Sunday Selection 2020-08-30

It is the end of summer, temperatures here in Massachusetts are starting to cool (thankfully) and 2020 continues to be a toxic trash fire of a year (verging on landfill fire, as a friend of mine put it). Chadwick Boseman, star of movies such as Black Panther and 42 passed away on Friday. Black Panther is currently one of my favorite movies, and probably my favorite movie in the Marvel franchise. Boseman’s work has had an indelible positive impact on Black culture and representation and his time was cut entirely too short. So today’s edition is dedicated to him.

Ryan Coogler on Chadwick Boseman

There’s been a massive outpouring of condolences and mourning for Boseman on Twitter, as well as obituaries in places like the New York Times. But I found Ryan Coogler’s remembrance to the most heartfelt and poignant. A couple lines stood out to me: “He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year.” In a lot of ways, that’s the best we can ask for, isn’t?

Life Got Hard Again

Lately I’ve been struggling with the seemingly circular nature of the world. Things get better, and then they get worse, rinse repeat. This seems to happen on both historical and personal time scales. Life gets hard again, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make the most of it, or even find happiness and joy in the ups and downs (which is of course easier said than done). Pair this with Zadie Smith on optimism and despair: “Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”

Jeong Kwan, the Philosopher Chef

Last week I noted how the episode of Chef’s Table starring Jeong Kwan was one of my favorites of that show and one that I kept coming back to. In times of instability and difficulty (which seems to be always these days) I like to come back to something that she says towards the end of the episode: “You must not be your own obstacle. You must not be owned by the environment you are in. You must own the environment, the phenomenal world around you. You must be able to move freely in and out of your mind. This is being free.” Practice. Practice. Practice.

Chadwick Boseman’s Howard University 2018 Commencement Speech

This has been in my to-watch list forever and I’m a little ashamed that it took his death for me to actually watch. It’s pure gold, and it really drives home not just how good an actor he is, but how good he is at writing, speaking, thinking and observing, and metabolizing the world around him into art that benefits everyone.

Towards the end there’s a bit about purpose: “Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on this planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” Like Boseman, I hope you take yourself seriously, live your purpose, and get into good trouble.

Sunday Selection 2020-08-23

All of a sudden, summer seems to be drawing to a close. Schools are reopening (somewhat), the days are not quite so reliably hot, and it doesn’t stay bright until well after dinner time anymore. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you where the past few months have gone. A combination of continuing pandemic isolation, still unfinished moving stresses, and just the general existential dread of life in these times makes it feel like Spring was both yesterday and a lifetime ago.

But in the hopes of achieving some semblance of normalcy, no matter how shaky, I’ve decided to take up some writing and sharing again. So here we go:

Around the Web

The Riddle of Solitude in the Age of the Coronavirus

For me, a large part of the pain in the early phase of isolation was the complete breakdown of a social life. After a year in a new city, I was just starting to build a circle of friends and regular activities, and all that came grinding to a halt (as well as the regular interactions with coworkers). But oddly, six months in, not only do I find myself getting comfortable with solitude, but wanting even more of it. Part of it may be due going in to a library at least once a week, getting in to the city, and absorbing some of its populous nervous energy. Part of it might be the desire to get away from roommates, who while lovely and wonderful, have been entirely too close for too long the last few months. Thankfully, we just moved to a much larger place with enough space for each of us to ignore all the others. Perhaps what this highlights more than anything is the need for balance. Too much of anything can be a bad thing.

The Semi-Satisfied Life

The challenges of the last few months have been compounded by the fact that most of my usual coping mechanisms of museums, bookshops, dinner and drinks outside, have been gone. Though they are gradually coming back (for now), I’m trying to make something of being forced to pay attention to my inner self and mental state and rely on mostly that for some sense of relief. Schopenhauer, I think, was on to something when he realized that happiness is not just the absence of suffering, but actually paying attention to that absence and realizing that things could be much worse.

Social Media: It’s Worse Than I Thought

Continuing the theme of isolation and paying attention, I have been noticing that social media continues to get increasingly intolerable. I am not (perhaps thankfully) on the TikTok bandwagon, but Instagram seems determined to push people I don’t follow, rather than showing me posts from people I do, and YouTube’s intrusive advertising has gotten to the point that it’s very off-putting to watch anything at all. More than ever, it is clear that our attention has been harvested and weaponized against us, and perhaps the only way to win this game is not to play.

Books

For the first time in an embarrassingly long time I picked up a book again: Intimations by Zadie Smith (thanks to a recommendation from Brain Pickings). This is short book of essays, all of which are very relatable, and very relevant to our current times. Smith explores everything from mindsets for coping with isolation and disruption, to how viruses can be both biological and social, and what that means for the notion of herd immunity. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Smith and it makes me want to go read everything else she’s written.

Television

Chef’s Table: BBQ

Chef’s Table is perhaps the antithesis of everything that social media represents. It’s deep, fulfilling, quiet, but also arousing, invigorating and inspiring. The episodes with Jeong Kwan and Gaggan Anand are some of my favorite things to re-watch when I need a pick-me-up. So it’s no surprise that I am very excited for this new season and really looking forward to it.