The title of my new novel, coming in June 2024 from MCD×FSG, is:
Moonbound: The Last Book of the Anth
I’ve just created a mini-site that will collect everything I write about the project. Currently, the vibe is “public notebook”. By the time of publication, that might mature into “glossy pamphlet” … or it might not. We’ll find out together.
Leading the way, you’ll find the first clues about the novel’s content. Also noteworthy: I intend this book as the first in a trilogy. Here’s why.
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That’s plenty to read already, so I’ll keep the rest of this edition fairly short. Below, you’ll find my notes on the season. The next newsletter you receive, in mid-November, will be my 2023 gift guide.
The season of mass
The Fat Gold harvest has commenced in earnest, this year with a new machine at our side. There it is, pictured above: small by the standards of global olive oil production, titanic by the standards of Sloan.
Other parts of the year are, for me, seasons of energy, which is to say, patterned light: pixels and symbols. That’s the domain of my career, and of my temperament, mostly. But this period, October through December, is the season of mass: bulky bins of olives choreographed into the crusher.
These days, we do it five tons at a time.
Both seasons are important to me, and one has informed the other. I’ve learned things making olive oil (and operating this new machine) that I couldn’t have learned any other way. And, because my tendency is toward the symbolic, it’s healthy to have this countervailing force. Big trucks, slick floors, tired muscles … all good things.
The timing this year was fortuitous, even a bit spooky: Moonbound was fully locked just as the first olives rolled. So, rather than feeling torn between responsibilities, I have enjoyed the satisfaction of a super clean gear shift.
Of course, temperament can’t totally be tamed. While I’m operating this new machine (feeling like a Star Trek character, tending the warp core) I am also thinking, thinking, thinking … and, as always, making notes.
Notes toward what?
Back in 2021, in the first week of January, at a rented cabin in Joshua Tree, I wrote the first pages of Moonbound. In the first week of January 2024, at a location to be determined, I’ll shift gears again, and begin the second book in my notional trilogy.
The factory floor
California’s San Joaquin Valley is best understood as a giant, open-air factory floor. I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense; rather, the opposite: this might be the world’s biggest, most productive factory. My point is simply that it’s totally engineered, densely woven with infrastucture.
It’s amazing, in this season, to see the trucks constantly rolling, pulling gondola trailers brimming over with tomatoes or almonds, bound for humongous processing facilities. Nothing is independent here: every one of these operations relies on a thick web of capital (machines) and capability (people who can fix the machines).
My work with Fat Gold has been a terrific education in all the technologies that make this place possible. The wheel gets a lot of credit —
Driving around the valley at this time of year, you see dust devils constantly. Glance across any open field, and there they’ll be, a whole gang of djinns, whirling merrily. Sometimes they’re pretty big.
The realization: dust devils are spinning everywhere, all the time. Here, in the dry remnant of harvest, their contours become reliably visible. Elsewhere, glimpses are rare; you might catch one in a Target parking lot, dancing with a piece of trash. But just because you don’t see a dust devil on the tidy sidewalk in front of your apartment building doesn’t mean it’s not there. It IS there! It’s whirling merrily —
The magic is ubiquitous, and mostly invisible.
There are lots of starlings in the San Joaquin Valley, and in the mornings they fly in their wonderful murmurations, strange shadowy forms billowing above the Home Depot parking lot.
Watching them, I had the thought: a starling only knows a murmuration from the inside —
There are metaphors available there. But there’s also a playful possibility:
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe one starling gets to watch. Maybe, every morning, a single bird is chosen to sit it out, and regard, with wonder and satisfaction, their own species.
Stranger things have happened.
This reminds me of Vinciane Despret’s book titled What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?, which I have, since reading, basically never stopped thinking about.
One of Vinciane’s core arguments is that animal behavior is, and must remain forever, fundamentally mysterious, for the following reasons:
No animal behaves normally in a lab or a zoo. This should be self-evident; would YOU behave normally in a lab or a zoo?
The world is vast —
unimaginably so — and scientists cannot watch it all.
It follows simply, inescapably: animals do things that we have never seen, and will never see. Maybe it’s because they do those things cautiously, privately; or maybe it’s just because the world is vast, and they do them, just by chance, when nobody is looking. Odds are good, because usually, nobody is looking.
If you are interested in animal behavior, and the real lives of all the creatures on this planet, I strongly recommend What Would Animals Say? —
Another book I think about often is Breaking Bread with the Dead, by Alan Jacobs. One of the concepts Alan cultivates is “temporal bandwidth”, a term cribbed from Thomas Pynchon, who defined it as
the width of your present, your now … The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.
I think this is so right, and so wise.
I can’t remember if Alan says this in his book, but I have often thought: your temporal bandwidth ought to get thicker as you get older. You ought to expand in both directions: matching a curious, capacious interest in the past (including the deep past) to an energized, responsible interest in the future (including the far future).
I think both directions, and the balance between them, are important. If you expand in only one direction, you become distended, distorted. This produces, for example, the leaden dude obsessed with the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks.
It’s okay to inhabit a thin layer of time, the sliver of Now, when you’re young. In fact, I think it’s probably healthy. But then, pretty early in adulthood, you ought to begin your expansion. It is an obligation, I think —
I suppose it will be no surprise to discover that Moonbound, a book set eleven thousand years in the future, has a lot to say about temporal bandwidth.
I love the English words with a silent K: knuckle, knife, knead. Knit, knot, knack.
The combination kn- used to be pronounced fully, but over time, the sound of the K softened and fell away. Yet a shadow remains, there in the shape of the words, with K’s prongs leading the charge. Maybe I’m forcing it, but, to me, the meanings of these words all orbit a core of … aggression? Lots of pushing and poking. A sense of sharpness.
Know, knowledge —
Etymologies are great bolsters for temporal bandwidth, by the way. One by one, they reveal the total strangeness and contingency, not to mention the recency, of the very language we speak.
The art in this edition is drawn from a collection of studies by Charles Herbert Moore, the contrail of an artist abroad in the world, taking note of interesting designs and details, trying them on for size. Delving the depths of digital archives, you come across a lot of material like this, and often I find it more compelling than the “real” artwork.
Beautiful fragments, oddly placed on the page.
I’m very happy to have published the first version of my Moonbound mini-site, and it will only grow as we approach June 2024. Ultimately, I’d like the site to serve as a sort of digital appendix to the novel, in the spirit of J. R. R. Tolkien’s wonderful (humongous) appendices to The Return of the King.
Okay! I’m going to send this newsletter, then go operate an olive mill.
P.S. You’ll receive my next newsletter around November 15 —