So, as you can imagine, Some Things have happened since the last post. To be honest, it’s been hard to find the will to write. I don’t really want to write about what Warren Ellis calls “The Cough”. But it’s also been unavoidable, and it seems to be on everyone’s mind, and with good reason. But, as Robin Sloan recently wrote, “Do you want every glorious weirdo you’ve ever followed to morph into the same obsessive faux public health expert? YOU DO NOT!". For the moment, it seems like a number of people have morphed into just that. It’s certainly provided a good opportunity to cull the feeds/newsletters.
I can understand why it’s so intensely preoccupying; it certainly is for me. There have been more than a few disappointments; the UK trip is postponed until further notice, as is a planned California trip. I miss the sights and sounds of people eating and drinking and shopping and working on the downtown mall. I miss church and sharing in the body of Christ with other bodies. I miss hugs.
And I’m worried. I’m worried for the elderly. I’m worried for the lonely. I’m worried for health care workers. I’m worried for countless small businesses.
And I’m also hopeful. Our rector said there’s been a pandemic of kindness. People are shopping for their shut-in neighbors. Local communities are organizing ways to provide for those who have lost work and income. Those who can afford to seem to have doubled down on their support for the vibrant small business community of Charlottesville, taking advantage of takeout and curbside pickup where it’s available. I’m hopeful that this tragedy is revealing the arbitrary cruelty and fragility of our current political economy.
I’ve been hesitant to write about this because, compared to many, my problems are far less significant; the most I’ve had to suffer is disappointment. I still have a great job, a home, good friends, a support network, and my health. The disappointment is real nonetheless, and I’d rather accept the feelings than deny them, but I’m finding gratitude is a powerful corrective when disappointment slips into self-pity or anxiety.
Another reason I’ve been hesitant to write is that I don’t want to become another “faux public health expert”. There’s no shortage of coronaviral prophets, both of the hortatory and predictive variety. I’m more sympathetic to exhortation than prediction; people should take the health of their neighbors seriously, through all the appropriate behavioral mechanisms. But I fear for the physical integrity of my laptop and any nearby window if I read another piece of fortune telling from a writer or artist or developer or science journalist turned futurist-cum-armchair-epidemiologist.
We cannot know the future. We can try to make informed guesses, but I’d rather leave that to experts.
That was way more than I wanted to write about this. Thus, I conclude this section with a few pieces that discuss but are not actually about The Cough. I think they deserve more engagement, but maybe that’s for another day.
How to Live in the Shadow of Calamity - Ethan Richardson (Mockingbird)
March 2020 newsletter - Robin Sloan
The Convivial Society: Vol. 1, No 5 - Michael Sacasas
Oh, and this bit from C.S. Lewis, which makes an appearance in all three:
The war creates no absolutely new situation, it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.
A Public Space is doing an online book club/readalong of /War and Peace/. It’s 12 days and about 170 pages in. The daily readings are roughly 12-15 pages, which will bring the book club to an end in June, which seems to be appropriate timing. I never intended to read W&P, and I honestly decided to jump in as a way to discipline my mind in the morning, and keep me from the beckoning vortex of The News. I don’t have an opinion of it right now. Reading it is more enjoyable at certain times than others. But, I will say so far that Tolstoy is a keen observer of human motivation/behavior, and renders his characters with great psychological acuity. The small daily assignments allow me to read other books in parallel with this one, but so far I think I’m enjoying it more than I expected. Also, don’t listen to anyone who tells you to skip the “war” parts and just read the “peace” sections.
Last weekend we visited Chiles peach orchard out near Crozet. The blossoming peach trees were a surreal sight.
I’m also wearing shorts as I write this. Today is the first shorts days of 2020. Everything is blooming and pollen is everywhere and woe to those whose allergies require them to clear their throat with a cough. So far I’m really liking spring in Virginia.
On the right is a pale ale from Reason Beer, which is about a 5 minute bike ride from our house. We rode over there today, where you can still purchase cans from the tasting room.
As long as we’re allowed to be outside while maintaining responsible distance from people, we plan to do so. The city skatepark has been closed, so for now it looks like a lot of nature walks, bike rides, and neighborhood skating.
I don’t want to remember this time and think all I did was be anxious and remain super informed in order to feel a sense of control, but I know that’s exactly what I’ll do if I’m not deliberate about it. Do what you need to do to remain physically and mentally healthy during this time, but please don’t expend either of those things by enriching those platforms and outlets whose business model parasitically rely on your misery. Read a book, write a thing, bake a cake, watch The Office again, or play Animal Crossing instead.
This will not have the final word.
Preparatory reading about Britain has been put on hold until we set a new date for the trip. In the meantime, I’m enjoying /The Difference Engine/ by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. I also finished the manuscript I mentioned in my previous entry, and all I can say is that I want more of it.
Recent viewing includes The Man in the Iron Mask, Young Sherlock Holmes (on the Criterion Channel!), and The Godfather (Jen’s first viewing!).
We enjoyed some Django Reinhardt recently.
ASCII art + permadeath: The history of roguelike games
Morning Prayer - Alan Jacobs
Look Who’s Talking - Fr. Stephen Freeman
Common Good Capitalism - An interview with Marco Rubio
Jesus, Lead the Way - Neil Willard
Christ Episcopal Church Morning Prayer service