September 27, 2020


Back in New York. After six weeks away, I thought the city would feel different when I returned, that I’d feel overwhelmed or awed or at least see its New Yorkness with fresh eyes. But this city’s muscle-memory is a remarkably stubborn thing; the moment I stepped onto First Avenue and waited for the crosswalk, it felt as if I’d only been away for a few hours. Maybe it’s the weather, still as warm and sweaty as when we left for the woods in August.

There are more people on the street. And more people sleeping on the sidewalks. There’s also a distinct quietness, a holding of the breath. It feels like the city is waiting. Waiting to see how the election turns out, if any sense of reason might return or if this nation is truly lost. Waiting to see if the infection rate will spike once the weather turns cold. Will our masks and distancing shield us, or will we return to the shuttered days of April when the streets were empty and ambulances filled the night?

We’ll have these answers soon. But tonight there’s light rain, our windows are open to the city’s hum, and there’s something dark and slow on the radio.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Dead End Angels

Sunset Mission | Wonder Records, 2000 | Boomkat
September 25, 2020


We’re leaving the Ohioan wilderness behind, night-driving back to New York. It’s been a fruitful time. Found a solid morning-writing groove and added 34,000 words to my book that are more or less in the right order. Reminded myself how to fall asleep without screens. Most importantly, I’ve recalibrated my relationship with the internet to a few short, intentional visits rather than a constant unwanted presence in the room. Of course, I probably didn’t need to need to travel six hundred miles into a dead zone to remember my devices have an option that says turn wifi off.

Transient Waves – Ride Home

Transient Waves | Darla, 1996 | Bandcamp
Birds outside the window, 2008
September 24, 2020


Standing in a superstore parking lot this evening, I watched some geese fly south, and I remembered my parents’ relationship with birds. My mother was a lapsed Catholic who kept the church at a distance, although she remained tuned to its superstitions, small gestures that ordered her world. My father never talked about god. Not until the end. But they both believed in birds.

My father lost his mom to cancer when he was twenty-four. She loved the great blue heron, a big swoopy thing that dragged its legs across the sky. Whenever my parents saw one, they’d pull the car to the side of the road and gawk. There she is. My father would bite his lip, the closest I ever saw him come to tears until the day my mother died.

My grandfather kept a stuffed bald eagle in the basement, an oddly seditious act. But he was all too happy to show you the federal paperwork, including a letter with the president’s seal that said the bird was legal. He found it on the beach when he was a boy. It had a broken wing, and he tried to nurse it back to health but failed. What do you do with a dead bald eagle? After my grandfather died, my father reported seeing bald eagles in improbable places. A parking lot outside of Grand Rapids. Circling over the Detroit interstate.

My father’s faith in birds deepened after my mother died. “Now she’s a blue jay,” he said. “Remember how excited she would get when she saw the first one each spring?” Over the years, he would call at odd hours with reports of blue jays. He saw one perched on the railing of the apartment building where he moved after selling the house. He saw blue jays in seasons and cities where they don’t live. I became accustomed to how he’d clear his throat to make space for his inventory of herons, eagles, and blue jays. They were plain facts to him, proof of a sensible universe where those who left us did not leave us.

I realized too late that I never knew my father’s favorite bird, and now there’s nobody left to ask. But if I see a blue jay flying alongside a different bird—perhaps a cardinal or robin—I’ll know that is the one.

Biosphere – Bird Watching

Compilation 1991-2004 | Biophon Recordings | Bandcamp
September 23, 2020


Three moments in America today that reach beyond my ability with words, striking only the rudimentary language of grief:

Six months ago, three white cops killed a Black woman named Breonna Taylor while she slept. Today one officer was charged for “wonton endangerment” because one of his bullets shattered a neighbor’s window and could have killed someone. The officers who did murder somebody still have their jobs. They can still walk around and do things. Because that’s the law. It’s just one of those things, say the legal experts. Even though it’s never the other way around.

Today our president suggested there might not be a peaceful transfer of power after the election.

Over 200,000 Americans have died from this pandemic so far. In Austin, an artist has been planting little red flags in his yard, one for every Texan who has died of the coronavirus. He has over 15,000 so far. And although I cannot find the words, this small gesture of marking and honoring each life gives me a small glimmer of hope.

September 22, 2020


Autumn equinox and the light matches the dark. We’re standing on the verge of an uneasy fall, unsure just how high the curve will go. This pandemic has pressed the gas pedal, accelerating the death of brick-and-mortar, social isolation, and a world understood through screens. Meanwhile, a handful of billionaires are busy vacuuming up the scraps that remain. Something must give way. Like putting a band-aid on a corpse, someone once said to me. Can an entire system be overturned without becoming ideological and frightening?

The attorney general declared Portland, Seattle, and New York City to be “anarchist jurisdictions” for reasons unknown. The large digital clock in Union Square now displays the time remaining before climate disaster becomes irreversible. About seven years. Sometimes I think about those hanging chads in Florida, the world we might have had. Maybe not wildly different, but perhaps a little calmer and cooler. But something as slight as a poorly-punched piece of paper can send the world speeding down a very different road.

Lee Hazlewood – My Autumn’s Done Come

MGM, 1966 | More

Lake Forest Service Plaza, 2017
September 21, 2020


The Lake Forest Oasis Service Plaza on Interstate 94 is one of my favorite moments in America. It’s a modern marvel where you can eat fast food on top of eight lanes of freeway traffic, hypnotized by an 80mph river of concrete, steel, and glass. Built in 1959, this tollway plaza just north of Chicago became a destination for motorists, and it was renovated in 2003 to “give patrons better views of the highway.” Last time I was there, a Buddhist monk in an orange robe and sneakers paced in front of the Taco Bell counter, anxiously waiting for his order. An angry man in flip flops kept saying “shoot me an email” to nobody in particular while he pumped more quarters into the candy machine. Five elderly women in floral pantsuits solemnly examined the offerings at Panda Express, their white hair like a system of low-flying clouds.

Dirty Beaches – A Hundred Highways

Badlands | Zoo Music, 2011 | Badlands
Ohio Bonfire
September 20, 2020


Last bonfire before we return to the city. I’m going to miss how the darkness presses closer out here, erasing the rest of the world until we’re left with only our stories and dreams.

Demdike Stare – Nothing But The Night

Symbiosis | Modern Love, 2009 | More
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, 2017
September 19, 2020


Insects keep buzzing in the trees like bad reception, but the nights are finally cooler and crisping up. A bad memory came crashing in last night. My father’s hand, so alien and paper-light while a doctor on a screen—on television!—told me that my father was the sickest man in the hospital, and all he could offer was prayer. It did not work. Where does one turn for comfort when memories begin looping? There’s a problem with modern grief, a rupture that cannot be filled with squishy words like mindfulness and acceptance. Sometimes I want blood, messy-faced emotion, and revelation. Wailing and ecstasy. But this craving has been muted and flattened into the language of self-help. Sometimes it feels like something is grinding away beneath my screens, scraping down the emotional spectrum until there’s only performance and outrage—and even these seem to be blurring.

The Caretaker – Sublime Beyond Loss

Everywhere at the End of Time | 2016 | Bandcamp
September 18, 2020


Looking at the state of the world today, perhaps we need more architectural details designed to scare away demons.

They’ve run out of names for this year’s tropical storms, so now they’re using the Greek alphabet. Beta developed this afternoon. More disturbances lurk near the Gulf. Disturbed weather. Disorganized currents. It’s the language of shambling through life, trying to pull it together. Meanwhile, the number of people who’ve died from coronavirus creeps toward 200,000. It’s now the third most common cause of death in this country.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died today. Before her death, she dictated this statement: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” 46 days to go. The New York Times is running a Live Ruth Bader Ginsburg Death Updates and Tracker. This country’s fever is going to burn so much hotter before it breaks.

I heard somebody outside my window say, “It’s more of a process than an event.”

Sumerian male worshipper, ca. 2900–2600 B.C.
September 17, 2020


Five thousand years ago we began outsourcing prayer and devotion to statues that would worship on our behalf. Human nature hasn’t really changed, and I can’t decide if this is reassuring or terrifying.

Tropic of Cancer – Children of a Lesser God

Restless Idylls | Blackest Ever Black, 2013 | Bandcamp
September 16, 2020


Today the president shared a fake video of his opponent playing “Fuck the Police” from his telephone. This seems like a sentence that should be recorded for whoever finds the remains of our civilization.

I saw a deer today while jogging, and I’m trying hard to hang on to this innocent encounter. The deer didn’t seem alarmed by my presence in the slightest. It just watched me while munching some foliage. I felt an urge to lecture it, to tell it that it should be very afraid of humans because look at what we’ve done to the world. Instead I took its picture and carried on. Because that’s what we do these days.

Leyland Kirby – Plastic False World

We, so tired of all the darkness in our lives | Bandcamp
September 15, 2020


Tried to write a better blurb about myself that explains who I am and what I do. Thought I’d bang it out in a few minutes but trying to describe myself in a coherent and marketable manner is like throwing all of my dreams and regrets into an existential blender. For an hour I stared at “James A. Reeves is.” Maybe this is enough.

Like painting legs on a snake. My in-laws taught me this Chinese idiom, a scold against unnecessary embellishment, for making things too complicated.

Seefeel – Plainsong

Quique | Too Pure, 1993 | More
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