The Pleasure Of... Resisting Nostalgia

Usable pasts, John Cheever, sunshine, Paris, belated understandings of one’s life’s work.

Forgive me for opening by talking about the weather, but I’m in London and it’s worth talking about: real heat breaking to brightness and breezes, something soft and timeless about it. Coming here is always both nostalgic and new, the corner of the city where I grew up changing slowly, the center spinning faster, throwing up whole new neighborhoods, new places to shop and eat and walk and sit and shop some more. Like re-reading, there’s a pleasure to coming back to a place that’s graved in your memory. As a child I was fiercely nostalgic and fearful of change; now, I think I’m less nostalgic than I’ve ever been. A few days ago my friend Lucy brought over our school yearbook, full of forgotten in-jokes and catchphrases and the obsessions that gripped us at eighteen—but I’m not sure what I felt beyond grateful to have moved so far beyond whoever I was. Far enough to look at her kindly, I think, but without feeling any kind of pull backwards, to reunions and reminiscences and other benevolent efforts to write history over memory. Which ended up, I suppose, being the question I got a PhD to try and answer: what do we *do* with the past? How do we manage, contain, process, transform its weight? How do we keep it true? Oh, is this what I’ve been trying to figure out all these years? Well, huh.

We go to Paris on Monday, a place I have never lived for longer than a few weeks, but where I always feel powerfully nostalgic. Last night at my friend Ali’s party I got talking to a guy who lives in Sao Paolo, about the difference between that city and Buenos Aires as the difference between a place of constant change and one where the nothing changes, not really, not fundamentally. The difference between London or New York and Paris: the different ways that cities find to bear their own histories—whether holding the past in an unbroken line, confident that they got it right the first time, or clearing it out and starting over, again and again. 

Small Pleasures

Summer is ending this week, by the measure of the calendar if not the weather, so here is a wonderful essay by Naomi Skwarna about that, about public swimming pools, where I spent quite a bit of time this summer, but also Cheever and urban planning and segregation, about the history of Toronto, with side glances at Hockney, Leanne Shapton, and Luca Guadagnino.

I’ve teased it plenty but my Guardian interview with Téa Obreht is finally up online. Proud of this one, so please read and share if you are so inclined.

It’s been a bonanza summer in London for women artists: Lee Krasner at the Barbican and Faith Ringgold and Luchita Hurtado (who is 99 years old and still making art, thank you very much) at the Serpentine. We didn’t make it to Natalia Goncharova at the Tate, but it’s heartening at least to see that solo retrospectives by not-terribly-well-known artists are the shows that everyone seems to be visiting and talking about. The Faith Ringgold especially was gorgeous and intense; I’ve seen reproductions of her quilt work but in person, where you can see the layering of labor and study and feeling, they are stunning (and hard to photograph). This “Study” painting is lovely: