I really want to go somewhere right now. Basically anywhere.
Alas, we cannot.
Instead let me take you on a tour of the apartment complex. And I’ll tell you about Mary,* while we’re at it.
As you get close to the building, you’ll notice a certain wildness on the sidewalks. This block has been described, not at all accurately, as the Times Square of this otherwise subdued city. There are lots of people milling around, hanging out in biggish groups despite everything, and engaging in all kinds of commerce. Sometimes there are other gatherings, too: book sales, religious revivals, heritage festivals, ad-hoc playgrounds for children, farmers markets,** etc, all happening in front of the more traditional commercial storefronts (your cellular companies, your ice-cream parlors, your nail salons, your fried chicken, your megabank).
I’ve started to recognize this mountain like a human face. This strikes me as odd somehow and deeply intimate, although I am not sure why. I am able to recognize city streets, freeway off ramps, curves in a trail. But the mountain, too, has a face. Each of the hulking volcanoes along the Cascades has her own face, and I start to know them all.
Rainier is the one I see daily. At roughly 8:34 in the morning as I descend St. Helens Avenue, late as always to work, there’s a moment at the old car dealership where Rainier appears. If the morning is even a bit clear, the mountain bellows from the hollow in between the buildings over the Puyallup River. I only have a few seconds of the view before the road again dips between the buildings and it is lost. But temporarily it is a riot of gold, haloed in a cloud or—on the rarest of days—crisply visible to the tip.
This is how I have memorized the ragged top of Rainier. I now recognize it instantly in photos, distinct from Hood or Baker. Rainier has that odd rounded top settled into a crevasse. Is that right? I can’t be sure. Perhaps this knowledge is partly cheating, as I see the mountain on every license plate around me daily. But I also can distinguish it from Hood – that one, a simple triangle.
It surprises me that it surprises me that I should become aware of my surroundings like this.
Today we’re talking about baking. Specifically, sourdough.
Yeah, I know.
In my defense, I was doing it before the pandemic (although not, I note for the record, before it was cool.) I have the marks against my TSA record to prove it from all the times I flew back and forth to Michigan with my little sourdough starter baby in a jar in my carry-on.
“That’s a gel, ma’am,” they’d say, unscrewing the lid after testing it for bomb residue.
“No, it’s my son, and you’d better hand him back right this minute!”
I lost my son somewhere in the chaos of 2013-2014 and I hope he’s happy out there, wherever he is.
Anyway, now I’m starting again because there’s time, and I fucking love bread to an Oprah degree.
This new son is named Stanislav. From his conception until today, he’s been confined to a too-small jar due to a severe jar shortage. Every time I fed him during his growing phase, he would overspill the top by morning. I’d wake up to find Stanislav having crested and overflowed his bounds.
Today, a few examples of a linguistic phenomenon that delights and vexes me, which I am calling “euphemism drift.”
Full disclosure: when I sat down to write this post, I thought it was an original idea. But Google corrected that impression. So here is a Wikipedia segment that is more or less the topic. And apparently Steven Pinker has named this concept the “euphemism treadmill.”
Still, I think being deterred by unoriginality is a coward’s game, so on I press.
For the record, this post is going to use the “r word,” but not (as I hope you’ll find) in a derogatory way. In fact, I want to show that the word has never been the problem.
But let’s start with a fun example first. “Happy hour.” Now, what is happy hour? To take it literally, it’s an hour that’s happy, or more likely, an hour during which people spending the hour are happy. But we all know that’s not what it means. No one talks about “pre-dinner drinking time;” instead, we have chosen the euphemism “happy hour.”
It’s coming up on two months of posting “content” daily.
Friends, why did I say I’d do this until it all ended? We still barely know what it is, and when it will end is…
Danger thoughts. Don’t go there.
In any event, I know the answer to why I did this thing to me: it was mid-March, and every hour brought some fresh surprising hell, and I woke up one morning feeling like hot compost and a little inspiration hovered before me glittering like a diamond: I could write more. I could escape the black hole that threatened to swallow me by giving myself a new project. A little structure to the day. And how hard could it be?
The answer, seven or so weeks in, is: not that hard, but also, somehow, quite hard, in sheer terms of time I could otherwise be spending on other things.*
(The other major reason I did this is, of course, I was such an idiotic boob back then.)
The problem is, trying to post every day means I’m always running.** This doesn’t always result in the best content. (I mean, it probably usually does, but just not always.)
It doesn’t allow me time to let the thoughts sit and marinate, as they used to do when I was posting about once or twice a week. (This is largely because the time I optimistically allocate daily for brainstorming and free-writing, 7-9am, tends to turn into just sleep-in time before the harrowing commute from the bedroom into the living room office.)
Writing time, whenever it occurs (right now: quarter to 11pm, which is to say, past my brain’s daily expiration date) is either very slow, very scattered writing (every fourth day or so), or else depleting the ol’ partially-written post archives, much like eating through all the emergency beans in the emergency bean cabinet (the other three days).
On that every-fourth-day when I somehow write a lot, I meander back and forth between twelve different ideas, popping in little details here and there in a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of an outline that I know future me will be able to clean up.
Future me never seems as certain about what past me meant as past me was. But she was enthusiastic; I can give her that.
The end result is something like having several different stews cooking on various burners, and I’m spicing them occasionally, often forgetting which one was the curry and which one the sour broth, and then I hear a bell and it’s dinner time and I grab one of the stews and serve it up to you.
And some days, like today, right as I’m about to serve it I take a look in the bowl and go, hmm.
*Ironically, the most time-consuming part is all the posting and cross-posting to Instagram and Facebook and occasionally Twitter, each of which demands a slight reformat and various buttons to be pressed from various devices. I guess I could just stop doing that, but then I’d really be shouting into the void.
**Not literally. Although I also feel like an idiotic boob every time I run.
If you’ve been on the internet in the last five years, you may have noticed that all of a sudden, “content” is everywhere. There’s new content, great content, content overload, and there are content creators keeping the whole operation going.
The word “content,” of course, has many meanings across all parts of speech, but the one I’m referring to is the third noun entry here: “the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website.”
Let me concede off the bat that “content” in its internet usage is a “real word.”*
In case you’re new to them, how shall I describe them? Perhaps I’ll say they’re a technology for many humans to try to talk at once, and somehow simultaneously also for no one to talk for quite a long and awkward time, from different locations. They’re also quite possibly the greatest-ever advance in human boredom-creation technology.
If you’re a conference call veteran, then you’ll know the feeling of awkwardly announcing your presence, then waiting for fifty-five minutes absently refreshing your email while someone explains something in great detail that one other person on the twenty-person call needed to know, and then pretending to have enjoyed the experience when you, with a vast sigh of relief, say “Thanks, everyone!” and press the big red button just in time for lunch.
Now, introducing: conference calls in the time of COVID!
Who among us can say that they don’t get really mad when people refuse to use their brains properly? Especially strangers on the internet. There is an irresistible temptation to shame the person into thinking better, often by trying to show them how their actions or beliefs or words are harmful or hypocritical or just intensely moronic.
But how often does this work, really? Basically zero percent. People often dig in even deeper, finding that the attempted shaming proves their original point.
Here’s the thing: shame is externalized guilt. That’s why it doesn’t work to convince people to change their minds. Allow me to explain.
When I regret that Ian has no more Oreos to eat because I ate the last one, I feel guilt. But when Ian goes “Wow, how could you do such an unkind thing as eating all the Oreos so that I have none to eat?” I feel shame.*
For shame to work, I have to agree with the premise. I have to be guilty about the thing and then have someone else also reflect that guilt at me. I have to agree that it would be good for Ian to have any Oreos, and I have to agree that it was unkind of me to scarf them all down in one sitting. (As it happens, I agree with those premises. For now, at least.)
If, on the other hand, it is my firm belief that the Oreos were mine to begin with, and he deserved none, and it was actually right and good for me to eat them all less than 24 hours after the biweekly grocery shop, then I would simply toss my head back and laugh at his attempt to shame me.
See the problem? I have to agree with a premise before I can be shamed by it.
Remember when we non-coding Americans all learned the word “queue” simultaneously because of Netflix?
Every time I see the word, I know what it says, but my brain goes:
Anyway, this is just to say that I struggle to queue. Not in the British sense; I’m very good at standing obediently in line. But when it comes to queueing up entertainment, whether it be on Netflix or Spotify or wherever, I think I’m doing it wrong.