The affliction of the vast majority of writers is to know what everyone in the world should buy and never to have any money. To be a writer is to be able to stride into a billionaire’s home and critique the gauche fussiness of an ormolu clock over the mantelpiece when you couldn’t afford the cut flowers in the powder room. But every writer I know owns at least one object he or she cannot afford but has to have — a vintage YSL jacket, a Linn LP12 turntable, a collection of prisoner-made demon sculptures. For me, it’s Thomas Browne. These books are not conspicuous consumption. I don’t show them to anybody. They sit in a safe place in my office, where I rarely go. I need them for myself, not others.
In the spirit of airing out our hang-ups, I’ll tell you I’ve historically had a hard time saying no for other reasons, too. For example, I’m competitive; I don’t like to admit defeat and sometimes saying no can feel like a loss. Also, I’ve been known to equate being busy with being virtuous, and I take pride in being the kind of gal you can rely on to get shit done. Whether that pride is worth the extraordinary effort expended to attain it is, as they say, the rub.
So how about you?
I made the decision to write full time in the summer of 2008. I was leaving a teaching position in Beijing, and moving back to Oaxaca, Mexico, my husband’s hometown. I said I was going to “live from writing.” I had no idea what that really meant, but it was a leap I wanted to take.
War is the natural enemy of sleep. From the point of view of soldiers, the need to stay awake, alert, and fearless on the battlefield inspired ancient Inca warriors to use coca, European and American soldiers in the 20th century to pop amphetamines, and Nazi military leaders to serve up cocktails of opium, cocaine, and crystal meth. The field of sleep research itself has been fed by — and has fueled — military combat. One of the first large-scale sleep studies into circadian rhythms conducted by Nathaniel Kleitman, the so-called “father of sleep research,” was a post–World War II military-funded investigation into the disturbances in sleep patterns experienced by submarine sailors. This quest to create more efficient and effective fighters led to a 1997 study on the effects of caffeine, amphetamines, and modafinil on troops who were kept awake for up to 85 consecutive hours; the idea, according to sociologist Simon Williams, was to “turn sleep into an item of logistic supply […] to treat it like fuel” (modafinil has now found a receptive civilian market, in which it is advertised and prescribed as a remedy for sleepiness caused by sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and shift work sleep disorder).
Regardless of Gibson’s shifting ratios of glee to cynicism, he can always be counted on to show us our contemporary milieu rendered magical by his unique insights, and a future rendered inhabitable by his wild yet disciplined imagination.
People have long dreamed of dehumanising decision-making, purportedly because it will lead to greater objectivity and justice, but at least as much because it prevents those who have, after all, ticked the boxes from being blamed for any bad consequences. But any such system bakes in the biases of the designers and the data it is fed.