aka Trying New Things (but, like, Super Casually ) aka 🤡
11 August 2022
A few months before Essential Labor came out, I set up this Substack and migrated everyone’s email addresses over from Tiny Letter, along with all my old letters (only a few of which make me cringe). If you’re new here, thank you for subscribing. And if you signed up way back when (and perhaps forgot that you did since it’s been a minute), thank you for sticking around. I’m getting better at slowing down and taking my time, doing and saying things only when I’m actually ready to do and say them, trusting that I’ll be right on time.
Shout out to pre-pub me for thinking ahead; she (I?) had a vague sense that this book would reshape my daily life and writing life in ways I couldn’t predict and she (I?) wanted to set myself up for this time. I feel like a bonehead writing about myself in the third person here, but it’s what feels honest—everything that’s happened since May (like thirstily quasi holding hands with Trevor Noah and being reviewed in the NYRB) is straight wild and accumulates into some transformative vibes. I am still the same person, but I’m in touch with some shifts that I haven’t fully processed (maybe the more accurate work is integrated) and don’t reside in my body just yet.
Anyway, I’ve been avoiding this place and writing whatever these are—essays, letters, blog entries?—and it’s been very easy to keep avoiding it! I could blame this on an eventful spring and summer of book tour and promotion, and needing time to just chill and be with family and friends. And that would, conveniently, be true! But the truth is also that, after researching, writing, and talking talking talking about my book for the last year, I’m a bit of a husk. I feel a little dried out and crumpled. I am not exactly overflowing with clear ideas, well-crafted essays, or even complete thoughts. Thankfully the universe recently sent me a couple clear signs that I don’t have to be!
Last winter my friend Anne started writing a love letter every day for the entire month of November. This is the first one, Love, and it’s probably still my favorite. Well this one is right up there too. Or whatever, I don’t have to pick! She stopped doing them daily for a while but has been keeping it up for an impressive period of time. I felt the physical heat and intimacy of one of her latest ones and it took my breath away, in the the particular way that only Anne’s writing and perspective can. The letters aren’t long, they’re not tidy, I’m way more into some than I am others, certain turns of phrase make me feel happily buzzed like the way I was at a filthy bar across from her a few months ago, I feel happy to be inside her words or something akin to close to her for a few minutes.
Then, a few days ago probably my favorite writer, Carvell Wallace, posted about a series of Medium posts he did on touch. 🥵 He did a series on memory that blew me away a while back…just go and read everything. I quote an NYT Magazine essay of Carvell’s in Essential Labor and his long-form never misses, but the Medium posts are different: short, atmospheric, playful, loose. On the landing page he writes, “This is where I experiment. This is where I learn to write.”
A felt a deep longing when I read that, a knowledge that I’ve been craving a place to just write, goof around, take some risks, go off on some half-baked fuzzy ideas, maybe find out what I think by typing what I think, try to make connections amid all the articles, poetry, children’s books, NBA off-season drama, books, Scandinavian crime shows, and dance music I am taking in, some place where the stakes are low, where I can still connect with readers, where I keep learning and having fun.
So I came back to this substack and read the About section I wrote back in February and laughed at this, the epitome of a hard own on myself: “In this newsletter, I give myself permission to follow whatever paths my mind needs to take—to write about whatever I want, just see where it takes me, where it takes us.”
So here we go.
These days I’ve been thinking about violence. Not my first choice, mind you, but here we are.
Last weekend in Seattle was Seafair, a long-standing festival that involves hydroplane races on Lake Washingon, a lot of boats, and a lot of noise—the majority of that noise coming from the Blue Angels,
war machines U.S. Air Force planes that terrorize South Seattle neighborhoods many of whose residents are displaced folks and refugees fleeing violence entertain and make people feel they may go deaf people and make house windows shake by loudly flying around in formations low in the sky.
It goes back much further than the Blue Angels, of course. In recent months it’s been the killing of Black elders at a supermarket in Buffalo, the murder of children and their teachers in Uvalde as police stood outside, the July 4th Parade shooting in Highland Park, Jayland Walker being shot more than 60 times. And those are just the ones I know about.
Recently I was interviewed on a podcast called No One Is Coming to Save Us, which began as reporting focused on the childcare crisis but, in light of the fall of Roe, has expanded to look at what they described as “the war on women more generally.” I had a great conversation with the host Gloria Riviera, who asked such thoughtful, insightful questions based on my own words that I was actually taken aback. And I’m grateful to Gloria because her final question, about how the end of a guaranteed right to abortion will affect our already unsustainable childcare systems, helped clarify something I’d been thinking about: how violent it all is. I knew the end of Roe was coming, I felt rationally prepared, but after it actually happened, I’ve found myself feeling angrier, more agitated, and unsettled than I expected. And it’s because of the terror and violence this imposes on pregnant and birthing people, mothers and children—there’s the inherent but survivable (for most) violence of pregnancy and childbirth; but there will also be an overwhelming wave of unnecessary blood and harm and death that will come to people who need treatment and the termination of pregnancies but will be denied this; the shameful and not always deliberate cruelty of neglect that will fall on so many children whose parents, trying to make ends meet, cannot properly care for them.
When I was on tour—giving interviews, being on The Daily Show—so many well-meaning people expressed congratulations and excitement for me by saying You killed it. You’re crushing it. They posted Instagram stories of my face and body with gifs reading, “Slay.” I didn’t say anything at the time, I didn’t know how, but it’s always made me uncomfortable—like only in America is the highest praise we can offer the language of violence. Is there another, better, more accurate way to wish each other well, to say what we really mean?
I’ll leave you with a poem from Ocean Vuong’s latest book, Time is a Mother:
Knock’ em dead, big guy. Go in there
guns blazing, buddy. You crushed
at the show. No, it was a blowout. No,
a massacre. Total overkill. We tore
them a new one. My son’s a beast. A lady
-killer. Straight shooter, he knocked
her up. A bombshell blonde. You’ll blow
them away. Let’s bag the broad. Let’s spit-roast
the faggot. Let’s fuck his brains out.
That girl’s a grenade. It was like Nam
down there. I’d still slam it though. I’d smash it
good. I’m cracking up. It’s hilarious. You truly
murdered. You had me dying over here.
Bro, for real though, I’m dead.
Love this and your writing! I’m here for whatever you feel like sharing on your own fucking terms. 💛
Right on time.