Hello lovely people,
Wherever you are, I hope so sincerely that you are well. I have gone back to my “I can’t articulate anything” stage. All I can do for now, it seems, is read the work of much smarter people and hope to find some sort of comfort in it. A crisis like this one seems to shatter every comfortable illusion we use to veil the terrifying capricious nature of reality. I keep thinking about these lines by James Baldwin; they so perfectly capture both the folly and necessity of these self-deceptions:
“Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion.”
Sending you all much love,
1. I first came across Ross Gay in a delightful episode of This American Life, in which they focussed only on stories of joy. It is now a morning ritual to listen to his dreamy voice reading from his magnificent and life affirming book of essays, The Book of Delights. What a generous, stunning, and whole-hearted experiment in noticing this is, and a reminder that so much of joy lives in the act of simply looking up.
2. Every single thing about the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People is utterly perfect. How tenderly, deeply, and non-indulgently it treats adolescence and the nostalgia of first love. I cannot stop thinking about it, and am tempted to sit down and savour each episode all over again. I was also – like so many others – convinced that I should try a fringe again, until a friend averted the disaster.
3. I truly and completely adored “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” a documentary on Fred Rogers. This footage of him urging us to think of those who loved us into being makes me cry every time.
4. “Do remember they can’t cancel the spring”: David Hockney is sharing the most beautiful iPad paintings of spring’s awakening.
5. A stunning animated video of what depression is like, and how the act of observing something grow can carve a road out of its entrails.
6. From Leslie Jamison’s gorgeous piece on caring for her toddler during quarantine:
“These days I usually dream about nice dinner parties I wasn’t invited to. Romanticizing other peoples’ quarantines is just the latest update of an ancient habit. So what if I signed divorce papers a month before the city went on lockdown? I’ve got my blankets. I’ve got my toddler pouring shards of pita chips down the neck of her rainbow llama pajamas, right here in the epicenter of the epidemic. Sure, I sometimes wish my quarantine was another quarantine, and I sometimes wish my marriage had been another marriage, but when have I ever lived inside my own life without that restlessness? It’s an ache in the muscles that makes it hard to lie still. Quarantine teaches me what I’ve already been taught, but I’ll never learn—that there are so many other ways to be lonely besides the particular way I am lonely.”
7. I love Jenni Offill (I think I’ve read her second novel, Dept. of Speculation, about four times). This profile on her – by the wonderfully brilliant Parul Sehgal – is a great read. At the end of Weather, Offill’s latest novel, she includes a link to a website she created called “Obligatory Note of Hope,” where she includes a list of “Tips for Trying Times.” They are so fitting for these indeed very trying times, so full of existential dread they are. I love the first tip a lot:
Read and Reread
“Everything—everything significant that had earlier caught one’s attention—should be reread… The main impression you got from reading books in Leningrad during the Siege was the enormity of the world, as opposed to the cramped, cold, dark room in which you sit by the guttering wick of an oil lamp.” – Polina Barskova, Besieged Leningrad
8. I find these virtual tours of the Van Gogh museum very calming.
9. My dear friend Hannah shared this poem with me after I expressed the difficulty of keeping dread at bay.
Antidotes to Fear of Death
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings. 10. The above rhymes with a line from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, which I added to my commonplace book as soon as I read it:
“There was a star riding through clouds one night, & I said to the star, ‘Consume me’.”