Hello from the end of August. Here are some newsletter things.
*shoves words in your lap*
Eleanor is currently down and I feel like I should be flashing a big MAYDAY MAYDAY sign over that piece of news… because it feels like I should be upset about it? I dunno. I’m not. Eleanor is my refurbed 2009 Mac Pro tower with a hackintosh GPU that I bought last year. I hope it’s the power box that needs replacing; it may be the logic board. We’ve ordered parts off Ebay. Eleanor is working entirely as she’s designed to, which is that when things break, they are fixable, as opposed to Leonard, my MacBook Pro whom I am currently typing on. If Leonard breaks, you pretty much just need to toss him and get a new one. (Sorry, Leonard. Please don’t break, I still love you.)
Having Eleanor break just means some things are going to be delayed, and this year, well, what else is new? It’s fine.
It feels weird that the summer break which almost technically started mid-March is drawing to an end, but at the same time, that ending feels porous. My six-(nearly seven)-year-old kiddo is going back to school this fall, but I fully expect it to not be permanent. This is also fine — he probably needed some mental health days last year, which I didn’t give him because I felt too busy with work, so I feel like this year is going to give me a chance to try that over again. Our school is small and rural, and some of the changes they’re making are probably going to be good for him, so right now it feels like an acceptable risk.
To be perfectly honest, I’m writing this newsletter just to get some words on the page. I have a few essays started (of course I do), but they don’t feel like they’ve marinated enough to drop into the newsletter. Like, I’ve been contemplating why Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind has aged really well, musically, even though it is a trash song about meth that makes me alternatively joyful and depressed whenever I listen to it. I’ve also been mainlining Taylor Swift’s folklore and feel like it’s sort of the next best thing to revisiting an affair that you might have had twenty years ago. Which is also, uh, not exactly happy, but it’s definitely a feeling or two.
You know what I’ve come to realize? I don’t process feelings very well when things are happening. Sometimes this is kind of a superpower — like, I’m really good in an emergency, I’ll buckle down and apply a tourniquet where needed and haul you to the hospital. Sometimes it’s a big weird liability; if you don’t react to bad news the way people think you should, they tend to assume you don’t care when actually the opposite is true. But these odd, undefined, drawn out situational changes that we’re living through… I don’t know. It’s been five months, and I was fine five months ago but now suddenly I feel weird about everything, like, wow, that was kind of intense and maybe I need to try and process it a bit.
I guess that’s what this newsletter is for? I’m also eating pasta salad and veggie chicken nuggets for supper tonight, quintessential kid supper, even though there is nary a kid in sight (one is at the grandparents and one skipped his nap and crashed out around 6:30pm; we may be having a 10pm Wiggles party later I dunno). I also canned 20 jars of pickles yesterday with a husband and a toddler in the house and I think my adulting budget for the next couple of days is just broke.
Did you know there are probably kids who grew up in the late 90’s who didn’t know Semi-Charmed Life was about crystal meth? Like this guy. He’d only heard it on the radio, with the meth stuff bleeped out. I don’t remember hearing Semi-Charmed Life on the radio — back then we had two God-fearing country music AM stations and one blue-collar rock station that only came through if the wind was blowing the right way. When I heard Semi-Charmed Life I was listening to a Big Shiny Tunes 2 CD in the boombox-style CD player I’d bought with my grad money. The meth lyrics were not bleeped out. We were close enough to Generation X back then that I guess we got the meaning of the song anyway, even if we didn’t want to: that you probably wanted to punch someone for no good reason, but sometimes that was its own form of happiness.
Speaking of Generation X, a friend recently lent me a book called Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun. I identified with some of it — mostly this paragraph:
When I asked my friend Aimee, who lives in Baltimore, if she was having a midlife crisis, she said no. Then she said, “Wait, like a ‘What the hell have I done with my life and who am I?’ sort of freak-out? I am definitely having one of those.”
And this one:
In her 2019 memoir, Deep Creek, Pam Houston gives a younger woman this advice: “I’m just saying, I guess, there’s another version, after this version, to look forward to… If you live long enough you quit chasing the things that hurt you; you eventually learn to hear the sound of your own voice.”
But a lot of what was in the book wasn’t new to me, and there was much that I didn’t identify with. I’ve been reading any semi-intelligent articles about demographics and generational changes that I could get my hands on for years; I already had a good grasp on the magnetic weight of the Baby Boomers and the Millenials. I don’t fully identify with the Generation X ethos either — I definitely had a Generation X boyfriend when I was in college and I just didn’t have the same outlook on life that he did. I’m firmly in the Oregon Trail divide.
I finished the book, and I’m happy for the people who found illumination in its pages, but I also strongly felt like something was missing. Yes, for sure, we got launched out of the nest with the message that we could do anything, career-wise, only to find our straight-line trajectory to the top was actually a loop that ran right back around to… middle-class family life, with all the inherent struggles that climbing house prices and stagnant wages have wrought. (Calhoun addresses this in the book, this middle-class thing, by acknowledging the privilege of having a mid-life crisis at all and that poor women have problems that are beyond the scope of the book.) And yes, for sure, women in the US have a shitty deal with lack of public health care and no maternity leave to speak of. (Three months doesn’t count. It doesn’t! It’s a slap in the face. They have every right to be incensed about that.)
But over and above all these problems, I still felt there was something else the book hadn’t considered. Everyone in the book seemed to be suffering from the remnants of a kind of work that is slowly contracting — those stable corporate jobs. (Or freelance journalism, which is its own special hellscape.) It’s a period of huge adjustment, but there is So. Much. Opportunity. in the internet these days, and it’s getting better all the time. That doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone, this new way of earning, or that it isn’t hard, to shift to a new way of thinking. It’s maybe the toughest thing we’ll ever do. I don’t think I’ve successfully done it myself, yet. But I’m trying. We’re all trying. We’ve all had to make a lot of shifts in thinking recently. The emergency is over; the emergency grinds on. And so we try to process feelings.
One of the blog posts I keep coming back to is this one by Justin Jackson. The idea that scarcity alters your mindset, and how to turn away from the pull of that tide. It’s tough when it’s staring you in the face (or seems like it is). Sometimes the only small thing we can do in the moment is to focus on the things that aren’t scarce.
So here is my list of ten things that were abundantly not scarce today: zucchini, bees (so many bees in my aunt’s yard, it was truly wonderful), Paw Patrol, chicken nuggets, a quiet evening, neat little smooth black rocks, walks, talking with friends, fine weather, lupine seeds.
Also, pennies. I’ve found two pennies in the last week, outside on the ground, which is really weird because we haven’t used pennies in Canada since 2013.
— Dept. of Sunshine and Sanitation Addendum —
If you’re looking for listening material, I enjoyed this podcast: Mary Laura Philpott on Perfectionism, Reinvention, and How It's Never Too Late to Change Your Life from Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette.
Here is another thing that made my inner design nerd supremely happy this month: Cariuma and Pantone have a collaboration on sneakers happening here. This company was a joy to order from; they are a sustainable sneakers company based in Brazil. They offer free international shipping and will plant two trees in the rainforest with every order. You can even get an extra set of inserts for your shoes.