we lose things because we have things to lose

Our brief crossing is best spent attending to all that we see
— Kathryn Schulz

I recently picked up my copy of The Best American Essays: 2018 after ripping through a majority of it in the spring and then putting it aside with a few essays unread. I was determined to finish it eventually, but nothing was actually driving me to pick it up. And then the other morning I did. Just because. I realized that I only had three essays left to read and usually I would just buckle down for the afternoon and drive through them, maybe savouring certain sentences but gaining no lasting impressions from any one essay. But this time I chose to do something different. I decided to read one essay a day, just so I could focus on that. One of those essays was “Losing Streak” by Kathryn Schulz of the New Yorker. In the essay, Schulz begins by talking about a time when she began losing things. Previously, she’d never been someone who absentmindedly lost things. She and her mother prided themselves on being organized and collected whereas her sister and father were replacing credit cards and drivers licences at a worrying frequency. But one summer she started to lose things. She’d leave her keys or her phone or her sweater at the coffee shop and would find herself frantically looking for them hours later. When she retrieved one thing, she’d lose another in the process. At one point, she couldn’t find a large truck she’d parked in downtown Portland. A second season of loss follows: Schulz loses her father. In the essay, Schulz recognizes the way in which loss covers our lives; the way in which loss is “a supremely awkward category” which forces “into relationship all kinds of wildly dissimilar experiences.” Losing your phone and losing your father are dramatically different, yet we approach it with the same vocabulary. On a gloomy and directionless Friday afternoon, Schulz’s essay made my brain go into overdrive. I wondered: How did loss become The Great American Theme? In “Eat, Memory”, another essay from the collection, David Wong Louie details his experience of losing food after he is diagnosed with cancer. Before the cancer and the G-tube that becomes installed in his abdomen, eating had been Wong Louie’s “enduring talent.” Throughout the essay he talks about food with care and with love. Losing food wasn’t just as simple as not being able to eat pork buns or delicious plums. The loss of food was a loss of identity. In 2019, when to be American means to be part of a chaotic undoing, the question of who we are and who we used to be feels more pressing. In her essay Schulz suggests that despite the disorder that it creates, loss is the regular order of things. To be human is to know that we will one day disappear. So what do we do we that? I’ve thought on this for a few weeks and I still haven’t come to any sort of conclusion or insights but I’m going to leave this here.

consumption report

  • I’m reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, despite my long time refusal to do so. I’ve yet to become the Zadie Smith fan my literary tastes demand I be. Maybe Swing Time will change that.

  • Mindhunter Season 2: it just keeps getting better.

  • Of course I’m listening to Taylor Swift’s Lover. I still really stan for Taylor’s music (I will never not emotionally belt “Dear John” in my most emotional and dramatic moments) even when I’m put off by her pseudo politics. Lover is not great but it’s best when Taylor does what is most honest to her: creamy, sweet pop filled with stick-your-tongue-out drama, and overwhelmingly beautiful romanticism. Favourites include “Lover” and “Cruel Summer”