Delayed Gratification: Slow Journalism as an Antidote to the Insanity

I first heard about the concept of slow journalism in Slow Media, by Jennifer Rauch. Whether or not the term is just a re-branding of the best ideals of what journalism has always strived to be is up for debate, but focusing on accurate and ethical reporting instead of first and fastest seems an admirable aim in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, and something I’d very much like to support.

So, I sought out and subscribed to Delayed Gratification, one of the more prominent slow journalism periodicals. It was an idea I wanted to know more about, and I think of it as an antidote to the onslaught of social media reactionary nobody-actually-reads-the-article-they-just-read-the-headline-and-skip-to-the-comments-to-learn-what-their-opinion-should-be “news” we are hyper-addicted to.

The somewhat ironic poetry of subscribing to this magazine was that I had to wait kind of a long time for the first issue to arrive. Delayed Gratification publishes quarterly, and each issue covers a three month period of time. While waiting I had to fight back thoughts of getting in touch with the publisher to see when the issue was scheduled to arrive. Every time I wanted to email or call to check on my first issue’s status, I remembered a time a few months back at the bookshop where I work: a rabid Ayn Rand fan was complaining about the price of a rare hardcover edition of The Fountainhead. As I explained the basics of the free market, their own dogma, to them I will never forget the moment their righteous indignation slipped into self-pity as they observed their own lack of self-awareness. Remembering what the title of the magazine was, and motivated by a desire to never be that person, I shelved the idea of calling and resigned myself to waiting patiently for the magazine to arrive. Already the magazine was helping me to slow down.

Delayed Gratification seems particularly aimed toward those who have grown up with social media and have never been exposed to long-form journalism. They’ve never read a newspaper, or any weekly or monthly periodicals that have historically taken this slower approach to news reportage. The index has articles labelled as either frivolous or serious. There are relevant, informative pieces on recent enough events, comfortably nestled between lighthearted infographics that relate interestingly to major events during the three month period covered. In addition to slow journalism, I’ve heard it described as fast history.

 

 

My first issue of Delayed Gratification covered January to March, 2019. Something that added value to my enjoyment of this issue: during those months, I was actively writing in a journal everyday. Because of this, I discovered some interesting things that happened around the world while I was preoccupied with the subtle frustrations and pleasures of my own life. The same day that a recently discovered, possible lost Michaelangelo painting was stolen from a Belgian church, I was listing my house for rent. A month later, on February 15th, when 10,000 UK students skipped classes and took to the streets to protest their government’s non-handling of climate change, I was showing the house to a family that would eventually end up renting it. And the month after that, while I was gushing about the animation style of Netflix’s Love, Death, and Robots, Elisa Jorge was clinging to a tree for her life as cyclone Idai made landfall in Beira, Mozambique. The first of two cyclones to devastate the area that year of only nine in recorded history. Two of nine ever. Both in the same year. Both outside of their storm season.

 

“Last to Breaking News”

 

I was on the internet a lot during the three months covered in this issue, reading news articles, skimming through twitter and Instagram. Generally thinking I was informed about the world around me. However, all three of these stories were things I had zero knowledge of. These were important global events. Why didn’t I hear about them? My thinking is that a large chunk of the news we’re bombarded with day in and day out, might not be all that useful or even informative. It’s all too soon, too quick for any kind of perspective. I understand the importance of chronicling every small step made by politicians in my country as it slowly slides into authoritarianism, but is it actually useful for me to personally monitor these steps in real time, or do they collectively act as noise, obscuring the more accurate picture that can be shown just a few months removed, when we all have a little more perspective? I understand the trajectory of things right now and I’m doing all I can. I don’t think it’s important or healthy for me to be constantly reminded of it a hundred times a day. Once a day maybe, but not a hundred. My cup of news is full. Attempting to pour more into it does nothing to increase the capacity of the cup.

 

 

When there are millions of people actively monitoring events around the world in real time, driving themselves to the ragged edge, it may not be such a bad idea for some of us to take a step back with a different approach. When there are so many ways to get breaking news, I think Delayed Gratification’s approach is a breath of fresh air, and summed up beautifully by their motto printed on the spine of every issue: “Last to breaking news.”

Nine or so months have passed since my first issue arrived. In that time I’ve learned all kinds of interesting things in subsequent issues. These are events that have expanded my worldview, all of which I learned very little to nothing about from my usual news sources.

Barbarian Days: William Finnegan’s Joy-Drenched Reason to Live

No matter what we tell ourselves, we all secretly want to live forever. It follows that a good memoir serves as vicarious life extension, toward this eternally minded, unachievable end. A glimpse into an alternate possibility. Between the pages unfolds what could’ve been — if. If we were born at a different time. If we had different circumstances. If we had different interests. If we were altogether different people through any number of natural or nurtural deviations against our norm.

I’ve long been obsessed with those whose lives are lived on the rough and ragged edges of society. The way in which William Finnegan splits his time between war correspondence and surfing — two extreme lifestyles on their own, together in one individual — was properly interesting. His clean prose and serious storytelling chops certainly didn’t hurt either. There’s a very good reason this book won him a Pulitzer.

Throughout his childhood in Hawaii, he didn’t fit. An outsider, ethnically and socially. As a child his whole personality seemed to ricochet off of the locale, grasping at a world filled with violence for a handhold to guide him. The time period in which he came of age added to his dissociation among his peers. Eventually he found surfing as a wild, violent, introverted escape from his lack of acceptance. It held just enough of a loner mentality to capture those with similar social needs. This conglomeration of loners he met while chasing waves became his friends; a tertiary social net composed of outcasts.

 

“We were fellow skeptics—rationalists, readers of books in a world of addled, inane mystics.”

 

He describes surfing as “a consuming, physically exhausting, joy-drenched reason to live”. One that had a “vaguely outlaw uselessness” that “neatly expressed one’s disaffection.” Who doesn’t want something like that in their life? It’s the reason people free climb, skateboard, race motorcycles, and spend time in the woods, running themselves to exhaustion. It’s why marathons are a thing, bull-fighting, spelunking.

Throughout Barbarian days, Finnegan contrasts the intensity of a life spent surfing, with that of a life spent chasing stories across war-torn countries. These are the divisions that comprise his whole. He sees himself as a man who needs to chase danger, and can only relax after having exhausted that part of himself. I can relate to a tiny degree. He can only be calm when he has faced his intense, possible death. I can only truly rest when I’ve exhausted my dual needs for effective productivity and creative endeavor. I need to see evidence of my existence in the world or I can never be still.

Eventually he would settle down: marriage, children, home ownership, and moving to New York City did indeed soften him somewhat, but the fire at his core was never extinguished. It only sat at a simmer, waiting to be flooded with the particular brand of fuel needed to burn up the excess energy of his life.

After writing up a report of those around him — including other reporters — dying in the act of journaling the insanity they were embedded in, he would surf. Every chance he got, he would surf. The fervor with which he expressed his desire to surf, was never repetitive. Surfing, it seems, is part addiction, part meditation. A calming obsession for the soul.

Being not remotely interested in surfing, or living that kind of life, I was still fascinated to see the myriad ways something I had previously thought extremely repetitious — the act of waiting for a wave, catching it, riding it back to shore, again and again — was instead full of rapturous intrigue, and a kind of fascination that I had not previously known associated with any sort of sport.

My favorite parts of this book, again having no interest in surfing myself, were the human moments between surfing sessions. The characters that populate this memoir, were so interesting, simply because they weren’t normal people. They live intense, chaotic lives, left of center, unstable, but full of passion. Something most of our stable, silly lives could use a lot more of.

A life in vans, sleeping on beaches, running from cops, defrauding American Express to pay for hospitalization due to malaria. These are wild lives. People who thrive only through chasing death, and therefore have a better grasp on what a good life might entail. Things most of us are far too cowardly to do ourselves—or I am at least.

 

“If this was a religion, perhaps it didn’t bear thinking about what was being worshipped.”

 

A particularly touching moment in Barbarian Days is when William asks his wife why she never gets angry about all of the “stupid risky things” he does. She responds that she simply assumed he needed to do them. “When things get bad, I think you get very calm,” she says. “I trust your judgment.” It’s such a tender moment that illuminates a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

They all seem like intense people, even the girlfriends of his youth and his eventual wife. Artist to lawyer is not a normal career path to follow, but it makes sense for her. It shows an intensity in all things. A life full of passion. And who doesn’t want to read about passionate people?

But What if We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present as if it Were the Past, by Chuck Klosterman

But What If We're Wrong, Chuck KlostermanI’m thirty-four years old and have only just now read a Chuck Klosterman book—or a Chuck Klosterman anything to be more precise. He’s been on my radar for about a decade, and I’ve had a copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs on my shelf for almost as many years, but I’ve never even cracked the spine. I never felt traditionally cool enough to read Klosterman. I’ll be the first to admit that none of this was based on anything remotely resembling an informed decision. Looking back at my motivations for never reading him, now with a little bit of hindsight, I think it was an entirely prejudiced, subconscious decision based mostly on myself not identifying with the group of people I had imagined to be fans of Klosterman’s work. I was trapped by my perception of his audience. It sounds completely ridiculous writing those words, but there they are. That isn’t who I aspire to be, but we often fall short of our aspirations don’t we.

The covers and overall consistent visual style of his books with their simultaneously over and under-designed aesthetic both did and didn’t work for me. I loved the visual simplicity and unified design, but something about these books always rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe they looked like they were trying too hard. Like they were so desperate to project an easy sense of ironic detachment that it backfired, leaving me with an instinctive distrust of the authenticity of their content. I always assumed Chuck Klosterman books were things you read in your early twenties, and never stopped extolling, without ever reevaluating the merits that informed your opinion later in life as a more experienced reader. I saw them as the kind of books read mostly by people who didn’t read anything else. I put them in the same category as Chuck Palahniuk novels, which I myself had read in my early twenties and couldn’t shut up about back then. Back when I never really read anything else.

Maybe I didn’t feel like I had much in common with my friends that read Klosterman, and even less with those who had only read Klosterman. I see now that I was trying to distance myself from the person I perceived myself to be back when I would’ve read Chuck Klosterman, if I didn’t only read Chuck Palahniuk. Wait, how many of my reasons for equating these two writers are based solely on them sharing the same first name? Am I that unknowingly surface level? Basically, I was being an asshole, and was completely wrong about Klosterman. It is entirely unfair to judge something based on our perception of its targeted audience, but we still do it all the time, or at least I do. It’s just one of the many, many ways in which we are often very wrong about most things.

Snapping back to the present moment, having now read this Chuck Klosterman book, I am realizing how off I have been on a lot of my assumptions about his writing. Which really is the point of But What If We’re Wrong. Human beings are wrong at a near constant level. We are so riddled with cognitive biases, irrational behavior, and misperceptions, not to mention our notoriously bad ability to predict future events based on present variables or our own current efforts. This is the entire reason that balloon payments are a thing. All of it adds up to make us terribly inaccurate and more often than not, dead wrong.

Chuck KlostermanThese days when I read something, I make every effort to build my opinions solely on the words on the page, attempting to judge the book based on whether or not it achieved what was intended. This is impossible of course, as I can’t help but be influenced by other aspects of a book, themselves sometimes only marginally related to the actual work itself. My perception of the readers of a certain writer for example. Also, how exactly am I supposed to know what a book was intended to be? How am I supposed to compare my subjective opinion of what it is, against something unknowable? Reading a book with the intent to write about it, is itself a creative process, because I have to imagine all of these things. There’s a weird, blurry line that separates fiction from non-fiction. There is so much fiction in real life, and so much real life stuffed into, and elaborated through what we read in fictional novels and stories. The more I think about it, the more that division begins to blur into something nearly non-existent. I blame David Shields for breaking my head by pointing out this added layer of our post-modernity.

Being wrong is important. As Klosterman notes in this book, certainty can often be paralyzing. It locks us into paths that may not be preferable, and takes us in directions we may not want to go. When we base our opinions on bad information, it is often only years later that we might realize we have been wrong about something from the start. A lot of Trump voters, for example are only just now, slowly, starting to admit not only that their God Emperor has no clothes, but is in fact not a god at all. Many will never allow themselves to be that wrong. It becomes gradually harder and harder to change our minds the more we have built up our lives on the certainty of bad information. The Sunk Cost fallacy is a prime example of this. As is the old adage, improperly attributed to Mark Twain: “It is easier to fool someone than convince them they have been fooled”. For this reason, your oldest opinions are often the most important to reexamine, as well as the hardest to change.

Thinking about the present as if it were the past is such a novel idea. Not only novel, but fun, incredibly useful and addictive. What are we wrong about right now? Our view of the past is always flavored by the values of our present. In much the same way that all good fiction is a statement about some aspect of the present in which it was conceived, it follows that our current values are blinding our judgement about current events, opinions, and ideas. What sort of values will future societies interpret our current events through? Which events will even be remembered as these future societies flatten our time period into a handful of individuals, stories, and pieces of media?

“History is a creative process (or as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “a set of lies agreed upon”). The world happens as it happens, but we construct what we remember and what we forget. And people will eventually do that to us, too.”

Great stories are always about something other than the surface level plot they contain—something that Klosterman touches on quite a bit in the chapters about literature and media in this book. These chapters—which were the most aligned with my personal interests—were my favorites of the whole book. Klosterman uses this process of thinking about the present as if it were the past in an attempt to find the great contemporary pieces of literature, television, and film that will be elevated to the status of classic or important in an unknowable future with unknowable values. Of course, this attempt is doomed to fail, but using what we know about past classic or important works, he is able to at least narrow down what likely won’t be thought of as important in the future.

It is a fascinating thought experiment and a brave new way to approach one’s own relationship with history, opinion, belief, and the value of doubt. And that oh so recognizable black and white design aesthetic that didn’t quite work for me back in my early twenties? Here it is, turned up to eleven with this upside down cover. I’m glad to say that It works for me now. It really, really works for me.

But what if We’re Wrong? is one of the short list of books that I consider essential reading if you are trying to make sense of, or cope with, the insanity of the last few years. It provided me with some much needed distance from the twenty-four hour news cycle and the pre-apocalyptic feeling of our current events. I highly recommend this book.

Pantsuit Nation, edited by Libby Chamberlain

Pantsuit NationThese stories and photos are powerful. They are a more accurate representation of American greatness than any idealized non-existent past that some are eager to return to. America is already great, and these people prove it.

The first half of the book contains pre-election writing, and I can’t help but feel a sense of dread and impotent omniscience reading this along with the knowledge of what ended up happening on election day, and the continual trainwreck that has followed since then. The stories are hopeful and heartbreaking. It’s wonderful to see so many different kinds of people coming together in an attempt to stop a disaster. Up until about 8pm that night, it seemed to be a sure thing that Clinton would be the next President of the United States, and against all odds (and the majority of Americans’ votes) Donald Trump won.

The day after the election was terrible. I live in a small university town that is generally a pocket of reason in an otherwise notoriously under-informed backwater state. Close to my work there’s a small coffee shop that I walk to when I need to stretch my legs a bit. I usually get coffee and a bagel a couple times a week, and it’s always a bustling, vibrant place. Cheery faces with kind, hopeful demeanors. Youthful, artistic energy. That early November morning everyone was still in a state of shock, thousand yard stares on their faces, envisioning what kind of future we might have now that the worst possible candidate that has ever existed, was elected to the office of President of the United States by a minority of the voting public. There was a sense of hopelessness in everyone I saw. I think we all felt like we were just going through the motions of our lives, unsure what we were doing. No one thought he could win, the whole thing was an absurd joke, until it wasn’t. Now, everyone was on edge, and in the midst of an existential crisis.

Libby ChamberlainThe second half of the book is post election, and these events are still very fresh in my mind. It’s comprised of reactions to the news that our votes didn’t matter this year, and yes, Americans really are misinformed enough that almost 46% of them thought a reality television character was the best option for Commander in Chief. And for some reason that was enough to elect him to office. This is where the stories became the most emotionally powerful for me. People pull together, we regroup, we redouble, we protest in large and small ways, and we keep working toward the type of future that we want. It’s good stuff, and highly motivating.

As I’m writing this, Robert Mueller and his team are investigating  the Russian interference in our 2016 election, and it’s starting to look like Donald Trump’s presidency might be one of the shortest in the history of the United States. I am very eager to see this monomaniacal bond villain caricature’s tenure come to a quick and decisive end. Although, his line of succession is equally terrifying. Hopefully they’re all tied tightly into his many crimes, and will go down together, RICO style. It’s a beautiful dream, but I realize it’s most likely just a dream. In reality, powerful people often get away with it.

This is a difficult book for me to review because it keeps forcing me to imagine how things could’ve been different in the 2016 election. As they say, Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back with some perspective, I don’t think Clinton was the right candidate to defeat a monster like Trump. I’m a humanist, feminist, atheist and generally liberal leaning dude, but I pay enough attention to history to never call myself a Democrat or a Republican. I know how quickly these divisions can mutate into something they were never meant to be. Just look at the neo-conservative, alt-right takeover of the Republican party in the last ten years. I feel terrible for legitimate conservatives who have no representation in our government anymore. The GOP has completely lost its mind, and I fear that the DNC may be in the midst of a similar problem.

Personally, I’ve never been an avid fan of Hillary Clinton. I think her statements against the LGBTQ+ community in the past have been appalling (something she’s very recently started to change, thankfully). But she was undeniably the much, much better candidate of the two options that were presented to us last year, and I voted for her wholeheartedly.

I’m still very disturbed by both the DNC and the GOP’s behavior in the primary elections. The best candidates from each camp did not make it to the general election; the most incendiary ones did. The ones that banks and plutocrats knew they could leverage for their own benefit. I understand how necessary representation is, and I genuinely hope our next President is a woman. Girls and women everywhere seeing themselves reflected in such a powerful position, would carry an unknowable importance and a far reaching, generational effect. If Clinton had won, I would’ve been extremely pleased, but there would always be a sliver of disappointment that it wasn’t someone even better. I can only hope that the DNC stops playing the games they’ve been playing and realizes the only way forward is to let the people be heard with a candidate that is genuinely incorruptible and won’t cower to money, or dogma’s influence. That is, if such a candidate is allowed to exist within the realm of the established party in 2020.

Whoever that ends up being, whatever their gender, sexuality, race, religion, I do not care. I’ll support THAT candidate wholeheartedly. And in the meantime? Midterm elections are the most important thing we can put our energy into right now. We need better congressional and senatorial representation. I want a president who represents the people of this country, and I can’t accept that Donald Trump is an accurate representation of us.

Recent(ish) Non-Fiction: Five Short Reviews

 

 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, by Mark Manson

Sort of an anti self-help book, meaning that it actually contains a useful philosophy, which is (mostly) just Buddhism/Stoicism dressed up a little for millennials. It’s not as douchey as the title would have you think, and it’s very entertaining.

There’s a lot of cross-over with Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, surprisingly. A lot of good advice for those, like me, who over-stress themselves about mostly nothing at all. I really loved it; I’ll probably circle back to it a few more times in the future.

 

 

 

The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Manifesto, by Kameron Hurley

Terrific essays, a little repetitive in some spots, and slightly more sarcastic than I’m used to. But, great stuff nonetheless.

At the very least read ‘We have always fought’, the essays on Mad Max, Die Hard, and True Detective, as well as ‘In Defense of Unlikeable Women’.

I’ve never read any Kameron Hurley fiction, but I would really like to after reading this. It sounds like she has a fantastic grasp on writing real, living, breathing characters. She also clearly understands—and opened my eyes to—the monumental power that storytellers have to change the world, and how our worldview is flavored and interpreted through the lens of fiction.

 

 

Information Doesn't Want to be Free, by Cory DoctorowInformation Doesn’t Want to be Free, by Cory Doctorow

Doctorow expertly breaks down and illustrates just how much we lose societally by allowing intermediaries to stipulate things entirely outside of their business through lobbying and extortion of all parties involved. It’s a fascinating, multi-faceted deep examination of digital rights, copyright, piracy, net neutrality, and the human tendency toward protecting our own interests at the detriment of everyone else (including, unbeknownst to us, ourselves).

At first it made me angry, then it made me paranoid, and finally it made me angry again when I realized just how paranoid I actually have to be now that I understand this stuff a little more. After working my way through that cycle a few times, I’ve actually come out the other side more hopeful than I was when I went in. I feel a little more informed on just how serious the situation actually is, and I now have a huge amount of respect for the EFF and all the work they’re doing to combat ridiculous things like SOPA/PIPA, and anti Net-Neutrality nutjobs.

I recommend it for pretty much anyone that would like to hang on to their privacy in an increasingly invasive world.

 

 

Fire and Fury, by Michael WolffFire and Fury, by Michael Wolff

This book doesn’t challenge your assumptions. If it is to be believed, the day-to-day functioning of Trump’s White House appears to be simultaneously worse than we all imagined, and exactly as we all thought it probably was: Trump’s an idiot, the least self-aware person alive, interested only in his own celebrity and validation, and wholly unqualified to be the President of anything. Everyone around him is 1) Trying to save face. 2) Pushing their competing agendas. 3) Making fun of Trump. 4) Stabbing each other in the back. 5) Pulling their hair out. 6) Trying to avoid jail time. 7) Competing for Trump’s attention. 8) Trying to rein Trump in. 9) Trying not to get fired. 10) Trying to get everyone else fired. 11) Failing miserably at everything they do, because they themselves are wholly inept, and generally awful humans.

All things considered, it was a surprisingly compassionate portrayal of everyone involved. It’s the blind leading the blind leading us all off a cliff.

P.S. Pence is mostly absent from the book, which makes it seem like he’s just sitting on the sidelines, twirling his thumbs, waiting for the moment he can step in and become President.

 

 

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

A deeply illuminating, honest look at the realities of being black in America, written as a letter to the author’s teenage son. It doesn’t insult by offering a solution to the problems, but aims only to make the reader acknowledge the deeply internalized, institutionalized racism, hate, and fear that built America and the American Dream. Read it.

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free.”

“..a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.”

“The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.”

“I am black, and have been plundered and have lost my body. But perhaps I too had the capacity for plunder, maybe I would take another human’s body to confirm myself in a community. Perhaps I already had. Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe. But my tribe was shattering and reforming around me.”