one way to develop good taste is by consuming as if you have no taste at all
33 entries
Started Nov 30, 2020

how to give a wedding speech

My cousin got married last weekend. And I can objectively say that his speech was the best speech I've ever heard at a wedding. By an enormous margin.

Here's some truths about wedding speeches:
- They're an opportunity to express your love for somebody in public
- They're often highly contextual, but empathy (i.e. just seeing somebody being emotional) does a lot of the work in making them "enjoyable"
- The less context you have, the more they become an exercise in pure emotion

So if you want to make a speech that resonates with /all/ of the guests, the only way to do it is to reduce the amount of context you need to really /get/ it. To get to the personal, you have to go through the universal.


My cousins' speech was brilliant for a number of reasons. But it also had some things I'd never seen in a wedding speech before: structure, a gimmick, and a callback.

The whole conceit of the speech was that he's a man of few words, and that he often keeps his thoughts to himself, saying much less than he really feels.

Or, in his words "saying one thing, but thinking another".

The genius here isn't just that it sucks the audience in, but that it gives the audience something they can all relate to. They've (presumably) all met the groom at a wedding. And if they have, they presumably know that he's a man of few words, who says little but thinks a lot.

It takes it away from the hyper specific stories that nobody was witness to, and allows you instead to just deal with the information you have in front of you. To be sucked into the story.


The speech was bookended by two moments where Buzz (the groom) "thought one thing, but said another". The first was when he met his wife for the first time - they were young. at a shitty bar. she was wearing all black. And the last was on the wedding day - at their wedding. she was wearing all white.

The joke was that he was thinking the same thing both times.

It's hard to communicate humour. How funny the descriptions were. How well the story was told.

But it's an undeniable storytelling device.

Him saying one thing while thinking another, allowed you to hear one thing and think about another. When he tells you that he thought the same the first time he met his wife as he does standing in front of her now the conclusion is obvious - he loved her since the very first moment.

We're seeing somebody marry the love of their life. So the joke conveys the emotion because it conveys the truth.

when to fundraise

In the world of public radio, every december is fundraising time. Public radio is entirely funded by listeners. So the money helps them continue making the shows they make with complete freedom and creative control. It’s a good model.

The thing is, fundraising sucks, and most people suck at it.

I put on an episode of radiolab - maybe one of the best podcasts ever made - and they opened the episode talking about fundraising. they said millions of
people listen to radiolab every month and less than 1% pay to support the show.

I LOVE radiolab. I should pay for it. I probably will pay for it. But even still, this fundraising spot did nothing for me. If I thought anything, I thought “who cares”.

The reason I don’t care, I think, probably has a lot to do with /when/ they ask for money. At the beginning. Before I’ve heard the episode. When I have to use my memory, instead of my emotions, to remember how good the show is.

If you want people to give you money, here’s what I’d do:
1. Schedule your /best/ work to air during the fundraising drive
2. In the middle of the episode, before the climax, when you know the audience is sucked in, that’s when you make the appeal.
3. The appeal should be something like this:
“okay so we’re in the middle of a story right now. an incredible story with incredible reporting. and telling stories like this is what we love doing. just take a second to notice how you feel right now. how stuck into the story you are. how this feeling, listening to this right now, makes you feel. How much is that feeling worth to you? If it’s zero dollars that’s cool. But if it’s more than zero, then I need you to go right now to radiolab.com and donate that amount of money so we can keep doing what we do.”
4. obviously dress that up. make it good. but focus on the way they’re feeling /now/. make it immediate. don’t make them rely on their memory.

Even at the end of the show it’s too late. I’ve already extracted all the value I’m going to get. And it was free. Why would I pay now?

Before is the same problem. You haven’t done anything for me yet. Why would I pay?

The middle is the only time that makes sense. I’m paying to continue. I’m putting a figure on how much I’d pay to feel how I feel now (alive) /all/ the time. How much would I pay for /that/? A lot .


Zurich airport

Zurich's airport is one of the best I've seen in terms of visual design. Not architecture or interiors (those were nothing to write home about) but the design system in the airport was insanely beautiful.

It occurred to me that the simplicity of Swiss design (the home of Helvetica, for example) probably comes from the simplicity of the country's beauty. There are mountains. Mountains are beautiful. You don't have to do much to convince anybody of that fact. So really, when you're designing, what you're trying to do is get out of the way. To leave things as they are. To not ruin the beauty of the mountains by adding too much.

The design system in the airport is incredibly simple. It's black and white. A lot of white space. And a beautifully simple font. That's how all information in the airport is communicated. It's so good that it's the first thing I noticed.

The restraint says a lot. The Swiss flag is red and white, for example, and those colours are featured nowhere in the design system.

The other thing is that everything you see /is/ designed. I'm writing this in the Cape Town airport right now. The departure and arrival boards here look they're built in Excel. Making it beautiful wasn't something they thought of. But that's okay.

Here, the appeal of the country is the diversity. It's the rainbow nation. Let's throw shit together and see what happens. The collisions, the haphazardness, the magic that happens in the meeting of unexpected things. That's their vibe.

In Zurich. The vibe is well thought out. It's simplicity. Without even leaving the airport, I can imagine what Zurich is like. They probably have clean, uncomplicated, reliable public transport. The architecture probably isn't fancy. It's probably just trying to get out of the way so you can see the things that are beautiful without too much distraction. Without too much clutter. Without too much getting in the way.

where should I live?

Where to live is a question I've been thinking about alot lately. The question started broadly (what continent? what country?) And has slowly narrowed (what neighbourhood?) and finally, yesterday, it narrowed itself down to a single decision - do I want to live in /this/ apartment or not?

Of course, where to live is a question about a lot of things, but it's also quite obviously a question of taste.

Lisbon is a city of seven hills. And the apartment is in a neighbourhood at the top of the highest one.

Walking there, I had the realization that choosing to live in a particular place also means to have a lot of choices made /for/ you.

Choices about what you can and cannot do, about where you will or will not spend your time, about, in essence, who you will or will not be.

One of the things that I won't be able to do if I choose this apartment is walk fast on rainy days. Over centuries the cobblestones have been made slick and smooth. When it rains, it turns them into a hydroplane.

You can't go anywhere in a rush when it rains.

Choosing to live there would mean choosing to live slowly. To never allow myself to be in a rush. To accept the speed of life.

Only a certain kind of person would choose to live like that. It's a matter of taste.


For what it's worth, the reason I would do it is out of a preference for personal romance.

I like my life to be something that I find beautiful.

While not practical, I like the idea of walking on streets that were made hundreds of years ago.

I like the idea of living on top of a hill where you can see the whole city from a single viewpoint.

I like the idea of living in a building with a tiled exterior. I like that it's close to a dog park with a beautiful view where, on Saturday mornings, you can get coffee and listen to Brazilian jazz music.

And, perhaps more importantly, I like that it's not for everyone.

I think that's how you know that you're developing personal taste - when not everyone likes the things you like.

Having taste means that sometimes (maybe even often) other people don't get it.

what are romcoms about?

Romcoms are my favourite film genre.

A lot of people don't like them. And if you're one of those people, it's probably for a simple reason - they're not for you.

Romantic Comedies are a kind of mythology. What kind? Well the name gives us a lot of clues.


People hear romance and think love. But romance comes from the word romanticism. As in the historical period. The literature genre. Or the languages.

The tl;dr on romanticism is this: for 50 years between 1800 and 1850, a bunch of people started focusing, for the first time, on emotion, individualism, "as well as glorification of the past and nature". Basically, people started giving a fuck about life itself, the internal and the external, being beautiful.

Romanticism gave us (the so-called west) a lot of things. It's the reason we have beaches and national parks. It's the reason it's considered good manners to open the door for other people. It's also the reason most of us believe that you should marry somebody you love.

In fact, romanticism invented the very idea of love as we know it today.


Then there's the word comedy. When we think of comedy, we most often think of things that make us laugh - or at least try to.

But comedy, in this context, exists as the counterpoint to tragedy.

A tragedy is a story about a fall in fortune of a sympathetic character - most often ending in people dying. And a comedy is the inverse, a story in which somebody's fortunes go from bad to good, and where they end up both alive and better than where they began.


So if we smash those two words together we get a close approximation of what a romantic comedy actually is - a story focused on emotions in which a person ends in a better place (emotionally) than they began.

Does the opposite - a romantic tragedy - exist? Of course. (See: Blue Valentine). But we don't call it that. For the most part, we just call them dramas. Because if we had to take every movie about love and put it in one pile, we'd have very few movies left to put in the other.


So, are romantic comedies about love? Yes and no. Because while romcoms (like everything else) centre themselves around love, they're not being in love. They're about falling in love.

Romcoms end where falling in love ends and being in love begins. Which, as anybody who has done both knows, are two dramatically different things.

Romcoms are, for the most part, the origin story of a couple. They are the answer to the question - so often asked of couples - "So how did you two meet?". They start where you would start the story (the meet cute) and end where you would end it (the profession of love or something close to it).

It's not any more complicated than that. People who criticize romcoms for being an inaccurate and unrealistic depiction of being in love are right for all the wrong reasons. Romcoms are actually, in my opinion, a surprisingly /accurate/ depiction of what it's like to /fall/ in love - confusion, conflicts, implausibility and all.


So, why only focus on the beginning? That's a step down the path to understanding who romcoms are a mythology for. And it's a question I'll dig into tomorrow.


meanwhile, back at the ranch

Meanwhile, back at the ranch is a storytelling device (or maybe just a piece of storytelling advice) that uses the continually building of two separate storylines to keep an audience interested throughout the course of a story.

I think the basic idea is that it’s easier to build tension in two stories at the same time than it is to craft one single engaging narrative.

Basically you build one storyline up to a cliffhanger and then, right when the audience is at the height of their interest in what’s going to happen next, you go back to the other storyline.

You repeat this adfinitum until the stories eventually collide with one another. The most dramatic time for the stories to collide is at the climax. For obvious reasons.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, is a story device but also a neat little bit of mythology. That lives and the stories in them don’t happen in a vacuum may seem obvious on its face but MBATR helps us see the relationship between one thing and another.

One thing happens because of another. Or this is similar to that.

Putting two stories back to back has the inevitable side effect of making us compare one to another - an exercise that leads to observations that are often more philosophical than the storylines we’re comparing and contrasting.

It can help us see how things are the same, how things are different, how one thing causes another, how randomness or something like it impacts our lives.


p.s. this is a note to myself to actually do some romcom critical theory some time. the observation in this post came from The Holiday.


books I read you might want to read

This is less inspired than the list of podcasts I posted in this journal mostly because I don't have super strong opinions about the quality of these books. I just know that I enjoyed them.

This year, for the first time, I found myself a) reading more fiction than non-fiction and b) enjoying fiction more than I enjoy non-fiction.

Anyway, here's some stuff I read that you might want to read:

The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller) - Brilliant. Beautiful. Romantic. Historic. Extremely educational. Extremely emotional. My favourite novel of the year.

East of Eden (John Steinbeck) - The first book I read this year. Epic in the literal sense of the word. Never been into "the classics" but this was great.

The Overstory (Richard Powers) - Insanely powerful. Made me think about trees long and hard for a long time. The kind of book that completely absorbs you and changes the way you look at the world while you're reading it.

The People in the Trees (Hanya Yanagihara) - I was absolutely absorbed by this. Recently learned that it is, in lot of ways, an ode to Lolita.

Exhalation: Stories (Ted Chiang) - Read this on planes when that was still a thing earlier this year. Used to absolutely devour short story collections. This is an entertaining one by the guy who wrote the story "Arrival" was based on.

podcasts to listen to

Been pulling together a list of the best podcasts individual podcast episodes I listened to this year (regardless of original release date).

These are all painfully good.

1619: The Birth of American Music - The story of American music and its relationship to Blackness. This, to me, is the perfect audio story.

Dolly Parton's America: I Will Always Leave You - The story of Dolly Parton's rise to stardom and the story behind writing hits like "I Will Always Love You" and "Jonele".

Constellation Prize: Crossing Guard - Really what I needed when I needed it. Very 2020. Loneliness. A brilliant, brave idea, and some really brilliant storytelling techniques.

Constellation Prize: Two Years with Franz - Another one from the same podcast. Created about two years before the others. Again an unbelievable premise. Took a while to get into it but undeniably brilliant by the end.

The Cut: The Joy of Sext - The pinnacle of "current event" podcasting. Insightful, well researched, and strung together by some great interview subjects.

Reply All: The Case of the Missing Hit - it was a tough choice between this and Zardulu (which originally aired in 2016). The Case of the Missing Hit is on the top of many people's best episodes of 2020 for a reason. It's just a really ambitious idea. It's proof that sometimes just doing the thing is what makes it great.

Forget every other list of "best podcasts of 2020". I've read them all. This is the one that matters most.

Will add to this list as I think of more.

The more obvious choices from some familiar names:

Radiolab: Dispatches from 1918 - Writing, podcasts, videos etc. about the pandemic never quite landed from me. It was always the last thing I wanted to hear about. This was the only one that felt entertaining and interesting to me. It showed that their contribution to the world - the thing they do consistently - was still worth doing no matter what they were doing it about.

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Mortification and Civilization - One of the best examples of what the medium can be like. Which is to say beautifully uncomplicated. Chose this episode because it covered a theme - civilization - that I often think about. But easily could have chosen any of the others.

Heavyweight: Vivian - While listening to this episode I cried because I was jealous of how meaningful making something like this must be.

Detail vs Detail

The word detail can be either a noun or a verb. And which one it is (or should be) depends on what kind of story you're telling.

The noun is an individual fact or item.

The verb means give full information about something.


It's the choice between going deep or going wide. How many or how much.

If you're telling a story and you…
…go really deep on one thing, you don't have to go that deep on many things.
…go deep on many things, you can't afford to go deep on anything.


I just had a really interesting experience in which my uncle told me stories about his childhood that I'd already heard from my dad's perspective.

My dad tells these stories in a wide shot. My uncle tells them in a series of close ups.

My dad's stories are a documentary about WWII, my uncle's stories are Dunkirk.

I think part of me believes what they say about how self interested people are - that they only want to hear about themselves. There was something about the telling of the stories - they way they were told through his eyes - that made me feel like I was experiencing them through mine.

It was the details that mattered. Small things; the layout of a banquet hall, the tune somebody whistled, the colour of a cassette.

marco tastemaking