So it’s now two weeks since my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine so I’m fully immune apparently. Not that it keeps me from feeling anxious at the grocery store when other customers crowd me or I have to watch people pull their mask down to inspect the salad (🤷🏻♂️). I could start attending mass in person, but I feel like the last twelve months have exposed a large fraction of my co-religionists as people who value outward signs of faith over actually taking care of other people so it doesn’t have a strong appeal to me since I’d almost certainly be surrounded by pharisees. I feel like the biggest damage of the last twelve months has been seeing how many people would rather worship Mammon than the God of life and wondering how I can rebuild a normal life in the face of that.
Because of one of last year’s writerly resolutions, I didn’t send anything out this year, but there was still plenty of overhang from last year and early in the year I managed to get acceptances in both poetry and fiction (the latter even included a double acceptance). My publications for 2020 were my story, “The Namesake” and a poem which was published as “Chicago Sonnet” but is properly “Chicago Sonnet #1” which appeared in Pudding Magazine 69.
For those who like charts, here’s the graph of my fiction rejections over the years
In July, I started a countdown to January 20th on Facebook and Twitter. It was nominally to the end of the Trump presidency but about a month into it, I started to think that when I got to zero, I was going to delete my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
I’ve been on both platforms for a long time. I joined Twitter in April 2007. If I remember correctly, my entry to Facebook was January of that year (or perhaps New Year’s Eve 2006—I had an invite from a member of the writing group I was in at the time and in those early days a lot of time was wasted engaging in the useless Skinner box button mashing of zombie killer or something like that.
There have been the occasional delightful reconnections with people from my past. There have been a handful of people who I found myself wishing that I’d spent more time hanging out with them back in the day. But there have also been a number of people that I find myself realizing that there’s a reason why we’ve fallen out of touch.
One friend from my past is Facebook friends with a high school classmate who seems dedicated to posting rather vile personal attacks against my friend and his wife on anything that the friend posts which is in any way political. I don’t know whether it’s admirable or perplexing that my friend hasn’t blocked this high school classmate. For me, I found that back in 2016, entering “friends who like trump” into the search bar and unfriending everyone in the results list did a lot to improve my Facebook experience.
I should point out that I’m not trying to create an ideological bubble, but there’s a difference between holding conservative political views and supporting a racist criminal bully who had he not been born into wealth would be the guy who sits alone on the stool at the end of the bar ranting about the [insert racist term for his latest bête noir here]s who no one talks to because he’s such a vile person. I have not unfriended anyone for, e.g., opposing the Illinois Fair Tax proposal (as misguided as any such opposition might be).
I’ve enjoyed the occasional bits of serendipitous discovery that have been made possible through using Facebook and Twitter. I’ve found authors that I might not have found otherwise and even made something approaching actual friendships with some of them. I have a good memory for making connections between things and have on many occasions remembered something someone posted that they were looking for and then found what they were looking for and been able to connect them to their object of desire.
But I’ve also found myself feeling like Matthew Broderick’s character in WarGames
Because of conversations on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve learned negative things about writers I had previously admired. On the one hand, there’s kind of an obligation to be informed about things but on the other hand, it would be so much nicer to not know that, M— said horrible racist things to C— when he was her student and then when confronted with this knowledge, her response was not good. (I ended up dropping M— from my follow list and putting C— in her place.)
Overall, I’m finding that my time on social media just doesn’t spark joy much anymore. There are plenty of other reasons to leave these platforms, like Mark Zuckerberg’s coddling of the right-wing or the general lack of civility in so much of Twitter, but for me, the main reason to go is it just doesn’t make me happy any more, not even in that meaningless way that the zombie game I played 13 years ago gave me a dopamine hit.
I’m keeping Goodreads. I’m keeping the blog. I’m going to continue to participate in some interest-based internet forums. It’s just Twitter and Facebook that are going away. I’m starting a mailing list which I’ll use for announcing my infrequent publications and offering something interesting every month or two (or three—we’ll see how it goes). I’ve installed an RSS reader on my iPad so I can more systematically keep up with blogs. I’m gonna internet like it’s 2006. I saw something in my spam folder which implied my MySpace account may still exist.
Back at the beginning of March, I deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone, signed out on all my computers and began a Lenten fast from social media. Shortly afterwards, COVID-19 sent everything kiddlywumpus. It’s ben an interesting experience not being connected to the communities on social media that I had been for over a decade before.
I have to confess that my social media procrastination has been redirected rather than quenched during this time. I’ve become addicted to Apple News which is just a right swipe away on my phone to get to the top stories of the day. And my wife and I have traded snippets of news over text as the COVID-19 crisis grew increasingly present, including watching the Oak Park Health Department’s occasional reports of new COVID-19 cases turn into daily reports of multiple cases per day.
Quarantine, as I noted yesterday, has been not especially conducive to my writing life although I did manage to get a few hundred words in today with the possibility of more today.
As I was scanning the bookshelves filled with math books, this caught my eye because I knew Arthur Benjamin back when he was a brand new professor at Harvey Mudd College. I spent a summer working in the college’s math department computer lab, some of it paid by the department, some, assorted freelance TeX-related projects. A couple other student workers and I spent a lot of time playing backgammon and Professor Benjamin (who we called “Benji”) taught us some strategies and techniques for backgammon (mostly the other students) and I went from being the best backgammon player in the group to the worst.
This book teaches an assortment of mathematical techniques and ideas while conveying Benji’s personality in the writing. I can see this being a good book for a bright high school student or a semi-mathematically-inclined college student. Back in the ’00s I taught a class called “Mathematics for Liberal Arts Majors” and I could see, after creating a set of exercises to accompany the book, using this as the text for that class.