Goodness is More Interesting
“I just think goodness is more interesting. Evil is constant. You can think of different ways to murder people, but you can do that at age five. But you have to be an adult to consciously, deliberately be good – and that’s complicated.”
Currently reading: Toni Morrison’s The Site of Memory. PDF here. From ‘Inventing The Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir,’ edited by William Zinnser
Some beauty links I’ve been thinking about this week:
On that note, if you have not read Anne Boyer’s The Undying, it is one of my favorite books.
My Mustache, Myself, New York Times Magazine
Thought this was interesting - people are getting paid $50 a pop to make TikTok takedowns of brands with unethical labor practices. No beauty brands were targeted, but I still wanted to share.
This essay by Garth Greenwell in Harpers, against “relevance” in art. A favorite parts:
I often find myself perusing the shelves at Prairie Lights, a bookstore in Iowa City, where I live, reading the jacket copy of a recent release, sighing with friends that we don’t have time for another story about x or y, and setting it back on the shelf unopened. Often these judgments are framed as jokes, though they are half in earnest. They make me laugh sometimes; they also make me worry. The desire to invert a structure of injustice—to inflict on those we take to be the bearers of privilege the disregard they have inflicted on others—is one I very much understand, one I feel in myself. But it is always ethically suspect to speak of any human experience as irrelevant to our common human experience; it is always, let me go further, an act of something like violence. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu describes what he calls the law of the conservation of violence: that groups subjected to violence will seek to inflict that violence on others, to pass it along.
I have been thinking a lot about the every day moral calculus we all have to do to simply survive in this world, with doom on our shoulders pushing down more and more. I have been thinking about how I will be dealing with the week of the election, and the two forks in the road that we have to call the future. I do not feel good about either one and simply stare at the wall for long periods of time more and more.
This is not a personal depression so much as an existential one, which I recognize and consider it normal and healthy to have. To not feel so resigned to the arc of disaster that I have to feel dead to it or worse - a kind of nihilist smugness to prepare for it with the knowledge that nothing is in my control, and the world is fucked. I am very glad to not have that approach, even if it means I instead simply sometimes stare at the wall, waiting and tired and worried. I would rather be worried and hopeful, stubbornly hopeful, than smug. I don’t meditate much but I do meditate on this, at many waking moments: Hope is a discipline. You know? It’s not easy to hold. Meditation can be humbling. Hope is that - sometimes we fall short of being able to hold it sometimes and step away from it spurned and disguise that loss with smugness. We would rather feel smug and distanced from hope than sit in the loss of it and work back towards it. We don’t want to fall short of it again. How could we bear to get back up?
It is okay to not feel actively a lot of hope, to not feel it like an action bubbling in you. Sometimes it’s something physical like laughter, but more often it’s a certain kind of buoy for me. When I’m not just existentially spacey but specifically depressed, I sometimes manifest my hope into a floater and just try to reach it, like I am in a foggy ocean and I have to touch it to survive. Some days swimming towards it is too exhausting so I sleep. Some days I spend a few hours working towards it by making myself some soup. The days I reach it, I don’t do much at all. I just crawl onto the floater and let it hold me in a space between the depths of the ocean and the sun. It doesn’t have to bring me to shore, it doesn’t have to be a ship or have rudders, it doesn’t need to fix everything for me at once. It just has to get me closer to the sun and remind me drowning isn’t all there is. There’s the sun. The sun can be anything that made you warm and surprised and humbled and alive.
For me I think about how my friends and I surprise each other with flowers sometimes. I look at the postcards on my wall and will another 5 to arrive at my door. I think about all the people in my neighborhood I’ve gotten to know by name finally this year, since we check up on each other and give each other spare masks and water and ask how the family is. The church ladies a few blocks down that wave and call me baby after meeting me a few times when I helped set up protests and picnics in the neighborhood. When I stare at the wall I worry about them and also thank them for existing, as small and personal suns.
I got an edit this summer about something I wrote - I wrote that everything is important, and the editor (a very good editor! an appreciated edit!) asked me if I needed that to get my meaning across. I let it be changed because yes, everything mattering can feel numbing, but I still mean that. That everything matters, even if it can’t matter to you all at once. I do believe that. I think the moral calculus we all do is exhausting bullshit that we have to do to survive but it’s not something that comes naturally to me. My obsession over it is because I want to understand it as a system of leverage points, a kind of armor we carry, but seeking to understand it is not seeking to assimilate into it and make it mine. I still think everything matters, actually. If more people felt like everything mattered too, we would probably dismantle selfishness and self-involvement a little faster. That isn’t something I hope for anymore but it is something I think about and celebrate when I see it around.
I mostly hope for more sun now. I’m frightened of winter coming and decisions that will be made for me and the decisions I’ll have to make as a result? What about you? And perhaps more importantly: what are your suns?
Read this while lying in bed on a mental health break from work because my hope buoy has been far away and mostly unreachable for a while now. Thanks for putting words to how I've been feeling. Most of my suns are in another country, with their own suns and distractions, while I am mostly isolated apart from my partner. We hold each other as best we can each day, while also trying to be gentle with each other if and when we need space. I selfishly hope we can go home for the holidays, but that hope is a double-edged blade since the mostly-impossibility of it hurts.
Your newsletter feels like a warm bath - soft and melancholic and calming and refreshing.
Thank you for your writing.
These sentences struck me, "I have been thinking about how I will be dealing with the week of the election, and the two forks in the road that we have to call the future. I do not feel good about either one and simply stare at the wall for long periods of time more and more."
I look to the future and see smoke rising. And I wonder how some of my close friends can be optimistic. Either way, there will be decisions made. Your words were a balm. Sending all the best your way.