There is a saying in Spanish that goes “pueblo chico, infierno grande” which means that a small town is a big inferno because it’s without privacy. You would never have to worry about such a thing in New York City. Eight million people, and you have the intimacy of your bedroom. Your lover could break up with you in the middle of Broadway and 42nd, and nobody would stop to eavesdrop. A gunman could shoplift a supermarket, and everyone would still be thinking about themselves.
A friend told me once that in New York nobody cares about you. You’re just a stranger among millions of strangers. A passerby with a nice coat maybe. At the next stop, the bus will pick up a new stranger with a nicer coat. Dating is the same. People go through lovers like shuffling cards. One minute you have their attention, the next you’re done. When you only have two minutes to hook them in, how can you win?
“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May…”
Small towners get their egos crushed quickly here. Life speeds by so the people hurry. Keeping up that pace makes everyone replaceable. There isn’t enough time to gift someone, we’re all sticking our hands in to steal time for ourselves. That’s what makes dating like a sushi conveyor belt so appealing. It’s quick and practical, so if this one has too much crab, you swipe and grab the next one. Welcome to New York. Nobody has time to care.
In New York, you get off at Penn Station singing I’ve Got the World on a String and by Bushwick you realize why Frank wrote That’s Life.
“You shouldn’t bother with tears here”, my bodega guy told me. “You need to be strong. And if you think that’s the worst New York can do, you have winter to look forward to.” In the spring, it’s easy to be single, you stroll down the sidewalk loosened, light. In the winter the clothes are tight, you walk constricted, pulling in your organs, you squint your eyes and grimace against the howling of the wind, you walk pushing forward like a shield in battle. And if you’ve no one to come home to to hang up the pounds of coats and slaps from the weather, it’s just extra quiet, and there’s no relief.
So far, it doesn’t seem promising to fall in love. Everyone has illusions of moving to L.A. and they might leave. When they move back they won’t call.
Of all the things that might seem pertinent comparisons, the subway is the closest model to a New Yorker. It’s practical, works around the clock, and moves on after every stop. So you move on, and on, and on… ad infinitum. You’ll break up with everyone. But you’ll never break up with New York. You’ll always be reminded why it’s worth the fight.
I never thought it’d seep into my dreams. For four years I have been mindful of grabbing injustice with chopsticks and separating it from the central focus of my life, like I do wasabi. But the past two weeks have been earthquakes under my feet, shaking the foundation of accepted reality.
Indignation hasn’t interrupted my sleep since the zero-tolerance policy, even though every day is filled with tweets that shouldn’t be normalized. Somehow the mind adjusts and swipes away. Not the child separation though, not the election. Both times, the indignation consumed me, desperation stormed through my veins. The images of children crying. Nothing jolts like the pang of injustice. My thoughts at the time: Please stop, you’re hurting them. You’re hurting me. I argued at a dinner table with my uncles who supported the policy, and I saw xenophobia unabashed, unashamed. Their friend, a woman, when she responded to my plea for empathy with a clear cutting line that shot my ears, “Yes, let them traumatize the two-year-olds. Anything to keep them out of my neighborhood.” I couldn’t sleep for days afterwards. I kept replaying the scene, each time the resentment burned my eyes, they’d water. I saw them again a few weeks ago at my aunt’s funeral. They said they should’ve put the Trump flag on her tombstone.
I went to bed tonight. It was him in my dreams. His lies. “Fraud!” “Illegal voting!” He will not concede. His voice disturbed me. I awoke two hours later. He wants to kill what’s left of democracy. There hasn’t been enough music and movies and art to distract me, to remind me that life exists outside of this political circus. When was the last time I unearthed a new song? But he will not concede? And now I am the American patriot. Without the mutual acceptance of reality, there is no consensus of anything. How do we communicate if he has killed language? If he has killed taste and smell and sight and touch and sound? If he has killed our ability to identify, if our experience can no longer be understood? If we cannot name? He will not concede. I am watching the madness unfold, the conspiracy theories flooding my family’s Whatsapps, Facebook, the whole world. I am noticing how my family members morph into sycophantic zombies, swallowing the sweetness of even the least likely—my favorite grandmother. The other one is swept away too. I argue, I fight off the slime that’s weighing on the flower petals. I keep an encyclopedia at my bedside table. With a magnifying glass, I point out the distortions. I call on their better angels, I talk about Jesus. What am I doing with my time? He has stolen my peace, made me create a website to fact-check the news. Made me consider going to NYU for political science. I have become political. Is it activism? I write things, people share them. I sell pamphlets, people buy them. I’m not sure who I’m becoming, and yet I know I can’t stop. But the other day I remembered that I liked to sing. I used to write poetry. I was writing a book. Now, I’ve enlisted in an army to fight to save a democracy that has not even tried to save me. A democracy that worships a system that has always been lethal to creativity, a killer of artists. But I can’t disentangle myself from the need to fight lies. Injustice is a poison. It hurts me physically. It brings indigestion, heartburn. You can’t live with lies, the soul wilts away in darkness. The lightness of life, love, beauty, doesn’t flow freely. In my unraveling sadness, someone came to me and said, don’t worry, sleep soundly. “El bien vencerá en el mundo, aunque el mal haga más ruido.”
A Chinese philosopher once said, “no one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” While I’m sifting through what clothes to pack and what to leave behind on a mini break from New York, I’m recalling the moment when I moved to New York. Utter shock of joy.
Were a genie to grant me a wish, I’d request to relive the thrill that rushes in when stepping onto new land. That moment when you roll your suitcase on fresh pavement, and you look up at the sun rays reflecting on this new skyline and the days that lay out before you with immeasurable possibilities. Life sparkles again like a freshly minted penny; newness, difference, change. I think this is the best feeling in the world, second only to finding out you’re loved in return. A change of scenery for me is my lifeline, the only problem is I’ll eventually run out of places.
I moved to New York City on a Monday morning on the first day of June. Flying during a pandemic has its perks, when I find them I’ll tell you. It was only less traumatic than my last flight because I’d managed to control my anxiety and realized that looking out the window helped distract me from the unnerving sight of interiors shuddering in the turbulence. When the airplane turned eastward though, I caught a glimpse of the Manhattan bridge, and from there it was only blue skies.
I took the NJ train to Penn Station that was empty but for a soul (mine). Nobody (except for me) was in a hurry to play tourist in the coronavirus epicenter of the world. I crawled out of the subway cave, and entered none other than 5th Avenue. The giant skyscrapers towering over me, I was an ant at a mere 5’1”. In my daze, a homeless man entered my line of vision and mumbled something, but I shook my head confused — I didn’t have any cash, or any attention left to give save to the wondrous spacious streets, the yellow taxicabs, the sun beaming onto the cupola of the Chrysler building. I could almost hear Sinatra belting, “What a world! What a life! I’m in love!”
And really at that moment, I had the world on a string, and I was sitting on a rainbow. And then as if it couldn’t get anymore momentous, the powerful image of the entire Manhattan skyline sweeping by the window of the M train to Brooklyn made me feel like I finally understood what Albert Camus had said in his Journaux de Voyage. I hated New York City the first time I visited. [Translated: At first sight, hideous inhumane town. But I know that our opinions change.] How radiant it looked to me now. I was to live in Woody Allen’s favorite backdrop. (Please don’t cancel me at the mention of his name. Despite your thoughts of him, his movies have served for me as a respite from despair.)
People I’ve met in New York have expressed their sympathies for my having to move in such a weird and strange time. To have to see this phantom town compared to what the city once was – a vivacious arena where every square mile was humming and bustling with people,stories, and ideas and new drugs to try. I don’t mind it, and I didn’t mind it. This sleepy New York is a circus compared to the unimaginative bore that is my hometown (Miami, if the reader is unfamiliar).
The first night in Brooklyn, I unpacked, went to the grocery store, and slept at 8pm. This is my general rule whenever I move to a new place: Stay in the first day to restore my energy and keep my immune system strong because tomorrow and the days leading there would be no rest. The first few days of sightseeing are treated as if I were on a 5-day European leg tour. I see it all.
It was like this when I first moved to Paris. By the end of the first month I knew Paris better than the Parisians that were born there, I could recite every neighborhood’s hotspots and the histories behind the icons that the streets were named for. New York was now my town. Except for of course, there was nothing to actually do during a stay-at-home order. Governor Andrew Cuomo had closed everything, and you had only two options: stay home or go to the park. So my plans to explore the city were on hold for the month of June, and all I did was go to the park and drink coffee to-go.
I found a sweet spot uptown adjunct to the New York Public Library — Bryant Park. Sprawling with freshly manicured lawns, rows of hydrangeas, magnolia trees, and bistro tables, it was a Monet painting where I spent most of my afternoons. I hadn’t seen such immaculate beauty in so long my eyes watered with resentment. How sad to have lived so many days being denied this glorious summer’s day at Bryant Park. But I was here, and everything I’d suffered up until now was laid to bed and tucked in clean white sheets and laid to sleep. I would enjoy comfort.
People ask you every now and then if you’re happy, and what I usually come up with is a general lukewarm response. A so-so. A “well, I’m not in pain if that’s what you mean”. Or, ‘I mean I guess I’m fine’. ‘Today was just as unremarkable as yesterday.’ But that first afternoon amongst the June blooms in Bryant Park, happiness was unequivocal. It felt light and feathery. I was a soft cloud drifting with the current. I was a bird. I watched the little birds flap their wings to pick at a new grain on the ground. I watched the girls sunbathing on the lawn, stress-free, at ease. I watched an old man biting into his turkey sandwich, slowly chewing, washing it down with a cold lemonade, enjoying his lunch break. I was a spectator in this rare new world, and I would participate in some way unbeknownst to me. It was a vault with all of the colors and all of the sounds that go unnoticed to you in the 9-to-5 march. I was in the belly of the NOW, I could listen, I could understand, yet I knew nothing, and there was so much to explore. It is a baby’s first grasp of air. Hi, hello! Is this thing life? Wonderful! I didn’t want for anything. I was healthy, I was young, I was beautiful, I was in New York City.
Again, I wish I could perpetuate this feeling in a box, and open it up again when I need a refresher. The tragedy of life is that the longer you experience a feeling, the more desensitized you become. Much like romantic love, time peels the thrill away. Rekindle it as you might, it’s never like the first time. The beginning, what I would do to hold on to the thrill and shock of that turn of view. Some judge this insatiable thirst for joy as instability. I say, it’s both a blessing and a curse to want to be constantly carried by the wind.
I relocated from Bushwick to Bedstuy, and I think that was the best decision I’d made. Cuomo gave the state the greenlight, and slowly restaurants opened their terraces, and the frightened people slowly crept to occupy them. I found a new bakery on Halsey Street called Saraghina, just two blocks away offering the best little Italian pastries and cookies. They only allow two people into the bakery at once so a line quickly tails around the corner outside. One gloomy day, I waited for fifteen minutes in the rain, unbothered, for my patience would be rewarded with a hot almond croissant. But I drew the sympathies of strangers and a pair of wrinkly hands offered me an umbrella which I used while the signora scavenged for delicacies inside the coveted shop. When I finally got hold of my goodies and stepped back out into the rain, another woman approached me and said, “Please have my extra umbrella. Anyway I have so many at home. I sanitized the handle for you.” I can’t tell you how pleased I am to learn that all the myths of the tough New Yorker are incomplete. The New Yorker is tough, but kind. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, the type that, upon experiencing such wonderful and unexpected kindness, you sigh to release that guilty lump in your throat at the realization that, fuck, despite the ruthless monsters angels exist. Good humans live here.
These random acts of kindness have befallen on me multiple times. When the busdriver helped me, when the clerk let me print my resume for free because I didn’t have cash, when a new friend offered to go with me to the hospital. Feeling gratitude is like fluently speaking the language of the Earth. Everything feels as it should be. It’s in perfect harmony. Gratitude is a kind of joy that reciprocates, because now that you felt it, you pay the kindness forward to someone else. If we all kept passing it on — well you can imagine.
At last, one Monday morning, the city of 8 million residents reported only 557 cases and zero deaths, and the great prophet Cuomo said goodbye to his daily press briefings. I was walking down Times Square that day, and I thought, how brilliantly responsible do these residents have to be for such a miracle to happen. I would contribute something in some form to this land and these people. They are worthy of my best….
I still haven’t seen the city lights at night from the Brooklyn Bridge like I’d watched in all those films. Just like I still haven’t been to an opera at the Palais Garnier in Paris. Somethings are keepsakes for the future in order to have a thrill to look forward to.
From my little brownstone in old Bedstuy I can hear the world without leaving home.
Through the peeled paint of 18th century walls, over the creaking of wooden floors, quotidian stories of triumphs and troubles are told as I make my way to the door.
Take for example, Apartment 1A, the one with the grand entrance near the staircase. Inside lives a vivacious tenor, always entertaining, his guests he amuses with his contagious energy. He might be young, in his thirties, don’t think he has a girlfriend, but he has a terrace. I heard him play “Love Me Tender” in his room, he’s sentimental when he is alone.
Another day, I climbed to the third floor to where the washing machine is posed. I was folding my delicates next to the dryer and overheard a woman enthusiastic on the phone, “Oh that’s great news!” to the mystery caller, then to her partner, “It’s just right there!” To which her partner (I’m assuming her partner) responded, “yeah that’s great.” I think his name is Max. I wondered what the good news was. Did they find a new tax accountant? A new house? If they’re moving out of Apartment 3A, could I buy their old bike?
I took my laundry basket and down the stairs I went, but as I was passing Apartment 2B, I distinctly heard a “Woof!” and well, there’s no denying what that woof could be. I wonder how she hides it at all, especially when forced to give it a walk. Maybe if it’s small, she puts it in her tote? I don’t think the landlord knows.
One late evening I heard a couple spat, as I was racing in fury up the steps, “Why can’t you just apologize? Say you’re sorry so I can move on?!” but maybe it was in my head.
At last, my most loquacious neighbors do not live within, but out by the fire escape, noisy, ‘til the light goes dim. They zip through locales indifferently, no doors to knock on I assume, and no matter the pitch of their belted songs, their stories abstruse to my uneducated drums. Do they know each other’s kin, and do they ask for sugar? That’s too much to ask those in my old brownstone, I know their lives, but I can’t ask their name.
Social upheaval has always been a catalyst for a reevaluation of our raison d’etre. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a window of opportunity for a renaissance.
In March, when the world turned off its office lights and the pollution cleared, I had a glimmer of hope that the silver lining to this catastrophe would be an era of social democratic reforms like those of the Great Depression. For a few weeks it seemed people were warming up to a more proactive government. Paid leave took the spotlight. Fast-food workers, delivery workers, a workforce long devalued in the meritocracy pyramid were suddenly hailed as ‘essential’. But as progressive as it felt to talk about unions again, I failed to predict that this social upheaval could also foment the opposite — a cry for nationalism.
Suddenly the pandemic was politicized. Safety was torched for access to haircuts. White Americans took their guns to the Capitol to protest against government oppression and conspiracy theorists populated fake videos of Dr. Fauci to weaken his credibility and reopen the economy early.
In effect, the MAGA crew was back.
It’s understandable that a wounded people will turn to extremism, but despite the issues with our form of capitalism (high rent, low wages, mental health disorders, violence) why do people want more of it instead of going left of the spectrum?
In essence, how do they calculate that more of the same will drive different results? It seems that the only way to understand this is that their lens is focused on another enemy.
As French economist Thomas Picketty puts it in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, global unrest unmasks the tenets of inequality, but in the 21st century economic disillusionment can also feed nationalism.
He brings this example to mind in his historical analysis. When Germany was in shambles after a WWI, Hitler strung together the masses by giving them someone to blame for their misfortunes. It was easy; they were desperate, they were broken, and they needed something to revitalize their egos. The führer would galvanize their patriotism against a common enemy to make Germany great again.
It is no different than what we’re seeing with right-wing fanaticism. Rich or poor, people on the right have banded together against a common enemy — anything that bars them from living the American dream, i.e. the government or the immigrant.
I’d often wonder why my uncle, for example, would have all the grievances that could only be fixed with government intervention (i.e. vacation rights, paternity leave, cheaper healthcare, employee bargaining) but he instead blamed all his troubles on the immigrant who he had never met. The immigrant who came to America to steal jobs (though the jobs they took were landscaping jobs and he worked at a bank), the immigrant who brought crime (though domestic crimes were tied to gun violence and he didn’t call for gun reform), and the immigrant (who at the root of the issue) was not “white”. Hate can create a camaraderie, even if it’s nonsensical. In fact, maybe even more so because it is nonsensical.
The reality that nationalism is on the rise again shouldn’t have surprised me, but I failed to see that it’s the same potion for appeasing pain we’ve been drinking since the beginning of our nation.
In his book The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, Greg Grandin points out that Americans hurting from the disasters of laissez-faire capitalism never looked inward to fix their social problems and redistribute the piece of the pie. They simply moved West to expand the pie. Andrew Jackson (the 7th president who scalped natives and kept their body parts in jars as trophies) took this opportunity of social unrest to fuel xenophobia. Americans made the Indigenous people their target, the barrier that kept them from a better life. The American settler believed in his own limitlessness, in Manifest Destiny. There was no need to think about social reform when he could always take more land. When there was no more land to steal from the Indigenous tribes or Mexico their eyes became fixed on the border.
The American vigilante, the MAGA hat wearing Republican says he wants freedom, but freedom to do what? Freedom from laws to keep the face of his country Anglo-American. It is not the government he really fears, it is a government that enforces laws to bring some sense of equity.
When the Black Lives Matter movement erupted, these same American vigilantes took to the streets with rifles in tow, portraying themselves as guardians. They took the side of the government — the government they claim to fight — in opposition to the people’s protests. In effect, American nationalism is not about a fear of government, it is deep down all about keeping the status quo.
If in effect, what they wanted is to live the American dream, then their attention should be focused on freedom from monopolies, healthcare, fair income, and other such rights a government can instate. When FDR presented the second bill of rights — which would never come to fruition — he said “necessitous men are not free men”. The world the early settlers once lived in no longer exists. It doesn’t matter if the pie gets bigger if only a handful have access to it. We can fight more wars, we can create more enemies, but the problem will only be momentarily evaded, and we will never be free until we face the problems derived from inequality. What will it take to get America to look within? If we continue on with this dominoes trail of disasters that is the year 2020, maybe it won’t be long until we find out.
I have this pet peeve about my mother that before she responds to a question or argument she takes this really long accentuated pause. She blinks once, then enunciates a slow “oh – kay” and breathes in deeply as if gathering the energy to persuade you. Unfortunately, this pause is the moment she loses the audience because the audience – ever perceptive – knows that it’s about to be dragged like cattle through a never-ending desert.
That was a little anecdote (my pause) before I proceed to slide down the rabbit hole of a mega argument.
You know what?
It’d take a big chunk of my day to scribble away my thoughts in this dark room, and the pool is all alone out there. I wanted to discredit Kant, compare socialism and freedom, the aggravating condescendance (I prefer the noun in French) of boomers, but it’s so giant a topic, the weight just flattened me. I give up. I won’t change anybody’s mind. I’m moving when this is over. (That’s what I say when I give up. I’m moving to Europe! To liberal-haven New York!)
Or maybe I’ll write tomorrow, you caught me on a bad day.
Maybe this is why we lose elections — millennials get easily distracted with wanting to live in the moment. But it’s too beautiful a day to ruin it with politics. Although not writing it will torture me with ceaseless anxiety. No, I’ve already had enough fighting for one morning. Hey, being a septuagenarian does not mean you have a monopoly on truth because of your life experience, just FYI. The gall of that man!
According to my therapist arguing about ideals makes my temper skyrocket because of my potential anxiety disorder. According to The NewYorker though, if I would have lived during Kierkegaard’s time I would have just had the simple diagnosis of being an intellectual. Just kidding, I’m only slightly a neurotic and this was a very uncomfortable back-and-forth. Would it help if I said this was just a Woody-Allen-type spiel meant to entertain and not actually a varied dialogue in my head? Because I swear that was the point.
Forgive me, I’m usually thorough in my work. I neither entertained you nor reasoned with you on the topic intended. You will see a blog post up on freedom and balance next week right after my post about psychological colonization.
Today I got an email of rejection. I did not get the job at the Malala Fund.
I went outside to my backyard, looked up at the sky; bright blue, cloudless.
Are you kidding me?
All I can do is laugh, blink, and not understand.
I don’t understand what the point of all my work has been.
I began applying to jobs in New York in January. Applying is not a cinch, you have to find a suitable template for your resume, write a cover letter, tweak your portfolio to best display the assets that are most relevant to the job description, redo your LinkedIn, clean up the rest of your social media accounts, do TikToks. ::Sigh:: It takes hours. And after you’ve put that all together for one job, you spend days awaiting an email. The email that curtly informs you that your application was reviewed but not selected is a soft blow. The conniving emails are those that feign niceties and keep you dangling on with a silly hope for weeks on end. “You have an impressive resume” and they’d like to “schedule a phone interview”. You spend time researching the company, their competition, the job description, the staff, and you ace the test. Another email pops into your inbox congratulating you — you’re on to the next step! Giddy with anticipation, you complete the third round of interviews and then… the emails stop coming. Weeks later a sympathetic message will arrive to say “We thank you for your hard work, but the field was very competitive, and we regret to inform you we will not move forward with your application”.
I spent serious money traveling to New York for interviews. Ever checked the price of a hotel there? I interviewed for the New York Post, for Democracy Now, for the marketing agency that ran Obama’s 2008 election campaign. One night I even ran around New York tasting cocktails to concoct social media strategies for this restaurateur who seemed to be on the verge of hiring me. I came back to Miami and weeks later heard back. Someone, somewhere, somehow was better for the job.
With this constant influx of rejection, the next step is to question my worthiness. Why didn’t they hire me? Am I not smart enough? What ideas did the other contenders have? An art director I worked with at my former job told me, “everyone in New York is a 10”. They come from every hole in the wall imaginable all around the world and are just as hungry as the next one. But knowing the myth of New Yorkers didn’t scare me, because I thought I was just as diligent, ambitious, and capable as the rest.
I worked at arguably the best social media agency in Miami. My clients were influential entrepreneurs. I told millionaires what to do and they took my advice. I would get ingratiating emails from them telling me how wonderful it was to work with me. I was more creative, more rigorous, more perceptive than the other team members. (In this tedious routine of a system, you realize most people are drones memorizing steps, they don’t have unique thoughts.) The last thing my bosses told me when I resigned was that I was the best employee they’ve ever had. Sure, it was a small startup, at most they’ve probably had 20 employees but still, *the best*. Silly me, I was just a big fish in a small pond.
Rejection hurts and begs the question, how many no’s does it take to make you give up? I can at last begin to understand the bitter frustration a former beau felt with every letter of polite “thank you, but no” from publishing agents. He’d written four books, maybe more by now, and he was a talented writer. I never understood what the agents were looking for, why they snubbed his books. He didn’t know either.
I don’t know what New York wants. People tell me maybe it isn’t God’s will. Although, if I really weigh in on this, it’s marketing work that is closing its doors to me — the very thing I wanted to get away from in Miami. Maybe it means I should revisit a career in publishing?
If I think about it, I have been attempting to solidify a status so that society will deem me adequate, that I think if I have the job, now I am deserving of respect because I am making money and everyone can shut up now. Which is totally justified, I think, because a person who toils is one who is trying. Trying to be better, trying to grow, trying to survive. Well all this bounteous freedom that was given to me on behalf of the pandemic nobody asked for and my unemployment, could not have been more timely. Fine, you won’t hire me? I’m still going to work, I still matter. I still matter even if I don’t work, but I prefer to work — even if it doesn’t turn over a profit. I am in a phase of experimentation with fonts and colors and softwares and photos, exploring my curiosity, learning and listening. The nights and weekends I had off from my full-time were not enough to let me wander, and though this type of home-bound living is not fulfilling, free time has plenty of “aha” moments of inspiration. Okay, I’ll play the grasshopper now whilst perusing my email and rolling my eyes at society’s rejection. Maybe I needed to learn something.
In the end, I want to live in New York, and I will make it happen. In the meantime, all I can do is invest in my education.
The world is burning and I don’t want to watch. Stealing this line from some article by some writer in some magazine.
I haven’t read the news in days. Every now and then I skim a headline to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. Maybe they found a vaccine? But it’s just, oh the death toll is that high now. I don’t want to read about Trump. I stopped watching press briefings since he roasted one reporter and used Mike Pompeo as a shield to fend off the lions. But he’s had many more scuffles with reporters so you probably don’t know which one I’m referring to. Our President gives me anxiety. I deleted my Twitter app.
I don’t want to think about him. Or the fact that the Democratic Party will lose the election. Biden is a weak candidate, people “rally around the flag” in times of crisis, and nobody wants a revolution at a time of uncertainty. It will be four more years of this mayhem. With the additional strain of a second Great Depression. But I will not think about that now.
I also don’t want to think about how I dug into my savings to buy this url weeks ago, and one month later I’ve only one blog post to my name. I have stories, but they’re shy birds that like to sing in their cages – I tell myself. Besides, Arianna Huffington says don’t beat yourself up for not being productive.
Well, I’ve painted, learned Procreate, cooked food for friends, donated, I am learning “I wish you love” on the guitar, made like 7 masks, read, watched movies, spent more time on Pitchfork, made videos, learned and abandoned TikTok, gardened, taken graphic design courses, blah blah. I’m boosting my morale because the truth is no, my book will not be ready by fall.
I am grateful. I am lucky. I have a two-story house with rooms I can rotate my time in, a garden, and a fridge stocked for 3 weeks. I even have hummus. On Saturday I was a gluttonous sinner and ordered French toast with fresh raspberries and a baguette with melted brie from Atelier Monnier. Minutes later, I took a nap because it turns out a full belly makes the guilt worse.
The world is burning and I don’t want to watch. Syrian refugees stranded in the desert without running water or soap. People lining up in California at soup kitchens. Women not affording pads. People holed up in efficiencies without windows. Janitors risking their lives for $7.25 an hour. Women suffering domestic abuse. Doctors choosing who to save. Makeshift morgues. Loneliness. Impending poverty. I don’t want to think about it.
My baby sister said her first word today: papa. And she said it twice. Nobody caught it on video. (Maybe it didn’t happen.)
The world is burning and I don’t want to watch so I look in the mirror. My face is aging. 30 is fast approaching. I have no love interests. Nobody calls. But this is immaterial. Nothing matters except surviving another day.
I bought $40 worth of anti-aging serums from The Ordinary just in case. I’ll report back on whether it brought me happiness. For now, I’ll continue my survival routine of avoiding the world’s sufferings and my book.
I was listening to a recording of Ezra Klein’s podcast a few weeks ago, where his interviewee Barbara Ehrenreich contended the shortcomings of the theory of individualism. We’d always relied on communal effort to survive, but in modern times we’ve bet instead on egocentricity, and she wondered if it’s working for us.
I thought about the COVID-19 and the discussions it will spawn while on its tour de monde. Is the utopian fallacy that we are “independent” being challenged by the glaring proof that one’s misfortune has a domino effect on the rest?
Are we recalling the wisdom of our ancestors, that we depend on society’s well-being as a whole for our own means of survival? Medicare for all? Paid sick leave?
Last night, in an unprecedented bipartisanship, the coronavirus bill was signed into law. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides free testing for COVID-19 and guarantees paid sick leave to those affected (among other provisions). I didn’t think we’d pass paid leave under a conservative administration, but urgency called for us to combat disaster together.
We may be practicing social distancing, but with 330 million people we need big government to counter this pandemic — and not just to bail out corporations. For all the conservative naysayers who deemed egalitarianism a fantasy, they are begrudgingly discovering that libertarianism is not a realistic path towards human survival. Regardez our system is collapsing around us, and we are scrambling to pass socialized programs other countries have had in place for decades. This is the way forward, but I admit I didn’t always know it myself.
I was a registered Libertarian voter once in my college years having fallen into the cultish hole of objectivism intrinsic in the books of Ayn Rand. I related with the introverted protagonists of her books that manifested the resolute, heroic spirit in contrast to the silly masses she depicted as ignorant and entitled. There was a latent romanticism in their rebellious antisocial stance that I still sympathize with as an antisocial, socially-involved citizen. But Rand was an émigré from the Soviet Union who denounced government programs like Social Security as an infringement on rights, a hotbed for tyranny. To her the government served only for policing — not for leveling opportunity by curtailing the wealth inequality that causes a rise in crime, not for fixing the for-profit healthcare system that allows for millions of Americans to die.
Atlas Shrugged exalted the individual’s independence without assuming he was interconnected with the rest.
“Egoism is freedom”
“Government needs to keep its hands off the market”
“Greed is good, don’t feel guilty”
This pseudo meritocracy leaves power in the hands of a few and erodes democracy. It also relays a false sense of egoism. Were it not for my natural instinct to empathize, I wouldn’t have reasoned the obvious: We are innately social beings, and it is in our own self interest to care for our neighbor’s welfare.
It is human nature to care. Collectivity should not be elevated to a point of self-sacrifice when it has been our means for survival for all of human history.
We are interdependent
The logic behind paid leave, reforming our justice system, negotiating prices with pharmaceuticals (and everything else we debated before our minds focused on finding toilet paper) is the idea that balancing the system from the far-right tilt will result in an overall improvement of our lives. i.e. It is not solely the felon who will benefit from criminal justice reform, we too will reap the rewards of a reduction in recidivism and be able to thrive in safer neighborhoods.
We are only as strong as our weakest member
In the U.S. there are 27 million Americans without health insurance. 25% of Americans have delayed treatment of a serious condition due to the financial burden of seeking care. This was of little consequence to some voters before. Now engulfed in the coronavirus crisis, does socializing healthcare sound so ridiculous if our own well-being depends on our neighbor’s financial ability to receive care?
33 million of Americans don’t have paid sick leave. Is it ridiculous to pass paid leave so that a sick restaurant employee can stay home from work instead of handling our food?
It was never ridiculous, but the status quo is too stiff to upend; it requires an apocalypse. Someone got sick in Wuhan, and it has reverberated around the globe. There is no denying how much globalisation has connected us even further. This virus might be our wakeup call.
Holed up in our homes we might be forced to introspection. Maybe we cultivate our long forgotten passions and switch careers. Maybe we agree working remotely is smarter and we can spend more time with our loved ones. Maybe we will start to shop local, grow our own food. Maybe we warm up to a better healthcare system. We’ll have time to reflect on what our needs are as a human race, and I hope we find it. For now, virtual hugs are in order — America, you passed paid leave! Sort of. For now.
Perched on the sleepy rue Sedaine a few blocks from the bustling Bastille, Muscovado stole my heart with it’s delicious Belleville coffee served in bright red cups. The cafe is owned by two sisters from the Philippines, Quina and Francine (one a former pastry chef), serving healthy meals and tasty desserts for breakfast and lunch. The menu varies each day, some have an international flair like the breakfast burrito or the Cuban sandwich, but the ingredients are always fresh.
I took a break from shopping during the latter part of the afternoon for a coffee and a strawberry salad – which was just the right amount of sweet.