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Last year I wrote about the challenges of writing when you’ve experienced a dislocation—of needing to have a sense of who you are and where you’re coming from, as Emily Flake put it, before, as E.M. Forester put it, you see what it is you have to say. I did that, then the weeks went by, and once again I wasn’t writing, and on top of settling in to a new mindset I was also making mental lists of my excuses—getting a house set up, getting the kids to sleep, clicking through faux-vintage rugs while looking for a job—until the need for an excuse became an obstacle itself. I was genuinely busy and I didn’t write and then I started feeling guilty for not writing and felt obligated to explain myself and you know what? It doesn’t matter. You start again. That’s all it is. This issue may not be my best one, but that’s fine too. There will always be excuses not to do the things we must.
We took a short trip to Miami over Christmas and finally met my mother’s caregiver in person and she’s the kindest and most patient person I ever could have hoped to find. She’s singlehandedly the reason that my mom is able to keep living in her home. We spent time on the beach, we saw my brother and my awesome niece, we saw the hospital bed my mom is renting (she has a lot of trouble breathing, and had been sleeping in chairs). Her dog sneezed and made the baby cry and our three-year-old said, “Dogs usually don’t sneeze, right?” Right. “Why do dogs usually don’t sneeze?” I did not get into the respiratory problems linked to smoking in my answer. “Sometimes they sneeze,” I said. His favorite word these days is “usually,” second only to asking why.
My mom is doing pretty well. Not great, but hanging in there. She keeps losing her phone and paying $200 for a new one, but she’s fortunate enough to be able to afford stupid expenses, and so I’ve readjusted my goals for her to focus almost exclusively on “safe and relatively happy,” and not so much on stressing over every purchase. When I log into her credit card account and see that she’s once again donated $75 to the Florida State Troopers I dispute it, but that’s about as far as I go these days. She orders DoorDash or GrubHub or whatever other app is disenfranchising restaurants and their drivers every day and that’s just fine. She eats.
On the subject of aging parents, here’s that link again to Better Health While Aging, the site my sister-in-law recommended that gave me so much information when I was first starting out on this journey. If you’re a reader of Anne Helen Petersen but aren’t a paid subscriber yet, the So Your Parents are Aging thread on Discord might just be worth the price of entry by itself.
I’ve left the think tank and am in the process of negotiating an offer from a publisher. I’m excited to work in publishing again. The publisher is very different from the ones I’m used to—they decide what books to publish based on a proprietary algorithm that uses search terms entered into Amazon as its primary source of information—but that’s OK. I’m going to be doing interesting work, and doing what I’ve come to love, outlining books, determining their structure.
I’m also finally reading Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley, a memoir of a publishing assistant who leaves that underpaying industry behind for the cash-rich startup world of San Francisco. She ends up at the heart of an economy built on unregulated surveillance. (Not that you thought no one was looking when you last searched for a book on Amazon, but still. The breadth and specificity of the surveillance she reveals is both shocking and completely unsurprising.)
Speaking of SF! A commenter on my last post equated our move from NYC and then DC to West Philadelphia with gentrification. I’ve been thinking about that topic off and on a lot since then. My first impulse was to defend myself: We bought our house from a pair of white college professors, who bought it from another white college professor, and so we can’t be gentrifiers, right? Save the rage for the developers, the BRRRRs, the landlords. The financial system is openly rigged to favor ownership and screw over renters, but agitating for things like housing affordability and rent control is way harder to do than hating the coffee shops and pricey boutique grocery stores that move in when the typewriter-repair shops close.
But defensiveness is not constructive. So I’ll plug another book: Brave New Home, by Philadelphian Diana Lind, plumbs the history and present state of housing (obvious point: living in single-family units has only very recently become the norm) and the things we need to do to fix it—more inclusionary zoning, more policies that subsidize people and not property, way fewer houses owned by LLCs. Her last chapter on disrupting the housing industry is essential.
More to read
Thanks to my friend Anna, who’s always reading the best stuff and has probably pointed me toward half of what I read last year, I just finished Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy and loved it. Read it if you’re into near-Dickensian bad childhoods or eager to experience a world where poetry collections were discussed in multiple local newspapers, or if you’re up for a shocking plunge into addiction. It’s a memoir of life in pre- and postwar Copenhagen that reminded me at times of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. So if you’ve already read all four of those and want more, Ditlevsen delivers, with Danish impassivity and Demerol instead of shoemaking and violence.
The view this morning. Our three-year-old’s preschool is closed this week because of a possible Covid exposure. So he’s been outside eating some snow.