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.”


“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.”


“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.

I Lost the Plot

I have been trying to make sense of the world and failing. I lost the plot sometime long before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic turned everything upside down. Even before the political, cultural and spiritual nightmare of the 2016 election, I was finding it hard to keep tied the worn narrative threads I had used to explain what the world is, how it worked and my place in it.

My priorities changed. I took less and less satisfaction in the work of my twenty year long professional career. The culture of my workplace had become psychologically treacherous, toxic, though the poisons hid themselves well behind a veneer of being “like a family”.

I was sad, stressed out, and anxious but couldn’t figure out how to articulate why. I began working with a therapist who quickly diagnosed mid-life ennui. It was easy enough to spot the symptoms of existential dread, a sense of impending loss and a generalized confusion that lay like a blanket across most everything.

Never a big taker of meds, my therapist prescribed poetry and a few books on mid-life. I came to understand my journey as mostly spiritual, an urge to grow larger on the inside than I was on the outside. Kinder. Simpler. More generous. I am learning to treat my anxiety like a compass, which can be used to navigate my way toward a better sense of balance, a sense of purpose and, perhaps someday, clarity.

In May 2020, I left my job for a better work situation. This was a time when millions of other people were losing jobs due to the pandemic. I wanted to write about my year-long job search experience because it was so surreal, dispiriting at times yet also fascinating. But writing about my successful career shift seemed wrong at at time when so many others had just been tossed out of theirs without a similar degree of agency.

And then, the challenges of joining a new work team while working entirely remote. This was also an experience I thought I might write to share what I was learning. But I had just recently stood in a crowd at the local Black Lives Matter rally, all of us masked against the contagion of virus. I felt a sense of solidarity and belonging, but I also felt the disconnect between the modest upsets of my most recent challenges and the generational fears of people whose worries went so much deeper — would they work, would their kids have housing and food, would they get killed for walking through a neighborhood or park or shot by police while reaching into the car glove box for license and registration.

Nobody should care what I had to say about career changes and joining a new work team.

I have come to think about the sustained existential collapse of recent years as a collapse of privilege. I am a white guy — 47 years old, college educated and fairly affluent. I was taught to expect to understand the world and that, most of the time, the world’s self-interests would align with my own. I came to believe that I could do the most good by not making trouble, by being agreeable and friendly which, it turns out, is not quite the same thing as being kind or useful.

Being kind and useful require making trouble sometimes. Being kind and useful means being disagreeable and, when required, unfriendly.

All of this is to say I am trying to understand what is required of me in this moment. What have I taken as true that is untrue? Where has the fear of being thought unkind become mortar to patch and preserve the crumbling status quo? Where has privilege taught me to expect I deserve the equilibrium of comfort, ease and unending entertainment?

What is this world and what is my place in it? What do I wish it might become?

And then, how do I stop myself from living in the world as it is and start myself living in the world as I wish it might become?

Lost For Words

This year I’ve been lost for words. Quite literally. Which is peculiar timing. At the beginning of pandemic pandemonium, I imagined myself chronicling the day to day experience of our lives pushed suddenly into upheaval, a kind of contemporary Samuel Pepys, but with Twitter and WordPress. It hasn’t worked out that way.

I’ve spent most of this year feeling mentally paralyzed, my mind reving like a car engine stuck in neutral. Ready to go somewhere, anywhere, but never quite grabbing the gear. There’s been too much to say and, I should admit, better people to say it.

When my year began, I was deep in job search, seeking professional change from my twenty year career that no longer fit me. I had changed. My work had changed. I no longer fit. Being a piece that no longer fits becomes incredibly uncomfortable, lonely. So, I set myself the challenge of finding somewhere else to fit.

In good times, economically healthy times, the job search process can be a trial of absurdities. The work of distilling a successful 20 year career down into two pages (one’s better) so that someone, or some machine, might actually read it and give you a call. No one called for months. And then the few times they did, it was an awkward, embarrassing affair. You can’t blog about a job search while you are in the midst of a job search. The doesn’t go well. You are meant to keep these things private until you are ready to make the jump. At the time, I imagined myself blogging about it all afterward in a kind of congratulatory hindsight. I would write about the time a colleague I had mentored landed an interview for a job for which I thought I might be asked to interview. The time I called an HR recruiter at the appointed hour only to sit on hold for 15 minutes while the robot receptionist told me over and over, “You have successfully joined the call, but you are the only one here.” So much sadness and regret in that automated voice loop.

Happily, months of casting letters and resumes into the void paid off. I found and accepted my new work in March. I started in May. By then I was, like so many others, working entirely from home, trying to figure out how to perform my core responsibilities online and guide my team through a series of disorienting transitions. We did it. We built a model for providing quality library service to our students and college staff during a pandemic. And then, I told this team for which I cared so much that I was leaving. I told them on a Zoom call and then set myself to the work of gathering and organizing 20 years of experience and lessons learned to keep them on a productive path. When the time came we said goodbye on another Zoom call.

I joined my new team in remote status. Seven months later, we have yet to meet in person. I am enjoying the work very much and my colleagues are terrific — smart, committed, and passionate about supporting scientific discovery. Like so many others around the world, I made my office in my living room and have no idea when/if I can expect to work onsite. I had thought I might write about the challenges of midlife career change and joining a remote work team, but the idea of writing about my own successful, intentional transition at a time when so many others had suddenly lost their work to the pandemic seemed somehow wrong. Bragging about it seemed an uncomfortable blast of middle-class, knowledge worker privilege.

And then, George Floyd. We were already locked into a summer of death from the pandemic, when the violence known by Black Americans as daily life washed across all my screens. Twitter, Facebook, the news. The violence of anti-Black America showed up everywhere, seemingly all at once. It showed up in police forces. It showed up in so-called leaders across the state and country. It showed up in conversation with people I had considered friends. And I felt powerless, which is a feeling, I see now, that people like me rarely feel.

And so, I became truly at a loss for words. I began to notice how all the basic underpinnings of my life — my safety, my finance, my work opportunities, my leisure — were all shaped by privilege. It is privilege I did not ask for and, I think, it is privilege I cannot escape. And so, faced with the sudden vision of how grossly lucky I have been and how grossly unlucky others have been, I felt I had nothing useful in the moment to say. So, I tried to be quiet and listen to other voices, voices I might normally not hear.

All of this is to say that I have been profoundly disoriented and am trying to find new ways to reorient myself. This blog has long been a space where I can work out my own thoughts with myself. I have appreciated the kindness, affirmation and occasional challenge of those who have taken time to read this mess as I sort my way through. It has been a strange, challenging year. My family and I remain healthy and safe. I have work that I enjoy that is connected to meaningful purpose. My daughter is growing into her own person, a person I like very much. I enjoy being stuck in my house with my wife and daughter.

This is all to say, things are going well for me. Despite the pandemic scourge. Despite the brokenness of American mythology. Despite all the uncertainties.

I want to be useful. It isn’t enough to sit and weather the storm. I need to make something useful from all of this. It is time I start finding my words. I seem to have found a few here. I expect to keep searching until I find more.