Thursday, August 3, 2017

Read It, Late July 2017

Today is Thursday, August 3rd, 2017.

Read It, Late July 2017

Elanor is back home, and doing well. She’s on a somewhat daunting regimen of different medications, delivered orally, in little eyedroppers. The regimen is complicated because some of them are supposed to be given every eight hours, but some can’t be given together. So she gets medications every four hours, and we are a little bit sleep-deprived. These are specially compounded pediatric formulations that are not available at your average pharmacy, and our insurer will only cover one of them if we buy it mail-order from the single source they approve. So we actually need to get Elanor’s medication from three different sources. We will be very glad if some of these can be dropped from her regimen. That will probably happen after another month or two.

It has been some time since I posted an update on what I’ve been reading, so it’s time.

My reading has unfortunately been a bit scattered. I have been trying to figure out what I might have to give up in order to free up time for recording projects, and unfortunately my reading might be on the list. In the past, like around 2006, I was able to record audiobooks like my version of The Boats of the Glenn Carrig by William Hope Hodgson. Unfortunately, to find quiet time for recording, I had to stay up very late, often doing my best recording between 1 and 3 a.m. I was a decade younger then and I had a shorter commute and fewer children. I don’t think I can do that now. I might be able to record first thing in the morning, before anyone else is up and making noise. I’ll have to do some experimentation. My voice (and brain) just may not be in working order that early. But I need to figure out something, if I’m going to work on any recording projects at all.

This also applies to the songwriting contests. I’d love to participate in those again, although blocking out time to work on songs was enormously difficult for me, and for my family. I’m hoping that by January 2018 I’ll have gotten back to playing guitar regularly and have a recording space set up and working, although I have to admit that there are a lot of things standing in the way right now.

Now that Elanor seems to be almost back to her old baby self and we are a bit less worried about her, we have been trying to turn our attention back to the Saginaw house. My parents contributed an enormous amount of work towards getting the house packed up and ready for sale, but there is more to do. There are several more carloads of loose things to sort, pack, and move, and a small truckload of furniture waiting. We’ve been pulling things out to have hauled away. Once again we’ve run up against the same kind of problem we always had in Saginaw. People just won’t show up to do the job they’ve agreed to do. I can’t take any more days off during my work weeks — I have no days left to take. And Grace has her hands full.

Last Saturday, I drove to the house in my car and Grace came later with the kids in her car. She ran over a small piece of plastic debris, a couple of inches across, probably left on the road after a fender-bender. This piece of plastic somehow tore right through one of the Tahoe’s tires — resulting in an instant flat, not just a small leak. Fortunately she had just gotten off the freeway, so wasn’t moving at high speed. If this happened at freeway speed, it could have been a rollover crash with Grace and six children all in the car. There was nothing wrong with the tires — they were only two years old, quality tires, recently rotated, and recently checked for inflation.

This is not our first breakdown on the road — when Grace was pregnant with Pippin, we had an awful day in which we got a flat, Grace’s water broke, I cut my scalp open trying to change a tire (don’t ask), we got the spare on, then the spare went flat — that was memorably bad. It all worked out eventually (Pippin will be eight this fall). But this flat is sobering and it has spooked us a little. It’s a reminder that despite our best efforts, a combination of crumbling infrastructure and bad luck could put an abrupt end to our plans. I think about this a lot — perhaps too much — during my daily commute on I–94.

We got everyone home safe on the spare, but in the confusion, we left one of Elanor’s medications in the house. Grace spent hours Saturday night and Sunday morning calling around, to see if we could get a refill of her specially compounded pediatric formulation. She was getting nowhere with this. While she continued to try, I finally just jumped in my car and made yet another round trip to Saginaw, driving 3 hours and 40 minutes on bad roads under construction to go pick up a damned bottle of medicine. One can have deep and abiding concern about carbon emissions and anthropogenic global warming but if your infant daughter’s heart is at risk, you’ll put Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago in the CD player, pound a coffee, and head out. There’s some kind of lesson in that, too.

For Emma, Forever Ago

For Emma is an amazing album. I’ve always heard about certain albums that inspired people to become musicians. Brian Eno famously said, of The Velvet Underground and Nico, that while it didn’t sell very many copies early on, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

I can’t trace my interest in playing and recording to one single point of inspiration like that, but a few, including Jonathan Coulton’s work, which convinced me that a geek like me really could take my long-standing interest in guitar, bass, and Chapman Stick — I played casually for many years and was well beyond the beginner stages, although I didn’t really know it — and become a performing, recording singer/songwriter.

I had never quite been able to make the leap from playing guitar and singing to playing guitar to accompany my own singing to perform a real song from beginning to end, before I started working on songs like Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain,” and gradually it came together — I could sing, although not beautifully, and accompany myself. My guitar-playing is still far better than my singing, but I’ve worked on it. And the songwriting contests gave my efforts some shape that forced me to compose and record songs in a compressed time frame. The results have been mixed, but the stuff that came out well has been good enough to convince me that I should keep working on it.

For Emma is a strange album. Justin Vernon recorded the basic tracks in a hunting cabin in Wisconsin, in isolation. His recording setup was relatively primitive, and you can hear a great deal of room reflections and stray noise. From a technical, recording quality point of view, the album is terrible. There is some fascinating material written about the recording. Amanda Lewis wrote an essay called “Microphone Practice on Bon I’ver’s ‘Skinny Love’” and you can read it here: http://arpjournal.com/microphone-practice-on-bon-iver%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cskinny-love%E2%80%9D–2/

Lewis writes:

He recorded all but a few of the vocal and horn tracks which appear on FEFA using only a single Shure SM57 dynamic (moving coil) microphone, a Pro-Tools “Mbox” digital-audio interface, and a laptop computer loaded with the Pro Tools “Mpowered” DAW that comes bundled with the purchase of every new “Mbox” interface (ibid). Though all of his tracking choices ultimately influence FEFA’s overall sonic character, Vernon’s unconventional use of a single dynamic microphone to transduce all of his vocal and acoustic guitar tracks is of particular importance.

There’s a longer version of her paper available as a PDF file here: https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/MC/article/viewFile/20212/23314

But aside from the academic analysis, how does it sound? The answer is “strange and beautiful, and occasionally stunning.” One of my favorite moments starts about four minutes into “The Wolves (Act I and II).” While the guitars drone, a sort of crashing chaos of drums starts, and you hear Vernon start piling on falsetto vocals, forming a big chord, and the chaotic drums start to sound like the wheels of a speeding train, with the layered falsetto vocals forming the mournful sound of a train whistle sounding out across a lonely snow-covered lanscape late on a winter’s night. Then the tracks cut out, and we hear a disjointed, misaligned, gradual rebuilding of the vocal to a brief coda.

The tracks on “For Emma” often include the noises you “aren’t supposed” to record and are “supposed” to ruthlessly edit out — pick scrapes, squeaking chairs, the taps of a hand or arm on the guitar’s hollow top while Vernon keeps time, buzzing strings, distortion, a siren passing outside, and a lot of hiss and noise from a cheap preamplifier. The drums are indifferently recorded, with little clarity. Vocal and guitar tracks often don’t quite line up, popping in and out with a careless feel.

I’ve recorded some of my songs in an small attic room, with wood-paneled walls and a hardwood floor — literally inside a wooden box, and it sounded that way. At the time, I hated the sound of the room, and eventually was pleased when I could put up enough foam and acoustic panels to absorb most of the room reflections. Should I have instead tried to use the sound of the room? It wasn’t what I needed for some songs, but maybe for some songs? It’s certainly something to think about.

On some of my songs, I spent a lot of time using Logic’s Flex Time feature to adjust vocal phrases so that they align as closely as I can make them align. Was I misguided? I don’t think so. That was for a different kind of song — a song that started out with a click track, and got a drum track, and bass track, and because most of it is aligned to a strict beat, when tracks don’t align, they stand out like a sore thumb. I know from experience that recording multi-tracked parts on a song that has a rubato, or flowing and changing, beat is hard. Vernon’s amateur-sounding recording technique on this album really is harder to achieve than it might sound at first listen. But I can also feel it inspiring me, pushing me to be a little less of a technocrat and perfectionist, and a bit more of an experimentalist.

I could go back and re-record my earliest attempts. Vernon could have gone back and re-recorded the songs on “For Emma” in a pristine studio environment. The result would be a lot cleaner, a lot clearer, and more radio-friendly. But I think for either of us to do this would be a mistake. Vernon knew full well that it is far better for a musician to keep playing, to perform, to experiment, and to move forward, feeling his or her uncertain way towards his next moment of inspiration, than to try to re-create an old one.

Hodgson, Again

One fringe benefit of having almost all my books packed in boxes in the basement is that if I want to go pick out something to read, I have to do it consciously and deliberately. I’ll look it up in the database, figure out the box number, and find it. If it is buried deep in the tall, deep wall of boxes, I might just decide to do without it for a time.

I took the trouble to un-bury the box containing William Hope Hodgson’s collected fiction and over the last couple of evenings I’ve been reading my children some of his Carnacki stories. I thought I’d try “The House Among the Laurels” because I remembered it as being spooky and gross but, eventually revealing the haunting as a man-made, rather than supernatural, phenomenon.

These books are out of copyright and so you can get a taste of Hodgson’s writing; here’s the Project Gutenberg version: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/10832/10832-h/10832-h.htm

I expected that the kids might be bored by the slow build of the story and the somewhat archaic language, but I was wrong. They loved it. It seems I’m constantly under-estimating what my children will enjoy hearing. In my reading, I was also amused to pick up on some subtleties that I didn’t notice before. Here’s a little gag about Catholics and Protestants:

…both he and Dennis the landlord of the inn, tried their best to persuade him not to go. For his ‘sowl’s sake,’ Irish Dennis begged him to do no such thing; and because of his ‘life’s sake,’ the Scotchman was equally in earnest.

The kids loved the scary bits:

The men were all standing now, holding their clubs, and crowded together. And no one said a word. Wentworth told me he felt positively ill with fright. I know the feeling. Then, suddenly, something splashed on to the back of his left hand. He lifted it, and looked. It was covered with a great splash of red that dripped from his fingers. An old Irishman near to him, saw it, and croaked out in a quavering voice:—‘The bhlood-dhrip!’ When the old man called out, they all looked, and in the same instant others felt it upon them. There were frightened cries of:—‘The bhlood-dhrip! The bhlood-dhrip!’ And then, about a dozen candles went out simultaneously, and the hall was suddenly dark. The dog let out a great, mournful howl, and there was a horrible little silence, with everyone standing rigid. Then the tension broke, and there was a mad rush for the main door. They wrenched it open, and tumbled out into the dark; but something slammed it with a crash after them, and shut the dog in; for Wentworth heard it howling as they raced down the drive. Yet no one had the pluck to go back to let it out, which does not surprise me.

I can’t really do the Irish accent justice, but I give it a try.

Hodgson reveals that he really can’t do math, when he describes the construction of a defensive magic circle:

I got my tape measure then, and measured out a circle thirty-three feet in diameter, and immediately chalked it out. The police and Wentworth were tremendously interested, and I took the opportunity to warn them that this was no piece of silly mumming on my part; but done with a definite intention of erecting a barrier between us and any ab-human thing that the night might show to us. I warned them that, as they valued their lives, and more than their lives it might be, no one must on any account whatsoever pass beyond the limits of the barrier that I was making.

After I had drawn the circle, I took a bunch of the garlic, and smudged it right ’round the chalk circle, a little outside of it. When this was complete, I called for candles from my stock of material. I set the police to lighting them, and as they were lit, I took them, and sealed them down on the floor, just within the chalk circle, five inches apart. As each candle measured approximately one inch in diameter, it took sixty-six candles to complete the circle; and I need hardly say that every number and measurement has a significance.

The circumference of a circle is pi times the diameter, so if the diameter is 33 feet, the circumference is about 104 feet, or about 1,244 inches. Candles an inch in diameter spaced five inches apart have their centers spaced six inches apart. It would take about 206 candles, not 66, to complete the circle.

When I read the original description, I didn’t come up with those precise numbers, but I have enough of a sense for numbers to know that his numbers were way off. How far off? Well, to arrange 66 candles in a circle with a diameter of 33 feet, they’d have to be spaced about 18 inches apart, not 6, so that their centers were spaced about 19 inches apart, so Hodgson got the center-to-center spacing between candles wrong by a factor of three.

It’s pretty clear that Hodgson probably meant to describe a circle “thirty-three feet in circumference.” Of course I believe the error must have been Hodgson’s, not Carnacki’s.

Last night I decided to read another Carnacki story, “The Thing Invisible.” This one was not quite as exciting, since Carnacki’s description of his night spent in vigil in the ancient chapel is over-long:

“An hour passed, of absolute silence. The time I knew by the far-off, faint chime of a clock that had been erected over the stables. I was beastly cold, for the whole place is without any kind of heating pipes or furnace, as I had noticed during my search, so that the temperature was sufficiently uncomfortable to suit my frame of mind. I felt like a kind of human periwinkle encased in boilerplate and frozen with cold and funk. And, you know, somehow the dark about me seemed to press coldly against my face. I cannot say whether any of you have ever had the feeling, but if you have, you will know just how disgustingly unnerving it is. And then, all at once, I had a horrible sense that something was moving in the place. It was not that I could hear anything but I had a kind of intuitive knowledge that something had stirred in the darkness. Can you imagine how I felt?

“Suddenly my courage went. I put up my mailed arms over my face. I wanted to protect it. I had got a sudden sickening feeling that something was hovering over me in the dark. Talk about fright! I could have shouted if I had not been afraid of the noise…. And then, abruptly, I heard something. Away up the aisle, there sounded a dull clang of metal, as it might be the tread of a mailed heel upon the stone of the aisle. I sat immovable. I was fighting with all my strength to get back my courage. I could not take my arms down from over my face, but I knew that I was getting hold of the gritty part of me again. And suddenly I made a mighty effort and lowered my arms. I held my face up in the darkness. And, I tell you, I respect myself for the act, because I thought truly at that moment that I was going to die. But I think, just then, by the slow revulsion of feeling which had assisted my effort, I was less sick, in that instant, at the thought of having to die, than at the knowledge of the utter weak cowardice that had so unexpectedly shaken me all to bits, for a time.

“Do I make myself clear? You understand, I feel sure, that the sense of respect, which I spoke of, is not really unhealthy egotism; because, you see, I am not blind to the state of mind which helped me. I mean that if I had uncovered my face by a sheer effort of will, unhelped by any revulsion of feeling, I should have done a thing much more worthy of mention. But, even as it was, there were elements in the act, worthy of respect. You follow me, don’t you?

“And, you know, nothing touched me, after all! So that, in a little while, I had got back a bit to my normal, and felt steady enough to go through with the business without any more funking.

Here the shifts in meanings (“funk” has a much different meaning now) renders this passage odd and slightly silly; Carnacki spends a lot of words narrating how he felt during his “dark night of the soul.” The deliberate self-deprecating humor of Carnacki wearing armor with his night-shirt over it (“I felt like a kind of human periwinkle encased in boilerplate and frozen with cold and funk”) gets buried a bit under his repetitive self-indulgent descriptions of how “disgusting” he felt. But there is in all this, still, the sketch of a very vivid, human, and quite funny, narrator character. Reading it again, I kept thinking how good it could be as a radio drama.

And in fact Big Finish Productions, best known for Doctor Who radio dramas, has produced six Carnacki stories, available for $18.00:

https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/carnacki—-the-ghost-finder–1416

I have not listened to them yet, but the trailer sounds very promising, and it makes me want to get back to my own recording projects.

One of the stories, “The Gateway of the Monster,” is available free of charge:

https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/carnacki-the-ghost-finder-the-gateway-of-the-monster–1465

Although you will need to create an account to download it. I have listened to this one, and it is quite well-done, although I think an adaptation into a full-cast production, rather than a simple reading with music might also be very effective.

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My big reading news this time is that I’ve finished volume 5 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. This brings me completely up to date, until volume 6 is released in translation next year.

If you’ve started My Struggle and are having trouble with it, I want to offer some encouragement — it gets better, or rather “easier to read.” I still admire volume 1, but volumes 3 and 4 are more linear and flow with fewer interruptions. Volume 3 is about Knausgaard’s childhood years. This volume in particular contains many passages that are simply gorgeous. Things get darker in volumes 4 and 5. Young Knausgaard in these volumes has a serious problem with alcohol, like his father. This isn’t news, because he wrote about his drinking back in volume 3. He describes going out to a discotheque and finishing four or five bottles of wine in an evening. That’s an astounding amount of alcohol. What gets darker, though, is that he’s starting to act out while drunk, committing petty property crimes, and becoming violent.

Knausgaard is about my age. Although he grew up in Norway, our childhoods were in some ways very similar, and I identify with him quite a lot, especially his sensitivity, intellect, depressive moods, and difficulties in social situations. We loved many of the same bands. I never became a big drinker, fortunately.

Despite our differences, apparently our minds are similar enough that in completing the last few volumes, in which he faces at age 25 several crises about his identity and vocation, I felt myself falling into disturbing emotional and mental states — reading Knausgaard’s compelling account of his life, I found myself running his program, to an extent, holding the 25-year-old Knausgaard’s consciousness in mine as a sort of parallel awareness.

I started to feel his bouts of nihilism, and his self-destructive impulses; as I read about him working through his imposter syndrome, in which he felt like an inept failure at his writing, I also started to become obsessed with a sense of failure about my writing. As he worked through his sense of incompetence as a musician, I also started to feel incompetent as a musician. I’m twice his age, but I haven’t really completely resolved some of the contradictions in my life: I’m a sofware engineer, but I always wanted and hoped to do more writing for a living, and have for a number of years tried to work on side projects involving music and audio production, often to be frustrated because my daily responsibilities to my family take precedence.

The troubling part was that for several weeks, I wasn’t really aware of why I was starting to obsess so much about my choice of vocation, my sense of failure, my difficult relationship with my father, and other things Knausgaard wrestles with. But it became clear as I got to the end of volume 5 and these obsessions lifted, and I started to feel more like myself again — while, perhaps, still carrying a fragment of Knausgaard’s 25-year-old world view and personality.

I don’t know exactly what this means about Knausgaard, or about me. I think it means that my identity isn’t, and perhaps never has been, quite as rigid and impermeable as I might hope. I do have a tendency I’ve been aware of, since childhood. to take on other people’s “programs” as my own, absorbing bits of their personalities and belief structures. I suppose this could be called “gullibility” in some contexts, but I’d prefer to think about it as a form of susceptibility that I maintain, deliberately, in order to stay empathic. But I think it also says a lot about Knausgaard, and how convincing and compelling his story is, that I went into it so deeply. I wonder if other readers have felt themselves having the same response.

I don’t mean to imply that the books are, perhaps, as dark as I’ve made them out to be. Knausgaard himself starts to experience, at the end of volume 5, success in his career, with the publication of his first novel. His life seems to stabilize, and become something he can live more comfortably in, as mine has. But it’s still a fairly pessimistic story. It also struck me, again and again, how even an autobiographical novel running to thousands of pages could elide and gloss over so much of his life, but that’s exactly what it does. I’m sure with his writing ability and remarkable memory, Knausgaard could have many more engaging pages. So I am looking forward to volume six, which is rumored to run over a thousand pages.

More Reading

I’ve been doing more reading. I’m still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to the kids, but I’m getting a little tired of reading these books aloud as they become longer and longer. The chapters are now so long that I can’t complete on chapter a night; I think they would take well over an hour to read, and that is a strain both on my voice and on the kids’ attention span. Honestly, I don’t think I’m going to try to read the rest of these out loud. I’ve maintained since first reading the whole series that Rowling needed to make much better use of an editor in the later volumes.

I’m also still somewhere in the midst of I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, and I need to get back to that one.

I’ve been reading the kids more stories from The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. These remain some of my absolute favorite short stories. Some of them are a bit difficult for children due to their degree of abstraction. For example, the story “A Sign in Space” is at a surface level about the narrator Qfwfq and his attempt to leave a marker in space so that he could mark off rotations of the galaxy. But it quickly turns into an extended metaphor about reading and the search for meaning and symbols in texts, as Qfwfq’s world piles up with things that may, or may not be, signs signifying other things. I feel that they “get” these stories on some level, but might get more out of them when they are older. They definitely get Calvino’s humorous account of the development of the universe, as in “Games Without End,” when Qfwfq played marbles with hydrogen atoms and complained that he would rather play with shiny, new atoms than old, dirty ones. The kids know enough about chemistry and physics to laugh hard at that.

A while back I finished reading Ted White’s Secret of the Marauder Satellite by Ted White. In a previous post I wrote about how this book was significant to me as a child, in part because it was about an adolescent boy named Paul who gets to work in a space station. The story ends quite well. Paul is a little whiny, but the conclusion of the book gets fairly serious as the importance of what Paul has discovered becomes clear. It’s dated and sexist in the sense that roles for young women are in extremely short supply, but I think the story is interesting enough that it’s worth overlooking the fact that it won’t past the Bechdel test.

Upon the recommendation of a friend, I read Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I read this in the form of an unabridged CD audiobook, read by the author. My friend recommended it when I wrote to him of my frustration with the sheer numbers of nearly-random things that we had to sort through to finish moving. I wrote back after finishing it:

I finished listening to Essentialism and found some useful advice in it. The author’s voice is generally appealing, and I appreciated his anecdotes about failing to properly prioritize. That is often me. It was occasionally strangely loaded with half-baked parallels, like casting Gandhi as “essentially” the same as a Stanford Business School graduate, and equating studying Dickens in your spare time with studying the Koran (both sola scriptura, I suppose?)

The author also seems to think that his audience is mostly just like him. So for example he gives an example of the executive who physically exhausts himself with international travel to the point of organ failure, and his solution is to get real about his limitations and spend a couple of years recovering with his family in the south of France. Maybe it’s meant to be aspirational — if you pare your life down to the essentials, you too can be a millionaire — but I am still scratching my head a bit at his tone-deafness towards any potential audience not in, or a graduate of, business school. No essentialism for the working class?

One of the Amazon reviewers wrote “this is a book about business, not about life. It’s not about downsizing, minimalism, downshifting, stepping back from capitalism and consumerism etc, it’s just about how to work more productively - something that doesn’t really interest me… it might be applicable to high earners in the tech industry, but its usefulness for a lowly wage slave or, say, a housewife, is hard to see. I LOVE the idea of talking back to your boss the way he suggests - try that on a zero-hours contract or if you work in fast food service or on a minimum wage! It’s quite entertainingly and wittily written, but I also found the constant focus on tech celebs very wearing, as if I should care what any of these people think.”

I think that is a valid criticism, although despite constantly mentioning people that work for Twitter, or Uber, or whatever, it isn’t so specific to business in general that I couldn’t think about how to apply it to other personal projects. It’s got me thinking about what I really need to give up in order to work on my creative projects.

There is more I’d like to write about. I have a backlog of audio files that I want to listen to, containing sketches of reviews. This summer there is a sort of slow-motion film festival in which our local theater is showing Studio Ghibli films, one per month. I took the kids to see My Neighbor Totoro, which is perhaps my favorite animated films, and indeed one of my favorite films of any kind. I have thoughts about it, but they will have to wait. In July Grace took the kids to see Kiki’s Delivery Service, a coming-of-age story that is her favorite film. In August they are showing Castle in the Sky, in September Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in October Spirited Away, and in November Howl’s Moving Castle. We have all of these on DVD or Blu-Ray, but there really is nothing like seeing them on a big screen. I’ve seen several of them on the big screen, but the one I really want to see in the theater is Nausicaä. I am constantly baffled and dismayed to find that these films aren’t better known in America.

And… Shaving (Really)

I have a small observation, or perhaps a “life hack” or “pro tip.” I’ve always had some difficulty settling on a good way to shave. For a few years, before I grew a beard, I used electric shavers. My favorite was the Braun Micron Vario 3, a beautifully designed device. At some point I started using Gillette products for shaving instead, for my neck and cheeks. I probably stared with the Sensor, and later started using the Mach 3. I’ve always had trouble with cutting myself, when using blades, especially on my neck. I had just become accustomed to scrapes and nicks.

At some point Gillette products just became too damned expensive. In most drugstores now a 10-pack of Mach 3 Turbo refills goes for $30.

I’d started reading the “wickededge" sub-Reddit [https://www.reddit.com/r/wicked_edge/](https://www.reddit.com/r/wickededge/]. It sounded like a traditional double-edged blade was, well, quite tricky to use correctly, and might be even more likely to hack up my face than the blades I’d used for years. So I hesitated.

The breaking point for me was when I tried a Harry’s product instead. Target stores have started carrying Harry’s shaving products, so I tried a set. They are quite a bit cheaper than the Gillette products, but the 5-blade Harry’s shaving heads really hacked my neck to bits, despite my best efforts at skin prep. I had terrible razor burn that lasted for days. I had to take a couple of weeks off to let my neck heal up before I was willing to try again.

Fed up with these expensive multi-blade disposable shaver heads, I bought a razor from Van Der Hagen, just a stainless steel safety razor and a set of blades and some soap in a tube.

This is a pretty basic razor and pretty basic blades and I’m sure there are better ones available, but it works great. I’ve shaved my neck with it a dozen times. I adjusted very quickly to the required light touch. I now shave with the grain and then against it, and get a pretty smooth, although not baby-bottom-smooth, shave.

Pretty smooth is good enough for me, if it doesn’t leave my neck red and bloody. In fact I haven’t drawn blood, even a tiny bit, even once. And my neck is far less irritated after shaving. I haven’t even changed blades yet, although I think the first one is getting a bit dull.

Double-edged razor blades cost considerably less than replacement blades for the Gillette products, and when they are too dull to use, I have to only a very small blade to dispose of, not an assembly of plastic and metal.

I don’t expect to ever use a Gillette product again, unless by chance I wind up buying their double-edged blade. I should have leanred to use a razor like this one years ago.

Ypsilanti, Michigan
July 21st - August 3rd, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

You Should See the Other Guy

Today is Tuesday, July 18th, 2017.

You Should See the Other Guy

No book-related content this time — although as always, I have lots of reading to talk about. Maybe next time.

My wonderful daughter Elanor, also known to her siblings as Ellie Nellie, had open-heart surgery for a VSD (ventricular septal defect, or hole in her heart). This is the most common congenital heart defect. She also had a small ASD (atrial septal defect) as well, which her surgeon also closed. We’re told she now has a Gore-Tex™ patch sewn into the middle of her heart. I expect her to have a lifelong love of waterproof boots and jackets. Maybe she’ll hike the Appalachian Trail.

Her surgery was the morning of July 10th, and today we brought her back home. She shows every indication of having come through the surgery very well and is recovering nicely. The news is almost all very good. We have some slight concern about a little bit of pulmonary hypertension and maybe some reduced function in her left ventricle, but everything seemed to be moving in the right direction, so she was cleared to come home. She will have a detailed follow-up exam in under a week.

The surgery is quite amazing. On the one hand, it seems miraculous, an incredible mix of technological advancement and medical know-how. On the other hand, it seems horrifying and barbaric. The incision is large and the surgeon cut right through the sternum, which was then wired together. Honestly, it gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’m reminded of Doctor McCoy’s reaction to twentieth-century medicine in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home:

My God man, drilling holes in his head is not the answer! The artery must be repaired! Now, put away your butcher’s knives and let me save this patient before it’s too late!

And in The City on the Edge of Forever:

All the pain. They used to hand-cut and sew people like garments. Needles and sutures. Oh, the terrible pain!

Fortunately, as far as we can tell, Ellie Nellie didn’t experience a lot of pain. After a terrible night’s sleep last Sunday — Grace and I had trouble sleeping the night before they were to cut open our daughter, go figure — we arrived at the hospital at 6:00 a.m. I thought they would do some prep that might involve putting in IVs, but since they needed to anaesthetize her with gas anyway, they just gave her a quick exam and asked us a few questions, to verify that her stomach was empty. Then the anaethesiologist put her up on his shoulder and carried her off, and they began by giving her gas.

We then had a long morning of waiting around. A nurse practitioner came by periodically to give us an update. All the news was good, which was reassuring. They set her up in the pediatric intensive care unit, and after a little more waiting we were able to go there and see her. She had a frightening number of tubes and wires — two ports in her groin, a chest tube, a urinary catheter, pacing wires, and at least one IV — as well as a huge bandage and some visible bruising on her chest — but it was immediately apparent that she had come through the surgery quite well. Her color was good. She was initially on intravenous morphine, and so she was quite dopey, and slept most of the time. She didn’t open her eyes a whole lot, but when she did, she had this look of confused concern, like she was asking “what the hell happened to me?”

“Don’t worry, baby,” we told her. “You were in a knife fight. But you won! And you should see the other guy!”

With our baby in the ICU, we got a room in the Corporate McSponsor house right in the building, so we had an extra place to sleep. I got a nap for a while, then Grace got a nap, then I slept in the room while she slept in the fold-out chair in the ICU. Grace can sleep anywhere while I am a very light sleeper, so I generally just can’t get any sleep in a hospital room at all. I set my alarm for five hours and then was back in the ICU the next morning.

Ellie Nellie was improving so rapidly that she was moved to a part of the ICU designated for less critical patients, and then by the end of day two, was moved into a regular room. We didn’t get the room for a second night, since she was out of the ICU, so I went home to get a mostly normal night’s sleep. Grace continued to sleep by Elanor’s bedside, and in fact she didn’t really leave the hospital, except for a walk in the courtyard, until today, spending eight nights there.

We knew she was doing well when Grace woke up after a nap and found the bed empty. She stuck her head out in the hall and found that the nurses had rolled Ellie Nellie out to the nurse’s station and the nurses were gathered around cooing at her. They looked just a bit embarrassed when Grace got there — “oh, sorry,” they said, “we wanted to play with her.”

Elanor’s cardiologist had told us how things would most likely go — that there would probably be a number of minor concerns and “annoying things,” but that she would gradually get her tubes and wires out, and with each tube and wire removed, she’d be “closer to the door.” This happened surprisingly quickly. On Thursday she had her chest tube removed — I wasn’t there to see it, but it is surprisingly long, going right into the chest, and they pull the incision closed with one little stitch, and then stick on an ordinary adhesive bandage.

Besides all the complications from the surgery itself, the big risk is infection. We washed our hands pretty obsessively around her. They had some special infection protocols, and wiped her down with some sort of disinfectant solution. Hospital infections (“nosocomial” or “iatrogenic” are the technical terms) are no joke these days, with antibiotic-resistant organisms around. But so far she’s shown no sign of infection at all.

The “annoying” things included itching — apparently morphine made her face itchy, and she was constantly scratching at her face. She really hated her nasal cannula, which was delivering a little oxygen, so when we could, we’d take it off and give her “blow-by”, a little breeze of oxygen blowing past her face. This seemed to be enough to keep her blood oxygenation reading 91% or greater, although every once in a while it would drop a bit, especially when she was in deep sleep, and they would have to put the cannula back in. After she was taken off morphine, the itching went away. She had to get a little more morphine when her chest tube was removed, so it came back.

Another annoying issue was “extravasation” — when an intravenous fluid leaks into body tissues instead of going into the vein. This happened in her arm, and it blew up like a sausage. I met with her doctors at rounds and expressed my displeasure that this had happened, saying I didn’t think she neeeded this particular round of IV fluids. I did not raise my voice, but told them I was angry about this. It seemed to Grace that the night nurse had put in the IV because Grace wasn’t waking her up to nurse her as often as the nurse thought she should, and this triggered bad memories of arguing with night nurses about feedings — after basically every one of our children’s births.

One of her doctors explained that there can be a lot of fluid in the tissues that isn’t making it into the bloodstream. Elanor had been retaining some fluid and I guess they were concerned that she wasn’t urinating enough, although the tests were showing that her kidneys were fine. Since all I really know about medicine, I learned from watching M.A.S.H., I have to admit that I might have been wrong about the IV being unnecessary (although of course if the fluid was all going into her tissue, it didn’t actually do much to help her urinate). I was unhappy that she had been made uncomfortable by this particular intervention — and especially that it hadn’t been caught before there was very noticeable swelling. That fluid certainly didn’t help if it didn’t even make it into her bloodstream. Fortunately the swelling went down pretty quickly after they removed the IV, and the diuretics kicked in and she started soaking diapers. I also wonder if some of this was just because the catheter was hard on her tiny baby urethra, and her body needed to recover a bit before she felt comfortable peeing properly. But we couldn’t ask her that.

I took only three days off work — after days off for her birth in January, and days off for moving, and days off for more packing at the hold house, I have almost none left. So I went back to work last Thursday and Friday. I got a few things done, although I’d be lying if I said I was really at my optimum.

We thought we might be allowed to bring Elanor home on Monday, but they wanted to watch her a bit longer. She had developed a little bit of pulmonary hypterension — some fluid around the lungs. That improved pretty quickly. Her left ventricle function seemed to be down a bit, so she’s on a medication for that. Her cardiologist told her that it’s not uncommon for a heart just recently traumatized by surgery to show some reduction in functioning while it heals.

Speaking of healing, I just have to comment again how amazing it was to watch Ellie Nellie heal. Of course she isn’t done, but by day four, I think, she was off all IV pain medication, and was only getting some oral children’s Tylenol ™. She got her bandage off. She slept a lot, and often quite deeply, and during that deep sleep it was like her body was just magically repairing all the collateral damage. Amazing. If I had the same procedure, I really don’t think I’d recover nearly as fast as she did. Babies are amazing.

You know what else is amazing? The physicians and nursing staff at the PICU and elsewhere in Mott Children’s Hospital. They were so great. I really enjoyed chatting with them. It was actually a little frustrating that Ellie Nellie was recuperating so quickly, because as soon as I’d get to know a nurse, we’d be moving on.

You know what’s not amazing? Our system of for-profit medical insurance.

While she was in the hospital, we continued to get letters from our insurance provider, copies of letters sent to Elanor’s physicians, saying they could not approve the surgery without more documentation to show that it was medical necessary. (Hell no — we just slice open five-month-old babies for fun). We also had letters saying that the surgery was approved, even though Mott was out-of-network, because there was no nearby place to do it that was in-network. Elanor was also approved for a three-day hospital stay.

Three days? That’s nuts — that isn’t any reasonable standard of care. On day three, she still had a chest tube and was on a number of IV medications. Were we supposed to just toss her in the car seat and go?

I can’t imagine that any person of any age would be ready to leave the hospital on day three after open-heart surgery. Then our insurer called Grace to say that Elanor’s prescriptions were not covered — although I had put her on our insurance shortly after her birth in January. Apparently that was just a debating tactic. They are arguing whether some of her specific prescriptions are medically necessary. Grace has been patiently doing this dance, and making sure they get whatever documentation they want.

I’m pretty sure it will work out, and her care will be paid for somehow. If her insurer fights it, there is a Michigan program especially for children with congenital heart defects, and it is supposed to cover costs that regular insurance won’t cover. If those two forms of insurance together won’t cover most of it, and we’re left with a huge bill — well, I earn a good living, but like most Americans these days we don’t actually have much in the way of assets. I’m guessing the total cost of her care so far is probably well over a hundred thousand dollars. If we have to pay that, I think we’ll be looking at bankruptcy, which wouldn’t be the worst thing, as long as we can find a way to keep the house we are living in and a car so I can get to my job. But I think it won’t come to that.

If you’re the praying type, please pray for my baby girl — that she continues to recover, and has no long-term developmental troubles or issues arising from her heart defect and the surgery. If you’re the positive vibrations type, please send those too. I feel very fortunate. I was a little sleep-deprived for a few days, but it really wasn’t that bad. We had some great help with child care, and I’m grateful for that. Grace was a trooper. There are many, many very good reasons that I married her, and she really demonstrated those reasons this past week.

Ypsilanti, Michigan
July 18th, 2017

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Cooling-Off Period

Today is Friday, June 16th, 2017.

A Cooling-Off Period

I came home from work Monday evening to find that two of my family members were ill from heat exhaustion. I went back out for a 12-pack of Gatorade and sandwich fixings and they took cool baths and rehydrated and started feeling better. They had both been surprised by their own dramatic physical reactions to a short time spent outside. It was only 90-something, but the humidity in the woods was intense.

I took this as a teachable moment to talk to the kids, over dinner, about how the weather is becoming more unpredictable and dangerous, and how this trend is going to continue as they get older. They must respect the weather in ways that just weren’t often necessary for me, or my wife, when we were kids. This will include not just the increasing risk of heat exhaustion, but risk from flash floods, lightning, and high winds.

An EPA document from August, 2016, marked “EPA 430-F–16–024,” lays out some of the ways that anthropogenic global warming will affect Michigan:

Changing the climate is likely to increase the frequency of floods in Michigan. Over the last half century, average annual precipitation in most of the Midwest has increased by 5 to 10 percent. But rainfall during the four wettest day of the year has increased about 35 percent. During the next century, sprint rainfall and annual precipitation are likely to increase, and severe rainstorms are likely to intensify. Each of these factors will tend to further increase the risk of flooding.

And:

Higher temperatures increase the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that causes lung and heart problems. Ozone also harms plants. In some rural parts of Michigan, ozone levels are high enough to significantly reduce yields of soybeans and winter wheat.

Because I work indoors, in an air-conditioned building, and commute in an air-conditioned car, the only real misery I experienced this past week has been the effects of ozone, soot, pollen, and other particulates on my eyes, sinuses, throat, and lungs. I’ve been unable to read aloud much because the low-grade irritation of my throat will bring on coughing fits.

And, of course:

In recent decades, severe heat waves have killed hundreds of people across the Midwest. Heat stress is expected to increase as climate change brings hotter summer temperatures and more humidity. Certain pepole are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor.

The heat was acutely uncomfortable in the afternoons this past week, but fortunately it cooled down enough each evening that we could sleep cool, which seems to allow the body to recuperate from heat stress and wake up refreshed. It gets really bad when it doesn’t drop below 80 degrees F or so in the evenings, and the body doesn’t have a chance to effectively recover. That’s likely to happen this summer. Keep in mind that it isn’t even officially summer yet.

I won’t link to the EPA document, because I think it is likely to disappear from government web sites, if it hasn’t already. But maybe you can find it archived, if you search for “EPA 430-F–16–024.” If you don’t live in Michigan, there is probably a similar document for your state. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture. But if anything, I believe it is not nearly alarmist enough. Our children won’t thank us for leaving the planet in this condition, but maybe they will think slightly better of us, if we do what we can to prepare them for the warming that is already inevitable.

Fortunately, Michigan is supposed to cool off a bit over the next few days. The forecast claims that highs next week will be in the seventies, with lows in the fifties. But I don’t doubt that we will be hit hard by extreme heat this summer. It’s been my experience that recently the weather forecasts have become quite unreliable. I think the forecasting models just haven’t caught up with the facts in the atmosphere. So for several days now the highs have been higher than predicted, and the predicted rain has barely materialized. I have started to recently consider the weather forecast to be more aspirational than realistic.

I’d say that the weather, together with the very grim news from the Arctic, Antarctic, and global South, might be enough to push any remaining global warming deniers into a more realistic view. But from what I can see, as things get clearly and obviously worse, the true disbelievers are digging in and doubling down, and they will die, quite possibly of heat exhaustion or warming-amplified disease, still believing that it was all a hoax.

White Working Class

I finished White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams. I think this book is worth reading, because it brings up some ideas for further discussion. There is a certain amount of insight to be gained here. As a Sanders supporter, I feel like I was already thinking about many of the things she has to say. Her book might help to identify and formalize some of these things. But the negatives remain.

The book conflates much of the working class and middle class in a way that I don’t think is all that helpful, since there exist real and important differences between these groups. Yet even after warning about the dangers of Manichean black-and-white thinking, it creates a sharp distinction between these groups and the group she calls the “PME,” or Professional and Managerial Elite. It accuses the PME of class “callousness,” which I think is largely valid. But it fails, it seems to me, to explain that a large portion of the middle class finds this PME to be an aspirational model and so votes for the PME’s Democratic party, even when they themselves are well below the income level required to be part of the PME, won’t benefit much from the Democratic Party’s policies in practice, and might be more usefully understood as part of the great “precariat.”

This, I think, is a sort of parallel to the “why do working-class people vote against their own best interests?” insights in Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, which Williams denigrates as paternalistic. Williams doesn’t, it seems to me, talk much about the importance of real solidarity across class lines, but just a somewhat vague “compassion” and “understanding.” And so it is a bit short on prescriptions.

I think the compassion and understanding she preaches is valuable, but only to a certain point. She also, in her quest to get her readers to have greater understanding and compassion for the group she calls the white working class, fails to level any honest criticism against this population, and bends truth and morality to defend them. For example, she repeats the commonplace idea that Vietnam veterans returning to the United States were spat upon by protesters.

This is actually untrue, but to this day it is part of the working class’s mythology about itself, a slur that denigrates the anti-war movement and portrays those who fought overseas as victims of the culture wars. Jerry Lembcke debunks this myth in his book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, but I still hear it told to me all the time.

In fact, I had a conservative friend tell me that her husband, a former soldier doing IT work, was actually spat on in the white house by a Clinton staffer, who also called him a “baby-killer.” I’ve heard similar stories many times, but the details always mysteriously evaporate upon inquiry. There remain no contemporary accounts in newspaper or television media of any such incidents, except for a few cases in which the spit flew in the opposite direction.

Williams’ retelling of this myth is similar, in my view, to the Southern insistence that flying the Confederate battle flag is about “heritage, not hate” — it’s a form of self-serving historical revisionism which is “more true than the truth.” The flag was not actually widely flown, postbellum, in the South, until the South chose it as a symbol to show defiance against Federal orders to integrate schools.

When she is “truthy,” not truthful, I have to part ways with Williams. And when she bends over backwards to express compassion for Trump supporters, without holding them to account for the real consequences of their ongoing support, I have to part ways with her as well. She mentions that her WWC “folkways” must be seen as just as valid as the “folkways” of her PME. But when the “folkways” of both groups include lynching, slavery, gay-bashing, state violence, mass incarceration, and extreme environmental injustice, I think we need to talk more about our “folkways.”

I have compassion for Trump voters and those who remain Trump supporters. But you know what I value more than compassion? Real solidarity and justice. And I don’t believe we can have truth and reconciliation with those who voted “with their middle fingers,” and who continue to parrot lies, without truth, any more than I can reconcile with those who still believe and insist that there was no valid criticism of Clinton from the left.

Just yesterday the New York Times demonstrated a truly impressive spine-twisting yoga pose called “both sides,” when it published an editorial that suggested that Sanders supporters need to consider their culpability for the mass shooting carried out by James T. Hodgkinson. I won’t link to the editorial, as I don’t want to give them any ad revenue for such ridiculous posturing, but the author suggests that this was a “moment for liberals to figure out how to balance anger at Mr. Trump with inciting violence.”

Personally, I’m not sure just what Hodgkinson’s disease was, but in the real world one can scour Sanders’ speeches, tweets, writings, and interviews in vain looking for examples where he has incited violence. And also in the real world, one doesn’t have to look very hard to to find examples from the right. One might even start in the oval office.

Knausgaard Again

I just picked up a copy of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, Book 5, which has just come out in paperback. And so I’m diving back in to the novel. I started book 3 a while back, but what with the frantic activity of the past year, I got distracted only a few pages in. It’s time to catch up.

The Pirate Planet

My voice is a little raw, but I’ve been reading bedtime stories as best I can. Last night I read more of Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet by Douglas Adams and James Goss. The story has picked up a bit by the end of part one, at almost the 100-page mark. But we have over three hundred pages to go, and it’s hard to believe that the payoff is going to be worth it. In adapting the screenplay, Goss really over-inflated the ball. The book is heavily padded with lots of telling sans showing. I find myself wishing there was an abridged audiobook version available. But no — the audiobook is unabridged, and ten hours long.

The kids — big Doctor Who fans — are doing the best they can, but finding themselves bored. We should probably just cut our losses and watch the original episodes. I have ordered a DVD of this story arc from an eBay seller. Even if it isn’t great — and I don’t doubt it won’t be (err, sorry about this sentence, it got away from me a little bit), it should be a good lead-in to a discussion about the dangers of adaptation.

Podcast News

In the midst of all this, Grace and I have felt compelled to start recording again. And so this is a sort of “pre-announcement announcement” — we’re going to be creating new episodes of the Grace and Paul Pottscast.

The web page will be a blog, like the blogs for my other podcasts:

https://pottscast.blogspot.com/

So bookmark that page. There is nothing there yet except for a placeholder image of a kitty. I’m allergic to cats, so don’t blame me — Blogger put the image there. There will also be a Facebook page, but I have not created it yet.

The schedule for episodes is not clear to us yet. The exact contents of the first few episodes are not fully clear to us yet, atlhough we’ve been brainstorming and making some test recordings. My recording setup is working right now, but if it stops working, we may not have the money available to get it working again for a while. And we’re going to be pretty busy in July. Our baby girl will have open-heart surgery. That’s pretty terrifying. But maybe it will help to talk about it. I’ll do what I can to get some new content out there. And hopefully with my wonderful wife’s help, it will be better than the old stuff.

Ypsilanti, Michigan
June 16th, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Swamp Daze

Today is Monday, June 12th, 2017.

Swamp Daze

Summer has arrived and I have not cut the grass at our new house in Pittsfield Township, so it is almost waist-high. Walking around the yard, it feels a bit like being hip-deep in swamp water. We set up a fire ring, but we can’t use it until the grass is cut.

We have a mower, but two years ago my Dad ran it over a rock and damaged the blade. He took the blade off, put the mower away wet and completely gunked up with wet grass, and headed back to California. I took the blade to Ace Hardware in Saginaw to be sharpened, and picked up the sharpened blade, but but having just started my job in Ann Arbor, which required living half of each week out of town, my time at home with the kids was very limited. I didn’t want to spend it mowing the lawn. So I didn’t get around to trying to reinstall the blade, and we wound up just paying a lawn care company to cut our lawn.

A few weeks ago, I brought the mower down to the new house. I flipped over the mower to try to figure out how to reattach the blades. There are two. I don’t have the tools on hand to reattach them what with the moving in progress (the sockets are… somewhere…). It’s also not exactly clear to me how the blades go on (and the manual is… somewhere…). Meanwhile it looks like putting the mower away covered with wet grass led to a lot of rust on the blade drive shaft and the underside of the mower.

So I need to take it to a shop, which is also a thing, because I know where in Saginaw I would happily take it, but not the equivalent in Pittsfield Township. So I’ve got to find a place and take it there. It won’t fit in Grace’s car, so she can’t do it during the week. I’m also not entirely sure the mower will be fixable. Which is pretty aggravating, because it was a $400 Honda mower.

So our yard desperately needs an extreme mowing, but at this point a mower won’t even cut it and we will need to rake up and compost the very tall grass and weeds. So I might need to go over it with the rechargeable weed whacker, hacking down a small area at a time and raking up the results. We’ve also considered trying to hire a neighborhood kid, or maybe someone who is not a kid. The lawn services Grace spoke to don’t want to come out once or even a few times. They are only interested in doing business if we sign up for weekly service for several months.

On the positive side, I am continuing to feel gradually better.

Work is coming along. I’m in an “implementation slog.” I’m adding features to the firmware for the MX family instruments. I’ve done the proof-of- concept, the first partial implementation, the beta-testing, and the improved design. I’ve then taken that redesign and implemented about three- quarters of it. I’ve solved the interesting problems and the rest is mostly implementing a bunch of code that is, by design, somewhat redundant and standardized in structure.

The prototype design was more complex, using a forest of C++ classes, where I I had to subclass objects for custom behavior and hook them up to each other in containers using an observer pattern. But it was hard to read, and would have been much harder to maintain and extend. Sometimes the tough part of a software development job is solving a design problem. Sometimes the tough part is understanding and fixing a tricky bug. And sometimes the tough part is maintaining your concentration and making steady progress while implementing a large, but deliberately simple and clear, and so boring, piece of code.

This weekend I made two trips up to Saginaw to continue the sorting and packing. Summer arrived with a vengeance and it was hot. Summer road construction has also arrived and the Michigan state flower — the orange and white plastic road construction barrel — is in full bloom. On Saturday, it took me three hours to make the drive to Saginaw, which normally takes about 100 minutes. So I sat pretty much stopped in traffic for an extra hour and twenty minutes, trying not to grind my teeth. I would have done deep breathing but in the extra ozone, soot, dust, and pollen, that is not advisable.

The rooms I was working on — the office and studio — are on the highest level of the house, built partially into the attic. The net effect is that it is hot up there. So I spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons into the evenings drinking quart after quart of water and sorting and packing little bits of stuff that accumulated in my office over the last seven years.

I threw away a lot, but I’ve learned that can be very important to keep certain kinds of paperwork, particularly anything having to do with my unemployment benefits, and there was a lot of that. When you’re unemployed, the paperwork is pretty much a full-time job, especially when you include the work search records. A good chunk of my notes could go, especially the notes having to do with jobs past. There were many notebooks full. When doing my software development work, I just down design ideas, little to-do lists, and notes from meetings. Even if it is only a page or two a day, it adds up over the months and years. Looking back at those old notebooks, I find myself slightly stunned by how much work I did, just plugging away steadily at those jobs.

What really slows me down is the detritus of half a million little personal projects. There are homeschool projects, electronics projects, music projects, podcast projects, writing projects about C programming, writing projects about electronics, and documents and notes for my adjunct teaching gig. There are pictures and bits of family history. Much of this I don’t actually want to throw away. The notes can go, at least once they serve their actual purpose and I integrate them into a writing project. I am hesitant to actually throw away antique photographs.

So the best I could do in some cases was to sort the stuff well enough to pack it, with an eye towards sorting it further at the new house. So I’m committing myself to spending even more time. But at least there is space in the new house to actually get it sorted. And it’s not sweltering in our new basement.

I also brought my desks, which are sanded and stained doors placed on top of plastic sawhorses. The doors barely fit in the car. I have to push them between the two front seats and hope I don’t need to brake hard. And I brought a number of delicate items that needed to be hand-carried. Among these are some ceramics my mother made, back when she went by her maiden name. There are ceramic egrets with long, graceful necks. The necks are so fragile that I don’t even want to try to put them in boxes. The necks can’t support their own weight. So I carried them wraped partially in bubble wrap and placed right on the passenger seat, strapped gently to the seat, the necks hanging over the edge. I hoped for the best. They made it. They’ve survived for over fifty years and I’m hoping not to be the one that breaks them.

On the one hand, I’m hoping not to burden my kids with a hoarder-house, a home piled with what may seem like, to them, a lot of garbage. On the other hand, I’d like them to have some sort of organized legacy — my library, my mementos, an archive of items left to me by my family of origin. And I want to leave them a trove of items from their own childhoods — what records are worth keeping of the places they lived, the things they did. That trove is inevitably part-digital. How to make sense of all that, and try to help it survive to another generation, is a big subject. But I think a strategy is starting to come into shape, and the new house can help me work on that — steadily, a little bit at a time.

Anyway, our house-emptying project continues. I’m doing as much as I can bear to. We are not at all happy with our progress. We wanted to be finished by now. But I try to enjoy the small victories. When I left Saginaw on Sunday, the office, studio, and bathroom were completely empty of everything, except for a pile of framed and loose posters. The posters along with Grace’s framed posters and pictures will probably require a carload of their own. And I’m really not sure where they will go, in the new house. But we’re getting stuff done.

I have my desks set up in the new house and they look good there. The room they are in is a basement room, with no windows, but yet it is much less claustrophobia-inducing, to sit at them there, than it was to sit facing the sloped attic walls in the old office.

Paul Conquers the New Yorker

Speaking of minor victories, I want to take a moment to note that I am all caught up on the New Yorker. It’s taken me months, but I have worked my way through the backlog of issues and completed the most recent one. For the first time in forever, I don’t have a New Yorker to read! In a burst of optimism I might hope that I can actually, now, keep up, reading each one when it arrives, and completing it before the next one arrives. But let’s not get too far into crazy talk.

Now, if I could only get on top of the pile of back issues of the New York Review of Books… but hey, small victories!

It’s All About Class

There are a lot of recent books that take on the 2016 election, from one perspective or another, and I’ve become wise enough to realize that although I might enjoy starting all of them, I am not very likely to finish any of them. But I did pick up one book that I think I can probably finish, a thin book called White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams.

I have read and watched Williams in a few recent interviews, and liked what she had to say enough to try reading her book. It seems like she has some insight, although I am not sure how much, and some advice, although I’m not sure how useful it is.

My first difficulty stems from trying to figure out what class I fit into. This has been an issue my whole life. My mother’s parents were upper- middle class, educated, descended from bankers, with both Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers in my family tree. My maternal grandmother was college-educated, a schoolteacher. My maternal grandfather worked as a chemist for Welch’s, the grape juice company. He had to move his family repeatedly for work, and wound up moving his family to North East, Pennsylvania and working at the Welch’s factory in Westfield, New York, actually leaving my mother in California while she finished high school. My mother, after my parents divorced, followed them, meaning that my family started out split across the country. My mother found herself raising two boys while living in a trailer. With my grandfather’s financial help, my brother and I went, for a few years, to an elite private school, among the children of doctors and lawyers, while also living in a trailer.

I did not fit in well there, or in high school. Because of my mother’s background, I don’t think she ever felt at home among the working-class residents of our trailer park. She worked as an Occupational Therapist at Hamot Community Mental Health. She was culturally middle-class or even upper middle-class, but her financial circumstances as a single mother made her financially lower middle-class or working poor. She had few friends, although I think she did find a sense of community in the First Presbyterian Church of North East, eventually becoming a deacon there.

I was raised partially by my grandparents, but my grandfather died when I was nine years old, and so I think my education in how to be middle-class was somewhat stunted. My mother remarried, a man who was a World War II veteran and assembled motorized wheels at General Electric. He was firmly of the working class, and a lot of his value system rubbed off on me. In high school, I had difficulty fitting in, and as a scholarship student in college, also never really felt at home. The real values I absorbed seem mostly to center around the primacy of work and a deep fear of being impoverished. And so for decades I’ve put work ahead of pretty much everything.

I had never really realized what our more elite educational institutions were for, besides the secondary mission of education — they were for networking and acculturation. Cash-poor while in college, I never could take the overseas trips or ski trips or other added-cost opportunities. I studied, very unevenly, pursued my interests like audio production and writing, drank only moderately, and tried to learn the basic relationship skills I had mostly failed to learn in high school (see “intellectionall advanced, socially retarded.”) Failing to network, I never really learned to use my “PME” (professional managerial elite, to use Joan Williams’ term) contacts to find work. It also means that I feel almost as out-of-place at a college reunion as I think would at a high school reunion.

My current income brings me within spitting distance of the class that Williams calls the PME, and which I’ve also seen called the “cosmopolitan elite,” and yet not only do I not identify with those folks, I tend to avoid things that would signal my solidarity with them. I don’t like to fly — it is ostentatious and carbon-wasteful. I’ve done a little management, but I am very ambivalent about doing anything that feels like “ladder-climbing” away from the kind of work where I design and build things. I left my community of origin, expressing a middle-class value to flee, not stay in an economically un-promising place, but have since tried (and failed) to find an economically un-promising place and establish roots there and try to help build that place up. I now find that I feel like an outcast in the city I spent twenty years living in, because it has priced me out, and with a large family, to the liberals DINKs and one-child families, my family might as well be Amish, arriving to a restaurant in a horse and buggy. And so on.

I think Williams has some good recommendations, about how we need to think deeper about, for example, why poor working people don’t simply move to find better work. That’s a facile and deeply offensive conservative talking point and Williams demolishes it, and rightfully so. That kind of mobility scatters and demolishes traditional family support structures, and that brokenness persists for generations, as I well know.

While I am finding the book to be worth reading so far, I also agree with the review in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

The book is not about the working class in any meaningful sense. Its treatment of race is, at best, fleeting. Regarding the former, Williams arrives at a definition of the working class that is neither traditional and coherent nor usefully innovative. She expels the poor, wage earning or not, from the ranks of the working class and shuts the very rich out of the ranks of those holding it back. Income alone, not the more meaningful measure of wealth, defines her answer to the question “Who Is the Working Class?” The bottom third and top 20 percent are excluded, with an exception made for those making more but not having college degrees. The result is a “class” defined by making $41,005 to $131,962 annually (median: $75,144), and by holding values alternately seen as understandable or wonderful.

See: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/whos-afraid-of-the-white-working-class-on-joan-c-williamss-white-working-class-overcoming-class-cluelessness-in-america/

In one notable passage, the author talks about the difficulty of making small talk at a high school reunion, particularly how, to a working-class person, the question “so, what do you do?” can induce rage in a man who sells toilets. In an interview, Williams suggested that a better opening conversational gambit, when talking to a working-class person, might be “how about that (whichever) sports team?”

She’s trying to avoid confrontational topics, and that seems like a good idea, but the idea of having to actively study sports, a subject I have no interest in at all, in order to communicate with my old classmates at a high school reunion, still seems not just condescending but misguided.

As the victim of constant bullying, I have mostly solved the dilemma of how to communicate with them by never attending a high school reunion (and a couple of years back I missed my thirtieth), and only very occasionally, and briefly, returning to the towns I grew up in.

With my family there all dead, the only reason in 2017 I might go back to Erie, PA is to take my children to visit their grandparents’ grave. And because my children haven’t grown up anywhere near there, the question of where I myself should be buried, or have my ashes buried, as a vexing one; I would like my marker to be in a family plot, to honor my mother’s family, but if I would not condescend to visit those places while I was alive, why would I want to “live” there after my death?

From what I can tell on Facebook, ignorant bullies remain bullies, well into middle age. And the single most salient feature that I can discern in the posts of my working-class high school classmates is their lack of solidarity. Not solidarity with me — I mean, I left and was successful, right? I’d say “fuck that guy” — but solidarity with themselves. If I post an article about how workers earning minimum wage cannot pay for a two-bedroom apartment in any city in America now, my old classmates, who might be supervisors or floor managers in chain stores now, talk entirely about how it is the fault of the workers. Never mind that if seventy-five percent of the jobs available in a given town pay minimum wage, seventy-five percent of the people who live there have to take one of those jobs, if they want a job. But to my classmates, it’s always, and entirely, about how certain people refuse to work harder and better themselves, like they supposedly did.

Their sympathies lie entirely, fit with total congruence, into the values of the business owners. There’s no room to talk about how, if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be about $4 an hour higher than it is today; the 1968 minimum wage, adjusted to 2015 dollars, would be $10.90. My classmates are talking about minimum wage jobs as if they were starter jobs for high-school students working part-time for spending money. But that has not been true for many years.

And they are Trump voters, for the most part. Not just Trump voters, but people who still support him and are actively defending him today. Try to debate, and post a link to an article — they will run it through a web site which rates the reliability of the source based on how allegedly conservative or liberal it is (liberal bad, conservative good) and tell me they can’t accept the argument because The New York Times is bad, but Breitbart is good. There’s no getting to shared facts — every fact is suspect. And to try to talk with them about values is, basically, to turn on the spigot from Fox News.

So, and this is a serious question — what do we have to talk about, which would be meaningful to both of us? What could we say to each other that wasn’t just condescending politeness on both our parts?

While I may be at least temporarily close, financially, to that “PME,” what with paying two mortgages and a barrage of medical bills I sure don’t feel like I’m not part of the precariat. And it’s not at all clear to me that I’ll be able to pay off the house before I have to retire, or how long I can do this kind of work before some combination of ageism and actual cognitive decline starts to make it impossible to get hired again.

Would their answer to my anxieties be “work harder in order to better yourself?”

Doctor Who Series Ten

I got off on a bad footing with the first episode of Series Ten. Amusingly, the very first word spoken in the episode is “Potts.” We meet Bill Potts, a young food-service worker and black lesbian. She works at the University where the Doctor just happens to lecture, and attends his lectures. The Doctor summons her to a meeting, offering her an opportunity for special tutoring, despite the fact that she is not even enrolled in the University.

Immediately we get a very muddled set of values. In a rapid-fire speech, Bill explains her interactions with a white woman at the school. Bill noticed this woman, apparently, because she noticed the Doctor noticing her. Bill then wanted either to remove the source of the Doctor’s distraction, or found herself attracted to the woman because the Doctor was attracted to her — I’m not really clear on this:

Okay, so my first day here, in the canteen, I was on chips. There was this girl. Student. Beautiful. Like a model, only with talking and thinking. She looked at you and you perved. Every time, automatic, like physics. Eye contact, perversion. So I gave her extra chips. Every time, extra chips. Like a reward for all the perversion. Every day, got myself on chips, rewarded her. Then finally, finally, she looked at me, like she’d noticed, actually noticed, all the extra chips. Do you know what I realised? She was fat. I’d fatted her. But that’s life, innit? Beauty or chips. I like chips. So did she. So that’s okay.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, but it seems like Bill lost interest in the woman after she became fat. And a few minutes into the show, in a montage of Bill’s life at school, we see her wink at an overweight woman as she shovels extra fries onto her plate. Whatever the intent, this comes off as the show making a fat joke at the expense of the actress, who doesn’t even get a speaking role.

So I was interested, but then I was also a little puzzled. And then we got a strange, ineptly produced take on the myth of Echo and Narcissus. Bill meets a young woman in a club, makes eye contact, and falls head-over-heels in love. The woman has a strange feature in the iris of one eye: a small star-shaped patch. (She looks at Bill and Bill literally sees stars; the woman has stars in her eyes; choose your own heavy-handed metaphor.) Knowing next to nothing about her, Bill has such an intense crush that after they speak a few words to each other, Heather asks “Please. You can say no. Would you come with me? Can I show you something?” And Bill practically shouts “God! Yes!” in a way that I find unnerving. Her desperate desire for love and her tendency to form fast crushes seems to be very out-of-sync with the stoic, cynical young woman who is used to disappointment.

Bill’s crush, Heather, is in scenes that must have been photographed across a couple of different days of shooting. Her hair changes, and her makeup changes. I’m just a touch face-blind, and her face changed so much that I wasn’t sure she wasn’t played by a different actress in some scenes. And after this confusion, the episode turns into a very rapid-fire pastich of horror tropes — traditionally misogynistic horror tropes. Heather liked Bill, but before long she was, in monstrous form, chasing Bill with fingernails extended like claws, screeching like a banshee, popping out of puddles like Meg Mucklebones in the movie _Legend:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxjYJayuWoA

Unlike Meg, who desires flattery, Heather, once dissolved into a puddle by her desires, can only echo the things Bill says. I was reminded quite uncomfortably that homosexuality has been historically been considered a form of narcissism, and linked to a failure to achieve the ability to form mature relationships. And here we have Bill, with a tremendous sudden crush, being pursued by a watery hag-creature that echoes her words and reflects back her own face. Contrast it with an episode it reminds me of, “The Curse of the Black Spot,” which invokes horror tropes as well as the mythology of the Sirens, but more intelligently and deliberately, and was better in just about every respect.

I wrote about this on Facebook, and long and ultimately pointless argument ensued, with people arguing that I was over-interpreting and seeing things that weren’t there. I wound up watching the episode twice more. Maybe I was over-interpreting, but even on the third viewing I still found this episode disjointed and disappointing. I think the show in general still has a tendency to slip far too readily into very conventional horror tropes, and does so a bit unthinkingly, even when those tropes are associated strongly with sexism and misogyny.

I expected better from this new season. For the most part, the episodes that followed haven’t been as disjointed, but they haven’t been that good. “Smile” was not bad, but “Thin Ice” seemed very derivative of “The Beast Below.” “Knock Knock” seemed very derivative of “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe.”

The three-parter “Extremis,” “The Period at the End of the World,” and “The Lie of the Land” — well, they’ve had some nice moments but none of them seem to really work well enough to keep me from getting distracted by the gaping plot holes. Last night’s show “The Empress of Mars” was not bad, but again, not great, either — not one of these season’s episodes have lived up to “Blink” or “The Girl in the Fireplace” or Capaldi’s “Heaven Sent.”

The show has introduced a storyline involving Missy, but has spent very little time actually setting it up. The series has ony three episodes left to turn around, or it will be remembered as a mediocre series. That would be a shame, as Peter Capaldi makes a pretty good Doctor. I just feel that he wasn’t given the best material, especially not this season. It all feels to me like the show is running on recycled ideas at this point. I hope it gets better, but I fear we’ll have to wait for a future series for that.

Ypsilanti, Michigan
June 12th and 13th, 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Deplorable Fever

Today is Tuesday, June 6th, 2017.

A Deplorable Fever

I realize it’s kind of a humble-brag to say “I’ve been busy” when so many lack work, but — I’ve been busy. I realize it’s no fun to read about other folks complaining, but — along with busy: sick, exhausted, and disheartened.

A couple of weekends ago, I took a few days off work to try, a bit frantically and a bit ineffectively, to get work done on the house in Saginaw. I spent over a long five-day weekend bouncing between Ypsilanti, Saginaw, and Ikea, bringing loads from the house and building shelves in our basement.

In our years in the Saginaw house, I found some specific uses for specific rooms, but I never found a way to really get my things organized. So many books never made it onto shelves, and so many things that might have been useful for home-schooling never came out of storage. So many square feet, but so little usable space.

The wood-paneled office/studio/bathroom suite is a perfect example. In this suite, the small studio room has cabinets of drawers, behind wooden doors, and a few bookshelves built into the walls. It’s really a beautiful room, with all that wood — like a meditation chamber. It’s crafty, and cleverly put together. When the sun comes in, it just glows. The larger office room has two wide, shallow closets built in to one wall.

With better climate control, the little suite would be suitable for a teenager, or a mother-in-law. The smaller attic room was being used by a disabled adult as a bedroom, living in the home with his mother. A single bed fits in the small attic room nicely, along with a few books. Not much else will fit. I used the room to record, but since it is a small wooden box, you need a lot of acoustic panels and foam to cut down on reflections. Without the panels and foam, it sounds like you are recording inside a wooden cigar box. This woody sound might be nice on acoustic guitar but it is generally unwanted on vocals.

But the room is very poorly insulated, and leaks heat in or out like a sieve. It’s almost never a comfortable temperature in there. The drawers are not boxed in properly, or insulated, and so anything you store in them is exposed to the crawlspace, which may as well be open to the outside. That isn’t good for papers or electronics. I had to keep the things in these drawers sealed in bags. Guitar strings kept in the drawers would corrode. Papers would grow mildew. The insulation and weather-proofing was something that could be fixed, and might not even be that costly to fix. It needs someone who knows how to work with older houses in a way that takes into account their eclectic design and construction. But because of my declining and irregular income during the years we lived there, and the difficulty finding decent contractors, we weren’t able to put work into that project. I’m not really a handyman.

The studio room would have been great for a teenager’s bedroom, or a guest bedroom (for more adventurous guests). But it is not a flexible space, which, it turns out, is what I needed, more than anything. The lack of flexibility was carved into the shape of the room. If you place anything in front of those cabinet doors, you can’t open them without rearranging furniture. The room is built into the attic, so the ceiling slopes down steeply. It was possible to put a small table in that room, for recording two seated speakers. It was possible to put up some mic stands so I could stand in the middle of the room (where the ceiling was higher) and record guitar and vocals. But there wasn’t really space to keep both setups in place, and so it was very hard to use the room when I needed it.

In the office room, if you want to be able to open the very wide closet doors, you can’t put a desk or a table in that section of the room. There’s also a bathroom door that opens into the room. So a third of the room must remain clear just to be able to access the shallow closets. I used one closet to hold a build server, and Ethernet switch, and my clothes, and the other to hold my bins containing cables, and a few boxes. But this was a very small fraction of the storage space I actually needed given all my different projects.

In both the studio room and office, with little room for tables and shelves, most of what I was working on, or with, would wind up in piles on the floor. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to keep guitars in there. I kept my acoustic guitars, which I knew were sensitive to changes in humidity, downstairs. But I kept a few electric guitars in there, hung from the walls in those awkward angled corners, to keep them where I could pick them up and use them, and because there wasn’t another place for them. This wasn’t really a good idea — the necks and fretboards would dry out in winter, and the strings would corrode quickly from the humidity in summer, and they needed constant adjustment. There is barely any wall space where one can place bookshelves. If you set up a desk, the desk faces a steeply sloping attic wall, which feels confining and doesn’t allow you to rest your eyes by looking out a window. You can’t put much on the desk. And you can’t put up a whiteboard, and be able to reach it — there just isn’t flat wall space available. So, it was never very comfortable to work in that office, in an ergonomic sense.

To make the temperature in the suite bearable during the summer months, I placed a portable air conditioner on wheels in the bathroom, running its vent hose to the bathroom window. This made the already small bathroom uncomfortably cramped.

In the winter, the office was fifty degrees or colder all the time, and I’d have to wear three layers, a hat, and fingerless gloves. My finger joints would ache and my nose would drip from the cold air. In the summer, I’d be dripping sweat instead of snot, stripped down to shorts. It was never not uncomfortable. But I did my working-from-home jobs there, for five years. My desks were doors placed on plastic sawhorses and the office was always a cluttered mess, the floor piled with junk in boxes that I could find no other space for, but I made it work. And it is also the place I recorded and mixed and mastered my music and podcast and video projects during those years, such as they are. It was a very attractive room. It would have been a great place to lead a daily yoga workout for a small handful of people. But I never did figure out how to make it work well as an office and studio.

The new house features a big finished (more-or-less) walk-out basement. Most of it isn’t nearly as attractive. There’s no beautiful wooden “man-cave” pine paneling, and no beautifully refinished pine floors. The floor is some kind of ugly adhesive flexible tile glued down over slightly uneven concrete. There’s some kind of minor (I hope) water problem behind one of the walls. But the rooms are square rectangular volumes with full-height ceilings. There is good lighting in most of the basement. There is wall space where we can place shelving. Already, it is allowing me to actually put in a lot of shelving, and to start storing and organize things as I never could in our Saginaw house. I’m able to start opening up boxes and sorting and disposing of things that I’ve had in storage since the death of my mother in 2007. And it isn’t unbearably hot or unbearably cold. It’s hard for me to overstate how nice it is for me, to write or work on music in a place that isn’t unbearably hot or unbearably cold.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Three Mondays ago, having taken a few days off work so I could have a long weekend to work on the house, I spent the day in the office/studio, taking apart the network wiring, the computers, and the piles of junk. I sorted things into boxes: office supplies, guitar parts and music items, loose electronic devices such as Ethernet switches, and dozens of loose wires and cables. So many cables, that I finally gave up sorting them and just piled them into a box labeled “unsorted cables.” I found my missing Heil PR–40 microphone. I found many cables that I had needed, and bought again. It’s like an archaeological dig. There are piles and piles of papers. Some of them go back years, although my experience buying the new house has taught me that I should be cautious about disposing of — well, pretty much anything, really, that might have some connection to my income or expenses or taxes.

I made a great deal of progress. The studio room is now completely empty. The closets are completely empty. I threw away bags and bags of trash and bins of paper recycling. But there’s still a fair amount to sort — piles and piles of fiddly little things. Guitar picks, USB memory sticks, post-it notes, notebook pages, photographs, drawings, diagrams, wires, breadboards, screws. So many things that really shouldn’t just be thrown away — although I might get to that point, and just start sweeping everything that remains into the trash. Whether I actually sort it all or not, when that stage is done I’ll be able to take the last few things out of the rooms — the plastic sawhorses and doors that form my desks, and a couple of garage- sale chairs that need regluing. I’m hoping to get that finished this coming weekend.

That Monday, despite pounding glasses of water, and an iced coffee, and despite the fact that it wasn’t that warm in the upstairs, I was sweating like crazy all afternoon, and felt dizzy. My back ached, which I attributed to carrying heavy boxes and being 49 years old and far too sedentary. But then everything started to ache. In the car on the way home, so much hurt inside my rib cage, pain signals coming from various vague places, that I began to wonder if I was having some kind of mild heart attack, or some kind of problem with my kidneys or liver. Even my fingers and toes hurt.

It wasn’t until I got home that I found that Elanor had been coughing and feverish, and Grace was feverish, too. So this was pretty clearly some sort of a virus; a cold or flu. Little Elanor slept it off in just a couple of days. Grace and I did not.

I had barely any cough, just a fever each day. My head was packed, but I couldn’t get anything out. The strangest symptom was that my eyes were oozing gobs of yellow-green mucus. There was nothing I could blow out of my sinuses, but it was coming out of my eyes. My head throbbed horribly. Sitting or standing or even turning my head would result in stabbing pains through the back of my head.

This was no fun at all, and it lasted a long time. I never had a fever that was high enough to make me think I should urgently see a doctor, but it was a fever every single day. It is still with me, although it is getting much better. The weekend before last, we had Elanor’s baptism at the Cathedral in Saginaw. Elanor’s godmother Julie came in from out of town to accompany us. I’m afraid we were not great hosts. I just hope we didn’t give it to her.

I had to drive a carload of kids, wear my suit, get through the long, long day with a pounding head and fever and diziness, and drive a carload of kids back home. Grace was in the same boat in the other car. We got through it, and our youngest Potts was baptized, but it was an ordeal. I started trying to use over-the-counter nighttime cold remedies, which helped a bit. Aleve also helped the fever and joint pain.

Over the last week, the pressure in my head gradually began to ease. I managed to blow out a whole lot of blackened dried-up blood from my sinuses. There had been some kind of epic battle up in there, apparently taking place mostly while I was sleeping. I think it killed all the cilia in my mucous membranes, and they had to grow back. As the swelling went down inside my sinuses and air could get through again, I could hear these shockingly loud popping and grinding sounds coming from inside my head. It sounded like the ice breaking up on Lake Superior.

I’m still not back at 100% yet. I’m back at perhaps 75%. Things seem to still be moving in the right direction, and I’m grateful for that. Fortunately, through all this, while both Grace and I have been sick, we have somehow managed not to both be at our worst at the same time. So we’ve been able to trade off to some extent, as the functional adult who is able to make dinner when the other can’t do anything but go to bed early and moan.

A Fever of Deplorables

As Washington continues to burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp, with Trump’s grotesque narcissim and full-press corruption infecting everying it touches, I’ve been increasingly jittery about politics as, I think, most of us have been. I’ve been compulsively tweeting, and yet for the most part almost no one is answering. Feeling isolated and desperate, I’ve increasingly felt the need to talk to people about our current political nightmare and dilemma. But the only people who seem to want to talk back are those who want to keep litigating election. Specifically, Clinton supporters who want to continue to cast blame on progressives who did not vote for Clinton.

In their view, the only thing that needs to be corrected next time is the voting practices of people to their left. They believe these folks didn’t vote “correctly.” They seem to think that teaching them to vote correctly can be accomplished, primarily, by mocking them, or recycling stale memes about Clinton’s e-mails. Oh, they also seem to think that it will help if they tell voters to their left that the only reason they didn’t vote for Clinton is that they either are misogynists, or unwittingly swallowed a lot of incorrect misogynist propaganda, promulgated by the far right, which they now incorrectly believe.

In this world view, there can exist no legitimate left-wing critique of Clinton. Anyone who voted for a third party candidate, or deliberately sat out the election because they did not feel that their values were represented in the race, is politically naïve, a dupe of the right wing, or a useless idealist who refuses to act in the world as it is.

This world view was summed up pretty well by Driftglass of the Professional Left Podcast. Post-election, he made these comments:

The ones who are saying ’See?" See? This is what you get for nominating a neo-con neo-liberal war-hawk… yeah. Whatever. I’m sure that makes you feel better… I’m going to make sure that as far as I’m concerned you’re shouting into a rain barrel, because I don’t need to listen to it. I’m not obliged to listen to that opinion.

No, of course he isn’t. But he and his wife seemed genuinely shocked that Trump won. And if it isn’t obvious, if you were shocked — well, you weren’t really paying attention to the mood of the electorate outside your bubble.

Driftglass went on:

If you were, as of yesterday, a Republican of conscience who was horrified by the fact that this guy was [at] the top of your party’s ticket, and you spoke out about it and you’re angry about it and you said ‘I can’t do it — I cannot do it — I just can’t,’ then we might disagree about a bunch of other things, but you’re on my team. Because we are in very bad times now. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to mock you, and when you step out of line I’m going to say terrible things about your propensity to backslide, but you’re on my team.

If you are a liberal who just couldn’t quite get your ass out of bed because, ‘you know, really, what’s the difference between the two?’ Or ‘you know, Hillary is so bad at these things and you know what?’ then you’re not on my team. And, to quote Michael Corleone, to Fredo, ‘I don’t wanna know ya… I don’t want to have anything to do with you… I don’t want to hear you when you come to visit our mother; give me a day’s notice so I can get the hell out of town. I have no interest [in] you, you’re not in my family anymore.’ This was your character test, and you failed. And maybe the next time there’s a big ’ole national character test you can step up and behave like a grown-up. But until then, I don’t know ya, and I don’t wanna know ya. I’m not gonna get mad, I’m not gonna yell, I’m not gonna blame; I just don’t wanna know ya or anything about you. Go away. That’s all I have to say.

And he’s apparently stuck to that. Yep, Driftglass has decided that he has more in common with “never-Trump” Republicans than he does with actual progressives who haven’t been willing to support the Democratic party’s ever-rightward, ever-moneyward, ever-more-corporate drift. Because bipartisan neoliberalism is, in his world, apparently not a thing worthy of concern, and apparently the idea that a candidate with a “D” after her name could be insufficiently “left” — isn’t a thing in his world.

Because Driftglass spends his time watching the Sunday shows. He believes the shows are important, in some sense; that they tell us where the bounds of the national debate are. But that’s true only if you believe the debate is confined to working politicians, the military, and the folks who do the rounds of these TV shows and newspaper columns — folks you might call part of the “cosmopolitan elite.” He’s very good at mocking “wingnut welfare,” where right-wing pundits can apparently always find a job, in a think tank, or magazine column, or on television. He’s been very insightful about pointing out how Rachel Maddow can only say certain things, because she’s employed by MSNBC, and speaking ill of her fellow pundits would be a quick way to lose her nice job. But he seems less able to understand that years of watching this range of debate, from A to B, have left him believing that the bounds of this debate pretty much are the same bounds as the American voters, and those outside this range aren’t worth paying any attention to, and deserve only a curt write-off. (“See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!” or, is it, perhaps, “Smell ya later?”)

This view is also summed up in a tweet by Frank Conniff, formerly of television’s Mystery Science Theater 3000, who wastes no opportunity to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. In response to an argument where a Twitter member told him

That makes me wonder if you know what neoliberalism is. Hint: it’s neither new nor liberal

Conniff responded:

I do know what neoliberalism is - it’s a catchphrase invented by misogynists.

Conniff said this in reference to the campaign of a Democrat whose campaign logo was a red arrow, pointing to the right, telegraphing the Democratic party’s intent, for anyone who cared to look with open eyes).

I can’t really bring myself to listen to the Professional Left podcast any more, but after Driftglass dismissed me from his circle forever, or at least until I “grow up” (hey, I’m not quite fifty yet, hope springs eternal…) I still could not resist doing a few “needle drops” on later shows. Here are some more words of wisdom from Brother Driftglass (for I don’t think of him as beyond redemption, even if he thinks that way of me):

“If you stood with me, on this day, then you’re my brother, or my sister. And if you didn’t, then you’re not. It’s pretty much that simple.”

Anyway, That’s pretty much the definition of tribalism, dear reader, something the left loves to accuse the right of doing. It’s the epitome of treating politics as sports. Which is bad: see this article from Harpers in 2006:

https://harpers.org/archive/2006/02/crap-shoot/

And it is why people on the left can’t work together on — well, pretty much anything.

Especially not when this is what they think of the white working class:

“Do not buy into the bullshit that the DNC needs to work harder to cater to the ‘feelings’ of the white working class. The white working class needs to get the fuck over it.”

So, there you have it. Let that be a lesson for you, white working class!

Janine Garofolo echoed a similar sentiment on David Feldman’s show, in a long interview. I’m not going to dig it up now, because I’m tired. And sick. But maybe I’ll put it in the Director’s Cut of this blog post.

In a Dark Place

I’m in a strange and dark place. Hell, nationally we’re in a strange and dark place. I don’t feel that I can make any sense of my high school classmates, who tend to be Trump supporters talking mostly about one of two subjects: either about the horrors of abortion, or how global warming is a hoax.

I also don’t feel that I can make much more sense of my college classmates, who tend to be Clinton supporters, without reservation, or at least with no reservations they are willing to admit to beyone “well, no candidate is perfect.”

My Clinton-supporting friends are apparently fully comfortable with her militarism and corporatism, her racism, her vote for intervention in Iraq. They seem to be perfectly willing to let go of Yemen, and Syria, and Libya, and the arms deals with the Saudis, and the “tough on crime” comments about “superpredators,” and her coziness with Goldman Sachs, and her comfort level with fracking, and her apparent satisfaction with killings by drone.

They’re willing to let go welfare reform, which gave huge tax cuts to businesses and beat up the working poor. They’re willing to let go the build-up of the prison-industrial complex. They’re willing to let go Clinton’s support of No Child Left Behind, and her seat on the board of Wal-Mart, and her destruction of Honduras. To me, it’s not about the e-mails; it’s about the impunity to voilate security rules and apparent contentment to take the records of the Presidency out of reach of FOIA. But to them, it’s a meme: “but her e-mails” in response to any criticism I might make of Trump. Since I didn’t vote from Clinton, I’m not allowed to criticize Trump.

(That last criticism is, although it seems perfectly reasonable and self-evident to me, apparently “out of bounds” — because the “e-mails” attack is an attack from the right, it isn’t legitimate for anyone to her left to attack her on her carelessness with government documents and her willingness to continue practices pioneered by the Bush administration — see https://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/3/5/1496408/-A-Helpful-Guide-to-Criticizing-Hillary-Clinton-From-the-Left, and apparently any criticism of the Clinton Foundation is also considered out-of-bounds when coming from the left.)

The people willing to vote for Clinton are people for whom, apparently, none of this was disqualifying, because Trump is an openly sexist bigot and misogynist and a rapist and racist, as though you could put their two records on opposite sides of a balance beam and decide that one was clearly worse.

Oh, and her racism isn’t really racism because it’s couched in more polite words. (And because they pretty much agree with everything about it, as it represents, pretty much, the standard liberal analysis of Black Lives Matter and any other black leadership that becomes demanding).

Balanced in the Scales and Found Wanting

Trump doesn’t have a record in politics, and so, you know what? One of the two candidates clearly did have a record that was worse. And it wasn’t Trump.

In 2017, todllers are drowning in the Mediterranean because Libya is a failed state. ISIS is creating chaos and death in the Midle East in part because Clinton’s policies led to the rise of ISIS.

One of these two candidates was extremely ethically challenged and crass; the other was a known war criminal who openly praised Henry Kissinger.

And I was supposed to chose the war criminal because of Trump’s various “isms.” But all Clinton’s “isms” — all the identity politics markers — supposedly outweighed her record as a war criminal. Guys, it was a chance to break the glass ceiling!

Yeah, that has a lot of meaning to white working class women. I’m sure it has something to do with internalized misogyny, because liberals know best.

And if I wasn’t willing to vote for the war criminal, I was the sexist, the middle-aged “Bernie Bro.” This analysis, of course, completely disparaged the opininions of the large number of young people, including young women, who supported Sanders and his hopeful economic message over the pantsuited crowd; and it was promulgated largely by the Washington Post, who decreed that Sanders was “un-electable” and made it so via a series of increasingly unhinged editorials. See: https://harpers.org/archive/2016/11/swat-team–2/

I’ll Be Over Here with the Useful Idiots

An article on Counterpunch summed it up pretty well: https://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/09/01/courting-right-smearing-left-ethos-clinton-campaign

Last month, adding to the archive of left-punching, conservative writer and ardent Clinton supporter James Kirchick enthusiastically denounced those he called “the Hillary Clinton-loathing, Donald Trump-loving useful idiots of the left.”

“In this weirdest year,” Kirchick wrote, “there may be no weirder phenomenon than the rise of the progressive Donald Trump supporter.”

Among those apparently deserving of the label “progressive Trump fan” are Glenn Greenwald, Rania Khalek, Zaid Jilani, Julian Assange, Jill Stein, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, all of whom, according to Kirchick, are “captive to a crude and one-dimensional anti-Americanism.”

Uh-huh. I’m anti-American.

The one sin that unites these progressive commentators, journalists, and political figures with Trump is, in other words, that they all dare to question the morality of America’s use of force abroad.

That’s me, or at least that’s one set of my reservations about Clinton. And so I don’t feel like I have a political party, any more like I feel like I have a clear class identity. It’s a little unnerving. But then, I’ve never had a conventional family; I’ve never had conventional friends; I’ve never been much of a “joiner” (I’ve always had the problem Groucho had, of not wanting to join any club that would want him as a member). I’ve become mostly accustomed to the fact that insisting on being an ethical person in an unethical world is to be an outsider, like the Christians that are “in the world but not of it.” As an outlier from childhood, I’ve always known this wasn’t going to be easy for me.

Never Hillary

The thing is, I was never going to vote for Hillary. I didn’t vote for Obama a second time, and regret voting for him the first time.

If you’d like to re-litigate the election, by all means, let’s re-litigate the election. Let’s examine why so many people didn’t vote, for starters. Next, let’s examine why so many Democrats didn’t turn out.

Blaming third-party voters is entirely an exercise in “trolleyology.” In the trolley scenario, a majority of folks are apparently comfortable with throwing a switch to run over group B to save group A. But there is a small number of people, myself included, who aren’t willing to reduce lives to numbers and do moral calculus that involves weighing criminals against each other. People like me are saying “hey, there’s someone strapping people to train tracks and sending trolleys speeding towards them — can we please do something about that?”

You know, us idealists unwilling to grow up and live in the real world.

Mark Fisher in his essay Exiting the Vampire Castle wrote:

‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism.

See: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299

Fisher reminds us that

Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it.

Yep. Poor whites are literally dying:

mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30 percent higher than blacks by 2015…

See: [https://www.brookings.edu/bpea-articles/mortality-and-morbidity-in-the–21st-century/](https://www.brookings.edu/bpea-articles/mortality-and-morbidity-in-the–21st-century/)

The authors suggest that the increases in deaths of despair are accompanied by a measurable deterioration in economic and social wellbeing, which has become more pronounced for each successive birth cohort. Marriage rates and labor force participation rates fall between successive birth cohorts, while reports of physical pain, and poor health and mental health rise.

But the “white working class needs to get the fuck over it.” That’s the message we need to hear. Not one of solidarity. That is, if the Democrats want to keep losing.

I’m not sure it’s entirely clear to us yet either what people are responsible for supporting Trump, or the most productive way to try to gain solidarity with these people for the purposes of grass-roots organizing. I’ve seen think pieces talking about the white working class and why they voted “with their middle fingers.” I’ve seen think pieces explaining that the bulk of Trump voters were not really working-class, economically, at all, and educated, higher-income, middle-class white men went for Trump in large numbers.

All I know for sure is that sisterhood really wasn’t powerful, the Democratic turnout was weak, the Democratic party was preaching to the choir, identity politics aren’t compelling to most working-class and middle-class whites, and the 2016 election season was long, brutal, and incredibly wearying. I know Michigan democrats went for Sanders, but Clinton still seemed to take the state for granted. Whatever you think about her e-mails, or RussiaGate, and I don’t honestly think that much about them, I don’t think anyone could claim that strategy helped her.

Animals

In this conflicted time I’ve been listening to a lot of music. I was listening to Radiohead, but its passive voice didn’t seem to inspire me much. I found myself drawn to a Pink Floyd album I was aware of but didn’t, I think, ever fully listen to, back in the day: Animals. I’ve been listening to this album, pretty much over and over:

If you didn’t care what happened to me,
And I didn’t care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.

But, unfortunately, I do care.

Meanwhile, I’m reading news headlines today that bars in Washington, DC will show former FBI director James Comey’s testimony live on their televisions and offer drinks including the “covfefe cocktail.” We’re going to watch be watching for pigs on the wing, hoping that something damning will come out of that testimony. Of course it will, but that isn’t the real question. The question is whether anyone in a position to do something, will do something. Meanwhile we’re retreating further into our bubbles “wondering which of the buggers to blame.”

What I mostly see is that the media frenzy about Russia is continuing unabated, but getting us almost nowhere. I believe the truth here is fairly obvious, but yet irrelevant. Trump is mobbed up, deep in the pocket of Russian and Chinese and even Iranian business interests. This situation doesn’t even require Russian hacking or election meddling to be completely unethical. But that’s largely irrelevant as long as Congress refuses to act on the ethics issues, and they seem to have every incentive not to act.

What will take down this president, if anything, is not these ethics issues, or even his blatant abuse of power. President Trump will go down if his owners decide it’s time for him to go down. He’ll take a fall if Wall Street decides he is a losing proposition, or Russia or China decide they don’t want to throw good money after bad. That’s about it.

Apparently I’m not the only one to re-evaluate Animals in light or recent events; it looks like Roger Waters has been using songs from Animals to openly criticize Trump: http://radio.com/2017/01/23/pink-floyd-animals–40/

I’ve had to stop reading and responding to just about everything on Facebook (that’s not necessarily a bad thing). I’ve had to back away from Twitter. I’ve had to stop listening to NPR. Folks around me are complaining that so much is going on, in this administration, but really it isn’t — they are getting hardly anything done. And there are actually very few news stories, aside from these constant leaks and staff issues. There are too many cows frantically chewing too little cud.

I’d like to say that getting rid of these inputs was freeing up time to spend with other friends or family. That’s not exactly true now. I am working on it, though. I’ve been getting my home studio back together, with a setup that should make it easy to record an interview-style podcast. So expect to see some more podcast episodes from me in the near future, if that’s the kind of thing you look for. Although as I’ll be shouting into a well, maybe it doesn’t matter.

So, here’s what I’ve been reading!

The New Yorker Backlog

I’ve had a subscription to the New Yorker magazine since last fall, and what with this, that, and the other thing, I got very far behind. I’m the first to admit I have a problem with the way I read these magazines. Apparently the right way to do it is to skim through them, looking at articles, perhaps reading the first paragraph or two, in order to decide if you are interested enough to read the rest.

I don’t seem to be able to do that. I can skip the opening section on events, because mostly it just makes me frustrated to read about the concerts and film festivals I won’t be able to attend, but as for the articles, I pretty much feel compelled to read every one from start to finish, even if it becomes a slog partway through. And so I’ve done that. I’ve caught up on everying. In the last few months I’ve read all the issues from September or so through the end of May, and I’m almost up to the most recent issue.

That’s a lot of text. I have mixed feelings about all this reading. On the one hand, I feel better informed about many things — for example, I was quite interested in the profiles of Rod Dreher and Michael Flynn. It was quite interesting to learn about the demilitarization of the FARC. But for every piece like that, I find that I’m dragging myself through articles about thoroughly unlikeable people doing thoroughly unlikeable things with their enormous wealth — for example, a recent article about a custody battle between two unmarried women fighting over a boy brought to this country in an overseas adoption. I can’t find a heroine in that story, just abuse of power, failure of empathy for others, and open contempt for the ways in which we’ve traditionally protected children through marriage.

I’ve settled into a pattern. For some reason, I usually read front to back until I get to the story. Then I skip the story, and go to the end, and read the articles in reverse order until I get back to the story. Then I read the story. Often, the story doesn’t strike me as very good. But once in a while, there is a really good one. This story by John Lanchester is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. It beautifully defies expectations while maintaining an impressive forward momentum, containing not one wasted word: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/signal-john-lanchester

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

I’ve seen this book kicking around the store shelves for a few months ago, and finally picked up a copy. It’s good Reynolds, with some of his more horrific body horror elements toned down a bit for a wider audience, but still present to remind you who you are reading. This is the story of two sisters who are fleeing an oppressive home life and go into space. It’s basically a seafaring story in space, complete with solar sails and piracy. The setting is a lot like the world of Serenity. I almost feel like Reynolds may have borrowed, or at least adapted the plot from a seafaring story I’ve read before (it isn’t Treasure Island).

The story does not really need to be in space. That makes it, I think, at least by some definitions, space opera instead of science fiction. That’s at least partially true of a lot of Reynolds’ work, but it seems to be more true of this one. I also don’t feel like the characterization is deep enough to make it truly interesting. The world-building does not feel very complete. The plot twists are a pretty predictable. But on the positive side, it moves along pretty quickly and it’s a relatively short book. It might make a good introduction to Reynolds for people who don’t routinely read big science fiction novels already, such as younger readers.

Several Children’s Books

I get bored pretty easily, reading the same children’s books to the kids night after night. They get bored, too, and so I like to vary the reading level, with something targeted at the older kids, and something targeted at the younger.

As a semi-random experiment one night, I pulled out my copy of Crime and Punishment, the version translated by Oliver Ready. After explaining a bit about Russian names, we just dove in. And I was a bit startled to discover that the kids love it. I have to stop to explain certain words, but they love the settings and the characters. Ready’s translation really is a big improvement. It brings out the pathos and humor of characters like Marmeladov, and Raskolnikov’s mother. In fact, this translation has made me realize something about the original that I think I never really understood after reading older translations — it is not, in fact, that heavy a book. And in parts, it seems closer to melodrama and satire than the heavy moral drama I had previously believed it to be. There’s just a lot more subtlety ready to be picked out by the active reader. A. N. Wilson says of this new translation “That knife-edge between sentimentality and farce has been so skilfully and delicately captured here. A truly great translation.” See: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2014/09/crime-and-punishment-by-fyodor-dostoevsky-book-review/

We are also continuing to read the fourth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which Rowling at one point writes “…said Sirius seriously.” Yes, she really wrote that. She’s pretty shameless with the cheap gags now and then. This story features a falling-out between Harry and Ron. I suppose my kids must be able to identify with this, since they are frequently having spats between each other, but honestly, I just want to get through it. These books get longer and longer and past a certain point, they aren’t all that much fun to read out loud, because so little happens in the amount of text I can read in a typical bedtime reading session.

I’m also reading from the next book in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series, I Shall Wear Midnight. These are getting darker and more serious, but they are not always fun to read aloud. In this one Tiffany seems to be burned out due to the constant trauma of being a watch and, perhaps, is losing her mind a bit. These books have really slow parts. I’m hoping this one picks up soon. The plot summary says that she is supposed to travel to Ankh-Morpork, which ought to liven things up. There’s only one more book in the series after this: The Shepherd’s Crown, the last book Pratchett worked on before his death.

I have read the children the first few chapters from another adaptation of a Doctor Who serial written by Douglas Adams. Not originally conceived as a novel, the book Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet was adapted from multiple drafts of Adams’ screenplay by James Goss. Although one might think the Doctor Who worlds and Hitchhiker’s worlds were quite distinct, Adams shifted plots and story elements between the two worlds on several occasions. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency borrows from Doctor Who scripts for Shada and City of Death. The “Key to Time” story element — really a “dismantled MacGuffin,” a way to introduce a number of plot coupons http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DismantledMacGuffin — reads superficially a lot like the search for the parts of the Wikkit Gate in Life, the Universe, and Everything. And apparently that novel began life as an unproduced screenplay Adams wrote called Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen.

Anyway. Is it any good? Well, in the notes at the end of the book, Goss talks about how despite trying to keep every story element he could, at some point he had to cut out some pieces, because it just didn’t read well as a novel. I found that encouraging. But the first couple of chapters are, in fact, poorly disguised info-dumps. The kids fell asleep and I could barely slog through them. Things pick up a bit when we meet some characters and I can start to do voices, and pick up a bit more when the Doctor appears.

But as to whether this whole thing is worth reading as a novel — the jury of my children is still out. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the whole “Key to Time” arc, although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen episodes from that sequence, as back in junior high and high school I occasionally got to watch random Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who on PBS. They had their funny moments, but I mostly remember the melodrama, dumb dialogue, and cheesy, cheesy sets and monsters. So, I’m not sure any of us will find this book enjoyable enough to finish. It may be for the hardcore fan of the Tom Baker Doctor Who, or completists who would like to own everything Adams worked on. While I have a soft spot for both, I can’t really count myself in either camp.

I’m also reading at a few other books as time and interest dictate. We’ve nearly finished Secret of the Marauder Satellite. I’ve let Oliver Twist languish, as the kids didn’t seem to be getting into it, but we might go back to it. I wonder if they might enjoy Great Expectations more? And we have more to read from Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. I’d like to start reading Burn Math Class, but I think I’ll need to dig up a small whiteboard to make that effective.

On My Stack

On my own “to-read” stack, now that I shouldn’t need to put in quite so much effort to keep up with the New Yorker, is Jeff VanderMeer’s new novel Borne. I haven’t really started it, but reviews suggests that it just might do the things that made Annihilation so great, while not doing the things that made the rest of the Southern Reach trilogy disappointing by comparison.

I’ve picked up new copies of Philip K. Dick’s short stories in new printings from Citadel. If you know me, you know I’m all about the uniform editions. Meanwhile, I think I’m actually going to sell my Subterranean Press collection of hardcover editions of these collections on eBay, if I can get a reasonable price for them. They are beautiful, well-made books, and I love to hold well-made books, but these editions strip out the original introductions, prefaces and publication information about each story. This is probably due to copyright issues, but it makes these volumes less readable than the inexpensive paperbacks, and so I will pass them on.

Closing Words

I’ve been torn recently, wondering if should even attempt to continue this blog. I wondered if I should just announce a hiatus, perhaps until September, and give myself some space not to worry about not coming up with more content. But I should remind myself — even if I feel anxious when I haven’t written, or recorded, I always feel better having done so. And so I think it is best to continue, in the hopes that something useful will come out of all this angst.

There’s more I should say. We’ve been watching the tenth series of Doctor Who. I have thoughts. But they will have to wait. Until next time!

Ypsilanti, Michigan
June 6th and 7th, 2017