Discover more from THE FEELING by Kate Carraway
THE FEELING: The Third Self
The best time to experience the "third self" is right now
For those who celebrate, or vaguely gesture at, Christmas and a January 1st new year, and also have nothing much going on in-between, the holiday season can be dissonant and disorienting, like living inside of a moody, wintry, lost-in-the-woods indie noir, and a glittering big-budget holiday-musical spectacular, nihilism and optimism, all at once.
A weird chasm opens up in all of the where-am-I, what’s-happening-ness of so much time away from work, and outside of routine, without actually being on vacation and following another, particular arc. That weirdness and liminality, the day-drinking and online-sale shopping, wearing sequins and flannel, full of Camembert and sugar cookies, ensorcelled by the togetherness and magic — and then overwhelmed by it all — is why the holidays are the best time to experience the “Third Self.”
Analogous to sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s “Third Place,” which defines physical locations beyond home and work, such as bars, churches, and bookstores, as “happy gathering places,” and adjacent to conceptualizations of “Third Space” as the integration and ephemeralities of correlated cultures and sites, the “Third Self” defines the self beyond home — or more specifically, “love,” relationships with friends and family — and work. Just, itself.
Love and work is “all there is,” according to Freud, and according to a culture that prizes structure, predictability and efficiency over everything. Collectively, we seem unable or unwilling to distinguish between the legitimate problem of widespread social isolation, all of that bowling alone, and the similarly compelling evidence for the creative, empathetic, and healing potential of deliberate time spent alone and offline.
If the “Third Place” sanctifies and codifies community and connection, which is the result of a space where “unrelated people relate,” the “Third Self” sanctifies and codifies self-care, which is — or can be — the result of a space where the self is alone with the self. The arena is different, even opposed, but the meaning is the same. Oldenburg wrote, in The Great Good Place, that “when the good citizens of a community find places to spend pleasurable hours with one another for no specific or obvious purpose, there is purpose to such association.” When the self is left alone — and I mean really left alone, not watching episodes of Seinfeld on a loop, or huffing Hallmark Christmas movies, or endlessly scrolling late-stage Twitter, to ward off boredom and discomfort like bad spirits — outside of its usual context, to lean into the bewilderment of the holidays, some fresh self-imagination, self-awareness, and self-care (which is actually about removal, refusal, and rest) is possible. It’s hard to get the self alone, though, which is why the free space — or psychic gutter — of the holidays is so useful.
The last seven-ish days of December might be the ideal forum for the Third Self, if a week of hours lost to the blue glow of social media and listless email check-ins can be resisted. Without the usual, steady hits of dopamine, the relative silence and stillness is there for the taking, and something rare can be accessed. The self that responds to external inputs, constraints and obligations — no matter how sweet and wanted and cultivated they are — dissolves in the long stretch of strange days strung together like fairy lights, twinkling and blurring, and reveals another, underneath.
We still need some rules, however.
The Third Self has to include being outside of a familiar schedule, and encountering some meaningful version of physical and digital solitude. Third Self prioritizes the interstitial mental space in which to synthesize — or dismantle — our social selves, family selves, friend selves, and work selves, and wander around in what’s there.
The spa is not Third Self. Camping alone, even for a few days, probably is. Burning Man is not Third Self; a mushroom trip might be. That said, what constitutes a “Third Self” space will vary (and will be more available with more freedom and flexibility, which usually aligns with economic privilege) but might include a lost day or two in an airport hotel room after a cancelled flight; a weekend alone when everyone else is, I don’t know, at Legoland; a sick day when you’re not too sick to vibe out on the mystery of the human body. A great Third Self opportunity is riding double on someone else’s business trip, and rambling the halls of a conference center, unnoticed and unassigned. I was in high school during a historic teacher’s strike: early, epic Third Self.
This won’t appeal to everyone. For some, religious observance, being encircled by people and held close by ritual, or otherwise maintaining a strong social high, is all that’s happening. For others, it’s a lot of “nothing,” which usually means a lot of streaming. Distraction has a purpose, which is why even the banal versions are just as addictive as any other promise of eternity. But, the you of the Third Self has some useful information, good stuff to let you in on, whatever has been cooking while you were doing everything from quarter-end deep work to getting messy at the office party.
I love Christmas, and what the “secular traditional” tends to include (the happy garbage; the monster breakfasts and leftover hors d’oeuvres; the Mariah Carey) but, I also like— or, at least, I’m up for — an occasion to more purposefully slip out of my overloaded, overstimulated day-to-day.
The last time I experienced a Third Self is when Simon was away for a week and I was alone with Strawberry. I didn’t have the time or energy to do anything other than care for her, and the house: no adult conversation, except for some FaceTimes with Dada, no emails, no social media, no TV. I was immersed in what was happening, in the moment. That, on its own, was valuable. But, a few days in, the roar of mental commentary having gone quiet, my very-online brain on pause, I started realizing things I hadn’t had the time and space for, like: “My energy has become very harsh” and “My voice is different lately; I don’t sound like myself; I sound like I’m recording what I’m saying” and “The way I love the baby has shown me so much good in myself.”
It was surprising, and instructive. The difference between my regular days, in which I meditate and journal and read and think (or, used to journal and read, before I had a child crawling up and down my body) but have no opportunity to just be, to feel off-center and bad and amazing and let it all happen, and the open field of a week of Third Self, was profound. A holiday at home, getting lost in the woods, can be more productive than it might seem.
THE FEELING Q&A: STACY LEE KONG
I don’t know Stacy Lee Kong personally, but I do know that I already followed and loved her “Friday Things” Instagram (which it turns out is also a newsletter) so when former Q&Aist Hannah Sung recommended her I said OUI! Stacy is a writer, editor, and the founder of Friday Things, “an indie media brand that explores the political side of pop culture. Mainly, it's a weekly newsletter about the week's biggest pop culture story — or at least, the one I can't stop thinking about.” She says “I play very fast and loose with the definition of pop culture, which is why I've recently written about that Simons’ ad promoting MAiD, the toll fame takes on child stars and grief in Wakanda Forever. But, I also publish Q&As with interesting people who are working, commenting on or studying pop culture in some way, as well as daily content on Instagram.”
What do you think of when you hear or read the word “wellness”?
White supremacy. I wrote a newsletter earlier this year about how the modern, Western wellness industry is rooted in white supremacy and also feeds into current white supremacist movements, and once you see it, you really can't unsee it. The next thing I think about is what wellness is for, and how often our understanding of wellness is about buying things so we look a certain way instead of actually taking care of ourselves.
Is happiness something you actively work toward?
I'm usually a pretty happy person, so I haven't had to work toward it. I've just... felt happy. But I've been having a really tough year and for the first time in a long time my baseline emotion isn't happiness, so recently: yes. And it's really hard.
Do you feel connected to your body?
Sometimes. I used to box and I felt more connected to my body then because I was proud of what it could do.
What is a good habit that you’ve recently formed?
Journaling. I have approximately 25,000 unused journals that I bought because they were pretty and then never wrote in. But recently, instead of trying to make myself hand-write my thoughts, I've been typing them in a note on my phone, and it has been really helpful in figuring out what I'm feeling and why.
What is your relationship status? Do you feel “at home” in that status?
Single and... sort of? I haven't ever really defined myself by romantic relationships (I am definitely the ambitious immigrant daughter kind of millennial, which means I've mostly defined myself through my work), so in that way being single is comfortable. But I'd also rather not be.
What is your best relationship advice?
You're not going to get what you want/need if you aren't honest about what that is. (I mean, you still might not get it, to be fair! But you definitely won't if you pretend you don't need anything.)
What do you find most challenging in a relationship?
Being vulnerable instead of just being open.
What is your most unwelcome feeling?
The fear that I'm too much.
Are you actively healing from something?
Just life, I think? I'm starting to understand that I've been underestimating the psychic toll racism and sexism had taken on me for years, but the pandemic has made me feel less resilient, and now I can't do that anymore.
What would it look or feel like to be “healed”?
Unshakable confidence that I'm going to be okay in all areas of my life.
Do you feel like you "choose" your thoughts?
I was initially going to say no to this, but I realize I actually do. Or at least, I choose what thoughts I pay attention to/focus on, which is functionally the same thing, I think.
Where is your phone when you sleep?
Beside my bed (or on my bed, if I fall asleep while reading... or scrolling TikTok)
What do you take simple delight in?
Animals or babies doing funny/cute things.
What would you change one thing about yourself or your life, what would it be?
I'd be braver.
In what area are you currently failing?
In what area are you currently thriving?
Honestly, at this exact moment I'm not sure I'm thriving in any area!
In what area are you currently surviving?
Every area. I'm not sure if it's end-of-year malaise or New Year's anxiety or just the fact that this has been a really tough year for me and a lot of people who I love, but right now, I really feel like I'm just trying to make it through.
The best way to support THE FEELING, then and now and always, is with a paid subscription, which includes the monthly, bonus “Diary” edition (the December “Diary” is out next week). With a paid sub, you also get access to the full archive which goes back, if intermittently, to 2016, I think? A “real-time”-in-agonizingly-slow-motion transformation, in there. I appreciate your subscriptions very much and of course if this is something you’d like but can’t afford right now, please just email me and I’ll hook it up.
I bought all my neighbors the same holiday gift, the hello-I-like-you, hello-I-see-you, hello-hello-hello, what I thought was a nice glass jar stacked with these big, good salted chocolate cookies, a real crowd-pleaser of a thing, but when they showed up they looked like a kindergarten class, an hour before dismissal, had been put in charge of just shoving the cookies into what turned out to be flimsy plastic cylinders? (I had only had these cookies à la carte, okay?) Messy! Not great!
I have no plans for the next while other than crashing down through thirty stories of cardboard until I hit the ground. I may have one unit of alcohol. I may watch one movie. But, it has become clear that rest, silence and solitude is what I actually need, so any holiday-enabled “off” hours will be only about that. Expecting nothing, or, expecting everything of so much nothing.
THE FEELING is a Pro-Rest and Pro-Holiday Publication, so we are also off/done until January. (“We”: me, assistant editor Tim who I want to note is not responsible for copyediting: the occasional typo and once-parallel sentence that got knocked off the tracks and flew into the woods, that’s all up to me; the less-than-occasional dismissal of the “take one thing off before you leave the house” rule is all up to me, too.) And, you know, then it’s my birthday: basically right now until late January is Confetti Month.
Oh, also: email me if there’s anything you particularly liked, or didn’t, this year. I like to know, and your emails are like vanilla-sugar clouds.
And-and: I am into the new-ish Q&As and very much enjoying less of the goo of my own brain being spread across the screen; if there is a fun/interesting/thoughtful person in the wellness, self-care, relationships, and “life” zone that you think would be nice to feature, email "Marcus Aurelius" or whoever it is to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can just respond to this, whatever bébé!
Between ADHD, a lovey-sweetie-scaredy dog, and a narrow entryway, I often have a real problem physically leaving the house, and sometimes my child and husband will find a way to wedge themselves in there, too, like me leaving opens up exciting possibilities of asking me questions and touching my shoes and simply, horribly observing me getting my bag together. (The thing where Simon is the oldest of five who grew up in noise and chaos and I am the youngest of three who grew up as an only child in silence: a challenge!) So now I yell “Portico” in those moments and that is code for, create some space and sanctity around the exit, for “scatter.” It’s been an improvement.
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL ALWAYS
Thank you for being here, and for meeting me with your brains and hearts and vagus nerves. Here, have my favorite recent compliment, which followed me pissing that day’s insecurities all over the floor: “You are beautiful always.”
I love you.
“New Year’s Eve always terrifies me / life knows nothing of years” — Not to be a Charles Bukowski dude, but, Charles Bukowski