Reading: So Many Books

There exists a belief that at least a few things should be read by the whole world. But what could be said to everyone? If there were a permanent universal assembly, at which a microphone was passed around so that each person could speak to the crowd, we would scarcely have time to say hello and sit down. The universal dialogue would be reduced to a recognition of the self, a kind of Babelian poem of creation consisting of everyone saying “Good morning” to one another. Maybe that is what life is: We stand up and say hello and then disappear.
Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books

My general rule is to read whatever Robin Sloan tells me to. It’s a good rule. Solid and true.

Source: https://buttondown.email/year-of-the-meteo...

Long tales of a short cut

I do have something smart to say after all, which is that I got my hair colored today. “Lightened,” is the common parlance. Or “dyed,” if you’re my mother. I’m trying to fight the gray while waiting for it to grow and let me tell you it has been a long, sad, demoralizing process that brought me right up to the brink of… I don’t know. Self pity? Madness? No surprise there, as I forded both those streams a long, long time ago. Let’s just drop it in a bucket called “ambivalent aging” and everything that comes along with being female. (Dudes, you are on your own.)

If I could work my way through every decision that brought me to this place, I would end up in 2014 or so, reaching back through a tangle of clips, barrettes, elastics and misguided keratin treatments and—I’m not gonna lie—a lot of ridiculous tears. I stretched and fried it to within an inch of its life with a flatiron and finally I cut it all off and moved through a long series of increasingly hellacious styles and both my head and I were miserable for years. Years. Add to that a gradual switch to wearing glasses full time, gaining X lbs., and then changing my lifestyle wholesale overnight, and it was a recipe for some kind of disaster. I had no idea who I was anymore.

And—no surprise either—disaster came! I can see now how all that misery fed off itself after a while, how I tried to go from A to Z while skipping B through whatever (um…Y, I guess), and thinking I’d never miss the journey or the lessons I would have learned along the way if I had only asked myself what in the hell I was doing. And why I thought it shouldn’t or wouldn’t matter, or that I could outsmart it. How I confused moving back here with letting go of everything and thinking I could somehow stop caring about how I look. How I convinced myself that pride and a little vanity were bad things, when they’re not really, not always, not if they mean taking care of yourself and being good to yourself and understanding, most importantly, how it makes you feel when you don’t.

This won’t make sense to anybody but me, btw, but why should it have to? Sense is overrated, ask anybody who’s alive and capable of watching the news. It’s as useless as wishing for yesterday.

However! I am starting to feel like myself again, and to recognize who I see in the mirror. And even if nobody else notices (does anybody else ever notice? doubtful), it matters to me, just a little but more than I thought. And I’m going to be honest about that, even though this is an embarrassing, bordering-on-narcissistic-asshole thing to type, and I promise this is the last time we will ever talk about the important subject of my hair.

A ha hah hah haha hah ha hah ha! Of course we will always talk about my hair.

++ A random update! The ants finally came back. I battled them on my own for two weeks and when that failed I called in reinforcements (i.e., the management, who called in pest control). Now they are gone again and all is quiet. I mean it’s me vs. millions so I’m not holding out hope, but when you think about it everybody needs a nemesis. It seems the Formicidae family will be mine.

Reading for grownups

I don’t have anything smart to say right now, so I’ll lead you to some others who do:

  • Robin Sloan’s new newsletter Year of the Meteor is enlightening and thoughtful and optimistic, as always. His primary focus seems to be appreciating things, which I, in turn, appreciate:

For the past few years, I have felt my political opinions really getting whipped around. As new calamities have unfolded, I’ve often felt like one of those four-year-olds on a soccer field, just sort of chasing the ball around in a giant scrum. As a remedy—at least partial—I’ve been on the hunt for lodestars: super-stable points that can inform new opinions (and, eventually, votes) in a principled, non-four-year-olds-playing-soccer-like way.

I’ve found a few of these lodestars, and one I’ll share is this: The modern public library is the best thing people ever made. What’s good for public libraries is good for everybody and everything.

That doesn’t mean I love them any less. The mood and feeling of a pop record is as real as we need it to be when we’re playing it. But it does mean that I hunt for something slightly different in the records I scan as adult now, and treasure it when I find it – relaxed tolerance, unguarded goofiness, the moments (rare though they honest are) of being genuinely unafraid of what others think. Dad rock no, Dad jokes yes.

  • Related somewhat, and relevant to my continued devotion to soap operas, which suffer from the same biases and speak to the same general impulses and audience, this piece on why you should be reading romance novels, from Jaime Green at The Cut:

People love to demean romance as “smut,” as if the only thing worse than women writing stories about women is women writing stories about women having sex. But if you’re just looking for titillation you are going to be very disappointed with all the pages spent on things like plot and character development. Some romances end with a chaste kiss. Some demurely fade to black when a couple makes their way to the bedroom. Some are euphemistic. Some are explicit. And some are fun and hot! Because here’s one thing that hasn’t really changed since we were 14: Reading about sex is fun. Or it can be, when the sex itself is fun. Literary fiction has plenty of sex, but it’s rarely about the characters’ pleasure. Literary sex tends to be sad or gross, often enough presaging a character’s tragedy, as if she’s a promiscuous teen in a horror movie. In romance, people get to have sex, and it’s good.

  • Phil Gyford’s thoughts on my favorite book, Light Years, by James Salter, which I’ve always maintained is a tough nut to crack but is so very worth it if you have the patience to lose yourself in it. He captures something key about Salter’s writing, which is his ability to convey timelessness in small strokes:

Even while Salter’s describing the mundane events of a character’s day you’re aware that these actions are also part of the character’s entire life, and part of something other people are doing and always will. Maybe this makes characters feel smaller, like they have less control than they think or want. People like this, despite how important their concerns feel to them, are a tiny part of history, swept along helplessly.

That’s it. It’s snowing and I have to get my hair cut. Cheerio, old chaps!

Farnsworth House

I wanted to visit this house not because I care that much about modern architecture (I do not), but because they’re making a movie about the building of this house starring Ralph Fiennes, and I do care about him.

At first Apple Maps tried directing me to Plano, TX, but I didn’t have that kind of time. On the other hand it took approximately 30 seconds to remember why I seldom enjoy house tours, which is because fully grown adults are pathologically incapable of not touching things they are explicitly and repeatedly told not to touch. Honestly, how do people think we can solve the climate crisis when we can’t go 15 minutes without leaning on the furniture.

It was something, though, a tiny jewel box tucked into the trees just south of I-88 with the Fox River running high and wild beside it. You can feel it back in the day, before they changed the road and lifted the bridge, what it must have been like out there alone. Open to the land on all sides, nothing but mosquitoes and weather. At the end a lady asked the tour guide if he thought Mies van der Rohe was a bad architect because he had failed to build Edith Farnsworth the house she wanted (i.e., occupationally friendly). I didn’t hear his answer but I figure if you ask a minimalist design visionary to build you a weekend house made of glass you should probably assume it won’t be cozy.

Words, recently

It may not surprise you that one of my all-time favorite high school classes was Vocab Development, nor that I was a star pupil and an annoying teacher’s pet! Bit of a dubious honor, but still, I award it to myself. Without words you’d just be utjlkjernxilkfwo, dummies.

Here are some recently saved faves according to my trusty Merriam-Webster app, which is almost certainly the only app worth paying for even though they keep shoving extraneous crap into it under the putrid guise of “engagement”:

callow. adjective :: lacking adult sophistication; immature [NOTE: I looked this one up because I thought it meant the same thing as cad; fyi it does not]

cad. noun :: 1 : a bus conductor [NOTE: !??] ; 2 : a man who acts with deliberate disregard for another’s feelings or rights

macrophage. noun :: a phagocytic tissue cell of the immune system that may be fixed or freely motile, is derived from a monocyte, functions in the destruction of foreign antigens (such as bacteria and viruses), and serves as an antigen-presenting cell [NOTE: this definition raised more questions than it answered]

emesis. noun :: an act or instance of vomiting

littoral. adjective :: of, relating to, or situated or growing on or near a shore especially of the sea

Brobdingnagian. adjective :: marked by tremendous size

glabrous. adjective :: smooth; especially : having a surface without hairs or projections

cannula. noun :: a small tube for insertion into a body cavity or into a duct or vessel

furbelow. noun :: a pleated or gathered piece of material; especially : a flounce on women’s clothing

Paints quite a picture of my elective reading lately, doesn’t it?