Summer Break Ya Neck

I’ve been thinking about summer vacation this week, and how it’s so conceptually at odds with how we think about work in this country. I mean, when you’re a kid, having summers off from school isn’t regarded as some kind of radical notion — it’s just the way things are. It’s normal. But as soon as you exit the education-industrial complex, the societal expectation is that you are going to work at least 40 hours a week for the next 50 to 60 years of your life, with a couple of weeks off a year. And that’s if you’re lucky. Too many people have to work two jobs just to pay the bills and survive, working weekends, overtime, second shifts, third shifts, split shifts. As an adult, the notion of taking leave from one’s responsibilities for two to three months in the middle of the year — ostensibly to rest, to relax — is antithetical to capitalist ideology. Offer such a proposal out loud with any degree of real ingenuousness, and most people will look at you like you’re a goddamn crank, or — gasp — a socialist.

What a person does for work monopolizes so much space in our self-identity that it overshadows almost everything else about us. Think about it: when you meet someone for the first time, odds are one of the first get-to-know-you questions they will ask is: “So, what do you do?” You’ll instantly know what they mean, because that’s how we’ve been conditioned to think, and you’ll respond with something like: “I manage a team of developers at The Rabbit Company.” Your answer won’t be: “Well, I’m a gardener, and I spend most of my weekends in my backyard tending to the 15 types of produce I grow. Oh, I also pay my bills working being a middle manager at a company that peddles vibrators. But I loathe that place and Ted, my colossal anus of a boss, so instead I prefer instead to talk about how well my cucumbers and tomatoes are doing this year.” Because if you say that to a stranger, they are not going to think, Wow, this guy’s radical candor is so refreshing. Let’s be friends! Instead, they will smile and nod, and describe you later to their loved ones using adjectives like “weird” and “off-putting.”

It’s an extreme example, yeah, but I bet you’d never think to describe yourself as a gardener — your passion, hobby, etc. — first, and a manager of whatever — the thing you do to stay alive — second.

We give so much of our time and energy to our jobs, wrapping our identity and self-worth around what we do, what we produce. It’s dumb and sad, and so many of us do it, even if we don’t want to and try not to, because… that’s the capitalist society in which we live.

I’m not suggesting that one can’t or shouldn’t strive to find a job they like. If you’re going to spend at least one-third of your life at Job, ideally you should find one you like, or at least don’t hate. I really like my job, a circumstance that I never take for granted. It’s okay to like your job. And, in the very unlikely event you think you love your job — that’s okay, too. So long as you always keep this one immutable fact in mind: A corporation doesn’t care about you. You are a means to an end for it. You and a corporation are not “fambly.” The moment the cost of employing you becomes less than the perceived value of what you produce, the sand in the hourglass that is your current employment starts trickling down. 

So consider this affirmation. Repeat it to yourself every day: You are not your job. You are so much more than “what you do.” And never, ever forget (to paraphrase the labor writer Sarah Jaffe):

Work will never love you back. 

Columbus Pride was yesterday. It was nice to march with our friends in the ECLA and show our support. The turnout was amazing. Watchers along the parade route were six or seven people deep the whole way. I espied only one small group of sad bigots that were protesting. The hate emanating from their shitty PA was subsumed by the cheering and happy noise of the crowd.

On Friday, I went to my first Creative Mornings Columbus event. The guest speaker was Karen Hewitt, who gave a talk on the topic of “Reverie.” It was a really fun and fascinating talk. Karen’s ideas on the difference between dreaming and dream execution, and how each requires different tools, resonated with me quite a bit.

All of this shit — thoughts on summer break, Karen’s take on creativity, plus the normal rotgut my brain generates — has been swirling in my head of late, so I’ve decided that, beginning tomorrow, josh bales [dot] net is going on summer vacation for the next month. (Yeah, it’s not two to three months, but a shorter break feels right, so I’m going with my gut.) For the next four weeks, my hope is to redirect the creative energy I typically put in here to other writing projects. My goals are to clean up and try to publish the essay I alluded to last week, and to finish a short story that has been languishing in my brain for a while.

See y’all on July 23rd.

Even with no eyes, you can always tell when Kirby is staring at you.

Time Traveling with a Wright Bro

A few years back, Jess sent me an announcement from the Wright Memorial Library in Dayton. The library was putting together an “art and literary zine” to commemorate their 80th anniversary, and they were seeking contributors. They wanted pieces that focused on place (libraries, Dayton, etc.) or the passage of time, either looking backward or forward. The zine was going to be titled GLIDE.

It was a fun concept, and I hadn’t written anything of substance in a while, so I figured why not throw my hat into the proverbial ring? There was just the not insignificant question of: what did I want to write about?

There used to be a life-size sculpture of the Wright Brothers’ Flyer in downtown Dayton that I would walk by every day on my way to and from work. Wilbur is piloting the Flyer, while Orville runs along beneath it. I wondered how the brothers would feel if they could get a glimpse of such a monument to their success. Especially if it came in a dark moment where they wondered if they should give up?

And so it was settled. I would write a time travel story about Orville and Wilbur Wright.

“A Brief Detour” is a gentler story than the sort I typically write. No violence is done to anyone (bicycles notwithstanding), what few cusses there are are mild, and the tone is lighter. And it was exactly the story I needed to tell, then, to drag myself out of the rut I had been in, writing-wise. Writing it was… I won’t say effortless, because it wasn’t — but it came easily. Then working with the folks at the library to edit and refine it into the best version of itself was a pleasure. (One day I’ll write a whole thing about how much I genuinely enjoy the editing process.) Seeing “A Brief Detour” in print, holding GLIDE in my hands, gave me the confidence to tackle “In the Land of Broken Things” later that year.

I’m not sure how many copies of GLIDE were printed. Enough for all the contributors and some extras for the public. If I’m ever fortunate enough to publish a novel, that future book will sit next to my copy of GLIDE on my bookcase’s ego shelf.

A PDF version of the zine is still up on the library’s website, but it’s a bit clunky to read. So I’ve decided to give “A Brief Detour” a second home, here on josh bales [dot] net. You can read it here. There’s also a link on the Writing page.

Hope you enjoy it.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

Reading:

Working my way through THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS.

Interesting thoughts from Warren Ellis on How To Build A Blog Without Social Media. josh bales [dot] net syndicates to various social media platforms, but my SM audience is relatively small. Perhaps 300 people see what I write. But I blog because I enjoy doing it, not because I expect a ton of people will read what I write. Blogging in the era of social media is certainly a labor of love, emphasis on the love.

Watching:

I really enjoy the works of John le Carré, but I love the adaptations of his books even more. This past week we watched the limited series of THE NIGHT MANAGER, which is right up there with the 2011 TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY for me in terms of “fuck this is good.” Tom Hiddleston always makes for a somewhat bland leading man — looking at you specifically, KONG: SKULL ISLAND — but he does a solid job here. Hugh Laurie, though, is magnificent as a cold-blooded but charming international arms dealer. The joy of the show is watching Hiddleston’s protagonist insinuating himself into Laurie’s character’s work fambly, all of whom are interesting and multi-faceted, and manipulating them into tearing their fambly apart. The show aired in 2016 but I learned a second season is now in the offing.

The new INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY trailer dropped yesterday at Celebration, and it made me so happy.

Wanting:

A vacation. Which, thank the sorcerer, I will be embarking on in a few weeks.

Listening:

I have been knee-deep in spreadsheet hell this week — Ex-hell, if you will — so I’ve been listening to a lot of moody ambient music. Dark ambient, metropolis and Cthulhu is one of my favorites.

And Kirby:

He’s got no eyes, but you can still somehow feel the judgement radiating from him because Jess wasn’t sharing her cereal milk.

Haiku and China Buffets

Let’s mix things up a bit this week, and allow me to demonstrate my magnificent versatility as a writer. Here is a haiku. One inspired by true events.

leave the cabaret
happy drunks ambling, seeking
the China Buffet

Yes, I know haiku aren’t supposed to rhyme. No, I don’t care. When we know the rules, we are allowed to break them.

(I don’t actually know the rules, but I also dgaf.)

The China Buffet in question.

I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu writing this (again) this week, buuut: we are finally getting over our Covid (again) up in here. (Yeah, I ended up developing the rebound bullshit, too.) Our rona woes have become trop chiant to write about, thought, so let’s move on.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.

Reading:

This week, I started THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS, by Matt Ruff. It’s the follow-up to the excellent LOVECRAFT COUNTRY.

“The Revolution Against Shady Landlords Has Begun”:  Molly Crabapple’s new cover story for THE NATION details the fight against shady landlords being waged by New York tenants and housing advocates. (You can use 12ft Ladder to bypass the paywall.)

Watching:

OUTER BANKS, season 3:  I don’t quite hate-watch this show like I do Emily in Paris, but the teenage characters make all kinds of idiotic decisions and are constantly shouting at each other, which I find stressful. There’s also a new adult protagonist whom I loathed, and every episode I kept thinking, “Maybe this will be the episode he dies.” That said, this was still the best season of OUTER BANKS yet, and the treasure hunting storyline that had been building for three seasons concluded in a truly satisfying manner.

EUPHORIA:  Jesus Christ, this show is intense. It reminds me exactly of my high school days, except with more drugs, sex, and violence. I dug the first season a lot, but wasn’t quite ready to jump into the second season. I need a little break from teen angst.

Wanting:

I want this Casio G-SHOCK Men’s A1000 Watch Pink Rainbow Vintage so, so badly.

Listening:

Jenny Lewis announced this week that her fifth solo album, JOY’ALL, comes out in June. She also dropped a new single from it: “Psychos.”

We are seeing Ms. Lewis perform this summer at the House of Blues in Cleveland, and I couldn’t be more stoked.

And Kirby:

Enjoying the sun on his face.

Meant Well

the road to hell
is paved with the bodies of
old white men,
black of heart and soul,
and millions of liberals who
meant well

Written 6/24/2022, the day SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade.

week 5/52 — ten good shots, i’ll take them all

Jess was in Columbus yesterday, so with no real plans I decided to get a massage and take myself out to breakfast.  I know some people find dining solo at restaurants to be uncomfortable, like everyone at the restaurant is going look upon them pityingly as if they’re some sad loser with no friends.  But I’ve always enjoyed it.  It’s peaceful, especially when I have a book, which I did.  My current read is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s excellent MEXICAN GOTHIC.

This morning I wrote 500ish words on a short story that has been in progress for a while.  I can see how to get to the end now, so I just need to finish it.  Maybe later this week.  I also figured out a name for it which I think will stick: “Belong to the Night.”

I really enjoyed this article about Chumbawamba from MEL MAGAZINE.  It talks about how the band’s one big single, “Tubthumping,” was a surprise mainstream hit for a band with decidedly anarcho-communist politics and that had, at the time, already released seven albums.

I was, I believe, 15 when “Tubthumping” came out, and I watched the music video daily on TRL.  I loved everything about the song, from its brassy, anthemic catchiness to lead singer Dunstan Bruce’s bleached blond hair, which I thought was so cool but, alas, never replicated for myself.  I bought the whole album, TUBTHUMPER, as we did back then, and it was good but weird.  A mélange of styles encompassing synthpop and punk, and a whole lot of social commentary that went completely over my empty teenage head.  Listened to it quite bit for a while, then moved onto the next thing.  Probably… Korn?

In the early Aughties, old comrade Nate acquired a batch of Chumbawamba’s earlier albums, which reintroduced me to the band, but with a different flavor, because now the band’s anarchist politics smacked me in the face.  I remember really liking some of those albums, especially ANARCHY (notable for having cover art that featured a low-quality but highly explicit photo of a baby being expelled from its mother).  Since the article came out a few days ago, I’ve been playing through Chumbawamba’s discography and am really enjoying it.  One song I’ve listened to several times now is “El Fusilado,” from their 2008 album THE BOY BANDS HAVE WON.  It’s a fucking earworm.

Gonna close this one out with a picture of Kirby, unhappily watching us while we hung out with his brother on the bed.

“Why have you forsaken me, father?”

week 4/52 — there goes my compassion, hurtling off into the aether

Is it gauche to frame a paycheck and hang it on one’s wall?  Possibly — but I’m doing it anyways.

My hope is that putting this check up on the wall next to my desk will help combat  the impostor syndrome that plagues me at times.  If nothing else, it serves as a visual reminder that I am a decent enough writer that someone once paid me a not insignificant amount of money for my fiction.  And that if I was able to do it once, I can probably make it happen a second time — if I’m willing to put in the work.

This is why I have made Put In the Work and Be Intentional With My Time my personal themes this year, especially when it comes to writing.  Writing is a very easy thing to put off until some later, fabled “perfect time” to do it.  The perfect time looks different for everyone; for me it, might be three or four uninterrupted hours in a coffee shop.  But what do you do if and when the perfect time never seems to quite materialize?  Waiting for the perfect time to appear can feel a bit like waiting for King Arthur to return and save England — i.e. impossible, especially when one has a dayjob, children and dogs to care of, meals to make, a house to be maintained, going to the gym, and spending time with one’s partner.  All are important and necessary to, you know, functioning and live one’s life.  But they can certainly throw up obstacles in trying to find the perfect time to write.  So, for me, it’s less about finding the perfect time to write, and more about finding a good enough time to do it.  Grabbing thirty minutes here, squeezing in an hour there.  Doing it during my lunchbreak or for a bit before bed.  Just put in the work, whenever and wherever I can.

Of course, once I do finally sit down at the computer with an intention to write, I am ridiculously good at using that time to do anything but write.  Not when I can endlessly revise the in-progress thing I’m currently working on instead of writing more of it.  Or catch up on the growing army of newsletters in my email box.

Write?  Sorry friend, I need to go doomscroll Twitter right now.

This is where being intentional with my time comes into play.  For me it means when I catch myself not writing, it’s pausing and acknowledging the fact that, yes, I am procrastinating, and asking myself, “Would I rather be doing the thing I am currently doing, or would I rather be writing?”  And then hopefully convincing myself that, yes, really, we should probably be writing.

None of this comes easily or naturally to me.  I am a professional procrastinator.  I am going to have to actively and mindfully work on this stuff and will no doubt fall short many times.  But hopefully I will also become a little bit better at it.

And speaking of being intentional with one’s time, I am going to hit publish on this post now and go work on that other thing for a while.