tumbledry

Reading

Yesterday, we took a quick bike trip across town to one of the Little Free Libraries — Ess on a tag-along bike, only one wheel to it and a rigid attachment to my seat post. The season of drought has partially lifted and the green leaves in the gentle late summer sun and the blue sky… I don’t think there’s room to improve on the lovely weather we had. We looked for bunnies and sang out when we saw them, Ess got harassed by a barking dog at a stoplight, we huffed and puffed up hills… the usual bike stuff.

So Ess made her selection and we pedaled for home, I thought — when I turned around, she had eschewed pedaling entirely, pulled her new book out from her bike pouch, and was just reading, with the book resting on her handlebars.

Hands

I was fixing a sprinkler last weekend and Ess jumped in to help: running all over the yard with me as we watched the water flow so I could flush just the right amount of water through the new connection.

This made things in the hole a bit muddy, but Ess was still excited to help me put the earth back in the hole — we got her set up with Mykala’s gardening gloves to do it. And as we were walking to the backyard, she exclaimed: “Oh good! Now that we’re both wearing gloves, I can hold your hand!”

And she did.

The Feminine Mystique

I honestly don’t recall if I have written about it here, but a few years back I realized that I have always agreed with every bit of feminism I have encountered, including radical feminism. So, I have reordered my book-reading to match. Until I feel confident that I can understand history and the present-day through the lens of feminism, every book I read will be a feminist book. So far, I’ve read:

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Woman and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti
Shrill by Lindy West
Professions for Women by Virginia Woolf

And around the internet:

Letter the Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker
Men Still Explain Things to Me
If Hermione Were The Main Character In Harry Potter
Jessica Valenti: my life as a ‘sex object’

This is all based on a list from Lauren Parker called Feminist Primer, which used to be on her website. It is currently on Medium: The List of Books Men Must Read Before Messaging Me. I’ve made some of my own additions, so I have over forty books to go. I need to read faster.

So anyway, I’m currently reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, and this idea popped into my head while reading:

In chapter one, Friedan is describing her 1940s perspective of a very real concern about regression to the 1800s, an almost atavistic return to earlier gender rolls where women lose: autonomy, dignity, education, personhood. This is frequently exemplified by the generation after Friedan choosing to sacrifice education, career, and fulfillment on the altar of premature marriage and stultifying domesticity. As a nation, we have a deeply entrenched default of that particular restricted and personhood-denying vision of femininity however this default is hidden under the effects of generations of economic contraction since Friedan wrote in the 40s. What I mean is this: women are marrying older, having fewer children later, forging careers — is this because we listened to Friedan? No. We, as a nation most certainly did not enthusiastically embrace, support, or push for feminist equality, laws, and reordering of the social fabric. The patriarchy of the United States still polices every facet of womanhood and denies her humanity. However, the economic reality of being a woman, where a vibrant life outside of constant work (much less heading a single-earner household) are near-impossibilities, where kids produce real economic hardship, these realities have produced different behaviors in the past few generations, and these changes in behavior, while appearing to show progress towards feminism on the surface, in fact cover up the nation’s unresolved and deeply entrenched anti-feminism.

So that’s just a bland stream-of-consciousness from me during reading. BUT. But but but: when I record the refinement of my understanding of feminism here, please know that it is not a contribution to the great discussion taking place across the decades. It is merely a bookmark in the reading list of my own growth. Don’t read what I’m saying, read what the women who live this shit daily are saying. Listen to them. Believe them.

Chaos and Whim

Annie Dillard:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.

Mean Something

All my anecdotes over twenty years of poor writing conclude with overwrought sentences of revelation and/or triumph. Scroll through the archives here and you can witness me try repeatedly to extract a profound conclusion or seismic change from stochastic tribulations. And so, I find my writing style to be annoyingly egocentric, and incompatible with a change in my philosophy, one that bends toward though hasn’t arrived at, nihilism.

Our human brains want, they thirst for, they need these confusing events of our lives to mean something. All of the restrictions, the death, the uncertainty, stress, loss, awfulness of the 2020 pandemic must mean something, right?

Right?

Well, no.

This human problem is not new. Here’s David Hume, summarizing Epicurus from, like, 2,300 years ago:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil?

So let’s sidestep the Epicurean theology and try on a grossly simplified premise: bad things happen for no reason. It’s hard to accept, isn’t it? Part of you rejects it at face value. But you MUST grapple with it before you decide to take it as true or build up a giant, complicated worldview rejecting it.

What’s more, serious trouble arises when we try to make all the bad stuff mean something.
Step 1: something bad happened.
Step 2: let’s make it meaningful!

It can’t always be done.

Cognitive dissonance clouds our thought when we retell the story of ourselves to ourselves by basing it all on a manufactured, post hoc dramatic plot line. Things stop making sense when we constantly fight to force the main character (inevitably, ourselves) to emerge stronger from every vicissitude.

Bad things happen all the time. They happen to good people. They happen for no reason. Then, nobody learns anything or becomes any better whatsoever after they happen.

Yikes.

If I had any kind of advice to myself (is that even a thing?), I guess it would be this:
Imagine the arc of your life takes place on a small boat. Not like dinghy small, but also not a giant ship with its own center of gravity. A bit smaller than one of those fancy yachts where you can distract yourself from the fact you are on the open sea. On this boat, you always know and feel the swells of the ocean. The boat’s passengers are you and those you love. You can turn the screws, tack a bit in one direction, try to catch a current. Maybe you will. You know small changes now create big, unknowable changes later. You also know how small and vulnerable you are out on the open ocean.
You know you could exhaust a lifetime of energy planning and tacking toward a current you hoped to catch.

These days I’m having trouble thinking that tacking and planning are particularly important. My instinct says they are, but my logical brain says they aren’t. Sometimes one wins. Sometimes the other. The thing is, my loved ones are right there on the boat. I drag them with me when I chase currents. I suppose we all do.

So I feel something akin to acceptance of the vastness of the ocean rather than a resignation or succumbing to Fate.
All is big, we are small.
There are costs to trying to do things, and problems thinking we can do everything.
There are problems thinking we can do nothing.

To return to the Greeks: via media, I suppose.

Economic levers

Jason Koebler, writing at Motherboard:

We have been told for decades that the banks and the people who work at Goldman Sachs and Fidelity and hedge funds none of us have ever heard of are smarter than us, that they deserve to be rich, that they should be the ones who pull the levers on the economy, that they should decide which companies are good and which are bad, that they should be the ones who help make financial regulations. All along the way they have gotten fabulously wealthy and we have been stuck with stagnant wages, record consumer debt, and financial advice that tells us to wait until we are old to retire.

Does this overstate the case?

I do not think this overstates the case.

The Inciter-in-Chief

David Remnick at the New Yorker, of course:

Once the Capitol was cleared, the solemn assurances that “this is not who we are” began. The attempt at self-soothing after such a traumatic event is understandable, but it is delusional. Was Charlottesville not who we are? Did more than seventy million people not vote for the Inciter-in-Chief? Surely, these events are part of who we are, part of the American picture. To ignore those parts, those features of our national landscape, is to fail to confront them.

2020

I’m glad this year is almost over.

Helping

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

— Desmond Tutu

Art and Craftsmanship

The Proper People summarize yet another expedition into a crumbling, roughly century-old building:

One reason I love this power plant so much is because there’s no reason it had to be built with all these intricate details and grandiose architecture. It’s just a power plant, after all; all it had to do was create electricity. I think that demonstrates a fundamental change of philosophy in the way we construct the world around us.

To me, the world is feeling more and more disposable. Everything is created as cheaply as possible, and it is simply a means to an end. But, when Port Richmond station was built, the builders thought they were constructing something that would serve future generations for centuries, and when we’re creating something permanent, it’s only natural for us to want to inject art and creativity and craftmanship into it. It’s part of what makes us human — and that’s what lacking from so much of what we build today.

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