Finding the right place, becoming a regular
There are a few places here, in London, where they know my name, or at least recognize my face, when I walk in. Those are a motley collection of coffee shops, restaurants, diners, stationery stores, and libraries.
I wouldn’t consider myself a “regular” at any of those places; instead, I am a known customer, one that drops in from time to time, but without routine, ritual, or expectation. This is an anomaly for me: everywhere I’ve ever lived, I’ve become a regular somewhere.
Being a regular is a wonderful feeling: finding an external space where you can be you, your whole self, and be recognized and relished for that, is liberating. There is a delight in being welcomed and included into a place that is not your own, that will never really be yours; being a regular means not having to make hard decisions, not having to plan, and being fully at ease in a place and in the choice to be in that place.
In The Perks of Being a Regular, Sarah Firshein explains it well:
When you’re a regular, you become a creature of habit and ritual, joyously unburdened by the agonies of choice. My standard date was usually a close friend from childhood and eventually we stopped even looking at the menu, itself an archaic tool of the non-regular. Summer meant burrata caprese. Hangovers, lasagna with beef and bechamel. Otherwise, the spaghetti with tomato-basil sauce for her, and the signature ragu for me. The implicit, agreed-upon arrangement left us free to talk about more important things, like jobs, families, and relationships. […]
Freedom from the externalities of restaurant choice also allows you to forge a deeper connection with restaurant staff. You care about the server you’ve gossiped with dozens of times; you’re in it with them. When you witness another diner being rude, or under-tipping, you feel it too. Over 10 years, I got to know the ins and outs of kids’ intramural activities, boyfriends, vacation plans. Conversations that started on a Saturday night resumed, unbroken, 10 days later. The reciprocal was also true: after witnessing a rotating cast of schlubby second dates, everyone seemed relieved when I finally introduced them to Eric, my eventual husband. […]
The best thing about being a regular, especially in a city that values exceptionalism, is that it allows you to be regular. You can embrace a truly unexceptional set of goals: show up, be nice, tip well. Whether you’re wearing gym clothes or a miniskirt, it doesn’t matter, because you are just a regular person. Cry at the table if something has made you sad, because regular people cry when they’re sad, or cackle loudly at a joke, even if your voice carries across the room, because regular people laugh when something’s funny. As a regular, you don’t need to put on airs; you can forgo the theatrical mannerisms of dining out — composure, anonymity, restraint — and just be yourself.
I wonder why I have not become a regular somewhere here in this city, at this time of my life. Perhaps it comes from the desire to explore a new city (though, after almost two years, it is no longer new anymore) and to fully experience everything it has to offer; perhaps it comes from a desire to be a little more exciting, a little more spontaneous, a little less predictable as I age.
Or perhaps it is because I haven’t quite found the right space just yet. I love so many places in this town, and go to so many of them often, but there isn’t one that feels quite like home—at least not yet. Maybe I’m still just trying to find where I belong, and until then, I’ll keep wandering.
In case you missed it:
- I’ve been thinking a lot about sound, recently, after watching a lovely production of Silence last week; this week, I wrote a few stream-of-consciousness sentences about sound and silence.
- After reading Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, I started thinking a lot about whether or not it is possible to live up to the hopes and dreams of our immigrant parents, especially recognizing the sacrifices they made to let us live the lives we currently live.
A few things to read and explore:
As I watch countless men (and sadly, quite a few women) jump to the defense of other men who have been outed for their coercive, demeaning, and abusive behavior towards women; as I watch them debate the fine points of whether or not a woman said no loud enough, whether her “I’m not comfortable” was strong enough, whether she was at fault for being mistreated by not yelling, or hitting, or running — I want to ask them all this question: Is this the type of man you want to be?
Because in this debate, in this long, harmful, regressive debate of how hard women should have to fight against a man who does not seek affirmative, enthusiastic consent in order to not be at fault for the ways in which men choose to ignore their bodily autonomy, men are showing me and women everywhere what type of men they want to be
Aziz, We Tried to Warn You, Lindy West:
There is a reflexive tendency, when grappling with stories of sexual misconduct like the accusations leveled at Ansari this past weekend — incidents that seem to exist in that vast gray area between assault and a skewed power dynamic — to point out that sexual norms have changed. This is true. The line between seduction and coercion has shifted, and shifted quickly, over the past few years (the past few months, even). When I was in my 20s, a decade ago, sex was something of a melee. “No means no” was the only rule, and it was still solidly acceptable in mainstream social circles to bother somebody until they agreed to have sex with you. (At the movies, this was called romantic comedy.)
What’s not true is the suggestion that complex conversations about consent are new territory, or that men weren’t given ample opportunity to catch up.
Sure, yes, our culture is transmuting., in all its iterations, all its humiliations, and all its chaos, is part of the transmutation. But there’s so much more to talk about — more deeply and with more nuance — with our sons and daughters and friends and partners.
And so, here’s what I told my son: What the Ansari incident is bringing up for women is that some women gave up their power and silently endured humiliating sex because of self-doubt. Some, like me, guarded themselves to such a degree to avoid sexual encounters of this kind that we lost out on the joys of flirtation, of mutual seduction, of the pleasures of our own sensuality. We policed ourselves because we knew no one would come to our feeble call. We only partook when we’d checked all our boxes that said, “Safe.” All of this is rooted in toxic masculinity. All of this is rooted in rape culture.
Now, in 2018, the economics of online publishing are running everyone off the map. I sometimes think, with some regretful wonder and gratitude, about an Awl chat-room conversation that took place in 2013. Some annoying mini-scandal had transpired on the Internet, and everyone else who worked for the little network—they all had years of experience on me—was typing out lively scenarios of what they would do if our online infrastructure magically burned down. Sitting in my little blue house in Ann Arbor, I kept quiet for a while, and then typed something like, “Aww guys, no, the Internet is great.” I meant it, though the sentiment now feels as distant as preschool. Reading the Awl and the Hairpin, and then working with the people that ran them, had actually convinced me that the Internet was silly, fun, generative, and honest. They all knew otherwise, but they staved off the inevitable for a good long while.
Goodbye to Awl That, Josephine Livingstone:
To the new reader, a network of sites devoted to lesbian shoes and context-less apologies and random virgins might sound like a wild, wild gamut. And they’d be right, but they’d have identified what made The Awl network itself: the principle of general interest. Each editor in sequence has of course shaped The Awl’s coverage, Killingsworth explained to me this week. “Matt and John were always interested in technology and the future and coffee and Uber. Choire was interested in the media and Balk was interested in the moon and literature.” Killingsworth’s own interests veered towards pop culture and “dorky shit,” which may have been why she let me write a short-lived column about academia. (I also spoke to Balk for this story, but he is “never quoted in the media.”)
“General interest” for The Awl has never meant a dilution of interest, or a limp embrace of all things equally. Its best writers flung their arms around whatever they cared about, and choked it to death. As several editors have explained to me in the past few days, there has never been an Awl rubric, beyond the “Be Less Stupid” strapline. The target audience for The Awl and the Hairpin has always just been smart, engaged people looking for articles that were really about something. There was so much content on The Awl, and no fluff. Its writers have always been allowed to pursue rabbits down rabbitholes, with newsiness sidelined in favor of passion, eccentricity, and humor.
Can Well-Being Define What Government Does?, Stephen Goldsmith:
“Government exists for a higher purpose than just providing specific services. Its ultimate goal is to help the people in the community thrive. And while well-being may not be a government service per se, it should be the outcome of the collective work of city employees.”
What Santa Monica officials are doing is remarkable, not just for the kind of outcomes they have focused on but also for their thoughtful and deliberate process. They leveraged world-class academic insight and received input from 7,000 of the city’s 90,000 residents. The Well-being Index has more than 100 data elements drawn from a survey of individual well-being, publicly available social-media data, and city data on everything from crime to voting and library usage. These three forms of data together enable a deeper understanding than any single data source would, and they create a picture of geographic and topical areas where the city is doing well and where it needs to do more. The resulting insights are shared publicly with easy-to-understand explanations and infographics.
Toronto’s unaffordable. Why can’t Halifax or Saskatoon take advantage?, Jennifer Keesmaat:
To be sure, most mid-sized Canadian cities are finally advancing gutsy, progressive moves that require vision and leadership. Hamilton, Mississauga, and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., are adding light-rail transit at the urging of the provincial government. Winnipeg is embracing the difficult task of restoring Portage and Main for pedestrian life, undoing an expensive engineering catastrophe that reroutes pedestrians great distances before they can cross the street. Similarly, after decades of debate, Halifax is removing the Cogswell Interchange—an obsolete highway superstructure that was abandoned in 1970 due to citizen activism to save the city’s Historic Properties, which were built around the time of the war of 1812 and recall the shipping and warehousing prosperity of an earlier time. Mississauga has spent almost a decade redesigning its downtown to “demall” its centre with streets, blocks and public spaces, and has already attracted Sheridan College into its core.
But I fear these initiatives won’t be enough to tip these cities towards a sustainable future. The hard truth is that many mid-sized cities won’t win the future because they are stuck on a suburban growth model. If the future is green and walkable, they will be left behind.
Restaurants have gotten too fancy for their own good, Corey Mintz:
“The future is cooks making more, customers paying more,” says Morin, “and the food itself, the menus in the restaurant, the whole industry and the media around it, promoting a more simple type of restaurant experience.”
Over the last decade, it became trendy, and then expected, for restaurants to make products they once bought. It began with charcuterie, then expanded into bread, pickles, mustard, olives, pasta, and so on. I once heard a chef admonish their sous-chef for ordering marinated white anchovies from Italy. The product was exquisite — but couldn’t they be making their own?
3 quick thoughts about walking, Austin Kleon:
Even crummy suburban spaces can be interesting on foot. This is something I learned while reading John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic. There are all kinds of bizarre spaces in the suburbs that you don’t come across because you’re in your car. I find a good deal of SW suburban Austin visually repulsive when driving, but I have a favorite six-mile walk I take from my SW Austin neighborhood to the central library, where I had to sort of weave my way behind our neighborhood in a strange suburban no man’s land, past a La Quinta, over the highway, then across the pedestrian bridge, and through the greenbelt to downtown. I see all kinds of weird stuff.
It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech, Zeynep Tufekci:
Here’s how this golden age of speech actually works: In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure. It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google (which owns YouTube), and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.
These companies—which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free expression—have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen; they’ve come to dominate media distribution, and they increasingly stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business is mundane: They’re ad brokers. To virtually anyone who wants to pay them, they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs. They use massive surveillance of our behavior, online and off, to generate increasingly accurate, automated predictions of what advertisements we are most susceptible to and what content will keep us clicking, tapping, and scrolling down a bottomless feed.
A Stay Against Confusion: On Why I Started Writing Poetry Again, Nick Ripatrazone:
The writing life is a succession of different acts, with their own failures and conflicts and moments of joy. To live as a writer means to embrace, and perhaps be inspired by, these different seasons. Nostalgia shouldn’t stop us from moving forward, but if we’ve opened a window years before, there was probably a good reason.
Writing poetry is an act of ordering our thoughts and perceptions into lines and sections. By focusing on a form of writing that embraces structure and selection, we can participate in a daily examen of sorts—and whether that poetry is ever published is not really the point. There are greater rewards.
Pivoting ‘the book’ from individuals to systems, Pia Waugh:
Government is an important part of a stable society and yet is being increasingly undermined, both intentionally and unintentionally.
The realisation here has been in first realising how important government (and democracy) is in providing a safe, stable, accountable, predictable and prosperous society whilst simultaneously observing first hand the undermining and degradation of the role of government both intentionally and unintentionally, from the outside and inside. I have chosen to work in the private sector, non-profit community sector, political sector and now public sector, specifically because I wanted to understand the “system” in which I live and how it all fits together. I believe that “government” — both the political and public sectors — has a critical part to play in designing, leading and implementing a better future. The reason I believe this, is because government is one of the few mechanisms that is accountable to the people, in democratic countries at any rate. Perhaps not as much as we like and it has been slow to adapt to modern practices, tools and expectations, but governments are one of the most powerful and influential tools at our disposal and we can better use them as such.
This is graph of average world temperature since 1850 is beautifully presented and also absolutely terrifying:
This chart by Nicholas Rougeux is an unconventional, but stunning, way of looking at the periodic table of elements:
These pixel art tributes to popular TV shows, by illustrator and game artist Gustavo Viselner, are really fun:
Before you go, here’s a great video by Jay Smooth (every video he makes is great) about self-care in a tumultuous world:
I love the idea of “showing up while still lying down.”
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