Tabs Open #1: Immutable is Immutable

Welcome to Tabs Open! I originally posted things like this over on Tumblr under the heading “7 Things I’m Into This Week,” but I haven’t done that regularly in almost two years, and besides, that’s a pretty unwieldy title. So here’s the brand new edition of the same old idea: a collection of things that made me laugh, think, cry, or otherwise feel this week. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

1. For my money, Outside Online publishes some of the best narrative writing to be found anywhere. A few days ago I sat down with this piece, “When the River Took John Squires.” Three old guys go into the Alaskan bush on their annual fishing trip, only two come home. The piece makes its subjects human in a way that I’d like my own story to be handled if I were to end badly or tragically, as John Squires did. (For more grim, gripping stuff from OO, try this story from October about the special investigators who solve murders in National Parks.)

2. Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomin comics and stories (as well as one of the best story collections I’ve ever read, The Summer Book), was nothing if not a prolific chronicler of her own thoughts. As someone who deigns to consider himself a writer, it’s comforting to know that even my heroes struggled daily with the same writer’s block that also torments me; Jansson does a typically beautiful and poetic job of describing her own experience with it in this story from The Paris Review. The self-critique and frustration are all too familiar, as is the hyper-fixation on those one or two things that you can’t seem to get away from. (“I can’t understand why I must drag the ocean into everything I write. Furthermore, it’s so fucking hard to go on with something that was so wonderfully simple and I should know this well.”) It’s a doozy.

3. The bulk of the poetry I read comes as a result of other, smarter people I know posting links to poems that they like. I spiral from there. William Stafford is one such poet--I had never heard of the guy until a few months ago, and within 5 minutes of reading something of his a friend had posted, I had ordered a book of 100 poems of his from ThriftBooks. But #3 on our list actually isn’t a poem of his: it’s a poem about his death, written by one of Stafford’s friends and peers, Robert Bly. I have read it over and over again and have found new music in it each time. I hope you will, too. 

(Bonus: the poet W.S. Merwin, another I’d never heard of, died recently, and as a result I came across this poem of his that moved me. It’s about--what else?--the poet looking ahead to his own death and the years that will follow.)

4. It feels as though the decent people of the world are flailing to come up with ways to counter the daily crush of bad news, failures to prosecute, and corporate malfeasance, not to mention the rise of white nationalism and fascism and all the hate crimes they engender. It’s at times like these I’m grateful to have essays like Ramsin Canon’s “What it Means to be a Marxist” to return to. Reprinted last December in Jacobin, it’s a clear-eyed and sober analysis of what’s required of us if we intend to remake the world so that there might be a future worth having. 

In historical struggle, those clinging to the system under attack are the first to resort to violence. To be a Marxist doesn’t require belief in an armed uprising to bring about a new world, in violent change or authoritarianism. It just means acknowledging as a fact something that already exists: the class struggle. The tactics and strategies workers employ to achieve class consciousness and act to end the exploitative system are ours to determine.  

5. Josh Mecouch, aka “Pants,” is an artist who just gets me in a way that few others can. The weird little guys he draws and the situations he puts them in create these drumbeats in my brain and I don’t even need to be looking at them to laugh about them. 

6. I’m the kind of person who finds music that he likes once in a great while and then listens almost exclusively to those two or three artists for months on end until something else creeps in to take their place. One that stands out of late is singer John Moreland, here playing live back in 2015. Both songs in this set pack a punch, but “You Don’t Care For Me Enough to Cry” has been haunting me in a good way for months now. (Oh, I also finally got around to seeing “A Star Is Born” on $5 movie night last week. “Maybe It’s Time” and “Always Remember Us This Way” have been my go-to shower jams ever since.)

7. Tuesday marked three years since the passing of Jim Harrison--author, poet, and gastronomer extraordinaire. More stories of his than I can count have stuck with me over the years; Legends of the Fall takes the cake, though. It’s probably his best-known work, and deservedly so. This passage in particular just guts me anew each time I read it: