Distant summers

rabbit1-smallI realized the other day that the summer I fictionalized for my first book Summer Rain was twenty-five years ago. This should make me feel very old, except that it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. I was twenty-one then, and in my mind, I’m the same person as I was then, but I realize I’m more than twice as old, and half a country away from Bloomington, and that’s depressing to me, that it’s an entire lifetime in the past for me.

When I’m not in the middle of writing something interesting, I often slip into this heavy, nostalgic, introspective thing, and burn a lot of cycles thinking about things that are long gone, like my time in Bloomington, the year I spent going to school in South Bend, even the time I was in Denver ten years ago, which seems like eons ago to me now. I try to remember the order things happened, the details of people and places I’d forgotten, and dwell entirely too much on things that happened, conversations I can’t fix, things I can’t take back. It’s unnerving that this stuff sticks with me, especially since I want to create things that aren’t my life, live in fictional worlds that don’t have to do with me. But the pull is so strong in old nostalgia, I can’t escape it.

There’s a certain draw to this near-era nostalgia that is completely addictive. Trying to find old images or articles or pictures of places I used to live or things I used to own is as compulsive as pornography, endlessly searching for the next thing to release some dopamine in the brain, give a tiny touch of satisfaction. I don’t know what I’ll find that will ever make things complete. And the draw of it is that so little of the early 90s, of my early 90s, is searchable or archived on the internet. Yes, I can go find a copy of that Nirvana album or the movie Singles or whatever, but try to find one picture of the IUSB lunch room where I spent every day of the 1990-1991 school year, and it’s impossible. I wrote some articles for that school’s newspapers that I will never find, unless I physically drive there and dig through their library. But I’ll still search, and maybe find a picture that reminds me of a computer lab where I used to work, a hint of what it used to look like, two renovations ago, when it still had PC-XTs and dot-matrix printers.

I keep thinking about writing something about this era again, another book. I thought about this a lot when I was in Indiana in 2015, in August. I’d never spent any time back in Indiana during the summer months, only returning for winter holidays, when everything was frozen over. And that feeling of summer, the hot days and air conditioning, then the cool nights and the sounds of crickets and clear sky and stars overhead made me think so much of the summer of my teenaged years, and made me think, “I have to write another book about this.”

I’ve struggled a lot with a book about the summer between high school and college, a fictionalized version of that summer in 1989. I think there’s a lot to write about: first love, first betrayal, leaving home, the big unknown of what happens next, and the beginning of a little bug in my head that would later develop into a crippling depression. There were also many things I didn’t know about at the time — I sat in northern Indiana in this pivotal time, the end of the Eighties, when the American Dream was quietly being led to slaughter. I only knew of life in that industrial bubble, the conservative bible-belt-meets-rust-belt pocket. Indiana never fully recovered from the early 70s recession when the early 80s one hit, and I graduated just as an expansion was about to burst. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but in retrospect, it sets an interesting stage for all of my personal garbage going on then.

I’ve written bits of this in stories over the years, and my completed 2008 NaNoWriMo project was an attempt at this book, which was finished but scrapped. I don’t feel like I was really able to nail it, to capture the feelings or set up a compelling structure to fit to this backdrop. It’s something I’ve wanted to revisit, but there are a bunch of things stopping me.

First, I don’t know how feasible this creative nonfiction stuff is in the era of Facebook and Google. I don’t think I could write Summer Rain now, because of the fear that a fictionalized person would find themselves and be angry that I was being unflattering, even if what I wrote was changed or masked or altered so it wasn’t true. I think just the fear of that would make me self-censor myself enough that I couldn’t operate. This is also entirely true of family members. I can’t write a first-person fictional book and get into it about the protagonist’s family, for fear that my own family would read this and think it was about them. I think Bukowski said he had to wait until his old man was dead until he started working on Ham on Rye.

But there’s also the conflicting fear that the longer I wait to write this stuff, the more it will fall out of my head. I find my memories fading of this era, and like I said, the physical relics of it are lacking. I took more pictures of my food this week than I took of anything in 1992. I archive all of my email now, although I get maybe five messages a week that aren’t garbage; I have almost no email saved from back then. There is a very real chance that if I wait until I retire or whatever and then decide to write this book, there will be none of it left in my head whatsoever.

And the biggest fear is that all of this is worthless to anyone but me. Summer Rain was not a big seller. Looking back, I can name half a hundred things wrong with the structure, content, characters, cover, blah blah blah, but there’s a horrible truth in that people like a book when they can identify with the main character, and if the main character is me and I’m ultimately an unlikeable person, people won’t like the book. I sometimes thing the current wave of nineties nostalgia could make a book set in that era appealing to people, but there’s a certain confidence thing there that I have to wrestle with, and it’s easier to put it off and go write about zombies or coprophagia or whatever.

During that 2015 trip, I started thinking about a sequel to Summer Rain, slightly informed by the John Knowles book Peace Breaks Out, which was the not-as-successful follow-up to A Separate Peace. The idea was that I had to return to Indiana twenty-five years later for some reason — dead parent, old friend, whatever — and I would see the contrast in all the changes (and non-changes) in the post-industrial wasteland. And I’d revisit all the characters, and what happened to them over time. One of the big themes in SR was the fork-in-the-road things, trying to decide on which way to go in life while in college. And in that book, every character subconsciously has a direction they were aimed, and one could predict the endings: this guy’s never going to leave town; this girl is going to burn through three husbands in ten years; this guy’s going to be a CEO before he’s thirty; this guy’s going to be found dead in five years. And one of the things I wanted to do was show how the unexpected happened with all of them, for better or for worse. And some people I know are still hopelessly stuck in this old era, never having moved past their high school or college self (much worse than I have it, even) and some people probably never think about the past at all.  I don’t know where I’d go with a book like this, but it’s something stuck in my craw.

I probably won’t do any of this, and will probably come out with another book of twenty stories or a hundred fragments of flash fiction about UFOs and sodomy, and nobody will read it.

Anyway, twenty-five years. That is really screwing with my head.

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46

I turn 46 today.

I was thinking about a very vivid birthday memory I’ve probably written about several times. I turned 23 in college, in 1994, on the tail end of a bad case of pneumonia that had me out for the month of January. I was pretty much better by the 20th, but I remember going to the mall to spend some birthday money, and the walk from one side to the other was exhausting, after spending weeks in bed. I bought a boxed set of the Star Wars video tapes, the original VHS set without all the CGI remastering garbage. I probably went to Denny’s, too.

The thing that stuck with me, though: I remember getting out my birth certificate, this pink piece of paper from North Dakota, to look up my time of birth. And I realized that both of my parents were 23 when I was born, and I was now 23. And it depressed me that I was 23, and single, and living in a shared apartment and struggling to get through college. And I didn’t want to be married or have kids or anything else. But I guess turning 18 or turning 21 didn’t really make me feel like an adult, and turning 23 made me realize I needed to start acting like one, figure out an exit strategy, get something started. And within about 18 months, I did graduate, get a job, move across the country, and finish writing a draft of my first book.

Today, I realized that this moment of clarity at age 23 happened exactly 23 years ago, half my life ago. And I am not the same age (more or less) as my parents were when I was in college.

* * *

I did not want to deal with any of the obvious today. I needed complete isolation, which is exactly what I did.

There is this place in Oakland called Oakland Floats, which has sensory deprivation tanks. You go in this pod-like thing and everything shuts off. It’s 100% dark and quiet. You have in earplugs. And you get into a large tank of water, which has been saturated with hundreds of pounds of epsom salts and heated to body temperature. Every one of your senses is blocked. You float in the water, not touching anything, completely weightless. It looks the same if your eyes are opened or closed. It feels like the temperature of your body, both in the water and the air; you can’t really tell where one begins or ends.

I’ve done this before a few times, but I did hour-long sessions. This time, I did a “superfloat” — I paid to get three and a half hours of tank time. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do this, or if I’d get bored or fall asleep or what. But I figured I needed to do this, so I signed up a few weeks ago and locked in the entire morning.

When I got there, it was somewhat miserable out: dark, rainy, cold. I arrived a bit before my time started, and got shown to my room. There was a bathroom-like space with a shower and a shelf of various supplies, and a plate heater running so it felt like a sauna inside. My chamber was named Ringo — it looked almost like a shower with a door, but the door was not transparent, and inside was a large tub, maybe four by eight feet, and a foot deep, filled with hot salt water, and a blue glowing light so i could get in. I took a shower with antibacterial soap. Then, right before the government changed and facebook was exploding, I shut off my phone, put in the earplugs, slipped into the womb-like chamber, and turned off the light.

The first thing you notice when you start a session is that the sensation of floating is really weird. You’re programmed from childhood to know what a bath feels like, how your body sinks in the water. But in the chamber, you can’t sink — your body hovers in the briny water. After you stop yourself from drifting and become still, the only think you hear is your own breathing. For me, I became entirely too self-conscious of my breathing, because it’s the only thing I could do. I could not see anything, and couldn’t hear anything outside my body. And of course any and all external stimuli were gone. I could not look at my watch, or pull out my phone, or check my email. I’m not going to go into the neo-luddide “technology is bad” thing, but not having that instinctual tic is really abnormal.

I cheated a bit on the superfloat, although I guess most people do — I broke it into three sessions, so I could get out, use the bathroom, and drink water. The bathroom part, I probably could have made it, but soaking in epsom salt is extremely dehydrating, and I drank about a quart of water total during the quick breaks.

So, three sessions. The first went about 90 minutes. I probably spent ten or fifteen minutes getting used to the tank, and trying to relax my neck and back muscles to stay in a neutral position. Then I tried some basic meditation techniques: mindfulness, scanning my body from top to bottom, slowing my breathing, etc. This was good, but it got boring. I focused on a piece of music I’d listened to in the car on the way over (the new Brian Eno album, Reflection) and got lost in that for a bit.

After maybe thirty minutes in, I stopped thinking and went into a pure theta state. This is the state you’re in when you start to fall asleep, but aren’t unconscious and into the delta stage of deep sleep. If you abuse the snooze alarm on your clock, you probably experience brief drips of theta state when you get back in bed and almost black out, but dance through the halfway land between consciousness and sleep. The difference here is that it was sustained, timeless, and I had no connection to my body. I was just drifting in this sea of thought, memories I hadn’t touched in years. And I was there for about an hour.

I came back, did a quick bio break, and checked the time. Then the second session started. I had a little more trouble getting back in, and spent about ten minutes trying to get my neck to pop or stretch or decompress. But then I fell into a weird… thing. I was looking into the darkness, and could see nothing, but then saw… I guess a pattern. It looked like a mandala, a geometric pattern, and I could only see a quarter of it, like it was four times bigger than my field of vision. It wasn’t a defined or religious symbol, like a Buddhist mandala, but just a vague, swirling of shape, like a zoetrope’s image, that was darker than the pitch-black darkness. And as I tried to focus on this, I felt like I could no longer tell I was laying down. It felt more like I was standing, looking down, like at the top of a place with no three-dimensional space, watching this swirling oil-like pattern below me, like the floor had melted and turned into this primordial stew. But it wasn’t a constant thing, like a strong vision or a hallucination. It was very intermittent, and would drift in and out. I know I was back into the theta state, and in that, nothing is real or connected. It’s like trying to explain a dream that has no start or finish or linear explanation, like describing a five-dimensional scene to a person in a three-dimensional world.

This slowly faded, and within a matter of moments, I realized it was time for a break. I got out, and about an hour had passed. After a quick fluid exchange, I got back in and finished the last hour. For whatever reason, I got hung up thinking about a conversation I had with someone in 1992, which either sounds pretty grudgy or stupid, but it was more like the essence of that moment I spent with the person was there. I didn’t go that deep in the last hour. My neck was starting to hurt, and I was starving. I drifted a bit, but then came back out. Coming back out of the tank was hard and weird. My internal thermostat was broken from soaking for so long in the heat. Also, my skin was covered in salt. And it felt weird to have a sense of feeling, and to hear again. Taking a shower again, the water was deafening to me.

I got dressed, and went to the front counter to settle up. It turned out while I was in the tank, there was a huge thunderstorm, tons of water dumping, high winds, black skies. I missed all of it. And I missed all of the other festivities of the day, which was excellent. I left, and walked to a nearby restaurant and butchery called Clove & Hoof, and ordered a fried chicken sandwich. The walk over seemed surreal to me. Everything outside, the light rain, the traffic on 40th Ave, the people waiting in line for lunch, it all seemed alien. I’d say there was a calm over me, but it was more than that. It’s like everything was shut off, or like I was watching a distant TV with the volume on 1.

Anyway. I’m back. The day’s almost over. I’ll have to go back and try this again.

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New iPad

Thanks to a generous gift card from Sarah for my birthday, I ended up at the Apple Store, upgrading my iPad again. I was really on the fence about upgrading at all, because there’s a rumor they will be updating in March, but there’s another rumor that there’s a massive 10nm chip shortage that’s going to push back the release significantly. And I’m far enough behind the curve with my circa-2012 iPad 4 that anything would be a big upgrade.

My big dilemma was whether to get the 9.7-inch iPad Pro or the 12.9-inch. I ended up choosing the smaller one, partly because of price, and partly because the 12.9 is a bit ungainly for me, slightly heavy and hard to type on. Also, it really feels like I’d bend it in half at some point, like the first time I put it in a computer bag. So I went with the 9.7, but I did option up to 128GB of storage.

I don’t use an iPad that much to need a Pro version, but this is an oddball side effect of the horrible market segmentation going on at Apple right now. There are essentially four different iPads in three different sizes right now, and none of that makes any sense. What is the difference between an iPad Air 2 and an iPad Pro 9.7? Better processor, better screen, better cameras, the smart connector, the use of the pencil, and better speakers. But why make those two different lines? It’s confusing, and it reminds me of the mid-90s, when there were three dozen different Centris and Quadro and Duo and Fucko models of the Mac, back when Apple really sucked.

As far as the not using part, I really have/had high hopes for the smart connector thing, because bluetooth keyboards are always a pain in the ass, especially charging them. But the $170 keyboard that Apple sells is hot garbage. It feels like typing on an Atari 400, and you have to use it on a table. I want something I can use in my lap, but I don’t know what one that is yet.

I don’t write on the iPad, but I do think about it. For a while a few years ago, I would only take the iPad and a keyboard on trips, and try writing that way. But now, it’s just as easy to bring my MacBook Pro with me, and have access to all my writing at once. I wouldn’t mind using the iPad more for notes, or for a distraction-free writing device.

I also ordered an Apple Pencil online, after deciding not to in the store. Maybe I can use the Paper app to sketch out ideas. A million years ago, I had a Toshiba Windows tablet with a pen, and had huge plans to use OneNote and plot out books and take notes, and I never did shit with it. Maybe this will be the same, but who knows.

Overall, the upgrade, which is about four or five times faster, seems nice and snappy. The new screen is much better looking. And it’s odd that it is physically smaller overall, but has the same screen size. I expect that in a week, I won’t notice the speed jump at all, which is what happened when I upgraded from the gen-one to the four. Still, very nice birthday gift to myself.

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Hangin’ With Old Lew

15977822_846160905521724_2574961057935715107_nI recorded a podcast this weekend, with Jeffery Lewis and Joshua Citrak. It’s called Hangin’ With Old Lew, and I had a lot of fun with it. We hung out in the studio for a few hours and shot the shit about a wide range of topics, from publishing to politics to why the 49ers suck.

Check it out here: http://po.st/3ZKVnv

Ep. 022, “Botched Circumcision,” where we’re joined by author Jon Konrath, we talk about Women’s March on Washington, the WWE, Staph infections, Paula Poundstone, the unstoppable, perpetual motion of government, Al Qaeda, self-publishing, Canada, Steve Harvey, the Indianapolis Colts, baby names, David/Brenda Remier, ISBNs, Chevy Camaros, The Virginian and Whisper At Night does our intro!

Also subscribe on iTunes, and check out their page over at https://www.facebook.com/hwolpodcast/

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Dead Mall: Hilltop Mall, Richmond, CA

31950485390_0a8dc04787_kThere’s a cruel irony in the fact that I’m now at the age where I need to old-man walk every day as per doctor’s orders, and I’d go to a mall and do the mall walking thing every day, but malls are all dying or dead. That — and the weather — is what brought me to Richmond yesterday, to see if the Hilltop Mall is feasible for my indoor pacing and maybe casual shopping purposes.

Richmond is about twenty minutes north of me, in the corner between San Francisco Bay and San Pablo Bay. It was a town that quickly grew during World War 2 because of the shipbuilding industry, and then slowly died out due to lack of industry and racial tensions after the war. It’s in a state of flux right now, an up-and-coming bedroom community for the bay area that’s seeing lots of townhouses and condos suddenly appear. I’m not that familiar with the area at all, and probably should be. The outer areas on the water are beautiful, and I’ve hiked in Point Pinole and checked out the ship museum at Marina Bay. But I’ve never explored the mall at Hilltop.

Hilltop Mall was built in 1976 by redeveloping what used to be a Chevron oil tank farm. It is a beautiful location, a circular peak almost like a cupola in the hills. It’s a two-story mall with 1.1 million square feet of retail space. (Indiana folks: for reference, UP mall is 922Ksqft.) It’s another Taubman-designed mall, similar to Stoneridge in Pleasanton. Anchors include Sears, Macy’s, JC Penney, and Wal-Mart.

The first thing I saw when arriving, the true sign of a dead mall, was the police satellite station and many conspicuous “if you see something, say something,” “lock up your belongings,” and “private property – we reserve the right to kick you out” signs. The exterior or the mall is very 1976, with few updates. It’s very heavy brick and tan-painted stucco and concrete. It reminds me of Concord Mall in that aspect. There’s also a thick ring of parking lot lining the rim of the mall, with the asphalt tarmac largely barren of cars. The outer perimeter is built up with tons of newish townhouses. There are almost no outbuildings and absolutely no chain restaurants on the outer perimeter of the mall.

The interior of the mall is extremely dated, and has every trademark of a Taubman mall that was probably lightly updated around 1990 during those peak mall years. It was bought by Simon in 2007, and pretty much left to die after that. There are high arched ceilings with lots of skylights, but the narrow fingers reaching from the main mall atrium to the parking lots are all dimly lit and filled with vacant stores.

And yes, there are vacancies. There are about 150 spaces in the mall, and probably about 90-some occupied. But a lot of the stores are low-traffic, low-rent places, low-end clothing stores, cheap wireless places with basically no stock, empty military recruiting stations. There was some sparse foot traffic on a January Saturday afternoon, but not a lot. I’ve seen malls much worse, but this was fairly bad. Hilltop is tucked away from the highway a bit, and there’s zero foot traffic from nearby towns or residences. There are no grocery stores or external fast food or banking that would pull in crowds. And there are few stores that would attract any people. There were a couple of shoe places. Not much more.

The mall’s bones are interesting. I like the high arched ceilings, and the flow of the upper floor concourse, which is classic Taubman design. But it was incredibly dated and in dire need of a refresh, or even basic maintenance. White ceilings were yellow, with brown water stains from roof leaks. Trim was frayed and missing. Light bulbs were either turned off or dead. And the floors were a disaster, the tile looking like an outdoor bathroom in an Arco gas station. The entire mall had the faint smell of mildewed carpet that should have ben torn out and replaced in 1979. It was far beyond dated. One interesting point is that the center of the mall has a large, colorful merry-go-round, and a spiral ramp to get between the two levels that looks straight out of a 80s sci-fi movie. Good photo potential there.

The anchors were all in rough shape. Sears is obviously on life support, but this one seemed even worse than normal. The Sears was added in 1990, and looks as if it was never updated. Macy’s was Macy’s. I used to think of the Federated-owned store as being top-of-the-heap high-end department store, but their merchandising looks cheap these days. JC Penney was okay, but it had a large vacant furniture store that looked as if it hadn’t sold a couch since the Reagan years.

The oddest thing was the Wal-Mart anchor. It used to be a Capwell’s back in the day, which morphed into Emporium, then was bought by Federated. Instead of running two Macy’s stores (like they do at other locations, like Stoneridge), they consolidated everything into the one Macy’s, and left the old anchor empty for years. Wal-Mart then took it over about ten years ago. It’s a really odd jury-rigged store, which looks like an old two-story LS Ayres from the seventies, with WMT signs hastily nailed onto the beige exterior. The upper floor mall entrance was blocked with painted plywood. It’s unusual to see a two-story Wal-Mart, or one that faces into a mall. I’m also used to seeing them in purpose-built structures that are all identical, and not crammed into a repurposed department store. The Wal-Mart had a fair amount of traffic, which was the good news. The bad news was it was the most randomly laid-out and sketchy looking store of theirs I’d ever seen. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and I’m not that familiar with the stores, but this one was a parade of sadness.

The food situation was pretty bad. There was not a real food court, just a few piecemeal non-chain restaurants, like a Mongolian grill and a teriyaki place. Subway and BK, of course. I was starving, but left without eating, because I didn’t want to catch bacterial meningitis.

High point of the mall was their large 24-hour Fitness, which was practically full. Lots of new machines, every one in use. Thirty bucks a month.

Hilltop was bought by Simon in 2007 as a package deal, who bought every area mall from The Mills Corporation. Simon later defaulted on their loans in like 2012, and Jones Lang Lasalle manages it now. (I think it’s still owned by US Bank, representing the financiers of the original 2007 buyout.) Last year, they listed the mall for sale, and it will almost certainly get demolished for some mixed-use development. It’s the perfect place, close to the I-80, for a planned community with a fake town center and some light retail.

Anyway, got a good 30 minutes of walking in, and of course by the time I was done, the weather cleared and it was beautiful out. Here’s a quick Flickr album of a dozen pics snapped with my phone: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQsQ4P1

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LiveJournal

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-10-09-35-amIn the quest to find some better way of doing all of this, I started thinking about LiveJournal. (I actually have been thinking about a lot of the mid-00s web stuff I used to use, because sitting on FaceBook all day is probably a dead end, or I feel that I’m not reading or writing enough. Like, did reading Slashdot, Fark, and an armada of blogs in Google Reader help entertain me any better than seeing the same four news stories posted a hundred times a day?)

I wasn’t a heavy LiveJournal writer; I had a fake account (username: unabomber) I started in 2000 just to comment on other peoples’ stuff, then started one as jkonrath in 2004. I’d post updates, but I had an earlier pre-WordPress iteration of this blog as my main home. But I would hit my friends feed constantly, and comment a lot.

LJ seemed to be “the place” to go to be social online for a while, like pre-MySpace, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter. I was trying to think of exactly why though. The site’s still there, as is my account, so I poked around a bit and tried to remember. What did it offer that my blog did not? What was the draw?

Plusses:

  • It was dead simple (and free) to open an account. It was invite-only until 2003, but after that, anyone could get in.
  • Posting was not hard. It gave you a box and a subject line, and you typed and clicked “Post” and that was it.
  • There were fun little things you could add to posts, like what you were listening to, and what your mood was.
  • You had a certain number of profile pictures, and it was always fun finding new little pictures, or swapping to a different one based on your mood that day.
  • You could theme your page to some extent, changing colors and styles. Some people got really into the design of their pages, although when you’re reading your friends feed, you don’t see those customizations, and I basically didn’t give a shit about having flaming red text on a black background with pictures of wolves and fire and ninjas and shit all over.
  • Basic privacy settings could lock posts and accounts to be friends-only.
  • Communities, where permitted users could post to a feed. These were great for interests (I was in a baseball one for a while) or areas (lots of people had groups for their towns or home towns.)
  • You could (if you had a paid account) host a feed to your external blog, so the posts would show up on LJ.
  • It was locked in. You could sit and spin on your friends feed, and read all the posts (in chronological order, too) and in the mid-00s, a lot of people were posting, so there was some good conversation to be had.
  • There weren’t ads during the heyday, although that changed later.
  • It encouraged long-form posts. Or maybe people just typed more back then, before we were all programmed with horrible ADHD.
  • The feed was chronological only. No Fuckerberging of the order and appearance weighting of posts.
  • There was post commenting, and that got used a fair amount. Commenting was more streamlined than other blogs, because you had the single system for everyone, whereas it seems like every free-standing blog has a different commenting system, or they use something like Disqus, and people get all pissy about having to sign up for it. If you were using LJ, you were signed up for commenting, so it was a no-brainer.

Minuses:

  • The UX is horrible. Log in to livejournal.com and then try to find anything, and it takes ten clicks. It also started to look a bit dated and clunky going into the late 00s.
  • There was no “like.” I think that was the big killer versus Facebook. When you post on FB, there’s this little micro-validation you get in your brain when other people like your post. LJ didn’t have this, so the motivation wasn’t there. I think the little crack hit of likes is one of the main drivers for FB, and it’s also its downfall. The discovery of this gamification around the end of the 00s is the reason casual gaming now exists (well, that plus touchscreen devices with good graphics) but it’s also a big part of our dumbing-down as a culture.
  • The long-form thing meant good content, but it also may have been a reason people dropped out.
  • Images and image hosting were always an issue. You could add external links to flickr or elsewhere for your images, but the two-step process was messy. They now offer image hosting for paid accounts, but it’s a limited amount, and mostly a feature to entice people to pay. It’s nowhere near as nice as the FB interface for photo uploading.
  • No fine-grained security. You could not be friends with someone and not see their content. You could not hide a single post from your friends feed, like when you got sick of seeing the same thing pop up on every time. (I use the FB hide post constantly these days.)
  • No post sharing. This was a plus, though. Imagine FB without the ability to share stupid political posts or mom memes.
  • No (real) mobile stuff. I think they have an app, but it’s a piece of shit. So many people post on-the-go now in FB/Twitter, and LJ never had any of that. That may have been one of the reasons it focused more on long-form stuff, because everyone was sitting on a PC while composing their stuff.
  • Various business decisions slowly sank the ship. The company was sold in 2005, and then Brad Fitzpatrick left in 2007, and it was sold to some crazy Russians, who continued to run it into the ground.

Other:

  • I remember a lot of shit-storms over privacy issues, like people having to lock out exes and then said exes getting a different fake account to read their stuff, etc. Now, blocking and banning is simple in FB, but there was a lot of drama back in the day.
  • I also vaguely remember some moderation issues, with people or posts getting censored, and a bunch of outrage.

I always wonder if something could replace LJ and FB. Would some technical balance between the two work, or would some perfect storm have to happen to lure enough people to the community to make it viable? I think the biggest feature of LJ was that it had a community, and it had a critical mass of enough users to make it interesting and fun. But when that went away, so did its usefulness.

How do you create that again? I guess that’s the question every attempt at community tries to answer. I futz around with posting here, but it’s an isolated island in the middle of nowhere, with no community, no connection to the outside world. I post on Facebook, but it’s Facebook, and it is becoming a dead end. As I find Facebook more and more intolerable, I try to think of a replacement, but that lack of critical mass, of community, is the huge problem.

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V/A

Various items of note:

First, I made the last payment on my car. Toyota sent me a bunch of paperwork, and then a free-and-clear title came from the state. This is a 2014 Prius C that I got almost exactly three years ago. I stretched out the three-year loan because they gave me 0% financing, so no reason to pay it off early. That leaves my house as my only debt, and that won’t be paid off any time soon, although we did just round a corner on the number in the leftmost column of the balance, if that makes any sense.

This car still feels mostly new to me, because I barely drive it. It’s three years old, and I have not cracked 9000 miles yet. Aside from work (50 miles) and a trip to Davis (70 miles), the only long trip it’s taken is the 120-mile drive I took to Castle AFB last year. There’s a door ding and a few scratches on the driver side, and it could use a detail, but it’s otherwise in newish condition. I will probably keep it as long as possible, or until I have to start commuting to work again. If I had to go back to driving a hundred miles a day again, I’d probably upgrade to a model with more adjustable seats, and a backup camera. Otherwise, I’ll keep going on this one, especially since the new Prius looks pretty stupid.

I also don’t want to upgrade my laptop, and the 500GB drive was getting full, so I got an external from Santa and moved all of my photos off my machine. That gave me back about 150GB, so I’ve got some breathing room. I really don’t want to go to the new touchbar Mac, and I don’t want to pay four grand for the pleasure of doing it. Sarah just had to upgrade her 2009 MBP and take the hit price-wise. I’m curious how that works out, as far as the lack of ports and so forth.

I do need to upgrade my iPad at some point — it is the 2012-era iPad 4, which still gets the latest OS, but is getting flaky. Also my smart cover is disintegrating, and I can’t justify hunting down a new one just to use until the actual hardware croaks. It’s a bad time to upgrade, though; there are rumors that March will see an entirely new line.

And there’s the question about whether or not it’s even worth it to stay in the Apple ecosystem or jump ship. But I interact with Windows enough at the day job to know I can’t go there. And I would have to ditch Scrivener and find a new writing workflow, and that isn’t happening. I do hope Apple gets their shit straight though.

The weather here is still horrible. Cold, rainy, dark. Walking every day has been a real challenge. The weather also has been reminding me heavily of when I was in Seattle, especially the last winter or so. Seattle was beautiful from April-October, and I somehow powered through the first winter without major problems. But the second year was brutal. I don’t know how I managed to survive four winters there without taking a vacation or investing in a full-spectrum light.

So for whatever reason, there’s a weird nostalgia callback from the gray skies overhead. It makes me think of Seattle, which makes me think about people from Seattle, and jobs in Seattle, and all the various things I fucked up while I lived there. So that’s not good.

(Grammar tip: gray versus grey. GrAy with an A for America; GrEy with an E for England.)

 

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asides

Aside

There used to be the concept in WordPress of an “aside” post, which was a small post with no title and a slightly different format. I guess the guts of it are still there, but there’s no formatting for it in my theme, and I’m sure if I used it, it would break something.

I think B used to use them all the time, in the heyday of mid-00s blogging. The concept of an aside is that it’s not a long, titled post. It’s just a quick status update apropos of nothing.

From the Apple dictionary:

a remark or passage by a character in a play that is intended to be heard by the audience but unheard by the other characters in the play.

• a remark not intended to be heard by everyone present: “Does that makehim a murderer?” whispered Alice in an aside to Fred.

a remark that is not directly related to the main topic of discussion: the recipe book has little asides about the importance of home and family.

I like the concept of asides, because I can never think of what to blog, as far as starting some giant essay about and important topic. Most days, it’s just the weather, etc. And I used to write only about that stuff, like during my lunch hour, twenty years ago when this all started. But then it evolved into having to write these huge essays, which leads to performance anxiety and self-censorship, which leads to me not blogging for months.

Also, I think asides were a thing when twitter and facebook were not. I could deposit my bitching about how UPS fucked me over again on my social media account. But then it is disconnected and forgotten, not part of this repository.

OK I’ll post this and then figure out if I need to format them differently, and maybe keep posting more of them.

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2016

I hate these posts. I hate January 1 and everything about it: the new year/new me shit, the pressure to change yourself into something else overnight, and the fear of taking a brand new, unscratched and unblemished year and driving it into the ditch by eating 16,000 calories of Burger King for lunch.

I did a few things in 2016, so here’s the list:

I released three things in 2016: a zine (Mandatory Laxative #14), a book (Vol. 13), and a joke picture book for The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day.

I had two interviews published last year (here and here) and had parts of Vol.13 appear in Horror Sleaze Trash and Tall Tales With Short Cocks Vol 5. Paragraph Line was mostly dormant in 2016, but aside from my book, we also released John Sheppard’s Explosive Decompression, which is definitely worth a read.

I bought a new guitar as a birthday gift to myself, a Fender FSR Strat. I started taking lessons this fall, but I’m still a total beginner. No real goals here, just keeping at it until I can play barre chords without 4 of 6 strings buzzing.

I took an Arduino class at The Crucible this spring, and it was fun trying to remember electronics stuff from 30 years ago. I didn’t build anything substantial or keep with it and do more research, but it was interesting to do that.

I went to London in May, and took a short trip to Nashville and Memphis in August. Both were decent. I got a new camera before London, and feel like I’m not using it enough. I was also supposed to go to Nicaragua, but ended up cancelling because of work.

The exercise slashline:

  • 3,031,167 steps
  • 5900 floors
  • 1,430.72 miles
  • 915,742 calories

 

It was a frustrating year with writing, with politics, and with my mood in general. The midlife crisis stuff that hit hard in 2015 hasn’t gone away. I need to do something about that. Until then, I’ll waste more time on memes, and try to figure out this guitar thing.

You?

 

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The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day – The Book

8234262-2e6aa8cc0e194e7cb5540813cdd813e0This is stupid. But I have made a book for The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day. It is an 88-page book of pretty much every meme I’ve made over the last year or two associated with this page.

I thought about writing a huge explanation about how this picture was taken, how the meme page started (it wasn’t me), and other stupid side notes about the phenomenon, like how we started one-upping each other with garbage #KultofKonrath merchandise. But I am lazy, and if you explain it too much, it ruins it. So figure it out yourself. Or ask me in person. Or drink a bunch of cough medicine and make up your own story.

The book is available on Blurb and is prohibitively expensive because it is color printed. It’s also slow to produce and costs too much to ship. Blame Blurb. Don’t buy this, but if you’re a completist, knock yourself out. I would print a bunch and give them away, but my cost is the same as yours.

You can go to the book site and preview every page for free, so there’s that.

The book is on Blurb here: http://www.blurb.com/b/7632244-the-same-picture-of-jon-konrath-every-day-the-book

Also for any of my books that actually have writing and that you should be buying and giving to your family for the holiday, go to My Books and Stories.

Happy Firestorm! (Or whatever holiday you celebrate.)

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