My computer is getting older, so it can’t handle running too many processes at once. But I still force it to hold fifteen tabs across two browsers that I really do intend to read soon, and some sheet music, and various Google Docs for writing projects, plus two different word processors for two different writing projects I’m simultaneously working on (with the help, obviously, of the Google Docs).
I was trying to also live-stream my church service, while flipping back and forth between all of this information (because the church service wouldn’t stream properly, so I kept getting bored, and that means more tabs need to be open to assuage my boredom, which further prevented the church stream from working.)
All at once it occurred to me: of course the live stream can’t load with all that demand on this old laptop. This is the exact same reason my brain often doesn’t seem to work anymore, and it shorts out when one more process is added (typically a noise is what takes me over the edge into cannot-function: this added stimulation completely fries me).
I’m always pulling myself in twenty directions, always dipping my toes in many little streams of information at once, asking my poor cognition to handle reading five books at a time and listening to podcasts and working and writing lots of unrelated things.
It makes sense that nothing makes sense, in conditions like that.
Apparently Faulkner didn’t say it, nor did Wilde or Welty or Chekhov. Instead, it was an obscure Cornish writer named Arthur Quiller-Couch who said that you must kill (in his words, “murder”) your darlings.
(Side note: Quiller-Couch published his novels under the pseudonym “Q.” I wonder if the QAnon people know that their long-lived deep-state hero also spent decades as a novelist and literary critic, centuries after writing a lost source for the Gospels. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are fortunate.))
“Kill your darlings” is one of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice out there, but it’s a cliché only because it’s completely true. To edit well, you must kill your darlings. Delete the little turns of phrase, the scenes, the characters, that you adore but which are weighing down your piece.
The breeze is drawing little crosshatch patterns on the tidewater like skin seen from close up.
The Sound is so inaccessible but this gap feels like infinite breathing room. Big splooshes of invisible fishes nearby, and waterfowl and bald eagles. We’re still in view of housing developments but we all get a respite anyway.
There’s the universal smell of saltwater and damp ancient rocks.
Two months ago, I said I’d write a post a day until this was all over.
Fool that I was, I think I expected that it would be clear when it was over. At this point, “it” remains confusing and variable and unlikely to be entirely over any time soon.
I’m not even sure what I think “it” is: the pandemic? The moral imperative to isolate if possible? Stay-at-home orders? Nonessential businesses closed? These all will have different end dates, possibly multiple end dates, and—
Friends, I just can’t post every day for that long.
Fortunately, I checked the tapes, and despite remembering that I said I’d post daily until this ended, here’s what I actually said: “I will be posting something here every day until…someday.”
So, today is someday. Two months in, I’m tapping out. I’m going to keep posting here a few times a week, but focus more on Book One and Book Three with my writing time.
This has been an interesting experiment. It’s taught me, maybe, that I can trust myself to have ideas and to write stuff, but also to understand that I won’t necessarily do so precisely on cue, and that’s okay. Some days posting was very hard, either because I had nothing to say, or a lot to say and no energy with which to say it, or because I felt so strongly that I was yelling into a void that prefer I stop. And some days, posting was easy. Not to worry either way, I guess.
It was also interesting to watch which posts people seemed to like more than others. What I learned: I have no idea what y’all want. And the bigger lesson there, of course, is that I should just let go of trying to please others and do what I want! Whee!
But yesterday I simply did not post, because I was busy and/or did not feel well, and it was kind of great. It was what I wanted.
In that spirit, what I want right now is to finish this tea, go for a walk/run thing (fingers crossed that this won’t take me to migraine city), and then get on with most this amazing day.
i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any—lifted from the no of all nothing—human merely being doubt unimaginably You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
In March, I started walking almost daily in it. There was no sign of spring yet, just brown and gray hillocks clustered with bare trees.
It took weeks for the small weeds clustering the floor to leaf out. This made me ecstatic. Tiny signals of spring. Little neon fingers of yellowest green began peeking out at the tops of the trees, in time, but I could still see straight through the forest to the sky, through the park to the houses.
I don’t know when it happened but the forest changed.
Maybe I walked in it less frequently for a few weeks in April, or maybe April zipped by me while I napped. But this week, I got lost several times on paths I came to know well in their brown phase.
Curious signposts were all I had to anchor me in the riotous expanse of green that was just yesterday an austere expanse of brown. A tree cut off about ten feet high, its stump shredded like a Troll doll’s hair, was my surprising signpost yesterday. I’m here? And there I was. Without that tree I would have thought I were a mile away from where I actually was, because all the other trees are masquerading as strangers. Or maybe their masks are off, now. I’m not sure which.
I’m not a parent but this must be what it’s like to watch your child grow up. Day by day, minute by minute, change is imperceptible. Then all of a sudden, the infant is running and speaking in full sentences.
Change is like that.
Today I walked six miles in sandals, which I don’t recommend, but in fairness I didn’t plan it. Once I got to the trees I turned the wrong direction on purpose and kept going. I needed it.
The wind was sowing pollen everywhere like snow, and it was gusting every which way, a mercy in the sudden summer heat today brought. Whenever I am in the trees and I feel the wind, I think of Elijah:
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-13
The problem is, I stubbornly remember this passage wrong. The Lord was not in the wind, it says, but I think he often is. He’s in the silence too, and sometimes the earthquake and the fire. Wind, definitely. The Lord is in the wind. So are allergens. It’s all part of it. Having a humble, sneezy, blister-footed body is part of it.
The creek was calling to me, and I’m usually in too much of a hurry (officially running, officially walking, must get back, no time to spare!) but today, not so much. I bushwhacked a few yards and sat on a rock to soak my feet in it.
God’s in the creek, too.
The last several miles were through neighborhoods, where kids biked around in swimsuits and neighbors sat on many stoops drinking and talking at a distance. Men armed with spatulas and spray cans of OFF faced their barbecues. Groups of friends sat in large circles on lawns.
It’s coming to seem as though socializing outdoors is a lot safer than we’d thought, and indoors is more dangerous than we’d thought. The rule of six-feet doesn’t apply evenly because of airflow. Indoors, you might have the same sickly air passing you by for hours. Outdoors, it all circulates globally and winds carry it in all directions, and it’s hard to get to a dangerous concentration.
There’s something poetic about this, although I’m wary of ending with a trite, privileged optimism. But I can’t help it: I love the idea that we can all, maybe, sit outside together, even this summer, under the trees. Golden summer can still happen.
WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
Looking back into the rosy mists of time, I imagine that there was a moment when believing the expert consensus was the sign of a reasonable person. It might have been more or less normal to hold a humble belief that people who are not climate scientists, epidemiologists, theologians, medical doctors, or lawyers would be wise to shut up and listen to those people in their respective fields.
But now, it seems, the opposite is often true: only a total moron believes what he is told on the basis of the elite credentials of the teller. In the internet age, it is a sign of good discernment and wisdom to look behind the veil, to disregard the dull consensus and look for the improbable and dramatic explanation instead.
Oh, you don’t believe that Pete Buttigieg and/or his husband fixed the Iowa caucus by somehow being affiliated with a nefarious company behind the ill-fated app they used to tally votes? Wow, what a dummy.*
That’s just a fun little sample of one conspiracy theory I became aware of sometime in the very long decade that has been 2020 so far. As you probably know, there are lots more where that came from. My awareness of these theories largely comes from my inability to simply avoid reading the comments. This inability of mine lives in tandem with conspiracy theorists’ inability to avoid commenting to educate the sheeple, and, well, here we are, symbiotic and miserable.
(If I’m a little more aware of, or a little more interested in, the grimy conspiracy underbelly of the internet than you are, fear not. I’m a bit of a disaster tourist, straddling several online worlds, and gawking at still others. This is confusing, and relevant, on which more later.)
I’m not here to rehash these various conspiracy theories, because they’re mostly incredibly dumb and awful, and a lot of them are about covid, which is disheartening. Instead, I’m here to wonder why.
I think there are three main temptations to conspiracy thinking:
I used to be a yoga person. I’d go to several classes a week, generally whatever fit in best to my schedule. There was the severe Ashtanga class in the old Hearst Gym, taught by a gentle, reserved elderly man named Carl. There were the incredibly nurturing classes down at the studio in Emeryville, the kind of class that ends with the teacher pressing lavender oil into your neck. (Is there a better feeling in the world? There is not.) There were various studios in various other cities: some hot and crowded, some awkward, some emotional and some intimidating.
There were hard lessons about migraine triggers. (Hot yoga: not even once.)
For the last few years, I haven’t done much yoga, mainly because it seems literally impossible these days to actually make the effort to go to a class before, during, or after work. But at some point during my adventure with pneumonia, I decided to start doing some classes online. And then, like seemingly every person in the world, I became a big fan of Yoga with Adriene, who has taught me to forget everything I knew about asanas.
Here’s the thing: I’m not exactly a high-energy person. I can barely stay upright in a chair for more than ten minutes before I begin the slow slide down into some kind of quasi-horizontal position. I’ve often found that I need to lie down upon reentering the house after any kind of errand, as though I have a case of the vapors.
And yet, to my chagrin, I live in a culture that prizes macho energy: we give big props to people who don’t take their leave from work, and we applaud those who get up at the crack of dawn after a partial night of sleep to go “no pain, no gain” it out in the gym. We robotically chase productivity without being certain what we’re producing or why.
(I wonder: is producing the masculine cousin of creating?)
For me, both personally and politically, this kind of macho go-get-’em-tiger thing does not spark joy.
An unoriginal observation: the “attention economy” encourages us to become weird versions of ourselves.
If you’re just a regular slob with a social media account, what do you post when your audience includes basically everyone you’ve ever known? Jenny Odell said it well: you imagine what you would say if you walked into a party where the attendees included everyone in your high-school class, plus a few hundred randos you met in college and after, plus your family members across all generations, plus strangers you met through common interests.* And, by the way, all of them will hear whatever you say to some of them, because for some reason you’re miked up.
You probably say something pretty boring.
It’s natural, it’s human, for us to calibrate our conversation to suit who we’re speaking to. But social media asks us to turn this impulse off, and just say “it”—whatever it might be—to everyone at once. This can’t help but change what we say. It tends to make us second-guess our spiciest opinions, which we’d feel comfortable exploring with this group but certainly not if that one is listening in. And then there is a concrete system of reward (likes) and punishment (crickets) that cannot but encourage us to mold all of our expression into whatever the crowd enjoys most loudly.