Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Smaller the Pond


Matt and I have been playing The Last of Us Part II for a few weeks. There's a lot going on in our experience. The first game was devastating, as any scenario which purports to be about the apocalypse but is actually about the people who survive the apocalypse generally is. This one is almost unbearable. The two main groups of characters struggle against each other bloodily, murdering each other until almost no one is left. 

I haven't been able to get the title out of my head. 

The game recounts stories of the last of us - the remaining members of the human race after a zombie-making virus has wiped out most of us. The title chills me more the longer I meditate on it. Last indicates a dwindling, a winding-down. Us indicates the community of species we all share, no matter our values. The end of humans. The closing chapter of our long, long story. 

Yet in this game, the characters are driven by revenge and tribalism to murder other humans, rather than just the zombies that threaten their lives. It would make sense for the last of us to band together against the common threat, to make more people, to perpetuate our existence rather than closing down more and more lives. But the drive to be correct about the values by which we live is apparently stronger than the drive to survive at any cost. 

That sentence demonstrates the hardest part about playing this game at this moment in the lifespan of the human race. We are murdering each other, softly or the hard way, every damn day, out there in the real world. We're not taking the coronavirus seriously enough to do whatever's necessary to survive, and for months I've thought it was because: the virus takes a long time to curdle and kill; it's not a sure thing (in the game, one bite and you're definitely dead); and there are enough of us that it doesn't seem like a species-wide existential threat, not really. 

But playing The Last of Us II has made me think differently. It has made me believe that tribalism and cursed American individualism are stronger than our survival instincts. In observing the past month or so of national behavior, I have begun to understand just how many people think that rules do not apply to them. Even in my little universe: the rich people at the barn don't wear their masks, they leave them around their chins. Maybe they think the risk is minimal, outdoors and with only a small handful of other people around. Or maybe they just...don't think the rules apply to them. 

In my early 30s, I started to think that greed was the worst human quality, the drive that caused the most suffering. Whatever single word expresses the trait of "surely they don't mean I have to follow the rules" is causing far more chaos in our world right now, although greed surely isn't helping. And the tribalism underlying the (supposed) ideological implications of who wears a mask...ugh, it's so horrible, causing such excessive needless suffering. But that's not what's going on in The Last of Us II. It's something more primal, and a tiny bit less petty (although not much). 

Years ago I wrote a novel about a secret race of people, Viking descendants, living in a massive cavern under Greenland's ice sheet. (I know it sounds awesome, but it was a failed novel; one day I'll rewrite it to be better.) I imagined a struggle for the throne of this kingdom on the level of the old English monarchy: poisonings, conspiracies, betrayal. Matt asked me whether I thought it was realistic that people would struggle so hard for a throne that meant so little, in the scheme of things. The power that anyone can hold in a closed community is naturally limited. 

This was a rare moment in which Matt was wrong. He is never wrong about human nature, or almost never - in this instance, as the years pass, I grow surer that he was. People struggle most bitterly for the smallest fiefdoms, I have found. English departments at colleges and universities are the primary example I'm aware of, but there are many others. The smaller the pond, the more fish get eaten, so the biggest one can grow fat. I don't know why humans are so dogged about what they control, and so much more so when what they control is minor, but they are. 

The Last of Us II is a beautiful, harrowing exhibit of this behavior. In light of the sunset of the entire species, you'd think that matters of revenge would fall by the wayside in favor of survival. Alas, no. The two main characters cut through dozens, hundreds of human beings in order to try and kill each other. (I think it's possible that the player kills fewer zombies than healthy people in this game.) Their strength, their will, could bolster entire communities, help them thrive; instead, they expend their resources on ending each other. 

They are compelling characters. Their choices are organic and agonized, and they make terrible mistakes, which always jump-starts a narrative. But I cannot stop thinking about what it means that they are the last of us. The very qualities that make them so good at surviving the apocalypse have also buried vengeance and bloodlust deep down in their natures. How does one dig those qualities out to cooperate with the others who have lasted, instead of killing them? 

Some version of this behavior exists within each of the two parties in our political system right now, and between them. Here I started writing some examples, but realized midway that you are likely to get mad at me for some of them, because that is how deep tribalism goes: it's impossible to read criticism of one's values without feeling personally insulted. We cannot even unite against the common enemy of the virus, a phenomenon that could swipe away a major chunk of our population, because we can't agree on the deeper meaning of wearing cloth on our faces. What the fuck

So the revenge and murder in The Last of Us II is striking deeper than it might at any other moment in American history. Five years ago it might have seemed like pure fantasy - the only way revenge stories feel good to me is if they are fantasies, because revenge is always going to harm more than help - but now it seems extremely realistic, that the last of us are killing each other rather than the common enemy. And God, how that aches. How it stings. How I wish it were not so relevant, so true to life. How I wish we were not in so desperate a fix. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Some Things I Keep Thinking About

  • AIDS and sex ed in the early 1990s
  • the score for Midsommar, the score for There Will Be Blood, Penderecki, and Wagner 
  • what loneliness is 
  • whether I should write a novel (again) and/or look for an agent (again) after several years' break from both 
  • ritual and totem 
  • desperation for fiefdom in situations of mortal stress (The Last of Us II
  • unread books in my home 
  • mail carriers 
  • the particular feeling of not wanting to absorb new art by a favorite artist, for fear of something: maybe disillusionment, maybe using up all the possible new art by that artist so there is no more, maybe upsetting the status of my expertise 
  • the personality traits of women in horsedom 
  • the personality traits of people in teadom 
  • life choices and trades and bargains and how they play out in extremely unlikely situations, like worldwide pandemics (cf the Fukishima disaster) 
  • what to do about my work at QMT 
  • [him] 
  • reducing movies and books until they are "boring" / reducing stories until they are 1) stranger comes to town 2) someone goes on a journey 3) someone falls in love 
  • the Mouth of Sauron and the nature of horror vs. torture porn
  • gore-bucket horror and splosh 
  • this essay and "giving primacy to the erotics of your own experience" 
  • whether life experiences during certain historical periods make it simply impossible for two people to see eye to eye 
  • hunger and its expiration 
  • whether I am going to be well-known 
  • whether I am as smart as I think I am 
  • whether my writing is doing what I think it's doing or I am in fact Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys 
  • [that] (just answer me) 
  • the role that the phone object plays in our lives, not the phone function 
  • what Ed Wood wanted 
  • money spent on smoothies 
  • my arms 
  • that fucking tattoo already, what the fuck 
  • how and when various famous people will die 
  • whether Twitter-famous people are always ultimately obnoxious (the honeymoon of a Twitter follow) 
  • threes 
  • whether other people think this much all the time 
  • whether people who don't are happier 

by this person

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Unbearable

Yesterday I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I'd seen it around when it was released, and had found it badly directed, and elected to use it as an example in the project I've been working on since the beginning of May. I wanted to make sure I wasn't mixing it up with Civil War, so I rewatched. (I wasn't. It is not a well-directed movie. I kept yelling to Matt about how Michael Bay would frame the car stunts and how anyone else would frame and edit the conversations.) I love Cap more than almost any other Marvel hero brought to the screen. Like me, he barely has it in him to lie, and he represents and defends everything my father raised me to believe America is. 

Last week, Matt and I watched the David Suchet version of Murder on the Orient Express, which we hadn't seen before. It was very late in Suchet's run as Poirot, post-9/11, post-Sopranos (i.e. after TV changed, irrevocably). I gave Matt the whole set of Suchet's Poirot as a quarantine gift, and we've been working our way through it chronologically, but we skipped ahead to Orient Express due to one of my moods. I remembered the solution of the mystery but didn't remember anything leading up to it. 

The foibles and light humor of Poirot earlier in the run have given way to a quiet, introspective Poirot. Suchet plays him, as always, as if he knows him better than anyone ever has. But Poirot is almost incidental to the ensemble at work in Orient Express, and Suchet knows that. He mostly leaves aside the old self-centered Poirot and acts as an immutable part of the landscape instead. 

Until the end. He is furious about the perversion of justice. It betrays everything he has always believed in. He weeps a little. You realize, looking at this man, that what he is forced to accept in this situation may break him. (We do not all break through torture or atrocity; sometimes ideas will break us.) 

After I finished The Winter Soldier, I thought about watching Captain Marvel again. Much as I love Captain America, his powers are a lot less showy than hers, and I kind of wanted to watch a hero do things well beyond the reach of normal humans - things that render guns and fists irrelevant. And, incidentally, I wanted to watch a woman doing them. 

This morning I thought maybe I'd watch the scene where Fury sings "Please, Mr. Postman," in Captain Marvel instead. Not sure why, just a whim. When I entered "captain marvel" into YouTube's search bar, one of the auto-fills was "vs. thanos" and I went, yeah, okay. There was a video that collected all of her scenes in the Avengers movies, so I watched that. It was about four minutes long. She was awesome, of course, but I realized (somewhat stupidly, belatedly) that the nature of her power is the ability to destroy on an enormous scale. Maybe she's powerful enough not to need fists and guns, but what she can do outstrips fists and guns; it doesn't render null the violence inherent in them. 

It's not fun to wake up and look around at the world these days. Injustice has always been this bad, of course. But living through a pandemic is much more depleting than history has ever recorded. 

What occurred to me this morning is how different the world of The Winter Soldier is than the world I live in today. Part of the reason Cap is such a balm to audiences in a post-9/11 world is his idealism, his belief in fixing whatever is wrong and the attendant belief that he can be the man to do that fixing. Yet his solutions are the same old solutions we've been thrusting at the world's problems for centuries: fists and guns. 

The movie repeats that it's a different world now and Steve Rogers is not psychologically equipped for that world. This is a pretty careless interpretation of the past, which was always complicated, but in this limited case the point is solid. Punching Nazis is a different thing than sorting through (un)reliable intelligence from morally dubious sources. But the movie does not offer a new solution, or at least not a nuanced one. Captain Marvel, too, uses the old solution. Awesome as she is, her powers are all violence and destruction, no nuance. 

You cannot shoot the coronavirus. You cannot punch corrupt police departments. 

What Cap is asked to bear across the movies made around him seems unbearable. That's another reason I love him so much. He copes with profound burdens and still wants to carry whatever others can't lift. I don't know what he would try to do in this national moment. I think he'd be central in a public relations campaign to get people to wear masks and stay home (he of all people understands influence and inspiration), but that's incidental to what he's built for: action. Violent action. How he would cope with having to sit still, I don't know. 

Poirot must learn to live with, and in, a world in which arresting people is not the only solution when a murder is committed. When we watched the episode last week, I found him deeply naive, in his resistance to believing that justice is not always found in a courtroom. That's the nature of privilege: the ability to be naive about justice for decades of a life. Truly coming to terms with such naivete can break a man, particularly if that man's profession depends upon this premise. 

In my early thirties I had to reckon with the lie of America with which my father had raised me. This nation is built on broken backs and genocide, and all the fine ideals of its prized documents and the genuine beliefs of the good men who wrote them do not excuse what lies under its foundations. It nearly broke me. Such a process meant unstitching essential seams of my identity. But I did it, because Cormac McCarthy is right, James Baldwin is right, Angela Davis and Ta-Nehisi Coates are right. This place is a nightmare and we have done virtually nothing to wake up from it. We parade over the bones. We wave flags at the breaches. 

Cap is part of that lie. He is the very best of it, I think, embodying what we all want to feel if we could stand to be patriots. 

If anything, I think the two major issues of this year (so far, God help us) demonstrate that we can't throw the same solutions at new problems. 9/11 tried to teach us that: you can't get an aircraft carrier into a foxhole. You can't use guns on a deadly virus, and you can't throw tear gas at ideas. 

Because our heroes continue to operate on old premises, they will continue to fail us. They must learn new ways of being in the world. But they may break, if they try. 

What will we do? How will we survive? What will we be asked to bear for each other? 


Thursday, June 4, 2020

In the Scheme of Things

In the scheme of things, it doesn't matter, but my cactus is dying. 

I could have written this the opposite way: "My cactus is dying. In the scheme of things, it doesn't matter." But I felt the need to write it the first way, so as to make it clear that I know it doesn't broadly matter before I tell you this thing that matters, to me, in a way I can't defend. 

I think I've written before here about how I kill plants, how I have a brown thumb. It's been a joke in my life for a long time, but there are times when it's not funny. I can do lots of other things, so I try to focus on that instead of dwelling on this thing I can't do: keep plants alive. I've kept this cactus alive for two years. I bought it as one of three matching ones, the other colors were pink and red, this one is yellow, and the other two died but this one lived. I repotted it recently and gave it new soil and some liquid food, but one of those elements has made it very sick, sagging and thin and leaking fluid out its top, and I am fixated on it, my poor cactus, to the point where I had an argument with Matt this week because we misunderstood each other about the roses I needed to prune back, and I couldn't bring myself to prune them back because I didn't want to kill them like I'm killing my cactus, and Matt didn't understand where this was coming from at all and why I didn't just prune the roses like I said I would, and he tried to do it himself and that made me even more upset and I couldn't explain why. 

Keeping a plant alive for two years is nothing in the scheme of things. It is a record-breaker for me. I can't touch my cactus, because it is full of tiny prickles; I can't do anything but look at it lovingly, not like a pet you can bring into your lap. But it is the only nonhuman living thing I am not paid to give love to. It is the only thing in my life I have nurtured that belongs to me (the roses are the landlord's). And it's really sick. And it's my fault. And I cannot stop feeling anguish about this. 

It's stupid. It's just a cactus. I can buy another one for $3.99 at Lowe's. It has not grown significantly in the time I've had it. But it has not died in that time, and it is dying now, and that matters to me. 



--

This week I wrote a roundup of books by Black authors that I enjoy and recommend. Not all of them are directly applicable to the current situation, which was on purpose. Reading underrepresented voices is an end in itself, and it can be a diversion even as it's innately looped in to what's happening. I also edited a review of a book by a poet and felon, Felon, by Reginald Dwayne Betts, and put it up at Barrelhouse. These things I can do, even if I can't do much else. 

--

Jami Attenberg's yearly 1000 Words of Summer event is going on right now and I'm using it as an opportunity to start the next project. I got a little sidetracked yesterday by a frightening episode of heat exhaustion, but I've well and truly begun the work, and I feel good about how it's shaping up. For community and for accountability, I'm posting about it on Twitter once a day - and I forwent posting about it on Tuesday, for the ill-fated "blackout" - but then today I read a well-reasoned thread from people of color about it being insensitive to post about it at all. That made me feel guilty, but also a little annoyed. They suggested we move those updates to a private community/writing group, and I don't have one; my writing group is Twitter, for better or worse. 

In the same hour I read a comment on Facebook in a private group by a white woman feeling as if she's done enough activism (she gave examples), and doesn't deserve criticism for not speaking out in every single platform she has, even apolitical ones. 

I really do not know how to hold both of these views in the same hand. I'm trying to make my feeds mostly about other voices and issues and lives, and a little bit about me, but maybe that is wrong, too? Do my feeds reflect my life? Does my life always or mostly need to be about me? Does the balance I've attempted to strike look as ugly as that white woman's defensiveness, or are we all looking at each other cockeyed anyway, and no one can possibly do it right all the time? Do I reckon with myself, my past/future self, or with what others are doing/not doing? What is my example, my standard? Should it be at-least-I'm-not, or should it be I-could-never-be-but-I'll-try? 

This blog post is about me because this is my blog, not a shared space like a social media feed or a book club or a coffee shop. Or...is the entire internet a shared space? No, that's too far. This is my blog. 

I'm trying to explore and question, not defend. White defensiveness has no utility at all. 

I don't know. 

--

There's something else happening in my life right now that has to be secret for now but is causing me heavy stress. It may come to nothing. We'll see. 

--

At the barn, there's a horse named Mia whom I didn't like at all when I first started working there. She was wary and impenetrable, hard to catch in her stall and evidently uninterested in whether I lived or died. It's exasperating to work with horses like this, because you feel bad asking them to obey you when they clearly do not enjoy even being near you. 

Over time, she started to be nicer to be around. I finally realized she wasn't a jerk, she was just slow to trust, and she had no reason to trust me when she met me. If she were a human she'd be "hard to know." So I hung back until she was ready to know me, and treated her like a co-worker instead of pressing her for affection and obedience. When I hand-walked her I let her walk to the left instead of the right, because she clearly preferred that, even though it isn't how you're supposed to walk horses. Now she's recovered from an injury and is being ridden, which means I tack her up and down instead of just walking her. I've found out that she loves having her face brushed. She stretches out her neck and closes her eyes, and if I stand in front of her she nuzzles my chest and rests her chin on the edge of my sports bra while I brush and brush. 

Since we figured this out, she trusts me more than ever; she now whinnies and trots over to me when I come to her stall, as if I'm her friend instead of her keeper. She gives me all kinds of affection I don't get from the other, more skittish horses. She obeys me readily, which means it doesn't feel so bad giving her commands. We're developing a deeper and more loving relationship because I was patient and listened to her. I judged too quickly, but when I figured out she was just slow to trust, I gave her every reason to trust me instead of insisting that she do so right off. 

Yesterday I had to put a yucky-smelling salve on her nose. Three months ago she would have wriggled and jerked and made it impossible to do this, but I talked to her and petted her and she stood still and let me. I took the time, and was rewarded with trust and more love than I know what to do with. She's a wonderful horse. I never would have known that if I'd stuck with my first judgment. 

I hope I can write about Mia someday as a metaphor, but I don't quite know what my experience with her means yet. For now I just wanted to share it as a story. Working with her is some of the nicest time I spend at the barn, when she used to be a horse I dreaded a little. 

--

I just moved my cactus into the sun. Light will help it, right? Maybe it's leaking because it's purging something bad that came in through its roots. I hope, if that's the case, it gets better. I do not want it to die. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Twitched and Stuck



Last night, while my husband and I watched a movie, a muscle twitched in my neck. I had been cross-stitching for hours that day, and had reviewed a bunch of residency submissions too, and in any case my neck is, let us say, not of the spring chicken variety. But because I couldn't easily identify whatever the phenomenon was that caused my neck to feel weird, I began to worry, and then feel certain, that I had a blood clot traveling slowly northward and it would lead to a stroke.

Soon, my neck twitched and stuck for longer than a moment, such that I could put my fingers on the area. It was definitely a muscle spasm (a weird one), not at all a blood clot. Much more like an eye twitch, although I've never had a spasm in any muscle that wasn't on my face, and I've never known a muscle spasm to stick that way, briefly, like the old wives warn us about our faces.

But I had already put in the worry about the stroke. My blood pressure had already inched that iota higher. My stability about waking up alive the next morning had been shaken. I felt relief, but things were not the same as they had been.

**


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Resolute, Final Edition

Every year, I post last year's New Year's resolutions with a short analysis of how well I think I succeeded at them, and then I post this year's. However, I've decided not to make New Year's resolutions for 2020.

In the last few years, I've started to find the calendar too arbitrary to shape my life around - buying gifts for people on holidays instead of when I find good gifts for them, spending time with family during the worst season instead of the nicer ones, choosing self-improvement only when the turn of the month tells me to. My mind and heart move to a different rhythm; sometimes it's seasonal, but sometimes those moves take a longer or shorter time than a month or a weather pattern or even an entire year can encompass.

This yearly blog post has been helpful in organizing internal self-improvement, and in looking back on whatever happened to me across twelve months. But, in all honesty, I'm pretty tired of retrospective thinking. And I've found that either I'm trying to learn the same lessons over and over (fight self-doubt, avoid the distractions of the internet) or I'm trying small things that don't take an entire year to alter.

2020 seems like a good stopping point for this tradition. I may change my mind for 2021, but we'll see when we get there. In the meantime, I still want to analyze last year's (in greater detail here).

1. Rethink productive. If there was a single theme for my 2019, it was this. Whether I succeeded or failed, I don't know; I still don't have a good sense of how much work is enough for me not to feel lazy. There were weeks when I read five books and turned out five reviews, along with editing other people's work, promoting my own, and pitching still more; and there were weeks when I did nothing but watch Rifftrax, play phone games, and nap. I certainly learned, once and for all, that binging on work and then binging on relaxation is my natural pattern, and it takes so much effort to reverse that pattern that it's almost not worth it.

I'm still internally convinced that I'm lazy. Loved ones have tried to tell me that I'm not. My therapist asked me to define lazy, which set me back a pace or two. By the end of the year, I'd accepted that sometimes I must rest, but I hadn't stopped feeling guilty about it.

2. Lean into a hobby or two. Fail. Or that hobby was horses, which became a job. When I started volunteering at RideOn, I had to actively fight down the urge to be the best volunteer at the stable, to be the most useful person on any shift, to make special friends with the instructors, etc. It took real effort to be one among the group of people who helped instead of striving to be The Best One. I needed that experience, badly - but then I took it and turned it into a job instead of letting it be what it was, a hobby.

Cross-stitching would be better.

3. Bring collage and horses into my life. Success with horses, failure with collage, but I think the extraordinary success of the one (now I spend time with them almost every day!) nixes the failure of the other.

4. Be smart about yes and no. Success. I don't know if I did this very strategically at first, but I did finally figure out, during autumn, that reviewing as I was doing it had to stop. I started saying no and I kept saying it, continually asking whether X or Y opportunity would a) bring me money, b) bring me pleasure, or c) help with Ceremonials. If it didn't do any of those things, I said no. That's how it'll be for the next six months, too. Booya.

5. Be aware of the networking vs. friendship, promotion vs. information percentage. Success, only inasmuch as this turned out not to be difficult to navigate. Some friendships started professional and wound up better than that, while others ended up mixed, and still others stayed professional. I didn't have any trouble separating the wish to be personally liked from working well, which surprises me, as - see above with RideOn - I so constantly want to be specially liked. Not with the desperation of a people-pleaser, but with the internal conviction that I'm unusually cool and should be recognized as such by everybody. That sounds egocentric but I'm leaving it.

6. Teach. Failish. I did teach an online class, but I was imagining teaching in a classroom and that didn't come to pass. It's starting to be a running joke, my inability to get a classroom gig.

7. Travel. Success. I didn't go on one of the big trips I wanted to, and it might have been better if I'd gone to a book con in NYC I thought about attending. But I did go to Iceland and Chautauqua and benefited both my career and my soul in those places. Next year will involve a lot more travel, and I feel prepared to do it, with a passel of useful gadgets in my suitcase.


In 2020 I'm planning to listen to my instincts, hug friends, smile a lot, try hard. I'm going to write and think and breathe. I'm going to live, and I hope that living will be healthy and joyful, but I will reach deep down and far out for strength if it isn't always. Happy New Year, friends. Live well. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Time to Be Human

Here are some things I'd like to put in this space soon:
  • A list of all the books I read in 2019 
  • My New Year's resolutions and a report on last year's 
  • Thoughts on how my last essay of the year is going 
  • Pride and concern about how I'm prepping for the Ceremonials launch 
But mainly because of how the last essay of the year is going, I don't know if I can put together all of these posts.

I should have started writing it in November. I should have taken afternoons in the last six weeks to work on it a little bit at a time. Now there are three days left in the year and it's not done. I wanted to finish the essay in 2019 because it's the last essay of the book I've been working on for three years or so, and I want to submit the finished book to a contest that closes on January 31, 2020. I don't really know if I have a manuscript, and I won't know until I finish this essay and put all ten of the essays together. I should have finished the essay in November or mid-December so I could have assembled the manuscript already rather than worrying about getting it done in January.

But I didn't do any of that.

Today I started it, and the problem is the same as it was in November, if not worse: I have so much to say that I don't know how to say it all. I'm likely going to write and then cut a bunch of the draft, which is something I rarely do, but at this distance I'm having trouble distinguishing what's necessary and what interests only me.

I'm also presently reading for two book prizes. One has a deadline in early January, and just this morning I finished enough of the field to feel confident about voting for the choice I wanted to vote for all along. With one exception, the rest of the books in the field are truly wonderful, but my choice is a Mozart book in a field of Salieris. Sorry, everybody else. I really liked your books. The other prize has a deadline in February, and I'm a little less secure about whether I can finish the field in time (bigger field, longer books, I've read fewer of them).

My job has gotten easier both physically and emotionally. My body is recovering better all the time, and I'm starting to be more comfortable with the people and horses at the stable. Getting up stupidly early is working out better than I thought it would. I get up around 5 and spend half an hour settling in to my awake self: eating breakfast, drinking tea, reading Carolyn Hax, maybe doing a tiny bit of correspondence. I need that time to be human, and having it built in to my morning is great, even if it does mean I go to bed around 8:30 PM.

Planning for the Ceremonials launch and tour is going well. I'm done with booking all my travel and lodging and I'm finishing up gathering guests for my readings. I've had postcards made and am spreading them around, I've got plans for window posters for bookstores and little gifts for people who ask questions at readings, and other kinds of promotion are cooking along. I keep buying things for greater convenience while I'm traveling (a special heated brush for my bangs, a warm coat I can compress into a tiny ball) in the hope that I'll somehow be prepared for the tour experience, but underneath I realize this is just throwing capitalism in the direction of anxiety. Some things are worthy - I bought a rolling crate that I can check as baggage to carry my stock of Ceremonials, rather than lugging a cardboard box - but are packing cubes really necessary?

This has been an eventful year, full of highs and lows so numerous I can barely remember them all. I hope I always behaved well in the face of pressure. I can't be sure.

I put stickers on my drafting notebooks to make them mine, and because I know I'll probably fill the notebook before I get sick of the stickers. I've been using this book since 2017. It only has a couple of pages left. With the current essay, I'll finish it up tomorrow or the next day. The Petrified Forest sticker and the Wales sticker are both from 2017, but the Chautauqua and Iceland stickers both came from this year. And I'm visiting the "write" sticker all the time, every year.