The Pleasure of... Procrastination

Pleasure is what happens while your to-do list is making other plans.

This past weekend obviously put the lie to my whole “get out into the heat” celebration of last week. Over 100 and humid isn’t running weather in anyone’s estimation, and the pool at the weekends is a little much. Now that the worst of it has broken, for now, I’m back to running and swimming and generally being the summer cheerleader I’m able to be because I don’t have to commute into Manhattan every weekday and can generally mooch about drinking iced coffee and going to the park. I do, however, have a deadline looming* for a piece that I need to finish. Hence, procrastination.

Procrastination is not a pleasure in itself; it nags like a bodily ache, one that you brought on yourself—a stupid bruise, a hangover. I know full well that the only way out of it (to paraphrase a friend’s tattoo) is through. I know that hitting send on the piece will be a weight off my neck. But I also know that I’ll have lost something, and not just the ideal version of the piece that hangs around tantalizingly before I throw the real thing together and shove it at my editor. I mean the little revelations that come when your mind is casting about for some other thing—any other thing—to latch onto. I’ve had to strong-arm myself off Twitter a few times this week (bless you, Self Control) but when I’m in this mood it’s especially irresistible, serving up enough little gems (book recommendations! Exhibitions to check out! Interactions with smart people and boosts for my work!) to keep me at it like a rat tapping the lever for its cocaine-laced sugar pellets. I’ve found it easy enough to cold-quit other social media—namely Facebook—so I suspect blunt prohibitions work better than complicated negotiations with my better angels. To that end, I’m reviving my rule that I simply don’t visit it at the weekend. If that works I’ll try restricting it to afternoons only. First-thing-in-the-morning Twitter is a recipe for a useless day.

I’m also trying not to think too much about my book proposal which is officially out there in the world. Pray for me, sacrifice goats, send ~vibes~, I’ll take what you’ve got.

A few places my wandering attention has snared itself this week:

THE PLEASURE OF… READING WHAT YOU LOVE.**

Since I rarely review fiction, contemporary novels aren’t really work, except in the whole keeping-up-with-the-culture thing that traps you if you are even nominally a Book Person. I know “buzz” is self-serving industry-generated nonsense, but it can still feel as though there’s constant pressure to read what is new, or hot, rather than what you love. And anyway, this can be weirdly hard to figure out and find, partly due to the combination of hollowness and hyperbole that book marketing entails: A lambent meditation on the nature of time, family, and healing, or whatever. The reason I ended up reading (and loving) Sally Rooney’s Normal People is that the UK edition basically *told you what it was about* in the inner flap in a way that American editions seem deeply reluctant to do. Perhaps the spoiler-terror that is inhibiting movie and TV criticism is starting to infect books as well, so reviewers and blurbers and flap-copy-writers are terrified to talk about plot. If there is one, which in literary fiction there often isn’t, really, which is fine but… I’m a realist. I like a story.

All that is a very long way of saying that I *loved* Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, which is now out in paperback. The story jumps between the mid-80s and 2015, focusing on the AIDS crisis in Chicago and a group of friends and lovers, and it is heartbreaking and so smart and warm. I think it resonated with me because it’s essentially, and pretty explicitly, a war novel, exploring what it’s like to live as a man under the constant fear of death (or survivor guilt) and as a woman, to bear the grief of more and more loss—exacerbated of course by the fact that your government refuses to acknowledge there’s a war going on at all. Related recommendation, the brilliant French film BPM [Beats Per Minute], which is streaming on Hulu, which really beautifully juxtaposes the emotional stakes of loving and losing people amid the daily, grinding, frustrating work of activism. Important trailer note: the sappy speech that plays in voiceover about living your life to the fullest is, in context, a joke. The character and the film are a lot smarter and angrier than that.

I’m also (perks of the trade, or in this case friends in the trade) lucky enough to have my hands on a galley of Find Me, André Aciman’s sequel to Call Me By Your Name, although I had to put it down to finish the Makkai and I’m now terrified to finish it, because I’m scared of what will—or more specifically, won’t—happen. I went on a bit of a *journey* with CMBYN, not initially loving the novel as much as a lot of people did, finding it exhausting to be stuck inside Elio’s head, and put off by Aciman’s occasionally twee stylistic flourishes. The film adaptation felt how I wanted the book to feel, and I think made some smart excisions (the preternaturally insightful little neighbor girl with leukemia, OY) that make it more of its own thing, and for me, easier to love. Find Me so far feels more like Enigma Variations, an uneven novel that tracks, essentially, the sentimental and sexual education of a man who is considerably less charming than Elio, and which also makes clear what Find Me confirms, that Aciman is, um, not great at writing women! Sigh. (Honestly in my fantasy Elio grows up into BPM’s fierce activist Sean, not least because the actor, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, sort of resembles, and deserves to be as famous as, Timothée Chalamet.)

I’ve just found out I have a very exciting opportunity to interview the lovely Téa Obreht, so I am finally going to read The Tiger’s Wife and her new novel, probably on the train to Vermont next week. Work that is indistinguishable from pleasure. 

THE PLEASURE OF… JUST DESSERTS

After linking last week to that excellent Artforum essay I was very happy to see that Warren Kanders resigned from the Whitney board as a result of several more artists pulling out of the biennial in protest at his weapons-manufacturing wealth. Predictably, he whined about being targeted and harassed by politically engaged protestors who wouldn’t let him get on with his money- and reputation-laundering in peace. Sorry they picketed your fancy townhouse, dude. Be grateful they didn’t have, oh I don’t know, tear gas.

Also, Equifax leaked a bunch of customer data and had to pay a big fine. You can go to this site and get your share, at least $125 if you were included in the breach. It took a couple of minutes and is roughly 125x better than nothing. Accountability is tasty.

Until next time!


*Mmmaybe “blown” is more accurate. But it was a loose one! Which are the worst…

** I would be remiss here not to shout out the book I have unabashedly loved the most this summer, Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which is a romance novel with an absurd premise that it is nonetheless utterly charming, extremely funny, a glorious respite from political realities, and that rarest of things: a book by an American that features actual convincing usage of British slang by British characters. It is a pure, fun, sexy pleasure and you can thank me later. (I hate the cover, but you can’t have everything.)