Em #447: There Will Be No Retweets

In Heidegger’s lingo, “das Gerede” refers to the distractions sort of generally. It also means “talk” or “chatter.”

I wrote the script for this comic on May 21st, which is to say I wrote it down on May 21st–it had definitely been kicking around in my head for much longer. The “everything is reminding me I’m going to die” line was originally about COVID-19. It…still feels really relevant, but for different reasons, and as usual I feel weird for using Heidegger… so let’s talk about Heidegger. It feels like a good time to talk about white supremacy in philosophy![1]

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was a Nazi. I’ll lead with that, because even though his big masterwork Being and Time was written well before any of the stuff I’m about to talk about happened, his Nazism tends to feel like such a central fact to his life that I think I need to put it in front. I’m going to say in a minute that he was a more complicated guy than that appellation usually permits, but let’s not lose sight of it. Philosophically, he’s sort of loosely associated with both phenomenology (the study of consciousness from a first-person perspective[2]) and existentialism; he was a student of Husserl. His academic career benefited from his association with the Nazi party, as he was elected rector of Freiberg University, and either implemented or allowed to be implemented some of the party’s political policies, depending on who you ask and how generous they’re feeling–he may have stood up for some Jewish colleagues and helped them keep their jobs, though others claimed he denounced colleagues and blocked them from jobs, and he certainly denied student aid to non-Aryan students. During his time as rector, he made several speeches tying his philosophy put forward in Being and Time (aka Sein und Zeit) to Nazi ideology. He stepped down from his rectorship in 1934 and thereafter distanced himself somewhat from Nazi politics, although he didn’t leave the party. After the end of WWII, he was banned from teaching until 1949 as part of a denazification campaign. He became a professor emeritus in 1950 and I suppose did whatever it is that retired professors do until 1976, when he died.

This comic touches on a small piece of his philosophy, but there is a lot more. In an excellent essay in the New Yorker, Joshua Rothman writes,

Heidegger had developed his own way of describing the nature of human existence. It wasn’t religious, and it wasn’t scientific; it got its arms around everything, from rocks to the soul. Instead of subjects and objects, Heidegger wanted to talk about “beings.” The world, he argued, is full of beings—numbers, oceans, mountains, animals—but human beings are the only ones who care about what it means to be themselves. (A human being, he writes, is the “entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue.”) This gives us depth. Mountains might outlast us, but they can’t out-be us. For Heidegger, human being was an activity, with its own unique qualities, for which he had invented names: thrownness, fallenness, projection. These words, for him, captured the way that we try, amidst the flow of time, to “take a stand” on what it means to exist. (Thus the title: “Being and Time.”)

I don’t believe he’s widely taught in undergraduate philosophy departments; certainly when I was a student at UW-Madison, he was not being taught, as far as I am aware[3]; I see now he is included in a class on Existentialism that also includes Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, and de Beauvoir, which is…an interesting combination there. I think his lack of inclusion is due at least as much to the fact that he’s extremely difficult to parse as his politics (although I should point out that every philosophy department routinely teaches Kant, you can’t NOT teach Kant, and he’s also difficult). On the other hand, he seems pretty popular in the amateur philosopher world–Philosophize This! did three episodes on him, A Partially Examined Life did three episodes. If you look on YouTube, there are plenty of videos like this one, which informed this comic (I count at least five other introductory videos). My rival, Existential Comics, has done a LOT of really funny comics about him.[4]

So why do we amateurs, who are not bound by the rules of academia[5] keep returning to Heidegger? Probably because his ideas have a certain resonance with us as people living in the exhausting modern world. It’s easy to see that we genuinely do immerse ourselves in distractions that keep us from thinking about the reality we’re dealing with; our experiences are rarely unmediated, whether it is because we are continually viewing things through our phone’s cameras or reacting to things online rather than engaging with them in real life. Being and Time was written in 1927, but it still feels very contemporary and relevant. As an environmentalist, I wholly support the idea that people need to get more in touch with nature in order to get more in touch with their authentic selves (at one point, Heidegger recommends taking long walks in the country). As a specifically difficult text, it also probably engenders a certain amount of satisfaction in the readers that leads them to want to talk about it, which may also account for some of the fascination. Or, quoting Rothman again, “You don’t spend years working your way through “Being and Time” because you’re idly interested. You do it because you think that, by reading it, you might learn something precious and indispensable.”

Heidegger also has the advantage of having been defended, pretty ardently, by Hannah Arendt (this is the complicating part of his biography), who was herself a pretty legit philosopher and also a German Jew. She was also a student of Husserl’s who briefly studied under (and had an affair with the married) Heidegger before completing her PhD in 1929 (Germany was a pretty cosmopolitan place at the time); she then fled Germany in 1933. She defended him post-war, even knowing that he had been a Nazi. This is sort of where his biography gets tricky, because both their relationship and the extent of his Antisemitism weren’t really known about until after his death. He also wrote some stuff in his last book, Only a God Can Save Us, that suggested he was at least disillusioned with Nazism by the end. Of course, with him being dead for like 40+ years at this point, we can’t exactly ask him to weigh all of this and explain, and even if we could, what credence could we attach to his explanations?

Is Heidegger really such an important part of the history of philosophy that we need to keep talking about him? This question comes up a lot when dealing with former Nazis, and in a lot of cases the answer has been, “No, we should chuck the Nazis out”–but coincidentally, this seems to be the choice when the results of whatever research they were doing is rubbish. For example, the medical community doesn’t pay any attention to what Mengele did[6]. On the other hand, Wernher von Braun actually…designed the Saturn V rocket. So, you know. In a broader sense, this is a question that comes up again and again with reference to what has been termed “cancel” culture, whereby a mob will publicly shame someone, typically a celebrity, for real or imagined crimes, and then basically try to ignore that person, cutting them out of society. Does the person get to resume their livelihood? When, if ever? No one is quite sure yet.

For me, the question could be framed more specifically as “Why do I continue to return to Heidegger?” There are ultimately a few reasons. First, there is something compelling about this tiny piece of his philosophy that speaks to me, just like it speaks to so many others. Second, I take a perverse delight in co-opting the philosophy of someone who would have been unhappy about the idea–Heidegger blamed a lot of the modernization he hated on Jews, and saw them as “uprooted from Being-in-the-world”–i.e., incapable of authenticity (Rothman’s quote and summary), so for a Jew to demonstrate the same anxieties and concerns with modernity that he does has a certain ironic appropriateness. Drawing him providing advice to me, someone he probably would not have had time for in life, is extremely funny to me. Third, I like to use him to remember that even smart people can be seduced and make extremely terrible decisions, and that it is a good idea to stop and think things through once in a while.[7] Reading more about him, Heidegger is basically the banal kind of evil you meet every day, a bureaucrat looking for an edge more than a guy personally shooting babies, just rules-bound enough to make life a little more difficult for everyone. But at the same time, I have to feel like maybe there aren’t any innocent Nazis, just like there aren’t any good cops.

But. More and more, watching the George Floyd protests, I’m reminded that a lot of normal people in Germany were probably like Heidegger–secure in their privilege, and not very brave. No one, on a day-to-day basis, stands up to the police, because there’s no accountability, so people have literally taken recordings of people getting murdered in front of them and yet done nothing to intervene with the actual murder. I don’t know if we can exactly blame anyone for not wanting to put their own lives on the line; in part, perhaps it’s a demonstration of how afraid people are. The cops aren’t going to come over here and start busting heads, so we can film them, but if we try to intervene, well–who knows what amount of restraint they’re willing to exercise. (Having written this and then watched a week of protests, I can tell you the answer is “none”–it doesn’t matter who you are, the police will beat you if you get in their way.) You might have called these people collaborators in Nazi German, but looking at the way people in the US have been about, for example, the Trump Concentration Camps at the border, ICE abuses, the long-time abuse of civilians and especially Black people by the police, etc., etc., I think that might be a little strong. Collaboration implies active participation or approval in some way. Heidegger was, arguably, in the weakest sense, a collaborator. Instead, I think we could say that these problems are so big, pervasive, difficult, and frightening that instead of facing them (for longer than a few news cycles), people tend to retreat into das Gerede–the chatter that distracts us all from the Real. Now that the typical outlets of das Gerede (Twitter, Instagram, FB, Reddit, Imgur, etc.) are all full of images of protest and conflict, we have nothing to distract us. The problems will be faced; they must be faced.

Whenever big protest movements come up, people seem to think in terms of the things they would lose were the movement’s ideals to be enacted, both explicitly and not. Defund the police? Then who will find our stolen cars? Give women rights over their bodies? Then how will we be able to keep them powerless at home? If I told you to stop teaching Shakespeare, you might rightly protest that there would be a huge gap in the curriculum, leaving out some of the greatest works of literature in English. But because any class has a limited number of hours per week, limited weeks per semester, and students have a limited number of semesters in the time they spend at school, leaving things out can also offer the opportunity to add things in that are now overlooked. Already any philosophy curriculum suffers from history–there are so many philosophers from Thales onward. Who could we include if we didn’t spend time on Heidegger? What level of excellence would it have to attain to be worth the trade off? 

There’s a kind of false argument people often bring up when affirmative action comes up that suggests that if you decide you’re going to try to hire someone nonwhite, someone nonmale, you’re somehow giving them the job out of pity, because they couldn’t possibly just be the best candidate for the job. But I think one thing we’ve learned is that they often are the best candidate, and without diversity initiatives we would have overlooked them and hired another mediocre white guy. So I want to start a diversity initiative in philosophy, and make the claim that just because there are a lot of smart white guys, maybe there are some philosophers who also have interesting, illuminating, even genius things to say who are different from the milieu. This is my modest proposal–no matter how much we are willing to smooth over Heidegger’s crimes, no matter how much of a singular genius he may be (and I think more and more that this is a myth, there is no such thing as a singular genius), maybe we could do better.

It has been difficult for me, sitting at home, to not be able to protest. I feel like words are no longer useful (who needs another think piece? The answer is always “no one”), but words are all that I have to give (I mean, you can give money too–see this next footnote for some resources[7]). Words about the way philosophy is studied are the smallest potatoes imaginable; it’s just an area I feel like I have a little bit of something to say about that maybe other people aren’t already talking about in a better way. So I press on against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past.

Join me next time, we’ll do Fanon.

In addition to Joshua Rothman’s article linked above, this essay benefited from:
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Heidegger
Martin Heidegger on Wikipedia
Heidegger and Nazism on Wikipedia
Hannah Arendt on Wikipedia
Hannah Arendt on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The title is from Amanda Palmer’s album There Will Be No Intermission, aka the album most likely to make me break down in sobs in front of my computer. Saddest song. Favorite song

[1] After I started working on this, I realized I had a lot to say about the “canon” of philosophers as taught in normal classes (or even as philosophy afficiendos, the philosophers we most pay attention to), who are pretty much exclusively white and male until you get into the late 90s and after, and then still like 90% white and male, as well as the deficiencies of my undergraduate education in general. But this essay is already over 2,000 words long, so I have not said every thought on the matter. 

[2] Other major phenomenologists include Hegel and Kant.

[3] I took mostly classes on Philosophy of Science, so studied philosophers like Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Godel, as well as a fair amount of Plato. So it’s possible they were doing classes on Heidegger and I just wasn’t interested at the time. Side note–other major philosophers mentioned here who are not being taught: Husserl and Arendt, both of whom were Jewish. And I do not recall reading any texts by major philosophers of color during my tenure there (we barely read any women–only in my ethics course, really). Side side note, it’s interesting how almost every concept in philosophy is attached to the person who thought it up with the exception of the trolley problem, which is very widely known but most don’t know it as the brainchild of Philippa Foot. Interesting.

[4] Just kidding, we’re not rivals. They’re great.

[5] Rule one: thou shalt stir up benign controversy so people will cite your paper

[6] This is what I have been told, anyway. I have not been able to discover any articles with a cursory search.

[7] It’s worth noting that Heidegger’s disenchantment did not come from, like, the mass murder parts of the Nazi philosophy, so even smart people can make relatively huge errors in judgement.

[8] Free the 350 Bail Fund is the bail fund for Madison, WI. And this site lets you split a donation among several different worthy organizations. And there’s always the ACLU.

Em oi! #446: Train, in Vain

Train: I won't come out. The rain will damage my paint.
Fat Controller: Have you ever read Poe, Train?
Train: ...yes.
FC: If you don't come out, I shall have you bricked up in there like a cask of amontillado.
Train: I'm going to report this to OSHA. Workers have rights too, you know.

So I need to make it clear that this isn’t something I made up. This is genuinely something that happened in a Thomas the Tank Engine video. You can check out the UK version here, and the subtly different but still incredibly weird US version here.

Here are a few “fun” facts I have found out since I started researching this comic:

  • Sir Topham Hat is often referred to as “the fat controller” in the British version, but always by name in the US version, because the word “fat” is considered more pejorative in the US.
  • The story this comic is based on (linked to above) was originally published in 1945.
  • The character of Sir Topham Hat is originally an engineer and referred to as “the fat director” (i.e. Director of the North Western Railway). Then, when the railway becomes nationalized and joins the British Railway, he becomes the fat controller.
  • In a show of nepotism (and sexism), he’s married to the sister of the MP from Sodor East and owner of the Skarloey Railway. No wonder he became controller.
  • In the books, he has two kids, and eventually his son and then his grandson become controllers of the railway (more nepotism, more sexism).
  • He’s styled “sir” because he’s a baronet. This means he ranks above all knights/dames but is not a peer, BUT it is a hereditary title. Please feel free to check Burke’s Peerage for more information on what this means for how deeply he has to bow when meeting the queen.

Seriously, a long time ago I was worried that grandparents who hadn’t touched a baby in thirty years would:

  • Put my child down to sleep on his stomach.
  • Give him solids too early.
  • Feed him nothing but sugar.
  • Somehow fuck up his sleep cycle (this happened, but we recovered, and they never managed to fuck things up so badly we were forced to co-sleep or anything, which was a story I heard).

I should have been more worried about the introduction of children’s television.

And it gets worse, because I know I have brought this upon myself. A few weeks ago, we were pretending that Thomas was only viewable at Grandma’s house. Then daycare closed, and we decided to start potty training. I mean, we’d been planning to anyway, but we started a little early because hey, you’re already hanging around the house all day trying to do eight hours of work while watching a toddler, why not also add in an extra level of difficulty with regards to bodily fluid management?[1] The point being that I told Hal one morning, “Hey, we’re going to start potty training today!”

Sensing an opportunity, he said, “You say ‘training’?”

“Ah, yes,” I said, suddenly feeling like a bar owner who understands that there might be a way out of my current dilemma with the health department via paying some cash to a local businessmen’s association. “If you use the potty successfully, you can watch a Thomas video.”

Plus side: Potty training accomplished. Minus side: This is what being hoisted by your own petard looks like.

We’ll file this one under PS648 R3 L86 2020, for American literature–Collections of American literature–Prose (General)–Special forms and topics, A-Z–Railroad stories.

Anyway, there’s a new episode of Ask a Medievalist over at AskAMedievalist.com (or on iTunes/Google Podcasts/Stitcher/etc.) and a new episode coming out next Thursday. Also, for everyone who has given us positive feedback! It’s great to hear from all of you, and it makes us feel really great about the amount of time this project absorbs.


[1] One million percent gratitude to Sarah, who has allowed us to get some toddler-free work hours. She is a rock star and has made the transition from dog sitter to babysitter with great ease and grace. If we have retained any sanity, it was because of her.

Em oi! #444 and 445

B: Edgar, you just came in. You can't go out again just yet. 
Em: Is he okay?
B: I don't know.
(Dog stares steadfastly at B.)
Em: (from off) Maybe he ate something and his tum is upset...
(Dog continues staring.)
Narration: Swing into "our baby is sick" mode.
Em: Googling dog upset stomach treatments. 
B: Slept in guest room in case dog needed something in night.
Narration: The next morning...
Em: (walking down exterior steps, thinks) At least I can see if he's having blood in his--- oh.
(Dog with lightly chewed dead squirrel.)

As I sat down to put this up, I realized that #444 was only ever published on Instagram/Facebook, so here it is for posterity:

I was training for a 50k when I drew #444. Now I am not, because all the races are cancelled and we are sheltering at home. Somehow I am still tired. Today I got up at 5am, ran 9.8 miles, then after work took Hal on a walk that ended up with me carrying him on my back up two different hills. Well, how is your quarantine going?

I have actually been doing a lot of random things, including sketching, learning how to draw with pastels, writing more depressing prose poems, trying to edit my novella, and making an awesome podcast! You can check it out here: AskAMedievalist.com. New episodes on Thursdays, probably. We also have a Facebook group, which you can find by searching for Ask a Medievalist on Facebook.

Okay, I would like to keep chatting with you all, but 1/ I used all my wits writing the annotations to the AAM episodes, and 2/ this is getting in the way of my eating ice cream now. Check out the podcast and remember that this won’t last forever. Even though it might last a while longer.

Em oi! #443: 24 Hours

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

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.


It has been a long time since the last comic I posted. This was not intentional–I had some health things come up in September, and then when I was recovered (mentally, really) and ready to draw again a bunch of other stuff happened, as is its wont–I went to operas, I parented, I stayed out too late, I took the dogs for a jog, I started seriously editing my new novella, I watched a bunch of episodes of The Good Place and read a couple of 900-page fantasy novels, and then just when it seemed I still had time to make my goal of one comic per month, it was suddenly nearly the end of November.


So this is an update to say, hey, I’m still alive, but I’m not going to be posting another comic right this instant. I have a few in the queue. Hopefully soon.

In the meantime, a bunch of my prose poems have been published. I’ve slowly been adding these to my bibliography section up top, but in the meantime you can check these out (note that most are only available in hard copy):

“Deluge,” Ink and Nebula (Summer 2019): http://inkandnebula.com/eh-lupton.html.

“Huaraches” and “Deflation,” Not One of Us, no. 62 (2019): pp. 24, 50.

“Before the Fall,” “Prediction Space,” and “After the Fall,” Poet Lore vol. 114, no. 3/4 (Fall/Winter 2019): pp. I don’t know, I haven’t gotten my copy yet.

Can’t see it now, but soon:

“Now We Are Free” at The House of Zolo’s Journal of Speculative Literature, vol. 1 (1/1/20): p. who knows, it’s probably not paginated yet.

At least one other forthcoming.

Before I go, here’s my new and improved head shot. Sometime I’m going to get an actual photographer to take one.

Portrait of the author as someone who has finally managed to take a selfie without doing that weird thing with her chin.

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.