While the ideas in it aren’t really new, I still enjoyed Mairead Small Staid’s essay in the Paris Review on reading in the digital age of distractions.
On the “heightened state brought on by a book”:
This state is threatened by the ever-sprawling internet—can the book’s promise of deeper presence entice us away from the instant gratification of likes and shares?
On the horizontal reading (surface skimming) of the internet, which is the opposite of diving into a book:
What I do when I look at Twitter is less akin to reading a book than to the encounter I have with a recipe’s instructions or the fine print of a receipt: I’m taking in information, not enlightenment. It’s a way to pass the time, not to live in it.
We know perfectly well—we remember, even if dimly, the inward state that satisfies more than our itching, clicking fingers—and we know it isn’t here. Here, on the internet, is a nowhere space, a shallow time. It is a flat and impenetrable surface. But with a book, we dive in; we are sucked in; we are immersed, body and soul.
Found this post on “Yelping Oakland’s past” via the “I raved in the San Francisco Bay Area in the ’90s” Facebook group (which is one of the only reasons I still have a Facebook account, tbh). I love this, thinking about the history of the warehouse rave scene in Oakland scattered about the internet in the form of Yelp reviews and whatnot. I immediately recall the sfraves list and other resources from back in the day… If I had any sort of motivation, I’d write more about this, but we all know I don’t!
Even before the post-Ghost Ship crackdown, sharing information online about underground party venues was generally frowned upon (don’t blow up the spot), so there’s a confounding irony in these faux pas surviving as the only bits of accessible information about these spaces. And while Yelp currently does not remove pages of “businesses” that have closed, it’s easy to imagine this policy changing. If it does, a whole slice of Oakland history would fade even further into obscurity.
Read a lovely essay by Stacey D’Erasmo at Literary Hub about the freedom of writing with no byline, no fear, no ego. I love this bit:
Again and again, I found that when students wrote without their names, much that was awkward, dull, strained, and frankly boring fell away. It was like watching people who thought they couldn’t dance dancing beautifully in the dark.
Stumbled on Gluten Free Antarctica on Idle Words this morning. Best thing I’ve read all week. I was going to add it to Longreads, but it doesn’t quite fit as a story pick. (But I don’t know, maybe it does?) Can’t decide what to excerpt, but here’s a snippet. You just have to read the whole thing.
The accusation hangs in the air, unanswerable, and Mary starts to cry. These are angry tears, tears that demand gluten-free justice. The single piece of corn toast she has been allotted for breakfast lies mute on her plate, an affront to God and man.
Rodney convenes a summit in the ship’s auditorium to address the gluten crisis. Only passengers with dietary restrictions are invited. The rest of us must huddle around the open hatch one deck above, straining to hear. We are deep in the Ross Sea, five hundred miles from the nearest human being, and this is the most exciting thing that has happened on the ship in weeks.
There are tears of laughter on the bridge when I tell the Russian crew about the Great Antarctic Glutiny.
“You mean if this woman eats bread, she will die?“
“Not really. She just gets sick.“
“Yuri, come here! You have to hear this. If she eats bread, the woman will die.”
“She won’t die. Gluten causes digestive problems for some people. But it’s also become a sort of health fad.”
“What is ‘gluten’? Is that even a Russian word?”
Snippets from “How Do We Write Now?” by poet and essayist Patricia Lockwood, on writing in our age of online toxicity and distractions:
The first necessity is to claim the morning, which is mine. If I look at a phone first thing the phone becomes my brain for the day. If I don’t look out a window right away the day will be windowless, it will be like one of those dreams where you crawl into a series of smaller and smaller boxes, or like an escape room that contains everyone and that you’ll pay twelve hours of your life for.
The feeling you get after hours of scrolling that all your thoughts have been replaced with cotton candy — or something even nastier, like Runts or circus peanuts — as opposed to the feeling of being open to poetry, to being inside the poem, which is the feeling of being honey in the hive.
That the line in you will one day be memorized by other people, even repeated by them silently as they brush their healthy teeth.
A snippet from a post by Tom Critchlow on small b blogging:
But what is lost by following big B blogging? By chasing audience we lose the ability to be ourselves. By writing for everyone we write for no one. Too often I read things otherwise smart people have written for places like Fast Company and my eyes glaze over. Personal identity is necessarily watered down. Yes those places have large audiences but they’re shallow audiences. They don’t care about you at all. Your writing washes through their feeds like water.
Instead – I think most people would be better served by subscribing to small b blogging. What you want is something with YOUR personality. . . . Writing that can live and breathe in small networks. Scale be damned.
I’ve pretty much stopped blogging on my personal site completely for various reasons: apathy; inability to let go in front of an audience; lack of motivation; disinterest in media and tech; unwillingness to stay plugged in and part of the stream… I just don’t care anymore. I work in tech, I work with writers and influencers, I write for a massive audience online for work, blah blah blah. But on a personal level, I’m in a very different headspace.
Still, Tom’s post reminded me of what I used to enjoy about blogging — there was a period of time, about five or so years ago, when I was really engaged and connected to my network, especially on Twitter, and got my work noticed and featured in the Atlantic, the New York Times, and other big outlets. While I’d always written online with an audience in mind, my favorite part about blogging was ultimately writing for myself, reading and learning and deepening my knowledge of things along the way, and documenting a wider web of ideas in my very own online space. I remember doing all of this because I truly enjoyed it — my site was an extension of me. Publishing on it made me feel more complete. And it still exists, but now mainly as a relic. I just don’t need it as I once did.
But anyway, I like what he says about “forgetting the big B blogging model” and not chasing an audience, or scale, or page views. It’s such a simple thing, but somewhere along the way, I completely forgot how to write for myself, how to face inward, how to be me.
From a piece in the New York Times Magazine on digital nomads:
If the usual trappings of adulthood don’t seem attainable, and a permanent sense of precariousness seems unavoidable, why not embrace impermanence instead?
Can you imagine a pair of noise-canceling headphones for geography? That’s how I started to think of Roam. When you want to, you can block out your sense of place entirely and exist in a hazy, calm, featureless space that could be anywhere. This nomadic bubble goes beyond a hotel in that it stretches around the world and is built to encompass your entire life; it promises to become your post-geographical home. Yet I found there to also be an anxiety to this hermetic placelessness, no matter how beautifully unburdened or minimalist it appears. Living anywhere is a lot like living nowhere.
I recently found and featured an essay, “Stripped for Parts,” by Courtenay Bluebird at Bluebird Blvd. I really loved this part in particular:
You see, writers tend to steal little things off of people—
a complete set of figured naval buttons on a man’s patched pea coat; a certain way a woman pushes back her bobbed silver hair; a child that can whistle with two fingers like a man.
Writers pocket these moments and pull them out to look at later under a lamp with a notebook. This is fine with me—it’s magpie stealing. It is general and gestural and often sweet.
There’s another kind of stealing that happens, though, where a writer will pick the lock on your life story, touch a couple of wires together, and roll your life down the driveway before you even know your story is gone.
I love books, and I can’t imagine how I’d have ever gotten into woodworking, let alone kept developing skills, without libraries and magazines and television and the internet. But I can’t help thinking we’re hamstrung by relying so heavily on all these visual and intellectual means of instruction for what is, after all, work of the body.
— “Some thoughts on learning together”
After googling something garden-related, I discovered the blog of David Walbert. There’s thoughtful writing here on a variety of topics — cooking, woodworking, history, and more. But this bit in particular has really resonated with me, as I’ve never been very good with my hands and making things on my own, and am learning each day while out in my vegetable garden.
I enjoyed this interview with Teju Cole in The Millions, in which he talks about Blind Spot, his new book blending text and photography. I always like his insights on photography, and in one part of the conversation he talks about his experience with Big Blind Spot Syndrome, which caused him to lose sight in his left eye for a time — and ultimately changed his photography process.
I was already looking intently, but I started to look more intently, more patiently. My photography got a bit more meditative and mysterious. I began to pay attention to the ordinary in a more focused way.
Having eye trouble made the ordinary glorious. It’s just the way the sun falls across concrete or, like you said, a hanging tarp. It’s almost like William Carlos Williams’s poetry.