Environment: Light Rain in San Francisco

Twitter is mildly amusing at the moment, as many SF Bay Area people are wildly excited over the actuality of water falling from the sky.

The unfamiliar pitter-pat sounds on windows. The smell of petrichor. They are posting absurdly mundane videos celebrating droplets on windshields! Here in California, where fires in the mountains have burned for MONTHS, rain is a big deal.

Water! FROM THE SKY! 😄

We’d really like Wildfire Season to END.

It has been an agonizingly dry year. We only got about 30% of our hoped-for water from October of last year through September of this year. We’d really like to do better.

Here’s what the US Drought Monitor for California looks like (brace yourself, it’s bad):

This image is available as a pdf at https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/data/pdf/current/current_ca_trd.pdf

If monthly numerical tables are more of your thing, here is NOAA’s data from our sad water year:

If you know people in the SF Bay Area or California generally, be prepared for their/our delight over a basic weather phenomenon that may be ordinary for you, but which feels like an incredible gift for us.

Book: Progress on Editing My Novel

It is the season for one of my favorite, messy fruit: the pomegranate. Oh, how I love it.
A pomegranate snack is a great reward for hours of novel editing.

I’m 20,000+ words into revising my first novel(la), and… it feels like being employed! I am in my home office, at my computer, typing for hours on end, forgetting to stretch, and drinking lots of caffeinated beverages, so that seems about right.

My progress comes in streaks – I’m either in a writing mood (when I do my better work) or just plodding along doing more retyping than editing.

So far, I have about 47 pages of text with normal spacing, one space built in after each paragraph, and a 12 point font. Based on (gu)estimates from my small print first draft, where I’m on page 38 (of 134), I’ve added a light amount of clarifying and descriptive text, but haven’t yet made any big interventions in the story.

It is exciting to have gotten this far. I am aiming for about 80,000 words, so it is encouraging to know I’m about 1/4 of the way through this version of the rewrite. (But also: I’m only about 1/4 of they way through!)

During NaNoWriMo, writing 50,000 words over the month of November comes to writing about 1,667 words each calendar day, and so my 20,000 word progress equates to about 12 days of writing. Excluding days of reading and studying, this is my 5th day of just editing (and retyping), and my first with the new, ergonomic keyboard.

I need a nap. And more coffee. And then, to get back at it!

Art: Judy Chicago’s ‘Forever de Young’

Yes, I did choose a viewing spot downwind of the performance. I REGRET NOTHING!

I always marvel at how lucky I am to live in San Francisco. While taking long walks with friends, I often say aloud that we are extraordinarily lucky to live here, in such a beautiful city, with such a vibrant and creative and international population, mild weather year round, and the remarkable influence of the bay and our famous fog.

October 16th was one of those days that inspires outbursts of gratitude, not only because the weather was warm and mild, but also because I also got to participate with friends in an ART EXPERIENCE! The brilliant Judy Chicago performed one of her Atmospheres installations: a gorgeous, colored smoke performance of vast size, here for the public in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.


It’s not every day I come home starry-eyed and reeking of gunpowder, but this was one of those days!

The de Young live-streamed the event, and packaged it with a great overview of the exhibit. It’s a GREAT use of video, and I want to compel everyone I know to see it (giving me a moment’s overlap with the sort of zeal religious missionaries possess, which is a funny feeling).

It was gorgeous; it allowed me to follow my habit of photographing other people while they photograph; it was great to see so many people so excited about an art event; it was pleasant to participate in a masked group activity outdoors; my phone is filled with abstract colors and texts from the friend who participated with me; I left completely delighted.

Books: Photo Book Experiments

These lay-flat books, which have no center seams because it is built of glued spreads instead of stitched like a normal sewn binding, arrive in a beautiful, fancy, padded box, making this clearly a great gift or special event type of book. The hard cover images are great; they are lovely overall.
(The bright spot ear the top center is from sunlight coming through a gap in the blinds: it isn’t the book itself.)

Before I began my big project of rewriting my first novella into a proper novel, I laid out a monochrome photo book of horizontal images I’ve taken of recent architecture downtown.

Blurb is a local self-publishing, art-book-printing powerhouse that I’ve used for more than a dozen projects. I decided to try out their new, continuous-spread books with a subset of this body of work.

The book is printed beautifully – so beautifully, that I sent a copy to another photographer friend, to inspire him to use them as well! 🙂 (He will!). I’m really happy I laid this out and ordered it.

The flaws with the book are with my choice to make it so short: the samples I chose create a photo essay that doesn’t show off the range of architecture I intend to highlight.

I have the images to make it much more comprehensive, but need to re-shoot some reflections (I’m using a rangefinder, and I boggle it with reflections taken through wires of complex surfaces), and be very thoughtful in planning the layouts once I expand it. I’ll likely use Blurb’s regular premium book type (which is sewn/glued like ordinary books), to get a much longer book with a wider range of layouts than I chose this time.

Pandemic Life: Early October

Someone in my yard was excited that I was watering the camellias, and had to check me out.

This week, I had an early morning medical appointment, so I caught a commute train downtown. I was worried that it would be crowded.

It was not crowded. Which is a worry of its own.

I was happy to see the commuters who were present wearing what are now known as “soft” clothes (with a new meaning about clothes that are not simply made of soft fabric, but which are also largely unstructured and are made without hard fasteners; this distinguishes them from items that are now called, “hard pants,” for example), but was surprised that there still weren’t a lot of people. That was nice for being able to get a seat on the bus, but still eerie.

It’s still SO DIFFERENT. It still feels so unnaturally quiet here in my City.

One of the interesting elements of great cities is how lively they are: how there are always people out and about, day and night, because so much work (and play) of various sorts are happening. Even though SF has become a relatively sleepy city during my lifetime (which sounds like some veiled complaint about how it is hard to find somewhere good to eat in the middle of the night (ahem), but is more a commentary on how the music venue options have become so limited, as luxury housing displaced industrial and commercial corridors where theaters and concert halls can operate freely), it was very lively by day in the Before Times. It isn’t now. Not on weekdays.

The ripple effects on businesses downtown have been significant: all sorts of businesses, from dry cleaners to lunch-only restaurants to pharmacies to coffee shops have vanished, because the multitudes that had made their business a nearly sure-thing in the past aren’t around. If even national chain retailers have closed up shops, the impact on smaller, one-location businesses and small local chains remains remarkable.

I received goodbye messages from some local food vendors early on, and while restaurants normally fail at a high rate, some of them were big local employers with multiple locations, so it was still a shock. Also, going downtown now, their locations remain vacant. Not all of their signs, fixtures, and furnishings have been removed, likely because their collapse was swift, and there aren’t yet buyers for their gear or lessees for the space. It’s an uncomfortable reminder of how hard major disasters impact everything.

Because it has been distributed, we aren’t really accounting for losing 700k+ people in discussions of how things are changing. When low-wage employers complain that no one wants to take what are now relatively high-risk jobs, they don’t seem to be factoring in the fact that we are not just short workers, we are short living human beings. Also, many of those who were infected are still not feeling great, which influences what they do for work.

Oh, this data is from the always excellent Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus page.

The weekends have more signs of life, as people who are working invisibly from home go out to parks, the waterfront, and shopping districts enjoy the fine autumn weather.


The U.S.’ international travel bans that I wrote of earlier will be lifted for vaccinated travelers in November, and some countries are opening up to Americans again.

While unvaccinated people are still permitted to fly, I am unlikely to board a plane.

It feels like it will still be a long while before I’ll move through the world with the comfort and relative safety I felt during the Before Times.

Design: Postcard Collections (and the patterns they show)

As a hobbyist postcard designer, I loved watching this video about a color photo postcard printer whose art department had an interesting influence on the way specific postcards looked, which is only noticeable if you see enough of them. I’m sharing the video, because I just love the story.

Book: The Cruelty is the Point by Adam Serwer

The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump’s America
by Adam Serwer
published by One World (Penguin Random House), New York

American political discourse has been disturbing and authoritarian in recent years, and the seriousness of it has made it tempting to look away and focus on small, manageable things in our personal lives. To help process the past US Administration’s role in all of this, I found it useful to read Adam Serwer’s excellent new book, based on essays he previously published in the Atlantic as events were unfolding, with new commentary introducing them. Named after an insightful essay which reflected on the hateful rhetoric that was embraced by the authoritarian Trump and his followers, this book provides insights and context for the horrors that have been unfolding around us.

I went through a pad of page flags while reading, which was unexpected, but Serwer’s insights are thoughtful and useful enough to revisit. He also cited other books, articles, and authors who can provide additional details and depth on our history, our power structures, and the tension-to-conflict between our stated principles and national behavior. (My to-read list feels infinite already, but some of these are quite promising.)

When Serwer interviews people who mistakenly believe that illegal immigrants receive amazing services and benefits which other Americans do not (much as I read elsewhere of the same demographic groups believing that black people received free cell phones under Obama, or that all black people are given free college tuition because of some big government intervention that I wish actually existed), their hysteria over immigration makes slightly more sense, even while knowing it is based on lies, and even while recognizing their position is a cowardly attack on the vulnerable rather than an authentic challenge the powerful.

Serwer astutely identifies the right-wing’s objections to “political correctness” as a strong objection that previously oppressed groups have standing in society to challenge their abuse. He cuts apart the idea of false, historical “civility” in which white men in power simply set aside the rights of others so that the powerful could remain comfortable, an indulgence that costs the rest of us dearly. I love this sentence:

In Ivy League debate rooms and the Senate cloakroom, white men could discuss the most divisive issues of the day with all the politeness befitting what was for them a low-stakes conflict. Outside, the people whose rights were actually at stake were fighting and dying to have those rights recognized.

I appreciate Serwer’s insights on US police abuses of (and more specifically for) power, how the brief history of policing within the U.S. has been problematic in a range of disturbing ways since the outset of public police departments in the 1800s, and how domestic police cultures have long held authoritarian leanings. His writing helped remind and clarify for me that publicly funded police represent the interests of the entrenched powerful, and those entrenched powerful (and those who look like them) benefit from a historically exploitative status quo that allowed them to come to power. This loyalty to power makes much more sense from observable routine events of police violence than an idea that the police exist primarily to support actual laws or the public at large.

Adam Serwer’s journalism and analyses make a great book, and this collection provides clear insights on the challenges and outright dangers we face in the U.S. Published this year, its essays take us right up to the current moment, and will remain highly relevant for the foreseeable future. I recommend it highly.