Discover more from THE FEELING by Kate Carraway
THE FEELING: Can You Distract Me From All the Disaster?
Immersion, pleasure and privacy; a Q&A with Francesca Lia Block; errant care; the best jammies; "Don't"
On Sunday, last Sunday, there was a special event in my home, which was that I watched the finale of The White Lotus, like, on TV, you know, live.
I had gotten increasingly, semi-inexplicably involved in the show — which is fun and nice to look at and so tonally consistent, so very-very Mike White, and each episode was a tin of red herrings, but not the intellectual pursuit of my life or whatever — after realizing that some irritation I’d been experiencing was about having been a week-ish behind, for most of the season. I don’t usually care about that, or notice, as long as I can always talk about whatever it is, but it had started to feel important to me to be immediately up on it, watching it and reading everything and developing my own little theories. My participation-cum-devotion was like a flag in the sand on the beach where the body was found, in some continuity-something-something about having watched the first season with a new baby in a pandemic, away from everyone and everything I’d known or anticipated, grabbing at something familiar in prestigey TV.
(The loss of having done all of that, after all of that, without anyone around, without women, having become a mother without any IRL community other than Simon — notably, a man!? — is the single greatest, hollowing ache of all of it, and honestly, it hasn’t really changed.)
My expectations for watching the finale were communicated clearly and directly and in advance, and were: that I would not be pausing the show; that Simon was either in or out and that I would not abide any comesy-goesying, or any questions about where he’s seen the blonde before, or comments about Ethan’s Silicon Valley hair (finance guys and tech bros: just kiss already), or observations about how, oh, Sicily? It’s so nice. No. The viewing would be dark; it would be solemn. A little ceremony, organized around something you’re excited about, is like salt: it coaxes more out of what’s already good, what’s already happening. (Also: “This is important to me” and “Here is what I need from you,” even about stupid shit, are some of the best practices of marriage.) I got a little snack together for that long dramatic preamble HBO makes you endure when they know they’ve got you, and queued up my texts with my Lotusbuds, my ex and my best, for any important liveblogging, but really, I just sat there and watched it.
(I predicted his death, which didn’t happen, but I did call one thing: Ethan fucked that Testa di Moro vase right off its pedestal.)
In addition to whatever corrective emotional salve-value it offered, watching this season of the show so intently gave me a particular version (easy; low-stakes; travel-sized) of pleasure. Is pleasure self-care? Is it, really? Inside of the actual meaning of the thing? I don’t know, but I’m thinking about it, all the time, because I’m just like this. (“Why are you like this?” “Like what?” “Like how you are!”) It seems to me that there is an immersive, intentional version of watching TV and listening to music and hanging out and getting drunk and doing nothing and talking shit with your friends — you know, “fun” — that offers a kind of release and connection and acceptance and creation that transcends “entertainment,” which is passive and distraction-oriented and leads to an overload of trash-ass dopamine that a brain can quite literally become addicted to. This kind, what I’ve been up to, is more like play. If the defining thing is “intention” (which I think is what differentiates actual fun from shitty, self-defeating fun), which in action is “attention,” then it’s pleasure.
Another way to do immersion is alone, even if the immersion is into the same thing you’re getting psyched about with your friends. Immersion is just as generative when it’s not about play, but privacy. Even, honestly, just right now, seeing that word, right back there, before “Even” and stopped cold with a “.” gives me something I need, something that feels unequivocally like the soft water of self-care. Not to roll too deep with Caveat Culture, because I like and love my husband so, so, so much, it wrecks me how much, and have transitioned into motherhood with a surprising-to-me ease and calm, and also/yet experience a kind of ecstatic daily rapture I could not have imagined, and have been changed only in how much I feel even more like myself, BUT, but but but but, aloneness in every form has become this coveted, sacred thing.
What I got from The White Lotus was the opportunity to occupy myself with something that was nothing to Simon and Strawberry (for the new people reading this: that is only her nickname, I’m A Lot but not The Worst), to think hard and by myself about something that didn’t matter in any real way but wrapped around all of my interests and abilities and gave me something specific to toy with, work through, fit together, for hit after hit of the most expensive, cleanest dopamine, the good stuff. My sweet Lotusbuds, who I talk to about everything all the time anyway, heard all my fan theories and complaints about the emotional logic and Portia’s styling, but didn’t enter the humid lobby I made up in my Sicilian daydreams.
A few days before the finale, the new SZA record came out (finally, finally, finally, new SZA!), on first listen, a forever favorite, this work of depth and humor. (I played a movie trailer on Twitter and was like “Wait, what? This is an amazing, amazing song,” like, let’s get some tix, based on that momentary indication of sound, taste and feeling, and then realized the trailer was muted and SZA was still playing in another window. Oop!) Pulled over in the car in the dark, while an ambulance buzzed past us, Simon described my listening habits as “like a 15-year-old’s,” by which he meant “obsessively on repeat” but, sorry, that’s the right way, for me, for this kind of immersion.
I obviously take a lot of schoolgirly delight in Simon — the “Isn’t he cute?” of it all, the “crushing a cigarette with an undone Dunk while a moonbeam of a boy waits for you to finish talking to your friends” of it all — but also, allow me to touch the electric underbelly of some of that, which is that Simon is scared of me, of course. Okay, not “scared” but alienated from or confused by, and not of “me,” but of my collection of intensities that snake out under oceans and through deserts, my 15-year-old listening habits and my internal monologues and I guess the other stuff that is always at work when you’re a writer and a knight-errant of the socioemotional galaxies. I get it: he sees me descend into something he doesn’t understand, whatever it is. I feel similarly about how much he knows that I don’t know, how firmly grounded he is, how very real, how plainly smart and himself, how much he doesn’t need daydreams, Sicilian or otherwise.
Anyway. On Monday morning, I worked on year-end financials instead of running my fingers through the post-finale analysis. I had been so interested until a few minutes after the show ended, at which point, I was satisfied. Done. Having gone all the way down, I could come all the way back up, living out another fantasy, this one about “less, but better”: go deeper, less often, do it faster, and get in and get out. Part of immersion is taking a breath, at the end.
THE FEELING Q&A: FRANCESCA LIA BLOCK
I am happy that a lot of different kinds of people are here, really truly, but right now I’m tossing handfuls of the proverbial fairy dust at the highly specific readership who saw that name in the subject line of this email and went fucking nuts. My big stars growing up were basically her, Didion, and Hunter S. Thompson, and that “was pretty much the apparatus my adult brain grew around.” FLB has had so much influence over, under, and around my ideas about language, about how emotional and sensory experience can be translated, that her sensibility just lives inside of me, her objective correlatives and allusions my own realities. (The promises of art and magic really get fulfilled, sometimes.)
She has written a million different books, but her Weetzie Bat series is the ur-text, which I came to via Dangerous Angels, the first compilation. (Weetzie Bat is currently being developed for television by Sera Gamble, who is the showrunner of You.) At one point I moved into a place in West Hollywood and found out that Oki-Dog was down the street, like, by the time I buttoned my cut-offs, I was on Fairfax, right there. When I have referenced a Secret Agent Lover Man to you, to anyone, that’s her. Anyway!!! The trailer for her new book, House of Hearts, is here.
What are you working on?
A screenplay about Love, Death and the Devil. I am also trying to learn the producing ropes.
What is your “project” or what do you want to say about what you “do”?
I’m really proud of my new novel House of Hearts, out from Rare Bird Lit, a literary mystery set in the Salton Sea. Aimee Bender calls it "A lushly sensory pageturner that will satisfy Block fans and create new ones.” It has been long listed for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize. It kind of broke me (physically, mentally and financially) but it was worth it. And I’m almost healed. My bigger “project” is to help other people heal through writing and creative expression!
What about your work has changed you as a person?
My writing has helped me heal, brought friends and loved ones into my life and sometimes supported me financially. My teaching has made me a better writer and fulfilled me as a mentor. Both have given me more confidence in myself.
What do you think of when you hear or read the word “wellness”?
The things I try to do to heal myself. Eat healthy food, drink water (and matcha and kombucha) move my body, express my emotions, give to others, get enough touch and enough sleep.
Do you feel connected to your body?
What is a good habit that you’ve recently formed?
I go to acupuncture every week.
What is your relationship status? Do you feel “at home” in that status?
I’m in a new relationship with someone. It’s wonderful. It’s scary.
What is your best relationship advice?
Treat it as a practice. When you find the right person, devote yourself.
What do you find most challenging in a relationship?
Overcoming triggers and fear of abandonment.
What is your most unwelcome feeling?
Anxiety, jealousy, anger.
What would it look or feel like to be “healed”?
I may never fully know but I get glimpses of it along the way and I’ll keep trying and that is enough.
Are you in therapy? If so, what does it do for you?
Yes, but not every week. My beloved therapist died in 2019. I’m still not over it but I carry her wisdom inside of me.
When do you feel most rested?
Last weekend I stayed alone at a hotel with black-out drapes, took some CBD and a “recreational” Advil and slept 11 hours.
You have a weekend free of obligations and responsibilities. What do you do with it?
Dance, walk, eat, make out.
If “1” is total peace and calm and “10” is total chaos, where is your life right now?
How are you trying to make the world a better place?
THE FEELING Diary is the monthly bonus edition of THE FEELING (it is a… diary) and is the best way to support me/this newsy. (If you’d like a subscription but can’t afford it, email me by replying to this, and I’ll set it up.)
For a couple of months when I was probably 25 I sublet a friend’s room while he was on tour. (I did this a few times, with people in a few different bands, and my then-lifestyle as an itinerant dirtbag ((that’s Dirtbag Classic, not Left)) who scheduled black cars to drive me to the airport from, I don’t know, were they actually just cleaner punk houses? Squats-plus? didn’t seem all that incongruous at the time?) The house was officially haunted, and I slept terribly. There were a couple of other roommates whose names I’ve forgotten, one of whom inexplicably left a conversation we were having, mid-sentence, to go out and buy me some good cheese??? Who was that dude? Anyway-anyway, I want to ask my friends about all this, but I stopped, poised over a phantom DM, because… I can’t remember who knew who, who dated who, who hated who, what colors the strings were between any two people, and for the first time, I didn’t want to just assume that someone else was “curious-neutral” about their own history, available for casual activations of the past (and the “past” of one’s twenties can be such a weirdo haunted house, too). Maybe this is errant care, an overshoot, but, an area where I often get it wrong is assuming that something that is easy for me is easy, should be easy, for someone else. So, yeah, will I just never know? Is that where I’ve landed?
Our washing machine broke, or at least, served an error message and a drum full of water, and our beloved handyman is out sick with The Thing, just like everyone else, so my husband Simon (him again???) took our stuff to the best of our local laundromat options. (However, that’s where, soon after we moved in and didn’t have laundry set up, an old man *screamed* a slur at Simon, and when I say “at” I mean at, to his face, which is really a choice when the subject of a close-up slur is two feet across and one foot deep and has scars from skate blades and helmets and his own teeth visible from a distance, like!) Simon returned to the car with the wet things that dryers aren’t friendly to, went back, and found the door locked. He came home, mad, that he had misunderstood the rules and that he’d left “like a thousand dollars worth of clothes in there.” [Editor’s note: oh, sweet summer child.] So yeah, Simon’s folding style is to not fold anything and instead lay clothes on top of each other like crêpes. Why!
Related: I got some freshie pajamas, the best ones in the Cozy Mode category, for my birthday present to myself; my birthday is in January and another present I’m giving to myself is making Simon (again???) do the Q&A, which he’ll hate but will offer like so many plums and peaches and grapes, ripe and spilling, the gift of his unusual generosity of spirit.
Finally, finally finally finally: Simon (???!!!) was looking intently between his phone and computer, in furrowed triangulation, and I asked him what he was doing, and he said something about how based on the subway signage, Sesame Street is probably in Noho, but it would necessitate a huge station, something something something. Princess Mini is lucky to have him as a dad, definitely, but I get all these little sneaks into the weirdbest-possible guy’s private moments, too. Am I ovulating? This is gross.
“This desperation to understand has animated my entire adult life, a Looney Tunes cacophony of effort to be several versions of better, even as I wander around both acutely aware of and alarmingly oblivious to the patterns and habits and assumptions and defaults that hurt me, and sometimes other people, unrealized and unperfected (but often ‘wellness’ed into the fucking ground, babe!)” — me, from “That’s My Type”
My dad has, not “never,” but so rarely, given me any specific advice (as opposed to my mom, who likes to offer what we call “Life Lessons,” like she’ll say “Okay, here is a Life Lesson…”) and his best advice to me ever was by accident, via exasperation, ‘twas ever thus, which was “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” and it really packages up his overarching “do you” sentiment that I got and ran with (and I believe is why I have, really, among other things, A-plus relationships with men, romantic and otherwise: I just never had the idea that I was supposed to be anything for them, or should accept anything less than what I wanted from them, and that they were for FUN, the end). “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” and “Do whatever you want,” said with the most “duh!” energy a kind, serious, quiet-ish dad can offer. Just: “so, don’t.” Don’t.
I love you.
“There are moments which are made up of too much stuff for them to be lived at the time they occur.” — our man J le C, in Tinker Tailor, included here on the occasion of A Private Spy: The Letters of John LeCarré, which of course I pre-ordered the moment I heard about it, thx thx thx
Can you make me happy? / Can you keep me happy?
Can you distract me from / all the disaster?
Can you touch on me and / not call me after?
Can you hate on me and / mask it with laughter?
Can you lead me to the ark / what’s the password?
I need humanity
Y’all lack humanity / drowning in vanity
Y’all lack, I need humanity
[Photo of FLB by Madeline Northway, thanks to both of those cats.]