I love antibiotics. I love them so much. I am in awe of how long I went without articulating this love. Each and every day we should open our front doors and yell into the crisp morning air: Thank you, antibiotics! Thank you dicloxacillin and ampicillin and minocycline and sarecycline and cefepime and delafloxacin and clindamycin and clarithromycin and oritavancin and cilastatin! When folks complain about the state of things today, I like to flippantly bring up the fact that two hundred years ago, if you got the wrong scratch — THE WRONG SCRATCH — you’d die. Well, reader, I got the wrong scratch.
I’m Craig Mod, and it’s December 31st, and this is the first day in about four months that I’ve had to myself and so I’m spending it writing and sending this out to you all, this batch of thank-yous and a hasty hosanna to antibiotics.
First, thank you for all the support and kind words around the launch of the fine art edition of Things Become Other Things. We’ve sold a ton of books (and also a ton of Kissa by Kissas in tandem). Readers are finally getting around to reading TBOT, and the responses I’ve gotten have been heartening.
There are still copies of this first edition for sale, and any orders placed in the next few days will go out on Thursday, January 4, when our warehouse returns from New Years’ break.
If you have TBOT, and don’t mind sharing a photo of it out in the wild, I’m collecting those kinds of photos (like the ones above) in this Dropbox folder.
Beyond my own channels, I didn’t push too hard on the PR machine for this launch. Kottke.org was one of the biggest drivers of sales. I love that Jason’s 25-year-old blog is still (perhaps more than ever) a relevant and powerful force for good in the online world. I’ve been reading him since I was in high school, and I’ll never not be tickled and grateful to be linked. (We also got to walk-and-talk together!)
Launching a project / book / thing is the perfect excuse to cold DM folks you admire on Instagram (I find DMs work better than emails (immediate “verification” of who you are in one click, etc.), though emails are another option), and say: Hey I made this THING. Do you want it? And, weirdly, shockingly, many will just give you their home address. So I know for certain this fine art edition of TBOT sits on a smattering of coffee tables of photographers and writers I look up to, but largely don’t know who I am. Randomly — and not part of my cold-DM crew — here’s Janet Delaney holding up Kissa by Kissa in her kitchen! (Apologies for the lack of attribution; I downloaded this photo off a social network and now can’t find the original post.) I love Janet’s work and this makes me happy:
I pinged some other folks, including the (cult?) newsletter, Blackbird Spyplane, and much to my delight/surprise, TBOT + Kissa ended up as their … Books of the Year?!:
Kissa by Kissa: How to Walk Japan Book 1 and Things Become Other Things: How to Walk Japan Book 2 by Craig Mod.
Erin and I happened to meet Craig at a dinner the last time we were in Tokyo and dude was the man — an American writer who moved to Japan 20 years ago and basically never left. Like us, Craig is a proponent of the getting-in-these-steps lifestyle, but on another level of flaneurism: these books document monthslong walks through Japan along ancient roads. Kissa by Kissa is shorter, structured around visits to charming, idiosyncratic, deeply personal old Japanese cafés. Things Become Other Things is longer, weaving in more memoir and getting deeper with the journo-poetic reflections. Both books document little-known and in some cases dying swathes of Japanese geography and culture, from the POV of a savvy insider-outsider, sensitive narrator, and curious guide. The chapters tend to be a page long, interspersed with Craig’s beautiful photographs. This is a new printing for KBK, and TBOT just dropped. Both come in clothbound “fine art” editions you can cop separately or as a bundle. Very special s**t!!
This was wholly unexpected. I don’t send books out explicitly for PR purposes, but what a lovely cap to the year. (And it did drive a healthy chunk of sales, if we’re keeping track.) Thank you Spyplane!
I put up a Goodreads page for TBOT. I don’t know how Goodreads works, and don’t use it myself, but I had enough people asking me for the listing that I figured I should be the one to make it.
Since it’s nice to have others toot your horn, here are a few notes from TBOT readers:
I just finished TBOT, and what a heart-achingly beautiful book it is. To read, to hold, to take it all in.
I finished reading your book. Incredible. I really loved Kissa by Kissa, but this books intimacy really pulls you in. The last string of photographs was perfect. The book was really quite affecting. I don’t normally email authors like a maniac.
It’s strange to finally read this book full of beauty, sadness and humour … Now finally to hold the finished book in my hands and have it still feel fresh and exciting and moving is a testament to your skill as a writer and talent as a designer of beautiful objects. It would be fair to say I own few other books so lovingly and meticulously designed as this.
TBOT gave me misty eyes, giggles, a fluttery heart, and, at times, a deep-seated envy for your prose styling. I absolutely adored it. Your comments about scarcity/abundance and archetypes sit with me in new and richer ways. Congratulations on a tremendous creative achievement, and thank you for sharing it with the world.
I’ve just finished a first read of TBOT, and wanted to share my compliments and admiration. What a wonderful, visceral, moving text, beautifully punctuated by the images. A few moments (but especially the last pages, as for many others I would guess) brought a tear to my eye.
I’m proud of this book from almost every angle: design, object, story, prose, photography, layout. And now, with the new year, I dive back in, to work with Molly Turpin over at Random House to ready the text and photographs for a mass-market trade hardcover edition, set to launch in spring 2025. I’ll continue writing my Nightingalingale diary of the book — a SPECIAL PROJECTS members-only diary that’s now going on some 30-months of publication (200+ issues), offering a kind of ongoing meta take on making this book.
And no mention of SPECIAL PROJECTS can go without a colossal, targeted thanks: None of this would be possible — these newsletters, my pop-ups, Kissa by Kissa and, of course, TBOT — without their continued and enthusiastic support. I’m running a members-only board meeting next Sunday, the 7th. We’re capping year five of SP and to say that launching and leaning into this membership program changed my life for the better, would be the understatement of the decade. Thank you thank you thank you.
The most unexpected / delightful / slightly terrifying thing to happen “outside” of my core work this year was my recommendation / write-up on Morioka, and its selection as the “#2” (it’s technically not a “ranking” but everyone interprets it as such) place to visit in 2023, right after … LONDON. Ha ha! So, as you’d expect, this caused quite the commotion in Japan (Why?! Morioka?!). A true black swan event (unexpected, unpredictable, out-sized impact). I felt no small dollop of responsibility towards helping Morioka (and Japan) make sense of my selection, and in the end I accepted almost every inbound media request.
Between mid-January and November of this year, I must have done 30-40+ interviews across every major TV show and newspaper, along with a few radio interviews and magazines. I was terrified and wholly unprepared, with no media training, rushing to learn some new sociological, anthropological, and political Japanese vocabulary. After loosening up, by the tenth or so interview, the questions had graduated from “What food do you like?!” to “What makes a great mid-sized city great?”
This was a welcome shift, and in the end I’m glad with how the general conversation evolved. My answers to making great mid-sized cities were almost embarrassingly banal: health care, social services, well-maintained and extensive infrastructure (trains!), sensible zoning, low costs of living. (“Sure, the soba’s delicious, but let’s talk about delicious healthcare.” — a phrase no one had before uttered on national TV) I made a few Japanese news folks tear up talking about how special it was to have a functioning social safety net. I come from a place with a pretty ratty net. And so for me, social support stands out sharply. Much more so than for the average citizen who has grown up with its advantages.
Great mid-sized cities get their texture not from Starbucks, but from bizarre, creative local businesses. And the best way to allow those local business to thrive is all the above — support people fairly, and they will do interesting work. This you must believe. I didn’t (and don’t, really) care about the meibutsu (famous things) of Morioka (or most places) — for me, Morioka’s power lay in its sense of miryoku (charm) blossoming from all the young proprietors of small businesses, the walkability of Morioka’s streetscape, and the resulting ambience of a city with a bright future. Here was a mid-sized city in the middle of an economically depressive part of Japan (Tohoku), where tourism was a rounding error (only 1.5% of all inbound tourists got to Tohoku as a whole; compare with Kyoto, for example) and yet felt alive and exciting. No, Morioka isn’t the only mid-sized city in Japan to feel this way. And it was nice for the media conversation to shift, however slightly, to that wider aperture and ask: How do cities like Morioka and its ilk generate their positive energy, become beacons, archetypes of great places to live, full of people living fully, with palpably sustainable futures? As smaller rural towns become economically untenable (dwindling population, lost blue collar work), and metropolises continue to bulge, these mid-sized cities will become more and more important as options, IMO.
As a corollary of the all the press this year — for the most fleeting of fleeting moments — I was slightly famous in a nook of Japan. It was surreal and fun, but also unnerving (celebrity is, I’d say, one of the weird “bugs” in the human operating system, and can cause odd behaviors — to say the least; eliminating celebrity reverence would probably have useful second-order effects).
I hoped the media attention was not causing undue disruption to the citizens of Morioka themselves. It seems like that has largely been avoided? At least as far as I can tell. The majority of tourism to the city this year came from Japanese tourists, arriving from neighboring prefectures (Aomori, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata) for the weekend to investigate the hub-bub. It’s difficult to underestimate the positive economic impact all of this has had on the city. It’s probably safe to say some additional $100M+ USD have flooded Morioka’s economy this year. I’m most proud of that — and hope they can use these additional resources to continue to strengthen their social nets, creating a virtuous cycle of enabling even more people to move there, to build rich, meaningful lives, to create interesting art, restaurants, shops, crafts, educational resources, and more.
It’s also uncanny to be thanked so vociferously by the town (a motion was made a few days ago at a town hall meeting to make me an Honorary Citizen, so I’m told). In the end, all I did was point in their direction. Maybe the only “real” thing I’ve brought to the table is my largely egoless recommendation, which carries with it more trust and weight than a random visitor? (I’ve arguably seen and rigorously engaged with more small towns and mid-sized cities across the country than most other media folks; I’ve become almost a “supertaster” of city goodness. And had no horse in the race of Morioka getting ranked so highly.) A lot of shop owners have told me people came specifically because it was me who was doing the pointing. I’m grateful for that trust.
The year was meant to be capped with a nice, quiet two week tour of Japan with my parents. It had been five and half years since their last visit. This time: Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, Morioka, Kamakura. The last visit we did Kamakura, Kanazawa, Koyasan, Hiroshima — B-sides; this time they wanted more A-sides.
A few days before their arrival, a little pimple appeared up on my left forearm. Not uncommon. I ignored it.
My parents landed and the great swirl of moving through the country began. As we forwarded luggage and boarded bullet trains that swept us across the Kanto Plain — past a neatly snow-capped Fuji — the little pimple on my forearm seemed to grow. Each day, it throbbed a little more. The skin burst open into a strange little wound. I put a band-aid on it. Tried to ignore it. We had monkeys to see! Modernist gardens to marvel at! It became more and more red, the surrounding skin. And by day five it seemed to be quite pus-filled, and yet hard. Nothing was coming out. I applied warm compresses. It began to wake me with its throbbing in the middle of the night. Four, five times I’d be woken up, having to move my arm into a different position. If I touched it, it stung. Bumping it unleashed fire ants up and down my arm. It seemed to radiate heat. It did radiate heat. And yet, because I was so focused on attending to my parents — and because I thought it was just a pimple gone rogue — I ignored it longer than prudent.
Finally, a week ago, we returned to Tokyo. Saturday morning I woke up with an arm so throbby and swollen I couldn’t rightly extend it all the way straight. This seemed bad. Terrible, perhaps. I told my parents I needed a day off (I needed a month of, truthfully), and went to the ER to get some antibiotics. They took one look at my arm and said, Kid, you ain’t going nowhere. We need to get some IV meds into you, stat.
So it was that I checked into the 19th floor of Toranomon Hospital on December 23rd, more than slightly freaked out. They called in an array of docs. They sliced the bulging heat-patch open. They squeezed with all their might trying to drain the thing, producing enough pain to almost cause me to pass out. I had always wondered how people passed out from pain — now I knew. Almost nothing dribbled out. What did come out, they slurped up in pipettes (so I imagined; I wasn’t looking at the thing) to be analyzed by pathologists. My forearm was a hard, disgusting mass, like something out of a horror movie, billowing blood and feeling dangerous.
I was prescribed a three-drip-a-day regimen of IV antibiotics. Checking into the hospital felt like an interment. My fever spiked. Crested 39 Celsius on Sunday. I could barely get out of bed. I was an invalid, and was ashamed of being so. I felt guilt and sadness at having gotten sick while my parents were visiting (such is the strange mindset of the sick person alone in a room). On Christmas Eve I lay in my hospital room (admittedly a very nice room — I paid a little extra for a private one; I could have gotten a four-person room for free, but YOLO, it was Christmas, and I needed any wins I could get), alone, awake at two in the morning, panicked about my arm. Was I crying? You bet I was crying. Exhausted, feeling a bunch of pity for myself. But it was what it was — a throbbing infection, barely responding to antibiotics, catalyzing a high fever. Is this how people lost arms? It’s hard to emphasize just how grotesque things had gone. The whole situation sucked as much as you can imagine it sucking, but at least I was in a hospital, and the next morning, on Christmas (thank god Japan’s not Christian), I’d meet with the pathologists and dermatologists to concoct a plan of action.
They were all lovely, the docs. I held back more tears (“end of rope” is a serviceable phrase for me at this moment) — tears of gratitude for how much kindness and confidence and knowledge these docs exuded. Systems, accessible and competent — I was within one. Staffed by well-compensated, well-educated, and respected people taking pride in their work. This is one of many miracles of contemporary life lived in a fair place. The docs unwrapped my arm, gasped, called in other doctors. Folks were poking it. (“Can I touch it?”). It was a learning moment. I was glad it was useful for something. The bulge was pus-ing all over now, with rivulets of goo ushering forth on their own. I began to worry spiders might crawl out. They shot me up with anesthesia, cut me open some more, drained as much as they could, thought it was looking good but then realized the infection was deeper than imagined. Shit. Off to the MRI. No, wait, the MRI was all booked up today. Off to the CT scanner — they needed to see how deep to cut, if the infection had hit muscle or bone or was still just in the fatty layers.
Of all the places you don’t want bacterial infections, the bloodstream is perhaps the top one. The worry was septicemia — a non-trivial possibility, and one that might have happened had I waited longer to get treatment. My body was not going to win this fight on its own. Twenty minutes later the CT was done. We looked over the data — it hadn’t yet hit muscle. Phew.
The pathologists returned. Lab reports were back. MRSA: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Impervious to many common antibiotics, including the ones they had put in my IV. Medicine was changed. The gaping horrorshow wound that was my forearm was packed full (!!!) of surgical-grade iodine-soaked gauze. It felt like a David Cronenberg scene. “This will hurt a little,” the doc said as my body lit up, fireworks going off in my veins. Merry fucking Christmas, I said through clenched teeth, laughing, teary-eyed, weak, pathetic, in English.
What caused the infection? Truly, I don’t know. I didn’t cut myself in a way that was obvious. There was no bug bite I could point to. The docs all convened on Thailand as the likely culprit. A mosquito carrying bacteria? Something nibbling on me as I swam under a waterfall in the forest? The one thing I do know is that I was tired by the time my parents arrived. I had used up all of my life force in the launch of TBOT and then the walk-and-talk in Thailand. So, perhaps it was a combination of something from Thailand, and my utterly empty gas tank — a perfect environment for bacterial flourishment?
All the while, my main concern was getting to a dinner in Morioka on Tuesday. Yes, this was insane on my part. But it was a kind of 2023 celebratory dinner. Forty people had RSVP’d including the new mayor. I wanted to share this part of my life with my parents, and bringing them to this dinner seemed meaningful, and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event of surreality. Also, my step-daughter was going to join us. I wanted to reunite her with my parents. There were layers of important (to me!) emotional paths set to collide in Morioka on Tuesday night and, dammit, I really wanted to make sure they intersected.
The docs seemed hopeful. My fever was down. My blood work was getting better. Numbers were terrible on Saturday, the blood markers. Less horrible on Sunday. And even better on Monday. They said if my blood work on Tuesday morning looked OK, I could leave. But I’d have to come back for checkups on Wednesday and Thursday. Fine by me. I was happy to come back every day for a month.
Almost immediately, with the new antibiotics, I felt my body activate and I felt (I swear) my forearm begin to shrink, and the spreading redness and heat begin to recede. It was almost alchemic, unbelievable how the chemistry of infection was so 1:1 treatable. We were using the wrong chemical key, and now we had the right one, and it seemed to mow down bacteria with the ease of a WWII tank rolling over charcoal.
That night, I paid $5.00 extra for the “fancy” hospital Christmas dinner, and was served lobster (!!) and avocado, a beautifully grilled white fish, clam chowder with saltines, and a Christmas cake. Needless to say, this was a hilarious, unexpected delight. I was still weak, but absurdity always lifts the spirits. My parents came to visit. We took Christmas selfies together in the hospital. And when the docs took my blood and unwrapped my arm the next morning, it was clear I could go to Morioka.
Six days later, my arm is still bandaged. And I have about nine more days of this course of antibiotics to get through. I’m garbling up fermented stuff (natto, kimchi, yogurt) to try and protect / rebuild my gut biome, which I’m sure is getting hammered by these drugs. The wound is still a bit gaping. But I don’t have to fill it with gauze. It needs to be cleaned daily and bandaged with some pleasingly painful iodine. A level of grotesquery I can handle on my own. The redness is almost entirely gone, I can extend it fully, and it no longer wakes me up at night. I can even drum. (A little.)
The dinner in Morioka was as lovely as hoped. I gave a speech and explained how I had escaped the hospital just hours earlier, and that I probably shouldn’t be here, but it was so important to show my parents and step-daughter the kindness of you all (the folks at the dinner), the kindness of the town, that I rallied, and here we were. That went over well.
And so today, the last day of this incredible, experientially-opulent year, I’ve just been sitting at my freshly oiled and waxed dining table, writing this for the last few hours, sipping great coffee, and peeking down at my forearm every few minutes, marveling at the power of the right drugs at the right time, ready for a quiet night, mostly alone, perhaps a midnight shrine pop-in, feeling like I’ve earned a little downtime.
This year: Thanks again to everyone who bought a copy of the fine art edition of Things Become Other Things. Thanks to folks who have joined SPECIAL PROJECTS. And thanks to you all, subscribers to my newsletters. Wishing you a new year full of good bacteria — great bacteria, symbiotic bacteria — exceptional projects, peace, big walks, gusty creative work, and hopefully some optimism in the face of so much of the stupidity of these lingering wars, the human instinct to be selfish, capricious, scarcity-bound. There is a whole lot of goodness out there, you must believe — flourishing, generative and elevating, thriving when the right systems are in place.