This week I relaunched The Right Number, the confessional voicemail box I started in 2020. I’ve been sitting at the kitchen table for the last 15 minutes listening to the messages people have left so far and it’s just…so nice. It’s so nice. I really like this project. It’s warm and small and human and noncommercial and I want to nurture that.
A friend who’d called said their motto for this year was going to be “every step forward,” and that in addition to their own movements (large and small), me restarting the phone line also felt like a step forward.
I can’t think of higher praise.
(Also, SIDEBAR: when I went to find the first mention of the project here so I could link to it, I learned that announcing it in August of 2020 marked my actual return to blogging on my own site! Holy shit! My relationship to writing and existing online has changed so much since I started prioritizing sharing thoughts in this space. I love it. Here’s to a year and a half of being back in the corner of the internet that’s mine.)
What is created in my collection of touch and loss? Philosopher Jean Luc Nancy believed that writing is a form of touching. Through each page readers touch the writer, writers touch readers. As I write my archive I grasp for the ones I love. I pour every word with heat. I’ve always believed scholar of language Athur Quinn when he wrote “Language has all the suppleness of human flesh, and something of its warmth.” I savor the warmth or writing while yearning for another. I wrote a memory of holding my mother’s hand in prayer. I wrote the memory with my own hands now with skin thin, pliable, raised light blue veins. My own hands are aging, and I can’t remember when I last held my mother’s hand in mine.
Okay well right after I wrote that whole thing about distrusting heroics Zina told me she’d done her first volunteer shift administering COVID vaccines and I will admit that in that moment I found myself whispering “oh my god she’s a hero“.
But that’s not the addendum. The addendum is about SAINTLINESS, which is adjacent to heroism.
I remember my mum telling me that people would say “Oh, you’re such a saint” or “You’re so selfless” or “I don’t know how you do it” when she shared that she was taking care of my dad (and freelancing, and running the household, and so on, and so on). It made her furious because it felt like a classification that divorced her from having the right to lose her temper sometimes, or to find what she was doing impossibly difficult, or to demand (and deserve!) help from her friends.
“Then again,” she added, “that’s probably because I wasn’t complaining to them. I didn’t want to be a downer.”
I do this—play it off when I talk about what’s happening with my dad. I try to put other people at ease because the alternative means engaging fully (sometimes in front of people I don’t know well and maybe don’t trust) with the immensity of my grief.
Saints, superheroes, “successful” people…there is a flattening that comes along with these labels—a reduction in interconnectedness. It’s what drove me to give that XOXO talk in 2016, and it’s what keeps driving me to try and talk about this stuff more publicly; to push back against the part of me that wants to make out like I can do it all on my own.
tl;dr: I’m becoming increasingly wary of any label that obscures our reliance on one another and denies us our wholeness as human beings. I think that’s it.
I just received some questions for an upcoming interview, including one about whether I know any real-life superheroes.
The question was meant to be part of a “lightning round” of easy options, but I’ve been chewing on it all morning. It feels like it comes paired with an unspoken definition, and I think that definition and my definition might be different.
Of course they don’t want to know about whether I actuallyknow anyone who can shoot webs from their wrists or manipulate plants with their mind (and who’s to say I’d even tell you about those people if I did know them, hmm?), but my guess is they do want to know about people who fit a specific social profile. It’s wrapped up in the way we often talk about healthcare workers or firefighters—people who devote their lives to selflessly helping others.
I’m sure plenty of people have written about the role of superheroes in a system obsessed with power fantasies and quick fixes, but I’m going to scribble this down anyway for the sake of my own brain. Elevating essential workers to “hero” status feels akin to saying “A woman is president!” as if that solves the fact that the presidency itself is built on questionable foundations. Heroics feel given over to urgency and spectacle and performance. They create a division of responsibility, placing an unreasonable burden on the exceptional “heroes” to enact change, rather than addressing the root causes of a broken system.
So when I try to answer this question, I come up short.
The people I admire are mostly moving in spirals, guided by curiosity, poking their heads into things at odd angles, and reporting back with offerings. Often they’re taking the time to think about their values and then embody them through practice. I say “practice” instead of “action” because the latter still feels too close to…the other thing. Most importantly, they’re all in constellation with (and inextricable from) a web of other people who are thinking, wondering, helping, and connecting, too. And so it feels disrespectful to label them as “heroic”.
[…] it’s clear that the Hero does not look well in this bag. He needs a stage or a pedestal or a pinnacle. You put him in a bag and he looks like a rabbit, like a potato.
This combination of words (rabbit/potato) makes me laugh every time.
Moving into caretaking as a practice, I’m noticing that there’s no “fixing” any of this. There’s no dramatic reversal. There’s just presence and flexibility and willingness, and that’s the best I can aspire to at any given moment. It’s a rich, sad, funny, strange stew.
Okay, listen: I’ve been pretty consumed lately with barking up my own mental redwood tree about patronage and interdependent communities and what it means to try and support artists during late-stage capitalism, but this morning I got an email from my friend Luke Kruger-Howard that felt like turning around and realizing that this isn’t just one goddamn redwood. There’s a whole forest out there.
Luke’s email (and it was an email, addressed tenderly to many friends, which is the kind of thing I love getting) announced a new physical publication (Goes #1), released under the aegis of a new publisher (Goes Books), but it stopped me in my tracks because there was something different going on.
He wasn’t running a crowdfunding campaign. He wasn’t encouraging people to preorder. He wasn’t even asking for money.
Instead, I got to read this sentence:
This comic will be free for all readers, gifted by other anonymous readers along the way.
Hear that? It’s the sound of my heart exploding.
The only encouragement in the email, beyond asking people to talk about it which, like, DUH OF COURSE HOW COULD I NOT TALK ABOUT THIS I WILL NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT THIS, is to sign up to receive a free copy of the comic in the mail. That’s it. 2,000 copies of this new beauty are headed into the world and they will all be gifts. I already have so many questions! Is there a Mysterious Benefactor who financed the initial print run so that, potentially, every copy could simply be given away even if nobody chose to pay it forward? Or is there no initial capital beyond Luke’s own savings and this is just a massive trust fall? Is it more or less of a trust fall than running a Kickstarter?
Whatever the answer, I’ve never rushed to give somebody $20 faster in my life.
This is an investment in the relationship between artist and reader—between stranger and stranger. Financial profit is not possible here.
The comic will always be free.
The comic will always be free.
Oh yeah also P.S. any money raised beyond what’s needed to pay forward all copies of the comic will be donated to RAICES. HELL YES TO THIS.
I’m going to save all the other yelling I want to do about this for Friday because you can bet your ass I texted Luke the moment I finished reading the email and begged him to sit down for an interview. If there are things you’re interested in hearing us talk about, let me know.
Haven’t been super exact about remembering to cross-post when I release new Rambles, but I wanted to be sure I shared my latest one because people have said some deeply thoughtful and lovely things in the comments over on Patreon, and I think this is a discussion worth having right now.
Broad Themes: similarities between grief and creativity in both their acute and ambiguous forms, what to do when there is nothing to be done, Vaccine Feelings, broadening the window of tolerance for discomfort, models for social and economic validation, the metrics that matter in understanding Patronage, object permanence and online audiences.
Guest Starring: a lot of birds.
(If you prefer reading to listening, you can download a transcript here.)
Of course Mara has already been talking about these questions for years. Of course she posted a link to this report just a couple weeks ago. Of course there’s a huge body of ongoing work unfolding around these questions across every industry at this weird crisis point in history.
The best instance of this was when a few of them bullied me into making a $50 tier for the page—which I thought nobodywould spring for—so they could give me more money. Years later, I am still flabbergasted that anyone has joined at that level—let alone the very loyal and kind group who have stuck around. They are life-changing types.
So you’d think at this point I’d know not to underestimate them.
But this morning I published a 1,300-word essay about trying to start work on the scripting process for Seacritters, my forthcoming graphic novel project with writer Kate Milford, and thought that nobody in their right mind would read it.
I liked the writing a great deal, and it definitely captured what I was going for, but it was, y’know, 1,300 words. If I’d received it in my inbox as a Patron, I would’ve taken one look and thought “mmmmmmaybe I’ll read that one later.”
Because my attention span these days is, to put it mildly, not great.
So I gave myself a bit of a talking-to about engaging my Inner Editor a little more in the future…but then people started to comment! They began to discuss! And over the course of the morning I realized that a bunch of humans I respect immensely had actually taken the time to read those 1,300 words, and had found them helpful, and were excited for more.
The featured snippet that came back at the top of the results rattled my brain for reasons I couldn’t immediately identify.
When I clicked through to the site, long-dormant gears began shifting. It was clearly one of those Internet places that felt unchanged from the early 2000s—the kind of site Robin and I have been yelling enthusiastically at each other about of late—but there was something else. This place was familiar. I’d been here before.
And then it started to come back to me.
I was a member of Halfbakery. Years ago. When? College? High school? If it was high school I was probably using my typical handle. I plugged it into the site’s search bar.
My profile was still there.
I was 15. A baby, all things considered, and one hungry for people who would challenge and excite me. The site was one of those insular places full of smart, sharp users who had developed their own language and culture. Some parts of it, in hindsight, were a bit harsh, others erudite and thrilling. I’d posted two ideas which were roundly downvoted by the community at large, but I kept up as a reader. I won’t pretend I went on to become a cornerstone of the community—because I didn’t—but the site clearly stuck in my memory enough to feel familiar when I found it again.
The kicker isn’t just that it’s still going, but that there’s been relatively little (if any) alteration to the interface since I first encountered it in 2005. I barely recognize Facebook if I log in after an absence of three months, let alone sixteen years. This felt like walking into my childhood bedroom and finding things exactly as I left them.
I poked around for a while, seeing ideas from 2006 and 2021 jostling shoulder to shoulder. Eventually I stumbled down a rabbit hole of in memoriam posts for members who had passed away.
Because that’s what happens when you run a community for 22 years. Some of your users will probably die. And if you’ve built a sense of camaraderie and mutual regard, their absence will be felt keenly by a collection of strangers who never knew them anywhere other than this niche, textual space.
A little family in the wilderness. What an odd gem of a thing.