In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, my life developed a rhythm: wake up, log on, spend 12 hours moving my eyeballs gradually closer and closer to the computer screen as my posture deteriorated and my will to live slowly leeched away, log off, scrounge dinner, Love Island. The entirety of Love Island UK is available on Hulu. (Shoutout to River Branson, a prince among men, for the login that lets me watch commercial-free.) And in the waning days of the era of Donald Trump, I became increasingly dependent on it, to the point that it might have been the only thing pulling me through.
Here I will back up to the months before the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, when my friend Skye urged me to join in her Love Island addiction. I wouldn’t say she talked about the show nonstop, but it typically came up at least twice when we were together. Not being a person who enjoys reality TV (with the exception of the queer season of Are You the One), I was skeptical. Then, the sixth season happened to be playing in the background at another friend’s tattoo appointment, and I literally could not look away. I went home and started streaming the thing on my own, and I haven’t stopped.
It’s a daunting show to work through. There are something like 56 episodes each season, and they’re each about 45 minutes long. The premise is that each contestant (“islander”) must be part of a couple that survives until the final round. There are “recouplings”—chances for either the “boys” or the “girls” (like much of reality TV the show is hopelessly binary and features traditionally beautiful people) to choose someone of the opposite sex to partner with. The couples share a bed, argue, split up, have their “heads turned” by another entrant, or fall deeper and deeper in love as they “get to know each other.” Over time, the episodes fall into familiar patterns: there are recoupling episodes, challenge episodes, episodes in which new islanders are introduced. Nothing stays even-keeled, but over time the shakeups become predictable. So does the dialogue—the British version of Love Island might as well have its own index. If someone likes someone else, that person is “a bit of me.” If someone’s hot, they’re “fit.” If they’re funny, they have “good chat” or they’re “cheeky.” The refrain among the women—“birds—is “tall, dark, and handsome.” When two of the men develop a bond, they refer to each other as “geezers.” In the mornings, they bring each other tea.
Watching Love Island is also one of the few times a day I catch myself smiling—alone in my apartment surrounded by an early dark and straight-up grinning into the void. Sometimes, after an episode, my cheeks hurt. Part of the reason is the alien terminology pronounced in delightful accents. Part of it is the antics of a bunch of charming goobers. Occasionally you get a lemon, but most of the 20-somethings shut up in a luxury villa sans technological distraction commit themselves to entertaining each other. A big part of it, for me, is watching people fall in love. Mostly it’s fake, but every once in a while it’s so real it comes screaming off the screen. Sometimes, somehow, you get two people who are tangibly perfect for each other. And you get to watch them realize it. Even if it doesn’t last (and it mostly doesn’t last, though there are exceptions), you get to watch them participate in a holy process, which is figuring out how to fit with someone else. I can’t help but love them all for it.
I took September and October off from writing this newsletter due to election-related stress, and in that time I published some work myself. In October, I interviewed Bryan Washington about his new novel, Memorial, which is tremendous and which you should all read. And this month I spoke to Rania Woodard of LANNDS about the band’s new EP, lotus (which, shocker, I also recommend).
Personal essay stuff
We Are All Just Raw Sacks of Meat - Men Yell at Me - Lyz Lenz’s newsletter from last week hit home, from one raw sack of meat to another.
Who Are We Going to Be Now? - The Examined Family - Full disclosure: I’m still not signed up for Courtney Martin’s newsletter. I discovered this mini-essay of hers when it started to go viral, and for good reason.
Buying Myself Back - The Cut - Like much of the Internet, I was captivated by Emily Ratajkowski’s harrowing essay about reclaiming her own image.
When I Thought I Had a Year to Live, I Asked for Soup - Bon Appetit - I got strep throat at the end of October. (Apparently this is something that can happen to fully-grown adults.) When people found out I was sick, they sent soup. My experience isn’t really comparable to the author’s, but the overlap made me appreciate humanity a little bit more.
An Interview with the Atlantic’s Ed Yong - Deez Links - Ed Yong has been responsible for some of the most widely-read coverage of the COVID-19 crisis. And, like everyone else, he’s burnt the fuck out and worried about what our country’s conspiracy-theory pipeline will pump out next.
Michigan Senator Gary Peters Shares His Abortion Story - Elle - I love the precedent this piece sets, which is that abortion is more commonplace than you might think, and that it is always carefully considered.
The Trump Presidency Is Ending. So Is Maggie Haberman’s Wild Ride - The New York Times - Maggie Habeman is an indomitable force. But the thing that stuck out to me most in this interview is that she still thinks she’s expendable.
In addition to watching a lot of Love Island, I’ve been keeping myself sane by reading poetry. Here are some recent favorites:
Snowdrops by Louise Glück
Cut a Hand from a Hand by Tongo Eisen-Martin
Self-Portrait as the Changeling by Halee Kirkwood
Sunset on 14th Street by Alex Dimitrov
Frogless by Margaret Atwood
Duende by Tracy K. Smith
This rollercoaster of an email sums up the 2020 experience. This video of Pharrell narrating his skincare routine is my ASMR. Do you not have other activities? I’m all about a realistic meme. God, I love New York.
Live shot of me for the rest of the year.