Letter From Home: January '23
Happy New Year
Happy New Year, Machinists!
Here we are, in the first throes of a new year, and our Christmas tree is still standing in the living room. The ornaments have been carefully snugged away in their tissue paper cocoons and the lights have been detangled from the boughs only to be retangled in a cardboard box for next year’s Great Unwinding. Yet the tree remains, denuded of trimmings, standing proud in the corner of the living room. Arguably, it’s the easiest part, moving the tree out into the yard or on to the burn pile, but very often the last mile is the hardest mile and my throat is dry with the sun in my eyes.
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I’m gaining steam on a writing project, I’m happy to report, and I’ve just got back home from Astoria, where I engaged in a “work intensive,” which means I sat on a chaise longue for two days and looked at a screen. Much of that screentime was given over to working on this writing project; some of it given over to other things.
For better or for worse, I’m not the sort who can rely on those apps and services that turn your laptop into a bronze-age cuneiform slate. Other writers have recommended these services to me, mostly Freedom, and I have tried them with limited success.1 I find that I become distracted, first, by fiddling with the settings only to discover that I am always one click away from disabling them. I also become very sensitive, suddenly, to my time away from typing and not in a good way. I begin to develop a complex about procrastination and distraction. Everyone has their own process, I believe; none of us share the same way of getting things down. I’ve discovered that I need those quick breaths of air away from my writing — hasty gulps before I resubmerge — and I often feel refreshed upon returning to my work. And if one of those gulps of air finds me clambering on to a nearby floaty to enjoy an hour or two of unbridled oxygen, so be it.
One of those moments of shore leave was rewatching The Sting, that Paul Newman/Robert Redford film from 1973. This is one of my dad’s favorite movies, and one that he foisted on my sister and I at a young age, so it feels like it’s part of my DNA at this point. In the canon of heist/grifter movies, it has to be within the top couple spots of a best-of list. Its twists are deft, its sleight of hand masterful. After some desultory wikipedia-ing, I discovered that many of the grifts in the film were directly pulled from The Big Con: The Story of a Confidence Man by David Maurer. Maurer also wrote a less-well known book called The Whiz Mob, which was a technical glossary of pickpocket organization and argot; it was my chief resource when I was writing The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid. Anyway, if you’ve never seen it, The Sting, or haven’t seen it in ages, I recommend watching it again. It’s a good ‘un.
Speaking of movies watched, there are a couple I’ve watched recently that really stood out, that would not have remotely been on my radar were it not for some random encounters. A friend of mine at dinner recently recommended Triangle of Sadness, a movie from Swedish director Ruben Östlund, and Carson and I finally got around to watch it last week. It’s so funny and good! It’s nice to see movies that genuinely surprise you, and this one did. At heart, it’s a polemic against capitalism, wealth inequity and the corrupting effects of privilege and power — but it’s funny, too, almost like a fable.
We also watched Petite Maman, a French film written and directed by Céline Sciamma. This came out in 2021, but I missed it entirely. I don’t want to spoil it for you, because you should watch it post haste, but I will say that it is a low-key time travel movie and its execution is totally brilliant. It has a lot to tell us, I think, about loss and grief, about depression and parenthood. It’s a short movie, and a simple one, but I was fucking bawling at the end.
The deluge continues here, each rainy day seeming to add on to a relentless neverending calendar of rainy days, but I am thinking of my friends to the south of us, in California, who are enduring flooding and disaster because of these atmospheric rivers. Keep strong, friends!