a perpetual hunger for devotion

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It seems impossible that you have spent any time online in the past month and do not know about Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror. By the time it was released late this summer, the book was already the talk of the town. When I bought the book a few weeks after its release, the guy at the bookstore joked that I didn’t want to get behind the cultural rush. Like a lot of things we do on the Internet, owning or reading the book was a cultural signal that you knew what was going on. The Internet made memes about the types of Jia Tolentino fans. And as fun as all of this was, I couldn’t help thinking about the ways we were kind of playing into the things that Tolentino touches on in Trick Mirror.

I kind of didn’t want to write a response or reflection on the book because I didn’t particularly feel like I had anything to add to the conversation—yes we can all agree that it is pretty brilliant—and any attempts to do so would be participating in the very signalling that I am definitely trying to question my participation in. But here we are. I’ve already posted a picture about the book on my Instagram, I’ve already mentioned that I was reading it on this very blog, so it seems even sillier to act as if I’m above the hype. I'M NOT. If anything I am so deep in the hype it’s a wonder that I’m still breathing. Also, I was really lucky to see Tolentino* at her talk in Toronto where she was funny and eloquent and straightforward, and which got me thinking more about the book and all the insightful things that lie in its pages.

I’m pretty partial to all the essays in the book—“I Thee Dread”, the essay on loving weddings and the marriage industrial complex being the sole exception—but the one I loved the most was “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams”. I, like pretty much anyone in 2019, love the story of a good scam. And I, like most people, love to laugh at the people who were foolish enough to fall for the scam, the ones who failed to ask questions until it was too late and they were standing there dumbstruck and empty handed. I love reading about these people and feeling better than them because I’ve always been smart enough to avoid scams (sometimes). Then I read Tolentino’s* essay. In the essay she talks about a series of scams that have occured in America over the past few centuries. She talks about some of the more obvious ones: Elizabeth Holmes’s Thanos and Billy McFarland’s Fyre Festival. But she also talks about the scams that are more subtle and not as easy to identify, and which we are all susceptible to. Scams like student loans in America (college is supposed to be an investment in which offers multiplying returns and yet, now more than ever, most people leave college with a degree and not a lot of hope), effortless wellness and beauty (think Outdoor Voices and Glossier), and the cult of the girlboss (we are sold the narrative of the self-made woman as feminism and expected to see the success of the individual as beneficial for us all). The latter is one that struck me the most since I spent all of 2017 and 2018 trying to become a girlboss myself. And despite how much I loved “hustling” and drinking the Kool Aid of it all—while wearing Glossier’s Haloscope I might add—there was always a sense of there being something wrong. I won’t pretend that all the time I knew I was getting scammed but now that I’m out of it—yeah, I was scammed. What Tolentino makes clear is that, on some level, we’re all getting scammed everyday because America and capitalism are founded on the con/scam. At this point, it feels unavoidable. What Tolentino* recognizes and brilliantly articulates in Trick Mirror is the difficulty of knowing that you’re being scammed or that you are part of the hamster-wheel operation that is accelerated capitalism, and somehow getting out of it. Like, what are we supposed to do with all this information? Allegedly there’s been a lot of dissatisfaction with Tolentino’s* lack of proposed solutions in the book, which manifested in the audience at the event. There were a few questions that were like, “Well what should I do? Should I quit Instagram? Is it bad that I took an Uber here?”, etc. But I appreciated the lack of conclusion. As Tolentino* says at the end of her book, “the safest conclusions may not actually be conclusions. We are asked to understand our lives under such impossibly convoluted conditions. I have always accommodated everything I wish I were opposed to”. We can’t do it all even when we do our utmost, but we can talk about it. We can recognize the ways in which it is easy to accept the inhuman processes that make our lives more convenient, and try our best to minimize our impact. We can look away from the mirror for just a moment and take a look around.

Jia Tolentino has done a spectacular thing with Trick Mirror. She’s taken a sea of ideas and information that I think a lot of people are thinking about and she has broken it down and provided new ways of thinking, all without ego or condescension. It’s what makes the book so good. Pick it up if you haven’t already! I probably won’t stop talking about it for another year, so you might as well join me.

consumption report

Tavi Gevinson on Polyester Zine’s podcast talking about the Internet

Hustlers was good but not phenomenal. But I was excited to see a period piece that was about a period that I had actually lived through, even though at the time I was basically a wee baby who knew nothing. I didn’t need a title card to tell me it was 2013—tracking Lorde’s “Royals” over a scene could have been enough. The specificity of everything, from Constance Wu’s bangs to J-Lo’s poorly executed (fake) lip ring made it clear that this wasn’t just an isolated story about some strippers and some Wall Street guys. It is a defining story about America’s history that is going to be important for years to come. If we make it to 2050, I can’t wait for the babies to watch this like we watch Downton Abbey.

Jia Tolentino’s piece on how the music from the movie speaks to the specific energy of that 2007/08 era.

Charli XCX’s newest album Charli is full of bangers. Favourites include “White Mercedes”, “Silver Cross” and “Cross You Out” (ft. Sky Ferreira) Find more of my fall music favourites in this playlist

I’m researching the history of sampling in hip-hop for class, using Kanye West’s “Lost in the World” (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and have loved listening to the ways in which Kanye creates these patchwork worlds throughout his albums.

*Just know that I wrote Jia pretty much every time it says Tolentino but changed it because I respect her and um, she’s not my friend (yet)

cut to the feeling

I saw Carly Rae Jepsen this weekend and it was an amazing experience. I love her so much because she really represents unabashed joy and clear positive energy that she just shares with people and that feels really special. One thing I noticed last night was that I never stopped dancing. There was only one song I didn’t know all the words to and I still kept moving, I still felt it. Even better, I wasn’t drunk—I’d had maybe a half a glass of wine—so it was just pure happiness. It was truly the best concert I’ve been to in years. 

I’m always thinking about how good it feels to express joy or excitement about things that you enjoy, even though aloofness is always the order of the day. Last year, eagerness was really important to me, especially when I went to New York for the first time and had the opportunity to meet people that I admired. On one hand I wanted to pretend that i was cool and disinterested but at the end of the day, I’m a fangirl at heart. Eagerness is my factory setting. And a lot of the time, people don’t know what to do with eagerness because it’s not what they’re used to receiving. And it can feel embarrassing at times to feel really excited about anything because it feels naive. You’re excited to be at this event that is a celebration of the thing you love? Yuck. Even I, when faced with other people’s eagerness, can feel uncomfortable. But it’s still something I respect and I think other people do too. There is a lot to be serious about in the world, and it’s really easy to be morose and jaded. Especially if you’re paying attention. In the face of approaching climate apocalypse, institutionalized and mass hatred, and the way every day feels like gripping on to the edge with the tips of your fingers, joy and excitement feel impossible. But we need those moments, we need to cling to those things that make us grin stupidly and uncontrollably. We need Carly Rae Jepsen.

consumption report 

Movies are too long. We should make more miniseries instead.

I’ve been watching Succession. It’s definitely a slow burn, filled with tense, anxious scenes that I always hope, for the sake of the characters, are merely dreams. They’re not. Each character’s worst nightmare is always a potential reality, and it’s that darkness, the failure of happy moments to last even more than a minute that make each episode so good to watch.

I thought Second Act would be teeth-achingly corny and terrible to watch. It was. And I loved it.

The essay everyone is emailing to their friends.


your poetry's bad and you blame the news

The other day I wrote in my journal about how I get insecure about being the person who gets their book recommendations and style inspiration from Instagram instead of discovering things for myself through active search. This got me thinking a lot about sharing the things that I consume, culturally, online. That is a large basis of this blog, and I have Highlights on Instagram dedicated to it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the curated nature of it all, and how each time I experience a book that is considered culturally acceptable or I have seen a “critically acclaimed” film I feel like I must share it with whatever digital audience will observe me. The problem is not the sharing—though it might be—but of what I share. I don’t give the same platform to the Liane Moriarty book I tore through that I give to the Zadie Smith novel I didn’t much care for. And I’m not sure if I’ll change and stop posting Instagram posts of the books and movies that I’m into but I still want to think about why I feel the need to post any of it at all.  I’m reading Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror right now, and if there’s one thing I’ve got from it is that we should always question why we engage in the things we do—posting on Instagram, going to barre classes, eating kale caesar salads with pride—rather than just accepting the “order” of things. So, that’s the big question of the day: why do I feel so validated by the idea that people on the internet know I read a George Eliot novel this summer? Why was I desperate to let people know that I too am reading the hottest essay collection of the year? I haven’t figured it out yet. Stay tuned.

In other news, I’m back at university, and the first few days I felt so disconnected and purposeless. But today was a good day and I’m excited for the semester. I’ve begun to notice the way my brain automatically begins to panic when profs discuss assignments. Without a pause, I become convinced that I won’t be able to do what their asking and that I’ll fail. I give up before I’ve even tried. It’s a feeling that I’ve had since the first year of university, and even now, with three years of relative success behind me, I have not gotten better at tamping it down. I’m often annoyed by the people in my classes that raise their hands with confidence and say empty things with a tone of great importance. But I’m also envious of their ability to push past their self-consciousness and just say what’s on their mind. I want to strike somewhere in between being overly bold and overly cautious.

I’m really hoping to stay consistent on here as the semester goes on—even though I’m not very consistent now anyway—so if anyone is out there reading this and has articles/books/podcasts (especially audiobooks and podcasts) that you think I should check out and think about, let me know. And maybe I’ll talk about some of the stuff I’m learning in class as well.

consumption report (lmao)

“As everything around us heats up (from the summer sun to the climate at large), we are drawn to impracticality and sensuality, and ultimately, back to our own bodies.” (ssense)

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino (duh!). The “Pure Heroines” essay was a dream to read. All the books are on my list now.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. My first bell hooks and I don’t love it yet, but the chapter on love and greed is fantastic. And she quotes Marianne Williamson.

NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL!!!!!! I listen at least twice a day.

“Blocking a Million Bad Men” (The Cut on Tuesdays). You will gasp.

incandescent rage

As I mentioned last week, I just finished Rebecca Traister’s latest book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. I first read an excerpt from the book sometime in 2018 and was automatically engaged. I love women’s anger and I love reading about it more.

The act of a woman opening her mouth with volume and assured force, often in complaint, is coded in our minds as ugly”
— Good and Mad, pg 54

Early on in the book, Traister talks about the way women’s anger has been expressed in popular culture, specifically in the work of Beyonce. She talks about the video for “Hold Up” (from Beyonce’s Lemonade) and the way in which the fire hydrants that burst forth with uncontrollable water were reflective of a woman’s anger. Later, I was listening to the song and paid special attention to its lyrics. More than ever before, Beyonce’s refrain of “what’s worse/looking jealous or crazy” struck me. Even more so when she decides that she’d “rather be crazy,” suggesting that expressing her anger--and looking crazy--was better than sitting in bitter silence. For a long time I’ve been interested in how women’s expression of negative emotions, whether it be moroseness or anger, makes them monsters in the face of the world. And sometimes women do become monsters. Because at some point, it is exhausting to stay smiling while the patriarchy continues to stomp us into the ground. And so we rage. We use foul language and create “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheets and we act ‘crazy’ because it’s what we have to do to make things change. Traister’s book primarily focuses on the moment after the 2016 Presidential Election, but she recognizes that women’s anger and revolution is not new. It goes back to the centuries. To the French Revolution even. And it’s worked. It’s changed things. It hasn’t been neat or easy or consistent, but it has worked.

Throughout Good and Mad, Traister talks about the ways in which the expression of women’s anger can backfire. How the messiness of it can undermine or derail the revolution that we seek. But as Traister recognizes at the end of the book, we must go on. We must remember this anger. Because it is our driving force. And it will save us before it ever destroys us.

Good and Mad also made think about Solange’s “Mad” and the lyric where someone asks Solange why she’s mad, and she responds: “I got a lot to be mad about”

consumption report

  • My friend Kyle made a playlist called “road trip with bloody tires” which is made for quiet and steamy summer mornings. It reminds me of something that would play all day in an old house, or as the background to scenes from Donna Tartt’s A Secret History. After giving this a listen put on Kelsey Lu’s “I’m Not in Love” which I asked to be put on the playlist but has yet to find its place there.

  • Been reading Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries which makes me nostalgic for a certain literary New York crowd that I don’t think really exists; but I hope it doest. Brown’s writing is quick and sharp, making the book easy to pick up and put down—perfect for the last lazy days of summer.

  • Saw the new Netflix documentary on Cambridge Analytica, The Great Hack, and was mildly disappointed. It’s premise: how the influence of Cambridge Analytica over the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and Brexit, specifically the data harvesting, brought about new questions about data advocacy. Should’ve been vair interesting but focused mostly on Brittany Kaiser, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, and one of the two whistleblowers who put it all out there. As I put it to my friend Charlie: it was a movie about young people choosing power and prominence above all. And I still don’t know how we’ll advocate for our data rights against increasingly powerful Tech.

a minor but perilous triumph

I started reading Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which has been on my Amazon wishlist for years. Being a person who likes books and liking Joan Didion feels like the most unoriginal thing ever, but there’s a reason everyone loves her. There’s a reason she’s a legend. The book is filled with essays that Didion wrote for various publications in the the late 60s. Essays about John Wayne and and “Life Styles in the Golden Land” and self-respect. I just finished Part One this morning in which the essays are primarily reporting. What makes her reporting so good is that it’s thoughtful and poetic and moving. Concluding an essay about Michael Laski, the man who founded the Communist Party U.S.A, Marxist-Leninist, Didion says: “You see what the world of Michael Laski is: a minor but perilous triumph of being over nothingness”. Ugh, talk about magic!

I saw The Farewell with my roommates and found myself stunned with emotion for hours after. It’s about a young woman, Billi, “whose family returns to China under the guise of a fake wedding to stealthily say goodbye to their beloved matriarch -- the only person that doesn't know she only has a few weeks to live”. Awkwafina plays Billi whose close relationship with her grandmother makes it even harder to maintain the lie. She’s fantastic. The film itself is an amazing depiction of family life, especially immigrant family life. It depicts the tensions created when people move away; it perfectly captures the ways we hide from our families but never very well; and it gets the way in which culture defines family and the way in which the family unit is tied into the traditions and practices of a culture at large.

This week was filled with sweet moments and interactions with people that gave me lots of joy. To leave any interaction with a shit eating grin on your face makes you optimistic. Unfortunately, I capped the week off with a not so great moment. I made a mistake that was inconsiderate of other people around me and of course upset those people. It was a small mistake and it wasn’t too serious but I still found myself spending the entire day hating myself for it and believing that my friendship with the people I affected was irreparably damaged. But the experience was a good reminder that making mistakes doesn’t make me a bad person. And that people aren’t going to hate me or cut me off because I make stupid mistakes. It’s sometimes nice to believe that you’re going through the world and not causing any ripples. That as long as you can sit still enough and not be too messy and not do anything noticeably bad that you’re safe and that people will never have a reason to dislike you. And that’s just not the case. I know it and yet everytime I falter I spend ridiculous amounts of time beating myself up. I know it and I’m still thinking about it as I type this. But I’m learning. As everyone’s favourite yogi, Adriene, says: “We all fall, we all fart, and we all cry into the pillow sometimes. But, listen, We also all have the tools”.

consumption report

  • I’ve been watching a lot of reality tv this week, specifically Love Island (which is one FIVE nights a week) and MTV’s Are You the One? Watching reality shows in which people form emotional connections based on sheer proximity is always fun for me because as silly as I think it is, I always get overly invested as if it was happening to me.

  • Reading Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. More thoughts on that to come.

  • I finally listened to “Brown Skin Girl” and almost cried. Can’t wait for Blue Ivy’s solo album