The Liminal Year

This was a year. There is not much more to say about it. Things happened but they always do.

This was a year as liminal space between dumb and stupid. Dumb things happened. I kept saying “everything is stupid” and I was never proven wrong, perhaps proof of what I was saying. A quote as a perpetual motion machine.

The year began with my search for a new literary agent because I had written three books, or four (two of them are a duology and could quite easily be one title, but they were written as two), over the past four years and he was unsuccessful in selling any of them. I don’t blame him for this (he’s quite a successful agent) but I don’t blame myself either. Parting ways with him was a kind of liberation from agents, though I did then spend the next three months (unsuccessfully, again, there’s that word) searching for a new agent. But I was damaged goods, surely, partly because my previous agent is not a chump, and then in March I returned to my old publisher (ECW) and placed one of the books (but not the others mind you, and I’ll return to this) and it will be published in the spring of 2024.

My father caught Covid. In the dumbest way possible but also in a way quite in character, if I have to admit this, and then he died in March, not from Covid, but surely because of it, so his was not a death added to the statistics of the global plague but, again, his death started with Covid. Officially he died of organ failure, resulting from an unchecked infection, which was not caught, for whatever reason, after a series of hospital stays due to Covid, all of this at my parents’ winter home in Kolkata, so this was all transmitted to me by phone from a panicked mother or other family members.

He died in March.

This then sent my brother and I on a scramble to obtain a visa from the Indian authorities, which seemed impossible (Canada and India, despite or perhaps because of the size of the Indian diaspora in this country, do not play nice together on the diplomatic level) but then became possible thanks to the great help of strangers (my brother is far more famous than I am and when our travel agent encouraged him to apply pressure to the Indian High Commission via social media the outpouring of offers to help was not only something to behold, it gave me some hope, honestly, for people, and allowed me to refer, more than once, to Blanche Dubois’s Kindness of Strangers speech) and we were on our way. It was the first time I had been on an airplane in more than two years, and it resulted in my first visit to India in more than 30 years. It was an odd way to reconnect with family but it was also oddly comforting. We performed rituals by the river and then a funeral for family and friends. We drank a very expensive bottle of scotch I’d picked up at the duty free shop at the airport in Delhi. We saw aunts and cousins and ancient family friends. We ate as much street food as possible. The jet lag never left us. 

On one of our last days there, we accompanied my mother to my parents’ country house, about 4 hours north of the city, to the place where my father felt his most complete self and spent the day there before returning to Kolkata and then, ultimately, home, where I arrived exhausted in every possible way.

We held a memorial service for my father in the summer, for his Montreal friends, held in the basement of an art gallery that had housed a…Covid test centre. The room overlooked the courtyard of an Italian restaurant near the Museum of Fine Arts and we served Indian and Italian snacks and it finally felt like closure.

Here’s the stupid part: my father was first infected with Covid at a beauty salon. Normally he would go for a mani/pedi but this time he got a facial as well. We can’t be sure he got infected there, but he otherwise hardly left the house. My mother never got it. She still hasn’t. I have the bill from the salon. It is a ghoulish artifact (and one of many – my father never threw anything away…)

My father-in-law died later in the year. He had fallen and the fall was the culmination of a long couple of years of failing health. He was ready to go, and my wife and son got to see him the day before he died. My wife delivered a wonderful eulogy.

(My father’s brother died. Not to put his death parenthetically, which, granted, I’ve just done, but his death was my personal tragedy-comes-in-threes endpoint.)

My mother decided to return to India for good after more than 50 years in Montreal. Helping her shut down her life here, cleaning out the home, going through my father’s things (we found things…), seeing her off, was a bookend in and of itself. 

I started my own consultancy toward the end of 2021 and in the fall I accepted a job with one of my clients, which, aside from all the death, was perhaps the most unexpected thing that happened during the year. (I also helped in the start of a…hot sauce company.)

The Russian invasion of Ukraine happened. China took another turn (and again and again). India is going to a bad place more and more. Lots and lots of people died for unspeakably dumb reasons, at the hands, directly and indirectly, of unspeakably dumb people. Hunger is still a thing. Forests are still being cut down. Animals are being driven to extinction. The weather is weird and getting weirder. All of this is caused by people. The stock market. Inflation. Chatbots and AI. The metaverse. Crypto finally collapsed. NFTs were a thing and then weren’t. I don’t want to hear more about Web3. They all feel like grifts. Speaking of which: Trump never went away and continues to live rent-free in the minds of millions. And speaking of rent-free….

Elon Musk’s chaos-reign at Twitter had me looking at other social media and I joined Mastodon, Post.News, CounterSocial and Hive. I quit Hive (though it was, seriously, the best-looking social media). And though I remain on Twitter, I have to say the chaos surrounding, well, everything had me rethinking social media in general and I realized I just don’t use it as much anymore and need it even less. This is both a function of my age and general crankiness but also a definite continuation of my retreat from the world, one that started well before the pandemic, was accelerated by the forced quarantines and rules instituted because of the plague, and that continued as things opened up. The fact that the year on social ended with the epic self-own of a professional misogynist at the hands of a teenaged environmental activist who seemed to live, yes, rent-free in his messy awful mind was not just irony and poetic justice, and not just dumb and stupid, it perfectly encapsulated that liminal space the year inhabited.

In the coming year, I will edit a book. I will continue work on a new one. I am thinking of starting the search for a literary agent, again, because the idea of doing the self-publishing thing exhausts me and, remember, I have two or three books that need a publisher. I will cut the cord on cable, finally, and stick to some streaming services. (The only thing I watch on linear TV is sports and there are work-arounds there.) I hope to get on a plane again, with my wife, and do some proper vacationing.

I know good things happened in 2022. I’m thankful for them. I’m thankful for the family and friends that continue to put up with me. I am thankful for the continued existence of love despite everything that surrounds us. Anger is an energy, sure, and a destructive one. Anger begets fear which begets anger. An ouroboros.

But love is also an energy. A greater one, with more power, sustaining, right up there, with the sun.

A dumb, stupid energy.

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2021

2021 both happened and didn’t happen. I mean it did, of course it did, I’m not delusional. I’m not a denier of time. And we know there are some people who do deny time, or its passage. The end is never good because the end is always the same. That’s also something about time: there is an end. Even if time is endless.

So: time happens. But it also doesn’t.

And 2022 is also going to happen. I’ve always had trouble with the passage of time. Not in the sense of its denial but in the sense of feeling it. A date or holiday or season almost always surprises me. I live with a kind of timelessness and for this reason the things that we use to mark time’s passage always catch me unawares. I’m in a perpetual state of not being ready. But then I catch up quickly. So I’m good at something.

And now, in this time of the plague, time is even more elusive. It does not help that I am reading a book about space, where the concept of space-time and light years and infinity and “before the Big Bang” are bandied about like cheap candy.

Time is a measurement that we can see and feel but only in its passing, and usually in our lower back.

2021 started down then went up and then went down but that is not really about time but of mood, which has nothing to do with time and everything to do with our feelings, which are also linked and not linked to time.

Time is nothing. And everything. 2021, in that sense, was the timeliest of times.

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Goings On

There are a few things happening and I thought I should list them here. It’s true that I have neglected this space, and there are reasons for it, some of which are even valid, but mostly it is because, well, I have neglected this space. I have been writing over on Medium, which my well be a waste of time, I’m not sure, but it’s there and I’ve posted. As opposed to posting here. This is the surest evidence of neglect.

But a quick look at my Medium page shows that I’ve neglected it as well. Because I’ve been neglecting a lot of things. It’s what the pandemic has created, neglect, and lots of it. I have NOT neglected people, or at least those I love, though I have neglected, um, people, in that I don’t really go out much anymore, even though I can. And by that I mean I live in a place where I can go out and I still don’t. This is not something caused by the pandemic as much as accelerated by it. The pandemic has accelerated a lot of things.

Writing: my agent, who is great but who may have not made the best decision when he decided to represent me, has struggled with my work. Admittedly, my work has pivoted. I am much more concerned with the climate these days, and so my latest works can be classified, if they must, as cli-fi. He is having trouble selling them. Not because the work is not good, which is possible, but because it’s not really the kind of work he sells and so he’s had to resort to asking his colleagues and thus he must deal with editors that perhaps he doesn’t know or does not feel a connection for and one of the things that the publishing industry runs on, if we can say it runs at all, is connections. It’s a very personal thing, this industry. Sure, I’m writing, which is perhaps foolish enough, because the industry is, well, dumb is the word probably, but I’m a dumb foolish writer and what I do is write. So, my agent has had problems selling my cli-fi (how dumb am I? I wrote one book, The Higher The Water, and then wrote another, The Three Valleys, a sequel, that’s how dumb), and while he was having trouble selling that, I wrote another book, a kind of parallel reality sci-fi type thing that is really centered around the world of work. It’s called Redegenerate. And that’s what he’s trying to sell now. There’s sex and death and golf and lots of smoking. It’s set in Maine so there is Whoopie Pie. But still. No takers.

Earlier, like a few years ago, two agents in two countries couldn’t sell a manuscript I wrote called Jones. I still think of that novel fondly. I might just release it, a chapter a week, on Medium. That’s how much I love that book. That one is called Jones. Funnily enough, my agent sold another novel, also called Jones, just a few weeks back. And that writer lives in my neighborhood. Meaning Mile End’s quota for books called Jones is probably past its limit.

I have started a new company. I’m good at some things and the stuff I’m doing with this company actually pays. Or will. Hopefully. I just started. I’m sure eventually someone will pay me.

Speaking of not being paid, I am part of a media start-up called The Solo Project. The content talks about people like me and also talks about people not like me. In some cases, I do the talking: I have a podcast and that’s coming out in mid-September. Here’s the trailer.

So it’s not like I’ve not been busy. I’ve just neglected this page. Life can be difficult. Or not. Sometimes you forget to do things.

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A Quick Hello After a Long Absence

And then I decided, well, it’s been a while. The world has… gone batshit. Literally. And so perhaps I should return to this space and write things down every once in a while. Not for you. But for me. It might be nice to get my thoughts in order.

So that’s what I’m doing.

In March I lost my job. Well, if I really think about it, I lost it a long time before that, but that’s just a text about office politics and rather boring. But after 20 odd years at the same company I found myself free and it was liberating once I’d realized completely what had happened. The world was, well, batshit, by then, and a part of me (and soon all of me) was relieved to not have to take part in trying to maintain an order that had so obviously failed.

This allowed me think and write. I even spoke to some people about new work but nothing has come of it. Not yet.

I had been writing and then I really started writing a lot. My agent was already shopping one novel and I’d started writing a sequel to it. (For those asking the obvious question, my agent continues to shop the novel – the book world, not functional at the best of times, – is not immune to the inanity of the world. And then once the sequel was done (it’s not done, but it’s advanced, quite a few drafts) this other story poured out of me and I got four (!) drafts done and I just sent that one to my agent as well (and all of you should be feeling a touch sorry for him by now). So I’ve been busy. In my own way.

But this plague, man.

The plague showed us what people are really like and while a lot of it was uplifting (hello front line workers), a lot of it…was not.

The nationalists couldn’t figure this out and made it worse (they always do because to be a nationalist is to be devoid of empathy and a health crisis cries out for competence but mostly for empathy). But they are not alone in their incompetence.

I have seen the cynicism politics is engendering in the world, especially among young people (ie: Generation Z) and I worry about that. I don’t blame them for their cynicism. And now, with the plague, well, the world will feel this for a long time to come.

And then the fires and the hurricanes and the fact that even when the world was at a standstill we couldn’t bring down carbon emissions that much. Which points to the enormity of the work we have to do (and how little we’ve done so far).

I’m really concentrating on plastics, mostly in the water, but everywhere else as well. If one thing is going to get us it’s the plastics. In the future, archaeologists may well call this not the Anthropocene but the Age of Plastic (or carbon). Because we make a lot of it and then we throw it out.

I can’t watch the news. Just snippets of it. I especially can’t watch television news. It’s the voices. So I don’t listen to news on the radio either.

Having said that, it’s impossible to escape the news.

I am off Facebook. I haven’t deleted my account and I suppose at some point I will. But I am off. Hopefully I can wean myself off the entire ecosystem.

I am reading a lot of the chest thumping from those who built the social media ecosystem and now regret their choices. I have a big middle finger pointed in all their directions.

I’m also reading a lot, period. I should probably create a list of stuff I’ve read and watched. Speaking of watching…

I have now accepted the mediocrity of Netflix’s vision. The “throw stuff on the side of the barn and some of it will stick” curation of their offering. They have money, for now, and they’re willing to spend it. Same with the other streamers.

I rarely leave my neighbourhood. We went to the country over the summer a few times and hiked and swam in lakes. I’ve been to adjacent neighbourhoods. But I haven’t been downtown in months. Probably since March. I’m not the only one. And it’s not entirely a bad thing (though it’s bad, don’t get me wrong).

We ordered a lot of food and discovered some new ways to get our vegetables and seafood. We shopped locally. We’re lucky we live in a place where almost everything we need is available within a few blocks.

I cook more than I used to and I was already cooking a lot. Now the cooking process isn’t rushed.

Time is elastic. For everyone who ever said “time is relative” you have been proven correct. Congratulations.

I drank a lot of White Claw this summer and I’m not ashamed to admit it (when I say I drank a lot I’m totally downplaying it).

I’m thankful pot is legal and easy to access.

I am lucky and thankful that my family is healthy.

I hope yours is as well. See you soon.

How do you like me now?

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Sometimes You Just Forget

You get busy. You lose the habit. What was once regular becomes not so regular. You stop thinking about the thing as a part of your life. You end the habit of thinking about doing something about thinking about it. You do other things.

You write another book. You find a new agent. You can’t sell the book and so you change the agent and then the new agent can’t sell it either. So even though you still believe in the book you say “fuck it” and move on and meanwhile you’ve written another book and then started yet another one.

That’s what happens. You get busy. You lose the habit. Not of writing but of writing in that particular place. But it’s there. You’re still paying for it, after all. You still get bills to remind you. You think about the nature of neglect. Or negligence. So you write something. To feel more alive. Or, perhaps, just to prove that you haven’t forgotten the thing. Even though you have. You’ve just proven it.

You get busy. Or you’re an asshole. Maybe the two are the same thing.

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You May Have Noticed…

….or not.

But the Twisters are over. The last straw, to use a well-worn idiom, was Twitter’s idiotic shift to 280-characters. I say idiotic, but I’m sure there were people at Twitter who saw this as….a path to further “engagement” or, perhaps, a way to get new users to sign up, since they must have had research that indicated Twitter was “too complicated” and “too short” and “too much noise.” So given their myriad problems, their solution was to increase the character count. There was no clamor for this. But it’s what they decided. Did this work? For the bottom line, it’s possible. For the user, I doubt it. For the long time fan (and I’ve been on Twitter since 2008): absolutely not.

If anything this change had the opposite effect on me.

Had Twitter continued with the character counter, it might not have been a big deal. Not to people like me (and I admit I’m a member of a small tribe here). But, no, they decided to go to some circle that approximated your character count; it is a solution only an engineer could love. And added to the character count change was the change in Twitter’s character; its refusal to silence the bullies, it’s idiotically idealized notions of “free speech” (and, let’s be clear, this notion is pervasive throughout Silicon Valley – I’ve long said that ideology is easy but thinking is hard), its standing by while individuals and entire communities were hurt by bullies and trolls and Nazis, its bully pulpit status for countless politicians but mostly for a certain President who continues to do whatever it is he does for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, and Twitter had become a place I no longer wanted to visit.

Others have published far more eloquent things about the problems with Twitter. My friend Mike Monteiro has written about quitting Twitter a few times (here and here). Here’s another great piece by Lindy West. There is this by an educator (I’ll get to this reason shortly). CNN published a list of famous people who left the platform. I could go on and on. All of the essays cite arguments that are valid. My reasons are “all of the above.” How does one enjoy a place where so many people are so angry and hurtful and, well, dumb?

In the past year (18 months really) I have also completed two (!) novels. One is really complete (and during its completion I also switched agents) and the other is very complete. I have rough outlines (and when I say outline I really mean “paragraphs” and “advanced scribbles”) for two more. I’ve been productive! To put this in perspective, my first novel took the better part of a decade to finish. All this productivity means something has to give.

Back in 2008, Twitter, and social media in general, cut in to my TV time. A media platform had to fall off, time is finite after all, and I cut back on TV. Today, I find I’m watching more TV again. So something had to fall off. This time, it’s social media.

I’d given up on Facebook a long time ago (though, full disclosure, and for reasons that I almost resent, I still have an author page). It makes people ridiculously inane. More so than Twitter. It functions at a level that most people don’t quite understand – is it media, is it a place to meet friends and stay in touch with family, is it news, is it, rather, the world’s most successful and lucrative personalized ad delivery service….All of the above? The fact that the Russians used Facebook so well, serving up highly targeted ads and memes, to help elect the Orange Clown, and that Facebook denied that involvement for so long (take a look at Mueller’s indictment; it mentions Facebook almost 40 times), all the while reaping incredible profits…is, well, it is the way the world works. The Russians, Shitler and his minions and the trolls in general seem to understand how social media works better than most people. If they are in possession of genius, this is it (the Russians are much smarter, of course – they saw social media as a way to divide people, as a way to feed their basest hungers, and they fed it; they did not exploit anything that was not already exploitable). All this to say, I don’t really have feelings for Facebook one way or the other. It’s there. It’s the Microsoft of social media. The fact young people aren’t attracted to it anymore gives me a certain amount of satisfaction. (The other thing Facebook has accomplished, of course, with Google, is to suck up an amazing amount of digital advertising, a fact that impacts local media around the world every day, and I truly believe that the entire edifice of journalism begins with local media.)

Twitter, on the other hand, meant a lot to me. The novel my agent is shopping now started with a character that I found reappearing in my Twisters, a character I wanted to explore more and more until I found I’d written an entire novel. I have met people on Twitter, made connections and friends, I would not have otherwise have made. I enjoyed it when it was enjoyable. Because it was. At its best, Twitter was exhilarating, like watching the world unfold in real time, with a group of genuinely entertaining and smart people. And funny. Twitter was a funny place. Talking about it like this now makes it sound like make-believe, like something out of a parallel universe. Which makes my retreat from it all the more painful. To me. (Make no mistake. Whether I am writing 140-character short stories on Twitter or not will not change the world one way or the other.)

I doubt that I was going to continue to write my Twisters forever (and for those who care, about 80% of my Twisters are searchable here). The road would come to an end sooner or later. All roads do. And that end has come. I just thought I’d let you know.

 

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I Had a Tweet Made Into a Movie, Too

It just didn’t have the budget that, perhaps, a Rihanna-Lupita heist movie might have (and honestly how great does that sound?). And it wasn’t produced by Netflix. But it was still something. A really cool something. It even won an audience award at the Filminute Festival in 2009. (Directed by Torontonian James Cooper).


But it didn’t have Rihanna or Lupita. Though it did feature some pretty cool – and witty – special effects.

I swear I would sell my entire Twitter feed to Netflix if they were interested. There must be at least 100 movies in there. Anyone can buy them. If the price were right. (Meanwhile I still have a screenplay idea based on some of my Twisters, and the novel currently in the hands of my agent was inspired, in part, by a “character” that kept showing up in my feed).

But I never tweeted about Rihanna or Lupita or a heist movie. My bad.

PARIS, FRANCE – MARCH 05: (L-R) Actress Lea Seydoux, Margot Robbie, singer Rihanna, actresses Lupita Nyong’o and Elizabeth Olsen attend the Miu Miu show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Fall/Winter 2014-2015 on March 5, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

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Absolutely Useless Thoughts: 7


It is difficult to talk about useless thoughts these days when the world is mesmerized by the useless thoughts of President Whack-A-Mole who is pretty much doing what he said he would do. All of those people who voted for him because they didn’t “take him seriously” or just “wanted to see” what would happen or who claimed there was “no difference” between The Orange One and Hilary are not just assholes but idiots and guilty of the most intense kind of intellectual laziness. The sheer awfulness coming out of Trumplestiltskin’s mouth is leaving an insanely smelly oil slick over America. And soon it might be a literal one. Normally, I don’t feel bad for anyone who must live under a leader who was voted in by democratic means. But I am beginning to feel very bad for my American friends. Very much so.

1. And what is up with Jared Kushner? Like he appeared smart. Sure he had the misfortune of having Sir Whines A Lot as his father-in-law but still. It appears that there is a rupture in his family because of what he is doing. Or not doing. His brother was very visible at the Women’s March. Jared seems to be abandoning everything he may have believed in earlier in life, but his new station very much questions the make up of his very soul. A friend said that he thinks Kushner is gay and that he married a drag queen. That would at least make him interesting.

2. Speaking of dicks. We were dicks to the Neanderthals. They seem like they were nice folk, and the DNA we inherited from them made us start smoking. Or something. I’m not too good with science.

3. And further speaking of The Mouth That Roared, it is possible to escape from him. Because a town in Austria has a job opening. For a hermit. If it’s a 4-year term, where do I apply?

4. Do you like parking garages? Do you like self-driving cars? Well you can’t like both.

5. Did you know there is a “war on cash“? Because there is. Before you ask, “Why would there be a war on cash?” or “What kind of Communist manifesto are we talking here?” this war is being waged in places like Germany and Sweden and Holland. And it’s fucking a lot of people up (never mind the war on cash in India which is a totally different story). And I haven’t even mentioned Bitcoin yet. Because that just new cash.

6. Speaking of cash, you should have bought Dominos stock. Yes, pizza. You should have bet on pizza and not on, say, Google. Because people always need pizza. There’s a chart to prove it. The stock. I don’t need to prove that people always need pizza.

via GIPHY

7. Do you ever wonder what it’s like to move to a place so foreign, so diametrically different from the land of your birth that down is up and yes is no? (This might soon be how it will feel for everyone to move to the US as long as they’re not Muslim or Latino because then the point is moot). This story might make you rethink your assumptions. Especially if the place you end up does not resemble what you know from the movies.

8. Speaking of assumptions, Dubai’s firemen now have jetpacks.

9. This story, of a boy and his special friendship with a bunch of marmots (oh, behave), is an antidote to everything the Golden Haired Id will say or do.

10. And if the boy and his marmots don’t do it for you, this website just might. It’s the most random peek at humanity ever. It is also completely hypnotizing. At least it is to me. Because it is Asshole-in-Chief free. I promise. Why? It randomly selects YouTube videos with zero views.

via GIPHY

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Absolutely Useless Thoughts: 6

Might as well number them. Because I think I’m going to be doing them on a regular basis. So the first officially regular collection of Useless Thoughts, is AUT: 6. Makes about as much sense as anything else in the world right now.

1. Do we ever regret what technology does? Are we so enthralled that we kind of forgive the errors we make in our headlong rush to “the future”? I’m asking because it just seems we’re at a point where we are going to give up a lot of our freedom for the sake of convenience. Sure, Google is convenient, and Facebook allows you to keep tabs on your second cousin’s new puppy, but I get the sense we ain’t seen nothing yet. And the company that’s going to really lead the charge toward a real future, and I say real in the sense of the future = flying jetpacks, is…Amazon. And more specifically, Alexa. We’re going to talk to our things now. And sometimes the things will get what we say wrong (because we’ve forgotten to switch off the defaults and the results will be hilarious). But they will do it with cute faces so we’ll forgive them. More and more, the most prescient movie ever feels like Wall-E.

2. I am a Gen Xer and have never felt anger toward Millennials. I tend to shy away from any headline with the term “millennial” in it because it’s a lazy catch all phrase meant to disparage “the young” and tends to be a flag for articles that overgeneralize and oversimplify complex ideas, meaning they were probably written by Boomers, who as a group do that kind of thing and are to blame for almost everything.

3. Speaking of oversimplifying, and of our headlong drive toward dystopia, and speaking of driving, look what Uber is doing. (Honestly, Uber just fills voids, like any good business. You don’t have to like that they fill voids, but if it works it must be filling in need).

4. I’m big on the health of the oceans. Of water in general. And as a corollary, I’m not a fan of plastic and its ubiquity. Sure, plastic filled a need, and it did it so well that chances are the fish you eat has plastic in it. So it makes perfect sense that in the future, the ugly Australian fish you order at the local restaurant may well come from…Iowa. Because that’s the kind of world we live in.

5. And speaking of health, shopping malls are in bad health and struggling with ways to fill up all the empty space that come with store closures. Before you blame the internet (and you can) in general and Amazon specifically (you can do this, too), perhaps blame…the malls themselves. And you, because you’re responsible for everything. We all are. But I, for one, am never going skiing in a mall. Probably.

6. The Chinese take a long term view of everything, which is why the government doesn’t care what you think and never has (unless you’re talking about Taiwan and then they get pretty prickly), and why this story makes a certain amount of sense: The Chinese are “easing” a 2,000 year old monopoly on salt. And you thought water was important.

7. I don’t know about you, but I’m still evolving. Not in the holistic sense, but in the sense that I’m a human and we’re still evolving in a very real sense. Not only that, we’re still discovering organs inside of us. (I honestly thought we only had 5 or 6 organs, tops, not 70).

8. Pluto’s unceremonious demotion from planetary status was harsh and I’m still not over it. So perhaps it’s a feel good story that Pluto shares some unique features with Earth, which is still a planet, and would definitely be a feel good story if planets had feelings, which they don’t, but Pluto’s not a planet, right? So who knows?

9. I still don’t know what to think of President-elect Whack-A-Mole other than that I am more convinced then ever that we must learn to ignore his tweets and just focus, people, focus on what is happening, because our concept of “authoritarianism” is false, the facts are much more boring and the banality of it is why its so potentially insidious.

10. My agent, who is wonderful and talented, etc etc has my new manuscript out with publishers in two countries (UK and Canada so far) and nothing, no word, and being a writer you start to wonder whether or not what you’ve written is any good. Because this thought is in the back of every writer’s mind, it’s the thing that keeps you honest and that keeps you going. So you think it, and you pause. Until you get back to your next manuscript and keep on keeping on, because as I’ve said before, writing is a sickness and I don’t think we’ve found a cure for it yet. (And to the editors in the UK and Canada that have the manuscript, what are you waiting for? I’m not getting any younger here.)

11. This is my favorite new thing maybe:

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Absolutely Useless Thoughts, Jr: 2017

best-sweatpants-for-men-0I might as well continue this, right? After all, my only new year’s resolution is to buy sweatpants. I own sweatpants already, but I need a new pair. And, apparently, the athleisure thing has peaked, so maybe there are good deals on sweatpants now. Or even on companies that produce sweatpants.

1. Should we rename our species? Like are we really sapiens? Some people think we’re not and should be named accordingly.

2. Cars. We won’t be driving them. Or trucks. Already, self-driving trucks are driving self-driving cars. This is bad for a lot of people. No one seems to connect automation with unemployment much (Trump still hasn’t figured this out) but worse, automation has led to inequality. And very few people in power care about inequality. But they should.

3. And now someone has built those scary human-driven robots we see in sci-fi movies.

4. Fish have feelings. Sometimes very strong ones. Finding Nemo is, perhaps, a documentary….

5. Speaking of food, this is a great story about Chinese food in small-town Canada. There have been terrific books about Chinese food in the US (I highly recommend this one and this one and this one), but not so much about Canada. Out West, especially, every single town seems to have a Chinese café. I remember once taking my son to Milo, Alberta (his name is Milo) and we ate at the only restaurant in town, a Chinese-Canadian restaurant where you could get chop suey and won ton soup or a hamburger. North America is full of these places and you often think of the people who work there, who own these places, often the only Chinese people for miles.

The Milo Cafe, Milo, AB

The Milo Cafe, Milo, AB

6. Speaking of food, this story is one of the most delightful I read all year, not really about food so much as about a time and place but most of all about brothers and the odd bond they share, even when the bond doesn’t feel so strong. I loved everything about this story. Bonus for being set inside a Carl’s Jr.

7. American soft power is still its strongest and hardest power. I’m not sure the incoming President knows this because culture is not one of his strong (and ill-fitting) suits. But when KFC and Donald Duck become synonymous with Christmas in places as disparate as Japan and Sweden, well, that’s the hardest example of soft power.

8. I can’t keep up with TV anymore. I didn’t watch TV for a while because I couldn’t find the time. Then I realized it was because all the good shows are now long form serials – you have to watch them from the beginning to get what’s going on. I watch some shows now. But still, TV’s gotten so good these days it’s like too much of a good thing. I don’t know how anyone has time for anything anymore.

9. New Hampshire is not far from where I live and suddenly there is reason to be afraid of this simple fact of geography.

10. You’ve heard of OPEC. But I doubt very much that you have heard of the maple syrup version of OPEC.

11. It snowed in the Sahara. I’m sure this happens from time to time. It’s quite beautiful.

12. I hope 2017 turns out to be less awful than 2016. The pessimist in me suggests 2016 was just a warm up. We’ve suffered in the past and will suffer in the future. From a purely Canadian perspective, 2016 wasn’t so bad. But globally, well, more people were happy to see 2016 in their rear view mirror. And then the new year started with a terrorist explosion in Istanbul…

13. My son, who is almost 17, doesn’t quite get the concept of rotary phones. Or even the pre-internet era. This video of an old Cathode Ray Tube television, slowed down, might freak him out. But I could watch this forever.

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