Delayed Gratification: Slow Journalism as an Antidote to the Insanity

I first heard about the concept of slow journalism in Slow Media, by Jennifer Rauch. Whether or not the term is just a re-branding of the best ideals of what journalism has always strived to be is up for debate, but focusing on accurate and ethical reporting instead of first and fastest seems an admirable aim in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, and something I’d very much like to support.

So, I sought out and subscribed to Delayed Gratification, one of the more prominent slow journalism periodicals. It was an idea I wanted to know more about, and I think of it as an antidote to the onslaught of social media reactionary nobody-actually-reads-the-article-they-just-read-the-headline-and-skip-to-the-comments-to-learn-what-their-opinion-should-be “news” we are hyper-addicted to.

The somewhat ironic poetry of subscribing to this magazine was that I had to wait kind of a long time for the first issue to arrive. Delayed Gratification publishes quarterly, and each issue covers a three month period of time. While waiting I had to fight back thoughts of getting in touch with the publisher to see when the issue was scheduled to arrive. Every time I wanted to email or call to check on my first issue’s status, I remembered a time a few months back at the bookshop where I work: a rabid Ayn Rand fan was complaining about the price of a rare hardcover edition of The Fountainhead. As I explained the basics of the free market, their own dogma, to them I will never forget the moment their righteous indignation slipped into self-pity as they observed their own lack of self-awareness. Remembering what the title of the magazine was, and motivated by a desire to never be that person, I shelved the idea of calling and resigned myself to waiting patiently for the magazine to arrive. Already the magazine was helping me to slow down.

Delayed Gratification seems particularly aimed toward those who have grown up with social media and have never been exposed to long-form journalism. They’ve never read a newspaper, or any weekly or monthly periodicals that have historically taken this slower approach to news reportage. The index has articles labelled as either frivolous or serious. There are relevant, informative pieces on recent enough events, comfortably nestled between lighthearted infographics that relate interestingly to major events during the three month period covered. In addition to slow journalism, I’ve heard it described as fast history.



My first issue of Delayed Gratification covered January to March, 2019. Something that added value to my enjoyment of this issue: during those months, I was actively writing in a journal everyday. Because of this, I discovered some interesting things that happened around the world while I was preoccupied with the subtle frustrations and pleasures of my own life. The same day that a recently discovered, possible lost Michaelangelo painting was stolen from a Belgian church, I was listing my house for rent. A month later, on February 15th, when 10,000 UK students skipped classes and took to the streets to protest their government’s non-handling of climate change, I was showing the house to a family that would eventually end up renting it. And the month after that, while I was gushing about the animation style of Netflix’s Love, Death, and Robots, Elisa Jorge was clinging to a tree for her life as cyclone Idai made landfall in Beira, Mozambique. The first of two cyclones to devastate the area that year of only nine in recorded history. Two of nine ever. Both in the same year. Both outside of their storm season.


“Last to Breaking News”


I was on the internet a lot during the three months covered in this issue, reading news articles, skimming through twitter and Instagram. Generally thinking I was informed about the world around me. However, all three of these stories were things I had zero knowledge of. These were important global events. Why didn’t I hear about them? My thinking is that a large chunk of the news we’re bombarded with day in and day out, might not be all that useful or even informative. It’s all too soon, too quick for any kind of perspective. I understand the importance of chronicling every small step made by politicians in my country as it slowly slides into authoritarianism, but is it actually useful for me to personally monitor these steps in real time, or do they collectively act as noise, obscuring the more accurate picture that can be shown just a few months removed, when we all have a little more perspective? I understand the trajectory of things right now and I’m doing all I can. I don’t think it’s important or healthy for me to be constantly reminded of it a hundred times a day. Once a day maybe, but not a hundred. My cup of news is full. Attempting to pour more into it does nothing to increase the capacity of the cup.



When there are millions of people actively monitoring events around the world in real time, driving themselves to the ragged edge, it may not be such a bad idea for some of us to take a step back with a different approach. When there are so many ways to get breaking news, I think Delayed Gratification’s approach is a breath of fresh air, and summed up beautifully by their motto printed on the spine of every issue: “Last to breaking news.”

Nine or so months have passed since my first issue arrived. In that time I’ve learned all kinds of interesting things in subsequent issues. These are events that have expanded my worldview, all of which I learned very little to nothing about from my usual news sources.

Barbarian Days: William Finnegan’s Joy-Drenched Reason to Live

No matter what we tell ourselves, we all secretly want to live forever. It follows that a good memoir serves as vicarious life extension, toward this eternally minded, unachievable end. A glimpse into an alternate possibility. Between the pages unfolds what could’ve been — if. If we were born at a different time. If we had different circumstances. If we had different interests. If we were altogether different people through any number of natural or nurtural deviations against our norm.

I’ve long been obsessed with those whose lives are lived on the rough and ragged edges of society. The way in which William Finnegan splits his time between war correspondence and surfing — two extreme lifestyles on their own, together in one individual — was properly interesting. His clean prose and serious storytelling chops certainly didn’t hurt either. There’s a very good reason this book won him a Pulitzer.

Throughout his childhood in Hawaii, he didn’t fit. An outsider, ethnically and socially. As a child his whole personality seemed to ricochet off of the locale, grasping at a world filled with violence for a handhold to guide him. The time period in which he came of age added to his dissociation among his peers. Eventually he found surfing as a wild, violent, introverted escape from his lack of acceptance. It held just enough of a loner mentality to capture those with similar social needs. This conglomeration of loners he met while chasing waves became his friends; a tertiary social net composed of outcasts.


“We were fellow skeptics—rationalists, readers of books in a world of addled, inane mystics.”


He describes surfing as “a consuming, physically exhausting, joy-drenched reason to live”. One that had a “vaguely outlaw uselessness” that “neatly expressed one’s disaffection.” Who doesn’t want something like that in their life? It’s the reason people free climb, skateboard, race motorcycles, and spend time in the woods, running themselves to exhaustion. It’s why marathons are a thing, bull-fighting, spelunking.

Throughout Barbarian days, Finnegan contrasts the intensity of a life spent surfing, with that of a life spent chasing stories across war-torn countries. These are the divisions that comprise his whole. He sees himself as a man who needs to chase danger, and can only relax after having exhausted that part of himself. I can relate to a tiny degree. He can only be calm when he has faced his intense, possible death. I can only truly rest when I’ve exhausted my dual needs for effective productivity and creative endeavor. I need to see evidence of my existence in the world or I can never be still.

Eventually he would settle down: marriage, children, home ownership, and moving to New York City did indeed soften him somewhat, but the fire at his core was never extinguished. It only sat at a simmer, waiting to be flooded with the particular brand of fuel needed to burn up the excess energy of his life.

After writing up a report of those around him — including other reporters — dying in the act of journaling the insanity they were embedded in, he would surf. Every chance he got, he would surf. The fervor with which he expressed his desire to surf, was never repetitive. Surfing, it seems, is part addiction, part meditation. A calming obsession for the soul.

Being not remotely interested in surfing, or living that kind of life, I was still fascinated to see the myriad ways something I had previously thought extremely repetitious — the act of waiting for a wave, catching it, riding it back to shore, again and again — was instead full of rapturous intrigue, and a kind of fascination that I had not previously known associated with any sort of sport.

My favorite parts of this book, again having no interest in surfing myself, were the human moments between surfing sessions. The characters that populate this memoir, were so interesting, simply because they weren’t normal people. They live intense, chaotic lives, left of center, unstable, but full of passion. Something most of our stable, silly lives could use a lot more of.

A life in vans, sleeping on beaches, running from cops, defrauding American Express to pay for hospitalization due to malaria. These are wild lives. People who thrive only through chasing death, and therefore have a better grasp on what a good life might entail. Things most of us are far too cowardly to do ourselves—or I am at least.


“If this was a religion, perhaps it didn’t bear thinking about what was being worshipped.”


A particularly touching moment in Barbarian Days is when William asks his wife why she never gets angry about all of the “stupid risky things” he does. She responds that she simply assumed he needed to do them. “When things get bad, I think you get very calm,” she says. “I trust your judgment.” It’s such a tender moment that illuminates a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

They all seem like intense people, even the girlfriends of his youth and his eventual wife. Artist to lawyer is not a normal career path to follow, but it makes sense for her. It shows an intensity in all things. A life full of passion. And who doesn’t want to read about passionate people?

Lanark, by Alasdair Gray

“I wish I could make you like death a little more. It’s a great preserver. Without it the loveliest things change slowly into farce, as you will discover if you insist on having much more life.”

Lanark is one of those huge, pain-in-the-ass, crufty novels that I just wasn’t going to be able to avoid much longer. I find that I particularly enjoy Scottish literature, for whatever reason, and I plan on reading Iain Banks’ The Bridge fairly soon, which was largely influenced by Lanark. It was inevitable that I’d need to check this one off my list sooner rather than later.

“I was absolutely knocked out by Lanark.” Banks mentioned, in conversation with Andrew Wilson. “I think it’s the best in Scottish literature this century. It opened my eyes. I had forgotten what you could do – you can be self-referential, you can muck about with different voices, characters, time-streams, whatever. Lanark had a huge effect on The Bridge. I’m quite happy to acknowledge that debt.”

In Rodge Glass’s biography of Alasdair Gray, Irvine Welsh remarked that Lanark is: “probably the closest thing Scotland’s ever produced to Ulysses. What it said to me was, it would be fucking great to be a writer.”

According to the tailpiece present in Canondale’s The Canons edition: “How Lanark Grew” Lanark is both largely autobiographical—a fact made more interesting by the book’s fantastical nature—and was written over the course of thirty years. Alasdair Gray’s early masterpiece definitely has some flaws—weak secondary characters, poorly written female characters—but is such a wild ride that I didn’t mind them too much.

“You pessimists always fall into the disillusion trap,” said the cheerful man cheerfully. “From one distance a thing looks bright. From another it looks dark. You think you’ve found the truth when you’ve replaced the cheerful view by the opposite, but true profundity blends all possible views, bright as well as dark.”

The book staunchly refuses to comply with the usual rules of genre and structure. It begins with Book Three, set in the fantastical city of Unthank, followed by a nicely nested modernist coming of age story-within-a-story: Prologue, Book One, Interlude, and Book Two. We then continue on in the world of Unthank with: Book Four, followed by an Epilogue, and then strangely… four additional chapters. What an unorthodox structure. The chapter Index itself even plays a narrative role, as do the section titles present on the top of each page.

The Epilogue is where the book really shines in my opinion, and where all of the threads come together. I can’t say much about it, but I will mention two things: It’s much more playful than the rest of the novel, and it contains an annotated list of plagiarisms present in Lanark, which is just… an incredible idea. I have to applaud Gray for this inclusion. It’s wonderful, and remarkably helpful for unpacking the themes and influences present in this bizarre narrative.

“It is a dangerous thing to suddenly deprive a man of hope—he can turn violent. It is important to kill hope slowly, so that the loser has time to adjust unconsciously to the loss. We try to keep hope alive till it has burned out the vitality feeding it. Only then is the man allowed to face the truth.”

I could’ve actually done without the four chapters that succeeded the Epilogue. I found them mostly pointless, and the Epilogue itself has a sort of choose your own ending option baked in that I think would’ve worked remarkably well as an ending itself.

All in all, Lanark is for all of you that prefer your fiction to contain heavy doses of both self-referential, weird as hell fantasy, and depressingly bleak modernist realism, all of which is coated with vaguely Marxist under and overtones, as well as fascinating social and philosophical commentary on free will, art, and what constitutes a satisfying life.     

But What if We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present as if it Were the Past, by Chuck Klosterman

But What If We're Wrong, Chuck KlostermanI’m thirty-four years old and have only just now read a Chuck Klosterman book—or a Chuck Klosterman anything to be more precise. He’s been on my radar for about a decade, and I’ve had a copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs on my shelf for almost as many years, but I’ve never even cracked the spine. I never felt traditionally cool enough to read Klosterman. I’ll be the first to admit that none of this was based on anything remotely resembling an informed decision. Looking back at my motivations for never reading him, now with a little bit of hindsight, I think it was an entirely prejudiced, subconscious decision based mostly on myself not identifying with the group of people I had imagined to be fans of Klosterman’s work. I was trapped by my perception of his audience. It sounds completely ridiculous writing those words, but there they are. That isn’t who I aspire to be, but we often fall short of our aspirations don’t we.

The covers and overall consistent visual style of his books with their simultaneously over and under-designed aesthetic both did and didn’t work for me. I loved the visual simplicity and unified design, but something about these books always rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe they looked like they were trying too hard. Like they were so desperate to project an easy sense of ironic detachment that it backfired, leaving me with an instinctive distrust of the authenticity of their content. I always assumed Chuck Klosterman books were things you read in your early twenties, and never stopped extolling, without ever reevaluating the merits that informed your opinion later in life as a more experienced reader. I saw them as the kind of books read mostly by people who didn’t read anything else. I put them in the same category as Chuck Palahniuk novels, which I myself had read in my early twenties and couldn’t shut up about back then. Back when I never really read anything else.

Maybe I didn’t feel like I had much in common with my friends that read Klosterman, and even less with those who had only read Klosterman. I see now that I was trying to distance myself from the person I perceived myself to be back when I would’ve read Chuck Klosterman, if I didn’t only read Chuck Palahniuk. Wait, how many of my reasons for equating these two writers are based solely on them sharing the same first name? Am I that unknowingly surface level? Basically, I was being an asshole, and was completely wrong about Klosterman. It is entirely unfair to judge something based on our perception of its targeted audience, but we still do it all the time, or at least I do. It’s just one of the many, many ways in which we are often very wrong about most things.

Snapping back to the present moment, having now read this Chuck Klosterman book, I am realizing how off I have been on a lot of my assumptions about his writing. Which really is the point of But What If We’re Wrong. Human beings are wrong at a near constant level. We are so riddled with cognitive biases, irrational behavior, and misperceptions, not to mention our notoriously bad ability to predict future events based on present variables or our own current efforts. This is the entire reason that balloon payments are a thing. All of it adds up to make us terribly inaccurate and more often than not, dead wrong.

Chuck KlostermanThese days when I read something, I make every effort to build my opinions solely on the words on the page, attempting to judge the book based on whether or not it achieved what was intended. This is impossible of course, as I can’t help but be influenced by other aspects of a book, themselves sometimes only marginally related to the actual work itself. My perception of the readers of a certain writer for example. Also, how exactly am I supposed to know what a book was intended to be? How am I supposed to compare my subjective opinion of what it is, against something unknowable? Reading a book with the intent to write about it, is itself a creative process, because I have to imagine all of these things. There’s a weird, blurry line that separates fiction from non-fiction. There is so much fiction in real life, and so much real life stuffed into, and elaborated through what we read in fictional novels and stories. The more I think about it, the more that division begins to blur into something nearly non-existent. I blame David Shields for breaking my head by pointing out this added layer of our post-modernity.

Being wrong is important. As Klosterman notes in this book, certainty can often be paralyzing. It locks us into paths that may not be preferable, and takes us in directions we may not want to go. When we base our opinions on bad information, it is often only years later that we might realize we have been wrong about something from the start. A lot of Trump voters, for example are only just now, slowly, starting to admit not only that their God Emperor has no clothes, but is in fact not a god at all. Many will never allow themselves to be that wrong. It becomes gradually harder and harder to change our minds the more we have built up our lives on the certainty of bad information. The Sunk Cost fallacy is a prime example of this. As is the old adage, improperly attributed to Mark Twain: “It is easier to fool someone than convince them they have been fooled”. For this reason, your oldest opinions are often the most important to reexamine, as well as the hardest to change.

Thinking about the present as if it were the past is such a novel idea. Not only novel, but fun, incredibly useful and addictive. What are we wrong about right now? Our view of the past is always flavored by the values of our present. In much the same way that all good fiction is a statement about some aspect of the present in which it was conceived, it follows that our current values are blinding our judgement about current events, opinions, and ideas. What sort of values will future societies interpret our current events through? Which events will even be remembered as these future societies flatten our time period into a handful of individuals, stories, and pieces of media?

“History is a creative process (or as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “a set of lies agreed upon”). The world happens as it happens, but we construct what we remember and what we forget. And people will eventually do that to us, too.”

Great stories are always about something other than the surface level plot they contain—something that Klosterman touches on quite a bit in the chapters about literature and media in this book. These chapters—which were the most aligned with my personal interests—were my favorites of the whole book. Klosterman uses this process of thinking about the present as if it were the past in an attempt to find the great contemporary pieces of literature, television, and film that will be elevated to the status of classic or important in an unknowable future with unknowable values. Of course, this attempt is doomed to fail, but using what we know about past classic or important works, he is able to at least narrow down what likely won’t be thought of as important in the future.

It is a fascinating thought experiment and a brave new way to approach one’s own relationship with history, opinion, belief, and the value of doubt. And that oh so recognizable black and white design aesthetic that didn’t quite work for me back in my early twenties? Here it is, turned up to eleven with this upside down cover. I’m glad to say that It works for me now. It really, really works for me.

But what if We’re Wrong? is one of the short list of books that I consider essential reading if you are trying to make sense of, or cope with, the insanity of the last few years. It provided me with some much needed distance from the twenty-four hour news cycle and the pre-apocalyptic feeling of our current events. I highly recommend this book.

Again, Dangerous Visions 1, edited by Harlan Ellison®

Again, Dangerous Visions was split into two for its mass market paperback release in 1973. This first half contains a few knockout stories, some pretty good ones, and lots of mediocre ones. At twice the length of the original Dangerous Visions, I can’t help but think that maybe Harlan Ellison® (who registered his name as a trademark in 2002) should’ve trimmed the fat a little more. Personally, I would’ve suggested starting with his overly long introductions to each story, a carryover from the original Dangerous Visions, and something I’ve written about previously here. One small book full of great stories beats two large mediocre ones any day.

If I average my scores for each story, the collection as a whole ends up just slightly lower than 2.5 stars out of 5. I’m rounding this up to 3, because the handful of terrific stories contained within—plus the unique opportunity for cultural examination of early 70s western social movements and politics through an SF lens—makes this a wholeheartedly worthwhile read, even in 2019.

The stories that either missed the mark for me, or don’t hold up any longer, seem to be those that valued shock over storytelling. What was shocking in the western world of 1972, isn’t always so 40+ years later. Good storytelling however, remains good storytelling.

The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Funeral, by Kate Wilhelm
When it Changed, by Joanna Russ
Monitored Dreams and Strategic Cremations, by Bernard Wolfe

Bottom of the Barrel:
Ching Witch, by Ross Rocklynne
Time Travel for Pedestrians, by Ray Nelson
King of the Hill, by Chad Oliver
Harry the Hare, by James B. Hemesath

Individual Story Reviews:
The Counterpoint of View, by John Heidenry: 1/5
Q: Who really wrote this story/essay, was it me The Author or you The Reader?
A: It was you, The (pretentious) Author. Somebody read Don Quixote recently. *sigh*

Ching Witch, by Ross Rocklynne: 1/5
Earth blows up, and it’s last remaining human goes to another planet to teach them various dances and live in luxury. Pointless and meandering.

The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin: 5/5
Terrific novella, obviously influential to James Cameron’s Avatar (which I now believe can be 100% constructed from elements of Old Man’s War & The Word for World is Forest). Also very influential to the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. Read my full review of this novella here.

It’s a moralistic story, and it had some insightful things to say about dangerous ideas entering the public consciousness. Basically, there is no going back. Here, specifically in relation to the concept of murder.

For Value Received, by Andrew J. Offutt: 3/5
A short little bit of absurdism, entertaining enough, but not particularly great.

Mathoms From the Time Closet, by Gene Wolfe: 2/5
I usually like Gene Wolfe a lot, but this was just two little pointless stories filled with pretentious bullshit, sandwiching one that was sort of fun, almost a mermaid tale in the sky.

Time Travel for Pedestrians, by Ray Nelson: 1/5
Weird little hallucination of a story.

Christ, Old Student in a New School, by Ray Bradbury: 3/5
A poem, not sure the meaning exactly but it seemed to allude to mankind imprisoning itself through religion.

King of the Hill, by Chad Oliver: 1/5
This story tried way, way too hard and failed absolutely to be dangerous or remotely visionary.

The 10:00 Report is Brought to you by…, by Edward Bryant: 4/5
While it was overly obvious from the first couple pages what was going on, it was still a deeply disturbing vision of the possible future of journalism in a society like ours that fetishizes suffering as a spectator sport.

The Funeral, by Kate Wilhelm: 5/5
Another deeply disturbing story, but it had a genuine point to make, and it made it well.

Harry the Hare, by James B. Hemesath: 1/5
Totally pointless. Soapbox opinion bullshit about cartoons and copyrights. Literary equivalent of Old Man Yells at Cloud.

When it changed, by Joanna Russ: 5/5
Terrific. I need to track down more of her work. Very impressed with this one.

The Big Space Fuck, by Kurt Vonnegut: 3/5
Yep, it’s weird and Vonneguty all right.

Bounty, by T. L. Sherred: 2/5
Too self congratulatory. Not dangerous or visionary.

Still-life, by K. M. O’Donnell: 1/5
Terrible. Skip it.

Stoned Council, by H. H. Holis: 3/5
Lawyers do a ton of drugs and then battle their cases out with their minds. Sort of a proto-cyberpunk story. Original at least.

Monitored Dreams and Strategic Cremations, by Bernard Wolfe: 5/5
This is really two stories, 1. The Bisquit Position, 2. The Girl with Rapid Eye Movements. They’re both excellent, and exactly the kind of stories I was looking for in this collection. Vietnam social commentary, with some slight SF backings.

With a Finger in My I, by David Gerrold: 3/5
Very nearly a bedtime story; a comedy of errors and literal/figurative mix ups. Some social commentary about belief, and self fulfilling prophesy as well.

In The Barn, by Piers Anthony: 2/5
I get it, I do.. but it’s cliche even by 70s standards.

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