dating options, and never commit to a relationship because the ease of casual sex or new dating options is right there on your phone. The term ‘dating apocalypse’ has been coined – popularised by this Vanity Fair article. In my opinion the article is pretty awful. It reads more like a bad fiction story, and I question the veracity of it. Even if the people in this story are real, I don’t think they’re representative of Tinder’s overall userbase.

But the argument does have merit.

If we take Paul Oyer’s (author of Everything I needed to know about economics, I learned from online dating.) premise – that everybody is seeking the highest value possible mate (however ‘high value’ is defined – and is perhaps subject to person’s own values), even if successful in romance, they will continue searching for higher value mates, so long as their cost of search doesn’t prevent them. Because online dating makes cost of search much lower, (people don’t need to spend an entire Friday night out at party or social group in order to meet potential mates), people will be less inclined to settle with their current romantic match, for fear of missing out on a higher value match that’s just around the corner – if they have the security of knowing that they can easily find an equal value match with a couple more swipes and few interesting text messages.

I deleted my Tinder account about three weeks ago. I found I wasn’t enjoying it anymore – I wasn’t getting as many matches as I used to, conversations were stilted, I’d arrange dates that would flake out, etc. So I deleted my Tinder and decide to focus on meeting people the IRL way – through social groups, parties, etc.

Two weeks later, I was feel lonely. While joining social groups and generally putting yourself out there is an effective way to meet people, there are two difficulties with turning it into romance.

Firstly, there’s a lack of social signal about their availability (whereas someone’s mere presence on a dating site indicates that they’re single and interested in dating). This can lead to an awkward conversation.

Secondly, there’s a lack of continual contact with the person. For example if you meet someone at a social group that meets once a week, unless you get their phone number or Facebook straight away,  you only have the opportunity to talk to them in the time that you’re together at time each week. Whereas with online dating, you can maintain a prolonged conversation throughout the day and the week. This means that establishing a connection with someone you’ve met in real life, can take a lot longer than one where you’re able to talk online.

I ended up getting quite depressed, and on the weekend reinstalled Tinder, and signed up to OkCupid. I started chatting to some girls, and you know what? It was fun! I enjoyed myself, and I felt good.

This has led to a rethinking of my online dating philosophy. Online dating should be treated as a flakey and non-committal dating experience. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have value.

Instead of being seen as a primary and serious way to meet a romantic partner, it should be seen as fun and non-committal ‘pick-me-up’. That is, continue building your social networks in real life, as these tend to be a bit more reliable than online dating relationships. Use online dating for a fun pick-me-up during the day, or as an activity as you’re unwinding at the end of the day.

Of course – online dating matches can turn into a real date, and then a real relationship, and there’s no reason not to pursue this option. But your general expectations for going into online dating shouldn’t be ‘I’m here to find a mate’, it should be ‘I’m here to have non-serious fun, by chatting to people I find interesting or attractive’. Anything that goes beyond that, is a bonus.

Now this might sound a bit cynical, dishonest or unethical. If I’m treating online dating in this non-serious manner, then it could be considered dishonest to the people I’m chatting to if they’re taking a serious approach. Three points to counter this – firstly, not being serious about online dating doesn’t mean you need to act like a jerk. Secondly, I can be fairly upfront about what my intentions are. This is quite a good piece of writing, and I’d be happy to share it, to at least gauge reactions. Thirdly, people don’t have an obligation to act in a way that other people want them to. This ‘don’t be serious’ approach is fairly self-contained, and there’s no explicit agreement that you both have the same intentions when chatting. People need to take their own responsibility for recognising that others may have different values or intentions in their social interaction, and that doesn’t mean you’re both not compatible for a fun chat.