Solstice

When Jason Kottke of Kottke.org 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.

The Bones of Birds

There is no ground, said Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, that is the good news. The bad news is that we are falling, falling, never to land. As if in a dream.

Is it a dream? ¿Quien sabe? (“Who knows?” and also, “Who cares?”)

I just finished reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, with its loopy timeframes and its suggestion that reality is something other than what we’ve been led to believe. Which is likely true, regardless of what we believe, or what that “something other” might be. (¿Quien sabe?)

Raise your hand if you’re (still) waiting for things to get back to normal. Heh.

The wheel is turning. The wheel has already turned. The wheel has never stopped turning.

Imagine you are a red colobus monkey. Imagine you are a passenger pigeon. A North American bison. Imagine you are Sephora toromiro, the flowering tree that once filled Easter Island. The means by which you sustain yourself — the mycorrhizae of relationship and symbiosis — are disappearing, have disappeared. The turning is beyond your control.

But look: the garden needs weeding. The cat wants to play. This week I’ve had to tear up my bathroom floor to replace 70-year-old drains. The daily-ness is the tether, the ongoing, ever-present neediness of now.

Truth: the future has always been a burden. And every best-of-plans has a never-saw-it-coming.

Bones become porous in the absence of gravity. Density is lost. Hollowed out, like the bones of birds, so perhaps we might one day fly.

August Links

A long-ago friend told me “You can’t build on shifting sands,” and so it is perhaps not the time to build, when the sands are everywhere in motion. You can almost hear the Earth turning, like a restless body on a hot summer night, the god of natural acts kicks away the tangled bedsheets and brings our whole house down. How little it takes!

I didn’t mean to go a month without writing. I got involved in a few home improvement projects and one thing led to another, and now it’s almost Labor Day. Well, so. August is an inadvertent month; as someone* once said on the eve of some war** or another, “You don’t introduce new products in August.”

We can do some links, though. Just a few, because, August. Also, my internet was out for a bit and I liked being without it more than I thought I would, once I got over it being gone. Which probably explains all the home improvement projects.

Anyhoo.


Tim Kreider has a new newsletter: People react to powerlessness under stress in a variety of ways. They avoid; they deny; they self-anesthetize. Personally, sitting at my mother’s deathbed, I decided that unqualified sobriety was no longer a tenable policy for me.

Color is disappearing from the (built) world.

Lyz Lenz has my number: “Doing a Little Word Puzzle as the World Burns.”

As does Oliver Burkeman: If you want to write, you need a schedule.

Indi Samarajiva dismantles the propaganda organ otherwise known as The Economist.

Ours is not the only shell government in the world that ignores public services in favor of serving the interests of the wealthy. As George Monbiot writes of life in the UK, “The only public services not facing a major shortfall are defence (whose budget Truss intends greatly to raise) and roads. There’s a reason why the government spends so much on roads while strangling the rest of the public sector: they are among the few public services used by the very rich.

FDR’s Labor Secretary held the office for 12 years, a record for that position. She was also the first woman U.S. Cabinet member. If you like Social Security, you can thank Frances Perkins.

Politics is the WWF.

National Whiskey Sour Day has come and gone. I celebrated.

Favorite read of the month that wasn’t on the internet: The Factory, by Hiroko Oyamada. Asking the question to which we would all appreciate an answer: “What am I doing here?”

I wanted to say, Um, no. But then… maybe? The Cheese & Pickle Sandwich.

Here’s to all of your own inadvertencies, and to the last day of August, and everything after.


*Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff for George W. Bush, remarking on the post-Labor Day timing of the big media push in 2002 to set the stage for…

**…the invasion of Iraq the following spring. It was one of those rare early moments of saying the quiet part out loud, back before such a thing became commonplace: that the media blitz wasn’t comparable to marketing, it was marketing. The product was the war, and they didn’t want to begin the process of selling it to us before we were ready to pay attention.

We pay attention in September. It’s axiomatic.

July Links

Summer becomes eclectic as July slides into August and nobody seems to know what’s going on. Normal summer activities like going to the lake and hiking in the Shawnee feel strangely inaccessible. Could it be the $5.15/gallon price of gasoline that keeps me close to home? Perhaps it’s the monster heat that makes even normal erranding feel like an excursion into some sweaty hellishness teeming with Other People who all drive much too aggressively in their absurdly large vehicles.

Also: I’ve become squeamish about ticks.

I did find a new local bar to hang out in (that’s it in the picture up there), though I’m not sure I’m ready to start doing that again. Maybe if I only go when it’s as empty as in that picture.

Anyway.

Here are a few things besides the heat and the price of gasoline that captured my attention this month.

Indi Samarajiva writes about the commons, and the wreck of it, by a culture and an economy that privileges cars over public transportation. (You may need to give up your email address to read it. Worth it.)

Also: how caregiving is — or ought to be — a kind of commons: Anne Helen Petersen interviews Angela Garbes on why raising children is not an individual responsibility, but a social one.

And: in light of the current chaos that is abortion care in the U.S., it’s worth revisiting Jenny Brown’s 2018 argument that birthing is an economic activity, and women are fed up with doing the unpaid labor.

In other health-related news, COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. We’re not talking about it anymore, but Dave Pollard is keeping score: “Not only are vaccinations losing their power, infection is almost useless as a means of protecting yourself against future infection.”

And: in case you need reminding, industry whistleblower Wendell Potter continues to reveal how health insurance in the U.S. is an abomination of wealth extraction and spin.

Speaking of wealth extraction, music critic Ted Gioia writes about the absurdity of navigating “fair use” for music videos that seek to educate an audience. “I have zero interest in breaking the law, or finding out how much I can bend it. But it would help if someone could tell me what the law actually says.”

A welcome escape from the ordinary: Robin Sloan’s newsletter. Read to the end for an exploration into one facet of the oddly-now-quotidian 21st century media algorithm.

The extraordinary TikTok videos of Azuma Makoto. Trust me.

More music: I spent a recent 90 minutes enrapt in the re-mastered 1981 Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park. As the old folks say, it’s good for what ails you.

I’m so grateful to live in the same world as Nick Cave and The Red Hand Files. “I want to facilitate, in some small way, a mutual journey toward meaning; to decrease the dimensions of our emptiness and draw us closer to love and to beauty. I understand that these sound like grandiose claims, but they are not. This common project – to improve matters – is available to all of us.”

Onward.


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Children of Ozymandias

The Princes hoist their flags above the Capitol dome, 
fist-bumps for all the children of Ozymandias, 
they inherit the crumbling empire, sandblasted 
from sea to shining sea, limestone and lithium, 
dust in all their mouths.

The incoming tide laps the shores of an eastern seaboard
retreating inland like an ill-fed army, one giant gated fiefdom 
of chipboard and hot glue, PVC-wrapped porch columns
gone akimbo in the infernal heat, even the termites 
aren’t interested. 

We learned to build sets all summer in the theater; 
from the orchestra pit they were so convincing. 

Look now on our Potemkin Land of the Free, and despair!
Everyone is wealthy on TV. There are rifles for all but no food 
in the kitchen, surprise! A car for every parking space and 
all the tanks are empty. A wrinkled lip, a sneer of cold command: 
Close the borders! 

Never mind. 
No one’s going anywhere, anyway.

Cargo ships run aground in the land between the two Americas, 
and all the shelves at Target are empty, while high overhead
the satellites collide and veer off into orbits no one thought 
to calculate. What are we to do? I read somewhere we could 
shoot them down with lasers. 

But how then will we stream the next season 
of The Gilded Age?

It’s Just What Was

Abandoned Schlitz brewery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin [source]

A month after a tree fell on my house, a tree fell on my neighbor’s house, as if this were now a commonplace thing, trees falling down on people’s houses. 

It’s disconcerting to confront a thing that is where it ought not be. Something that was once one way is now another, and the sense of discontinuity is like falling in a dream, knowing you are falling, knowing that the ground both is and is not somewhere down below. 

There is something in us that resists the evidence of the altered now, even when what used to be was not at all what we wanted, was indeed far less lovely than a tree that no longer shades the house. I am at my desk and look up to see a man standing at the bottom of the stairs. There is no man at the bottom of the stairs. What I see is an after-image, a ghost. And yet I steel myself for whatever interaction is coming, before realizing I am still dreaming. Still falling.

Also: I don’t believe in ghosts.

Also: I know the ghosts are everywhere.

The map of the world shows a world on fire, but it can’t be on fire because we need to go to work, and so the world is not on fire. 

Still dreaming, still falling.

Yesterday I spent time on the Abandoned America website, scrolling through images of places that are no longer one thing but are not yet something else. Shopping malls and amusement parks and roadside attractions re-absorbing into the body of the world. I’ve heard people denigrate these images as ruins porn. Yet nobody calls it ruins porn when we visit the Roman Coliseum. We call that cultural enrichment. 

Maybe we’re too close, maybe it’s too soon. We walked through those malls. We worked in those factories. It wasn’t great. It’s just what was, and now it isn’t anymore.


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June Links

I thought it was just me, but no. I’m pretty sure we’re all just winging it.

Some of us have been gifted — by genetics, by trust funds — with superior wings, like those of the great blue heron in the pond by the library. Some of us have learned to stay aloft by riding the higher currents, like the black-headed vultures that circle far above some point of interest on the riverbank below.

And some of us are just flying squirrels, with no real wings at all, assured by our capacity to glide from branch to branch that we are really flying, when in truth we’re just falling a little more slowly than we otherwise might.

If you live in the U.S., especially if you live in a Republican-governed state, you may have done what I did Friday: searched out relocation options on the coastal west, thinking a move from your blood-red Midwest state might be in order. The most powerful response to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling came from the governors of those west coast states, in sad and stark contrast to the milquetoast pronouncements from Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C. who for some reason thought gathering on the Capitol steps for a rousing rendition of “God Bless America” was in order. You can’t make this shit up.

Meanwhile… folks are aiding and abetting. Because “winging it” doesn’t mean you’re on your own.

Unless you’d like to be, and some well-meaning person tries to get you paired up. Heather O’Neill wonders why our culture is so afraid of single women.

Oliver Burkeman says, “It’s worse than you think,” which left me feeling… comforted?

Food and culture writer/podcaster Alicia Kennedy has thoughts on productivity and precarity: “My work, my labor, is in living and in learning and in fiddling around, for as long as I can get away with it.” Same. She also writes one of my favorite newsletters.

I don’t know Chris Glass, but visiting his website is like dropping in on an old friend (who takes very good pictures).

Civil rights attorney Alec Karakatsanis unpacks the New York Times’ disingenuous (misleading, false) reporting on the recall of San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin, while attorney Stanley Cohen shares some Boudin family history.

What I’m listening to: Mother Country Radicals, a podcast hosted by Zayd Dohrn, son of Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, who adopted Chesa Boudin after Boudin’s parents were imprisoned for bank robbery. Clearly, I am fascinated by this story, this family, these people.

What’s for dinner: this, please, once a week, for the rest of the summer.

The Tree on the Roof

Hackberry (Cellis occidentalis) by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Source: New York Public Library via rawpixel.

There is a tree lying across the roof of my house, a fairly large tree that came down yesterday in the early hours of an overnight in which the temperatures never dropped below 80 degrees. I felt it when it hit the house, the shudder waking me from an already restless sleep.

I went downstairs, noticed shadows outside where there ought not be any, the silhouette of a thin branch floating in front of my kitchen window.

When the day grew light enough I went outside to have a look. I was surprised to find relatively little damage to the house, at least as far as I could tell from peering up through the branches. Gutters and soffits, sprung from their careful fittings, lay buckled beneath the thick torso of the fallen tree, but the roof itself appeared to be intact. Though I won’t know for sure until the tree service arrives and the tree is lifted and removed, something that might not happen for days.

Or longer. The last time I needed to hire a tree service it took three months for the work to get done. But that work didn’t involve anything so hazardous as a tree on my roof, so perhaps this time will be different.

I spent the day on the phone, making calls to line up a tree service, leaving messages, waiting for people to call me back. I filed a claim with my insurance company, and later in the day I talked to a claims adjuster, who wasn’t rude, exactly; he just sounded jaded and indifferent to my situation. But maybe it was me, edgy and hyper-aware of the precarity and randomness of the moment, knowing that the tree could have fallen differently, resulting in a situation far more catastrophic than what I was facing.

Am facing.

Most of the time I feel safe in my house. It’s been a reasonably reliable container. But things have happened here, and I am not always at ease within it.

The cellar has flooded, the roof has leaked. Et cetera.

For the past few days we’ve been under a heat advisory, told to stay inside if we can, assuming we have air conditioning, which I do, and for which I am grateful, even though it comes at the expense of more carbon rising into the stratosphere. (How to square that circle, I wonder.) And so I’m spending most of my time in this space, under the weight of the tree on the roof, reading, typing to you, waiting for the next thing to happen.

Did the heat bring down that tree, a hackberry whose rotting interior is now exposed for all to see? I am no arborist, but I suspect the stress from year after year of summers grown too hot for this particular species played some part in its demise, even if it was just to give increased comfort and quarter to the burrowing insects that have been feeding on its core all this time.

May Links

Source: New York Public Library

“I know what I value. I don’t know what I need.” Says Heather Havrilesky, in conversation with Jennifer Louden on the Create Out Loud podcast. I get it. I feel that way sometimes. But for today, at least, I know what I need: a few magic words that will persuade all of my (Republican) representatives to re-enact the assault weapons ban, and leave trans kids — and library books, and people with a uterus — alone.

Also: something to take to the potluck next week. (It’s a “snacks and summer cocktails” thing. I’m thinking this might do. And this.)


Like you, I have thoughts on the state of things. We were short on hosts this week at the station, so I sat through more npr news and midday public affairs programming than was probably good for me. I’m trying to hunt for what podcaster Andrea Scher calls “small wonders” in the midst of the enormity it all. But first:

The cost of doing business: Like the 3500 people who die each month in car crashes so we can continue with our happy motoring, the mass murder of school children and grocery shoppers and church-and-synagogue-members and concert-goers and night-clubbers is now “the cost of doing business” in America. People actually say shit like this. Out loud.

Speaking of happy motoring, Alex Pareene says there’s never been a better time since the 1920s to be an anti-car person.

Libby Watson argues that health care is not just for those who somehow manage to do everything right.

Forced birth is slavery.

Will travel fix your sad self? Adam Sandler’s Joe Romano clarifies what travel can and cannot do for you.

“This is the internet: It feels real until you back away, and then it feels kind of like nothing.”

I do not use Twitter. This week at work, I was asked to post a link on the stations’ Twitter feed to a story my colleague had produced. It was “my” first tweet. I felt momentarily embedded in the Great Link. Then… nothing. “The amount that Twitter omits is breathtaking; more than any other social platform, it is indifferent to huge swaths of human experience and endeavor. I invite you to imagine this omitted content as a vast, bustling city. Scratching at your timeline, you are huddled in a single small tavern with the journalists, the nihilists, and the chaotic neutrals.” Robin Sloan,”The Lost Thread”.


What I’m reading: The Zookeepers Wife. I was looking for a good story, something not too hard to handle, as I’m a bit, um, fragile these days. (Surprise!) Anyway, someone recommended this book. I went into it thinking, it’s about a zoo! How wrenching can it be? I had no idea.

What I’m listening to: too much npr, not enough Bill Evans.

What’s on the stove: it was cool enough to make soup last week, but now it’s hot and humid. So, no stove tonight. Let’s just have this for dinner all summer, mk?

What small wonders are you finding in your world?

This Week You’re a Flowerpot

So much has been written this past week about abortion rights and the leaked Alito opinion, with responses far more comprehensive than I could hope to create, so I’ll keep my commentary to one small point of fact, shared in light of the sudden urgency among Democrats that WE MUST DO SOMETHING NOW.

As Ann Friedman put it, “NOW?!?”

Democrats have had fifty years to Do Something. Fifty years to codify Roe v. Wade into law, twenty-one of which have been under Democratic administrations. They didn’t do it.

In fact, Congress has had 250 years to Do Something, 250 years to codify a women’s right to bodily autonomy into law. They haven’t done it.

The full personhood of women remains contingent in this country, dependent on the good will of those we elect to office and the Court of Nine — really, five — who decide whether we are flower pots or people. Rectifying this has never been a priority. How do we know it’s not a priority? 250 years is how we know.

Americans by a large majority favor legal access to abortion, just as we favor affordable health care for all, affordable child care, paid parental leave, and a living minimum wage. We don’t get what we ask for. Instead we get forever wars and culture wars, a bloated military budget, and a wringing of the hands on the part of Democrats whose only unified response to the situation is to call on voters to “elect more Democrats.”

Yes, of course, I consider the alternative, and yes, I will continue to vote for the ones who seem to not hate women, hate children, hate the poor and people of color quite so much. But I’m tired of it. Tired of issues of major consequence being reduced, time and again, to messaging for the midterms.

Fifty years of post-Roe inaction is a message, too.


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April Links

My month-long hiatus extended nearly half a year (surprise!) as I wandered through a wet, gray, Midwest winter and on into early spring, when none of the news was good (really, is it ever?), despairing of pretty much everything. I did work on some half-assed hand-sewing (that pile above), which got me through, (still gets me through), and I finally dared a couple of dinner gatherings at friends’ homes, which allowed me to see that the world had not entirely gone to shit, not while Linda makes her most excellent cherry pie. I’m still on the fence about restaurant dining, but I’ll sit around in people’s kitchens now, which is a vast improvement over a year ago, right?

I’ll have a more substantial post to share with you soon. Consider this a gentle tap at your door, me on the porch, offering a plate of cookies.

_ _ _ _ _

Speaking of a year ago, this one’s from last May, and I find myself returning to it again and again: Alex Steffen on discontinuity and the climate crisis and how one of its grimmest aspects is “its transapocalyptic nature. That is, just how much of the world can thrive relatively well while enormous numbers of people suffer.”

Case in point: I keep waiting for mainstream news orgs to spend some time on the ongoing discontinuity in Sri Lanka. Even briefly. It hasn’t happened. [from Indrajit Samarajiva]

Lyz Lenz talks with journalist Allison Hantschel about how newspapers were damaging themselves long before the internet and private equity came along.

Music and cultural critic Ted Gioia on the Netflix/CNN+ disaster and what’s next for streaming. Hint: the greed might have to be dialed back a bit. For realz.

Laurie Penney, on why nominal choice does not equal liberation.

Roxanne Gay contemplates Sister Corita Kent’s rules for her university’s art department. Rule #1: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

What I’m listening to: mood enhancement. Arooj Aftab, Tony Karapetyan Trio & Sebastian Studnitzky, and Hania Rani [the last two via Ted Gioia]

What’s on the stove: a season-straddling take on traditional potato-leek soup, light enough to say “Spring is here!” and robust enough to satisfy on these lingering cool nights.

What I’m reading: I’ve gone full-on Murderbot Diaries, blazing through the entire Martha Wells series, some via print, some on audio. These books are so full of angst and tech-speak and ethical quandaries and other-worldliness (literally) there is no brain-space left for (my own) despair. Which is to say, exactly what I need right now

Until next time,

November Links

So much keeps happening. Much of it passes without need for comment, because what is there left to say? Our laws are as broken as everything else. Also: we don’t know how things will end, because nothing is ever really over.

Since this is my last post before I go on my December break (which, let’s face it, could go on a bit longer, knowing me), I’m sharing a lot today. Take what you need, come back again and take a little more.


Sonali Kohlatkar writes about “social spending” vs. “military spending.” Over the last several weeks the major U.S. media players have served up story after story about inflation, labor shortages, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner and the price of gasoline (and milk!), but have given us virtually no information about the $753 billion going to the Pentagon via Biden’s Build Back Better plan. 

For further reading on U.S. outlays for military and national security, spend a few minutes with Stephen Semler of Speaking Security. This is why we can’t have nice things. Unless you think bombs are nice things.

Some activists say we don’t vote with forks, we vote with votes, that the whole idea of the “personal carbon footprint” was invented by oil companies to distract well-meaning individuals from the singular issue at hand, which is the need to stop burning fossil fuels. But as Lisa Held writes in the (alas, dearly departing) Peeled newsletter: “As someone who covers food policy closely, I can tell you first-hand that Congress is a mess. When meaningful legislation actually gets passed, which is rare, changes take an insanely long time to implement. Oftentimes, they’re reversed or rolled back. Corporate influence is everywhere.” 

Meanwhile, some votes seem particularly fraught: Rebecca Solnit on the media coverage of the Nov. 2 election results in the U.S. “The Washington Post seemed to believe that Virginia was a national referendum on the (Democratic) party… but (losing candidate) Terry McAuliffe is not the Democratic party, and the nation didn’t vote in Virginia’s election.” 

How the bus driver shortage helps explain our current economic weirdness.

Why Tokyo Works “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

I know next to nothing about cryptocurrencies, other than the fact that they require a shite tonne of energy to create and maintain. But this particular perspective on Bitcoin, et. al., made me feel a little less benighted.

This one is a hard one. But it resonates. There Will Be No “Confessions of a Misogynist.”

Apparently it’s “cozy season” on social media, if not in our actual lives. “Collect a bunch of cozy-projecting objects and you’ll just end up working to maintain your stuff, when what you really need is for your stuff to maintain you. From Brooklyn to Silicon Valley, earnest aesthetes line up all their handmade ceramics just so but have no idea how to cook a fucking soup without spending 45 minutes on the internet searching for the perfect recipe. Is “Cozy Season” a Cry for Help? [Kathryn Jezer-Morton, via AHP]

The Trolly Problem is an ethical thought experiment we might do well to revisit.

From Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files #171: “As Susie and I grow older, the anger at the indifference and casual cruelty of this world can still burn bright, but it does not define us, for the oxygen that fuels that anger is love — love for the world and love for the people in it. Love becomes anger’s great animator, as it should, as it must.”

Pick your battles. Pick fewer than that. [via Rob Brezsny]

The CNN milk story seemed to irritate a lot of people this month. But as Lyz Lenz points out, “It is harder to be an American family right now. No one is disputing that. But it’s not because of milk prices. It’s because of a lack of affordable healthcare, housing, and a lack of childcare.” But we’re giving the Pentagon $753 billion, so it’s all good.

Were you beaten as a child? Maybe it was called “spanking.” Maybe “discipline.” Once again, the U.S. is an outlier. And once again, not in a good way.

One way to radicalize the heartland: take away the jobs. This is not an apologia for Trumpism, or racism, or xenophobia, or any of a dozen other social maladies facing our rust-belted, Bible-belted midsection. It’s an indictment of an economic system that seems designed to bring out the worst in human beings.

Music to calm you. From Ted Gioia’s The Honest Broker newsletter.

Kinda into the French 75.

Pod-interest: Shane Parrish talks with Douglas Rushkoff about extremism and social media. Debbie Millman interviews Nick Offerman about acting and woodworking.

I’m watching the Great British Baking Show this weekend. Taking my mind off the coming winter. Snow can wait.

I’ll leave you with this bit of wistfulness, via The The Marginalian:

“Everything that you are seeing has, apart from small changes, been there for thousands of years before you. After a while — not long — you will no longer exist, and the woods and rocks and sky will continue, unchanged, for thousands of years after you. What is it that has called you so suddenly out of nothingness to enjoy for a brief while a spectacle which remains quite indifferent to you?” ~ Erwin Schrodinger, My View of the World

Thanks for reading. Be well. Have some pie. I’ll be back soon enough.

Housekeeping

Just a quick note today, and a couple questions for you.

For the last month of 2021 I’ll be off-line and somewhat out-of-pocket, which means the last planned post for the year is this Sunday’s links post, for which I have a slew of things to share with you. It’s been that kind of month.

As for December, it’s my red wheelbarrow, upon which so much depends. There are things to think about. This blog is one of them.

I’ve been writing in this space for ten years. And before this blog, there were two others. I’m not quite OG, but I’m OG-adjacent.

I intend to keep writing, here and elsewhere, but I’m considering how I might want to proceed. I know most of you subscribe via feed or email. Would you be (just as) happy with an email newsletter rather than a blog post? Would it make any difference? A newsletter feels more personal to me, more connected, less vox in deserto, but that’s me. What’s your take?

Also, I’m wondering how you feel about the monthly links posts. I know I’ve only done two so far, with a third one coming this weekend, but I’m completely enamored of them, and I look forward all month to putting them together. They give my online wanderings a sense of focus. Do you find them useful? I like it when writers I enjoy point me toward writing they enjoy. Give me all the links. The internet is too big for me to wander it alone.

But maybe you have all the links you need, and you just want more me. Maybe even more poems. (Seriously! I could make that happen!)

Please share your thoughts. I’m going to take your replies with me into my (deep and dark) December, and come out on the other end with a bit of clarity. That’s the plan, anyway.

Look for me on Sunday, then I’ll see you on the other side.

As always, I’m grateful for you.

Things Fall Apart

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"

The Kyle Rittenhouse trial led me to wonder about the history of riots in the U.S. and around the world, and if our era was particularly riotous compared with other times and places. Spoiler: civilization is rife with riot. Surprise!

Here is a list that focuses on the U.S from the 18th century on. Race riots, draft riots, labor riots. The Know-Nothing Riots, in particular, have a certain familiar tenor.

This list is international and covers a broader historical period — its first citation is of a riot in 44 BCE that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar.

This list is mostly focused on riots in the Pacific West and Northwest of the U.S. over the past 150 or so years. Portland is just the latest iteration.

Yeats’ poem is 100 years old. The passionate intensity is as old as civilization.

Everything falls apart. We (at least) can count on that.

Just In Time

I'm a just-in-time poem, sitting offshore
in a shipping container on an uneasy ocean
waiting, waiting, waiting 
for the crane to hoist me high 
and swing me to the ground, 
for the door to open and the sky to appear, 
I will fly free like the miseries 
from Pandora's box, beat my wings 
against the windows of an indifferent world, 
until I settle at last in some poor poet's soul 
and live out my days in the sweet mercy 
of endless supply and not a single demand.