May 1, 2020

The cities and towns we have around us

When people asked me what I missed most about living in the big city, all of my answers involved access to things outside of the house.

I would answer that I missed having access to great restaurants of almost any kind of world cuisine. I missed being able to go to the symphony, the opera, the art gallery, or the ballet without much advance planning. I missed being able to hop on a streetcar or the subway and get to the far reaches of the city to explore a new neighborhood. I missed having a plethora of coffee and tea shops within walking distance where I could meet people and make new friends. I missed knowing that there was always something interesting going on in the city—a meetup, an advocacy meeting, a show—and that I could make the plans that same evening instead of planning days or weeks in advance.

There are so many things I love about where we live and the lifestyle we have, but still, now, there are many things I miss.

I realized this morning that all of the things I miss are things that I wouldn’t have access to, right now. Restaurants and coffee shops are closed, as are the galleries and show stages. Subways and streetcars are to be avoided, and all the in-person events have now moved to online get-togethers with no limits on geography.

In many ways, quarantine living has put our cities on an equal level. When we spend most of our days in our home, when we cook instead of going out to eat, when we interact with people through the screen instead of in shops, when poetry readings are done online instead of in a bookshop, it almost doesn’t matter what city you call home. What matters, instead, is the space (big or small) you’ve created for yourself, and the people (in person or virtual) that populate that space. Our homes have become our cities and towns, our places to live and work and play and explore.

Look around you—what kind of town have you built for yourself? What would you do to change it if you could? What about it gives you delight?

These are the questions I ask myself as I enter the weekend; if you feel like asking yourself the same questions and sharing your answers—no pressure or compulsion, of course—please do get in touch. I’d love to hear more about what surrounds you and how it shapes your experience of the world.

Two poems

Night Thoughts
A.E. Stallings

Night thoughts are not like bats,
Do not trip out at dusk
With bumbershoots and spats,
And fur coats, in sub fuse,

Do not fall into flight
Into the upside-down
Colander of the night,
And stagger on the town.

They do not zag and zig
Giddy on the wing
As a jigsaw’s jig.
They do not squeak or sing.

They’re not the sharps and flats,
The blues notes in the key,
The way it seems that bats
Are accidentals, free

To swoop beyond the tune.
The thoughts at night that come
Are midnight’s afternoon,
Desolate and dumb.

They weep their limestone tears,
They hang, but do not fly,
Accretion of the years,
They sweat. They petrify.

— — —

The Mourner
Denise Levertov

Instead of arms to hold you
I want longer limbs, vines,
to wrap you twofold, threefold.

I wrap you, I pick you up, I carry you,
your knees drawn up, your head bent,
your arms crossed on your breast.

You are heavy.
I walk, I walk.
You say nothing.

Onward. Hill and dale. Indoors.
Out again. You say nothing.
You grow smaller, I wrap you fourfold.

I show you all the wonders you showed me,
infinitesimal and immense.
You grow smaller, smaller,
and always heavier. Why will you not speak?

The unforeseen happens regularly, and then not a few people forget that it does and look forward to a foreseeable future all over again and pretend they foresaw what surprised them.

Do the thing or don’t do it. Either is fine.

If America has a recognizable food culture, Elizabeth David is its inspiration.

Sometimes swimming is a wormhole through which to escape the grinding machinery of everyday life.

How do you inoculate a child against future anguish? What do you do if your child already seems overwhelmed in the here and now?

Asking myself some questions.

Each jigsaw puzzle piece must be uniquely shaped, meaning 1,000 different shapes for a 1,000-piece puzzle, each drawn by hand by workers.

We have compressed and corroded and finally collapsed what used to be the core of a publication—its relationship with its readers, and the basic notion that one should not make it hard for them to read.

The coronavirus pandemic will have a pronounced toll on female health-care professionals, who already suffer from higher rates of burnout than their male counterparts.

The COVID-19 pandemic is, among other things, a massive experiment in telecommuting.

There appears to be something about being a weirdo that can uncork your mind and allow new ideas to flow.

It’s a momentary snapshot of digital ephemera, to be used and immediately discarded, much of it never meant to be seen by anyone and stripped of all context.

Cilantro: although it’s a vital herb in many of the world’s great cuisines, its distinct characteristics have been reviled in culture nearly as often as they’ve been celebrated.

In the E.R., what may have been unimaginable even a week ago seems completely possible, even likely, now.

The vastness of space almost defies conventional measures of distance.

This is the story of how a great republic went soft in the middle, lost the integrity of its guts and fell in on itself.

The CADS program bridges the gulf between a medical culture that too often abandons people the moment they become addicted, and a legal system that incarcerates them when they can’t recover on their own.

A number of contemporary artists are working at the intersection between medicine and textiles, exploring how each discipline can inform the other.

Do Not Disturb signs from hotels from almost every country in the world. Impressive.

Zoom fatigue is real. (Probably explains why I avoid video chats as much as possible.) And it’s not just me saying it:

  1. The reason Zoom calls drain your energy
  2. Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain
  3. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings

The story of these penguins makes me cry:

Penguins staring at Melbourne skyline

If the Earth gave Earth Day awards:

A very excellent and timely Nancy comic:

Nancy comic about being muted on a video call

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