Hazlitt Magazine

Free the Roses

On the bloom of spectacular decline.

Kids Like Us

Fifteen years after its release, Bend It Like Beckham is still an essential representation of South Asian teenagehood. 

The Loneliness Recipe

When I get homesick in New York, I scour Chinatown for ingredients to make my Korean grandmother’s radish, or mu, soup. 

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‘Trump Has Allowed a Different Public Face to America’s Morality’: An Interview with Eden Collinsworth

Speaking with the author of Behaving Badly about the spread of misinformation and what drone strikes and clever robots have to teach us about the future of ethics.

Last month, I spent a week in Cuba, much of it based in Havana, the first time in a long time I’d travelled completely untethered from the Internet. Toward the end of our trip, outside the Museum of the Revolution, we struck up a conversation with a man from Atlanta, who wore an army-green field hat and a Che Guevara t-shirt and was clearly very excited about being in the city. He said he’d wanted to visit while visas were still available; he didn’t think Donald Trump would keep diplomatic relations open for long. I made a passing joke about all the possible things the president could’ve done since I last checked the news—five days seemed like plenty for a full-blown autocracy to settle in. “Well, Trump tore up the White House,” the man offered. “He said Obama bugged the White House and then he tore it up trying to find the bugs.”Okay, so: not quite. But there was precisely nothing about this scenario—not Trump thinking it, not Trump saying it, not Trump turning over chairs and ripping down golden curtains with his own tiny hands—that struck me as implausible. I’ve lost my capacity for astonishment. And I can’t begin to blame that on Trump alone: Though he may be a spectacular model of egregious behaviour, he’s hardly the only guy dispensing with decorum. Expecting a standard of conduct from politicians, businesspeople, celebrities, judges, athletes, academics, or rush-hour subway commuters now seems ludicrously quaint.It’s tempting to be sullen, or to throw up your hands, or to ask, as author Eden Collinsworth does, “where does one find solid moral ground on what is proving to be the porous bedrock of our 21st century?” but to mean that just as a rhetorical question, punctuated by more throwing up of hands. Give Collinsworth credit, then, for striving instead to find a meaningful response. In Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex, and Business, she canvasses a whistleblower, an army general, a Holocaust survivor, a prime minister, a video-game designer, a murderer, and Margaret Atwood—among others—to better understand how we can make moral choices in what she terms an ethically flexible age. Danielle Groen: When Barack Obama would address bigotry or nationalism or limitations on speech, he had a habit of saying, “That’s not who we are.” There’s an implication that citizens share a sense of morality. I thought we could begin with where that morality comes from.Eden Collinsworth: That’s exactly where I started. My sense is that morality is an inner voice, and it’s basically what tells you not to do something, even though it’s not illegal, or you won’t be caught. I grew up with a certain sense of morality instilled by my parents. I’m perhaps one of the last generations where that occurred. My son is now a young man. I’m confident he’s utterly decent, but that’s not so much the moral values I instilled in him as it is what’s shaped his life in his twenty-seven years. There have been these profound changes, in technology especially, which have given a younger demographic more of a 360-degree view of morality. We’ve never been so connected. Here you are in a different time zone. Here I am, in London, where it’s raining outside. I can walk down the street and call someone in China. That said, we are still grappling with this instinct to retreat into what we know. In all of my travels writing this book, it seemed increasingly clear to me that we operate in cultural, socio-economic, and sexual silos. No matter how sophisticated we think we are, we fall back on that as a control panel.But that panel isn’t necessarily fixed—fifty years ago, homosexuality was a criminal act in Canada; last year, our prime minister marched in pride parades across the country. Are moral shifts inevitable?I think the most dramatic change in my lifetime has been the moral attitude toward sexuality. There’s definitely been a paradigm shift. I don’t think that’ll retreat. I believe it started in the courts but very quickly wove into the cultural fabric. There’s no doubt in my mind that—at the risk of sounding condescending as heterosexual—it’s been normalized. What I grapple with as a woman is why there hasn’t been an equivalent momentum with women’s rights. That’s so beyond me. I can’t quite figure that out.Well, a man who bragged on tape about committing sexual assault now sits in the Oval Office. What happens when there don’t appear to be consequences for behaving badly?I’ve been based in New York a great deal of my life. Virtually everyone from New York is from some other place. That’s the deal. I’ve heard obscenities and vulgarities, but I’ve never heard a racial attack. Recently, I got on the subway for an appointment uptown. I was seated, because I got on downtown; all I saw were legs and disembodied voices. Somebody inadvertently shoved somebody else, who confronted the person. The exchange turned racial almost immediately. What the man said was, “Go back to Africa.” I’d never heard that before. Maybe he’s always felt that, but now he’s allowed to express it—it’s been normalized because of the atmosphere propagated by Trump. It weaves into the fabric. It becomes acceptable. That said, with the tape, I think something mattered more than that. The fact is that people have lost jobs. Those jobs will not come back. I don’t care how many walls you build or what you promise. But if somebody promises you employment and a salary cheque, who cares what he says on a bus?But those jobs won’t come back. And we’ve seen a bunch of major developments in the past year that hinged on misinformation. The Brexit campaign lied about how much money the UK gives the EU. Trump lied about pretty much everything, whether it’s crime rates or immigration vetting or not cutting Medicaid. Does morality rely on a shared set of facts?That’s a fascinating question that speaks to a deeper question that is almost rhetorical: What do you want to believe? If you want to believe something, you’re determined to believe something, then there is a different method of receiving and generating news that can feed that now. I think the only thing that will change that attitude, frankly, are results. He’ll either get the results or he won’t.How much do you imagine you’ll have to talk about Trump while promoting this book? And did his victory challenge any of the ideas you had about moral behaviour?Truth be told, the book was scheduled for June and moved forward. The publishers asked me, “Would you please revisit the sections where you’ve written about politics and Trump in particular?” The situation has absolutely allowed a different public face to America’s morality. For whatever reason, he was a change agent. I think technology—24-hour news stations and social media—had a great deal to do with it. It enabled it. The fact is that, until Trump appeared on the scene, there was always pushback. Whether it was the church saying, “You shouldn’t say those things. You shouldn’t even think them, but you most certainly shouldn’t say them.” Or academics saying, “That’s incorrect. That’s not right.” Whether it was society in general or your parents—it doesn’t matter anymore. Those things were said and as a result it’s now acceptable to say them publicly. And social media invites participation where everyone feels, right or wrong, that they have a say.But in collapsing that distance between the powerful and not-so-powerful, social media creates an opportunity for people to call out questionable or unethical actions. It also informs the way we communicate and our ability to be empathetic. Even when you and I are speaking, I’m sensitive to and aware of the tone of your voice. Sometimes there’s hesitation, sometimes there’s enthusiasm. I don’t think we’re born empathetic; the only way that comes to be is by interacting with people in real time, usually in front of you. Those abilities and aptitudes are like a muscle. The more abstracted you become, the more you fall back on your own prejudices. It all moves forward so quickly. You become angrier more quickly. There’s no subtlety or way of measuring a reaction.Any discussion of whether advances in technology encourage us to behave in ways we otherwise wouldn’t makes me think immediately of Anthony Weiner, a man who seems constitutionally incapable of not sending women pictures of his penis. Without the technological tools, though, wouldn’t his need for approval, or his propensity for risky behaviour—pick your explanation—just find another outlet?I suspect he would have found a different outlet and it probably wouldn’t have had the same audience. He would’ve done something. He sounds frankly pathological. On a slightly less dramatic or repulsive level, I do think one behaves differently given the technological resources. Men tweet things to women they wouldn’t necessarily say to their face. People accuse people of things they wouldn’t necessarily say in person. I think there’s no doubt about it.You mentioned problems of abstraction. What about in combat? If we take humans further and further from the battlefield and let drones do the killing for us, do we create a moral distance from our actions? That’s the question that many people have. Are you making killing too easy? I spoke with Eric Zimmerman, who is a game designer. He talked about the magic circle. It’s where the game takes place, and you understand that the way you operate within this magic circle is not the way you operate in real life. What happens when warfare becomes the magic circle? From what I understand, the young people who are operating the drone equipment on the launch end come with a history of using these video games. They literally have the eye and agility for it. It does abstract you. But from the research I did, I promise you the people who are launching these drones don’t get a free lunch. In other words, they have problems and guilt. It’s not as if they walk away feeling like it’s easy.Or like it doesn’t carry consequences.I think they’re very much aware if they’ve killed people.I’ve suddenly been hearing people cite climate change, resource scarcity, or overpopulation as reasons they’re hesitating to have a child. Is there a moral responsibility to think about where the world is heading before having a baby?I don’t know. I’ve reproduced once and that was enough. It’s very expensive and exhausting. I don’t regret it for a moment. I think that if there’s a moral obligation, it’s to stick around and try your best to sort it out. It comes down to decency and indecency. I’ve traveled all over the world and lived everywhere under very different circumstances. I don’t need an interpreter or a priest to recognize what kindness is.Can that kindness be programmed into robots? Can morality be standardized? One has to put it in perspective. While we’re arguing the pros and cons, technology is moving forward. It’s the same with making babies. We can put a moratorium on altering genes, but guess what? In China, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. We might be thinking one way about robots, but in another country they’ll be programming robots in a different way. That said, it’s going to be quite a while before robots get to the point where they’re operating in ways that aren’t programmed by human beings.But some of the technology that’s being discussed, whether it’s five or fifty years from fruition, is bananas. It stretches belief and comprehension. Is there a danger that the conversations around the ethics of that technology will be limited to the people who happen to get it?I agree with you entirely in terms of that concern. The people who are inventing the future of technology, and as a result have so much impact on our lives, are very removed from the people who will take full advantage of the technology. All this technology is coming from publicly traded businesses. The first obligation of the CEO of a company, especially if it’s publicly traded and owned, is to its shareholders to increase value of the stock. It’s not altruism.That’s scary. I find myself scared a lot.Me too!I’m scared about what strikes me as a moral failure in response to the refugee crisis. I’m scared about robots stealing my job. I’m scared that it doesn’t matter if robots steal my job, because we’ll soon have made the earth too hot for anyone to live. How do I get through that fear?You keep thinking, this can’t get any worse, and then actually it does, or it gets worse in a different way. What I can say is that if you look for something where you feel as though you’re making a difference, that changes things. For me, it was to join the board of Relief International. You take a step back. I don’t know about the rest. I know one has to believe in the best, otherwise you just crawl under a rock. Come out from under the rock. It’s very bad for your complexion.
Free the Roses

On the bloom of spectacular decline.

“I mean, there’s no work involvedin being a rose, it seems.As soon as God looks out the window,he creates the house.”— Rainer Maria Rilke, Les Roses“Can we complete ourselves like roses do?”—Rainer Maria Rilke, Les RosesA guide to making roses bloom on a specific date, for a special occasion, is divided into four elements: timing, technique, hedging your bets, and considerations. Addressed to home gardeners in San Francisco, the guide minus context is one of the two most applicable advice columns I’ve read this year, the other being an op-ed in the Washington Post encouraging Chelsea Clinton, for the sake of her “political future,” to “disappear.” For me a garden seems unlikelier to have than a political future. Still, I am interested in how roses live. I find out, for instance, that the first auroral blooms in the International Test Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon arrived by the end of March, as they did last year and the year before and as they did not in the years before that, when the seasons had order. Gardeners talking to newspapers are sometimes concerned, knowing that a backlash to the early warmth, a frost in mid-April, can blight a rose before it fully lives. By summer the bloom cycles are easier to control, and begin when the gardener “deadheads” the roses, inducing new life; when it is warmer the blooming season is longer, which sounds ideal. Not so, explains an Australian rose grower, saying that a shorter hibernation means “the roses are being put under more stress.”This delicate internal clock is one thing that makes the rose a dread metaphor for romantic love, and for years, in fact for the first decade of my sexual life, I refused to accept a single stem from a single new lover. Timing was at the heart of my superstition, which I expressed as a resistance to clichés. Yet the week I got engaged to a man I had known for a month, I paid a studio visit to the artist Scott Campbell, whose main medium is tattooing, and who demonstrated a homemade, prison-style tattoo gun by inking, on my ankle, a classic long-stemmed rose from his repertoire. Things that were sudden also felt right to me at the time, and forgetting that I had not planned to get a tattoo, or that I would not have a picked a rose for myself, I stipulated only that Campbell draw it with thorns (no trope is more personally irritating than that of a woman who, in love, becomes defenseless). Four years later, the petals retain the impression of a velvety rubescence, despite being inked in plain black.I feel like, what’s the point of a rose? Does the rose need a point?* * *Maybe my tattoo has fostered a frequency illusion, but I swear that the traditional flowerage, in traditional red, is a trend gone strong. Over a dozen or so seasons, the rose has cropped up as a motif or ingredient in runway and off-runway fashion, organic and “natural” beauty products, fragrances for people under the age of 34, and certain romanticizing strains of reluctantly contemporary art. A beloved museum show of 2016, held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, was Alex Da Corte’s “Free Roses,” named for a dream of buying all the roses from a roadside flower-seller and giving them away. One of my favourite people is a painter, Sam McKinniss, who mixes carmine and white over silver to make livid roses reminiscent of Fantin-Latour, and if I could have any new sculpture, it would be the one by Jesse Darling involving an artificial bloom at the neck of a plastic one-litre bottle, an IV bag filled with anti-freeze, hooked on a bungee cord, and a homemade, ersatz gun, all wired together to look like a dish from an anarchofeminist cookbook. On social media, whether the feed is primarily aesthetic (Instagram), socialist and literary (Twitter), or aesthetic and literary (Tumblr), I see bright or dark red roses “everywhere,” where they used to be shunned: they are your grandmother’s and your mother’s roses, now embroidered on satin bombers or black leather winklepickers or handbags, enamel-pinned on totes and blue denim jackets, printed on slipdresses, plucked from the nearby bodega and posed in a “selfie” or still life (to me a still life of one’s posessions is also a kind of “selfie,” my least favourite word) that is taken on a rose-gold iPhone 6, the lens smeared a little with face oil for an ad hoc soft-focus glow, a picture that seems to say, “Funny. Red roses for me.”Those are the words said to have been thought by Jacqueline Kennedy on the Love Field in Dallas, Texas around noon on November 22, 1963, when she and John F. landed and she was handed a bouquet. The state’s official flower is a yellow rose, so yellow are the roses given to visiting dignitaries, but on the second day of the President’s visit there was a city-wide shortage. Red was the next-best colour. A field called love. A wool bouclé suit in Mattel Barbie pink, originally designed by Chanel but reproduced by a Seventh Avenue tailor, a Polish Jew who immigrated to New York City in 1952, so that the First Lady could say it was “made in America.” The script by Noah Oppenheim for the Pablo Larraín film Jackie contains, in place of her thought, “a beat, as she eyes the crimson blossoms,” before she is dazed into smiling by the noise of the crowd. (Henry Green, in his 1946 novel Back, shows a soldier coming home with one leg, having lost the other “for not seeing the gun beneath a rose,” a worst-case definition of sub rosa that the dead Jackie might have appreciated. Darling’s afore-described sculpture, Gun I (2014, remixed 2016), puts it similarly.) Hours later she will begin to be grateful for the crowds, the photographed evidence for her refusal to see “Jack” as a casualty, which he is in a strict sense. Nothing’s heroic about dying in a convertible. Yet the rain had gone, the sky was clean and bright, the weather in essence was prepped for a celebration to which the witnesses had invited themselves, and so as a symbol or catalyst for the loss of “our freedoms,” few events are so endless as Kennedy’s death. Red on a sunny day remains unreal.[[{"fid":"6700106","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"800","width":"1200","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]JackieJackie, as played by Natalie Portman, appears like we’ve never quite seen her, a figment inferred from two startling, frangible images on historical record: the wife holding a man’s head together in a seat “full of blood and red roses,” as she’d later recall; and the widow coming home still stubbornly dressed in red-splattered pink, as if declaring her consanguinity with the man who hadn’t lately shared her bed. “Let them see what they’ve done,” said Jackie in life as in the film, though she did not know who “they” were. Everything she wanted was borrowed, even her flair for a tragedy. She was sure in her misapprehensions. She may not have remembered that it was Mamie Elizabeth Till who declared, eight years and three months earlier, that the funeral of her teenage son would be open-casket and open to press, saying, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.” Today at the Whitney Museum there is a painting by Dana Schutz of Emmett Till in repose, ripping the sight from its time and making it more awful and fresh than any black-and-white photograph. I found it impossible to look closely at the face of the boy as seen by Schutz, and kept refocusing on a big vermillion rose she affixed to the casket, a rose, not found in the photographs, that begs the interpretation: here is a Catholic ex voto, as ornate and fetishistic and tacky as anything Catholic, for a martyr who deserves to be made canonical, to be hung in museums. Considering the trendiness of roses, I felt the gesture gave credence to another reading: here is a white artist who has noticed black death for the first time as a trend in the news. I wondered, irrelevantly, how the early Christians would have reacted had the daughter of a Roman centurion learned to make woodcuts, and done the cover of Foxe’s.By coincidence or not, the year Jackie dodged a bullet and tried to make John F. a martyr was also the year Jessica Mitford, the English aristocrat turned socialist and journalist stateside, published what remains our best dissection of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death. Mitford describes a vast coalition of florists whose profits depend heavily on people dying for others to grieve, and whose spokespeople refer to funeral announcements that say please omit flowers or in lieu of flowers, please donate to charity as being “derogatory to flowers.” She finds the President of the Society of American Florists expressing the gravest fear, that “funeral directors, as well as florists, are in danger of being swept away along with sentiment and tradition.” A little swept away himself, he wasn’t remiss: sentiment at large could be seen as embattled by common sense and matters of survival, as when Lynn Anderson sang, “I beg your pardon / I never promised you a rose garden,” and also by something strange to common sense, which we call the contemporary. A 1966 profile of Cy Twombly in Vogue, showing the artist at his Roman palazzo, noted that in “certain quarters, where it is assumed that avant-garde American artists should live in avant-garde American discomfort,” he was “suspected of having fallen for ‘grandeur,’ and somehow betrayed the cause.” Two years earlier, Twombly had shown “Nine Discourses on Commodus,” an immediate response to Kennedy’s death in which gored and dripping roses, paired up like entrance and exit wounds, figure huge; and had been dismissed as a messy, reactionary, basically irredeemable classicist by those in favour of material austerity. His detractors, like the artist-critic Donald Judd, believed they saw the future in the spirit of minimalism, but Twombly saw through the future to the spectacular decline, and turned out to be right.[[{"fid":"6700116","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"688","width":"1350","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]Cy TwomblyIn the fall of 1986, the President, who was Ronald Reagan, proclaimed the rose to be the “national floral emblem” of the United States of America. After that the bloom came pretty quickly off the symbol. “I hate roses,” Twombly told Vogue in a second profile, this one at a Gaetan villa, in 1994. “Don’t you? It’s all right if you can hide them in a cutting garden, but I think a rose garden is the height of ick.” Vogue must have concurred, because by the time of my white suburban prom in Southern Ontario, a chronotope not rife with sophistication, everyone knew a corsage or spray of roses was embarrassingly formal, too dressy, overdetermined. A chill girl wanted a silver heart necklace from Tiffany, and later in the 2000s, living under the shared aesthetic of Marc Jacobs and Sofia Coppola, she wanted hand picked bunches of daisies and a white iPod loaded with post-punk. Long-stemmed red roses were about as welcome a gift as an Andrea Bocelli CD, and were used to signal melodramatic irony (see: American Beauty, a movie that can only be rated relative to nighttime soap operas) and to make, depending on the audience, a fun game or borderline mockery (or both) of heteromantic ideation (see: the central schtick of The Bachelor).“We both know it’s not fashionable to love me,” sings Lana Del Rey, proudly, on her 2015 album Honeymoon. Were Lana’s brand of Americana to have its own flag, it would be a print on satin, not silk, of the opening shot in Blue Velvet. A film by David Lynch, released the year Reagan issued the proclamation about the rose. A white picket fence against the sky with the red double blooms, a visual on the phrase “newly patriotic.” Newly hip, too. Lana and I both know it’s trendier now to be a bit unfashionable. What she calls “my mother’s suburban glamour” and I call the “lil’ bourgeois aesthetic” entails a somewhat wishful, somewhat wry interest in signifying the deluxe, in looking like the return of the middle class to cul-de-sacs on golf courses, to white-cloth restaurants and daytime gin in midtown. Roses by other names include: rhinestone clip-on earrings, long nude nails, marabou mules, blouses buttoned all the way up or black lace bodysuits. Wristwatches with gold faces and leather bands to match slim gold-tipped cigarettes. Eyeshadow to match light blue jeans, high-waisted and cropped to make ankles sexy. I personally know five women under the age of 34 who own wool bouclé skirt-suits, and none of them live in the White House. These are women who have never been called “young ladies,” who have uneasy permalance relationships with corporate employers, who have breakfast at Duane Reade instead of Tiffany’s, and who, if they get married, do not then expect to be happier.These are not all white women, I should say, but I should also say that my ideas of “suburban” and “middle class” were formed in whiteness and by trying to fit in. Ditto my sense of what’s fancy. To my friend Durga, whose family moved to Canada from India before she was born, roses smell neither rich nor sweet but neutral. To my friend Tara, who moved with her mother to Canada from Iran in her teens, rosewater is an ingredient slightly less common than sugar. I recently got entranced with a video in which Princess Nokia, a Nuyorican recording artist in the Bronx, makes her own rosewater facial mist with fresh petals, agua de Florida, and water to steam, poured into a dollar-store spray bottle. (“Most flowers have a gender identity,” she explains, unscientifically. “Roses are like the most female.”) Her tender, easy process gave me the meaning of “self-care,” a concept that hadn’t previously appealed to me, as it sounded like phoning and ordering flowers to your own bedside; when I saw it in practice, not exactly as preached by Audre Lorde, it looked akin to the kinds of (in)activity our mothers called “relaxing” and “mindless,” the face masks in front of the television and the forty-minute bubble baths. Self-care seems better when it means something like “tending your own garden.”* * *There has been, for like a hundred years, a heady socialist overtone to the subgenus Rosa. “Bread and roses,” the titular line in a 1911 ode by James Oppenheim to the American women’s movement, became a famous demand at worker’s strikes and a trade union’s motto (histories differ as to whether the union organizer Rose Schneiderman, who demanded bread and roses in a speech the same year, inspired or was inspired by Oppenheim). In the winter of 1912, women led a massive two-month textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, chanting, “Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.” Those who are needy are also, and equally, desirous. This is a message so basic it should never have gone out of style.The thinker and writer Jacqueline Rose, in her recent book Women in Dark Times and elsewhere, argues that the Polish, Jewish, and Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was a moral and sensual force and a changeable spirit who thought “passion—like politics—was a question of freedom.” Nicknamed “Red Rosa” as she climbed to prominence in Germany’s Social Democratic Party and “Bloody Rosa” after she broke ranks and was imprisoned for radical actions, she was described by comrades as “tiny, fragile” and “selfless” and by the prosecutors who imprisoned her as “rootless.” The image stemming from these descriptions is of a gift rose in crimson, her leaves and thorns lightly intact, living her shortened life in a vase on a pedestal. Obviously this is more romantic than accurate: Luxemburg, who has also been described as one of the twentieth century’s best thinkers, believed in spontaneity and permanent change and identified mostly with birds. Her view on the Russian Revolution was romantic and accurate at once, as like a Brontë heroine rushing to love, she could see it was doomed but believed in it anyway (or meted her belief according to the measure of its doom, depending on your reading of her mind). Rose sees the conflict between Lenin and Luxemburg in psychoanalytic terms, saying that while Lenin fixated on the size of a problem, Luxemburg laid fingers on the deeper cause, or the inner meaning, and so was “offering a counter-erotics of revolution.” Assuming she cared for her namesake flower, this revolutionary, this determined internationalist, would have been disturbed to find the rose a symbol of state and national pride, or of a woman’s welcome possession by a lover.Luxemburg wrote in a 1911 article, “Peace Utopias,” that the war-and-peace dialectic in capitalism, responsible for an expensive international arms race that was supposed to end and be ended with “world peace,” was proof that “the roses of capitalist profit-making and class domination also have thorns for the bourgeoisie, which it prefers to wear as long as possible round its suffering head, in spite of all pain and woe, rather than get rid of it along with the head on the advice of the Social Democrats.” (Eventually it would be the Social Democrats who, two months after the end of World War One, had Luxemburg executed for her Communism. Remember the Queen of Hearts? “For painting my roses red / Someone will lose his head.”) From prison, where she spent time with prostitutes, Luxemburg wrote a sweeping piece of literary criticism in which she cast the crown of roses a little differently, fashioning an answer to Tennyson’s old “rose of womanhood” in a passage on prostitution in Russian literature. Unlike his English and French counterparts, says Luxemburg,“the Russian artist … dignifies the prostitute and rehabilitates her for the crime that society has committed on her by letting her compete with the purest and loveliest types of womanhood for the heart of the man. He crowns her head with roses and elevates her, as does Mahado his Bajadere [in Goethe’s poem ‘Der Gott und die Bajadere’] from the purgatory of corruption and her own agony to the heights of moral purity and womanly heroism.”It’s funny how many contradictions elicited by the rose, bred by its infamous symmetry, can be addressed by saying that the rose both has and is currency. Used as legal tender by seventeenth-century royals in Western Europe, today roses are used by sex workers online to euphemize pay, as in “300 roses per hour.” Roses in emoji form are also used, on Twitter, to signal membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a left-wing populist organization whose ranks have nearly tripled in the last six months, and whose agenda is more or less set against global capital. Because some of the Democratic Socialists are also members of a partly fictitious, partly metafictitious group known as “Bernie Bros,” there are liberals who think the rose emoji is to the left or the sometimes-called “alt left” what the frog emoji is to the Breitbartians (a longer word for barbarians) of the “alt right.” The idea here, if there is one, is that the rose is a cover for the stench of rank masculinity, but to think that any one group, even if it were male-dominated, could usurp a symbol so classic and storied is ridiculous. Before, during, and after Pepe, a green frog signifies little beyond the princely delusions of laughable men. A frog does not speak to human dignity. A rose still does. When a friend texts me a rose, she is saying not to worry about my worth.As for what it says about my political or more personal nature that I prefer the newer rose emoji, thorny and dissolute and darker, visibly dying, I don’t feel like explaining it. Frankenstein said it best in The Bride of Frankenstein, iterating to his creator that yes, he understands his fate, knows which side he’s seen to be on: “I love dead,” he says. “Hate living.” I love cemeteries for being and for remaining the only solid grounds, whereas everything else solid, as you may have heard, melts into air. I love the way Twombly painted dead heads of empire in the Sixties, and the way Nobuyushi Araki, the Japanese photographer, answered an interviewer who asked how he made old-fashioned flowers look hot: “Why do they come across as erotic? Because I shot them.” I love when Lana wishes she were already dead. I know what Jacqueline Rose means when she says “capitalism cannot hide its ugliness from the world (periodically revealing that ugliness is simply the obverse of its inhuman powers of endurance).” Ugliness may be human, and more original than beauty; beauty lapses easily into cliché, but then suggests that clichés, the good ones at least, begin as efforts to describe the irreducible. I would love to buy roses to watch them die. I don’t buy them. I would never be able to throw them out.
‘You Write Your Way Into a Certain Kind of Clarity’: An Interview with Paul Auster

Talking with the author of 4 3 2 1 about unfair criticism, being haunted by what-ifs, and the stuffy conventions of modern American fiction.

4 3 2 1 feels a bit like Paul Auster going to 11. His latest novel is something of a maximalist interpretation of his lifelong fascination with happenstance, metafictional gamesmanship and American mythology. It follows the life of one boy, Archibald Ferguson, in four different configurations: spurred by the fate of his father’s furniture and appliance shop, each version of Ferguson is left to spiral out into an entirely different life, finding his own path from New Jersey youth to—well, it depends on the Ferguson, really.Though it has lost the genre play of Auster’s early work, it has replaced it with something like sociopolitical grandiosity. 4 3 2 1 is, in a sense, [sort of] the ultimate American tale: beginning with an immigrant who bumbles his way through the processing centre of Ellis Island, it is a kind of oblique testament to the potential of the American endeavour. You really can be almost anything in this land, or at the very least be a lot of different variations on the same basic story.With the drumbeats of history and politics marching each of the four Fergusons along, Auster takes us through almost every aspect of a Jewish New Jersey adolescence, every possibility, joy, horror, heartbreak, erection, ecstatic triumph and cruel disappointment of a young man growing through midcentury American tumult. It is a hearty scratch for anyone who has ever felt the itch of what if, a deep dive into the rocky, capricious, chaotic waters of life—and then it comes up for air and dives back down three more times.*David Berry: One of the Fergusons becomes a writer—well, I guess they all become writers in some capacity, but one becomes a novelist—and he describes the experience of his first review as, “five satisfying tongue kisses, a friendly pat on the back, three punches to the face, one knee to the balls, one execution by firing squad, two shrugs.” You seem to get your share of criticism these days; how has it been to wade back into the responses to your first book in six years?Paul Auster: First novel. I wrote three books in between. I don’t know why everyone says that: it’s not as though I was twiddling my thumbs the whole time. But I don’t read too much of it. I’ve gotten some very nice responses. Some very awful responses. That’s pretty typical for me. It’s nothing in between: it’s either love or hate. What can I do? I’m a target. People are gunning for me. I find it ridiculously stupid, unfair— they don’t read my work, but they have an opinion about it. Other people are more open-minded: they see what’s there, and they respond to it. There seem to be some reviewers who want to say what the book should be, rather than what it is. It’s as if someone was to say, “Well, Ulysses, it’s so boring. Why isn’t Leopold Bloom planning a bank heist for that day? That would be much more exciting.”To think that this one could have had four bank heists. But I’m curious, then, about what is there: what drew you to this conception of a novel of multiple timelines, or parallel lives, or whatever you might want to call it?Number one would be this eternal fascination with “what if?” I’m always playing out possibilities of what might or might not have happened. But I think, deeper than that, was a thing that happened to me, which I have written about: when I was 14, a boy was struck by lightning next to me, and killed. That has haunted me all my life. And it has certainly changed who I am. That experience—but I wasn’t even aware of it when I started. So much is happening in the subconscious. You write your way into a certain kind of clarity. It starts as a blurry muddle of mess, and then it starts to take on definition.The experience of writing a book might be like that, but what about that actual experience, of almost being hit by lightning? You’ve talked about it before as an important event in your life, and I feel like you could trace that through a lot of your fiction, the idea of this sort of happenstance, random occurrence. Did you have anything like that realization at the time? I mean, it’s literally a bolt out of the sky, showing you how random things can be.No no no no no. It’s something that sneaks up on you over the years. I distinctly remember, after it happened, it never occurred to me to think, “If it had been five seconds later, it would have been me.” That never crossed my mind until years later. Because somehow, an event is an event. You take it for what it is. It’s only on reflection. This book in its entirety is almost all that reflection. Remember the conversation that Ferguson 4 has with Noah, his friend/cousin, about the two roads: You have to get to an appointment, and there’s the main road and the back road. You can’t really know if you’ve made the right decision, because you can’t be in two places at the same time. And he says that’s why we invented God, because he can be all places at the same time. These are the kinds of things that have always interested me, so I decided to play it out in a big book.I think those what-ifs are always appealing to a certain kind of person. Although I think, in a strange way, thinking about those actually makes me feel more like a determinist. Thinking about all the things that could have been different, that were maybe just happenstance, makes me think about the ways they were actually kind of causal. I think of it almost in the Guns, Germs, and Steel sense, the way all these little things shape outcomes: if you go far enough back, I find it easy to think, “Well, what else could this really be.”I’m not so sure about this. In my previous novel, Sunset Park, Lorenzo Michaels, the novelist, is having a conversation with his friend, and talks about wanting to write a novel about things that didn’t happen. There are many wars that could have happened, but didn’t happen. A lot of huge wars that stupidly could have been avoided—the Cuban Missile Crisis being one that didn’t happen, Iraq being one that did, for no reason. It was built on lies that the Bush administration told the American public, and has destroyed a whole country, a whole region, and we’re still paying the price for that blunder. But it didn’t have to happen. Another what-if: what if Ralph Nader hadn’t run for president? Or what if the Supreme Court hadn’t been the political hacks they were and given the election to Bush? What if Gore had been president? He never would have invaded Iraq. So likely there’d be no ISIS today. No so many things. It just so easily could have come to pass that way. I can’t believe in this determinism. It doesn’t make sense. It’s just how things fall out. They don’t have to be that way.Right, but I think that sense of spiralling out you’re talking about, that’s what sort of trips me up. To keep on the 2000 election: sure, if those judges had decided a different way, we don’t get ISIS. But maybe you wouldn’t have been on the court, in a position to make that decision, if you weren’t the kind of person who would have decided that way. You wouldn’t be Ralph Nader if you weren’t the type of person to run a more or less hopeless presidential campaign. The tendrils seem so vast in every direction I almost feel like you have to assume it worked out that way for some particular reason—not in the sense of, like, God ordained it, but maybe just something like, “Well, it started in this position.”I think what I want to say about the lightning experience is this: anything can happen at any moment. Period. At any given moment things don’t have to happen the way they do. It’s an accident. An accident by definition is something that doesn’t have to happen. It’s not necessary. It’s a contingent fact. The only necessary things that have to happen, I suppose, is that we’re born and we die. Everything else is a contingent fact.Speaking of contingent facts: since this is a novel, and you’re not literally God, there are a fair amount of concordances between the Fergusons. They’re all writers, of a kind, they all end up dating or interested in the same woman, and so on. Is there something essential about a character, in your mind, when you set down to create one? As soon as you started this character with parallel lives, are there just certain ways he had to develop?Had to develop?Okay, fair. Was more likely to develop?I thought so. They all share certain things. An ability at sports, a love of music, they all share an interest in literature, film, art of all kinds. They’re all erotic beings, they care about that part of their lives—as most of us do. Nearly everyone I’ve known does. Some people more than others, I suppose. All given to a kind of inwardness. Those are what I would call the genetic traits—the nature-nurture debate, which is what you’re trying to goad me into talking about. On the other hand, having lived with these boys for so long, I tend to think about the differences.Well, speaking of those, is there any degree of wish fulfillment in a novel like this? Like Ferguson 4 says, that god-like ability to be everywhere at once, even well beyond the normal abilities of a novelist to be wherever it is he wants to be?That had never occurred to me. I guess you could say it’s the wish fulfillment of a writer who can tell it different ways. We’re always telling things one way, even when we’re making them up. I kept finding them, to be honest: the book is largely improvised. It just kept occurring to me as I was doing it, the feeling that I was finding material just hovering above the page on my desk. I’d plan certain things out, but they just never seemed to go that way on the page. I had many more characters and stories I wanted to deal with, and it always became much more streamlined than I thought it would be.The things that happen in any given moment. That does make me wonder: you start the book with a joke, though it’s something like the foundational joke of the family. Without giving it away, is this sort of the ultimate response to the capriciousness of life—you just have to laugh about it?Is that a joke? At times it feels like a joke. I don’t know why I began the book with that joke. I hadn’t heard it until about two years before I started writing the book. But I knew the tone, right from the beginning, which is why I started with the joke. I wanted it to have the feel of legend. According to family legend, he arrives in New York January 1, 1900, and supposedly walks on the street and buys a tomato, thinking it’s an apple. Since when do they sell tomatoes on the street in New York in January? It’s all a blur of conjecture, legend and myth. You have to understand the humour in all this, too. There’s a jocular sense of storytelling. Even the references of the gods, from time to time. It only seems like a realist novel. I think it seeks to break all the rules of how Americans write fiction. I’ve always been writing against them. I’ve never tried to join that club. I’m not in it. I don’t want to be. I don’t want to write the way people wrote 100 years ago. It’s getting tired.
Featuring Vicky Mochama
The specific way men interview women (5:05), Rory Gilmore, journalist (17:17), and the Avril Lavigne riots of 2021 (48:27)
Kids Like Us

Fifteen years after its release, Bend It Like Beckham is still an essential representation of South Asian teenagehood. 

Inside a tight taupe leathered car, something out of a ‘70s Amitabh Bachchan movie, Jesminder (Parminder Nagra), the protagonist of Bend It Like Beckham (directed by pop genius Gurinder Chadha), sits with her sister, Pinky (Archie Punjabi), on the latter’s wedding day. They’re framed by the flurry of people behind them. Pinky asks Jess, her whimsical golden churis delicately singing as she moves her hand to push a non-existent strand of hair away from her face, “Don't you want all of this? This is the best day of your life, innit?” Her expression is uncharacteristically twee, a star of bindis lining her acute bone structure, she smiles, broadly, as if to expect a loud yes. Instead, Jess looks at her, eyebrows narrow, pointed, and says, calmly, without hesitation or the bratty intonation Pinky usually has on lockdown, “I want more than this.”The this is subtle, and sibilant, exaggerated like a low hum. She’s wearing a silk sari the color of dark pink roses, and it fits her beautifully—but little about the Indian wedding satiates Jess. The glamour of it doesn’t entice her, the festivities are pallid and uninspiring, leaving her disoriented and unhappy. Her dark hair is in a loose tussle, the way hair falls when it’s been primed into a neat, hair-sprayed construction. She wants more than the limits of her culture. Frozen in melancholy, she wants more than this. Pinky falls into the category of a South Asian kid who wants what’s expected of her. She, herself, needs (and eventually has) a handsome Punjabi, Sikh husband. She wants chubby children. She craves a relatively simple life, following the trodden lead of her parents, and the community of other brown girls like her—whom she hates, but all brown aunties eventually hate other brown aunties, so it’s fine, she’s fine. She desires the script that many South Asian kids want, that of a life isomorphic to their parents', where husbands are Indian and handsome and modern, and women can cook parathas and aloo gobi, wearing bright colored kurtas with mismatched cardigans and socks. Tried and tested equates to stability, and it’s always easier on the road more travelled. The success rate seems higher, a good return on investment.But, what of all the rest? What of all the children who don’t fit neatly into a prescribed expectation? Children who, even when they try, clearly weren’t built for an ordinary life? Children who can’t fall into mimicry with small grace and little disappointment? Children like Jess?*The beauty of Jess, and perhaps one of the most relatable parts of her, is that she tries. She tries so exceptionally hard to be the good daughter that her parents have mightily intended her to be. She’s a bright kid, she respects them, listens to them, and yet despite all that, she wants more than this. She laments to Tony (Ameet Chana), her closeted Indian best friend, “Anything I want is just not Indian enough for 'em!”For Jess, it’s too much to say no to the way the grass feels against her feet when she zigzags across the football field, a heap of air snaking through her T-shirt as she runs past a teammate, or the way the tight plastic ball feels at the curve of her knees when she’s moving sinuously in a game, scoring a goal. Or, when she buys her first pair of legitimate football shoes with her friend Jules, a pair of black and whites, and how they sit and laugh about it in a pub in London, giddy and innocent, unwrapping the foils of paper and plastic to unleash this small pleasure. Jess doesn’t want to lie, but she’s being confronted with herself. That itch that won’t go away. Slowly, as so many kids like us do, Jesminder begins the dire charade of lying to her family. Football, she reconciles, is not such a bad thing. It’s the frustration of just wanting to live that becomes such a burden. She shouldn’t have to lie, but alas—she takes the leap, making the decision that every brown kid is confronted with, crossing the line that feels so shameful.The litmus test of a good child need not be “Do you lie to your parents?” Because the answer will always be a sweaty “Yes.”*Jess represents an area of conversation still largely overlooked in South Asian communities: the child who meekly defies cultural expectation. She’s not intensely radical, she just wants to play sports, but her small act of subversion paves a road for something more. It’s why those words—I want more than this—resonated so deeply when I first watched the film in 2002. I was twelve, and I didn’t have access to myself in an honest way, mirroring myself against half fashioned heroes that looked nothing like me. I thought I needed to be anybody but myself to be validated, to be worthy of my place in this world, this brown valueless body of mine. But Jess’s slow self-actualization made me question how following another’s dream would service me. In the end, I would have to live with my decisions. So why usurp my sanity for somebody else’s dopey, unfulfilled wishes for my life?One of the reasons we still struggle with these realities in our communities is because our language for who we are as South Asians in the West is still so young, still so undefined. We have so much internalized hatred amongst us; the running joke in Bend It Like Beckham is that Jess can marry anyone, just not a Muslim. We’ve refused to detail our shameful and horrific interlacing pasts. That the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has been accused of participating in a cleansing of Gujrati Muslims in 2002. Or that my very own Bengali parents survived a Civil War, where three million majority Muslim Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani Army in 1971. Or that Pakistani Muslims killed Sikhs in Punjab in the ‘40s, and vice versa. Or that Kashmir is still a tentative region over a debate of religion and ownership. We don’t give voice to the hatred we have for each other, and therefore we are unable to unpack the absurdity of it, when in so many ways our histories are richer, intensified, and made more glorious because of what we’ve shared through the ages.So, we don’t have the decades of tastemakers defining and redefining what it means to be South Asian—especially what it means to be South Asian in the West. Our trauma is so intangible, so incalculable, that we’ve refused to explore it, and now we’re full of rage, feeling stuck in the strongholds of the minority model myth.But, when a film like Bend It Like Beckham comes out, it means that for a split second we get to see what it means to be us, not an appropriative version of us; us in full definition, spilling with flaws and curiosity, with the quintessential quirks: the way the whole house smells when your mum cooks achaar, the creepy uncles who softly touch your lower back through your salwar as you sidle by, or the loudness of the communities, the way dance and song envelop us, enchanting our functions with blurry ease. There are so many pockets across the world with an Indo-centric definition, and brown kids from Brampton might have nothing in common with the brown kids in Heathrow, yet the echo of the undefined territory booms louder than our shared similarities. As does the space, the cavity, the time that we lose not exploring it.Bend It Like Beckham is singular. In the recent years, nothing has come so close to unpacking our nuances and smudging our dearth of realities and embarrassments across a screen. We need to understand each other to understand ourselves—or, is it that we need to understand ourselves to understand each other?*Next to an off-white brick wall and a framed portrait of Sikh master Guru Nanak, Jess’s dad Mohaan (Anupam Kher) pours and sips a scotch. The family is tired, feet stretched along the middle table, saris lining the floor, bellies popping out to the side. Pinky’s wedding was a success, but Jess’s mother, Sukhi, didn’t know she dipped out during the wedding to play a football final, only to have a scout offer her a full scholarship to a university in California. Jess tells her mother the truth, the first time she declares her brilliance: “I played in the final today, and we won! I wasn't going to go but Dad let me. And it was brilliant. I played the best ever! And I was happy because I wasn't sneaking off and lying to you. I didn't ask to be good at football. Guru Nanak must have blessed me.” Sukhi is furious at her husband. “You let her leave her sister's wedding to go to a football match?!” He gets up, and paces. So rarely do we see a man wearing a turban have agency in a Western film. Mohaan is usually full of kindness, but today it’s wisdom, said through his teeth—recounting his own history of compromised self. “When those bloody English cricket players threw me out of their club like a dog...I never complained. On the contrary, I vowed that I will never play again. Who suffered? Me. But I don't want Jessie to suffer.”Sukhi stays on the dusty pink couch, her face a writhing mess, lined with frustration over why she has such a difficult un-Indian daughter. But in that moment, listening to her husband’s past, and knowing the weight of disappointment he carries, something turns. In some ways, he wanted more than this, too, but never took the chance to play it out. No parent is truly an oracle, but only blooming with blessings and fear.In many ways, Jess’s fate was never up to her parents, and that’s what a film like Bend It Like Beckham declares. Our autonomy is important for our own stories, and sometimes you just need to see someone who looks like you, and thinks like you, to win. “I want her to fight, and I want her to win,” Mohaan says. “I don’t think anybody has the right of stopping her.”
The Loneliness Recipe

When I get homesick in New York, I scour Chinatown for ingredients to make my Korean grandmother’s radish, or mu, soup. 

Every other New Year, I’ve withdrawn from the potentially memorable (or not so memorable) eve of clinking champagne flutes with strangers to rise soberly at 6 a.m. with my family in Virginia, for an ancestral food ceremony called jesa.These early mornings usually begin darker than day; a Prussian blue while my father wakes to light candles, opening the window to call his late father’s spirit in. The table takes a few hours to set, glorified with plates of dried fish, rice wine, jujubes, persimmon, pear, liver, and rice cake soup for my grandfather. After three rounds of synchronized bows, my sisters and I sit by his portrait to whisper gratitude and think of the other Lees who came and left before us. Once our silence is pardoned, we eat. Just as everyone’s ready to be done, grandma surprises us with more food, this time, with bowls of radish soup. During the Korean War she’d known what starvation was, and since then she has made sure that no one ever leaves a table still hungry. Eat more, she always insists.Until I’d left for college, I wouldn’t know what a New Year’s Eve party was like. Despite my appreciation for traditions now, most of my childhood battles spurred from the rigidness of my parents’ roots and a young thing’s need for freedom. In the summers, I still seek out some of the desires of my youth—sweet skin, soft flesh, and the unexpected, eating cold fruit in the landscapes of someplace new. But more than anything, rebellion is in doing the unprecedented: having no plans or edifice, to the point of averting stable bonds. Moving to New York. Leaving the only people you know with a suitcase in hand.But sometimes, here in the city, I get homesick, wanting nothing more than familiarity and the taste of radish soup.*Before the early seeds of Buddha and Confucius, Korea belonged to my ancestors as a shamanistic kingdom. The Korean word for shaman, mu, comes from China’s equivalent, wu. Mu is also a name for the Korean radish, or the shorter and stouter version of its better-known twin, the daikon.When China imported Confucianism into other regions, longevity was farmed in the soil of buried families worshipped by their children, who’d learned from them filial piety and the virtue of serving the desires of others before one’s own. Despite having these values ingrained in me, naturally I grew into the habits of Western individualism. Although I identify as an assimilated Korean-American, older Koreans like to fervently exercise the statement: But you’re not American. You’re Korean.The binary idealism of “east and west” isn’t much different from the way one prepares certain food, the fates of a meal commonly fixed by roles that have been established for generations. The milky broth of warm cucurbit soup is served for comfort and sustenance. But when dinner’s over, the lover’s mouth is reserved for a fare of sweetly glazed pericarps—grapes, cherries, strawberries. Often handfed, a gesture underlined as erotic, fruit has a reputation for scandal and pleasure—with famous appearances in Genesis and many nude paintings. Vegetables, on the other hand, often arrive tough and fashioned plainly in dirt—masculine, lacking mystique. In the tradition of animism, I like to consider the radish a maverick and hermaphroditic deity. One with a flexible identity. A specimen born phallic that, when left past the harvest, flowers to show off new private parts. Little fruit pods.*Preparing a special meal is a fortifying experience, requiring strategic planning and long-term thinking. In this particular case, I not only have to give up time, but find certain ingredients that don’t have English names. The radishes that make radish soup aren’t sold in many of the usual grocery chains, so I head for the Q train to Canal Street, the one place I can trust to have every type of produce.I begin to see Chinatown’s thumbprints around the subway station, its signature in those vibrant, red plastic grocery bags. Sanguine has two meanings. One is a shade of red like that of blood, and the other is comparable to being hopeful in times of strife. Both sentiments chronicle the shared bloodshed and poverty of our ancestors, through generations of conquest and resistance. Thanks to Confucian ideologies the dynasties shared, there was little resistance when the Hans invaded Korea in the 12th century. Aside from the way it’s remained largely homogenous, when I arrive to today’s bustling markets between Canal and Pell, there seems to be no room or time for resistance.Chinatown’s pulse is one that thrums through its tourists, vendors, and shoppers, shoulder-to-shoulder and all pacing swiftly in the chaotic frenzy of sidewalk traffic. Sanguine store signs line its capillaries. Sidewalk carts display an abundant array of fresh, foreign fruits—rambutan, mangosteen, lychee, dragonfruit. Y’all, look’it these spiky strawberries, a man shouts to his family in a Southern accent, pointing to a rambutan stand. I peer inside a small grocery market, perfumed with coriander and an undertone of musky dried squid. Next to a dated cash register are barrels of chestnuts and boxed Danish cookies, blue and white porcelains, but no radishes in sight. I smile at the clerk, say thank you and leave.Eventually, I come across a large Taiwanese bakery that turns into a fish market past the corridor, and for a moment I become Brigitte Lin in Chungking Express. The short fantasy ends as I walk out the exit, the evening’s rays replaced by neon violet lights. By now I’m hungry and consider going home, until I see, across the street, a sign that reads HONG KONG SUPERMARKET. It’s always when you give up on it that an answer reveals itself, I think. This supermarket smells of plastic curtains, herbal medicine in tin boxes, and candied ginger. In the produce aisle there are scallions, bean sprouts, and mushrooms of every kind. And, lo and behold, the radishes, with a sign that says 3 for $1.*On my way back to the subway, I pass by and notice two elderly women—one wearing a bucket hat rummaging for plastic bottles, and another waddling with a shopping cart full of quilted, unidentifiable objects. Though this sight isn’t new, in that moment I recall reading an earlier report on the rising number of elderly folks in Chinatown living alone. The forgotten ones. In Eastern countries, it’s common for adults to live at home and take care of their retired parents, but for those who’ve grown up like I have, the defiant desire to be on our own populates as we age further into our American ways. Self-reliance, consequently, unravels the thread of our once highly collectivist values more and more, leaving members of previous generations without resources to support themselves.From China, my ancestors had learned to cultivate rice, which apart from wars and ideologies, has brought our nations and many others together. Rice paddies require many farmers to work and drain their fields at the same time, and so making autonomous choices can be detrimental for the entire village. It’s from this mode of agriculture that the differences in individualism vs. collectivism are thought to stem, named by a group of students from the University of Virginia as “the rice theory.”I thought of this theory often when I lived with my former roommate, an Indian writer from Mumbai. The cultural dish we both shared was rice with curry. Our friendship formed by preparing this meal together. “This tastes like home,” Apoorva had said our first night. I too felt at home, having someone to regularly sit down with, easily and unintended. She ate rice with her hands, and I with my chopsticks—openly and plainly, the way our families do at home. After learning of her extensive knowledge in European literature, I ask her if she’s able to discuss these interests with her family back in India. Do you feel like they understand you and your interests here? “Yes. Well, sometimes. Even if they don’t, I think having things to bring back and discuss with the people at home is our duty as any cross-cultural member.” Cross-cultural, I’d nod and mentally repeat to myself. Words that sometimes still echo but are too often forgotten.*Walking a few blocks from the train, I catch a remarkable glimpse of a family in a restaurant, praying over their dinner. Family—the taxa between genus and order. I think of perishables. In this case: produce, people, and tradition. When all you’ve known is tradition, there’s a certain terror in realizing that the structures you grew up with start collapsing as you age, eventually left up to you to uphold or lose. Religion, holidays, eating dinner at the same time. But something like a brief, momentary view into that family’s evening is a still and softening reminder of how some things can stay constant.A Taiwanese friend had once told me the Chinese word for good derives from two characters—one that symbolizes woman and the other child. To cultivate life, a child needs their mother, women need each other, and society—the standards of our ancestors. I look at my bag of radishes, the roots of my childhood enduringly rattling and carried with me wherever I go.
Waterpark, with Occasional Nazis

There’s nothing like trying to face your fears and reclaim your childhood to remind you that everything you believed was good and pure is a lie.

"Neo-nazis love waterparks," my boyfriend, Collin, said as three skinheads in combat boots, T-shirts slung over their shoulders, shuffled toward the ticket line in front of us. There is nothing like a blue-green swastika on a pimpled back to remind you that everything you believed was good and pure as a child was a lie.I was twenty-seven the first time I went to a waterpark. Up until then, I’d only seen one from the backseat of my parents’ car, when the blur of treetops gave way to a life-sized toy-set in the distance. The turquoise bubble letters, the towering coil of the waterslide, was Oz-like and glistening as we passed it by. Growing up in New York City, slides dropped you off on hard cement, and family fun meant tickets to an Off-Broadway Neil Simon play starring Judd Hirsch. Fear was an unlit side-street, the third rail of the subway tracks, a rogue taxi speeding through a yellow light—a thing to be avoided, rather than conquered. That may explain why, even as an adult, I envied the kids in commercials, who dove face-first down watery chutes, plunging into pools on rubber donuts. They were fearless in their aquamarine world, and I believed I would be too.Plus, it was hot. Our air conditioner was broken and it was mid-August in Manhattan. When I proposed driving to a New Jersey waterpark, Collin was on board. From the car window, the skyline of slides grew close enough to establish their hierarchy. Least impressive was the Lazy River, a flat in-ground pool that wound around the park. Ranked just above it was the horizontal, elevated wavy slide, and above that, a spinning red and black wheel. But the centerpiece of the park was an enormous yellow tube with a breathtaking vertical drop that finished with a series of spirals.“I’m going to do that one first,” I announced, as we pulled into the parking lot. But at the ticket line, face-to-back with a swastika, my anxiety kicked in.Combat boots on concrete. The ghosts of hot dog burps. The windy wails of humans turned upside-down.Collin headed for the yellow slide, which, upon closer inspection, was taller than it seemed before, the plastic more brittle. Even the color was different—less orange juice, more sawdust.I needed to build up my nerve, so I headed towards the Lazy River. Along the way, the concrete was spattered with dark stains—a trail of shimmery blood puddles stamped with toe-prints. A waterpark crime scene. I panicked and scanned the area. The mood was buzzy, elevated, teeming with children, flesh intact, dripping pool water off their fingers. A leaky ketchup bottle, chocolate sauce from a melting cone, that was all it was—or what it might have been, if the liquid had been thicker, darker, less blood-like. Blood is blood, and still, I pretended it wasn’t.Sitting in a rubber donut, toilet-style, I drifted pleasantly down the Lazy River until I noticed a Band-Aid floating belly-up alongside me. Paddling it away didn’t work—we were riding the same current. When I got out of the pool, my swimsuit bottom sagged with water. The Band-Aid leeched to one cheek.I waved at Collin, his wild blond hair now soaked flat and darkened. He’d already been on the Wheel of Doom and the giant yellow slide. Twice.A group of pre-teen boys rushed past us, pulled off their shirts and handed them to another boy in a wheelchair. The handles of his chair dangled with knapsacks. I watched the boy in the wheelchair watch his friends, one by one, shoot across the horizontal slide.“Don’t go on that one.” Collin pointed to another ride obscured by a thin jungle of fake trees.“Why, what’s that one?” I asked.“I think it’s a rope swing with a large drop,” he said. “But look, people keep getting hurt.”On cue, a golf cart ambulance pulled up in front of the ride. When the siren sounded, I caught my open mouth with one hand.“Having fun yet?” he asked. His sarcasm annoyed me, because I knew he actually was having fun, and he knew I wasn’t. These were our assigned roles: he was the one who delighted in the absurd, I was the absurd. Once, he’d said my temperament reminded him of a horse. “Because they scare so easily.” I was tired of him seeing me this way. I was supposed to be different at a waterpark.So I climbed the ladder to the tall yellow slide, rail by rusted rail, until I reached the platform where the view stretched all the way to the parking lot. The entry point of the slide was a slick, dark canal—a hole with no bottom. The teenager in charge was rushing riders through, one on top of the other, not factoring in the chance that someone might be stuck inside the tube. I wondered if someone ever got stuck inside the tube. “You can go ahead of me,” I told a few small kids behind me and then waited to see if they survived. The teenager said something like, “Only way to go is down,” but there was that ladder I’d come up on, and technically it went both ways. “Be right back,” I said, suggesting I’d forgotten an important slide-related device I’d return with shortly, and toed my way back down the ladder, certain I’d made the right decision.At the bottom, a shivery little girl in a pink suit was standing there, pointing at me. “You’re the grown-up who chickened out!” she yelled, before climbing up the ladder for a second go-round.At a table overlooking the park, Collin and I dunked corndogs in yellow mustard, and listened for the golf cart siren, reliable as a church bell chiming every quarter-hour. I told him how sad I felt for the boy in the wheelchair. “Aw,” he said, “maybe he was enjoying himself, even if he couldn’t go on the slides.” I tried to imagine this. I changed the subject.“I don’t think I can do the yellow slide,” I said.“You have to do the yellow slide,” he said. “That’s the whole point of coming to a waterpark.”Early on in our relationship he’d given me a crash course on all the suburban pleasures I’d missed as a child. The first time he took me to his hometown, we found a trampoline in a wooded area and jumped holding hands, until a neighbor chased us away. Later, we visited an amusement park, an arcade emporium with go-karts, a renaissance faire, a mini-golf course on the Jersey shore. We sang “Wheel in the Sky” the whole ride there, pretending we were teenagers from another era we’d narrowly missed. Back then, it felt as if he’d found an artery in my neck that, when pressed, would let the steam out.He moved in with me. He lost his job. He left gum balled in wrappers on the floor, and stuffed a drawer with wires, the remnants of musical instruments he’d locked away in a storage bin. Now he would wake in the middle of the night to strum his guitar. He plucked the melody to “Wheel in the Sky,” slow and sad, in a darkened room away from me. In the morning, we packed two bath-towels in a beach bag. In the afternoon, I looked up at the yellow slide and saw what he meant. The point was to reach the thing you’d seen in the distance, and to believe it was exactly what you’d hoped for, even if it wasn’t.So I climbed back up the ladder, and when it was my turn, I laid down inside the dark, wet intestine. Inside, it smelled of sugar and cleaning agents, a mopped school hallway. First came the drop, the worst part, I told myself before mental predictions were muted by the present tense and organs sloshing, body rag-dolling, the helplessness of my own arms to steady the momentum. Slipping warps time, stretching a moment of uncertainty into an operatic final reckoning. As I slid downward, I ran through the whole playlist—disbelief, regret, flight, fight and resignation—until I was suddenly perched in the curve of a plastic tube. It was dark inside the yellow spiral, but still, unfortunately, yellow—like the unpolished insides of a child’s toy.A wet blob of flesh pressed against my back. “Move, Move!” it said. I duck-pedaled around a spiral, then another spiral, until I was dropping again, this time, down the part of the slide that was exposed. The tube’s top half was gone, and in its place was the boundless, elevated view of a bad decision. The waterpark below unfolded like a boardgame—flat, distant, improbable. For a second, I was grateful when the slide’s top-half returned.But the last drop was unexpected. Light broke through the tunnel. I doggy-paddled the air. The tube was now the absence of a tube. The punchline of the joke had become the beat before the laughter, when you are suspended alone, with only the echo of what you did, and not what it means. The pool smacked me good and pushed my head down. There was only turquoise and burning. I gulped chlorine. I gulped breath. A lifeguard’s hand plucked me up by the swimsuit strap and pushed me towards the shallow exit stairs.“I think you landed wrong,” Collin said, standing on the ledge, holding out a towel. I opened my mouth and when nothing came out, I shut it again. My arms and legs ached from seizing up. My chest was heavy with the weight of something. I tried to inflate it, but my breath sputtered out. “You okay?” he asked. I shook my head, and took the towel from his hands.We headed back towards the parking lot. The blood-stains on the ground had browned in the sun. A siren bleated. Wails whirl-pooled around us. One lone neo-Nazi finished up his Slurpee as he waited in line for the Wheel of Doom.
‘It’s Both Excruciating and the Opposite of Excruciating’: An Interview with Darcie Wilder

Speaking with the author of literally show me a healthy person about the genesis of her new book, the power in learning to talk about yourself, and the joys and perils of growing up online.

“Is it okay that we’re already Twitter friends?” I asked my editors at this here ol’ Hazlitt Mag when they approached me about interviewing Darcie Wilder about her new book, literally show me a healthy person (Tyrant Books). I’ve interviewed a number of people for Hazlitt, but nobody with whom I was already friends, and I wanted to be transparent up front.The problem is, literally everyone is Twitter friends with Darcie. She tweets under the super SEO-friendly handle @333333333433333 to over seventy thousand followers, sharing thoughts that could be considered jokes to a person who considers getting punched in the gut hilarious. Her fan base includes mall punks, sad people on the internet, myself, the people at MTV News (who hired Darcie to be the voice of their social media), and people who know what their moon sign is without needing to look it up.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/605092807838183424[/tweet_embed]literally show me a healthy person is very much a book of its time—the first line is “khdjysbfshfsjtstjsjts” [sic]—but it’s also an age-old story, somewhere between poetry and prose, about a young woman who is maybe named Darcie Wilder trying and learning how to be okay. Told in Speedboat-like fragments (including, yes, some under 140 characters), Darcie explores her own experiences with grief following her mother’s death, as well as recollections of lousy sex, decent sex with lousy men, and White Castle jalapeno cheeseburgers. For a book that sounds like such a bummer when I describe it, it made me laugh a whole lot.Darcie and I spoke over Gchat, because both of us avoid talking on the phone unless absolutely necessary.*Anna Fitzpatrick: Hello DarcieDarcie Wilder: Hi Anna, helloAre you ready to talk about art, literature, and who can forget: truth?Hmmmm *thinkyface emoji*I think I am ready to discuss art, literature, and who can forget: truth.If you areOkay let's start.You wrote a book! You are an authoress.*Brandy voice* The book is mineThe first time I heard someone describe literally show me a healthy person, they called it a novel. So I pictured something, like, by Dickens, because he's who I think of when I think of novels. And in a way, your book is a little Dickensian. There is a sad child (you). But it’s not a novel, and it's not really a memoir. What would you call it?[Several minutes go by. Darcie does not answer.]Do you not like this question?You get three "passes," like in truth or dareJK you can have as many passes as you wantHmmm. Yeah it’s tricky. Whenever anyone asks about it my face gets hot and I start stuttering and trailing off and they say, “You’ve really gotta work on this, Darcie.” And then I call it a novel, which is what the cover says. And it’s not a conventionally structured novel, but it’s a narrative. It’s kind of like, I guess, the literary version of an experimental documentary.lmao lmaoYou can also “pass” if my answers suck[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/672220431181611008[/tweet_embed]Shhh no, we are both geniuses and we will behave as such.Women are always apologizing for who we are. For being too confident, or too sure of our work, or for being too tall, or not tall enough, or for being somewhere in between, height-wise. So really we are feminist revolutionaries, talking right now.Is it hard for you to talk about yourself?Oh it's both excruciating and the opposite of excruciating. It took me a while to realize I both desperately love and desperately hate attention in incredible, exactly equal amounts. Also I feel like you can hate attention and desperately need it, which is the case for me.Thank you for being a feminist revolutionary with me, AnnaI mean, there's tweeting about yourself, but that's different. There's a remove to it.Yes.Do you think about your audience when you tweet? You have a trillion followers—do you have an idea in mind who is reading what you put out in the world?Yeah, I think about my audience all the time. I used to be more in tune with it, which would translate into being more strategic about posting, and I was better about forming relationships and DMing. But more recently I feel less in tune with it, maybe because of the swarms of bots and feeling differently about a lot after the election. I also feel like my audience is too large (please do not unfollow me) and I miss what it felt like around 2015. I don’t feel like I can be as open or fun or experimental. Now I'm like, who are these people? Why are you interested in me? I don't get it. But I do get it, because I've spent years working at tweeting and writing and presenting myself in this specific way. I've put in a lot of labor and thought, but sometimes I just think it's all absurd, or doesn't make sense, which is, I think, a way for me to dismiss myself.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/738033102279299073[/tweet_embed]It's kind of led to your career! You tweet for work, and there is a lot of overlap between your Twitter and your novel. Can you talk a little about how the book came to be? Were you approached about doing this?Yes! My friend Spencer Madsen asked if I would be interested in writing a book for Sorry House, and I started assembling it (although it ended up coming out on Tyrant Books). In 2012 I started writing a lot of flash fiction and assorted small things in the same type of voice that drives the book. But I wasn’t sure what to do with it until I assembled a few pages for a zine in 2014, where I found the structure that became the structure of the book. Then with the prompt of a book, I began assembling the blocks of text and lines I had written into an arc with reoccurring themes and ideas. I looked through my tweets, too, so some of the book has been tweeted before, but it became this arc that I plotted out and filled in.It really is a book that teaches you how to read it while you read it. At first, it seems like a bunch of loosely related thoughts, but then this story starts to present itself through these fragments. What, if any, books or movies or zines or conceptual art projects did you look to when you were working on this?Stanya Kahn’s It’s Cool, I’m Good has been most influential on my work in general because of the tone she uses and the tension between humor and really dark concepts. I feel like there are two parts of my brain, the one that thrives off teen movies like Never Been Kissed and The Princess Diaries and Empire Records and Doom Generation and stuff, and then the other part that’s drawn to this stuff that might be difficult to sit through, like Peter Hutton’s films. Structurally, a lot of stuff that’s more lyrical like Putty Hill, or Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s, which also balances that existential dread, darkness, and humor. Also, always Maria Bamford.Also I think the way Ted Berrigan talks about death in his poem “Memorial Day” [with Anne Waldman] has influenced me a lot in the way I recount my experiences with grief, I kind of always think of this one recording of him reading it.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/683030075055431684[/tweet_embed]When did you read that poem? Before or after you dealt with similar experiences of your own?I think I found it right before my mom died, so around 2007. I originally heard the audio portion and then I found the whole poem, which was difficult because it's not online anywhere, and there are certain lines that have stuck with me for forever, and that as time goes on I'll stumble upon seemingly just when I need them. Like, "the heart stops briefly when someone dies, one slow stroke as they go from your outside life to your inside life. and everything continues, samely" didn't resonate as much in 2010 as it did in 2013, or vice versa.That line is really lovely.But he writes these long parts about people dealing with death and the ability to love, and it reminds me of having a running nose on a cold day, and just describing these moments right after learning that there's an incredible loss, these lists of actions that seem both innocuous and profound and I'm like: fuck, writing poetry about death and that feeling is like the hardest thing on the planet. Like it's soft and hard at the same time.I think there is this idea of millenials on Twitter, doing the internet today, that everything is fuelled by a sense of irony. But there is a lot of (HERE IT COMES) truth in your work. You blend sincerity with these observations about how bleak or mundane or bizarre life can be even if it doesn’t make literary sense in a traditional way. (I think that’s why your followers like you) :)You talk about developing this "voice" in your book. Is that your voice? Is there a difference between who you are as a person and who you are when you write/tweet?Thank you! Yeah, I think people play up how much of the internet is “irony” when they really mean “self-aware” or something? I do think this book is my voice, or one of my voices. I think it’s confusing because I’m not sure what my voice or book means to someone else, the different associations or conclusions they’re drawing, so it’s difficult for me to subscribe to that. Like in those game shows where you pick a number and the curtain reveals what could either be a brand new car or a frying pan, and you’re not sure until it’s too late. Which I think is prevalent in my work as a major theme—“do these words mean the same thing to you as they do me?” or “do these words have power?” or “can you hear me?” or “what the fuck is going on?”But yes, I think there’s a difference between who I am and what I tweet, I’m just not always exactly sure what the difference is at any moment. There are also some word associations or sentences that should exist in the world, and don’t need anyone to @-reply with a “well, actually” or caveat to the sentiment. Tweets are an imperfect medium, so I think there’s a lot of frustrating ways they can be received.Does it ever get hard for you, getting personal? Especially when you write about your family? Sorry, that's such an anxiety-inducing question that makes me sound like "DARCIE, WYD?????" It’s an anxiety that I have when I write, this question of, why am I doing it? And I think for me ultimately it's trying to understand something about myself, trying to relate to others, trying to give others something to relate to, trying to get paid, and also I like the attention. But I wonder what it's like for other people.Yes! Absolutely. Lately I’ve been freaking out because I really just didn’t think about my family reading it. For some reason I’m fine with getting really personal about myself, partially because if I do it and make it known knowledge, it feels more powerful and less like a secret, which feels like weakness. Even though boundaries and privacy are the opposite of weakness! But sometimes it’s hazy when my story ends and another person’s story begins, which is why I like reminding people that it’s a mix of fact and fiction.But I learned to make art by making diary films, and would have a breakdown, like, every single time because of that “why am I doing this?”-type stuff. And I don’t know, but people tell me that it’s helpful. I mean, I’m not a journalist, this stuff isn’t saving the world, but it’s helping someone feel better, so it deserves to exist. There’s a lot of strife I could have avoided, and would be a better adjusted person, had I been exposed to the right pieces of art and writing that just helped me reconcile my feelings, and that stuff needs to be personal.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/846902354871894016[/tweet_embed]There's a power in talking about yourself, though, because you are controlling your own narrative. I mean, we are the same age (you are four days older), and we grew up on the internet when it was still a place for freaks before the normies took over, and our lives have always been intertwined with that. Like, all my secrets exist somewhere in old forum posts, or texts, or Livejournal entries, or tweets, or DMs, or emails, or whatever, and I used to be terrified of being doxxed. But now I make jokes about all of my secrets: I'm a pervert! Sometimes I want to die! And then they stop being secrets and start being things that get faves and RTs. There is a freedom in putting your shit out there, and being like, "So?"YESOr turning it into an essay or book and getting paid for it.I just want to say the first public thing I put online was when I was on the Alternative Press forums and I asked what nu-metal was and why everyone hated it.omgBut also, yes—so much crap online about me. So many mistakes and fuck-ups. For me, at least.I have posts in the IMDB forums about why Legally Blonde is subversive and feminist and Legally Blonde 2 was just capitalizing on the success of the first and is a hollow shell.oh my godLuckily, IMDB deleted the forums earlier this year and no one will ever see them again. Do you remember your first experiences with ... THE INTERNET????YES! I do. We got a computer in 1998 or 1999, I think. And then I was in some sort of special program in public school that gave us laptops, so I've mostly always had my own computer and grew up online. I didn't know how to have a conversation IRL until post-college, and have always been more comfortable typing and having the space to think about who I am and what I want to say before I do.But even still, I wasn't super comfortable with it until 2012 when I started being more free—like, the first paragraph of my book is a Facebook status from February 2012, and I remember that was a turning point where I was open to sharing online instead of being scared and defensive and figuring out what I should be or do.(But I had a million Xangas and Livejournals and used to differentiate whether they were for online or IRL friends for some reason.)How did that feel?It felt really freeing and different, but also scary. But once the switch flips, it was done. It's kind of like, "what's the worst that can happen" and "let'r rip" and "who cares," even though sometimes I really, really care.God it is so hard not to care. I keep trying to be cool on the internet but then I care too much and ruin it.Ugh, same. You have to care a little, I think. Nihilists are terrible.It's weird because it seems that there is this crop of Twitter people who are becoming more visible who combine not caring with political activism. And it seems to be a competition about who can be the most right, or clever. And I want to ask, "but what do you CARE about?"I identify with what you're saying. People care about those faves and RTs, and they also care about calling out people for caring about those faves and RTs. It's also weird that very serious thoughts and feelings are on the same timeline as jokes, etc.! I miss message boards where we separated things out more. I think people quit Twitter altogether because we are in one big room having a lot of conversations that require very different tones and moods, and it takes a lot to have them simultaneously—it's the best and worst part of Twitter.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/844539217422245888[/tweet_embed]Final questionDUN DUN DUNNNNNNNomg!How are you feeling?In general or right now?Yes.Everything.LOLRight now I feel grateful and content because I enjoy talking to you, and this has made me remember that I like my book and my life and making work and art and writing in general. I also had a lot of coffee and nice time with my coworkers today, which are two of my favorite things. I'm also a bit anxious and scared because I always am. How are you?I am good because the weather is getting nicer and I'm talking to my pal Darcie and she is interesting! I am a bit stressed because I don’t know where I’m going in life and I don’t know if that even matters in this current political climate. But I wrote down all the artists and poets and filmmakers and stuff you messaged above, and I'm looking forward to checking them all out later.And I love your book and am happy you are putting it out in the world.Thank YOU. Ugh I'm glad you like it. Recently I looked at it and was like, "Oh, I understand how someone could hate this," and like, okay, fine.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/644713259334004736[/tweet_embed]
A Season of Reckoning For a ‘White Man’s Sport’

As the most immigrant-dependent and racially diverse sport in the United States, baseball this year seems primed to either lose its politically aloof pose at last or look progressively ridiculous.

Paint the Corners is a new monthly column about baseball.Baseball is infamous for making fools out of prognosticators, but there’s one thing we can say with near-certainty about the 2017 MLB season: it’s going to be a let-down. No game played this year has a chance of matching the multilayered, prolonged tension and release of the final game of the 2016 season, and there’s a good chance no game will come close for the rest of our lives. I have no allegiance to the Cubs and frankly had a slight rooting interest in Cleveland, but a five-hour, white-knuckle World Series Game 7 is the kind of thing that makes this lugubrious, frustrating sport seem like a grand adventure. We will be boring small children with the details of this game in our old age: multiple comebacks on both sides, heroics from a deserving veteran and the humiliation of an utter villain, and even an after-midnight rain delay that would have been cut from a movie script for heavy-handedness. The Cubs played three games facing elimination, and their final ten November innings ended the longest championship drought in pro sports: even the box score reads like a Russian novel.Thankfully, baseball doesn’t require this kind of drama to be wonderful. It’s almost a relief to return to the first days of a new season, when stakes are low and enjoyment is all in the finer details: well-executed double plays, loping curve balls, no-name players finding sudden glory, beer in the sun and hot dogs under the lights. This game is all about atmosphere and small pleasures, the endless repetition of a few set movements that somehow creates a meaningfully different outcome every time. It rewards obsession, almost demands it, because context and history are its lifeblood. They are what add grandeur to the odd, pastoral scene of men in tight pants and button-up shirts attempting and failing to circle a dirt path.And while 2017 will almost definitely lack the on-field excitement of last year, it could very well end up being an epochal season in other subtler ways. Only days after red and blue confetti blanketed Michigan Avenue, the presidential election made baseball, as everything else, feel helplessly small and potentially endangered. Whatever happens on the field this season, it will take place against a background of multiple daily unfolding scandals and moral atrocities. History and context will be everything. Major League Baseball and the larger culture around the sport tend to ignore any political discussion, but this will be the first season amid a modern political regime that is expressly dedicated to fighting immigrants and minorities. As the most immigrant-dependent and racially diverse sport in the United States, baseball seems primed to either lose its politically aloof pose at last or look progressively ridiculous. Regardless, this is a new kind of test for a game that thrives on continuity: baseball during Trump. No aspect of our lives or society is safe from politics now, or from the threat of enormous disruption, and this is true even for the sport that requires constant, mantra-like assuagements from its players that they’re “just focused on the game,” “taking it one day at a time,” or “trying to give the team a chance to win.”Not even ballplayers have the luxury of that kind of single-mindedness anymore. Not when ICE raids are terrorizing the urban Latino communities that comprise an essential part of MLB’s future growth and outreach, and not when Trump’s approval rating hovers near that of gangrene in the densely populated regions that host pro ballparks. Perhaps in recognition of this, Trump has already forsaken tradition by declining to throw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ home opener, and none of the other twenty-nine MLB teams appear interested in pressing the issue. This is meaningless but still unprecedented, and illustrates Trump’s bizarre indifference to the dream-come-true opportunities of the office; no president since Taft has avoided the supreme executive privilege to lob a meatball fifty feet and wave. Even his absence is a challenge to the game’s no-politics front.The cracks in the façade really began to show late last season, after Trump won the Republican nomination around the All-Star break and Colin Kaepernick dominated coverage of the NFL’s first weeks. Asked why no MLB players had attempted a similar protest, Adam Jones, the black center fielder and default captain for my Baltimore Orioles, told USA Today that “baseball is a white man’s sport,” and black players don’t have nearly the sway they hold in football. He then broadened the conversation to address wider double standards: “We make a lot of money, so we just have to talk baseball, talk football. But most athletes, especially if you’re tenured in your sport, you’re educated on life, and on more things than most people on the outside. But because Donald Trump is a billionaire, he can say whatever he wants, because he’s older and has more money? And when Kaepernick does something, or says something, he’s ridiculed. Why is that?’’Only a month later, the Los Angeles Dodgers traveled to Chicago to face the Cubs in the National League Championship Series and stayed in a Trump-owned hotel. Beloved Mexican-American first baseman Adrian Gonzalez opted to stay elsewhere, though like a good ballplayer, he made no great show of it. When the story leaked to the media through a Dodgers’ broadcaster, Gonzalez responded with the requisite caveats: “I don’t want this to be a story… I wasn’t doing it for the publicity… I don’t intend to create a political debate.” Just trying to give the team a chance to win.Jones and Gonzalez are both wealthy veteran players, scandal-free family men, and the faces of their franchises. They should have as much clout to speak their minds as anyone in the sport. And yet both made headlines for staking out relatively cautious positions, and both expressed publicly that they are constrained in various ways from taking greater action. Given the hysterical objection that Kaepernick still inspires—including from Trump himself—who could blame them? And Kaepernick plays a game that’s majority-minority.To that last point: baseball occupies an odd space in the spectrum of U.S. sports. It is both the most genuinely diverse game and, as a result, also the most white. According to the current Racial and Gender Report Card published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, MLB players are fifty-nine percent white, twenty-nine percent Latino, and eight percent black. That’s more than double the percentage of white players in either the NBA or NFL and a small fraction of the percentage of black players in those leagues. Neither basketball nor football fields a statistically significant number of Latinos or Asians, and MLB’s increasing reliance on those demographics also lends it a diversity of nationalities that the other leagues can’t touch.Polyglot rosters have been a hallmark of the MLB for ages; in the earliest days of “townball” and regional teams throughout New York state, baseball was a largely immigrant game. The most iconic teams in the modern era, the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers of the ’40s and ’50s, were, in the judgment of historian Jules Tygiel, models of racial equality. The Dodgers of that era, needless to say, fielded Jackie Robinson, while “the Giants lineup,with Whitey Lockman, Don Mueller, and Larry Jansen—had a substantial contingent of German extraction. Sal Maglie, Carl Furillo, [Ralph] Branca, and Roy Campanella were the sons of Italian immigrants. Clem Labine was of French-Canadian heritage; Andy Pafko, Hungarian; Ray Noble, Cuban. Along the benches sat players with ethnic surnames like Abrams, Hermanski, Palica, Miksis, Koslo, and Podbielan.”Ironically, baseball’s very diversity may account for some of its small-c conservatism and squeamishness towards social justice issues. In a locker room with that many skin tones and backgrounds, it may be hard to find political consensus, and so politics in general can become a third rail. But diversity also doesn’t signal equality, and even in mid-century, when the definition of “white” was far more limited, the sport was largely native-born white guys: “a majority of the [Giants’] players hailed from the American South and Midwest,” Tygiel acknowledges, and today, despite the MLB’s genuinely global player base and audience draw, that remains the case.Even if a player doesn’t match that profile, there’s a good chance that their road to the majors will require them to live around people who do. Major League teams may play exclusively in urban (or at least suburban) markets, but the vast amateur and minor-league networks through which players travel upward—what Donald Hall deemed baseball’s “peripheries”—are far more rural (and far more white). Look, for example, at this map of each MLB team’s minor-league affiliates. The world-champion Cubs, trademark franchise of America’s third-largest city, draw on a farm system that plays in Peoria, Des Moines, Knoxville, and Daytona Beach. And those are relative metropolises compared to the farm-system satellites for other clubs. The Kansas City Royals, champions in 2015, incubate their talent in Idaho Falls, Springdale, Arkansas, and Burlington, Iowa.Then there’s the so-called “JuCo” baseball circuit, the surprisingly fertile network of junior colleges that serve as de facto MLB training grounds, largely in the southeast and Gulf Coast. Ever heard of Chipola College, near the eastern edge of the Florabama line? Me neither, at least until I learned that this 2,200-student campus has supplied the world with a staggering 164 current and former major league baseball players—a list that does happen to include this past offseason’s most prized free agent (at least in his own mind), José Bautista, but also my hometown hero Steve Clevenger, who routinely crushed my own hapless high school team back when he played for Mount St. Joseph in the Baltimore suburbs. Clevenger went on to play a few years with the Orioles, but ended the 2016 season on a ten-game suspension without pay from the Seattle Mariners for tweeting that President Obama and Black Lives Matter protesters deserved to be “locked behind bars like animals.” During the offseason, he was joined by Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, someone who is widely known for being smart, in the pantheon of Twitter-enabled conservative baseball rubes—a gang whose North Star, Curt Schilling, played JuCo ball at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona.This isn’t to say that every rural-raised American or junior-college ballplayer is a Republican or a Trump supporter, just that a good number of the MLB’s players spend their professional lives in areas far less cosmopolitan and diverse than the cities they wear across their chests in the pros. And in a country where political fate is now closely aligned with population density, baseball’s geographic, ideological, and ethnic diversity have forced it into atypical relevance: it resembles the U.S. in all its multicultural, reactionary complexity better than any other sports league.In just the past few months, for example, the Royals lost pitcher Yordano Ventura to a fatal car crash along a dirt road near his Dominican hometown, and saw a white reliever miss spring training after tumbling through the roof of his Oklahoma barn. What other sport can claim such a broad range of backgrounds among its players? And how could such a sport plausibly claim separation from politics while our president yammers endlessly about walls and exclusion and real Americans?Baseball, of course, isn’t nearly free of that kind of bluster, as new St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler found out this winter. After daring to express modest concern about Trump’s initial Muslim ban, Fowler, who was born in Atlanta, heard a chorus of “Go back where you came from” and plenty worse across social media, as might be expected from the fans that made their own Darren Wilson jerseys in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in nearby Ferguson. Baseball has been walking this tightrope for generations, balancing between inclusivity and tradition, urban teams and rural culture, the  “America’s Pastime” mythos and the most immigrant-dependent recruiting structure in American sports. But in 2017, with these battles spilling into every aspect of our society, baseball will have no choice but to acknowledge them outright. I suspect it will not be pretty. It will certainly bum out the “just play the game” set. But the sport will be more fascinating for it.
‘When You’re Writing, Everything is in Retrospect’: An Interview with Durga Chew-Bose

The author of Too Much and Not the Mood on restlessness, heritable belongings and interior life. 

Like many great things, I'm pretty sure Durga Chew-Bose’s work first became known to me through Tumblr. Her account stood out to me because of the connections her mind makes, evident through the curation of her thoughts (usually screenshots of tweets), reading that she’s found necessary to add to her page, and her favorite visuals.Despite the likelihood that it has only been a few years at most, it’s hard for me to remember a time when I haven’t known of her. What intrigues me about Chew-Bose's work is that it feels, not like an invitation into her mind, but like you're already there, perched, awaiting her next thought. Chew-Bose’s words are deliberate and often inspire rumination.Her new book of fourteen essays, Too Much and Not the Mood, is spiraling and full of challenges. In much of the text, she negotiates being the daughter of parents who are originally from India, but growing up as a first-generation Canadian in Montreal—being “from here but also… from there too.” She weaves in her friends, her brother, her favorite artists, writers, moments. These are the things that make up the fabric of her being, and so they must necessarily make up the fabric of her stories. Too Much and Not the Mood reads like a coming-of-age tale, if the focus is on the tale and not the age. It considers who she was as a child in Montreal, as a young adult living in New York City, and who she is still becoming.Named to Brooklyn Magazine’s list of “30 Under 30” in 2015, when asked where she saw herself in ten years, she said, “In ten years I hope to be better at everything without even noticing that that’s true.” We spoke on the phone on a cloudy New York morning in March, both in Brooklyn at least for the moment.Abigail Bereola: Your Tumblr often reads to me as a virtual art gallery of sorts—there’s a form of tight curatorial effort at work. Do you consider your Tumblr as more of a project than a blog? Is it for you first, or do you have a target audience?Durga Chew-Bose: I don’t really consider it to be anything, to be honest. Probably the least of which a blog, because I don’t really write on it often. Occasionally, I’ll write, but it’s so rare. I kind of use it as more depositary. I’ll read something and something will strike me and I guess I have some far away idea that everything I see and consume and am enthusiastic about will eventually find its way into my work… or solve some problem in something I’m working on. And so, I think it’s more a compulsion than anything else. It’s probably the only aspect of my life in which I could claim being even half a hoarder. I’m usually getting rid of things constantly—I don’t like owning a lot of stuff. The only thing I buy a lot of is probably books, but Tumblr is kind of—in some ways—very opposite to how I consume and live my life, because it seems like an abundance or an over-abundance of things that might not necessarily be related but that just strike me. And then I just feel the need to put them somewhere. I just use it like—I don’t even know—like a safe deposit box, or something. Sometimes I’ll go through the archives.I do find it helpful, though, in that a lot of it is—even if it’s as small as an interview with a writer or director, sometimes the way artists whose work I admire speak about their work reinvigorates me and I think I keep my Tumblr for that reason too, because it’s a good place to turn to when you’re feeling directionless… I definitely feel like I also keep it because it’s the only place that I don’t have to present myself with much cohesion or context. So actually, to answer part of your question, I don’t have an audience in mind. I barely even consider the fact that other people are seeing it. Ever. Oops.In your essay “Heart Museum,” you write about being born first generation as being born in dispute—that you must not only survive, but thrive in the home where you were born, but also continue to think of your parent’s home as your first, in some ways. My dad was also born and reared in a country different from where I was, and I have often, from a young age, felt “in dispute,” but for me, this manifests as a feeling of not fully belonging to either place. Have you felt this way? Does it mean something different to you? Sometimes I wonder if my personal relationship to what it means to be first generation is also so dependent on the fact that I haven’t been to Kolkata as much as maybe some children. Some children visit where their parents are from once a year at least, and they have a whole parade of cousins and second-cousins and people that are called cousins even if they aren’t technically cousins, you know? And I definitely don’t have that relationship to being first generation because I think that in the case of those families, there’s much more of an emotional tether. Their sense of family is very global in some ways. Well—global is such a cheesy word, isn’t it? I just mean their sense of family and what it means to be part of a family is expansive. And in some ways, I feel like my family is a very small unit and now we’re all in Canada. And because my parents have now been living in Montreal for so long, I feel like that negotiation between who I am and who they are and where they’re from and where I’m from has lost some of those distinct lines in some ways. This is all I know and this is the only way that they know me. I don’t feel as torn, so much as I do feel occasionally—I don’t know what the word for it is, but sometimes out of nowhere, I’ll suddenly remember—it might be as simple as, you know, I was just home in Montreal and there was a huge snow storm. And it’ll be something as small as watching my father shovel snow. And it’s looking very hard on his body right now. And me considering, “Oh yeah, he’s not from here. But he is now, at this point, because he’s been here for so long. Why is he shoveling snow?”It’s a very simple moment, but in some ways, that sometimes will shake me into realizing that some extensive travel and abandoning of one’s original life has occurred for him… It comes to me in these rare moments. I consider the family tree in a very physical way… I think that’s more how I contend with the fact that there are questions, not necessarily that I’m looking for answers for, but they’re definitely part of how I navigate the world.You mention, throughout the text, in various iterations, that the stories of parents do not belong to their children. And it’s interesting—their stories can feel like yours because as a child, you’re of your parents, even if you are not them specifically. A really striking moment that I thought illustrated this was in “Part of a Greater Pattern,” where you refer to your parents’ separation as your first heartbreak. And I think there’s something really interesting in the idea of an experience that is secondary to you becoming primary, even though that experience likely felt primary to you. Do you have any thoughts on this? Well it’s funny, because when you’re writing, everything is in retrospect. So, I wouldn’t have, as a child, even recognized it as heartbreak. I probably would have clocked it more as confusion and pain and questions and sadness… But in terms of my parents’ stories not belonging to me, I think part of why I wanted to express that is because I think it’s also a question of respecting their individual lives that are running alongside their children’s. I think there’s this idea, especially when there is second-generation/first-generation stuff happening in a family, or the dynamic is definitely demarcated by a family immigrating to another country and raising their children in an entirely different world—I think there’s a sense, and the word that comes up a lot is that parents are “providing” for their kids, creating this world where they can thrive. I think part of my relationship to my parents is that as much as I feel incredibly close to them and sometimes even psychically close to them, I understand that they have an entirely complex and separate experience of what it is to be a person. And I think my relationship to them is a very equal mix of curiosity, but without prying. Curiosity that is less trying to get the scoop and more that I love the stories, but I also respect their privacy. I feel like I only really mentioned it once, but maybe I did mention it more than once.I think specifically you mentioned it once, but it kind of felt a weaving theme in some ways, like you talk about not asking certain things.It might also be that I haven’t yet asked it. I think there’s always a time or there’s a natural way that information is divulged, or stories are shared and you can’t force them, especially with parents. My mother sometimes says she thinks I’m the member of the family who is going to be really invested in continuing the family’s stories—for obvious reasons that I’m a writer, but maybe for less obvious ones that I have this very irritating quality of asking a lot of questions, and they’re not often elaborate. They’re very detailed. My mother was telling me this story about growing up on Elliott Road in Kolkata, and I’ll want to know what shoes she was wearing that day. Or I’ll want to know where they were going or the name of the shopkeeper or the name of the tailor, because for some reason, I tend to have a harder time imagining. Or maybe it’s not even that. Maybe it’s that I love the cinematic quality of being exposed to what otherwise might seem like inconsequential details, or something. In that way, I think that when my parents are telling me anything, I push for all those little details, but in terms of the deeper emotional stuff or choices that they made, even, I really believe that those are theirs to share and tell me when they feel the time is right. Or never tell me.You describe a restlessness associated with being first generation, of the movement instilled in DNA. And I think you are describing this more psychically than physically, but I wonder, have you personally often moved around? Do you feel that you know what it is to settle down?That’s actually really funny that you’re asking me that right now because I was just texting with a friend, telling him how I’m feeling a little bit out of sorts because I’m living in sublets right now and I’m in other people’s spaces and I’m essentially not fully unpacking my suitcases. And his reaction was like, “No, that’s exciting! That means you’re not tied down.” I thought it was funny and I was laughing because in some ways—I feel like this is such a ridiculous thing to say and I should probably not say it—but it felt so male: tied down. I always just associate it with how men talk about relationships or something. And I was like, “No, I desperately want a space of my own right now.” But I think it’s, if anything, teaching me that it’s important to have to learn how to improvise your interior life a little bit more. I’m definitely someone who likes to nest, so this has definitely been an adventure in terms of learning how to live with all my stuff in a series of small pouches and bags, and carrying my toothbrush and my backpack regularly and always having some books with me to read if I crash at a friend’s place. Always having all my chargers. I just feel like I’m a mobile office unit at this point. So, that actual physical restlessness doesn’t necessarily suit with my temperament or how I would like to live. But it’s temporary, right? And with anything that’s temporary, it’s all you have to remind yourself to get over that moment of complete panic or feeling like you’re a failure or something.But no, I haven’t been someone who has had a very nomadic life or anything. In fact, I’m definitely the kind of person who, even when I know I’m going to be somewhere for a short period of time, I try to find little ways to make it a home. It’s been harder this time because I find that between teaching and the book and going home to see my family and meet my niece and stuff, I’m just letting things happen to me as opposed to organizing my life around some pattern that makes sense, but I think you’re right, the restlessness that I was speaking of is more psychic and also a question of heritable belongings. Honestly, sometimes it’s just that you can feel that your parents are completely foreign people because when you’re reconciling with something you’re going through in adolescence, their adolescence was in a completely different world, and so, you almost—instead of trying to connect—had decided young that you weren’t going to be able to, which was probably naïve and silly, stubborn teenage behavior, but I think that’s part of it, too. Your understanding early that there’s going to be a lot that’s lost in translation and either you have to do the work to make those connections or just make these empirical decisions, like, “Nah, we’re just not going to meet when it comes to these topics.” And that can make you really restless, I think.That’s really interesting, and I think, actually, what you said about trying to make everywhere you go, for no matter how short a period, kind of like a little home—I wonder if that kind of stems from similar things. I don’t know if I’d put that much deep thought into why I try to have my comforts around me. I think it’s just I’m someone who is a bit terrified of unraveling. But I think I just appreciate when things are in arm’s reach. I have to say, it’s been kind of tricky not having all my books. Like even if I’m just writing or there’s a sentence I’m trying to retrieve and I wish I just had all my books to walk into my study and find that one copy of whatever and be like, “Oh yeah, I didn’t make that sentence up. That definitely happened.” That’s been a bit hard, to not have that access… But sometimes I wonder if it’s just a question, too, of convincing myself of having a life. And it’s hard for me to do that if I’m not surrounded by my intentions. I think having a space of my own or living in my own apartment, there’s this clarity in every corner or every wall you look at, or surface. It’s your own and you placed that object there. And sometimes that’s enough for me to get through the day, is to know that that glass is there because I used it. Sometimes that’s enough to clear up with myself that I’m alive and I did something at 8am and now it’s 8pm and I’ve lived a day in this space.There are a lot of really lovely moments throughout this work, but one of the sections that kept drawing me back was in “D As In” where you write about delighting in anonymity. I have felt similarly in a lot of cases—there’s more of a desire to fade into the background, at least in a personal sense. You frame this as having been “born accommodating,” which I think is a lovely turn of phrase, but quite complex for the people born this way. For you, does having been born accommodating infringe on the work of writing?Yeah, for sure. I think there have been times when I’ve tried to write and accommodate some anonymous universal audience of shadows that have no distinguishing qualities and the writing has, for that exact reason, been awful. I try to fight that whenever I write now and I’m trying to be, more than ever, very specific and write to a few people in mind and keep those people in mind when I lose track of what it is I’m doing or why it is I’m doing it. But I think it’s important to distinguish between accommodating and pleasing. I definitely don’t write to please people…But I think the accommodating is that I want to make myself as clear as possible to make myself as accessible as possible. And in order to do that, I feel like that requires some accommodation. It’s very nerve-wracking for somebody to look at you but not see you and I sometimes wonder if in my own writing, I’m trying to accommodate or express myself in a way that people can see me, which I guess kind of goes against what I wrote or what you asked about, in terms of wanting to fade into the background, but I think it’s also worth mentioning that that essay was written almost three years ago now and things have changed. I think I’m a different person in a lot of ways and I think I’m trying more actively to not seek invisibility as much as I might have in the past…Early on, in “Heart Museum,” while discussing smallness in relation to the happenings of the Earth, you ask, “Because doesn’t smallness prime us to eventually take up space?” With regard to the idea of accommodation in the sense of being pleasing, as opposed to the larger sense, have you found that to be true?Yeah. And when I mean smallness, again, it’s not necessarily physical smallness or making myself completely into a speck. I think smallness in that respect is also patience, or listening, or watching, or perceiving and quietly observing, or collecting over time. Appreciating how patterns form naturally instead of trying to be a part of the pattern. I think a general reluctance has actually helped me find my footing a little more than had I just confidently walked into rooms or confidently assumed that my opinion or point of view was immediately valid. God, I would be a completely different person. And maybe it’s completely wrong to suggest that it’s good to feel invalid young, but it definitely made my relationship to writing one of a lot of process and thinking as opposed to immediately writing. So, I think in that way, the way that I know how to take up space—the only way I know how—is with my writing…I do know it can probably seem a bit confusing—I’m saying, “Don’t take up space!” And you know, people love these banner statements telling women, “Take up as much space!” and I guess I agree with the sentiment. I’m still not 100% on board. Because taking up space also requires a certain amount of security that you can make those mistakes and still have a second opportunity. And I’ve never felt like that’s necessarily an option for me. I don’t really think it has anything to do with identity. I think it could just be personality type, and I think that’s a really important thing to make clear. I might just be some kind of lapsing perfectionist at this point and I’m understanding that I can’t control as much as I used to want to and a lot of the smallness is totally symptomatic of wanting control. So, I don’t necessarily think it’s completely married to questions of identity and who’s the loudest in the room and who’s not and whose voices are encouraged and whose aren’t. Although of course that plays a determining part, I think it’s also just a question of my personality. My personality is often one of needing to be careful about how I present myself.I agree with the idea of smallness in both ways not necessarily always being a bad thing. I do think that the things that are often seen as negatives often lend themselves to more empathy or things like that. In “Since Living Alone,” you refer to yourself as “a child that never quite reveled in the traditions of childhood.” Could you talk about that more? Do you ever feel like you missed out, or that you need to make up for lost youth?I don’t think I think I need to make up for lost youth or that I missed out. I was just a very tense kid. I was not cool or calm or confident or funny or coming home with stains all over my clothes. I was tightly wound, tense. I was living in a home where I was very concerned about my parents and their marriage, even though it was none of my business. And they were the greatest parents and created an amazing home for my brother and I, but I was still playing adult. I think I was trying to understand adult emotions and adult pain, when obviously I did not have any tools or equipment to do that. I think I also just was in my head a lot. And I think maybe that is a quality that is very childlike, but I don’t think I had that reckless abandon that some children have or pure unbridled joy. I talk about this in the book, but it’s something I so wish I could hear. I just want to know what my laugh sounded like as a kid. Because I have no idea what I sounded like when I completely let go and I’m just really curious.There are many moments in the essays where you say how old you are at the moment of writing. What is the importance in proclaiming your age?I think that maybe sometimes, especially with the essay on my name, having my friend Sarah in that moment in the bar question that man for asking something that has been asked to me my whole life, I think it’s important to mention how old I was because it had taken my whole life to meet a friend who was just so bored by this person’s really, really, really uninteresting interrogation of who I am—the least interesting part of me, you know? It had taken that many years for that to happen and for a friend to do that, but also for me to even realize how illegitimate that question was. So, in some ways, I probably mention my age because I do want to note that these aren’t experiences that have changed me when I was 14, these are experiences that changed me when I was well out of college and when I thought I knew everything there was to know about myself or when I assumed that maybe I had built up enough reinforcement and I felt like a reasonable, legitimate person, but no, yet again, there was a moment where I’m kind of struck by how narrow-minded people are… Maybe I have mixed feelings about the age thing. Part of the time, I wish I stayed away from how bold an age can look on the page, and other times, I think it’s important because it really underlines how there are certain experiences I’ve had my whole life that I never thought to question because I just thought it was how things would always be.In “Since Living Alone,” you mention how while living in New York, you “rarely [cashed] in on the proximity of people.” I definitely related to that—New York is the biggest city I’ve lived in, with the most friends who live in the same place, and yet I rarely see many of them. It often feels like everyone is so hyper-focused on living their own experience and trying to make it here, that it can be hard to see something or someone else. Do you feel that it’s something particularly true in New York, or have you had similar experiences elsewhere?Let me think about that for a second, mainly because I lived my entire twenties in New York and I think that’s that time in our life where being social is an expectation. Obviously every writer has said it better than I will ever say it. There was this essay in Granta Magazine one issue and I think the issue was about travel or family. I feel sometimes like I have all these sentences on the tip of my tongue that I’ve read, that have been so important to me and now, I can barely remember what they were…But there’s an essay in it, and he has this line about what a friend in New York is, and it was like, “A friend in New York in fact was defined as someone you never needed to see, who would never get angry at you for ignoring him.” I feel like that’s a huge part of it because sometimes I think a huge part of living in New York is literally what it takes to get outside—everything you need to get done before. And I also think that it’s so tiring here often and being social can be really tiring and that you can love your friends deeply, and it’s honestly the ones who love you back just as deeply where they understand that it’s not a big deal if you don’t see them. The love is there when you’re thinking about them and the support is there when it’s really needed, but that electricity to always be where everyone else is can really deteriorate you, so I think that’s also why people don’t end up seeing each other a lot.I remembered, it was Edmund White. I remember it totally because it was in this issue of Granta—it was like my favorite issue because—I think it was in 2014 or 2015, but it had all my favorite writers. You know when you get an issue of a magazine and you’re just like, “This is a jackpot because every contributor is my favorite writer and I’m going to keep this like it’s a Bible…”The proximity of friends thing in that essay was also because at that time when I wrote it, I was living in Crown Heights and a lot of my friends were a block or two blocks away, and it would kind of shock me how Friday would turn into Sunday evening and I hadn’t even considered that I could just walk over to my friend’s and sit on her floor, or walk over to my friend’s and make lasagna. Instead, I just kind of devolved into someone who forgets to turn on the lamps at night. I think that’s also part of it, but maybe I should just blame our laptops or something. If I didn’t have a laptop, I’d probably go outside more. I don’t know…I think Too Much and Not the Mood is a work of self, but also of family and friendship. There is something about the way you describe your female friends, as if, more so than any lover, they are the loves of your life. What significance do your friends have to you?I was telling my friend Sarah a year or a couple years ago how my whole life changed when I met her. But it wasn’t, oh, my whole life changed and I forgot about my life before her. You know how there’s sometimes a piece of art—you see a movie or read a book and you can’t remember what your life was like before you read that book because that book solidified so much that just felt kind of jiggly in your head and now it’s solid and concrete? That’s not what I mean. I think I just mean that for the first time in my life, I met someone who everything I’ve known and felt but didn’t have words for or couldn’t funnel into some kind of meaning found that space, because I feel like even if our shorthand wasn’t quick to develop, we really believed that the other person was very special. And so, my whole way of thinking and writing and being around people has changed since I met her.I think a lot of my friends have that impact on me, too, where simply watching them talk on the phone with their parents or watching them work through many drafts of a piece of work and watching them arrive late to dinner and need to unwind and the care that they put into listening to their friends. All that stuff has just taught me how to be with other people and sometimes I feel like I have a hard time being with other people, but my friends make me feel like it’s okay—whatever I come with, there’s room for that. I wouldn’t say they’re like the loves of my life because I don’t even know what that means necessarily, but I do think that they are what encourages me to constantly be a thinking, caring, loving person who wants to provide for them. But I don’t even know what I would provide, honestly. You just want them to be as incredible as you know they are and as they know you are.It’s a bit ridiculous, honestly, how much my friends have helped me. I was telling my friend Collier as she visited me in Montreal—we were just talking and I don’t even know what we were talking about. You know when you’re with a friend and suddenly, you’re both just so happy that the other person exists, but there’s also a sadness in that and I can’t really explain why. I just felt this crazy honor, like this person whose work I admire and whose brain and whose sense of humor and whose energy—oh my God, her energy—it’s a wealth of energy. And I was like, “This person has chosen to come to Montreal and visit me and spend time with my family’s dog and go for walks. This person, of all the people in the world, wants to know me.” And that’s how I feel about my friends, in some ways. I just want to know everything about them, and in knowing everything about them, I end up learning everything about the world. So in some ways, I think that’s partly why I feel so indebted to them, because they’re so generous in sharing with me what they’re experiencing and what they love and what they see, and they’re so generous at also sharing the less bright parts, like the pain and the loneliness… Sorry. I might have gotten a little cheesy.No, that was really beautiful. I’m going to double-down on the loves of your life thing, because that’s what it sounds like. I don’t know. I guess different people have different ideas of love and what it means and what it can be, but I kind of tend to think of it in the form of expansiveness and people who are really rooting for the best for each other and who feel like they make each other better, and I feel like you kind of described that. Yeah, I think that that’s actually a huge part of it, too. A lot of the women in my life, I just see them as the most brilliant people I will ever meet. And I know how frustrating it can be to want to be clear about something that’s exciting to you or make that project that you so desperately want to make, but you have seven other things you have to do before, and I think part of our friendships is that we are also reminding each other of those original excitements… I always return to this idea that one of the greatest things you can offer your friends, especially in a city like New York where ambition seems to actually make life feel impossible in this kind of oxymoronic way, it’s so important to have friends who when you’re saying, “But that person’s doing better than I could ever do” or “I can’t believe that person did that,” it’s really important to have a friend who can be like, “No, but you are doing it.” You need to hold up a mirror to your friend and be like, “This is you and you are making it happen,” and a lot of the women in my life, that’s what they’ve done, and I’m so grateful.Who do you write for?I think I write more to people than for them. Because I often just will write, even if it’s a single sentence, to a specific person. I think I also write for that part of me that couldn’t express what I can express now. And I think I also write to that part of every exchange I have where so much goes unsaid. Because one of the beautiful things about writing is you can spend all the time you need to say it like you want to say it, even though I’m sure you always want to go back and edit. That care that goes into it? I think I write for that, too. I write for the care. For the time that I get to do it properly, the way that I want to do it… I felt in writing the book, I couldn’t have done it without the women in my life who I’m constantly talking to or texting angrily about whatever happened that day. Those people were who I wrote to because they are who I talk to regularly. I can’t write to people I don’t talk to regularly because that’s not connecting to me at all. That’s just kind of like tossing my ideas out into some imaginary space and hoping that some of it sticks, but if I write to the people I’m in at least regular contact with, then I can hope that some of what I was saying will make sense, honestly. I just don’t want to not make sense.I think it’s possible, too, that I don’t write for anyone because there’s something about the word “for” that seems really presumptuous to me. But if I write to people that I know, that I regularly talk to, then all that presumption can maybe evaporate a little bit. There’s no separate me. The me that’s writing my book is not separate from the me that’s having dinner with a friend, so to make sure that I maintain that, I was always very, very clear that I was writing to specific people in my life. That was the only way to adhere to that tone, I guess.
Everything I Know I Learned From Vanishing

Apparitions usually appear to one person at a time. If you want to be otherworldly, keep moving.

Boarding schools have an entire vocabulary attached to them, idioms that come with the territory. There are locations that, visited at night, mean you are having sex. There are coded nicknames for teachers, for classes. For drugs. One phrase at my school was "stress leave," which meant that the demands of being unspeakably privileged had become too much for you. The reward for this panic was a week-long break at home (where, it must be noted, you still had to do homework). Stress leave meant you were freaking out, in any of the infinite and predictable ways that teenagers freak out.I took a stress leave in eleventh grade. Stress seems a quaint term for what I was experiencing: self-loathing so deep and anguished it was almost beautiful, like the magnificence of a nuclear explosion seen at a distance. In a not-quite-suicidal way, I wanted to disappear. For a week, I could. Stress week.Those seven days allowed me to test run what it would be like to not exist. My universe was so small—my school, my friends, my Facebook page—that leaving it completely was as simple as my mother bundling me into her silver Volvo and whisking me away. Death was as simple as sleeping in a different bed. Rebirth was a fresh, white bathrobe. I disappeared.Controlled vanishing has been my M.O. ever since. Reflection is my most serene state, and to shrink back and observe the blank place where I once stood is the closest I can come to purity. It’s the most potent route to understanding that I know.*The next year, I disappeared again. I went to a new school and, although it was a disaster, it happened in a vacuum. I learned early on to diversify my personal failings. I realized that the more varied the people who saw me hurting, the less fixed the image of myself as someone fallible would become. It was in my interests to make sure these people did not know each other and could not corroborate their evidence. I developed a taste for fresh starts and the sweet gloss they cast over me. Apparitions usually appear to one person at a time. If you want to be otherworldly, keep moving.Frequent moving is motivated by a desire to both escape who I have been as well as know who I am. Moves are supposed to clear me of memories, like emotional exfoliant. They are meant to actuate change, but I change steadily, never dramatically (the way I want to). The only thing that has really transformed is this: after years of fearing that I might become irrevocably sad and curl inwards like a burnt piece of foil, I now know I can weather any storm. The nature and frequency of these storms, however, is constant. I get depressed, I think often (but not lustily) about death, then I move.New cities let me start from zero. New cities are razed ground where I expect perfect plants to grow. I call this freedom. But that's not quite right, the haunted are never free. Neither are the hunted.And today, we are all hunted, or, at the very least, we are searched for. I realize that disappearing is impossible as long as I insist on posting pictures or tweets, but that is the beauty of my situation. I can’t disappear; but I can exist in as many places as possible. I show up on the screens of people I once conversed with, or haunt the geo-tags I used to occupy in real life. I have a complicated relationship with social media; the success-mongering of my peers makes me feel sluggish, but I love the digital ooze that I can leave behind. I want to be traceable. And isn’t it amazing how the ugliest creatures leave such a beautiful, glistening wake?Still, there is something immaculate about disappearing today, something supernatural. Think about how we describe hookups who dematerialize, they “ghosted.” I’ve always talked with my friends about the allure of men who don’t have Instagram, they are the closest thing to Byronic heroes we millennial girls will ever get. In a world where we are constantly, compulsively asserting that we exist, disappearing is the last stunning act.But disappearing acts are good for more than airs of mystery, they force the people who care about you to show their hand. It always occurs to me, in an eddy of my brain, a place where beer cans and lost shoes gather and spin: how can you know who will bother to chase you unless you run?*The week I went away from school, I ate and cried and did many, many hair masks. My hair was so moisturized each strand was like a yogurt tube. I also received a Facebook message from a boy I hardly knew who I thought was very handsome. I forget what it said, but it amounted to, "I noticed you are gone." My heart felt like a bit of skin caught in a zipper.That time and every time since, disappearing has been a challenge I throw out to all the people who populate my world. Which one of you gets it? It doesn't matter if I’m waving or being swept out to sea, my silhouette is receding steadily onto the horizon, and I want you to notice. But know this, seeing is the least you can do. I’m really checking if you’ll swim after me.Sylvia Plath, in her poem “Lady Lazarus,” imagined reaching the brink of death and coming back nine times. Each time she is stronger, and there is always an element of enhancement that comes with disappearing. Lady Lazarus says, "Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air." I know that I become less silly and scarier with every disappearing act. My image grows stronger, more distinct. It’s true of everyone. Magicians are simply men in top hats until they disappear: when they do that, they are magic. Fathers are fathers until they are gone, then they are myths.*Disappearing appeals to those painfully ill at ease with themselves, or those unable to reconcile who they are now with what they did then. Disappearing is the magic of the disassociated. It's the charm of the confused. I sometimes think of it as softened heartbreak.A certain amount of capital is required to vanish into thin air: which is why accountants can only do it after stealing their clients’ money. This is also why the gaps between my vanishing acts have grown longer.I have found other ways to disappear, methods that don't require switching continents like they are cell phone service providers. I sit in dark theatres alone. I deflect acknowledgement. I dump friends. I stop talking.The first time I disappeared, I did it to test my world, like the science experiments I’d performed in class. Crude trials, removing one element to understand its effect on all the others. In high school, I wanted to know what remained the same after I was gone. What was real? Vanishing was a way to gauge my own importance in a flash. Today, I disappear to understand which parts of my life are immutable. What comes with me when I go, and what is the top hat I leave spinning on the stage? What words and phrases are mine alone, and not the product of my company? What does my voice sound like without the interference of memory?All I really know I learned from vanishing. And anyone who truly loves me knows this: I will make sure you love me enough to chase me when I’m gone.
Dressing Like Ladies

Clothes are an evolving expression of the selves we want the world to see—that’s what makes them so powerful. But, as women, it’s worth asking: who are we wearing them for?

Last year, I started to lose hours to online shopping. I’d scroll and click through everything, all stores, all styles, hoping for a whisper of guidance. I compulsively bought a blouse, sunglasses, too many jumpsuits.I’d excitedly track their shipment, then let the clothes linger in their boxes and their bags, the fantasy of what they could be and could make me punctured against the reality of their arrival. More often I bought nothing. I simply imagined me in those clothes, preforming what it meant to be a woman, to be the most alluring version of myself. I craved that one item of clothing that would make me want less. That would make me.I’d done this so many times before—this game of make-me-believe. It started when I was a tween, faced with the awkward prospect of buying a training bra at our suburban town’s newly opened Wal-Mart. With a tattooing heart, I defiantly reached for a three-pack of sports bras instead, deciding they would flatten, spandex me square. These high-cut bras were my subterfuge, a denial of a body I didn’t want. After that, I crafted a wardrobe of Adidas pants, XXL golf shirts, and anything else I thought could help me keep the me I wanted: a girl whose body remained a girl’s, straight and smooth as long grass.Even after I grew accustomed to the idea of breasts, I remained gawky. My clothes turned black, destroyed and held back together with safety pins. My clothing was a cotton fortress. It lied for me: here is a teen girl who is tough and not afraid of her own body or yours, so back the fuck off.In my early twenties, I turned once more, this time toward a budding professionalism: pencil skirts and low heels, uncomfortable slacks and blouses that modelled after a look I thought of as Adult Woman. The self-imposed rules of my latest un-chic configuration required I mostly opt for clothes I thought were both boring and sure to make me miserable. The way I dressed myself in those years was not an expression of my identity, but a uniform of the person I thought I should be: responsible, reliable, a projection of bland competence.It couldn’t last. The sameness I saw in the mirror each morning wasn’t comforting, as I’d hoped it would become, but suffocating. I wanted something more. As Sheila Heti concludes in the introduction of Women in Clothes when pondering what a woman demands from her personal aesthetic: “I think she wants to be unique among women, a creature unlike any other.”Clothing is an instant projection of who we are—or truer yet, who we want to be. For girls and women, especially, it tends to be how we’re categorized and assigned; how we’re minimized and fawned over; how those around us decide to ration their respect. Consider our years-long mania over Hillary Clinton’s suits, or the ink spilled in the U.K. over Theresa May’s shoes (a real late August 2016 headline in the Telegraph: “Theresa May reveals her shoes are the 'greatest love' of her life and that she dislikes her nose”). Consider the way we scoff at certain clothes on certain bodies, mutter “slut” and “trash.” Consider one of the modern myths women are plied with: that a Little Black Dress will make us perfect.*It started with a red dress. Then pink gingham with scalloped edging. Orange plaid button-down. There was a yellow wrap-around skirt with striped piping, a sailboat stitched at the corner. I’d bought it for my 29th birthday. My favourite was a green day dress with polka-dot pockets. Second favourite: a turquoise frock with roses, thrifted from a rundown Goodwill on Parliament Street in Toronto. Then there was the sentimental: My mother’s purple polyester with faded orchids and a broken strap, my first foray into the past. The assembly closed on a neutral note. A brown skirt from a second-hand store in Toronto’s west end. White, from small-town Ontario.I don’t remember how I hop-scotched through the blogosphere to vintage fashion, but I do know why I loved it, immediately. Vintage clothing was so different from the clothes I’d bought before, those cardigans and wrap dresses draped on skinny mall mannequins, and yet it was effortlessly, beautifully composed—all things I wanted for myself. If my earlier wardrobes cycled through a deep yearning to hide myself, to fit in, to belong, then vintage clothing was what, I thought, would allow me to access the still deeper part of myself that wanted to stand out. As Heti writes: “The most compelling women are the ones who are distinctive, who are most like themselves and least like other women.” If I could figure out how to dress most like myself, perhaps it meant I could—finally—also figure out how to be the me I wanted: a compelling woman. The type of woman everybody still thought about after she left the room. Hushed in awe as they hid behind palms, complimenting her Look.I collected vintage like a stamp fanatic, like an old man who idled over coins and war memorabilia—pursuits that have always struck me as masculine. I was obsessed. I hunted across the country, collecting vintage at Frenchys in New Brunswick, along Queen Street in Halifax, at a thrift shop in Drumheller, outside of Alberta’s Bad Lands. I even crossed the border, picking up a paisley house dress in Salem, an orange skirt with giant pockets at a pit stop on the way back to Toronto, the perfect pair of high-waisted shorts in Boston.When I broke my leg so badly I couldn’t leave my bed for months, I cajoled my then husband into journeying out for me. He Facetimed me through the aisles of Value Village, pausing patiently at my direction, plucking out promising finds, rescuing them from a crush of shrunken T-shirts and sweaters gone lopsided. When he returned home, I greedily grabbed at the bags of musty clothes, inhaling the familiar, pungent perfume of used and discarded, imagined what new lives I’d give these lucky garments—and myself. I had clothes I never wore, but appreciated, a connoisseur of Peter Pan collars, wiggle skirts, novelty patterns. I’d take them out, admire them, then tenderly place them back inside The Closet.Like a true collector, I always wanted more. My closet burst with colour, lace, pearls, sequins, full skirts, poofs upon poofs. I could squint and pretend my clothes were cupcakes, macarons, meringue—stacked sugar-laced sweets behind a patisserie glass. I dressed like candy and soda shops, episodes of Leave it To Beaver rendered into pastel Technicolor. I loved these old clothes for their possibilities. Wearing them was like slipping into the skin of another woman. One who was more glamorous than me, more sophisticated, definitively put-together and in control. I ushered this woman forward in time, then tried my best to become her—if I bought enough, learned enough. I spent hours watching YouTube tutorials and reading vintage blogs searching for inspiration. During this time, I perfected pin curls, winged eyeliner, a red lip. This woman I’d conjured was beautiful, something that was acutely important to me, even though I didn’t want it to be.Whenever I opened my closet door during the years of my vintage obsession, I’d feel a rush. Each morning, I’d brush my fingers across the neat rows of fabric, delicate as a lover, thrumming with the anticipation of a first kiss. What would I be today? I owned so many clothes by then—all vintage or vintage reproduction, mostly from the 1950s and ’60s—that the closet’s rod bent under the weight of my feminine acquisitions. Colour-coded and hung together, they resembled a fat and drooping rainbow.*Then, in early 2015, my now ex-husband and I separated. Unable to afford my three-bedroom apartment on one salary, I had to downsize to a smaller space. There was no way I could take all my clothes with me. Unable to part with everything, I rented a storage locker and promised myself I could fill three suitcases and two wardrobe boxes—tall, unwieldy makeshift closets that still could not hold everything I owned. The rest I would donate. By the time I was done sorting everything into “keep” and “toss” piles, my bedroom floor looked liked melted cake, punctured soufflés, unicorn tears. When I later taped the boxes that would go into storage, my stomach panged with grief. I felt like I was at a funeral. I’d hollowed out my identity, the one I’d so tightly stitched to these mid-century clothes. In the first few weeks after I moved, I constantly reached into my shrunken closet for phantom items.I’d deliberately, painstakingly crafted A Look. It was one that, I realize now, was perhaps less me and more a good mimic of a Stepford Wife. Once cleaved from me, I reflected on what it meant to dress like an old-fashioned housewife, a proper lady—always exact and constrained. Why did I like it so much? It was an uncomfortable line of inquisition. Part of me was defiant. Said to hell with it. It was my damn body, I could wear whatever I wanted. But I knew that was too easy. I wasn’t dressing passively. I wore vintage, at first, because I wanted that thing women aren’t supposed to want for themselves: to be seen. How much of it was really on my own terms? I worried it didn’t fit with my feminism, whether I could talk myself into believing it did, or whether it even mattered. Donning the clothes of women’s repressive past didn’t mean I supported it, or secretly yearned for it. If women could reclaim the word “bitch,” couldn’t we also reclaim pearl necklaces and lace gloves?I mean, at least that’s what I told myself. I was newly self-conscious of my once perfect pompadour, my full petticoats, my swing shoes. I didn’t step inside a vintage shop for months. And yet, my wary avoidance solved nothing. I didn’t stop caring what I looked like more than almost anything else in the world. I didn’t suddenly slip back into my own skin, happy and satisfied and confident. Despite myself, I still wanted. Wanted to find that one perfect dress, perfect lipstick, perfect pair of shoes that would, a la Cinderella’s fairy godmother, stop the wanting and transform me into the best version of myself. The sparkly flawless version.Clothes are an evolving expression of the selves we want the world to see—that’s what makes them so powerful. But, as women, it’s worth asking: who are we dressing for? Before I boxed my clothes and gave them up to cardboard tombs, I thought that answer was, finally, myself. Yet, left with the scraps of my carefully curated wardrobe I wasn’t so sure. Shrouded in my leftover, but flawless, cocoon coat, I still felt undressed, vulnerable. Still knew that I hadn’t yet achieved style—fed that naked, gluttonous wanting enough that I felt right when I stepped outside my apartment into the morning blush. Sated it so that I could leave the house and not think of myself as mirrors, a person or object in which others see themselves reflected. I wondered what a fullness like that would feel like. Speculated whether I could buy it.*Shortly after my separation, and the unfolding of my personal style, I stuck a Post-It note to my work computer, quoting Dress A Day blogger and author Erin McKean: “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.’” (It’s often misattributed to former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland.) Unmoored from The Closet, I wanted to remind myself that I didn’t need it—that I could move through the world free of charge, just as easily in a T-shirt as full circle skirt. McKean’s quote is from a longer blog post called “You Don’t Have to Be Pretty.” In addition to reminding women that they don’t owe attractiveness to anyone, she also wrote that it’s okay to be pretty, to want it as a quality for yourself. Less meme-ified is this second part: “You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism.” Beauty is not the most important thing, she adds, but it is “pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.”I’m less rah-rah about that last part, mostly because I’m uncomfortable with how badly I want it to be true. Lodged within me, I contain twinning ouroboros of middle-finger feminism and the deep, unwelcome desire to have people smile at my appearance. I crave approval. I crave a feminism that tells me it’s okay to be this preoccupied by beauty. That can split this fixation down the lines of empowerment, like a seam, dividing it away from what I know to be true: that there’s a history here. I crave a clearer answer. A prescription that could cut through centuries of socialization and arbitrary beauty standards and a world that tells women the thing they should be most concerned with is their appearance. I don’t disagree with the obvious solution: that whatever a woman wants to wear is a feminist choice if she believes it is. But I struggle with how this works in practice. Even more so when I’m dressed like a Southern debutante or, perhaps, a layer cake.Vintage clothing from my era of choice—the ’50s and ’60s—is undeniably pretty, even sexy. Yet, it is so in a way that’s almost always juxtaposed against, or derived from, its demureness, its lady-like nature, its idea of the era’s perfect woman. It’s all lines in the sand of who a woman can be. In its original context, this beautiful, constrictive clothing was designed as a specific, instructive way to perform femininity. It’s easy to forget such garments were intended to remind women of their functionality as human beings; to shoehorn them back into their homes; to return them to the binary roles of wife and mother. Unlike the factory work wear of the 1940s—clothes that echoed women’s first widespread independence—this tight apparel, with its rows of back buttons and its many suffocating layers, was intended to be put on with assistance. Its makers assumed women had people (well, men) around to help them dress. In fact, it demanded it. Knowing this, the heavy-lidded bedroom phrase “do me up” seems a lot less alluring.Wearing vintage clothes in modern times attracts unsolicited, saccharine comments—ants to an ice cream puddle. In the years I wore it, I heard from men who wished more women dressed like ladies. From men who told me I looked high school student young, sweet, adorable. From men who commended my proclivity for dresses, praised my sartorial politeness. From men who asked to watch me try on clothes, who gave me their seats, who told me they remembered when. The whole vintage scene is saturated with “wholesome” vibes that reinforce the exact gender role divides I can’t stomach. In 2012, for instance, TLC aired a one-hour special called Wives with Beehives. It followed four twentysomething women around southern California as they integrated every aspect of mid-century living into their lives—from ancient work-out gear and incessant waist-minding to happy days spent baking, cleaning, and generally rejecting any career other than wife. (It’s worth mentioning that one of the main subjects later said that, while her love of vintage is real, much of the show was contrived, meant to make the women look ridiculous. “I was,” she wrote on her blog, “just a pawn in their game.”)Actually, for the first time since the 1960s, the number of stay-at-home moms is on the rise. These yesteryear-idealizing women are far from alone. What’s just a nod to neat waistlines and kitsch houseware for some has turned into a cartoonish pursuit to return to a time where “Women were women, by golly!” for others. That this was a time before feminism existed is sometimes exactly the point. Some of the most influential homemakers, including one blogger I used to follow, who’s so busy these days she has staff writers, have mottos like, “I believe sweatpants are never the answer” and “You are the CEO of your household.” Many of these women love Jesus, love their husbands, love their babies. There’s nothing wrong with any of that—except that it all seems to come from a place of wanting to make ourselves, and our worlds, smaller, more palatable. It’s not a coincidence that finishing schools have made a resurgence. While men return to simpler times with axe-throwing, women get etiquette lessons.I know not every woman who wears vintage has slid back into yes ma’am times. The vintage blogosphere is big and feminism is a controversial topic. Many vintage wearers wish the topic could be retired: it makes them feel good, so who cares what it used to symbolize? Feeling good about ourselves as women in an avalanche of media and marketing messaging that tells us not to, argue these women, can be subversive and empowering in itself. It’s a fair point. As Iris Marion Young writes in her essay “Women Recovering our Clothes:” “Patriarchal fashion folds create a meticulous paradigm of the woman well-dressed for the male gaze, then endows with guilt the pleasure we might derive for ourselves in these clothes.” She adds that, “Misogynist mythology gloats in its portrayal of women as frivolous body decorators.” In other words, we cannot win. We have to work on stepping outside the sewing box. To, as Young argues, recover our clothes. And in doing so, ourselves.But how do you reclaim something that was never designed for our enjoyment in the first place? Another feminist scholar, Kaja Silverman, suggests we switch lenses: “Retro provides a means of salvaging images that have traditionally sustained female subjectivity, images that have been consigned to the wastebasket not only by fashion, but by ‘orthodox’ feminism.” She adds that vintage inserts the wearer into a “complex network of cultural and historical references” and that it’s the modern woman who gives the clothing its reference point. So, we subvert vintage by putting it on tattooed bodies, by stepping outside of capitalism and buying used, by taking hints of days past and proudly making patterns in bigger sizes than our 1950s or ’60s counterparts ever imagined. In a way, argues Silverman, it allows women to acknowledge that its “wearer’s identity has been shaped by decades of representational activity, and that no cultural project can ever ‘start from zero.’” If we look at vintage like this, it becomes a way to topple the male gaze—to actively wear our clothes with meaning.I’m into all this, but hesitant. Hesitant because still so many vintage-clad women I know and see online embrace the back-in-the-day values. Certainly not all and maybe not even the majority, but enough to make the issue muddied. Hesitant because I don’t know why we all do it, dress like Mad Men, tsk at the women who don’t. Hesitant because, though I don’t want to admit it, I have my own tiny, mewling voices—kittens of protest. They remind me that while I wore only vintage for good reasons too—to dismiss modern beauty standards, to keep fast fashion out of landfills, and simply because I like it—my best, truest, most awful reasons were not progressive at all. These reasons knock around in my chest like mismatched buttons in a jar. That wanting. To be pretty. Not for myself, but for everyone around me. To be met with a smile that says, you look how a woman should. You are pretty. You have made it. There’s worth here.I don’t want to discount how happy these clothes made me. I just mistrust all the other reasons I tell myself why.*I have no idea how to dress myself any more. I will readily tell you that I still wear the vintage items I have left. Last spring, I even bought an old denim jumper from the ’70s, shapeless and cool. More and more, I mix them with modern wear; less and less, I look like I stepped out of an old catalogue. I know, in so many ways, it’s not the clothes that are the problem, but the meanings I gave them. The way I idolized them. The way their makers wanted them to be idols, little gods of chiffon, cotton and lace. Prayers on bodies to make us so, everything right. This new mix-and-match is my own, small way of declaring ownership and intention over my clothes, my body, my appearance. But more than one year into my separation, I still hadn’t unpacked the boxes of my most prized vintage. I haven’t donated the rest either. They sat stacked for a year in my storage space, a visual and dusty reminder that I’m trying but have reached no satisfying answer.One weekend, during the fading days of summer, I left my house in an outfit I’ve tried on in the safety of my bedroom many times, but have never before worn outside. It fits my new philosophy: thrifted, voluminous, high-wasted Kelly green shorts, a navy tanktop, silver sandals. It’s an outfit that rolls my back fat into dumplings, showcases the softness of my long legs, spotlights my too broad shoulders. It was a look that didn’t camouflage, didn’t apologize, did not embrace the word “good.” But for a moment, I felt amazing, the double exposure of who I am and who I want to be united. After that, I stopped shopping online as much. There have been no new versions of myself delivered to my mailbox. What I’ve really stopped doing is daydreaming myself into a better woman—if only I have those clogs, that Oxford shirt, that sparkly bodysuit. I unsubscribed from every newsletter that arrived in my inbox laden with sales, deals, new trends, promises. I’m reformed. I want to be. Like, I just want to be. I want to close reach into my closet, pull out something to wear that day and be happy. That is the new dream: that I will be me. And a dress will simply be a dress.
Makeup Is a Language of Resistance

Where I grew up, feminine boys were cautionary tales. I couldn’t explore my identity and remain a model queer boy, a boy who fits in.

The first makeup I ever wore was pixelated. The lipstick: two bands of fuchsia. The mascara: a thicket of lashes styled thin and charcoal black. The eyes: bejeweled, with patterned purple and gold gemstones stretching from the bottom of my nose to the top of my eyebrows. All of it, pixels.I used my first Snapchat makeup filter in secret, on the bottom floor of my high school library, behind a bookshelf where I knew no one would see. But even the isolation couldn’t stave off my fear. As I swiped through the various filters—the dog ears, the rainbow mouth—to the bejeweled makeup I'd seen a friend use earlier that day, I felt something building inside of me, something that turned my stomach. In my head I was already writing my apology—I’m sorry, it was a mistake, it won’t happen again. Sitting there, in the hush of the library, I felt delinquent—that by trying on even virtual lipstick I was breaking some sacred covenant I’d made with society, one premised on conformity.The fear existed for the same reasons it always had: because I’d been taught to hate men with makeup, because I didn’t want to make myself a target, and, most fundamentally, because I knew I couldn’t have it both ways—I couldn’t explore myself and remain a model queer boy, a boy who fits in. But this time, there was also something new, a feeling so small I almost didn’t notice it—a glimmer of excitement.I took a breath before I tapped the bejeweled makeup filter, and then I watched as it spread across my face: the mascara, the lipstick—emblems of femininity that I was finally letting myself claim.If this were a movie, here I would zoom in on my features, fear giving way to glee as I realized that I liked this makeup. I liked how it looked. I liked how it felt.Now, rewind one year, two, ten, twelve—past the day the word “faggot” first made my skin scrawl, past the crushes on other boys I convinced myself were platonic, past the fear of fashion-forward clothing and high-pitched voices. Rewind until I am a boy sneaking into my mom’s clothes closet while she’s on the phone downstairs, running my fingers along her dresses and shoes, then opening up her makeup cabinet and staring at it all—the balms, the blushes, the powders, the highlights. Rewind until I am looking at my face in the mirror, longing to put on just a dash of lipstick, but somehow already knowing I shouldn’t.Freeze the image there. Go split screen: to the left, myself as a six year old imagining how wearing lipstick would look; beside it, me twelve years later, using that Snapchat makeup filter for the first time. Then, slowly, let the faces converge: bright eyes on tired ones; clear skin on slight stubble; hope on wonder.*Where I grew up, feminine boys were cautionary tales. I remember in elementary school you couldn’t wear a bright pink or purple shirt without sustaining a barrage of slurs, whispered between breathless laughter. Even before I understood what words like “fag” meant, I was taught that the people they described were two things: men who were feminine, and therefore men who were repulsive.TV, which as a kid I took as a universal truth, pushed this thesis further. There, feminine men existed to shock. On crime shows, they were presented alongside drug dealers and fetishists, agents of a strange, perverted underbelly. On sitcoms, they were joke fodder. Feminine males existed, in other words, as the antithesis to normal—as viewers, we could feel more secure in who we were because at least, we told ourselves, we weren’t like that.In movies, too: think of Billy Madison’s lipstick-wearing Danny McGrath, who makes lists of people he intends to kill; or Edward II from Braveheart, whose ineffectiveness is tied to his effeminacy.The trope of male femininity as a proxy for weakness and psychopathy extends to stories as classic as Little Red Riding Hood, where the wolf’s awfulness is heightened by the fact that he wears women’s clothing, and continues through classic films such as Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, whose depictions of crossdressing serial killers have fed into homo- and especially transphobia.This creates a special peril for queer men, because, according to a mid-20th century study by Daniel Levinson, a primary driver of male-centered homophobia is the equation of homosexuality with emasculation. As Paula S. Rothenberg notes in her book Race, Class, and Gender in the United States, “gay men have historically played the role of the consummate sissy in the American popular mind because homosexuality is seen as an inversion of normal gender development.” Belief in such an inversion has led to the repeated depiction of feminine men as unhinged. They are weak or violent or disgusting, we can say, because they aren’t sufficiently masculine.Though this idea impacted all queer men, feminine men were most easily targeted because they either lacked or had forfeited their ability to pass for straight. In pop culture, they became easy villains.In his 1968 memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp describes how the fear of male femininity manifested itself in law enforcement, claiming that the police targeted feminine men. “Boys arrested for soliciting were found guilty before they had spoken,” he says. “If they did get a chance to say anything, the sound of their voices only caused the presiding magistrate to increase their sentences. I think the boys were right in assuming that they were being condemned for effeminacy.”The trope of the deplorable feminine male became so damaging that when gay activists began their efforts to assimilate into mainstream society, they specifically distanced themselves from it. It is no coincidence that in 1973, at the same time LGB people began attaining successes, such as the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, fashion among queer men shifted from a “fairy” look to a more masculine aesthetic centered on tight jeans, plaid shirts, and facial hair. In her book Transgender History, Susan Stryker argues that “it is possible to trace the current ‘homonormativity’ of mainstream gay culture (an emphasis on being ‘straight-looking and straight-acting’)”—in other words, on masculinity—to this period.Around the same time, LGB groups distanced themselves from the transgender community, which was deemed unpalatable to the general public, even though trans women of color, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, initially sparked the gay liberation movement. After flirtations with radicalism following the Stonewall Riots, many gay and bisexual men decided that to be accepted, they had to look and act agreeable—and that meant an embrace of masculinity.Certainly, this didn’t ensure their safety—no queer person is ever truly safe—but then, as now, perceived masculinity offered queer men a refuge from the worst abuse; feminine men, who can’t “pass,” have always posed a threat in a way their masculine counterparts have not. Which is why the prospect of wearing makeup has long terrified me.As a gay kid who was born mere months after DOMA became law, and who turned eighteen the same year the Supreme Court affirmed the right to marry, I have seen how quickly homophobia erodes. In my small Connecticut town, my childhood spent learning to hate people like me melted into an adolescence in which I came out to relative ambivalence. But that newfound acceptance is conditional—my existence is validated only when I act like, talk like, dress like everyone else. Being queer is different than being queer and gender subversive. The former we’ll allow as long as you don’t flaunt it: don’t talk about your desires, don’t hold your partner’s hand in public, don’t dress like the opposite gender. The latter is disgusting, despicable—a threat.When Instagrammer Skelotim gained popularity for matching his makeup to popular snack food wrappers, the social media site started taking down his photos because they’d been repeatedly flagged. Many people were offended to see a man in colourful makeup. And last year, when a BuzzFeed writer decided to try on makeup for a week, he noticed that many men ignored him. “I’m used to walking around making eye contact, nodding, smiling, and receiving eye contact, nods, and smiles in return. But every man at work who I don’t know (it’s a big office) looks anywhere but at my face,” he wrote. Later, at a turnstile, a man bumped into him and said, “Watch it, faggot.”Even early this year, after Maybelline announced that popular Instagrammer Manny Gutierrez would become their first male spokesperson, the move was decried as a “symptom of a decaying culture.”*There is a public performance to queerness that is often neglected. Since before middle school, I learned that to be safe, I needed to excise any femininity in myself—to moderate my hand gestures, to wear plain clothes, to lower my voice when I talked. (The possibility that I might be able to render myself invisible is a privilege that many transgender people and queer people of color are not afforded.)And this, I realize, is roughly what activists did in the 1970s, and what media coverage of the LGBT community continues to do today, which is to present only the manifestations of queerness we deem most acceptable. Notice how ads that include LGBT people invariably feature well-dressed (and overwhelmingly white) couples with typical gender presentations, or how popular slogans like “love is love” and “same love” work because they emphasize our uniformity with the rest of the society. Similarly, coverage of trans people, actress Laverne Cox has noted, centers on “cisnormative beauty standards” attained only “in certain lighting, at certain angles.”It is acceptance by conformity, and as a result living publicly as a queer person can become a constant negotiation: Is this pushing it? The fact that I’m non-binary isn’t impacting my friendships, but what if I start wearing a completely new style of clothing? People won’t mind me going to the movies with my girlfriend, but is it too much if we hold hands? Or, in my case: my parents accept my sexuality, but will I shock them if I walk out of my bedroom one day clad in fuchsia lipstick and green eyeshadow?We love to teach kids the importance of self-exploration, but there’s an unspoken limit: once you drift beyond the predetermined, “acceptable” zone of inward scrutiny, what first made you charming—your brazen individualism, your eagerness to explore—instead perverts you into a danger. Part of growing up queer, I think, is the repeated confrontation with these limits. As a kid, you are taught homo- and transphobia as a baseline, and coming out therefore becomes more than just a process of disclosing your sexuality or gender. It is also the process of unraveling your internalized prejudices, of giving yourself permission to do all of the little things you grew up avoiding—in my case, things like buying my first purple shirt and letting myself speak in my normal, slightly high-pitched voice. But I’ve always known not to go too far. I’ve always known the limits. For me, that has primarily meant one thing—no makeup.In our society, queerness is a burden: one that many people are now willing to take, but barely. Add on any more weight—be a queer man with makeup, a queer woman in a tie—and it all comes crashing down.*My attraction to makeup returned because of a boy.In this case, the boy is a popular Instagrammer, no one I’ve met in my real life, and he wears magenta lipstick and gorgeous green eyeshadow. He’s attractive, I’m not going to lie. But he also seems so free: so brazen, so brave, so unashamedly him. I forgot, I realized, how good makeup could look on a boy. More: I forgot how happy a boy could be with makeup on. I’ve been so conditioned to associate male femininity with ugliness that I didn’t think it could be anything else.Soon after, I remembered the way I used to envision makeup when I was younger: as a kind of social art, a bridge between your inner and outer selves; as a type of decoration that enlivens your appearance, adds some flair to an otherwise empty face.I remembered this, and at the close of my senior year of high school, I watched my desire to try on makeup grow. No longer just trivial, it tugged at me. Just wear a little lipstick to prom, it said. A little blush to graduation. Just to see how it looks.I started dropping hints to friends, too. “When we’re out of college and move in together, you should teach me to do makeup.” Or: “Before the end of the year, I’m going to wear eyeshadow to a party.” It was a quiet longing, and there was comfort in indulging it: setting vague goals for myself, imagining a day when I could leave my room clad in brightly coloured makeup.But I was still afraid. In the barter economy of public queerness, it felt like a weight too heavy for most people to accept.So, I turned to Snapchat.*For those unfamiliar, Snapchat traffics in ephemera. Photos dissolve seconds after they are opened; conversations on the app take on a detached quality. No one remembers what was said, or what pose was struck, three, four selfies back. When you receive a new photo, it is like the conversation is beginning all over again.It also boasts a vast catalogue of filters—digital decorations for your face—and it is these I have begun to use and send religiously. Many are for comedy: a cyclops, a pacifier, a unicorn, a viking. Filters that distort your face: double the size of your eyes or nose, curl up your lips, bloat your chin. In a way, that kind of self-parody is cathartic, and it lets us disentangle ourselves from the perfectionism of social media. Instead of posting only the most glamorous photos of ourselves, as on Instagram, on Snapchat we can revel in our imperfections.Many of Snapchat’s filters are also makeup-related, and these introduced me to a kind of makeup-wearing intermediary: on the app, I could try on makeup without the full risk of wearing it in public.I have used Snapchat’s digital makeup filters often. Red and black and pink lipsticks; mascara and eyeliner and coloured eye shadow. Selfies at different angles, different poses. Over the last half year, I have taken these pictures and sent them to friends with increasingly little shame, and I like how their compliments feel.One friend replied, “You need to wear this to school!” When I opened that message, I grinned. Already I felt my fears of makeup unraveling.Snapchat is safe, I think, precisely because it is transient: I can try on new looks and get reactions from friends, only to have it all evaporate, half-forgotten, within a few minutes. For all my friends know, my use of makeup filters constitutes just another example of self-parody, like those unicorn filters I love so much. There is no public risk, no reason to fear: it was the best way—and, for me, perhaps the only way—to ease into a new look I had once been taught to hate. These filters became a kind of premature introduction, a way of telling my friends, Next time you see me, this is how I might look. The stakes were low, and low stakes were freeing.*Historically, this is not new. Queer people have long carved out semi-anonymous spaces to explore themselves, their genders, and their sexualities in times of hostility. In 18th century England, queer people escaped to covert social gatherings known as molly-houses, where they often took on attributes typically ascribed to another gender. Men wore gowns, petticoats, high-heeled shoes, and masks; some painted their faces, and others tried on rouge and eye makeup. Their lives took on a duality and their safety depended on balancing self-exploration in the molly-houses with uniformity in the outside world. Those who slipped up—those who accidentally dressed or spoke with too much femininity in their day-to-day lives—were, according to one historian, “abused or blackmailed.”A similar phenomenon has followed the rise of drag kings and queens, whose use of makeup and atypical clothing allow them to explore the boundaries of who they are from places of relative safety. And perhaps it is here that makeup has taken on its special significance for queer people. Makeup became part of a larger concert of liberation, a challenge to social norms policing dress and voice and gender and love. As Arabelle Sicardi writes, “This processing of potential, pushing past the point of expectation of who you have to be for other people to reach who you want to be for yourself — that’s beauty, gone queer. Because queerness is sexuality, yes, but it’s also an identity that implies resistance and reaching for something else.”For queer people, makeup is a language of resistance. We are told again and again that the way we use makeup is wrong: that it is disgusting, unsuitable; that it is reflective of the ugliness inside of us.For men, wearing makeup—or any emblem of femininity—has historical associations with depravity, and putting it on is therefore as dangerous as it is freeing. Such an embrace of the self in a society that demands uniformity is a powerful act, precisely because it forfeits any passing privilege that comes with an invisible identity. From the first dash of fuchsia lipstick, you are on display.I was well aware of this when, on a Friday night in September, I borrowed a friend’s lipstick and mascara and wore makeup to a party for the first time. I did it because I felt safe: it was dark, and few people could see, and now that I live on a liberal college campus, I worry less when people discover I am a queer boy with an interest in femininity. And I liked it. It felt odd, this extra weight on my skin and eyelashes, but in the best, most thrilling way.Over the last few months, I’ve repeated this process. On multiple occasions I’ve worn makeup to late-night parties, more self-conscious about the fact that it was sloppily applied than about the makeup itself. I’ve started watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, too. And through those, I’ve found a subculture of makeup-wearing queer boys, from Patrick Starrr to James Charles, who recently became the first CoverBoy. Now my college dorm room is home to an assortment of eyeliners, lipsticks, mascaras, and eye shadows.But the fear hasn’t left, not really. In October, when I wore purple nail polish for a day, I felt the stares. Many people, it turns out, were encouraging, but the idea of being watched unsettled me. I took the nail polish off that night, after a driver who was stopped at an intersection called me a slur.When I wear makeup, my passing privilege evaporates. I become the kind of queer boy long scapegoated in books, TV shows, and movies—the feminine male who refuses to conform.