Threadbare

Flourish Vol. 47

I am, as I have been for the past year, tired. But this tired feels different somehow.

I’m willing to bet you can relate, because a lot of us are hitting a pandemic wall right now, reaching an inevitable breaking point nearly a year in the making. Sure, we’re finally turning a corner — hopefully — but it feels as though, at the very same time, all of the wheels are coming off. The old ways are no longer working, and it’s become blatantly obvious that no one is coming to save us. Despite the tenuous optimism of 2021 (my own included), I feel like my personal orbit this year has so far been seeped in tragedy and sadness, people running out of options and out of steam, and the pervasive sense that we just cannot catch a break.

It’s this sick sense of deja vu, too — a 2020 2.0, with yet another impeachment trial (this one with the added horror of death and destruction), botched stimulus checks, and a haphazard vaccine rollout providing barely a tourniquet to the staggering loss of life as we march steadily onward toward 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, a year into this slow-motion disaster.

Mothers, essential workers, people of color, people with disabilities, the poor, teachers, students; all have been laid bare by this pandemic and hung out to dry by our government. I am none of those things, impossibly privileged in my exemption, and still I feel myself hollowed out. Still I feel there are only so many salves and stopgaps that we can use to obfuscate the horror before everything that allowed this tragedy to rage unchecked must be gutted and rebuilt from scratch. What more do we owe of ourselves to the systems that have failed us so catastrophically?

The American government may not be better than this pandemic, but the people it is meant to serve sure as hell are. I realize I’m stating the obvious and preaching to the choir, but we should not be rationing our PTO and sick days to recover from a life-threatening virus, we should not be GoFundMe-ing our medical care and our COVID funerals, and we should not be expected to operate at a normal capacity as everything crumbles beneath our feet.

I don’t know what the answer is, other than acknowledging that there is no roadmap for how to survive a pandemic in a country that was already running ragged before it. And so where there are no right answers, there are no wrong ones, either. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not coping properly, or functioning sufficiently, because we are all still living through — lest you forget — un-fucking-precedented times.

“Self care” has become so hopelessly co-opted and commercialized that we’ve forgotten it doesn’t just look like face masks and bubble baths and Chardonnay (although sometimes, for me, it does look like that, and that’s okay too.) But stillness is valid, and so is numbness, and grief, and despair. Feeling everything, or feeling nothing, whatever it takes to get by. Crying can be incredibly cathartic, as can nature and animals and yoga and walking and tuning back into your own physical being, however you possibly can. Sleep when you need to, try to eat well, drink your damn water, put your phone down, take time off before you burn out. Above all else, take care of yourself, and your loved ones. Some wells can be replenished. Others cannot.


I am trying to find stillness where I can. In a much-needed week off work and a cottage on the Olympic Peninsula. Trying to replenish myself with a hot tub under the stars, lilac sunrises over snowcapped mountains, the tide taken out so far at night that your eyes lose sight of where it meets the shore. Getting lost in Olympic National Park, a hushed fairytale woodland so empty and otherworldly it felt like stepping into Narnia. Sorting through trinkets at antique stores and crystal shops, indulging in strong coffee and fresh seafood and baked goods, foraging for mushrooms as the snow fell, searching for instruments and making music and a little magic wherever I could find it.

And I am finding solace, as always, in the celestial and the spiritual. Watching “The Midnight Sky” and falling asleep to the soundtrack to “First Man” after a calming session of Yoga with Adrienne. Parcast’s Virgo Today has become something of a daily ritual for me lately, providing affirmations and pearls of wisdom that kickstart my thoughts for journaling. During a spontaneous visit to Powell’s the other day, I entered into a fugue state of literary lust and walked out an hour later with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Origins — among other books — and have been enthralled reading it so far (see above). I’ve also gone further down the rabbit hole of Carl Sagan’s work, thanks mostly to this excerpt that writer Aminatou Sow posted to her Instagram Story, an incredibly prescient passage from Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness...

In a time when it feels like our need for answers guided by science and for spirituality that helps us find peace with our own mortality has never been greater, I found this quote from the same work equally illuminating.

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”


As far as the more earthly aspects keeping me (relatively) sane, I have become a little addicted to thrifting; mostly costume jewelry and Depression-era glass (what can I say? I like bling). I’ve also become obsessed with the escapism of scents; my Christmas gift from my mother was a rollerball of D.S. & Durga’s Radio Bombay, a perfume I’d held out on purchasing for a year since first smelling it at a boutique in LA. It’s earthy and musky and sexy and easily my favorite fragrance ever, and I highly recommend ordering a sample set of D.S. & Durga’s distinctive scents for an instant sensory pick-me-up. Thanks to them, I’ve become a bit of a perfume sample fiend, my latest acquisition being a tester set of Dedcool’s Series Two (Rocco smells like LA when the jasmine blooms in spring, one of my most happy-making scents ever.) My childhood best friend and I went in on these friendship bracelets engraved with the coordinates of our hometown (because why not), and I highly recommend this diffuser/nightlight combo infused with a few drops of lavender for an especially soothing yoga experience. I’ve also found comfort in the absurdity of Squishmallows, these absolutely gigantic, ridiculously soft stuffed creatures certainly intended for children (but who’s keeping track?) Baby Yoda has become my newest prized possession, and inspired an affinity for other childlike interests that have since reinvigorated a bit of playfulness and joy in my life: a sensory bin full of water beads to squish when you’re feeling stressed, a dazzling, nostalgic glitter tube that makes me smile every time I look at it, and this cosmic thinking putty that really does sparkle like glittering galaxies when you illuminate it with a blacklight.

And as always, there is solace in music. These are just a couple of my recent finds, but with more newly-discovered gems and old favorites than I could reasonably highlight here, I figured I’d go ahead and share my current playlist, too.

All this to say, we’re all in uncharted territory right now. Cling to the people you love, be kind even to those you do not. And don’t forget to send a few Valentines this week; whether that be a gift, a card, a voicemail — a little goes a long way these days.

Love,

Liv

Faith in the future

Flourish Vol. 46

I can’t quite explain the belief that, someday, somehow, I would finally have my breast reduction surgery, and that afterward, in one way or another, I’d be able to share that experience with the world. Last week, I had the chance to do just that in a personal essay for the BuzzFeed News Body Week series.

If the response I got to initially opening up about my experience in this newsletter was overwhelming, inviting the whole world to bear witness to it — while one of the scariest things I’ve ever done — brought back to me more love than I think I could ever possibly reciprocate.

I had worried, naturally, about the potential ramifications of talking about my breasts on the internet (and in front of my coworkers!), of making myself utterly vulnerable to trolls and critics and creeps. But if I’ve learned nothing else in the past year, it is that there is no reward without risk. Nothing flourishes in your comfort zone. Everything, everything you want lies on the other side of fear.

I’ll quit talking in platitudes and just share some of my favorite responses to the piece. I could truly publish an entire newsletter comprised of just the flood of emails, tweets and DMs I received about my piece, but I’ll try to narrow it down to just a few of the many life-affirming words that have only validated my belief that, for all of our oversharing, we don’t talk about women’s pain, about mental health, and about all of our own private wars nearly as much as we should.

Of course, this surgery and the constant struggle with large breasts is an intensely personal journey and an individual choice to divulge, but in response to my own story I heard from people I’d known for years who had never shared that they’d had the same surgery, from other women who said they’d been ashamed to tell anyone they’d had a reduction, or were thinking about a reduction, who thanked me for bringing this conversation out of the shadows and into the light. The way I see it, we’re all human beings briefly made of rather haphazard flesh and bone, and my body is not taboo, so I will no longer be acting as such to make other people comfortable. I told myself that if even one person was helped by my story, then any potential trolling would be worthwhile, and judging by the women I heard from who are in, or have been, or would like to be in, the same boat as me, the score is something like kickass women: one million, trolls: zero. (Now we just need to do something about the patriarchy and the disastrous American healthcare system.)


(Fair warning that this newsletter is quite long-winded and rambly from here, so proceed at your own risk.)

Sitting here on the eve of a long-awaited inauguration, it’s hard not to feel a pervasive optimism. So much is still awful —400,000 dead from COVID, the increasing radicalization of Trump truthers and white nationalists, an ever-warming planet — but there is also the unspoken undercurrent that at least things cannot possibly get worse. That is my sense of the future we’re embarking upon, anyway, though sometimes it feels that hope is in desperately short supply these days.

Kyle Chayka, a writer whose work I have long admired for cutting through the bullshit and capturing ephemeral thoughts and feelings I struggle to describe myself, wrote for The New York Times about how nothingness has become everything we wanted. That somewhere in the scrum of a reality barbed with racism and injustice and death, we chose to forgo feeling the bad things, or anything, really, in favor nothing. For self-numbing. For opting out of the human experience.

Even before the pandemic, Chayka writes, many Americans opted to “simply stay home, pursuing as uncomplicated and swaddled a life as possible, surrounded by things that feel if not good then at least neutral … We create an acceptable layer between our internal and external environments, a barrier that’s still under our control even as the outside world grows increasingly chaotic.”

"It’s as if we want to get rid of everything in advance, including our expectations,” he continues. “So that we won’t have anything left to lose."

In the depths of my own depression and quarter-life crises and loss of faith in humanity over the past four-and-a-half years, I have personally been guilty of seeking solace in nothingness, of self-numbing, more times than I could count. Where I used to be an avid reader, I find comfort now in the low stakes of sitcoms and inanity of reality television, anything that allows the cogs in my brain to stop whirring for a while. ("We turn unremarkable albums into think-piece fodder and recommend terrible reality-television shows to our friends because they recognize and soothe our anxiety; they act as anesthetics more than art,” Chayka writes.) I partake in wine and weed or both more often than not (sorry, mom.) I am almost obsessive in my quest for comfort and order in my physical space, maintaining a god-like reverence for candles and neutral colors and soft lighting. I squeeze serotonin and that “smooth brain” sensation from online shopping, warm drinks, soft blankets, dream pop, ASMR. I have often felt that my nerve endings have become too fragile, and the world outside too brittle.

(Well if it isn’t all of my favorite pop artists and the High Priestess of Sad Shit herself!)

"No one seems to want anything,” Chayka writes about the culture of negation. “There is no enthusiasm for desire in this culture, only the wish that we could give it up. It’s an almost Buddhist rush toward selflessness with the addition of American competition and our habit of overdose: as much obliteration as possible.”

It’s as if we’ve strapped ourselves in to hurtle toward the apocalypse, medicating and insulating and dissociating so as to feel as little discomfort as possible before our impending doom hits. While it’s true that anyone who knows me knows I love a good nihilist meme, and my sense of humor errs dark and often a touch morbid, I know that if I ultimately surrendered to the emptiness, to hopelessness, I would never be able to get out of my — very soft, very comfortable — bed in the morning.

My own spiritual crisis reared its head in the form of a nothingness that keeps you up at night, a profound loneliness, a resounding emptiness in the work I was doing and people I was meeting and life I was living. A gaping void I tried to patch over with yoga and soundbaths and CBD, with crystals and plants and tarot and solo trips, meditation and long wooded walks and therapy and journaling and music. Taken together, all of these things began to slowly but surely thaw out my soul, reconnect me with my being, stir something within me that left no room in my life for what was no longer authentic. But initially, my greatest frustration was that there was no silver bullet to finding purpose and meaning. No retreat I could take or fancy course I could buy or book I could read to transform my life overnight, as much as the spiritual-industrial complex might like to insist.

Because if nothingness can be commodified, mindfulness can too, allowing yoga and meditation to be packaged and distilled (and whitewashed), sold as the route to enlightenment, contentment, an escape hatch from this current mode of reality. As an inner peace than manifests itself as a smug sense of outward satisfaction. A kind of, as Scott Barry Kaufman writes for Scientific American, spiritual narcissism.

“Self-enhancement through spiritual practices can fool us into thinking we are evolving and growing, when in fact all we are growing is our ego. Some psychologists have pointed out that the self-enhancement that occurs through spiritual practices can lead to the “I'm enlightened and you're not” syndrome and spiritual bypass, by which people seek to use their spiritual beliefs, practices and experiences to avoid genuine contact with their psychological “unfinished business.”

In a sense then, this brand of mindfulness can become its own form of self-numbing, where the vice is a palatable form of spirituality rather than alcohol or drugs or sex or reality TV, a veneer of enlightenment that phones in an attempt at engaging with the hard questions without ever having to actually walk through the spiritual fire (or shadow work, if you will.)

But, Kaufman writes, “Healthy transcendence doesn’t stem from an attempt at distracting oneself from displeasure with reality. Healthy transcendence involves confronting reality as it truly is, head on, with equanimity and loving kindness.

“Healthy transcendence “is not about leaving any parts of ourselves or anyone else behind or singularly rising above the rest of humanity. Healthy transcendence is not about being outside of the whole, or feeling superior to the whole, but being a harmonious part of the whole of human existence ... Healthy transcendence involves harnessing all that you are in the service of realizing the best version of yourself so you can help raise the bar for the whole of humanity.”

I hope I’ve been able to avoid the pitfalls of spiritual narcissism (though this may, in and of itself, be narcissistic?) While I by no means have any of this figured out, I have been fortunate enough to figure out what works for me, and I suppose becoming the best version of myself and leading by example is my form of helping raise the bar for humanity, on the most micro of scales. This newsletter has been hugely cathartic in that, allowing me to openly discuss my mental health, therapy, surgeries, dating, moving, career choices, existential crises, etc. I have been shown the rewards of vulnerability, of pushing through discomfort, of taking risks, of being humbled and having my ego quieted, and I love nothing more than advocating for other people to explore doing the same.

Of course, as Kyle Chayka’s piece notes, it can be easy to feel optimistic while riding out this pandemic from a place of privilege. I am not a frontline worker, I have not lost any immediate family or close friends to COVID. But I have spent 10 months immersed in the horrors of this pandemic every day. My family has weathered several sudden deaths and tough circumstances in the past year. And even a proximity to all of this horror is enough to permeate the most detached or naive or insulated person.

This past year, this presidency, this pandemic, have all forced me to stop pretending that “good enough” is good enough, that life is long enough to settle, that our mortality and existentialism are somehow separate from the hustle and doldrum of our daily lives. That the meaning of life and what happens after it are best left to philosophers, too taboo for polite company.

I have never been able to suspend my disbelief or self-awareness for even a second long enough to buy that anyone or anything created this universe. Organized religion has always been radioactive, and so faith, in a traditional sense, was never an option for me. And yet increasingly often now I find myself referring to my spirituality as faith, because despite the death and destruction, the despair and frustration permeating every aspect of our lives now, I find that at the back of my mind, the bottom of my well, the innermost part of my being, there is hope. A glinting nugget of gold among all the silt. It echoes within the walls of my being, the belief that people are mostly, fundamentally good. That there is an order to this universe, a flow to the energy, that everything happens for a reason and we get back what we give, and we all get what's coming for us, sooner or later. That there is permanence in death, but maybe there's something after it, too. Because I see ghosts all around me now; out of the corners of my eyes, in the seasons, in synchronicities, in the people who leave but never really go away.

I find myself meditating, saying little prayers, setting intentions, tracking moon phases, referring to astrological forecasts. It's a hodge-podge of a belief system, I suppose, but it's my own. And I have found faith in a lot of places lately. In strengthening and repairing bonds within my family. In seeing things that began as dreams come to fruition in my life. I find faith in the slant of the winter sun through the trees, in the stars that knit themselves into constellations before my eyes, in impossible coincidences, in good things happening to good people, in the peace of knowing that I am in exactly the right place at the right time. In the ocean and the mountains, in poetry and music, in the eyes of my animals when they stare back at me, in the unwavering belief that better days are coming, that no feeling is final.

Anyway, I guess I’ll end this ramble by encouraging you — for perhaps the first and only time — to read the comments on an internet post, because there are some real gems in Chayka’s piece.

“There is no escaping the terror and beauty of existence.”

And now, of course, here’s some music.

All this to say, I hope you too have a wealth of things that give you faith in the future. And if not, I hope you start seeing them all around you.

-Olivia

Begin again

Flourish Vol. 45

There’s this spiritual cliche people like to plaster on their Pinterest boards. Depending on your predilections, it’s either spoken by God or the universe, and it goes like this:

I had to make you uncomfortable or else you wouldn’t have moved.

But you know, being cliche doesn’t always make something untrue.

Like most people, this was the most uncomfortable year of my life; the first time I admitted openly that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, that I couldn’t go this alone. A year that felt like bursting out of my own skin, like losing faith in everything, like being short-circuited by terror and grief, like letting all the old ways wither and die.

Sitting here writing this from my home in Oregon, it blows my mind that at this time last year, I was still waiting for my “lightbulb” moment. I was tired of Los Angeles, frustrated with the stagnation of my life, pleading for a lightning strike of inspiration that would make it all make sense. The discovery of some burning passion, a chance meeting with my soulmate, a stroke of luck that would set my life aflame and set the wheels of my one true purpose speeding headlong toward destiny.

But for all of my posturing, my grinning and bearing and tentative belief that my luck was about to change, behind that hope was a shadow realm of fear. I was bored and unfulfilled and stuck in a daily cycle of disappointment that was wearing my psyche down to dust. But I was also afraid to rock the boat, to burn my life down, to take any sort of risk at all. Desperately self-conscious about what the world might think of my life choices and hard decisions and wildest dreams, terrified by even the slightest hint of embarrassment or disappointment. If you never try, you can never fail. I avoided all threat of discomfort in the name of saving face — so nothing ever changed.

But 2020 did not allow us to turn away from discomfort; it was an electrical shock to the system, an ice bath of a year in which we lived surrounded by grief and pain. We stood on the precipice of our greatest fears, or drowning among them. We marched headlong into the eye of the storm, whether we were remotely ready or not.

In Los Angeles, I battened down the hatches, stocked my shelves, tried to reassure my loved ones and bolster myself with creature comforts as I watched everything I ever believed in burn from behind glowing screens. And with the world as we knew it gone, there were only so many ways to distract myself before all of my nightmares came knocking, too.

So this was the year I became well acquainted with fear. With the shadow realm, the darkest corners of my mind and all the ugliest parts of myself, loosening my grip on everything I thought I wanted more than life itself, reconsidering everything I swore I’d never do. Realizing that some nightmares were actually dreams, and some dreams were actually someone else’s. I plunged to the depths I always knew were there and came back up for air, with a renewed appreciation for all of the life above the surface.

In spiritualism, there’s a practice called shadow work, and it feels like I spent all 365 days of this year neck-deep in it. Looking my demons straight in the eye, sitting in silence, in loneliness, in heartache. Taking a magnifying glass to the pieces that were broken, lifting the hood on systems that were no longer working. Allowing myself to cry for others’ suffering, to scream at the top of my lungs about the injustice of this all, to acknowledge the rawness of my own grief, to make peace with uncertainty. To peel back the mask of who I’ve spent much of my adult life pretending to be, and introduce to the world the person I’ve always been, no longer caring in the slightest what others might think of her.

This was a year that brought us all face-to-face with our own mortality, with loss, with systems that are impossibly backwards and broken. We learned, in stark black and white, what mattered and what did not. Who would be there for us and who would not. This was not a year for pretending, for posturing, for polite smiles. This was a year for true colors and hard truths, for taking nothing for granted, for dusting off all the hopes and plans and I love you’s and I’m sorry’s because tomorrow is never, ever a guarantee.

This was a year to stop bullshitting myself, stop making excuses, stop whispering about my wildest dreams under my breath and swing for the damn fences already. And with great risk, I like to think, comes great reward, because this year has rewarded me more than I ever imagined, or feel deserving of, really. Blessed is not a term I use often, or lightly, but it has somehow summed up this impossible, wretched, life-affirming year. And on the eve of a new one, as this flame burns down to nothing, all I feel is gratitude. That I am alive, and healthy, and employed. That I am with people I love, that they are healthy and employed, too. That from so much discomfort was borne some of the best things that have ever happened to me. I know that my privilege is immense, and my survivor’s guilt is, too. But I have learned this year too that if you are not going to mark your accomplishments on the walls of your own life, few others will.

Two-thousand-and-twenty brought me a life-changing surgery (and another gnarly surgery), an out-of-state move, a promotion. I weathered pay cuts, furloughs and partial unemployment, covered the pandemic and protests, spoke at a Columbia Journalism class. I paid off my car, finished Invisalign, scouted out Denver solo, took my best friend on a free trip to Catalina Island, started playing piano again. I dyed my hair pink, dyed my hair green, aggressively saved and invested my money, marked three years in therapy, found out I'm going to be an aunt, and maintained this newsletter — even when delving the depths of my mind was the last thing on earth I wanted to do.

This is more for record-keeping than grandstanding, and in fact it's probably a paltry list compared to some peoples' 2020, but I am trying to be better about staking out my right to to happiness and celebrating my own wins — even if the biggest win is just surviving.

I am not the same person I was when I began this year, but I don’t think I’ve changed. Instead, this feels like excavating, like shedding skin, digging down deep to the person who has been dying to see the light of day my entire life. This is a year for leaving what is no longer serving you. For letting the old ways die. For blazing new trails. For asking yourself, when all the cards are on the table, what do you want to do with this life?

If you are still reading this, we made it. We lived through this. Thank you for sticking with me in 2020, for making me stick with documenting this year, for bearing witness to the horror and beauty and mundanity with me. Thank you, thank you, I love you.

Onward.

-Olivia

Saturn return

Flourish Vol. 44

Welcome to the post-vaccine/evermore era, friends. What an absolute time to be alive.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that yesterday marked the first day I’ve taken off in over two months. I’ve fallen into the unfortunate habit of hoarding my vacation days during the pandemic because, simply put, taking paid time off feels like a silly thing to do with nowhere to go and nothing of particular importance to get done. But as such, I’m now fast approaching my annual PTO cap, and my to-do list is burgeoning with personal projects and Christmas presents to tend to. So I decided to gift myself a three-day weekend, if for no reason other than to shake up the drudgery of my daily routine a bit.

Fortunately, my time spent playing hooky ended up being one of the most productive and relaxing days I’ve had in recent memory, making it feel a whole lot less frivolous. While I’ve been loudly beating the drum advocating for a healthy work-life balance in recent years, and particularly during the pandemic, I realize I’ve slacked on practicing what I preach. I’ve fallen prey to letting guilt prevent me from taking time off, and downplayed the reality of burnout, because — after all — I work from home now.

But the burnout is real; physically, mentally, emotionally, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can best safeguard my wellbeing, about slow work, about boundaries, about what’s working and what’s not. When my bedroom is my office, when each day bleeds into the next with little distinction, it’s hard to know where one thing ends and another begins, and I’m craving hard lines in my life. So, my next project on the docket will be clearing out our spare room to create a proper office, which should simultaneously help me feel more focused at work, and recharged outside of it because I can properly step away when I’m off the clock. (Naturally, the way our environment effects our habits was one of the chapters we covered in continuing to discuss Atomic Habits this week. Synchronicity!)

As fate would have it, my random Monday off involved the first Americans receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Electoral College officially affirming Joe Biden’s victory, once and fucking finally for all. I listened to NPR on my drive home from Christmas shopping and laughed out loud at this serendipity that had felt like hoping beyond hope just months ago, at optimism that felt so foreign, a little grateful to be experiencing this moment in history as a civilian rather than a jaded journalist.

Monday also happened to bring a new moon solar eclipse (bear with me here), which I’m crediting in part with why my life feels like a live wire suddenly, all crackling energy and forward momentum creating a domino effect after so many months of stagnation. I had a really lovely tarot reading with a fellow BuzzFeed-er, Kristina, Monday night, during which she zeroed in on the stagnation and lack of creativity I’ve been feeling, and my overarching frustration about the fact that I’ve put in the work, so where the hell is my reward?? (Like, has she been listening in on my therapy sessions??)

After reminding me that us ‘93 babies have just begun our Saturn Return, aka the time for our late twenties to hammer home tough lessons, tough love and what just isn’t working, Kristina emphasized the need to have a little patience with the universe. Oh, and also to fuck fear, and any and all concern about what other people may think about my life choices. “Who cares what other people think if you want to go, I don’t know, move to Alaska and work with sled dogs,” Kristina told me as an example.

Except, dear reader, that this is an actual thought I’ve actually had, because Alaska is never very far from my mind after my solo trip there (which did involve meeting some very good sled dogs) a couple of years ago. Coincidence? Fate? Who knows! I take all astrology with a grain of salt, but it brings me joy and calm and hope, and Kristina was right on the money, so you should definitely send her a DM (@allinthecardstarot) if you’re interested in a reading of your own. For other astrological resources, I’m also a big fan of Sasha (@enterthevertex) and her no BS approach to the universe:

“Expect MAJOR shifts this week. A chapter has ended and a new one begins. Allow whatever gets illuminated to you this week to come in. Eclipses bring things to light.”

A post shared by The Vertex Astrology (@enterthevertex)

Continuing on in this spellbound, cottagecore vein, I was only just coming to terms with the fact that 2020 turned me into a full on Swiftie, and that folklore was easily my favorite album of the year, when Taylor blindsided me with evermore, which is now somehow also my favorite album of the year? “Cowboy Like Me” quickly stood out as my favorite song from the record upon initial listen, and still is, because it’s fucking gorgeous, but I’m also very partial to “Champagne Problems”, “Gold Rush”, “Coney Island”, “Ivy”, “Marjorie” and “Evermore”. It’s a warm, melancholy album that has already worked its way into my thoughts and dreams, sweet and smooth as honey, and I’m so grateful for it. As my colleague (and fellow The National stan) Katherine Miller wrote, it’ll be tough to someday explain exactly what Taylor’s surprise albums really meant to us during the pandemic.

Just as I wasn’t surprised to see Taylor among my top artists in Spotify Wrapped this year, I wasn’t too shocked to not see Phoebe Bridgers, as hauntingly gorgeous as Punisher is. When it was released in early summer, my favorite song after a few listens through remained “Kyoto”, an early single and the only upbeat track on the record. And then, admittedly, Punisher gathered dust in my Spotify library for most of the year. As one friend put it, “I love Phoebe but I would have spiraled listening to her this year.” Yep. I’ve only just felt mentally prepared to return to the album as of late, partly spurred on by the delightfully Irish music video for “Savior Complex”, which I’ve been learning on guitar, too. It’s also the soundtrack of my most successful TikTok to date (yes, alright, I’ve returned to TikTok because what the hell else are we all doing??)

I feel a lot of self-imposed pressure to be on the cusp of new music, and to formulate an opinion about it in a timely manner, but I also believe that music finds its way to you when you need it, and winter has been my season for Punisher. “Savior Complex”, “Chinese Satellite,” “I Know The End” and “Graceland, Too” have been running through my head on alternating loops lately, all the pithy couplets and razor-sharp verses becoming as familiar as old friends.

Punisher is just the most perfect, haunting, daydream-nightmare hybrid of a record and I couldn’t be happier for Phoebe and her Grammy noms (though I truly cannot dwell for too long on the rather alarming fact that she is younger than me.)

Also, during her interview with Sam Sanders on It’s Been A Minute this week, Phoebe compared Sam’s experience of having moved home to Texas during the pandemic to the sort of weird, limbo lifestyle she leads while touring, and I love this metaphor and will be utilizing it to approach my own current “what the actual fuck am I doing” phase of life.

Other recommendations:

Last week, our newsroom got to have a private session with psychotherapist Esther Perel to discuss our experience, both collective and individual, of working from home for the past nine months. It was a breath of fresh air to acknowledge our own humanness, and that of our colleagues, after spending the better part of this year interacting with each other as Slack avatars and faces at the other end of a video call. Whether we live alone, or with partners, or parents or roommates or kids, all of us were seemingly struggling with one aspect of the pandemic or another; complete isolation or a lack of personal space, burnout from working too much, or a lack of interest in work entirely. I suppose the grass really is always greener, even in a pandemic.

Here’s some of Esther’s wisdom that particularly resonated with me:

"Mortality rearranges our priorities,” (in response to a lack of ambition about work these days), because hello, this has been my overarching theme — and I’m sure many other peoples’ as well —this year.

And "Our imagination helps us with the confines of reality,” because allowing our thoughts and creativity somewhere safe to dwell is more important now than ever before.

If you’re not familiar with her, Esther hosts the podcast How We Work, and also the fascinating series Where Should We Begin, featuring real counseling sessions between actual couples who are struggling with their relationships, and they’re both well worth a listen.


Lately whenever life is a lot, I like to rev up Reddit and inevitably end up down some existential rabbit hole, reminding myself just how small and trivial our problems truly are and how vast and infinite everything else is. Some oldies but goodies: Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot monologue (sorry to go full Philosophy Bro on ya here), and Deepsea Challenge, which follows James Cameron’s journey to became just the third person ever to visit the Challenger Deep, aka the deepest place on Earth. I find dark and/or open water to be absolutely fucking terrifying, but I still watched the entire documentary utterly transfixed, and I highly recommend you do the same. And hey, here’s a nice little quote from Cameron about why he’d risk his life to do such a batshit crazy thing: “If you live in fear and you never follow your dreams, you’ve compromised in a much greater way.”

If you’ve felt a distancing from Instagram this year, you’re not alone:

“After a decade of being the filter for reality, redefining our relationships with our friends, our bodies, our aspirations, and our favorite people, Instagram was suddenly one of the main portals to the rest of the outside world, and it simply wasn’t adequate for expressing the range of emotional experiences we were going through.”

-Stella Bugbee, “Our Shared Unsharing

But hey, we can stop caring about Instagram a bit while still wanting Instagram-ready skin, right? (Right?) Anyway, this Biossance exfoliating face mask will make your skin feel like a newborn’s, which I know sounds weird, but just trust me that it’s worth every penny. // The pandemic arrived. His text back did not. // “It’s really settling in now, the losses large and small.” A rumination on our country’s “ambiguous loss,” which has in recent years, perhaps rather dramatically, been the working title of my memoir/book of personal essays. //


Alriiiiiight. Apparently I had a lot to say today/have had a lot to think about lately, so if you made it this far, a sincere thanks for sticking with me. Keep calm and listen to evermore, friends — there’s finally some light flickering at the end of this tunnel.

-Olivia

Rarefied air

Flourish Vol. 43

The view from Innsbruck, Austria, one of the million and one places on my itinerary in Europe and elsewhere when this is all over.

We’ve reached the time of year between rotted pumpkins by the roadside and Christmas carols a few weeks too soon, this holiday limbo-twilight zone that feels like the entire year distilled into a few foggy weeks, the sun starting to slant just so in the early afternoons, the stars clear and bright in breathy, black nights, and two-thousand-and-twenty finally arcing toward a merciful end.

Somehow everything is all changing at once, and it’s all still exactly the same. I can feel the tide shifting, pressing new possibilities into my skin and carrying my body forward with an unrelenting momentum that never questions the future. But we haven’t yet reached the shore, still treading water in this interminable half-life, growing numb to the cold and drawing sharp, gasping breaths each time it hits us all over again.

Thanksgiving this year was a small affair at my house, with my parents and boyfriend gathered around our dining table and all my relatives at the other end of a video call, with crosstalk of home-buying and new babies, settling for virtual games with the brother I haven’t seen in a year, weighing the risks of being together and swallowing the realization that even as time is frozen my grandparents keep aging.

And still I thanked god, or whoever it is keeping the lights on in this life, for my family, for not spending the holiday alone in Los Angeles, for the unbelievably good fortune of being happy and healthy and alive at a time like this. I know many people who chose to skip this Thanksgiving entirely, fast-forwarding straight to Christmas and its promise of glittering, bulletproof joy, chasing that high as if it were something we could ever really touch.

Speaking of futile attempts to make happiness tangible, I’ve only just managed to pull myself away from more online shopping than is financially advisable to write for a while. Writing, as ever, has been a struggle; it comes and goes in blips and sparks, and so much of the time I feel like I’m shoveling lumps of coal into an old furnace and wondering whether it’s keeping anyone warm. But it’s all I know, and so I keep trying, again and again, to be at least a little better that I was the day before.

Recommendations:

Baking with fresh cranberries is one of my favorite winter treats, and this gluten free cranberry orange loaf was devoured by both the gluten-lovers and the gluten-averse in my life alike // I really thought blue light-blocking glasses were bullshit, but let me tell you they are saving my life these days // I’ve been reading Atomic Habits as part of a book club with friends, and it’s completely shifting how I think about goal-setting, chasing happiness, and choosing what exactly defines my identity. // The dream job is dead. Long live the good enough job. // How To With John Wilson is about everything and nothing and is insane and exactly you need in your life, just trust me.

My Black Friday/Cyber Monday buys have been mostly skincare and beauty-related, because I’ve spent the past nine months staring at every detail of my face on Zoom calls: Paula’s Choice for my favorite defenses against acne and aging, Glossier for this cult favorite, minimalist makeup kit, and this Colourpop eyeshadow palette, for obvious reasons. Oh, and if all that mask wearing has made you acutely aware of your breath these days, get a Quip (I promise, all the podcasters were onto something) and thank me later.

And for when you do leave the house, should you happen to live somewhere with real seasons, may I suggest earmuffs as an affordable luxury that’ll make you feel like a socialite wintering in the Swiss Alps.

I’ve listened to this approximately 11 million times since I realized Fleet Foxes blessed us with a new album, and it’s pretty much everything I hope for in a post-pandemic future (including European excursions and Robin’s smile, dear god.)

Also on permanent repeat: Genevieve Stokes is unfairly talented and unbelievably soulful for being just 18 (!) Excuse me while I go apply my retinol and try not to have an existential crisis…

“So hot you’re hurting my feelings” is the perfect lyric, and this cover is the perfect expression of it.

Anyway, we’ve (almost) made it to the last month of this mindfuck of a year, so go pour yourself a glass/draw a bath/indulge in your relaxing activity of choice and congratulate yourself for surviving every single way 2020 has tried to break you thus far. And take comfort in knowing there are better things to come.

-Olivia

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