January 18, 2019

Everything is too loud

If anything, the beginning to 2019 has been incredibly loud.

My computer speakers have never been good, but yesterday I noticed that I could barely hear what was coming from them, even when the volume had been turned up to the maximum. I had to lean in, with my nose at my keyboard, to hear anything.

I realize now that this is just a sign that my almost-nine-year-old computer is slowly fading away (the speakers are not the only part to be breaking down), but at the time, one thing jumped into my mind: I couldn’t hear the soft sound because I was too used to everything being so loud. I have become used to having music or podcasts in my ears all day; I have become immune to the sounds of construction on the house next door.

More than that, I have become used to people raising their metaphorical voices, offline and online, to make a point, to be heard. This year, especially, I have been inundated with stimulus: loud voices, urgent demands, heightened (and somewhat crippling) anxiety, and an overwhelm of things to do and people to please.

I have never been good at dealing with volume: I inherently get distracted when there is too much noise (real or metaphorical) and the onslaught of stimulus unsettles me. (The first thing I do when I sit in any car, before it even turns on, is to ask the driver to turn down the sound system volume; I watch television at a barely audible whisper when I am alone.) When there is too much going on—when the loudness of everyday life gives me no room for reflection or thought, and instead inundates me with doubt and uncertainty—I freeze and am rendered ineffective. Loudness, in both physical volume and in the amount of stuff” coming at me in life, makes me feel a sense of paralysis, and instead of navigating through the noise, I disappear and hide.

In the first two weeks of this year, I have held the loudness I usually only can handle in a span of several months. I am paralyzed, I am hiding, and I am already feeling overwhelmed by volume. If this is an indicator of how the rest of 2019 will manifest itself, I am unsure that I have the capacity or strength to weather that storm. I have reached a point where I have no reserves, no stores of energy or solace left to draw on, and the year has only just begun.

Everything is too loud. Because of this, I have lost the ability to really listen: to listen to what is good, to listen to what is right, to listen to what is necessary, and to listen to myself.

Poem of the week:

From The Magnifying Glass (2017) by Michael Longley:

You gave me a gilded magnifying glass
For scrutinising the hearts of wild flowers
(Which I did, kneeling in water-meadows).
In the handle a paper-knife’s concealed
For opening occasional letters from you.
Now that we’re both shortsighted, Fleur, the lens
Enlarges your dwindling classicist’s script.

In case you missed it:

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A few things to read and explore:

Everyone is talking about Anne Helen Petersen’s excellent piece on millennial burnout—I found myself nodding vigorously through the entire article—but what I found really important and incisive was this response by Tiana Clark on burnout in millennials of color, specifically Black women. Clark’s response is an essential and important companion piece to Petersen’s:

My therapist explains that burnout reminds us of our humanity; exhaustion lets the body know we are not machines — we need to slow down. Yet, for millennials of color, not only do we have to combat endless emails and Slack notifications, but we also get strapped with having to prove our humanity inside and outside of the workplace and classroom, often by circumspectly navigating the tears of white women. It’s doubly (triply?) exhausting. But in all the hullabaloo about burnout, who is really allowed to take a break?

In your 20s, you enter a bookstore thinking who do I want to be?” In your forties, the experience is completely different:

Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.

You’ve all probably read Lauren Hough’s incredible essay on her work as a cable guy” in Virginia, and all the shocking things she had to go through, but what really resonated with me was this fascination of the cable company to measure employee success via points.” I’ve noticed this in so many places: in an effort to quantify the work of an employee, organizations create measures that actually have little to do with real success and good work.

The last municipal election was really, really bad. This article on how Kristyn Wong-Tam faced sexist and racist attacks is completely demoralizing, and even more so when I saw similar tactics being used here in London, especially against women and people of color. The civility of our political discourse has crumbled, and because of that, so many voices and perspectives are going to be erased.

Is the term drugs” outdated and reductive in a world where we’re all medicating” ourselves—via medications, recreational drugs, caffeine, alcohol, whatever it may be—in some way just to escape from the harshness of everyday life? That’s the argument Susan Zieger makes in her recent essay on drugs and the term drugs” itself, and its a compelling argument to follow.

Leave it to Anil Dash to not only celebrate the incredible musical genius of Janet Jackson, but to perfectly elucidate the message of Jackson’s music after Rhythm Nation, a message of structural injustice that is so relevant to us now.

Have our efforts to live a minimal, perfectly-curated life led to an existence where we’ve stripped any indication of really living? Instead of homes, we live in commodities.” (It’s also worth revisiting my earlier blog post about the luxury and privilege of de-cluttering.) Oh, and my friend Mehnaz wrote a beautiful essay on tidying and neatness—it pairs beautifully with the pieces above.

Maybe we don’t need as much sunscreen as we once thought we did? Maybe we all just need a bit more direct exposure to the sun in order to stay healthy? I found some very interesting arguments in this piece on Vitamin D.

I’ve found that some of the most delicious meals I’ve ever made haven’t necessarily been the ones that pop most on the plate or in a photograph—though I do excel at plating, to be honest. Everyone’s favorite food crush, Samin Nosrat, reminds us that delicious doesn’t always mean pretty.

Fifty things turning fifty years old in 2019. Included in the list: Sesame Street, the moon landing, PBS, quartz watches, and so many other cultural touchstones.

Everything Estelle Caswell makes in her Earworm series is excellent, but these three on jazz may just be her best work:

(I’ve often said that if there was one person that I’d love to art direct my life, it would be Reid Miles. Those Blue Note covers are some of the best examples of graphic design I have ever seen.)

This Twitter thread is an important story about how diversity and inclusion initiatives, and the importance of adults to notice and foster the skills and talents of our young people, can honestly and truly change the world. Talent is everywhere. Opportunity is not.”

The story told in this Twitter thread—ostensibly about deceiving a young child over years—is one of the most heartwarming things I’ve read recently.

Vox has done an amazing job of explaining marginal tax rates, using a pocket” analogy, for people who are confused—or incensed—by AOCs call for a 70% marginal tax rate on the wealthy.

Illustration of pockets containing cash that are taxed at different rates

Just for fun: why Snowpiercer is a sequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (If you haven’t watched Snowpiercer yet, it’s definitely worth checking out. Such a great movie.)

I wish you a week of quiet thought, quiet reflection, and quiet beauty ahead. Talk soon, my friends.

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