i let them riot in my mind a few minutes more before the news comes

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I thought I’d just write about some things I’m excited about and have enjoyed the past few months (and what a joy it is to feel excitement again!)

I’ve gotten into reading about exploration. As someone utterly possessed by the need for knowledge and driven by curiosity, I admire the impulse that led countless people to hurl themselves out into the world in the spirit of discovery. The poles are especially interesting to me: the contrast between the unforgiving winds and high seas of the “shrieking sixties” and the laughter and perseverance of the sailors, explorers, and scientists who brave them to see something new is appealing to me — someone who seeks stability but often feels driven by extremes.

In my exploration and nautical phase, I’ve enjoyed Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, Alfred Lansing’s Endurance, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Dan Simmons’ The Terror. I also highly recommend the Arctic episode of Our Planet, which was so lovely that I found myself desperately googling for somewhere to donate to save the Arctic.

I’ve also been diving into literary fiction, particularly fiction in translation. The post-modern experimentation of Italo Calvino, such as The Cloven Viscount and the science-based fables of Cosmicomics has been a delight. At Night All Blood is Black, a searing, visceral novella about Senegalese troops in WWI that won the International Booker Prize this year has haunted me for weeks now. Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, a collection of eleven delicately-connected and disturbing stories, thrilled me with its clockwork precision. I finished Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea in a sitting, bowled over by the obsessive attention to aesthetics displayed.

Film, something of a mystery to me for many years, is rapidly becoming a new interest. I’ve now seen a number of classics, and learned that it’s not that I don’t enjoy movies, it’s that I don’t enjoy poorly-made ones. Watching gorgeous films like Kwaidan, Black Narcissus, and Chinatown has taught me to pay more attention to the symmetry and construction of films and to appreciate the richness of a film as text.

The past few months have been ones of questing, both personally and socially. As we emerge from our Covid-19 seclusion, I feel lucky for every moment I get to spend with others. It’s been months without an episode, one of my longest stretches since I first developed melancholic depression. Since I got the vaccine, I feel much more hopeful and less alone. I only wish that this privilege extended internationally, but the news of several successful vaccines and the promise of massive amounts of doses for the world is heartening.

At first, it felt difficult to speak to people without the mediation of a flickering computer screen, or outside the strictures of social distancing. My tongue felt dusty and unused, too big for my teeth, and I seemed unable to relax my shoulders. My social anxiety, something I have struggled with since lonely days in college forcing myself to read my pre-written observations off of an index card, has returned. After years in DC, I had finally come out of my shell enough to feel, if not comfortable socially, at least free of panic and able to speak without fighting the physical sensation of muteness. Some of this progress was set back in the past year, but I feel better about regaining it: after all, I did it once already. And something tells me that after 16 months of social distancing, we are all feeling a little awkward, a little unsteady, and a little rough around the edges.

The title of this post is a line that struck me from a poem I read recently by Molly Brodak. It seems to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of mornings under Covid.

In the Morning, Before Anything Bad Happens

The sky is open

all the way.

Workers upright on the line

like spokes.

I know there is a river somewhere,

lit, fragrant, golden mist, all that,

whose irrepressible birds

can’t believe their luck this morning

and every morning.

I let them riot

in my mind a few minutes more

before the news comes.

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