Category Archives: Good reads

The most perfect reflection on being single

Tonight I took a break from packing to read something that’s been open in a browser tab for days. Personally recommended for me by my friend and fellow Motherboard contributor Kelly Bourdet, the n+1 tab kept tempting my focus away from packing for a year on the road, planning the LadyBits launch party (which was AMAZING <3), and fielding the hundreds of responses that have poured in since I launched LadyBits on Medium (getting to each and every one of you, I promise!!). Five days later, I finally allowed myself to pause and consume “What Do You Desire?” by Emily Witt.

As enticing as the subject matter — which details a woman’s journey through the Kink.com armory — was the fact that it was picked for me. I love hunting through stories for the detail that makes a piece of writing subtly and especially relevant to my interests. At first I assumed Kelly had sent it because the gentleman who Kelley had asked to be on her Internet Week panel alongside me was a Kink.com pornstar. But when the author switched gears from fly-on-the-wall description to introspection, I was left feeling like the author was speaking out of my own experiences, and articulating them much more clearly than I could:

I had made no conscious decision to be single, but love is rare and it is frequently unreciprocated. Because of this, people around me continued to view love as a sort of messianic event, and my friends expressed a religious belief that it would arrive for me one day, as if love was something the universe owed to each of us, which no human could escape. I had known love, but having known love I knew how powerless I was to instigate it or ensure its duration. Whether love was going to arrive or not, I could not suspend my life in the expectation of its arrival. So, back in New York, I was single, but only very rarely would more than a few weeks pass without some kind of sexual encounter.

What even to call these relationships? Most of my friends had slept with one another and I had slept with many friends, too. Sometimes years separated sexual encounters. Things thought buried in the past would cycle around again, this time with less anxiety and greater clarity, in a fluid manner that occasionally imploded in horrible displays of pain or temporary insanity, but which for the most part functioned smoothly. We were souls flitting through limbo, piling up against one another like dried leaves, circling around, awaiting the messiah.

After a decade or so of living this way, with occasional suspensions for relationships that would first revive my belief in romantic love and its attendant structures of domesticity, and then once again fail and extinguish them, I started finding it difficult to revere the couple as the fundamental unit of society. I became a little ornery about it, to be honest: that couples paid lower taxes together, that they could afford better apartments, that there were so few structures of support to ease the raising of a child as a single person, that the divorced experience a sense of failure, that failed marriages are accompanied by so much logistical stress on top of the emotional difficulties. All this because we privilege a certain idea of love. The thought of the natural progression of couples, growing more and more insular, buying nicer and nicer furniture, shutting down the world, accruing things, relaxing into habit, scared me. As I grew older, I found it difficult to distinguish romantic love from other kinds of connections: the platonic love for the friends I did not want to have sex with, the euphoric chemical urges toward people I had sex with but did not love. Why was love between couples more exceptional? Because it attached itself to material objects, and to children? Because it ordered civilization? I probably would not have a baby without love, and buying a home seemed impossible for all kinds of reasons, but I could have sex. I had a body.

The entire piece is worth reading and losing yourself in. She goes on to seek the answers to her questions in all kinds of detail. Things I’ll probably seek to find in different ways about myself when I leave New York. Like the author, I’m tired of the cycles. This time, the past must stay buried. I’m ready for new encounters and new loves.

Thanks, Kelly =)

 

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David Foster Wallace on controlling how you see reality

Today a friend sent me the transcript of this commencement speech delivered by David Foster Wallace. It’s the first thing I’ve ever read by him, and I am in love. I just stared off into space for a good 15 minutes and imagined meeting him in all the places he mentions in his speech. I’ve never been in love with a dead person before, and I think it will be good for me. I think it may be better to be in love with a brilliant dead person than a stupid living one, or at least less of a waste of time.

Here’s an excerpt from his speech, but read the whole thing for fun anecdotes about suburban grocery store terrorists:

Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”.

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

It’s an interesting take, sort of I Ching-ish. I think it would be much easier to dissociate than to see reality differently, but I’ll give it a try, David Foster Wallace. For you.

Late night lucubrating

I have a shit storm of stuff to write and do tomorrow, so obviously when I drank a cup of Sleepy Time tea and went to bed at the responsible hour of 12:30 my brain was like, “LOL, YEAH RIGHT.” Now the lights are back on and I’m finishing all the good long-form articles I started and never finished in order to eliminate some browser tabs. Starting the week off right.

If you’re interested, they are:

This Was Supposed to Be My Column for New Year’s Day — a NY Times article about positive procrastination from John Tierney which I started the day it was published, a month and a half ago. Go figure.

What Does ‘Getting Laid’ Really Mean? — By Emily Heist Moss on a publication called Role Reboot which I’ve never heard of but looks interesting.

Operation Delirium — A look inside the military’s post-cold war super sketchy chemical weapons tests, by Raffi Khatchadourian

Death Will Tremble — not an essay, but an online sci-fi video series I’ve been meaning to watch, even though I don’t usually watch things especially if they come in a series.

The Ghost Writes Back — Amy Boesky on ghost writing part of the Sweet Valley High book series for Francine Pascal, the series that I was completely and utterly obsessed with as tween.

The Slate review of Domenica Ruta’s new book, With or Without you. Had to check out the competition in the crazy mom contest. It’s really no competition at all.

Many fewer tabs, but still awake. I’d hoped that the insomnia tendencies would subside when I quit smoking and started trying to be healthy, but it looks like this one is here to stay. A few months back I read an essay by Kathryn Schulz called Writing in the Dark, in which she discusses her life as a literary night owl. The first time I read it, I tweeted at her to say I thought we were brain chemistry twins. I’d never heard of my insomniac tendencies described so accurately, and from the perspective of a female writer. I said the word “lucubrate” over and over to myself. I love that she provides an evolutionary explanation, because now I don’t feel so guilty about having such a disposition. If I can’t sleep because I can’t turn my mind off, I’m going to turn the lights back on and hash it out, because this is my productivity zone. If you’re an early bird nine-to-fiver, you have the societal advantage since this country still operates like electricity hasn’t been invented. Good for you, but do me a favor and don’t hold it against the night owls in the workplace. Let them do their thing when they want to do it, and everyone will be better off. And remember — in the caveman days, you would have been eaten by wolves in the middle of the night if it wasn’t for our kind, so show a little gratitude.

I began re-reading this essay before I started writing this blog post and closing the browser tabs, and I will leave you with an excerpt before attempting to sleep again:

There is a word for that, etymologically if not literally: the wonderfully lascivious-sounding lucubrate. It actually means to write in an overly academic fashion, but it comes from the practice of writing at night by candle or lantern. There are, as you might imagine, a lot of lucubrators out there. Proust and Joyce were both self-proclaimed night owls. So was Shelley; so, one assumes, was any self-respecting Romantic. George Sand claimed to routinely start writing at midnight. Edna St. Vincent Millay must have been a late type, with her burning candle and her wonderful “Recuerdo”—surely the best poem ever written about staying up all night on Staten Island. I sometimes make a game of guessing other writers’ hours. Gerard Manley Hopkins: night owl, for sure. Robert Frost: lark, with occasional spells of insomnia. Jonathan Franzen strikes me as a morning bird (and no doubt he knows precisely which species).

As for my own schedule, best to call it like it is: crazy. Those who have shared my bed—when I am in it to share it, anyway—have observed my nighttime habits with reactions varying from indulgence to incredulity. (Almost all of them have been stellar sleepers: not something I actively look for in a partner, but, given my lifestyle, terrifically convenient.) It starts, as I said, around 10 p.m., when something ticks over in my mind, as if someone had walked into a shuttered cabin and flipped all the switches in the fuse box to “on.” For the first time all day, I get interested in writing. As a corollary, I get a lot less interested in everything else. My normal indiscipline, the ADHD-ish inability to keep my head inside my work, finally drops away. For the next few hours, I write steadily, cleanly. If my body is producing a drug during that time, it is a natural methylphenidate—a dose of pure focus, side-effect-free and sweet.