Steve Jobs: Grief Gone Viral

There’s a very understandable temptation to lead any Steve Jobs article with the wondering observation that right this second you are writing on a machine he created.  It has a dogmatic sort of appeal:  “Our Inventor, on Whose machine I write, hallowed be His name.”

Celebrity deaths are always a little weird.  There’s a subspecies of Ordinary Person that reliably takes every famous person’s death as a personal loss.  They make good sound bites, so the media encourages the frenzy and overcovers the hell out of the initial death, the life retrospectives, the memorial ceremonies and funeral, and so on and so forth.  We’ve been here before, so the news of impromptu shrines and wreath-layings at Apple stores around the world (to say nothing of the #iSad outpouring on Twitter) is in one sense just business as usual.

But in another sense there’s something very eerie about the immediately-trending grief.  The wave of slightly overwrought grief actually preceded the news cycle this time, in part because word of Jobs’s death broke late in the day on Wednesday — by Thursday morning you were behind the times if all you had was word that Steve Jobs was dead.  He was out; coverage of the reaction was in.

So there’s something William Gibson-esque about the speed and ubiquitousness of people’s Steve-Jobs-related grief.  The impact of his death rippled outward from cyberspace — much of it on Apple products — rather than happening on TV and in newsprint first and being regurgitated later by online sources.  By the time the news got there the story was already what people were doing with the information their iPhones had given them.

It’s a very ghost-in-the-machine sort of feeling, all these reactions to the omnipresent, electronic grief around us.  The original architect and visionary of digital wish-fulfillment — the man who wanted you to have everything you wanted in your hand, instantly — is now there as long as you want to wail and gnash your teeth about him, beamed live and ad nauseum to your iPhone or iPad or boring old desktop iMac.

The king is dead.  Long live the king, at least until you run out of batteries.

The Best Way for SF/Fantasy Fans to Waste Time EVER

This is the kind of thing the internet is really great at.

So first we have NPR’s listener-chosen list of the top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy books.  Because the world needs more lists!  Sure.  Why not.

Then we have SFSignal‘s flowchart of all 100 books and whether you, personally, want to read them.  I’ve posted the flowchart below, but it’s far too mighty of a graphic for this blog’s scale.  You’ll have to click on it or follow the link to blow it up to even readable-if-you-squint size.

And finally we have the fully-interactive version, where you can lose yourself in a maze of queries and pithy little tongue-in-cheek descriptions that leave you thinking oh I totally know what book this is going to be.  Do I really know what book this is going to be?  Oh it has to be the book I’m thinking of.  I’m so clever.

Or maybe it’s just me?

My personal favorite query from the interactive flowchart so far, from deep in one of the Fantasy > Series chains:

Off you go now.  Talk to you in an hour or three.  If you’re feeling really excited about this new toy come back and tell us; I suspect that a lot of my regular readers are going to have things to say to one another about the minutiae of the flowchart (Kushiel’s Dart as “alternate history,” for example — really?  “Alternate history” usually implies some re-interpretation of actual history, rather than just reinterpreting “sexual abuse from an early age” as “part of a feminist and sex-positive message” and setting it somewhere with bad French accents.)

…there, you see?  That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.  Off you go.

An Alternative Theory of Prolonged Adolescence

It’s very popular right now to talk about the new generation and its prolonged adolescence.  The New York Times has hit on it; so has the Wall Street Journal.  And where they go the rest of the editorial pages can be assumed to follow sooner or later.

The basic summary (for the link-adverse) is that 20-somethings are immature children who live at home, avoid commitment to relationships or careers, and in general are maturing more slowly than the Baby Boomers did before them, or the Greatest Generation before that, and so on and so forth.

There’s probably some truth to that.  Even if we don’t take an economy that has less and less jobs for folks straight out of undergrad into account it’s probably safe to say that my generation isn’t always trying as hard as it could be.  There’s definitely some living with parents and bouncing from job to job rather than founding a career and so forth that goes on in my peer group.

But here’s what I’m thinking:

Why are we saying “maturing later” like it’s such a bad thing?  The alternative, after all, is “maturing earlier.”  Forty years ago you were expected to have a good start on a career by age 21.  Forty years ago you also probably started working, either in a cornfield or in the family business, at age 13 or so.

Eighty years ago you were probably married with kids and settling into a house by age 21.  You’d also, barring war, been at work since you could walk.

Are these really good things?  Are we sure that playing computer games or Ultimate Frisbee at college aren’t, rather than signs of a decaying moral state, signs of a state that no longer puts children to work?  I realize there’s some self-servingness to arguing that fuck you very much, my hardscrabble freelancing career is success enough for right now, but what would the world really have benefited from my going directly into actuarial sciences or whatever at age 18 instead?

Dad would be happier about his retirement prospects, I suppose.

I think it’s worth pausing to consider that if we’re maturing more slowly it’s because we’re also dying more slowly.  The pressure’s off a little.  Surely that’s something we can all get behind?

My Dirty Little Secrets

I don’t like babies.

There, I’ve said it.  I find pre-verbal children irritating and a little unsettling.  God forbid I should ever wind up in charge of one; I’m sure I don’t exude the love and support needed to keep the then-screaming-poop-bag from turning into a later-stabbing-people-with-prison-shanks teenager because it didn’t get the love it needed in childhood.

A baby (artist's rendition)

This is something in the order of a dirty little secret (bet you were hoping for something better when you read the title, huh?).  I’m also sort of unsettled by the notion of professional soldiers, and think we ought to be giving them counseling to help them make better life choices (like picking a career where you’re not trained to kill on command unquestioningly) instead of venerating them as heroes.

These are the sorts of opinions you can’t just casually drop at cocktail parties (and I know all about what writers can and can’t say at cocktail parties).  They go beyond good-natured misanthropy and smack of outright irreverence.  People can’t help but get unsettled when you stray from really broadly agreed on truths like “babies are wonderful” and “soldiers are doing the right thing.”

I like unsettling issues.  They make for good themes in faction (they make for less ideal non-fiction, mind you, unless you’re a professional pundit, which I strive not to be on this blog).  But while I mine them for content and watch for them in social interactions I don’t go out of my way to bring them up.

Outside of this post, of course.

Are you hiding your own dirty little secrets?  Will you share them here?  Or do you just want to send me pictures of your own squalling poo-bag asking HOW ANYONE COULD NOT LOVE THAT WIDDLE FACE?  I’m up for the challenge if you are.  Dirty little secrets that we mine in our writing!  Discuss.

How to Make an Easy Roasted Tomato Soup (That Will Utterly Destroy Your Kitchen)

From the cooking files of MA101:

Disaster Soup

  1. Slice about a dozen farm-fresh heirloom tomatoes in half.  Place on an oiled baking sheet.
  2. Roast tomatoes at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
  3. While tomatoes roast, heat about 3C of bouillon or other stock to a low simmer.
  4. Crumble dry, dark bread into stock and stir gently.
  5. Remove tomatoes from oven.  Load into an old Cuisinart food processor with a slightly sticky blade.
  6. Puree tomatoes and dump into pot with broth and bread.
  7. Realize that the spinning blade is jammed slightly up on the stalk.
  8. Yank futilely up and down for a few minutes.  TIP:  Burn your fingertips on the hot tomato puree still clinging to the underside of the blade rather than slicing them on the sharp outer edge!
  9. Finally give up on freeing the blade from its stalk.  Go online and Google “stuck Cuisinart blade.”
  10. Follow the advice to fill the bowl past the height of the stalk with hot water.
  11. Realize belatedly that the work bowl has been slightly loosened and now has an opening of about a quarter-inch at its bottom.
  12. Watch helplessly as about six cups of boiling water filled with mashed tomato bits pours out over the counter, the drawers, and your feet.
  13. Scream a bit.
  14. Carry the whole damn thing out to the trash, still leaking hot water all over you.
  15. Eat your fucking soup.

So that was my weekend.  How was yours?

Important Lessons About Word Choice (Poop Edition)

Let me paint a picture for you here.

Imagine yourself at the kind of the party where people get drunk, smash holes in the wall, and then patch the holes up with cardboard from spare cases of beers.  Drunken but not thoughtless, as it were.

Now imagine that the owner of this newly-perforated home comes staggering out of the bathroom in the very latter hours of the party, when everyone has comfortably transitioned from their mostly-vertical simian hunches to a sort of protoplasmic horizontalness, bulging with veins pumping pure, red-hot anger through his body.

In the awful silence that follows his arrival he screams:  “WHO SHIT IN THE TOILET?!”

Man we've been talking about toilets a lot on the blog this week.

If you’re good at imagining things you should have come to the same conclusion all of us present did:  stupefied confusion combined with the immediate nagging fear that yes, somewhere in the course of the drunken evening, we probably had shit in the toilet.  It was a long party, after all.

Apartment Owner, veins still bulging, repeated his urgent query as the first few hands began to rise:  “WHO SHIT IN THE TOILET?!”

Enraged repetitions followed.

I have no idea who finally managed to struggle to his feet, skirt carefully around A.O., and peer into the bathroom.  Whoever it was would have seen the problem immediately:  the lid of the toilet tank was askew, and floating in the tank next to the small inflated bladder that usually floats in toilet tanks were three or four things that do not usually float in toilet tanks.

I like to think I learned something about word choice that day.

Sometimes It’s Important to Not Write What You Feel

One of the things writers like to talk about is feelings.  Writing what you feel; expressing the inexpressable in words.  That’s the name of the game, right?

Freelancing has a way of shattering writerly illusions like a sixteenth-century Dutch church window.  When you are being paid to write for a wide range of employers you often find yourself pouring expression into ideas that you do not actually share, and may in fact with grievous bodily harm upon the holders of.  Case in point:

now i get to write about newborn baby photography all day. i did not sign up for this.

what i have been writing: “blah blah blah precious moments.”

what i would like to write: “newborn baby photography is basically like sack of potato photography. you will pay us and we will place your sack of potatoes in a variety of places and take pictures of it. we especially like putting a little hat on your sack of potatoes and placing your sack of potatoes on a stack of folded towels. in fact, we always place your sack of potatoes there at some point, with a little hat, whether you like it or not.”

I promised I would be good and not share the author’s name, because he/she would sort of like to keep that job for a while (don’t ask me why).  But I think it captures the problem fairly neatly.

Here's that window-smashing I was talking about.

Different freelancers seem to deal with this different ways.  I know of professional writers who come home (well, stay home, usually) after a hard day of work writing for other people and pour their heart and soul into novels or other creative writing.  Others spend extra time and effort making sure they’re querying for articles they want to write and building leads with people in the industries they’re interested in.

Me, I drink heavily.

But I assume at least some of this self-editing has to go into fiction too; we can’t wear our hearts entirely on our sleeves.  Or can-we-slash-do-you?  And do you have any interesting thoughts on baby photography?  If you do, I might know someone who can get you a job…


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