Winter: The Best Season, For Real

Dave Caolo nails it:

You can’t drive fast in winter. You can’t walk the dog quickly, either. Even getting ready to go outside takes longer than it usually does. And while you’re moving so slowly, look around. The snow is really beautiful.

Winter also reminds us not to worry too much about how our hair looks, or if we’ve got nice clothes. None of that matters when it’s 13ºF.

They saw you coming

Moleskine: £15 sketch book you’re too afraid to draw in. They saw you coming.

John Allison.

I see a lot of notebooks at work. Everyone’s got a notebook. It’s usually a Moleskine. And everyone always has a pen at hand. In meetings, I constantly see the latter poised over the former, ready to jot. Five minutes later, the writing device has been abandoned—tucked behind an ear, maybe (in sheepish admittance to the idea-not-practice-ness of the whole thing). Some stubborn fools will leave the writing device out, laid to rest upon the page; or maybe they’ll fidget with it, bang the tip around on this surface and that, like the words just need some jostling.

It wounds me, but I do this too. Constantly. I’ve been wondering why. I suspect I have an answer.

Notebooks used to be a precious thing. To me, anyway, they were a precious thing. Yeah, I’ll admit it. I treasured my notebooks. I had a Moleskine or two—or three—or four. I wrote in them, in tiny handwriting with meticulously practiced letterforms.[1] They were legendary notebooks, if the ad copy is to be believed. They inevitably led to great art. I guarded them jealously, treated the pages like gold leaf, and was loathe to make any wasteful mark.[2]

These days, I have the opposite problem, even if the net effect is the same. In the day to day trenches of adult existence, it becomes plainly obvious what one needs must sacrifice and where one’s attention must lie so that one can continue eating—such that it becomes pointless and/or counterproductive to pursue any other end, even if one of those ends had once kept the screaming at bay. Not so long ago, I was paralyzed by the potential of language; now I can barely see the virtue.


  1. I suspect I am the member of a very limited group of people over the age of six who have actually practiced their cursive.  ↩

  2. I have never used up every page of a Moleskine. Ever.  ↩

Howling still

Hey kind of important

Some housekeeping: The URL has changed; it’s about time to retire the ol’ kitty lumpkins name. The name’ll always have a special place in my dumb stupid heart (and in myriad easter eggs, one assumes), but one cannot help but acknowledge the certain lack of, cough, gravitas about the name. So, then, now we have solitonic.co—there is no good reason for this name, except I was thinking about Metal Gear Solid when I registered it. So then.

The old URL will probably work indefinitely, but the RSS feed will certainly break one day[1] unless you update to this new one. I know, I know, this is a huge pain, especially in the wake of the Google Reader apocalypse. But with any luck, the RSS URL won’t change now, even if the underlying RSS provider does. This should be the last time you or I need to do this, hopefully.

Resubscribe?

So then

  1. Have we ever talked about talked about pens?

    I have this thing about pens.

    No, I don’t really mean some kind of love affair for pens. I could well have one of those, but that’s not what I’m talking about, specifically, here. Let me put it like this:

    Think about running. Not the act of running, but the habit, more like—the exercise, the concept. Every single one of us knows we should go running, and so we do things like read Wikipedia articles about running and pore over running shoe reviews for hours, and eventually we spend too much money on shoes, thinking, “Yes, this is an investment that will pay off. I’ll feel too guilty otherwise!” Then we don’t wear them. We don’t run. And maybe we feel guilty, but only until we find something else to do, which is always.

    So, then, me. And pens.[2] And, more to the point, writing.

  2. Needless to say, but I think I owe you all something. Again. Not the first time, definitely. And not the last time, certainly.

  3. Much has been said about Porpentine’s wonderful, wonderful Twine game Howling Dogs in these many months since its release, and I do not believe I can add anything particularly new or novel. I can just start making noise about it. So, done.

  4. I’ve been thinking about bread, and the making thereof. I’ve been known to make a loaf from time to time. Horrible, dense, salty loaves. I’m not very good. But I might get better.

    Bread is—not hard, really, but not easy, particularly. Baking is, after all, kind of a science. The recipes are prescribed, and the result is generally predictable. One does not simply go off recipe. But then there are people who go off recipe, because through a combination of work and—more importantly—work, they have become better bakers than (possibly) you or (definitely) I could ever hope to be. For the layman baker, this is as good as sorcery. But this is bread in the abstract. I am trying to talk about bread as a thing.

  5. And this is vital, because bread is fundamentally a thing. Bread is no good if it isn’t firm and graspable. The purpose and innate goodness of bread comes from its tangibility.

    Bread can be a means, sure, but it’s also its own end. It is its own end in a way that (say) sales commission software or (say) a multinational consulting company can never be. The latter are a means of living. But they are not what really keeps you alive.

Occupy Cubicle

Things haven’t really changed that much since last year. I would probably call it a focusing—like a microscope, the constituent elements seem bigger, but they are still the same constituent elements. Last year I was mildly dissatisfied and uncertain what I was supposed to do next; this year I am largely dissatisfied and uncertain what I’m supposed to do next. Howling still.


  1. (but probably not today)  ↩

  2. Or, also, blogging software. Or text editors. I have so many iPad text editors.  ↩

They'll sharpen their teeth on your smile — III

Everything gets bitter and hopeful. Like you never know about the couple across the street–like if they’re a couple, e.g. He’s acting like she’s the coolest person he’s ever talked to (and with his outfit, well—I thought only middle schoolers wore cargos and oversized tees—heck, he certainly looks like a middle schooler). She’s all cigarette exhales (nose mouth nose mouth mouth nose) and al fresco cafe occupancy. Coffee? No, thank you.

Later: bus. My knee hurts like hell. A pair of girls gossip—super mad at everything. “I’m the one who has the right to be angry,” she concludes. Which is interesting. No one has the right, specifically speaking, to be angry—an ever-present option isn’t a right—but as I spend eight to ten hours a day waffling between occupational impotence and anesthetized impotence, I really don’t have the moral ground to be telling people what is and isn’t right. Although you work with what you’ve got. Some people get angry. Still—water. I get angry, probably too often. Still—water. You work with what you’ve got. Sometimes you give three bucks to a busker who hasn’t made a cent today. Sometimes you get Channing Marshall and Iggy Pop to tell you what you want to believe so bad. Sometimes you get to hold nail-bitten hands. Most times you just want to feel, despite all the rancid sardine cans and sticky vermouth bottles, like you did something good.

The danger of faceless journalism

Laurie Penny, eloquent as always:

Every view comes from somewhere, and who you are as a writer, reporter, filmmaker or blogger changes how people behave in your presence. It changes what they say to you; it changes whether they speak to you at all. That’s as true for your average white dude reporter as it is for anyone else, and it matters even if you don’t care a bit about equal representation in the media industry. It matters because the fallacy of bland and faceless reporting hurts journalism, by allowing bias and prejudice to masquerade as hands-off objectivity, by giving reporters license not to be honest about how their outlook affects their output.

John Roderick is mad at punk rock

I mean, he is mad:

Punk-founded doubt and fear has directly spawned the cowardly culture of modern irony. Fear of being called out or targeted for enjoying art that doesn’t meet the stringent criteria of punkness—a criteria too ineffable to codify, but pernicious and deadly to underestimate—has given us no outlet for the vagaries of our taste but to claim that we enjoy the things we love only out of mocking disdain for the awfulness we pre-emptively ascribe to them. The very act of loving something ironically is an admission that punk-rock groupthink has denied us our own will. Scorn has become the ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, distancing us from joy to the point that our souls rebel. Punk has encouraged us to hate innocence until the only entertainments we can appreciate are the fake epiphanies of celebrity weight-loss porn and cynical folk-revival banjo music that borders on thoughtcrime. …

To the degree that punk has a governing philosophy, it’s a fundamentally negative one. Punk only tells us what it hates. It has never stood for anything; it stands against things. It is not an intentional indictment; it is a reactionary spasm.

I like when John Roderick is mad.

Creating, post-Tumblr

John Allison of Bad Machinery muses on the future of web comics and creating for the web:

Comics like mine used to build followings through a system of patronage and word of mouth via links from other comics, popular blogs - in essence, journalistic models. The barrier to entry, pathetically low compared to the agonies of making one’s niche work known pre-Internet, still required a certain amount of negotiation. You had to be able to make a website. You had to do a bit of networking. You had to be able to FTP something. You had to put in a modest amount of effort.

A few years later, we have Tumblr.

Crank and crank and crank and crank.

Filthy blogger

Marcelo Somers:

There’s a cancer spreading through the indie tech blogger community: the blockquote + link post.

Guilty.

For many a year, I wrote using the traditional Today I Ate x for Lunch format, but I decided to try linkblogging when I moved away from WordPress.[1] This is partially because I felt like I was reading a lot of interesting stuff that I wanted to share (and write—but not necessarily write a whole lot—about) with other people, in a place where I could dictate the presentation, experience, and discussion—that is, as I’ve said before, a place that wasn’t Facebook or Twitter. I did try this format out with Tumblr awhile ago, but the issue I had there was that I was consuming (distinct from reading) and reblogging more than I was actually creating or commenting or critiquing. The social aspects of it, as fun as they were, were getting in the way, and I was only diluting the accomplishments of the creators that I was reblogging.[2]

But the real reason for switching to linkblogging was because John Gruber is doing it, and he is highly successful, and I want me summa dat.

On the one hand, it’s a very compelling and easy format for writing: quote, comment, post, repeat. I’ve heard it called curation. It’s reblogging but with (hopefully) more thought. You’re thinking it through, considering context, greater meaning—the gestalt, to quote Gruber. Hopefully. But that makes me think of something Choire Sicha wrote about “Internet curation”:

More likely you’re a low-grade collector, not a curator. You’re buying (in the attention economy at least! If not in the actual advertising economy of websites!) what someone else is selling—and you’re then reselling it on your blog. You’re nothing but a secondary market for someone else’s work.

Ouch.

And more sinister is the fact that it’s such a quick format that it’s easy to crank out posts. One after another. Quote, comment, post, repeat. It’s an easy rhythm. Crank and crank and crank and crank. That’s a problem—the same one I had with Tumblr’s reblogging. But Tumblr makes no bones that you’re just—well—reblogging and repeating somebody else’s post, with little further expectation; careless linkblogging, on the other hand, can provide the illusion that you’re meaningfully adding to the conversation, when in reality it’s another layer without purpose or context. It’s an extra, meaningless click. It’s pithiness for pithy’s sake. It’s worse than hoarding—it’s adding to the bullshit. Merlin Mann:

Sometimes the cranking made something special that will be really useful to people who badly need the comfort and help. But, a staggering amount of the time, my cranking has produced joyless and unemotional bullshit that couldn’t comfort, help, or please anyone.

In the past couple weeks, I have been guilty of this. To a greater or lesser degree (usually greater), depending on the day, but guilty all the same.

You have to just kind of take me at my word when I say that I am genuinely trying not to crank. But it’s hard to be consistently meaningful—and I expected as much. I have only been doing this for a couple weeks. I’m not saying that to excuse my failure, but more as a means to say that I acknowledge the problem and want to make it better.

Because of the nearly ten years of personal blogging trappings (e.g. endless posts about bagels and orange juice), switching to a shorter, more factual format is weird. It’s not what this blog used to be, and I don’t think it’ll totally go back to that again, if at all. But I still consider it a personal blog, much in the way that Daring Fireball is John Gruber’s personal blog.[3] He reports on technology and Apple products, sure, but he also writes about sports and science and movies and whatever else has his attention.

That’s the format that I aspire to. I want to share the things that delight me, or frustrate me, or inspire me. Those things include Apple products and web design and video games.[4] Other times, it’ll be gender equality and Mars rovers. And maybe once in awhile it’ll be bagels and orange juice.

More than that—in fact, most importantly—I want, if not to convince a member of The Readership, such as it is, that it is important, to express at least why it is is important to me.[5] And I think the linkblog is a good fit for how I want to share and write about these things that I care about and capture my attention. The medium might change. Writing might not even be part of the endgame. But it’s how I’m starting.

I am not good at this at all. At all. I am more cancer, currently, than creator. But I’m trying. I know that I am not writing as a wooly, histrionic mess anymore; I mean, that was pretty entertaining, at the very least in a glad-that’s-not-anyone-I-know kind of way. And while I did produce some writing that I remain proud of, that’s tended to be the exception rather than the norm; much of the rest of it was cynical and self-indulgent for its own sake, and that cynicism and self-indulgence—which has its place, don’t get me wrong—rarely made me feel better or like I was actually making something.

And so frankly all of this has been kind of an implicit-now-explicit way to beg forgiveness from both myself and The Readership, such as it is, for any cancer-like elements. I’m begging forgiveness because this is something I want to keep doing, and it’s something that I narcissistically want other people—even if it’s only one or two people—to say that they want, even if it is not what I[6] expected from a blog relaunch. So, fair warning that there will be a lot of cancer and shitting around before there’s a chance that anything gets—good.

But one day, one hopes. This the most excited I’ve been about writing and blogging in a very long time, and I cannot wait to see where it[7] goes.[8]


  1. This format switch has also resulted in much less doom-and-gloom personal writing. But if we’re all being honest, yt. was getting really tired of that, and is sure that The Readership, such as it was, was too. Or at the least, one hopes so. (There is plenty of Old Wound to look back on, if you miss it.) The thing about carrying on writing like that since 2002 (!!!) is that eventually it’s more persona than personal. (See what I did there?) And while yt. hopes that, at his best, such writing exposed some truth and meaning, it’s also regretful that it wasn’t terribly honest most of the time, and certainly not representative of what yt. really wanted to write about, even if it was—ugh—“personal”. What that what is, is beyond the scope of this footnote.  ↩

  2. I felt least guilty about reblogging cute cat photos. But I still felt guilty. Over cute cat photos. That’s how I knew something had gone terribly wrong.  ↩

  3. Bloggy blog blog blogity blog I hate how this stupid word sounds blog.  ↩

  4. Not necessarily respectively, and not necessarily in that order.  ↩

  5. Yt. may have taken for granted the fact that, because it was being posted, it must have been important in some way. Which was not the case much of the time.  ↩

  6. Nor, probably, the eldest and sagest members of The Readership, such as it is.  ↩

  7. That is to say, this blatant and shameless Johnny-come-lately rip-off of Daring Fireball.  ↩

  8. I really hope it’s into a giant pile of gold bars.  ↩

The Busy Trap

Tim Kreider:

But just in the last few months, I’ve insidiously started, because of professional obligations, to become busy. For the first time I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was “too busy” to do this or that thing they wanted me to do. I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon. Except that I hate actually being busy.

This is something I’ve been struggling to come to terms with in recent weeks and months; I have been working from home and incredibly not-busy with my job recently—guess why I’m blogging during normal business hours—and honestly, deep down I don’t mind this at all. But there’s a certain guilt that arises from this situation, the sense that, Christ, I am not contributing meaningfully to my company, and I am going to get the sack any minute. This is especially bad when your yearly performance review includes a discussion of “chargeability”—literally how many hours you’ve spent on making money for the firm.

I hate software consulting.

They'll sharpen their teeth on your smile

The Readership, such as it is now, may or may not remember a time in The Distant Past when I insisted on the construction of an Internet empire, mandating (what turned out to be) disparate, ill-defined, and unconnected websites and (horrible buzzword incoming) web presences. This is not how one builds an Internet empire (and yrs. truly was, in fact, fully aware of this and did not actually desire the construction of an honest-to-goodness Internet empire, but it was a convenient phrase for approximating what yt. had in mind, in terms of launching what one can call—ugh—a “web presence”). The reason really was to preserve some anonymity for myself. Keep the Internet and the real world siloed. Keep the streams from crossing.

Recently I have had a change of heart, and so I’m just going to rely on my FILDI, here, when I say this: I suspect that the previous decision was motivated deeply by fear of discovery by People, Real People, People That I Know Personally Who Might and Probably Will Judge. Which made the decision basically a capitulation to bullshit, in the sense that if (say) a potential employer saw this, well, shit, let’s not let that happen. But then there’s something that I think is vital in these tough Internet times, which is a place that you own, I mean, really own.

There are limitations in the extent that you can really own something on the Internet, obviously (because even yt. is just some average schmuck and isn’t going to be buying and running a server out of a bedroom closet [which gets close to really owning, but makes clear how much more work is left]). But what I’m driving at is this: I’m trying to get close, at least philosophically, to really owning a thing on the Internet, in a genuine way that things like Facebook and Twitter don’t allow, and that wasn’t going to happen until I, that is, me, was willing to fess up and, well, own this. And lo: it has been owned.

Would you rather this than anything else

It could be said that maybe an apology is owed. That perhaps the two-plus years of sporadic and often cryptic writing was a mistake. Or, if not a mistake, then lacking in a certain grace that other, more famous hiatal blogs possess. One might even argue that, were this to be a fair and just world, that yr. humble author (yes hello how are you, a pleasure as always) would perhaps consider issuing an apology for this lack of such certain authorial grace. But, again, this assumes that he is such an author to make such an apology, and that this is a fair and just world. Only one of these assumptions is true. Determining which is which is left as an exercise to the reader.

God’s honest truth is that I have been terribly busy and not busy. All Schrodinger’s Cat up in here. There is literally no better way to experience quantum mechanics than by going on a job hunt. Did that not make any sense? That’s the point! Rimshot.

So I guess to review the last year, when records got especially spotty, a list is provided, which lacks the writerly grace that yrs. truly continues not to be known for:

  • I received a college diploma, much to everyone’s distress
  • I moved to the Seattle area, which is where people go to drink pretty good coffee and be mean to everybody
  • I met a nice young lady who breaks a lot of teapots (hello, dear!)
  • I got a job at a soulless multinational software company, much to everyone’s delight
  • I spent too much money on a kitchen knife and bought an entire bed from Amazon.com and didn’t feel bad about either

And now we’re all up to speed. All that said, honestly I haven’t really thought through much else, wrt. the future of the writing you may or may not be seeing here soon. Because you’d never guess it, but these past two years have been lacking any sort of creative output of any kind, from words to doodling to singing out loud to Top 40 (shame, the shame) to whatever, and I’m afraid I’ve fallen into some sort of pit of anticreativity. I may die in a cubicle. I used to be halfway good at making a big deal out of little things. It’d be a shame.