23: Seasons

I wrote four drafts of this newsletter that I'm not going to send to you. Each one is about a completely different topic. None of them are bad, I don't think. I just feel ridiculous writing about anything "serious" right now.

I don't want to talk about design patterns for spatial software, cottagecore memetics, media colonialism, or lateral ergonomics. After each draft, I found myself asking "...why?," and I scratched them out and started over.

While I've been a Very Bad Blogger since starting my job at Substack (I promise there will be a day when I am able to write again), I've always thought of my blog as the place where I write about those kinds of topics more comprehensively, whereas this newsletter is a somewhat more personal place to let my mind wander: halfway between a blog and a journal.

I could pretend that I'm genuinely interested in exploring those other topics with you, but the truth is that that's not really what's occupying my mind these days. And I've always wanted this newsletter to be a place for me to write more freely. So, this month, as with every month, I'll give you what's actually on my mind…

My life these days is filled with sunshine and flowers. I made some lifestyle changes in order to make the days more tolerable. I hiked up my rent and upgraded to a bigger place with a spacious backyard. I put myself on a diet. I bought a car for the first time in my life. It's a convertible. It's fun to drive, but I can't help but wonder whether this is the equivalent of a pandemic midlife crisis.

My weeks are a mushy, meaningless blur of swirling rice in a pot of cold water, watching sunsets off my deck, floating on gymnastics rings in my backyard, careening down San Francisco hills towards the water. I'm over my head high, looking to bury myself in a body high.

A long, long time ago, a friend of mine got plastic surgery. Afterwards, she texted me a photo of her recovering body, covered in a giant bruise from her rib cage to her knees. She said that recovery can feel strangely good: it makes you aware of your body's limitations, where all you can do is wallow. Sometimes it feels good to give yourself up entirely to your circumstances, to feel like there is nothing you can do besides what's right in front of you.

Everyone is leaving the city, if they haven't left already. The streets are empty, the street curbs dotted with moving trucks. My social circles are scattered and broken in a way that they never have been, and hopefully never will be again. My day-to-day is not peaceful, even if it looks like everything I'd previously imagined peace to be. These are wartime circumstances, just wrapped in a filter of something deadly and beautiful.

Right now is indisputably a suspension of life, a hand thrown up to protect one’s face, a year in which nothing really matters except survival. I don't want to pretend like right now is just another set of circumstances to be analyzed. It's not. I want to describe it in a way that's different from how I used to talk, but I don't know how because all I really know how to do is use my words instead of my body.

It's August now, and I have so few memories of doing anything this year. I've had a lot of group chats, FaceTime calls, phone calls, video calls, and even a few trips out of town, but those memories all feel translucent somehow, like I could put my hand right through them.

My lack of memories this year makes it easy for me to remember the four separate occasions that I have seen one of my few good friends who’s still in San Francisco; each of which, upon reflection, now seems to mark the passage of pandemic time like the changing seasons.

Spring: The first time we decided to meet in person, it was April, in a park outdoors. I walked forty-five minutes to get there because I didn't want to take an Uber. My fingers turned white as the sun set and I realized that because everything was closed down, I couldn't go inside anywhere to warm back up.

Summer: The second time was in May, my first time venturing into a house that was not my own. I took my first Uber ride in three months, with my mask on and windows down. When I arrived, I was greeted by an atmosphere that was warm and convivial and strangely domestic. Everyone flitted in and out of the common spaces; two friends were spending their afternoon doodling on the dining room table. I'd never seen his place so lively before.

Fall: The third time we met, it was in June, meeting up with another friend who'd briefly stopped back in town. We hung out at a nearby park on a sunny day, playing music and drinking White Claw on a picnic blanket. Seeing multiple friends together at once felt like a rare, fleeting luxury.

Winter: The last time we met was this week. This time, he was leaving for an international trip with no return ticket. His spacious home was dead and empty now, because everyone else had finally left the city. I drove to his house in my new car with the top down, feeling like a person that I didn't recognize. We laid out on the deck, blinking in the frigid sunshine, watching the fog roll over Sutro Tower, with long stretches of silence as we sat, uncomfortable and alone with our thoughts.


A mini-update about my book: if you haven't already seen on Twitter, the official launch day got delayed to August 4th due to COVID-related shipping delays, combined with the fact that apparently you all bought too many copies. (Thank you <3) If you pre-ordered a copy, it'll get shipped tomorrow. (If you already have a copy, it's because Amazon mysteriously shipped out ~400 copies early. Consider yourself lucky!)

If I haven't replied to your email, DM, or message, I apologize. I’m very grateful for everyone's support, and I'm doing my best to get through my messages.

Okay, last thing. I don't typically share interviews of myself in here (you already subscribe to this thing, do you really need more of me?), but I recently hopped on the a16z Podcast to talk to Sonal Chokshi about Working in Public. Sonal's known my open source work since the early days, and she immediately "got" the book and its message. I can be sort of guarded about talking about ideas that I hold close to my heart, but I'm happy with the conversation we had here. So if you haven’t bought the book, but you still want a rundown of the main concepts, you can listen here.

Notes

Notes from June and July have been updated. A few highlights:

  • How to virtually simulate a “fidget experience” / walking outside together? Ex. ppl listen to talks better when they have something to fidget with, and similarly going on a walk together gives two ppl something else to passively look at, which makes the conversation richer

  • Maybe 2020 is the year that solipsism died, and that’s what’s so painful about this year. That for so long, it felt like we were increasingly mastering our environment, able to control every aspect of it, finely tune and dial up and down whichever things we did or didn’t like. But this year, it’s all about ceding control back to the collective. You HAVE to take part in this global narrative, whether you like it or not. By comparison, it feels so...crude!

  • There’s an argument to be made that really successful co’s are post-scarcity and therefore actually the best entities to incubate the arts/culture/literature etc (vs. academia)

Links

  • How to Do Nothing (Jenny Odell): This book taunted me all month while I tried to read it. "I don't have time to read!" I'd scream in my head. "But this book is supposed to tell me how to do nothing!" Anyways, don’t be fooled by the title: this isn’t a self-help book, but rather a lovely philosophical meditation by a thoughtful, well-read human being. I didn't agree with everything in it, but I found myself really liking the author as a person (whom I don't know personally). One section I particularly enjoyed was Jenny quietly eviscerating the secessionists and utopian colonists of the world who try to escape from reality, which I didn't quite expect, and again points to the ways that this book avoids many of the typical tropes and pitfalls to make its case.

  • "Come for the Network, Pay for the Tool" (Toby Shorin): The always-excellent Toby Shorin wrote a great piece about paid communities. I'm not sure that I resonate with the concept of "paid communities" as its own taxonomy, rather than "paid" as a means of enabling other community types, but I love seeing more discourse about subscription models for communities, and Toby introduces a bunch of questions that are worth ruminating on.

  • "By the Books" (Mailchimp): I may have mentioned my love of Microsoft Bob aesthetic in here before – especially these days, as I'm craving all things tactile – and so I love this mini-project that Mailchimp put out of books, essays, films, and podcasts, neatly arranged on "bookshelves" that move when you brush your cursor against them.

  • Wanderverse (Sonya Mann): My friend Sonya quit her job to write full-time. I enjoy her thoughts on just about anything, but I particularly enjoy the physical zines she creates, as well as this refreshing new fiction project she's recently embarked on. Her work always reminds me to think with my hands and not just my head.

  • "280" (isosteph): I'm always on the hunt for more cultural artifacts that tell the story of San Francisco in a way that's not typically portrayed by mainstream journalism, and so I enjoyed this piece by isosteph about driving down 280.