Edition #63: Objects in the Rearview Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear
Plus, a Selena Gomez profile, on anti-Asian bullying, and a bunch of made up words
A Note From the Editor
Can you think of the last time you did something you didn’t want to think about ever again? It could be anything from a flirty DM to a rift with a loved one, spurring a two-sided silence that lasts just long enough for both parties to feel sufficiently awkward about the possibility of rehashing it. It’s the particular breed of subtlety that makes these instances so cringeworthy. You think, God, did I really do that? Let’s pretend I didn’t. Avoiding the unsavory encounters works as a defense mechanism for the mind, preserving whatever semblance of dignity you’ve held on to about who you are. I used to have a mechanism for this preservation in my earlier days: sending drunk texts to all my crushes, then deleting the text threads while still drunk. I couldn’t feel bad about any of it the next day because I couldn't go back to read what I had written—foolproof! That is, until a boy I dated in college forced me to read the incoherent messages I had sent him aloud the next day. The experience was shameful, very Catholic confessional as far as punishments go, but effective.
This week, I realized I was approaching the one-year anniversary of the pandemic with that same level of bone deep avoidance. If I delete these memories, they didn’t happen! Just don’t think about them! Except in real life, it doesn’t work that way. I’ve read newsletters recounting what was happening in the author’s personal life this week last year, I’ve read Instagram captions of people telling us that it’s OK to feel however we feel, that we’re coming up on a traumatic date that may very well trigger us. Through it all, I’ve felt queerly detached. The word “pandemic” has held no weight for me, nor has the reality of what the impeding date signifies—that a year has passed since our entire lives went topsy-turvy, since people began to simultaneously lose their livelihoods and their lives in staggering numbers.
It felt important that I was avoiding these memories, like a clue to some mystery I should attempt to solve, so I sat on my couch and thought about last March, tried to excavate the patchwork of my former life from my faulty memory. I was in my old apartment in East Village, the tiny space I shared with a roommate. I had just lost my cousin and was fretting over whether I might be able to make it down to Florida for his funeral—I had a lingering cough and a body ache that wasn’t going away, and there was this new sickness going around so I wasn’t sure whether I should fly. My first fiction workshop was coming to a close and we were trying to figure whether we could do the final class in person, as we had for the preceding 7 weeks (we could not). I was in a relationship. I was comfortable. I was gearing up to make big moves later in the year and I felt fearless, capable, hungry. Ready to remember how I could show up for myself. I felt in control, and very much alive.
My avoidance makes sense, then, because not thinking about all the hope I felt prior to March 12, 2020, is easier. I can no longer mourn for that person because I’m not sure whether I know her anymore. The naivete, the unrelenting self-assuredness, the idea that I will plan this and it will happen because tomorrow will come and everyone is safe and life is having brunch and going to concerts and booking so many trips you’re not even sure how you’ll afford them and being so busy you have no time to acknowledge that the police have been killing Black people for years and your country is deeply flawed and women aren’t getting paid enough and the forests are burning and things are going wrong, wrong, wrong, but where are we going for dinner tonight?
I overheard two (preppy, white) men talking last night on my walk. One said, “ COVID didn’t change anything about America, it only showed us who we’ve always been.” I’m not sure whether he was saying it ironically or if he was quoting something he read, but I kept coming back to it, wondering whether I could say the same about myself. If COVID only revealed to me who I’ve always been, then I’ve always been heavy-hearted. I’ve always avoided thinking too far in the future. I’ve always toggled between anxious and depressed, and I’ve always had an unhealthy obsession with counting down the estimated years until death. But then, I’ve always been deeply compassionate. I’ve always cared for other people in ways I can physically feel in my body. I’ve always been brave enough to make difficult decisions. I’ve always been able to access honesty, even when it is painful. I’ve always been willing to learn and to listen, to change my understanding of the world around me based on those learnings. I’ve always been vulnerable.
This is what I’m thinking about one year later: the duality that exists in me. In all of us. In this country. It is light and dark, good and evil, happy and sad. It is the job loss that lead to precious time with family. The loss of a loved one that lead to a renewed appreciation of those who are still here. The murder that lead to hundreds of thousands of people marching on the streets. The ugliness that lead to tense conversations and familial strains and changed hearts.
To say this past year has been bad or good would be a gross oversimplification. Bad and good are the multitudes we all contain, that we will continue to contain long after we have shots in our arms and enough distance from this virus that we will avoid it in the same manner I used to avoid my own drunken text messages. But it is important, I think, that we reflect on the depths of the lightness and darkness this year has revealed, both in our societal structure and in ourselves. That we meditate on it. It is important that we do not soon forget the things we’ve seen.
Cheers, my dears. Have you thought much about the one year of COVID, or have you mostly avoided it? And what were you doing, at this time last year? What had you planned for 2020?
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
Selena Gomez on Politics, Faith, and Making the Music of Her Career. We all heard the “celebrities are people, too!” trope, but if you're not invested in the celebrity-sphere, it's easy to forget. That’s why a good profile is so invaluable, and this one, penned by Jia Tolentino, really brought that humaneness home for me. Gomez used to be known as the most followed person on Instagram (a place she is no longer present) and is a megastar, but there seems to be a sweetness and depth to her that is surprising. I can't get over the similarities between her spirals—the late-night anxiety, questioning how she will get it all done, etc.—and mine. Also, I’m very here for Tolentino’s authorial choice.
My Son is Bullying His Asian Classmate About the Pandemic. A parent writes to Slate's advice column to ask about appropriate punishment for her son's racist, Anti-Asian comments in school. The question itself made me think about the overarching sentiment many white people have been grappling with since last year, one I've felt and heard expressed often: how can I punish (my son, myself) for all these transgressions? How do I repent? We want the crash diet, the get rich quick scheme, the punishment. We want to fix it, but as the practical advice doled out in this piece suggests, it’s not about repentance so much as it is about changing the way you show up in the world. In this case, the parent assumed her child knew better because the parent is not racist. But even if you think you’re not racist, your environment probably is. We still need to have clear, complicit conversations with people, especially our children, condemning racism. leaving no room for it to slip through the front door.
“There’s no neutral choice or position here: If we’re not challenging and educating our kids about racism, we leave them at risk of perpetuating it—or enabling it, standing by and silently watching while others are harmed.”
Against Loving Your Job. Despite the headline, this is not just another "you don't have to like your work" piece. This is hard, meticulous non-fiction reporting on capitalism and labor, and it is the one thing you should absolutely read this week. In the olden days, we used to have so many more divets grooved in to society, for support. Church, elders, closer-knit families, and physically close communities, and today much of that structure has dissipated, leaving nothing but the internet and a small circle of friends who happen to live near us for support. The piece argues that, as a result of late capitalism and modern society, we should prioritize love for each other over work. Or at least leave equal space for love, because work will never love you back.
“A side effect of all this love for work has been that talking about love between people has lost its importance. Instead, our personal relationships are to be squeezed in around the edges, fitted into busy schedules or sacrificed entirely to the demands of the workplace.”
Perhaps You Should…
Refresh Your Space
I could write an entire edition dedicated to the insane transformation my new apartment has recently undergone and what it means to me, but I’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, here are a few photos of the newly decorated space, created by genius designer and artist extraordinaire Mike Harrison. Whether you want to spruce up a room or transform your entire space transformation, I highly recommend working with Mike and would be happy to connect you with him (NYC-based). More to come on Mike and his creative process soon!
**Bonus Content** (This Word Does Not Exist)
I love AI and I love words. So a piece of AI that makes up words that sound like the ones I have to look up when reading any book review in the New York Times? I’m in.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
”Sometimes, when he is holding me and I feel like I am liquid in his arms, I wonder if anything else in my life will seem real after this. It is as if I traveled beyond the earth and reached out and touched a burning star, and it is both endurable and terrifying.”
-If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”