Welcome to the hub of my new Internet presence, which extends from here to all of the corners listed under Eponymous and Projects below. I’ve been meaning to spruce up this Weblog a bit and make an orderly departure from Facebook, and generally rationalize things, and I’ve taken the long weekend to do that. I’m tempted to say that I’ll write here more regularly, but I don’t know how realistic that is. But even if this stays limited to my posting a picture of the week, at least it looks better. And now I’m off for a brief vacation. Have a great summer.
Tomorrow is May Day, an occasion that’s never meant a thing to me. But this year, tomorrow is the May 1 General Strike, a Day Without the 99%, centered in New York, as much as anything manifested by Occupy Wall Street could ever be centered anywhere, and I’ve come to see such actions in a very different light. I’ve written a long essay that frames much, though not quite all , of my thinking on the events of the last seven or so months called “Have We Done all We Could?” It was posted in four parts, starting last Friday and running through this morning, on mathbabe and Naked Capitalism (where it seems to have elicited a fair amount of commentary that I haven’t yet had the courage to read). I’m posting it all in one piece here for the Longreads folks, should they, or you, be interested.
Tomorrow may be a big day for all of us, one way or the other, and I’m more than a little anxious about it. I don’t know if it’s that it might rain, that my day starts with an endoscopy to confirm what seems to be an ulcer, or that the banks and police have been training in counter-terrorist techniques for months now, but I’m viscerally uneasy. I’ve been to and participated in many other Occupy Wall Street events since it began, and I’ve never felt the least bit threatened. I’ve found the bonhomie intoxicating, and the police’s apparent unease with it amusing, but I trust the police less and less. People seem to be a little more edge. Or maybe it’s just that I know that if tomorrow doesn’t build some momentum toward some legitimate change, that change may never come, and that possibility is just too grim to contemplate. So I hope tomorrow is a beautiful day, filled with hope and happiness, that everyone steps away from the crushing tedium and mediated alienation of their daily lives, steps out into public spaces, and revels in each others’ community. Good, bad, or indifferent, we’ve only got each other. And even if you can’t take the day off, spend some part of it thinking about where money fits in your life and what it’s done to it, of those who have all the money and those who don’t have nearly enough (groups that I hope include none of you). Give a thought to how you’d like things to be and what you can do tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year to make it so.
It seems that the summary judgment of 2009 is that it was wholly unsatisfactory, and there are many reasons to agree. And yet this was a very good year for me personally. I say that not to gloat, and I don’t believe that this makes up for the considerable misfortune that has befallen so many others, but I think it would be ungracious not to recognize and be grateful for my good fortune. Unlike most of the developed world, I had a great year at work (which was especially gratifying after the sanity-threatening year or two that preceded it), and am now in the midst of a company-wide, week plus holiday given as a reward for such a successful year. My ear finally healed, and I’ve had a chance to work my body back into shape, even managing to lose some weight through the holiday season. Our dog seems fully recovered and is thriving after surgery precipitated by a frightening brush with cancer. My nephew continues to grow more charming, and I’ve managed to maintain contact with him and his parents. As they say during Passover, that would have been enough, but there was more. There were so many little things that made me smile and say, “Cool.”
There are all sorts of summaries of the year in gadgets out there, but for me, there were two particular gadgets that made me happy this year, one of which I’ve had for twelve years. I had the watch that my wife gave me for my thirtieth birthday refurbished, and I’ve gone back to wearing it every day. It’s not flashy or remarkable, but it keeps very good time without a battery or winding. It is purely analog and mechanical. It’s an astonishing feat of craftsmanship, and I often find myself staring at it on my wrist in awe, trying and failing to imagine the precision of its inner workings.
Similarly precise and well-crafted, but not so purely analog and mechanical, is the new camera I got in October. Though a carpenter isn’t supposed to blame his tools, may I give credit to mine? It’s made me a much better photographer. I’m still amazed by the simultaneous sharpness and creaminess (for lack of a better word) of the images it produces, and its ability to work in limited light. And I don’t yet have the lens that’s supposed to make this camera so remarkable, though it’s on its way and should arrive early next week, suggesting still more wonders from this camera in 2010.
The more fully digital world of computers has offered its own pleasures, though for me, they’ve been almost exclusively software. I haven’t really gotten any new hardware this year (except for the Magic Mouse, which, meh), but the hardware I already had became far more useful, with impressive updates to Mac OS X, iPhone OS, and AppleTV. Even Windows 7, the release candidate of which I installed in VirtualBox (another fun discovery in 2009), is a clear improvement.
But the most significant advances by far have come from Google. The Web and mobile Web versions of Google Reader were already the way I consumed the vast majority of Web content, and the Google Mobile iPhone app had already proven handy. In 2009, they added the Chrome browser, Latitude, Google Voice, and Wave, and showed a preliminary version of the Chrome operating system. I’m very curious to see where these will converge in the coming year, but I expect an exponential increase in the usefulness of the Web–much of which is already provided for me by Google–to ensue.
I can’t tout the arrival of any great new literary voices in 2009, but I’ve still managed to find much that is new to me. On vacation in May, I picked up a used copy of Philip Roth‘s Sabbath’s Theater and read it through in a week. I had previously read only Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint and enjoyed them, but wasn’t moved to read any further. But mature Roth proved to be a different matter entirely–audacious not in the superficial way so commented upon in Portnoy’s Complaint, but in the profound way running from Dante and Cervantes through Beckett. I went back through the great mid-period Roth from Zuckerman Bound to Operation Shylock, and was impressed by the many achievements he managed in that short period, including especially The Ghost Writer, The Counterlife, and Operation Shylock. But they all still seem to be a sort of rehearsal or maybe extended sketches in preparation for the grim news of Sabbath’s Theater. And I still have the American Trilogy to look forward to.
And against all expectations, just as I was reconciling myself the likely reality that Against the Day would be Thomas Pynchon‘s last novel, Inherent Vice appeared. It’s lighter and more accessible than most of his other novels, but it’s still great fun. It may prove to be an even more effective gateway to his writing than The Crying of Lot 49 has often been. Perhaps there will be yet another novel from Mr. Pynchon in the coming years.
Oh, and The Awl started publication.
These are among the many reasons I look back on 2009 fondly, while still looking forward to 2010. I know that many won’t remember this year happily, but I hope you all have something like the joy I’ve had this year in the coming year and those that follow.
I’m exhausted, and I’m still in shock. Last night was like most of the cities in the country winning the World Series at the same time, and New York was no exception–horns and yelling up and down Broadway until at least 2:30 this morning. And watching the reactions from around the country–black college students collapsing in tears, white crowds cheering into cameras, and Jesse Jackson crying his eyes out–I was caught by surprise and overwhelmed by the feeling of the night. I had been looking at this election as a hiring process, and I had been almost exclusively focused on issues like competence and corruption, and as I saw Obama’s campaign execute flawlessly week after week, I was more and more impressed with him. But I was so focused on practical matters that I lost track of the powerful emotional and cultural issues building behind this campaign.
I went to bed last night with a black President Elect (and only a few years after South Africa managed that), and I still haven’t fully absorbed that. This morning I spoke to my brother about what this means for his son, my nephew. I had forgotten that, aside from what this means for others, it actually means something to me and my loved ones. We didn’t just elect the candidate most likely to respond effectively to the considerable challenges facing the next President. We elected a black man. Ain’t that some crazy shit?
Wednesday, we made the long drive from Provincetown home, and returned to the more grey, more crowded, and definitely more dry city of New York. In the cab home from dropping the car at the garage (one of the joys of car ownership in Manhattan), I pulled the iPhone that was sitting dead in my pocket out and tried to reboot it. Bizarrely, it came on and started working. It grabbed my newest e-mails and the voice mails that I’d missed over the previous week and a half. It even displayed the reminders for the few appointments I’d had during its coma.
Back at the apartment, there was a flurry of unpacking, cleaning clothes, processing pictures, going through mail, paying bills, and the like that ran right up until bedtime. Around 6:00, in the midst of all of this comforting activity of resumption, I decided that the fungal infection had returned to my ear. I’m not quite sure why. It did itch and feel sore and clogged, but this belief might also have been some strange subconscious effort to balance the happiness I felt at the revival of my phone. Whatever the reason, I called the stand-in ear doctor and got an appointment to see her first thing the next morning. And just before going to bed, I found that, in fact, the phone wasn’t working quite the way it should. If I turned it off, it would shut down, and then a few seconds later it would start up again. I kind of hoped this was just a temporary issue, but I suspected I’d have to re-make an appointment at the local Genius Bar. I went to sleep that night thinking I had three things to take care of: See the ear doctor; renew my driver’s license; and get my phone fixed or replaced.
I had a great night’s sleep, in cool, dry air, with all of the windows open and the ceiling fan on, and in my own bed (which actually isn’t that comfortable). Strangely, New York, or at least the corner of it around our apartment, is much stiller and quieter than the center of Provincetown. I was tired when I woke, not from sleeping too little, but from sleeping too deeply. I found that my phone’s battery, on the other hand, was tired from sleeping too little. I’ve since discovered that not only will the phone not shut down, but when I turn the display off when I’m not using the phone, the display will come on a couple of times every minute. I suspect that that’s not especially good for battery life. So I made an appointment at the Genius Bar for Saturday morning, and then headed off to the ear doctor’s.
She was as reassuring and pleasant in my second visit as she had been in the first, and she volunteered that Sam was a “psycho.” I told her I was tired and scared, and that I was sorry to be so anxious, but I’m finding the inability to simply determine what’s happening in my ear maddening. She completely understood and took a look. Not only was there no infection, but the tissue looked to be healing. The only problem she could see was that the powder was caked in my ear. She removed what she could, told me to use it only every other day and to make an appointment with my primary ear doctor (who was now back at work) in two weeks. Now the ear was doing great, and the phone was dead, which of course was preferable to the previous evening’s state of affairs. And I thought, one down (the ear), two to go (the license and the phone).
This morning on the way to work, I stopped at the Department of Motor Vehicles License X-Press office, and found a line much longer than I expected. But in less than hour, I had my license renewed. Well, I had a temporary license to use with my soon-to-expire current license until the renewal is delivered in a few weeks. And then it was two down, one to go. Tonight, I’ll try restoring the phone’s firmware (after I recharge it, since the battery has been depleted in the nine hours since I detached the phone from my computer this morning, after leaving it attached overnight to maintain its charge). If that doesn’t work, I have a 9:30 appointment tomorrow morning with a Genius. How can anything go wrong?
I’m back in Provincetown, and again I’m miserable. Immediately before we left, things were looking up, and W.A.S.T.E. did deliver my powder from Sam the Pharmacist as scheduled. It comes in four capsules that I’m to disassemble one at a time and load into the accompanying Sheehy-House Powder Insufflator (yes, one of the doctors who invented it is named Dr. House) and puff or insufflate it into my ear. That’s worked fine, though I did have a bit of a scare on the second night. I thought it felt like an infection might be back, but I called the back-up doctor the next morning, a Saturday, and she called right back. She told me that it was very unlikely I had an infection, and that it was more likely that the powder was caking in my ear.
I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear that, given the astonishing humidity in the air ahead of tropical storm Hanna. It was as hot and sticky as I’ve ever felt it here. And as we waited, cooped up in our room with our dog (who was sick and having accidents on the rug, and my mother-in-law), I felt better about my ear, but still quite anxious. In the afternoon, when it looked like the worst of the rain had passed, I went out for a walk with my mother and some of her friends in the dunes near Herring Cove Beach, but the rains and wind returned in earnest, and I got soaked pretty much all the way through, despite the fact that I was wearing a heavy raincoat. My iPhone, which had been stored in the main pocket of the raincoat, got pretty wet, and wouldn’t respond when we returned to my mother’s hotel. Strangely, my wallet, which was in the pocket of an exposed pair of cotton shorts, stayed mostly dry.
I spent a good chunk of the weekend worrying about if and how I could revive the phone. There’s no Apple Store out this way, so I’d have to wait until I got home for professional assistance. I removed the SIM card and left everything to dry for a day. Then I put the SIM card back in the phone and put it in a Ziploc bag of uncooked rice for another day. When I plugged it in to recharge, it showed that the battery was emptied, but it claimed to be charging. After an hour it hadn’t made any progress charging, and it didn’t respond to attempts to wake it or turn it on. I tried resetting it, and the screen went blank, and that seems to be the end of that. I’m a disappointed it wasn’t more resilient. I certainly didn’t mean to get it wet, but it wasn’t immersed in water–it was just drops on the surfaces, but that seems to have been enough. I can easily enough get this corrected once I’m home (and others certainly lost a great deal more in this storm), but this has left me a little more out of touch than I had planned to be on this trip.
Then Monday afternoon, I rallied again. I let the problems with the phone go, and was starting to enjoy myself. We had some tasty, fresh sushi at a restaurant on a deck overlooking the center of town and a remarkably decadent dessert. We watched the season premier of Jeopardy whereon the New York blogoshpere’s own Greg Lindsay won. I continued processing and posting pictures that make Provincetown look like the most beautiful and peaceful place on earth. I even slept peacefully with all of the windows open that night.
The rain came again yesterday afternoon, and we were stuck inside a little longer. We decided to make dinner in our room, watch Jeopardy, and see if the local baseball team could claim first place. It seemed pleasant enough, but then our upstairs neighbors’ dogs (we’d never had upstairs neighbors in this room before) started barking while the neighbors were out. It wasn’t constant, and they stopped after fifteen or twenty minutes, and haven’t barked since. For some reason, that was it. I snapped into a state of anxiety that I haven’t returned from since.
I’ve been unable to comfort myself. The sun rose on a glorious late summer day, with no humidity and just a little breeze. I walked all the way out on the fire road along Hatches Harbor to the Race Point lighthouse, and picked up a lovely lunch on the way back. When I got back, our neighbors were having lunch on their deck, above our room, amid a great deal of scraping, thumping, and door slamming. I don’t want to portray them as inconsiderate. They’ve been generally quiet and polite, and I love their dogs, but I just don’t want them there. I want the stillness and silence that you tend to find in an inn that doesn’t welcome pets and children, the stillness and silence that we used to get at the Oxford. We walked by there on Monday afternoon, and it was everything we’d remembered. Aside from the breeze, the only thing stirring was Potter, their golden retriever, who welcomed us and begged us to stay. But now that we have a dog of our own, we can’t. Of course, our dog never makes a sound and wouldn’t disturb anyone who wasn’t allergic to or phobic about dogs. But inns can’t make those kinds of exceptions.
I was about to suggest that we’ve been ghettoized, but that would be absurd. I’m sitting in the otherwise completely empty common room of our inn (where I’d fled to escape our neighbors’ lunch), with the sun streaming in and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony playing over the satellite radio. There’s a slight breeze, and traffic slowly rolls past out front. This is about as close to an objective notion of heaven as I’m likely to find. Yet I’m deeply unhappy. This is obviously something subjective, something I’m seeing that no one else is, and gives the lie to any notion of ongoing progress in the realm of my emotional health. I’m fragile, and normally what people in such a fragile state do, if they’re incredibly lucky, is come to a place just like this to regain their sense of well-being. Somehow, it only undermines my sense of well-being. And perhaps most frustrating of all, if someone else described this problem to me as theirs, I would know what they should do. I’ve written this out in the hope that I might be able to externalize it enough to do that for myself, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. I’d appreciate comments from any and all who might have the perspective I’m lacking.
Short of being able to actually come into your living room, one hand out for donations and the other hand setting up a slide projector, I figure this entry is about as pushy as I can get. It’s time to raise money again for AIDS Walk New York. Please, if you can, donate here. And as in years past, I’ll match every dollar donated up to $500, so make it hurt. And thanks for your support–it’s deeply appreciated.
One of the many places your donation will be appreciated is Provincetown, one of the American communities hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. Which brings us to my other hand. Here are my vacation snaps from this past week’s visit to Provincetown. Think of it as a reward for your donation, or think of it as yet another burden imposed upon you by this entry, but in either case, please give if you can.