Decisions, In-Person Joy, Mt. Fuji, Also — Skin Cancer
It's been a long month!
Roden Readers —
Hello from the tail end of about twelve-million decisions. I’ve never made more decisions-per-hour than I have this past month. Good lord, if I haven’t yet ascended to some lambent seat of decision making sainthood, then I never will.
I’m Craig Mod, and I’ve been working day and night to finalize the fine art edition of my forthcoming book, Things Become Other Things.
First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who responded to the TBOT survey (still accepting responses!). Wow wow wow. That was rapturous. So many responses and so many gracious notes. It’s no lie that I drew upon your response these past few weeks as Fine Art Edition Editor Oli Chance and I read, re-read, and re-read some more, the entirety of TBOT over and over and over and over and over … and over … and over and over and over again. Checking and double-checking every word, comma, em-dash, colon (I use a lot of colons), semicolon (count of six? (probably too many)), parenthetical aside (I use a lot of parenthetical asides), and whatever else could be checked. Our poor brains were oozing out of our ears by the end of it all. Still melting out of our ears, mine anyway. Oli is tough. I am a wimp. But we’re done. Files have been finalized. Shoved into Dropbox. Linked to the printer. I go “on press” October 5, up to watch the giant sheets fly through the violent machines, up in the mountains where our printer lives. (Our printer is not a tiny man but rather a quite large organization with hulking German presses and folk lifts and all that.)
The Fabulousness of Working Together In Person
After the last couple of weeks of in-person work, I have to say: Some things simply can’t be done as efficiently — or at all — unless done in person. The bandwidth of, and fidelity of, being in the same room — even, maybe especially, during breaks and downtime, but during work periods, too, of course — of being able to pass objects back and forth, to have zero latency in conversation between multiple people. To not fuss with connections or broken software (Zoom, a scourge of computing, abjectly terrible software (I prefer … Google Meet (!) by a mile)) or cameras that don’t allow for true eye contact — where everyone’s gaze is broken and off and distracted. To dispatch with all of those jittery half-measures of remote collaboration and swim in the warm waters of in-person mind-melding is a privilege for sure, and a gift.
I’m not saying remote work is categorically infeasible — clearly it’s fabulous for certain kinds of work. But for certain periods of certain projects, there is no substitute for occupying the same physical space. Maybe a holodeck will change things. But strapping a helmet with high resolution cameras onto our skulls will not. This last blast of TBOT fine art edition work was an all day, non-stop affair. When we weren’t “working” we were processing. Editorial problems solved: During jump rope or over cigarettes in the garden or while whipping together a quick pasta. This is when strange little narrative breakthroughs happen, when the mind is able to pull together disparate threads, and you go — Ah, ah, I know how to fix that line now.
The week of editorial work Oli and I did in the spring — back in April — and the ten days we worked together in September of this year, are two of my most generative weeks of the last few years. It’s almost unbelievable to look at where TBOT was the day before the weeks, and the day after. Personally, I have not been able to find a way to replicate this to even a small degree virtually. Sleeping in the same studio, breathing the same air, all that — it’s important, it means something to the process. (Again: Fidelity, latency, friction, etc.) For certain kinds of creative work, is this is the only way to get it done? It feels like that for me, anyway.
Doubling down on physicality is also how I’ve managed to “trick” myself into writing hundreds of thousands of words these past few years on pop-up walks and newsletters. The walking, the moving through the world, the direct interaction with people — it’s as collaborative as anything (even if nobody else knows they’re collaborating). Alone, at home, I’m lazier than a geriatric cat. I’ve come to recognize this and make myself productive by making decisions that force physicality, movement, in-person collaboration.
Anyway, no grand thesis. Just a gentle hosanna for sitting in a room together, reading a book out loud to one another, line by line, debating copy edits, editing it up on a projector for all to see and check and double check.
I’ve switched my main search engine to Kagi (on desktop and iOS — their iOS Safari extension works well). They just updated their plans: $10/mo for unlimited searches. While I’m all for privacy-focused, non-ad-driven platforms, it’s really the usability of Kagi that has gotten me to stay (and happily pay $10/mo): The search results are great, clean, not gunked up with listicles, and Kagi allows you to block entire domains (I’m looking at you, Pinterest) quite easily. The results are 99% as good as Google, but with 100% less cruft. That’s enough convincing for me. And when I need a Google result, I just slap !g on the front of the query. Easy.
I’m active over on Threads these days. Putting aside politics (ahem), for a second, I just find it to be the best engineered and best designed short-text social network out there. Bluesky’s app and website feel like they’re built with balsa wood. Mastodon is fine, but its attendant complexities make me think its growth has largely plateaued. So, Threads it is? For now anyway. I hold no allegiance to any of these places (and neither should you, really), but it is nice to “microblog” sometimes. I do wish Threads had an option to auto-delete posts within a few days or a week. There is no need for anything I write on this site to be live longer than that. Anyway, come, hang out. The last couple of weeks have really picked up — personally, I’m getting roughly 10x engagement (likes, comments, etc.) despite having 1/5 the followers compared to Twitter/X. It’s sort of … “fun”? For now?
So … I had some Basal Cell Carcinoma scalpel’d out of my temple region a few weeks ago. My dermatologist had been angling to get it biopsied for years (!!), I finally did it (don’t ask why it took so long; I mean, it was a very passive, “Hmm, maybe at some point we should look more closely at this?” aside), and sure enough: skin cancer. But the not-so-super-terrible kind. Basal cell. The gentler skin cancer.
I’ve had a bunch of friends quip: Ah, the hazards of lots of walking outdoors. But I’ve been fastidious — nay, pathological — about my sunscreen and hat wearing for the last twenty years. I’ve never not worn sunscreen in decades. (I’m sure that brings its own unique cancers elsewhere in the body, though I am committed to buying expensive, “fancy,” sunscreen since it applies better, feels better, and lasts longer than the cheaper stuff (if you don’t “like” sunscreen, you’re probably not spending enough on it), and probably — maybe? — is made of fewer nasty things.) As a kid though, no. No sunscreen. As a kid I burned every summer, multiple times. I never browned. Just turned red like a cooked ham and molted like a snake in ecdysis. That, a mark of a good summer break — peeling off my shoulders in big sheets. Put together a decade of bad sunburns and you’ll set yourself up for skin cancer later in life.
Also: When I was 22 I climbed Mt. Fuji in June on a lark with a friend. (All the B&W photos in this edition are from that trip, June 2002, taken with a Nikon FM2a.) We decided the night before — let’s go climb tomorrow. Seemed easy enough. I mean, so many elderly folks handled it just fine, right? Zero research, hitchhiked over to the fifth station, started climbing even though it was “shut.” (Basically a notice saying: It is not climbing season and you should not climb this now thank you go home.) Quick climb — we huffed it in just a few hours. Took a little break to eat our Maisen hirekatsu sandwiches. (So culinarily refined, for back then.) The ranger on the summit couldn’t believe we were up there. Get down! A thick fog had rolled in. We almost got lost on the way back — could barely see our hands in front of our faces. Used a rope as a guide to the road. We were in T-shirts. The peak had been covered in snow. The reflection burned my face so badly I had to be hospitalized for three days. My entire face, a yellow-goo-filled blister. Ears swelled up the size of eggplants, the doctor told me: We’re going to have to remove those. The ears. In the end, I didn’t lose my ears. (But lay in bed thinking I would for days — you appreciate your ears after that.) The blisters popped, oozed, scabbed, healed. The docs here had just never seen a white dude with a bad sunburn before. Ever since then — I’ve never so much as gotten slightly red.
Still, that’s all enough to set long term cellular malfunctions in motion. And now, ta-da, BCC. The doc at the hospital thinks I’ve got a few more funny patches on my head, so we’re going to go in and poke more holes, biopsy more chunks. One friend noted: Ahh, cool, it’s like mini facelifts.
The scar on my temple is, I have to admit, kind of cool. I have no tattoos (have never felt the impulse — not even for a millisecond — to get one, though I have nothing against them), and this feels kind of like a sly bit of Post Malone-style head art.
I’m bringing this up merely as a public service announcement. Especially for us white folk who have made home in non-European / non-western countries. Dermatologists in Japan don’t think about this stuff because skin cancer is rarer here, and often doesn’t present in the same way it does for us fair-skinned sun dandies. Were I living in Australia, I suspect this would have been nipped years ago. I found a clinic in Tokyo that does “full body” inspections (again, common in Australia, for example; here? I’ve never heard of anyone doing such a thing), and am going to get eyeball-scanned for other aberrational patches. Having BCC once means I’m primed for more. So it’ll be a thing I need to keep in mind.
If you’ve got something funky happening on the neck-up region, go get it checked. In Japan, Mohs surgery is uncommon. So they just slice away and sew you up (“wide local excision”). Biopsies suck, yes, but they are done in about five minutes, and you’re healed up in a few days. Even the big-slice-of-my-head surgery only took about seven minutes (seven gross minutes of local anesthesia and the disembodied sensation of your head being pulled and pushed as five stitches are sewn). More annoying is the hospital back and forth. But for approximately 15 minutes of grotesque needlework I’m happy to get these cells off my body.
Summer here in the Tokyo area of Japan has finally snapped. The dead-bloated-dog-corpse-days of summer are done. It’s been terrible. Objectively so. Worst summer on record, and that’s saying much. A degree or two really does make all the difference, and I can’t imagine summers in ten or twenty years pushing those degrees in the wrong direction. I’m going to write about my one and only Tokyo summer walk this year over on Ridgeline, but related to skin cancer: I’m most happy for the reduction in UV intensity. A couple weeks ago it was still hitting an 8 or 9 on the UV scale by nine or ten am. That’s bonkersville. You should see how much sunscreen I own — it’s embarrassing.
But now — a slight coolness to the air. A reduction in humidity. Once again, simple miracles: Water evaporates off the skin in the shade. Stepping outside at night doesn’t feel like wading into old soup. I am grateful for many things: finishing this edition of TBOT, your enthusiastic support, readily available and affordable healthcare, but also the thought of forthcoming mountain baths in chilled air, sweaters, no AC, and living out the next nine months not feeling like a man wrapped in a fetid blanket dipped in a pool of sewage rolling through a gutter while working in a sauna, cowering from cancerous rays between the hours of nine and three. I know that some people like that — those scorched, elderly, pot-bellied men in speedos by the beach in Enoshima, skin the color of tobacco leaves, god bless you, you strange creatures — but this fellow? This fellow ain’t one of them.