Elon Musk Is On A One-Man Mission To Prove Money Doesn’t Make You Happy

If I were rich, I would be happy.

This thought came to me more than once this week while cleaning up trash and swabbing out toilets at my day job. But once I confronted the thought it melted away; two years ago today I was making about 400% more money and was about 200% unhappier. I wasn’t even that much more comfortable, to be honest. Somehow I managed to spend all of that extra money and had basically nothing to show for it.

“Money can’t buy you happiness” feels, when you’re poor, like one of the nastiest lies that rich people feed to you. It sounds like a maxim designed to keep you down, to make you stay satisfied with your wretched lot in life, to keep you from encroaching on their hallowed halls of aristocracy.

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This Labor Day Chop Wood And Carry Water

(The image above is Mila Kunis in the some-day cult classic Jupiter Ascending)

If you’ve noticed that I’ve been scarcer than usual here, it’s because I got a day job. A couple of them, actually. One is a work from home part-time thing, but the other is a minimum wage service industry job. It’s very physical and quite menial; I leave work every day bone-tired. Between these two jobs and my Patreon I still don’t make a living wage – the combined income is not enough to even rent a studio apartment in most areas of Los Angeles.

When I got the job I was worried that someone might recognize me as I was cleaning toilets; this isn’t just my enormous ego talking, the job is in a sector that attracts movie fans. On my first day I saw an acquaintance who works on a big TV show; I’m not sure if he saw me, but we didn’t have an interaction. I was grateful for that.

So as you can imagine the kerfuffle about Geoffrey Owens, formerly Elvin on The Cosby Show, has hit home. The actor was spotted – and photographed! – bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s. What followed was a perfect internet storm, first of people mocking the actor and then people getting mad at the people mocking the actor (and thus spreading the photo farther and wider. The internet is the ultimate home of “This tastes like shit, try it.”). A lot of people spoke up about how hard it is to make a living in the arts, and that having a job – any job – is laudable and honorable.

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Heal Yourself To Help Others

One of the things I’ve always liked about Buddhism is that it’s based in a ‘check it out for yourself’ attitude. Because the Buddha didn’t talk about a lot of cosmic stuff there’s very little to take on faith; you’re invited to check out the principals and practices and see if they work for you.

John Horgan is a science writer who has been super critical of Buddhism and the modern mindfulness movement, but always at a remove. He doesn’t meditate. I get where he’s coming from – this shit seems ridiculous from an outside vantage point. But friends convinced him to do a 10 day retreat and, even though he half-assed it, he came to the conclusion that there’s something to this meditation business after all. 

But he makes a really common mistake – he thinks that meditation is selfish. He writes:

[S]eeking enlightenment is pretty self-indulgent. The world isn’t all fireflies and goldfinches. It has problems that need fixing, as I was reminded whenever I looked across the Hudson at the West Point Military Academy.

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Holy Shit, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Great

In June Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, identifying as a Democratic Socialist, won a Democratic primary in New York City against a sure-thing incumbent. It was a total come-from-behind victory; when people complained the media hadn’t paid enough attention to her I thought to myself “You guys are missing what makes an underdog story an underdog story,” but whatever.

In the weeks since she’s been getting a lot of love, but I’ve maintained my usual irritating skepticism (which has been tempered from the thinly veiled cynicism I used to hold to something closer to the true “I do not know” freedom from judgment to which I aspire). Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender a year ago; not at all a disqualifying thing, but she has no record or history as a legislator or even a major activist. To make any judgment seemed, to me, to be premature.

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Kindness Is Subversive

Lately I’ve been getting very into kindness. I used to think kindness was something that you deployed on occasion, like an umbrella. Then I thought kindness was something you used like a weapon, a cudgel with which you could smite your enemies, leaving them bloodied with your superiority.

In the past year my thoughts on kindness have changed. I think kindness can be constant and invisible, like radiation coming from a pellet of plutonium (maybe I can come up with a more positive version of that simile at some point). Kindness is something you not only project but that you also apply to yourself. And kindness, I believe, is the most radical and subversive thing in the world today.

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A Little White Privilege In The Morning

I experienced a little white privilege today.

I have this new used car, and there is only one door lock. It is broken. I can’t get into the car. So I had to climb in through the trunk, push down the back seat and unlock the car from within.

Doing this told the car that it was being stolen. The alarm rang like crazy. The only way to stop it would be to put the key in the lock and open the door, but the lock is broken. So the alarm blares and blares and I’m standing there next to the car with a blank look on my face. The alarm quits after ten solid blaring minutes.

I leave the door unlocked all night, because I’m taking the car to the mechanic this morning. But when I open the door, the alarm goes off again. At 8:30 in the morning. On a quiet residential street.

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You’re Not Allowed To Change

There was an extraordinary confluence in space-time this week. Zadie Smith, brilliant author of White Teeth, published a short story about James Gunn being fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 days before the event happened. Smith, like all geniuses, must be tapped into the workings of the universe, and as such her story “Now More Than Ever” foretold what happened to Gunn.

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What To Do With Such Times

Today I went downtown to the huge – 70,000 strong, early reports say – protest against Trump’s concentration camps for kids. It was my second protest this month related to this topic; I went to a small but energetic emergency march the day after those initial reports came through.

I return from the protest energized and hopeful. I have been cynical of late, thinking that Twitter and the internet give people the dopamine rush of being activists without actually engaging in any activism (love David Simon, but yelling curse words at trolls isn’t making any real difference in the world, except as entertainment. Which, hey, we also need). I have seen so many people tweeting variations on “Why aren’t people in the streets?” and I always think: “Aren’t you people? Get in the streets.”

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Save Yourself With Service

Another heavy day. They come one after another, not letting us catch our breath. They are huge, cataclysmic. They overwhelm. You look at the scope of the problems hitting us, hour after hour, and it seems like there’s no way to fix it, like there’s no hope. You’re staring at a tsunami wave and simply waiting to be consumed.

That’s how I felt when I woke up this morning and saw a news alert on my phone about the Supreme Court upholding the President’s racist Muslim ban. I had only just opened my eyes and the first thing I learned about the world today is that our system of checks and balances is unbalanced and unchecked. What could I, an unemployed disgraced former film critic, do in the face of such wrongness?

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