Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

11 Jan 2024, 14:00 p.m.

Glimpses of 2023

I started on a more systematic 2023 retrospective post, and found that a pretty significant amount of my 2023 centered on stuff I don't want to talk about on my blog. Feel free to ask me about it on a call or in person, though.

So, instead, a few glimpses.

My 2023 was bookended by two songs I listened to over and over. In January, the ten-hour looping version of "Weightless", a relaxing song to lull my dying mother to sleep, and to help me get a few hours of sleep on the couch by her hospital bed. In December, "Only One Way" from The Mountain Goats' new album Jenny From Thebes.

There's only one way through, no matter what you do ...
Nobody's gonna hand you a flashlight
You're gonna have to steal what you need

I learned to play the tabletop game "The Isle of Dr. Necraux". I asked, "What would you like now?" I bought and learned to set up and use a tent and a camp stove. While writing a filk with a group I spouted a first "subtext draft" aloud. I watched the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy all in one day. I wrote an Ask MetaFilter answer about figuring out/remembering what I wanted. A few times, while collaborating with other people on a shared event, I only did my share, and when other people didn't step up to do theirs, I refrained from heroics and let the low-stakes consequences emerge.

I reread that one bit of Michael Crichton's memoir Travels about coming back from a desert retreat:

I felt discouraged. I hadn't really made any real progress, any substantial gains. The energy work was real, the meditations were real, but what good was it if you couldn't maintain the high and apply it to your daily life? What had it all amounted to in the end? Just another illusion. Summer camp for adults. A lot of New Age mumbo-jumbo.
Meanwhile, I had practical matters to occupy me. A relationship of two years came to an end. My work was not satisfying. I needed to move my office. My secretary was begging to be fired; I fired her.
It wasn’t until much later that I looked back and saw that, within eight months of returning from the desert, I had changed my relationships, my residence, my work, my diet, my habits, my interests, my exercise, my goals—in fact, just about everything in my life that could be changed, These changes were so sweeping that I couldn't see what was happening while I was in the midst of them.

I moderated a panel at WisCon, "How To Proceed With Procedurals," about the pleasures and propaganda of police and medical procedural TV shows. I got an OK from the panel to start off with some foundational assumptions:

We are not assuming everyone here is a police or hospital abolitionist. But we do start from the assumption that policing and medicine are systemically biased institutions that ought to be critiqued and changed because of that bias.
We assume that it's good to have a range of stories in popular media, including ones that take a critical view of our institutions.
Enjoying things is good, and you're in charge of your own life. You do not have to apologize for enjoying media that you do not agree with politically, or for not keeping up with something other people like.
Critiquing things is good. You do not have to apologize for saying why a work of art doesn't work for you, or for pointing out how its politics don't live up to our values.
The panellists are most familiar with US and Canadian network and cable television shows from about 1980 to the present, but are interested in the audience's experience with TV from elsewhere and other times.

In a thread about joking about the deaths of billionaires, I wrote a MetaFilter comment about how I'm out of step with a lot of other people there.

I supported friends who'd just lost a family member, who'd just been fired, or who were in medical crisis. The silver lining of learning how to help my mom in the hospital is that I was better able to help friends in the hospital. I told someone, "That is an inflection point." I cried in a friend's backyard for something like ten or twenty minutes straight. I shared The Goes Wrong Show with a bereaved friend and we watched the whole thing together, including the specials, and I drank their laughter in like the water of life. I helped a houseless person in my neighborhood get where he needed to go. I listened when someone wryly said, "That's pretty much the definition." I gave away a bunch of clothes. I made some new friends who live biking distance from me. I had a jarring experience when two old friends had a scarily bad argument that I somewhat successfully helped them defuse. I gave away or ate quite a lot of preserved food I'd bought in 2020. I continued to not catch COVID. I felt specific joys I'd never felt before.

A few years ago, thanks to Meredith, I came across Catherine Bergvall's "Via", a poem comprising 48 translations of the opening line of Dante's The Divine Comedy. (Text and 10-minute MP3 available.) I listen to it sometimes.

1. Along the journey of our life half way
I found myself again in a dark wood
wherein the straight road no longer lay
(Dale, 1996)
2. At the midpoint in the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
For the straight path had vanished.
(Creagh and Hollander, 1989)
3. half over the wayfaring of our life,
Since missed the right way, through a night-dark wood
Struggling, I found myself.
(Musgrave, 1893)
4. Half way along the road we have to go,
I found myself obscured in a great forest,
Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way.
(Sisson, 1980)
5. Halfway along the journey of our life
I woke in wonder in a sunless wood
For I had wandered from the narrow way
(Zappulla, 1998) .....