monday, february 24

it's been warm all day;
shirtsleeve weather, earlier,
walking to the store for lunch

outside now, it's cold and the air is heavy
with a possibility of snow
the clouds seem flat, low and tinged with
citylight, though it's some distance
to anything you could call a city
and really mean it

last night i drove down james canyon in the dark
along a shored-up patchwork of blacktop and rammed earth
that was a road before a river took it away one night

sometimes it goes like that
and then sometimes your life changes so slowly
that it seems impossible to
talk about a then and a now
a was and an is

until some subtle shift
casts the drift and arc and rubble
of intervening months and years
into sharp relief

there was a time before you, and you, and you
i didn't know it when we met
that the line would be so clear and sharp
but i know it now

there were days before these
and there will be others to come
the past is lit with raw urgency sometimes in my mind
like some fierce vision out of a novel
like the line in a song that catches you
and rings in your ears for weeks

but right now is singular too
these days are charmed, they are
full of pain and the looming smoke of
a burning world, they are shaking with an
uncurling wonder that may be
utterly forgotten in time-to-come

there will as like
be nothing like them
as long as we live.

Sunday, February 23

The thing is you go a little ways into the mountains and a minute off the main drag and suddenly you’re in the West. Not the West of mythological imagination, precisely, but the West as it actually is and has been. The mountains as they actually are can kill you, if you don’t watch yourself, watch the land, watch the sky. Sometimes they’ll kill you even if you do everything right.

Today we’re just tromping around in Ben & CarolAnn’s backyard, pretty much, but we’re still dressed like we know the mountains could kill us. There’s a kind of corny satisfaction in this. Knowing the things to wear that will be warm enough and dry enough but not dangerously hot. Planning out how you’re going to have layers. Fastening a lot of fasteners. Putting on stuff that goes click. Smugly owning things made out of wool.

I guess you take your joy where you find it.

Saturday, February 22

On the way over to Hygiene, the truck is so overweighted that the engine keeps refusing to shift. You can feel the distortion of the load stretching itself out through the whole structure of the vehicle. It crosses my mind that if I were smart, I’d be following in my own car instead of riding along in the cab, because there’s a fair chance we’re going to blow a tire.

It turns out books are heavy. Despite this, we reach the farm without incident, and a plan of action is established. Religious volumes, business books, and popular novels in the back of that pickup truck. Middling but not unsaleable items stacked behind this couch. Antiques and things that will sell on the internet on top of this table. So on and so forth.

I’m helping shuffle this raw tonnage of obsolete media on the understanding that I’ll get some books out of the deal (a proposition I haven’t really examined in light of the volumes already stacked around my apartment). And also because I didn’t have the good sense to roll over and go back to sleep when my landlord knocked on the door some time around noon.

It’s always been kind of staggering to confront the experience of books as sheer quantity. Every time I’ve found myself processing one of these caches of printed matter, I’ve been forced into a pretty stark awareness of the nature and fate of most publishing.

In the right now of early 2014, it’s more than the usual thing, though. The weird frozen-in-time nature of books as a broadcast medium and a storage mechanism; the from-nowhere-to-nowhere lifespan of the average book; the stubborn, absurd physical mass of paper: This stuff has always been there, part of the experience, but it looks different in light of how the whole technology of text itself is in total, epoch-shattering upheaval.

Saturday, February 15

Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading thing
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love. You see, it came to me
It put its face up to my face so I could see
Yeah then I saw love disfigure me
Into something I am not recognizing

Phosphorescent, "Song For Zula"

As far as lyrics in dialog with Johnny Cash go, this is pretty great.

Thursday, February 13

Flappo Bird (2600 Game)

wednesday, february 12

i told a story today, thinking of you and
those hours grading papers at your kitchen table
the air around us thick with wine and
the ragged, lacerating cold of lincoln
in the winter not far away

nine years on i don't think i've learned
a god damned thing, though i've seen and done
most of what i've ever seen and done
since that night

i'd like to believe in some arc to my own life
like i'd like to believe in that arc of history
but i'm no more a narrative
than is the ragged, lacerating motion
of time itself

tuesday, february 11

sometimes the frame shifts
and you let go the edges of
your own dissolution
and come to standing in a place
somewhere beyond the acknowledged
boundaries of your own life
you wake in the mornings not from
sheets knotted with hungover delusion
but from dreams
of your beloved dead
of broken loves made understandable
of longings not without compass
in the world
and in the space made by knowing
all those absences laid bare
you can see, if only for a fragile,
collapsing instant
clear to some horizon
usually obscured

Sunday, February 9

Outside, the sky heavy and low, the foothills invisible in fog. Ten or fifteen degrees and a fine mist drifting across the street lights. Frost growing on the branches and utility lines. A thin white dust on the surfaces cleared during yesterday’s thaw.

Inside, the gas fire and three kinds of electric light. Laundry on wooden racks, clean dishes drying in the sink, peppermint tea in a white mug with the mongoDB logo on the side. My material life a cluttered disarray, as ever, but tinged with the illusion of order because it is less scattered than it was when I woke.

I’m sober tonight, and meaning to stay that way until I sleep. Yesterday’s similar determination crumbled well before the sun was down, and by 9:00 I found myself at a pool table in Longmont, deep black currents and eddies and spiraling towers of self loathing crashing through my brain in between table scratches and jukeboxed Bon Jovi songs. (These last: Sonic insects in the amber of shithole America’s eternal bar and grill scene. Creaking relics remembered from the final years of the age of cheap gas, the lyrics always summoning to mind a car full of us trawling gravel roads with a case of something terrible.)

Today I emptied a bottle of gin down the sink, and spoke to another human only long enough to order eggs over medium in a place frequented by no one I know. You can’t decide, in the end, to hold yourself together. Sometimes you can decide not to be in the room where you’ll have to make a choice.

Saturday, February 8

Reading: Lady of Mazes, Karl Schroeder (arrived at via this Jo Walton piece) and his earlier Ventus after finishing that.

The former is an ambitious piece of work that tries to grapple with a lot of ideas and possibilities at once: The way that technology conditions culture, the nature of identity, posthumanity and its discontents, coordination of action in a vast, system-spanning meta-society.

There’s a certain class of what I’ll call Anything Can Happen Space Opera where characters who are kind of terrible people bounce around through all these crazy scenes being miserable. It always puts me in mind of the effect you’d get if you took a pack of existentially troubled teenagers and dumped them for 500 pages into some terribly stupid mine-carts-and-conveyor-belts CGI sequence from one of the Star Wars prequels. (Which I guess probably already had Anakin Skywalker in it, but mercifully I have forgotten most of the details.) Take, for example, Colin Greenland’s Take Back Plenty, which has some extraordinary moments, and which I wanted to like, but which felt like about 60% of its material was whiny people being terrible to each other when it wasn’t whiny people engaged in slapdash chase antics through baroque but shallow scenery.

Mazes isn’t that – in fact it’s pretty good – but it has some of that flavor, a flavor it shares with the less-interesting bits of Stross’s Accelerando and all the parts of Consider Phlebas I managed to consume before I gave up on all the shit-wallowing torture porn.

I’m starting to think that talking about futures whose defining quality is an absence of constraints just sort of naturally leads to this kind of thing, at least for people embedded in the cultural matrix of 1990s-2000s mass humanity. Which is to say that Lady of Mazes is interesting because it’s trying to talk directly about some of the very phenonema that make it hard to write really satisfying books like Lady of Mazes.

Half way through the book, I’ve been getting more actual reading enjoyment out of Ventus, I think because it’s operating with a narrower focus, working out the details of a particular set of constraints, exploring a handful of ideas. It’s not entirely self-consistent, but it’s got me hooked on knowing the outcome, anyway.

Tuesday, February 4

Fragments from October's notebook.

I sat down a few days ago and tried to write a piece of Science Fiction, with an idea and in a mode I was thinking of as a commentary on a particular subgenre. I managed to go on for a few pages, setting up a character with a history and a girl problem, ending civilization - the usual stuff. It was total crap.

I got to thinking about it later on, while reading a critical essay, and realized that in fact I had just been hamfistedly mimicking a bunch of tropes from that particular subgenre’s foundational books.

And this got me around to thinking: I am really glad there are people out there who can actually write Science Fiction, and I don’t read nearly enough of the stuff these days. The other thing that got me thinking this was the essay at hand, a blog post by Jo Walton. I’m reading the collection of them, What makes this book so great?, and after a few entries have already bought a couple of books.

Long-term readers (what the hell are you still coming here for, anyway? What is this, 2003?) will know that I really dig Walton’s writing. It suddenly seems like there must be a lot of other voices in the SF&F world I’ve been missing out on since I lost the habit of reading fiction. It’s been a dozen years, and I never read as widely as I should have in the first place. Who am I missing?

monday, february 3

one day
i will be unable
to write
it will be then
i guess
much as if i
were already dead