Quick Comic About Superheroes

Okay, you know that Quentin Tarantino riff about how Clark Kent is Superman's impression of humans? (B: Yeah...) I contend that Lex Luthor is the ultimate human, the Don Quixote, the Sisyphus-
B (off): He's a billionaire!
Em: He's the one willing to take arms against an undefeatable enemy. It's the ultimate human emotion! 

Footnote: The ultimate American emotion, anyway.
B: Hubris is the ultimate emotion?
Em (off): Yes.
B: Not, like, snuggles?
Em: Hubris.

Drew this one quickly to reflect a conversation we had while driving home from voting yesterday, then scanned it using my phone. Technology has come a long way since I first started drawing comics (I was living in Viet Nam and had to take a stack of drawings over to the Vietnamese equivalent of a Kinko to be scanned and put on a CD for me [side note, Kinkos doesn’t exist anymore and CDs aren’t much used, so this story is flawed]).

I’m not that into superheroes, but I have a weird soft spot for Lex Luthor. Previous other comics including him are here.

I signed up for a 50k in April, which will be my first since November 2016 (actually, that one wasn’t quite 50k if I remember correctly–and that race report suggests I do, meaning my last actual 50k was…the Kettle Morraine 100 back in June 2015). Wow, digging that out was a trip down memory lane. Also, this is my first race of marathon distance or farther since the North Face marathon in September 2018. Anyway, I can’t do long runs two days in a row right now, so we’ll see how this works out. So far I’ve done a few runs in the 15-16 mile range (the weather has definitely been a limiting factor in this) and felt pretty good, so I’m basically…halfway there. Yes.

Em oi! #443: 24 Hours

Em lying in bed, sleeping through alarm.
Em continues to oversleep.
Em pouring coffee.
Waking up Hal.
Running.
Oh there are scones.
Em gets dressed.
Doing a training.
Still doing training.
Debugging SSL/TLS.
Doing some chores.
Anxiety.
Lifting weights.
Picking up Hal.
Aikido night.
Em needs dinner.
Bedtime.

I did a twenty-four-hour comic! Except 2/1 was a Saturday this year and my drawing time on weekends is a little scant, so I did a Thursday. And okay, real talk: a lot of comic artists talk about a type of pen called a Speedball, which is basically a dip pen with a fairly stiff nib (I used a B-6, which has a round end and can produce a nice variety of line widths). And I can sort of see why professionals like these, but inking a comic with a dip pen as a left-handed person is a special type of torture (see, for example, the first two panels. Ow.). And then I went to do a little watercolor on it and discovered the ink I was using was not waterproof. So yeah. Nuts to that.

Anyway, a little look at my life. Not that exciting, honestly. Even on nights when I don’t go out to aikido (which is most nights), I’ve still been spending a good amount of time doing things like revising written stuff, submitting stuff for publication, and watching “Portrait Artist of the Year” on YouTube. So it’s not like I’m James Bond on other nights. I don’t know what you were expecting.

You can check out a couple of previous twenty-four-hour comics here and here. The biggest change from both of those comics is that now my coffee maker has a TIMER, so the coffee is just ready when I get up in the morning. If you don’t believe that this is one of the greatest innovations of the late 20th/early 21st century, you are wrong.

And we’ll file this one under PS3612.U686Z46 2020 for American literature—Individual authors—2001-—L—Biography and Criticism—Autobiography, journals, memoirs. By date.

Em oi! #442: La luce fantastica

Hal (pointing at spray paint on a sidewalk): Mama! Draw!
Em (crouching next to Hal): What color is it?
Hal: Um, purple.
Em: I think it's blue, friend. 
Hal: Why?
Em in center of panel with different images indicating her thoughts surrounding: above, light leaves the sun and bounces off blue paint into the eye. An image of an eye with the words "rods" and "cones". The term "Rayleigh scattering." A color spectrum with 470 lambda (nanometers) pointed out. On her right shoulder, Derrida says "Maybe there is no objective reality." On her left shoulder, Kant says, "Remember the noumenon!"

I started this one long enough ago that, among other things, Hal still apparently was speaking in one-word sentences and didn’t get colors right all the time. But when I finally finished it, I updated the drawing to look like he looks now, because small children are super hard to draw (the proportions are very different from adults).

The other thing that happened was I inked this comic with a fountain pen (my fine-tipped markers are in need of replacement) and it turns out the ink it was filled with (Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-guri, which I think means “wild chestnut”) is not waterproof. I figured this out when I was halfway through the process of watercoloring the comic. So if you noticed the bleeding in some panels, that’s why.

I decided to try and draw my hair the way I often wear it, which is halfway between Gibson girl and bitchy librarian. The Gibson girl hairstyle (as far as I can tell, anyway) works really well with my normal curly mess, but it’s worn much higher/farther forward on the head than I’m used to, so I often wind up with it a bit low, forming what is closer to a typical librarian bun. I think I could have made a pretty good Edwardian though, had I been afforded the opportunity. Sigh. Born too late to be an Edwardian, too early to explore the stars, as the saying goes.

Okay, so there was an XKCD about this (actually he’s done quite a few about color), but just saying “how can you really know what someone else is seeing” doesn’t really touch on how weird color actually is. See, there are a couple of factors that influence what you see. First is the actual wavelength of the light that reaches your eye. Then there’s the way your rods and cones function. Finally, there’s the visual cortex, where everything gets interpreted (Oliver Sacks wrote a lot about how that piece can go wrong). But what this can all add up to is non-spectral colors–basically, when you see wavelengths of light that trigger both the red and blue cones in your eye, your brain knows the color you’re seeing is between those colors, but that it’s not green, because the light would trigger the green cones. So your brain kind of makes up purple. Super weird.

Anyway, let’s do some 2019 numbers to round out last year:

Books read: 18 (about 6,000 pages)

  1. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. Delightful.
  2. Redshirts, by John Scalzi. Amusing without really being great. I…don’t get why so many people lost their shit over this.
  3. The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live, by Heather Armstrong. Oh Heatherrrrrr….A little bit more science and a little bit less “just caring for my children makes me so anxious that I have to spend my time crawling into my closet and crying and also I cannot hold down a normal job because I am a bloggerrrrr” would have been nice. Since reading this I have learned that electroconvulsive therapy (which is not like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) actually has relatively good results for long-term depression that is not responsive to drugs, and while Heather sort of implies that the experiment she was a part of is better or potentially the only available treatment, that’s really not the case. So I don’t know how to feel about this book. On the one hand she super went through something. On the other hand, her understanding of what she went through is different from mine. Also, I have a really hard time when people are like “I have a life that you would have killed for but I gave it up/walked away/whatever.” I’m glad it helped, at least.
  4. Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells. Still fun, although not quite as awesome as the first.
  5. Good Bones, by Maggie Smith. Claire said “she writes about motherhood without being…you know.” And she’s right.
  6. Dawn, by Octavia Butler. Soooooooo…. This was creepy.
  7. Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right, by Jamie Glowacki. (Me now in 2020 writing this list) did I really read this back in (checks) March? Arg.
  8. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson. This was awesome and I loved 90% of it so much that I can forgive the 10% that comprises the facts that this has almost no women and a sort of dubious love story. I don’t think I will ever say this about a 900-page book again but I wish it had been longer.
  9. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, by Lori Gottlieb. Gosh, this book has a terrible title but it was a really engrossing read and it got me back to therapy, which really helped, so.
  10. Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool, by Emily Oster. There’s not a ton of data but what there is is reassuring for the choices I have made. 
  11. Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. I don’t know if I 100% buy the thesis that Mormonism is a violent religion but I definitely see them in a new and less fluffy light.
  12. ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body, by Stacy Sims. This book was so awful that I’ve been thinking about getting it from the library again to make sure it was as bad as I thought it was.
  13. Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett (reread). Masterful.
  14. Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delaney. Fantastic. Delaney is a master. The pervasive sense of dread was difficult to deal with though.
  15. Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells. Still charming.
  16. Starless, by Jacqueline Carey. The first 2/3rds were amazing and the last third should probably have been a second book in the same series. 
  17. Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny (and about half of the second in the series, The Guns of Avalon). Manly men doing manly things with swords. 
  18. Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang. What technology does to us. What we do to ourselves. 

Poems published: 7 (plus one more accepted, thought it will be out by the time I finish this blog post)

Rejections: 35 (includes poetry and fiction)

Miles run: 2,323 (goal: 2,300; biggest month: May, with 215; smallest month: February, with 15); this breaks down into 79.92 mi on the elliptical, 165.92 on the dreadmill, 96.07 miles raced, 296.27 miles run as long runs, 832.63 stroller miles, and 820.61 “normal” (not otherwise categorized) miles

Fastest race: Labor Day Dash stroller 5k (25:38)–1st place

Slowest race: New Glarus Woods 10 miler (1:46:43)–11th in age group, 56th overall

Comics posted: 4 (yikes)

That’s all the numbers I have.

We’ll file the comic under B105.C455 L86 2020, for Philosophy (General)–Special topics, A-Z–Color. Special thanks to B for the title.

Hal sitting in a box, watched by a large orange cat.

Em oi! #441: O Christmas Tree

In Wisconsin, controversy erupts: is it a Christmas tree or a holiday tree?
Em: You know, decorated trees around solstice...smells like an old pagan ritual. B: But is it?
Em: We know the modern Christmas tree originated in the Renaissance in northern Germany, Estonia, and Latvia, and came to the UK with Prince Albert when he married his cousin Victoria in 1840. B: But what about earlier? Em: Let's ask a medievalist!

Dr. Jesse the medievalist: Interesting question! But hard to answer. Sometimes a thing can become so deeply embedded in a culture that its origins are hard to unpick.
Jesse: Pagans definitely worshipped trees (for example, the world tree), but their preferred species was an evergreen Mediterranean oak. Romans used evergreen boughs to decorate for Saturnalia, too!
Jesse: The pagan tradition probably got syncretized with the story of the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden when they met Christian missionaries.

B: This gives me an idea.
B is standing in front of a sign planted in front of the tree in the rotunda. It says "Yggdrasil."

So: true story about the political situation here in Wisconsin. My actual sequence of thoughts about this:

  1. This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. 
  2. Calling it a “holiday tree” doesn’t make me as a non-Christian feel more included. It’s a tree used to celebrate a Christian holiday. Why do we even have one at the capital? 
  3. (After some research) Huh! Actually, the history of Christmas trees is not as straightforwardly Christian as I assumed. The pagan aspect is actually pretty neat. 
  4. This is still the stupidest thing I have ever heard of.

Hey Robin Vos, I have an offer, on behalf of the liberals of Wisconsin: If we let you call it a Christmas tree, could you pass some bills to decarbonize the economy, make electric cars easier to buy, maybe add in some incentives for all the farmers to feed their cows seaweed to reduce methane emissions? 

That idiocy aside, I hope you’re all having a good winter holiday season, whichever you choose to celebrate–Yalda, Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa… I’m sure I’m missing a few. 

We opted not to do a Christmas card this year; after an autumn beset by illness (mine and that of others, culminating in spending ten hours throwing up last week from a norovirus), I opted to put my limited energy toward other projects (good news is I finished draft #2 of my new novella and it has gone to my beta reader). However I have greatly enjoyed all the cards I’ve received from you all! Hopefully next year we’ll get our acts together in time and I’ll have something to send out.

Side note on the comic: The tree in the sixth panel is growing out of a skull because in some traditions, the wood that the cross was made from came from a tree grown from seeds of the tree of knowledge that were planted on Adam’s grave (reference the Golden Legend if you’re curious about this). There was originally text discussing this, but it was cut for space. This is already a really long and wordy comic. Also, sorry for all the typos etc. I swear I remember how to read and write.

We’ll file this one under GT4989 L86 2019, for Manners and customs (General)–Customs relative to public and social life–Festivals. Holidays–Special days and periods of time–Christmas–Special customs–Christmas trees.

Relevant previous comic, if you’re interested: #392: Such Truth.

Final note, a new weird little poem/microfic got published at SlippageLit.

Em oi! #440: Dreamland

I feel the need to begin with the disclaimer that Hal has been sleeping through the night for more than a year now. The thing is that babies toddlers are loud sleepers–I often wake up briefly in the middle of the night, readjust my pillow, maybe put on an extra layer of t-shirt or take one off depending on whether I’m warm or cold. H tends to wake up, fuss briefly, and then pass out again. We don’t usually get all the way out the door before he goes quiet, but it does happen sometimes.

I noticed early in the Hal years on that when you’re wandering in and out of the bedroom at odd times of the night, you can occasionally catch your partner at certain points in their sleep cycle where weird reactions are more likely. I’m actually really good at this. The most extreme example of this is the time when, returning to our bedroom at about 3:30am, I managed to startle B and he leapt all the way out of bed with a resounding kiai and assumed a fighting stance, all without really attaining consciousness. (It’s hilarious now to think about; at the time, I just stepped backward and closed the door between us. About two seconds later I heard, “Huh? Em? Em, are you okay?”)

The conversation recorded in comic #440 was somehow related to B’s current obsession with a game called Europa Universalis IV, which involves conquering the world. But sadly it was topped by a conversation we had the other day as I was coming back from the bathroom:

B: (Inaudible) boss.
Em: (Getting into bed) What?
B: Tide pods.
Em: What?
B: Tide pods: The universal currency.

Then he passed out again. I don’t have any explanation for that one.

We’ll file this one under BF1073 S58 L86 2019, for Parapsychology–Sleep. Somnambulism–Special topics, A-Z–Sleep talking.

Em oi! #439: O Magic Talking Skull

I have been working on this one for a loooong time (I found the reference photos of the skull in my phone history from early May, and I think I started drawing it before then (the relevant episode of David Tennant Does a Podcast with came out on April 8th). In the time since I started the comic, I have gotten about ten rejections, so that’s kind of what’s been going on around here. I don’t know if this feeling is at all universal among creative types or not. I guess I kind of hope so.

(Also, footnote, highly recommend the podcast, if that’s not obvious.)

Anyway, this comic demonstrates something I do quite frequently, which is spin out philosophically when I find myself confronted with a problem. Can’t figure out a path to success? = What is success, actually? Yorick (the skull) shuts that down pretty quick, but this happens a lot.

The trope of “I was about to quit and then I found success” seems to happen a lot in literary circles, including for Madeleine L’Engle (I know I’ve read of other major authors having the same thing happen too).

Actual photo of Yorick. She unfortunately doesn’t have very good teeth.

I’m going to file this one under BF175.5.W75 L86 2019, for Psychology–Psychoanalysis–Special topics, A-Z–Writing, because it is about the psychology of the writer, I think.

And that, I think, is all for today. Next time we’ll go back to a style with less pencil where I actually draw panels instead of doing randomly sized drawings on one piece of paper and trying to crop them with my camera. Yes.

Em oi! #438: Snow Kidding

Long time no talk! Astute readers will note that I’ve skipped a number… I actually got involved with another (six-panel comic) that was very funny, but it got a bit overwhelming with the amount of edits it needed and I don’t know. It has been a few years since I had really bad seasonal depression, and–I wouldn’t exactly call this depression, but while I’m normally at the best of times something of a suitcase full of anxiety and neuroses held together by coffee and running, the winter has reduced me to a quivering ball of anxiety with a constant disaster film playing in my head reminding me that all my choices are meaningless because we’re all going to die in twenty years, and ultimately I guess I’m a terrible person for having made said choices (instead of other, different choices? I don’t know).

Talking about it out loud has actually been really helpful in reminding me of the absurdity and irrationality of my thoughts. I guess that’s called reality testing. I’m also trying to sleep more,* taking vitamin D, and sitting in front of my happy light more regularly.

During my off-time, I’ve been doing a figure drawing class, where I’ve learned a lot, like that the way I’ve done shading in this comic is not correct (too many gaps between the strokes). Also, I’ve learned that being in a room with a naked person is awkward. Like–I feel very Midwestern saying this, but it’s weird.

Uh, so also it has snowed a lot. When we were flying back from Alaska a week ago, I mentioned to the Alaska Airlines personnel who were checking us in at the airport that it had just snowed another four inches back home. They said, “Wow, four inches,” and exchanged a look reserved for people who live in a place where they average 75″ of snow per year–about twice what Madison gets (43″). But what I meant was–four inches on top of already “so much snow that our smaller dog can’t make her way around the yard and has resorted to following in the big dog’s wake. And also four inches when my in-laws were watching the kid, and lovely people though they are, we don’t have a snowblower and they’re not prepared to shovel the driveway… (spoiler: it was fine). Right now, looking out the window, there’s about a foot of snow on top of the bird bath to my left, and we’re forecast to get more later this week! Our driveway has turned into basically a trench. We could probably survive an attack from the Hun by sheltering there. We will see the lights along the edges when it all melts. And the snow we couldn’t manage to get up on the top of the piles is forming peninsulae that are making it harder and harder to get either car out, but especially mine because it doesn’t have a backing cam.

Also my garage door froze shut twice (at least; it might be frozen shut now) and my car battery died. I wasn’t going to finish/post this comic because we had a day last week (Friday?) when it was 36 degrees out and I thought that maybe it would all melt, but instead only a little of it did, and then it re-froze, and then Saturday we had freezing rain all day. So in summary, I’m done with this shit. So. Done. So this is maybe catharsis, a little.

Wishing you all an early spring.

File this under BT135 L86 2019 for Doctrinal theology–God–Divine attributes–Individual attributes–Providence. Divine intervention.

* I sleep like…6.5 to 7 hours per night. Having had a child has 100% fucked up my sleeping. It’s not that he’s waking up; it’s that my sleeping is just not great. I don’t know.

Em #436: The Cat Furniture That Therefore I Am

True story. Hal sleeps relatively well, but often wakes up between 5-5:30, or about an hour before I’d like him to be up. Most of the time when this happens, I put him back down in the guest room downstairs after a bottle, just so any comments he has on his situation won’t disturb B. Then I lie down on the sofa. And the cat…goes a little nuts. For some reason, he really likes to sit on people’s chests. Preferably with at least one foot on their windpipes. And he weighs fourteen pounds.

We’ll file the comic under SF446.5 L86 2018, for Animal culture–Pets–Cats–Behavior.

I ran my first marathon ten years ago this fall. (Fun fact: my first date with B was the evening of the day I did my last 20 miler for that race.) That year, I finished the Twin Cities marathon in 4:41:10. It rained for 90% of the race and I think I swore I’d never do another one. (Since then, I have run at least fourteen other races of 26.2 miles or longer; actually, I think there might be others? This number was reconstructed using various results websites.) My road marathon PR is 3:59:59 (set at Lakefront in 2012) and my road 50k PR is 4:57:58 (set at the MadCity 50k in 2011); it’s difficult to give a number as a trail event PR because trails have really different conditions that make them hard to compare. This past weekend, at the Endurance Challenge WI, I ran my first marathon in almost two years—I had run a trail ultra of about 29 miles in November 2016, and then spent the rest of 2017 pregnant and recovering from pregnancy. This means that a lot of my life over the last decade has been spent preparing for marathons, planning my various events in order to get ready for a marathon, and recovering from marathons. (Or sometimes getting injured two weeks before my marathon and not running it. Boo, 2010.)

And I just want to say: while I have gone into events with some half-assed training, I have never signed up for a race knowing that I was going to half-ass my training as much as I did this time (and knew that I was likely to do).

Rather than recounting the race in blow-by-blow detail, which I think would be boring, let’s try an exciting Q-and-A format.

Q. I understand you have a one-year old. How does that effect your training?
A. He effects it both more and less than I expected pre-baby. On a day-to-day basis, I often run him to daycare (about 8 miles round-trip), plus a lunch or post-work run with B (anywhere from 3–7 miles), giving me midweek totals of 8–15 miles per day, and anywhere from 50–60 miles per week. This is on par with or a bit more than what I was running before I got pregnant. On the flip side, my long runs on Saturdays have suffered from a lack of sleep and drive. Rather than training to 18–20, which is normal for a marathon, my longest single run was 16.4 miles. In my defense, I planned to do a 23-miler, but there was some major flooding in Dane County that led to its cancellation. But I didn’t make too much of an effort to replace it. I also didn’t do much trail running since June, because of a bad poison ivy experience and mosquitoes and the flooding and, you know, going to brunch instead.

Prior to the race, still optimistic.

Q. Given that, how happy are you with your results?
A. I am. All things considered, I think I was in shape for about a 4:10ish road marathon. Maybe 4 hours if the weather was good and I found someone to pace off. Instead, I ran a 5:07 trail marathon, about 37 minutes slower than the last time I ran this course (2014). But that said, my goal pace (4:30) was picked because I wanted to place in the top five in my age group, and I placed third (ninth woman overall!), so I’m actually pretty pleased with that (although if I’d run a 4:30 again, I would have won outright as first overall woman). There are also the conditions to consider: the race had somewhere between 1,300–1,800 feet of climbing (my Garmin gave the first number, Strava the second); many of the ascents (and descents) were covered with a scree that made climbing them at a run quite difficult; the weather topped out at about 82 degrees and humid AF, following directly on about a two-week stretch of cooler weather during which I rather lost my heat acclimation.

Trails.

Q. Did you learn any important lessons?
A. Yes. It’s important to plan for both the race and the ride home. I had to drive myself home, and my blood sugar started to crash around the time I got back to the car. I stopped at a gas station to pick up a coffee and a chocolate milk, and wound up sitting on the floor waiting for the people buying a million lottery tickets in line ahead of me to get done so I could check out. In a more ideal world, I would have ridden home with someone who had their shit a bit more together.

Pursuant to that, I think my nutrition strategy was generally pretty good (it was: grab something to eat at each aid station plus bring a gel to eat about two miles before the next one, and salt tabs at 1.5 hours, 2.5 hrs, and 3.5 hrs), but I waited until mile 6 to eat anything for the first time, and I think I should have had a gel a bit earlier. Also, it’s better to grab something with a bit of protein/fat (peanut butter) than just to stuff a bunch of M&Ms in your mouth. Also, I ran out of water at mile 16 with the next aid station at mile 18. That was gnarly. Wish I’d planned better for that.

Also, finally, I learned (again) that time on your feet does more than just prepare your muscles for the race–it prepares you for the pain. Like just the feeling of your socks on your feet can hurt after thirteen or fourteen miles of rough terrain.

Q. Any final thoughts about racing? 
A. I’ve had a tough time getting my racing mojo back since Hal’s birth. Primarily because if he’s going to have a bad night, it will usually be a Friday night (it’s like he KNOWS), and I often have wound up on the starting line wishing I had more flexibility to shorten my run or move the time up. Recently I’ve realized that just running races to run them (or to get a t-shirt I guess) is not exciting to me. This marathon, with the competition aspect, was exciting. So next season, I think I may try to structure my season more like a pro might, with an A race, a couple of B/C races as prep, and then most of my time spent doing my own thing. (Full disclosure, smart people have been telling me to do this for a long time. I just learn slowly.) Going into the marathon, I had some plans to use it as a springboard for something bigger in the spring, but I’m not sure I’m really feeling that now. Twenty-six miles is a lot when it’s hot and you’re undertrained. Maybe I shouldn’t push my luck. (I’m sure I will though. I seem to crave challenges. We’ll see.)

Em oi! #435: The Consolations of Philosophers



It turns out that there are now Em oi-canonical ways to draw some philosophers, since they have appeared a few times in the comic:

Also it turns out I have drawn a lot of comics about anxiety. Hmm. This one will be filed under B808.63 L86 2018, for Philosophy  (General)–Modern (1450/1600-)–Special topics and schools of philosophy–Anxiety.  (If you’re just here for the philosophy, feel free to peace out here.)

As I was scanning this comic, I was wondering what I was going to write for my little essay here. The time between initially writing this and finishing it was so long that if I initially had any additional thoughts, they have now gone away. But in the meantime, it is young Hal’s birthday!

Isn’t he adorable?

Anyway, I have been trying to think of some things about having a kid that I wish I had known before he was born. Honestly, most of the things that are coming to mind are not necessarily things you can know beforehand. Like no matter how good you are at putting your baby to bed, you’ve only learned how to put your baby to bed–you can’t know ahead of time how to do it, because your baby has his own personality and likes and dislikes, and you can’t help anyone else, because all babies are pretty different. But here we go.

1. Be careful when sneezing after a c-section. I don’t know why, but although I started back to running about five weeks post-op and was fine, I pulled a muscle or something sneezing just before six weeks. That was weird. And uncomfortable. I also managed to pull a muscle in my trapezius muscle while lifting the baby, and that hurt on and off for weeks. And occasionally my wrist and thumb have been angry. So maybe I should say just be careful generally–lifting a tiny cannonball four hundred times a day turns out to do a number on you. It wasn’t until I stopped pumping that my body actually started to feel like it was totally normal again (and that lasted for a few days before I started training for a marathon, so, uh).

2. Convert distances from kilometers to miles before you sign up for a race and don’t sign up for a 10 miler eight weeks after your c-section. This goes without saying, I think. I think I did the actual signing up in early September (so two or three weeks post-op), meaning I was off any drugs…so we’ll blame this on sleep deprivation.

3. Emotional labor is for suckers. Emotional labor is the process of using your emotions in order to provoke or prevent a particular emotional response from people. And it’s just not worth it–you can’t tell someone news that will upset them in some perfect way so as not to upset them. You cannot hint at things you’d like people to do. Don’t say, “Um, do you think it’s time for the baby to take a nap?” Say, “I need to put him down for a nap now.” Don’t say, “Well, it was nice of you to come.” Say, “Get the fuck out of my house now, I’m tired.” (J/k, maybe don’t say that.)

4. You will become the expert on your baby. This is the best advice I got before Hal was born (it came from my sister-in-law and friend Claire Wahmanholm, doctor of poetry). So when you figure it out, feel free to (assertively, if need be) show the various grandparents/sitters how to put your baby down for a nap, feed him the way he likes, whatever. Do remember that over time, they will develop their own relationships with him and figure out what works for them in that context, but at the beginning they may need to be told.

5. As my mom put it, women don’t largely get to debrief after giving birth. I’m not a trauma theorist, but it doesn’t take a ton of psych to realize that when you go around talking to people about their kids and birth stories, you’ll sometimes get this sense that they are retelling their story in a way that is mean to make them feel better about whatever happened to them. Similarly, people get very insistent on the things they can control, like what they feed their infant or what kind of diapers they use, because it makes them feel better about all the millions of things they can’t control. This can lead to people saying things that sometimes come off as quite shirty about how their “thing” (exclusive breastfeeding for two years, cloth diapering, attachment parenting, whatever; not vaccinating is one of the more extreme and harmful examples of this) is so much better than whatever else. The best thing to do is not get involved.

6. The reason people fall into more sexist roles after having a baby is that the only people anyone has watched parent up close is their own parents, and thirty years ago it was a lot less typical for men to take on 50% of the parenting. If this works for you, fine. (It doesn’t work for me.) But at least be conscious about what you’re agreeing to.

7. Like most experiences, it’s hard to appreciate how amazing having a baby is until you’re not inside the experience anymore. Just smile as best you can at the old lady who corners you at the cafe. And when you see other people who are earlier in the process than you are, just reassure them that it gets better.

8. It is okay to buy some earplugs and wear them while you’re doing time holding a fussy/colicky infant. You’ll be more relaxed, and everyone will be happier because of that.

9. When in doubt, make art. Any type, doesn’t matter. It’ll make things better.

Em oi! #434: (Phone Hand Gesture) Call Me

Not too long ago, my brother Daniel recommended a podcast to me called Philosophize This! After briefly trying to argue with him that, basically, no podcaster guy could possibly be as good as my current research system of 1/ watching videos on YouTube, 2/ reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (and also Wikipedia), and 3/ reading one page of Foucault’s History of Human Sexuality per night, I gave up and became a fan. And that was how I met the Frankfurt School. And now I am reading The Dialectic of Enlightenment at a rate of one page per night. So, you know.

Okay, back up. Who were the Frankfurt School? They were a group of neo-Marxist thinkers from Frankfurt, Germany (natch) who started wondering in the mid-1920s why there hadn’t been a really good Marxist revolution and how they could potentially maybe fix up Marx’s theory to deal with that fact. In part because a bunch of them were Jewish, they moved their operations to New York during WWII, and discovered that we are terrible wrote a lot of rather damning things about American monopoly capitalism and the culture industry. They have been in the news a bit because there’s a booming industry in this country right now of people who explain to white men how they are really the ones being oppressed, and part of that narrative is about how Marxism/socialism are oppressive and bad and capitalism is awesome and don’t you miss those glory days when you, a white dude, could work really hard and be rewarded with money and chicks[1]. And if that kind of person hates the Frankfurt School, you know they have to be pretty good. Up until now, the member of their group I was most familiar with was Walter Benjamin. Here, I am looking at two other members–Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse.[2]

I wanna talk about the culture industry for a moment.

Basically, capitalism tends to commodify whatever it touches, and in this case the thing it has commodified is (drum roll) ART. Which art? Whatever you have on hand–film and TV, so-called fine art (paintings or what have you), magazines, music, books, whatever. Essentially, with the advent of capitalism, the commercialization of art becomes really obvious, and art is suddenly being created to net its creators money. Thus the art that is created is art that is marketable, which means that it in some way reinforces cultural narratives (and thereby pacify the populace, preventing the formation of class consciousness and ultimately REVOLUTION). For example, shows like COPS, Rescue 911, NCIS and its ilk, and so on are all created to depict police officers as heroes.[3] I don’t believe that there has ever been an episode of COPS where one of the eponymous cops shot an unarmed 11-year-old boy. Could you imagine the public outcry if a story like that were produced? Instead, better to say that the officer involved in the shooting was either one bad egg amongst a lot of hard workers, or that it was an honest and reasonable mistake, which are somehow things people actually believe and say out loud without thinking that they are in some way bad people for thinking/saying those things when a kid gets shot.[4]

Another way this can work is by taking something that is revolutionary (the podcast used the example of NWA’s “Fuck the Police”) and amplifying it in popularity to the point where all meaning is drowned out by the commercialism (see also my forthcoming “Frankfurt School Powerlifting Team / Reps for Marx” t-shirts). Finally, of course, advertising has become integrated into media products, and it exists to essentially tell you that you have a problem and their product is the solution.[5]

Okay, so right now you’re probably saying two things:

  1. Em, what did he think art was before capitalism though?
  2. This idea of a “culture industry” is kinda neat, but who are these people? Em, you’ve been a part (albeit a very small one) of the culture industry for a while. While it’s pretty clear that any given editor or producer would probably sell all of their loved ones to the ravenous bug-blatter beast of Traal for a shot at a major deal, no one of them in particular is sitting around saying, “Okay, uh, we’re gonna need three rom-coms to reinforce all the heterosexual-monogamy norms, um, maybe a couple horror flicks where the non-white people die first to remind everyone that it’s best to be white, and then…oh, the oil and gas industry wants a sci-fi dystopia this year that reminds people that technological advancement is dangerous and we should stick with what we have.”[6]

And yeah, I think these are legitimate critiques of the idea. Per #1, I have only taken one art history course, but it’s pretty clear that most (all?) capital-A ART (the type you see in a museum like the Met–anything from like the Renaissance on) was created for what we would call capitalistic purposes–much of it was commissioned portraits of family members for wealthy merchants, or religious scenes commissioned for private contemplation. And artists painted these not because they had a particular yen to do one more gold-leaf painting of Jesus, but because they needed to eat and feed their families and buy paints and canvas. And yes, I know there’s some overlap between the late Renaissance and the beginning of capitalism. But also we could say that before the Renaissance, a lot of art was created at the behest of the church, which also was a way for artists to earn a living.

To point two, I don’t know (yet; I’m still reading) how Adorno would answer this. Foucault would suggest that this is a power system–it’s simultaneously no one pulling the strings and everyone doing it, because that’s how capitalism works on people.

When I first heard the episode that talked about the Frankfurt School, I was struck by this critique of modern life–and also I felt quite guilty, because even though I am generally someone who doesn’t shop a lot, doesn’t buy things for pleasure or whatever, I had been feeling depressed and I had tried to snap myself out of it by buying myself a new pen and a truly startling number of ink samples. And I was still feeling depressed and still kind of telling myself I just needed to think of a good present for myself.

Anyway, if this sounds a lot like some of the other theorists I’ve talked about–Chomsky’s media theory, many of the ways Zizek critiques modern capitalism, even old man Marx himself, well, it seems I have a “type” when it comes to philosophers. And also these philosophers, when taken in a more chronological order rather than piecemeal, start to seem as though they’re building on and responding to each others’ work. I quite enjoyed my little trip through 20th/21st century philosophy (I started with Schopenhauer and worked my way through to Derrrida, and now I’m messing around with Hegel).

I have now spent more time working on this than I have on the latest novella for almost three days. I guess I know too many Marxists who are likely to correct me about the stuff I’ve got wrong here (it’s actually more complex and nuanced theory, so go and explore it). I’m calling this one done at any rate. Let’s file it under HM467 L86 2018, for Sociology–History of sociology. History of sociological theory–Schools of sociology. Schools of thought–Special schools–Frankfurt school.


Notes:
[1] Ways in which men are arguably oppressed: society frowns on them when they want to do something other than be a wage-earner, like if they want to be a stay-at-home dad. Straight men’s sexuality is arguably pretty rigid–a lot of people still see women as able to experiment, but men aren’t given that permission. Men are looked down on if they express emotions other than happiness/love and anger (only white men can express anger publicly). During divorces, women are typically given primary custody of their children unless they are provably super incompetent (e.g., addicted to substances) or they agree to give their exes more access. Ways in which men are not oppressed: women having jobs; women being able to pick their own romantic partners; jobs being given out without regard for race or gender (and often in ways that encourage those who are non-white/non-male to apply for them); everyone having access to health insurance. What will fix men’s oppression: feminism, which argues that women and men are equal and should be treated as such by society. What won’t fix these issues: saying that “if women were required to sleep with them, men wouldn’t shoot up women/drive trucks into crowds for being forced to be celibate.” (Editor’s note: We’ve removed a lengthy rant about a writer who will not be named here; the content of the rant can pretty much be derived from first principles. Ms. LM is resting comfortably.)

[2] Technically, The Dialectic of Enlightenment is by Adorno and Max Horkheimer. But the way I draw people, they look way too similar to each other, so I decided to use Marcuse. Also, Marcuse was the one writing about the ways in which capitalism is oppressive, so some of the ideas here are his.

[3] In fact, I believe some groups like the FBI and CIA offer incentives to films that want to showcase agents in them in some way, along with consulting on procedure and other nuances. Of course, these films have to depict the agents in a positive light.

[4] Right now, of course, you are thinking to yourself–wait, what about fan fiction? Is that a reappropriation of cultural touchstones by the people now devoid of folkloric heroes, or simply the mealy mouthed re-recitation of the same tropes endemic in the original media? I don’t know! It’s very exciting, isn’t it.

[5] One of the weirdest things that I’ve noticed lately is not just product placement in films, like ET eating Reeses Pieces, but characters from films appearing in commercials for the products that are sponsoring the film. But maybe this is pretty normal at this point and I just never noticed.

[6] Even if the rom-coms don’t reinforce the cultural narratives about marriage etc., they still act as escapism and prevent their viewers from focusing on the true issue–REVOLUTION. Oh, and also that the Enlightenment was bad. So. You know.