Throwback Edition: The Foolishness Life Requires
Plus, we need more significant others, art should be a habit, and a nifty tool to find new books
One of my favorite things about this newsletter is being able to go back to read (and sometimes, re-share) old editions. When I wrote this one back in January of last year, I was just getting back to New York after a brief, COVID-induced hiatus and I was all over the place. I wrote this at 5 am on the couch of my best friedn’s apartment in Harlem, where I was staying. I remember feeling so much doubt about every word I committed to paper during that time that I nearly didn’t send this one out. Ironically, this essay ended up being one of my most popular editions of all time. I’m excited to share it with you today.
This subject matter feels even more relevant to me today, as I’ve spent countless hours this past year talking with friends about the looming possibility of becoming a parent—questioning the inherited inevitability of parenthood for the first time, acknowledging the dreaded “ticking clock”, considering what a childless life might look like. I maintain that I know nothing about being a parent, but one reader comment from the original version of this essay always stuck with me: “The joy of raising children is wonderful, exhausting, and scary at times. The joy of watching them grow into adulthood is even better.” Another reader recalled how she left her parents shortly after high school, boarded a plane to another country in an attempt to find herself, and how her parents supported her leaving. She said, “Despite everything they were so incredibly proud of me and encouraged me the whole way through. That’s what love is.”
And I think she’s right, that is what love is: Holding on and sometimes, letting go. I hope you enjoy today’s edition, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on parenting. Speaking of parents, I’ve spent the past few days preparing for my mother, little sister, and niece, who are visiting me this weekend. It’ll be most of their first time in New York and I cannot wait to see the city through their eyes. Because this is a throwback edition, I’ll make the next two full editions accessible for both free and paid subscribers. And if you want to support the continuation of this newsletter, please consider going paid. Paid subscribers buy me the time needed to continue to write, read, and research for this newsletter each week. Thank you!
A Note From the Editor
I am not a parent. And yet, when I read this piece about the increased tendency for adult children to become estranged from their parents in modern-day society, I felt deeply wounded, as though I had my own set of children to lose. My reaction might be attributed to the fact that I just came off a two-month stint visiting with my siblings, allowing me the opportunity to observe them through the lens of parenthood in the most intimate of settings. I watched my brother guide his daughters on a field trip through a Native American sanctuary, never losing patience as they pelted him with question after question, pointing out the plants and the birds and the burial grounds they were not to step on. Afterward, he brought them ice cream. I observed the ritual of nightly routines never rushed; books read, teeth brushed, songs sung softly. Meals with ketchup smeared on kitchen tables, meals refused or gobbled up. Holiday traditions that involved the sort of careful planning the children would never know, attentive listening to stories that circled and looped with no real punchline or purpose. Mostly, I witnessed unbridled love, the sort of love that spills out and covers a room with its thickness. A love that is fierce and unchanging.
The idea that these children would inevitably grow up and require space from their parents, from my siblings, caused me to experience an acute, telepathic sort of heartbreak. It wasn’t the growing-up part that bothered me so much as the idea that at some point later in life my nieces and nephews would probably want to move away from their parents, to get out and see the world on their own. They might not want to answer when their mother calls for the fourth time in a week. They might roll their eyes when their father asks whether he and mom can come to visit for a long weekend. I know this to be true because I was that child, the leaving type. I left Florida the first chance I got, running off to an island with a 6-hour time difference simply because I felt the pressing need to see what else was out there. I have friends who didn't physically leave, but who complain about their too close parents (“they’re so needy!”). I understand these complaints because parents can require more energy than their grown children are able to offer. And yet after seeing my siblings raising their young children firsthand, I am baffled by the notion that they will one day, like me, leave. That they will have lives of their own, friends and lovers, and jobs of their own. That the people who raised them with such tenderness will one day take a backseat in their adult lives. I want to fast-forward to the future, to grab them by the shoulders and say, “Don’t you know what they’ve done for you? You were the center of their world, of course, they expect you to pick up the phone!” and, “Please, don’t go.” But then, I suppose I could say the same thing to myself.
I brought all this up to a friend earlier this week, the day I returned back to New York. Isn’t it crazy, I said, that we know our children will one day leave us and we still decide to have kids? It’s so sad when you think about it. We know we’re going to get our hearts crushed and we do it anyway. I could only see her eyes, the bottom of her face concealed by a mask, but I could tell she was smiling from the way they crinkled at the corners. You could say the same thing about falling in love, though, she said. We both froze, our eyes widening at least a half-centimeter, and then we dissolved into hysterics, a hyena-like cackle that was loud enough to illicit dirty looks. We laughed at the truth and the absurdity of it all, our composure melting into the dirty subway platform beneath us. We laughed because of the knowledge that lives within each of us, somewhere close to our core: that anything worth having requires a degree of heartbreak. Shouldn’t that be obvious by now?
I thought about this while watching the inauguration yesterday. I didn't cry during the first part, not during the swearing-in or Kamala Harris or Joe Biden’s speech. I was still holding the situation at an arms distance, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to hear something horrible had happened somewhere; violence or a break-in or worse. And then Garth Brooks, of all people, began to sing Amazing Grace. It wasn't even good and yet the tears began to spill out of my sockets, trailing down my face like fingertips caressing my cheeks. For a brief moment, I pushed back my visions of terror and death. I stopped guarding myself with the worst-case scenario and allowed myself to think only of the beauty and possibility that might meet us right where we are.
Parenthood carries the risk of loss, love carries the risk of heartbreak, and hope carries the risk of disappointment, of being made a fool for thinking things might change. But as I let myself slip into that pocket of hope for just a moment, I recognized that life requires this sort of foolishness, this sort of risk. Without it, what are we left with? As Amanda Gorman so beautifully put it in her heart-stopping poem, “The Hill We Climb”:
Let the globe, if nothing else,
say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried
Cheers, my dears, and thanks for reading. What are your thoughts about parenthood, estrangement, and inevitable loss?
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
We Need More Significant Others. Last year was one of the few times in adulthood where I lived in what one might consider a “commune style” setup. That is, with two friends and one dog, all sharing groceries and splitting the burden of collective home maintenance (cooking dinner, cleaning, etc.). the setup worked great, it felt less lonely and more comforting. like I was working from a more stable base. In this Modern Love essay, a young couple pushing through a cancer diagnosis decides to take up communal living and the result is a more emotionally impactful version of my own communal experience. It got me considering how modern domesticity might be reconfigured in years to come, how life might require a wider base of support.
Art Should Be a Habit, Not a Luxury. Do you ever have those days (or weeks) that go something like this: Wake up, workout or don't, open your laptop, work. Maybe take a break or two during the day, scarf lunch, each dinner, shower. Watch some TV to numb your aching brain, sleep, repeat? Life can feel so incredibly narrow when we get caught in these patterns, and we forget the context of the world around us. Arthur Brooks argues that we can break these cycles, and become happier, thorugh the regular consumption and creation of art, and I couldn't agree more. Learn to treat art more like a part of everyday life, the same way you work out or maintain relationships. And you can begin to do so by setting aside 15 minutes a day. Read some poems, open a book, expand your world.
What If You Could Do It All Over? Do you ever think about what could have been, if only you’d went to a different college, picked a different major, or waited a beat longer to make that major decision? If so, you’re not alone. There is something distinctly appealing about the notion of lives unlived, and I loved the context this piece gave to our quiet, collective obsession with considering what might have been. Another point to consider: when we meet people for the first time, we imagine this aura of possibility around them, imagining what they might become. Eventually, we get to know them better and see them for who they are, and the experience can be equal parts endearing and heartbreaking.
Perhaps You Should… Stop Judging Books By Their Covers (or clout!)
If you love to read and have a hard time choosing books you might want to read next, why not try this nifty tool? It allows you to read the first page of a novel blind, without revealing the book title or author, to see whether you might really like it. I love this for the aspect of discovering new authors and new titles, but I also love its functionality of it. Anybody who’s picked up a book that was highly recommended and thought “what the hell” after three pages will appreciate this.
**Bonus Content** (Animals Interrupting Photographers)
If this isn’t the cutest Twitter thread I’ve ever seen then I don’t know what it.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
-The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
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.”