On Sunday I bought a desk and put it together and now I have a desk. It’s in the room that is technically our dining room, although most of our at-home eating is lately done on the couch in front of the TV, which I am blaming on it being winter but will soon blame on it being whatever other season. In the corner where the desk is now there used to be an old chair, vaguely mid-centuryish, one of those things of which is generously said, “Well, it has good bones.” Except it actually had terrible bones—some underpart of it broke while we still lived in our old apartment, and then re-broke sometime last year or the year before, and has been basically nonfuctioning as a chair for more than half the time it has been in my possession. But it was a birthday gift from my mom after I saw it at an antiques store we were browing together, and it seemed ungrateful to chuck out an asked-for gift, so I kept it. The whole time we’ve lived in our current place it has been occupying a corner I lamely designated as a “reading nook” although exactly zero reading has ever happened there; meanwhile, I’ve doing all my writing and other desky work from the couch, or the bed, maybe once or twice from the kitchen table but not often, for some reason, even though mostly it is occupied with junk mail and various groceries that never made it into the cabinets. But lately this all started to seem ridiculous and I decided it was time to have a desk. So, goodbye chair. Now I have a desk.

I haven’t used the desk for much writing yet; I haven’t been writing much lately at all. There have been a few biggish work-related things occupying a good bit of my cognitive resources and I haven’t pressingly needed to be working on anything, so I’ve put it all on mute for a bit. It has been more easy than I would have expected or wished. After last fall when I put the brakes on music writing, I began to wonder what else might be expendable, and then working on this (I guess this is where I plug Scratch and tell you to subscribe if you want to read the whole thing?!) shook something loose, too. I wrote that in November and it’s been a burr in my brain ever since—how much do I need, how much do I want, what part of this is making me happy, what am I doing out of vaguely-defined fear and what am I doing out of real desire and what fear might be lurking behind that desire? Manjula is a generous editor and let me sit with my ambivalence and I appreciate that. And I’m still sitting.

Sitting now, as it happens, at a desk. I don’t like being superstitious about my workspaces, don’t like to give them too much power over me. I value my flexibility in this regard, am actively proud or maybe smug that I do not much more than relative quiet and an electrical outlet every few hours. I don’t need a sunny window or a particular brand of tea or note paper or white-noise frequency or a certain temperature or special hat or a moving train under me. I am not going to let some absent environmental element keep me from writing. I have considered the possibility that I put off buying a desk for two years in order to prove to myself that I could work without a workspace, and this seems likely to be true, though I do think I was also hung up on that old dumb chair and bad at throwing things out in general. I’ve also considered the possibility that I bought the desk to trick myself into writing again, to snap myself out of these slumpy weeks of cleaning and shredding and schlubbing and not-writing. Maybe I did, and maybe it’s working, and anyway would that be so bad, writing to justify the purchase and assembly and ownership of a desk? Would that really be dumber than anything else that’s ever motivated me before?

Either way, it’s a nice little desk if you’re also in the market. It took me about forty seconds shy of Purple Rain to put it together. I was left with a handful of spare parts but so far there are no signs of their structural necessity. There’s one big drawer and I’m putting all my secrets in it.

“Parents have no idea what the children are up to in their bedrooms: They are reading the same paragraphs over and over in a stupor of violent bloodshed. Their legs are limp with horror. They are reading the same paragraphs over and over, dizzy with gratification as the young lovers find each other in the French fort, as the boy avenges his father, as the sound of muskets in the woods signals the end of the siege. They could not move if the house caught fire. They hate the actual world. The actual world is a kind of tedious plane where dwells, and goes to school, the body, the boring body which houses the eyes to read the books and houses the heart the books enflame. The very boring body seems to require an inordinately big, very boring world to keep it up, a world where you have to spend far too much time, have to do time like a prisoner, always looking for a chance to slip away, to escape back home to books, or escape back home to any concentration—fanciful, mental, or physical—where you can lose your self at last.”
— Annie Dillard, An American Childhood

Decatur, this morning.

Romania’s Merry Cemetery: “Their lives were the same, but they want their epitaphs to be different.” (via austinkleon)

Count the First! Wish I could find more online about this lil dude. (via)

Snow in the South

Snow in the South happens in the night every three or so years, maybe once out of every five times it’s called for and rarely ever lives up to the panic its forecast usually inspires. Grocery stores are sacked for milk and bread and eggs as if doing so will appease some vengeful god, and usually it seems to work. We wake up, there’s white stuff on the ground, by noon the sun is out and it’s 45 degrees and the next day we’re shedding our sweaters at noon again. Of course a lot of idiocy transpires in the meantime because SNOW IS MAGIC especially when you’re never sure when it’s coming again. But until it’s on the ground there is a very real feeling it will not ever be on the ground.

At least this is how it was where I grew up in Tennessee and in Atlanta where I live now, where yesterday hundreds of kids and teachers got trapped in schools and thousands of motorists got stuck on roads and interstates as an otherwise seemingly routine snowstorm (yes, snowstorm! it was a storm and it was snow and we call this a snowstorm) dropped down over the city. Of course to those on the outside, especially to the northeast region of the outside, this is just laughable dogpatch weaksauce (snowshaming, it’s real!). And to many inside the ice-crust bubble there is a lot of (mostly warranted, I think) anger about insufficient infrastructure and transportation policy and government-directed preparedness, etc etc. But there’s a particular psychological element here that, while I don’t think it should bear responsibility for how all this went down, is worth considering anyway, as a factor.

Even yesterday when the first flakes were coming down (before they landed, half-melted, then immediately froze again) I was like, “Yeah, OK, this is happening, but it’s not really happening, nothing is going to be happening.” (If you, like me, are a certain kind of snow-appreciating person in the South there is a real element of heart-guarding in all this—the disappointment from unwarranted snow excitement buildup can be stupidly crushing!) I left work early but mostly because I was psyched about picking up some sandwiches and working from home the rest of the afternoon, and I was worried only because I know how people down here get when there is white stuff in the air, even just a little. I was more worried about how people would react to the nonevent than I was about the possibility of the nonevent actually being an event.

A week or two ago, one Sunday night when “snow” was “vaguely” in the “forecast” for Monday, I was out at Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market, looking for a can of chickpeas, and the canned food aisle had been totally decimated; when I heard other customers muttering about the weather being on the way, I got a little panicked and grabbed a few cartons of soup, just in case. This time I did nothing—fool me once, etc. If I’d been even slightly less eye-rolly yesterday, I might still be out in my car somewhere. Many people still are. What a mess. Stay safe, everybody. Except you snowshamers—I hope each of you bust your coccyx on black ice in front of a large crowd of people who you were desperately hoping to impress, and then they all just laugh at you and leave you there weeping.

“"The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die; you cannot have mountains and creeks without space, and space is a beauty married to a blind man. The blind man is Freedom, or Time, and he does not go anywhere without his great dog Death. The world came into being with the signing of the contract. This is what we know. The rest is gravy." I honestly do not know what she is talking about at such times. The only thing I could swear to is that the writing here leaves something to be desired. "What’s going on here?" is one of the author’s refrains. "The creator loves pizzazz," she answers herself.”
New York Times | Eudora Welty reviews Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) // Underrated: critics flatly admitting their utter bemusement.
“Your writing is not more important than someone’s life. It is only writing.”

Avondale Station, last night.

“To my mind, a story’s ending ought to acknowledge the ever-moving quality of life; that is, I want it to engage change rather than finality. Your final word and the void following it on the page are as close as you’ll get to conclusion. The best endings to stories have a sense of hovering in space and time; even a dark ending can be uplifting, exhilarating, as long as it seems to hover in space and time — because then it reflects life to us as it is: unresolved, eternally unresolvable.”
“If I belong anywhere, it probably isn’t in publishing. But, then, I keep forgetting that this sense of dissatisfaction explains why work is called “work.” Like the teenager I was and in some ways still am, I grouse about and make fun of what I have to do and the people who tell me I have to do it, even when those people are me.”
“What is your worst fear?" the instructor asked, and I answered, "That I will finish this course and still be afraid.”

This essay by Sarah Marshall in the new issue of The Believer—about Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, the bizarre attack by a hit-man hired by Harding’s ex-husband against Kerrigan at the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships, the subsequent media frenzy and its peak, or deflation, at the 1994 Olympics—is so excellent.

Watching the Olympics that night, viewers witnessed not just the end of Tonya’s career but the extinction of a whole era of ladies’ figure skating. If Tonya was a T. Rex, lumbering out of her enclosure and bringing chaos to the night’s well-ordered spectacle of heavily regulated female strength, then Nancy was a velociraptor, hissing with stifled aggression as her turf was overrun by tiny, quick-blooded mammals. As Nancy warmed up with the final group, she found herself surrounded by teenagers: Tonya may have famously trained in a mall, but Nancy had to compete against girls who looked like they would have been more at home shopping in one. Nancy delivered a beautiful routine that night, elegant, nervy, and technically flawless. But it was also the skating of a grown woman, and she narrowly lost both the gold medal and the crowd’s favor to Oksana Baiul, the bubbly, crowd-pleasing sixteen-year-old orphan in pink marabou. However much the public had tried to situate Tonya and Nancy as enemies, they remained united, if only in their representation of the sport’s old guard, and of the last gasp of a period during which skaters could just possibly be seen as women and not as girls.

There are things you read and appreciate because they made you care about a thing you thought you wouldn’t care about, but then there are things you read about things you already care about that make you realize you had absolutely no idea about that thing you thought you cared about in the first place, and for me this is the latter.

I was nine when the Harding/Kerrigan stuff happened and a minor figure-skating nut, and it was sort of Baby’s First Media Scandal for me. So many of the images and the narrative elements are familiar, but blurrily so, and it’s weird to see it all flayed out in such detail—and galling, because the coverage was so deeply, viciously warped against Harding, in ways I couldn’t have sensed as a kid but that seem far too familiar now.

What also hit me was Marshall’s point that the 1994 Lillehammer games—which I watched, in complete rapt awe, as much of as my early EST bedtime allowed—were such a turning point for women’s figure skating, a pivot away from “women” and towards “girls.” I remember Harding and Kerrigan (and Katarina Witt and Kristi Yamaguchi, and Surya Bonaly who gets no mention here but, uh, BACKFLIPPING BLACK FRENCH LADY? HELLO? BEST?) all seemed like such grown-ups to me. Even Oksana Baiul—who was sixteen, and who Marshall positions as a harbinger of all the waifs to flood the rink in years to come—seemed very grown-up to me. When I thought about this years later I figured that was because they were teenagers and I was a kid and everyone over the age of 12 seemed to me like some kind of unfathomable adult being.

But as it turns out, they kind of were adults! Harding and Kerrigan were in their 20s, at least. Marshall’s dinosaur references above are perfect, an extension of the detail that Harding did her free skate to the theme from Jurassic Park, which I had somehow forgotten, though I remember so many other things about the games: I have not forgotten about the torch-bearing skiier or the fact that Dodge was a sponsor for NBC’s coverage and ads for the Neon were shown at every commercial break. I was quite set on a teal and purple one by the end of the games. Teal and purple—are there any more 1994-y colors? I don’t believe so. I remember watching the games with my best friend Alison, who was about to move with her family to Virginia; we made worry dolls from instructions we found in American Girl magazine, and probably ate pretzels and Sprite because that was Our Snack. I’m sure we had feelings about Nancy and Tonya and though I don’t remember them now, either, they were probably the same as everyone else’s.

Anyway, it’s a great essay, recommended even if you don’t give a lick about mid-90s competitive figure skating. (If you think you don’t care, I dare you to watch Oksana Baiul’s “Swan Lake” short program and not at least entertain the possibility of weeping.)

Last year some pals of mine started a little magazine called Brother. Sometime after the first one came out Andy asked me if I wanted to write the second one and I did not even have to think for a second before saying YES. A couple months later we went to Charleston for a day or so and hung out with CLAMMER DAVE whose name is not officially spelled in all caps but, once you experience him, seems like it should be. I knew basically nothing about bivalves or aquaculture or any of this stuff before before but it’s a weird, delicate, gnarly business and Dave is one of the most, uh, “character”-iest people I’ve gotten to meet and write about in a while. Andy took the fantastic photos, Alvin made it look awesome; I just got my copies yesterday and can confirm that it feels real good to hold in your hands. You can get a copy here for $11 (or, if you’re in Atlanta, at either Octane location, plus some other places soon). If you are someone who needs John T. Edge’s approval before you commit to anything, here you go. Or, if you would like to see a photo of me standing on top of a rickety houseboat in Charleston Harbor, posing like a goober to conceal my fear of what at the time seemed like imminent death or tetanus contraction, you are also in luck.