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Minor diva

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mariah-carey-435

I’m used to living in the lap of luxury. For example, whenever it dips below 32 degrees Farenheit, I make Mr. B brave the taiga outside the house to warm up the car for ten minutes before I can get in, because what am I, a peasant? He also peels my pomagranates, because what am I, good with tropical fruit?

But usually, I rein it in because I have to live in society with other people, and I don’t want them to know that I live like Mariah Carey. For whatever reason, people aren’t too keen on women who think Gucci gowns are bathing suits.

But I never in my wildest expected anything like the attention my post about Sochi got last week. I should say that I’m amazed by how many people read my writing and cared enough to pass it on. But the unfortunate truth is that now I’m obligated to become even more high-maintenance.

When you become an internet celebrity with over 5,000 distinct people (not counting all of the times you refresh your page to see your stats) visiting to your blog for a couple of days, you have to carry yourself a certain way.

You’re no longer blogging about Nutella and the time you almost got shanked in Jerusalem. You are an icon. A commentator. The People demand your opinion.  You are basically Enjolras.

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Well, I’m not really sure anyone expects me to know anything and they are probably actually praying that I don’t write any more about Russian toilets. But, like all celebrities, I now feel the need to share my thoughts on political events I don’t completely understand the nuances of with the world.

For instance, I am dying to bust out my “Meditations on a Ukranian Revolution” thinkpiece. Do I know anything about Ukraine? I know that Mr. B and I accidentally tried to go to a Ukranian restaurant during Orthodox Christmas last year in jeans when everyone inside was wearing Armani. I’ve also watched a lot of Mila Jovovich films.  I’m ready to write.

I can’t do that until I’m in the proper headspace for being a celebrity, and the only way I can do that is to live like one. So, I started changing my image where it matters the most: closest to home.

I called my mom over Skype. “Mom,” I said into the rectangle. “Wil Wheaton reblogged me so now I’m famous. Feel free to tell your work friends that your daughter is a celebrity.”

“Who’s Wil Wheaton?” my mom said.

“Are they paying you,” my dad yelled menacingly in the background. “Are they paying you?” He came into the frame. Their iPad was positioned so I could only see his stomach.

“Who? Who’s paying me?”

“The people reading your blog. They should pay for the priviledge to read your writing! I always knew my daughter would be a writer. It’s your mom that wouldn’t let you major in English in college,” my dad’s stomach said.

“No, they’re not paying me, Dad. It’s my blog.”

“Well, then that’s no good,” the stomach said. “Call it off.”

“Call what off?”

“The whole thing. Also, I found that your post had a few factual inconsistencies about Russia that I was extremely unhappy with. For example-”

“Sorry Dad, gotta go, major media are calling.”

“Wait, don’t hang up. Who’s Wil Wheaton,” my mom asked again, back in the frame.

I hung up Skype. This was not going the way I planned. Time for another strategy.

“I’m famous now,” I said to Mr. B, approaching him as regally as I could given that I was wearing sweatpants for the second day in a row.

“Not now, I’m watching tv” he said. He had already spent a great deal of Friday helping me stabilize my server after my site went down and was relaxing after work. But I was a celebrity now, and that meant constant sacrifice.

“Hey, I need you to pay attention,” I said.

“Mmhmmm,” Mr. B said, making the noise that means he acknowledges my presence and the fact that I said something, but not always what I said. He makes this noise often when I’m bothering him.

Mr. B was watching his beloved Shameless.   Carl was in the process of breaking Frank’s leg by duct-taping weights to his arms, torso and legs and jumping off a stepladder onto Frank while Frank was high on stolen Percocet so Frank could get insurance money for liver surgery to cure his alcohol-induced cirrhosis.

This was a key scene. I would have to wait.

I stalked away to watch my blog hits. I had 5,689 hits and that number was growing by at least ten hits every hour. Traffic was rushing. I was a damn big deal, and I was not getting any respect.

I tried the last resort. We were slated to go out to dinner with friends later that night. “Hey,” I texted my friend before we left. “Can you please reserve us a VIP booth? Wil Wheaton reblogged me, so you’ll need to put a sign on it, “Reserved for Pulitzer-slated blogger and man-date.”

My friend didn’t respond.

I paused, my finger hovering over “Send.”

“I’ll also be briging my own silverware. I don’t think this restaurant’s is up to par,” I added.

Silence.

You know, all this time I’ve been making fun of celebrities and how egotistical and vacuous they are, but I’m starting to see where they’re coming from when they throw a fit that the M&Ms in their dressing rooms aren’t sorted by color.

We are precious, important contributors to society who need to be cherished and fed with the milk of human kindness. Oh, and actual milk. By which I mean a $275 shot of port wine that is designed to be sprayed by a man into your mouth as you eat the gold-leaf encrusted brownie it goes with.

There’s a lot of things us celebrities count among our passions . World peace. Income inequality. Russian toilets. The world is big and full of problems that vex us, and we, like Atlas, are exhausted by the burden of being the ones to carry humanity’s troubles on our shoulders. Or in our WordPress blogs.

The least you could do is mist port at us from a $175 atomizer.

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You really shouldn’t have

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monumentsmenThe real Monuments Men

It’s still winter, and there’s still nothing to do outside.  There’s plenty to do inside: work, schoolwork,a SQL class I was teaching, but when I’m done with all of that, there’s still winter. So Mr. B and I have decided, I guess, that we’re just going to watch terrible movies until the weather breaks 50 degrees, which is, I think, standard operating procedure in Finland.

So yesterday we went to see Monuments Men. I had mediocre expectations, and even those  were all shattered by how terrible this movie is. I could go on and on about how it panders to the audience, how it’s historically inaccurate, and how they have real star power in the film firing on only one cylinder, but instead I want to talk about the story behind the movie.

Monuments Men is based on a book of the same name about a group of 400 U.S. servicemembers and civilians (from important art centers like like MoMA and the National Gallery) who worked on the front lines in Europe as World War II came to a close to find and return precious works of art to their original places before the Nazis or Soviets kept them. This stash included millions of pieces confiscated from wealthy Jews.

Having been to Europe and looked at countless pieces of priceless art that contribute to the history of humanity, my main comment is, was it really worth it for the Monuments Men to risk their lives?

The reason I pose the question is because every single piece of European art is the same.

Look. Look at all these pictures of the Madonna with child.  Would we really be worse off if a couple were missing? I mean, yeah, sure, I guess we can lament the loss of Madonnas wearing different-colored dresses.

But really, it’s all the same painting.

Because, have you ever been to a European art museum? I have.

The first gallery of early medieval art is beautiful and links you to the past. By the third gallery, your eyes are watering. If you are in a large museum, there are more than three galleries, and that’s when the seizures start. There are a LOT of Madonnas. Please, no more Madonnas, you say. Please, you ask your partner.

Can we sit down and take a break, because we’ve been walking through six or more galleries of Madonnas and Holy God Almighty you are praying to the Madonna of the Rose and the Madonna of the Cross and Madonna the Blessed that people stop painting Madonnas so we can exit these galleries and move on with our lives? 

No, your partner says. We paid almost $32 American dollars for admission, not to mention all the money we spent flying to Italy, so we are going to look at all these Madonnas, one by one.

Your feet start bleeding gently.

Then the fruit starts. Good Lord, do people love to paint fruit.  Grapes, pears, apples. Apple cores. Grape stems. Seeds. Good God, the seeds.  Pomegranates. Now, I know the tropical fruit people are faking because pomegranates didn’t even exist in Europe until Yotam Ottolenghi singlehandedly brought all the pomegranates from Israel to flavor dishes in London in the 1990s.

And then the self-portraits start. Are you, in 2014, tired of selfies? Do you think it’s a new trend that only college girls do? You’re wrong.

People used to do selfies all the time. You just had to have trillions of dollars made from unethical business activities probably tied to either ships, rum, or tobacco to do it right.  People were so rich that it wasn’t even called a selfie. It was called someone with 20 years of experience painting masterpieces coming to paint your royal ass in a wig.

“But, they’re all different and unique and show different styles of dress, the nuance of the light, the master’s stroke…”

Nope. They’re all the same, with the same message, and that message is,  ”You were rich, and you were being selfied.”

Monuments Men risked life and limb trying to save countless pieces of art. But maybe they could have just been safe at home in New York or Washington with a gin and tonic in their hands (that’s the only thing people drank in the 40s, right?), listening to the radio. ” ‘Still Life with Fruit’ has been carted off by the Germans,” the radio would crackle in the distance.

“Ahh, good,” the Monuments men would say. “How many more are there, and how quickly can they get rid of them?”

If only people at least painted something different with their portraits of dudes in wigs or lemons. Something that’s not just a bunch of fruit lying on a plate. How about some fruit and a bunch of grape leaves? Oh, that’s been done already? Then how about some fruit and a creepy monkey? And toss a dead pheasant on there.  Also a cat that looks like it’s going to murder you in your sleep?  Now we’re talking. Mark this one for saving ASAP.

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By the way, I got all these paintings from WikiPaintings, which is where they should be, tucked in neatly in their little digital galleries,  kept away from the public.

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That movie about Joaquin Phoenix’s mustache

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–Welcome, new readers. I don’t always write about Russian toilets!  Check out some of my other posts on almost being shanked in Jerusalem, Russian medical advice, being Jewish, my MBA, Big Data,  being terrible at cooking, and women in tech.  –

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Mr. B and I went to see “Her” last week  because all of my hipster news sources (The New York Times) mentioned that this was The movie to see.  If you have a couple hours  to kill and feel exceedingly happy about your life (and who isn’t feeling positively joyful in this bleak unending Northeastern nuclear winter?), I highly recommend watching it. You will leave feeling like you hate computers, humanity, the fact that it has an unGooglable title, and most importantly, Joaquin Phoenix’s mustache.

I wanted to see Her because everyone has been raving about how seamlessly Spike Jonze integrates human life and technological interfaces.  Also you’re legally not allowed to continue owning an Apple product until you’ve seen this movie. Spoilers below.

The film is about Theodore,  in his late 30s, who is recently-divorced. Theodore is sad, not only because he was emotionally unavailable to his now ex-wife,causing said divorce, but also has an artisinal (but soul-crushing!) full-time job which allows him to afford  an incredibly large,well-decorated, and  sunny (but empty!)  apartment in Future Los Angeles, which looks a lot like current Los Angeles, only with higher-waist skinny jeans. Also, everything in Theodore’s world looks like Instagram,because in the future, the X-Pro filter is vintage again.

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One day while after writing handwritten letters for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com ( in the future, the internet still exists and we are back from the current fad of websites named like the author was having an involuntary keyboard spasm {Zap.ly, spark.io, blarf.er}) Theodore spots an ad for a new operating system that learns about you as you interact with it, and evolves.

He installs it and decides to give her a female identity, Samantha. This is a deceiving name because she has  only none of the fun, hijinks, and nose-twitching of the actual Bewitched character.  She doesn’t have much of anything. Samantha exists solely as a voice in Theodore’s  futuristic media center (just an earplug) and his futuristic phone (just a phone), so it’s up to the viewer to imagine the implications of interacting with something that is entirely non-human but acts like a human, and something that can never be seen, only heard.

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Theodore, lonely because he cannot commit to anyone in his real life, decides to commit to what is essentially the smarter,  futuristic equivalent of a call-center voice recognition system.   The rest of the movie is about the implications of having a relationship with something that is not real, but that challenges the viewer’s perception of what “real” means, and what computers will be capable of in the future. (In the future, computers are capable of phone sex, and it is awkward to watch. Really awkward. )

The questions the movie is supposed to bring up are all Kurzweil-ish: how do you know when something’s intelligent enough to make its own choices? How do people deal with technology, and how will this impact us in the long-run? How will humanity change in the face of things it invents?  And, most importantly, how can we get a cushy job at beautifulhandwrittenletters.com?

The future as Jonze envisions it would probably be easier to imagine if it wasn’t so much like the present; his brave new world  is a huge Apple commercial, and if this is where we’re headed, then, I speak as a loyal Apple user who wrote a creepy eulogy about Steve Jobs, but get me a ship off this planet. There is nothing in this movie that makes me believe it was shot at any time other than two weeks ago.

A month ago, Mr. B went to New York for a hackathon and I went to the Museum of Sex (yes.) One of the exhibits was the printout of Anthony Weiner’s explicit Facebook chats with all of his various mistresses. The timestamp was 2010-2011. Does something like that belong in a museum yet? I had the same feeling watching this movie.

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The second issue is that Theodore was a character who was insanely hard to sympathize with. His marriage ended because, as he says, he was hiding feelings from his wife and couldn’t communicate, he delayed signing his divorce papers, and he went on dates where he couldn’t emotionally commit to Olivia Wilde. He is a wishy-washy individual who can’t get excited about anything except video games and nude pictures of pregnant celebrities. He ear-dials a phone sex operator just to hear the sound of someone’s voice. Most unforgivably,  he wears impeccably-ironed button-down shirts. No one can iron that well in real life.

The last problem is that Jonze doesn’t offer any hints or solutions to this problem of human loneliness, which is so pervasive in our society. I already know that I’m addicted to my phone, and I already know that Google’s search algorithms are getting so smart that they are filtering out search results that are otherwise valuable, thus altering our collective understanding of the internet.  Some people are more connected than ever on Facebook, but don’t know their own neighbors.  My question is, what do we do about it?

I know I use my phone as a crutch.  Tell me how to stop. Or, don’t tell me. Artistically show me through Instagram shots and strategically-placed emo music.  1984 takes us through the logical conclusion to the invasion of privacy. What’s the logical conclusion to being married to our phones? “Her” doesn’t make it clear, because the ending is a bit of a cop-out.  There’s nothing at stake, and nothing lost.

If the answer is, as it is in the movie , that people need other people more than they need sexy disembodied Scarlett Johansen in their ear, playing them hipster piano music that she composed in her tiny computer chamber, then that’s obvious, because people need other people in real life.

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No matter how good the machines get, they’re missing something intrinsically human. When Mr. B and I discussed this after the movie, his position was that even humans are programmed. We’re just a collection of random reactions that are limited by what our meat-brains think. How are we different than a computer, really? At least a computer as advanced as Samantha. And I didn’t have an answer then, but I have one now: humans can override their programming. Humans have free will. Humans that didn’t like chocolate when they were born eat gallons of Nutella now. Computers can never do that. They are constrained. And because they’re constrained, they’re not genuine.

The next question is, if machines aren’t better than humans, as they’re not, then how do we reclaim human contact ? How do we start to trust people more than computers again?   This was the point of thinking in the movie where my circuits, sugar-rushing from theater Milk Duds, overloaded. I just wanted to see a movie, man. I didn’t want to be sucked into existential discussions of singularity.

Of course, this line of thought may be exactly what Spike Jonze was looking for in a reaction, in which case, damn you Spike Jonze, and yes, I would like a pair of the high-waisted hipster pants in women’s large, thanks. Oh, right, and please invent an interface to make me less depressed in February.

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On #sochiproblems as I see them

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 howruslive001-9from “Let Me Stay Overnight

When I was eighteen, my dad finally took me back to Russia. I had been begging to go since I was nine because I had been having dreams in where my grandmother and my aunt spoke to me in Russian and reminded me that it was my obligation never to forget the Volga. These dreams were intense and immense, looming over my childhood and saturating it with guilt.

Immigrants always wear an aura of survivor guilt that they’ve abandoned their countries, and even though I was only five when I left, it was imprinted into me with everything my family did.  I was taken away from what was the worst country on Earth so I could live in America. I survived, and because of that, I needed to feel guilty the rest of my life that others had not been so lucky.

When the plane touched down at Domodedovo, I was overwhelmed.  ”That’s your birthland,” my father said quietly through the window. Russian doesn’t have an exact word for homeland, only birthland, which means the country and the language keep you umbilically close, almost hostage, even if you leave.

All of the emotion I had been feeling my entire life, about my Russian roots, about Russia itself came together and apart inside of me and I felt like I could burst. I sat, looking at the runway and the grass on the sides of it. It seemed so much more Russian, somehow.  Everything seemed more inexplicably Slavic: the sky, the buildings, and me. “You need to get off the plane,” the Aeroflot stewardess said icily, not looking at me as she passed by in spiked heels.

That first night, I lay in my aunt’s apartment in Yaroslavl. I had played here as a toddler for countless hours, and everything was as I remembered it, but much smaller. I had only remembered it in my dreams for the past fifteen years, and I had to keep touching the couch to remember it was real.  The apartment, one bedroom where my grandmother slept with my aunt and one living room, seemed smaller. The kitchen was just a stove, a fridge, and a tiny table where my dad listened to Soviet news broadcasts as he ate breakfast over 20 years ago. Everything had shrunk.

birch-grow-1.jpg!Blog

But the crickets outside seemed much larger. There was no air conditioning, so the windows were open to the stillness of the summer night and the distinct Russian summer darkness came in like ink through a sieve. Downstairs, in the stairwell that smelled like piss and thirty years of crumbling damp concrete, someone clanged up the stairs, and my heart raced for a second until I remembered the thick black door with two bolts that had survived the lawless nineties. I’m back, I thought, this is Russia, with a sense of anticipation and fear. This is mine, mine, this is who I am,  me, me, me, my mind echoed into the darkness of my dreams.

Two or three days after we came, my aunt, my dad and I took a walk, across from the cluster of Khruschevki project buildings where my aunt lived, to the place where my dad grew up in the 1960s, in a set of barracks. On the way, a wild pack of dogs ran by in the distance of the field we were crossing. “Stay away from them,” my aunt said, furrowing her brow. “They’ve been known to bite. We heard about it on the news.” The two-story barracks in their old neighborhood were made completely of thick strips of wet, rotting wood. “There was no real electricity or bathrooms when we were growing up,” my dad said, deep in his past.

“We were all so close. We had 2 meters of space per person, in a room for four people, but we knew all our neighbors. Everyone knew each other, all the kids were out here, always yelling, always playing with each other. Then we finally got that apartment, after years in line. “ There were still clothes hung out to dry on the lower floors of the building, and a deflated ball laying near the sidewalk. The barracks were still inhabited.

We walked further, past a school that looked like it should be in a bombed-out third-world country. The brick was sweating, the windows were pale and lifeless, unwashed from the 70s, and the playground was sad and dilapidated. I thought it was abandoned, but the bright pastel drawings and cutouts of leaves and stars in the windows told me otherwise. We walked past a closed-down disco called The Clockwork Orange. There were broken bottles and cigarettes everywhere. The building smelled of the same cinderblock piss odor as my aunt’s stairwell, like every stairwell in Russia.

For the first three days I was simply in deep shock. I grew up in America, and I had never been anywhere this dirty, this depressing, this-I didn’t even have a word for it in English. But there’s one that exists in Russian: toska, a combination of anguish, anxiety, and melancholy, and finally, acceptance that most things won’t ever change.

It shouldn’t be like this, I thought. It can’t be like this. How is it possible that the country that has produced the greatest literary cannon of the 19th century still has people using outhouses? We had beaten the French, the Germans, and sent the first man into space. (Later, I heard the wry Russian observation, “We beat Germany but they’re still living better than us. Maybe we should let them beat us this time.”)

I had a feeling I didn’t know how to reconcile. It was the feeling of simultaneously feeling proud of Russia, of loving Russia to pieces, but also one of complete helplessness. How to even begin fixing something like this, a country where people still live in barracks that weren’t meant to outlast Khruschev? A country where it’s reasonable to expect to to get bitten by rabies-carrying dogs?

among-the-open-valley-1883.jpg!Blog

And a third, uneasy feeling swept through me, and I recognized it right away: American smugness. Everything is so terrible here. It would never happen this way in America. How can people just take it? People would never be this okay with broken roads, heinous public toilets, and men staggering-drunk in the middle of the day where I was from.

And yet it seemed my aunt was proud of her city, of the fact that Yaroslav was part of the Golden Ring, the historic heart of original Russian Christendom. She was proud that The Scorpions, of Winds of Change fame,  were rumored to come perform in Yaroslavl.  How was this possible?

I had this feeling again when the hot water went off the second week we were there. Hot water always goes off in Russia for a month in the summer for “maintenance”.  What, I thought as I my aunt calmly poured a cup of boiled tea water over my hair into the bathtub.  How is this Russia, and how it it ok?

“I hate it here,” I told my dad after several days. “Yes,” my dad said. Despite having spent the first half of his life in Russia, it was beginning to weigh on him, as well. Russia weighs on you psychologically, like a heavy, wet blanket. “But don’t you dare say anything to your aunt. Mind your manners. Be good.”

“But why not,” I said. I was eighteen and stupid.

“You’ll hurt her feelings,” my dad looked at me, incredulous that I would even ask.

“Why can’t we talk about how we can fix the country?”

“Because you don’t understand anything about Russia. You’re an American. And if you say anything to your aunt I will be very angry with you.”

When we finally got back from that trip, and I entered America again, it felt like breaking through a tightly-sealed plastic container that was full of inky blackness at the bottom and ice cream and whipped cream and sprinkles at the top. I hadn’t realized how depressed I’d become in two weeks.

“How was Russia,” all my friends from high school asked eagerly.

“It was so gross,” I said, laughing. “Like they didn’t even have public bathrooms or hot water there, how gross is that?”

“Ewww,” they said, which was exactly the emotion I was hoping for. Shock at how bad things were, and admiration at me for bravely having gone through them.

But inside I was burning up with embarrassment for criticizing something I didn’t understand.

***

This duplicity of emotions is something the Western journalists teeming into Sochi and taking pictures of broken door handles and faucet water that looks like someone pissed out apple juice will never understand or be able to explain.

It’s not their fault, but they don’t understand that they’re missing the first two emotions: an overwhelming sense of love and obligation to the country, and a nuanced, detailed intuition about how things can be made better. Hence, when they process the unfinished hotel rooms and the unspeakable amount of public money that’s been stolen to build the world’s most expensive but worst-looking games, all they can come up with is, “Haha, this menu says ass on it.” (Ass. is the abbreviation for assortment in Russian.)

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Added to this perfect storm is this feeling of exhibitionism, that they want to show the West how bad it really is in Sochi, without context, which is why they’re busy taking pictures of broken hotel rooms and writing sympathy pieces about how all of the stray dogs in Sochi are going to be rounded up and killed.

As opposed to…what? There are no shelters in Russia, and there is no system or culture of volunteerism due to the forced volunteerism everyone was made to do in the Soviet Union, so it’s a false dichotomy, a ploy from Americans, who are born pet-lovers, to hate those Evil Russians.

The more incredible and backwards-seeming the news from Russia, the more retweets journalists get, and there’s nothing journalists love more than being the center of attention. If they’re in it, it means they’re doing their job correctly.  It’s, as Julia Yoffe said zlaradstvo, an evil glee, a kind of schadenfreude.

Within hours of arriving in Moscow yesterday, Russian friends, even the Westernized ones, those who are openly, viciously critical of the Kremlin, have expressed their hurt at the Western blooper coverage of Sochi. A whole lot of their tax money has been spent on something they may not have wanted and in ways they find criminally wasteful, and, yes, their government has not done much to endear itself to the West of late, but they’re puzzled by why the Americans and the British are so very happy that the details are a little screwy, the way they generally are in Russia.

The word they use is zloradstvo, literally: evil-reveling.

I’m more than thrilled that attention is finally being called to how fucked up Russia is; it’s only something I’ve been talking about for years.  And it’s fine to make fun of something, but when that something is not your own, not something you understand, babies, goddamnit, you’ve got to be kind as Kurt Vonnegut would say. And kindness from journalists means adding context and not being sensationalist. Not playing the Ugly American Broadcaster.

And it’s very easy to be unkind in the face of unmitigated public attention.

Which is why the best people covering the Olympics are not any of the reporters that have been retweeted millions of times. Some of the best coverage so far has been by my perennial favorite, ViceTV, who first went to the sprawling Olympic complex, and then to the people displaced by its creation, who now live seven in a room and use an outhouse very much like the one nearly every family member I know did until at least the early 1960s. They also did a six-part piece on being gay in today’s Russia which I could only watch the first part of because of how cruel it is.

Unfortunately, in a mass public media event, being stupid and sensationalist is the only thing that will get you noticed, which is why the symbol of Sochi is now the toilet, instead of the people actually still going to the bathroom outside, instead of the hundreds of state officials paid to take bribes, instead of the underpaid laborers of the Olympic village, instead of the fact that the president of Russia owns a $200,000 watch while parts of Siberia have intermittent heating in the winter.

It’s hard to encapsulate context in a tweet,though, which is why this is the news we get.

Yes, there are Sochi Problems at Sochi, but they’re not the ones you see on the surface, and hopefully I did a good enough job explaining why.

Let the games begin.

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The snarling crowd in the shadows watching us

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a-collaboration

By the time she died in 1886, Emily Dickinson had written over eighteen hundred poems. Only twelve were ever published in her lifetime, and they were published anonymously in the Springfield Republican, which, today, after significant infrastructure and population growth in the United States,  has a circulation of 55,000.

So probably only 14,000 people received the newspaper that day when “The Sleeping” was published in 1862, and only a third of those, if that, ever read it.  Five thousand people were only ever exposed to Emily Dickinson’s voice in her lifetime, and even that was anonymously and heavily edited to match publication style of that day.

When I was in seventh grade and memorizing tons of Emily Dickinson to make myself seem smarter to people older than me, I used to think this was incredibly unfair. How could someone so talented not want or need any exposure? How could she have died, unrecognized, unappreciated by anyone except her own family? She even asked her sister to burn all her manuscripts and correspondence, and it was only through a legal loophole that her legacy survived.

It used to be that there was nothing as unfair as a brilliant writer, toiling in obscurity. Now, it’s unfair that when we write, we face the universe.

That’s an exaggeration, but the recent explosion of viral content means that every time I write a blog post, I have to think about everyone that reads it: my family, my friends, my coworkers at the office, my coworkers at other offices, my dentist, people on Twitter, people on Facebook, people who repost my content in Japan or India or Korea with my blog name with my first and last name, out there in the internet.

This is obviously a choice. I chose to write, and I chose to write publicly, partly because of Penelope Trunk’s post . I could have hidden my last name, or even my first. When I first set up the blog, over five years ago, I toyed with the idea of blogging anonymously. I didn’t know much about security then, but I had a nagging feeling that, no matter how anonymous I was, I would always be found out.

What got me to thinking about how exposed we are in the modern world was this recent post experiment, where the author tries to start an anonymous blog. It outlines numerous steps he or she takes to be safe,  up to parts that are extremely annoying to implement:

Most of the time I hide the stick in a secret location in the house. When I need to go somewhere and want to be able to update this blog, I’ll back it up to the hidden volume, and then securely erase the USB disk, so I can take it with me without fear. This is what I must do until the Tails adds its own function for ‘hidden volumes’.

But the author is already not anonymous in any way. They are clearly a native or near-native English speaker.  They are tech-savvy, including knowing enough about both Tor and static-site generation using GitHub. And, they read XKCD comics. I’ve already created a pretty narrow profile of them in my head. They note that they counter  identifying writing patterns by:

 running all my posts through Google Translate. I translate into another language, then to English, and then correct the errors. It’s great for mixing up my vocabulary, but I wish it didn’t fuck up Markdown and HTML so much. Until this point, you might have assumed that English was my second language. But let me assure you, I will neither confirm nor deny it.

For the blog author, it’s an experiment. For most humans, it’s an impossible way to live. The danger of human nature is two-fold: the first is that we’re creatures of habit, which makes it easy to track our patterns, and second is that we are lazy.  We’re not machines, and we’re not perfect.

The result is that now every time we post something, we’re posting it, non-anonymously, to a potential audience of over 20,000. 300 Facebook friends, each of which have 300 Facebook friends. Even when it’s only 100 that are possibly reading your posts, that’s a million people 2 degrees of separation away from you. Your private emails are no longer private. Assume someone’s reading over your shoulder, even your Angry Birds stats.

Once you are leading any kind of online life under what is even vaguely close to your real name, you have the potential to reach millions of people every day. And there’s no way to hide who you are, because that makes you even more visible.  ”The internet is no longer divided between a place between those who make, and those who consume,” writes Grace, and I agree with her, but for different reasons than she probably thinks. We are all creators now. We’re generating hundreds of millions of data points, sometimes unwittingly.

Every time I open up WordPress, I feel like I’m standing in a darkened club, front of an open mic in front of an enormous audience.  There are a couple tables up front with friends and family, cheering (some are really loaded up on mojitos, so they’re being extra-loud). The rest of the audience is whispering among each other, not paying attention, flirting, filing their nails as I choose my words carefully.  If I say the right thing, the people up front laugh and titter, and some people around them tap their shoulders, “Hey, who’s that up there. She seems interesting and funny,” and they tune in. Otherwise, they stop listening.

But if I say something that is absolutely true for me, that makes me feel vulnerable, or something funny that other people don’t think is funny, if there is even a breath of scandal, the entire audience snaps to attention and starts talking to directly to me or throwing tomatoes, and now there is a mob.  Sometimes there’s a mob even when you don’t consciously evoke one.

I’ve deleted hundreds of drafts that I’ve started writing for exactly this reason.  I’ve started drafts that are funny, sad, and angry, really, a number of drafts whose only commonality is that they are 100% what I believe or am going through, unfiltered by my fear of the snarling audience in the shadows.

Now they are, like Dickinson’s letters, gone.

If only we were fortunate to be able to delete other data before it makes its way through the crowd and the crowd buzzes in a murmur and rises to a roar, wanting to consume us.

It’s a really exhausting way to write, and, as Emily would probably say, a harder way to live.