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.

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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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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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.


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.


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.”


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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.

October links

Mount Vernon, Indiana, 1937 [source]

Jon Michael Greer throws a shoe at intentional communities, and while much of what he says makes sense, it didn’t quite extinguish my desire to get on that bus to Elsewhere. I’m still curious. Still looking around. Still eager to hear your thoughts about it, if you have any to share.

On debt and death: an essay from Tennessee-born writer Molly McGhee on taking on her mother’s debt after her death. Found after falling down a rabbit hole via the prolific output of author Robin Sloan:

“Why are these people harassing me? What good does it do them?” I didn’t have an answer for her. Or I did, but it felt obvious and stupid to say out loud. They wanted money. Everybody wants money. The people in power don’t care if we live or die, as long as they get paid. […]

There are endless articles on why America has failed to curb the pandemic. The truth is simple. People profit from our death. Foreclosure companies, debt collectors, real estate agents, news corporations, health care tycoons, senators, and presidents, to name a few.

Molly McGhee, “America’s Dead Souls”

The Facebook Files is now a podcast. I’ve been following the story on NPR. Will I listen to the pod? Probably not. This company has already taken enough of my precious time.

On a related note, before I deleted my Facebook account altogether, I used the “unfollow everyone” strategy to clear my newsfeed of browsable content and give me a sense of control (heh) over who and what I engaged with. I did it manually, and it took a minute, but once it was done, it was workable enough, though ultimately unsatisfying. Still, for those who feel the need to remain on the platform, I recommend giving it a try, even though — or maybe especially because — Facebook really doesn’t like it.

Who is Oleg Deripaska and why does it matter that the FBI raided his Washington, D.C.mansion? The world is awash in treachery and greed. See how many famous faces you recognize!

Do you feel compelled to finish reading every book you start? Does it make you feel incomplete if you to abandon a book mid-read? Bibliophile John Warner feels no such compunction.

Suzanne Vega introduces and sings “Tom’s Diner.”

Music critic Ted Gioia offers ten suggestions for dealing with criticism. He’s writing for musicians, mostly, but it’s useful advice no matter what sort of creative work we’re putting out into the world. My personal favorite: #10. Because I’d much rather avoid it altogether — wouldn’t you? — but then where would we be?

Perfect fall soup. Skip the cream if you want, or replace it with coconut milk. Either way, it’s luscious.

Leaves are falling.

Be well,

There is No Path

I know nothing about Ethan Hawke, other than the fact that he’s been in some movies. I couldn’t tell you which ones without resorting to Google.

I don’t know if he’s a good guy or if I’d like his movies.

I liked this, though.

As you get close to what you love, who you are is revealed to you, and it expands.

Ethan Hawke

“There is no path until you walk it.”