waiting for signal

If you go back on the web forums, bits and pieces of the Stories functionality in Signal were cropping up on the GitHub back in March. This has been in the works for over six months, seems like. But it might be imminent. Four weeks ago, the release notes for a bug fix release included “more exciting changes on the horizon” and this past week, changed to include “plans for the future.” This seems like it might be, if not imminent, at least close enough to allude to.

That’s going around, honestly. Another example is the breakfast and lunch place that’s been “coming this spring” for eight months now – it would be nice to have a spot walking distance from home and not bike or driving distance, but there’s no date certain associated with it. Then there’s Pixelfed, which might be a viable Instagram replacement but needs something to precipitate uptake. Then there’s the open-ended question of whether Twitter is going to have to go away depending on whether the courts hold Phony Stark to his waived due diligence for the purchase of a company that appears to be burning down in its own shit.

And then there’s work. Which, in the last couple of months, has turned a corner. I’m finally able to actually do the job instead of just talking about what we would do if we were allowed to do the job. And we’ve been rolling. And the result is…crickets. No recognition. No acknowledgement. Nothing to say our current work arrangement is permanent or even open-ended. We don’t exist to the powers that be, and there’s no guarantee that pushing back would even get us anything other than trouble.

It’s a difficult way to live. It was always possible to believe that we only had to somehow survive through 2020 and we’d have a chance. It was possible to get through to the new house and new car because there were deals signed and papers exchanged, even if the precise dates were nebulous at times. My sister is fond of saying that you can endure anything that comes with an end date. But the open ended promise of something that may never show up, let alone by a date certain – it’s like the experience as a kid of being told that maybe we can go to the mall today, and never actually going.

In a lot of ways, it feels like we’ve crossed a nodal point, at least as much as was ever promised. We have a Democrat in the White House, for the time being. We are mostly on the back side of the pandemic, at least enough to go to London or Pismo or Disneyland. We are moved into the new house, with the EV in the driveway. I’m still 100% remote for the foreseeable future, and I’d even be willing to take that down to 95% in exchange for permanence. I’ve made it to 50, enough to be very self-conscious of Being Fifty and trying to be honest about what in life is realistic at this point. For the first time in fifteen years or so, the dull moment might actually be possible – so long as you focus on the moment.

But there’s still a lot to “radically accept.” The biggest thing is, as William Gibson said, time moves in one direction and memory in another. The toughest thing was radically accepting that the college thing is dead and there is no point trying to remediate it, and giving up on things that no longer sparked joy in an attempt to reinvent that. There are things that have become less essential now that they are harder and more expensive to do – the default pub night is at home, even though there won’t be a way to combine a comfy seat and low light until late October at the earliest. The old options – the comfy leather chair at Trials on Sunday evening, or the live trad at O’Flaherty’s at the same time – are simply no longer available.

There is a thing I told myself years ago about the importance of stopping trying to be who you were and let yourself become who you are. The addendum I would throw on there now is not to try to force it too much. At fifty you have to accept some of the dictates of reality and ask why you would even want to live like you did at 30 any more. Or, to borrow a line from the franchise that has defined my life in so many ways, “the belonging you see is not behind you, but in front of you.”

And let’s be honest – half a life on from the beginning of my IT career, I have the things that seemed aspirational at the beginning. I’m a system administrator who never has to wear socks and can do all my work remotely. I took for granted that under such circumstances, my employer would value my work, but that might be too much to ask. But for as long as I can make it happen, I’m going to try to enjoy it and use it to make possible the rest of a life I want to have.

That’s a wrap on blog year 16. Next year, a third of my life in one place. That’s…something.


the semiotics of the mall

It came to me in a dream, honestly. The notion that one would walk the mall with one’s friends is not something I got from popular culture, because popular culture didn’t reach the exurbs of Alabama in 1983. I literally had a dream that I and some of my classmates (notice I don’t say friends) were at Century Plaza, in an era when that was still the premier mall in Greater Birmingham. Western Hills Mall, Eastwood Mall – both still broadly feasible, but neither as equipped as Century Plaza for my needs, which in the early era meant a toy store, an arcade, a bookstore and a music shop.

Three years later, the Riverchase Galleria opened. And it blew every other place away – a quarter mile long, skylights and atrium with neon lights, aBanana Republic with a Jeep sticking through the window, two bookstores, two record shops, a Macy’s! – to the point that I stopped going anywhere else. Inasmuch as I could, obviously – I was two years from a drivers license and on the wrong side of Birmingham to get there without begging my parents. But it was something that approximated a future life – it was walkable. You could go from shop to shop to dining to just hanging around, all day and all night. I fantasized about the kind of wealth that would let me live in the top floor of the attached hotel or office tower (I was getting through a lot of Fantastic Four at the time).

There was one other smaller mall, closest to school and with a 70s Brutalist feel that was almost subterranean, but once I could drive it was the easiest stop from school. It was an obvious hangout, albeit a solitary one. It and the Gal were the only malls I frequented through the end of college. Largely because there was little enough else to do.

In Nashville, the malls were at the cardinal points of the compass, and diverse in audience – Green Hills, my local, was most posh, and Rivergate was a touch downmarket, but the others all covered a pretty broad array (with the additional novelty at Bellevue) and I could find most anything I was looking for – which by this point was mainly hats, jerseys, Nikes and outerwear. Music came from Tower Records and books from Davis-Kidd or Bookstar, and hanging out was for the Overcup Oak or SATCO.

By the time I was in DC, malls like Tysons Corner or Pentagon City were mainly for movies or dinner. It didn’t take long for music stores to become irrelevant in the digital era, and a good tobacconist was as important as anything else. It didn’t hurt to have the very first Apple Store open in Tyson’s either. Once I got to California, the mall was only interesting for a couple of years, and only out of habit.

Which brings us to today. With one exception, there are two types of malls in Silicon Valley: upscale luxury malls and demolished malls. Valley Fair, Stanford Shopping Center and Santana Row are all explicitly dialed in on big money, especially the Chinese tourism market. Sunnyvale Town Center, Tanforan and Vallco are closed or rubble. Hillsdale is going upscale. The lone holdout, so far, is Oakridge Mall in San Jose, which has gone broad church: Target as an anchor store, a food court and a movie theater, ethnic shopping and local ownership alongside more major national chains, and a willingness to cater to customers larger than size 4 or poorer than a quarter-million a year.

The Amazon bomb did for the malls. Did for most retail, honestly. I never thought I would be willing to shop for clothing online, but between American Giant and LC King, it’s gotten pretty simple. Socks from Bombas, drawers from Made Here, and as much as I don’t want to use Amazon, it’s basically the search engine for commercial goods. But more than that – I’ve spent most of a quarter century living with public transport, major cities, walkable downtowns of varying sizes. If all I get from a mall any more is lunch or coffee, there are plenty of options in Menlo Park or Mountain View or San Jose, and much better loitering.

The mall, in the 80s, was a set of training wheels for a bigger world. The problem was when I didn’t have anything else in Birmingham for years and years to provide the grown-up version. I suppose one of the reasons I have a hard time feeling fifty is because I didn’t accumulate fifty years’ worth of living. Maybe when I say it’s not the years, it’s the mileage, it’s because the mileage is lower than it ought to be. And more highway miles than city, to my cost.