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Notes from the New Normish

Hi, we’re alive and fine. My privilege is as evident as ever, as my daily routine of isolation with Kat resembles what Maria called “an extended snow day,” mostly but not entirely without snow. I hurt for the sick and grieving; I worry for the essential and vulnerable; I watch Bon Appetit and experiment with vegan baking; I do my internet job and I watch out my window and wait. Here are some things that have held my interest in the last little while.

  1. As mentioned in asides, I read too much about menswear online and off these days. My favorite habit is to bargain-hunt for clothes from Japan on eBay, prance around the living room in them to aggravate Kat, and then secret them away so I can buy more. But the emergent result is that I’ve learned a lot about things I might have disdained ten years ago. I don’t have any special interest in James Bond, for instance, but Matt Spaiser’s blog about the tailoring of the films has taught me a ton about men’s fashion in the last sixty years. His post on how Cary Grant’s suit in North by Northwest (1959) went on to influence Bond’s costuming is a great example of the dry clarity of his writing.
  2. It seems like I’ve never written about Porpentine Charity Heartscape here before, which is strange, as her work has loomed large in my view and admiration for… seven years? Eight? Her work in writing and game design blends the sweet, the filthy, the transgender and transhuman, the pure and the skin-crawlingly cute in a way I find singular in every sense. If that sentence doesn’t hint at some content warnings, then I hope this one does. But that boundary is very much worth braving if you are so emotionally equipped. Her recent story “Dirty Wi-Fi” on Strange Horizons is a good introduction to her prose and perspective.
  3. Despite my limited dabbling in microelectronics, I can’t follow many of the technical specifics in this review of process and call for aid on a final, perfect Super Nintendo emulator. But the SNES was a system that still informs my design and aesthetic sensibilities, twenty-seven years later, and I respect the author’s work very much. The most striking quote to me:

    “I can tell you why this is important to me: it’s my life’s work, and I don’t want to have to say I came this close to finishing without getting the last piece of it right. I’m getting older, and I won’t be around forever. I want this final piece solved.”

    What an extraordinary thing it seems, to me, to know what your life’s work is. I hope one day I do.

“I won’t find out all the ingredients till I’m dead.”

My friend Sumana is pretty spry for a retired newspaper columnist. For years she was MC Masala, syndicated in several papers all over the SF Bay, even after she had left it for the other side of the country. I loved the column and read every installment, and I was delighted to see that she recently resurrected its archives on her personal site, nearly a decade after she began that phase of her career. (As befits her growing skillset and shifting direction, she wrote the CMS for it herself!)

From the beginning, the column showed off her skill (and taste) in comedy, cosmopolitan interest in religion, and clever use of parables from both ancient texts and her own life. I still use this aphorism about books and sandwiches to remind myself how to engage with people at social gatherings. I stole quite a few ideas for tiny stories from her, sometimes immediately, sometimes much later; she delivered insights about the nature of attachment that would influence me for years to come.

Over its run, she let her readers in on landmarks in her life in a friendly, almost conspiratorial way: her move from San Francisco to New York, the concurrent shift from one career to another, her wedding—and even personal connections to events on a larger scale, like the end of glasnost.

She was way ahead of the curve, of course, on relaxing vice laws and marriage equality. She showed up early to the fight against manspreading (and manxiety). She preceded me in getting over Aaron Sorkin, and I took way, way too long to come around to her Brian K. Vaughn fandom. And she made some predictions about herself that were wrong in amazing ways: she does, in fact, now give many thousands of dollars to charity, and one branch of her current unpaid public service uses skills she is still developing, and increasing all the time.

Reading back through these, I felt smug and flattered all over again that I got to make a subtle appearance here and there.

Her final column makes me well up with feeling. I first started following Sumana’s blog sometime in 2001, so right now it falls around the halfway mark in the timeline of our friendship. It’s only gained more meaning to me since the first time I read it—I’d never even listened to the Mountain Goats back then!* To this day, she posts regular entries stuffed with insights and links to explore, whereas I didn’t write a damn thing here for all of 2014. I am so fortunate that I was able to make a connection with her back then, and to have followed her with aspiration ever since.

It’s been almost nine years, Sumana; where are you from now?

I shouted, “Congratulations!” She responded, fist raised, “Perseverance!”

Hacking xoJane

Important Technology People have been calling RSS a dead technology for a couple years now, but I read more content via feed than ever—292 subscriptions in Google Reader, at the moment. But because my use case doesn’t get as much wheelgrease as it used to, a lot of sites will just throw one sitewide megafeed into their <head> tag and call it done, rather than allowing users to subscribe to substreams. They do this even when their site software supports subfeeds just fine!

Take a blogazine like xoJane. It’s produced by women, and the writing there is smart and honest and very funny. I was introduced to it when my twitter idol Julieanne Smolinski became a contributing editor. But while I knew I wanted to read all her columns, the only autosubscribable feed on her author page is the firehose of ALL xoJane content. That would overrun my Reader, and it would be a pain to sort out Ms. Smolinski’s posts, which are the guaranteed gold I’m after.

Fortunately, for certain values of “fortunately,” xoJane is built on Drupal, which some geek decided should let you subscribe to anything anywhere forever. To get a feed of a given author’s content there, you can construct a URL like this:

http://www.xojane.com/rss?author=Firstname%20Lastname&title=Firstname’s%20Posts

And then paste that into the “subscribe” box in whatever reader you use. For instance, here’s a Julieanne Smolinski feed, and here’s one for Kate C, whom I have recently discovered is also great.

Update 2012-08-07: WELP, xoJane broke their individual author feeds. The next-best solution, I suppose, is to follow Kate and Julieanne on their high-quality social media.

Then God hit me with a baguette

Remember when we talked about Gatekeeper? Thanks to Kickstarter and the mighty game white hole who is Jeremy Penner, you can actually play it now, right in your browser! I bet you can’t beat my score (56) (you can totally beat my score).

When I cite Stephenson I’m not even counting The Big U

Okay! Full disclosure: Leonard Richardson and I once spent roughly a hundred hours within three feet of each other. So consider that, then toss it out the metaphorical car window and fasten your metaphorical seat belt, because it’s going to be a WILD METAPHOR.

Leonard has just announced that Candlemark & Gleam will be publishing his first novel, Constellation Games, which contains–as he says–“zero-gravity sex, hive minds, terraforming, paleontology, fine art, warps in space-time, existential horror, and shipping containers… But most of all, it’s got video games.” I got to read the book early, and it’s all true! He didn’t even include the cosplay and limited nuclear exchanges.

I’ve talked to a couple other people who also beta-read it, and preceding each such conversation came a kind of cautious dance, as each of us felt the other out to see if exploding into rapturous glossolalia over a then-unpublished first novel was going to make us look silly. But then we did, and it didn’t. I’m not fucking around when I say that Constellation Games is Leonard’s markmaker: casting about for other writers who came out the gate this strong, I keep coming up with names like Neal Stephenson and Douglas Adams and Kelly Link.

In case you couldn’t be bothered to click either of the links up there, CG is going to be serialized online starting in November, then published in print afterwards. It is an indicator of my nonfuckingaroundness that I am going to create a new category on NFD just for this book, to contain posts discussing the chapters as they go up. I JUST DID IT. ZERO ROUNDFUCKING. I think you should subscribe to the book and follow along with me! You will be rewarded, and besides, you’re going to get really sick of my blog otherwise.

We will discuss Spook Country in the hedge maze

“It sounds like your girlfriend reads a lot of ‘women’s publications.’ I have worked for women’s publications. We make up those sex tips so that people who read sex tips are terrible at sex, and those of us who read William Gibson novels are astounding at it.”

I know I already freaked out about her two weeks ago, but I need to emphasize that Julieanne Smolinski is completely invited to my birthday party.

Been meaning to write this for three months

A while back Stephen was telling me about those Patrick Rothfuss books for which all nerds have hard dicks. “What’s the best part?” I asked.

“This guy Kvothe gets up on stage and plays his lute, and it’s really moving,” said Stephen. “But not gay, because he has magic powers that make every woman want to bone him.”

“Uh huh,” I said.

“Fine,” he said, “what are YOU reading about?”

Gun-toting bug-eating Muslim lesbians in space,” I said.

Okay, that isn’t strictly accurate. The primary protagonist is agnostic and the secondary one is a dude. But there are lots of guns, lots of bugs, lots of brutality (eg women throwing punches), lots of Koran-analogs, and lots of great characters who aren’t white even on the cover. It is not gentle in introducing its weird setting, and is very mean to everyone you like, and there is torture in it! So avoid it if that’s going to bother you. But while everyone’s sputtering over how many darlings die in George R. R. Martin, I’m going to be over here trying to wave you toward God’s War, easily my favorite book this year.

The funniest people on Twitter

In no particular order. Some of the following use their streams purely to deliver high-wattage comedy beams straight to your swimsuit area, others are just general life tweeters who happen to be funnier than I will ever be in my wildest dreams even with other people helping and also the audience is on nitrous because they make poor life decisions.

  • Kelly Deal
    Apologies if I accidentally sexted you yesterday, I was just trying to clean some hot sauce off my phone’s screen with my mouth.

    Kelly Deal was in the Breeders but will only admit it if you ask her about it enough times.

  • Kat Snacks
    Can your uterus lining “drop a deuce”? I wonder how many followers I just lost.

    Kat is the only one of these people I could meet if I wanted to, specifically by driving a mile up MLK to her club and paying her twenty dollars. I would never do that. Where by “that” I mean “make it past the Mongolian BBQ place with a hot twenty in my pocket.”

  • What Happened
    “Hey sweet cheeks, howsabout you ride that bike down to the DQ and pick me up a banana nut whip?” I said, high-fiving myself in the mirror.

    Elisabeth really likes Jesse Thorn but look, we all have glaring flaws that will send us straight to Hell someday.

  • Annie W
    Just now, a ring totally deteriorated until it literally fell apart on my hand. These cleaning chemicals mmmay be too strong.

    I guess Annie Wu does art that makes Warren Ellis and James Urbaniak clutch their faces and weep with adulation or whatever? Anyway I like it when she makes sitting in her room and drawing sound like an Upton Sinclair book.

  • Shelby Fero
    Found a quarter stuck to my back. Everything’s coming up Shelby!

    Shelby Fero is not her real name, I hope, because she’s fucking seventeen years old for Christ’s sake I’m just gonna go learn how to drink alcohol now.

  • Boobs Radley
    I refuse to see movies that critics deem “fun for the whole family,” because most of our grandparents are pretty racist.

    Okay, this is a true story. There are, by some estimates, 200 million people on Twitter. One day I was talking to my friend Joe and he was like “so have you found anyone cool on Twitter recently?” and I was like “well, I found the funniest person on Twitter, yes.” And he was like “really? The funniest.” And I was like “yup.” And then there was a pause.

    And then he said “Boobs Radley?”

    And I said “Boobs Radley.”

    Anyway Joe and I are getting married now (it’s okay, he’s Canadian).

The joke was about a fish

I have been such a big fan of Kris Straub’s for a long time that, when I fondly reminisced about a joke of his from 2001 today, Stephen told me I was the creepiest person he knew. Anyway, I sort of assume you all know that as soon as Straub produces anything new, I want you to get it. But that is not how the Internet actually works! I have to keep reminding you fuckers!

First, he restarted F Chords! Like, five-days-a-week restarted it! While preparing to get married! I think he wants to kill himself with work, but I like it better in its new incarnation already.

Second, I read through my copy of Starslip 4 last night, and wow, it works way better on the page than on the screen. I’d forgotten how big a leap he took art-wise when he rebooted the strip, and almost perversely, the vector sharpness really looks excellent in ink. Being able to read through big chunks of the story sequentially makes it easier to get involved, too. Buy it!

While I’m talking about people who were already throwing off sparks like seven years ago when I started following them

Leigh Stein is very, very good at what she does:

ADDENDUM TO THE PREVIOUS DISPATCH

I just remembered every single thing I’ve ever done
and now I’m embarrassed. I want my afterlife

guaranteed, so I have ordered a tomb built at Giza

for my remains. They are as follows: all my clothes,
my harmonica, my body, letters to my enemies.

The dictionary says you can refer to everyone

who will be alive in the future as prosperity so
Dear Prosperity, I used to live in the future,

too, but I fear the past is a brushfire

and I am a prairie. Now that I have what I asked for
I see I should have been more specific.

How hot is that? Brushfire hot. It appears in the new book of hers I just got, The Future Comes to Those Who Wait, and you should get it too; it’s worth it for the poem on page 18 alone.

(Hillary Eason, can you read this in Mongolia? I hope you can, and are.)

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