Modeling stopped being fun when I had to do it. Financial desperation put me in a position that forced me to bargain with my body, but with no bargaining power. If I couldn’t book a shoot one week, I’d go hungry. I was forced to say yes routinely to projects that didn’t interest me, or people who made me feel unsafe, or who produced subpar images that I found embarrassing. I walked into each of these shoots knowing what I was doing and that I hated it, but needing to go through with it for the money. I had to feed myself and my partner.
I said that I’d tell you a story about shame. What I actually want to do is take this story beyond the point of shame. I’m a struggling artist in New York City. These are the lengths I’ve had to go to in order to feed myself.
“Running, friends, is boring,” to tweak a line from John Berryman’s The Dream Songs. I’ve been boring myself — that is, running regularly — for more than 20 years now, competitively, then somewhat competitively, then by-no-stretch-of-the-imagination competitively. It’s a generally invigorating but lonely endeavor. Gone are the days when I hit the trails with boisterous teammates, and only rarely do I jog with running companions (otherwise known, somewhat euphemistically, as friends). And as for musical accompaniment? Never, not so much for purist reasons — “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter,” etc. — but because I fear that if I rely even once on an up-beat song to get me through a run, I’ll never be able to lace up without an iPod again.
Thus deprived of the pleasurable distraction of conversation, as well the pulsating beats of pop music, I’ve had ample time over the course of thousands of runs to think. Or not to think. Or, as I’ve started doing over the past couple years, reciting poetry to pass the time.
“Organisms are algorithms,” Yuval Noah Harari asserts in his provocative new book, “Homo Deus.” “Every animal — including Homo sapiens — is an assemblage of organic algorithms shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution. . . . There is no reason to think that organic algorithms can do things that nonorganic algorithms will never be able to replicate or surpass.” In Harari’s telling, the human “algorithm” will soon be overrun and outpaced by other algorithms. It is not the specter of mass extinction that is hanging over us. It is the specter of mass obsolescence.
It was a breezy afternoon in Hong Kong’s central business district, and the view from the roof of the Bank of America Tower, thirty-nine floors up, was especially fine—a panorama of Victoria Harbour, still misty from the previous day’s rain, bookended on either side by dizzying skyline. Andrew Tsui nodded at the billion-dollar vista—“no railings,” he said—but he was thinking of the harvest. Specifically, he was examining a bumper crop of bok choy, butter lettuce, and mustard leaf, all grown here, at one of the most prestigious business addresses in the city.