this is one way to dance
2 December 2023 | 3:49 am

Two snippets I adore from Sejal Shah's This Is One Way to Dance: Essays about her professor Agha Shahid Ali.

yours, tiramisu

yours, tiramisu

The last few lines are a nod to Ali's poem "Stationery".

just hand me down, give me a place to be
29 November 2023 | 4:02 pm

Somehow, another Thanksgiving week is over. The last few of my friends visiting from out of town left today. It's been fun breaking bread with familiar faces again, but to be honest with you I am also quite looking forward to the peace and tranquility of my normal schedule. I love spending time with my friends and wish they could all live here permanently, but the craze of trying to see ten different people (with their own conflicting schedules) in the span of a week is something I could do without. (It's funny, yesterday my friend was telling me that he would miss the quiet tranquility of the past week in suburbia. Quiet? The last week was the most busy I'd been in months!)

As the years go by I find myself on the receiving end of less and less intentioned effort to hang out from some of my friends (in general, but it's significantly more noticeable when they are less than five miles from me). This lack of (perceived) effort makes me swing between sad disappointment and quiet acceptance. One of my friends told me she thought this was an issue of problem solving, and that I should try to bring it up to be solved collaboratively. I'm not sure I agree. What good is it to keep agitating for more after I've already brought it up before? These are thorny conversations to have, ripe for potential misunderstanding and discomfort, and I don't want to force people to hang out with me more than they want to if they're not about to initiate it themselves. I've resigned myself to accepting that I can often expect more from people than they're willing to give.

A few days ago one of my friends here invited me to go on a ski trip in mid-December with his friend group, who have sort of adopted me by gradually inviting me their board game, bowling, and pickleball nights over the past few months. While they've all been very nice to me, I feel a little apprehensive about going: I know this is the perfect opportunity to strengthen some in-person friendships that my therapist & friends have urged me to seek out, but I'm worried about feeling left out. I'm the youngest member of the group by far and easily the odd one out, and my brain can already draw up so many hypothetical disaster scenarios. What if I get hurt skiing and put a damper on the trip? What if they want to drink and party at night when all I want to do is read and sleep early? One of my friends told me, "you don't have anything better to do anyway," and while he probably isn't wrong, I'm not sure that's a good reason to go.

Some of my most terrible childhood memories come from being ridiculed and mocked by classmates and (people I thought were) 'friends' I'd been grouped with. As a result, I have developed whatever the opposite of FOMO (fear of missing out) is; I'd much rather miss out than risk joining a group and feeling made fun of or left out. When I was in middle school I opted (in a heartbeat) to go stand in front of a diorama for two days at the state science fair rather than go on the class trip to the beach. I don't even like science. I just wanted to get as far away as I could from the possibility of bad memories recurring. I'm fortunate to be able to say that I've had many better experiences among friend groups since then, but trauma never fully lets you go, in the same way I still flinch around my mom sometimes, even if it's been years since she's actually hit me.

I was thinking about all this yesterday when deciding whether or not to go to this ski trip when I realized I was missing some necessary equipment (notably snow goggles), which led me to do some math on how much the whole trip would cost. I shouldn't have worried so much; skiing is so expensive it doesn't really matter what I feel. This is simply way too much money to fork over for something I'm not sure I'll even enjoy.

yours, tiramisu

The title of this post is from Nick Drake's Place to Be, a song (and artist) I've been enamored with lately. I don't think it augurs well for my longevity that I find so much to relate to in the music of an artist who was notoriously depressed and died from overdosing on antidepressants in his mid-twenties, but I'd rather not think about that for now.

When I was young, younger than before
I never saw the truth hanging from the door
And now I'm older, see it face to face
And now I'm older, gotta get up, clean the place

And I was green, greener than the hill
Where flowers grew and the sun shone still
Now I'm darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be

And I was strong, strong in the sun
I thought I'd see when day was done
Now I'm weaker than the palest blue
Oh so weak in this need for you

some people like fruitcake, too
27 November 2023 | 4:24 pm

what does it really mean to be original? thats what i asked myself when i first started writing. it feels like everything has been done; nowadays people have blogs, articles, podcasts, and videos that are able to perfectly compartmentalize every single thought weve ever had. maybe thats why i was drawn to doing my undergraduate thesis project, it felt like i was doing something original, something that couldnt be described by the first article of a google search.

quite honestly, its something i struggle with. if someone has written about the dillemma, what good does my input serve? what do i bring to the table if the table has already been served? it feels at times like im bringing a one of those christmas fruit cakes to a holiday party. what makes my fruit cake so special when we have these beautiful red velvet, tres leches, and tiramisu desserts?

as ive been trying to write more thoughtfully, i find myself ending up with these feelings. i could find some super obscure russian novel and write a review about that, but what worth does that bring to me? what goes does it do to me to push to do original things? is that truly what i want? this blog was created by me and for me... is it okay if the things that i write about arent necessarily original?

~ aco, in bringing a fruitcake to a holiday party

I've been turning aco's musings about originality in my head this week, not least because they closely resemble some of my fears when I first started blogging. After two hundred posts (and counting), my mindset has shifted, and I've largely stopped worrying about being original since. Fittingly, I can trace most of my new (healthier) thoughts on the subject to some great sources, so I'll share them here.

The best response to worries about originality I've seen is Alexey Guzey's post Why You Should Start a Blog Right Now, specifically points 4. “But I don’t have anything original to say and I would be just repeating things said elsewhere on the internet!” and 5. Why unoriginal writing is useful. I wish I could add something insightful of my own to what Guzey says (and cites), but it's perfect. I only have this bit which has always stuck with me to share:

"Michelangelo didn’t try to develop an original style, he just tried to make good art. He couldn’t help but be Michelangelo. So aim to make good art. Don’t bother trying to capture your “essence” or your style or whatever you call it- it reveals itself as the things you can’t really help doing when you’re doing great work. Aim to be prolific instead."

~ Visakan Veerasamy, everything is a remix

I also really like two tweets Alexey links in section 12, in addition to everything else he quotes in that section about the value of writing for yourself (even in the off-chance that nobody reads your blog, you will still have learned a lot (about yourself, most importantly) for having written at all):

“you radically underestimate both a) how much you know that other people do not and b) the instrumental benefits to you of publishing it."

“Some people really benefit from hearing advice that everyone knows, for the same reason we keep schools open despite every subject in them having been taught before."

~ Patrick McKenzie, in a tweet and thread

All these observations reflect my experiences blogging over the past year and a half. I don't find my work particularly original (heck, this post is a perfect example of how derivative most of my stuff is), and I'm certainly far from the best writer on this platform, but readers still write to me to tell me that something I wrote inspired them to do something, or made them feel seen. And that's enough for me. I've accepted that I won't ever be a Tim Urban or a Paul Graham, but as long as what I write can get through to one person, my effort won't have been in vain. If aco never wrote his post, I likely would never have been inspired to write this post, and to go back to his original analogy, you might just be bringing a fruitcake to a holiday party—but there are people out there that love fruitcake, too, even if they might be harder to come by than people that like cheesecake or red velvet cake or what have you.

"What I’m really concerned about is reaching one person. And that person may be myself for all I know."
~ Jorge Luis Borges

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