When Jason Kottke of went on sabbatical for seven months I missed his blog terribly, so I was happy he returned this month with a long list of the media he consumed during his time away. Lots to sift through: books, movies, games, music, tv series, even a couple of restaurant recommendations, with a line or two of commentary for each, a rating. Worth a look, if you’re in need of fresh consumables.

It’s mid-December as I write this, nearly the end of 2022. I don’t do year-end lists or anything so ambitious as that, but I will note that I read 52 books this year. And there are still two weeks to go. Favorites? Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, Hiroko Oyamada’s The Factory, and Liberation Day, a collection of (very strange) short stories by George Saunders.

I have one last book in my audio queue, and one on my nightstand, which happens to be Haruki Murakami’s Novelist as a Vocation. I thought that one might set the stage for 2023.

When I was younger (so much younger than today) I thought I might become a novelist. I’ve never really abandoned that notion, nor have I pursued it with any real vigor. (Need I remind you that the most popular post on this site is a ten-year-old riff titled, “Lazy. So?”). I do have several unfinished manuscripts laying about, on hard drives and in drawers. I’m thinking I might poke at them in the new year.

Do I detect a bit of ambition after all? Perhaps.

I’m also returning to the piano after a year-long hiatus. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, I’ll let this here blog sleep in heavenly peace until I have something of consequence to share.

Enjoy the Solstice, dear friends, the shift of the seasons, the slow nights, the long now. Check out Jason’s list. Maybe you’ll find something to set the stage for your own 2023.

November Links

I want you all to sing this sea shanty at my end-of-life celebration (whenever that may be, no rush.) It’s catchy. It’s about attachment. About transitions. I’m hoping there are plenty of years yet for you to learn it, but when the time comes I want you all singing.

Here’s a more traditional rendition. Also excellent.

I’m writing this as I wait for the paint on the floor of my bathroom to dry. It’s every bit as exciting as it sounds. But it’s the last task I needed to do to bring that little room back to ready after all the work done earlier this fall, and honestly, when something’s been out of whack in your house for months, you celebrate every opportunity for closure. I had to wait until my kid was out of town to get this last bit done, since floor paint takes a very long time to dry and it’s hard enough to coordinate my own absence for the duration, let alone that of someone whose schedule is the opposite of my own.

It wouldn’t matter so much if it weren’t the sole bathroom in the house, but it is.

Having a single bathroom in a house was once not so uncommon. The house I grew up in had one bathroom until my parents added a second when I was eleven or twelve, and it wasn’t even a particularly old house. I think it was built in the 1950s. Have I mentioned the house I live in now was built in 1860? It didn’t even have a bathroom when it was built.

The civil war had yet to begin when my house was built, though the animus was on the rise.

Women had not gained the right to vote when my house was built, and wouldn’t for more than another half-century.

Humans could still own other humans when my house was built, at least in some states, of which there were only 33 at the time. Thirty-three is a good number; maybe they should have left it at that. Though given the looming upheaval even 33 was too many. Now look at us. Fifty states, two of which are not even a part of our contiguous landmass. Plus territories and protectorates, three in the Caribbean, eleven in the Pacific. Can you name them? I can’t name them. I had to go to Wikipedia.

I couldn’t name the leading causes of death around the time my house was built, either, but Derek Beres of the podcast Conspirituality offered this reminder that public health matters are no small concern, and the eradication of scourges in the 20th century was no small feat.

Here’s a thought, a little random, but worth your consideration: We need more forgiveness. Music critic Ted Gioia suggests we start with Milli Vanilli.

Meg Conley connects the Netflix show Derry Girls and the Troubles in Ireland with mass shootings in the U.S., and Christian nationalism. It’s all of a piece.

For nerds: Robin Sloan asks, what do you want from the internet, anyway? Robin has been working on a protocol. It sounds… promising?

And finally, as we enter the portal into another Holiday Seasontm, Chris LaTray has something to say about good days and holidays and the exhaustion that comes of bashing ourselves and one another over the origins of Thanksgiving: “I am more traumatized by organizations – Indigenous and non – and other people – Indigenous and non – going so hard all day long to remind everyone how fucked-up the idea of Thanksgiving is. Just take the fucking day off if it is offered to you and do something that will bring you joy.”

Like singing a sea shanty. Or maybe listening to this.

The Holidays Pt. I

As one half of a shared-parenting divorced couple, I have some experience with solo holidays, those years when the kid was with the ex and I just wasn’t feeling it, all the gathering and festivities and so forth. Rather than try to create some alternative for the sake of the season, I would generally just have a day or two to myself, doing what I wanted, which was often nothing much at all.

A movie, a walk by the river. Then maybe another movie.

On those holidays when I was solo, I didn’t share my lack of plans with anyone until after the fact, because when people learn you’re alone for The Holidaystm they get all sad for you and you have to reassure them that no, no, it’s really okay. And then they seem to feel a need to include you in their own holiday stuff, and bless their generosity of spirit, but no. Those inclusions are awkward and uncomfortable and whenever I’ve accepted them I’ve felt compelled to demonstrate what a good time I was having, which isn’t the way having a good time works.

Now I say, “No, thanks, I’m really looking forward to being with no one at all,” in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a complete misanthrope but still gets the point across.

This year, though, with the kid doing a Friendsgiving out of town, I did make plans. I said yes to an invitation for dinner with a group of friends, bought the ingredients to bring a salad of greens and pears, glazed some walnuts to put on top of it and looked up what sort of dressing I might want to to pour over it (a balsamic vinaigrette with a bit of raspberry.) I was looking forward to it. The salad. The friends.

And then I got a cold. A sore throat. A sniffle. Congestion.

Once upon a time I would have taken a Sudafed and motored on through. These are not those times. As another friend who had to bow out because of the flu said, “I wouldn’t stay home if I didn’t like y’all so much.”

So it’s the cat and me this Thanksgiving, along with this lovely salad. Maybe a movie. And a walk by the river. Then maybe another movie.

The Midterms

After spending election night at my radio station babysitting the live feed for NPR’s election coverage so that I might add the hourly legal ID and break in with any local upsets should they occur (spoiler: they didn’t), I came away with little more than a sense of relief that it was over.

It would take a while to tally everything up, during which time we would be treated to (useless) speculation about whose messaging succeeded and what it all meant, but the clock had run out on the voting part, at least. We could now return to our precarious lives without the ever-present electioneering adding to the crazy.

But no. We could not.

Because elections in the U.S. are now the show that never ends (Welcome back, my friends!)

In an instant, artillery is re-positioned and even as the returns come in, a fresh wave of grievance pours forth. Power struggles commence and agendas are announced that include none of the issues that were the focus of campaigns. Inflation? Yesterday’s news. Today we’re promised investigations and impeachments and a whole lot of wtf.

There will be a run-off for a Senate seat in Georgia, between a man who seems pretty decent and one who… doesn’t.

And of course the season wouldn’t be complete without a reminder that the former president still intends to be crowned king in 2024. Cue the handwringing on the part of those who’d kissed his ring for all these years and now find him a bit of a drag. Something something dogs and fleas.

The people in charge do not want to make the future better or easier or more enjoyable. They want to make more money.

Kelsey McKinney

She’s writing about Ticketmaster — which has a monopoly on major venue concert ticket sales and doesn’t care how awful their system is because, monopoly! — but she could be writing about pretty much anything: the health care system, the legal system. Politics.

If I had to guess I’d say the Republicans’ big takeaway from the midterm elections is not that the American people have voted against the worst of the crazy and would like abortion to be legal, so maybe it’s time to do some soul searching. Heh. No. The takeaway is that states in which they achieved the greatest successes were those that relied on voter suppression and gerrymandering and cruel political stunts that delighted their base.

I expect we’ll see more of all that.

On Election Day

When the haunted house catches fire:
a moment of indecision. 

The house was, after all, built on bones,
and blood, and bad intentions.

Everyone who enters the house feels
that overwhelming dread, the evil
that perhaps only fire can purge.

It's tempting to just let it burn.
And then I remember:

there are children inside.

~Kyle Tran Myhre 

[via Rob Brezsny]

October Links

It’s been a YouTube sort of month, where I spent far too much time watching others do what I ought to be doing, and would be doing, if I had the energy to get up off the sofa.

Let’s not call it lazy, let’s call it “filling the well.”

Because the last couple of months — okay, the last couple years — have been energetically depleting, chaotic and stress-filled. Turns out chaos and stress are enervating. Who knew? Well, we all knew, the 99% of us, anyway, who aren’t buying Twitter and political candidates. We knew long before COVID, before QAnon and Donald Trump, before the market crash of ’08 and ’00 and ’87 and the oil crisis of the 70s and the missile crisis of the 60s and all the other upheavals in the (relatively) short life of our (pugnacious and bratty) country that chaos and stress are particularly hard on the bodies of human (and nonhuman) people. Yes.

But so is hanging out all day on the sofa. I can attest.

I did get the art room cleaned up after months of not doing it. It took an entire weekend, after which it was so tidy and organized it took another two weeks before I could bring myself to mess it up again. But I did. I messed it up enough to make those four panels in the photo up there. They’re small, but they’re done. Done is good.

All of which is to say, I sat down to write this post and realized the cupboard was bare. Apparently I’ve been prowling online a lot less these days (aside from the YouTube thing) and the few items I’d bookmarked to include in this month’s roundup were, upon a revisit, not all that interesting after all.

And those that were? Well, I can keep pointing you toward the work of Lyz Lenz and Meg Conley and suggest that you subscribe to them, and to Indi and Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files, because they’re all saying things that open us up in one way or another, and we need that. Even when it hurts.

And then we can go for a walk. And watch some YouTube.

I will say that, in my quest for less scrolling, more searching (or, as Austin Kleon would put it, “More search, less feed“) I’ve come to appreciate the work of Heather Cox Richardson, who curates a daily roundup of significant political happenings in the U.S. with ample historical context. It satisfies my current inclination to pay attention to politics, but at a safe remove.

It was not at a safe remove, and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but I listened to all four episodes of the Clarence Thomas story on Behind the Bastards, a podcast from journalist/former Cracked editor Robert Evans. Proceed at your own risk.

What I will recommend is Desert Oracle Radio, which is where I go whenever I need a cultural/emotional reset. Part rant, part woo, all deadpan and weirdly comforting. “Night has fallen in the desert.”

Also this month: I somehow got linked up with Coco’s Variety, a Los Angeles vintage collectibles/bike shop that had a public storefront until August 2021, and now sells online, through auctions, and at local swaps and fleas. I’ve never bought anything from them, don’t do fleas anymore, or auctions, or even garage sales, but I now read Coco’s Dispatch the moment it shows up in my inbox. It’s a window into a life so unlike mine but weirdly familiar all the same. Old school email newsletter, just a scroll and a story and a snapshot and another story and another one. I’m pretty charmed.

What else I’m reading: William Gibson’s The Peripheral. I had a go at Neuromancer when it came out in the 80s and couldn’t make it work for me. Cyberpunk was/is not my métier, but someone recommended this one, and it had been a minute, so I’m giving it a try. There was a language barrier for the first 50 or so pages — I’m not a gamer and don’t get any of those references — but I’m settling in. If I have more to say about it I’ll let you know.

How are you filling your well these days?

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An Economy of Astonishment

Octopus Vulgaris via New York Public Library

Earlier this year Wired founder Kevin Kelly shared 103 bits of advice in a post on the occasion of his 70th birthday. It was a very popular post.

It was so popular that it’s been updated with the news that the list is to become a book, one that will include selections from a previous list of 68 bits (shared on the occasion of his 68th birthday), and some new bits written especially for the print edition. The original 103 bits in the more recent post (and the 68 bits in the earlier one) have been reduced to a half-dozen teasers, bringing to mind something about a horse and a barn door, but I’m sure there are reasons.1

“These are not laws,” he wrote. “They’re like hats. If one doesn’t fit, try another.”

I like lists; I enjoyed these. Here’s one bit I tried that fit especially well: “The chief prevention against getting old is to remain astonished.”

Setting aside the quibble that the only reliable prevention against getting old is to die young, I am inspired by the idea of astonishment.

Astonishment is cousin to surprise, only more so. Here’s an example: I was surprised when Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for president in 2016. I was astonished when he was elected. I remain astonished that people would consider voting for him again.

So, no moss on me, I guess.

But here’s the thing: it takes effort to maintain a capacity for astonishment. It takes effort to hold sufficient space for it, to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know even when we’re pretty sure we do and that no one would ever… oh, look, they just did.

Holding space takes energy. It also leaves us vulnerable. And if we’re (unpleasantly) surprised one too many times, who can blame us for deciding it’s just easier/safer/saner to withdraw from the whole exercise. Let ourselves become a little more jaded. A little less willing to be surprised by anything, let alone astonished.

A little old.

I don’t know about you, but my own energy is in short supply these days. I never had COVID, so it’s not Long Covid. Maybe it’s Long Capitalism. Why not? The professional managerial class that pulls the economic levers is all about mitigating surprise, flattening out experience in the name of efficiency. Not for nothing those quarterly reports and projections.

Which is to say, if we wish to remain astonished and open to the world, we might benefit from a certain disengagement with the all-consuming casino economy.

There are other economies, of course. Economies of place, of mutual aid, of extended families and families of choice, of community support and radical inclusion. Gift economies, cooperative economies. They’re all around us. We’re in them now, we just have a hard time seeing them. The glare from the casino overwhelms, flattens, distracts, enervates.

And after it rains, there’s a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It’s not that the colors aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack

Paul Simon, “My Little Town”

We might want to start looking for those other economies, consider that it’s okay to grow old in one or more of them. And also, you know, fuck the casino. At the risk of mixing metaphors, nothing says we have to go down with this ship.

What astonishes you these days?

Personally, I am astonished by sea life. Ponder these prints. Tell me you don’t feel the same.

1You can still find the complete lists on other sites. Here is the list of 68. Here is the 103.

Rod McKuen

The sun finally dropped behind the tree line
on an October evening still warm 
from the day's golden light 
and I'm thinking of Rod McKuen 
poet and voice of a hundred fall nights
who showed up when I needed him 
and stuck around, silly man,
in a slender collection 
of anguish and love poems 
fragrant now with the dusty spores of a long-ago life 
I saw him last in a thrift store down on Riverside,  
nestled with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass 
and Andy Williams in the crate of albums 
nobody wants anymore, 
this poet who sold more books in a single year
than Alan Ginsberg sold in fifty, but it is Howl 
we remember and not A Cat Named Sloopy, alas,
recalled from the randomness of a day in October 
and the light on my screen 
and the story that appeared,
just like the poet, 
when I needed it most. 

September Links

I walked with a friend yesterday through a particularly pretty part of my town, on a street that runs along the river. There were roses nodding over low picket fences and mounds of flowering perennials filling the stretches between the houses, some of which are small and cottage-like and a half-century old. These were dwarfed by others that seem to have sprung up last week, oversized and imposing, with towering second-story balconies that afford a nice view of what was once called by French settlers La Belle Rivière.

In the evening, when the sun is low in the sky and the water is pinked with the last light of day, it’s easy to forget that we’re looking at one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Its sediments are a storehouse of legacy chemicals pre-dating the Clean Water Act, its waters a constant churn of fresh pollutants from the steel mill just upriver, not to mention mine runoff and fracking water and agricultural runoff and the discharge of urban wastewater from each of the seven states through which it flows.

I’m sure forgetting all that is even easier from a chaise lounge on one of those balconies.

In my own backyard the exuberant vines have been trimmed back one last time, the ivies and creepers and honeysuckle and grapevine that threaten to disappear my house every year. They’re all invasives, I know, but so am I, and I can’t help but admire their tenacity. Each spring I tell myself I’ll have some professionals come and remove them; at the end of every summer I look around and say, okay, maybe next year.

And so: autumn. But even as the cool evenings have replaced those sweltering nights when the temperatures never went below 75 degrees, let’s give one last salute to the passing of the hottest summer on record with Helena Fitzgerald’s incomplete taxonomy of air conditioning (and the “awkward mercies” of the window air conditioner.)

Let’s remember, too, this Season of the Worker, where some folks reminded us why we need labor unions and others showed us there are other ways to organize an economy. And while we’re at it, let’s hear from Lyz Lenz about the rejection of work as we once knew it, and why it’s so baffling to the rentier class:

I wish there was something to explain why everyone is suddenly opting out of being a cog in the wheel of capitalism. It’s almost as if a mass-extinction event happened and took the lives of 6.53 million humans, leaving the rest of us contemplating our existence and realizing that there is much, much more to life than just being another turtle in a large turtle pile for Yertle the Turtle to sit on top of.”

Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn says, “Tennesseans don’t want socialism.” Wendell Potter says, tell it to your parents and grandparents, and the 10,000 people employed by the Tennessee Valley Association, a New Deal socialist program that saved the regions’ bacon in the Great Depression and is still going strong today.

Energy is the economy.

Much was said about the British Monarchy, the commonwealth, and the legacy of colonialism, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. This piece broke through the noise for me.

Oliver Burkeman: You’ve got nothing to prove.

My month in books: I’ve been keeping a list of the books I’ve read this year — 43 so far — and when I look at that list the year feels expansive, not squished into the endless loop of same-shit-different-day that it otherwise seems. I’m also glad I’m writing them down. Without the list I might have forgotten how much I enjoyed Alison Bechdel’s The Secret to Superhuman Strength, a book I read back in January. Which was, if not a long time, then certainly a lot of books ago. Anyway, my two September books are among my favorites so far: Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, which I mentioned briefly in a previous post, and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. Each one strange and poignant and time-twisty. Both highly recommended.

What’s keeping your year from squishing into that endless loop of ssdd?

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Oh Well, Now What

For the past two weeks the (only) bathroom in my house has been torn up so that some very old plumbing could be replaced, a process that created a bit of disturbance in my home life. Scheduling with the plumbers, coordinating with the contractor, taking time off work, then more time, hoping they wouldn’t find anything else in need of repair as they went along.

And, of course, wondering how I was going to pay for all of it — which is what we’re all doing do these days, is it not? The wondering, the calculating, the gratitude for days when we don’t have to drive anywhere, don’t have to buy anything, need neither furnace nor air conditioner to keep things comfy, and feeling guilty for wanting things to be comfy when there is drought and flooding and fires and hurricanes and all that going on.

The final bill came in at less than I’d expected. That was a nice surprise.

It was followed by another surprise, though, this one not so nice, when I learned that a project I’d been developing since March at my radio station was not going to be included in the new fiscal year budget. But! They were still very excited to see what I could come up with, given no additional hours or compensation to actually, you know, do the work.

It really doesn’t love you back, does it.

So I’m moving into autumn with six months of oh-well behind me and a season of now-what stretching out ahead. Which isn’t great, but it’s freeing. And let’s be honest. Six months of poking at a project that could have been up and running in six weeks is a good indication that something was amiss all along.

Was it me? Yes, it was me. I was amiss. Remiss. Something.

Though institutional plodding bears some responsibility. So many meetings. So many discussions. So much revisiting. I miss my café days when I could decide on Tuesday to put something on the menu and have it there on Wednesday.

Not that I miss food service. I do not. What I miss is the opportunity to be nimble. My employer — my entire industry — is a lot of (mostly good) things, but it is not nimble. Which is why I’m not hugely disappointed my project was scuttled. Just a little… bummed. Yes. Let’s go with bummed.

There are other projects.

There’s this here blog, for instance.

Meanwhile, mums are appearing on porches, pumpkins, too, for the early adopters. Perhaps I can stop mowing for the season. That’s reason to rejoice.

That, and I’ve got a functional bathroom once again. Two cheers, at least, for that.