Add cardboard (carbon), gently torn, to some dried leaves (carbon), and the leftover zucchini bits and broccoli floret (nitrogen) from dinner, and you’ll end up with a singularly useful and generative substance (“soil”), from which all other life now stems. Is that not amazing? And it’s available to you. The earth’s deepest and most primal incantation.
I lost track of Cassie for a year or two but I’m now I’m subscribed to her newsletter about compost and it’s great.
Exactly one year before I started drafting this post (which then languished for a little while, so technically now it’s more than a year ago, but whatever you get the idea) I wrote a short thread on Twitter about feelings and impermanence. I dug it up because I came across this photo and couldn’t remember what the hell I was doing that led me to group these little slips of paper in this kind of configuration. I’ve copied the thread verbatim below.
“Did an exercise in therapy this morning where my therapist asked me to list all the feelings running through my brain/body on bits of paper. Spent the rest of the session sorting them into affinity stacks while we talked.
It got me thinking about Chronic Feelings vs. Current Feelings. These are current, influenced by the hospital visit this week, the slow return to stability after a trauma, my anxiety about understanding my family’s finances, an impending trip, a disappointing career decision.
The Chronic Feelings are things like anticipatory grief, professional burnout, climate anxiety, hatred of capitalism, Pandemic Fatigue. The stuff we’re all collectively steeping in that constitutes a full emotional plate on its own.
But to try and be present with the feelings in my body right NOW requires a different sort of lens. It requires understanding that all of this passes.
I get reliably down most afternoons. Eating lunch triggers a slump of despair and exhaustion that isn’t the end of the world. It’s rare that I feel dreadful while I’m having my tea and scrawling pages into my journal outside in the sun first thing in the morning, so whatever’s coming for me today will, at the very least, abate for a half hour tomorrow. This helps to remember.
I have many weird/bad feelings about Twitter but also I think a lot about the people I know on here who’ve been generous enough to share their complex emotional stuff over the years. Folks grieving in public, folks naming anxiety, folks sharing their affirmations. It’s important.
A big cornerstone of how I’ve carried myself online for years has been an emphasis on sharing clear, proactive, hopeful things. Sometimes I fear this season of my life is going to break that, because it’s HARD. But I do think there are still ways to approach it with that ethic.”
Weird to still be chewing on the same stuff a year later. Weird to still be in an endless rollercoaster of absurdity and grief with my dad. Weird, also, to see the cadence of tweeting transposed onto my blog. Writing like that doesn’t belong here! But also I engaged in it for so many years on that platform. Every container nurtures its own syntax.
A friend asked if I’d signed up for Bluesky and the wave of exhaustion I felt in response washed the flesh clean off my bones. It’s not just that Twitter seems to be continually on fire these days, it’s the broader truth that social media feels hollow to me now. The ADS! There are so many ads. Why did I ever put up with a space that was so aggressively trying to sell me things at every turn? (The answer is that it was giving me the Good Brain Chemicals when I interacted with people I care about, but these days I don’t post enough to get notifications, so I’m trading my attention for NOTHING! No wonder the shine has worn off.)
I’ve been thinking about this installment of Holly Whitaker’s newsletter ever since I read it a couple weeks ago. I haven’t even dug into the links, but the dislocation theory of addiction latched onto my brain stem and has yet to let go.
Our modern social arrangement, Alexander argues, means that we have to sacrifice “family, friends, meaning, and values” in order to be more “efficient” and “competitive” in the rat race. In this framework, addictive behaviors are adaptive responses meant to fill that void of meaning and purpose. Using substances can provide a temporary sense of community (with other users), purpose (to acquire the substance), and meaning (feelings of euphoria or calm from using the substance). Substance abuse and addiction help to fill the gaps in meaning and purpose left by modern society.
None of this is news to me, really, but the articulation slotted something into focus. Reflecting on consumerism as an addiction (or maybe….everything as an addiction?) this month has been a valuable touch point.
And then here I am hitting go on a reprint of my graphic novel! A product I must then sell! A product I might even sell on the premise that it will make people feel less alone! HNGNNNGNNHHGHHH.
(I was going to expand on stuff in that tweet thread in this post too, but I got sidetracked and now it’s time to make my dad his breakfast so I’m hitting post because there are no ads here and nobody needs to buy anything and it’s one of those days where I want to move to the woods and eat grubs for the rest of my life so byeeeeee)
We think of people as settling down when they get older, getting more set in their ways. But that hasn’t been my experience. Instead as I get older, I’m itching to get weirder. I think that in my twenties, I was so determined to carve out space for myself in the world. And now that I have that space, I don’t really feel like I have anything to prove. So it’s safe to ask some big questions about who I actually am. I’m more up for rethinking what I thought I knew. I like the idea of not being content with the apples you can grasp.
Is it that we actively pull ourselves into being by our very actions, our choices laying the foundations brick by brick for who we are and who we will become…?
Or is it that what pulls us into being, what pushes us toward action, is the ache, is our future selves, is the wisdom in our present yearning, foretold and prophesied by a future world who wants us to become who we inevitably need to become to create itself…?
Maybe this swirl of awe and marvel and good intent for the world and gratitude for ourselves in it is where all the religions came from. That is where our feel for the sacred in the world is conjured, surely, the ordinary, staggering mystery of where it all comes from before it is born here among us and where it all goes after it dies away from us, the starry midnight courtship of the heart that whispers, “What is gone is still with you, still here. As you will be.”
Not every experience needs to be put in the basket of “turn this into a beautiful piece of writing for the people”, but everything goes in the basket of – perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye.
How do we celebrate when there is nothing to show for? Where do we turn when “to show for” is our work and our work is our art but we have turned towards watering the plants and painting the kitchen and building the fire? How do we fasten ourselves toward proving nothing to no one and sinking into the privacy of life?
I contend, though, that there is poetry for everyone. Everyone. Folks who don’t get it just haven’t read the right poems. The stuff we are educated in poetry with during our school days doesn’t help. Too often, “classic” is just a euphemism for worn out. What do I have in common with some crusty old English aristocrat who died 100 years ago? Give me an ill-tempered, one-eyed old birdwatcher who swigs red wine and eats fried chicken from Albertson’s instead.
But I was one of those people, for years and years, who didn’t get it. Then I read a particular poem that knocked my lights out. Words and lines formed together that felt like they were pulled from my own brain. I never looked back. I never had any idea — or intention — that anyone would ever call me a poet until it started happening. It felt pretty good. It felt a little subversive. I love that about it.
Now poetry is part of my every day. I read some every morning. I don’t so much as write poetry as live it. “The purpose of poetry is not to learn more about poetry, but more about life,” Robert Bly said, and I believe him. I tell my poetry kids that poetry is life, how they live their lives, how they share their lives. The study of it is the study of what it means to be alive. What ends up on the page is the least important part of the process.
I keep remembering Dad’s wedding reception when Grandpa lost the word lily. My hand out pointing to one of the centrepieces, white flowers spilling over onto the table like wine.
I had the garden in my head when I asked him to name them. The garden out behind the bungalow he built that he always kept so neat. I saw him on his knees in blue overalls, pruning. I saw him pretending not to mind as a football went crashing through the fuchsias. Then I saw his eyes, panicked and dark as the hole where a word should be, some kind of —
and my dad said lily and this is how we manage. Dad keeps the word lily. I keep the sunlight and the grey squirrels cascading across the lawn on Sunday mornings. And together we remember everything.
—Joshua Judson (2020), via today’s installment of Pome.
Legend has it that I’ve been maintaining a newsletter for several years, although given that I last sent one in May of this year, I’d started to believe that the rumors weren’t true.
When I don’t write in a particular channel for a long time, my anxiety about saying something worthwhile gets amplified. This is extra true with the newsletter, which feels like a sacred space because I’m barging directly into people’s inboxes rather than waving to them across the crowded halls of social media (or muttering to myself in the whispering gallery of my own website).
There’s also the fact that when I sent my last newsletter in May, after changing service providers, my previously deliverable messages got sent to most people’s Spam folders. The newsletter went from having a whopping 90% open rate to something like…27%. Why did this happen?! I have a couple hunches, but I’m not certain. The truth is I don’t fully understand email. Then again, I don’t fully understand the algorithms on Twitter and Instagram either. I simply don’t want to spend my time learning those systems. I have other things to do. I just fling things out into the ether (very irregularly these days) and hope for the best.
But I still worry about making sure people have a smooth experience when they sign up to hear from me in their inboxes, because I want it to be an easy, enjoyable thing.
It is certifiably silly to worry many of these worries. These are people who’ve opted in! Maybe I worry that if I write to them, but the messages go to Spam, they will somehow figure out what’s happening and then be mad? At me?? For not delivering the things they want more effectively???
Wow I’m really on one here.
But this story has a happy ending because I did the only thing that ever seems to get me over the hump in these circumstances and enlisted help from my friends. Danielle (blessèd saint that she is) sat down with me on FaceTime because she also had a long-neglected newsletter to write, and we both tapped away at our keyboards until we’d managed to draft what we meant to say to our respective subscribers. It worked great. I love friendship.
A newsletter can be anything. The ones I like the most are very simple, either in content or delivery. Pome is just a brief poem—no frills, no discernible cadence, just seasons that stop and start as if by magic. Robin Sloan’s Society of the Double Dagger is wide-ranging in the extreme, but the newsletters themselves just contain a brief blurb and a link to a static webpage, which is where all the riches reside. He’s got channels, too. The man is onto something.
When I send mine so infrequently, they become repositories of news and status updates on my various creative projects which is…not bad, per se, but weighty in a way that isn’t always what I want. Still: it gives me a chance to sit back and look over the last six months and say to myself: