#23: Sitting in the shower
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Hi, how are you doing? I’d tell you how I’m doing but I’m honestly not sure. Everything’s feeling more blurry than usual. Maybe you’re feeling similarly blurry, or have before, in which case hello from my lukewarm swimming pool to yours.
A domestic state of affairs
I used to think it was awful to be in bed during the day. But I’ve recently decided that beds are comfortable and should be enjoyed while conscious, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in mine. Not sleeping, just laying there silently, under or over the covers, in a kind of fugue state. It’s peaceful. I like to stare at this concentrated patch of light on our ceiling, projected there by way of a tiny gap between our curtains and the molding. Occasionally, if I’m lucky, someone on the street will pass by our building in just the right spot and their shadow will appear there, shrunken—a perfect two-inch human figurine, walking across our ceiling, a miniature dog in tow, or a toy bike. When it happens it feels like something out of a Harry Potter book, and it’s gone before I can point it out to Avi, which makes it feel like a secret. Or a hallucination.
Daytime bedtime, a photo from early quarantine that is fraudulently civilized
When the curtains are open I stare out the window. The sliding glass door in our bedroom is so dirty it makes the school across the street look like a Monet painting. The door doesn’t lead anywhere—only to a “balcony” that is the depth of the short side of a brick. When you open the door, the railing is right there at your waist, ready to bend you in half. This makes it hard to clean the outside of the windows. Last time I did, it was early July, and to reach them I had to kind of hang my torso over the railing and try to maintain control of my hand as I made Windex patterns up and down the glass. Every time Avi came into the room I stopped and pretended to scrub the area closer to me, because I knew if he saw my strategy he would make me quit, believing I was better alive than dead. That said we’re only on the second floor.
Anyway, they’re dirty again, and I don’t really care. Filth has a way of diffusing light. In my brother’s empty Chinatown apartment, where I’ve stayed a few nights this past month, there is a skylight over his bed where all kinds of brush and detritus have collected. The light that comes through that thing is nothing short of magical. A warm buttery embrace right when you wake up, care of years-old leaves and random piles of sand. His whole place is like that actually, dim in a pleasant way, although after a while I need a shot of vitamin D right to the chest, and that’s when I go back to Bed-Stuy, where I sit in the sunny spot by our living room window. One of the many reasons Avi refers to me as a cat.
Avi and I have entered a new phase of quarantine in which we are both some combination of depressed and slap-happy at any given moment. For instance, two days ago I was laying on our bed (naturally) crying at 2 p.m. (less naturally) and Avi came in and tried to comfort me, which somehow led to us getting in a brief but uncharacteristic fight. Cut to 10 minutes later and we’ve both profusely apologized—I was sorry for “being melodramatic,” he was sorry for being “totally out of pocket”—and he’s gone to the bodega to buy me a ginger shot and a box of strawberry Hello Pandas, which I pretend to like for the sake of his benevolence. And 30 minutes after that we are texting each other inside the house, cracking up, and I’ve admitted that strawberry-flavored desserts are my enemy, and 30 minutes after that we are completely, utterly, existentially hopeless.
“The worst part,” Harling recently said to me, “is that time doesn’t feel like it’s passing. But it is.”
Not to paint too bleak a picture, but I’ve started sitting down in the shower. I’ve noticed that when you hug your knees to your chest and watch the water pitter-patter against your toes, drips sliding down your nose and into your mouth, it feels almost like getting caught in a warm rainstorm. Or if you lean back against the tub and look up at the curtain and the tiles and watch the spray coming down from what feels like 20 feet away, the shower looks massive and different from when you’re towering over all of it. When Amalie stayed at our place in July, she tied a branch of eucalyptus to our shower head, and it applies a kind of sage-y tint to everything, and makes it smell like a spa. It’s going bad now but I’ve left it up. I should probably just start taking baths.
Our out-of-control Monstera, the primary benefactor of the sunny spot
Something about this era of quarantine—where the joy of things reopening is tainted by the suspicion that it’s all unethical, and release seems ever further away as winter looms and fires burn and our government proves increasingly useless—has me feeling very strange, almost disassociative in a broader sense, and thus more deeply attuned to my immediate surroundings. I’m noticing chips in the paint of my walls that I’ve never seen before. We’ve spent weeks hunting three reincarnating house flies. I feel fatigue like I’ve never felt it. Avi and I keep noting how much our muscles have atrophied, how we need to go on daily walks to keep them from withering away completely. For the first time I’ve started doing yoga without a video, just moving however I feel like, not even using a mat but laying on our rug, my nose inches from tufts of my cat’s hair. It doesn’t do much, ultimately. I still get out of breath when I climb the stairs in our building and I’ve had a crick in my neck for so long it’s now part of my biology.
When I’m home I feel like the existential equivalent of air that is the exact temperature of my skin. What I mean by that is sometimes it feels nice and safe—like when Avi plays his guitar while I read my book—and other times suffocating and indecisive. This summer I decided I’m pro-mosquito bite because it feels good to scratch them. You have to take the small wins where you can. Social media, meanwhile, no longer provides the dopamine drip it used to, and so I recently put Instagram and Twitter into a folder on the last page of my home screen, away from my reflexes. I’ve been trying to open them as seldom as possible and it’s a relief to not be caught up on stupid internet drama. It doesn’t feel like it’s helping anyone anyway. Discourse has jumped the shark.
I am hungry for connection though. Whenever I see friends, it’s like a splash of cold water to the face. The other day I was with my friends Stephanie and Mary, and it felt just like that—rejuvenating on a soul-level, like I’d shed a layer of emotional PPE. I’ve been thinking about a conversation we had, where I described someone as “sweet,” and Steph noted that she is suspicious of anyone for whom that is their first and primary descriptor. I had to agree—if only because most people’s best quality is somehow tied to their worst quality, and the dark side of a sweet person is that they don’t actually like you at all, and so what’s the point?
It made us wonder what our first and primary descriptors would be. I said Mary’s would be ‘kooky’ and Steph’s would be ‘dry’ (as in humor), and for me, Mary had to think for a moment. “Forthright,” she finally said, “You’re very honest.” And so today, instead of writing you an essay with any discernible purpose, I am going to lean on the simplicity of that. Sometimes no conclusion is the only appropriate conclusion, and simply moving forward has to be enough.
1. “Enter Planet Miranda July,” an incredible profile of Miranda July by E. Alex Jung for Vulture. It was published in early September and I remember everyone talking about it. I finally read it and it’s worth the hype. “There’d be no satisfaction in being understood,” July said, “if the thing you were understanding was a given.”
Plus, this week’s Small Good Thing, which is this strange, four-minute “movie” Miranda July created using short clips supplied by her followers.
2. Since flies have entered my life, an urge to tell my loved ones to “buzz off” (as needed).
3. “Heirlooms,” a quiet yet gripping short story by Bryan Washington for the New Yorker, sent to me by a reader as an argument for not putting quotation marks around dialogue as a stylistic literary choice, and I have to admit, I think I’m converted.
4. This meme, sent to me by my brother, that unironically depicts the apparent extent to which Americans will go to reveal our future children’s genitals.
5. The entire Twilight film saga—technically as a joke, and then increasingly less so. They’re bad, and so fun to watch if you think of them as daddy-issue camp. I love what Robert Pattinson said about them in that incredible profile: “I look at the Twilight movies and I think in a lot of ways they seem more like sort of existential art house movies than the things that were intentionally that.” I also love the horrible CGI baby.
6. Not unrelated: Yet another pint of Häagen-Dazs cookie dough ice cream.
7 . Sylvan Esso’s music video for her new song “Ferris Wheel,” which takes place exclusively on an Animal Crossing island:
(Side-note is that Sylvan Esso, a.k.a. Amelia Meath, is the daughter of Johnathan Meath, the Coca-Cola Santa Clause, whom I interviewed in 2017 and now occasionally text when I see him in commercials…………it’s called name-dropping.)
8. The book Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, after hundreds of people recommended the audiobook when I asked for road-trip suggestions. I didn’t listen to the audiobook. I read it. (And liked it! But also agree with this criticism by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow.)
9. “It’s Not Too Late,” a profound and poetic essay by Carina del Valle Schorske for Believer Mag about the peculiarities of love, nostalgia, and this particular clip of Aretha Franklin singing with Smokey Robinson, which you should watch.
“In the wake of a devastating breakup, I tell my therapist how M would sit up in bed by balancing his weight on the back of his hand, like a girl child. I was always worried he would hurt his wrist. The detail is neutral. It’s nothing. But this is what love does: it venerates, through close observation, the bits and pieces of a person that don’t add up to his public personality.”
10. A podcast episode of “Yeah But Still” (which I don’t normally listen to) with Soprano actors Jamie Lynn Sigler and Rob Iler (Meadow and AJ), in which they talk about becoming super-famous teens and...wait for it...never having watched the show. WHAT?
11. A new video posted by 5-minute crafts—a YouTube channel that has 68 MILLION SUBSCRIBERS that posts, truly, the most insane crafts, and with not a shred of irony. Avi puts them on when we’re feeling particularly loopy: “37 GIRLY CRAFTS FOR ANY OCCASION.” Truly do yourself a favor. But maybe smoke a joint first.
12. For some reason, a vintage decorative knit vest from Etsy. No spoilers.
13. “What It Means to Be on the Left,” an essay by Peter Fraze for Jacobin that helped me think beyond “humane capitalism” as a goal for social and economic progress.
14. The poem “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay.
15. The devastating new information that my nieces won’t take off their new rain boots.
Bonus: The two minutes it took me to donate to Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization for people affected by poverty and disasters that is currently helping those most affected by the California wildfires and Covid-19. Join me!
A question for you
Has FOMO returned for you? I’ve posited to a few friends that I think FOMO is back—and that it’s made everything somehow worse—to mixed responses. Do you agree or disagree? Is watching other people have good times making you have a worse time? Do you miss the feeling of “at least we’re all in this together” or do you think that feeling still persists?
Okay that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading! And if you’re a paying subscriber, another podcast episode is coming in a couple days, this time featuring my good friend Danny.
I miss you and everything,
This month a portion of subscriber proceeds will be donated to The Bail Project, a non-profit combatting mass incarceration by disrupting the cash bail system.
I'm highly suspicious of any one having a good time right now.
FOMO has been hitting me hard lately. So many people I know, whether they live in different US states or not, are gallivanting around town (this is how I narrate it in my mind, I always use the word gallivanting for some reason) doing whatever they please, and it HURTS. I've had to mute many, many people on IG because their constant flow of Stories out at restaurants, taking mini weekend trips, traveling around the US, etc. was wearing on me. I should also just spend less time on IG, but it's difficult.
My now-husband and I also had to completely change our wedding plans back in May, and we ended up getting married outside with only his parents and siblings in attendance, at a distance. We didn't even hug them. My parents couldn't join us (they live 10 hours away and I was too scared to let them come). It was a tougher time because we knew less about COVID back in May – we were perhaps overly cautious. But now when I see friends (and IG strangers too) insisting on keeping their wedding plans exactly as they had initially envisioned them in the before times, I am honestly filled with quiet rage. Why do they think they're more special than everyone else? How can they have bachelorette parties, bar hopping? Groups of 30, 50, 80 at weddings? Tables of people who are definitely, absolutely not bubbled together? Dance floors? After the rage, I am consumed by sadness, confusion, and disappointment. And feel lost. It's FOMO with a very particular sting.