Week 31, bring the pleasant chaos

Reading the News at the Weavers' Cottage

Reading the News at the Weavers' Cottage, Adriaen van Ostade, 1673

Out in the Fat Gold grove this week, I was stunned to see how big the olives have gotten already; the harvest in November is going to be immense.

The lush weeds that luxuriated in the rainy spring have dried up and blown away, ceding the field to tight patches of spinier species. The earth between the trees, unshadowed by leaves, is cracked with deep fissures.

I have to confess that, even after more than a decade living here, I didn’t really understand California seasons until I started tending this grove. But… I totally get it now!!

TikTok is an app that is part social network, part sprawling infinite TV show. Its users, who are mostly teenagers, share videos—mostly lip syncs and dance memes—with the hope of making it onto the app’s front page.

Friend of the Meteor Navneet Alang is a close observer of the app, and it’s through him that I have seen all the best TikToks. (Yes, TikTok is made of TikToks.)

This is a recent smash and it’s interesting because it’s NOT a lip sync or a dance meme. (If you follow that link, you’ll see that you can view it in your browser.) It’s… hardly anything. Just a young woman named Maya in the front seat of a car explaining an inchoate feeling, which she articulates with lines of text that float like stray thoughts.

For reasons that aren’t quite clear to me, I’ve thought about the video many times since seeing Nav share it on his Instagram story. Is Maya feeling something distinctly 2019? Or is she feeling something that people have been feeling every summer since, I don’t know, 1879?

Is Maya feeling… modernity?

I am, as you might know, a fan of Dwayne The Rock Johnson. I am extremely confident that he will one day run for president of the United States, and only slightly less confident that he will win.

I’ve thought about this a lot.

There’s a persistent question, though, which is, how will Dwayne Johnson begin to speak politically? A large part of his appeal, so far, has been his scrupulous avoidance of politics, except in the most general terms. I’m fairly certain he’s never said the words “Donald Trump” on camera.

Well, as of this week, we have our first glimpse, and it’s a very interesting one. Dwayne Johnson visited Mauna Kea to join the group protesting the construction of a large telescope there. I’m fascinated by the calibration of his language, in both the caption text and the video itself, and I truly believe this offers a premonition of a political program—a new (for him) way of speaking. And honestly, the fact that he’s chosen this particular protest, and this particular language, is heartening! The only other preview available has been his basically uncritical support of the U.S. military, which is… not as heartening.

I am probably not going to start a newsletter in 2020 called “Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s Shadow Cabinet” but, if I do, you heard about it here first.

New York Daily News

New York Daily News, William Michael Harnett, 1888

I hate to quote Marshall McLuhan—I really do—BUT:

World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.

I’ve always appreciated the theory that you can’t see anything clearly when you’re inside of it. People in the Middle Ages didn’t say, “Man! The Middle Ages suck!” Nor did people in the Renaissance exclaim, “What a thrilling Renaissance!”

On the other hand, I guess people participating in World War II did see themselves inside a giant conflict that followed closely on the heels of another giant conflict. And I guess many thinkers now agree that the geological epoch currently unfolding on Earth should be understood as the Anthropocene. So… the theory doesn’t totally track. Maybe we can say, more cautiously, that SOMETIMES you can’t clearly see the thing you’re inside of.

So, just imagine, for a moment, that a thing invisible to us right now really is—per McLuhan—a great destabilizing conflict, a war of a totally new variety, and it’s in full swing. The informational equivalent of bombs are being built and loaded and dropped onto their targets, producing shockwaves that travel not through the dirt but through, like, informational space-time. You can feel them.

That’s thge interesting thing to me about this vision: it might encourage us to take the damage—the pain—inflicted by those weapons more seriously. When I dig into some knot of misinformation or conspiracy theorizing online, I encounter things that are genuinely and gravely upsetting. Rather than fleeing from that feeling, or routing around it, I think it’s worth… well, feeling it, and understanding it, perhaps, as a useful signal.

I think there are real weapons being fired; I think they’re causing real damage; and—most importantly—I think some of that damage is in us, our brains and our hearts and even our bodies, because stress and confusion take that kind of toll.

Here are some things I have been wondering:

Would it be possible to bring the pleasant chaos of a broadsheet like the San Francisco Chronicle, circa 1909—

Those columns!

—to digital space? Would it perhaps be exciting and fun? A respite from the tyranny of the straight, simple, phone-friendly feed?

Could such a thing be editable and/or collaborative and/or social?

(Could it involve a recurring print edition, bringing it full-circle?)

Assuming a version of “yes” to the questions above: what would it be for? (Sharing links in an unending stream is… insufficient.)

Could it be about shared presence—that simple sense of “there are other people with me here, working quietly”?

Could it be specifically about promoting and/or inviting feedback on small-scale creative projects?

Could it be a place to ask questions?

I am probably not going to start a social network in 2020 called “Broadsheet” but, if I do, you heard about it here first.

News from the Republic

Down near the docks, at the back of a long narrow warehouse, there’s an outfit that publishes books by authors in town—the manuals, the memoirs, the poetry collections.

Anne Trubek’s Notes from a Small Press is essential reading for anyone interested in publishing on any scale. If Warren Ellis’s Orbital Operations is the best ongoing chronicle of the business of writing in 2019, Anne’s newsletter brings the same reality check to the publishing side. A lot of people have a lot of ideas about publishing; a lot of those ideas… are wrong. Anne dispels myths. She spits truth.

Her latest dispatch, A Glossary of Publishing Terms, is pure vibe-y publishing fun, and I hope will entice you to subscribe and stick around.

A lot of things can be true at the same time. For example, the claims I make about Twitter in my critical essay can be true, and it can also be true that the perfectly Twitter-y rhythm of this buoyant thread is wonderful: the ORALITY of it, the palpable sense of the writer taking breaths between each tweet, made possible only by the peculiarities of the platform.

It’s all true! All of it!

This passage from the Situationist manifesto “Formulary for a New Urbanism” is extremely overused, but some lines are so good, some veins so rich, they can’t be depleted:

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. Now that’s finished. You’ll never see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

The True American

The True American, Enoch Wood Perry, ca. 1874


July 2019, Oakland

This website uses the typeface Albertus Nova, an update by Toshi Omagari of Berthold Wolpe’s classic, and GT America, designed by Noël Leu with Seb McLauchlan.

Have a question? Spot a typo? Your story didn’t arrive? Email

hony soyt qui mal pence