Messy Ass Spaces #2: Rusty Foster
Today In Tabs: behind the messy ass scenes
In early August I shared photos of my Messy Ass Space. The reaction was nothing short of Beatlemania - finally, a safe space to talk about how messy all our desks were. And so, the Messy Ass Spaces series was born.
Today’s MAS (#2) is that of Rusty Foster, the madhatter impresario behind the Today in Tabs Newsletter, a Mon-Thur newsletter that somehow presents all the insane shit happening on the internet that Politico described as an "anti-digest of the day's various hate-reads [written in a] knowing/slapdash/snarky voice"! It’s easily one of my favorite daily reads of the day and I implore you to subscribe:
When I shared my Messy Ass Space post in the Tabs’ Discord server, Rusty said "hold on folks" and started sharing photos of his messy ass space. This was brave beyond compare1. I then asked Rusty if he'd be game to answer some questions about his life and his space and the rest, well its messtory (note to editor: make it clear that this is a play on the word history, not a bad spelling of Me-Story or something).
Want to have your messy ass space featured in the pages of Messy Ass Spaces Digest? Simply e-mail me with photos of your space at email@example.com which is a real email address I now own!
Alex: Alright so what are we looking at here?
Rusty: This is my bedroom. Bed is to my left. It definitely gets worse than this - I would characterize its current state as: medium-messy. My maternal grandfather made the desk, when my mom was a kid. He was a shop teacher and a musician.
On my desk are an electric kettle and all of my coffee, and a coffee grinder because this is also where I make coffee every morning. Make sure you don’t miss the laundry basket on the floor.
So your office is in your bedroom. I feel like I remember you saying you had kids / were married? so your wife sleeps in there too?
Yup. three kids, three total bedrooms, so basically every room in the house is like this. Pre-kids I worked like, 3pm to 3am, so a desk in the bedroom wouldn't have worked.
What do your kids think about Today in Tabs?
I try to get the older ones to read it, and they do, occasionally? It's hard to tell how often. My youngest (9) started reading it recently which is... something I have to consciously not think about when I'm writing. They also googled me, and were not impressed by the length or age of any of my media profiles. They also said my Wikipedia page "wasn't very interesting." You can't get your own kids to admit they're impressed by anything you do, basically, but I've had them long enough that I know they're listening. It's not uncommon for a dinner conversation to seep into Tabs the next day, so I do wonder if they recognize when that happens.
What’s going on in this messy ass area?
The black thing to the left is a broken mode door actuator form my truck, awaiting replacement. The pile of shit is ?????? Actually that pile of stuff is all kinda Tabs related - you can see one of Tonx's excellent prints on top, the two books are Heather Havrilesky's and finally there’s Kathryn Schultz's memoir.
The envelope behind the auto part is a sticker mailing that got returned as ‘undeliverable’.
What is that unlabeled white bottle on the desk?
That’s a years-old hiking bottle of sunscreen that's gone upsettingly chunky. WHY IS THAT HERE???? I DONT KNOW. In honor of this event I just threw it away in the trash barrel literally six feet away.
Are you one of those people for whom space matters a lot or is it more like ‘I just get inside the tabs, doesn’t matter what IRL is at all.”
The latter, as long as I'm not responsible for whatever's going on around me. So if I'm the only parent home with my three kids, you know, everyone has to be fed, they have to do something during the day, etc., that's a difficult environment to be creative in for any sustained time. But I've written some of the best Tabs in airport waiting areas. I don't care if there's chaos around me as long as it's someone else's problem. In fact I kind of prefer it? A few days a week I work in a coworking space and the presence of a lot of strangers keeps me focused on my screen because I fear accidentally making eye contact with someone.\
What do these say?
Rusty Foster - Weird Media Gremlin. The wall printout is a Practice Guide with the word 'newsletter' filled in - it started as a joke but nearly two years later I have to admit... it is not a joke. It does make me laugh, but has also saved my composure many times. (note from Alex: this guide is genuinely amazing - full text of Rusty's version with the word newsletter filled in at the footnote here2).
I see you’re just rocking a single laptop screen - in a lot of spaces I’ve seen (including almost every space shared in the Tabs Discord, people have like 2-3 BIG ASS SCREENS) - any reason you don’t rock that setup?
I had big screens for years—for a long time I had an office at home and another one in Portland, with separate tower computers and multiple screens in each. It got to be a real pain keeping everything in sync between them, so I switched to a laptop and just carried it back and forth. I still had external screens for a while but then I'd be writing in the airport and struggling to adapt to no mouse, no keyboard, no big screen etc. So I minimized everything until I was comfortable with just this old 13" Macbook air. I like that it's extremely portable and wherever I can open it: there's my whole workplace. The limited screen real estate also helps keep me focused on one thing at a time, instead of my undiagnosed ADHD brain bouncing all around.
Usually in these kinds of “wow look at how cool someone’s space’ articles there are questions about ‘what's the one tool you can’t live without.’ I hate those, but I do want to ask: what’s the one dumb thing that is not useful at all but that you also cannot live without?
My fidget knife! Currently the knife that's kicking around my desk is a folding Opinel picnic knife, but there have been many over the years. I fidget with it on calls or when I'm thinking or reading something. This came up in the Tabs Discord and I was surprised to learn that I am not the only one with a fidget knife. It seems dangerous, but I haven't hurt myself yet. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Wait where's your fidget knife right now?
It's not actually on my desk right now but I know where it is (turns to immediate right) the dresser.
If you could make one change or add one thing to the space, what would it be?
Lmao I would make it a different room than my bedroom? I worked at this desk for the whole pandemic and I swear there were weeks where I spent less than two hours a day outside of that room. It was like being in jail. But if that's not an option, I really wish there was more legroom under the desk. I have long legs and it's a pretty narrow desk so I can't stretch them out under there at all.
What’s that book in the closet?
That book is apparently "The Art Of Frugal Hedonism," just one of several books that are I guess stored under the other dresser in the closet.
What’s a usual day for you spent in this messy ass space?
My bed is just to the left of this [desk], so my alarm starts going off at 6, and NPR comes on the Sonos, and I heroically hit snooze like 20 times until the radio turns off at 8. Then I get up and fill the electric kettle (on my desk) and grind coffee beans for the french press (beans and grinder also on the desk). Pour water for coffee, go back to bed, wait 15 minutes, drink coffee in bed while I look at email, discord, twitter, etc. Eventually my brain works enough to attempt the Wordle, which is usually my cue to get up and eat something. My wife gets up much earlier and usually goes for a walk or to the gym, feeds the dog, etc. I am useless in the morning, she makes mornings happen for everyone else. This is a major flaw in my character but I have to be honest about it.
Anyway, if I'm working at home I'll go have breakfast, review what I've collected to write about, usually take the dog for a walk in the middle of the morning and try to come up with a theme or organize my thoughts a little. I usually sit down to write around 1, write and edit until 4, hang out online till it's time to either make or eat dinner, and that's about it.
My days lately are not like this because I'm taking an EMT course at the local community college, so three days a week I go into town and don't get home until either 8:45 or 9:45pm, after class. One day I will get my easy schedule back though!
Behind every messy ass space is a messy ass person. In this case, that messy ass person is Rusty Foster who I believe looks a lot like Sam Rockwell in this photo.
Wait I looked you up on Wikipedia and wtf you’ve like, done a lot! Developed some sites and apps, someone said you were dead on FB, etc. I mean what the heck you were part of this panel in 2003. From where you sit now (that messy ass space), what do you see as the next 10-20 years of being online? What would be an ideal scenario and then what do you think will actually happen lol.
Ha, yeah I've been micro-famous online forever. It always surprises me a little when people are fans of Tabs but have otherwise never heard of me, but it's nice. Feels validating!
The thing I learned from being online forever is that online is just people. All the stuff that happens online, good and bad, is stuff that people do. I don't really have any predictions, I can never figure out what people are going to want or not want. All I can say is that it's just people, and that isn't going to change.
You spend all day wading through the muck of the internet - how do you keep yourself from getting cynical about it all? What sort of stuff these days excites you and makes you go ‘ah man, that’s fuckin cool.’
I guess again: it's just people? Even the nonsense is usually the result of someone trying to do what they think they have to do. Often, you know, misguidedly. If I think something deserves criticism I will go the fuck in, but like, I'm not better than anyone in Tabs. I hope I'm lucky or attentive enough to avoid the obvious blunders but time will tell!
What excites me is pretty consistent: I love when people are genuinely excited about something and share it because they love it. I love news stories where you can tell the writer really cares. I can be convinced almost anything is cool by someone who really believes it is.
Who are some of your fav people to read? Especially peeps we may not all know about yet?
Lol everyone asks me this and man, I don't know. I don't have a secret stash, if I like something I put it in Tabs! I guess I'd say I think Input is a little under the radar? They put out a lot of good stuff in the tech/internet beat. But like, I don't really dig up the gems, I just aggregate them.
And there it is - Rusty Foster, a man of mess and space! Be sure to subscribe to Today in Tabs!!
Have a space you’d like featured in Messy Ass Spaces Monthly? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with photos of your space.
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It should be said that about 30 other people in the Tabs Discord also shared their messy ass spaces. It was then that I knew I was home.
Practice Guide for Newsletter
Before starting your daily practice routine, read and seriously consider the following:
1. How fortunate I am that in this life I am one who has been allowed to create beauty with newsletter.
2. It is my responsibility to create peace, beauty, and love with newsletter.
I WILL BE KIND TO MYSELF
1. IT IS ONLY NEWSLETTER
2. No matter my level of development in newsletter, how good or bad I think I am, it is only newsletter and I am a beautiful person.
3. I will not compare myself with my colleagues. If they do newsletter beautifully, I will enjoy it and be thankful and proud that I live in fellowship with them.
4. There will always be someone with more abilities in **newsletter** than my own as there will be those with less.
REASONS TO DO NEWSLETTER
1. To contribute to the world's spiritual growth.
2. To contribute to my own self-discovery and spiritual growth.
3. To pay homage to all the great practitioners of newsletter, past and present, who have added beauty to the world.
RID YOUR SELF OF THE FOLLOWING REASONS FOR BEING A PRACTITIONER OF NEWSLETTER
1. to create self-esteem
2. to be "hip"
3. to manipulate
4. to get rich or famous