The other day Julia entered my office with a magazine in her hand, opened to a particular article. “Read this when you get a chance, it’s really good.” It doesn’t matter what the article was; in this case it was an essay from Harper’s called “The One in Front of You: A Consideration of Charity” by Sallie Tisdale. She was right. It was excellent.
That happens all the time. Our interests probably overlap more in nonfiction than fiction, though Julia does read a number of the same novels I do. Between us we accumulate a healthy pile of magazines as well. Stuff like Harper’s, Mother Jones, The New Yorker (though it seems we’ve let our subscription to that lapse; I need to look into it), and Believer. I like outdoor mags too, like Outside, and I regularly get copies of Men’s Journal when I travel. Julia takes a few fashion magazines, I pick up Mac magazines and the occasional sports-related one too. We read a ton of this stuff and are constantly passing articles back and forth, or discussing them. Much more-so than we do stuff we read online, probably, and we discuss articles we read probably more than we do novels.
Which makes this post I saw in my tumblr feed particularly disturbing. Here’s a screenshot, but check out the link.
Those freelance rates are freakin’ ridiculous. As Akimoff says in his post: “I once thought freelancing offered a good return on hard work. I no longer believe that.” It’s depressing. Journalists, especially good ones, deserve to make good livings. The research and sharing of solid, factual information is a bedrock of our society, and it’s being washed right out from under us.
It reminded me of a recent article I read (via the Independent, a local weekly I used to do some freelance work for) about how our local newspaper, the Missoulian, has recently seen “four seasoned reporters” leave. That disturbs me. First, because I have friends who work at the Missoulian still (and a couple of the folks mentioned in the article are acquaintances of mine; it’s a small town), and second, because I value solid journalism. In a case of “if I’d known then what I know now” at 18-20, I might have become one.
Everyday folks still want their information, they just don’t seem to want to pay for it. When a news outlet, like the Missoulian, puts up a pay wall, people freak. Yet, if those same people aren’t buying papers, how do reporters get paid? Ad revenue via classifieds is way down because a) people don’t read papers, and b) sites like Craigslist have taken that business. I’m not going to argue that newspapers and other “old media” haven’t done a shitty job reacting to a changing environment when it comes to information delivery, I’m sure they have. But it seems to me much of this is another case of our tendency to want the lowest price, all the time, and we’re shooting ourselves in the feet. Is there really an excellent source of mainstream news and investigative reporting available to people? What I’ve seen, and heard, for the most part, certainly isn’t.
I fear the future of how this stuff shakes out, much more than I worry about the state of books and publishing. I love the magazines I read, and I think some of the best writing available is happening in this arena. Certainly the writers of many of my favorite books, nonfiction at least, have come from these ranks. Maybe it will all get figured out, I don’t know. I just know that nobody I know ever clicks the ad links and such that websites show. Hell, most people, with the right browser plugins, never even see them. So I don’t know where these organizations are going to get their money to stay solvent. I just hope they do.
I think the last post I made here I apologized for being lame about posting, and that I would be doing so more frequently . . . and that was a month ago! But I really feel I need to make a priority on updating here, for no other reason than that the discipline is good for me. I still hit tumblr quite a bit, but that isn’t really blogging; mostly just pictures I post straight from my phone, or reposts of things other people have posted. So you can always see what I’m up to there. Same with Facebook, though that pretty much just gets what tumblr gets.
I do have an excuse, though. As I’ve mentioned before, I travel a lot for my day job, and it got crazy busy in March. Since about the middle of March, I’ve been to the following places (or at least these are the airports I’ve flown into, then driven somewhere within an hour or two of, in some cases):
Seattle, WA/Portland, OR
San Diego, CA
Rock Hill, SC
San Jose, CA
Seattle, WA/Vancouver, BC
That’s a lot of travel, by any measure. Makes it hard to keep up on a lot of the stuff I enjoy. My workout routine has suffered, my writing has suffered, maintenance around the house has suffered, etc. But I do get to read a lot. And I see parts of the country I normally wouldn’t, and get to meet people I may not otherwise. So there is some sweet in the bitter, but all in all . . . it can be tiresome. I’m home this week and next to catch up on some stuff (because work trips tend to generate office work as well, and I’ve fallen behind on some of that stuff), then I’m off to Buffalo, NY and someplace in Wisconsin as well. And I think I have to go back to California soon too. In other words, no sign of letting up. So I haven’t just been slacking off, believe me!
I’ve taken quite a few pictures but haven’t done much to process anything but stuff I’ve done with Instagram. Who knows if/when I’ll get to those, but even some of the Instagram stuff has turned out okay. I’ve thought about putting together a little gallery of shots from these trips; we’ll see if that happens or not.
Keep your eyes here. Hopefully I won’t be such a stranger. And drop a comment if you’re still checking in.
Besides the 20-30 partially-read collections and anthologies I’ve got going as a result of my Short Story a Day project, I thought I’d mention the “regular” books I hope to get finished up in the coming week.
Book Three in Farnsworth’s Cade series, about a vampire who throws down on behalf of the POTUS. This is one of the few authors I will drop everything else to read a new release from when one comes out, because they are just a blast to read. This one is no different.
Haven’t decided how I feel about this one yet. The writing is compelling enough, but the subject matter . . . I don’t know. I’m 60 pages in so far. Memoirs are hit and miss, and this one is brutally honest, no doubt about it. If nothing else, I think I need to read a couple memoirs by male authors after this to balance things out.
I’ve been picking my way slowly through this one over quite a while now. I need to just nut up and finish it. It’s very difficult to read, as it deals with a time period of my life that wasn’t that easy, in a town I was living in the middle of while everything the book describes was going on. Doing what so many of these people succeeded at, only failing. It hasn’t been an easy read.
I hadn’t realized how much I’ve neglected this blog, especially given all the time I spent revamping the thing. Frankly, this blog is writing-related . . . and I’ve been letting a lot of stuff writing-related slide. I’m going to nip that in the bud, so expect a lot more activity here in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, I have a new story available online called “Molotov.” I wrote this some months ago, but it is now available online at All Due Respect. You can check it out HERE. I’m mostly happy with it. There are some things that slipped through my editing process that jump out at me, but overall I’m cool with how it reads. I think it’s the last thing I have out in the vague cloud that is the submission process, so if I want to get anything in front of anyone moving forward it needs to be written first.
I’m still going strong on the project I started on the 1st of the year to read at least one short story every day. You can check out the list HERE; as of this writing I’m up to 291 stories read thus far. Obviously that’s more than one a day. I realized early on I needed to do at least two to make much of a dent on the collections and anthologies I’ve collected but were languishing on the shelf, unread. I’ve missed a day here and there, mostly when traveling, but it does average out to my planned schedule. I post the weekly list every Sunday on my Tumblr blog (which I post on just about every day, which isn’t difficult since most of what I do there is sharing other people’s posts, or posting stuff directly from my iPhone via Instagram), though I think I’ll start putting it here too.
The only downside to this project, as I mentioned in today’s post, is I suspect all this story-reading is one of several factors that have led to me not writing as much as I need to. But at the same time, reading all these stories, over a wider variety than I usually would, has been helpful. Particularly with the stuff along the lines of where my own work tends to go, I’ve learned a lot about what I want to avoid with my own writing. I have also gained new respect for writing I may not have considered previously. I am often surprised by what hits me the hardest, or is most inspiring. I’m pleased with that.
Anyway, check out “Molotov” and leave a comment, if you care to. I’m curious to know what people think.
Made my first work trip in a while this past week, flying into Sacramento, CA. The day I arrived was sunny and gorgeous; I got in early and decided I’d make a drive up into the Sierras to see if I could find a good place to hike. I found the local REI store to inquire, picked up a little day hike book for segments of the Pacific Crest Trail (which I would love to traverse one day), and off I went.
Slight miscalculation on my part.
I wasn’t familiar enough with the geography of the area to realize that just because it was 70ish degrees near Sacramento that I’d be climbing to over 7000 feet to reach the trails. I just read the directions to the trailhead I’d selected, got in the car and took off. Once I reached the top, it was much colder, very windy, and the trails were all choked with snow. If I were properly geared-up I’d have still done it, but I probably would have needed cross-country skis, or at least snowshoes. I had my hiking boots, but just shorts and a t-shirt. Had my vest with me too, but it wasn’t enough. So I adapted and overcame. I was at the top of Donner Pass and it was just a little farther to Truckee, CA, where I visited the Emigrant Trail Museum in the Donner Memorial State Park. Of course this museum and monument commemorates, primarily, the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846/47. Pretty harrowing stuff. I did score this pretty sweet, bright orange survival bandana in the gift shop. I plan to wear it on all future expeditions.
Here I am modeling it in the fashion in which it will be worn.
Driving around the community that has grown up around the lake, one of expensive lodges and homes, clearly aimed at summer travelers, I was struck by how quickly things change. Sure, 165 years seems like a long time, but, relatively speaking, it isn’t that long. We’ve built that place up from a howling wilderness of challenge-nature-and-you-will-be-forced-to-eat-your-dead-if-you-want-any-hope-of-surviving terror to a trendy tourist destination location complete with lakeside maps directing the route which all watercraft should take, restaurants (too little, too late, perhaps?), and motel lodging fully-equipped with central air. I have no doubt that the homes built along the ridge top overlooking the lake had to run in the millions to own. It boggles my mind. I found it creepy. Those poor people headed west in hopes of a better life and few even made it. For me, it was an afternoon of driving and listening to the radio. I’ll try and never again gripe about a 2o minute delay, that’s for sure. I hope their ghosts rest peacefully.
If I Told You, They’d Have to Kill Me
The trip over the mountains was definitely the highlight of the trip. The next day the rains rolled in, and I heard on the radio that they were getting heavy snow up in the pass. I don’t usually like to talk too much about the actual “work” part of my trips, because there generally isn’t anything that interesting or adventurous to report. However, this one was just bizarre in another “So this is the state of our world?” kind of way. Without going into too much detail, the customer I was working for is an installation controlled by the US Department of Defense, doing work for the military, located on the former site of the McClellan Air Force Base. The building next door, I was told, houses the west coast branch of the Department of Homeland Security.
The security was ridiculous. Bulletproof glass everywhere. Revolving doors that sniff for gunpowder. Blast doors and explosion-proof rooms. Armed guards. Escort just to use the restroom. I had to check half the stuff I normally use as part of my work at the door when I entered the first day, then just left it in the car outside on day two. Nice people, the ones I dealt with, but I could not work in that environment for any length of time. Their hands are severely tied in just trying to do what needs done in running a manufacturing facility run by security types with no manufacturing backgrounds. The anecdotes they relayed of some of the denials they’d received when asking to do certain things, for no justifiable reason, were comical. Very interesting in a make-fun-of-bloated-government kind of way.
A sign outside the area I was working in did say something about gamma radiation testing going on, and posted evacuation instructions. I told Julia I hoped that at least I’d get turned into The Hulk for my troubles, but that didn’t happen. Speaking of which, it’s been a couple years since I squared off with that behemoth anyway.
For once I’m glad my hair isn’t still that long. Rolling into that facility with flowing locks like this and I’d probably just now be landing in Egypt or some such place on an isolated runway with a black bag over my head or something, for crissakes.
It didn’t help that I read The Man Who Quit Money on the way out there. I wasn’t in any mood to be a cog in the machine — more surly about it than usual, anyway — and this experience just exacerbated my irritability. I didn’t like the attitude that I was somehow guilty until proven innocent, that despite the background check and all that bullshit I had to undergo just to be allowed on site in the first place wasn’t enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I felt trapped in there. Guilty until proven innocent. I didn’t like going through controlled revolving doorways that could be used to contain me. Didn’t like having all the stuff in my bag fondled. I hated a dude waiting outside the door for me every time I wanted to take a friggin’ leak. I’m not impressed with how many times a day the firewall is hit by Chinese attempts to breach their security. I don’t care which roofs and walls are extra thick so Chinese satellites can’t see inside (I’m not making this shit up). I didn’t like the stories of Congressional blowhards coming to inspect the facility when a request was made to expand, then bolting off to spend the weekend in Reno and Tahoe. It was tedious, the bureaucracy inefficient and counter-productive, and overall just a downer of an experience. Like I said, I dealt with a couple very nice people; I feel for them being under that yoke. I hope they are getting paid way more than I am. Me, they couldn’t pay enough. And that’s without even considering the 2-hour commute the guy I was consulting with makes every day. That’s 2 hours in at 4 AM, then 2 hours home at 3:30 PM. Fuuuuuck that.
Just more proof that the people who think they are running the world are just a bunch of assholes. No part of anything going on there, being done by anyone, has anything to do with living any kind of meaningful life that I want to be a part of.
Phew, rant over. It was weird. Thankfully it was just two days. I saw John Carter while I was there on a huge screen in an icy-cold theater without about 5 other people in attendance and had a good time. Ate some good grub. Made the best of it. That’s all one can do sometimes. . . .
Here’s a collage of a few instagrams from the trip:
And here’s a fantastic little video from a dude who hiked the PCT. Pop it out and watch it all the way to the end — it’s totally worth it.