Witness, Comprehend, Inhabit
Abundance is a finicky business.
Happy Aquarius season to all who celebrate! I turn 35 next week, one of those “yeah, you’re old now” years. That plus pandemic limbo makes it easy to brood on what exactly I have to show for the first half of an American male’s rapidly decreasing life expectancy. But looking at the array of clips and reviews below, I actually think I’m not doing so bad.
For this edition, I’ve got a bit of a craft essay on writing and political organizing, a discussion of some of my most strategic art, confessions of a neighborhood fruit thief, and one meme. Next month I’m going to start sharing excerpts from my upcoming cli-fi novel. This newsletter is closing in on 100 free subscribers, and I’d appreciate it a great deal if you helped spread the word. And if you are new to the club, here’s a handy button to subscribe.
Works in Process
The Remainder —— The thing about short story writing is that it doesn’t usually have space/time for blow-by-blow action sequences. A lot of my stories have climaxed with one punch, one gunshot, one leap from a moving car. So I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of just letting them happen, and I’ve found that the pressure-cooker of end-of-story momentum rushing into the desired word limit often produces unexpected and exciting results. Writing is a form of thinking, after all.
On the scale of a novel, I’m finding that things splay out in a way that requires some amount of coordination and planning. As I backtrack and take on the climactic sections of my Covid-Leftovers-X-files novel, I’m finding that [exciting stuff goes here] is now resolving into a lot of finicky details, which are themselves interesting in a way I hadn’t considered going into the third act.
Most sensible people try to get away from dangerous, precarious situations, which means keeping my characters in the shit long enough for the climax not to fizzle requires a bit of herding. Done clumsily, it becomes the stuff of trope, like that bit in The Cabin In The Woods (2011) when the victims’ very reasonable attempt to Get The Fuck Out Of There is blocked by a half-assed tunnel collapse followed by a too-on-the-nose force field. Done well, the reader never even notices how weird it is that the characters don’t just cut their losses and flee to safety, because they and the protagonists are both emotionally invested in seeing events through to the end.
It reminds me a bit of a useful metaphor I’ve encountered in political organizing. Every group or movement large enough to make an impact contains factional disagreements, political or personal differences that create a kind of centrifugal force threatening to rip the organization apart. Hence, particularly on the left, the centuries-old habit of splitting, purges, and other infighting eclipses intended goals and drives those with strongly held ideology into microsects incapable of mass organizing. So, to get anything done, that centrifugal force must be balanced out by a centripetal force that keeps people orbiting around a shared goal. Non-political organizations often solve this with money, paying people to stick around and put up with those they don’t entirely get along with. Political ones, at least those made up mostly of volunteers, usually have to find that gravity in the project itself, something that is more important to everyone than purity politics carved down to the atomic level; but also in the inertia of doing the work together, practical entanglements that require divvying up tasks and showing up to each other’s priorities, demonstrating that so-and-so is dependable and competent even if you don’t like their take on blah blah blah.
In the context of fiction, I think finding that balance provides a lot of the propulsive energy that makes for a good story. It’s why we love the third act team-up or the loner asshole who comes back to help save the day at the last minute. Not that that’s exactly how my novel’s climax is going to go, but as I look for ways to steer my characters into the crucible, rather than spinning out of the narrative as I probably would in their place, that tension is hovering in my mind: the practical versus the political, desire versus need or safety versus satisfaction, continuation versus resolution.
Press Clips, Reviews, Appearances, Etc.
The Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at ASU is hosting me for an event in Washington D.C. on April 28. I’ll be talking about my book, scenarios thinking and using post-normal fiction to explore different policy futures. If you happen to be in the D.C. area, please come out!
Publishers Weekly had a quite nice review of my upcoming book Our Shared Storm, calling one section “deeply affecting.” “Hudson skillfully grounds the poignant iterating structure with thoughtful worldbuilding, well-balanced prose, and a keen sense of human motivation… Fans of William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson will savor this thoughtful, rigorous exploration of climate action.” You love to see it! They also found the more academic intro and conclusion awkward, but you can’t win ‘em all.
The London Reader this month reprinted my contest-winning story “Sunshine State,” co-written with Adam Flynn, for their themed issue “Bad Weather: Stories of Storms and Survival.” Great to see that story continuing to have such a vibrant long tail life.
Noticed this week that my 2015 “Political Dimensions” essay was cited (in a robust footnote!) in this interesting paper in the journal Geoforum, exploring reimagining climate futures and Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Annihilation.
I happened upon the first two of these lovely woodblock pieces by Nikki McClure in a stack of prints at a magazine shop in Berkeley. Though part of a larger series of one-word-themed works, they seemed to go together, in both color and theme. I put one up on either side of my bed, a strategy: witness the world as it truly is, in all its small and big flaws, and then try your best to make sense of things through exploration, experimentation and play.
A couple years later I moved to a place with a wide wall that begged for a triptych. So I looked through the rest of the series and found one that——somewhat amazingly, I think——matched the others in color, style, and ideology. Adding “Inhabit” felt at the time like a little bit of a growing up moment, an acknowledgement that, whatever you witness and comprehend about the world, you still have to find a way to go on living in it.
There’s a sub-theme in there too concerning death. To me the images speak to how our relationship with death evolves from a child’s first small but potent encounters with violence, to the adolescent’s realization that death undergirds the whole history of the world they find themselves in, to an adulthood lived subject to and dependent on the cycles and seasons of growing and dying.
I used the slogan, with a little bit of self-critique, in my story (with Jay Springett) “In the Storm, A Fire,” which went on to be longlisted for the BSFA. But mostly I’ve had these pieces so long now that they kind of just fade into the background. Occasionally, however, I do reconnect with that mantra——witness, comprehend, inhabit——as a way of situating myself in the chaos.
It’s finally citrus season here. Or rather, the citrus that has been taunting us from the trees for what feels like months is now finally ripe. The lemon-orange graft in our backyard seems to mostly be taking the year off, but luckily that’s not our only option.
There’s an unspoken agreement in our neighborhood that fruit hanging over the alleys is fair game. One proper urban farm nets their trees to keep off both birds and humans, but everyone more casual about it doesn’t seem to care. There are just only so many oranges and grapefruits you can eat in a day, and they only last so long before they grow desiccated and a little gross. You can make a big push to gather everything and preserve them or juice them——last year we ended up with a big bag of lemon juice ice cubes, which were really fun to put in cocktails——but most people don’t go to the trouble. Pretty soon the alleys will be littered with the browning husks of uneaten fruit, and so I consider it my civic duty to gather and eat my fill of the neighborhood’s bounty.
There were a couple of spots we made use of last year, particularly to get grapefruit, which I enjoy but don’t like getting from the store. Because our own orange tree is not producing, I’ve turned a bit to the one in the yard of the now-empty house next door. (The neighbors, a couple of Latinx families who flew a Gadsden flag but actually livened up our street with playing kids, cleared out basically the moment the eviction moratorium was lifted.) While doing better than ours this year, that tree isn’t exactly putting out a bounty, and anyway doesn’t quite hang over our yard in a super accessible way. So I’ve had cause to go out and wander some new alleys in search of orange trees.
So far the results have been mixed. One dangling tree was already heavy with sharply colored oblong fruits, which turned out to not only be sweet but have that distinct navel orange flavor. The other trees I’ve sourced from have been a bit scrappier, too tart to really enjoy still, without seeming unripe in a way that implies more sweetness in the weeks to come. I even found a tree with tiny miniature oranges the size of a large grape——not kumquats, though I did think that at first. That one, too, was too sour, in a way that made me think it was more an ornamental than cultivated for eating.
Picking citrus is a game of patience and experimentation. Without the knowledge that comes with an ongoing relationship with the tree, you have to keep trying over potentially weeks to home in on the optimum time to harvest. You don’t want to sample too much, especially if you are limited to alley danglers, but you also don’t want to miss your moment.
My trial and error this year has made me think a bit more deeply about the lovely, solarpunky idea of lining streets with public fruit trees that anyone can eat. I think decommodified food is one of the most powerful radical ideas out there, and certainly fruiting trees seem more pro-social than ornamentals, all other factors (shade, water, etc.) being equal. But also, the seasonal and geographical and arboreal nuances of when and how that fruit commons comes into being complicates the utopian picture. To avoid a lot of meh experiences of biting into unripe fruit, or stepping on half-rotten fallings, you’d need people with know-how to monitor and communicate about when the time is right, and potentially someone to clean up after. And at that point, why not have a festival or harvest them collectively and distribute them some other way? There’s a reason long-lived food commons almost always come with cultural mediating institutions and complex administration, rather than simply being a nutrition spigot anyone can tap. Sorting out these kinds of questions about food and seasonality once——before the rise of the supermarket——occupied huge portions of humans thought and discussion. Abundance is a finicky business.
Apologies to all my fellow Wordlers, but are we really that different than Facebook boomers? (Check out one of my fave newsletters Garbage Day for detailed analysis of the dumb viral FB post in the top left.)