Edition #87: The Great Escape
Plus, when I was an influencer, a profession is not a personality, and the twins from The Shining
A Note From the Editor
At the height of summer, I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen since the start of COVID. I arrived at the Italian deli before she did and ordered myself an embarrassingly large sub before realizing she was only planning to have a coffee. We situated ourselves under the small sliver of shade provided by one of the new outdoor seating structures that had been popping up all over New York. Beads of sweat slid down my back, snaking between my shoulder blades as I worked through the heavy sandwich. Being outside in the heat made me feel dirty, but being inside made me feel trapped.
We talked about our jobs, our relationships, our passions. We agreed that we were very, very tired and that the tiredness was bleeding into our feelings about New York. It isn’t always an easy place to be, but it’s especially difficult in the heat, when you’re doing nothing but spending 8 to 10 hours a day staring at your laptop. I described how some days I imagined an invisible chain around my wrist that bound me to the stupid machine and how ridiculous it felt that this thing ruled my life in such a real way. I talked about how, the week prior, I sat on my fire escape working well past 8pm, choosing the uncomfortable spot just to feel like I was outside and living. The sound of the budding evening below me didn’t bring me comfort, it only made me feel more alone. I remember looking down at the drop off from my fifth floor to the sidewalk below and thinking if I were to fall off the fire escape, I probably wouldn’t die but I might break my leg. And if I broke my leg, I would most certainly get a break. The idea didn’t sound so bad.
Looking back, it becomes clear there was some degree of my own decision making that led me to feel the way I did, some boundary I could have or should have drawn. But it is equally true that my feelings of depletion were not unique. My friend felt her own version of the same thing—she never got to spend time with her spouse anymore, she couldn’t fall asleep at night, she got headaches. As we exchanged these sad realities over lunch, I realized I hadn’t yet expressed any of these feelings aloud. The words brought me physical relief but they also drained the life out of me. Prior to this conversation, my default reaction to any internal alarm bells about my physical or mental state would be to recite an unkind mantra to myself: it’s not that bad, suck it up. This line of thinking got me through COVID and it also robbed me of the chance to validate my own experiences. It said: The system isn’t flawed, you are. Work harder, work more, work faster. Output is the only thing that matters. I might not have been able to start making different decisions back then even if I tried, because at a certain point you stop consciously deciding and start operating on autopilot. It is near impossible to pause and to check yourself when you’re just going through the motions, trying to survive daily life.
At the end of our long, emotional lunch, my friend told me she was leaving the next day. She was going away for a period of time and she hoped the experience would help her reset. Jealousy flooded every crevice of my body. I had mostly stayed in place all summer and wanted nothing more than to get away from New York, to get away from myself and the shrinking world I inhabited. It was that long lunch, and the encouragement from my friend, that planted the idea in my mind. I would spend September in a remote alpine town in France, a place I had planned to spend the summer of 2020 before everything changed on March 12th.
As I prepared for my departure, and even while I was living in France, I questioned why I needed to do this. I wondered why my body was so drawn to this random little town I had never been to, where no one I know had ever been. I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t realize I chose a place where absolutely no one spoke English, where even the simplest acts required effort and courage considering the language barrier, where I would come in contact with less than a handful of Americans. I was alone in the most beautiful place I had ever been and I had no one to talk to even if I wanted to talk. All there was to do was observe.
I was blown away by what I saw. Coffee shops that didn’t offer to-go options, every patron taking a moment to sit and drink their espresso without feeling the need to rush off. Two fathers on a run, both pushing strollers. Fathers with young children alone at the beach, fathers participating in levels of parenting that I had never seen back home. A farmers market in the center of town set up three times per week, flooded with locals. I would buy tiny French radishes with dirt caked on their leafy stems. Baguettes the length of my forearm, sold by two aloof older women who would eventually warm up to me. Soft cheeses pedaled by a vendor with beautiful blue eyes that made me blush. I noticed people only bought a few things at the market, enough to get them through a couple days. There was no meal prep culture, no Tupperware full of dry, flavorless ground turkey to be haphazardly microwaved and scarfed down on a piece of Romaine lettuce.
I ate bread slathered with salted butter. I was croissants, carrots pulled straight from the ground, pain au chocolat for breakfast on a Tuesday just because I wanted it. I read for hours, rode 26 steep miles around a lake on my rented bike, spent large swaths of time watching the swans, admiring the way their dense bodies moved. It was beautiful and was cathartic, but more than anything it was a humbling wake up call. It made me realize that I am not that important; that the trivialities, to do lists, errands, and deadlines I had lost sleep over mean nothing. I’m only going to be here for a limited amount of time and I want it to mean something. I want to feel alive, to move slower, to place the same value in finding joy in my everyday life that I have placed on efficiency. We don’t have to live the way we do, but I had forgotten. I’m trying to remember.
Cheers, my dears, and as always thank you for reading. If you like that’s so interesting and you’ve been reading it for a while now, consider sharing it with a friend. I’ve got new ideas my sleeve for this newsletter and I’m very excited to share them with you in the coming months.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
When I Was An Influencer. Haley Nahman writes some of the most thought provoking takes on capitalism in her weekly newsletter, Maybe Baby, and her essays have often inspired me to start inspecting capitalism as a voluntary system in which I participate vs. an inevitable state of the country. This essay implores you think about why people are so willing to shame public figures for "selling out" when they particiapte in brand partnerships without questioning why they are participating in parnterhsips with morally compromisable brands in the first place, espcially when they clearly don’t need the money. It’s made even more interesting because Haley has expereince being, or having been, an influencer herself.
A Profession Is Not a Personality. The ever-wise Arthur Brooks does it again. It might seem obvious that we should not rely on our job to provide our personality, but in the work-obsessed culture we live in, it happens more often than we’d like to admit. This is especially true in New York, where you can say "finance bro, Brooklyn poet, PR coordinator” and instantly think of specific personifications of each role (see: starter packs of NYC).
Greta Thunberg Roasts World Leaders For Being ‘Blah Blah Blah’ on Climate Action. I’m on a journey to become more engaged in the climate change conversation instead of immidiately shutting off my mind to emotionally protect myself, so I’ve been clicking most climate change headlines I read. This speech brough tears to my eyes because, somehow, it made me feel hope. Be sure to watch until 16:07 for full body chills.
Perhaps You Should… Watch Come From Away
I had heard about the hit Broadway musical, Come From Away, but I never had the chance to see it before things shut down for COVID. I recently found out they streamed a live version of it to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, so I downloaded a free trial of Apple TV to watch it and you should, too. It is a heart wrenching, feel-good story about a bunch of planes that had to ground in a tiny Canadian town on 9/11 and made me remember that humans have capacity for true kindness. Highly recommend.
**Bonus Content** (REDRUM, Baby!)
I cannot wait to spend a weekend evening watch a bunch of scary movies all in a row before October ends. The Shning is amoung my favorite, and this Instgram post made me laugh so hard. The bloody twins are just two little cuties!
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“When I look back at those years, I feel touched and almost pained by the simplicity of the life I was living, because I knew what I had to do, and I did it, that was all.”
-Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
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.”