...My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh: So good. The heroine of this novel is self-absorbed and nihilistic to that point that her personality is not only darkly hilarious but kind of cathartic. She's done with people, and with life, and has decided to literally sleep for a year to see if the world can improve itself. With a pill-peddling psychiatrist on speed dial she begins her experiment, only something strange happens: Empathy for our protagonist grows alongside her vanity.
I'm two thirds through and so far Moshfegh has pulled off a great trick, to keep me engaged with a heroine who is outwardly so vile. Moshfegh told the Times in April that, yeah, her novels and stories are weird, too many deadbeats and substance abusers and perverts. That's the point: On the page "I don't know anyone like me," she said.
It's true. It's been a long time since I've read a book this original.
...A hobby, any hobby: On my daughter's 11th birthday we got her the guitar she'd been begging for. I bought her a book on method, not too different from one my dad got me 25 years ago, when I was a teenager and picked up his old acoustic. I quit guitar after I met my wife—playing was always the means to attract women—and at first the goal with my daughter was to oversee her practice: how to strum, how and where to place fingers on a string and fret.
Then I started playing again. In the beginning as a way to instruct but soon for pleasure, my daughter and I taking turns with the guitar in our practice sessions. She's learning the notes and I'm relearning them and I gotta say: It's the best thing, this new hobby. It's time with the girl I love and every day as well a huge release for me. I don't have to plan my days when I'm playing guitar. I don't have to read anything, or outline any story. It's separate from my life's work and because of that its perfect complement.
It's in leisure that we "reveal what kind of people we are," Ovid wrote. I'm all for loafing around, watching Netflix—half my picks here are the result of it—but there's something about physical, intellectual, or even menial tasks that replenishes the soul. It's why composer John Cage hunted mushrooms, why NBA All Star Chris Bosh learned to code, why Winston Churchill painted over 550 pieces. "Painting came to my rescue in a most trying time," he said.
Then yesterday I remembered a scene from First Reformed, the Paul Shraderfilmstarring Ethan Hawke as a pastor who tries to console environmental activists concerned with climate change. Through these exchanges, Hawke's Reverend Toller confronts his own questions about leadership and what Christian faith calls for in a time of epochal upheaval. It's a great movie, and Taffy Brodesser Akner and I mentioned it when we talked about Ethan Hawke's approach to acting and filmmaking these days.
There's one scene in particular that stands out. It brought me comfort when I first watched and even more this week. I tried to find the scene on YouTube but didn't see the full sequence. So I'm linking to the script instead. If you're having a rough go, please read it. It starts on page 10 and ends on page 19. What you need to know in advance is that Reverend Toller has been asked by a pregnant woman named Mary to come to her house to visit with her husband, Michael, an environmental activist deeply depressed about the state of the world, and wondering if he should even bring a child into it.
I think Shrader's captured something profound here.
...The latest episode of Pessimists Archive: It's a podcast that chronicles the hyperventilating pessimism which defines our days, and previous eras too. It's hosted by my friend Jason Feifer and each episode tries to check humanity's fears, which seem quite rational in the moment but through the long lens of elapsed time reveal themselves to be irrational, even silly.
This week's episode is about what social media is doing to us. I was all set to rail against social media—but Feifer and the team at Pessimists Archive have me reevaluating everything. I don't want to say more. It's such a fun listen.
Quote of the Week: "Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends, and spirit—and you're keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same."
--Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola
Have a great weekend. I'll be back next Friday.
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