Bucket of Eels is writhing elsewhere

It's not you, it's Substack

Hi all,

This is just a quick housekeeping email to say that I’m moving this newsletter away from Substack. At this point you either know all about why, or have no clue what I’m talking about at all. If you want to read up on what’s going on, other folks have covered it far better than I can. Substack can choose to pay and promote whoever they like, and I can choose to leave if their editorial choices don’t align with my values. And suffice to say that platforming and paying TERFs & racists isn’t something I want to participate in, to put it lightly.

You don’t have to do anything to stay subscribed, but the next time you get an email from the eel bucket, it will look slightly different. You’ll get one of those from me soon to confirm that the switch has been made successfully.

If you’re a paying subscriber — thank you for your support! Your payment won’t continue on the new newsletter platform, which is probably fine since I haven’t sent out a members-only newsletter in over a year. If you do want to support the work I do monetarily you can do that elsewhere. If you like Flash Forward (my podcast) you can become a Patron here. If you like the ~~Rose Eveleth Extended Universe~~ more generally you can become a member of the Time Traveler’s club. Both of those places actually include rewards! Including a regular newsletter about the future, that is separate from this one.

Happy eel wrangling you weirdos!

Bucket of Eels: Anarrhichthys ocellatus

Hi. It's Rose. You signed up for this newsletter, I promise.

Welcome to today’s bucket of eels. I’m Rose. Let’s pull out some eels, shall we?

Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is Anarrhichthys ocellatus, or the wolf eel. Technically, the wolf eel is not an eel, but we have never let that stop us here. They are long, and strange looking, and that’s enough for me. Linneas doesn’t subscribe to this newsletter. Jerk.

Wolf eels are a bit like the mullet of the eel world — blobfish in the front, moray in the back. Juvenile wolf eels are bright orange, and very conspicurous. Almost Guy Fieri like.

The North American Fish Association describes the wolf eel in weirdly horny terms: “The large puffy lips of this gruesomely attractive fish belong to the Wolf-eel,” they say. “They are said to mate for life and live in the same cave for years. Personal experience, however, reveals a different story...” Reader I will admit that I thought this person was going to admit to having a… relationship with a fish. The Affair, but replace Dominic West with “the large puffy lips of a gruesomely attractive fish” (frankly not far off). But no.

“Although they are believed to hang out in the same cave with the same mate, this diver has seen some individuals change homes more than once. In addition, I have seen the unthinkable -- wolf-eels living in trios! The trios I have seen included 2 males and 1 female. Wolf-eels, I believe have distinct personalities (or at least distinctive behavior). One juvenile in particular we called Wild Thing, because she would race out of her cave and straight for any diver who came near her lair.”

Also and this is a complete aside, can we stop projecting human relationship ideas onto animals? Every so often I see some headline about how an animal is polyamorous or gay or are swingers or something and every time I’m wonder why we must thrust our weird sexual relationship baggage and labels onto unsuspecting frogs! Let them live! They have no idea what ethical non-monogamy is and they don’t want to be lectured about it!!!! Okay moving on.

According to some sources I read, among Indigenous groups wolf eels are not only tasty, but a special food reserved only for tribal healers.

Now please enjoy the wolf eel’s author photo.

Current status: Well well well, 2020. What can one say about this year? It's been so long. And so short. And so hard. And so strange. 

My brain didn’t feel like it worked particularly well this year. I had had a lot of half ideas, thoughts that I felt were connected but couldn’t articulate how or why. I sent my editors and agent a series of half baked ideas, still gooey in the middle. It felt a bit like when you’re in a crowd, and you’re looking for a friend, and you are trying to peer around and above all the heads, and you catch some glimpses of them but you can’t quite track them well enough to actually meet up. That was how my brain felt this year, trying to formulate ideas. 

It’s trendy to shit on resolutions, and this year, the end of year hate has been extra-intense. There’s a kind of hipster nihilism that has only gotten worse recently. It’s trendy to shit on people who express excitement that 2020 will soon be over, as if they’re hapless rubes who think that magically the stroke of a clock will change everything. Or who think that the year, the arbitrary concept of “a year” is to blame for the ills of the last 12 months. I see so many Tweets that can be summed up as: “Haha! You fool! You ridiculous naive waif, don’t you know that it’s CAPITALISM and FASCISM that ruined this year, not the CONCEPT OF TIME?”

Yes, my dear Internet-poisoned friend, we know. We can still be excited for an excuse — however arbitrary — to take stock and plan and think and hope. I reject the idea that hope is naive. It can be, but it is not inherently so, no matter how many Internet mean girls say so.

I love resolutions. And yes, I know, the science shows that New Years resolutions are rarely kept. But I love goals. I love thinking about what I want to be doing next year. I love making lists and plotting out big ambitious projects. The act of evaluation, of looking forward, of thinking about the kind of person I want to be and how I might become that human, that’s valuable work in my opinion. 

I had a lot of goals at the beginning of 2020. I hit some of them — I made more clay objects, I worked on doing a hand stand, I started learning how to roller skate, I got some rad tattoos. Others were either impossible (I made no progress on my rock climbing because the gyms were closed) or thwarted by the pandemic (funding for a project I was really excited about fell through) or just out of my grasp for whatever reason (motions at the world generally).

I felt very unproductive this year. I had five big podcast projects I really wanted to get off the ground, and I only manged two of them. The other three are staring at me from my white board, taunting me. I hope that you'll hear them all in 2021. But to make myself feel a little better, I listed out all the stuff I HAVE done this year.

This year I:

  • Created 20 episodes of Flash Forward (okay currently 19, but on January 5th the 20th will come out and I feel confident we'll get there!)

  • Hired a producer for Flash Forward for the first time! ALL HAIL JULIA! 

  • Celebrated Flash Forward's FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!

  • WROTE A WHOLE FLASH FORWARD BOOK!?!?!

  • Hosted and edited 8 episodes of Open World, an audio fiction anthology about hopeful futures, which Spotify picked as one of the best new podcasts of 2020.

  • Created 10 episodes of Advice For And From The Future.

  • Created a whole new production studio to house my experiments.

  • Wrote 3 WIRED stories about animal privacy, whether Teddy ever rode a moose, and why nursing homes might not be such a great idea.

  • Performed a live interactive audio piece at OnAir Fest.

  • Spoke at UC Irvine about futures

  • Updated my very long menstrual cup review for the New York Times. 

  • Sold 1 secret project to a fancy audio company (more on that soon) and hired an amazing team to work on it with me. 

  • Came up with 18 fake podcasts for my goofy newsletter Podcast Idea.

  • Had ~362 meetings about something exciting that I’m not supposed to talk about just yet.

  • Got to be on one of my favorite podcasts, Ologies.

  • Wrote 50,000 words of a young adult novel I’ve been trying to noodle through. (Huge thank you to my writing group who’s been cheering me on as I work on this.)

  • Wrote 3/4 a screenplay, realized it was really probably a TV show, but just kept writing and will figure out what to do with it later?! (Another shout out to the writing group here!)

  • Made some new friends despite it being a literal pandemic. 

  • Kept over 10 plants alive!

  • Got a kiln, fixed it up, and made a bunch of clay sculptures.

  • Got better at doing a handstand.

  • Started learning how to roller skate

  • Got three new big tattoos, and almost completed my sleeve! 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the vast majority of this work was funded and supported by members of Flash Forward Presents, and patrons of Flash Forward. If you want to become one of those people, and help make my weird future dreams come true, I’d be forever grateful. If you already are, I cannot thank you enough, and you should be getting something special from me soon in your inbox.

I'm always going to be someone who sees the stuff on the other list first, the list of all the stuff I didn't do, the stuff I wanted to do, the list I'm not really showing you. It's hard for me to remember to take a second and focus on the wins, on the stuff I got done during a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a political environment that is hostile to me and so many of my friends. But this list matters more! And it’s impressive, dammit! 

I hope your 2020 was as fertile as possible. It was a hard year. A big year. No matter what made it to your list of things done, I hope you can take pride in each thing. Surviving this year is enough. You don’t have to thrive all the time, and certainly not in the face of adversity. I hope your 2021 is better.

And if you’re a person like me, where you did have time and space and money this year to make stuff and have hobbies, I hope you also spread that money and energy around. This year I comitted to donating a certaing % of my income each month to mutual aid requests and local organizations doing the hard, important work. I recommend following some kind of mututal aid network — I personally like @wearetheonesmutualcare and @blackgirlmighty but there are SO many out there. There’s probably a group in your community doing this work. We can lift eachother up. We must.

I want to leave you with this meme I saw on Tumblr recently. I don’t know who created it, but I love it and might print it out and put it up on my wall. The quote on the left is from Angela Davis and the quote on the right is from The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin.

✨ Onward and upward my friends ✨

Bucket of Eels: Rhinomuraena quaesita

Hi. It's Rose. You signed up for this newsletter, I promise.

Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s eel is Rhinomuraena quaesita aka the ribbon eel (or leaf-nosed moray eel or bernis eel). I love this little buds. They live up to their namesake, and really do look like colorful ribbons. There are some truly incredible videos of them swimming in open water that I really recommend you watch.

Unlike most eels, ribbon eels have super huge nostrils that flare out like little fronds. When they’re babies, they are jet black, and only turn to the bright blue irridescent color as they age. They also change from male to female over their lifespan, so if you see a blue on it’s probably a female. So all those ribbon eels you’ve caught in Animal Crossing: New Horizons? They’re ladies.

Ribbon eels may be beautiful, but they’re really, really hard to keep alive in a tank. Most die within a few months of purchase, according to one site I read. They will often refuse to eat when in captivity. “There are however, several aquarists who have spent many weeks weaning their Ribbon Eel from live feeder fish onto frozen and prepared foods,” says one site. Picky little pretty creatures.

I picked the ribbon eel because it was the most celebratory eel I could think of, and I have something to celebrate!

Current status: I wrote a book!? I know, it’s wild, but it’s also true and here’s the cover!

I’m really excited about this book. It's an amazing mix of art and text, and it's full of such lovely surprises. Every chapter begins with a comic from an amazing artist (Matt Lubchanksy, Sophie Goldstein, Ben Passmore, Zach Wienersmith, Box Brown, Julia Gfrörer , and more!!!) and ends with an essay by me about that future. We talk about animal rights, fake news, robots, death, living underwater, smart cities, nanomedicine and more. The comics are so fun and surprising and delightful and the essays are, I hope, the kind of synthesis and analysis you've come to expect from Flash Forward.

You can pre-order the book here.

Pre-orders are really, really important for a book, especially for first-time authors like me. They do a couple of things, but that main thing is that they show publishers, editors, and booksellers that there is a demand and desire for a book. That means that bookstores (both online and in person) will stock the book, it means that publishers will want to buy another book from that author, and it means that the press who might cover a book will get excited about it. So if you're excited about the book, one of the best things you can do is pre-order it. I know that it doesn't come out until next year, and it might feel weird to buy a book long before you're going to get to actually hold it in your hands, but if you can it would be SO helpful for me. Think of it as a present to your future self!

Along with the book, I have another fun thing that I’ve been working on that I can finally tell you about. A while back, I signed up to host a new anthology podcast about the future called Open World. And now you can subscribe to the show!

Open World is an anthology about hope. Every episode features an audio-drama that tries to think through what we could have in the future, and how to get there. After that, I interview the creators of that piece about their process, thinking, and what they’re most hopeful about.

→ You can hear a trailer & subscribe here. ←

If you’re reading this newsletter and thinking “wow this all sounds amazing, how can I support Rose and her work” that’s a great question. The answer is by becoming a member of the Time Traveler Club. You can find out more about that here.

I’ve neglected this newsletter a bit, because I am working on all the stuff you see above (plus Flash Forward, plus Advice For And From The Future, plus a few other projects I can’t quite tell you about just yet). If you really desire to keep up with what I’m doing every week, become a Time Traveler (see above) and you get a weekly newsletter and podcast about all the goings-on over here.

That’s all for now. Happy weekending.

Bucket of Eels: Macrognathus siamensis

Hi. It's Rose. You signed up for this newsletter, I promise.

Welcome to today’s bucket of eels. I’m Rose. Let’s pull out some eels, shall we?

Apologies to the ~30 of you who might be seeing this twice. I messed up how it went out, and had to delete and redo! Lots of things happening today! Ahhhh!

Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is the pelican eel, also known as the peacock eel (Macrognathus siamensis). I picked this eel for today’s newsletter because like a peacock, I am here to show you some of my new shiny feathers. I have a new podcast! It’s called Advice For And From The Future and it’s an advice show, for and from the future (I’m sure the name did not give that away at all). Should I follow my boyfriend to Mars? Should I let my boss put a chip in my hand? Should I have kids? Every episode will tackle one big question about, for and sometimes from the future. You can subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts!

Okay, back to eels. The peacock eel, if I am being fully honest with you dear reader, does not actually look very much like a peacock. It’s mostly brown with a thin, pale yellow strip running from its head to its tail. The eel was given an avian namesake thanks to the big eye spots that generally dot its body but I confess I am unconvinced. But no matter, the peacock eel doesn’t really care. In fact, many of the aquarium blogs I read said that these little slimers are super chill and easy going, and get along great with other fish and even other eels.

Technically, the peacock eel (which also goes by the name of Spot-Finned Spiny Eel, Peacock Spiny Eel, Striped Peacock Eel, and Siamese Spiny Eel) is not a true eel. Long time readers of this newsletter may have been tipped off by the Latin name: Macrognathus siamensis. But we welcome all eel like creatures, and tend to focus on common names here, so let’s let it slide okay? Be like the peacock eel and chill. Another way we should all be more like the peacock eel: stop caring so much about sexual difference. According to one aquarium guide I read: “Sexual differences are unknown and it is almost impossible to identify the sexes, though a mature female may be more full bodied.” Happy pride month!

Current Status: Did I mention I have a new show? Well, I do! You can, again, subscribe to it on any podcasting app you like. If you would do that, it would make me very happy. Today’s episode, the first one ever, is about whether you should follow your partner to Mars. It features an interview with the lovely Andrea Silenzi, of Why Oh Why, an original song, and a rumination on “the call of the void.” I hope you like it!

Along with launching this new show, I’m also launching an umbrella home for all the future facing projects I’m working on. It’s called Flash Forward Presents and you can kind of think of it like the Flash Forward Extended Cinematic Universe. Obviously Flash Forward and this new show will live there, but so will all kinds of other projects and experiments. If you want to get a really deep, inside look at everything I’m working on (and help these projects come to life), you can do that by becoming a member of the Time Traveler club. If you’re interested in getting a bit more behind the scenes thinking on why I’m launching the network and the membership program, check out this video. It gets a bit in the weeds, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m cognizant that I’m launching all of this in the midst of a huge and really, really important movement that’s pushing back on centuries of brutality against at Black people in the United States. I believe that visioning the future is a key piece of getting us to better tomorrows (on Flash Forward, we covered the end of prisons in 2015, a world without police in 2017, and the possibilities of restorative justice last year). Last week, during the #ShutDownSTEM action, I developed a plan and set of actionable goals for myself both personally and professionally, with Flash Forward Presents, continue fighting against white supremacy (Time Travelers will hear all about that plan in detail). And ultimately I hope that this work is not seen as a distraction, but as a toolkit for building better tomorrows. I hope that you all are staying engaged and involved in the current movement however you can. If you still need help getting started, here’s a list of resources. If you’re not sure how future thinking connects to this movement, I absolutely recommend this recent session led by Walidah Imarisha on Better Futures: Visioning In A Time Of Crisis.

Things I’m working on under the Flash Forward Presents umbrella:

  • Flash Forward, the podcast

  • Flash Forward, the book, coming soon! 

  • Advice for and from the Future, a new podcast about how we can live better today and tomorrow.

  • Hey, Lola? A three-part audio drama about surveillance, love, and fear.

  • Timelines, an experiment in audio fiction storytelling.

  • A six part series about the history of the future (it will make sense when you hear it, I promise).

  • A graphic novel

  • A young adult novel

  • A screenplay

  • Short stories

  • And more!

Okay that’s all for this pretty short newsletter. But hopefully you don’t think I’m slacking! Thank you all for opening this email among all the other emails in your inbox right now.

Bucket of Eels: Heteroconger hassi

Hi. It's Rose. You signed up for this newsletter, I promise.

Welcome to today’s bucket of eels. I’m Rose. Let’s pull out some eels, shall we?

Today’s eel: every edition of this newsletter is named after an eel. Today’s is the spotted garden eel (Heteroconger hassi). To pick today’s eel after searching google for “cowardly eel” since the essay down below is about me, being a coward. The first thing that comes up is something called “Instant Eels” from an episode of cartoon Courage the Cowardly dog called “The Magic Tree of Nowhere.” There is a Fandom for Courage the Cowardly dog, and I would just like to quote from this fandom because it features some Old Man and the Sea level writing. Here is how they describe the eels in question:

They are giant eels with a really long body, which is covered by dark green scales. They have also big jaws with sharp teeth, and barbs under the mouth. On the spine, they have the typical dorsal fin of eels which runs the entire upper part of the body from the neck to the tail. Being serpentine-like, they have no hind legs but only two thin arms near the head. Their eyes are mighty and menacing. 

Instant Eels — which get their name, apparently, beacuse they come out of a bag labeled “Instant Eel” which Courage (the show’s titular dog) pours into a moat he has dug to protect the Magic Tree Of Nowhere from his owner, Eustace — and not real. So in the spirit of finding a true eel for this newsletter, I clicked in the second result, which is the Marine Depot blog, and includes this line about garden eels: “They are cowardly creatures that retract into their burrow when anything comes too close.” Excellent.

The spotted garden eel is relatively small, spotted, and cowardly. They are nice in aquaria, but they do like to live in groups so you should get more than one. I’ve seen another species of garden eels in person, actually, off the coast of Bonaire. They’re adorable (and always look grumpy), and they do indeed retreat into their little holes as you approach, but if you float for a while above their little area, they’ll poke their heads out again. Unlike the Instant Eel, they do not sing. At least not in a range we can hear. 

Also, apparently you can catch a spotted garden eel in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which I do not have but now want.

Current status

Last year I was talking to a person who has made a name for himself creating distinctly dystopian future worlds. “How are you feeling?” I asked. “Is anything making you hopeful these days?” He laughed, and confessed that in fact, he was feeling downright chipper. Years ago, when he started, very few people were talking about the things he found most distressing: privacy violations, rampant harassment, soul crushing economic structures, climate change. But now, everybody was talking about these things over dinner, at parties, and online. He admitted it was a bit perverse, but he had turned the corner. While the rest of the world wallowed in despair, he felt hope, because of that wallowing.

I relate to this perhaps more than I’d like to. Two years ago, I did an episode of my future-facing podcast about pandemics. I’ve done episodes about the potential rise of masks as a new fashion item and about futures in which it might be literally unsafe to travel to certain states or regions, because the people there have embraced misinformation and eschewed science. And now here we are. It’s not that I feel vindicated or pleased that this is the future we’ve stumbled into. But rather, I’m unsure what I should be doing now. My job is to try and help people prepare for the future. What do I do when that future arrives? What value do I add here, as a futurologist of sorts, when it’s nearly impossible to think beyond the next few days or even hours. I admit that I don’t know.

Try to imagine, for a moment, how demoralizing it is as a writer to be unable to come up with topics for a column whose theme is simply “ideas.” It’s not that I don’t have any — I have a whole list of things I’d like to write about. But none of them seem important right now. None of them really matter. None of you would read them if I published them, and I couldn’t blame you. People say they want distractions from the crushing wave of covid content, and I think that they do in the same way that I would like to learn Japanese or do a handstand or dance on roller skates. In practice, well, when was the last time you had the attention span to read a long piece about something else?

Science journalists spend most of our lives shouting at people that they should pay attention to science. And now, here we are. The dominant story is a science one. Finally, the whole world wants to read science content, albeit on one very specific topic. And I can’t bring myself to create any.

Instead of putting on my big girl reporter pants and trying to find coronavirus stories for you, I have made a long list of excuses instead. Allow me to lay them out for you.

1. I genuinely believe that there is too much coronavirus content out there already. Over two months ago now, I saw an editor brag that they had already published 2800 pieces of covid-19 related content. I am a reporter but I am also a totally freaked out news consuming human just like you. I too am playing the game “panic attack or coronavirus” and googling things like “coronavirus survive on flowers?” And when I have that hat on, I’m not sure I need more takes, or frankly irresponsible coverage of preprints, or wild guesses by sleep deprived doctors, or dangerous future precautions (please stop talking about immunity passports), or essays about what a video game set on an island full of animals says about our “current situation.”

Sure, I could add to the pile of testimonials about how life has changed in this industry or that. I could talk to my tattoo artist, about how this might impact such an intimate art form that inherently involves close contact and bodily fluids. I could write about my pottery studio, and the ways they’re trying to figure out how to keep their largely at-risk members safe (6 feet between all the wheels? reservations to use the studio to keep the numbers down?). But whose lives haven’t changed? What industry hasn’t been effected? Is mapping the contours of each change worth doing right now?

2. The experts who are in fact qualified to speak on this pandemic are, in fact, relatively limited and quite busy at the moment dealing with an outbreak that stands to kill millions of people. On top of that, they’re drowning in calls from reporters they already know and trust. Doctors and front line workers are trying to save lives and when they’re not shouldn’t they sleep rather than answer my questions that don’t matter nearly as much as their mental health?

3. Freelance budgets have been slashed across the board, so even if I did manage to find a unique angle and a kind and generous source, the chances that I could sell the piece are far lower than they would be otherwise.

4. The ideas I do have that are related to the pandemic have been covered well already anyway. Charlie Warzel at the NYT articulated the feelings of limbo I’m in. Kendra Pierre-Louis is covering how coronavirus might impact future climate change fueled disasters like fires in California. Brian Merchant is, as always, keeping and eye on Amazon. Maggie Koerth has written about why modeling is so alluring and also problematic and Ed Yong has expertly laid out how we got here and what happens next.

5. Doing something just because you feel like you should do something doesn’t lead to good work.

But really, if I’m fully honest, I just have no desire to report on covid-19 at all. I know this is embarrassing and wrong. On a recent Longform interview, Ed Yong (who came out of book leave to cover the pandemic!) spoke of a sense of duty to the profession and the public. “I have a job that is very relevant and feels very important right now. So like my duty in the middle of all this feels incredibly clear,” he said. Later in the interview he adds: “This is what I think journalists are trained for. If not this, then what?”

Ed is not trying to scold me (or anybody else). He’s talking about himself, a person who has covered this beat deeply in the past, who has trusted sources and unique insights here. But it’s also hard not to feel, as a fellow science journalist, that I should also take up that duty somehow. And yet, here I am, instead of chasing leads and calling up sources and trying to wiggle my way into some unoccupied sliver of space on this story, I’m writing a longwinded newsletter trying to justify why I should do anything else.

Maybe in a few months I’ll finally work up the courage and drive to work on covid stories. Maybe not. For now, I think there are stories I can cover that we shouldn’t lose sight of amidst this panic. There are other futures, non-coronavirus futures we should still be thinking about. Coronavirus is, as several scientists have put it, just the briefest of tastes of what climate change can do to humanity. The inequality that has made coronavirus so deadly to black and brown communities will persist when the virus is gone. The surveillance we’re no longer stumbling into, but instead running at headlong to try and quell our fears will stick around and have huge impacts. The policy changes that come out of this will reshape the world, and it’s not too soon to start talking about them.

I make a podcast about the future. I still believe, even now, when the present feels so incredibly dire, that looking out into tomorrow is really important. That equipping people with the tools to imagine and push for futures they want to see matters. That if more people had just a little more foresight, we might not be in quite as bad a place right now. Training people to flex their imagination muscles can feel trivial at any time, but especially now. But I think it matters. And I’m going to keep doing that.

Recent Work

That’s all. Thanks for reading. Happy eel wrangling.

(Top image via zsispeo / Flickr.)

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