Middlebrow | culture criticism by a Middle Aged Middle Child

Oh Look, Another Project

I saw that Twitter has a new thing, or Twitter bought a new thing, called Revue, so I decided to start a new project. This is in addition to my other projects that I’ve started and continue to iterate, none of which is my reason for living (pretend I wrote that phrase in French), which is writing fiction. Or nonfiction, or whatever I’ve decided I write. I don’t really write anything. Except this?

Here’s a list of stuff I do:

  • The League of Lensgrinders. This is a podcast and a secret society that I get to do with my brother Rob and my friend Evelyn. 

  • The Collected Foremania. This is my newsletter. It’s personal but not gross. It’s a deep dive into the things I think are interesting. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but people seem to like it.

  • Middlebrow. Middlebrow culture from a middle-aged middle child. Marvel, Star Wars, comics, movies, fast food, that kind of thing. My intention is to write stuff about the stuff I love that is entertaining and accessible to everybody, even if you don’t share my enthusiasm. And if we can’t separate who we are from what we make, I am very middle. I’m middle-class, too, but adding that to the title seemed excessive. This is my newest baby. 

  • My Blog, which is focused on writing and stories.

Some Things I’ve Abandoned Recently 

  • The Hazlett Histories. I really had big plans for this one. I was going to walk to the library once a week with my iPad and keyboard and research lesser-known Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh-area history and write about it. That project was as much about the process as it was about the product, as I learned when the pandemic struck and I broke up with my fiancée and found myself not living within walking distance of my favorite library in the world nor needing a break from home life that I could do once a week. My desire but mostly my ability, to create that newsletter fizzled.

  • Twitch Streaming. I was streaming as my gamer identity, alteredbeef, but I lost interest. I still do it, sporadically, but not as a thing. If you’re not streaming all the time (or at least on a regular schedule) then you won’t gather much of an audience, and without an audience, you’re just narrating whatever game you’re playing to nobody, and that makes it harder to want to do it. I don’t have to trim my nose hairs when I’m just playing games by myself, and I can zone out and not talk when it’s just me. A stream would be fun with a guaranteed audience, but it’s not fun without anybody else to do it with me and/or watch me do it. There’s no point doing something to get attention if nobody pays attention to it!

  • Plants. I always intend to Be Better This Time and not let my plants die but I never succeed. It always ends up killing them through neglect. If plants were as noisy as my cat, who I never forget about, maybe I would not be so neglectful. 

  • Exercise regimens. I always have good intentions and get a good start but then I just don’t care anymore.

  • Smoking cigarettes. Ok, that was actually 15 years ago but I’ve never had another cigarette since then and I’m still proud of it. 

  • my novel. I wrote one and it sits on my hard drive and on cloud backups and, in pieces, in the inboxes of America’s most promising agents. Most of them sent very nice rejections, and after the 30th one I simply stopped trying. I will try again, after revising it again. Until then, I will continue to work on the other novels.

Process is Product

That kind of sounds like a glib marketing book title or something but it’s not. As I indicated in my last Foremania newsletter, I find myself limited by my process. I can’t write my fiction because I don’t have access to the elements that make it fun for me, and if it’s not fun for me then I don’t have any reason to do it. The reward for writing fiction is the writing itself. The process is the fun, and if I can’t engage in that process, I can’t have fun, and I no longer have any reason to do it.

Anhedonia is the Pits

I don’t know why, but I’ve found it more and more difficult to access joy. When I first started taking Prozac, I found that joy was readily available. There was a door in my mind labeled “Joy” and whenever I opened it, rainbows and balloons would flow out.

I credit the Prozac because I had just recently started taking it and even though I had more responsibilities then, and more stresses, I was possessed by a constant good mood. It was like putting my hand on a live wire supplying positive vibes. 

I realize that starting a new psychiatric drug can cause an artificial elevation in mood, so maybe it was that. I also know that prozac can reduce its effectiveness (as all brain drugs can), so simply knowing that information might be having a somewhat negative influence in my conclusions. 

My inability to access joy has translated to a consistent feeling of not being very good, emotionally. It’s like allergies except with feelings. Imagine having rhinitis except it’s your self-worth that suffers instead of your mucous membranes. I don’t know how to stop it. 

Doctors!

My psychiatrist is a lovely Russian man who insists I call him Dr. [first initial] despite my taking 3 semesters of Russian and flawlessly pronouncing his name in my initial call. He doesn’t know I can pronounce Russian words but I am tempted to bust out a couple of phrases I remember from college just to make him feel comfortable. He asked me three times whether I needed refills before I understood what he was saying. I don’t like comparing him to Latka from Taxi but, let’s be honest, that’s exactly how he sounds. 

I addressed this anhedonia with him and he was more interested in finding a cause for my feelings that was not related to my antidepressant. He wasn’t the one who prescribed it, so I don’t think it’s a matter of pride. I think it’s more likely to be a case of his particular approach to psychiatry, which is refreshing. He’s not looking to antidepressants to solve everything. Maybe if I exercised more I would feel better. Sure. Maybe. We’ll see! I’m also getting bloodwork as part of his due diligence, which is also refreshing. 

Personal is Private is Public is Popular

I learned this early on in my blogging, which also happened around the time as my divorce, which was 1) a long time ago and 2) emotionally interesting. I wouldn’t call my divorce a particularly exciting event, especially 15 years later, but it was big news among my friend group at the time. I learned a lot then, including how much attention I could get from showing everybody everything they were curious about, which was “how is Jim dealing with his divorce?” 

People love getting a glimpse inside someone else’s train wreck (me included!) so I’m not surprised.

Anyway, this was just a way to get you to subscribe to my pop culture criticism newsletter/blog Middlebrow. I mean, I’ll probably get too busy with other things and stop doing it within a couple of months so it’s not like I’ll be blowing up your inbox. If you’re not interested in the stuff I like, you probably won’t like it, so I won’t feel bad if you don’t subscribe.

While I’m Plugging Things

We recently had a barn burner of an episode (er, meeting) of the League of Lensgrinders with my pal Amy and I really think you’d like it. You can click the link above or listen to this snippet but either way you should listen to it. Soon (this week!) I’ll be publishing our next episode on Food Writing! It’s a good one too!

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