Andrew Willett, at it again.

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Wabi-Sabi

Today I learned about Stumpy, one of the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin in DC that is about to be mulched so that a bunch of urgent structural repairs can be made. Stumpy is apparently a beloved local folk hero, because he looks utterly dead and yet every year he shocks the Parks Service by blooming. News that he (why he? today I also learned that cherry trees are gendered) was going to meet his end brought fans to his site with flowers and even a bottle of bourbon.

Fans were assured that Stumpy would live on — the mulch would be used to support the growth of trees around the area, and cuttings from his flowering branches would be rooted by the Parks Department so that he could return to the site when the repairs to the basin are complete.

And then, because let’s note that Stumpy is part of the famous gift of trees to Washington from Japan more than a century ago, this happened:

Twitter post by the Japanese Embassy of Washington DC (@JapanEmbDC): "Thank you, @NatlParkService, for caring for the 112-year-old gift of cherry trees 🌸. We visited #TidalBasin to honor #Stumpy, one of our most beloved symbols of 🇯🇵-🇺🇸 friendship. Your legacy will live on, nurturing future generations of friendship ❤️."

There is still goodness and beauty in the world.

The State of Things, Nov. 2023

The last time I was updating this blog really regularly, I was a freelancer, and single, and people actually read blogs. A lot has changed since then. I spent a lot of the last decade living my online life on social media, and as I toy with the idea of revitalizing this blog — for my own amusement, if nobody else’s — I thought I might do a little “you are here” post.

The irritatingly happy couple, on their wedding day.

Let’s start with the most important update: You may recall that back in 2009 I went on a date with D., to see John Kelly perform the entirety of Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” in his own inimitable style. That all turned out pretty well: He turned out to be the great love of my life. We married in 2017. We consider our selves very, very fortunate men.

About a year after that Dad passed on. He was a sweet, soft-spoken, smart, complicated guy and I miss him. I wish Don had had the opportunity to meet him at his best.

The other major transition is that in 2012 I managed, through hard work and good fortune and an accept-no-substitutes fixity of purpose that I think alarmed a lot of people who loved me, to turn the intermittent freelance work at Major Publication into an actual staff position as a New York Times copy editor. After a two-year rotation through the newsroom, I’m back where I started, at the Sunday Magazine. Most months I spend one week assigned not to the magazine proper but to The New York Times for Kids, which is an utter joy. I love it. If you want to see a copy, you’ll find it only in the print edition, on the last Sunday of every month. We’re extremely proud of it.

I’m not really writing fiction these days. After years and years with the Secret Cabal, a local spec-fic writers’ group, I couldn’t help but notice that every time I was due to turn something in for our monthly meeting I would start to go out of my mind. (I’m sure Don was observing this long before I was ready to say it out loud.) I eventually realized that I’d hung the sign that said WRITER around my neck at 17 and never since allowed myself to consider whether it was still making me happy. And it wasn’t: Much as I love having a story to tell people, the pressure that I put on myself to get from blank page to something I was prepared to share had drained the fun out of it. I’m working on that. I’d love to find my way back in. But for now, I’m on a break.

As things go, though, I can’t really complain. I’m a lucky guy.

Update From the Engine Room

The burning hulk of what was once Twitter is sinking into the swamp; as much as I will miss what it was, it is unquestionably time to abandon what it is now. Before I did that, though, I wanted to leave a note on my account, telling people where they could find me; and if I was going to send anybody here I figured I should make sure everything at Strange Radiation was working properly, so I spent the afternoon cleaning the carbon scoring off the matter collider and otherwise getting the place ready for visitors.

This is where it’s going to get a little nerdy. You have been warned.

Technical Notes: Implementing a Post Comment Count for Lovecraft

The most interesting aspect of that process, for me, was the chance to address what struck me as a nagging absence in Anders Norén’s beautiful Lovecraft WordPress theme: the lack of a comment count on in the post metadata field on the index page. Unable to find an explicit solution online — it seems as if the question has been asked a few times but never answered — I taught myself just enough about WordPress child themes to do it myself. If you want to do the same, create a child theme (as detailed, say, here), and then, in your function.php file, duplicate the bit of the Lovecraft parent functions pertaining to <div class="post-meta">. Into that bit of code, insert a single new line at the appropriate spot:

<p class="post-comments"><a href="<?php comments_link(); ?>"><?php comments_number( '0 comments', '1 comment', '% comments' ); ?></a></p>

Presto! That’s it. While I was in there I also got rid of the part of the same div that put the author’s name on every single post, because dude, it’s just me in here. No css changes were needed. If this helps YOU customize things, great; just don’t forget to back everything up before you get out the wrench.

Buddy Is 3

Me, in Mexico, neener neener.

I’m in Mexico! In Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatan, thawing out. This morning has been spent enjoying the breeze and teaching myself a little about the Maya civilization, which was local to here — we’re going to see the ruins of Uxmal later this week, and I’m so excited. But today is also a big day for another reason: Buddy is 3 today.

A while back I did a series of rituals with someone who specializes in such matters, working through some stuff. In our very first session, I was told to visualize walking down some stairs into the earth, where among other things I’d find an animal waiting to meet me. And there he was: a winged garter snake who flapped over and coiled itself around my right arm. In that very moment a little background process running in my head knew I’d found my tattoo. I’d circled the idea for years, never finding an image I wanted to risk living with forever — but this was it.

After months of casting about on the internet, I found the amazing Johno, who at the time owned Black Iris Tattoo in Greenpoint. One look at his instagram feed told me this was the guy. There was an email conversation, and we made an appointment. It was HAPPENING.

I spent much of the night before the big day staring at the ceiling, miserable. What if I got it and hated it a day later? For the rest of my life every time I looked in the mirror it would be a source of shame and regret. Should I cancel? But if I canceled, wouldn’t I regret THAT every time I looked in the mirror? Either way, I was on a familiar road to self-torture.

Then I remembered: One of that snake’s messages was to treat myself as I would others — with love. And living in fear of my being mean to myself was not loving. I decided to roll the dice, get the ink, and love myself anyway, no matter what. That was the kind of man I wanted to be.

So I went to Brooklyn. The sketch Johno had made from what I sent him was… thrilling. Magnificent. And he spent a few hours putting it where it belonged, and today I am a man who loves his ink and what it reminds him of. Thanks, Johno. 

The result.

And happy birthday, Buddy.

‘Thirteen Girls Fighting Over a Cowbell’

Pulsallama -The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body from The Local East Village on Vimeo.

Don quoted a line of this at me over dinner the other night — “Our insurance doesn’t cover it!” — and I forced him to explain. Apparently Pulsallama was this deranged new wave percussion ensemble art thing that recorded a couple of singles and at one point included Ann Magnuson. It’s… very early 1980s East Village. Just click the play button.

The Book, the Grumpy Bear, and Me

19th-century woodcut of Bodhidharma meditating
Bodhidarma meditating, Yoshitoshi, 1887

So the other day I did something kind of momentous, but to explain I have to tell you about Daruma-san. You may have seen these roly-poly little Japanese dolls before. They represent Daruma, aka Bodhidharma, the monk who brought Chan/Zen Buddhism to East Asia in the fifth or sixth century. He was said to be stubborn, hairy, and determined: a symbol of perseverance. When someone gives you one, its eyes are blank. At the start of a project — I dunno, say, “I want to write a novel” — you paint one eye. Now he stares at you one-eyed, wishing you success and encouraging you along the way, until you finish, and paint the other eye. 

A million years ago, I decided to stop piling up endless notes and write that novel. A friend had given me a Daruma, and I figured he’d be great for this purpose. Away we went! And eventually, after a lot of writing and revising and lying on the floor questioning my life choices… I had a manuscript! Time to get it published! Unfortunately, the ms then spent a few years trapped in a publishing Phantom Zone, and by the time I could drag it out, I was told by people in the biz that although it was good, well written… the market had moved on. This book, they couldn’t sell, but thanks anyway. “I’d love to read the next one you write,” they said.

I felt like such a failure. And I let Daruma stare at me one-eyed from my dresser for years. But the other day I realized that I was being unfair to myself and Daruma — that I had moved the goalposts on us. I had wanted to write a book! And then I WROTE A BOOK. 110,000 words! And it was good, even! Maybe I’ll write another; maybe I won’t. (I do have an idea.) But that work happened, and it was time to celebrate that and move on.

So I did.

What’s the etiquette on flogging your shiny new publication on Twitter? How often is too often? Also, how subtle do you have to be when mentioning it in the presence of co-workers? Is the all-office email address over the line?

Asking for a friend.

2018: And So We Begin Again

So where were we? Jeez, the last time I said anything of substance in this forum I was still single. (Don and I made honest men of each other on Labor Day, and the wedding was, as the phrase goes, everything.) The new year started with an auspicious portent: a fiction sale! My short story “Mrs. Peak and the Dragon” is part of Abyss & Apex‘s Q1 2018 issue. It’s an old favorite of mine that was sitting around waiting on some indefinable Oh but it needs more tweaking, and so I’m very glad to have been nudged into just sending the damn thing out already.

And now it’s time to start building up those write-all-the-time muscles again, because I’m gearing up to write another novel. (More on that later.) And where better than in the pages of a blog that pretty much everyone has forgotten exists?

The New New

Well, it was lose the blog archive or migrate away from Movable Type and into something, you know, modern and functional. So that’s happening. Plus it might be fun to have a place to yammer at greater length than Twitter or Facebook allow. So, yeah. This is happening. Ere long this will actually start to look good, even. But for now, it works and my ISP isn’t rolling its eyes at me.

Finger-Crossing

All kinds of shiny new stuff going on under the hood. What that means for the future of Strange Radiation, I’m not yet certain. I am curious to see how the antispam systems hold up.

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