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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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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