Letter 33

February 27, 2020

On slowing down

Lately, I have been trying to wake up just a little bit earlier, early enough that I am allowed to spend some extra time in bed with a cup of tea before I need to get up and get ready for work, early enough to have a little bit of breathing room. Maybe I spend that time reading, or watching the pigeons on my balcony, or playing a video game. (Did you know you could play video games in the morning before work? I certainly didn’t. But you can.) Maybe I spend that time just laying in bed, doing nothing. I am often in a rush, but not in the mornings—that is when I am allowed to slow down, take my time, and breathe. Just for an hour, but it’s my hour. And then I get out of bed, and I get ready for work. And the rest of the day comes fast.


I’ve always been a fast reader. No one considered it a problem, and it didn’t become one until I was in my mid-teens, with my brain feeling bad more often than not. One thing depression took from me was comprehension and memory: I was absorbing less and less as I read, struggling more to remember what it had been that I spent an hour doing. It wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 that I really realized why, when I was in class assigned Jane Austen’s Emma. My professor emphasized that Austen deserved to be read slowly; I had read two Austen novels before and did not enjoy either of them, couldn’t really tell you what had happened and blamed the text. But I was a marginally obedient student and cared too much about my grades, so of course I read. And I read slowly, pushing against my instinct. And I enjoyed it. I still couldn’t tell you small details and did poorly on comprehension quizzes, but my experience was not marked by frustration and confusion which many of my reading experiences had become. I still struggle with instinct, the motivation to do the most, the feeling that I’m not a good reader if I’m not cycling through new books every few days. I want to keep slowing down, and keep giving words the time they deserve.


We recommend

🔗 Helen Rosner Interviews Samin Nosrat

I love this New Yorker piece for a variety of reasons: Helen and Samin are two of my favorite people in the food world, the photo of Samin’s sink as she strains pickled beets, the conversation about depression, etc. The moment that struck me the most was Samin reflecting on writing a piece about Persian food for the NYT, then interjecting, “but then, well, it turns out that people can like our food and still want to bomb us.” You might have noticed, but talking about Palestinian food is one of my main hobbies: watching others (my mom, that one BA video) make it, eating it, sharing it with my friends—that’s joy, that’s love. I know the people I share my food with already love me, and are already learning about the ways my people are harmed; this is not the case for every patron looking for shawarma. It’s beautiful to hope someone will taste zaatar and decide they’re ready to help free Palestine, but that’s an impossible pressure to place on cuisine. Not only will people eat our food and still bomb us, they’ll take it for their own and pretend we never existed in the first place. There are small ways to curb that, like not buying certain hummus brands, vetting “Mediterranean” restaurants before you go, and so on. Food can be a tool of justice, but never on its own.


📱 Turning off notifications

There is nothing more annoying to me than trying to concentrate on reading an article or playing a game or watching a video on my phone and seeing a bunch of banner notifications pop up to distract me—so I turned them off. I also turned off push notifications and badges for most of the apps on my phone, so I only get notified for things that really need my attention, like text messages and DMs. Spend some time curating your notification settings this week—you deserve a little more quiet.


🎥 Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, directed by Céline Sciamma, is perhaps the best romantic film I have ever seen. The subtle eye movements, the tense collarbones, the yearning. The absolute yearning, oh my god. This movie is a beautiful meditation on gaze, with the premise being a woman commissioned to paint a wedding portrait but not let the subject know she is painting her. And then (spoiler?) they fall in love. And it’s beautiful and tender and there were two scenes that made me cry and I still get goosebumps everywhere when I think about them. Find it in a theater near you.


📖 Little Weirds by Jenny Slate

I finished reading Jenny Slate’s book a little over a week ago, but I have not stopped thinking about it. I miss reading it! It was full of nice, small passages that made me feel happy and gentle and tender. The way to read this book, in my opinion, is to wake up a little bit earlier than you need to and spend 5 minutes reading it until you feel good and soft and ready to get out of bed, and then carry that feeling with you for the rest of the day, like taking a daily multivitamin. I underlined so much of this book, but my one very favorite bit was this: “My vulnerability is natural and permissible and beautiful to me, and it should remind you of your responsibility to behave like a friend to me and the world.”