Kevin Allison is an American comedian, writer, and actor. He is perhaps best known as a writing and performing member of The State on MTV. Allison created and hosts the uncensored weekly audio podcast RISK! - a storytelling show "where people tell true stories they never thought they'd dare to share" as well as The Story Studio which provides storytelling workshops and classes by some of the most accomplished storytellers in the U.S.A.
is In Wild Air
We live in a bewildering era. We need to be thinking as clearly as we can to boost creation and shut down destruction. That includes thinking in pictures. I've been loving the expanding popularity of analytical video essays. On YouTube, there are series from Nerdwriter1, The School of Life, Vox Videos, and Every Frame a Painting that are delightfully well crafted. Each video is a dissection of everything from, say, the polyrhythm in a Captain Beefheart song, to the problems that Socrates predicted democracy would create. Seems like the generations that grew up on Schoolhouse Rock and Sesame Street never forgot how downright fun investigation and analysis can be when you add sound and pictures. There are also recent full-blown documentaries like Hitchcock/Truffaut, The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, Room 237, and Hypernormalization that tickle so many parts of the brain at once while being a blast to see and hear to boot. In each one, the most powerful tool a filmmaker has at his or her disposal, editing, is put to terrific use. I'm always up for more recommendations!
I hope we're seeing a seismic change in American power and influence, where women's voices begin to counter-balance men's. In fact, with the president raising hell on Twitter this past weekend about not being Time Magazine's Person of the Year, I'd love to see that honor go to Women in general instead. First, there was the gargantuan Women's March following Inauguration Day, where perhaps as many as 5 million people took to the streets. Then there was the wave of interest from women considering running for public office. Emily’s List, a progressive PAC which supports pro-choice Democratic women for office, says over 20,000 potential candidates have contacted them about running. And finally, there is this post-Weinstein wave of women coming forward about the sexual harassment and sexual assault they have survived. Our democracy needs a transfusion of new talent, new perspectives, new energy. I hope a ton of it is coming and I hope an unprecedented amount of it is coming from women.
There's a wonderful Buddhist teacher named Thich Nhat Hanh who tell us you don't travel to peace. "Peace is every step." More and more, I'm trying to remember, that that is the place I am. Yes, this ultra-trendy craze for "mindfulness," especially as it's taught by the renowned Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, got its hooks in me. But as far as fads go, this one has at least 2,500 years of testing behind it. And 2017 is the year that what may well be the most lucid, rational, nuts-and-bolts explication of mindfulness meditation ever written hit the bookstands. That's Why Buddhism Is True by the evolutionary psychologist, Robert Wright. What makes this extraordinary book so compelling is that Wright's a relatable enough guy to admit he's still a very messy meditator. But his understanding of how the brain formed over the millennia, for a species programmed not to attain enlightenment but to thrust its genes past saber toothed tigers, makes for one "A-ha!" moment after another.
It's a very new app, so it's definitely still working out some bugs, but I love Audm. It's funny to be recommending an app that, literally does not work at all about a third of the time I try to use it, but the idea behind the app is so great that I'm rooting for them to work out all the kinks. Audm makes audio versions of articles, both short and long, from great magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Wired, Esquire, Foreign Policy, Mother Jones, and more. You can follow the text on your phone or pad, or just listen without watching the text scroll. Professional voiceover artists are brought in to bring the articles to life as they do with audiobooks. It's a great way take in thoughtful new content while you're on the go.
Left vs Right
The election of 2016 made one thing painfully clear. America is more tribally split between left and right than ever before. The split is so intense now that too many people seem willing to ignore anything iffy coming from their side. I lean left, so it's natural that I'm especially alarmed by the cult-like way that so many on the right give knee-jerk dismissals to news stories backed by dozens of sources and corroborations. Outlets like Fox News have grown to be more like hypnotists indoctrinating millions to believe that 2+2 = 5 and that water is not wet. Steven Hassan, Janja Lalich, and Rick Alan Ross have all written extensively about deprogramming people in cults. I think they might have some crucial ideas for what the whole nation needs now. We all need to be more curious about seeing outside our box. We all need to using our critical thinking skills and examining our willingness to compromise. We all need to be finding enough middle ground to hold this country together.
Last year at this time, I went on a silent retreat. The first day was arriving and settling in. The next 10 days were spent in silence. And the 12th day was packing and returning to the world. During those 10 silent days, you could not look at a phone or a computer or a book or a newspaper. You were not allowed to write or use sign language or anything like that. It was kind of like turning a laptop off to give it time to recalibrate and reboot. Months later, I realized that this is something I should do at least once a year. Our brains are becoming re-wired by Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and all. There really is something crucial about taking time here and there to turn off all the distractions... and just be.