it doesn't have to be this way

This morning I was talking to my roommate about one of my favourite books, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and suddenly found myself feeling slightly weepy. I talked through the burgeoning tears and moments later they urge had passed. I could have easily dismissed the teary moment to PMS—I had, afterall, gotten equally teary during an episode of Love Island just yesterday—but throughout the day I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment. I had been talking about the moment I had realized, influenced by Yanagihara’s novel, that there was great appeal, for me, to have “a little life”. A little life: finding rich and satisfying intimacy with other people, whether romantic or not, having a beautiful home; maybe you’ll have a dog. It’s a life that is defined by love and connection, and simple pleasures. It’s one that sounds completely satisfying and beautiful , but in a world in which we are constantly told that we should always want more, that we should always want better, it doesn’t feel like enough. It feels like giving up and settling. I think the reason I felt so teary describing that moment is that I want it so badly. And I want to also feel like that’s a worthy pursuit. I don’t want to be disgusted with myself for wanting that. The greatness of a life that results in love, joy and beauty, even in the face of terrible things and the worldly pressure is beautifully depicted in John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I just finished reading the book and I enjoyed it so much. Although I shed quite a few tears over it, it didn’t leave me completely wrecked and feeling incapable of living in the world, which always feels like a plus. The novel follows an Irish man named Cyril Avery through his own little life, from the moment he is born into chaos to the tender moments of the months before his death. Over almost seven decades—each new section of the novel skips forward seven years—Boyne makes you feel tied to Cyril, as he comes to embrace the immovable fact of his homosexuality in 20th century Catholic Ireland, falls in love and makes quite a few mistakes all in between. I devoured the book, my emotions alternating between laughing and crying and groaning and gasping. It’s the best book I’ve read this year. Another thing I read this week that fits well into this theme and motivated me to write any of this down, was Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter titled oh no all my earnestness in one place. It’s comprised mostly of a commencement speech she gave at the University of Oregon in which she encourages the new graduates to forego the idea that there is a map and if they follow it, they’ll follow it right to certainty and security. Because more and more, that certainty is not there. You follow the map and then at the point where the bells should ring because you’ve absolutely made it, you’ve won, the map falls off. She talks about how many of us know that we have to throw away the map, we have to rethink what our futures may look like and what we need to do to get to that nebulous future, but find it difficult to do so. I screenshotted this:

“And for various reasons, you’re scared and exhausted”

“And for various reasons, you’re scared and exhausted”

She reminds us that we do not have to be ruled by fear, especially of the unknown and the uncomfortable. She reminds us to dig into the uncomfortable instead of dismiss it. She reminds us that whatever it is that we are struggling to reconcile with, whether it’s how we work or how live or whatever, that it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power to make it any which way we want. Although as she suggests, that is easier said than done. I feel like I’ve been telling myself for years to ditch the conventional definitions of success, to ditch the ideas of how my future could look like. I’ve been telling myself for years to just listen to myself, rather than to the voices that tell me there’s a right way to get what I want and to have a satisfying life. I remind myself everyday that I can’t put too much stake into the future because there’s no way I can control what happens. But then I panic. Because the thing is that the future is like a poor potential partner: it demands you to invest everything into it but at no point will give you any signals, any indication, that it’s in it with you. That it will give back everything you’ve given it, and maybe more. And no matter how much you give it up and swear you won’t return it’s call, you always do. Because you feel like you’re missing out on something potentially great. And it’s hard to believe that something actually great will come your way without as much strife. There’s no use promising that you’ll get over it. But as Petersen’s newsletter, and Boyne’s novel, and my tears remind me, it’s worth trying to get over. Because you might miss the good stuff otherwise.

consumption report

  • The Man Repeller article that led me to AHP’s newsletter

  • I started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which hasn’t necessarily told me anything about success that I haven’t really thought about myself, but has given me lots of interesting stories to share at dinner parties. It is satisfying though to have things I’ve thought about before be expressed in a more eloquent and pseudo-scientific way.

  • I find it really hard to get into podcasts, though when I do, I dive all in. I recently have been obsessively listening to Gimlet’s The Cut on Tuesdays, and excitedly await the episode each week. New York magazine’s The Cut is the only media publication I read on a regular basis because it combines fantastic reporting and writing with easy humour, as well as has a splendid mix of celebrity gossip as well as newsy news. The podcast is essentially just an audio version of that greatness, a perfect distraction from tedious work. I’ve also been really enjoying the Longform podcast again, especially this and that.

  • You can find out the other books and movies I’ve consumed recently here

TROIS CHOSES: Dick Cheney, Book Goals, and Joni Mitchell

Have you ever spent much time thinking about Dick Cheney and what he did while he was vice president? If you’re anything like me (and I hope you are), you probably haven’t. Cheney has never really felt like a main character in the American political saga; more like the supporting character that’s a bit of a joke. But Adam McKay’s Vice changes all of that. The movie follows the former Vice President from his college days to his time as vice president to George W. Bush. It documents his early days as a drunken no-good bum, his eagerness to sink his teeth into the political game, and the lengths to which he was willing to go to gain power. Mixing in real footage and narration, the movie is bigger than Dick Cheney’s singular story. It’s a story about America; it’s a story about power; and it’s a story about what we accept in times of fear. What’s exciting about Vice, and what makes it one of the most important movies of 2018, is that although it’s a story about the past, it ties that past to our current moment, suggesting that America’s past is always relevant to its future. It references a variety of political players, young and less known at the time, who grew to gain access to large amounts of power, including former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia and current Vice President Mike Pence. In doing so, the film reminds its viewers that although Cheney may be a player from the past, the things he did, the actions he took are all precedent for what is going on in America right now. And the amount of power that Cheney was able to yield, despite the assumed boundaries of his position, act as a warning to what happens when we underestimate dangerous men. It reminds us that the attitudes and behaviors that made it possible for the American government to convince the American people to go to war with Iraq are the same that made Trump’s presidency possible. But as much as it is a dark warning, Vice is also expectionally enjoyable. It’s funny, hit you across the face type of watch, and the educational aspects aren’t all too bad. Plus the narrator is Landry from Friday Night Lights.

Sometime in 2018, I decided to embark on a Goodreads Reading Challenge and challenged myself to read 25 books by the end of the year. By December 31st, I had only read 23 books, two of those being for school and two were re-reads. Instead of feeling satisfied that I had read anything at all, I felt  disappointed. I started a new book on December 31st and for a moment I felt a pressure to finish it that very day, just to add one more book to the list. Which was completely silly. And to be quite  honest, up until earlier that week, I had completely forgotten that I had set myself that challenge. What was nice about it was that despite the constant reminder that I should be reading, I still found myself reading more this year than I have in recent years. However, I found myself taking more time with books and being more selective about my choices, which was important to me. Once upon a time, I used to force myself to read books that I wasn’t interested in, just to say I had read them. It made the task of reading less enjoyable and I felt motivated to do it less. That’s why I really enjoyed this recent article from The Cut, “Should I Stop Counting How Many Books I Read?” in which writer, Katie Heaney shares the same premonitions as me about setting reading goal. She discusses how the pressure to meet a goal can outweigh your reasons reason for setting a goal in the first place: finding time to do something you love. In the end, it’s not about ditching goals altogether or setting lower goals. She decides that setting a goal can be a good thing but it’s not the worst thing to not meet one either.

While I’ve loved Joni Mitchell’s Blue for many years, I can’t say that I’m familiar with a lot of her discography. I pretty much love every song of hers I’ve ever heard, so recently I decided I would start listening to more of her other albums. “The Fiddle and The Drum” was a surprise—a song that I had never heard before but was immediately enraptured by. It came on shuffle when I was walking home one night and suddenly the humming street began to sparkle with movie magic. The track is completely stripped down, letting Joni’s deep and rich voice sink right into your bones. It’s the song that plays at the end of a movie that doesn’t have a happy ending; it’s the moment when the car is driving away; the moment when we see all the characters for the last time just going about their daily activities. It’s the perfect song for any winter soundtrack—a little romantic and a little weary.