but he’s too short
To step over.
Barbed wire’s better:
He can push it
Down, hold it. Still
It can tear clothes.
but he’s too short
To step over.
Barbed wire’s better:
He can push it
Down, hold it. Still
It can tear clothes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The last few months I’ve been working on moving this site off WordPress. That meant transferring all the posts to Tinderbox, setting up all the links, and creating the templates that would produce the HTML output I wanted to have. Everything except the templates was donkey work and took days and days. The templates took time as well, but I was learning about export and HTML and that was useful and exciting.
And when I was done, the file worked like magic. All my posts were suddenly arranged in a sensible way based on content rather than chronology. I could build up links (both href and visual) and could write outside the framework of a timeline. I began to imagine ways of writing that involved something I thought of as “portal posts”: single posts that would appear on a blog timeline but which opened into a system of pages—a kind of mini-, discrete hypertext—accessible only by way of that initial post. I wrote the first of these to explain some of what I learned about export. (It looked like this.)
Then I uploaded the site with a welcome message and the first of what I hoped would eventually be many of these portal posts, and almost immediately, I realized I was in trouble.
Things are silent here. It’s the silence of grief.
I’m not sure how to explain what I mean, but, here’s an attempt:
When the Beav first came to the States with me in 2002, I was struck by and realized, in a way that I’d never come close to realizing before, that our relationship was illegal, that caught in an odd moment or an odd place, we could be subject to law and that the law would consider our relationship to be unnatural and punishable. So when the Supreme Court later decided in Lawrence v. Texas that homosexuality could not be criminalized that decision mattered to me profoundly. From that point forward, the Beav and I could travel to the states with less fear and uncertainty. Yes, we would still endure the scrutiny of border guards and have to decide whether to present ourselves together as a couple or apart as “just friends.” But however unpleasant these individual moments of exposure, we had the confidence that comes from knowing finally we were legal. Now, years later, same-sex marriage has also be declared legal, and I’d begun to assume that things were getting (and would continue to get) better for everyone.
Which is why Trump’s election comes as a punch in the gut. It feels like the deck has been shuffled and the rules changed. Suddenly an ugly politics of racism and sexism openly bellows its support for an abhorrent white nationalism that I had naively—oh so very very naively—hoped was being steadily shuffled off into the dustbin of history. We’re not debating options for how to improve things anymore. We’re watching whole swaths of people be scapegoated, demonized and spoken about as if they were less that fully human. That’s how bad things are.
And I was a white male fool to have thought we were past that point and couldn’t go back.
It’s a terrible, discouraging moment.