What I’ve been reading and writing lately

Hello friends, hope you’re having a good New Year’s. I’m still here writing on my digital typewriter thing. It might potentially be more trouble than it’s worth at this point, since to do formatting on the device you’ve got to use Markdown, which is really cool and convenient, like a stripped-down HTML, but it’s a huge bore to convert the output to Word.

Anyway, I’ve been rewriting my literary novel, THE LONELY YEARS, on it, and it’s proven to be a not-awful way to just get words down. But it’s proven most useful, I think, for writing blog posts.

The rewrite of the literary novel has taken quite a turn! Doing yet another page one rewrite, trying to get deeper into the character, closer to their thoughts in the moment, without losing the ability to comment upon the things that the character is unaware of or which are happening below the surface of the conscious mind. The result is a collection of intermingling voices that runs the risk of being, dare I say it, a little confusing. And yet I think the effect works. I’m still viewing it largely as an exercise, and perhaps one I’ll abandon or never send out.

I’ve been reading a lot of periodicals lately. Mostly recently read New York magazine’s article on the fall of Quibi–a streaming platform for very short premium content, I guess a bit like HBO meets TikTok–that ran through 1.75 bn in short order earlier in the year. What’s interesting is how many people now claim the idea was doomed from the start, or that they saw right through it. It doesn’t seem to me that Quibi is, per se, stupid. You know what was stupid? Twitter. Why would people want to post a series of 140 character tweets when both Facebook and WordPress already existed! But somehow it served a need. You just can’t know whether something will work until it gets tried. In a way there’s something respectable about actually failing, rather than simply growing so fat, so quickly on VC funding that you become almost too big to fail, a la WeWork.

I also read Anna Weiner’s New Yorker article on Substack, which contained the predictable skewering of tech world pretensions about how this or that innovation will change the media landscape forever. It made me anxious, as these things always do. Yet again another gold rush has started and gone by without me! It’s not too late, probably, to hop on the bandwagon and try to get an audience on SubStack, but my heart isn’t in it.

I’ve been reading Ryan North’s run on the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for Marvel Comics. I love it. Doreen Green is just so…chipper and upbeat, and she defeats villains by bonding with them and meeting their deeper needs (and also sometimes by punching them). She’s an average CS student by day, and a squirrel-themed costumed adventurer by night (and also during many of the days). It’s just a fun romp through the Marvel universe, with absolutely no reverence and nothing held sacred, whether it’s Jubilee explaining "That’s not actually the sound the claws make, he just says SNIKT every time they come out" or Squirrel Girl sneaking into Avengers Tower to steal Iron Man’s spare suits so she can assemble them into a spaceship to fly to the moon to beat up Galactus (and having to detail her squirrel army to foil a bank-robbery on the way). It’s p cool.

I’m also recently finished two books, a biography of Derrida and a book about how modern art doesn’t follow the same cognitive rules as before-times art. I’m thinking of getting into the intellectual book review game (I actually have one coming out in June, in the feminist review outlet The Bind), and I was sort of thinking about reviewing these books in conversation with each other. My argument is developing, so it’s slow going, but I need to sit down and finish them and write the article. I used to never like the idea of doing book reviews, because it felt a bit too much like writing a term paper for fun. But then I read a bunch of book reviews closely and realized, "These guys aren’t doing research! They’re just throwing in a bunch of stuff they already know!" It made me feel better. And then I wrote one (the one coming out in The Bind) in about an hour as a proof-of-concept, and I was like totally, yep, yeah, I seem hecka smart in this review.

I also picked up the The Forsyte Saga by Galworthy, which I bought years ago, but which didn’t hold my interest until recently. I think I’ve become very interested in the exact point when modernism, with its more freeform depiction of the psyche, took over from realism, and the book seems to be in the very early part of that transition: the characters are well-described, but also somehow vivid and alive and a little murky, a little undefined. But I’ve been reading the book in fits and starts.

I’ve been listening to Jeff Hobbs’s The Short, Tragic Life of Robert Peace, about his Yale roommate, black kid from a poor family in Newark, who made it to the Ivy League, but still perished in a drug execution at age 30. It’s a tale. I don’t know what larger points to take from it, but the characters are vivid, and I feel for them. I’ve just come to the part where the author himself is meeting his future subject for the first time, as eighteen year old freshmen.

I’m halfway or partway through a lot of books, just like I’m halfway or partway through a lot of writing projects. We don’t have childcare because of the holidays, so it doesn’t feel like there’s much time. Really, there is enough, given that the baby is sleeping fifteen hours a day, and I have my wife at home, but it’s very nice to have uninterrupted time. I don’t know. I’ve been relatively productive on the rewrite, but I always feel like I can do more. Since turning 35, I’ve felt time passing, and I’ve felt like I need to work now, now, now. In some ways, I’ve felt the rekindling of a certain level of ambition that’d been lost. And it’s difficult, but also quite nice!

I’ve been making a list of things that make me envious (see, the aforementioned Anna Weiner article). Often they’re stories of other writers. Sometimes even the names of other writers arouse envy. Because of my agent search, I’m very aware of who represents whom, and I feel envious when I see the name of a writer whose agent has turned me down. I’m trying to understand the contours of this envy, and to figure out which writers arouse more or less envy.

I think that I would like to be a more great-hearted individual. I want to feel happy for other people. I want to not feel attacked by their success. I’ve realized that I can’t repress these sorts of negative feelings. I can’t combat, fight, or overcome them, but I do think that I search for their roots, within my self-image, and drain them of their power.

There are certain kinds of envy that don’t bother me. I don’t care when someone makes lots of money (as several of my college classmates have). I’m happy for them. I don’t mind if people have a nice vacation or seem happy online. Doesn’t bother me at all. It’s mostly only writers that arouse this feeling. Oh well, it’s a long-term project.

But I’m happy! No major complaints! Oh yeah, and I started taking hormones! It’s been good! I was absurdly tired for a few days–sleeping like fifteen hours a day–and it was quite troubling, but now I’ve my energy back, and life is good. Excited to see what will happen, but I already feel more settled in my gender identity.

P.S. Using MarkDown has made it much easier to add links to my posts, and I apologize for the fact so many of those links are to Amazon, Audible, and Comixology (all Amazon companies). But the thing is, life is too short for me to pretend I don’t buy most of my books on Amazon. I read most of my books digitally: when I buy paper, I try to buy from independents, but I can’t buy Kindle books otherwise than from Amazon, and Kindle is the best and most convenient e-reader. It is what it is. The thing is, most of you are probably the same, so let’s stop fronting. If Amazon is destroying the book industry, then the solution is regulation, not individual boycotts.

brown squirrel
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