I have a new post for my Rust Belt Future project up at Medium and finding its way to inboxes this morning. It’s about new research predicting how climate change will effect different regions of the United States, and how the Rust Belt may actually be poised to withstand the worst of what’s to come.
So I’ve got a new writing project that will be starting next week, exploring issues of urban planning and development in the Rust Belt. It’s a topic I live every day, and I want to explore it more thoroughly.
If you happen to be interested in cities, the Rust Belt, or just supporting my writing, please check it out. Posts will appear on Medium initially, which helps me make a little cash. But if you’re not a Medium subscriber, you can also sign up to have the posts appear in your inbox.
At any rate, I’m excited to see where this project goes, and to feel a genuine interest in writing again. I hope you’ll read along!
It’s such a very important message, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Every individual has to decide what Enough is for them. Capitalist society wants us to believe that there is no such thing as Enough. We’re conditioned to Want, to chase more, bigger, better, faster. To keep up with those fuckheads The Joneses. But Enough exists, and in my experience, it’s a lot less than we maybe think it is.
Enough is where contentment lives. It’s where we find slowness, simplicity, quiet, presence, and gratitude. Enough is where we accept that we’re flawed but trying our best, that we can and should want to improve, but not at the expense of enjoying where we are.
No longer are you trying to fit and meet everyone’s expectations. No longer are you trying to edit yourself into some version of who you might, one day, become. When you decide what is enough for you, something magical happens. Everything around you starts to be enough… When you decide what is enough for you, you become a self-accepting person. Then you start to behave like a self-accepting person. Do you know what happens when you do that long-term? You build a life that someone who loves themselves would live.
I’m still trying to zero in on Enough in my life, and I’ve missed the mark a million times. But I feel like I’m getting closer, and that’s Enough for me for now.
It’s the last day of the year (and the decade). I like to wait until the bitter end before saying anything was “the best” of the year, because you never know when a last-second book or song may pop up and blow the previous favorite to hell.
2019 has been a strange year, both for me personally and for the world at large. Most of the time, our society seems like one big shitstorm, every day trying to out-bullshit the one before. In times likes these, culture and pastimes are increasingly important.
For our mental health’s sake, we need things we enjoy to divert our attention from the noise, most of it not good, that surrounds us. As a society, we need culture to shine a light on the shortcomings and failures, to call us to be better collectively, to show us a more enlightened path.
My favorites from 2019 helped do that for me. Perhaps they can help you, too, as we march forward into a new year.
This Is The End Of Something But It’s Not The End Of You by Adam Gnade
I’ll start with a caveat: Adam Gnade is my favorite living writer, and anytime he publishes anything at all, it is a major event in my life.
This Is The End… is Gnade’s third novel, and while it retains the rough beauty and truth-telling of the previous two (Hymn California and Caveworld), the storytelling is more refined. Basically, what this book is showing is a writer with seemingly limitless talent maturing and coming into full command of his powers.
Equal parts murder mystery, road novel, fictionalized memoir, and cultural critique, This Is The End… follows the life of Gnade protagonist/alter ego James Jackson Bozic from childhood into his early 30s, as he attempts to learn what for him constitutes a truly meaningful life and how to get it. At turns comedic, heartbreaking, and poignant, the story is dripping with the sort of challenges and, at times, absurdity (personal and societal) that people who came of age in the strange time of the late-1990s, 20-aughts, and early 20-teens will immediately recognize.
Gnade’s books are not things you just breeze through in a couple of days. To do so would be to neuter them, to reduce their power, and to discount the truths they contain. I took my time with This Is The End…, but that’s the whole point of reading good books, isn’t it? To challenge yourself and grow your humanity.
Finding writers that pull that off while also giving you gorgeous prose is extremely rare, and Gnade did so in this case with gusto.
When I first heard the band Tool as a teenager, it was eye (or rather, ear)-opening. I was a grunge kid, and bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Pearl Jam had been the rulers of my personal airwaves.
Then along comes the album Aenima, and I began to understand just how varied rock music could be. How the loud and the soft played off each other, how a guitar could make a range of noises I didn’t know were possible, how a voice could ricochet between aggressiveness and plaintiveness.
Since then, the band has released three more albums (2001’s Lateralus and 2006’s 10,000 Days being the intermediary two), and each has delivered and re-delivered on that initial experience.
It was a 13-year wait for Fear Inoculum, and while during that time my life has changed immensely, one thing that hasn’t is the band’s, and especially Maynard James Keenan’s voice’s, capacity to immediately transport me outside of my own worries and distractions and into something of an aural meditative state. Even when the music is at its most vigorous and rapacious, it delivers a sense of peace to my harried mind.
Fun fact: I have not gone to see a movie in a theater since August 2011. I’m an anxious person, and it turns out that large, crowded, enclosed spaces make me hyperventilate. Or maybe I’m just lazy.
Anyways, because I don’t go out to the movies, I have to wait for everything to be released digitally. Avoiding spoilers on social media can be a real hassle, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring them for the big films I plan to watch.
The funny thing is, Bumblebee wasn’t one of those films I was anticipating for months. Endgame was, of course, kickass, and worth all of the spoiler-avoidance, but that was sort of to be expected.
Bumblebee was just flat-out fun. The story was fun, the soundtrack was fun, the comedy was fun, the action scenes were fun, and even the “heartwarming” aspects were fun. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, taking a franchise that had gotten a bit stale and sticking its finger into an electrical outlet to revive it.
This is obviously not the height of cinema, nor is it meant to be. And while I hesitated to call it my favorite for fear of looking of low-brow or unserious, 2019 was the kind of year that needed a little capital-F FUN injected into it. And Bumblebee succeeded in doing just that.
A foul-mouthed, whiskey-swigging, super-powered private detective? A total badass of a woman, trying to get out of her own way and face down her personal demons while helping people? Greatest. Idea. Ever.
Aside from the fact that this was the last season of the series thanks to the whole “Disney+ killing Marvel shows on Netflix” thing (RIP to Luke Cage, as well), there is not a single negative thing I could say about this show.
Krysten Ritter was perfect. Eka Darville was perfect. Rachael Taylor was perfect. Carrie-Anne Moss was perfect. The whole damn show was perfect.
My only complaint is that there won’t be any more episodes.
(tie) Chuck McKeever’s Tabs Open and Aaron Reynolds’ Effin’ Birds
I’ll start by saying that these two things could not upon initial inspection be more different. One is a newsletter about life in America and the other is drawings of birds with swear word captions. Thus, it would appear, is the dichotomy of my sensibilities.
McKeever is a friend of mine (we’ve never met in person, but we both wrote for the Ohio State Buckeyes website Land-Grant Holy Land and forged a connection), though even if he wasn’t, I’d wholeheartedly endorse Tabs Open. Blending life experiences, reading, research, humor, and a little Socialism, the newsletter is wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and informative.
Depending on the week, McKeever may tackle climate change, Medicare For All, the desperation, perseverance, and hopefulness inherent in choosing the creative life, or how his life and approach to meaning have changed in the couple of years since completing his hike of Pacific Crest Trail. At its core, Tabs Open is about finding a way to exist in the world in the most ethical and fulfilling way possible, and that’s a damn important message.
Effin’ Birds, on its face, is basically just fart jokes with drawings of birds. But having followed it for quite some time now, I think it goes a lot deeper than that, even if that isn’t the intent. The captions may just seem to be attempts at crude-worded humor, but they actually dig down towards the feelings of absurdity and exasperation of our world-historical moment.
In a time in which Fascism, Capitalism, and Trumpism are running amok, the human race is literally killing the planet with seemingly little remorse or desire to change, and rampant materialism, narcissism, greed, and idiocy have infected the populace, Effin’ Birds cuts right through all the bullshit and calls a spade a spade. In its own way, Reynolds’ work is a master cultural critique.
And it also happens that I have the sense of humor of a adolescent, so it’s just really fucking funny.
So anyways, that’s the little bow I’m tying on 2019. My wish is for 2020 to be a kinder, gentler, more thoughtful time for us all. At least, I think that’s a worthwhile goal for us all to work towards.
At this time of year, it often feels like the mind wants to pack it in and wait for the calendar to turn (or at least it does to me), as if there’s no point in trying to accomplish much else, as if we’ve moved past the point of productivity and into a barren season, idea-wise.
As that thought crept into my head, I recalled a blog post from a few years ago by Austin Kleon in which he talks about this. He says that the temptation to lapse into retrospection betrays how much time we really have, time that could be used constructively.
Kleon asks, “What else am I missing by being prematurely retrospective?” He then relays a story that I think ties together the year-end conflict we feel rather nicely:
One time my coworker John Croslin and I came back from our lunch break and our building’s parking lot was completely full. We circled the sweltering lot with a few other cars for what seemed like ages, and just when we were about to give up, a spot opened and John pulled right in. As he shut off the car he said, “You gotta play till the ninth inning, man.
It’s natural at the end of the year to start looking back at what went right, what went wrong, and how to use those lessons to forge ahead, but at what cost? As of this writing, there are 48 days remaining in the year. That’s a lot of time!
Play ’til the ninth inning. That’s exactly what I was looking for. The year is a baseball game with twelve innings and I want to play until the last out.
According to the small seasons of the sekki that I’ve written about previously, we are smack in the middle of “Ritto” (the start of winter) right now, but there are still two more seasons yet to come before the new year. Two whole seasons to write, to read, to try new things, to explore whatever it is that stirs your soul.
If we can commit to playing until the last out, think of how much more we can discover, accomplish, and grow.
The site has been the best destination for “sports” coverage on the web for years, and its death has me all kinds of pissed off.
Deadspin didn’t always stick to sports, and that was a good thing. Sports aren’t just box scores, standings, and statistics. They exist in a flawed world filled with flawed people, and the site was adept at using them as a jumping-off point for exploring broader societal issues. Deadspin could make you think critically about things you might not have otherwise, a feat few mainstream publications can pull off.
When it did stick to sports, however, it didn’t take the subject matter too seriously. That was the beauty of it. You could get informed about the games and players you care about, but still laugh your ass off at 3rd grade jokes, and be reminded that sports are supposed to be fun and are not altogether very important in the grand scheme of things.
This demise was brought on by private equity dude bros who either think they’re the smartest guys in the room, when clearly they’re not, or by private equity dude bros who were hell-bent on destroying the site from the outset because its reporting was often critical of the kind of people private equity dude bros tend to revere.
It is tempting to see the demise of Deadspin as another depressing instance of how things work: a private equity firm full of almost comically idiotic media bros blunders into a successful media property and destroys it because the only thing it knows how to do is juice ad impressions. But the collapse of Deadspin is so spectacularly stupid, so clearly self-inflicted, that it has an epochal quality. If there were any justice in the world, the site’s absurd decline, which could not better contrast the integrity and talent of Deadspin’s staffers on one side and the craven shit-eating of their corporate masters on the other, would serve as a wake-up call to the powers that be. Since there isn’t, it’s almost certainly a harbinger for much worse to come.
So the dark days of independent media continue. RIP, Deadspin.
I wrote a little thing yesterday, and then as often happens, the subject I wrote about continued to pop up throughout the rest of the day. Call it serendipity or some weird version of confirmation bias, but it happens often.
The topic was the seasons, or more accurately, how four seasons don’t seem like enough, and how living within a rhythm of smaller seasons might make more sense.
It wasn’t long after that I came across a little quote from Brittin Oakman, a poet of sorts on Instagram that I’d never heard of before:
Every season is one of becoming, but not always one of blooming. Be gracious with your ever-evolving self.
That got me thinking about the seasons in terms of slowness, of patience. Of not always having to be racing towards something and just letting life happen, like a flower blooming in the spring or, consequently, dying in the autumn.
Because even dying is a form of becoming.
According to the sekki, we’re in the midst of “Soko,” wherein we experience the first frosts and maple leaves turn yellow. The next small season will commence on November 8th with “Ritto,” which is the start of winter and marked by the ground beginning to freeze.
What a perfect time for slowness, for patience, for allowing life to progress at its own pace for once.
In my scrolling and reading this morning, I came across this piece from Kottke, quoting a Kurt Vonnegut graduation speech given at Fredonia State College, in which the great humanist writer argues that the four seasons we generally recognize aren’t enough.
One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.
Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!
What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.
This made me recall the twitter account I follow called Small Seasons, which follows the sekki, or 24 seasons used by Japanese and Chinese farmers prior to the Gregorian calendar. Small Seasons even has a widget to put the sekki on your calendar, which I’ve found to be helpful in trying to slow down a little this year.
And you can pair Small Seasons with the teacher and writer Matt Thomas’s blog post from a couple years back about living life more in concert with the seasons.
Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming—rather than fighting against—the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock. The result has been I’m able to prioritize better.
Prioritizing and finding a more natural rhythm in life are a couple of things I’ve been trying to be better about lately. Given the current hellscape nature and pace of the world, it seems paying a little more attention to that might be helpful to a whole lot of people.