stray clippings #01
not an essay, just some notes and stuff
just recovered from a couple of days of flu and cough. feeling quite annoyed that I haven’t posted anything on this substack for over a month. i’ve been doing a lot of thinking though. i wrote a thread recently about my thinking about the essays I want to write, circling around the topics of wretchedness, polite fictions, media, cursed artifacts. Part of me wishes these essays were completed already, so I could feel the relief that comes with getting them all out. Another part of me wants to spend 20 years getting them all perfect. I suppose the solution is to do both, and be willing to be more scrappy about it.
I want to experiment with more forms. I’ve surely mentioned a couple of times now that I used to be a blogger writing about local politics, and then I got sick of that, and I wrote hundreds of introspective stream-of-consciousness essays for my “write a million words” project (@1000wordvomits). I’d like to be done with that too, and I’d also like to take my time with it. It’s the same picture! There’s this tension I have to embody to do my work and I’d like to embody it a little more skillfully, manage the tension a little more artfully, breathe more deeply, smile and laugh more.
This substack post is itself an attempt at me experimenting with form. There's no overarching structure, no plan, it's sort of like a series of longtweets or Facebook statuses or... old timey livejournal type blogposts? Yeah this feels livejournally to me. It's a braindump, feelsdump, status update. I think I'd like to do this semi-regularly in between my Proper Essays, I feel like it would actually get me moving more quickly.
I recently finally completed my first playthrough of Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018). I bought the game when it came out, and I got bored playing through the first few hours. I picked it up again in 2021, and got bored again pretty quickly. Then I watched a video on youtube recently by someone who explained how and why it’s his favorite game of all time, which persuaded me to give it another shot, and I finally finished it, and I found myself in tears at the end. It’s a beautiful, slow burn of a game, and kind of in a class of its own. I’d really like to understand this stuff and maybe I’ll write a standalone essay about that. But for now I guess I’m saying… if you own a copy of RDR2, and haven’t finished it, I recommend finishing it. It takes some faith that it’ll pay off, but it really does, story-wise. The gameplay loop can be a little tedious at the start, but you don’t really have to care that much about all the nitty-gritty stuff. Just get to know the characters and feel the vibes of the story, it’s very well-written.
Maybe a couple of notes about storytelling? It’s just so fascinating to me how it’s possible to tell a fictional story about a made-up character that brings so many people to tears. And it’s clear to me that we love and root for a character based on the choices that they make. And the storyteller gets to set this up, they get to design the choices that the characters get to make. Also interesting is how like… suppose we have a protagonist. Every character who isn’t the protagonist, narratively, gives the protagonist someone to be contrasted against. For example, in RDR2, Arthur Morgan is a horse-riding, gunslinging outlaw from the Wild West days, at the end of those times. And I find it interesting how he’s contrasted by even minor characters like… Charles Châtenay, a French painter who’s all about self-expression, living in the moment, wears his heart on his sleeve. Or one of the main characters in the story, Micah Bell, who’s more ruthless and selfish than Arthur, giving us an opportunity to see (and decide, as the player!) what Arthur’s boundaries are when it comes to unethical behavior.
I feel like there’s other stuff I ought to get to, but I don’t really know what. I have a bunch of tabs open and I wish I closed them. I’m currently on one of my laptops – I bought a second Macbook, which felt like an indulgence, but also I think very “justifiable” because I’m an “actual writer” now who actually writes for a living, and anything that encourages me to do more writing is something that’s likely worth investing in.
Found myself thinking "I have a lot of things to say but I don't particularly feel like saying them right now". and yet i don't feel like closing my laptop to go off and do something else, I feel like there's something here I oughta do and be done with and, that that will feel good and right for me.
My wife and I are expecting a baby on the way soon. I've gotten lots of congratulations about it, I'm excited about it, I'm looking forward to it, a little bit nervous, all that usual stuff. I don't particularly want to make a big deal out of it, but I do also feel like I ought to mention it here and there because it's certainly a big life change. People sometimes ask me questions about things like my "parenting philosophy", and I don't currently feel like talking a lot about it but I basically intend to freestyle my way through it. I feel like 80-90% of parenting is not about any particular strategies or tactics, but really just having the presence to be there to provide a supportive, nourishing environment for your child, who is another human being with their own personality, their own sovereign desires and so on.
I thought for a bit about doing things like, hm, should I write a letter to my kid? I might do that when it feels right. There's an interesting tension where... I want to be a good dad, but I don't necessarily want to over-center my child. I wouldn't be a dad blogger/vlogger – I know some guys who've done a tremendous job of it, which is a great act of service to others (including dads-to-be like myself). I respect and honor that. But I... I want to keep a lot of my family life private, basically. It's dynamic stuff, I don't expect to be able to convey all of how I feel about it into text. But that's also kind of my "job", as a writer.
Which brings me to a conversation between my manager-self vs creator-self. It's my “job” to try and convey dynamic ideas into static text, like how skilled painters create incredible illusions of depth, texture, motion, etc with splotches of paint. But I also get to choose which jobs I take. By the way, have I done a post nerding out about Jeremy Mann yet? No, that's been in my drafts for a long time… I often feel like I put a bit a bit too much pressure to try and celebrate one particular artist or one particular game or movie in one piece of writing. There are surely multiple ways to solve that puzzle. I could simply... do a lot of light-touch overviews that have a "quick sketch" vibe. Or I could even write about several different things in the same thing. They each serve different purposes. It might be better if I do them on a blog other than my substack. I've been wanting to write something really substantial about Mass Effect Andromeda for a really long time – a game that I was so disappointed by, I played it at least twice and might play again still.
State of my reading? The books on my recently-read pile are…
Haruki Murakami’s Novelist as a Vocation – even though I’m not currently writing novels and I don’t know if I ever will, I found it really nourishing to inhabit the mindspace of someone who’s been playing a long game and working on their craft for decades.
Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media – feels really important. Some of what McLuhan was saying kinda went over my head on the first read, but a lot of it resonated deeply and I feel compelled to try and do an overview + update for a modern audience. It’s definitely relevant to our times, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of readers find it kinda hard to get into because it was written at a different time. I found McLuhan’s erudition particularly admirable and compelling.
Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game of Tennis – this is one of a bunch of books that all seem to be circling around some very profound ideas about the nature of learning. Wrote a thread about it for starters.
I've been meaning to transcribe a video of Kenny Werner's talks about effortless mastery. Feels like something I'm going to be referencing a lot. I mentioned it in the I don’t wanna! essay.
I have 7% battery left on my macbook and it’s 1:20am and I’m going to go to bed. As I said earlier I’m going to have a kid soon so I don’t know how much time I’m going to have to write really elaborate, beautifully diagrammed essays. I’m probably gonna do more of this sort of sketchy thought-dump. I’d also like to do some overviews of books I’ve been reading, and generally just… share more of my thinking and writing more often, even if it’s not as polished as I wished. Part of me feels like I should ask what ya’ll think about it, but truthfully, if anybody isn’t happy with it… they can unsubscribe, so, whatever! I just gotta do what’s right for me. I probably won’t post this on all the socials like “new essay out” or whatever. I’ll just hit publish and it’ll go to the inboxes of the people who signed up to receive it. I think I can live with that.