Some feelings on heartbreak (a year on).

A year ago I wrote a post about my experience of heartbreak. It’s been a helluva journey since then and I felt like revisiting the topic because I am very much one of those people who will continue to pick at a scab until it heals completely.

***

Rilke might have said it best. If two people managed not to get stuck in hatred during their honest struggles with each other, that is, in the edges of their passion that became ragged and sharp when it cooled and set, if they could stay fluid, active, flexible, and changeable in all of their interactions and relations, and, in a word, if a mutually human and friendly consideration remained available to them, then their decision to separate cannot easily conjure disaster and terror.

It was as disastrous as it could’ve been. But even unmitigated disasters recede eventually.

You can’t cure a person of their idea of you. 

We are too unyielding in our definitions of ex-girlfriend and ex-boyfriend. It conjures images of violence that we think we have to live up too. Extinguish. Extinct. Exclude. Excommunicate. Exile. Expunge. None of it sounds good, or caring. 

Erasure and silence become default. We equate forgetting with healing. We forget we knew how to tell this person everything. They forget they knew how to listen to you. Somewhere along the line everything about you that used to make them laugh makes them inexplicably angry. 

It’s just me. I tried to say. Same as I ever was. But of course, that was exactly the problem.

But of course, I wasn’t. I was bitter and hateful and tart. I was rhubarb and lemon and pomelo. You’re never quite the same after a break-up. I wondered which version was the real me. 

Hate is a strong word. But then again, I’ve only ever had strong feelings for him.

I don’t feel stuck. I feel vindicated. If he doesn’t want to change my mind, I’ve made peace with that. Then again, you can’t cure a person of their idea of you. His villainy has helped my sanity.

It’s easier to say bad things to a person after a break-up. If you keep saying I love you, things start to get weird. You invite pity.

I think it’s ok to live with both inside of you.

Silence, then, became the only way to communicate. It’s a strange feeling when you realise you might never speak to a person again. Especially when other people still speak to them all the time.

I got rid of everything that he touched thinking I could start over. But of course, I was what he touched most of all. And I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of me.

Sarah Manguso writes the first time you love someone who doesn’t love you back it seems wrong, not morally but logically, a river flowing up a mountain. How can such a feeling be wrong? You’ll return to that very river, as many times as it takes.

I’ve been too scared to return to the river. My body remembers drowning in it too well. 

There will never be a good time to hear that they are seeing somebody else. I suspect there is a better time than midnight on a Sunday though. 

I told a friend the other day that I am excited for what or who I encounter next. It was the truth. I’m excited to wade in and know that I might fall. Or better yet, sense when the current is going against me and decide that I should return to the river another time. 

I’ve come to realise all the boundaries I forgot to set,  the demands I was too shy to make. Too caught up with seeming charming and carefree. I never realised I was flattening myself into a mat and then blamed him for walking over it.

I have realised, many times over, that I tried to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to publicise my pain. I wanted apologies and remorse and acknowledgment of  HOW MUCH I HATED IT ALL. HOW MUCH IT FUCKING HURT. I capitalised my anger. I yelled it into a vacuum. And then I tried to play it cool, because I wanted him to see that I was ok. That life without him was really quite rosy actually. I wanted to say, look at me go.

The going happened without trying. This year has held lots of triumphs within it. And yet I can’t help but wonder if he knows how far I’ve come.

Something I’ve only just learnt: you’ll encounter lots of people that try to take credit for your victories. You’ll even parcel some of it over willingly. Hold some back for yourself. You are due. 

Nothing can prepare you for watching other people fall in love. It will detonate every kindness inside of you. But it is possible to be happy for someone else and sad for yourself. It’s like ice-cream soup. Cold but comforting.

What does love become when it fades? Slush. Scar tissue. Songs you still can’t bear to listen to. A story wheeled out at bedtime. 

I searched for meaning in all of it. In the American wilderness, in poetry, in cinema, in the yawning, elephantine loneliness. Every day I wondered if this would be the day I was fixed. If tomorrow I would wake up lighter. I never did. But I did keep waking up and that became enough.

Some days I laugh harder than I might ever have done. I choke on happiness. I feel gorged on and bathed in and wrapped up in it. And I know this is better than before. Before there were inklings and whispers and tiny sesames of doubt. I wanted to stop time. I’ve realised I am happy living through it again.

Cress and scarlet gilia grow back faster and stronger after being eaten. I think the same can be said of love. After it gobbles you up once, you’ll know how to better endure it.

Sadness isn’t a disease. We shouldn’t want to be immune from it. 

It no longer feels like a case of needing to be over it. Just ok that it happened. And I am.

Sarah Manguso also writes that perfect happiness is the privilege of deciding when things end. But then you have to find a new happiness.

I was denied that privilege and that decision. I was taught that love is something you cultivate and persevere through. But there is something to be said about being freed from another person’s unhappiness. I am learning to see the search as a gift. 

The Quarantine Diaries, Week Seven

Saturday 25 April – Friday 1 May

Watching:

Normal People; Not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Lots of big emotions to grapple with. Beautiful, painful and horny was how I described it to a friend, and I stick by that. I wasn’t that enamoured of the book, a good read, but I can’t say I could recall much of it when it came to binge the series and actually I enjoyed the adaptation much more for that. I wasn’t beholden to any notions of what I thought it should be. I was just rooting for these two people to figure themselves out and figure out how they could be together.

Devs; I started off liking it so much and then it did what Alex Garland’s Annihilation did too, which is let itself be swallowed or drowned out by the science of it all. The ambition began to outweigh my actual enjoyment of the thing itself and whilst I remained awed by it – the production and sound design and the cinematography especially – I stopped being emotionally invested.

The Assistant; Kitty Green’s film, starring the increasingly ubiquitous Julia Garner (no bad thing), about the day in the life of a big, important film producer’s assistant and the menacing minutiae that permeates it. Ostensibly it’s about HW, but it’s about the complicity in anyone corporate environment that allows the abuse of power to go unchecked. The fascinating thing to me was how Green portrays the well-oiled machine of collusion. It’s not that it goes unremarked upon, in fact many of her colleagues do remark on it. “Don’t worry, you’re not his type” says Matthew McFayden’s HR Manager in a moment at once disturbing and incredibly offhand. About halfway through, my Dad’s eyes started glazing over. “It’s like having a boring day at the office” he complained. “Exactly!” I proclaimed. The whole point is how normal it’s allowed to become. Reactions that might have emerged as outrage – Garner does low-key balking very well – have crystallised into light office banter. No wonder the women who spoke out about HW were so disillusioned or reluctant to; Green’s film (beautiful seems like the wrong adjective, perhaps cunningly?) cunningly illustrates how a day of quiet indignation from a lowly assistant can be shrewdly shrugged off; how a woman’s silence – next to her appearance – is thought to be her most valuable asset.

The RSA’s ‘Bridges to the Future’ event series. Lots of big ideas to grapple with.

This live-cam of above-water manatees in Florida. Really, really calming.

Reading:

Plodded slowly through The Shipping News. Proulx’s behemoth of a novel Barkskins was infinitely more propulsive than this much slimmer volume. Great characterisations, great descriptions, just wasn’t that bowled over by it.

Very excited to start The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai tomorrow.

A brilliant essay in The New Yorker on how coronavirus is rewriting our imaginations

“We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling…As a society, we’re watching the statistics, following the recommendations, listening to the scientists…We’re learning to trust our science as a society. That’s another part of the new structure of feeling.”

This long-form piece on a woman’s memory loss in Man Repeller.

“Her life these days is one of calm precision. It’s also one of constant adjustment and renegotiation, not just of her time and energy, but of her life story. It can be hard to fathom the loss of one’s narrative arc, or the kind of self-mythologizing implicit to looking back. Early on though, she learned the challenges were not her enemy; her own resistance to them was. “Change is difficult for people, period,” she says. “But resistance is what stops people from embracing the strategies they need to make or build change.” Bruley no longer resists. Instead, she’s soft with herself, and she believes this is the difference between knowing one needs to grow and actually doing it… We could spend our time sifting through the particulars, assigning blame or regretting things didn’t turn out differently, but Bruley thinks we’d do better to look ahead. Be soft. Write new stories.”

Also Haley Nahman, who wrote the article, has lovely newsletters which I’d recommend you sign up for. Her latest one particularly struck a chord and resonated with some of what I was feeling last week…

“I’d ask how you’re doing but I’m finding that question increasingly difficult to answer, so I won’t burden you. It’s so strange that my life has never been simpler (in a practical sense) and yet harder to parse (in every other).

Haley also quotes from Jenny Odell’s book How To Do Nothing which I read back in January (that feels like a bygone era) and has been doing the rounds again recently, what with her focus on care and sustenance over productivity, or perhaps redefining the former in the context of the latter.

“In the context of health and ecology, things that grow unchecked are often considered parasitic or cancerous. Yet we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and the regenerative…. We do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way [as expansion]. But we should.” 

Haley also linked to this piece in The New Republic, about resisting productivity during a pandemic. Something I’ve been doing with great alacrity.

The work of care, of real meaning, is what we should be concerning ourselves with now. It is not optimized, or “disrupting,” or any of that. It is just essential…You don’t have to write your novel. You don’t have to reorganize your closet. Burying yourself in mindless busywork is not the solution. So, go ahead, turn the video function off when your boss calls.” [OH MY GOD THIS. HAVE BEEN DOING THIS QUITE A BIT. SORRY, BUT NO-ONE NEEDS TO SEE MY PANDEMIC FACE/UNBRUSHED HAIR/PYJAMA T-SHIRT].

Cooking:

Not really cooking, but I’ve been perfecting the art of the sandwich over the past few weeks and today I produced not just a sandwich, but art: two slices of toasted brown sourdough with basil pesto, melted vegan cheese, avocado and sun dried tomatoes. Garnished with a side order of Kettle chips.

Doing:

I made my best friend Becky a zine and sent it to her in the post. Possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever done.

Marbling. Here’s a series I did with black ink (trying to make it sound more artistic and deliberate than wafting paper through a bowl of black-blobbed water). I like the bottom left one of the bottom row because it looks like a mountain. I hadn’t noticed that before.

The Quarantine Diaries, Week Five & Six

Saturday 11 – Friday 24 April

Have we really been doing this for six weeks?!

Had an off week, hence the doubling up. I returned to my parents house in Surrey on Easter Monday and despite the pastoral haven (read: hayfever trigger), abundantly stocked store cupboard (miso paste! blueberry jam! self-raising flour! vegan mayo!) and cat cuddles (consensual or no), it threw me off my routine a bit.

I’ve been feeling lethargic and leaden, both in body and brain. Like I’m trapped in a sourdough starter of my own making. All my pet projects and lists have been tragically unattended to and instead I’m devoting the surplus time to scrutinising the breakouts on my cheeks and making collages from old magazines. I think I have a case of stasis.

I had a conversation with Michael from work and finally articulated this ‘bleurgh’ feeling that has been lingering like a bad smell for the past couple of days, and I think it is this…

‘How are you?’ has become a difficult question to answer, particularly during an empathy-conscious time when people are asking (interrogating?) it more than usual. Because normally you can deflect. You’re like Jan Vertonghen.

‘How are you?’

‘Good! I saw this amazing play the other day / smashed a spin class / had a really nice dinner with uni friends / took myself to a classical music concert / got to do this cool interview for work.’

All of these are answers I could’ve given to that question the month before the outbreak of coronavirus. None of which really answer the question levelled at me. But as conversational segues, they hold up pretty well.

Now, with these indicators of productivity and wellness having been subtracted from our existence, the conversational buffers have gone. We’re all sitting ducks and the question ‘how are you?’ penetrates to our very core.

And the answer means admitting ‘not great’ more often than I’d like to admit. Or just fine. Like my synapses have glazed over. I feel like a fire in my belly has been extinguished. It’s just fine in my belly now. How long can you make a conversation about flower-pressing or marbling last? When I’m in London I yearn for sylvan space and quieted thoughts and now that I’m here, it’s too quiet. I want my big city back (running down a tube escalator with disco tunes blaring from my headphones, squeezing past patrons in a packed pub with a dribbling pint in hand, queuing outside of the Prince Charles Cinema amid the lantern-lacquered streets of Chinatown) and with it my deferred dreams.

That being said, today was better, and I felt more renewed and also thoroughly seen by this tweet.

Watching:

Films

Had a run of mediocrity and have been prioritising TV. On my must-watch soon list: Wanda, The Assistant, Mickey and the Bear.

TV

  • Quiz; obviously. Matthew MacFayden’s delivery of the line “I believe he was making love by Wednesday” is a perfect film.
  • Little Fires Everywhere; Reese Witherspoon is essentially playing the same rich bitch character she nailed in Big Little Lies, but as with the novel there is a lot of depth to all the women characters; their foibles, their motivations, their manipulations and it makes for riveting viewing. Except the finale, which felt like a victim of contrivance. Arson is a really hard crime to justify the motive for, and ultimately I’m not sure the series sold it.
  • Middleditch & Schwartz; fuck me did I cackle when a There Will Be Blood reference / impression came up in episode two after all that Twitter chat; also I love how self-referential they are even mid-sketch (breaking character to remember characters, calling each other out on their choices of names and inability to do accents), it’s improbably good improv.
  • Devs; early days, but intrigued so far – kudos to the production designer Mark Digby and composer Geoff Barrow who struck me as the MVPs in episode one. Episode two confirmed that I am fully into it.
  • Insecure; every time this comes back I wonder how I’ve survived without it.
  • Run; Merritt Weaver and Domnhall Gleeson are fun to watch, but I wonder how far this premise will stretch. I imagine thinly, but we’ll see.

YouTube

Something else I comfort-watch all the time are Vogue’s beauty routine videos. There’s something both hilarious and soothing about watching women wash their faces and apply serums.

I’d never seen Greta Lee’s before and now I idolise her and want her haircut. To be honest I’m envious of everyone’s haircuts ever since I went at mine with a pair of scissors like Norman Mailer rebutting feminists (with explosive relish). Also it made me want to invest in a silk turban.

I’ve also been thinking lots about space and vacillating between gratefulness for a relative capaciousness, and yearning for something even more upscale. The two poles of which can be illustrated by these apartment tour videos. Seriously, that book case in David Harbour’s home is my sexual orientation at this point.

Reading:

Speaking of books, I read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss which I wasn’t that enamoured by. If anyone’s read any more of hers I’d been keen for recommendations.

Currently working my way through The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, whose prose is always flint-sharp and faultless.

Yuval Noah Hariri on our attitudes to death in The Guardian.

That big Covid insight report in The Sunday Times.

I’ve been doing a bit of collaging and this column in the NY Review of Books perfectly encapsulates why it’s such a calming quarantine activity.

Listening to:

Podcasts:

Zoe Kazan on Fresh Air. This was a weird one. I absolutely adore Zoe Kazan; I think she’s eloquent, thoughtful, a great writer and brilliant on Twitter. I applaud her choice in life partner. But Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, seemed really intent on focusing on negative conversation starters. I’m sure Kazan greenlit their being spoken about, but it almost seemed as if Gross was pummelling Kazan with questions. How did she feel about her grandfather giving up names in the HUAC trial? What are her experiences of sexism? Of anorexia? Of depression? Important topics yes, but where were the questions about Kazan’s writing process, or how she decides between writing a play or a screenplay? Or how she gets ideas. They touch on her acting work in HBO’s Plot Against America and the Coens film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, but I couldn’t help but think there were other avenues to be explored. Still, I’m always ready to listen to Kazan, no matter the topic. She has a fierce intelligence which shines through.

Lucy Prebble on When Harry Met Sally for ‘Rule of Three’. a.k.a. one of my favourite writers on one of my favourite films. Contains lots of good preamble about writing Succession and how she has become less precious about her work, valuing alternate lines and trying to disentangle criticism from change. She also had this great phrase that stuck with me about writing dialogue which is that you’re looking for your characters to respond to things in a way that rings “surprisingly but truthfully.” Then when she starts discussing what makes WHMS tick, click, sing, e.t.c , well, you can see why she’s so good at what she does.

Still Processing ‘How to Learn From a Plague’; in which they talk about the documentary How To Survive a Plague. I got quite into learning about Act-Up around the release of 120 BPM and read the book / watched the film by David France, so it was interesting to hear it refracted through the lens of our current pandemic.

Lots of The Daily and The Guardian Long Reads which are my preferred access points to the current affairs.

Music;

SAWAYAMA which is a thrilling blend of Britney Spears meets Limp Bizkit. In fact it’s what I imagine Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden’s relationship sounds like, with added edge or griminess. Or even Grimes-y-ness.

Can you tell I don’t know how to write about music?

Cooking:

This vegan paella from Matt Pritchard’s book Dirty Vegan. Thank you Jake for the gift.

Doing:

Flower-pressing. Zine-making. Eating lunch in the sun and relishing my school packed-lunch vibe – cheese sandwiches, crisps, pots of grapes. NOTHING VERY MUCH.

The Quarantine Diaries, Week Four

Saturday 4 – Friday 10 April

Watching:

High Fidelity on Hulu; a sparklingly-soundtracked revamp of the 2000 John Cusack movie with Zoe Kravitz in the lead role as the charming yet curmudgeonly record store owner.

Pros: Kravitz is a delight to watch, particularly when sparring with Jake Lacy’s character Clyde; the music, the sexual politics (women can be dicks too!), the acknowledgement that mourning the end of a relationship can take a really long time, the sartorial inspiration.

Cons: the aspirational aesthetic / bullshit fiction of living in New York City – Kravitz’s character drinks whiskey neat, smokes like a chimney, eats fruity pebbles for breakfast – and yet her skin is perfection, she has that boho chic loft apartment that she manages to afford living in alone despite working at a record store where custom is sporadic at best (except on Saturdays when it thrives), but yes I do also want to escape to that fantasy land and watch a beautiful woman who is her own boss gallivant her way through hangovers and heartbreaks and vinyl-based woes.

My Life as a Courgette; perfection.

Season 5 and 6 of The Americans; I still have the final handful of episodes to go, but my god has this gotten really sombre and tragic. It is a joyless show. It’s multi-layered and like many of their espionage missions, masterfully executed – it’s closest televisual compadre is probably Mad Men in terms of its laser-like focus on a lesser-known part of American history, but whereas that show retained a shimmer of glamour and wit amid the all the soul-destroying, this is storytelling at its most austere. The New Yorker called it the whiskey sour of television, because watching it is indeed bittersweet. Perhaps the grand finale will restore my early ardour for it, but right now I’m wondering if I should have sipped it rather than downing it all in one go.

A conversation between writers Alice Vincent and Lucy Jones about their books (Rootbound and Losing Eden respectively) on our reclamation of, or rather, re-immersion into nature.

Reading:

The Years by Annie Ernaux; an exquisite, assemblage-style memoir that traces her experience, though told through a sort-of collective third person, of the period from 1941 to 2006. Melancholic and impressionistic, she weaves in a vast array of subjects including WWII, the Tour de France, feminism, consumerism, the digital revolution, popular culture, 9/11, marriage, divorce, motherhood, creativity and selfhood. It’s both wide-ranging and incredibly specific, personal yet universal. It was gorgeous.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean; a birthday gift and a gift of a book. A non-fiction account of the fire at the Los Angeles Public Library that burned over 400,000 books, that despite dealing with destruction and arson, is alight with characters, poetry and wit.

This feature in the New York Review of Books by my new favourite essayist Leslie Jamison on life as a single parent, and a symptomatic one at that, during coronavirus.

An interview with Fran Lebowitz in The New Yorker. This answer particularly tickled me, when asked what she considers an essential service…

Bookstores. I think they’re essential. It’s not as though, unfortunately, bookstores were mobbed with people. They could have them open and just let in two people at a time. On the other hand, I touch every book at a bookstore, so that may not be the best thing.

Listening to:

The High Fidelity playlist on Spotify.

This interview with director Eliza Hittman and her editor / partner Scott Cummings on their film Never Rarely Sometimes Always for IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit.

Cooking:

Mushroom, lentil and red pepper linguine. Kinda bolognese-y, but more vegetable-y.

Homemade pesto pizza topped with mushrooms and asparagus.

Doing:

Watching blooper reels on YouTube. (My go-to procrastination (de)vice). Eating Marmite on everything: toast, crumpets, jacket potatoes. Luxuriating in the sheer pleasantness of being able to read for an hour or so every morning. Browsing the open access archive on Project Muse. Thinking about public spaces, especially libraries, and how nice it will be to linger in them again.

Oh and I also made a little video…

The Quarantine Diaries, Week Three

Saturday 28 March – Friday 3 April

Watching:

Made it through Season 4 of The Americans which had a curiously fitting storyline about pathogens and pandemics.

Also had a very good week for film-watching, here are some highlights:

  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always; the new Eliza Hittman, which sustains her reputation as a filmmaker of solemn, stirring insight. As with It Felt Like Love and Beach Rats it concerns teenagers, but with more narrative drive or urgency in that one its young female characters must journey to New York to procure an abortion. Hard-hitting but with a feather-light touch.
  • The Last Days of Disco; Whit Stillman movies are always a riot of witty repartee and sly social commentary, and this being soundtracked to a raft of disco tunes makes it all the more delightful.
  • Thief; Michael Mann’s gorgeously shot neo-noir about a thief trying to get out after one last job. Hypnotic, moody and tense. And goddamn, that diner scene is one for the books.
  • Breathless; a Godardian classic. I enjoyed the pace and the wry humour, the misogyny less so.

Reading:

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, a slick piece of meta-fiction set in an American drama school in the 80s, ostensibly about two of its students who fall in love, but equally about power, performance and privilege. She creates a narrative which she then assiduously pokes holes in from the perspective of another character, decades later. It’s remarkably clever and occasionally confounding. I’m not sure I cared about any of the characters, but I was invested on a formal level, always wondering what path I was going to be lead down and if Choi would ever pull back the curtain to reveal the true story.

Another Gaze 04. I have an essay in the latest issue on the cinematography of Ashley Connor and creating an aesthetic that is particular to teenage female identity, but the issue is full of conversations, interviews and meditations on creative practice, the environment and womanhood and I’m thoroughly enjoying meandering through it.

I’ve also been really enjoying Simran Hans’ newsletter Treats.

And this feature in The Atlantic on why the pandemic is a disaster for feminism.

Listening to:

Dua Lipa over and over and over again. Her new album Future Nostalgia is a perfect pop album, an anthemic feminist statement and the best excuse I’ve heard to dance this year. It’s a disco-driven, ballad-free, bravado-heavy feat of music. My fave tracks are Cool and Pretty Please.

This brilliant episode of Recode Decode with Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List.

This episode of Call Your Girlfriend, about curating and customising an environment you want to live in.

Doing:

Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. I’m very much in that part of the routine where everything’s fine, and I’m enjoying being able to read and mooch and ponder and wander more, but where it’s becoming increasingly hard to talk about what you’re up to. Easy answer: nothing. But that doesn’t warm you to people. It’s good to talk about books and films and ideas and I’m grateful to have a short film side project where I can feel like I’m achieving something practical, but sometimes it feels like what I’m really doing is trying to impose structure – with varying degrees of success – on an amorphous puddle of time. Turning the gloopy batter of our existence into a small, digestible pancake so that it might make the whole thing go down easier.

I have also been dancing to lots of Dua Lipa.

Cooking

Vegan mushroom stroganoff. I used the linked recipe as a basis but swapped out the oat cream for coconut milk, which made it slightly more saucy, but no less delicious.

The Quarantine Diaries, Week Two

Saturday 21 – Friday 27 March

Watching:

Had a Mike Nichols double-bill at the weekend in the form of The Birdcage (hilarious) and Primary Colours (gripping, poignant), and plan to follow-up with an Elaine May double-bill in the form of The Heartbreak Kid and A New Leaf soon.

Blasted through Season Three of The Americans. Some really dark and grisly moments in this one, and it was particularly good at exploring the trauma that comes with being a spy. It’s not all sex and gadgets.

SXSW have made all their short films available to watch and I’ve taken the opportunity to go to town. Some highlights below…

No Crying at the Dinner Table, directed by Carol Nguyen (doc); a painful, poignant, almost uncomfortably intimate exploration of family and memory, as Carol asks her parents to recall their experiences of growing up in Vietnam and her sister’s experience of being raised by them. They cover guilt, regret, sadness and of course, there is crying at the dinner table, but all the emotional tumult there is a stillness and composure that is really beautiful to watch.

Blocks, directed by Bridget Moloney (narrative); a surreal, existential comedy/polemic about a young mother who starts vomiting lego blocks.

Still Wylde, directed by Ingrid Haas (narrative); a charming, funny, sunny (until it suddenly gets very real and very sad) short about an on-off again couple reluctantly deciding to have a baby (until it doesn’t go to plan). Some great visual flourishes and a really candid script elevate this into quite the gut-punch of a film.

Reading:

I’ve started reading The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells which is as bleak as every review forewarned. I always task myself with reading these types of books, because it is urgent and vital that we stay informed, but trying to process all the figures and analogies and general notion of the Earth’s combustion isn’t easy. So I’m doing this in lots of little sips. But this passage has already left an imprint:

The climate system that raised us, and raised everything we now know as human culture and civilisation, is now, like a parent, dead. And the climate system we have been observing for the last several years, is not our bleak future in preview. It would be more precise to say that is is a product of our recent climate past, already passing behind us in a dustbin of environmental nostalgia. There is no longer any such thing as a natural disaster.

I’ve also been doing lots of thinking about how we should be reporting about the climate crisis in the same way as coronavirus. In my opinion, the pressure to wash your hands and stay home for the greater good of everyone should be the pressure you feel to live a plant-based lifestyle, or at least be making some kind of substantial change to your diet / routine / consumption that has the power to reduce carbon emissions. Emily Atkin’s HEATED newsletter sent out a particularly good edition that touches on how powerful a collective mindset that influences individual action can be, and how that might apply to our response to the climate crisis moving forward.

Ruby Tandoh’s zine on mental wellbeing, which she uploaded for people to read for free. I particularly enjoyed Anna Lenkiewicz’s essay on how culture has stigmatised the word ‘crazy’ and tended to direct that word towards women.

Plus Jia Tolentino interviews Barbara Ehrenreich on her raging feminism, her distrust of solidarity, craving connectedness, narcissism and coronavirus. Also Jia Tolentino on how writing compares to cooking pasta for Bon Appetit. I liked this:

It is the self-perpetuating solace of discovering, over and over, that you don’t need much—you hardly need any equipment, you can get it done in strange places—to be satisfied, or even, occasionally, thrilled.

Of course, the same goes for making and eating pasta.

Listening to:

In a bid to really immerse myself in the above reading material, I also listened to the Longform podcast episode with David Wallace Wells, who talks less about the content and the stats (thank god) and more about how he came to write the book and what the reception has been like.

This beautiful, meandering conversation between poet Mary Oliver and Krista Tippett about listening to the world, for On Being. It’s a spiritually, philosophically-inclined podcast and they seem to be resurfacing some of their archival episodes, including interviews with Rebecca Solnit and Ezra Klein that I plan to check out.

Grace by Jeff Buckley. God I love this album. Its shiver-inducing but feels like a blanket all at the same time. Lilac Wine is probably one of my favourite songs in the world. There’s also something really validating and certifying about returning to an album you’ve consecrated and finding that it still does something to you. I go to a different place when I listen to this music. So its ideal when you’re on day fourteen of being in your bedroom.

The episode of Table Manners with Riz Ahmed, who seems intense! Like one of those worldly, sage people who have crammed so many experiences into their life that when you sit them down to talk about it, it can be a bit overwhelming. But I liked his explanations of the Pakistani food he loves to eat, and how he grew up thinking pitta bread was Pakistani and not Greek because it was deemed a better alternative than supermarket-bought naan.

Doing:

Trying not to fall into a pit of despair. Making a list of all the films I want to to watch during quarantine. Worrying that I won’t get through them all and will have scuppered my chances of supreme cinematic literacy. Walking around the Woodberry and Watlhamstow Wetlands and listening to the ample birdsong and the breeze. Making lots of tasty food (see below). Definitely eating more calories than I’m burning and trying not to think too much about that. You need layers for quarantine like hibernation right?

Cooking:

Potato curry

Potato curry! I diced up three jacket potatoes I had in the cupboard and popped them in the slow cooker with a tin of tomatoes, a tin of coconut milk. Plus some frozen peas, some leftover green pepper and chopped coriander. I added in chilli, turmeric, fresh ginger, paprika, cumin and salt. Easy peasy and delicious.

This week I also made vegan banana bread with a made-up recipe from my head and it turned out rather brilliantly, but because I didn’t write any of the measurements down it’s a gamble as to whether that will ever happen again. If you have a sweet-tooth I would recommend adding in some dates or brown sugar, because this was fairly unsweet.

  • four browned bananas, blended with a dash of oat milk
  • about 75g of coconut flour
  • a cup of maple syrup
  • a generous dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • fresh ginger
  • a tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • a teaspoon of baking powder

And on Sunday I did a roast dinner for one, which was equal parts elegant and a little bit sad. Food that good deserves to be seen and shared. I roasted my potatoes with some colourful chantenay carrots and had lots of purple sprouting broccoli. But the pièce de résistance was this marvellous nut roast, again a cupboard-fuelled concoction. I literally whacked all the ingredients in a big pot and 100ml of vegetable stock and hot water and let it simmer for about an hour, until it was soft. Then blitzed it up with a little bit of flour and popped it into a loaf tin and cooked for another 30-45 mins.

In future I would probably add a more diverse array of nuts, and I’ve seen recipes that add nut butters which I definitely wouldn’t be averse to but the apricots added a really nice bit of sweetness, so can recommend!

  • 3 chopped celery sticks
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 250g cashew nuts
  • chopped coriander & parsley
  • 1 chopped beetroot
  • a handful of dried apricots
  • salt and pepper
  • a sprinkle of chilli flakes

The Quarantine Diaries, Week One

Saturday 14 – Friday 20 March

Watching:

Is there a more perfect couple than Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys? I sense not. And I sense this is a predominant part of the reason I am currently (recurrently) obsessed with The Americans, the TV show in which the real-life couple play on-screen couple The Jennings; KGB spies who infiltrate Cold War era America by posing as, or rather being an all-American family. I can’t take my eyes off of them.

Well, I can. And I did. I watched Season One about four years ago and then forgot all about The Jennings . But now I’m 100% back in the game, and fully intent on finishing all five remaining seasons before my Amazon Prime free trial is up. It reminds me of The Good Wife in its enthralling blend of sex and politics, except with added anguish, pain, betrayal and murder.

Film highlights: It Felt Like Love, I Wish, The Wild Goose Lake

Listening to:

Halsey’s Manic, which manages to feel both angst-ridden and soothing. The Daily podcast, which can be a little bit Corona-centric, but the two special episodes they released this week on solace and Tom Hanks, provided welcome respite. As did the Ghibliotheque‘s first three episodes from their expedition to Japan. It’s an ambient sojourn through Tokyo, with segments on souvenirs, museums and cream puffs. A.k.a. pure joy.

Reading:

Two of my favourite literary Olivia’s have been writing about the coronavirus. First up is Laing on the consolations to be found amidst loneliness for The New York Times, picking up on the themes she first touched upon in her book The Lonely City

One of the hardest things to grasp about loneliness is that it’s a shared state, inhabited by a multitude at any time. Whatever anxiety you’re experiencing right now, you’re not alone... During a long spell of loneliness, I found that art was among the richest consolations, and that voyaging into other people’s worlds by way of novels, paintings and films had a magical capacity for making me feel connected, seen, met.

The second Olivia (Sudjic) has a new column for Buro (never heard of them before), in which she details her experience of contracting coronavirus and how to stay calm in a crisis. These are her abbreviated tips:

  1. write things down with pen and paper
  2. draw
  3. cook
  4. learn a language
  5. if you can’t concentrate on reading listen to an audio book
  6. move around
  7. call people
  8. sing or play music

It is perhaps, optimistic to expect to maintain a sense of zen 24/7, but the Creative Independent’s Toolkit for staying calm & centred is useful to return to in those moments when you’re feeling more off-kilter. Particularly this one on recession-proofing your creative practice, and trying as much as possible to define this as an opportunity to be meditative rather than productive.

I picked up the sequel to Call Me By Your Name in a pub that had books going for free on their piano, remembering how ravishing and romantic it had been. And André Aciman’s Find Me, more than delivers on continuing that thread. It’s less intense, and more contemplative, less sizzle, more wistful, but was nevertheless a welcome retreat. I particularly enjoyed this passage about meaningful people in your life not disappearing or forgetting, despite not actively being in touch with them, which is something we can probably all relate to at the moment…

he had forgotten nothing and didn’t want to forget, and that even if he couldn’t write or call to see whether I too had forgotten nothing, still, he knew that though neither of us sought out the other it was only because we had never really parted and that, regardless of where we were, who we were with, and whatever stood in our way, all he needed when the time was right was simply to come and find me.

I’ll admit, I’ve been fetishizing the apocalypse and predominantly eating canned goods and comfort food (with a healthy amount of veg thrown in for good measure to keep my immune system on virus-busting form), but I haven’t really been cooking. That impetus changed with this article in The Atlantic on the comfort of cooking a risotto in these anxiety-inducing times and so next time I venture out to a supermarket, I may just stray into a more adventurous aisle.

Speaking of comfort, I find it in coffee. I am part human, part caffeine. If you sliced me open, I suspect coffee granules or that hot, dense sludge you find compressed at the bottom of a cafetière would ooze out as much as blood or insides or whatever else entertains our entrails. I tend not to poeticise or romanticise the necessity of having a cup of coffee in the morning. It’s functional. I feel my brain fog clear and my organs stand to attention. I drink to think. That being said, I did enjoy this piece on LitHub on the metaphorical power of a good cup of coffee, especially the fact that the writer isn’t above microwaving coffee, adding milk or drinking instant, which I go through obscene amounts of.

the reason for that very first cup? The grounding, not the grind. To get a grip on the day. If ever there were a symbol of here and now, it’s coffee; standing in for every coffee that came before, preparing a person to get on with whatever comes next; holding her in between, suspending the present, whenever it is. Coffee lets us start, and start again, and start over—however old a person feels, however stunned to have gotten so old, fortified with coffee, she can carry on.

Doing:

Bedroom yoga. Bedroom everything, actually. Meditation with my housemate in our lounge to shake things up a bit. Bird-watching. Or more accurately, spying on the movements of one particular robin that frequents our garden. Running in the park. Teaching my parents how to use Zoom. Wandering about the house in a daze wondering what this all means.

I’ve also decided to treat this like an extended University reading week and will be trying to devote some time to learning new things; not for a qualification or a grade, but just for knowledge, enrichment and to focus my brain on something that isn’t the news. I stumbled on this list of free courses hosted by Ivy League colleges in the US via Twitter, and have promptly signed up to one on ‘The Ethics of Memory’ and another on ‘The Architectural Imagination.’ Also I’m planning to rinse the Sundance Collab site for their free filmmaking resources, masterclasses and webinars.

N. x

All of the film recommendations (by women directors) from my podcast guests in one place!…

Every week on the podcast I ask my guest to suggest a film by a woman director that they think is an undervalued gem (basically all of them, ever) and here are they are all in one place, ripe for a ready-made watch-list…

  • Madeline’s Madeline (2018) directed by Josephine Decker – recommended by Georgia Goggin
  • Leave No Trace (2018) directed by Debra Granik – recommended by Grace Barber-Plentie and Catherine Slater
  • Shakedown (2018) directed by Leilah Weinraub – recommended by Grace Barber-Plentie
  • Blockers (2018) directed by Kay Cannon – recommended by Helen Simmons
  • Innocence (2004) directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović – recommended by Maya Maffioli
  • Pariah (2011) directed by Dee Rees – recommended by Delphine Lievens
  • Fat Girl (2001) directed by Catherine Breillat – recommended by Caragh Davison
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) directed by Desiree Akhavan – recommended by Emma Duffy
  • Mari (2019) directed by Georgia Parris – recommended by Beccy Ashdown and Natalie Samson
  • Revenge (2017) directed by Coralie Fargeat – recommended by Loran Dunn
  • Of Love & Law (2017) directed by Hikaru Toda – recommended by Jo Duncombe
  • The Rider (2018) directed by Chloé Zhao – recommended by Síle Culley
  • Embracing (1992) directed by Naomi Kawase – recommended by Chloe Trayner
  • Homecoming (2019) directed by Beyoncé – recommended by Ruka Johnson
  • Prevenge (2016) directed by Alice Lowe – recommended by Jen Moss
  • Just Charlie (2019) directed by Rebekah Fortune – recommended by Alexzandra Jackson
  • Where Do We Go Now? (2011) directed by Nadine Labaki – recommended by Amy Smart
  • Caramel (2007) and Capernaum (2018) directed by Nadine Labaki – recommended by Gini Godwin
  • Pin Cushion (2018) directed by Deborah Haywood – recommended by Amy Smart
  • Interview (1979) directed by Veronika Soul & Caroline Leaf – recommended by Rachel Pronger
  • All of Molly Dineen‘s films! – recommended by Ellen Evans
  • Garrett Bradley‘s short docs – recommended by Ellen Evans
  • The Second Mother (2015) directed by Anna Muylaert – recommended by Sophie Powell
  • Wanda (1970) directed by Barbara Loden – recommended by Flore Cosqeuer
  • Vendredi Soir (2002) directed by Claire Denis – recommended by Rowan Woods
  • Divines (2016) directed by Houda Benyamina – recommended by Sarah Brocklehurst
  • Shirkers (2018) directed by Sandi Tan – recommended by Roxy Rezvany
  • Zana (2019) directed by Antoneta Kastrati – recommended by Dorota Lech
  • Hustlers (2019) directed by Lorene Scafaria – recommended by Margaret Boykin
  • Desert One (2019) directed by Barbara Kopple – recommended by Elise McCave
  • The Rest of Us (2019) directed by Aisling Chin-Yee – recommended by Pamela B. Green
  • Measure (2019) directed by Karen Chapman – recommended by Robyn Citizen
  • Watermelon Juice (2019) directed by Irene Moray – recommended by Robyn Citizen
  • Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2020) directed by Céline Sciamma – recommended by Nicole Dorsey, Jess Jones
  • Rocks (2020) directed by Sarah Gavron – recommended by Nicole Dorsey and Clarisse Loughrey
  • Atlantics (2020) directed by Mati Diop – recommended by Nicole Dorsey, Jess Jones
  • The Souvenir (2019) directed by Joanna Hogg – recommended by Jess Jones
  • The Souvenir Part II (coming soon) directed by Joanna Hogg – recommended by Cate Kane
  • When They See Us (2019, TV series) directed by Ava DuVernay – recommended by Rebecca Day
  • Booksmart (2019) directed by Olivia Wilde – recommended by Jess Jones
  • Saint Maud (2020) directed by Rose Glass – recommended by Jess Jones
  • Dirty God (2019) directed by Sacha Polak – recommended by Corrina Antrobus
  • When Night is Falling (1995) directed by Patricia Rozema – recommended by Nia Hughes

2019 highlights reel

I’m late to the list party, and that perturbs me because I’m never late.

But I read this manifesto on Another Gaze about how the list is a capitalist concept that “colonises the mind and impoverishes the imagination” and basically shits on all things filmmaking and suddenly I felt swayed and decided not to publish one in protest of bad and pernicious and arbitrary things.

But then it felt disingenuous, because I bloody love a list. So here it is: the films and books and TV that I consumed in 2019 and now consecrate with these lists.

Favourite Films of 2019

  1. Portrait of a Lady On Fire (Céline Sciamma)
  2. Uncut Gems (The Safdie brothers)
  3. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
  4. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
  5. Saint Maud (Rose Glass)
  6. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot)
  7. Matthias & Maxime (Xavier Dolan)
  8. Waves (Trey Edward Shults)
  9. Beats (Brian Welsh)
  10. The Hottest August (Brett Story)
  11. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
  12. Hale County This Morning This Evening (RaMell Ross)
  13. Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy)

Favourite ‘New-to-Me’ Films of 2019

I loved this Tweet from Durga Chew-Bose (a brilliant writer on film) about films you discover long after their release. It does seem more interesting to consider why and how they surfaced to you that particular year. What compelled you to watch it? What enabled its excavation? Whatever the reason, there’s something somehow more enjoyable about finally getting round to a film you’ve been meaning to watch and having it match up or surpass your expectations, or even better watching something with no expectations whatsoever and finding yourself spectacularly surprised and wondering how you’d never managed to see it until now, but then finding yourself glad you hadn’t because it meant you got to see it just then and what a perfect two-or-so hours you just had because of that.

Here are the gems – hidden, or obscured to me – that I finally made time for in 2019, in order of when I saw them rather than adored them.

  • River of Grass (1994, Kelly Reichardt)
  • Still Walking (2008, Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  • Girlfriends (1978, Claudia Weil)
  • Hard Eight (1996, Paul Thomas Anderson)
  • Barry Lyndon (1975, Stanley Kubrick)
  • Broadcast News (1987, James L. Brooks)
  • Maborosi (1995, Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  • Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg)
  • Punchline (1988, David Seltzer)
  • The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Favourite Books I Read In 2019

  1. The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
  2. Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
  3. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  4. Severance by Ling Ma
  5. Florida by Lauren Groff
  6. This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein
  7. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
  8. She Wants It by Jill Soloway

Favourite TV Shows of 2019

  1. Chernobyl
  2. Succession (Season 2)
  3. Fleabag (Season 2)
  4. State of the Union
  5. When They See Us
  6. Barry (Season 2)
  7. Giri/Haji
  8. This Way Up
  9. Unbelievable
  10. Catch-22
  11. The Virtues

Favourite Albums of 2019

  1. Salt by Angie McMahon
  2. Ventura by Anderson .Paak
  3. Chasing Summer by SiR
  4. All Mirrors by Angel Olsen
  5. i,i by Bon Iver
  6. Kiwanuka by Michael Kiwanuka
  7. Wasteland, Baby! by Hozier
  8. Cuz I Love You by Lizzo
  9. Late Night Feelings by Mark Ronson
  10. Assume Form by James Blake

LFF 2019 | The Last Black Man in San Francisco

I’ve never seen a film like The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Written, directed and produced by Joe Talbot, a San Francisco native, with his friend, co-writer and lead actor Jimmie Fails (on whom the story is partially based), this biographical voyage is in turns poetic, elegiac and crackling with vestiges of cinéma vérité.

It almost feels impossible to write about – the kind of film that words won’t do justice to. Not least because I’m a white woman in North London, whose visited San Francisco once to see Alcatraz, the Sea Lions at Pier 39 and the Giants.

And yet, therein lies the merit of cinema – that something which shouldn’t necessarily appeal to an individual is able to transcend characteristics to speak directly to your soul. The Last is about black identity, yes. Particular to a city where poorer communities are increasingly peripheralized and priced out by baby boomers and millenials. And yet, it remarks on loss, nostalgia and wanting something to be true so much that invention warps into narrative and then calcifies into reality. It’s about creative and financial struggles, interior design and property porn. It spoke to my fear of never making it onto any kind of ladder. Metaphorical or otherwise. It’s about the disintegration of friendship and the daily hardship that is life.

It plays like a great American novel – searching, sprawling and underpinned by social consciousness as Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) skirt around propriety (and skate around the city) to reclaim the majestic house that Jimmie’s grandfather built. A historic and eclectic Victorian building, in a city increasingly falling victim to architectural homogeneity.

Image result for the last black man in san francisco

There is a wildness and largesse here that cannot be contained (by genre, adjectives or comparison), as the film encounters street preachers, vagrants and pavement-dwellers, recalling Faulkner, Morrison and Of Mice and Men. But for all its literary allusions (Mont is an aspiring playwright who pens and performs a piece named after the film’s title), cinema pulses through its veins. Talbot’s directorial impulses share DNA with contemporary black cinema such as Moonlight and Blindspotting, as well as the visual mastery of contemporary Andersonian cinema (Wes and Paul-Thomas). Indeed, the framing of every shot is so exquisite it sometimes felt like being at an exhibition.

Image result for the last black man in san francisco

The soundtrack is another feat of perfection; with original riffs on classics such as Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”, Joni Mitchell’s “Blue and Scott McKenzie’s “I’m going to San Francisco”, and stirring compositions from Emile Mosseri. Hairs will stand on the back of your neck and your heart will thump in time to the beat.

As Jimmie’s dreams of owning his ancestral home are met with bureaucratic and capitalist obstacles (encapsulated by a smarmy Finn Wittrock), the film begs the question where do we belong when the past has been plastered over, and the road to the future looks foggy?

As Mont makes a final tour around the house – now for sale – we see idiosyncratic antiques and storied clutter replaced by Pinterest-worthy ‘corners’ and clean design. But Talbot ensures this poignancy never gives way to pity. The city still belongs to Jimmie and Mont and their motley crew, because as Jimmie says to a pair of interlopers, “you don’t get to hate it unless you love it.”