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Rambling About Boston,Job Stress, and Other Things I've Been Reading
I went to Boston two weeks ago, got a new job, and turned in my two-week notice the day I returned to Austin.
Boston was a whim of a trip. Zach was attending a Montessori conference and asked if I wanted to tag along. I said yes months ago, not even sure if I could get the time off. It has been nearly three years since I went anywhere out of state. The last place I went was Seattle in early 2020, for my birthday. I had an okay time but was still reeling from a bunch of different things and took it out on everyone there.
In Seattle, I broke my toe and hobbled on it because I didn’t have out-of-state insurance. In Seattle, we talked about the weird virus, how it was unlikely to get to us and it would blow over in about a week or two. We went out one night and huddled around a fire, it turned my arm a rashy red and I got mad at my brother and walked back to my Airbnb in a drunken stupor.
I think I was still mad about what Seattle meant to me. I loved visiting it the first time and talked a lot about moving there, half as a joke, and half as an excuse to leave everything I had behind and start again. A part of me sincerely believed I would end up there. That I’d never make a real home in Austin and there would be some larger excuse to move up to the Northwest and find a new life among the rain and tall trees and threat of the great one that could shatter the Earth and drown everything in a tidal wave.
But Boston was different. I had been out of the practice of just wandering with no purpose in mind and out of the practice of deciding what I wanted to do, solitary, alone. Arriving in a city and being on my own felt great though, even if I wished Zach had more free time to spend with me. Work had been stressful because I couldn't shake the feeling that I was failing at everything I did. Restarting therapy made me question the progress I was making too. I felt like I was moving backward, returning to a time in my life when I felt uncertain about who I was and what I wanted. Back where I was when I first visited Seattle, or last visited Seattle—I couldn’t tell the timelines are all so blurry.
I walked around a lot. I visited the Museum of Fine Arts. I took a lot of pictures. Stayed at a coffee shop and listened to two professors next to me argue about how kids these days just aren’t as rigorous and special as they were before. I watched TV, I read a lot. Two books: Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng and Jennette Mccurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died.
In Little Italy, I found an Italian bookstore that was selling translated copies of Italo Calvino books with beautiful covers on them. I bought one: a collection of Italian folklore and mythologies rewritten and repurposed by Calvino. I also bought a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Victory City. Both writers hold a special place in my heart, but Italo Calvino is the person who made me want to write. My High School English teacher gave me a copy of his collection of short stories, Numbers in the Dark after I asked him to be a sponsor for my Scholastic reading packet (i got a regional gold key for my gay prose lol) and I fell in love with the style of his writing; the unapologetic way he mixed fantasy and reality, magic and monotony. Shame was my first Rushdie story, a change from the usual entry point of his seminal work The Satanic Verses. Rushdie, like Calvino, is okay with the fantastical, both of them see the world not as a collection of monotonous everyday occurrences but as moments interwoven with magic and mystery. Both are masterful writers, capable of weaving complex multi-generational narratives into their prose. Both overuse commas and write long unwieldy sentences—a refreshing change of pace from the monotonous “short sentences are better sentences” I’ve been dealing with at work.
I read most of Celeste Ng’s book on the plane ride to Boston. In Our Missing Hearts writes about a society after a tragic bout of poverty that turns its ire on Chinese Americans as the primary culprits enacting policies of physical violence, harsh restrictions on books and speech, and the ultimate removal of their children. It’s not a new idea, it’s happened time and time again throughout history (Ng has a compelling afterword where she clearly lays out the ways this practice of removing children from homes has been done throughout history), but the parallel to where we stand in 2023 hit me particularly hard. I had to take a break from reading just to catch my breath.
Right now we’re in the beginning stages of a political climate that’s increasingly becoming inhospitable to queer people. Right now the anger of the nation is hyperfocused on trans people and trans bodies, on trans children but it will turn, like it always does, to any and all queer people. States across the country are passing draconian laws seeking to wipe out any and all traces of queer and trans narratives from classrooms and in the same breath denouncing the evils of cancel culture. These bills limit the way trans bodies move through the world, strip trans children and adults of their fundamental right to health, and give vast and overreaching powers to the executive state to limit the speech and personal expression of everyday Americans.
It’s pointless to note the hypocrisy, they know they’re being hypocrites and don’t care. Still, the irony of an entire state apparatus moving mountains, removing books, and censoring classrooms isn’t lost on anyone who spent a painstaking amount of time in high school being lectured on how 1984 was such an important book because it showcased the dangers of censoring free speech.
Celeste Ng has a beautiful and concrete way of writing. Her novels unfold naturally, more so than any other writer I’ve read. This book doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t have to really. Instead, it does what Ng does best: highlight the inequalities of our society, the not-so-complicated way society turns on its most vulnerable populations while still inspiring us to hold our personal relationships close, as shelters from the storm of societal collapse.
I’m Glad My Mom is Dead was bleak. I never really watched anything with Mccurdy in it, but think it does a great job of highlighting the absurdity of being famous and the traumatic toll our parents can place on us.
Boston, or maybe just the downtime, gave me a lot of time to reset and think about where I’m at and where I want to go. I’ve been challenging myself to read more, trying to get back into the process of thinking critically about a piece of media I consume, or about the style of how something is written. I’ve sort of fallen out of touch with my short-story or fiction side, something that’s bothered me recently. Before I could write a lot: short paragraphs, long essays, or complete short stories with complex narratives. Now, I feel such pressure to write things perfectly in the first draft or not at all—something that leaves very little room for true creativity that has definitely been picked up by my current job, where first draft means final draft not “what do we like, what do we want to change?”
Then there’s the shame that comes from writing anything personal for public consumption. I don’t particularly want to write about non-personal things. I’m not funny or witty enough to write a gripping political or societal satire, and aside from the homebrew campaign, I’m building for D&D am not too invested in adventure and mystery. So I’m trying to microdose that by writing in small bursts, or rambling in long-form online (like what this is). We’ll see how it goes.
Anyway, as a closing note, I’ll have a week off between jobs and am hoping to spend most of that week baking, finishing Fire Emblem Engage, and going to a coffee shop in the middle of the day to linger and read. Depending on how hot it gets, maybe I’ll also go to Barton Springs.
Other Misc Consumptions
Ducks by Kate Beaton, famous for Hark A Vagrant, Ducks highlights the two years she spent in the Oil Fields and the traumas that hide within. It’s a beautifully illustrated and written narrative that makes a dense and concrete point about human nature, the fragility of life, and so much more. Plus, it’s an easy read.
Swarm. I resisted watching Swarm because I figured it would be a little on the nose and while it is on the nose, it’s doing a lot of smart and creative things. Following the obsessed (with someone who is definitely not 100% supposed to be Beyonce) fan-turned-murderer, Swarm is doing a really good job of highlighting how social media and parasocial relationships can be toxic without being…you know…hokey.
Not Strong Enough by Boygenius, and wow is that song catnip for me. Zach made the joke while we were driving somewhere the other day and I had Spotify DJ on “is that what you listen to all day” and yeah, yup, you got it.
You, Season 4. I feel like I have brain worms watching You. The best critique I’ve seen of it was a tiktok where someone edited out all of Joe’s inner monologues to show how his conversations appear to the other person he’s talking to. The punchline is he doesn’t say anything, just stands there staring at people. Also, yes you absolutely should have called the police when you found somebody locked in a basement.
About 75% of Fire Emblem Engage in the way that Boygenius is catnip for my depressed side, Fire Emblem is catnip for the ADHD or hyperfocusing side of my brain. I’ve spent the majority of this game leveling up my characters and trying to get everyone to max relationship status rather than playing the actual narrative.
6 chapters of Victory City by Salman Rushdie. Victory City is inspired by the historical Vijayanagar kingdom in South India and also gets tons of press as being the last book Rushdie finished before almost dying. Reviews and critiques of it say it’s a feminist fable or a feminist retelling of the historical city, following the poet Pampa Kampana who dreams up a city using magical seeds. It’s easy to default to how Rushdie’s books look in connection to politics (often too easy) he’s had a death sentence wished against him since the Satanic verses, he almost got killed recently. And while his books are certainly political (anyone saying they aren’t is being naive) so far what I’m loving about Victory City is his commitment to the fantastical world-building that’s embedded in most mythologies of nation-building.
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