Throwback Edition: The Great Escape
Plus, a profession is not a personality, an uplifting musical, and the twins from The Shining
It is raining where I am right now. I’ve been in rain so many times before, countless times, daily afternoon showers growing up in Florida, but I’ve never heard the rain like this—a gentle, steady pattering on gravely ground, fat drops plopping onto the surface of tropical trees, a scant few splattering on the wooden banister of the treehouse. There are no windows in my living area, so I can hear the rain all around me like I’m wholly immersed in it. In the mornings, everything is just barely damp. An afterthought.
I normally save my monthly throwback edition for the final week of the month and I normally do not share an edition unless it is at least a year old, but I’m breaking those made-up rules this go-round. I arrived in a tiny, remote surf town just yesterday and I’m adapting to everything; the slowed-down pace of life, which feels like a sudden slamming of breaks, but with the restraint of a seatbelt, and the minor time change. I took my first surf lesson todya and was in awe of the force of the ocean, the weakness and capability of my limbs, the sweetness of the water I sipped from a just-picked coconut, the clear visions behind my closed eyes in a breathwork class, the smoothness of a motorcycle ride over dirt roads.
I’m always amazed by the simple miracles that show up when you choose to follow your intuition, even when it points you to random corners of the world for no good reason. I chose to share today’s edition because it recounts the first time I decided to listen to such intuition, the first time I traveled alone for an extended period of time. I find myself here again, in an unknown land for unknown reasons. I met a friend on my first night here and today he told me he views life as a video game—we’re just getting past the tricks, unlocking different levels with the decisions we make. I laughed because I have said this exact thing, and written it down before, too. It felt like a twin flame moment; a new level unlocked.
Cheers, my dears. I’ll be back with a new edition next week. If you like what you’re reading, please consider opting for a paid subscription. And if you’re feeling generally depleted/sad about the world/anxious, watch the recommendation in today’s “perhaps you should” section. It’s incredible and utterly uplifting.
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 8 pm, 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 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 it, 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 of 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 ate 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 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.
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 to think about why people are so willing to shame public figures for "selling out" when they participate in brand partnerships without questioning why they are participating in partnerships with morally compromisable brands in the first place, especially 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 for 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 immediately shutting off my mind to emotionally protect myself, so I’ve been clicking most climate change headlines I read. This speech brought 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 the capacity for true kindness. Highly recommend.
**Bonus Content** (REDRUM, Baby!)
I cannot wait to spend a weekend evening watching a bunch of scary movies all in a row before October ends. The Shining is among my favorite, and this Instagram 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.”