On the topic of vacation

Now is the time when everyone is on vacation. To discern this, one need only scroll through one’s social media feed of choice and view the endless stream of photos of one’s family members, friends, colleagues, and vague acquaintances having ‘experiences’ in places other than their familiar surroundings. This practice of sharing vacation images of oneself and one’s ‘exotic’ (read: not at home) surroundings with others (typically against their will), while inexplicable in nature, is, however, nothing new. It’s just that it can now be done instantaneously by nearly everyone in the known world, while they are still on vacation, which by default also means that the ensuing unprecedented volume of vacation photos renders said photos even more meaningless than ever before.

For as long as humans have had access to a means for communicating their experiences to other humans through a pictorial medium there have been vacation images. Think of the humble slide projector. If you’re old enough—which few probably are—you’ll no doubt cringe at that particular recollection. The steady clicking, the rattling fan, the darkened room—no one was immune to the soporific effect that combination engendered. Peering even further back into history, it would not be surprising to learn that even cavepeople scratched pictograms of their recent travels on the walls of their stone abodes in order to show off to their neighbors how worldly they’d become. This may even have become a factor in natural selection. Who knows (or cares!).

And is that even why people share vacation photos? To demonstrate their worldliness? To flaunt the vibrant texture of their lives? At a base level, simply to brag? If not, then why? Seriously, I want to know because I’ve never understood it (even as I myself at certain weak moments in the now distant past was actually doing it, and at times on this blog no less!). Perhaps this is destined to remain one of those great mysteries of human behavior, because I’d like to think that not everyone I know (including myself) who shares and/or has shared vacation photos is a braggart.

In recent years I’ve become increasingly loathe to vacate my own surroundings for the purpose of a vacation, never mind sharing images of one with unsuspecting others. As a child I loved going on vacation, despite the occasional stress it yielded—it was worth it because I was just a clueless kid having fun wherever I was, not an adult desperately trying to escape their crummy boring life. Now as an adult I have penetrated the façade of vacation and subsequently perceived its true nature. The vacation concept is predicated on the belief that one needs a break from one’s quotidian life. This in turn implies that one’s everyday life is somehow oppressive and/or draining, generally speaking all of the time, or else why should the cumulative effect of living one’s life necessitate the taking of a vacation?

A person who is satisfied with their life and thrills to the joy of waking up each day and doing all of the little (and big!) things that fill their days should not need a so-called break in the form of vacation. If they do then they should re-examine their life choices and consider altering their current course instead of flittering off on yet another escapist journey. In addition, there are serious dangers inherent in the deliberate departure from one’s daily life in order to travel somewhere else for the purpose of not living one’s daily life. It is in the spirit of forewarning, then, that I have something important to share with you.

Fifteen years ago I concluded issue no. 14 of my former zine—which loosely explored the topic of writer’s block and was affectionately nicknamed ‘the lost issue’ in the wake of my decision to never formally distribute it—with the following public service announcement (PSA). While I no longer agree with everything I wrote in this particular PSA (and have duly added a minor update), perhaps it can still help others to navigate the travails of returning home from vacation.

Post-Vacation Stress Syndrome (PVSS) is a condition that results from the jarring return to a person’s ordinary surroundings after spending time somewhere else doing something quite out of the ordinary. It happens when you try to navigate your regular life while still trying to focus through your vacation lenses. If you have recently returned from a vacation and are experiencing some or all of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from PVSS:

-Irrational irritability
-Cursing a lot
-A general feeling of being ‘on edge’
-Snapping at or full on raging at innocent bystanders in your life
-Panicky feelings over rapid fading of memorable vacation moments
-Confusion, disorientation, and/or lightheadedness
-Overwhelming desire to crawl under a rock and hide

Luckily there is help for those who suffer from PVSS. Although no known pharmaceutical solution to the syndrome exists, many PVSS patients have found solace in one or more of the following remedies:

-Drinking lots of coffee
-Avoiding work
-Cursing a lot
-Reveling in the denial that you have actually returned home
-Reliving the vacation in its entirety in your mind over and over until your eyes glaze over and drool hangs from the corners of your mouth
-Listening to music
-Not talking to people
-Returning to favorite activities (e.g., riding bike a lot, not talking to people)
-Going on another vacation (or at least starting to plan the next one) -Not ever going on vacation again [2022 update—ed.]

Above all, PVSS patients should take comfort in knowing that there is not a single documented case of a PVSS patient who wasn’t eventually dragged kicking and screaming out of vacation purgatory back into the life they have chosen, for better or for worse.

Thank you and be safe.

zero boys ‘civilization’s dying’

Zero Boys gun control protest song, circa 1982

Civilization’s dying
And no one’s realizing
The position of hate stuck inside the gun

roy montgomery – kafka was correct

death to jargon

Jargon is a plague eroding the sanctity of language. Every field of specialization has its own filthy corral of jargon that its writers pluck from with glee and force on anyone unfortunate enough to have to read the literature these hacks have regurgitated onto the page. And actually…I do wonder about their intentionality in selecting these despicably false words. How does one ultimately decide to use the word ‘learnings’ as a plural noun? Could that honestly be a conscious decision? [If so, there may be no hope.] Or does a person read an issue of Businessweek or any other waste of paper and ink (or pixels) dedicated to the field of ‘business’ (upon which we can squarely place the blame for the majority of jargon that has infiltrated the English language) and simply internalize all these awful excuses for words? I mean, I can’t imagine someone writing a report about a meeting and thoughtfully choosing to insert ‘convening’ as a euphemistic noun in place of ‘meeting’. And yet I see that disgusting ‘word’ in many reports I edit. What kind of so-called writer does this? A lazy one.

Now, I’m not one of these people who believes languages are frozen in time and has a minor coronary every time the Oxford English Dictionary adds a few new words. A living language should gain words throughout its history—admittedly at a conservative pace—in order to meet the needs of a changing society. This normal and necessary process is not what I’m talking about, though. Jargon dilutes the effectiveness of language because it serves to replace perfectly acceptable words with trendy, idiotic terms designed to obfuscate a person’s negligible writing skills and/or their lack of comprehension of the topic about which they’re writing. It allows someone to generate paragraph upon paragraph of sentences that mean absolutely nothing. If you boiled these paragraphs in a pot until all the meaningless jargon sloughed off, you’d be left with a vapid slurry.

There is an important resource called a thesaurus, the regular use of which can help a writer build their vocabulary. Maybe it won’t completely cure the jargon plague but it can alleviate its symptoms. I’m not too proud to say I use both the thesaurus and the dictionary a lot, both in my editing work and in my personal writing. You can also learn a lot just from flipping through the dictionary at random. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the dictionary to look up a specific word (often to simply verify appropriate line breaks while proofreading) only to become lost for several minutes in its gloriously delicate thin pages. (And don’t get me started on those charming little pictures in the margins…)

The Edge of the Object [book review]

A tripartite journey—both geographical and emotional—Daniel Williams’s debut novel The Edge of the Object follows the highs and lows of a young Englishman living in France for a period of six months. The book as an object is striking to behold: three perfect-bound A4-sized volumes smartly dressed in the colors of the French flag and packaged in a screenprinted and letterpressed case—all designed and produced by Tim Hopkins of London’s The Half Pint Press. The prose found within is equally well crafted, with the book’s design complementing it nicely.

Taking cues in part from the work of Georges Perec, this novel is simultaneously a celebration of French culture as seen through the Francophilic eyes of a post-collegiate young man, and a keen look into the headspace of a person far from home, isolated by way of a language barrier he is only partly able to breach and yearning for human connections beyond what he often feels capable of. An erstwhile photographer, the unnamed narrator feels alternately liberated and hamstrung by the absence of his Leica—the camera offering a valid excuse to be present at a remove while also preventing true engagement in any given experience. This tension resulting from being camera-less clings to the narrative, as we watch the narrator struggle to engage with his surroundings—taking as many steps backward as forward in this endeavor—as he moves from place to place.

Williams writes with exacting precision—mapping the interior emotional journey of his narrator as carefully as he describes his geographical progress through France. He has a journalistic eye for detail, snapping word-images in lieu of photos and placing scene after scene in front of the reader with aplomb. Moments of wry humor and painterly passages of the French countryside counter the heaviness of themes of left-behind love and debilitating incidents of migraine headaches. Also tempering the at times somber subject matter, the pages of the first and third sections of the book are graced with striking calligrams—images sculpted from the words on the page and representative of a central theme or object on each page. These calligrams gently encourage the reader to slow down or speed up accordingly, keeping step with the pacing of the story.

The first part of the book is written in second-person point-of-view—unusual but appropriate to the experience of being in a rural area of a foreign country, surrounded by its natives, yet only with a workmanlike grasp of its language. The central character is living in a falling-apart cottage, not much more refined than a cave (and perhaps even less dry). Whenever nature calls, he must journey through a warren of gardens to reach the privy, and—adding to the inconvenience—the only running water for washing up is also located outside. It is hard living, made even harder by his isolation.

In the second part, the point-of-view segues to first person as our man reaches the big city of Paris and makes contact with the first of a series of friends he will spend time with over the coming weeks. Gone are the calligrams in favor of straightforward text blocks, as the focus in narration begins to point outwards in concert with the narrator’s efforts to interact more with the people around him. He soon meets up with a friend’s indie pop group on tour and joins them for a number of club dates around the country, during which he becomes interested in a woman whose feelings toward him are slippery at best.

The final part of the book returns to calligrams and the second-person distance, as the narrator backtracks to his lonely cottage existence. Here he comes to a decision about one last adventure to embark upon before his trip comes to a close. This jaunt provides a suitable denouement to his time in France, as we feel this fellow we’ve traveled so closely with start winding down and perhaps pine a bit harder for home. And indeed, the last page finds him back in England with his camera once again in hand—facing a future unknown but now fertilized with a rich new layer of experience from which to grow, perhaps out beyond the self he became too much of while away.

And yet, while these six months have taken you further from the excesses of the world than ever before, they have plunged you into an excess of time, of memory, and of yearning. If anything, you have become too much yourself.

[Limited print copies of the book may still be available, and the ebook has recently been released. Details at The Edge of the Object site. See also Williams’s essay in The Quietus on Perec’s novella A Man Asleep and its connection to this novel.]

get your trinkets

The GPA archivists have begun a new series called ‘Trinkets’ that will explore the theme of Smallness. For this series, one collaborator provides a series of three photos to the other collaborator who must then caption them. In the first installment, we follow the escapades of a tiny cat who escaped from its tiny box.

new gpa interview

The GPA archivists managed to track down and interrogate…erm, interview a fictional character in a collaborative Victorian novel, who may or may not have also been the author of an extraordinary number of popular but now forgotten novels.

excerpt from a manuscript in limbo

Attar sits at the table staring at his daily calculations. Sweat drips from his brow onto the parchment, mingling with the still-fresh ink, causing it to run and distort into grotesque shapes that seep across the page. Attar absently runs his index finger through the dark fluid, further smearing the neat figures into an illegible dark blot. He considers with disinterest the resulting negation of six hours of work. Crumpling the parchment he throws it on the floor, which in uncharacteristic fashion is now littered with the detritus of a listless life.

Attar’s head feels heavy, like his neck might soon fail to hold it up. With great effort he stands, shuffles to his cot and collapses upon it. Staring up through the skylight he tries doing calculations in his head but the numbers resist his manipulation. He rolls onto his side and fades into the little death.

The next morning he rises early at his usual time, feeling unrefreshed. At the oval window he stares into the garden as the morning sun burns off the remaining wisps of night mist. It will be another day like the one before it. Turning toward the table his gaze falls upon the neat stack of parchment, the pen, the inkwell. An image of Nasef as an inkpot monkey passes through his mind, causing a vague smile to grace his lips.

After breakfast Attar walks the grounds, despite his anxiety over being outside for so long. But he must at least make some effort to look for Nasef. Now is also a good time to survey potential locations for the sentinel towers. Though he cannot leave the grounds in search of Nasef he can at least commit to build those towers. And once they are built he will be able to see Nasef coming from a great distance away. For Nasef will indeed return one day. He feels certain of that.

publications update

A Set of Lines front coverA Set of Lines is now available through the Ingram distribution network, so basically from anywhere that sells books. However, it will likely only be on the physical shelves of bookstores where I sell it on consignment. Currently that includes Quimby’s in Chicago and Atomic Books in Baltimore. If you’d like to support your local bookshop you can either ask them to special order it or you can order the book from Bookshop.org, where independent bookstores receive the full profit from each sale. You can designate which store you’d like to benefit, or it will go into an earnings pool that is distributed equally among independent bookstores.

Hatred of Writing, Bunker Diaries, and Inner Harbor Field Reports have also been restocked at Quimby’s Bookstore and Atomic Books. There are order links at the bottom of both of those pages. These are the last copies, so when they sell out these titles will be out of print.

No new publications on the horizon at the moment, but maybe that will change soon. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to collaborate on writing for Ghost Paper Archives.

steve albini on goals

I’ve lived my whole life without having goals, and I think that’s very valuable, because then I never am in a state of anxiety or dissatisfaction. I never feel I haven’t achieved something. I never feel there is something yet to be accomplished. I feel like goals are quite counterproductive. They give you a target, and until the moment you reach that target, you are stressed and unsatisfied, and at the moment you reach that specific target you are aimless and have lost the lodestar of your existence. I’ve always tried to see everything as a process. I want to do things in a certain way that I can be proud of that is sustainable and is fair and equitable to everybody that I interact with. If I can do that, then that’s a success, and success means that I get to do it again tomorrow.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times
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