On Commuting I

Well, it’s another series (maybe). I can’t seem to blog in a straight line these days and that’s fine — it’s almost peppermint schnapps season.

Back when I was commuting to the North End in Boston I would sometimes bike behind this guy I called "the bumblebee" because he’d taped up his black single speed with bright yellow reflective tape in stripes all over, and he was a friendly guy to pass or to be passed by depending on the morning, and the other day I saw him going the other way over the Mass Ave bridge and it was really affirming, somehow, to know he’s still out there riding around, too.

All I want to do when I grow up is be an old guy wandering around in a public park on a weekday morning staring up at a tree and probably thinking, "huh: nice tree."

I got passed today at a light by a dude clipped in (SPD) to his track bike, and then he got passed by a dude clipped in (SPD-SL) to his nicer track bike, and I didn’t have the legs or care really to try and keep up with either of them, but based on the second guy’s low RPM at the speed even I was going (~19-20), he must have been pushing a 50T chainring or something. Just goes to show you that you’re only hot shit until the next guy shows up. Also, it’s about time I switched back to commuting in clipless pedals (I have cozy boots for the winter, and also my toe-clip-commuting shoes are starting to stink to high heaven and I can’t seem to get rid of the smell).

Bikes bikes bikes.

We have reached the point in autumn where half of us are wearing big puffy coats while others of us are wearing shorts and/or T-shirts for the commute. I keep forgetting that it warms up by about ten degrees as soon as I cross the town line over into Cambridge.

On Wednesdays we do long rides before work to some coffee shop or bakery or other and sometimes that means that I come into the city through Allston, passing by the Landry’s on Beacon. They’ve got a tent and a bike stand out most mornings and I usually blow by them but the other day I’d left the guys I ride with to go their own ways back across the river and stopped: my chain was making horrible, embarrassing sounds. (When did I become the kind of person who doesn’t both to lube his chain? When I stopped working in a shop, I guess.) So anyway I stopped and asked for some lube and like bike people we talked about bikes. The older guy — not that old, just older than the two charming, sweet, and kind of knuckle-headed college guys out there that morning — and I had that moment of recognition when he asked what I did for a living and I told him but told him that I used to work at the shop I used to work at. He had too. (It seems like half of Boston’s shop folks have cycled through there at some point sometimes.) Anyway, we had a nice chat and I went on my way with a much less embarrassing chain, thinking just a little bit about his offer to come do a shift sometime if I ever missed it, was feeling itchy.

It finally happened: someone I passed on my way in walked into the bike room at the building when I was leaving. I don’t think he recognized me, but he sure as shit recognized my horrifically green bike.

I hate daylight savings because it’s just objectively bad. I will say though, that the change back to Standard Time meant that the sun that Monday morning was marvelous.

Bullshit: I Am Become Affiliate

It’s true. There is now a disclaimer and everything. So click this link for the book I finished last night and then go on to buy whatever book you actually want to buy.

If you need a recommendation, see the reading page.

There are like five of you who still read this, so, you know, if you all buy like 10 books over the next year, I might have earned enough for a beer or two. I’ve also gone back and added links for some of the stuff in the past but mostly I haven’t because that’s a lot of work and I don’t actually expect to make money on this anyway.

The Management

Writing Groups and Social Clubs

I mean, why not jump into the fray?

By which I mean, I am mentioning "Who is the Bad Art Friend?", as well as the New Yorker’s (hit?) piece, "The Short Story at the Center of the “Bad Art Friend” Saga" for SEO (LOL — nobody reads this blog, save the five of you), but also for context.

I’m not really going to talk about it though, save that I think it’s fun that Boston is involved, I am (so I’ve recently learned) only like a degree or two of separation from some of those folks, and I actually do remember the whole Boston Book Fair "One City One Story" thing from a few years back.

But mostly I want to talk about me and my friends: much less litigious. Also less well published as an aggregate, but —

And I won’t say we’re not petty or that we don’t talk shit: I would argue that’s one of the greatest joys of friendship (being petty, talking shit). The crowd in Boston met mostly (OK: entirely) in an MFA program (not the one you’re thinking of) and so sure, we complained about and (gently) lampooned professors, the school, the bad healthcare plan, and a lot of those jokes still have currency. We don’t, as a rule, talk shit about our peers. We’re pretty serious about that. I mean, we’re good people after all. We make jokes, sure. We’ve had questions about plagiarism between us and us (which was resolved after a frank, adult conversation, I’m proud to say — and also it wasn’t really alleged plagiarism of material but a stylistic tic, but hey: we’ve all got to try things), we’ve had fights and disagreements and hurt feelings, sure (you should have seen me after workshops during my first year or so of grad school — so sensitive!), but I mean, I think the thing is that at the end of the day we think it’s cool when our friends actually make some work, and we are supportive when they get published, and we're really good at drinking at the bar we try to support our community when and how we can.

Really, though, much of our time together has little to do with writing. In reality, we’re more a social club made up of folks who happen to be writers and who say things like "I can only seem to read mid-20th century French literature in translation right now" without (too much) irony. We share work, we do — shit, I’m sitting on a friend’s novel right now that I genuinely cannot wait to read — but, especially now that a majority of us are done with grad school. We’re busy. And we sometimes think we have time to read somebody’s thing and then we don’t. And we sometimes think we’re reading to send something out but we’re actually not. And you know, the idea of when and how to send work has changed a lot, too.

Jane (Unrue) said something once that stuck with a lot of us about the difference between private and public writing, the writing that is "just for us" and the writing we "share." I think as we get farther a long into it (should I speak for more than just myself? Sure, why not?), the more we tend to hold onto things until we think that they really are ready: we don’t, as much, need the early look, the "is this a good idea at all" reads. Maybe it’s hubris, maybe we just are at a point where we have a better idea of what we are trying to do and what we want. I think this is a good thing.

So although I admit I have some envy of a proper "writing group," I really wouldn’t want that, at the end of the day. Sure, some more accountability would be good, but honestly I’m not sure I have time for that, either. The infrequent book clubs are enough. The odd short-short shared is enough. The novels come when they come and that’s a good thing: I’m not sure I have enough brain to read sections of novels and keep them all together over the course of months anymore. I like that we instead drink beers in parks in sock-koozies and metal water bottles, talk about who and who wasn’t "personally invited" to this or that reading (and about what day of the week a "really good reading" would be on), about who is reading what, about whether or not this or that documentary about Big Foot was actually just a large bait-and-switch.

It’s a writers' social club; it’s just that instead of the Algonquin or Bloomsbury we’ve got the Boston Common and the Banshee down on Dot Ave, and our best work is still very much yet before us.