I read it twice, in fact: first as an elegant little volume translated by the American poet Brooks Haxton, and then again on Wikisource, based on a 1912 translation and maintained by the website’s omninonymous hivemind.

The former put the fragments’ original Greek on facing pages, letting me feel smart as I sought and found “λόγος” or “Πυθαγόρας” or whatnot when their English counterparts appeared. Haxton also accompanies the work with notes about choices he made regarding ordering and omission, as well as straight translation.

Wikisource’s collection orders (and numbers) the fragments wholly differently; if it (or its original translator, John Burnet) followed any philosophy in doing so, it does not share it. To its credit, though, the Wikisource version included (in a very in-character flourish) a citation for every fragment, naming the post-Heraclitus work that originally embedded it, unwittingly saving that little piece of Mr. H’s work from the pre-Socratic oblivion that otherwise swallowed all his work whole.

This helped give me a deeper understanding of the Fragments’ true nature, at least as far as their physicality. Having watched a lot of movies and played a lot of games featuring tomb-robbing treasure-hunters and such, I read Haxton’s book with an ignorantly literal notion of the fragments: little bits of ancient parchment, no doubt crisped at the edges, that some brave priest had fished from the ashes of Alexandria and then stored in a cinematically appropriate strongbox, perhaps! But, no, what survives is not crumbling ancient artifacts but memes, in the original sense. Pure information poured from the original, long-lost vessel of Heraclitus’ On Nature, and put to work in other contexts — yet still retaining enough strength and coherence to maintain a single identity and source, despite its dilution across dozens of derivations, and hundreds of years.

That must have been some pretty powerful stuff!

In another sense, I don’t feel that I read the Fragments at all, so much as visited them for the first time, touring them for a bit. They don’t really strike me as something to fully comprehend by simply reading in sequence, no matter now much work translators past and present have put into tweaking and arranging them to juice up their thematic flow. The fact remains that each fragment has been removed from context twice over — first by the ancient writers who quoted the even-more-ancient Heraclitus in order to illustrate an example or prove a larger point in their own work, and then again by the act of gathering all these quotations into a single collection, heedless of the middlemen’s own various uses.

I can share a particular aspect that did stay with me. I loved glimpsing, through the Fragments’ cloudy window, a world that saw itself literally — not metaphorically — comprising the four classical elements. Heraclitus wrote much of the play among earth, air, water, and fire, but the latter element seemed to earn his fascination — or, at least, earned his most memorable writing, such that his intellectual descendants so often quoted his thoughts on fire. I squint through the fragments and I see one observing the human world as based on earth, spread out under air, and surrounded by water — but which fire consumes, and which consumes the fire in turn. Hints of fire as both ultimate motive and ultimate fate, as well as the fuel for the whole journey in between.

A proper reading, I reckon, would involve deep, slow interaction: meditating on one fragment per day, perhaps, or trying one’s own hand at reordering or even remixing them, seeing what new tones and meanings might emerge. Over one brief tour, I feel I spent enough time with the Fragments to feel a shadow of the power that’s kept them preserved for millennia. Probably worth owning my own copy of them; if I did it for aha! Insight I can do it with this too.

Last year I read, and wrote about, William Gibson’s The Peripheral. It remains my favorite recent science-fiction novel, not least because of its surprising and elegant implementation of time travel. It happens to agree with a treatise on good fictional time travel that I posted to my LiveJournal four years ago, but I am quite willing to accept that Gibson independently came to the same conclusions as I for this novel.

I have a lot of respect for Gibson the novelist as well as Gibson the social-media junkie. Even though I find myself compelled to unfollow him for a length every now and again, his Twitter page remains a consistently excellent single-account source of relevant, culturally broad, and socially conscious news and links, even counting retweets alone. While currently off-list for me — his bleak post-election content became too heavy for me, what with everyone else I follow — through his “GreatDismal” account did I first hear praise of James Gleick’s Time Travel. I hadn’t read Gleick before, but the referral stayed with me due, in all likelihood, to my trust in Gibson’s taste when it came to this particular subject matter.

A confession: days before the election, maybe the day before the election, I borrowed Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation from the Newport Public Library’s new-nonfiction shelf. But then all that happened, and I found myself too utterly heartbroken to immediately proceed into reading a book with such a politically challenging topic that — for the time being — suddenly seemed utterly hopeless. I knew I wouldn’t even begin it, so returned it unread and found Time Travel instead. I wanted right then to escape. Embracing a bookful of pop-soc-sci fluff quite unrelated to the war on the ground seemed to adhere to the calls for self-care filling my personal Twitter timeline during those first post-election days.

I got what I came for, and I enjoyed myself. Its first couple of chapters apologize for the rest of it not presenting much of a “history”, despite the book’s full title. Scholars, we learn, find scarcely any concept of time travel in any human culture prior to the turn of the 20th century (and the original publication of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine). Before the industrial revolution began the whole-order acceleration of technological progress whose curve we were all born deep into, human societies simply had no reason to dream of the future. They had no reason not to assume that life for the next generations would be every bit the same, on the whole, as life for the current one. All evidence suggests they tended to think of the past in the same way. Why would anyone bother to imagine traveling through time, when neither direction held anything special?

The remainder of the book presents a tour of how western culture has broached the topic in science, philosophy, and in fiction since Wells’ nameless Time Traveller went slumming in A.D. 802,701. I read it quickly and pleasantly. I enjoyed soaking in the notion that science really has no agreement at all what time is, or indeed if it exists as any “is” in the first place. Schrödinger gave us his wave-function equation as an abstract tool that works time and again to explain and predict, but nobody can bust open Ψ and detail its contents. Reality isn’t made of spacetime so much as spacetime’s the best model we have to better understand and study reality, right now.

A digression by Gleick into Heraclitus, and his many-ways-translated aphorism about not stepping into the same river twice, led me to pick up a slim volume of that ancient one’s fragments, translated into english by a modern poet. At one point I needed a break from diving through Time Travel so I switched books, and couldn’t stop myself from saying “And speaking of time travel!” out loud, to nobody, except perhaps my own future blogging self. So there’s also that.

A couple of months ago I found myself fallen back in love with Poker, and especially zero-sum tournament-style play as one can find in console-based implementations such as Prominence Poker on the PlayStation. I wrote at the time how it inspired me to try my hand with writing some poker-playing computer programs. I had to put that exercise on ice in the face of more pressing projects, but my interest stayed strong enough to have me wander one day into my local public library’s stacks, seeking its single shelf of books on card games. While I found a copy of the seminal Positively Fifth Street there, I instead borrowed Colson Whitehead’s The Noble Hustle because it was short, and recent (from 2014), and I liked the funny cover design.

I really liked this book, an appropriately ramblesome account of the author’s magazine-subsidized trip to Las Vegas in 2011 to compete in the World Series of Poker. Unlike with the author of Fifth Street — a book for which Whitehead makes his own reverence plain — he did not come anywhere near winning the tournament, which helps to explain Noble Hustle’s brevity. He busts out, in fact, right as the story of his experience as a competitor starts getting interesting. Counterintuitively, I enjoyed the experience of feeling his narrative sliding towards a familiar sort of sports-movie cinematic tension while the brick wall of the book’s back cover stands mere millimeters away.

By that late point, the reader feels prepared for vicarious disappointment. The entire account comes from a loser’s perspective, beginning with the author’s page-one hypothesis that any skill he has with the game stems from his unperturbable countenance, due in turn to his feeling utterly dead inside. (His author photo depicts him wearing the hoodie he had custom-printed for the tournament, proclaiming his hailing from “The Republic of Anhedonia”.) But he does not dwell on himself, and over the tale of his brief adventure we meet friends, family, fans (some of whom cheer him on via Twitter), and most memorably the unflappable Poker trainer who does her best to make his game competition-grade.

I hadn’t heard of Whitehead’s work prior to this, so I couldn’t help but find amusing coincidence in reading of his very recent accolades for his novel The Undergound Railroad, which I’ve learned about only after finishing this short and unserious story about a Poker-tournament flameout. I look forward to reading that one, probably early next year.

Many years ago, when I lived in central Maine and the nation had a president named Clinton, I placed an order with Looney Labs for several niche card games as well as some related merchandise. This included a small white pin-back button showing a wavy, crosshatched peace-sign, a design borrowed from a Fluxx card. I don’t know what I had in mind when I added the pin to my order, and don’t recall doing anything in particular with it for a long time.

Sometime shortly after 9/11, a year into my new life as a Bostonian, I affixed the button to the lapel of the long black coat I wore every day at the time. I didn’t normally wear buttons in such a way, but it suddenly seemed like a good use for this little tchotchke that I had somehow managed to not misplace over several years and an interstate move. The button stayed on my lapel for several years thereafter, until the day I finally did lose it, letting it pop away unnoticed somewhere in the bowels of Boston’s subway system.

While I have no scientific controls to prove the hypothesis, I believe that bearing the button made me seem more approachable for strangers who needed help. This being Boston, this usually meant perplexed visitors seeking directions, either on the streets or down within the aforementioned subway system. I did my best to help them all, and in my admittedly selective memory I especially recall feeling proud about helping people who by all appearance had likely come from far away, from across oceans and continents to find some place or person important to them here in my own city. I will admit it without embarrassment: I felt like an emissary, a tiny tiny one but still effective, providing a single counterexample to my country’s drive to tumble into war and chaos.

Earlier this week, seeing again and again the chart stating that white people constituted the sole American ethnic group who voted more for Trump than for Clinton, I thought back to something else from my own post-9/11 experience. Businesses around me run by immigrants, and the people who owned and worked in them, bedecked themselves in corny Americana. I recall, most especially, the ill-fitting U.S. flag T-shirt that the clerk at the bodega across the street from my apartment wore on the twelfth, and I wonder what lengths he went to find it in a hurry, and what went through his mind while he did so. (And, please, you’ll forgive me for being a taciturn New Englander during the best of times, such that I didn’t think to ask him.)

The message that the clerk and all the others clearly felt desperate to send: We’re one of the good ones. Fifteen years later, that election chart made me feel that it has become my turn to just as desperately prove the same point, somehow. But what would I wear? I wondered out loud about this on Twitter — noting my temporary solution of mindfully putting on my corduroy blazer to look as much like a stereotypical white intellectual as I could afford — when someone else’s post jogged my memory.

And so that’s why I yesterday ordered a couple of peace-sign buttons from Amazon, after finding a design that reminded me a little of Andy Looney’s old scratchy-ink drawing. I don’t live in Boston any more, and I have no subway to help guide people through. I don’t know if or whether I’ll feel like a citizen-emissary; the situation isn’t at all the same now as then, for me or for the country. But I nonetheless feel a great desire to present a marker passively identifying me as one who repudiates the evil principles that so many people who look like me voted for.

I note with interest a suggestion to use safety pins in a similar fashion, though I admit some skepticism of their efficacy given their not already serving as a universally recognized symbol. For all that, though, the peace sign button feels oddly personal to me, given my own little history with it. I just hope that fixing it back onto my coat will help siphon away some of the shame I feel today, and let me better focus on moving forward. I don’t suggest it as any sort of movement larger than myself, but if you find yourself moved to join me anyway, you may certainly feel free.

“The inspiration for the film Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games”, read the front-cover copy of the recent edition of Roadside Picnic I read — a fresher translation from the Strugatsky brothers’ original Russian, apparently, than the one last published in the U.S. some decades ago. The idea to read it came to mind quite obliquely a couple of months ago, following a path including but not limited to my learning of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films via the video game The Witness earlier this this year.

While I seem to have lost my notes about Roadside Picnic, I do recall it as a fast and easy read. I loved its setting, which has surely inspired many more games and films than the two direct adaptations listed on the cover. The novel’s central conceit studs the world with lingering “Zones” that exist many years after a brief and ill-defined visit by never-seen space aliens. They left behind piles of refuse in the forms of miraculous artifacts of completely opaque purpose, and bizarre energy fields that warp local physics. To wander into a Zone unprepared is suicide, and so a sub-culture has sprung up of “stalkers” — desperados who risk their lives and flout the law in order to raid the Zones, seeking loot to sell, and building up maps and codexes of routes and secrets and survival techniques. Stalkers refer to each other only by goofy callsign-style nicknames, and they’re all extremely miserable people.

Having established this setting, Roadside Picnic tells several stories as vignettes from the life of ever-tragic protagonist Red. An expert stalker, Red makes his work a real pleasure to watch — even though he hates the Zone, and he hates himself for feeling more at home there than with his own family, even while it’s trying to kill him. (To this extent, he rather reminded me of Jeremy Renner’s character in The Hurt Locker.) The modularity of this storytelling style all but begs other creators to borrow the same setting for their own ends.

Tarkovsky’s Stalker, then, feels like another story set in the same world, maybe surrounding a different Zone. (Roadside Picnic seems set somewhere in North America, but Stalker happens in Eastern Europe.) Instead of the book’s use of an abandoned but haunted industrial town, the film’s Zone encompasses a lush environment, so green and wild that the film stock explodes with color Wizard of Oz-style when the adventuring party arrives, after a dour and washed-out prologue. (A Twitter-friend coincidentally watched the movie just as I did, and noted how it made him want to re-read the Southern Reach trilogy.)

The movie sees a stalker lead two “tourists” with their own agendas through this Zone, whose allure is not caches of alien technology surrounded by deadly traps, but a magical wish-granting room couched in layers of dangers so strange and subtle that the threat they pose never really becomes clear. To risk a spoiler: Nothing happens. Between Tarkovsky’s mastery of the medium and my own expectations — based, if nothing else, on having watched umpteen seasons of Lost — I felt tense right up until the end, waiting the whole time for something terrible, and then I laughed, because yeah okay.

We do get an intriguing and lengthy epilogue that suggests that Stalker’s world does have room for the supernatural, but the blind adventurers just didn’t know where to look for it — each bundled up too tightly in their own convictions, perhaps.

Both book and film are about as old as I am, and the former shows it more. The exclusive masculinity among not just all the characters in Roadside Picnic but everyone in its whole world (other than “girls” used as props) felt some combination of dated and other-cultured, but also wholly separable from what made the book interesting. I ended up using the particular brand of doomed and self-hating masculinity espoused by Red, the sole point-of-view character, as an aid to digestion. I imagined the novel’s woman-free world as not the literal truth of its reality, but rather the sad and diminished reality that broken-macho Red chose to see. Maybe not quite the authors’ intent, but it worked for poor Red and me both.

I think I heard about this book on a podcast some time ago? I knew its precis: recent anthropological studies suggest that Native Americans lived all over this continent in vast numbers in the centuries before Columbus, scarcely resembling the image of here-and-there villages of tribesmen that both the author and I grew up with. (In the book’s introduction, Charles Mann describes his motivation for writing in the disgusted disappointment he felt when discovering his sons’ history textbooks filled with the same outdated falsehoods about pre-Columbian civilization that he’d been taught.)

Growing up in New England in the 1980s, I learned about American Indians primarily as the scattered bands sometimes friendly to “the Pilgrims” and other early European settlers, sometimes not. I had to memorize (for a brief time) the names of their many local tribes, with little attention given to their fate after the American Revolution. As an young adult in the 1990s, media like Dances with Wolves and the Alvin Maker novels created a guilt-ridden continuation of that story, casting these tribes as proud but doomed martyrs who lived sparsely on the American plains and accepted their fate nobly as rapacious westward-marching white men drove them, defenseless, to near-extinction. When I heard about 1491, I felt ready to learn about ancient Native Americans as anyone other than a people who made no mark on history besides dying cinematically.

Death still plays a huge and terrible role in the updated history that this book collects, but shifts it centuries before the era of Manifest Destiny. In short, archaeological evidence up and down the American continents — as well as written observations of middle-millenium visitors from Europe, studied with fresh eyes in a new light — suggests a new story of whole civilizations every bit as complex and populated as their Old World counterparts.

Likely descended from bands who walked east out of Asia prior to that hemisphere’s Neolithic Revolution, the peoples of ancient America had to start their own tech-tree from scratch, and they followed it along broadly recognizable but often fascinatingly divergent directions. If their engine of invention didn’t turn quite as fast as Europe’s, we can perhaps ascribe it to their having fewer diverse trading partners to mix ideas with. (Yes, I did read this book through the lens of an avid Civilization player. Look, it’s a great game.)

By the book’s titular year, the continents thrummed with a number of American Indian civilizations with their own histories, conflicts, and national ambitions. When Europeans show up, Mann casts the event as alien invasion: the people of the known world (from the Indians’ perspective) already had to deal with all the complex political drama of any functioning power, and now this? And for their part, the visitors had all sorts of motivations too; not all European visitors were stomping Conquistadors bent on subjugation. Many achingly tantalizing written records exist of trade and treaties between the two worlds; ancient Indians might not have had ocean-crossing technology, but they knew how international politics and diplomacy worked, infinitely more than the naive chumps I learned about as a kid.

But then, no matter how good or evil their individual intentions, the Europeans always unwittingly brought smallpox with them. Over the course of just a few generations it did what smallpox does to any dense human population with no natural resistance (or knowledge of germ theory). The handfuls of American natives that 20th century schoolchildren learned about were — modern records strongly suggest — post-apocalyptic survivors, a human remnant of what had been before.

Here lies a new and terrible tragedy: while American Indians live on as a people, their ancestors’ civilization — their whole new world of civilizations, whose unique histories and cultures should by all rights have traveled and traded and intermingled with Europe’s and Asia’s in ways we can only dream about? It died, it all died, robbing the world of something forever unknowable. Only lately do we start to understand these buried histories and lost potential better, and it’s amazing, and it hurts.

I really liked this book, written engagingly by someone with both a clear passion and a personal connection to the subject matter. Mann clearly followed a mandate to use an impressively broad range of sources from academic journals to interviews, and as often as possible includes work by and voices from modern Indians. I read an original edition from 2005, and am led to understand that more recent editions include updated material.

Last night, as the spouse of a civilian employee of the U.S. Naval War College, I attended an evening of lectures covering topics of interest to the college. This included a summary of USNWC’s role with America’s military allies, a history lesson about the foundational naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, and a summary of unclassified U.S. military intelligence regarding China (particular, naturally, to China’s burgeoning navy and increasing sea-borne interests).

I found all the talks quite interesting for different reasons. The latter talk about China mixed in feelings of slight alarm, not because the speaker described a grave threat (as he cast it more of what we might call a “Nation of Interest”), but because he spoke so freely about the Chinese. “What do the Chinese want?” stood as the talk’s central question, and in so many words. The speaker easily made remarks speculating about the myriad plans and motivations of “the Chinese”, based on decades of careful observation.

And for long minutes I fidgeted in my seat, suppressing a desire to swivel around, counting how many folks of Asian descent attended the evening, so I could better gauge how dreadfully embarrassed I should feel. All the while a social-media trained voice in my head stood agog, yelling “Oh my god, ‘What do the Chinese want?’ Do you have any idea how racist that sounds? Why don’t you ask them, you dingleberry?”

But as the talk continued it become clear to be that by “the Chinese” the speaker did not mean “the Chinese citizenry” and certainly not “all Chinese people everywhere”. Rather, he applied the label in precisely the way that the computer game Civilization uses it: as the name of a single player in what a global military power unavoidably and only semi-metaphorically sees as the greatest and most real of all games.

In the context the lecturer spoke from, “the Chinese” is the name of a monolithic power, which — like all global powers, when considered from a sufficient height — acts with a unified mind and purpose. And when the relationship between two such powers is as frosty as that between the United States and China, how natural for the military-intelligence apparatuses of either to speculate about the psychology of the other as an individual entity.

Having reframed it like a game-player, I found myself able to chill out and enjoy the remainder of the lecture. Incidentally, the answer to What do the Chinese want? is: food, energy, and security. That’s all I was able to learn at my clearance level, anyway.

As part of my preparations for Trump’s not-unlikely electoral victory in a few weeks, I am making some promises to myself about how I will ride through the shock, doing my best to survive it. I share these should you want to adapt them for your own benefit.

(This follows plans laid out in an earlier post, but I wrote that before I decided to start assuming the worst in this regard. A revisit seemed in order.)

  • I will stay calm. I have started this already by dialing down my caffeine intake; I last week swore off my usual breakfast espressos after realizing that, as of recently, they make me feel paralyzed with hopelessness for hours. (Drip coffee is okay.)

    As the weeks go on, I will do whatever else I need to do in order to stay calm enough to adhere to the rest of these promises.

  • I will accept my feeling sad and scared. Corollary: I will accept my friends and family feeling sad and scared, too.

    I felt a raised baseline level of anger throughout the George W. Bush years, and many of my friends and colleagues did too. We lived with it. I expect that the tone of a Donald J. Trump presidency to primarily engender anxious fear rather than frustrated anger. We will have to live with it.

  • Internal resistance: I will not give in to despair or nihilism. Giving up represents by far the easiest path to take, a constant temptation. Not giving up will take work. Some days it will take more work than other days. I promise to put in the effort.

    Corollary: If my friends and family start teetering towards the edge, I will help pull them back. I need them.

  • External resistance: I will seek out movements keeping American hope alive. America under Trump will be a kleptocracy at best, and at worst a super-villain committing atrocities on a scale unique to human history. I expect something in between: years of inept, purely reactionary leadership, whose neglect of law and policy at every level causes suffering and injustice at home and abroad.

    I know that many, many Americans will not simply accept this state of affairs. I will look not only to my friends, but also to American political leaders, journalists, and other public figures who will openly take a stand against their country embracing evil. I accept that life might become very dangerous for the most visible of these leaders, and I will support them and add my voice to theirs as much as I can.

  • I will keep doing what I love. I realize this might become difficult, especially if various government services that I and people close to me depend upon start to diminish or fail under the Trump administration’s abuses. I suppose I’ll do my best to adapt, if I need to. But I take definition from what I love doing, and I cannot let myself lose that.

Last weekend, almost exactly a year after seeing John Hodgman perform his “Vacationland” stand-up show in Boston, my partner and I revisited the same theater to see “Live Justice”, a touring, on-stage edition of Judge John Hodgman. I have written plenty in the past about my years-long admiration for this podcast, and everything transferred to a live experience fantastically well. The show featured a handful of format adjustments to turn it from an ordinary episode (as the podcast’s producers do indeed record it) into an evening of entertainment, including musical interludes by Juliana Hatfield and a “Swift Justice” segment of rapid-fire hearings in between the two full-length feature cases.

I’d written last year that as much as I enjoyed Hodgman delivering scripted comic monologues, I missed the oddly intimate spontaneity of his judicial persona as he helped real-life people navigate through various of life’s lesser disputes. I don’t feel in the least bad or pandered to that I got exactly what I wanted a year later. We had a great time.

A couple of observations particular to the live experience:

The context of a thousand ticket-holding people watching the cases in person, rather than a scattered and time-shifted podcast audience hearing a Skype conversation among a few people, made the atmosphere feel just a bit more fraught than I would have expected. I fidgeted a little during at least a couple of moments.

The evening’s first featured case involved a disagreement within a young husband-and-wife couple over her enormous shoe collection. The topic cozied with certain stereotypes all by itself, and the addition of hundreds of entertainment-hungry eyes in the same room threatened to shift the show’s normally light-hearted framing of “internet justice” into something more sinister. Hodgman seemed aware of this — though I don’t know if he prepared for it or realized it on the fly — and to my eye steered the case away from becoming overcharged.

(I fully admit I might not have noticed had he not admitted his discomfort with the case once it ended. He asked Juliana Hatfield, while she set up her gear, whether she enjoyed watching — in so many words — a bunch of men discussing the size of a woman’s shoe collection while she sat under hot stage lights. Despite his misgivings, I think he stuck the landing perfectly.)

Of the four litigants involved in the two featured cases, two were people of color. I thought that pretty great, especially since I’d pigeonhole Judge John Hodgman as a very “white” entertainment, if I had to. (The cases are screened and vetted well ahead of time, so props as appropriate to the show’s producers.)

On that note, having correctly and respectfully guessed one litigant’s intercultural heritage based on the nature of evidence submitted (her enjoyment of a comfort-food specific to India), the judge later made a rare misstep by beginning a case-wrapping monologue with “You come from a land where…” Her deadpanned “I’m from Lowell” brought the house down. Hodgman accepted this moment gracefully, dropped that particular subject, and moved on.

Probably due to plain old aging, my hearing — or, perhaps, my hearing comprehension specifically — has become poorer in recent years. I find this most noticeable in conversation, as I fail to understand utterances made in my direction with increasing frequency.

I’ve tried to describe what it sounds like from my end, but as with many subjective experiences I find it strangely not possible. The closest I’ve managed: it’s a bit like the first and last consonants of words drop out of reach, even though at the same time I know I heard them. No, that doesn’t make a great deal of objective sense.

I have at least noticed it much more likely to happen with unexpected communication, particularly if I don’t happen to face the speaker at that moment. As such, I’ve learned to simply adjust my facing when when I ask for a statement to be repeated, and that helps. But here is another adjustment I have made: I’ve learned to ask for repeats less often.

For a while, I would aggressively say “What?” all the time, and got to point where I started aggravating myself with how much like a cranky old man I sounded because I didn’t want to let a single statement go past my person without my full comprehension. But over time, and perhaps informed by my embrace of a philosophy to not read every single social-media update I can, I eased into a less completionist stance.

If it seems from context that a given utterance does not require immediate attention for processing and then response, then I’ll make an educated guess as to its broad content based on what I could make out, and what I know of the speaker and the situation we presently find ourselves in. If my guess seems to call for a response, I’ll make a stab at it. I will otherwise let it go.

I don’t claim to be perfect at this, and certainly I hit false positives now and again. But such mistakes make their presence known in short order, and then I need only turn to face the speaker and apologetically ask them to repeat the question. So far, I find the need to do this every so often far more pleasant than earhorning “Eh?” countless times daily.