Culture: Current Events Impacting Art

I’ve read of people watching movies that were made Before (this pandemic), who were uncomfortable with people standing close together. They’d said that crowd scenes and train stations and parties all seem so… weird, now that we are in our current situation. Dangerous. Cringe-inducing.

I’ve looked at advertisements for resorts that are updating their photos: instead of showing bars and pools with young models distributed around them, the spaces are empty. The sunshine-bathed lounge chairs are well spaced. The tables in the bars are at least ten feet apart. Spaciousness is suddenly the essence of luxury. The sanitation protocols of hotels are near the top of the list of amenities.

Designers are proposing conceptual projects to accommodate dining without sharing air, beach resorts with translucent walled spaces (and without mingling), and similar barrier-enforced-social-distancing scenarios…

The new reality is sinking in, and it is changing how we see things. It is changing advertising. It will soon change art.

I keep thinking of this interview with William Gibson:

William Gibson: ‘I was losing a sense of how weird the real world was’

In 2016, William Gibson was a third of the way through his new novel when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. “I woke up the day after that and I looked at the manuscript and the world in which the novel was set – a contemporary novel set in San Francisco – and I realised that that world no longer existed.

He had to start his novel over, because his near-future novel was no longer plausible – reality had shifted too strangely to sustain it. (The re-write turned out brilliantly – my review is one of the first posts on this blog.)

Meanwhile, I’m contemplating my own fiction, and am alarmed that some of my dystopian novellas are becoming plausible. My dystopias are pretty damned dystopian (I was hoping dystopic was a word). This is not a good thing.

I told someone that science fiction, even the grim sort, is innately optimistic. When they asked why, I told them that science fiction assumes humans have a future.

A human future is not guaranteed.

Book: Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A book that rightly earned great acclaim

Between The World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
published by One World (Penguin Random House)

The best book I’ve experienced so far this year is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. This memoir, written as a message to his young son, is both a sensitive, insightful autobiography and a thoughtful dissection of the constructs of race within the United States.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of this work, read by the author. Coates is a very natural speaker/reader, and it was a pleasure to listen to him in this format. He is also an extremely gifted writer, and this book (especially in his voice) feels both brilliant and extremely personal. Like listening to a friend pour out his soul in a deeply meaningful and very penetrating way.

Coates shares his insights on his experience growing up in a tough neighborhood, on displays of fear, on how the racial dynamics of this country permeate parenting, daily life, physical presentation… On the extremely artificial construct of a “white” American identity, on the infrastructure that sustains a completely different reality for people who claim that identity… And on the crushing loss of police brutality, not only experienced by those who are arbitrarily murdered by the authorities on half-baked pretenses, but on the way those murders and the lack of justice that follows them scar entire communities.

This book manages to be thoroughly enjoyable while still touching on some of the most painful and tender topics in our current time. I gained some insights. I misted up. I felt shared joy over some of the author’s experiences. I appreciated the way Coates described his own personal growth in areas he hadn’t anticipated. The book feels remarkably contemporary at an up-to-this-second level, and I feel like my life is richer for having heard it from the author. I recommend it zealously.

News: My State is Still Burning

It smells like wood smoke. It… almost always smells like wood smoke now.

Who texts me most frequently? Alert SF, the SF Department of Emergency Management notification system.

Sometimes Alert SF texts to let me know that the air is safe to breathe, which is my hint to air out the house and run any quick errands before the smoke returns.

It’s a strange way to live.


More than 12,400 firefighters are continuing to battle 22 major wildfires. CAL FIRE has increased staffing in preparation for critical fire weather in multiple areas of the State.The latest numbers on the August #LightningSiege. More information at:

Our firefighters are AMAZING.

Oh! Speaking of our thousands of heroic firefighters: our incarcerated firefighters (!) have been risking their lives to save others by getting certified and successfully performing wildfire firefighting duty during their prison sentences. They will finally be permitted to do this essential public service work after incarceration AND have their records cleared if California Assembly Bill 2147 reaches the governor’s desk. (Newsweek story here. It has passed in the Assembly, and there are some alignments happening with the state Senate, according to this data at Various violent offenders are excluded from qualifying for the program.)

This bill corrects an otherwise exploitative practice – I’ve read elsewhere that they were paid about $3/day for their dangerous work (!), and were disqualified from working in the firefighting profession in which they are sorely needed due to their convictions. This corrective bill should pass!