And Then: An Account of the Last Three Years

I forgot how to write in 2019. I was still doing it to some extent, nouns and verbs here and there, publishing the odd post and scribbling notes to myself in the various places I stash ideas, but I had become confused. The internet soured. Each time I logged on, I felt myself permeated by incoherence, as if each day’s assault of random interestingness was a kind of cosmic radiation, weakening my bones, shredding DNA, mutating my sense of self, place and purpose.

At the same time, my twenty year career as a college librarian was unraveling. I lost connection to the work I was doing, had done and had felt to be important. The place I was working became poisonous, a place that celebrated mediocrity and prized uncritical conformity. The feel-good phraseology of employment as “work family” took hold, and directionless “innovation” masked an institutional rot that still breaks my heart.

The larger world seemed no better. Everywhere I looked, I saw once-trusted systems breaking. “We can’t keep living like this”: the mantra circling like smoke in my mind.

I started talk therapy (again) with an affable, but himself exhausted, therapist who helped me understand the turn a mind often takes in midlife. We talked a lot about the physical experience I had of staring into woods at night and feeling myself being swallowed by darkness, which seemed the inescapable fact of death — mine, yours, everyone and everything. It was, in psychological terms, a depression. It was, in spiritual terms, liberation. He helped me see that I didn’t have to do the things I had been doing. I didn’t have to continue thinking myself a plaything of what others deemed important or useful or vital. I could define these things for myself. He prescribed James Hollis and Robert Bly and poetry and writing and running and meditation. He prescribed family and friends and community.

And then: the pandemic.

My sense of darkness and the inescapability of death came to seem prescient. I felt also a kind of global kinship as we all moved our lives onto the internet to keep ourselves physically apart to help “bend the curve” of hospitalizations and death around the world. There was a brief moment of togetherness, beauty and wonder as my feed filled with video of people all around the world leaning from balconies to clamor and praise the work of nurses, doctors and emergency responders daily placing themselves in harm’s way. I saw cellists and opera singers perform in empty town squares for people who needed the courage that music and art bring. We stopped driving cars so much and air quality got better. And the thought “we can’t keep living like this” became “Oh. This is how it can feel to be a human.”

And also, then, the “work from home” experience which, for me, dovetailed with remote onboarding into a new job inside a completely different profession. I made my escape from the broken place that had been my professional home, a place that had been making me physically sick. Painful as it was to leave behind my own team and friends via web conferences, I found a new opportunity to do meaningful work in a place I respected and that respected me.

I turned my mind again to the possibilities of writing but my mind was worn with constant thought of pandemic, the gathering strength of anti-democractic politics, economic stress and the inescapable fact of climate crisis. I didn’t know what to write, where to start. And then, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. My feeds were full of protests, the swell of pent up people coming together to demand accountability for the unaccountable. And then, tear gas and billy clubs as the state’s answer to the gathered people. And then, the gassing of Lafayette Square to make the way safe for the vainglorious president and his ego handlers to strike sanctimonious poses in the borrowed shine of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

And then, a white teenage gun nut became a Fox News hero for carrying his AR-15 into the midst of chaos so he could feel like a bad ass. And later, America went full Watchmen when Texas deputized all citizens to enforce its heinous forced birth law. Everywhere I looked, the people saying “America First” most loudly were actively putting American values last. Metastatic dumbness grew rampant, aggressive and violent. 

In the midst of all this, I lost my words entirely. As a white, professional, affluent male, I had no idea what to say. Everything that seemed possible to say also felt like a gross exertion of privilege. Who should care what I had to say? What could it possibly matter?

I am not proud of this reflex. In the moment, I could have used my voice to elevate the voices of Black lives, female lives and queer lives — people who already understand the violence and chaos I was feeling as a more or less normal part of their whole lives. I didn’t. I let myself vacillate too long trying to decide if using my voice was an act of aggression or an act of hubris. I couldn’t discern which. My silence became an exertion of my privilege. I spoke quietly to those people who already agreed with me, who saw what I saw and felt what I felt and tried to ignore the stupids and crazies.

Except, the stupids and crazies were everywhere. People I knew. People I had worked with. People I once had liked. People I had invited into my home. They were all on social media saying outrageously dumb things with a galling lack of shame.

I left Facebook because it was making me hate people I was meant to love. And then, I left Twitter because the richest man in the world decided he could fix America’s so-called “free speech problems” by buying the speech platform. Nothing to see here. Just one more self-righteous billionaire writing a check to feel like they are actively solving problems they daily help make worse.

And also the failed January 6 coup which was broadcast live for all the world to see, but for which the right people will never pay.

And then, the week the Supreme Court declared war on all of us. States cannot enforce hundred year old gun restriction laws but can force women to give birth against their will.

It is all too much. It has been too much. It will be too much.

And now, I am here, with you, to tell you that I never meant to leave this place and I never wanted to stop writing. For a while, I thought it hurt too much to try and now I find it is hurting too much to not be trying. Silence is making me sick. All of this not writing has become a thing I feel in the viscera of my body, in the hot reach of my soul.

And so, I am trying to return. I am trying to return with a new sense of what’s actually possible. Reading back on so much of my writing, I find a person struggling to declare what he believes he knows and understands. I stopped writing when I realized I know nothing. I understand nothing.

It takes a while to find humility, to accept your limits and realize that what you have to offer isn’t your certainty about things. It is your curiosity, your courage in uncertainty, your willingness to show your doubts to others in hopes they might recognize some of it as familiar, that some piece of your confusion about the world and these lives we are making can resonate and be helpful.

So I am trying to find a new way into my writing. Not as a declaration of what I know but, rather, as a joyful celebration of everything I don’t know, what I cannot perhaps ever understand. I still like the title Ubiquitous Quotidian but the meaning has changed. It is a journey of thought, feeling and community through what I am encountering everywhere (ubiquitous) everyday (quotidian).

I can only promise to show up in my writing. What we might do together with any of this remains to be seen.

Celebrity Stream of Conciousness

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one. Will Smith walks onto a stage and slaps Chris Rock for telling a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith.

That’s it. That’s the joke.

I guess you had to be there.

I wasn’t there, except I heard about it in my morning “news” feed, delivered top line from both The Washington Post and The Guardian which is how I knew this was an important happening. There are, of course, other important happenings, like a war in Europe and the spouse of a Supreme Court justice encouraging the former White House Chief of Staff to do a coup. But, then, one has come to expect news about war and also Republican subversion of American democracy. One does not, however, expect the guy who played the Fresh Prince of Bel Air to physically assault a ridiculous guy doing his ridiculous job on live TV.

When I have to think about Will Smith, I tend think about him as the Fresh Prince which is why the whole thing doesn’t really make sense to me because the Fresh Prince would just joke his way out of the very tense situation until Uncle Philip came around to set things right. Of course, Will Smith also played that guy on Suicide Squad so I’m not completely sure if Will Smith is an actual nice guy or if he just plays one on TV.

None of this really matters to me, except that now I do find myself thinking I should probably watch that King Richard movie and, also, does anybody know when Chris Rock’s new special is getting released and on which platform?

All of this recalls to mind the very excellent article by George Monbiot, “Celebrity Isn’t Just Harmless Fun — It’s the Smiling Face of Corporate Machine.” (Guardian. 2016dec20). You should read the whole thing but, if you don’t, here are my favorite bits:

“The machine needs a mask. It must wear the face of someone we see as often as we see our next-door neighbours. It is pointless to ask what Kim Kardashian does to earn her living: her role is to exist in our minds.”

and

“The blander and more homogenised the product, the more distinctive the mask it needs to wear. This is why Iggy Pop was used to promote motor insurance and Benicio del Toro is used to sell Heineken.”

and

“You don’t have to read or watch many interviews to see that the principal qualities now sought in a celebrity are vapidity, vacuity and physical beauty. They can be used as a blank screen on to which anything can be projected. With a few exceptions, those who have least to say are granted the greatest number of platforms on which to say it.”

And this next isn’t a recommendation. It’s from an article I read about Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly. I read it so you don’t have to. You can get everything you need from this one delicious line:

“People get a hard time for “being famous for being famous” but if celebrities aren’t going to do anything actually useful like redistributing their wealth let them at least keep us entertained by wearing vials of each other’s blood.”

Haidari, Niloufar. “‘Then we drank each other’s blood’: Megan Fox’s engagement is the return of the rockstar relationship.” The Guardian. 2022jan17.

Bread

Bread. Even after all the preparations were complete, the pantry stocked, the doors braced with industrial hinges and locks, the windows battoned tight, it was the work of making bread to which his hands immediately went. Like birds, anxious and thrumming with attention, Jon’s hands needed to stay busy. They needed to knead.

Caroline hadn’t minded at first. Who minds bread? And it helped take the edge off for Jon to keep his hands busy. He’s always making, fixing, baking. So, if he can’t be in his shop right now or hauling goods to market, what’s the downside of making bread?

Except she had not anticipated quite so much bread, a shocking abundance, a torrent of gluten, rye and barley. Clouds of flour.

She usually enjoyed watching him work, the happy gusto, the enthusiastic pursuit of perfection. But after the first few hours, she had had all she could take. There was a manic edge in his punishment of the dough, the aggressive press of dough into dough.

And the loaves went into the oven in ones, twos, threes but after a few hours of unabated effort, they seemed to exit in multiplied multitudes. Droves. Flocks. Absolute mobs. There was bread cooling on every counter, every surface of the kitchen. And when every available spot was filled, the bread stacked two, three, five loaves high. Jon had gone mad. He wasn’t baking a meal. He was baking a wall, a shelter, an impromptu bunker of bread loaves.

Caroline entered the kitchen carefully, certain the abundance was pressing at the windows, pushing out the doors. She thought she had prepared herself for the sight but seeing it in actual fact was overwhelming. “Jesus, Jon.” Caroline whistled in appreciation or was that fear. “What will you do with all this bread?” she asked.

Jon looked up from his work, surprised to find her standing there. “Oh, hi. What?”

Only then did he seem to begin to realize the extent of his efforts, the mountain of bread he had pulled from the fire, cooling on every surface of their kitchen.

Momentarily astonished as he seemed to take it all in. “I guess I’ve overdone it,” he said.

“Maybe a little.”

“You could feed an army with this,” Caroline said.

“I wanted to be sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“That there was enough.”

Caroline crossed the kitchen to her husband, wrapped her arms around him, kissed his face. “There’s enough.”

Even now, his hands were working, his fingers flexing as if eager to get this interruption over and back into work.

“We won’t eat it all ourselves,” he told her.

“We couldn’t eat all of this ourselves in many months. There’s maybe a year’s worth of bread happening in here.”

“We’ll give some to the neighbors,” he said.

“And the neighbor’s neighbors,” she said.

“Yes. And the neighbors of our neighbors’ neighbors.”

She studied her husband for a long moment, looking for signs of whatever has happening on the inside.

“It is going to be okay. We are going to be okay,” she said at last.

Jon looked to his mixing bowls, over to the oven, down to the floor which was absolutely dusted in flour.

“You know that, don’t you, Jon? That we are going to be okay?”

There was a long pause. One of the things she loved about her husband was his inability to tell a lie. Which meant he thought about everything a bit deeper and more carefully than most before answering.

“Yes,” he said at last. “We’ll be okay. But what about everybody else?”

And that was the question that pressed upon them both. They would be okay. They were always okay. They had each other. But the others? What about everybody else? Not everyone has someone. So many have no one. It was, Caroline knew, for them her husband toiled and baked. A loaf of bread to keep someone from being hungry. The same loaf to help them know they were not alone. Impossible to feel alone when you were eating a loaf of bread someone had made for you by hand.

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

Action Guys | Flash Fiction

Wake up.

Mother’s voice, hot on his face. Tickling his ear.

Wake up. Its time to get dressed. We got to go.

Jimmy blinks the sleep from his eyes, letting the room wash in. Stretching.

What time is it?

Sshh. Quiet, sweetie. We got to be so quiet. We don’t want to wake daddy.

Daddy’s sleeping, then?

Yes, love. Daddy’s sleepy. We’ve got to go. We have to be fast. And quiet.

A hitch in her voice that sounds like she is choking.

Fast and quiet, she says again. Which is unnecessary. Jimmy knows what is needed. He knows what is at stake. He understands very well the hammering pain of his daddy’s punishing fists if they are caught. The fists that would find mommy but would make him watch, would blame him, incriminate him with guilt.

Look what you made me do, daddy would tell him. Which was worse than the fists. The fists were bad but the guilt was worse. No, thank you. Not today. Fast and quiet was needed. Fast and quiet he would be.

Jimmy sits up in bed and looks around the room at his clothes, his toys. His dresser top full of treasures.

My stuff.

I know, kiddo. I’m sorry. We can’t take any of it. We’ve got to travel light. Fast.

And quiet, he tells her.

Yes. I’ve packed you a backpack with clothes. Don’t even get changed. Let’s just go.

She is getting frantic and it is unnerving to think that mommy was telling him to go outside in his Spiderman pajamas.

Can I wear shoes?

Yes. Of course.

She hands him his shoes. They are already laced so all he has to do is pull them on.

Did you get my action figures?

She nods. They’re in the bag.

All of them?

As many as I could find.

This does not reassure him, but what choice does he have? Jimmy does a mental sweep of the last few days. All the places he might have left his action guys. Under the couch. In the bathroom vanity. Behind the desk in the study. All the places through the house where battles had been fought. Imagined but fierce. All those bloody battalions blown to smithereens.

Let’s go.

Jimmy shrugs. There’s nothing for it but to go so he trusts that his mom has packed all the action guys she could find. He trusts she found all the good ones, the ones that matter most.

Shoes on, he lets her lift him out of bed and set his feet gently on the floor.

She takes a deep breath and he realizes she has a bag just like his, one bag draped over her shoulder. So she is leaving stuff behind too. Stuff she probably loves. Stuff that matters.

So it is just the two of them, creeping through the house, quiet as bandits, fast as thieves. Except they are not stealing their way into the house. They are stealing their way out.

And they are almost to the kitchen door, when Jimmy realizes there’s an action guy mom doesn’t know about, couldn’t know about. Hiding in the pencil jar on the desk in his room.

I forgot something, he tells her, freezing up. I forgot one of my guys.

Don’t worry, she tells him. He’ll be okay. We’ve got to go.

I’ve got to get him.

Jimmy, we don’t have time. She is whispering but it is the loudest whisper in the history of the world. It fills the whole world like a balloon loosing all of its air and she is physically shrinking which is weird thing and the door that had been right there now seems terribly far away.

We can’t. We don’t have time.

And now he is wondering if his action guy is actually still in the pencil jar on the desk at all or if maybe he moved him under his pillow last night before bed without remembering.

Time for what? It is daddy’s voice. More quiet than mommy’s whisper but now it fills the whole world. And Jimmy hears his mother swallow, like she is eating a whole disgusting plateful of brussel sprouts except not one by one but all at the same time.

And Jimmy isn’t thinking about his action guy anymore, who is just another lost solider stranded behind enemy lines. Just the first casualty in the latest war.

Other Narrative Forms

I haven’t read any books yet this year. Don’t worry. I am okay. I haven’t torched my To Be Read piles. I have been reading other forms of narrative. I didn’t mean to set about on the experiment but now that I find myself a month into it, I find myself interested.

Sometime late 2020, I switched my digital subscriptions for both The Atlantic and Wired over to print. They now arrive in the mail which I find tremendously exciting. I adore the writing, ideas and design of both publications but realized that something important was missing from the experience of reading them on the iPad. I enjoyed the magical convenience of reading on the iPad, but finally conceded reading that way had become a sterile experience, a sacrifice of the senses in exchange for digital gluttony. Reading magazines on screen, I gorged myself on the lines of words, all laid out in digital rows of neatly flowable text, but never really tasting any of it. When I introduced the habit of commonplacing, the situation was made worse by the need to copy and paste passages from one digital document into another. Now, I am reading gorgeous, interesting, varied essays with both page and pen in hand. I directly mark the text to flag passages for rescue into my commonplace keeper and when I am done I type out the passages or notes and then recycle the magazine. I bend, fold and flag the pages and when I am done I drop the issue into recycle, an act of grateful finality akin to wiping one’s face with a nice cloth napkin.

My reading of print magazines brought something important back into my reading life. Also, print magazines do not hide. They make themselves seen. They are a house guest that insist on hospitality. They do not disappear when the iPad light goes off. They demand active reading or active ignoring. Like bratty, delightful children.

And so, late last year I found myself splitting time between the reading of books and the reading of magazine articles. In December, I discovered my local public library offers a digital reading app called Hoopla. Having just extolled the pleasures of reading my magazines in print, you may wonder why a new digital reading app would pull me off the bookly path. Hoopla is a platform offering together eBooks, eAudiobooks, and also graphic novels.

I started listening to audiobooks. At first, it was Esther Perel soon followed by similar authors who write on topics of deep interest but for which I do not necessarily want to be seen carrying around the titles in hard cover. Also, audiobooks fit into my ears which mean they fit into the uncrowded spaces of my life — while driving, walking, working out. Listening to books is a different way of engagement. With the right narrator (Esther Perel reads her own) listening is its own kind of bookish intimacy. And so down the audiobook rabbit hole, I go.

But the main draw of Hoopla for me is the availability of graphic novels. Many thousands of them, entire series, lushly illustrated and easy to carry and read on iPad. Being a nerd with mostly nerd friends, you might have assumed I have been reading graphic novels since I was a kid. Not so. I could never allow myself to explore them because of the cost. Comics and graphic novels are expensive. When you fall into love with a series, you are trapped. There is no escaping. When this happens as a kid, you just accept that all your discretionary income belongs to Marvel and DC and Vertigo and Dark Horse. When you are an adult, giving them your money means you might not eat or wear clothes. You are likely to get wet when it rains.

With the discovery of Hoopla, I have become a 47 year old catching up on a lifetime of missed stories. There is no end to the paths I may wander.

And so, last week I realized what’s actually happening for me isn’t really about print versus digital. It is about variety of narrative form. There are many ways to tell a story. Book length stories are only one.

This isn’t about attention span. I still adore book length stories but I wonder how that mode of reading became my sole focus. As I try to make my way back into the habits of writing, I find myself unclear how to write a short story. This is likely because I read so few short stories.

Thus, the realization that the ability to write widely comes from the experience of reading widely. And so, I find myself curious about the many forms narrative takes and how each allows something different from the other forms. I find myself curious to know if my stuckness has been an actual stuckness of ideas or if, instead, it has been self-imposed limits on what I assume to be the shape of narrative.

I have decided to lean into this experience a bit, make an experiment of it. Not necessarily stopping to read the book length stories. That thought makes me sad. But to mix in a heavy amount of articles, essays, audio, graphic novel and short story. Let it all mix in a pastiche. See where it takes me.

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How to Write a Poem

First, write the story that is your life.
Read that story aloud, then, set it aside.

Next, write a different story that is also your life but
make it much shorter, allowing fewer adjectives. No adverbs.

Press the story that is your life into a page
and then press it again into
a paragraph.

Undress that paragraph.
Take it down to bone.

From the marrow of this paragraph, make one sentence.
Set this aside.

Later, much later, read this one sentence
when you have had too much to drink
or when
the moon is spilling out its light
or when
the person you most love has just left
or when
the person you love most has just returned.

Speak that sentence — that noun, that verb —
knowing they are your life.

Say it again. This time
using no words at all.

11,324 minutes. Exactly.

Some evening late December 2020, my daughter caught me reading. Which is to say she entered one of the rooms in my home where I am prone to sit in a particularly favored chair and gaze happily into the page or screen of whatever book had my attention at the moment. Her odds of catching me at it were good since I tend to fill most unscheduled moments of my day with words.

“Reading,” she said. Sometimes, she finds, it is important to state the obvious facts. And then: “Do you have any idea exactly how much time you spend reading?”

It was the word “exactly” that caught my attention. Her question deserved my thoughtful answer. I knew with certainty I read somewhere between “a lot” and “a ridiculous percentage of my total conscious hours”.  But, pondering the question, I realized I did not, in fact, know exactly how much I read.

I decided to find out. Me being me, I kept track.

First, I downloaded a counter app for my phone, something I could easily use to increment the minutes in my day spent reading for leisure. I used the Tally Pro app because it was already installed on my phone (I like to count things) and because it easily could be set up with seven separate counters, one for each day of the week. I set up the app for the week to run Monday through Sunday because, let’s be honest, Monday is the first day of the week and Sunday is the last.

Next, I set up a Google Sheet with 52 rows, one for each week of the year, with columns for each day of the week again running Monday through Sunday. At the end of those columns, a row to calculate the weekly total and then another column to calculate the overall total.

That part was easy and fun. The next part was even better.

I made myself a habit of timing every time I sat down to read for fun. My phone was usually at hand and it always wants something useful to do while I’m ignoring it, so I allowed it to track my reading time with the stop watch. Start. Stop. No big deal. When my phone wasn’t at hand, my Fitbit stopwatch served just as well. A few times, it was just a mere glance at the clock. Nothing fancy. The important thing was consistency and a careful habit of logging those tracked minutes into the TallyPro counter so they didn’t get lost.

Right now, you are probably thinking that neurotically measuring something you really enjoy might take all the fun out of the thing you are meant to be enjoying. Wrong. Measuring things compulsively makes things even more fun. Capturing. Documenting. Incrementing. You push the button to start the clock, set it aside and get lost into your reading. No big deal. Then you look up when you are done and are amazed to find how time compresses when you are making your bookish escape from this temporal plane into the next.

It was never a hard habit to maintain. Read. Measure. Record. Read. Measure. Record. Once a week, update the Google Sheet and reset the counter for a fresh week ahead.

Sometime in July, my daughter noticed me fiddling with my phone each time immediately after I read. “What are you doing?” she asked.

So, I told her.

“Of course you are.”

She rolled her eyes. If you have a teenager in your home, you know the look.

Yep. Of course I was.

I managed this process the whole year, all 365 days of 2021. And now, I can say with authority exactly how much I read: 11,324 minutes. Which is 188.7 hours. Which is 7.86 days if you were reading constantly without sleeping, eating or any of those other annoying life functions.

There were 126 days when I didn’t read at all. I don’t specifically recall those days but the idea of them makes me sad.

There was one glorious day, Wednesday, December 1 where I read 207 minutes at a stretch. I averaged 216 minutes a week so that one glorious December day was a week’s worth of reading at one go. My best weeks for reading were the weeks of January 4 – 10 (482 minutes) and April 26 – May 2 (476 minutes). Everybody gets to read a lot the first of January. That’s not weird. My April binge was while recovering from surgery.

I can’t pretend any of this information is actually useful. I also want to be clear that this is not a humble brag. I know people who read way more than me.

I think I just want you to understand that I am the kind of person who does stuff like this. All the time. I like to measure things. I like to keep track. I like to know “exactly” how much.

Also, I want you to understand that I stopped counting on December 31. Now that I know exactly how much I read in 2021, I don’t need to keep doing it. That way lies madness.

Of course, I do find myself getting curious about context. 11,324 minutes. So what? Is that more or less amount of time than usual spent reading? A lot more? A lot less? I can’t begin to know without doing the work. I have considered setting up a statistical sampling study to time myself during preselected representative weeks and then benchmark against averages from the previous year. I could do that. It would probably even be fun. I may or may not already be doing that. You’ll never know, nor will my daughter, until I tell you.

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The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (Goodreads review.)

The Ministry for the FutureThe Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson


Our future, yours and mine, gets more complicated. The climate catastrophe is already happening. It gets worse. Be not afraid.

Also, fear not the length of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future. It is a big read full of big ideas and also some characters. Dive into it. Let it wash over you. This is not a character-driven story, though it is very much about people and the agency people have to influence the future. It is a story without heroes, though the people in it are heroic. It has no villains. Just billions of people and animals struggling to adapt themselves to their too quickly changing environments. It is a story about adaptation and wicked problems and impossible choices. It is a hopeful story.

The story reminds us that, as individuals, we are small — puny, even. Our separate minds cannot hope to grasp the scope and complexity of our global ecosystem. The list of things we don’t understand overwhelms. We don’t understand economics. We don’t understand politics. We don’t really even understand ourselves. Our individual actions seem to have little impact. No one of us can hope to save the world. Give up the idea that someone else is going to save us. We are all together going to have help save each other.

We all know the Paris Treaty has not been enough. It could not be. And the subsequent COP meetings will continue to be bureaucratic parades, a periodic stock-taking that captures the news cycle but engenders little concrete action. And yet, from humble beginnings, massive transformation can begin.

The story follows the work of a newly-created Ministry for the Future, a global policy agency grown from the Paris Climate Treaty. The Ministry finds and supports various scientific, social and political initiatives already happening around the world. People are more creative than any government agency. The Ministry doesn’t invent the work or even set the direction. The work is already happening. It just needs to be supported and amplified. There are successes and setbacks, brutal weather catastrophes and violence. Only occasionally a politician wanders through but the bankers are the true seat of power. Their job, as always, is to preserve the markets. The bankers get motivated when they finally realize the only way to preserve the markets is to preserve the planet.

This is a book that resists simple star ratings. It is unlike any other book I have read because it is intentionally not a character-driven story with a traditional plot arc. It is a near-future accounting of all of us. What Robinson gives is not futurism. It is right now. And the goal is not solving climate change. We are way past that. The story is about mitigation — how we will need to learn to continually adapt ourselves to the changes set into motion during the Anthropocene.

Those who came before us set into motion an unplanned experiment of radically reshaping the world. There is now no escape from that experiment and there will be no end to the work. The stakes are enormous. It has become our responsibility to take up the work of that experiment more mindfully than those who came before us. It is our moral duty to understand ourselves responsible to the very real people, not yet born, of the next seven generations. These people will be blessed and cursed by what you and I are doing today. If we can learn to be mindful of these unseen people and also learn to see one another, the each 8 billion currently standing on Earth, we can take up the work with a hopeful spirit. We can bend the curve, as we said in the early COVID days. We can adapt ourselves to better ways of living.

We are not doomed, but we are making a story in which we are not the main characters. Pretending to the main characters of our story is a recipe for continued disaster.

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The Day Before: January 5, 2021

My journal entry from 9:57pm on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, the night before the Insurrectionists disrupted democracy and trashed the Capitol.

I don’t know what to write tonight. I am tired, and I am anxious. Anxious enough to puke. The Senate race being tallied in Georgia tonight will determine the balance of power in the Senate. Not normally something I’d want to puke over but these are not normal times. If Republicans pick up the two seats, we can count on two years of impasse and obstruction from do-nothing, Grim Reaper McConnell. We don’t have time to waste with the pandemic ranging, the economy crashing and the environment burning. The future is burning and Trump’s idiot band of enablers are crowding into the clown car. They either don’t understand that the world is burning or they don’t care. Ask yourself who profits from the status quo. At least for a little while, corporate captives wringing the last drops of profit from civilization. If Democrats pick up two seats, then the Democrats have a narrow advantage with Kamala Harris’ tie breaking vote. Not a mandate but a possible path to get some things fixed. What an absolute shit show.

And I’m feeling sick because tomorrow is the Congressional vote to certify the Electoral College votes and officially declare Biden the next president. Except it won’t unfold as a formality. It will be a spectacle of fake outrage and pretend concern, a show for the dummies and fools like the Georgia voter quoted in an interview today saying she voted for Trump today in the Senate election because we need someone to “rule with an iron fist”. Far-right extremists, racists and actual Nazis are gathering in DC tomorrow at the President’s behest. People are going to get hurt. People are going to get killed. This is all so painfully stupid and repellant and you cannot bear to watch but you cannot afford to look away. And so we bear witness, feeling sick with anger and frustration and fear and disgust.

A hard moment in which to be writing, which is what I am meant to be doing. But I think tonight I will give myself an actual break. I’m so tired. I’m so worried. I’m so distracted. Let’s just put a cap on today and get some rest. Wake up when it is time, check the skies and keep our backs to the wall. It is going to be absolutely ugly. A true nightmare.

I knew in my bones it would be bad. I didn’t know how bad.

What strikes me most in that night’s journal entry is how much I was thinking of the moment to come in terms of normal politics. Jackson’s blog Life on the Blue Highways has it right: “Every Day is January 6 Now”. It wasn’t politics, and it wasn’t normal. And it isn’t over.