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!

Every choice we make

Everyone makes a youthful promise not to get old and regretful, but every choice we make, by definition, rules out something else, so there’s always something to what-if about. Even the people happiest to be doing X are still going to wonder occasionally, what if they’d chosen Y? Sometimes this is sad, yes. Sometimes, though, it’s just routine maintenance on an open and dynamic mind.
— Carolyn Hax
Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/st...

Reading lately

The purposes and goals we create are phantom bodies — vestiges of and memorials to the people, places and things we stand to lose and strive to keep. Purpose indexes the world’s impermanence, namely our own. Sure, my grandfather’s T-Bird will function well as transportation once I’m finished. But, that goal only makes sense as an enduring reminder of the stories and memories of him. Purpose is about loss, or at least the circumvention of it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We create purposes to establish happy endings in a universe where endings are simply that — endings.

Dig the caption on this one (& props to my friend Judah for flagging it):

I did a dry run of my morning commute yesterday and resisted the urge to read on the train or even listen to the 8 million podcasts waiting for me on my phone. I just stared out the window on the way downtown and back. My romantic* fascination with becoming a suburb-to-city commuter is owed exclusively to John Cheever stories and Mad Men, none of which ended well. It is my lifelong habit to learn all the wrong lessons from dubious source materials. But my resistance to stacking stimuli atop stimuli did speak to this (from Raptitude.com): 

One evening last week, I was sitting on my front stoop waiting for a friend to come over. I brought a book out with me, but instead of reading I just sat there and let my senses take in the scene.

I didn’t look or listen for anything in particular, I just let the details of this particular moment in the neighborhood come to me: the quality of the air—heavy and warm, the incoming summer storm kind; birds; two couples having a conversation down the sidewalk; the clinking of dishes coming from inside the house to my right; distant hammering from a construction site somewhere in the blocks behind my house.

There was also a scent that I only recently learned has a name: petrichor. It’s the earthy scent of rain having just fallen on soil after a dry spell. You definitely know it. It was a big part of the overall flavor of the scene.

I engage this kind of receptive awareness often, particularly when I’m waiting for someone, and there’s something very satisfying about it. Every scene in our lives—whatever’s unfolding at any given time in a front yard, a living room, a doctor’s office, a grocery store—has its own unique tone and emotional signature, which you can notice if you’re not talking in your head, which we usually are.

My head never shuts the fuck up, but I'm honestly trying.

*I'm using "romantic" in the sense of "having no basis in fact : IMAGINARY" rather than Judith Krantz. (Do people still read Judith Krantz? Or is it all YA dystopia these days? I do not know the current landscape, I only want the Danielle Steel Palominos and Changes of yesteryear.) 

3 things for today

1. I have a new job for real that starts very soon so I can finally let out this breath I've been holding in since March. We'll talk more about this later (the time of unemployment, not the job), but let's just say: WHEW.

2. Yesterday I pulled into a parking space downtown and realized I was worrying about X number of stupid things so I said "Hey Siri, take a note: you don't need to feel guilty about enjoying your life." Siri got it all wrong as usual so I cursed at her and we engaged in a minor inter-car tiff before I remembered I could just stop talking to nobody.

3. I'm always wary of people handing out koans for free but this fit into my current frame of mind so well I drank it up like soup:

“What if there is no ‘next level?’ What if it’s just an idea you made up in your head? What if you’re already there and not only are you not recognizing it, but by constantly pursuing something more, you’re preventing yourself from appreciating it and enjoying where you are now?”

I mean seltzer or beer or anything but soup, obviously. Soup is the worst. "Here, drink this salty hot garbage with chunks of mush in it." Really, the worst.

4. This profile of GOOP founder Gwyneth Paltrow at the NYT is well worth the read, as is every single thing written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. It's generous but skeptical and critical but not mean-spirited, although my favorite parts had little to do with GP:

My phone rang. It was the mother of my son’s friend, back home in stupid New Jersey, and I realized she wouldn’t be calling if not for something gone awry. I apologized to G.P. and picked up the phone. The mom told me that my son was insisting that I was supposed to be picking him up. “I’m in California!” I whispered. “I’m with Gwyneth Paltrow!” She said she’d pass the message along and proceed as usual. G.P. said something, but I couldn’t concentrate because I was trying to understand how my 7-year-old didn’t know that I was out of town. Had I not said goodbye?

I get that it's dicey to make yourself (as the writer) a heavy part of the profile, but I dig it. It adds texture and meaning, as long as it's tied to the larger story.

I drove back to my hotel to find that a family that owned a Mercedes dealership would be hosting an impromptu all-night party around the pool and that I would never get any sleep. I thought about my children, one of whom plays the flute, but unwillingly, and therefore won’t practice. Yes, I thought about my children, only one of whom might shake your hand while the other would sooner spit on it, though they will both reliably do an elaborate orchestration of armpit farting while I’m trying to hear myself think. I thought of my mother and father, and an earlier conversation I had with my sisters that day about where to arrange our parents in a room for one of our kids’ bar mitzvahs so that they wouldn’t interact, so raw still are the wounds 35 years after their divorce. I thought of my big, disgusting Size 11 feet, which are wide and flat and have the look of scuba flippers and which designers have shod only begrudgingly. I thought of the third child I don’t have, the one I ache for. The car salespeople danced below.

5. A few other keepers by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who as I mentioned is always worth reading:

Any boob can take and shove a ball in a pocket

Linda Holmes at NPR did a deep dive on 'Ya Got Trouble" from The Music Man back in 2014 (which she notes was written in 1957 and set in 1912):

It's just worth taking a moment now and then to remember that people have long believed the culture was collapsing, the world was going dark, the music was all junk, the books were all corrupting, and the new thing replacing the old thing meant the new people were going to be worse. And that panic has always been built in the same ways, and always used to motivate people to do things and spend money and join causes.

And earlier:

And ragtime! Shameless music that will grab your son, your daughter in the arms of a jungle animal instinct.

Well, it wouldn't be a classic cultural panic without a little appeal to racism about a genre of music that originated in black communities and how it's going to bring out the out-of-control, sex-having jungle animal in your nice little kids (including daughters, mentioned here for the first and only time during a rant that's been mostly about boys).

And then he yells:

Massteria!

He just told them he's inducing mass hysteria, but that's okay — they're not listening.

“But that’s okay—they’re not listening.” It always is as it always was.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/201...

On uselessness

First in the era of America Online, and then in the era of LiveJournal and micro-blogging, the internet was at least partly an escape. It was a place where the boundaries of real life, in which everything was more or less a job interview, could be sloughed off and one could imagine the internet as a quiet, uninhabited space of whispered intimacies. In this era of hyper-usefulness, what seems rarest and most valuable online are spaces that offer, however illusorily, a return to this original uselessness. There are places where, against the constant obligation to be seen and remembered, we might get to be unseen, unrecorded, and forgotten.
— Helena Fitzgerald @ The Verge
Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/18/1736652...

Side effects

No joke. From the New York Times:

Could common prescription medications be contributing to depression and rising suicide rates?

Over one-third of Americans take at least one prescription drug that lists depression as a potential side effect, a new study reports, and users of such drugs have higher rates of depression than those who don’t take such drugs.

Many patients are taking more than one drug that has depression as a side effect, and the study found that the risk of depression increased with each additional such drug taken at the same time.

In the last few years I had to go cold turkey on birth control pills and more than one asthma medication (inhalers, antihistamines) because I could tell they were messing with my brain. I recognized pretty quickly that ongoing, daily, seemingly bottomless slack-jawed depression and intense fits of weeping were 100% not the norm for me—and was lucky enough to pinpoint what was causing them—but it felt like a very slippery downhill slope. I’m certainly not advocating this route for all peoples, but it’s important to be aware of, and pay attention to.