The turned page

Oh, hello, 2022. Didn’t see you come in, there.

I’m not sure I have anything evaluative to say about 2021, other than that for me it was the year of adrenaline blowback. I did a bit of mental writing and not much else besides watch a lot of recuperative television and obsess over the La Palma volcano.

But the volcano is done erupting, a new year has come, and change is in the wind. I wouldn’t say I feel existentially rested, but the promise of forward momentum on several fronts has lifted my senses a bit.

All of which has reminded me that I have a website that deserves a steady infusion of Genuwyne Quality Content. So here is a small gallimaufry to kick off the new year.

A thing I started doing early last year was to take a handful of photographs while my tea was steeping, and then post them to Facebook as a start to the day. Over the ensuing months I’ve collected quite a few photographs, anywhere from five to ten a day depending on how many interesting things I found in my environs every morning. I have toyed with posting a regular selection here, but didn’t want to commit. However, the server changes from last winter are complete, and I’ve discovered I can upload images from my phone. So here’s an initial selection of morning pics from recent weeks.

But although I did not commit to posting images to the blog, I did start and maintain a mini-newsletter for my readers. Each missive contains my favorite of that morning’s pics; a link to some magpie thing of interest; and a brief meditation, a rumination on my current writing labors, or a (we hope, dear reader, entertaining) bout of recreational complaining, plus the occasional doting dispatch on the antics of my cat. Most if not all of the images above appeared in Morning Lights.

What I’m saying here is that even if this blog falls into neglect again, you can still get a little Morning Light in your inbox every day, for free, without having to look me up on Facebook and hope their thrice-cursed algorithms actually show you the morning pics I post. (Every creator you know is bitter about Facebook.)

I might expand the scope of my newslettering in the future, but for now, I’m keeping it simple. Meanwhile I leave you with the latest custom ambient noise generator I’ve made on MyNoise: Consort of Stars, a homage to the vibrations of stars and galaxies across the universe.

And at the moment, that is all the news that’s fit to print.

An autumn poem

It’s a beautiful fall day, with the wind shaking leaves out of the trees and carrying them where they will. So I’m in the mood to post an old poem of mine on the same theme, along with a few of my morning pics. Enjoy!

Temperance: To the Artist (Psalm 147)

The scent of rain sidles in
As you notice the wet spots appear on the pavement:
First one, then three, then many,
Then they overlap, then the light dry spots
Are the exception. Before you know it,
Your hair is wet and the runnel of water
Is flowing along the curb.
You put your bare foot into it,
And watch it change the flow.

At Christmas you lie in bed,
Looking rapt out the window.
Outside the dark, quiet house
The sky is a silent riot of stars,
The Big Dipper huge and haloed,
Vincent van Gogh having his way with nature at last.
You trace its lines with your finger
Before you close your eyes.
Van Gogh was on to something.
Even if things break loose and roll
In your cluttered attic,
You can’t stop the stars from singing.
They will sing all night long,
While you sleep draped in the window-shaped
Quilt of starlight.

In the fall when the wind moves
And the leaves tumble like confetti,
You must have noticed what beauty
There is in the throwaway gesture.
A leaf, brilliant red, in the wet street,
Run over by all the neighborhood cars,
Is still a study in careless perfection.
The work of the leaf is to grow;
The art of the leaf
Is to fall.

The stories you tell are like this.
You know to wait for the unforced gesture,
The quick-dealt outflung pirouette
Which may be seen by only a few
Or none at all. You wait for the thing
That is complete and perfect even in its flaws,
For the thing that knows itself as you toss it out
To be caught by the wind and carried away,
Lost to you and therefore never lost.

Sometimes the waiting is hard.
But it’s the only way you know
To imitate the one you love.

Warmish take: The religious belief you don’t know you’re holding

“The solutions are there,” is a climate action slogan that has borne up the last several years, and what it means is that we don’t need fancy tech to address the problems of climate change; we just need to do things that nobody wants to do.

Free public transit solves several problems, but nobody wants to sit within sight, sound, and smell of homeless folks. We can do health care that makes population health a reality, but we’re not doing that because it would mean we can’t ration health care away from people we think don’t deserve it. People won’t even mask or vax, why? Because it would be helpful to people they would rather see die.

The solutions are there, but we won’t use them because they are a threat to the supreme religious belief of our country and in large part our world: that whatever happens to a person is the thing that person deserves.

If you’re rich, it’s because you deserve to be rich. If you’re poor, it’s because you deserve to be poor. If you’re sick, you must have done something to cause it. If you’re healthy, it’s because you have more deserving genetics.

If something bad happens to you, you become a crime scene with yourself as the perpetrator. Books upon books are written and read examining why bad things happen to good people; we could as well ask why good things happen to bad people. In the story of Job, Job’s friends cease to be his friends and tie themselves in knots trying to figure out what it is he did, and end up making stuff up at an ever more hysterical pitch.

But Job’s ending doesn’t appear to address the problem, at least as far as the human view is concerned. Likewise in the Gospels, in the story of the healing of the man born blind, the explanation isn’t entirely satisfactory. Jesus’ disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer: “Nobody sinned. He was born blind so that the works of God should be revealed in him.” In my crotchety opinion it seems rather hard that both Job and the man born blind should have to suffer for a heavenly lab demonstration.

But of course the latter is happening in the gospel of John, in which time (the rate of change and the measurement of effect) is little more than an exploded diagram of a three four-dimensional reality. When Jesus says, “When I am glorified,” he doesn’t mean the subsequent triumph of the resurrection, he means when he’s actually on the cross, when his suffering is the most abject, most humiliating, and most undeserved.

The point is, there is a throughline in the Bible confirming, against all our settled devotion, that humans are the work, image, and reflection of the divine while they are still suffering. How much less would our suffering be if we didn’t have to wonder whether we deserved it? Yet how much terror could we handle in contemplating the true, minuscule amount of our control over life?

Considering how much people quote the Bible without understanding that its entire point is to uproot their most precious belief of all, that what happens is what is deserved — it’s no wonder the character of God is reduced to hair-tearing sarcasm at the end of Job.

Yet although getting rid of this belief means owning the fearful truth that our power to prevent bad things or induce good things happening to us is much smaller than we want to think, we should still do it. Think how much less life would suck if you never again had to wake to a free-floating uneasiness that you might be a bad person. If you never again wondered if that person blaming you for your disability was right after all. Think how much more fun doing shit would be if you weren’t hoping the accomplishment would say something positive about you. Think about those sourpusses at Fox News hating on Fred Rogers because he dared to say I like you just the way you are. Why, if you’re liked just the way you are, you can’t be terrified into trying to be something more convenient to someone else!

Speaking of that, think how much less of an asshole you’d be if you believed in your bones that that panhandler was of the same divine value as yourself. Think how much easier it would be then to help! Think how much less off-putting and threatening the slogan Black Lives Matter would be, if you really believed that they did, despite the wrongs that have been collectively done to them. What if you never again had the casual thought, about anyone, about things as large as natural disasters or as small as dings on their car, “Well, if it happened, they must have deserved it.”

If we got rid of this shitty belief, people with bad motives would not be able to make us think they can confer our dignity upon us from without. Our own motives would improve. We could get on with doing things for their proper sake. Religion itself would be more fun.

The solutions are there. But it’s dark right now, and no one can work.

The Burden of Proof is On You

And now for a brief rant.

The pundit class may be inexhaustibly devoted to the spit-warm take that we should sympathize with and seek to mollify these anti-public-health sadopopulist wombat cubes with weeping sores where their empathy should be. But I’m well past exhausted and cracked the needle on the annoyance knob long ago.

Never mind if it’s possible to make these anti-vaxxing, anti-masking, pestilence-spreading, mass-murder-policy-platforming corkbrains crumbled in the bottom of a jug of thirty-cent wine feel like the rest of us don’t look down on them. They’re like that dude in Christy who bullied the title character and then she nursed him through typhoid fever, only to have him snarf down some hardboiled eggs and perforate his weakened bowel when her back was turned. Very tragic, but it’s not his name on the cover of the book.

Nope. It is not our obligation to prove a goddamned thing — not about vaccines, not about COVID, not about Tromp and his cupcake coupsters, nada, zip, zilch. You, Greg Abbott; you, you obnoxious shouter at staff in a Walmart; you, you Facebook swastika-jockey projection-artist; you are the ones with the burden of proof.

YOU prove that you’re not a heaving pile of mass-murdering maggot-brains whose motto, like Hell’s in Paradise Lost, is “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” YOU prove your good faith to US, and maybe you’ll be able to step foot out of your house without getting booed to Ultima Thule and back for the rest of your life.

Or, of course, we might be nice. But we don’t have to be.

On Self-Perception

This post begins with a story of two tweets, one of which I will link and one of which I will not.

Earlier this week, I ran across a tweet from someone who didn’t want to give oxygen to some person’s anti-trans screed, but screenshotted part of it to discuss one particular aspect of it. The highlighted text wasn’t what drew my eye, though. The screed-writer was so outraged by trans people demanding that society validate their self-perception that the phrase was italicized. It was this italicized phrase that caught my eye.

I thought: “Why, yes. Yes, that is exactly what is expected of you, Unknown Screedist. I’m sorry to hear that you find your moral duty so repugnant.”

Everybody has their particular moral lodestone, and this has always been mine: People get to say who they are. Yes, even if you’re 99.44% sure they’re wrong. Yes, even if you would really prefer they name themselves something else. Yes, even if they make you look bad by association.

If nothing else, holding to this principle insulates you from committing the No True Scotsman fallacy of argument. And here is the second tweet, fresh off the internets this morning:

It was clear the terrorists perceived themselves to be Christians. It was “confusing” to be attacked by people who acted not like Jesus Christ, but by the mob who demanded his crucifixion. We are used to thinking of “terrorist” and “Christian” to be mutually exclusive categories of person. But they aren’t. People get to say who they are. If a person committed to a terroristic act says they’re a Christian, I won’t gainsay them. I will note that their idea of worshiping God bears an awfully strong resemblance to the domination system that Jesus Christ came to dismantle, but I can’t force them to internalize that.

And I won’t. Because forcing other people to internalize what you think they are is the core impetus of fascism. It’s what some people find so appealing about our disgraced former president, and some of us others find so chilling: that offhand, pseudo-reasonable tone in which he said things like, Well, what can you do? Democrats are just evil. They’re just bad people. Any act of violence against Bad People is therefore justified, is lifted out of the sad category of terrorism into the shining platform of holy war.

This is the entire purpose of the rule of law: not to separate the Good People from the Bad People, but to uphold or deprecate certain acts according to their vital importance. It’s vitally important to fascists — and to people whose life’s investment has been placed in our social structures — that gender conformity be enforced. It’s vitally important to them not only that they think of themselves as the flower of Christianity, but that the rest of us are forced to acknowledge that we are not Christians at all if we are not like them. Defining people and codifying them is the basis of their ideal state: not the rule of law.

So my advice, for anyone who cares for it, is this: don’t play the game. Let people say who they are. Let the tree be judged by its fruit. Let no stroke or dot of the law be subverted by a crusade to prove to people who they are. That is a game for fools and fascists.

Every person has a right to the proving ground of their own self-perception. And I’ve committed not to invade.

Announcing: Morning Lights

Welp, spring is creeping up on us and wriggling its little butt, ready to pounce. The elms in my neighborhood are plumping up to bloom and I have laid in a stock of Flonase for the season. I haven’t had any blog-post-sized things to say recently, just plugging away at work and words by turns.

But today I do have an announcement. For those of you who follow me on Facebook, I’ve been posting morning photos that I take while my tea is steeping — mostly of things in my apartment or the views from my window, but spring is likely to change how much I’m outside beyond trash day. A friend remarked that she found comfort and hospitality in the photos I shared, and that clarified a thought that I’d been having for a while. Which is that I have felt very much the loss of being able to practice hospitality, both in my physical space and my mental working space.

So I have started a “newsletter,” which sounds a lot more portentous than what it is: just a daily note, with my favorite of the morning’s pics, and a snippet of thought with a link, a poem, or a piece of music. When I have long-form blog posts here, I will link them out, as well as any author news that comes down the pipeline. It’s simple, it’s free, and it’s not subject to any goddamn rent-seeking algorithms you don’t have to wait for your social media feed to show it to you. You can sign up at the landing page here, or using the form I have embedded in the sidebar. It’s an experiment, so I’m sure this little project will evolve with time.

As Gregor Vorbarra likes to say: let’s see what happens.

Things to be noted, snow edition

It is very cold and a very fine snow is misting down, and that is just as it should be. Some notes from the home front:

  1. While my tea is steeping, I’ve taken to picking up the camera and practicing shots on whatever I find marginally interesting in my flat. It is not yet light enough in the mornings to tempt me outside, but I take the camera with me when I put the trash out, and got some fine shots of a winter world this morning.

2. I lack half of one scene and the tail end of another to complete a chapter of TLT — I spent all my energy on a grocery trip on Saturday, but put down 1670 words on Sunday, which I call satisfactory.

3. My chromebook charger finally bit the dust last night, so I ordered a replacement and will have to make do with ye olde work computer until tomorrow.

4. A fellow community member said that thanks to C.’s rec she picked up Ryswyck and wound up reading it all in one sitting! — thereby confirming further that once a reader gets to a certain early point in the characters’ trajectory, the momentum takes care of itself. Gratifying.

5. I have named some characters from the diplomatic delegation of the Southern Consortium and made a start building up the part of the world where they enter. This also involves building up some of the world of Berenia, but that is less complicated: just think of the world’s most disadvantageous game of Settlers of Catan.

Things to be done:

  1. I have promised myself to make no promises to keep up the habit of taking morning shots.
  2. Keep going, of course. What else?
  3. One of these days I will need to get a more comprehensive laptop, but I’m allergic to spending large sums of money, so I expect it to be a while before I actually do any such thing.
  4. I really need to find someone with a good signal-boost radius willing to read and rec Ryswyck far and wide. Like, how do you ask someone to do this??
  5. What I’d really like is to have a conversation with someone who actually knows at least one region of Africa well and can speculate on the nuances of a secondary-world Global South empire. Quite apart from authorial primary research, it’d be an interesting conversation! Must gird myself to forage on Twitter, I suppose.

And that’s the state of the state. Now back to work.

Soul possession

One day, more than a decade ago now, I was on my commute fretting about how a boundary I wanted to establish would make me An Asshole in everyone’s eyes including my own. And as I was driving along, for the first time ever I thought, “Well then, I’ll just be an asshole.” Like Huck Finn saying, “Well, then, I’ll go to hell,” when he committed to help his friend escape slavery, except I didn’t think about that at the time.

I also didn’t expect the curious sensation that followed, as if my soul had been trailing out 10 feet in front of me and was suddenly sucked back in my body. And just as suddenly, I had more power to take care of my daily business, like I’d been trying to do calligraphy with a selfie stick before. The sensation was short-lived; but also, I never forgot it.

Occasionally I’m reminded just how much of the business of living I’ve conducted at this kind of remove from myself. I was reminded again this morning while reading Morning Prayer; on Wednesdays there’s always a section of Psalm 119, and today it was in the morning psalm slot. More often than not I find reading this psalm tedious, though I know it rewards deep study, but this morning I did a thing I often do and read she/her pronouns for the Psalmist. And I read: “How shall a young woman cleanse her way?/ By keeping to your words.”

It gave me a pang on two levels. One was a memory, of cycles and years of weeks in which my friend V and I would pray Psalm 91 at Compline (also on Wednesday, now I think about it) with she/her pronouns for the Psalmist.

“She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High/ abides under the shadow of the Almighty./ She shall say to the LORD, “You are my refuge and my stronghold,/ my God in whom I put my trust.”…”Because she is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver her;/ I will protect her, because she knows my Name./ She shall call upon me, and I will answer her;/ I am with her in trouble; I will rescue her and bring her to honor.”

I miss Virginia all the more when I remember these things. But the other reason I felt a pang was that I was all the more aware of how much of my worship through the years has been done with my soul trailing out 10 feet in front of me. Like I have to animate a ghost out there who can pretend that any of this is about them. The ghost can feel any feelings required in the moment, can say of male POVs in the Bible, “This is a story of me,” can be included round the fire with Jesus’s disciples, can witness, can tell good news.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this plague year, it’s that there are things going on back at the ranch. With a few pronouns I reel my soul back in to survey the scene, and there are things going on; there always have been. Not just angry victimy things, but rich things; wondering things; measuring things; delighting things. This is, after all, the place where I write from, where I craft verisimilitude with a loupe and tiny chisel. This is my workshop of making, making life and the image of it.

I can’t say it’s not been useful to me, sending my soul out on regular EVAs to read books that aren’t about me, sing songs that aren’t about me, pray prayers that aren’t about me. The structure of scientific revolutions needs data. Empathy needs data too. Keats dignified this practice and process with the term “negative capability,” which was never a set of words I thought very accurate, but I knew what he meant. I don’t think it’s negative, because when you do it you’re reaching for something, for belonging, for affirmation, for acquaintanceship. And can it be a capability if you have to do it to survive?

Keats came fairly close to having to; he wasn’t rich, he was riddled with tuberculosis, and he was on the wrong side of a few too many mean tweets. He also spoke meditatively in a letter to a friend about the “gordian knot of complications” involved in his own misogyny that he wasn’t sure what to do about. So it just goes to show how useful “negative capability” can be.

(Why the hell am I talking so much about Keats these days? He wasn’t even my favorite Romantic.)

Writers such as Seanan McGuire and N.K. Jemisin have talked more pithily about the backlash that often results when we write from our own POVs, about how truly resentful some people are that they might have to exert some negative capability to read a good book, as if negative capability is a towering virtue and stooping condescension for them and an inherent moral obligation for everyone else. And it’s clear that they perceive the obtrusive POVs of others as such a threat that they are willing to commit sedition, conspiracy, and treason against their own country. I mean, none of this is surprising, though it is shocking and angering. It’s just…really? It’s that hard? It’s that painful? It’s that insulting?

I mean, you’re dealing with people who, if they know anything, know how to project their soul outward to understand things that aren’t about them. If you’d asked for imagination and compassion and fellow-feeling, you’d have got it. But what you want is to be hermetically sealed away from any sign that those other people have souls, like it burns you to know that. And you hope to kill their bodies by not wearing a mask, too. Or by quicker methods, if you’re impatient enough.

It’s an impossible thing for you to have, even if we wanted to give it to you. Which we don’t. You’re an asshole and you haven’t figured out how to choose otherwise.

But negative capability is for everyone. Positive capability is for everyone too.

Here endeth the lesson.

But honestly, uncertainty was worse

Good afternoon!

Gave self another haircut. I’m the Charlize Theron of this joint.

Things to be noted:

  1. Remember when I advised you, dear readers, to BURY THEM in votes? Well, just imagine if we hadn’t!
  2. I have for some reason not added to the 900 words I wrote on TLT last week.
  3. From the people who brought you fifty billion hearings on Benghazi, we are suddenly hearing a newfound devotion to the principle of fireside kum-bah-yah unity.
  4. I have family bunkered down right now with COVID, why? Because when there’s no structural support, it’s impossible for individuals to take enough care to avoid community saturation, even when they do things right.
  5. My world is a 400 sq ft flat at present, so I am dreaming of having a garden.

Things to be done:

  1. That part is done, thankfully. Now to get the abuser out of our house.
  2. I’m gathering so much useful material for TLT right now. But to be honest, I’d rather be using my imagination…
  3. Newsflash, unity is already happening over here. If you’re not in sympathy with cupcake coupsters and well-heeled fascists, get with the program. Otherwise, get stuffed.
  4. If there were something I could do about this, I fucking would.
  5. Something to look into when we get some distance on this pandemic. Meanwhile, am practicing hospitality toward myself by making my morning tea in a cat-shaped pot and cooking breakfast.

And finally: matrifututores delendi sunt.