are bure bampot

Okay, Instagram. As some of you know, I have two IG accounts–one under my own name (or something like it) for the sort of snapshots everybody shoots and another under the pseudonym Knuckles Dobrovic for photo projects (I wrote about my introduction to the devil of IG here).

The first project was more an exercise than an actual photography project. It was basically my way of learning how to use Instagram. I put a thing on a patio table and photographed it. Almost every day for about a year, at different times, with different things, in all sorts of weather. It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds, but it was fun. That project (cleverly titled Things On A Table) started in 2013 and ended in the summer of 2014. At the end of that project, I wrote this:

I’ll probably come up with some other sort of project, simply because I’ve grown fond of the name Knuckles Dobrovic. I realize that’s a stupid reason. I don’t care. I’ve no objection to doing things for stupid reasons.

Portsoy

The Knuckles account sat idle for about four years. In January of 2018, I started a second project, which was more pretentious than my first, but equally ridiculous. During my daily walks, I’d stopped periodically and photograph something at my feet–some leaves, a crack in the sidewalk, a lost glove. I decided to layer two or three photos taken on the same day to create a single image. It was weird fun, and it made me happy. That project lasted for about ten months. Then I put Knuckles back on the shelf, where he sat for about four months.

The third project took root while I was playing the game Geoguessr, which involves Google Street View. The game basically drops the player somewhere in the GSV world and you’re supposed to figure out where you are–rural Finland, suburban Arizona, a forest in Brazil, a street in Thailand. I loved the randomness of it; I spent most of the game just wandering around and looking at stuff. So I decided to appropriate images from GSV, modify them a bit, and turn them into black-and-white images. Because it was an art project and art projects are famously pretentious, I decided to limit the project to 100 images–sort of an homage to Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e series, One Hundred Views of Edo (which is actually 119 paintings, but let’s not get fussy). It was the only Knuckles project I was sorry to end.

Maryport

The fourth project was sparked by the onset of the pandemic. The world seemed isolated and a tad disjointed, and I wanted to express that feeling of social dislocation. So I took some of my daily snapshots, diddled with the color a wee bit, digitally sliced it in thirds, then re-arranged the pieces. The result was a photo that didn’t quite make sense, so I called the project Slightly Dislocated. It was fun at first, because the process could be applied to almost any photo style–street photos, landscapes, still lifes, anything but portraiture. But after a few months, it felt forced. The project lacked energy and passion and I just stopped doing it. The last photo of this project was posted in March.

North Queensferry

Now I actively dislike the project. I’ve considered deleting it, but that seems somehow cowardly. If you make a mistake, you should just accept it and move on, not try to hide it. However, even though I haven’t posted anything to the Knuckles account in months, I continue to get notifications about it. It’s like a constant reminder of how much I dislike the last project. The only non-cowardly way to resolve that is to start a new project, one I’d actually enjoy, something to get rid of the bad taste left by the Dislocated project.

A few days ago, when it was cold and windy and my knees hurt, I sat at the computer sliding back and forth between social media, the Geoguessr game, and the work I was supposed to be doing. Three things happened. First, I read a comment about Daidō Moriyama in a forum devoted to Japanese photography. He’s basically the godfather of the are-bure-bokeh style of photography. Are-bure-bokeh roughly translates as “rough, coarse/crude, out of focus.” The style developed in post-war Japan, and it conveyed the way Japanese society was fragmented and alienated and shocked following two atomic explosions and a military occupation by a radically different culture. We’re talking about high contrast black-and-white photos, sometimes savagely abstract, sometimes ordinary but with a sort of leaden feel, sometimes almost frighteningly hallucinatory. It’s a style I’ve been drawn to, but I’ve never seriously attempted to recreate.

Dumbarton

The second thing–almost immediately after seeing the Moriyama comment, I came across a comment in another venue in which somebody was called “a total bampot.” That’s a Scots term, which means “an idiot, a foolish person, a nutcase.” For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the phrase are-bure-bampot sprouted in my mind, and stuck there.

Flimby

The third thing–after doing a bit of work, I turned back to Geoguesser and found myself someplace on the coast of Scotland (it turned out to be Portsoy). And hey bingo, there was the burr of an idea for a project. An idiotic idea, but still. What if I applied the are-bure-bokeh approach to Google Street View images from Scotland? Are-bure-bampot.

It’s…well, it’s idiotic. A post-war style of Japanese photography applied to Google Street View images of Scotland? Madness. But it would allow me after a fashion to return to the project I’d enjoyed the most, and it would still fall well within what I consider the Knuckles Project Parameters. It would 1) be simple and grow out of something I’d do in an ordinary day, 2) include an element of randomness and serendipity, 3) maybe not be entirely original (how many project are?), but the result would still be uniquely mine, and 4) wouldn’t require any extraordinary effort.

Pitlochry

So what the hell, I tried it. I’ve only made a few images–and only posted three of them on the Knuckles IG account–but so far it amuses me. They’re clearly not in the classic Moriyama style, but I’m okay with that. I’ll keep at it for a while and see what happens. Are-bure-bampot. Rough, coarse/crude, idiotic. Yeah, that has a certain appeal.

#NotTakingaGun

I’ve got to run to the market later today. Maybe I’ll also make a lightning stop at a hardware store, I don’t know. But in any event, I won’t be taking a gun with me. Because there’s absolutely no need to.

Also, okay, I don’t own a gun. So realistically I couldn’t take a gun with me even if I wanted to. Which I don’t. I don’t own a gun for the same reason I’m not taking one to the market. I don’t need a gun. I have zero use for a gun.

I’ve no need for a gun, but I rather like them. They’re incredibly efficient tech, they make a loud noise (sometimes I enjoy making a loud noise), they can make a hole suddenly appear in a target a distance away (which is actually sort of cool), and if you fire them at night, you see flame come out (which is very cool). Guns can be fun to shoot. But I don’t have any need for one.

I’ve been in situations where I could justify owning and carrying a gun. I spent several years as a private investigator specializing in criminal defense work. Most folks think that if you’re working to defend an accused criminal, other criminals will like you. Not so. The thing is, defending an accused criminal often means finding and revealing other criminals who may be guilty of the crime. Or they might have information that could implicate them in some way. Information they DO NOT want you to have.

And let’s face it, nobody–not even an innocent person–wants a stranger asking them nosy, impertinent, personal questions. It tends to piss people off. And here’s another thing: criminals don’t keep normal business hours. Which means a lot of the time you end up asking criminals nosy, impertinent, personal questions at their home, or in a bar, or when they’re with friends (who are often criminals as well).

As a PI, I had a concealed carry permit. I considered carrying a gun several times. But I was always concerned that if I had a gun, I’d get too confident. I’d get cocky, take more chances, take more stupid chances–because I’d be carrying protection. I never carried a gun because I know how easy it is to make a really bad impulsive decision. On those occasions where I had to enter a situation where there was a realistic chance I’d get hurt, I took a partner. Reliable guy–he’d been a LRRP in Vietnam and a police detective. He’d be armed, he’d enter the bar before me and take up a position. I’d come in a bit later and do my thing. And if it all started to go sideways, I knew he’d step up. So I felt…not safe, certainly not safe enough to be cocky, but I felt the odds of getting seriously hurt were low enough to risk.

My point, such as it is, is this: I know what it’s like to be afraid that somebody might realistically decide to assault you. Or stab you. Or pull a gun and shoot you. Genuinely afraid. Not-sure-you-can-control-your-bladder afraid. And yet, despite being in those situations multiple times, I’ve never actually had to physically defend myself. Or have somebody else defend me.

So yeah, I can go buy groceries without carrying a gun. And so can you and everybody else.

Some folks will insist that the only way to preserve a legal right is to use it. There’s some truth in that. But the gun-toting folks who make that argument are almost always the same folks who are willing–even eager–to make it more difficult to exercise other legal rights. To vote, to get an abortion, to marry somebody you love, to peacefully protest.

There’s really only one reason to carry a gun: to shoot something or somebody. You don’t have to intend to shoot something or somebody, but carrying a gun indicates you’re prepared to do that. There’s only one genuine motivation for carrying a gun. Fear. You’re either afraid somebody or something may harm you, or you’re afraid somebody or something will harm somebody else.

People who are genuinely afraid to leave the house unless they’re strapped are exactly the sort of people who shouldn’t be armed. You can’t trust a scared person to make good decisions. Scared people are much more likely to make really bad decisions. But I suspect folks who are genuinely that frightened are a very small minority. I suspect the vast majority of people who insist on being armed when they leave home are either fantasists who like to imagine themselves as tough and heroic, or assholes who just want to intimidate other folks. Or they’re both–fantasists who are also assholes.

Regardless of their reason for wanting to carry a gun, the fact is they don’t need to. They’re far more likely to need to carry a flashlight, or an umbrella, or a breath mint, maybe a magnet. I mean, those things actually come in handy sometimes. A gun? Almost never.

I think I’m going to start announcing this on Twitter whenever I have an errand to run. “I’m going to the market for cheese. I’m #NotTakingAGun.” It’s silly, but that’s the point. Taking a gun to go buy cheese is silly.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Okay, I did it. Went shopping, made it home safely. Notified Twitter.

pissing in the soup

I’m tired. Tired and disappointed and angry, but mostly tired.

I worked as an election official on Tuesday. I suspect the local election (mayor, city council, school board) was pretty similar to most other elections in the US. Our small election team (five of us plus a precinct captain) had worked together before, so everything ran smoothly. We arrived at our polling station at 6AM and worked until 9PM. We’d expected a decent turnout; I figured we’d get 400, maybe 500 voters. Enough to keep us modestly busy.

We had over 1200 voters. I only had time for a short 30 minute break all day–just enough time to eat a sandwich. As far as I could tell, we had a representative sample of the local population–mostly white, with a broad spectrum of age, gender, and political perspectives. There were voters wearing ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ t-shirts and voters wearing NRA trucker hats, we had a young woman with a ‘Merry Meet’ Wiccan pin and one beefy guy in camo pants wearing a III% t-shirt. Nobody wore a MAGA hat.

The election was fair; it was busy, but went exactly as planned. Every registered voter got to vote. If somebody showed up and wasn’t registered, we registered them on the spot and let them vote. If a voter came to the wrong precinct, we printed them a map with directions to the correct polling station. I’m proud of the way we handled the voting process.

The election was fair; the campaigning was not.

Although the city council and school board positions are technically non-partisan (there were no political affiliations listed by the candidate’s names on the ballot), Republicans won across the board. Democrats ran campaigns based on compassion tempered by science. Republicans ran campaign based on misinformation, lies, and fear. Democrats supported mask and vaccine mandates; Republicans said parents know more about their kids’ health than scientists. Democrats said education should be diverse and prepare students for the world they live in; Republicans said Critical Race Theory taught white students to hate themselves and trans kids would destroy sports.

The election was fair; the campaigning was not; the reporting was stenographic. Reporters presented the candidate’s positions accurately, but without presenting any factual support. If a candidate said, “Leading scientists say vaccines are dangerous and I only want to protect the children” then that’s what was reported, without any indication that it was fatuous bullshit. If a candidate claimed that CRT was dangerous and shouldn’t be taught in school, that’s what was reported, regardless of the fact that CRT isn’t taught in any public high school, junior high school, or grade school–and not even in most undergraduate college courses. If a candidate lied, reporters just relayed the unfiltered lie to the public.

Looks good, looks healthy — but is it?

If campaigns are allowed–even encouraged–to be dishonest, then an honest election has little practical relevance. I’m proud to have helped facilitate a fair election process, but I can’t help being disappointed. Not because it’s not the outcome I wanted, but because the outcome is tainted. It’s like running a spotless, orderly, professional kitchen that allows some cooks to piss in the soup. The kitchen is clean, the soup looks good, but it’s still got piss in it.

So I’m tired. Tired and disappointed and angry, but mostly tired. Tired physically and emotionally, disappointed in a system that fails to require candidates to speak honestly, and angry that our system favors liars, con artists, and fear mongers. I’m tired and disappointed and angry, but today I’m still mostly tired.

Tomorrow, I’ll go back to being angry.

a needle and a mile of 2-0 nylon

Nurses who refuse to get vaccinated, firefighters and police officers who refuse to get vaxxed, airline pilots rejecting the vax–I’m so fucking sick of these privileged assholes. If it were anything other than a political posturing, I might be more tolerant. But I’m convinced that 99% of it grows out of pig-headed Trumpist pouting and free-floating, unfocused rage.

A million years ago, I was a medic. (Yes, this is related…sorta kinda after a fashion; I’ll get there eventually.) After a year or so of doing basic medic stuff, I was assigned to a newly-developed team in a major medical center. It was called the Special Functions unit. One of our secondary duties was to respond to any medical crisis that might involve respiratory impairment–you know, difficulty with breathing. Here’s a true thing: almost every medical crisis involves some difficulty with breathing.

Although it wasn’t our original purpose, we became a support squad for emergencies. If there was a cardiac arrest, we responded with the cardiac arrest team; if there was a fire, we responded with the base fire department; if there was a suicide attempt or an accident involving a military vehicle or a premature birth or a crisis that required an ambulance, we often rode along; if there was a mass casualty/injury event, we were called to the emergency room. Technically, our role was to insure the patient/victim kept breathing while others worked on the injuries/wounds–but, of course, we were also expected to lend a hand with whatever needed to be done.

I mention all this because of one particular incident. A drunken brawl at one of the barracks. Because it was a mass injury event, I was called to the ER. Nobody was having trouble breathing, but since I was there, I was expected to help out with the brawlers–most of whom were still drunk and still belligerent. One guy had a cut on his forehead. It was a simple straight-line cut, maybe an inch and a half long, shallow, but bloody. All I had to do was debride it and suture it shut. Simple, if the guy was sober.

I should point out, this was a military medical center. In a civilian hospital, I wouldn’t have been allowed to suture wounds–not because I didn’t know how to do it, but because of liability issues. In the military, you’re allowed–even required–to do stuff that would make a civilian hospital administrator curl up in horror.

So I had to suture the cut on this guy’s forehead. But he refused to lie still. He was still drunk, still angry, still wanting to find the guy who’d hit him in the head. You can’t suture anybody who’s unwilling to lie still for more than about thirty seconds; hell, you can’t even maintain a sterile field. I mentioned this to a passing ER doctor, who looked down at the guy on the gurney and said, “If you don’t lie still, he (he nodded at me) is going to suture your ear to the pillow.” Then the doctor walked off.

Reader, I sutured that poor motherfucker’s ear to the pillow. Just one loose stitch, through his earlobe and into the pillow case. It wouldn’t have actually held him down, of course, but it was enough to shock him and keep him immobile–and I mean fucking frozen in place–until I sutured his head wound.

This was almost certainly criminal, even in the military. But it allowed me to treat his wound, it gave him a moment to abandon any desire to continue the fight, it may have kept him from a court martial, and it helped restore some order to a chaotic Emergency Room, which benefited everybody.

My point? All of these fuckwits who are refusing to get vaxxed against Covid for bullshit reasons? I want to suture their ears to pillows until they come to their senses and get the jab. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s a violation of their rights, including the right to bodily integrity. But give me a needle and a few miles of 2-0 nylon and I’d get this nation vaxxed.

It’s seriously time to stop appeasing and appealing to the people who are politically opposed to keeping the US alive and healthy.

on digital books, a lime green glass, and d’Artagnan

From some indeterminate point in May to an equally vague point in September, I drink cold brew coffee in the morning. I drink it from a lime green plastic glass — because something about that color appeals to me in a summer sort of way, and because I like the clicky sound made by the iced tea spoon when I stir it. In September — at the end of this week, in fact — I’ll shift back to hot coffee, which I drink in a brown metal insulated mug.

I could, of course, drink the coffee in any sort of container and it would taste as good, but I choose those two because they please me. They’re a part of my morning ritual. Greet the cat, check the perimeter (with the cat, of course), feed the cat, get my coffee, read the news. I live a fairly irregular and unscheduled life, so that morning ritual provides a sort of ground-level continuity — a semi-stable foundation to begin the day.

What does that have to do with digital books? Nothing, in a material way — but they’re related in a sort of philosophical way. Recently a friend mentioned they couldn’t bring themselves to buy an e-book reader, and asked me how I could bring myself to abandon physical books. This is my answer.

A lot of people have a relationship with books that’s similar to my relationship with my lime green plastic glass. The thing is, physical objects can develop a certain presence that stems from the object’s personal history with the user. We’ve all experienced this. Maybe you have a favorite shirt — something faded and worn and not suitable to wear in public, but imbued with memories and a weird sort of affection that makes it impossible to discard. Maybe you have a screwdriver or soup ladle inherited from a grandparent, or a some old work gloves loaned to you by a friend who moved away before you could return them, or an early Baywatch poster that’s sort of embarrassing now but still un-throw-awayable — something (some thing) that has a personal meaning to you and only you.

So, how could I abandon physical books? How could I give up that tactile experience of holding a book in my hand? How could I shift away from the sound and feel of turning a physical page? Didn’t I miss the particular smell of a book? How could I reduce a great novel to nothing more than a collection of digitized ones and zeros?

I get that notion. I totally do. There are absolutely some physical experiences that clearly lose something important when they’re de-objectified, when objects are turned into information. The ringing of a church-bell, for example; we can digitally reproduce that sound, but we can’t reproduce the experience, the physicality of a ringing bell, the way the sound waves impact our bodies.

But for me, the impact of a book — and especially of a novel — isn’t in the substance of the paper and the binding, it’s in the ideas generated by the story. It’s in the unique and intensely personal interpretation of what’s written. For me, it’s the writing that matters more than the way it’s presented; it doesn’t matter to me if the words are printed on a physical page or digitally reproduced on a screen.

Originally, I thought it would matter. In fact, I refused to buy an e-book reader because I was concerned it would degrade the experience of reading. But then, back in 2010, I was given a Nook, an e-reader developed by and for Barnes & Noble booksellers. It came with a couple of classic novels already loaded — both of which I’d read and re-read several times. Pride and Prejudice and The Three Musketeers. Because it was a gift, I felt obligated to at least try using the Nook. So I started to re-read the story of Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan and his ridiculous quest to become a musketeer — and by the time I finished the third paragraph, I was caught up in the narrative.

Imagine to yourself a Don Quixote of eighteen; a Don Quixote without his corselet, without his coat of mail, without his cuisses; a Don Quixote clothed in a woolen doublet, the blue color of which had faded into a nameless shade between lees of wine and a heavenly azure; face long and brown; high cheek bones, a sign of sagacity; the maxillary muscles enormously developed, an infallible sign by which a Gascon may always be detected, even without his cap—and our young man wore a cap set off with a sort of feather; the eye open and intelligent; the nose hooked, but finely chiseled. Too big for a youth, too small for a grown man, an experienced eye might have taken him for a farmer’s son upon a journey had it not been for the long sword which, dangling from a leather baldric, hit against the calves of its owner as he walked, and against the rough side of his steed when he was on horseback.

That pair of sentences would make any modern editor have a seizure, but they set the tone for this particular novel. More importantly, they create an image in my mind of the character d’Artagnan. Reading it digitized — like it is here — creates the same image in my mind as reading it on a printed page. That mental image has nothing to do with the medium that created it, paper or digital. It’s unique to me; your mental image of young d’Artagnan is probably different, because…well, fuck. I have to go off on a tangent here. I’ve been trying to reduce the number of tangents in these blog posts, but damn it, here we go.

That’s d’Artagnan, right there.

I think we can all agree that with very few exceptions, books are better than the movies made from those books. One reason for that is because the characters in movies rarely resemble the characters we create in our mind when we read a novel. But on occasion, a character is so perfectly cast that we impose that actor’s face on the character in the novel. And the 1973 film adaptation directed by Richard Lester has permanently imprinted the face of Michael York on my personal interpretation of d’Artagnan. Now and for the rest of my life, when I read The Three Musketeers, I see Michael York.

Right, tangent over, and back to my point, which is as follows: some physical objects, though routine contact with people, develop an almost mystical connection to the person who possesses them. I have a relationship with my lime green glass, for example. My cold brew coffee would taste as good in a ceramic mug, but the glass means something to me. But my relationship with books, and particularly novels, is different. That relationship is grounded in the ideas created through the writing, not in the device that contains them.

When it comes to books, my interest is in the cold brew, not the lime green plastic glass.

curiosity and ragnar the cheesemaker

I have a morning routine, which rarely changes (because, you know, it’s in the morning and I’ve just awakened and and any activity that requires actual thought is probably beyond my capabilities). Greet the cat, check the perimeter (with the cat), feed the cat, ingest some form of caffeine, pet the damned cat, read the news, read more news, continue to pet and feed the fucking cat, consider reading email, decide against reading email, check Twitter, check Facebook.

By the time I reach the ‘read more news’ point, I’m moderately awake, properly caffeinated, and curiosity has kicked in. That generally results in me doing some level of research about what I’m reading. For example, this morning I saw something about ‘cult’ television shows. Not shows about cults; shows with cult audiences. No, wait…that sounds like the audience members are in a cult. Like everybody in the Order of the Solar Temple gathers around the television in the afternoon to watch Jeopardy. I’m talking about television shows that are obscure or generally unpopular with mainstream audiences, but still attract a devoted fan base. Somebody mentioned a British show called The Strange World of Gurney Slade. Which sounded weird and interesting, so I did some research and learned…well, that it was weird and interesting.

My point, if you can call it that, is that at some point in the morning, my need to read the news gets hijacked by my need to know and understand random stuff. This morning it was a few minutes of Gurney Slade. Then, on Twitter, I came across this simple question: Did Vikings make cheese? And my morning was gloriously ruined.

First, the question itself is wonderfully weird. You have to wonder what sparked the question. I assume it wasn’t just an idle thought; something caused this person to wonder if Vikings made cheese. Maybe they wanted to know what foods Vikings packed for a long voyage, maybe they were curious about Vikings and lactose intolerance–I don’t know. But it was an interesting question. But my immediate response was delight at the notion of a Viking cheesemaker. Some hirsute guy who, instead of setting off with the crew to raid the coast of Britain, decided, “Naw, I’m going to hang here and make a cheese.” Ragnar the Cheesemaker.

That led me to wonder how the process of making cheese was discovered, which eventually led me to read a sentence that not only took up much of my morning, but will likely haunt me for the rest of my life.

Cheese may have been discovered accidentally by the practice of storing milk in containers made from the stomachs of animals.

Okay, if you’re anything like me, you immediately started asking critically important questions. Who the fuck thought it was a good idea to store milk in the stomach of an animal? Who first said, “Dude, we got all this milk and we got no place to store it. Fetch me the stomach of an animal, please.” Who thought it was a good idea to store anything at all in the stomach of a dead animal? Who conceived of animal stomachs as prehistoric Tupperware containers? Somebody, while gutting an animal, must have had the idea, “Hey, let’s hang on to this stomach…we can clean it out and store stuff in it!”? Where would you keep the empty animal stomachs you plan to use later to store milk? And who, having left that first batch of milk in an animal stomach long enough for it to curdle and separate into curds and whey, thought, “Fuck it, I’m eating it anyway.”?

Medieval cheesemakers

My research also brought me to an article entitled Make Butter Viking Style, but I had to stop reading almost immediately, because of this:

Step One: Bring the crème fraîche up to room temperature and whisk it as if making whipped cream.

I am not convinced this is how Vikings made butter. I could go on (and believe me, I did), but you get my point. This has been my morning. Cat, Miami condo collapse, infrastructure agreement, some GOP bullshit about the military, cult television shows, Vikings, cheesemaking, animal stomachs, butter production. Every morning is like this for me. I’m completely fucking worthless from about 0700 to maybe 1000 hours, because of stuff like this.

And the worst thing about this? I have absolutely no use at all for what I’ve learned this morning. The odds of Gurney Slade or the history of cheesemaking (or, lawdy, the evolution of storage containers) ever coming up in conversation are astronomical. But this stuff will rattle around in my head for hours (or days or decades) and possibly spill out at some wildly inappropriate moment.

in which i make an awkward speech

Okay, I probably should have mentioned this when it was announced. But that was a month ago, back in the middle of April, at the beginning of morel season, so I was busy. And there was something else going on at the time, though I can’t recall what it was. My guess is it was probably bicycle-related.

Anyway, I forgot about it until last week when Ruth Greenberg emailed me. She wanted to let me know she’d received a royalty check for a book we sorta kinda wrote together. That was back in…I don’t know, the distant past. I was in graduate school at the time, so it must have at least twenty years ago. I could do the math and figure out the date, but it doesn’t much matter.

The check was for 94 cents.

I’ve moved at least half a dozen times since the book was published, and I’ve never bothered to let the publisher know my new address. In fact, I think that publisher has been swallowed whole by another publisher–and I’m not even sure who they are. This accounts for why I didn’t get my US$0.94 royalty check.

But that email last week reminded me of another writing thing…which is the thing I referred to in the first paragraph, the thing I probably should have mentioned back in April but obviously didn’t. So I’m going to mention it now.

A short story I wrote–and which was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine last autumn–won an award. Every year various groups hand out various awards for mystery and detective fiction. Most of those are nominated by…well, okay, I admit I don’t know how the nomination process works. Doesn’t matter. I’ve only been nominated once, about a million years ago, for something called a Shamus award. I didn’t win, so I didn’t pay much attention to it (I’m beginning to sense a pattern here). Anyway, nominations are made, a panel of judges read the work, choose the winner, hand out an award. It’s sort of a big deal.

The award I won wasn’t that sort of award. What I won was a Reader’s Award. You know, where readers write in and name their favorite stories of the years. And actually, I didn’t win that award either; I came in third.

When I got the email telling me I’d come in third in a Reader’s Award, I thought, “Hey, that’s nice.” And that was basically it. I mean, I’d already been paid for the story; that was reward enough. But I was asked to submit a 1-2 minute video acceptance speech for the award (which was being held virtually because of the damned pandemic). My response was basically a casual “Sure, why not?” But thinking about an acceptance speech made me actually stop and think about the award itself, and about the readers who’d read the story and voted for it, and about writing.

Let me be clear about this whole writing gig. It’s just something I do. I enjoy the act of writing. I like the process of writing. It entertains me and gives me pleasure. I like the discipline involved. Most of what I write (this blog, for example) I write for an audience of one–me. Writing this blog forces me to put my thoughts in order, which forces me to support whatever crap I’m writing about. I usually spend a LOT more time thinking about stuff than writing about it. For this blog, I like to write quickly and casually, and edit almost nothing.

But sometimes I write short fiction for money. That means writing for other people. It also means writing more carefully. Because a writer’s job is to give a reader a good experience. Not necessarily a pleasant one, or a happy one, but an experience they find worth the investment of time it takes them to read the story.

But here’s the weird thing. Once I finish writing a piece of fiction, I seem to lose all emotional attachment to it. I’ve done what I wanted to do with it, I’ve written the story, and now it’s done. I submit the story to a magazine; they either accept it (and send me a check) or reject it (and send me a rejection letter), but that’s their job. My job is over. Time to do something else. The finished story is old news; it just doesn’t seem very important anymore.

But I had to give an acceptance speech, right? So I had to think about all that stuff. I mean, yes of course I was writing for an audience, but it was a theoretical audience. Not actual people, sitting at home, drinking coffee and letting the cat shed on their sweaters. Suddenly, they’d become very real to me. I mean, the notion that strangers would read something I wrote–that they’d read it and remember it–that they’d care enough about the story to vote for it in an annual contest? That’s just…weird. It made me oddly emotional.

So I made an acceptance video. Okay, that’s a lie. I made like six of them. First, I did a quick practice video just to see if I actually knew HOW to make a video. Set up my chromebook, turned it on, nattered off the top of my head for maybe 90 seconds, then watched it. It was…well, embarrassing.

So I wrote out a short script saying the things I wanted to say–and shot a second video. That taught me to pay attention to the background (as a photographer, you’d think I’d know that). So I started moving things around, re-arranging furniture, shifting stuff around so it wouldn’t appear I was sitting in the basement, where I write in the evenings. I shot a few more videos.

They were fucking painful to watch. I mean, I was trying to present myself as a writer, and I was semi-reading from a script. It all looked unnatural. So in the end, I sent them my practice video–me nattering on, sitting at my basement desk, unrehearsed and stupid, thanking strangers for voting me the third most popular story for this particular magazine last year. But at least it was honest and authentic. So there’s that.

Anyway, here it is, for your entertainment. The whole thing is about 18 minutes long, which is a LOT to watch. I get introduced at about the 5:30 point. My awkward basement practice acceptance video kicks in somewhere around the 7:30 point.

Oh, yeah…the story. Janet Hutchings, the editor, introduces it in a way that makes it sound significant, portentous. When I submitted it, I was at a loss for how to describe it. It’s a detective story, of course, about the rights of street photographers. But yeah, it’s also about racial profiling. And about a missing teen-aged girl. But it’s also about the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, which I happen to think is important to the story. And I don’t know, it’s maybe about some other stuff too. Who knows?

Anyway, I probably should have mentioned this back in April, when it was announced.

3 things that make me love the world

I’m not one of those “Let’s focus on happy news and forget how completely fucking awful the world is” guys. I lack the Pollyanna gene. When the world is completely fucking awful, I want to know about it. I want to understand it. Don’t try to distract me with bluebirds or other happy horseshit. Because despite how completely fucking awful the world is, I still manage to remain pretty chipper and stupidly happy. I still love this world.

I’m telling you that because the news this morning is jammed with the mass murder that took place in Georgia yesterday. Eight dead–six Asian women, two non-Asian men. Apparently murdered by some inadequate white incel asshole who, according to law enforcement officials, “had a really bad day…and this is what he did.” On any other morning, I’d be writing about both this hate crime against women (and the reality is that the most common hate crimes–and the least acknowledged hate crimes–are committed against women) and the casual way white law enforcement agents treat white mass murderers who commit hate crimes.

But not this morning. I’m NOT trying to distract you from the truly awful shit that’s taking place. But three things happened this morning that made me ridiculously happy. And I’m not going to let this Georgia asshole detract from that. Fuck him in the neck. These are three things that make me love this awful world.

First thing. The Pritzker Prize. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s the most prestigious award in architecture. It’s usually awarded to some arrogant asshole ‘starchitect’ who designs massive, expensive, flamboyant buildings. Not this year. This year it’s gone to Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, a pair of architects who have largely focused on transforming low-income housing complexes. Instead of tearing down old structures and building new ones, these two have found ways to transform old housing projects into attractive living environments. A lot of poor people may hate where they live, but aren’t confident they’ll be better off if they moved.

Turning grim public housing into bright living spaces.

A few years ago, Lacaton and Vassal were asked to work on “a particularly large and hideous” public housing project in Bordeaux. The people who lived in the projects didn’t want to leave; they just wanted more space and more light. Lacaton and Vassal gave them what they wanted. The basically encased the building in glass, turning what had been exterior apartment walls into sliding glass doors leading to an enclosed terrace. It cost less money, it required less disruption for the tenants, and it turned grim, drab apartments into bright sunny spaces. The Pritzker jury wrote:

Through their belief that architecture is more than just buildings, through the issues they address and the proposals they realize, through forging a responsible and sometimes solitary path illustrating that the best architecture can be humble and is always thoughtful, respectful, and responsible, they have shown that architecture can have a great impact on our communities and contribute to the awareness that we are not alone.

I like living in a world where French architects are honored for their work in support of poor folks living in public housing.

Second thing: I’ve written about the game Geoguessr before–both as a game and as source material for an appropriation art project. For a variety of reasons, I don’t play the game as often as I used to. But now and then, I’ll get the urge and I’ll immerse myself in virtually exploring a novel part of the world. Last night I played and found myself lost in the Polish countryside, where I saw an interesting bit of graffiti art.

I don’t speak Polish. But I help run a Facebook group called Geoguessr Oddities, with a global membership some of whom were likely to know Polish. So I posted the screengrab. And a short time later I learned Mysza Patrzy jak Jedzisz translates to “The Mouse watches you drive.” It wasn’t very helpful in finding out where I was in Poland, but the translation cracked me up, and the interaction itself made me happy. Then this morning another member of the group informed me that franekmysza is a Polish graffiti artist with an Instagram account. He’s painted that mouse all over Poland.

I like living in a world in which I can be introduced to a Polish graffiti artist by playing a game designed by a Swedish IT consultant to get you lost in new parts of the world.

Third thing. There was an article in the Washington Post about a kid, Darius Brown, who learned to sew bow ties for rescue animal–and I swear, this made me tear up and I came THIS close to crying like a little girl. Darius (and, again, he has an Instagram account you may want to follow) was taught to sew bow ties by his sister when he was eight years old. He got started in the rescue animal bow tie gig two years later, in 2017, when a couple dozen dogs left homeless in Florida and Puerto Rico by Hurricane Irma were transferred to a shelter in New York City. He thought the animals might get adopted quicker if they were wearing bow ties.

Let me just say that again. A ten-year-old kid in New Jersey sewed 25 bow ties for rescue dogs from Florida and Puerto Rico because he wanted them to get adopted. How perfectly wonderful is that? And hey, it worked.

Of course it worked. Look at that good boy wearing one of his bow ties in a Savannah shelter. Are you kidding me? Who wouldn’t want to adopt this tripod pooch? According to WaPo, Darius has now “donated more than 600 bow ties for dogs and cats in shelters.” He’s only 14-years-old. He says, “A well-dressed dog…that will make people smile.” And yeah, it does.

I suppose I should mention that Darius has both a speech disorder and a fine motor skills disorder–but since those things don’t define him, they’re less important than what he does. And what he does is make the lives of shelter animals better, which makes shelters better, which makes the lives of the people who adopt the shelter animals better, which makes the entire world a little bit better.

I like living in a world with Darius Brown in it.

Yes, the world is completely fucking awful. But it’s also completely fucking wonderful. We shouldn’t let the former diminish the latter. There are architects who transform awful buildings into livable spaces. There are graffiti artists painting snarky mice all over Poland. And there’s a kid in New Jersey putting bow ties on shelter animals. How can you not be in love with this world?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Another thing that makes me happy. A couple of folks have kindly and gently taken me to task for writing ‘crying like a little girl‘. It makes me happy because 1) it’s nice that folks call me when it looks like I’m being a dick, and 2) because originally I actually included a long, parenthetical tangent about that phrase, doing a riff sort of like Dickens in A Christman Carol when he natters on about the phrase ‘dead as a doornail’. But I write these posts in a rush, and I edit very little…so I deleted the tangent in the hope that people would interpret crying like a little girl to mean grown men and little girls cry in the same way and sometimes for the same reasons.

I’ve decided NOT to correct it. It’s better to let other folks learn from my misjudgments.