Sunday 21 March 2021

My Pandemic Hamster Taught Me My Life Is Something

My value has always been in my work and my altruism.

When successful, my work. When unsuccessful, my altruism. In the pandemic, when work was cancelled and productivity meant little to nothing, I leaned hard into altruism. Fortunately, there was a lot of volunteering, donating, protesting to do. First food banks then defunding the police then supporting Land Back then flipping red places blue then back to my first love, concern over the environment and underserved teenage girls. I’ve joined so many action squads and email chains and signed so many petitions and called so many officials and bled cash all year. I worked too, but, of course, I've had 98 nos and 2 yeses since March 2020 (I keep a list). My worth as an artist floats low, like a balloon meandering around the kitchen several days after the party. Besides, it’s always been true that no matter how impressive my latest project is, it’s fleeting. My worth as a good citizen, completely unclear. No matter how much sweat I put into my community efforts, the difficulties for those in need rage on. Sure I helped those few old folks find water in frozen Texas, but if I hadn’t, would it have simply been someone else? Okay, I do what Sunrise newsletters tell me to, but will the Green Deal actually happen, and if it does will it be what we need it to be?

I felt bad. Often. “Worthless” my therapist pinned, and of course, she was right. What is the point of being alive in this boxy apartment? Am I even alive in this boxy apartment? I count who would notice my absence from Zooms. I ask what the future has planned for me and if I even want it at all, if I could even stomach it. These feelings used to rise in me before, but then I’d get busy and forget. Now in my one-bedroom strictly following CDC guidelines, there’s no such thing as busy or forget. And one day busy would return, but now I was too wise to forget, I worried.


I was tasked by aforementioned therapist to find worth in myself for myself. I couldn’t. The whole thing is were social creatures, I’d argue. And now I’m not, and so what am I even doing being alive at all? She’d disagree without any logical explanation, which made me insane. A currency of nothing? Not in my deep-seeded capitalist Christian values, ma’am.


Then one day I thought my hamster died.


She hadn’t stirred all morning, so I started mussing with her toys. That usually gets her to at least start sniffing around. But no, nothing. I poked her nest with a chew stick. Surely she’d nibble it. But no. I was overcome with fear. Fingers shaking, I started peeling back layers of shavings until I finally saw a patch of her fluff. Still. And then she scratched her ear and I sat down, on the ground, in relief.


I adopted her March 19th. She’s chunky and extremely well-behaved. I got her an hour before LA shut down. I raced out from my eight-day quarantine to save at least one critter from the impending closed doors. (Look at me, trying to justify my worth by saving a life UGH). The rep told me she’d been waiting for a ham parent four months. I held her little round body and fell in love.


It’s funny to have a hamster of all pets right now. I’m locked inside a small space, so I bought a smaller space to lock a different living being inside. That said, the great thing about having a Syrian hamster in a pandemic is that they’re loners. No guilt on me for lack of rodent friends, lack of cage-mates. She doesn’t want anything but to occasionally come up from her pile, eat a berry, and burrow again. I play with her once a day, which she is indifferent to.

What does she do for society? Nothing. Would she offer aid in an emergency, like a bird? No. Can she accomplish tasks like dogs? No. Do I even get the benefit of knowing she likes me, like how even the grumpiest cats nuzzle their owners? Absolutely not. My hamster would probably never wonder about me again if I left a robot in charge of feeding her, and yet I treat her like a tiny god. I obsess over her every scuttle and jump for joy when she likes a new chew toy. I marvel at her tunnels and observe all the wood sticks in new places each morning. If I hear her drinking water, I literally sprint from my desk to watch. This hamster has my whole heart for no reason other than she is alive, and being alive is enough.

Thursday 18 March 2021

What to Expect When You're Expecting COVID Immunity

A year and a couple days ago I wrote a post on Indoor Voices about having lived through a COVID outbreak in China, recognizing that I had a certain amount of insight into our collective American futures from what turned out to have been a disastrous vacation and what I had todo upon my return. Looking back on it I was right about certain things but dead wrong about the course of the pandemic. I said that it would just be a few months, and here we are a whole-ass year later doing basically the same thing. I should have known that America was in no place to fight this when I received no guidance on what to do when I returned from a hot zone, but I guess I (mistakenly) thought that we could all collectively identify a threat and mobilize against it. In a way we kind of have, engaging in the herculean task of vaccinating everyone with two shots of a miracle cure that has to be kept at temperatures usually reserved for Dippin' Dots, and because of that I have once again found myself ahead of the pandemic curve. 

My sister texted me one Sunday morning saying that there was a Duane Reade that had doses expiring at noon and that we should call immediately. An hour later, my girlfriend and I had a shot of Pfizer in our arms and I had whole lot of feelings that every American is going share in someday soon. It's odd, there's a process going on in my body that I have no real insight into that is going to change my life in significant ways. I've begun to think of it as being pregnant with not getting the Coronavirus. I know that it's a clumsy way of thinking about it, but I also don't have a different framework for waiting for the vessel that I inhabit to do something. All I can do is wait for my second shot, when all the antibodies and other invisible things inside of me can become real. I have to say as I come up on two weeks since my first shot - I'm getting kind of impatient with it.

That impatience is something that I haven't felt in a long time, since before any of this happened. On March 17th of 2020 I wrote:

But at the present moment, our completed loss is the loss of the ability to look forward to anything other than the end of the virus. I used to get through weeks by thinking about the weekend, and days by thinking about what potential the end of the day might have. Now the end of the day looks the same as the day, and the weekend feels the same as the week does. I do not know when it will end, but I know that someday my anticipation will return, unlike the other things I have lost along the way.

What I wasn't expecting was my sense of anticipation to crash back into me as soon as the needle entered my shoulder. As my girlfriend and I waited around the pharmacy to see if we'd have an allergic reaction I couldn't help myself from looking at Mets tickets on my phone and daydream about drinking a 25 oz Goose Island on a still chilly April night. For the first couple days after my jab I had issues sleeping. I guess I had forgotten how to turn my brain off over the past year and it excitedly jumped between thinking about haircuts and dental appointments. I know that we're still a long way from normal, but it's intoxicatingly invigorating to think about something as simple as having friends over to drink on the couch or receiving routine medical care. It's like emerging from hibernation after a long emotional winter.

That's not to say that my burgeoning immunity is a slam dunk for my mental health. I've always been a hypochondriac, and that's an urge I've done my best to fight over the past year to avoid becoming a paranoid shut-in. On a certain level we've all normalized the risks we take just to get through a pandemic day, accepting that we have to go to the grocery store and to try to socialize safely and outdoors, and we've made an uneasy peace with the idea that we can do everything right and still get sick. We can tell ourselves that it's not our fault if we get sick, but once there's a clock ticking on how much longer you're going to be susceptible to COVID, you realize just how embarrassing it would be to get it now. To get this close and get sick would be an absolute gutpunch, like you saw the face of god and he flipped you off. I'm a healthy young man so I'm not worried about dying if I do catch it, I take my precautions for the sake of people who aren't as lucky as I am, but I would feel like I wanted to die. It would feel like going on a nice run through the park was pure hubris, and I certainly don't want that.

This also gives me a convenient reason to talk about guilt, because that seems to be the primary emotion for young people who are already vaccinated. I felt it when I stood in line with people who seemed older than my 95-year old grandmother, but I told myself that the doses were going to expire in half an hour and it's better to put it in my arm than down the drain. When I posted that I had gotten vaccinated I was completely unprepared for the number of people who reached out to me to talk about how guilty they felt for getting it, that they didn't think they were worthy of getting a dose before other people. I wrote a whole piece about vaccine guilt on my Medium, but I'd like to repeat myself and say that getting vaccinated isn't just for you, so don't feel bad if you got it before you thought you should. You getting vaccinated breaks the chain of transmission and means you can't get someone else sick or, god forbid, take up a hospital bed that someone else might need. You're not getting vaccinated so you can go back to bars, you're getting vaccinated so someone else will have a better chance of getting back to however they want to live life.

Pretty soon we'll all get that second jab and give birth to our immunity. We'll be able to go back to doing the things we want to do. In fact, it's probably going to happen more quickly than you think. Vaccine deliveries are accelerating, more needles are finding their way into arms, and eligibility keeps expanding. Maybe you'll feel less guilty than the people I've talked to because of it. The nicer the weather gets, the better life will become. You might want to try daydreaming about it, it'll be good for your mental health. We're on the home stretch of this thing, just try to not go viral. It would be humiliating.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Coffeecore: The Goodbye



My little flâneur, this time comes for everyone in the City, sooner or later. You give your orchids to Michiko, your spare set of cocktail glassware with the swirled teal stems to Adam and Lorraine.  They throw a small party for you at work; you remember the wide-cut ties and the smell of freshly laid industrial carpeting. You wait for a storm, the kind where you can see the backs of the wind-flipped leaves on the branches and hear the windows getting pelted. There are raindrops the size of train tokens. You walk out the front door of the building, and hear it close with a hydraulic whoosh behind you.

You do not take a key. 

Was this corner here a week ago? A month? You turn to go down the slick planes of the stairs and fold your umbrella neatly as the door opens. Where you are going, you will not need it. It is such a strange coincidence of the City, the ambient suitability to all moods and happenings of its weather. 

Friday 29 May 2020

Coffeecore: The Winter Garden


Even you, my little flâneur, need to get out of the city sometimes, no matter how much you love it. Take the 憧れ line to northernmost end, and get off at the last stop. It is neither the country nor the city here,  but a kind of in-between-place where everything is shifting.  The old estate with the winter garden is going to seed on the edges, and there are certain places where the plants get the upper end in the sticky mid-summer, but it not a ruin yet.

You enter through the conservatory, where you can feel the water content in your veins and the ferns touch your legs ever so gently as you walk to the makeshift counter, and order from the small machine the colour of a particular variety of chalcedony. You ask for a doppio, for the doubled arches and the enfilade of doorways that ratatats its way into the heart of the house, where glancingly, you think you see something and then blink and don't. Desire is fickle that way.

Sunday 17 May 2020

I think I might be right about this

This morning, while eating pickles for breakfast and reading the pretty good New Yorker profile of Phoebe Bridgers, a subtweet came to me. It was like,

It doesn't really make sense because I think I was only talking about Harry Styles and Phoebe Bridgers, and given that Phoebe actually grew up in California I think it's probably fine for her to make an album about it. Maybe I was feeling a little hostile towards her because she said in the profile that she'd avoided Didion due to "mansplaining."

Monday 11 May 2020

A Brief Selection from the Pandemic Brain Dictionary

The pandemic has mangled my ability to think. My brain’s mostly written off the idea of producing coherent strings of thought. It’s a buzz of half-formed fears and anxieties that can’t figure out how to voice themselves. Occasionally, though, single words will push themselves through the static, like little missives from one part of my brain to another that got shuffled down the wrong path. Here’s a short collection of the those words that I’ve found myself lingering on, either from nuances in their meaning that I’ve probably just imagined, or because they sound fun.

Sunday 10 May 2020

Coffeecore: Exercises In Style


The true flâneur loves encyclopaedias-- for how could this not be so, when they traverse, in short strolls, the city of mind so conveniently and alphabetically?

Consider, for today's fodder, the following entry from Wikipedia on Queaneau's Exercices de Style:

'Exercises in Style' (French: 'Exercices de style'), written by Raymond Queneau, is a collection of 99 retellings of the same story, each in a different style. In each, the narrator gets on the "S" bus (now no. 84), witnesses an altercation between a man (a zazou) with a long neck and funny hat and another passenger, and then sees the same person two hours later at the Gare St-Lazare getting advice on adding a button to his overcoat. The literary variations recall the famous 33rd chapter of the 1512 rhetorical guide by Desiderius Erasmus, 'Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style.'

Today, like Queneau, we will take a bus, but not the number 84 bus, for in the Coffeecore Extended Universe the numbering of buses is a very precise and delicate thing. This bus is the not the S-99 but the X-99, since it crosses universes, and is an express which only stops, naturellement, at coffee shops. The passenger finishes a morning doppio espresso in a travel cup, watches a woman with a beautifully knit sweater, and dismounts at the cafe. Later, the woman in the sweater walks into the cafe and sits at a table.

Friday 8 May 2020

Jenn's Bean Diaries #6

We murdered the unborn baby can of black beans.
Here's everything I made in one week.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

It’s Not a Trick, It’s an Illusion

In an ordinary week, I might pass the building-wrapped-in-a-sheet-that-looks-like-a-building here in Cambridge once or twice—a diversion in my normal bike commute, a whim to stave off boredom (how quaint!). 

It’s a disguise that does not hold up to much scrutiny. Maybe, perhaps, if you were just barely paying attention—driving past on your way down Main Street toward the Longfellow, headed into Boston—it would pass muster, registering as anonymous urban scenery. But otherwise, it’s a bit like covering a weeping zit with concealer and the hope that no one will notice. The bricks, for all their attempt at three-dimensionality, are shadowless and flat. There is a real light and some shoddy wooden stairs at the front, leading to an entirely fake, impassible door. The whole thing flutters in the breeze. 

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Healthcare Heaven is Seattle Grace

I’ve become newly preoccupied by certain fantasies, a doable substitute for other people. A vision as I’m pouring water for tea: lying on the beach under white hot sun, a square of chocolate dissolving on my tongue. Crossing Dean onto Classon, a group lifts their arms to their eyes to block the light, then all lift their legs in arabesque. Walking around an empty grocery store, taking my time, piling bundles and bundles of dill into a small purse. These dreams come at random intervals in my full time quarantine job, which is watching all of Grey’s Anatomy.
Grey’s Anatomy, a show that is still on air, is also a daydream: a healthcare fantasia where insurance issues don't exist, or, if they do, they are worthy of a plot point on par with a brain aneurism. As a pandemic continues to expose the (already glaring) cruelty of our healthcare system, the more Grey's Anatomy's medical insurance plot contrivances feel like pure escapism. 

Girl with a pearl necklace

Johannes Vermeer, Woman With a Pearl Necklace, ca. 1662-1665, oil on canvas 

So far the highlight of my week has been jumping rope, just once, really well — two minutes at top speed without once catching myself flat-footed. I had claimed one corner of a deserted outdoor basketball court that in the midday sun looked like over-baked fondant and started jumping rope in a seething rage. Somehow, thrillingly, it worked, and much better than the different soundtracks, surfaces, and times of day I had previously tried in the hope of improvement. I couldn’t even see the plastic-coated red wire as it whipped through the air, just heard it whistling as it passed overhead.

I had spent the prior couple of days frustrated by texts of all sorts, and I had been pushed past frustration into anger that morning when a friend with benefits asked me, in the course of otherwise fun sexting, whether I would like to have lots of men come on my face. I like this friend, and trust him and know his tone and comment were meant in the specific context of our play. Had he asked me a few days earlier, I might have rolled my eyes rather than abruptly telling him that I wasn’t feeling it and going to jump rope in a rage.

Monday 4 May 2020

Buddy the Ghost

The story of Buddy Holly, part one: How singer and his new ...

I’ve been learning Buddy Holly songs on guitar in quarantine. Learning how to make my Fender twang, which doesn’t really fit the rest of the music equipment in my apartment, the wall of synthesizers and drum machines ready to obliterate the theoretical raves which cannot occur. I keep being invited to “perform” streamed music created live from computer code into VR venues that resemble cyberpunk yachts and recreated Berlin clubs in Minecraft. I do it. They can’t ever see the white guitar sitting next to me.

The fact that Buddy Holly died at age 22 means you can project anything onto him. You can call him a nerd or claim him as a proto-punk or a latent compositional genius who would have ended up making classical music or a country bumpkin that all the city folk wrongly absorbed. I’ve heard all these things. Been frustrated by the shallowness of the portrayals of him. The shitty broadway show. The unsatisfying movie. The annoying song about his death that I won’t even name because we don’t need to hear it again lest we have flashbacks to the cheesy choir teacher being obsessed with it.

Saturday 2 May 2020

I am bored but it’s my duty to be attentive

Agnes Martin, Buds, ca. 1959, oil on canvas

I knew we lived over the tracks but I didn’t know how over the tracks we were until I crawled out onto the fire escape today, sneakers hanging over the Q train’s cross hatching.

I am reading an uncorrected proof of Lorrie Moore’s short stories, a 700+ page paperback the color of a taxi. It is difficult to read, I mean, it’s hard to hold up in bed at night. It doesn’t support its own weight (these are not the types of comments you can leave in a review but I am telling you anyway it is difficult.) The real book, of course, is a hardcover.

In Moore's story What You Want To Do Fine one character hides from a bee in a phone booth for twenty minutes only to be stung when he comes out. “It wasn’t true what they said about bees. They were not all that busy. They had time. They could wait.” I am suddenly very busy; I have all the time in the world to sting. A train whizzes by beneath my thighs, the steel roof as smooth as a dolphin with motion. Made by Kawasaki, like my uncle’s motorcycle.

I hold onto one bannister to stave off vertigo. (Sometimes I lean against a column underground, but only if I hear someone weaving down the platform.) My legs shake a little. Maybe with fear, maybe because my ass is too bony for the rusted slats of the balcony. Bone on bone. I lean back against the brick wall. It is warm from the sun. I stop vibrating.

Friday 1 May 2020

Coffeecore: On The City

for r. a. p.


I'm doing it just this once our of respect for the good coffee.

That was always a lie, my little flâneur. Just this once? How many times have you walked the streets of our handsome metropole, on the pretence of a latte? How many times have you traversed the never-insurmountably-wide avenues, on the summer nights pulsing with the afterglow of their own heat? The Coffeecore Extended Universe was always, by nature, an urbanism. It is made that way by your walking it. The city is always and never completely in its cups.

Look out your pleasingly round window. Watch your breath fog up the glass. Watch yourself being alone, frame the image in the mind, and file it away. It is time to go out and see the city your coffee made, and the transient beauty of just this cultivated loneliness.

Thursday 30 April 2020

Routine Maintenance

Done well, a concept album, or series of albums, are a type of art nothing else quite reaches. You can’t just read the lyrics; to get the narrative you have to listen. Concept albums, for me, are the perfect distillation of my desire to watch a story unfold. To introduce characters and a story in the restrained space of songs is a technical feat. A work of literature.

The first time I saw Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties live was at the Dome in Tufnell Park. Less than a year before, I’d seen pop punk band The Wonder Years play the same venue (and they’ve played much bigger). But this time when Dan Campbell came on stage — lead singer of both —it was as the awkward, nervous, fictional Aaron, not as the lead singer of the much-beloved Wonder Years.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

oh fuck, it's [insert date/month/time/whatever] already

A window in my apartment is broken. The one at the foot of my bed, responsible for the harsh rays of 6 a.m. sunlight that lights my sleeping figure on fire, like a slow cooker. Speaking of slow cookers, I was supposed to pick one up for $15 in downtown Brooklyn, but I was lazy and lied to the nice seller that my nonexistent roommate didn't want to buy kitchenware in the midst of the pandemic. Oh yes, my window. It fully closes, but there's a gap on its right side where the stubborn frame refuses to fit its hinge. It's cold in this apartment, then it's hot, and then it's cold again.

Gigi Hadid Is Pregnant

Gigi Hadid is pregnant and I have gone around (figuratively, via text) and told everyone I know.

The news came at the same time that the group chat was discussing the recent One Direction fan fiction TikToks. It was fortuitous, a moment of good spirits. Texting all of my group chats was like the old days, when I had #content to share and news to spill and too many people to inform. I used to forget who knew what, so I would always preface "I'm not sure if I told you about this?" I guess I still do that, but in a smaller way, my rotation of daily phone calls folding in on themselves.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Maybe next year!

My mother's acquaintances are not keeping it a secret that they believe New York deserves to crumble from a plague—because of the dirty way we live and because we're all in debt and because we think we're better than everyone else even though we're dirty and in debt. Hard to agree, exactly, but I do think we're better than everyone else. 

I would say "just kidding," but I'm not!

I mean, in general. About me, specifically, I am kidding. I would be nothing without New York and I don't believe I am contributing to it in kind. I recently spent an entire day in bed watching Vince Vaughn movies and eating blood oranges my friend Julia mailed me from California the day before she lost her job. I joined a mutual aid Slack group and then asked 100 questions instead of reading the easy-to-find on-boarding documents. I took a free enneagram test that said I act altruistically so that other people will notice and say "you're a good person," but pretty much all I do is rewatch Vanderpump Rules. I'm also reading Dune because a boy asked me to. And who knows how long that will last—it's definitely easier to read a book when you already know who's going to play the main characters in the movie, but it also seems like it's going to be about religion.

The only thing I'm doing with what you could call intent and joy is listening to Meredith Rogers, of PilatesAnytime.Com, which I do almost every day. 

Monday 27 April 2020

Fixing My Dishwasher, Signifying Nothing

Yesterday I tried to fix my dishwasher and it wasn’t a metaphor. It was just a dishwasher that no longer drained that I decided to fix myself, unable to handle waiting several days for building maintenance while the puddle of rancid water at the bottom of the machine just sat there in the heat wave, signifying absolutely nothing. 

Sunday 26 April 2020

The Apps Are Alright: ACNH Travel Guide

There's no reason why Animal Crossing: New Horizons had to be so delightful. Nintendo could've half-assed it or even one-quarter-assed it and they would've still printed money. Instead, like the premium console game designers they are, ACNH has a seemingly infinite amount of stuff to collect and build, each with its own lovely animation and backstory.

Likewise, the ACNH Travel Guide iPhone app – currently the first or second best-selling "Reference" app – is a beautifully-crafted thing, free of the usual subscriptions and shady in-app purchases associated with unofficial game guides.

Once, I lived in ignorance, chasing the shadows of worthless yellow butterflies. Now my eyes are open to the true form of this world, a world where the value of bugs is easily summoned and precisely quantified. Thanks to the ACNH Travel Guide, when I see a paper kite flutter across my screen, its real nature is revealed to me: a floating bag of 1000 bells.