It's Been a Long Winter, Don't You Think?

A friend of mine mentioned this morning that she’s working on essays, something I wish I was working on, too. My excuse is that I’ve never really gotten bit by the journalism bug (and though I enjoy research, I find myself flitting from interest to interest too often to do anything real about it), or that I don’t know where I’d try to publish things, and really any number of other excuses, but anyway, it reminded me that I have this languishing blog here, so —

All of my friends are doing Tarot. This is only a slight exaggeration. But it’s Tarot and astrology and it’s storytelling and I enjoy that piece of it. But though discussions of who or what is in retrograde admittedly fly far above my head (up in the astral plane, ha, ha), I enjoy the discussions and lately they have been about spring. I’m usually "wrong" about the coming spring. I’m a real downer about spring; I won’t trust that we’re out of winter up here in New England until it’s maybe the middle of May. I haven’t lived here long enough to have this suspicion unconfirmed. I also don’t (usually) mind winter. But there are maybe good things in the cards. The horoscope app I’ve been encouraged to download (again; I think I had it briefly in 2018?) says "Do:" "friendship bracelets," "playgrounds," and "postcards," at least playgrounds sounds like spring, and I’ll take it.

This winter has been a long one. No cozy warm bars in which to drink dark beer and shout about Bolaño, no winter group rides on frozen lakes or through snowy singletrack, no horrifically wet and cold commutes to complain about, and as the weather today in my part of the world is going to be in the fifties, tomorrow the sixties, Alia and I picked up a (free!) picnic table yesterday and put it in the yard, the CDC has said some encouraging things, Alia’s parents and my mother and remaining grandparents have all gotten their first doses of the vaccine, things are frankly feeling…​ spring-like. And I’ll take it. I mean, I still think we’re going to get more cold weather and snow in the coming weeks, but I’ll take it.

I was thinking I might write something coherent, but I’m losing interest in that the more this goes on. This feels relevant, however: it’s hard to pay attention and sustain focus at the best of times, and though the pandemic has obviously worsened this tendency in some ways, as the late Mark Fisher reminds us:

The consequence of being hooked into the entertainment matrix is twitchy, agitate interpassivity, an inability to concentrate or focus…​.What we in the classroom [and elsewhere] are now facing is a generation born into that ahistorical, anti-mnemonic blip culture — a generation, that is to say, for whom time has always come ready-cut into digital micro-slices.

— Capitalist Realism

I’m a middle-late millennial, meaning that I can remember a time before cell phones and the internet, but it wasn’t a lot of time, per se. And I do have some questions to post to Fisher’s characterization above (and in the book more generally, though I do mostly agree), but there’s something to it. And the constant stream of Jesus-what-the-fuck news that predominated 45’s presidency and remains — though muted — now, certainly exacerbate the problem.

I was thinking about this morning as I was reading more of Brecht on Theater, realizing that:

  1. I need to return it to the library today

  2. The epub version I have of it is not only the wrong edition, but also has been nearly entirely retranslated (for the worse, in my very uneducated opinion)

  3. I prefer the sections that are shorter to the longer ones, and that maybe I could not give a great summary of what I’ve read at the end of each essay.

I’m still gleaning things, and I think I could still argue about it and characterize it if I had to (at least: I still seem to be able to do that with a similarly attentive reading of The Second Sex for book club), but a part of me wonders if the reading I’m doing is any good at all: I’m reading so many different things concurrently and quickly, because every day there is something else I want to read.

(In truth, I think this is all fine, really, because I’ll remember what I need to remember and I can always return to it, and it’s not like I’m an academic anymore, just some shithead writer trying to write things — and write fiction, no less! But I was thinking about it.)

For fun, here’s something from my journal, furthering the Capitalist Realism line:

I don’t disagree with [the book] but I also don’t know that I like reading it (though it really is a very very easy read), and furthermore, I don’t know what I am to feel about postmodernism anymore, or rather, my relationship to it. Maybe it’s the post-post thing, wherein there is no credulity in the "reality" of the various symbolic systems, but rather an acknowledgement — regardless of their fictitiousness — of their efficacy and power, which is to say: maybe we need to treat them more along the lines of a kind of ontological fictionalism. If I were still doing philosophy I think that’s where one might have to take it.

I think that’s still right, though I need to work out the details more. I was very into fictionalism near the end of my undergraduate studies, and I still think there’s a lot to it. I also appreciate that it’s dissatisfying, but I do think it marries well with something like Foucault’s "archaeology," if one were trying to ground truth-statements to something that can avoid accusations of relativism. But then, really what I need to do is try to read Brandom’s Making It Explicit again, which I was woefully underprepared for when I tried in undergrad (the fact that I was in a relatively major depressive period at that time also did not help).


I’ve updated the reading page, kind of.

Here are some fun quotes from my reading of late:

Rarely does an interviewer ask questions you did not expect. I have given a lot of interviews and I have concluded that the questions always look alike. I could always give the same answers. But I believe I have to change my answers because with each interview something has changed either inside myself or in the world. An answer that was right the first time may not be right again the second. This could be the basis of a book. I am given a list of questions, always the same; every chapter would contain the answers I would give at different times. The changes would contain the answers I would give at different times. The changes would then become the itinerary, the story that the protagonist lives. Perhaps in this way I could discover some truths about myself.

But I must go home—the time approaches for the interviewers to arrive.

God help me!

— Italo Calvino
The Art of Fiction No. 130

Hugh put one foot up on the parapet and regarded his cigarette that seemed bent, like humanity, on consuming itself as quickly as possible.

— Malcolm Lowry
Under the Volcano

In the old days there was no more need for the artist to bother about science than for science to concern itself with him. But now he has to, for science has progressed so much further. Look at an aeroplane, then look at a theatrical performance. People have acquired new motives for their actions; science has found new dimensions by which to measure them; it’s time for art to find new expressions.

— Brecht on Theater

Salesman all over the world are trained according to its principles to influence their customers' behaviours; they learn by rule of thumb how to provide new needs for their fellow men. (Example: a man goes into a showroom, mildly infected, and comes out, severely ill, in possession of a motor-car)

— Brecht on Theater

But, bad as it may sound, I have to admit that I cannot get along as an artist without the use of one or two sciences. This may well arouse serious doubts as to my artistic capacities…​.But in my view the great and complicated things that go on in the world cannot be adequately recognized by people who do not use every possible aid to understanding.

— Brecht on Theater

That last Brecht quote may deserve some comment. I think it’s nice, though I cut out a lot of the paragraph in there (thanks, quad-ellipses), but the intervening was basically just romanticization of poets. It reminded me that, in theory, I also do computational stuff, but we both know that I haven’t done much of that lately. Partly it’s been that the novel is consuming and I only have so much time, and in part it’s that the last big thing I was working on — a quarantine-themed variation on Perec’s The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise — hit something like a spiritual roadblock, but like the essay thing, it’s a good reminder to return to it…​ nobody wants to pay me a salary and benefits to work on this stuff, right?

In any case, I do believe very much in adapting the "sciences" (broadly construed) to art — in fact, I made the prompt for this next issue of Response math, or well, math and an engraving, I guess (and the math was light to be honest, but still) — and [insert inappropriate rant about writers myopically writing only about being writers, etc.].

That said, I have been awash in novels, lit crit, and philosophy lately, so who the fuck am I to talk?

I don’t know — I ran out of steam (blame the lunch break). Here’s a picture of our cat:

George the Cat

What I could have should have done was tie everything back to Tarot, about prompted storytelling and using external promptings to guide the work that you were going to do anyway, and tie this into how the coming of spring puts an extra spring in the step (HA!) towards the multitudes of work, that the prospect of warmer weather and more sunlight means that there may yet be some awakening in the work too, etc., etc., etc. I find, with the above re: attention and focus and so on, that a lot of the writing I’m doing now is putting things in comments like:



// something more here, but I don't have the brain tonight.


// more things

But hey: it’s a "practice" not a "product," and at least this week there is forward motion: and this, too, I will take.

More soon.

Riding Big Tire Bikes in the Snow

We’ve finally reached the point in the year when the dust has more or less settled after the busy season at my job (late fall), the holidays (you know, December), and the busy season at Alia’s job (January), and though the lack of commute into downtown Boston means that I still don’t ride my bike as often as I’d like (i.e., twice a day during the week plus weekend rambles), I am a) very lucky to have a job, especially one that has been so excellent in handling the pandemic and b) still riding, still able to ride. This is a good thing, for my physical health, my mental health, and, you know, fun.

That said, I’ve been riding the bike trainer way too fucking much this year.

I bought the thing off eBay from a guy in Wisconsin (this is relevant, bear with me) early on in the pandemic when all the bike shops were sold out of them (save the $1000+ ones), and I considered it a present to myself for having finished my MFA thesis. These were the ugly, heady early days of the pandemic and it wasn’t clear if going outside was going to be OK or not, so I figured, “hey, why not try Zwift?”

It’s been good and fun and though it means that some days when I maybe could go outside and ride, I ride indoors instead (looking at you, cold gusty rain days), it’s been especially nice in the winter, as I don’t trust the drivers so much out where I like to ride once it gets dark, and this being New England, it gets dark at like… 4:30 (this is thankfully now changing). But the point is I’ve been riding indoors a fair amount. Enough so that I can do it for longer than the mere 20 minutes that I’d originally been able to tolerate. It’s still not “fun,” per se, but having the “smart” trainer helps, as does Futurama.

But anyway, I’ve been making it a point to get outside more, even when this means rides where after I take off my fall gloves to eat a snack halfway through a ride I have to stop and put on my winter gloves a few miles down the road because it got too goddamn cold. I’ve also started wearing produce bags inside my shoes (thanks Wiso, for the tip).

I like long rides and I like my “road” bike , and that’s what I ride the vast majority of the time. But you see, I used to live in Wisconsin…

(See? It was relevant.)

In Wisconsin I rode fat bikes in the winter because that’s what there was to do, and that’s how I made all my (twice-as-old and also retired) friends. It was genuinely awesome. I rented a bike from the finest folks at Bay City Cycles and then bought myself my first new bike, a Surly Wednesday, and rode the crap out of it until we moved to Boston.

In Boston, there was less a “need” for the fat bike. I would commute on it certain days in winter. I eventually discovered the relatively excellent trail system about a mile from where we live, and I would “mountain bike” on rare occasion with some buddies. I am ideologically opposed to driving-to-ride-a-bike if I can help it (D2R2 being the exception – apparently I did not do a write up for 2019?), and so until I found the trails I didn’t ride it much. After storing it wet after a snowy commute I didn’t touch it, and then the squealing was such that I had to replace the pads and rotors… and then I bought a different handlebar… and then decided I was done spending money on it, after buying the parts to make it a single speed, of course.

And so eventually I made it a single speed, rode it more, remembered how fucking fun it is to ride, and so I ride it a little more, but mostly when it snows, because that’s the most fun. And there’s been snow on the ground (a little snow, very cold snow, so great for bike riding). And so yesterday I went out to ride before the deluge of what promises to be shitty wet snow falls down upon us today and tomorrow (also, I have to, you know, work for money).

The ride was fun, and I even stopped at my favorite bench to drink some (by then) lukewarm tea out of my thermos.

Wednesday in the snow

I think single speed is the way to go for this. Yeah, it makes deep snow harder, but tbh deep snow is always hard. I don’t have to think much except “pedal.” I did just a little more than 11 miles and it was perfect. I do think I want yet another, different handlebar (the one I was too cheap to buy the first time), and I think I’ll also swap the saddle with an old C15 I have soon to be lying around, and I think also maybe I want a more set-back seatpost. But in time.

For now, it was just fun to ride. And though I’ll be on the trainer again tonight (see: deluge of snow), I’ll be thinking about the woods, about the nice, crackly sounding snow, about the adventures I’ve been missing from Wisconsin, and also, you know, probably whatever’s happening on Futurama.

Alex Said It Was a Tinkerer's Bike

Once upon a time, way back in the heady, late-summer days of 2019, I joined my friend Alex from the bike shop and my friend Shire from ultimate frisbee stuff and his cousin and his cousin’s buddy for a second round of D2R2, which is easily one of the best events I’ve ever attended, and some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike. As usual for that crowd, we rolled out pretty late but had a lovely time doing it, but got to the lunch area late, too (long story), and so as we skimmed the dregs of what was left to eat and ate them by the little river and covered bridge, we got to talking about bikes, as one is wont to do.

You see, Alex had just gotten back from biking from Boston to Seattle, Atlantic to Pacific. I’d ridden out with him on Day 1 and was to take him home after the day’s ride, as he had gotten off the Amtrak train somewhere in Western Mass and rode up to Deerfield to meet us (he already had camping gear, after all). I was asking questions about his ride, this and that, and mentioning some thing I’d wanted to do to the Straggler, which I like to putz with (also: dear lord those posts are old), and Alex thought about it for a while and said,

You know, that’s the perfect bike for you. It’s a tinkerer’s bike.

(The subtext being: “you never leave well enough alone, do you?”)

And goddamnit, he was right. It’s not “the best” at anything. This is well documented re: Surlys, and the Straggler in particular (lol @ the folx who don’t like the weird dropouts – they just take a few minutes to get used to and then you never think about it.) That said, it’s the best if you have a semi-deep spare parts bin, get bored easily, and like to play. And me? I like to play.

And so I played. The short version:

  1. I swapped the 42T Wolftooth ring for the VO 48/34 drillium rings (the crankset was on sale… I wanted the chainrings, also the crank for if/when I finally get rid of the GXP BB).
  2. I swapped the Rival 1 rear derailleur for a Rival 22 RD that I bought on eBay for real cheap some years ago (but it’s short cage, womp-womp). I have a Shimano RD (also short cage, because I’m cheap and an idiot?) on the way also from eBay, and I’m thinking the cable-pull will be a little better. I also want more silver on the bike for if/when I ever spring for that nice VO 46/30 crank… which will make the 11-28 somewhat less of a bad idea.
  3. Finally put to rest the 11-42 SRAM cassette that I originally built the bike with; I got a lot of chains out of that thing, but yes, it was time. I fitted an 11-28 10 speed guy back there because >10 speed friction shifting gets dicey I hear, and I don’t think I could have pulled the rear derailleur far enough with my shifter plan… (see step 6).
  4. Fitted a Problem Solvers braze-on adapter (it’s silver. Will I get the black one which I think will look better? Probably), and put on the DURA ACE front derailleur that Bay City Cycles in Ashland WI sold me for way cheap because they’re the best, and because the original one on Schwinny was toast and they took pity on me. I did need to replace one of the (stripped) limit screws (thank you, donor R8 FD!)
  5. New chain, etc. etc. – all that. Swapped on the SRAM brake lever set I used for last year’s winter single-speeed.
  6. I’m trying cloth bar tape!
  7. Put on the left downtube shifter, flipped the switch to friction the right shifter, and fitted new shifting cables. FRICTION ALL DAY, BABY!

So before (from this summer):

Stragglepus, before

And after:

Stragglepus, after

Plus some detail (glamour) shots:

Stragglepus, details

Stragglepus, details

Stragglepus, details

Stragglepus, details

Stragglepus, details

You’ll notice, too, that the stem has been flipped, the rack and bag fitted (please don’t judge the stitching: I sewed that guy in a hurry; it is relatively waterproof though!). I’m not sold on the flipped stem, but it helps my nether-regions given all this bullshit “virtual” cycling I’ve been doing (tl;dr: I don’t trust drivers at night in the suburbs where I like to ride and it gets dark real early in New England), but the rack and bag in the winter is key for layers, extra water, and snacks. God bless snacks.

I finally got out and rode the new setup outdoors this afternoon (I’d done some “virtual rides” with it), and it was fucking blast. I really do love the downtube shifting; I know I’m not supposed to. And the lever gets pulled almost 90 degrees but it shifts across the cogs fine. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I do notice and appreciate the smaller jumps between gears, and I like having to think a little more about my shifting: it requires a little skill. I’m not as crazy as the Rivendell folks (OK, maybe it’s just Grant?), but they’re on to something… they really are.

It was too wet today to try it in the woods, but I’m looking forward to that. I really do think the 1x gearing makes sense in the woods, but I want to try this, see how it goes. The nice thing is that, at the end of the day, I’m working this bike out so that I can change the fixin’s relatively easily (see: mentioned but not explained move back to a square taper bottom bracket), because although I don’t have a “one true bike,” or room for a fleet of bikes, I do have a really excellent bike for me, a tinkerer, who thinks it’s fun to be constantly rebuilding my bike.

Anyway, I was worried this blog was getting too much “books” and “bullshit” (Alia pointed out today that my blog tries to do too much to ever actually have an audience: I am fine with this. This is for me.), and I don’t see my shop friends or my bike friends as often as I would like these days so I wanted to talk about my bike. Because bikes are awesome, didn’t you know?

January 6, 2021

I don’t think I’m going to have a lot that’s coherent to say here. I don’t really want to write today; I’d much rather drink another 8% stout and finish reading Happiness as Such. I’ll do that. But first — 

Conveniently, I had therapy today. Was warned against the doom spiral. The pit. Was reminded that this is what I do and so I should do it. I shouldn’t beat myself up about not doing this or that other thing, not being more involved or more active. I do what I can. It’s not a lot but it is also not nothing. I can care but I don’t need to give my whole life over to everything I care about. I can pick. I’ve picked. But still today — 

Why Recap? Here are some headlines:

  • "Mob Incited by Trump Storms Capitol" (New York Times)

  • "Trump-incited mob attacks Capitol" (Boston Globe)

  • "Pro-Trump mob storms Capitol building" (Washington Post)

  • "Is this America? A breach in peaceful transition of power." (Christian Science Monitor)

  • "Pro-Trump protesters storm US Capitol garnering bipartisan condemnation" (The Jerusalem Post)

tl;dr is that it is/was pretty fucked. The whole thing is/was fucked. And when you consider the soft-ass response to this fucking coup attempt compared to the full-on military suppression of the BLM protests…​? But I am avoiding the spiral. It is not a good thing.

My therapist says it’s "grieving." I feel like when I was a kid there was some sense that the adults wouldn’t let bad things happen. As a grown up (i.e., I am 30 and an adult myself), the sense is that the "adults in Government" wouldn’t let bad things happen, some neoliberal, technocratic wet dream. Clearly, that is not the case. And paired with Nicholson Baker’s essay? Yikes. Lots of yikes. And so falls another comforting illusion.

The feeling — and I still struggle to articulate this — is that there has been a rupture. A rupture not so much in the sense that there are now more racist and bad people out there, but a rupture of the sense that that kind of racism, fascism, general "badness," must be kept under wraps in polite society. This is clearly no longer the case. I had (and have) some illusions about the lack of (for a close-to-home example) anti-Jew sentiments in America, but even then it was the kind of thing one didn’t expect to have to really deal with often, that the kids who scribbled "kike!" on another kid’s locker would have that kind of behavior — not the sentiment — schooled or shamed or otherwise condemned out of them.

I’d blame the internet — which certainly contributes — but — 

It’s just so much a shame. It’s so much these old fuckers in congress and so on not wanting to give up their power. It’s not about this or that social position, it’s about fucking power and it’s about fucking money and yes, I know my wife(!) likes to joke that I make everything about socialism but it’s also about fucking capital holding onto its own, about the fact that the stock market is doing just fine and the tech companies have made (how many?) billions of dollars during a pandemic in which (let me get an accurate as of right now number) over three hundred and sixty-one thousand people have died in the US alone, not to mention those who’ve had the virus and will have lasting health issues because of it. I mean, for fuck’s sake.

It makes me angry and it makes me tired and it makes me feel small and powerless. I can’t say I particularly like any of these feelings.

I don’t know that I have anything useful to say about this. As someone on Twitter pointed out, a lot of it is still "fog of war" and we don’t know everything and I’m not a pundit so who really gives a fuck.

Tonight I had meant to rewrite, for the…​ seventh? time, the beginning of a novel I’ve been working on for…​ a long time. Although I have some guilt about this I do still think that art is worth pursuing. When I say this I miss a former friend of mine who may, these days, disagree, who would say that the political action is the most important thing. This hurts me to think about, because I miss this friend a lot. Like "grieving" a lot. But I think more than one thing can be the most important thing. "Most important" is context dependent, as is "enough." It is important enough, I think. Art, I mean. Books and all that. Things that make you feel something that isn’t just illness and shame and disgust and weariness. I mean, art can totally do that, too (here’s a toast to you, Francis Bacon, whose work I do admire!). But I think you know what I mean.

Another thing we talked about (me and my therapist, I mean,) is how humanity has always been like this. I have, I think, few illusions about this not being true anymore. Think of Rome right before it’s fall (I recommend the Hardcore History podcasts about it, if they can still be found). Berlin right before Hitler (I recommend Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories). Pick any time in American history, because America is almost always doing something real fucked up (here, think Howard Zinn). I don’t expect humanity to be even or do better. This is why I struggle so much with certain Marxisms: I don’t believe in the "inevitability" of historical materialism. Maybe I misunderstand it. I appreciate how the material conditions affect society; I’m all about that. But that this inevitably will lead to something good…​?

I feel we’re more likely to make our planet inhabitable to human life first, frankly. I know that’s why we fight for the change we want, too. But still. None of the leftists I know own guns, and only a few of them — here I’m thinking of my anarchist friend — know how to throw a punch. I mean, I fenced when I was a kid, but I don’t know that a button-tipped epée will do much against an M1 rifle. Because that’s the proud boy’s thing, ya know?

It’s not that I think humanity is necessarily good or that it will be someday or that we’re evolving or anything, and I think this is OK. Not ideal, but OK. The problem is that due to globalization, the internet, fast and relatively cheap transportation, and one hundred thousand other things, our shittiness has out-sided impact on others. Both in an intra- and international sense (i.e., events in DC sure as shit fucked up my afternoon in Boston, and when we buy cheap made-to-fall apart clothes in America, that’s some worker’s fingers in Bangladesh). There are good things to this interconnectedness; there are also many bad things about it. What’s that quote again? Well, I’m not going to find it, but it’s something to the effect of

Capital always needs new frontiers, new markets to exploit and to sell to.

And it’s true. Not just geopolitically but also temporally, in a personal sense. So many pockets of life are now potential "markets." Just think about all the things you used to live without that you now "need." I think about this every time I worry about getting my phone wet while riding in the rain.

But I’m glad the Dems took Georgia. I’m glad Mitch McConnell will, at least temporarily, have less power. I’m glad congress seem to be back in congress and will ratify the vote. I still think almost all of them are…​ not the best. I accept that you can’t be good or pure, especially if you’re a politician. But I also am disappointed how empty all the threats are. How much politiking there is. How…​ well, I do not want to spiral.

I am tired. I wanted to work (i.e., write) tonight but instead I did this. I may write later, but now I want to drink one of the beers I bought at the tail end of my evening bike ride from Art, this kind human who owns a little specialty grocery just up the street, and read a Natalia Ginzburg book that I’m enjoying and have been looking forward to enjoying since I read the last sentence of The Dry Heart, and then I will go to bed and fall asleep next to a woman whom I love very much, and I will try not to let all the bullshit disturb my sleep because I need it, and why let them take away yet one more thing that I need?