Publishing House Fire

When Matter Doesn't Matter

I was so good, for so long. I wrote this newsletter weekly for about 20 months. Even, mind you, through The Early Days of COVID, a time I imagine will become an academic speciality once Departments of 2020 Studies start offering courses (other courses? “An Ethnography of The Convention/Sports Strike/Hurricane Week;” “Nero/Weimar/Late Trump Historiography”).

Then, once my book was published on July 28, I gave myself a little metaphysical break. That was quickly followed by (you never expect it) my house burning down on August 11. (See my twitter feed if you want to see the gruesome photos. TL;DR all beings were fine, the property loss is total. Good thing I’m more interested in the immaterial than material!)

At this point, 2 + weeks later, I’m starting to flashback to those first moments when I realized what had happened, and working out in my mind the strange ways shock works—what you think about, what you strangely do not think about, how time goes slowly, how adrenaline mitigates loss with action.

The story of the fire is the story of the support I have been shown, and, pace this newsletter, the support I have been shown as a publisher. The kindnesses that were showered upon me by people who know me only through Belt, or this newsletter. The shockingly large collection Martha Bayne gathered when Belt authors and editors asked her if there was anything they could do to help me (I’m so moved by this it’s hard to even acknowledge it); the Venmo notifications I received from people I’ve never met but who know my work; the cards, and emails, and texts, and DMs. In this of all weeks I can only think people, they are so wonderful and generous and kind!

Belt, I’ll have you know, didn’t even receive any water damage; not a bit of soot landed on the press. Everything has proceeded as “normal” (air quotes here for COVID-era '“normal”) It’s hard for me to emphasize how much this business is a collective, run by a group, and very very very much not top-down. As I continue to slowly emerge from the remains, the press is only picking up the pace.

To wit: five—FIVE!—titles have been sent and received from the printers, preorders mailed to new homes, and official pub dates coming September 1 and 15. We have Jen Howard’s Clutter: An Untidy History, the phenomenal Black in the Middle, the newest installments in our city anthology series, and more arriving and departing from Belt HQ (Bill is very busy! Plus he also brought a shovel to my burnt house and helped me recover a few items!).

Meanwhile, I’m still without a decent computer (I have a bone to pick with Apple Care re: their refusal to replace my charred MacBook Pro), so if I owe you an email please continue to bear with me, and I’m still moving from Airbnbs to airport suite hotels in a futile search for temp housing that doesn’t depress me (compounded by the fact that hotels aren’t doing any housekeeping, so the easiest way to get a clean room is to just move to a new hotel, but bolstered by the warmth that having this temp housing underwritten by Belt authors, how insanely wonderful is that), and, now that the shock has worn off, starting to mourn random objects now gone.

But I do not miss my books. I never miss individual copies of physical books. The material form of gatherings of paper with symbols printed on them—even though creating that form, and making it beautiful and correct is much of the work I do every day—is not, really, what (wait for it) matters. It’s the thoughts that count.

Thank you to the many many (who could even imagine!) many who have been there for me over the past two weeks, with help material and im. When and if I can properly find the words, I’ll send them.

A word from our sponsor: Haven’t read my book yet? Grab it now; it’s on sale! So are all our new releases (and backlist) titles. Swing on over to our store; every new order will give me and the Belt staff a much-needed dopamine burst!

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