You and me
Chasing paper, getting nowhere
Greetings one and all-
Today’s first order of business is to welcome a mystifying influx of new subscribers. Hello strangers! How in the world did you find your way here? Did you get off at the wrong subway stop? Miss your exit? No matter, it’s good to have you. I’m grateful for whatever algorithmic glitch dropped you on my virtual doorstep. Pop into the comments or drop me a note to say a proper hello.
I have no choice but to take your sudden appearance as some kind of sign from the universe. Just two weeks ago, I was heavily contemplating throwing in the towel on this whole operation. As it is, I’ve downshifted my cadence to bi-weekly while I continue to recalibrate my thinking about the form and function for the umpteenth time. Apologies for treating your inbox as my sandbox. I’m trying to get it together, I really am. For what it’s worth, this may have been my most consistent year of letters yet, and I’d consider that a result.
This little bit of external accountability is what I rely on as a support beam in my writing practice. It’s the simple act of showing up, as I wrote about earlier this year. And that, plus you, my new subscriber friends, is a good enough reason to keep on keeping on.
I’ll tell you what’s been tripping me up, though. It’s that I’m aware these letters so often read like a glorified journal entry. Much of that is down to the fact that I tend to approach their writing in the same off-the-cuff way, riffing on whatever’s top of mind, writing my way into some half-formed idea or opinion about the nature of things as they occur to me. It’s really just small talk. My inner monologue in an outside voice.
On one hand, this ruminative vibe is part of the charm, but on another hand, it’s like…what’s the point, exactly? I mean, it’s not as if my aim is any kind of service journalism. Far from it! Sorry mate, if you came here expecting any kind of news you can use, welp, you are in the wrong place. Let me direct you over here, or here, or almost literally anywhere else.
I’m not trying to say that a newsletter needs to serve some principle of utility. (Unless you’d like to have a rousing conversation about Foucault and the use of pleasure; in which case, call me!) What I’m trying to say is that I’d like to approach things with a bit more intentionality. Which basically just means I need to get my shit together. I need to plan things a bit better. I need, like, a strategy.
A regular subject, and perhaps running gag of this newsletter has been what the heck this newsletter is even about. It’s about everything, it’s about nothing, it’s about midlife, it’s about writing life. It’s about music, it’s about food, it’s about books, it’s about culture. It’s about me, it’s about you. It’s about damn time I figured it out!
Or is it?
You know, what I really wanted to talk about this week was how much the new Beatles documentary rocked my whole world. (Have you seen it? Did you love it? can we talk about it?!) I’ve never before seen such an intimate depiction of a collaborative creative process before. It made me feel almost more like a participant than an observer. The tedium, the tension, the frustration, the noodling, the repetition, the endless loops of breakthroughs and breakdowns, all recognizable and familiar to anyone doing creative work. And it is work. Day after day of what objectively looks like a whole lot of time-wasting, of pointless meandering, of fucking around. But the whole time, even when it seems like you’re getting nowhere, you’re on your way home. You just have to accept that you’ll get there when you get there.
So perhaps I’m misleading myself with this notion of strategy, which sounds a bit like a hammer looking for a nail. Half of the documentary is the Beatles arguing about strategy: what are we making; how should we make it; what are we even doing, what do we want to be doing. But in the end, the only strategy they could agree on, and the only one that worked was to just keep going. To just – please forgive me – let it be. To simply show up every day and pick up where they left off. In one great moment, the original film’s director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg worries, “I don’t know what story I’m telling anymore.” “You’re telling the autobiography of the Beatles, aren’t you?” replies Ringo.
I’ve been thinking about this remark all week, trying to work out whether Ringo had simply made a malaprop, or whether he was being characteristically absurd and slyly insightful. No one else can “tell” your autobiography. And further, how can one know what story one is telling when one is living it in real time?
Recently, a dear friend posed an important question: are you writing this letter for yourself or for others? The answer is both. The main reason why I write anything is in search of making a connection. To feel less lonely, and to perhaps help someone else feel less alone in some small way. I don’t mean to sound dramatic or rueful, giving the impression that I’m out here drifting around the foggy moors like a Brontë sister. Perhaps the better word – one that keeps popping up on my radar lately – is witnessing. I’m writing to bear witness to this life, my life, our lives. You and me, the two of us Sunday driving, not arriving. We’re on our way home.
So I’ve walked you all the way down here just to say, perhaps once and for all, that I can’t be certain what this letter is, or will ever be about, or what story I’m telling. I’m still living it. And the best strategy I can think of is to just keep writing as I go.
This bit of the letter is upside down, but I’m just popping in to say that my plan is to send one more note before the end of the year, and then I’ll take some time to fix up and look sharp before I return in some form come January. Thanks for being here!
I don’t have a playlist at the ready, but that’s because I’ve been listening to Let It Be on repeat. I recommend you do the same.