Hi! Thanks for dropping by.
Watching the Rose Parade this morning with my son, I was struck by a buttefly-themed float that it would be great if Nabokov had designd it? Then I started wondering, what if the entire parade was made up of writer's floats? Thanks to Tiff Fehr for playing along.
Won't you now join us in the early morning of New Year's Day, in Pasadena, for the annual Rosy Writer's Parade, which is already in progress:
"Here's Nabokov's float. He's gone with a lepidopterist theme. It's made of 200,000 hand-glued monarch wings. Amazing! Véra looks beautiful"— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Beckett's float was supposed to be next, but I don't see it. Guess we'll have to take a break while we wait."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Sorry for the pixilation on your screen but we're not allowed to broadcast Palahniuk's float. Nobody should see that. I'm going to be sick"— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"A Pride and Prejudice theme on Austin's float. She created a dance floor from layering over 900 whale-bone corsets. So much fainting!"— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Ayn Rand's float celebrates American exceptionalism by adding her face to Mount Rushmore, and making all parade viewers hike to it."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"The Dorothy Parker marching band is always a treat. I've never understood how they can smoke while playing brass instruments."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Here's the Hunter S. Thompson flag team. The less we talk about their appearance last year the better. In fact, let's not encourage them."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Now Dame Agatha Christie's float. What a treat! Her theme this year: Orient Expressly yours, until death."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Franzen's float is made of printed tweets from his detractors, which he's never read, formed into a giant middle finger."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"We think this is Pynchon's float, but of course, nobody has ever seen it, so we can't be too sure."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"And once again, Harper Lee enters the same float as the years before. You'd think she'd try a little harder."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"J.K. Rowling has entered an adult mystery themed float. Teenagers along the route in wizarding cosplay are weeping."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"It turns out that Borges' float was actually the parade itself, made up of other floats in infinite combination on infinite parade routes."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"We expected Melville to do a whale-themed float, but he's created thousands of hand-whittled people with their backs turned to his words."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Gertrude Stein's float 'The Float The Float The Float Float, Float?' is easier to read thanks to Alice handing out brownies earlier."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"William Gibson's float is apparently hovering over the ground, but we're not sure if it's real or a futuristic pun on the word float."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"I'm having trouble understanding David Foster Wallace's float, but I totally finished it. Just, you know, thinking about it."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Some viewers are complaining about the ending of Neal Stephenson's float, but it made perfect sense to us."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
Calvino’s float is a set of mirrors reflecting the crowd. When it’s paused on the route, they flip inward, revealing still modernist scenes.— Tiff Fehr (@tiffehr) January 1, 2015
"Joan Didion's float seemed so delicate at first."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Gillian Flynn's float keeps reversing and you don't know which way it will go next."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
China Mieville’s fan dance troupe this year features elaborate cosplay—each dancer from a different era—yet riffing on the previous dancer.— Tiff Fehr (@tiffehr) January 1, 2015
"And finally, Cory Doctorow's float, made up of 300,000 open-source creative-commoned freely-downloadable no-drm'd steampunk rose petals."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
"Thanks for joining us for the 2015 Rosy Writer's parade here in Pasadena. We'll see you next year."— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) January 1, 2015
I'm attempting a Kickstarter in March of next year. To that end, I've been focusing on the periperal work of putting it together. How will I promote it? What will the video be? What will the text on the page be? Part of this is writing a series of articles for Medium that I can release during the Kickstarter to help, hopefully, promote it.
The problem is that I am terrible at writing non-fiction on a deadline. I find non-fiction — serious non-fiction, not blog posts like this where I'm not so worried about looking smart or actually grappling with deeper issues other people may have more artfully handled before me — very hard to write. I write first what I'm thinking I'm writing about, and then when I think to myself "Yes, but really? Is that really what it's about?" Then I start a series of diversions. I start questioning the premise and those diversions. It grows into a frustraing mind game of guessing each clause and honing its message.
I hope that in the end this makes the work easy to read and inciteful, but goddamn if it doesn't make the writing a slog through deep mud. It's the old philsophical problem that when you start questioning, you start questioning the act of questioning itself, and everything loses its meaning.
When I'm done with essays like these, I walk away from them feeling raw and beat-up. I go to the corner, waving the damn thing off. I'm done with it. Then, hopefully, in a few weeks or a month I'll read it again and be surprised by some of the things I've found. Hopefully not embarrased. Hopefully not finding cliches.
This is my process in writing essays. I hate it, but I think the pain is worth it in the end. It's the only way I can suss out what I'm really thinking about things.
I'm reading Pynchon, Inherent Vice, in advance of the movie being released, and there is this great moment where a bunch of currency is discovered, but it all has Nixon's face on it. Doc's lawyer Sauncho explains:
"the law says that before you can get your picture on U.S. currency, you have to be dead. So in any universe where this stuff is legal tender, Nixon would have to be dead, right? So what I think it is, is it's sympathetic magic by somebody who wants to see Nixon among the deaparted."
I think we forget the creative all-encompasing animosity in the counter-culture (which was the prevailing popular culture) in the early 70s towards Richard Nixon. A friend's father told me a story, once.
He'd been a volunteeer wildlife researcher on the Farallon islands off of San Francisco. They would go out in a boat, and take surveys of the migrant cormorant populations, as well as other sea birds. Part of this meant putting gloves on, capturing adults to tag, holding them aside and looking in the nests to count chicks. The adult birds, to put it mildly, had big issues with this.
It turns out that birds have a great memory for faces. Apparently, there had been cases of some researcher walking down the street in Berkeley and suddenly getting dive bombed by large birds who had spotted them and decided that the time was nigh to express their outrage in being so harassed on their rocky isolated home.
The researchers decided they needed to disguise themselves. They did so by buying a volume of rubber Nixon masks, and wearing them whenever they went to do their surveys. This accomplished two goals: first, and foremost, it masked the true identity of the researcher, so the bird would have no revenge targets to seek in the city.
It also trained these migrating sea birds to hate the face of Richard Nixon. It was the hope of the researchers — without a doubt unrealized — that as the birds moved their way south, they would happen on Nixon's Santa Barbara estate, where he might be sitting on the patio taking in the view of the ocean, or walking his property. A bird would never forget that face. A bird might make sure this human thought twice before coming to mess with them again. A bird might want to teach the jerk a lesson.
I challenge every man I know to make a list of 20 novels they love with TWO token women writers!— Tyler Coates (@tylercoates) November 5, 2014
I don't know Tyler, and his joke is pointed and well taken, but I thought I would take him literally instead and list twenty books by women that I love (who are not Flannery O'Connor or Joan Didion). These are not listed in order of preference. Many of these were cribbed form my recent Goodreads list. Let this not be an all-times best list, just a fast-as-I-could list of books I genuinely loved. I left out books I moderately liked, or books I had irreconcilable differences with:
As a guy who wears hats, I find that people are confused about hat etiquette. Especially gentlemen. I make no qualms about ladies' rules, they are ultimately more complex than men's rules, and have shades of nuance that I care not to delve.
But the rules of when to wear and remove hats are easy to remember for men. You may summon these in your day-to-day, or on the occasion that you wear a hat if you are not used to wearing one.
If you ask me, these rules should apply to all hats, including baseball caps. But, I can see some wiggle room with caps. If you are at a friends BBQ, wear your hat when you go inside to get the buns, but I would consider doffing it when they answer the door on first arrival.
If you are a gentleman who uses hats to cover up baldness, then you need to set your own rules based on your personal comfort. However, like many other ways to cover up baldness, you may end up calling more attention to the issue.
The main issue with any etiquette is about putting the other person at ease by showing them respect, so use your own judgement when you are unsure. But, like clothing where I like to err on the side of being overdressed, my personal recommendation is to err on the side of being too respectful. That particular tendancy has never pointed me in the wrong direction.
At work, I think it is a ludicrous thought to wear your hat at your desk (if you work at a desk), but I think wearing a ball cap is perfectly acceptable (just take it off in restaurants, please).
I had seen him around school, the first kid out of the truck. There were about six of them in the bed, another three in the cab. They had lost their game, that night, these football players. It was a school that usually won, and they lost, and they were really unhappy about it. Like: they'd been slamming drinks. That level of unhappy.
I was downtown with a couple of buddies. What were we? New Wavers, the football players would have called us. Punks, I would have said. But, whatever. In our school it was the wrestlers who caused us grief, along the John Hughes Movie Cliche Axis (he got his ideas from somewhere, that's for sure). In our school the football players were mostly friendly, but the wrestlers were the entitled jerks. The wrestling team attracted the worst of the worst, when you think of the jock stereotype. I didn't know then what I know now: that sports nerdery is just another form of nerdery, not so distant from my nerdery of music and alt-culture at the time. But, regardless of all that: this truck that pulled up by us was full of drunk football players.
We were hanging out doing nothing. I think we were at a phone booth calling someone, if I remember correctly. John and Dave, my friends, might remember. It was night, and Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham was nearly deserted. Only the record store, Cellophane Square, was open, the light from the window displays casting out into the dark street.
So, that first guy hopped out of the truck. I don't think I had any classes with him, and I don't think he was anybody I ever talked to, but I'd seen him around. He was black. Or, brown, really. I mention this only to make an observation: I wonder what kind of pressure he felt to fit in. I wonder how much hanging out with all those white guys made him want to prove his bonefides. Maybe it did, maybe he was just a small-minded teenage dick, like a lot of them were (like I was, albeit with a much different expression).
He hopped out and came up to me. I think I was wearing this oversized paisley shirt I liked to wear. My leather jeans. Boots. Hair down past my shoulders. He came right up to me and shoved me in the shoulder. "Why do you dress like a fag?" he says, spitting the words at me. "Why do you dress like a girl?"
Behind him, the other boys are rising like steam from the truck. Behind him, the doors of the cab open and those players are stepping out, too. The engine was still on. The truck probably put into park, the brake on. This wouldn't take very long.
Was this real? It seemed so laughable to me, so cliched. Was this dude really looking to kick the shit out of me because he lost a football game and he didn't understand my fashion? There is this interesting self-implicating logic he expressed well that evening: the most homophobic are the most concerned about how other boys are dressing, but the straight boys I knew sure as hell didn't care about what other guys wore. Or, they shouldn't have, anyway. I don't think this guy was closeted, and I know he was just enforcing the norms of his peer group, but even then the situation was so ironic that I could barely take it seriously.
I looked this raging jerk in the eye and evaluated my position. He was that serious. He was going to fight me. Given my skill with that hobby (zilch), he was going to win. He was going to hurt me. I looked at my situation, and I did the most sensible thing: I ran.
I was a tall kid, which kept most people from messing with me. That also meant I ran fast because of my long legs. I made a beeline for Cellphane Square, certain that the lights and people (probably three or four college students) would keep the jocks away.
This next part I won't be oblique about: I didn't think about my friends at all. Partly, because my flight response kicked in so automatically. Partly because the guy was targetting me, so I figured they were not in the biggest trouble.
I ran into the record store, gasping from the run. "Bunch of drunk jocks making trouble," I said to Eric, who was working that night ("Hey, you like New Order? You'd really like Hunters & Collectors. You like The Replacements? Have you heard The Soft Boys? Look, there's this new single from a Vancouver band called Slow you should really check out"). He looked at me a little confused. Was he to call the cops?
Then, right behind me, my buddy Dave runs in. He told me later he saw me run and thought "Oh yeah, that's a really good idea."
A minute later, the first dude off the truck burst through the doors. He held them open, like they were saloon doors and he was that cowboy just rolling into town.
"Anybody want to fight?" he yelled into the store. "I'll fuck you up." The college students, Eric, Dave, myself, we all just looked at him. He stood there for a moment, scowled, and walked out, the doors closing behind him.
"What the fuck was that?" Eric said. Dave and I just looked at each other and let out a sigh. And then, at once, our eyes got big, and we said in unison: "John!"
Here is where maybe we were a little brave. We went outside. The jocks were driving off. John was walking down the sidewalk, hands in his trenchcoat. We ran up to him, but he was casual as could be. Turns out a childhood friend of his, Brian, was on the team. He literally held another guy back, like in a full nelson, while he was trying to get at John.
"Oh hi Brian," John said.
"Yeah, John, maybe you should clear the fuck out of here. Like, right now," Brian said, struggling to hold the angry teenage boy who wanted to do violence to somebody that night. Who went out with his buddies looking for trouble. Who saw nothing wrong with the odds of this fight, so long as he could express his rage.
What happened next? I have no idea. We probably went to Denny's, where Dave bought me coffee (like he always did). We probably laughed about it, grateful we didn't get our asses kicked. It was that night that was almost a big thing, but looking back instead, it was the night we avoided the big thing. Just another near miss.
This was inspired by the amazing conspiracy theories spawned by #gamergate:
A High School course that spends a semester on Occam's Razor would be a really good idea.— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) October 26, 2014
What would a high school class on Occam's Razor look like? I think it would need a fundemental subtext of teaching students how fragile human systems are. How difficult it is to get something done, and how in progress, you don't make the perfect thing you were hoping to. But more than that, it illustrates so well the human tendancy to design overly complex explanations when we strive to undestand phenomena.
Conspiracy theories assume people have perfect knowledge, and can execute incredibly complex problems with tremendous success. So many of the grand theories rest on the idea of foreknowledge, intricate planning, and timing worthy of Hollywood blockbusters. In fact, I think that the Hollywood Hero narrative gets conflated in some minds with functional possibility.
In a classroom setting, you could teach it half by historical example (even taught in a brusk fashion — not intellecutal deep-dives, but simple examples through history where the prevailing wisdom was untrue, and how the actual system was simpler), and half by excercises, along the lines of a model UN, mixed with a board game designed to throw wrenches in the gear.
A student should be able to walk away from the class with a basic tool to evalute and compare theories, and find a decent footing into why one is such utter contrived bullshit.
It's the thing we always say after yet another school shooting: "I'm going to go home and hug my kids." It's a good sentiment. It means "there but for the grace of god go I. Let me be thankful. Let us think of those that lost." I want to do more. I want to turn my gratitude into action in the only way I can, and that is to teach my son right.
A teenage boy, barely through puberty, shot himself and five others, killing himself and one other, just north of Seattle today. We can name the patterns, one of them being the articles people will write with futile resolve on how we're witnessing the same patterns (the television talking heads, the kids marching out of the school with their hands up, etc). We are ten meta levels deep into processing school shootings in America. Anything so long as we don't have to actually deal with school shootings in America.
Here's what I did when I got home: I was nice to my kid. I didn't buy him presents, or give him whatever he wanted — lack of boundaries doesn't seem smart to me — but I spent time with him, focused on him. I did things he wanted to do. I held his hand. I got down on his level. I tried to not get irritated with him when he was pushing my buttons. I sat next to his bed and stroked his back when he was having trouble going asleep. That kid is never gonna doubt that his parents love him. Not on my watch. I could die tomorrow, but that kid will never doubt that.
The other part is about me. I am shaving away at the most egregious of my imperfections. Especially when it comes to treating situations with anger. I'm done with anger in my life. At what? A driver who is moving slower than me? A computer that is not acting properly? Myself, when I fail to live up to my (very possibly unrealistic) expectations?
He will have enough anger in the world. By kids around him, from the movie culture we inhabit. Let it be at home that things are mellower, and we deal in different ways. I'm so fucking sick of anger.
Today, at work, watching the news unfold, all I could think about was this: somewhere in America, maybe many times a day, there is a boy planning to express himself with firearms. To kill to get attention (this is all about attention, make no mistake about that). But with this boy I'm thinking of, someone was nice to him. A friend listened to a complaint he had before it ballooned. Someone was generous with him, and that one thing made him doubt his resolve. A school counseler talked to him and got him some help at home. Somebody gave him a sandwich in the cafeteria. He finds himself thinking that maybe it isn't all that bad. Maybe he shouldn't do that drastic thing. Not yet, anyway. And maybe, if enough people treat him like a human — and he finds a healthier outlet for his frustrations ‐ he never will.
We all try to stand a bit apart from each other. An arm's length, say. Like on the playground when the teachers line us up, and we all held our arms to our sides, then turned to space us from the people behind and in front, and there we were with a grid. That's what we're trying to do, but in between us is the sense that the space between us is respect for the other person. I got mine, and you got yours.
Then someone steps in between you and your neighbor.
"Hi," you say, confused.
"Oh hi. Nobody was here," they say.
"Yeah, we were leaving that space."
"It's not your space. You can't just claim it. I have a right to be here. You can't tell me not to."
"I never said that..."
"Actually, can you move over a bit? I need more room."
There are people who will fill every space they find. Sometimes they are just jerks. Sometimes they are capitalists ("we're leaving money on the table!"), sometimes they're communists ("This space belongs to all us, man"), sometimes they're just people who want to walk up and poke you to prove something about themselves. They're space grabbers. They're advantage pushers. They're the aggressive who know how to work a social and economic system to their advantage, and then turn that advantage into more advantage, always for themselves. But maybe, once they legislate the boundaries on their land, they'll let you stand on it. For a price (financial or emotional), just so long as they control it.
But whatever their motivation or method, they stop the flow. Those that gain every advantage they can without considering other people, just because they can.
It's not illegal. It's not immoral. It's just being an asshole. On the playground, those kids either get into a fight with someone who gets fed up with their shit, or they find that everybody else has walked away from them and sudenly they're alone and the ground they're on means nothing. You're over there setting up a new grid. It works for a while, and then you see them coming over to you.
"Maybe it will be different this time," you think. They come over, look at the empty space next to you where nobody is, then go and stand between you and your neighbor.
I worry about appropriation, because I write about what Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward call "The Other". My first novel (unpublished, so far) has a lesbian for a protagonist. The work I'm focusing on now is about a mixed-race family.
I don't claim a conservative-ish "it's my right to write about anything" defense, even though I feel the tang of its pull. It's hackneyed, though, that thought. It's toddlerish. It's a privilidged demand that I, the unmarked white cis-gendered male-identitied straight man, can do anything I want. And, for the most part, I can. Pulling out that "because I want to" defense here feels thin and whiny, then. It doesn't describe the whole of it.
A step deeper is the feel that I'm tired of the stories of all of those middle-aged white men, and the young white men. Some are transcendent and well written. Some are thinly-veiled sexual carvival rides. But whatever they are, the Rabbits and the salarymen and the psychos and the Caulfields and the Roth boners, they are of a century past. It's not that I didn't love reading them, but I want to read something under the ground that they were written on. I want to read the assumptions their books floated on. I want to read the other.
That doesn't mean I want to read only non-male, non-white voices. Tell me that Borges didn't write the other. Tell me that Stephen King, that populist captain of that publishing industry, doesn't write the other. The other is scratching at the door, always. It's in our air, under our feet, and next to us at the bus stop. Sometimes it looks like us and therefore is silent to us. Sometimes it's difference is quite pronounced, and we can't help but note it.
So I write to understand. I write, I hope, with an ear towards writing interesting characters that seem real without seeming like stereotypes. If I fail, I will be accused (and perhaps rightly so) of appropriation. Quite possibly, if I succeed, I'll be accused of it. But my biggest skill in this regard is a magic I've been trying to summon: empathy.
To that end, I follow people not like me on Twitter, and read them when I can. This year I'm reading only novels by women. I follow a number of black men and women. I follow a number of women. Then, I do this weird thing: I listen. If I disagree with them, I listen. If I have an urge to hit reply, I shut up and listen. If I want to josh with them and make jokes that float on some cultural bridge we share, I listen. I will interact in uniflected, factual ways where possible, but mostly, I listen.
Because, what my desire, as a liberal progressive man, is to make sure that the person who is marked as other from me knows that I get it. That I'm not like the other ones, that I'm special, and on the inside, and I should be considered apart from the massive group I swim with by default. But that, as anybody who read #notallmen gets, is not a smart reaction. The problem is: that's not empathy. That's about me showing somebody else something about me. That's makes it about me — it makes that other persons identity about me, and that party they're having is not mine to crash. They're awfully nice to let me hang about outside and see what I can learn.
And listening, without replying to everything you feel you need to reply to, changes you. It gives you empathy and better understanding of what other people's struggles are. It's like that John Prine song:
Say You drive a Chevy
Say you drive a Ford
Say you drive around this town 'til you just get bored
Then you change your mind
For something else to do
And your heart gets tired of your mind and it changes you
We had a 1969 Microbus when I was a kid. My parents bought it right about the time I was due. By the time I was old enough to crawl over the bus, my place was on the felt carpet over the engine, in the back. I'd get set up with some toys back there, each of my sisters would grab a seat, and I had my own private playground.
One day, driving to Carlsbad down by San Diego to visit family, the hatch came open. Since we were travelling, the back was full of luggage, so I was in a seat when it happened. My dad pulled over as soon as he could, but at freeway speed two suitcases full of my sisters stuff went missing, strewn across the lanes.
This was rather traumatic for my sisters, who lost some beloved kit. My memory is my sisters reaction to the event, not the event itself.
My parents were a bit more shaken, I think. "What if Martin had been back there?" they asked each other. A semi-sad annoyance could have been tragic.
After that day they instituted a foolproof safety regimen. Whenever I climbed in the back over the engine, before driving away, my dad would say "Check the back door, Martin." I would kick it with my legs. "It's closed!" I'd yell. He'd pull out into traffic, secure in the knoweledge that his family was safe.
January 28, 1986 was the day I started disliking television news. Space Shuttle Challenger had broken up on launch. I remember watching it live — is this true? I was at my friend Joan's house. Maybe she was giving me a ride to school and it was morning (it would have been 8:38 PST when it broke up).
Or maybe we were watching it on repeat later, but that doesn't seem right to me. I remember watching it live. I remember feeling the visceral terror of the moment.
But maybe it was on playback, because what they showed was edited. The camera tight on Christa McAuliffe's parents, the newsman narrating "Here you watch her parents, heartbroken, as they realize they've just lost their daughter."
They showed the parents watching in horror, their faces flickering from wonder, to surprise, to fear, to certainty of this devestating moment. We watched, on them the whole time, the camera never cutting away. The camera operator being told by the producer "Stay on them", no doubt. We never gave them a moment, that moment all parents should be entitled to, if they lose a child. How crass, I thought. How senseless. How disrespectful.
That was my awakening, when I saw that the news treated people not like people, but commodities for exploitation. Much television news is still like that. Not all, thank goodness, but a lot of it.
I work in online news. If there's one reason I believe in what we do, you can trace my awareness of it to that moment in 1986 when an angry cynic who wanted us to do so much better, was awakened.
Seattle was all set to burst when the recession hit. A number of large construction projects were put on hold. Some of them were paved over so the land could pull money as parking lots.
Like most city dwellers, I have a small range of the city I see any given day. I go between my home on Lower Queen Anne, to my studio in the Vain building on 1st & Virginia, and to my work at 5th & Columbia. The following are the construction projects started, or about to start, in the last few weeks in those immediate vicinities. This doens't cover South Lake Union construction, or Capitol Hill construction, or other construction. These are the projects I see nearly every day.
Am I against them? No. Cities change, and always will. They will ebb and flow, burst and recess. My only editorializing will be to say that the number of buildings is surprising.
We got stopped at the tracks for about ten minutes. We were right by the SAM Sculpture Park. We could see the back of Echo, and the bike commuters crossing traffic to get on the Myrtle-Edwards cycle track.
At the light, an unmistakeable sign lit up, with a right turn arrow and a red cross through it. TRAIN, it says, probably hoping to avoid echoes of previous accidents. The gates were down. The bells were ringing. We all expected the train to come zipping through any minute.
Then it came, the Northbound Sounder commuter train, but it was going slow. Most trains do a good clip through the crossings, but we watched as the Sounder eased itself to a stop before the intersection. But why? This was curious behaivor.
There it stood, next to the Old Spaghetti Factory, not moving at all. Then, more surprisingly, the door slide open. Were they letting people off? Was there a medical emergency?
But no, it was just a rail worker with an orange vest. A conductor. He walked across the intersection North. Was he activating a switch (aren't the switches are remotely controlled, anyway?). We couldn't see what he was doing.
A moment later, the train started, crossing the intersection slowly before stopping so the conductor could hop back on. Then, the engine whined and pushed, and the train chugged and gained speed and pulled away from the intersection.
The bells stopped ringing. The gates lifted. The red lights went dark again. We drove across the tracks, and then my son shouted out "Look! The gate is broken!"
Imagine one of those long wooden gates with the red stripes was a toothpick broken in two. Looked like somebody had clocked it good. Now every train that passed had to have someone come and hold the limp end up, or at least make sure no cars were going to cross, seeing an advantage where a gate wouldn't stop them.
Knowing train companies, I'll bet that piece of gear is swapped out before the morning comes. The is freight to move through Seattle — planes, oil, people — and that slab of wood will cost its own repair out in less than an hour, I'd guess. Possibly, even, just in that one train crossing we stopped and watched. The Sounder, now delayed by the ten minutes or so it takes to do this small ritual, and every train that has to wait in the sideyards for this late commuter to go by before they can open the throttle and chug away towards their destination.
Time idle on the tracks. Money burnt waiting for delivery. Money because some idiot hit the gate. One person and the damage they can, and probably never know. Kind of amazing.
I've been thinking a lot about dance since my fun time in New York the other day. Certainly there was a time in my life where I was an enthusiastic dancer. As a kid, of course, but also as a teenager. I used to love going to school dances, where I not only partook in the classic 80s dance move, but used to stay on the peripheral of the crowd and use the expanse of the gym as my canvas. I did this willingly without drinking.
When did that end? Soemtime in my twenties. Maybe part of it was the rules for Northwest alt-culture music fan in that day, which dictated you had to stand and thoughtfully nod at the band on stage, never moving a muscle, never smiling. Seattle crowds were notoriously hard to win over. If you did it, though, and broke through, you had a devotional cult ready for programming (and occasional rioting). According to legend, a show with a terrible crowd at the Paramount theater led John Lydon to write the PIL song Seattle.
But I think more than that, I grew self-aware, or at least self-conscious. I knew the boundaries of my body, and realized that thing I saw some other dancer doing that looked cool looked decidedly less cool when I did it myself. Attach that to a general sense that to emote is to be lame — like, the ideal state for humanity is knowing stoicicm, and that facade would impart the wisdom of my inner self to the world.
In other words, I was a self-knowing asshole. My only saving grace is that I didn't talk about these things, I just felt them. Very deeply. You know, more than normal people.
So I'm getting over myself as I get older. You have to, because trying to be cool when you're middle aged is really laughable. We all know that guy, and that's not the guy I want to be. Also, I just care less. I realize that being paralyzed by fear that people weren't going to like me makes it more likely that people won't like me. Not caring? Turns out people actually like you more. Weird.
And I had a kid, and I want that kid to dance. He loves dancing. I never want him to look at me and think that since I don't want to dance, he shouldn't. He'll have his own battles to fight on this front, depending on what cultural programming is like when he's a teenager in ten years or so. But until then, we put on music at home, and yell out "FAMILY DANCE PARTY!" and we all go crazy. I try out new moves. I avoid the mirrors. It's really embarrasing, to be honest, but it's also freeing. And when you do pull off a move you've been attempting to perfect? Sublime.
It's been fun watching John August's career. I first noticed him when he was blogging advice to screenwriters way back in the day — must have been around the time Go came out. I was working on screenplays then, too, with my writing partner Kent (we even broke the top 100 in a Project Greenlight competition), and we read his blog regularly. His attitude was always entrepreneureal, and super-nerdy in that he was curious about the ways of the world, and shared his discoveries.
Screenplay writing, he treated like a craft to be mastered (by which, I think, the mastery is climbing to a vista where you realize you weren't climbing a mountain, but a mountain range, and each peak leads to another, higher, more arduous climb. The good writers keep moving forward up and up and up), and then passed his knoweledge along to other people struggling with the lessons he learned. When writing software for the screenplay industry stagnated, he developed an open standard based on Markdown (something I had played with a bit, but never progressed on). Then, he created a number of tools for screenplay writers, like a developer would hack on making writing code easier and more user-friendly. He even, bless his heart, made a better version of Courier, for free.
August was always one of "Oh, he's one of us in another industry" kind of people. He's the kind of fellow you'd find heading up a smart startup (you know, like he actually does) — it just turns out he's also a successful player in Hollywood. Maybe that's what makes him so approachable.
So now he has a new thing, and I'm curious about it. It's called Writer's Emergency. You can ping them (him?) for advice on Twitter. It appears to be a card-based problem solving system. In fact, if you signup using that link (this one), then I get features unlocked, like cards and a video. But don't sign up for me — I'm patient enough to wait for the real thing — but if you're interested, it seems like a fun project (gamification of the signup aside, but we all need a little publicity sometimes, don't we?).
I really like having no idea if anybody is reading this. I post these without analytics, without tracking visitors in anyway — not even a surely approved tilde.club web counter.
But occasionally I'll get a tweet referencing something I wrote. I suspect people find this page through the recently updated stuff, and if they care enough to engage me in some way, that's kind of a neat bonus that any number tick on an analytics suite can't compete with.
Last night, out with some friends, someone I work with mentioned that I had obsessively (a fair assessment) documented my food intake in New York. I was kind of surprised, like Sally Field getting her Oscar, but then I was impressed that this thing that ~ford started up has hit a vibrant, raw nerve.
Newsvine had a problem a few years back where all of their many commenters were in one bucket. Since they were handling comments from NBCNews.com and MSNBC.com, a huge flood of commenters were coming into the system and not adding any particular value. They were channel flooding, leaving horrible comments, and generally turning the threads into the kind of thing you'd see on a newspaper's comment's section.
So Newsvine came up with this idea of Nations. Anybody could start a nation, and some nations were open, but all nations had a cap on the amount of members. It kept offenses isolated, and put the leaders of the nation in charge of policing themselves.
With Twitter turning into an unmanageable cesspool for certain users, it seems like small communities that are self-regulating due to interest in a tilde UNIX account, will naturally keep away some of the more horrible trolls. At least, until it doesn't, and then maybe we'll need something new.
But doesn't this feel like a little flowering weed popping up in between some toxic sludgy sidewalk? It does to me. And I have no idea if three or three-hundred people are reading this, and that feels kind of right.
Wherein the recent traveller recounts the highlight meals in the biggest American City.
I had to wonder: is this where they filmed that scene from Treme? Sat at the counter next to a dude like me, who didn't want to talk to anybody. I was actually worn down from the flight, getting up early, and not eating enough on the trip. Then, I took the subway one stop the wrong way, so ended up with a thirty minute hike to my hotel. But I refused to be that guy who gets room service in one of the greatest food cities in the world. I dropped my bags and set out. Two more transfers, and there I was.
Man, this was delicious. I had the pork buns and the Momofuku Ramen, which was rich and hearty. As I took the food into my body, I felt my soul warm and transform, erasing the worries of travel and navigating a new city. It replaced my hovering fear (my only true fear: not knowing what I'm doing, and other people knowing that I don't know what I'm doing. Ironic, given that I'm blogging here) with a sleepy contentment. I have no regrets. I slept twelve hours in the hotel afterward.
Lunch with the delightful, and impressive, Michael Donohoe, who also gave me a tour of the New Yorker. My parents were lifetime subscribers, so this was not only a treat, it was a ecstacic moment of sorts. I even saw ~dphiffer's desk, although not ~dphiffer. But since I know him only from Tilde.club, that makes it a near first-hit of almost meeting someone because of this magic UNIX box.
Dinner with Tiff Fehr, after she gave me a tour of the New York Times newsroom (I know how to do New York, people). We rode the subway to give her pup Moulson a walk (and if he didn't remember me from Seattle, he certainly took to me quick, because he gave me a lean. I miss that dog). Good food, nice place, good company. We ate hot peppers, I had a burger, some greens that had the most anchovy tasting dressing on them, then we had doughnuts — one for there, one to go. Mine fell out of my pocket in the cab ride home, I'm sorry to report. It was in a ziplock. I hope some drunk found it.
Dinner with the Breaking News New York editors, with the exception of Aaron who had to sit the night out, sadly. What a meal! Delicious cocktails, delious food. Had the spicy fried chicken as a main — that is recommended. A nice night with neat folks, and when my phone buzzed with an alert from Breaking News, it turns out it was about the announcement of Vivian Schiller leaving Twitter, which gave us something interesting to talk about (we used to work for her).
Lunch with Nick Sherman, Allen Tan, and Mike Pick. We talked about typography (big surprise), type founderies, and the Nazi response to Black Letter (embracing, then banning it, on a letterhead printed in blackletter). Nick claims the pizza wasn't his favorite in the city, but I thought it was tasty, with a nice stiff cornbread crust.
Dinner with a friend who happened to be in town while I was there. She was working. Another friend goes way back with one of the owners, so I was eager to try it. Basque tapas. We had a special, a trout flayed open and served on the skin, with prosciutto atop the tender flesh. More peppers, and other treats. Ended with a chocolate flan that was more on the mousse side, but I wasn't complaining.
I was at Brooklyn Beta all day. Ate a good lunch there, a BBQ pork sandwich, among other things. Went out for drinks afterward with friends, and didn't eat until I grabbed a sandwhich from Pret a Manger, since they were open so late. I ate in my hotel room. It was not a terrible experience after socializing all day long
Look, this is nothing special, just a joint I popped into for breakfast that wasn't touristy. Grabbed an egg sandwich and sat upstairs next to a retail worker getting ready for her shift. Looked out the window at the rain and thought about the walk I was going to take up north to the Guggenheim. Then I left, walked fifteen blocks, and realized I forgot my bag. I went back, quick as a whistle, and there it was still the back of the chair where I left it. Who says New Yorkers aren't nice?
I made a bargain with myself that if the bag was still there I would buy my wife some fancy patterend cotton tights from the hosiery store next to the diner. But then I forgot in my ecstasy of being reunited with my man purse. This is unexeptable. When coming back downtown I detoured to stop in and remedied my oversite. Truth is, I wish I had brought empty suitcases and filled them with new clothing, but this was not the trip for that.
Super-chill lunch with Shezad. They do this avacado thing on bread where they mush it up, and lemon it, and put red pepper flakes on it. So good. We split some wine and then both got baked eggs in tomato sauce with some sausage on the side. After a coffee, we walked along the waterfront, and then did the whole High Line (we got a Mexican ice there, and sprinkled delicious pico / pepper salt on it).
Dinner with my friend from Thursday night. We just had wine and cheese and bread. Love the concept of a Harrod's food hall done American style, with Italian food. Man is that place big. Two different couples who ate next to us asked us if we wouldn't mind taking their pictures. My companion did one, I did the other. Afterward we went to the Ace Hotel and saw dance, which I've outlined below so won't go into again (except it was SO GOOD).
Just a quick bun and cold brew for breakfast (and a few treats to go), so that I could walk around MOMA with something in my belly. Had just arrived from the Top of the Rock, to take in the vista on such a magnificent morning.
I almost did a lot of other things, but man, a good burger is a good burger, and I was ready for one before my flight home. A bonus was to be able to see Grand Central, on my list of wanted-to-dos for sure, before had to head out for the airport, which I did after I was done there.
And so it comes time to fly home. I think I will do a systematic retelling of my journey into NY at some short time, but sitting in the JetBlue departure loungue listening to hipp-ish adult contemporary doesn't feel like the place it should be done.
I witnessed many things in my short week in the city, some of which are everyday items people see and stumble across, however surprising they were to me (such as the statue of Gertrude Stein in Bryant Park). I don't think I saw any celebrities, although walking down 5th Avenue up in the high retail district a dude walking towards me stopped, turned, and yelled past me to someone "Hey Mary! Hey Mary J. Blige!" so I may have been walking next to her.
Through coincidence, a friend was in the city at the same time, so we met up for dinner a few times. She had been working, and in the line of such was in a copy place doing some work. She met a young gent who was photocopying Monopoly money. He was a member or helper of a dance company called The Dance Cartel. During their performance, he explained, they were going to "make it rain," so he needed some money.
Not that I'm trying to dance about architeture here (I was going to write about dance or architecture, actually, but dance won out), but if you have even a fledgling interest in modern dance, and live in NY City, and can put up with loud music and sweaty bodies (or prefer loud music and sweaty bodies), I can't recommend the show ONTHEFLOOR enough. They're doing two more performances, Nov 8 and Dec 13. You will stand around in a circle and the dance happens in the middle. The dancers exit and enter stange through the people, everything shifts all the time. It's a show of intensely articulated cues, a rich playful language of movement, tight timing, irony, humor, some gender flipping, and a whole lot of flat-out exuberant dancing. They hold nothing back. It reminds me of the best of the avant and experimental dance I've seen in Seattle at On The Boards. It's the kind of dance that erases the 80% of dance I see that is lackluster or too serious for its own good (which makes me think I don't like dance until I see something like this).
Also, it devolves into a huge dance party. Look, tilde.club people, we are maybe not known for our dancing, and I probably would have stayed away if somebody had said that I might dance — but here's the thing. It's not mandatory (that might be a good time to grab a beer if you feel awkward) and I really WANTED to dance by the time it came around. I was unembarrased. More so, I was transformed (normally I would have been too self-conscious, so good job Dance Cartel who say that is one of their goals).
One standout of the 90-minute show was two songs by Zuzuka Poderosa, who owned her moments without constraint. The second song was about women ruling the world for a change, called PUSSY CONTROL. So, you know, you might have to be into that kind of thing to really get the most out of this performance. Everybody in the place was down. Then up, then down, then up, as the beat went on and the Poderosa strutted down the crowd like a runway throwing wicked rhymes.
In other words, I had fun with the Millenials and they are doing amazing things and made me dance and find the spirit of the world for an evening. If you're in NY, I'd really consider getting a few friends and going. $20! That's nothing!
Blogging as a tourist: not fertile. I'll only point out that I've been eating extremely well in New York, and will come back with some observations once I'm on the ground again. For now: off to Brooklyn Beta. How many tilde.club members will be in attendance?
One thing not available to servers in the 90s: updating your webpages on a ssh connection from your phone while flying over the United States. And it's even trivial, more-or-less. One might do it just because they can.
Tomorrow morning early I fly from Seattle to New York, for a week in the city. I'll be working from 30 Rock Tues-Thurs, and then going to Brooklyn Beta on Friday.
Here's my confession, that seems outrageous to me: I've never been to New York City. I've been to the East Coast. I've travelled from the northern islands of Maine to our nation's capitol and countless destinations more-or-less between those two, but I've never been to the city. I never had more than a few hours to do a possible visit, and it seemed a waste to take such little time there.
That feels so transgressive at my age. Like, I'm missing a gene or I've just told you my wife is my cousin, like I'm some country bumpkin. It implies that I am ignorant of New York, because in the popular narrative, there are those that know New York, and the rubes who don't.
But here's the weird thing: I've been to New York thousands of times, through the astral projection of television and movies. Through the literary projection of novels and histories. Through magazines, and then blogs. When it comes to New York history I'm not a native, but I'm certainly not ignorant. That knoweledge is no doubt incorrect in many ways. There are ways I'll be surprised how the city is differenent than I expect, and my knoweledge, once there, will be one of being on the ground and experiencing it. But this idea, that I don't know the city, feels very untrue to me. But, then, of course, it is true.
Maybe that's what makes my transgression feels so transgressive. I could have persued my career in the city, and been in fellowship with some of the best designers in the world. I could have taken my music to New York, when I was playing in bands. I could take my literary career to New York, even now. But, it's not 1950. New York is not the only place in the world where things happen, it's just one of the biggest, with the highest concentration of creators, and the most storied history. My career(s) may have been enhanced by location, but I certainly don't feel they were diminished by staying in Seattle.
Actually, the opposite. I was in Seattle in the middle of one of those rare and random music explosions that become history. I practice my craft in a city famous for exporting design and talent throughout the world. And, it's one of the strongest literary centers, with one of the highest concentration of writers in the world.
But, this is not about me staying, it's about me not going. I'm the tourist with the map but not the territory. After next week, at least I'll be able to back up my many stories of the city with a grounded glimpse of the way the city actually is. After that, going back will probably feel much easier. After that, I can act like I really know the place. After that, I'll no longer have to confess that I've never been. That, frankly speaking, seems like it will be such a relief.
Also, it'll be totally like this:
At four, my son recognizes all sorts of monsters, including Frankenstein's monster. He's not scared of them, so much as curious. He was so fascinated by ghosts at the age of two that I made a Spotify Playlist of ghost songs for him, that we still listen to pretty often.
But this morning he was looking at a Halloween mailer from a fabric store with all sorts of creatures and scenes on the cover, and started asking about Frankenstein's monster. I told him an abriged version of the tale: Frankenstein creates a monster from dead body parts, but the monster is not quite human, and is very sad because nobody loves it.
Saying that brought a thought to mind something Shelley got absolutely right, and that I had overlooked when I first read and reviewed the book.
It was this: the monster is a brooding boy of a certain type, both heartbroken and violent, both a mama's boy and a fearless adventurer. It is one of the ironies of boys (having a young one I see these patterns more than having been one) that the toughest are sometimes the most tender.
In one comic sequence I remember from childhood Thor (I think, could be another hero) was at a tavern in an alien land. In order to prove himself, he walks up to the biggest creature in the room and punches him (something I now think was inspired by G. Gordon Liddy, who, when sentanced to prison during the Watergate scandal, allegdly walked up to the biggest guy in the yard and clocked him, reasoning that nobody would mess with him after that). The creature falls back and begins weeping.
"why would you attack him?" all the surprised bar people ask. "He's the gentlest creature in the Universe!"
So there are the two sides of boys, irreconciled in most. Something Shelley must have seen in the poets around her, and embedded as the basis of her protagonists great gothic monster.
The best thing I read today was by Paul Constant. A blog post titled The Publishing Industry Has Always Mistreated Women.
As the Books Editor of The Stranger, Paul is at the heart of publishing. As someone who is not an author or publisher, he sees it from a unique perspective. Like all keen critics, Paul is aware of his own peccadillos (in a recent article Why Don't I Like David Mitchell? he admits that a review he wrote about Mitchell might be "unfair and borderline emotionally deranged"), and is willing to question his previous positions.
This article today was about the pig-pile on women as of late online, which is always a shit-show. But it had this interesting paragraph where he admits to being silent when Edward Champion was proving to be a jerk:
But I didn't publicly stand against Edward Champion, even as nearly everyone in the literary Twittersphere piled on. I stayed out of it. I don't know if my silence was the right response or not. On the one hand, I am all for women standing publicly against their accusers, and I am also all for showing support for those women, to let them know that it is not their fault and that they deserve to tell their stories. But the pile-on with Champion started to feel less about supporting Gould and Khakpour and more about Being Publicly on the Right Side. Twitter is an engine that feeds on outrage, and since Champion has been off Twitter, he's been portrayed as the Wicked Witch of the West, rather than a clearly sick man stuck in a feedback loop of publicity and shame. I'm not excusing Champion — again, I want nothing to do with him — but I am also not excusing those shameless social media ambulance-chasers who get a little endorphin rush out of tilting at the monster of the week.
That last bit — "tilting at the monster of the week" — is often how I feel when the latest villian has been unmasked. Maybe the jerks and idiots deserve the attention, but there's no off valve. There are only the righteous hoping to join the fray and prove they are on the right side of history.
The problem is, I'm not sure many of these assholes rise to the level of a deserving to be part of history. They probably just deserve to be forgotten.
I’ve been obsessed with the idea of trust online for the last five years or so. But, obsessed in that way where ideas about trust floated around unformed while I'd think about other things.
For instance, I work in the news. Wouldn't it be nice if you could trust sources? Or, how could I trust that writer that has a new thing out to deliver a good story? The barrier may be small, but at $10 it's less small than at $.99.
What are the componenets of trust? Trust:
I like Webster's 1928 defintion: "Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person; confidence; reliance; reliance.
You can also find me on Twitter and at martinmcclellan.com. You can always reach me at email@example.com
Thanks ~ford for this thing here.