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.

I Get Up Early to Ride Bikes

It’s been too long since I’ve done a bikes post, so here’s a bikes post.

Once a week I get up (real) early (for me) to meet a friend or two at Davis Sq. and ride bikes before work. Given my commute to Davis and then to work it ends up being ~17 miles. It’s a good amount of miles before work at a pretty easy pace, and there is always a stop for coffee and usually pastries, too. It’s kind of funny because it’s on the same day that I have my team meeting at work, and since the whole WeWork thing we usually all try to go to the same place on those days for that meeting.

We chat and BS and sometimes get philosophical, too, e.g., "What would the Spice Girls be called now?"

Some possible answers included:

  • Pumpkin Spice

  • Social Spice

  • Streaming Spice

All in all it’s a pretty good time, and I’m real glad I went this week because though I’ve been frankly exhausted and tired and real busy at work, the socializing and the moving and everything else is real good for me, and since I’ve managed to weasel my way into the bike room at one of the WeWork buildings, I rode my “nice bike” this week, which was great because I haven’t really been riding it that much since I started commuting again (instead opting for the "State Bike," which I guess I haven’t written about yet, but, you know, it’s a lock-outside-bike; I’ll write about it eventually — it’s pretty cool, I guess).

Bikes are fun, is the point. So is friendship.

Oh, and since it’s Wednesday, here’s some recommended reading:

WeWork Roundup Round I

Because the company I work for decided (tragically, somewhat sensibly, to close their office in Boston until the COVID stuff dies down a little more, those of us who were desirous of getting out of our apartments were generously granted WeWork passes. As I like separating my paid-work and my life when able, I have therefore been bopping around various WeWorks in the Boston area. As I end to go in early (in addition to shamelessly recycling sentence structures), whereas many of my coworkers go in somewhat later, and because I like to amuse myself, I’ve been writing them brief introductions to the space(s) in the team WeWork Slack channel, and I figured some of them were fun and worth sharing. Am I merely struggling for content? Perhaps. But I, at least, think they’re kind of fun, too.

The following are non-chronological and all locations and most other identifying information has been redacted.

Spacey chill synth vibes this morning at [REDACTED]; it’s like a less sad “the xx” (remember them?) but with a stronger drumbeat. It’s a little warm but maybe that’s better than the AC bumping. Visibility into the city is good, The dark roast is very weak; I can report back on the light roast once I’m done dumping this cup down my gullet.

It’s real quiet at [REDACTED]. The loudest thing right now is the press of computer keys; the music is all light bubbling synths and vocal harmonies. The main room is fairly empty; I believe someone has brought a makeup artist back to one of the larger offices, and there is a fashionable woman dressed in all black carrying a camera bag, and I’m thinking it might be headshot day, it just might be.

It’s a wet, somewhat humid morning, but the [REDACTED] WeWork has got us in more of a desert mood: middle eastern scales and clean, trilling guitars and swung, low drums. The monitors are, indeed, clutch, as it was this day that I finally remembered to bring the adapter thing.

At [REDACTED] there is yet no music, only the gentle hum of the HVAC and the occasional closing of the refrigerator door, the whir of the coffee grinder, mutterings amongst the workers. There is a man in a maroon mask that matches his beanie. Someone in the distance is wearing high heels that click pleasingly on the wood floors. The sun is shining. The coffee is black and acrid. I am 99% sure I figured out how to use the scanner.

It’s a frantic kind of day at [REDACTED] — or maybe that’s just me. The ambiance is meant to be a kind of “chill” drum-and-bass heavy kind of thing with floaty vocals over it, but all I can hear are mouse clicks and the slight whine of the A/C. Also this guy having a loud video call in Spanish a few tables over. It is, at least, not very crowded, and someday I will remember that I brought headphones. Visibility out into the city is fairly clear, though it begins to get hazy the farther one stares into Cambridge. The coffee appears to have been strongly brewed.

They were playing jazz when I walked in, but from where I’m sitting you can hardly hear anymore save a gentle hum and synth and the rattle of coffee mugs being returned to their brass-colored shelves. It is now the kind of weather where one departs with perhaps one too few layers and arrives with perhaps one too many; the cold air does help with the sleep, however. The seltzer tap on the [REDACTED] floor is broken, though I heard whispers of something on the [REDACTED] (which I was not — and am not — sure is an option). But in any case the sun is out, it shaln’t be too warm today, and [REDACTED] finally sent me back the index review; all is fine and well.

So apparently, the weather can be different on one side of the river from the other. In fact, it seems to go town to town: as soon as I crossed the border over into Cambridge the sky grew grayer, and by Central Square I was in the midst of the most ominous mist, which only increased as I made my way across the bridge into the never-ending clusterfuck of Mass Ave between the bridge and Comm Ave, and by my arrival at [REDACTED] I was indeed somewhat soaked through. Luckily I had (most of) a change of clothes. Unluckily, they seem to have taken the chairs away from my favorite table(s) and moved them against the wall for some reason, I’m sure, is detailed in the emails they send me that I quite frankly never read.

All quite on the [REDACTED] front…​ there seems to be a smattering of folks in the private offices but as far as I can tell I am alone with the WeWork workers, my thoughts, and the private-office guy who keeps finding himself answering text messages right in front of (and blocking) the coffee drips. Luckily, this means I was able to secure my corner and a monitor. Breathy synth-pop rains down from the speakers above, dream, baby, dream shouts out in caustic neon-blue from behind the front desk.

Proof and Pudding

Last time I was bitching and moaning about my phone and the time it steals from me and so I did delete many things off my phone. I was going to say that I hadn’t really noticed all that much difference, but then I realized that instead of getting notified last night that there is, indeed, another pre-work casual bike ride tomorrow morning via Instagram and then wasting whatever time was left on dinner timer, I read a book during that time instead: a philosophy book, no less. So that’s got to be something like proof.

Pudding? Well, two things really:

  1. Alia was going to make a bunch of pudding for treats at town day, but I guess you can’t do puddings as a licensed residential kitchen (because of the temperature thing), so I’ve been craving pudding.

  2. It’s like…​ three or four of my friends' birthdays today. September, amirite?

But to return to the phone thing, I have not really started any major work on that novel that everyone assumes (correctly) that I’m (not really) writing. I have done a little work here and there on other things. I met some new writers last week at the Program Bar and swapped work with one of them (it was good; I owe them more feedback). I was pleased that though I am not in the program any longer that the Program Bar is still a thing, and I am thankful that they have a patio. This is to say that the lack of social medias on my phone hasn’t yet turned me into this wildly productive person that I was hoping it would over night, but then: I really wasn’t expecting it to (nor should I have). It has given me a little more — I don’t know — headspace? My mind has wandered a little more and that’s been good. I can take walk breaks at work around the city and not feel like I need to look at my phone or listen to a podcast (OK: maybe I’m just all caught up on The History Of English Podcast, but still).

I am still not caught up with personal emails (sorry, David), but I’ve been thinking it’s near time to get Response going again. I also probably need to redesign that website. Oh well.

I continue to spend much of my time at various WeWorks around Boston (I have access to some of the bike rooms, too, finally). I’ve spent a lot of time in the past month writing code. It’s made me think about doing a nonfiction project. Or rather: raising an old idea from the ashes. We’ll see, we’ll see.

But all this programming has got me thinking about math and about that kind of proof again (see how I brought it back around?). I started inching my way through Set Theory, Logic and their Limitations again. I’m sure it’s (still) too hard for me, but it was nice to read about weak and strong induction again.

But we’ll see where all this gets me. I should write a bikes post next time.

Old Music and Other Notes

Alia and I listened to Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest on a road trip, which was excellent and you should read it, and so I’ve been listening to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest, Lou Reed’s "Transformer," and the first Crosby, Stills, and Nash album (I have no explanation for this last one). I have’t done a good job keeping up with new music probably since high school, and though I used to feel some guilt about it in college, I’ve been happy enough to find things I like slowly and on my own time. I don’t have much more to say about this except I’m happy to be listening to what I’m listening to this week.

It’s been busy.

We were in the midwest for most of last month visiting family and doing family things and also getting ready for Alia’s home bakery to open. For my part, this has meant building the website, which as of this writing isn’t up yet but will go live sometime tomorrow evening. I built the main site of it using very similar technologies to what I use to build this site, but because she needed a way to take online orders, I built a Flask app, which meant I was constantly confusing [object].length and len([object]) when switching between the front-end (JavaScript) and the back-end (Python). But I’ve learned a lot in the process so that’s been good: form submission, validation, email sending, all kinds of good (if simple, so far as web apps are concerned) stuff. I’m not quite done yet but getting close. The deployment and so on is all automated, too, so updates will be easy (yay).

As a small sidebar, I’ve been trying to (finally) make the switch from Atom to VS Code. Why? In part because you still can’t get Atom on the Raspberry Pi, which has more or less turned into my main personal computer now that Alia and I are sharing my old laptop (which she needs more often for business reasons), but mostly because VS Code does a few things better so far as my job is concerned (a very simple example: telling me ahead of time when the heading levels in a document are out of whack, or if there’s a bad URI). I’m sure Atom does those things too, but it’s a little less out of the box.

The thing I liked about Atom though was that beautiful init.coffee file: a lazy would-be-editor-hacker’s dream. VS Code wants you to make an extension. Ideally it wants you to write that extension in TypeScript. So I’ve finally gotten around to doing some of that, since it’s the part of my ongoing 6-month cycle of relearning JavaScript in which I actually kind of know some JavaScript, and so TypeScript has (so far) been easy enough to pick up (at least so far as the minimal amount I need to know to rewrite my Atom commands for VS Code). You can see what poor progress I’m making on the GitHub repo. We’ll see if it’s ever good enough to publish.

The bigger thing I’ve been thinking about though has more to do with my time and my phone, namely, that I spend too much of it there. And I’m not really so-so bad, in truth. I’m pretty good about it in person: I’m not someone who looks at my phone when I’m out and out with friends. But I do check it a lot at odd moments when otherwise I could just be letting my mind wander (e.g., on the toilet). I miss my mind wandering. I think a part of it is that I have been stuck at home and not on or waiting for the bus or the T, have not been bike commuting (which is its own kind of wandering).

I’m back to working in some kind of office (i.e,. various WeWorks around Boston — a topic for another time), so I’m back to commuting, and it’s really really nice, and I’m enjoying having the headspace again. One of the things I appreciated most about Abdurraqib’s book was the mediations, the way(s) he connected the music to his personal history to larger cultural and societal tropes (the quick, trans-Atlantic cultural history of the music’s roots near the beginning of the book was fucking beautiful (among other passages)). I’m not that kind of storyteller: I don’t really work with mythologies and cultural legacies as much (or rather, explicitly: all that shit is there all the time, you know?), but I want to borrow something of the headspace, of the drawn lines. I think I used to do that — I think I’m capable of it — but I haven’t had the headspace or the energy for much of that or any writing lately.

All of which is to say that I’ve deleted all the social media apps off my phone in the hope that, once I get this website built, I can have the headspace for work on the writing again.

So far as the self-expression thing that one in theory uses social media for (HA!), I’m going to try to stick to this here blog. It’s more like writing, you know?

Obviously, I’m still going to log onto Twitter and whatever via a web browser; I may still look at IG on my phone; I’m going to see about actually deleting my FB account though, because I genuinely never use it and want to stop feeling guilty for missing messages from months ago the few times I do log in. But the point is I’m trying to unlearn the itch to pull out the stupid screen every time I have a spare moment without some explicit task.

It probably won’t last so long / but we’ll see how it goes.