Summer Fog

Deck-SkyHere in Halifax we have been socked in with fog and cloud a lot lately, and the last two days in particular have been relentlessly overcast and muggy. The humidity alone is demoralizing, and the absence of sunlight just compounds the gloom. Happily we’re supposed to see at least some sun later today–but most of the rest of the week is forecast to be pretty grey. This kind of disappointing weather is typical of May and June here, but by July we’re usually enjoying a bit more brightness! As our long-awaited and always too-brief summer slips away, it’s hard not to feel a bit depressed, especially as constant construction noise in our usually tranquil neighborhood has made even the few really nice sunny days harder to enjoy. I have hardly spent any time reading on the deck, which is the one summer activity I really look forward to!

twitterlogoMy mopey mood has not been helped by the constant barrage of bad news, or by the ceaseless cascade of angry responses to one thing after another on social media. My twitter feed yesterday was heavily dominated, for example, by people being angry about a terrible “take” on libraries and an ill-conceived hit job on Wuthering Heights. I didn’t disagree with (most of) the complaints: I love libraries as much as the next person in my feed, and though Wuthering Heights is hardly my favorite novel either, if for some reason I felt like making a big public statement about that, I would at least try to explain myself without insulting either the book or those who admire it–and I would certainly make a good faith effort to know the novel better and acknowledge its strengths as part of the project. But eventually I had to wonder who these declarations were really aimed at, since the pieces’ authors are almost certainly not going to see or be persuaded by them. I know it feels good to vent, and we all (myself certainly included!) use Twitter for this some of the time, but after a while the anger seems largely performative, and I’m increasingly inclined to see the compulsion to join the chorus of outrage as a problem in itself, not any kind of solution–though, having said that, I do realize that there can be both comfort and political value in asserting solidarity with other like-minded people. My least favorite genre of tweet is “you’re doing Twitter wrong,” so what I need to do is keep working on managing my own experience of Twitter–which I still find a vital lifeline to relationships and conversations and ideas I value–so that it is on balance more engaging than stressful.

moss-namesOn the bright side, I just finished reading a pretty good book, Sarah Moss’s Names for the Sea, which I will write a bit more about here soon. I also really liked Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn, which I just finished writing up for Quill & Quire, and now I’m focusing on a short essay on Carol Shields’ Unless, a novel that has come to be one of my very favorites. I also feel good about my piece on “Reading Trollope in the Age of Trump,” which ran last week on the TLS Online–it was a treat to be writing about a Victorian novel again, and it was an interesting challenge to see if I could highlight its contemporary relevance while still mostly focusing on its particulars, keeping it “more Trollope than Trump,” as my editor and I agreed. It was also nice not to be behind their paywall for once!

I’m sure I will perk up soon. The sun is already trying to burn its way through today’s fog, and in the meantime I have plenty to do. Days–and moods–like this, though, which are pretty common for me in the summer, are why I don’t 100% look forward to this season, and why I kind of hate the well-intentioned “how’s your summer going?” questions from the few people I run into, most of whom really only want or expect me to say “fine.”

5 thoughts on “Summer Fog

  1. Liz Mc2 July 23, 2018 / 1:09 pm

    We’re not having literal fog, but I hear you on the rest of it. I recently spent a few days with much less time on Twitter, and noticed how good I felt, so I am trying to cut back (I know I have a problem). I have tried, with some success, to increase the light and reduce the heat of the political commentary I am taking in there–following women political scientists has been a good strategy. I’ve turned of RTs for some people and I wish I could turn off their quote tweets too.

    Noticing how annoying I found these has made me cut waaaaay back. If my followers want a lot of politics in their feed, I’m sure they are already choosing it. They don’t need/want my ill-informed hot takes, especially if it is the 15th comment they see on the issue/tweet/article. And they probably don’t even need my RTs of threads I found valuable. Choosing not to contribute to the noise makes me feel better about how I’m engaging. I try to engage for conversation about fun things (books! pets! lovely vacations!) and otherwise be a consumer or an ignorer. It’s hard, though, when every news day feels like a year.

    I really enjoyed your Trollope piece, which I did RT!

    • Rohan Maitzen July 23, 2018 / 5:48 pm

      Someone shared this article today

      http://screencrush.com/why-you-should-never-share-bad-articles/

      and it was very clarifying to me about how our impulse to share / comment / criticize every terrible “take”just feeds the beast. I too am trying to cut back as a result of thinking more about how this all plays out, especially on the political stuff. I think it felt for a while as if tweeting was contributing, even doing a little something—a tiny act of resistance. It’s nearly impossible to think that now, so why get too caught up in it? Direct that impulse into something more likely to help.

      Thank you for sharing the Trollope piece! It was a fun way to channel some of the current turbulence in a literary direction.

  2. Sunita July 26, 2018 / 12:23 pm

    I enjoyed your Trollope piece too, and I hope you saw that it was linked in the Guardian’s weekly Tips, Links, and Suggestions column (and discussed Below The Line as well). It was fun to see someone I “know” online quoted there.

    I deactivated my Twitter account in early June and have benefited immensely from the change. I’m reading and writing more and just generally having an easier time avoiding nastiness. Even for topics I enjoy, Twitter seems to be the venue in which people are most likely to complain and attack. Since most of the real news (and a lot of the pseudo-news) get reported in other places, I don’t really miss much. I do miss book conversations, but they are fewer and further between in my experience and less likely to be about the books than about book-adjacent reactions. The current Booker longlist provides a case in point. It’s amazing how many people “know” how the longlist was arrived at, despite having no inside information and apparently never having served on a book awards committee.

    • Rohan Maitzen July 26, 2018 / 4:56 pm

      Thank you, Sunita, and thank you for the tip about the Guardian – I hadn’t seen that. The discussion (at least, the parts I found in the comments) amused me: they seemed quite fixated on the single word “villain,” rather than on the whole phrase (and argument) it’s part of. But it is still really gratifying to be read and discussed!

      I don’t think I could bear to give up Twitter … yet. That time may come, but I do think you can do a lot to improve the experience by managing who / what content appears in your feed and (this part I’m still not so good at) how much time you spend there.

      • Sunita July 27, 2018 / 11:02 am

        I totally understand about not wanting to leave Twitter, it’s still a work in progress for me to do it. I did find that using the same techniques as Liz (muting, ruthlessly limiting RTs, not commenting on controversial stuff, etc.) helped.

        The TLS gang’s standard operating procedure is acerbic and critical, so by their standards it was a complimentary discussion! I do agree the focus on villain was a bit odd, but in line with their style.

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