thoughts you have on trains

hey hi hello

[insert witty banter here]

This is a long one; I'm so sorry. Also, if you received this letter twice since the switchover from tinyletter, I’m sorry! Just delete it!

Anyway! We can skip this whole cute part and just get into it.

okay thanks sorry love u bye,
carrie


SOME THOUGHTS I HAVE BEEN THINKING
thoughts you have on trains in and around new york about the impending (sudden or gradual) end of the world

I like the Fairfield train station late at night, the way standing on the platform under the flickering yellow lights makes you feel like you are one of the last people left on earth. It’s quiet up there to the point that it’s almost a shock. In the summer you’re surrounded by the low hum of cicadas but winter is nothing but flat, dry air, maybe a whirring motor of a car keeping the heat on for whoever it is they’re waiting for, if you’re lucky. The sky in Connecticut is impossibly inky; you can actually see the stars. New York nights rarely look any better than a black t-shirt you’ve worn and washed so many times that the cotton is now fading and thinning and vaguely disappointing; the moon is big and bright no matter where you go, sure, but the only company it keeps here are the moving specs of plane lights as they fly into La Guardia. Alone in the quiet, it’s just me and Carly, sometimes one or two other people but never very many and they all keep their distance anyway, and I think about how I read once that if a nuclear bomb went off in Lower Manhattan, everyone within 100 feet would get instantly reduced to atoms and the fallout would carry for miles but — if the wind was right — this part of Connecticut would be spared and I wonder what it would be like to ride out the apocalypse here.

The sound of my front door closing is enough to jolt me awake at any time but still a recurring nightmare I have is that New York is attacked at 3 a.m. and I sleep through it. Or, worse, I’m awake but unprepared, searching through cabinets for jugs of clean water and batteries that aren’t there, and panicking, unsure how I’m going to get out and where I’m going to go. When I'm awake, I tell Carly we need to make go-bags and an emergency evacuation plan and she rolls her eyes and I scroll through listicles about disaster preparedness until I get overwhelmed and eventually click out and just watch an episode of Schitt’s Creek instead.

Leaving the city is always an exercise in dealing with some kind of a crowd, no matter what time of day you depart — the after work rush hour, early Saturday afternoons, late Sunday mornings. I always like to look at all the different people and wonder what their lives are like, what it is that they’re leaving and what it is that they’re going to on this New Haven bound Metro North line. They all seem to look like they’re escaping something; there’s always some look of relief, whether they’re college kids or businessmen or moms with small children, but maybe that’s just me projecting, because that’s what I always feel like I’m doing. Returning is an entirely different story, the trains always fractionally full, just a spread out smattering of fleshy bodies in seats, more padded maroon benches empty than not, each car one long, toothless mouth. I almost always cry no matter how happy or sad I am because, like a child, I always want to cry when it's time to go home and crying on trains is easy because everyone is facing forward, so no one can see.

*

I went to Rockaway Beach for the first time the other week, spent my Sunday night hanging out with a friend’s other friends. Biz and I took the 4:30 ferry from Wall Street, the late afternoon departure made even later by our own inability to arrive on time for one that left half an hour earlier. Her already-delayed connecting ferry pulled in a moment too late; my exhausted legs were too rubbery and heavy to carry me fast enough as I sprinted from the subway, weaving between tourists, one hand fixed firmly on the top of my head to keep the headband I wore in place as the river-whipped breeze repeatedly tried to dislodge it. 

Biz wanted to see a Grateful Dead cover band at Low Tide Bar with some friends and wanted to sit on the beach one last time before summer ended. I wanted to quietly laugh at the act of going to a Grateful Dead cover band at Low Tide Bar and sit on the beach for the first time since summer started. I kept looking out at the water and thinking out loud that even though it was too cold to get in, I made it, finally. The Labor Day weekend air hung heavy and thick, saturated with ocean water but absent any sticky kind of heat. Sweat beads on the outside of a cold can of Coke. It felt like another world, but upon scanning the horizon, I realized I could still see the clear skyline of Lower Manhattan in the distance, its crooked smile of dark glass skyscrapers looming just over my shoulder.

All those buildings are going to disappear someday, probably in my lifetime. The water is getting higher and the storms are getting worse but the rich keep buying up the most vulnerable real estate anyway. Each new building erected spits in the face of scientific evidence that this is a Bad Idea, but the joke will be on them because one day the rising ocean is gonna spit right back. 

The drinks and food were cheap and good and the band could actually play and it seemed like the group of us were all in on the same joke, all slyly smiling that none of us were even close to Deadheads but we made the long trip here just the same. I picked at my salad and watched oddball strangers dance with other oddball strangers, their tie-dye ensconced bodies doing some mutually languid shimmy, rolling into and away from each other with no discernible rhythm, and listened as the chatter of Biz and her friends got squashed under the relentless volume of Low Tide’s PA system. I thought: These people know how to be happy. I thought: I bet they’re not scared like me. 

Late that night we all stood shivering, waiting for the shuttle to take us back to New York, beach towels wrapped around shoulders like shawls, sweatered arms folded tight across chests, sweatshirt sleeves pulled over hands that rubbed bare legs poking out of jean shorts, hoping our train apps didn’t deceive us and our clanky old chariot home was arriving in the next two minutes, not 28. We rode in tired silence, everyone leaving one by one as they were brought to their respective connecting stops until it was just me left to ride the line until its near end. 

By then the trains were running local and I knew taking an Uber would be faster, more practical, but I was too tired and too lazy to get off, so I popped in my airpods and I willed myself to stay awake. “The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Even Matter” by Penguin Cafe Orchestra came on my playlist and I turned my music up a little louder and I thought about how these kinds of summer nights won’t last forever. Earlier that week, I watched the 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg arrive in New York from my office window, docking her sailboat that had just crossed the Atlantic from England, cutting through waters that have lapped hungrily at this city many times and continue to threaten their ability to swiftly swallow it whole. I watched as she stepped out onto an artificial expansion of New York, onto land built upon what was once literal trash. 

*

A couple summers ago, my morning commute derailed, the southbound A going so fast it jumped in the air and my butt flew up out of the seat the way it does going down the highest hill on those big, old wooden rollercoasters, except it wasn’t fun because I heard the words “fire” and “the doors are locked” and I couldn’t smell any funnel cake or kettle corn in the distance, just the putrid, smokey stench of burning rubber. When 30 minutes later, after walking in a single file line from one end of the train to the other to climb out onto the platform, I finally spilled out onto the street all sweaty and squinting in the sunlight, I called an Uber first and my boss second and my parents third because all I could think was “I’m so late for work.” 

So now any time I idle for longer than a minute underground, my legs grow tingly and then finally numb and I become more aware of how irritatingly loud everyone else seems and as my brain starts to think that this is The End, I silently pray please god not today please god at least let me see my friends one more time please god at least let me publish one more thing before I go please god at least let me live until Saturday please god at least let me die wearing something prettier. All real fast, one right after another. And then I feel real bad about it because I don’t even know if I believe in god and even if I did, the only times I pray are times I think I’m gonna die and that’s probably not how you’re supposed to do it, but I wouldn’t know because I never went to church save for the summer I was 11 and my mom sent my sisters and me to vacation bible school and all I took away from it was the cloying melody of “Our God Is An Awesome God” on an endless loop in my brain and an ability to craft sheep out of cardboard and yarn. 

The city has always made me jumpy and yet I’ve always wanted to live here. I continue to stay eight years later, even when it seems like ever-present bad news tries to coax the constant whisper of anxiety into speaking up a little louder. Some days I have to leave my office and walk by the water for a little to catch my breath if I see a helicopter fly too low. I get caught up thinking too much sometimes about how I work on the site of a mass burial, and how crass but unsurprisingly American it is that powerful men in suits decided to build something so big and shiny and ostentatious out of the rubble of a national tragedy, that they expect us all to just go to work every day like it’s No Big Deal, like it’s not a little bit fucked up, save for the one day a year we’re allowed to remember that it is, actually, a Very Big Deal (though they have yet to rule on the fucked up part). 

I go out with a guy I like and we tell each other jokes that aren’t really jokes about the strange times we live in. I tell him I think all the time about how death is around every corner in New York and I laugh nervously and add that I maybe should have kept my eyes closed when Allison Janney gets hit by that bus in Margaret and that I maybe shouldn’t have watched Russian Doll so many times and he suddenly kisses me and I wonder what about any of that sounded romantic.

And I think a lot about how one time a nice lady once told me to say “rama” when I get scared but she never said what it meant, just that it would make me brave, and friends, I say it all the time, even though whispering it only loud enough for my own ears to barely discern makes me feel anything but. Sometimes I think I just like the idea of something more than I like the actual thing. 

*

I either write my texts 
like this
period-free but breaking each thought into
a
brand
new
line,
a
brand
new
bubble,
often with GRATUITOUS capitalization
for emphasis
You know?

Or like they’re one long paragraph, the words building up one after the other in small succession, forming what looks like a maybe bloated but still healthy balloon in my minuscule font until I remember how many friends I have with phones set to the largest font possible, their eyes much older and more tired than mine, and I imagine how much scrolling they’d have to do to get through just one of my dense sentences. And sometimes I just wonder if the world were ending right now, which style would I break the news with, and who would I send it to, and would they text me back.


LISTEN
“Air BnB” - Kim Gordon
I didn’t really intend to stan No Home Record, Kim Gordon’s forthcoming solo debut (it sounds weird calling anything from an artist with a nearly 40-year long career a “debut” but that’s what it is!) in two newsletters before it was even out, but that’s just what seems to have happened!!!

Digression aside, “Air BnB” is the latest single from Kimmy G. and, man, it’s a bop. It’s got all the makings of a classic Kim Gordon track: a minimal, but prominent, hooky bassline and squalling guitars that punk up an upbeat, poppy (but still very left-of-center) melody with a gigantic chorus. Its lyrics slyly skewer the artifice of capitalism, the stale, inauthentic ways people decorate Air BnBs in an effort to exude a false sense of hominess or display their “taste.” Joan Didion had a habit of characterizing (and judging) people by the objects they owned or the clothes they wore; in verse, Gordon often does the same. 

The DIY video is as weird and wry as the song: “This video was going to be shot in an Air BnB. There wasn’t any money to make it,” white text on a black screen reads before continuing to simply display copy from the video treatment instead. It’s a sly smile, a wink and an eye roll — a reminder that Kim Gordon is funnier than we give her credit for, and has been in on the joke of the overly serious persona of Kim Gordon since its inception. More, it’s a poking joke about the state of the music industry writ large; if punk icon Kim Gordon doesn't even have the budget to make the art she wants (which, from the treatment, sounds, uh, pretty cheap to begin with), how much hope is there for the rest of us? 

READ
The Gospel According to Marianne Williamson - Taffy Brodesser-Akner
In the hands of a lesser writer, an in-depth look at the self-help author’s unlikely presidential campaign would read too condescending and mean, or too laughing at her expense, or too drippy and sympathetic. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, one of my favorite profile journalists out there, however, is no average writer. In her hands, this profile is a delicious mix of firm probing and smirking quips, all wrapped up in kindness and compassion. She’s able to call out Williamson’s obvious weaknesses to blind followers while simultaneously saying “well, she’s not all bad” to detractors. The result is a fascinating read that paints a whole, nuanced portrait of Williamson that left me thinking for days.

In Conversation: Liz Phair on being misunderstood, working with Ryan Adams, and the dawn of Girlville - Rob Tannenbaum
HOOBOY this is… a treat. Come for the way Liz Phair rips this journalist (and all journalists) for singling out her scrapped work with Ryan Adams as the big point of interest in her entire forthcoming memoir, stay for her thoughts on how Exile in Guyville has been both her buoy and her ball and chain. 

WATCH
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
On July 28, 2018, I tweeted

I know there’s a lot of shit going on and like we may all die in an impending nuclear apocalypse and all but I just want to say
Feel like we don’t talk about Linda Ronstadt enough.

My mind! It amazes me sometimes! One year later and we’ve been blessed with this superb look at Ronstadt’s life and career that has everybody talking. Did I find it a tad bit vanilla, more concerned with painting a beautiful PR-friendly (and subject-approved) portrait of Rondstadt than a whole one? Yeah. But did I also spend three-fourths of it beaming, amazed that she did so much more than I was even aware of, in awe of her raw talent, and whispering “she’s so FUCKING cool!” multiple times (the other one fourth spent just silently sobbing because we never deserved her and the ravages of age and disease are so heartbreakingly sad)? Also yeah. 

THINGS I WROTE OR DID
If you somehow haven’t seen me self-promote the shit out of this on my various social media platforms… I wrote about my qween Elaine May — and the trope of “difficult girls,” her place among them as their patron saint, and the ways her work addresses (or fails to) these complicated women — for the digital film journal Bright Wall/Dark Room’s September issue all about May. I’m very proud of this one; please take a look if you haven’t already!

Elaine May Made Movies About Men, But Difficult Female Protagonists Dominate Her Stage

friendly reminder that if you missed any previous emails, you can read the archive here.
if you want to listen to the music i reference, you can listen to the bed crumbs playlist here.

okay that's it that's the end thanks bye