This month was for processing. (I know that that’s what Virgo season is for, but whatever, I was a season late. We all work at our own pace here.) Summer is a blast. It’s my season, the season for vacations and late nights and day drinking. But fall, to me, has always been where the real works gets done. After all that hedonism, it feels good to sit down and get your hands dirty again. That back to school feeling never really does go away, I don’t think.
I don’t mean work as necessarily your job. I mean work as in whatever you need, literally need, to work on. What requires your attention? It can be hard to know that, sometimes. There are things people/society may think or say we should work on, and then there is the stuff that in our hearts we know needs attention. That might be our job, or our art, but it might also be our heart. Our head. Our space. To find out what truly requires your attention takes serious self-work, self-knowledge, and the will to self-discover. It requires both the desire and the ability to look deep inside yourself and figure out what that glowing, warm nugget of truth that you can never fully ignore is all about.
And sometimes you don’t want to know! Sometimes it is much, much, much easier to ignore it. To hold up a pyrite of truth as the gold standard and flashily say I Have It Figured Out. But, to contradict Smash Mouth, all that glitters is NOT gold, honey. Just because you’re reflecting truths that might be real to other people does not mean you’re reflecting what’s real to you.
I knew that I had spent the past couple months ignoring certain parts of my head, heart, space, and time. I was papering over holes in my personal life with event flyers and a book draft. Don’t get me wrong—I was doing work. HARD work. Work I’m really fucking proud of. But I wasn’t doing all the work that ultimately mattered to me.
I figured this out the old-school way: Journaling. Something that I used to do constantly because I could never afford therapy when I really needed it. In a journal, you can be as bare as you need to be, want to be. No one is going to see it. [Do not start a journal harboring thoughts that some day you will be famous and people will come for those Moleskines for your collected letters. That is a) extremely unlikely b) disingenuous to yourself and c) just no.] You’ll find there’s a lot of freedom in the page; things you didn’t know you felt will just come spilling out. You can find yourself there in ways that might be surprising or painful, but that will feel extremely good in the end.
Here’s what I figured out (and I am being very honest because you, lovely readers, have come to expect that from me over these past 5+ year, and also because I think you can learn so much from other people’s brutal honesty): That I had not really been doing the work of a writer, which is to say, mostly writing; and, worse, that the future I had been imagining with a partner was not, in actuality, really going to happen. These were extremely difficult, ugly, heartbreaking things to figure out! For writing, yes, I had been working on a book. I finished a book! But I had been prioritizing other things I classified as writing (events, The Buzzed Word) that are not… really… writing. I read this piece on “the writer as influencer” and felt a guilty twang of recognition. So now I am writing, unglamorously, after work and on the train and whenever I can find a free moment. I have poured myself back into writing and reader: It feels very good. I feel like a writer again.
As for my partnership—well, breaking your own hearts is never easy. No one tells you when you’re a kid that you might have a gorgeous, pure, honest, all-encompassing love but that it just…. might not be the right time for it. Your paths might diverge as you grow and you realize that fighting to keep you both on one of them is a detriment to both of you, because each of you dug down and found your glowing nugget of truth and it said that, as hard as it would be, this was right. And you knew. Knew for awhile. But you wanted the flashy pyrite. Wanted to think that love is everything, naively, like you two were the first two humans in history for whom love would conquer all. And hey, sometimes it does! I am not a pessimist; in fact, I am an eternal optimist, to a fault. There are plenty of people for whom it does. But there are also plenty of people for whom it doesn’t—3 of my best friends have had to do the exact same thing as me over the past 6 months. And it’s okay. It is not a failure. It’s life. And if you have had to do this or will have to ever, you can be soothed by the fact that you are living honestly, for yourself.
I had 2 things to work into this intro that have kept me going. One is the last bit of the finale of Fleabag season 2. (I will keep this spoiler-free if you’re still watching or have not yet.) Basically, a love ends because one character chose the thing they actually love the most over the nearly-as-big love they have for another character. My close friend who just had to do this kind of break-up framed it as: I love him, but I love writing (and the time that writing requires that can’t be sacrificed for a relationship) more. Me: I had so much love and still do and always will, but I have more for me and the life I’ve built for myself.
The other is the piece that’s sat in this draft for weeks now, on the Helsinki bus theory. Essentially it posits that if you are struggling to find your place in life, it might be because you keep getting off your bus and onto others that look better. And so you keep starting over. It says: It might take a very long time to break out, to become yourself, to make it, but you WILL, you’ll make it. If you stay on the bus.
This month of processing got me to my bus. My gold nugget. My true love: Me. Which is not selfish. It’s good. It is so good to love yourself the most. Never apologize for that. You do not have to give all of your work, your time, your emotions, your space, your energy, or your heart to anyone except yourself. But you do have to give it to yourself. For whatever it is you need to do.
If you have done the work of figuring all this out, that is your bus. Stay on it.
Must-reads: The Sept 30th Issue of the New Yorker had 3 serious gems: “Four Years In Start-Ups”: An incredible essay by a woman who left publishing to take a job in tech somewhat accidentally and was then swept up in the boom of Silicon Valley, watching the tech-bro culture metastasize and sicken everyone in it. You’ll think about this one for a long time. (25 mins); “Can a Burger Help Solve Climate Change?”, on the new fake-meat options like Impossible Foods as potential (long-shot) answers to the destructive powers of animal consumption and global destruction. (50 mins); and Jia Tolentino reporting on TikTok, for those who love reading about meme culture (25 mins). Lastly, I just got to the Ta-Nehesi Coates and Jesmyn Ward conversation piece in Vanity Fair, and it’s a glorious meeting of two phenomenal minds. (12 mins)
Longreads: “My Own Private Iceland”: Exceptional journalist Kyle Chayka writes about the overtourism industries subsuming the world, particularly Iceland, how that economy reshape places that begin to depend on it, and what it all says about global travel today. Loved this. “We can travel to see what exists instead of wishing for some mythical untouched state, the dream of a place prepared perfectly for visitors and yet empty of them. Instead of trying to “live like a local,” as Airbnb commands, we can just be tourists. When a destination is deemed dead might be the best time to go there, as the most accurate reflection of our impure world.” (25 mins) “Irish Butter Kerrygold Has Conquered America’s Kitchens”: I’ve been a deep fan of Kerrygold for a long time; my Irish grandmother has been buying it for years. So I certainly noticed when it was suddenly everywhere. Why and how this import became our 2nd-best-selling butter is a delightful read. (10 mins) “How ‘Handmade’ Is America’s Most Popular Vodka?”: Tito’s is the #1 best-selling alcohol in America. So how true can that “handmade” claim really be if they’re pumping out 1000s of gallon a day? A good look at liquor making and what a label doesn’t tell you. (10 mins) “The Westing Game, a Tribute to Labor That Became a Dark Comedy of American Capitalism”: This was an instant click for me—The Westing Game has remained one of the best books I’ve ever read since I read it in a 5th grade. I’ve read it innumerable times (and am now going to do so again) so it was a PLEASURE to see this. (8 mins) “The Space Between Us”: A writer muses on the distances between mothers and daughters, and how she will never really know her daughter as fully as she wants to. (8 mins) “Kindness Is Not Enough”: A very pointed criticism of the celebrity fetish for “niceness.” “I think many people of all classes don’t give a shit about the awful things their friends do and believe, as long as they can have a nice time together.” (10 mins) “Malfunctioning Sex Robot”: Patricia Lockwood is tasked with reviewing John Updike with the LRB and… well. “I was hired as an assassin. You don’t bring in a 37-year-old woman to review John Updike in the year of our Lord 2019 unless you’re hoping to see blood on the ceiling.” (28 mins) “The Troubling Economics of Food Halls”: Probably isn’t a surprise that such a capitalistic endeavor as a food hall isn’t often that great for the chefs that sign on. (With exceptions.) If, like me, you haven’t considered the pay-in pay-out system of a food hall while eating in one, this is a good read. (11 mins) And for profiles, two delightful ones of Katharine Hahn (who I LOVE) and Dolly fucking Parton.
Culture: Why it’s so hard to see your friends these days (too real). “It is such a fraught thing, to be seen.” Considering moving to Estonia’s isle of women. I feel… weird about the fact that astrophysicists are leaving academia to work on recommendation algorithms for tech companies. The reality of middle-class incomes. It’s insanely easy to track someone via Insta stories. How bad is your Succession crush? One of the funniest Grub Street diets I’ve read in a long time. Jonathan Van Ness is a national treasure. Americans never really liked kale in the first place. What do men keep in their backpacks? People matching artworks. This month in weird Twitter keeping us alive: COMMUNIST BOPS, twice-divorced birds, buff Victorian babes.
Books!: Three Women is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Loudermilk was terrific if you like eviscerating prose and satire. On Swift Horses (out in 2 weeks, preorder it!) is for fans of westerns, star-crossed lovers, strong women with a rich internal life, and/or post-war California when it was still the wild west kind of.
Poetry is good for the soul: “Goodtime Jesus.” “I love you. I’m glad I exist.” Ada Límon writing a poem to Natalie Diaz: “Sometimes I think my body leaves a shape in the air.”
AND A PSA: NYC friends, I’m doing my next Buzzed Word event with HEATHER FUCKING HAVRILESKY this Monday, 10/28, 7pm, McNally Jackson in Williamsburg. Please come and bring your friends! It’s going to be so fun.
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