V O T E





This Little Book Contains Every Reason Why Women Should Not Vote. New York: National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co., 1917. 

Note: Every page is blank. 

Found thanks to the Public Domain Review.

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Me, I voted for Biden and Harris last week, and I hope you did (or are planning to), too. I don't have it in me to write a heartfelt plea encouraging you to vote. If, after four years of outrage, disaster, and tragedy, you cannot be bothered to vote or are somehow undecided, there is nothing I can offer you, except maybe this book

birthday gifts some 42-year-olds might enjoy
























Sofia Lind reading poster at Fine Little Day.

Samantha Pleet harvest opera gloves.

Reproduction whaleboat deck prisms at Detroit Garden Works.

Wild golden chanterelles from Mikuni Wild Harvest.

L'Envers handknit undyed wool balaclava.

Romantic Things by Mary Jacobus: an exploration of "the world of objects and phenomena in nature as expressed in Romantic poetry alongside the theme of sentience and sensory deprivation in literature and art." Includes a chapter titled "Senseless Rocks."

Caron Callahan Ellie Mary Janes in green.

Santa Maria Novella hand sanitizer.

Curly sheepskin waterbottle cover.

Stone tangram at Casa Shop.

Erie Basin marine hoops.

Dust to Digital's Harry Smith B-sides boxed set, compiling "the flip-side of 78-rpm records that [Smith] selected for the original Anthology of American Folk Music."

Also: cake. (Happy birthday to meeeeeee.)

imaginary outfit: october swim

 

My life is cozy. My street is quiet, and the only visible signs of tension are, in fact, signs: signs for Black Lives Matter, signs with black flags demanding "support" for police, signs for the disaster president and signs for Biden/Harris (there seem to be more of those every day, which is bolstering). Work is steady and seems stable, at least for now; my kid isn't in school but seems to be okay, and I get to see my parents. We are getting through the days. So much of this summer (the part within the circle of our family life) has been beautiful. And yet—and yet—coddled as I am, safe, spared from real awfulness, I'm moving through the days disoriented. Though the people and places in front of me look more or less the same, I can't shake the sense that everything has been nudged out of place and nothing is quite where it used to be.

Sometime in July, Hugh and I started spending every Friday at the lake. Mostly, we dig through banks of pebbles, looking for bits of weathered glass, periwinkles' pinstriped whorls, stones particularly pleasing in shape or hue, the secret patternings of fossils. Sometimes we just sit and watch the boats cross the horizon, or look at the clouds and the waves. I've become a beach maximalist and load up a collapsible wagon with folding wooden chairs and piles of towels and garden trowels and dry clothes and a sun tent and snacks to pull over the boardwalk and drag through the sand, so we stay as long as we want. My mom meets us sometimes, and when she does, I swim. Those moments in the water slap me back into myself, and as long as I am in the lake, the things of the world are in places I can understand. 

Last Friday, the air was cold, and the waves were forbiddingly frothy. We dug our pebble holes, wrapped up in blankets and sipped hot broth, felt the spray on our faces and the damp in our socks. I didn't get to go in, but tomorrow, we'll go back. For a little while yet, the water will hold the warmth of the late-summer sun. I hope I can sneak in one more swim.

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Patagonia swimsuit (best thing I purchased this summer; not available anymore, I don't think) / Black & Blum lunch box / Stanley thermos / Battenwear mesh toteFilson wool cap / Champion x The Met sweatshirt (second-best thing I purchased this summer) / Casio B650WD-1A watch / Missoni plaid blanket / Tevas / ragg socks

Not pictured: heavy sweatpants and Voortman's sugar wafers.

odds and ends / 10.6.2020

 
















Max Hauschild, A View Through a Window, with Vine Leaves, ca. 1810-1895.

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Excerpt from They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer, a collection of interviews with ten ordinary Germans who became Nazis. At Popula, found thanks to The End of the World Review.

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Octopus hidden in shells; screengrab from My Octopus Teacher.

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Porcelain box in Brussels’s Royal Museum of Art and History, photgraphed by Charlotte Edwards.

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Diane de Prima badges by Synchronise Witches Press, proceeds supporting "the Bent Bars Project, a letter-writing scheme for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, gender-variant, intersex, and queer prisoners in the U.K."

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These self-conscious times have furnished us with a new fallacy. Call it the reflexivity trap. This is the implicit, and sometimes explicit, idea that professing awareness of a fault absolves you of that fault—that lip service equals resistance. The problem with such signalling is that it rarely resolves the anxieties that seem to prompt it. Mocking your emotions, or expressing doubt or shame about them, doesn’t negate those emotions; castigating yourself for hypocrisy, cowardice, or racism won’t necessarily make you less hypocritical, cowardly, or racist. As the cracks in our systems become increasingly visible, the reflexivity trap casts self-awareness as a finish line, not a starting point. To the extent that this discourages further action, oblivion might be preferable.

 

Katy Waldman, "Has Self-Awareness Gone Too Far in Fiction?" The New Yorker, 8/19/2020. 

I sometimes struggle to find evidence in contemporary literature and the conversations around it of one of the most basic material facts of our era: in order to live, the vast majority of people have to sell the hours of their lives at work. Or some others: nearly everything around us is owned, and almost everything owned was built (by people and out of something), or that all of this is threatening to fully deplete our common home, the earth. How strange that we live in the epoch of hour-selling, in a made world in which we do not acknowledge the makers, in an arrangement of space in which trespass threatens every step, in a world in which no extractable goes unextracted, and yet much of the most lauded literature locks this up like a secret inside itself. The structure of reality becomes, in our books, a hidden chamber unlocked only with the question, “but who made this world?” The books themselves hardly ever seem to ask it.

For example, I am not sure that beyond the work of radical poets, I’ve ever seen much mention in literature that a car requires gas, that the gas requires the oil industry, the oil industry requires imperialist war, etc. Instead, people in books move via invisible fuel in machines that are visible only as reflections of character, like a Ford Fiesta is not a material fact but a mere symbol of selfhood, running on biographical oil. I sometimes imagine some alien reader picking up a contemporary novel and thinking that everything about our species in our time and place was feelings, self-identification, self-interest, self-fulfillment, self-determination, that humans were made from the inside out, instead of the outside in, and that the only relation to objects we had was our curation of them.


Anne Boyer, in conversation with Sam Jaffe Goldstein for The End of the World Review, 9/15/2020.

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Most members of the bourgeoisie experience history as they do their heartbeats: they know it’s there but only become aware of its presence when something goes wrong. Neither I nor my peers in the “creative class” of that faux-meritocratic New York understood that the Obama years were precisely that — years, an era among others, a period with a beginning and an end. 


Nicolás Medina Mora, "An American Education." N+1, Winter 2020 Issue 36

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Just after the publication of The Hobbit, but before he began writing The Lord of the Rings, J.R.F. Tolkien wrote an essay arguing that fairytales gave us three things: recovery, escape, and consolation. His earnestness jolts, in a very agreeable way. He didn’t think much of modern society, thought we had broken off relations with the natural world, and argued that fantasy was our way of trying to heal the breach, to learn how “to converse with other living things.” The unhappiness of the world, as he saw it, was not something to be trivialized. It was not a bad thing to want to escape it, as a prisoner rather than a deserter (which was the difference to him between escape and escapism). Because our world was as oppressive as it was, a happy ending was not trite, or easy. He termed the word “eucatastrophe” to express the intensity of such an event, of experiencing joy “beyond the walls of this world, poignant as grief.” Happiness that cuts like a knife: He wanted his readers changed when they returned from his world; to make decisions differently, expect a different outcome. For him, fantasy was radical, profound.

 

Jenni Quilter, "Fish Tossing." (It's an essay about the Muppets.) Avidly/LARB, 8/19/2020.

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More Tolkein: "The Lord of the Rings is an extended meditation on what one should do when things appear utterly hopeless. It is, in fact, an account of how to survive by creating and living through hope."

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2020 is not a lost year. It’s a chance for parents and children to watch and listen to one another, to turn the weekday scramble into an occasion to experiment and think about what it takes to make a free human being — one whose freedom comes from truly knowing something about the world, and about herself.

 

Molly Whorton, "When You Get Into Unschooling, It's Almost Like a Religion." NYT, 9/25/2020. (I'm unschooling my kid this year, and it's ... kinda awesome?)

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Snack: cinnamon-sugar scones.

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Doyle Lane's "ravishingly seductive" weed pots: "Some are smooth as river rocks; others are cracked or lumpen, like overripe fruit from otherworldly trees."

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If you want to stop fascism, the efficient mission is not to attack the opposing side. It is, rather, to be the opposite of Donald Trump: a defiantly open heart who protects and bolsters valid information systems required for people to truly decide for themselves about all that he and his movement represent.

 

Sarah Smarsh, "How is Arguing with Trump Voters Working for You?" The Guardian, 9/17/2020.

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‘Florida and Ohio, man,’ the barista at the local café said to my husband, when he asked about the tourist trade. ‘People here at least acknowledge that it’s real. But people from Florida and Ohio don’t even seem to think it’s happening.’ Having lived in both places, I believe him: I have long had a theory that the surrealism that has overtaken the political landscape in America can be traced back to the poisoned ground of Ohio Facebook.

 

Patricia Lockwood, "Insane After Coronavirus?" The London Review of Books, 7/16/2020. 

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Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Ed Yong, "America is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral." The Atlantic, 9/13/2020. 

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Maisy Card: "The idea that there is a beginning and an end, a single leader and a single traitor to a movement, is an illusion."

'the lost name for the emotion we're all feeling right now'

Most realist fiction has its feet in psychology or sociology. Ginzburg despises these ways of interpreting life, bringing them on like clowns, only when she is out to entertain. Her comedy plays on psychological and sociological problems. She is particularly funny about adolescent malaise and bourgeois social anxiety, mocking the first and even the second with affection; it is only social pretension that turns her humor savage. But all this is merely a sideshow. She interprets behavior in order to judge it. She judges with understanding and pity, but her understanding and pity are metaphysical, not the social worker’s or analyst’s. In fact, the essay “Silence” (1951) in The Little Virtues can be read as an attack on psychoanalysis. Silence, she says, is the vice of our age; it “should be called by its true name”—which is not, presumably, lack of communication or alienation.
The things they tell those of us who go to be psychoanalysed are of no use to us because they do not take our moral responsibility—which is the only choice permitted us in life—into account….

We have been advised to defend ourselves from despair with egotism. But egotism has never solved despair. And we are too used to calling our soul’s vices illnesses….

Silence must be faced and judged from a moral standpoint. Because silence, like acedia and like luxury, is a sin.
From the two reprinted novels—both autobiographical—one gets the impression that among the seven deadly sins, acedia is the one Natalia Ginzburg understands best, her own besetting sin.

 

Gabriele Annan, "The Force of Habit." The New York Review of Books, 11/7/1985.

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acedia: Spiritual or mental sloth; apathy. Early 17th century via late Latin from Greek akēdia ‘listlessness’, from a- ‘without’ + kēdos ‘care’.

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John Cassian, a monk and theologian wrote in the early 5th century about an ancient Greek emotion called acedia. A mind “seized” by this emotion is “horrified at where he is, disgusted with his room … It does not allow him to stay still in his cell or to devote any effort to reading.” He feels:
such bodily listlessness and yawning hunger as though he were worn by a long journey or a prolonged fast … Next he glances about and sighs that no one is coming to see him. Constantly in and out of his cell, he looks at the sun as if it were too slow in setting. ... 
Cassian and other early Christians called acedia “the noonday demon,” and sometimes described it as a “train of thought.” But they did not think it affected city-dwellers or even monks in communities.

Rather, acedia arose directly out the spatial and social constrictions that a solitary monastic life necessitates. These conditions generate a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate. ...  
Reviving the language of acedia is important to our experience in two ways.

First, it distinguishes the complex of emotions brought on by enforced isolation, constant uncertainty and the barrage of bad news from clinical terms like “depression” or “anxiety.” Saying, “I’m feeling acedia” could legitimise feelings of listlessness and anxiety as valid emotions in our current context without inducing guilt that others have things worse.
Second, and more importantly, the feelings associated with physical isolation are exacerbated by emotional isolation – that terrible sense that this thing I feel is mine alone. When an experience can be named, it can be communicated and even shared.
 

Jonathan L. Zecher, "The Lost Name for the Emotion We're All Feeling Right Now." The Conversation,  8/26/2020.

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Acedia was a malady that apparently plagued many Medieval monks. It's a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up.

What could this particular form of melancholy mean in an urgent global crisis? On the face of it, all of us care very much about the health risks to those we know and don't know. Yet lurking alongside such immediate cares is a sense of dislocation that somehow interferes with how we care. ...

Moving around is what we do as creatures, and for that we need horizons. Covid has erased many of the spatial and temporal horizons we rely on, even if we don't notice them very often. We don't know how the economy will look, how social life will go on, how our home routines will be changed, how work will be organized, how universities or the arts or local commerce will survive.

What unsettles us is not only fear of change. It's that, if we can no longer trust in the future, many things become irrelevant, retrospectively pointless. And by that we mean from the perspective of a future whose basic shape we can no longer take for granted. This fundamentally disrupts how we weigh the value of what we are doing right now. 

 

 Nick Couldry, "The unrelenting horizonlessness of the Covid world." CNN Opinion, 9/22/2020.

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I finished reading Ginzburg's All Our Yesterdays a few days ago and was looking for a clever writer who could articulate why her perspective feels like a restorative spiritual tonic to me at this particular life juncture, and I stumbled across Annan's review. The word acedia jumped out—I didn't know it, so I started looking for definitions, and turned up the piece by Zecher. After I screenshotted it on Instagram, my friend Sarah sent me the link to Couldry's article. 

A weird and helpful little train of serendipities, and a peculiarly profound relief to have this feeling I have been struggling with known and named. Maybe it will help you, too.

sunday tune: talk talk - the rainbow

sunday tune: aldous harding - the barrel / h. hawkline - it's a drag



A counter full of ripe late-summer peaches to eat something to celebrate, even though I feel like I've been stuffed in a barrel and rolled down a hill. (This song is not about that, though it does mention barrels and peaches.)

This one reminds me a bit of Ray Davies, which I like.

imaginary outfit: going to the post office in a functioning democracy

 



In days a-gone, sitting down to write one of these, I'd have looked out my window and rustled up words evocative of weather and season and place. Maybe they'd be wistful or musing or whimsical, with something about clogs and pretty earrings and unaffordable knitwear and the passage of time and melancholic beauty and literary references.  

Now, ha. 

I've been thinking lately about the way histories are presented—so many lived agonies compressed into crisp summations, flattened into memorizable facts and key dates and names. What must have been the queasy uncertainties of the folks living in those times is glossed over, and anyway, sitting at the remove of many years, it's perilously easy to feel that whatever happened was somehow inevitable. Maybe it becomes too hard to remember the possibilities after the fact, except as a sort of game, like in the constant churn of grim speculative fictions that gleefully imagine more terrible versions of our own time (I can never tell if people read these as warnings or take warped comfort in the idea that the bad things in the world could always be worse). 

Sitting as we are on the ledge of total disaster, peering into the void with our legs dangling into a chasm of chaotic possibilities, it's surreal to realize that someday someone will look back on this time and trace neat lines of cause and effect. They will write scholarly papers and popular histories where all of our collective anguish and worry will be reduced to footnotes or asides or reductive anecdotes. But for now, the throughline is still ours to draw. SHARPEN YOUR PENCILS, PEOPLE!

If you are looking for things to do, Erin's election checklist is a good place to start. I'm making my plan to vote and reaching out to make sure friends and family have made voting plans, too. And I bought a passel of stamps, so if you'd like a bona fide letter by USPS, email me your address and I'll drop one in the mail.

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Random aside: I have reached the point in at-home quarantined life where socks and sandals have become my very favorite thing to wear, the more elaborate, the better.