The Pleasure Of...Romantic Cynicism
On trends, boats, and pirates.
First up! Two EVENTS on the horizon! If you are in New York, I would be delighted to see you at either one. On Tuesday June 7, the day the book comes out, a launch party at Astoria Bookshop with Sarah Gordon, my dear friend and co-conspirator for the OG Hotbed, the exhibition that inspired the book. On Tuesday June 14, I’m in conversation with the brilliant historian Alexis Coe at McNally Jackson (Seaport branch). 7pm start for both.
According to the New York Times (so it must be real*) there’s a hot new TikTok trend out there known as “romanticizing your life.” As the author, Christina Caron, puts it:
For the last two years, the phrase “romanticize your life” has emerged on social media as a call to action, rising in popularity during some of the grimmest months of the pandemic. It asks us to appreciate what we have right in front of us and to live with intention, no matter how mundane our daily rituals might be — a reminder to look for moments of beauty and embrace minimalism.
Its variations include the urging to make yourself the “main character” in your life. The cynic in me (who is also a history nerd) responds: a) Do people in their early twenties really need any help making themselves the center of the story? And b) the stop-and-smell-the-roses school of self help has a LONG history, it’s not new, and it is often deployed as a defense/avoidance tactic for terrible world news. It was very popular in the mid-1930s, for instance! I wrote about it in my first book!
But there’s also part of me that believes in it, believes that the cultivation of what the NYT calls a “mundane thrill”—usually, something fleeting and sensory, often involving flowers or tea—is vital and also just what it means to be alive, in a well-adjusted world where your worth isn’t measured in dollars or attention from strangers. I mean, this newsletter strays quite a bit in focus (sorry) but I do honestly believe in the basic premise, that paying attention to your own particular pleasures is a powerful thing to do, important and mind-clearing and a good way to check in the direction of your life. I don’t actually subscribe to any school of thought that holds deprivation as a virtue. But then again, again—are we just smelling the roses because the stink of everything else, the structural decay, is overwhelming? And what did the roses ever do to deserve such pressure?
One of X’s latest words is “boat,” which he pronounces as two lilting syllables in a vaguely offensive South African accent. He woke up Saturday morning chanting it, so we shrugged and caught the ferry a couple stops down to Long Island City. He’s taken the ferry several times, but this time it was an event. The weather was grey and cool, which meant the playgrounds weren’t too busy and we got pastries from Cannelle, the best French bakery near(ish) us. X stood on the wall by the water and announced the boats and their colors—RIT BOTE! YA-YO BOTE!—for, ooh, minutes. Like the ferry, the waterfront parks at LIC feel precious and precarious—luxuries built on sand. The whole thing reeks of money hose-sprayed into an ocean, the ferry rides subsidized, the shiny apartment blocks anchored on tax breaks, New York’s way of spending far too much money for certain people (like us) to have these privileges instead of, say, pumping that money into the wheezing bus system. But then you climb up to the top deck and watch the wake and the clouds, and it’s really hard to argue with it.
I didn’t publish anything new this week, but—in keeping with our nautical theme—we did watch the first episode of the Taika Waititi ragtag-pirates-with-feelings show Our Flag Means Death which felt a bit pilot-y and disjointed but was charming, in a very TW sort of way. It’s based loosely on a real person, Stede Bonnet, and according to Wikipedia, the writer decided to create the show after reading Bonnet’s Wikipedia bio. I have never done that** so I am in no way inspired by this story.
* The NYT: Bastion of reality!