As you might be aware, the West Coast of the United States has been on fire for the past few weeks. It was getting to be fire season anyway (how the hell is that a season now???), and then some ridiculously strong, dry winds swept in and really caused some escalation – estimates were up to 5 million acres burned as of a few days ago. Multiple towns and residential areas are just ashes.
When the wind finally died down, it came as a mixed blessing: while it slowed the growth of the fires, the still air and inversion that came with it meant that all the smoke just sat and collected, leading to some of the worst air quality measurements ever recorded, and put Portland at the top of the rankings for having the worst air quality in the world, for several days.
We’re due to get rain tonight. This should help cut the smoke a lot and reduce the fires. Of course, it’s also expected to cause flash floods and landslides throughout the burned areas, since there’s no longer vegetation to help hold things together.
This year, man. It’s a mess. The world’s on fire, figuratively and literally. I’m not going to iterate through all of the things that are seriously fucked up right now – I don’t think it would help, and frankly you probably are already aware. On a macro level, it feels like we’re teetering on a knife’s edge in so many different spheres, whether it’s political, economic, social, environmental, or other areas. Depending on your point of view, in some spaces, it even feels like the edge has already slipped. On a personal level, though, I’ve been relatively lucky. It’s 2020 and I’m at Squam, so let’s take stock.
When I last wrote (back in February 😅), who’d have thought we’d be on the precipice of a global pandemic? Obviously, my rambling about upcoming travel is now irrelevant (work summit til maybe this Fall? Or later? And the wedding until next spring). The rest of the post still holds pretty true, though.
Everything happening right now is a lot for a lot of people, and that’s pretty understandable. There’s the pandemic itself, of course, where even if you’re not too worried about yourself, you’re probably still worried about friends or family who are at a higher risk. And then the knock-on effects this has on society as a whole – millions unemployed, unexpected and ill-prepared-for financial challenges, impacts on infrastructure, and so on – is a whole source of stress on its own.
For me, it’s not been too terrible. As I’ve noted before, I’m on anti-depressants, which also reduce anxiety, and that certainly helps. Also, my day-to-day isn’t all that different from before. I’m a bit of a recluse and an introvert by nature, so while it would certainly be nice to see my friends, it doesn’t weigh on me as much as I know it does for others. I still go walk Cecil, so I still get at least an at-a-distance view of the world, and I have roommates, so I even still see some people face to face. I still have my job, working from home. I’m still worried about friends and family who are or may be impacted by all this, obviously, but the ones I’ve checked in with are taking reasonable precautions, which means there’s not much that extra fretting will do.
There’s definitely some generalized anxiety and stress that exists in the background, but for me, more than anything it just feels surreal. It’s like the photo of a man mowing his lawn while a tornado is in the background – you know there’s total pandemonium nearby, but your own life still marches on: bills have to be paid, work has to be done, lawns have to be mowed. It’s a ridiculously privileged position to have, but there it is.
It’s the topic of the moment, on everyone’s mind, seeping into every conversation, but I’m going to try and not dwell on it much past this post. That said, I’d love to hear from you (by whatever method you see fit). Are you doing okay?
I dropped off the face of the earth for a bit, there. Trust me, it’s me, not you. I was already distracted last summer and fall, and then for the winter I just straight up went dark. But it’s nearly spring, it’s 2020, the trees are budding and the early flowers are blooming, and it’s time to wake up and shake the dust off. So grab a hot chocolate, find a cozy sunbeam to curl up into, and let’s catch up.
I’ve recently done some backend maintenance and moved hosting services. I’m fairly certain everything is migrated properly, but please let me know if you notice anything behaving oddly.
One thing that did come up during the migration is that my Jetpack install started having issues, and in the process of troubleshooting that, my site stats and email subscriber list were wiped. I’ve raised a ticket with WordPress/Jetpack, but I suspect they’re just gone. If you were subscribed via email, I’d recommend resubscribing (you can do so from the sidebar).
I’m at Squam Lake this week, which means it’s time for another annualramblingsummation of what’s been happening in my world. I’ve always found it a nice time to reflect. If you’re not particularly interested, no offense taken if you decide to bounce to something else. Without further ado:
Back in May, I adopted a young puppy that I’ve named Cecil! He’s a sweetheart, though also still a puppy and getting up to puppy-ish mischief. I’ll write more later (I’ve got several drafts sitting waiting to be finished, but have been – perhaps understandably – a little distracted), but seeing as I’m at the IndieWeb Summit this weekend, it seemed like a good time to post something new on the site. 👋
It looks like I managed to completely miss February on here. The best laid plans, eh? Well, I’m still alive, for what it’s worth. Life has been low-key stressing me out for the past month+, but should be getting back to some semblance of normalcy soon. (The 30 second version: at the start of the month, we discovered a slow leak in the kitchen plumbing, which had started to warp the flooring. Various mitigation measures were brought in — drying mats and industrial dehumidifiers and the like — but ultimately they ended up needing to pull up the flooring. And the counters. Neither of which they could match, so now they’re replacing the entire floor downstairs and getting new counters. Hurrah for home insurance!)
Not much else to report. I’ll be sure to get back to posting random links and writing the occasional screed soon. Thanks for sticking around.
I’m not sure the hows or whys that discussion about the literary theory of the “death of the author” cropped up recently, but it did. Lindsay Ellis has an excellent video essay about it (and really, go watch the rest of her stuff while you’re at it). It covers a lot of ground, and also some of the impact that our current culture’s shift towards personal brand (and subsequent association of any work done with that brand) has on how we think about creators and their creations. Go watch:
This prompted a follow-up response by John Scalzi, which I think is also worth reading. In process of discussing how the author is not the book and the book is not the author, he noted:
One side effect of this is that you should expect that at one point or another the authors whose work you admire will disappoint you, across a spectrum of behaviors or opinions. Because they’re human, you see. Think of all the humans you know, who have never disappointed you in one way or another. Having difficulty coming up with very many? Funny, that.
(Don’t worry, you’ve disappointed a whole bunch of people, too.)
I think that’s a pretty salient point to remember these days. That’s not to excuse people who do terrible things, nor to say there isn’t merit in boycotting the work of someone who did terrible things. But if you treat every gaff or slight as unconscionable, you’re setting yourself to be constantly outraged and constantly disappointed. Everyone’s line is going to be different, though, and it’s your call on whether any particular occasion crosses that line. Relatedly:
A shitty human can write great books (or make lovely paintings, or fantastic food, or amazing music, etc), and absolutely lovely humans can be aggressively mediocre to bad artists. There is very little correlation between decency and artistic talent. You don’t need to be a good human in order to understand human behavior well enough to write movingly about it; remember that con men are very good judges of character.
With that said, if you discover that the writer of one of your favorite novels (or whatever) doesn’t live up to your moral or ethical standards, you’re not obliged to give them any more of your time or attention, because life is too short to financially or intellectually support people you think are scumbags. Likewise, you and you alone get to decide where that line is, and how you apply it. Apply one standard for one author, and a different one for another? Okay! I’m sure you have your reasons, and your reasons can just be “because I feel like it.” Just like in real life, you might put up with more bullshit from one person than another, for reasons that are personal to you.
Just more things to chew on.
Addendum: Neil Gaiman also touched on some of this topic (more specifically, the commingling of author and work, and people making assumptions about the author based on characters in their book), and makes a point I wanted to note:
Well, unless you are going to only write stories in which nice things happen to nice people, you are going to write stories in which people who do not believe what you believe show up, just like they do in the world. And in which bad things happen, just as they do in the world. And that’s hard.
And if you are going to write awful people, you are going to have to put yourself into their shoes and into their head, just as you do when you write the ones who believe what you believe. Which is also hard.
My last post was discussing the state of social media (and frankly, the internet), and a possible future. I feel like I can say relatively objectively that things are pretty broken as they currently stand, in an actively harming society sort of way. But when you’re entrenched, it can be incredibly difficult to see a way out, even if you know you need to. I wanted to take a minute to talk about some of the hurdles to moving on from this mess. (Fair warning, this is a little long.)