Issue 017
March 24, 2018

A Walk in Japan, an Art Observatory, Therapy in Server Work

This is more or less an “I’m alive” missive. I haven’t sent anything since November. I’m writing this on a train, always on a train, heading towards the vipassana retreat center in Chiba.

Sugimoto's Observatory

Hello new Explorers. There are many of you. I send these so infrequently you probably don’t remember signing up. Who is this guy, even? I’m Craig Mod, a professional layabout, and you may have [inserted your email address] because you read my Leica Q review, or my weird Offscreen Magazine interview. Or maybe Warren Ellis sent you here because he despises you. Regardless, if you don’t remember, and don’t want to get these, you can unsubscribe with one click. *poof*.

Otherwise, welcome!

Alive? Basically.

This is more or less an “I’m alive” missive. I haven’t sent anything since November. I’m writing this on a train, always on a train, heading towards the vipassana retreat center in Chiba. I did ten days last year and the intention was another ten this month, but the courses were full. So I’m doing three days, which you can only take if you’ve completed one ten day course.

Post-vipassana I’m jumping straight into a ten day Kumano Kodo walk. The first three days I’ll have company, but then will complete the rest on my own. I’m looking forward to that — the dovetailing of meditation into solo walking. Can I bring the tools of vipassana to the woods? We’ll find out.

For those curious about equipment: I’m carrying the Leica M10 with 35mm Summilux, and Leica Q, as well as my iPhone X for 50mm shots. All stuffed into a Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack, which I love to bits.

Speaking of walking, I finally submitted a giant essay on walking I’ve been working on for … a very long time. I am slow. So slow. I don’t even know if this editor remembers who I am. But he now has a pile of words that I’m hoping he doesn’t find too offensive.

Sugimoto Hiroshi

The viewing platform from the Observatory

The Enoura Observatory in Odawara is wonderful. It’s still off most people’s radars, so you can easily get tickets. But I SUSPECT it won’t be for long. Go, bring a picnic lunch, eat out on the steps overlooking the ocean (they encourage this). A must see if you’re visiting Tokyo. It was designed / curated by Sugimoto Hiroshi, famous for his sea and movie screen photography. But it turns out, he’s also a brilliant landscape architect and designer of mythic spaces. Definitely in the Roden spirit.

Photography Elsewhere

Shiho Fukuda portrait

Shiho Fukuda’s portraits of elderly Japanese women in prison are worth your time. Stunning and heartbreaking.

Tokyo no Ie

And soon-to-no-longer-be-Japan-based Jeremie Souteyrat’s photographs of Japanese homes are hypnotic, funny, quiet, and the book is gorgeously bound. I’ve actually shot a couple of these homes myself, simply by virtue of wandering the city by bike, being stopped in my tracks by some micro-architectural oddity. Tokyo is a wonderful city for this — aimless wandering with a curious eye.

Tokyo Photo Love

Tokyo Tweets

Speaking of which, earlier this year I started a thread of images as I walked the city. That first tweet is tin-eared to the max, but I didn’t know I was going to build off of it. I had just stepped of the plane from my fellowship near Chicago and was in awe and delighted and filled by an almost — my god! — sexual love of the hyper-functional infrastructure of Tokyo. I finally found some more accurate language here: “that low-grade hum of city-as-lucid-machine.”A healthy city feels alive and humming as all heck.


I have two new episodes of On Margins recorded but I need help with editing. I’m looking to hire an editor — someone who can do cleanup and, ideally, take the raw ~hour-long conversations and rough cut down to 30-45 minutes. Paid of course. Please email if you’re interested or know someone who might be interested.

Life, the universe, and publishing

I extended my interview with Offscreen Magazine, fleshing out most of the answers. Trying to be as honest as possible. I talk about the state of books, disconnection, struggling with alcohol, silicon valley, walking away from money, writing retreats, and Japan as a kind of rational / cultural touchstone that makes me think maybe the world isn’t entirely burning to the ground in fetid horror.

On offline working:

You need to be proactive in protecting yourself. Unplug your router once a week. Go offline for the weekend. Remember what that feels like. I know this may sound hyperbolic, but it’s difficult to understand how powerful it is until you have done it a few times. You have to bridge the intellectual and experiential gap. Intellectually, you may intuit getting a different quality of work done by going offline. But to experience and understand the benefits you have to be disciplined enough to repeat an act a dozen times. Then you begin to recognize the nuanced changes in the way you think, your insights into problems, and the shift in quality of the solutions you come up with. Whether it’s writing, programming, or design, a quiet mind is a fertile space for thinking. I find network disconnection greatly aids in creating that kind of mind.

The answers are now definitely too long, so I recommend just skipping to the next question if your eyes are rolling too hard. Expanding this essay was also a form of therapy (and it suffers for that, I’m sure; if you want to read something brilliant and killer about addiction, read Leslie Jamison’s new essay — “Does Recovery Kill Great Writing?” ) for me because …

Servers as therapy?

… I did not have a great start to the year. I was burnt out and in one of those places where it feels, you know, like a lead x-ray vest has been draped atop your soul? Perhaps some of you are familiar with this. My response — unexpectedly — was to ponder that interview and go deep on … server work?

I have a draft of an essay on server-work-as-therapy, but don’t know what to do with it. Here’s a peek:

I had wanted to shed my old and overpriced Rackspace server for years, but have been too lazy. It’s a meaty task, a task for grunts, thankless, and one that requires strong focus. Most everything happens in the terminal, on the command line. Every action is key-precise. It can make a person weak in the knees to think about how much of the world’s smooth operation is contingent on typing (or clicking, as we’ve seen) accuracy. But it is, and when you move through the guts of your Linux flavor, you can’t help but stare gape-mouthed at the absurdity and beauty of the crisscross threads that keep the web and most of our digital (and by proxy, physical) infrastructure afloat.

Therein lies part of the attraction: moving through that jumble — with all of its language of grep and vi and git and apache and .ini — and doing so with talent, with a kind of fingers-floating-across-the-keyboard balletic grace, is downright exhilarating. It feels like you’re getting away with goddamn alchemy. And you are. You are typing esoteric words — words that can feel like an affront to nature in their nonsensicalness — into a line-by-line command interface, like an old Infocom game, except instead of finding Excalibur you’ve just scaffolded a publishing platform that can be accessed by a vast percentage of humans worldwide.

This has gotten me out of bed the last few days. Do you know this feeling? The not wanting to emerge from the covers feeling? The feeling where so many things in the world are off by a degree here or a degree there and that on their own, each thing is not so bad, but in aggregate, as a whole, all of those degrees add up and conspire to make inside of the covers so much more attractive than the world outside? This is the kind of place I find myself when my mind has tilted ever so slightly. When the weight of life can press a body down.

But under those covers I begin to think — a ha! I know how to solve server quandary x, or quirk y.

… and so on and so forth. (Good news: I’m feeling much better. Even better news: no longer on Rackspace (it was really expensive!).)


Related: I moved my entire website over to the Hugo platform (I started dipping my toes into Hugo last year for the On Margins sub-site and Roden archives) and love it. Goodbye MYSQL and anything dynamic. Hello 1996 static web. Do you folks want to hear more about this?

Some new essays that weren’t properly archived are now archived here. And my about page is even more spectacularly obnoxiously long.

More trains

As I finish this up, I’m on a new train, a post-vipassana train, hurtling past Mount Fuji towards Shin-Osaka. Those three vipassana days were hard. Make no mistake — these vipassana course are not “fun.” They’re trying. And the first three days are definitely the worst, the hardest, the most exhausting. So a three days course is kind of like asking for all the bad and very little good. It was a great refresher though, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much I can carry with me onto the Kumano Kodo.

I understand why they only allow new students to take the ten days course — because you need ten days to ease into the program, the cast off a chattering mind, to allow your body to acclimate to eleven hours of sitting, to come to peace with the fact that your brain is a complete and utter mess, a jumble of garbage. Surprise: you’re insane! And when you sit in silence for twenty, thirty hours, you’re forced to wrangle with that fact. But then you do. And you overcome it. And you begin to remember what it’s like to have focus and attention, and, even more excitingly: control over that focus and attention.

That just about does it. More things to share but this is already too long and asking too much of your limited time. Thanks, as always, for reading.

And remember: we all feel like impostors and fools, so if you want to send encouraging words, please do. I try to send a “hey — love your work, keep going going going” email once a week or so to people who I assume have their stuff together. But knowing plenty of people, I realize they probably don’t, and appreciate the little nudge. An easy way to use the magic of this packet switching witchcraft to collapse space and multiply good. Takes thirty seconds. Might even make the morning of someone on the other end.

Deep breaths, stare at some trees, find a beautiful bookshop make of concrete blocks, disconnect a bit; more to come post-solo walking.


a bookshop in Jimbocho, Tokyo