The Pleasure Of...Sweating a Heatwave

On running, the 80s, summer moods, the Fitzgeralds, The Souvenir, and protest.

I went for a run in Los Angeles recently, seven-odd miles in midday sun. I was staying in La Brea, on the edge of a peaceful grid of streets shaded with jacarandas that bloomed and shed shamelessly, purple clouds and carpets, where the 1930s houses were beautiful and human sized, from a time when rich people were willing to see their neighbors, and before automobile supremacy ripped the heart out of the city. I wanted to stay in the shade and away from traffic, but was also scared of getting lost and of trespassing accidentally, so I found myself after an hour or so, hot and tired, on Beverly Boulevard, endless brightness and concrete and heat, forced to keep going. You’re strong enough, I started telling myself. You know you are

In the six or so years I’ve done it seriously(ish) and regularly(ish), running has been a process of unlearning. Mostly things about myself—you’re fragile, you’re lazy, you’re a bookish, indoor person, not the type of person who runs marathons—but also things about effort and endurance. I can still remember that panicky dread I used to feel about half a mile into a run, when my brain registered that this was going to happen and was going to hurt and was going to last for a while, and started screaming at me to stop. Fighting down one’s frankly kind of melodramatic brain takes all kinds of tricks: mantras, music, breathing, counting, whatever works, and then whatever works the next time. Because you have to fight it every single time.

It took me a long time to admit to myself that I have a tendency to summer depression. It didn’t make sense to me, because I love hot weather, but loving it was part of the problem. I was stuck in the fear of not making the most of it. The legacy, I guess, of growing up in a place where summer was stuttering and capricious, and hot weather a sign that called for a response: picnics, sundresses, hammocks, beaches, beer in plastic cups. Even after fifteen years in New York, where summer is a sweaty, stinky certainty, I still feel pressure to hold it in case it escapes. This year, I realized that what matters is going outside anyway, and doing something physical—running, swimming, yoga, walking, cycling—in the heat. Despite the heat. 

We’re in a heatwave now. This is the hottest July ever worldwide, on the heels of the hottest June. Yesterday was a day of storms; I ran in the evening, when it was heavy and wet. The day before was sunny and humid; I ran in the morning, when it wasn’t much cooler. A four-mile race in Central Park last Saturday morning started at 8am, when it was already over 80 degrees. All those runs were hot, red-faced, eye-stinging, soaked-shirt hot. The thing is, you learn. I am trying to take lessons from the physical things I do, and not turn them into worries that will stop me getting out in the first place. The pool is always crowded, but the precise nature of that crowd is unpredictable; sometimes it gets in the way, sometimes it doesn’t. Yes, running is uncomfortable when it’s hot, but the nature of that heat is likewise unpredictable.

Sometimes there’s a little breeze in the shade like encouragement; sometimes it feels like breathing underwater. So I make little adjustments. Spray-on sunscreen. Stopping at the water fountains. I have decent running sunglasses now. I wear a visor, and since I now know it’s not enough, I’m going to start wrapping my buff, an insanely useful little wrap of cloth, around my wrist to mop the sweat. I need music, not podcasts, when it’s hot out, and so I recently unearthed and started carrying my ancient little clip-on iPod nano, a brilliant little piece of tech that is the lightest way to get music when there’s no pocket in my shorts big enough for my phone. 

I go slow, but I go. 

Cultural Pleasures

Since Cannes I’ve been curious about The Souvenir, the new film from Joanna Hogg, patron saint of Women Going Through It in High-waisted Shorts. It’s roughly autobiographical, about a young filmmaker trying to figure out how to see clearly and be honest, and I found it tense and troubling and gorgeous, and fuel for my slowly cooking and extremely unformed fantasy project about films set or made in 1983 as a kind of unexpected historical hinge point (see also My Beautiful LaundretteCall Me By Your Name, A Room of One’s Own, and, oh lord, The Big Chill.)

Writing Pleasures (Not “The Pleasure of the Text”?)**

I’m currently working on a piece for the TLS about new editions of Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz and TheGreat Gatsby. I read Save Me years ago and have found it tough going: some dazzling lines, a spine of steel, imagery that is often completely off-the-wall, feminist in complicated ways and racist in simple ones. This feels important to note in a week of scream-inducing idiocy about racism (there’s only so many ways to yell racist is not an insult, it’s a foundational social structure before you just pass out.) Zelda’s alter ego Alabama simply sees a world divided into people who are human and people who aren’t. While she fights for her own life, she can’t see the lives of others. 

I did recently talk to Lisa Taddeo, author of the incendiary Three Women, which I highly recommend for its startling language and boldness and intimacy, if not necessarily for its broader gender politics. Fascinating, though, and Lisa was a delight, and it was fun trying to write this for Mel Magazine, a website aimed at dudes. 

Activist Pleasures

I’m extremely curious to check out Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Pleasure Activism, which advances “a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work.” In my research on feminist activism in the 1910s I am really trying to foreground the way that pleasure, friendship, intimacy, and joy shaped women’s political commitments, so I am super curious about a version that roots that idea in black feminist history. I read about Brown and her book in a New York Times article about avoiding “guilty pleasures,” a concept I can get behind, although (a) I feel like this piece is written every three months and (b) always lean heavily on justifying stereotypically female pleasures like The Bachelor, a show that makes me want to kill myself and everyone around me. YMMV!

Finally, this open letter, “The Tear Gas Biennial,” by artists Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett is straight fire. TL;DR: Protest is painful, philanthropy is money laundering, pay your fucking taxes, fund the arts, live your values. 

Happy heat waving!

*Slight title alteration as a result of getting ahead of myself. Sorry!
** God, no.