Hi readers. How are you? On monday, New York was so rainy, so dark, so bleak. My favorite kind of weather. I opened all of the windows in my apartment so that the constant peck of rain would reverberate throughout my eardrums as I read on the newly acquired sofa chair that now sits in my bedroom. I turned on only the accompanying lamp light so that I’d feel enveloped in the darkness of the day’s forecast. I made my way through Raven Leilani’s Luster, which was recommended to me by author Lisa Taddeo when I interviewed her for a story. It’s phenomenal. In other words, I had a nearly perfect day.
Now, it’s Friday, and I’m coming to you with a newsletter. For this week, I wrote about some trite anxieties I have been mentally working through over the last month, and how I’ve been talking myself out of them. Note: These are the anxieties I’m choosing to focus on because they are generally narcissistic and in my direct control. Of course I also spiral about that which is global and all-encompassing. Those are not issues I can work through on my own, though. They are not in my direct control, and thus not fitting for this specific newsletter. So for now, let’s focus on that which is trite but can also impact one’s day-to-day self if continually unaddressed. Okay? Here we go…
Anxiety One: I am reading this book too slowly and it’s inhibiting me from reaching my yearly reading goal.
Before starting Luster, I finished One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If you’ve never read it, some context: The book spans a century in the life of one family line, the Buendías, and it flips family member perspectives from moment to moment which, while spectacular writing, can make for a cumbersome and tiring reading experience at times. The book is also particularly long, a thick, sprawling read. This is all to say that it was taking me weeks to work through. The deeper I got into the book, the more mental focus it required of me to read, especially when keeping track of all the various characters. The longer it took me to finish the book, the more I thought: “Is this going to mess up my reading goal for the year?”
More context: Every year I try to finish as many books as I can, and this year my goal is to read around 26 to 30. I’m just over halfway there, and I felt “setback” on my goal because this particular read was taking longer than normal. That said, the fact that I spent more than a second caring about this is totally humiliating.
It’s embarrassing for me, actually. No one knows about this goal but myself and it matters to no one. And why should I care about the quantity of books more than the time spent reading them? More than the act of reading and learning itself? It’s also contrary to the idea that many of the books I’ve loved most have been heaping and long narratives. (Not to say that long = good automatically. I liked short books too.) All of this reminded me of a quote from Animal by Lisa Taddeo, which I read early this year, where she describes the novel her character packed for the poolside.
“I brought the book I was reading. All the books I read were hand-me-downs from my parents. My mother’s V.C. Andrews, my father’s Dean Koontz. In this case it was Stephen King’s The Stand. I liked how massive it was, that it would last me a month.”
The phrase “last me a month” always stuck out to me. It’s opposite to the way we’re conditioned to read nowadays, with apps like Goodreads encouraging us to read for quantity and the sake of “goals.” I’m sure my annoying thoughts about reading are, more or less, tied to a lame capitalist learned behavior related to productivity. So if you relate to this: stop caring. Read what you want when you want, and at what pace you want. Anxiety depleted. You’re welcome.
Anxiety Two: I look like a tourist and that is an inherently bad thing.
I just got back from a trip to Paris with my sisters and Ale—a delightful escape to top off a long month of intermittent travel. While there, we did all the things you’re “supposed” to do, largely since my sisters had never been and I was interested in revisiting some favorite spots: hot, buttery croissants at La Maison d’Isabelle, wall-to-wall ponds of floating, weightless water lilies by Monet at Musée de l’Orangerie, a begrudging photo in front of the Eiffel Tower for my parents, sweaty, barely lucid hikes through the Louvre to glance at the Mona Lisa then immediately turn around.
At these tourist destinations, albeit fun ones, I didn’t care if we looked like exactly what we were: tourists. We were surrounded by others anyway. But once we traversed to what I (embarrassingly) felt were trendier, more local-heavy neighborhoods, I felt tense while also simultaneously experiencing a profound sense of enjoyment in being there: I wanted to fit in, to blend in. I wanted Pigalle locals to not glance my way if I leisured in some hip, industrial, Williamsburg-esque coffee shop. I wanted to pop in and out of book shops, reading along Canal Saint Martin, lounging spread eagle on dirty blankets with youths in their low-waisted baggy jeans and stringy tank tops. I wanted to feel cool and unbothered stepping into insufferable hype beast stories in Montmartre, still sweaty from climbing down the Sacred Heart Basilica steps in palpable humidity.
Reader, I was none of these things. I fielded side eyes when speaking in a harsh U.S. accent to my sisters. (Ale was the only one of us capable of fluent French.) We were consistently handed English menus at every eating establishment. I felt I was perceived as a tourist and was horrified—immediately thinking of how at home I watch visitors to New York crane their necks to glimpse at the subway maps, or wait patiently at the stop lights to cross the streets, or attempt loud, unabashed, smiling small talk. I expressed my dumb anxiety to Ale and he, in so many words, told me to shut up. He was right. It is embarrassing to care if you look like you are a tourist. You are one. Get over it. Enjoy your time there because, by definition of being said tourist, your time there is limited. It’s also asshole-ish to judge tourists. I’m an asshole. Anxiety solved.
Anxiety Three: All of the art I make is really bad and no one cares about me.
This, I’m sure, is a thought that crosses all artists’ minds at some point during the day, each time they pick up a pen, a paintbrush, a damp ball of clay. I’ve said this before, but at times, I feel there is a painful sense of self-absorption in the concept of writing down an idea you have, then subsequently pushing it on to other people and saying: here. Read what I’ve articulated. Take time out of your day to do so, amid your various other responsibilities. I feel mental pain for asking you to read what I’ve written.
And my anxiety is that maybe what I’ve said is kind of bad that time around, my mind unable to grasp the correct words, the ideal phrasing for conveying the thought I’ve attempted to put forward. Maybe, as a writer, I’ve failed. But other times, I won’t. And if something resonates with everyone every time, is it really that good? Maybe some days you care about me and other days you don’t, and maybe that (unfortunately for me) is for the best? All in all, I am trying to be okay with that thought process. I’m maintaining my joy in doing the thing rather than the product. Trying to get rid of the fear of making bad things that no one cares about which, like death, is inevitable. (Hah.) Anxiety solved. For now.
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your writing is beautiful and i care about you a lot. <333
“I feel mental pain for asking you to read what I’ve written.” I’m spend so much time looking for nice things to read! So, I always get a nice spark of joy when a substack, Wattpad or kindle notification goes off! Keep it coming 🙏🏻