WTF is Happening in Brooklyn?

Everyone is talking about revolutions in media, science, medicine, energy, education, labor organization, philanthropy and the myriad of other fields that are effected by the introduction of transformative information distribution systems .  No one, it seems,  but the anarchists and new agers are talking about THE Revolution.  It is here, it is peaceful and it’s manifesting itself in many of the cultural movements taking place in Brooklyn.  The following are a few of the one’s I’ve witnessed:

1.  Art everywhere: There is nothing more liberating to an individual than participating in authentic artistic expression.  Even if the art is bad, if it isn’t ‘original’ or has no philosophy behind it, the simple expression of art is enough to get participants to think critically about their world.  This artistic expression is evident in the galleries, cafes, parks and music venues where every emerging indie musical talent seems to play,  but also on the streets as different graffiti artists battle day in and day out promoting their work with massive murals and/or prolific tagging.  There is street music, especially in the trains, and lots of the music players wear costumes: authentic  gypsy garb, cookie monster suits, V for Vendetta masks… it’s eclectic to say the least.  Then there is the community spaces such as 3rd Ward, the lofts where every other ‘apartment’ is a band’s dormitory and practice stage, the warehouses where massive installations are constructed and, of course, the streets, where all this artistic energy expresses itself in a general attitude of folks not giving a shit.

2. Conforming to non-conformity: People complain that the hipster aesthetic is hypocritical.  If everyone looks like they don’t give a shit they are conforming to what it means to look like one doesn’t give a shit.  It’s true, there is a continuity, maybe a conformity, but when the guy next to you at the bar is a bad ass architect, his friend is a musician and ‘shaman’ and all of you are talking to (a) girls from Manhattan who came to Brooklyn to see where dancing with free individuals would take them (b) Spanish designers who heard this bar was awesome in Barcelona or (c) ‘anarchists’, worries about hypocrisy quickly fade away.  Quite simple, it becomes quickly apparent if someone is boring and can’t dance.

3. A food focus: Whether it’s the half dozen urban farms that have popped up in the last 5 years, the well reviewed, locally focused indie restaurants that open every week or the underground kitchens secretly serving the most innovative meals to adventurous foodies, it’s clear that the food revolution discussed in recent feature films Food Inc. and Fresh: The Movie has found its east coast home in Brooklyn.

4. DIY: Do It Yourself, once considered a vestige of a bygone era of American machismo, has hit Brooklyn with tremendous force.  Massive factories and warehouses in Industrial Williamsburg and Gowanus (and to a lesser extent Queens and the Bronx) have been converted into wood and metal working spaces where artists can pay a monthly fee to use tools once only accessible to the most well financed artists.  Add a massive population of creatives and a community of people who genuinely want to drop out of the formal economy and traditional ‘consumer roles’ and you’ll find an area bursting with creative ideas and the tools necessary to make them a reality.

5. Hustler/Artists: Living in Brooklyn makes one aware of the many ways one can make a living in this world.  Lots of Brooklynites earn money so they can pursue their artistic endeavors and since the economy loves freelancers, people have lots of projects.  Some are for financial rewards, others are for social and artistic ones.  Painters are doing graphic design, sculptors sell real estate and everyone is an electronic music artist.  More social folks are realtors and event promoters, usually with a side of DJing skills.  People aren’t starving, but a lot of folks are following their dreams and that’s rewarding to see.

It’s important to note a sobering reality.  Over 2.5 million people reside in Brooklyn at a density level of 35,000 per square mile.  Chicago, in comparison has 2.8 million people living at 1/3 the density.  Everything I described happens in a small portion of the northwest of this metropolis bordering Manhattan.  The 18 train lines are slowly changing that.  Indeed, Brooklyn, with it’s extensive subway and bus network, boulevards, parks, coast lines, canals, and even beaches, it’s the only city in America that can compete with Manhattan.  Indeed, the two cities competed vigorously for stature in the 19th century.  In the 20th century Manhattan dominated, powered by the mass media and financial services industries.  In the 21st, Brooklyn is going to make a decisive comeback.  In fact, it’s going to be a revolution.

Italy 2006

I began writing my first blog posts when I was in Italy in 2006, chilling on a train.  Here are three of the finer ones tackling sex, technology and how Italians managed to institutionalize chillness.

Slut: Worst Word in the English Language
It has become cliché to complain about the double standard of sexuality concerning men and women.  A guy that has a lot of sex is a “player” or “the man” while a girl is a “slut” or “whore.”  We all know it, we all think its more or less ridiculous, but we keep the double standard going by using those negative, loaded words.  Every time a person calls a girl a slut, a guy somewhere is left unsatisfied because the girl he likes doesn’t want to be considered a slut.  The girl, of course, is left unsatisfied as well and confused about the sex role she is supposed to play.  The word slut has survived for a long time, originating in the Middle Ages, yet it still retains so much venom and power.  The synonyms to slut seem so dated nowadays, it makes you wonder how the word slut made it out of the 19th century: tart, floozy, tramp, scarlet woman, hussy, trollop, harlot, strumpet.  These words show just how dated the term slut really is.  The last time any of these terms were used in the vernacular, women couldn’t vote.
Slut, however, remains as powerful as ever.  It has transcended the simple language and has become a brand.  Are you a slut?  Are you a Playboy?  Once something becomes a brand, people use the word to compare their friends and themselves.  The coolest girls I know have embraced the word and made it their own, but in a world where female sexuality is taboo and confusing (i.e. Britney Spears being a virgin for so long) it is difficult not to have to deal with the slut brand.
If you consider yourself a feminist (or at least someone who views men and women as morally equate) you should never use a word that stigmatizes a woman freely embracing her sexuality; if you’re a guy that wants to get laid, you should never use a term that would make women less inclined to sleep with men.

I was riding on a train from Porto San Giorgio with three good friends and I couldn’t speak a word to any of them.  Witness the power of the iPod.  Lots of people enjoy verbally fellatiating (one of my favorite words) Steve Jobs, the leader of the cult of Apple, and sometimes I get on my knees and pay my respect, but over the last year I’ve become increasingly angry about how the iPod insulates me from the real world.  In my eyes, it’s contributing to a social transformation that will ultimately end much of the randomness, the unpredictable, the dangerous, and the thrilling parts of life.  I will elaborate on that topic more in future entries but for now, I’m going to keep it simple.
I was at a wedding earlier this summer and the father’s speech at the reception got me thinking.  He said, “One lonely night on the F train, I met a beautiful girl.  Little did I know that 40 years later I would be sitting with her as we watch the last of our five daughters get married and start a family of her own.”  I ride the F train sometimes, and I see beautiful girls on subways relatively frequently, but since I’m listening to my iPod and they are listening to theirs, I’d have to come up with a pretty sick line if I’m going to interrupt both of our listening experiences and start a conversation.  Back in the day, I would be bored and so would she and I could start the conversation with a simple “hi.”  Now, when people get on the train, they can rest assured they will not be interrupted by a random person as they listen to their desired song.  We can all rest assured that nothing potentially unpredictable or thrilling is going to happen and continue listening to Stadium Arcadium for the 5th time…
I’m no luddite, I love technology and think it will be the salvation of our species, (see the FAQ about the site) but we must realize we are sacrificing the often surprisingly delightful randomness of life for ease and utility.  I am in Italy and just bought a cell phone after nearly a week without one.  When I was alone, I actually felt alone: an emotion I haven’t experienced in a long time.  It brings me back to my childhood between the time I started taking mass transit without an adult and when I got a cell phone.  A time when if I got lost, I had to figure out what to do: it was a little scary but it was thrilling.  I was taking on the world alone and it made me feel like a grown up.  I wasn’t insulated but an active participant in the action taking place all around me: listening to the sounds of the train, following the plot of other passengers’ conversations and simply enjoying the reality of travel.
Watching doors open and close and people’s mouths move to the sound of Broken Social Scene is fun, but it removes us from the world we live in.  We are surrounded by millions of people just like us, living lives, dealing with problems and being happy.  It’s easy to forget that exceeding simply and important fact when they appear to be characters living in a world where you chose the soundtrack.  What if one of those characters could be a future spouse or a potentially thrilling hook-up?  When the doors of the train open and they walk on, are you going to be ready to enjoy the randomness of life or will you be listening to the same song you’ve heard a dozen times?

Institutionalized Chill
The Italians have got it made here. They’ve done the whole empire thing and now they relax.  They don’t make shit loads of money but they don’t need to.  It’s not a motivation of life.  Your economist friend may see that as a negative, but if a happy and satisfying life is what you look for, Italy has everything you need.
Chill is basically institutionalized here.  The effect of nothing being open for three hours in the day (from 1am-4pm) ripples through the entire culture.  If you aren’t working in an intense industry, you’re free to do anything but consume goods (minus eat food and drink espresso and wine.)  Unless you are the economist friend, you’ve realized that consumerism does not produce a happy populace and a healthy culture.  Money is money, but life is life.  Anyway, it’s a big stab in the heart of consumerism and makes people value each other more.

The Quarter Life Crisis and How to Get Happy

I was sent an article not too long ago entitled “Welcome to Your Quarter Life Crisis”,  — the time period in our 20s when we realize that THIS is life and we need to get comfortable with it. The article explained:

“The Quarterlife Crisis is a kind of anticipatory crisis: ‘How is my life going to turn out? I don’t have a clue; I don’t have a map; I don’t have a vision for it.’ The mid-life crisis is a kind of ‘Is this it? I had a big plan, I had big ideas. Now I’m 48 and I guess I won’t get to do those things.’ The mid-life crisis is understood as one of resignation. A Quarterlife Crisis will resolve itself by hooking itself into a plan.”

The article is chock full of pop psychology that leaves mainstream thinkers slightly more comfortable because they realize their depression is common but also leaves them with no fucking clue how to get happy.

Fortunately for us, humans have been trying to get happy for thousands of years and keep writing books on the topic. I summarize their conclusion as act honest, act dignified.

It’s common knowledge in the West that each of us needs to self-actualize to be fulfilled. The difficulty for most of us is figuring out what activity we should perform to self-actualize.

This is where honesty becomes essential for happiness. If you’re lying to yourself or others about anything, that lie is going to obscure your view of yourself, your reality and what you need to be happy.

Most of us have been telling ourselves lies for years about our past, our future, our relationships, and our values because we didn’t know how to cope with the experiences reality presented to us. The origin of these lies are most often in childhood when we are, both physically and mentally, more vulnerable to trauma.  These lies, whether they’re meaningless white ones or profound whoppers, quickly compound themselves and get repressed, creating more complex problems that are increasingly difficult to solve. These lies will prevent you from being happy because they obscure your view of what happiness really is.

Solving this problem is, in a way, really really easy. All you have to do is stop telling lies. Just as one lie leads to another, one truth leads to next. The more you tell the truth, the more the truth will want to be told. You’ll quickly become aware of lies you didn’t know existed and the relationship between those lies and your irrational and negative emotions.  Once you’re aware of an individual lie, all you have to do is tell the truth (do it out loud, even if you’re alone) and the lie will start to disappear. Even the scariest, darkest lies can be overcome through simple awareness because reality is more comforting than illusion and, no matter what happens, reality will always be there for you.

When you begin to trust reality (a.k.a. the plan, the path, etc.) and accept that you deserve to live completely honest and free of guilt, then you’ll be able to discover what you love very quickly and surround yourself with it.   As you engage with that love you’ll automatically start self-actualizing and, once you do, the marketplace will reward you handsomely because you add the most value to the world when you’re passionately doing what you love.

So, start today on the path towards core happiness by eliminating your use of white lies: either tell people what you truly think or don’t say anything at all.  If you don’t stop lying to others you won’t be able to stop lying to yourself.  If you’re lying to yourself you’ll never be able to discover what you truly love.  If you don’t know what you truly love you won’t be able to self-actualize or find authentic happiness.

As they say: ‘the truth will set you free.’