She said, "I'd save you, but the world's bent"
In which I finally move to Substack and restart my newsletter.
This week’s soundtrack: Chelsea Wolfe - “16 Psyche”
The last seven years have been pretty weird, eh?
The last time I sent a real newsletter (through Tinyletter. Presumably, you came here from being on that list) was in late December 2016. To say that late 2016 was a different world is an understatement; just within my own life, I started a podcast (nearly 700 episodes in) at work and moved across town. Seven years is a long time when things are boring, but we have lived in exceptionally not boring times.
For one, this newsletter did not cover President Donald Trump’s time in office. In that final newsletter I sent in Dec. 2016, I wrote “A regular transition from Democratic administration to a conventional Republican one is a big deal. Trump is anything but conventional, so my job is about to become pretty wild.” It was hardly a groundbreaking observation, but one that came true within less than a week. It has been a roller coaster ride.
As much as anything, I want to change this newsletter into something a little more conventional, befitting my professional life and my (alleged) maturation. I want to make it a little more about analysis of government, media and culture, bringing the big picture a little more into it than the day-to-day of what I do at my job (GovExec Daily. Please subscribe, rate, review, download. Etc.). It’s a crowded landscape, for sure, but I hope my perspective on government administration, the politics (and media) of the moment and my understanding of it all is such that I can give a perspective you’re not necessarily getting somewhere else. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely include photos of my dog, but I’ll keep away from the self-indulgent nonsense that I practice on social media (as in: You won’t need to hear me complain about baseball).
I am terrifically bad at naming things. Our podcast is called GovExec Daily for branding purposes, but also because I was not about to try and name something. Every dog I’ve adopted has kept the name from the shelter. My RS 500 albums project was called what it was and the one I write in now is similarly named. This newsletter was previously called RJG Weekly.
I write a lot on my albums blog about my adoration for relatable and conversational lyricism and how hard it is to get that right. My love for lyricists like Elliott Smith, (and Phoebe Bridgers and a whole bunch of others) lies as much in their deftness with the rhythms of regular language as much as the ease at which they present it. It’s no secret that Chelsea Wolfe is one of my favorite artists and that’s where the name of this newsletter comes from.
In “Tracks (Tall Bodies)” and in “16 Psyche,” she uses the straight/askew formulation to invoke the emotional state of things (“We could be two straight lines, in a crooked world” and “I’d save you, but the world is bent”). In the faith tradition to which I am a part, a common phrase is “tikkun olam” ( תיקון עולם). It literally means “repair the world,” and it’s kind of a social justice mantra for American Jews, but more broadly, it speaks to the notion that the world is broken or misaligned. Thus, it is our – Jews’, mostly, but broadly defined as humanity’s – job to repair it.
Being that this newsletter is going to cover the stuff I professionally cover, I found those two things to describe well the state of things. No one is having a good time. Our systems and social machinery are failing in ways that not only destroy people, but also the connections we are meant to build as people. There is scant interest in making things better, to unbend the world or to curve it to a shape of some value. It’s just wobbly and, well, bent. The edifices we’ve built – both physical and not – are atrophying without renewal.
Each subject line will be a lyric from a song that epitomizes the topic of that week’s newsletter because I am absolutely an idiot. I’ll put the song up top as a soundtrack, as per this one, with a link to Bandcamp or YouTube. I promise I won’t bombard you with more music stuff in this space.
I can also promise that I’ll try to be less of a bummer in subsequent newsletters and this thing is going to be lousy with the joy I get from my bulldog (and all dogs, really). And I’ll end it with something I recommend, so I imagine a lot of you will just scroll down until you see this smushed face weirdo and go from there.
Speaking of which…
Since I last wrote a newsletter, I adopted a second bulldog (Chloe) to go along with Mattie, both dogs passed away (Mattie from kidney problems and Chloe from cancer) and I adopted Lulu. That is the shortest of short versions, but let me talk about Lulu for a moment. She is, in a word, pazza. She is crazy. While bulldogs can have a reputation for being lazy, Lulu is revs at one million RPM. She’s obsessed with balls, destroying toys and making anything into a tug toy. She is sweet as can be to people and has a prey drive for other dogs that is unmatched (which is a bummer because we can’t be part of the D.C. bulldog group or hang out with other dogs). She is very smart and picks up on patterns that other bulldogs I’ve had – bulldogs are a notoriously unintelligent dog breed –did not.
She makes a lot of weird noises – my friend Ana has compared Lulu’s noises to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park – and I love her very much.
Being that we were mostly dark for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, this space is sparse this week, but we’re back in the saddle starting tomorrow. Next week, I’ll have the slate of shows we posted. In the meantime, check out our Link Tree for whatever way you want to subscribe to GovExec Daily.
A Recommendation: Physical Cookbooks
I’ve come to cookbooks somewhat late in my culinary journey. As a creature of the World Wide Web, I remember saying “who needs physical cookbooks when I’ve got every recipe I need on my iPad?!”
While this is definitely true if I know exactly what I want to make, there is real joy in leafing through a big book with beautiful photos of food. I’m particularly enamored with Cooking Alla Giuda by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta. It’s full of lovely photos and interesting stories. I am, unfortunately, a cliché. This week, I recommend both the specific book itself and the concept of physical cookbooks.
And so begins this journey. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I promise next week will be more succinct, less self-indulgent and more analytical. As always, you can find me on the social (and some minor) media networks for as long as they are usable (just search for rjgianfortune).