This email marks our one year anniversary of the Delights of Distraction newsletter - a weekly email that we started at the beginning of lockdown in 2020 with our favourite finds from the internet in the modest pursuit to furnish a little solace, inspiration and diversion from the pandemic’s grim realities.
In our newsletter’s wanderings, in sharing our nervous hopes, pleas, complaints, desires, expressions of awe and contentment, anxieties and dreams, we felt slightly less alone in the room. All of you who wrote back, who checked in, who read and send feedback - THANK YOU! You’ve been our glowing lighthouse amidst the churning fury of Facebook obituaries and rent agreement re-agreements.
It’s hard to believe that we are locked back down again one year later - we have come full circle - a simple if not trite fact of life. Just as we are told the people we loved are drying, the people we love are also having babies ( the generation dubbed the “coronnials”). As child-free women who are destined to be “perennial aunties” (that are erroneously charged with the task of dispelling wisdom to our newest humans in the world) we thought we’d put together a bunch of favourite passages and sentences from the literary greats that contain the simple sagacity and lyrical insight that we wish we had known as knobbly-kneed, snotty little kids. While we wouldn’t trust ourselves with children, we’re happy to entrust them in the hands of philosophical babysitters from the likes of! Kurt Vonnegut, Steinbeck and A.A Milne. Here’s our list (please write to us with additions that you think worked for you!):
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—’God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.'”
— Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
“When a child first catches adults out—when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just—his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”
— John Steinbeck, East of Eden
“When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table. I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old? Or is it something worse? You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."
—John Steinbeck, East of Eden
“As for you, Morrel, this is the secret of my conduct towards you. There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living. Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words, -- `Wait and hope.' Your friend.”
—Alexandre Dumas, Count of Monte Cristo
”She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world."
—Kate Chopin, The Awakening
”It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn't sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it's all you've got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life."
—Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
“If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. i'll always be with you.”
—A.A. Milne - Winnie the Pooh
The universe is, instant by instant, recreated anew
Therefore there is in truth no past, only a memory of the past.
Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them.
Therefore, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise.
The only appropriate state of the heart is joy.
The sky you see now, you have never seen before.
The perfect moment is now.
Be glad of it.
—Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time
And to commemorate our one year birthday, we have an extra chunky hunk of links for you to check out.
To Read: All crying doesn’t only arise from pain and anguish, but can also arise from beauty, love and tenderness. Here’s a breakdown of the different categories of “eye-leakage” that occur, and the nuanced and touching reasons why.
Last week we mentioned the term “languishing” that was used to describe the emotional state of folks emerging from a long quarantine. Writer and artist Austin Kleon rejects this word and prefers the term “dormant”. “I may even look dead, but like Corita Kent once described one of her own dormant periods, “new things are happening very quietly inside of me. Waiting to burst forth.”
How we become suckers for the hard labour of self-optimisation, a searingly wise and cutting take-down of “self-care” by Jia Tolentino. “Women are genuinely trapped at the intersection of capitalism and patriarchy – two systems that, at their extremes, ensure that individual success comes at the expense of collective morality. And yet there is enormous pleasure in individual success. It can feel like license and agency to approach an ideal, to find yourself – in a good picture, on your wedding day, in a flash of identical movement – exemplifying a prototype. There are rewards for succeeding under capitalism and patriarchy; there are rewards even for being willing to work on its terms. There are nothing but rewards, at the surface level. The trap looks beautiful. It’s well-lit. It welcomes you in.”
To Watch: We can’t believe this video was released 5 years ago, and we didn’t come across it earlier. It’s superbly creative animation and skill, and we can’t really describe it other than to say: it’s maybe what your laundry gets up to when you aren’t looking :)
This one’s a feel-good list of live, smile inducing animal feeds from across the world that you can access over Instagram or Youtube. According to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at Berkeley, footage of wildlife can elicit positive emotions like adoration, awe and love. He says, “We are a visual species. We derive a lot of health and happiness from our relationship to the natural world.” Since we can’t currently get out into the natural world, let it come to you.
Colette is a remarkable short documentary that won the Oscar this year in the Documentary Short Subject category. 90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine confronts her past by visiting the German concentration camp where the Nazis murdered her brother. From our present historical distance, the horrific story and lessons of Nazism seem fairly straightforward. But as Colette shows, when you delve into the individual stories, the truth of people’s grief and experiences gets complicated.
These stories are important to hear and to tell so we remember the real, human, feeling truth of how individual lives were damaged and wasted by the actions of the large and powerful. We must NEVER forget.
To Joy Scroll: Photographer Joachim Schmeisser captures, in majestic artistry, endangered species that roam vast swaths of Africa. Considering poachers, the spread of agriculture chipping away at grassy savannahs and climate change drying up the grasses and water - it’s surprising our wildlife is still surviving till today. “Some of the largest and most wonderful creatures in Africa have become very dear to me over the years,” Schmeisser writes. His book of portraits carries two messages: “It is a homage and warning at the same time—a visual message with the aim of sharpening our clouded view of the one, infinitely complex and vulnerable nature and to recognize which treasures we are about to irretrievably lose.”
To Cook: Here’s a cool, easy way to eat sweet potato like ice cream - a trick the author learnt from Taiwan: Frozen Baked Sweet Potatoes. These are baked to caramel-sweet perfection, then frozen to achieve an almost popsicle-like texture. Add chocolate chips, chocolate sauce and nuts - and you have the healthiest sundae ever.
This chocolate cake is accidentally vegan. The recipe was invented during the depression - you need eggs, butter, or milk. It’s one of the simplest cakes ever, with easy on hand ingredients, made in one bowl and nothing needs to be creamed, beaten, or whipped. It tastes like a deep, dark chocolate sponge cake, and probably the easiest cake you’ll ever make.
To Play: This geographical guessing game City Guesser, immerses you in a first-person view of walking through a city and you have to guess what city in the world you are in. You get points depending on how close you are and how fast you recognize the place. You can play against yourself, or other players, and you can narrow the scope, from choosing any city in the world to narrowing it down to continent or country. While we are firmly stuck within the four walls of our home this game also works as a virtual vacation, as inhabiting someone else’s walk through streets and markets in strange towns is weirdly comforting.
Okay lovelies, buckle up! This collection of point-of-view bike rides will make your heart race! Best experienced on a desktop and with the sound on. (It may take a while to load ). Nikolaj, a filmographer and extreme sports enthusiast takes you on various rides across Europe, capturing the intensity of crazy steep terrain and breathtaking views. You can enjoy his daredevil journeys from the comfort of your couch.
To Learn: We’ve written a little explainer on vaccinations, the various types out there, why they’re effective, why will need to be vaccinated every year and so on; it’s up on our blog, so please read it here. TLDR: please get vaccinated as soon as you can. We know Cowin feels like a losing battle, but we’re hoping slots open up over the next couple of weeks.
When all of this is done,
there will be lighter rooms
and heavier hearts,
the table set, out of habit,
for those who will no longer come,
slowly but surely,
a day will appear,
school buses will ply,
a gaggle of children spilling out,
lovers sit conspicuously close
upon a park bench,
office goers rush about,
as they do,
an assumed seriousness,
for anyone who might be looking,
and crowds throng,
restaurants, bars, the cinema,
as before the time
we no longer speak of
somewhere a doctor
will close his clinic at five
and get in a round of golf
a funeral service will have a slow day,
a wily entrepreneur will wonder
how to put his empty ambulances to use,
a nurse will quietly knit at work
under her desk
and when we meet those whom we love,
we will linger,
a little bit longer,
at jokes that aren’t very funny,
praise indifferent food,
and forget perhaps,
old slights that now are
from before the time,
quietly grateful for touch
we will meet another’s eyes
only for a moment; and know,
in our shared silence,
we lived through that time
It would have taken away much,
strangers, a part of ourselves,
who we were
from before the time,
but we will know,
we are here now, and for that day,
it will be enough.
—Nandini Sen Mehra
Till next week, stay safe, sane and indoors. Keep writing in and be kind to yourself and others,