Thoughtful and lovely post as always. I love the rhythm of your prose. Brings me a similar peace & enjoyment as walking in nature :)
At long last, I'm catching up with overdue reading. Lots to unpack here, but I'm afraid I've only got in me now just enough fortitude to offer my gratitude, as always, for your ideas and honesty and perspective, and, of course, for reminding me that "a walk is never a wrong answer."
The birds singing in the voice track is so relaxing. Nature walks are something I can't afford at this time, but how I miss them. The views you show are so beautiful that I have a wild desire to visit them. Those mountains - how fascinating they are!
So glad to catch up with your writing. I also enjoyed Ghosh’s “Great Derangement,” and the take-away from that is inspiring my current fiction writing. We’ll see where that goes. I’ve just gotten into Dougald Hine’s new book, “At Work in the Ruins,” on the insistence of a friend. He pulls together many threads I’ve been following for a while, with a gentle but firm resistance to the overly rational, technocratic ways that we talk about the predicaments we’re in. So far, I’m hooked.
Two lines I loved here:
"a volunteer commitment that was looming over me like a small, burning galaxy that wants me to feel the immensity of its mass. "
"There’s something insidious about others’ priorities being intentionally crashed into our time and attention from every angle possible, though the world is full of choices being imposed on those who have little say."
To be honest, AI intrusion and not having a choice about that bothers me more than things like cars, even if car culture has been more devastating to environment and community. At least with cars I can understand the immediate short-term benefits, and the material aspect of travel magnifies our dependencies; it's embedded in our physical infrastructure and deepest ways of life. And we had many opportunities to shift course along the way. But with AI, the sheer rapidity of the transformation, the default (shrug shrug) "welcome to the new normal" as if it must be our automatic destiny, the paternalistic nudging of notifications, the sheer banality of it 99% of it - I can't imagine a world dominated by this stuff that is *better.* Word processing was cool, laptops are cool, online blogging is cool, having the option of e-books and Zoom is cool, storable MP3s is cool (even though it kind of killed music culture), Wikipedia and being able to Google is cool. OK, I'm good now!
But of course, that's presumptuous and self-centered of me to assume we get to "choose." It only looks like a choice at the very beginning. One of the new defining features of our hyperconnected world seems to be that no new technology or shared social practice is really a choice anymore, unless we *make* it a choice deliberately and assertively as a statement of values (not just "choice"). And even these principled statements, like dropping off social media, tend to be made at the personal and not collective level.
I'm sure you've mentioned her before, but I imagine you would really like that new Jenny Odell book, "Saving Time."
Would the sci-fi reading circle be available to follow for those on here who can't use the app? Totally fine if no (it's a lot of extra work to double-post here for so little participation); just curious.
Thanks for another beautiful and heartfelt column, I so love to read and hear this.
"All things are Buddhist teachings; all things are liberating. Walking, standing, sitting, all are liberating acts." - Ma-tsu
Best (and hugs)
I so feel all of this: "...and to wonder if I should get my seed potatoes going or if we’ll have another blast of winter. And if I’m doing the right things, and what parts of my life I’ve wasted, and if I have time for a walk before making dinner, and how much choice I, or you, have in any of it, and what our responsibilities are to ourselves, our communities, and the world." When I sit to watch what's happening in the yard, the race of similar thoughts always begins spinning.
I also tire so much of the drumbeat of a belief in "progress"--and exactly because, as you say, who's "we" is really being referenced? It's disingenuous and wearying. And the tech bros who continue to demand control of our attention, while also turning an insincere blind eye to how that attention might be abused by hate speech for those who are more marginalized in society, etc. is maddening. That feeling of being controlled without choice--oof, yes. Having a hard time balancing needs with desires for integrity, kindness, and justice. How to work in these systems and yet refuse to continue in the same ways that have been handed down. It's draining and I so try to avoid falling into feelings of helplessness, but it's real. A walk outdoors, a way to refuse by giving our attention to the birds and their song, the future larches waiting patiently is vital. We have to keep moving towards that which calls to us, not that which would beg and control how we move through this life. Grateful as always to read your writing. 💜
A clearly articulated, qualmless, yet graceful "No" may go a long way towards avoiding some of the "collisions" of life like a firm tap on an automobile horn. But going for a walk in the woods and fields, as your essays demonstrate, has other rewards.
"Which meant that, while I didn’t have time for a long walk, I also didn’t have time to not go on a long walk when it was offered." Nia, this essay resonated with me in ways "TNTC," "too numerous to count." I hope the food poisoning has abated and that you're back to feeling OK, and thanks as always.
Speaking of the ceaseless creep of the online, I saw that Bed Bath and Beyond is closing its brick and mortar stores and blaming online retail for it. I don't even go to BBB that much, but it feels like this is just another loss of opportunity to be able to go somewhere to touch, feel, inspect things we want to buy and use in our daily lives. I don't like shopping online, I like holding things in my hands to see if they are good. That choice is being taken from us by the corporations who want us to just buy things and not know ahead of time if what we're buying is crap or not.
"Unless the writing is explicitly anti-capitalist...."
I'm finding little patience for any kind of writing about resisting, fixing, whatever that ISN'T this.
Walking is the best therapy for all my ills. Also bump-starts the imagination. I often walk accompanied by my novel characters, who dance their lives out in my head while I walk and breathe and look around.
I almost lost my marbles when I got my new phone this year and it enabled notifications for EVERY SINGLE APP! And, of course, it wasn't a simple matter to turn them off. Each was hidden in some different place. By the end I was pretty much murderous with rage.
I wish more people in this planet saw the world like you do kind Antonia. Your fierce compassion burns like a dried pine wood in wildfire. I feel it too, the urgency to handle the crisis of loss that we as a collective are enforcing on the others who are less resourceful. The disparity is stark, the indifference apparent- sometimes I feel helplessness of it all lurking like shadows, even shouting about the stories that should hopefully teach us our true nature that I usually do in Berkana doesn’t seem to help me relieve from the guilt of participation in the same systems designed to keep the world rooted in injustice, in inequitable sharing of wealth and resources. But I think we should do what we do best - write, walk, talk, participate in conversations to change things- that’s what writers have done since the beginning of time - to keep records of the world and try to bend it to our visions of fairness with mere words.
Thank you for this space, things that you talk about are indispensable. 💜🌼
I am too tired this evening to leave a very thoughtful comment (a long telephone conversation with one of my daughters that lasted into the wee hours of the morning and was worth every moment); but if I may, here are a few items:
The kind of progress that Linklater seems to celebrate (or at least apologize for), is, among other things: a progress that presupposes human superiority, human happiness as the greatest good in the cosmos, human ownership (dominion) of nature, a planet of infinite abundance, and a planet of infinite resilience. If there were such a fiendish beast as Satan (There isn’t. Satan is a mere metaphor for the evil that dwells like a wolf on a leash within every human soul), he could contrive no more effective way to wreak his havoc than to plant these cancerous lies into the minds of humans.
Not sure I’m tracking on the issue of Substack notifications.
I do a lot of self-talk, and just about every time I go for a walk I tell myself at some point during the trek: “This was an excellent decision, Kenneth!"
On the subject of dusting I am reminded of the poem ‘Dust if you must' by Rose Milligan:
“Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?
Dust if you must, but there's not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.
Dust if you must, but the world's out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.
Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.”
I have found myself putting a length warming on my comments recently and it is mostly because Substack Notes is driving me toward some uncomfortable truths. Skip this comment unless you have the time.
It is a wonderful thing that your Newsletter often emerges from a walk. Your photos often reinforce why you prioritize the walk and its effect on you. I have been affected in the most unexpected way by the class I am taking that I spoke offline with you about. The breadth of the program has now reached across 40 countries. While the topic seems to be climate and the systems that govern our lives, the powerful germ of an idea it proffers is the power of a single thought.
Rather than dismissing our thoughts and thinking "well that can never happen", it is useful to step back and REALIZE EVERYTHING that has EVER happened on this rock started with a SINGULAR IDEA in one person's consciousness. While we cannot trace key moments in this fashion, the thought experiment tells us it must SURELY be correct. Therefore, whatever the challenge we imagine, no matter how far-reaching and perhaps unlikely, the new reality we dream of starts with a thought. This is why when you write of "why can't things be different", my belief is they can and this can only emerge from someone's thought -- yours in this Newsletter may be that very thought needed to launch a new approach. It is one of the reasons I always consider On the Commons time well spent.
I have also been engaging my mind over the last ten days or so over Substack Notes. Writing for me was an unrealized dream until nearly 60. I cannot count patent applications, training materials or chapters describing the re-engineering of a workplace. Such writing was procedural. While it demanded precision, care and thoughtfulness, a creative spark and even inspiration was lacking. When I started the journey to write on Substack, it was fundamentally for me and a dream of where it might lead.
I have no regrets on arriving here. The unique premise to be a space of low friction for writers and a safe and exciting place for readers to discover new writing was a wonderful thing. When the product "matured" and the founders simply could not resist making phone apps to expand the reach, that seemed reasonable. NONE of this was a demand, but merely an option to reduce the friction for the writer and the reader -- bravo. Next, it was the launch of CHAT. This seeming extension of long-form writing seemed unusual to me but, to the credit of the Substack Team, it was OPTIONAL and did not demand our consciousness if we just opted out.
The launch of Substack NOTES recently is now another new innovation. While I think it unfair to call it a Twitter clone, it does have some elements in common. A hierarchical view of you and the greater world on Substack seems irresistible as the next step. For the first time, however, a significant change is presented that is MANDATORY with no opt-out. Sure, you can "just not use it" and meticulously block its reach. Of course its structure is managed by Substack, and they have been open in describing their intent to change and tune it. Whether controlling your circles or whatever, our social network is the data on offer. For me, this is quite different than the writer-reader and their subscription relationship.
You often write, including today, lamenting the lack of power in a relationship and I think that applies to the discussion. What, exactly are our options and how do we coexist with a new source of continuously increasing volume of MUZAK on our Substack channel. I guess we get used to it? I guess we remain hopeful that Substack will make sound choices on our behalf and make this instance of Social Media different than what preceded it by some careful magic thinking. While not specifically social media, the hierarchy that connects us all has many applications to our lives as revealed by Edward Snowden. A hop-based hierarchy is the commonality to all of these things. The implications of the number theory that underlies it means a lot of unintended chaff in the casual diagram that supposedly connects everyone in the world to Kevin Bacon in 6 steps.
I am exploring how to mitigate the impact of Substack Notes on me. What is of greater concern to me is the continued blossoming of my writing. I would have never tried to explore this sort of thing on Twitter as I didn't want to intermingle inane "I agree" or curated images of my restaurant burger in order to explore a connection with readers. I am not sure there are current options to Substack but am already exploring Mighty as a platform option. The people I have met on Substack (and here I speak of writers) has been the durable reason it made sense. I appreciated some connection with readers also but I have never wished to bait them with a hook to get them to read. That is the paradigm I see with Substack Notes.
Time is our finite resource and a social media intermediary does not feel right for what I seek from Substack. On a disciplined basis, I commit a certain amount of time to my Substack efforts. Ideation, Drafting, Publishing, Interacting, and Reading other Newsletters were the elements I need to time-split. We marvel at each new innovation in our digital world. However, our most precious commodity is time and a new place (Notes) to steal from our current Substack activities is the immediate source for time spent on Notes. Sure we can pull away from other things in our lives like family, friends, activities but assuming you are happy with your current allotments, this new innovation will simply steal time for other Substack efforts. That doesn't sound better to me.