A Few Garden Thoughts, July

  • There is too much to do. So do what you see how to do. As you work, you’ll see how to do other things.
  • You’re working with roots, not leaves. The leaves are what’s stressful, they’re what you see, but they aren’t the real matter: push them aside and follow the stem, and where it touches the ground, feel around, grab the other stems rising up from the same point and pull, gently, until they come free roots and all. 
  • There is no wasted effort. If you are getting in the car to go run errands, but see a young weed without deep roots right there in arms reach and you have the few seconds it takes, reach down and pull it out. Things are now better than they were.
  • There’s a lot of stuff “to do” but mostly you just need to let things be. Water. Sun. Composted manure. Some basic maintenance to keep the bad actors away. That and time is all the garden needs. So help out and then let it be.
  • The Beav likes potatoes. I tried three sorts. But I didn’t hill them in time and they laid down. This doesn’t seem to bother them. I haven’t weeded enough and the grass is thick between the plants. This also doesn’t seem to bother them. Potato bugs have descended and I’ve tried to pull them off, have caught a lot of them in the first wave as they were mating, but I think I’ve lost this battle. They are going to be thick on the plants for the rest of summer whatever I do. (Because I won’t do chemical pesticide.) But this is okay. I’ve now seen how potatoes work and they are working fine this year despite the grass and bugs — they are tall and densely colored. When I plant next year’s potatoes next year, because I’ll plant them again, I’ll know better what to watch out for. So this year has been more than worthwhile.

Required Viewing

Today’s thought: Ink Master and RuPaul’s Drag Race are, despite surface differences, the same show about the same subject. They should be watched together, side-by-side, one episode of one, then one episode of the other.

iVegan

Walking today it occurred to me that I interact with the internet the way vegans interact with food: intensely but through difficult commitments and principles that easily isolate and limit possibilities.

It’s hard to hang out with a vegan because everything becomes an issue. In this, I speak from experience: I was vegan for a large swath of my university years and know how much of a pain I was.

And now, like a vegan, I hold to my internet principles deeply enough that even when I say “fuck it, I’m just going to give in and get an instagram account so I can keep up with friends,” I don’t make it past the create account page. 

In this, I’m not unlike the vegan who decides that, dammit, they’re going to have a burger at their friend’s BBQ but can’t manage to take a first bite.

Distraction as Metaphor

We talk a lot about distraction these days, and recently a few thoughts popped into my head about what our use of the term implies. I’m jotting them down for later without any sense of how true they are.

It seems to me that “distraction” implies that:

  • there is a specific, meritorious activity or object of action from which we are distracted;
  • this meritorious activity is somehow not pleasurable enough, present enough, attractive enough, interesting enough, rewarding enough or engaging enough to hold out attention;
  • this is because, presumably, that action’s or object’s merit is somehow subtle enough or occulted enough or ephemeral enough to be continually at risk of being lost or overlooked or forgotten;
  • that our instincts don’t respond to or point toward merit;
  • that love or enthusiasm or pleasure are not trustworthy accounts of or guides to merit.

In other words, “distraction” implies the failure of the good to attract attention and the failure of my nature to recognize or to desire that good unaided. “Distraction” suggests my feelings betray me and cannot be trusted.

This feels wrong and living by it feels self-hating.

Cross Post: Criterion’s Pride Schedule

New post at Speaks at Home.

___

Criterion has published their June schedule, which includes a series of queer films for Pride Month that actually has me pretty excited. It’s a great list of things with plenty I haven’t seen.
There’s a lot there, but the ones that interest me are:

  • Double Feature: The Red Tree (Paul Rowley) and A Special Day (Paul Rowley)
  • A series of Cheryl Dunye’s works
  • Parting Glances
  • But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit)
  • The “Queersighted: Turn the Gaze Around” curation materials
  • Another Country (Marek Kanievska)
  • Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette)
  • Olivia (Jacqueline Audry)

Still, despite all that goodness, the entry on the schedule that has me counting days is the “Three by Araki” series, which includes Totally F***ed Up, a film I’ve seen multiple times but only on crap VHS or on YouTube. I LOVE this film and the idea of seeing a clean Criterion-quality version of it’s camcorder scrappiness has me losing my shit.

And also, obviously,

(yes, yes, yes,)

My Own Private Idaho.

Cross Post: Embarrassed

New post at Speaks at Home.

___

Yesterday I was going through some old posts on my blog for the first time in ages and what I realized reading was how clearly nervous I was about what I was writing. Posting to the open web was new to me, and once what I was doing had sunk in (it took awhile), I became very very self-conscious about what I was watching, about what I was reading, and about what I revealed by sharing my thoughts about these things honestly.

Reading now and knowing what I actually think and feel about what I logged, I can see how often I hedged or struck a knowing or ironic pose, how often I took cheap shots at disreputable works I enjoyed, and in dozens of other ways struck just to the side of truthfulness.

Years ago in a class, Eric Savoy, drawing on remarks by Henry James, defined “embarrassment” as the position of having said too much yet without having managed to say what you meant. My nervous logs — and not all of them are — are embarrassed in exactly this sense. They reveal passions without sharing love.

Remembering a Mentor

Mid-September, a friend wrote to let me know that one of our professors at university, Russell Stratton, had died. He had been retired for years and had moved away to Mississippi, a place far from where I knew him. He was 81 years old, and I hadn’t seen him in twenty years. Still the news pulled something out from deep beneath all the layers of self that accumulate day after day across the years.

Russ taught the first class I ever attended at university, an honours section of English 110. It was in a classroom in the library and it was in that class from Russ that I first heard about Virginia Woolf (“Good god, don’t read a novel. Read a few pages of “The Death of the Moth” and you’ll get the idea.”) and heard my first story about William Faulkner (Russ meeting him when he was an undergraduate). It was the kind of class where you made friends, and I kept mine for years after.

Four years later, I sat in that same room in the library for Russ’s Chaucer seminar during my first semester as a grad student. I wasn’t supposed to be there that day. I’d been accepted to Lewis & Clark in Oregon and was supposed to be there studying law. But less than a month before I was supposed to leave, I’d run into Russ outside the campus post office in front of the ugly turtle sculptures. We’d kept in touch over the years since that first class, and he asked me my plans now that I’d graduated. I told him where I was off to. I also told him that it was a huge mistake, that I didn’t want to go but that couldn’t see a way out of it. Without any hesitation, he offered to pull strings and get me into the English program even though the deadline was long past. And he did, and so there I was a month later sitting in that same classroom again and again making friends that I’d keep for years.

Russ was one of the first people I came out to in my final year in Alaska. Looking back now with the benefit of age and from the vantage point of being now, like he was then, a teacher, I realize what a delicate moment that would have been for him. We didn’t actually know each other that well, and I was a peculiar and fragile charge. But he gathered me up under his wing as best he could and showed me a bit of the way forward.

I have an especially strong memory of the day he brought in a few handcrafted fragrances he’d collected from Parisian perfumeurs. He’d show me a bottle, spray it on the inside of his wrist, wave it dry, smell it, name it (“Saddle leather, pine.”) and then hold out his wrist for me to take a whiff. The Beav laughed real laughter when I told him that story a few weeks ago, and I get it. It is a ridiculous, funny story in the mold of “Old Queen Trains Hopeless Case,” but it was also a beautiful, generous moment that cracked open the door at the back of the wardrobe. Looking back I feel like it was a genuine act of love and think Russ meant it to be.

Like I said, we didn’t know each other very well. I never met his family, and I learned more about him than I ever knew from his obituary. But I know he cared for me and helped me, and in a crucial set of years, I grew up around that support. All these years later, his support is still there underneath the layers, incorporated into who I am. It’s not doing heavy lifting anymore but it’s still there, like a small encouraging voice echoing through the woods. And that voice aches now with a great deep sadness.

When I sat down to write this, I hadn’t meant to write so much and it’s been sad tearful work doing it. But it’s also been strangely joyful work too. It’s good to remember people you love and who loved you and the places you were together. Russ was folded into my life and into the lives of my closest friends, and I’m grateful for that.

Storm’s Mohawk

When I was a young kid saving change to buy comics from the rickety wire rack at the 7-eleven, one of my favorite superheros was Storm. I thought her long white hair and the cloak attached to her wrists were regal and cool, and I thought controlling weather was just about the best power you could have.

Reading comics in those days wasn’t like it is today. What I read was what was on the rack when I had 35 cents in my pocket. So I didn’t follow storylines. I dropped in and watched episode of action, without much sense of how it came together with other episodes across groups of issues. So my history of Storm’s character is fragmented and partial, and there are only three specific moments that my brain has stored for easy, casual retrieval.

Moment One: Storm freezing a Sentinel with cold rain and then telling Banshee to scream at it and Cyclops to hit it with pulsed lasers. Inflexible and vibrating at two frequencies, the robot tears itself to pieces. This is a trivial moment really, only a few frames of the story, but I remember it for Storm’s dramatic posture as she’s flying in the wind.

Moment Two: Storm going out to “commune with the earth” after her months in space fighting the Brood. Unfortunately, Earth feels abandoned and is mad at her. Storm calls up the elements and for the first time in her life feels the cold of the rain. Rejected, she retreats back to the mansion. I remember this moment mostly for how I felt when I read it: the earth wasn’t being fair. Storm had been through a lot and needed its support. It didn’t seem right that after all she’d been through, this was happening now too.

Moment Three: Storm, not long after, showing up in black leather and a mohawk. She looked great and seemed really cool to me. Why do I remember it? This is tougher to figure out than with the other images, but I think that, in part, it was one of the first moments when I realized that people change, and so as crazy as it sounds, it’s a moment where I started to figure out something important about the world. I think too that I must have picked up on the barely-crypto queerness of the transformation ( cf. image and dialogue above). And finally, however silly it sounds, I also think that I remember it because it established what I take to be a nearly inviolable rule of life: sometimes, and especially after major events, and definitely after traumatic experiences, you need to change your hair.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing: this blog. After the stress of the past two weeks, I think I need to fiddle with what things look like around here. It may not be pretty. It may get ugly. But in the same way hair grows back, theme options can be restored. So I’m going to play around, experiment and trust that things will find their way to the good.

So buckle up, hang on, and stay tuned.

Nostalgic Reads

My copy of Tarzan, gone.

When I moved to Montreal at the end of the nineties, I left my books (boxes and boxes of them) in a storage space. Because of some bad planning and incompetence on my part, they stayed there too long, and when I finally went back to get them they’d been given away.

Up until that moment I still had every book I’d ever owned: the first Tarzan book I’d ever read (Tarzan and the City of Gold), my second copy of Moby Dick (I’d lost the first in study hall in ninth grade and had to replace it), all the fantasy series I’d plowed through, my university textbooks, everything. Because these copies matched my visual page-memories, I could find things in them in a flash. They also had my notes and drawing. So losing them felt like losing part of myself and was devastating.

Well early last year I was on Abebooks and wound up searching the titles of a few of the books I’d remembered and had been thinking about. (It seems like me wondering about Steven Brust’s later Vlad books was maybe the starting point.) Anyway, as I searched, I realized that if I put some effort into it, I could probably reconstruct segments of that lost library. Anyone who’s seen me and the Beav in used book stores knows that setting either of us loose in the stacks with a project rather than simply to browse is asking for trouble. Browsing happens slowly shelf by shelf and takes time, but a project is going to be pursued monomaniacally and with the kind of detail only people operating outside the ordinary limits of time and hygiene can muster.

Aware of the danger—and of both the realities of my budget and the possible foolishness of the project (I mean, do I really want all these books again after all this time?)—I’ve kept things in check so far, buying in bursts to make sure I’m still interested in going further and starting with a lot of the inexpensive Bantam paperback fantasy series I’d collected and that haven’t maintained a strong following, which makes them easier to find with the exact cover I owned.

The good (or is it bad?) news is that project has been a great success. I cannot really explain why it’s so exciting to see all these books find a place on my shelves again, but it absolutely is. Looking at them sitting there for the first time in twenty years, I feel like I’ve found old friends. I remember where I was when I read them, who was nearby as I did, what was going on in my life, and how I felt. And I also think I remember the books themselves: the plots, the characters, the worlds and the relationships.

Obviously though this raises questions because memory is fallible. So are the books I have in my head—and some of them are fundamental and character-shaping documents of my childhood—are these books the same books printed on the pages I can now pull off my shelves and flip through? Or over time have these stories shifted in memory? Or, going further, have I remade them by using them as part of the process of making myself?

I truly don’t know and I’m curious to find out. So, having run across the phrase “a year of nostalgic reading” recently in a passing comment on a web page and finding it inspiring, I’m thinking about dipping into these books now and again as a break from other things. When I do and when I log them, I’m going to tag them so that I can pull them together in a series. My starting point and first tagged book is Split Infinity by Piers Anthony, which I’ve already started. This first foray into the past makes me think memory’s glass is in fact warped and rose-colored and in very interesting ways.

À suivre…

Me, Gaming

I’ve gamed since I was a kid. Early on I’d played everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much, and always for consoles. The Atari 2600, a couple Nintendo boxes. The big turning point though was when my dad brought home our first PC. Freed from the console, my choices exploded. My games of choice? Early RPGs like Pools of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds.

When I went to university a few years later, my tastes stayed the same. Only now I was playing Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and a Myst-style puzzle game whose name I wish I could remember.

When Blizzard’s Diablo invented the action RPG, I was fully onboard and played it and its sequel alongside Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights.

What came next was Bethesda’s Oblivion, the first truly open-world RPG I’d ever played and easily the most immersive and absorbing. It had an invisible leveling scheme: you didn’t select skills and traits, you earned them based on what you actually did while you were playing. So no calling yourself a mage while sneaking around and shooting things with a bow. I lost hours working through the detailed character creation screens, generating various characters with different pasts, personalities and backstories. I spent a month wandering collecting herbs. When I discovered and captured a wizard’s tower, I wandered some more collecting materials to build features and to decorate it.

It was only after half a year or more that I remembered that there was a story and that I could (should?) figure out how to help the king’s heir and drive off the demon invasion. Soon I discovered the thieves guild, then the assassin’s guild. I rose up and became the Grey Fox. I allowed myself to become a vampire. It seemed there was nothing I couldn’t do in this world and that no matter how much I wandered or what I did, the map would never be exhausted.

I played Oblivion right up until I switched for the first time from a PC to a Mac. That switch shut down all non-Blizzard gaming but at the time that was fine: I was busy writing and the time I had to game I was eager to spend in World of Warcraft. The first expansion, Burning Crusade, had been a hit and my brother and sister were both playing. Wrath of the Lich King was about to launch, and we used it and the subsequent expansions to hang out for years.

Eventually though, around the end of Warlords of Draenor and after years and years of game play, I was getting tired of Warcraft. It was still great and I loved it, but I was bored. Garrisons and the dailies it took to sustain them were starting to feel like a second job. I wasn’t really having fun anymore. Looking back now, I can see that I’d just gotten tired of playing the same game —and importantly, the same stories—over and over again. But at the time, I thought I was getting too old for video games, that I’d moved on.

I was wrong.

Pushed by frustrations with my Mac hardware, in late 2017, early 2018 I made the rash decision to sell my MacBook Pro and build a gaming PC. The switch didn’t last, and I’m back to Mac for basically everything, but that leap back into and embrace of the word of Windows ranks as one of the happiest decisions I’ve made in years. It pushed open the gates as surely as that first PC sitting in my family’s den had done. I could play what I wanted which meant I could game again (rather than “play Warcraft“). And it has been glorious.

One of the first games I bought was Bethesda’s Fallout 4, this post is an unexpectedly long preamble to my ravings about my experience playing it. That will have to wait for the next post though.

Facebook. Gangsters.

I haven’t used Facebook for a few years now and don’t trust the company or Zuckerberg at all. I don’t have regrets: I actually hated listening to people I know all sounding the same and doing the same things as they chimed in endlessly to each other’s posts on my newsfeed. But the costs of dropping out of the service are real. I have friends and family who mostly don’t communicate off Facebook. Absolutely everything they do is there. And that’s makes it hard to stay in touch.

Anyway, all of that is preamble to a link to TechCrunch’s article about the UK Parliamentary committee’s report on their investigation into the company and it’s service. It sounds like the committee members are actually trying to do their job without being bullied and dumb-talked into submission by Facebook. They call the company out for lying, obstructing, for playing like gangsters and basically, for acting like that asshole who thinks they are smart enough and clever enough to get away with anything by talking bullshit with straight-faced irony.

It says something about the state of US politics (Republican politics mostly) that I find a functioning committee working to govern both surprising and refreshing.

Peanuts, Shades of Magic

My mother never could watch the Peanuts holiday specials on TV when I was a kid. She said the voices were all wrong and she couldn’t bear to have them clashing with the ones she’d heard in her head when she read the comics.

This morning, writing about the Shades of Magic trilogy, I went looking for V. E. Schwab’s blog. On its front page I found this image, a cartoon cut-out of Alucard Emery.

Alucard Emery (via)

Here’s the thing: this is so completely not my Alucard and the resulting dissonance what my eyes see and what my mind saw is not pleasant. And yet, oddly enough, it isn’t entirely unpleasant either. In weird way, I kind of love knowing this cut-out exists. (The boot bandana!) But wow, this is so very much not my gay wizard pirate.

So maybe I finally understand why Mom couldn’t bear Lucy’s voice.

A Bit of Blog Love

Blogging was a thing once. Then it wasn’t and then it seemed like it was again. And now…who knows. I’m pretty sure I don’t much care whether it is or it isn’t. After all, sweater vests aren’t a thing (even if they ought to be) and I wear those, which is just like blogging. See?

All of this preamble is warm-up to me trying to show some love to My New Plaid Pants a blog about beautiful men in great movies and TV that I’ve read daily for at least the past eight or nine years. If blogging isn’t a thing, I don’t care as long as this blog continues to exist.

I don’t know the author, Jason Adams, in person, but I think he’s great just the same and wish we lived in the same city and were best friends. His blog is funny yet totally unapologetically sincere. It is also somehow—and seemingly impossibly given the number of posts going up every day—1) not his day job and 2) not all he has going on. It boggles the mind.

So why sing the praises of Jason’s Pants today after all these years? Let me explain.

First, for reasons I’ll leave unspoken, I thought of and went searching for this post containing the picture of Alexander Skarsgard sitting off to the side here. Importantly, what I wanted was not the photo—(sorry Alex)—but instead the exact wording of the suggestion that we might, to our dismay, think of this picture the next time we try on a bathing suit, a comment that to this day makes me laugh out loud.

Second, finding the specific post took some time and effort because there are A LOT OF POSTS ON THIS BLOG. Skarsgard’s tag alone had 242! So as I undertook the “onerous” task of flipping through all of those pictures one by one, I stumbled across this post which screencaps the hell out of a scene from True Blood so wonderful that—to keep my life from seeming a drab worthless wasteland of day after day after day and then tomorrow too—my mind let it slip from my memory. But now I have remembered and am overwhelmed and may have to watch the whole series again. Damn your Pants, Jason Adams!

Third, the next day I went back to the blog only to discover that the final post before the weekend was Adams letting everyone know that he was going to rewatch Shcrader’s film about Yukio Mishima’s life, death and fiction: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The photo that ends the post—I think it’s a still from the film that is mimicking images from a famous late-in-life photo shoot—is a showstopper: the male artist objectified and beautiful.

So today, all my love to My New Plaid Pants. May you strut your stuff for years to come.

Returning to the Fold

A year ago, I made the leap from Mac to PC by buying the pieces and building myself a gaming desktop. It was an impulsive move, motivated by too many years of frustration with the limits Mac hardware created for gaming. And I don’t regret it because no matter how often I play off gaming in conversation with casual acquaintances, it’s a big deal for me.

The stress point though was work: gaming’s fun but I use my computer daily for the grind and could I manage with a PC? Over the past year I discovered that I could, largely because Windows 10, unlike its recent predecessors, is a solid OS. And because my school is full-on PC land and the Mac-based fiction I’d dealt with for years disappeared, the jump to Windows was actually near painless.

The key word here is “near.” 

The main problems? First: junkware. There are a lot of sketchy apps in Windows world and I’m just not interested enough to sort out what’s what. Macs feel secure and I believe Apple is interested in keeping them that way. Windows and Microsoft? Not so much. That may be out-dated prejudice given the changes in security features in Windows 10, but suspicions kept me close to the base system for much of the past year.

Second: buying Windows equivalents for Apple software is expensive. People gripe when a Mac app costs more than 10$, but spend some time in PC world and you’ll realize that the apps offered by Mac developers are a bargain. Even the “expensive” ones.

Third: Eastgate’s Tinderbox. I’d had periods in the past when I was confined to an iPad and have written about how difficult it was to do my work without Tinderbox’s various tools, most of which I’d come to take for granted. Those earlier moments had been temporary disruptions. But now, working on a PC, they became my new normal, and after a year of genuine, wide-ranging and eventually desperate experimentation, I realized I missed the software badly. I’d become something like a mental-cyborg used to lifting cars, who now suddenly, alarmingly, finds himself fully organic and stuck lifting groceries. Or maybe some over-filled garbage sacks. I’d grown used to thinking in a way that assumed that my info could be organized into forms I could think about. It was a constant annoyance (and also a real impediment) not to have the tools at hand to make that happen.

But I just sprang for a new MacBook Air—!!!!—and so I am now happily on macOS once again. My first thought: thank god. Yes, my Tinderbox query and action syntax is rusty (very!) and I’m having to find my way back into the forums and the TbRef, both of which feel for the moment like navigating a train station in a language I don’t quite speak. But I don’t care. As I’ve said elsewhere: TBX is powerful enough to be game-changing even with only it’s simplest tools in play. So it’s worth it already and I know the pay-offs will just get bigger as I fall back into the groove.

So for the record my current set-up, which seems close to my ideal, is a PC desktop for gaming and a MacBook for work. (iOS, as tempted as I am to be tempted, is a distraction and a dead-end for me. It’s just not part of the equation outside of my phone.)

And since it’s Thanksgiving in the States, let me say: I’m lucky to have the means to buy and maintain both systems.

Cyborg. Thinking.

When I think of cyborgs, I think of metal men, bodies run through with hardware and silicon. Sometimes, if I’m feeling expansive, I think of it in terms of “the web + search” or of “the cloud.” These make the hardware metaphorical: the silicon is elsewhere, I access it from a distance, and so my body–my cyborg me–is now the biological-technical information system as a whole.

In both versions of the cyborg, the interface between self and hardware is embodied rather than mental. This is more overt in the image of the metal man but is just as real in the information system cyborg. There the mind remains intact, biological, while memory–envisioned as storage distinct from and accessed by the mind–becomes technological.

After nearly a year away from macOS, I’ve now returned, and in doing so, I realize that I’ve never imagined the cyborg that I’ve become because it is precisely my mind, my manner of thought that has been run through and transformed and by software rather than hardware.

I’m talking about Tinderbox. It is a tool, but after habituating myself to the slog and resistance of other tools these past 10 months, I’m especially sensitive to how my mind works differently when that resistance isn’t there. I now see that I know and understand more–and as a result am able to think better and to greater effect–when I arrange my projects in Tinderbox’s hypertextual world. I struggle and hit roadblocks, yes, and these arise from hitting both the limits of my control of the tool and the limits of my thought’s development, but these roadblocks sit further out then I can easily go without Tinderbox.

This last is what I find most striking after a few days back on macOS: my mind, my thought, my very act of thinking has been run though, enhanced and even transformed by software. This is cyborg-ism that matters and suggests that my early analogy between Tinderbox and a pencil is too timid. Tinderbox is writing.

Regarding Kavanaugh


This is a Quebec Government poster hung on bulletin boards around school since the beginning of term. It seems a good found-reminder that, yes, we expect 17 and 18 year-olds to know that assault isn’t acceptable.

My Wild Guess

And as a follow-up to my last post, my wild guess is that this op-ed was written by a Pence proxy and announces to the few republicans needed to support impeachment that there is a safety-net in place, that the back-up team is ready, and that they can act to save the party.

Et tu, Mike?

If this were a cheap novel, that’s how I’d write it.