Lord Bezos and Therapy Squirrels

Originally posted on my newsletter, The Standard Rainbow Hour, which you should subscribe to (free)

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And now, an excerpt from Lord Bezos Rides South:

CONTROL ALTO DELETATUS

On the day of the Singularitum, Brother Superior Peter is in the Presence. He kneels before the Algorithm in the holiest sanctum of the Googlene Order, the Sanctorum Algorithmo, the Holy Chamber of the Algorithm. The Algorithm hums as it does, a saintly moan about which much Googlene scholarship has been expended.

It is blaspheme to speak of the chamber, or the physical vessel of the Algorithm. Indeed, only brothers of the 44th order may sit in the Presence. Others come and go, they are red monks, Auditorii. Their spirits have been given to the Algorithm, they are a corporeal extension of its divine maths. Their actions are never questioned.

The Brother Superior prays as the Algorithm hums. Another sound, a strange, high, insectoid chatter, emits from the Dot Matrix. Sheets of parchment emerge from the contraption, covered in the word of the Algorithm. Numbers, words, phrases. Maths made real, rendered into the word of humankind, a miracle.

Some brothers hear music in the chatter of the Dot Matrix, others the very voice of the Algorithm. Some brothers have been dragged raving from the chamber, chittering an approximation of the Dot Matrix’s song. These brothers emerge weeks later among the ranks of the Auditorii.

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Way back in 2013 I was in a Bay Area sketch comedy group called Hot Mess. I wrote quite a few sketches during that era, some of which made it to the stage. One sketch concept that never made it was Count von Faccebuch.  It was a satire of the tech world, in which companies like Facebook would be represented as preening aristocrats.

Facebook was Count von Faccebuch (Fah-chey-book), an 18th century fop with a retinue of servants and helpers. Tumblr was to be Lord Tumblr (Tumb-lay), a melancholic painter and poet.

Lord Tumblay is still a funny idea but I never finished the sketch.

The idea lived as a kernel in my mind until this year, when I was obsessively researching the Byzantine Roman empire, as I sometimes do.

I’ve always thought Mark Zuckerberg looked like a Roman emperor (that haircut!) And the Byzantine era is a fascinating rise-and-fall tale. What’s not to love about a fading empire that lasted more than a millennium?

So I thought, What if Mark Zuckerberg was a Byzantine emperor?

What if Jeffrey Bezos was a Spanish conquistador?

What if Elon Musk was a Bedouin king?

What if Google was an ancient monastic order?

Posed with such questions my mind is rather like my dog Wilbur at the dog park. The moment I let go of the leash, he bolts and is gone.

And so my imagination goes bounding off. I have pages of notes, maps. I’ve posted five chapters to the Lord Bezos Rides South newsletter, which you should subscribe to.

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I’m often happiest in my imagination. In my imagination the world is boundless, and the stories go the way I want.

Often, though, my imagination is limited by my own technical skill as an artist. Which is why collaboration can be such a boon.

In 2017, an illustrator named Jacob Yeates sent me an email out of the blue. Much to my astonishment and delight, he had been illustrating an old humor project of mine.

So a couple of months ago I emailed him about my Bezos idea, sent him a scandalously small commission, and he made this epic illustration:

Which he has since expanded into an illuminated manuscript. I find such glee in seeing his work.  Note the details, the imperial double F of House Facebook, the hidden Like symbols.

Illustrations: Jacob Yeates

So good.

NEW NEWS

In our last episode, I announced that there are now ways for fans of my work to pay me with money. I’m happy and grateful to say that some fans have begun doing so.  Most of them are old friends. A scant few are Strangers from the Internet.

There’s a painful vulnerability in asking to be paid for art. And there’s a vulnerability in being supported. It shows up for me as gratitude, and also dread. As in: Welp, I better deliver.

At current levels I can maintain a daily coffee habit on my income (alas, I no longer drink coffee). My goal is to make a middle class income from my art (remember the middle class?) My stretch goal is to make enough to commission a 246 Dino replica.

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Squirrel continues to climb the tree of Internet micro-fame. His followership has doubled since our last episode, to almost 100,000.

Based on my limited experience of the TikTok universe, this will place him in the lowest echelon of TikTok “influencers.” A million followers seems to be the metric for a breakout TikTok starlet. The top 50 users all have tens of millions of followers.

The feedback from the Internet continues to be overwhelming, and overwhelmingly positive. Just over a week ago I posted a video about longterm loneliness, and began responding to comments as they came in. I ended up typing away for an hour, as the viewership doubled, and doubled again.

I like to respond to as many comments as possible, so the viewers know that I’ve received their messages. The comments have gelled into the following major categories, by frequency:

1. Love for Squirrel/Keep making these videos.

2. Squirrel made me cry.

3. This video validated the XYZ that’s going on in my life.

4. Squirrel is better than my therapist/Squirrel is my only therapist

5. I need advice about XYZ.

6. Squirrel reminds me of Mister Rogers, or Christopher Walken.

I feel a lot about these comments. The positive response validates the work. It tells me I’m on the right track. Also the extent of suffering and loneliness is painful to behold. As is the tenderness and the sweetness of the praise. Sometimes I cry along with my audience.

Number four (and 5) are troubling, because I am not a therapist. I take great care to tread lightly around anything that might be construed as therapy.  Peer support, philosophy, and my personal story are my wheelhouse. But I see this comment constantly.

I think commenters are pointing to the general inadequacy of the American mental health care system. Here are some things that are true: We have a shortage of mental health professionals. We have a shortage of mental health professionals who accept insurance, especially Medicaid and Medicare. We have a giant gaping hole between crisis care (hotlines, first responders), and psychotherapy.

And I think it’s particularly galling that the same socioeconomic system that immiserates its subjects also erects barriers to treatments for misery (for a future newsletter, let’s discuss #anticapitalist TikTok).

Speaking of inadequate mental health care, I have generally negative feelings about the proliferation of online therapy startups (Better Help, Talkspace), but I was medium intrigued by Peer Collective, an online peer counseling startup I recently heard about  (Therapy Chat).  Online peer counseling could help bridge the gap between crisis care and therapy. But it really should be free. Get on it, immiserating socioeconomic system.

HOT LINKS

>Perhaps Squirrel’s best video to-date

>Austin Kleon: The Four Energies of Creativity

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