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I am Content to Make Content
Judy Blume, The Vardathon, and Enough
I had a good talk with my friend Josh Stallings the other day. And we decided that we are enough. We are content. We have accomplished a lot, and now we want to focus on our families. This may sound like a joke, the peak of privilege, or both, but it’s not. It is facing up to what we’ve been told all our lives: that we need to earn more, to be more, to buy more, to want more. And saying enough. We are enough. We have enough. What we want now is what we have: time with people we love. We’ve both written a handful of books, we’ve earned the respect of writers we admire and made some readers happy. And we hounded ourselves into wanting more. Which made writing a whole lot of not fun.
This post by Chris LaTray set my mind on the path. It’s a great read, as is most of what Chris writes:
We both continue to write, but maybe not as means to an end. Josh and I had different ways of saying the same thing. Josh said, “we got greedy.” We wanted one thing, and when we got it, it wasn’t enough. I quoted The Limey, one of my favorite films, and said, ‘Cause what I thought I wanted wasn't what I wanted. What I thought I was thinkin' about was something else. (Amusingly enough, Josh cut the trailer for The Limey. He was a top trailer editor for quite a time. Robocop and Miami Blues are two more, off the top of my head.) The thing is, we talked ourselves out of being happy.
I still write every day. I’m packing for a trip to Iceland between bouts of writing this. I’ve got Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, The Blue Fox and In the Mouth of the Whale by Icelandic writer Sjón, Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, and Endurance, about Ernest Shackleton, in my carry-on bag for the plane. It’s a six hour flight, and a week on the island. That might be enough to read. I always overpack books, do you? I would rather lug a bunch and not read them than have to contemplate being bookless on a plane. Bookless on Boeing, what a nightmare.
I have a signed copy of Judy Blume’s latest novel, In the Unlikely Event, and I forget about it until I have to get on a plane. The book is based on multiple jetliner crashes that happened in New Jersey, so I won’t be reading that one for a while. Maybe when I get back. Nah, I’ll forget again, until this national treasure gets to talk to God in person, I imagine.
Judy Blume is having another resurgence because Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret has been adapted into a movie. I wonder if it will be banned in the states that ban her books. Blume says the plane book is her last novel; she runs a bookshop on Key West, now. She spends an hour signing books for people every day, at age 85. Living the dream.
Books are not “content.” This is content. Platforms without content are nothing, while content without a platform is a manifesto they find after you die and your cats eat your eyeballs. I’m thankful Substack makes it easy to send newsletters and blog at the same time, and I’m glad it’s ad-free for now. I’m thankful that a few of you subscribe and pay a few bucks for these posts.
Thanks to Notes, I subscribed to a bunch of Substacks, but many only allow comments from paying subscribers. I get it. Substack doesn’t want to moderate comments, and writers don’t want to deal with trolls. But something about it chafes. If I was not a white male, I would probably have gotten some ass-hat commentary by now and locked it down. But there are 700 of you, and you seem quiet and well-behaved. Besides, my mom and my sister are on here. If you say something mean to them, I won’t block you. But I have a very particular set of skills. (Skills I have acquired over a very long I.T. career. Skills that make me a nightmare for internet trolls.)
I finally resumed the Agnés Varda marathon and watched Daguerreotypes, her love letter to her neighborhood on the Rue Daguerre in Paris. She plants her camera in a perfume shop, a bakery, a butcher’s, at a magician’s show, and we see the neighbors and shopkeepers who are the cells and molecules that make the place. It was delightful, and made me miss Paris nearly as much as Cléo from 5 to 7 did. Varda really was brilliant, both with documentary and drama.
Chris LaTray is at it again being brilliant and all. If you don’t read his newsletter, it’s your loss.
And I’m adding this at the last minute because we talked about social media again this Sunday. I go for a bike ride a few mornings a week at trails in the woods behind the athletic fields for a local college. It’s a great area, well maintained by riders who have built ramps, bridges, jumps, and loops. The trails are generously shared by dog walkers, bird watchers, hikers, and even those annoying electric one-wheel scooter riders I complain about. And a few days ago, I noticed a tent in the woods not far from the trails. And my first thought was, shit, I didn’t bring my wallet. Otherwise I’d go say hello, warn them that the Camden police recruits job through here every morning, and if they asked for money, I’d give what I could spare. But I ended up leaving them alone. They weren’t bothering me, and who was I to assume they were gonna ask for money? They had a nice little setup, from what I saw.
There’s a Facebook group for the trail area, which I joined because I was so delighted that this well-kept mountain biker’s paradise was in my county. And usually it’s a pretty chill group. Until someone shared photos of the tent.
Their intentions were benign; just “warning” people to look out, since it was near the trail. I don’t know how you could miss a big white and red tent with a variegated quilt or down jacket hanging on a tree. The discussion quickly escalated, with a woman saying we should “report it.” My response was “nothing to see, and nothing to report.” And then hers was, “what, you want us to wait until they mess with a rider?”
And my answer was, yes! We aren’t guilty until proven innocent. Well, some people are, as you well know. The friggin’ county police recruits jog there every morning! I waved hello to them. And they came down the exact trail with the tent. If they thought it was a problem, I’m sure an eager beaver baby cop would “report it.” And I was so, so, eager to respond to the thread this morning. Oh, I was positively aglow with my own righteousness.
So, I muted the thread. And said nothing. Because that’s what social media is doing, turning us into snitches and self-righteous snobs, or rewarding us for amplifying this side of ourselves. Reddit is a noxious stew of Hindsight 20/20 posters who tell people what they did wrong, what they should do, and how any transgression by a neighbor or romantic partner should be dealt with ferociously with police and lawyers:
I’m pretty sure I’ve shared that image to mock this behavior already, but it bears repeating. Calm the hell down and talk to one another. (Unless you’re in Florida or Texas, where they’ll shoot you for asking to not shoot your AR-15 in the yard, or if you’re using the leaf blower.)
I think that social media gives everyone a megaphone when what many people really need is a mirror.—Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold said this on his excellent daily newsletter, and spoke at USC on Terminating Hate: Breaking the Cycle of Extremism. His father was consumed by hate and Arnold is doing the good work of counteracting whatever hate his father brought into the world. “Anti-racism,” it is often called, as just being neutral, or not being racist yourself, is not enough. Diluting hate still leaves poison in the water; we need to scrub it out.
I’m leaving these trolls for the big smelly Christian-eating trolls of Iceland. If you haven’t watched the movie Trollhunter yet, it’s very amusing, and I mildly recommend it. (Even Roger Ebert was entertained by it. )
In Iceland, I’ll be visiting geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, volcanoes, black sand beaches, troll rocks, lava tunnels, and both penis and sorcery museums. And you’ll get to read all about it. Hopefully we’ll get to see the Northern Lights. I saw their shimmering green curtains once on the side of the highway between Chicago and Minneapolis, and I’d love to see them again.
If the trolls get me, at least I won’t have to pay for the trip.