Jul 012018
 

The last time I was in Mexico was in 2013. Presidential elections were underway, but I didn’t really pay attention, reducing them to a funny story about being refused a beer with dinner because of the dry election laws. Now five years later, I’m back, and Mexicans are again voting for their president. This time though it’s hard not to think about the people heading off to the polls and impossible to see it as funny.

The Beav and I are in Guanajuato this Election Day. The late morning sun is bright, the sky clear, and the houses stacked in twisting rows across the mountainside shine with color. The streets are busy with buses, taxis, cars and people heading to work or mass or the market. The smell of roasting meat and charcoal fill the air. So little of what I see of the life here seems to depend upon the American Dystopia to the North. Yet back home, we generally take it for granted that Mexico will face north.

I don’t know anything about the politics here, don’t know what’s possible or best. The fact that the peach I bought at the public market came from the States makes me think I’m ignorant even of the extent of my ignorance.

Yet sitting here I wonder if (and blindly hope that) the people voting around town might say “enough” and look south, leaving their northern neighbor to play the racist fool by itself.

 July 1, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 232018
 

The news from South of the Border (yes, that’s you, US of A) now operates exclusively in a rhetorical mode I’d call “the premature superlative.” Each day, an “-est” blares out from the news—the cruelest, the dumbest, the meanest, the rudest, something—and each day’s tomorrow reveals that in fact that day’s news wasn’t the cruelest, the dumbest, the meanest or the rudest, that the new day’s news is in fact worse, that the bottom (if there is a bottom) is deeper than anyone had suspected and that people are worse than anyone feared.

Sitting here north of the border, the horror show is unbearable to watch (but who can look away) and terrifying to think about. When Doug Ford swept the Ontario elections, I felt doomed, felt that the madness was infectious. Where the States goes, so goes the world. Or so it seemed.

It’s tough now to read the bleakness and resignation of my summer 2016 post on Trump’s prospects without wondering if, despite my careful hesitations and hedges, something in me understood my own family enough to know what was going to happen in that Fall’s election. Reading now with hindsight, I sound like a drowning man looking up at the small circle of sky visible through the water’s surface hoping to see a hand reaching down to pull him to safety.

Which brings me to Pride Month and the image sitting at the bottom of this post. I first posted it that same summer. I’m posting it again now because the idea that a presidential candidate—any candidate—actually circulated it seems like something pulled from a utopian fiction. After all, in the time since I first posted it, we’ve learned that I don’t even have the right to order cake anymore. I mean I can order and maybe get one if I’m lucky, but it’s not me who decides.

That’s where the States are today, and it’s sick-making to think about it.

 

 June 23, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 192018
 

Crawling under
Electric fence
Isn’t easy,
but he’s too short
To step over.

Barbed wire’s better:
He can push it
Down, hold it. Still
It can tear clothes.

 June 19, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 162018
 

The worn trail leading past the cow fence to the pond
Lay between the live oak and the old woman’s door.
To go to the fields or to the pond was to go to her.
To come back from either was to come back to her.

She sat on a lawn chair in the shade on bare dirt.
She talked as she looked out at the blinding light
That seared the grass in the open field beyond
The leaves and the shadow. She watched as cars
beyond the grass slowed at the break where
Paved road yielded to grated clay and sand.

The boy sat in a chair she kept ready by her own
As she told stories. Once he asked about the oak,
Was it alive? “Yes!” she said, “And always talking,
Always swapping tales and gossip with the wind.”
Eyes dancing wildly over a smile, she wondered.
“I wonder what that old tree knows on you?”
Another time she told him the name of god.

The boy and the old woman talked in the long heat,
Listening to the chorus of bugs and frogs calling
For the night as the afternoon stretched the shadows.
Then the live oak took a breath, small and sighing.

Another. Then it reached out and up and swept down
the breeze from the retreating sky. The oak swayed
As it sang softly whispered lullabies of cool nights,
Songs of bright stars. It psalmed dew-soaked grass.
It promised the morning. And then morning again.

 June 16, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 122018
 

The old woman talks her way
around the pond slowly, speaking as
Her eyes and hands jump about.
The boy walks along and listens.

As she walks round the far side,
The old woman spots a young tree
Bound to the glossy black water
By a thin cord. It cuts the bark pulling
Green out from beneath the soft gray.

“That line’ll kill that tree,” she says.
Then she says they ought to save it
And the boy leans out to catch the line.
“Don’t fall in!” she says.
“There might be gators.”

The knot is small and tight.
She pulls at it, then the boy pulls.
They take turns. Between them, working,
They get it loose, coil it up, leave the line
In a pile in the grass beside the tree.

“Is the tree okay now?” he asks.
“That tree will be fine,” she says.

And so the two set out again round the pond.
She says still all that she sees, while he listens
To the sky whispering to the trees and the grass.

 June 12, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 112018
 

The small boy asked to dig a hole.
So they gave him a shovel,
Showed him a place under
The far branches of the live oak,
And let him be.

The dirt was sandy, not clay,
Grey-black and cool to the touch.
When the level ground was to his knees,
He felt he was getting somewhere.
He dug that afternoon, fast and deep.

Minutes or hours later,
He stopped digging, done.

Hot and tired but proud too,
He asked for a camera, took a picture.

Years later pasted in a book the print showed
Brown and broken leaves scattered beneath sun
Falling through the branches of the tree above,
The tall shadow of a boy stretched beyond the frame,
And the dirt that wasn’t there.

 June 11, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 092018
 

He remembers everything,
Even the good stuff.
The gray veined wood of the porch.
The bright sun on the summer leaves.

He remembers the pine straw and the stone BBQ
And the old woman in the chair outside her trailer
Sitting under the shadow of the oak saying,
“Slap the skeeters quick if you don’t want the sleepin’ sickness.”
He remembers the sweet bellies, and the ghosts
Dropping into his body, and the dogs in cages
Hosed down before night came.

He remembers less the present,
The years that flow like the clothes pulled
From his father’s back with the bees.
The honeysuckle on the playground fence.
The teachers striking. The slide, the moon,
And his grandfather’s stories,
How he counted the planes leaving in the morning,
Counted the planes coming back at night.

He remembers the moving line described over peanuts.
The feel of the carpet pile, slick against his feet,
And the cruel bite of the loose screw in the floor vent.

He remembers.

 June 9, 2018  Reflections Tagged with: ,
Jun 082018
 

In the final months and weeks of the 90s—a gentler time when the Internet was still the Web—I stumbled across a slash site. Slash felt like guerilla appropriation. It was fun and exciting on it’s own terms. But what surprised and fascinated me was that these stories of dwarves and hobbits and vulcans and Hogwarts students sneaking off during the breaks between scenes in familiar stories to cuddle, kiss and fuck were mostly written by women. Knowing this, these brief, earnest stories became mysterious and camp.

All of which is the context for my reaction to seeing Plautilla Nelli’s The Last Supper pop up in the Daily Art app on my phone as the painting for the day. The fresco is a familiar scene and familiar composition, but there’s something special about the central figures—Jesus and John—sitting together in a small circle of negative space, alone and mutually adoring in the busy group of men. It’s a beautiful scene and seeing it, my mind thought unbidden, “It’s slash.”

So this post.

 June 8, 2018  Reflections
Apr 082018
 

Yesterday I wrote about my TV watching in my log for Transparent. Rereading today I realize I may have given the impression I have something against TV shows and have lived without watching them until recently. This isn’t true.

It is true that I didn’t have a TV for for most of my 20s and once I did have one in my 30s I didn’t pay for cable beyond the basic broadcast channels. The TV was almost exclusively a screen for my VCR and DVD players.

I didn’t have anything against TV shows though. It’s just that I couldn’t be bothered to figure out when shows people were talking about were on, generally forgot to be home or to turn on the set when I did figure it out, and when I did remember, was never able to muster the patience necessary to endure (or tune out) the commercials. (And they drove me batty.)

Because I was guaranteed to miss episodes for any show I tried to watch, I couldn’t follow story arcs and hated episodes that ended with “To Be Continued.” So what I watched were either short episodic comedies such as Seinfeld or The Simpsons or series that were iconic enough to be a group activity. Star Trek: The Next Generation night was a quasi-standing appointment for my college friends.

Troi senses commercials coming but can’t find the remote to turn down the sound.

 

So my point yesterday wasn’t that I was living in a cave for most of my life. I was simply pointing out that that my current experience of TV is not a symptom of my movement from one mode of viewing (broadcast) to another (streaming). Instead, I’ve shifted from watching TV only rarely or incidentally to viewing enthusiastically and with genuine interest because of the arrival of streaming.

There are problems with streaming obviously. I especially dislike the way it encourages viewing as a race, which makes the experience about quantities (time, speed) and the fact of consumption rather than qualities related to the experience of story, character and form. But overall, streaming has made TV series a part of my imaginative life in a way they never have been. And I’m pretty excited by that.

One final note: inspired by streaming, The Beav and I recently subscribed to cable, thinking we’d maybe enjoy it now that we were more TV savvy. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Cable TV is like The Machine from The Princess Bride, sucking life directly from your body, leaving you dull and listless. After one month we’ve already decided to cancel it all.

Westley discovers that “cable” doesn’t mean “commercial free.”

 April 8, 2018  Reflections Tagged with: ,
Mar 302018
 

I’d used Macs throughout high school school but, for reasons of cost, had always had PCs through university. I didn’t switch to Mac until I started my PhD. At that point, I bought a mini so I could use Scrivener while writing my dissertation. I loved that machine more than just about any computer I’ve ever had, but eventually I upgraded to a MacBook Pro, which at the time had two video cards and lots of ports. Eventually, opting for a bigger screen, I sold it and moved to an iMac.

In the years since, I’ve had other Macs, plenty of iPhones and a couple iPads. And yet, over the past few years, I’ve been less and less satisfied with my computers. The early problems were all about gaming. I’m not a hardcore gamer, but I play games as a way to hang out with family. Increasingly though, playing games with them was not an option because so many games just wouldn’t play on my Macs. There might be a port, and I might be able to load it and “play” but having a game operate on the Mac at minimum specs is not the same thing as being able to “play with” other people. The reality of this distinction became glaring when I bought a retina iMac. It was beautiful, but could barely run any game I played even at 1080p.

So I sold it and bought a new MacBook Pro. This machine turned out to be a disaster. Even without the touchbar, it was extremely expensive and my experience of the machine was not good. I hated the keyboard, which seems petty, but on a laptop is a big deal. More importantly, I was getting beachballs all over the place as I worked. And this happened even on text-based documents.

There was nothing physically wrong with the machine, but it was not at all enjoyable to use. Thinking it might help, I wiped the drive and reinstalled the OS, but the machine continued to gasp as it did basic work. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it had to do with the fact that so much of its resources were being spent to run the display at native resolution. Yes, that screen was gorgeous, but it wasn’t worth the hassles it seemed to be causing.

After months of this I was fed up and called my brother. He’s got good sense and we talked through options. On the one hand, I liked MacOS and didn’t really want to give it up. I also did most of my work in DevonThink Pro and Tinderbox, neither of which worked on Windows. (Scrivener did.) On the other hand, with a PC, I’d eliminate the substantial friction caused by using a Mac in a workplace that’s purely PC. Becoming familiar with Windows again would also help me with the classroom and student tech. And yes, I’d be able to play whatever games I wanted to.

After talking through all this, I made the (in retrospect) extremely impulsive decision to sell my MBP and to order the parts I needed to build myself a PC. That was a little more than a month ago, and I’m typing this post on that new machine.

And what do I think?

The change proved to be more disruptive than I’d imagined. I miss Apple’s core programs: Mail, Safari, and Notes. Microsoft’s equivalents aren’t. And yes, things are generally tackier and I’m less confident about security. But that said, Windows 10 is a decent OS, and so far I don’t have any regrets on that score. The change’s certainly made it easier to deal with IT at work .

As far as software goes, I miss being able to move files or to create replicants using DevonThink’s contextual menu. But other than that I realize, I prefer having my files sit in the OS file system rather than inside an app. Tinderbox is a different story. I’ve struggled to find tools for doing what I used it for. A lot of times I just wind up doing the work with pencil and paper. This is a loss, but not enough on its own to swing my decision.

So for now my life is bifurcated between an Apple iOS mobile experience for photos, notes and a lot of web browsing, and a Windows PC desktop for work and gaming. For now, that division is working well and I feel good about it.

To be continued…

Update: The irony of all of this is that as I post here, Apple has begun to support external video cards. Would this have solved my problem? Who knows. For the moment though I still feel good about watching from the outside as Apple finds a way to get its Mac hardware back up to speed. The computers they’ve sold these past couple years haven’t been.

 March 30, 2018  Reflections