January 17, 2020

An orchestra outside

I’m not sure when I became someone who wears headphones over his ears every time he ventures out of the house.

I’d like to blame audiobooks, or podcasts, or maybe streaming music. I’d like to think that the reason I’m always listening to something when I leave the house these days is because there’s just so much there for listening. There is, of course, no shortage of excellent audio entertainment available these days; I’d like to think that spending my day listening to that entertainment is a tribute to the many creators who put such hard work in creating such good stuff. A thank you, of sorts.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to venture outdoors and listen only to the sounds of the world around me. For years, I had hummed along to the ambient music of the built environment, had conversations with strangers, and danced to the rhythms of nature and all its wonders. My ears were unencumbered; I listened to the world, and listened deeply.

Recently, I’ve been feeling a little disconnected from the world around me; I’m beginning to realize that I don’t listen as often, or as deeply, as I once did. These days, my headphones play voices that are beamed from my phone, voices I have selected, sought out, and chosen. The serendipity of sound that came from listening to the world is gone.

Yesterday morning, I spent some time without my headphones. I listened to conversations, to noises, to the music that the world makes when you start to notice patterns in the sounds around you. By the end of the morning, I caught myself humming, dancing, finding a symphony in the cacophony of everyday life. I listened to the world, and listened deeply.

I’ll be leaving my headphones at home this afternoon, too. There’s a whole orchestra outside that I’ve been ignoring, and it’s time I gave it another listen.

Three poems

from but do dolphins want to swim with me
Crispin Best

in the morning / i sing alarm clocks / in the shower / and think about work / about how a towel is just a big napkin / for my body / how shampoo is just the way / i put ether in my hair / i hang my big napkin naked by the window / and look out at the world / men are dangerous / and weak / if you go to another country / you will be left alone there / too

— — —

Being in This World Makes Me Feel Like a Time Traveler
Kaveh Akbar

visiting a past self. Being anywhere makes me thirsty.
When I wake, I ask God to slide into my head quickly before I do.
As a boy, I spit a peach pit onto my father’s prayer rug and immediately

it turned into a locust. Its charge: devour the vast fields of my ignorance.
The Prophet Muhammad described a full stomach as containing
one-third food, one-third liquid, and one-third air.

For years, I kept a two-fists-long beard and opened my mouth only to push air out.
One day I stopped in a lobby for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres
and ever since, the life of this world has seemed still. Every night,

the moon unpeels itself without affection. It’s exhausting, remaining
humble amidst the vicissitudes of fortune. It’s difficult
to be anything at all with the whole world right here for the having.

— — —

We Lived Happily During the War
Ilya Kaminsky

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

What Is Required For Us To Continue, Saeed Jones:

Like going to the beach and standing waist-deep in the sea, there are moments when you can feel yourself swaying in history’s call and response. I consider these moments of actualized historical significance a joy. They are vital and hard-won. The clarity we are granted when we are able to pinpoint our letter in history’s alphabet is a joy. Being able to confidently rebuke people who insist we are obsessed with old wounds” is a joy. This isn’t feel-good” joy, I know. It’s the kind of joy that helps you keep your head up. Vital, sustaining, clarifying joy. A blood fortune. Consider erasure. Consider who usually gets to define the terms of our history and who usually is relegated to the margins. It is a wonder any of us actually know where we came from, why and how.

so this is the new year, Jenny Zhang:

The concept of future, and the prospect of changing it, are a big enough and nebulous enough burden that it feels like hubris to think I can make a difference at all. But that’s how all change starts, isn’t it? Just a little bit of refusal to give up, in the moment. A little bit of stubbornness in believing that change is possible even if the brightest minds of my generation say it’s not. Spite is a powerful motivator, and I want to live a life in defiance of everything capitalism, imperialism, and hegemony says I should be.

The empty promises of Marie Kondo and the craze for minimalism, Kyle Chayka:

The KonMari Method and minimalist self-help as a whole works because it is a simple, almost one-step procedure, as memorable as a marketing slogan. It is a shock treatment demonstrating that you do not need to depend on possessions for an identity; you still exist even when they are gone. But as Kondo conceives it, it is also a one-size-fits-all process that has a way of homogenising homes and erasing traces of personality or quirkiness, like the sprawling collection of Christmas decorations that one woman on the Netflix show was forced to decimate over the course of an episode. The overflow of nutcrackers and tinsel was a clear problem (as was her husband’s piles of baseball cards), but with their absence the home was sanitised and homogenised. Minimalist cleanliness is the state of acceptable normalcy that everyone must adhere to, no matter how boring it looks.

a premature and biased eulogy for Yo, Raph D’Amico:

Yo, completely accidentally, is about love. Specifically, that thing our brains do for those we love. When someone has made enough of an impression, we instantiate a simulation of them in our minds, a tiny homunculus process that runs in the background so they are always with us.

You’ve felt it. You were thinking of calling a friend, and they called you. (Back when people still used phones, ha.) You remembered to send that good luck text your friend just before that important interview—and felt their anxiety while they were in it. Just now, you heard the voice of an ex-partner in your mind who reminded you to take out the trash.

teen movie, Helena Fitzgerald:

Little Women is a book about longing to get inside someone else’s family. Laurie is all the only children who spent our time in high school at the homes of friends who had bigger, warmer, messier families, the lonely kids who were always looking to shoulder our way into someone else’s family, for whom love was a means of inclusion in a warm room in which we were not naturally welcome, and perhaps did not wholly belong. One thing this film gets right is the part of adolescence that is about always trying to get adopted by someone else, trying to find a family who will actively chose you. It is a movie about other people’s houses, and about the friend you had growing up whose house was always warmer — literally, temperature-wise — than yours, and the feeling at the late end of the night at a friend’s house when you didn’t want to leave, the dullness of returning to your own chilly, empty home. It is a movie about how both childhood and family are fictions, our own and other people’s.

Hype House and the Los Angeles TikTok Mansion Gold Rush, Taylor Lorenz:

In order to make a splash on the internet, you need the right people and so Chase acts as Hype House’s unofficial talent scout and a behind-the-scenes operator. He has a knack for spotting influencers early and knows what qualities it takes to get big online.

You have to be young, you have to have a lot of energy and personality and honestly a little weird. The weird people get the furthest on the internet,” Chase said. You either have to be talented at something, or a weird funny mix, or extremely good looking.”

Alex said, If you have all three, you’re a TikTok god.”

Knives Out And The Revenge Of The Pretty Good Movie, Anne Helen Petersen:

I walked out of the theater,” one person told me after seeing Knives Out, and wished every movie was this movie.” I get the sentiment, but that’s part of what got us in this position in the first place: the Hollywood tendency to watch lightning strike once, then try to engineer it to strike in precisely the same way again and again until everything electric about a film or genre or star is sucked away. As one person joked on Twitter, the likely studio reaction to this movie’s success won’t be to greenlight more adult-oriented genre films, but to make Knives Out 2: Pistols Out, a series called The Knives for Netflix, and the CGI children’s cartoon Baby Benoit! Hollywood still doesn’t seem to get it, in part because success like this is so difficult to reproduce: It’s the stars, but it’s more. It’s the genre, but it’s more. It’s a solid script, a savvy director, attention to detail, and excellent casting — and the end product adds up to more, rather than less, than the sum (both literally and figuratively) of its parts.

I plugged in my home address coordinates on this location-based haiku generator and it delivered this incredibly beautiful haiku that I will think about for a long time.

Haiku created by a location-based haiku generator

And a few more:

To end, the first and last times Mister Rogers sang Won’t You Be My Neighbor” on TV:

Thanks for being my digital neighbours, my friends. Today is a beautiful day in the neighbourhood. See you in a couple of weeks.

Get weekend reading posts in your inbox: subscribe to the fortnightly newsletter.

→ Weekend Reading