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My boss, John Homans, died of cancer in July, two and a half weeks after telling me about his diagnosis. I am still not okay about it. At times I seem okay. For as many as 48 consecutive hours I even feel okay. And then the piece of egg will fall off the egg-and-toast bite I’d been aiming at my mouth and suddenly I am crying over my breakfast, huge heaving sobs, and realizing that the okayness I’d been clinging to is not really for me yet.
People tell me it’s okay not to be okay, ask if I need anything, but they don’t really mean it. If they did I would have a solid month off and a cottage in the hills and time to cry and breathe and come to terms with the fact that my mentor is not on some extended vacation—he is, in his words, “another configuration of atoms.” Instead I have screen exhaustion and the Republican National Convention and this dirty shiv-fest of an election and all the stories he’d be thrilled to cover, would want me to continue to cover. In the end, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice. In this 24-hour news cycle version of the world, the thing I crave most—time—requires betraying the thing he and I believed in, nurtured together, sometimes I think for this very moment, when democracy feels soap-bubble flimsy and accountability is in vogue so we ride the wave toward real change as far as possible, as far as it will carry us.
In case it wasn’t obvious, the thing with the egg-and-toast bite happened this morning. I am discovering that this is the way grief works, like the world’s most horrific jack-in-the-box, or an STD. I’m always carrying it in my bloodstream, and once in a while I experience a flare-up that leaves me flat and dysfunctional, lying on my rug and tracking a single blade on my ceiling fan as it moves around. The flare-ups nearly always happen not in my free time or time spent with friends, but in the middle of the workday when some little thing—a lazy sentence from a writer or my own attempt to formulate a headline—makes me miss him acutely. It is, you might say, extremely inconvenient.
I’ve learned that waking up tired from disturbing dreams makes a flare-up much more likely. Last night I slept for five hours and dreamed about an ex breaking up with me all over again, and a close friend sending me furious Instagram messages for vague reasons. Check and check. So this morning I’m scrolling through remembrances of Homans in New York magazine and Vanity Fair. (I contributed to both, and so did writers like Ariel Levy, Vanessa Grigoriadis, and Joe Hagan—a small cross-section of the people Homans helped mold into who they became.) I’m reading the oral history of the protest movement sparked by George Floyd’s death, the last thing he edited for the Vanity Fair print edition. (My addition: an interview with author and activist Raquel Willis.) And I’m giving myself a little bit of time to cry and breathe, a fraction of what I want but more than nothing at all.
John Boyega: “I’m the Only Cast Member Whose Experience of Star Wars Was Based on Their Race” - GQ - I read this John Boyega interview first thing this morning and was just floored by it. It is brave and vulnerable and important and also a lovely piece of writing.
Michaela the Destroyer - Vulture - As usual, E. Alex Jung’s profile of Michaela Coel left me floored. And the photos are spectacular.
Sarah Schulman’s Good Conflict - The Cut - My friend Brydie lent me The Gentrification of the Mind, which I’ve been making my way through in fits between fantasy novels. It was published in 2012 and is ostensibly about the AIDS generation, but it’s a useful framework for this moment, too. I didn’t realize Schulman also wrote Conflict Is Not Abuse and founded The Lesbian Avengers until I read Molly Fischer’s article, which is rich and satisfying.
On Witness and Repair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by Pandemic - Vanity Fair - This is not meant to be a self-plug; I truly believe that if you haven’t read Jesmyn Ward’s fantastic essay for our September issue then you are missing out. It will rearrange your insides.
A Lesson in Acceptance - Oxford American - Bryan Washington is one of my favorite writers. His new book, Memorial, is out in October, so we’ll have to content ourselves with these little diamond essay drops until then. This one is about eating out in Houston mid-pandemic and what it means to be a regular: “It is a gift, in this country that would always like you to be screaming at everything to comfortably, consistently, have the opportunity to shut the fuck up and simply exist. Being a regular, at its best, gives you a space to do that.”
New York-centric stuff
The Eco-Yogi Slumlords of Brooklyn - The Cut - In July, I watched the movement to support tenants being evicted from their Crown Heights apartment take off on Instagram in real time. It’s fascinating to read a deeply reported story behind that call to action, and I’m so glad someone wrote it.
Their Landlord Is In Prison for Fraud. He Still Wants the Rent - Gothamist - I’m not sure why, but I’m obsessed with the “shitty landlord” genre. The pandemic has highlighted so many of the gross inequities New Yorkers take for granted—inequities that are particularly pronounced when it comes to housing.
A Season of Grief and Release: 5 Months of the Virus in New York City - The New York Times - This photo essay with text by Dodai Stewart is fantastic, eerie, and a historical record I’ll return to when trying to communicate exactly what it was like to live here this spring.
I hope no one ever tells this teenage boy how pads work because I want to watch this TikTok forever. Relatedly: I would also watch these twins hear Phil Collins for the first time forever. Unrelatedly: plan your vote, people. As my good friend Robin Beattie’s high school soccer coach would say: no excuses, just results.
Some personal news: I have started watching the U.K. version of Love Island. (Read: I am addicted to the U.K. version of Love Island.) Here is one of my favorite cast members, Siannise Fudge, halfway through saying "WHAAAT?" which is approximately how I feel about this spring and summer.