Easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism

This is part of an ongoing series annotating Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future.

While generally considered an “optimistic” writer, and sometimes even Utopian, in MftF KSR leans heavily into the truism that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

The original Fredric Jameson quote is — “[it is] easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism,” found in The Seeds of Time (1994).

Jameson repurposed the quote several times in his writing. The current iteration — “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism” — was popularized by Mark Fisher in his book Capitalist Realism. Fisher also found an antecedent for the quote in Slavoj Zizek.

Ursula Le Guin even jumped on the bandwagon in her acceptance speech for a National Book Foundation’s medal, repurposing the quote as —

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

In MftF KSR plants many seeds for dreaming about a post-capitalist world, but in an effort to “keep it real” he imagines that such a world is not in the forseeable future.

It’s a captivating quote, but ultimately sophomoric. The end of the world is easy. It’s one thing. A meteor, a disease, zombies, etc. The end of capitalism is everthing. It touches on every single part of our lives and how our lives are structured. No wonder it’s easier to imagine one thing than the other.

Regardless, it highlights just how entrenched we are in the capitalist system, and for some, will prompt imagining what other kinds of lives are possible.

This post is part of a Ministry for the Future annotation project. Some of the ideas/concepts/terms used by Kim Stanley Robinson in MftF I want to incorporate into the the next edition of the Green New Deal book I published with Hillsborough River Press.

New Moon, Y’all

In my ongoing effort to be more aware of the natural world and its rhythms (and less entangled with the digital world) I’ve taken to recognizing the new moon when it rolls around.

If we were on a lunar calendar, the start of the month would be around now. The Hebrew month of Adar starts tomorrow, and the Muslim month of Rajab starts on Feb. 13. And tomorrow is the Chinese New Year, the year of the Ox.

Today’s a good day to start new projects, or to get back on track on projects that have fallen by the wayside. For me, this means today is a good day to dust off the files of the weird west story. I locked in the end of the story on my walk this morning, and now just need to paint in a bunch of detail (with words!).

General Update Because It’s Been a While

On my morning walk I did a little Marie Kondo-ing of the creative carhole in my brain, and decided to shutter Grinders (maybe not completely close it down, but place it on the back-burner). I think I’m trying to make it too realistic? I keep running into the following dramatic pickle —

What should the protag do? (I ask myself.) What would a real person do? (I respond.) Contact their attorney. (I conclude.)

And so I have waaayyyy too many pages of conversations with attorneys. Not particularly exciting. Due to this dullness I’ve found myself only writing on it once a week or so. I’m sure I’ll keep pecking away at it, but it’s getting de-prioritized in my writing queue. It’s always frustrating to be in a position where a project might not be completed (especially with the sunk costs!), but all this writing stuff is supposed to be fun and engaging, not boring and a chore.

Which means I’m moving on to the weird west piece that’s been languishing. Arriving at this conclusion put a spring in my step. I’ve been doing more timed writings this year as creative writing exercises, and I think I’ll be able to focus some of these on aspects of the weird west story (tentatively titled, “Three Chickens, Texas”).

I’ve also decided on the next 1HRRead. I’m going to write a long essay/short book about luck. Researching these is always fun. I look forward to learning more about probability and more about the power of talismans.

I finished reading The Ministry for the Future this weekend and decided to annotate it. There’s lots of terms/ideas/concepts I want to incorporate into the next edition of the Green New Deal 1HRRead. I’m going to post these annotations here.

It took five weeks into the new year to feel excited about any new writing projects, but it feels like these projects might have traction.

New Year’s Resolution 2021

My resolution for 2021 is to continue reducing my screen time/time on the internet.

Before Covid I’d already carved out the first hour of every day to be free of screens. M/W/F I walk through the neighborhood first thing in the morning, and that eats up more than an hour.

The other days I’ll read some fiction, or water the garden; maybe do a few chores until at least one hour passes.

This is partially to stop being beholden to the internet every waking moment, and partially to give my eyes a fucking break. They’re getting older and need more care.

A little over a month ago I started timing my screen time while at work. I use an online timer and set it to go off every 20 or 25 minutes (depending on how much work I have to do that day). This reminds me to look away from the screen for a few minutes.

In 2021 I intend to stop using my computer (and internet) after 7pm. 7pm is a more-or-less randomly selected, to allow time if there’s anything I want to accomplish after the work day. I think most days my internet use will stop around 5:30 or 6.

I have a vague memory of being more creatively productive back in the analog-era. My hope is that without the internet to distract me in the evening I’ll spend more time doodling cartoons and making notes in my notebook. I hope some of those notes will translate into some flash fiction as the year progresses.

And, of course, there are the evergreens — not really resolutions because they are the constant aspirations in my life — get more exercise, eat better, be a kinder person, be less judgy, love more, write more, read more, listen better, give more, be better about helping those in my community, tend my garden, and keep that heart chakra open.

Here’s to 2021 being much, much better than 2020. Cheers!

Roundup 09Dec20

Make better Mexican food.

MEXICAN COOKING CRASH COURSE

“This free Crash Course is the quickest way to get your home kitchen pumping out the best Mexican food in town. There are 27 authentic recipes spread out over 8 Modules in the Course table below. Your job is to make one recipe from each Module — do that and your home kitchen will be forever transformed!”

I’ll never understand why migas are not on every diner breakfast menu in the world, and why we don’t have a truck on every corner selling breakfast tacos.

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The introduction to Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past by Merlin Coverley. — Nice. A book about hauntology. The link goes to the introduction.

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Let me see if I understand this – there is a non-trivial core of conservatives in the US who believe by simply stating that black lives matter, or that you oppose fascism, you are a terrorist threat to the US. And, the best way to deal with this existential threat to American freedom and liberty is to declare martial law, suspend the constitution, and have the US military oversee a brand new, national election.

And the majority of conservative leaders keep their mouth shut, neither condemning nor supporting.

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I’ve noticed a few times now that presumptive Biden nominees are the ‘czar’ of something in new headlines. It feels like no Trump nominees were ever the ‘czar’ of anything, but Obama nominees were. Can that be right? If so, what is up with that?

Ah, Wikipedia has a page about that – List of U.S. executive branch czars.

It’s true that it was used a lot with Obama, and never with Trump. But it was also used frequently for officials in the Bush administration.

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Work once again gets in the way of writing. Work annoys me.

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I love how all these felt organs have little eyeballs. I wouldn’t mind a whole happy world made of felt.

Lucy Sparrow

The U.K.-based artist [Lucy Sparrow] set up shop with The Bourdon Street Chemist, a fully-stocked, woolen pharmacy that’ll open its doors on January 18, 2021, at London’s Lyndsey Ingram.”

Roundup 19Nov20

This is a very sound to-do list.

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How ‘The Karate Kid’ Ruined The Modern World

So, people bail on diets. Not just because they’re harder than they expected, but because they’re so much harder it seems unfair, almost criminally unjust. You can’t shake the bitter thought that, “This amount of effort should result in me looking like a panty model.”

It applies to everything. America is full of frustrated, broken, baffled people because so many of us think, ‘If I work this hard, this many hours a week, I should have (a great job, a nice house, a nice car, etc). I don’t have that thing, therefore something has corrupted the system and kept me from getting what I deserve, and that something must be (the government, illegal immigrants, my wife, my boss, my bad luck, etc).‘”

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“The Centre for Applied Eschatology is a transdisciplinary research center dedicated to ending the world. We connect professionals from the public sector, private industry, and academia to develop new knowledge and apply existing research to curtail the world’s long-term future.”

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ooohhhh, pretty pictures.

International Landscape Photographer of the Year Award 2020

Magical Night in Tromsø, Norway / Kelvin Yuen /
International Landscape Photographer of the Year

The Atlantic has a bunch for you to look at.

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I decided I needed something to remind me to take a break from looking at the screen during the workday. After years and years of screen-staring, I want to give my poor eyes a break.

I started using Tomato-Timer, an easy-to-use web app that will countdown and give me a audible alert when a certain amount of time has passed.

You can adjust the time and it has a few sound options to choose from. It’s web-based so there’s nothing to download. I run it in a tab while I do my work.

It’s meant for those using the Pomodoro technique for productivity. I’m not much for productivity hacks, but I must admit that chunking my work seems to be paying off. Since I’ve started I don’t feel as tired at the end of the day, and my eyes don’t feel as strained.

Here’s a random article about the Pomodoro Technique: I divided my work day into precise 25-minute chunks — and it was the key to staying disciplined while working from home.

For many, the point is to be productive, but it works for me as a method for being mindful about eyestrain.

I Guess I’m a Robin Hobb Fan Now

I read so much as a child.

I still read quite a bit, but as a child and young teen I’d read for hours and hours, and for days and days. Reading for fun. (I read hour after hour in grad school as well, but that was a different kind of fun. In grad school I read to engage, as a child I read to escape.)

In my early teens I read buckets and barrels of sword & sorcery, and high fantasy, but at some point that kind of vaguely medieval, vaguely western Europe sort of novel (or, more typically, trilogy of novels) lost my favor. I probably haven’t read a half-dozen fantasies like that in the last forty years.

However, driven by my mind’s inability to engage with anything critically, I’ve been fishing around for escapist literature. For reasons I can’t fully recall, I picked up Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, and I’ve been reading compulsively ever since.

This compulsive desire reminds me of youthful Saturdays when I’d lay on the couch all afternoon, with nothing more substantial planned than maybe snacks between chapters.

As of this writing I’m about a third of the way through the third volume of the first Farseer trilogy. I’d give even odds I’ll continue with more Hobb once this trilogy is done.

To call it escapist literature is not meant to be a slight against Hobb. She’s great! My mind is flooded with the detail of her world, and moved by the danger and desires of her characters, to the exclusion of the world around me. I can sink into the world Hobb creates, and for a brief window of time I don’t think about politics, or human cruelty. Fear of contagion and sickness is banished from my thoughts. The future is neither grim nor uncertain, because it is tightly bound in what happens over the next few pages, and I know that with a little patience that future will be revealed.

Once this Hobb phase has ended, and I have the cognitive energy to engage a bit more critically (assuming that day ever comes), I have The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson sitting at the top of my TBR pile.

The Mystery of McKuen

I was puzzling over this a few months ago. What was the deal with Rod McKuen? For a minute, in the late sixties and early seventies, he was the most popular poet in the US.

When I started working in a local bookstore (local to me, in Texas) in the mid-eighties, there were still dozens of McKuen poetry books in print, and we carried them all.

They were, and remain, horrible.

A few months ago I wondered if I simply didn’t have the perspective to understand the hidden beauty of Rod McKuen. Perhaps there was some charm the callow teenage me couldn’t appreciate.

Nope. Pure dreck. Bad. Like…really, really bad.

The reason I’d gone back to reconsider McKuen is because I learned he’d translated the songs of Jacques Brel. If you know the english version of the song “If You Go Away,” or “Seasons in the Sun,” you know a Brel song translated by Rod McKuen. (While he often kept Brel’s references to taboo topics, he sanitized “Seasons in the Sun” for an American audience.)

I didn’t realize until this year that the guy writing that abyssmal poety was the same person that helped introduce Brel to an American audience. Not only that, but before his arrival in the upper echelon of fame and fortune, he did readings with Ginsberg, and Kerouac, and performed at the Purple Onion. Later, Sinatra would commission McKuen to write a whole album. (Which just goes to show that drugs and alcohol can have a profoundly negative affect on your taste levels.)

Anyway, The Neglected Books Page was also recently puzzling over the mystery of McKuen, and did a deep dive into his life and work.

It’s worth reading just for the choice quotes he finds from those unimpressed by McKuen’s talent.

McKuen’s books, he wrote, belonged in “the lachrymose quagmire of the KMart poetry section.”

“language is not his strong point”

I thought about dropping in a McKuen video, but saw this live performance of “Jackie” by Scott Walker and decided to end with it, instead. This is Brel translated into English, but not the McKuen translation.

Scott Walker singing a Jacques Brel song, but this one is translated by Mort Shuman

Jackie

And if one day I should become
A singer with a Spanish bum
Who sings for women of great virtue
I’d sing to them with a guitar
I borrowed from a coffee bar
Well, what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you
My name would be Antonio
And all my bridges I would burn
And when I gave them some they’d know
I’d expect something in return
I’d have to get drunk every night
And talk about virility
With some old grandmama
Who might be decked out like a christmas tree
And though pink elephants I’d see
Though I’d be drunk as I could be
Still I would sing my song to me
About the time they called me “Jacky”

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for an hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour
Cute, cute in a stupid ass way

And if I joined the social whirl
Became procurer of young girls
Then I would have my own bordellos
My record would be number one
And I’d sell records by the ton
All sung by many other fellows
My name would then be handsome Jack
And I’d sell boats of opium
Whisky that came from Twickenham
Authentic queers
And phony virgins
If I had banks on every finger
A finger in every country
And all the countries ruled by me
I’d still know where I’d want to be
Locked up inside my opium den
Surrounded by some China men
I’d sing the song that I sang then
About the time they called me “Jacky”

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for an hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour
Cute, cute in a stupid ass way

Now, tell me, wouldn’t it be nice
That if one day in paradise
I’d sing for all the ladies up there
And they would sing along with me
We’d be so happy there to be
Cos’ down below is really nowhere
And if my name were Juniper
Then I would know where I was going
And then I would become all knowing
My beard so very long and flowing
If I became deaf, dumb, and blind
Because I pitied all mankind
And broke my heart to make things right
I’d know that every single night
When my angelic work was through
The angels and the Devil too
Would sing my childhood song to me
About the time they called me “Jacky”

If I could be for only an hour
If I could be for an hour every day
If I could be for just one little hour
Cute, cute in a stupid ass way

Roundup for 3Nov20

Is it that time of the year already? Largehearted Boy has started collecting best-of-the-year book lists from around the internet. This is the thirteenth year he has done this. Use these lists to support your local bookstore, support independent booksellers, support Powell’s, and/or support the Strand. And while you’re at it, go ahead and send a few bucks to Largehearted Boy. He’s been doing amazing work for years.

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When I read the word ‘girl’ I take it to mean ‘female child’. Which occasionally makes whatever I’m reading deeply unsettling, until I snap that the writer means ‘adult woman’.

I know that ‘descriptively’ girl is often meant to mean adult woman, but my ‘prescriptive’ brain always finds it jarring.

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Fun excerpt from The History of EC Comics by Grant Geissman.

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Goldfish Generation – a way of referring to the group of people who have grown up with smartphones and other technology and have a poor memory and attention span as a result.

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The venerable F&SF gets a new editor.

Sheree Renée Thomas to be new editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Sheree Renée Thomas

Sheree Renée Thomas is the award-winning writer and editor of Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000) and Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (2004), which earned the 2001 and 2005 World Fantasy Awards for Year’s Best Anthology. She has also edited for Random House and for magazines like ApexObsidian, and Strange Horizons. She is a member of SFWA, HWA, SFPA, and Cave Canem. Thomas is an author and poet with three collections, Nine Bar Blues: Stories from an Ancient Future (Third Man Books, 2020), Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Aqueduct Press, 2016) and Shotgun Lullabies: Stories & Poems (Aqueduct Press, 2011). Widely anthologized, her work also appears in The Big Book of Modern Fantasy and The New York Times. She was honored as a 2020 World Fantasy Award Finalist for her contributions to the genre. Thomas will be the tenth editor in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction‘s storied history. Her first appearance on the masthead will be in the March/April 2021 issue.”

Charting Progress

In an earlier post I mentioned that I missed the little progress widgets NaNoWriMo used to have. It just occurred to me that WP probably has similar widgets. Sure enough, there’s a variety to choose from.

So, even though I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, I’ve started writing the novel I’ve been plotting for the last four or five months. And now, I’ve got a little progress bar on the blog so I can show off how much, or how little, I’m getting done.

My (probably) overly-ambitious goal is to have this draft completed by the end of the year. More realisticially, it will be January or February, and then the edits will start.