The Number 2023

Tedium dives into its eighth anniversary with a look ahead to 2023. We’re still in constant trash fire mode, but at least the trash looks different. In this look-ahead, we’re announcing some important decisions.

By Ernie Smith

Today in Tedium: I don’t know what else you could say about 2022 that hasn’t been already said—not as awful as 2020, but maybe the awful is coming from some new main characters, and that’s no fun. (Let me strengthen that statement: Nothing about it is fun.) I do these year-end pieces to offer a look ahead at the state of our Tedium, and I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling kind of … what’s the word? Distracted? Yeah, that’s it. With shiny objects all over the place, what’s a tedious person to do? Let’s ponder and clear the slate. Today’s Tedium talks about 2023, distractions, and finding a new path forward. — Ernie @ Tedium

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“I encountered a new piece of slang about two months ago, and it has puzzled me. I first heard it from a bit newsboy who had a ‘stand’ on a corner. A small boy with several papers under his arm had edged up until he was trespassing on the territory of the other. When the big boy saw the small one he went at him in a threatening way and said, ‘Here, here! Twenty-three! Twenty-three!’”

— George Ade, an expert in slang, being quoted as hearing the term “twenty-three” being used as slang in an 1899 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. Soon enough, the term—a reference to either telling someone to leave quickly, or leaving quickly yourself—was combined with the similar term skidoo to create “23 skidoo,” a phrase that became extremely popular during the first decade of the 1900s.

Like, honestly, the existence of this movie is the only thing that is keeping some of us going into 2023.

Five signs 2023 will be better than 2022

  1. Wanna jaywalk? In California, you can. California passed a law last year decriminalizing jaywalking—meaning that if there is no true danger or threat to safety created by the act, police are not supposed to ticket you. It’s still technically illegal, sure, but the law tells police to leave people alone.
  2. In a bit of a win for fans of technology standards, the European Union has made a series of decisions and policy implementations that will lead Apple to ditch the Lightning port and open up its devices to outside app stores in 2023.
  3. If you’re a fan of Bridget Jones and her diary, it may warm your frumpled heart to know that, after a year when goblincore evolved into “goblin mode” and became the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, we’re embracing a new trend in popular culture that Pinterest calls “romcom core” and Refinery29 calls the “frazzled English woman” aesthetic. Whatever made up trend you land on, as Andrew Lincoln’s telegraphs to Kiera Knightley’s character in Love Actually, “to me, you are perfect.”
  4. Death Cab. Postal Service. On tour. Together. How did nobody think to do this until now? Did Ben Gibbard come up with a new way to print money?
  5. I mean, there’s a Super Mario Bros. movie coming to theaters in three months. No matter how much we hate Chris Pratt’s voice, what is going to top that, really?

We’re so creatively tapped out right now that even our wall calendars are feeling it

Every year, Tedium does an assessment of the year’s fresh wall calendars and tries to assess what it says about us as a culture, and I’m ultimately of the mindset that wall calendars touch on a broader societal id. These calendars sit on our wall and shape our instincts as we read them every single day.

And honestly, I found this year’s batch to be a bit … disappointing?

Star Trek Cats

To be clear, they weren’t all losers. This officially licensed Star Trek cat calendar, featuring a feline version of William Shatner in the famed original-series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” stands out for both embracing the format and putting a unique twist on what could otherwise be a middling cat or Star Trek calendar.

Chunky Animals

But some of them just don’t feel like they’re trying. If you’ve seen one fat-animal cover, you’ve seen them all, right? I just feel like weight as a calendar differentiator has been done to death. They need to do more calendars of animals with perfect abs. They don’t actually need to show them, even—they can just be hidden under the fur and feathers.

Worship Me

I mean, seriously, is it 2007? Are we just living vicariously through Impact-laden animal memes in 2023? I can has something else.

Bacon Wall Calendar

We get it, you enjoy the work of bacon. It is a food you like eating because it’s tasty. But do you need a whole calendar about it, especially because it’s on the Wendy’s breakfast sandwich sitting directly in front of you? It’s not like you don’t see it every day.

Be Kind to Books

Most of the calendars I spotted after a little research were mostly like the ones above, just the worst of the worst, but there were some other bright spots, like this calendar dedicated to WPA-style propaganda related to protecting books, which feels like a very timely conversation to be having right now. But they were few and far between, sadly.

I think a lot of this, honestly, is just a reflection at how tapped-out we are culturally that we can’t even come up with a clever wall calendar anymore. I mean, it’s not that hard, right!?

Honestly, after seeing all this, I kind of want to do a Tedium wall calendar next year. The problem is, I’ll probably forget about this and not do it. Someone send this article to me in, like, September so I remember to do this.

Restlessness

(CHUTTERSNAP/Unsplash)

The state of 2023 is defined by our (well, at least, my) general restlessness

We’ve been dealing with the same annoying cultural state of affairs for nearly three years at this point, and at some point, it kind of makes us feel like something has to change—something has to give. When your brain has been sort of worn down to a nub after a few years of the same routine, you start looking around and wondering if it’s just you who feels this way, or if it’s everyone else, too.

I’m going to take a bet that it’s everyone else, too.

And I guess that I’m a little worried that there’s a risk of not taking the right level of zeal to creating this project in a world where there are constant distractions.

So, with that restlessness, I’m going to make some changes to my writing and publishing mix.

The MidRange experiment created a lot of great writing, don’t get me wrong, but I think that the problem with it is that it kept me locked down in a very specific creative zone. It was a place to write hot takes, which is great when the news cycle is diverse and there are a lot of directions to take personal interests.

But when every day it’s the same stupid thing taking up your energy, it just doesn’t feel worth it anymore.

I think you can see where this is going. My goal with MidRange was to give myself a creative spark that I could take to other work I do, but in the end, it ended up just being more work. Mid-stream, I had to move the entire newsletter from Revue to the Tedium website because some jackass threatened to buy the platform, and that took a lot of time and a significant amount of manual work.

Then there was the ideation. The newsletter was intended to keep me focused on what was happening, but the problem was that I was in this really narrow sphere for way too long—where what was happening was dominated by some jackass, in fact the same one as mentioned in the prior paragraph. There were a lot of mornings where I would just not find anything exciting to write about other than the obvious thing, so the obvious thing won. I found unique angles where I could (I was particularly proud of this one), but it just doesn’t feel like the model to push things forward—even if the 30-minute prompt-based writing approach itself is a bit of a winner.

As I put it in late December, “I don’t know about you, but my brain is shredded.”

So I refuse to let my brain suffer said shredding any further. I feel like there are better ways to spend my time than writing about obvious things, and mentally, I think that batteries deserve an occasional recharging. By committing myself to writing or managing newsletters five days a week, on top of a day job, I was not giving myself enough space to focus on the dull and uninteresting long enough to hit true inspiration.

There are other great newsletters that mine on-the-pulse territory effectively—two that come immediately to mind are Garbage Day and Today in Tabs, both of which are much snarkier than MidRange ever got.

So, with MidRange’s second anniversary hitting at the end of January, I’m going to complete one last month of MidRange and then work on something else. I will try to make the last few weeks worth it, and maybe discuss some ideas about social media and online culture I want to dig into with my next project.

I have been playing with some ideas of what this might be, and even have a name and a general newsletter design (I’ve been sharing details on Mastodon), but my thoughts are that I should lean into the lessons I learned from turning the newsletter into a Mastodon pop-up back in November, a concept that proved both creatively fulfilling and like it pushed things forward. I would only do this newsletter weekly if I did it.

In our annual last-minute gift guide, I talked about shifting Tedium’s publishing model as well. I got some good feedback on the ideas I mentioned, including reviving the zine and even doing a light paywall, but I feel like I need to give myself more space to actually follow the idea through. So cutting back on some projects will be a great way to help improve what will honestly be a lot of work to put into action.

Writing is a muscle, and when you overextend that muscle it can become harder to do over time. I think I’m feeling that challenge, and so might everyone else. And I’m sort of missing the ideation part of creation, so I want to dive into some of that a little more.

I have always seen Tedium as kind of a home base for my ideas, and I don’t think I will be changing that. But eight years of publishing twice a week is a lot, and publishing three additional times a week, even in a quick-hit format, isn’t a recipe for less stress and more focus. But I’m glad I tried it. I learned a lot and I did succeed in some senses with the goal I had about writing with a tight deadline.

With that said, I want to allow myself some more time to pursue these ideas with Tedium and ensure that I’m creating the best possible work.

I think what I’ll say is this: Tedium gains strength from the people that help support this publication. Donations to our Patreon support our ability to bring new voices to this platform—among them, writers such as Nathan Lawrence, Chelsea Spear, Catherine Sinow, Dayten Rose, and Chris Dalla Riva, who each brought fresh perspectives to this crazy project we run in 2022—along with helping to pay for hosting costs and new initiatives, such as our launch of our own Mastodon server, where you can find us.

I have resisted doing a lot of the moves websites like ours often do. Compare the number of ads on Tedium to sites that purport to cover similar subject matter, and you’ll see the difference. But decisions like that come with real costs, and I want to make it clear that your support will allow us to keep this experiment going for many more years.

I love the work we do on Tedium. As a writer and a journalist, it still excites me—especially when it hits on all cylinders and what we do helps to shape the conversation. And I think it challenges us to observe what’s out there beyond the obvious.

In 2023, my goal is to not let my brain get shredded by chaos. I hope you also give yourself the mental space to move forward.

“What does it mean? Not much, though the film spends a lot of our time and its energy trying to persuade us otherwise.”

New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis, offering her take on The Number 23, the 2007 Jim Carrey film that was based around its lead’s obsession with … do I even need to say it? For many years, it was the lowest-rated Carrey movie on Rotten Tomatoes, though it’s since been displaced by the barely seen 2016 film Dark Crimes.

On the 23rd of June, 1994, the K Foundation, an artistic collective friendly with the pop charts under its pop moniker The KLF, embraced the oddity of creative destruction in perhaps its most dramatic way.

Having earned lots of money from their pop-music career, the duo of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, with their fascination with the number 23, announced that they would burn up the roughly £1 million they earned from their successful careers, then not talk about it for 23 years. (If you’d like to learn more, I wrote about this way back in 2015.)

When that time passed in 2017, they released a book about the endeavor, which they called … 2023.

The number 23 has a certain power to it, and it has compelled people of all types. William S. Burroughs is said to have been fascinated by it. It was A Beautiful Mind subject John Forbes Nash, Jr.’s favorite prime number. Joel Schumacher, who directed the critically savaged 2007 Jim Carrey film about the number, directed 23 feature-length films in his career before his 2020 passing, and if you count writing and directing credits, The Number 23 was the 23rd film he worked on. (And when I pulled the URL to the YouTube clip, it was at a timestamp of 23 seconds.)

I guess the thing to take away from this is not to become obsessed in digging into parallels around the number 2023. Rather, this is a year to dive into an obsession, a new idea, and see where it takes you. Too often, our obsessions get backburnered because of our day jobs and personal lives. And eventually, they suck the joy out of the thing that keeps you getting up in the first place.

We have a limited time on this planet, and a limited time in the year. Just doing things because you’ve always done them just means you need to continue doing them. Experiment, try new things.

With the chaos of the last three years in particular, your creative batteries deserve a recharge, too.

I think, once I’ve finished my MidRange commitment, I’m going to commit to more morning walks. Or dive into freelance again. You can do a lot with an extra half hour.

Anyway, happy new year. And thanks for sticking with us after all this time.

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Thanks again for another great year—and look forward to seeing you in 2023. Find this one fascinating? Share it with a pal!

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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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