On the drive back from Boston I listen to Maud Newton’s Ancestor Trouble and feel grateful not to have any relations like hers. My visit with my parents passed peacefully. No one picked a fight, for which I’m thankful. Hearing about grudges, conflicts, and crimes within one family going back generations makes me feel extra lucky to come from such ordinary stock. Perhaps Newton’s relations just loom larger in her heart and imagination. Seems like an awfully heavy weight to carry.
The day after my return I’m a guest in Frank’s freshman seminar class. He asked me to read from Soviet Stamps so I’ve been thinking about that book the preceding week. It’s almost too on-the-nose that I have to have a book about immigration and childhood in my head the week I’m visiting my parents.
The great privilege of making art and writing books is that once the work is done you’re rid of it. I hadn’t thought about this star-crossed book since shortly after its publication nearly three years ago. The six years it took to get it out into the world is not a theme I like meditating on. Its being out is a kind of purging.
That’s why it comes as a pleasant surprise that when I flip through the pages to choose a passage to read to the class it’s not as awful as I remember. There are paragraphs here and there that aren’t bad. I talk to the kids about the tortuous process of its publication, then read the intro. Then I talk some more and read another part. During the q & a a student suggests I should do BookTok. I laugh and tell her about quitting social media eight years ago. I ask whether she’d record a video about my book but she says she’s deleted the app because she was on it too much.
Shortly before my trip east I read an article about Mastodon and got excited. In the fallout from Musk’s evisceration of Twitter, this was one of the alternative platforms being pushed to succeed it. I signed up, felt all the same symptoms from long ago and deleted the thing eight hours later. My friend Gil called it, texting that it would feel just like the old drug, which it did, no matter its purportedly better intentions.
This line of thought comes up in the talk I posted recently with my old friend, John Hodgman. I don’t know whether John has quit Twitter as of this writing as some prominent people have but for many years he was a ubiquitous and successful presence there. In our talk he mentions the hollow feeling and craven striving this and other social media sites cause in their users. No matter how good you get at it it’s never enough. This is not the restless creative feeling of being unsatisfied with a result but rather an empty narcotic withdrawal symptom of a user with an ever-higher tolerance and dependency.
Once you know that you can’t look away when given the chance the only solution is to have nothing available. It’s why I systematically remove every statcounter from this newsletter and every other service I use on the internet. Because I know if it’s there I’ll check it multiple times a day and feel nothing but awful.
I’ve made twenty bookmarks and a bunch of small collages to sell at craft and holiday sales leading up to Christmas. Until I hit it big on BookTok or whatever thing comes next, this is how I have to get my work out there. The first is this weekend at Compound Yellow in Oak Park.
Maybe I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, I made you another playlist.